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Blood in the Water

By´╝ÜCynthia Rayne

Chapter One

Hell, Texas

Sometimes bein’ a dashin’ outlaw is a genuine pain in the ass.

“The bookie’s been stiffin’ us. Whatcha wanna do about it, boss?”

Byron Beauregard sighed as he contemplated Jasper Tan’s question. He sat in a leather office chair, feet propped on his desk.

Times like this made him rethink his choice of career. His mother used to say Byron shot off his mouth so much, he must eat bullets for breakfast. Maybe instead of this life of crime, he should’ve gone to law school and put it to good use.

Maybe not.

Speakin’ of lawyers, it’s high time Jane came for another visit.

He made a mental note to invent a reason to get her over here this evening. It’d been far too long since he’d seen her, and he was itching to take another run at asking her out. Someday soon, the lady would be his—for a time anyway, but she didn’t know it yet.

“Byron?” Jasper tilted his head to the side.

“I’m thinkin’. Gimme a second.”

If a law-abiding citizen had a crooked employee, he could turn the problem over to a law enforcement officer—pick the alphabet soup of choice—local PD, FBI, ATF. Or his favorite, FU.

Instead, Byron was stuck dealing with it himself.

“We could put the fear of God in Tanner.” Jasper had black hair, pale skin, and called himself “whasian”—a mixture of Chinese and white. He’d worked his way up from soldier to the boss of his own crew over the past few years. The crew bosses reported directly to Byron since he’d become the new Underboss. And he, in turn, reported to Tucker Cobb, the head of the outfit.

“I suppose we could.”

“Raccoon him and call it a day?”

“I say we kill ’em.” Tennessee Ross touched the hilt of his pistol. “Send a message to the rest.”

“Big surprise—you always go straight to shootin’ people.” Jasper snorted. “If we let you have your way, we wouldn’t have no employees.”

“Lead has a way of preventin’ future problems.”

“You’re such an ègùn. You’d kill your own momma for an ice cream.”

“He’s doin’ it again.” Ten turned to Byron.

Dear Lord, this is like babysittin’.

“No Chinese insults, Jasper.”

“I only called you a bad guy,” Jasper grumbled.

Ten’s smile was smug. “Can’t dispute a fact. And as for your comment—it’d depend on the flavor.” He didn’t so much as crack a smile, but he probably hadn’t been joking.

Yeah, Ten is tall, dark, and freaky.

He had a long, lean build with thick, dark hair and wore a pair of sunglasses—indoors. Weird. Like the rest of the men, he was dressed in an expensive suit, though Ten had scruffy hair covering his chin and cheeks.

Byron didn’t mind doing dirty work. After all, it came with their chosen profession, but he didn’t get off on it either. As far as he was concerned, it was a necessary evil.

Ten, on the other hand, lived for the kill, had a real passion for it, and always looked for inventive, cruel ways to dispatch his victims. Byron wondered if an excuse to commit murder was a perk of the job. Ten seemed the sort to stuff bodies beneath the floorboards at his house.

“Nobody’s dyin’ in here.” Byron stood. “No more murders in the manor—it’s a rule.” The year before he’d put down an FBI agent in this very room, and it’d been messy in more ways than one. “We do the wet work outside so we can hose away the evidence afterward. Bring ’em in, and I’ll talk with the man.”

Jasper and Ten retrieved Joe Tanner from the sitting room. Tanner reminded Byron of a weasel—dirty brown hair, twitchy eyes, and trembling. He took a seat in front of Byron’s desk and folded his hands in his lap, like a kid called into the principal’s office for bad behavior.

“From what I understand, your last deposit was light, Mr. Tanner.” Byron raised a brow.

“Business has been down lately, Mr. Beauregard.”

He shut his eyes and prayed for patience.

“Don’t start this conversation off on the wrong foot, by shiftin’ blame. It’s your responsibility to keep it boomin’. But this ain’t about the sad state of the economy.”

Tanner shifted in his seat. “It ain’t?”

“No. You’ve been pocketin’ a percentage of the cash, my cash.”

He gulped. “I….”

“I don’t wanna hear no more lies.” Byron held up a hand. “You’ve already been thievin’, don’t make it worse by addin’ another strike. Have you been stealin’ from me?”