Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  "Load up, we're going to our new home. And don't get ugly with her. I'll expect you both to protect her, same as me." He had little doubt that she would manage to win the dogs over just as she had him.


  GAVRIIL was grateful he had plenty of time in the house to allow the two Black Russian Terriers to get used to Lexi's scent. She was all over the house. He tried to inhale her, tried to take her in, letting the dogs explore their new home while he sank into one of the deep, cozy chairs in the large sitting room. Maybe it was all those days without sleep, or loss of blood, or possibly the memories of the stab wounds so close, but he felt very weak. If he didn't get Lexi home, and he passed out, the dogs would never allow her into the house.

  He let his breath out slowly, stretched his legs out comfortably in front of him and slowly turned his hand over, looking down at it. He drew one finger down the center of his palm and the psychic mark blazed into life, two perfect circles joined together. He whispered her name softly and pressed his lips into the brand on his palm.

  Come home to me, angel moy, I need you, he whispered in his mind, reaching for her with every cell, every fiber of his being.

  He closed his eyes, allowing his body to absorb the pain. There was no fighting the burn along his nerve endings, or the terrible agony consuming his shoulder and arm. He was no stranger to pain, but still, even allowing it to take him over didn't stop the initial feeling of hopelessness.

  He pressed his thumb tightly over the two rings and let his eyes close. He didn't know how long he'd been drifting in a sea of pain when both dogs, lying at his feet, leapt up and gave low, rumbling growls. He lifted his gun from the arm of the chair and sent both back to the floor with a command.

  Lexi pushed open the door and stood there, framed in the gathering dusk, her hair disheveled as if she'd been running, her gaze jumping to the dogs and then moving over him, assessing how badly he was hurt.

  "Is it safe to come near you?"

  He couldn't help the smile coming out of nowhere, the way she made him feel. She didn't panic, when she should have been having one of her panic attacks. The dogs were huge and both targeted her instantly, never taking their wary, threatening gaze from her. The only thing keeping them from attacking her was his command to stay.

  "Stay very still. I'm in a vulnerable position and they don't like it."

  "So am I." She hung on to the door, ready to slam it closed if either dog moved. "And put the gun down. You don't look in any shape to be using that right now and it might accidently go off."

  He raised an eyebrow. The gun felt like an extension of his arm, so familiar in his hand he knew it was impossible for him to make that kind of mistake, but he put it down on the arm of his chair and stood up, surprised at his weakness. He led the dogs into the other room. Neither liked it, but they settled when he gave them a hand signal.

  "It's safe to come in," he said, and collapsed back in the chair. "Just don't go into the back bedroom."

  "Let me see your arm. You have blood all over you." Lexi rushed across the room to pull back his sleeve. The bandage was soaked in blood. She shook her head. "Is this the way I'm going to find you every time I leave you by yourself?"

  He put his head back and closed his eyes. Her touch was gentle on his body. He felt power run through her. He could have slowed the bleeding had he tried, but he'd been too tired. He didn't want to move. The sound of her bustling around the house, getting things together to take care of the wound soothed him.

  "Unfortunately," he murmured without opening his eyes, "the blade was in someone else before it was in me. That makes it doubly dangerous." The thought of another massive infection was daunting.

  "Don't worry about anything right now. Just rest. Honestly, Gavriil, I don't know how you've survived this long without me."

  Her voice whispered over his skin, over his senses, dulling the pain as nothing else could. Her hands were sure, filled with healing warmth as they stripped away the soaked bandage and cleansed the wound thoroughly with some kind of strong antiseptic. The burn robbed him of his breath, and he forced his body into a meditative trance, putting himself far from the pain, a technique he'd used numerous times to survive.

  He was aware of Lexi working on the wound, patiently sewing it up. She had to stitch inside as well as out and he was a little surprised at her skill. When she was finished and went to move away from him, he caught her wrist and held her close.

  "What was her name?"


  "The doctor. The woman who taught you so much. What was her name?"

