Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  He stepped back into the wider section of porch, giving himself plenty of room. The threat he felt was vague, nearly nonexistent. Something about Lissa put him on edge.

  Lissa hurried up the stairs without so much as glancing at Gavriil, throwing her arms around Lexi and hugging her. "You look alive to me." She grinned at her sister and then tossed Gavriil a smile. "We did speculate on whether or not you were going to do her in."

  "I resisted, although she forced me to make a deal with her that she could boss me around. I'm officially working with her on the farm." He deliberately engaged in the conversation, watching Lissa closely to see how she would react to his revelation.

  Lissa's open, friendly expression didn't change. Her mouth continued to smile, but her eyes flickered for just a moment, a fraction of a second, but he caught it. She watched him the way a hunter might watch a large jungle cat.

  "Baby, are you going to this thing with me?" she asked Lexi, but she didn't take her eyes from Gavriil.

  "Is it really that important to Lucia?"

  "Yes. She asked several times if you were coming. I figured Gavriil might need to sleep, so unless you were working like the madwoman you are, I thought I could persuade you to join in on the fun. It will be good for Lucia. She's still in the first stages of grief and acceptance. Living here with all of us is new and difficult."

  Lissa was good. Gavriil had to hand her that. Lexi had far too much compassion to turn down the invitation. If a fourteen-year-old girl who had just lost her parents and sister as well as going through a terrible traumatic event needed her, she would help. Lissa had worded her summons so carefully. She'd even managed to make it sound as if Lexi would be giving Gavriil much-needed room to allow him to sleep.

  "Will you be all right?" Lexi asked him.

  He could so easily make a fool of himself over her. He knew that. He was old enough to know he was walking in dangerous territory. There was no way for him to prevent himself from falling deeper when she looked at him like that. All eyes. All cool green. All worried.

  No one worried about him. Not ever. Not that he knew of anyway. "I'll be fine. I've got a few things to do. If you need me, I'll come. I'll find you, no matter what. You know how to call me." He ignored that steady stare from Lissa and the raised eyebrow when he'd promised Lexi he'd get to her.

  Lexi smiled at him and nodded. "I'll be at Airiana and Max's house. Do you know which one it is?"

  He'd studied the layout of the farm before he'd ever arrived. Lev had sent the schematics to their private message drop after he had married Rikki.

  "Apparently it's important to Lucia that you're there. Of course you should go," he said, all reasonable. He ignored the gathering knots in his gut.

  "The house is all yours. Getting some sleep might be appropriate, but if Benito, for some reason, hasn't learned his lesson, please don't cut his throat," she teased.

  "I'll do my best to behave." Now that she was really leaving, he found he was reluctant to part with her.

  "Baby, would you mind lending me one of your sweaters," Lissa said, rubbing her arms, "I didn't realize it was going to stay so cool."

  Oh yeah. He'd been right about Lissa Piner. She had something to say, and he could predict exactly what it was going to be.

  "Sure, it will only take a minute." Lexi gathered up the tea and sandwich plates and restacked them neatly on the tray. "I'll leave these in the kitchen. The sandwiches should be good if you get hungry. Levi wrapped them nicely."

  His gaze drifted over her deliberately. He allowed possession to show on his face. He felt possessive. He felt edgy and a little desperate that she was leaving him and going to her family. They'd do their best to get her to throw him out.

  The moment Lexi disappeared inside, he turned his full attention to Lissa. "I presume you have something you wanted to say to me." He lobbed the first ball in an even tone, waiting to hear her out.

  "Lexi's special. Beautiful, inside and out. Don't hurt her, Gavriil. I know you're a Prakenskii and you're tough as nails, but if you hurt her, I'll come after you."

  Lissa spoke quietly. Calmly. She meant every word.

  "You didn't tell me to stay away from her."

  Lissa shook her head slowly. "I don't think you can stay away from her. I'm very aware that there is some kind of connection between your family and all of us. It can't be a coincidence that three of my sisters are madly in love with three of your brothers. I can see the way you look at her. I know you're here for the long haul. I'm just telling you, she's amazing and I don't want her hurt. She's been hurt enough."

