An excerpt from the novel by Laura Baumbach and Josh Lanyon
He sauntered past the two shirtless, muscle-bound bouncers, the twenty he slipped each man 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 comadreja 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. The 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 Frieda 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 half-naked 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. The twin bars allowed the shyer partiers to grab a beer and enjoy front row action without tripping over the sweating, grinding, half-naked bodies on the dance floor. And there were a lot of bodies. None of them Benny's.
Where the hell was the little weasel?
All that bullshit about Don Jesus Sanchez and the Mexican Mafia. As if a small-time grifter like Benny would be privy to that kind of information.
Still, 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 something useful to tell him. 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 darkly tanned skin allowed his Italian ancestry a free pass in this Latino crowd. Only his fine-boned features and light, hazel eyes hinted of something else.
He ignored the challenging looks, the mutters, and the smiling come-ons alike. Sidestepping a giggling platinum-haired senorita, he reached the bar and ordered a Corona from the sleek, tattooed bartender.
“Four-fifty,” the man said, sliding the glistening bottle down the bar.
Paying for his drink, 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. Tonight there was nothing he'd have liked more.
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 - even more so when the officer in question was gay. And Gabriel liked his sex very casual -- as in maybe even a little risky. Rough, hard and silent. And 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 wasn't the kind of thing that exactly endeared him to potential lovers.
Chugging the rest of his cold beer, he decided that when he and Benny completed their business he just might treat himself to some fine hombre tail. 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, bad people - for a living. Either way, this was the most intimacy he could cope with and still do what he had to do. Hard enough convincing himself he didn't care if he lived or died; having someone at home living in fear of that knock on the door would have made his job impossible.
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. The tightly fitted white shirt was unbuttoned to a lean waist, revealing 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, Gabriel followed his easy progress through the crush, sexual heat blossoming in the pit of his stomach.
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 shivered, 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.
What the hell? Was this guy for real?
The man raised an eyebrow. Just one elegant brow. The faintest smile touched his mouth. Still waiting for Gabriel's response, he ran a blunt thumb slowly 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.
What the hell had he been thinking anyway? SFPD did not pay him to pick up men in bars, for chrissake. He was here to meet an informant, not get laid.
And 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.
Just where the fuck was Benny? The asshole ought to know Gabriel couldn't afford to wait around here all night.
Gabriel risked another look across the room. The twink was back on the dance floor - but in the arms of a squat Hispanic boasting facial scars Gabriel could see from the bar. The tall, sexy stranger seemed to have vanished.
Gabriel scanned the room again. No. No sign of the man.
The disappointment he felt was all out of proportion to…well, to anything. Christ, was he that hard up? Was he seventeen years old? 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.
Copyright 2000-18, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.