A Scene in the Forum

forum

Image of Rome’s Forum circa 312 AD. A rendering developed through the auspices of the University of Texas, Austin. See http://teachingwithoutpants.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-ruin-of-rome-or-something-happened.html

Once the priests had offered prayers and the sacrifices had been made, the crowd moved slowly outside. With his arm firmly wrapped around Caerwin’s waist, Marcellus stopped on the temple steps looking over the brightly garbed crowds still thronging the plaza. Surrounding the Forum, the great temples, statues, and official buildings of the Roman Empire stood like sentinels. Fountains splashed in brilliant sunlight. In the distance, the hills of Rome gleamed with their buildings, streets, and greenery.

Nothing in her life had been this overpowering. The city, the empire, all of it seemed summed up in this man standing beside her with his strength and beauty, his internal conflicts and passions. His easy use of violence. His knowledge of all things. His absolute power to conquer and hold her.

They descended the steps and walked a short distance. His head turned sharply and he looked down on her as if to speak. His face, which had become thinner in the last weeks, lightened with a tender expression. For a breathless moment, Caerwin thought he would kiss her or speak words of love.

She would say what she longed to say. “Marcellus, I…”

His gaze shifted to a person standing nearby and his face hardened. “Vedius,” he said, raising his voice over the clamor. “Yo Saturnalia!”

Excerpted from Caerwin & Marcellus, the sequel to Caerwin and the Roman Dog. Coming soon! Watch for a special offer.

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Caerwin and Marcellus

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COMING SOON! Release date to be announced soon.

Finished! A week ago, I finished writing the last page of the second novel about Caerwin. I’ve been sad ever since. How do you live with two compelling characters for over two years and not get attached? I’ve watched them grow, fight, suffer, and grow some more. Now they become part of my past. I’ll miss them.

Truth be told, I’ll miss more than Caerwin, Marcellus, and supporting cast. I’ve been immersed in Imperial Rome with all its triumphs, perversions, violence, and accomplishments. The fascinating world that was Rome endured a thousand years. Looking back on those years, the progress of their culture, and the countless ways in which we today follow in their footsteps is both depressing and exhilarating. It’s impossible to imagine where we would be today without Rome.

While I sing Rome’s praises, I also recognize how much better we are today than the people of Rome. For one thing, we don’t accept slavery as the norm. Rome’s social class system included the ‘noble’ classes (patricians and equestrians) who considered work beneath them. They held the bulk of the empire’s wealth, controlled its government and industries, and owned both city houses and country villas. The plebian class, roughly equivalent to our middle class, were the freeborn men or freedmen who worked every day to sustain the modest circumstances in which they lived.

Then there were the slaves, vast numbers of persons captured in Rome’s relentless military expansion over most of the known world. Wealthy household might have as many as 300 slaves. Slaves were like livestock or furniture–zero rights. Could be raped, branded, or killed without consequence. Yet they could also become part of a family, cared for, and often freed to live as freedmen (and women).

So while we can thank Rome for establishing the foundations of our legal system, our economic system, our tradition of the arts, social customs, and more, we can also thank the people who came after–from the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and down to those who fight each generation for better working conditions, more social justice, refinements of law and wage equity for the conditions we live in today. It’s a sobering perspective.

And this, dear friends, is why writing historical fiction will always be part of my writing experience.

Jarrod’s Valentine

manin suitA new short story starring Jarrod Bancroft

 

Macie’s face reflected the subdued outdoor light that filtered in through the restaurant window. Ignoring the clench in his chest, Jarrod studied her from across the noisy room. She looked like a work of art, the planes and lines of her face cast in shadow, her delicate skin framed by luxurious lengths of dark hair. One of those exquisite images painted by some long-dead artist where the woman’s pensive expression signaled vague internal conflict. His impulse was to rush over to the table, take her hands, and slip to his knees to ask what he could do to brighten her day. His mouth twisted and he turned back to his newspaper.

Whatever appetites Macie Fitzgerald provoked, today the situation at Bancroft Investments demanded his full attention. The stock report only reiterated what he already knew—their standing had slipped again. Somehow rumors had leaked. It was a matter of time before this blew wide open.

