Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  He brought her in closer to him. His mouth moved again, back and forth. Coaxing. Gentle. Her lips trembled beneath his. He felt the rise and fall of her breasts against him. He counted each breath she took. His tongue slid along the seam of her lips, asking for entry.

  This is something I can give you. Something he had no part of. Give yourself to me, Lexi, put yourself into my keeping.

  Lexi went very still, an untamed bird readying herself for flight. He felt every inch of her body pressed against his. Her scent surrounded him, drifted into his lungs, filling him with . . . her. He didn't rush her decision, but teased her lower lip with his teeth, with his tongue, coaxing her response rather than demanding it.

  His fingers curled around her neck, his thumb sweeping gently over her cheek. Her lashes fluttered and closed. Her lips parted and his tongue swept inside the hot sweetness of her mouth. His heart actually stuttered. The earth seemed to move beneath him. The world dropped away--everything--until there was only Lexi.

  He was aware of everything about her. How small she was. How fragile and delicate in comparison to him. Yet her muscles were firm, her curves soft, her body fitting perfectly into his. Her mouth was pure honey, a hot, sweet confection he'd never tasted but would never get enough of. Warm molasses moved through his veins, thick with desire, spreading heat throughout his body.

  He was good at seduction, even better at sex, a practiced art he was highly skilled in. Gavriil had been taught to always be in control. He allowed his body release when it was time, and of course it was always pleasant, but just kissing her was different than anything else had ever been. His heart, when it finished stuttering like mad, began to pound as if it might actually leap from his chest into hers.

  He controlled his reactions to all women, every move he made totally rehearsed and deliberate. There was no way to be deliberate kissing Lexi. There had never been . . . this feeling. He couldn't describe it. He only knew that pure emotion overwhelmed him, consumed him and that it was the real thing. His stomach knotted and his body went hot with need.

  Her mouth was a miracle, plain and simple. Heaven. He had never believed in heaven or God until that moment. Until he found it in her. The taste of her was intriguing, addicting, and he knew he would never get enough of her, never be able to kiss her long enough or often enough to sate his craving for her. She tasted like love. Pure love. He didn't even believe in love, but there it was, all in this one small woman he held in his arms.

  Passion for her was real. There was no denying that his body demanded hers, and he wanted to rejoice because he had the ability to feel a real physical response to a woman--to his woman. She'd been so afraid she wouldn't be able to respond--he'd been equally afraid his training would take over.

  He was gentle, kissing her over and over, his breath, hers. He didn't want to ever come up for air. Not ever. He wanted to weep for being granted such a gift.

  Lexi stood very still in Gavriil's arms. She'd never imagined kissing someone could ever be like this. She'd never believed she ever would be kissed and if she were--she had been certain she wouldn't like it.

  Gavriil's mouth on hers was hot and felt as if he was claiming her, not as a possession, but as someone to cherish and protect. More, there was actual desire. Real desire. Not a brutish, ugly use of her body, but something so different she felt tears burning in her eyes at the pure joy of the moment with him. With Gavriil.

  She had never considered how a real man felt about a woman he chose--the true caring telling her that her pleasure, her response, was more important to him than his own. The evidence was in the way he held her. In the touch of his hand on her neck and his thumb caressing her face. The stroke of his tongue exploring her mouth so gently, not demanding, never asking anything of her.

  She hadn't expected he would be gentle or tender, and that disarmed her as nothing else could have. She felt his response to her, the genuine desire, but more than that, the feeling. It came out of nowhere, rising like a tidal wave in her to match that generous feeling in him. She couldn't name it, didn't even want to feel the emotion because it made her too vulnerable, but she knew he felt it too.

  Her body went hot. Her breasts ached. She felt dampness between her legs. The sensations startled her to the point she nearly pulled away from him, but the pad of his thumb sliding over her skin and the taste of passion was too much of a temptation to miss. He opened the door to a world she never imagined she could be a part of. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.

  He had to be every bit as scared as she was. He'd lost everything just as she had. He knew once they were together, they would both be vulnerable again. She hadn't expected to want to give back to him, but he was risking everything, and she refused to do less for him.

