Rome 108 A.D., under the Emperor Trajan, is the center of the civilized world. It is a time of sophistication and decadence, a brutal world to their conquered.
Marcus, a Roman citizen sentenced to die as a gladiator, accused by his wife and brother for a crime he did not commit. Yet death eludes him and he rises to become champion of the sands. The title he does not want. He seeks revenge but his victories in the Colosseum bestow monetary rewards he can use to save a beautiful slave, Gustina, from certain death by the beasts. She gives him a taste of love in a world full of lies, betrayal and murder.
But his overwhelming desire for vengeance, for blood and the kill, brings a higher price tag – can he satisfy the demon inside him and face the truth? A truth that will kill the woman he loves?
Now the Excerpt!!!
The air filled with the gladiators’ whooping and hollering on the arrival of Marcus, Iduma and the others from the Colosseum. Today’s wins marked the games as halfway through and with the arrival of Trajan tomorrow, the spectacles became grander, as if the first fifty days had been practice.
Marcus turned at the yell and barely grabbed the wine jug thrust into his hands. Tevia, in one of his rare moments of breaking stoic face, grinned animatedly. Marcus tilted his head in the slave’s direction, a solitary thanks. He knew Tevia was uncomfortable in the lower ludus, as the gladiators either belittled him as Aulus’ toad or, if he was lucky, ignored him. Marcus was one of the few that treated him as another slave, not better or worse, though his position near Aulus placed him as the man to seek for favors or advice. The champion’s knowledge from his prior slave days gave him the insight to Tevia’s position and befriended the man early. But for him to be here now was a puzzle.
An even bigger puzzle was the flash of anger jetting through Iduma’s eyes at the Domina’s personal slave. Marcus frowned.
Tevia’s shoulders straightened. “Marcus, all the wine you can drink. There’s enough for everyone to get as much as they want.”
Roars heralded throughout the chamber as the others heard this, doubling when the doors on the other side, leading from the Villa’s storage, opened. In came two slaves pulling the wooden cart carrying the wine jugs. Marcus watched as he took another slug from the one he had.
Tevia bent closer. “Dominus made comment about special reward for you, later, in your cell.”
Marcus’ heart skipped a beat. Trying to maintain a plain, indifferent face, he downed more wine. Gustina. His eyes narrowed on the man, trying to pinpoint what he meant. Tevia just smiled and nodded. The confirmation made fire pore through his blood. He hadn’t seen her in weeks and felt her absence strongly.
But even in his rush of excitement, he did notice the angry look on the Brit’s face as he snorted and walked away. He turned to follow.
“Marcus,” Tevia called. “Be wary of those you trust. Even the gods bend wills to make us do as they want.”
“What is your purpose?” The house slave’s statement sent a chill snaking down his spine. Odd, once more, the demon was absent. Inconsistent beast.
“Perhaps nothing,” the man said with a shrug. “Be wary of Iduma. He now carries his own demon.”
Marcus smirked. He knew they thought he was possessed. And maybe he was, though he now believed it was by the brown-haired beauty he stole from the Afterlife’s grip. Something wasn’t right. He could feel it, but after the day he’d had, sweltering on the sands, he just didn’t care. He put the wine jug to his lips and gulped. When he looked down again, Tevia was gone.
He turned and hit an onslaught of his brothers, his fellow gladiators. Most had cups in their hands, slapping backs and joking. Even Iduma.
Time to solve the issue. Marcus walked up to the Brit. “Time to celebrate, brother.” He poured into the man’s cup.
Iduma smiled, raising the cup in thanks and downing it. Pushing the empty container back at him, Iduma’s wayward grin was restored. “Yes, brother. And we championed with the luck of the gods.”
Marcus guffawed. “Perhaps you needed their aid, but not I.”
Iduma laughed and stepped back a space. “Surely, you jest. Or I will give safety a wider berth, in case they send a lightning bolt ripping through the ceiling.”
Marcus laughed. “I am not their plaything. I need not worry.”
Around them, the others downed wine and roared in satisfaction when the whores arrived. Marcus retrieved another jug, pulling the cork from its neck and flicking it across the room. One of the harlots caught it and ambled up to him, grinning.
“Champion, I have your attention,” she said seductively, sauntering closer.
He smiled. Her hand came to his chest, lightly tracing a design as she continued talking to him, trying to entice him to take her. She wasn’t bad looking, considering her profession, but his heart tugged for another. He opened his mouth to tell her no when beyond her, he saw his brother gladiators enjoying the night, drinking and fucking the other whores. Against the far wall, he caught a glimpse of Gustina, and he felt alive. Even the quiet demon purred.
It only lasted a moment. Just as he reached to take the whore’s hand off him and go to Gustina, he saw Iduma step closer to his woman. Marcus’ gaze narrowed. The Brit spoke to her and she nodded, her hand went to him, resting on his chest. Iduma’s head bent closer.
Marcus’ blood boiled. They looked too familiar with each other. As if they were lovers…. The demon prowled, snarling.
The whore slid away.
He wouldn’t have heard the call if he hadn’t been hit in his bicep by the other gladiator. He whipped around, fury unfurling, to find Ludo, jug in hand. An unusual appearance. With a frown, he tilted his head, damping down the anger. “Doctore.”
“Come, let us drink to the return of your prowess,” the man’s arm encircled Marcus’ shoulders as he poured the wine into the empty cup.
Marcus snorted. He drank, wanting to look for her, but Ludo had turned them around. Though the man may be drinking with him, Marcus saw the whip was still attached to the doctore’s waist. He took another sip, resigning himself for the moment. She would be with him soon and then, he’d find the truth.
About Gina Danna
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Gina Danna has spent the better part of her life reading. History has been her love and she spent numerous hours devouring historical romance stories, dreaming of writing one of her own. Years later, after receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees in History, writing academic research papers and writing for museum programs and events, she finally found the time to write her own stories of historical romantic fiction.
Now, under the supervision of her three dogs and three cats, she writes amid a library of research books, with her only true break away is to spend time with her other life long dream – her Arabian horse – with him, her muse can play.