Excerpt: Under the Skin (Some sexual content)

Chicago Police Detective Patrick Flaherty frowned as he passed through the dark door of the gym. This was where Alexei Boczar, the Russian he could sometimes convince to act as a Mafiya informant, had said to meet, and the door was indeed unlocked as promised, but the establishment was otherwise clearly closed. His nerves tightened as he automatically scanned the rooms for anyone who might be hiding, but he saw no one in the late evening gloom. Including the man he was here to meet. His frown deepened. Where the fuck was he? Patrick had taken a serious risk coming here. The Russian had better make it worth his while.

Making his way deeper into the building, he found the weight room, row upon row of skeletal machines, all silent and still with no one there to bring them to clanking life. The shadows they cast danced like formless phantoms across the walls in the red emergency light that tinged the white metal as if with blood. Patrick shivered at the thought, all too sure that they had seen blood shed. He had no illusions about Boczar or his associates. He just didn’t have any proof.
Spying another door, he pushed into the locker room, eyes blinking furiously as they tried to adjust to the suddenly bright light. Squinting a little until his vision settled, he searched the room, looking for his errant contact. Despite the light, though, this space was as devoid of humanity as the previous rooms had been. Still, it assured him that Boczar was here somewhere.

Alexei drew on his cigarette, the burn of the rich Belomor tobacco a sharp contrast to the sultry warmth of the sauna. He listened to Flaherty moving around the locker room and revised his impression of the police detective upward—he hadn’t been convinced the other man would really show up. Exhaling sharply, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Flaherty!” he called out, loudly enough to be heard through the heavy door of the steam room. “In here.”
The sound of his name in the Russian’s heavily accented voice startled Patrick slightly. He searched quickly for the source, seeing movement through the tinted glass of the sauna. Resigning himself to enduring the heat, he crossed the room and pulled open the door, catching his first glimpse of the other man through the steam. It obscured his vision, taunting him with glimpses of Boczar’s face, his tattoo-covered body clad only in a towel draped strategically across his groin.

Stepping inside and letting the door swing shut behind him, Patrick studied the strong, lean muscles of Boczar’s chest, such a contrast to the way he had first seen the other man. The top coat and gloves the Russian had worn at the hospital as he came to check on a wounded associate had hidden all but the most basic shape of his body. The towel hid almost nothing, leaving Patrick free to study and admire to his heart’s content. He looked automatically for the Russian’s gun, but wherever Boczar had concealed it, he had done so well.

Inclining his head in greeting, Alexei bit back a smile at the younger man’s blatant stare. The tattoos always fascinated those who hadn’t seen them before, those not familiar with the hellish environment in which they were earned and ignorant of the meaning they held. He watched a bead of sweat form on the policeman’s temple and weave a sinuous path down a smooth cheek and long, slender throat before vanishing under the younger man’s shirt collar. “You must be warm,” he observed, taking a final drag of the cigarette and dropping it on the damp tiled floor. “Make yourself comfortable.”

Patrick stared at Boczar in disbelief. Could the gangster actually expect him to strip down? He supposed it wouldn’t hurt to remove his coat. Pulling it off and setting it aside, he met the other man’s gaze evenly. “I have a proposition for you.”

The Russian’s eyes narrowed, as much amusement as he would allow himself at his companion’s obvious discomfort. Chiortov Irlandets, stubborn to the last, he thought, though it didn’t stop him from running an appraising glance over Flaherty’s lean young body. He’d strip down quite nicely, Alexei mused; too bad it didn’t look like he’d have the opportunity to see it.

Still, the unusual location for the meeting had left his adversary—for that’s what Flaherty was; it would be well not to forget it—off guard, as was his intent. “A proposition?” he repeated, his slow, accented drawl heavy with innuendo as this time he made no effort to hide his assessing gaze.

Patrick knew his target’s reaction over the next few minutes was critical. If Boczar wouldn’t even talk to him, he’d not only wasted his time, but quite possibly ruined the chances of his sting succeeding. “I still want the guy who shot your associate,” he began, hoping to appeal to Boczar’s family loyalty if nothing else. He resisted the urge to loosen his collar, which had already grown uncomfortable in the heat of the sauna. Before long, his shirt would be soaked through, the way he was sweating. “I thought maybe you could help me find him and the ones behind him… and bring them down for good.”

“He has already been found,” Alexei replied softly. He could almost see the wheels turning in Flaherty’s head, casting about for any news of recent killings. Just for a moment, he considered informing the other man that if not for the necessity of sending a message, the body would never be found. Flaherty was smart—likely he already recognized that. “The others will pay… soon.”

“And you will start a turf war that turns Chicago into a bloodbath with your family in the center of it,” Patrick retorted. “What if there were another way?”

“Another way?” The enforcer’s skepticism was clear in his harsh reply. Coming here had been a waste of his time, unless…. Dark circles were beginning to spread beneath Flaherty’s folded arms, sparking a dangerous idea that Alexei couldn’t bring himself to resist. “Let us make bargain,” he proposed. “I will hear your ‘proposition’—if you take off shirt.”