  She slipped her tongue tentatively alongside his, trying to follow his lead. The taste of him, wild, masculine, and exciting, exploded in her mouth, seeped into her bloodstream, and ran hot through her veins. Every nerve ending in her body sizzled with an electrical charge. She knew she tasted passion. But there was love. She hadn't known love with a man, and how could it be? How could Gavriil Prakenskii love such a broken woman? He was . . . extraordinary. She hadn't known how extraordinary until this moment.

  Lexi found something there in the absolute beauty of his mouth that she'd never really had--hope for a future. She wasn't certain a physical relationship was possible, but Gavriil had given her this moment, this first, gentle, amazing kiss that went on and on and robbed her of breath and sanity.

  Her mind seemed to melt, her body on fire. Gavriil poured himself into her, giving her everything--giving her . . . him. He kissed her with complete and utter focus and passion and emotion. He swept her away from the real world of violence and uncertainty. He wiped out every bad memory that never left her consciousness until there was only Gavriil and the paradise of sheer feeling, his hard, strong body and the promise that there might be a future for her.

  Tears clogged her throat, making it impossible to breathe. She gasped. At once he lifted his head and pressed his forehead against hers, drawing a ragged breath into his burning lungs. His hands held her upper arms as if he held on to a life raft.

  Gavriil cleared his throat, trying to think when his brain had gone to mush. "Well, that changes things."

  She offered a tentative smile, pressing her fingers to her lips. "I don't know about changing things, but it does give one hope, doesn't it?"

  "Definitely. In the meantime, the ground needs to stop shaking and the room needs to stop spinning. I'd move, but it's impossible with all the activity going on around us." He drew his brows together. "You do feel it, don't you? I'm not alone in this?"

  "I feel it, but I'm not certain what it means."

  "It means we're definitely in a relationship." He gave a little sigh. "You know I'm going to be hell to live with now."

  For one moment fear flickered in her eyes. She drew in her breath, but waited for him to finish.

  He ran his finger down her face to her chin. "You're pretty much everything to me, Lexi, the only thing."

  She frowned at him, shaking her head, but before she could speak, he pressed his finger against her mouth. "Let me say this. I barely know my brothers. I would protect them with my life, but are they capable of taking away the life I've lived? Holding me here? They aren't, Lexi. How could they be?"

  "You love them."

  "I don't know what love is unless it's standing in front of me. I'm loyal to them. Everyone has to have a reason to live. To stay alive and protect my brothers seemed a good reason. But then you came along and the ground's shifted right out from under my feet."


  Her voice was soft. Sensual. He hadn't noticed that note before. Her voice slid over his skin like the touch of fingers, reached inside of him and grasped his heart.

  "You love your dogs."

  "I do care for my dogs and I want them safe, I care a great deal for them, but again, I would have left them with my brothers. I wouldn't have sta
yed for them. I'm staying for you. I have never needed or wanted anyone in my life until you. There's a connection between us, and I can't walk away from that. I don't want to."

  "Do you have any idea how scary it is to think about this?"

  "Yes. You make me vulnerable. I've never cared one way or the other if I lived or died. You gave yourself to me when I kissed you. You didn't have to. You had no reason to, but you did. I felt it."

  She blinked rapidly and he could see that her lashes were wet. "You gave yourself to me first. If you were going to risk everything, I was going to as well."

  "I'm going to turn into your shadow. And when I can't be with you, Drago and Kiss are going to be with you." He wasn't going to lie to her. He was no prize. He was going to be difficult to live with.

  "I think Kiss is going to be staying right here at home." She looked around her, as if noticing the sun had come up for the first time. "I'm late. You made me late. I've got to go, Gavriil."

  Reluctantly he stepped away from her, inwardly cursing that he hadn't already introduced the rest of the family members to his dogs. He would have sent Drago with her, but it was too dangerous. The breed had been bred to be independent thinkers, which meant, if Drago thought Lexi was in danger, he would act to protect her without her consent.

