Prologue

 

Meeting Green

 

Green knocked on the door of Jack’s crappy student walk-up about two hours after Sara’s funeral.

The sounds of Journey were thundering through Jack’s blown-out speakers because it was Sara’s music, and because it made him cry, but crying hadn’t worked.

Jack had gotten home and thrown his fist through the wall of his one-room apartment in an absolute fury. His sister had been shot in some redneck’s backyard, and no one seemed to give a ripe shit.

Oh yeah, Mom and Dad had footed the bill for the service, but Jack had been the only one to attend—Sara hadn’t fit into their little family picture once she’d revealed her drug use. And after she went the extreme route to get clean… well, Mom and Dad had been more than willing to pretend that Jack had been an only child.

But she’d been the one to help Jack through Algebra, to tell him to keep his grades up so he could be what he wanted to be instead of what they wanted him to be. She’d been the one person at his high school graduation who had mattered, even if she had sat far apart from Mom and Dad during the ceremony. Sara had been there for him his whole life, even when the drugs had made her flaky—and after that, she’d kept visiting him during the feral hours of the night, just to give him hope that even the worst mistakes could be overcome.

Being the only one listening to a stranger saying empty words over a hole in the ground just pissed him off.

When Green knocked on his door, he was nursing the scrapes and bruises on his knuckles and a serious case of resentment, but one look at Green and all that faded.

Green was taller than he was—by at least two inches, maybe three or four—and that didn’t happen often. He was also beautiful—satin-shiny butter-colored hair down to his hips, triangular features too delicate to be male and too bold to be female, and eyes that were greener than his name.

Jack, who had enjoyed a healthy, if conservative, sex life and never questioned his sexual orientation, not even a little, not even in his sophomore year in college when all the liberal arts majors thought they were bi, suddenly knew what it felt like to think another man was desirable. But when he shook hands with the beautiful stranger, even that disappeared.

There was a terrible, overwhelming sadness about this man, a fraught melancholy at odds with the apology and wry kindness in his voice.

“I’m so sorry we didn’t make the funeral, mate,” Green said, his voice definitely cockney. Jack didn’t yet know that the accent slid around from London’s East Side to Lake District, almost to Wales, up to Ireland, and back. It was at its barest cockney when he was upset, angry, or grieving himself almost to death.

“I thought someone would be there,” Jack said numbly. “She said she had people now….” His naked, hurt gaze hit Green’s, and Green took his hand as though to shake it again.

“She does have people now,” Green said softly, stroking the bruised skin of his knuckles. “We’re just… we’re a little wounded ourselves, Jacky—but don’t worry. Your sister won’t go unremembered.”

“She said—” All of Jack’s anger seemed to drain from his body like the pain from his hand. “—she said that Adrian would look after her. Why wasn’t he there? Why didn’t he save her from that guy?”

Green’s pain was so excruciating it almost stopped Jack’s breath. “Adrian died, my boy, a week ago—about two days before your sister did, actually. I’m sorry. We were….”

Jack Barnes had loved his sister, but in a thousand years, he didn’t think he could conceive of the pain that was vibrating from this intense, magnetic stranger.

“Grieving,” Jack said softly, and Green met his eyes and smiled, and the sun came out again.

“You’re a good lad, mate. Sara worried about you, you know. She seemed to think you were too much alone.”

Jack swallowed. “She taught me how to take care of people. Who do I take care of now?”

A faint glimmer of hope and a smile dawned on Green’s clean sunrise features. Casually he let Jack’s hand drop and leaned against the railing at the top of the plank landing, confident that it would hold his weight. “There’s always someone out there who needs you.”

Jack couldn’t go that way, not right at this moment, so he turned his thoughts toward the anger, to help keep him upright. “Why did he shoot her, Green? She was just… just a wolf. She wandered into someone’s backyard. We don’t shoot wolves anymore—why would someone shoot her?”

Green grimaced. “There is a group of men. Hunters. They… they’re throwbacks, really, to the time when men could afford to think theirs was the only race or the only species that deserved to survive. They hunt… my people. The Goddess folk. I don’t know about this man in particular, but I do know one hunter who’s through with it now. He thought he was doing something noble. All he saw was a monster.”

And Jack’s anger was abruptly back. “My sister?”

“Shhh… shhh….” Right there in the warped wood of Jack’s doorway, Green put his hands on Jack’s shoulders and tucked Jacky right into his chest like a parent would comfort a ten-year-old.

“What kind of monster would kill my sister?”

“Not all of them are monsters, Jacky,” Green murmured. “Some of them… some of them just need to learn better. Some of them even want redemption.”

“I just want to understand,” Jack whispered brokenly. Oh, Sara. She’d never thought she was pretty, with plain brown hair and plain blue eyes, but she’d made Jack feel important, and he’d thought she was the dawn itself, with the sun in her smile.

“We’ve got a hunter on our side now. Does that help to know? That there’s a man out there helping people like your sister? Keeping our folks safe from the outside?” Green’s voice didn’t rumble, but it did vibrate in his chest—and once again Jack was acutely aware of the attraction he felt for this person, this being, when he would have sworn that his body only responded to women.

 

 

“I want to help them,” Jack grumbled, surprising himself. “I tried to go to back to school, but I can’t. I….” And here he was, telling this beautiful stranger a thought he’d barely articulated to himself. “Jesus, I’m so damned lost.”

Green nodded and stroked his hair gently, still a parent in spite of all the pain Jack felt radiating from the center of his chest. “Right, then, Jacky. Well, you’re as much ours as your sister was, now, right?”

“Am I?” Jack asked, muddled from being comforted like this.

“Of course.” And just like that, Jack believed him. It had never been in Jack’s nature to question things—not even affection or good fortune. Later he would realize that this was because Sara had given him everything he needed. Later he would realize that someone without a Sara might not be so accepting of a Green. But right now, Green had a plan.

“I’m thinking you’d like a purpose now, am I right?” Those eyes… oh, they did see straight to a body’s core and strip it bare, didn’t they?

“Oh, yes,” Jack said, an entire ocean of “lost” almost drowning him in its tears, just standing on the cheap plank landing of his crappy student apartment.

Green smiled again, this time a little wider. “I’ve got a friend you might want to look up. Your sister was killed by a hunter, and this one, he’s my reformed hunter. He works for me now—his job is to keep the other hunters away from my flock, yes?”

The idea of Sara in her wolf form being a member of this man’s “flock” made Jack smile in earnest. “I’d like to help,” he said in a daze.

“Of course you would.”

Jack stepped aside to let Green in, and for a moment he closed his eyes and let Green’s smell wash over him. Oh, God, that smell—green grass, good dirt, wildflowers, and sunshine. The idea of touching that skin, being bathed in that smell, was suddenly the most amazing, comforting thought Jacky had known since his sister’s last visit, when she’d been clean, sober, happy, and yes, Jack had to acknowledge now, loved.

Green came inside, accepted a soda, and wrote a name, address, and favorite bar on a piece of paper that Jack worried worn before he used the information on it. Then he shook Jack’s hand and left.

It wasn’t until after he’d left that Jack realized his hand was no longer bruised or scraped, not even a little, and he no longer wanted to throw anything through his wall.