Anya sniffed and canted her head to one side as she frowned. “Is that…a wolf?”
Cali immediately felt defensive. “Yes. This is a refuge for all shifters. I don’t discriminate and won’t I tolerate any discrimination here. The world is already a harsh enough place for shifters. We need to band together, not fight.”
Anya had raised her hands up in supplication halfway through that speech. “I was just asking. I’ve only ever met one wolf shifter before, that was years ago. She was cool, but very reticent to interact.”
“Well, considering how so many different breeds of shifters fight…” Finn shrugged. “At least, that’s how it was where I came from. There was no interacting between breeds unless it was violent interactions.”
Cali didn’t like hearing that at all. “And where exactly did you come from?”
Finn grimaced. “I bet you’re expecting some isolated place, but nah. I was born outside of Denver and grew up in the human and shifter world both. I left because I couldn’t do…what—er. I just couldn’t stay.” He scratched at the patchy orange fuzz on his chin. “I don’t like killing.”
“It was the same for me and I was raised in Minnesota, a little more of an isolated area but—” Dion shrugged. “We males were expected to kill for a territory and for females, but I don’t want to kill anyone, I don’t feel any need for a territory, and I’m gay, which also didn’t go over well with the cougars there. I left.”
Dion was nodding along. “Same, same. Finn’s the only straight one out of our bunch.”
“Bi,” Finn clarified. “Stop dismissing it.”
Dion rolled his eyes. “Sor-reee!”
“Bisexuality is an actual thing,” Finn snapped. “I get that you might not have been taught that, but it’s true. Educate yourself, fool.”
Cali pointed at him. “No. There will be no fighting here, and no name-calling, either. Everyone can get along, and if you aren’t capable of doing so, then you’ll have to leave. This is an oasis, not a school yard.”
“What does that mean, even?” Finn asked. He didn’t sound like he was being a smart-ass.
“It’s a reference to bullying, which I won’t allow. Is that clear?” Cali waited until Dion and Finn both murmured agreements. “Good.” He glanced at Ashton, who had yet to shift into human form. “Do you want to shift?”
Ashton lowered down onto his belly and covered most of his head with his paws.
“He’s shy.” Anya smiled slightly. “At least, that’s my guess. He’s never said, and he’s never shifted.”
“How long has he been with you?” Cali asked.
“Over a week. His name might not be Ashton, for all we know. That’s just what we call him.” Anya yawned then and one of the other cats’ stomach growled.
Curious. Wonder why he hasn’t shifted?
“Okay, let me show you where you can sleep and what’s in the kitchen, then I’ll leave you all to get settled in.” Cali was itching to get back to Jacob. It hadn’t escaped him that something was bothering Jacob, and the only thing that had changed in the last hour was the arrival of four new shifters…all feline. Jacob must feel like the odd man out, but he isn’t. I don’t want him to be. I don’t want breed to matter here.
And he’d work to make certain it didn’t. After the new arrivals were settled in and had eaten and slept, Cali would hold a discussion with them and with Jacob and make certain everyone understood that there would be no prejudice allowed. No one would be an ass to Jacob; Cali’s temper prickled just thinking about it. Jacob had been through enough horrible things in his lifetime.
Cali gave the Anya and the others a short tour, enough of one that they knew where the food was and where to sleep.
Then he was finally able to return to his room, and more importantly, to Jacob. The wolf had somehow gotten under his skin, and perhaps even close to his heart. Cali would examine that possibility later. For now, all he wanted to do was make sure Jacob was okay, and to lie down and hold him while they both slept.
Jacob was snoring softly, his breath barely even a sound. Cali watched his silhouette in the darkened room, a sliver of moonlight slipping around the curtains and casting its pale silver strands over Jacob’s form.
Cali stood there for many minutes, unable to move, held in place by Jacob’s beauty. He had suspected the man was handsome, but it’d been hard to tell under all the swelling and bruising. Now, relaxed, with the shadows and silvery light working to hide most of his injuries, there was no denying that Jacob was truly stunning.
Despite that, it wasn’t his looks that called to him. Cali wasn’t sure what, exactly, was going on with himself. Maybe it was some kind of responsibility on his part, because he’d helped Jacob, had cared for him and nursed him away from death’s door.
Or maybe it was something else.
Cali’s feet finally cooperated with his brain, which hadn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders in the first place. He walked over to the bed, and noticed his heartbeat accelerated as he stretched out beside Jacob, couldn’t miss the spike in his pulse as he eased Jacob into his arms.
Yeah, he had a lot to think about, but for the time being, he closed his eyes and relaxed as he held Jacob throughout the remainder of the night.