Hostile Ground

Hostile Ground, by L.A. Witt and Aleksandr Voinov
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-125-0
eBook release: 
May 12, 2014
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-124-3
Print release: 
May 12, 2014
Word count: 
96,600
Page count: 
362
Type: 
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Print $18.99   $15.19 (20% off!)
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Enemy territory is a dangerous place to fall in love.

After the deaths of three undercover cops investigating a drug ring in a seedy strip club in Seattle, Detective Mahir Hussain has been sent to finish the job. He joins the club’s security team in the hopes of finding enough evidence to bust the operation before the men in charge find a reason to put him in a shallow grave.

To protect the strippers, only gay men can work the club. Ridley, the cold and intimidating head of security, knows exactly how to test potential new hires—including Mahir. From the minute they meet, Mahir and Ridley engage in a dangerous dance of sex and mind games. Mahir needs to find his evidence before Ridley figures out he’s a cop—and before they both grow too close to betray one another.

As the game goes on, Mahir burrows deeper into the operation, where he learns there’s much more happening than meets the eye . . . and why every cop who made it this far has been silenced with a bullet.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

The bass vibrated through Mahir’s bones as a pair of bouncers led him along the staff-only corridor in the nightclub. He caught a line of the rock lyrics—tough luck, tough guy—and thought it ridiculously fitting. He was already seeking conclusions and grasping at nothing, like that meth head from last week who had received messages through the TV, convinced that God spoke to him on the shopping channel.

He walked between two goons who’d hopefully soon be his colleagues, trying not to appear too eager or too relaxed. Saeed, his cover identity, would be alert, but he also needed to radiate competence. He must’ve done a good job of it to have made it this far.

The goon on his left rapped on the last door of the corridor. The door opened, and the goon waved him in.

The room was half supply cabinet, half office. Boxes piled high against the wall. A water cooler looked out of place between the Formica table and cheap folding chairs. There was only one man in the room, and he stood off to the side.

He was taller than Mahir, though not by much. Just enough that he’d have to look up a little if they were ever standing face-to-face, which Mahir hoped didn’t happen anytime soon. That wasn’t to say the guy was unattractive. Well dressed, well groomed, dark hair arranged perfectly, and tailored shirt and slacks crisp and smooth. He was slimmer than most of the guys working in this ring but certainly not lacking. His white sleeves were rolled to the elbows, showing off strong, sinewy muscle. And if his forearms were that cut, Mahir could only imagine what the man was hiding under the rest of his clothes.

It didn’t help that Mahir knew this guy played for his team. If he was the head of Lombardi’s security, he was gay. They all were. That was how Lombardi kept his men from fucking with his girls.

Yeah, he was gay and he was attractive, but there was an air about him that made Mahir more than happy to stay on the opposite side of the room. The guy radiated a menacing intensity. A focused, predatory aura that pulled all of Mahir’s nerves taut.

The room was dim, lit only by a single weak bulb over their heads, but the still, silent man wore sunglasses. Dark ones. The slightest motion of his eyebrows said he was looking Mahir up and down. Mahir had seen guys like this before. Some were just douche bags who wanted to look like gangster badasses or action-movie leads, but then there was this kind: the guy who didn’t like people looking him in the eye. It probably unnerved the shit out of most people, and Mahir had a feeling that effect was not accidental.

Question was, how much of this was a test? Was Mahir supposed to be intimidated and unsettled or look this guy straight in the eyes—well, lenses—and not back down?

The butt of a high-caliber handgun stuck out of a shoulder holster beneath the man’s arm. He didn’t play around. Working for a notorious pimp who was likely also a high-powered drug dealer meant he didn’t have to play by the same rules Mahir did. Passing whatever test he was currently taking wasn’t optional.

Deep, even breaths. “You must be David Ridley.”

“And who the fuck are you?”

Mahir swallowed. The guy’s voice was smooth but sharp at the same time. He’d probably sound sexy as hell if every word wasn’t laced with give me a reason not to shoot you.

“I was told you were expecting me.”

“I’m expecting someone.” The guy raised his chin, drawing Mahir’s attention to the flawless lines of his jaw and throat. “You might want to introduce yourself before you start asking questions.”

“I’m Saeed.” Social protocol suggested he should extend a hand, but he didn’t. Probably best to let this guy call the shots. “I was hired by—”

“You Arab?”

Mahir gritted his teeth. That didn’t take long. “Syrian.”

“I see.” The guy paused. “You don’t have an accent.”

Mahir resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He’d played this game enough times. “My family came here before I was born.”

The guy responded with a subtle nod and a quiet grunt of acknowledgment. He pulled off his sunglasses, and when he looked Mahir in the eye, Mahir caught himself wishing the man had left the glasses on. His clear blue eyes? Piercing. And enough so to make Mahir tongue-tied and off guard.

The guy slid his sunglasses into the collar of his shirt, which had the top button open, and then extended his hand. “To answer your question, yes. I am David Ridley.”

Mahir took the hand and shook it. No point showing even a moment’s hesitation, and Ridley had one thing going for him already: no jokes about the virgins awaiting him in heaven. Maybe he wouldn’t joke about that. “Saeed Hayaz.”

The man held on to his hand longer than was polite among straight Western men and kept their eyes locked. Mahir did his best to relax under the challenge. Not give anything away. Levelheadedness usually got him out of tight spots. This would be no different.

“Tell me why you’re here.” Ridley’s grip was strong and dry. Rough skin, like that of an honest worker—or a fighter.

“I need a job. I was told this is a good place for me, considering my skill set.”

“By whom?”

“Word on the street.” Mahir could see that wasn’t enough. “A guy I met in another club. We compared notes, and he said I should come here.”

“Who?” He still kept his hand, as if that touch were some kind of lie detector.

“Tommy. Tall, blond, tattooed.”

“Tattoos where?”

“Pretty much all over. Two sleeves, one on the neck. Rip tattoo along his left side, looked like the flesh was torn away and you could see the organs below. Pretty gross but a good piece of work.”

“Anywhere else?”

“He did have a Prince Albert,” Mahir mentioned as if in afterthought.

“Too bad Tommy can’t vouch for you. He’s dead.”

“Damn.” Mahir looked down, pretending he had to gather his thoughts. “He did drive like an idiot, but . . .”

“Bullet.” Ridley finally let go of his hand, but didn’t step back. “That kind of thing happens when guys talk to cops.”

Ice trickled down the length of Mahir’s spine. “I wouldn’t expect any less.”

Ridley gave a small nod. His eyes were still locked on Mahir’s. “So I don’t have to worry about you taking his place as their narc.”

