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Under the Skin
by Nicki Bennett, Ariel Tachna

Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Police detective Patrick Flaherty has no illusions about Russian mobster Alexei Boczar, but that doesn't stop his fascination with the bodyguard to one of the most ruthless families in Chicago's growing Eastern European crime community. From the moment Patrick meets Alexei's eyes over the body of another Russian mobster, Alexei is a thorn in Patrick's side, refusing to cooperate with the police and turning all of Patrick's questions back on him. Alexei's hard-as-nails persona whets Patrick's professional determination to get the information he's sure the gangster is hiding, while personally Patrick just wants to get his hands on Alexei's hard body. The tattoos marking Alexei's skin tell the story of his criminal past, but the more Patrick learns about Alexei, the more he wants to know, until he finds himself over his head in a relationship that might cost him his job and could well cost Alexei his life. Alexei is equally fascinated by Patrick's willingness to overlook his past and even his present associations, but he has secrets of his own that could drive a wedge between them forever.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011


18 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [310 KB]
Words: 71126
Reading time: 203-284 min.

Chapter One

Chicago Police Detective Patrick Flaherty frowned as he passed through the dark door of the gym. This was where Alexei Boczar, the Russian he could sometimes convince to act as a Mafiya informant, had said to meet, and the door was indeed unlocked as promised, but the establishment was otherwise clearly closed. His nerves tightened as he automatically scanned the rooms for anyone who might be hiding, but he saw no one in the late evening gloom. Including the man he was here to meet. His frown deepened. Where the fuck was he? Patrick had taken a serious risk coming here. The Russian had better make it worth his while.

Making his way deeper into the building, he found the weight room, row upon row of skeletal machines, all silent and still with no one there to bring them to clanking life. The shadows they cast danced like formless phantoms across the walls in the red emergency light that tinged the white metal as if with blood. Patrick shivered at the thought, all too sure that they had seen blood shed. He had no illusions about Boczar or his associates. He just didn't have any proof.

Spying another door, he pushed into the locker room, eyes blinking furiously as they tried to adjust to the suddenly bright light. Squinting a little until his vision settled, he searched the room, looking for his errant contact. Despite the light, though, this space was as devoid of humanity as the previous rooms had been. Still, it assured him that Boczar was here somewhere.

Alexei drew on his cigarette, the burn of the rich Belomor tobacco a sharp contrast to the sultry warmth of the sauna. He listened to Flaherty moving around the locker room and revised his impression of the police detective upward--he hadn't been convinced the other man would really show up. Exhaling sharply, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Flaherty!" he called out, loudly enough to be heard through the heavy door of the steam room. "In here."

The sound of his name in the Russian's heavily accented voice startled Patrick slightly. He searched quickly for the source, seeing movement through the tinted glass of the sauna. Resigning himself to enduring the heat, he crossed the room and pulled open the door, catching his first glimpse of the other man through the steam. It obscured his vision, taunting him with glimpses of Boczar's face, his tattoo-covered body clad only in a towel draped strategically across his groin.

Stepping inside and letting the door swing shut behind him, Patrick studied the strong, lean muscles of Boczar's chest, such a contrast to the way he had first seen the other man. The top coat and gloves the Russian had worn at the hospital as he came to check on a wounded associate had hidden all but the most basic shape of his body. The towel hid almost nothing, leaving Patrick free to study and admire to his heart's content. He looked automatically for the Russian's gun, but wherever Boczar had concealed it, he had done so well.

Inclining his head in greeting, Alexei bit back a smile at the younger man's blatant stare. The tattoos always fascinated those who hadn't seen them before, those not familiar with the hellish environment in which they were earned and ignorant of the meaning they held. He watched a bead of sweat form on the policeman's temple and weave a sinuous path down a smooth cheek and long, slender throat before vanishing under the younger man's shirt collar. "You must be warm," he observed, taking a final drag of the cigarette and dropping it on the damp tiled floor. "Make yourself comfortable."

Patrick stared at Boczar in disbelief. Could the gangster actually expect him to strip down? He supposed it wouldn't hurt to remove his coat. Pulling it off and setting it aside, he met the other man's gaze evenly. "I have a proposition for you."

The Russian's eyes narrowed, as much amusement as he would allow himself at his companion's obvious discomfort. Chiortov Irlandets, stubborn to the last, he thought, though it didn't stop him from running an appraising glance over Flaherty's lean young body. He'd strip down quite nicely, Alexei mused; too bad it didn't look like he'd have the opportunity to see it. Still, the unusual location for the meeting had left his adversary--for that's what Flaherty was; it would be well not to forget it--off guard, as was his intent. "A proposition?" he repeated, his slow, accented drawl heavy with innuendo as this time he made no effort to hide his assessing gaze.

