But it wasn’t. Ren had learned to banish that. He no longer felt anything except guilt and remorse.
Now it was too late. He’d destroyed everything that was good in his life.
Sick to his stomach, he went to Buffalo and knelt beside him to whisper a small prayer over his body.
A shrill scream echoed through the room.
Looking up, Ren saw Butterfly as she ran to her Buffalo. She sobbed hysterically, throwing herself down on top of him. She paid no attention whatsoever as his blood soaked into her clothes and left her covered in it.
Her features twisted by rage and accusatory grief, she glared at Coyote. "Why? Why? Why would you hurt me so?"
Coyote curled his lip. "You tore my heart out."
"And you killed mine." She laid herself over Buffalo and wept with shrill screams that raised the hair on Kateri’s arms.
Ren stood up and left her there to grieve while he confronted his brother.
That was his mistake. He didn’t think about what would happen if Butterfly was allowed to cry her misery out to the gods and spirits. To wail and shriek for her lost Buffalo.
But it was too late now. The doors of the room blew open. A howling wind came screaming through, dancing around their white-buckskin-covered bodies. Those winds joined together to form two trumpeters who blew their horns to announce the most feared creature of all.
The Avenging Spirit. Something that could only be summoned by the cries of a wronged woman who wanted vengeance against the ones who’d hurt her.
Nebulous in form, he was bathed all in white. His hair, the translucent skin that covered his skeletal features. His feathers and buckskin. The only break from the color was the dark blue beadwork along his neckline.
"Why was I called forth?" he demanded.
Butterfly looked up. Her beautiful face contorted by grief, she appeared old and haggard now. Her hair blew around her body as she leveled a furious stare at them.
She pointed her finger at Ren’s brother. "The Coyote killed my heart. So I want his as payment for what he unjustly took."
The Avenging Spirit bowed to her. Then he turned toward the men. His face changed from that of an old gaunt man with stringy hair to the face of ultimate evil. He opened his mouth and it dropped to the floor, contorting and elongating his features. The sight left Kateri horrified. Forget Hollywood, this was scarier than anything ever conceived by Wes Craven….
Out of his mouth flew a giant eagle with a lone ghostly warrior on its back. The warrior lifted his spear.
Ren stepped back, away from Coyote, and braced himself to fight.
With a discordant cry of vengeance that shook the very fabric of Mother Earth’s gown, the warrior let fly his spear at Coyote’s heart.
One moment Ren was standing out of the way. In the next, he was across the room where Coyote had been a heartbeat earlier, and Coyote was in his place. Before he could gather his wits and move, the spear flew through the center of his chest, piercing his heart. The force of it lifted him off his feet and pinned him to the wall.
Pain exploded through his body as he gasped for breath. The taste of blood filled his mouth. His eyesight dimmed. He was dying. After all the battles, all the fights …
He would die by treacherous trickery.
By his brother’s viciousness.
The warrior turned his eagle around and flew back into the Avenging Spirit’s mouth. As quickly as they’d come, they were gone.
His breathing labored, Ren stared at his brother. "I would have given you my life had you asked for it."
"You taught me to take what I wanted." Coyote crossed the room and snatched the bone necklace from Ren’s throat that held his Guardian seal-a turquoise thunderbird. He untied the pouch from Ren’s belt where he kept his strongest magic and stones. "And I want your Guardianship."
Blood trickled from the corner of Ren’s lips. In all his life, the Guardianship had been the only thing good that Ren had been chosen for. The only thing that had ever given him an ounce of pride, and made him feel worth something more than disdain and contempt. "You weren’t chosen."
"And neither were you. Not really. The Guardian gave it to you out of pity." Coyote raked a sneer over him, and clenched Ren’s necklace tightly in his fist. "You were never worthy of this." He seized the spear and drove it in even deeper, then laughed in triumph as Ren choked on his own blood.
With one last agony-filled gasp, Ren fell silent.
The pride on Coyote’s face was sickening as he turned his attention to Butterfly. "I’m a Guardian now. You can love me again."
She curled her lip in repugnance. "I could never love you after what you’ve done. You’re a monster."
He snatched her up by her arm. "You are mine and I will never share you. Make yourself ready for our wedding."
He slapped her across the face. "You do not argue with me, woman. You obey." He let go of her so fast that she fell back across Buffalo’s body, where she wept until she had no more tears.
She was still there when the maidens came and dressed her for Coyote.
At sundown, he returned for her. But before they could begin the ceremony that would join them together, the First Guardian … Kateri’s father … appeared in the middle of the room. His dark eyes radiated fury as he glared his hatred at them both.
"I am here to claim the life of the one responsible for killing two Guardians."
Coyote gasped in terror. His mind whirled as he tried to think of some trick that could save his life. And while his brother’s magic was powerful and had allowed Ren to battle the Guardian for a year and a day, it wasn’t his magic. And it wouldn’t be enough for him to save his own life.
Her father crossed the room in a determined stride that promised retribution. From his belt, he drew the sacred Dagger of Justice, and without hesitating, plunged it straight into the heart of the one who’d caused such turmoil and misery.
Butterfly staggered back as blood saturated her dress and ran across her braids. Instead of showing pain, she sighed in relief. Blood ran from her lips as she turned to Coyote. "I will be with my love now. Forever in his arms." She sank to the floor, where she died with the most blissful of smiles on her face.
His features contorted by his confusion, Coyote shook his head. "I don’t understand."
Her father shrugged. "You were the tool who killed Buffalo. But Butterfly was the cause. Had she not been born, you wouldn’t have taken the Guardian’s life. She is the one responsible for his death, and for that of Makah’Alay."