He quietly folded the paper, signaled the waiter and paid his check before slipping out the side door. Much as he wanted Macie right now, the ugly responsibilities in his real life could not wait.

The door to his dad’s office was slightly ajar. His father stood at the windows in the far corner, his back turned as he stared out into the city. The older man’s shoulders triggered Jarrod’s memory, all the times those same shoulders had loomed over him, an impenetrable wall of dark against dim light. An immovable object. Jarrod swallowed an ugly taste in his mouth. And it had nothing to do with his lunch.

So the bastard already knew.

“Took your time,” the old man said. He didn’t bother to turn. “You’ve never appreciated the value of a full day’s work.”

“Fuck you, Preston,” Jarrod said. He slipped off his overcoat and dropped it on the chair. He stood beside the desk and folded his arms, facing his father’s back.

“What do you plan to do?” Preston said. “Are you riding your white horse, ready to save the world?”

“Anything to sidestep the facts,” Jarrod said. “That’s been your strategy all along. I remember my first weeks here, when I went through the files for that mutual fund and asked you, and you shifted blame to Evers. Always somebody else’s fault. Always something I made up or misinterpreted.”

“So you’re going to bring the house down around our ears, is that the plan?”

“You assigned me the dirty work thinking I wouldn’t put it together.” Jarrod spun the desk chair around and gripped the thick leather back. “I’ve dug all the way down. I’m not buying any more of your bullshit.”

Preston whirled to face him. The flesh around his nose had turned white. “Whine, you little fuck. You have no idea. I’ve worked my ass off, dedicated my life to giving you and your mother the very best. I don’t answer to you.”

Jarrod swallowed his rage, sinking his fingers into the chair upholstery to keep from planting a fist in that smug face. The man might be a despicable cheat, but he was his father. “You’ll answer to the prosecutor. Evers won’t take this sitting down.”

“Evers is as big a baby as you are. Suck it up, boy. This is how things get done.”

Jarrod closed his eyes then slammed out of the room. Nothing he could say would change Preston Bancroft. Why had it taken him twenty-eight years to accept that fact? \

