The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.15Lori Brighton
“Good. Try talking to him first.”
Talk to him? I wasn’t freaking Oprah. I cleared my throat. “Hello.” Lame. But seriously, what was I supposed to say? How’s it going? Seen any good movies lately?
“Where are you from?”
He didn’t respond, just continued to stare at me with those black eyes.
Great, this was going well.
“It would be easiest if you open up now. Talk to me,” I practically begged.
“Give it up, Cameron,” Maddox’s voice came through the ear bud. “Break into his thoughts. I, better than anyone, know you can.”
I ignored his sarcasm and closed my eyes, determine to at least get this one job done. I’d done it before, I could do it again. With mental fingers, I reached out. I felt that wall there. The same sort of feeling I’d had when breaking into Maddox’s head. Taking in a deep breath, I mentally surged forward. I felt like I’d slammed my head against a brick. I blinked my eyes wide, gasping.
The man’s lips lifted in a slow smirk. He knew I was trying and assumed I’d fail.
“Any luck?” my dad asked.
I shook my head slightly.
“Try again,” Maddox demanded.
I gritted my teeth, annoyed. How?
Sensing my reluctance, Maddox continued. “He’s been responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent people, Cameron. We have to stop him. We need to know where their headquarters are located.”
When I looked into this man’s eyes… his cold, dark eyes… I believed them. I didn’t want to delve into his memories… those horrible memories. I didn’t want to swim with evil. But I had no choice.
With renewed determination, I closed my eyes and mentally raced forward with full force. That cement wall wavered, the energy tingling through my body. It was working. Somehow, it was working. Suddenly it all gave way and I was floating, floating in dark space.
A flash of color hit me. A memory.
I was a little boy and men with guns were yelling, shooting the people around me. I was scared, so scared, hidden amongst a pile of crates, hoping they wouldn’t find me. The memories shifted. More violence. More men with guns, but there were good memories as well. I was a young man now, and there was a woman dressed in a beautiful pink gown of some sort. Gold jewelry all over her arms and around her neck. They were getting married. The memory shifted and I was holding a baby, my heart overflowing with warmth and devotion.
And then the world slowed, hovering in stillness and I knew the information I needed, the information he tried desperately to hide, was coming. I was talking to men in suits. I saw nothing out of the ordinary here.
I was getting up from behind a computer and walking down steps, I could feel the cold, iron railing under my hand, feel the excitement, determination and fear pulsing through my body. I pushed the door wide and stepped onto a sidewalk. The buildings around me were stone. I glanced back at the place from which I’d just come.
“513,” I said, repeating the numbers I noted on the building façade.
I started walking down the sidewalk. The weather was cold, dreary. A light rain began to fall. I lifted the collar of my jacket and stuffed my hands into my pockets.
“What do you see, Cameron?” my dad asked.
“He walked out of an office. He’s headed down a sidewalk.”
I shook my head. “Europe, I think.”
“Look around, where is he?”
I could feel the frantic edge to my father’s tone and knew the information was important. “A city. There’s a tower in the distance.”
“What does it look like?”
“A clock. I’ve seen it somewhere before…London!” I could breathe once more. “He’s in London! The house address 513, but I don’t know the road.”
“It’s okay. It’s enough,” my dad said. “Pull back.”
The energy in my body wavered. As much as I wanted to help my father, I was eager to escape this man’s mind. Mentally, I pulled back. It was like being sucked through a vacuum. Blood surged through my veins, my heart pounded, the roar of time and space rushing by me all at once. I opened my eyes, the room burst into focus.
My lungs felt as if they’d collapsed. I surged from my chair, sucking in a sharp breath. As the room came into focus, I saw the man. The man who had seen his family murdered. The man who had been married. The man who had a child. The man who had killed others…supposedly.
But he was no longer the same. His head lulled back, his body still. Brilliant red blood seeped from not only his mouth, but his eyes and nose. It was a vision from a horror movie.
“Oh my God!” I pushed aside my chair, the feet scraping against the tile. Before I reached his side, the door opened. “Stop! Don’t get close,” Maddox demanded.
I spared him only a brief glance. “He’s dead!”
My dad rushed passed Maddox and toward the prisoner. At least someone was taking the situation seriously. He pressed his fingers to the man’s neck.
“He’s still got a pulse.”
I was relieved, although why I wasn’t sure. The man had killed innocent people, according to my dad. Two guards followed Maddox as they swept into the small room and pulled the man to his feet. Without a word, they carried him out the door and I was left with my father.
“Did my visions help?”
My dad grinned. “Yes. You located a sleeper cell. We knew it was there somewhere. We’re going to call London now.” My dad started toward the door, obviously intent on leaving me behind.
“Will he die?” I called out.
My dad paused in the hall and glanced back. He looked confused, like he didn’t understand why I’d ask such a question. “It doesn’t matter, what matters is what you’ve done.”
He disappeared and I was left alone. I sank onto the chair and stared at the spot where the prisoner had sat. I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t fair. I hadn’t signed up for the military. I hadn’t signed up to be some agent like Maddox. I was… just me. A girl. A girl who wanted a life, who wanted to go to college. A girl who loved to swim in the ocean and play soccer.
