Monday, October 5, 2020

Now On Tour Full Moon in Leo by Brooklyn Ray with Exclusive Excerpt #holidayromance #queerromance #exclusiveexcerpt

October 5 Horror Made (Review)

October 5 Jazzy Book Reviews
October 6 Sapphyria's Books

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October 7 Never Hollowed By The Stare 

October 7 JB's Bookworms with Brandy Mulder

October 8 SImply Kelina

October 8 Midnight Musings

October 9 Celia Breslin

October 9 Momma Says: To Read or Not to Read
October 12 The Book Junkie Reads

October 12 Roxanne’s Realm 
October 12 The Creatively Green Write at Home Mom

Full Moon in Leo
Brooklyn Ray

Genre: Queer Holiday Romance

Date of Publication: October 1, 2020
ISBN: 9798681122579
Number of pages: 210
Word Count: 65,000

Cover Artist: BookCoverZone

Tagline: Small-town magic, two heavy hearts—one unforgettable winter solstice

Book Description:

Cole Morrison left Jewel's snow-covered fir trees ten years ago. But after a disastrous family Thanksgiving, Jewel seems like the only place left to go. When a run-in with a gorgeous stranger leaves him with debt to pay, Cole’s escape from his past turns out to be much more than a lonely Christmas vacation.

Jesse Carroway, the local Jewel witch, has been running his family's successful, small-town Apothecary ever since his grandmother passed away. When Cole stumbles into his shop and accidentally wrecks a good portion of his inventory, Jesse does the only thing he can possibly think of—offers Cole a job and himself some help for the upcoming holiday rush.

Cole’s clumsy with candles and doesn't trust easily, but soon Jesse gets a peek at the guy behind his bad-boy reputation. As the nights lengthen toward Yule, Jesse wonders if magic is to blame or if Cole might've fallen into his life for a reason…

Chapter One  

The Wheel of Fortune

—cycles completing; karma; positive change

Sunlight spilled over a navy sky, unraveling the day between frosty branches. Cole wasn’t used to the restless quiet. His footsteps echoed through the sleepy streets. Smoke billowed from chimneys and blinds rustled behind dark windows. It’d been a long time since he saw Jewel for what it was—a town too small to be cared for by those who left, but small enough to be loved by those who stayed.

Trees lined the two-lane road. Crisp air nipped his cheeks and the thrum of something not quite lost but not quite found stirred inside him. He adjusted the leather strap curled over his shoulder, messenger bag snug on his hip. Open signs blinked awake and locks clicked. The theater, an old, timely thing, was topped with a vintage light box where black letters sat crooked, spelling out film names and show times. The ice cream shop where his aunt used to work was still there, tucked between a Mexican restaurant and an art supply store.

These streets were watermarked by his childhood, the cage he’d been shipped to when he bared his teeth too often or clenched his fists too hard. An academic household like his, filled with diplomas and success, hadn’t made room for a wild card. Ten years later, his family still didn’t know what to do with him.

“Still here, huh?” Cole paused at the corner of Oakheart and Foxborough, trailing his eyes over the rickety sign above the window. The Crow’s Nest had been around for longer than Cole had been alive, a quaint coffee shop known for its lattes and pastries.

A bell jingled when he stepped inside. Tables filled the open space, different than he remembered but just as cozy. Across the room, a barista eyed him from behind the counter, her lips quirked into a friendly smile. “Can I help you?”

“Yeah, I…” Cole cleared his throat. He stepped around a table and set his hands on the counter, head tipped back to read the chalkboard menu on the wall. He noticed the way she postured, glancing at the ink peeking over his wrists. There was something about her, a familiarity he couldn’t shake. “I’ll take a matcha latte with coconut milk, please. To go.”

“Anything to eat? I just made honey cakes. They’re delicious, I…” She lifted a thick, blond brow. Her eyes narrowed as she leaned closer, gaze drifting from his face to his chest. “Cole? Are you, I mean, I’m pretty sure I know you. You’re—”

“Cole Morrison.” Caution looped through each syllable. He looked at her, really looked, tracing her soft, round cheeks and petite chin. “Tara?”

