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About the author:
The Twelve Systems Chronicles are E.G’s first published works. She works in IT and writes as often as possible. When neither goes well, she cooks exceptionally and gardens adequately. E.G. resides on the East Coast of the USA with her beloved (and often confounded) husband and their severely OCD Jack Russell Terrier.
What inspired you to write your book?
In the end it was three years from the initial dream to the completion of the first volume finished because it took that long for the characters to reveal how everything ends. Each volume is a stand alone novel with a core conflict that gets resolved. As I write each volume, they tell me new secrets.
Here is a short sample from the book:
‘I am the sum of my ancestors. I am the foundation of my family. Honor is my blade and shield. Honor knows not fear. Honor endures. Honor acts as duty commands. I am the sum of my ancestors…’
Unconsciously, Lilian crosses and re-crosses her ankles, the comforting words of the Warriors’ Litany no more able to ease her anxiety than the comfortably plush bench in opulent reception area of Monsignor Lucius’ commerce suite.
Do not dwell on it. Do not dwell on it. Do not dwell on the fact that within the next period she will yield her body to a man she has not met. A man with an intimidating reputation.
At the impossibly young age of thirty-eight, upon the untimely death of his father, Lucius Mercio succeeded to the Preeminence of the Blooded Dagger Cartouche and Serengeti Group. No one expected him to hold the Cartel.
Severe economic crisis throughout the Twelve Systems battered the Cartel’s standing. Piracy and mayhem along the major supply routes further undermined Cartouche and Cartel. Competitors and would be competitors moved against any vulnerable aspect of operations. It was predicted that Cartel Preeminence would fall to the wily and experienced Monsignor Sebastian Mehta of the Grey Spear Cartouche.
In the end, Lucius Mercio proved difficult to defeat. In his first two years as Preeminence,
through a series of bold and unprecedented actions, he succeeded in stabilizing the positions of Cartouche and Cartel. In the six years since, he has lead both Cartouche and Cartel to heretofore unreached heights of success positioning it to advance from fourth to third among the cartels. It is the first measurable shift in the relative rank of the ten largest cartels in over a century.
Lucius Mercio’s stunning success and ability to outmaneuver opponents is so profound that the envious and superstitious speculate that his ‘Luck of the First Warrior’ derives from supernatural means. It is rumored that Lucius Mercio has sold his soul to the Shade of the First Warrior, Socraide Omsted. It is to this man that Lilian’s three year indentured-servitude contract has been sold.
I am the sum of my ancestors. The midday chimes.
I am the foundation of my family. Stand Up.
Honor is my blade and shield. Walk through the door. Remember to breathe.
The expansive chamber has two glazed walls meeting in a corner to offer a spectacular view of the Garden Center and city skyline. The glossy wood floors are scattered with luxuriously woven silk rugs. As Lilian steps into the chamber, there is the quiet swish of the door sealing behind her.
The chamber appears empty. Lilian has an overall impression of luxury as she scans the space for its occupant, her mid-section tight with anxiety. Lilian registers a massive black enamel desk with an impressive techno array and a large scarlet leather chair.
Her gaze finds the long scarlet leather couch facing a wall-sized reviewer and the remainder of the sumptuous furnishings fade into the ether. Honor knows not fear. Honor endures. Honor…
A hitherto hidden door recesses and a man walks through. His arresting, aquiline features have a dark olive cast. They sit on a tall, powerful form which moves with the confident grace of someone well familiar with the training facilities. Lucius Mercio is a tall man. Somehow Lilian had not realized he would be so tall.
Tall for a woman, in her low heels she fits under his chin. Without shoes she will barely reach his shoulders. Dark, deep-set eyes under heavy lids travel slowly over Lilian, measuring and assessing.
His tunic shirt clings to a well-defined torso, jacket missing. The Cartouche Preeminence signet dangles from his belt. Worked in platinum and rubies, the elongated oval is the length of Lilian’s thumb. Honor acts as duty commands.
“You are Lilian.” The statement is made in cool, clipped tones as the long frame folds into a chair by the chrome and crystal conference table. He leans back with elbows resting on the chair arms, the long fingers steepled. Legs spread.
“Yes, milord,” The ancient courtesy comes to Lilian’s lips more easily than she expected.
There is silence as His Preeminence examines her from beneath hooded lids. The strong features are impassive, intimidating.
It is too disturbing to look at his face. Look over his head at the Five Warriors print on the far wall.
Lucius examines his apprentice seeking and finding changes. The tightly contained woman stands ramrod stiff and stares straight ahead. The strain of the past six sevendays is apparent in the tightness of her countenance and the shadows under her deep set gray eyes. This day, the creamy skin tones are pale, lacking the slightest hint of pink. Her features are more cleanly defined. The high cheek bones and determined chin more pronounced. Her athletic form is willowy. Lilian has dropped weight, at least half a stone.
Gone is the fleeting, quiet smile from the visuals provided by Dean Joseph. Also gone are the soft waves of dark red hair, replaced by the tightly bound tail of her warrior queue that turns the locks nearly black. The small gold ear posts are as inexpensive and austere as her tailored black suit. Long, elegantly muscled legs are revealed by her suit skirt. Forcing aside his fascination with Lilian’s legs, Lucius continues to evaluate the lovely young woman, confirming his design.
Lilian has lost her cartouche, her father, her honor and her status as a warrior. She is all but destitute. Lilian is not guilty of Remus Gariten’s crimes, only of carrying the foul criminal’s blood. It is an offense she can redeem with a three year trial by ordeal. She will not regain all she has lost. Lilian will never again be a warrior. She will retain her life and the right of every inhabitant of the Twelve Systems to forge advancement in commerce through skill, determination, hard work and ruthlessness.
