Authors: Amy Ruttan
When Eratos gains his freedom from his violent master he hasonly one thing on his mind—atonement. He chases his former master Thelonius backto Antioch, and a ghost from his past emerges from the shadows, none other thanhis master’s wife—a woman who hates the man as much as Eratos does.
Helena detests her husband, but thankfully he is never homeand doesn’t desire her. Now he has returned home to lick his wounds and Helenawonders what has him so nervous. When she spies a shadow lurking she isthrilled Eratos has returned and realizes why her husband is fearful.
Helena decides to get her own revenge on the man whodestroyed her life, and to finally taste ecstasy in the arms of Eratos, the manwho stirred her dormant passions long ago. Eratos has thought only of Helenafrom the moment he first saw her, and having her under his former master’s nosesounds like sweet revenge indeed.
But Thelonius stands in their way, a man who they both wantdead.
Ellora’s Cave Publishing
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Gladiator’s Atonement Copyright © 2011 Amy Ruttan
Edited by Shannon Combs
Cover art by Syneca
Electronic book Publication April 2011
The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks ofEllora’s Cave Publishing.
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. Thecharacters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
“Destiny waits alike for the free manas well as for him enslaved by another’s might.”
The Libation Bearers—Aeschylus c. 525–456 B.C.
The city of Antioch bustled around Eratos and no one paidhim any heed. Why would they? He was almost as bronzed as a Roman now, his longhair shorn away. The only thing which put him apart from the others were hiseyes, it was why he wore a hooded cloak. He did not need to attract anyattention.
It was his eyes that attracted Thelonius to him in the firstplace.
Just thinking of his former master made his blood boil. Heclenched his fist, focusing his gaze on the rich residential district nestledagainst the base of Mount Silpious. It rose like steps created by the hands ofthe gods, seated high above the poorer districts.
Taking a deep, calming breath, he pressed his back againstthe marble statue of the city’s patron goddess Tyche. The sun was setting, andhe had to move quickly to get a feel of Thelonius’ villa before night fell.Antioch was dangerous at night, but then any city was.
He hated cities—the closed-in feeling of them, all thestrangers. Eratos longed for the open heaths of Britannia, the small villageswhere it was safe to walk at night because everyone was family. Of course, itwas all gone now.
It had been gone for some time, since Caratacus of theCatellavani had lost his lands along the river. The Romans had built a citythere, on the blood of its people.
He had come here for one reason and one reason only.
Kill Thelonius. Eratos moved along the wall of the city.Keeping to the shadows, he headed to one of the walled-off sections thatdivided Antioch. It was where the upper class was separated from those beneaththem, and where Thelonius lived.
He knew where Thelonius hid. He had been to the villa oncewhen Thelonius first bought him. He would never forget that place. Shaking hishead, he tried to pry the nightmares of what he endured there from his mind,but to no avail. It constantly haunted him.
Just like the thought of the woman Thelonius hid there,Thelonius’ wife. Though his former master never touched her, all he did wasforce her to watch as he took men either with their consent or not. Hersympathy, their shared pain in that moment so long ago still calmed him. Shewas beautiful, and hurt just as much as he.
In that moment, which lasted eternity, he found solace inher grief and her face got him through many a night when the nightmares cameagain and again.
Keeping his profile low, Eratos strode with purpose towardThelonius’ villa. It sat overlooking the city, an ominous beacon of pain andtorture. Ignoring the beads of sweat that broke across his brow fromanticipating his revenge, he opened the gate that was used by the servants andsneaked into the garden.
Crouching down in palm fronds and a small grove of olivetrees, he peered through the branches and surveyed the villa. He could see acouple of hired guards pacing on the roof.
So the fool is scared, and well he should be.
Eratos tried not to chuckle, but he was pleased Theloniuswas frightened. The guards would be not hard to take down, he could probablybribe them to leave their post—such was the nature of hired men. It was justthe opportunity he needed to figure out when to strike.
Shifting his weight so he balanced on the balls of feet, hemade mental note of the easiest access points, until a cry of pain echoedacross the garden. A shudder went down his spine when he recognized that voice.
It took all of his might not to run for her, but he did nothave long to wait for she came fleeing from the villa, her hands covering herface as she ran quickly through the garden before coming to stop at the stonewall and slumping against the stone gate at the edge before the drop-off. Asteep cliff he often thought of throwing himself off in the earlier days.
Eratos crept closer. He wanted to comfort her, the way shehad comforted him after Thelonius was done with him. He could still recall thesoftness of her skin, the gentle touch as she cleansed his wounds and the scentof myrrh enveloped him in a warm embrace. Eratos could not let her know he wasthere, even as his heart beat faster at the thought of being so close to heragain. Thelonius’ warning about what he would do to Helena if Eratos did notcomply still rang in his ears. He was thankful Helena had not been sold to theslave traders upon his escape from Thelonius.
Helena wiped her tears on the back of her hands and let outa frustrated growl, obviously angered by Thelonius’ return. It had been manyyears since Thelonius had been in Antioch. Eratos knew, because he was forcedto remain close to his hated former master.
It was why he fought so hard. He struggled to survive in thegladiatorial arena for this moment, this glimmer of freedom to seek revenge onThelonius. Taranis and his little Roman had granted him this gift, and for thathe would be eternally grateful.
He would kill Thelonius, freeing Helena, and then it did notmatter what happened to him. Eratos would be content to die, for his task wouldbe complete and the pain would be over.
Helena sobbed again and he shifted, a branch cracking underhis feet. Her spine stiffened and she turned around.
As quickly and as quietly as he could he backed toward thealleyway he had used to sneak in, hoping Helena wouldn’t follow him.
* * * * *
Helena ran from the villa, tears of hatred streaming downher face. Only when she came to the edge of her garden did she stop, leaningagainst the stone gate to catch her breath.
Why did he have to return?
She had just gotten used to Thelonius being gone. He leftfive summers ago, and it was the most peaceful time of her life.
