When Araminta Davidson is invited to participate in a readers’ appreciation weekend, she feels like she’s arrived as an author. But what starts out as a fun weekend quickly turns surreal and deadly when she accidentally releases a shape-shifting immortal warrior from a five-thousand-year-old curse.
Finally freed from the carousal he’s been trapped on, Leander denies Hades and vows to beat the second part of the curse and find a way to free his comrades. The woman who released him calls to his animal nature, and he realizes she’s his mate. But is she as innocent as she seems, or was she sent by Hades? The clock is ticking, but not fast enough. If he can stay alive and evade Hades for twenty-four hours, he might be able to figure it out.
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
Araminta Davidson stuffed her cosmetic bag into her suitcase and shut the lid. Or, rather, tried to shut it. The overstuffed bag wasn't going to close without a fight. It took several minutes, and her not inconsiderable weight to push the edges near enough for her to zip it. She straightened and blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. "That's it, Percy."
Her black cat glanced at her from his perch on the foot of the bed before he resumed licking his paw.
She laughed and reached out and gave him a quick scrub between his ears. That was Percy — disinterested and surly. They'd been living together for a year now and Araminta still felt like he was still auditioning her for the job as his owner. No, that wasn't right. More like his personal house slave.
She'd gone to the animal shelter for a cute little kitten and come home with full-grown, newly neutered male cat with one ragged ear and mountain of attitude. It had been love at first sight. "I should have called you Byron, not Percy." She'd named him after one of her favorite poets, but he had more of Byron's dark, brooding personality. Still, he answered to Percy, when he wanted to.
"I'll only be gone for tonight and tomorrow night and I'll be home on Sunday afternoon. You have fresh litter, lots of water and food, and Mary Jo from next door will be over tomorrow to check on you." Araminta pushed aside the guilt assailing her at the thought of leaving the cat behind and hefted her overstuffed suitcase off the bed. She dragged it out the bedroom door and down the short hallway to the living room. Her large tote bag with her laptop and promotional items sat near the front door, waiting for her to load them into the car. She'd already put the box of her books in the trunk.
Percy followed her into the living room and made an agile jump from the floor to the back of the sofa where he settled down to watch her, his green eyes intent on her every movement.
Araminta surveyed the room and ticked off her mental checklist. The stove was off, the cat was taken care of, she had everything she needed and the back door was locked. She took a deep breath and slowly released it.
She was really going to her first writer's convention, and not just any convention, but the Luna Starquest Readers' Weekend. It was a limited get-together, with around two hundred and fifty readers and several other guest authors. For some unknown reason, Luna Starquest had invited her to be one of them.
And the convention was being held just down the road from her in Fargo. She really didn't have to stay at the hotel. It was more than close enough for her to drive back and forth every day. But she hated driving on the highway at night and didn't want to miss out on any events because she felt the need to get on the road early. Plus, her hotel room was being paid for, which was great because she couldn't have afforded it otherwise.
Contrary to what a lot of people believed, most writers didn't make a whole lot of money. The lucky ones, like her, made a living. And it was only the fact she'd inherited her home from her grandmother that allowed her to write full-time.
She took another deep breath to keep from hyperventilating. She'd admired Ms. Starquest's books for years and had never imagined getting a personal invitation to the event. She had her new agent to thank for it.
As if on cue, her phone rang. Araminta hurried over to the chair by the door and dug her phone out of her purse. The call display told her it was indeed her agent, Sam Black, calling to check on her. "Hi, Mr. Black." For some unknown reason, she couldn't bring herself to call him by his first name. He didn't sound like a Sam. He sounded sophisticated and cultured and just a little bit scary.
"Are you ready for your trip?"
She tucked a long, stray hair behind her ear and nodded before she realized he couldn't see her. Her excitement and trepidation were melting her brain cells. "I'm just getting ready to load the car now. I should be on the road within the next half hour."
"Good. I don't need to tell you how important this weekend is."
No pressure, though. "Yes, I know." And she couldn't complain. Mr. Black had contacted her because he'd read one of her three earlier books, all of which had been critically well received but had only had a limited audience. It was Mr. Black who'd taken the first book of her new series — Demon's Wrath — and sold the first two books to a major publisher. The first book, Tiger's Curse, had hit the bestseller lists. Very low on the list, but it was there. The second book was launching soon and the publisher had high expectations for it. The least she could do was to get out there and promote them.
"This will be good publicity for your first book and the new one. Luna Starquest asked for you personally."
Araminta still couldn't quite believe her good fortune. It was an amazing opportunity and she was looking forward to it.
"Call me when you get back home so you can let me know how the weekend went." His tone was smooth, but there was no mistaking the underlying command in his words.
"I will," she promised.
"Have fun." With those parting words, he hung up.
