Kellsie Morris knows her career as a Hollywood scream queen won’t last forever. Luckily, she’s just landed a big role in a movie about an immortal, shape-shifting warrior trapped in a carnival run by the Devil’s minions. When the carousel bear on set shifts into a flesh and bone bear of a man, Kellsie starts to question reality.
When Marko is released from the curse that has kept him trapped in his animal form and lays eyes on Kellsie, he knows with every fiber of his being that his purpose is now to protect her no matter what.
But there’s no predicting the Devil’s next move in this game. Hades is determined to get his revenge on the escaped warrior, and going after Marko’s mate is seems like the perfect plan.
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
She slowly stretched out her hand into the darkness, cautiously searching for the wall. She knew it was there if she could just find it. Sweat made her thin tank top stick to her skin, molding the fabric to her breasts. In spite of the heat, she shivered. The unfinished planks of the boathouse floor were rough against her bare feet.
He was here. Somewhere.
Was that a creak?
She held her breath and listened intently. The frantic pounding of her heart filled her ears, making it next to impossible to hear.
She closed her free hand around the hilt of the kitchen knife she'd grabbed to defend herself. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. She didn't want to fight. All she wanted to do was find a way out of this godforsaken mansion and go home.
Why had she agreed to housesit for a couple she barely knew? Because the offer had seemed too good to be true. A weekend at a private lake in a home with every amenity ever invented.
A pity she'd never get to try out the hot tub.
Something scuttled over her foot and she jumped back, barely suppressing a scream. A rat. Oh God, it was only a rat. Maybe he hadn't found her. Maybe he hadn't realized she'd left the house yet.
The speedboat was only a few feet away. If she could get to it, she could escape to the other side of the lake to the safety of the town and the local police.
"You can do this," she whispered.
One foot at a time, she warily crept toward the boat. She wanted to run, but that would be stupid. She didn't know where the man who'd broken into the house was. He could be anywhere — in the surrounding woods, in the house or standing a few feet away from her. In the pitch black there was no way to tell. She swallowed hard, ignoring the lump in her stomach, the burning in her eyes and the sour taste in her mouth.
Freedom was so close she could practically smell it. The sleek lines of the pleasure boat came into view as a sliver of light broke through a crack in the boathouse wall. She knew the keys were under the captain's seat. All she had to do was get there without being detected. She cocked her head to one side, listening for any telltale sound as she moved stealthily forward.
"Leaving so soon, Amanda," the low male voice mocked. He was right behind her.
She whirled around, knife raised and screamed. The bloodcurdling sound was abruptly cut off as he knocked her to the ground. The strike was brutal and stole her breath. Her head hit the boathouse floor, leaving her momentarily stunned. The knife slipped from her grip and she heard a skittering sound followed by a wet splash. It had fallen over the side of the wharf and into the dark, murky water. She was well and truly helpless.
"No. Please," she begged, throwing her hands up in front of her. She wanted to move but terror held her frozen in place.
His laughed and his eyes seemed to glow in the dim moonlight streaming in through the window, giving him a demonic presence. He was big. He was strong. And he was bent on killing her. It wasn't fair. He was a total stranger. She'd never done anything to him, never even seen him before.
The knife flashed as it descended, slicing through her top and into her flesh as easily as a hot knife cut through butter. She gasped and tried to scream as he raised the knife and brought it plunging back down, again and again.
Her scream was cut short and she felt her life's blood draining from her. Her vision dimmed as her eyelids fluttered and closed for the final time. Just before everything went black, she heard his chilling voice. "You're just the beginning."
She gave one final sigh before her body went boneless.
"Cut!" The director turned toward the crew. "That's a wrap for tonight."
"Hey, Kells. Good scene."
Her murderer held out his hand and Kellsie Morris took it, allowing him to help her to her feet. "Thanks, Stan." She and Stan were both veterans of the horror-film industry. This was the fourth time he'd killed her. He'd also been her boyfriend once and had ended up being killed in a car accident, a very violent and gruesome death.
The special-effects guy hurried up to them. "How did the blood packs work?"
"Great, Gus." She'd worked with Gus before too. Heck, with more than thirty horror flicks under her belt in the past eleven years, she'd worked with just about everyone.
He yanked up her top so it bunched beneath her breasts and examined her stomach, not taking her word for it. "Looks good," he muttered, ignoring the mess that was seeping onto his hands. "All the packs deployed."
Gus was a perfectionist. He was also a happily married man, and she knew his interest in her bare flesh was purely professional and not because he hoped to catch a better glimpse of her breasts.
"Hey, Gerry was happy," Stan reminded Gus. Gerry Grant was the director of this particular flick, The Secrets of Summer Lake. Catchy title. Too bad she was simply cannon fodder in this one — an early kill. Her work here was already done.
