Chapter One Sneak Peek: Tiger's Den: Black Wolves (Haven City # 5)
It's almost time! Poor Milo gets sent to live with (and spy on) the Tigers. The Tiger's leader, Xian Fei, is hot and sweet, but he has a dark secret (gasp!). Milo is horny. What will happen? (Spoilers: sex and love. That's what!) Oh, and all the gang war stuff is wrapped up too.
Tiger's Den will be out June 30th!
Since the second chapter is short, I'm gonna send the second and third chapter of Tiger's Den to my mailing list this time. If you want to read it first, then join here!
Milo was a lot of things: a hacker, a tech genius, an omega – but he wasn’t a spy.
Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Ian Black from giving him this stupid (and impossible) mission.
“It’s an order, not a suggestion. Xian Fei wants one of the Black Wolves in exchange for one of his Tigers. It’s how the Triad does things,” Ian said. The alpha wolf leaned back in his chair. The overhead light in the church’s basement cast unflattering shadows on his handsome face.
Milo swallowed the lump in his throat. “But, uh, boss, we aren’t part of the Triad. We’re only working with them until this gang war blows over and the Black Wolves rule the Flats and clean up the crime and all that stuff. You know, the thing we’ve been working at for years.”
Breaker, the beta, stood behind Ian. He was frowning, which wasn’t unusual. Milo didn’t expect Breaker’d actually stick up for him. He followed Ian’s orders – even if those orders hurt him.
Well, maybe not now. If those orders hurt Breaker’s mate, Fisk, he probably wouldn’t follow them.
Fisk, said cat thief, perched in the corner next to his twin, Sebastian. Although identical, Sebastian’s hair was shorter at the moment so Milo could tell them apart. Both of them eyed the omega carefully.
“This is part of my deal with the Tigers. I chose you, Milo, and you’re going to do as I say,” Ian growled, though his shoulders didn’t tense. That meant he wasn’t really angry. He was just playing big mean crime boss even though they were the only ones around to see it.
Ian got really good at playing his part recently.
That also meant Ian was serious, and that didn’t bode well for Milo. Surrounded by a bunch of Tigers? It sounded worse than going back to middle school, though only barely.
Milo didn’t know what to say. Or, actually, he knew what he wanted to say, but he wasn’t about to say it to his alpha. Especially not with the rest of the pack (and those two cats) watching him.
“This is about losing Sebastian that one time, isn’t it? I said I was sorry that he sneaked away. Nothing more I can do to apologize. I mean, I guess I could grovel. Do you want me to grovel?” Milo asked and balled his hands.
“No!” Breaker and Ian said at the same time.
Ian leaned back and looked at the beta with his eyebrows raised.
Breaker stepped around the desk and gripped Milo’s shoulders. “We’ve been together for a long time. We take care of each other. And even though you’ll be in Fei’s care, we’ll be watching your back.”
Milo nodded and dropped his gaze to the floor. Breaker’s shoes shone in the dim light, and he smelled as comforting as ever, like musk and soap. No matter what else happened, Milo always had a pack to fall back on. It’d been that way since they were kids. Break and Ian had Milo’s back, and here he was trying to turn away from a mission because it sounded crazy and like it’d probably get him killed.
“I know, but how am I supposed to spy on him in plain sight? What should I look for? What if I get caught? Or they try to kill me? A bunch of Tigers. . . . I know what they do to people who cross them. I don’t want to end up floating in the river—”
Oops. Bad choice of words.
The beta almost drowned in the river a few months before.
“You won’t,” Breaker said.
Of course, the two mating pairs weren’t going to send one of the cats to the Tiger’s gang. Not with the Flats falling apart around their ears. Ever since the last run-in with the Russian Bears, Haven City was more dangerous than ever.
Security in Russian territory beefed up over night, and the Triad gangs were holding back the brunt of the attack on their own. As far as Milo could tell from the chatter he picked up on his surveillance, the Monkeys still didn’t have a leader and tensions were running high because of it. If one of them didn’t step up soon, the Russians would make their move and take Chinatown.
Not only that, but the attacks picked up force as well. The Russians and Triad infiltrated each other’s territory on a daily basis. Most of those attacks left shifters on both sides dead, not to mention the perfectly innocent bystanders that got caught in the crossfire. And all of this went down while the Black Wolves were stuck in hiding because their leader was wanted in relation to a murder he didn’t commit.
In short, Ian’s well-laid plans got shot to shit.
Milo took a deep, steadying breath. “Do you ever think we could just—”
“Just what?” Ian asked, his fangs showing.
Walk away before we all end up dead and leave what we’ve done a waste of time and energy and life. Leave town so the cops can’t find us.
Of course, he didn’t say that.
Not to his alpha – his boss.
Any doubts he had about the Black Wolves current operations were clamped inside to fester with the rest of his opinions and ideas. An omega wasn’t good for that.
Milo sighed. “Why do you have to send me?”
“You mean, why doesn’t Ian send me?” Sebastian said and stood up. He wasn’t tall or impressive, but he was broader than Milo. No one else was a skinny as the omega.
Milo nodded and avoided Ian’s eyes. The boss was probably glaring at him for bringing it up.
“I told Fei that Ian was my mate, but that’s not the reason Ian’s sending you,” Sebastian said and leaned against the desk. His cheeks weren’t as sallow as they used to be.
Milo knew it had something to do with the Pharaoh’s Staff healing some of Sebastian’s silver poisoning, but he hadn’t been around to see it. Like usual, he was holed up in his cave of tech. Not that he was complaining. Watching from the sidelines was part of his life – being thrust into the spotlight didn’t appeal to him at all.
The last time that happened, he almost got shot up by a bunch of Bears.
Breaker was the muscle. Fisk was the thief. Sebastian was the brain, and Ian ran the gang. Milo was the only one whose talents, while helpful, could be tossed aside.
“I know why he’s sending me,” Milo said and blinked his stinging eyes. “I get it. I’m dispensable. Fine. I’ll go. But, uh, someone needs to watch my plants and feed my fish while I’m gone. I’ve had that ficus for years. And the computer set up will take a while to explain. I guess I can write the instructions down. Nah, that’ll take a whole book to—”
“Milo!” Ian said, and the omega clamped his mouth shut.
Now the boss was going to rub the bridge of his nose and say he was getting a headache again. Milo needed to learn to shut up sometimes. Too bad his mouth moved before he could stop it.
“I’m not sending you because you’re dispensable. You’re my Queen. The best piece I have on the board. I can’t leave this place because the arrest warrant. Breaker is too fucking conspicuous. The Triad and Bears know about Fisk and Seb now, so that leaves you. You’re the only one who can do this,” Ian said without a hint of humor.
Milo’s chest swelled like a balloon. “Are you saying I’m your only hope? The chosen one? The last stand? The— okay, I can’t think of anymore references.”
Ian nodded grimly. “And you know what we have to do. This isn’t just about spying on the Tigers. It might be the only chance we’ll ever get to reach Jin Yue.”
Jin Yue – the leader of the Dragons. It was the only Triad Ian couldn’t gather info on because Jin wouldn’t deal with him.
It sounded like a great idea, but it put Milo in the deep end of a very murky situation.
A shiver shot up Milo’s spine. Dragons might be worse than Tigers and Bears combined. “But I don’t know how to spy in real life. I do all my work behind a screen.”
“It’s easier than you think,” Fisk said and crossed his arms.
Sebastian nodded. “Plant some bugs. Pay attention to everything. Report back to Ian. That’s it. Just don’t get caught,” the cat said with a twitch of his lips.
“Not planning on it.” Milo couldn’t tell if Sebastian was joking or not. The twins always seemed right on the cusp of telling a joke, but they never got around to it. Or maybe he just didn’t get their senses of humor. They aligned with Ian’s too neatly for Milo’s comfort.
“Good. Just keep a low profile, and you’ll be safe,” Ian said and nodded at the beta.
Breaker put a strong hand on Milo’s shoulder.
They walked out of the cramped office. The strong summer sunshine waited outside the church, but it didn’t warm Milo’s skin.
He was the last hope for the Flats.
If he failed, the Black Wolves would lose everything they worked for. And his friends, his pack, could lose their lives.
No pressure, right?
* * *
Xian Fei came for him the next day.
Milo spent the whole night packing, unpacking, and then pacing around his small rooftop apartment. Even the cool light from the aquarium didn’t calm him like usual. His stomach twisted into knots. He tried to eat a pack of Sour Patch Kids, but they didn’t taste good. He tossed the package aside and slumped in his computer chair instead.
Then he practiced pronouncing Xian Fei properly. According to Sebastian he said it wrong. It sounded like She-on Faye to him. Milo couldn’t do that thing with his voice – that added inflection. Hopefully, he wasn’t going to insult the Tiger’s new leader.
When his cell rang, he jolted awake and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
“Uh, Break? What’s up? I’m getting ready. You know me! Lots to prepare. Are you coming to get me or . . . .”
“Fisk is there. Show him what to do with the computers and the plants. Fei will pick you up at noon. The boss wants you here before that.”
Of course he did. “Sure thing! I just gotta shower and finish packing. Should I take all my shirts or just a few?”
Breaker sighed. “If you need more clothes you can always drop by your place and get it. You’re not a prisoner.”
The beta might say that. He might even mean it, but it wasn’t entirely true. It felt a whole lot like being a prisoner to Milo, but he kept that thought to himself. He’d already packed almost everything anyway.
He was just delaying the inevitable.
Then Fisk tapped at his door, and Milo frowned. “See you soon!” he said and hung up on Breaker. It’s the first time he ended a phone call to the beta – maybe to anyone.
When Milo opened the door, grinning to hide his nervousness, Fisk raised his eyebrows. “And I thought Ian was a slob,” he muttered as he stepped inside.
Several months ago, the cat shifter wouldn’t have said something like that to one of the Black Wolves, even if Milo was the smallest and weakest member. Now Fisk ranked higher than the omega. Beta’s mate was always higher than the lowliest member.
Still, Milo couldn’t blame Fisk’s assessment. He didn’t have Breaker to clean up after him, like Ian. And he couldn’t hire a maid with the little money that trickled his way. It was hard enough to pay the rent.
“Been busy with stuff. No time to clean, you know? Or not. Are you a neat freak like Break? I mean, he’s not a total neat freak, but he does keep things tidier than Ian. Or me. But you know that considering you live with him.”
Fisk glanced around the small one bedroom apartment and shrugged. “Not a neat freak, but I don’t live like this,” he said and nudged a pile of laundry with his shoe.
Milo bundled it in his arms and tossed it in the overflowing laundry basket. If he had more of a heads up he could’ve organized the apartment before he was banished to the Tigers.
“The plants are over here. The ficus is pretty finicky – get it? Finicky ficus? Ha! Anyway, she needs water a couple times a week. Make sure the soil is always damp to the touch but not soaking wet. Same with the orchids. And over here is Smile the clown fish. I know he’s not really smiling, but since he’s a clown fish it sounded good. Better than Nemo, right?”
Fisk snorted and tapped the glass. “Guess so.”
“His food is on the shelf. He needs a pinch of it once a day. No more, no less. Pretty easy. But he’ll get lonely if I’m not here to keep him company. He likes to be talked to, and he’s a really good listener. Oh, and he tells great jokes. Okay. Not jokes. But he does this cute thing with his lips, and he blows bubbles and. . . . never mind. You’re not gonna eat him, are you?”
The caramel colored hair fell into Fisk’s bright green eyes, and he swept it away. “Eat him? Because I’m a cat shifter who likes fish? Are you gonna sniff my ass?”
“No!” Milo said and frowned. “But you still didn’t answer my question. Is Break gonna take care of this place or—”
“Seb and me are gonna do it,” Fisk said and crossed his arms.
Milo nodded and moved on to the computer setup. He explained everything as well as he could, but Milo couldn’t tell if the cat shifter understood it or not. Fisk didn’t ask any questions. Milo left a few notes pinned to the wall incase the system needed to be restarted. But just leaving her there like that felt almost as bad as abandoning his office at the old Black Wolves’ headquarters.
He’d have his trusty laptop, but it wasn’t the same.
Then Milo showered and dressed. He put on a T-shirt (Green Lantern) and a pair of jeans that didn’t drown him, though the pant legs bunched at his ankles due to the length.
Fisk lounged on the couch, his eyes shut, but he jumped up when Milo grabbed the backpack and duffle bag. “Uh, I guess I’m ready to go now. Or maybe we could stop for breakfast on the way there. I haven’t eaten yet, and I could use something to—”
“Just stop!” Fisk said and swung the door open. “You’re not ready, and you’ll never be ready for a situation like this. You think I’m ever ready when I go on a job? No. But we do it because that’s what we have to do.”
Milo stared at the cat’s retreating back.
Fisk’s shoulders bunched, ready to pop, but his words made sense. Even if they didn’t quell the growing unease raking across Milo’s skin.
He sighed and shut the door.
He really had to do this. Be the hero of the Black Wolves. Who would’ve guessed?
His stomach grumbled as they drove to the church. Fisk took pity on him and pulled into a drive-through.
Milo forced himself to eat the burger and fries, though he hardly tasted either.
When they arrived, Ian, Breaker and Sebastian waited inside the church.
He gripped his bag and slumped into a pew. Hopefully, the Tiger’s leader would be late.
No such luck.
Only a few minutes after Milo and Fisk got there, the door of the church creaked open and Xian Fei stepped inside. A second tiger followed Fei, the one replacing Milo, and a sulky alpha wolf.
Detective Conner Sharp. One of the cops Sebastian and Xian Fei rescued from the Bears. What was he doing here?
Milo glanced between the newcomers and the boss.
Was Ian expecting this?
Ian’s eyes narrowed. “Detective, did you come to thank my mate for saving your life again?”
Milo took that as a no.
Sharp wore plain clothes and scratched one of the scars on his cheek. “No. We have a proposition for you.”
“I think you’ll want to hear him out, Mr. Black,” Fei said.
Like Ian, Fei wore a fitted designer suit. His long black hair was tied into a neat braid, which fell down his back. His dark slanted eyes swept over the room. A sense of unease settled around him. Like a great cat watching from the reeds and waiting for the kill.
Seeing him knocked the air from Milo’s lungs, and he frowned at his reaction. Nobody that pretty, male or female, would ever notice Milo.
He glanced at the other tiger.
She was small – just around Milo’s height. Her hair was cut boyishly short and she wore a black suit, just like Fei.
Ian nodded. “Well?”
“You’re in a difficult position. Pinned down by the Bears and the Triad. But we think we can help you, if you’re willing to help us. This shit goes higher than me – all the way to the top. Humans might not know what you really are, but they sure as shit understand organized crime. The police chief agreed to drop the arrest warrant if you get us enough information to shut down the Russians and the Triad,” Sharp said. He looked at Ian without blinking. “If you don’t agree, I can’t guarantee anything.”
“That sounds like blackmail, detective,” Ian growled.
Sharp shrugged. “It’s called cutting a deal.”
Ian stared at Sharp, then at Fei. “You’re willing to inform on your own gang? Or do the cops have you by the short and curlies?”
