Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  Her fingers didn't fumble, but she was slow and deliberate as she unbuckled the belt and dropped her hands lower to his zipper. He didn't care how much control he had had in the past, there was no controlling his body in this situation. Her fingers brushed his growing cock through the material and he felt the answering jerk. Blood rushed through his veins to pool low and hot.

  She didn't hesitate. She pushed the jeans from his hips, taking his shorts with them. He dropped his hand onto her shoulder for balance as he stepped out of them. She didn't step back, but slowly straightened, his jeans in her hands, her eyes on his groin and the large evidence of his desire for her.

  He heard her take in a breath, a swift, ragged inhale, her eyes large as she stared at his thick, hard shaft and the drops of pearl leaking from the smooth, silky head. She touched his chest. Tentatively, her fingers moved down over his abdomen, brushing over his scars. She stepped closer, and he could feel the warmth of her breath against his shaft. His cock reacted with a hard jerk, growing stiffer than he ever thought possible.

  "You're killing me here, woman," he said softly, honestly.

  "I'm not certain I can ever be a proper lover to you, Gavriil," she replied, still not looking up. "You're very . . . intimidating."

  He cupped the back of her head, sliding his fingers into the silk of her hair. "I'm not asking for anything."

  "I know you're not, but I'm hoping the way I feel about you will allow me to overcome my fears." For the first time she met his gaze with her own. "I haven't had a panic attack, and that's a good start."


  GAVRIIL looked down into her dark green eyes, so vibrant and cool, a place of peace as a rule, but at the moment, he saw desire smoldering there. He bent his head to hers and gently brushed his lips over her mouth. One small kiss, nothing more. He didn't dare hold her in his arms. Not yet. Not when she was still working it out. She needed time, and he had all the patience in the world when it came to Lexi.

  "You know, someday, when you're ready, I want to marry you. Really marry you. In front of our family and the kids and the dogs. Right here on the farm or maybe a little chapel if you're more comfortable. I know a priest that would marry us."

  She hadn't stepped away from him, so he did the honorable thing and slipped beneath the sheets, although his body felt as if it might shatter at any moment.

  "Would that be the same priest who married Judith and Thomas and Rikki and Levi? We went to San Francisco in the dead of night."

  "Probably. He's an old friend, someone we can trust--well as far as I ever trust anyone."

  "Is he really a priest?" Lexi stood over him, looking down at his face.

  He should have felt vulnerable, but instead he felt cherished and wanted. Her fingers brushed back his hair, lingering for a moment on his face. "He's a priest. He said he has a lot to make up for."

  "I think you're incredibly beautiful, Gavriil. I like looking at you."

  "I'm grateful you find me attractive, although I'm a little beat up in places."

  "I know it isn't easy for you to let me take care of you, and I appreciate that you're willing for me to try to ease the pain I know you're in. It bothers me when I see it on your face, or feel it when I'm next to you."

  "Like the earth. The farm. You feel the plants, don't you?"

  She nodded slowly and bent to remove the bandage from his arm. "Yes. I'm connected to them, I always have been. Even when I was a little girl, I used to talk to the plants in our house and they grew wild and crazy. My mother always said it was like a jungle in our home."

  "Like the atrium you have, filled with plants. You have birds in there, flying around sometimes."

  "Canaries. They love the plants."

  She placed her hands over the wound and instantly he felt the warmth.

  "This is healing nicely and much faster than I expected. That's you, not so much me. You can control your body better than anyone I've ever heard of."

  "I trained with some monks in China. They could do incredible things. That's how I kept from bleeding out when I was stabbed so many times," he admitted.

  "I knew you had to have done something. That wound in your heart should have killed you. I'm going to try to open the pathway on the damaged nerves again. I know it doesn't feel great while I'm doing it, but if we're persistent, I think eventually it will take away most of your pain."

  He almost didn't care if it worked or not. He liked the way she fussed over him, touching him so gently and looking at him with such concern on her face. "You didn't say anything about my marriage proposal."

