Macario "Mac" Guzman stalked into the Houston headquarters of the Texas Rangers Company A. Chaos reigned as he pushed his way through the seething crowd of reporters to reach his boss's office. Captain Billingsley looked up when Mac tapped on his door.
"Good. You're finally here. Come with me." Billingsley grabbed his hat and gun before shoving his way out through the mob.
"Couldn't you have told me to wait for you in the parking lot?" Mac growled as he sidestepped a precariously perched photographer.
"Didn't realize we were going anywhere until after I got off the phone with you." Billingsley's brisk Harvard accent seemed at odds with his Stetson and boots.
"Where are we going?" Mac removed his hat, scrubbing his hand through his hair before putting it back on.
Frustration and exhaustion warred inside him. He hadn't talked to Marissa in two days. Normally it wouldn't be a problem, but his foster sister had been troubled the last time they'd seen each other, and Mac worried about her.
Considering his nonexistent sleep and the serial killer haunting the streets of Houston, Mac was running on fumes.
"We're going to the bureau office." Billingsley grunted as he gestured for Mac to drive.
"They trying to muscle in on the case?" He climbed behind the wheel of his nondescript tan sedan.
He had respect for the FBI and the agents who worked there, but sometimes he tended to think they were media whores. This serial killer case was shaping up to be quite a press frenzy. Something the bureau always loved to be a part of.
"I asked them, Mac. Our profilers are good, but the bureau has some of the best."
"I got ya, Cap."
Mac understood. Jurisdiction didn't matter anymore. Not with four women dead and no real clues except their killer liked to use a knife. His stomach rolled at the memories of the most recent victim.
"You look like shit, Mac. What was the point of sending you home last night if you weren't going to sleep?"
Bringing up Marissa never crossed Mac's mind. No one at the rangers knew anything personal about him, and he wanted it that way. Ten foster homes in ten years had taught him to keep his mouth shut and any emotions hidden. It wasn't until he was fifteen and placed with the Leviston family that he'd had any idea what family could mean.
"I'll sleep when the case is over, sir." And when he finally talked to Marissa again.
They arrived at the Federal Building where the bureau had their local offices, along with several other government agencies. As they were walking in, several men wearing DEA jackets rushed out.
"Hey, Mac," one of them yelled.
He turned to see a man peel away from the group. He grinned and shook the large African American's hand.
"Snap. It's good to see you, man. What's going down?" Mac nodded at the convoy of black SUVs pulling up in front of the building.
"Just got a tip about Victor Delarosa being in town. We're planning on hitting a spot we think he might be."
"Snap, get your ass over here," one of the other guys ordered.
"Good luck. Give me a call. We'll get a drink soon."
Billingsley and Mac watched the men leave before going through the metal detectors and heading up to the FBI offices.
"We're here to see Special Agent in Charge Samuel MacLaughlin. I'm Captain James Billingsley, and this is Detective Mac Guzman from the rangers."
The receptionist buzzed someone and repeated what Billingsley had told her. She nodded once before hanging up.
"Agent MacLaughlin will be right out."
They didn't have to wait long.
"Captain Billingsley." A booming voice rang through the lobby. A large, red-faced, white-haired man strolled up to them with a big grin on his face.
"Agent MacLaughlin." Billingsley shook the man's hand. "Thanks for seeing us."
"No big deal. Always glad to help out fellow law enforcement. Come with me."
Mac kept his mouth shut as they wound their way through the large central room where most of the agents' desks were. He nodded at a few agents he recognized from joint operations.
MacLaughlin waved them into his office. "So you're looking for some help on the serial killer case I've been hearing about."
"Please call me Sam. And you are?" Sam shot a glance at Mac.
"Detective Mac Guzman. I'm the lead on the murders." He shook Sam's hand.
"Nice to meet you. Sit. Would either of you like some coffee? What can we do to help you out?"
Mac sat but didn't say anything. Going to the FBI was his boss's idea, and he wasn't about to take over.
