Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  Lexi preferred wide-open spaces so she could see what was coming at her. Her house, unlike most of her sisters', was a single story. She didn't want to be trapped upstairs and not have an easy escape. The house was long and branched out in all four directions, east, west, south and north, with the living room being the central location. Great arches led the way to the various directions.

  The kitchen was situated to the east. She liked to look out over the sink when she worked, either cooking or cleaning, out the large windows to the forest toward the back of the property. Two bedrooms were located on the southern side, opening from the great room via the arches. A large sunroom was located to the west. A jungle of plants grew everywhere and the sound of running water could be heard. The main bedroom was situated on the northern side.

  Situated in the very back leading to a large verandah was an immense atrium, a lush indoor rain forest with a jungle of plants, water flowing into a small pond and tiny birds flitting from one plant to the next. The atrium ran the length of the house. He'd never seen anything like it. The sound of water was soothing, and the floor-to-ceiling plants definitely made one feel serenity and far from the craziness of crowds.

  Her furniture was Asian. She surrounded herself with calm. Prevailing colors were black, white and red. She hoped Gavriil felt at peace in her home. Each piece of furniture was something she loved, but she didn't have much of it.

  "Where do you sleep?" Gavriil asked. He'd looked into each of the three bedrooms and none of them looked lived in. Her house was beautiful and comfortable, but she didn't live there. She lived outside among the trees and vegetation.

  "The bedroom to the north is my bedroom."

  "Have you ever actually slept in it?"

  She ducked her head and smiled at the hardwood floor. "No one's ever asked me that before. No. I never have."

  "Where do you sleep?" he repeated.

  "Outside. On the porch," she admitted.

  "That's why you have the sleeping bag stashed out there." He shook his head, fighting not to touch her. "It gets cold here."

  Lexi lifted her head, smiling at him. Her smile had a way of turning his insides to mush. Everything about her was a new experience for him. He was finding out more about himself the longer he was in her company, more than he'd ever known.

  "It does," she admitted. "But I feel safe when I'm outside."

  "We'll have to see what we can do to change that."

  "Then you'll stay?"

  Her green gaze collided with his. His palm itched. His body hardened. She was beautiful from the inside out.

  "Do you actually have even an ounce of self-preservation left in you?" he demanded harshly.

  She winced. Her gaze skittered away from his. She shrugged. Gavriil cursed himself. He hadn't meant to hurt her, but what she was doing, knowing what he was, was just plain stupid. Or she had a death wish.

  Lexi turned to walk out of the room, but he shackled her wrist, careful to be gentle when he wasn't feeling that way at all.

  "I didn't mean that the way it came out."

  Her gaze jumped to his again and he found himself falling into her green eyes. He wasn't certain which one of them was the prisoner. He had her by the wrist, preventing movement, but he couldn't get out of her eyes.

  "Yes, you did. Don't patronize me, Gavriil. I'm not a little puppy you just kicked. I'm a grown woman and I make my own decisions. I choose to let you stay here with me because when I look at you, I see myself. I was given a chance here. I'm just extending that same chance to you. Take it or leave it. That's up to you."

  They stared at each other a long time. He found himself smiling. For the first time, his smile was actually genuine. "Believe that's the only reason if you like. I'll let you get away with it for a little while. And next time I hurt your feelings, kick me."

  She raised her chin. "I'd probably break my toe." A small answering smile curved her soft mouth, drawing his attention to her lips. "In any case, I'm supposed to be teaching you, by example, that violence is not the answer."

  "If I stay with you, are we going to have rules?" Now he was just plain amused. He lived a life without contact with others and he certainly wasn't civilized, nor did he follow rules.

  "I've been giving that some thought," she admitted, watching him as he crossed the room to look into the closet.

  The northern bedroom was the largest of the three, with a private, very spacious bath and an enormous walk-in closet. He glanced inside. She didn't have much in the way of clothing. Old faded jeans with holes in them and soft flannel shirts seemed to be her apparel of preference. Well . . . he might change that as well. At least put a dress or two in her closet.


