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The Twelve Systems Trio: The Cartel, Bright Star & Transgressions
The Apprentice, Volumes 1-3
Volumes 1-3 of The Twelve Systems Chronicles
by EG Manetti
Genre: Science Fiction Romance, Space Opera
Where duty and passion collide.
The first three volumes of the awarding winning Twelve Systems Chronicles.
Life within the Serengeti Cartel is perilous, riddled with malice and intrigue that can threaten the mightiest of warriors. For Lilian – brilliant, despised, and one misstep away from execution for her father’s crimes – all that stands between her and destruction is the powerful warrior Lucius Mercio.
THE CARTEL: The Apprentice, Volume 1
Lucius Mercio commands one of the most powerful Cartels in the Twelve Systems. As clever and ambitious as he is ruthless, Lucius’ wealth, influence, and power place him among the elite of the warrior caste. It is not enough. Lucius intends to take his Cartel to unimaginable heights with the aid of Lilian’s brilliance. He faces only one obstacle. Lucius must keep Lilian alive.
BRIGHT STAR: The Apprentice, Volume 2
Lilian’s enemies are more determined than ever to see her destroyed. A visitor from her past will endanger her future and threaten to destroy Lucius’ slowly developing trust. To survive the next set of challenges Lilian will need to find new reserves of courage, wit, and determination.
TRANSGRESSIONS: The Apprentice, Volume 3
Determined to raise Serengeti to the pinnacle of power in the Twelve Systems, Lucius has ruthlessly exploited Lilian’s brilliance to achieve his ambitions. Within seasons, he will lead Serengeti to new heights with the launch of Bright Star, the first stellar exploration venture in over two centuries. With each new success, Lucius’ rivals multiply while a traitor stalks the halls of Serengeti, determined to thwart Lucius by any means. As the viciousness of her enemies escalates, Lilian is forced to confront the past and choose between betraying her oath of loyalty to Lucius and protecting the deadly secrets of her father’s dark acts.
“You have her in a pretty box, do you not?” Chin addresses His Preeminence. “Under the thirty-third, midday is the only respite sufficient for a meal. The thirty-fourth prohibits apprentices from consuming food at their worksites.”
Lilian is uncertain of the source of Master Chin’s ire. More intriguing is that he so readily displays it to milord and with such familiarity. Seigneur Marco never fails to address milord properly.
“I can do naught more with potions.” The master medic rises with his aide case. “It is your box, Lucius. Discover a means out of it.”
“Discover a means,” Lilian echoes. “That is what we call it, the Apprentice Protocol. Thirty-six strictures, and they all equate to the same stricture. Do not ask, do not complain, discover a means.”
With her eyes closed, Lilian does not see Lucius’ stunned face or Chin’s smile.
“The injection I gave her will make her increasingly talkative and a little silly until she falls asleep. Lilian is to be sent to her home for the next two days.” Chin is busily tapping his slate as he cavalierly issues orders to one of the most powerful warriors in the Twelve Systems.
“As you instruct, Chin,” Lucius acknowledges.
“I will examine her immediately upon her return to the cartel,” the master medic orders.
“Beg pardon, Master Medic, cannot,” Lilian responds, opening her eyes. “Eighth bell, I attend milord. Must. Not. Be. Late.”
“Very well, immediately thereafter,” Chin agrees.
At Chin’s exit, Lucius regards Lilian soberly, aware that he has missed the signs of her increasing desperation. “You have been seeking a way out of this box for some time, have you not?”
“Only a few sevendays, milord,” she replies with wide-eyed earnestness. “The box is supposed to open itself, but milord did not tire of me. I do not wish milord to, but then there is the box.”
Lilian’s wide gray eyes are slightly unfocused. The artless confession speaks volumes to the vulnerability she rarely displays. Chin is right, she is in a tight little box. With an inward sigh, Lucius acknowledges, “So you sought other solutions.”
“Yes, milord,” Lilian mumbles miserably into her lap.
With a single finger, Lucius lifts Lilian’s chin. Chin’s potions notwithstanding, she must understand his will in this. “In the future, you are to seek counsel with other than your doxy friends. Their suggestions bring you to grief.”
