Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  She looked horrified. "That's not true."

  She didn't sound convinced. She sounded shocked and scared, but her tone told him he was on the right path.

  "Of course it is, and your reaction is perfectly natural. Caine took you from your home and forced you to enter into what he called marriage. You endured years of abuse from a perverted, sadistic pedophile in the name of marriage. How could you not associate the word with something horrific?"

  She leaned into the warmth of his body, not away from him, as if he gave her comfort and she wasn't quite aware of it. He wanted to pull her onto his lap, but she was stiff, her pulse pounding and her breath still ragged. She was at least thinking, listening to him.

  "I thought it was beautiful when Rikki and Judith were married," she said in a small voice. "I'm looking forward to Airiana's wedding."

  "They aren't you. We're already connected. We both know I did that without your permission. In a sense, just as Caine took away your choice, so did I."

  "No." She whirled around to face him, right there on the bed, her green eyes dark with anger, the panic receding. "You are nothing like Caine. Nothing. Don't ever compare yourself to him again. You're careful of my feelings and kind and I can't imagine you hurting me."

  "Really, Lexi? I had my hand around your throat."

  "I knew you wouldn't hurt me, Gavriil. When I'm with you, I feel safe. Even then, when we were together, I wanted to keep you here on the farm where I thought I could make your life better. I felt as if we belonged."

  "Unless I mention marriage." Deliberately he pushed humor into his voice.

  There was a small silence. A slow, reluctant smile touched her mouth briefly and faded. "I think you could be right. I didn't think about it. I know it wasn't a real marriage, that a union between a man and a woman should be a partnership. I know Caine was sadistic. I wasn't the only person he hurt."

  "That's all intellectual, Lexi, not emotional. You can recite the truth all day long, but your emotions can't necessarily be dictated to."

  "Yours are," she pointed out.

  He shook his head. "Not when it comes to you. When you panicked and I wasn't certain what was wrong, I thought I might lose you and I began to panic as well."

  "No you didn't. I was watching you. Your expression never changed."

  "Just because I don't portray emotion, Lexi, doesn't mean I don't feel it. When it comes to you, you can bet I'm feeling something. I don't want you to ever think you aren't valued by me. Offering marriage was my way of showing you how much I value you, but I know we're connected. We don't have to go into a church and say vows to tie us together. If you need the freedom you have right now, then that's how we'll do this thing. More than anything else, Lexi, you have to know I've got your back. Just talk to me when something doesn't feel right."

  "I didn't realize that was what upset me. I just felt all along that we were on equal footing. That I had something to offer you no one else could."

  "Which is entirely the truth. Absolutely the truth. I wouldn't be sitting here with another woman."

  "You don't know that. This is the right time for you, Gavriil. Maybe you were just open because your brothers . . ."

  He put his finger over her mouth to cut her off. "Look at me. I'm no young man. I've traveled the world. I never had another woman, or wanted one. You're it. The only. We fit. And I'm okay with being broken. You are as well. There's no right or wrong here, solnyshko moya, it's only the two of us. We can make our own rules."

  Lexi nodded. "I'm sorry, Gavriil. I had no idea that was going to happen. That's one of my biggest leftovers from my days at that compound. I can't seem to stop the panic attacks, and I have no idea what's going to trigger them. I hate leaving the farm because I'm afraid it will happen out in public."

  "Do you think your having panic attacks is going to make me think less of you?"

  "I think less of me. I should be able to control them, but I can't, no matter how hard I try. I learned all the tools they give someone like me and still, I can't overcome them. Of course I didn't want you to see that in me. I want you to feel like you're getting someone special."

  He laughed. He couldn't help it. "Lexi, you're talking to a man who killed people for a living. I'm a machine my employer points at someone and orders them gone. I follow those orders. I don't think about it. I don't question it. I don't care. I just do it. What kind of a man do you think you're getting? Compared to my flaws, your one tiny failing seems a little trivial."

  Lexi shook her head. "You aren't like that. You just think you are. I know it isn't true because you told me everyone you'd gone after was someone who was bad, which means you did your research, you didn't let them just point at a target. In any case, I can see past that man to the other one, the one you hide even from yourself."

  "That man doesn't come out often, Lexi. In fact, he doesn't come out for anyone but you." Gavriil stroked his hand down her hair. Her ponytail had to go. They were in the house and he wanted all that luxurious hair to cascade like a rippling waterfall down her back.

  "He comes out with a little fourteen-year-old girl who needs help. And with a pair of Black Russian Terriers. I'll bet he comes out around his brothers as well."

  "Don't paint me as a saint. It won't work. I think it's important you have an accurate picture of me at all times, otherwise you'll be bitterly disappointed someday and that's the last thing I want."

  "Have no fear, Gavriil Prakenskii. I will never see you as a saint. Just being a Prakenskii prevents that from ever happening," she assured him, with a small laugh. "I have to go fix us something to eat."

  "I'll give you a hand. Let me get my shirt."

  "Don't forget your pants," she advised. "You never know who might drop by." She crossed to the door. "Like the sheriff," she added, and sauntered out.

  Gavriil stared after her and then found himself laughing. She scared the hell out of him, and then somehow made everything all right again, so right he could laugh. That didn't make sense to him. He wasn't certain how he was going to live on a roller coaster after his well-ordered life, but he was determined to ride it all the way. The woman was worth every emotional upheaval.

  He dragged on his clothes and went to check on Kiss. Her panting indicated she was in the beginning stages of labor. He caught her head between his hands and looked into her eyes, murmuring his reassurance, knowing he would be sitting there in the closet with her when she gave birth.

  "You're beautiful, Kiss," he said softly. "You're going to make a wonderful mother, just like that woman who at the moment is driving me a little crazy. We're going to take care of her, the two of us, you and me. We'll make certain her life is happy. Right? She's going to love your babies."

  Kiss licked his hand. She didn't show her affection very often, and he was pleased that she did so when she was confused about what was happening to her.

  Gavriil stood up and moved around the room, checking his weapons out of habit, and then followed after Lexi at a more leisurely pace. He found her in the kitchen, pulling all kinds of produce out of the refrigerator. He leaned one hip lazily against the doorjamb and crossed his arms over his chest.

  "Who might be dropping by?"

  "I'm certain you heard me," Lexi said, rinsing several bunches of different kinds of lettuce. "Jonas Harrington is going to come by to listen to the messages various members of the cult left me. I listened while you were sleeping."

  "Without me." He kept his gaze fixed on her face.

  "You knew they were threatening me. It was just more of the same. Seriously, there was no need for you to stand there with me listening to their vile threats."

  "Of course there was need. It's called support. Don't shut me out because you think I might go hunting."

  She paused in the act of tearing the lettuce leaves and throwing them into a bowl. Her gaze met his squarely. "Not might, Gavriil. You will and you know it. I don't want that life for you anymore. And I don't want to be the cause of you feeling as if you have to c
ontinue in it."

  "Lexi, you're not going to shut me out of this. These people mean business. You already know what they're capable of. Do you really believe for one moment I'm going to hand them over to the sheriff and think it's done?"

  "I believe you should have a chance at living in peace, Gavriil. Hunting criminals and killing them is not peaceful."

  "To me it is, especially if I know those people will never have the chance of touching you or anyone you love."

  She moved around the center island and came straight to him, standing in front of him, her eyes soft and more loving than he felt he deserved.

  "Gavriil. No. You have to stop."

  She placed her palm directly over one of the scars on his abdomen. At once he felt the heat. Her energy was strong. He pressed his own hand over hers, holding her to him, wishing the material of his shirt was out of the way so they could be skin to skin.

  "If they come on our property and we have to defend ourselves, then yes, we'll fight them any way that we can, but you can't go hunting them." Her hand seemed to melt right through the thin cotton of his shirt so that he felt hot where she was touching him. "Let Harrington handle it."

