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