Earth Bound by Christine Feehan


  "There was a woman in the compound, a doctor from China. Her American husband had become part of the cult and she couldn't leave. She tried to help me. We spent a great deal of time together. She taught me what she knew about herbs and healing. I knew how to read of course, we had to read the bible every day, but math and other subjects weren't considered important for someone like me . . ."

  "What does that mean, someone like you?"

  Again there was silence. She flicked at another needle. He felt a splash of something wet on his chest and his gaze jumped from the needle to her face.

  "Lexi, don't. Don't cry. He's not worth your tears. Whatever he told you, whatever he called you, none of that is true."

  "I know. I do know. It's just a little close right now." She forced her head up and gave him a watery smile. "You'll need to rest. The needles will make you sleepy. I'll be back in about forty minutes to remove them. Don't shoot me."

  "I wouldn't consider it. Strangling is so much more personal."

  That got a real smile out of her.

  "While you're drifting off to sleep, please think about staying here. Your brothers have found peace here. I did too. I think you would, Gavriil, if you gave it a chance. None of us here would have chosen what happened to us, but we can change our futures. We can choose how we want to live and with whom."

  "Sweetheart, no one's going to give me the chance to stay here. I'll be lucky if I get half an hour's rest, and I can't say as I blame them."

  She turned abruptly and came back to the bed. "What do you mean?"

  "Do you really think your sisters and my brothers are going to leave you with the wolf? They think of you as a little lamb, and they know what I am. Right at this moment, they're deciding how best to handle throwing me out without hurting my feelings--or getting hurt." He gave a small, humorless laugh. "They really should have said their piece before they left me alone with you."

  She smiled. That reaction was the last one he expected, because it was a genuine smile with love softening her eyes. "Aren't they wonderful? All of them? See, Gavriil, that's exactly what I'm talking about. It doesn't matter how the world around me might be falling apart or whether or not I'm having a bad day, they care. They always care. It's nice to have that, and you need it."

  He wasn't sure what he needed. He only knew that when he was away from her, he had no feelings. He felt no emotion. He had no idea why the Prakenskii connection had worked on a woman like her, or why when he was in her company, he was a better person, a human rather than a machine. Yet with her, his emotions seemed to be out of control and nearly overwhelming.

  "Stay here. Stay with me, in this house. If you need to be alone, I can make do somewhere else." She looked around her bedroom. "They built me a house because they love me and they felt I needed a home." She indicated the window, the farm beyond it. "That's home. That and everyone who lives here on this farm."

  "Lexi, you have no idea what you're offering." Was she insane? Did she not see him? Could she really be so blind that even when he told her what he'd done, she didn't understand who and what he was?

  "Of course I do. When you look at me, Gavriil, what do you see? A child?"

  Hell no, he didn't see a child, he almost wished he did. They wouldn't be having this conversation and she'd be safe. "I see a beautiful woman with compassion in her heart, too much maybe."

  She smiled, and this time it was all for him. When she smiled like that he was fairly certain she could shatter him if this thing between them went much further.

  "I knew you saw more than the rest of the world." She seemed very pleased that he could see into her when he was appalled that she could see him so clearly.

  "It was in your eyes when you looked at me. I know I'm broken. I know that. But that's all they see. They don't see that I'm happy. I'm okay with being broken. I have severe panic attacks and I hate them, but every day I get up and I go to work and I deal with whatever comes my way."

  "You're the youngest, naturally they'd be protective. You're all protective of Rikki because she's different."

  "We're protective of one another for various reasons, even the men. But I'm not nearly as fragile as everyone thinks I am. I choose not to go into town, not because I can't, I just don't enjoy it. If necessary, I go. The point here is, no one can say who stays in my home and who goes. I choose to allow you to stay. I want you to at least give yourself a chance, even if it's just for a day, to experience something different. You don't have to worry about going to sleep. I'll sit on the porch and watch over things until you wake up."

