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Authors: Alyssa Morgan

Gladiator Heart

BOOK: Gladiator Heart
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Gladiator Heart
Alyssa Morgan
Carina (2013)

When Lady Valeria Augusta Marianus is captured by the savage Pict army, she is fearful of her treatment by their renowned and fearless commander. His enemy is the Roman Empire and she is the Cesar’s niece, but Tristan Caileanach is nothing like the wild beast she imagined. Instead his ruggedly handsome face and toned body makes her long to be held in his powerful arms. And her traitorous body can only resist the heat of this fierce warrior’s touch for so long…

One night in Tristan’s bed is all it takes for Valeria to give him her innocence and her heart. Yet she knows they have no future together – not when his hatred for all things Roman runs so deep. But when the Roman army descends on the camp and Tristan is enslaved and forced to be a Gladiator, facing death every day, suddenly their roles are reversed.

Now all Valeria wants is to give him back his freedom, but Tristan’s only chance is to win it in the arena…

When lady Valeria Augusta Marianus is captured by the savage Pict army, she is fearful of her treatment by their renowned and fearless commander. His enemy is the Roman Empire and she is the Emperor’s niece, but Tristan Caileanach is nothing like the wild beast she imagined. Instead his ruggedly handsome face and toned body make her long to be held in his powerful arms… And her traitorous body can only resist the heat of this fierce warrior’s touch for so long…

One night in Tristan’s bed is all it takes for Valeria to give him her innocence and her heart. Yet she knows they have no future together—not when his hatred for all things Roman runs so deep. But when the Roman army descends on the camp and Tristan is enslaved and forced to be a gladiator, facing death every day, suddenly their roles are reversed. Now all Valeria wants is to give him back his freedom, but Tristan’s only chance is to win it in the arena…

Gladiator Heart
Alyssa Morgan

www.CarinaUK.com

ALYSSA MORGAN
is a native of Minnesota, but has also lived in Hawaii and Utah, and now resides in Los Angeles. She has worked as a waitress, a bartender, a file clerk, and a licensed financial adviser, and many of her experiences have added to her true passion: writing romance. When she’s not slaving away over her latest work or devouring a novel by one of her favorite authors, you can find her giving in to her shopping problem, sunning herself at the beach, enjoying a leisurely Sunday brunch, or spending time with her friends and family.

 

I have to thank all the early readers for their encouragement. Without you, this story probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day. I’d also like to thank all those at Carina UK who decided to take a chance on me and for helping me bring out the best in my work. Lastly, thanks to Tristan and Valeria for sharing their love story with me, and now, with you.

 

To my mom, who loves a timeless romance as much as I do.

Contents

Cover

Blurb

Title Page

Author Bio

Acknowledgements

Dedication

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Endpages

Copyright

A Legend…

It is in times of darkness that legends are born. When the world has fallen under the rule of evil men, the people pray to the Gods to send them a hero. Sometimes the Gods choose to answer those prayers.

In the ancient city of Rome, from the bloodshed of the arena, gladiators were born. The purpose of these fighters was to impress people with the might and force of the Great Empire and to instill fear in the hearts of the enemy. The gladiators brought not only sport to the games of the arena, but also glory and power. They fought bravely and died well, and quickly became champions of the people. Men wanted to be them. Young women swooned at the thought of their physical strength and prowess. Even children idolized them, drawing their images on walls throughout the city.

Most of the gladiators were slaves, prisoners of war or condemned offenders. Their lives were worth little more than half a denarius. But it was the people, and not their ruler, who decided whether a gladiator had demonstrated sufficient spirit and courage to obtain his emancipation. The people could choose to grant a gladiator freedom, just as they could call for his execution on the spot.

If they were good, the gladiators became heroes. This is the tale of such a hero. A warrior delivered to the people by the Gods, in answer to their loyal and heartfelt prayers.

Chapter One

Caledonia

Winter 317 A.D.

Valeria Augusta Marianus, a valued daughter of Rome, knew she was going to die.

She stumbled lost and barefoot through the fresh layer of snow that blanketed the land in white starkness. Above her, the naked boughs of the trees hung heavy and low with their icy burden. The clash of the earlier battle had long since quieted and an unsettling calm filled the air.

Having been born with a poor sense of direction, Valeria didn’t know if she was headed towards her home in the south, or further into the enemy’s territory to the north. It didn’t really matter where she was, because with no warm clothes and no shelter in sight, she would soon freeze to death, unless the wolves got to her first. At least she didn’t have to worry about finding food. She would be dead long before starvation could take her.

An icy wind rattled through the trees and ripped through the scant material of her tunic, chilling her all the way to her bones. Her teeth chattered, her hands and face were chapped raw from the cold, and her feet were frozen like blocks of ice. Perhaps she should make her grave in the very spot where she stood. Simply lie down, close her eyes, and wait for death to take her. Or maybe she should pray to the Gods for a miracle.

Sinking to her knees in the wet snow, she knew her efforts would be futile. The Gods had never listened to her. Had they cared to cast an interested ear to her plight she wouldn’t be here now, lost and alone in a foreign land.

