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The mind thieves the min.., p.12
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.12

           Lori Brighton
 
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  “But first, I want to give you something.” She started toward me. “It’s in your room.”

  I followed her back up the steps, dreading what I knew would be a long day ahead. What could this woman possibly want to give me? Please don’t let it be a matching mother and daughter outfit.

  I hope she likes the photos…

  Her thoughts whispered toward me. Thank God. Merely pictures.

  In my new room, that floral monstrosity, she waved me toward the queen-sized bed. “I certainly don’t expect you to like my décor.”

  I chose to keep my mouth shut.

  “But I thought maybe this weekend we could go shopping for a new duvet.”

  She was so happy about the idea of bonding with me that I didn’t have the heart to laugh. But really, what the heck did she think I was here for? I hadn’t a clue how long I’d stay with my dad. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be here. I’d had plans to go to college. Go…anywhere. Now everything felt so unsure, so upside down.

  When I didn’t respond she gave me a hesitant smile. “Anywho.” She moved toward the closet and I felt guilty for being so aloof. She was nice. There were no mean thoughts in her head. But I didn’t exactly feel like bonding with her when I might not stay. What was the point?

  “When your dad told me he was going to get you, I brought these down from the attic. Found them when I was spring cleaning.” She pulled a box from the top shelf and started toward me. “I thought you might appreciate them.”

  She set the box upon the bed, then hesitated. I do hope she isn’t offended.

  Curious, I lifted the lid. Photos. A picture of my mom holding me. She looked so young, her face so full of hope that it sort of broke my heart. She couldn’t have been much older than I was now. And there were more, so many pictures that I sucked in a sharp breath, feeling the sting of tears. I hated myself for getting emotional. It had been years. She’d abandoned me. Why did I still care?

  Oh dear, Tara thought, biting her lower lip. She’s going to cry. Should I hug her?

  Please don’t, I wanted to respond.

  “They’re yours now,” Tara said softly. “Although, if you don’t mind, let’s keep this between you and me.” In other words, sugar, let’s not tell your dad. He’ll be so angry if he knows I went through his things.

  I wanted to laugh. If she’d thought about these pictures at all, my father already knew. I sniffed, refusing to let the tears drop. “Thanks.”

  She patted my thigh. “I’m going to start breakfast. Do you like pancakes?”

  I nodded, the emotions lumped in my throat making it impossible to speak.

  “Great!” She started across the white carpet, leaving me in peace. Dang it all, as much as I wanted despise her, I couldn’t help but admit she was nice. No evil stepmother thoughts coming from her mind. Only a person who desperately wanted to be liked.

  I picked up a photo, forgetting Tara for the moment. I was a baby, at least I assumed it was me. I was in front of a cake that had a candle in the shape of a one. Behind me loomed my mother and father, smiling like any proud parents. What had happened to us?

  “Hey.”

  Started, I dropped the photo in the box, and fumbled with the lid. Gemma stood in the doorway wearing a Disney Princess nightgown. “I’m playin dolls, wanna play too?”

  Please, please, please, I hope she plays with me. No one ever wants to play.

  I sighed, guilt getting the better of me. “Yeah, sure.”

  Why not? Not like I had anything better to do, thanks to Dad. Might as well get to know the house and the people I’d apparently be staying with indefinitely. I jumped off the mattress and slid the box underneath the bed.

  “Hurray!” She did a little hop and I marveled over the way that she could find happiness in such a little thing.

  Laughing, I followed her down the hall to a room any young girl would kill for. So brilliant pink in color, my eyes almost hurt. A white canopy bed rested against the far wall and an overflowing toy box was against the opposite side. In the middle of the floor a plastic castle was ready and waiting. It was the kind of room I’d dreamt of having as a child.

  “Where’s your brother?”

  She shrugged. “Don’t know. Probably still sleeping.”

  Good, the kid was a brat, constantly glaring when I was around. He’d made his distaste painfully clear. At least one sibling liked me. Sibling? Since when had I started thinking of them as a brother and sister? Tara would be thrilled. I was horrified.