Patrick knew his target's reaction over the next few minutes was critical. If Boczar wouldn't even talk to him, he'd not only wasted his time, but quite possibly ruined the chances of his sting succeeding. "I still want the guy who shot your associate," he began, hoping to appeal to Boczar's family loyalty if nothing else. He resisted the urge to loosen his collar, which had already grown uncomfortable in the heat of the sauna. Before long, his shirt would be soaked through, the way he was sweating. "I thought maybe you could help me find him and the ones behind him... and bring them down for good."

"He has already been found," Alexei replied softly. He could almost see the wheels turning in Flaherty's head, casting about for any news of recent killings. Just for a moment, he considered informing the other man that if not for the necessity of sending a message, the body would never be found. Flaherty was smart--likely he already recognized that. "The others will pay... soon."

"And you will start a turf war that turns Chicago into a bloodbath with your family in the center of it," Patrick retorted. "What if there were another way?"

"Another way?" The enforcer's skepticism was clear in his harsh reply. Coming here had been a waste of his time, unless.... Dark circles were beginning to spread beneath Flaherty's folded arms, sparking a dangerous idea that Alexei couldn't bring himself to resist. "Let us make bargain," he proposed. "I will hear your 'proposition'--if you take off shirt."

Patrick frowned. That was not the way this negotiation was supposed to go, but at least Boczar hadn't dismissed him out of hand. Feeling supremely self-conscious beneath the blue-gray gaze that pinned him, Patrick loosened his tie and worked open the buttons down the front of his shirt, shrugging it off his shoulders along with the shoulder harness that held his Glock 9mm. He had to admit he was cooler in only his scooped-neck sleeveless T-shirt. "I want them," he said bluntly, "not just the one who shot your friend, but the whole organization. And if you help me, I'll make sure your family's left alone."

"Why should I help you?" Alexei answered, his gaze raking over the younger man's sculpted muscles. Flaherty's chest, what he could see of it, was smooth and toned, a chain holding a small gold cross rising and falling against the thin white cloth of his undergarment with each breath. "That too," he nodded, leaning back on his elbows on the wooden bench.

Patrick snorted in frustration, but the negotiator in him knew Boczar's kind well enough to realize that if he refused, he would probably lose the other man right there. Ripping the material over his head in one smooth gesture, he said, "If I go after them alone, there's always the chance that I'll find out something incriminating about you and yours. If you're helping me, I'd have reason to ignore it. If not... well, I don't have to spell it all out for you."

"And if I am found to be helping you, my own life would be forfeit," Alexei countered. Flaherty's skin was smooth and unmarked by the scars and tattoos that defined the Russian's arms and chest. A faint line of dark hair ran from the shallow indentation of his navel to disappear beneath the waistband of his dark-blue slacks. Wondering how far the detective would be willing to go to achieve his goal, he gestured toward the thin black belt. "The rest of it too."

Patrick's eyes narrowed. He'd gone along with baring his chest, seeing no harm in it given the other man's lack of attire, but he was doing all the giving with no reassurances in return. "We're perfectly capable of protecting you should the need arise," he pointed out. "You want me out of my trousers... give me a reason to do it."

"Afraid?" Alexei taunted, spreading his arms wide. "You can see I carry no hidden weapons"--he glanced down at the towel covering his groin--"but perhaps you wish to--what is term? 'Frisk' me?"

The thought of getting his hands on that hard, scarred body was incredibly tempting. Patrick tried to remind himself that he was a professional, but no amount of internal lecture could stop the desire that swelled through him at the idea of skin against skin. He was on his feet and crossing the sauna before he could stop himself. "If you insist," he ground out, his hands bracketing the tiles on either side of Boczar's head, their faces mere inches apart. "Stand up and put your hands against the wall."

Faster than the young policeman could blink, Alexei rose and caught the man's throat with one hand, his right arm with the other. The towel fell to the floor as he pressed Flaherty's face to the wet tile, twisting his arm behind his back, the other hand caressing his throat warningly. Pinning the younger man against the wall, his chest pressed to a warm expanse of naked back, Alexei let the hard swell of his desire nudge Flaherty as he rasped against his ear. "Is this reason enough?"

Patrick struggled in the tight grip as much as he was able, not willing to simply cede his body to the Russian despite the hot lick of desire from feeling the hard cock bumping against his ass, the hard chest pushing firmly against his back. If he weren't here on police business, if he didn't know what he knew about the man behind him, he'd probably be fighting to drop trou instead of trying to get away. But he was here on business and he did know what kind of man he was dealing with, both of which changed the complexion of the situation completely. Kicking back hard against Boczar's shin, he spat, "I don't remember offering my body as part of this negotiation!"