“Who then, milord?” Lilian entreats, desperation mingling with the drug-induced confusion.
Milord’s eyes narrow, and the finger leaves her chin to trace a path to her temple. After a moment, milord instructs, “Seek out Master Medic Chin for counsel.”
“Milord, I do not understand.” Lilian is beyond bewildered. “The strictures—”
“For this, and only for this, you are released from all the strictures but one and four.” Milord’s tone is gentle, as are the fingers that stroke her temple.
“Milord’s will in all matters, and only milord may touch me,” Lilian intones. Dazed by milord’s aspect and the medic’s potions, she voices her bewilderment. “Milord is being very kind.”
“I am not kind, am I?” Milord pushes a lock of hair from Lilian’s face. Her faint and the subsequent move to the couch have loosened the severe arrangement.
Turning her face into the pleasant stroking, Lilian considers the complex nature of the man who owns her bond. She must respond to milord’s query. “Devious, selfish, clever, ruthless, demanding. Not kind.”
Milord’s hand ceases its stroking. He wishes to know all. Searching for a moment, Lilian offers, “Not the Shade of the First, either. Silly story spread by stupid, lazy people.”
“I am pleased you believe so,” milord responds, his lips twitching slightly.
Milord is smiling. She wishes he would stroker her some more.
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The Apprentice, Volume 4
The Twelve Systems Chronicles Volume 4
For a year and a half, Lilian has endured the hostility, spite, and deadly violence of those who despise her for her father’s crimes. If not for the protection of the powerful warrior Lucius Mercio, Lilian might not have survived. Without Lilian’s courage and brilliance, Lucius might have lost the Serengeti Cartel to a vicious traitor. Instead, Lucius has total control of his Cartel, and few within Serengeti will risk his wrath to torment his apprentice.
Determined to advance his ambitions and reward Lilian for her role in his success, Lucius prepares for the voyage to Fortuna in the Fourth System. There, they will oversee the next phase of the first interstellar space exploration in two centuries. Lilian’s anticipation soon turns to dread as dark dreams haunt her nights, increasing in frequency and force as they journey to Fortuna. On a distant world, cut off from her few friends, Lilian will face dangerous intrigues as her nightmares take form.
Lucius tosses his jacket on a chair and drops onto the oversized couch. “What think you, Lilian?”
Lilian’s expression closes. “The accommodations are very fine.
At his narrowed gaze, she adds, “Much nicer than the utilitarian accommodations of a militia stellar transport.”
As he suspected, evil memories of her protocol review haunt his apprentice. Although Lilian does not know it, he owns the only recording of Remus Gariten’s Final Draught and the ugly scene it included. The vicious militia corporal who allowed Lilian’s abuse no longer lives. Trevelyan’s operatives eliminated that particular threat to his apprentice with their customary efficiency. It occurs to Lucius that the pervert might not have been the only one. Media reports of prisoner abuse are common enough. Reaching out a hand, he pulls her down next to him on the couch, encircling her shoulders with one arm. “Were they cruel to you?”
Raising startled eyes, she shakes her head in denial. “No, milord. For the most part, the militia officers were indifferent. Prisoners are but cargo to be transported safely, free of damage, and with as little effort as possible.”
A shadow flickers across her face, and she adds, “There was one very nasty corporal. Fortunately, I was no longer a prisoner when I encountered him.”
With a gentle squeeze, he encourages Lilian to continue. If there is aught of the corporal Lucius does not know, he will know it now.
Her features lightening, she says, “He came to a violent end some months gone. It was in the media. I admit, I pray regularly for the well-being of his murderers.”
Stunned and amused, he pulls her in for a kiss. Releasing her after several enjoyable moments, he notes with pleasure her wide eyes and red, swollen lips. A heartbeat later, sharp intellect replaces Lilian’s bemusement and a hint of wariness. “Should I be naming Seigneur Trevelyan in my prayers?”
Demon shit. She is well aware Trevelyan’s services are often less than legal, and she is beyond intuitive.
At his silence, her eyes darken. “Milord has viewed the recording.”
