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The mind thieves the min.., p.19
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.19

           Lori Brighton
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  “You coming?” he asked, glancing back as his hands went to the waistband of his jeans.

  Flushing, I jerked my gaze away. I’d worn the one piece bathing suit, but still felt way too underdressed. On the island I’d worn bikinis, why was I so nervous now? I pulled the cover-up off and tossed it to the hood of the car. Tentatively I glanced back at Maddox. Thank God, he wore swimming trunks.

  At the rocks, I removed my ballet flats. Maddox had already lowered himself into the water and sat on a rocky ledge, submerged up to his chest. He watched me with those eerie steel-colored eyes as I slowly sank into the warm water. We didn’t speak, merely sat across from each other. But I didn’t care, because for a brief moment, nothing mattered. The water felt too darn good. I closed my eyes, leaning my head back against a smooth rock.

  “Aaron abducted children, attempting to use them for his own good,” Maddox said.

  I sighed, wishing I could forget my life for a few moments. Wishing I could be a normal teenager, flirting with a normal guy.

  “We’re only trying to protect.”

  He was right about Aaron. Hadn’t I seen the many children hidden within the depths of his mansion? Hadn’t I experienced first-hand what the man was capable of? But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that what we were doing wasn’t much better.

  “Why did you lie about Lewis?” I asked.

  His dark brows drew together. “Lie?”

  The steam hovering around us and clinging to our skin suddenly felt too hot. “He was there that day I lost my memory.” I thought back to the moment, attempting to decipher fact from fiction. “I think he tried to help.”

  “Whatever Lewis did, doesn’t matter.” He moved across the small pond and settled close to me. So close that I could see flecks of blue and black in his eyes. “When it comes down to it, Lewis decided to stay with Aaron, didn’t he?”

  His words hurt, struck me hard. Unable to keep the emotion from my gaze, I had to look away and focus on the shadowy woods just beyond the pool. “Why’d you kiss me?”

  I was startled when he drew his knuckles down the side of my face. “Because I wanted to.”

  I jerked my gaze toward him. “And Nora?”

  Just like that, this gaze hardened. I could practically hear his teeth clench. Fascinated, I watched as a pulse jumped in the side of his jaw, showing is irritation. “What about her?”

  Did he not see how telling his reaction was? I’d only mentioned her name and his mood immediately shifted. “When I broke into your mind at Aaron’s home, I saw her in your memories.”

  He was silent for a moment and I thought he was going to tell me to mind my own damn business. I was shocked when he actually spoke. “I met Nora in college,” he said. “It was a brief fling. Nothing more. We had different values, different beliefs.”

  Just like Lewis and me. I leaned my head back against the rocky ledge and stared up at the cloudless sky. Maybe Maddox and I did belong together. Or maybe I should be alone. After all, what sort of relationship would last under these insane circumstances?

  “Lewis isn’t here,” Maddox said. “Who the hell knows where he is.” His thigh brushed mine as he moved closer. “But I’m here for you, Cameron. All you have to do is trust me.”

  I looked into his eyes, his gaze so sincere that I wanted to believe he had my best interest at heart. But I couldn’t shake the belief that he still had feelings for Nora. So why didn’t I pull away when he lowered his head, his lips brushing mine? It was a quick kiss. So quick, it was over before I’d had time to truly realize what he’d done.

  As he pulled back, I resisted the urge to touch my lips, wondering how I should feel about his kiss. Oddly, I felt…annoyed. But the thing that angered me wasn’t the trust issue, or the fact that he’d kissed me without permission. No, the thing that annoyed me, I realized quite suddenly, was that Maddox had never asked me how I felt about him. He’d just assumed I’d like his kiss, practically claiming me as his girlfriend.

  Just as my dad had never asked me if I wanted to be a member of S.P.I., but had just assumed I’d become a coworker. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t sit here kissing and flirting with Maddox. I couldn’t do this, knowing Lewis was out there…somewhere. I couldn’t do this while Grandma was lost. I shifted, moving away from him.

  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

  I dared to look directly at him. “Did you save us, or did Lewis?”

  Just like that his confusion cleared. It was like a switch had been flipped inside him and I could practically feel the hesitation pulsing from his body. “I never said he didn’t help.”

  My heartbeat actually stuttered, stopping for a quick moment. Was he admitting Lewis had saved me? My shock gave way to anger. “No, you merely pretended he had nothing to do with our escape.” I shoved my finger into his hard chest. “You made it seem like Lewis was against us.”

  He moved closer, so close his breath was warm on my face. “Wasn’t he? As far as we know, he’s still with Aaron. Still kidnapping mind readers to use for his own misguided reasons.”

  “And how is that different from what we’re doing?”

  “Don’t you dare compare us. We’re nothing alike and you know it. You’re just upset because Daddy betrayed you and you’re taking it out on me.”

  “No, I’m upset because you’re kissing me while still in love with Nora.”

  I saw his gaze flash with surprise, but didn’t dare wait for the anger I knew was to come. Without a backward glance, I moved out of the hot springs, the air cool against my fevered skin. I couldn’t trust my dad, and obviously I couldn’t trust Maddox. Tears stung my eyes, but I forced them to stay put. I would not cry in front of him. Not even when I realized that I was completely and utterly alone.

  Chapter 19

  I was determined to stay focused on my mission as Dad drove us to work Monday morning. I didn’t mind that he only made his usual small talk, ignoring all the important things that lay between us. I didn’t mind because I knew it didn’t matter. No longer were my emotions going to get in the way. I was here for a reason, gather as much information as I could. Then…then I would leave.

  Humming some merry tune under his breath, Dad parked the car.

  “I’m proud of you,” he stated as he turned off the vehicle.

  His words left me numb. I pushed open my door, having no interest in hearing his compliments.

  “Really, Cameron,” my father insisted.

  We started toward Compound Two. There was a prisoner I was to work on today. Someone not even my father had been able to break. I admit I was curious. Part of me wanted to beat my father at his own game. Yes, apparently I was five. So much for being an adult.

  “Proud of what?” I finally asked because I had to say something.

  He patted me on the back. “The way you handled yourself Friday night. I know it was a surprise and I did that on purpose. I didn’t want you to be nervous all week.”

  Right. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Instead of warning me, he’d totally blindsided me in front of a crowd. Sounded like a great plan. But then in Dad’s defense, I suppose it had gone how he’d wanted it to. I’d been too shocked to do anything other than what he told me. I’d make a great parrot.

  “Next time I’d rather know before hand,” I said.

  He slid me a glance, obviously noting the sharpness of my tone. “Understood.” He pulled open the door and we strolled inside, both of us dropping the subject.

  Ellen looked up and smiled. “Morning.”

  I didn’t bother to respond. She never looked at me anyway, always gazing longingly at my father. It was sort of sickening the way people put him on a pedestal around here. Even Maddox constantly made excuses for the man. Maddox, the very guy who had told me to stop looking to others for guidance and start believing in myself. Ironic, to say the least. As we moved through the gate and down the long hall, I pushed thoughts of Maddox aside.

  “They’re extremely excited about you,” he said, a
s if I was some new toy for the government. “They realize what you’re capable of. We have a lot of new investments. This program can go on for the next ten years, easy.”

  “Great,” I muttered, but Dad didn’t notice the sarcasm. Because of me, they’d be able to torture people for a decade. So much for going to college, I saw a long future of living within these cement walls ahead of me.

  We paused outside a door and my dad handed me the earpiece. “This woman is going to be difficult.”

  Woman? I’d never broken into the mind of a female. My curiosity certainly piqued.

  “If we can break her, get the information we need…” He was grinning, his excitement almost tangible. “Of course I don’t expect you to get the information immediately. It might take a few appointments, but we’ll keep at her.”

  I understood. Whether it be today or tomorrow, they were relying on me to break this woman. “I’ll do my best.”

  I pulled open the door and stepped into the room, not bothering to wait for my dad to explain more. I noticed the two guards first. So, she was high priority, which meant she was probably strong. But as my gaze found the prisoner, I froze.

