Saturnalia Countdown ~ Dying to be Fathers

The Dai and Julia Mysteries have a Saturnalia surprise for you this year and we are counting down to it by offering a free novella every day from now until Saturnalia begins on 17 December. Saturnalia Optima!

In a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire never left, Dai and Julia solve murder mysteries, whilst still having to manage family, friendship and domestic crises…

Pridie Nonas Maia MDCCLXXVIII Anno Diocletiani

Julia Llewellyn was at that stage of her pregnancy where she couldn’t imagine why she ever thought having a baby was a good idea. She was used to having a lithe, boyish body, that ran and jumped with ease and delight, but currently she was close to the shape of an egg and prone to sudden bouts of indigestion and cramp in her limbs. The thought of nearly three more weeks of this with the intense summer heat, was almost too much to bear. So it was with some relief that she sat in the shade in the secluded walled garden where Cookie grew her herbs and found she felt neither sick nor uncomfortable. It couldn’t last, but for as long as it did she was content to raise her face to the sun and daydream a little.
The world, she thought wryly, was rapidly turning upside down. Not only had she and her beloved husband Dai managed to get through the best part of a month without her wanting to throw something at his handsome head, but his sister, Cariad, who she had always thought of as little better than a wharfside strumpet had come home after a break to recover from a very traumatic experience and seemed to have turned over a new leaf.  She appeared to be really trying to appreciate having a good kind husband and two beautiful children. Julia still nursed doubts about the durability of this sea change, but hoped for everyone’s sake it was going to last.
For her own part, Cariad’s children, Felix and Cassia were a big reason she held on to any hope that being pregnant was worth the undoubted discomfort. The duo was one of the delights of her life.
Currently, Felix was out in the hills with his father and his uncle Dai, mounted on one of the sturdy local ponies Dai’s brother Hywel bred as a hobby. Ostensibly Felix was having riding lessons. It would have been rather more honest to say that he was having a whale of a time away from the constraints of being the only son of a very important man.
Julia idly wondered what Cariad and Cassia were up to, and it seemed to her that her fancy had conjured them to her side, because she heard Cariad calling her name urgently then Cassia’s voice sounding uneasy.
“Mam, I think Aunt Julia is asleep. Do you?”
“I don’t know, carissima. But if she is we really must wake her up.” Cariad’s musical voice was not entirely steady. Concerned now, Julia opened her eyes and sat up.
“What is it? Is something wrong?”
She had a sudden private dread that the beauty of the family must have got herself into more man trouble, and braced herself to refuse if she was to be asked to cover up an indiscretion. To her surprise, Cariad’s face was pale with anxiety and her Llewellyn blue eyes were swimming in tears.
It was Cassia who spoke. “We were feeding the ducks on the pond past the fruit trees. Mam got a message on her wrist phone from a man who is playing a game. He said he has stolen Pater and Felix and Uncle Dai. I don’t think that’s a nice game to play. Mam said we should tell you so we came straight here.”
It took a second or two for the meaning of the words to sink in and when they did her own heart tumbled in freefall with fear for Dai. Then something shifted deep in her psyche. It was cold and hard, cutting off the emotion, like a stone door slamming shut. Sleepiness banished, Julia went from somnolence to action in a single breath. She heaved herself to her feet and grasped Cariad’s cold hand.
“Come on,” she said gently, “pull yourself together and let’s see what is to be done.”
Cariad made what had to be a superhuman effort, then forced a smile. “Yes. Silly of me. It’s bound to be a mistake.”
Cassia looked at her with tolerant patience. “I was playing with Mam’s wrist phone when the message came in. I saved it for you.”
She handed over the expensive brand phone and Julia pulled up the menu on it’s curved screen and pressed the play button. The face that looked back at her was mostly covered by the dark fabric of a ski-mask except for a pair of dark eyes.
“We got your man and your son and your brother. You do as you are told and they comes to no harm. Mess us about and we’ll send you your son in pieces. Starting with his fingers.”

You can keep reading Dying to be Fathers by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago for free if you download it today 10 December

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