  "Why didn't you go after Caine?" he asked quietly.

  "I would have, but I didn't know who he was. Lexi was in witness protection and she didn't give names. I tried to piece her past together from old newspaper articles, but I couldn't be certain," Lissa admitted.

  "I think we understand each other perfectly," Gavriil said. "I can assure you, Lexi is safer with me than she would ever be without me, and I have no intention of ever hurting her. I appreciate that you've been here and will be here to look after her."

  "Don't stay now if you're not going to stay permanently. She can't suffer any more losses."

  Gavriil smiled at her. There was something about tough little Lissa he liked. She didn't play games. She wanted Lexi safe and she told him herself. She looked him straight in the eye and she clearly was willing to risk her life for her youngest sister. Standing up to a man like him wasn't easy. He knew how intimidating he was. The thing was--Lissa wasn't all that intimidated, and she saw him for what he was. Unlike Lexi who looked inside of him, Lissa saw the cold-eyed killer.

  "I'm staying." He made it a statement, delivered in his implacable tone.

  "Lexi needs careful handling. She's not a rush job."

  "I'm well aware of that," Gavriil said. "I might not be charming or sophisticated, but I'll keep her safe, Lissa. And I have no intention of hurting her. That I can promise you."

  "Then that's enough for me."

  Lissa smiled at him, and he felt as if he might actually have an ally. It was unexpected, and it touched him more than he wanted to admit.


  ILYA Prakenskii's massive estate was located across the highway from the ocean and well back into the forest. Large iron gates guarded the entrance. Security cameras were everywhere. Being married to Joley Drake, one of the biggest superstars in the music industry, meant tremendous security and the money needed to provide that security.

  Ilya's acreage butted up next to that of Sheriff Jonas Harrington and his wife Hannah, who just happened to be Joley's sister. Both properties were beautiful and mostly forest, but the Harrington side was easier to access. They had the same security cameras--Gavriil was certain Ilya had been instrumental in positioning them--but they weren't nearly as well kept as they should have been.

  Gavriil entered through the Harrington property. He moved with ease through the heavier forest toward the back of Ilya's estate. He knew how to avoid cameras, where the best locations would be for motion sensors and how to spot them.

  Ilya's house was spectacular. Gavriil stood in the shadows admiring it; the large, sprawling structure had to be ten thousand square feet. It was a lot of house to guard. Gavriil shook his head. Ilya didn't have a security force, another mistake, not that they would be of much help against someone Sorbacov would send, but just the absence of one member would alert Ilya.

  He timed the swing of the camera and moved between each rotation. Normally, his body screamed at him, and he definitely felt the pain--that terrible unrelenting burn along his nerve endings--but whatever Lexi had done to him had eased it for a short while. He'd almost forgotten pain until this moment and that meant it had slipped for a short while into the background.

  His heart contracted at the thought that she might actually have helped him when he'd suffered for so many years and had given up hope. Was that even possible? But then he hadn't thought it possible that he could ever find a place of peace. That he migh
t find a woman of his own and dare to sleep more than a night or two in one place.

  He knew Sorbacov would come after them all, but together they were strong. Uri Sorbacov's father, Kostya, had discovered the key to keeping them all in line. Not beatings, not torture, it had been the threat of him harming a sibling--particularly Ilya. Both Viktor and Gavriil had tried to watch over him throughout his life. Twice Gavriil had taken out several men who were out for blood when Ilya, acting in his capacity as an Interpol agent, had interfered with their business. He knew Viktor had done the same.

  Gavriil chose to enter the house through the music studio. It was large and filled with equipment. He could see they could shoot music videos as well as work on music itself in the room. Information told him Joley was very pregnant and no one would be in or near that room.

  He was cautious now that he'd gained entrance into the house. Ilya was inside. He'd watched him drop his wife at Harrington's house and go back home. Gavriil knew there was no possible way he'd been detected, but Ilya's instincts had to be kicking in. As the seventh son, he was extremely powerful and had all the gifts. They would be hunting each other through the house, and Ilya knew the hunting ground better than he did--although he'd studied blueprints of the place.

  Gavriil slipped inside the wide hallway, a work of art in itself. He couldn't help the stab of pride he felt for his brother as he moved through the house, placing each foot carefully to ensure the floorboards didn't creak. The rooms were spacious and open, the ceilings high.

  He had been in the homes of millionaires many times, and once even a billionaire's, but Ilya's two-story sprawling home was classy, elegant even. From the wood floors throughout the home to the stainless steel in the kitchen, everything was well made and looked beautiful as well as functional.

  Clearly the woman had chosen the house. It was a security nightmare, from its location to the many entrances and exits. He would never live in such a place; he couldn't. The walls were a soft color, but the lighting and the furniture were white in several of the rooms. All he could see was a perfect backdrop for targets.

  A whisper of movement alerted him. He stilled, his breath moving slowly through his lungs, while he waited for his brother to come to him. He melted into the ornate staircase, the glowing golden wood, becoming, in his mind, part of the very grain.

  Ilya moved around the bottom circular stair, staying in close to the wood, so close Gavriil could have reached out and touched him. There was a gun in Ilya's hand, but all Gavriil could do was stare at his brother--the baby that had been wrenched from their mother's arms and was moving in stealth and silence through his home.

  Ilya was a fine man. He looked fit and handsome. The years hadn't touched him in the same way they had the others in the family, and Gavriil was happy for that. Had he not met Lexi, it would have been enough for him just to see Ilya in his home, grown and happy, doing well.

  Gavriil waited for Ilya to step past him and he moved in behind him, careful not to touch him, not to get too close. "Put the gun down very slowly and turn around. I'm your brother and don't particularly want to shoot you, but if you move against me, I will." Gavriil's voice was steady, so was his hand. He wasn't lying, he would shoot Ilya in a heartbeat--he'd just make certain it was somewhere not lethal.

  Ilya stilled. He didn't stiffen, if anything his muscles were relaxed and ready. Gavriil found himself smiling.

  "I have a lot of brothers," Ilya said, his voice just as even. "Which one?"

  "Gavriil." He hadn't expected to be choked up. His voice came out husky with emotion. He had enjoyed seeing his other brothers, was equally as proud of them, but Ilya had been the one he had been the most afraid for. He'd been a baby, so young. He hadn't had the chance to know his parents or brothers. He didn't have the anchor that they all had.

  For one moment, staring at the back of Ilya's head, he could see his mother's desperate face, the terror and sorrow in her eyes as Ilya was ripped from her arms and she was shot through the head. He and Viktor had both tried to take the baby from the soldier who had taken him. Both had been pistol-whipped viciously. Both still carried the scars.

  "Walk forward, you know the drill, into the room and move over by the fireplace. You're a difficult man to get in touch with."

  "My wife was finishing out her tour." Ilya placed his weapon carefully on the mantel, using two fingers. He turned slowly around, his hands in the air, empty palms facing Gavriil. He looked about as vulnerable as a tiger. "I don't get many messages when we're on the road."

  Gavriil wasn't fooled for a moment into thinking Ilya was no longer armed. He most likely carried several weapons. "I'm going to put my gun away." He slipped the gun in his holster, all the time watching his brother carefully.

  More like feasting his eyes on him. Ilya had grown up into a Prakenskii in spite of being separated from them almost from birth. His shoulders were wide. His eyes a crystal, piercing blue. He definitely had all the gifts of the Prakenskii family; Gavriil could feel the power in him. He appeared ice-cold and completely confident.

  "That's a good idea, I wouldn't want Joley walking in and getting upset."

  "Joley is with her sister Hannah," Gavriil said. "That isn't about to happen."

  "You did your homework." For the first time, Ilya smiled, as if he might actually believe Gavriil was his brother.

  Gavriil knew he looked like an angel of death. There was no getting around the years of working in the shadows, but the kid should at least recognize his eyes. "Of course, didn't you expect I would?"

  "I've never seen you before, not that I remember, but no brother of mine would come here without knowing where my wife was first. An assassin wouldn't care." Ilya waved Gavriil toward a chair. "I expect I'm on someone's hit list or you wouldn't be here."