Lucius wonders at her distress. The man was a threat to Lilian, and she was pleased to pray for his killers. “I have.”
Lilian drops her eyes, her fingers nervously tracing the weave of her cheap linen skirt. “Milord is not . . . my behavior . . . I . . .”
Provoked by Gariten’s verbal abuse of her mother and sister, Lilian put her thorn to her sire’s throat and compelled him to swallow the Final Draught. Cupping her chin, he tilts her face to meet his gaze. “Peace, woman. You have no cause for shame. The corporal should never have permitted Gariten’s tirade. It was the corporal’s duty to administer the Draught. You did naught but what was necessary.”
Lilian’s eyes brighten with emotion. Lowering her lashes, she turns her face into his hand to kiss his fingers. Her murmured ‘my thanks, milord’ is felt as much as heard. The gesture sends a familiar stab of lust to his groin and a curious warmth to his heart. Unable to resist, he asks, “Will your prayers add my name to Trevelyan’s?”
“Milord’s name has long been included.”
Both lust and the odd warmth ignite into heat. Lucius drags Lilian close, claiming her mouth.
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The Apprentice, Volume 5
The Twelve Systems Chronicles Volume 5
Where passion and duty collide – The Twelve Systems Chronicles.
Ruthless, devious, and ambitious, Lucius Mercio has elevated the Serengeti Group to the third wealthiest cartel in the Twelve Systems, cementing his place among the twelve most powerful members of the ruling warrior class. With Lucius’ rise, his enemies increase in both number and subtlety. Few will dare to attack Lucius directly, instead they will move in secret, targeting the most vulnerable aspects of his empire including his disgraced and reviled apprentice, Lilian.
As Lilian begins the third and final year of her trial by ordeal, she is more determined than ever to survive and repay Lucius’ protection and trust with loyalty and diligence. Expecting only the meager assignments reserved for apprentices, Lilian was stunned to receive the conservatorship of a valuable Vistrite Crevasse—an honor reserved for proven and trusted warriors. When a lethal disaster strikes Desperation Mine and Refinery and imperils Lilian’s conservatorship, hidden adversaries seize the opportunity to plot the downfall of Serengeti.
Limbs pleasantly languid in the aftermath of passion, Lilian savors the view of milord’s long legs, well-muscled buttocks, lean waist, strong back, and broad shoulders. Lured by the enticing expanse of olive skin, she trails her fingers along one hard thigh to buttock, where she lingers to explore. Fascinated by the shape and texture, she sets lips and tongue to the exploration. The muscle tautens and shifts under her lips. Easing to her side, she meets milord’s heavy-lidded regard.
One of his arms snakes out, pulling her close. “I may need a moment to recover.”
“Recover, milord?” she asks. Lackwit. His indulgence has limits. “I beg pardon, milord. I did not intend—”
“Peace.” Milord places a finger against her lips. “I but tease.”
Resisting the urge to nip his finger, she curls against his side, reveling in his warm, hard length.
He stretches, and the soft sheet slides up, cocooning her in his warmth. “What possessed you to permit that rodent in the house?”
Horror. Milord’s reaction to Gloribelle was horror, not amusement. Knowing it will not truly mitigate, Lilian defends her laxity. “Gloribelle is not permitted in the house, only the kitchen and the garden shed.”
“Only the kitchen?” Milord rumbles. “With your food.”
“It is not as bad as it seems. She leaves her personal soil somewhere in the overgrown gardens and she sheds no more than a cat or dog.”
“A cat or dog would be better. And strays are not hard to come by have you not the funds for a purebred.”
“A cat or dog is far more vulnerable than a tree wombat. I would not risk exposing one to the spite of our neighbors.”
His arm tightens, his free hand tracing slow circles on her hip. “But a tree wombat?”
“Katleen rescued it as a pup. It was meant to live in the garden shed, but they became attached, and I could not refuse it the kitchen when the rains came.”
Milord’s lips feather across her forehead. “My father would not allow my favorite wolfhound anywhere but the kennels. He was not pleased when he discovered I smuggled Colmillo onto the transport when I left for Mulan’s Temple.”
