**Winner of “Best New Adult” and “Best Series” in the 2014 eFestival of Words – Best of Independent eBook Awards**
When college student Rena Collins finds herself nose-to-chest with the campus outcast, she’s stunned. Wallace Blake is everything she’s ever wanted in a man–except he can’t touch her. His uncontrollable strength, a so-called gift from his bloodline, makes every interaction dangerous. And with a secret, supernatural war brewing among his kind, there’s no time to work it out. To keep Wallace in her life, Rena will have to risk a whole lot more than her heart.
“Carrie has a very fresh voice, full of quirks and humor.” – Penny Reid, author of the best selling Knitting in the City series
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Strength—and ultimately, the whole Mark of Nexus series—started as a “what if” scenario. What if a unique, supernatural race lived among us? What if there was more than one? How would the world stay in balance? I had to find out.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I listened to music while I plotted out a few points, and the 2005 Five for Five cover of “All I Know” came on. Oh my goodness. The lyrics—especially the first few lines about bruising each other—really struck me. As I considered them, the figurative meaning morphed into a more literal scenario. How tortured a man with uncontrollable strength must be… falling in love for the first time… unable to touch the woman he loves without hurting her…
That’s how the romance element fell into place. 😉
I plastered myself flat against the wall, straining to distinguish footsteps from heart palpitations. He was close now; he had to be. My shoes gave a little squeak as rubber met linoleum, and I inched toward the corner. Come on…
For the millionth time since I’d gotten to the seventh floor, I had to wonder if coming up here was worth it. I mean, I hadn’t even been back on campus for twenty-four hours, and here I was—caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the madman. What did that say about my sanity?
I threw a quick glance over my shoulder.
Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the best time to consider it. Whether I liked it or not, I was halfway to his suite and I needed to stay under the radar.
“All right, Madman,” I muttered, peering around the edge. “Ready or not…”
It took two quick scans of the hallway for me to finally drop my shoulders and let out the breath I’d been holding. Thank God. Brave face or not, I would’ve shit my Vicki-Secrets had he actually been standing there. The guy gave me the creeps, and we’d never even met.
It wasn’t like I needed to see him to know his type. He was probably some scrawny little recluse in pedo-glasses, lurking around the dorm in one of those throwback tees from the ‘80s. Or at least, that’s how I pictured him.
See, word got around last semester that muffled screams and thuds were coming from this guy Wallace’s room every night—and not the kinky kind, either. He’d been isolated since his roommate went off the radar in September, and from what I’d heard, never had visitors. For all any of us knew, he’d built a torture chamber in there and smuggled his victims in at night. What were we supposed to think with all that noise?
Complaints were issued, but only resulted in a dorm-wide e-mail reminding everyone to be considerate of their neighbors during evening hours. God only knew how much of our tuition went into that brilliant solution. It had no effect whatsoever.
Fear threaded through the spreading rumors and wove the tapestry of our own, personal urban legend. Right here in freaking Wilcox, Ohio. By the time winter break rolled around, the story had been stretched and pulled beyond all recognition. Believe me. I knew all too well how it started.
The reason I’d heard so much, and the reason I was braving the seventh floor at all, was Wallace’s next-door neighbor, Aiden—one of my very best friends. He’d been the one to tell my roommate, Gabby, and me about the commotion, long before it became public knowledge. We might’ve shared that story with a few friends, and…well, things snowballed from there.
I shook my head and stole another glance down the hallway. No use dwelling on it now. After being apart for a month, I wasn’t going to let a little anxiety keep me from checking in on Aiden. Not during the day, at least. It was time to get serious.
There had to be some way to get down the hall, through the suite door, and into Aiden’s room without attracting any unwanted attention. All things considered, the maneuver should’ve been easy. Auto-pilot.
Every suite in Reid Hall has the same formulaic layout—a common room with two double-occupancy bedrooms and an adjoining bathroom. Nothing out of the ordinary there. I’d been in their common room more times than I could count, squirming and waiting for Aiden to answer the door. But it still managed to freak me out. Every. Time.
Waiting in their common room evokes a whole new level of awareness. Somehow, I always feel Wallace’s tunneled gaze as I stand there—his eye tracing my every move through the peephole. At any given moment, he could rip his door open, clamp a hand over my mouth, and drag me inside.
Rena Collins—another virgin sacrificed to the gods of campus chaos.
I wiped my hands on my pants and drew in a shaky breath. Okay, with that mindset, maybe I deserved to become a statistic. Idling here wasn’t going to make this any easier. If I didn’t rip off the Band-Aid, I’d lose my nerve.
Pulling my shoulders back, I lifted my chin and strode around the corner. It wasn’t like I’d taken those self-defense classes for nothing. If Wallace jumped out and tried anything, I’d give him a taste of my heat-seeking knee. The poor fool wouldn’t know what hit him.