"Yes. We'll both take some. It's been a helluva four months, Sam. Four women killed by the same guy. Sliced almost beyond recognition. We hoped one of your profilers could take a look at the pictures and information we've gathered at the crime scenes. Just in case our guys missed something."
Sam stared off into the distance before blinking and giving a nod. After picking up the phone, he pushed a button.
"Hey, Tanner, come in here and bring two cups of coffee with you." Sam listened for a moment. "I know you're busy. Just get in here."
After hanging up, Sam leaned back in his chair. "We'll wait until Tanner gets here before you tell me any more about the case."
Billingsley accepted Sam's suggestion. "I see the DEA's got a hot tip about Delarosa."
"Won't matter. I doubt the man's wherever they think he is. He's as slippery as a snake."
Mac agreed with the agent. The Delarosa cartel ran a majority of the drugs in and out of Texas. His supply came through Mexico, and his business was booming. No matter how much police and other law enforcement thought they knew, no one was able to pin anything on Victor Delarosa, the head of the empire.
"He's a tricky bastard," Billingsley commented.
"Enough to make you yank out your hair or become an alcoholic out of frustration." Sam grimaced in disgust. "Wouldn't be surprised if there's a mole in the DEA. Someone has to be feeding him information."
The door opened.
"You shouldn't be drinking coffee, and you know I hate the stuff."
Mac turned in his chair. Every atom in his body came to attention at the sight of the gorgeous man standing in the doorway. Unlike most of the Feds, the man's dark hair fell in curls to just above his shoulders. Golden skin attested to his Hispanic heritage. The agent glanced up and blushed.
"Sorry, boss. I didn't realize you had someone with you. I would have knocked, but my hands are full."
Seeing the cups in the agent's hands, Mac jumped to his feet and took them from him. "I'll take those."
When standing, they were the same height and build, and even though the agent seemed fit, there was a certain softness in his eyes. Almost like he hadn't seen how much pain humans could inflict on each other, but that didn't make sense if he was the profiler Sam had called. Bureau profilers saw the aftermath of some of the most horrific crimes.
"It's all right, Tanner. The coffee is for the rangers, and they're really here to see you." Sam waved a hand in their direction. "This is Captain Billingsley and Detective Macario Guzman. Gentlemen, this is Special Agent Tanner Wallace."
"Nice to meet you."
He and Tanner shook hands. Mac liked the strength of Tanner's grip. He wondered what it would feel like to have Tanner's hand wrapped around his cock. Okay, not appropriate thoughts. At least to have at work.
No one Mac worked with knew he was gay. Telling the men he worked with about his sexual preferences had never occurred to him because it wasn't any of their business. Plus he had no interest in dealing with their homophobic reactions. Oh, he knew some of them wouldn't care one way or the other, but he didn't want to deal with the rest who would harass him about it.
Yet he didn't protest when Tanner held his hand a little longer, and Mac caught a flash of interest in the other guy's eyes. He filed it away for future inspection, because exploring a new attraction in the middle of a case wasn't smart, especially if Tanner ended up working with them.
"I wasn't sure if you wanted cream or sugar." Tanner's smile included both Mac and Billingsley.
"I've learned to drink it black." Mac sipped his. "You can have my seat."
"Yes, sit, Tanner. Billingsley wants to consult with you on the recent string of murders they're dealing with."
Tanner frowned while he sat. "I thought the rangers had their own profilers."
"We do, but I want a new pair of eyes, Agent Wallace. Anything you can give us will help, even if it's just supporting what my guy has said."
"Certainly, sir. I'll do what I can to help." Tanner glanced at Mac. "Please, call me Tanner."
Before Billingsley could say anything, the captain's cell rang.
"Excuse me." He unclipped it and checked the number. "I have to take this. Mac, why don't you catch Agent Wallace up on our situation?"
Mac waited until Billingsley left the room before he started talking.
"I'm pretty sure you've heard something about this. It's on all the local news channels, and national media has latched on to it as well." He curled his upper lip in disgust at how the media vultures had descended on Houston. "Four women have been brutally murdered in the last four months. We're pretty sure the same man killed all four of them, and our profiler agrees."