Odd how familiar this all felt. As if he’d seen it in a dream. As if he’d wished it a thousand times and only now realized it. He strode to his office and slid open his desk drawers looking for anything that might hold value, but after a few minutes, he grabbed his overcoat and stalked out.

~~~

Jarrod had no idea how long he’d walked. Traffic had thinned slightly but people still crowded the sidewalks. Snow whirled down from a pale gray sky obscuring the tops of the taller buildings. Even jammed deep into his overcoat pockets, his hands felt like chunks of ice. Kind of like his stomach.

What if his father was right? Jarrod released his breath between pursed lips. Did the world of corporate finance require this kind of deception and manipulation? Law school hadn’t prepared him for this. Would he look back in twenty years and realize he’d been hopelessly naïve?

Maybe he would. But right now, this day, he had to sit down and think about his options. Carefully. With whiskey.

He shook his head as the image of Macie formed in his mind. Macie in her boots and corset standing over him, her gorgeous breasts bulging at the neckline, her green eyes flashing as she demanded his complete obedience. He longed for the dungeon, the reassurance of bonds strapped firmly on his wrists and ankles, the blessing of a lash stinging his back and buttocks. He wanted to crawl to Macie’s feet and never leave, live by her command.

He snorted in disgust. What would Preston say if he had any idea about his role with Macie and her Academy? Jarrod couldn’t even imagine. He’d gone for the training to satisfy a long-held secret desire, the overwhelming need to explore an aspect of himself that he’d always managed to suppress. What he’d found there shocked him, even now. Every day of his enthusiastic submission to pain and discipline shocked him.

But he loved it. Craved it. Felt blissfully happy in ways he’d never imagined.

And finding Mrs. Fitzgerald? Macie Fucking Fitzgerald? How many restless nights in high school had he imagined touching her? How many history classes had he watched her walk across the front of the room, write on the chalkboard, pierce him with her intense gaze while he hunched over in his desk trying to hide his erection?

He’d been a boy then, but he wasn’t a boy now. The discovery that the harsh mistress overseeing his training at the Academy had been the same woman who opened his mind to the triumphs and foibles of human endeavor had left him without defenses. It wasn’t just her beauty or her unflinching skill at domination that awed him. It was the depth of her understanding of human nature.

Even more intriguing was the mystery in her that broke to the surface in unexpected moments. When she was vulnerable. When they had reached the point of exhaustion and satiety and she curled in his arms.

Jarrod stopped, staring blindly into a store window where a display of Valentine hearts and cavorting cupids barely penetrated his consciousness. A tall man with dark hair and a worried expression stared back at him. Fucking Valentine’s Day.

His arms felt empty without her. In the dark eyes gazing back at him in the glass, he saw the truth of what he really wanted from her.

Forever.

He wanted forever.

Backyard barbeques. Dogs. Long rainy evenings snuggled on the couch together. Walks along the beach. Macie watching him undress, opening her arms to his embrace. Her lips curved in that entrancing smile.

Jarrod shoved the heavy glass door open and stopped at the counter. The air smelled of warm chocolate, sugar, and a hint of cinnamon. Stuffed animals, shiny heart-shaped balloons, and confections of every shape and flavor crowded the surrounding tables. What the hell was he doing?

Would Macie take offense at a display of affection? He couldn’t exactly break out of a slave’s expected behavior and vow eternal love. He was acting on impulse. She might reject him entirely. He glanced up at the woman standing on the other side of the counter,

“Something small,” he said. “Friendly but not too much.”

She studied him, her carefully sculpted eyebrows knitted in a frown. “Chocolate?”

“Definitely chocolate,” he said.

The clerk’s thin shoulders jutted against her draped red sweater as she lifted a small heart toward him. The cellophane wrap rustled as she placed it on the glass countertop. “Top of the line chocolate truffles,” she said. “We also have creams or assorted bonbons in this size. What does she like?”

Jarrod paused, staring at the glistening red package. He had no idea what she liked. Maybe he was way off track with this idea. She’d never given him a gift. At her invitation after Academy graduation, he’d moved into her townhouse as her slave. It was a vacation from reality and the most fulfilling experience he’d ever known. A strict protocol ruled his activity there. Each day when he walked away from Bancroft Investments and the world of business, his existence narrowed down to Macie. He took off his real world life at the same time he took off his clothes. What she wanted, what she demanded. Macie in control.

But despite her assured control, he suddenly realized he’d always sensed an opening. His face heated as he remembered his brash act the night of Academy graduation. He’d taken her. The need she’d teased along for six weeks boiled to the surface and he barely been able to ask permission before throwing her back on the bed. She acted as though she expected it, as if she’d been waiting for him.

