Earth Bound by Christine Feehan


  Gavriil sank into the chair beside hers--the one he'd repositioned just to the left of the window so he could see out without anyone being able to see him. His hand automatically felt along the cushion for the knife he'd placed there. It was right where he'd left it.

  "Tell me about this idea and what it entails," he prompted.

  "First, before anything, we have to make certain they're even there. The police raided the compound a few years ago, but no one was there. That's the closest property to us that I know of that they use. It was never confiscated because the church didn't own it. The property hadn't been signed over yet."

  "I can scope it out. Preparation is everything," Gavriil said, at her sharp glance. "Levi and Thomas can go with me. Max can watch things here while we take a look and see if anyone's there and if so, what kind of defenses they have in place."

  "If we can scare them away from us, really put the fear of God into them and make most of the members abandon the cult, it would be better than killing them," Lexi said.

  He didn't agree with her, but he needed to know what they were up against, how many and who was the most dangerous. If anyone was there who had been taken from their homes, like Lexi, he wanted the sheriff involved after they had cleaned up any evidence of the women--or the Prakenskiis--being there.

  Gavriil nodded. "Clearly the first step is to scout around and see if they're even there. What's the second step?"

  "We have to come up with a way that the congregation will believe every bad thing that occurs naturally is because their leaders are going against their god's directives. They have to come together every evening for prayers, which mostly consists of listing people's sins and them begging forgiveness. We send fog into the meeting house and write in the fog." She shrugged. "Something along those lines. Something a little spooky and scary. Then all the problems will start."

  It actually wasn't a bad plan if you took the church enforcers out of the mix. They would be troublesome, but he wasn't going to point that out to her. He already, with his brothers, had plans to track down the six men who had made death threats against Lexi. The Prakenskiis planned to do a little reading from their own book of justice to them. That was a certainty.

  16

  GAVRIIL had never been so tired--or so satisfied or frustrated in his life. Working on the farm meant long hours in the middle of lush green plants and rich soil. He actually found he enjoyed the work. He could understand how Lexi, even without her connection to the earth, would be drawn to the tasks.

  Both of them were used to being alone. Working side by side with her outdoors without having to say anything other than asking an occasional question was actually restful. His mind found the land a place of peace and his body discovered peculiar aches and pains that had nothing to do with bullet or stab wounds.

  He and his brothers hadn't wasted any time before scouting out the compound. There appeared to be around thirty men, women and children living on the property. They set up cameras and motion detectors to get a feel for the rhythm of the place. Gavriil had slipped inside after dark and managed to install cameras in a few of the buildings, including the one used for their gatherings. He wanted to see and hear who the ringleaders were.

  Gavriil was satisfied that they could protect the women if the women chose to drive the congregation away from the leaders. On the other hand, he didn't believe for one moment that the six men would stop coming after Lexi, and if he found on camera or heard on tape that anyone had been taken there and held against their will, he wasn't going to promise Lexi he wouldn't take care of it his way.

  He paced around the room restlessly on bare feet, wearing only a towel hitched low around his hips. If he were a drinking man, now would be the time he'd be drinking. He felt as if he had gotten on a merry-go-round with Lexi and both were unable to get off. They just continued to go around in circles. She was always just out of his reach.

  He refused to use his training to seduce her. He wanted to make love to her, to show her how it should be between a man and a woman, but so far, he couldn't get beyond kissing her or touching her. The next step would come naturally or not at all.

  He knew she wanted him. He could see it in her eyes, and read it in her body language, but she just couldn't seem to take that final step toward him. He pressed his fingers to his eyes and shook his head. He ached for her, not just for her body, but for her past. She was such an innocent, taken by a depraved sadist. That vile monster had tried to twist her into something of his own ugly making. It hadn't worked, but she was still trapped by her past and Gavriil didn't know how to free her.

