Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  "He's beautiful, Gavriil."

  Gavriil thought so as well. The male was sturdy, with strong bones and good conformation. Kiss was beautiful as well. Her body was heavy with puppies. Lexi was careful to make a fuss over the male and wait for the much more reluctant female to accept her.

  Lexi was patient, taking her time talking to the male and allowing the female to check her out thoroughly. Gavriil let his breath out when Kiss finally signaled her acceptance of Lexi into her life. He had her pet Kiss, touch her, run her hands over the pregnant female while his hands mirrored hers to make certain Kiss accepted her fully.

  "When will she have her puppies?"

  "Very soon, any day. I tried to get her here, thinking I'd leave them with my brothers, so I'd know they were well taken care of."

  "Before you sacrificed your life." Lexi shot him a look from under her long lashes. "Let's get you to bed."

  He wanted to smile, but she had her little schoolmarm look on her face again. Every time they referred back to his original plan of leading Sorbacov's assassins away from his family, she got that particular expression. He was becoming rather fond of it.

  He waved the dogs back and rose slowly from the arm of the chair, feeling as if a saw was cutting through his arm right down to the bone, and not a particularly sharp saw. Lexi stood up with him and slipped her arm back around his waist to steady him. He didn't need her help, but he liked the feel of her body close to his.

  He couldn't believe the way she made him feel. His entire life he'd been closed off from human associations. He'd never wanted to be close to anyone, never could find a way to trust a woman far enough to be vulnerable around her. The first time he'd seen Lexi, he'd known. The earth itself had trembled beneath his feet and his heart had done a curious melting so that he was lost before he'd ever had a chance to retreat.

  She left him at the bathroom door, and he heard her moving around the bedroom, pulling back covers and making up a bed for the dogs. The sounds were vaguely comforting. When he emerged, he wore nothing but a towel. He stood leaning against the door, watching her as she built a nest from blankets, presumably for Kiss.

  She glanced up and went still. He knew he was devouring her with his gaze. She was beautiful to him. Everything about her, especially the care she was giving his animals. He hadn't prepared her ahead of time for them, but because they were his, she'd welcomed them.

  "Thank you, Lexi," he said.

  Lexi found she couldn't move. Gavriil leaned against the wall, a towel riding low on his hips, his eyes alive with pain, drifting over her possessively. No one had looked at her quite like that. He didn't look as if he owned her, but as if she was his, cherished and treasured and beautiful to him.

  His face was ravaged with pain. Lines were etched deep. His shoulders were broad, his chest heavily muscled, his waist and hips narrow. He looked, in spite of his injury, invincible. He was battle-scarred, and right now, she could see exhaustion in every line of his body, but it didn't matter. She was completely and utterly captivated by him.

  "Gavriil, please get in bed. If you don't, I'm going to sit on the floor and cry, right here." He was so wracked with pain he could barely move, yet he didn't seem to acknowledge it, or know how to just lay it all down for a while. "You've got the dogs, and I'm pretty good at keeping an eye out. I won't fall asleep, I promise."

  There was something about him she just couldn't help but be drawn to. He was tragic, yet he didn't know it. He needed saving, but he didn't know that either. He was so alone standing there. He didn't know how to love, so broken, just like she was. She didn't know how either. Or maybe it was survival mode they both lived in, and they didn't dare allow anyone else in because if they were ripped apart a second time there would be no fixing either of them.

  "I want you to lie down on the bed with me. Just stay there. I'll sleep under the sheet and you can have the blanket, but stay with me."

  She was already shaking her head, an automatic reaction. She didn't sleep in a bed where someone could climb through the window and put a knife to her baby sister's throat. The air left her lungs and she couldn't catch her breath.

  He moved so fast he seemed a blur, pushing her head down, his hand at the nape of her neck, strong, making her aware he could break her neck easily.

  "Are you so afraid of me that you panic at the idea of lying on the same bed with me? Even when I have assured you that you're perfectly safe with me?"