But now, thanks to my dad, I might be adding murderer to my list.
“She said she doesn’t feel well,” I heard Tara whisper outside my bedroom door early the next morning.
I sighed and rolled toward my bedside table where the clock glowed eerily, 8:00 a.m. Seriously, if they were going to have a private conversation, why outside my door?
“I should check on her,” my dad insisted.
“No you don’t. She’s sleeping.”
Thank God for Tara. I was actually growing to care for the woman. I rested the side of my face upon the pillow and wondered if Dad was so eager to see me because he worried, or because he wanted to make sure his new toy was still working. Their voices faded into the background and I closed my eyes. Not for the hundredth time, I wondered why I was really here. But as my body sank into that strange half-sleep, my thoughts shifted.
My bedroom slipped away and I was sitting at a dining room table, a dark haired girl nearby. I couldn’t remember her name, but I knew her from Aaron’s, I was sure of it.
She laughed, although it wasn’t a happy laugh. “You think I’m jealous?” She shook her head and stood, her movements jerky and stiff. “I’m warning you because I’m nice. You’re a pretty, new toy and just like all toys, he’ll grow bored with you.”
Anger and hurt pounded at my chest. “If it’s so bad, why are you still here?” I asked.
She shrugged and picked up a lock of hair, leaving her glass on the table. “Free room and board. Besides, I’ve no place else to go.” She slipped that lock of hair between her lips, chewing on the strand as she left me sitting there alone.
“Fine,” my dad said, and just like that, the memory was gone and I was back in my bedroom. “But ring me if anything happens.”
“I’m sure it’s just exhaustion,” Tara said.
I pushed aside the thick comforter and stood, stretching my arms over my head and thinking about the memory that had flashed just moments ago. But stretching did little to help my muddled mind. Vaguely I remembered meditating. That had helped when I’d been staying with Aaron, hadn’t it?
I sank back onto the bed and rested against the headboard. If meditating had helped back then, maybe it would now. I took in a deep breath, eager to clear my mind. I couldn’t go into work with Dad today. I needed a break. My father hadn’t exactly said so, but I had a feeling I’d killed that prisoner. Whether it was right or not, the thought left me ill. I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t know what he’d done…I didn’t care. I’d never killed anyone and I wasn’t sure I wanted to again.
How I wished there was someone I could talk to. Someone who would understand, but Grandma was missing and…
Lewis was with Aaron. With a frustrated sigh, I jumped from the bed and moved to the windows, gazing out over the back garden. Lewis hadn’t hurt me. He hadn’t thrown me to the wolves, as they’d all implied. I pressed my fingers to my throbbing temples. If my dream had been true… Lewis might have helped save me. But he’d still left me. Why? Where was he?
A soft knock sounded on the door. I sighed, frustrated. Tara meant well, but the woman seriously needed to learn how to give a person space. The knock sounded again. I started across the carpet.
“Cameron, open up or I’m coming in.”
I froze. Maddox?
Anger and annoyance combined. “Come in,” I snapped, since I really didn’t have a choice. Seriously, who the hell did he think he was? Why couldn’t he ever ask politely? Why’d he always have to demand? But I let him get away with it because he was the only one here I could talk to about my past.
The door opened. He stood there in jeans and a t-shirt, looking as gorgeous as ever. Obviously killing someone didn’t bother him in the least. The t-shirt and shorts I wore certainly could have seen better days and I knew my hair was a tangled mess.
I crossed my arms over my chest, attempting to hide the chocolate stain on my shirt. “Don’t you have your own place? Or do you just hover around here all the time?”
He stepped into the room, dominating the space. Did he seem taller than normal?
“You’re not feeling well?”
I narrowed my eyes, studying his face. Was he actually worried? But I could read nothing in his features. “Sure.” I leaned against the wall, feigning disinterest.
He arched a dark brow. “You look well enough.”
So much for being worried about me. I rolled my eyes and turned my back to him. He thought I was lying and was out to catch me in the fib. “I’m just… overwhelmed. Maybe.”
Maddox sighed and closed the door, trapping us inside. “I understand this is a lot for you to take in.” He started toward me. I wished he’d just leave me alone. How could he really understand? He wasn’t a mind reader. He was some agent who could come and go as he pleased. A man who’d been trained to kill people.
“But this work is important. We’re saving lives here. If you can’t handle it, you need to speak up now.”
“How very dramatic,” I muttered, feeling highly uncomfortable with how serious he was being and even more uncomfortable with the fact that he was in my bedroom, asking me personal questions.
He frowned. “You think this is a joke?”
“Yeah.” Anger propelled me forward. I paused only a breath away, my hands fisted at my sides. “This is a joke. My entire life is a joke. First Aaron uses me to break into your mind, now you want to use me. What makes you different?”
There…I’d said it, the thing that had truly been bothering me, but I was too afraid to admit.
“The difference,” he hissed. “Is that we’re on the good side.”
“I’ve yet to see that.” Seriously, how did I know what they were doing was right? I was just taking their word for it.