“Milord smuggled a wolfhound onto a stellar transport?” She tilts her head to meet his gaze. Wolfhounds are highly prized as watchdogs and weigh eight to ten stone. Not a creature one can readily hide. “How was that possible?”
“Generous bribes to the porter and the aid of Solomon and Sabri.” His smile is warm with recall.
“Master Sabri, milord?” She thought she knew every member of milord’s extended family.
“My personal servitor. I had not much cared for him until then.”
She knows not what to say. A warrior’s personal servitor does more than tend to personal effects and grooming. Chosen after the age of consent and before entering advanced studies, the personal servitor is part confidant and part advisor, aiding the warrior in passage to full adulthood. To have a personal servitor one does not care for would be extremely unpleasant.
“My father feared I was too unconventional and rebellious,” milord replies to her unspoken questions. “Sabri was the least offensive of the choices.”
“He helped milord take a dog to university. He sounds a bit unconventional.”
“He is not.” Milord laughs, rolling her onto her back. “Helping me steal Colmillo was the only defiant action of his entire life. For some reason, he took a liking to Colmillo and Colmillo to him.”
“Perhaps Mr. Sabri wished to please milord?” It is a motivation she well understands.
“Perhaps he wished the status of personal servitor to the Blooded Dagger preeminence,” he counters. “At the time I cared naught, I wished only to have my dog.” Dropping a kiss on her lips, milord asks, “What became of yours?”
She founders, distracted by his kiss. “I have never had a pet.”
His lips curve against her shoulder. “Personal servitor.”
Crevasse swallow it. She cares naught for the turn in conversation. “I declined to select one.”
“Truly?” He raises his head, eyes curious. “Dean Joseph permitted it?”
“The dean was not pleased,” she admits. “But he lacked the authority to compel me.”
“He would not have appealed to Gariten.” She was in Dean Joseph’s care to protect her from her sire. “But why did you decline?”
“Privacy, milord.” It is well milord knows so much of her history. “Personal servitors come to know everything, and I had a good deal to hide.”
“By then, as I recall, you were planning patricide.” He pushes back and rises. “A personal servitor would have been a danger.”
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The Apprentice, Volume 6
The Twelve Systems Chronicles Volume 6
~ Where duty and passion collide~
With only a season and half left to her bond, Lilian’s enemies are becoming desperate, and those who would see her fail seek any infraction, no matter how minor, to deny her bond proof. Haunted by the memory of the Serengeti fallen and her actions in eradicating the Despoilers, Lilian struggles to retain her discipline for the final five months of her apprenticeship. With her actions in the battle of Serengeti proving her valor and loyalty beyond doubt, only the honor proof remains – adherence to the rigid and complex Apprentice Protocol. Although few within Serengeti will challenge her bond proof, throughout the Twelve Systems, those who wagered against her are facing penury and will stop at nothing to keep her from surviving.
With Damocles and Despoilers defeated, Lucius’ power with Serengeti and the Third System is uncontested. Determined to advance his ambitions, Lucius lays plans for a triumphant launch of his revolutionary stellar exploration vehicle, the Nightingale. As he prepares to depart for Fortuna, a new threat appears in the form of a charismatic prelate who rouses the populace against Bright Star and Lilian’s role the venture. The prelate will prove but the first among many determined to thwart him through any means, including his notorious apprentice.
When thousands gather on Fortuna for the historical launch of the Nightingale into orbit, Lilian finds herself treading a blade’s edge as she attempts to adhere to the Apprentice Protocol among adversaries who are increasingly desperate and bold. Planned as a celebration of Serengeti achievement, the Fortuna voyage becomes a nightmare where she is faced with deadly opponents intent on her destruction.
“Whore of anarchy’? Impalement?” Milord scrolls through the queue. “Entrails devoured by crevasse-crawlers? Who sent these?”
“I know not, milord. They are anonymous. Do I find aught of a credible threat, I will turn it over to Mr. Stefan.”
“Credible?” He sets aside the slate to capture her wrist. “How many have you received? How many were credible?”
