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Today, the manuscript for Fortuna: The Apprentice, Volume 4 went to Razor Sharp editing for final development edits.  It's always an intense moment.  I'm thrilled I have the story completed.  I'm terrified that editor will come back with so much red that I'll need to start over. It happens.


So, I'll be biting my nails for the next two weeks, waiting for the edit. I want Razor Sharp to be ruthless - it will make for a better book.  I want Razor Sharp to love it because, well, I do.   Hence, the nail biting.


In the meantime, a not-yet-editor-approved excerpt to celebrate the milestone.


***Chapter 1 begins the day after Transgressions: The Apprentice, Volume 3 ends***

Leaning back in the scarlet leather desk chair, Lucius gazes out at the capital of the Third System. Crevasse City straddles the origin of the Great Crevasse, the largest Vistrite mine in the Twelve Systems. Once the foundation of Fourth Warrior’s kingdom, they form the center of Lucius’ modern empire. It has only been a sevenday since Sebastian Mehta was banished from the Cartel, taking his ill-temper and ceaseless intrigues with him. Lucius can look forward to attending the Bright Star Summit without needing to worry that in his absence, Sebastian will create new problems.


At the sound of eighth bell chimes, the scarlet door recesses and Lilian steps lightly into the chamber, the lithe grace of her slender form highlighted by the stark black suit of a Blooded Dagger apprentice. Pulled tightly to her head and constrained in a warrior’s queue, Lilian’s dark red hair appears nearly as black as the suit. The severe hairstyle reveals her fine bone structure, creamy complexion, and most importantly to Lucius, gray eyes unclouded by weariness or anxiety.


Their late night passion has not left her weary. If anything, she appears better for it. The evidence of Lilian’s remarkable resiliency is pleasing, but Lucius does not trust it. Lilian endured terrible abuse at the hands of Sebastian Mehta and his protégé Martin. For all her apparent wellbeing, Lucius remains concerned that the violent assaults of the past two-years have pushed her to the verge of collapse.  If she were another, Lucius would give her several sevendays respite to fully recover.  It will not serve. The terms of trial by ordeal forbid it and her involvement in both Bright Star and Mercium make such measures impractical. As it is, all Lucius fully intends to keep her assignment load in check through the Bright Star Summit on Fortuna nearly two months hence.  The stellar voyage and the summit will allow Lucius to provide her with increased respite without it becoming visible.  For the moment, all he can do is watch her and continue with commerce as usual.


“What have you for me?” Lucius smiles the routine command as Lilian comes to attention on the far side of his expansive ebony desk.


“The most recent Bright Star financials,” Lilian replies, pulling forth her slate. With a quick glance at her notes, Lilian launches into her prepared status recitation. There is nothing new in the routine report, but that is not the purpose. It is an exercise in commerce discipline. It also offers Lucius the opportunity to relax and enjoy the sight of Lilian’s long legs, revealed by the skirt hemmed four inches above her knee as he requires.


“Well done,” Lucius acknowledges as Lilian completes her recitation. “You need not attend me this midday.”


“Yes, milord.” Lilian’s dutiful response holds a flattering hint of regret.


Lucius regrets it as well. As much as he enjoys bending Lilian over his desk, he has a much less pleasant task this midday. Normally, a public caning would not be worth his time. In this instance, he has no choice. “I will be absent from the Cartel.”


At his words, Lilian’s face closes into shuttered, stoic lines. The slender fingers flutter along the scarlet conservator seal. Demon shit! Lilian is well aware of what takes Lucius from the Cartel this day. The reminder can be naught but distressing for her.
Pushing back his chair, Lucius beckons his apprentice. “Come here.”


Obediently, Lilian rounds the desk and steps between his spread thighs. Setting his hands on her waist, Lucius can feel her tension. Watching her face for the least sign of emotion, Lucius rubs his thumbs lightly – and he hopes reassuringly – across her taut midriff. “He cannot hurt you again. After this day, Martin Argon will be banished from the Third System.”


“Yes milord,” Lilian agrees, her spine relaxing slightly. “I will be glad when it is done, and he is gone.”


“I as well,” Lucius admits. Martin’s Cartel caning and banishment were but the start of his penalties for his assault on Lilian. Under the governing protocols, an assault on Lucius’ conservator is treated as assault on Lucius. The civil authorities have extracted additional fines on Lucius behalf and sentenced Martin to a public caning. Lucius does not ask again if Lilian wishes to witness the event, aware of her profound aversion to corporal punishment due to Gariten’s abuse of her mother. She witnessed Martin’s Cartel caning because it could not be avoided. Simply knowing about today’s execution may well be causing the return of evil memories.


When Lilian entered the Cartel, Sebastian Mehta was monsignor of Grey Spear Cartouche and a Cartel governor. For over a decade Sebastian had thwarted Lucius’ ambitions and attempted to undermine his authority. One of Sebastian’s cruelest intrigues saw Lilian viciously scourged. Within a season, it was followed by Martin’s assault in the Archives. As it is, Lilian is safe, and Martin is to be caned for his crimes. Sebastian has been swept from the Cartel as ‘disordered in his wits,’ a victory Lucius achieved with significant aid from his rapidly paling apprentice. “Will it be well with you this day?”


“Yes milord,” Lilian insists tightly. “I beg milord’s pardon. I did not mean to …”


With a helpless gesture, Lilian trails off, unable to find words for the emotions she is repressing.

Knowing there is naught else he can say to relieve Lilian’s distress, Lucius settles for pulling her into his lap for a prolonged kiss.

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