Return to Me - By Morgan O'Neill Page 0,1

her down, watching him as he straightened his skirt.

“I gather you liked my … commando,” he said with a smile.

She laughed. “Yes, but you’re going to wear boxers for the party. And it was definitely better than a kilt. I prefer leather to plaid any day.”

• • •

The night sky blazed with the lights from Rome’s Coliseum, decorated in celebration of the newly completed epic film, Nero. Hand in hand, Gigi and Magnus stood in the shadows of an arch, waiting for her cue. Her husband was in his full glory portraying a Roman general, his legatus costume complete with a rich crimson cloak and a helmet decorated with long, black ostrich plumes. Wow.

Only the film’s stars were dressed more flamboyantly, including the second lead, who stood nearby. Women had swooned over him since the first day of filming. Outfitted as a gladiator, his bare chest bronzed, waxed and oiled, he smiled and winked at Gigi, flashing his absurdly white teeth.

Magnus leaned in and whispered, “Are you hot for him, my sweet?”

Gigi grinned. “I prefer my real Roman,” she whispered back.

The lead actor, decked out in a toga of purple silk and a golden laurel leaf crown, stopped by, shook Magnus’s hand, and gave Gigi a quick peck on the cheek. He was the nicest guy, but her thoughts veered to a darker past, because he looked so much like Emperor Honorius. She reminded herself it didn’t matter; that bastard was long dead, and she and Magnus were safe from his evil.

A waiter came by with a tray of glasses. Champagne. She grabbed two, gave one to her husband, clinked glasses with him, and downed hers in one gulp. He laughed and sipped his own.

Gigi would miss working on the film, not only because of the excitement of being part of a major Hollywood production, but also because the cast and crew had become quite close, like an extended family. Although she’d done most of her work in a sound studio, she had been invited to Italy to watch the final weeks of location filming. It had been emotionally difficult, with endless rounds of group hugging and many tearful moments, but now everybody was ready to celebrate, certain that Nero would be next summer’s blockbuster. Dressed in wonderful period costumes, they filled the Coliseum for the gala wrap party.

Was there ever a more gorgeous setting? Nobody cared that it hadn’t been built until after Emperor Nero had died. The movie’s director, Parker Q. Knowles, felt it was the only location worthy of the festivities, and he was right. It had taken a lot of influence to get permission to hold the party here, but Parker was used to getting his way.

A round of applause brought Gigi back. The hair and makeup people were leaving the stage, smiling and holding little blue boxes. Suddenly, the orchestra started playing the film’s overture, “Ode to Rome,” and Parker called into the microphone, “Geneviève Perrin, musical score!”

Gigi squeezed her husband’s hand, gave him her glass, and hurried onstage, grinning and waving. Another roar of applause filled the air. She was proud to have been asked to do the score, prouder still she’d used the tune she had originally written 1,600 years earlier, along with the exotic songs she’d learned from Roman and Visigoth musicians.

Gift time! Gigi felt a surge of anticipation, because the others had gotten really nice presents. Would it be emerald earrings to match her eyes? A diamond tennis bracelet?

Smiling broadly, Parker put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, just a little too chummy. She glanced at Magnus and noted his strained smile. Good thing he hadn’t brought his sword, but he needn’t worry anyway; Parker’s looks were too Hollywood for Gigi’s tastes — coifed blond hair and tanned to within an inch of his life.

“Darling Gigi, we all just love her to death, don’t we?” Parker paused for the acclaim, and Gigi’s cheeks flushed with heat. “Not only did she write a beautiful score for us, but her flute playing is the very best in the world. Right, right?”

He held out a tiny silver bag tied with a crimson ribbon, and Gigi wondered why she hadn’t also gotten a little blue box.

“Open it, open it!” he bellowed good naturedly.

She pulled the ribbon, took a breath, and peeked inside, then gasped. The world spun and silver stars danced before her eyes.

The goddess Victoria glimmered, splendidly rendered in garnet and gold.

Gigi stumbled and collapsed in a dizzying whirl.

• • •