CHAPTER ONE

 

HARRY KLINGER stood just outside the doorway to his domain at Bronco’s. He managed the business end, while Bull was the real face of the place. He was also head of security and someone none of the patrons wanted to deal with. Bull had been his friend for years, and he trusted the man completely. They had had each other’s backs often enough, and he had no doubt they would again. A friend—no, brother—like that was worth more than gold in Harry’s opinion.

“We’ve got trouble,” Bull said as he somehow materialized next to him. Harry had no idea how a man as huge and distinctive as Bull could possibly go anywhere unnoticed, but he managed to pull it off quite often.

Harry turned and followed Bull’s gaze. At first he wasn’t sure what he was looking at. It was a table crowded with men, like every other one in the packed club. The music pounded and throbbed through the seductively lit space, the energy of the place pulsing through him. That was what he loved about this business—the energy and vitality he felt when he was out here.

“Watch the man at the far side of the table,” Bull said.

Harry turned, taking his gaze off the place it always seemed to wander of its own accord. For almost two years now, he had watched Bull’s partner’s friend Tristan, one of the fabulous four, as he thought of them. “What am I looking for?” he asked absently.

“Just watch,” Bull said.

Harry shifted so he could see better across the crowded club and noticed a man he hadn’t seen before: dark hair, eyes, and beard, smoldering good looks. If Harry were closer, maybe seated at that table, he figured he’d smell the raw scent of masculine sexuality over the alcohol, sweat, smoke, and musk that pervaded the club. Harry pushed that out of his companionship-, gratification-, and love-starved brain and returned to the task at hand. Men shifted around the table, almost like the dance the men did on the floor of the club. It wasn’t until one of the men on the right side moved back for a few seconds that Harry saw what Bull meant. The man on the left side of the dark-haired man at the center clasped his hand. Harry knew in that instant what he was seeing. Money was placed in the dark-haired man’s hand, and the hand disappeared under the table. He couldn’t see it, but he knew what was going on. The hand reappeared again, another touch, and then the man moved away and another took his place.

“What do you want to do?” Harry asked. “He needs to go, and be taught a lesson.”

“I know.” Bull stepped forward, and Harry placed his hand on his shoulder to stop him. Tristan approached the table.

“What the hell is he doing?” Harry asked Bull. “Do you think he knows him?” Fury rose inside to the point he could barely think. “I wonder if that guy is some associate of that scumbag ex of his.”

Tristan approached the table but didn’t sit down, which was a relief. He stood at the end, partially blocking Harry’s view.

“I’m going to break this up and put the fear of God into that bastard,” Bull said. He took two steps, just as Bull’s partner, Zach, made his way over to Tristan. Bull stopped, and Harry heard him swear under his breath. Zach and Bull were inseparable, and Harry saw the tension in Bull’s body ramp up to unbelievable heights. Bull would move heaven and earth to protect Zach; he’d done it before.

Zach took Tristan’s arm and pulled him away. He turned and appeared to say something. The swarthy man’s expression changed to a lusty leer, and Bull was halfway across the floor before Harry could say a word. He followed behind Bull, signaling to the other bouncers that they had better get their asses over there. Bull was usually coolheaded and generally thought things through, but when it came to Zach, he was as growly as hell and could be vicious if he thought anyone would hurt the man he loved more than life itself.

Zach moved away from the table, with Tristan in tow, as Harry hurried to catch up with Bull. The big man stormed toward the table, the tide of men in the club parting like the Red Sea.

“Excuse me!” Bull boomed over the music as he reached the edge of the table.

“Can I help you?” the Hispanic-looking man asked as he leaned back, looking completely unconcerned. This guy was either really cocky or as stupid as they came. Bull leaned over the table and grabbed the men to either side of the man, lifted them off their seats, and pulled them away.

“You two, get out of the club now before I take you out of here in a trash can.” Bull’s growl stopped both of them from reacting.

“It’s all right. He and I will just have a little talk,” the man said to the other two men, who looked like bodyguards.

“Okay, Carlos,” said one of the two men Bull was still holding on to. Bull released them, and they walked off toward the front door, with bouncers following them.

“The rest of you—beat it,” Bull said to the other customers at the table.

The boys who had gathered around for their chance to do “business” bade a hasty retreat, and soon it was just the three of them: Bull, Harry, and Carlos. The man didn’t seem surprised or nervous in the least.

“So what can I do for you gentlemen?” Carlos asked. Bull placed both hands on the table and leaned over it but said nothing. Harry stood back and watched. Carlos blinked, the first sign of nervousness, and Bull pulled the table away, swung around, and set it down before stalking into the vacated space. “I was only doing a little business.”

“Not in my club you don’t,” Bull said.

“Your club? I hardly think—”

Bull reached out and yanked Carlos to his feet, then pulled him into a nearby corner. “Yes, my club. I own it, and your kind of business is never welcome here.” Bull shook him sharply. “And don’t you dare insult me by making an offer to cut me in on your action, or I’ll shake you until your head flies off. You got me? This is a clean club, and people like you are not welcome here.” Carlos tried to pull away. Bull shifted, grabbed Carlos’s arm, and wrenched it behind his back. “Try anything, and I won’t just break your arm, I’ll make sure you never use it again. Am I making myself clear?”

“Yes,” Carlos gritted out. Bull released him, and he staggered slightly. Bull shoved him, probably to keep him off-balance.

“Good. My bouncers are all over this club, and nothing happens here without me knowing about it. So I suggest you leave while you can still walk, and tell your friends not to show their faces in here.”

Carlos straightened his shirt, most likely to hide the fact that he was trying not to shake in his shoes.

“We will know if you try to come back,” Harry said as Carlos tried to muscle his way around him as an intimidation tactic. He’d seen many men try it over the years. Harry let Carlos get almost past, and then he moved his foot slightly, catching the edge of Carlos’s shoe and sending him splaying out onto the dance floor. It was raining outside, so the floor was covered in a sheen of water and dirt. “Thanks for helping to clean my floor,” Harry cracked when Carlos came up with his designer clothes covered in dirt.

Bull moved to stand beside him. Harry smiled as Carlos tried his best to wrap himself in his dignity, but he simply looked stupid covered in the mud that had been tracked in. “Go,” Bull said, “or I’ll have my men throw you out.”

Carlos turned, and the men on the dance floor parted for him, staring and chuckling at him as he went. Once he passed, they went right back to their dancing without missing a beat from the pulsing music.

“You know he’ll be trouble at some point,” Harry said once Bull had put the table back in place. A group of men came over, and Bull motioned toward the table. They sat and thanked him before smiling and quickly losing themselves in conversation.

“Possibly.” Bull turned back to him. “But he’ll also think twice before asking for trouble from us.” He motioned toward the table off to the far side of the dance floor, where Tristan and his friends sat chatting away. “Let’s find out what this is all about.”

Harry followed Bull through the crowd. As they approached the table, Zach slipped off his stool and bounded over to Bull, then practically jumped into his arms. Bull grinned. Harry was always jealous of his best friend when he saw that smile because it reminded him of how happy Bull was and how empty his own life had become.

“Zach, what were you and Tristan doing with that dealer?” Bull’s question came out harsh, and Zach flinched before turning his smile on Bull. Harry loved how Zach could make his usually scary, intimidating business partner melt like an ice cream cone in July.

“It’s my fault,” Tristan answered from next to Zach. “I recognized Carlos and went over to say hello. It wasn’t until I got over there that I remembered he was a friend of Eddie’s, and then I was in trouble because I knew why he was here and what he was doing.” Tristan gulped the pink drink from his martini glass, emptying it before placing it back on the table. “I see people I know all over town, and they’re all guys I met when Eddie and I were together.”

“Didn’t the police find him?” Harry asked. Damn, Tristan looked so down. All Harry wanted to do was pull the smaller man into his arms and then take him into the back room, or better yet, home with him, and make him forget everything about Eddie Menendez. Hell, he’d do his best to make Tristan forget his own name if that would put a smile on his face.

“Yeah, but apparently he got a high-powered lawyer, and the charges seemed to vanish, along with most of the evidence, so they had to let him go.” Tristan sighed and turned back to the table, staring down at the top. One of the other members of the fab foursome, Jeremy, put his arm around Tristan and drew him into a one-armed hug. “So I keep expecting him to show up.”

“Why didn’t you tell someone?” Harry asked, worried but with more heat than he intended. Tristan flinched and leaned closer to Jeremy.

“I didn’t mean to cause trouble.” Tristan straightened up and slipped off his stool. “Maybe I should go.” He walked around to Kevin, the fourth member of the group. “I’m going to go back to the apartment. You guys have fun, and I’ll see you later.”

Harry felt like a heel. He hadn’t meant to sound like he was laying into him. He was worried about him. Harry had been watching Tristan since shortly after Bull and Zach had begun seeing each other and it became apparent that the club was the new permanent hangout for the fab foursome. There was something about the dark-haired beauty with the soulful eyes, pouty lips, and compact little body that Harry just knew was packed with energy. It came out whenever he danced. Harry glanced at Bull and sighed. “I wasn’t angry with you or anyone.”

“Yeah,” Zach said. He sprung off his stool and went over to Tristan. “You aren’t ruining anything. I only came over because I saw he was bad news and figured I’d help get you out of there.” Zach took Tristan by the hand and tugged him back around the table to his seat. “There’s nothing to worry about.” Zach waited until Tristan sat back on his stool before going to stand next to Bull and putting an arm around his waist. At least he tried. Bull was built like his namesake, and Zach’s arm was only so long. If Harry had to guess when he saw Bull startle just a little, Zach had most likely slipped his hand into Bull’s back pocket and was copping a good feel. “Bull and Harry saw what was happening and handled it. I doubt they’ll be back.” Zach looked up at Bull with a mixture of love and wonderment. That look said it all, and it pulled a smile from Bull.

Harry wanted what they had so damn bad his chest ached like someone had reached in and ripped out his heart. Well, if he were truthful, someone had once done just that. But he pushed those feelings away. They were useless right now, and he was at the club—keeping his mind on the job was what was important right now.

“You don’t know these guys.”

“You know all you have to do is signal Bull, me, or any one of the bouncers, and we’ll take care of anything threatening,” Harry said.

“See?” Zach said with a smile and then stepped away from Bull. “I need to finish my drink, and then you and I are going to light this place up.” The energy from those few words was enough to light the club for a month.

“I don’t know if I’m up for it anymore,” Tristan said.

“Sure you are,” Zach countered. “It’s exactly what you need, and you know it.”

“I’ll go get another round—it’s my turn—and then we can all dance,” Kevin volunteered and began threading his way across the floor. Harry watched as Kevin was waylaid by a group of guys. They opened their little dance pod, and Kevin slipped right in, grinding against one and then the other of the men, obviously having the time of his life. Harry liked how Kevin threw himself into everything he did. Although sometimes he threw himself into certain things a little too much, especially guys. Kevin was into men, lots of them… and having a good time. Harry knew there was nothing wrong with that. He’d done that at one time in his life, but he wasn’t interested in that now. What he wanted more than anything was the man who stared broodingly at his now empty glass.

“Everything is going to be fine,” Zach said to Tristan.

Bull said something Harry didn’t catch, but from the way he headed toward the front door, Harry knew he was in full “head of security” mode once again. Harry told the guys to have fun and worked his way around the edge of the writhing dance floor to the bar.

“How are things going?” Harry asked Rodney, one of the bartenders. Rodney always had a ready smile for him. Harry knew the hot guy had a thing for him. In fact, he and Rodney had gone home together once, after a particularly long night. It had just been the one time, and while Rodney was sex on wheels with the way he looked in his skintight black T-shirt with the sleeves cut off to accentuate his cannonball shoulders and had to beat the guys off on a nightly basis, there hadn’t been anything between them other than sex. Harry was also keenly aware of the dangers of becoming involved with someone he worked with, so he’d backed off as carefully as he could.

“Business is good,” Rodney said in his James Earl Jones voice. That alone got almost as many guys as his looks. Harry had seen guys go breathless when Rodney spoke to them. “We’re going to need more of the orange vodka.” He didn’t stop working as he talked, hands continuing to mix drinks.

“There’s some more in the back.” Harry paused. “Wasn’t the bar stocked properly?”