  Gemma shoved a doll dressed suspiciously like a hooker into my hands. “You can be her.”

  I settled cross legged on the floor. “Great.”

  “We’re going to have so much fun, Cameron.” She sat next to me and reached for my hand.

  At her touch, the room disappeared. For a brief moment my mind went blank. I knew what was happening…another vision. Suddenly, the room burst to life, but this time… a different room. I was no longer with Gemma.

  A shuffle interrupted the quiet, like mice scurrying from a cat. Slowly, I turned. The room was long, dark…an attic? From behind a pile of boxes a small form stepped into the light. Golden hair glinted under the rising sun coming in through the windows lining the walls. The girl who had been in my bedroom in the flashback I’d had only yesterday. Caroline.

  She wore a blue woolen dress that came to her knees and white tights. Her hair was pulled into a lopsided ponytail, her long bangs hiding her eyes. I wasn’t sure how old she was, maybe seven, slightly older than Gemma. Too young to be alone.

  She didn’t look surprised in the least to see me and settled down, hidden behind her box. “I’m Caroline,” she whispered.

  I moved around the boxes to see her better. She had an entire little world set up here in this dingy, dusty attic. An old stuffed bear sat in the corner, his button eyes hanging on by loose threads. She’d propped a box up for a doll house. It was pathetic compared to Gemma’s plastic mansion.

  “Hi Caroline, I’m Cameron.”

  “I know,” she whispered, not looking at me as she picked up a little doll. She smoothed its hair from its porcelain face.

  “What’s your dolls name?” I settled on the ground beside her.

  “She’s not mine.”

  “Oh.”

  “I… found her.”

  Was she nervous I’d take the toy away? How sad. “Well, I’m sure no one will care if you play with her.”

  “Maybe not.” She held out the doll and looked at me expectantly.

  “Uh, thanks.” I took the toy. I’d never played with dolls much as a child. Maybe because I’d had to grow up too fast. I realized, as I held it close, that the doll was old. The lace dress was stained yellow with age. Her pale, porcelain face was crackled, the paint flaking.

  “It’s the mother and this is the child.” She picked up another doll, as old as the first.

  “Neat,” I said, handing her back.

  While she settled them down near their box homes, I studied her little area. Under the rising sun it was easier to see and I was startled to notice a blanket in the corner of her nook. “You don’t sleep here, do you?”

  She shrugged, glancing at me through her lashes, as if judging my reaction. “Sometimes, but only if I need to be alone.”

  “Alone?”

  She sighed, her narrow shoulders sinking. “There are so many. Sometimes they cough, or sneeze and they wake me up.”

  “They? Who?”

  “The others like me. Like you.”

  Her gaze was so sincere I didn’t dare doubt her.

  Others? Dear God. “And how many are there?”

  She shrugged. “I don’t know.” She tucked her dolls into their house. “He’s awake, you should go.”

  “He?” I stumbled to my feet. Nervous, although why, I wasn’t sure.

  “Lewis, he’s looking for you.”

  “Oh.” I looked back at the door. “You know because…”

  “I’m like you.”

  “C
ameron?” Gemma pulled her hand from mine, jerking me from the past.

  I blinked her into focus, attempting to clear the memory from my mind. “Yeah?”

  “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah…sure.” I handed her the doll. My head was thumping at the base of my skull. Caroline, the child I’d been trying to escape with. Caroline, a child stolen from her home. “I just… I need some breakfast first, okay?”

  She nodded.

  I gave her a hesitant smile as I stood, trying to put her at ease. There were too many memories in too short of a time. Instead of clarifying my past, they left me feeling confused and unsure. I had the sudden urge to run from the house once more. The urge to escape this insane reality.

  I moved through the door and blindly ran into some guy…seventeen…maybe. He had dirty blond hair that was fashionably messed up and eyes so dark they were almost black. Ugh, so much for making an escape.

  “Who the hell are you?” he asked.