  Good God, she was actually offering to guard him. Gavriil felt as if she was bringing him to his knees. What in the hell was he supposed to do with a woman like Lexi? He didn't have softer emotions. She needed care. He was going to stay because he had to stay, not because it was the right thing. He could offer her protection. No one would ever harm her with him around. That much he could give her.

  "I'll stay for a little while whether or not the others like it. Caine felt the need to confess his sins before he died. He admitted to me that there are several cult members who were aware that you were here, on the farm."

  She went rigid, flinging her hand out to catch the doorframe for support. "We have children here. Airiana's four children. Their parents were murdered so they could be used as sex slaves. One sister, Nicia's twin, was killed. Nicia and Benito were both . . ." she broke off.

  "They'll be safe. Look at me, Lexi. See who I am." He waited until her eyes met his. He let her see the cold-blooded killer in him. She didn't move, didn't run. She looked at him as if he was an angel, not a devil. "I give you my word I won't let anything happen to you or those children. I don't give my word lightly. No one will get through me to any of you."

  She looked into his eyes for a long time and the tension slowly eased out of her. She nodded her head. "Go to sleep for a little while, Gavriil. I'll be just outside on the porch. No one will get past me to you."

  He heard the honesty and determination in her voice and wanted to weep.

  4

  "TELL me why you're so upset, Levi," Rikki demanded. She pushed a hand through her thick, sun-kissed dark blond hair, clearly agitated.

  "I don't know what you mean," Levi hedged. Since they'd been together he'd never once deceived his wife, and yet his older brother had been on the property a few hours and he was already dodging her question.

  Rikki shot him a look, the one that said he'd better answer truthfully. She might be autistic, but she was highly intelligent and she knew her husband very well. He would never have invited someone to their home without first talking it over with her--and certainly not to spend the night.

  "You didn't want Gavriil staying with Lexi. I need to know why," Rikki insisted. "I don't like that you're keeping something from me, especially when I can plainly see that you're worried about Lexi."

  Levi glanced at Thomas. Judith sat beside him on the railing. Thomas folded his arms across his chest. He looked formidable. That wasn't going to help them now. It was too late. Gavriil had made that abundantly clear.

  "I don't know how to explain it," Levi admitted. "Gavriil's my brother."

  "So are Thomas and Max, but you didn't have this kind of reaction with them," Judith pointed out.

  "That's not true," Thomas clarified. "He met me late at night and threatened to take my head off if I hurt you the first time I ever really saw him here."

  "You did?" Judith looked pleased. "That's so sweet, Levi."

  Levi groaned. Thomas smirked.

  "Not sweet, Judith," Levi corrected. "You can't ever call me sweet. I was willing to kick his ass, which is manly and macho, not sweet. I've completely lost my reputation with you women."

  "You're not getting off track that easily," Lissa said, her red hair throwing off sparks. "What's wrong with your brother? All of you are uneasy with him being here. Right at this moment he's alone with our little sister."

  Max shook his head. "We're glad he's here. You have no idea
what it's like to lay eyes on one another and actually have a conversation after the years apart."

  "But you didn't," Airiana pointed out. "You didn't converse with him, at least not when we were with you."

  The three men exchanged long looks, but none of them answered the question.

  "When we started this farm," Blythe said, "all of us agreed to be truthful with one another, and to talk things out when there were problems. We've all had a voice in every decision. You came here and took on those same rules. We're loyal to one another. Of course your brother is welcome here, but if you know something we don't, or if Lexi is in any kind of danger, you owe it to us to tell us."

  "His aura is very powerful," Judith added. "And violent. When Levi first came here, I was terrified for Rikki because Levi's aura seemed extremely dark, but Gavriil's is worse. Far worse." She looked to Airiana for confirmation.

  Airiana nodded, slipping her hand into Max's. "I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. His aura was unrelentingly dark. I couldn't catch a glimpse of anything, any other trait than pure violence."

  "He's not a psychopath," Levi snapped, and then shook his head. "I'm sorry. It's just that, it's difficult for someone else to know what we've been through, especially Gavriil and Viktor, our older brothers. They bore the worst of it."

