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The mind thieves the min.., p.2
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.2

           Lori Brighton

  The ocean breeze felt chilly against my clammy skin. Was he another mind reader? Could it be possible? I knew we weren’t the only ones, and, in fact, Grandma had finally admitted my father had been a mind reader as well. But I sure as heck had never expected to be tackled by one.

  Another car zoomed by, oblivious to my struggle. Anxiety twisted, curling through my gut. I lurched against him once more, but only managed to get sand deep into my hair, in my shorts and shirt.

  “We don’t have time for this,” he hissed. “You’re going to shut up and you’re going to come with me, got it?”

  He was nervous a witness would come along, and he should be. There were many who walked the beach in the evening. But I wasn’t about to drag some innocent bystander into this mess. Time to take drastic measures. I lifted my knee and hit him directly in the groin. Maddox sucked in a sharp gasp, his eyes going wide with surprise.

  He released my right arm as he stumbled to the side. It was all I needed. I pulled free and shoved the palms of my hands into his hard chest, throwing him off balance. Jumping to my feet, I didn’t dare look back, but raced up the beach toward our cottage. I had no choice but to go to Grandma.

  Although I couldn’t hear the thump of his footsteps, I knew he followed. My heart hammered madly in my chest, almost painful in its frantic beat, urging me to run… run. I darted across the street, barely looking for cars. The aqua-colored cottage was a beacon of safety. So close…

  The door opened even before I reached the stoop. Grandma burst outside, her face pale and harsh under the front porch light. I’d never been so happy to see her.

  “What is it?” she demanded.

  I stumbled up the steps. “Hurry, get inside.” I’d let my guard down and she’d read my thoughts, but for the first time I didn’t care if she pried. “He said he knows my dad.”

  Which was a lie. An insane lie. Yet, as her gaze lifted and she focused on the garden beyond, was it my imagination, or did recognition flash in her hazel eyes? She latched onto my arm and jerked me behind her with more strength than I’d thought possible. I fell against the doorframe, confused. Why weren’t we running?

  Maddox strolled through the dirt patch that claimed to be our front yard like he owned the place. He wasn’t afraid of us, and Grandma wasn’t afraid of him. No, she was more annoyed. He walked slowly, unconcerned, his gaze flickering back and forth from me to Grandma. He’d recovered quickly from my assault. Too quickly. Was he some machine?

  “Mrs. Winters.” He nodded his greeting like he knew Grandma.

  “What the hell are you doing here?” Grandma shifted, blocking the stairs as if she could protect me from this man who was twice her size. “You said we’d never see you again.”

  Wait…what? I nudged my way around her. “What’s going on?” I glanced at Maddox. He merely glared back at me, apparently still annoyed with my little escape stunt. I ignored him, focusing on Grandma. “Who is he?”

  “You don’t remember me after all we’ve been through?” He pressed his hand to his heart in mock dismay. “That stings.”

  My thoughts were a confusing whirlwind. Nothing he said made sense. I glanced between Grandma and Maddox, wondering if I should be annoyed, scared or perhaps both. My head began to thrum, an aching pulse that beat in time with my heart. The sort of headache I’d had right after coming out of my coma. It was like a thousand murmured voices were whispering through my mind, trying to tell me something all at once.

  “Who is he?” I demanded again, my tone sharp.

  “Get inside, Cameron.” Grandma pushed me toward the door.

  I stood firmly, refusing to budge. “No, not until you tell me everything.”

  “She needs to know.” Maddox rested his foot on the first step, almost eye level with us. “For her own safety.”

  Safe from what?

  Grandma paused for one long moment. Finally, she managed to glance at me. “He works for a group called S.P.I.”

  “Okay,” I muttered. Why did the name sound vaguely familiar? Something that tugged at me like a child trying to get her parent’s attention.

  “Society for Paranormal Investigation,” he added, bowing slightly in acknowledgment.

  “You said she would be safe!” Grandma snapped.

  “Wait a minute,” I said, my patience wearing thin. “I don’t understand.”

  Grandma’s gaze jumped to me. “You don’t need to.”

  I stiffened, irate. This was the old Grandma. The woman who had kept me in the dark most of my childhood, the woman who had always treated me like an idiot. But I was eighteen. Legally, she had no hold over me.

  “Tell me what’s going on!” I demanded, my voice echoing across the yard.

  They grew oddly still; the entire world seemed to pause as I waited. They glanced uneasily between each other, an unspoken past between them. I had to resist the urge to shake them both.

  “You’re going to have to tell her,” Maddox said, as if I wasn’t even there, as if I was too stupid to understand.

  Grandma remained stubbornly silent. Only the soft roar of the ocean could be heard in the distance. I didn’t dare say a word, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t seem to speak. No, because if I spoke, I worried my world, as it was, just might end.

  Grandma finally turned and brushed passed me. Without a word, without even a look of acknowledgement, she moved into the house, leaving me on the small stoop with this Maddox. The man’s attention slid to me. Piercing. Intense. Too intense. I wanted to step back. But I didn’t, daring to keep his gaze. The corners of his mouth lifted as if he found my bravado amusing.