“For the past year, there have been naught but two or three each sevenday.” Lilian searches milord’s expression and finds more concern than anger. “None were credible. Since the battle, they have increased, and several were alarming.”
“Despoilers?” He tugs her into his lap. “You feared they came from Despoilers?”
“I dared not risk it,” she says, curling into him. “Most are naught but the hostile works of dark souls with no will or ability to act. But I have not had time to update the filters to seek evidence of Despoilers, so I have reviewed them all. As it happens, some appear to be from Newtonites.”
His arms tighten. “Whore of anarchy. I thought it familiar. What is this of filters?”
“When I entered the cartel, I lacked the bells to review them, but I could not ignore them. I developed filters to identify those with threats specific enough to be credible.”
“Sinead’s Keeper added shrine guards to Maman’s escort after one. I transferred Katleen’s race training from the Garden Center to the River Quarter after another.”
Milord strokes her back. “At least now you can refer them to Mr. Stefan. But you should not review them at all. It is no wonder you cannot sleep.”
“I plan to update the filters on Seventh Day. I will add parameters for Newtonites as well as Despoilers. Even if the threat is not credible, the Seigneur Trevelyan may wish to trace them to the source.”
“Turn your filters over to Trevelyan and have one of his operatives update them. They can update the filters on my alerts at the same time. I doubt the Newtonites will be aught but a bad jest in another two sevendays, but any hint of a Despoiler must be investigated.”
Raising her face to his, she nods. “As milord wills.”
His lips are tantalizingly close, a mere fingertip from hers. His hand slides from her back to her hip and lower. His mouth descends and teases along hers in a gentle kiss. Lilian’s eyes drift closed as her hands encircle milord’s neck. The delicate caress becomes insistent, his tongue dancing at the seam of her lips. She parts her lips, inviting him in, senses swimming under the sensual onslaught. Milord turns Lilian in his lap, freeing one large hand to roam her from thigh to breast, warming her flesh and firing her blood.
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The Apprentice, Volume 7
The Twelve Systems Chronicles Volume 7
In defiance of the odds, Lilian is within a month of proving her bond, driving desperate Odds Managers to ever increasing bounties on her life—every step beyond the security of the cartel is perilous. Within the cartel, she must put aside her fear, giving all her attention to her duty and the decorum demanded of an apprentice.
The success of the Nightingale launch has brought Lucius and Serengeti into the center of Twelve Systems commerce. As the Nightingale Command Crew is gathers on Metricelli Prime to prepare for the dangerous voyage to the Thirteenth System, whispers of pirates emerge from the Eleventh and Twelfth Systems. A decade before, pirates almost to toppled Serengeti, their reemergence so close to the Nightingale launch endangers all Lucius has achieved. When a group of free-traders arrive from those distant systems, they threaten to resurrect an ancient Mercio scandal that could undermine the honor of Blooded Dagger and Serengeti, and imperil all Lucius’ values.
In the final days of Lilian’s apprenticeship, danger lurks in every shadow. It will require all Lucius’ power and Lilian’s courage to achieve her bond proof.
Springing to her feet, Lilian’s face is bright with enjoyment. Caoimhe grins and waits for Lilian to close. The Eleventh System champion is cunning and merciless.
Lucius cannot contain a grin as Lilian unleashes her full capabilities. It is though the free-trader battles water. Another half period passes. Neither combatant gains advantage. Both women are sweating and bruised. Lilian’s split lip is complemented by blood caking one of Caoimhe’s nostrils. Rolling away from Lilian’s flying foot, Caoimhe dives at Lilian, attempting to use surprise and momentum for a quick topple. Lilian leaps aside, only to find her legs tangled with her assailant as they tumble to the mat. Both women are down; neither can claim a fall.
Sharp pain lances from Lilian’s left ankle to meet a dull throb in her ribs. The twisted ankle was a misfortune of combat. The bruised ribs were a deliberate strike. Had Lilian been a moment slower, the hard elbow blow would have struck her solar plexus and brought her down. She scrambles to her hands and knees, her breath coming hard. She ignores pain and short breath to pull free and find her feet before Caoimhe can pin her and force her to yield.