"No, no, no, no. This isn’t right. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end." Raking his hands through his hair, Coyote went to his true love and cradled her in his arms one last time. She was so tiny and light. Her blood stained his wedding clothes and he wept at the loss of her.
And it was his loss.
She wouldn’t be waiting for him on the other side. The pain of that knowledge tore him apart. She would greet that bastard Buffalo. A man who had caused him infinite grief and tried to alienate him from his father and from their people.
No … it wasn’t right that bastard would have her. Not after Coyote had endured torture and pain to come back to her and take her as his wife.
Damn you all!
Throwing his head back, he screamed in outrage. It wouldn’t end like this. He’d been a good man. Obedient. All his life. And one by one, all of them had killed that.
First Makah’Alay, then Buffalo, and finally Butterfly.
They’d ruined his life and changed him forever. There was no way he would let them live a happy eternity together. Not after he’d assumed an immortal Guardianship that would leave him alone for eternity.
He reached into Ren’s pouch and summoned the strongest demon elements there. "I curse you, Buffalo," he growled between clenched teeth. "You will live a thousand lives and never be happy in any of them. You will walk this earth, betrayed by all who look upon you. There will be no one place you call home. Not in any human lifetime. And you will never have my Butterfly." He blew his magic from his palm into the air so that it could be carried to the spirits who would make it so.
Then he looked down at the serene beauty of the Butterfly. So gentle. So sweet. The thought of cursing her stung him deep.
But she had scorned him. Betrayed him.
"Because of what you did to me, you will never marry the one you love. He will always die on his way to unite with you and you will spend your lifetimes mourning him over and over again. No peace in any of them. Not until you accept me in my true right. And if you do marry another, he will never trust you. You will never be happy in any marriage. Not so long as you have human blood within you." He reached into his pouch and drew the last of his brother’s magic, then sent it into the wind.
"Do you know what you’ve done?"
Coyote looked up at Choo Co La Tah’s approach. "I settled the score."
Choo Co La Tah laughed. "Such magic always comes back on the one who wields it. Whatever you cast for, you bring to shore."
He gestured out the window, toward the sky and the trees. "You know the law. Do no harm, and yet you have done much harm here today."
"They hurt me first."
Choo Co La Tah sighed. "And you have sown the seeds of your ultimate demise. When you curse two people together, you bind them. With that combined strength, they will have the ability to break their curse and kill you."
Coyote scoffed at him. "You don’t know what you’re talking about."
"Arrogance. The number one cause of death among both peasant and king. Beware its sharp blade. More times than not, it injures the one who wields it most of all."
Coyote dismissed Choo Co La Tah’s words. He had no interest in them. He would never suffer more. He’d already paid his dues. It was time for him to get his just rewards.
And he would ensure that they did, too. For all time.
Kateri pulled back as she experienced Coyote’s hatred firsthand. It was a malevolent beast all its own. She left it there in the past, and looked up at Ren while he held her.
"Am I doing something wrong?" Ren asked with a furrowed brow. "I haven’t hurt you, have I?" The concern in his tone warmed her.
How could anyone not treasure someone so sweet?
"No, honey. You definitely haven’t done anything wrong. I just felt a jolt of hatred from your brother for you. It was so foul, it momentarily stunned me."
He started to speak, but she placed a finger on his lips to stop him. "Don’t say it’s your fault. You have suffered far more than he ever did. Yet you are still human. You never left that part of you behind."
"I wasn’t always so."
"You were possessed. That’s different."
Ren wasn’t so sure about that. Yes, he’d allowed the Grizzly Spirit to take possession of his body, but he’d been aware even then what he was doing. And the Grizzly hadn’t been inside him at the point he’d killed his father.
That, he’d done on his own.
He glanced down at the scar near his left hip where his father had almost gutted him. It had been a brutal fight. For all of his age, his father had still been an accomplished warrior. Ren was lucky he’d survived the fight.
It was also his self-awareness that had finally allowed him to break from the Grizzly and free himself. But that was a lot easier said than done. It’d taken weeks to get his life back.
And a mere heartbeat to lose that life again.
Kateri laid herself over him. He sucked his breath in sharply at the sensation of her nak*d br**sts on his chest as she began to lave his jawline. All thoughts scattered. His body erupted as his head swam from sensations he’d all but forgotten.
Straddling him, she pressed the center of her body against his groin, making him even harder. Please don’t let me embarrass myself. Afraid he wouldn’t last long for her, he rolled her over so that he could peel her shoes and jeans from her.
His heart stopped beating as he saw her lying there, completely nak*d and inviting. She opened her legs for him and bent her knees, giving him a prime view of the part of her body he craved most. Her smile was warm as she reached for him.
He wanted to tell her how much that meant to him, but his mind couldn’t formulate a single word past the thrumming heat in his blood.
Kateri arched a brow at Ren’s hesitation. She saw the deep-seated need in his eyes. Still, he made no move to touch her. Rather, he licked her entire body with his hungry gaze.
Finally, he approached her like a feral predator on all fours. Crouching low, he slid his cheek against her calf in a tender caress that sent chills all over her. His gaze held hers captive as he reached to gently finger the part of her that was begging for his touch. He ran his thumb slowly down her cleft in a move that only made her want him more.
A slight smile curled his lips as he used his thumb to open her up for him, then he replaced his hand with his mouth.
Kateri cried out as pleasure singed her. Reaching down, she sank her hand into his thick hair while his tongue teased her mercilessly. For a man who hadn’t had sex in eleven thousand years, he was doing a mighty fine job of it.
Ren closed his eyes as he savored the taste of her and let her cries wash over him. He took a lot of pride in the fact that she was enjoying his touch as much as he enjoyed pleasing her. The last thing he wanted was to be compared to her other lovers and be found lacking in any way.