I straightened my spine and took another step toward the door. Heh. Yeah. Maybe if someone actually stood up to—
Hinges creaked and something slammed into me full force. The impact burned my nose and forehead as the world tilted back in a sickening blur. It all happened so fast. I hadn’t even seen the door open.
And, just like that, everything stopped.
Something—no, someone—grabbed my shoulders in a death grip and steadied me on my feet. I lurched forward, struggling to right my balance, and found myself nose-to-chest with a stranger.
Damn, that hurt…
Concern tightened his features as he bent down and tried to meet my eyes. “Are you okay?”
My pulse protested, hammering in my ears. Was I okay? I opened my mouth to speak, but it was as if every word, every unintelligible utterance, had escaped me. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move. My breaths were way too shallow.
Was I having a panic attack?
His eyes narrowed, dark lashes obscuring an electrical storm of emotion. I’d never seen anything more caged—flickering and surging beneath the surface. Brooding cerulean one moment, hypnotic blue the next.
It was all I could do to suppress a shiver as the warmth of his breath danced over my skin, his scent clouding the air between us. God, it smelled so familiar, like the air before a downpour. I took a deep, shuddering breath and forced myself to look up.
Raven hues played across hair that’d been spiked without any obvious effort. Overlooking the lack of product, his haphazard style could’ve probably been described as a faux-hawk. If he cared enough to label it.
I shook my head, letting my gaze slip past the hardened planes of his expression. A silvery line stood out from the rough, morning stubble that peppered his jaw. I swallowed. A small part of me was intrigued beyond measure, but it was so foreign I couldn’t place it. Instead, I let a much more familiar emotion run rampant through my system, the one that’d been building for the past thirty seconds—panic.
“I-I…” I stammered, unable to form a coherent thought to save my life.
Something changed in his eyes, and for the briefest of seconds, I thought I caught a glimpse of hurt. Just like that, the spell had been broken. He tore himself away from me as if I’d burned him, straightening to his full height.
I hadn’t even realized I’d been leaning in until he pulled away, and I barely caught myself. Stupid. As I looked up to gauge his expression, I felt another jolt of alarm. The man towered over me in a way I wasn’t accustomed to. I mean, sure, at only five foot two, most people have a head on me, but I didn’t even come to his shoulder. He was—
What was I doing? I’d been standing there, gawking, and had yet to utter anything resembling English. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how depraved I looked.
“Sorry,” he muttered in a low voice, catching me off guard.
“I-I, uh…no, it was my fault.” I took a step back, so I didn’t have to crane my neck. “My bad.” My bad? Who says that?
“No, I didn’t—” He seemed uncomfortable, looking past me. “Sorry.” Without another word of explanation, he edged around me, taking long strides down the hallway.
I blinked—not once, but twice—at his retreating form. Who was that guy?
And what the hell just happened?
I took my time, retracing my steps to the elevator. Aiden would just have to wait. I couldn’t face him like this, not after the embarrassing stutter-fest I’d had with his visitor. Since when did he have hot friends, anyway? He could’ve freakin’ warned me.
Mid-morning light poured through the floor-to-ceiling windows, tingling against my burning cheeks. In the few minutes I’d been gone, the sunlight had transformed last night’s dusting of snow into sparkling white glitter. The campus looked picturesque—a nice little postcard impression for the parents moving their kids back in.
It was what they were paying for, after all. Buildings, a mix of old and new, conforming to the same, brick standard. White columns and wide, cement staircases; modern lobbies and pretentious adornments. As the brochures say, a blend of tradition and innovation.
Without those things, or maybe because of those things, Wilcox is just another dot on the map—one of a dozen sleepy college towns in Ohio’s northeastern snowbelt. Houses are modest, crime is negligible, and football is a widely practiced religion. Not the most exciting place to live.
Unless, of course, you share a dorm with a madman.
I shook my head and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the glass. Jade eyes cringed and peered back, rimmed with exhaustion. I looked like crap.
I tried to run a hand through my hair and got caught in a tangle. The edgy layers had already dried into a blond haystack. Aiden’s friend probably thought I looked like some mangy, wet dog who’d wandered in off the street; or, at the very least, someone too lazy to dry her hair.
I heaved a sigh and forced myself to go call for an elevator. There was no use pressing my luck if I didn’t have to. The doors parted with a mechanical hiss, and I slipped inside.
With the press of a button, the car began its slow, grinding descent to the fourth floor. Gabby had been sprawled out, dead to the world, when I left, and I hoped to find her in the same, semi-conscious state. I wasn’t ready for her interrogation. Not yet.
The numbers lit in measured succession, and finally, the doors chimed open. I stepped out into the hallway, took a deep breath, and began to creep down the hall like a ninja. No interaction for me, thanks. Things to do, people to avoid.
Before anyone could notice me, I was already past the suite door. Why couldn’t I have been this stealthy upstairs? I fit my key into the lock and gave it a gentle twist, easing the door open. The TV was on, blaring a teaser of the news to follow at noon. Another drunk had been found beaten in Columbus. Surprise, surprise. Thank God I didn’t live in the capital—
“Girl, please tell me you did not leave the dorm with that hair.” Gabby looked up from her magazine, lifting one perfectly arched brow.
