Artist and tarot reader Sabrina can’t resist buying and bringing home the old carousel wolf she finds in an antique shop. She never imagined the wooden animal could come to life in her living room and shift into a dark, sexy man.
Arand is a cursed immortal warrior. He’s trapped until the touch of a particular woman frees him. After that, if he can stay alive for twenty four hours, his soul is safe from the Lord of the Underworld. But Hades will use all of his power to see both the warrior and his woman dead.
The unexplainable attraction between Arand and Sabrina won’t be denied, which means they have their hands full, since they’re also fighting for their lives and souls.
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
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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
Café Ledet was located in a hole in the wall on Chartres Street within easy walking distance of Jackson Square, and was owned by Mathilda Ledet. Sabrina and Tilly had been friends since they were children and their bond had only grown stronger over the years. Even at this early hour of the morning, business was brisk as people on their way to work stopped for their early shot of java and one of the delectable pastries and treats the café offered for sale.
Local artwork, some of it Sabrina's, covered the colorful walls. The floor was filled with round tables and chairs painted every color of the rainbow, while jazzy music flowed from the sound system filling the air around her.
The patter of voices, the musical combination of English and French — a reminder of the city's heritage — was a normal part of her day. She loved it here, loved to watch the sheer variety of people who came and went, sometimes using them as inspiration for her painting. She also did tarot card readings here two evenings a week and worked behind the counter another two, all to help supplement her earnings from her art.
Tilly was behind the counter chatting with a customer, her head slightly tilted to one side so her long black hair flowed over one shoulder. Her lips were parted on a smile, exposing straight white teeth. Her skin was smooth and the color of light toffee, a gift from her mixed heritage. Her laughter rang out across the room, making Sabrina smile. Tilly could charm the clouds from the sky and was a big reason for her coffee shop's success. People came for the extraordinary baked goods and superior coffee but returned because Tilly made them feel so welcome.
Sabrina sat at a small corner table with her hands wrapped around a cup of extra-dark roast coffee. Usually she drank herbal tea, but this morning she needed the caffeine kick if she was going to make it through the day.
Her gaze went to the large picture window and the street beyond. She loved this city. It was colorful in every way possible, filled with life and sound and beauty. Sure it had a dark side — every large city did — but none of the rest of them were New Orleans. New Orleans had a beauty and dignity all her own.
"Another bad night?"
She glanced at the chair across from her as a woman plopped onto it, letting her oversized purse hit the table with a heavy thunk. Sabrina barely had time to grab her coffee to keep it from toppling. Jessica Miller was as different from Tilly as night and day, but they were both her best friends.
Jessica was tiny, her skin as pale as snow, her hair so light it was almost white in color. With her short stature and petite build, she looked like a magical sprite out of some child's book of fairytales. Originally from Kansas, the solitary witch had transplanted herself to New Orleans three years ago. They'd met in Jackson Square when Jessica had set up her table, selling the amazing jewelry she made, and the two of them had quickly become friends.
Sabrina rubbed her forehead and took a sip of her coffee before carefully setting the cup back on the table. "You could say that."
Jessica frowned. "You've been having a lot of bad dreams lately." She reached across the table, giving Sabrina's arm a brief comforting rub.
"Ever since I got back from that gig up in North Dakota."
"Move your purse, Jess." The deep, throaty voice was the kind that could have made a small fortune selling phone sex. Jessica dropped her purse onto the floor, making room for Tilly to set a large café mocha in front of Jessica and a plate with three cherry-cheese Danishes in the center of the table. Tilly settled into her seat, sipped the peppermint tea she always drank in the morning and sighed. "What brings you here this early? More dreams?"
Sabrina could see the worry in both her friends' eyes and hated it, hated that she thought they had reason to be concerned. "Yeah."
"Was it the same as the last one?" Jessica snagged one of the pastries and took a big bite. She might be little, but she could pack away the food.
Was it the same? "Sort of, but different." Deciding a Danish was just what she needed this morning, Sabrina helped herself to one and took a bite. The pastry was light and flaky, the filling the right combination of sweet and tart. Delicious. In the light of day, eating such a tasty treat and drinking strong, black coffee, it would be easy to dismiss her dream as the product of nothing more than an overactive imagination. But that would be like burying her head in the sand, and she was too smart to do that.
Her Granny Esmeralda had raised her better than that. She, of all people, knew that there was more in the world than what could be understood with the five senses. Just as she knew that truth, she knew her dreams were more than simply dreams.
Tilly glanced over at the counter, but her morning staff had the crowd well under control. "What do you mean?"
Sabrina let herself drift back into her dream, letting the memory flow over her. "The first part was very ... erotic."
Jessica scooted to the edge of her chair. "He was back?"
She'd told both women about her mystery dream lover. "Yes." This was her third dream featuring him.