“It was, but there’s been a run on the stuff. Don’t know why.” Rodney continued working, and Harry stepped back from the bar. He saw Chris, one of the bouncers, and asked him if he’d bring a few bottles out from the back. He nodded and hurried to do what Harry asked. Harry left the club floor, and as soon as the door closed behind him, shutting out most of the music, he leaned against the wall in the hallway, taking a deep breath, letting his ears adjust to the noise level.

“You okay?” Chris asked as he hurried past with a bottle of orange vodka in each hand.

“I’m good,” Harry said, forcing a smile. He pushed away from the wall and walked into the office, then closed the door. The beat of the music permeated this far, but that was all. He sat down with a sigh and glanced up at the security monitors that lined the wall in front of him. He scanned the screens, looking for anything out of the ordinary. He didn’t see anything and forced his attention onto the mountain of work that waited for him.

His brain refused to settle, and Harry once again looked at the camera monitors. This time movement caught his eye. He used his keyboard to zoom in, and his breath caught. The guys were dancing. That in itself wasn’t unusual. What had caught his attention was Tristan and the way he seemed to have let go. He threw his entire body into the dance, gracefully moving from one step to the other. Harry wanted to hear what Tristan was dancing to and turned up the volume on the computer, tuning it to the club music system. Instantly Harry was transported and wished he were on the floor, that Tristan was dancing like that for him. Harry was mesmerized. He leaned forward, elbows on the desk, staring at the screen. He’d seen Tristan dance before, but there was something different in the way he moved tonight. Maybe he was working out his frustrations? Whatever it was, Tristan was stunning, and not just to Harry. The other guys on the floor were definitely taking notice. Harry watched as guy after guy moved into Tristan’s sphere of influence.

Tristan danced with the guys but didn’t show a particular interest in any of them. Zach moved into view, dancing with Tristan, and Tristan’s movements became even more fluid and relaxed.

“Harry,” Bull said from the doorway. “Something wrong?”

Harry snapped his attention away from the screen and turned down the volume, embarrassed that he’d been so engrossed in watching Tristan that he’d ignored everything. He hadn’t even heard Bull come in.

“No,” he answered too quickly. He saw Bull shift his gaze to the monitors, and instantly he felt like some lecherous voyeur with Tristan still front and center on the uppermost monitor.

Bull shook his head. “You need to stop mooning over that kid and do something about it. You’ll go home with some nameless kid at the end of the night because you don’t want to be alone, but you won’t talk to the guy you’ve been interested in for months.” Bull shook his bald head.

“Did you need something, or did you just come in here to give me grief?” Harry sounded a lot bitchier than he meant to.

“Giving you grief was reason enough, but the men at the front door are telling me they’re finding a lot of substances tonight. That hasn’t happened in a while. I’m going to make my presence known out front. I wanted you to know in case something came up.”

“Great,” Harry said. “Is it a full moon or something?” It was only a Wednesday. If this kept up, by Saturday they would be running their asses off.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but I intend to put a stop to it.” Bull turned and left the office, closing the door more forcefully than necessary. Harry returned his attention to the screen, but Tristan wasn’t in it any longer, just the general crush of shirtless men, pressed close together. Normally that was a channel he didn’t mind watching for hours, but tonight it only served to remind him how fucking lonely and empty his life was. Actually, if he were honest, he had no life. There was the club, and he spent way too many hours here. When he left, he usually went home, most often alone, unless he couldn’t stand it any longer, and then he did stupid things like taking Rodney with him and opening himself and the club up to major problems if things turned sour.

Pushing all that baggage away, Harry returned his attention to the invoices on his desk and began the process of paying the bills that kept the club running.

After working for an hour, he couldn’t take any more. Harry closed his books. At least he’d managed to get things caught up to the point where he could finish tomorrow before opening, when he could think and wasn’t distracted. Harry shifted the camera slightly and whistled. Those two were brazen as hell. Harry watched for a few seconds as two men made out hard at one of the tables. There was nothing wrong with that. A sizzling hot atmosphere was what kept the boys coming back. But when he saw skin and fingers getting busy in laps, followed by…. “Damn,” Harry whispered, swallowing hard. These two were on fire. Harry picked up the phone and pressed the speed dial for Bull.

