Read The Gladiator’s Master Online

Authors: Fae Sutherland and Marguerite Labbe

The Gladiator’s Master

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The Gladiator’s Master

By Fae Sutherland and Marguerite Labbe

When Roman politician Caelius inherits a stable of gladiators, there is one who captures his attention above the others…one whose eyes gleam with hate, pride and desire.

Forced into slavery by Roman greed, Gaidres can barely conceal his contempt toward his new Dominus. Gaidres has a plan: kill Caelius and end the lineage of the Roman family that enslaved him. For his plan to succeed, he must make a show of respect and obedience—even when called on to service his master’s desires.

Gaidres is shocked to learn that in the confines of his quarters, Caelius doesn’t want to dominate his slave, but to be taken by him. The sex is explosive as they break society’s taboos and, to Gaidres’s dismay, they form a tenuous relationship. Even when Caelius learns of Gaidres’s plans for revenge, he knows he can’t live without his perfect lover. Is he willing to risk it all to tame his gladiator’s heart?

88,000 words

 

Dear Reader,

What do you get when you cross summer with lots of beach time, and long hours of traveling? An executive editor who’s too busy to write the Dear Reader letter, but has time for reading. I find both the beach and the plane are excellent places to read, and thanks to plenty of time spent on both this summer (I went to Australia! And New Zealand!) I’m able to tell you with confidence: our fall lineup of books is outstanding.

We kick off the fall season with seven romantic suspense titles, during our Romantic Suspense celebration the first week of September. We’re pleased to offer novella
Fatal Destiny
by Marie Force as a free download to get you started with the romantic suspense offerings. Also in September, fans of Eleri Stone’s sexy, hot paranormal romance debut novel,
Mercy,
can look forward to her follow-up story,
Redemption,
set in the same world of the Lost City Shifters.

Looking to dive into a new erotic romance? We have a sizzling trilogy for you. In October, look for Christine D’Abo’s Long Shot trilogy featuring three siblings who share ownership of a coffee shop, and each of whom discover steamy passion within the walls of a local sex club. Christine’s trilogy kicks off with
Double Shot.

In addition to a variety of frontlist titles in historical, paranormal, contemporary, steampunk and erotic romance, we’re also pleased to present two authors releasing backlist titles with us. In October, we’ll re-release four science fiction romance titles from the backlist of CJ Barry, and in November four Western romance titles from the backlist of Susan Edwards.

Also in November, we’re thrilled to offer our first two chick lit titles from three debut authors,
Liar’s Guide to True Love
by Wendy Chen and
Unscripted
by Natalie Aaron and Marla Schwartz. I hope you’ll check out these fun, sometimes laugh-out-loud novels.

Whether you’re on the beach, on a plane, or sitting in your favorite recliner at home, Carina Press can offer you a diverting read to take you away on your next great adventure this fall!

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Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

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Dedications

Fae: For Stacia Kane. For being a mentor, a friend and a sounding board. In this crazy business, I count myself lucky to have you always in my corner.
And for Inez Kelley, Louisa Edwards and Peach—for reading this book in its earliest form and seeing its potential. For helping us make it what it is with your insightful comments and critiques. We owe you!

Marguerite: For Peachie, I miss you; Miss Apple Pie Keri Ford; Louisa Edwards and Inez Kelley, thank you for drawing the line in the sand and going to battle over this book. Your enthusiasm throughout this book meant quite a bit to me.

Chapter One

It had been a month since his uncle had died without warning. Privately, Caelius was of the opinion that Craxus had choked on his own bile. With his death came a whole new host of decisions. Caelius hadn’t wanted a new villa, especially one that needed so much work, but it did have a
ludus
and he took that as a sign from the gods.

Of course, the
ludus
was far from the glorious ones he had seen at other estates. What remained to be seen was how much work it would take to make it and the fighters ready for a grand show. He did not care for the games. Many powerful Romans did, however, and if he wanted to further his political career, what better way than to become a patron of their favorite pastime?

“Felix.” Caelius turned to his personal scribe and lowered his voice. “Spare no expense on the renovations. I want no problems later that we could have anticipated now.”

“I will see to it myself, Dominus. It doesn’t appear as if much has been done before our arrival,” Felix murmured for Caelius’s ears alone. “I examined the
ludus
as the men gathered in the courtyard.”

“I wish to see for myself before I make any decisions.”

He, his scribe and a retinue of guards strode from the villa down to the short tunnel that led to the training courtyard. A strong, high wall extended from the southern edge of the villa, securing both the courtyard and the gladiator quarters. He’d viewed the courtyard from his balcony, had seen a few of the men on occasion, but his first few days here had been filled with tasks requiring his attention and this was his first opportunity to see the
ludus
up close. At least his wife had chosen to stay at their other villa in Caere until this one was made more comfortable. One less headache to manage.

He passed the men, who huddled together as they sat on the training ground. Some glanced at him with suspicion, others stared with empty expressions. A few hung their heads. He pressed his lips together, torn between anger and regret.

Caelius frowned as they entered the emptied gladiator quarters. The stench alone was overpowering. “Have these cells cleansed from top to bottom. One shouldn’t keep animals in places such as this, much less fighting men who bring coin and renown.”

