Time Untime (Page 26)

Time Untime (Dark-Hunter #22)(26)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Sasha held his hands up in surrender. "Hey, I was protecting the woman. She’s the priority. Right?"

"I thought Cabeza was going with you to fight. I didn’t know he’d pull back to the woman’s position."

Cabeza glared at the guy in the ponytail. "Are you calling me a coward, Urian?"

Urian made a rude noise. "Do I look like Acheron? No, I don’t. And for the record, I don’t do vague. If I want to call you a coward, I will bock at you in no uncertain terms. Chicken shit."

Ren landed on the ground between her and Buffalo before he turned back into a fully clothed man.

While Ren shook his change off, Buffalo tipped his hat to her. "Nice meeting you, ma’am. Or rather, Doctor. I know a lot of you college intellectuals get a bit riled when you don’t get called that."

She lowered her bow. "Call me Kateri."

Ren cast a strange glance at her that she didn’t quite understand before he gestured to Buffalo. "Kateri, meet Sundown."

"Sundown?" she asked in her head.

Ren answered in kind by returning her thoughts. "He was reincarnated several times. His last incarnation was as a man named William Jessup Brady. Jess for short to most people. He, too, is Cherokee, and his mother named him Manee Ya Doy Ay." Which meant "sundown" in Cherokee. The quiet time between night and day when there’s perfect balance between light and dark. Though that name certainly didn’t fit with the exceptionally loud shotgun rounds he seemed to enjoy letting loose.

But who was she to judge?

Ren went on to the others. "You know Cabeza from your earlier attack. The blond with long hair and fangs is Urian, and the other is Sasha."

"Hi," she said, offering them a smile.

Moving to stand beside her, Ren folded his arms over his chest. "Just so you know, the reason Sasha lacks fangs as a human is that he’s a lycanthrope."

Fascinating, and that knowledge made her realize something. The sun was shining….

She glanced up at the sun meaningfully. "Shouldn’t you, Urian and Cabeza be bursting into flames or something?"

Cabeza looked up at the sky. "That’s not the real sun."

Which brought up one interesting question. "Okay … so where are we?"

He slid his gaze to Ren. "Xibalba." Could he have made that sound any more sanitizer?

Ren cursed as she gasped, then looked around the area with new sight. This was the Mayan hell?

Great. Leave it to her to get sucked into some prehistoric underworld. How many people could say that?

Sundown laughed at their reactions. "See now," he said to Kateri. "I had to have all that explained to me. I’m impressed you know the answer without asking. But then, that’s why you got them letters after your name."

Ren ran his thumb down the side of his mouth. "They haven’t really bothered us. Should I be concerned by that?"

"Well, there are nine levels here," Cabeza said. "This is level one. Mostly made up of phantoms and ghosts, and lower-class demons, it’s not so bad. But there are twelve Lords of Xibalba. They’re the ones we don’t want to run into. Especially not Ixtab."

"Ixtab?" Sundown asked.

"A suicide goddess," Urian answered.

Cabeza looked impressed. "You know our pantheon?"

Urian glanced around their small group with a wry grin. "As the oldest one here … yeah. I’ve been to a lot of places over the centuries, hunting food. Mayans were always one of my favorite menu choices."

"Why?" Sasha asked with a puzzled frown.

"They had a suicide goddess, Scooby. You showed up as a demon, claiming you came from Xibalba, and they were eager to give up blood and their souls to you. Mayans viewed life as nothing more than a gateway to death. They had a whole different point of view about it all that we milked. Plus the blond hair really helps when they have a whole prophecy about a white foreign snake demon. Whether they called us Waxaklahun Ubah Kan or Kukulkan, they were eager to give us their throats. Damn shame their cities collapsed."

"Probably cause you overfed," Sundown mumbled. "Where the hell was the Dark-Hunters?"

Urian winked at him. "Very few and very far between in Mesoamerica, which was another reason we loved it here."

