Time Untime (Page 20)

Time Untime (Dark-Hunter #22)(20)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"It’s not you, Kateri. It’s not. The last time I slept with a woman, I almost ended the world. I’ve been twice adopted by evil and I know better than to tempt that part of me. I can’t trust myself where you’re concerned. If I let my guard down for even an instant, the darkness takes hold of me and I’m lost to it completely."

"I’m not asking for your soul, Ren. I’m only offering you comfort."

He laughed bitterly at his own frail stupidity. "And that is my weakness. Do not be nice to me."

Kateri stood there, staring at him in the dim light. He was serious about that. He honestly wanted her to hate him. And for what?

Fear of intimacy?

No, it wasn’t that. She could feel it inside her. He was terrified of becoming her lapdog. Because in his mind, he was so desperate for any kindness at all, that once given, he would do anything to get more of it. Like a junkie wanting a fix.

Her heart broke for him. "Comfort is not a weakness."

"Yes, it is. In the wrong hands it’s the cruelest weapon of all. And I don’t want your kindness or your comfort. I don’t need it."

But she knew better. He wanted to be held as much as she wanted to hold him. How sad that he couldn’t trust her for the most basic human needs of all.

To be accepted and valued.

"Is there really no one you trust?"

"Only Buffalo."

An image of the handsome man in her visions flashed through her mind. "The friend you had as a boy who stood up for you? The one you used to sign with?"

His face went pale. "How do you know about that?"

She held her hands up to assure him that she wasn’t intentionally prying into his past. "I’ve seen a lot of your life through visions. I never asked for them. I swear. They just come and go, in snippet pieces that I don’t understand most of the time. But they’ve told me a lot about you. I even know that Ren is short for Renegade because you consider yourself a traitor to your family and people."

He stood in front of her, looking bereft of everything except self-loathing. "I don’t consider myself a traitor. I am one. I have twice over betrayed everyone who trusted me. And I do mean everyone."

She didn’t believe that for even a heartbeat. "Your father never trusted you."

"My brother did."

Kateri drew her brows together as she tried to picture what he described. Oddly enough, she’d never seen a single vision with his brother in it, other than the one when his brother had been ill as a child, and even then, his brother had been nothing more than a shapeless lump underneath bedcovers. She’d only seen allusions to his brother, but never his face or form.

But the one thing she had seen and that she could feel was that he did love his brother. Dearly. "I can’t believe you’d betray him without cause."

His features hardened. "You don’t know me, Kateri. What I’m capable of. I swore a sacred oath to protect my brother and for over a year I brutally tortured him."

A shiver went down her spine at what he said and from the look of hatred on his face. "Why?"

Shame filled his eyes as he stepped away from her.

As she suspected, he hadn’t done it for pleasure. He’d been motivated to it by something or someone. "Tell me, Makah’Alay."

He turned back toward her faster than she could blink. Rage contorted his features as he curled his lip. "Don’t call me that!" he snarled between clenched teeth. "Ever!"

His anger caught her off guard. She’d never seen any inclination in her visions that his real name bothered him. "Why?"

"It’s not my name either." He returned to stand directly in front of her so that he dwarfed her with his height. His ravaged emotions were tangible as he glared down at her.

Yeah, okay, he was really fierce and scary. But she refused to cower. She would stand toe to toe with him no matter what, because that was what she’d been taught.

The Cherokee don’t run. Sometimes they might want to. Sometimes they ought to. But the Cherokee don’t ever run. Whatever the danger, you stood strong against it and faced it with everything inside you. That was her grandmother’s greatest legacy and it was hardwired into her DNA.

"Do you know what Makah’Alay means?" His eyes flashed bright red in the darkness. But it came and went so fast that she wasn’t sure if it happened or she imagined it.

She shook her head.

"It’s the Keetoowah word for crow-demon. Since my mother didn’t name me and I was returned to my father by a demon wet nurse, it was what they called me."

No one had given him a name?

"What of your grandmother?"

He scoffed bitterly. "I know nothing of my maternal grandmother. Not even her identity. As for my father’s mother … She refused to even look at me or acknowledge me. It was why my father took me to the woods and left me there to die. After refusing to give me a name, she told him I would bring nothing but shame and sorrow to his clan. That I was defective and unworthy of being the son of a chief. And she was right. I brought nothing but misery and embarrassment to all of them."

It wasn’t that cut-and-dry. She’d never seen him say or do anything in her visions that would embarrass someone else. While he would at times strike out at someone and fight, he wasn’t the one who initiated the conflict. At least not that she’d witnessed.

Which made her wonder one thing…. "Why did you torture your brother?"

The look on his face would melt an iceberg. But instead of answering her question, he pulled her against him and held her there in an iron grip.

Before she could ask him what he was doing, she stood in the past with him.

They were in a huge gilded dining hall, filled with people celebrating the arrival of a beautiful woman and her entourage. Dressed in a bright yellow gown that was decorated with bright embroidery, the woman came into the room surrounded by painted warriors from her clan. She wore an ornate headdress of feathers and gold that stood up around her head like a halo. Her parents followed behind her, standing proud as they presented her to the chief and his sons. Something that was very different from the customs of Kateri’s tribe where the husband went to live with the wife’s clan when they married.

Ren stood next to a man who looked so much like him that they could easily be mistaken for twins. The only way to tell them apart was by their posture. Ren kept his eyes cast down, his head lowered, and shoulders slumped. His brother stood straight with an arrogance that couldn’t be missed. It was as if he knew he owned the world and he expected everyone to bow down before him.

Even Ren.

Their father stepped forward to welcome the woman and her parents to their home.

"Butterfly, it is an honor to have you here. You are as beautiful as they have claimed. More so, in fact."

