Time Untime (Page 28)

Time Untime (Dark-Hunter #22)(28)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

She’d just entered his life, turned it on its head, made him feel again, and now she was gone. Why? Why would the gods have done this to him?

He’d been all right alone. He’d gotten by without having any real ties to anyone. Maybe not deliriously happy, but not really miserable either. Muted emotions had worked for him.

At least they beat the hell out of this utter agony that made him want to shout his anguish to the gods and kill whichever one had taken her life.

Panting, he glared up at the muted underworld sky.

I want her back! Damn you! I want her back!

How badly?

His heart stopped its rapid beating at the foreign voice in his head. But it wasn’t foreign. It was familiar, though he couldn’t place it. Before he could remember, a flickering shade appeared to his right.

Windseer.

More beautiful than any mortal woman, she stood there as a wraith with an unamused expression that made her cheekbones even sharper, her olive skin more luminescent. It was as if she was listening to someone else in her head.

And he knew exactly who would be pulling her stings.

Grizzly.

Get thee behind me, bitch, he growled at her.

She shrugged nonchalantly. Fine. Let her die. She means nothing to me. She started fading.

Kateri might mean nothing to them, but she meant everything to him.

"I’m really sorry, Ren," Sundown said, rising to his feet. He pulled his hat off respectfully as he shifted his weight to one leg. "There’s nothing more we can do. She just won’t respond."

"Hijo de puta," Cabeza snarled. "Who’s going to reset the calendar now? Huh? We just got screwed, mi hermanos. Might as well stay here and set up camp. Once those gates open, everything here will head to the surface. This will be a ghost town."

Urian rolled his eyes. "That’s a really indecent pun, Khan."

Jess sighed. "This ain’t good. Not good at all."

Sasha nodded in agreement. "Blows chunks, my friends. Blows serious chunks. Thank the gods I’m not human. Can’t wait for the gates to fall." His tone dripped sarcasm. He passed an irritated smirk to Sundown. "And we thought it was bad when we were attacked with the plagues. Woo-hoo, Field Day II here we come. Who wants popcorn?"

Their words did nothing to ease the ache in Ren’s chest and throat. While they were worried about the world as a whole, he honestly was only worried about one person.

The woman who lay dead.

Sundown looked over at Cabeza. "Is there a place here where we can bury her body?"

Those words slammed into him with a force so strong it made him take a step back. Ren returned his attention to Windseer. Wait!

Windseer solidified with an arched brow while the others started looking for a place to put Kateri.

Ren panicked even more. What do you want in exchange for her life?

The smile on her face was cold and calculating. She slid her gaze down to Kateri. The Grizzly wants his freedom and he doesn’t want to fight for it or share it. We bring the bitch back, she resets the calendar. Then you free him, alone. No other entities are invited to our party.

It wouldn’t be that simple. He knew better. For one thing, he’d have to kill his brother in order to release the Grizzly. But at this point, sacrificing Coyote, who was hell-bent on destroying the world himself, didn’t seem as bad as it once had. Is that all?

She laughed evilly. Of course not. You return to him as his servant.

Ren shook his head. I won’t fight for Grizzly. Never again.

Makah’Alay, Makah’Alay …

Ren could have definitely done without her patronizing tone. Her expression was pitiless. You misunderstand me. He doesn’t want you to fight for him. He no longer has faith in your loyalty. You will be his eternal slave to do with as he pleases. Total subjugation.

His stomach cramped with dread at the very thought. I can’t do that. Artemis owns me.

Windseer tsked at him. Then let her come for you if she wants you so badly…. But you know the truth, just as we do. She doesn’t care about you, any more than anyone else does. She won’t waste three seconds trying to find you, because she won’t even know you’re gone. Face it, Makah’Alay, you’re worthless. You have no value to anyone. Not even us.

Those words slapped him hard. Mostly because they were true and he knew it. The only person who seemed to value him was now dead at his feet.

Or was there more to this?