Chuckling softly, Alexei released Flaherty and took a step back, palms raised in a gesture of conciliation. "You ask me to risk trust of my family," he challenged, heedless of his nudity, his erect cock jutting from the concave planes of his belly. "Should they construe my meeting you as betrayal, you could be visiting me in hospital next--or in morgue." His steely gaze slid down the younger man's body to the thickness clearly visible through his trousers and back up to smoldering brown eyes. "What do you offer me in return?"

Shit, Boczar's a sexy bastard, Patrick thought irrelevantly as he turned to face the other man, breathing hard. He had no modesty to speak of, standing there gloriously naked with the same brash confidence as when he had been fully hidden behind the trappings of his position at the hospital. Despite his lack of clothing, he was not unaffected by the heat, a fine sheen of sweat coating the magnificent body, the tattoos that covered his chest and arms serving as a stark reminder of what kind of man this was while at the same time drawing Patrick's attention to every swell of muscle.

"The department can provide you with protection," he began until he saw the scorn come into the other man's eyes. "But you don't think for a minute that you need our protection, do you?" He took a deep breath and considered what he was about to do. The Russian was worried about possible consequences for betrayal, but if anyone found out what Patrick was about to offer, he'd be facing consequences, too, although perhaps not the life and death ones that the other man risked. "Are you saying that if I turn back around and let you fuck me through the wall, you'll help me?"

Alexei braced a palm on the slick tile next to Flaherty's head, leaning forward until he was close enough to feel the younger man's hot breath on his face, mirroring the policeman's earlier pose. He was tempted to trace his free hand over the tantalizing curve of skin below the other man's ribs, but while he could take what he wanted by force, stolen fruit never tasted as sweet. "We both know the reason you asked for this meeting," he said harshly, holding Flaherty's eyes when he tried to look away. "I don't object to mixing business and... pleasure." The sweltering humidity of the sauna clung to their bodies, beads of sweat dripping down Alexei's back and Flaherty's chest. Flaherty's tongue flicked out to wet his lower lip, and Alexei's voice softened. "Take off the rest."

Patrick's eyes fell shut, the internal battle far shorter than it should have been, but there was no denying the truth of Boczar's words. His hands went slowly to the waistband of his trousers, undoing the belt, button, and zipper, letting them fall to his feet. He toed off his shoes, kicking them aside, but bending to remove his socks was impossible with the Russian so close. "Back up a little," he requested, "so I can finish."

The Russian leaned back casually against the wooden bench, his hooded gaze taking in every inch of flawless skin as it was revealed. Flaherty was magnificent, as Alexei had known he would be. His earlier objection to the policeman was still valid; if anyone from the vory saw him fucking a cop, he'd be killed, but it was worth the risk when this was the reward.

Bending self-consciously--there was no sexy way to remove socks--Patrick finished undressing and stood straight again, meeting Boczar's eyes defiantly before turning around and bracing his hands against the wall, his ass jutting out in clear invitation. He had no illusions what the next few minutes would bring. The Russian wasn't looking for a lover--he wanted a quick illicit fuck, and Patrick was handy.

Flaherty's back view was, if possible, even more enticing than the front. Alexei allowed himself a moment to admire the perfect swell of taut buttocks before pushing back from the bench. Fucking Flaherty through the wall was tempting, but the bench would make things easier for both of them. "Come here," he ordered, tossing a towel over the edge of the damp wood. "Bend over."

Face flushing, Patrick did as he was told, the wood hard against his waist even with the padding of the towel. He'd be lucky not to have a bruise across his stomach when they were done. He caught the back edge of the bench where it hit the wall, trying to keep his breathing easy and his muscles relaxed. A thought struck him and he turned his head to look over his shoulder. "Despite what you think, this isn't why I came today. I don't have supplies."

"I thought police were trained to be prepared for any contingency," Alexei purred. "To your left, on shelf."

"Being fucked in exchange for information isn't exactly part of the job description," Patrick snapped even as he reached for the supplies. He should have been relieved that the Russian had a condom and lube, because otherwise this would have been a dangerous and painful proposition, but it rubbed him the wrong way nonetheless. "I should have known it fit into yours, though."

Alexei paused for a moment, locking away the memories Flaherty's taunt awakened as he took the bottle and packet. "You would prefer pain?" He shrugged. "I have lost taste for it myself." Squeezing a generous portion of lube over his fingers, he traced them down the younger man's crease, spreading his other palm over the small of Flaherty's back to hold him still. He could feel the faint tremble beneath his hands as he slid a long finger into the tight opening. "And had you not agreed, there are always other options."

Patrick's face tightened with a combination of desire and frustration as he felt himself penetrated and denigrated at the same time. "I can leave," he retorted, although he knew things had progressed too far for that. His own body was as aroused as Boczar's, demanding the release he knew he could find at the Russian's hands. He couldn't let the comment pass without challenging the older man's smug superiority, though. It simply wasn't in his nature, despite the submissive pose he had adopted.