Was that a question? A statement? A threat? This guy was impossible to read.

“I don’t care for cops,” Mahir said. “I just need a paycheck.”

Ridley laughed, which was more unnerving than anything else he’d done so far. Any guy who could make a single, quiet sound—and look—that cold was not someone Mahir wanted to spend more time with than necessary. “Well, you’ll get a paycheck.” He clapped Mahir’s shoulder. “As long as you do your job and know what’s good for you.” He stepped away, allowing Mahir to breathe. Reaching for the door, Ridley added, “Let’s go someplace more comfortable.”

He pulled open the door, and Mahir followed him into the hallway back toward the nightclub’s lounge area. At the edge of the lounge, where the painted concrete floor met plush red carpet, Ridley pulled his sunglasses from his collar and put them back over his eyes. Mahir couldn’t blame him. The flickering lights were a migraine waiting to happen.

As they crossed the lounge, Ridley seemed to make a point of taking a winding path that led them right by all three of the round stages where girls danced for sweating, liquored-up patrons. The walls were almost entirely mirrored, and when Mahir glanced at one of the many reflective surfaces, he thought he caught Ridley looking at him. Impossible to say for sure, though, thanks to those damned sunglasses. Mahir had been warned that the pimp didn’t play around with making sure all of his security guards were gay, and he had no doubt he was being tested again.

He didn’t have to fake being uninterested in the ladies, but he made sure to give a male bartender an exaggerated double take as he went by. And just before they left the red carpet and stepped into another hallway, he exchanged grins with one of the other security guards. Hopefully that would be the extent of his tests in that department.

Out in the hallway, Ridley took off his sunglasses again and hooked them in his collar. He opened another door and gestured for Mahir to go ahead of him.

This room was closer to what Mahir had expected in a place like this. Lavishly appointed with the same rich, red carpet as the lounge and furniture that probably didn’t contain a trace of particleboard.

Ridley went around behind a broad desk and lowered himself into a red leather chair. Then he gestured at one of the two smaller chairs in front of the desk. “Have a seat. Relax.”

Yeah. Relax. Right.

Mahir sat down, leaned back, but kept his legs uncrossed. With his back to the door, he was vulnerable, and he glanced over his shoulder. Showing that it made him uneasy would only show he knew his job.

“Who used to sign your paychecks?”

Mahir’s focus returned to Ridley. “Uncle Sam. I did my four years and got out in 2004. Did security ever since then. Odd jobs. Drove deliveries across the country, bounced in bars. Didn’t really get settled anywhere.”

“Ten years of drifting?”

Mahir shrugged. “They tried to get me to reenlist, so I just stayed on the move.”

Ridley steepled his fingers on his belly. Flat, trim, powerful. “Iraq?”

“Yes.” Mahir met his gaze. “Fallujah was the last big thing I was involved in.”

Why are you working for the infidels, brother?

But the question of which side he worked on was never that easy.

“Where do you live?”

Mahir balked. “I’ve house-sat recently, slept on couches. Looking at a couple crash pads once I know I can afford them.”

“I guess that means you’ll need a sign-on bonus?”

“Certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

“Family?”

“Nobody I still speak to.” Making him disposable and vulnerable. Nobody who’d start asking questions if he vanished for good.

“Right.” Ridley sat up straighter. “Take off your jacket.”

Mahir took off his jacket and folded it over the back of the other small chair. He was wearing a dark, tight T-shirt and jeans he could actually move in but were still well cut. Apart from the heavy steel-toed boots, this was what he wore when he drove to a club to score. It was nothing special, though people told him he wore it well. He showed off what he had, and that was usually enough.

Ridley stood, walked around the desk, and then sat down on it in front of him, the grip of the pistol almost touching Mahir’s face. “Shirt off too.”

Mahir didn’t hesitate. He wasn’t wearing a wire so there was nothing for the man to see. He laid the T-shirt over his jacket and sat back, arms on the armrests so Ridley could see his exposed chest.

“Stand up.”

Mahir obeyed, a little unnerved. Not because he thought Ridley might find something damning, but because the two of them were, in spite of the abundance of space in the room, close together. If Ridley so much as pushed out a breath with a little more force than usual, it would probably brush Mahir’s chest, and that thought made his flesh prickle with goose bumps.

Focus, Mahir. No point in getting a hard-on.

Though if he did, and Ridley felt inclined to do something about—

Mahir.

“Turn around.” Ridley sounded amused. As close to amused as someone like him could, anyway.

Mahir slowly turned so Ridley could see every inch of his torso. Every place he might’ve hidden a wire. And it dawned on him—he always wore these jeans to clubs because they sat just right on his hips. He wondered if Ridley noticed.

When they were facing each other again, Ridley grinned.

But faint as it was, the grin quickly disappeared. Ridley’s expression was carved in ice again, and so was his voice. “How do I know you’re not a cop?”

Mahir didn’t bat an eye. “You’ve got a guy running background checks, don’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Is he good at what he does?”

Ridley’s eyes narrowed. “Are you suggesting I hire incompetent fucks around here?”

“No. Quite the contrary.”

“What?”

“If he’s good at what he does,” Mahir said, “then he’d have found anything linking me to the cops. If he didn’t, then . . .”

Ridley pursed his lips. After a long moment, he nodded. “All right.” Then he put his hands on the edge of the desk and slowly—extra slowly, as if he was doing it deliberately to fuck with Mahir’s head—pushed himself to his feet. When he was fully upright, he stood maybe a couple of inches from Mahir. Normally, he would be thrilled to be this close to someone so attractive, but the tightness in his chest had nothing to do with arousal.

“There’ve been some cops through here,” Ridley said. “Undercovers and whatnot.”

“They made it past your—”

“Yes, they made it past,” Ridley snapped. “They’re crafty sons of bitches sometimes. And if you’re a cop, if you’ve ever even dreamed of being a cop in your wildest, most fucked-up fantasies, then I would suggest you turn around and walk out. Right now.”

Mahir didn’t move. “I’m not a cop.”

“So you say.” Ridley inclined his head, drawing them just a little closer. “The last three undercovers left this place in body bags.”

Mahir didn’t let himself gulp or show even the slightest hint of nerves. He also didn’t let himself curl his hands into fists as he wondered if the man in front of him had pulled the trigger on any one of them. The memory of their funerals—grieving widows, confused children asking where Daddy was, Mahir himself trying to keep it together in his dress uniform—was still fresh, still raw. The only things keeping him composed now were a shitload of undercover training and the desire to see this investigation through so his colleagues wouldn’t have died for nothing.