“What is it?”

“We got a pair about to explode in the corner booth. They’re putting on quite a show.” Harry waited a second.

“I see them,” Bull said and hung up. There was nothing wrong with getting your freak on—Harry believed in doing that regularly—but with that sort of behavior, the club could get into trouble. Liquor licenses were hard as hell to get in Pennsylvania, and the local liquor control board could make money reselling a license that had been revoked, especially from a gay club. Those prudes would love nothing more.

Harry saw Bull approach the table, and the men hastily tried to make themselves look respectable, or at least so that they were no longer hanging out of their pants. He stood up and decided to get out of the office. He made sure everything sensitive was locked away in the file cabinet, cleared his desk, left his office and securely locked the door behind him, then walked back toward the club floor.

He wasn’t as huge or imposing as Bull, but Harry knew an additional set of eyes on a night when everyone seemed a little crazy was a good thing. He opened the door and stepped out into the club.

The place was buzzing, that was for sure. Sexual energy seemed to radiate from everywhere. Maybe it was the weather. Outside it was raining, and that added humidity made the air in the club feel even more close than usual. It was also warm, and the boys had taken advantage of that by removing shirts and basically stripping down to as little as they thought they could get away with. The dance floor looking like a writhing sea of flesh, and Harry wasn’t immune to the pull.

Harry stepped back into the office area and turned the air-conditioning down one degree. That would cool things off slightly and hopefully avoid someone collapsing from heat exhaustion. Back on the club floor, he felt the cool air begin to move through the club, but it did little to curb anyone’s enthusiasm, nor did it lessen the line to get at the bar. Harry made his way around the edge and took up a vantage point near the rear of the club, watching the crowd and keeping an eye on the back tables. If anyone was going to try anything, it would probably be there.

“Edgy tonight,” Chris said as he stopped for a second. Harry liked him. He was strong as an ox, observant, and smart—one of those natural-born students of human nature.

“Tell me about it,” Harry commented. “The guys are out in full force, and they’re having the time of their lives.”

“Maybe they’re getting warmed up for tomorrow,” Chris said. “The dancers always pack them in and get them riled up beyond belief.”

Harry had thought of canceling the exotic dancers, but the uproar at the rumor had put an end to that notion. Years before, he and Bull had brought in the strippers to increase traffic on Thursdays and kick-start the weekend on a night that wasn’t otherwise busy. The program had been a huge success, to the point where it was almost more trouble than it was worth. “Yeah. You’d think they’d been on tonight.” Harry motioned toward one of the tables with his head, and Chris took off to handle the problem.

He’d gone back to watching the crowd when he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. The screen showed a text message: He’s back. It took Harry a second to figure out what Bull meant, and then it hit him: Carlos. He began making his way toward the door, keeping his phone out in case Bull needed anything.

Bull must have sent a group text, because Spook texted right back, I’m on it. That man could disappear into a crowd faster than anyone Harry had ever met. He hadn’t seen him all night and had, in fact, forgotten he was there. Spook was a most unlikely employee—a former colleague of Bull’s turned fixer for hire. When he’d decided to leave that life behind, he’d approached Bull for help.

As Harry wove through the crowd and got closer to the door, he saw Carlos inside the club with two of his men, and Bull right behind him. By the look on his face, it seemed they meant business, and Harry wondered just how they’d gotten inside and what in hell they had planned.

The bouncers all seemed to have received the message, and Harry saw them converging on the group. They knew how to handle things, so Harry decided to stay out of the way. He scanned the club for other trouble and saw Tristan making his way toward the door, heading right for Carlos and his goons.

He knew the second Carlos saw Tristan. Carlos began moving toward him with the bouncers and Bull following behind. Harry hurried to intercept him and managed to use a momentary break that opened in the crush of dancers to pull Tristan toward him and get him off to the side.

The music in the club continued, but the dancers stopped and parted as Chris launched himself at one of the goons and Bull went for Carlos. Harry didn’t see the other man until he was right in front of him. Shit. He pushed Tristan behind him. The goon’s jacket opened, and Harry saw the glint of metal. That was all he needed. He lashed out with his knee, connecting with tender parts. The bigger they were, the faster they grabbed their balls and collapsed onto the floor.

