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Authors: M.K. Chester

Surrender to the Roman

BOOK: Surrender to the Roman
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Surrender to the Roman

By M.K. Chester

As the Romans storm the last stronghold of Dacia, Princess Ademeni awaits her fate. Taken as a slave, she is deposited into General Marcus Cordovis’s home as a gift.

Driven to avenge her family, Ademeni plots to kill her captor and escape. Though not the cruel victor she expects, Marcus keeps her too close to make escape easy—so close that Ademeni is soon tormented by an unbidden, traitorous attraction. In a moment of weakness, a passionate kiss almost undoes them both.

But the handsome, widowed general has another surprise for Ademeni: a young daughter. Marcus dares ask Ademeni to help him bridge the gap between him and his little girl. And now, Ademeni is growing too fond of those she is supposed to despise. As Marcus prepares for the triumphal march and the opening of the gladiatorial games—where captives of her homeland will be sacrificed—Ademeni readies for her own battle—between revenge and love.

59,000 words

Dear Reader,

April is a bit of a mixed-bag month, isn’t it? In some countries, like here in the United States, it’s tax season, which for many is either a very stressful time or a time of “Hurray! Tax-return money arrives!” We also get Easter weekend, which comes with days off for some. April is also the month where we finally (hopefully) really start seeing the change of seasons from winter to spring, let out a long breath and kick our children outdoors for longer periods of time (surely it’s not just me who does that?).

So I guess it’s only appropriate that our releases this month are also a mixed bag. Carina Press is able to bring you an assortment of titles to help bust you out of any lingering winter blues. The month starts off with a smokin’-hot bang via Abby Wood’s erotic contemporary cowboy romance
Consent to Love.
Joining her in the first week of April are Sandy James with her contemporary romance
Rules of the Game,
and Regency romance
The Perfect Impostor
by Wendy Soliman.

Also in the contemporary romance genre in April we have
His Secret Temptation
by Cat Schield,
Serious Play
by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon, and
North of Heartbreak
by Julie Rowe. Historical romance author M.K. Chester joins the April lineup with
Surrender to the Roman,
and Juliana Ross heats up the Victorian era with erotic historical romance
Improper Relations.
Returning with three more books in her White series is author Susan Edwards.

Talented Natalie J. Damschroder returns with another crowd-pleasing romantic suspense,
Acceptable Risks.
And if you love that book, make sure you check out her previous romantic suspense,
Fight or Flight,
from our 2011 release schedule!

For those of you who prefer your romance a bit more…otherworldly, Kaylea Cross’s
Darkest Caress
is a paranormal romance of magical races, darkly handsome men and fiercely independent women. Ella Drake takes us to her vision of our post-apocalyptic world in
Desert Blade,
and new Carina Press author Kay Keppler’s
Zero Gravity Outcasts
takes readers on a science-fiction adventure with a hint of romance.

Fans of male/male romance should be on the lookout for
Brook Street: Fortune Hunter
, the next in author Ava March’s regency historical trilogy.

Last, but certainly not least, we’re very pleased to present debut author Christopher Beats’s steampunk noir
Cruel Numbers
this month. Visit Christopher’s alternate historical world in which the North loses the War of Southern Secession, one girl’s talent for analytical machines has made her a valuable asset in the new world, and steam-powered gadgets may give war veteran Donovan Schist the edge he needs to save his life, and hers.

I think April’s schedule of releases is a good reason to wish for just one more snow day—so you can stay inside and read! I hope you enjoy these books as much as we have.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected]. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

Dedicated to Janet Chamberlain (better known to my critique group as JanetUK) who tirelessly guided me through this story with her insight into what a romance novel ought to be.

And to my “new” family, for embracing the writer in me.

Chapter One

Spring, 106 A.D.

General Marcus Cordovis paced at the head of his legion, his grip tight on the reins of his mount. The sounds of the men readying for battle calmed him, even as they prepared for the last push of this long war.

By the gods, this damn bloody struggle would end today.

