And he really wasn’t into sharing. "You don’t need to know anything about me."
Her other brow joined the first in a look that said he’d offended her. "You don’t have a lot of people skills, do you?"
If she only knew the truth….
"Don’t want them."
Kateri frowned as the image of Ren being mocked went through her head. That would explain his hostility toward people. And who could blame him?
But this couldn’t be the same man. She knew better. Those images had come from her dreams. Some weird holdover maybe from her dig last summer. Her grandmother had firmly believed that objects could carry the essence of previous owners. That the human spirit was so powerful, it could leave impressions on virtually anything. Kateri had handled a lot of different Mayan fragments. Any one of them could have "infected" her and caused her subconscious to create fictional scenarios.
While it wasn’t the most satisfactory of answers, it was certainly a lot better than believing he was some reincarnated warrior or immortal vampire or something else bizarre and farfetched.
Which led her back to the oddest question of all. "How did you get me out of that hole?"
Nice sarcasm there, buddy. Never had she held a stronger desire to kick anyone. Not even the little boy who’d stolen her purse in kindergarten to aggravate her. But this man … he was purposefully being vague and difficult.
Unlike the little boy in her class, this one ought to know better….
"You’re really going to play this game with me?"
His gaze dropped to her lips. For the merest nanosecond, she saw the spark of desire in his eyes. But no sooner did it flame than he extinguished it. "You asked and I answered. No games."
"What? You don’t play those either?"
He wore the most emotionless expression she’d ever seen in her life. Man, he should have played the Terminator. He’d have been better than even Schwarzenegger. "No. I do not."
"You should. There’s a lot to be learned from games. As Socrates said, a person can discover more about another in one hour of play than in two years of conversation."
He seemed to consider that until his phone rang an instant later.
Ren pulled it out of his pocket and checked the ID, expecting it to be one of his few friends. His heart stopped.
Not a friend, after all.
It was Coyote.
Don’t answer it. Nothing good could come of talking to his brother. Nothing.
But his curiosity was too great. He wasn’t even sure how his brother had his number, never mind why the bastard would be calling him. Before he could stop himself, he flipped it open. "Osiyo."
"Greetings indeed, big brother. It has come to my attention that you have yet again stolen the very thing I need. I want it back."
Ren tsked at him. "Poor Anukuwaya. You never could hold on to a woman, could you?"
As Ren had intended, Coyote sputtered in indignation. Then he broke off into a round of cursing him.
In spite of the gravity, Ren was amused by his brother’s colorful choices. "That is your father, too, Anukuwaya. More so, actually, since he was never interested in claiming me."
Coyote snarled in his ear. "I want her. Now."
Yeah, and people in hell want ice water. "Will not happen."
"Not even for Choo Co La Tah’s life?"
Ren froze at the unexpected question. No … surely Choo wouldn’t have been captured. "You lie."
He heard something that sounded like a fist striking flesh. It was followed by a deep grunt. "Say hi, dog."
A deep English-accented voice spoke over the phone. "There is nothing more frightening, Renegade, than ignorance in action." Choo was one of the few who knew what Ren was short for. His way of letting Ren know Coyote really had him.
Not that he had to doubt. An instant later, a photo text message buzzed, showing him Choo tied down to a chair and beaten brutally.
"His future is up to you, Makah’Alay."
Ren gripped the phone as fury tore through him. The man he’d learned to become wanted to save his old friend. But the warrior in him knew better.
When the coyote was hungry, it fed. There was no appeasing the beast until it’d eaten its fill. No matter what he did, it wouldn’t change Coyote’s actions or Choo’s fate.
"Does Choo Co La Tah live or die?" his brother taunted.
Ren ground his teeth before he spoke the only answer he could give. "That decision is yours alone to make. The Ixkib stays with me."
Coyote laughed before he mocked him. "You were ever st-st-st-stupid."
The line went dead.
Ren could have definitely done without that last bit. His gut knotting over what he was sure he’d just condemned his friend to, he closed his phone and met the woman’s gaze. His only comfort came in knowing that his other friend, Sundown, was safely hidden from Coyote along with Sundown’s wife, Abigail. Ren and Choo Co La Tah had sent them off months ago so that Coyote wouldn’t find them. Not because Sundown and Abby were cowards, but because Abigail was pregnant. None of them were willing to risk the baby to Coyote or any other danger.
Until their child was born, Ren would not go near them or ask for their help.
"What happened?" the Ixkib asked.
Right as he started to answer, something slammed into the roof of the house so hard, it sounded like it might have come through the tiles.
Ren rushed to the door to find Rain running up the hallway.
"Man, there’s something wicked outside. Like a tornado or … I don’t know. I didn’t go to meteorology school."
Ren grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him into the room. "Guard her."
Kateri scowled as Ren left them alone. "What was that action?"
"I don’t know. The man scares me."
She scoffed at Rain’s words. "That’s not saying much, cuz. As I recall, spiders render you catatonic and even ladybugs make you scream like a girl."
Rain stiffened indignantly. "Not my fault. I promise you. If you ever saw my dad dressed like a Killer Ladybug with my uncle, Seamus, for Mardi Gras, you’d be terrified of them, too. Just saying. Ain’t nothing more scarring to a young mind than two straight men in drag, singing ‘It’s Raining Men’ to me, and then telling me I was named after that song. And if that wasn’t damaging enough, my mom agreed with them. It wasn’t until I was old enough to realize my birth predated the song that I finally calmed down."
An image of Uncle Daniel, who was a scary man in his own right, in a dress and bad makeup went through her mind and made her laugh. Yeah, she could easily picture him torturing his son that way, and so would her aunt Starla. They were hilarious people. "I’ve never met your uncle Seamus."