  Oh God, please tell me he wasn’t my brother? Seriously, how much was I supposed to take? “Who the hell are you?” I snapped back.

  He paused for a moment, then a slow smile lifted the right corner of his mouth, giving him a crooked grin that made him look less hard and more boyish. “Jake.”

  He was cute, but there was a coldness in his gaze that left me feeling uneasy. “Cameron,” I said reluctantly. Why the heck was he here?

  “Cameron,” he repeated, crossing his arms, the blue t-shirt he wore stretching across his scrawny chest. With an ease, he leaned against the wall, as if he had all the time in the world.

  “Nice to me you,” I said sarcastically, intending to move around him. I didn’t care who the heck he was, I only wanted to be alone. My head was throbbing once more, a common occurrence after having a flashback. I was hungry and in no mood for more mysteries.

  “She’s my sister!” Gemma threw in from her position near the doorway.

  I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. She was way too attached to me already. I wasn’t even sure I was going to stay here. I didn’t need that kind of guilt hanging over my head.

  He was watching me closely, too closely. I shifted, uncomfortable. “So, what… are you… my brother?”

  He laughed. “No.”

  Thank God.

  “You look relieved.” He pushed away from the wall, blocking me. If he thought he was going to get away with intimidation, he’d find out soon enough I wasn’t so easy to scare.

  “Listen, only last night I found out my dad is still alive, and I have a new family.” I glanced back at Gemma who was watching us intently. “So you’ll have to forgive my lack of manners.”

  He shrugged. “Calm down.”

  Calm down? Had he not heard a word I’d said? “And to top it off,” I snapped, narrowing my eyes. “My dad abandons me this morning with people I barely know. And now you—”

  “So, then let’s go.”

  I hesitated, confused. “Go where?”

  “To see your dad.”

  “You can’t leave,” Gemma said, her lower lip sticking out. She was pissed that this Jake was stealing me away. “You haven’t had breakfast yet.”

  God, she’s annoying, he thought.

  I ignored Gemma. Was he serious? He’d really take me to see my dad? My heart hammered with the possibility. Dad had said he kept his private and professional lives separate. “You never answered my question, who are you?”

  He rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to kidnap you. I’m an adoptee of sorts.”

  Of sorts? A sudden picture flashed through my mind…a young blond boy being told his parents were dead. His memory. Reluctantly, I felt sorry for him.

  “Why, there you all are.” Tara appeared at the top of the steps, smile in place. “Breakfast is ready.”

  “We’re not eating,” Jake said.

  Tara frowned, her gaze jumping back and forth between us. “Whatever do you mean?”

  “We’re leaving. Cameron wants to see her dad.”

  “Oh.” She rested her hand on her chest, obviously flustered. “But I thought she might like…”

  Jake swept by her and started down the steps.

  I swear, no one ever appreciates anything I do, Tara thought.

  I flushed, and gave her a half-smile. But I was too eager for answers to stay behind and appease the woman.

  She’s such a freaking joke, Jake thought as he pushed the front door wide.

  I thought he was being rather harsh, but I supposed he knew her better than me. Besides, as heartless as it sounded, I had more important things to worry about. The early morning held a chill, but the crisp air promised a new day. I zipped up my sweatshirt. “So where is my dad? Where does he work?”

  “Not far from here.”

  A silver two-door car was parked crookedly in the drive. I wondered briefly how Jake could afford such a vehicle. He pulled open the driver side door, leaving me to fend for myself. Most likely Dad had bought it for him. I squelched down the jealously worming its way through my body.

  “So, what exactly does my dad do?” I asked, feeling ridiculously lame for having to ask him.

  Jake slid me a glance over the roof of the car. “You don’t know?”

  Obviously not. I bit back my sarcastic reply and shook my head.

  “He works with people like us.” He slid into the car.

  I followed, confused, once again. “People like us?”

  “Yeah.” He started the car and backed up. “He works with mind readers.” With those shocking words, he pressed on the gas and tore down the drive.

