Author: Maria Luis
I bow to no man.
The words are tattooed on my skin, just as they’re branded on my heart.
But I never planned for Sergeant Lincoln Asher, a man as deceptive as he is cold. His dominance sets my teeth on edge . . . and my body on fire. He won’t stop until I’m his, but I’m not his to take.
My secrets bind me—and blind me.
I live in the shadows of New Orleans. Hidden and protected in the underworld I call home. I know who I am.
I vow never to kneel before a man…
And he will be my downfall.
“My cards.” I lifted my gaze to her face. Shock resided in those hazel eyes of hers, as did distrust. She was right not to trust me—that was a fact. I cleared my throat. “Read my cards.”
Lifting a brow, I murmured, “Scared?”
“Of you?” Disbelief coated her tone like thick honey.
“You see anyone else standing here?” At her silence, I folded my arms over my chest. “Read my cards . . . unless maybe you are, just a little bit.”
Her teeth worked her bottom lip, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she broke the skin. “You don’t scare me.”
“Don’t I?” I tested her words, taking a step toward her and into her space. But she surprised me—for all the lip nibbling, she didn’t budge and she sure as hell didn’t retreat. Defiance radiated from every inch of her.
“No one scares me.”
Another lie, but I wouldn’t press her on it.
I only studied her, allowing my silence to bait her into giving in. Patience, man, have patience.
“Fine.” With a hard glare, she slipped the cards from their carton and shuffled them with sharp motions. “Two cards. Your past and your future.”
“What about my present?”
The shuffling slowed, then stalled completely. “It doesn’t matter. In a moment, this will be your past too.”
I wanted to tell her that she looked too damn young to be spouting out that sort of wisdom. But was she really that young? It was too dark to tell, and she didn’t give me the opportunity to give it another thought.
She cut the deck, wrists moving fluidly. Selected a card from the middle and held it up, allowing the sparse moonlight to reveal the image. I fought the urge to snag it from her grasp and look myself.
My chin jerked back. “Excuse me?”
“Ruin,” she reiterated, voice soft but unyielding, “it’s the Ten of Swords.”
“I have no idea what that means.”
Her teeth audibly clacked together. “I’m aware, sergeant. Ruin; it’s a card in the Minor Arcana.” She flicked her nail on the card, and then turned it toward me. In the slight shadows, all I saw was the color red and what looked to be a sword with a myriad of other, smaller swords piercing the largest one. “It represents a period of endless fighting, a struggle that you can’t win.”
This was a bad idea.
Maybe she was a fraud—in that moment, I hoped that to be true. I hoped that she’d lied to every single person who had ever sat at her table here in Jackson Square because I refused to believe that everything I had worked toward in the last thirty-six years had been for nothing.
My fingers sank into my dark hair, and I pulled at the strands fruitlessly.
Hazel eyes met mine. “With no hope, your past has led to your destruction.”
I opened my mouth to speak. Or maybe I only thought that I did.
There were no words—only blood. The blood I had spilled and the blood that I had given. Not for the first time in my life, I felt dirty, rotten all the way to my soul. And hopeless, like there was no end to the struggle and to the pain and to the goddamn detachment I forced upon myself so that I could do what I needed to do and not consider the consequences of my actions.
“Interested in your future?” she asked, already swiping another card from the deck.
No, I wanted to yell at her. If Ruin was my past, then it would only make sense that—
“Death.” She turned the card around to show me. “Your future is Death.”
And as I stood there woodenly, my fucking brain trying to wrap around the reality of my existence, she gathered her belongings and swept into the night.
Leaving me alone.
As I’d always been.
When she’s not writing about strong men and the sassy women who sweep them off their feet, Maria is a historian who specializes in medieval England and 19th century New Orleans. What do the two eras have in common, you ask? Not much, except for disease, scandalous activities and crime–Maria’s favorite topics.
Maria lives in New Orleans with her better half, where she can generally be found hiking with her two dogs, Zeus and Athena, kayaking in Louisiana’s inter-coastal waterways, or curled up on the couch with a good book.