Time Untime Chapter 5

Ren froze as his gaze locked with the woman's. When Cabeza had called and told him the Ixkib, or ghighau as she was known in his language, had been found and then lost, he'd envisioned her as an elder woman. It was what she'd always been in the past.

But never had he foreseen this....

Or anticipated her ...

Her presence slammed into him like an unexpected fist in his gut. This was the woman in yellow who'd killed him in his visions. Time and again. The one whose gentle touch always paralyzed him for her lethal blow.

One she'd never failed to deliver to him with a smile on her lips. "I'm here for you." That voice haunted him as his head reeled from a reality he didn't want to face.

By her hand, I will die. And he couldn't deny it. His precogs were never wrong.


And in the flesh, she was even more beautiful. More compelling, she had her long, dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. Strands that had come loose during her capture and escape curled around her face in an attractive mess that begged him to sink his hand into it and see if it was as soft as it appeared. And even though she was well muscled for a woman, she was tiny. The top of her head barely reached the middle of his chest.

Just like in my dreams.

Still, even knowing that she would eventually kill him, he couldn't bring himself to harm her. Not while her sweet scent filled his head. There was something about her that appeared soft and delicate. Fragile.

Or so he thought until she narrowed those dark eyes and lunged at him with an object in her hand.

Reacting on pure instinct, he fell back, allowing her to unbalance herself when she didn't make contact with his body. He clamped down on her wrist with enough pressure to control her attack, but not enough to harm her. And as he held her immobile, he realized she was hurt and bleeding.


He would have admired her bravery and spirit even if she wasn't wounded. The fact that she fought when others would be on the ground, crying, said a lot about her character and resolve.

"I'm not going to let you kill me," she snarled in his face.

He opened his mouth to respond, but before he could draw a single breath, her eyes rolled back in her head and she passed out.

Ren barely caught her before she collapsed. Swinging her up in his arms, he debated what to do. He'd ventured here in his crow form. It'd been so long since he'd last tried to teleport someone from one realm to another that he wasn't sure if his powers would work or not. And then there was the small matter that it was a lot harder to teleport dead weight than someone whose conscious energy he could use for a power source. Not to mention, his brother had drained a good portion of Ren's strength to summon the Na'ha Ala to pull the woman from the human realm into this one.

I hate you, Coyote.

But it wasn't productive to focus on something so negative. Especially not while another Na'ha was entering their small haven ... and it wasn't alone.

A large group of hairy, smelly friends had decided to join it.

Like it or not, Ren didn't have a choice.

Either he tried ...

Or they died.

Hoping for the best, he summoned every bit of power he could and forced himself to take a very rare leap of faith. His head buzzed as he felt the surge.

Light flashed and he felt his body shift, but not how he wanted it to.

Shit ...

He didn't go far. In fact, he went toward them instead of away.

Only I have this kind of luck. Thank the Spirits that the woman was unconscious and couldn't see his incompetence. It was bad enough he was awake to witness it. All he needed was for her to laugh at him.

You're worthless, Makah'Alay. I weep for the day you were brought into this world to be a hindrance to us all....

He flinched as he heard his father's acerbic voice across the centuries. Would you die already, you bastard? I had enough of you while you lived.

But sometimes dead just wasn't dead enough.

Pushing those thoughts away and forcing himself to concentrate on only the positive, Ren tightened his grip on the woman.

With a savage hiss, the Na'ha came at him, fangs bared, claws gleaming in the dim light.

Ren twisted at the waist so that the creature would hit his spine and not the woman. Then, he tried to at least teleport them back to where they'd been a moment ago. The Na'ha's hot breath scorched his neck as it clamped a clawed hand onto his biceps.

That pain boosted his powers as he cried out and rage took hold of him.

This time, with that boost, it worked.

One second they were in the cave, the next he was in his living room....

With the Na'ha's hand still attached to his arm.

Curling his lip at the grisly sight, he moved to lay the woman on his couch so that he could tear it free and throw it into his fireplace where he'd left a fire burning. While his journey had seemed to last only a few minutes, time here passed differently than it did there.