What the hell could he assume from that?

Even in high school, some part of him understood that he had the power to take her. At that point, he had no clue how to use that power on a woman ten years older. With the many females he’d bedded over the years, his actions had seemed like play. He toyed with women, watched them from a distance, predicted what they’d do or say. Teased them along. All of it bored him.

A few times since then, even as Macie’s slave, he’d pushed the boundaries.  Much as he loved pleasing her, he also loved the undercurrent of as-yet-unfulfilled promises they both knew but never discussed. That he would, someday, pin her against the wall and rip off her clothes one piece at a time. Hold her hostage at the end of his cock. Watch her nipples tighten under his gaze until they protruded like chocolate candies waiting for his mouth.

“The creams,” he said, jerking out of his reverie. His cock had stiffened. “Assorted creams.”

With the package caught under his arm, he stopped to wait for a light surrounded by a dozen other pedestrians bundled against the cold. Traffic snarls backed up to the next block, a typical Friday afternoon. Only it didn’t feel typical. It felt charged, like the ground could erupt any moment, like a tsunami rolled toward him.

He pictured her townhouse, the fireplace, the look in her eyes when he would start unbuttoning her blouse. How her skin would glow in the firelight as he leaned over her. How her dark hair would pool against the rug. How she would taste. The sound of her voice protesting.  How he would hold her wrists and make her gasp.

“Taxi!” he called, stepping to the curb. Yeah, the ground could erupt. To hell with Preston Bancroft and his criminal enterprise. To hell with doubt and protocol and silly rules meant to be broken. He knew what he wanted. He was taking it.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Read the full incredible story of Jarrod Bancroft. On sale half price on Feb 14 ONLY. Your Valentine from me! Enjoy!

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Jarrod’s Favorite Things to Eat

cookJarrod Bancroft’s Top Ten Meals, or My Favorite Things to Eat

Food? I’m a fan. I’ve got no issues with cooking for myself. I like to cook. First meal I served to my bitch mistress, Macie Fitzgerald, sure surprised her. Hey, she had few surprises for me too—in the kitchen, hallway, den, her bedroom… But that’s another story.

10.  I have to be desperate to cook up a batch of lasagna, but the good thing is, when I do, I have enough for four meals. That stuff freezes great. You can use bottled sauce if you want, but if I’m going to make this, I want to do the whole thing. Sometimes I use ground beef, sometimes not. But definitely onions, green peppers, garlic, and diced tomatoes. Throw in the seasoning–fresh herbs if you have them, or dried–but use basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, and a little rosemary never hurt. Or buy the premixed Italian seasoning and add about a tablespoon. Simmer until it’s a smooth, thick sauce, at least an hour. Figure out your favorite—bottled or made from scratch. Don’t skimp on the sauce—you’ll need a lot.

Boil the noodles, rinse in cold water, and set aside with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking together. For a 9×13 pan, mix 16 ounces of small curd cottage cheese with four ounces of grated Parmesan, 2 eggs beaten, and 12 ounces grated mozzarella. (Please, none of this low fat junk.) Add the same seasoning as you used in the sauce, another tablespoon. Spread sauce, then noodles, then cheese mixture, then sauce, noodles and cheese, until you run out of ingredients. End with a layer of sauce, sprinkle with more parm, bake an hour. Open the wine, heat the bread… Come on, I don’t have to tell you that, do I?

9. Jambalaya. I admit to watching a few cooking shows. Rachel Ray knocks it out of the park with her jambalaya recipe—Andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp. Look for it online at the Food Network site. No major production with making roux, or fussing over details. Just cook that spicy baby ‘til your mouth is watering so bad you’re going to burn your tongue not waiting for it to cool. Doesn’t hurt that it’s all one pot—except for the rice. Better the second day, the third day—as long as it lasts, or hell, freeze batches and eat it later. Gotta have crusty bread. A tall cold one earns extra points.

8. Broccoli-Beef stir-fry. Buy sirloin or chuck steak. Stick it in the freezer until it’s almost frozen—that makes it easier to cut thin slices. Slice a cup of green onion and two cups of broccoli. It doesn’t matter if the broccoli is all flowerets. You can slice the stem, too. Depending on how meaty you like it, use 1 ½ to 2 cups of meat. A little green pepper doesn’t hurt, if you like. Put the rice on to cook—I like long grain, organic basmati, but that’s up to you. Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic. Prepare fresh ginger to grate onto the mixture, about a tablespoon. Get some of that paste beef bouillon. Then turn the fire on under your wok or iron skillet until it’s smoking hot. Throw in a little oil, then the beef and onion (and green pepper if you’re using it), sprinkle with salt, and stir until the beef has lost its redness. Then add the broccoli. Keep stirring until it starts to dry up in the pan, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir a bit longer until you really start freaking that the whole mess is going to burn then pour in a cup of water. Careful, it’s going to sizzle. Add another half cup of water, then a level teaspoon of the beef bouillon paste. Stir until fully blended. Let it bubble a couple more minutes. You decide—want your broccoli al dente? Serve now. Like it softer? Put on a lid, reduce heat to low, and wait another five. Killer: garlic-butter croutons on the side.