The sound of approachingriders thundered in the distance, snapping her out of her thoughts. The heavy beat of hooves pounded as steadily against the ground as her heart beat against her chest. Only enemy or friend could be descending on her, and she prayed it would be the latter, while in her mind she knew that would be impossible. Any friend she had in this stark northern territory was dead.

The barbarians of these unconquered lands had attacked the Roman fort at the wall in the dead of night, killing anything and everything in their bloody path. Being in the midst of a violent battle was not something Valeria had envisioned when she’d decided to come to the fort to see her uncle, and in her flight to escape death, she must have run further than she thought, and now the darkness was finally catching up to her.

Rufus had warned her against coming here. A member of the Praetorian Guard and her sworn protector, he had pleaded with her not to travel to the wall where her uncle, the Emperor Constantine, held the northern Roman border. In her desperation, she had sworn that if Rufus didn’t bring her to her uncle, she’d make the dangerous journey alone. He knew she was stubborn enough to do it, and she’d been left with no choice. With the Emperor on the front, his son Crispus had been left in charge as Caesar of Rome, and blessed with the sole responsibility of appointing her a husband before she was too old to marry.

It was insulting to think her fate was in the hands of a mere child. Though he might match her in age at ten and nine years, he was a spoiled, self-indulgent brat who hid in the shadow of his great father’s robes. What did he know of life? Of love?

Afraid her uncle was losing his mind, Valeria wanted to see him in person and beg him to come up with some other fate for her. She couldn’t bear the thought that he would trade her so easily to a stranger of his son’s choosing, like nothing more than property. He’d cared for her as a child, did he no longer care for her now?

Valeria’s sudden arrival at the fort came as no surprise to her uncle, only served to upset him, but he hadn’t had enough time to chastise her before the battle began and the Picts laid siege to the only reminder of home she had in their harsh, unforgiving lands.

Yes, death was coming swiftly for her. She rose to her feet, numb with cold, prepared to meet it straight on, head held high and proud like any good Roman. She would not die a coward.

As the thundering hooves grew louder, three riders appeared in the distance, wearing the fur pelts of animals. They had long hair and blue markings painted on their faces and on the flanks of their mighty, galloping horses. The Woad. Hell unleashed was charging straight for her, and suddenly fear made her tremble. Every fiber of her being screamed for her to run. But to where? To what? All hope for her was lost.

Valeria fought the biting cold, even as it slowly weakened her, and waited while the enemy riders came upon her. They circled her on horseback, looking down at her, while their horses panted and snorted, their hot, labored breath hanging in the air like misty vapors.

“What shall we do with her?” The rider with hair as black as midnight and eyes even darker spoke to the other men.

The language they spoke was foreign, but Valeria understood every word. She’d treated and healed enough of these men as prisoners of Rome before they were thrown into the arena to die. Some had taken the time to teach her their tongue, she suspected more out of the need to feel human before they met a horrible end than to educate her. Whatever the reason for the education, she was grateful for it now.

“Roman slut!” The man with a yellow beard and a long braid down his back spat on the ground at her feet. “She deserves no mercy from us.” He lifted his spear aloft, preparing to strike.

“Go easy, Angus.” The third man rested a hand on his arm to stay him. He was younger than the other two, and his long, coppery red hair hung loose about his shoulders. There was a gentle confidence to his rugged manner, something that suggested he was capable of kindness.

Valeria looked at him in gratitude for intervening on her behalf, hoping to find an ally, but his eyes narrowed with calculating malice. “We must take her to the Commander. He’ll want to find out if she knows anything.”

“Hah!” The blond one called Angus bellowed. “What does a woman know, especially a Roman one?”

“I’m sure she’s as good at warming a bed as any wench,” the dark rider said, his gaze roaming over her shivering, frozen form.

The three men continued to circle her on horseback, their watchful stares becoming heated and purposeful. Valeria braced herself for an attack, even knowing she had no way of fighting them. She lacked the strength to compete with these men. Men who had every reason to hate her.

She was a Roman.

The northern tribes hated the Romans.

For centuries, Rome sought to stretch Her wings over all the lands, conquering those people who inhabited them and forcing them to bend under Her Supreme Will. Those who didn’t submit were slaughtered, and their names only echoed on the wind before that last part of them also fell silent and forgotten.

Valeria would be just as easily forgotten. These men would taunt her, beat her, certainly rape her, and leave her here to die if they didn’t kill her in their furious attempts. No one would ever find her. But she would not beg for a mercy they didn’t have. If the Gods weren’t listening to her, neither would these fearsome warriors.

The men reared their horses to a halt and dismounted, now circling her on foot, coming dangerously close. The dark one reached out and lifted a lock of her long, blonde hair in his hand, running it through his fingers before letting it fall back into place over her shoulder. The bearded man, Angus, dared to step closer to her. His fresh scent filled her senses and, despite the cold, his big body radiated warmth and the promise of a cloak to shield her from the chill.

Valeria took a fearful step back from him. She would not fall into the enemy’s arms no matter how tempting the option might seem. She’d rather freeze to death than find out what they intended for her.

BOOK: Gladiator Heart
12.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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