Tension straightened his spine as the might of the legion built behind him. Men and horses eased into position, but they would move only on his command. He had been given the responsibility by Caesar himself.

The city on the hill had burned bright through the night, preparing for this very attack. Before dawn, word had arrived that the city would not surrender. Now that the sun had crested the Carpathians, an eerie silence clung to the valley. No bird or beast stirred.

On the other side of the river, an old, familiar enemy waited.

“Sir!” Tertullian galloped to a halt beside him. “The men are ready.”

Marcus studied his second in command, a man also wedded to his sister, and nodded. Years of fighting a caustic enemy were about to end. Soon, they might be able to return to Rome.

“On my word,” he told Tertullian, “we cross the bridge, split the legion left and right and enter by both gates.”

“The gods will surely bless us,” Tertullian crowed. “The Dacian resistance has all but crumbled. We could take the city this moment, just you and I.”

Despite the arrogance in his second’s voice, Marcus agreed. “Today, we put an end to this tiresome rebellion and give Trajan a valuable gift.”

Only one symbolic gesture remained—to take the stronghold of King Decebalus inside those walls. Marcus ticked through details in his mind. “Are the archers positioned to clear the bridge and secure the heights? I would lose as few men as possible.”

“Of course. Battering rams were sent ahead, as you required.” Tertullian grinned, loving the battle more each time, while Marcus grew weary.

The thought of needless death soured his stomach, as it always had. He valued a strong enemy, but Decebalus must know the odds were not in his favor this time. In the face of defeat, would the old king surrender, or die fighting?

The smile of Marcus’s young daughter, barely five years old, flashed through his mind. Would he surrender to save her? He frowned. He would have done anything to save her mother.

No time for brooding thoughts. War had become his mistress when Julia died, and he had become far too good at it over the long years. They had come a great distance for this one moment, years of planning and preparation coming to fruition.

Nothing stood in the way. His blood rose with the possibilities. Whoever lived would be honored, and whoever died would be immortalized.

With a last glance at his men, Marcus smiled as he raised his fist. “Forward!”

He spurred his mount toward the remaining bridge, picking up speed as the ground leveled. Behind him, the machinery of war lurched forward, armor clanking, wheels turning, men shouting orders up and down the line.

As he dipped into the valley, fog limited his vision. Ahead, the battering rams beat against the fortified city gates like drums, the wood groaning then rending just in time for them to speed inside.

The fog cleared as they thundered through the gap in defenses. No warriors met them. Marcus jerked his reins, and his horse came to a skidding halt. Dirt flew into the air as those behind him did the same, shouts of consternation echoing in the distance.

He couldn’t believe his eyes. No bloodthirsty cries from men with weapons charged at them. Instead, hundreds of motionless bodies lay strewn across the ground like discarded refuse. Marcus turned in a full circle. What in Hades had happened here? Tertullian arrived at his side, his face full of the same questions.

“Halt the advance. Post the sentries forward.” Marcus held up his hand. “There is no resistance here. Send the first
centuria
to sort the bodies.”

Tertullian turned to disseminate the orders while Marcus fought against the sights and smells of the field. Not far from every stiffened grasp, an empty cup or bowl. They had poisoned themselves rather than face their enemy or be enslaved. He spit bile onto the ground and refocused his mind.

Of all possibilities, he had not expected this. Everywhere he looked, women and children lay as they fell, doubled in pain, often wound together. Their glazed eyes turned to the heavens.

Where were the men? His gaze snapped forward, to the fortified residence of the royal family.

Cheers from the troops ripped his attention away. Near the fence, a knot of his men had gathered. He rode forward to investigate, picking his way through the carnage, trying not to look at the faces of the dead.

The soldiers fell away as he neared, clearing the way for him to view Tertullian disrobing a fallen woman with the point of his sword. His second’s face contorted with disgust as he proceeded, unaware that Marcus stood by, sickened in his own right.

“Put down your sword.” Marcus enunciated each syllable with great clarity.