  She was beautiful, simply put. Of Indian descent, she had flawless dark skin and hair as black as the night sky. Without moving an inch, her dark eyes found mine and held. Even the gross, gray prisoner suit she wore couldn’t hide her beauty. She could have been a model.

  Oddly, I swore I knew her from somewhere.

  I tried to keep my face free of emotion as I pulled out my chair and settled behind the table across from her. As usual, the two guards in the room said nothing, didn’t even bother to glance my way.

  “It would be easier if you open your mind now.” Might as well start my lecture, a lecture that had never worked, but I suppose it was S.P.I.’s way of being humane… giving them a chance.

  Not surprisingly, she didn’t respond.

  I took my lower lip between my teeth, bemused. Where had I seen her before? I leaned across the table, closer to her and lowered my voice. “Do we know each other?”

  “Let’s get started, Cameron,” my dad said through my earpiece, startling me.

  I leaned back and glanced at the window. Of course I couldn’t see them, but I knew Maddox and my dad were there. Apparently, Dad didn’t like personal talk between employees and prisoners.

  I took in a deep breath and closed my eyes. When I reached out mentally, I expected to hit a brick wall. Instead I immediately sank into the richness of her mind. I didn’t have time to be surprised, the moment I reached out, her memories burst through my brain.

  “Cameron,” Aaron started. “This is Deborah, she helps around the house, sort of a dorm mom. If you need anything, she’ll be happy to help you.”

  I opened my eyes. I’d met this woman before… at Aaron’s home in Maine. This woman had known me, known Lewis. My heart hammered wildly. “What are you doing here?”

  She didn’t respond, merely stared at the far wall as if she didn’t understand the words I spoke.

  “Deborah was captured,” my dad said through my earpiece, “on our property. Do you remember her?”

  I could barely hear him over the roar of blood to my ears. I gave a slight nod. She had been captured? How? Why? Had she been snooping, or was there another reason for her appearance? Only one way to find out. I took in a deep breath and reached out with my mind. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I knew I had to try to talk to her.

  Where’s my grandma?

  No idea.

  I paused for a moment, shocked that she’d answered. Liar.

  She slowly quirked a dark brow, a smile hovering upon her lips. I’m not here to discuss the whereabouts of your grandmother.

  Then why are you here?

  I’m here for you. She lifted her gaze and met mine. Pay attention.

  I’d barely had time to contemplate her words when sudden images flashed to mind. It took me a moment to realize these were her memories. For some reason, she was giving me open access to her brain…her life.

  “So nice to meet you, Deborah.” It was my father, younger looking, much younger.

  So, they’d known each other years ago. The scene shifted, the outfits changed. I was in a room seated around a table with Aaron, my father, and a few other people I vaguely recognized.

  “It’s not right,” Deborah said. “What they’re doing. The experiments.”

  “Not on us,” my dad replied, leaning over the table. The room was dimly lit…someone’s den or library.

  “Yeah,” a man said, “but how long before they turn? How long before we’re the lab rats?”

  My dad laughed. “They need us, Lewis.”

  Startled, the entire memory seemed to slow as I focused on that man, Lewis. Not my Lewis, but another. His father?

  “No.” Deborah stood. “They only need one of us.”

  “What are you implying?” my dad asked, his face flushing with outrage.

  “Deborah.” Aaron’s voice held a hint of warning as he, too, stood.

  “Where were you last night John?” she demanded, still focused on my father.

  “You’re a kid.” My dad frowned. “I don’t need to answer to you.”

  I’d never seen my father anything but happy-go-lucky. Seeing him so angry took me by surprise.

  “I’m old enough to know the truth.”

  “I was sleeping.”

  “No. I saw you coming back to the house around 1a.m.”

  His jaw clenched. “Spying on me?”

  “Answer the question,” Lewis’ father demanded.

  “Are you guys kidding?” My father’s stunned gaze went to each of them in turn. When no one responded, he sighed. “I went out to get something to eat. I couldn’t sleep and there’s a twenty-four hour diner not far from here. Go ask the waitress if you don’t believe me.”

