She let out a slow, nervous breath. “I thought I’d find you here.”
Startled, Cyprian jerked around. Moonlight silhouetted the lean lines of his body. “Then you’ve spoken with Pontius?”
“I sent him to look for you. He’s going to help you take our daughter far from this trouble.” His dull edged pain sliced through her.
“Maggie and I aren’t going anywhere until we talk.” This conversation would have been so much easier before her encounter with Felicissimus robbed her of the luxury of transparency. “You deserve to know everything.” She prayed her secret agreement with the slave trader hadn’t tainted her voice.
Lisbeth felt a constriction in her chest. “If that is what you want.” Her hand went to her pocket, where she’d stuffed the carefully folded paragraph describing the separation of Cyprian’s head from his shoulders. Was her job here double in purpose? Save Cyprian from those wishing him dead, and save him from throwing away a chance for their family to be together?
“This could take a while.” She nodded toward the empty hay cart. “Mind if we sit?”
Cyprian’s gaze danced between her and the wagon. He’d been through so much in the past twenty-four hours, and the strain of it all showed in his tightened jaw. How she wanted to touch him. To take some of his burden on herself. Instead she waited, keeping her quickened breaths shallow and the skirmish she’d just had with Felicissimus buried deeply.
Cyprian let out a reluctant breath, placed his hands on her waist, and lifted her onto the cart. Heat spread from beneath the span of his touch and ignited a fire in her belly. For what seemed like ages they stared into each other’s eyes. His face, serious and determined, was inches from hers. So close she could have kissed the tear-streaked smudge above his right dimple.
Memories of him carrying her across the threshold on their wedding night rose from the ghostly traces of smoke lingering on his skin. Much like Ruth and Cyprian’s marriage, theirs had also been a marriage of convenience neither of them had wanted. But both had agreed the arrangement was necessary to accomplish the greater good. The plan had been simple. Defeat Aspasius. In doing so, Cyprian would save Carthage and the church, and she would save Mama and Laurentius. Once each got what they wanted, they would shake hands, part company, and go their separate ways. Except things hadn’t worked out quite that way. They had not defeated Aspasius. Neither had gotten what they wanted. And parting company wasn’t an option for two people who’d unexpectedly fallen in love.
Lisbeth remembered standing in the middle of their honeymoon suite simultaneously searching for a way out and desperately clinging to this man. Similar conflicting messages plagued her now. She wanted to fall into Cyprian’s arms and tell him about Felicissimus and his treachery. To be totally honest for the first time since her arrival. But for Maggie’s sake, she had to stick to the facts in the history books.
“What is it that you must tell me?” Cyprian pulled back and stared directly at her.
She tore her gaze from his and forced her mind to concentrate on the controlled and methodical chewing of the midnight-colored horse emptying the feeding trough.
He seated himself beside her. “The time is short.” His leg lightly brushed hers.
Lisbeth felt tiny hairs rise beneath the friction of his close proximity. Sparks, hot and jagged, swept through the dry tinder of her body. “What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s best if you and Maggie travel to the cisterns in the dark.”
Something about the way he hesitated didn’t feel right. Maybe he was having second thoughts on sending her home.
She took a hopeful breath. “A few weeks ago, while I was still back in my time, a college girl from Dallas went to Africa on a mission trip with her church. She came home feeling like she had a cold. What she didn’t know was that she had contracted measles. The girl, full of the invincibility of youth, blew off her mother’s suggestion to spend a little time in bed. Instead she went to a church picnic. In less than an hour, this one carrier managed to infect every susceptible person there, including a young mother who unknowingly then took her family and the measles to Disney World.”
“Uh, a big carnival.” From the puzzled look on Cyprian’s face, he was out of the habit of trying to comprehend her strange vernacular and the unbelievable things of her world, but he wasn’t totally opposed to dusting off his rusty curiosity. “You know . . . silly shows, rides, lots of junk food?”
“Like the Festival of Lupercalia?” His sincerity elicited her first genuine laughter since her return. His brows crinkled, but his lips smiled at her. “Why is my question funny?”
“Modern theme parks don’t usually have naked priests running around waving strips of goatskin, but I’ve heard that during spring break the crowds can be as crazy as a Roman holiday. Not to mention, places like Disney are always crazy expensive. I was saving up to take Maggie, but we came here instead.”
“Maggie,” he said softly. “You’ve done a fine job raising our daughter.”
Lisbeth choked back tears. “If Maggie grows up to be half the person her father is, I will count my work as a parental success.”
One lucky reader who comments on this blog will be randomly selected to win a copy of Return to Exile.
About the author
Lynne Gentry is a professional acting coach, theater director and playwright with several full-length musicals and a Chicago children’s theater curriculum to her credit.
Her love for writing stories was born while growing up on a Kansas dairy farm as she longed for adventure and dreamt of traveling to exotic places. Her book, Healer of Carthage (2014), which was the first in The Carthage Chronicles series. Return to Exile is the second, and Valley of Decision is expected September 22, 2015.
Gentry loves spending time with her family and medical therapy dog.
To keep up with Lynne Gentry, visit www.lynnegentry.com, become a fan on Facebook (Author-Lynne-Gentry) or follow her on Twitter (@Lynne_Gentry) and Pinterest (lynnegentry7).