Abrupt laughter tumbled over her lips. “It’s been—God, how long has it been?”

“Almost ten years, I think.” Ten years and two months, to be exact.

Minutes ago, Cole could’ve passed the familiarity between them off as a trick of the light. But now the woman in front of him was attached to the girl from his memories. There was no mistaking her for someone else. He met her cool, gray eyes and remembered who’d she’d been, wandering apple orchards with him on sunny autumn days, scooping toads off river rocks and hiding them in his shoes. Her blond hair was longer now, whisked into a bun atop her head.

They’d stumbled through adolescence hand in hand, exploring Jewel and friendship, lost to the world but found to each other.

“Wow,” she whispered. A wide smile dimpled her cheeks. “You look different. How’s life? Still pissing everyone off on the coast?”

Cole masked a cringe, smirking awkwardly at the counter. “Pretty much, yeah. How `bout you? You’re still in Jewel, obviously.”

“It’s home.” Tara tapped on a touch screen register. He handed her his credit card. She flicked it back to him. “It’s on me—don’t look at me like that, it’s fine. How long are you in town for?”

“Lila’s in Cambodia until Christmas Eve, so I’m staying at her place until then.” He nudged her hand with his credit card.

She shook her head and pushed the card away. “Wasn’t she, like, just in Peru?”

“Yeah, you know her. Can’t sit still for very long. Seriously, Tara, let me—”

“It’s fine!” She slid a plate across the counter. A plump piece of cake crowned with golden honeycomb sat atop it. “You said coconut milk, right?”

“Yeah, if you have it. So, what’s new? Are you in school? Married? Kids?” Cole didn’t have the courage to ask what he wanted to. The real stuff, boxed away with the rest of their childhood, long forgotten. Did you ever kiss Monica Owens like you told me you would? Do you remember stealing Jeb’s car from the drive-in lot? How much has changed since then?

“School, no. Married, no. Kids, hell no.” Tara flashed a fanged grin. Steam scented like green tea and cloves billowed from the barista station. “I’m a hair stylist Monday through Wednesday at the little salon off Pine Street. I’m here most mornings, sometimes swing a few nights at Ricky’s.”

“Ricky’s? That place is still around?”

“Dive bars never die,” Tara said. She handed him a beautifully crafted latte topped with a rippled leaf. The bell sounded, followed by creaky hinges and shoes shuffling across the floor. Cole thought of the promises they’d made to each other. One day, I’ll be… Someday, we’ll run to… Tara stood on her tiptoes and glanced over Cole’s shoulder. “We’ll catch up, right? Like, we’ll get drinks or something?”

“Sure, yeah, we can do that. I might hang out for a bit, actually. If that’s okay.” He gestured to his messenger bag. “Any outlets next to the window?”

“Yeah, take the booth in the corner. It’s…” She shook her head, eyes roaming his face. “It’s really good to see you, Cole. Seriously.”

“I… Yeah, it’s good to see you too, Tara. Thanks for the latte.”

She winked. “And the cake.”

Wet shoes squeaked on the floorboards behind him.

“And the cake.” Cole smiled again, a foreign expression after three days spent forcing niceties to cousins and uncles and grandparents who had flinched whenever he’d moved too quickly.

He thought back to Thanksgiving. They’ll run a background check, son. They’ll find out regardless. The moment his father had asked if he was being truthful on his job applications, Cole had stopped pretending to be approachable. Before he could bite back, his aunt, the only other oddity on the Morrison family tree, put herself between them, hands firm on Cole’s chest, and said, “Baby, take the keys to the cabin and go. Stay through the holidays, feed the birds, keep everything safe. I’ll pay you before I leave.”

Cole had left before the tea was served. His sister followed him to his car, shouting about helping himself, how they all loved him regardless, that he could get back on his feet if he actually tried. Stop running and stand still for once!

Running was all he knew, but he never thought he’d run into Tara Foster.

What would she think of him now? Life at a crossroads. The word felony clasped tightly around his neck like a choke chain. He scrubbed a hand under the back of his black beanie and opened his laptop, attempting to focus on the unread e-mail bolded on the screen.

“An olive branch,” Cole mumbled. He rolled his eyes and logged out of his e-mail.

Lila was the only person who remotely understood how he felt about their family. But sometimes he thought his aunt had forgotten just how ruined things were. How the awkward rift between him and his sister had cracked and shifted, as if being unable to fix Cole’s brokenness invalidated Ginger’s psychology degree. How his grandmother had only called to ask if he’d spoken to his father, even though his father refused or write or visit.

Three years in a cell was a lonely thing, but his family made the outside lonelier. The soft acoustic music inside the café was a nice change. Same with the sweet cake he forked into his mouth, the twinge of hope in his chest at the sight of Tara’s smile, and the white trees outside.

Cole curled his fingers around the steaming cup, lifting it carefully to his mouth.

As the morning stretched, people came and went, dipping into the café for pastries and warm drinks. Hushed chatter drifted from occupied tables and fingertips tapped on keyboards. He sipped his latte and scrolled through Facebook, clicking on names he barely knew anymore. Friends from high school. Extended family. Sandra went to grad school. Grayson was still in Venice, dating someone new. Figures. He browsed through Ginger’s albums, pausing over photos from her wedding, and wondered if one of the Morrison seats had been left empty on purpose.

Reserved for Cole: The Family Fuck Up.

He closed his laptop and slouched in the seat, eyes tracking cars as they rolled through downtown. How would he frame the last decade of his life when Tara inevitably asked about it? The truth was a misshapen thing, and he didn’t know if he had the heart to explain every mistake and wrong turn that came with it. He gripped his cup tighter. The last time Cole had seen her, they’d been kids, fifteen maybe, and he’d made a promise he couldn’t keep.

I’ll come back. We’ll get on a bus. Head away from San Diego, north toward San Francisco. We’ll run forever.

Loud laughter sparked near the counter. “…we just didn’t click, that’s all. No, Tara, c’mon, he’s your little brother, I wouldn’t lie to you. He was nice, dinner was nice, but…” A customer barked out another laugh and Tara responded in kind, letting her head fall back, shoulders shaking and eyes squeezed shut.

Cole looked closely, searching for another hint of familiarity, and came away with none. Finely sculpted bones pressed against the stranger’s skin, carving a sharp jaw into a heart-shaped face. Dark hair was swept back, sheared close to the skin on the sides and kept longer on top. A high-necked sweater clung to his lean frame, the sleeves bundled in his palms. Cole hadn’t realized he’d been staring until he met wide eyes looking back at him from behind silver reading glasses.

“Jesse, do you want soy or almond milk?” Tara said.

Once Jesse turned his gaze to the floor, Cole cleared his throat.

“Who’s that?” Jesse’s voice came out hushed, but the Crow’s Nest was too small for privacy.

“Oh, that’s Cole.” Tara swiveled around the glass case to look at him. “Hey!” Cole immediately whipped toward the window, pretending to busy himself with birds or trees, something, anything else. “Cole, come on, don’t be like that.”

Fucking hell. He turned to face them and forced a pained smile. “Yeah, hi. It’s—I’m Cole.” He braved a longer look at Jesse, whose freckled cheeks were tinged pink.

Tara pointed at him with her pen. Her grin widened again. “He’s an out-of-towner. Old friend of mine; we used to hang out when we were kids.”

“Oh.” Jesse’s throat bobbed when he swallowed. “That’s—”

“It’s been a while, ten years, honestly. He could be a serial killer for all I know.”

Cole rolled his eyes, but a laugh snorted out of him anyway. “Tara.”

“Great, awesome, thank you for making this interaction entirely too awkward to deal with,” Jesse hissed, bashful smile masked by a nervous adjustment of his glasses. He grabbed the travel mug from the counter and darted out the door. “See you around!”