Harry turned to Tristan, pulled him close, and moved away from the man rolling on the floor. As soon as they had some distance between them, Harry sent a text to the security staff, and within a minute they arrived and lifted the writhing man to his feet and off the club floor. They muscled him through the door at the back of the club, where Harry assumed they’d put him in the small room that was usually used for storage, but occasionally served as a holding area.

About a minute after that, Harry got a text from Bull.

Called the police. They’ll be here soon enough, Bull sent. Secured Carlos and other men in holding room. Spook took off.

Harry sent a message that he understood before returning to Tristan. “Are you all right?”

“Y… yeah,” Tristan said. “You laid him out like he was nothing.”

Harry chuckled as he guided Tristan around the edge of the dance floor. The excitement was over, and the men had already returned to their dancing. The buzz of conversation that had run through the crowd like bees in a hive was forgotten as they went back to their fun. “All I did was knee him in the nuts. That doesn’t take any special skill.” They reached the door to the office and back-room area.

“But you knew what to do,” Tristan said. “I wouldn’t have.”

Harry opened the door and they went inside. As soon as it closed, most of the noise from the club was snuffed off. “I’ll let you in on a secret—that’s about the limit of my bouncer-like skills. Bull told me years ago that when push comes to shove, fight dirty and go for the balls. It works every time and is nearly guaranteed to give you time to get away.” They walked past the office to the small storage room.

Bull stood outside, his arms folded over his chest. “I told the police to come around to the back and that we had the troublemakers in custody for them.” Bull turned to Tristan. “It seems they came back for you.”

“What? Me?” Tristan squeaked. “What do they want with me?”

“They don’t, but apparently Eddie does. Carlos Garcia is one of his boys, and he was sent here tonight to try to find you. Which he did. While he was here, he figured he’d do a little business, which screwed up all his plans.” Bull’s eyes blazed. He was clearly none too happy.

“But I didn’t do anything,” Tristan said. “I found out what Eddie was doing and got away from him.”

“Bull isn’t blaming you,” Harry said, and then he turned to Bull. “Are you?” He added a little more force to his voice than usual.

“No.” Bull stepped back as a pounding sounded on the back door. “Go on and let them in. I’ll explain what we know. Could you pull the security tapes for Carlos’s earlier business dealings? They’ll need them.”

“Okay. I’ll also make sure that there’s nothing we don’t want them to see.” Harry was an expert on giving the police what they needed and no more. He didn’t want them to see Bull beating the crap out of Carlos’s men. Protecting their turf at the club came with the business. They didn’t need to get in trouble for it. “Come with me if you want,” Harry offered, and Tristan nodded. Harry went to the office and got the security tapes. He checked them over, making sure they ended at just the right moment. Then he removed the disk from the burner and asked Tristan to stay there. He ran the disk down to Bull. The police were asking questions. Harry let Bull deal with them and returned to the office.

“Do you want to tell me why Eddie wants you so badly?” Harry said as he sat down and motioned for Tristan to do the same.

“I wish I knew. I don’t know anything about his business. I never really did. I didn’t know what he was doing for a long time, and then I got the hell out as soon as I found out. Then his rivals bugged my apartment to try to get to him through me. I still don’t really know why. But anything to do with Eddie smells of shit.” Tristan trembled slightly. “I really thought he would just go away. There are lots of people after him, and I’d hoped he’d leave town and leave me alone after he got off the hook. It’s been months since I heard from him, and now suddenly he’s back and sending people in here to get me? This makes no sense. I was just some guy who thought he’d found someone, but it turned out the guy was a slithering drug dealer!” Tristan jumped to his feet and began pacing the floor. “I told the police everything I know months ago. They had evidence, and they were supposed to keep his ass off the street, and now the fucker’s back and after me.” Tristan’s stride faltered. “Fuck, he knows I’m the one who helped the cops. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Why in the hell am I so freaking stupid? I should have kept my mouth shut and said nothing to nobody.”

“You know that wouldn’t have done anything,” Harry soothed. He wasn’t a fan of the police any more than Tristan was. They tended to come do