The blare of alarms brought Cali out of a sound sleep. Panic and excitement, hope and fear all tangled inside of him as he leapt out of bed. He had excellent security. There were sensors all around the fence perimeter, along with cameras and nifty equipment that shut down drones. He also had paid steeply for equipment that provided cover from any aircraft that might fly over.
These safety precautions made his compound virtually spy-proof and impossible to sneak into. Since small animals wouldn’t set off the alarms, and most pure animals would avoid a place smelling of a lion, Cali’s hopes were growing with every moment.
He had a gut feeling that another shifter had finally arrived. After months of waiting, someone had found the den. It had to be one of his kind.
Cali rushed to the security room and checked the cameras. At first, he didn’t see anyone. His heart sank even as he grew suspicious. The sensors wouldn’t have picked up any small creature or local wildlife. He’d programmed them extensively to avoid such an issue.
On his second search of the computer screens, Cali saw what he’d missed before. On the east side of the property, opposite the gated entryway, was a dark shape on the ground. It was hard to discern due to the shadows from the trees nearby. Cali made a note to himself to rig up better lighting for that area after he investigated the cause of the alarms going off.
He dressed quickly, pulling on black pants and t-shirt, his gaze on the figure he was certain was a person. Hopefully another shifter, a lioness or any kind of cat. At this point, he didn’t care. While he wouldn’t breed with a lioness, the powerful females were, in his opinion, the best and strongest members of a pride.
As soon as he was clothed, Cali ran down the stairs and unlocked the front door. Along with his palm print, he had locks he had to manually open.
Cursing his trembling fingers, Cali finally managed to scan his palm and unfasten the locks. Then he opened the door and stepped outside.
He wanted to run, to shift and give his lion freedom, but until he knew who or what awaited him on the east side of the property, it was best for him to remain in human form.
A cautious sniff of the air was no help. The wind was blowing from the north and he couldn’t smell anything unusual.
Cali trotted down the steps of his patio, his bare feet making almost no sound at all as he trod along. When he reached the grass, so cool and damp, he could have happily rolled around for a bit. Instead, he kept moving to the eastern part of his property.
The moon was merely a sliver in the sky, but the stars made up for its shyness, setting the darkness overhead glittering in thousands of tiny lights. Southern Sun was an isolated place, with abandoned farm and ranch lands surrounding it on three sides, and a full, working ranch to the north.
He moved through the trees and foliage, his predatory instincts taking over. Whether there was a lion shifter or not on the other side of his eastern fence, there could be trouble. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that another lion would come to challenge him for den territory. Legally, in the human world, it couldn’t be so easily taken from him. In the shifter world, however, he could lose everything he had, including his life, if another lion wanted to claim the territory. It’d be a fight to death, because Cali would never cede his ground, his den.
Or he’d kill the other lion, unless it’d leave. Cali didn’t want any more than the land he owned, though eventually he might add to it. He wouldn’t take it through battles and deaths. He’d buy it legally, through human means.
His lion longed to growl, and repressing the sound caused Cali’s chest to vibrate and thrum. He slowed his approach, using more caution, relying on his animal senses. There wasn’t so much as a chirrup from a katydid as he crept through the night.
When he neared the eastern edge of his land, the trees thinned out until they were eventually gone, leaving the last hundred yards or so clear of any obstacles that could be used to hide behind.
The wind was still not blowing toward him. He couldn’t scent another lion, or any kind of cat. Before he could allow himself to lose hope that he’d find someone to be part of his pride, Cali approached the ten-foot tall privacy fence. Made of solid cement, the fence was ten-foot tall and topped with three feet of barbed wire. It wouldn’t be easy to get onto his property unless he allowed someone in.
Holding himself still, Cali inhaled, letting the scents surrounding him fill his nostrils and lungs. The wind had not altered its direction; whatever was on the other side of the fence was still an unknown to him.
A man could only be so patient, so cautious. Cali stalked whatever pray awaited him, his footsteps silent on the thick, soft grass. It wasn’t difficult for him to scale the wall—Cali was six-two, and strong enough to leap over the entire enclosure should he decide to do so. The shifter part of him was incredible, and repressing it was tiring when he was around humans.
But when he stood on the thick cement wall and looked down, he was hit with such a sudden bout of confusion that he nearly tumbled backwards. Mentally telling himself to get his shit together, Cali stared down at the raggedy mess that sure as hell wasn’t a lion shifter. Whatever it was, death didn’t appear to be far away from it.
After a moment’s hesitation in which Cali made sure he wasn’t going to topple over in haste, he leapt down, landing on his feet at the figure’s side.
He sniffed—then almost gasped before he bent and sniffed again. His eyes watered. The man—and it was a male lying there—hadn’t bathed in far too long. His clothes were filthy, as was his hair. Dirt caked his fingers and the back of his neck.
More than that, he was a shifter.
Just not the kind Cali had been waiting for. Somehow, his version of catnip had caught him a wounded wolf.
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