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The mind thieves the min.., p.18
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.18

           Lori Brighton
 
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  I hesitated at the corner of the building, unsure where to go. Cameras followed my every move. Some were easily visible, their red lights glaring from the roofs. Others, I knew, were hidden amongst the trees…always watching. Nowhere to go.

  With a frustrated sigh, I leaned against the wall, hidden by shadows. Guards might have watched me on screens in secret rooms, but at least the guests who might come and go wouldn’t see me in the shadows.

  Alone, I finally had time to contemplate my emotions.

  Instead, I felt… used.

  Why hadn’t my dad told me what he’d planned? Why hadn’t he warned me I’d be put on display? Is this why he’d come for me? Not just to protect me, but to use me? I raked my hair from my face, pressing my hands over my eyes. I didn’t know who to trust.

  “Hey,” Maddox’s voice whispered temptingly through the darkness.

  I straightened, my arms falling to my sides and my heart leaping to my throat. Damn it all, I actually wanted him here. “How’d you find me?”

  He leaned against the wall only a few feet away, crossing his arms over his chest. “Security.”

  I released a wry laugh, disgusted with him and with myself for desiring his company. “I should have known.”

  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

  I was silent for a moment, unsure if I wanted to admit the truth. “He could have told me.”

  Maddox frowned. “He didn’t?”

  I studied his face, but it was hard to read his features in the shadows. In the distance an owl hooted as if in warning. Had he really not known? How I wished I could read his mind.

  “No. He didn’t.” I faced him fully, angry because I wasn’t sure I could believe Maddox. Hadn’t he lied to me about so many things? “Obviously I can’t trust him and frankly, I’m not sure I can trust you either.”

  His gray eyes narrowed into slits. “I’ve kept nothing from you.”

  Was he serious?

  “Cameron? Maddox?” my dad called out.

  Reluctantly, I stepped back, putting distance between us, annoyed we were being interrupted when I only wanted the truth. “We’re here, Dad.”

  He rounded the corner of the building and seeing us, he paused. Did he sense the tension? “Everything all right? There are some people I’d like you to meet if you’re up for it.”

  Of course. He wanted something from me. Story of my life. I dampened down my irritation. “Perfectly fine,” I lied. “Let’s get back to work.”

  I started by him when he reached out, resting his hand on my arm. Surprised, I stiffened.

  “Go ahead Maddox,” he said. “We’ll be there shortly.”

  Maddox nodded and left us. I watched him until he faded around the corner. I couldn’t imagine what my dad wanted and grew slightly nervous standing there, waiting. “What is it?”

  He was silent for a moment, as if attempting to find the right words. “You said your memory is coming back.”

  I nodded.

  “You were at Aaron’s and you were meditating. Remember? You saw me.”

  Just like that, the whisper of a memory flitted through my brain. I had been imagining I was on a beach.

  “Take a breath in, breath out,” someone said beside me.

  Confused, but too numb to be afraid, I turned my head. My dad sat next to me, grinning down with a warmth that invaded every cell of my being.

  “Dad?”

  “Breathe in, and out,” he said. “Concentrate. I need you to concentrate.”

  I frowned. I had assumed I’d imagined him there.

  “It was me, Cameron.”

  I blinked him back into focus. The words were shocking, to say the least. I felt warm and cold at the same time. Confused. And yes, pleased in some way I didn’t quite understand.

  “I know you feel I abandoned you, but I’ve always been there…in your heart, your soul. If I thought you were in danger, I would have stepped in. I didn’t realize Aaron was going after you, and by the time he had, it was too late.”

  “The men who attacked Aaron’s home that night they erased my memory…”

  He flinched, but nodded. “I sent them.” He reached out and pulled me close. I sank into his warm body, bemused, unsure. “I have never left you, Cameron.”

  “Sir,” Maddox swept around the corner, interrupting our father-daughter moment. The first genuine moment we’d had. I stepped back, putting distance between us.

  “What is it?” Dad asked.

  “She’s escaped.”

