Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  "Lexi." He breathed her name. "I'm so sorry. I did the same thing to you. I didn't know. I know it hurt when I put my mark on your palm. I should have waited. I should have asked your consent."

  He slipped one hand free to capture her palm and bring it to his mouth. He pressed kisses into the center. "Believe me, solnyshko moya, I'm sorrier than I can tell you." The more he learned of Caine, the more he feared she would think there were too many similarities.

  "Don't," she replied softly. "Don't even go there. I need to say this to you. I need you to hear what I'm saying."

  He tucked his hand back under her top, needing to stay close and connected.

  "I have scars. On my back and the back of my thighs. They're ugly."

  If he could have killed Caine much slower than he had, he would have done so. He would never feel remorse for what he'd done to the man.

  "I have scars all over me, front and back, and it doesn't bother you."

  She turned back and snuggled deeper into the pillow. He kept his hand curled around her right breast. Her nipple pressed against the center of his palm.

  "It isn't the same and you know it. A man looks . . . manly with scars. A woman can look horrible."

  He listened to the rain pounding against their roof, slinging water onto the panes of glass, and he breathed her into his lungs. "You couldn't be ugly to me no matter how many scars you have, Lexi. If that's all that's keeping you from sleeping in the nude, take off your clothes. Let me see. Let's get it over with and you'll never have to worry about it again."

  He felt her inhale deeply. There was more, and he had to let her get it out. He could tell it was difficult and very important to her.

  "My breasts are too big. He made me bind them because . . ."

  "Because he liked children not women. You're a woman, Lexi, not a child, and your body is beautiful. Especially to me. Caine can't reach you here, not unless you allow his garbage to color how you feel about your body. Believe me, not him. Take off your clothes and be free. You don't cut your hair and you have to know it's beautiful. Take them off and get rid of his poison."

  He opened his hand and allowed his fingers to massage her breast gently, small caresses. He wanted his mouth there. He could spend hours playing with her full breasts and never tire. He could feel the reaction of her body. Her breasts were quite sensitive. Her hips moved subtly, a restless need building.

  "I'm not certain I want to move." Her admission was shy. Embarrassed. Honest.

  Caine really hadn't touched her body. She had served him, not the other way around. Lexi had never experienced a man arousing her in the way Gavriil was. He transferred his finger and thumb to her nipple, tugging and rolling it until he heard her audible gasp. She sat up abruptly, hugging herself, looking down at him with dazed eyes. Her lips were slightly parted and she looked shocked.

  "That's how a man who loves a woman touches her, Lexi," he said, without moving. He watched her face carefully. "He loves her body. He worships her. The reason the sex act is often referred to as making love is because that's what he's doing--he's showing her with his body how much he loves her."

  She nodded her head, her long hair spilling around her face as she sat on the side of the bed staring through the glass into the night. She took a deep breath. He saw the rise and fall of her breasts against the shine of the window. Very slowly she grasped the hem of her shirt and raised it above her head.

  His breath left his lungs in a heated rush. Her rib cage was narrow, emphasizing the full swell of her breasts. She gave another tug and the shirt was off. She didn't hide her breasts from him, but rather turned slightly so he couldn't see her back.

  "Do you know how else a man can show his woman how much he loves her?" His voice had gone low. He hooked his arm around her waist and pulled her back down so that her hair spilled across the pillow and her breasts thrust upward toward the ceiling. Toward his mouth as he rose above her.

  He bent his head to her, his tongue tasting her skin, the soft, rose petal skin that drove him crazy. He lapped at her lush mound, stroking her nipple with his tongue, and then using his teeth gently before closing his mouth around her breast, drawing her into heat and fire. With his hand he caressed her other breast, tugging and rolling her nipple while he suckled strongly.

  He felt her body's response, the electrical charge running from breast to groin. He slid his hand down her belly, needing the feeling of possession, as she writhed under him, her skin growing hot. She made a small, strangled sound in the back of her throat. At once he was alert, careful not to get lost in the wonder of her body. He lifted his head to look at her. Her eyes went wide with sheer panic.

