Return to Me - By Morgan O'Neill
A.D. 414, The Royal Palace, Ravenna, Italy
If he could have his way, Horace would never gaze upon another bird for the rest of his life — unless it was roasted.
The banquet was over, the guests long gone, but Emperor Honorius still lounged on his cushioned chair, amusing himself with his chickens. The birds strutted and clucked as he stroked their feathers. He selected tidbits from the luscious, half-eaten food, and then called the chickens by name, taking time to feed each one individually.
Stomach growling, Horace shifted from one foot to the other as he played his flute. His arms and shoulders ached from an endless evening of performing, and his lips trembled with fatigue. He felt on the verge of collapse. His throat was parched, his thirst made worse by ruby wine that sparkled from half-empty goblets less than an arm’s length away. Would that he could slake his thirst with it!
Horace fought to suppress a yawn. He mustn’t interrupt his music, not even for a moment.
“My little darlings,” Honorius cooed. “Shall we dance?”
The emperor got up, holding one of the damnable birds before him, and began to whirl around the room. The other chickens scattered, one taking flight and crashing into Horace.
Startled, he lost his balance and dropped his flute, then scrambled to retrieve it.
“You have ruined our royal mood!” Honorius screamed. “We will beat you, pervert Horace, if you ever interrupt our dancing again. Get out! Get out before we have you flogged!”
Terrified, Horace hurried from the palace while he had the chance. By the gods, he needed to leave this place. Forever.
He had once traveled to the home of the gods, such a wonderful paradise, filled with unimaginable treasures: flying machines and horseless carts, kind, generous people, who freely gave him coin for his music — and food, so much food. Why hadn’t he been able to get back there? Why had the gateway been closed to him every time he had tried to return to that paradise?
He headed for the Catholic baptistery, where the magical passageway was located. Ages ago, a temple dedicated to an ancient goddess stood on the same ground. Horace was convinced her power still emanated from the spot.
Please, Sacred Lady. I beg you to release me from bondage!
He smiled in hope and anticipation. He would play there again tonight, over and over, until the gateway opened once more and he was free.
Present Day, Rome, Italy
It promised to be one heck of a party.
Gigi Perrin laughed at her reflection, her strawberry blond hair done up in an elaborate chignon. The hair people had gotten that right, but her costume and makeup were too simple and monochrome, all wrong for the styles she’d seen in the real ancient Rome.
“You look enchanting, my sweet.”
She turned. Her husband, Magnus, stood in the doorway, wearing a Roman warrior’s costume, with its breastplate abs chiseled in bronze. Impressive. It also didn’t hurt that he was tall and darkly handsome. “Oh … you look delicious!”
He shrugged, his blue eyes sparkling with mischief. “You haven’t ever seen me dressed as a legatus, have you?”
She studied his warrior’s skirt, and thought about running her hands beneath the leather strips. “Are you going commando? Can I check?”
“What is commando?”
“You know … haven’t you heard about what’s beneath a Scotsman’s kilt?”
“I still don’t understand.”
Smiling, hand outstretched, Gigi started toward him.
He grinned. “If you touch me, you will bring me to my knees like no foe has ever done before.”
She kissed him, her hand sliding under the leather. Commando.
Magnus groaned. “We’re going to be late.”
“You lift your skirt. I’ll lift mine. We don’t have to be that late.”
She pushed him to the wall, his armor hard against her chest, her arms encircling his neck.
He lifted her onto his hips, pulled aside her thong, and entered her with a thrust. “Never has … a warrior met such a … challenging … demanding … ”
He got quiet as he pumped and Gigi moaned. Her body seethed with heat, tingling, tightening on him, until the need to prolong the moment fell away. “Magnus, I’m coming!”
Her body exploded with pleasure and she was only vaguely aware of his answering cry, “O, ye gods!”
She collapsed against his bronze armor, weak with satisfaction, her body soft on hard metal, yet underneath she knew his chest also heaved with the aftermath of their spectacular quickie. “We’re so bad. At least you didn’t mess up my hair.”
“You are ever the perfect sheath to my sword,” Magnus said.
She grinned as he let