After being trapped in his animal form for centuries by a curse, freedom is new and almost uncomfortable for shape-shifting warrior Mordecai. He did his time in Hell, and it left a stain on his soul and strained his ties with his fellow warriors.
Jessica enjoyed the easy friendship she had with Mordecai, but he’s grown as distant as the stars lately. Still, it’s impossible to stay away from him, and she’s sure he feels that irresistible pull, too.
Mordecai knows Hades can’t get to him physically, but although he might try to deny it, he knows he has a weak spot. Jessica. Worried that Hades could hurt her to get to him, Mordecai’s tried to keep his distance, but there’s no stopping this kind of connection.
Each book in the Hades’ Carnival series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Night of the Tiger
Book #2 Mark of the Bear
Book #3 Pride of the Lion
Book #4 Howl of the Wolf
Book #5 Heart of the Serpent
Book #6 Flame of the Phoenix
Book #7 Lure of the Jaguar
About the Author
Once upon a time N.J. had the idea that she would like to quit her job at the bookstore, sell everything she owned, leave her hometown, and write romance novels in a place where no one knew her. And she did. Two years later, she went back to the bookstore and her hometown and settled in for another seven years. One day she gave notice at her job on a Friday morning. On Sunday afternoon, she received a tentative acceptance for her first romance novel and life would never be the same.
N.J. Walters is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has always been a voracious reader, and now she spends her days writing novels of her own. Vampires, werewolves, dragons, time-travelers, seductive handymen, and next-door neighbors with smoldering good looks—all vie for her attention. It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to live it.
Read an Excerpt
Mordecai stood outside the stately old house in the French Quarter and stared up at the apartment on the top floor. She was up there. Jessica Miller, solitary witch and the woman who'd given him his soul back. A dark shadow passed across the closed drapes, and he knew it was her silhouetted briefly before she moved away.
"You coming inside or standing out here all night?"
Mordecai sighed and turned his attention to his friend and fellow immortal warrior. Arand was standing next to him holding a large paper bag filled with groceries. In spite of himself, the image made him smile. Badass wolf bringing home bread, milk and other sundries to the little woman. He envied his friend. Not only had Arand gained his freedom from the curse that had imprisoned them for more than five-thousand years, but he'd also found his heart, the other half of himself in the woman who'd set him free.
"I was out for a walk," Mordecai told his friend. Not a lie, but not the entire truth either. He had taken a walk. He'd followed Jessica home from Café Ledet, the eclectic coffee shop owned by her friend Tilly. The streets weren't always safe for a woman walking alone, and Mordecai was determined that no harm would befall Jessica.
"Come up and have dinner with me and Sabrina," Arand offered. Mordecai knew his friend was genuine with his offer, but he just wanted to be left alone.
He knew his fellow warriors had forgiven him for what he'd done, but he hadn't forgiven himself yet and might never be able to. And even though they understood why he'd done what he had, his relationship with them wasn't the same as it had been before. And how could it be when he'd willingly joined with Hades. Yes, he'd done it to try to save them all, but in hindsight, he couldn't be certain how much good it had actually done.
Trust would always be an issue between them.
"Thank you, but I think I'll sit in the garden for a while." He turned and sauntered off through the iron gate and into the courtyard. It actually encompassed the back of two houses. Arand and his mate had bought one of them and Mordecai had purchased the other.
"If you change your mind, come on up," Arand called after him. He waved his hand in acknowledgement of the invitation but kept on going, needing the solitude.
It was still difficult for Mordecai to be around his friends. There was a darkness in him that seemed to grow larger with each passing day. He sucked in a deep breath and was enveloped by the sweet scent of the flowers and herbs that bloomed in the garden. The space was really rather lovely and quite private. Tall stone walls, an iron gate and a wild explosion of plants made it seem quite isolated, an oasis in the heart of a major city.
Mordecai lowered himself onto a stone bench situated in a dark corner and peered up at the two houses. Both homes stood three-stories high and had been partitioned into apartments years ago. The buildings had been well maintained, and the previous owners had kept much of the original character and details of the homes that made them so unique. They'd needed little updating before he and the others had moved in. In all the years he'd spent dwelling in Hell, Mordecai had never pictured himself living in such a place, surrounded by this kind of beauty.
He was one of the seven immortal warriors who followed the Lady of the Beasts, goddess of all the animals. A war with the Greek gods centuries ago had resulted in the Lady being trapped in Hell and her shapeshifting warriors cursed to remain in their animal forms for long, long years. So much time. Lost forever.