"Did you get a better look at him?" That was the difference between her two friends. Jessica was the romantic, while Tilly was down-to-earth practical.
"Yes, but I still didn't see his entire face. His hair is shaggy and I think dark. And he has a strong jawline." She didn't mention his thin but extremely kissable lips.
"Hmm." Tilly sipped her tea and stared into space, which really meant she was thinking. A split second later, her gaze refocused and her eyes narrowed. "Then what happened?"
Heat skated up Sabrina's legs and down her arms to pool at her breasts and between her thighs. She shrugged, all the while hoping her nipples weren't visible from beneath the sleeveless cotton tunic she wore, even though she suspected they were. "He touched me, but before things went too far, the dream changed." She shivered in spite of the early morning heat.
Jessica popped the last bite of her treat into her mouth, chewed and swallowed. "Then what?" Sabrina saw her friend eyeing the half pastry she had left and pushed it toward her. Jessica nodded her thanks and helped herself.
Sabrina wrapped her arms around herself, wishing she'd worn a light sweater. In spite of the warmth of the morning, she felt cold to the bone. "Then it got scary. I heard the voice again." That's how she referred to it. The voice. It was smooth, sophisticated and made her skin crawl.
"This all started when you went away to that conference in North Dakota. I knew you shouldn't have gone." Tilly scowled and shook her head. "Bad vibes. I told you that."
Yes, she had. Sabrina had felt uneasy about it too, but the pay had been too good to pass up. "If it seems too good to be true," she muttered beneath her breath, but both women heard her.
"It usually is," Tilly finished.
She took a sip of coffee and tried to order her thoughts. They might be distracting her sleep, but ultimately they were only dreams. They didn't hurt her and couldn't. "I'm probably overreacting." It was easy in the dead of the night to believe there was more to her dreams than her imagination taking flight.
"No, you're not." Jessica finished off the last of Sabrina's cherry-cheese Danish and wiped her mouth with the corner of her napkin. "Never discount your instincts. If you feel threatened, you need to take some precautions."
"I agree with Jessica." Tilly pushed her chair back and rose. "I have to get back to work, but we should really do something about this. Maybe see Granny Ledet about a protection amulet or spell or something." Tilly's grandmother was a practitioner of voodoo and well respected in her community, but Sabrina didn't want to drag anyone else into her problems. She had a really bad feeling that something nasty was going to happen, and soon.
"No, leave your Granny out of this. The fewer who are involved the better."
Tilly's gaze sharpened like a razor. "What are you feeling?" Sabrina loved the fact that both of her friends accepted that she had feelings or premonitions. It hadn't always been the case. Her own parents hadn't believed her. Only Granny Esmeralda had. Her mother's mother had raised her after her parents had been killed in a car accident when Sabrina was only ten, an accident she'd warned them about. But they'd ignored her warning and gone on the trip anyway. A semi had veered into their lane, hitting them dead on and killing them both instantly.
"Evil." It was the first word that popped out of her mouth and it wasn't quite accurate. "But not just evil. There's good too. Strength." She rubbed her forehead, wishing she understood what was happening to her.
"Hey. It will all work itself out." Jessica offered an encouraging smile. "But right now, we have to get to work." She stood and waited as Sabrina pushed out of her chair.
"I'll call my granny later today and ask if there is anything we can do. Drop back later for lunch if you can. I've got both chicken and rice and vegetable soup on the menu." Tilly gave them each a quick hug before heading back behind the counter to help with the increasing crowd.
"Let's get out of here." Sabrina suddenly needed to be away from the crowd and outside where she could breathe more easily, needed to feel the warmth of the sun on her face and arms. She strode toward the main entrance, her calf-length skirt flowing around her legs, the bangles on her arm jingling. She stopped long enough to collect her large portfolio bag, easel and stool from behind the counter and waited while Jessica collected her oversized tote and a folding stool.
With a quick wave to Tilly, they were both out the door and on their way to Jackson Square.
"There are things you can do to protect yourself." Jessica's purse and tote looked too big for her, but she handled both easily.
"Like what?" Her friend was Wiccan, and Sabrina knew she cast spells on a regular basis. All the jewelry she made was blessed as well and served various purposes, such as to help bring prosperity, health, love or whatever else the person buying it might be interested in.
The dark-blue dress Jessica was wearing left a lot of leg showing and was attracting attention from male passersby. Not that her friend noticed. Jessica seemed oblivious when it came to men. Sabrina often wondered if there was a man back in Kansas who'd broken Jessica's heart. She'd never mentioned it and Sabrina had never asked, sensing her friend didn't want to talk about her past. It struck her suddenly how little she actually knew about Jessica.
Sabrina realized Jessica had been talking to her. "Yeah. Sorry. What were you saying?" She hefted her portfolio over her shoulder, wishing she'd had another coffee. It was going to be a long day.