If I have no value, then why does Grizzly want to own me?

To torture you, idiot. Why else? You betrayed him and he wants your blood for that. No one makes him look like a fool. The only so-called value you have to him is that you can get close enough to Coyote to sacrifice him and release Grizzly faster than anyone else. But if you have no wish to have your beloved toy returned to the land of the living, fine. I’ll find someone else who will have the balls to do what he has to for the ones he loves.

Ren ground his teeth. She was wasting her time insulting him. He couldn’t care less what she called him. Those barbs had lost their sting a long time ago.

The only one who could hurt him now was Kateri, and with her gone, his heart was broken.

I can save her life.

He looked down at the only person who’d ever made him feel welcomed. The only one who’d made him smile while hell rained down on him, and his gut wrenched with grief. He couldn’t say no to their offer and they knew it.

How can I be willing to sell my freedom for a woman I just met?

The same way Buffalo had been willing to risk Ren’s anger and retaliation by visiting Butterfly during Ren’s brief reign. When Ren first discovered what Buffalo was doing, he had been furious. Not because he wanted Butterfly for himself, but because he felt betrayed that Buffalo had feared him so. That his friend had thought so little of him that Buffalo had honestly believed Ren would turn on him and kill him for loving her.

That was what had taught him how ludicrous and unreasoning fear was. Had Ren wanted Butterfly, he’d have taken her once he held Coyote as his prisoner.

Instead, Ren had left her alone. Even though she was beautiful beyond belief and he would have been proud to call her his own, he had envied his brother’s happiness that had been bought with Ren’s blood and dignity, not his bride. Even then, Ren would never have taken Coyote prisoner had his brother not poisoned him and then tried to cut his throat.

And he wouldn’t have tortured Coyote had his brother kept his mouth shut and not insulted him day after day. Ren had gone insane from it all. Between being possessed and the pain of Coyote and his father mocking him, he’d lost it completely. All he’d wanted was for it to cease. For someone, just one person, to look at him like he was human and had feelings. Hell, even when he’d gone to kill his father, the man had laughed at him.

"You’re not man enough, dog." And then his father had spat in his face.

When Ren had attacked, his father might have been able to survive had he taken Ren seriously. But he’d mocked him right up to the point Ren had stabbed him.

In all his life, Ren had never felt treasured, not even by Buffalo. Theirs had been a relationship born out of a debt Buffalo thought he owed him and because he felt sorry for Ren. While they had grown close, Buffalo hadn’t befriended him because he liked him or because they had anything in common.

Only Kateri had done that. She owed him nothing. Nor did she pity him. She actually liked him as a person and teased him playfully. He could see it every time she looked at him. Every time she touched him.

His eyes watering, he met Windseer’s gaze. Save her. Whatever it takes.

Windseer smiled cruelly. We told you you would come back to us one day.

Damn them for being right.

An instant later, Kateri took a deep, ragged breath and opened her eyes.

His heart pounding in gratitude, Ren sank to his knees and pulled her into his arms to hold her as his tears finally fell.

Windseer moved to stand between Cabeza and Jess, neither of whom could see her. Remember your word, Makah’Alay. If you fail us, we won’t kill her. Grizzly will take her as his own, and you know what he does to his property. She will be well used.

Ren ignored her as he inhaled the scent of Kateri’s skin and felt her warmth against him.

"Anyone else feeling really awkward here?" Sasha asked. "Guys, get a room."

Ren let out a puff of laughter before he pulled back to cup her face in his hands so that he could assure himself she was fine.

She touched the tears on his face. "Did I miss something?"

Sasha snorted. "Nah, nothing too important. Just your death."

"What?" she asked with a stern frown.

Ren nodded. "You died in my arms."

"How?"

"I don’t know." But he had a good suspicion it was something Grizzly had caused. Just as he was certain Grizzly was the reason they hadn’t been attacked. The bastard had most likely allowed them that time knowing what Ren would do. Knowing what she’d come to mean to him.

