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The mind thieves the min.., p.11
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.11

           Lori Brighton
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  Her tiny warm hand slipped into mine. At her touch, the world disappeared and a long lost memory flashed to mind. I welcomed the memory, dove into, eager to escape my new reality.

  “I thought I’d seen a little girl when I’d first arrived.”

  A tall man placed his arm around my shoulders, his golden hair silver in the moonlight. My entire body went cold. As he led me out of some kitchen, I had to resist the urge to shrug him off.

  “I try to help as many children as I can,” he said. “It’s impossible to turn them away when they have nowhere to go.”

  We moved into a foyer. He’d turned on the lights and it added a soft glow to the area, but it didn’t really warm the place. It was a large house, huge, really. I knew instantly where I was…Aaron’s home. Which meant the man before me must be…

  “I’m sure,” he continued, giving my shoulders a little squeeze, “your grandmother would appreciate you waiting until the sun rises to call her. And of course if you don’t find your cell, we’ll get you another one.”

  “Okay, thanks,” I think I muttered.

  He was smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Good night, Cameron.”

  I could feel his gaze burning into my back as I made my way up the stairs. I had no clue where I was going, but didn’t care. I didn’t dare look over my shoulder, but kept my gaze straight ahead, even as my heart hammered madly in my chest. Down a long hall I traveled, only to pause at a door, instinct telling me to stop for some reason. I pushed the door wide. Darkness blanketed the room.

  “Cameron?” a child’s voice whispered.

  I jerked my head toward the bed. A small shape was huddled on the mattress, her knees tucked to her chest, her white nightgown glowing.

  Caroline, a voice whispered through my head. Who the hell was Caroline?

  She sniffed, like she’d been crying.

  My heart lurched. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

  “Can I… can I sleep with you?”

  I was surprised, not expecting something so sweet. “Yeah, sure.” I paused for a moment, then settled on the bed, and stared up at the ceiling…afraid to move, for I knew this was another memory and I wanted to see as much of it as I could.

  She curled up next to me, her body warm and comforting. “I miss my mom,” she whispered.

  Her words tore at my insides. I squeezed my eyes shut, the tears I’d been trying to keep at bay raced down my cheeks. “I know.” I didn’t say anymore. I didn’t need to. She understood how I felt. I understood her.

  “Cameron?” My father’s voice called to me.

  I blinked my eyes wide. No. No! I didn’t want to be here. He stood in front of me, his brows together and eyes narrowed in obvious concern, watching me suspiciously.

  “Yeah, I’m…”

  What was I? Confused? Devastated?

  “Gemma, honey, head on into the dining room.”

  The little girl released my hand and trudged down the hall. I don’t want to go.

  My dad waited until Gemma disappeared, thank God.

  He sighed, raking his hands through his hair. “I know this is a lot for you, but the kids and Tara don’t exactly know what we can do.”

  I blinked, shocked. I’d expected an explanation, an apology, not this. “How?”

  He stepped closer to me and lowered his voice. “I manage to keep my professional and private life completely separate.” He said this as if he was proud. In reality he was lying. Just as he had lied to me for over a decade.

  “Your…kids…do they have the ability?”

  “Not that I’ve noticed. It develops at different times.” He smiled. “You were early. Almost as if you were born reading minds.”

  I thought, perhaps, he was complimenting me, but wasn’t sure.

  He rested his hand on my shoulder. I wanted to appreciate the affection, but it felt weird. This entire world felt weird. “Enough of this for now. Let’s get something to eat, okay? And then we’ll talk.”

  He led me toward the dining room. The family was already seated, a perfect picture of a perfect family.

  “Sit here, honey.” Tara, my dad’s wife, pointed toward a chair next to Gemma. Charlie was glaring at his mashed potatoes, apparently finding more interest in the spuds than in me.

  My father sat at the other end, lifting his cloth napkin and settling it upon his lap as if completely oblivious to the tension. Tara hoped I liked the food and her neediness was making me uncomfortable. Soon, she’d be planning mother and daughter outings. No thanks. Gemma was dying to ask me to play dolls with her. And Charlie…well, he was imagining my death.

