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Hostile Ground
     

Hostile Ground

4.6 7
by L.A. Witt, Aleksandr Voinov
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A suspenseful ride into Seattle’s underbelly." -- Booklist

"...an intensely thrilling romance." -- Publishers Weekly

"[A] gritty book that pulls no punches." -- Heroes & Heartbreakers

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781626491243
Publisher:
Riptide Publishing, LLC
Publication date:
05/10/2014
Pages:
300
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

Hostile Ground


By L.A. Witt, Aleksandr Voinov, Gordon Warnock

Riptide Publishing

Copyright © 2014 L.A. Witt and Aleksandr Voinov
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62649-124-3


CHAPTER 1

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—tough luck, tough guy—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 not 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 give me a reason not to shoot you.

"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—"

"You Arab?"

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."

"By whom?"

"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."

"Tattoos where?"

"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."

"Anywhere else?"

"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."

Yeah. Relax. Right.

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."

Why are you working for the infidels, brother?

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."

"Family?"

"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.

"Stand up."

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.

Focus, Mahir. No point in getting a hard-on.

Though if he did, and Ridley felt inclined to do something about—

Mahir.

"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?"

"Of course."

"Is he good at what he does?"

Ridley's eyes narrowed. "Are you suggesting I hire incompetent fucks around here?"

"No. Quite the contrary."

"What?"

"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 maybe 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 might 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 feel 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?"

"Meaning I've heard you personally screen all the men," Mahir said. "To make sure they fit all the requirements."

Ridley laughed. "And don't you wish that rumor were true?"

Now that you mention it ... "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?


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Hostile Ground by L.A. Witt, Aleksandr Voinov, Gordon Warnock. Copyright © 2014 L.A. Witt and Aleksandr Voinov. Excerpted by permission of Riptide Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Hostile Ground 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Sophia-Rose1 More than 1 year ago
Intense! That ought to describe this one in a nut shell. A police officer goes deep undercover to bust a criminal organization that has already capped three undercover cops before him. Oh yeah, from page one I was riveted and I never lost that feeling until I hit the last page. The story opens when Detective Mahir Hussein takes on a solo mission to infiltrate a strip club ostensibly to be one of the all gay security staff the owner insists upon so guys don't hit on the working girls. He will hopefully earn some trust and be let deeper in so that he can get the evidence necessary to bust the huge drug empire. His first hurdle is the cold-eyed killer, Ridley, who is the head of security and his new boss. Ridley has his ways of weeding out cops and playing with a guy's mind that leaves Mahir reeling, but somehow he gets through Ridley's tests and works his way deeper in. Mahir finds that to succeed; he has to become the role, Sayed, and not just play at it. Sayed is attracted to Ridley and vice versa it seems. The two have a dangerous fascination for each other and carry on in secret because they'll be killed if its discovered that they're fooling around together. Mahir can't believe that he is literally in bed with a killer. And what's more unnerving is that he likes it- he likes something about Ridley. On the home front, Mahir's nephew shows up on his doorstep because Mahir's brother won't accept that his son is gay. Kinza is scared and hurting and insecure. He needs Mahir's support, but Mahir can do little more than let the kid crash at his house since he has to stay at his persona, Sayed's crash pad across the Sound in Seattle. Kinza is a typical teenager in that he is snotty about Mahir not being there, but he also is curious what work Mahir is doing that keeps him away. It's not long before Mahir's personal life and his work life come together in one big volatile situation that brings things to a crisis. I don't think it's a stretch that the story has more than a nodding acquaintance with the psychological thriller stories. This is told all from Mahir's perspective and the reader is kept right there with him as he experiences the intense introduction to Ridley and each trap that Ridley sets for Mahir to vet him out. This book grabs more than the emotions. I was viscerally engaged. Mahir walked the knife's edge the whole time. Each scene with the enigmatic Ridley just sizzled and snapped. Again, it is all from Mahir's perspective so it is only Ridley's actions and words that are known and he is terrifying to Mahir. There are moments when Mahir gets glimpses of humanity in Ridley's eyes, but Ridley can switch that off in a heartbeat. All that to say, plot and characters are fantastic. I was pleased by the cutaway scenes with Mahir's family situation because they were nice breaks from the intensity of his undercover role. I was fascinated by the dynamic of not only Mahir being a gay cop, but being Arab and Muslim too. I enjoyed the character of Kinza. He is a typical teen in ways and it had me smiling to recognize that, but he has the added burden of not having family support. Mahir can relate because it was the same for him. I really don't want to say much more, not because I don't have a lot to say, but because I don't want to say something that will spoil someone's reading experience. To bring it all together, I was pulled into this story so far that I'm not sure I breathed at times. Amazingly strong plot and characters. I can't recommend this enough to those who enjoy grittier m/m romantic suspense. My thanks to Riptide Publishing for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If only gay movies could have a screenplay as excellent as this book. The other reviews have said enough about the plot so I won't add to that except to say, buy this, if you like m/m fiction and a darned good thrill ride, you'll love this one!
JacksonJG More than 1 year ago
Two of my favorite authors,   Witt and Voinov.    What could be better.    Full of suspense,  very intense but backed up a good love story.
PureJonel More than 1 year ago
The descriptions and tone of this novel are so vivid that you not only picture it all, but feel like you’re right there.  The combination of police undercover work with familial obligations creates a breathtaking and solidly captivating novel that you won’t be able to put down.  Religion, duty, and self-worth all make an appearance throughout.  The authors meld suspense with mayhem while showing how romance can crop up at any time.  They tell a tale that I found myself fully invested in.  I always needed to know what would happen next and how it would end, but I never actually wanted the tale to end. The multifaceted character development throughout allows readers to really get to know the characters.  These authors make sure you are introduced to them both inside and outside of their work place.    Seeing the fine line that the main characters walk, morally, religiously, and ethically, draws you closer to them.  I found myself rooting for them, and at the same time, wanting to get to know them better.  The antagonists in this novel really highlight both the plight of the main characters as well as commenting on the current state of society, the tings many of us try to ignore.   I’m normally not a fan of multi-author works, but these two work together so seamlessly that you can’t help but get caught up in the breathlessness of it all.  This novel is definitely a must read for those who enjoy the genre.   Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jojoNE More than 1 year ago
Ever since I read Dark Soul by Aleksandr Voinov I became enthralled by that author's clever crafting of the sexy antihero. In this latest collaboration with Ms. Witt we see many of the same elements which all combined make for yet another compelling read that keeps you on the edge of your seat amidst a sea of grey trying to determine who's on the side of good. This is a gritty world where danger is just a breath away which results in numerous frantic and sexually-charged interludes between the two lead characters, Ridley and Saeed/Mahir. Saeed/Mahir is left a bit bruised and disillusioned after his time in the military. Looking to do some real good he's sent deep undercover into an operation of drugs and prostitution that's already resulted in the deaths of other cops. To get to the heart of the organization he has to earn the trust of right-hand man Ridley which leads to one intense encounter after another. Though Ridley seems like a cold-hearted bastard Saeed sees something else when he looks at him which leads to a crisis of conscious as he starts sleeping with the enemy. As he gets closer to the truth the twists and turns become more erratic as enemies become friends and danger hits close to home. Through it all Saeed/Mahir has to balance his fake life with the emotional upheaval brought on by his nephew who's dealing with coming out in a very religious family. The authors incorporated all these facets beautifully, allowing them to intermingle in a very believable way that added to the story's pulse-pounding action. I admired Saeed/Mahir for doing what must be done to bring the bad guy to justice even when it goes against his beliefs. He's a lonely man comfortable in his skin who longs for more in life. He finally finds the one man who he can see being with forever in a most unexpected place, but their happiness may end before it begins as the bad guys come knocking with guns blazing as he gets closer to bringing down the bad guy. Ridley is a cold-hearted man whose eyes reveal only what he wants you to see. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty when ordered to do so, but occasionally another side slips through. He feels an immediate and sizzling connection to Saeed/Mahir and against his better judgement starts an intense sexual relationship that is at times reckless but increasingly emotional. This relationship leads to the truth about Ridley coming to light which changes his and Saeed/Mahir's future, complicating things and yet giving each of them unspoken support for their individual goals. I was immediately drawn to Ridley despite his scary exterior, maybe because of it truthfully. He exudes confidence and strength which made for a powerful aphrodisiac. The suspense in this book is cleverly crafted with multiple layers to keep you constantly on the edge of your seat. Danger abounds which kept me quickly turning the pages trying to keep up with my pounding heart and with worry for its likable characters who were constantly in jeopardy. The sexual interludes were HOT with off-the-charts intensity when it came to moments of power play that left me parched. This story sucked me in right from the start with its intense emotions, steamy romance, and compelling main couple and I'm once again shown why these authors are my favorites in the m/m genre.