His jaw clenched, a pulse leaping to life in the side of his neck. “What, exactly, did you expect when you came here?”
“I didn’t come here! I was forced here.”
But we both knew that wasn’t true. We both knew I would have given anything to see my dad once more.
“I expected…” Embarrassing tears burned my eyes. I turned away from him, pacing to the windows and refusing to let those tears fall. “I expected my dad to say he missed me. To want to spend time with me. I expected him to beg forgiveness for abandoning me.”
“So, this is about your daddy issues?”
My hands curled. How badly I wanted to punch him in his handsome face. “Screw you.”
Maddox sighed and I knew his anger had vanished just as quickly as it had come, but I wasn’t about to forgive him. “He did what was best for everyone.”
I turned toward him. “Did he? Because I’ll be honest with you, Maddox, my life wasn’t that great. I can’t imagine it could have been much worse.”
“You have no idea how horrible your life could have been.” He started toward me. “Your father was on the run for years after he left you.”
“And yet he somehow managed to settle down.”
He gripped my upper arms, his gaze full of frustration and pity. “He would have come for you if he could have.”
It would have been a sweet declaration, if I’d believed him. It just didn’t make sense. Why had he abandoned me when he’d had no problem moving here and starting a family? And I didn’t buy the whole he couldn’t find me thing. Bull.
His grip loosened, but he didn’t let go. “My God, Cameron, you constantly put people on a pedestal. Always expecting more from them than they can give you.”
His words confused and stung. How dare he act like he knew me so well. “He’s my dad, so yeah, I do expect something, anything!”
“He’s a human being. He’s made mistakes, but he’s done the best he could. Just like you.”
“Me?” I jerked away from him. “You’re saying I’ve made mistakes? And what about you? What mistakes have you made?”
He narrowed his eyes, obviously confused.
“Not telling me that Nora was your girlfriend—”
“Yeah, was,” he snapped, his anger mounting. “As in, it’s in the past. Time to move forward, sweetheart. Let it go. I don’t care what magical powers you mind readers hold. I don’t care if you can walk on freaking water. You’re still human, and humans, all of us, have faults. We’re all just trying to find our way in this screwed up world. You need to start believing in yourself; relying on you.”
His words hit me hard and stuck, like gum on the bottom of a shoe. I looked away. Myself. That sounded… lonely. Although I’d had few friends, Grandma had always been the one in charge. Now…now I really had no one.
For so many years I’d been blaming my parents for my problems, thinking that if only they would return and make things right, life would be perfect. I finally had my dad, yet things were far from perfect.
“Look,” Maddox said, gentling his voice. “People try their best. But we make mistakes. Your parents were no more ready for this world than you were. Your mom was twenty when she had you. I sure as hell couldn’t handle a kid right now, could you?”
He had a point, I reluctantly admitted to myself. What the heck would I do with a child? Especially a child who could read minds. It’s not like my dad had a lot of help, considering my mom was so screwed up. Damn, I really hated when Maddox was right.
“We’re all in the same shitty, water-leaking boat and we’re all just trying not to drown. Stop expecting so much from people and just… accept what you have.” He lifted his lips into a crooked grin. “Look on the bright side and all that crap.”
Could I accept my fate? I’d clung so long to what I didn’
“What family is normal? No one’s normal.”
So, he had a point. He reached out, his hands warm on my shoulders and his gaze so serious.
“Cameron, perhaps we’re not perfect, and maybe we don’t love you like you want us to, but we are here, doing our best to see you protected and happy.”
I jerked my gaze upright. Was he saying… No, he wasn’t saying he was in love with me… Impossible. But I recognized that heated look in his eyes. I swallowed hard. Oh God, he was attracted to me. But I had a boyfriend, I had Lewis…somewhere. So why, when Maddox lowered his head, did I let him kiss me?
His lips settled firmly against mine. His scent, his taste… everything about this man was perfect. He wrapped his arms around my waist and drew me up against his hard body, while his tongue…his tongue slid against my lips.
I knew in the back of my mind this was going too fast, but my body didn’t care. I sank into him, slid my hands up his chest and around his broad shoulders. I only wanted to be closer to him, to someone. Just as I parted my lips to deepen the kiss, Lewis’ face flashed to mind.
Lewis, his hair ruffled by the wind as we took that ferry across the ocean to the island that fateful day. Lewis smiling down at me, his blue eyes sparkling. My stomach clenched.
Oh God, I couldn’t do this, not now. I shoved my hands against Maddox and stumbled back. Lewis was gone, who knew where? But Maddox was here, watching me, breathing as heavily as I was. Why couldn’t I let Lewis go?
For one long moment we only stared at each other. I didn’t know what to say, how to respond. I wanted to look at Maddox the same way he was looking at me, with passion, with affection. I did care about him, but Lewis… Lewis was always there.
Slowly, I lifted my hand and pressed my fingers to my tingling lips. I felt like I’d just cheated on Lewis, which was ridiculous. Surely we weren’t still dating. I hadn’t seen or heard from him in months.
“I have to go,” Maddox said softly. “I hope you’ll be well enough tomorrow to come to work.”
The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers) by Lori Brighton / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes