He wasn’t in his den. Jacob knew that the instant he woke up. The smells were wrong, not familiar at all. The sounds were wrong, too. No yelping or yipping, no howling.
And he ached, all over, like he’d been dumped off a twenty-foot cliff and bounced down the length of it. There couldn’t have been a single part of him that wasn’t sore.
He was also cold, but only the backside of him. The front was toasty warm and…
Jacob frowned and opened his eyes.
Panic shot through him when he found himself looking into golden-brown eyes. The scent of lion penetrated his nostrils. Flashes of images shot through his head too fast for him to process. He tried to shove himself up but his arms were too weak.
“Hey, it’s okay. It’s Cali, remember?”
Jacob didn’t, not exactly.
“You came to me. Well, to my sanctuary.” Cali helped Jacob to sit up and back.
Jacob was straddling Cali’s thighs. His heart pounded and sweat broke out all over his body.
“You were outside the fence. I carried you back here and have been, um.” Cali rubbed his jaw.
Cali was a very handsome man, Jacob couldn’t help but note. Handsome, and big, and a lion!
“You talked with me some. Don’t you remember?”
“No,” Jacob eked out. Yeah, there were glimpses of Cali in is memory, but Jacob couldn’t grasp any of them long enough to examine them.
Cali stretched his arms back then placed his hands behind his head. He didn’t seem to be offended that Jacob couldn’t remember him.
“Well, you’ve been very sick for a week now,” Cali said, his gaze warm, a slight smile curving his full lips. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you don’t remember me. You were very ill when I found you. Lots of injuries.” Then he frowned. “I didn’t know what to do. Sick shifters…that isn’t something I have encountered before. I looked stuff up online, but everything I found was about human illnesses.”
“Humans.” Jacob spat the word out so harshly, it hurt his throat. He remembered humans, all right, and what they’d done. It came back to him in a flash of anger and horrific memories. “Hate them!”
Cali frowned. “Not all humans are bad—”
“No!” As much as it hurt his throat to yell, being silent and agreeing would have hurt his soul. “Evil!”
Cali’s frown deepened. He moved one hand from behind his head and patted the bed beside him. “Why don’t you move over here and let me get you some chicken soup and fresh water? You need the sustenance.”
Need the sustenance? Rather than speak again, Jacob tried to move and would have fallen over if Cali hadn’t been so quick and caught him.
“Easy now,” Cali murmured. “There you go. I’ll be right back.”
Jacob curled up on his side. He wasn’t as scared as he’d been at first. His scent was entwined with Cali’s, saturating the bedding. It was true he’d been there for days—scents didn’t lie—and Cali had taken care of him. Jacob closed his eyes and saw himself naked, Cali cleaning the blood and dirt from him. There were other images, but a frightening one of a primordial beast coming after him sent Jacob’s eyelids snapping open.
“Here you go. Let me help you sit up.” Cali set a tray on the nightstand.
“I remember you,” Jacob whispered, feeling as if he owed Cali that, at least. “You helped.”
Cali sat on the edge of the mattress then reached for Jacob. “I did, and I always will.”
What does he mean? Jacob would have asked, maybe, but sitting up made his ribs ache and breathing was a challenge.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” Cali said. “Don’t take that wrong. I mean, physically, you’re not healthy. You’ve had fevers and other signs of illness I always thought applied only to humans.”
“Everything hurts,” Jacob confessed.
“See, I don’t know why that is.” Cali propped him against the headboard with a couple of pillows behind his back. “Just like I don’t know why all your injuries aren’t healed. Do wolf shifters not have accelerated healing?”
“We do.” Jacob would have said more but Cali spooned some soup into his mouth.
“That’s what I thought, so the fact that you’ve still got some bruising is surprising.”
Jacob swallowed. It sucked for him, that was for sure. Cali’s lips were pressed together in a thin line. Jacob wondered what he was thinking. Should he ask? He wouldn’t have been able to ask Kirk, his alpha. Pain seared through him, and though it wasn’t physical, it still stole his breath. Kirk was gone, murdered, tortured—No, no, that’s the nightmare.
“Jacob, Jacob,” Cali was saying, running his big hands over Jacob’s biceps. “What’s wrong? Where does it hurt? What can I do?”
Cali’s questions, the concern and doubt evident in his voice and eyes, confused Jacob. Cali was the leader, the alpha here, and for him to have doubts threw Jacob’s wolf into a tailspin.
He’s not a wolf. Not really an alpha because…because…Jacob didn’t know why. Whatever the leader of a pride was called, that’s what Cali was.
It was too much for him to try to work out. Even his brain was exhausted and sore.
“Jacob,” Cali repeated, his voice softer now, coaxing Jacob to trust him.
And Jacob did—to a point. He hung his head, unable to look at Cali. “Sorry.”
“Sorry? For what?” Cali tucked a knuckle under Jacob’s chin. “Why are you hiding?”
Jacob started to answer, to deny it, but something from his nightmares tugged at him and he couldn’t answer. His vision blurred and he heard the screams, the yelps that haunted him, and all he could do was press his hands over his ears and try not to lose his mind.