Tertullian locked eyes with him and smiled. “As you wish.”

Marcus narrowed his eyes and raised his voice. “The battle is not here. Look around you. Where are the men?”

No one answered.

“They were making ready last night,” Marcus reminded them. “Where are they now?”

Tertullian raised his sword to point at the fortress. “There.”

Marcus edged toward him to capture his attention. “No more of these sick games. You have been warned more than once. We are not finished here, and until we are, you will keep to your post.”

Tertullian’s gaze slid to the woman on the ground. He nodded and stepped over her, back to his mount.

Marcus faced the stronghold. “Bring the first cohort forward to take the fortifications. We move at once.”

* * *

Ademeni shivered in a root cellar beneath the city’s only unscathed watchtower. Barely able to see in the dim light of a single lamp, she identified her brother and sister by their voices alone.

Imaj, her younger brother, thought they should risk leaving. Lilah argued to stay put. As the oldest, Ademeni’s decision had bound them to this dank space.

We will never surrender
.

In the name of her father, she’d sent word across the river, and then herded what remained of her family into the cellars. Ademeni hugged her knees to her chest, her fingers and toes numbed by the temperature. Closing her eyes, she willed her heart to slow its frantic pace.

Nothing to be afraid of. Yet.

So why did her empty stomach twist and turn like the mountain paths?

From childhood, she’d been taught that death was but another road to a different life, traveling from this reality to the next. Now, facing that actuality, she found she did not care to know another reality.

The ground under her feet trembled, as if angry gods gripped and shook the mountains. Dirt sifted from the ceiling onto her head, and she gulped fast, shallow breaths.

“What is that?” Lilah whispered. “Do you think the others are still hiding?”

Of course they were. They would never disobey but were like sheep to the slaughter. After Father had ridden away with his sons to beg for more troops, no one had any direction.

So Ademeni, the eldest daughter, took control.

With no way to tell the distance of the sun, she couldn’t fathom how long they’d been hiding. Long enough for her legs to cramp. And perhaps long enough for the sun to rise, bringing the horses and soldiers of the Roman army into the city, shaking its very foundations.

She closed her eyes. They expected nothing less, having received a soft peace from Rome not so long ago. This time would be different, a punishment for imagined crimes against the mighty Roman Empire.

A warm hand pressed against her shoulder. “You haven’t said a single word since sending that message.”

Fear had stolen her voice. Imaj was supposed to have left with the other men of the royal family. Though she loved him for coming back, he risked too much. He was an heir, the youngest son, just fourteen years of age. “You shouldn’t have returned.”

“Cowards run.” His words reflected pride. “I will protect my family. Father is mistaken if he believes the Romans won’t slaughter innocent women and children.”

Ademeni leaned into her brother’s embrace. Surely he realized that death would come. He’d walked into its cold embrace without a second thought.

She should be half as brave.

Roman thunder drew closer. She squeezed the hands of her siblings. In all her days, she’d found little use for her brothers and sisters from her father’s many marriages. But she, Imaj, a brave youth with quick wit and the loyalty of a lion, and Lilah, a pampered princess with too much charity, were all born of the same mother.

“What will happen to us?” Lilah asked, her question wavering like the lamplight.

“We will become slaves to these dogs, or die by the sword,” Imaj said, then softened his voice when Ademeni stiffened.

For two years, the city had been harassed and besieged by the vicious Trajan, a madman bent on disciplining them because they dared to defend themselves against neighboring tribes. And for decades before, they’d squabbled. Despite her anger, she’d been allowed to do nothing more than cook and tend to dying men.

Overhead, the thump of horses’ hooves stopped, and her mouth fell open in stunned silence. They had dismounted so close, as if reading from a map.

Imaj drew her close and kissed the top of her head through her headscarf. “I will protect you.”

He slid from her side, and panic filled his place. The scent of groundwater and rotted vegetables turned her stomach. “Imaj!”

“Douse the light,” he ordered in an urgent whisper. The orange flame died on a puff of Lilah’s breath.

