Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  "That was Viktor. He and the others kept as close as we could," Gavriil said. He didn't want his younger brother to think he was the only one who had cared enough to keep tabs on him. They all had.

  "But none of you approached me."

  "For the same reason you didn't come looking for us. Sorbacov would have known and one of us would have been killed."

  Ilya sat back against the thick cushion of the tapestry-covered chair. "I'd like to get to know all of my brothers better. Do you know where Viktor and Casimir are? They're the only ones unaccounted for."

  "Viktor is somewhere in the wind. He went deep undercover and hasn't surfaced even to check our emergency system."

  Ilya caught the note of worry in Gavriil's voice and looked up sharply. "Do you think he's in trouble? Dead?"

  Gavriil shook his head. "Viktor would be damned hard to kill. It would take a pro, and whoever managed it would eventually crow about it. They'd want the reputation as the man who killed Viktor Prakenskii."

  "And Casimir?"

  "The last I heard he was in Russia. I hope he's not considering anything foolish such as going after Sorbacov."

  "Someone needs to kill that man and his father," Ilya said. "I should have done it a long time ago."

  Gavriil frowned. The last thing he wanted was for the child they had all tried so hard to protect to put himself in danger. Gavriil and Viktor had made a deal, even then, when they were just children with Kostya Sorbacov. They would cooperate if Ilya was given a different direction, something not so soul-destroying.

  "Don't try it, Ilya. You have a wife and a child on the way. He knows us, knows our faces, and he's ready for that move. He's surrounded himself with an army. I have no doubt one of us might slip in, but I doubt we'd get to him and it would be a suicide mission."

  "What name are you using?"

  "My own. I came here to lead them away from all of you and then I met Lexi. She was . . . unexpected." Gavriil spread his hands out in front of him. "I'm not used to this. The house, the things. A woman. I don't know if I can do it, but I want to try."

  "She's the youngest one, isn't she? They moved in some five years ago, Joley told me. Her cousin Blythe owns the farm with them."

  Gavriil narrowed his eyes, trying to see into that statement. She's the youngest. She was significantly younger than he was in terms of years, but not in her soul. Ilya was the youngest of the brothers, and he couldn't help but view Gavriil, with his reputation and his loss of humanity, as far too old for someone like Lexi.

  The brothers had been stepping-stones in terms of age. Viktor was the oldest, then Gavriil and Stefan. Casimir hit solidly in the middle with Maxim, Lev and Ilya following. In actual years, Gavriil wasn't that much older than the rest, but he felt every rip in his soul.

  He pressed his thumb deeply into the psychic mark. He'd never needed anyone. He'd always lived alone and preferred relying only on himself. Everyone else was an enemy. Loved ones were liabilities. Friends were liabilities. He would never look at Lexi that way. She was a path to peace. Maybe even freedom. Still, to need someone was far different than wanting them, and right at that moment he felt as if he needed her and that didn't sit well with him at all.

  "Yes." He suddenly realized Ilya was waiting for an answer. "Lexi is the youngest. She runs the farm and I'll be helping her out there."

  Ilya smiled and shook his head. "You? On a farm?"

  "I can run a tractor and other machinery needed. Security was beefed up, and I'll see what I can do to improve it. If necessary, if it gets bad, bring your wife and stay until we figure a way to get Sorbacov and stop all of this." He looked around the house. "This place is too big, and you're only one man."

  "How much time do you think I have before a wet team shows up?"

  "Sorbacov will send assassins from the school first. He won't want to draw attention to what he's doing. If he sent a team after you, he'd be an idiot. Your wife is famous. No, he'll try to pit the graduates of the school against one another and hope they kill one another off. If you're still alive after the first few attempts, then he'll begin sending teams that can't be traced back to him."

  "You think I can expect him soon," Ilya said.

  "I had to make arrangements to get here. It wasn't easy. I used an assumed name until I reached the States, but then I wanted Sorbacov to know I was here. I hoped it would divert attention from you. My paperwork is in order and I used credit cards and my passport, both traceable. He'll take the bait, he won't be able to stop himself. He'll get word to whoever he sent after you and they'll come at me."

