JACKSON WAS lonely, a part of the wolf pack and yet separated from it. His differences from them ran skin deep, and then far, far down to his very cell structure; differences he’d been born into the world with—a freak of nature, as it were. As to the loneliness, he’d been accepted by the pack, fine—after all, he was strong and smart—but that was the extent of it. Most times he kept to the periphery, protecting and protected.

The latter was what had brought him to them at a young age. He’d needed a family, a way to survive, his own family having deserted him once they discovered his secret. The pack provided what had been lost to him, making him feel safe, part of a whole. All wolves, even Jackson, needed to feel these things—wolves being many things, but solitary not among them.

And so he slept among them—among them, not with them—and fought alongside them, hunted with them. Still, the hunt was as far as he went. Eating with them was another matter entirely.

Blech,” Jackson coughed out, standing over the kill if only to keep up the wolfish pretense. The others, meanwhile, took their turns at it, reddened teeth tearing into ripped flesh.

“Dinner,” growled Charles, the leader of the pack. “Yum, not blech.”

Jackson shook his head and backed away. “Beauty, dear Charles, is in the eye of the beholder. And this—” He pointed at the blood-drenched carcass and cringed. “This is not something I care to look at, let alone eat.”

“Suit yourself,” Charles said, humming as he sank his razor-sharp canines into what had once been a deer that had found itself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jackson hunched his shoulders and trotted off, the stench of death now thankfully downwind of him. Hungry despite what he’d just witnessed, he sniffed around until he unearthed a bunch of perfect orange carrots.

Mmm,” he purred, crunching contentedly away. “Now this is more like it.”