Voices woke Jacob. He still ached all over, though the pain was lesser than it had been. His head was a mess, and at first he thought he was imagining the voices, but no. He was awake, and as he struggled to sit up, his arms trembling and panic skittering over his nerves, he heard the low rumble of Cali’s voice and the answering cadence of a woman’s.
Something twisted in Jacob, but he didn’t examine it. He managed to sit up and put his feet on the floor, but when he tried to stand, he toppled back onto the bed.
Angered at his own weakened state, he tried again, and ended up in a heap on the floor. Something landed on top of him before it hit the floor and broke, the sound loud enough to startle Jacob. He blinked and saw shards of glass on the floor and realized he’d managed to knock the lamp off the nightstand when he’d fallen. Before he could do anything else, the bedroom door was flung open and Cali rushed in.
Jacob had to close his eyes since Cali hit the light switch and the sudden brightness made Jacob’s eyeballs throb.
“Are you okay? What happened? What—” Cali stopped talking for a second. “Don’t’ move. There’s glass. I don’t want you to get cut. I’ll grab the broom and a dustpan and be right back.”
Jacob couldn’t have moved if he’d have tried. Mortification held him down like a weight he was too weak to shove off. The last thing he wanted to do was come off as even more pathetic than Cali had to already think he was.
He heard Cali’s footsteps and opened his eyes. Cali was holding a small hand vac.
“Figured this might work better. Are you okay?” Cali set the hand vac down. “Let’s get you back to bed—or do you need to use the bathroom?”
Jacob tried to speak, squeaked instead, and tried again. “Heard voices.” He hoped that was explanation enough.
Cali slipped his hands over Jacob, checking him for injuries, Jacob guessed. He had forgotten to tell Cali whether or not he was all right. And they way Cali’s touch felt—warm, reassuring, as if Cali actually gave a shit about him—kept Jacob from telling him now.
“I don’t see any new injuries so I’m just going to pick you up.” Cali scooped Jacob up. “Four feline shifters showed up. One leopard, Anya, and three cougars, Dion, Finn, and Ashton. I don’t know anything about them yet. Just got everyone shifted.”
Jacob pressed his lips together. There were cat shifters there now, and Cali wouldn’t want to spend much time with him now. Why would he? Jacob was a wolf, and a messed-up one at that. Cali would prefer the company of a shifter species closer to his own.
“Do you need to use the bathroom?”
Jacob shook his head.
“Is there something wrong?” Cali laid him down gently, then pulled the covers up and tucked Jacob in. His almost-golden eyes seemed to bore into Jacob. “I won’t let anyone hurt you, Jacob. These new shifters won’t harm you, I give you my word.”
They would, though maybe not in any way Cali would notice. “Okay.” Jacob turned his head aside and licked his dry lips.
“Here.” Cali cupped Jacob’s nap and eased his head up. “Take a sip.” In his other hand, Cali held a glass of water. “It didn’t go down with the lamp.”
“Sorry,” Jacob rasped before taking a drink. The water was cool but not cold. It soothed his parched mouth and throat.
“Don’t apologize. It’s just a lamp, and I never liked it anyway. Looked better online, you know?” Cali set the glass down. He thumbed a spot beside Jacob’s mouth. “Got a little…”
Jacob wanted so badly to lick his finger but refrained.
Cali’s eyes darkened, his pupils expanding. He moved his thumb up and brushed it over Jacob’s bottom lip.
Jacob thought Cali’s breathing hitched, but it was hard to hear over the pounding of his own heart.
Then Cali shook himself and trailed his thumb down to Jacob’s chin before moving his hand away. “Sorry, I—”
Jacob grasped his wrist. He didn’t know what to say, but he didn’t want an apology, not for a moment of tenderness his bruised and battered soul needed.
Cali swallowed, the noise of the action loud in the room. He spread his fingers and cupped Jacob’s chin and jaw. “The bruises are fading. Are you in much pain?”
Jacob pressed his face against Cali’s palm. “No.” Not now. Not when you’re touching me.
“Good.” He stroked Jacob’s cheek. “You’re safe here, Jacob. Whatever scared you—here—won’t harm you.”
Jacob averted his gaze. Cali was going to hurt him. Somehow, Jacob had become attached to him over the past however many days he’d been under Cali’s care. Because I need an alpha, but he’s not an alpha. He’s a lion shifter and he’ll want to spend time with—
“What are you thinking?” Cali asked. “You look angry and afraid. Please don’t be afraid, and whatever’s made you mad, tell me so I can fix it.”
Jacob closed his eyes. “Can’t fix it.” Let him think it’s about my past.
Jacob rolled away from Cali, away from the gentle touch and the stupid hopes that Jacob hadn’t realized he’d been harboring until moments ago. “Tired.”
“Jacob, you’re hiding from me,” Cali murmured. “Why?”
“Just tired.” Jacob willed himself to push aside everything but the exhaustion that seemed to be a constant companion now.
Cali sighed and brushed the hair away from Jacob’s face. “I’ll stop nagging you for now, but I’ll be back after I’ve cleaned up the glass and have the new shifters settled. Rest, and if you need me, I’ll come when you call.”
Jacob didn’t reply, and when he felt the ghost of a kiss across his temple, his imagination fucking with his head and heart, he had to squeeze his eyes shut tighter to keep tears from escaping.
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