  He felt the tremor that ran through her, but he didn't let go. He needed to know the name of the woman who had treated her like a human being. The woman who knew she would eventually be thrown away, but had reached out to a young, traumatized child and given her the best of herself. A worthwhile human being.

  "Daiyu Zhang. Her name was Daiyu Zhang."

  Lexi's voice was filled with tears. His heart bled for her. Gavriil turned her palm up and pulled it to his mouth. He pressed kisses into it, as if that could take away the years of hurt.

  "I'm sorry, Lexi. She was an extraordinary woman. I wish I could have known her." Gavriil closed her fingers over the center of her palm and brought her fist to his mouth again. His teeth scraped gently back and forth over her knuckles. "If we ever have a relationship and we do decide to stay together, if we end up with a child, we'll have to honor her with the name Daiyu."

  Lexi pressed her lips together tightly for a moment, her eyes swimming with tears, turning them into sparkling jewels. "It means black jade. She would have liked that, having a child named after her. She always wanted children, but she couldn't have them. That was part of the excuse her husband used to get rid of her."

  "Is that why you have so many pieces of black jade in the house? I noticed a piece in every room. I thought at the time that the jade was part of your Chinese decor."

  "She used to say her black jade was the stone of protection. And that was what she was, how she lived her life, as a human shield against anger and aggression. She said the stone was important to ward those things off because it had an elemental shield of energy against both physical and psychic attacks. It can also be used as a powerful healing stone."

  "So you filled your house with it."

  "With her," Lexi said, and pulled away from him. "I filled my house with the things she taught me. I never went to school after he took me. I didn't have the opportunities other children had. She was my only teacher. She was the only adult who took an interest in me with no other agenda. She was the one person there who never betrayed me."

  "In essence, Daiyu was your mother."

  Lexi slowly nodded her head. "She's all I had. Caine took her away, the same way he took my family."

  Gavriil hooked his one good arm around her waist and pulled her down into his lap. "I'm just going to comfort you, nothing more. You're breaking my heart right now. Maybe I need the comfort more than you do, but all the same, just curl up here for one moment and let me hold you."

  Gavriil thought she would resist, or hold herself away from him. He was well aware no one had ever held her like he was doing. He kept his arm around her and waited patiently, not forcing her, or putting more pressure on her. Slowly she relaxed into him, and in that moment, he felt as if he'd just been given the most precious gift in the world--her trust.

  "Tell me how your lesson went. Was Lucia happy to see you?" He dropped his chin on the top of her head, nuzzling all that dark reddish silk.

  Her fingers curled in his shirt. "Yes. Her face lit up when I went in with Lissa. Levi was there, and he wore an apron. It was all manly but I know he wore it for Lucia. I thought it was awesome that he'd do that for her."

  "You like Levi."

  "Very much. I had trouble at first, being around him. I don't usually go near men, but he's so wrapped up in Rikki, anyone can see that, so I didn't feel threatened. He hasn't been here that long, but he works wherever he's needed and he a
lready feels part of us--like a big brother looking out for us."

  "That's good," Gavriil said. "What about Thomas?" Levi to Lev was an easy switch, but Stefan to Thomas was a little more difficult for him. He was going to have to work at getting used to that name.

  "Thomas is more reserved than Levi. He's definitely crazy about Judith, but I don't know him as well."

  She didn't realize that she was just as reserved as Thomas was. Gavriil leaned his head back again and closed his eyes, inhaling her scent. She would always feel like peace to him, like cool forest and the earth after a summer rain. Clean and fresh. She represented a new life. He was grabbing hold with both hands now that he'd made up his mind.

  Lexi's body heat melted into his. It was a first for him to hold a woman on his lap, to simply cherish her. Offer comfort with no strings attached.

  "And Maxim?"

  "Maxim." She smiled. He couldn't see it because her face was buried in his chest, but he heard it in her voice.

