Author: L.A. Witt, Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Formats: ebook, paperback
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——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 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
“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—”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
Though if he did, and Ridley felt inclined to do something about—
“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?”
“Is he good at what he does?”
Ridley’s eyes narrowed. “Are you suggesting I hire incompetent fucks around here?”
“No. Quite the contrary.”
“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 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 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 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 I’ve heard you personally screen all the men,” Mahir said. “To make sure they fit the requirements.”
Ridley laughed. “And don’t you wish that rumor were true?”
. . “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 idea all along.
What Ridley did then surprised Mahir enough to make him jump. He grabbed Mahir’s neck and him—one of those open-mouthed, passionate kisses that were all about . 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.
“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 , 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 . 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.”
. 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 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 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.
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.