  Dad sighed. “Damn it all.” He took my arm and led me toward Maddox. “Escort Cameron back inside, then gather the team and find her. No one needs to know.”

  My dad spun around and headed toward Compound Two.

  “Her?” I said as Maddox lead me toward the entrance door. I’d never seen a female prisoner, hadn’t even realized they had them.

  “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he said, opening the door to Compound One. “I’ll find her.” He winked and gave me a wicked grin. “I always get what I want.”

  Chapter 18

  After last night’s weird mixture of highs and lows, I was actually looking forward to a day with Tara and Gemma. Forget Charlie, the brat still hadn’t warmed up to me. I had my suspicions about him though. He so easily manipulated his mother that I wondered if he could read minds. I didn’t mention my thoughts to my dad; I’d barely seen him since the party.

  But by lunch time Sunday I was so bored I was ready to tear out my hair. Tara had a two hour T.V. limit for each child, which included me, as ridiculous as that was. With no chance of numbing my brain with mindless television, I was left to sit on my bed and think about last night.

  The rest of the party had involved me with a smile plastered to my face as my dad swept me around the room like I was a freaking zoo animal. I hadn’t seen Maddox again and wondered if they’d caught the woman they searched for. As silly as it seemed, I worried about Maddox.

  With a sigh, I jumped from my bed and settled cross-legged on the floor. Every time I’d asked my dad about practicing skills like telekinesis, he’d brushed off my request. I had a feeling he only cared about me breaking into minds, abilities relevant to his career. But after bringing that gun to my feet, I wanted to know more.

  I reached under the bed and pulled out a ball I’d borrowed from Gemma’s room. If Lewis could move a salt shaker, certainly I could move something as well. But how had I done it? I set the ball a couple feet away from me and narrowed my eyes, concentrating. Move, move. I’d so easily pulled that gun to me, yet now I couldn’t even move a stupid plastic ball.

  I fell onto my back and stared up at the ceiling. I hadn’t been here long, but already I felt trapped. I pressed my hands to my temples. I wanted answers. I wanted a life. And I’d mistakenly thought if only Grandma would let go, that I’d be free. Wrong. I was starting to think I’d never be free. What the heck did I want? College? The beach? Lewis? Maddox?

  I closed my eyes. Still no sign of Grandma. What had happened to her? Where was she? I couldn’t accept the fact that she had died. I wouldn’t. I knew she was out there somewhere. I could feel her.

  A soft knock sounded on the door. I reached out with my mind and found Tara’s harmless thoughts waiting patiently for me to open. She hoped I was awake. She wanted someone to talk to other than her brats. I sighed and sat up.

  “Come in.”

  Tara pushed open the door and stepped inside, smiling brightly. “You’re up?”

  I nodded.

  “Thought you might be napping. I’m glad you stayed home.” She moved across the room and pushed back the curtains, allowing brilliant sunlight to enter the dark prison. I blinked rapidly, shading my eyes.

  “Sometimes your father doesn’t realize that not all people love to work as much as he does!”

  She laughed lightly after she said the words, but I heard the bitterness in her mind. She was growing angry and worse, desperate for my father’s attention. I almost laughed. I so understood her desperation.
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  I frowned as her thoughts shifted. There was a man she’d met at the grocery store last time she’d been in town. She’d felt an instant attraction. What would it be like, she wondered, to have an affair with him? I wanted to tell her to talk to my father, to explain her frustrations. But let’s face it…dad already knew how she felt. Obviously he didn’t care. Besides, maybe she’d be better off with someone normal.

  I pasted a smile on my face as she turned toward me. “Yeah, that party wiped me out. Was pretty boring.”

  She continued to smile while wishing she had been invited. I wasn’t sure what to say to make her feel better. I was running out of ideas. Frankly, it should have been my father here talking to her, not me.

  “Thanks for the clothes, by the way.” I decided the best course of action would be to change the subject. The woman had filled my closet with a variety of outfits, although I’d asked for none. But I could admit, my wardrobe was limited and I did need clothes.

  “Well, it’s not like you have had time to shop. I hope there’s something that works for you.”

  “Yeah, they’re fine.”

  “I was hoping in a few days we could go to an outlet mall nearby.” She sighed. “We could have done something today, but Maddox has already claimed you.”

  I stiffened, instantly interested. “What do you mean?” I could admit to myself that I was relieved he was safe and sound. Of course I’d never tell him that.

  She moved toward the door. “He called and said to tell you to put on a bathing suit.”

  I jumped to my feet. “Swimming?”

  She shrugged. “There’s a hot springs nearby. No one really knows about it. My bet is he’s taking you there.” She grinned, her thoughts going to romance between Maddox and me. I wanted to roll my eyes. Yet, even though Maddox had practically lied to me, I couldn’t deny that I was attracted to him. Stupid hot guy, and his stupid hot body.

  “Do I have a bathing suit?” I asked casually, realizing how eager I was to escape the oppressive house, even if it was with Maddox, a man I wasn’t sure how to feel about.

  “Oh yes, a two piece and one. I wasn’t’ sure which you’d prefer.”

  She hesitated, wishing she was young again, wishing she had nothing more to do than flirt with cute boys. If only she knew what my life was really like, she wouldn’t be so envious. With a wavering smile, she turned to leave.

  “Tara,” I called out.

  She faced me, curiosity in her thoughts.

  “Thanks.”

  Her finely plucked eyebrows arched in surprise. Her children rarely thanked her, my father never.

  I flushed, not good with emotions. “I mean… I never really had a mother, but you’ve…”

  “No need to say more.” Her eyes glistened. “Oh my.” She rushed at me, drawing me into a hug that smelled of expensive French perfume. I did my best to hug her back. Truth was, I sort of meant what I’d said. She was a good woman, lost in this world of ours and I feared she’d drown. She didn’t deserve this life. No one did.

  “You are just the sweetest thing.” She pulled back, pressing her hand to her chest. “You’ll make me cry!”

  We both laughed.

  “Now, you get ready.” She dabbed at her eyes with hands. “Maddox will be here soon.”

  She left my room feeling much better and I was glad I could do that for her. One of the perks of reading minds was knowing exactly what to say to help a person.

  I turned toward my dresser and reached for the top drawer. Before my fingers touched the handle, the drawer screeched open. I sucked in a sharp breath of surprise. But my shock quickly gave away to excitement. I’d done that… I’d opened the drawer before even touching it. But how? Why now?

  “That was sweet, really,” Jake’s voice interrupted my musings.

  I sighed, shoving the drawer shut before turning to face him. “What do you want, Jake?”

  He shrugged. He wore his typical sloppy jeans and t-shirt, along with that typical wise-ass smirk. “Nothing. Just thought it was sweet, what you told Tara. Exactly what she wanted to hear.”

  He was not going to ruin this day for me. “Maybe I meant it.”

  He laughed. “We never mean anything we say, do we?”

  We? As if I was anything like him. Yeah, we could both read minds, but the guy was a jerk. I wouldn’t be made to feel ashamed for what I could do. “I’m changing, so if you don’t mind…”

  He stepped into my room and closed the door.

  My anger grew. “Get the hell out.”

  “They’ve already won you over.” He shook his head, as if disgusted with me. “You have no clue, do you?”

  Curiosity got the better of me. I crossed my arms over my chest. “What?”

  “What you’re in for.” He strolled toward the windows and gazed out onto the backyard. “You’re trapped now, sweetheart.”

  A shiver of unease raced over my skin. The same sort of thing Nora had said. He was trying to scare me and it was working.

  “You’re employed by the U.S. government, Cameron. You think you can just leave when you want?” He turned toward me, grinning. “It’s real easy to be sucked in. Before you know it, you’ll be as brainwashed as the rest of them.”

  Warnings were coming fast and furious. First Nora, and now Jake? Problem was, on my list of who not to trust they were tied for first place. “What do you want, Jake?”

  He started toward the door. “Just to warn you.” He paused at the door and glanced back, a grin on his lips that said he was enjoying this way too much. “He’s got you totally believing his crap. Truth is your dad is the best at manipulating everyone. It’s why he’s in charge.”