  "He's Mr. Tough Guy. He's not as intimidating to everyone as you are, because he has four shadows. Seriously, he can't take a step without the four children somewhere close. All of them look at him like the sun rises and sets with him. He tries to act like he doesn't like it. He gets all gruff, but you should see him with them. It's beautiful to watch."

  "So you like him."

  "I don't know him. He's only been here a couple of weeks, and we've had a few crazy things going on."

  Gavriil remained silent, just waiting.

  "Yes, I guess I do like him. How can you not like a man who takes on the responsibility of four children? I like Thomas as well. They definitely would protect all of us." She turned her head and looked up at him. "Tell me about your dogs."

  "They saved my life. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning and to force my body to work when it didn't want to. They're the first real companionship I've ever had since I was taken." He hadn't known until that moment just how much he loved both animals. "The male is Drago and the female is Kiss."

  "Kiss? As in the band KISS?"

  "Kiss, as in Kiss of Death."

  "Oh." She sat up and slipped off his lap. "You'd better introduce us. You need to go to bed. The sun's gone down, and you still haven't told me what happened to you this afternoon."

  "You didn't ask," he pointed out.

  "I figured you would tell me, but you're not getting to it."

  She was very careful of his injured biceps. He noticed even when she melted into him, she didn't jostle him in the least.

  "Because it wasn't important," he replied.

  "I think you need to revise your opinion of what you consider important, Gavriil. When you come home with blood all over you and a wound that takes some fifty-six stitches to close, that's important."

  She'd said, "Come home." He wanted to smile, but she had her little schoolmarm expression on her face and he figured she considered the conversation serious.

  "I'm sorry. Yes. Of course. You're right. I should have told you what happened right away. It was more like a gunfight than a knife fight." At her gasp, he hastily amended his explanation. "It wasn't much of a fight at all."

  "Gavriil Prakenskii, cough it up." She put her hands on her hips. "What exactly did you do now?"

  He did laugh. "I'm not Benito."

  "You could be," she said. "Spill."

  "A couple of would-be assassins went after my youngest brother, Ilya."

  "Oh no." Her hand flew to her throat. "Is he all right? Is Joley okay?"

  "She was at her sister's house. He was with me."

  She stood there a moment looking down at his face. She suddenly leaned down, framing his face with her hands, her gaze capturing his. "He was with you, meaning of course he's fine. Of course you took care of it, Gavriil. One of these days you aren't going to be fast enough and you're going to die. I don't want that. Do you understand me? I don't want that."

  "If you keep looking at me like that, Lexi, I might have to kiss you, and then we'd have all sorts of problems."

  She didn't stop looking at him, but she blinked a few times. "I don't know what this connection is between us, but I don't want to lose you, Gavriil. Please, for me, be a little more careful with yourself." She dropped her hands before he could move into her, stepping back and frowning at him. "And don't ever kiss me because you feel sorry for me. I'm not your sister."

  He felt the slow burn start in his blood. "I wouldn't be kissing you if you were my sister. You told me you didn't want to be afraid I'd make a move on you, so I was politely warning you. You're not even making any sense."

  She looked smug. "I'm a woman. I don't have to make sense. You need to be in bed, so eat and go to bed. I'm going to sit outside and contemplate what I'm going to do with you."

  "You need to be introduced to the dogs. Kiss is pregnant and about to give birth to her first litter of puppies. I don't want her to get overprotective and not let you in the house."

  "I'm quite happy on the porch. She can have the house. You do cook, don't you? When you're feeling up to it, you can cook me meals and bring them outside."

  When she teased him, there was no way to resist her, no way to stop the spread of happiness slowly moving through him like some tsunami. "You really have a great sense of humor, don't you?" He grinned at her.

  "Apparently. Fine. I'll meet your dogs, but if they kill me, it's on you."

  The little tremor in her voice told him she was just a little afraid, now that she had taken care of his injury. Before, she'd been worried about him, but the dogs were large and intimidating.

