Welcome to the Riptide Publishing/Aleksandr Voinov/L. A. Witt blog tour for our thriller, Hostile Ground!
If you’ve read the excerpt on Riptide’s website, this picks up right where the excerpt ends:
“And since you’re obviously a fast learner”—Lombardi let his thumb rest right on top of Mahir’s racing pulse—“I don’t need to explain to you what happens if you talk to the cops, do I?”
Mahir wanted to shake his head but wasn’t sure he could move. “No, sir, you don’t.”
“I’ve had an awful lot of cops trying to get into my organization, Saeed.” Lombardi’s thumb traced small arcs that were halfway between a caress and . . . not. “Some of them try to get my men to talk. Some of them come wandering in here undercover and don’t think I’m smart enough to notice. And the consequences . . .” His thumb stopped, and now it pressed harder. Not quite enough to cut off the circulation but just the threat sufficed to darken the edges of Mahir’s vision. “The consequences of that are never pleasant for anyone.” He leaned closer, eyes boring right into Mahir’s. “Am I clear?”
Mahir moistened his lips. “Very, sir.”
Lombardi released his neck, and Mahir swore the rush of blood nearly knocked him out cold. He absently rubbed his throat and looked at Ridley.
Ridley’s expression revealed nothing. He wasn’t surprised. Wasn’t horrified. If anything, he looked a little bored. Blah, blah, blah, don’t fuck with my shit, blah, blah, blah, I’ll fucking kill you, yawn, is it lunchtime yet? Mahir couldn’t help wondering which of these two men was the bigger sociopath.
Lombardi was the type to beat a man to death with a baseball bat to make an example. Ridley was the man who’d walk toward somebody, pull a gun, and put three in the hot square without breaking his stride. Mahir wondered briefly how the other cops had dealt with this situation. Whether they’d wavered for a moment and then trusted their own cold blood and competence and experience. Like he did.
“One question, sir.”
“If I do spot a cop, and somebody approaches me like you said, who do I report to? Him or you direct?”
“Ridley will be adequate. He’ll decide.”
So Ridley took the fall for any cop murders. This was just a verbal instruction, perfectly deniable when he dragged this slimy bastard into court.
“Understood, sir. Thank you.”
“Ridley said you’re hard up.”
“That’s correct, sir.”
Lombardi walked to his desk, opened a drawer, and pulled a slim bundle of hundred dollar bills out. He tossed them on the ground in front of Mahir. “Signing bonus. If you quit too soon, I’ll take this money out of your flesh.”
Exactly how soon is too soon?
“Understood, sir. Thank you.” Mahir picked up the money and pocketed it without looking at it.
“Ridley, get him out. I have work to do.”
So this was fun rather than work? Or perhaps just a distraction from making money. Mahir was often surprised at how business savvy criminals were. As focused as legitimate CEOs sometimes. A sobering thought—wasted talent for the real economy, only that the services and goods were illegal and people killed each other over turf. Or market share.
Ridley took him by the shoulder and led him out. “That ought to cover your rent,” he said low near Mahir’s ear.
The way his breath caressed Mahir’s skin made him think of yesterday, of the man’s strong hand getting him off, and he swallowed hard. He emphatically did not work here to get laid. In fact, getting laid here was absolutely the worst thing he could do. First time had been to prove he was gay. A second time was a habit forming.
“Better put you to work.”
That tone was the closest thing to a leer. Mahir was glad he was off the staircase now and shot Ridley a glance. The man didn’t bat an eyelash.
“We’ll put you near one of the stages.”
Mahir settled in and did his best to blend into the background. He kept an eye on the patrons who went up to Lombardi’s office and noted how long they spent up there. He had to learn the players quickly, who knew what, who had access to the boss, and the dynamics and hierarchy.
He was relieved after four hours for half an hour and went backstage into one of the staff rooms. People here still didn’t like him, but at least they didn’t make a move. He pulled a free coffee from a vending machine and sat there, sipping the stuff, ears ringing from the din outside. Tomorrow, he’d get some earplugs.
The half hour passed without incident, and he returned to his post. He could see the entrance, and he tensed when a couple of policemen strolled in like they owned the place. A few patrons looked around warily, another one or two left. Everyone noticed. Even the strippers. On the bright side, for once it wasn’t Mahir getting the Is he wearing a dynamite undershirt? looks.
“Couldn’t get more conspicuous if they tried,” Ridley commented close to Mahir’s ear.
He almost jumped out of his skin, then turned to Ridley. “What are they doing here? Isn’t the boss paying them off?”
Ridley drew closer. “Stage trick. Walk in like that and they draw attention. Get people looking at one hand and do the important, covert stuff with the other.”
Which was exactly what the boys in blue were doing. Helping Mahir cover his tracks. He just hated that Ridley had noticed. And why the fuck was he telling him? To flush him out? Had Ridley seen something odd? Or was he just gauging how Saeed responded to pressure?
