For his part torn between attraction and respect, Marcus will not force himself on Flavia. Flavia by now knows of his grief over the deaths of his wife Drusilla and child. But how can she match up to the serene, flame-haired Drusilla?
As the wild mid-winter festival of Saturnalia approaches, many lives will be changed forever.
Britannia, 206 A.D.
Flavia was sweeping leaves when he came out of the villa. Carrying a brazier, he strolled down the steps and passed the frosted lavender bushes with that loose-limbed stride of his, looking as if he owned the place. Which he did, she conceded. Marcus Brucetus now owned the villa and everyone inside it.
She clutched the broom close and darted behind one of the columns fringing the square courtyard and its central open space, whispering, ‘Please.’
Please do not see me, she meant. She wanted him to leave, to be an absentee landlord of this small estate in provincial Britannia. It would be safer for everyone if he left. He had been watching her at the funeral, scrutinizing her with thoughtful dark eyes. She hoped he had forgotten her since then.
She risked peeping round the column. He had set the brazier in the middle of the courtyard, beside the ivy-clad statue of the god Pan, and was coaxing the fire into leaping tongues of flame. In the red glow of dawn and the orange glare of the brazier, she could see him plainly: tall and long legged, his simple dark red tunic showing off muscular shoulders. Above tanned, lean features his short, dark brown hair looked as tough and straight as a boar’s pelt. He was a tribune, off-duty and no longer in armor, but still a soldier and a Roman, one of the conquerors of her country.
‘Come here, Flavia,’ he said quietly, without raising his head.
Disconcerted at being discovered and more so by his remembering her name, Flavia stepped out of the shadows of the peristyle and approached, her rag-shod feet soundless on the icy gravel path.
‘Gaius said that I would find you out here.’
Another shock, she thought. He spoke her language perfectly. Satisfied with the fire, he looked her up and down, studying her flyaway hair and wiry figure, her baggy, patched dress of undyed wool, one of the cook’s cast offs. She gasped as he took the broom from her.
‘I ask you again—is sweeping not Sulinus’ job? He is the gardener.’
‘He's chopping wood,’ Flavia stammered, ashamed and alarmed at having missed Marcus Brucetus’ first question. She was conscious of his height and strength, both in stark contrast to the frail, elderly bodies of the male household slaves.
‘Sweeping is one of your tasks?’
Flavia nodded. ‘When Lady Valeria was alive, she wanted the courtyard kept tidy. We are a small household, sir. My mistress preferred to live quietly, with a few close attendants.’
‘Four ageing slaves and you,’ Brucetus corrected, ‘My adopted mother’s female scribe.’ He shook his head, tossing the broom casually from hand to hand. ‘Valeria never liked a man to tell her anything, and she always did pick the unusual over the conventional.’
Ignoring his amusement at her expense, Flavia fought down panic. Surely this Roman would not be so cruel as to sell the older servants? Surely he would not separate Gaius from his Agrippina, or Sulinus from Livia? She swallowed the rising knot in her throat. ‘We are all loyal, sir, and we know what the house needs to run smoothly.’
‘Indeed.’ Looking into Flavia’s bright gray eyes, he smiled and gave the broom back to her. ‘Be at peace. I don’t throw servants out into the streets to starve: loyalty cuts both ways. When you know me, you will see this.’
‘Sir?’ Flavia felt confused by this unexpected candor. She knew that she, more than any of the household, should be wary of this Marcus Brucetus, but she could also still feel the warmth of his hand on the broom handle. Over the crackle of the brazier fire, she could hear his steady breathing. ‘Thank you,’ she murmured, and turned to go.
‘Wait,’ he commanded. ‘I have some questions. Now that the official mourning period is over, it is time.’
Flavia’s heart began to race, but she did not think she had betrayed herself until Marcus said firmly, ‘Don't stand there shivering. Warm yourself by the brazier. That is why it is out here, so we can talk in private.’
Flavia took a sideways step towards the glowing charcoal. She was trembling, but not from the cold. She was afraid of what he might ask.
Bookstrand Publishing 2008
'Flavia's Secret' is just 99Cents from Bookstrand
'The ancient locale that is now modern Bath lends a vivid backdrop to a tender love story surrounded by mystery, danger and deceit. Readers will appreciate Townsend's thorough research and fluid style. Well-written secondary characters complement the action.'
Historical Novels Review Online (amongst reviews for May 2009):
Townsend has a great ear for snappy dialog, and even her most minor characters spring instantly to life with a carefully-chosen sentence or description. Most details of Roman Britain at the time are faithfully rendered, although at its heart, this is a timeless story of two people finding love where they least expect it. Flavia’s Secret is cheerfully recommended.
Historical Romance Club:
Lindsay Townsend's novel, Flavia's Secret, is an enjoyable romantic suspense set in an exotic time and place. The heroine's plight is touching and endearing. The plot, with its evil villain, engages the reader well. This is a good, light historical romance novel that is perfect for summer reading.
The historical details are lovely. The time and place are very well done. Brava for picking a spot other than Londinium or the border with the wild Caledonians. I have to admit that while reading the scenes in the baths, I couldn’t help but think of all the Regency and Georgian era books I’ve read with all the characters trooping down to take a glass of the healthful waters – hold your nose while you drink that nasty, sulfurous stuff!
And the conflict between the hero and heroine – i.e. the source of the title of the book – is fantastic. Now here’s a real reason for the heroine to hold her tongue and keep things from the hero. When faced with the possible fate meted out to slaves whose master dies suddenly, I’d do just what Flavia does and then some.
Red Roses for Authors:
The romance between Flavia and Marcus is strong and passionate and the mystery is intriguing. Very enjoyable.
FLAVIA’S SECRET is a passionate historical romance. Set in ancient England during Roman rule, I enjoyed reading about these two wonderful characters as well as the setting and town in which the novel took place. Marcus and Flavia were perfect for each other and this book was the perfect read for my ancient history loving soul. Thumbs up Ms. Townsend! I loved every word of FLAVIA’S SECRET!
Long and the Short Reviews: