White Winter (The Black Year Series Book 2)








































Credits, disclaimer, and copyright















To eden, Ais, and April for egging me on every day, and all the folks on Twitter and in the Foundation for helping me write something that was more than the sum of my parts.








No breath rose from his frost-blue lips to fog the air. His hood had fallen back, and a snowflake landed on his upturned face without melting. He was air temperature except for the pendant around his neck and a pocket of warmth around his heart, beating in time to Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei.” The stillness was bliss; the choir’s voices and his detachment made Jonas feel like tiny white feathers were falling from the sky.

“Are you all right, Jonas?” the priest asked, wiping snow off the bench with a gloved hand before taking a seat beside him. The older man was still wearing the worn, navy blue pea coat and jeans he’d been wearing when they first met. Jonas got the feeling the priest didn’t own much.

Jonas smiled, inhaled, then said, “I’m fine, father. Funnily enough, I was thinking about angels.”

The priest looked up at the sky and chuckled. “Ah, yes! Flying babies with fluffy white wings,” he said. The far end of the bench creaked. “Aren’t you cold?”

“Vampire,” Jonas answered, pulling out his earphones, “or something like it, anyway.”

“Right. I forget that, seeing you in daylight,” the priest said, his clear blue eyes steady as he searched Jonas’ face.

Jonas wiped the snow from his cheek. “Were you looking for me?”

The priest nodded. “A car’s coming to take me to the airport. I thought we could chat until it shows up.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Drought in Colombia,” the priest said. His breath steamed like it was pipe smoke and he watched it rise with a grin. “Not as exciting as what happened last week, but even the faithful need bread.”

Jonas smiled; it sounded like a joke his father would make. “When will you be back?”

“I’m not sure I will, Jonas. I’ll try, but it’s really not up to me.”

That hurt. “Okay,” Jonas said, looking at his feet. Some of the hunters who’d survived the raid left as soon as it was over. Some stayed, including the priest. It was silly, but when Jonas came out of the coma and saw they’d stuck around, he’d started to think of them as “his.” He swallowed. “What if the director… what if Fangston lets another demon into his head?”

“He probably will, Jonas. You may have to kill him, this time.”

“I can’t. I promised I wouldn’t.”

The priest watched a black sedan roll by. It didn’t stop. “Your mother will take care of it.”

Jonas shivered. Ever since she took over the Agency - worldwide, not just the New York branch - he’d seen sides of his mother he’d never imagined.

The bench creaked again, and the priest scowled. “I’m getting to it,” he said to the empty air, then pulled his gloves off. It made the hair on the back of Jonas’ neck stand on end.


“I have a message for you, Jonas,” the priest interrupted. “This kind of thing is rarely pleasant, so let’s just get it over with.”

The last time Jonas heard something like that was when Fangston tore through his mind, or maybe when Mordecai had him beaten. He tried to get up, but his chilled muscles seemed to move in slow motion. The priest grabbed his head.

Jonas jerked back as sparks spat from the campfire. He almost tripped over an ammo can as he batted at his clothes, but, after a few frantic seconds, he realized the sparks had passed through him.

He smelled wood smoke, wet soil, and clay, and he wasn’t alone at the campfire. Frank, Jim, and three soldiers Jonas didn’t recognize were huddled in a ruined building by the side of a two-lane road. They were weighed down with equipment - full body armor, magazines, grenades, rocket launchers - and everyone had an assault rifle on them or within reach, except Jim, who only had a pistol in a thigh holster. The streetlights were out, and it was raining steadily, so the fire was the only source of light. Three cinder block walls and a partially collapsed roof protected the group from the rain. The little Jonas could see of the woods was thick and as green as the soldiers’ uniforms.

“Mind checking the pot, Frank? It should be ready,” Jim said.

“Sure thing.” Frank lifted the lid, wafting steam to his face with his free hand. “Smells great.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Jim said. “Go ahead and dish it out.”

“Okay.” Frank pulled a stainless steel, kidney-shaped cup from a pouch at his hip and spooned stew in before waving it at one of the soldiers. “Here, Poole, ladies first. Take this and give me yours.”

She made the switch, careful not to burn her fingers. “You’re such a gentleman, Frank,” Poole said, smirking.

Jonas thought he saw Frank flinch. “Uh huh. Mills, come on, you’re next. Take your time eating though; Poole just volunteered for the first watch.”

Poole scowled. Mills and the third soldier laughed.

Frank repeated the process until everyone but Jim and Jonas had food, then he took the empty pot off the fire.

“Man, this is good,” Mills said, between bites.

“Yeah, Jim,” Frank said, blowing on a spoonful. “Didn’t you make this for us in Bosnia?”

“Afghanistan,” Jim answered. He crossed his arms. “Tried to, anyway. We only had an hour before the patrol - the one where those kids were swinging ropes at each other like they were swords - so I used a pressure cooker and that fatty meat we bought in the market. Didn’t work out.”

“I remember that,” Frank said.

“You remember my food being bad?” Jim said, a lopsided grin on his face that was just shy of laughter.

“I remember the kids,” Frank said. “The food’s better this time around.” He took another mouthful.

Jonas relaxed. He wasn’t sure why the priest was showing him this, but there was a lot of contentment around the campfire and he felt at peace watching them. He sat down on the ammo can, his back to the missing wall, the road, and the rain. The others didn’t seem to notice he was there.

Jim turned his head. “The twins are coming in,” he said, and Jonas twisted to follow his gaze.

Two werewolves came crashing out of the woods, shoving and nipping at each other, their muzzles and brown fur matted with blood. They alternated between running upright and loping on all fours, yipping and growling until they skidded to a stop and shook their fur out like bear-sized dogs. They stood and changed back to human form in one smooth motion.

“That smells good, Frank,” one said, sniffing.

“Yeah, Frank. Any left?” the other said.

Jonas was shocked. He recognized the Macready twins right away; he couldn’t tell them apart, but Sean and Ryan served as his bodyguards when Bert went missing. No one seemed bothered that they were naked, or that one of them had a burn mark that started around his bloodshot, left eye, cut across his jaw and neck, and then went diagonally from his left shoulder to the opposite hip. The skin was ash gray and cracked, and didn’t look like it was healing.
What the heck can do that to a werewolf?
Anything but silver poisoning usually healed within minutes.

Frank grinned. “Sorry boys. Jim only made enough for four, and you can’t have mine.”

“Jim cooked?” the scarred one asked, waiting for his turn while his brother washed blood from his face with runoff from the roof. “I thought he didn’t do that anymore.”

“I don’t,” Jim said.

The scarred twin grunted and switched places with his brother.

“Where’d you get this stuff anyway, Jim?” Poole asked. “We’ve been eating MREs for weeks.” She’d taken her helmet off to eat, and her angular face was almost comically small compared to the gear piled onto her.

“Jonas gave it to me. He had everything boxed up and still fresh, exactly enough for four people.” Jim knocked an empty metal chest with his boot. It was black, with silver inlays shaped like intersecting circles and runes.

“Wait a sec! Is that
box? The one he almost killed McCallum over?” Mills asked, leaning forward.

“Yep,” Jim said. “He’s been hauling it around since the mess in New York.”

“What mess in New York?” Jonas asked, but no one heard him. They might have been talking about Fangston, but he’d never seen a box like that.

“Dry clothes in the duffel in the corner,” Frank told the twins, finishing his stew.

“Appreciate that, Frank.”

“Yeah, thanks, Frank.”

The blood cleaned from his face and chest, the scarred twin grabbed the duffel and tossed a towel to his brother, who started drying his hair vigorously while still impressively naked.

Jim cleared his throat. “Hey, Ryan-”

“I’m Ryan, he’s Sean,” the scarred one said, suppressing a grin.

“Right, but Sean, could you-”

“Don’t listen to him, Jim,” the unscathed twin said, now drying his back. “I’m Ryan, he’s Sean.”

The third soldier leaned toward Poole and said, “I thought Sean was the one with the-”

The scarred twin snarled, and there was nothing human about it. Jonas felt his heart skip a beat; the three soldiers were in full fight-or-flight, and either would be fatal.

“Sorry, boys,” Frank said softly, waving his cup toward the third soldier. “Henderson didn’t mean anything by it; he’s just new.”

The scarred twin looked at Frank, blinked several times, then went back to pulling on clothes. He looked confused and a little sad.

“What my brother meant to say,” the smooth-skinned twin said, “is you can always tell who Ryan is, because he has the bigger-”

Poole choked on a mouthful of stew, and Mills slapped her on the back. She wiped her mouth and said, “You both look pretty small from where I’m sitting.”

“It’s the rain, love,” Sean said with a wink, or at least Jonas thought it was Sean. He wasn’t that keen on checking.

A pair of woodland camouflage pants - the kind with the pixels on them - hit Sean in the face. He flailed to catch them. The duffel landed by his feet.

“Put some clothes on, you idiot,” Ryan said, fully dressed except for boots.

Sean flashed him a mouthful of teeth, eyes smiling, and started pulling the pants on.

Poole held the spoon in her mouth while she cleaned out her cup, then returned both to the pouch at her hip. “What’s the plan, then, Frank?”

Frank nodded to himself, staring into the fire. “There’s a mock town not far from here called Hogan’s Alley. I trained there as a lieutenant. Solid construction, built to stage ambushes.” He smiled, his eyes distant.

“Why didn’t we set up there?” Henderson said.

“We will,” Frank answered, then took a swig of water from his canteen before starting to clean his cup. “The crazier teams are already hitting the enemy and withdrawing; the rest have set up ambushes in the woods between us and them. Everyone will be falling back past us, funneling them in. They should get here around daybreak.”

Poole whistled. “Going after them, that’s a first. Then what?”

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