Cole watched him through the window, how he walked with his shoulders back, his profile crisp and pronounced. Jesse tipped his chin and met Cole’s eyes for a fleeting moment, mouth twisted into a crooked smile, before he stepped past the window and was gone.

“Wait, Jesse!” Tara held a paper bag in one hand, craning over the desk. A group of customers arrived and she paused, biting her lip before she narrowed her eyes at Cole. “C’mere.”

Cole frowned. “No.”

“Come on, I need a favor!” She flashed a smile at the customers. Hi, yes, oh are you visiting? Welcome to Jewel. What can I get for you today? Another pointed glare at Cole. Her lips formed silent words. Please, come on.

Cole shook his head.

Once Tara finished taking orders, she shook the bag at him. “You’ve ghosted me for a decade. You owe me.”

“So, you are mad.” Reluctantly, Cole walked to the counter.

“Of course, I’m mad. Are you kidding me? Ten years, asshole?” She chuckled under her breath. “Not, like, mad mad.”

“Mad enough to extort me for it.”

Emotional extortion.” She gestured to the bag. “Can you take this to Jesse? He runs the apothecary next door.”

“The guy you just royally embarrassed me in front of? No, Tara, come on—”

“Excuse me, but my best friend vanished into thin air ten years ago and I still bought him breakfast,” Tara said matter-of-factly. She rushed around the barista station, steaming this and pouring that. “He’s real sweet, okay? Just a little skittish.”

“And he runs an…an apothecary? He’s—”

“Cute? Yeah, I know. He makes wreathes, candles, lotions, potions, all of it. Local witch, local sweetheart, local bachelor.” She set her palms on the counter and tilted her head, blowing a strand of hair off her brow. “In case you were wondering.”

Cole didn’t know what to say to something like that. He blinked, surprised, and scoffed. “Still playing matchmaker, Foster?”

Tara scoffed back at him. “Maybe. You scared of a cute guy, Morrison?”

Cole rolled his eyes.

“I’ll sweeten the deal. I’m making almond muffins tomorrow.”

“Another free breakfast?” He shook his head, trying and failing to suppress a grin. Some things never changed, and Tara, thank fucking god, was who she’d always been. Haughty and confident and strong in every way Cole could never be.

But this tasted like forgiveness. Like beginnings, maybe. An olive branch he could actually hold on to.

Tara balanced mugs on a black tray. “Free breakfast and a free latte. Deal?”

Cole snatched the paper bag off the counter. “Deal.”


Breath fogged the air in front of his mouth. He adjusted his beanie, tugged at his jeans, smoothed his palms down the front of his jacket. Cute people existed. He used to interact with them daily. Smiled. Didn’t trip over himself. Spoke, even. But for some reason, the idea of walking into the apothecary next door made his chest tight and his throat dry. Maybe it was the witch stuff. Maybe it was being on his own for the first time in years, able to make his own decisions, forge his own path. Maybe it was being back in Jewel, directionless and alone.

Whatever it was, Cole had to figure it out. Quickly. Immediately.

Because Jesse stood on a metal ladder, struggling to drape garland across the brick face of the shopfront. His handsome brown shoes arched, tiptoes clinging to the second-to-last step. A curse fluttered from him and he wobbled just enough to tip backward.

Cole caught the small of Jesse’s back. “I’ve got you—I’m sorry,” he blurted, trying his best to lift all five fingers away from Jesse’s sweater while steadying him at the same time. “You okay?”

“I’d be better if I had an extra set of hands,” Jesse said. He glanced over his shoulder, cheeks blotched red from exertion. “Can you hold the ladder steady for a minute? I’m almost done.”

“Yeah, sure, I’m—”

“Cole. I remember.”

