And the sight of her on him …
How can I let her go?
But he knew he couldn’t keep her. Not as a demon. Not as Grizzly’s slave. Somehow he was going to have to find the courage to walk away from her and continue to live eternity without her.
Just the thought of it felt like a punch in the gut. For the first time in his life, he could see himself growing old with someone. Having a family …
When he’d been mortal, those things had been vague and undefined. But now they were crystal-clear and he could see her face.
Grizzly had found a whole new level of hell to relegate him to.
Kateri hesitated as she felt Ren tense. Afraid she’d hurt him, she pulled back to see the hottest expression on his face. It was feral and hungry. He pulled her up to lie over his body so that he could give her the most incredible kiss of her life. His fangs brushed her lips as he buried his hands in her hair and fisted them without hurting. It was as if he was trying to consume her. That kiss left her breathless and weak.
Rolling her over, he used his powers to strip her nak*d. His muscles bunched and tightened around her while he teased her ear with his tongue until she saw stars. His hands seemed to be everywhere at once, stroking and delving, heightening her pleasure until she couldn’t think straight.
He lifted himself to stare down at her an instant before he filled her.
She cried out at how good he felt deep inside her body. Biting his lip, he thrust himself against her hips, driving himself in even deeper. No one had ever made love to her like this. Like she was the air he needed to survive.
Ren pressed his cheek against hers and held her as tight as he could. He never wanted to let her go. He never wanted to leave her arms.
For the first time in his life, he fully understood what it meant to belong to someone else. Body and soul. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for her. He would crawl nak*d over broken glass in the lowest pit of hell just to make her smile.
And when she came in his arms, crying out his name, he found a level of heaven he’d never known existed. One he knew he’d never have again.
Damn you, Fates.
And damn him for being such a f**king idiot that he’d screwed up his life so badly.
Clenching his eyes shut, he joined her release and shuddered against her. She ran her hands over his back as she buried her lips against his neck and tormented him with light, sweet kisses.
"Are you all right, Ren?"
No. Once he walked out of her life, he’d never be all right again.
But he couldn’t tell her that.
"Worried about you. There’s something I can feel, but I don’t know what it is."
"It’s called nerves."
She snorted. "I know what those feel like. They came out to play with all their friends the entire week before I had to defend my dissertation."
He didn’t respond to her attempt to make her laugh as he reluctantly slid out of her and rolled onto his back. She snuggled up against him and sighed contentedly.
So this was what normal felt like….
He’d never experienced it before. How could any man have something this precious and crave anything more?
Kateri watched the emotions play across his face, wishing she could identify them. The only thing she knew for sure was that something bothered him.
"So…" She stretched that one word out. "If we survive all this, what will happen to us?"
"You’ll go back to teaching and-"
"No, I don’t mean us as in you and me. I mean us."
Ren winced at the wave of pain that gutted him. He’d never been an "us" before. Never had someone who wanted to put him in her future.
It was something he craved so badly … so desperately, he could taste it.
If I still had my soul, I’d sell it to keep you….
And if wishes were Porsches, they’d all ride free and in style. He swallowed against the pain in his heart. Here in this one moment when he wanted nothing to spoil it, he was going to have to shatter the only heart that had ever loved him.
I am a bastard.
"There is no us, Kateri. There can never be an us."
Kateri held her breath as those words kicked her in the teeth. What? You had to know this. Why are you so surprised?
He was an immortal warrior. She was a geologist. Other than hot sex, what did they really have in common?
Not a damn thing.
He tilted her head so that she could look at him. "Are you all right?"
Refusing to let him see the depth to which she’d been hurt, she nodded. "Fine. I’m a big girl, Ren. I’m not one of those doe-eyed romantics who expects a ring just because we slept together. At least I wasn’t your one-night stand." She got up and headed for the bathroom.
Ren ground his teeth at the pain he’d seen in her eyes. You’re the only woman I have ever loved. She was the only woman he would ever love.
But love wasn’t for mongrel creatures like him. And it shouldn’t be. He’d destroyed too many lives. He didn’t deserve happiness after he’d taken it from so many others. He didn’t even deserve to have had what little she’d given him.
Draping his arm over his eyes, he tried to banish his emotions and thoughts. Instead, he went back to when he’d been a teenager with Coyote.
"Did you hear? Choo Co La Tah is getting married."
Ren had frowned at his brother. "Already?"
Coyote nodded. "Her parents arranged it with his. I heard she’s beautiful. Not as beautiful as my bride will be, I’m sure, but I’m happy for him."
"I would th-th-think there are-are-are-are more important th-th-things than just looks."
Coyote burst out laughing. "Don’t th-th-think, Makah’Alay. It’s embarrassing. What could be more important than her looks?"
He always hated whenever Coyote did that. It was bad enough when it came from others, but it stung worse when it was his own brother. Unwilling to be mocked further, he shrugged.
Coyote sighed. "Can you imagine having a beautiful woman in your bed every night who belonged to you? One you could screw all night long for as many hours as you wanted, and she couldn’t say no because she was your wife? Oh, sorry. I keep forgetting you’re still a virgin. We really need to take care of that. You want to try the brothel again?"
Horrified, Ren shook his head. The last time he’d made that mistake, the prostitute had turned him away. We don’t serve retards here. Take him somewhere else.
For weeks after that, he’d had to endure comments from Coyote about how no one knew whores were picky, and how awful when you were so pathetic you couldn’t buy a bargain-priced whore for an hour.
Coyote had slapped him on the back. "Poor Makah’Alay. But have faith, brother. I’m sure there’s a whore out there who’ll have you one day."