“Yes, Dominus.” Felix looked at the small cells. “They will need new bedding and blankets. The others are rat-chewed.”

“There are rats?” Caelius turned to his uncle’s overseer, Priscus. “Why wasn’t I told of this?”

“A
ludus
will have rats, Dominus. It is simply the way it is,” the man said with an oily tone.

“Ridiculous. Procure a few cats, good mousers, for down here and several more for the villa.” If rats were in one place, it should stand to reason that they would appear in his new home, as well.

They moved on to the equipment room, which was in a similar shameful state. What was the purpose of owning gladiators who stood not a chance of winning?

“This place will need to be expanded. I want a bath installed for them as well. We can destroy the kitchen, but keep the dining area. Food and drink can be brought from the villa. That should help with the rats.” Though Caelius couldn’t see any sign of the food and water he had ordered weeks ago before leaving home. “I wish to see the men now.”

Priscus wrung his hands as he led Caelius out to where the men had lined up to wait. They were an even more miserable-looking bunch up close, ill-fed with the pinched expressions and hollowed eyes of men who had lost muscle and weight. No doubt thanks to his uncle and his coin-pinching ways. Why feed slaves three times a day when he could feed them once and drink away what he saved?

His uncle hadn’t held to the same philosophy that the rest of the family did. That they had a duty to their slaves as much as their slaves had a duty to them. Still, he had not expected abuse on such a sickening, infuriating scale.

“They’re skin and bones! And filthy! What has happened to the coin I sent for food, fresh water and a medicus to see to their health?”

One of the gladiators lifted his head, genuine surprise flashing in his blue eyes. His brows furrowed as if he was questioning Caelius’s sincerity. After what he had likely endured at Craxus’s hands, Caelius didn’t blame him. His eyes wandered over the group and then came back to the gladiator, and their gazes caught. The man held his stare for a moment before lowering his eyes again.

“Dominus, there were so many things to see to and it takes time to find a proper medicus who would be willing to relocate to quarters such as these,” Priscus said, his voice smooth. “They have been given extra food as you requested.”

He didn’t trust voices like that and didn’t spare the overseer a glance. “I want an account of every one of those ‘things you saw to’.” Caelius gave him a cold glance before turning to his scribe. “Felix, I want you to oversee procuring the best medicus you can find. We’ll make sure he has proper quarters once this pit is cleaned out.”

The overseer hadn’t lied about that. A medicus would be hard to find if offered such squalor. Any who would accept such had to be a charlatan. Caelius was even more dismayed by the condition of the men than he had been by their quarters. A near dozen of them and maybe four or five fit to spar. They were malnourished, their spirits battered. Except for one.

He paused in front of the man who had caught his eye. The gladiator stared at the ground, but there was pride evident in every line of his body. He appeared reasonably fit, considering his living conditions. Caelius wanted another look at that face and those vivid eyes. A man so full of defiance wouldn’t lie for the likes of Priscus.

“You. What is your name? And tell me what changes you’ve seen in the last few weeks. Have you been given extra food? Access to clean water? Anything at all?”

The man lifted his head, meeting his gaze. Good. How else could he tell what a man was thinking without seeing his eyes?

“I am called Argon, Dominus.” He glanced at the overseer. “We have seen no changes.” Caelius could feel the hateful glare Priscus aimed at the gladiator. At least this man would not lie for the greedy sycophant.

Caelius turned on his heel and pinned Priscus with his own glare. He could sense Argon’s eyes on him and knew the gladiator was watching him instead of staring at the ground as all the other slaves were.

“Are
any
of you willing to disavow that evidence?” None spoke. “I thought not.”

Priscus started to speak and Caelius waved him silent. “Regardless of your excuses, you have disobeyed my orders. If you needed extra coin beyond those
things
you mentioned you should’ve sent for it. Let it be understood, I am not Craxus. I do not begrudge reasonable requests and the orders I gave were for basic necessities that every man should have.”

Caelius glanced over the men again. It would take time and money, quite a bit of both, before he would be willing to risk any of them in a game. Men fighting in the arena at the peak of their skills was one matter, this was something different. He made a mental note to have their duties changed to light work until they recovered or, in the case of the older ones, were pensioned off.

He stared at Priscus until the other man looked away. “If I am not satisfied with your accounting, then the difference comes out of your own coin. And I will have that accounting by this eve.” Once that was settled, Priscus would be dismissed. He’d have no one in his house who would perpetuate such abuse, especially when it went against his explicit orders.

He turned back to the gladiators, counting more scars hidden under layers of dirt. His mouth hardened. Definitely pensioned, those men had paid the price with their bodies. Too bad Craxus had left none of the prize money. All of it must have gone to wine, food and whores.

He eyed Argon’s body, not as wasted or as scarred as the rest, though it was clear he’d lost weight. He looked just as ragged, but still he had a perfect body.

He gestured to one of the younger slaves he kept nearby for messages. “You, boy. Go to the kitchens and have food and water brought. Nothing heavy and small amounts at first. Then inform the staff to send more in several hours.”