  Lexi stood a moment looking at his face. He felt the impact of her gaze and wanted to sweep her back into his arms.

  "Thank you, Gavriil. For that perfect moment. I felt whole. I wasn't guilty or filled with sorrow or thinking of what happened to my family. I saw only you and felt only sensation. It was a gift you gave me this morning and I'm going to hold it to me while I work. I'll be thinking of you this morning, not him. Not what he did to me or took from me. You can't know what you've done for me."

  He stepped close to her again, cupping her chin in his palm and looking into the cool forest of her eyes. "I know more than you think, solnyshko moya, because you did the same for me. I had no idea a woman was capable of wiping out my past so eloquently."

  Her eyebrow shot up. "A woman?"

  He found himself smiling. "The woman. You. There is no other. I've been all over the world, and the first time I laid eyes on you, stepping out of the cornfield, I knew then I was lost. It never occurred to me that would ever happen."

  "It still might not, Gavriil," she cautioned. "I have no idea if I can actually be comfortable or trust a man the way I would need to in order to be in a real relationship. A normal one."

  He stroked his finger down her cheek. "I have news for you, solnyshko moya, our relationship will never be normal. We'll make it work for us, not other people. And we'll go slow. You kissed me. That's trust, and it's enough for now."

  She nodded slowly. "You don't know it, Gavriil, but you truly are an extraordinary man."

  "Only you think so. Go out to your lettuce field and I'll be there as soon as possible. I want to talk to Lissa first and then Airiana and Maxim. The others can wait."

  "I'll be safe. Once I'm in the fields, the ground lets me know when someone's approaching. I won't be on the tractor."

  He understood what she meant. She was bound to earth--an earth element--and she could feel danger through the soil itself. Up on the tractor, she had no way to feel trouble coming at her. "You must have felt very vulnerable working at the farm alone at times."

  She shrugged. "It's our home. I'm good at growing things, but I'll admit, I did wish for a dog or two at times to guard my back."

  "Now you've got the dogs and me."

  "I don't know which is better," she teased.

  His answering smile faded from his face as he watched her slip from the house. Immediately she took the sunshine with her. He felt the cold slipping back into his veins. Shadows drew him, settled around him. The dark blue eyes went glacier cold and he was once more the man he was far more familiar with.


  LISSA Piner's home was situated on a small hill, surrounded by trees, but the trees were a good forty or fifty feet from her house. She had planted lowlying shrubs, flowers and ground cover all around her home. The grounds appeared well manicured, landscaped and beautiful. Metal structures adorned the landscaping surrounding the house. Each was a large, beautiful sculpture that flowed with the wind, creating movement. The house was two stories with the familiar wraparound porch the women all favored. At first glance it appeared to be the home of an artist. Gavriil wasn't deceived.

  He studied the house from the shadows of the giant redwoods. She had the perfect spot for defense. There were no plants or trees that would offer cover to anyone sneaking up on her. He spotted several cameras as well as motion detectors. He would bet his last dollar that this woman not only had an arsenal in her home, but several escape routes involving one or more of the beautiful art pieces decorating the grounds around her house.

  Out of habit he checked his favorite weapon, an FNP 45 Tactical with ambidextrous controls. It was accurate and had never let him down. He considered the weapon an extension of his body, and it felt that way in his hand. Fully loaded and ready, he slipped it out of sight and signaled to the dogs to stay.

  Gavriil stepped out alone to cross the open space to Lissa's home. He knew within six steps that she was aware of his presence. He'd taken ten more before she appeared on her porch. She had one hand behind a column; the other she used to wave to him. There was no doubt she had a gun in her fist, hidden behind the large carved post. He didn't slow down or hesitate, but continued toward her.

  "Is something wrong with Lexi?"

  He read the anxiety in her eyes, although her face remained open and friendly. He shook his head. "I dropped by for another reason altogether. Lexi's working in her lettuce field. She said she had to finish planting or she would have come with me."

