Love & Vengeance by Gina Danna
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?
Rome 108 CE
A menacing growl followed by an earth-shattering scream bellowed above the rafters. The roar of the crowd snapped Gustina out of her numbness. Applause echoed through the chambers as particles of sand rained through the wood slats in the ceiling.
She was filthy, covered in sweat, blood and grime. What damage could more dirt do? Toes on the dirt floor wiggled as she stared at them. Her hair hung around her face like a curtain, matted with dried blood. Inadvertently, she lifted her hand to tuck one side behind her ear but jerked to a halt, restrained by the iron cuffs around her wrists, bound together with a chain. The same chain connected to the metal collar around her neck. How had she forgotten its weight resting so heavily on her shoulders?
Another scream and the sound of flesh ripping, laughter, and clapping became louder above. Fear snaked down her spine and she shuddered.
Gustina sat on the stone ledge, chained with the other miscreants, waiting to be forced up the ramp to the carnage above. If she could just return to the numbness, where nothing mattered any more. The place she’d escaped to before she’d heard the animals attacking the condemned out there. But she couldn’t silence the roar of the crowds enjoying the executions as their noontime entertainment. Trembling, she pulled her sluggish legs up, wrapped her joined hands over them, and buried her face in her knees.
In the hallway outside the chamber, Marcus stood, flexing his muscles, his arm extended
with the metal disk in his hand. It equaled the weight of his sword—a weapon he would not have until it was his turn in the arena. Besides, there was no room in the corridor to swing it, to loosen his arms in preparation for the next fight.
Christians and convicts. What a surly lot. But it was an easy way to feed the vast array of
beasts the Empire kept to compete in the games. Did he ever feel sad for the poor souls about to perish by their claws? No. Nor did he mourn the loss of life at the end of his sword.
He was one of the rare attractions people paid to see. He was gladiator. And he soon would be victor of all he opposed on the sands. Marcus’ victories gave him the privileges and money he wanted—as long as it remained wine and women. But not his freedom. Not what he had lost to the Romans. No, the only way to gain that came by victory in the arena and in front of the Emperor. And to earn that opportunity, he’d kill whomever they placed before him.
He closed his eyes as the screams filtered downward. His soul heard them and his body tingled with the smell of blood and dirt. Breathing in the welcoming atmosphere, he exhaled and opened his lids to look straight into the captives’ chamber.
He found her. Sitting, hunched on the small ledge, draped in chains and metal bands, her head down. But when she looked up, through all the muck and grime, her pale blue eyes shone, sparkling and bright. Her unmarred face was a rarity among captives dragged to this place, usually after rough treatment. He noticed her high cheekbones, a small nose, narrow chin but ripe mouth. Her eyes locked on his and his mouth went dry. When her tongue licked her lips, his body tightened.
He had to have her. Period. Regardless if she was a convict, runaway or Christian, he wanted her.
A guard butted past him into the room and yanked the chain, pulling all the captives up. Many moaned, some pleaded. She didn’t. She stood straight, pushing her shoulders back, waiting at the end of the line. Her eyes kept contact his until the guard turned, chain in hand, to lead them out.
Marcus stepped back. Instantly, his hand went to his stomach guard and pulled the narrow pick-knife out of its hidden sheath. As the captives stumbled past him, he extended his foot, causing her to trip. She fell into his grasp. He placed the knife in the lock and twisted it open. His hand covered it to deaden the noise as his other arm encircled her tiny waist and pulled her against him.
“Not a sound,” he whispered. He shoved her to the wall, his massive body hiding hers as he flexed his limbs. The guard stopped at the sound of the loose chain but didn’t look far when he saw the gladiator’s well-muscled body. Marcus glanced at him over his shoulder and gave the man a nod. His status as a victorious gladiator allowed some privilege. The guard shrugged and
moved on. The frightened woman gasped for air and shook with fear.
Quickly he lifted her. She was light, seemingly lighter than his sword, but he knew that
couldn’t be. In a swift move, he turned. Next to the doorway was a covered alcove. He dropped her in it.
“You’ll be safe here.” He looked her over. Her wide eyes, full of fear and mistrust, returned his gaze but she said nothing. He heard the gong of his master calling him, reminding him he fought next, after the final execution. “Remain here. I will be back for you.” He touched her cheek, his bulky hand swallowing half her face. Her skin was soft, like silk. Back in the days when he wore silk… He banked the anger. With a final nod to her, he left. He knew she’d be there when he returned.
To leave meant death.
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.
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