“I’ve had enough of serving Uncle Sam. I have my grudges, Ridley, and I don’t think ten years is enough to let them go.” Planting the suggestion strongly in the man’s mind. Fallujah. Massacre. Trauma. Death. Cover-up. Showing him a figment of the truth, making it sound so easy and natural.

He looked up into Ridley’s eyes again. “If you believe I’m a cop, tell me to go. I need to work with people who trust me.” A gamble. Ridley’d likely not keep him around for his nice torso. “I get enough shit in the rest of my life.”

Ridley held his position. Mahir could feel heat radiating through Ridley’s shirt. No response to the dare, though. Another test? Something for Ridley’s own amusement?

Beads of cold sweat materialized on the back of Mahir’s neck, and he gritted his teeth to appear calmer than he was. He was getting irritated, too. Of course, this was part of getting into the organization, but headfucks got old. Fast.

“You might be a good fit here,” Ridley said.

“Oh yeah?” Mahir refused to break eye contact. “What else do you need to know?”

Ridley’s eyes narrowed again, and Mahir didn’t have to look to know that the corners of the man’s mouth had lifted. He could feel that fucking smirk.

Mahir lifted an eyebrow. “Is it true what they say about you, Ridley?”

To his immense satisfaction, that prompted the slightest startle out of Ridley. For this man it was probably the equivalent of a sharp gasp. His voice was steady and even as he said, “I suppose that depends. What do they say about me, Saeed?”

Mahir shrugged. “I’ve just heard you handpick every man on the security team.” He added a smirk to match Ridley’s, and Ridley folded his arms across his chest.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning I’ve heard you personally screen all the men,” Mahir said. “To make sure they fit all the requirements.”

Ridley laughed. “And don’t you wish that rumor were true?”

Now that you mention it . . . “Don’t flatter yourself.”

Ridley’s brow creased.

Mahir made a dismissive gesture. “Though I admit I was looking forward to finding out if you’re as good a cocksucker as Tommy said you were.”

Ridley threw his head back and really laughed this time. “Oh, Saeed.” He put a hand on Mahir’s shoulder, patting it hard and then pressing down heavily. When he looked Mahir in the eyes again, the challenge was back and stronger than ever. “Do you really think I’d suck your cock to prove you are who you say you are?” Never letting his eyes leave Mahir’s, he shook his head slowly. “Other way around, my friend.”

“Is that an invitation?”

Ridley’s breath caught just enough to suggest that wasn’t the response he was expecting, but he recovered quickly. “You aren’t the first cocky SOB to walk through here, you know. I guarantee you won’t be the last.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

Ridley held his gaze. He was off guard. Uncertain. Considering the question? Or how to outsmart Mahir and bring the conversation back into his control?

“Well?” Mahir folded his arms, mirroring Ridley. “Was that an invitation or not?”

Maybe he felt a bit smug when Ridley uncrossed his arms and one hand went to his groin to adjust himself. While Mahir was trapped being Saeed, he might as well get something out of it. And if it proved he wasn’t a cop, even better. But it had to come from Ridley. The man appeared to respond best when Mahir challenged him. At the same time, though, it should be easiest to bend the man to his will if he allowed Ridley to think it had really been his idea all along.

What Ridley did then surprised Mahir enough to make him jump. He grabbed Mahir’s neck and kissed him—one of those open-mouthed, passionate kisses that were all about let’s fuck. It caught him by surprise, but his body responded immediately, opened up under the onslaught. Every time Ridley tried to invade his mouth, he countered and tried to claim Ridley’s instead. He pushed forward, backed Ridley against the desk, and ground their hips together.

Ridley gasped into the kiss and held Mahir’s neck tighter. He put his other hand on Mahir’s ass, pressing him closer. Mahir felt naked without his usual stubble. Clean-shaven against clean-shaven was a totally different feeling. He dug his fingers into Ridley’s shoulders, keeping the man pinned against the desk with his weight and grinding touch. He could pretend the man wasn’t a criminal, just one of his bar conquests, and that helped. Ridley was also incredibly hot—tall, muscular, and smart. Mahir would love to see how he responded to a dick up his ass. Whether he managed to be bossy then, too.

Ridley’s hand left Mahir’s neck and went up into his hair. He grabbed it, pulled back, and they were suddenly eye to eye and breathless, staring each other down. Okay, this was getting out of control quickly.

Ridley didn’t let go of Mahir’s hair. His other hand, though, moved between them, nudging Mahir’s hips back. Eyes locked, neither of them looked away, but when Ridley’s belt buckle jingled, they both pulled in sharp breaths.

Then came the zipper. Oh fuck.

“To answer your question—” Ridley paused to lick his lips. “—yes. That was an invitation.” He tightened his grasp on Mahir’s hair and shoved downward, but Mahir was pretty sure his own knees dropped out from under him a split second before that pressure came. Whoever’s idea it was, the end result was the same: Mahir was on his knees, and he had Ridley’s dick between his lips.

Ridley’s aggression was as unrelenting as it was hot. He forced himself deep into Mahir’s mouth, fists pulling at his hair, which unnerved Mahir because it was so different. Most of his adult life, his hair had been too short to be pulled, but Saeed wore it longer to distinguish him from Mahir. And getting grabbed and having his head controlled did funny things to Mahir, especially in this position.

The man wasn’t small by any means, bigger than a lot of guys Mahir had been with, but Mahir didn’t let it show that his jaw ached or that Ridley pushed the limit of his well-trained gag reflex. Mahir’s own erection pressed against his zipper. How long had he been itching for a man who’d fuck his face like this? Just one split-second mental image of Ridley fucking his ass and Mahir damn near came.

He put a hand on Ridley’s hip just to steady himself and wrapped the other around the base of Ridley’s cock. Ridley groaned. His other hand hit the desk beside him with a sharp smack, and Mahir stole a glance just to confirm that, yes, Ridley’s knuckles really were turning white as he gripped the edge of the desk. The ones in Mahir’s hair were probably just as pale if the painfully tight grasp was any indication.

In spite of the way Ridley tried to force Mahir to stay still, Mahir managed to bob his head up and down, taking control of the depth and speed. He stroked with his hand, teased the head and slit and underside with his tongue whenever he had enough space to do so, and he shivered as Ridley rewarded him with a low, throaty groan.

“Oh fuck,” Ridley murmured, fingers loosening and tightening in Mahir’s hair. “Oh God . . .” His hips fought against Mahir’s hand, so Mahir put his arm across Ridley’s belly, pinning him in place, and the groan turned to a faint whimper. Mahir couldn’t tell if the man was frustrated as Mahir kept eroding his control over the situation or if Ridley was just too far gone to give a fuck. All he knew was that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this turned on, and he stroked and sucked Ridley’s cock like it was the last time he’d ever touch a man.