A shiver raced down Araminta's spine and she rubbed her free hand over her arm. Even though his words were innocuous enough, she'd felt threatened by them. "You're doing too much research and writing," she muttered. She dumped her phone back into her purse and pulled on her jacket. "You be good while I'm gone," she ordered the cat, for all the good it would do her.
Percy jumped down from his perch and wound his way between her legs. Laughing, she picked him up and rubbed her cheek against his soft fur. "I'll miss you. I'd take you, but the hotel isn't pet friendly."
She put him back down and he gave a loud grumble. Percy didn't meow as much as he grumbled. "Besides, you wouldn't have any fun stuck in a hotel room all day. This way you can roam the house and you have your bed and your toys." She prayed he wouldn't destroy the furniture while she was away.
It didn't take her long to get her car packed, and less than fifteen minutes later she was backing out of her driveway. Percy sat on the back of the chair in the window, watching her leave. It was more of a glare really, but there was nothing she could do about it. She took one last glance at her two-bedroom cottage as she pulled away.
She turned on the radio to help drown out the voice of guilt in the back of her head. It was there along with the voice of doubt taunting her. She'd never been good in social situations, preferring books to people as a child. She had fond memories of losing herself for hours at a time in the fictional worlds of Narnia, Wonderland and Neverland.
The tendency to keep to herself hadn't changed much as an adult. She'd gone to college and gotten work in a library soon after, but had come back to Hillsboro when her grandmother had passed away, leaving her a home and a small inheritance.
Life was good and it could only get better. As she hit the I-29, an old Rolling Stones song came on asking her to have some sympathy for the devil. She sang along as she cruised toward the city.
Araminta double-checked her appearance in the bathroom mirror. She wanted to look her best for the meet-and-greet being held in the hotel's ballroom. Her waist-length, wavy hair was rolled up in a bun and pinned at the back of her head with several silver clips. She wished the color were more exciting, but it was plain tawny brown. She'd never had the courage or the desire to dye it, but now she was wondering if she should have.
"Get a grip," she muttered. She was what she was and, for the most part, was very happy with her life. Her face was a little more rounded than she'd like, but then again, so was her body. "Curvy," her grandmother had called her. "Overweight," her mother had always pointed out.
Araminta ignored the flash of pain that memory always brought with it. Her parents were both gone now. Her father to a heart attack at the age of forty-five and her mother a year later to a car accident, leaving Araminta alone at the age of sixteen. She'd gone to live with her grandmother and had finished high school in Hillsboro before going off to college. Now she was a thirty-year-old woman who lived alone with her cat and wrote books. She was a living, breathing cliché.
"You look great," she told her reflection. She'd started giving herself these little pep talks as a teenager and had never grown out of the habit. She turned to one side and then the other. The knee-length black skirt she wore skimmed her curves and the blouse she wore over it camouflaged her large bust. She'd exchanged her watch for a thick silver cuff to add some pizzazz.
She left the bathroom mirror behind and went back into the bedroom to collect her shoes and small purse. She slid her feet into the two-inch heels, which were quite daring for her considering she almost always wore flats. She preferred comfort over style, even though at five-four she could use the extra height.
Her purse was small, but big enough to fit her phone, some cash and her room keycard. She slipped the strap over her shoulder and headed for the door.
She'd barely left her room when she heard her name being called. Luna Starquest was gliding toward her on five-inch heels. She looked more like a fashion model than a writer with her tall, slender build and legs that seemed to go on forever. Luna was wearing a form-fitting red dress that plunged daringly in the front and ended quite a few inches above her knees. A large, thick gold chain wrapped around her neck and she wore matching bracelets on both wrists. Her shoes were covered in sparkling rhinestones.
Her face was striking, with high cheekbones and full lips, and her straight hair fell like an ebony curtain around her shoulders. "Araminta, I was hoping I'd run into you."
"Really?" She wished she could call back the reply. It made her sound like some nerdy teenager who couldn't believe the popular girl wanted to talk to her, although that's exactly what this felt like.
Luna tucked her arm around Araminta's shoulders and gave her a brief hug. "I was hoping we could go downstairs together." They walked to the elevator and Luna hit the button. The doors slid silently open. "Look, no waiting." Luna laughed and they both stepped in.
"Thank you again for inviting me, Ms. Starquest."
Luna laughed again. "Please, call me Luna. And you're welcome. After Sam brought you to my attention, I knew I had to have you here."
Her agent had brought her to Luna's attention. Araminta frowned. Why hadn't he told her that? From everything he'd said to her, it had sounded as though Luna had asked about Araminta, but now it seemed as though her agent had thrust her in front of the best-selling author. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.
"Is anything wrong?" Luna asked.