“Well, the blond one is kind of cute,” Mahir said. There’s a redirect for you. Pretend he was a shallow fucking asshole who saw all men only as meat.
Ridley glanced at him, an odd expression on his face. Eyes a little narrow, lips a little tight. Was that . . . jealousy? Ridley shook his head and watched the cops again. Why wasn’t he wearing his sunglasses? “I’m not into blonds.”
“I am if they have a uniform that needs ripping off.”
Ridley jumped, but so did Mahir. Where the fuck that had come from, he didn’t know, but he ran with it, grinning when Ridley looked at him.
“Why do you think I joined the Army?”
“Ah.” Ridley gave a single nod. “That makes sense. Though if I were going to enlist on the basis of uniforms, I wouldn’t have gone with the Army.”
They glanced at each other. Then, in unison, “Marines.”
Ridley laughed. “I wouldn’t mind tearing a set of those dress blues apart.”
Mahir shivered. “Hell yeah.”
Ridley casually cupped his elbow in one hand and chewed his thumbnail. Mahir barely heard him over the thumping music as he said, possibly more to himself, “One button at a time.”
Added to the bucket list, that’s for sure.
Ridley shifted his weight. He rolled one shoulder. Then the other. Then both. As if he couldn’t get comfortable. His gaze was fixed on the two cops, who were whispering back and forth, turning their heads just right so Ridley and Mahir couldn’t read their lips if they tried. And Ridley kept fidgeting.
“You all right?” Mahir asked.
Ridley nodded. “Yeah.” He turned his head toward Mahir and conspicuously held up a hand to cover his mouth from the cops’ view. “They’re here to make us nervous. Keep us from noticing the guys in plainclothes.”
A chill ran down Mahir’s spine. Of course Ridley had figured this out. He was far too intelligent to let a little act of diversion draw his attention away from the more important—and more dangerous—activities going on.
Ridley turned around, showing his back to the cops. “If they think a few boys in blue are enough to keep me from noticing the undercovers, they’re idiots.”
“How long’s it been since they’ve sent in an undercover?”
Ridley looked him in the eyes. “There’s three in here right now.”
It took everything Mahir had not to show his nerves, and what little he did show, he disguised as surprise. “What? Now?”
Ridley nodded. “Up at the bar. Third stool from the right. Red shirt.”
Mahir looked at one of the mirrored walls and found the guy in question. He didn’t recognize him, but the guy seemed a little too aware of—and interested in—his surroundings to be some sorry loser searching for a drink and a fuck.
“Stage two,” Ridley said. “Seat on the end. Sweaty guy with the Mariners jersey.”
Still using the mirror, Mahir found him. Though this guy stood out from the crowd in his excessively casual attire, it actually camouflaged him, too. He wasn’t subtle enough to be a cop, sitting there getting drunk and waving twenties around in his pudgy fingers.
“And the third one?”
Ridley shifted beside Mahir. When Mahir looked at him again, they were even closer together. Too close together. Ridley’s eyes were as unreadable as they’d be if he’d still been wearing the sunglasses hooked in his collar, and Mahir’s blood turned cold even as his body temperature rose from an entirely different effect.
Ridley’s eyes darted to the left, looking past Mahir. He furrowed his brow. Turned away. Scanned the crowd. “He was just . . .”
Relief swept through Mahir. Ridley may have lost sight of whomever he was looking at, but thank fuck, it wasn’t him. He didn’t feel the need to taste the barrel of that pistol underneath Ridley’s coat.
Enemy territory is a dangerous place to fall in love.
After the deaths of three undercover cops investigating a drug ring in a seedy strip club in Seattle, Detective Mahir Hussain has been sent to finish the job. He joins the club’s security team in the hopes of finding enough evidence to bust the operation before the men in charge find a reason to put him in a shallow grave.
To protect the strippers, only gay men can work the club. Ridley, the cold and intimidating head of security, knows exactly how to test potential new hires—including Mahir. From the minute they meet, Mahir and Ridley engage in a dangerous dance of sex and mind games. Mahir needs to find his evidence before Ridley figures out he’s a cop—and before they both grow too close to betray one another.
As the game goes on, Mahir burrows deeper into the operation, where he learns there’s much more happening than meets the eye . . . and why every cop who made it this far has been silenced with a bullet.
Hostile Ground is available May 12th from Riptide Publishing.
Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a drawing for a choice of two eBooks off our backlists (excluding Hostile Ground) and a $10 Riptide Publishing store credit. Entries close at midnight, Eastern Time, on May 17th, and winners will be announced on May 19th. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.
Latest posts by Under the Covers Book Blog (see all)
- New Releases for September 17, 2019 - September 17, 2019
- Five Drinks to Write With by Hailey Turner + Giveaway - September 16, 2019
- New Releases for September 10, 2019 - September 10, 2019