Here, it was already night and his small house was silent and empty. Except for the sound of the fire popping and destroying the physical remains of something he'd hoped would never be able to breach the gate to this world. Things he'd hoped to never face again.

Thanks, Coyote.

Bastard. Rat. Asshole.

Son of a belly-licking rodent's backside.

Ren cringed at the smell of burning demon flesh, which triggered memories he'd spent eternity trying to forget. But some wounds went far deeper than the bones. Some went all the way to the soul, and they stung even after he'd sold that same soul for peace.

Or, more to the point, war.

Trying not to think about it, he returned to the woman and lifted her shirt so that he could see her injury. Yet all he really saw at first was her smooth, tanned skin. Skin that looked as soft as the hair he really wanted to bury his face into so that he could inhale her delicate scent.

God, it'd been so long since he'd last slept with a woman. Felt her breath and hands on his skin as he lost himself to absolute pleasure.

For many reasons, he'd done his best to stay away from women as much as possible. It wasn't that he didn't trust them.

He didn't trust himself.

After enslaving himself to the last woman he'd been with and allowing her to completely and utterly control him against all sanity, he had no desire to surrender his will or body again to any female. Not even long enough to scratch a base urge.

It wasn't worth it.

And that succeeded in reminding him why he didn't need to think of this one as an attractive woman in the least. She was just another stranger who would be out of his life in a matter of days.

No more. No less.

In the back of his mind, he saw an image of her stabbing him. But that, too, he pushed aside. He knew to watch out for it. So long as he kept his guard up, there was no chance of her harming him. He was too lethal a warrior for that. He wasn't the same man who'd allowed Windseer to take control of his hatred.

I am the Thunderbird. The fiercest of all legends. The deadliest of predators.

The only thing that had ever defeated Thunderbird was the Thunderbird when he'd allowed himself to be tricked by Raven.

And that will not happen to me.

Never again.

His thoughts finally where they should be, he narrowed his gaze on the deep gash that ran along her rib cage. It looked painful and terrible. Having received more than his fair share of wounds, he knew how much such a thing stung. It amazed him that she'd lasted as long as she had before passing out.

Heaven knew, Coyote had never been so strong.

Tasting the bitterness on his tongue brought up by that particular memory, he pulled his T-shirt off, over his head, and used it to apply pressure with one hand while he called Talon with the other to let his friend know that he'd found their target.

Talon didn't answer.

Frowning, Ren tried Choo Co La Tah next. When Choo didn't pick up ... that made him nervous. Don't panic. They're not back in this realm yet. That's all it is. Hard to get cell phone service when you're beyond the reach of cell towers.

It could be true. They'd each gone to different realms where the woman could have been taken. Since his friends didn't know he had her, they would keep searching for a while.

Which meant he was stuck with her until their return.


It's not the same as before. He wasn't the same.

And she definitely was not Windseer.

Yeah, but look what that got you. A quick kick in the teeth and crotch, and a gelding would have been far superior to Windseer's treachery and abandonment.

It was why he didn't want to be alone with this woman.

I can resist anything except temptation. But at least he knew that about himself and he accepted it. He now understood what to guard against. It was why he was a recluse to the worst extent of that word. Why he, unlike the majority of other Dark-Hunters, didn't have a human servant to look after his affairs.

The fewer people around him, the better. For centuries only Choo Co La Tah had been trusted as his friend. And a hundred years ago, after Buffalo had been reincarnated and then slain, Ren had taken his one true friend under his wing to protect him.

He didn't need anyone else in his life.

But as he tended her side and the warmth of her skin caressed his, he remembered a time when he'd wanted so much more than this barren existence. A time when he'd craved being a part of the world. Having friends and family to share his fire with.

Why? He had no idea. The world had never welcomed him. His family damn sure hadn't.

Prove to me that you're at least worth the grain it takes to feed you. Protect your brother. At all cost. Even if it means your own life. That had been his only use to any of them.

Bleed for others.

And it was still his sole reason for living. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Grinding his teeth, Ren pushed all those thoughts back to the place of darkness where they belonged.

If only they would stay there.