"But you will not," Alexei asserted, working a second finger into the snug channel and probing until he found the knot of nerves he sought. Let Flaherty protest all he liked--neither of them wanted a meek, submissive lover. This was about power and lust and slaking the hunger both of them had felt from the first time their eyes met over Grisha's body at Cook County Hospital. His cock jumped against his belly as a particularly deep thrust of his fingers made Flaherty moan. Deciding the younger man was stretched enough, he pulled out and tore open the condom, sucking in a deep breath as he rolled the latex over his insistent erection. Just prepping Flaherty had him so hard it hurt.

Indifferent facade cracking when Boczar's fingers left him, Patrick canted his hips upward. "Now," he pleaded, head falling forward, damp curls sticking to the skin of his forehead. "Fuck me now."

Grasping Flaherty's ass with both hands, Alexei spread him wide and pushed in with one long thrust, stilling for a moment when he was as deep as he could go. Flaherty arched up beneath him, squeezing around his cock until Alexei had to fight for control, not to come inside the policeman like a schoolboy taking his first pleasure. Holding Flaherty's shoulder for leverage, he reached beneath to the smooth chest, plucking at the tightened nipples as he inhaled the sharp tang of the younger man's sweat. When he had regained mastery over his ragged breathing, he began to thrust, pulling back until he nearly slipped free and then plunging deeply, his thighs slapping against Flaherty's, the heat and friction so intense he grunted harshly with each snap of his hips.

Patrick could feel Boczar struggling for control, and he did everything he could to shatter it, tightening his internal muscles each time the Russian started to pull back, meeting each thrust with a push of his own when Boczar drove inside, arching and bucking beneath the other man, not to throw him off, but to drag him deeper. Adjusting his arms so he would have a hand free, he reached down to stroke his neglected cock, moaning deeply at the pleasure of having even his own hand on his throbbing shaft.

Alexei's hand pushed Flaherty's away, closing around the other man's cock, the muscles in his arm cording beneath the faded tattoos as he fisted roughly. He wasn't going to last much longer, and he needed to make Flaherty come before he did. Sliding his other hand from Flaherty's shoulder to the bench, he leaned forward until his chest was molded to Flaherty's back, a film of sweat binding them to each other as he pumped ferally. "Now," he gasped, teeth biting into Flaherty's shoulder as he felt the unmistakable tremors beginning to squeeze around him.

The order coincided so completely with his own desires that Patrick had no hope of resisting it. His body convulsed in the throes of a powerful orgasm, every muscle quivering as he came. Alexei rode him hard through the spasms, prolonging his pleasure, the sharp bloom of pain in his shoulder only adding to it.

A long, low moan escaped despite Patrick's attempts to hold it back as he collapsed forward under the weight of his lover's body. "Lyosha!"

The diminutive was Alexei's undoing. Throwing back his head, droplets of sweat flying from his damp hair, he panted as his orgasm tore from him, clutching Patrick's hip in a brutal grip as his seed pumped from him in fierce, hot spurts, only the condom keeping it from filling his lover's channel and spilling down his thighs. "Lyubimiy," he groaned under his breath, slumping against Patrick's back, a hand thrusting into the dark waves of sweaty hair to turn his face for a long, slow kiss.

Patrick returned the kiss, drinking in the tenderness eagerly, shifting a little as he tried to turn into the embrace. As much as he did not want to lose the feeling of the other man inside him, he needed this moment of peace, needed Alexei's arms around him however temporarily. Reality would only stay at bay for so long, but he cherished these few moments when they could drop all pretense.

Feeling Patrick begin to move, Alexei held the condom as he slipped free, dropping it to the floor before taking his lover in his arms. Silence settled around them, broken only by their slowly steadying breathing. Words filled Alexei's mind as Patrick's unruly hair tickled his face, words he knew he would never allow himself to speak when he could not even call his lover by name outside his own thoughts. "Is good owner owes me favor and lets us in after hours," he observed finally, easing the damp hair from the younger man's face. "You're too loud to do this with anyone around."

"Will he still owe you a favor next time?" Patrick asked, a mixture of anticipation and bitterness underlying the satiation in his voice. He knew not to push for more than Alexei was willing to give, yet a part of him remained empty, no matter how well his lover filled him while they were together.

"You know better than to make plans," Alexei answered, biting back the regret from his voice as he pulled away. Pulling his gun from between the stack of towels where he had hidden it just in case, he walked into the abandoned locker room to retrieve his clothes and dress in silence. As much as they both wished things were different, the dangers that kept them apart could not be ignored or wished away. Alexei had not survived as long as he had by believing in impossible dreams.

