It will be released on September 3, 2013 -- less than one week away! I'm excited, and I hope people don't hate it. I don't think the fear/anticipation of a new release will ever go away.
I'm also going to release the first two Haven City Series books (Shadow Scars and Alpha's Shadow) as an ebook set at a 20% discount over buying them both separately. It's going to come out the same day as Thief.
Without further ado, here's the sneak peek at the first chapter. Like usual, I'll send a sneak peek of the second chapter to my mailing list. Join if you want to read it first!
If you’re going to be a thief, be the best thief.
The words ran through Fisk’s head as he crept into the room. Great pep talk, dad! Being the best was an easy thing to say and a harder thing to practice. Especially with a whole group of armed tiger shifters right outside the door.
Why the hell did he take this job again?
Even better, why did he come back to Haven City?
If he got out of this Fisk was going to kill Sebastian, brother or not.
Fisk shook the water from his fur and tilted his tail to keep balance. It had to rain today. Not that it was much of a surprise. During the spring, it rained almost every day in Haven. But couldn’t it have let up on the night he had a job?
No. He wasn’t that lucky.
Fisk’s eyes shone in the darkness, picking up shapes that normal humans couldn’t see. Too bad his cat shifter sense of smell wasn’t as good as a dog, but the tiger shifter’s senses weren’t as sharp either. They probably wouldn’t notice he was here.
Okay. He hoped on his mother’s grave they didn’t notice.
Getting caught by the Triad would make this the worst night ever – and that wasn’t hyperbole. Actually, getting caught by the Black Wolves would be worse. The thought froze him in place.
No. Fisk wouldn’t risk stealing from the most dangerous shifter gang in Haven again. Not after what happened last time. The Triad were like girl scouts compared to the Black Wolves.
He leapt from the windowsill to the desk, lifting his paws to avoid knocking over the pen holder. The whole room was a treasure trove of Chinese antiques. Ming dynasty vases. Little jade figurines. If he had a fence for this stuff, he could wipe them out.
But that wasn’t the job.
He only needed one thing, and it had to be in a safe.
The heavy scent of lead guided Fisk to the painting hanging above the fireplace. How cliché could they get? At least Mao, the Triad leader, could’ve put the damn thing in her desk.
Maybe make it a challenge.
Then he thought of Seb on the roof across the street. This wasn’t a game – Fisk’s twin needed help robbing the tiger shifters in order to pay off the Russians. It sounded like the plot to some cheesy action movie, but neither of them were heroes. Not in the least.
Fisk shook his head, shedding his cat shape and turning into a human – a very naked human.
A shuffle outside the door caught his attention. A couple of men muttered something in Chinese, but Fisk didn’t understand what they were talking about. Hopefully it had nothing to do with torturing the cat thief currently cracking their boss’s safe.
He held his breath and waited a long moment.
Finally, the muttering stopped and the footsteps moved away from the door.
Fisk closed his eyes.
The painting slid aside easily, revealing the little safe. His fingers twitched as he touched it. Carefully turning it, he listened for the slightest click.
Too easy. Or maybe he’d been on the job too long. Too many years slinking through the darkness and relieving others of their valuables.
Fisk still remembered his first time. His dad hefted him up the tree to the mansion – a house at Lake Orlando. He got caught by the kid who lived there, but the little girl thought he was a stray cat. When she came back with her mother in tow, the woman’s diamond necklace was safely tucked into his dad’s hands, and the two of them disappeared into the night.
Fisk almost smiled. He’d been pretty good for an eleven-year-old.
One more, and he could get out of there.
Fisk held his breath again and listened.
Footsteps on the stairs.
He pulled the safe open.
The door handle slipped under someone’s hand.
Fisk grabbed the papers and slid outside.
Whoever opened the door found the safe closed, the picture back in its place and the window shut.
With the envelope tucked under his arm, Fisk scooted down the ledge. The damp brick pressed into his skin, raising goose bumps along his flesh. If anyone looked up, they’d get a nice view of his nude body, but most people kept their eyes straight ahead in Chinatown. Especially if they weren’t part of the Triad.
He leapt to the opposite building, scaling the fire escape, and tumbled onto the roof. Shit. Gravel never felt good on his bare ass.
Seb held out Fisk’s pants and turned away, his nose wrinkled.
“Put these on.”
Fisk dropped the envelope and frowned at his twin. “What? Put on the pants? I was planning on dancing nude on the rooftop all night.”
His cat-like agility failed him as he jumped into the black jeans, slipping them up his hips and almost tripping over the legs.
“That’s it?” Seb asked, lifting the envelope carefully, like it was rigged to explode.
Fisk frowned and pulled the T-shirt and hoodie over his head. It mussed his wild, caramel colored hair, which was already damp with rain. Seb’s was so wet it stuck to his temples, dripping into his eyes. He shivered in his own black jacket.