Darkness engulfed them while above, soldiers’ footsteps pounded. Fear flooded the back of Ademeni’s throat with bitterness, and she dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands. A frantic prayer for safety flew from her lips.

Unfamiliar voices echoed down the shallow stairway. One call sounded louder than the rest, the commanding tone of a man who left no stone unturned.

Fighting the inky blackness, Ademeni searched the ground for a weapon. As she reached toward the back corner of the cellar, she found a rock that fit nicely into her palm.

Clutching the object like gold, she pressed against the wall as the cellar door creaked open.

A sliver of torchlight fanned across the floor. No one moved. Ademeni held her breath until stars danced across her vision.

And then Lilah let out a pitiful sob.

Ademeni exhaled, bowing her head. Her pulse thundered in her ears, the barked orders from above slurring in her exhausted mind. Her world had ended.

A torch dipped into the opening and lit the room. Lilah clutched Ademeni in a flurry of movement, and together, they protected Imaj from view.

Plaintive cries for mercy mewed from her newly discovered kin. The ungodly noise raked Ademeni’s nerves. How could they beg for their lives, or worse, sit and wait for the end? They had no pride, no fight.

A soldier’s shadow filled the doorway, blocking the light. Despite having seen these Roman monsters from afar, Ademeni’s eyes widened at her first glimpse of the warrior. He wore no helmet, but held his sword in one hand and a torch in the other.

Broad shouldered, his chest covered with shining brass, he bent and studied their faces, holding the light to see into their eyes. She saw into his confused face as well, a set jaw, frowning mouth, brows drawn together as if he did not understand what he’d discovered.

As if he’d rather ask questions than put them to the sword.

Her heart turned over in her chest as his gaze slid across her. His glittering green eyes snapped to hers in the weak light. The hard lines of his face softened, and his eyes widened at the sight of them huddled together, so unlike royalty. Her body flushed as he wiped the sweat from his brow and tilted his head, an unwarranted physical response to the nearness of such a strong presence.

She felt shame to meet him this way. Her palms perspired as he inspected her from head to toe. For the first time in her life, she felt powerless. He should revere her, not question her.

He opened his mouth as if to speak, then snapped his jaw shut. He straightened and turned from them, taking the light and giving her back her senses.

“Put them with the others,” he ordered, voice booming in the empty hallway.

Two soldiers filled his void and reached inside the cellar. One man grabbed Lilah by the shoulder and hauled her over the edge of the opening. She fell limp across the dirt floor, whimpering in pain.

Ademeni grappled with the other soldier, trying to protect her brother from discovery. She leveraged her arm toward his head, only to have him block the blow. The rock clattered from her hand, useless. She raked her fingernails down his arm in desperation, and he dropped her back into the cellar. She landed with a yelp, her ankle twisted. Imaj rushed to her side.

All movement stopped. Then the soldier called, “I have a boy here.”

He jumped into the shallow pit, shoving Ademeni to the side when she clung to her brother. Imaj pulled free from them both and swung his arm upward.

The soldier grunted then collapsed to the ground. Sticky warmth spilled onto Ademeni’s feet, and she stepped away. The copper scent of blood filled the small space. A sickening moment later, the dying soldier lay gasping and bleeding, Imaj’s jeweled dagger buried between his ribs.

Ademeni opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came.

Angry shouts broke the stunned silence. More soldiers dropped into the cellar. The light died, then sparked to life once more. Soldiers restrained her. Flashes of silver swords scarred her vision.

Lifted upward, she tumbled onto the floor, and Imaj was tossed beside her, facedown. A helmeted soldier stood over them and kicked her brother in the ribs to turn him over.

This soldier had no compassion in his face, but snarled as he lifted his sword. Ademeni scrambled to her feet. Before she could rush between them, he pinned Imaj to the floor, the point of his sword through the boy’s heart. A dying gasp finalized Imaj’s fate, and the soldier snapped his attention to her.

BOOK: Surrender to the Roman
3.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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