Yet her solitude had been won over a terrific pain and justthe memory of Thelonius’ departure brought back memories of the brave warriorwho had endured the very depths of Hades. She had been enthralled by him inthat moment, captured by his brilliant blue eyes as her husband cut his skinwith a blade, marring him, taking pleasure in the pain he caused the warrior.
Helena had gone to him and repaired some of the damage. Theydid not have the same words and did not understand each other but she knew heunderstood she meant him no harm. They both shared the same burning hatred forThelonius. She often wondered why he did not strike back at Thelonius duringhis stay in Antioch, but she could not ask him.
During her five years alone she fantasized about thewarrior. Though she did not know a man’s touch, her body yearned to bepossessed by his. She longed to know the caress of his hands. If Theloniusdared to touch her she would strangle him with her bare hands.
Even thinking about draining the life essence from Theloniusmade her fists clench, her blood boil. She would kill him herself, butThelonius held something over her, and like the Celt, she was just as much as aslave to Thelonius as he was.
Why could he not have stayed away?
Something had caused Thelonius to run back to Antioch withhis tail between his legs, for on his arrival he had shut himself away for days,speaking to no one, seeing no one.
Wiping her tears on the back of her hand, she looked outover the city, down to the river and island where the Imperial Palace gleamedin the waning daylight. Still, the city of Antioch would be full of life, evenin the darkness. Antioch was an outpost, a gateway to the vast wild stretchesof desert. It was oasis for weary travelers as much as it was a place to hide.
And Thelonius was definitely hiding from something, thequestion was what?
The rustling of olive branches caught her attention. Craningher neck, she looked toward the shaded part of her garden and saw a shadowflicker through the bushes and duck behind the alleyway that led from her villato the city. It was the back entrance her servants used.
“Are you well, mistress?”
Helena looked up to see the two hired guards her husbandpaid to watch out for him. They were men of honor obviously because they wereconcerned about her safety, though that was not part of their job.
“I am fine, thank you. I’m just going to go into town beforeit becomes too dark.”
“Do you require an escort?” the guard asked, frowning. Itwas then Thelonius stuck his fat head out the shuttered window.
“Soldier, you will not leave your post. Helena is perfectlyable to go to town on her own. She is not the one who needs protecting.”
A brief look of disgust passed over the guard’s face. “Yes,master.”
Thelonius glared at her before closing the shutter anddisappearing back into the dark confines of his bedchamber. Helena just shookher head and continued on her way.
She crept toward the alleyway and carefully peered aroundthe corner. A brief glimpse of a cloak disappeared around the corner of thehouse. Helena could almost hear her father’s voice warning her.
Be careful. Do not trespass in the city alone.
Usually she wouldn’t, but something propelled her forward.She kept to the wall, trying to remain in the shadows that grew longer as theday waned. Her heart thundered between her ears, drowning out the sounds of thecity beyond the walls that enclosed her home from the rest of the city. She sawa shift in the darkness, the sound of shuffling feet.
“Who are you? Show yourself.” The only answer was silence,but she knew there was someone there. “I will not leave until you show yourselfand explain your reason for hiding in my orchard.”
“You’re either very brave, or very foolish.” A tall, hoodedman stepped from the shadows.
Foolish. I am foolish.
Helena placed her back against the wall to steady herself.She was not prepared for a virtual giant of a man to emerge from the shadows.He was tall and wide, built like a legionnaire.
“Or perhaps you have nothing to live for.” He did not moveany further than the edge of the darkness that had concealed him. There wassomething familiar about his voice, something teased at the back of herrecollection that she knew him. Leaning forward, she caught a flash ofbrilliant blue from under the hood.
“Eratos?” she asked, stunned. “Is it…can it be you? Truly?”
He pushed back the hood, and though he was tanned, thebrilliant blue eyes and grim determination set in his strong jaw gave him away.His long golden hair was still shorn away and new scars marred his face, but itwas Eratos.
“You remember me,” he whispered.
“Of course I do. I could never forget you.” Helena steppedforward, his eyes piercing into her soul.
“Aye, the same with me,anam cara.”
The heat of a blush stained her cheeks. She did not knowwhatanam carawas, but it sent a thrill of excitement through her. “Youhave learned my language and I am ashamed I don’t know yours.”
A smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “It is all right.It is just an endearment. I am glad to see you are well.”
“Well…as well as can be.” Letting out a sigh, she lookedback toward the villa and then turned back to Eratos. “I take it you are thereason Thelonius has returned to Antioch to lick his wounds.”
An evil grin broke across his face. “Aye, he flees from me.”
“How did you escape?”
“It is a long story, but suffice it to say I am here to seekmy revenge. I did not count on guards though.”
Helena stepped forward, touching his arm. “You shall notworry about them. They are not loyal to my husband. I will give you access tohim.”
Eratos picked up her hand and brushed a kiss across herknuckles. A burst of flames shot through her at the feel of his lips againsther skin. Her body seemed to come alive at the intimate touch, especially fromthe man who had filled her fantasies for the last few years.
“If there is anything I can do to repay you, I would gladlydo so.”
Helena bit her lip. She could think of only one thing shewanted from Eratos. She wanted to continue what had almost happened those manyyears ago, when she had been cleaning him up after Thelonius had beat him, whenEratos had taken her in his arms and captured her lips with his, roughlypressing her against the mat, grinding his hot body against her, and the godshelp her, she had been so willing.
Yet it did not happen. Thelonius had discovered them andsavagely tore them apart. That had been the last time she had seen Eratos.Thelonius had been so jealous, and it made her pleased she had vexed herhusband so.
She wanted Eratos to finish what he started. She wantedThelonius to know that a mere slave—and man he thought was his—wanted her, nothim. Helena wanted Eratos to take her innocence, she wanted his seed.
She wanted her own revenge on Thelonius.
“I will give you access to seek your revenge on my husband,but before you kill him I ask of you one thing.”
“Anything,anam cara. You have my undying gratitudefor your assistance.”
