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Moira Rogers
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Crux

Southern Arcana, Book One
Series Info:

Digital

Reissued: Nov 2015

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Jackson Holt has carved out a life for himself as a private investigator in New Orleans, home of one of the largest underground supernatural populations in the United States. He and his partners have never met a case they couldn’t crack…until a local bar owner asks him to do a little digging on her newest hire.

New Orleans is the fourth destination in as many months for Mackenzie Brooks, a desperate woman on the run from a deranged stalker. After all, any man who shows up on her doorstep claiming to be her destined lover has more than a few screws loose. But crazy doesn’t explain why Marcus always finds her, no matter how far she runs.

When her well-meaning boss puts a PI on her case, Mackenzie comes face to face with the incredible, unbelievable truth: magic is real, and whatever spell has kept her hidden and separate from the paranormal world is rapidly deteriorating.

With time running out, she has no choice but to trust Jackson as they struggle to uncover the truth of her past—and her destiny.

Read an Excerpt


Mackenzie resisted the urge to change positions again. It didn’t help. Instead she wrapped her hands around the strap of her bag and stared straight ahead, refusing to look at Jackson. Every time she did, the arousal that had been on low simmer all afternoon burst into full-on desire, and she could barely keep her hands to herself.Even thinking about touching him made primal satisfaction unfurl slowly inside her. She stubbornly headed it off. “Can you explain this to me again?” she asked in a low voice, wrapping her fingers more tightly around her bag. “Maybe thinking will help. Or distract me.”

“Explain what?” His eyes didn’t leave the road. “The ants in your pants?”

She let out a strangled laugh. “That’s one way to put it. You said Alec thinks it’s some…spell or something?”

“Well, no. The spell would be what normally keeps you from getting this way.” He checked his mirror and signaled to pass. “It’s some sort of shapeshifter thing. The animal has to get out. When she doesn’t, you get restless.” He arched an eyebrow. “Sometimes really restless, I guess.”

Mackenzie groaned as she slid lower in the seat and closed her eyes. Every instinct in her body screamed for action. Her vivid imagination provided endless scenarios for how she could soothe the hot need twisting her into knots. The scene unfolded behind her eyelids like an erotic movie–pulling off the road, finding someplace secluded… She could almost smell the clean scent of his skin, could imagine how it would feel under her lips when she slid into his lap and nuzzled her face into his neck.

The earlier fantasies of long, hot lovemaking vanished. The frantic need inside her would be satisfied by nothing less than equally frantic sex. She wanted his hands and mouth on her skin, wanted to feel him writhing helplessly beneath her as she moved above him, driving them both into limp exhaustion.

A tiny whimper escaped as she fought back the image of his face, eyes hazy with pleasure and lips forming her name as she rode him to completion in the front seat of the car. “Oh, God. You have no idea how restless.”

He shot her a sharp look. “I suppose I… Hey, how about some music?” He cranked up the volume on the radio, and a song with a low, throbbing beat spilled out of the speakers. He stared straight ahead as he stabbed a button with his finger, changing the station to one featuring talk radio.

Mackenzie stared out the window into the night and took a deep breath. “I don’t suppose you–I mean, it’s a bit of an odd proposition, but would you consider–” She snarled. “The sexual frustration is going to kill me.”

Jackson reached for his phone, hit a button and slapped it to his ear. After a moment, he said, “Yeah, it’s me. Look, about what you said… Yeah, what can she do about that? You know, that won’t–” He paused, obviously listening. “Yeah. Oh no, uh-uh. Okay, yeah. Later.” He snapped the phone closed. “Sorry, no sex. The bottom line is that you could die, and that would suck. You also can’t take care of it yourself, because you could weaken the spell even further.”

A tiny part of her curled in on itself in embarrassment when she realized Jackson and Alec had just had a discussion about whether or not she could masturbate. The rest of her just wondered if she could talk Jackson into taking the chance that she might not die.

“Jesus Christ.” She closed her eyes again. “Can we pull over at the next town, maybe get some food? The close quarters aren’t helping.”

“Absolutely,” he said immediately. “I think food is a great idea. We can walk around and stretch our legs too. Terrific idea, Mackenzie.”

“Terrific idea,” she agreed faintly. Except we’re not even halfway there and I’m already losing my mind. It was going to be a very long night.

***
The diner was small and cozy, and looked to cater mostly to truckers. Their waitress showed them to a booth without a word, setting two menus down before returning unprompted with a pot of coffee.

Mackenzie glanced at it, but caffeine wasn’t something she needed to add to her system. “Have you got any milkshakes?” she asked hopefully.

“Sure, honey. Chocolate or vanilla?”

“Vanilla, please.” She glanced across the booth at Jackson. “You drinking coffee?”

“Yeah. Got a lot of driving to do if we want to make it to Boca anytime soon.” He favored the waitress with a smile as he turned over his mug. “Fill ‘er up, darlin’, and I’ll have an omelet as big as my head, with bacon, peppers and cheese, please.”

The waitress’s bored expression melted into an answering smile as she filled Jackson’s cup, Mackenzie apparently forgotten. She seemed terribly impressed by Jackson’s easy smile, and set aside the coffee pot as she jotted down his order. “Anything else with that, sweetheart? Sausage? Pancakes? We got some of the best muffins in the state here, if I do say so myself. Bake ‘em fresh every night.”

“He said he wants an omelet.” At first, Mackenzie didn’t even realize she’d spoken. Her voice barely sounded like her own, low and dangerous with a hint of menace. Color flooded her cheeks, and she avoided Jackson’s eyes, wishing she could sink into the booth and disappear.

Jackson choked on his coffee, but recovered quickly enough to throw his head back with a laugh. “Now, now, sweet tart, I’ll stick to my low-carb diet, but the nice lady’s just doing her job.” His smile turned sheepish. “That’s what I get for marrying a health nut, I guess.”

