First glimpse: Carina and Conrad’s Roman Holiday

I took another deep breath. Juno knew why – the room stank of stale urine, the mattress was probably full of bugs and I wasn’t sure I’d be alive in the next hour in this Roman hole. My shoulders ached from having my hands tied behind me. But spinning round my head along with the after-effects of the drug was my fear that Conrad was no longer alive.

Roma Nova, three days ago

‘I don’t suppose you fancy going to Rome and posing as a vapid tourist for a few days?’ Conrad asked. He tapped the top of his desk with the gold pen I’d bought him last Saturnalia. The March sunlight beaming through the window was pale, but strong enough to throw spots of gold reflections from the pen around his corner office in the Praetorian barracks.

‘Are you kidding me?’ I said.

‘Is that a yes or no?’ Even after nearly twelve years of marriage and working together in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces most of that time, he still didn’t get what I meant sometimes when we spoke English together.

‘Of course. When do I leave?’ I said.

We leave tomorrow morning. First to London, then to Rome itself.’

‘You’re coming with me?’

‘Yes. Any objection?’

I shook my head. The idea of several days away with Conrad without children or the formal structure of headquarters military life sounded like Elysium.

‘We’ll be working.’ He looked stern, then grinned.

‘Sure,’ I replied. But his eyes were full of mischief. ‘What’s the mission?’

The following evening, Mr and Mrs Charles Miller of Connecticut, Eastern United States landed at Rome’s Transtiberina Airport on a flight from London. Although Conrad was impersonating Chuck Miller to perfection, I was a little worried about using the Patricia Miller legend as it had been so flimsy when we’d first posed as the American couple years ago. Conrad assured me the intelligence admin staff had fleshed it out in the intervening years. Apparently, we were now middling successful antiquities dealers.

He rubbed his finger in a circular motion around the same spot on the window of the Leonardo Express which would deposit us at Rome Termini station. His other forearm rested on the seat separator touching mine. Although the train noise would have covered my normal speaking voice, I bent into him and whispered into his ear.

‘Is this statue thing really so important?’

His look was a mixture of disbelief and impatience.

‘Of course. Or we wouldn’t be here.’

‘Yeah, but why did it need you and me?’

Conrad was the head of the PGSF, the legate. He scarcely went into the field any more. I was a newly minted major appointed to head up operations. Surely a centurion-led team could have done this?

‘Because of the personal importance to Silvia.’

‘It’s not of her ancestor or anything like that, is it?’

‘Not that I know, but Cloelia Mitela, the war hero who negotiated the treaty with the Eastern Romans, was the great granddaughter of Lucius Apulius. She was named after the original Cloelia who escaped from Lars Porsena in the early Republican era.’

Imperatrix Silvia was not only our efficient ruler and somewhere along the line a cousin of mine, but had been Conrad’s patron and lover before he’d met me. They shared three children. I liked Silvia, but I always wondered how much of an emotional bond she and Conrad still had.

‘Um, isn’t this all bit tenuous?’ I said.

‘Yes and no. We’re technically on leave. Silvia didn’t want to make it official but thought we’d be interested in doing it for family reasons.’ He glanced at me. ‘But we can draw on any resources we require.’

Terrific. We were off on a legendary wild goose chase.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

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