Authors: Eva Scott
“Hurry!” she whispered frantically, reaching for him. He stilled her hands with one of his.
“Slowly, Princess.” He bent and continued to place kisses over her hip bone and along one creamy thigh. “We have all the time in the world.” She sighed and relaxed ever so slightly, until his fingers found her heat and she arched, gasping, at his touch. Chuckling, he removed her leggings and they joined his tunic in a pile on the floor.
She shivered in the cool night air.
“Are you cold?”
“A little,” she nodded in the dark, her head moving against his shoulder.
Lucius gently removed his arm from behind her neck and swung his legs onto the floor. She could hear him fumbling about in the dark before a light flared. Watching him move about the room by candle light she was struck by the sheer beauty of him. His well shaped buttocks and thighs, as if carved from rock, gave him the look of a god in the flickering shadows.
The tavern provided a slightly musty blanket, too thin to protect against the early spring night. Lucius grabbed his coat and lay it over the top of the blanket before rejoining Klara. She pulled the coat a little higher, noticing the eagle was missing from its back.
“Where is your other coat?”
“Mmm?” Lucius snuggled against her, wrapping one leg over hers and pulling her close.
“Your coat, the one with the eagle embroidered on the back. Where is it?”
“Lost it,” he murmured, nuzzling her neck.
“You lost it?”
“Gambling at your wedding.”
Klara shook his shoulder. “Who did you lose it to? Lucius, pay attention, this is important.”
He stirred at the urgency in her voice. Propping his head up on one hand he regarded her in the dim light. “Why does it matter?”
She sat upright. “Because the man who murdered Bleda was wearing
coat. I know, I was there.”
“That explains a thing or two,” Lucius muttered pushing himself up to sit. “It explains why you Hun think I’m responsible for Bleda’s death for one.”
Klara held her breath. Joy coursed through her at the realisation Lucius was not responsible for the horrible murder, followed close behind by the fear he’d work out the truth behind why she was here in Aquicum. “Who were you gambling with?” she asked in a bid to keep him from reaching that conclusion about her.
“No idea. A couple of Hun, a Mongolian or two. I was determined to get drunk and forget I’d ever met you.” He looked down at her, his eyes as blue as a spring sky. “I’d been congratulating myself on finding a remarkable woman I wanted to make my own then I discovered you were Rugila’s daughter and it was your wedding I was attending. All I wanted to do was get as drunk as possible. I’m not a very good gambler when drunk.” Lucius shrugged and gave her a rueful smile.
Klara scrambled up the bed until she sat next to him, shoulder to shoulder. “Don’t you see? If you can remember who you lost your coat to we can track down the men who killed Bleda.”
“Princess, if I knew I’d tell you in a heartbeat. Remember I’ve got that dog Irnik on my tail determined to take my head off and give it to you.”
“Why would I want your head when I can have all of you?” Klara’s hand snaked beneath the covers to cup his manhood which hardened at her touch.
Lucius growled deep in his throat before claiming her mouth, his tongue tangling with hers as he devoured her. Then suddenly he withdrew.
“Wait a minute. If you saw Bleda cut down by a man wearing my coat then you must have thought…” His eyes narrowed as he pulled away from her, climbing out of bed to pace naked.
“It’s not like that. I didn’t really believe you were the one to kill Bleda. What reason could you have? It didn’t make any sense.” The lie tasted sour on her lips. Klara had indeed thought Lucius was the murderer. The last thing she wanted was to lose him after the magic they had shared this evening. What mattered was she believed him to be innocent now.
Lucius stopped and stared at her, his eyes hardening. “What exactly
you doing in Aquicum?”
Klara shivered at his cold tone. “I’m…I was…”
“Doing a spot of marketing? For what? My head?”
“Lucius! You don’t understand. I had to get away and I had to find you. Irnik was going to…”
Lucius held up his hand. “Oh, I know all about what Irnik intends. It’s what you intend that’s got me intrigued. What were you planning to do when you found me? Ask me politely if I had killed your husband? Or better yet perhaps you were planning to find me and let Irnik know where I was.”