This is not the arrangement Lucius initially anticipated, it will serve. Lucius has what he wants, and that is what matters.
“I will expect you at the eighth bell each morning to report status and receive instruction.” Terse, quiet tones express milord’s will, the expectation of complete obedience.
“Yes, milord,” Lilian acknowledges.
“You will discuss your work only with me, Master Nickolas, and the Associate Master. Only those assignments received from the Associate Master are to be discussed with the Associate Master.”
Master Nickolas? Lilian scans her memory, seeking a name. Protégé. Monsignor’s protégé. “Yes, milord.”
“All that occurs in this chamber is sealed to my security-privilege.” Lucius Mercio will have naught of his affairs revealed without his expressed consent.
“Yes, milord.” He has yet to touch her. In Lilian’s peripheral vision, the scarlet couch looms large.
“All that remains of your family are your mother and sister living here in the city.” It is a statement, although a question is implied.
The abrupt change in topic unbalances Lilian. It causes her to catch her breath and drop her eyes to her interrogator’s face. Her concern with the couch dissipates under the weight of greater concern.
“Yes, milord.” Did he notice the brief delay in her response? Focus on the Five Warriors.
“In your sister’s house. How did you manage to retain it?” Curiosity underlies the clipped tones.
Respond to the question. Do not volunteer. Breathe. “The house is of my mother’s family. While the trust was administered by the Grey Gyre Cartouche, it was never part of the property. The benefit of the trust passed to my sister on her tenth birth anniversary. The property was the required two degrees removed from taint and was not forfeited with the Grey Gyre holdings.”
“Have you doubt of your father’s guilt? Hold you any fanciful notion of cleansing the Gariten name and regaining warrior status?” The words are harsh.
Stunned by the question and its implications, Lilian again drops her gaze to milord wondering if she has handed herself over to the deranged. What a ludicrous notion. No, do not voice that.
Milord’s gaze is unwavering, commanding. He requires something, what? An acknowledgement. Piracy, fraud, decadents dealing, illegal servitude, lotteries; the list of crimes that sentenced Gariten to the Final Draught and Lilian to three years indentured servitude is long, ugly and undeniable.
“There is no doubt, milord. Remus Gariten was guilty of every transgression of which he was convicted.” And a great deal more.
“Come here, Lilian.” At the quiet command, Lilian’s heart lurches.
Here, where here? Walk toward the seated man. Where to stop?
In the end Lilian is unable to force a step past the invisible plane defined by the edge of milord’s knees. Shifting, milord reaches out with one hand to grip her waist and tug her closer until her knees press against the edge of the chair, his legs on either side of her thighs.
He will instruct you.
Milord leans in. The hand not holding Lilian moves languidly to trace her left hip, her waist. One long finger slides in between the waistband of her skirt and the silk of her blouse, tracing a pattern across her suddenly tautened mid-section.
“Lilian, Dean Joseph attested that you have known two men.” The tone is casual, expressing mild interest.
“Yes, milord,” Lilian acknowledges, at a loss as to the purpose of the inquiry.
“Both men were of appropriate lineage?” Milord is not looking at her face. He is involved with his physical explorations.
Keep your wits, ignore that finger. Respond to the question.
“Yes milord,” Lilian responds, bewildered by the inquiry. Her lineage is tainted. What matters the lineage of her former lovers? Do not. Do not.
“How long did these entanglements endure?” Milord’s gaze lifts, pinning her.
“This first, eight months, milord. The second, four.” Milord must know this. Dean Joseph would have yielded all.
Lucius considers Lilian’s responses. Her stoic countenance reveals little. Her tension at his touch reveals a great deal. Lucius rises and tightens his hand on Lilian’s waist. He pulls her close, forcing Lilian to arch backwards to meet his gaze. The gray eyes are wide with trepidation, her lips slightly parted. She trembles in his embrace. A brief trial is in order.
As milord rises, Lilian locks her knees. This was inevitable.
“So, until now, you have only been touched with love?” Milord inquires softly.
“Yes, milord.” The leisurely back and forth of that single digit along her abdomen causes tiny muscle tremors up and down her torso while Lilian’s eyes fixate on the sensual lips moving toward her.
And his mouth is on hers. Carnal. Lips slant across hers. Demanding.
Open your mouth, lack wit.
Milord’s tongue sweeps in; challenging, taking. Large, strong hands mold her against his length. Her breasts are pressed against milord’s chest, her thighs to his. As her senses swim, Lilian feels a stirring in the bulge at milord’s groin.
The kiss ends as suddenly as it began. Those strong hands stand her up and set her on her feet.
Set her on her feet?
One large hand cups the back of Lilian’s head as milord compels her to meet his forceful gaze. “Who may touch you?”
Bemused by her intense response to milord’s embrace, mind struggling, Lilian ponders, what was the question? Involuntarily, she blinks rapidly to counter the dark, penetrating eyes.
“Only milord,” Lilian recites, her wits finally reordering. As milord’s apprentice, carnal knowledge of her belongs to him and him alone.
“You will attend me this evening at the seventh bell. Mistress Marieth will instruct you on arrangements for transport.” The disconcerting scrutiny lightens. Milord’s mind is moving on to other matters.
“Yes, milord.” The hand cupping her head travels down the warrior queue, testing its weight.
“Lilian, wear your hair unbound.” The slightly distracted tone does not mislead, Lilian. It is a command.
“Yes, milord,” at Lilian’s words, milord releases her hair.
“You may leave me.”