  White, porcelain dishes were passed around the table; the chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans cooked to perfection. It looked like a freaking picture from a magazine. Good lord, did they eat like this every night?

  “So, tell us about yourself, sugar.”

  I glanced up, realizing Tara was talking to me.

  “Living on an island, my,” Tara said, settling a napkin on her lap. “Must have been exciting.”

  Dreadful. All that sand. No shopping mall nearby, she thought, although she smiled away her lie.

  “Yeah,” was all I could manage. I stabbed a green bean and shoved it into my mouth, partly because I was starving, partly to keep from having to talk to anyone. It was all too much. Everything was too much too soon. Did they not realize how overwhelmed I was? An ache throbbed at the base of my skull.

  My eating didn’t dissuade her from talking. “You and your grandma must have had so many adventures.”

  I almost chocked on my food. Adventures? Like running for our lives? Trying to make enough money merely to survive? Tears of frustration, exhaustion, and anger burned my eyes. I glanced at my dad. He was handing Gemma her milk, helping her eat like a good father. I couldn’t breathe. Darkness taunted the edges of my vision. No…no, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

  “I…I need air.” I shoved my chair back and bolted from the room.

  “Are you okay, do you want me to go with you?” I heard my dad call out.

  I didn’t bother to respond but rushed down the hall, the front door my beacon of safety. I couldn’t sit there and chat with them as if we were a normal, happy family. I wasn’t normal.

  I tore open the front door and burst down the porch steps. I didn’t know where I was going, didn’t care. My dad’s car caught my attention, gleaming in the drive. How I wished I had the keys and could get the hell out of here. But I was trapped in the middle of nowhere. Trapped in the past, and at the same time trapped in some odd future.

  Forest surrounded me, pressing, watchful. But in the darkness I noticed a swinging bench placed between two fir trees. Exhausted, I stumbled toward it. What the hell was I doing here? It felt like some sort of dream…nightmare. Outside, the house looked perfect. Inside, the house was perfect. A perfect family.

  I so didn’t belong here.

  The rumble of an approaching engine had me stiffening in surprise. A lone light bounced down the drive. I didn’t dare move, barely breathed. So help me God, if Dad had another kid, I’d scream. A silver motorcycle stopped in the drive, directly behind my dad’s car. I held my breath, waiting. The man pulled off his helmet and I was surprised to see Maddox. So, Blondie hadn’t killed him after all. I shrunk back into the darkness, hoping he wouldn’t notice me. I needed to be alone. As he killed the engine the world once again sank into silence.

  He hung his helmet on the handle bar and turned toward me. “Surprised you’re out here.”

  Damn it all, what did he have… cat eyes?

  “Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded.

  He started toward me, his pace unhurried. He’d changed from the cargo shorts he’d worn in Florida to jeans and a black leather jacket. “Tell you what?”

  “That my dad has a family.” I could barely get the words out, almost gagged on them.

  He shrugged. “Figured he’d tell you himself on the way up here.” Reaching me, he leaned casually against
one of those fir trees.

  I flushed, although fortunately it was too dark to see. “I…slept.”

  Those dark brows drew together. “The entire drive?”

  I nodded.

  “That’s like… eleven hours.”

  “I know.” He didn’t have to tell me, I knew I’d missed my opportunity for a meaningful conversation.

  He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Wasn’t my place to tell. As I said, thought your father would.” He shrugged and pushed away from the tree. Just like that, he left me and headed toward the house. As angry as I was, I didn’t want Maddox to leave. He was the only person here I sort of knew. I sure as heck wouldn’t beg him to stay.

  He was right, my father should have told me. Why hadn’t he? Had he really been so concerned about my lack of sleep that he’d allowed me to rest the entire drive? Something wasn’t adding up.

  Before Maddox reached the front door it opened, and my father and Gemma came outside.