Sasha shook his head. "Nice dissertation on Daimon mind-set. I can’t believe we share common genes. Damn, Uri, you guys were cold and you give my people a bad name."

Urian’s glare could melt ice. "Cold is having your own grandfather condemn you to die horribly on your twenty-seventh birthday over something you had no knowledge of or participation in. Hell, I was a baby living in Greece when the Atlantean queen bitch had Apollo’s mistress slaughtered."

"Bitter much?" Cabeza asked.

The malevolent glare went to him next. "How’d you get to be a Dark-Hunter again?"

Cabeza laughed evilly. "I not only own the bitter card, I play it every chance I get. It serves me better than my people thinking you were my direct ancestor."

Kateri wasn’t sure she caught that correctly. "You’re related to the Mayan gods?"

"It’s why I’m named Kukulkan. Unfortunately, though, the genes were watered down so much by the time they got to me, all the powers that came with the bloodline had been lost." He turned an irritated grimace toward Urian. "Probably ’cause someone sucked it all out of us. Oh for the days when I could stake you."

"All right, children," Ren said, interrupting them. "I have neither the energy nor inclination to play referee." He indicated himself and Cabeza. "You and I-"

"Why are your eyes blue?" Sundown asked. "Man, they’re freaky-looking what with your coloring and all."

Kateri went ramrod stiff. "They are not! They’re beautiful."

Sundown laughed. "Beautiful like a woman, huh?"

She took a step forward, but Ren caught her. His features softened as he brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "It’s all right, Kateri. He means no offense by that and I don’t take any. If I did, I’d have shot him."

Those words caught everyone’s attention and made her the center of a curious scrutiny she didn’t relish.

Ren cut a gimlet stare to Sundown. "Obviously, Captain Observant, my powers are down. I’m hoping they come back soon."

Urian let out a low whistle. "You found your Achilles’ Heel. I hope you took notes so as not to do it again. That’s the kind of information I used to kill to obtain."

Ren ignored his comment. "As I was saying, since Dark-Hunters drain each other’s powers, I’m thinking mine might not come back so long as Cabeza is near me."

"Yeah, well, too bad. I have to stay around you to navigate you out of here. Otherwise, you might as well build a cabin and settle down for the duration."

Sasha let out an evil laugh.

They turned to stare at him.

"Oh, like I’m the only one who figures if all the evil gets out, we only have to camp here for eight more days. Your threat’s not as badass as it would have been a hundred years ago."

Cabeza growled at him. "If I give you a dog biscuit, would you go lick your balls and leave us alone?"

Sasha took a step toward Cabeza, but Sundown caught him with one arm. "Easy, pup. You don’t want to get blood on your clothes."

"I can make new ones."

"Yeah, but I’d rather not have to bury one of you here. So let’s pretend we have some degree of social skills and a little bit of home training, and get the nice lady back so she can stop this and I don’t have to worry about my babies that I left alone to come do this with y’all."

Cabeza held his hands up in surrender and inclined his head to Sundown’s wisdom. "We need to head north, away from the pathway to the second level. I should be able to find an exit there."

Kateri frowned at the weird dip in his tone. There was something Cabeza wasn’t telling them and that worried her.

"Why can’t we just teleport out?" Urian asked.

Cabeza grinned, showing off his fangs. "Go for it."

Urian did, then cursed. "Okay, explain this shit."

"It’s a hell realm. They don’t want you to leave and there’s no god here on our side who’s going to give us a free pass. We’ll have to earn our way home."

Urian growled low in his throat. "No good deed goes unpunished."

As they started forward, Ren pulled Sundown back. She stopped, waiting to see what was going on.

Ren offered his friend a smile. "Thank you for this, Jess. But I’d have rather you stayed with Abigail. I’m sure she needs you more than I do."

Sundown clapped him on the back. "The baby came yesterday while you were in the middle of all hell busting loose, otherwise I’d have been there, too. Now, I have them both tucked in with Zarek so they’re safe. This morning, Abby and I decided that you needed me more than she did. So my goal is to get you back to meet your goddaughter."