First Grizzly had sent Windseer to screw him over and now he’d done it with a woman who had no idea she’d been used as a tool against him.

But that wasn’t her fault. He was the moron who couldn’t keep his heart and his body separate. He couldn’t just screw a woman and walk away. He’d felt too used by the world too many times to give that feeling to someone else.

And now his enemy knew exactly how to cripple him. Grizzly knew his greatest weakness. Kateri.

I am so f**ked….

Kateri choked as Ren tightened his hold on her. "Sweetie, I can’t breathe. You’re killing me."

He loosened his arms, but still kept her pressed up against him as if he was trying to merge their bodies together.

Jess cleared his throat. "Maybe Sasha’s right and we ought to leave them alone for a bit."

"Yeah, sure, what the hell?" Urian said snidely. "Not like the fate of the world hangs in the balance or anything important. You two take your time. There’s a clump of bushes over there that should give you some privacy."

Ren let go and got up with a look on his face that actually scared her. He leveled a killing glare at Urian. "If anyone should understand me right now, it’s you." Bracing his legs into a warrior’s stance, he held his hand out to her as Urian looked away bashfully.

Kateri took Ren’s hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet. She brushed the tears away from his face, amazed that he would allow anyone to witness them. Especially after all the visions she’d had where he went to great pains to make sure no one saw him weak or hurt. She placed a kiss on his cool cheek. "Are you okay?" she whispered in his ear.

The burning sincerity in his gaze pierced her. "I am now." He turned toward the others. "What are you waiting for? Don’t we have humanity to save? The Apocalypse waits for no one."

Sasha stroked his chin as they started forward once more. "You know, I have to wonder about that. Does it really wait for no one or do you think it would wait for the four riders? Maybe we ought to have someone kidnap them."

Urian scoffed. "That idea didn’t work out so well for Sisyphus. Last I heard, Hades was still making him suffer."

"Good point, and I learned well not to meddle in the affairs of gods, or pick one over another. You get seriously trashed." Sasha started whistling "Heigh-Ho."

Until Urian grabbed him by the throat. "In case you have forgotten, we are in a hell realm that is inhabited by demons and some of those gods you don’t want to piss off. I suggest we draw as little attention to ourselves as possible."

Sasha knocked his hand away from his throat and made a face at him. "You don’t have to be an ass**le."

"You don’t have to be an idiot."

"Enough," Ren said sharply. "Let’s save our venom to fight the ones who want to kill us, and not attack each other."

While they walked onward, Kateri fell quiet, observing the men. They fascinated her. Such a mixture of personalities. Yet they came together as warriors to protect people they’d never met. The kind of people who hadn’t been kind to them in the past. Each of them had been bitterly betrayed by someone they trusted.

Sundown shot dead by his best friend on the steps of the church where he’d gone to marry the woman he loved. Urian by his father and grandfather. Cabeza by the only woman he’d have died to protect. Sasha by his own brother. And Ren …

Her heart aching for him, she took his hand in hers. Because he wasn’t used to anyone being so familiar, it startled him.

"Are you going to jump every time I touch you?" she teased.

Ren savored the sound of her light tone. He’d never get used to her being so at ease with him.

"I wonder if he’s ticklish," Sasha said, wagging his brows at her. "Not like I’m going to find out, as I’m rather fond of my non-gutted state. But you’ll have to test it out and let me know."

She gave him a playful smile. "Are you?"

Ren shrugged. "How would I know?"

Kateri winced at those emotionless words. There for a single heartbeat, she’d forgotten that such things hadn’t been part of his childhood. No one had ever played with him. He’d been all but grown before Buffalo had befriended him, and while he’d had a brother his own age, Coyote had played with friends and left him alone to watch them while they frolicked.

Her mind drifted to a bright summer day in his past where it was so hot, everyone complained about it.

"Hey, Makah’Alay, we’re going swimming. Want to come?"