Caoimhe pushes her advantage, diving at Lilian to bring her down again. It is a mistake. Lilian flows free of the strike and this time, she finds Caoimhe’s blind spot, having learned to compensate for the woman’s agility. As the free-trader finds her feet, she is pulled to her toes by a steel grip on her wrist that yanks her arm high to her shoulder blades, her back arched. An attempt to shift forward is greeted with a violent tug. Caoimhe may yield or risk a dislocated shoulder. She yields. The women are tied.
Once again, the mixture of cheers and groans fades to the murmur of commerce.
Lilian dances away from her foe, noting that Caoimhe’s movements are slowing. The assassin is trained to make short work of her adversaries. The prolonged exhibition has eroded the free-trader’s stamina. In a series of rapid and distracting moves, Lilian closes with Caoimhe and tumbles her to the floor.
All Lilian need do now is keep to her feet for the final four minutes of the match. The sharp pain in her ankle has transmuted to a dull, insistent throb. It drowns out the discomfort of all her other bruises, including her abused ribs. Her movements are ragged as she compensates for her injuries, but she is not overtaken. The match timer chimes.
Around Lucius wagers are settled. Jurian’s protégé, Prospero, pays out to Fletcher, saying, “She refused to engage in the end. There are no match timers in true combat. It was a meager strategy.”
“She won by the terms of the contest,” Fletcher replies even as Jurian voices agreement with Prospero.
Although he wishes to defend Lilian, Lucius cannot argue with his Vistrite seigneur in front of their rivals.
“I disagree.” William enters the conversation. “Mistress Lilian is a gifted strategist who exploited the battle parameters for success.”
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Thornraven Volume 1
The Twelve Systems Chronicles Volume 8
After three years of trial, Lilian is free and Monsignor Lucius Mercio’s protege. Her triumph comes at cost. Fearful of Lady Estella’s wrath, Lilian has refused to continue her liaison with Lucius, breaking her heart and straining her relationship with Lucius. She is stunned to discover that Estella is entering her final days and wishes Lilian to return to Lucius and help him through his grief.
Lilian and Lucius’ relationship has only begun to repair, when duty demands she travel to the distant planet Desperation. There, she will confront her deepest fears when the theft of dangerous technology forces her to descend into the depths of Desperation Crevasse. In the frigid wastes at the bottom of the Crevasse, Lilian will discover an ancient legacy of the Five Warriors and Adelaide.
The worst of Lucius’ grief at Estella’s loss has barely passed when his world shatters again. Lilian has disappeared into Desperation Crevasse. He cannot lose them both. Determined to rescue Lilian, no matter the cost, he races toward the Sixth System and deadly danger.
Author’s note: This is the eighth book in the Twelve Systems Chronicles and a continuation of the story that begins in The Cartel: The Apprentice, Volume 1.
Heady with success but weary from periods of unrelenting social graciousness, Lilian follows Monsignor into a windowed alcove where they can observe the exuberant crowd without being approached. “Monsignor, may I be permitted to know how it was designed that Monsignor Hercules would have Monsignor Persia so well positioned?”
“Hercules’ task was to have the most conservative monsignor he could locate engaged with the governor when we arrived. That it was Persia was the Luck of the First. I am aware that she and Lady Tobi insulted you in Jonathan’s Museum.”
What says he?
Monsignor’s eyes hood. “Katleen said something about it to my son. It was not difficult to discover the whole. We can do little to answer the past insult, but I do not believe you will be subject to such again.”
The evening has been beyond her expectations. Had she remained a warrior she would not have been better received. Monsignor’s care for her sets off a warm glow that morphs to desire, muscles contracting low in her abdomen.
Master desire. Lucius’ sex throbs in response to the combination of admiration and desire in Lilian’s gaze. He forces his attention to the throng. A handsome blond warrior passes them, his eyes wandering over Lilian’s form before rising to her face. With a start, and remarkable speed given the packed chamber, the man forces his way to the nearest exit. Hidden from the chamber, Lucius runs a hand between Lilian’s shoulder blades. “Know you that warrior?”
