Earth Bound by Christine Feehan

  Lexi hadn't told Blythe that he was in chronic, unrelenting pain. She knew how badly his body was damaged, but she hadn't said a word. He wasn't fooling himself. Lexi hadn't taken one look at him and fallen head over heels. She barely noticed he was a man--she viewed him as a wounded animal--but she hadn't given away his secrets.

  Lexi was determined to save him. Not fix him, exactly--she wasn't naive enough to believe that was possible--but she wanted to give him a semblance of peace and that was amazing to him. No one had ever done for him what she was attempting. He was uncomfortable in the presence of others, yet not with her.

  The strange thing was, he'd actually dozed off a couple of times. Sheer madness when he was in such a dangerous position. He couldn't understand why he was so mesmerized by everything about Lexi--but he was and he had to deal with it.

  He knew the moment Lexi left the porch and entered the house. She didn't really make much of a sound, just a whisper of footsteps on her hardwood floor, but he had a built-in radar that seemed to follow her every movement. He waited, his heart pounding a little too fast, a little too loud.

  It was a bit ridiculous when he could defeat a polygraph by controlling his pulse and breath so easily. He could slow the beating of his heart or any other organ. He controlled every bodily function from his sex drive to his respiration, and yet when Lexi was near, she threw him into complete chaos.

  "You're back," he greeted. He hadn't realized how much he wanted to see her, to feel her close to him. He was used to being alone and he'd always preferred that, but suddenly he seemed to be so enamored with her that he didn't want to be apart from her.

  "Were you able to sleep at all?"

  Just the sound of her voice, her beautiful green eyes drifting over his face as if she enjoyed looking at him, was enough to cause his body to stir.

  She came straight to him, leaning over him to examine his chest. Her hair tumbled forward to brush over his skin, the slide like a waterfall of silk where her ponytail swept across his chest. She began to remove the needles one by one. Each time she pulled one from his body, she placed her palm over the spot and closed her eyes for a moment.

  "You didn't answer me, Gavriil," she said. "Did you manage to get any sleep?"

  He didn't answer, waiting for her to look at him. He wanted to feel the impact of her eyes. Each time he had dozed off he saw her eyes looking at him. Soft. Gentle. Looking into him. Seeing him. He needed to know if it was real, or if the incense and aromatic candles were causing a hallucination of some sort.

  Lexi didn't lift her head but her gaze jumped to his. He saw sparkling emeralds. Not light green, but a deep, very dark green, like the cool of the forest.

  "A man would kill to have you notice him." The words slipped out before he could stop them. He didn't want her to run from him--to realize he was plotting to find a way to make her fall in love with him.

  She looked at him for a long time, searching his eyes as if looking into his soul and seeing how vulnerable she made him feel. A slow smile curved her soft mouth. "Well, you did that already and I definitely have noticed you, so there's no need to do that again."

  The teasing note in her voice whispered over him like the stroke of fingers. "I did sleep, thank you. Right now, though, I think I could use a very strong cup of coffee."

  "Chamomile tea. With lavender and honey in it," she contradicted, and went back to removing needles. "I know you're probably very uncomfortable right now. Opening up those pathways can be painful. I figured you were already in pain and you handle it, so if it takes a few sessions to get them open and functioning properly without them short-circuiting like they are now, it will be worth it."

  "You do realize my nerves are damaged. The doctors say they won't ever heal." He caught her ponytail in his hand, closing the thick mass of hair in his fist. "I went to several different countries and got numerous opinions."

  "I'm very aware they are damaged, Gavriil. I could feel the paths blocked and broken. I'm not saying it will work for certain, but usually if I can feel the damage I can fix it." She picked up the tray of needles and started to turn away from him. Her hair, captured in his fist, prevented movement.

  Lexi lifted one eyebrow. "I'm betting you haven't eaten in a while."

  "I'm used to doing things for myself."

  "That's good, because I can barely take care of myself, but just for the next few days, until we get this nerve thing under control, I thought maybe we could compromise."

  "How does that work?"