"You need to cleanse your space by burning sage. Then you can sprinkle some blessed salt around the perimeter of the rooms to keep evil out."
"Will that actually work?" Sabrina had grown up around voodoo and superstitions, even had a few encounters herself with what some might consider the paranormal, but she'd never experienced anything like the dreams she'd been having.
They reached their spot in the Square and began to set up. Sabrina unhooked her folding stool from her portfolio bag. Her lightweight easel was next. She'd modified the bag years ago to make it easier for her to carry everything she needed for the day.
Without having to think about it, Sabrina set up her space, turning her easel so she could catch the best light to draw by. Her sketchpad was next, followed by her pencils and charcoals. Once her workspace was set up, she set out a dozen finished pieces that were for sale and stood back critically studying them.
"Wow, those are really different."
Jessica had assembled a small table and covered it with a black velvet cloth embroidered with various symbols. Displayed on the cloth were several dozen necklaces, half a dozen bracelets and a few anklets. A stand with three-dozen pairs of earrings was situated at the back edge. Her friend had abandoned her own table and was staring at the paintings.
Sabrina released a pent-up breath, wondering what her friend would think. "Yeah. My style has changed lately."
"Ever since you got back from your trip up north." It wasn't a question. Both Jessica and Tilly knew she hadn't been the same since then. "They're darker, more emotional."
Sabrina made herself really scrutinize the paintings. Technically, they were probably the best work she'd ever done. It was the subject matter that was the most bothersome. She'd always painted city scenes and people, loving to depict the vibrancy of New Orleans. It was a bonus that they sold well to tourists.
But these paintings were different. The dark, mysterious bayou filled with shadows that hid some unseen terror, a hint of a wolf in one, a flash of something else in another. What it was, even she wasn't quite certain. An enormous serpent-like creature slithered through one painting, while a tall man in a suit stood at the edge of another, his face lost in the deepening shadows of early evening.
She reached into her bag and pulled out the final painting, knowing she wouldn't sell it no matter the offered price. Beside her, Jessica sucked in a breath. "Wow." There was no mistaking her friend's reverent tone. "That's incredible."
He was incredible. She rested the painting against the low concrete wall behind her and admired the wolf that dominated the scene. He was enormous, his sharp fangs exposed, his head raised. It seemed as though he'd step off the canvas any moment and prowl through the streets of the city in search of prey. Fierce and magnificent, he was primal power at its most basic.
"Thanks." It probably wasn't a coincidence that the wolf in the painting resembled the one tattooed on her back. The skin on her back tingled and she reached behind and touched the area through her tunic.
Since she was a teenager and dreamed of the wolf, she'd considered him her guardian, her spirit guide. Maybe it was because her last name was Wolfe and it seemed only right that the wolf belong to her. Either way, she knew the painting belonged to her, but she couldn't resist displaying it.
Jessica sank down onto her stool and glanced around. It was still too early for the tourists to be out and about, but there were a few locals checking out what was available for sale on their way to work. "I think I should come over to your place this evening and we can do a protection spell."
Sabrina didn't want to make a bigger deal out of her dreams than they already were, but she couldn't help but worry. She'd never had dreams this vivid in her life, nor had she had ones that frightened her so badly. The man in her dreams, not her fantasy lover, but the man with the voice, scared the crap out of her. She didn't think she ever wanted to meet the speaker in person.
Decision made, she felt a little better. "Okay. I'm doing readings at the café until nine, but after that."
"Works for me. I can always have a brownie and a latte while I'm waiting for you." For such a tiny person, Jessica had an enormous appetite and sweet tooth. Her friend rummaged around in her large tote and pulled out a four-foot strand of semi-precious stones, beads and metal charms, which were spaced about two-inches apart for the length of the cord to create a lariat-style necklace that could be worn in various ways. "Here, take this. It's been blessed for warding off evil."
Sabrina shook her head. "It's beautiful, Jess, but that necklace is one of your most expensive, and I can't spare sixty bucks right now." The stones glittered in the morning sunlight, their sheer beauty driving back her shadowy thoughts of the night before.
Jessica shook her head. "It's a gift. The purple stones are amethyst, the pink ones rose quartz. There's regular quartz and agate as well. All of them are good for warding off negativity and evil." She stood in front of Sabrina and wrapped the length of cord once around her neck before loosely tying the dangling ends. "The beads and charms have been chosen because they're protective. I blessed it too just last night. Didn't know why I did, but I do now. It was meant to be yours."
"Jessica," she began, but her friend shook her head.
"No, do this for me. I can't stop the dreams from coming, but this is one small way I can help." She smiled. "That and by cleansing your apartment later and doing a protection spell."
Excerpted from "Howl of the Wolf"
Copyright © 2013 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.
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