  Rikki rubbed her hand down Levi's back and leaned close to him, her body brushing up against his, a rare gesture for her in public, even around her sisters. Usually Levi was the one to touch her or show affection openly. In private, Rikki was extremely loving to him, but when she did something others would think of as insignificant such as her small gesture, to Levi, it was a huge declaration of love.

  He brought her hand to his mouth and pressed a kiss along her knuckles. "I'm sorry, Rikki. I knew better than to offer our home to Gavriil. I didn't want him to leave, but I didn't want him alone with Lexi. I just didn't know the right thing to do."

  She brushed her fingertips down his jaw, looking at him with eyes the color of obsidian. "It's all right, Levi. I would rather you protect Lexi than worry about how I might handle your brother in our home. We could have worked that out. Do you think she's in danger?"

  "From Gavriil?" Levi hesitated, uncertain what he thought. Gavriil had marked Lexi in the way of their family, claiming her for his own, but the women were right, violence had been Gavriil's way of life. Levi didn't really know him at all. How could he assure the women that Lexi was safe with him when he didn't know himself?

  "Yes, Levi," Lissa persisted. "From Gavriil."

  "I don't know." He had to be honest. He looked a little helplessly at his brothers.

  Lissa muttered something that sounded like a curse and jumped off of Rikki's porch. "I'm going back to her house. If that man has touched one hair on her head, I'm going to kill him myself."

  "Lissa, hang on," Max cautioned. "Gavriil is different. You can't come at him like a runaway freight train. He isn't going to respond. He's a shadow. He took apart Caine and found out that other cult members know Lexi's here. Gavriil seemed determined to protect her from them. If that's the case, he isn't going to budge until he gets the job done. Nothing you say or do will change his mind."

  "And quite frankly," Thomas added, "you can't kill him. You would never lay a hand on him. He's a scary bastard, even for one of us to take on. Hell, for all three of us to take on. If we knew Lexi was in trouble, we'd do it, but . . ."

  "He marked her," Levi interrupted abruptly. "I saw him. Palm to palm. Right in front of me. Deliberately in front of me to warn me to back off."

  There was a silence. Airiana, Judith and Rikki rubbed their palms down their thighs. Blythe looked alarmed, and Lissa frowned at them.

  "What do you all know that I don't? What does that mean?" Lissa demanded.

  "In our family, generations back," Thomas explained, "we've always had this strange gift." He reached for Judith's hand and turned her palm over, running his thumb across the center. Two intertwined circles rose beneath the skin for one moment and then receded.

  Lissa gasped. Thomas brought Judith's palm to his mouth and pressed a kiss into the center right over the mark.

  "I have one as well," he added. "We all do. It can only happen with one woman. Once she's chosen, and our gift accepts her, we can choose to use our onetime connection that binds us closer. As far as I know, no Prakenskii would ever choose a woman, bind her and then walk away. If he did, he would have to have a powerful reason."

  "He did that to Lexi?" Lissa asked incredulously. "Does he have any idea what she's been through? She'll be so afraid. She isn't ready for any kind of a relationship."

  "Honestly," Max said, "I don't think Gavriil is either. However traumatized Lexi's been, I can assure you, Gavriil's had equal or more. Viktor, my oldest brother, and Gavriil were taken to the worst training schools. The conditions were brutal; all of us in the other schools knew about those places and how harsh they were. We were brutalized enough, and the thought of being sent to one of the other schools was enough to keep most of the students in line."

  "I'm sorry about that," Lissa said, "I really am, but he can't force Lexi into anything she doesn't want. She's been forced enough times in her life without having it happen again."

  "What can we do?" Judith asked.

  "I'm not willing to tell my brother he isn't welcome here," Thomas added. "Not unless he does something that upsets Lexi. We're all speculating here because we're uneasy, but we don't know what's going on at her house."

  "Then we need to find out," Blythe said firmly. "One of us needs to go back there and check on her. If we all go, it will look as if we're attacking Gavriil in some way."

