Hybrid Reclaimed by J.L. Wilder

6

BERN

would be the best time to leave the protection of Jean’s shelter—should they wait until nightfall? Maybe it would be better to sneak away under the cover of darkness.

It was Cedric who talked them out of it. “The fae can see really well in the dark,” he said. “Better than dragons can. Probably better than any of you can. The darkness won’t be a hindrance to them, so it’s better to just go, before they get back from whatever they’re doing.”

So they were gathered together at the border of the camp that had been their home for so long now, ready to leave at last.

Lacey stood between Bern and Dov with Aidan in her arms. Cedric was a few paces behind them, and Kane was at the front. The whole thing felt like a moving fortress, but Bern had no complaints about that. He would have built a literal fortress around his family if he could have. He would have done anything to keep them safe.

Jean appeared, moving through the darkness like a wraith. She’d been the first to step out from under the cover of their shelter, volunteering to scope out the area around them. Vaughn hadn’t thought much of that idea, either, but Jean had never been one to allow a man to tell her what to do, and his hesitance hadn’t stopped her today.

“Okay,” she said, her voice low. “We’re all clear.”

Bern glanced at Dov. Without a word being exchanged, the two of them shifted. Bern felt the relief that always came hand in hand with his more powerful form as the heat spread through him, as his muscles flexed and his body grew. He curled his hands—his paws—feeling the soft prick of claws against his palms.

She was safer between the two of them.

In front of them, Kane had shifted, too, and had immediately begun to pace back and forth. In his tiger form, he was low and lithe, and though he looked completely out of place in the woods of the Midwestern United States, Bern had to admit that it was a relief to have someone so powerful moving back and forth in front of Lacey and Aidan. No one was going to be able to touch them. Even if the dragons and the fae were out there—which Jean had insisted they weren’t.

Only Cedric remained human. It was part of the plan they had all agreed upon together because his animal form was far too conspicuous. There was no way for a dragon to move quickly without taking to the air—on the ground, he would be both quicker and more nimble in his human form. And in the air, he would be horribly visible. He would give their position away in a heartbeat.

“Okay,” Vaughn said. “Let’s move. But slowly.”

Bern didn’t like that. He wanted the pace to be quick. He wanted them miles away from here by nightfall.

Jean was obviously on the same page. “We need to be quick,” she said. “They could be coming back already. We need to be clear of the area by the time they get here, or they’ll catch us.”

“They’re not here now,” Vaughn said. “And if we make a commotion, they’ll be able to see us—and hear us—from miles away.”

That was a fair point. If the enemy knew that the shifters were moving out, they would come back that much faster, and the chance would be lost. They would also have the ability to track what the shifters were doing if they could see them from the air.

Maybe Vaughn is right. Maybe stealth is the most important thing here.

He nudged his shoulder against Lacey’s.

She looked over at him. He could see the fear in her eyes, but there was anticipation there as well. He knew how eager she was to get out of this place, how badly she wanted to find a new home where the fae had never set foot. She wanted to know that Aidan was safe.

Vaughn began to move forward, setting a slow pace, as he had indicated he would. The others fell into step behind him. Bern and the others kept up their formation around Lacey and the baby.

“We’ll make it as far as the Minnesota border today,” Vaughn said, his voice low as if he was concerned about being overheard. “We’ll camp just across the border tonight, and then in the morning, we’ll start toward Canada. It’ll probably take us a week to reach Manitoba—we can start moving more quickly the farther away from here we get.”

A week felt like a long time—but maybe that was normal. After all, someone was always going to have to be in human form to carry Aidan.

They strung themselves out into a long line as they walked. Vaughn maintained his position at the lead, and Bern and his group fell back toward the middle. It felt best to have as many shifters as possible around them

And then, suddenly and without warning, the group came to a halt.

The sound of a snarl ripped through the air, coming from a few feet up ahead. Bern felt a cold stab of fear. That was the sound of a shifter on the defensive.

Were they under attack?

“I’ll go see,” Cedric said. His face was bone white, and he glanced at Lacey and Aidan. “You wait here.”

But Bern couldn’t do it. If there was a threat up there, he didn’t want it getting one inch closer to his mate or their baby. He broke formation and fell into step with Cedric. Cedric glanced at him but didn’t argue, and they broke into a jog.

They reached the front of the line quickly enough, and Bern saw what had stopped their procession—but it took him a moment to believe what he was seeing.

It wasn’t the fae or the dragons. It was a threat he had almost allowed himself to forget.

They were facing an entire pack of wolves with bared teeth and hungry eyes.

Lacey’s old pack had found them once again.