The whimper became a low growl. Ridley’s hips trembled, his fingers twitched in Mahir’s hair, and Mahir squeezed Ridley’s dick just right. Ridley swore once under his breath before he came hard, nearly choking Mahir, but Mahir recovered and swallowed everything the man gave him.

“St-stop. Fuck. Stop.”

Mahir glanced up and pulled off Ridley’s dick slowly with a teasing pop. The suction and release made Ridley shudder from head to toe. Seemed he was the type who got oversensitive just after orgasm, the type who’d likely try to shake Mahir off if he came first while fucking. Mahir clambered to his feet again and licked his lips. “Your turn.”

Ridley stared at him as if not comprehending, mind still blown from the orgasm, and he tucked himself in, struggling a little to close the zipper over his still mostly hard dick. “Only polite, eh?”

“I’d say.” Mahir grinned at him, tasting the man on his tongue, in his throat. He shouldn’t have swallowed, but damn, he liked it, and he didn’t want to smell of cum when he left this place.

“Fair enough.” Ridley grabbed him by the hair and kissed him again, as deeply and passionately as before, likely tasting himself, too. Mahir pressed his groin against Ridley’s hip, desperate for some kind of relief. Ridley pushed him toward the desk. “Down. Facedown.”

He can’t possibly fuck me. Mahir allowed Ridley to bend him over the desk. Ridley was working on Mahir’s belt and fly to free him, pressed close and keeping him in place.

Ridley spat in his palm, and Mahir expected the spit-slicked fingers in his ass. Wrong. Ridley’s hand closed around his dick, and he pushed up against him from behind, the denim rough against Mahir’s bare ass as Ridley began to jerk him off.

Mahir pushed against the desk, not to escape, just to not lie there like a dead fish while that hand tortured him. Ridley was thrusting his hips forward, mimicking fucking, and at that moment, Mahir wished he hadn’t gotten him off yet.

“I knew you were a bottom,” Ridley whispered low into Mahir’s ear, the tickle of breath making every hair on his body stand up. “Imagined I’d fuck you the moment you entered the room, didn’t you?”

Mahir shook his head because he hadn’t. And calling him a bottom— Now, that was almost funny. “Just get me off.” He thrust into Ridley’s hand, tried to fuck it, but his range of movement was restricted by Ridley behind him. Unless he pushed back much more, fucking anything was wishful thinking. Not that he needed to. Ridley’s strong, wet hand gripped him just right—slow, intense strokes robbing him slowly of breath and control, squeezing the head of his cock with just a spike of pain, the other hand working his balls.

“I’ll get you off,” Ridley growled, letting his lips and his breath brush Mahir’s ear. But then his hands slowed down. “When I’m damn good and ready, that is.”

Mahir closed his eyes tight and couldn’t quite stop himself from releasing a frustrated groan.

Ridley laughed. He kissed the side of Mahir’s neck. “You’d do anything I told you to, wouldn’t you?”

That comment from any other man would’ve made Mahir laugh, but he just bit his lip.

Ridley went on. “If I wanted to fuck you, you’d bend over and lube yourself up before I even took my dick out, wouldn’t you?”

He would. Fuck, as much as he’d always thought of himself as a top with the occasional tendency to bottom just for grins, Mahir couldn’t argue.

Ridley’s hand slowed even more, nearly stopping. “I asked you a question.”

Mahir moistened his lips. “Yes. I would.”

A chuckle against Mahir’s neck, and Ridley’s hand picked up speed, stroking him just fast enough to blur Mahir’s vision. “I want you to remember that,” Ridley whispered. “That no matter what, you’ll do anything I tell you to. Because you will. Won’t you?”

Mahir nodded. He tried again to fuck Ridley’s hand, but the desk and Ridley’s weight still kept him from moving.

“I could stop right now.” Ridley bit Mahir’s neck just hard enough to make him yelp and then shiver. “I could stop, walk away, and leave you to this”—he squeezed Mahir’s dick for emphasis—“and you’d thank me for it. Isn’t that right? I could fuck you, not finish the job, and you’d be grateful.”

Mahir’s knees shook. He grabbed the opposite edge of the desk, just for something to hold on to. A power top with all other men, Mahir whimpered a soft, unsteady plea to the man on top of him for the first time in his life. “Please. Fuck, please . . .”

Ridley gave a soft laugh just maniacal enough to make Mahir cringe. Ridley was going to stop. Any second now, he’d stop. Walk away. Leave Mahir with semen on his tongue and an unresolved erection. And if he came back and ordered Mahir to his knees for another blowjob, Mahir would drop to the floor and thank him for the privilege. What the fuck?

“I won’t do that to you this time,” Ridley murmured, and he stroked Mahir faster. Mahir’s whole body tensed, every muscle tightening with the energy of his impending orgasm, and he silently begged Ridley to be true to his word and not leave him hanging.

Ridley kissed beneath his ear again. Then he whispered so softly Mahir barely heard him. “Come.”

And damn if Mahir’s body didn’t respond immediately. He came hard, unable to even exhale never mind make a sound, and shuddered between Ridley and the desk. His grasp on the edge slipped, so he just let go. He didn’t have far to collapse, but as his orgasm subsided, he sank onto the desk and felt like he’d just dropped out of the damn sky.

Before Mahir had even caught his breath, Ridley nipped his earlobe and then let him go. He pushed himself up off Mahir. “You’re in, Saeed. Be back here tomorrow night at nine o’clock sharp.”

Footsteps. The door opened. Closed.

And Mahir was alone. He straightened, heart pounding in his throat, confused as all hell about what the fuck had just happened. He managed to tuck himself back in, then spotted a door leading to a small bathroom where he washed his hands and belly and rubbed the semen out of his jeans. It was invisible, but he knew it was there. Then he pulled his T-shirt on and, looking around, resisted the urge to search this place. He doubted very much that anybody would take a prospect into a room that kept any important papers. The best thing he could do was be “in,” gather information, and then make the whole thing collapse.

You’re in.

Well, he’d definitely passed the gay test, and quite spectacularly. Even by his own standards, this had been one of the hottest encounters of his life.

He took his jacket and slipped into it, then left the office. He wove his way back through the Friday-night crowd and resisted the impulse to sit for a moment and have a drink to calm down. He’d have to sleep this off, get into the mind-set and stay there while he was Saeed. This leg of the investigation would likely take weeks, if not months, so he’d better get used to it.

