Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  Now the wind moaned the names of the men inside, rattling the windows while the rain pounded down on the roof in a concentrated deluge. The ground buckled, rising and falling beneath the building, undulating like a snake, cracking the flooring so that boards splintered and rose up and over one another.

  The seven men inside crawled toward the exits, dragging themselves while the floor rippled beneath them and the walls began to expand and contract as if breathing.

  Gavriil was in awe at the power the women wielded. It was clear they had worked together before. Each move was clear and precise. They executed their attack with precision so that no one else would be harmed. The church members and even Benjamin Frost had to believe the hand of God was somewhere in the mix. What else could it be?

  He couldn't help the surge of pride in Lexi. She aimed the seismic attacks perfectly, hitting each target with 100 percent accuracy. Airiana wielded the fog and wind easily, and Lissa somehow managed to pull fire from the electrical charges in the old building. Rikki's rain fell in a pounding attack on the structure, the water hitting with such force that the thin roof began to splinter and leak.

  He watched Frost stagger to his feet. He tried gripping the back of a chair for support but the metal glowed red orange. He swore, leapt back, protecting a burned hand, and tripped once again. Every chair in the room began to glow ominously.

  The enforcers crawled, dragged themselves or managed to get to their feet in order to get to the exits. When they tried to open the doors, the wind rose in force, howling like a terrible banshee, and refused to allow them out.

  Both Edwards and Howard fired multiple shots into a door, the bullets going through the thin wood to leave behind holes. Two of the other enforcers shot out the windows, the glass spiderwebbing and then shattering. Instantly the wind entered, slamming into the men and knocking them back to the rolling floor. The rain found the broken glass and holes in the wood. Water poured inside. More water came up through the floorboards.

  "They're leaving," Blythe reported in triumph. "People are flinging suitcases into cars and leaving as fast as possible. You did it. Frost doesn't have any more followers."

  "Give them time to get out of there before we let Frost out. He'll be so angry he'll try to kill them," Lissa advised.

  Gavriil didn't take his eyes from Lexi's face. Her eyes were glued to the screen, to the man who had helped cause her so much misery. Her hands twisted in the soil and Frost was flung into the air. His body hit several of the chairs before he landed upside down against the wall. The pulpit crashed on top of him.

  Water covered the floor, and with every ripple of the earth, it splashed upward and made strong waves. The wind rushed through the room, battering the men, knocking them here and there capriciously. Ropes of sizzling electricity coiled in the air above the men's heads, a dangerous combination with all the water.

  Gavriil dropped his hand on Lexi's shoulder. "You're done here. You've accomplished what you wanted. His congregation has left him. He's scared and so are his men. Ease up and then shut it down."

  "I'm not finished. No one in my family will be safe as long as Frost or his men are alive. You know that," Lexi said.

  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lissa swing her head around and frown.

  "I know this isn't you, Lexi, and you'll never forgive yourself," Gavriil said gently. He crouched down beside her, shackling both wrists. "The rest is my job, not yours. Stand up, solnyshko moya, and walk away from this thing."

  He kept his voice pitched low, but very firm. He wasn't going to take no for an answer. Lexi could kill in self-defense, she had from what Thomas and Max told him, but it ate at her. This was something else. She would never forget or forgive herself, no matter what she thought now.

  He tightened his grip around her wrists and physically pulled her hands from the dirt. At once the ground calmed. The turmoil remained in her, but was no longer reflected in the soil.

  "Shut it down, girls," he said over his shoulder.

  Lissa obeyed at once. Rikki glanced at Levi, who nodded. Airiana followed suit.

  Gavriil rose, pulling Lexi to her feet. He could see she was upset with him, but she didn't say a word. He had the feeling that didn't bode well for him.

  "Levi, will you and Thomas take them home and guard them? I've got work to do."


  LEXI spun around, her green eyes shooting sparks at him. "You? You have work? Do you really think I don't know what that means? You have no right to stop me and then do whatever you want to do."

  "Lexi." Gavriil glanced at the screen. The men were recovering fast. They were professionals and they weren't going to be knocked off their stride for long. They'd regroup, try to figure out what happened, and if Frost thought hard enough and looked in a single direction, it would be toward Lexi.

  "We'll discuss this at home. I don't have much time. Go with Levi and Thomas."

  "If I don't?"

  He sighed. "Then I'm going to have to make you really angry at me by putting you over my shoulder, hiking out of here with you, slinging you in the car and sending you home that way. If you tried to get out of the car, I'm not above handcuffing you."

  She kicked him hard in the shins. Before he could say or do anything, she spun around and set off toward the vehicles by herself.

  "Whoa, bro," Levi said, not even trying to suppress his grin. "You got yourself in trouble. I don't envy you tonight."

  Rikki glared at him. "Macho much?" She stalked after Lexi, hurrying to catch up with her younger sister.

  "Thank you," Lissa said, meaning it. She followed the other two women.

  Blythe and Judith saluted him and were gone, melting into the forest on the trail leading to their transportation.

  Airiana circled Max's neck with her arms, leaning into him, lifting her face for his kiss. "Don't you dare get hurt."

  "I won't," Max promised. "You know we have no choice here."

  Airiana nodded slowly. "Whatever happens, Jonas is going to be all over it. Watch yourselves."

  "Hurry," Max said. "We want to catch them disoriented."

  Thomas took her arm and pulled her to his side. "We'll watch over them. No worries. Let's go, Airiana, and leave them to this."

  Her gaze clung to Max's for a long moment and then she went with Levi and Thomas in the direction of their vehicles.

  "Deal with the cameras before you come down to the compound," Gavriil told his brothers. "Get it done fast. We need to make certain none of them get away and there's no evidence any of us have ever been here. Max, wipe up this site and the path leading to it. We'll get the vehicle tracks when we leave."

  "You got it, Gavriil," Max said.

  Gavriil started down the trail leading to the compound. A slight noise to his left had him spinning around, gun in his fist.

  Lexi rushed out of the trees, knocking the gun away from her and flinging herself into his arms. The force of her rush rocked him. He caught her in a hard hold, making certain his weapon was pointed away from her.

  "What is it, angel moy?" He brushed kisses over her eyes.

  "I'm still very angry with you," she hissed, going up on her toes to put her lips against his ear. "But you stay safe. I don't want one little tiny scratch on you. That will just make me even angrier, and you don't want that."

  He caught the sheen of tears in her eyes and his heart did its famous little stutter. Where it bothered him before and made him feel vulnerable, now he simply accepted the fact that she was his world. He caught her chin and lowered his mouth to hers.

  She tasted like magic to him. Passion and love. He wrapped himself in her when he lifted his head, his eyes staring down into hers.

  "Not a scratch," he echoed. "I'll be right behind you. This won't take long."

  Her eyes searched his for a long moment and then she nodded, pulled herself out of his arms and started back down the trail. Levi waited for her just under some trees, and his gaze met his older brother's over her head. He nodded once in unde
rstanding of Gavriil's commanding look.

  Lexi would have all the protection she needed, and after the display of what the women were capable of when they were together, Gavriil had no doubt that they could protect themselves if necessary.

  Once more he moved toward the compound. He went fast, counting on Max and Ilya to destroy the cameras and anything they may have caught on tape. He blurred his image just to be on the safe side, but didn't slow his pace. He wanted this over with once and for all.

  Ilya's and Jonas Harrington's research showed that the Reverend's congregation had dwindled down to this last group, held together by Frost and his enforcers. The few remaining members had probably been the diehards, along with one or two new recruits. Frost didn't have the Reverend's charisma. He only knew how to keep people afraid. He used violence and intimidation, and those tactics weren't going to get him the numbers he wanted.

  Gavriil had studied the footage from the tiny cameras he'd installed. There was no evidence that any of the other church members were even aware that Frost had targeted Lexi. Most likely, he was using his scare tactics in the hopes that the women on the farm would be so frightened they would force Lexi out of her sanctuary.