  “Deb,” Aaron said. “He wouldn’t ever turn on us, would you?”

  My dad smiled, but I could see the anger in his eyes. “Of course not. If it comes down to you or them, I’ll always choose you.”

  But he hadn’t, had he? I knew that’s why Deborah was showing me this memory. He’d betrayed them. Oh God, all this time I thought he’d been hunted down and killed beside Lewis’ parents.

  The scene shifted. I was in Aaron’s study, watching him as he poured a drink. He looked older, like the man I’d met only last year. “I sent Lewis.”

  “He’s a boy!”

  Aaron strolled toward the fireplace where flames danced merrily, sending light across the room. “He’ll do the best at convincing her. An adult might scare her off.”

  “And we need her that badly?”

  “No. She needs us. If she falls into the wrong hands…” He shook his head. “If her father gets her I worry what will happen.”

  “She’ll choose her father over us.”

  Aaron faced her, his features set so serious, I shivered. “Not if she knows the truth. Not if she knows that the reason for her mother’s disappearance is because of him.”

  “Cameron,” my father’s voice tore me from the memory.

  I blinked Deborah back into focus. She was merely sitting there, watching me, waiting for it all to sink in. I felt cold. The truth was a horrible, terrible virus that was working its way through my body. My gaze shifted to that window. Had Lewis’ parents died because my dad betrayed them? Had my mom disappeared because of my dad? Oh God, I felt sick.

  “Cameron,” my father’s voice rang through my ear piece. “What is it? What’d you see?”

  “Is it true?” I asked her, shifting my gaze back to Deborah and ignoring my father.

  What do you believe? the words whispered through my mind. She barely moved as she sent me the thought. The woman seemed as cold as a statue. But she was apparently more human than most. Do you trust him? Not with your mind or your powers… in your gut, do you trust him?

  I didn’t dare look at the window where my father stood. I barley breathed. She’d hit on my weak sp
ot. Did she know? Was she playing some sick game? Maybe her visions were a lie.

  We don’t harm mind readers, she continued. We try to save them. Save them from others and from themselves.

  The door opened, the hinges squeaking. My dad stood there, his face a mask of calm control, but his eyes… his eyes were burning with outrage. The same eyes I’d seen in Deborah’s memory. Eyes I didn’t know. “Take her.”

  The guards came to life and rushed forward, spurred into movement with one demand. Each one grabbed her arm and jerked her to her feet, her shackles clanking as she stood. I wanted to demand they release her, demand she answer my questions, but I knew I couldn’t. I had to play it safe. Pretend to trust my dad.

  If you have a chance to escape, do it, she said mentally.

  I surged to my feet. What about you?

  Don’t worry about me, she said as they led her into the hall. Worry about yourself and get out while you can.

  She was gone, disappearing down the hall and I wondered if I’d get the chance to see her again. More importantly, to get my questions answered.

  “What did she say?” my dad asked the moment she disappeared. His voice came out harder than normal although it was obvious he was trying to keep calm. But that perfect, happy-go-lucky dad was slipping.

  I faced him, determined. “What happened to my mom?”

  He paused for a moment. Was that concern and surprise flashing through his eyes? “I never should have let you see Deborah.”

  “Why? You didn’t want the truth coming out?”

  He laughed, shaking his head as if it was all some big misunderstanding. “Come on.” He gripped my arm a little too tightly, and led me out the door. I didn’t fight him, assuming there was a reason for his avoidance and hoping he would answer my questions eventually.

  Helen smiled, although neither of us responded in kind. We didn’t pause until we were outside. The sun was brilliant and warm, but I barely noticed. I was cold, down-to-my-bones chilled. No one strolled around outside, enjoying the day. They were all closeted away, doing only God knew what. But for the cameras, we were totally alone.

  “I don’t know what she showed you or told you.” My father crossed his arms over his chest, looking very much like a parent reprimanding a child. “But you do realize you can’t trust her, right?”

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