7.  When I said I liked to cook, did I give you the idea I was into a bunch of fancy composed dishes? Well, forget that. Nothing turns me off a restaurant faster than some tortured stack of mystery ingredients in the middle of a big plate. I want real food. Like baked chicken. Rinse the bird inside and out, pat dry, stuff some celery, sage, and onion inside that baby, rub the skin with butter all over, and sprinkle with poultry seasoning (easy, now, maybe a half teaspoon), salt, pepper, and minced garlic. Put it in a clay cooking pot or cast iron Dutch oven with a cup of water, let it bake for at least two hours at four hundred degrees. (Check at least once to ensure there’s still some liquid in the pan. Add more water if necessary.) If you’ve got room in the pot, add some small onions and fingerling potatoes. Damn. That’s a feast I never found in a restaurant as good as I can cook it at home.

6.  Same principle applies with a beef roast. I like chuck because there’s just enough fat in the muscle to break it down to fork tender. If you’re reading my story Ms. Lizzie Ashworth channeled for me, you’ll get the idea in Book III. Sear in a hot pan til all sides are browned, throw in some onions and garlic, add a splash of sherry and 2 cups water, then cook on low for at least four hours. Last hour or so, add some carrots, potatoes, and more onions if you like. Whole meal in one pan. I never said I liked doing dishes. Unless Mistress makes me. That’s a whole other meal, er, job.

5.  Barbeque ribs—let me say I never cooked any ribs as good as I had in Kansas City. There are too many good places there to single out one. The sauce is smoky, sweet, and spicy at the same time. Meat falling off the bone. Can’t stop eating that shit. Have to wash my hands before I pick up my drink. No way to eat pork ribs without getting messy.

4.  Johnny’s at the harbor in Santa Cruz, California—one of the best grilled fresh, wild-caught salmon fillets I ever tasted. Enough sear on the outside to give it that charred flavor. Insides still moist and flaky, just enough seasoning to compliment the natural delicate taste. Comes with some killer cheesy polenta and seasonal vegetables. Why did you ask me about this? I’m hungry, and it’s ten a.m. Alternate—buy your own salmon, set up the grill or use the broiler, swab with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle lightly with dill, freshly ground black pepper, and kosher salt, and…go!

3.  Okay, I admit that underneath it all, I’m a guy who loves what all guys love. A big juicy cheeseburger is perfection. Oozing with mustard, towering with slices of fresh tomato, onions, and dill pickles, crisp lettuce, a layer of melted cheese, oh damn, a thick burger on a toasted bun stops all conversation. Fries are nice, iced tea or a cold beer—sure, I’ll take it. Not necessary, though. Best possible—fire up the backyard grill.

2.  Steak. Baked potato. Iceberg lettuce wedges, salted. Sliced homegrown tomatoes. That is all.

And my Number One favorite tasty treat:

1.  Macie Fitzgerald. No cooking necessary. Prep as needed, ideally on a freshly made kingsize bed. Um, baby.

Excerpt, Faint Heart

field creek 0001When Cara looked up, Morgan’s eyes lingered on her mouth and heat flared to her nipples. They talked about the natural flow of water and spreading it wider for better visual access, and when she caught his lazy glance, she was sure he was talking about something else entirely. Her eyes followed the stroke of his tongue across his lips after he sipped his scotch. She glimpsed the base of his throat where the movement of his swallowing shifted into the ‘v’ of his shirt. Her head spun with the wine and his laugh and the sheer pleasure of sitting with him.

She leapt up to stir the potatoes. A quietly stern voice lectured her from the back of her brain and pointed out that the real reason she invited him was that more than anything, she wanted to be carried away in his strong arms. Again. Only this time, straight to her bed. And now, it seemed things were headed in that direction.

Panicky alarm bells clanged in her head. How could she get out of this? Did she even want to get out? Wasn’t the real plan to go to bed and get all this drama settled?

Oh, shit, she was so confused.

She turned and ran smack against his chest. He took her shoulders in his hands and pulled her up toward him as his mouth lowered to hers. Blindly, she lifted her mouth and pressed it against his, sinking immediately into a blissful chorus of white noise. His lips brushed and teased, crushed and pushed, and then the tip of his tongue slid against her lips. Fire shot through her stomach.

Oh god in heaven, she wanted him. Her mouth opened against his lips as a quiet sigh formed in her chest. Her hands swept past his warm shoulders and splayed across his muscled back. His hands slid down her arms then released the tie in her hair. His fingers plunged deep into its thickness.

She felt him questioning, pausing. He pulled back, his intense blue eyes half closed.

“Cara,” he whispered, “I dream about you.”

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