  She smiled at him again. Her mouth was beautiful, her lips full and soft, a terrible temptation. "You do everything I say, of course. Right now, I need my hair back so I can make the tea and get the lunch Levi sent over for us."

  "Can you cook? I might consider letting you boss me around for a couple of days if you can cook."

  "Of course I can cook. And I always use fresh, organic vegetables and herbs." She managed a haughty look even with her sparkling eyes. "Believe me, doing everything I say will be totally worth it. I'm a very good cook, although I tell my sisters I'm not so they occasionally feed me after I've worked all day."

  "I didn't notice a lot of use in that kitchen of yours," he hedged. "Letting you boss me around won't be easy. I have to know what you're saying is true." He tugged on her hair as if he was considering the proposal.

  "What's to think about? I stick needles in you daily and make you drink all kinds of concoctions that I won't tell you what's in them, boss you around and feed you wonderful meals. I'll even let you have this bed. It's the most comfortable. That's a huge concession right there."

  "You never sleep in it."

  "Exactly. It's brand-new, never been used. Totally comfortable. Judith made certain it was the best. Bamboo, no nasty creatures or fungus would dare touch that mattress. You'll be so safe. And I'll guard you when you sleep."

  "This sounds like a dream come true. Really. How could a man go wrong?"

  "There's more," Lexi added. Her smile widened, taking his breath away.

  "I can't wait," he said.

  "When you're all better and forever beholden to me because I'm such a good healer, you can work the farm with me. I might even let you drive my tractor, although I'm not making any promises. That's my baby and I don't let just anyone drive it."

  "This proposition of yours just gets better and better," he replied. He sat up. He had to. Otherwise the thin sheet was going to give away the fact that his body had stirred to life all over again. His cock was really becoming a nuisance. The damn thing had decided to rebel, taking on a life of its own. He discovered that moving around too much with a whale of a hard-on wasn't particularly a great idea.

  "Isn't it though? If you have clean clothes, I can wash the ones you were wearing." She indicated his neatly folded stack of clothes. "There's blood on your shirt. I'm always nicking myself, so I'm fairly adept at removing a bloodstain."

  He frowned, allowing her ponytail to slide through his fingers, freeing her. "What do you mean, nicking yourself?"

  "On tools. I cut myself all the time. I wear leather gloves, but sometimes they're just in the way."

  She was so matter-of-fact about injuring herself that it set his teeth on edge. Someone needed to care for her, not the other way around. He found he was irritated at his brothers and the other women on the farm. Clearly they didn't help Lexi, yet they were definitely reaping the rewards of her work.

  "Doesn't anyone help you out around here?" His voice was harsh, a low, demanding tone that had her turning away from him.

  "Of course they do, when they can. Everyone works. I told you that. At harvest, they all help."

  She was quick to defend her family members from any perceived slight. He realized he would have to guard his opinions of the others--and he was annoyed with them--no matter what she said. The farm, from what he could see, was huge. It was far too much work for one person.

  "That's good," he said, using a neutral, almost casual tone, as if they were discussing things in the
abstract. "Because a farm this size definitely needs more than one person working it." He wasn't going to make the mistake of firing her up, forcing her to defend the others. He needed her defending him, not them.

  "I don't like strangers around me," Lexi confessed. "The farm is kind of my haven and the thought of someone I don't know hanging around bothers me. I keep thinking I'll hire someone to help out, but so far, I haven't been able to make myself do it. The others have mentioned hiring someone several times but I keep putting it off."

  She sounded apprehensive and a little ashamed, as if, by not hiring an outsider, she was a coward. The idea of someone outside the circle of family didn't sit well with him, after all. He didn't want another man working alongside Lexi.

  "I suppose there's nothing else for it then," he said, with an exaggerated sigh. "I'll have to take you up on your generous offer and let you boss me around for a few days in order to drive that tractor of yours."

  He was rewarded with a quick flick of those deadly green eyes. She fastened her gaze on him, and he felt the bed shifting out from under him. He lifted the sheet enough to keep his body from scaring the hell out of her. She was damned beautiful. She moved like a summer breeze. He hadn't known women like Lexi really existed.