“I just went to see if Aiden was back yet. What’re you doing up?”
She shrugged, fishing her hand around inside a box of Lucky Charms. “Eating.”
“Thanks. I would’ve missed that.” I crossed the room, rolling my aching shoulders.
She went back to mindlessly flipping through the magazine as she ate, collecting marshmallows in the crease. God only knew how she’d missed her mouth. “So, how was geek boy?”
“I didn’t get to see him.”
She paused and tilted her chin, probably half-listening. “Why?”
Childish as it was, there were times I hated the girl as much as I loved her. She was the only person I knew who could wear wrinkled pajamas and still look like an extra from a Gap commercial. Thin, without looking anorexic. Dark hair falling in waves around her shoulders. If the chick from “La Vida Loca” has skin the color of mocha, Gabby has skin the color of a caramel freakin’ macchiato. Her perma-tan makes me look like I’ve never seen the light of day.
I blew out a sigh and stretched my arms over my head. “I met this guy. Well, I didn’t meet him exactly. I just sort of—”
“In sweats?” I had her full attention now.
My lips pinched together. “Yeah?”
She slumped with an exhale. “Rena, we just came back after a month off. Everyone’s going to be between Christmas loneliness and Valentine’s Day desperation. Do you really want to be seen running around in sweatpants?”
“Okay, first off,” I began, ticking points off on my fingers. “I don’t like the way you said sweatpants. Second, they’re not sweatpants. They’re yoga pants.” I kicked my favorite pair of sneakers under the bed. “Third, there’d be nothing wrong with them if they were sweatpants.”
There was an awkward pause, as if she were trying to digest my words. “And you think these”—she wrinkled her nose in disgust—“yoga pants attract men?”
I rolled my eyes, collapsing back onto my bed. “Believe it or not, I’m not trying to attract men.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted them back. Swearing off men wasn’t the most effective argument against your bisexual roommate.
A wide grin pulled at her features. “That explains the sweatpants.”
“Shut up!” I covered my face with a pillow. “You know what I meant.”
She burst out laughing, and I groaned.
“C’mon, girl. You’ll like playing for both teams.”
I flung the pillow across the room. “Gabriela Felicia Hernandez!”
She cackled, ducking her head down. “Calm down. You sound like my mother.”
Hardly. In the two and a half years we’ve lived together, I’ve only been around her mother twice. She’s a sweet woman, but her accent is thick and she talks eighty miles an hour. I couldn’t imitate her on my best day.
A sudden song clip broke the silence, and Gabby leaned over to grab her phone off her desk. “Hold that thought. Aiden’s calling.”
I felt my lips twitch as she brought the phone to her ear. It was funny how close the three of us had become over the years—especially those two.
When we first met Aiden, freshman year, he was this hopeless nerd with a shock of copper hair and thick, black glasses. Back then, people in my English comp. class would make jokes about him—the cruel, obvious-to-everyone-but-him kind—and I kind of snapped. So the guy had a laugh like a chain-smoking horse—it wasn’t his fault. The details are hazy, and I don’t remember who set me off, but I ended up bitching out the whole class.
That was the week our professor suggested I try independent studies.
It was worth it, though. Aiden gathered his nerve and brought me his lecture notes as a thank you. I invited him in, introduced him to Gabby, and we’ve all been friends ever since.
“Mhm. Mhm. Okay, we’ll see you then.” She hung up before I could process the time lapse. “He’s unpacked.”
I sat up. “Did he sound excited?”
“Girl, please. He’s probably spent all morning sharpening his number two pencils for Monday.”
I couldn’t help but laugh as I pictured it. Aiden loves school. I mean loves it. The start of a semester, for him, is like the end of a semester for everyone else.
“I told him we’d meet near the parking deck in ten, so we can go to lunch.” She tossed the magazine aside and leaned forward. “Now tell me about this guy.”
Ugh. I should’ve known she wouldn’t let that little detail slip. Before I could rethink my exit strategy, I lunged for the door.
“Later. I have to pee!” Pee, of course, meant hide in the bathroom until it was time to go.
“Don’t think I’m gonna forget about it, Ree,” she bellowed as I shut the door. “You owe me details at lunch!”
Yep, the semester was off to a great start already.
Carrie Butler is an award-winning author, the owner of Forward Authority Design Services, and a co-founder of NA Alley—not to mention a recovering marketer with a penchant for superhero socks and Firefly. Time away from her desk is spent playing with her rescue pup, yelling at the TV during hockey season, and indulging in target-based recreation. Otherwise, you’re likely to find her glued to her chair, discovering new ways to share her daydreams…
The Mark of Nexus series has appeared on Amazon bestselling, top-rated, and hot new release lists in various genres. It has also been mentioned in publications like USA Today and Writing New Adult Fiction—a recent how-to from Writer’s Digest.
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