Winter Frost

an excerpt

Chapter One

"What in hell kind of crazy season is this?" I complained. I'd been doing that a lot lately, complaining about the weather in Texas. I'd been all over the world, but I'd never seen a winter season like they had in Dallas. "Is this normal?" I stamped my feet and pulled my short suede coat around me as we walked into a small café in downtown Dallas.

Jubilee was laughing. He could laugh; he was Texan, born and bred. I was from Southern Ontario. Sure it was cold in the winter, but winter in Texas didn't know what the hell to do with itself.

"One day it's plus seventy and the's below zero," I grumbled. Today a sharp, cold wind blew, and the ground was covered with frosted snow.

Jubilee went up to the counter and ordered two large coffees.

"I'll bring it to the table, doll," the woman behind the counter hollered.

"Can't wait," Jubilee said. "And I'll be needing lots of refills, too."

"Should I just bring your coffee intravenously?" She arched a brow in his direction, making him laugh.

We had just come off of guarding some high-powered corporate fellow. I was bored crazy. This job either put you to sleep or woke you up in a whole, big hurry. Wasn't sure what was worse.

We sat at a small table and inhaled the aroma. "Nicholas, you want breakfast or something?" Jubilee asked, checking his messages.

"No, I want my bed, actually." Sun hadn't even risen in the sky. It was grey and ugly outdoors.

"Sean's on days, isn't he?" He smirked.

"Is that supposed to be funny?" I eyed him.

"Think I'll have a muffin."

"No pancakes?" We were always teasing Jubilee about pancakes, his favorite breakfast food.

"They don't make 'em here but they do make these scrumptious muffins with cream cheese in the middle and gooey stuff."

"The gooey stuff doesn't sound good for you."

"It's not, but it tastes good." Jubilee laughed and signaled the waitress. He had a laugh I'd come to appreciate. It was genuine and came from his very soul. I wished I could laugh like that. "Two big, gooey, cream cheese muffins," he called out when she looked over at him, "and in about two minutes we'll be needing more coffee."

"Hey, I don't want any muffin," I protested.

"You will when you taste it, and I always do the same thing with Kieran, so when he doesn't eat it, I can eat two."

I laughed. "Some trick."

"Yeah, but he's catching on."

"I bet, after all this time."

"Well, he let me get away with it in the beginning, doesn't let me get away with nothing lately."

I laughed at Jubilee's mock pouty face.

"My Mr. Body Beautiful Canadian boy doesn't get off on gooey stuff either. I do appreciate it, however, when he takes his clothes off, but I'm afraid I don't have that much discipline for muffins, or for Kieran naked."

Jubilee patted his stomach as the waitress came over with muffins and coffee. She plonked a carafe of the stuff and gave him a wink.

"I think I love you," he told her. I marveled at how Jubilee managed not to weigh three-hundred pounds. He was a big, muscular man, and although he was always joking about the way he wore his pants, one couldn't call him fat.

I studied the muffin. I took a knife and cut it in half, pushed the other half over to Jubilee. He grinned. "I like your compromising style, boy."

"If I end up having to go to Weight Watchers working with you, Sean will kill us both."

"Mmm, dead by gooey muffins. Perfect."

I grinned and bit into it. "Damn good," I pronounced.

"Told you so."

"You're the devil, Jubilee Mason."

"I kind of like that. And so," he said, sitting back. "Now that we're talking about the devil..."

"You didn't bring me here just for coffee?"

"Nope. Wanted to give you heads up on what's been brewing. Might as well come right out and say it. There have been Ripper-like murders in Nuevo Laredo's red light district."


"Mexican authorities contacted the Marshals' office here in Dallas. We're going to have a meeting tomorrow with someone from the Mexican police, but because you're not from here, I thought it might be a good time to give you some background."

"Shoot." He had my interest and he knew it.

"Many men in Texas know if they want to get access to cheap sex, they drive from San Antonio across the international bridge to Nuevo Laredo's red light district. Casino El Papagayo is the district's place to go, a club with connected rooms. It's known as Boy's Town, La Zona de Tolerencia. La Zona Rosa, the red light district. This section of Nuevo Laredo has several names, but there's only one reason to go there-- legal prostitution."