Now, whether to drive to his—Saeed’s—crash pad or go home. No competition, really. He would likely spend quite a few nights in that one-bedroom shithole that the department kept for him close-by, so for tonight, he’d take the opportunity to sleep in his own bed while he could.


Chapter Two

He walked to the ferry terminal and got on the next boat to Bremerton. Studying the dark water as the ferry made the crossing, he calmed himself with the thought that he could always tell people he’d done what he’d had to do to pass the test. Saeed wasn’t him. Not entirely. Saeed was more resentful. Angrier. Mahir, on the other hand, had made his peace. Was a productive member of society. A decent cop, even if he sometimes wondered why he put up with all the shit. Saeed had simply made one decision differently. Taken a different path at a certain fork in the road. He could easily imagine what it would have meant for him.

On the other side of Puget Sound, he made sure he wasn’t being followed before going to his car. Another short drive through town took him into his neighborhood, a pleasant, unremarkable cul-de-sac in an area that had held up decently even in this economy. Cops, state employees, a few sailors and contractors from the nearby shipyard, some low-level IT people who’d raised their families here since it was pretty green and quiet. Three- or four-bedroom houses with two-car garages.

Mahir only owned one car, and his other bedrooms were pretty much empty. He’d bought all that space as an investment and had nothing to fill it with. Sometimes, when he spied families having a barbecue or carrying the shopping in, he felt the lack astutely. Maybe it was a cultural thing, but part of him hated being alone.

Still, it was better than that awful crash pad.

He pulled into the driveway and turned off the car.

When he got out, he spotted something on the porch next to his front door. Somebody.

“Mahir?” The boy’s voice sounded sleepy.

Kinza. He hurried toward his nephew, then almost lost a beat when he saw him get up. Damn, he’d grown up in the last year. Kinza displayed that odd grace some teenaged boys had. Pale, smooth skin, unruly hair, and dark, wide-set eyes with long lashes—the kind that made Persian poets speak of gazelles. He was tall and gangly, but by no means a child anymore. Give it two or more years, and he’d be absolutely stunning.

“What happen—”

Kinza crossed the distance and hugged him, just threw himself at Mahir as if he had no doubt even for a moment that his uncle would catch him. Mahir’s heart broke a little as he hugged the boy back. Kinza held him too tight for Mahir to believe this was just a surprise visit, and he whispered a silent skyward thank-you that he hadn’t gone to his crash pad tonight.

He patted Kinza’s back. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

Kinza loosened his embrace. As he stepped back, the floodlights caught a hint of a shine in his eyes, but teenaged pride kept anything more than that from showing. The boy set his shoulders back and tightened his jaw. “I didn’t know where else to go.” He held Mahir’s gaze, and those slightly wet eyes begged Mahir not to push. Not yet.

Mahir swallowed and gestured at the front door. “Let’s go inside. Have you eaten?”

Kinza’s shoulders relaxed a little. “Not . . . recently.”

“How long ago is ‘not recently’?”

“Couple days.”

Mahir raised a disapproving eyebrow. “And why is that?”

That look again. The please don’t ask one. Mahir ground his teeth. He’d have words with his brother over this. And his sister-in-law. This wasn’t the first time Kinza had shown up on his doorstep, and it was usually for the same reason.

As Mahir unlocked the door, Kinza reached into the shadows on the side of the porch and picked up a backpack. Then a duffel bag.

Mahir eyed him. The kid was planning on staying awhile, apparently.

And for the third time in as many minutes, Kinza’s eyes begged him not to ask. Of course, Kinza knew they’d have that conversation before the night was over, but first, get in the house and get some food into the boy.

Inside, Kinza dropped his bags on the couch and followed Mahir into the kitchen. Mahir didn’t have a hell of a lot of food lying around. His long hours, not to mention his bitch of a commute, meant he ate out on the Seattle side a lot more often than he cooked at home. So it was nothing but convenience-store food and beer.

He dumped a bag of frozen pasta and vegetables into a skillet, and while it warmed up, he grabbed a beer out of the fridge.

“Can I have one?” Kinza asked.

“No.” Mahir popped the top.

“Why not?”

“Because you aren’t old enough.”

“And you’re a Muslim, so we’d both be breaking rules.”

Mahir took a long swallow of the ice-cold beer. “You are, too, so you’d be breaking two rules. And, you know, do as I say, not as I do, et cetera.” He took another drink just for emphasis.

Kinza huffed as he slouched against the counter. His gaze drifted toward the skillet, where the heat was slowly turning frozen chunks into something edible. Mahir swore he could hear the kid’s mouth watering.

“You know, there’s a McDonald’s right up the road.” Mahir tilted his beer bottle in the general direction. “You could’ve gotten something to tide you over.”

Kinza scowled but didn’t look at Mahir. “Don’t have any money.”

Mahir blinked. “Not even a dollar or two for—”

“I don’t have any money, okay?” Kinza snapped.

Mahir put up a hand. “Okay, okay.” What the hell? Seventeen years old, out on his ass without a dime to his name? Adil would definitely be hearing about this, the fucker. Adil had strong opinions, and as a brilliant cardiac surgeon, he was used to having his orders followed inside and outside of the operating theater. But his big-brother power stopped exactly where it impeded Kinza’s well-being, and Mahir would see to that.

“Does he know where you are?”

“He’s at a conference in . . . I don’t know. Somewhere in Europe.”

“Your mother?”

Kinza prodded at the pasta with a wooden spoon. Mahir got the impression the kid would eat the food in this state, not quite warm yet, just no longer frozen.

“You know what, why don’t you go grab a shower? By the time you’re done, dinner will be ready.”

Kinza hesitated as if giving that a real thought or two, then nodded and headed down the hall with his duffel bag.

Mahir reached for the phone on the breakfast bar and speed-dialed his sister-in-law. Khalisah sounded distressed, and he told her Kinza was with him, in one piece, and that he would be staying awhile. He didn’t prod her for the reason of the fight this time, just reassured her that he’d look after the boy for the time being and talk to his brother when he returned from Europe.

When Kinza came back, black hair tousled and wet, Mahir was just serving the food onto two plates. Kinza sat down and dug in immediately, pausing every now and then to make happy noises and drink a mouthful of water.

“I told your mother you’ll be staying for the moment.”

Kinza stared at his plate, then kept eating. Mahir knew the boy thought that his mother always sided with his father. But once that teenaged resentment wore off, he might appreciate that his mother would otherwise have been worried sick.

“I’ll set the guest room up for you.”

“Do you have to work tomorrow?”

“Yeah, but not until late.” Hopefully Kinza’s newest spat with his father would be resolved before the undercover job got too intense.