“I want you to lay with me for a fortnight. I want you tomate with me.”
Eratos was stunned when the words came out of her mouth. Hecouldn’t believe such a beautiful, exotic creature such as Helena desired him.He had often thought of it, thought of that moment before Thelonius had caughtthem, when he pressed into her softness, overcome by his desire. For Helena tooffer herself to him was something from his dreams.
Resist, there is no time for this. Remember Thelonius’threat.
Yet he couldn’t stop himself. His cock grew stiff under histunic, his blood heating. Even through her billowy stola he could see hernipples harden. It was not empty words of offer, Helena did want him.
“Pardon?” he asked.
Helena moved closer to him, the scent of wildflowers andmyrrh assailed his senses in a heady, intoxicating way, wrapping him up in awarm cocoon of arousal and want. His plans of revenge were quickly forgotten asHelena pressed herself against his chest, her body soft, warm, melding againsthim.
“I will let you torment Thelonius, but you must not kill himuntil after you have lain with me for a fortnight. I will not be left a virginwidow.”
“You are a virgin?”
“Aye, Thelonius has no strength in his rod for me. Even ifhe did I would not let him. I burn with the same hatred for him as you.”
How can someone so innocent burn with so much hatred?Still, he would not risk her life. He had to kill Thelonius first.
“Helena, I cannot promise you that. I must dispatchThelonius to Tartarus.” He tried to sidestep her and she blocked his path. Shegripped his arms, her fingers digging into his flesh.
“Please, you must not. Promise me.” Her eyes were moist withtears, and her actions bespoke that of a frightened woman.
Why? I thought you wanted him dead as well?But hecould not ask the question— instead he only reacted with gut instinct, pullingher tight against him and grinding his cock against her. A sigh of pleasureescaped past her lips, her eyes widening in surprise as he pushed her againstthe wall.
“I will gladly do as you wish,” he whispered in her ear,hoping he could keep his promise to her, though he seriously doubted it. “Ihave thought of no one but you since that stolen moment five years ago.” Herlips were so close. He cupped her face and brought them to his own. It feltalmost sacrilegious to be claiming such a soft, delicate, refined creature, tomeld his dry, cracked lips against something as supple and moist as hers, buthe could not help himself.
And just as he recalled time and time again, she tastedsweet.
Helena broke away from his kiss, panting. “Not here.” Shepushed away from him and grabbed his hand, tugging him forward. “Come.”
Eratos followed her willingly as Helena led him through theservants’ entrance. The darkness of twilight covered them as they sneakedthrough the silent villa.
“Thelonius keeps to the upstairs, locked in his room likethe coward that he is. My chamber is on the far side of the house, far awayfrom him. No one will disturb us there.”
Eratos felt like an untried youth as Helena led him to thefar corner of the villa where her modest bedchamber lay. It had been so longsince he had been with a woman, so long since his intended had been killed onthe battlefield when Caratacus fell to Scapula.
It had been so long since he had the favor, the softness ofa woman’s embrace. He had thought of nothing but revenge for so long, he hadforgotten what it was like to feel desire, lust…need.
And by the gods he wanted her.
Her bedchamber was simple, meager for the lady of the house.It mattered naught to him at this moment as she led him into her room. She shutthe wooden door behind them, sliding the bolt across.
The tension between them was palpable. Like the calm beforea tumultuous storm. They stood frozen in their respective spots. Helena wasonly a few feet from him, yet it felt like a great chasm yawned between them.
“I have thought about you often,” she said, breaking thesilence between them. “I dreamed of you taking me, possessing me.”
“Aye, I have thought of the same,anam cara. Yourface has haunted my dreams, helped me through the nightmares of existing.”
She stepped closer to him, her eyes sparkling in thedarkness. A beam of moonlight filtered in through the slats that covered herwindow. Helena was an ethereal beauty from his deepest desires, and he longedto plunge deep inside her. But he could not. He had to be gentle with her.
“Eratos, I have dreamed of this moment,” Helena said,stepping forward and running her hands over his chest.
“I too,anam cara.” He caressed her cheeks beforetaking her lips in a gentle kiss. His hands roved down her body as he peeledaway her stola and robe. He sat down on the edge of her sleeping pallet tofully appreciate the glow of her skin. He pushed the muslin off her shoulders.It slipped down her body, pooling on the floor. He deftly removed his cloak,tossing it over his shoulder.
His heart raced, his cock hard and thick with need as shereached out and ran her fingers over the faint scars that nicked his face. Hertouch was soft and branded his skin in a way he had not felt in a long time. Hegrabbed her hand, kissing the inside of her wrist where her pulse raced againsther skin. Her sigh of pleasure was like music to his ears.
Helena sighed softly as he pulled her down onto his lap. Herbottom was supple and he could feel her honey against the bare skin of histhigh. He captured her lips with his. Eratos kissed her fervently, letting herknow how much he had desired her. With each kiss, he tried to tell her withoutwords that he thought of no one but her those nights he was away.
She kissed him again, snaking her arms around his neck,letting his tongue plunder her mouth. Her nipples brushed against the thinfabric of his threadbare tunic.
He broke the kiss, pushing her against the damask sheets.She watched him in a pool of moonlight that sneaked in from a slatted blind ashe undressed. She was like a goddess, her legs spread open, her sex wet, pinknestled against the dark triangle of curls and waiting for him. Helena’s eyeswidened as he approached her naked.
Sensing her trepidation, he kissed her. “I will make surethis is enjoyable for you.”
“I know you will. Come to me.” She held out her arms,beckoning him. It was all the invitation he needed as he sank on the palletbeside her.
He trailed his hands over her body, lingering on herbreasts, cupping them, kneading them. Helena’s eyes closed and her body arched.He leaned over, kissing her breast before laving her nipple with his tongue. Amoan escaped past her lips and she pressed herself closer to him.
“You like that,anam cara?” He chuckled softly.
“By the gods, yes.”
“Do you want me?” he teased, nibbling on her neck.