  I started toward him, angry and annoyed with his games, but mostly wanting answers. “How? How does he manipulate?”

  “You slept the entire way from Florida to North Carolina.” He rested his hand on the doorknob. “Amazing how Gemma and Charlie are such brats, yet they go to bed so easily.”

  My heart slammed wildly against my ribcage, already knowing what my head denied. “What are you getting at?”

  “He hypnotizes them into sleeping, just as he did you on the way up here. That way he doesn’t have to deal with his kids and their many questions.” He pulled open the door and stepped into the hall. “Have fun on your date.”

  ****

  “You’ve been pretty quiet,” Maddox said, as fifteen minutes later we pulled onto a dirt road that was little more than a path winding between thick fir trees. I was no longer eager to get out of the house, and wished I’d made up an excuse so I could stay home. As much as I hated to admit it, Jake had gotten to me. I didn’t trust Maddox, and here he was taking me to some secluded hot springs. Not exactly a smart move.

  I forced myself to smile. “Just a lot of things on my mind.” I took my lower lip between my teeth, watching him from the corner of my eye. If it came down to a battle, could I take him? Yeah, he was twice my size, but I did have abilities he couldn’t even begin to understand.

  “Like what things?” he persisted.

  “Like…” I struggled for a response, flushing like I was guilty. “Did you find that escaped convict?”

  “Yep.”

  That easy for him, just as he’d implied it would be. “Where are we going?”

  He grinned that sexy grin, and dang it, if my heart didn’t skip a beat. “I assumed you’d like to get away for a while.”

  It would be so easy to slip back into that flirtatious banter with him, to trust Maddox and this situation. But did I want to let my guard down? Hadn’t I learned to be leery? “Do I look all stressed out or something?”

  He shrugged, slowing the car and pulling alongside the road. “You seemed upset last night.”

  “Wouldn’t you be?” The branches on either side of the road hung low, brushing against the car. “He used me.”

  He sighed. “John didn’t use you.” He turned off the car and we were silent for a moment, merely sitting there in the small confines of t
he vehicle, watching birds flittering across the path.

  “I mean… yeah.” He raked his fingers through his dark hair, obviously flustered. “He’s excited about your powers.”

  I released a wry laugh. “I think he’s more excited about my powers than my being here.”

  He glanced at me, his gaze serious. “Not true.”

  I turned in my seat, facing him, my anger getting the best of me. “Is that the reason why he came to Florida? The reason why he sent you to pick me up?”

  His gaze took on the steely glint. “No. He sent me because you were in danger.”

  “I’ve been in danger my entire life.”

  He shoved open the car door and stood. “Not like this.”

  I pushed open my door and followed. The path underfoot was soft and slick with pine needles. Sunlight pierced the branches in brilliant beams that highlighted his body. He looked like some Greek God exiled to earth.

  Although the woods were thick, ahead there was a clearing. A rocky outcrop surrounded a pool of water where steam rose from the surface. Tara had been right. It was a hot springs. Our own, natural hot tub. But hot tubs were for couples wanting to get close. I slid him a glance, wishing I knew what he was thinking, more importantly, wishing I knew why he had brought me here. What was he planning?

  Maddox pulled his T-shirt over his head and tossed it onto the hood of the car. “Your father is very concerned with the welfare of the world. It’s what we’re doing, Cameron. We’re just looking out for everyone.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Please,” I muttered under my breath. “I’m not five.”

  I wasn’t sure which I was more interested in, the fact that he was undressing, or what he was saying. I couldn’t help but watch him walk toward that spring, admiring the way his broad shoulders tapered to a narrow v at his lower back. The way the muscles in his body bunched as he moved. The way his tanned skin gleamed under the sunlight.

  He jumped onto an outcropping of rock and kicked off his shoes. He was young and muscled and healthy. He was gorgeous, simply put. But my heart was fighting with my attraction. Lewis. There was always Lewis in the back of my mind.

 
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