  She inserted the first needle. "I wasn't aware I needed to say anything. It wasn't exactly a question. More like a statement." She closed her eyes and passed her hands over his body, lingering over the large raised ridges near his heart.

  Gavriil didn't take his eyes from her face, the deep concentration, the reaching with her mind and heart as well as her gift. Part of her ability, he realized, was in her giving herself. She was willing to share the pain if need be. If he stayed very still and let go of his need to be on full alert, if he reached for her as she was reaching for him, he connected with her gift. He felt the healing warmth she poured into him, tracing the pathways of his damaged nerves and finding the places where they were blocked.

  Her friend, the doctor, Daiyu Zhang, had to have been astonished when she taught Lexi acupuncture. Lexi had to have been accurate from the first time Daiyu Zhang had shown her what to do. Lexi could easily visualize the pathways and "see" the blockages. It was no wonder she could heal others. She placed needles in several places on his chest where she had the first session, but she added more this time.

  Twice she passed her hands over a second stab wound and heat poured through his body. She smoothed back his hair again. "Go to sleep, Gavriil. I'll watch over you. You need complete rest for half an hour. Your brothers will take care of anyone coming near the farm, and the farm itself will warn us. When Airiana came back, we fixed a kind of power grid surrounding us." She made a face. "Of course it let you in."

  "It recognized me the way it does all of you. I'm a Prakenskii, just like my brothers. Of course it would know me. And your farm probably recognized that I'm your significant other. Your partner. The man who is going to marry you." His eyes met hers. "If you'll have me."

  She moistened her lips, wariness back. "If I know I can make you happy, Gavriil, I'll say yes, but not until then. I'm not going to ruin your life because I can't have a physical relationship. I'm already more than halfway into falling in love with you. I know that. I'm not ashamed to admit it, but it isn't good enough just feeling the emotion. I have to be able to show you."

  "Halfway?" He captured her hand and brought it to the edge of the bed. "Only halfway?"

  "I said more than halfway."

  "I'm all the way. I fell like a ton of bricks, and this halfway nonsense has to go. You have to be right there with me."

  She gave a little mock sigh. "I'll see what I can do. Now go to sleep. I'm going to see if the dogs want to go outside for a few minutes to do their business, and I'm hoping Kiss will find the right spot to have her babies. Not on one of the beds."

  "Did she get up on the beds? She knows better."

  "No, she didn't, but she's checked out every single other possible place in the house, and I figure that was next on her list. Go to sleep. I'm not kidding, Gavriil. If you don't, I'm knocking you out with a frying pan."

  He tried not to laugh. It hurt to laugh. He was stuck lying on his back with just a sheet over his naked body and needles sticking out of his chest when she threatened him--with a frying pan.

  "Think about me while I'm sleeping, solnyshko moya, because I intend to dream about you."

  Lexi smiled at him and left the room. She would have closed the door but she knew him well enough to know he would object. She went straight to the phone in the kitchen to play back the recording, wanting to see if she could identify the voice. If she could, maybe Jonas would find the man before Gavriil di
d. She wanted Gavriil to have a chance to lead a normal life--a peaceful one.

  There were thirty messages, and of the thirty messages, only nine were legitimate business messages. The other twenty-one were threats and after listening to them repeatedly, she realized that six different voices had left the messages. Of the six, she was certain of one belonging to a man named Benjamin Frost. He had been an enforcer for the Reverend and when every compound had been raided, he hadn't been picked up. He'd been one of the most brutal of all enforcers, and many of the leaders of the other compounds feared he had too much influence over the Reverend.

  She wrote the name down and put five more question marks on the notepaper. Kiss whined, and she whirled around. The dog nosed the door. If she let her out and she found a place outside to have her puppies, Lexi feared she wouldn't be able to get the dog back inside.

  "All right," she said aloud, "but you have to mind me."

  She stepped out the kitchen door and waved the dogs outside after her. The wind had increased in velocity, rushing toward the house, carrying droplets of water with it. She tasted salt and sea when she lifted her face toward the sky. Overhead the clouds spun in giant swirls of black and gray and white, rolling around to shoot upward in great spinning towers.

