Born a son of Rome’s Equestrian class, Damon Pontus’ life should have been one of wealth and privilege. Instead, his father sold him to settle a gambling debt stripping Damon of his birthright, his freedom and the family he loved. Emancipated by a master turned friend, he sets aside his own life to reunite his family, agreeing once more to indenture himself to a Senator as a spy to free his sister.
Julia Manulus, daughter of a progressive, respected Roman Senator, understands the eccentric and indulgent life of Rome’s patrician society which is why she avoids it. Still, as head of her father’s house, a duty she inherited at the death of her mother, she must maintain the dignity of her family while her unconventional father pursues other interests. When her father goes missing, she faces her biggest challenge when the powerful Prefect of Rome pressures her to marry.
Lured into a conspiracy set by his duplicitous employer and sentenced to die, Damon finds himself saved by a woman too beautiful to be anything less than a goddess. But his gratitude is tempered by the bitter truth that his life is the price he pays to be a pawn in a patrician game. A simple matter to play the role of husband to the noble Julia until he starts to see how human his goddess is, caring for her family and others. When the attraction and desire he feels is reciprocated, Damon dares to dream again only to have it threatened by the intrigue of powerful men who would see them both destroyed. Can the clash of social class and greed be overcome or will Damon pay the ultimate price to protect the woman he loves?
“Why am I here, goddess?”
She should appreciate his straightforward manner but felt annoyed instead. “There is a matter of grave importance in which I require your assistance.”
His expression slipped back into one of bored indifference. “You require the assistance of a criminal? Do you need me to steal something?”
She frowned. “No.”
Dear Gods. “Of course not!”
Damon shrugged. “Then I do not understand what service I can be to you.”
At this moment, she was not certain either. He was supposed to be expressing gratitude for saving his life, pledging his loyalty, not questioning or evaluating her every word. She felt as if she were talking to her thirteen-year-old brother who often aggravated her in such a manner just for the sheer pleasure of it.
Assuming an arrogant posture drawn from generations of nobility she answered, “I did save you from the cross—barely in time, as I recall. You owe me your life.”
“My life?” he answered, giving her an incredulous look. “My life is nothing to someone of your class. You have slaves enough to do your bidding. Take him.” He indicated Kaj with a nod of his head. “The pirate. He seems eager enough to please,” He leaned forward and whispered loudly. “And I can vouch for his diligence.”
Julia sent a quick look to Kaj, who rolled his eyes in disgust. “None of my servants are suitable for this particular task.” Why was she arguing? She fixed her gaze on him, suppressed a shiver at the intensity of those silver eyes. “This is not a matter to be discussed. You will do as you are bid.”
Damon’s calm nonchalance dissolved into a sharp glare. The softness of his next words gave them all the more impact. “And if I do not?”
Refuse? That was absurd. He could not refuse. Julia was offering him his life, a fair exchange for a small amount of pretense. She was risking far more. Her honor, her family, her happiness. There were no other choices. Quintus was not going away and this obstinate man—and his cooperation—was the only option left.
He was silent, his expression entirely too smug for her liking. Julia leaned forward, gripped the carved arms of the chair for support and held his gaze. “If you do not,” she said, enunciating each word lest he misunderstand, “you will be returned to the executioner so that he may complete his task.”
The burbling of the fountain outside the window sounded like a waterfall in the deafening silence. For long moments his expression remained inscrutable. She couldn’t read any reaction in that harsh gray stare. Gods, she didn’t know if she could really do that—send a man to his death. Kaj had kept her away from the execution field but she’d seen the silhouettes of the bodies hanging on the crosses, smelled the death. No, she didn’t know if she could.
He only had to believe she would.
She stared at him. “What?”
Damon eased a few steps closer. “I believe you heard me, goddess,” he said. “I would rather die on the cross than suffer the ignoble life of a slave.”
Was he mad? This was not a matter for bargaining. Did he think her weak-willed? A coward? It was as if he had no concept that his fate rested in her hands—hands that were clutched in her lap, trembling now with frustrated anger and a rising sense of panic. Forcing calm into her voice, she motioned to Kaj. “As you wish.”
Damon’s eyes widened the least bit in surprise. That she had managed to take him unawares gave her some satisfaction. She watched as he glanced over his shoulder at Kaj who approached them with a gleam in his eye. He snapped his attention back to her. “In the interest of fairness, goddess, I am willing to consider your offer.”
Julia’s sense of victory was short lived as Damon edged closer to her. She could smell sandalwood, blended with a musky, primal and very masculine scent. It filled her nostrils, uncoiled an unfamiliar heat deep in her belly that was not unpleasant.
Even white teeth flashed as he smiled in smug triumph. “What assistance do you need?”
Julia would not lower her gaze despite a sinking sensation that her next words would forever change her life. Keeping her face schooled in an impassive expression she replied, “I require you to be my husband.”