Cole set his cup and the bag down, and gripped the ladder with both hands. He swallowed, watching Jesse’s shoulders roll as he tucked the garland over long, rusty nails. Like this, with Jesse’s heels at eye level and Cole’s head tipped back, he could appreciate the way Jesse’s jeans wrapped around his calves and thighs and—

“There,” Jesse said. After the garland was situated properly, Jesse climbed down and Cole took a quick step back. The ladder squeaked. Jesse sighed and smacked his hands together, brushing dust and glitter from his palms. “Think it needs anything else? More pinecones, maybe?”

Cole chewed on the inside of his cheek, eyes darting from Jesse to the garland. Pinecones clustered in the corners, bundled with red ribbon and brushed with gold foil. Tiny bells hung from green stems and delicate lace curled into bows at each end. “It’s pretty,” he said, and grabbed his drink from the ground. “But I’m not very festive, so.”

“Not festive, huh?” Jesse opened the apothecary’s wooden door and spoke over his shoulder. “Anyone who comes to Jewel on purpose during the holidays has to be a little festive.”

“Yeah, well, guess I’ll break the mold on that one. Do witches even celebrate Christmas?”

Jesse snared him in a hard look. Muted sunlight caught the gold in his chestnut eyes. “Do you even believe in witches?” His mouth lifted into a small smile, voice rasped and dismissive. Before Cole could answer, the door closed.

Shit. Cole squeezed the top of the bag. He wasn’t good at this—not the talking part or the making friends part or the being in Jewel part. All he had to do was deliver Jesse’s bagel, start over with Tara, and be on his way.

Cole shouldered the door open. The space was smaller than he expected. A sign above the register read Carroway Apothecary. Shelves lined the walls, crowded with vials and jars filled with powders and herbs. Bundled lavender hung upside down from a rope strung across the ceiling. Light beamed through the windows, creeping over hanging caladiums, giant ferns and potted plants.

It was unmistakably beautiful. Mysterious and quirky, and warm in a way Cole couldn’t place.

Candles were everywhere, tucked on the windowsills, displayed on a long, rustic table, and perched on shelves where old books slouched together. Some were violet, accented by dried flowers, others were mint green, flecked with herbs and tea leaves. He set the bag down and plucked a candle from the table. Dried pieces of rosemary were folded into the wax. Rose petals. Pine needles. He dragged his finger over the wick, touched the glitter brushed across the top.

Jesse cleared his throat. “Oh…you followed me. Is… Can I help you with something?”

Cole glanced around the apothecary. “Tara mentioned you were artsy. What is all this stuff?”

“The thing you’re holding is a ritual candle.” Jesse turned, eyes flicking from the candle to Cole’s face. “Organic, made with soy wax, essential oils and dried herbs, then consecrated under a full moon. The color, flowers and scents all do different things, so each individual batch has a unique purpose.”

“Ritual candles, like, for witchcraft?”

“Not necessarily.” Jesse pulled long-stemmed dandelions from a drawer behind the register, laying them out in a line across the desk. “Lots of people have their own day-to-day rituals. Baths are rituals, exercise is a ritual, cooking can be a ritual. Those candles,” he squinted, “specifically the one in your hand, is for cutting cords. It encourages self-care, redirection, and helps with radical change.”

Heat rushed into Cole’s cheeks. He immediately set the candle back down. “Tara wanted me to bring you this.” He held the bag out and walked toward him. “I think it’s a bagel, maybe. Whatever you ordered. She told me you’re a witch and I didn’t really know what to make of it, especially since I haven’t seen her in… It’s just, it’s been a while since I’ve been back here, but… That doesn’t—yeah, that doesn’t matter. Anyway, sorry if I offended you with the Christmas stuff, I just—”

Jesse gasped. Scissors clattered on the desk amidst flowers and ribbon. “Watch for Waffles!”

“Watch for wha—”

A small, beige blob darted from beneath the table and ran through Cole’s legs. He sidestepped to avoid it, but a basket full of bath bombs got in his way. He stumbled, latte in one hand, bag in the other, and crashed into a display.