  "I know Lexi. If she thinks we're all in some way going after him," Lissa added, "she'll defend him. She doesn't want to hurt a snail in her gardens let alone someone she considers wounded. If we make her look at him like that, she'll fight for him and not think about the consequences to herself."

  They all looked at one another. Airiana glanced toward her land. Each of them had five acres of their own within the farm's acreage, and right now, she was concerned with what was going on with the children. She wouldn't put it past Benito to be spying on them all.

  "I'll go if you want me to," she volunteered, reaching for Max's hand. "But probably Benito will follow us."

  "Let me do it," Blythe said. "If I go alone, no one is going to see me as a threat. I can take some food over. Levi, can you whip something up for me, sandwiches maybe?"

  "Not peanut butter," Lissa said, referring to Rikki's beloved ingredient she thought was a perfect meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  "Hey! I eat more than peanut butter," Rikki said. "I actually can eat a few other things now, can't I, Levi?"

  He ruffled her hair. "You do, and I'm so proud of you. I'll see what I can find, Blythe. That's a good idea." He went into the kitchen. Their door was generally open, leaving just the screen closed. He would be able to hear their conversation while he put together a lunch.

  "And then you'll call us," Lissa said anxiously to Blythe. "I won't be able to work on anything until I know she's safe."

  "I think Lexi's the safest person on this farm," Max said. "Gavriil will protect her with his life. If you've got him, you don't need the rest of us. He's a one-man army."

  "I just don't want him making any demands on her," Lissa said. "What exactly happened this morning? Lexi was so upset she cried a lot when she was telling us."

  Thomas shrugged. "Gavriil came to the farm to see us, and he spotted Lexi. He followed her to the other piece of property, but he was on foot and she was in the trail wagon. When he spotted her, one of the men was rushing her with a knife and he shot him first and then the second man who was armed as well."

  "But not Caine," Judith said.

  "Caine was already trapped in the ground. Lexi used the kick-out move we've been working on and she connected with Caine's knee and thigh, driving him away from her. That gave her enough time to open a crack in the ground. He sank to his thighs and
the ground closed, trapping his legs there," Max explained.

  "But he wasn't dead?" Lissa persisted.

  "Not right away," Thomas said. "He lived a little longer, just long enough to tell Gavriil others would be coming after Lexi."

  "Why would he tell Gavriil that?" Rikki asked.

  "Gavriil said he felt the need to confess," Thomas said, using a tone that said that avenue of conversation was closed.

  The women exchanged a long look of comprehension.

  "Don't look now," Max cautioned, "but we're under surveillance, and it's not Benito this time."

  Airiana scooted over to casually lean her hip against the railing beside Max, fitting beneath his shoulder. She tried not to laugh. "Nicia and Siena? They're babies. What in the world are they doing over here?"

  "They've got Benito's binoculars, and he's never far from them," Max said.

  "I think the strap has grown right into his neck," Airiana agreed. "If the girls are here, Lucia must be as well. She doesn't let them out of her sight, and this is her first official big babysitting opportunity. I told her I'd pay her to watch the children for an hour or two, but that I'd be on the property if they needed us."

  "Where is that little devil?" Max asked. "He's got to be close by."

  Airiana tilted her head up to Max's face. "Surely you're not referring to our son as a 'devil.' He's so like you."

  "My point exactly."

  "If you can't see him," Blythe said, "he's really becoming like you. When have you never been able to spot someone sneaking up on you? I think it's so great that he's emulating you."

  "They spend every night in our bedroom," Max groused. "All four of them. The two little girls are in our bed. Lucia sleeps on Airiana's side on the floor, and Benito sleeps on my side on the floor. We've taken to escaping through the upstairs window to the gazebo. Of course they position themselves perfectly to know if we get up and try to sneak out. That boy has actually tried to follow us."

  Rikki snickered. Lissa burst out laughing. Judith covered her mouth and buried her face in Thomas's shirt. Thomas and Levi laughed uproariously.

 
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