How much more intense could it get than being bent over that desk?

He cleared his throat. “I’ll be working a lot of nights for a while.”

“Really? I thought you were on days now.”

“It’s a . . . temporary thing.” Mahir chased a carrot chunk around his plate with his fork. “I’ll probably be staying on the Seattle side a lot, too.”

“Temporary? Like how long?”

As long as it takes. “Don’t know yet. Just depends on what the captain tells me I have to do.” Not quite true but good enough. He looked at his nephew. “But I can probably get you back to your folks’ house before—”

No.” The word came out sharply, angrily, but the look in Kinza’s eyes wasn’t one of fury. His eyebrows rose, his eyes widened, and Mahir was sure the boy was . . . scared? Kinza shook his head. “I’m not going back.”

“Kinza, your mother is—”

“I don’t fucking care.” Kinza pushed his mostly empty plate away. “I’m not going back.”

Mahir watched him for a moment, trying to make sense of Kinza’s outburst. He slid his own plate aside and folded his arms on the table. “What happened?”

Kinza dropped his gaze, staring intently at his hands as he wrung them in his lap. Mahir wished he’d never bought that clock hanging above the doorway because its scratch-tick, scratch-tick, scratch-tick was about as unnerving as the silence that had hung between him and Ridley earlier that evening.

Nearly a minute passed. Finally, Kinza looked at him across the table. “Mom found out I’m gay. And she . . . she told Dad.”

Mahir let out a breath and rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. If there was one brother in their family who didn’t need to be the father of a gay child, it was Adil. He’d barely accepted Mahir was gay, and it had taken a few years before the two of them were able to speak again without nearly coming to blows. Mahir had suspected about Kinza—as had his folks since Mahir was the uncle Kinza always ran to when shit flew between him and his father—but he’d hoped to Allah the boy would wait until he was out of the house and on his feet before he came out.

“Dad’ll kill me,” Kinza said.

Not literally—Adil was a dick, but he wasn’t a monster. Still, the fallout would be bad.

Mahir rested his hand on the table and took a deep breath. “Maybe it’s best you stay here, then. Until this blows over.”

Kinza exhaled. “Thanks.”

“What about school?”

“I can get there from here,” Kinza said. “It isn’t far.”

Mahir chewed the inside of his cheek. “You’re still a minor, though. If your parents want you back, there’s nothing I can do. Legally, I mean. And . . .” He tapped his fingers on the table. “Shit. I don’t know if we can do this.”

Kinza sat straighter, panic widening his eyes again. “What? Why not?”

“I won’t be here most of the time,” Mahir said. “I’ll be in Seattle. I can’t . . . I can’t just leave you here.”

“I’m not a kid anymore,” Kinza snapped. “I can take care of myself.”

“The law says that unless you’re emancipated, you need to be under the care of an adult.”

“Then I’ll get emancipated.”

Mahir eyed him. “You’ll be eighteen in six months. There’s no point.”

“It’s either that or go back to my parents.” Kinza shook his head slowly. “And I’m not going back. So either I stay with you or I go out on my own.”

“And take care of yourself how?” Mahir leaned forward. “You couldn’t even feed yourself tonight.”

He couldn’t tell if Kinza’s expression was angry, scared, or both, but the voice was definitely desperate when Kinza whispered, “Please, Mahir. I don’t have anywhere else to go. I mean, can’t you just take me to your place in Seattle?”

“No.” The word was sharper than Mahir had intended it to be. “I mean, it’s not . . .” He blew out a breath. How to explain this . . .

Kinza’s expression hardened. “If you don’t want to help me out just say so.”

And that, too, wasn’t an option. He’d always loved the kid. Had feared for him when Kinza just seemed softer and gentler than his brothers. He remembered Adil’s spiteful look when they’d sat together, breaking fast during Ramadan one evening, and Kinza had dressed up his sister’s Barbie dolls. When Adil had ordered Kinza to return them to his sister, Kinza flat-out refused, and the whole situation escalated into a crying fit on one side and shouting on the other. He’d never gotten his own Barbies—of course not. Like giving dolls to a son made him gay. Mahir couldn’t shake the impression that Adil blamed him, as if his sheer existence was a corrupting influence.

“I’ll do what I can,” Mahir said. “Maybe I can talk some sense into your father.” He couldn’t work out any alternative. Ask to be pulled off the case? Not after he’d managed to get in. He owed that much to the men who’d died trying.

Six months seemed like an eternity, but maybe Kinza could put teenaged rebellion aside until he was on safe ground. And then he’d get out on his own and discover all the freedoms that came with being an adult. Go to college, get a job, and break free from that family just like Mahir had when he made his escape via the Army.

Kinza smiled at him, reached across the table, and took Mahir’s hand. Mahir hadn’t known how such a simple gesture could express so many things and mean so much. It spoke of trust and love and family—both rainbow and blood.

“You’ll have to work with me on this, Kinza. If anybody gives anybody else the idea you’re not properly cared for, I’m in a lot of trouble, and I can’t afford that.”

“I promise.”

“Good. I’ll hold you to it.”

Kinza relaxed, and Mahir pulled away. “I’ll set up the guest room. Put the dishes in the washer and tomorrow we’ll get whatever you need to stay here.”

He headed down the hall, grabbed sheets and a spare comforter that got very little play in his house—he only kept those around for guests, and so far, only Kinza’d used them—and set up the bed in the guest room. The room was pretty bare at this point, mostly furnished with boxes that Mahir hadn’t bothered to take down to the garage, but if Kinza was going to stay for so long, he might as well set it up properly with a desk and wardrobe. He did have the space, and it wouldn’t take much. For the moment, Kinza could cope.

The kid came back from the bathroom, wearing a T-shirt and boxers, and slid into bed, all bony legs and shoulders, which triggered every instinct in Mahir’s body to protect and care for his nephew.

“Thanks. You’re the best.”

Mahir ran his hand over the boy’s forehead, then bent down to kiss his brow. “Sleep as long as you need. We’ll get some breakfast tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Kinza smiled at him and pulled the pillow closer. “Night.”

“Good night.” Mahir switched on a reading lamp and dimmed it down to almost nothing, then switched off the rest of the lights.

Chapter Three

 

The next night, Mahir stood outside on the upper passenger deck, watching Bremerton’s lights fade into the distance. If not for the persistent radiance of the shipyard, the city would have disappeared into the night by now. It stayed visible until the ferry rounded a bend, and even then, the faintest glow remained.

