Vestal Virgin—suspense in ancient Rome
Elissa Rubria Honoria is a Vestal Virgin--priestess of the sacred flame, a visionary, and one of the most powerful women in Rome. Vestals are sacrosanct, sworn to chastity on penalty of death, but the emperor, Nero, holds himself above the law. He pursues Elissa, engaging her in a deadly game of wits and sexuality. Or is Elissa really the pursuer? She stumbles on dark secrets. No longer trusting Roman gods, she follows a new god, Jesus of Nazareth, jeopardizing her life and the future of The Roman Empire.
• New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks says,
“...a writer of real talent...a promising new voice.”
• New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen says,
“Suzanne Tyrpak weaves a spell that utterly enchants and delights. Her writing is pure magic.”
• A torrid tale of love, honor, and sacrifice pitted against horrific acts of murder, betrayal, and depravity. Rife with intrigue and brimming with exquisite detail, Vestal Virgin is a deftly paced masterpiece of historical fiction. I hope Tyrpak is planning another foray into this ancient world . . . and soon!
— Eldon Thompson, author of The Divine Talisman
Suzanne Tyrpak ran away from New York a long time ago to live in Colorado. Her debut novel is Vestal Virgin, suspense set in ancient Rome, available as a trade paperback and in all eformats. Her collection of nine short storiesDating My Vibrator (and other true fiction) is available on Kindle, Nook and Smashwords. J.A. Konrath calls it, “Pure comedic brilliance.” Her short story Downhill was first published in Arts Perspective Magazine. Rock Bottom is published in the Mota 9: Addiction anthology, available on Kindle. Her short story Ghost Plane was published by CrimeSpree Magazine. Venus Faded appears in the anthology Pronto! Writings from Rome (Triple Tree Publishing, 2002) along with notable authors including: Dorothy Allison, Elizabeth Engstrom, Terry Brooks and John Saul. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers awarded her first prize in the Colorado Gold Writing Contest, and Maui Writers awarded her third prize in the Rupert Hughes writing competition.
What will readers like about your book?
Vestal Virgin is a roller coaster ride through ancient Rome. Dark. Intense. Sexy. Great for an escape—plus you’ll learn something about The Roman Empire.
Why did you self publish?
I’ve had two agents, and my writing has won awards, but trad publishers weren’t willing to take a risk on my books. They don’t fit neatly into a box.
What is your writing process?
I come up with an idea, and if it’s historical, I do a lot of research. The story and the characters unfold as I research. It’s a back and forth process of research, writing, research.
How long does it take you to write your first draft?
About a year, because of all the research.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
I took a trip to Rome with a group of writers, and I fell in love with the history. I read a travel guide that mentioned Vestal Virgins were sworn to thirty years of chastity on penalty of death, and I thought: there’s a story!
“You’re not listening,” Nero said.
Elissa’s eyes snapped to him. “When will this interview end?”
“I want you to summon that whore I call my mother from the dead.”
“Bring the she-wolf here right now.”
“Can, can, can, you cunt!” Nero stood up from his throne. “Do these words mean anything to you: Rome burns and from union unholy the sister will bring forth a son?”
Elissa’s throat felt raw, and when she spoke her voice sounded strangled, “The Sibylline Prophecy.”
“I found the hexameter tucked inside my mother’s diary.”
“It means nothing to me.”
“It meant something to the whore.” Nero leaned close to Elissa. “I think she spawned a bastard whose bloodline rivals mine. I believe I have a long-lost sibling.”
“If Agrippina bore another child, surely all of Rome would know.”
“She spent ten years in exile far away from Rome. Ten years in obscurity. But that chimera wouldn’t last a week without a snake to plug her hole. The prophecy speaks of unholy union, ‘the sister will bring forth a son.’ What if my mother, sister of Gaius Caligula, conceived a child with him? Gaius banished her for ten years—why?” Nero’s eyes glittered as if he’d eaten opium. “I’ll tell you why. To keep her and his bastard safe from enemies! What if she bore his son, but before the child could be named heir to the throne, Caligula was murdered?”
“I suppose it’s possible.”
Everybody knew Caligula had bedded each of his three sisters—Agrippina, Livilla, and his beloved Drusilla.
“Not just possible, but probable. Like me, my uncle longed for an heir. If you remember, he was a most expectant father, so anxious for Drusilla’s bastard to be born he plucked the infant from her womb.”
“By disemboweling her.”
“For the mother and the child.”
“But not for my long lost brother. I’m his only rival.”
Elissa measured her words, “If this long-lost brother does exist, surely he would have laid claim to the throne by now.”
“Did I ask for your opinion?” Spittle flew from Nero’s mouth. “My queen is barren. Since the death of our daughter, Poppaea’s womb has been a desert. She’s dry as dirt, at least with me. Why should my bastard brother risk his life by declaring his existence, claiming he’s the rightful heir, when he need only bide his time until my death? What if it’s he who masterminds my assassination?”
Elissa eyed him warily.
“Help me.” Hands open like a supplicant, he approached her. “Conjure up the stinking whore. She knows the truth.”
“I—” Elissa’s voice caught in her throat.
He moved toward her, pushing her against the wall, the heat of his body causing her to sweat, his breathing, rapid and uneven, rasping in her ear. Reaching above her head, he removed a knife from his collection. A pearl handled secespita, the narrow blade designed for sacrifice.
Elissa opened her mouth to scream.
“Don’t.” Nero pointed the secespita at her throat. “Your brother plotted with my long-lost brother, didn’t he?”
Elissa shook her head, her eyes focused on the knife.
“I could kill you now,” Nero said. “But I have other plans for you.” He drew the blade over his palm then took her hand in his, gently as a lover, and drew the blade again.
Blood beaded in her hand.
Pressing his palm against hers, he said, “My great-grandfather worshiped an Egyptian queen, dark and powerful like you. Be Cleopatra to my Antony.”
He’s madder than Caligula, Elissa thought.
“I’ll make you immortal. Declare you a goddess, and together we’ll conceive the heir to Rome.”
She tore out of his grasp, ran to the door and flung it open. Blood dripping from her hand, she bolted down the corridor.
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