Gladiators, cowboys, knights, dukes, princes and rogues. The heroes we love all in one set.
By Gina Danna
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...
Rome 100 CE – The Colosseum
Aurelia sat rigid on the bench, quiet as a mouse, like the rest of the crowd. The Celt, condemned to die with his countrymen, stood victorious on the sands. He was the one with that mark upon his arm. Her gaze riveted to him, amazed, appalled and so attracted to him that it sent a thrill through her.
Suddenly, the stands burst into applause and demanded for him to live.
The man stood, in the midst of a filthy, blood-covered arena, the remains of the dead and dying lay around him. He was covered in sweat, blood and sand. His muscles—prominent from fighting the gladiators—were corded, detailed like the statues of the gods, and the effigies of dead victorious gladiators, both forms standing virtually nude throughout the city. But he was living, breathing, on fire. When he shot a glance up at the podium, where the Emperor’s appointee sat in his absence. Even Aurelia could see the flames of violence tangible in his stare. She could not pull her eyes off.
Aurelia’s brother had secured them the box seats next to the podium, quite a sign of position she usually didn’t give a moment’s consideration, but today was more than thankful because they were very close. She gazed at the Celt and in the sunlight, despite his dirty appearance, his eyes glowed, the color like amber in the brightness.
He looked like a god.
“Caius,” she whispered to her brother. “Don’t you need a new man for your stable of fighters?”
He laughed. “What a strange thing for you to say, dearest.” He looked beyond her to see her fascination. “Aurelia…”
“Oh Caius, can you imagine? He defeated three gladiators! The odds stood against him!”
“They were not from the best house…”
“But they were gladiators,” she argued and bit her lip. “Brother, the man must be blessed by the gods to have won so, and to win over the crowd to spare his life.” She gave him her innocent but pleading look. With the exception of severing her betrothal, he never denied her anything.
“She is right, Caius,” Aulus joined in. “I could have him trained. His winnings would bring you considerable coin.”
Caius looked at her. His eyes narrowed. They darted to the Celt in the arena and back to her. The air grew heavy as she waited, though the longer he took to say a word usually meant she won. Holding her breath, she silently prayed to Jupiter.
Caius’s lips slowly curled up into a smile. “So be it. Aulus, let us see if we can’t alleviate the state of her impertinent prisoner.” He kissed her cheek. “And my darling sister, don’t push me for any more extravagant dresses or jewelry, for I fear this animal may take many coins to train before I see the favorable results.”
As he walked away, Aurelia’s gaze returned to the man on the sands. As the property of her brother, a slave, she’d have easy access to see the mark on his arm. Her lips curved at what other opportunities might be available to own a man so blessed by the gods…