  “Maddox!” Gemma squealed and jumped, Maddox catching her. I didn’t hear what he said as he carried the girl inside, but it annoyed me. Annoyed me that even Maddox fit in here while I didn’t. Annoyed me that Maddox, my Maddox, the one person I sort of knew, was now a part of their group, leaving me here in the darkness… alone.

  My father easily found me and started across the drive. “I do enjoy this spot.” He settled next to me and handed me a sandwich wrapped in a paper towel. “Tara though you might be hungry.”

  I grudgingly took the meal, even more grudgingly admitted that it was thoughtful of the woman. “How long has she known about me?”

  “I told her before we married.”

  So, they’d had a wedding, a real wedding, but hadn’t invited me. Anger, hurt and confusion fought for control. “How long ago?”

  “Ten years.”

  I would have been eight. How I would have loved to have a family back then. Now, I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would always be alone.

  From the trees above, an owl hooted. I took a bite of the sandwich because I felt like I should. It tasted like sawdust, clumping and sticking in my dry mouth. I swallowed hard, almost choking. My dad didn’t pry, or try to explain, merely sat there in silence, gazing up at the sky. He was a man totally at peace and I wondered how he could hold no guilt.

  “Why haven’t you told her about what we can do?”

  He shrugged. “It’s for her own safety.”

  Yet another person trying to protect his loved ones. Grandma had taught him well. Had these people never heard of honesty? He pushed his feet into the ground, making the seat sway slightly.

  “To be completely honest, if you hadn’t developed your powers so early on, I wouldn’t have told you. I’ve only been trying to protect you all, you know.”

  I sighed, frustrated. Maybe it was true; maybe they were trying to protect us. It didn’t make the situation any less frustrating. I really didn’t see how leaving me ignorant and alone was protecting me.

  “Have you heard from Grandma?”

  He shook his head. “She’s still alive.”

  Hope burned brightly in the middle of my chest. “How do you know?”

  “Because they wouldn’t kill her. They’d want to use her.”

  My hope diminished. Use her. That didn’t sound good. Even as I wanted to ask more, my mind slipped from Grandma and traveled back to me. “Why?” I asked, my voice catching. “Why didn’t you ever come for me?”

  “Cameron.” He rested his hand on my knee, but the touch didn’t give me any comfort. It only felt awkward. I didn’t know him, this man who was supposedly my father.

  “You don’t know how badly I wanted to. But I couldn’t. Half the time I didn’t know where you were. Other times, it wasn’t right. I was being tracked. You were better off with my mother.”

  But did his answers ring true? And just like that the world around me shifted.

  Lewis… my Lewis was sitting beside me on a bench outside. It was dark. “My dad…I was told my dad died when I was a baby,” I said.

  He looked away, but not before I saw the guilt in his eyes. “He thought you’d be better off without him.”

  “You knew?”

  He didn’t answer, but he didn’t need to.

  “All that time….” Tears blurred my vision. “All that time I thought he was dead. All that time I was living with my grandma, he was still alive?”

  Lewis swallowed and nodded slowly, still not looking at me.

  A warm tear slipped down my cheek. “When did you know? About me?”

  “I heard him talking to my parents one night. I heard him talk about you, how much he missed you. He wondered if what he’d done was right.” He was silent for a moment. “I’m so sorry, Cam.”

  I sniffed, my nose stinging. “Not your fault. It’s just that…I could have had time with him.”

  “Or you could have been killed too,” he whispered.

  The memory faded, slipping away on the cool, spring breeze. Maybe they’d been right to protect me. Lewis, Maddox, Grandma, hell, even Blondie seemed to think I needed protection. But I was tired of having to rely on others. I wanted to be able to protect myself.

  “Cameron,” my father said. “You have to understand—”

  “Yet… you have a family now,” I blurted out, the words bursting from my lips before I could stop them.

  If it had been so important to protect me, why not his new family?

  “They are protected, because I care about them. But they aren’t gifted, like you. You’re wanted for your abilities.”