  She moved him in ways he had never expected. He took her hand and raised it to his mouth to press a kiss into the center of her palm. "Solnyshko moya, you are asking an impossible task of me. I am incapable of giving you this thing you desire. I am a hunter of men. That's who I am."

  She shook her head. "You're my man. That's who you are."

  He framed her face with his hands and bent his head to hers. Her lips were soft and warm and melted under his. He kissed her gently at first. Tenderly. Love welled up and encompassed him. There was no better place to be than with her. Her mouth was paradise. Hot. Filled with passion.

  She gave herself to him tentatively at first. Shyly. Then she let herself go and simply accepted the desire pouring into both of them. Electricity arced between them. Lightning flashed in their veins. A fever of need raged as if they had caught fire and burned hot and pure together.

  Gavriil pulled her into his arms, holding her as close as possible. He wanted her in his bed, all skin and heat, her mouth moving over him, sating the urgent demands that were becoming difficult to ignore.

  "I love that you want me to have this life with you. I want it too, but I can't be someone I'm not, Lexi. I can't have anyone threatening you and just stay on the sidelines. You know that, don't you?"

  She rested her head over his heart. "I want you just as safe as you want me. Can you understand that? You feel invincible, even to me, but you're not. You told me I was your everything. That I'm your world. The reason you stayed alive. Did it ever occur to you that I feel that exact same way about you?"

  He hadn't. He couldn't imagine that the overwhelming emotion he felt for her was duplicated in any way. It didn't seem possible. "I'm so connected to you, Lexi, I can't think straight sometimes," he admitted.

  "You give me panic attacks," she pointed out, pulling out of his arms with a small smile on her face. "That should count for something."

  He followed her to the center island, where she was clearly putting together a salad. She already had eggs boiling and there were various cuts of meat in bowls. She deftly cut up cucumbers and tomatoes while he chopped scallions.

  "I'm serious, Lexi. I want you to tell me who these men are who have threatened you. I know you know them."

  "Sadly, I know you're serious." She sighed and added fresh croutons to the mix. "I can't stop you, but you might consider you aren't protected here in the United States and if you're caught, you'll be put in jail."

  "Did you think my government protected any of us?" Gavriil raised an eyebrow.

  She added avocado to the growing mix of vegetables already in the bowl. "Didn't they?"

  "Of course not. They would never admit they sent assassins after anyone. No government is going to admit they have them or would use them to eliminate someone of importance."

  "Why didn't you just walk away from it all?"

  He shrugged. "My youngest brother, Ilya, was out in the open. He worked as an Interpol agent, but earlier, they used him in a few compromising covert operations and then threatened to expose him. He would have been killed. When we were boys, both Viktor and I agreed to do whatever was needed as long as they gave Ilya a decent life. For the most part, Sorbacov kept his word and we kept ours."

  "So you're an honorable man."

  She set the bowl of salad on the table and added the various other smaller bowls with other ingredients. He carried the plates and silverware over while she went back for the dressing.

  "I tried to be a man my father would be proud of," he said.

  She smiled at him as she sank into a chair. "I can't imagine that he isn't proud of you. I am. I think you're extraordinary. I still can't believe, when I look at you, that you're sitting opposite me, telling me you want to stay with me."

  "Panic attacks and all." He raised an eyebrow at her. "Not to mention the kissing is superb. I'm all about the kissing."

  She laughed briefly, the worry fading from her eyes, but then she looked directly at him, serious again. "I guess you're going to do whatever it is you feel is right, but promise me, when you do, that you'll always come back to me."

  "Nothing will ever stop me from coming home to you."

  "I'm still going to have Jonas Harrington listen to the messages. I only recognized one voice. The Reverend set up several compounds, not just the one where I was held. The police raided them and quite a few of the key people were taken into custody, but not all of them were found guilty. And not all of them were arrested. I don't necessarily know the others threatening me."

