The shrill clanging of the perimeter alarms thrust Cali out of a deep sleep. His heart was pounding as he snapped his eyes open. His left arm was numb, not that he cared when his brain-fog cleared and he remembered that he’d been holding Jacob close, having fallen asleep with him after Jacob had come apart so beautifully.
“Cali, whazzit?” Jacob clutched at him. “Ungh?”
Jacob wasn’t a fast waker. Cali found his sleepy confusion adorable.
“The alarms for the perimeter,” Cali explained, brushing back some hair from Jacob’s brow. “Something’s setting them off.” With his right arm, he reached for the bedside lamp, then turned it on. He grimaced as the sensation similar to a thousand needles prickled his left hand and arm.
Jacob frowned and sat up, watching Cali. “More shifters?”
Cali went to move his left hand—and promptly smacked himself in the face. “Shit!” It was like his left arm had a mind of its own and he had no control over it. He hated when that happened, plus he was embarrassed as all get-out, because Jacob had seen that.
But Jacob’s giggle, followed by a burst of laughter, decimated that embarrassment.
Despite the ruckus of the alarms, Cali was captivated by Jacob’s laughter, the sound of it, joyous without any inhibitions.
He wanted to hear more of that laughter from Jacob, wanted to make him happy so the sound of it wasn’t a rarity.
Jacob took a hold of Cali’s left arm and began rubbing it, working his thumbs over hyperactive nerve-endings. “I bust my nose like that once,” he confessed, a wry grin in place. “At least you aren’t bleeding.”
Cali shook his head, more to free himself of the spell he’d been under than to negate anything. “I hate that pins and needles feeling.”
“Me, too.” Jacob’s smile faded. “I guess you need to see what new shifters are waiting for refuge. Probably more felines. Your scent was really strong when I was out there. Even sick and hurt, I found it.”
“You found me.” Cali cupped Jacob’s chin, willing him to look up.
Jacob did, but only briefly. “I’m just a wolf. Not even much of one at that. An omega—”
Cali cut him off with a kiss, slanting his mouth over Jacob’s, slipping his tongue past parted lips, delving in and tasting the man who fascinated him on all levels.
Jacob mewled, the sound feeding into Cali. Cali would have kissed him for hours had someone not knocked on the door as Jacob melted against him.
The knocking grew louder. “Meet me in the west hall,” Cali called out before rubbing his cheek against Jacob’s. “Stay here. Rest. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
“But what if something happens? If something goes wrong? If you need help? I know I’m not much help, but…but…” Jacob bit his bottom lip.
Cali called out to whoever was knocking. “Hey, no. You can watch the cameras on the app I have on my laptop. Password is longsun2001, capital ‘s’. Watch, and don’t worry. I’ll be back.” He pressed a quick kiss to Jacob’s brow. He wanted to say he’d miss Jacob, or that he would return and make love to Jacob until they were both exhausted in the best way possible, but either comment seemed too forward.
“Be careful.” Jacob took the laptop when Cali handed it over.
“There’s a security room I’ll show you when you’re a little stronger. It’s easier to see all the camera views there.” Cali brushed one hand over Jacob’s hair and the concern in Jacob’s pretty eyes warmed Cali through and through. “You’ll probably see whoever or whatever is out there before I do.” He gave Jacob one last kiss, then got up.
“Be safe.” Jacob gripped the laptop. “Please.”
“I promise.” Cali didn’t know why Jacob was worried; shifters were supposed to come to the refuge. Even so, thatJacob cares enough to worry…
Cali left his room and sprinted for the west hall, where the security room was. Anya and the cougars were waiting, with Ashton still in his animal form. Cali wondered if he’d ever shift.
“Let’s see where the alarm’s activated from.” Cali keyed in the access code for the security door. He should share it with the others, but for some reason, he was reticent to just give it out willy-nilly. Once he knew them better, he’d give them the code.
Inside the room, with Anya, Finn, and Dion at his back, Cali searched the screens for the cause of the alarm. “There.” He pointed to one that showed a corner of the south fence. “In the tree.” His heart pounded and he didn’t know whether to chuckle or be alarmed.