  She seemed to think Gavriil wouldn't be able to do without the things Caine had taught her. He'd been a monster, that man, taking a child and teaching her to hate her own body. He'd used her and then punished her for "tempting" him. Caine hadn't once made her feel anything but disgust and fear.

  The thought of touching Gavriil or tasting him as he did her, was abhorrent to her. She didn't say it aloud, but he knew that was her biggest fear, that if they progressed in their relationship, he would want the things from her that Caine had wanted and she couldn't give that to him, and she feared he would eventually look elsewhere for satisfaction.

  Gavriil raked both hands through his hair. What she didn't realize was that he couldn't imagine ever going back to a life without her. Before her, he hadn't been living. The last couple of weeks had taught him that. She gave his life purpose and form. Everything about her appealed to him, drew him, called to him on every level. Why couldn't he find a way to draw her closer to him? To help her understand that making love was so much more than mere sex. That it was passionate, beautiful, intimate and affirming, not something ugly and depraved.

  He had had sex, many times, just about any way one could. He seduced women whenever he needed or wanted to. He'd been taught how to control his body, what techniques to use and how to get a woman to want more. And he'd enjoyed it. But what he felt for Lexi, with Lexi, was worlds apart. Touching Lexi, kissing Lexi, had taught him the difference between having sex and making love.

  Her scent drifted to him through the open bathroom door--a fresh, clean forest smell that appealed to him as nothing else could. She was soaking in the deep bathtub, her one luxury. Outside the window, the rain fell softly, but in a steady pattern. He turned on the gas fireplace to take the chill from the room so that when she came out of her hot bath she'd be comfortable.

  He'd taken his shower, deliberately leaving the door open after washing the farm dirt from his body and easing the aches and pains from various old wounds. His arm was healed, and somehow, the acupuncture seemed to be helping with the nerve damage from the old knife wounds. He sank down into his chair and tried to find a way to relax when his body was as hard as a rock.

  The sound of her occasionally moving in the bathtub both soothed and aroused him. He liked hearing her in the house. He was always aware of exactly where she was, whether in the kitchen or on the front porch. The last few nights she'd gone to sleep in the bed beside him after staying up with tiny Lyutyj. The puppy did appear to be getting stronger and had finally latched on to his mother.

  Small steps, just like Lexi.

  Two nights in a row he'd lain beside Lexi, painfully hard, afraid if he moved, his body might shatter, but she actually had relaxed enough to sleep beside him--naked. He contemplated what to do next. She trusted him more and more, but it was definitely becoming difficult not touching her. He needed her body the same way she needed his--she just didn't know why she was growing restless and edgy.

  He raked his fingers through his hair again. "What in the hell am I going to do about you?" he whispered aloud.

  *

  LEXI sat in the hot water, letting it soak away the aches of her body, but it didn't stop the endless hunger crawling through her bloodstream. Each moment she spent in Gavriil's company only served to make her fall harder for him. She was tired of being afraid of the physical side of a relationship between a man and a woman, yet she couldn'
t overcome her aversion to touching a man.

  She closed her eyes against the burn of tears, and drew her knees up to hug them tightly, feeling more vulnerable than ever. The longer she was with Gavriil, the more she knew she didn't want to lose him. He never asked anything of her, but she knew it was becoming difficult for him to live and work beside her.

  Her own body was betraying her. She found herself watching the way he moved, the strength in his hands, the gentle way he picked up the puppies and caressed Kiss and Drago. She knew his every expression. She found herself staring at him. Drinking him in, just absorbing him. She didn't know how to feel anymore, she was so confused.

  Lexi pressed her fingers to her eyes, shaking her head. The hot water shimmered around her, lapping at her body, making her skin feel more sensitive than ever. She was aware of him in the next room moving around. He made her feel safe. He made her feel as if she were beautiful and special. Sexy. Sensual. Everything she was not.

  She wanted him, pure and simple. Well . . . her body wanted his. Her heart wanted him. Her brain rebelled and screamed at her she would lose him if she tried--or didn't try. They seemed to be doing some strange dance, moving in circles around each other.

  He gave and she took. She had been living a half-life, existing on her safe little farm. He had been existing in the shadows. Now they'd come together. He'd been the broken one, she'd been so certain of it when she met him, but somehow the truly broken one had been her all along.

  Caine had made her ashamed of herself, of her body. He had told her how vile she was, nothing but a temptation for a man, a vessel to use when the temptation became too much to resist. He had forced her to do things to him and then beaten her for doing them. When she began to develop, he'd told her she was ugly and disgusting and forced her to bind her body and cover up at all times.

  Tears spilled down her cheeks. Caine had ruined her chances for a real life. She would never be normal. She didn't even know what normal was. She wasn't living much of a life, that was certain, and she was dragging Gavriil down with her.

  Gavriil offered her . . . everything. Without strings. Without asking for anything in return. What kind of relationship was that? She kissed him. She loved kissing him. But every time they kissed she could feel the need and hunger running so deep in him. He never tried to hide it from her. More, she felt that same need and hunger running just as deep in her.

  Truthfully, she'd been in a constant state of arousal for the last few days and had no idea what to do about it. Twice she'd gone into the greenhouse and cried. She thought about talking to her sisters to get ideas, but this issue was between them. Gavriil and her. No one else.

  She hadn't known a person could feel so desperate for another's body. For his touch. Or his kiss. For his hands. She rubbed her chin back and forth on the top of her knees. She had to find the courage to either let him go or take the next step. And God help her, she didn't want to let him go.

  She couldn't continue to take without giving something in return, but she didn't know how to make herself give him what she knew he needed. The idea of losing him terrified her--absolutely terrified her.

  She lifted her head and looked at the full-length mirror Judith had installed in her bathroom. She hadn't protested at the time, but she never looked at herself in it. A few times she'd even covered the mirror up, but was afraid one of her sisters would discover the sheet over it.

  When she'd taken a shower at the farm, Caine had forced her to wear a shirt to cover her body. He'd drilled it into her not to expose herself, yet Gavriil was just the opposite. He wanted her to sleep without clothes. He enjoyed looking at her body; Caine had been repulsed by her figure as she grew older. He even made her bind her breasts when he deemed them too big.

  She had complied with Gavriil's request to sleep without clothes, partly because it was one of the few things she could give him and partly in defiance of Caine.

  She wasn't certain what to think about her body. She knew the scars on her back, buttocks and thighs were ugly. The raised ridges sometimes ached in the cold. She had been more embarrassed for Gavriil to see the scars than for him to see her big breasts.

  Of course, unlike Caine, Gavriil didn't seem to think her breasts were too big at all. Her hands came up to cup the soft weight. Maybe they weren't too big. They fit easily enough into Gavriil's palms.

  Blushing, she stood up slowly. The water poured off her body into the tub. Steam rose around her and lightly obscured her reflection in the mirror. Still, she could see herself.

  What did Gavriil see when he looked at her? She wanted to see through his eyes, not Caine's. Perhaps that was the real trouble, she was trying to see herself through someone else's vision, not her own. She took a deep breath and forced herself to really study her body in the mirror.

  She wasn't very tall in comparison to Gavriil. Her hair, even wet, was beautiful and her one vanity, again because Caine despised it so much. The moment she was free of him she vowed to never cut it, and with the exception of an occasional trim on the ends to keep it healthy, she hadn't. Gavriil loved her hair. He even liked her wearing it down.

  Her breasts were full, high, and didn't sag in the least. She refused to give in to the urge to look away from the soft, firm mounds. Caine had referred to them as a cow's udders and insisted she bind them and keep them from sight at all times. Gavriil was just the opposite. He lavished attention on her breasts. He loved to touch her there, to kiss and suck and tug and roll the nipples.

  Her entire body turned bright red at the thought of Gavriil's mouth pulling so strongly on her breasts. Damp heat pooled between her legs as she touched herself, mimicking his fingers on her nipples. Streaks of sizzling electricity rushed from her breasts to her most feminine core. Sparks of arousal danced up and down her thighs.