Angry at himself for a weakness that shouldn't exist, he finished cleaning and binding her wound, then got up to put away his bloody shirt and get a fresh one.

As he stepped away, lightning flashed brightly and was followed by a clash of thunder so loud, it jarred his entire home.

At midnight, the Reset would officially begin. A ten-day festival of counting down to the opening of the gates. The first day of fun would be violent storming. Followed by tornadoes, floods, and hail so severe only a fool would venture into it. And with the dawning of every day, Windseer would be one step closer to release.

Once she was out, then she would set free the Grizzly Spirit.

And then, they would come for him.

Ren ground his teeth as he remembered the day Windseer had taken him before her master. At first, Grizzly had appeared old and withered. It'd only been when their gazes met that Ren understood the power of the immortal bastard. What it would take to restore the ancient being to health.

"Release me and I will make all your dreams a reality."

The Grizzly had required a blood sacrifice from a child of the Stars. His heart filled with utter hatred and contempt for the world that had kicked him in the teeth one time too many, Ren had gladly performed the ceremony and restored the Grizzly Spirit to the human realm. And just as gladly, he'd welcomed Grizzly to use his body as Grizzly's own.

In blood and sweat, Ren had been reborn a new man. But not a better one. Strange how he hadn't really found his humanity until after he'd sold his soul to Artemis. Only then had he learned what mattered most in life.

Only after he'd lost absolutely everything.

I'm coming for you, Makah'Alay. I can't wait for our reunion. The Grizzly's voice was getting louder and stronger.

And the only thing that could stop one of the oldest, deadliest creatures to ever walk the earth was a tiny slip of a woman who slept on his couch. If it wasn't so pathetic, he'd laugh.

From the doorway, he glanced back at her. Her features pale and relaxed, she breathed so lightly that she didn't even appear to be alive. How could someone so small stand against a creature who made Ren appear dainty and frail?

Grizzly would eat her alive.

It didn't matter how strong she was. If the Guardian didn't return to battle Grizzly, there would be no hope for any of them. Even if she reset the calendar, it would change nothing.

Evil would not be denied. Having once served it, he knew that for a fact.

With a heavy sigh, Ren went to clean up.

* * *

Dressed all in white with an eagle's feather tied in her dark hair, Kateri followed a path through a dense forest. The scent of pine hung thick in the air, stinging her throat. She didn't know why, but she'd never cared for that smell.

"Because your father told you to fear it when you were a baby. Though you don't remember him, you remember his words of warning."

She paused at the sound of her grandmother's voice. "Grammy?"

Her grandmother stepped out of the woods in front of her. "It's so easy to lose your way, child." She gestured to the trees around them. "When you're in the middle of something and you're surrounded by so much that overwhelms you, it's easy to focus on the wrong thing."

"I don't understand."

Instead of answering, her grandmother rushed forward as a wolf ran at Kateri.

Gasping, Kateri fell back.

Without hesitation, her grandmother drove the wolf off until it was just the two of them again.

Her grandmother faced her with a stern glower. "Now do you see?"

Yes, she did. "But this is just a dream."

"Dreams are the mind's way of dealing with reality, Waleli. It's why they're so important, and why we need to remember them." Her grandmother started away from her.


Follow me. The voice was in her head and didn't come from her grandmother's lips.

Kateri rushed forward until her grandmother stopped at the edge of a field. There she saw a strange stone building in the middle of a thriving, ancient town. Though different, it reminded her of a Mayan pyramid. It was cut at a sharper angle with a more rounded top, and had things that appeared to be windows in it. Never had she seen the like. Fernando would be impressed to see this.

The people moving around it looked to be Native Americans, but their clothes were unlike anything she'd ever seen before. They were more stylized, and dyed bright colors with exquisite beadwork. Many of the people wore feathers either for jewelry or hair accessories. And while the women had no makeup whatsoever, the men who appeared to be warriors had their faces heavily painted.

She didn't know what her grandmother was trying to tell her about this town until the warrior who'd saved her stepped out from the building. Another man, a few inches shorter, trailed behind him. The man at her warrior's back had his face painted white with brown buffalos on his cheeks, meanwhile his was painted black. Two red stripes cut sharp angles from his eyes to his jawline. Another red mark went across his brow with white dots placed above it.