  Chapter 13

  Not even ten minutes later we turned down a dirt road. I hadn’t said a word the entire drive, not even when Jake had driven so fast, the world outside had been a blur. I’d been too stunned and too confused to say much of anything. But we were obviously getting close and I needed answers. Answers my father might not respond to as readily as Jake.

  “You…you can’t be a mind reader.”

  He slid me a glance. “Why not?”

  “I read your thoughts!”

  He grinned. “No, you read the thoughts I wanted you to hear.”

  Holy crap, he could send me fake thoughts? Or were they real, but filtered in some way? I pressed my fingers to my temples, my headache flaring as it always did when things became too confusing.

  “Tara doesn’t know what my father does?” I managed to ask.

  “Nope.”

  Poor Tara. Thick forests surrounded us, the road dark and shadowed even though the morning was bright. So much for the promise of a new day. I felt weighed down with expectation.

  “So, she’s never been to his office?”

  “Nope.”

  “Yet… she knows its close by?”

  “Yep.”

  Okay, these one-word answers were starting to get annoying. “So what the heck does she think he does?”

  He shrugged, following the road as it curved right. “Some sort of military work.”

  I shook my head, stunned and slightly amused by the ridiculousness of it all. “They’ve been married forever. How can she not know?”

  He shrugged. “She’s suspicious at times. But not about that… thinks he’s cheating with a coworker or something.”

  How incredibly sad. I glanced out the window. Lies. More lies. I was so tired of the secrets. At least with Grandma I’d been myself. But here… I’d never be able to relax. A tall iron gate blocked the road ahead. The fence flowed passed the road on either side before fading into the shadows of the trees. How far it went, I had no idea, but I had a suspicion it went for miles.

  “Is this place totally fenced in?” I asked nonchalantly.

  “Yep.” He rolled down the window and pressed his hand to a keypad.

  Almost immediately the gates clicked, creaking open. It wasn’t the only security. I noticed the cameras in the trees… two, pointed at the road. Who knew how many more were out there hidden within the branches. A shiver of unease tiptoed across my
skin. “High security, huh?”

  Jake grinned. “We’ve got valuable assets that need to be guarded.”

  We continued down the road, snaking between the trees. I could see nothing but nature on either side of us. Valuable assets. Like what? Raccoons? Squirrels? “You live with the family?”

  “Yep.” We stopped at another gate, and this time Jake shifted in his seat in order to look directly at a camera.

  “What’s that?” I asked, as a red laser scanned his face.

  “Facial recognition and retina scan.”

  Holy cow, this was getting stranger and stranger. The gates opened and we drove for a few more minutes. “And they’ll just let me in, that easy?”

  He laughed. “No. They know you’re coming and you’ve been approved or we’d be surrounded by now.”

  I shivered at the thought. The realization that we were being so closely watched left me uneasy. I stopped trying to make small talk, and instead studied my surroundings, attempting to make sense of the world I found myself in. The trees gave way to an open area. A field, maybe five acres or so. At least twenty cars were parked in a gravel parking lot. A large mound of earth looked strangely out of place in the middle of the flat land.

  “Is that an underground building?”

  “A bunker.” Jake parked his car next to my dad’s.

  Bunker? As in what they use for military and wars? “Jake, where are we?”

  Before he could respond, my door tore open and Maddox stood there glowering down at us. So, I wasn’t completely welcome.

  “What the hell are you doing here?”

  Startled, it took me a moment to respond. Jake had no such problem.

  “Jackass,” I heard him say before he pushed open his door and stepped outside. Maddox didn’t even bother to glance his way, although he had to have heard him.

  I stood, frowning up at Maddox. “I need to talk to my dad.”

  Maddox’s gaze shifted from me to Jake and his eyes narrowed. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You know you’re not supposed to be here after last week’s stunt.”

  Jake shrugged, slamming his door shut. “She wanted to see her dad. Besides, if I wasn’t supposed to be here, they’d block my access, wouldn’t they?” He tossed his keys into the air, caught them, and sauntered off.

 
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