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by Laura Baumbach, Josh Lanyon
Description: SFPD detective Gabriel Sandalini might as well have put a gun to his own head. One red-hot sexual encounter in a bar's back room has put two years of deep undercover work in jeopardy--two years of danger and deception as he worked his way into crime boss Ricco Botelli's inner circle. Gabriel can't afford emotional entanglements. Hell, he can't afford emotions. But that was before he had a name to pin on that anonymous one-off--Miguel Ortega. Miguel Ortega doesn't trust anyone, but tough, street-smart Gabriel brings out the conquistador in his Spanish blood. But distractions are nothing short of deadly right now, not with his boss's impending marriage to Botelli's sister, which will ensure peace--and massive drug profits--for both families. On a trip to Mexico to set up drug supply lines, a violent confrontation proves they've got each other's backs--to a degree. Then one savage act changes everything, testing not only their fragile bond, but Gabriel's will to live. [This book has been previously published.]
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2009
eBookwise Release Date: February 2009
205 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [411 KB]
Reading time: 231-324 min.
He sauntered past the two shirtless, muscle-bound bouncers, the C-note he slipped the man on his right earning his passage through Club Madrone's front door--and a quick grope over his ass.
The air smelled like sex, sweat, and tequila, and the room pulsed with an intoxicating, driving Latin beat. Gabriel felt the pound of it in his chest, his heart picking up the rhythm. They were playing his song all right, and the name of that tune was danger.
He spared a grim smile as the vibration of the music tickled down his spine and made a playful grab for his cock. Another time, another place ... yeah. But tonight he couldn't afford to lose focus. Literally or figuratively. The club's door swung heavily shut behind him; his sight adjusted to the dim lights and unfamiliar surroundings as he searched for Benny.
The little weasel better not have dragged him down here for nothing...
Gabriel shouldered his way through the crowd blocking his path. A couple of annoyed faces turned his way, met his level stare, and hastily averted their gazes.
He scanned the packed room. Not too many underage faces and nobody falling down drunk yet. Club Madrone had a decent rep for a bar rumored to be mob owned--though somebody should've whacked the interior decorator who came up with the idea of colored strobe lights and blue walls adorned by rough wooden crosses. The Frida Kahlo-like nude behind the bar wasn't bad, though. Not that Gabriel was much into naked chicks.
He pushed through another human wall--made up mostly of oblivious bare or nearly bare backs. This time the surprised looks turned flirtatious and inviting. He ignored them.
No sign of Benny's red-tipped rooster's comb at either of the long black bars located at each end of the spacious main room. There were a lot of bodies. But, none of them was Benny's.
Where the hell was he?
All that bullshit about Don Jesus Sanchez and the Mexican Mafia. Gabriel already knew about the big meet between Ricco Botelli and Sanchez, and what other information would a small-time grifter like Benny be privy to? Still, Gabriel couldn't take a chance. Once in a while Benny surprised them all with the things he managed to sniff out. It was worth a risk to Gabriel's cover if Benny really had ferreted out information Gabriel didn't have access to. But that was a big if.
Increasingly edgy, he scanned the crowds both on and off the dance area. The dark archways and thinly curtained alcoves half hid a variety of activities, from panting, pawing couples to group-shared snort.
Yeah. Nice clientele here at Club Madrone. His lip curled.
Gabriel caught fragments of conversation as he made his way through the crowd to the bar on the far end of the room. Some of the talk was in English, some of it in Spanish. Several of the comments were addressed directly to him. He was used to it. His shoulder-length black hair and tanned skin allowed his Italian ancestry a free pass in this Latino crowd.
He ignored the challenging looks, the mutters, and the smiling come-ons alike. Sidestepping a giggling platinum-haired señorita, he reached the bar and ordered a Corona from the sleek, tattooed bartender.
"Nine bucks," the man said, sliding the glistening bottle down the bar.
Paying for his drink and pushing back the six dollars change in tip, Gabriel made eye contact long enough to let the man know he appreciated the fast service. The bartender returned his bold stare and gave him a slow, deliberate wink. Ah. Message received. Leaning back against the wooden rail, Gabriel surveyed the room, a faint smile touching his mouth as he brought the bottle to his lips.
Too bad he wasn't on his own time. He'd have liked to make the most of these few hours of freedom outside his cage.
On the slick center floor the dancers wriggled and slithered to the pounding music, a huge and coiling snake of mostly olive-skinned flesh and dark hair.
Gabriel's gaze moved on, automatically checking for faces he might recognize from charge reports, or outstanding wants and warrants or--God forbid--a previous bust. Nobody looked familiar. And nobody seemed particularly interested in him past the reason anybody in this dive was interested in anybody else--sex. Gabriel relaxed a fraction. Everything was cool. And that asshole Benny would show up any minute full of the usual bullshit excuses.