Then he met Argon’s eyes again and saw suspicion there. Though what could he expect, gratitude? Not from one such as this. He wasn’t born a slave, that much was clear, and Caelius suspected he was just as untamed now as when he had been brought to Rome. Stunning though, especially with those eyes and hard face.

“Argon, you seem to be the most fit. I’d like you to be in charge of the others until we can make better arrangements. You will report to me about what is needed.”

Argon nodded, lowering his eyes again. After a moment he lifted his head and met Caelius’s eyes. “Baths. Baths are needed.”

At least there was one here not too browbeaten to ask, though it wasn’t really a request—more a subtle barb about their condition. Caelius could not deny the urgency. Wounds festered in the filth.

“I will make sure you have them by nightfall, all of you.”

Argon glanced at his fellow gladiators, then back at him. His lip curled in distaste before he turned his face down to hide his expression. “Our gratitude, Dominus.”

This man would find a way to survive regardless, if for no other reason than to sneer at the masters who fell before him. His taking must have been violent indeed.

And while he couldn’t miss the flash of pure contempt on Argon’s face, he even found that attractive, which was odd. Normally his lovers were the complete opposite of Argon, pampered slaves skilled in giving and receiving pleasure. Lying down with Argon would be akin to bedding a lion and that only made the desire pool in his belly even more. He suddenly found such fire to be a delicious spice.

However, he had little taste for taking a man against his will, nor was he interested in men who only enjoyed women. Time would see whether or not the gladiator would entertain an advance from him. Starving, ill-kept men had far more important matters on their minds than sexual games.

He gestured to Priscus. “Off with you, you have some work I’m waiting for.” As the overseer left, still muttering excuses under his breath, the first slaves emerged from the tunnel carrying water and simple viands.

“I’ll leave you men to relax and enjoy your meal. If you think of something else, Argon, one of the guards will see to it that I’m informed.” He gave the man a slight smile, then turned away with Felix at his side.

There was still much to see to, especially if the men were to get baths before nightfall. And there was the matter of the doctoré and medicus to attend to. There would be no training until the medicus declared them fit.

As he walked away, he felt a heavy stare on his back and knew without looking that the eyes glaring holes in him were an icy, hard blue.

 

The heir to that bastard, Craxus, had come to claim his property.

“Argon, would you look at that? There’ll be no scratching tonight!” Demos, another of the gladiators, and one he called friend, grinned in Gaidres’s direction as water was carted in. He wondered if he’d ever get fully used to answering to a name not his own. Argon the gladiator seemed a separate person sometimes, so far removed from Gaidres and who he had been before.

He shook off thoughts of the past and returned his mind to the new
lanista,
Caelius. His fists clenched behind his back. He hadn’t been sure how he would get his hands on the next in the Laraniia line but, like a gift from the gods, the only son of Craxus’s only—and long dead—brother had been delivered into his hands. His jaw tightened. He’d kill this one just like he had Craxus, that son of a jackal and a whore. And then the Romans could do with him what they liked. Gaidres’s interest in this world ended the moment Caelius’s cursed blood spilled at his hands and the Laraniia family was no more. Gladly would Gaidres welcome being finally sent to the underworld for his crimes.

His skin crawled with the need to be clean and he watched intently as the slaves set up several small tubs filled with water. Benches had been brought in and a stack of clean cloths rested on each, along with simple oils and a
strigil
for each man.

Once the slaves began to file out, Gaidres motioned to the others. “Scrub ’til you bleed, boys.”

They needed no further encouragement, several clustering around each tub. He could see hope springing up in their eyes, like children promised a treat if they behaved. He, however, did not find the small changes worthy of inspiring that kind of hope. He would not dance for his supper, by the gods.

He caught one slave who lingered, intending to send the message to Caelius that clean bodies were useless without clean clothes to put on them. Their rough canvas
subligars
and tunics were little more than rags held together by threads.

He’d just finished relaying the message to the slave when Caelius appeared at the door. Gaidres straightened. “Dominus. I was about to send the boy to ask your generosity in clean clothes for the men. As you can see…” He gestured to the ragged, stained cloths that had been cast aside as the men bathed.

Belatedly, he remembered to lower his eyes. Any show of submission, even one so small as that, stung his pride. But he’d learned to play the puppet show for them, though he knew he fooled no one. For the Romans, a show of respect was as good as the real thing. He had felt better about it when he realized most of them didn’t care if you actually respected them. Just that you appear to so they lost no face with their peers or their men.

“Yes, I see. You ask much, Argon.”

Food, water, a clean body and clothes not crawling with vermin was too much? “I do only the task you set me to, Dominus.”

“True, which is more than I can say for most Craxus left behind. Do not misunderstand me, I am glad you ask for what you need. For too long no one has spoken out.” He beckoned the young slave by Gaidres’s side. “Seek out Felix and tell him that the men need clean tunics and
subligars,
two apiece. They are to be replaced when worn or shredded.”

Once again he was surprised at not only how easily Caelius acceded to his request, but the way he took it a step further. It appeared he at least understood the value of the men. “You are most generous, Dominus.” Gaidres was not fool enough to take the man’s generosity as more than what it was, however.

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