  Gavriil shrugged. "Ilya mentioned Harrington was a good man and that he's married to a Drake. I suppose it won't hurt to have him on our side."

  "I have to work tomorrow. I didn't do much other than replant my lettuce field."

  "This storm is going to last awhile."

  "Through the night, but we'll be able to get a lot done tomorrow." She pinned him with what she considered was her sternest gaze. "Even if it rains."

  He thought her "stern" eyes were beautiful--all cool mossy green. "Let's have our tea on the porch and watch the storm after dinner," he suggested.

  Her eyes lit up, turned into sparkling emeralds. "I'd love that. I love storms."

  "Wouldn't you know Kiss would deliver in a storm? I know you don't like sleeping in the bed, but maybe it would be a good idea tonight if you stayed in the room with me so if something goes wrong, we can both help her deliver safely."

  It was a gamble, but he needed a good reason to bring her back to the bedroom. She was obviously interested in the dogs, and she was very compassionate. She gave him a look, but she didn't protest. Gavriil knew when to stay silent now that he knew he was going to get his way.


  GAVRIIL lay listening to the storm. As the night wore on, the rain increased in volume again. The wind howled through the trees and hurled water at the windows in a capricious manner, bending the boughs of the trees so that they sawed against one another loudly.

  Lexi lay curled beside him with only a thin sheet separating their bodies. She stayed on her side, turned away from him, but she didn't protest when he curved his body protectively around hers and slid one arm around her waist to hold her to him.

  He was aware of her every breath, every movement of her body. He'd taken the tie from her hair and it spilled around him, rich and luxurious, a wealth of dark ruby silk he couldn't stop burying his face in. Just inhaling her scent gave him a hard-on, a thick, painful reminder that his body came alive anytime she was near.

  Neither spoke, both listening to the wild music of the night. He dragged her closer to him, pushing his hips tightly against her, so that the thick length of his aching cock pressed into her buttocks, finding a snug home. He heard her inhale, a raw gasp, but she remained still.

  He waited until the tension dissipated before he slipped his hand beneath
the thin material of her racerback tee, spreading his fingers to take in as much skin as possible over her narrow rib cage. The tips of his fingers nestled beneath her soft breasts. Again, she stiffened a little, but she didn't protest or move away from him. He held her, keeping his breathing slow and even, willing her to accept his touch on her bare skin.

  Gavriil didn't try to hide his need of her or his body's reaction to her. For them to have any kind of a physical relationship, she would have to get used to him touching her, wanting her body, even needing it.

  "Do you always sleep in pajamas?" he asked.

  "Do you always sleep in the nude?" she countered.

  He rubbed his knuckles back and forth gently along the underside of her breasts. "Yes. Clothes bunch up and I have a hard enough time sleeping without that."

  She was silent a moment. He felt her relax even more against him, even pushing her bottom back tighter against his groin. Her buttocks rubbed against him just for a moment, an involuntary reaction he was certain, and he had to close his eyes and allow his body to absorb the rush of heat. For a moment he couldn't breathe with wanting her.

  "He said it was wrong to sleep in the nude," she admitted. "That my body tempted men and dragged them down from their spiritual level. He made me sleep in thick sweats. The only time I didn't have clothes is when he punished me."

  Gavriil felt a cold rage swelling into a tidal wave of pure hatred toward the dead Caine and his disgusting friends.

  "I prefer you to tempt my body, angel moy. Everything he told you was a lie. Don't let him get into your head like that."

  "Gavriil." She turned her head and looked at him.

  The action pushed her breasts across his hand. He opened his palm to cup the soft weight to him. She blinked several times, but she didn't protest.

  "Tell me, laskovaya moya."

  "They branded me. On my thigh. Up high. There's no way to get it off of me."

  He closed his eyes briefly, his face buried in her hair. He'd done something similar and it had to have hurt her--a terrible reminder of Caine taking her freedom.

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