Lilian arches against his fingers. “That is Patrick Volsted.” Three years prior, Patrick Volsted capped his campaign of torment and insult against her with assault and attempted rape. “Did Monsignor note the length of his hair? He keeps his ears covered.”
“The piece you took was lost and could not be reattached,” Lucius recalls, dropping his hand to cup one buttock.
Lilian’s shoulders twitch with mirth. “It was night and there was much confusion.”
“What know you of that lout’s ear?”
“Naught for certain, Monsignor.”
Tightening his hand on the silk-clad mound, he warns, “Woman, do not try me.”
She wriggles in his grasp, her flush indicating pleasure. “Mr. Hidaka has a mongrel dog with a regrettable fondness for street debris. In the confusion of the militia’s arrival, she wandered free for some moments.”
“Are you giving me to understand that Hidaka fed that lout’s ear to his dog?”
Lilian protests with mock shock. “That would be a serious transgression. I assure Monsignor, Mr. Hidaka is the most upright of citizens.”
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Thornraven Volume 2
The Twelve Systems Chronicles Volume 9
~ Where duty and passion collide. ~
Within days of being rescued from Desperation Crevasse, Lilian must return at Lucius’ side as his shield bearer. Together with their guild allies, they will confront the Despoilers and end their threat to Blooded Dagger and the cartel. In the savage battle, Lucius is injured leaving Lilian to protect him, Blooded Dagger, and the cartel.
Stranded on Desperation until he recovers, Lucius gathers his allies to protect his interests from rivals determined to exploit his weakness. With the aid of ancient guild lore, he and Lilian will seek to uncover the remaining Despoilers and penetrate the mystery of an ancient prophecy. Before he can return to Crevasse City and his center of power, one if his inner circle will challenge his preeminence and threaten Lilian’s survival. It will take all his cunning and Lilian’s courage to counter the betrayal before it endangers the Nightingale’s voyage to the Thirteenth System.
Across the Twelve Systems, from Desperation to Metricelli Prime, and Fortuna, Lilian and Lucius will battle to protect their love and forge a future for themselves, Blooded Dagger, Serengeti, and the Twelve Systems.
Author’s note: This is the ninth book in the Twelve Systems Chronicles and a continuation of the story that begins in The Cartel: The Apprentice, Volume 1.
An army of a thousand does not seem so large until it is viewed arrayed on a cavern floor, surrounding a fortress. Lilian looks again. Something is amiss. She scans the closest encampment and the next. “Paladin, from the stronghold to the sentries, is that one hundred paces? And from our position to the far side of the stronghold—another three hundred paces?”
Baldric steps to her shoulder and peers into the cavern. “To the far side of the stronghold, aye. For the other, more like 110. Why ask you?”
Five warriors take it. “The Despoilers have a quarter thousand attacking in the south, and there are at least a thousand in the encampments.”
“What say you?”
Monsignor turns to her. “How certain are you?”
“There is some movement and I used but three sample sections to calculate.”
“Ninety-one point zero seven five percent.”
Monsignor’s mouth thins. “Commandant, Trevelyan, there are two to three hundred more Despoilers than expected. We cannot assume they are Harrous’ reserves.”
The commandant pushes in by the spymaster. “We are not planning a frontal assault. It is only the two hundred in our path that concern us.”
Monsignor turns to Lilian.
“Two fifty. Mayhap three hundred.”
In the dim light the commandant frowns and looks at the spymaster. “It does not materially alter our attack. We must go now or wait for Seigneur Sarai’s reinforcements.”
Mr. Baldric makes a rough sound. “If we wait, the stronghold will be lost.”
Monsignor readies his rifle. “We go.”
Seigneur Trevelyan’s soft voice comes from Monsignor’s right. “A pair of sentries every twenty paces.”
Monsignor’s fingers graze her wrist. “Paladin, take out the sentries.”
Hidden by the darkness, Lilian touches her fingertips to his. Taking a deep breath, she slides her fireburst rifle from her shoulder. Turning, she follows Deidre to the third echelon. Monsignor joins the second, and Seigneur Trevelyan the first. The staggered formation gives Lilian an unobstructed view of the far side of the cavern and the glow of the entrances. Her helmet buzzes. “Sentries down.”
