Authors: Eva Scott
Approaching the third tavern, she saw him. At least, Klara was sure it was him. Something about the way the man moved through the crowd with a loose limbed grace. The innate confidence screamed
The catch in her throat and the way her stomach did a little flip confirmed it, even while her eyes had doubts. Lucius moved away, strolling through the crowd purposefully. If she hurried she might be able to catch up with him but then what? What would she say?
Hello, I’m here to kill you in revenge for the death of my husband?
Seeing him suddenly like this left her unprepared, especially for her body’s traitorous response. She wanted him. Even thinking about it, acknowledging the rogue thought, ignited tendrils of desire that spiralled along her spine.
Klara shook herself from head to toe causing her horse to look at her askance. “I’m fine,” she muttered and the horse snorted as if it could read her thoughts. “Easy for you to say. You’re a horse. Come on,” she gave the reins a little tug. “Let’s get a room for me and a stable for you.”
An hour later Klara sat in the tavern with a bowl of thick stew before her. It was the first decent, edible meal since her mad journey began and she wolfed it down greedily. Even her room, while rudimentary, seemed luxurious by comparison to the flea pits of the last week or so. After ordering a bucket of hot water she had washed and put on clean clothes—not that she had many of those left. Tonight it was important to look her best as she waited for Lucius to return. A discreet enquiry assured her he was indeed staying at the same inn and Klara was confident of devising a meeting.
Soaking bread in the juicy stew she contemplated what she would say, trying different approaches, searching for one she was comfortable with.
What if he doesn’t recognise me?
The thought had not crossed her mind before. Her hand stilled half way to her mouth, clutching a piece of bread. Surely he’d recognise her. Perhaps he still carried the beads he’d taken from her. The look on his face when his eyes met hers across the fire the night of her wedding feast left her in no doubt Lucius would recognise her. Sighing in relief at her logic Klara popped the bread in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully.
Her plan was simple: seduce Lucius and cut his throat while he slept. During her long ride in pursuit of her quarry she had not once considered exactly
she would do this. Never having seduced a man nor cut a throat Klara began to doubt her capability to do either. The longer she sat at the rough hewn table waiting, the more doubts she collected. What seemed like a good plan out on the plain began to look foolish by the tavern’s lamp light. Perhaps revenge
men’s work. The rebellious thought, which had no currency previously, suddenly seemed perfectly rational.
Just as Klara began to seriously consider retiring to her room and leaving for home on daybreak, Lucius walked in.
Lucius struggled to remember the last time he’d felt this good. The spectre of Irnik was at bay leaving him relaxed and confident of keeping his head on his shoulders, at least for another day. Whistling an off-key tune he sauntered into the tavern giving the woman tending the bar his most dazzling smile and ordering a cup of beer. The woman, well past her prime, blushed like a maiden and hurried to serve him. Lucius turned to survey the room, looking for somewhere he could sit and enjoy his beer.
His eyes skimmed the various occupants, all the kind of patrons he’d expect in a place like this. Then he stopped, blinked twice, his heart hammering against his ribs.
It couldn’t be! Yet he was sure it was. He would know her anywhere, the way her hair as black as onyx swept over her shoulder in a thick plait which she flicked with a careless, elegant gesture.
Lucius’ hand went instinctively to the beads nestled in his coat pocket. They had become his talisman, his luck. Could they have brought her to him? Unlikely, but now she was here and conveniently single he intended to take advantage of the situation. Klara had resisted him before because she was about to be married. There was no denying the attraction between them. Now circumstances were different she might be less resistant to exploring the heat that had flared between them during their first encounter.
Grabbing his beer he walked over to where she sat. “Klara, daughter of Rugila, clan chief of the Hun.” He sketched a bow before delivering one of his killer smiles.
Klara’s throat tightened, her tongue thick in her mouth. She had sat all afternoon waiting for this moment and now it was here she could not speak. Watching Lucius walk towards her was like watching a dangerous predator circle its prey; not that she feared him, not really. Even after what she had witnessed on the night of her wedding seeing him again didn’t engender fear; it provoked something much more complicated.