“Yes, Eratos. Only you.”
She gasped in surprise as his hand slipped down her bodybetween her legs, his fingers caressed her slit, making her wet with desire.His blood burned with the need to bury his face between her legs and taste her.
Kissing down the length of her body, he lingered, his lipsover her stomach and hips down to where he had just been caressing. Her hipsrose instinctively as he ran his tongue over her slit, tasting her sweetness.
She let out a small cry of delight.
“Do you like that?” he teased again. Helena moaned, but didnot answer with words—instead her hands ran over his scalp, forcing his mouthback to her sex.
The tip of his tongue found her clitoris and began to swirlaround it, licking it upward. She began to grind her hips against him.
“You taste sweet,” he murmured against her thigh before hisfingers parted her folds, rubbing her clitoris with the pad of his finger in acircular motion.
She grasped him, holding him in place as he sucked andlicked between her thighs. His cock twitched, demanding release.
Eratos shifted then and moved his shaft to the entrance ofher pussy. He looked down at her, legs splayed, her eyes glittering likejewels. He wanted her and only her. He thrust forward quickly, breaking throughher maidenhead. There was a small sputtering of pain. She clutched hisshoulders as he held still, his cock buried deep inside, stretching her. Shewas so tight around his cock, she sheathed him so well.
“I am sorry,” he moaned, his eyes closed. “Gods, you are sotight. It has been far too long.” He surged forward, slowly. His hands spannedher slim hips and held them up so she met every one of his sure thrusts, movingup and down his hard cock.
Thrusting harder and faster, Helena clutched at the beddingand he felt her sex clench around him. She arched her back, crying out as thepleasure overtook her. Eratos quickened his pace, holding her tight against himbefore muffling his cry of ecstasy and stiffened, spilling his seed into her.
He slipped out of her, falling beside her on the bed. Helenarolled on her side and slide her arms around him.
“I should go before I am discovered.” He tried to move, butHelena held him down.
“No, please stay with me. Please.”
Eratos looked at her, her brown curls tumbling over hershoulders. Her lips were swollen with their shared kisses. Even though heshould go, he just couldn’t. He wanted to stay with her and make love to heragain.
Helena leaned across him, kissing him. “Besides, this roomhas an access point to Thelonius.”
Eratos cocked an eyebrow. Helena stood up and padded acrossthe room and opened what Eratos had assumed was a small cupboard. Sitting up,he peered closer and saw a set of stairs twisting around a corner.
“What is it?”
“A servant stairwell. I discovered it after Thelonius leftlast time. It leads into his bedchamber. From his room the door to the stairwellis under a large panel of Thracian art. I do not think he knows it exists. Itis a way to enter his bedchamber undetected. So, I propose a bargain.”
“Oh?” Eratos asked, intrigued.
“Torture him instead of killing him.”
“Do not kill him? Why, I thought you wanted him dead aswell?”
Helena opened her mouth, and then shook her head. “Would itnot be sweeter to seek your revenge slowly? He has done so much and I would…Iwould hate to see you travel down the same road of violence as he has done.”
“It is why I showed you the passageway. I trust you. Eratos,you are a better man than he. He deserves more than a swift death.”
She was right.
“Aye, I will try to hold off killing him.”
Helena shut the cupboard and returned to the pallet besidehim. Eratos collected her in his arms as she snuggled down against him. He ranhis fingers over her body, caressing her until she fell asleep. For he plannedto visit Thelonius tonight and give the bastard a message he would not soonforget. Even though he would not kill him, he would make the jackal quake inhis boots. He would torment his former master the way he had tormented him.
It took only a couple of hours before Helena’s breathing wasdeep and even in sleep. Her arm was draped across his chest. The moment he tookher maidenhead he almost lost himself, he did not think he could feel suchpleasure, such joy again. It scared him. He would have to keep his distancefrom her, lest his heart was hurt again.
The thought of losing another loved one would be more thanhe could bear. Helena murmured in her sleep and rolled to the opposite side ofthe sleeping pallet. Eratos quietly rose and padded over to the pitcher andbowl of water. He washed himself and pulled on his tunic.
Helena had begged him to stay the night, but he had someunfinished business to attend to. Silently he opened the door to the servants’stairwell, a secret staircase that would take him to Thelonius’ chamber andbypass the guards.
At the top of the stairs stood another door, Thelonius’door. He paused, pressing his ear against the wood, listening. All he couldhear was the steady rhythm of sleep. Lifting the latch, he entered the room,moving as quiet as a shadow. When his eyes adjusted to the moonlight filteringinto Thelonius’ room, he had to stop himself from snarling when he spied hisformer master’s large form curled up on a luxurious pallet in the corner of theroom.
He moved softly against the padding of the Persian rug thatcovered the expanse of the bedchamber until he stood over Thelonius. It wouldbe so easy to kill him. Eratos unsheathed his small dagger, the iron glintingin the beam of moonlight. He swore he could see the beat of his jugular,taunting him.
Instead Eratos ran the blade along his palm, drawing blood.Walking over to the wall opposite Thelonius, he smeared his blood on the wall,and then carvedultio ultionisunderneath the blood. Making it clear hewanted one thing from Thelonius.
As much as he wanted to stay and see the look on Thelonius’face when he woke up, he had to depart. Moving just as quietly, he made his wayback down the stairwell into Helena’s room.
When he entered her chamber he saw she was sitting up, thesheet pooling around her waist, her long brown hair cascading down over hershoulders. He caught a glimpse of her coral nipples peeking through the strandsof hair. She was still naked and his cock hardened again with need.
“I was worried,” she whispered. “When I turned over you werenot there.”
“I paid Thelonius a visit.”
Her eyes widened in fear. “Did you—”
“I did not break my promise to you.”
Helena gasped when she caught sight of the blood. “Yourhand, are you all right?”
Eratos sat on the edge of her pallet and she gingerly tookhis hand. “I’m fine,anam cara. All I did was leave him a message of intent.It is not deep and already the bleeding is waning.”