  There was no accusation in his tone, only a soft inquiry. His presence helped her to push air through her lungs. She shook her head and slowly straightened, her heart still pounding, blood still coursing through her veins, but she could breathe.

  "It isn't you. It isn't, Gavriil. I'm sorry I made you think that." She glanced toward the window. He was so omnipotent and she felt fragile and a little hysterical with her panic attacks. She made up her mind to just tell him. Let him see what he was dealing with.

  "He came through my bedroom window. Into my home. My sister was asleep in the bed next to mine and my parents were just down the hall. I had two older brothers and their bedroom was across from mine. They had cult members stationed at each of the rooms and if I didn't go with him, they would have gone in and killed all of them right there." She pressed her fingers against her mouth tightly.

  Gavriil very gently laid his hand over hers, closed his fingers around hers and pulled her hand to his mouth. He kissed her fingertips, as if she had burned them. "Don't be ashamed because you don't like sleeping in a bedroom. That worthless excuse of a human being took your feeling of safety away. A home is supposed to be a sanctuary, a place that should never be violated. He took that away. You sleep on your porch to compensate. Why should that make you embarrassed?"

  "Look at you. Intruders broke into your home. They ripped your family apart just as Caine did mine. They murdered your parents just as Caine did mine. You're strong and you don't have panic attacks . . ."

  "Silly woman."

  His voice twisted at her heart. There was a note in it she couldn't quite identify. Silky and soft. Tender.

  "Look around this room. It's an armory. There are weapons stashed in every conceivable place, not only here in this bedroom, but throughout the house. I've brought two very protective dogs with me. I intend to build a safe room as well as an underground room to store more weapons. I'll turn our home into a fortress, and still that won't be enough for me. To protect you, Lexi, I'll go to lengths that will make you crazy. What's the difference between us? Not much if you ask me."

  She couldn't help the smile. They were both so broken it was terrible, yet wonderful at the same time. She wasn't alone, and he didn't care about her panic attacks or her inability to stay in the bedroom all night.

  He tugged at her hand. "You don't have to sleep here. Just lie down with me. I need to feel you next to me. You give me courage."

  Lexi followed him to the bed, more because the fingers shackling her wrist hadn't let up for one moment. He wasn't holding her tight, but his hold was firm.

  "I think you're the most courageous person I know."

  Gavriil slipped beneath the sheet, pulled off the towel, folded it carefully and slipped a gun between the folds before he laid it on the floor nearly under the bed. He knew Lexi watched his every move intently. She sat on the other side of the bed rather gingerly, as if at any moment she would bolt.

  He winced when he lay back, but lying down never felt so good. He found her wrist again, and settled his fingers around it, his thumb stroking over her pulse.

  "I'm not courageous, Lexi. I live away from society, in the shadows where no one can see me. I slip in and out of countries, move constantly, form no attachments. How is that courageous?"

  She frowned and turned toward him, hesitated and then stretched out beside him, propping her head up with one hand. Her gaze drifted slowly over his face as if she was puzzling something out.

  "Gavriil, you're here with me now. How much courage did it take to stay? You actually weighed the
idea of killing me for a moment . . ."

  "Don't," he said. "I would never have been able to do it."

  "I know that. I knew it at the time. I wasn't afraid of you. I'm still not."

  He was still loosely holding her one wrist, but she lifted her other hand and reached out to brush strands of hair from his face. His breath caught in his lungs. He knew it was a mini miracle that she touched him at all, let alone with such an intimate gesture. She didn't even seem to notice she did it.

  "You're safe with me." She was. No matter what, he would protect her, even from himself. Still, that didn't mean he wouldn't get her used to his close proximity, to his hands on her. He wanted to be the one exception in her life. She was uncomfortable with everyone else, and that was perfectly fine with him. He wanted her relaxed in his company, laughing, feeling that as long as she was with him, she could be in her house and feel safe.

  "Lexi, put your hands on me, one on my shoulder, right above the wound and one below it." Deliberately he allowed his eyes to close, striving to portray the picture of a man who had nothing on his mind but the pain in his shoulder. "I'd like to try a little experiment."

  Lexi didn't argue or hesitate. She came up on her knees and leaned over him, rubbing her hands together. She had a natural healing talent. He felt the power running through her body. He had many gifts, and one was the ability to boost the strength of elementals or psychic gifts.

  She placed her hands on the positions he'd requested and closed her eyes, feeling his body, feeling the raw nerve endings and inflammation building around the wound. He reached up with his free hand and caught at the scrunchie securing her hair from around her face and tugged until all her glorious hair fell free.

  He threaded his fingers through it, reveling in the feel of such thick silk. She had a lot of hair. "I like your hair down."

  "It isn't practical when I'm working."

  "You're not working when you're in the house," he pointed out. "You could carry your tie in your pocket and pull it back up when you're outside." He had to open his eyes and look at her face.

  Her hair tumbled down around her face and shoulders, even longer than he'd imagined. The ends pooled on his skin, a dark, rich auburn, more red than brown, almost like a glass of dark wine. His body stirred in spite of every effort to stay relaxed.

  "I like your hair long like this." His tone went low, caressing. He deliberately allowed his voice to brush over her skin the way her hair did over his.

  "That's good, because I'm not ever going to cut it. I trim the ends, but that's all, just to keep it healthy."

  There was a touch of defiance in her voice, a touch of fire and that fire blazed through her hands to the muscles of his body. The heat spread through his body, a slow burn that seemed to move from muscle to muscle, seeping into his blood where it grew scorching hot, but maintained a slow flow until it saturated every cell in his body. His cock grew full and hard, a savage ache that only added to the beauty of the moment.

  He felt--loved. She couldn't possibly love him, she hadn't had time to fall in love with him, but still, no one had ever cared for him like this. No one had ever aroused his body as she did. The pads of her fingers moved on his skin, finding hidden trigger points, and he let her work on him, lying still and accepting the fact that he was drowning and it was far too late to save himself.

  He wanted to close his eyes again and just absorb every touch, but the expression on her face was far too beautiful to miss. Her lashes were long, her lips slightly parted as she concentrated, wholly focused on his body, on taking the pain from his arm. She shifted her position, her hand sliding around his muscle, careful to keep away from the stitches, but her palm was a hot brand against his skin.

  Her breasts skimmed his side, sending another flash of heat arcing over him. He forced his own hands into the mattress. He had absolute confidence in his ability to seduce her. He'd been trained and he knew every way there was to please a woman, but he didn't want that for her--or for him. He wanted her to come to him. To be ready in her mind, not just her body.

  She suddenly opened her eyes and looked directly into his. Her wild green gaze hit him like a wicked punch. "Is that better? Do you think you can sleep?"

  He nodded slowly, holding her gaze captive with his. "Get ready for bed and just lie with me until I drift off. Something happens when you're touching me and the nerve pain seems to recede. I don't know if it really does or I just think that it does, but either way, you've given me more relief than I've had since I was attacked."

  She took a breath. He held his. Both waited. Finally she nodded and slipped off the bed. Gavriil didn't say another word. He felt as if he was holding his breath the entire time she got ready. She braided her hair and changed to thin sweatpants and a racerback tee. When she slipped on top of the comforter and pulled up a blanket, turning away from him, he turned toward her and wrapped his injured arm around her waist.

  She went rigid. He didn't let go. He curled his body around hers and nuzzled against the nape of her neck with his face. "I promise you, Lexi, I won't make a move on you. I just need to hold you. I can give you a knife if that would make you feel safer."

  "There's already a gun and a knife under my pillow." There was a hint of laughter in her voice and some of the tension eased out of her.

  "Oh. That's right. I forgot that. See? You can shoot me if I'm not a man of my word."

  "Don't think I won't," she cautioned.

  He felt laughter rising and the fact that she could make him feel that emotion awed him. He had spent time trying to get her to relax and accept his presence, and all the while she was taming him like some wild animal.

  "I know you would."

  "It's starting to rain." She sounded excited. "Listen to the rain. Rikki's playing music over the farm."

