Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  "You're so certain, Gavriil." Her eyes had gone very dark again. "I wish I could be like you, but I feel so confused. I feel like I'm running in circles with you. I don't know how to feel right now. I don't ever want you to look at me with disappointment."

  "I'm holding on by a thread, solnyshko moya." He hesitated. "Do you know what that means? Solnyshko moya? It means 'my sun.' That's what you are to me. The sun. The world. All the bright, good things in the world right here in this tiny little package. My world was dark. I lived in the shadows, and damn it all, I belonged there. I wasn't a good man until I found you. You make me a better man. I'm fighting for my life here, Lexi. I need you to fight for me, not against me."

  "That's what I'm doing, Gavriil. I am. I want you to be happy. You're a good man whether you think so or not. I don't want to think about you with another woman. I want to be the one to be with you, but . . ." She trailed off, clearly miserable.

  He reached over and threaded his fingers through hers, drawing her hand to his heart. "Just say yes and stop worrying about whether or not you can perform sexually. I can assure you, we're going to be fine in that area. Both of us. It isn't going to take much to arouse me, Lexi, not when you're the first and only woman who can do it naturally, without even touching me. You have no idea what an aphrodisiac that is. It's only been a couple of days. Give yourself time."

  "It's not like I did a very good job of saving you, Gavriil," she said, her smile a little watery. "From yourself or from me."

  "You have no idea what you've given me, Lexi. Say it to me. I need the words, the commitment. If you say it to me, I know you'll stay and work out anything with me."

  She bit down hard on her lower lip. He brought her knuckles to his mouth, looking her in the eyes.

  "You're so worried about the sex. It's so trivial compared to the other things we're going to have to work out, things you haven't thought about."

  Her eyebrow went up. "Like what?"

  "Like my personality. Who and what I am. Do you really believe the wolf is going to turn into the lamb? I'm not an easy man, and I'm very dominant. You've lived with submission and it was ugly. I'm going to make mistakes and trigger memories. I have to live with that fear and it's far more real and worrisome than whether every time we try to make love we succeed."

  His teeth scraped back and forth very gently over her knuckles. She blinked several times at him before she shook her head, a small smile touching her mouth briefly.

  "You're always very gentle with me, Gavriil. Always."

  "Because you haven't crossed me over anything important. You know I'm going to hunt these men down and kill them, one by one if I have to, until they leave us alone. You're not exactly happy about it, but I have to do it. It's not something I want to do, it's a must. Any threat to you will be eliminated and you're going to object every time."

  She leaned her head against his shoulder with a little sigh. "Can you imagine two more screwed up people? Seriously, Gavriil. What are we going to do?"

  "Stay here and commit to me. We'll work the farm together and learn to laugh and love together. As much as it's all a first for me, it is for you as well. There's no urgent timetable. Sex isn't going to glue us together, love is. We have to build a solid foundation and work from there. I intend to treat you so wonderfully you won't ever want to walk out on me again."

  "I was saving you, not walking out on you."

  "It feels the same. I'm not going to play the I-need-you-in-my-life-to-survive card--even though it's the truth. Don't do it again to me. Stay. Say it. Look me in the eye and say it to me. Your word that you'll stick with me through everything."

  "Do you really want me? Knowing everything about me?"

  "You're the only one who can make me whole. I want you with every breath in my body. I need you that much, Lexi."

  She lifted her head and looked into his eyes, her green gaze searching his carefully. The rain wept on the glass rooftop. The wind wailed at the glass walls. He held his breath. The dark, ugly place inside of him that was a hollow hole waited to swallow him.

  She smiled. "Then I guess we're going to work it all out together. I'm in it for the long haul because I want to be with you more than anything else."

  Air moved through his lungs. The dark hollow place receded, shrinking away from her light, not daring to compete with her. There was no competition, not when she loved him enough to try to overcome her fears. Not when she couldn't leave him. Not when she cried for him.

  Love was damn painful. She was stamped into his bones, into every organ of his body. There was no way out for him. He wanted her to love him with that same intensity. Their love didn't have to be the way it was portrayed in storybooks. They burned hot and bright, not just for the chemistry, but because two broken souls who had no hope found a way to be whole. He would protect her with every means he'd been taught or he'd learned over a lifetime of brutal lessons.

  "Come on, solnyshko moya, it's too cold out here for you. And Kiss was really uncomfortable. I could tell by her breathing. Let's go boil water or do whatever it is one does when their dog is about to give birth."

  She let him pull her up and then stopped abruptly, tugging on his hand until he stopped. "Wait. You don't know how to help her? Do you know what to do?"

  He grinned at her. "I know how to kill a man a thousand different ways. You need that, angel moy, and I'm your man. Dogs or anything else giving birth, I'm not an encyclopedia of knowledge."

  He felt weak with relief now that the crisis had passed. He wasn't certain how to feel about the by-product of loving her so much. He was a man confident in every part of his life, yet she'd reduced him to something close to desperation. He felt vulnerable and exposed. There was no way he could ever allow any other living person to see him in such bad shape.

  He tugged her to him, needing to hold her against him. She went into his arms and they clung to each other, just holding on, as if they had survived a terrible battle. He felt as if they had, as if he'd fought a war and come out victorious but exhausted. He nuzzled the top of her head with his chin.

  "Don't ever do that to me again, Lexi. I don't know what I'd do. I don't know how to feel emotion. It's all or nothing with me. You're my all."

  "I gave you my word," she replied, her voice muffled against his shirt.

  He could tell she felt as exhausted as he did. "Come on, solnyshko moya, we may have a long night ahead of us. Let's go check on Kiss."

  The storm had let up so that only a fine rain came down, turning the sky a dazzling silver. He tucked her beneath the shoulder of his injured arm, leaving his unhurt arm free. He was equally adept at using either hand to shoot or throw a knife and probably wouldn't have a problem because the injury was nearly healed, but he wasn't taking any chances.

  "The farm is so beautiful at night," Lexi said. "I love sitting outside and just looking at all the trees and plants. I can breathe out here." She could also see enemies coming at her.

  "I've been thinking about Lucia," Gavriil said. "She was very interested in the dogs. It would make Kiss uncomfortable to have her watch as she gave birth, but I think we could get Kiss to accept her near the puppies and she can help to socialize them. She needs something to immerse herself in."

  Lexi glanced up at his face and then touched his jaw. "Do you hear yourself? You're looking out for a traumatized child when you barely know her. You're a good man whether you think you are or not." She flashed him a little smile.

  His heart reacted as well as his somersaulting stomach. That was how far gone he was. A little ridiculous for a man like him, but no one was around to witness it and the night didn't care. The rain veiled his expression from her. It was difficult to admit how completely mesmerized he was by her. Just the way she moved, a turn of her head, a quick smile and a flash of her green eyes and he was lost.

  "Gavriil?" Her hand slid down his arm and she linked her fingers with his. "I don't want you to think I was running away from you or running out on you. I wasn't. I think
you deserve so much more than you may get. At least that was my thought process, as flawed as it may have been. I was leaving for the right reasons."

  "There aren't any right reasons, Lexi," he said gruffly. "There never will be. Just talk to me. We'll find a way to work anything out. We'll never be like other people, but it doesn't matter. We'll have our own world and the people who love us will accept whatever that is."

  "You give me confidence," she said, glancing up at his face. "I don't have a lot of confidence other than with my plants. Especially when it comes to being a woman."

  He led her up the porch steps to the front door. "That's exactly where you should have the most confidence, solnyshko moya."

  She went up onto her toes and brushed a kiss on his chin. "Because I matter to you and you look at me the way you do, you give me confidence."

  He reached past her to open the door for her. Drago and Kiss both rushed them. "They prefer to be with people. These aren't backyard dogs and no one can ever make the mistake of thinking one will be, just because they're large."

  "I'll have to make certain Judith knows that," Lexi said. "Her house is beautiful and she's a meticulous housekeeper. Thomas is going to want one, but Judith will balk at the size. You didn't introduce them yet, did you?"

  He shook his head, patting both dogs. He slid his hand gently down Kiss's side to her belly. "She's definitely in labor. She shouldn't be up and around. Let's get her back into the closet."

  "I was surprised to find you'd made the whelping box," Lexi said. "I did my best by putting old sheets and towels in it and making certain the box was in the darkest part of the closet. It's a big closet and I think she'll be comfortable in it."

  "She'll have her own room," he said, making his way back to the bedroom. "You don't keep any clothes in it."

  She shrugged. "I don't need many clothes. I work most of the time and sit on my porch enjoying the sunset or visit with one of my sisters. When I go to the market, I wear my work clothes."

  "I'm fond of your work clothes." He sank down onto the floor beside the closet when Kiss moved inside and lay down, panting.

  "You're going to sit up all night with her, aren't you? I'll get us something to drink and warm some towels just in case."

  "This could take hours," he warned. "You'll want to be comfortable." He tugged at his boots, set them aside and placed his weapons close.

  Her laughter bubbled up, a soft melody that sent fingers of desire brushing down his chest to his belly, lower still so that his groin stirred. It was a gentle overtaking, unexpected and tender. It was . . . good.

  "I can't believe you always have a gun about an inch from your fingertips."

  He pulled the knife from his boot and showed it to her, baring his teeth at her. "I believe in being prepared."

  "You're such a Boy Scout."

  "I was going for wolf."

  Her laughter drifted back to him as she left the room to get the things necessary to spend the night on the floor with the dog.

  Kiss delivered six puppies--two females and the rest males. It took her most of the night, and Gavriil and Lexi sat with her the entire time. Lexi helped breathe life into one struggling little one when it seemed as if they might lose him. They rubbed him with a warm towel and showed him to Kiss, telling her how wonderful she was.

  Twice, Kiss laid her head in Gavriil's lap as he petted and encouraged her, telling her how amazing she was. Lexi looked at him with stars in her eyes. "I don't understand why you can't see yourself the way I do."

  "Silly woman. I don't understand why you can't see yourself the way I do." He repeated her words back to her and then leaned over and kissed her. "It doesn't matter, as long as you can see me."


  GAVRIIL opened his eyes, instantly awake. Beside him, Lexi lay curled up, exhausted from staying up all night. He smoothed his hand over her hair as he slipped the other under the pillow to grasp his gun. He had never thought to wake up like this, his woman soft and warm against him. Every protective instinct he had welled up along with the feeling of love.

  Lexi had laughed and cried when each puppy had entered the world, looking up at him with sparkling eyes. Sharing the birth, something he'd never experienced before, made him feel even closer to her. Each moment spent in her company only made him certain they belonged together.

  Drago's large head pushed against him. The dog stood close to the bed, alerting silently as Gavriil had taught him.

  "I feel them," Gavriil assured, and put his hand on the dog's head once to acknowledge the animal had done his job. He signaled Drago to the door and slipped from the bed.

  Lexi turned over immediately, her lashes lifting, her gaze colliding with his. There was fear in her eyes when she realized he was dressing fast and he had his gun out and close to him.

  "Everything's all right," he assured her hastily. "We've got company is all. I think your sheriff and one other. I believe my youngest brother has come with him. The others are on the way."

  She sat up and pushed at her tumbling hair impatiently. "What others?"

  She looked beautiful. Sexy. Her eyes were large, still drowsy. Her hair was gorgeous, a thick mass of auburn silk, falling in waves around her to pool on the sheets. He had a wild urge to crawl back into bed and make love to her for hours. She was all soft skin and bedroom eyes. He found her impossible to resist.

  He moved around the bed and bent to brush a kiss across her upturned mouth. Her eyes widened and her lashes fluttered.

  "My other brothers. No one is going to come onto the property without the land alerting all of us. Can't you feel it? The shifting?"