She smiled. “Still, I shall clean it.” She slid from thebed, the sheet dropping from her body. She padded naked across the room. Eratosgrowled in appreciation at her womanly figure. He needed her now to appease thebloodlust in him.
Coming up behind her, he pressed his body into the softnessof her back. “Anam cara, I need you.” Nibbling on her shoulder, he said,“Let me love you one more time until the dawn parts us for the day.”
Helena moaned as he reached around and cupped her breasts.“Yes, by the gods yes.”
“I have one request though,anam cara.”
The request caught her off guard, but thrilled her still thesame. A shudder of expectation rippled through her as he ran his knucklesagainst her face. Her body was reacting to his touch, her skin felt like as ifit were on fire.
She trembled, but not from fear. She trembled because shewanted more. She wanted to take control of their mating.
Eratos took her hand, leading her toward the pallet. He laydown against the sheet and Helena leaned over him, pulling his tunic from him.
“You are beautiful,” he whispered, running his fingersthrough her hair, which rippled over her shoulders.
“And you are handsome.”
Eratos grinned as she ran her fingers over each scar,tracing over the puckered flesh.
“Do my battle scars disgust you?”
“Nay, they do not. I am sorry they mar your flesh.”
He cocked an eyebrow as he fingered locks of her hair,twirling the ends around. “Nay, they do not mar. They serve as a reminder to bemore careful.”
“Aye.” She leaned down and captured his lips, beforenibbling down his body as he had done to her. “Then it is a good thing you havethat reminder. I would hate for anything to happen to you.”
Her heart raced, her blood thundering through her as shetraced her hands down over his hard abdomen—her fingers brushing his hardshaft. Eratos sucked in a deep breath.
“Did I hurt you?” she teased. Helena knew she did not hurthim, instead she repeated the movement and Eratos groaned again.
“Anam cara, you torture me so.”
Helena sighed softly as she straddled his hips. His hardcock pressed against her core. He ran his hands up to her breasts, cuppingthem, teasing the nipples, sending a jolt of liquid heat through her body.
Eratos was called a heathen by her people, yet he showed herkindness, he was gentle. She kissed him again, letting his tongue plunder hermouth. Her body came alive, as if it had been in a deep sleep. Bliss coursedthrough her at his touch.
She broke the kiss, pushing him against the sheets. Reachingbetween them, she encircled her palm around his cock and slowly lowered her sexonto his shaft. Helena bit her lip to prevent herself from crying out as shemounted him.
Eratos let out a throaty moan when he was fully seatedinside her. His hands slid from her breasts to her hips.
“And how do you like this position, little one?” He chuckledsoftly.
“I like it very much indeed.” She moved her hips, slowlymoving up and down his cock. “And how do you like it?”
“Mmm, I enjoy having you riding me.” His fingersslipped through the curls at the apex of her thighs to rub her clitoris.
“By the gods,” she whispered, quickening her pace.
She let out a small cry of delight, surprised at what he wasdoing. Was this part of lovemaking? Was this what was going on during all thosefeasts? Helena had been pleasantly surprised when he took her maidenhead. Shehad no idea mating could be so pleasurable.
Warmth spread through her body like an inextinguishablefire, her body going taut as ecstasy enveloped her in a warm cocoon. She lovedmating with Eratos and she knew a fortnight would never be enough.
She wanted to be his and his alone.
He thrust upward quickly, meeting her rhythm. He held ontight to her hips, his fingers digging into her flesh as she rode him like awild stallion.
Eratos began to thrust harder, faster. Helena reachedforward, clutching at the bedding as she felt a coil of heat begin to unfurldeep in her belly. She was going to come again. She arched her back, crying outas the pleasure overtook her. Eratos let out a loud shout and stiffened,spilling his seed into her. She could feel his cock pulsating deep inside her.
Helena collapsed against his chest that was moist withsweat. His heart was racing, pounding against her ear. It slowed down as theyboth caught their breath. Eratos caressed her back, his hands running over herskin.
They had been so lost in the moment—they had forgotten theywere not alone in the house. Helena listened for any sounds that they had beenheard, but the house was still silent. She rolled off Eratos, nestling besidehim once more, and promptly falling fast asleep.
Eratos left her with the coming dawn with a brush of hislips against hers and a promise he would return when it was safe. Though sheknew he wouldn’t be far off, she would still miss his presence. As much as shewanted Thelonius to die, she worried about Thelonius’ power and the threat hehad given to Helena five years ago. She did not want to see Eratos die in thegladiatorial arena should he fail in his quest. Eratos did not deserve to die,she did not want him to die—the way her father had died because of Thelonius.
Helena had dressed in a simple linen shift and then returnedto bed, waiting for Thelonius to discover Eratos’ message.
She did not have long to wait before his cry rent throughthe still morning, causing a large flock of cormorants to squawk and depart hergarden. Helena grinned, but it didn’t take long before she heard the unevensounds of Thelonius lumbering down the stairs of the main hall. He burst intoher room, his face sweaty and red. His eyes wide with fear.
“You, come with me.”
Thelonius’ body shook with rage, his face red. “Now.”Reaching out, he grabbed her, dragging him from her bedchamber before she hadtime to affix her stola. He dragged her up the main stairwell to his room.
He pushed her into the room and she came face-to-face withEratos’ bloody handprint and the message of revenge he had carved into theplaster of the wall.
“Well?” Thelonius demanded breathlessly. “What do you see?”
“I see someone does not like you very much.”
“Do not be flippant with me.”
Helena turned around and stared at Thelonius. “I am notbeing flippant, nor contrite.”
“I think you know more than you are letting on.”
“Why would you say that?”
Thelonius’ eyes narrowed. “Because the guards remainedoutside my door all night, and the only other way in is the passageway fromyour chamber.”
“You know of the passageway?” she asked, dismayed.
“Of course I do, you foolish girl. You think I would notknow all the ins and outs of my own home?”
Feigning ignorance, she shrugged her shoulders. “If youslept through the intruder’s appearance, then I must have as well.”