But for all intents and purposes, he couldn’t see it anymore, so he turned around and walked inside. It was weird, leaving Kinza alone. He’d be safe, Mahir reminded himself. Bremerton was a quiet town. As long as Kinza didn’t sneak off to one of the bars where the sailors and shipyard workers went to blow off steam, he’d be fine, and Mahir was pretty sure the kid was smarter than that. Maybe that was a silver lining to Adil’s reliance on stereotypes. He’d pounded it into all of his kids’ minds that every member of the military would jump at the opportunity to beat the snot out of someone of Middle Eastern descent. Though things occasionally happened, the only military-on-Arab incidents Mahir had been involved in were quite consensual.

“I’ve got homework,” Kinza had said before Mahir left. “That’ll keep me busy.”

Between that and the contents of Mahir’s DVR, he was probably right.

Mahir walked the length of the boat to the doors on the opposite end and out onto the deck. The night was chilly, and some of that typical Seattle drizzle mingled with the pungent sea spray, so there was no one else out here. Considering he probably wouldn’t have another moment to himself for a while, Mahir could deal with the wet and the cold.

He zipped up his jacket and nestled his face into the collar. Folding his arms over the metal railing, he looked ahead for the lights of the city where he spent the other half of his life. Hell, more than that. For the foreseeable future, he’d be in Seattle more often than not.

He shivered, telling himself it was the mist clinging to the back of his neck that did it. He loved Seattle, he really did. The city was beautiful. But he was a cop. He’d seen its underbelly, its expansive network of crime and cruelty. As the postcard-perfect skyline came into view, the Space Needle glittering off to the left of the skyscrapers and waterfront, he was glad he had this expanse of water between his house—and nephew—and the Emerald City. Kinza had enough to worry about without getting robbed, stabbed, shot, or—

Don’t think about that. Just don’t.

The ferry’s engines fell silent, and the boat coasted toward the dock. A recorded voice came over the loudspeaker, advising drivers to return to their vehicles and walk-on passengers to gather their things.

Mahir’s stomach twisted, and his heart pounded. He took a few deep breaths, mentally running through the dossier of his cover ID a few more times. He knew every detail of Saeed’s life by heart—his military history, his alienated family, the fictional girlfriend he’d left for some Green Beret, the time he was arrested for public intoxication and precisely how long he’d been clean and sober since that incident—but he ran through it anyway. That made it easier to slip into Saeed’s mind. It made it easier to become Saeed.

Another piece of that puzzle was the hole that Saeed lived in, so he took a moment to go there, sit on a chair, and look at the mess of his fictional life. A pair of military-issue footlockers holding his few possessions. An empty bed, which he’d mussed. He imagined coldhearted fucks there, fierce and lonely, meaningless and skilled. Saeed fucking men, getting fucked, and kicking the other guy out of the door before falling asleep, exhausted. No books in this place apart from a lonely, weathered Quran, but there was a weight-lifting bench, a yoga mat for stretching, a cheap little carpet for prayer. A mirror—frameless, polished steel tiles just bolted to the wall. This was the place of a man who had nothing to lose. Somebody who’d imprisoned himself in his own toughness and strength years ago.

He stood and inhaled, absorbing the vibe of Saeed’s world and slipping into that persona. Then he was ready, grabbed the keys, and left.

 

***

This time, the bouncers at the staff entrance gave him just a cursory pat down. Still not quite a member of the team but they seemed friendlier when they told him that Ridley was waiting for him in the lounge. He slipped between the guys and entered the club. It was just starting to get crowded, but he spotted Ridley from far away, sunglasses on, sitting in one of the booths and playing idly with a coaster.

Mahir made his way to him and was measured and weighed again.

“On time,” Ridley remarked.

“Disappointed?”

Ridley grinned briefly. “No. I was rather hoping you’d be back.”

Mahir opened his hands in a what can I say gesture.

“I’ll show you the club and introduce you.” Ridley stood. He took one last drink, then pushed the empty glass away and waved for Mahir to follow him.

They left the lounge area for one of the quieter, darker hallways. As they walked, Mahir watched him from behind, wondering which Ridley this was: the one who’d threatened him from behind dark sunglasses in a cramped office or the one who’d bent him over a desk and jerked him off. The dangerous one or the dominant one.

Once they were a ways down the hall and didn’t have to shout over the music, Ridley took off his sunglasses. “The boss will be in later. You’ll get to meet him.” He glanced back at Mahir, and when he spoke, his expression and voice were completely devoid of humor. “He’ll be the one to decide for sure if you stay here.”

Ridley didn’t wait for a reaction. Just faced forward and kept walking. Definitely the dangerous Ridley. Mahir wondered if yesterday had been a fluke or a test or the simple impulse of a madman. Whatever it had been, Ridley seemed to have left it behind, and aside from some brief pleasantness when he saw Mahir come into the lounge, he’d reverted back to ice cold and unreadable.

Ridley took him into a back room where some suited-and-booted bouncers played cards over a small table.

“Hey, boss,” one said.

The other two grunted something that more or less resembled a greeting. All three looked at Mahir, eyeing him with considerably less subtlety than Ridley had last night. The tight lips and twisted sneers were unmistakable, though he couldn’t be sure if it was because he was new blood or because he was the wrong blood. Wouldn’t be the first time Mahir saw a fucking Arab? written across someone’s face.

“You boys clocking back in soon?” Ridley asked with just a hint of malice. “Or fucking off back here all night?”

One looked at his watch. “Ten more minutes, boss. Then we’re all yours.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” Ridley gestured at Mahir. “And Gray, you’ll be showing Saeed here the ropes.”

Gray flexed his pecs, scowled up at Mahir, then muttered, “Yeah, boss,” before returning to his hand. He pulled two cards free and slammed them down hard enough to wobble the table.

Ridley glared at him, which didn’t do a thing to melt the guy’s icy exterior. Shaking his head, Ridley gestured for Mahir to follow him.

Once outside the door, someone grumbled, “Since when does durka durka work here?”

Mahir rolled his eyes and kept walking. Just once, couldn’t someone come up with an original insult?

When they were well out of earshot, Mahir said, “I get the feeling your boys don’t like my kind.”

“It’s not that.” Ridley looked at him, expression completely blank. “They don’t like you.”

So much for the fabled gay conspiracy. Mahir lifted an eyebrow. “And I don’t imagine bringing cookies into work will get me anywhere.”

Ridley shrugged. “They’ll get over it. Everybody’s doing his job here. The boss won’t have it any other way.”

Working with racist pricks was nothing new, but cops at least had to follow the laws and tended not to kill their own. These people—he wasn’t so sure.

