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The mind thieves the min.., p.17
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.17

           Lori Brighton
 
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  Maddox held up his hands, stepping in front of me. “You can’t escape, it’s pointless.”

  I could see nothing behind his broad back and I had to resist the urge to peek around him.

  “Maybe not,” the intruder said. “But I can take a few of you down while I’m trying.”

  Suddenly, Maddox flew through the air, hitting the wall like he weighed nothing more than a ragdoll. I was completely and utterly exposed.

  “Traitor,” the prisoner whispered.

  It took a moment to realize he was talking to me. His blue eyes flashed with an anger directed at me for some reason. He was young, probably my age. I’d never met him before, I was sure of it. I shook my head, confused.

  “They’re out to destroy us and you’re helping them.”

  “I’m helping them because you’re killing innocent people.”

  His entire body trembled with frustration, or rage. Probably both. “Some, not all of us.”

  “Samuel, step away from them.” My father moved slowly through the doorway, called back by some silent alarm, or maybe he’d sensed our fear. Whatever it was, I was certainly glad to see him.

  “Dad,” I whispered, starting forward.

  Samuel lunged for Maddox’s pistol. He had it before any of us could react. With a wicked laugh, he spun around, pointing the gun at my father. That anger turned to glee.

  “Don’t,” I cried out. “Please!”

  But he wasn’t looking at me. No, he was staring at my dad with such hatred it sent a shiver down my spine. From the corner of my eye I could see Maddox slowly regaining his feet, pulling yet another pistol from behind his back. Christ, how many guns did the guy have? He was a walking NRA advertisement.

  “Maddox is an excellent shot,” my dad said calmly.

  “So am I,” Samuel replied, not even bothering to look at Maddox. “Either way, I’m dead. At least I can take you with me.”

  “Don’t!” I pleaded. Damn it, I might be angry with my dad, but I didn’t want him dead, not when I’d just found him.

  My dad looked directly at Maddox. “Do it.”

  As if in slow motion I saw Maddox’s finger twitch. The gun blast rang through the room, the bullet hitting Samuel’s hand before the poor idiot even knew what was coming. Samuel cried out, dropping the pistol and falling to his knees. His finger fell to the ground, rolling across the floor. A bloodied stub of skin, muscle and bone. I didn’t have time to puke. Even injured, the man wasn’t going to give up. I heard his thought right before he started to reach for the gun.

  If I can get the pistol…

  My gaze jerked to that gun gleaming some twenty feet away. I don’t know how I did it, but suddenly, the pistol skidded across the floor toward me. One minute I was thinking about it, the next minute it resting at me feet. My mouth dropped open. “Holy crap.”

  And just like that, the office faded and I was in that café with Lewis once more.

  “I want to show you something,” he said. With his arm on the table, Lewis opened his hand, fingers spread wide. The clear salt shaker next to me rattled. Startled, I drew in a sharp breath. The shaker slid across the tabletop, stopping directly against his palm. Lewis closed his fingers around the shaker and he set it back in its rightful place.

  “No freaking way,” I whispered. “How’d you do that?”

  “Telekinesis. Moving things with your mind.” He grinned. “It’s amazing what the mind can do if trained properly.”

  Had Lewis taught me? Samuel flopped to his back, crying out and drawing me back into the present moment. He cradled his injured hand to his chest, blood soaking the gray jumpsuit as he rolled back and forth like a big baby attempting to find comfort.

  “Calm down.” My father strolled forward and picked up the pistol. “Reattach it.”

  Samuel stopped crying long enough to glare at him. With his good hand he reached out for the stump of his finger. “I’ll kill you.”

  “Shut up and mend it,” Maddox snapped.

  With a glare, the man pressed his finger to the bloody wound. Taking in a deep breath, he stared intensely at his hand. Slowly the skin mended back together. He wiggled his fingers, the hand completely fixed. It was like nothing had ever happened, although the blood remained as a reminder.

  “Guards are on their way,” Ellen said, hanging up her phone.