  Shocked, she dropped her hands and almost sank back into the water, but then stopped herself. No, she was done with giving into fear and shame. She wanted to be free of Caine and his ugly influence. She was realistic enough to know she would never get over her panic attacks and that he would creep into her nightmares, but she didn't want him ruling her life.

  Gavriil had been courageous enough to change his life. He had given her more pleasure than she thought existed. Caine hurt her in every way a man could possibly hurt a woman. Gavriil's mouth and hands on her breasts excited her beyond anything she'd known. He'd awakened her body to the pleasures a man could bring to a woman, and he'd asked nothing for himself.

  Gavriil's kisses were amazing, even earth-shattering. Caine would never have kissed her. He had told her that her mouth was made for only one purpose.

  Deliberately Lexi ran her fingers down her flat belly, watching her hand in the mirror. Sometimes Judith wore a gold chain around her waist, and Lexi had dreamt a few times that she had been bold enough to do such a thing. She wanted one that hooked to a piercing and rode a little lower than her waist. She wanted little bells that jingled with each step she took, reminding her of her freedom to dance in the fields. She'd never worked up the courage to go to a place where they'd do such a thing, because she'd been too ashamed to show her body to anyone.

  Dreams and fantasies were far different than reality. This time, she had everything to lose. Gavriil was worth fighting for. He fought for her with every breath he took. Could she do less for him? He wanted her. He'd asked her time and again to trust him, to give herself to him.

  She whispered his name as she brought both hands down over her thighs and back up to the junction at her legs. Love for him was there. She felt it rising inside her like a towering wave. Her body ached for him. She started to touch herself and then pulled her hand away as if she'd been burned.

  Memories surfaced, ugly horrible fragments that wouldn't leave her alone. The pain. The humiliation. The disgust and shame. She sank slowly back into the water and drew up her knees, making herself as small as possible. Tears tracked down her face and dropped into the steaming water. She covered her face with her hands, not knowing what
to do.

  She felt Gavriil close. Moving in her mind. A caress. Gentle. Intimate. Her stomach muscles tightened. Fear lived and breathed in her. Fear, not so much for her but for him. He wouldn't leave her or give up on her. She had to be just as brave. She just needed to find the courage.

  "Solnyshko moya, enough. Stop hiding in there and come to bed." Gavriil's voice was low and brushed over her skin the same way he had the walls of her mind. Intimate and gentle--hard to resist.

  She bit her lip. She was hiding. From him. From herself. From what she was and what she wasn't. He would know the moment he saw her body that she was in a fierce state of arousal. She couldn't possibly spend another night beside him, skin to skin, his heat spreading through her until she was afraid she would burn right there in the bed.

  "I'm too tired to get out. I think I'll sleep right here." It was a lie. Her voice betrayed her. She didn't talk in that soft, silky voice meant for satin sheets and candlelight. An invitation. Not only did her face turn red, but so did her entire body.

  "You're going to turn into a prune."

  She heard him move and closed her eyes like a child afraid to face her greatest fear. Silence. Long, heartbreaking silence. Lexi lifted her lashes, and there he was, his wide shoulders filling the doorway, his dark blue eyes like the midnight sky, drifting over her possessively.

  She shivered, her nipples tightening. He was beautiful draped so casually there. All man. His muscles defined. Strong and confident. Everything she wasn't. He didn't have to touch her to make her want him. He just looked at her with his blue eyes and she was lost, caught in his spell.

  She looked at him helplessly. Wanting had gone to craving. To needing.

  "Baby, just come to me. Don't do this to yourself." His soft whisper ran like fingers over her body to tease her thighs.

  She took a deep breath. Gavriil wore his skin comfortably. The towel dipped low around his hips and she knew he wore it only as a condition to her modesty, not his. He was a man who preferred not to show emotion, but was completely casual naked.

 
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