"So, it's a free-for-all."

He shook his head. "No, not exactly. Mexican law holds that prostitution is legal, but being a pimp or procurer is not. Cities can pass laws that form ‘zones of tolerance' to focus prostitutes into one area and--in Nuevo Laredo's unique case--it can even be walled off from the rest of town. In Nuevo Laredo over the last two years, there have been six women murdered, basically carved up, Ripper style. The police have no leads."

"So, why are we involved?"

"Men from Houston, Wichita Falls, and San Antonio frequent La Zona. On Friday nights the Texas license plates are as common a sight as taxis."

"So they think the killer is from Texas?"

"There are some good reasons to believe that our killer is an American. That will be brought up at the meeting tomorrow."

"What's so special about this La Zona Rosa place? I thought most border towns in Mexico had red light districts?"

"I'm not sure, but as a Texan I can tell you, Nicholas, there's something enticingly familiar about the concept of the Mexican whorehouse. The allure of a soft and willing senorita has been burned into the American psyche, courtesy of scores of Westerns, and sanctioned as acceptable modern road-trip behavior by Jack Kerouac. The prostitute is the prize cowpokes earn after a long, hard trail."

"It's strange, though, that men will travel far out of their way to go whoring in Mexico when there are certainly prostitutes closer to home."

"You're right, but for all the forces keeping La Zona operating over the decades, none of them are more fascinating than the psychological forces of exotic adventure and sexual desperation that keep men going there year after year."

Jubilee finished his coffee and we headed back out to the car.

As I got behind the wheel, I was thinking that there was no place quite like the border between the United States and Mexico. The ties between the two nations were tight, and the collision of economies was like a directed explosion of road-grimed trucks, ceramic novelties, and a subculture of smuggling.

Laredo and Nuevo Laredo existed like binary stars, bound together at the razor's edge of nations and economies. Everything that happened rippled across the international bridges in the form of immigrants, currency, drugs, trucks, pollution, and wrought iron--and now murder.

As I drove, I reminded Jubilee of the case some Marshals had been working on regarding the availability of prescription drugs.

"The border operates under two sets of laws," Jubilee said, "and people are always eager to take advantage."

What started as a routine for older Americans benefitting from cheaper prices had quickly become a drug trade that the Border Patrol was helpless to stop. Recreational pill-poppers waltzed across the border with bags full of Valium, smiling happily and waving a Mexican prescription claiming clinical nervous exhaustion. "It doesn't help that some people can't get insurance for the drugs they need," I mentioned.

Jubilee agreed. "We hope that's changing."

"Not if some people have their way."

I dropped Jubilee at the office. He told me he'd do the paperwork this time. "Go home and get some sleep. I'll see you at the meeting."

I waved and drove away. I was half asleep when Sean got home. He was late. The supper I'd made for the two of us was still in the oven. Sean crawled on the bed and kissed me softly on the mouth. "Hey, beautiful. What's that I smell in the oven? I'm starved."

I grabbed his cheeks. "You are cold."

He slapped my hand. "Stop that, you. And yes, it's cold out." He lay there stroking my hair.

"Do you know what time it is, young man?" I teased.

He grinned. "Six-thirty?"

"Try eight."

"Are you going to spank me?"

"That's not punishment, Sean."

He chuckled and rubbed his hand over the bulge in my jeans.

"Come on, horny boy." I grabbed his hand and pulled him with me off the bed. "Eat first."

He groaned. "Okay. What is it?"

"Sit down and I'll serve it."

He let out a yell like a kid when I took it out. "Oh, it's your cabbage roll casserole. I love that stuff."

"Good." I served up two heaping plates. It was still hot. I got a pitcher of cold water from the fridge and sat down opposite him. "So, how was your day?"

He was chewing and waving his hand in front of his face. "Mouth full, um, just the way I like it." He made a face and swallowed. "Ha, ha. Delicious. And my day was...very routine."

"Your night?"

"Boring, except for this morning."

"What happened?"

"We're going to be working on a new case."

"Is it the Ripper case?"

"How did you know?" Sean asked slyly, forking more casserole into his mouth.