Hades had finally been defeated, but not without some tragedy. Mordecai rubbed his chest over the vicinity of his heart. He had not escaped unscathed. But all the warriors were alive, and that was what mattered. Roric, the tiger, lived with his mate Aimee in North Carolina. Marko, the bear, was currently residing in California with his mate, Kellsie. And Leander, the mighty lion, was happy with his Araminta in North Dakota.
Of all of them remaining in New Orleans, only Arand was mated. He and his Sabrina lived in one of the houses and the other three apartments were ready and waiting for the other warriors and their mates whenever they wished to visit.
The other two unmated warriors, Stavros the jaguar and Phoenix, lived in the home Mordecai had purchased. Each occupied one of the apartments. With each home having four apartments, that had left one vacant in his building. Mordecai had offered it to Jessica. He hadn't liked the idea of her living alone. This apartment gave Jessica her own space, but she was also surrounded by immortal warriors, all of whom would lay down their life to protect her.
A much better arrangement.
After so many years of imprisonment and torment, all of them were doing their best to adjust to the new world they found themselves in. It was a challenge for most of them. Less so for him as he'd often visited this realm to do Hades' business. Their goddess had taken herself off to explore the world, leaving her warriors to do the same.
Mordecai cocked his head to one side and concentrated. He could feel the steady hum of the Lady's power and knew she was currently in the wilds of Scotland. With his power restored, he could be there in a heartbeat.
Instead, he kicked back, extended his legs in front of him and crossed them at the ankles. Just knowing he could go to her was enough. He was content to simply sit and enjoy the warm evening air and inhale the sweet perfume of the flowers. After years of the stench of brimstone and charred flesh in Hades' domain, this was paradise.
A slight rustling off to his right had him on his feet in the blink of an eye, sword in hand. He'd manifested the blade without even thinking about it. It was a natural extension of his hand.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you." Jessica hovered in the dim light from the back porch looking like some angel sent from Heaven.
He quickly sent the sword away, not wanting to frighten her. Jessica was everything he wasn't. Where he was the darkest shadow of the night, she was pure light. She was petite and pale, her hair such a light blonde it almost appeared white. It tumbled around her face like a halo, framing her delicate features. Her eyes were a pale blue and her lips full and pink.
His cock stirred and he clamped down on his wayward hormones. She deserved better than his lust. She deserved nothing but respect after all she'd done for him, for all of them.
It was Jessica's grandmother who'd freed him from his cursed imprisonment decades before. The woman had risked everything to help him. It was she who'd come up with the idea to hide his soul from Hades. She was gone now, but she'd lived a long, happy life from what Jessica had told him. It eased his conscience to know she'd not only survived but also thrived.
He'd never felt anything for the woman beyond a sense of gratitude and awe that she would help a creature like him. Everything was different with Jessica. She unsettled him. It was Jessica who'd fulfilled her grandmother's promise and returned Mordecai's soul to him when he'd needed it most. Jessica had risked her life to save him. He owed her more than he could ever repay.
"You are not disturbing me," he assured her. Well, she was, but not in the way she thought. Being around her was pure bliss and the most horrendous torture. His fingers itched to touch her, but he did not dare.
"If you're sure?" He inclined his head, and she took him at his word, leaving the safety of the light and walking toward him. She was tiny in stature, but she was all womanly curves. The flowing dress she wore was blue and covered in tiny flowers. She was barefoot. Her arms were slender and shapely and a long strand of stones and beads was draped around her neck.
She seemed a woodland sprite, a nymph sent to tempt him. She was totally at home here in the garden. In fact, she was responsible for its upkeep. Jessica had an affinity for plants.
He fought the urge to straighten his T-shirt and rub his damp palms over his pant legs. He'd resided in Hell for decades, tricking the Lord of the Underworld himself, and at no time had he felt as helpless and out of place as he did at this moment.
"Sit." It came out more like a command than an offer. Still, she didn't seem to take offense. She sat on the bench and motioned for him to take a seat beside her.
He sat but held himself stiffly. He desperately tried not to notice how the top of her dress clung to her plump breasts. His perfect night vision was usually a blessing, but tonight it was a curse. He wanted to cup those lush mounds, feel them in his palms. He wanted to rub his thumb over her pert nipples until they beaded.
He licked his lips and wondered what they would look like and how they would taste. His cock surged to life once again, a reminder that it had been a very long time since he'd last had a woman.