  "You're still protecting me."

  Gavriil shrugged. "You and the others. It's a habit. I didn't have anything to live for, Ilya. You and the others did."

  Ilya sighed. "I'm all grown up."

  "I see that. You look good." Gavriil looked around him at the elegant room. "Are you happy?"

  "With Joley? She's my world. She always will be. I'm excited about the baby. You should have seen her face when I told her birth control wasn't going to work."

  "I'm happy for you. I really am. Beef up your security and get word to us the moment you think Sorbacov's man has arrived. We'll come." He would be watching as best he could over his youngest brother.

  "Jonas Harrington is married to Hannah Drake and lives next door," Ilya said unnecessarily. "He's the local sheriff. I'll let him know I'm going to have company soon. He's good. He's had my back more than once."

  Gavriil nodded. "Levi told me he's a good man."

  "So you and Lexi?" Ilya said. "Lexi keeps to herself. She sells at the farmer's market sometimes, although often the other women do it for her, as she's quite shy."

  Gavriil was already restless, needing to leave, needing to get back to Lexi. He had one more stop to make before he could go back to the farm. Ilya had to sense that Gavriil wanted to leave and he was trying to hold him there with small talk. Gavriil found himself happy about that when normally he would have been annoyed at any delay to his plans.

  "She's comfortable on the farm."

  "Jonas tells me that all the women have had traumatic events in their lives. Murders of loved ones."

  "It's possible that the reason these women can be with us is because they've suffered similar events," Gavriil said. "That, or the universe is lining up to give us something wonderful after so many years of nothing."

  He stood up. He couldn't stay any longer. The restless need was on him, an urgent demand he couldn't ignore. "It was good to see you, Ilya . . ." He trailed off, holding up his hand to silence his brother.

  Ilya didn't ask questions but slid a gun from his boot. Gavriil indicated the southern end of the property. More than once he pondered the question of why he could feel the presence of an actual threat to his life, but he could. He had been careful when he'd pulled Benito through the window, because that life-or-death reflex hadn't kicked in, nor had it done so with Lissa. It was out in full force now.

  "I guess they managed to get here sooner than you thought," Ilya said softly.

  "They aren't in the house yet, but I can feel them." Gavriil was already on the move, making his way unerringly toward the southern side of the long building, back toward the kitchen.

  Ilya paced to the right of him, moving in silence. Gavriil shook his head. "Make sure your wife is all right. I've got this."

  "She's fine. Jonas is with her, and they aren't going to risk killing her, not when these assassins might be traced back to Sorbacov, you said so yourself. I've already texted him to put the women and his baby in a safe room. And don't worry," Ilya added when Gavriil shot him a disgusted look, "he won't come to try to help. He knows better. His job is to look after Joley and Hannah."

  "You'd better be right, because these two will kill anyone on the property. You know how they work."

  They had reached the kitchen. "Not that way," Ilya said. "Don't risk opening the door." He took the lead, sliding his hand into a hidden notch behind a wall of hanging pots and pans. A panel slid aside.
He stepped inside a narrow corridor.

  "I should have known you'd play around with the building itself."

  "Actually, this was here. It was never put in the blueprints," Ilya said. "The original owner was a smuggler. He actually had a tunnel built that runs under the road to the sea. He used steel and concrete and the thing is insane. There are several escape exits."

  "Nice. You're a Prakenskii. I have a lot of work to do on Lexi's house."

  "I wasn't happy with this one until I was told about the hidden corridors, rooms and escapes. I added a few refinements. Cash. Passports. New identities for us."

  "Weapons," Gavriil guessed.

  "An arsenal," Ilya said. "That farm is probably outfitted to fight several wars."

  "I haven't been there long enough to know what they have, but they've intertwined their gifts with those of the women and built some kind of power grid. I could feel it the moment I stepped onto the grounds."

  Ilya opened a door cautiously. It led out into the pavilion surrounded by heavy plants and brush. A narrow path allowed them to move through the foliage rapidly and with ease. Ilya signaled that there was a branching path ahead. He went to the left, circling in an arc that brought him out along a creek bed and much closer to the fence between the two properties.