  Lexi's body burned with fever. Her breasts ached and begged for more. Electrical currents ran from her breasts to her most feminine core, a heated magic she hadn't known existed. This was what making love was. This was the feeling of utter and absolute need. Want. Her entire body felt as if it might burst into flames, and deep inside, tension wound tighter and tighter until she nearly screamed for release.

  Her body no longer belonged to her. She was Gavriil's. His. His mouth and hands had claimed her, and before she had known what to expect, it was already too late. She wanted more. Everything. She wanted his mouth and hands on her forever . . .

  A sob welled up. If he made her feel like this, what would he expect from her? She knew. She'd had to do such things a million times and the thought had bile rising. She couldn't. She just couldn't. She would never be able to give Gavriil such a beautiful and wondrous gift. She stiffened, her hands going to his shoulder.

  Gavriil pulled back immediately, smiling down at her, tucking the hair tumbling around her face behind her ear. "That's how a man should love his woman, Lexi. And that's just the beginning."

  She stared up at him, her breath coming in ragged gasps. She was close to another panic attack; she could feel her heart racing and there was no way to control her breathing.

  His hands were gentle--loving even--as he stroked her hair, small caresses meant to soothe, not arouse.

  "Did I frighten you?" His voice low and matter-of-fact.

  Lexi bit at her lower lip for a moment and then shook her head, veiling her expression with her lashes. She had to say something so she settled for the truth. "I frightened me. I've never felt like that."

  "Like what? Tell me how you felt."

  She felt more confused than ever. He was so amazing. How could he want her so much when she was so broken? "Hot. Wanting. Needing. Really hot. My body didn't feel as if it belonged to me at all."

  "Was it a good feeling?"

  She nodded slowly, her gaze fixed steadily on his face, her anchor in a very violent storm. She loved his face, loved everything about him, and she was going to have to save him from himself. Her heart ached.

  Gavriil smiled at her serious expression. "I'm going to kiss you, so don't panic. Just a kiss because I find you so adorable and I can't resist you."

  He didn't wait for her consent, he bent his head to hers and took possession of her mouth. Again, he was careful to coax her response rather than demand it, but he was a little more aggressive, sweeping his tongue into her mouth and dueling with her, holding her closer, his mouth insistent. She was definitely getting the hang of kissing, and just like always, he found himself slipping into another world--one of pure feeling.

  Sex had always been rather rote to him, every movement planned and carried out. He dictated to his body when to feel and what to feel. But not with her. Everything was new and real. The world dropped away and there was only the feel of her body melting into his, skin to skin. Her mouth was paradise, a hotbed of pleasure taking him outside himself and pushing away every other experience he'd ever had.

  She brushed her fingers through his hair, and his heart reacted. His blood surged hotly. He kissed her again and again because once wasn't enough and never would be.

  Gavriil lifted his head, breathing deeply to bring his body under some semblance of control. He loved that she could
destroy years and years of discipline and training so easily and not even realize she was doing it.

  "You have tears in your eyes again," he accused.

  "I know. You're just so amazing, Gavriil. I don't think there's another man like you in the world. I don't think men stop like you do when they obviously need to keep going." She took a deep, shuddering breath.

  "They do if they love their partner. They should be in tune with her. Now please show me your scars so you never have to worry about that again."

  She stiffened. Her gaze slid away from him. "This is even more difficult now. I want to be perfect for you."

  Lexi wanted to weep until the entire bedroom was flooded with tears. She couldn't do this. She couldn't. He had swept her away from the ugly memories and taken her to a place she'd never been. She hadn't known a woman--or a man--could feel like that. Gavriil had so generously aroused her body and in doing so, she knew he was just as aroused. She would never be able to do the same thing to him. Not ever. The thought made her want to vomit.

