Cover art provided by Jay Aheer of Simply Defined Art

Cover art provided by Jay Aheer of Simply Defined Art


Blurb

Murder, mystery, sex and magic. It’s just another typical night under a crescent moon…

New Orleans Police Detective Taylor Campbell has done his best to leave Xander Cooper alone. Years ago, he joined the Army to get away from the temptation of the younger man. But a series of murders around Xander’s restaurant has Taylor running scared. And when he happens upon Xander holding off a group of thugs, his honor is forgotten.

Xander Cooper fell in love with Taylor when he was a teen. Now an adult, he’s waited and watched and hoped that Taylor would one day see him as more than a little kid meant to be avoided. He didn’t expect murder to bring Taylor to his bed. For Xander, giving Taylor his heart is easy. Letting him in on the family secret is another thing all together.

He didn’t expect that Taylor would have secrets of his own. Secrets that make a little thing like Xander being a witch seem tame.


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Chapter One

It’s Midnight Cinderella played on the radio. Again. Same song, same time every night. Of course, that would be because the playlist on the jukebox was the same one I hit every night. For some strange reason I love Garth Brooks and his brand of rodeo and honky-tonk mixed with southern rock, country music. 
About this time of night it’s just me and the neon moon and Garth, oh and my mop bucket. Time to do the floors. The chairs were already turned up on the tables and the blinds closed, the grill cleaned and the glasses put away. Just the mopping left to do. And Garth and I made a pretty good team. He sang and I slipped and slid in my bare feet as I sloshed my way from the front to the back.
My name is Xander by the way. Okay, it’s Alexander but I detest the Alex part. My dad was Alex. Alexander P. Cooper the second. I’m the third. The P stands for Percival but I don’t like to tell people that. So that’s me—Xander or Xan to my friends. Thank God it’s not Percy. I came very close to being a Percy. My mom thought it would be cute to call me Percy. My dad had the sense to tell her that Percy was a sure-fire way to get my ass beat on the playground when I started school. 
But that was before my parents were killed on Nine Eleven. Both of them. They’d gone to New York for their anniversary and didn’t come back again. After that I moved to New Orleans to live with my aunt and her house full of cats. Okay my great aunt, my mom’s aunt. Both of my parents were only children. And there were no grandparents by the time I was in middle school. So just me and Aunt Eula and the three wicked stepsisters, Furella, Lucy Fur, and Tabby. I’ve never been sure why Aunt Eula broke the unusual cat name trend with Tabby. And I didn’t care. It was Aunt Eula who first called me Xander. It was Aunt Eula who burned all of my khaki slacks and penny loafers and bought me jeans and sneakers. Aunt Eula was cool. Despite the cats. 
Of course, even with having a cool new name and cool new clothes I was still the same old me. Too thin, too tall, too timid. Yes, I’m timid. I couldn’t get out of my own way if the occasion called for it. But it rarely did. 
Aunt Eula owned two things. Okay she owned three things, an almost three-hundred-year-old house in the Garden District, and a restaurant in the Vue Carre—that’s French Quarter in French, I think. I don’t know. I never thought to study the language. Even if I did it wouldn’t make sense with the messed up patois floating around down here. Cajun. I understood it even if I couldn’t speak it.
And the third thing. She owned a 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Midnight blue with white stripes on the hood. It was cherry. And just sitting in her garage. Something she’d picked up back in the day, she’d said once when she was waxing nostalgic.
Aunt Eula wasn’t old. She wasn’t young either. She was ageless. And generous. But never exactly motherly. She put me through school. She encouraged me to be free and think free and embrace my natural gifts. I did—I was a whiz in the kitchen. She gave me the restaurant and retired because the smell of fried shrimp had hit the point where she was going to cause more damage than the hurricane could ever dare think to cause.
I believed her. Aunt Eula could raise a ruckus bigger than anyone I’d ever met. She proved that to me right after the hurricane. She fought tooth and nail and the elements to get her restaurant up and running within a couple of days. Power and looters be damned. She did it. And The Crescent Moon fed everyone who needed a hot meal. We were still feeding everyone who needed feeding. Only now it was me running the place, with the help of some of Eula’s eccentric friends. We made shrimp po’boys and jambalaya like nobody’s business. And hamburgers and fries too. Sort of a diner. Sort of a bar. Sort of a milkshake shack and voodoo hoodoo shop. Hey, it’s N’Awlins—go with it or go home. I went with it, because I didn’t remember any other home.
Garth gave way to Blue Oyster Cult, Don’t Fear the Reaper, as I wrung the mop out for the last time. Strange, I didn’t remember pulling that song up on my playlist. I didn’t even remember having it on my playlist. But there it was. I left the front lights on and turned the volume up so that I could hear the classic goodness in the office while I closed out the daily P&L and sent the file along to Aunt Eula at the house. I got back a chat box that told me to go out and have fun. 
It’s a Friday in the Big Easy. Go listen to some music. Or I’ll sic Lucy Fur on you. That’s an order.
I laughed and sent her back a smiley face with its tongue sticking out. I was exhausted. And I reeked of fried food. My hair would be soaked with sweat when I pulled the ponytail holder out and let it fall around my shoulders. The only place I was going was to the apartment over her carriage house to crash for a couple of days if I was lucky. If I wasn’t then I’d be back down here to open up at the ass crack of dawn. Depending on the voodoo portion of the thing we call a staff around here.
Esmeralda, one of Aunt Eula’s oldest friends, who wasn’t quite as ageless as Aunty E, refused to believe that she couldn’t handle the breakfast shift without help. She also refused to let the waitresses into the restaurant sometimes. Especially if she didn’t like what they’d chosen to come to work in that day. Where Aunty E was cool, Esme was… Well, she had a Glinda the Good and Elphaba the Not So Good going on. Some days we didn’t know who was going to show up to work. On those days when Elphaba was the personality in charge one of the girls would call Aunty E who would sweep in and take Miss Esme out for a day of pampering at a spa and lunch someplace nice. And I would drag my ass out of bed and preside over the breakfast shift.
This was my life. I loved this life. I met people. Lots of people. I had money and a wicked ride and I lived behind a mansion. What wasn’t to love?
I signed off the computer and did one last kitchen inspection before turning down the lights and unplugging the juke. I left the ceiling fans on low and turned off the neon moon symbol over the door on my way out. 
The rain from earlier in the evening had stopped by the time I stepped out into the night. Steam rose from the pavement indicating it hadn’t been that long since the deluge had stopped. Summer in New Orleans. For some reason I loved this too—the heat, the humidity, the various odors of decay, humanity and the river. I was at home here in this mixed up European mutt of a city. I didn’t flinch when the wolf whistle echoed out over the empty street.
Yeah, this was part of living here too. I turned slowly making sure I had my keys in my fingers like little daggers. The instinct to run never seemed to emerge, as many times as this happened.
“Hey, baby, how’s about a little kiss?” The kissing noises would stop when I turned around. That never failed either. The long hair and long legs were all they could see from the back. From the front it was a whole different story. 
There were three of them, one sitting on the hood of my car. My 1967 Shelby GT500 in midnight blue with white stripes. And some asshole punk had his booted foot on the hood. “How about you get off my car and we forget about how rude you are,” I threw back. My voice wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t feminine and I wasn’t happy.
“Pretty thang is a dude.” One of the friends lounging around on the sidewalk called out in a slurred voice. He had a big plastic cup of something. Only in New Orleans were there no open container laws. Might hurt tourism. And the cops did not like hurting tourism around these parts.
“So when has that ever stopped Dominic? When he wants a kiss, he gets a kiss,” another one shouted back. This one sounded sober, and crazy. Sober and crazy wasn’t something I liked to mess with. Drunk and disorderly could be handled. 
“How’s about it, sweetness? You give Dom a kiss and a ride in your car, and my friends won’t fuck you up too much. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. Which I bet you are. Come on, baby, give Dom a kiss and the keys.”
Dom apparently liked to refer to himself in the third person. I stood on the banquette, feet planted wide apart, one hand on my hip. The other I let hang loose—I held my keys at the ready. I smiled. “Dom needs to get his ass off my car and walk on back to where he came from.”
“Oh come on, baby, don’t be like that.” Dom smiled back as he lounged on my car, the heel of his boot digging into the paint loud enough that I could hear it all the way over here. He didn’t move his head, at least not enough to call attention to what he was doing, but I noticed. I also noticed when his two friends started inching their way towards me.
I had two options. Turn around and unlock the restaurant and hope I made it inside before they grabbed me. Which would put me at two disadvantages, my back to them for one, and for two, they’d have a nice private place to fuck me up really badly. Or I could haul ass up the street.
I wasn’t the type to run. 
Dom’s nod was more aggressive this time. My skin tingled as the drunker guy moved ever closer. I could take him. He stumbled over his own feet, and he thought that was fucking hilarious. Sobercrazy was a different story altogether. He was huge. And agile. I didn’t take my eyes off Dom for a split second. I didn’t dare but I could see the size of Sobercrazy’s hands in my periphery. A couple of keys weren’t going to be enough to deal with hands that size. 
“If you’re a good boy, we’ll only take the car.” This from Sobercrazy. Dom laughed. “Maybe not.”
He was close enough now to graze my arm and that was all I needed. I swung out my key dagger fingers about the same time as the blip blip blip of a siren intruded. Hell, I hadn’t even heard the car drive up and I jumped too. 
“Son of a bitch, fucking cops.” Sobercrazy moved away from me slowly at first then at a run. Drunkendisorderly started laughing and Dom, well, I don’t know what Dom was doing. I was too busy watching the occupant of the unmarked car. 
More specifically I watched the man unfold from the car and loom over us all. His gun clearly visible in his side holster, his sleeves rolled up as if he was on his way home and this was keeping him from something. I hated him but I’d never been happier to see someone in my life. Except maybe when Aunt Eula had showed up to rescue me from the city children’s home. This reminded me of that day. A little.
“Is there a problem, boys?” the detective said in his deceptively soft voice. He sounded tired and maybe a bit put out. If I hadn’t known him for years I wouldn’t recognize the inflections. I’d just think he was bored. He sounded bored. 
“No problem, Officer. I’m just waiting for my friend to take me for a ride in his new car.” Dom had to be high on something. I mean seriously, I don’t know how I kept a straight face.
“Man, do you think I’m playing with you? I will haul you in. If for nothing more than ruining the paint on the hottest car in this city. Now get off the car and scram before I shoot you.” I could hear the amusement in his voice. He was trying not to laugh. “The Crescent Moon is closed. Move on. Or I’ll move you on.”
Dom seemed to think better of pursuing the current lie that I saw flicker in his eyes. He stepped off the car and onto the street. I could see that he was at least the same size as the detective, but he wasn’t armed. And New Orleans cops had a certain reputation for shooting first and making up their own story later. “Catch you later, baby. We’ll take that ride you promised me.” He held his hand up and pointed then aimed it gun-like at the detective before walking off with Drunkendisorderly.
“Friends of yours?” The detective came to stand beside me, his gun secure now. 
“Sure, we go way back to five minutes ago,” I said. A prickling sensation started in my scalp and eased down my body, making me shiver. 
“Xander?”
“I’m glad you showed up, I mean, no fucking, Taylor, I don’t think I would have gotten out of that without a scratch.” I shivered again. It wasn’t the slightest bit cold outside. It was fucking August and probably still around eighty degrees this close to midnight. 
“I’ve told you not to drive the Shelby down here when you work late. It’s just asking for trouble.” 
I touched the scratches on the fender. The damage wasn’t bad, but it was bad enough. He must have had metal taps or something on the bottom of his boots to leave grooves like that. I licked my fingers and rubbed each scar until the paint glowed with health again. I couldn’t stop shivering.
“He wasn’t after the car. At least, he wasn’t only after the car.” I don’t know why I leaned against him. I don’t know why I tucked my nose against his shirt. I don’t know why I let him wrap his arms around me. And I sure as hell didn’t know why I couldn’t stop shaking.
“Do you want me to follow you home?” I could feel his voice rumble in his chest. His chin pressed against my ear. I could feel his sigh. I shook my head. Another shiver racked me. I nodded.
“Yeah. Maybe, I don’t know. I’m being stupid. Don’t worry about it.”
“Xan, there were three of them. Drunk and probably worse than that. That one guy had thug written all over him. He would have loved fucking up your face.”
“It wasn’t my face he wanted to fuck,” I said when I could without my teeth chattering. Then I walked away. I didn’t care if he followed or not. I was fine now. I was more than fine. I was super fine.