Authors: Eva Scott
On the bloody ground of the Colosseum, she fights to save her life. In the treacherous boxes above, he fights to save their love
Though Klara didn’t love the man who was to be her husband, she didn’t want him murdered, and she vows to track down the man who committed the crime. Sickened that she’d been attracted to the mysterious Roman, Klara tracks Lucius Aurelius to the fringes of the Roman Empire, only to find that they’ve both been trapped in a clever plot to overthrow Klara’s father, the Chief of the Huns.
Klara is separated from Lucius, captured by slavers and sold to a gladiator school. She is the only one who can save herself, by fighting for her freedom. Lucius can ensure her battle is easier, but only by sacrificing himself. How much is he willing to give up for the fiery woman he’s come to love?
Eva Scott lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland with her family and three dogs. When she’s not writing you can find her out on the water kayaking, fishing or swimming. When on dry land it’s all about the shoes and the coffee.
Thank you to Guy Gibson and Téa Cooper for their unfailing support, both moral and editorial.
To the real Klara
! You brought me a camel!” Klara shot to her feet as a young travel-stained Mongolian boy shuffled out leading a large animal. The crowd, gathered for her wedding festivities, broke into raucous laughter.
exactly am I supposed to do with a camel? Father!” She turned hands open in appeal to find her father doubled over with mirth. Klara didn’t want the fetid animal. They were renowned for their viciousness and as if to prove the point the camel in question chose that moment to spit vociferously.
“It is my special wedding gift for your daughter.”
Klara eyed Muunokhoi, otherwise known as Vicious Dog, with suspicion. The oily looking Mongolian probably wanted to off load the beast and no one would take it. Her wedding provided just the opportunity he needed.
Well, he wasn’t about to fool her!
“My old friend!” Klara’s father, Rugila, threw his arms wide in welcome. “It is gift enough to have you here.”
Pretending to be busy adjusting the rows of brightly coloured beads hanging about her neck, Klara smothered a snort. Vicious Dog would have her father good and drunk within the hour. Wedding or not, the two of them would find something to toast. Two ants climbing up a blade of grass would do.
Klara turned to her husband-to-be. “Bleda, do something!” Bleda held up his hands and shrugged, laughing all the while. Clearly he was going to be of no help. She was stuck with the stupid camel until she could come up with a way of getting rid of it.
“Men!” She turned and strode out of the wedding tent. “I
camels,” she muttered as she placed a well-aimed kick at a bale of hay. “And I suppose I’ll be the one who has to clean up after it, feed it, water it and do whatever else it needs. I’ll be the one spat at and kicked. The damned thing will eat all the grass and there will be nothing left for the sheep.
Furious, she strode past sprawling tents, children tumbling between them. So many guests had come to celebrate her wedding, swelling their tribe’s camp to five times the normal size. It now seemed to stretch endlessly out across the grasslands. Klara had no particular destination in mind as she walked away from the happy chaos of her wedding celebrations preceding tomorrow’s ceremony.
She’d known Bleda all her life. They’d been betrothed since they were young children. But they weren’t children anymore. Tomorrow represented the end of her personal freedom and a beginning of her responsibilities as a wife of a tribal chief. As her husband, Bleda would take her father’s place when Rugila died and she would become ‘mother’ of the tribe. She sighed. This kind of constraint came to all women in the end, one way or the other. Why would she be any different? Still, the yoke had already begun to chafe.
Picking up her pace, she began to run. Tents passed by in a blur as the need to be free out on the grass plain, under the vaulting sky, possessed her. Her legs pumped, her breath grew shorter and Klara wondered if her new husband would let her fight, or hawk, or even hunt anymore. She raced towards the perimeter of the camp, desperate to get away from everyone even if only for a few moments. The colourful beads around her neck bounced against her chest. She clutched them in her fist and yanked them over her head. Like the trappings of her almost-married status, they seemed to choke her and grow heavier with every step.
Klara could see the beginning of the grass plain ahead.
. Taking a deep breath she leapt over a saddle left carelessly outside a straggler’s tent. Her long skirt became entangled in her legs and her stride faltered. Falling took forever and she had time to be grateful the entire camp wasn’t present to witness her latest humiliation; first the camel and now this. Her beads flew from her hands as she landed with a heavy thump, knocking all the air from her lungs.
As Klara sat gasping a shadow loomed over her, blocking out the afternoon sun.
“What do we have here?” The man spoke with a strange accent as he towered over her, hands on his hips. “A young woman running hell-bent for the long grass with a fist full of trinkets. A man could be forgiven for mistaking her for a thief.” He reached over and picked up the strands of beads.
Klara scrambled to her feet. “I am no thief!” She made to snatch her beads back from the stranger who held them just beyond her reach.