Patrick frowned. That was not the way this negotiation was supposed to go, but at least Boczar hadn’t dismissed him out of hand. Feeling supremely self-conscious beneath the blue-gray gaze that pinned him, Patrick loosened his tie and worked open the buttons down the front of his shirt, shrugging it off his shoulders along with the shoulder harness that held his Glock 9mm. He had to admit he was cooler in only his scooped-neck sleeveless T-shirt. “I want them,” he said bluntly, “not just the one who shot your friend, but the whole organization. And if you help me, I’ll make sure your family’s left alone.”

“Why should I help you?” Alexei answered, his gaze raking over the younger man’s sculpted muscles. Flaherty’s chest, what he could see of it, was smooth and toned, a chain holding a small gold cross rising and falling against the thin white cloth of his undergarment with each breath. “That too,” he nodded, leaning back on his elbows on the wooden bench.

Patrick snorted in frustration, but the negotiator in him knew Boczar’s kind well enough to realize that if he refused, he would probably lose the other man right there. Ripping the material over his head in one smooth gesture, he said, “If I go after them alone, there’s always the chance that I’ll find out something incriminating about you and yours. If you’re helping me, I’d have reason to ignore it. If not… well, I don’t have to spell it all out for you.”

“And if I am found to be helping you, my own life would be forfeit,” Alexei countered. Flaherty’s skin was smooth and unmarked by the scars and tattoos that defined the Russian’s arms and chest. A faint line of dark hair ran from the shallow indentation of his navel to disappear beneath the waistband of his dark-blue slacks. Wondering how far the detective would be willing to go to achieve his goal, he gestured toward the thin black belt. “The rest of it too.”

Patrick’s eyes narrowed. He’d gone along with baring his chest, seeing no harm in it given the other man’s lack of attire, but he was doing all the giving with no reassurances in return. “We’re perfectly capable of protecting you should the need arise,” he pointed out. “You want me out of my trousers… give me a reason to do it.”

“Afraid?” Alexei taunted, spreading his arms wide. “You can see I carry no hidden weapons”—he glanced down at the towel covering his groin—“but perhaps you wish to—what is term? ‘Frisk’ me?”

The thought of getting his hands on that hard, scarred body was incredibly tempting. Patrick tried to remind himself that he was a professional, but no amount of internal lecture could stop the desire that swelled through him at the idea of skin against skin. He was on his feet and crossing the sauna before he could stop himself. “If you insist,” he ground out, his hands bracketing the tiles on either side of Boczar’s head, their faces mere inches apart. “Stand up and put your hands against the wall.”

Faster than the young policeman could blink, Alexei rose and caught the man’s throat with one hand, his right arm with the other. The towel fell to the floor as he pressed Flaherty’s face to the wet tile, twisting his arm behind his back, the other hand caressing his throat warningly. Pinning the younger man against the wall, his chest pressed to a warm expanse of naked back, Alexei let the hard swell of his desire nudge Flaherty as he rasped against his ear. “Is this reason enough?”

Patrick struggled in the tight grip as much as he was able, not willing to simply cede his body to the Russian despite the hot lick of desire from feeling the hard cock bumping against his ass, the hard chest pushing firmly against his back. If he weren’t here on police business, if he didn’t know what he knew about the man behind him, he’d probably be fighting to drop trou instead of trying to get away. But he was here on business and he did know what kind of man he was dealing with, both of which changed the complexion of the situation completely. Kicking back hard against Boczar’s shin, he spat, “I don’t remember offering my body as part of this negotiation!”

Chuckling softly, Alexei released Flaherty and took a step back, palms raised in a gesture of conciliation. “You ask me to risk trust of my family,” he challenged, heedless of his nudity, his erect cock jutting from the concave planes of his belly. “Should they construe my meeting you as betrayal, you could be visiting me in hospital next—or in morgue.” His steely gaze slid down the younger man’s body to the thickness clearly visible through his trousers and back up to smoldering brown eyes. “What do you offer me in return?”

Shit, Boczar’s a sexy bastard, Patrick thought irrelevantly as he turned to face the other man, breathing hard. He had no modesty to speak of, standing there gloriously naked with the same brash confidence as when he had been fully hidden behind the trappings of his position at the hospital. Despite his lack of clothing, he was not unaffected by the heat, a fine sheen of sweat coating the magnificent body, the tattoos that covered his chest and arms serving as a stark reminder of what kind of man this was while at the same time drawing Patrick’s attention to every swell of muscle.

“The department can provide you with protection,” he began until he saw the scorn come into the other man’s eyes. “But you don’t think for a minute that you need our protection, do you?” He took a deep breath and considered what he was about to do. The Russian was worried about possible consequences for betrayal, but if anyone found out what Patrick was about to offer, he’d be facing consequences, too, although perhaps not the life and death ones that the other man risked. “Are you saying that if I turn back around and let you fuck me through the wall, you’ll help me?”

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