That courage and wisdom in one so young and pure touched a foreign part of him. It made him admire her, and for that reason, he couldn’t bring himself to kill her. Instead, he took her as his human bride and she gave him a hundred sons and thirty daughters. For the first time in the history of the universe, Ahau Kin was truly happy. But due to his actions against the mainlanders, he’d caused a rift in the cosmos.
An imbalance of darkness brought on by his hatred.
That evil swept into this world, devouring everything it touched. Worse, it went for his human family.
To save the children he loved so dearly from being killed, Ahau Kin drove that darkness back, he banished it past the crossroads in the sky where the tree of life forms a bridge between this world and the dark one. Ahau Kin put it there so that it couldn’t harm his family.
But the darkness was strong and it wouldn’t stay there. He knew it the moment he sealed the gate.
"Every year from that day forward, whenever the winter solstice sun crosses the sky archer, it causes the heart of the sky to open." It was her grandmother’s voice Kateri heard now, telling her this story.
"And from that doorway, all that darkness and all the evil it entails is able to climb down the sacred tree and return to earth to wreak havoc and come for the children of Ahau Kin."
To save his children and those they protect, Ahau Kin plucked a piece of the sun from the sky and locked it inside a special stone. Whenever the stars were to align with the solstice and the gate was to weaken and allow them to leave their prison, the Ixkib-the soul jaguar who was a direct daughter from Ahau Kin’s wife-was to use the stone to drive that darkness back into the sky and seal it shut, thereby resetting the calendar until the next alignment. But should his children exist no more, then the world of man will cease….
Kateri was the last of that direct line. Her mother had been designated as the Ixkib. And the darkness knew it. It’d come for her and killed her.
Just as it killed her grandmother. Her home invader had never been caught because it had been a demon who took her life.
The only reason Kateri had survived was because her father and stepfather had been sent to keep her safe and had hidden her from the evil that wanted her dead. But for their care, she would have died as a child….
Bullshit. She didn’t want to believe it. But she knew the truth now.
It was why she’d never studied Mayan history. Her father had put that dislike into her to keep her away from anything that might alert her enemies to her whereabouts.
And her grandmother, knowing that one day the time stone would be hers, had taught her to love and collect rocks and minerals. Their combined strength kept the time stone shielded and off the grid of those who would have destroyed it.
In her mind, Kateri saw the stone that she needed perfectly clearly. How stupid of her to not have known it immediately.
Her grandmother had always referred to it as the Eye of the Sun, saying that it was the single most powerful stone she had in her collection. The same color orange as the official Cherokee flag that bore seven stars-one for each clan of the Cherokee nation, and the same number as the Pleiades stars-along with the one solitary black star in the upper corner that signified those who’d died tragically on the Trail of Tears … the same darkness that they were to always guard against.
For that matter, even their peace flag held the Yonegwa constellation-seven red stars against a field of white….
And it was a stone that was only found in Mexico. All Mexican fire opals were rare, but seldom did they show the play of color that was common to the more familiar "black" and white opals found in the rest of the world.
As a child, Kateri used to believe that her grandmother’s opal winked at her. That it was trying to tell her a secret.
Now she knew what its secret was.
Her grandmother’s opal had actually come from the sun. Ironic really, given the fact that it was set into a necklace that had always reminded Kateri of a Mayan-styled sun from one of their glyphs….
She frowned at Cabeza. "What do I have to do with it?"
"On a cave wall that only a Guardian can see, there will be a mural of a thunderbird and hummingbird. You’ll have to take the Kinichi-the sun’s eye-and place it into one of their mouths … whichever one has a spot of the thunderbird so that it can carry the eye into the heavens and drive the darkness back. Once done, the stone will be returned for your safekeeping."
"And this mural is located where?"
"The Valley of Fire."
Which was why they’d brought her to Las Vegas. The Valley of Fire was where her father had gone to rest after his battle with Ren. In the heart of the Valley was a cavern that was critical, as it formed an intersection between all the gates of this world and the realms no one wanted opened.
Honestly, she didn’t want to believe in any of this.
But every time she had that thought, she heard her grandmother’s voice. "You don’t have to believe in something for it to be real."
God love her grandmother for that one single truth.
She looked up at Cabeza. "Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by responsibility that all you wanted to do was curl up in your bed and become a vegetable?"
"Si, but I was in the midst of battle at the time and couldn’t dwell on that wish." He lifted his coffee mug in a silent salute. "Just like you, bonita. No time to dwell."
She nodded. "Can I ask you something?"
"I put the seat down. I swear it."
She laughed at his unexpected comment. "Seriously, why do you speak Spanish when you’re actually Mayan?"
"Because when I speak my native language no one, other than Acheron and a small handful of other Dark-Hunters, can converse with me in it. And I learned Spanish long before I learned English. I spent two thousand years in Spain, Basque, and Portugal before I was allowed to come back to my homeland."
"Wow," she breathed. "That’s incredible."
"I don’t know about incredible. Long, si. Definitely … It was hard to get used to at first. Things over there were very different from what I was used to here. It was a solid month before I could even secure my pants properly. Led to some rather embarrassing moments, especially when I’d have to explain to others why the Daimons got away and my pants were at my ankles. Unfortunately, we didn’t have Google back then to look it up. Hard, hard times."
She laughed again. Once Cabeza lowered the thirty-foot-thick walls around himself, he was quite entertaining. "Since you’re so talkative … why do they call you Cabeza? I have to know."
He gave her a sardonic grin. "I always tell people it’s from the heads I collected in battle."