“I find that hard to believe that an intruder would leaveyou untouched.”
“Perhaps the intruder is like you, for you have left meuntouched. Perhaps the intruder has no strength in his sword,” Helena hissed.
“Get out of my sight, you brazen whore.”
Helena shook her head but secretly laughed as she took thestairwell back to her bedchamber. Eratos had really frightened Thelonius.
Thelonius was nothing but a murdering pig and he deservedeverything that was coming to him.
If only her father could have had a chance for revengeagainst her husband after Thelonius had blackmailed him and secured herfather’s vast wealth by marrying her.
She had every reason to despise Thelonius. He stole her fromher family, brought her to Antioch and then turned the Praetorian Guard againstthose she loved. She didn’t even have a chance to properly mourn them. Therewas nothing left for her in Rome once Eratos finished with Thelonius. Antiochwas home now.
* * * * *
Thelonius opened the shutters and peered out into the silentgarden. “I know he is nearby. I am leaving this house and I will return bynightfall with more guards. I will find him and root him out—you have my wordon it.”
She did not respond, what could she say? Helena smiled asThelonius stormed from the house, taking all the hired guards with him. She wasglad to be rid of him, even for only a little while.
Helena sat down on the edge of her sleeping pallet and ranher hands along the bedding. Picking up one of the pillows, she held it closeand could still smell Eratos’ scent permeating into the fibers of the cloth.The masculine scent of deep spices and something wild.
Her blood heated thinking about Eratos and how their bodiesmelded in passion. She pulled off her clothing and lay down on the bedding,spreading her legs and closing her eyes as she thought of her mighty gladiatortaking her.
Fire flushed her cheeks as she pictured Eratos entering herroom as she lay on her bed, naked, vulnerable and alone. Her nipples hardened,recalling his hands on her breasts, caressing them, kneading them. His clearblue eyes locked on her with intensity as he bent over her, capturing one ofthe sensitive buds with his lips, branding her with liquid fire.
Helena bit her lip as she caressed her breasts in responseto picturing Eratos’ hands on her flesh. An ache, a need, made her drive herhips upward. She licked her fingers, trailing them down over her stomach andbetween her thighs. Her hand slipped down her sex, parting her folds, and shebegan to circle the center of her pleasure. A headiness enveloped her body asher blood ignited, building slowly into a full-blown inferno that raged throughher.
By the gods, she wished Eratos was here, taking her,mounting her.
Closing her eyes, she saw Eratos’ face between her thighs.Pictured his tongue licking her slit, felt his fingers slip inside her sheath,pumping in and out of her. A wild sensation built up inside her. She felt as ifshe were going to shatter as her release came fast and strong. The muscles inher pussy pulsated as the aftermath of her erotic fantasy washed through her.
When the last shudders of her orgasm left her, she rolledover and gasped as she saw a dark figure lurking in the shadows. Helena sat upand was about to scream, but Eratos stepped out of the shadows, naked, his cockfully erect.
“You really should not have done that,anam cara.”
“Oh?” She arched a brow. “Why is that?”
Eratos grinned. “Only I shall bring you pleasure.”
“You are so sure of yourself, gladiator.” Licking her lips,she scooted across her bed. “Let us make a wager, shall we?”
“You cannot touch me as I try to bring you to the veryheight of ecstasy. If you take me before I am done, you lose.”
Eratos grinned. “As simple as that? I accept your wager. Ihave survived many battles, I am positive I can overcome this one.”
Helena grinned. “We shall see.”
“When does—” His words were cut off in a moan as she graspedthe base of his shaft and ran her tongue along the underside of the tip. “Anamcara.” More strangled Celtic words escaped past his lips as she took him inher mouth. Her hand moved up and down the length of him as she sucked on hiscock, giving him the same pleasure he had bestowed on her last night.
Eratos grunted and began to thrust into her mouth, hisfingers entwining in her hair as he thrust against her, but all too soon hepulled away.
“This is not how I want to release.” His words deep, husky,laced with ecstasy.
Helena grinned. “Do you yield?”
“Aye, now get on your hands and knees.” Helena chuckled asshe did that. Eratos cupped the cheeks of her bottom, kneading them. His cockteased the entrance of her slick entrance. He thrust forward, filling her. Shegasped as he began to move in and out of her. Eratos plunged deep into her,holding her hips, bringing her tight against him as he took her like an animal.
He leaned over her back and she could feel his hard chestagainst the curve of her spine, his hands on either side of her. His movementsbecame shallow, his breathing thick and rapid in her ear.
“By the gods, you are so tight.”
Helena purred as he stiffened and spilled his seed into her.Eratos pulled out of her and collapsed against the bedding. Helena chuckled andcurled up beside him. He opened one eye and looked at her.
“I win,” she teased.
“Is that so?” With a large roar Eratos pounced on her. Hiscock hard as he knocked open her legs with his thighs and plunged into heragain. Proving to her he never gave up without a fight.
* * * * *
“Thelonius is out,” Helena announced lazily, lying acrosshis chest. Eratos chuckled and continued drawing unseen circles across hersoft, delicate skin.
“I know. His men are scouring Antioch at this moment,looking for me. He has made his way to a Roman bath in the section of town thatcaters to his sick whim.”
Helena raised herself on one elbow. “Then he’ll be gone forsome time.”
Eratos growled pleasantly. “Still hungry for more,anamcara?”
A pink blush stained her cheeks. “I am always hungry foryou, warrior.” She bent down and kissed him lightly on the lips. “But that isnot what I am suggesting.”
“Oh, and what are you suggesting?”
“A perfect chance to torture him some more.” Her eyes litwith a gleam of delight.
“I like how you think.”
Helena rolled off him and quickly dressed. It was a shameshe was covering her glorious body, but he would uncover it later. He wouldwait and hide and hear Thelonius’ terror for himself. He was looking forward toreveling in it.