  He listened to the pattern of the rain. It fell softly in some places and much harder in others. Power pulsed through the air.

  "That's Judith, boosting Rikki," Lexi said, awe in her voice. "Aren't they wonderful? Rikki can coax water out of practically nothing. When we're desperate, Airiana can move the clouds to us. If the rain is too heavy, Rikki can redirect to the redwoods and forest and keep it from killing our crops."

  "And you read the earth, the soil. You can tell what it needs and when."

  She snuggled deeper into the pillow. "Yes. We make a great team."

  "I'll fit right in."

  Lexi fell asleep somewhere around midnight. Gavriil had known she was exhausted and would eventually succumb to the warmth of his body, the sound of the rain and the comfort of the bed. He allowed himself to sleep in intervals, monitoring the area around their house--and already he thought of it as theirs. Occasionally wildlife came close but no humans, and he was grateful for the reprieve.

  He woke at three to the sound of weeping. Drago and Kiss both pressed close, pushing against Lexi's side of the bed, anxious to comfort her. His heart jerked hard in his chest. His arm was still wrapped firmly around her, but his hand was under her shirt. How it got there, he had no idea, but she hadn't pulled away from him.

  "Angel moy, what is it?"

  She continued to weep. It took him a minute to realize she was sound asleep. Why the fact that she was crying in her sleep made it so much worse, he didn't know. He pressed his hand into her abdomen, his fingers splayed wide to take in as much of her skin as possible, as if he could somehow be part of her and take away the demons.

  "Lexi, solnyshko moya, it's all right now. He's gone for good. He can't hurt you or anyone you love ever again. Your sisters are safe. Do you hear me? Wake up enough to know you're safe." He whispered the words, a sorcerer, determined to push her nightmares away.

  When that didn't work, he sighed and turned her into his arms, raising her palm to his mouth. He pressed kisses into the exact center, breathed warm air there, and pushed their intimate connection even further.

  I'm here with you, Lexi, and you're safe. I killed that man for you. I made sure he suffered before he died
and told me who knew where you are. I'll find them and I'll kill them. Every one of them, until I know you're safe. He used telepathic communication, enabled by the connection between their palms as well as their gifts.

  He told me details about what he'd done to you and I lost control. I've never lost control in my life. I'm not ashamed of it, but it did throw me for a long while, which is part of the reason I had my hand around your throat. You can hate me if you want to, or despise what I am, but he's gone. Wiped out. He can't come back.

  Her weeping lessened. He felt her stillness and knew he had her attention. Now you know the worst of me. The very worst. You know what they made me, a monster capable of terrible things. I've done things beyond any hope of redemption and I couldn't feel a thing while I did them. I looked at him and could only see you--what he'd done to you.

  There was the faintest of stirrings in his mind. A brush of her mind against his. Her weeping stopped completely. She didn't move away from him as she should have. She didn't push at the hand spread out over her skin. She stayed very still, but he knew she was listening now.

  I don't know what chance I have to be a civilized man, but if there's any way at all to be worth something to you, I want to be it.

  You already are.

  Three words. That was all it took, and she had his heart in the palm of her hand.


  GAVRIIL had breakfast ready when Lexi stumbled into the kitchen just after five thirty. He felt tense and edgy, a wreck, another first for him and one he didn't care for at all. He'd given her every reason to throw him out. The reasons just piled up, one after another until he couldn't understand why she had allowed him there in the first place.

  He heard her coming in her bare feet, and when he looked up, she was framed in the doorway. She'd taken a shower already and her hair was damp, tumbling around her face, falling in waves, a dark, rich color that reminded him of the earth itself. Dressed in her vintage blue jeans with several holes in them and her inevitable plaid flannel shirt, no makeup and glowing skin, she looked younger than ever--until you looked at her eyes.

  "Good morning, Gavriil." She sent him a small smile and turned her attention to the dogs lying close to each other in the corner. "Good morning, Drago. Kiss, I hope you're feeling good this morning."

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