"But that’s not the truth, is it?"
He shook his head. A deep, dark sadness came over him. For several seconds, he didn’t speak. "When I was a boy … ten, my older brother was killed by Chacu’s father. It was a bad time in Tikal back then. The Snake Kingdom was always attacking us. In one such attack, they went after a group of children and wounded several. My older brother stayed behind to draw their fire so that the boys could get away. They made it back, but the price of that safety was my brother’s life. Barely fifteen, he didn’t last long against an entire band of seasoned warriors. Those bastards took my brother’s head and would play ball games with it. When my mother found out, it broke her heart all over again. She say it was like having him murdered every time they did it. She says she would never be able to sleep so long as they dishonored him so. I couldn’t stand to see her so miserable so I snuck over to their capital city and found my brother’s head, then I brought it home to my mother so that she could sleep again."
Kateri placed her hand over her heart as tears filled her eyes. "How awful for you. I’m so sorry."
Cabeza shrugged. "Bad for me, si. For my mother, much worse. I lost my brother. She lost her son … Much, much worse." He cleared his throat. "My uncle, he was a bit loco. So he started calling me Head as a way of celebrating my bravery and loyalty. To remind me and others that the most honorable thing in life is not to live it selfishly, but to take risks for those we love. He used to say being a man is not about killing or taking. It’s not about proving your worth or seducing women. It’s when you are willing to give up your life rather than watch your family cry or be degraded."
"He was right."
"He was, indeed, and so to this day, in honor of him, I still go by it."
"And you definitely do honor to it and to your family."
He looked away, but not before she saw the shame that darkened his gaze. She started to ask him to explain it. Then thought better of it. Whatever was in the past hurt him deeply. And she was grateful that her powers didn’t show it to her. Because if it could make a man who, at age ten, went into an enemy city to bring back his brother’s head … it had to be bad.
And some memories were too awful to share.
"I think I’ll go check on Ren."
He inclined his head to her, but didn’t speak.
Kateri hesitated at the door and turned back to watch Cabeza. He pulled the ring from his pinkie and stroked it while lost in thought. As he did so, she had an image of a beautiful woman. Tiny and sweet. Kateri had no idea who the woman was, but she left him to his memories as she headed down the hallway to Ren’s room.
He lay sleeping still. Worried about him, she sat down on the bed and felt his brow to see if he had a fever. The moment she touched him, he opened his eyes, which were still blue, then frowned.
"How did I get here?"
"Don’t you remember?"
Ren searched his mind for an answer. He saw Windseer and then … nothing. "We were under attack. That’s the last thing I recall."
"You have no memory of attacking a god and drinking his blood?"
He winced at that. "Tell me I didn’t."
Cursing himself, he felt sick. That was the thing about drinking preternatural blood. The aftertaste was lethal and the indigestion vicious. "Which god?"
"Crap … what did Cabeza call him? He’s the one married to the suicide goddess."
Oh, this was bad. "Chamer?"
"That was it."
Ren ground his teeth. "Well at least I won’t be stuttering for a long while."
She widened her eyes. "Drinking blood affects your stuttering?"
"Yeah, it’s totally screwed up, right?"
"It’s definitely something."
"So how did we get back here?" he asked again, returning to his primary question.
"You freaked the god out so badly, he banned us from his underworld and threw us out. Good job, there. Who knew that was all you had to do to get free?"
Ren ignored her sarcasm as his thoughts churned. Grizzly must have possessed him and made him do that. His gut tightened with the fear that she’d seen it all. "Was I…"
"Possessed? If you have to ask…"
He was possessed and she had seen every bit of it. Damn. Then, he froze as he remembered Kateri holding him. Somehow she had reached through the demon to pull him out.
Just like her father.
Well, not just like her father. The Guardian had beat the hell out of Ren to do it. Literally. He much preferred Kateri’s way. Though to be honest, he was glad her father hadn’t attempted that. Her father hugging him like a lover grossed him out even more than drinking god blood.
No wonder he felt hungover.
Which he shouldn’t feel if he was a Dark-Hunter. "What color are my eyes?"
"By the way, you are sex on a stick or more apropos sex in a can when you wear demon armor." She sucked her breath in sharply between her teeth. "Ooo baby. Nice."
He vaguely recalled summoning it. "I got the ability to summon it from my nurse. But the armor itself was a gift from my mother."
He nodded. "After I died, Artemis showed up with it and told me that I could access it with the demon powers."
"I would have rather had my mother."
"I know, baby." She laid herself down by his side and placed her hand over his heart.
Ren closed his eyes as her scent hit him all over again. Between that and her touch, his body went instantly hard. But worse than that were the feelings inside him. Feelings that wanted to stay with her like this forever.
Feelings that went wild as her breath fell against his nipple while she drew circles over his chest.
"You’re killing me, Kateri."
She lifted herself up to look down at him. "I wasn’t trying to kill you, sweetie."
But as his gaze fell to the gap in her shirt that clearly showed her br**sts, he was sure this was terminal.
Her smile turned seductive as she slowly kissed her way down his body. His senses reeled. Why couldn’t he have found her when he’d been human? His life would have been radically different had they met then.
But she hadn’t been born. Not until centuries later …
Oh, gah, I’m a dirty old man. One who was old enough to be her great-grandfather times a million.
That thought scattered as she took him into her mouth. Groaning from the ecstasy of her tongue caressing him, he cupped her cheek in his hand and stroked her jaw with his thumb. She was so beautiful. So perfect.