“I hope you don’t mind if I join you.” His deep voice and sky-blue eyes met hers and Klara’s resolved melted like snow beneath the summer sun.
Lucius stood considering her for a moment, his head cocked to one side. When she didn’t speak he slid onto the bench opposite her. Klara jumped with a start as his knee brushed hers under the table. If he noticed her reaction, he didn’t let on.
“I’m astonished to see you here.” His smile threatened to split his face and Klara, despite herself, grinned in response. Try as she might her body seemed to be determined to chart its own response to the handsome Roman.
The smile disappeared from Lucius’ face almost as quickly as it came. “May I offer my condolences on the death of your husband?” He leaned closer across the table, his hand covered hers and Klara stiffened, terrifying images of her wedding night crowding the moment. Pulling her hand away she sat back and offered him a stiff nod of acknowledgment.
“A terrible event,” Lucius said, taking her discomfort for natural grief. “I hope they catch the man who committed this terrible crime.”
Klara watched Lucius’ eyes closely. There was no shadow of untruth lying in their pale depths. Yet she had seen what she had seen—a man wearing the eagle coat killed Bleda. Only one man owned such a coat. Lucius smiled at her then, his eyes crinkling at the corners. She was drawn to him despite her misgivings. He reached across the table and took her hand. His fingertips burned against her skin setting up a deep throbbing response. She did not pull her hand away.
As he spoke Klara slowly melted, “Let’s put such sadness behind us and speak of other things. What brings you to Aquicum? I’m curious to know. Is this your first time in a town?”
You brought me to this place
. Klara wanted to say but held her tongue. What credible purpose could she offer him? What would he believe?
“I’ve never been to a Roman town before,” she said finally. “I lost everything in the fire and my father thought it might help if I came to Aquicum and bought new things for myself.”
“Ah, attending the markets.” Lucius let go of her hand and sat back, nodding sagely. “A woman’s favourite activity.”
Klara smiled tightly and sipped her beer. Let him believe what he will. She had no need for the kind of trinkets other women delighted in. She’d come to Aquicum for a much larger trophy. Now Lucius sat before her she was cast on her path of vengeance.
Lucius couldn’t stop grinning like a fool. Klara was here, actually here, and looking more beautiful than he remembered. She had haunted his dreams since the day they had met. Did she know Irnik intended to marry her to his son, after presenting her with Lucius’ head? If she did now would not be the time to mention it.
She sat regarding him. Her obsidian eyes and high cheekbones reminded him of a statue of an Egyptian cat belonging to his father. Inscrutable and feminine. There was no reason they couldn’t explore the magic which arched between them. She’d felt it too, he was certain. How they came to be in the same tavern miles away from her camp Lucius took for nothing more than happy coincidence. No doubt Rugila thought to get his daughter far away while her husband’s murder was dealt with. Made perfect sense.
Remembering her beads he fished them out of his pocket and held them out to her. “I believe these are yours.”
Her eyes widened in surprise. She hesitated for a moment before taking them, turning them over with nimble fingers. Watching her, he imagined what those fingers would feel like tracing patterns on his skin. Which led him to wonder what it would be like to trace patterns on
skin, an altogether uncomfortable thought given they were in public. Quickly taking a swig of beer Lucius tried to distract himself from his burgeoning arousal.
Klara ran her thumb over the beads. He’d kept them in his pocket the whole time? They were still warm from his body. Winding them around her finger she made to put them in her pocket then suddenly slipped them over her head instead. They hung low, nestling between her breasts. Klara watched as Lucius swallowed hard, his eyes following the line of the beads. A sense of satisfaction infused her. He wanted her as much as she wanted him.
The thought of lying in his arms, flesh against hot flesh, set her tingling in secret places. Would it be so awful to make love to a man who made her feel something? She had no passion for Bleda, just a sisterly affection. Perhaps there would never be another man to make her feel this way. Klara contemplated her situation. She couldn’t get away from the fact she suspected Lucius of killing Bleda even though there was nothing about his demeanour indicated a murderer. Could she be wrong? Rugila said Lucius killing Bleda didn’t make sense. Yet she had seen what she had seen. Right now the only the only thing Klara was certain of was her confusion.