“That’s all that was in the safe. Unless your information was wrong and she hides it somewhere else. Do you have any idea what else I could have filched?”
“Those Ming vases. Oh, and a thousand year old jade comb – can’t remember the dynasty on that one.”
Fisk frowned as he brushed the gravel from his feet and slipped on his boots. If Seb didn’t remember the exact value of the comb, let alone the dynasty, something was wrong.
“And you just wanted me to burgle the safe. Next time, I’ll take the rest for myself. We still know that fence on Burnside, right?”
“You couldn’t have carried that out all on your own. Plus, this is the only thing the Russians wanted. Come on.”
Seb walked toward the fire escape at the opposite side of the building, and Fisk scowled after him. “You could’ve helped me. Then we could’ve carried the vases. That would’ve made both the Russians and me happy.”
Fisk didn’t bring up Seb’s idiotic involvement with the bear shifters. No point. They’d had that argument on the phone. And in Seb’s apartment. And on the way over here.
Rehashing it again was a waste of time.
“I’m not as good as you. Even dad thought so,” Seb said when they got back to the street.
His chest heaved from the climb down, and a line of sweat dotted his brow. It was an old case of silver poisoning that happened when they were kids. The healer said it stayed in Seb’s bloodstream too long and would affect him the rest of his life. Make him slower and weaker than his twin.
Looking at them, no one on the outside could tell. They were identical, right down to their eyelashes. Even in cat form, they looked exactly alike. Smooth caramel-orange fur with white underbellies. But get Seb in a tense situation, and he’d pass out. His body couldn’t handle the stress.
“Fine, but you could’ve told me about the comb.” Fisk’s stomach rumbled and he glanced down the brightly lit street. Hanging out in Chinatown with goods stolen from the Triad wasn’t the best idea, but working always made him hungry.
Seb’s fingers dug into the envelope, and he glanced over his shoulder several times.
Way to make it obvious you’re up to no good, Fisk thought.
“I thought you wanted to go straight. No more doing dad’s dirty work.”
Fisk snorted and shoved his hands into his pockets. “You know that was all talk. I almost got caught that night, and it was that asshole’s fault. I was pissed.”
Pissed was a glorious understatement – he would’ve killed their dad had the bastard stuck around long enough to let him. And Fisk sure as hell didn’t go straight – not in New York. Or Paris. Or Istanbul. But Seb just said it to irk him. Rub in that he hadn’t been home in years.
“Plus, I can’t do dirty work for someone who’s gone. He never would’ve risked stealing from the Black Wolves, but he could have his son do it just fine.”
Seb put his head down and squeezed his hands into fists, but he didn’t say anything. He only had to deal with the intelligence side of the operation, meaning he worked with mom and not dad.
“You gonna buy me dinner, Seb?” Fisk asked as they passed a noodle stall.
Seb shook his head. “No. I have to get this to the Russians now. Then we can eat. Wait at my place and–”
Fisk sighed and grabbed the envelope. Then he tucked it into his hoodie and frowned. “I’ll take it to them. Go home and rest. Better yet, cook me something. Salmon, if you have any.”
A drop of rain ran down Seb’s smooth cheek, and his green eyes widened. Did Fisk look that young and innocent? They were only twenty-two. How come he felt about ten years older?
“No. It’s my debt, and I’ll pay it off. I just needed you to get this for me. I can handle the rest.”
There Seb went being a stubborn jackass again. Fisk grabbed his brother’s shoulders and squeezed. “Salmon. Grilled. With a little wedge of lemon on the side.”
“You’ll have to settle for a tuna sandwich with a pickle,” Seb muttered.
Fisk smiled at the frown on his twin’s lips. “Done. Now go home. And no more gambling. Seriously, what the hell possessed you to borrow from the Russians? They’re crazy! And huge!”
Seb pulled his shoulders free and shook his head. “Even I make bad decisions from time to time. I know this is the only reason you came back, and I’m grateful. Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
That stung more than Fisk wanted to let on. He hadn’t come back to Haven since dad ran off with the cash from the last job. He hadn’t been around to take care of Seb, and he abandoned his own brother like their dad abandoned them. Fisk shrugged. “If they don’t try to eat me, yeah. I’ll be fine.”
With one final nod, Seb hailed a cab. Fisk walked in the opposite direction, his mouth watering. He hoped Seb’s tuna wasn’t expired.
Haven City didn’t have a Russian town, officially, but most of the immigrants lived in the neighborhoods near the river or in the bear shifter territory in Felony Flats. The Russians ran about half of the trade on the coast, probably smuggling drugs. As far as Fisk knew, the Russians and the Triad ran the docks, splitting the territory down the middle.
Seb did mention the Flats had fewer gangs in the last couple years. Same amount of violence though. When the small time gangs moved out, the bigger and more dangerous shifter gangs moved in.
