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The mind thieves the min.., p.10
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.10

           Lori Brighton
 
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  “Well, well, what a sweet reunion.” Blondie’s voice came from behind us.

  I spun around. My dad didn’t curse or even flinch. He merely turned to confront the witch.

  “Nice to see you again,” he said by way of greeting. Obviously they were well acquainted, while I suddenly felt like the only mind reader who didn’t belong to their secret club. Or maybe all of this insanity was my initiation. God, I hoped not.

  She laughed. “Right, I’m sure you’re thrilled.”

  My dad stepped forward. “Nora, don’t.”

  Don’t what? I narrowed my eyes, focusing on the woman. Nora. Why did that name sound familiar? I raked my patchy memory, but couldn’t place it.

  “You’re fast, I’ll give you that,” Nora said, crossing her arms over her chest, her stance relaxed. “But I’m betting you were here all along, weren’t you?”

  I glanced at my father, surprised by her comment. She was lying. If he’d been here, why had he waited so long to show himself?

  A pulse in my dad’s neck beat quickly, the only sign of his annoyance. “Why are you here?”

  I noticed that he hadn’t answered her question. She started forward, her steps slow and unhurried, tapping against the sidewalk. “Same reason you are.”

  A soft, cool breeze whispered in from the ocean, smelling of water and salt… a scent that used to be comforting. Now, I only felt sick.

  “You know I can’t let you take her.”

  They acted like I was some prize, some inanimate object to be won.

  Nora paused, blinking her eyes wide with feigned surprise. “Well then, we’re at an impasse, whatever shall we do?”

  My father’s hands fisted at his sides. “Enough with the games. You know you can’t beat me.”

  “Want to give it a try?” She smirked. “I’ve improved since last time.”

  Last time? How many times had they fought?

  Dad sighed with resignation. “I guess you aren’t going to give me a choice.”

  What the hell was going on?

  My father stepped closer to her, placing himself between me and Nora. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

  My heart slammed wildly in my chest. What would they do? No, no, it couldn’t end like this. I wouldn’t let something happen to my dad when I’d just found him.

  She laughed. “Yeah, if only I’d let you brainwash me.”

  “Aaron is the only one brainwashing and you know it.”

  “Oh really? Guess what, that perfect little girl cowering behind you is regaining her memory.” She slid me a brief glance, victory in her eyes. “Wonder what she’ll think when the truth comes out.”

  “If her memory returns completely the only thing she’ll realize is that her instincts not to trust you and Aaron were right all along.”

  Before I could truly contemplate what they were discussing, my father moved his arm through the air. A nearby tree branch that had been lying harmlessly near a cannon rushed toward Nora. She ducked. The branch just missed her, slamming against the stone wall of the fort and falling in pieces to the ground. Holy crap, Dad could move things with his mind. I seriously needed to learn that trick, it might come in handy when being chased by psychos.

  “Playing dirty?” She straightened, bracing her legs apart and narrowing her eyes. “Bring it on.”

  Suddenly my father cried out, his hands going to his head as he stumbled to his knees.

  “Dad?” I started forward only to be caught up short by an overwhelming pain that sliced through my head. I was barely aware of the world around me, only the knife stabbing my brain. My knees hit the cement sidewalk and I pressed the heels of my palms to my temples, attempting to lessen the ache.

  “Block her, Cam,” my father’s voice managed to somehow seep through the wall of hurt.

  Block her? How the hell did I do that? I tried to ignore the pain, squeezed my eyes shut and took in a deep breath of humid air, rebuilding my mental wall inch by inch. It worked.

  Slowly the pain lessened. It was still there, throbbing at the back of my head, but not nearly as bad. I managed to crack open my eyes. The rising sun seemed too bright, the calling seagulls too loud. Dad was regaining his feet, his face stern, flushed with anger.

  “Hurt me, but you have no right to hurt her. She’s done nothing to you.”

  Surprisingly, Nora agreed. “Fine.” She reached into her back pocket. “You’re right.” She pulled out my pistol and pointed it directly at my father’s chest. “I’m tired of the games too. So what do you say, we end it all here?”

  “No!” I screamed, jumping to my feet.

  “Cameron,” my father warned. “Stay back.”

  I know what I’m doing.

  It took a moment for me to realize my father had actually spoken to me through his thoughts. I froze some five feet from him.

  “You know you won’t,” my father said, staring unflinchingly at Nora.

  I wasn’t so sure.

  “Want to test that?” Blondie’s hand shook. She was irate. This was not the cute banter she’d participated in with Maddox. No, this was pure rage directed at my father. But why? What had he done to her? I wasn’t so sure I wanted to uncover the truth.

  “I know you—”

  “You don’t!” she screamed. Cinder-kick-butt-Ella looked like she might cry. I watched in awe. She wasn’t some emotionless robot after all.

  Slowly, I inched forward. She didn’t have the gun pointed at me, but at my dad. She didn’t want to hurt me, at least not kill me. But I sure as heck wasn’t going to stand by and let her kill my dad. I couldn’t lose him… not again.

  “Please,” I whispered.

  She glanced at me and released a wry laugh. “You have no damn clue, Cameron. No idea what he’s done to my friends, my family.”

  She was right, sort of. “Maybe, but I do know one thing.” I stepped in front of my dad. “You want me alive.”

  At least I hoped.

  She clenched her jaw, her arm wavering.

  Cameron, my dad’s voice whispered through my head. Don’t. Don’t put yourself in danger.

  “Dad,” I said out loud. “I’m already in danger. I’ve been in danger my entire life.”

  “Having secret little father and daughter conversations? How sweet.” Nora started forward, her steps determined, her aim unwavering. “She’s coming with me.”

  Dad grasped onto my arm and pulled me back. “She’s not.”

  Before I could argue, Dad sliced his arm through the air again and the pistol flew from Nora’s hand, skittering across the parking lot. Suddenly Blondie cried out and dropped to her knees. She gripped her head, gritting her teeth and squeezing her eyes shut, a picture of someone in pain.

  “You want to do pain, you know I can as well,” my father growled.

  I shifted, uneasy with what was happening, and more importantly, what could happen. I’d caused Maddox pain in that hotel room…just like Nora and my father. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that fact. Empowered, shocked… but mostly a little frightened about what I was capable of. I sure as hell didn’t want to be like Nora.

  The sudden screech of tires had me turning toward the parking lot. A silver Lexus came to a skidding halt next to us, so close I was forced to jump back onto the sidewalk. I recognized that man behind the wheel.

  “Dad!” I grasped his arm. “We have to go, now! They’re working together!”

  Maddox had found me and he didn’t look like he was in a forgiving mood. Too late. The door opened and Maddox stood. He glanced briefly at Nora, who was still kneeling upon the ground, then focused on my father. “I’ll take care of her, John. Just go.” Maddox tossed my father the keys.

  “You can’t hold her back,” my father said, starting toward the car.

  “I can long enough so you can get a good head start.”

  Dad nodded and glanced at me. “Cameron, let’s go.”

  Maddox met my gaze. Talk about awkward. Okay, so apparently he was on our side.


  “Cameron,” my father demanded. He had opened the passenger door and was waiting impatiently for me.

  “Sorry,” I whispered to Maddox as I raced passed him.

  Maddox didn’t respond.

  Dad waved me toward the car. “Get in.”

  I sank onto the leather seat and jerked the seatbelt across my chest, my gaze was on Maddox, who was ducking Blondie’s roundhouse kick. She’d already recovered.

  “Why?” I asked. “Why is all of this happening?”

  He started to close my door, only to pause. “I did what I could to protect you.”

  “But—”

  “Cameron.” He knelt and cupped the sides of my face. “Look at me.”

  Reluctantly, I shifted in my seat, staring directly into his eyes. The same hazel eyes I had.

  “We don’t have time for answers right now. It’s going to be a long drive. You’re going to want to rest.”

  “But I don’t want to…” My mind felt suddenly fuzzy, my body heavy.