He took another pull on his beer. This bar, tucked into an out-of-the-way corner of the Latino neighborhood in a section of the city he had never worked undercover, was the kind of place he liked when he was off duty. It was difficult for an undercover vice cop to find a place to hook up for casual sex. And Gabriel liked his sex very casual--as in maybe even a little risky. Rough, hard and silent. Certainly never with the same partner twice. There lay the road to entanglements and complications. With his life on the line 24/7, he couldn't afford emotional attachments. Hell, he couldn't afford emotions.
Besides, even before he'd scored the long-term gig as one of Ricco Botelli's hired guns, he'd sort of been what was called "high maintenance". Never mind the brutal hours or the stress and strain of undercover work: Gabriel's aloof attitude and sarcastic mouth hadn't exactly endeared him to potential lovers.
Chugging the rest of his cold beer, he toyed with treating himself to some fine hombre tail once he and Benny completed their business. A smooth Spanish accent and a nice set of broad shoulders topped with a handsome face would be a start. And big hands.
He liked the feel of big, strong hands on his body--stroking his skin, pinching his nipples, cupping his ass, holding him still. Gabriel was always in motion: restless, impatient, edgy. Little firecracker, his mama used to say. Hyperactive, the old man used to say. Hell, maybe it was true. Even during sex he had trouble turning off: twisting, wriggling, squirming--fighting what he wanted, what he needed. It took a strong man, strong in will and physique, to contain all that wiry, crackling energy. Even if Gabriel had been willing, which he wasn't, few guys were going to make that effort twice.
That's why God created occasional nights of knee-rattling, fuse-blowing sex with strangers, right? Gabriel had figured out a long time ago that was the best he was going to get. Hell, maybe it was all he deserved considering that he betrayed people--granted, not very nice people--for a living. By now he had to have collected one shitload of bad karma.
Turning to order another beer, he glimpsed a tall man moving through the crowd. Sleek black hair, white dress shirt, and black trousers--that described three-quarters of the guys present, but something about this man made it impossible for Gabriel to look away. He waited for a better view--and there it was: a tightly fitted white shirt unbuttoned to a lean waist revealed a nest of rich dark curls on a brown muscular chest. The ebony V dipped toward a silver belt buckle, emphasizing narrow hips and long legs.
Eyes fastened on the man's broad back, sexual heat blossoming in the pit of his stomach, Gabriel followed his easy progress through the crush.
Hungrily, he watched as the man reached the far wall. And then his quarry paused as if somehow aware of Gabriel's regard. The man turned Gabriel's way. Their gazes locked.
The heat in Gabriel's belly coalesced into an electric sizzle that sent sparks shooting to his groin. He felt unable to look away as a wide, square hand reached up to rake thick, black hair out of the stranger's eyes. That grave dark stare never wavered from his own.
The man raised an eyebrow. Just one elegant brow. The faintest smile touched his mouth. Heat flushed Gabriel's face, but he didn't look away--couldn't.
Still waiting for Gabriel's response, the man ran a blunt thumb slowly, consideringly over his full bottom lip.
And just like that Gabriel was rock-hard and aching for it. Well, hell. It had been a very long time. Too long.
A slender youth wiggled off the dance floor and tugged at the stranger's arm, forcing the man to break eye contact. Gabriel felt a surge of irritation. He watched the tall man talk to the insistent dancer, watched the shadow play of long eyelashes, the tug and tease of full sensual lips, a silent pantomime to Gabriel's hungry eyes. Gabriel was adept at lip-reading, but in that bad light he could only catch enough to know the man was indulgent, amused by whatever the boy was offering.
Sighing, Gabriel turned back to face the bar, ordering another beer. The bartender provided it with a sympathetic smile, and Gabriel downed it in one long series of swallows, washing away the sizzle in his stomach, leaving only a faint queasiness behind.
If Tall, Dark, and Direct was up for a quickie with a pretty twink, he wasn't likely to be interested in going another round with a guy ten years older.
Gabriel checked his watch. Just where the fuck was Benny? He ought to know Gabriel couldn't afford to wait around here all night. He did know.
He risked another look across the room. The twink was near the dance floor talking animatedly with a squat Hispanic with a pockmarked face. There was something vaguely familiar about that ugly face, but Gabriel was unable to place him. He gave it up and looked back at the tall, sexy stranger.
He had vanished.
Gabriel scanned the room again. No. No sign of the man.
The disappointment he felt was out of proportion to ... well, to anything. Even the twink had taken rejection with better grace.
This time he ordered tequila. Picking up the wedge of lime, he licked the curve between his thumb and index finger, flicked his wet skin with salt from the shaker, licked it, tossed back the tequila and bit into the lime.
Giving his head a quick shake, he pushed off from the bar. He'd have one last look for Benny, and then he was gone. The night was fucked--in every way but the one that counted.
Gabriel had already passed the roped-off staircase to the second floor with its curtained alcove balconies once when he decided to scope out the upstairs. After a quick check that no one was watching, he went up the steps two at a time. He wasn't looking for Benny by now--the snitch would have shown if he was coming--but the tequila was singing through Gabriel's system; he felt restless, strung out, and jacked up. He needed action, needed the night not to be another dead end, another waste of time--time being something he increasingly felt he was running out of.
He reached the second level unchallenged. It seemed to be deserted, the club's other patrons more respectful of the velvet rope at the foot of the staircase. Gabriel made his way warily down the row of curtained cubicles. While the thudding bass of the music below concealed his footsteps, it also made it impossible to hear anyone else.
Down the hallway, a partially opened door led into what appeared to be a private office. And all at once the night was looking much brighter. Why the hell not? Why not take advantage of this unexpected opportunity to gather information about who exactly was backing Club Madrone?
In two steps he was in the doorway, brushing his knuckles against the wood. "Anyone home?" he asked softly.
Gabriel slipped inside the room. He eased the door soundlessly shut behind him and felt for the wall switch. Light came on overhead revealing a minibar in one corner, a red velvet couch in another, and a heavy, antique desk. On the desk sat a computer. Gabriel considered it, grimly hoping that its secrets would prove more interesting than an inventory of glassware and booze receipts.
The office smelled of recent sex and marijuana, and his body reacted to the scents--and the risk he was taking--his heart pounding in crazy time with the salsa rhythms insinuating their way through the floorboards.
Christ. Maybe it was true what they said about him. Maybe he was an adrenaline junkie.
When a couple moments passed and nothing insidious or dangerous presented itself, Gabriel stepped further into the room and got a better look at two large oil paintings hanging behind the desk. They looked original, reminding him subtly of the Kahlo-style nude downstairs, but these felt more ... authentic. Here the artist had copied no one, and the result was stunning.
For a moment even his cop's instinct took a backseat while his eyes feasted on the primitive colors and bold strokes. The paintings, companion pieces, vividly depicted sensuous couplings: two men and a woman, two women and a man. He'd never seen anything like them: the brilliant, rich hues of tawny skin and glossy hair, the way the men smiled knowingly at each other, hands brushing bodies in tender caress. He'd never thought of himself as particularly sensitive to art, but these were amazing, even moving...
Mesmerized, body swaying slightly to the throb of the music emanating through the floor and walls, his own sexual need tight and hot in his belly, Gabriel reached out to brush a fingertip over the surface of the nearer painting as though trying to touch the indescribable, seductive emotions on the canvas, emotions he craved but had yet to acknowledge even within himself.
He was leaning closer to get a look at the signature in the bottom corner of the canvas when a scuffing sound jerked him back to reality too late. Beguiled by the exotic sights, the primal beat, and his own personal demons, Gabriel never heard the man behind him until he was seized and pinned face down over the broad oak desk.
He struggled, but alcohol and shock at his own carelessness slowed his reactions. His arms were twisted behind his back, his wrists painfully bent.
Belatedly, he remembered the semiautomatic pistol in the glove compartment of his SUV. He'd deliberately left his piece behind, expecting to be frisked entering the club; he hadn't really anticipated trouble that night. But that was no excuse. He'd been foolhardy. He deserved to get popped just for being stupid.
And the odds of that fate were good because he could feel the outline of the other man's shoulder holster and gun pressing into his back. The good news was he hadn't already pulled his weapon and blown Gabriel's head off.
In fact, now that Gabriel considered it, although the other man's hold was effective, it wasn't particularly ... professional. It wasn't even genuinely threatening though the full weight of his assailant had landed across his back, forcing the air from his lungs in an oof. The most immediate danger seemed to be to Gabriel's dick, which was trapped between his hips and the rounded edge of the hard surface.
Warm, tequila-laced breath danced across the cheek not rammed into the desktop. The scent of sandalwood soap and clean sweat teased his nose. Gabriel squirmed until the feel of a thick cock pressed against the back seam of his jeans froze him.
This was ... different.
"Listen," he got out. "The door was open, and I saw the paintings. I'm not trying to steal anything."
Torn between the fear that he was really in trouble and the illicit thrill of being trapped and helpless in such a compromising position, Gabriel forced himself to remain still. When nothing further developed, he tried to turn his head to see his attacker, but a rough-velvet cheek landed on his own cleanly shaved one, immobilizing him.
"Hey, asshole," Gabriel managed. "You hear me?" He gave one angry heave, which the other suppressed without much effort.
"Uh ... something you want to say to me, asshole?" he inquired with an effort.
A genuinely amused chuckle rumbled out of the chest pressed into Gabriel's back and a low, honey-coated voice interrupted him just as he was getting started. There was a shift of hips and the thick rod riding the crease of Gabriel's jeans slid over him in short, slow strokes. Rubbing his bristled jaw over Gabriel's cheek, the man teased in a seductive growl, "Speaking of asses, pequeño asno elegante, I must say, yours is very fine."
That lean jaw moving against his own, those deep, smooth tones--that sexy trace of Spanish accent--vibrated through Gabriel's whole body, tingling all the way down his spine to his tailbone.