"Jubilee told me. I think the old team is back."

"Great. What do you know about it? Not much. I did catch a glimpse of some pictures of the victims. Kieran got them this afternoon from Mexico." Sean shook his head. "They think he's from Texas and that he's trying to imitate Jack the Ripper."

"Yeah, that's what Jubilee said. What makes someone do those things?" I put down my own fork.

Sean reached for my hand. "It's a mystery. It's a terrible thing."

We fell quiet for a while, then I changed the subject to something more interesting. "Hear from your brother and Consuela?"

"They're good. Consuela is looking after Juan again but Jubilee and Kieran are looking for another nanny. My brother tells me he and Consuela are thinking of joining the Peace Corps soon."

"No shit," I said.

"Yes, shit, and can I have another plate, please?"

"What do I look like, the maid?" I teased. I got up and served him a second plate.

Sean was looking at me with a gleam in his eyes.

"Don't even think it, honey. I'm not dressing up in a little French maid's outfit, no matter how much I adore you."

Sean cracked up and dug into his food again. I just shook my head. I swear that man got kinkier and kinkier as time went on. But frilly little aprons...oh, no. It wasn't going to happen.

I couldn't believe it as I sat there watching Sean eat. It had been around nine months since I'd changed my life around. A lot had happened. I'd left the Toronto police force, joined the U.S. Marshals Service, lost my father, reconnected with my brilliant yet distant mother, and fallen in love with Sean, who was as different from me as day was from night. I'd made good friends with Jubilee and Kieran, who managed to keep it together in spite of the fact that Kieran longed to be home in Vancouver. Not to mention the adoption proceedings of a boy he'd rescued from white slavers was still dragging its heels because he and Jubilee were a couple whose Canadian marriage wasn't recognized in Texas.

They fought. Sean and I could sense it sometimes at the office when one of them, or both, would come in. So in love, and yet so different, much like Sean and I. Although we had no kid in the picture to worry about.

I'd grown up everywhere. My parents had been war correspondents. I'd joined the army as soon as I was old enough. I'd seen just about everything. It had made it hard for me to connect because I'd had to disconnect my feelings to survive it all.

Sean helped me do the dishes and we made casual conversation about nothing in particular. We cuddled up together on the sofa and watched Sons of Anarchy. We were both addicted. Sean fell asleep soon after it finished and I watched the news. I guess I fell asleep then, too, because when my eyes opened, I smelled coffee.

I sat up and stretched. Damn, I was stiff as hell and not in a good way. That sofa had done a number on my back. I had a crick in my neck. There was nothing worse.

Sean was singing the theme song from Sons, looking all chipper. He crooned, pointing at me with dramatic flair, dancing around.

"Yeah, yeah." I laughed. "I'm so damn stiff."

"Oh, baby," he said, "we'll be late."

"Ha, ha." I stretched. "My neck, not my dick! What did you let me fall asleep on the couch for?"

"I did the same but I was lying on you."

I groaned. "So it seems."

"Hurry up, sexy. Take your shower. I made coffee and those egg things."

I made a face. "I don't want any egg anything, just coffee." I stumbled to the shower, stayed there a while, turning my head and neck in different ways. Didn't help. I was going to be doing deep nods all day.

Sean put coffee in my hand as I walked out, dressed, my hair wet. He deposited a kiss on my mouth. "Better?"


He got behind me and massaged the crick a little. "Now?"

"Keep going." I grinned. "A little lower down."

I got punched for that.

"Okay, okay, you're so abusive." I got my keys, my gun, and all the stuff I had to drag everywhere and we were out the door.

"Did I tell you I love you today?" Sean asked as I threw him the keys. I didn't want to drive.

"No." I got in the passenger side.

"I love you."

"You still slept on me," I accused, trying not to smile.

"Because I love you." Sean put the key in the ignition. "I don't sleep on every Canadian I see, you know."

"Good, because the Mounties would hunt you down for crippling everyone in the country."

He laughed and pulled away from the curb. "On their horses?"

I nodded, sipping my coffee.

"There are some hot Mounties, and they know how to mount."

"I can't believe you said that," I sputtered, almost losing the coffee I had in my mouth.