  “Yes. You’re exhausted. Sleep.”

  My lashes fluttered as I resisted the urge to close my eyes. There were so many things I needed to ask him. So many things I needed to know. My head lulled back against the seat. He was right…I was tired. So damn tired.

  “Sleep, Cameron,” my dad said softly.

  And so I did. I closed my eyes and drifted into slumber.

  Chapter 11

  “Wake up, Cameron.”

  My father’s words broke through the heaviness of slumber. For a moment, as my foggy mind refused to wake, I thought I’d dreamt his voice. But no, I could feel the low rumble of the car, the soft leather of the seat underneath me, the cramp in my neck from being bent at an odd angle.

  Slowly, I cracked open my eyes. It was dark, no street lights lit the road, not even another vehicle approached. On either side were thick woods. I reached for my right shoulder and began to massage the aching muscle, my thoughts jumbled, my body confused.

  My dad. I was with my dad. It was still hard to believe. I rubbed the sleep from my blurry eyes. My mouth tasted like dirty cotton. What I wouldn’t do for something to drink.

  I glanced at my father, but it was impossible to read his face in the dark interior. “Where are we?”

  “North Carolina.”

  Surprised, the fog of sleep instantly cleared. “What? How?” I bolted upright, taking in the scenery with a new appreciation.

  “We drove,” he said with a laugh that I swore I remembered from childhood. “And if they waited for us, we should be there in time for dinner.”

  I brushed the hair from my face and studied the landscape once more, as if expecting to see a sign that said we had indeed, already made it to North Carolina. “I can’t believe I slept that long.”

  “Well, you had a trying last few days.”

  I glanced at the car clock. Almost nine. Sure, but to sleep for hours, never once waking? It didn’t make sense. I rubbed my aching neck, attempting to clear any remaining fog and remember what had happened. Maddox and Blondie had been fighting at the fort. My father had led me toward his car and…

  My father flipped on the turn signal, the soft click, click, click the only sound in the quiet night. My father. I was in a car with my father. It seemed impossible and I fumbled for what to say next.

  We turned onto a dirt road that led through more thick forest. “Where’s Maddox?”

  “He’ll be fine.” My dad slowed. “He’ll meet us here later.”

  “And… Nora?”

  “He won’t kill her, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

  Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to feel about her. I didn’t necessarily want her dead, but I wouldn’t mind if she was locked away on an island in the middle of the Atlantic with no chance of escape.

  “Dad,” I started, unsure of where to begin. There were so many things I wanted to ask him.

  “Ah,” my dad said, turning onto a drive that snaked between thick fir trees. “There’s home.”

  I shifted my attention, curious. Home was a large, white Victorian house in a clearing atop a hill. Lights glowed softly from the windows, giving it a charming warmth. The yard was beautifully landscaped, and dark woods provided a barrier of privacy around the perimeter. It was picture perfect. It was a home. It left me feeling almost confused. Had he lived here all along, or had he recently purchased the place knowing I would need a house?

  “Dad,” I said, the title still odd on my tongue. “We have to talk. I need answers.”

  “I understand.” He pulled to a stop in front of a three car garage. “But first, let’s eat.”

  Suddenly his words came rushing back. “And if they waited for us, we should be there in time for dinner.”

  Who the hell was they?

  “You haven’t had anything in hours,” he added.

  He was right and my stomach clenched with the reminder. I opened my door and stood, my legs weak and trembling from lack of use. I’d barely gotten out of the car when the door to the house tore open. A woman with blonde hair stepped onto the porch, the skirt of her flowered dress swaying with the movement.

  “John, you’re home! And you found her!” A thick southern accent coated the woman’s voice.

  I froze. She sure as hell wasn’t my mom, so who was she?

  I hope she likes me, her thought drifted through my mind.

  “Cameron, this is my wife…”

  Blood rushed to my ears, the roar of denial so loud that I didn’t hear any more, didn’t even hear her thoughts. I didn’t want to. I wanted to jump back into that car and take off. I wanted to pretend like I’d never met Maddox. Never knew my dad lived.