The woman turned back to Mackenzie, her expression cool. “And what would you like with your milkshake, ma’am?”

The urge to snarl at her again was so overwhelming Mackenzie dug her teeth into her lip and flashed Jackson a pleading look.

“She’ll have a couple of those muffins,” he said quickly. “Damn hypocrite’s what she is, huh?”

As soon as the waitress retreated, Mackenzie folded her arms on the table and dropped her forehead to rest on them. “What in hell is happening to me?” she demanded, though she wasn’t sure she wanted an answer. The intense desire to slide across the table and rub herself against Jackson to warn off the waitress was too disturbing for words.

“Well, you seem to be getting possessive there, darlin’.”

She raised her head and glared at him. “No, really?”

“Look.” He leaned forward earnestly. “This isn’t any more fun for me than it is for you, but it’s going to be one hell of a long trip if we can’t come to some kind of understanding about what I can and can’t ignore. The wiggling around on the car seat like a cat in heat? I can ignore it. But I can’t let you make some poor waitress’s life miserable just because I’m a charming bastard. She can’t help that.”

A powerful need to strangle him replaced the urge to climb into his lap. Her scowl deepened as she inched out of the booth. “I’m going to the restroom.” Maybe to run my head under some cold water.

***
Jackson unlocked Mackenzie’s door and swiped a hand across his forehead. They’d managed to finish dinner without further incident, and he had to credit his purposefully conceited comments with distracting Mackenzie enough to make it possible. “Watch the muffins,” he told her as she climbed into the car.

The look she gave him as she deliberately threw the muffins roughly into the backseat was hot and challenging, but at least it wasn’t inviting. She seemed capable of switching back and forth between lust and rage with startling speed, but she’d been having a lot more success controlling the anger.

Thank God for that. Jackson rounded the car and opened his own door. It would be a lot easier to deal with her hating his guts than to smack her hands away from the button-fly of his jeans when she started feeling randy again. “All right, buckle up. Miles to go and all.”

She took another of those deep breaths that seemed to be the only thing holding her together. “Damn it, I’m hungry.” She twisted in her seat and reached for the bag of muffins.

Her shirt rode up when she stretched out her arm, revealing the smooth skin of her side and stomach. By some stroke of bad luck–or her own subconscious design–it happened just as she brushed against his arm.

Mackenzie froze, her skin still pressed to his, and moaned, low and needy and desperate. “I want you so badly.”

He snatched his hand away and slammed his forehead on the steering wheel. “Okay, woman. You have got to have a little pity on me, here. Fucking around in the backseat could kill you.”

She crowded against him suddenly, her body soft and her breath hot against his ear. “Right now I feel like not fucking around is killing me too.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, she ran her tongue lightly along the shell of his ear.

Jesus God. He flattened himself back against the car door and batted her away. “Am I going to have to put you under?” he demanded.

For a moment–just a moment–something flashed in her eyes. The Mackenzie he’d been slowly getting to know stared back at him, and she looked terrified. Her fingers curled in his shirt. “Help me,” she half-sobbed. “I don’t want to–I can’t–”

He framed her face with his hands, breathed a word against her forehead and she shuddered.

The spell took effect, but not nearly as quickly as it should have. It seemed as if it had quieted the frantic battle inside her without putting her to sleep. Her blue eyes slowly cleared, and the hands clutching at his chest relaxed.

“Thank you.” The words were a barely audible whisper, and her eyes fluttered shut. When they opened again she looked dazed, as if her body was fighting sleep and losing. She leaned closer, her lips touching his cheek and then sliding to the corner of his mouth. “Thank you,” she breathed again.

She kissed him. It wasn’t frantic or desperate or aggressive like her earlier advances had been. Her lips were warm and soft, her kiss heartbreakingly gentle.

He relaxed into the caress, but she sagged against him, dragging him back to reality. Kissing her while she was in this condition was no better than doing so while she was drugged, so he pulled his mouth from hers and moved her back onto the passenger seat. “Sweet dreams, Kenzie.” He pulled the seatbelt across her body and fastened it. After another moment’s thought, he reclined the seat and brushed her hair from her face.

His phone rang, startling him, and he fumbled for his headset. “Hello?”

A rich voice filled his ear. “I know you’ve got a good reason for leaving fifteen frantic messages on my voicemail and scaring the living daylights out of me, don’t you, Jack?”

“Damn straight I do, Mahalia.” Jackson started the car and spared Mackenzie’s sleeping form another glance. “I’ve got a cougar trying to climb in my pants.”

“Is that some sort of clever euphemism?”

“I wish to hell it was, May.” He gritted his teeth as he pulled out of the parking lot. “I’m on the way to your place right now. Tell me you’ve got some experience with spells meant to keep the animal at bay.”

“Some, but not much. You’re coming to Boca Raton?”

“Yeah. I’ve got a woman here who’s in a bad way. Some extremely well-connected asshole has been stalking her across the country, trying to convince her to have his babies. She’s never shifted, and now she’s getting…frustrated. Besides which, there’s something weird about her parents and a deadly house fire that maybe wasn’t deadly at all…” He trailed off and exhaled roughly. “It’s a fuckin’ mess, May, pardon my French.”

“A house fire?” Jackson could practically hear the gears turning in her head. “What was the name? Do you remember?”

“Evans. Why, does it ring a bell?”

She didn’t answer. “Get here as fast as you can,” she commanded. “I’m calling Steven.”

“Hang on just a minute,” Jackson protested. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t have time to explain, Jack. Just get your ass down here.”

She hung up, leaving Jackson perplexed and frightened. Any situation that could put that edge of fear in Mahalia Tate’s voice was serious enough to make a grown man piss his pants.