Cursing under his breath, Patrick pulled his T-shirt from the pile of clothes, jerking it over his head as he began to dress. He hated the lie they were living, hated the pretense, but he could do nothing to change it without Alexei's cooperation. Stepping into the locker room, he watched in silence as his lover finished dressing, choking back the words of reproach and pleading that wanted to escape. They would serve no purpose other than to alienate Alexei further, and that served no purpose at all.

When they were both dressed, Alexei flicked off the lights and followed Patrick back into the darkened gymnasium. Pausing, he tipped his lover's chin up with a scarred finger, their eyes meeting in a moment of unspoken understanding. "You know how to contact me," he said softly, pulling on his gloves and turning toward the back door.

Patrick knew exactly how to contact the Russian, knew that Alexei could contact him just as easily, yet he did not. Alexei had already turned his back so they could go their separate ways when the silence became too much for Patrick. "This won't always be enough," he said quietly, though he was sure Alexei had heard him. Pulling up the collar of his coat against the stinging sleet that had started while they were inside, he bowed his head and left the building, heading toward home.

* * * *

Chapter Two

Alone in his apartment in Bucktown, Patrick poured himself a cup of coffee and grimaced at the pull of bruised muscles as he reached for the sugar on the top shelf of the cabinet. He'd been right about that bruise across his stomach. It had only been an hour and it already hurt like a bitch. Damn Alexei for being a seductive bastard anyway.

He took a sip of his coffee, cursing under his breath when it burned his tongue. That was the way his luck was running recently. And he hadn't even managed to get anything useful out of Alexei tonight in exchange for their interlude. Not that he went for the information anymore, even if it had started that way. It had gotten far more personal than that, as he'd proven by forgetting to ask for any information before he left.

Taking another sip, he tried to remember exactly how they'd gotten here. It had started five months earlier, in early October, when he'd gotten the call to check out what looked to be a fresh outbreak of gang violence in an area they'd thought was no longer disputed. He'd gone to the hospital where the victims were taken, thinking he'd find the usual black or Latino teenagers. Instead he'd found Alexei Boczar standing over the body of a tattooed Russian.

Despite the warmth of the Indian summer afternoon that had led Patrick to strip off his sweatshirt and tie it around his waist, the Russian wore a dark topcoat over his crisply pleated trousers and supple black leather gloves on his hands. His dark hair was slicked back from a high forehead and hard, deeply carved features that could have been chiseled from granite for all the emotion they revealed. He might have been a businessman from one of the Polish firms along Milwaukee Avenue, except there was no reason for a legitimate businessman to have been involved in a gang shooting.

"Detective Patrick Flaherty," he said, flashing his CPD star. Even though he'd passed thirty, he still looked young enough to occasionally work undercover with the gang enforcement unit, making the identification a necessity, especially when he wasn't dressed for desk work at Area 3 headquarters. "Did you see what happened?"

The man's steely gray eyes had raked over Patrick from head to heels and back again. His stolid expression didn't change, but Patrick felt the gaze like a physical touch, sending a spark of awareness flickering along his nerves. He smothered it because he was in the middle of a murder investigation with gang connections, but it didn't stop the churning in his gut. He'd met Alexei's eyes instead, daring the man to make something of his age or his casual appearance. He hadn't been on duty or he'd have been wearing a shirt and tie at least, but the captain had called him in anyway given his experience with the local gangs. The face of the man staring at him now was a new one, and he committed it to memory, determined to find out everything he could about the mysterious stranger.

Shrugging his shoulders, the man spoke in a slow, heavily accented voice. "He was shot."

It was such a typical Alexei reaction, in hindsight. At the time, it had burned Patrick's last nerve. "You think?" he snapped. "You want to tell me who did it?"

"You are police, no?" Alexei asked in turn. "Is supposed to be you telling me."

"I'd be glad to," Patrick replied, "as soon as you help me figure it out. Were you with him when he was shot?"

"Da," Alexei agreed with a nod of his head. His gaze swept over Patrick again, more slowly this time, and one corner of his lips twitched upward.

Only the body on the stretcher between them kept Patrick from raising his voice and putting his hands on the infuriating Russian. Most of his mother's lessons had long since worn off, but respect for the dead was one he hadn't yet shaken. "Tell me what you saw of the shooter." He hoped a more open-ended question would elicit more of a response. He should have known better.

Again, the Russian shrugged. "Was car. Dark windows. Could not see inside." His lips twitched again, and this time Patrick was sure he was laughing at him. "It all happened so fast."

Patrick rolled his eyes. "Your name and contact information so I can let you know when I find his murderer, since you're obviously so concerned about helping us locate his killer."

"Alexei Boczar." He stretched his arm over the gurney to offer his hand, still encased in the black leather glove. "Grisha would be pleased at your diligence."