  My father turned toward Maddox. “Take him back to his cell. Wash him up.”

  Maddox gripped the man’s arms and jerked him to his feet. “Let’s go.”

  They pushed open the door and stepped outside, gone, before I could even contemplate what had happened. I slumped back against the wall, my legs too weak to hold me.

  “Sorry about that,” my dad said, turning his focus toward me. “It doesn’t happen often, I promise you.”

  “I…I moved the gun.”

  My dad smiled. “I know.”

  But somehow moving the pistol seemed pretty lame compared to what Samuel had done. “How the hell did he mend his finger back together?”

  My dad held out his hand. I slipped my fingers around his and he pulled me upright. “Amazing, isn’t it?”

  I nodded dumbly.

  “Come on.” Dad held open the door, and I was more than eager to step outside into the cool, morning air. The sun was bright, birds chirping merrily as if nothing had happened. I suppose for them, all was normal and well. The alarm had stopped, although in the craziness of the moment, I’d barely noticed.

  “Everyone is made up of cells,” my father explained as we started down the trail to Building 1. “Cells come together to form certain parts of your body. When Maddox shot Samuel’s finger off, he didn’t destroy the cells, merely separated them. With concentration, Samuel was able to bond the cells back together again.”

  It sounded so easy, but dear God, that was amazing. The possibilities were endless, and despite myself, I was fascinated with this new world. For the first time in my life, I was truly interested in my powers. “Could I do that?”

  My dad laughed and rested his arm around my shoulders. “Cameron, we have no idea what you’re capable of. But from what I’ve seen, as far as you’re concerned, anything is possible.”

  Chapter 17

  A few days later I felt like I was reliving a previous life. The surprise of uncovering my powers. Breaking into people’s brains all over again. Now, dressing up for some sort of gathering I didn’t want to attend.

  Of course I was reminded of that party when Lewis and I first kissed. A party that had changed everything. Would this little gathering be just as eventful?

  I closed my eyes as my dad drove the car down that dark road. I understood why they had to have the party within the gated compound. It wasn’t like we could discuss prisoners and experiments at the local Hampton Inn. According to Dad, this little gathering of devious minds happened once every few months. Unfortunately for me, it just so happened that I’d arrived in time to attend.

  Poor Tara, dutiful wife that she was, hadn’t asked if she could be Dad’s plus one. She knew everything to do with the compound was top secret, even social gatherings. As I “worked” for the company, I was now a part of that secrecy. My stepmom had even picked out a dress which I’d found on my bed when I’d arrived home the other night. Her ready acceptance to believe the lies my father and I spun made me feel guilty as hell.

  And so I’d dressed in the pink strappy gown that came to my knees, slipped on the equally pink heels. I looked like a stick of bubble gum, but to be honest, I didn’t care. I hadn’t made much of an effort, but my dad had seemed pleased enough. Besides, it wasn’t about me, it was about the compound and the strides they’d taken, according to Dad.

  So here I was once again… on my way to a party with people who made me more than uncomfortable, in an outfit I usually wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, and all I could think about was Lewis and our first kiss. I couldn’t remember much about that night, but I remembered the soft, silky dress that did little to keep me warm when Lewis and
I had stepped outside. A dress I had actually liked. And I remember how gorgeous Lewis had looked in his dark suit. But mostly I remembered his lips meeting mine, and the way I’d felt that kiss all the way to my toes. I couldn’t help but compare that moment to the kiss I’d shared with Maddox. They’d felt different, for some inexplicable reason.

  “Don’t be nervous,” my dad said as he pulled into the parking lot in front of Compound One.

  Startled, I glanced at him. Had he read my mind?

  “You’re fidgeting,” he said in explanation.

  I smoothed down the skirt that I’d somehow managed to twist between my fingers. “Yeah, I guess I am. I’m not exactly used to socializing. It was only Grandma and me for so many years and we never stayed in one place long enough to make any good friends.”