  No matter how many times she told herself it would be different because it was Gavriil, she knew she couldn't do it. Now, realizing just how much need he felt, she had to admit defeat. She just couldn't do that to him--tie him to a woman who could never satisfy him in bed--and she couldn't.

  She already knew her scars wouldn't matter to him. She looked into his eyes, and she knew he accepted her with all of her flaws. He wanted her. He deserved so much better. So much more. She would have to leave her beloved farm because he wouldn't leave her. She wanted him to have a home. A place of peace. She had found it here and the least she could do was pass it on to him, even if she couldn't stay with him.

  Her throat clogged with tears. She ached with wanting him, not just her body, but her mind. She hadn't known a man like Gavriil existed. She barely remembered her father. Caine had managed to take away every good memory, telling her stories until she couldn't remember what was real and what he'd made up.

  Lexi sat up slowly and scooted to the edge of the bed, slowly turning around to present her back to him. Her long hair tumbled down her back to pool on the sheet. He moved it slowly out of his way. A web of scars started near her bra line and continued down her back to disappear into her pajama bottoms.

  He used both hands to lift her to her feet, pulling the bottoms down to inspect the scars there. She had them on her buttocks as well as on the backs of her thighs. The ones low were the worst, the ridges raised and ugly. She felt the touch of his fingers, so gentle, almost a caress as he traced the scars with his fingertip.

  The scars didn't matter now. She felt defeated. Caine had won after all. He had ruined her chance at a real relationship with a decent, caring man. She couldn't overcome her fears and the ugly memories of what sex was like with a monster. She was not going to subject Gavriil to a half-life with her.

  Abruptly she swept her hair back down and stood up. She couldn't look at him, couldn't let him see her face. She went to the drawers and yanked out jeans and a tee. She had a bag stashed under the stairs for a quick getaway.

  "I'm going to sit out on the porch for a few minutes and catch the end of the storm," she announced in a tight voice, and left the room.

  She was going to run. Gavriil knew it just looking at her. He saw it in the slump of her shoulders and the way her head was down, but her walk was determined. He slid out from under the sheet, reached down and gathered his clothes, careful to stay silent.

  He took a deep breath and tried to puzzle out what had gone wrong. She had felt exactly what she was supposed to feel. He hadn't gone too far, he'd been careful to just show her, not only how it could be wonderful between a man and a woman, but how he felt it should be. He'd never actually had that experience so maybe he'd blown it, gone too fast, tried to take her too far too quickly.

  Out of habit he tucked a gun into the waistband of his jeans, pushed a knife into his boot and followed her. She hadn't turned on lights--neither did he. He only had a short time to figure out her thinking. Where had he gone wrong?

  For the first time she had experienced true sexual desire. She had never known what it was to feel real desire for her partner. Her body had come alive under his mouth and hands. She'd been frightened of course, but not panicked, not sad--and he'd read sorrow in her eyes. What was it?

  He went through the kitchen, avoiding the front of the house where he knew she stashed her sleeping bag as well as a "run" bag. And she was running from him, that much he was certain of. Why? He slipped out the back door, his mind turning over the problem while he circled around the house.

  Lexi was a generous woman. A compassionate one. All along she had seen the man inside the body of a killer and she'd reached for him. She had offered him a sanctuary even knowing how dangerous he was. She wasn't afraid of him. She was afraid for him. Now everything clicked into place. She didn't believe she could ever satisfy him, or give back to him what he could give her.

  He understood. How could he not? The things Caine must have made her do were reprehensible and criminal. She was terrified of a sexual relationship, but she'd made up her mind to try--until she really knew what it felt like.

  Rain fell on his face but he barely noticed. His hunting instincts had been honed over many years, and he knew she would go to the greenhouse and write letters to her sisters. She would never leave them without an explanation. All she had to do was walk off the farm and call witness protection and someone would come and get her. Lexi Thompson would disappear, and somewhere, far away, another woman would be born.

  Every cell in his body rebelled at the idea. She wasn't going anywhere. He knew they could make it work. The fever for her burned too hot, was too addicting. It wasn't all about sex, although he had to admit to himself he wanted a physical relationship with her, that the urge was strong and would be enduring.