“Come.” She held out her hand and they ambled up thestairwell together. They entered the chamber and Eratos spied his earliermessage, still scrawled upon the wall. “What do you propose to do this time?”
He smiled and pulled out a scroll. “I had this writtenespecially for him. Secrets I overheard in my time as a slave. It warns himthis is a copy.”
Helena arched any eyebrow. “I take it these are secrets hedoes not want to be let out on the world.”
“Aye,” Eratos said gruffly. He placed the scroll onThelonius’ ample pallet. Right in the middle of the pristine sheets where hecould see it, and know that someone was in his home.
“Perhaps he will just blame me,” Helena said.
Eratos shook his head. “Unless you know the ancient languageof my people.”
“I do not.” She touched the scroll. “Are you sayingThelonius does?”
Eratos nodded. “When he first purchased me, he spoke thewords of my people. He made it quite clear…” He trailed off as the words cameback to haunt him. The things Thelonius said he was going to do to him. Hisstomach knotted painfully and a bead of sweat broke out across his brow as thehorrifying images crossed his mind.
“Eratos,” Helena whispered gently in his ear, “come, hecannot harm you any longer.”
“What?” Still dazed, he looked down at her. Her kind andgentle touch reassured him he was safe. Thelonius could no longer harm him.
“Come with me.” She took his hand and led him out of thebedchamber.
“Where are we going?”
“To a place that always helps me clear my mind.” Helena ledhim from the villa and through the garden. She parted some branches of theolive grove that led to a little iron gate. Pulling a key from the pocket ofher stola, she unlocked it and led Eratos inside.
It was a small garden, but overhead were grapevines thatwere laden with fruit and had interwoven together to form a roof. Pockets ofsunlight filtered through, and in the center was a small fountain. The patinaon the statue was moss colored and the water no longer flowed. The place hadbeen forgotten, hidden for some time.
“How does Thelonius not know about this place?”
Helena shrugged her shoulders. “He does not like the garden.I stumbled across this place when he was away. After you left, I found it. Itwas refuge. The olive trees run around the perimeter of the wall of my garden,one can move invisibly through them and hide here.” She handed him the key. “Iknow it is not comfortable, but it gives you a place to stay.”
Eratos took her hand. “It is beautiful,anam cara. Itis comfortable, and I have stayed in places not as pleasant as this.”
“I’m sure. I heard the great fire destroyed most of Rome,how you escaped that is beyond me.”
“I hid in the catacombs with my half-brother and his Romanwife. She was an intuitive little thing, loyal to Taranis.”
Helena paled. “The catacombs? Well, I will bring you strawbedding, I will not have you sleeping on the stone ground.”
“Aye, so this is much more pleasant.” He took a step forward,placing his hands on her hips, pulling her tight against him. “Will you comeand visit me here?”
“Yes, of course.” She ran her hands over his chest. “I usedto fantasize about you. I used to dream we were together here.”
He let out a feral growl as he ran his hands up to cup herbreasts. “We can be.”
She laughed. “As soon as I get the bedding here, then Iintend on living out those fantasies.”
Eratos scooped her up in his arms. “I want you again,anamcara.” He captured her lips with his. “I need you.”
“Yes,” she whispered breathlessly.
They left the secret garden, keeping to the shadows so noone would see them. He quickly made his way back to her bedchamber and Helenabreathed an inward sigh of relief that they were not caught. His lips capturedhers once more as he hungrily devoured her.
Eratos carried her to her bedchamber. He was about to dropher back on her pallet, but she broke free of the kiss.
“Not here, my warrior. I have somewhere else in mind.”
Intrigued, he set her down. Helena took his hand and led himto the back of the house. He could hear water trickling. Helena opened a doorand it was a large open-air Roman bath. His body trembled in anticipation. Hecould do with a bath. His skin was prickly from the heat of the day.
They quickly stripped out of their clothes. Helena steppedforward. “What do you think?”
“I think,anam cara, this will do just fine.” Hekissed her tenderly.
Helena ran her hands over his skin, touching each mark, eachnick from every lash he received from Thelonius. Reaching up, he grabbed herwrist, stopping her from her tender exploration. Their eyes locked. The onlysound was the gurgle of the fountain in the center of the pool.
“You are so different from others,” he mused out loud as hebrushed away an errant strand of hair from her face.
“I know.” She opened her mouth, as if to tell him more, butshe did not.
“Do not be afraid to tell me anything.”
“I trust you with my life, Eratos.”
Having her body so close to his just fired his blood, madehim want her even more. Her nipples hardened as he cupped her breasts.
“No more talk.” He began to lay kisses against her neck, herpulse began to quicken under his lips. “I need to be buried inside you.”
“Aye,” she whispered, her arms wrapping around him oncemore.
“How much do you want it,anam cara?”
She let out a low moan, her hips rolling as she tried toslide closer to him. Eratos chuckled as he began to nibble her neck, revelingin the fiery passion that he was unleashing from her. His little Roman was soresponsive.
“Do you want me?” he asked again, his voicing hitchingslightly.
“I do, Eratos. You know that I do.” When she spoke his nameit sent a shiver of delight down his spine. Never had his name sounded so sweeton a Roman’s tongue before.
He wanted to take his time, but she was irresistible. Herbreasts high and firm, begging to be kissed and sucked. His eyes drifted downto the curls at the juncture of her thighs. Gods, how he wanted to taste herthere again, bury his face in her. She did not cover her body in shame—insteadshe pressed her naked body up against him, returning his kisses fervently. Heran his hands down her back to cup her backside in his hands, kneading thecheeks as their tongues intertwined. She intoxicated him so.
Eratos led her to the pool. They went down the steps andsank into the tepid water. He pulled her close. Helena wrapped her legs aroundhis waist, pulling him tight against her. A shiver of excitement rippledthrough him as her delicate fingers touched him, swirling around his nipples,over his chest and down his rock-hard abs.
He groaned as her hands came dangerously close to his cock.“Anam cara, do you know how much I want you?”
“How much?” she teased, nipping at his neck.