  I hadn’t realized how my words might hurt him until he looked away as if I’d made him uncomfortable. I truly hadn’t meant to dredge up the past, but I’d spoken only the truth. “I meant…” I tried to explain my comment, but Dad had already opened his door and stepped outside.

  Surprisingly, when I followed he was smiling once more as if nothing had happened. I vaguely remembered that about him. When I was young he was always smiling. While Mom was worried, he never had a care. It used to drive her nuts.

  “There will be some important people here.”

  Yep, he was great at ignoring pesky emotional complications. I knew where he’d learned; he was just like Grandma.

  I couldn’t help but wonder what his childhood had been like. I’m bet lots of disapproving glares and silent dinners. Even though it had been three weeks since I’d been with him, we’d rarely had time to talk. He was always cheerful though, as if everything was totally normal. And maybe this was normal for him…this life. But not for me. And frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be normal.

  He pulled open the door to the main building where the offices were located. Tonight the only people there were guards who lined the long corridor as we strolled down the hall. I could make out the soft sound of music and chatter, but no tap of fingers on keyboards, no people shouting out orders and no alarms going off. At the end of the hall we turned the corner and I was surprised to see double doors opened wide. No facial scan. No keypad. No security. As if an everyday office party.

  The first thing I noticed was how large the conference room was. The second thing was how many people were in attendance. At least fifty men and women gathered around the room in small groups, chatting amicably. The women wore dark dresses, while the men were dressed in black suits. And me, in my Pepto Bismol pink would completely stick out.

  “Conrad,” my father called out, heading toward the closest man, one of many men who were bald, white and fat in the middle.

  “John!”

  They shook hands, but my interest was on Maddox who was currently moving toward me like a panther hunting prey. Of course I’d found him quickly, he was the only guy in the room under forty and with real hair on his head. Maddox dressed in shorts and a tight T-shirt was hot, but Maddox dressed in a suit was gorgeous. An odd and unwelcome heat swept through my body. I had the sudden urge to bolt from the room, or toward Maddox…which, I wasn’t sure.

  He gave me a crooked grin, but I didn’t miss the way his gaze slid down my body before he met my eyes once more. It was a quick glance, but enough to make me realize that the pink dress had done what it was supposed to, get attention.

  “You look good,” he said, as he paused close to me.

  I laughed. He wasn’t one to wax poetically, that was for sure. My smile wavered as a memory came unbidden. A moment months ago when Lewis had allowed me to read his mind.

  His gaze had slipped to my lips.

  What does she taste like? Are her lips as soft as they look?

  Lewis had been wearing a suit much like Maddox’s. Sorrow swept through my body and clenched around my heart. I didn’t want to think about Lewis. He was gone and who knew if I’d ever see him again. I had to let him go.

  “What is it?” Maddox asked, his warm hand touching my arm.

  I forced myself to smile, forced myself to stay in the here and now. Lewis was gone, but Maddox was here. Maddox, who had carried me out of Aaron’s home that fateful day.

  “Nothing wrong. Just overwhelmed.” I glanced around the room. “Wasn’t expecting so many people.”

  Maddox’s hand moved from my arm, to the curve of my lower back. It was an intimate touch and I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed it or not. “You’ll do fine.”

  He led me toward a round table up front. “We have these little gatherings once every few months. The men and women you see are important.” His gaze swept the room. “Some are senators, some military, some execs who have donated millions. They all have one thing in common, they are very, very important.”

  He wasn’t doing much to calm my nerves. I suppose there were some people who seemed familiar, but I couldn’t be sure. Not like I was up on my politics and military generals. I settled at the table, Maddox at my side. I wasn’t exactly shocked not to see Jake anywhere. It had become obvious early on that he wasn’t liked around the commune. My dad hadn’t said so, but I knew he wanted to make a good impression tonight and Jake wasn’t great at making good impressions. I was most likely here to be cute little eye candy.

