Earth Bound by Christine Feehan
Praise for Christine Feehan's Sea Haven novels "A new cast of characters as heartwarmingly interesting as those in her Drake Sisters novels and as steamy as those in her Dark novels."
"The Queen of paranormal romance."
"Ms. Feehan is at the top of her game with this magical romance."
--The Romance Readers Connection "Suspenseful, engaging--fraught with magic, action and romance . . . I HAVE to read the next one in the series."
"An action-packed and romantic tale. Awesome as always!"
--RT Book Reviews
"Avid readers of Ms. Feehan's work should dive in."
"Once again, Christine Feehan brings a sizzling story of seduction and sorcery to her readers. Fans of previous Feehan novels, particularly the Drake Sisters series, will be enchanted by her new series."
"Stunning, vivid, lushly visual . . . It's the perfect way to escape."
--Romance Books Forum "A wonderful love story . . . Truly original."
--Penelope's Romance Reviews
Titles by Christine Feehan
OCEANS OF FIRE
DARKEST AT DAWN
(includes Dark Hunger and Dark Secret)
(includes Magic in the Wind and Oceans of Fire)
(includes The Awakening and Wild Rain)
(with Emma Holly, Sabrina Jeffries, and Elda Minger)
(with Fiona Brand, Katherine Sutcliffe, and Eileen Wilks)
(with Maggie Shayne, Emma Holly, and Angela Knight)
MAGIC IN THE WIND
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author Copyright (c) 2015 by Christine Feehan.
Excerpt from Dark Crime copyright (c) 2015 by Christine Feehan.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-69818052-9
Jove mass-market edition / July 2015
Cover illustration by Dan O'Leary.
Cover design by George Long.
Cover handlettering by Ron Zinn.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Charlotte, with love
Praise for Christine Feehan's Sea Haven novels
Titles by Christine Feehan
For My Readers
A special preview of Dark Crime
FOR MY READERS
Be sure to go to christinefeehan.com/members/ to sign up for my PRIVATE book announcement list and download the FREE ebook of Dark Desserts. Join my community and get firsthand news, enter the book discussions, ask your questions and chat with me. Please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I would love to hear from you. Each year, the last weekend of February, I would love for you to join me at my annual FAN event, an exclusive weekend with an intimate number of readers for lots of fun, fabulous gifts and a wonderful time. Look for more information at fanconvention.net.
No book can be written without a little help along the way somewhere. I would like to thank my wonderful power hour sisters, C. L. Wilson, Kathie Firzlaff, Susan Edwards and Karen Rose! And thank you to Brian, of course. As always, Domini, thank you for your help when I need that extra research done right now, and to Brian Feehan for brainstorming to activate the brain cells in a crunch. You all are the best!
PAIN was a strange entity. It could live and breathe, existing in every cell in one's body. It could cripple, rob one of breath, of dignity, of quality of life. Pain could be the first thing one felt when waking and the last thing one felt when falling asleep. It was an insidious enemy. Silent. Unseen. Deadly. Gavriil Prakenskii had decided some time ago to make pain his friend.
If he was going to survive, if it was even possible with pain as his companion, he would come to terms with it--and he had. Until this moment. Until pain wasn't about the physical or the mental, but all about the emotional. That was an entirely different kind of pain, and one he was completely unprepared for.
His life was one of absolute discipline and control. He planned his every move, and his contingency plans had backup contingency plans. There was never a moment that he wasn't ready for. There was never a time when anything shocked or surprised him. He stayed alive that way. He had no friends, and he thought of everyone he encountered as an enemy. The few people he had ever allowed himself to feel even a drop of friendship with had eventually betrayed him, and he simply counted those painful moments as important lessons to be learned.
He was used to deceit and betr
Few ever saw him. He lived in a shadowy world, and moved through it like a phantom, a ghost in the night, leaving dead bodies in his wake. He wasn't real, was nothing more than a shadow someone might catch a glimpse of. Insubstantial. Without substance. He hadn't been human in years. Yet here he stood in the early morning, dawn streaking long rays of light through the velvet black of night with his well-ordered world crumbling around him so that he felt the earth actually move under him.
His palm itched. Not a small nagging itch, but a full-blown do-something-this-minute-to-alleviate-it itch. Gavriil pressed his hand tightly into his thigh and held it there, his heart suddenly beating hard in his chest. Life sometimes threw curves at the most unexpected times--yet he should have known this might happen.
He had walked into a place of power. Energy rippled in the air and came up through the ground. It was in the wind and in the very water he felt flowing beneath the ground. This place, this farm he had come to, was dangerous and yet he hadn't heeded the warnings--hadn't expected the danger would be to him or what form it would take. He had come, and now someone would pay the price.
A young woman came toward him through a field of corn, the stalks taller than she was. She moved with grace, a fluid easy manner, occasionally stopping to pull one of the ears down and inspect it.
He couldn't take his eyes from her or the way the plants leaned toward her, as if she were the sun, not that bright ball beginning its climb into the sky. She was dressed in vintage blue jeans, frayed, full of holes and faded light from many washings, and a carelessly buttoned dark blue plaid shirt. He knew she'd buttoned it carelessly because the top and bottom buttons were undone, and he had a ridiculous urge to slip them into the closures for her--or maybe open all the rest.
Her auburn hair was very long, probably past her waist, and very thick, but she had it pulled back away from her face in a careless ponytail. Her face was oval and rather pale, but her eyes, as they surveyed the cornstalks, were a striking cool, forest green. Even in the dim early morning light, he could see her intriguing eyes, surrounded by long dark lashes. Her mouth was full and luscious, her teeth white and small.
Even dressed in her working clothes, there was no hiding her figure. Full breasts and a small tucked-in waist emphasized the flaring of her hips. She was a pixie, ethereal, just as unreal as he was, and she was so beautiful it hurt.
He knew her. He had always known her. He'd known she was somewhere in the world waiting, and the itch in his palm and the pain paralyzing his mind told him this woman belonged to him and only him. How completely unexpected and unacceptable was that?
He'd come to the small town of Sea Haven off the northern California coast to warn his youngest brother, Ilya, that he was on the same hit list as the rest of the family and to see his other three brothers who had settled there. Seven brothers, stepping-stones, their parents had called them, torn apart when they were children. They'd been forced to watch the murder of their parents, and then they'd been taken and kept separated in the hopes that they would forget all about one another. Now, all seven were on a hit list. Gavriil had known it was coming, he just wished they'd had more time to prepare.
He watched the woman as she continued toward him. He was deep in the shadows and utterly still so that there was no chance of drawing her gaze. She had just changed his entire plans. His entire existence. As she stepped out of the cornfield and the light bathed her face, he could see her flawless skin, the curve of her cheek and high cheekbones.
She looked far too young for a man like him. It had nothing to do with age and everything to do with who and what he was. Still. His palm itched, and that sealed her fate. He wasn't about to throw away the only thing in the world he could truly call his own. He didn't have much to offer her. He was hard and callous and damned cynical when it came to the world around him. He could be ruthless and merciless as well and he would be, he knew, if anyone tried to stand between this young woman and him.
He didn't even care in that moment, with the dawn breaking, spilling a fire of red into all that glorious hair, that he didn't deserve her. Or that he didn't even know her or she him . . . He didn't care that he was far older and as lethal as hell and had no business with a woman like her or that his body was in pieces and he looked like a rag doll sewn together. None of it mattered to him.
She belonged to him, this woman. She was created for him. She was the one woman he could bind to him. Gavriil pressed his thumb into the center of his palm. He was broken, and there was no fixing him. He was a killer, and there was no taking that back either. He didn't get a do-over--and that emotional insight, that pain, was far worse of a burden than the physical one he bore.
She was the youngest woman on the farm where his brothers lived. Lexi, they called her. She turned her head abruptly toward the back of the property and just as suddenly switched direction.
The moment he'd stepped onto the property, the large farm with his brothers and the six women living on it, he'd felt the ripples of power and knew the farm was protected, not only by his brothers, who were dangerous, but by elements. Earth. Air. Water. Fire. He even felt spirit.
Had he been less powerful in his own right, without his own gifts, he would have been far more cautious about following her through the thick foliage along a broken path. Nothing could deter him from his chosen course. He was stalking his prey, moving like the ghost he was through the heavy foliage as she made her way toward some secret destination.
Gavriil knew she was going somewhere important to her, and that she didn't want anyone to know. She moved stealthily and occasionally darted little glances around her, as if she suspected someone watched her. He knew he wouldn't set off her radar. He didn't give off enough energy to do that, not even when he was slipping up on his prey and about to deliver the killing blow.
He glided rather than stepped. He had learned to walk softly in his school as a young boy, but pain was an even better teacher. Taking heavier steps jarred his body. She was moving faster now, heading straight for a vehicle, a small open wagon, and she'd gone quite pale.
Something was wrong. He glanced around him, looking for wildlife, a bird, a squirrel, anything at all. The skies were suspiciously empty. He didn't trust it when a forest was silent in the early morning hours. Even the insects had ceased their continuous racket. Something was terribly wrong. He felt it with every step he took. He could tell she felt it as well, but she didn't believe.
Lexi Thompson hurried along the faint path leading to the back of the property where she'd left the little trail wagon parked. She wanted to take another look at the adjoining property that was up for sale--now in escrow. Thomas and Levi had put a bid on it, and the owners had sold quickly without negotiating too long. She was very excited about the possibilities the acreage represented.
The farm was doing so well. The new greenhouse was already producing far more than she expected the first year out. The orchards were yielding large crops, and the fruit was fantastic. Her lettuce field had been ruined by a helicopter landing right in the middle of it when some men had come to kidnap her sister Airiana, but she still had managed to save some of the crop and Max had managed to save Airiana.
The bottom line was Lexi needed more space--and someone to help. All the other women had jobs away from the farm. In the beginning those other businesses had been necessary to support the farm, but this year they'd gone from running in the red to being comfortably in the black, and she intended it to stay that way. She worked hard every single day, from sunrise to sunset and s
She sighed softly. The problem was her sisters loved living on the farm and eating the food, but each of them had their own business--ones they loved--outside the farm. She wasn't certain how to approach the others to tell them she needed more full-time help.
Lexi stuck her thumbnail in her mouth and bit down on it repeatedly, a long leftover habit she continually vowed she'd quit. When she realized what she was doing, she snatched her thumbnail from between her teeth and rubbed her palm down the side of her jeans.
She was suddenly uneasy, and she stopped and took a careful look around. She spent most nights sitting on her porch swing, apprehension growing in her. She knew she was paranoid, especially ever since her sister of the heart Airiana and her fiance, Max, brought home four very traumatized children.
The children's parents and a sister had been murdered and the children abducted by a human trafficking ring. Had not Airiana and Max rescued them, they would have been killed.
Knowing children were on the farm, that they were vulnerable and at any moment something terrible could happen to them, had made her more paranoid than ever. She realized her thumbnail was between her teeth again and she blew out her breath in total exasperation.
She detested being the weak link on the farm with her panic attacks and paranoia. She tried to make up for her failings by working long hours and making a success of their family business. She couldn't sleep in her house, or bed. She'd tried, and she just couldn't do it.
To her everlasting shame, when she was so exhausted she knew she had to sleep, she would sleep in the porch swing, or in the sleeping bag she had stashed in the corner of the porch, out of sight. Sometimes she even slept on the roof. She knew it was silly, but the house didn't feel safe to her. Nothing felt safe.