  "Why are you suddenly looking so sad?" Lexi asked, concern on her face. She put the tray of needles down on the bureau and came back to him. "What is it, Gavriil? I'm really not bossy. I was teasing you."

  "I know that."

  Her fingers were back in his hair, stroking it back, massaging his scalp, a comforting, soothing gesture a woman might make to a child. She was petting the wild animal, taming him with her touch.

  "What is it?"

  He caught her hand before she could inflame his body any further. He'd been fourteen years old when he gained control over that part of his anatomy. He still bore the scars on his back and thighs from the punishments when he wasn't able to. All that training, all those years of discipline were gone in the blink of an eye and she wasn't even trying to seduce him.

  "I haven't spent this much time with another human being since I was a child."

  She pressed her lips together, her forest-cool eyes never wavering. "You don't have to spend time with me, Gavriil. I have tons of work to do, and I can stay on my porch. There's also a building we all share. Blythe mentioned it and said you could stay there if you preferred being alone."

  He couldn't help himself. He brought her fingertips to his mouth and bit gently, his teeth scraping back and forth. It was that or kiss her, and he thought biting at her fingers was far safer for both of them than kissing her. Her eyes darkened. A small frown appeared, but she didn't pull away from him.

  He realized she didn't recognize foreplay or seduction. She'd been a child with an evil man and he'd never taken his time with her, or made love to her. Caine had used her, but he had never made her aware of her own sexual appetite. At least Gavriil had been made aware early on that sex could be pleasurable. He doubted if Lexi had a clue.

  There had been a few moments between them, like now, where something stirred in her eyes, a flare of sexual confusion, as if he was causing a reaction in her body. She looked a little frightened, as if she didn't know what was happening to her.

  "I'm just fine where I am," Gavriil said. "I like being around you. You soothe me. There's something very peaceful about you. I've never been teased before. Do you realize how many 'firsts' you're giving me?"

  She smiled and her eyes were like the sun's rays beaming through a canopy of leaves. Her entire face lit up, showing off all her creamy, flawless skin and her full, soft--very tempting--lips. She was killing him without trying. He needed to get his libido under control before he blew his every chance.

  "I'm glad."

  Awareness crept down his spine. His grip tightened on her hand. "Lexi. I want you to walk into the bathroom and close the door. Casually. Just go into it as if you're going to use it. Keep smiling at me. No questions."

  She looked frightened but she nodded her head. She touched his face, featherlight, but he felt it all the way to his bones.

  "It's probably nothing, but I prefer to stay alert," he added quietly.

  Lexi held it together, following his instructions exactly, going to the bathroom and closing the door. She moved with unhurried steps, looking natural should anyone be watching.

  The moment the door was shut, Gavriil reached for his jeans, turned and slipped into them almost in one motion. He shoved his feet into his boots, and concealed the weapons in their usual places. He was dressed and armed in seconds. He moved with casual grace to the open window. He waited there, just to the left, out of sight. Still. Patient. Baiting his prey. His knife was in his palm, a familiar extension.

  There was silence. His heart rate remained exactly the same. His pulse never changed. This, he understood. This was his world. Here he had control. Discipline. Power. He understood the rules.

  A whisper of movement told him his prey was growing restless. A shadow moved. Stopped. Gavriil didn't so much as tense. Deep inside, he was coiled and ready to spring, but for the moment he remained utterly still. His mind didn't race. There was no chaos or fear. He was in complete command.

  A head appeared in the window and he struck with lightning speed. Grabbing the thick dark hair, he dragged the head all the way inside, exposing the neck, pressing the razor-sharp blade of his knife against the throat. Dark eyes stared up at him. Shocked. Scared. A child's eyes.

  "What the hell are you doing here?" Gavriil demanded. "Who sent you?"

  "Lexi!" The boy screamed her name.

  Lexi emerged from the bathroom at a run. Gavriil, still holding the knife to the boy's throat, blocked her rush, shoving her back behind him.