Ren sighed. In over eleven thousand years he’d only found two women who would sleep with him. One had been an immortal slut who had stolen his humanity.
The other was a lady who had given him her heart.
Wanting to ease whatever pain he’d given her, he got up and went to the bathroom. Her sobs while she showered stopped him dead. They kicked him so hard that for a minute he couldn’t breathe.
Unable to stand it, he went to the shower and pulled the curtain aside. She gasped, then cried harder.
Ren took her into his arms and held her tight. "I love you, Kateri," he whispered. "You’re the only one in this world that I have ever really loved. I would sell a kidney to shoe your feet and I’d sell my soul, if I still had one, to make you smile."
Kateri trembled as she heard the sincerity in his voice. He meant that. "Then why did you say-"
"Because I can’t be with you. Once we reset the calendar, I have to go back to what I was … and so do you."
"Why? Sundown was a Dark-Hunter. Talon, too. Now they’re married. Why can’t that be us?"
Because they were luckier than he was. And they hadn’t sold their freedom to buy back their wives’ lives.
"Please don’t cry, Kateri. I can’t stand to see you sad."
"I’m sorry." Stepping back, she pulled him into the shower with her. "I love you, too, you know."
He savored the sound of sincere words he’d never thought to hear. They were even more beautiful when spoken from the heart.
Sniffing back her tears, she soaped her cloth, then used it to bathe him. "Were your eyes always blue?" she asked as she lightly fingered the bow-and-arrow tattoo on his left hip.
He nodded. "They thought for the longest time that I was blind. It took me years to make them understand that I could see perfectly."
"I take it they’re from your mother."
"Yeah, and my father hated them. He said it was just like looking at her all over again and that they made his skin crawl with revulsion. Sometimes he’d just walk by and slap me for having them."
He shrugged. "Believe it or not, you get used to it. You know you’re going to get slapped for something so you don’t even react when it comes. Besides, the slaps didn’t hurt all that much. I preferred those to being lashed by his tongue."
She couldn’t imagine being hit over something she’d been born with. Something she couldn’t help.
Something so beautiful and unusual.
"You know, Ren, I think you’re the most fascinating person alive."
She could plant corn in the furrows his frown created on his forehead, they were so deep.
If there hadn’t been so much doubt and confusion in that one single word, she’d have laughed. But he really, truly didn’t see it.
"You’re born of two entirely different ancient cultures. Your mother was a goddess, Ren. An actual Greek goddess who loved you so much, she sent another goddess to watch over you. You said you understood Apollymi. While your mother didn’t try to destroy the world over you, you were her world. She loved you so much that the worst punishment Zeus could give her was to cast her into the sky as a comet so that she would never see the baby she loved so much. And yes, your father was definitely a dick, but he was also the chief of a tribe of legendary fighters. You were one of those warriors that our people still talk about in hushed and reverent tones. You led an army … okay, it was an evil army, but you led an army of demons-you have demon blood and powers. And you fought my father for a year and a day. Gracious, Ren, you’re the most fascinating man I’ve ever met. You draw power from three different cultures. How many people can do that? Seriously? That’s impressive. You’re impressive."
Those words made his heart race.
No, not the words. The passion behind them. She meant every one of them. They weren’t spoken out of flattery because she wanted something from him. She meant every word she spoke.
"I love how you see the world, Kateri." Most of all, he loved how she saw him.
As she soaped his chest, she paused at the necklace. "Where did this come from? You didn’t have it earlier."
Ren hesitated. He didn’t want to lie to her, but he damn sure couldn’t tell her the truth. "It came with the armor."
"Oh. It’s very cute."
"Thanks," he said drily. "That was so the look I was going for."
She laughed at his sarcasm. "Sorry. It looks all hot and manly on you."
If she only knew …
He could never remove it, and with it, Grizzly could summon him anywhere. Anytime.
So long as you wear it, Kateri’s safe. That thought was the only thing that made his slavery bearable.
"Hey, Ren?" Sundown called from the hallway. "You in there?"
"Have you seen Kateri lately?"
He gave her a lopsided grin. "Um … yeah."
"Where is she?"
He opened his mouth to answer, but wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t want to embarrass her. Most likely, she didn’t want them to know she was sleeping with him.
But before he could think up an answer, she called out to Jess. "I’m in the shower with Ren."
"Oh dear lord, I am so sorry. I most certainly did not mean to disturb either one of you. As you were. This can definitely wait for later. Y’all take your time. Whatever you need. We’ll … uh … hold down the fort. And I am so out of the hallway."
Ren felt terrible as he heard Sundown’s footsteps retreating. "I’m sorry, Kateri. I didn’t mean to embarrass you."
She arched a brow at his statement as she sank her hand down to cup him. "You didn’t embarrass me, sweetie. I don’t care if he knows. We can shout it from the rooftop if you want."
That was something he’d never get used to.
She took her time bathing him and was very thorough as she did so. By the time they were finished, there was no hot water left and it was pitch dark outside. He hated to get dressed and leave her, but the end of the world respected no one.
Toweling his hair dry, he went into the living room to find that Urian, Sundown, and Cabeza had been joined by Acheron. But it took him a second to recognize their fearless leader with his short hair.
Now there was something terrifying. "What happened to you? You get into a losing argument with a pair of scissors?"
Acheron rolled his eyes. "Damn, all of you are going to make this hard on me until it grows back. I swear. What’s more important? Armageddon or my haircut?"
* * *
Kateri paused in the hallway as she heard that deep, rumbling voice that spoke in an accent the likes of which she’d never heard before. So this was the mysterious Acheron who led the Dark-Hunters.