"And if I need to contact you, Mr. Boczar?" Patrick was relieved he hadn't stumbled over the foreign name. He spoke Spanish as well as the average local Latino, but he'd never had a reason to learn Russian. With his dark coloring, he might pass for Hispanic; he'd never pass for Slavic.

Boczar reached into his jacket, extracting not the gun Patrick was sure was concealed somewhere beneath the dark topcoat, but a slim silver card case and pen. He jotted a number on the card and handed it to Patrick. "You can reach me there." His eyes met Patrick's again, the steel-blue irises flashing darkly. "Whenever you need me."

Patrick had been sure the number was fake, but he'd kept the card anyway and gone on to interview the other witnesses who were all about as helpful as Boczar had been. They, at least, had been familiar faces and names, though, so he hadn't honestly expected more than that. He probably wouldn't catch the killer--it frustrated him how rarely they did when rival gangs were involved--but he would've liked to figure out which gang had done the shooting.

Over the next several weeks, he'd dug for information on Boczar, calling in favors from Central Booking, Immigration, Organized Crime, and everyone else. He'd found exactly nothing except for a brief record of the man's immigration from Russia seven years ago. No arrests, and he'd never made it onto OCD's radar. He'd been in a car with a known Russian mobster. Patrick couldn't believe he hadn't been investigated by someone before now.

Finally, in desperation, he'd called the number on the card Boczar had given him. To his surprise, the number hadn't been fake, and Alexei had picked up the phone. It annoyed him that he'd recognized the voice after such a short interview, but there was something about that gravelly rasp that had stayed with him. He refused to admit it was because of the erotic things that voice had done to his insides.

"Mr. Boczar, it's Detective Flaherty," he'd said. "I was hoping you could give me more details of the shooter's car. The make, model, color, any part of a license plate. Anything."

"I think you do not need search for car any longer," Alexei answered. "It has doubtless been dealt with by now."

Patrick had no doubt that was true, but otherwise he had no excuse for calling. "And the shooter? Has he been dealt with as well?" The question escaped before he could stop it, along with the bitterness in his voice.

He couldn't see Alexei's expression over the phone connection, but Patrick was sure the Russian was laughing at him. "Would it not make your job easier if he had?"

Patrick snorted. "As if. No, it wouldn't make my job easier, because then I'd have two bodies to deal with instead of one, and a retaliatory hit instead of just a random one. Look, if you find out anything, call me at this number rather than taking care of it yourself. I don't want to have to pull you in for questioning as a suspect instead of a witness, okay?"

"I have your number," Alexei said before breaking the connection.

The words had been true in their literal sense. Patrick had wondered more than once since then if Boczar knew the colloquial meaning of the phrase. Whether he did or not, it was unfortunately true in either sense, as their next encounter had proven.

Patrick hadn't been able to let it go after that call, searching through the morgue records trying to find a victim who could have been the perp in the first hit, to no avail. He had managed to finally track Boczar back to the family he worked for. The Volkovs were well known to the Organized Crime Division tracking the growing Eastern European criminal presence in Chicago, having appeared on the scene about ten years ago and quickly risen to a position of prominence. Given his lack of an arrest record, Boczar's affiliation with them seemed to be relatively recent, though he was frequently seen in company with the Volkov son, Konstantin, who had enough run-ins with the law for both of them.

Patrick had taken to trailing the man on his time off. He wasn't working undercover in the gangs at the moment. He was hoping, honestly, not to have to go back undercover. He'd done some things to keep his cover that he wished there'd been a way around. An old buddy who'd gotten promoted to Organized Crime's gang enforcement unit had been more than willing to talk, giving Patrick all the information he could absorb about the Russian Mafiya, the vory v zakone, as they called themselves. Everything he'd seen since then both confirmed his suspicion that Boczar was neck-deep in the vory and challenged that belief at the same time. The man made the rounds of local businesses, almost certainly extorting protection money, except that he always came out with a purchase as well. Nothing big, necessarily, but he bought pastries at the local bakery and tools at the local hardware store. And he never passed a church without going inside and lighting a candle at the shrine of St. Michael. More than anything else, it was that gesture Patrick could not understand: a mobster who didn't use religion just for show but actually seemed genuine in his devotions.

If there was one thing Patrick hated with every ounce of his stubborn South Side Irish soul, it was a mystery he couldn't solve, and Alexei Boczar had become just that.

Four weeks later, after a day spent trying to broker a meeting between the leaders of the Imperial Gangstas and the Latin Cobras to settle a turf dispute before it escalated into bloodshed, Patrick had known he should have headed home, or at least to one of the local bars for a beer to unwind. What he shouldn't have been doing was following Alexei Boczar making his rounds of the shops along Division Street.

