New Yorker Karen Brown, hunted by a killer, flees to her mother’s mysterious homeland in Europe, Roma Nova, a country founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and where women now rule. Karen breaks up with her new lover, arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus, and finds a new career as an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, the killer sets a trap, knowing Karen will have no choice but to spring it...
The new clients came from Roma Nova, in Europe, where my mother had been born.
'Salve, Sextilius Gavro,' which was about as much Latin as I could muster at that precise moment.
'My interpreter, Conradus Tellus,' he said in a sing-song tone.
His colleague was more than striking – blond hair long enough to slick back behind his ears. And tall. Several inches taller than me, even. Above a smiling mouth and a straight nose marred by a scar, his eyes were tilted slightly upwards, red-brown near the iris, green at the edges. He fixed his gaze on me like he was measuring me up, assessing me. I refused to break, but felt warmth creeping up my neck into my face as he widened his smile. A little flustered, I eventually looked down at his outstretched hand but hesitated. I gave myself a mental shake, threw myself into businesswoman mode and took it.
The images showed mountains and forests, a lot like the Helvetian Confederation, and a big river, cute stone buildings with curled tile roofs, and old monuments. On one site, the writer conceded Roma Nova's high-tech and financial services economy gave them a standard of living exceeding most Western economies, but criticised them as 'hidden and discreet'. He didn't think much of them staying neutral during the Great War.
I leaned back in my chair. Who wouldn't have sat out that ten-year savagery if they could have? Although it ended in 1935, it had taken most countries until the sixties to recover. But the writer admitted the civil war twenty-three years ago in Roma Nova had torn the country apart. I counted that through in my head: that horror happened after my mom had come to the States.
I scrolled down, fascinated, not sensing the time sneak up on me. Interpedia gave the usual historical stuff: the Western Roman Empire had fallen, and Roma Novans had retreated to cold, fortified villages in the mountains north of Italy. Protected by political truces and economic links with their Byzantine cousins, they had fought to recover the lower-lying parts of Roma Nova, holding against all comers, even after the Eastern Empire was overcome by the Ottomans. The key had been knowing more secrets, having more money and striking back hard when attacked. Now they sat on the precarious frontier between the eastern Reds and the free West.
I sat back and stared at the screen. Who were these tough people? Could I really be related to them?
I was so absorbed with trying to figure out what Conrad meant that I was totally unaware of anybody approaching us. Too late, Conrad started to twist around. A man jabbed a barrel right under his jawline.
'On the ground, hands behind you.'
A second man drove his fist into Conrad's stomach and slammed him down, another kneeling on him, handcuffing his hands behind him. I recognised the third one: he was one of the watchers. No. Not again.
He seized my arm and forced me up. I kicked him hard in the shins. His grip eased; I flailed him with my fists, aiming at his eyes and the bridge of his nose. I landed a punch on his cheekbone and nearly succeeded in pulling away, but another man lunged at me, crushing our picnic underfoot, and grabbed my other arm, twisting it up behind my back and forcing me to bend over. They dragged us through the trees, out through the Kew Road West entrance, and thrust me into the back of a waiting car. They opened the trunk, flung Conrad in and slammed it down.
'Let me out. Now!' I fought and scratched to get to the door but was yanked back by my hair. I lunged out and my nails made contact with flesh. I dragged them across the man's face. I heard a string of obscenities. He slapped my face. Hard. My neck was wrenched and I was sure my head was going to fall off. Tears rolled down my face as the blood and pain flowed back into my right cheek. I shivered as cold metal slid over my wrists and snapped to.