  Gavriil took the right, his path taking him into the forest, a much more direct line to the two intruders making their way toward the house. Both men were adept at avoiding cameras, just as Gavriil and his brothers were. Gavriil recognized them immediately. The older of the two, Efrim Goraya, had been in one or two of the same hand-to-hand combat classes. The younger, Georgii Yenotov, had been in a language class. Both were older than Gavriil.

  He'd been the youngest in all of his classes, easily excelling, partly because his parents had passed their genius on to their children and partly because he was naturally athletic as well as having psychic gifts.

  Efrim had been a quiet man, about five years older than Gavriil. He was very good at martial arts and hadn't been pleased when Gavriil had exceeded his training and became the top student in the classes--until he saw the way Gavriil took so many beatings from the instructors. He hadn't been the least bit bitter then. Twice, he'd snuck into Gavriil's dormitory room and handed off salve to him. That had been one of the few acts of kindness Gavriil could remember.

  Georgii Yenotov had been a kid who should never have gone to such a school. Gavriil was shocked that he was still alive. He'd been the inept student, awkward and clumsy, but he'd been brilliant in languages. He could create a perfect accent the first time he heard it.

  Gavriil put aside everything human he knew of the two men and concentrated only on their fighting abilities. Georgii would be dangerous in that he would use his automatic weapon the moment he felt threatened, spraying everything and everybody with a million bullets before he ran.

  Efrim was calm and steady. He would move with complete confidence, and his specialty was hand-to-hand combat. He would be the one in the lead, holding Georgii together, wanting a quiet kill. Over the years, Gavriil had heard of some of his hits. All had been deemed accidents, and it didn't surprise him that Uri Sorbacov would send Efrim in first.

  Efrim's specialty was taking out a target and making it look as if it was a natural death, suicide or an accident, even if that meant taking out a number of innocents around his target. Gavriil knew he would make for the house, looking for a quick kill and getting out as fast as possible if Sorbacov had given him the information that Gavriil and his brothers were close.

  Gavriil went very still. Of course Sorbacov hadn't told the two assassins. Georgii wouldn't have come. Efrim, yes, but not Georgii.

  Gavriil positioned himself in the deepest shadows along the route the two would take to enter through the kitchen. He used his gift of blurring every line, fooling the human eye into thinking he was part of his surroundings, in this case, heavy brush. He crouched low and stayed very still, not moving, but keeping his blood moving to keep his muscles warm. His breath was controlled so that air barely moved around him.

  He heard them. They were a few feet apart and moving with stealth. He thought they sounded a bit like elephants. Three times twigs snapped, and the leaves crunched beneath their feet. He spotted Ilya several yards away, dropping in behind them. He didn't want his younger brother anywhere near the automatic weapons.

  Gavriil had wanted to kill Efrim first, but he knew exactly how Georgii would react. He palmed his knife and waited, allowing them to close the distance between them. As they came toward him, he shot Georgii between the eyes as he threw the knife at Efrim.

  Georgii went down hard. The knife lodged in Efrim's arm, slicing through muscle and tendons so that the weapon cradled in his hands fell to the ground. Efrim swore, and rushed him, drawing Gavriil's knife from his body. He threw just as Ilya and Gavriil shot simultaneously.

  Gavriil twisted his body as he shot, but the knife sliced through his biceps, burning like hell and separating far too much skin and muscle. Ilya jogged toward him as he stepped out of the shadows and stared down at the two dead assassins.

  "They didn't know you were anywhere around, did they?" Ilya asked, his eyes on his brother's wound and not the two dead men.

  "No. They should have been more cautious. Sorbacov expected you to kill them both," Gavriil said. "He's using us to do his dirty work for him. He knows we'll dispose of the bodies."

  Gritting his teeth, he moved away from the two dead men, careful not to allow his blood to drip onto the ground. "Nothing like getting cut with my own knife." He'd forgotten the fire. The feeling of a sharp blade penetrating his skin, separating muscle and tissue, tearing through his body like a hot brand.

  He worked to keep his expression pure stone as the memories rose along with the pain to swamp him. He'd been stabbed seven times, and each time the knife went in, his attacker had twisted it as it came out, leaving behind maximum damage.