Her dark eyes glittered like gems in her perfect face. She smiled up at him and it was dazzling. "You are far too kind, Chief Coatl." Then, seductively biting her lip in eager anticipation, she looked past him to where Ren and his brother stood. "But no one told me you had twin sons. They are both handsome and strong. I’m sure they bring great honor to you and your clan."

Ren looked up in stunned surprise at that kind comment to meet her gaze. The moment he did, his jaw went slack and hunger filled his eyes. He straightened his spine to show that he was actually taller than his brother. And with his shoulders squared, it became obvious that he also had a larger, more defined physique. The sight of him actually having a degree of pride brought a smile to Kateri’s lips. How kind of Butterfly to say something so sweet and make him feel better about himself.

A tic worked in his father’s jaw as he stiffened indignantly. "They’re not twins, Butterfly, and they’re nothing alike. Believe me. No one matches my heir in any capacity. He is truly the finest warrior ever born."

Ren winced as if he’d been physically slapped.

With his back to Ren, his father continued speaking to Butterfly. "I fear I am the only thing they have in common…. They couldn’t be more opposite-in all things." His father took her hand, then led her toward his brother, but not before he rudely shouldered Ren out of the way.

Deflating immediately back into his former stance, Ren glanced about as he realized how many people had witnessed his father’s verbal and physical swipe at him. Butterfly’s father scowled at Ren, but said nothing as Ren’s father introduced Butterfly to his brother.

"It is with the greatest honor that I present you to my son-the future chief of our people, Anukuwaya."

Pride of the Wolf Clan. Kateri sucked her breath in as she finally caught the dual meaning of his brother’s name. It not only meant the pride of his clan, it was an ancient name for Coyote-the great trickster.

Coyote stepped forward to take the hand of his future bride. "Butterfly … you are truly the most beautiful woman ever born. You honor our home by being here and I swear I will spend the rest of my life making sure you never regret your decision to accept me as your husband. Welcome."

Her smile was dazzling. "It’s my pleasure and honor to be here, Anukuwaya. I promise that I shall always strive to bring nothing but happiness to you and your clan." She turned expectantly toward Ren. When no one moved to introduce them, she exchanged a nervous, puzzled frown with her mother, who shrugged in awkward confusion as to why he was being publicly dissed.

Ren’s friend stepped forward to address her curiosity. "His name is Makah’Alay, and he is the elder brother of your future husband."

"Buffalo!" his father snapped. "Mind your place!"

Ever loyal, Buffalo shrugged innocently. "I was only being hospitable, my most honored chief. She was curious about your eldest son"-Kateri cringed as Buffalo recklessly rammed that dig home-"and so I obliged her. No offense was meant to anyone." He offered Butterfly a smile and something unspoken sparked between them. A mutual admiration that left Kateri wondering about the two of them and their relationship.

Coatl passed a cold smile to Buffalo before he spoke to Butterfly and her parents. "You’ll have to forgive my warrior. Since Makah’Alay was born mentally retarded, Buffalo champions him constantly and is his voice since he doesn’t have one of his own."

Several of the others present laughed and whispered among themselves while Ren swallowed hard. He tightened his grip on his bow until his knuckles turned stark white.

"I’m surprised you kept him," Butterfly’s father said. "It was my understanding that your people killed such infants at birth. I am glad to know that your clan has more mercy and decency than I was led to believe. You are indeed a most noble and admirable chief to take pity on a son so afflicted."

Coatl cast a smug glance at Ren. "I try to be patient with him, though he doesn’t make it easy. I believe he was sent to remind me that no matter how much we might attain in our lives, we are all still frail humans in the end." He clapped Coyote on the back. "Just a few weeks back, I almost lost Coyote when he rushed to defend Makah’Alay from a vicious wild animal. There aren’t many men who’d risk their life to save someone so afflicted."

Her expression one of worship, Butterfly smiled up at Coyote. "You are indeed a most wonderfully brave man. I am thrilled to be marrying such a hero."

Coyote smiled at her, then glanced to Ren. Something that appeared to be an unspoken apology passed between them.

What had really happened?

But Ren didn’t give her time to explore that. He pulled her out of his past and stepped away from her as if he was afraid of being too close to her for too long. "I didn’t care about being chief. Since my mother wasn’t Keetoowah, I never expected it to come to me. It couldn’t. Yet by all rights, Butterfly should have been mine. As the eldest, I should have married first. But my father refused, saying I wasn’t man enough to provide for a wife. That I wasn’t smart enough to have one. So I let my jealousy over their engagement infect me to the point that I took things out on my brother I had no right to. Coyote was a good and decent man until I turned him into the monster he is today."

Somehow, she doubted that. "Why did he give you that look when your father spoke of his saving your life?"

He clenched his teeth hard enough to make the bones in his jaw protrude. "We were hunting."

"Just the two of you?"

He nodded. "We ended up in a fight. Coyote wanted to head to the south where I knew boar made dens. Since we didn’t have the right equipment with us to hunt them, I wanted to head east for other game. He wouldn’t listen and stormed off without me. Angry, I went east, but I kept having a bad feeling about Coyote so I doubled back. All of a sudden, I heard him yelling for me. By the time I reached him, a wild boar had him treed. I killed the boar, but almost lost my life doing it. By the time I came to, I was in my bed at home and everyone was celebrating Coyote for saving my life."

That irritated her. "Did he not tell your father the truth?"

"He tried, but my father thought he was being humble and didn’t believe it."

Kateri narrowed her gaze on the ground as she saw a different play of events in her mind.

Coyote ran toward their town to get help for Ren. Luckily not too far from where he’d left Ren, he came upon two men who were also out hunting. She knew one to be Buffalo. The other she’d seen a few times in other dreams, but he never spoke.