  “Shall we get started?” my father said as he strolled toward the podium. The room grew quiet, people making their way to their tables. I settled back in my chair, picking at the roll that was on my plate, my appetite completely nonexistent. Tonight would be boring, I knew that, but apparently it was part of the job. I’d wanted to be independent. I’d wanted to be treated like an adult. Now I was, and frankly it sucked.

  “We strive to be the best,” my father began, his voice carrying easily with help of the microphone. “To know things before they happen. To prevent catastrophes and keep those who live here safe.”

  I admit, he had a commanding presence. His voice echoed confidently across the room, demanding attention. His gaze was direct, taking each person in as if he cared. I studied those around us. How I wished I could read their minds. Know what they were thinking. Know friend from enemy. But obviously they had chips to keep their thoughts locked away.

  “We will win this war on terrorism,” he ended some five minutes later.

  The room broke into applause.

  He smiled, a man pleased with himself. There wasn’t much that made my dad depressed. “And now I’d like to introduce our secret weapon. She’s proven again and again the strength of her power. She has shown a great range in abilities and because of the information she gleaned last week, we were able to infiltrate a nest in London.”

  The room fell silent, waiting, as if time stood still. An odd tingle of awareness washed over my body. I knew who he spoke about even before my father’s gaze landed on me. My heart slammed against my ribs in denial. How could he do this and not tell me?

  “Ladies and gentleman, our secret weapon. Cameron, will you join me up here?”

  Did I have a choice? Vaguely, I was aware of scooting my chair back and standing. My legs shook as I made my way toward the podium. I might have been smiling, I wasn’t sure. Dad put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me into a half hug. It was the first time he’d hugged me since he’d found me in Florida.

  “Say a few words,” he said softly.

  In that moment I actually hated him. I clenched my jaw and gazed out onto a sea of strangers. Was he serious? The room fell silent, waiting. Apparently so. I cleared my throat. How many people were watching me? Fifty? Seventy? They blurred together in a blob of white faces and dark clothing. But Maddox… Maddox stood out, his features pure kindness as if he understood.

  “Thank you,” I muttered, keeping my focus on Maddox. “I… umm…I appreciate the opportunity and…” My mind went blank.

  Say something lame, something… anything… but I was struck mute.

  And you’ll do your best to see those who threaten our way of life, are punished
, my father’s voice whispered through my head.

  I didn’t question how he had pierced the mental wall I always had in place. At the moment, I didn’t care. He was feeding me what they wanted to hear, or maybe what he wanted to hear. Like a good daughter, I latched onto the words and repeated them.

  “I’ll do my best to see that those who threaten our way of life, are punished.”

  The room broke into applause, their faces alight with excitement. How often had I wanted approval as a child? From Grandma, from my mother, my father. I was getting it in droves now and I so didn’t care. I just wanted to get the hell out of there before someone made me tell more lies.

  Dad wrapped his arm around my shoulders. I felt nothing but the urge to shake off his hold. “And now… please enjoy your meal.”

  On cue, servers came in, trays full of plates of roasted chicken and braised beef. I felt like I was watching a movie. Numb. My body not my own, my life not my own. How had I ended up here? Another place where I didn’t belong. Another place where I could trust no one. My head throbbed, my mental wall wavering as my emotions took control. But no thoughts slipped inside. No, everyone here had a chip. I could feel them, sense them.

  “I… need to use the restroom,” I muttered, shrugging off my dad’s touch.

  I managed to keep my smile in place as I made my way around the tables to the door. Most people were too busy eating to notice me, thank God. The scent of food was making me nauseous and I only wanted clean air and space to breathe. Time to think. Time to get over the fact that my dad had set me up. Had Maddox known what he’d planned to do?

  The guards standing along the hall like modern suits of armor didn’t even glance my way as I raced by, my heels slipping and skittering against the linoleum floor. The sound of the party faded as I neared the entrance. I shoved the door open and stumbled into the cool night air. I’d yet to get clearance to be on my own and wouldn’t be able to get back inside, but I didn’t care. Above stars twinkled merrily. A crescent moon hung just above the dark shadow of the trees.

 
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