“Another drink?” Lucius nodded towards her empty cup. She nodded. Another drink would give her time to think. Lucius rose and hailed the serving woman. Klara admired the long, lean lines of the man, the way his broad shoulders strained the material of his tunic and the pleasing form of his thighs. A molten need set up between her thighs, a need only Lucius could fulfil. In that moment she knew she could not kill him. How could she kill a man who, in a momentary encounter, had made her feel more alive than she’d ever felt before? Perhaps she should have listened to her father.
“Here you go.” Lucius placed a fresh cup of barley beer in front of her. He took a long draught of his and gave her another one of his dazzling smiles. “Where are you staying?”
Klara felt a little fission of excitement run along her skin. “Here.”
Lucius raised his eyebrows. “So am I. Then there is no hurry to get you back to your room before dark.” Klara blushed at the image of their tangled naked limbs which his words evoked.
Lucius noted the bloom in her cheeks. “Unless you would like me to escort you to your room and tuck you up in bed.” His voice was low so no one else could hear what he said. “I would be most honoured.” He watched her intently. Did she understand his meaning? He thought so. The next moment would tell.
Her eyes met his, dark searching light, as if she looked for something deep within him. She must have found it.
“Yes,” she said simply.
And Lucius’ heart soared.
Klara followed Lucius along the narrow, dark corridor to his room stumbling blindly; shocked she had agreed so easily to lay with him. A part of her kept whispering he was her husband’s killer yet another part, the larger part, spurred her on with a fiery need to be possessed by the Roman. Perhaps in the morning she would be ashamed of herself but now all she could think of was the sensation of his lips against hers, how his skin would feel under her fingertips. There was no one to witness her decision. Klara rationalised she needed to gather proof Lucius was indeed a murderer before taking action. Tucking any doubts away she gave in to her lust.
Lucius held her small hand in his much larger one. His thumb traced circles on the palm of her hand causing her knees to buckle. Thank goodness they need not go far. They stopped and he threw open the door to the room. A cold draft blew into the corridor and Lucius crossed to close the small window. Klara shivered, as much from the drop in temperature as from desire.
He turned and gave her one of his smiles and her heart skipped a beat. In two strides he was beside her, his hand cupping the back of her head as he dragged her up against his body. Klara melted into his kiss as the outside world evaporated like mist. There was nothing, nothing but Lucius’ lips and hands. Twining her arms about his neck, she pulled him closer until she could feel the hard length of him. The only man Klara had ever made love to was Bleda and he’d been so drunk that night it had been perfunctory at best. Here in Lucius’ arms she hoped to fly to the moon and back on the wings of pure pleasure.
As if he had read her mind, his hands slipped down her spine to cup her bottom and pulled her tighter against him. Klara moaned deep in her throat as her bones turned to liquid. He lifted her then and she wrapped her legs around his waist, returning his kiss with ardour. Stumbling towards the bed, they fell together as one. Lucius released her then pushed her tunic up over her head to free her breasts to his hands and mouth.
A cry escaped her as his tongue encircled her nipple, his hands burning against her flesh. She writhed beneath the weight of him, wanting him as she had never wanted Bleda. Her hands clawed his back, desperate to feel his skin against hers.
Lucius, intent on savouring her delicious breasts that were more wonderful than he’d imagined in his nightly fantasies, shuddered in pleasure as her nails raked across his spine. Suddenly needing to be free of all restraint he pulled his tunic off, throwing it to the floor.
He was drunk, not on barley beer but on Klara—the scent of her, the taste of her. Running his hands down her ribs he trailed kisses between her breasts and across the flat expanse of her stomach. She arched beneath him, moaning with need and he smiled in the dark.
Lucius struggled to contain himself, he wanted to be inside her right at this very moment but first he would give her the kind of pleasure she deserved. They had all night to explore each other, there was no hurry. He pulled her leggings down languidly, sliding them over her hips and along her thighs.