As the autumn chill deepened and the afternoon sun slid behind a bank of clouds blowing in from the west, Boczar turned down a residential side street. Patrick hung back, the chance of being spotted greater without the neighborhood traffic to blend into. He let Boczar get a block ahead before following, the brightly hued leaves from the maple trees lining the street crunching beneath his feet. He was no longer surprised when the Russian's goal came into sight--an ornate white stone church, its central tower capped with an elaborately carved golden dome. Boczar slipped inside for several minutes while Patrick waited across the street, the collar of his denim jacket turned up against the cold.

When Boczar left the church, he didn't head back toward Division, walking farther down the street before turning into a narrow alley. When Patrick followed a moment later, he saw no sign of his quarry. Wondering if he'd gone into one of the houses through a back yard, Patrick was about to give up for the evening when a forearm slammed against his throat, cutting off his breath. He was flung against the side of a garage, the rough wooden siding cutting into his cheek.

"You thought I would not notice you follow me?" a deep voice growled into his ear.

"It took you long enough," Patrick said, not struggling. There would be time to struggle later if Boczar actually threatened him.

"Was no need to confront you." The arm didn't release him, but the grasp felt different somehow, less constrictive, more intimate. "But I wonder why you continue. You see I break no laws."

"Maybe I like you," Patrick retorted since he wasn't about to admit he didn't have anything to pin on Boczar. "Or maybe I've seen things you don't realize I've seen. Tell me who shot your friend and I'll forget about all this."

"Forget what?" There it was again, that tone in Boczar's voice that hinted at hidden laughter. "As dedicated police as you are, had I committed some crime, you would have taken me by now."

"Maybe I think you'd be worth more to me as my eyes on the street than you would be behind bars," Patrick replied, trying not to bristle at Boczar's words. He had to play this cool or he'd lose the man for sure.

"I prefer my eyes on what they see now," Boczar purred, lowering his arm and stepping back to allow Patrick to turn around, the cool wind replacing the warmth of the Russian's body.

"What you see now isn't on offer," Patrick snapped, his hackles rising at the thought that he would barter his body for information. Except, of course, he had, more times since then than he cared to count. That day, though, he'd been full of righteous indignation at the thought.

"Everything has price," Boczar countered smoothly.

"You think you know something valuable enough?" Patrick retorted. He'd proven many times since that all it took was Alexei touching him, but they hadn't known that then. Then it had been a real negotiation.

Boczar shrugged. "You are one making offer."

Patrick hesitated, his ambition, his drive, and, yes, his cock, keeping him from walking away from the insolent offer. He'd done plenty of questionable things while he was undercover in order to take down his mark. This wouldn't be any different. And he'd get to find out what those hard hands felt like on his body.

Apparently he was taking too long to decide, because Boczar muttered something about wasting his time. Patrick grabbed his arm to stop him, not to restrain him, but to keep him there, talking. Boczar didn't interpret it that way, and Patrick found himself truly pinned this time. Patrick struggled, the movement enough to press his gun against his ribs, but he did not reach for it. Even then, they had both known he wouldn't reach for it. His body rubbed against Alexei's, getting him that much more worked up.

Boczar's hand--the one that wasn't braced next to Patrick's head as his shoulders wedged Patrick against the garage--slipped between their bodies, gliding downward until it cupped the bulge straining the zipper of Patrick's jeans. "I ask again what you offer."

"You're already taking it," Patrick said with a groan, his head falling forward. He had no idea what would happen next, but he'd roll with the punches, and maybe, if he was lucky, he'd walk away with more than he had when he walked into that alley.

"Maybe I give you something instead." Boczar's fingers splayed across the worn denim, his palm stroking, tantalizing, demanding.

The thick fabric of his jeans, especially there along the zipper, muted the feel of Alexei's hand somewhat, but not enough to stop Patrick from bucking into the unexpected caress. The pressure of Alexei's shoulders against his eased, giving him more freedom of movement. It would have been obvious to a child that Patrick wasn't trying to get away. It certainly was obvious to Alexei. In an embarrassingly short amount of time, Patrick came in his jeans. "I gave you what you wanted," he rasped. "Pay up."

"I think I gave what you wanted," Alexei retorted, stepping back and eying Patrick with a self-satisfied expression. "That is what you follow me for, no?"

"You've got that backward," Patrick insisted, trying to keep his thoughts on track even as his body wanted to melt to the pavement. "I followed you because I'm trying to find your friend's murderer. I gave you what you implied you wanted just now in exchange for information to help me do that. So pay up, or I'll have you on charges of assault and molestation."

"Assault?" Alexei's eyebrows rose and his lips narrowed. "I did not see you fighting to get away."

"Who do you think they'd believe at the precinct?" Patrick challenged. "A fellow cop or a Russian mobster?"

