“I have a present for you, Lucius.” Cenurion Quintus strode alongside his superior officer, Tribune Lucius Calpurnius Aquila through the Roman encampment in the northern wilderness. Mud, churned by soldiers’ boots and horses’ hooves, had dried in hummocks and deep pits that made walking difficult. “This is something you’ve needed for a long time and have refused yourself. I had it delivered earlier. You can thank me in advance.”
The older man’s patronizing tone made the young tribune nervous. “What have you done?”
“Trust me, you’ll enjoy this.” The centurion pulled back the tent flap for him to enter first. Oil lamps lit the dim, smoky interior, woven mats covered the bare ground, and meager furnishings filled the small space. It was simple but a great deal more comfortable than the soldiers’ barracks. As a junior officer from a patrician family, Lucius could afford to live well.
“What do you think?” Quintus folded his arms over his chest and grinned. “Just what you needed, eh? Clean, well-bred and beautiful.”
Lucius’ eyes adjusted to the dim light and he stared at the “present” waiting for him in the center of the tent. A woman, bound at ankles and wrists, sat on the floor. Her head was down and long, black hair shielded her face from view.
“No! Quintus, if I’d wanted a captive, I’d have taken one. Return her to wherever you got her from.”
“Too late. The slave trader is long gone. Besides, I don’t believe you’ve had a woman since we started this campaign. Six months of heavy combat and brutal conditions with no relief for your tension? It’s not healthy for any man.”
“I don’t want…” As he struggled for words, a hot flame burned inside Lucius at the very idea of having this woman at his command, subject to his every desire. His cock stirred and thickened from the images in his mind. More than anything at that moment, he wanted to see her face.
As if hearing his inner desire, the dark haired woman lifted her head and stared at him.
Lucius took a step back. The rage and hatred flashing in her dark brown eyes could surely incinerate him like the fires of Hades. This woman had the perfectly chiseled features of a goddess twisted into the frightening scowl of a demon.
The coals of anger banked inside her flared to life as Helena’s captors entered the tent. She examined their booted feet, strongly muscled calves, and the hems of their tunics, but her gaze stopped there. She listened to her buyer explain she was to provide sexual release for his friend and bile rose in her throat. The fury she’d suppressed during her weeks on the road in the slaver’s caravan bubbled up inside her. Until now, she’d maintained her composure and held her anger buried deep within. It would accomplish nothing to lash out. The trader would beat her or deny her food, and she would be no closer to escaping and returning home.
Even as she was offered up to the Roman soldier’s inspection and sold, she’d held her tongue and kept her eyes submissively down-turned. The stocky, gray-bearded centurion had left her in the tent of his superior officer, telling a manservant she was meant to be a “present”. So Helena conserved her hatred once more, and now she offered every bit of it to the man who would dare to call himself her master.
The tribune said he didn’t want her but his eyes told a different story. His blue gaze seemed to strip her of the travel-stained robe she wore and see her naked body beneath. That flash of lust was quickly hidden after he met her eyes and acknowledged her anger. He glanced away, as if embarrassed that she’d seen his desire.
“Come now, I understand you have some crazy ideals about not using the female captives from the villages we sack, but this woman is different. She’s bought and paid for, and a lady besides. You’d be a fool to refuse such a generous gift.”
“I can find my own companionship, Quintus. Thank you.”
“Fine, then don’t fuck her. Do what you like with her. Pass her on to the men if you’re not interested. They can always use fresh diversion.”
Helena hadn’t thought it possible for her anger to become any greater. Rage, coupled with fear at the centurion’s words, had her vibrating like a bowstring. She waited to see how the other man would respond. There could be a worse fate than being the whore of a Roman officer.
“Master Lucius.” It was the manservant who had let Quintus bring her into the tent earlier. The man rose from where he’d sat sewing a tear in a thick woolen cloak. “I could use the extra help cleaning your clothes and cooking meals. It would leave me more time to tend to your weapons and battle gear. The woman could be useful in more ways than one.”
“There you have it. Even your slave has more sense than you. Accept my gift and use her…as you see fit.” The pause and the centurion’s smirk told what he believed Helena’s ultimate use would be. “Maybe…what was your name?”
“Maybe Magnus could take his pleasure of her when she’s done helping with the work. No reason for him to abstain simply because his master does, eh, Magnus?”
The servant’s blunt-featured face remained impassive. “No, sir.”
All this talk of taking, having and using frightened her. Although she’d long suspected sex was part of what her slavery might entail, the months of traveling in the caravan with no man molesting her had given her a false sense of security. The trader had wanted to keep his wares clean. When the caravan had stopped near the army encampment, Helena was sold to Quintus as untouched as the day she was stolen from her home.
The trader had billed her as a virgin but it wasn’t true. She was the widow of a Thracian aristocrat, and a land-owner, having inherited her husband’s estate upon his death two years ago. She was no blushing innocent, but neither had she experienced sex with any man besides her husband.
Lucius shook his head as if coming to a decision. “All right. Magnus, give her something to eat and drink. Quintus, thank you for your thoughtfulness. I accept your gift in the spirit it was intended. Now, if you don’t mind, I need some time alone to write my report.”
Bowing, Quintus bid him farewell and left the tent.
Helena breathed a sigh of relief at his departure, then offered her young owner another dagger-like stare. If she could keep him from molesting her by the force of her furious glares, she would do so.
Lucius met her gaze for a moment, then went toward her, pulling a knife from its sheath at his side
“I won’t hurt you. You’ll be all right.” He spoke slowly and loudly as if she were feeble or deaf. “You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?”
He knelt to cut the rope binding her wrists. His hand holding her clasped hands was warm and large, and he was careful with the sharp blade, severing the cord without grazing her flesh.
After the rope fell away, she rubbed the sore, red marks on her wrists and kept her gaze focused on her hands. She refused to look at him although he appeared to be trying to catch her eye. He was far too close, looming over her, his presence stealing the air in her vicinity. She breathed easier once he turned his back on her and walked across the floor toward the low pallet. But it was a small tent, and he still wasn’t far enough away for her liking.
He opened a chest and removed writing materials; parchment, a quill, ink, a lap-size desk. Sitting down on the cot, he began to write.
The servant, Magnus, gave her a bowl of thick stew, a piece of flat bread, and a cup of wine. He stood watching her for a moment, but she refused to eat in front of him. She held the bowl and the bread until he went back to his mending.
“You can take over here when you’re done eating. I hate sewing,” he told her.
“I don’t think she understands you.” Lucius glanced up from his report and she felt his gaze resting on her.
She waited until he was writing again, before she ventured to look his way. His attention was on his scribbling quill so she could study him without fear of being caught at it. To her, he appeared much like all young Roman men with close-cropped dark brown hair. He was clean-shaven, without a moustache or fringe of beard to enhance his features, but he didn’t need facial hair to do that since his jaw was strong. His straight, prominent nose jutted over a deeply bowed upper lip and a full lower one. His eyes were focused on his work, but she’d noted their brilliant blue when he first regarded her. He wore a sleeveless tunic and his biceps flexed as he leaned toward the inkpot to dip his quill.
Helena dragged her attention from examining her captor to scan the tent, assessing the possibility of escape. But there was no place to go even if she could walk freely out the door. She was in a foreign country, far from her homeland, in the middle of an encampment of soldiers. She’d be raped and possibly killed if she set one foot outside of this tent. She was as much a prisoner as if she were shackled and chained to a dungeon wall.
Helena stared at her handsome young “master” and radiated her hatred of him and his people with every fiber of her being.