  Her voice was tentative, as if she wanted to say something but was shy about it. She looked shy, faint color stealing beneath her skin. She put her thumbnail in between her teeth and bit down.

  Gavriil gently tugged on her wrist until she released the thumbnail. "There isn't anything you can't talk to me about. It's just us. You and me. Say it."

  "I know you're in pain. I can see it. I was told that you'd been stabbed several times and that the wounds were extremely severe."

  "It was a long time ago," he said, keeping his tone neutral, not understanding why she was having such a difficult time coming out with whatever she had to say.

  "I know. And sometimes when a wound is too old, there's nothing I can do about it, but once in a while, I can do some good."

  He tilted his head to one side and studied her face. She was really embarrassed now. Her face was red and she definitely avoided his gaze. He caught her chin, forcing her eyes up to his face.

  "Are you telling me you think you can do something to reduce the pain? When every doctor I've gone to says I have to live with it and take drugs to get by?" There was no way he could take drugs or drink. That would get him killed eventually.

  She nodded. "I hope I can. I can sometimes feel where the pain is coming from and unblock or redirect the path of the nerve. For you to have this much pain, it has to be more than chronic inflammation."

  "Mostly nerve damage," he admitted.

  "I really think I could help--at least I'd like to try."

  "What's making you so nervous?" He didn't let go of her chin or allow her gaze to shift from his.

  She touched the tip of her tongue to her lower lip. Her lashes swept down to veil her eyes for a moment, and then he felt her take a breath as if making up her mind.

  "I have to see the damage to your body. Put my hands on you. I mean like your bare skin."

  She was red from her head to her toes. He was certain if he could see her scalp even that would be red.

  "I'm not making a pass at you. I can't do that sort of thing . . . I just want to help you. I mean . . ." Her thumbnail came back up toward her mouth.

  He caught her hand to prevent the movement. "You're trying to say you're not going to jump me the minute you have me naked on the bed."

  He'd never teased anyone, not since his parents had been murdered, but he couldn't possibly help himself. He thought he'd forgotten how it was done, but she was priceless trying to convince him she wasn't attempting to seduce him.

  Lexi cleared her throat twice. "Yes. That's exactly what I'm trying to say."

  "Why do you think you can't do that sort of thing?" He kept the amusement out of his voice. He could ensure she would be quite pleased to do that sort of thing--with him. "I'm very good, just in case you were considering it." He couldn't help teasing.

  She stared at him in horror and then burst out laughing. "Very funny. I wasn't wondering."

  He was fairly certain that was the strict truth, but she would be now that he'd planted the thought. Sex clearly was a taboo subject, and he couldn't blame her. Her introduction had been a nightmare.

  "I'll concede that you're just going to . . . um . . . inspect my body for completely altruistic reasons. What do you want me to do?"

  "I'll go get the herbs I need and some needle
s and incense and you can take a shower and get under the sheets. They're clean. I don't sleep on the bed, but I do the laundry every week."

  He shook his head. "Do you have any idea how bizarre that is? You wash the sheets once a week but you don't sleep on the bed?"

  "My sisters usually come over on Saturday, so it's just simpler not to have to explain. They'd get all worried and want me to go back to the counselor, and I've made as much peace with the situation as I'll ever be able to. I don't want to keep talking about it." Lexi folded back the thick down comforter to reveal bamboo sheets.

  Gavriil didn't know what to say. He was going to let her try to work her magic on him, but he knew it wouldn't work. Every doctor he'd gone to--and there had been many in various countries--had told him there was no hope. His body was too damaged. But still . . . She'd worked up the courage to tell him she might be able to help even though she was horribly embarrassed that she had to ask him to let her see his body.

  "The towels are on the rack. There's soap and shampoo, and I keep extra toothbrushes in the drawer. I'm always losing them," Lexi said.