  "Do you know this boy?" Gavriil asked. He didn't take his cold gaze--or the knife--from the boy, not once. In his experience a child could be just as deadly as an adult. He'd made his first kill at fourteen.

  "Let him up. That's Benito, Max's boy." Lexi peered around his larger body, staring at the knife that bit just enough into the boy's throat to cause a thin line of blood. "Please don't kill him."

  Gavriil removed the knife from the boy's throat, and not so gently dragged him into the room, mostly by his hair.

  With one hand he patted the kid down; the other kept him immobile. He retrieved a Glock from the waistband of the boy's jeans and held it up in the air.

  "What's this? Were you planning on killing me, boy?" Gavriil kept searching for more weapons. He never just carried one on a job. Evidently the kid felt the same way--he had a hell of a big knife shoved down into his boot.

  "Benito! What were you thinking?" Lexi asked, trying to step around Gavriil.

  He cut her off with a sweep of his arm. "Stay behind me until we straighten this out. I don't give a damn whose kid he is, not when he comes sneaking around with a gun and knife."

  "He's twelve years old," Lexi said. "A child."

  "He's not a child when he's armed." Gavriil transferred his hand from the boy's hair to his throat. "You'd better start talking, kid, I can break your neck just as fast as I can cut your throat. Were you hired to kill Lexi?"

  "Oh, for God's sake," Lexi said, exasperation in her voice. "He wouldn't do that. He lives here on the farm with Max."

  "Then he can convince me. You stay behind me, Lexi, or I'm going to have to hurt this kid. I'm not taking chances with your safety."

  "Are you her bodyguard?" Benito asked, his eyes nearly rolling back in his head with fear.

  The boy didn't move though. Not even a tiny inch to try to get away from the deadly grip Gavriil had him in. Gavriil had to give him credit for that. Benito was terrified, but he was thinking it all out.

  "If you didn't come here to kill Lexi, or me, what the hell were you doing outside the bedroom window? Are you some kind of Peeping Tom?"

  Benito shook his head. His gaze clung to Lexi's. He didn't look at Gavriil. "No sir. I was practicing."

  "Practicing what? Scaring Lexi?"
r />
  His voice was a low whip of menace. What the hell was the kid doing? Did he have any idea just how close to death he'd come?

  Lexi started around Gavriil once again to comfort the boy, but he shifted just enough to keep his body between hers and the kid's. She put her hand on the small of his back. For a split second, he was more aware of that contact than anything else.

  "He's working on his skills. Guarding all of us. Moving quietly without detection," Lexi explained.

  "Is that true?" Gavriil asked, slowly allowing his hand to drop away from the boy's neck.

  Benito touched his fingers to his throat and looked at the blood smeared on his fingertips. He nodded. "Yes sir."

  Gavriil let his breath out slowly. The kid had guts, and even though he was clearly a pain in the ass, one had to admire him. He willed Lexi to let him handle the situation without her. The kid needed a scare thrown into him--which Gavriil had given him. Now he needed to feel as if he was going to learn something from the experience.

  "Lexi was about to make me some tea and we were going to eat lunch. I'll clean up your throat there and then we'll sit down and I'll tell you where you went wrong."

  Lexi's fingers slipped down his bare back to the pocket of his jeans. She curled her fingers there. He glanced at her over his shoulder.

  "Are you all right?"

  "I was afraid," she admitted. "I really thought some of Caine's people might have come after me. Now that I know there's nothing wrong, I think my knees are a little weak, but I'm really okay. I am."

  He wanted to blast the kid all over again. He turned back to the boy. "That's another reason you don't slink around and scare people. Everyone has a history. You don't want to make it worse for them, do you?"

  Benito shook his head. "I'm really sorry, Lexi."

  For a moment, Lexi pressed her face against the small of his bare back, right where her hand had been. Right over a series of scars from a whip tearing his flesh open when he was a child. Gavriil wanted to pull her into his arms and comfort her, but he stopped the impulse.

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