Rome, 9:47 PM.
Cardinal Rosario Parma entered the quiet solitude of his private office, the heavy door behind him shutting with a muted click. With a grim sigh, he surveyed the ever-mounting piles of paperwork that greeted him on his desk. Though the hour was late, and though he was weary to say the least, Parma knew his work was far from finished. There was still much work yet to be done. The duties of his office seemed endless, encompassing his every waking hour.
As cardinal-vicar of Rome, Parma was responsible for the decisions of an entire diocese--there were budgets to balance, ethical and moral dilemmas to be solved for the poor parish priests who seemed incapable of making their own decisions. Many evenings, Parma found himself cloistered within the confines of these office walls, his small, electric reading lamp burning late into the night. This particular night, he realized, would be no different.
He paused at the mini-bar to pour himself a glass of wine--a deep, full-bodied vintage merlot. Returning to his desk, Parma sank into the plush leather chair and began thumbing through the many, many handwritten memos that had found their way to his desk while he had been out.
--Father Inocente, regarding the parish budget for this quarter--
--From His Eminence, Cardinal Palestrina--
Next. Parma scowled and shoved the note aside. The viper can wait until morning.
It was the third memo that inevitably caught and held Parma’s attention.
--His Eminence Cardinal Marsciano sends his regards from St. Petersburg, and requests that you return his call whenever possible.
A little smirk worked at Parma’s features as he picked up the phone. He glanced at the numbers on the small scrap of paper and dialed.
The phone rang two, three, four times before Cardinal Marsciano’s voice came over the line, a bit heavier, a bit huskier than usual. It dawned on Parma that he’d no idea of the time where Marsciano was, and he only hoped the hour was not obscenely late.
“Buona sera, Eminenza,” was how Marsciano greeted him, a trace of playfulness in his voice.
“Nicola, it’s good to hear your voice.” The smile on Parma’s face was evident in his tone.
“Likewise, my dear.”
“How is Russia?”
“Frigid. Terrible.” Marsciano laughed. “Thoughts of you are all that keep me sane in this frozen desert. The past two days have passed like twenty years.”
“I miss you.” There was a thoughtful pause before Parma spoke again. “Is it very late where you are?”
“Nearly midnight,” answered Marsciano. Parma winced.
“I hope I didn’t disturb you, love.”
“Oh, no, you didn’t--oh.” There was a note of something in that last uttered syllable that suddenly had Parma wide awake. “Don’t worry about it.” Marsciano sighed softly, almost pleasurably, and Parma had to wonder--no, surely he wouldn’t. Would he?
Parma shook his head and took a sip of wine. It had been a long day, he conceded, and his mind was short-circuiting, jumping to the easiest conclusion. That was his justification, however weak it was.
“Are you…sure I didn’t wake you?” he asked cautiously.
“Positive. Though you may have roused me, in a manner of speaking, you did not wake me from sleep.”
Parma suddenly found himself contemplating every possible meaning of that particular statement. He shook his head again, slightly. What’s come over me? His brow furrowed in concentration. Too much wine at dinner? Or, perhaps, not nearly enough.
“I don’t follow.” A safe reply, thought Parma, when one’s thoughts were anything but. The other cardinal chuckled softly, a gesture that was anything but innocent.
“What do you think I mean, Rosario?” The way Marsciano lingered on his name--his tongue caressing each syllable, intimately--made Parma’s stomach do an uneasy flip-flop.
Trust me, you don’t want to know what I’m thinking.
“I haven’t the slightest,” Parma offered feebly--a lie, as it were, as he had more than a few ideas in mind, and none of them appropriate to speak aloud. He pitied the poor priest who would hear his next confession.
“I suppose I could tell you.” Marsciano’s voice was satin, disarming Parma’s senses one by one. “But that wouldn’t be half as fun as--ah--making you guess.” A low moan punctuated Marsciano’s statement, and Parma could scarcely believe his ears. He promptly took hold of his wine glass and drained half its contents.
“Yes, Rosario--” Parma nearly dropped the phone.
“Nicola, what are you doing over there?” As if that was a question that needed asking. He heard the other man’s breath hitch and release in another sultry sigh. Had Parma been standing, his knees would have buckled. He lowered his voice before asking, “Are you alone?”
“Yes,” Marsciano replied slyly. “Alone, in bed, thinking about you.” Parma could feel his pulse accelerate as he clutched the receiver closer to his ear.
“Tell me,” he said, nearly breathless. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I’m thinking of you, and me, and that night in Prague.” Parma remembered--it was the first of many nights that he and Marsciano had been together intimately. The images of that night, and those that followed, would be forever emblazoned upon his memory. “I remember how you touched me,” Marsciano continued. “The way your kisses scorched like fire against my flesh, the way you claimed me as only a man could do--” A needful sound, caught between a moan and a whimper, escaped from Parma then. He took a deep breath and exhaled it shakily.
“You do know how to torture a man soundly, Eminence.” He fought to keep his voice even, restrained, while the rest of his body, his senses, raged out of control. “A thousand miles between us, and I can but hear your voice.”
“Your voice is all I need,” purred Marsciano. “Still, I wish it was your hand caressing me rather than my own.”
“God Almighty, Nico,” breathed Parma, killing the remainder of the wine in his glass. “You are the only man on this earth who can drive me to sin.” He paused a moment, warring with his better judgment, before asking, “What are you wearing?” The question, in this situation, was cliché at best, and Parma already knew the answer. He just wanted to hear Marsciano say it.
“A gold crucifix,” Marsciano replied amusedly. “Yours, if you want to be specific.”
The last remaining threads of composure that Parma clung to simply snapped, and in that moment, he was thankful he was alone.
“More,” he pleaded. “Tell me more.”
“Where are you?” inquired Marsciano. “In the office?”
“Imagine I am there, lying across your desk, completely open and bare.” Parma groaned and bit his lip, hard.
“Now, imagine that I move from the desk to straddle your lap where you sit. My hands are running over your chest, unbuttoning your garments--” Parma moaned, closed his eyes, and let his free hand--the one not clutching the phone--trail absently down the front of his cassock. The air in the room was stifling now, and he tugged at his collar. His blood ran hot in his veins.
“I wish I was there with you,” his voice was low and ragged with unrestrained desire.
“What would you do with me if I were?”
It was a question that Parma had every intention of answering, in shameless detail. However, before he could as much as verbalize his first thought, his reverie was completely shattered by a shrill jangling that erupted from the briefcase beside him.
It took Parma a moment to realize his cell phone was ringing.
Swearing softly, he dug for the phone, only to swear once more upon identifying the caller.
“The pope,” he gasped. “The pope is calling me. Right now.”
“Talk about bad timing.” Marsciano snickered. “You need to take that. Go. I’m more than capable of finishing this myself.” Parma groaned. That’s just the mental picture I need while talking to His Holiness.
“I love you,” he offered feebly.
“Of course, dear.” Parma swore a third time as he replaced the receiver and flipped open his cell.
“Your Holiness,” he gushed. “I was just about to call you. Something of importance has come up, and I need to leave Rome in the morning.”
As the pontiff spoke his reply, he scrawled a quick memo on a yellow Post-It note in front of him.
--Book earliest flight from Rome to St. Petersburg first thing in the morning.
Smirking, Cardinal Parma poured himself another glass of wine.