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 easyso 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 gameswhere captives of her homeland will be sacrificedAdemeni readies for her own battlebetween revenge and love.
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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 remainedto 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.