  He raised his eyebrow for an explanation. She flashed a small, enigmatic smile, shrugged and left the room. He took a long, deep breath. This had been the most he'd talked with someone in a very long time. It was the first time he'd spoken with someone he considered "good."

  He undressed slowly, stashing weapons around the room and under the pillow. He hung his coat in the closet, ensuring the weapons and ammunition in the loops inside the coat didn't show. He folded his clothes neatly and set them on the floor beside the bed with a gun under his shirt. Another knife and gun were stashed inside his boots, positioned on the other side of the bed.

  He measured the distance across the bed, certain he could reach either side with his long arms from the center of the mattress. Before stepping into the shower, he took careful stock of the room, the exits and entrances, the visual from outside from every conceivable spot in the room. He observed everything in the room that could be used as a weapon, including the pen and paper she had on top of her bureau.

  Only when he was certain he knew every inch of the room, including where floorboards creaked, did he enter the bathroom. There was an Asian feeling to the bathroom as well. The shower stall was spacious, as was the tub. He liked that he could see anything coming at him and wondered if Lexi had drawn up the layout of the room with that in mind.

  As he allowed the hot water to pour down over him, he faced the door, left slightly open to ensure he would be aware the moment anyone entered the bedroom. His favorite holdout gun, plastic and small, was always inches from his fingers. Three throwing knives were just in reach, laid out on top of the towel.

  He realized the shower was one of the places he always felt vulnerable. He often attacked his target in a bathroom. Most people were busy relaxing there, thinking they had complete privacy. Certainly Lexi would feel vulnerable in a shower, probably whenever she was in the bathroom. He knew immediately why she lost her toothbrushes--she didn't brush her teeth there. She probably wandered around outside where she could see anything or anyone coming near her home.

  Caine had attacked her in the bathroom, in the shower. He wanted her terrorized, afraid of him coming from any direction. He took her safety from her. He'd abducted her from her home and then went back and murdered her family years later. He sent the message that nowhere was safe and no one could keep her safe.

  "Gavriil? I'm coming in to lay everything out," Lexi called, warning him.

  He considered walking out naked, but after his revelations, and he was certain he was right, he shut off the water, managed a cursory drying and wrapped a towel around his hips. He slipped the gun into the small of his back, tucking it into the towel, and left the throwing knives.

  "I'm going to warn you, solnyshko moya, the front of me isn't a pretty sight." He had never given a damn what he looked like. The web of scars was horrendous, and that meant working out to stretch the scar tissue so he could move fast and easy when he needed to. He told himself it still didn't matter, but he hesitated, just for one moment. No one else would have ever noticed, but he did.

  He kept his features expressionless and breezed into the room, watching her closely as she turned toward him. Her gaze jumped to his chest and she let out a small gasp. His gut tightened. Immediately she came toward him, her face a mask of concern, her eyes soft. The pads of her fingers went to the raised scars just to the right of his heart.

  "The blade nicked your heart. It had to have. How in the world did you survive this? No one could survive such a wound."

  He nearly grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand down. Her touch sent streaks of fire racing through his bloodstream. His cock stirred in spite of the rigid control he imposed on himself, and that never happened. Never. Yet now it had happened twice.

  She indicated the bed, without seeming to notice he was a man. That didn't do anything for his ego. He'd been afraid of alarming her, and she hadn't even glanced down. Not once. He knew because he didn't take his eyes from her. He'd made up his mind to keep everything between them absolutely platonic, but perversely, when she didn't look at him, he wanted nothing else.

  "Woman," he said, exasperated with himself. "You're enough to drive a man to drink."

  She blinked and looked up at his face, into his eyes. "I'm sorry. It's just that I'm so shocked that you survived. Get on the bed and just relax. It will take a few minutes."

  He shook his head. If someone had told him he'd be lying naked on a bed for a woman to "examine" his old injuries, he would have told them they were insane. He found himself obediently following her instructions, pulling up the sheet and tossing the towel aside, taking time to slide the gun under the other pillow.