His suggestion she would betray him to Irnik filled her with anger. “I would do no such thing. I despise Irnik and the stinking excuse for his son. No matter what happens I will not marry into his clan. He only wants his hands on my father’s legacy, nothing more. The whole world knows he hates Rugila and wants to best him. What better way than to make his son chieftain in his place?” Klara was on her knees on the bed, one fist pounded against her bare thigh, impotent in her anger and disgust.
Lucius folded his arms across his chest. “Then ask me.”
Klara threw herself down on the bed and stared at the ceiling, avoiding his eyes. “I have no need to ask. I know the truth.”
“A truth only newly revealed it seems. Was laying with me all part of your ruse? What were you planning to do, slip a knife into my ribs while I slept?”
Klara gasped and sat bolt upright, shocked at how close he’d come to guessing her secret. “I could not kill you, not knowing what I know now,” she whispered.
Lucius stared at her for the longest while, his expression unreadable. “So if the sex had been mediocre, and the truth about my coat had not been revealed, you would have happily slit my throat?”
“No! Of course not!” Everything was slipping away between her fingers like desert sand. “I would never…”
But he didn’t give her the opportunity to finish. “Get out,” he said, ice dripping from each word and chilling her soul. “Just get out.”
Klara heard Lucius slam the door to his room as she lay in her own room on the cold bed, staring at the ceiling. The goat hair blanket was scratchy and smelled distinctly of the animal in question. Shivering less from cold than Lucius’ icy dismissal, she pulled the blanket to her chin. Where on earth would Lucius be going at this time of night? Probably back to the tavern bar where he would no doubt indulge in a barley beer or two. She sighed into the soft darkness. He had been terribly angry, with good reason. There was no way to explain her side of the story without it sounding terrible. But was the mistake she’d made in thinking he was the murderer so awful? The murderer
been wearing Lucius’ coat. Was it a crazy conclusion to draw that perhaps Lucius might be inside it?
Rolling over Klara drew her knees to her chest and closed her eyes. Maybe he’d have a beer or two, simmer down, and come to the conclusion she was never going to kill him. She lacked the physical strength for a start. All her bravado had been hollow. The thought of turning him over to Irnik had never crossed her mind. How could a woman respond to a man as she had tonight if she planned to kill him?
Laying in the cold bed her thoughts roved to how warm his body had been against hers. How close they had come to making love! Her body seemed sure of itself yet her heart had doubts. Never having been in love before, she pondered the difference between lust and love. She could be his lover without a doubt but could she love him? A Roman man was an odd match for a chieftain’s daughter. All the sparks and lightning between them might fizzle out without a deeper fire to draw upon. How could she tell if she was in love or not?
For now it did not matter. They had to find the murderer and get Lucius’ name cleared. He might be angry with her now but she was confident Lucius would come to see the situation as she did. He’d need her help whether he liked it or not. Huddling further under the blanket, Klara drifted into a light sleep with the sound of the tavern as a rowdy lullaby.
Lucius found the darkest corner of the tavern and settled in with his beer. There was not a word in any of the languages he knew to describe how angry he was with Klara. How stupid he’d been to think she was in Aquicum by happy accident! He shook his head while softly cursing himself. All his normal, sharp faculties seemed blunted around that woman. Misjudgement and mistake followed him whenever she was near. The smart thing to do would be to walk away and forget he’d ever known her. Yet he knew after what had passed between them meant he could never walk away. Something happened between them every time she came near and whatever it was he wanted to explore the possibilities. He was in deeper than ever.
Rubbing a hand over his weary eyes, Lucius sunk lower in his seat. If he were smart he’d take himself off to bed and get some sleep. Tomorrow would be soon enough to deal with the situation. Right now he was too tired to think straight let alone make a decision about how to handle Irnik. Their only chance was to make for the coast, if Klara agreed to come with him. He didn’t know what he’d do if she refused. Somehow he didn’t think she would. She was in as much trouble as he was.
He became aware of a low conversation between two men at a nearby table, the deep timbre of their voices slipping under the raucous noise of the other tavern patrons. Disguised by shadows, Lucius sat very still and listened with mounting horror.
“Irnik is a fool if he thinks Rugila’s girl will agree to marry his son. That boy is an ugly bastard and mean with it,” said the first man.
