At the beginning of the year I went mad buying as many books as I could, but woefully fell short of actually reading them (apart from a few of Ken Follett’s). However, just a few days ago I picked up the first of three books of Francine River’s famous Mark of The Lion trilogy and have absolutely fallen in love with it (I’m now on book two)!! A few (or many) of you would have heard about/read it already; but to those of you who haven’t, I make this gift: an excerpt from chapter 27 of book one “A Voice in The Wind“!
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Marcus came from below decks and saw her at the bow. As he approached, he took in the slender curves of her body and the way the strands of dark hair fluttered around her head. He stood right beside her, drinking in the sweetness of her serene profile.
She didn’t notice him, for her eyes were closed and her lips moved. Entranced, he watched her. She seemed filled with the purest kind of pleasure, as though she were breathing it in deeply.
“Praying again?” he said and saw her start. She didn’t look at him, but he was sorry he had shattered her serenity. “It seems to me you pray unceasingly.”
She blushed and lowered her head, still saying nothing. What could she say when he had caught her in the act of worshiping God again when he had commanded her not to do so?
He wished he hadn’t spoken, but had stood, instead, beside her, drinking in the peace of her contentment– especially since it seemed he could have none of his own. Marcus sighed. “I’m not angry with you,” he said. “Pray as you like.”
She looked at him then, the tender sweetness of her expression piercing him. He remembered how it felt to kiss her. He lifted his hand and tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. Her expression altered slightly, and he lowered his hand.
“Mother said Julia was being very difficult,” he said as casually as he could, wanting her to relax with him. “I take it she is improved?”
“Yes, my lord.”
Her quiet, subservient response made him clench his teeth in irritation. He looked from her out to sea as she was doing. “I never noticed how a properly respectful attitude in a slave could put such distance between two human beings.” He looked at her again, direct and commanding. “Why do you build walls between us?” He wanted to rip down her defences and take hold of her. “Is it always to be my lord, Hadassah?””
“As it should be.”
“And if I want it otherwise?”
Feeling thrown off-balance by his words, Hadassah reached out and gripped the bulwark. Marcus put his hand over hers and the heat of his touch shocked her. She tried to withdraw her hand, but he clasped it and held it where it was, captive. “My lord,” she said, imploring.
“Have you stayed below deck with Julia because she needs you, or in order to hide from me?” he demanded roughly.
“Please,” she said, wanting him to release her, frightened by the rush of sensations his touch aroused in her.
“Please me. Call me ‘Marcus’ the way you did in Claudius’ garden so long ago. Do you remember? Marcus, you said, as though I meant something to you.” He hadn’t meant to speak so boldly nor reveal so much of his feelings for her. It was as though he could no longer keep the words buried inside. She stood very still, looking up at him with those beautiful dark eyes– and he wanted her. “You told me once you pray for me.”
“I always pray for you.” She blushed vividly at that admission and lowered her head again. “I pray for Julia and your mother and father as well.”
Hope restored, his thumb rubbed along the smooth skin of her wrist, feeling the wild pulse. “What you feel for me is different from what you feel toward them.” He raised her wrist and pressed his lips against it where her pulse beat. When he felt her muscles jerk, he released her. She stepped back from him.
“Why do you do this, my lord?” she said on a soft catch of breath.
“Because I want you,” he said and she looked away, embarrassed. “I have no intentions of hurting you.”
“You would hurt me without even knowing you were doing so.”
Her words annoyed him. “I would treat you well.” He turned her chin back so that she looked at him. “What do you fear most, Hadassah? Me or this nonexistent god of yours?”
“I fear my own weakness.”
Her answer surprised him and sent a rush of heat through his body. “Hadassah,” he said in a hoarse whisper, spreading his hand against the silky smoothness of her cheek. She closed her eyes and felt her longing as intently as his own. But she raised her hand and pressed his away, opening her eyes to look at him in quiet pleading.
“When a man and woman come together with the blessing of God, it is a holy covenant,” she said, looking out at the surrounding sea. “Such would not be the case with us, my lord.”
His mouth tightened. “Why not?”
“God doesn’t bless fornication.”
Astonished, he felt the heat pour into his face. He couldn’t remember the last time he blushed, and he was angry that such a ridiculous statement by a naive slave girl should embarrass him. He hadn’t been embarrassed by anything in years. “Does your god disapprove of love?”
“God is love,” Hadassah said softly.
He gave a soft laugh. “Words of a virgin who knows not a thing of what she speaks. Love is pleasure, Hadassah, the ultimate pleasure. How can this god of yours be love when he sets laws against the purest natural instinct and act of man and woman? What is love other than that?”
The wind changed direction and the sailors shouted at one another. Marcus gave a soft sardonic laugh and looked out at the rippling water, the small flashes of light and color, never expecting her to answer.
But words came to Hadassah, words read by Asyncritus many times to the gathering of believers, words written by the apostle Paul, inspired by God, and sent to the Corinthians. A copy of its precious letter had found its way to Rome. She could hear those words now so clearly, it was as though God himself had engraved them upon her mind, and those words applied to this man and to this moment.
“Love is patient, Marcus,” she said softly. “Love is kind. Love doesn’t act unbecomingly or seek its own. It is not provoked, not does it take into account a wrong suffered. Love doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices is truth. love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…”
Marcus gave her a mocking smile.. “Love like that is impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible for God,” she said with such certainty and gentle conviction that he frowned.
“Marcus,” Decimus’ bland voice came from behind them, and Marcus stiffened. He turned and saw his father standing a few feet away, looking between the two of them. Marcus straightened and smiled faintly. It was obvious his father was wondering what he and Hadassah had been discussing to intently.