Jacob could have kissed Cali for hours—all night, even, but he knew Cali had responsibilities. And Jacob needed time to think about everything Cali had said, and the way Cali had just let him take control, kiss him without asking or submitting even a little.
Cali had moaned and shivered, but he’d kept his hands on Jacob’s hips gentle, no squeezing, pulling or demanding.
Ending the kiss was almost painful, but Jacob made himself pull back, then brush his lips over Cali’s. “You should go see what’s what. Maybe the bears know something about those men.” He shook his head. “And maybe I’ll remember more, but I’d been away from the pack for a few days, and I just don’t know if there was something that gave them—us—away to humans. I don’t know why—well. I’ll try to remember more.”
Cali nuzzled his cheek. “Let me help you in the bath. A seizure while you’re in the water could be dangerous.”
Jacob bit back a sigh. Cali was right for the most part, except the correct word was ‘deadly’. “You need to check on the new arrivals, and…” Did he dare to ask? It all hinged on whether or not he believed Cali, truly believed what he’d said. Jacob licked his suddenly dry lips. “I want to be there with you. I can just wash my face and brush my teeth. Won’t take but a few minutes, then we can go.”
Cali blinked then a wide smile lit up his entire face. “Well then, that’s the plan.” He turned off the water and helped Jacob to his feet.
Jacob leaned on Cali, let him help make himself presentable. His heart raced and thoughts about what his life had been like with the pack, and what it could be now, with Cali, were swirling around in his head. Hope, something he’d had precious little of in the past.
“Here, I’ll get the washcloth.” Cali stepped back.
Jacob nodded at him. “I’m okay.” In fact, his muscles were screaming with pain and his joints ached. Most of his bruises were faded, but the current pain reminded him that he wasn’t healing like he should have been. No kidding, dumbass. I just had a seizure, too. That’s not a shifter norm, either.
“What’s wrong?” Cali asked, reaching for a cloth from the cabinet.
Jacob turned the water on and picked up his toothbrush. In less than five minutes, he was in clean clothes, and he didn’t look—and smell—like he’d been sick.
But he leaned on Cali, not trusting his own legs to hold him up. The walk to the main room of the house seemed to take forever, and when they arrived, only Ashton was there, lying on the floor, the tiles of which were cool under Jacob’s feet.
“Where’s everyone?” Cali asked, helping Jacob to the couch.
Ashton huffed, got up, and padded off. A few seconds later, a snarl sounded throughout the house. A couple more snarls followed, and a loud, guttural roar that had to be from one of the bears.
Cali shook his head. “I’ll be right back. You good here, or you want to come with me? I’m just going to tell them to shift. Except Ashton. I don’t think he ever intends to change forms.”
“I’m okay.” Jacob leaned back and when Cali turned away, closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. His head was pounding and every few minutes, he heard a buzzing in his brain, felt it like a tiny electrical shock. Something wasn’t right with him, something major, and it scared him.
He didn’t have time to dwell on it. Cali returned with a menagerie of beasts and people—well, a menagerie might have been pushing it. Anya, Finn, Dion and Tally, judging by the way he was limping, were all in their human forms. Wick and Ashton were not.
“It’s not broken,” Tally muttered. “And anyway, it’ll heal in a matter of a day or so at most.”
Anya frowned at him. “That doesn’t mean you should be walking on it.”
Tally blushed and darted a look at her that Jacob couldn’t interpret.
“Acting like it doesn’t hurt and using it—why? What’re you hoping to prove?” Anya huffed. “Not that you’re smart. Not that you value yourself.”
“Anya.” Cali didn’t say anything else, but Anya pressed her lips together.
Tally wasn’t just blushing, he looked mortified.
Wick rumbled, and Ashton swatted at him with one big paw.
The bear growled and raised one of his own paws.
“Stop it,” Cali snapped out. “Right now. I will not have idiocy in this house or on this property.”
Wick plopped down onto his haunches but kept his gaze on Ashton.
Ashton bared his teeth at Wick, then slunk over to Cali and rubbed against his leg and hip. He mewled once, sprawled on the floor, and yawned.
“Tally, Wick, do you know anything about the men that followed you?” Cali asked as Tally lowered himself to a chair.
Tally grimaced. “Followed us? There’s no way they followed us. We weren’t running from anyone. Wick and I were just, I dunno. We got tired of being alone. There were no other shifters in our area, and we started wandering around the southern states. Some of them, anyway. We never even shifted out of bear form. Not until tonight, and obviously, only I shifted. So no one could have known what we are.” He canted his head at Cali. “Are you sure they weren’t just hunters or poachers? What makes you think they followed us? Why would they do that? What would they want?”
“Well, judging by the assault rifles, face pain, night vision goggles, and other gear, they were set on killing someone of something.” Cali glanced at Jacob.
Jacob nodded though his throat went painfully tight as he fought back tears.
Cali came over, sat beside him and held his hand. “Jacob’s entire pack was murdered by men like that.”
Everyone—even Wick and Ashton-- gasped other than Jacob and Cali.
“So these guys, they showed up here, right after you two bears did. Neither of you sensed them? Heard or smelled them?” Cali pressed.
Wick rumbled. He rippled. A growl followed, then he was a large, naked, hairy man sitting on his ass with his knees bent and his arms resting on them. “Ouch, that hurt.” He stretched his arms and arched his back before facing Cali. “There wasn’t a hint of anyone around us. We moved through the wilderness, always. If we couldn’t get somewhere without leaving the safety of the trees, we didn’t go. We found your scent purely by accident. And there was no trace of any human’s scent near the property when we arrived. So I don’t understand how these men just…appeared, or why we wouldn’t have caught even a whiff of them or heard the crunch of leaves under their feet.”
“Wick’s right,” Tally added. He began picking at his thumbnail. “Um. Could they have found this place because Jacob’s here?”
Jacob froze, not even daring to breathe.
Cali came up off the couch, hands fisted. “What are you implying?”
Tally shook his head frantically. “Not that he led them here!”
“Or at least not on purpose,” Wick added.
Cali turned to him.
Wick shrugged. “Man, you can glare daggers at me all damn night, but it won’t change the fact that those guys were here. If they’re linked to the same people that murdered Jacob’s pack, maybe they scented him somehow, or tracked him.”
Jacob opened his mouth to deny either claim, but the buzzing in his head sent a jolt through his body. He slammed his hands against his temples, fighting back a memory, not another seizure, though his whole body was shaking and his mouth watered as he fought not to throw up.