That situation was easily rectified. This new world was filled with women who would have sex with him. All he had to do was go to one of the bars downtown and he could have a woman within minutes.
But he'd recently discovered that he didn't want just any woman. He wanted Jessica.
"Are you all right?" she asked. Her voice was slightly accented, almost musical. He could sit and listen to her talk for hours.
"I'm fine." He shifted in his seat, trying to hide his erection from her. He was glad it was dark and she lacked his clarity of vision. She was human, unable to see in the night shadows like he could.
"How was your day?" he asked. Jessica made and sold jewelry in Jackson Square. That's how she and Sabrina Wolfe, Arand's mate, had met.
She sighed and placed her hands on the stone bench, leaning back onto them. Her breasts jutted upward, causing him to swallow a curse. Her fingertips were almost touching him. "I sold several of my more expensive pieces."
"Good. That's good." He cleared his throat, feeling like an idiot. He fought to keep from moving closer so her fingertips would graze his. He longed for her touch.
He shifted away from her.
She slowly sat upright and clasped her hands in her lap. "I'm not sure this was a good idea."
He frowned. "What do you mean?" He tried to think if he'd done anything to offend her and could come up with nothing.
Jessica waved her hand in front of her. "Me living here. Maybe I should have stayed in my old apartment."
Terror grabbed his guts and squeezed them. "No." She couldn't leave him. She was his light. If she left, he was afraid he'd sink into the darkness that threatened to take him daily and never find his way back to the light again. Hades' curse might have been broken, but too many years of living in Hell had marked Mordecai. He was more dark than light, and every day was a struggle to save himself.
Jessica wished she could see Mordecai more clearly, but the surrounding shadows seemed to almost cling to him. She shook off the fanciful thought. Shadows couldn't cling to a person. Still, there was something wrong with him and had been for a while.
When Hades had finally been defeated, she and Mordecai had become friends, spending hours talking about her past and her grandmother. It was strange to think that her grandmother had been the woman to set Mordecai free from his curse, his prison. Her grandmother had been a witch of power, and she and Mordecai had tricked Hades into believing Mordecai had killed her and gone over to the dark side.
Jessica shivered. She wished she'd worn a sweater. The night was warm but her thoughts chilled her to the bone. All those years, her grandmother had kept Mordecai's soul with her, passing it on to Jessica just before she died. It was Jessica who'd completed her grandmother's debt, who'd returned Mordecai's soul, his animal half to him at the right moment during the final battle with Hades.
She'd thought they'd become friends. But he'd been avoiding her ever since she'd moved in to the spacious apartment on the top floor of his building.
"Have I done something wrong?" she asked. Maybe she'd offended him with all her questions. Maybe she was assuming a friendship when all he felt was an obligation. And didn't that just make her feel lower than a snake's belly.
He seemed taken aback by her question and shook his head. "No. You haven't done anything wrong."
She wasn't so sure about that. Mordecai looked like he always did. Translation — he looked good enough to eat. All the immortal warriors were easy on the eyes, but there was something about Mordecai that drew her. Maybe it was because of the stories her grandmother had told her about him. Maybe it was because she'd always been drawn to bad boys.
Whatever the reason, being around him was exhilarating and overwhelming all at once. He was darkness personified, but not evil.
His hair fell to his shoulders in a dark curtain. His eyes were midnight black and could be as cold as winter or as hot as the Sahara depending on his mood. The seams of the T-shirt he wore strained beneath the muscles of his shoulders and arms. Power clung to him like a second skin, surrounding him.
But it was his face that fascinated her. It could have been carved from stone. He showed little emotion, his dark eyes always moving, always cataloguing his surroundings, searching for an enemy in every corner. His cheekbones were sharp, his forehead high. His skin was deeply tanned.
And his mouth. Dear God, his lips were firm and full and she longed to kiss them. But he didn't seem the least bit interested in her in that way. He was always friendly and polite, always willing to lend a hand if she needed one. There was no denying he was incredibly generous. She was living in a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment she'd never in a million years have been able to afford if she'd been paying the going rent. But Mordecai had offered it to her for dirt cheap. Heck, he'd wanted her to stay rent free, but she didn't want to take advantage of him.
She knew he hated taking money from her. But she had her pride.
It was time to clear the air. "Things have been different between us since I moved in upstairs." It had been a huge decision to leave her tiny apartment and make the move. But she'd wanted to be closer to her friend Sabrina and, if she were being truthful, she'd wanted to be closer to Mordecai.