  Gavriil nodded. Clearly Ilya wasn't quite as excited to see him as he was to see his youngest brother. He forced air through his lungs and blamed his emotions on Lexi. Without her, he would still be stone cold. He'd deliver his message and not be a little hurt that Ilya didn't share in his excitement.

  "Uri Sorbacov is making his bid for the presidency and he can't allow his father's sins to surface. Anyone connected with the schools is being targeted. It isn't as if you're difficult to find." Gavriil conveyed the message in a low monotone, careful to keep any expression from his face. He refused to appear vulnerable to this man, not now.

  He'd risked his life time and again to give his youngest brother the opportunity to live life as close to normal as possible. He'd succeeded, and he knew Viktor would be pleased as well. Ilya didn't have the scars on his face or body, or the lines that marked so many kills a man eventually lost himself. Gavriil was grateful for that, and it would have to be enough.

  "I half expected it," Ilya said, studying his brother's face. "I might have actually picked you out in a crowd, now that I can really look at your eyes. I don't really remember too much about any of you."

  "Were you aware that Lev, Stefan and Maxim all live here in Sea Haven?" Gavriil watched his face carefully. There was a problem between the Drake family, which Ilya considered himself a part of, and Lev Prakenskii. Gavriil didn't like the fact that his youngest brother had aligned himself against his own family.

  "Jonas let me know they were in town. I expected one of them, not you."

  "I'm in town as well," Gavriil said. "And I'm here to stay. I don't want there to be a problem with the Drakes and with us." He leaned toward Ilya, his eyes pure ice. "Is there going to be a problem, Ilya?"

  "Because of Elle Drake?" Ilya shrugged. "Lev would have gotten her away from Gratsos if he could have, and I'm certain Elle will say the same thing. Whether or not her husband Jackson lets it go, we won't know until they return."

  "And where do you stand in all this?"

  "I tried to warn Lev to get off that yacht. He chose to stay on it," Ilya said. "Why do you ask?"

  "Lexi Thompson," Gavriil replied. "She's mine. I will defend her with every breath in my body." Just saying h
er name made his palm itch. He suddenly needed to see her. To breathe her into his lungs. He'd put his psychic mark on her, but he was just as branded as she was. "Know that if it comes to some kind of decision on whether or not to push her family out of the area because of Levi. We're family. You're ours. You belong with us."

  "I don't know any of you," Ilya reiterated.

  Gavriil shrugged. "You know us. In your heart you know who we are. When the times comes, Ilya, do the right thing."

  Ilya sighed. "Family loyalty runs strong in us. Joley's my family too. That makes her sisters and their husbands my family as well."

  For the first time, Gavriil could read the conflict in his youngest brother. Deep down he even understood it. Ilya couldn't possibly know the sacrifices they'd made in order for him to have the life he had.

  "We will defend the Drakes, just as we do one another, but I won't allow anyone to threaten Levi or try to take Lexi's home from her."

  "The Drakes aren't like that."

  "Perhaps they aren't, but Levi was warned that Elle's husband, Jackson, just may well be exactly like that. Handle him, Ilya. That's all the warning I'm going to give." Gavriil meant that, and he allowed Ilya to see that he did. Ilya knew dangerous men. Gavriil wasn't going to hide who or what he was from his brother. "I'm a ghost. You know what that means. You know my reputation."

  "I appreciate the warning, Gavriil, although it isn't necessary to give me one. I know who you are. You have a certain reputation in our country, and being my brother, I always looked for word of you."

  The tight knots in Gavriil's gut unraveled just a little. It was the first sign that Ilya acknowledged he was a Prakenskii and that his family meant something to him.

  "We kept track of you as well. You were in Brussels, following the pedophile ring. You'd gotten too close and they sent a team after you. I heard a rumor there was a contract out on you and I went to Brussels and cleaned them out when they came at you in the hotel."

  "That was you? We never could figure out who took out the team. There's been a couple of times while I was working I seemed to have an angel or two on my shoulder. Was that you in Montreal? That was a very close call. Without my guardian angel, I'd be dead."

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