Rome 100 CE
Conquered, beaten, sentenced to die in the Colosseum, Ganius of Gaul escapes his execution only to find himself enslaved as a gladiator. His rise to champion ensures his life, but does nothing to lessen his desire for vengeance against the Roman soldiers who destroyed all he knew.
Locked into a repugnant betrothal, the beautiful Roman Aurelia turns to her brother’s champion gladiator for help. Promising him his freedom if he helps her escape, Aurelia soon discovers she wants not only Ganius’s help, but to capture his heart as he’s captured hers.
In love with his sworn enemy, Ganius realizes Aurelia is the key to his freedom. But to take her with him would risk both their lives, yet leaving her behind to be a pawn in her brother’s machinations is a wretched alternative. Ganius must choose - love of a Roman or freedom to make the Romans pay. This is a fight the champion gladiator might lose...
Aurelia, domina to the gladiator Ganius, will do whatever it takes to escape marriage to an old legionnaire – even tempt the slave she finds herself attracted to, despite the consequences.
Aurelia stared out her window, watching the litter arriving at the steps to the villa. The four ebony slaves that carried the conveyance paused, lowering it to the ground. One parted the curtained side panel, allowing the passenger to get out.
Lucilla. That blonde who commandeered the handsome Marcus. For a second, jealousy flared through Aurelia. Marcus was too good for that bitch.
She pushed the thought aside. Lucilla wasn’t here to see her, but Caius. The woman was rather forward to pursue Caius and Marcus. What was her game?
Emmerilla’s voice almost made Aurelia jump, being so caught up in her own thoughts. She spun around. The girl nodded to her and stepped aside. Behind her stood the Celt. Ganius. Retrieved from the baths, his body oiled and scented, he stood like a god wearing only a loincloth. Every muscle defined, colored by the sun, he made her body sing with desire. He wasn’t like the other slaves, staring straight ahead, face bland of expression. No, his almond-colored eyes zeroed in on hers, and they were anything but dull. They sparkled, alive. The Celt looked more dangerous and virile than even Magos had when presented to her brother. Ganius held the appearance of a champion, the cocky arrogance showed yet there was something else hinting at the edges. She couldn’t define it, other than there was a darkness about him that frightened and, she discovered, excited her.
The silence in the room amplified. Aurelia’s mind snapped back to the present. She smiled. With a wave of her hand, she said to Emmerilla, “Leave us.”
The slave’s face contorted anxiously. “Domina…”
“It is all right, Emmerilla.”
The girl’s frown deepened, but she backed out of the room, closing the doors.
Aurelia ignored the slave’s look, instead focusing on the Celt. She smiled. “Ganius.”
Still straight-faced, he suddenly looked as if he realized he was staring at her, so he bent his head down. “Domina.”
“Oh, please,” she started, moving straight to him and taking his hand. It was thick and callused, rough to her touch. She bit her bottom lip. “When you are in my presence, you may call my name.”
He furrowed his brow, this time his gaze meeting hers. “How may I help you, Domina?”
She laughed. He refused to use her name, but his grip tightened for a second around her fingers. It was a small sign, but she’d take it. Releasing his hand, she turned and went to the table that held a bowl of almonds. She put one in her mouth, her mind working furiously. He was here with her, but she wasn’t sure what she was doing.
Memories of the last time she had him here came to her, and how Iana’s arrival made it short. Of course, her friend arrived with pressing news. Titus was on his way to Rome. One month from now, or two, depending, and her betrothed would arrive, no doubt to take her as his bride. Frankly, she wanted to vomit at the news but refrained.
How could she avoid the inevitable? Caius couldn’t be persuaded to intervene, so that left her to her own devices.
She picked up another nut and walked back to the gladiator. With a half-grin, she pressed it to his lips when he failed to open immediately. “Games begin next week. Will you win for me?”
He took the almond and quickly chewed it. “I will become champion.”
She laughed. “Of the fight or of the games?”
“Truly? Rather bold statement. You seem more set to purpose than the rest. Why?”