Araminta felt like a fool for questioning her good fortune. Why did it matter how she came to Luna's attention? She was here and that was all that was important. "Nothing at all. I'm just a little nervous. I've never done anything like this before."
Luna clapped her hands. "Oh, you're a conference virgin. How exciting. I'll definitely have to make sure you enjoy yourself."
"I'm sure I will." The elevator doors opened and they stepped out into the lobby.
"This way." Luna pointed. They headed toward the ballroom, which was already crowded with people.
Araminta stumbled near the door when she saw the life-sized poster of her book — Tiger's Curse — with her picture inset near the top right corner. Below it was a table laid out with the promotional items she'd brought from home.
"Like it?" Luna asked.
"It's wonderful. Thank you." She hadn't expected her work to be showcased quite so prominently.
Luna waved aside her thanks. "Oh, it's no trouble. My people do great work."
Araminta couldn't imagine having people to do those kinds of things for her. She felt like Alice going down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. She was in a whole different world. There were large posters of the other guest authors ranging around the room, but the centerpiece was spotlighted near the back. Two enormous book covers flanked a life-size photo of Luna. It was spectacular.
Eight large, rather gorgeous male models stood four on either side of the display. They wore black boots, leather pants and nothing else. Araminta broke out into a sweat.
"Come on." Luna tugged her into the room. "Time to get a drink and mingle with the fans."
Araminta doubted many of the people in the room were here to see her, but she could definitely use that drink. She followed Luna but soon lost sight of her as the sea of fans who wanted to speak with the popular author swallowed her up. Araminta didn't mind. It gave her time to get her bearings and let the moment soak in.
The ballroom was strategically lit with spotlights, leaving some areas lost in shadows. The effect was quite lovely. A bar had been set up along one wall, and it was there she headed next.
A tall, handsome man, clad like the male models in tight leather pants and boots, his chest bare, stood behind the makeshift bar. He smiled and her stomach knotted.
"What can I get you?" "Ah, a ginger ale." As much as she wanted a drink, it was probably better if she didn't. She felt giddy enough without adding alcohol to the mix.
The bartender winked at her and grabbed a glass. "You're hitting the hard stuff." He filled the glass, his movements deft and sure.
Araminta gave a small laugh. "Yeah, that's me. The life of the party."
He set the glass down in front of her. "It's nice to see a woman who doesn't have to get drunk to have a good time. Some of these ladies will get crazy before the night is done."
"Really?" Araminta wondered if he was putting her on. She studied his long, lean face, admiring the aristocratic lines. With his long black hair and muscular chest, which she definitely wasn't staring at, he looked like he belonged on the cover of a historical romance novel.
"Absolutely. For a lot of these women this is their one weekend a year to just let go and have fun. And they take full advantage of it." He wiped down the counter next to her and his hand accidentally grazed hers. Heat rushed up her arm and she pulled back, picked up her glass and took a sip of her drink to cover the move. Honestly, she was acting like a skittish doe during hunting season.
"I guess so. I hadn't thought about it like that." She turned her head and looked out over the room. Music was pumping through the speakers and people were dancing. The models had joined the throngs of women on the floor and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time.
Araminta felt like a fish out of water.
"Hey, my name is Rick." He wiped his hand on a towel and held it out to her.
"Araminta." She took his hand and gave it a quick shake, expecting tingles to race up her arm. Instead, she shivered.
He released her hand and smiled. "Nice name." He studied her for a moment and frowned. "You're one of the authors, aren't you?" She gave a small laugh and nodded. "Guilty."
"Writing a book is such a cool thing. Maybe we can talk about it."
Araminta was suddenly tongue-tied. This gorgeous male specimen wanted to talk to her about writing? She really had entered an altered universe.
As quickly as she thought it, she mentally smacked herself. She was stereotyping. Just because the guy was good looking and working a bar didn't mean there wasn't a lot more to his life. He probably had a girlfriend or wife and was working this job to make extra money. Maybe he was even working on a book of his own. She'd found that many unpublished writers wanted to talk about writing. She could relate. It was rare that she had anyone to talk to about her craft. Writers, by and large, were a solitary bunch.
Before she could answer, a group of women sidled up to the bar wanting drinks. "Bartender," one of them called as she banged on the counter.
One of her friends sized up Rick's naked chest. "Or should we say bare-tender." The woman laughed at her own joke and stuck out her hand. "Hi, I'm Carol."
"Gotta work, Araminta. Catch you later." Rick left and went over to the ladies and took Carol's hand. "Hi, Carol. What can I get you?" Araminta strolled away before she could hear Carol's reply. She doubted she'd see or hear from Rick the bartender again. She sipped her drink and watched the dance floor, envious of the women who were able to let go and just move to the music. Her foot tapped against the floor and she swayed to the beat. The atmosphere was lively and fun.
Excerpted from "Pride of the Lion"
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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