Dying to be Roman by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook is a whodunit set in a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire still rules. If you missed previous episodes you can start reading from the beginning.
Some ten days had passed and although Marcella had yet to be apprehended, more than a few minor players were already facing the judgement of whatever gods they subscribed to – courtesy of the pre-Game ‘entertainments’ at the Augusta Arena. None of this made Julia feel any better. Frankly she was going stir crazy.
Decimus had kept her back after dismissing Dai once the hilarity over Bryn had faded.
“And you get to stay indoors too.”
She had lifted a shoulder.
“I mean it. You know Lydia always hated you and I wouldn’t put it past her to have had more than some rather sorry toughs lined up to cause you trouble. So I’ll have your word.”
She had not liked it at all, but she had promised.
They made an odd sort of household. Decimus had granted Dai guest status, giving the Vigiles a room in his own extensive apartments instead of in the barracks. This was something Dai clearly struggled with at times, not being used to the semi-formality of a Roman family setting. But he rose to the occasion in a way that made Julia feel a strange pride.
Decimus was often too preoccupied with events, including organising his wife’s appropriately lavish funeral, to keep her fully updated. But Dai, whose own freedom of movement was restricted to only being out with the protection of his men and an attached praetorian, actively sought her advice. This was a surprising turn of events and Julia found herself looking forward to her conversations with the prickly Celt.
To her secret pleasure, her womanly intuition told her that she wasn’t alone in finding a great deal of pleasure in their conversations. She began to have a sneaking impression that Dai was finding extra reasons to spend time in her company above and beyond the mere sharing of intelligence. She even wondered sometimes if he might not have started looking at her in a way that suggested he was far from oblivious to her as a woman. And that was a thought to ponder with more than a little pleasure.
It was a beautiful morning, and the thought of another day inside four walls was scraping her nerves raw. Dai must have sensed her frustration because he looked up from his bread and honey and made a suggestion.
“Would a visit to the baths help?”
“It should be safe enough,” Decimus agreed, “and you do stink.”
Julia threw her bread at his head with unerring accuracy.
“Spado,” she said, entirely without heat. “But I would like to get out for a couple of hours.”
“Okay then,” Decimus waved a thick finger, “but you take Edbert and a couple of my boys along as muscle.”
Thus it was that a couple of hours later two Praetorian guards were idling in the atrium of the very expensive bathhouse favoured by the Roman elite of Londinium society, trying to pretend they were nothing to do with the uncouth Saxon who leaned on a wall cleaning his nails with a dagger, while Julia and Dai shared a private steam room, having both made good use of the gym equipment in the exercise rooms.
In a nod to public morality, he wore a loincloth and she a short backless garment that just about covered her modesty. She couldn’t help a covert look under her lashes to discover that although his skin was as white as milk, his muscular torso was liberally sprinkled with springy-looking black hairs. For some reason, she found her very fingertips wondering how it would feel to touch the hairs on his chest and the thin line that marched down his flat belly towards his loincloth. She sat on her hands, and looked up into his face. There were laughing devils in his eyes that she had never seen there before.