This time, he gave her a lopsided smile. “I will win my freedom—one way or another.”
Freedom. She sighed with resignation. Something under Roman law she’d never possess. She’d either be a wife or dependent on Caius. A month, maybe two. Despite the warmth of the sun streaming through the window, she shuddered. It took a moment but she swallowed the revulsion inside her and forced a smile.
“And what would you do with your freedom? Farm perhaps? Sell goats?”
“No, I’d return to my village.”
“In the north? Away from Rome?” Away from her? Dear Juno, why did that make her feel a loss?
He tilted his head, a puzzled look on his face. “Yes. Rome isn’t my home but a prison.” He clamped his mouth shut, obviously contrite, as if he volunteered too much.
It only intrigued her more. “Yes, as slave I can see why you’d deem it such, but you are not chained like the rest—” she gasped as he reached for her, grabbing her by the upper arms. Shocked, her palms planted on his bare chest to try to keep a distance, however small that was. His grip was tight but she quickly ignored that, overwhelmed by being brought so close to him, the masculine scent of him wrapped in oils and musk invading her senses. Tingles shot through her, pooling in her lower abdomen, titillating her nipples which turned hard and ached for his touch.
“No, I was brought here unfettered. A mistake, if I were the beast like the others.”
His warning struck deep. He’d take her and there was no one here to stop him nor any irons to thwart him. While that should’ve scared her senseless, it had the opposite effect. Her womb opened, craving him, a yearning that made her mouth go dry.
“But you are not like the others. The gods favor you…”
He snorted. “The gods…they piss on me, but you see it a fountain of blessing.”
“But they have, or you’d have died in the arena that day so long passed. You’d be dead like your friends.” Mesmerized by his tortured gaze, she flattened her palms on his chiseled chest. His heart pounded furiously under his breast. He flexed his pectoral muscles against her pressure. The light dusting of chest hairs brushed her fingers, causing sensations that branched into her arms down through her. Her toes curled. She was so close.
“Oh, I will win,” he countered. “I have a debt to pay. But its payment shall warrant my death.”
She licked her lips, barely hearing him at first. “Nothing could be so damning.”
“Yes, but thrice it is,” he whispered, lowering his head. “Especially when I add to it prior.” His lips found hers.
The move surprised her but the thrill coursed through her veins. The moment he touched her mouth, his grip lessened. Her hands traced up his chest to his shoulders and locked around his neck. He was tall enough that for her to do so meant she stood on her toes, and still barely made it. His hands went under her arms and scooped her, hard against him, giving her the leverage to return his kiss.
How she had so desperately wanted this from him. Pressed against his solid body, she snuggled against the contoured lines on his chest and abs. Her lips parted, begging him to answer her wish for more. Somehow, that seemed ludicrous for her to push him as he was the brute, not her. But he answered her request. With a growl, his tongue invaded her mouth. Excitement tore through her.
The bulge lodged at the apex of her thighs twitched. She nestled against it, cradling it. The guttural noise he made in her mouth as she pressed against it set off something inside her. The fabric of her tunic turned damp as her nether lips turned heavy and wet with want.
If the Celt took her, ruining maidenhood, Titus would refuse her as wife. For him to know meant she told him or it was after the ceremony took place and he abandoned her. Neither would go well, but it would give her what she wanted—no old man to call husband.
Yet could she let a gladiator fuck her?
A chill snaked down her spine.
“For love of the gods, Aurelia!”
Both she and Ganius stopped. He broke his hold on her and stepped back as she turned toward the voice. Iana stood, mouth agape.
A USAToday Bestselling author, Gina Danna was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and has spent the better part of her life reading. History has always been her love and she spent numerous hours devouring historical romance stories, always dreaming of writing one of her own. After years of writing historical academic papers to achieve her undergraduate and graduate degrees in History, and then for museum programs and exhibits, she has found the time to write her own historical romantic fiction novels.
Now, under the supervision of her three dogs and two 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.