  His words did nothing to ease my pain. Why couldn’t I be wanted for something normal, like my looks?

  He sighed. “For the last four years I had no idea where you were. We decided not to stay in contact, that way if one of us was caught, we couldn’t rat each other out. I only just found you last week and sent Maddox to bring you home.”

  We were silent for a moment, and I knew he was giving me time to process everything. Dare I believe him?

  What choice did I have?

  “Please, honey,” my father’s voice was full of emotion…sorrow, pain, regret. It startled me, ate away at the wall encasing my heart. “If I could have, I promise you I would have kept you. But you’re here, now. Can’t we move on and enjoy our time together?”

  I wasn’t so sure if I could forgive and forget. But because I didn’t want to argue at the moment, I gave him a hesitant smile and dutifully took a bite of my sandwich.

  He might think he’d done the right thing by abandoning me, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have been better off here, with him.

  Chapter 12

  “I understand, John,” Tara’s softly spoken words drew me up short and I paused at the top of the steps in indecision. The early morning sun piercing the lace curtains upstairs was warm on my back.

  Why does he always have to be in such a hurry to get to work? she thought. Would it hurt for him to have breakfast with the kids one morning?

  I bit my lower lip and sank to the steps. After awaking in the floral nightmare that was apparently my new bedroom, I’d been eager to talk with my dad. Obviously he was more eager to get to work.

  So, he wasn’t Dad of the year after all. It should have made me feel better knowing that he wasn’t merely a bad father to me, but to all his kids, however many there were. But I didn’t feel better. He hadn’t abandoned them… yet.

  “You know how busy I am and how important my work is,” he said softly.

  More important than us? Tara wondered.

  I leaned forward, attempting to hear him better. What, exactly, did he do? And better yet, what did Tara think he did?

  “You know I love you,” Dad replied.

  I almost snorted in disbelief. He was totally reading her mind and telling her what she wanted to hear. Even Lewis had stopped reading my mind, I realized. A memory lost, now found. They were coming more quickly, piecing together in a haphazard puzzle that left me wanting more

  “Why’d you stop reading my mind?” I’d asked him on that boat ride to Aaron’s home.

  He looked thoughtful for a moment, and then shrugged. “It didn’t feel…right.”

  Lewis hadn’t read my thoughts once we’d started dating? I wasn’t sure how to feel about that realization, but I knew one thing… I was beginning to like Lewis more and more despite how Maddox seemed to feel about him. He’d betrayed me, supposedly. For some reason that thought didn’t sit well, didn’t fit with the guy from my memories. The question was, what had happened to my supposed boyfriend?

  “Lordie, she just got here last night,” Tara said. “She’s exhausted, bless her heart.”

  They were talking about me. I inched down a step, attempting to hear better. Fortunately Tara had had the foresight to buy me some clothes. I’d found jeans and sweatshirts in the dresser in my room. Another thoughtful action that made it awfully hard for me to despise the woman. Strangely enough the clothes were the perfect size, which made me wonder if Dad had spoken to Grandma before Maddox had arrived.

  “Besides, I thought it would be best if she spent some quality time with her brother and sister.”

  I rolled my eyes. Brother and sister? Please, I barely knew them and frankly, at the moment, I didn’t care to.

  My dad sighed. “All right. But tomorrow…” Their voices faded as they walked out the door. Gah, Dad was leaving me here with the Stepford Family? I surged to my feet, hoping to catch him before he tore out of the drive. As I rounded the corner, the only one standing there was Tara, this time wearing a flower printed sweater and black slacks.

  “Cameron,” she called out in greeting, her face lighting up. “You just missed your daddy. Want some breakfast, honey?”

  Not really. I wanted to go with my dad. I wanted to demand he answer the many questions I had. But I could hear the fading rumble of a car engine and I knew he’d left me here alone. Damn him.

  I stuffed my hands into my jean pockets. “Umm, yeah, sure.”

  She clapped her hands together excitedly. “You get to spend the day with us!”

  Apparently I was supposed to be thrilled about this revelation.

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