  He didn't feel like getting up and introducing her to the dogs. He considered just sleeping right there so he wouldn't have to move. His body hurt and his nerve endings burned until he felt raw and used up. But there she was, standing in front of him, looking nervous and determined, so beautiful she made his heart ache.

  Lexi moved away from him to reach for the light switch. Dusk had turned to night, deepening the shadows he was more familiar with, more comfortable in.

  "Don't," he said softly. "Leave them off."

  He saw her take a deep breath before she nodded. "Just tell me why."

  "We can see outside unless the lights are on. With them on, anyone outside has a bit of an advantage."

  "I can put the blinds down."

  "Solnyshko moya, you said you wanted me to stay. I know it feels as if I'm taking over, but I have to know we're safe. I prepare. I stash weapons around a house, and I know that won't bother you because I found your weapons. I leave money and passports in various places just in case. I've never spent more than a couple of nights in one place until I went to the mountains and forests to recover from this." He swept his arm over his body, indicating the stab wounds. "I want to be here. On this farm. With you. I have a chance to find something else here. It may be a slim one, but I'm willing to try. I just need . . ." He broke off, a little helplessly.

  He didn't know the first thing about explaining himself to anyone. The conversations with her were the longest he'd had with another human being in more time than he could count.

  "It's okay, Gavriil, I understand, I do. And I'm grateful to you for all the lessons in safety. I want to feel safe in my own home and I haven't. Not ever." She shivered and rubbed at the goose bumps on her arms. "Your dogs are just a little intimidating and they're black. In the dark I would think they would give someone a heart attack."

  "Are you afraid? I wouldn't allow them to hurt you."

  "A little."

  "I'd shoot them before I'd allow them to harm you. And that's saying a lot, Lexi," he said quietly. "I owe my life to them."

  "Tell me what to do." Her voice trembled but her chin was up.

  Pain radiated from his biceps up to his shoulder, down his back and through his entire arm. He was going to have to lie down soon, there was no question about it, and he couldn't have the dogs killing her if she moved around the house.

  Lexi thought she was going to sleep outside in her usual s
pot on the porch, but he had other ideas. She felt safer on the porch where she could see anything coming at her, but the house was safer with him in it and now, with the dogs and their incredible sense of smell and natural protective instincts, he could better protect her.

  "Sit in the chair over there. I'll be on my feet. You won't pose a threat to me seated, especially when I'm standing."

  "You aren't going to fall down are you? You're swaying a little. I've probably got some pain pills around here. If not, I can call Blythe and she'll call Libby. Libby's a doctor and she can--"

  "I don't take painkillers. They dull the senses and I prefer to be sharp."

  "Gavriil, you aren't going to heal fast if you hurt like that."

  "You're going to heal me. I can feel the power in your hands. You'll do it, Lexi, so no worries. Sit down and let me call in the dogs. Then I'm going to bed."

  "Have they already eaten?" she asked, her teeth chewing on her lower lip. He couldn't help but notice how full and perfectly curved her lip was even when he was making his way to the door.

  Lexi sank into a chair and he called the dogs through, murmuring softly to them in his native language. He told them she was a friend, although, since he didn't have any friends, he'd never used that particular word before, so he changed it to his mate and introduced her as a pack member.

  The dogs immediately went to her, smelling her. Her scent was on him and all around them. She belonged. Gavriil continued in his soft, commanding voice, every now and then running his hands over the two animals to reassure them all was well. He sank down onto the arm of her chair, his legs unable to support him.

  Lexi slipped her arm around his waist. "You need to get in bed."

  "Call them by name. Let them smell your hand. If they push against you, pet them. If not, just talk to them, let them get used to your voice."

  Lexi followed his instructions, as well as his example. She spoke to the dogs in a low, calm voice. Drago smelled her hand and looked at Gavriil, and then, as if he understood, pushed his body against Lexi's. She dropped her hand into his silky, wavy coat. She smiled as she stroked the animal.

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