Historical romance set in Roman Britain in 206 AD.
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Spirited young scribe Flavia hopes for freedom. She and her fellow slaves in Aquae Sulis (modern Bath) have served the Lady Valeria for many years, but their mistress' death brings a threat to Flavia's dream: her new master Marcus Brucetus, a charismatic, widowed officer toughened in the forests of Germania. Flavia finds him overwhelmingly attractive but she is aware of the danger. To save her life and those of her 'family' she has forged a note from her mistress. If her deception is discovered, all the slaves may die.
For his part torn between attraction and respect, Marcus will not force himself on Flavia. Flavia by now knows of his grief over the deaths of his wife Drusilla and child. But how can she match up to the serene, flame-haired Drusilla?
As the wild mid-winter festival of Saturnalia approaches, many lives will be changed forever.
Britannia, 206 A.D.
Flavia was sweeping leaves when he came out of the villa. Carrying a brazier, he strolled down the steps and passed the frosted lavender bushes with that loose-limbed stride of his, looking as if he owned the place. Which he did, she conceded. Marcus Brucetus now owned the villa and everyone inside it.
She clutched the broom close and darted behind one of the columns fringing the square courtyard and its central open space, whispering, ‘Please.’
Please do not see me, she meant. She wanted him to leave, to be an absentee landlord of this small estate in provincial Britannia. It would be safer for everyone if he left. He had been watching her at the funeral, scrutinizing her with thoughtful dark eyes. She hoped he had forgotten her since then.
She risked peeping round the column. He had set the brazier in the middle of the courtyard, beside the ivy-clad statue of the god Pan, and was coaxing the fire into leaping tongues of flame. In the red glow of dawn and the orange glare of the brazier, she could see him plainly: tall and long legged, his simple dark red tunic showing off muscular shoulders. Above tanned, lean features his short, dark brown hair looked as tough and straight as a boar’s pelt. He was a tribune, off-duty and no longer in armor, but still a soldier and a Roman, one of the conquerors of her country.
‘Come here, Flavia,’ he said quietly, without raising his head.
Disconcerted at being discovered and more so by his remembering her name, Flavia stepped out of the shadows of the peristyle and approached, her rag-shod feet soundless on the icy gravel path.
‘Gaius said that I would find you out here.’
Another shock, she thought. He spoke her language perfectly. Satisfied with the fire, he looked her up and down, studying her flyaway hair and wiry figure, her baggy, patched dress of undyed wool, one of the cook’s cast offs. She gasped as he took the broom from her.
‘I ask you again—is sweeping not Sulinus’ job? He is the gardener.’
‘He's chopping wood,’ Flavia stammered, ashamed and alarmed at having missed Marcus Brucetus’ first question. She was conscious of his height and strength, both in stark contrast to the frail, elderly bodies of the male household slaves.
‘Sweeping is one of your tasks?’
Flavia nodded. ‘When Lady Valeria was alive, she wanted the courtyard kept tidy. We are a small household, sir. My mistress preferred to live quietly, with a few close attendants.’
‘Four ageing slaves and you,’ Brucetus corrected, ‘My adopted mother’s female scribe.’ He shook his head, tossing the broom casually from hand to hand. ‘Valeria never liked a man to tell her anything, and she always did pick the unusual over the conventional.’
Ignoring his amusement at her expense, Flavia fought down panic. Surely this Roman would not be so cruel as to sell the older servants? Surely he would not separate Gaius from his Agrippina, or Sulinus from Livia? She swallowed the rising knot in her throat. ‘We are all loyal, sir, and we know what the house needs to run smoothly.’
‘Indeed.’ Looking into Flavia’s bright gray eyes, he smiled and gave the broom back to her. ‘Be at peace. I don’t throw servants out into the streets to starve: loyalty cuts both ways. When you know me, you will see this.’
‘Sir?’ Flavia felt confused by this unexpected candor. She knew that she, more than any of the household, should be wary of this Marcus Brucetus, but she could also still feel the warmth of his hand on the broom handle. Over the crackle of the brazier fire, she could hear his steady breathing. ‘Thank you,’ she murmured, and turned to go.
‘Wait,’ he commanded. ‘I have some questions. Now that the official mourning period is over, it is time.’
Flavia’s heart began to race, but she did not think she had betrayed herself until Marcus said firmly, ‘Don't stand there shivering. Warm yourself by the brazier. That is why it is out here, so we can talk in private.’
Flavia took a sideways step towards the glowing charcoal. She was trembling, but not from the cold. She was afraid of what he might ask.
Marcus Brucetus, an ex-Roman soldier, is the heir to Lady Valeria’s estate. When she dies under suspicious circumstances, Marcus doesn’t hesitate to try and get to the bottom of her death. His investigation leads him to Aquae Sulis and Flavia, his adopted mother’s scribe.