Eratos groaned. Helena reached out and guided his hand tothe curls at juncture of her thighs. “Touch me.”
He swallowed hard. Her brazenness inflamed his desireimmensely. His fingers parted her folds. He began to stroke her and she moanedagainst his shoulders, dragging her teeth against his skin.
She ran her fingers down his hard stomach and then lightlyalong his shaft. He gasped as she touched him there, her hand encircling him,stroking him up and down.
“Don’t,” he said, grabbing her wrist. “I want this to last,and if you keep touching me like that, it won’t.”
He kissed her hard, his tongue pushing past her lips andentwining with her own. He let his fingers run through her hair as she groundher hips against his cock.
He ran his fingers from her chin down her neck to hernipple. He cupped her breasts and brought his lips down to suckle her andnibble.
Helena let out another guttural moan and tossed her headback and forth. She began to rock her hips as he rubbed her slit.
“Look at me,” he demanded hoarsely.
She opened her eyes, which sparkled in the moonlight.
“What do you want, Helena?”
“You, only you.”
He sucked in a deep breath. “By the gods.”
“Come inside me,” she said, opening her legs wide. He letout a low, guttural growl and pushed the head of his cock against her core,entering her swiftly, burying himself to the hilt. She was so tight, so warm,so wet. He leaned against the edge of the pool as he moved in and out of herslick heat. She angled her hips to take him deeper, harder. His cock rubbedagainst her swollen clitoris.
“Oh yes,” she murmured, arching her back to take him deeper.
He waited until her hips began to grind, then he knew shewas ready and eager for more. He began to move in and out of her slowly and itwas so hard not to go faster. Sweat broke across his brow as he strained tokeep himself from coming. When she began to undulate faster and ride his shaftup and down, searching for her release, was when he allowed himself to let go.He began to ride her hard and fast and she moaned in pleasure. He rubbed thepad of his thumb against her clit and brought her to the same pleasurablerelease as he came.
Her fingers dug into his back as the muscles of her sheathclamped down on him and he emptied his seed inside her. Eratos collapsedagainst her and then slid out of her as Helena’s feet rested on the bottom ofthe pool. He sank down in the water, allowing it to envelop him and wash awaythe world. When he surfaced, he picked up Helena and they lay against thecushions in the sunlight. He just listened to her breathe heavily as they letthe dry, hot breeze fan their spent bodies.
Eratos was resting on the straw bed that Helena had set upfor him in the secret alcove in the garden she had shown him. The sun wassetting, and he watched the sky through the vines turn from pink to red, andthe first twinkles of stars peek from the twilight. He even picked a bunch ofgrapes—they were plump, juicy and sweet.
Just like Helena.
He had spent all day mating with her and yet his cock stillhardened thinking about her. Why a man not interested in women would marry sucha fine specimen baffled him. Why would Thelonius be so greedy when he had nointerest in the fairer sex?
He also wondered why Helena hated Thelonius so. Was itbecause Thelonius left her untouched? Somehow Eratos doubted that. So whatdrove Helena’s burning hatred for his former master? What had Thelonius done toher?
It made him burn with fire thinking Helena had been hurt byThelonius. He was ill that she was forced to watch his tortures, like he gotsome perverse desire out of it. A fortnight seemed a long time away to end thelife of such a foul creature as Thelonius, but a promise was a promise and hewould not break his word to Helena.
A warrior never broke his word.
The sky darkened as the sun finally set, but the moon wasfull and brilliant. The inky black sky was alight with millions of stars. Hebegan to relax until he heard someone rustling in the olive grove thatconcealed him. Scooting up, he pulled out his dagger, ready to strike if it wasnot Helena.
Eratos let out a sigh of relief when he recognized her faceon the outside of the wrought iron gate.
“Anam cara, what are you doing here?”
“A runner came, Thelonius will not be returning tonight. Itseems he has found amusement in the baths.”
Eratos let her inside, locking the gate behind her. “Wouldyou not rather spend the night in your own chamber?”
She shook her head. “Remember, I have come to make good onthe promise to you—of visiting you here.” Taking his hand, she led him to hisbed and pushed him down. Her hair tickled his bare chest as she pulled off histunic. His cock already hard just from her presence.
“You seem to be trying to distract me, little one.”
“Yes, you.” He chuckled as he kneaded her breast. “Why wouldyou want to do that, I wonder?”
“Since you caught me so unawares earlier perhaps I wouldlike to see you pleasure yourself.”
Eratos sucked in a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I wouldrather pleasure myself inside you.”
Helena pushed him away and made him lie down against thehay. Slinging one leg over his waist, she straddled his thighs. “Touchyourself, for me.”
He groaned but reached down and palmed his cock.
“You are making me wet with need for you.” Eratos groaned asshe took his free hand and placed it between her legs so he could feel herwetness for himself.
Leaning down, she began to kiss around his abdomen, circlingher tongue around his bellybutton. Eratos stilled, knowing exactly what she wasgoing to do next. She kissed down to his shaft, running her tongue along thehard length of him.
“Anam cara.” He moaned, his fingers running throughher hair as she dragged her tongue up and down his shaft before sliding hiscock into her mouth. A hiss of approval slipped through his teeth.
He cried out and bucked his hips forward gently. She grippedthe base of his shaft and slid her mouth up and off. Eratos growled in protest,but only for a moment as she circled her tongue around the head of his cock,applying pressure to the sensitive underside.
“Helena, I must have you now.”
Helena chuckled and positioned herself over his loins, stillwet from her mouth. “How much do you want me?”
Eratos growled again. “Do you even have to ask?”
The flush of pleasure traveled across her face and down herneck like a warm caress. He reveled in the fact she desired him so, wanted him.Eratos’ hands slipped around her waist down to her bottom, cupping her cheeks.He lifted her up and positioned himself. Helena straddled him, the hard head ofhis cock rubbed up and down the slit of her pussy. Arching her hips forward, heentered her swiftly, burying his shaft deep inside her slick heat.