  He watched her moving around the room, lighting candles and incense, and found her soothing. There was a bowl of herbs on the nightstand. He had a sense of the surreal, a dreamworld that didn't exist, one where his woman enjoyed caring for him.

  Lexi returned to the bed, a look of concentration on her face. Her hand brushed back the hair on his forehead, the lightest of gestures, barely there, but it could have been a burning brand pressing her straight through skin and muscle to bone. She was taking him over, and he was just lying there, allowing her to do it.

  He forced himself not to react, staying very still while she climbed up on the bed, her gaze on his chest. He was a mass of scars and he'd never really thought about it before. Front and back, there was hardly a place that had normal skin. She knelt close to his body, bending over him.

  The first touch of her hands nearly had him coming off the bed in alarm. Her eyes were closed, but her hands lay against his skin lightly, palms down. Every muscle in his body tightened. Every cell responded to her touch. The feel of her skin against his skin took his breath away. He'd felt a woman's hand on his body many times, strokes and caresses meant to inflame him, to arouse him, yet not a single one had ever affected him the way her touch did.

  She wasn't trying to be sensual. Her lashes were long and dark against her fair skin. Her face was a mask of concentration, not sensuality, yet his body reacted naturally to her touch, coming alive under the pads of her fingers and the stroke of her palms. His heart beat too fast. His breath came in ragged, labored gasps. If she looked at him, she'd see his features carved with harsh sensuality, when she felt none of that terrible arousal threatening to consume him.

  He tried to breathe away the sensation. It was absurd how much pleasure her touch generated when she wasn't trying to arouse him. It was illogical and irrational how much he wanted her when such things were completely foreign to his nature. He was always logical, unemotional and detached. She turned his well-ordered world upside down.

  The energy Lexi generated was so intense heat flashed through his entire body as her palms and fingers slipped over his chest. She stopped in places and the most adorable little frown would appear, then smooth out when she found whatever she was looking for and she would continue on.
  Her hands moved over the heavy muscles of his chest, covering each of the three stab wounds there with the ridges of scars and then began to move lower. Gavriil gritted his teeth. This was worse than the training when he'd been a boy and they'd sent women to arouse him, doing all sorts of things to his body. He'd been beaten if he reacted--or didn't react--depending on what he was told to do. The lesson had been all about control and discipline, and he had that--or did, until Lexi.

  There was no controlling his body's reaction when her hands slid lower over the defined muscles of his abdomen and the four stab wounds surrounded by scar tissue. If her eyes hadn't been closed and her concentration hadn't been so complete, she would have run screaming from the room.

  His cock raged at him, hard and thick and long, coming alive and making urgent, savage demands. He swore between his teeth, his breath hissing out. That part of his anatomy had become a separate entity, and was totally out of control. His hips moved subtly, beneath the sheet, trying to ease the painful ache between his legs.

  "Shush, I'm almost done," she whispered, without opening her eyes. "I think I've got this. I'll have to do a small bit of work at a time, but the worst damage is around your heart."

  She moved her hands back up to the largest area of scar tissue. "He must have stabbed you and twisted the knife as he brought it out of you."

  He remembered that moment. The blade going into his body, the pain and near paralysis that had almost cost him his life. He had such control of his body, of his heart and lungs, that he'd nearly shut them down to keep from bleeding out. He couldn't actually repair his heart himself, but he'd managed to shore it up until he got to a hospital.

  Lexi opened her eyes. "I'm going to try to open up the pathways that have been broken. Just try to relax. I'll just work on this one, right near your heart. The first session probably won't make a huge difference, but you should feel it."

  She worked the acupuncture needles like a pro. He'd been in China several times over the years and had done his own studies there. He recognized good work when he saw and felt it. "Where did you learn this?"

  For a few minutes he didn't think she'd answer him. She placed the needles carefully. He felt the burn of each one sizzling along a nerve ending that had dead-ended long ago, leaving him with so much damage the pain never stopped. Right then, it seemed, the fire burned hot right through the blockage.

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