Flavia has no doubt that when she is found out, her life will be over. She did what she had to do in order to save the lives of her fellow slaves. Her crime? Forging a note from her mistress saving the lives of her slaves. Flavia knows the punishment for such a crime and did it anyway. It isn’t until Lady Valeria’s heir Marcus Brucetus arrives that she has to face the danger. And face it she does all the while falling in love with the handsome and seemingly kind widower. Though she knows that she can’t compete with the memories of Marcus’ dead wife and child, Flavia can’t help falling in love.
Marcus and Flavia explore Lady Valeria’s last moments before taking her own life. What they find is not what they expected, least of all their feelings for each other. In a world where the differences between master and slave are a chasm wide, will these two lovers be able to make a life together? If outside forces have their way, no. It’s a good thing that love conquers all.
Lindsay Townsend has thoroughly convinced me that I need to go back into time and become a scribe in ancient England. I lived and breathed Flavia’s yearnings and love for Marcus throughout the pages of FLAVIA’S SECRET. Marcus was harder to read but no less important. His status as a widower afforded him the ability to try and stay untouched and out of reach of clinging females. I smiled when the one female who wanted to remain aloof from him was able to change his stance on love and worm her way into his heart.
Releasing as an ebook first and then a print book later this year, FLAVIA’S SECRET is a passionate historical romance. Set in ancient England during Roman rule, I enjoyed reading about these two wonderful characters as well as the setting and town in which the novel took place. Marcus and Flavia were perfect for each other and this book was the perfect read for my ancient history loving soul. Thumbs up Ms. Townsend! I loved every word of FLAVIA’S SECRET!
Historical Novels Review (Historical Novel Society)
In second-century Roman Britain, the Lady Valeria maintains a blissful household devoted to good talk and good reading, staffed with a beloved “family” of slaves—including beautiful young Flavia. When Lady Valeria dies, the household passes into the possession of young Roman officer Marcus Brucetus, a veteran of the perpetual border-warfare in Germania.
As is the way in such stories, these two are immediately attracted to each other, despite the fact that not only is he a free man and she a slave, but she’s his slave, his property along with everything and everyone else in the house. Lindsay Townsend handles this complication with unerring skill and some very pleasing human touches. In one scene, Marcus makes an offhand comment about how tightly Flavia pins her hair. She acerbically reminds him that he can change anything he dislikes, since he owns it all. He simply touches one of her hairpins, and she replies:
“You have made your point.” Suddenly Flavia felt weary, weary of being a slave, weary of fighting this man and her own feelings.
Marcus looked at her a moment longer, then sighed and stepped back.
“You are right,” he said. “That was a crass thing to do.”
“Yes,” said Flavia steadily. “It was.”
Such exchanges are frequent in Flavia’s Secret, and they constitute the book’s main pleasure. Townsend has a great ear for snappy dialog, and even her most minor characters spring instantly to life with a carefully-chosen sentence or description. Most details of Roman Britain at the time are faithfully rendered, although at its heart, this is a timeless story of two people finding love where they least expect it. Flavia’s Secret is cheerfully recommended. -- Steve Donoghue
The Long and the Short of It
There is nothing more uncertain than the existence of a slave in Roman times. When your life depends on the whims of your owner, you will do everything to protect a master who is fair and kind. But what happens when that master if found dead under dubious circumstances? The rumor flies among Flavia's household that all the slaves belonging to a murdered Roman could be executed in the most painful and gruesome manner, and she will not allow her friends, her family, to be hurt in any way.
But what can she do when the new master takes possession of the estate, land, buildings—and slaves? Secrets pile upon secrets, and it's not only the helpless community of slaves who are trying to hide something, but the master himself seems to stand apart from the rest of the Roman nobles. What could there be that a proud and powerful Roman soldier wouldn't want known about himself?
In this wonderfully researched historical novel that gives us a rare look into a seldom described period, Lindsay Townsend weaves romance, intrigue, and historical fact into a unique and compelling story. The Roman town of Aquae Sulis, which we know today as Bath, springs to life in its ancient incarnation. Lindsay manages to present the classical world not with a modern bias, but through the eyes of those who were born and grew in it, those who find it ordinary and natural.
The unusual time period gives the story a hue of fantasy, but the plot, the character's reactions, the motivations are solidly grounded in reality—both in the psychology of the characters and in the logic of the historical time. And Lindsay Townsend populates her ancient city with a colorful cast. Even the most minor characters are given due attention and spring to life for whatever short part they are called to play. The more important ones are unforgettable. Lindsay excels at adding the right small touch to make each one come to life and be remembered.
Flavia's Secret is also an emotionally satisfying read. The story pulls the reader in to share the events and to empathize fully with the main characters. It is impossible to put it down once you've started to read it. Moreover, Lindsay Townsend has achieved what all writers strive for—the reader will wish the story would go on forever.
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