The new shifters didn’t need supervision, for which Cali was grateful. He wanted this place to be an oasis, not some kind of supervised camp. People there could (and should) be independent. There would be jobs for everyone, because he wanted a cohesive community. He’d made sure food was stocked, but it would be up to everyone to fix their own meals unless there was some kind of celebration.
So he was relieved to able to return the majority of his attention to Jacob, which was great since he’d missed the guy the few hours they’d been apart. It wasn’t that Cali needed to be right beside him 24/7. It just soothed him to be closer to Jacob than off somewhere else and potentially unreachable. He was sure it was because of how ill Jacob had been, and it wasn’t like he’d recovered yet. There were still myriad bruises, scrapes, and cuts that hadn’t healed, but he hadn’t had another seizure in over forty-eight hours.
Cali pushed aside several strands of Jacob’s hair. He’d spent hours working the knots out of it, and now it was silky, warm, almost like a living thing with the way it clung to his fingers.
The color was lighter than he’d expected it to be. A rich, medium brown that he’d bet would pick up auburn tones if Jacob were to be out in the sun much.
And when had he started dwelling on things like the color of someone’s hair?
“Why’re you frowning?”
Cali hadn’t realized Jacob had awakened. He traced the sharp blade of Jacob’s cheek and smiled. “Wondering when I’d become so fascinated with hair.” He slid his hand back into the warm mass. “It’s gorgeous. I thought I had a fabulous mane, but you’ve got me beat.”
“Is it?” Jacob rolled onto his back and looked directly at Cali. “No. Are you teasing?”
Surprised that Jacob would think so, he shook his head. “No, I meant it. Here. Feel yours, then mine.”
He guided Jacob’s hand to his own hair. “See how soft it is?”
Jacob’s crooked grin set off a reaction in Cali, as if little points of heat were turning on and chasing off a chill he hadn’t known he’d had.
“It’s got static.” Jason pulled his hand back and the strands snapped with electricity.
“Now touch mine.” Cali’s voice was suddenly husky, and his heart began to pound as he leaned close to Jacob.
Jacob’s eyes went wide, his pupils dilated as his breath gusted between his parted lips.
Something was happening, but Cali didn’t know what. His chest was tight, and that warmth inside of him was growing stronger.
Jacob lowered his gaze, and Cali wondered if he was looking at his lips. He licked them, and Jacob’s breath hitched.
He’s injured…he’s been through a very traumatic—several traumatic—events. I shouldn’t kiss him. Hell, his bottom lip is still healing—
“Oh.” Jacob shivered. “I like yours better.”
“It’s coarse.” Cali wanted to turn his head and nuzzle Jacob’s hand. Instead, he closed his eyes—a mistake, if he’d thought to put some sort of distance between himself and his desire. The scent of Jacob filled his lungs and he opened his eyes before the moan trying to escape him could do so.
“It’s strong,” Jacob countered. “Like you. Oh!” He let go of Cali’s hair and started to roll onto his side—away from Cali.
Cali stopped him with a gentle hold on his shoulder. “Are you hiding from me?”
“M’embarrassed,” Jacob mumbled. Even with the bruises on his face, Cali could see the blush spreading over his cheeks. He was utterly adorable, not that Cali would say as much. He didn’t know why he thought it, even if it was true.
Cali rubbed his thumb over the curve of Jacob’s shoulder. “Why?”
Jacob gulped and gave the tiniest shake of his head.
Cali opened his mouth to pry more, but snapped it shut. What was he doing? Why was he pestering Jacob about something he clearly didn’t want to speak of?
Because…because…I want him to like me. And not in a casual way.
Cali was so startled by the revelation that he moved back, letting go of Jacob. He scrambled for something to say.
Jacob surprised him by sitting up. His shoulders were slumped and his hair hung like a shield, hiding his profile. “Are…are you mad at me?” he whispered.
“What? No!” Cali pressed his lips together. That had come out louder than he’d meant for it to. “Why would I be mad at you?”
Jacob canted his head and tucked some of his hair behind his ear. He seemed to be looking for something in Cali’s expression, but Cali had no idea what that might be.
Something stretched out between them other than the silence. There was a current in the air, an almost tangible sensation that made the fine hairs at Cali’s nape quiver.
Inside, his lion was prowling, restless, searching for the cause of Cali’s distress.
But he wasn’t scared. He didn’t know what he felt, but fear wasn’t it.
Jacob twisted around to almost fully face him.
Cali fisted his hands to keep from reaching out and touching Jacob. Just because he wasn’t feeling fear didn’t mean Jacob wasn’t, either.
Cali sniffed and his lion paused. He sniffed again, and need slammed into him with such force he almost shifted.
Now he was scared. He’d never had such a reaction to anyone before. Was it him, or was it his lion? The beast wanted out.
Jacob was still watching him.
But not with fear.
Cali had a name for the scent he’d taken in from Jacob, and it wasn’t fear.
Not at all.