  "Gavriil, that blade was covered with his blood." Ilya frowned down at Efrim. "You have no idea what kind of diseases you could contract. At the very least you could get a terrible infection."

  If anyone knew about infection from stab wounds, it was Gavriil. He'd had to be on intravenous antibiotics for months. He'd had to go to an old doctor he'd done a favor for to get the medicine. He'd been barely able to move, let alone care for himself. He'd been lucky no one had found him during those days.

  "I'll take care of it," Gavriil said grimly. The thought of what was to come wasn't pleasant.

  Ilya shook his head. "Libby Drake is home. She's an amazing healer. She'll come if I ask her to."

  Gavriil shook his head. "We've got to take care of this mess. I've still got a couple of things to do." He had to get back to Lexi. Suddenly that was the most important thing he could imagine. He felt the compulsion growing stronger with every passing minute.

  "Let me call Jonas. I'll report two intruders with automatic weapons. I've got permits for my guns."

  "I shot Georgii, and one of my slugs is in Efrim," Gavriil said, exhausted. He'd had enough of killing for the day. He wanted to go back to Lexi and feel her hands moving over his skin, breathe her in and feel at peace again, just for a little while.

  "Give me your gun." Ilya held out his hand. "Come up to the house with me. I'll take care of that wound and then you get out of here. I'll call Jonas."

  Gavriil hesitated. The last thing he wanted was trouble with the police. He wiped his prints off the weapon and using his shirt, handed it over.

  "Your sheriff friend has probably already called for backup. He had to have heard the shots." Gavriil backed away. "Handle this however you think best, Ilya. I'll be at Lexi's. You need to come by and see your brothers."

  Gavriil waited until he was back in his truck and had his first aid kit out before he pulled the knife blade out of his arm. He'd waited to keep the blood loss to a minimum, but it took discipline to walk back with the blade in his arm.

  He slapped a compress bandage on it fast and sat breathi
ng slow, concentrating until the pain subsided enough for him to function.

  His dogs were waiting for him, and he couldn't take much longer to go pick them up. They were well-trained, but he didn't want to take a chance that someone would accidently stumble across them. Still, it was slow going. The wound needed stitches. He could sew the damn thing up himself, but it was an awkward angle and he had the feeling that Lexi was very good with a needle when it came to wounds.

  His dogs were exactly where he'd left them. He signaled them up and to do their business. Both obeyed instantly and then came running to him. He crouched down to scratch behind their ears and on their chins. They were massive, intimidating animals. Black Russian Terriers, bred in the Red Star Kennel of Moscow in the 1930s, the breed was confident, loyal, intelligent and very protective.

  Gavriil had a natural ability with dogs, one of the many gifts passed on to him from his mother and father. He had run across the breed a number of times and had been intrigued with their intelligence. He had found them to be calm, confident and very self-assured, and in need of an equally confident handler.

  All black, robust with big, solid bones and heavy muscles, the Black Russian Terrier was a great guard dog. He felt if there was anywhere a dog was needed, it was on Lexi's farm. This pair, Drago, shortened from Fierce Black Dragon, and Kiss, short for Kiss of Death, had saved his life.

  The recovery after being stabbed so many times had been horrendous. He wasn't a man who could recover in a hospital or in physical therapy. He had hidden in the mountains and forests of Russia, but first, he had acquired a male and a female from champion bloodlines. Both had been puppies and required daily walks and training. He had been forced to get up and move even when he thought it would kill him.

  The dogs had been his constant companions and he'd spent nearly two years alone in their company, working with them until they were inseparable and totally trusted one another. The dogs were naturally wary around strangers and he would have to introduce them to the family members on the farm slowly. Kiss was pregnant with her first litter and getting close to her time. He needed to get her home and find her a place she would approve of to have her puppies.

  Gavriil glanced at his watch for what seemed the two hundredth time. He had to get home to Lexi. Who was he kidding? The anxiety wasn't over his wound or the dog having her pups, it was the need to see her again. What had happened to him that he was so obsessed with Lexi Thompson?

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