"Be glad. Seamus is like a head injury. Funny as hell so long as it’s happening to someone else…. Imagine Dad, taller, meaner, thicker, and wielding an Irish brogue."
Yeah, that was something that would probably motivate her to gouge out her eyes. "Okay, no more jokes about ladybugs making you their bitch."
The lights flickered.
Kateri froze for a minute as she heard things breaking. She looked back at Rain. "What did you see, exactly?"
"Honestly? I think it was a vortex. It looked like something out of Doctor Who."
Glass shattered from the direction of the living room. Even though she’d seen enough horror movies to know better, Kateri went to investigate.
Rain crept along behind her. "I don’t think we should leave the room."
She ignored him as she moved cautiously down the hallway, closer to the sounds of fighting. As she came even to the living room, her head spun. Once again, she saw Ren in a different time and place. In her mind, he was fighting in a deep valley with his peculiar war club. His chest bare, every vein stood out while he fought against an older man.
Blood covered both of them. It soaked Ren’s hair and stained the white feathers that were attached by leather cords.
"You don’t really hate me, Makah’Alay. You know this." The older man’s voice was thick with fatigue. "And if you don’t change direction, you’re going to wind up where you’re headed."
"I am sick of your pithy sayings, old man. Do us both a favor and die already."
The old man ducked his swing and kicked him back. "They say that your love has blinded you and that your greed is insatiable. But you’re not greedy. Not for material things. I know that and so do you."
"Shut up!" Ren bellowed.
"The truth bites hardest through the deepest treachery. You are nothing but a tool being used, Makah’Alay. As you were with your father and your brother. Are you telling me that that is all you ever aspire to?"
She saw the agony in Ren’s dark eyes as those words stung him.
"If Windseer loved you, she would be here now. But she isn’t, is she? No. She opened the door for the Grizzly Spirit and then he freed her. Like everyone else, she has abandoned you to die alone."
"So what?" Ren challenged as he swung his club at the man’s head. "I entered this world alone, and alone I shall leave it."
He dodged the blow. "And the time in between? You are content to have nothing throughout your life? No one? Ever?" Those words were punctuated by blasts of fire that Ren tried to deflect with his club. They caused him to stagger back and drove him to the ground.
Pain echoed in the older man’s eyes as he moved to stand over Ren. "Who will weep for you when you’re gone? Tell me, boy. What do you live for?"
Ren blasted him in turn. "Revenge!"
The old man paused so that Ren could regain his feet. "You are right to be hurt, Makah’Alay. But your actions have turned a little right into a great wrong. And your vengeance has spilled over to the innocent who have never caused you harm. Would you have the seed you have planted take root in the heart of another boy? What crops do you sow with such vim? Do you really want them to grow uncultivated? For those boys, those orphans, to have the same venom in their veins as you?"
"What do I care? This world has never shown me kindness. They have never once welcomed me."
The old man dropped his club. "But you do care. Don’t you? I see it in your eyes. Even now. Even after all you’ve been through. You still want what all men do. Comfort-"
Ren bellowed so loud, he drowned out whatever else the old man said. "I want nothing! Nothing!" He renewed his fight with such vigor and rage that his blows came too fast to be seen by a human eye. Only the thunderous sounds of them could be heard.
Just like what was going on in the living room.
In that heartbeat, Kateri pulled out of the past or her dream or whatever it was she saw and found herself back in Ren’s house in Las Vegas. Thunder and lightning echoed as Rain pulled her back into the hallway.
In the living room in front of them, Ren was surrounded by dark spirits that attacked as one and then split apart to fight separately. Even so, he held his ground with an admirable skill.
The wolf is never tamed through violence. But rather with a kind, gentle, and above all, patient hand. The most ferocious of beasts see enemies everywhere. They have to in order to live. All they know is how to be attacked and how to fight. They expect treachery from all. Her grandmother’s voice whispered through her head.
One of the beasts caught Ren a blow that sent him to his knees. He rolled with it, but didn’t make it completely free. Another one caught him and kicked him hard.
They were about to defeat him.
Refusing to watch him go down while he fought to protect her, Kateri ran forward….
Then realized she had no weapon to fight them with.
Oh snap …
Ren glanced up as another shadow approached him. He drew back to strike the beast, only to see the woman there.
For a full heartbeat, her unexpected presence paralyzed him. He couldn’t move as he waited for her to attack him, too.
Instead, she went after those he was fighting….
It was so unexpected that it took several seconds before his brain could reconcile the incongruity of someone fighting for him.
Until it dawned on him that she wasn’t a match for them.
His only thought to save her, he ran at her and wrapped himself around her body, then teleported them out of his house and into the only other haven he knew.
Kateri couldn’t breathe through the tight hold Ren had on her. Completely surrounded by a wall of muscle, she had her face pressed against his chest. His heart pounded under her cheek while the warm, masculine scent of his skin soothed her. There was an underlying spicy smell. Something that made her mouth water.
After a few seconds, he loosened his arms and took a half step back so that he could look down at her.
The concern in those dark eyes caught her off guard. It was such a hot, sexy look. One that set her on fire. Especially when he cupped her face in his hands and leaned down so that their heads were level.
"Are you all right?"
She nodded. "You?"
To her chagrin, he released her and stepped away. The sudden absence of his warmth sent a chill over her. And as she glanced around the room, she sucked her breath in sharply.
It was a nice hotel suite. The kind of penthouse suite that a billionaire playboy would rent.
What the …
"I am having one wicked dream," she breathed, wondering what was going on with her unconscious mind.