  Lexi had given him knowledge he hadn't possessed in all the years he'd been alive. She had taught him love was given freely without thought of self. She thought herself broken beyond repair, yet he was the one that needed saving. He couldn't live without her. He'd been existing, and she'd been living a half-life. Together they made a whole. He just had to find a way to get her to see that.

  He heard her weeping the moment he stepped inside the greenhouse. It was a cocoon of warmth. Plants grew huge and lush, a jungle nearly impenetrable, but he followed the heartbreaking sound to the western corner. She was sitting on the floor, her back to the wall, knees drawn up, her head resting on them, crying as if her heart was broken.

  He stood there watching her for a moment, feeling as if he might shatter seeing her utter despair and misery. He took a deep breath and looked down at his hands. They were actually trembling. He'd never had that happen before. Too much emotion was paralyzing. He couldn't make a mistake and he knew it. This was a defining moment and he had too much at stake.

  He couldn't force her, even though a part of him wanted to lock her up until she understood they belonged together. It couldn't be that way. She had to want to be with him. It had to be her choice, not his. This was the most difficult moment of his life. He didn't want to lose, because if he lost her now, he would lose everything.

  He skirted around the last row of tomatoes and came to a stop in front of her. She knew he was there, he actually felt her sudden awareness, but she didn't look up. Gavriil sank down beside her. Close but not touching. He wanted her to feel his warmth radiating toward her, but he didn't want her to feel he was forcing her to connect with him. She had to take that step herself.

  "I don't want you to go, Lexi. I want you to choose me. Stay with me. I know I'm not much of a prize. I know my faults. I need a commitment from you. I need that, Lexi. Not marriage if you don't want it. If you give your word, that will be enough."

  She didn't respond or lift her head. Her soft crying continued. It was all he could do not to lift his hand to her hair.

  "We're always going to have these moments of doubts, but if we both make that commitment, we'll always
know the other will stand with us through them. I need to know you'll stand with me. I've got this hole a mile deep inside of me, and only you manage to fill it. No one else. There's never going to be anyone else. Neither of us is perfect, but together I know we can be whole. I want you to choose me, Lexi. Give yourself to me. I'll always cherish you, I promise."

  She lifted her head and leaned back against the wall, looking at him with tear-filled eyes. She looked so sad his heart hurt.

  "You're the only reason I'm still alive, Lexi. Don't give up on us."

  She closed her eyes briefly. "I can't leave you. I tried, but I can't. I don't know why. I know it isn't even fair to you. It's a selfish need I can't overcome. You're like the flame and I'm a moth fluttering around you. This is going to be bad for you and I can't stop. I can't make it stop. I feel like you woke me up and now I can't live without you. I can't go back to being alone all the time, but I have nothing to give you."

  "Isn't that for me to decide?"

  "I don't know if it is, Gavriil. I feel a need to protect you. You won't protect yourself. Someone has to look out for you."

  "Then don't go. I've never been in love either, and it scares the hell out of me too, but I know it's real. When I touch you, kiss you, or just look at you, I know what I'm feeling is the real thing and I don't want to let that go."

  "How long can this last if I can't give you what you gave me tonight?"

  There it was. He was on very shaky ground. A minefield. She had a thing about equality when it came to their relationship. She wasn't going to let him be the one always giving and she was absolutely certain she couldn't give back.

  "Do you think in all my years of being an operative, I haven't had a woman sucking my cock?" His voice was harsh, and she winced, but he couldn't help it. Emotions were raw and painful, far worse than physical pain.

  "That's not what I want from you and it will never be what I want from you. Not ever. I don't want you in my life so I can use your body. I'm good at seduction, Lexi. I can go to a bar and pick up a woman and use her if that's what I wanted. I want love. When you touch me, I feel love in your hands. When you kiss me, I taste love. I'm not in a rush. I'm enjoying all the firsts you've given me."

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