Carla will be here on Sunday to talk about her latest Roman-set romance and give away a signed copy. Hope you'll join us!
Former merchant turned slave and gladiator trainee, Quintus Ambustus will do almost anything to earn his freedom. Enslaved for his faith in Christ, he hopes someday to find a Christian woman to marry and share his life. A friend of Quintus's master, Adiona Leonia is one of wealthiest, most beautiful women in Rome. She has good reason to despise men and has vowed never to wed.***
Although each of them is attracted to the other, they're determined to fight their feelings. But when an attacker threatens Adiona's life and Quintus is made her protector, neither can resist their fascination. As Adiona learns to trust, first Quintus, and then his God, Quintus learns the Lord's gifts sometimes come in the most unexpected packages and in ways he never dreamed possible.
Rome, 81 AD
"Have you lost your mind, Caros?" Incredulous, Adiona stared at her friend as though he'd grown two heads. The very idea of Quintus Ambustus acting as her bodyguard made her tremble.
"No, I'm sane enough." Caros crossed his arms over his broad chest and leaned against the marble desktop. Morning sunlight streamed through the office's east-facing windows and glinted off the jewel-toned tiles in the mosaic floor. "You need a strong, trustworthy leader for your guard if you mean to leave for Neopolis anytime soon."
"Quintus is capable for certain, but he despises me. What makes you think he'll agree to your plan?"
"He doesn't despise you." He ignored her snort of disbelief. "He's already agreed."
Her heart skipped a hopeful beat. "He has?"
"He wants to earn funds to buy his freedom. Your situation provides a perfect solution to that end."
"Yes, perfect," she said tightly, wounded by the knowledge that Quintus had to be bought in order to spend time with her. She tugged the leaf off of a potted plant, grateful Caros hadn't noticed the root of melancholy growing inside her. "Why force him to buy his freedom? You've released your other slaves and kept only volunteers since you became one of those Christians. Why not simply release him? You have no need of money."
"I've tried. He calls it charity and won't accept my offer. The two of you need each other." She cringed at the idea of needing anyone. Unlike most men, Caros wasn't stupid. He possessed hawk-like powers of observation. He was aware of how attracted she was to Quintus and just how much Quintus chafed at being within a mile of her. If she didn't know him better, she'd think her long time friend was making a cruel joke at her expense. "I thought when you wed Pelonia you'd grow tired of meddling in my affairs."
His smirk slid into a full grin. She gritted her teeth, vexed she seemed incapable of sparking the tiniest flame of irritation in him when his plans had left her capsized and floundering.
She moved to the window in need of air and something to focus on beside the conflicting mix of excitement, longing and fear that threatened to drive her mad.
Gladiators trained in the field below. She winced when she caught herself searching greedily for the tall Christian who tormented her thoughts by day and her dreams by night.
She twisted the end of her long braid with her fingers. The clack of wooden practice swords and the glint of sunlight on shields reminded her of the attack the previous evening. She closed her eyes, absorbing the loss of her men, men she barely knew and shared no bond with beyond that of master and slave. What if Quintus were her protector and she was attacked again? What if Quintus suffered the same deadly fate as Titus and her other guards?
She clutched her chest as a sudden rush of anguish robbed her of breath. She must keep him safe. How would she ever be able to live with herself if any harm came to him because of her?
"Adiona?" Caros asked.
"What?" Embarrassed by her overwrought reaction, she wrenched her eyes open and pretended interest in the gladiator practice.
"Are you well?"
"Of course," she whispered just as she spotted Quintus training with another gladiator in the center of the field.
Her traitorous heart leapt at the sight of him and his powerful movements mesmerized her. A voice of reason clamored in the back of her mind to leave the window before he saw her, but her feet seemed buried in the concrete floor.
Without warning, Quintus broke from the fight and glanced her way as though he her presence called to him from across the sand. He turned slowly toward the house. The sharp, angular cut of his jaw was locked tight, his full lips unsmiling. Sweat poured down his temples and the bronze column of his throat, soaking the front of his dark tunic. His muscled arms and legs seemed relaxed in their stillness, but the intensity in his gaze exposed the turbulent inner man that both frightened and fascinated her.