  Frost didn't understand true loyalty. His services were paid for, as were his men's. He couldn't possibly understand the bond between the six women inhabiting the farm. He would never understand the decision Levi, Thomas, Max and now Gavriil had made to give up their work and live quietly with those special women.

  Shelton Edwards and Ronald Howard emerged cautiously. Both had guns in their fists. The wind hit them hard, nearly driving them back inside. This time it was Max, not Airiana, calling the element to him.

  Edwards grabbed the edge of the door and hung on grimly, looking for a target. Howard knelt on one knee, his back against the building, trying to find a buffer against the wind. Mist swirled around them, muffling sound. The rain had ceased, but the cold, wet gray of the fog was a blanket of impending doom.

  Gavriil moved in the fog, a phantom, as silent as the hunting leopard in the wild, the soles of his boots gliding through the grass and dirt straight toward Shelton Edwards. He loomed up in front of the man, grasping his head with both hands and giving it a quick jerk before the other knew he was on him. The crack was audible and sharp sounding.

  Howard turned his gun toward the sound and pulled the trigger repeatedly. The bullets thumped straight into Shelton Edwards's heart in a tight circle. Gavriil let the body fall to the ground naturally, as if the gunshots were the cause of death and the broken neck happened during the fall. The broken neck and bullets to the heart were so close together, even a coroner would have trouble distinguishing which came first. In his gloved fist was Edwards's gun.

  "Shel? Shel, answer me," Howard demanded. He took a step toward his partner, slamming a new magazine into his gun.

  Gavriil faded into the background, becoming part of the wall of the building. Howard took two more steps and nearly stumbled over the body.

  "Damn it, Shel." Howard wiped the moisture from his face and knelt beside his friend.

  "What's going on out there?" James Dawkins emerged with his partner, Gene Fielding. They split the moment they came outside and saw the thick fog. One went left, the other right.

  Gavriil crouched low behind several barrels directly behind Howard. From his position he had a clear shot at both men. Using Edwards's gun, he fired three shots rapidly into Dawkins's head, throat and heart.

  Fielding returned fire, his bullets slamming into Howard. Howard went down with a shocked, outraged cry that abruptly was cut off by a second and third bullet. Gavriil calmly shot Fielding through the heart and then moved quickly to the building facing the meeting hall. He caught the corner and pulled himself up onto the roof where he flattened himself, his gaze on the broken door of the hall.

  A long silence ensued. Gavriil remained absolutely still. The wind shifted, coming from the opposite direction, sliding around the house to bring him the scent of sweat. Daniel Forest approached the front of the building from the left side. He had a narrow alleyway to maneuver through. Trey Bridges and Benjamin Frost moved around the meeting hall from the right side.

  Gavriil rolled to his left until he was at the edge of the roof and lay, facing the sky, listening for Forest to come to him. He was very aware of time passing. He needed to make this look as if these men had turned on one another. To do that, he had to keep the time between kills to a minimum.

  Max had to retrieve every camera they had planted, no matter how difficult they were to find. The meeting hall was a mess and two had been inside. He couldn't leave any evidence that he'd been there. Jonas Harrington was no fool, and when he saw the compound torn to shreds and dead bodies scattered everywhere, he would come looking at the Prakenskii brothers.

  A soft footfall told him Forest was approaching his position. Gavriil allowed him to pass by and then he eased himself over the roof to drop into the dirt just behind the man. The fog wrapped him up in a wet blanket. It was thicker than usual, the kind of fog nightmares were made of.

  He waited until Daniel Forest stepped around the corner to face Trey Bridges, who had just emerged from the other side. Standing directly behind Forest, Gavriil fired in Bridges's direction, up high into the forest, and then dropped back into the shadows. Immediately Bridges returned fire, striking Forest several times. Forest managed to squeeze off two shots as he went down. He fell almost at Gavriil's feet, looking up at him, eyes wide with shock as he tried to bring up his gun. Blood bubbled around his mouth and gurgled in his throat.