“Really? How can I trust you? You could be telling me all sorts of lies. What are you willing to do to prove you’re no thief?” The sound of humour in his tone only served to increase Klara’s annoyance.
“Give me those beads,” she demanded, holding out her hand.
“Not until you prove you didn’t steal them.” Now she was closer to him Klara could see he was not born of the Great Steppe. His hair was light coloured, like the long grass in autumn although it hung to his collar in Hunnish fashion. His eyes were the strangest shade of blue, as if made from the dawn light. Those eyes were smiling at her as they roamed over her face and down her body. A prickling sensation unlike any she’d ever encountered followed wherever his eyes rested. Her cheeks flushed hot with awareness.
“I demand you give me those beads right now.” Other parts of her had begun to tingle alarmingly. This strange man compelled and revolted her all at once. As an almost-married woman she had a duty to get back to her wedding guests. She’d been gone too long already. Drawing herself up to her full height she decided it was time to bring this little encounter to a close. Klara lunged in an effort to grab back her beads. The stranger caught her easily and pulled her close, laughter reverberating deep in his chest.
His arm tightened about her waist and his breath brushed her cheek. “What a determined little thief you are,” he whispered. The scent of horses and something else, something wild and male, filled her and awakened an unfamiliar primal need within her. Klara pushed against his chest with her fists, he only held her tighter. She began to feel dizzy from his scent, from the beat of his heart against hers. A throbbing had begun low and deep inside her along with a longing she could not—dare not—name as she pressed against the hard length of him.
“I will give you the beads in exchange for a kiss,” he said. Klara stopped struggling and looked up into his fathomless blue eyes as panic began to take hold. She could not kiss a stranger! Not one this…
. Not when her husband-to-be was waiting for her.
“No!” she blurted.
“No? Then I shall have to keep you here until I find out the true owner of those beads. In a big camp like this, it could take some time.”
Klara’s eyes wandered to the stranger’s tent. Did he intend to take her in there? A shiver ran through her as his breath caressed her cheek. The situation was spiralling out of control. She had to stop it now before it was too late. Although what ‘too late’ might mean she could not say.
“All right? Just like that?” The stranger looked surprised and perhaps a little cheated.
“I don’t intend to fight you for the beads. Nor do I intend to sit about while you discover the truth for yourself. So you may have your silly kiss and then give me my beads back.” Klara spoke with as much dignity befitting her station as she could muster. She couldn’t let him know the heat radiating from him made her want to do things most undignified for a Chieftain’s daughter. This stranger had a disturbing effect on her. She’d let him take his kiss and be free of him.
“A silly little kiss it is then”, he said before lowering his mouth towards hers. Klara’s eyes shut in anticipation. She opened them, wondering why he had not begun. His lips hovered for a moment as if waiting for a signal from her. As her eyes met his, dark to light, she saw something shift deep within him. With it shifted the tone of the moment; no longer a bit of fun but something much more dangerous. She held her breath as his mouth finally descended upon hers.
The stranger’s lips were warm and dry. He kissed her softly at first then, throwing away all self control, he deepened the kiss, plundering her mouth with his tongue, one hand at her waist pressing her against him while the other cradled her head. Klara melted as molten desire invaded her limbs and her mouth opened beneath his. She clutched at the front of his tunic grateful his strong arms held her up. Unbidden, her lips returned his kiss, her tongue sought his and Klara lost all sense of time and place. She was captured momentarily under the spell of the stranger with his heavenly blue eyes.
His hands wandered down to cup her bottom and pulled her closer. Klara gasped as she felt his unmistakable arousal. The spell shattered in that instant. Pushing him away with all her strength she took a step backwards. Taken off guard, the stranger let go.
“How dare you!” she spluttered, angry not only at the stranger but at herself. She very nearly did something stupid right on the eve of her wedding night.
“Come now, Princess. You agreed to one silly little kiss and you can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy that as much as I did.” The stranger’s laconic smile was back on his face, his body relaxed with the all the lethal grace of a leopard.
Klara flicked her long plait back over her shoulder and put her hands on her hips. “You crossed the line. I might have agreed to one little kiss but you took much more than that.”
The stranger threw back his head and laughed. “Princess, that
one little silly kiss. Clearly you’ve never been kissed properly before. I’m happy to help with your education, simply say the word.”
“My education? You know nothing about me,” she hissed. “I’ve been kissed plenty of times and by better men than you. Now stick to the bargain and hand over those beads immediately. Right now!” She stamped her foot and held out her hand. The situation had gone on long enough. If she stayed any longer who knew what would happen. Her lips throbbed in the aftermath of his kiss. The sensation inspired all kinds of images of what else might throb if she took him up on his offer of an ‘education’. She had wedding guests to attend to. Surely someone must have noticed she was missing by now?