  He knew how uncomfortable he was making me. The jerk. “Who are you?”

  He winked. Actually winked at me. “All will be explained in due time.”

  In due time? How old was he? I scanned his face, looking for signs of age. No gray hairs, no wrinkles on his tanned features. Although he seemed older, I guessed him to be in his early twenties. Still, how could this twenty-something-year-old guy hold such influence over my grandmother?

  Maddox swept his arm wide. “After you.”

  I had no choice. If I wanted answers, apparently I’d have to be patient and listen to whatever it was they had to say. Gritting my teeth, I turned and swept into the cottage, feigning a confidence I sure as heck didn’t feel. I knew he followed. I could feel him.

  Grandma stood by the windows, her back to us. Only a lamp glowed from the far corner of the small living room, throwing shadows across the area. I’d always thought this cottage cozy. This evening it felt cold, creepy.

  I crossed my arms over my chest and waited in the middle of the room. Waited for Grandma to explain, for Maddox to explain. Anyone. Anger fought with some inexplicable fear I didn’t quite understand. I knew my life was about to change, yet again, and I didn’t want it to.

  “I thought we’d be safe here. I thought we could have a normal life. Stupid.” Grandma’s voice was harsh, bitter, angry. A voice I knew but hadn’t heard since I’d awoken from my coma. I didn’t know who this Maddox was, but I did know one thing, he’d brought the past with him. A past I’d hoped to keep buried and forgotten.

  “Normal?” he said, settling on our only lounge chair and making himself comfortable. “Please, you’ve always known this time would come. Why else would you move to Maine? Knowing Aaron lived nearby?”

  Aaron? Who the hell was Aaron?

  She spun around to face him, her cheeks flushed with anger. “I had no idea he was there! I haven’t been in contact with anyone for years.”

  “I don’t buy it.” There was a hardness to his features that said neither of us would get any sympathy from this man. He was a warrior, his emotions dead. “I think you knew. I think you knew at some point you’d need someone to help, and for a brief moment you trusted him over us.”

  “Maybe I still do,” she hissed.

  He smirked, completely unfazed by her comment. “Too late now, you picked sides long ago. There’s no going back. I’m here fo
r the girl. It’s time she went home. You can’t protect her anymore.”

  The girl? I had a sick feeling he meant me. “Someone tell me something now.” The room grew silent. The only sound was the soft hum of the refrigerator. Neither one looked at me but continued to stare at each other as if in some silent battle of wills.

  “How much time do we have?” Grandma finally asked.

  He shrugged his broad shoulders and stacked his hands behind his head, his biceps flexing. “We can’t be sure. Two days. Three.”

  “Shit.” She covered her eyes with her hands and sank onto our small sofa. “I’ll need time to gather our things and make arrangements.”

  “Tomorrow morning, it’s all I can give you,” Maddox agreed. “Early. The sooner we leave, the better.”

  “What the hell are you talking about?” I demanded.

  Neither seemed startled by my outburst. I was itching to pick up the lamp and throw it at the wall when Grandma finally looked at me. “Don’t.”

  I stiffened. My thoughts had slipped and she’d read my mind. I reinforced my mental wall and glared at her.

  “There’s so much to tell you,” she said. “I don’t know where to start.”

  The look in her gaze made me ill. I sank back against the wall, my legs suddenly too weak to hold me. I knew, just knew, there was something major I’d missed during my coma. It explained everything. The reason why Grandma had completely changed the moment I’d woken up. The reason she’d been so eager to move to the islands. I’d known all along something was wrong, off. Everything was just too perfect. But I’d ignored my feelings because I hadn’t wanted to deal with the truth. Apparently the truth was about to deal with me.

  “Something happened, while I was unconscious, didn’t it?”

  “Not exactly,” Grandma said softly.

  “Cameron.” My gaze shifted to Maddox. He leaned forward, those steel eyes burned through me, so serious that I wished he were mocking me again. “Do you remember me at all?”

  I shook my head, yet deep down something felt wrong, as if I’d answered too quickly. “No…I don’t …I don’t know.”

  He smiled, a smile that shouldn’t be familiar, but it was. “You do. Maybe not details, but its there, isn’t it?” He leaned back, that smirk in place once more. “We’ve met, Cameron. But you don’t remember.”

  “How? Why?” I wasn’t asking Maddox, but my Grandma. The only family member I had. Yet, she was the only person who continued to betray me. Why had I ever believed I could trust her? Why had I ever thought she would change? Why? Why? Why?

  “Cameron,” Grandma said softly. “There are things you don’t know. Things we need to tell you.”

  No kidding. My hands fisted, my anger palpable. “Then tell me.”

  When she remained silent, frustrated, I moved to the windows. I could see the ocean across the street, the water dark now, mysterious and inky. As dark and deep and mysterious as that month I’d been in that coma. But I’d known all along something was off. I closed my eyes. I needed one moment, just one to savor the quietness and normalcy that had been my life for months now. I knew without a doubt that in seconds my world was going to crash down around me.