  "You came," she pointed out, making a little face at him. "There was no shifting to warn me."

  "The earth moved for me the moment I laid eyes on you," he said truthfully. He kissed her again, this time a little more possessively, his tongue teasing the seam of her mouth. He wanted to taste her, the cool forest that could bring passion or peace.

  His fingers curled around the nape of her neck, his thumb tilting her chin up while his mouth coaxed hers to open for him. Her lips trembled once and then her hands came up to his shoulders and her lips parted.

  There it was. Paradise. The heat and fire swept into him, burning over and into him. She was there inside him, the taste of her addicting, his need deepening. There was no living without this woman ever again. Now that he knew what life was with her in it, now that he had a home, something he hadn't known he craved until--Lexi.

  He whispered her name as he pressed his forehead against hers. "So this is what love feels like." His fingers tightened possessively around the back of her neck, the pad of his thumb caressing her soft skin.

  Her lashes fluttered, eyes going a vibrant green. Her mouth curved into a soft smile. "You say the most beautiful things, Gavriil. You should have been a poet."

  He brushed a kiss over each eye and slipped his gun into the waistband at the small of his back before straightening. "I'm a poet with a knife or gun."

  She drew her knees up and dropped her chin on the top of them, smiling at him. Watching him. Caressing him with soft eyes. "You're going to go out there and act all tough, aren't you?"

  "That's my intention, yes." He slipped a knife into his boot. It took discipline to keep his face pure stone when she made him want to laugh.

  She made his life fun--another first. He looked forward to every moment in her company. He could see the world with new eyes, not with his jaded, cynical vision. She had given him a life. Existing in a dark world of violence was no life. He had known that all along, but she'd awakened him from his complacency.

  He hadn't known he needed saving or that there was a giant hole in him that needed to be filled to bring him to life. He wasn't certain how he'd gotten so lucky, but he intended to keep making her happy for the rest of her life.

  "I'll get dressed and make some coffee. I brought back a coffeepot and coffee from Airiana's."

  "Thanks. And if this sheriff upsets you, I'll throw him out
, just give me a sign."

  Her laughter teased his nerve endings, sending little darts of fire racing over his skin and into his belly. "Everything about you makes me happy," he admitted. "Just listening to the sound of your voice. Looking at you."

  She blushed, clearly not used to compliments. He resolved to give her as many as possible without sounding like a lovesick idiot. He didn't mind that she thought he should have been a poet, as long as no one else thought it.

  "Go before I turn so red I can never recover," she said, waving him away.

  He laughed and went to the closet to peek in at Kiss and the puppies. "She's going to have to do her business soon. I'll take her out back when my brothers get here."

  She pressed her lips together and shook her head. "Seriously, Gavriil, I can be alone with Jonas Harrington. He's a good man and he's been a friend to us."

  "I'm sure he has. Ilya likes him as well, but I don't know him and he doesn't know me. My brothers do know me and what I'm capable of. They won't let anything happen to you."

  "Like tripping and falling on the living room rug?"

  "There isn't a rug. If you trip and fall, someone's going to pay."

  She rolled her eyes at him and waved him out again. "Give me a couple of minutes to take a shower. I'll be right out."

  "Great." He couldn't help teasing her. "You'll come out smelling like the early morning after a fresh rain. In a closed room surrounded by men. I'm going to need more than one gun."

  She laughed softly. "You're impossible. Get moving, I think they're at the door."

  "They're still standing at the edge of the walkway. Ilya's afraid I'll come out shooting so he's being polite and keeping the sheriff busy until the others show up and I come out and greet them."

  "You have such a foul reputation, Gavriil."

  "And totally deserved." He infused his voice with pride.

  She wasn't impressed. She threw a pillow at him. He'd never played before. At least he couldn't remember doing so. Happiness was foreign to him. He moved through the shadows like a robot. There was no laughter, and certainly no fun. He didn't wake up in the morning looking forward to the day.

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