Sean looked at me. "You said you were going to sic the Mounties on me."

I laughed and wiped my mouth on the back of my hand.

We were still laughing and jostling when we got to the office, in between my turning my head the wrong way and going "Ouch."

"At least," I murmured on the way in, "if some hot sex had been involved in this stiff neck, it would have been worth the pain."

He just looked at me and shook his head.

Kieran was standing in the doorway of the conference room, sipping his own coffee, looking gorgeous as ever, but there was a brooding look on his face. I looked at Sean and he shrugged.

"Morning," I said.

Kieran nodded. "Hey, don't go too far. We got a briefing in about ten minutes."

"Jubilee here? I need to sign off on some paperwork."

"I'm not his keeper," Kieran muttered and walked into the room.

I mouthed, "Okay," and told Sean I'd be back. I found Jubilee in his office staring at the wall.

I tapped gently. "Hey. Am I interrupting you?"

"Nope." He let his chair fall to the floor. "Got those forms for you to sign." He pushed some papers in my direction.

"I'll do them next time." I stretched my neck.

"What in the hell is wrong with you?"

"I slept funny...or rather, Sean slept funny on me."

He smiled faintly.

"You okay? None of my business, but Kieran looked kind of..."


"Ah, yeah."

Jubilee sighed. "It's not always easy."

"Everything good with Juan?"

"Our lawyer contacted us to say we are not going to be able to adopt Juan. Our latest attempt was turned down."

"Oh, no. What is wrong with these people?"

"It's a fucked-up world. Since the issue of gay marriage has come back on the table, these so-called family organizations have worked to block adoptions by gay parents. Sixteen states have already jumped on the bandwagon. A lot of these agencies get funding from right wing religious groups. We don't know what to do anymore. Last night, Kieran threatened to smuggle Juan across the border to Canada. He meant it."

I genuinely felt his frustration. Juan loved his new family. He had been sold by his own parents into sexual slavery--a smart, beautiful, little boy Kieran had fallen in love with the minute he'd seen him.

This was a nightmare.

"The most we can hope for right now is to keep him as a foster child, but if a family comes along willing to adopt him, we could lose him." There were tears in his eyes when he looked at me. "The caseworker is doing her best to prevent that. But, Nicholas, if we lose him, I'll lose Kieran. I know he'll leave me."

"No." I shook my head and closed the door. "He loves you."

"Yes, he loves me, but deep down he doesn't know where to put the blame. I'm the only one he can..." Jubilee put a hand in his hair. "I don't know what to do. Kieran slept in Juan's room last night. It's the first time he's ever done that...and I have a feeling it's not the last. I couldn't sleep, knowing he was down the hall. I love this man to insanity. You're Canadian, Nicholas, maybe you can talk to him. He can't talk to me. I'm too close to it."

I wasn't sure what being Canadian would do but it was true Kieran and I had bonded some. "He won't like me getting in the middle."

Jubilee laughed. "Duck if he tries to hit you. He has a mean right hook."

I laughed. "Okay. I'll see what I can do."

Jubilee stood, placed a hand on my shoulder. "Thanks for the ear. Let's get in there."


When we walked into the conference room, Kieran seemed to be in deep discussion with a young, very good-looking Mexican man. He fell silent when we walked in. Sean gave me a look I didn't understand.

Marshal Evans, the man in charge of the case here in Dallas, welcomed us. Trace came running in with coffee, excusing himself to everyone. Evans gave Trace a look that said he didn't like tardiness and introduced the young Mexican man. "FBI agent Abejundio Soto. Did I pronounce that right?"

The young agent answered in perfect English. "Fine. Call me Abe," he said. His gaze returned to Kieran for a second.

Jubilee stiffened a little.

Sean raised an eyebrow. What wouldn't have been evident to a straight man was super clear to the three other gay men in the room. This FBI agent, young, good looking, very hot, was turned on by Jubilee's man.

I shook it off. Nothing would come of that. Abejundio was only here to fill us in. Right?

"Abe is on loan to us from the FBI," Marshal Evans said. "He's been working the border and has some reason to believe the Ripper killer is a Texan who makes trips to the red light district."