“You’ll get no argument from me about the boy yet his father is no fool. Irnik has placed a price on the girl’s head. Her weight in silver goes to the man who brings her in alive and unharmed. Irnik will have his way so why shouldn’t we be the ones to have the silver?” The second man chuckled as if he’d told a particularly funny joke although Lucius could see no humour in it.
“Never a truer word spoken. We know she’s nearby. It’s not hard to track a lone Hun woman. Everybody remembers seeing her. I say we finish the night here and take her in the morning. Why waste good beer?” The first man let out a large belch to make his point.
The second man laughed openly and Lucius heard what sounded like a slap on the back. “You’re right as always. We can have the beer, the woman
the silver. To us!” Tankards of beer clanked together in salute.
The two men amused themselves with toasts to their own cleverness and prowess while Lucius’ mind spun in circles. Not only was his own head on the table, Irnik was willing to pay for Klara’s as well. While Lucius lacked a proper plan, one thing he did know was they couldn’t stay here in Aquicum a minute longer than necessary. If these two idiots were on their tails then there would be others, possibly of higher intelligence. He threw back the last of his beer and slipped out, hoping to leave unnoticed, before making straight for Klara’s room.
Klara woke with a start. Someone was pounding on her door, or was the pounding in her head? Pressing her temples with her fingertips she sat up. Barley beer did not agree with her. Give her kumis any day. She reached blindly for her water skin and took a long drink. The pounding continued and she made her way gingerly to the door.
“Who is it?” she croaked, her voice thick with sleep.
“It’s me, Lucius. Open up.”
Her heart leapt with hope as she fumbled to unbolt the door, the heavy wooden slide sticking in her haste. Finally the door opened with a pop and Lucius tumbled in.
“Hurry up,” he said grabbing her boots off the floor and throwing them at her. “Get dressed. We’ve got to go.”
“Now?” The blanket she’d wrapped around her fell to her feet as Klara instinctively reached out to catch the boots. Lucius hesitated for a moment as his eyes took in her naked body, hunger written clearly in the lines of his face.
“Yes. Now.” The spell was broken as soon as it had been cast. Lucius moved around the room picking up Klara’s belongings and throwing them on the bed. “I had no idea you were this messy.”
“If I’d known you were going to pay a visit I would have tidied up.” Klara pulled on her leggings quickly as the cold night air made her skin goose bump. “Who are you anyway? My mother?”
Lucius turned to face her, one eyebrow cocked. “If I was your mother, or your father for that matter, I would have paddled your backside far more often than they obviously did. Now get a move on, we haven’t got all night.”
“How dare you! I won’t…” Klara’s next words were drowned out as Lucius threw her tunic at her head.
“You can tell me what you will or won’t do later. Right now we need to be saddled and on the road.”
Klara struggled into her tunic before sitting on the side of the bed and pulling on her boots. “Do you mind telling me where we are going in such a rush?”
“I have no idea.”
“All right. How about why? After you threw me out I didn’t count on seeing you again for a little while.”
“Under normal circumstances you would have been right however things have changed. Right now there are two men sitting downstairs in the tavern plotting how to kidnap you and get you back to Irnik in one piece.” Lucius found her pack and began stuffing her belongings into it. “There is a price on your head, as there is mine.”
“What do you mean kidnap me?” Klara’s fingers stilled on the laces of her soft leather boots.
“Kidnapping is where a person is captured against their will and held to ransom or, as in your case, sold.”
“I know what kidnapping is,” Klara said irritably. “I’m not simple. I mean why me? Why on earth would Irnik do such a thing? Unless he hopes to present me to my father. Rugila must have been furious when he discovered I’d gone off against his wishes.”
Lucius chuckled darkly. “You are simple if you think Irnik is after you as a favour to your father. He intends to force you to marry his son to further his claims on your clan. Once he’s got his claws into you I doubt very much you’ll be going home to Father.”
Klara stood up and snatched her pack from Lucius. “And how exactly do you know this?”
A weary sigh escaped him along with his brusqueness. Placing his hands on her shoulders Lucius turned Klara to face him. She clutched her pack to her chest and looked up into his blue eyes. “I overheard two men talking about how they intend to grab you tomorrow, take you back to Irnik and claim their reward. Neither man struck me as very bright so if they’re able to track you down you can be sure there are others. Both of us are in danger if we stay here any longer.”