  Gavriil crouched down beside him, not bothering to remove the gun from the dying man's hand. He was already gone, he just didn't know it yet. Bridges had been wounded, he was certain of it. Depending on how badly he was hit, he would do either of two things. He would stay put, unable to drag himself to cover, or he would go up, onto the roof, just as Gavriil had.

  Gavriil waited. Unmoving. Utterly still. He blended into his surroundings, a phantom that came and went in absolute silence. His breath barely moved in his lungs. His heart slowed. His mind expanded. He felt movement in the fog, something large displacing the air. The dying man coughed and more blood bubbled around his mouth. He stared at Gavriil with a confused look on his face.

  Benjamin Frost had to be the one making his move. His progress was too fluid. He was too sure of himself. Frost inched his way around the front of the building, close to where the other bodies were. He would never, under any circumstances, investigate without cover. Bridges had to have taken to the rooftop.

  Gavriil remained still, simply waiting. He'd learned patience in a hard school and knew the first to move often died quickly. Bridges would come to him. So would Frost. They would want to know what had happened to Forest--why Forest had fired on them.

  He felt--absolutely nothing. His mind had automatically taken him to that place he'd lived in for so long when he'd hunted his prey. His senses were alive, every one of them on high alert, but he felt nothing at all. There was no hatred. No animosity. Nothing. To him, these weren't men and they never would be. When he looked back on this night, he wouldn't identify them as men. Vermin perhaps, but not human.

  A soft scrape above him told him Bridges had made his way to the left side of the roof and was lying flat just above his head.

  "I can't see a damn thing, Frost," Bridges hissed into his radio. "Not even Dan's body. It's completely covered by the fog."

  "Everyone's dead over here. Everyone. They look like they shot one another. Wait a minute. Shel's neck is broken. It could have happened when he went down. He's shot full of holes, but stay alert."

  "I'm bleeding like a stuck pig up here."

  "I'm working my way toward you. For God's sake, don't shoot me. Keep your eyes peeled and your mouth shut."

  "There's no god here," Bridges muttered, under his breath.

  There was no god, but there was the grim reaper and he wasn't satisfied yet. Gavriil eased his body directly under Bridges. The
roof was comprised of tar paper and rotted wood. Large cracks had formed from the ground shaking and the pounding rain, leaving gaps Gavriil could see through.

  He reached his hand out slowly and inched the knife from Forest's scabbard. Forest had already opened the small safety thong that held the hilt in place so it was easy enough to take it. The knife slid out easily as it was meant to. The blade was a good nine inches long and very sharp. Forest's eyes widened. He opened his mouth to say something, but only bubbles of blood emerged.

  Gavriil wasn't overly fond of long blades when a short, less conspicuous one would do, but in this case, the blade would serve him well. Again, using slow motion, he positioned himself in a low crouch. He'd performed the move hundreds of times, but he still took his time, listening, making certain of the exact target. Exploding into action, he leapt into the air, driving the blade of the knife straight through the thin strips of tar paper into the heart of Trey Bridges. He let go and landed softly on the balls of his feet, instantly moving back away from both bodies.

  Gavriil listened. There was no sound but Forest's gurgling breath and a rattle in the downed man's throat. A minute went by. Two. Blood began to drip steadily down from the crack in the roof to the ground, landing a few feet from Forest's body.

  "I know you're out there," Benjamin called, his tone almost friendly. "Is Bridges dead? Because you sure as hell killed the rest of them."

  Frost was fishing. He needed to get Gavriil talking so he would have an idea of where he was. Gavriil had never believed in talking on the job. There just wasn't that much to say. Frost liked preaching. He used his voice to intimidate. He wouldn't be able to stop himself. There was no one left to give orders to.

  "You don't have any clue who you're dealing with." Benjamin went from friendly to stern, using his commanding voice.

  Gavriil wasn't impressed. He didn't move, but pinpointed Benjamin's position in the fog. He was moving away from the meeting hall, not toward it. He was projecting his voice away from his actual position--a tactic that must have served him well in the past.

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