"Will you be working with us in the investigation?" Jubilee asked Abejundio. On the surface, it looked like an innocent question. Sean and I knew different.

The answer was like a bomb exploding. "We were discussing that before you got here, Jubilee," Evans replied. "I've decided to send Kieran to Mexico with Abe. Abejundio can set up operations there. The Mexicans have given us full access to all their resources."

I sucked in some air as Jubilee rose to his feet. "This is bullshit."

"We'll discuss it later," Kieran spoke up.

"Send Nicholas," Jubilee barked.

Sean picked up his head then and narrowed his eyes.

Kieran looked over at me. I knew what his eyes were saying. There was anger in that gaze. I wanted to calm Jubilee down but he was losing it. No one really knew what he was objecting to, except for Kieran, Sean, and I.

"It's decided," Evans said. "Now, let's have Agent Soto's presentation."

"Fucking bullshit!" Jubilee shook his head and walked out.

Marshal Evans cleared his throat. He was not happy. Kieran folded his arms across his chest and Trace was giving me and Sean a curious look. I just shook my head.

Abe showed us what he had. He had a car with a Texas license plate parked a few blocks away from the scene. "This car has been spotted at two crime scenes, each time the license plate number is different, but the plates are from Texas."

Pictures of the victims flashed on the screen. Blood and gore, I'd seen plenty... but the others looked away, then back again. Gutted, ripped throat to crotch, each victim was female and a prostitute.

Images of the work of the Ripper flashed on the screen, too. "You see the similarity?" Abe suggested. He took out a case and laid out samples of the instruments that were used. He showed us pictures of the ones used by Jack.

"Jesus," Sean said. "He's a copycat."

"We think so," Abe said. "That's why I need Kieran down there to act as a guy looking for fun. There are hotels nearby where he can stay. We know the crimes were committed mostly at this time of year. He's due, if we're right. And he leaves the victims in the open where they can be found. He likes the shock value. We think he might stay around and watch someone discover his work."

"Sick bastard," I said.

"We've searched the data banks," Evans said. "We've had no such equivalent slayings here in the underworld. He's killing only in Mexico."

"I think he believes no one cares," Abe said.

"That's just sad." Kieran nodded.

Abe looked at him. "Yes, it is."

Oh brother, I thought. It was going to be hot in Mexico if this went on. And hot right here when Jubilee got finished with Kieran.

"Where in hell is Mason?" Evans bellowed suddenly. "We need to talk about the Dallas end."

"I'll get him," I said.

"Coffee break," Trace suggested.

I left the office and walked down the hallway. I hoped Jubilee hadn't taken off. He was in his office. "Hey," I said. "Evans wants you back. What's up?"

"You see that guy? He's one hot Mexican dude. Wants what belongs to me. He'll have to fight me for it."

"Jube," I said, shutting the door. "Listen. Kieran would never cheat on you."

"Then why's he going to Mexico?"

"He does that. You know he's the first to volunteer to go undercover. He breathes that stuff."

"He'll be alone with the guy."

"You don't fucking trust me!" The door was flung open and Kieran stood there.

I winced inwardly, looking at the door Kieran was standing in. I want to leave now.

"It's not you I don't trust. It's that Mexican FBI agent, who's got a hard-on just looking at you."

Kieran shook his head. "Don't piss me off, Jube. You don't want to do that."

"Go to fucking Mexico with your hot Mexican lover if you want."

I winced. This was not good.

"Fine!" Kieran slammed his hand on the door jamb. "That's what I'll do."

Jubilee picked up the paperweight on his desk and threw it across the room.

I stood there for a second. Thankfully the others in the office hadn't heard the exchange. "Are you all right?"

Jubilee nodded. "I'm fine. If he wants to play, I can play, too."

"Oh, I wouldn't do that." I shook my head. "Kieran's right hook, remember?"

I got Jubilee to smile a little. "Right, I remember. He wants to get away from me. Maybe he's right to go to Mexico, but does he have to go with a guy who looks like that?"

"I'll ask if maybe they could send someone less pretty?"

Jubilee grinned. "A woman who is very old with green moles all over."