  "Hurry," she cautioned. "The storm's about to break any moment and you don't want to be caught out here. You'll get soaked." The dogs had longer, curly coats and beards with hair growing in long sweeps over their eyes. Their coats soaked up water easily. She knew because both loved sticking their heads in the water dish and then shaking them to spread water from one end of the kitchen to the other. Gavriil had placed several small hand towels in each room and now she knew why.

  "The storm's coming in, you two, hurry. Do your business right now." She did her best to sound authoritative. She was still just a little intimidated by the large dogs, although Drago seemed to like her, and she was beginning to feel sorry for Kiss.

  The sky had already darkened, although it was only late afternoon. She loved storms. She loved sitting on her porch and watching them come in from the sea. Rikki always was careful to keep too much water from hurting their crops, so she didn't worry about damage, and she loved the way the trees and plants responded to the rain.

  She walked around the house, surprised that both dogs followed her. When she stepped onto her front porch, both animals did the same.

  "He told you to guard me, didn't he?" she asked, realizing Gavriil had given the two Black Russian Terriers the job of looking after her. "So much for you liking me, Drago. You had me fooled for a moment."

  Kiss whined and started panting hard. "Uh oh. I think you need to find your spot, little momma," Lexi said, and opened the door to signal them inside the way she'd seen Gavriil do. Both dogs responded by nudging her leg, nearly pushing her into the house.

  Lexi laughed and gave them a scratch under their chins. "Fine. I'll go in first, but you do realize being bossed around by the two of you is embarrassing. You can try when we're alone but not in front of anyone. It's going to be bad enough when Gavriil's feeling fine again. I'll bet he's the bossy type."

  She closed the door just as the heavens burst open and rain poured down in solid sheets of glittering silver. Kiss hurried down the hall toward the bedroom where Gavriil was. There was no stopping her. Clearly, she wanted the companionship of the man who had raised her.

  Lexi followed her through the open door. Gavriil appeared to be asleep, but she knew he wasn't. He would have alerted the moment they came into the house, but his eyes remained closed, and he looked younger, the lines in his face not etched quite as deep.

  Lexi watched Kiss go to the corner, inside the open closet where Gavriil had made a nesting box for the dog. It was big enough for her and the puppies and fit nicely inside the walk-in closet in the deepest part, back in the corner. Lexi had put blankets, sheets and towels on the bottom of it, hoping Kiss would use it.

  Kiss scratched around, piling the old sheets and towels into a more comfortable bed before she lay down. Once inside the closet, she was nearly impossible to see. It was dark and she had slipped far back into the shadows, but Lexi could hear her panting as if she was uncomfortable.

  She made her way to Gavriil, placing her hands over his body to feel if the pathways were beginning to respond to the ancient therapy. She couldn't help herself, nor did she try to stop the sudden impulse to lean down and brush a kiss across his mouth. There was something in him that drew her.

  He hadn't seemed to have much of a life. Together they could make something good, she was certain of it, and yet she feared she would be the one to hold them back. Her fears. Her trauma. They both were broken, there was no doubt about that. All along she thought she was saving him. She was certain of it until that moment. Looking down at his face, she knew it was the other way around. Gavriil was saving her.

  He lifted his lashes and she found herself staring into his amazing dark blue eyes. It was a bit like falling into the night. He made her aware of herself as a woman, as feminine. She had never felt feminine before. Her body had always been something she covered up and didn't think about. Now she was aware of her aching breasts and jittery stomach, the heat between her legs. Her body temperature even went up as though she had a fever whenever she was close to him.

  Worse, she was aware of him as a man. She couldn't take a breath without breathing him into her lungs. Her body was on fire because of this man. She'd been dead inside and out. Even the shell of her body had been broken, and suddenly she was alive again. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. Still, she didn't know what to do. Being the one doing the saving gave her a goal and purpose she could live with. If he was the one doing the saving . . .