  Lissa nodded. "The helicopter used to kidnap Airiana set down in her lettuce field and tore it up. Of course she would have replanted. I should have offered to help."

  He had gained the stairs, and it forced her to take a step back. Her hidden hand went behind her for just a moment, and he guessed she had slipped the gun into the waistband of her jeans.

  "Did I interrupt something?" He glanced through the screen to the front room where maps and brochures covered the floor. "I guess I should have called ahead, but I didn't think to ask for your phone number."

  She shrugged. "I'm planning a trip. It's not a big deal. I like to get away to other countries. It inspires me to see different architecture. I love the museums and art galleries and I like to blend work with vacation. I've got three clients who want chandeliers, big money for the farm."

  "Do you happen to have coffee?" He tried to look as innocent as possible but figured, when she shot him a look, that he'd failed. "Lexi doesn't have any."

  She nodded slowly. "Come in. My house is a bit of a mess right now, but if you can keep from stepping on anything, and find a place to sit, we can talk over coffee."

  "Who designed your home?" he asked casually as he stepped inside. He felt an itch between his shoulder blades turning his back on her. He stepped aside politely, holding the screen to allow her to go in front of him.

  "I did. I spent a long time trying to come up with the perfect home to suit me. I do a lot of glassblowing and metalwork. In the beginning I didn't have a studio so I had to improvise. I needed a basement until I could find a studio in town I could afford."

  Gavriil took a slow, careful look around. She had beautiful chandeliers, hand blown, as well as paintings and sculptures worth a fortune. He had no doubt some of the paintings were done by Judith, but she had a few masterpieces.

  The maps on the floor were mainly of St. Petersburg in Russia. She had books strewn around of buildings and architecture, all Russian.

  "You're thinking of visiting St. Petersburg?"

  She made no move to close the books or remove the maps, a mark of a true professional. She seemed perfectly at ease. "I've wanted to tour a few of the cities there for a long while. Some of the buildings are so ornate and beautiful. One of t
he clients interested in my chandeliers is in St. Petersburg, so this is an opportunity I can't pass up. Traveling is a hobby of mine. I've traveled extensively and have managed to see some extraordinary sights."

  "Sicily?" He nodded toward the collection of photographs she had on the wall in her hallway.

  "I think Sicily has the best examples of Baroque art and architecture you can find. Give me a minute. I just made a fresh pot of coffee. Do you take anything in it?"

  He shook his head. "Just black is fine."

  She was smooth. Lev, Stefan and Maxim had all been around her, and they were very good at scenting danger, but not one of them seemed aware of what Lissa Piner was. He studied the maps and the books.

  Lissa returned with a mug of coffee for both of them. She waved him to a chair and sank into the one opposite him. He was fairly certain there were weapons in the chair she had chosen to sit in.

  "What can I do for you, Gavriil?" Her eyes remained steady on his face.

  "I brought a pair of dogs with me. Black Russian Terriers. Are you familiar with the breed?" It wasn't a common breed in the United States, but he was certain Lissa wasn't originally from the United States.

  She didn't even blink. "Not really."

  "They were bred in Russia's Red Star Kennel, a dog for military work. They have a high protective instinct, and my female is pregnant with her first litter. I was going to leave them with my brothers while I led Sorbacov's assassins away from here, but Lexi has convinced me to stay."

  Lissa nodded. "That doesn't surprise me. The farm is overrun with Prakenskiis. There must be some connection between elements that draws other elements. I'm actually glad you're here. I know, without a doubt, you'll protect her. I can see it in your eyes. I just wasn't certain she would let you stay for long."

  "It appears she has decided in my favor."

  "That's good." She sat back in her chair, seemingly relaxed looking at him over the rim of her coffee mug. "Tell me about Sorbacov. Who is he and why does he want all of you dead?"

  Her question didn't surprise him; in fact, he was waiting for it. "It's an old story."

  "But one still going on. He's threatening the lives of my sisters and their husbands. He's capable of sending his assassins here, you've said so yourself. All of you have mad skills when it comes to assassinations, yet none of you have gone after him. Why is that?"

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