"You are vindictive. That might be tough to find, especially well trained and all, but I'll try."

Jubilee looked deep in thought. A few minutes later we had all returned to the meeting and plans were set in motion. Kieran and Jubilee didn't speak, even after the agent left. Jubilee tried to say something to Kieran when the meeting was over, but he just walked out.

Sean and I were feeling it at the end of the day. We ate our supper in silence that evening. "Jubilee and Kieran are our role models," Sean said finally, pushing his plate away. "What if they spilt up?"

"They are not us." I sighed. "They should have stayed in Canada."

Sean looked at me. "You can't blame everything on the U.S."

"Oh no, we're not going to fight about this, are we? We both know that this country has a problem with gay rights. They haven't sorted it out yet, and too much power is given to these religious fanatics. As a result, Jubilee and Kieran are going to lose their son and possibly each other. Does that seem fair to you?"

"Well, at least we have free speech. People in your country are not allowed to speak, only people everyone agrees with!" Sean fired back.

I stared at him. "Are you fucking serious? That's not true. Don't tell me you're going to join the chorus of how Canada is some kind of communist state just because we don't allow crazy freaks to control our government and we don't walk around with guns like a bunch of cowboys shooting everyone!"

Silence. Okay, this was a fight, a good one. We both loved our countries. And I knew that not everything was wrong with this one. But right now, I was watching the two dearest friends I had tear each other apart over a small boy they'd never be allowed to adopt. I felt Kieran's pain, and I understood his resentment. He had nowhere to put it. And Jubilee was powerless. In pain himself, he felt Kieran slipping away and he felt responsible.

I knew it was a harmless flirtation with a hot Mexican agent in there today but in the place they were now, it was explosive.

I walked into the bedroom. Sean stayed in the living room. When the phone rang, I picked up. "Nicholas?" It was Kieran.

"Hey, everything okay?"


"What's wrong?"

Sean came in the room then when he heard me say that. He met my gaze, looking worried.

"Can I stay with you guys tonight? Too late to get a room. Just for the night."

"Sure. What happened? Where's Juan?"

"He's with Jubilee's sister."

I looked at Sean. "Of course you can stay with us."

"Thanks. I'll be there in about an hour."

Tears were running down Sean's face. "I'm sorry."

I opened my arms to him. "Me, too."

"Kieran left, didn't he?" Sean looked at me.

I nodded and wiped his tears. "I'm sure it's temporary."

"He can have the guest room." Sean hugged me tighter. "Oh, Nicholas, make love to me, I don't want to lose you."

I took him down on the bed. We made love half-dressed. I sucked him to orgasm and Sean did the same for me. It was a temporary fix--hot, fast and satisfying. We were scared. Our rock was crumbling. It meant it could happen to anyone.

We were watching television when Kieran arrived. I took his bag. He thanked me again. Sean showed him to the guest room. "Sorry, it's kind of the office, too."

"No problem."

"You want a drink?" I asked.

He nodded. "Yeah. I could use one."

A few minutes later we all sat around the living room. We didn't want to pry. He'd tell us when he was ready. After the second drink, he said, "We had a hell of a fight. It's over." His eyes filled with tears. "It's my fault."

"Why?" I asked.

"I should never have taken Juan. I love him so much but--" He choked. "--it's divided Jubilee and me. We're not getting Juan. It's costing us a fortune in legal bills, and we were told we have everything going against us. We're gay. We're not legally married. Isn't that a joke? Our jobs are dangerous and take us away a lot. One of us would have to quit, I guess, and stay home. It's hopeless, and we got this family coalition threatening the agency. After this case, guys..." He wiped his eyes. "I'm going home."

Sean and I sat stunned. "Are you serious?"

Kieran nodded. "It's not because I don't love Jubilee."

"Jubilee knows you're going to go home?" Sean asked.

"Yes, he knows. Listen, I'm going on this case in Mexico. I want you to promise me something, okay?" He leaned forward. "Take care of Jubilee for me. I know what he'll do. He'll drink and he'll find himself with some male hooker in a hotel room. He'll get reckless. If he's not careful, he'll kill his career."

"We promise," we said in unison.

Then Kieran put his head in his hands and cried.