She yanked her stained top back over her bloody tummy and hugged Gus. "Thanks for another great movie."
He frowned. "You're gone so soon?"
"Yup. This was the last scene Gerry needed me for. I won't be back unless he needs to do any reshoots."
"Take care of yourself."
"You too. Say hi to Marcie and the kids."
"Will do." With that Gus hurried off.
"You want to get a bite to eat or something?" Stan was still standing off to the side waiting. He was a great guy. Tall, good-looking in a blond, surfer-dude way, when he wasn't covered in blood and makeup, that is. She wished she felt something more than friendship, but there was no spark there.
"Thanks, but I think I'll just head home. It's been a long night."
"You bet." She gave him a quick hug and kiss on the cheek before heading off to the wardrobe trailer to change.
Once inside, Kellsie dragged off the sticky shirt and stained jeans, handing them to the head of the wardrobe department, before squeezing herself into the tiny shower. She didn't linger, but washed quickly, cleaning away the fake blood, dirt and makeup. When she was done, she toweled off and dressed in her own clothing. Jeans and a T-shirt. Only, this time, she wore a bra beneath her shirt. She was top heavy and liked to keep the girls in line. The director had wanted a little more bounce in her character's step so Kellsie hadn't worn one in shot. Wasn't the first time and wouldn't be the last. She didn't bother with mascara or lipstick. She was going home and falling into bed.
She glanced at her watch. It was just after four in the morning. The sun would soon be coming up. It had been a long three days of shooting. But she needed the work and long days were better than the alternative.
She stepped out of the bathroom, grabbed her duffle bag off the floor and slung it over her shoulder. "See you."
The head of the wardrobe department was talking on the phone but held up her hand and waved as Kellsie left the trailer. There were still plenty of folks milling around planning for today's shooting. She wished she were a part of it. She loved making movies, but she was afraid she was nearing the end of her career.
Washed up at thirty. Almost thirty, she reminded herself. Her birthday wasn't for another two weeks. Several people called out their goodbyes as she made her way to the makeshift parking lot near the end of the lake. It really was a beautiful location.
Kellsie loved the outdoors, but most of her work kept her in or near Los Angeles. A few days at a lake were a treat, even if she had been working eighteen-hour days, screaming her lungs out and getting killed at the end of it. She'd gotten to bunk at the gorgeous house they were using for the shoot. The director had actually had the cameraman take some shots of her while she was sleeping and waking up. Creepy, but realistic.
She smiled as she tossed her duffle bag onto the passenger seat of her trusty Honda, Betsy. Some of her friends thought it was weird that she'd named her car, but Betsy had been in her life longer than anyone but her agent. Kellsie figured for that alone the car deserved a name.
Betsy was ten years old, purchased with money from her biggest role ever. The one she'd hoped would be the breakout role of her career. The Slasher on Cemetery Road was a cult classic and she still got recognized as the character, Jessica Moore, when she went places. It had been the pinnacle of her acting career to date.
Unfortunately, it hadn't landed her any bigger roles in more serious or box-office-heavy movies. But it had cemented her as one of horror movies' greatest actresses and had landed her more than a few guest spots on some television shows. Kellsie was simply happy to be working at something she loved.
She turned the key in the ignition and the engine turned over on the first try. She patted the dashboard. "That's my girl."
Kellsie rolled her head, trying to release some of the kinks in her neck. She was stiff from being tossed around by Stan for the past two days. The first day had been the easiest, mostly shots of her arriving at the lake house and exploring it. The other days had been extremely physical.
Which reminded her she had to make it to the gym later today. She couldn't afford to miss a workout. She needed to stay strong and in shape if she wanted to keep the roles coming.
Stifling a yawn, she pulled out of the parking lot and started the long drive home. Three hours, maybe four depending on traffic, and she'd be able to crawl into her bed in her miniscule efficiency apartment and sleep for eight straight hours. Heaven.
She turned on the radio and flicked around the stations, turning it off again when she didn't find anything that appealed to her. That left her with nothing to do but think. "Great," she muttered.
She didn't want to think about her career and where it was headed. But she'd always been a realist. Growing up as a cog in the wheel of the foster-care system did that to a person. Unless she was able to get some bit parts in some blockbuster movies, her career would be over soon. Kellsie figured she had two years left, three tops.
Tapping her fingers against the steering wheel, she watched the sun rising over the horizon, spreading its orange and yellow glow across the land. She loved living in California, but it was expensive. When her career ended, she'd have to move, maybe to somewhere in the Midwest where the cost of living was cheaper.
She hadn't fallen victim to the Hollywood lifestyle, unless you counted those two unfortunate years with her ex, Jonathan Braun, which she didn't. She excused herself for being young and stupid and needy at eighteen. By the time she'd hit twenty, Jonathan was history, but he'd left her heart in pieces and her bank account emptied. Thankfully, he hadn't known about her secret savings account. She'd always kept that private, which should have been her first warning that she didn't trust Jonathan.