"I am businessman," Boczar assured him blandly. "Though since you ask so nicely, I remember the day Grisha was shot, man in car wore gold and black jacket."

Patrick recognized that information for what it was. To a different informant, he might have offered his hand, but given the mess in his pants, that seemed a little awkward. "Nice doing business with you," he said instead. "You know how to reach me if you think of anything else I need to know."

Boczar inclined his head. "And you know how to reach me." He turned, one hand slipping into his trouser pocket as he walked away.

Patrick had stayed in that alley for a long time before going home. The next morning he'd gone back to the morgue, looking for a body wearing black and gold gang colors. He'd found one, strangled. It hadn't come to his unit because it didn't look like gang violence despite the colors the man wore. Patrick had contacted the detective in charge of the case and gotten a glimpse of the man's file. Strangled by hand. It would take a powerful grip to do that. He'd flashed back to the image of Boczar's hand on his body through his clothes. The Russian hadn't been rough with him. Demanding, yes, but not to the point of causing Patrick pain. No, the idea had definitely been to give Patrick pleasure.

Other than the method of murder, the other detective had next to nothing, and Patrick hadn't been able to explain why he thought the two incidents were connected, so he'd settled for getting a photo of the dead man's face. He'd gotten information from Boczar once. Maybe he could get more.

It had still taken him nearly a week to pick up the phone and arrange to meet the Russian again, because now he knew the price of cooperation.

They'd met in Pulaski Park after dark. Boczar had been suspicious when Patrick called, but he could hardly blame the other man. Patrick had insisted all he wanted was to show him a photograph, to see if he recognized a potential suspect. He'd even suggested the park as a sort of neutral ground, rather than having Boczar come in to the precinct. The Russian had relented after that, and Patrick had known why. At the park, inside the field house restrooms, they could find somewhere relatively private to conduct their exchange. Patrick would try to negotiate a different settlement on his part, but they had both known how the evening would end, even then.

Boczar wore the same dark coat and gloves to their second meeting as he had always worn. Patrick wondered if the man even owned casual clothes, but he wasn't about to ask. Instead, he greeted the Russian curtly and pulled out the picture right away. "Is this the man who shot your friend?"

The Russian scarcely glanced at the photograph. "I never see him before."

"How do you know?" Patrick challenged. "You barely looked at him. Or do you need something to sweeten the deal?" He hadn't meant to bring it up so quickly, but his mouth had run away with him. Once he'd said it, the words couldn't be taken back.

"I think this time I take what you offer." Boczar inclined his head toward the field house, not looking to see if Patrick was following as he made his way inside and into the restrooms. Entering a stall at the far end of the row, he secured the door behind Patrick and unbuttoned his coat. "Unzip me."

"What, no kiss first?" Patrick joked even as he undid the zipper and slipped his hand inside. Boczar was already halfway to hard. It only took a couple of strokes and he was fully erect. Deciding the angle was awkward, Patrick worked the other man free of his boxer briefs--black, like everything he wore was black--so he was fully exposed. He didn't want to kneel on the dirty bathroom floor, but the toilet provided a perch at the perfect height.

"Da, like that," Boczar ordered, leaning his head against the graffiti-defaced side of the stall, his hooded eyes never leaving Patrick's face.

It was that gaze that got Patrick worked up, even more than the feel of a hard cock pulsing in his hand. It didn't take long for Boczar to spill all over his fingers, and with those compelling eyes still watching him, Patrick gave in to his own desire and lifted his hand to his lips, licking it clean.

A sound suspiciously like a groan echoed against the cinderblock walls of the toilet as Boczar pulled Patrick roughly to his feet. "I take that kiss now," he muttered, his mouth covering Patrick's, his tongue forcing its way between Patrick's lips to plunder the taste from the moist cavern.

Patrick wasn't able to do anything but stand there helpless beneath the onslaught, giving in to Boczar the way he never gave in to anyone. His head spun as they stood there, locked in an embrace in a dingy restroom on a cold night in the middle of November, but the surroundings didn't matter. When Boczar finally released him, he was as flushed and aroused from that kiss as from anything any lover had ever done to him. "And the picture?" he forced himself to say instead of pulling Alexei back into another embrace.

"Was not shooter." Boczar tucked himself up and buttoned his coat, pulling his leather gloves from a pocket. "Was driver."

Patrick let him go, digesting that information. There was another body out there somewhere, either unlocated or unidentified. That was a problem for later. The immediate problem was his aching erection. He went home and jacked off, not to the feeling of Alexei's cock in his hand, but to the memory of Alexei's lips covering his.

Even in hindsight, Patrick could not say when Alexei had gone from informant to lover, but it had happened well before the CPD had finally found the body of Grisha's killer. He only wished the problems of their relationship were as easy to solve as the problems on that case.

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