“That’s…” Finn gulped. “That’s a huge grizzly bear!”
“Yeah, and so is the one above it.” Cali tapped the screen.
“Holy fuck,” Dion muttered, leaning closer to the screen. “Are they shifters?”
“Only one way to find out.” Cali studied the two beasts for a few seconds. “Anyone ever met a bear shifter before?”
Cali was going to take Ashton’s contribution as a no. “Well then, let’s see what we’ve got.” He turned and left the room with the other felines following him. Cali trotted to the back door, opened it, then stepped onto the deck. He shifted, and an instant later, his paws slapped the wood flooring for a few strides before he leapt onto the grass.
There was nothing quite like the freedom of running in his shifted form. The humid air wasn’t as bothersome to him as it was when he was a man, the scents of the land surrounded him, the bullfrogs and katydids sang a chorus around him (until they were spooked into silence), and the grass squelched with dew as his paws slapped down on it.
Anya kept up with him, running on his right side. Ashton and Finn flanked him to the left and Dion to the right. Mosquitos buzzed around Cali’s ears and he snarled at them—fucking pests no matter what form he was in.
His paws and halfway up his legs were damp by the time they neared the corner of the fence where the bears were. He sighted the first one and his heart skipped a beat as the huge beast leapt from the tree, almost clearing the fence—but not quite. The bear roared when one of its back paws hit the fence, then again when the creature slammed onto the ground.
The second bear, still in the tree, yowled in a way that seemed to convey concern or sympathy—or maybe it’d just spotted a meal, for all Cali knew.
He skidded to a stop and the other felines formed a half-circle around him. A quick sniff told him there were no humans in the area. The bear in the tree snarled and the one on the ground started to make a rumbling noise, then it shifted into a burly man with curly black hair.
“No!” the man bellowed, apparently to the bear in the tree. “Stop!”
Cali shifted. He was guessing the bear in the tree had been afraid all the felines would attack the bear. “We’re not going to harm anyone.”
“Bro, calm down.” The injured bear shifter sat up and though he spoke to Cali, he never looked away from the other bear. “I’m Tally, and that’s my brother, Wick. He’s not as friendly as I am.”
Wick grumbled and still appeared to be considering a jump over the fence.
“Wick, if you’re able to come to the north side, there’s a gate.” He really should have thought this whole thing out better—and Cali had assumed he’d covered everything, but bears leaping from trees and possibly breaking bones hadn’t everoccurred to him.
“Do it.” Tally winced as he tried to get up.
“Help him.” Cali tipped his chin toward Anya and Finn, who had shifted. “I’ll go open the north gate.” He morphed back into his lion.
“Got it.” Anya hurried over to Tally. “Did you break your ankle?”
“Fuck if I know, but it hurts like a mother,” Tally groused.
Cali left Anya and her crew behind. He heard a sound behind him and was surprised to find Ashton had followed him. The cougar didn’t run at Cali’s side but a half-dozen feet behind him.
At the north gate, he had to shift again. He opened the gate and was hard-pressed not to shiver when the large grizzly bear loped up, then stopped and stared at him.
“Wick, right?” Cali rarely felt the kind of primeval fear he did while facing the bear. He wasn’t sure he’d be much more secure had he been in lion form.
That’s a huge fucking bear.
But the scent of fear was wafting off the beast, and Cali’s nerves settled. “Wick, it’s okay. This is a refuge for our kind.”
Behind Cali came a rumbling purr. It was so out of place, knowing who it came from, that Cali was certain his expression showed his surprise.
Wick canted his head and slapped the ground with one paw. He moved forward slowly, slinking past Cali as if he were guilty or terrified—and Cali knew it was the latter.
Ashton snuffled and might have tried to meow, though it came out as a croaking sound.
Wick snorted and approached the cougar. Cali closed the gate and secured the lock, then he watched the bear and the cougar. They didn’t touch or get too close to each other, but they seemed to have some kind of potential for friendship between them.
He supposed that made sense, considering how scared Ashton was. Whatever had happened in his past still had a strong grip on him, that was Cali’s guess.
He’d barely taken two steps when he heard the alarms start up again.