“Unfortunately. I’ve done things I’m not proud of, but now I’m cleaning up the Tigers. I thought you didn’t like drugs in the Flats either. Or did you want this gang war to keep getting worse?” Fei asked. His voice was even. Measured. He slipped his hands into his pockets as if he were waiting in line at the bank and expected it to take a while.
Breaker took a step forward, and the floor creaked under his weight. “Boss?”
“It’s nice to finally see eye to eye with a Tiger,” Ian said through gritted teeth. His voice held the same edge it did when Milo wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or threatening.
“Look. We don’t have the same abilities you do. But we know the Russians are setting up to move a lot of Rapture. If it floods the streets, we wouldn’t be able to stop it,” Sharp said. “I don’t have a lot of time here. You’re in or you’re out, Black.”
The boss studied his nails, and Milo figured he was doing that on purpose. Ian hated getting shoved into a corner. But if the cops really took down the Russians and the Triad with their information, it’d be a lot easier to keep the Flats safe.
Plus, a distant warmth welled in Milo’s chest. This is exactly what the boss did to him. And look how little Ian liked it.
“How the hell am I supposed to gather information when I’m stuck here?” Ian asked, waving his arms at their surroundings.
The detective shrugged. “Get one of your peons to help. In or out? This is the only time I’m giving you the offer.”
This cop had balls to walk into Black Wolves territory and throw ultimatums around. Milo almost whistled.
“In. Not that I have much of a choice,” Ian said and put on his sulky face. “Fei, meet Milo. He’s your new peon. Let me guess? You’ll rat on the Triad while I have to rat on the Russians?”
“That sounds fair.” Fei’s eyes briefly flicked to Sebastian, then landed on Milo.
His chest ached. Of course Fei wouldn’t notice him first.
Story of his life.
Fei inclined his head and smiled, his cheeks dimpling. That was not the sort of smile most gang bosses possessed. It didn’t bite and grate. Instead it appeared genuine.
Milo’s stomach did a backflip.
Fei’s eyes raked over his body. “He’s your omega, right?”
“Is that a problem?” Ian asked.
“Not at all. I’ll be sure to treat him well. He’ll help me gather information on the Triad?” Fei asked.
Milo stood so still he felt like a statue that might break into pieces. The boss just offered him up as a nark and a spy. Yeah, he’d end up dead for sure.
“Of course. Milo’s excellent. He can gather information from a distance as long as you help him plant the bugs,” Ian said, just shy of a growl. At least the vehemence in his voice was real. It’s the only comfort Milo got from the whole conversation. “Who do you have for me?”
Fei smiled peaceably and the tiger at his side stepped forward. “This is Meilin. She’s very good at her job – small enough to fit anywhere and quiet. Plus, she’s mute so you won’t have to worry about her talking to anyone.”
Meilin bowed and glanced around the church with guarded interest. Here they finally got a girl in their mix, and Milo had to leave.
Just his very bad luck.
“I’m not worried about that. We trust each other,” Ian said and smiled at Meilin before taking her hand and kissing it.
Unlike most women, Meilin didn’t blush. She pulled her hand away and scowled at the boss.
Milo felt sorry for her – or maybe he felt sorry for himself.
No way in hell Ian trusted Fei, not after this stunt. At least he wouldn’t be around to hear the boss complain about it. Then Milo remembered where he’d be instead and frowned.
“Yes. Of course,” Fei said without a hint of doubt, and held his hand out for Milo. “We should be going.”
“I’ll be in touch,” Sharp said. He’d watched their entire exchange closely and Milo wondered what he thought. The detective didn’t say.
Then Breaker patted Milo’s back, and Fei held the door.
He imagined this is what going to summer camp for the first time probably felt like. Or leaving home for college. Or some other life changing event that Milo had never experienced. The Black Wolves were his only family, and he had to leave them behind.
He’d been ordered to leave them behind.
For the first time in his life, he regretted eating a burger. It sloshed in his stomach as he followed Fei outside toward an uncertain future.
Funny, the boss said he was the Queen.
Milo felt more like a pawn.