First in the Claudia Seferius mystery series, set in 13 B. C. and available for the first time in ebook format!
Claudia Seferius has successfully flattered her way into marriage with a wealthy Roman wine merchant. But when her secret gambling debts spiral, she hits on another resourceful way to make money - offering her “personal services” to high-ranking Roman Citizens.
Unfortunately her clients are now turning up dead - the victims of a sadistic serial killer.
When Marcus Cornelius Orbilio, the handsome investigating officer, starts digging deep for clues, Claudia realizes she must track down the murderer herself - before her husband discovers what she's been up to.
CRITICAL ACCLAIM FOR I, CLAUDIA:
‘A timeless heroine for today—you’ll be hooked.’ Company
‘The Roman detail is deft, the pace as fast as a champion gladiator, and the heroine, Claudia, an arrogant superbitch who keeps us all on the edge where she loves to live.’ Sunday Express
‘A wonderful fictional creation—a bawdy superbitch with a talent for sleuthing…an enormous triumph.’ Ms London
‘An endearing adventuress who regards mortal danger as just another bawdy challenge.’ She
‘If you’re looking for a romp through the streets of Rome in 13 BC then this is the book to buy!’Books Magazine
‘Terrific read…It is written in a contemporary, fast style, and is a thoroughly entertaining mystery romp.’ The Bookseller
Sliding into her seat, Claudia felt the same old sensations take over. The racing pulse, the trembling hands, the brightness in her eyes. A ripple of pleasure shuddered her body as she surrendered to the excitement ahead. Good old Apollo. Eight delicious days in his honour. The last games, the Fishermen’s Games, were a month back and a decidedly inferior affair too, lasting one mingy day. High spots of colour rose in her cheeks as the babble around her increased. The raucous chuckles of the men, the high-pitched giggles of the women, the delighted squeals of the children. Well, if any one of them extracted a mere fraction of the pleasure Claudia would get, they could count themselves jolly lucky. She smiled to herself. That Gaius was beside her, unaware of her cravings, added a certain piquancy, to the occasion.
One of his business associates clapped him on the back.
‘Seeing as how you’re here early, I don’t suppose you could spare me ten minutes?’
Gaius and his colleague settled into an animated discussion about wine—quantities versus price—while Claudia absorbed the atmosphere of the amphitheatre. It was filling up now. Amazing how so many working people still managed to squeeze in the time to attend these lavish spectacles and she wondered whether that ferreting investigator Orbilio had found time to indulge himself today. Probably not, he’d be too busy grubbing around in filthy tenement slums to relax with simple pleasures. She wished him joy.
While musicians sought to make themselves heard above the din of the crowd, Claudia adjusted her cushions and drummed her fingers, impatient for the entertainment to begin. Gaius had secured seats near the front, reflecting his privileged status, but not for Claudia the savage thrill of the bloodlust. She began tapping her foot and glanced round for the seventeenth time to catch the eye of her slave, Junius. As usual, the muscular Gaul was watching attentively and signalled acknowledgement with a slight incline of the head. He was a good boy, was Junius. Knew precisely what to do.
The parade began as the lump of lard that was her husband resumed his seat, chortling because he’d talked his colleague into taking another two hundred amphorae without so much as dropping his price by one copper quadran. In a flurry of gold and purple cloaks, the gladiators strutted round the arena, followed by slaves holding aloft their plumed helmets and weaponry. That was typical of Gaius, she thought. So damned shrewd. Through sheer hard work and enterprise he’d amassed a veritable fortune—yet he saw nothing contradictory in spending the same amount of money on a small consignment of Black Sea caviar for his banquets as he did a yoke of oxen for his farm. Both were justifiable expenses in his eyes, and he’d flay her alive if he learned she was squandering his money on fripperies.
Except that her gambling was no idle pastime. It had become an addiction, a monster of Olympian proportions, forever ravenous and totally out of control, and not for nothing did Claudia Seferius spend more time on her knees propitiating Fortune than any other deity.
The gladiators marched out, the musicians upped their tempo and, to a crash of cymbals, an elephant lumbered into the arena to be matched against a bear. Claudia felt her whole body tense. Already her mouth was dry, her heart pounding. Using a secret signal, she indicated to Junius, ‘Bet on the elephant’, and wiggled five fingers, intimating the bear would be dogfood within the space of five minutes. The way she tilted her head told him to bet two quadrans. She always started low, it was part of the game. Small bets gradually became large bets which in turn became almost impossible bets and, dear Diana, she couldn’t help herself, the daring was all part of the exquisite torture. The same way your heart freezes as you wait for the dice to land, or when your charioteer tries a tight manoeuvre at the end of a circuit and you just don’t know whether he’ll make it.
Unfortunately Fortune seemed deaf to her prayers, or perhaps Minerva had thrown in her might with the moneylenders. Either way, Claudia’s debts had spiralled. She’d tried to stop herself, but be it a simple game of knucklebones or a full-scale race at the circus, she was there and it wasn’t unheard of for Claudia Seferius to be hanging around the training schools, betting on the practice fights. What, initially, was a straightforward case of syphoning off the household expenditure fell at the first hurdle when Gaius had begun to comment, and thus she set out to find another well to dip into. The answer when it came, was amazingly simple.
To pay for her own vice, others could pay for theirs.
Not that hers was a service she bandied about. On the contrary, these clients had been carefully cultivated for their unusual proclivities and little could she have envisaged the scale on which it would take off. Magistrates, merchants, high-ranking civil servants were suddenly queuing up to be spanked or whipped, tortured or humiliated, and whilst they didn’t deserve to die for their perversions, Claudia had scant sympathy for them. Except maybe Quintus, for no one deserved the indignity of being found in that frightful flyblown room.
She signalled to Junius. Two quadrans on the panther tearing the lion’s throat out within four no—three minutes. It would be a lie, of course, to say Orbilio’s visit on Tuesday afternoon hadn’t shaken her. Probably the best thing was to go back to that dreadful dive, in full view of everybody, and confound the boots off possible witnesses. And she’d have to do it pretty smartly, she supposed. Memories, in slums like that, would be relative to their lifespans. Meaning short in the extreme. Tomorrow morning? Why not? Let me see, that would make it the, ah yes, the Nones of the month, she could excuse herself, if necessary, by pleading attendance at one of the ceremonies. Splendid.
Come the interval she was five asses and a quadran ahead and should have been feeling pleased at the strict limits she’d imposed on herself. Instead it rankled that she still was no closer to finding the murderer than before. Gaius, bless him, shuffled off to talk to one of the praetors and his wife, but Claudia remained seated. Who could possibly have discovered what she was up to? She had a nasty suspicion it was one of her clients, but who? In each case, discretion was everything. Only old Quintus approached her direct, and because his request to meet in the tenement was unusual, even by her standards, and she’d exacted such an exorbitant fee she hadn’t bothered to enquire further. Until he’d been murdered.
She stood up and stretched. Junius was nowhere to be seen, so she set off in search of refreshment. Rumours were spreading fast of a maniac abroad, gouging out the eyes of the nobility to keep as grisly souvenirs, and locksmiths could charge double (and often were) for the protection the governing classes were seeking with such desperation. Callisunus had scores of men working day and night to catch the demented lunatic, but Claudia’s intuition told her that Orbilio was working silently and secretively to find a link.