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.
Julia was barely conscious, but she was aware enough to know that this respite from beating boded her no good at all. She should hear the woman breathing heavily, almost as if sated by sex, and the man gave a coarse laugh.
“Better now, domina?”
“I am, but it’s such a shame we can’t keep this one to play with. She’s so small it’s like beating a child.”
“You are insatiable. Though you do have a point.”
Julia felt something at her back and realised that somebody was actually licking her wounds. It was all she could do not to scream. She made a huge effort of will and dragged her mind away from the torture chamber, choosing instead to contemplate Dai Llewelyn and all the disturbing emotions he evoked in her that she had kept firmly in check through denial. A furtive tear coursed its way down her cheek as she allowed herself to feel regret that the only hands she was likely to feel on her body would be driven by hatred and perverse lust. The licking stopped and a rough hand tangled itself in her short curls.
“Wake up, lupa. You can’t pass out on us now.”
The man’s other hand slapped her face first one side and then the other. When she opened her eyes, she found his face so close to hers that she could smell the cloves and menthe on his breath. He smiled, and somehow that was more frightening than a snarl would have been.
You are the cause of our downfall,” he whispered. “Because of you we have had to hide in this cellar, without even running water or electricity, and we are likely to lose all we have worked for. Don’t mistake me though, you have only delayed, not defeated us. We have friends in high places in both Rome and Karakorum. This is just an inconvenience, but one you are going to pay for.”
Julia heard the woman’s indrawn breath a second before she felt another searing pain. She had been stabbed in the thigh with something long and sharp and rasping.
The man at Julia’s head hissed irritation. “Stop playing and hand me the sopio,” he ordered.
The woman laughed, low and throaty and Julia heard her move away. A moment later the man grunted. He pulled her head back so viciously he all but dislocated her neck, then he put a metal contrivance right in front of her eyes. He laughed, a surprisingly high-pitched sound before letting her hair go so suddenly that she hit her forehead against the crossbar of the frame she was bound to and saw stars.
“That, my dear,” he gloated, “is the instrument of your death.”
She felt hands parting her nether cheeks and then the metal was forced into her with agonising brutality. She didn’t scream or cry, but she wasn’t sure how much more it would take to break her. The sopio was removed with a vicious twist and Julia concentrated on simply breathing.
She felt breath against her ear, and this time it was the woman who spoke.
“The next time you feel that it will have been heated in the brazier until it glows red. If you aren’t dead by the time it is cool enough to handle, I will snap your neck myself. Enjoy.”
It became very quiet in the dark room and Julia set herself the simple task of dying with as much dignity as possible. She closed her mind to the sounds of excitement as her captors watched the brazier with barely concealed impatience. Once again, her thoughts wandered to a certain moody Celt, whose blue eyes seemed to offer a means of escape at this eleventh hour, even if it was one that only existed in her imagination. Goodbye Llewelyn, she whispered in the vaults of her mind. It was an education. Then she closed her eyes and composed a prayer for the repose of her own soul.