Not crashed as in bumped into or fell against. Cole’s back hit the shelves and they caved in, jostling the jars above his head until they fell. Pain throbbed between his shoulders. His boot slipped through splattered lotion and he tumbled to the floor, smacking his elbow as he went. Something heavy hit his knee, sending a hot jolt through his shin and into his foot. Products and mason jars and candles spilled around him, shattering and cracking.

Jesse stood with both hands clasped over his mouth, wide-eyed and perfectly still.

From the floor, Cole spotted a floppy-eared rabbit seated next to Jesse’s feet. “You must be Waffles,” he said through a groan.

“Holy shit, are you…” Jesse stepped over the mess and offered Cole his hand. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Cole grumbled. He let Jesse help him to his feet and looked from broken jars to ruined merchandise. Anxiety crawled into the base of his throat. “I…I’m so sorry, I’ll pay—I mean, I don’t have the money right now, but I’ll pay for all of this, everything, I just need some time to get it figured out.”

Jesse shook his head but stayed silent.

This was a disaster. A fucking catastrophe. The only money he had was the money Lila had given him to watch the birds, and that certainly wasn’t enough to replace all this. Cole grabbed whatever looked intact: a couple candles, a jar filled with flowers, some bars of soap. Jesse still hadn’t moved and Cole couldn’t get his thoughts straight. Panic fluttered in his chest, a reminder that he wasn’t free—not completely—and an accident like this could cost him the little room he had in the world.

“Look, this is gonna sound weird, but can we… I know people file reports for stuff like this, damages, insurance, lability, but…” He rubbed his palm over the stubble on his cheek. “I’ll fix this. Will you take my word for it?”

“Why would I do that?” Jesse’s brows knitted.

Cole’s heart thundered. His lashes fluttered, shame and uncertainty blooming deep in his stomach. “Because my parole officer will kill me if he finds out,” he said softly.

Jesse’s mouth clamped shut with an audible click. He gave Cole a slow once-over. “Oh,” was all he said, a quick, small thing, before he stepped backward and scooped Waffles into his arms. There was a pause, as if the gentle trance music in the background went quiet, and flames popped curiously on their wicks. Everything in the shop leaned closer, waiting for the inevitable. Anger or tears or something worse. “This is… This is weeks’ worth of work. I don’t think you understand what exactly goes into creating…” He toed at some broken glass and the spices scattered around it. “Products like these.”

Something terrible lodged in his throat. Even in Jewel, he thought. Even here, in this tiny mountain town, Cole couldn’t go a single day without ruining something. Tara would surely find out about this. Which meant the whole town would know about it sooner or later. Cole’s back, they’d say. Lila’s nephew. The one with all that anger inside him. Jesse’s eyes searched the floor, mouth pinched. He looked far away, somehow. Not entirely disappointed, but hurt, almost. As if those candles and shampoos and potions could never be replaced. Cole licked his lips, breath stunted and heavy. “Jesse, seriously, I’m good for it, I swear—”

“You’re Tara’s friend, right?”

Cole chewed on his bottom lip. “I was. But that was a long time ago.”

“She trusts you?”

“You’d have to ask her that.”

Jesse’s lips hovered apart. He tracked Cole with slow glances, shoes to face, face to shoes, over and over. “I need an assistant,” he said. His pale cheeks were pink again, freckles dark where the heat hadn’t yet reached. “Help me make new products, run the shop, gift wrap, assist customers and clean. You’ll be free after Yule. Deal?”

A long, relieved breath flowed over Cole’s lips. “Yes, yeah, deal.”

“Good,” Jesse whispered. He cleared his throat and scratched behind Waffles’ ears. “You start today. Let’s get this cleaned up.”


About the Author:

Brooklyn Ray (they/them) is a fan of fresh brewed tea, long walks through the woods, and evenings spent reading sexy books. They write Queer Paranormal Romance and Erotica about witches, necromancers, and other magical creatures, and moonlight as a tarot and palm reader in the Pacific Northwest.

Find them on Instagram @ brooklynrayauthor

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