His entire body stilled beside her. "Nothing has changed." His voice was as cold as an iceberg and as distant as the Arctic Circle.
She'd had enough. "That's not true." Better to air things out between them then to go on like this. "I thought we were friends. We used to talk. You used to hang out with me." And she'd longed for those evenings when he'd come by her little hole-in-the-wall apartment and she'd cook for him. They'd talk about current events and watch movies. "But since I moved in here, you treat me as if I have the plague."
While Jessica liked all the warriors and had become friendlier with Stavros and Phoenix, Mordecai had become more distant with each passing day.
"You're imaging things," he began, but she cut him off.
"No, I'm not." She fisted her hands in the skirt of her dress to keep from reaching for him. "When was the last time we ate dinner together, or had a coffee or hung out?" "We're hanging out now," he pointed out. She hated his low, reasonable tone.
"Only because I came looking for you," she challenged. "If I didn't seek you out, I'd never lay eyes on you." Her heart ached, but she pushed onward. "If you've changed your mind about me living here, I can find a new place. No hard feelings." It would break her heart to leave him, but she'd do it if she had to.
He sat forward and raked his hands through his long hair. Her fingers itched to touch his hair, to discover if it was as soft as she thought. "I don't want you to move."
"Then what is it?" she pressed. "Am I being presumptuous? I thought we were friends."
A low growl escaped him. An actual growl. It was a reminder he was more than just a human. He was an immortal warrior. A shapeshifter. She'd seen him shift into the mighty serpent, more dragon really, and he was a sight to behold. Deadly and dangerous.
"We cannot be friends."
His words dug into her heart like sharp talons, shredding it. The pain took her breath away. It was quickly followed by a flood of embarrassment. She could feel her cheeks heating. She'd thought they were friends, but obviously she was no more than an obligation.
"I see," she began, doing her best to keep from crying. "I'll start looking for a new place tomorrow." She couldn't stay here. Not now.
Excerpted from "Heart of the Serpent"
Copyright © 2015 N.J. Walters.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this series, decent drama and great romance! Hades is seriously entertaining, and so deserves the karma he cultivates! But WHY am I paying the same amount for the last 3 NOVELLAS that are literally 1/2 the size of the first 5??? I honestly cannot buy the last 2 novellas because I'm unwilling to get robbed again!
I was seriously squeeing when I saw this book pop up on Netgalley. I have been hoping and praying that Mordecai would get his HEA and he finally HAS!!! Woot! I've always had a thing for smexy bad boys/ anti-heroes and Mordecai is all that and more. From the beginning of the series (and really people, you should read them all because they are that awesome) I knew he wasn't as evil as he was portrayed. Since spending so much time in Hell he has developed a black stain on his soul, and because of this he feels that he will taint the one that he holds closest to his heart (although he won't admit how much he cares about her to himself). Jessica is in love with Mordecai and although they've been close friends he has been slowly drawing away from her. Every time that she confronts him he denies that anything is wrong. But Mordecai can't help himself around her and sparks fly. Hades has been plotting revenge for his capture and imprisonment. However, due to the deal he made with the Lady he is unable to touch the other warriors or their mates. Mordecai is not mated and when Hades finds out about his attachment to Jessica he plans on using her to destroy him. Okay. AWESOME. FREAKING. BOOK. My heart hurt for Mordecai, he was just so lonely and didn't feel like he deserved any happiness for himself. Heart wrenching, sweet, action packed and schmexy as all get out. I just can't even recommend this book enough! Seriously people... Please, please, please, check out this series if you haven't already. * I received a copy from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
really wish I'd had the chance to read the previous books in this series because I felt I was missing a lot of background information when I started it. But how could I resist? The cover alone is fantastic. I will be looking for more from this author. she really knows how to get the story and accross. I've never read a book by N.J. The writing is strong, the plot is strong, the world is as special and unique as its characters. Every part of NJ's creative talent knows how to dig deep and really build something that's beautiful, dark and passionate all at the same time. I love the complexity of her characters, I love both their burdens and their demons, I love all their redeeming qualities and their relationships. I felt for Mordecai, I felt for the pain he suffered from. There were so many of the characters that felt so real and the journeys they were on were so emotionally tied into so much depth you can't help but feel for all of them. Since the Heroine is saved from the hell of Hades . he fells that he is cursed and unloved and everything he touches turns to dark