Monsignor’s voice comes over the helmet. “Serengeti!”
I am the foundation of my family. The first echelon races for the edge of the slope and down. The second follows, Lilian’s eyes locked on Monsignor’s tall form. When half of the second echelon passes the crest, Deidre commands, “Forward.”
Lilian leaps over the crest, fireburst rifle at the ready, the last of the second echelon to her left.
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Thornraven Volume 3
The Twelve Systems Chronicles Volume 10
Four years ago, Lilian left the First System ruined, indentured, and in peril of execution. Now as the Nightingale flies toward the Thirteenth System, she returns to the glittering spires of Pinnacle City, triumphant and soon to be consort to the ruthless and powerful Lucius Mercio. With her dreams within reach, she discovers disturbing clues to the identities of the Despoilers, a vile sect bent on returning the Twelve Systems to bloody anarchy. Beset by ominous prophecy and dire Guild revelations, Lilian must set aside her desires to accept a thorn bearer’s duty—a quest to uncover the leaders of these ancient adversaries of order.
With his cartouche and cartel weakened by his kinsman’s betrayal, Lucius must let Lilian complete her quest alone. Resolved to protect her from afar, Lucius will utilize every resource at his command. But even his considerable shadow may be too small to save her from a web of deceit and corruption that exceeds their worst imaginings. With their enemy’s reach far greater than they feared, Lucius must race to forge new alliances and exploit old ones before the Despoilers lay waste to the Twelve Systems.
In the uncharted expanse of the Thirteenth System, Lucius and Lilian will risk all to defeat the forces of darkness.
Dazed with wonder, Lilian half listens to Lucius’ children chatter about the Nightingale’s flight. A day gone, she was wretched with the knowledge that Lucius’ love for her had made him vulnerable to attacks on his preeminence and that his mother and sister detest her.
While naught has altered either woman’s opinion, the meager nature of Jurian’s challenge was apparent during the Nightingale’s flight. The Twelve Systems elite offered naught but courtesy and admiration when she took the place of honor at Lucius’ side.
Even more dazzling, he wishes her as consort. He shifts in his seat, a faint scent of the sea reaching her. Relaxing into the scent, she gazes unseeing through the transport window, the passing city fading to mist.
She shivers. . . her manacled hands unable to reach her shoulders to warm and comfort. Bound and on her knees, she stares into Benmyn’s hate filed countenance as he spits on her.
Lucius presses his knee to hers. “Lilian?”
His dark eyes capture hers. His compelling features fill with concern. “Are you well?”
Well? Shaking off the mist, she nods. “I beg pardon. I believe I dozed off.”
He glances down at her hand gripping the thorn. “An ill dream.”
Relaxing her fingers, she attempts a reassuring smile. “More a memory. It was naught.”
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Award winning author, EG Manetti has always enjoyed a vivid imagination and occasional scribbling. In 2010 she was struck by the inspiration for The Twelve Systems Chronicles. The draft of a single novel soon became three, and then more. In 2012, after several hundred thousand words, The Cartel: The Apprentice, Volume 1 was published, followed by nine other volumes. The tenth and final volume of The Twelve Systems Chronicles, Thorn Bearer, released September 21, 2021. To date, the four volumes and the series have received Reviewers’ Choice Awards from the Paranormal Romance Guild, and volumes three and five, and seven, and nine were finalists for the prestigious InD’tale RONE Award (Reward for Novel Excellence), and Shield Bearer (Volume 9) received the 2021 RONE for Science Fiction.
A former information technology project manager, EG writes as often as possible, cooks exceptionally, and gardens adequately. She resides in Florida with her beloved (and often confounded) husband and their severely OCD Jack Russell Terrier.
The Twelve Systems Chronicles are epic science fiction romance that blends elements of space opera with the intrigue and suspense of a political thriller.
“With characters that jump off the page, love that is forbidden yet unstoppable mixed with top-notch worlds and technology, sci-fi has never looked so good or become so addictive!” ~ InD’Tale Magazine, February 2018.