  She couldn't breathe. Couldn't find air. The room actually spun, and her legs turned to rubber. Her stomach lurched and the need to escape overtook her. She looked around for a place to run, to hide, but she was frozen. Her heart pounded so hard, so rapidly, she feared a heart attack.

  "What is it, solnyshko moya?" He caught her hand. "You have tears in your eyes."

  She had to answer him. There had to be honesty between them, and he had been more than honest, taking a risk when others would have lied. Her voice trembled and it seemed impossible to get the words out when she couldn't find air. "It's you, Gavriil. I realized I'm the one who needs you."

  "I don't understand, Lexi."

  "You tempted me. That low whisper of yours. That soft voice and tortured feeling to you." She closed her eyes, feeling lost. "Almost as if you dared me to come to you. I kept getting closer and closer to the flame, I just couldn't stop myself." Her legs were going to give out and she would find herself on the floor in another minute.

  "Lexi, take out the needles." Gavriil made it a command. He wasn't certain what had happened or why she was suddenly questioning their strange relationship, but he wasn't going to lose her.

  "You weren't living much of a life. All this time I thought I could help you. I could make a difference in your life. Give you peace, take away your pain and maybe give you a better life. Something better than moving every two days and never trusting anyone. I pursued you. I asked you to stay with me." She looked around helplessly, the room spinning so fast she feared she would faint and be forever embarrassed by her inadequacies.

  "Are you rescinding your offer?" His thumb slid over her inner wrist.

  "I don't know how to feel now." She sounded lost. "What am I giving you after all? What is it you need from me?"

  "Take these needles out, Lexi. I can't talk to you about something this important with such a handicap."

  "I don't know what to do, now. I don't know what to feel or how to act."

  She was completely panicked. He could see it in her eyes, and hear it in her breathing. He swore in Russian and began to pull out the needles himself. She made a single sound and tried to help him, but her hands trembled so badly she could barely grasp the small needles.

  The moment he was free, he sat up and caught at her when
she would have fled the room. He was fast, his reflexes honed and he had her wrist, tugging her back to his side and then down onto the bed beside him.

  "No," he decreed. "You're going to stay right here and talk to me. What has you in a panic? You faced the dogs without batting an eye and now you're ready to crawl into a hole and hide."

  Lexi shook her head, trying desperately to drag air into her lungs. He pushed her head down, his palm curled around the nape of her neck. "Take a breath, solnyshko moya, a nice slow breath, and then you can talk to me."

  She tried for him. Her body trembled, but she worked at controlling her breathing. "It's you, Gavriil. You're this strong, courageous man. Look at you. Really take a look at yourself. I convinced myself that I could help you--that you were every bit as broken in your way as I am. I thought you needed me, but you don't. You don't need anyone, least of all someone like me."

  "Where the hell is this coming from?" he demanded, allowing her to raise her head. He needed an enemy to blame. Nothing she said made a damn bit of sense.

  She remained silent, refusing to look at him. Gavriil shook his head. "You really don't know, do you? You don't have a clue what you are to me. Not the least little clue."

  She stole a quick glance from under long, spiky lashes. She gave a quick shake of her head.

  "You're everything. That's what you are. Everything." He enunciated the word. "You're the only person that has ever mattered to me enough to make me want to stay. To settle. You saved my life. I was going to die after saying good-bye to my family. I knew Sorbacov would send his assassins after me and sooner or later they'd get me. It didn't matter. Dying truly didn't because I didn't have anything to live for. You gave me a reason."

  She shook her head again.

  Gavriil caught her chin and forced her to look at him. "Do you know why you're having a panic attack? Have you even figured it out yet?"

  "It isn't a panic attack," she said in a small voice.

  "Of course it is. I mentioned marriage. Marriage is unholy to you. Chains. A dictatorship. And whom exactly would you be tying yourself to? A nice guy? A man who is sweet and easily led around? No, you went out and got yourself a wolf. He doesn't even look like a sheep. Of course you're having a panic attack. Marriage represents everything ugly that happened to you."

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