And now that Fisk was back, Seb got them into a situation where they were stretched between the Russians and the Triad like meat on a hook. But who the hell was Fisk to talk about bad decisions when they both took over the family business?
At least that’s what was supposed to happen, until Fisk skipped town.
If he hadn’t left Seb on his own, none of this would’ve happened.
The Peterhof nightclub stood next to the river. The stench of rotten fish filled the air, and Fisk slipped his hands into his pockets and squared his shoulders. A camera was tucked into the shadows, and he pulled the hood around his face. He didn’t need a record of his visit here.
Dealing with bear shifters wasn’t his idea of a fun night out, but Seb didn’t leave him much of a choice. What if they cut off one of his twin’s fingers to make a point? Or one of Fisk’s own fingers. . . .
Like usual, he didn’t think things through. He just jumped in and hoped for the best. Once he was sure Seb was safe, he’d get the hell out of Haven again and back to his old life. Back to running away – it was easier than standing still.
The bouncers at the door (whom Fisk affectionately nicknamed Big and Stupid) reeked of vodka and sweat, and they both towered over Fisk by more than a head. He was used to it. Cat shifters weren’t known for their great stature, and he was smaller than most. At least he could slip in and out of places easily. And he was faster than a damn bear.
He gave Big and Stupid his best sheepish smile. “I’m here to see the Czar. Vlad?” Hopefully, these two were familiar enough with Seb to mistake Fisk for his brother.
Everyone else did.
Big sniffed the air. “Kitty shifter, all right. Upstairs.”
Stupid opened the door.
Fisk let out a slow breath. He was in. That was always the easy part. He clomped up the stairs, letting each footstep announce his arrival. He didn’t usually walk like that, but the Russians didn’t need to know how quiet he could be if needed.
The music from the club pounded below his feet. Some Euro trash techno that was more sound than actual music. The beat of the bass was as quick as his own heart.
Fisk swallowed and stepped into Vlad’s office. It was one of those grubby backrooms with an oversized desk, a fading poster of the Communist hammer and sickle on the wall, and a leak in the corner of the ceiling. The Russians obviously didn’t care about building codes.
The bear shifter raised his eyes, as dark as night, from his work. Vlad’s bulk dwarfed his worn leather chair.
“I got the envelope from the Tiger Triad,” Fisk said, patting his chest so the paper crinkled under his hoodie.
“Good. Give it to me,” Vlad said with a low rumble. The bear’s face was like a blank canvas.
Fisk didn’t pull out the envelope. “I want proof that you’ll forgive my debt for this. No more loan sharks. No more shifters disturbing my business.”
The bear shifter raised his thick eyebrows. His massive shoulders flexed as he stood. “I already gave you my word. Is this not good enough?”
“No. I want it in writing. And signed,” Fisk said.
Vlad laughed. It shook his entire frame. “In writing. Are you giving me orders, kitty?”
Shit. Tread carefully around them! At least bear shifters were slow. If Vlad attacked, Fisk could probably make it to the door first. Getting out of the building wouldn’t be as simple.
“No. But I know how your gang works. I want this to be the last time we do business together. A clean cut.”
“Fine. This will be our last business deal, Thomas. Let me see the envelope.”
Fisk smiled at the name. He and Seb used an alias, Thomas Booker, for all their business dealings. Most of their associates didn’t even know Thomas was two separate people.
He set the envelope on the desk and held his breath. He’d looked at it on the way over, but it was some kind of formula that didn’t make sense to him. Too bad he dropped out of high school before he took chemistry.
Vlad fingered through the papers and grinned. His yellow teeth caught the light, and Fisk frowned at the size of the man’s canines. If they got a hold of a cat. . . .
“This is good. Yes. This is very, very good. You’ve almost paid off your debt.”
This is just what he was afraid of. Good thing he came in Seb’s place. “Almost? But you said I needed to steal this from the Triad and that was it. No more payments.”
The bear sneered. “I did say that. But . . . I lied. Now that you got me what I want, I don’t want you to tell the Tigers I have it. That would be no good. No good at all.”
Fisk stepped backwards. The closer he was to the door, the faster he could get away. Why didn’t that bastard’s office have any windows? “I – I won’t tell anyone. Promise.”
Vlad laughed. “I can’t take the word of a gambler. You promise but you don’t deliver. I don’t take promises.”
The door creaked open and two large hands grasped Fisk’s shoulders. It was either Big or Stupid – not that it mattered now. He couldn’t fight off two bear shifters.
“So you’re going to kill me?” Fisk squeaked. How much money did Seb borrow from these fuckers?
The bear shook his head. “Kill you? No. You’re too valuable to kill. I’m going to sell you. Take him to the cage.”
What the hell was the cage?