They came down to stand in a small courtyard at the base of the stairs as if they were waiting for someone else to join them.

Others filed in from all directions until they formed a small army of men. Most of them were heavily armed with blowguns, atlatls, or spears. A few with those vicious war clubs.

But not her warrior. His sole weapons were a simple bow and a short knife that was tucked into his boot.

"They'll be here soon," the shorter man said.

Her warrior nodded. Dressed in a very thin black buckskin jacket and pants, he wore no shirt beneath it. And well he shouldn't, given how chiseled and rigidly defined his muscles were. The front of his long black hair was pulled back to the crown of his head, where it was held by a thick leather cord, the ends of which were attached to a black and white feather.

He wore the bow crossed over his back, and a small quiver of arrows at his waist. Even though he was surrounded by fierce warriors, he stood out. Not just because he was the tallest, but because of the way he watched those around him. As if he expected an attack at any moment.

And who could blame him? Contempt bled out of the expressions of the others whenever they glanced in his direction. Why did they hate him so? Was he so evil that they couldn't stand to look at him?

Turning, he spoke to the man beside him with short, rapid hand gestures that made no sense to her whatsoever.

The man arched a brow. "Why would you think that?"

Her warrior shrugged.

Suddenly, silence fell over the gathered warriors as the doors opened. Moving with slow, deliberate strides, four older men who were dressed in the cloaks of priests descended from the building. Each of them had a different feathered headdress and mask. One appeared to be a deer, complete with antlers. Another was a white buffalo, followed by a black bear, and lastly a gray wolf. They also carried ornate feathered fans.

The oldest began speaking in a language she couldn't understand. But after a second, the words became clear.

"It has been decided and agreed upon. For his bravery against the mighty boar and for saving his brother's life, Coyote will lead us after the death of our chief, his father. Word has been sent to the Deer clan that we will welcome their strongest daughter to be his wife. So let it be done and may we grow even more prosperous under the leadership of Coyote and his bride, Butterfly!"

Kateri heard those words, but it was the expression on her warrior's face that held her real attention. He looked as if someone had just kicked him in the stomach.

The man with him started forward, but her warrior grabbed his arm and shook his head sternly.

"They should know the truth," his friend said in a fierce whisper.

"They don't c-c-c-care." His stutter stunned her. She'd have never expected that from a man so predacious.

"It's not right! You saved Coyote. How can he take credit when you're the one who was almost killed defending him and his stupidity? But for you, he'd be dead now."

A tic worked in her warrior's jaw as he began to sign to his friend.

His friend returned his comments with one last gesture she assumed must be obscene given the angry reaction of her warrior. Turning sharply on his heel so that he could stalk off, his friend left him.

"They should be told the truth," his friend growled under his breath.

Ignoring him, her warrior removed the bow from his back. His expression blank, he walked forward to lay it at the feet of the head priest before he bowed low.

The priest smiled in approval. "An offering to our future chief from his elder brother. Thank you, Makah'Alay. Your brother will be touched by your gift. Let you stand as an honorable example to all."

"Honorable my ass," one of the men said off to the side. "But for his brother, he'd be dead."

"Nah, he'd have been cast out years ago." They all laughed while her warrior stood there with nothing showing on his face at all. It was as if it was so common an occurrence that he didn't even hear them anymore.

"We respect you, priest, but please don't hold up a defect as an example of anything except why malformed children should be left in the woods to die."

The man came forward and snatched the bow from the ground before he shoved it into Makah'Alay's hands. "Our future chief doesn't need your castoff. No one wants the twisted bow of a deformed, retarded idiot."

The fire returned to Makah'Alay's eyes as he clutched the bow so tightly his knuckles blanched. Even Kateri feared for the other man. It was obvious Makah'Alay wanted to plant his offering in a very uncomfortable place.

Self-preservation must have finally kicked in. Without another word, the man quickly retreated from her warrior.

With his head tilted down and his expression darker and deadlier than before, Makah'Alay watched the others with an unspoken threat that he was plotting their deaths. Even though he was terrifying to behold, there was something intrinsically hot and sexy about that pose. He was like a predator in the wild that was one breath from attacking.

Any wrong move or word ...

And someone would be missing a throat.

Finally, her warrior pulled the bow around his body to lie diagonally across his back. He held the string with both hands, then he walked away. Only when his back was to them and none could see his face did he let the hurt show. His eyes betrayed the depth to which they'd wounded him. But even worse was the shame and self-loathing that he didn't deserve to feel. The tragic despair.

And that brought tears to her own eyes.

How could people be so mean to each other? She'd never understood what it was about some people that they couldn't allow anyone else to have a moment of dignity. That they had to rob others of any semblance of pride or happiness.

It was so wrong.


She turned at the familiar voice, but she couldn't place it.

"Teri? Can you hear me?"

It came from a distance. But she didn't want to go toward it. She wanted to follow the warrior and make him feel better. To tell him that the others were wrong for what they'd done....


She jerked awake so suddenly that she had to grab the couch to keep from hitting the floor. It took a second before her gaze cleared enough to see her cousin Rain Runningwolf standing over her.

Frowning, she tried to get her bearings. "What are you doing here?"

Where was here?

"Sunshine didn't want you to be alone. She threatened the boys if I didn't haul ass over to you ASAP. Since I'm rather fond of my boys"-he flashed a devilish grin-"here I be, cuz."

Tall, dark, and irritating, Rain would be gorgeous if A) he wasn't her cousin and B) he acted like a man and not a five-year-old kid.

She scowled at his short, military hairdo. He used to pride himself on his long raven locks. "When did you cut your hair?"

"A year ago when I decided I didn't want to work with my family for the rest of my life. You really never check your Facebook page, do you?"

Without pausing he continued with his ADD, "Love them, but distance doth make the heart beat stronger. It also does wonders for my social life, since women tend to look down on men who work for their dads and live over their father's club."

She pressed her hand to her temple as she tried to follow his train of thought. "I don't understand. You still live over your father's club."

"Yes, but now they don't know it's my father's club. I went from being a mooch to interesting with one little job change."

Deep, masculine laughter drew her attention to the man behind Rain.

Her heart stopped as she saw the one who'd rescued her. The one she'd wanted to comfort in her dreams. Only he didn't look so vulnerable now.

Rather he looked like the fierce warrior who'd been one step from carving the heart out of the man who'd insulted him.

Not sure of his intent where they were concerned, she tried to get up, but Rain stopped her. "Easy. Ren said you were cut pretty badly."


He indicated her warrior watching them. "Intense dude over there, staring a hole through me. I know you haven't missed his presence. Only Sunshine could be that oblivious."

So his name was Ren and not Makah'Alay.... Much easier to pronounce.

But she still wasn't ready to let her guard down. Especially not with someone so lethal. "He's a friend?"

Rain glanced over at him. "God, I hope so. While I'm tough, I'm pretty sure he could kick my ass. Don't really want to test it. Know what I mean?"

Yes, she did. "Where am I?"

"Ren's place."

She winced as pain lanced her side and reminded her of how nasty a wound she'd taken. "Shouldn't I be at a hospital or something? Why am I here? And where is here?"

"Vegas, and this place is protected to keep you safe. Hospitals aren't."

Her head hurt so badly she could barely follow his rapid-fire weirdness, which left her feeling like she was in the middle of a puzzle with missing pieces.

How had she gotten to Vegas from Alabama?

No, she couldn't be here. Rain was being stupid or playing a prank of some kind.

"I'm not in Nevada, Rain. I can't be."

"'Fraid so, hon."

No, no, no. Her head reeled over what he was telling her. It just couldn't be. It wasn't possible. She couldn't get halfway across the country without knowing it.

Could she?

All of a sudden, thunder clapped so loud, it jarred the entire house.

Squeaking in alarm, she shot to her feet, then winced at the pain in her side. "What in the world was that?"

"Bad thunderstorms and flash floods are moving in."

A weird sensation went through her at Rain's words. It was the kind of chill her grandmother would say came from someone walking on her grave.

She caught the look on Ren's face. "You felt it too, didn't you?"

But he didn't respond. Rather, he turned and left the room.

Rain shrugged at her. "He doesn't talk much. I haven't really gotten much more than a single word out of him. Talon said having a conversation with him is like pulling teeth. And here I thought Storm didn't talk much. I think I've found the only person alive who speaks less than my bro. Who knew, right?"

Was it because of the stutter...?

No. That was a dream. Not reality. Just because she saw it in her head, it didn't mean Ren had a stutter.

It didn't.

Or could it?

Curiosity settled on her back and rode her with spurs. "I'll be back in a sec." She headed after Ren, wanting some answers.

"Bathroom's the first door on the left," Rain called after her.

She barely registered that as she headed down the small hallway, looking for Ren.

She found him in a bedroom that had been converted to a gym in the back of his small, ranch-styled house. Probably no more than 1,800 square feet, the house was sparsely furnished and had few decorations. Some old pottery, rugs, but nothing on the walls except for a TV in the living room where she'd awakened and a smaller one here in the gym.


Sitting on a weight bench, Ren was texting someone. He glanced up at her approach and cocked a puzzled brow.

The beauty of his face captivated her. If not for that overwhelming masculinity, he'd be considered pretty. And even though he was sitting down, he commanded attention. Respect.


A lot of fear.

"I-uh ... I wanted to talk to you." Although now that she was alone in a room with him, that didn't seem like such a good idea after all.

Rising to his feet, he turned his phone over and slid it into his pocket, but didn't say a word.

Kateri swallowed hard. Why did you have to get up? He was absolutely huge in comparison to her. The power of his presence made her want to step back, but she refused to be intimidated by anyone. Even someone who could probably palm a basketball without fully extending his hand.

Gah, he was massive.

She cleared her throat. "I'm just trying to understand everything, okay? You were the one who rescued me, right?"

He nodded.

"Where was I? I mean, where did they take me from my office? How did I get there and how did you get me here? Did we fly or something?" Surely they wouldn't have allowed a man on an airplane with an unconscious woman and no ID? But nothing else made sense. "We couldn't have driven this far? Right?"

Ren debated what to tell her. On the one hand, she needed to know if she was to fulfill her duties, but on the other ...

Without the Guardian's return, her part of the ritual wouldn't really matter. The Ixkib's duties were to reset the calendar. The First Guardian was the only one who could choose new Guardians and reseal the gates.

If he wasn't here ...

"Are you not going to speak to me?" she asked.

Ren hesitated. He wanted to, but he didn't trust himself not to do something embarrassing ... like stutter. God, how he hated that affliction. While it very rarely occurred now, it had been horrendous in his youth. So much so that he'd been relentlessly ridiculed-which had only aggravated the severity of it.

Finally, he'd stopped speaking at all.

For over three years, he'd remained mute rather than listen to the laughter and insults of others as they'd cruelly mimicked his stutter. But for his friend, Buffalo, he'd have never spoken again to anyone.

Unlike the rest of their clan, Buffalo hadn't minded it, nor had Buffalo thought him stupid because of it.

Together, they'd invented their own sign language so that Ren could speak without using his voice.

Yet it wasn't just his stutter that kept him silent now. He didn't know what to say to her. He'd always been awkward with women. Buffalo used to joke that Ren could lead an army of men into battle and never hesitate. That he could face down an entire den of bears with his bare hands and not flinch.

Put a woman in front of him and he trembled like an errant child facing an angry parent.

If any clan wants to bring us down, all they have to do is send a woman after you and you'll run screaming for the woods.

That was because as bad as he hated to be mocked and insulted by men, it was even harder to take from a woman he found desirable. Nothing stung worse than to muster the courage to talk to a woman and then have her shoot him down before he could get more than a badly stuttered word out.

And if they laughed at him ...

There were some humiliations no one needed.

As much as he despised it, he was extremely attracted to this woman. All he could think about was tasting her lips. Of making love to her until they were both spent and dizzy.

To have one moment in her arms ...

But he wasn't brave enough to risk it. He'd been mocked enough in his life. Now, he only wanted to exist in solitude.

Suddenly, his phone rang.

Ren would have ignored it had it not been Talon's ringtone. He still needed to tell them that the Ixkib was safe.

Pulling his phone out, he turned his back to the woman and answered it. "Osiyo?"

Kateri froze at how deep and resonant his voice was as he said "hello" in Tsalagi. It sounded nothing like it did in her dreams. It was much, much more masculine and baritone-like rumbling thunder.

And while his back wasn't as terrifying as that penetrating grimace he wore whenever he faced her, it was every bit as well formed as his front. The kind of back that begged a woman to run her hand down it so that she could feel those hard muscles flex.

Her throat went dry as a wave of desire seared her. Stop it, Ter ...

That was much easier said than done. There was something about him that was absolutely magnetic.

"She's here." Then Ren was silent again as he listened.

Well, at least I'm not the only one he ignores. She was surprised he wasn't tapping out his answers on the phone-one tap meant yes. Two for no.

After a few seconds, he spoke again. "Later." He hung up and closed the phone, then turned back around.

"So, you can speak," she teased.

His face completely somber, he nodded as he slid the phone into his pocket.

"Can I ask who was on the phone, since it was obviously about me?"


At least she finally got a word from him that was actually directed at her. "You know ... wow, these two-syllable answers ... impressive. Can I ratchet it up to three? Oh heck, let's go for broke and get a whole sentence out. What do you think?"

Ren wanted to be angry at her, but for some reason he found her charming. She wasn't attacking him ... she was playfully teasing him about the very things Jess, Choo, and Talon got on to him for.

Because of the way he'd been treated as a human, he never liked conversing with people. It was easier to pretend they didn't exist. After all, he'd been invisible to most of them while he'd lived. Hell, even in death people rarely acknowledged him. It was why he kept to the shadows, out of their sight.

"C'mon, big guy," she said, rising up on her tiptoes so that she could lay her hand against his jaw.

The moment her flesh touched his, his entire body went white-hot. Every hormone he possessed fired into overdrive. For a moment, he couldn't breathe as that heat seared him and he tried to imagine what she'd taste like.

With a smile that caused his stomach to flutter, she moved his jaw up and down. "You can do it. Look how easy...." Then she deepened her voice to mimic his. "Wow, Teri. I never knew speaking would be so easy. Thanks for telling me. I might even want to try and do this on my own one day."

In spite of himself, he smiled at her antics. No one had ever been so playful around him. Most kept a wide distance out of fear.

Pulling her hand away, he stared down at her. "Ha ha."

She scowled. "You really can't go over two syllables, can you? What? Did you lose a bet with a sorcerer or something? If you let out three does your head explode or do you get some form of ED?"

Erectile dysfunction? She did not just go there....

'Cause from where he was standing, there was no chance of that. He was harder right now than he'd been in a long time. And all he could think about was pressing her hand against the part of him that was begging for a taste of her.

C'mon, Ren ... just one small kiss....

Determined to keep her at a distance, he dropped his gaze to her arm.

His breath caught as his gaze focused on something that couldn't be right.

No. Not possible. It couldn't be. It was an illusion of the light. His mind playing some kind of sick joke ...

It had to be.

His heart pounding, he reached out to take her right wrist. Turning it over, he saw the faint mark at the crook of her elbow that was in the shape of a spider.

It's a coincidence....

But what if it wasn't?

"Where did you get this?" he asked, brushing his hand over the mark.

She looked down and her frown deepened. "I was born with it. And I'm impressed. See, you can speak a whole sentence and not spontaneously combust into flames. Amazing, isn't it?"

Honestly, he didn't register a single word of what she was saying. He couldn't. All he could focus on was a mark only one other person had ever borne.

One that no one else should have.

"What does your father say about this?" he asked her.

She shrugged. "Nothing. He walked out on us when I was a baby and I haven't seen him since."

His head reeling, he took a step back as everything started coming together.

She wasn't just the Ixkib. She was also the daughter of the First Guardian....

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