With humans near, Cali didn’t dare shift again. His fences were high, but he didn’t know where there might be people watching—in trees, in the air, what equipment might be used to spy on them.
He ran, unable in human form to keep up with Wick. The bear moved faster than Cali would ever have imagined, snarling and roaring, not bothering to try to be stealthy.
Cali’s heart pounded. What had happened? Why were there armed men approaching the refuge? What did they know, and how did they find it out? So many questions, and he had nothing but more after them.
Wick let out a roar that shook Cali to his bones. In the distance, an answering roar followed. Wick veered left, and Cali followed. To the right of the south corner, he had clothes stashed—at least he’d had the foresight to leave clothes in various places throughout the property. He hated sparing even a second to get dressed, but it was either that or show up naked—or risk someone seeing him shift.
Cali put on the basketball shorts then ran while struggling to get the t-shirt on. He skidded to a stop when he spotted Tally, who had morphed into his bear, and was stumbling toward him.
Wick shot out of the tree line, roaring, growling, bypassing Tally and heading for the fence.
“Wick!” Cali yelled. Anya and the other cats were nowhere to be seen, but he could smell them and knew they were nearby, likely waiting to help if the humans came over the fence.
Wick reared up on his back paws and loosed that primitive sound that struck fear in the heart of most beasts, human or otherwise.
Cali’s lion wasn’t scared, but it recognized another apex predator and wanted to respond.
He repressed the animal instinct and ran at Wick. “No! Go! Get out of here!” Be loud and big. Loud and big. That was all the advice he could remember about confronting bears—or probably not confronting them but surviving an accidental encounter with one. Then again, he could have been wrong about the whole thing.
But he had to pretend to be a human trying to scare off a bear. If he didn’t get Wick out of there, Wick might very well be killed.
“Go on, get! I knew I should have shipped you to a different refuge!” Cali continued. “You’re a risk to all the animals here!”
Wick paused, his great maw open, spittle dripping down from it.
“Bad bear! Get the fuck out of here!” Cali searched for something to throw, but Wick slammed his front paws onto the ground, lowered his head, and came running right at him.
Cali screamed and started to shift but caught himself. He didn’t know Wick but he had to trust that Wick wouldn’t kill him. Cali threw his arms open wide, went up on his toes, and bellowed with all his might.
Wick veered to his left and Cali swore he saw the damned bear roll his eyes.
Movement to the left caught his attention. Anya stepped out of the trees wearing a pair of his basketball shorts and one of his t-shirts. Both articles of clothing hung on her, but she didn’t seem to care.
“Honey, don’t ever do that again!” she scolded. “You should have stayed hidden with me. I know he’s usually not aggressive around you, but something’s got that bear spooked. He even attacked the other bear.”
Cali blinked. He didn’t know what game Anya was playing, but he would go along with it. “We need to check on them, sweetheart.”
Anya came right up to him and hugged him. “I was so scared, but don’t worry. I called in the others because I don’t know if the ten of us can handle the bears, even with the new rifles and tranqs. There will be another dozen people here within minutes. In fact, I bet some are already here. Jackson is bringing his helicopter with the big gun in case… Oh, I hate to say it, but if…”
Cali heard it then, the growing sound of a helicopter approaching. Either Anya was playing off the sound, and it would fly past…or the men near the perimeter had someone with a copter on their side.
He hoped it was chance, and the sound of it would give the men pause.
“Are you sure he’s bringing the helicopter?” Cali asked, still holding Anya. “Let’s go see what’s up with the bear then have our security guy check all the security cameras. Maybe some animal outside the fence scared him. Pythons and gators can do that to him.”
“Raccoons, too.” Anya pulled back, and she plastered on a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “We should hurry. I don’t want him harming any of the other animals we’ve rescued.”
“Yes.” Cali couldn’t help it, he looked at the south fence and the trees beyond it. “But I think we should look—”
“No,” Anya snapped. “Our responsibility is to keep our rescues safe. One bear is hurt, and the other is dangerously aggressive. They need us.”
Cali nodded. Turning his back on that fence made goose bumps break out all over his body, but he didn’t see what choice he had. Confronting humans armed with assault rifles or whatever weapons they had would not lead to a good outcome for him or the shifters he was trying to provide a safe place for.
“This way.” He took Anya by one hand—and it felt so odd to him to do so. Judging by how stiff her hand was in his, she wasn’t used to it, either. Cali nodded toward the trees. “This way. Best not to be directly behind him.” And hopefully the tress would provide cover from the humans outside the fence.
Cali was going to electrify the entire fence line if he didn’t get killed tonight.
No, he couldn’t do that. Then shifters that needed to get in would be injured.
Damn it. He’d figure something out.
For now, he concentrated on getting into the trees, then he pushed Anya ahead of him. “Go. I’m going to see who—”
“Don’t. We all need you, and Jacob… if something happens to you…” Anya didn’t finish. She turned and ran, and Cali stood, torn for a moment, the need to protect pushing and pulling him in two different directions.
He wanted to shift, to climb a tree and see if he could spot the men, but Anya had a valid point. He hadn’t trained anyone to take over if something happened to him, hadn’t willed his vast fortune to someone he trusted to oversee the refuge.
And he didn’t know if he’d even keep the refuge, because it seemed like the place was compromised, and he didn’t know how, or why it had happened, or who had given away what the place was for.
But he did know he had to accept responsibility for the lives and safety of everyone there. He’d put his scent out as a promise for a safe place for shifters. Making that the truth he’d thought it was, was all on him.
Then there was Jacob. Cali was afraid of what might happen to Jacob, who was still very weak.
So as much as he wanted to go after the humans, he didn’t. He ran for the safety—he hoped—of home.