Tanner and MacLaughlin nodded.
"The media has nicknamed him 'The Knife,' which will only encourage him, I'm sure, but it sells papers and gets ratings."
"Before you tell me any more, can I see the photos? I'd like to form my own profile first, after which we'll compare them to see if they match."
"That works for me." Mac pointed to the folder Billingsley had set on MacLaughlin's desk. "I assume those are copies of all the photos."
Billingsley stuck his head in the office. "Mac, you have to head out. We got a call about a possible homicide."
"Is it our guy?" He stood.
Billingsley shrugged. "They don't know, but it might be."
"Okay. I'm on my way."
Tanner stood as well. "I'll go with you. If it's another Knife murder, seeing a fresh scene will help me get more ideas about your suspect."
Mac looked at Billingsley, and his captain nodded.
"Fine with me. Can you drive? The captain's going to need my car to get back to headquarters."
Mac followed Tanner from the bureau's offices. Mac wanted to stare at Tanner's ass, catching glimpses of the jean-clad flesh. He blinked, raising his gaze to Tanner's broad shoulders.
"I thought Feds wore suits," he commented as they reached a dark blue sedan.
Tanner grinned. "Oh, we do, but I tend to operate on my own dress code. Sam doesn't mind as long as I do my job."
Mac chuckled. "I guess you must be good at your job."
"Where are we headed?"
Tanner pulled out of the parking garage while Mac checked his phone. Billingsley had e-mailed him the information.
"You know where Thurston Street is? We're looking for number 9879."
"Yep. I've lived in Houston all my life." Tanner sent him a quick glance. "How about you?"
"Moved here about ten years ago when I got my job with the rangers. Originally from California."
"You must like it here, since you've stayed that long."
"Probably like it a lot better if my job wasn't dealing with crime and dead people." Mac stared out the passenger window at the buildings flashing by.
"Isn't that the truth?" Tanner turned left, bypassing a lot of downtown traffic. "What do you do for fun when you're not working a case?"
"Watch sports. I play on a softball league." He went out on a limb. "Go to Windy's for drinks once in a while."
Windy's was the biggest gay club in Houston. Maybe he took a risk by admitting he went there, but the interest he'd seen in Tanner's eyes told him he'd be okay mentioning it.
"I've been there a couple of times. Not big on clubs. They tend to be really crowded, and I don't like crowds."
That had gone well, so Mac took another step.
"Maybe we could go someplace quieter for drinks and dinner sometime," he suggested.
He got a bright smile from Tanner.
"I'd like that."
They pulled up in front of a warehouse and climbed out of the car. Several police cars lined the street, and the coroner's van was already there. Mac headed toward the door, figuring Tanner would follow. He held up his badge for the uniform at the entrance.
"He's with me." He gestured at Tanner, who flashed his own badge at the guy.
"No problem, Detective. Nothing's been touched. We were told to wait until you arrived."
He hurried down the echoing hallway to where people gathered in the doorway of a room.
"Sorensterm, what do you have?"
His fellow ranger and occasional work partner looked up, his face even paler than usual. "It's another victim, Guzman. No way it can't be."
Mac steeled himself before he glanced in the room. Staring at the body so obscenely displayed, he accepted the gloves and bootees for his shoes from one of the crime scene techs. The victim's blonde hair streaked with blue caught his attention, and his heart stopped.
God, it can't be. Please don't let it be.
Once he was outfitted to go in without contaminating the scene, he entered and went directly to the body. His hands trembled as he angled his head to see the inside of the woman's elbow. A birthmark marred the skin, and Mac closed his eyes.
He swallowed his shout of anger and clenched his hands. While every muscle and nerve in his body wanted to tear something apart, he forced all his emotions behind a door in his mind. He'd deal with everything later, when he was by himself.
No one could know he was familiar with the killer's latest victim. He didn't want to get taken off the case, especially now that he had an even stronger reason to solve it.
Marissa, his foster sister, was dead.