Can love survive a dark heart?
A series of ritual murders of young boys recalls memories of Rome’s most wicked Emperor. Magistrate Marcus Cornelius Drusus has discovered the cult extends to the very heart of Roman society.
Despite his personal wealth and authority, Marcus is a slave to his past – conflicted by his status as an adopted son, bitterly betrayed by his wife and forced to give up his child.
Kyna knows all about betrayal. Sold into slavery by her husband to pay a gambling debt, she found herself in Rome, far from her home in Britannia. Bought by a doctor, she is taught his trade and is about to gain her freedom when her mentor is murdered by the cult.
When the same group make an attempt on her life, Kyna is forced to give up her freedom and accept Marcus’s protection. With no one to trust but each other, mutual attraction ignites into passion but how far will Marcus go for vengeance when he learns the cult’s next victim is his son?
Can the woman who is free in her heart heal the man who is a slave in his?
Kyna sat on the edge of a raised garden bed in the courtyard hoping the sun would warm the cold numbness around her heart.
Philomen’s household, more friends of the old man than slaves, sat listlessly in the garden, she among them. The shock of their master’s violent death was only just starting to wear off and the familiar habit of their day-to-day routine was not enough to rouse them to activity.
“What’s the point?” argued Faustina the cook to no one in particular. “Philomen promised us our freedom on his passing, but it’s not right to happen like this.”
The sentiment amongst the rest of the household was the same, Kyna noted. They were all cast adrift on a sea of grief.
Philomen’s body, washed and anointed with oils, lay on his own bed. Faustina insisted a coin be placed under his tongue to pay the ferryman for the journey into the next life. Kyna wasn’t sure of Philomen’s views on the matter of life after death, so she left such arrangements to the others.
Her own sorrow manifested itself in restlessness. She could not simply sit in the morning sun as the others did, so for the next two hours she paced, stalking through the colonnaded gardens, the garden room, the kitchen, the dining rooms, past the bedrooms into the atrium, past the entrance.
She was beyond tired but full of nervous energy. Much of her night had been spent answering the captain of the guard’s questions over and over and over again, then haranguing each new man who came on watch about news in the search for Philomen’s killer.
Kyna glowered at the watchman who blocked the front door of the villa. “How long are you going to keep us under arrest? I have patients to see!”
“My orders are clear. No one leaves until the magistrate arrives.”
The man shifted on his feet and slowly folded his arms. Even without words, the message was plain. No one was going past him. Unfortunately, no one was going through the small garden gate at the side of the domus either. Kyna had tried that and found it similarly guarded.
Through the open door behind the guard, a new day, gleaming gold over the marble and sandstone, was well underway. Early morning market traffic crossed up and down the streets. The herbalist opened his shop, the aroma of pungent dried herbs brought in on the unending current of curious passers-by who tried to peer through into the atrium. The news, no doubt, spreading of last night’s crime.
Kyna raised her voice to be sure it carried. She would give them something to gossip about, all right.
“You cannot keep Roman citizens imprisoned without trial!”
She crossed her fingers behind her back for the small white lie, God forgive her. They were not citizens yet. Philomen had promised their freedom but it was not a certainty until his will was read and executed.
The guard frowned, considering her words for a moment, no doubt conscious of the gathering they attracted. She decided to press her argument.
“That’s right. Citizens. I demand you send for the Prefect immediately.” She emphasized the order with an emphatic stamp of her sandaled foot.
“You can ask when the Magistrate arrives,” the man answered with a returning indifference. “I’ve been told not to let you leave until then and that’s that.”
“Well, what fool gave that order?”
One of the eavesdroppers drew closer; his imposing silhouette loomed in the doorway.
“That fool would be me.”
The guard’s eyes widened at the voice. He snapped to attention and stepped to one side.
Kyna straightened to her full height. It wasn’t much she admitted, but she would be intimidated by no one, certainly no second-rate soldier drunk on his own authority.
But as the man stepped forward into the atrium, where light from the open roof glinted on the small pool at its centre, the brilliant white of the man’s toga, edged in purple, announced his status louder than any words.
Kyna swallowed hard. She knew him. Not personally of course, but she had seen him at the forum, outside the Temple of Jove hearing criminal and civil cases.
Her heart skipped a few beats while the voice in her head cursed her as an impetuous fool. The man she insulted was Marcus Cornelius Drusus, a praetor. He looked much younger up close – and better looking.
She took in the strong shape of his legs, his tanned skin dark in contrast to his robe. His arms were also well-muscled. This was not a man who wasted time at leisure. His face, when her eyes reached it, was well proportioned to accommodate a prominent nose, but his eyes were his outstanding feature, a silvery-blue now regarding her with condescending amusement.
“Do you have any further observation to make on my intelligence?” he prompted.
Set during the turbulent times of the Barracks Emperor’s 3rd Century AD Rome, Dark Heart is a historical romantic suspense.