  He had a home. A really, really nice home. He had a wife. A really, really pretty wife who was rushing down the porch steps as if happy to see me. A woman saying sugary sweet words in her sugary sweet southern drawl.

  I wanted to puke.

  Her high heeled shoes tapped against the drive as she came closer… closer. Suddenly she was right there, looking at me as if she expected an answer but I hadn’t a clue what she had asked.

  “Well,” she said, her astute gaze quickly scanning my body. “I’m sure you’re exhausted. Come on in and I’ll get ya’ll some dinner.” Her cold hands gripped mine. She had a huge diamond ring on her wedding finger. A diamond I knew was real. A diamond that proclaimed to all she lived in wedded bliss.

  Yep, I was going to puke all over her heeled shoes.

  “Come along now, you need a warm meal and a soft bed.”

  With her arm linked through mine, she forced me toward the house. I do hope she likes me, the woman thought.

  She smelled like that lilac bush Grandma had constantly tried to keep alive back at our cottage in Maine. An overwhelming scent that reminded me of the only person I really knew, the only person who had ever truly taken care of me. Where was my grandma?

  She chatted with my father about our drive here, while I walked numb, silent, toward the house. Never once did she actually ask me a question and I was thankful to be left alone. Still, I forced myself to listen to their chatter, to learn as much as I could before I entered that house of horrors.

  She’s so quiet, she thought.

  Well, what did she expect with the shock I’d just received?

  They chatted all the way, never asking me anything, not bothering to include me. The trip had been uneventful, my father said. I had slept most of the way. All the way, I wanted to correct him, but didn’t.

  Up the stairs we traveled and into an impressive foyer. A walnut staircase curved up to a second floor. A chandelier hung, glowing from the high ceiling above and an oriental rug covered the polished, wooden floor. It was warm, clean and I was struck by two things.

  One, my dad had money. While Grandma and I had been struggling day by day, he obviously hadn’t.

  Two, even worse, he had a home. A real, true home. While Grandma and I had been forced to move from place to place, he’d settled down.

  “Dad!”
someone cried out, followed by the thump of feet.

  I looked at the ceiling, resisting the sudden urge to laugh. Better and better.

  “Charlie, dear,” my father’s wife admonished. “Lower your voice!”

  Slowly, I turned toward a large family room with cream colored sofas. A young boy, maybe eight, stood near the fireplace. Dark hair, hazel eyes, and a frown. He stared at me as if I was an intruder, and I guess I was.

  “Who are you?” he demanded.

  “Charlie, darling, don’t be rude.” My father’s wife scurried into the living room, no doubt worried her son would say something to offend me. She didn’t realize there was nothing at this point that could offend.

  “You know this is Cameron. We told you about her.” She smoothed down his hair, as I’d seen mothers do so often, then wrapped her arm around his shoulders.

  I don’t want a new sister, he thought.

  Join the club, kid. There was no mistaking it… this boy was my father’s. Same dark hair, same hazel eyes as me. Could he read minds as well? The thought left me ill.

  “Daddy?” Another little voice, this one a girl.

  My stomach churned. She peeked around the corner. Seeing me she grinned then raced to my dad. He caught her, lifting her high and hugging her close. My heart squeezed, my lungs shrinking.

  She’s pretty, the child thought. And she’s my new sister!

  No. No, this couldn’t be. It was bad enough that he had a home and wife… but kids too?

  “All right, everyone into the dining room.” The woman was watching me, her face wavering in and out of focus. I must have looked horrible because I could see the concern in her blue eyes. “You like chicken?”

  I managed to nod.

  My dad gave me a hesitant smile as he set the little girl back to the ground. His wife started down the hall, taking their son with her. Still my dad just stood there and I knew he was attempting to figure out an explanation. But seriously, shouldn’t he have come up with a plan before driving eleven hours to find me?

  “Hi!” The girl was suddenly beside me. “You can sit next to me.” We’ll be best friends and she’ll play dolls with me.

 
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