"Ancient history," she reminded herself aloud. He'd used her and her contacts to further his career. When it had started to takeoff, he'd dumped her for the daughter of a movie executive. Upgrading, they called it in Hollywood. Out with the old model and in with the new and improved one.
He'd eventually dumped the new girlfriend as well. Last she'd heard he'd married a Hollywood A-lister. Not that she kept track of him or anything, but it was hard to miss him with his picture constantly plastered over the front of the tabloids. Jon did like the limelight.
Kellsie knew she had a decent amount of money saved, but a couple more good years would give her enough to buy a home and live comfortably while she figured out what it was she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She'd even toyed with writing a book. She could see the title now, Nightmare on My Street: Memories of a Scream Queen. Or maybe, Nightmare on Cemetery Road: Memories of a Scream Queen. Yeah, that was better as it paid homage to her best-known role.
Kellsie grinned. That's what she was and what she was known best for. No one could scream like she could. She'd been told it could raise the short hairs on the back of a person's neck and make their blood grow cold. What a talent. Not that she was complaining. That obscure ability was what had landed her the very first movie role she'd ever had.
She also had a lot of knowledge and anecdotes about the movie business, specifically the horror business. She should talk to her agent about it. Maury Fitz had been with her since the beginning of her career, taking her on when she was a painfully young actress wannabe waiting tables for a living. He was always trying to find new ways for both of them to make money. She couldn't fault him for that. He'd kept her working for more than ten years.
Maybe she should start making some notes. She'd always enjoyed English class in high school. That and drama class had been the only two things she'd excelled at. The rest she'd barely managed a pass, but she'd finished and had a high school diploma to prove it.
She reached out and flicked on the radio again. Even bad music was preferable than going down memory lane or worrying about the unknown future. She was too tired to think any longer and needed something to keep her awake.
Two miles down the road, she pulled into a service station long enough to fill up her gas tank and buy herself an extra-large black coffee loaded with sugar. She dug an energy bar out of her tote bag and ate it. She bought the bars in bulk and always had a few on her. In her business, you never knew when you were going to eat, so she always made sure she had something on hand to keep her energy up. The kick was exactly what the doctor ordered. She buckled her seatbelt and got back on the road.
Traffic grew thicker as she got closer to L.A. Her coffee was long gone and she was fighting a yawn every other minute. It was just past eight when she pulled into the parking lot of her apartment complex and shut off the car. Blessed silence surrounded her.
"Not yet." She'd fall asleep in the car if she weren't careful. Not only was that not smart, but she had a perfectly good futon a few steps away.
She opened the car door, dragged her tired body out and grabbed her duffle bag and her empty coffee cup. She didn't leave garbage in Betsy. Ever.
Thankfully, she didn't run into any of her neighbors on the way to her apartment. She liked them all just fine, but she was too tired to talk about her latest movie. They'd all want details later. They were a close-knit group from different walks of life, all ages and ethnic groups. Their common ground was the movies. They all worked or had worked in the industry in one capacity or another.
Kellsie fumbled with her keys until she found the right one. She unlocked her door and went inside, locking up behind her. She dumped her duffle bag on the floor and took a deep breath, enjoying the silence and the slight smell of the lemon balm and peppermint coming from the pots of herbs that lined the kitchen window. She was home.
She'd unpack later. Now all she wanted was to get into a prone position as fast as humanly possible. She kicked off her shoes, took the five steps necessary to bring her beside her futon and fell on it, burying her face in her pillow.
She really should undress. It would heat up later and she didn't want to turn on the air conditioner unless she had to. The damn thing ate electricity and she was trying to keep her bills at a minimum. There were things she couldn't skimp on, like her gym membership, but she cut corners where she could.
Mrs. Emery in 1B was a former hairdresser to the stars and cut Kellsie's hair for her once a month. In return, Kellsie took her to do her grocery shopping twice a month. Lonny Grey up in 3C was a set carpenter and fixed anything that needed fixing for cheap. In return, she'd passed his name along on a couple of movies she'd done, getting him some work. All of them did what they could to make extra money and keep expenses low.
Kellsie rolled onto her back, unzipped her jeans and shoved them down her legs. Her T-shirt was next. When she was clad only in her bra and panties, she yanked the purple throw off the back of the futon to cover herself and snuggled down.
All the tension seeped from her body. She'd done a good job with the movie and it should lead to a few more roles. If nothing else, it would mean a decent paycheck. She turned onto her side and sighed. She'd go for a workout later and stop on the way home and get some groceries. Her fridge and cupboards were almost bare. She hadn't bothered to shop before she'd left town. There hadn't been any point.
Excerpted from "Mark of the Bear"
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.
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 and look forward to the next.
Id like to be a warrior