Ridley showed him the exits and the layout of the place, and it was a fair bit larger than Mahir had imagined, even after studying the blueprints in his office. Several of the rooms he’d pegged as empty were in use, though Ridley didn’t open every door for him, just made cryptic comments about “storage,” and Mahir nodded, asking questions only about the security of the bar area. Saeed would think of this mostly as a bar to protect from unruly customers. Only Mahir knew it was more than that.

Something buzzed, and Ridley pulled his phone out. “Time to meet the boss.” He herded Mahir back into the lounge and then up a Plexiglas staircase that glowed light blue in the black light.

Upstairs, another goon patted Mahir down, devoting more time to Mahir’s ass than was necessary. He grinned. “So you’re Falafel Boy.”

Now, that was one he didn’t hear often.

Ridley nodded at the goon. “Falafels from Fallujah, Mitchell.”

Mahir drew a deep breath.

“After you.” Ridley pushed him through the door.

The room was vast and well insulated against the noise. Only some of the vibration made it through. On one side, a glass desk with an open laptop and a large leather chair. On the other, a dancing pole and a couch so large it could host an orgy.

Gene Lombardi waved a naked girl in high heels out of the room, her skin sparkling with glitter, perfect breasts and perfect legs. Not that Mahir looked for longer than a second before focusing on the ultimate boss of this place. Early fifties, stubble jawed, pale, and he looked like he worked too hard. Whatever Mahir had interrupted, it hadn’t been sex—the man didn’t look relaxed at all.

“Saeed, is it?”

“Yes, sir.” Saeed would likely be tempted to stand at attention, so Mahir straightened but didn’t actually go through with it.

“You know we only hire faggots in this place? They keep their dicks out of the merchandise. There was a rather unpleasant ‘incident’ involving my girls a while ago. Since then, I’ve not hired a single straight man.”

“Works for me, sir.”

“Why did you leave the Army?”

“My time was up, and I didn’t reenlist. I didn’t want to shoot more people like myself.”

Lombardi regarded him coolly. “Wasn’t the war nearly over then?”

“The war will never be over, sir. America relies on having an enemy, and right now that’s us.”

“Us?”

“Muslims, sir.”

Lombardi grunted. “If you think we’ll only serve kosher stuff, you’re mistaken.”

Halal, you idiot.

“So, you have a hard-on for Uncle Sam.” The pimp walked around him. “What about prostitution?”

“As long as it’s not our women.”

“Drugs?”

Mahir scoffed. “Leave the shit to Americans.”

“Alcohol?”

“I don’t drink.”

Lombardi eyed him. “You don’t drink? At all?”

Mahir set his jaw and narrowed his eyes. “No. I don’t.”

“Huh. Is that right?” The pimp gave a sharp nod and grinned. “You know, I could use a few more of your type on my payroll.”

“A few more . . .?”

“Queer sand niggers.”

Mahir stiffened, grinding his teeth. “I’m touched.”

“You’re perfect for my needs.” Lombardi shrugged. “You won’t drink, snort, or touch my merchandise.”

Saeed glared at the pimp while Mahir quietly tucked that into the back of his mind. The subtle acknowledgment that there was more than booze and sex being sold here.

Lombardi put a heavy hand on Mahir’s shoulder. “So if your, whatever it is, that book you all follow—”

It’s called the Quran, motherfucker.

“—says you can’t drink, and you’re an honest enough man to abstain from that, can I assume you’re an honest enough man not to steal from me?” Before Mahir could answer, the hand on his shoulder got heavier, and the pimp looked him straight in the eyes. “Oh, I don’t even need to ask, do I? You skim off my profits or stick your dick in anything I own without paying for it, I’ll kill you. It’s that simple.”

Mahir deliberately let his nerves show just then, raising his eyebrows and gulping. Let the man know he’d made his point and didn’t have to worry about Saeed fucking up. “Understood, sir.”

“Good.” The hand moved from Mahir’s shoulder to the back of his neck. Mahir’s heart leaped when Lombardi’s thumb materialized on the side of his throat, dangerously close to his jugular.

“And since you’re obviously a fast learner”—Lombardi let his thumb rest right on top of Mahir’s racing pulse—“I don’t need to explain to you what happens if you talk to the cops, do I?”

Mahir wanted to shake his head but wasn’t sure he could move. “No, sir, you don’t.”

“I’ve had an awful lot of cops trying to get into my organization, Saeed.” Lombardi’s thumb traced small arcs that were halfway between a caress and . . . not. “Some of them try to get my men to talk. Some of them come wandering in here undercover and don’t think I’m smart enough to notice. And the consequences . . .” His thumb stopped, and now it pressed harder. Not quite enough to cut off the circulation but just the threat sufficed to darken the edges of Mahir’s vision. “The consequences of that are never pleasant for anyone.” He leaned closer, eyes boring right into Mahir’s. “Am I clear?”

Mahir moistened his lips. “Very, sir.”

“Good.”

Lombardi released his neck, and Mahir swore the rush of blood nearly knocked him out cold. He absently rubbed his throat and looked at Ridley.

Ridley’s expression revealed nothing. He wasn’t surprised. Wasn’t horrified. If anything, he looked a little bored. Blah, blah, blah, don’t fuck with my shit, blah, blah, blah, I’ll fucking kill you, yawn, is it lunchtime yet? Mahir couldn’t help wondering which of these two men was the bigger sociopath.

Lombardi was the type to beat a man to death with a baseball bat to make an example. Ridley was the man who’d walk toward somebody, pull a gun, and put three in the hot square without breaking his stride. Mahir wondered briefly how the other cops had dealt with this situation. Whether they’d wavered for a moment and then trusted their own cold blood and competence and experience. Like he did.

from Pure Jonel

...so vivid that you not only picture it all, but feel like you’re right there...a breathtaking and solidly captivating novel that you won’t be able to put down...you can’t help but get caught up in the breathlessness of it all.

from LeAnn's Book Review

[A] fantastic suspenseful read with complex characters, conflicting emotions and action-packed scenes.

from Words of Wisdom from the Scarf Princess

...cleverly crafted with multiple layers to keep you constantly on the edge of your seat...off-the-charts intensity.... sucked me in right from the start with its intense emotions, steamy romance, and compelling fight for justice and proves once again why these two authors are among my favorites in the m/m genre! 

from Creative Deeds

...no punches pulled (literally) and no mercy given to either one of these characters. The emotions are raw and so are the circumstances that bring those emotions to the surface...intense and heart wrenching....

from Crystal's Many Reviews

...another insane book that caught me completely off guard with the twists and turns, how well written the story was and just everything about it...you just can’t help but to fall more in love with the story as you turn the pages...didn’t want the story to end.

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