Ren congratulated him. "I’ll bet she’s beautiful."

The pride on Sundown’s face made Kateri smile. "Like her mother. Perfect, precious, and liable to make me crazy for the rest of my life." He clicked his tongue and winked at Ren. "Thank God I got a shotgun and no compunction against riddling a suitor’s backside full of buckshot should he ever disrespect my girl."

"So what did you name her?" Ren asked.

"Well, Abby and I had a long and, at times, not so friendly discussion. She wanted to name her Hannah after her sister, but I didn’t like that so much. Naming a daughter after a Daimon, even one who’s family, just don’t sit right with me. Besides, never been all that fond of that name. Andy suggested we name her Andrewa after him. So I tossed his ass out the door so we could have a serious discussion. I wanted to call her Rena after you, but Abby said they’d call her Renal Gland at school and she’d have to kill me over it. So after some debate where certain areas of my body were seriously threatened and my manhood questioned repeatedly by the love of my life, we decided to name her Mikayla Laura for you and Abby’s mama."

Kateri pressed her lips together to keep from laughing out loud at Sundown’s hilarious explanation. Though she barely knew him in this life, she really, really liked him. And while she now saw the subtle differences between the cowboy Jess Brady and the Keetoowah warrior Buffalo, she also saw the core of his soul that carried through all of his lifetimes.

No wonder Ren had been willing to sell his soul to help his friend beat Coyote’s curse. Sundown was definitely a treasure. She also noticed that Ren never stammered even the least bit while talking to him. He was completely relaxed and at ease-as if he knew Sundown would never judge him harshly. That more than anything made her love the cowboy.

Ren moved to walk by her side while Sundown quickened his pace to tell Cabeza something.

"I have a weird question."

"Yes," Ren answered before she asked it. "His wife Abigail is Butterfly."

She was glad that Butterfly had finally claimed her Buffalo. "Are you okay with them naming the baby Mikayla?" Given his earlier reaction to the name Makah’Alay, she wasn’t so sure he’d be keen on it.

"I am deeply honored." But there was a sadness in his eyes. Not jealousy. It was something else. Something she didn’t understand.

"What’s wrong?"

Ren started not to answer. Sharing his feelings had never been easy for him. But for some reason, he found it natural to confide in Kateri. Like it was something he was born to do. "I’ve done so much harm to Butterfly that I wish Sundown wasn’t here. The risk is too great. I wouldn’t be able to live if I caused Buffalo to leave her again. I keep thinking that maybe this is Coyote’s curse on steroids. That now that they’re together and happy, the curse will steal him from her."

She took his hand into hers and gave a light squeeze. "Life is never a sure bet. If I know nothing else, it’s that one thing. But … I have faith that we’re all going to get out of here and Sundown is going to live a long, happy life with Abigail while Mikayla and her sisters make him wish he’d neutered himself when they bring home dates and spouses."

He stopped dead in his tracks. Not just because she’d taken his hand and held it as if she was proud to be seen with him, but because of what she said and the tone of her voice when she spoke. It was the tone of a medicine woman speaking prophecy. "Can you see the future?"

Kateri hesitated. She’d never once told anyone the truth. It was something she hated and had tried many times to get rid of. Yet it always came back. "Yes. But what I see doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, my visions get derailed by other things that I don’t see. Things that cause it to change."

Ren laughed. "So what you’re saying is if he doesn’t die horribly, he’ll have a good life."

If not for the teasing note in his voice, she’d be offended. "Exactly," she teased back.

Ren glanced down at their joined hands. "Thank you."

She frowned at the catch in his voice. "For what?"

"Treating me like I’m human."

Those sincere words wrung her heart. "You are human, Ren. Me, on the other hand, I’m a complete freak of nature."

Smiling, he lifted her hand and kissed the back of her knuckles. The moment his lips touched her flesh, she gasped as images flooded through her. They came so fast and furious that they left her dizzy.