  “Tell me,” I said, my back to them.

  Maddox started toward me. Although his footsteps were quiet, I could see his tall reflection in the windows. “Your grandma’s right. I work for an organization called S.P.I.”

  Something niggled at the back of my mind, like a worm working its way through the dirt. A memory I couldn’t quiet grasp. Although my head ached, I remained still.

  “Eight months ago you met a man named Aaron. A man who takes in people like you and trains them.”

  People like me. I assumed he didn’t mean attractive eighteen-year-old girls. If only. No. He meant a person who could read minds. “Does he work for S.P.I. too?”

  “No, in fact, the opposite.”

  The opposite? I turned and looked to Grandma for answers. She seemed completely unconcerned with the fact that we were discussing mind reading like it was an everyday occurrence. As if she hadn’t told me for the thirteen years I’d lived with her to never, ever, under any circumstance tell anyone what I could do. Anger fought with embarrassment. She had promised never to lie to me, never to leave me in the dark again. Why had I trusted her?

  “I don’t remember any Aaron.”

  Maddox paused close to me, his hands in the pockets of his cargo shorts. “You wouldn’t because he erased your mind.”

  My body went cold, my mind crying out a denial. “That’s … that’s insane.”

  “It’s the truth, Cameron,” Grandma said softly.

  Panic fought with anger. “No! You would have told me…”

  But she wouldn’t have. Grandma was known for keeping secrets. And as I studied her pale face I knew…knew it was all true. I shook my head. How? How could I forget my life? No, I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t.

  She stood, her stoic face finally showing some signs of emotion. “I didn’t see any reason why I should tell you. It would only drive you crazy, attempting to remember the details. I worried it would make your memory worse. Do you harm. I was trying to protect you.”

  The words she’d used my entire childhood. Nothing at all had changed between us. She was the same woman who’d frustrated me months ago. I hated her in that moment. “The coma happened because of what he did to me?”

  “You were never in a coma,” Maddox admitted.

  The words shocked me. All…a lie. The room began to spin. If I hadn’t been in a coma, where had I been? Grandma started toward me, but I stepped back. It was too much… all too much.

  I trembled with pent-up emotion, barely able to catch my breath. My lungs seemed to collapse, the room spinning.

  “Cameron, I hoped we could live here unnoticed.” I could barely understand her words over the roar of blood to my ears. “Just live and be happy like you’d always wanted. A normal life. I thought we could start over.”

  But I’d only ever wanted the truth. Nothing more.

  “No,” I shook my head and turned toward the door.

  I couldn’t stand to be near her, not when she’d been lying all this time. Blindly, I rushed toward the door. How could they lie to me about my father? About my life? I shoved the door wide and stumbled down the steps, clutching at the railing. I wasn’t sure where I was going; all I knew was that I needed to get away. My heart felt as if it was breaking, crumbling into the pit of my stomach, piece by piece.

  My father was alive.

  Strong fingers bit into my upper arms, jerking me to a stop. Maddox’s spicy scent surrounded me.

  “Let go!” I yelled, twisting in an attempt to break free.

  Maddox spun me around, jerking me up against his hard chest. His face was shadowed by the night, but still fierce enough to give me pause. “Listen, sweetheart, save your teenage tantrum for another time. Right now you need to stay inside where it’s safe.”

  Stay here where it’s safe. Why did this entire situation feel eerily similar? As if I’d experienced it before. Everyone… always trying to keep me safe. I pushed aside the confusing feelings and glared up at him. “Go to hell.”

  He grinned, white teeth flashing. “You’ve grown feisty.”

  I pulled away from him. “I’m getting my Vespa.”

  “Tomorrow we’re leaving. I’m going to take you to a safe haven where you’ll be protected. Where no one can hurt you.”

  I’d heard that before, but I trusted him about as much as I trusted Grandma. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

  He lowered his head so close to mine, I could feel his warm breath on my lips. “You are. Want to know why?”

  I swallowed hard but didn’t dare answer.

  “Because I’m stronger than you, and I can protect you. Because deep down, you trust me. But mostly, because I know you, and I know you want to see your dad.”

  I pressed my lips tightly together, refusing to give him the satisfaction o
f a response because I despised his arrogant ways. Because I didn’t know what else to do. But mostly because he was completely and utterly right.

  Without a word or nod of acknowledgement, I turned and headed toward the ocean and our little café.

  Chapter 3

  I felt numb as I stood near my bedroom window, listening to the soft tick of the clock from the living room…tick, tock, tick, tock. Before, the noise had been oddly comforting. Now it felt as if the seconds of my practically perfect life were ticking away.

  Grandma had gone to bed hours ago after insisting I pack only one bag of my most valuable things. But how could I decide what was important to me? Dad’s Yale sweatshirt? The olive shell we’d found only yesterday, a shell very rare to this area? The one photo I had of my mother?

  We’d moved around a lot. I didn’t often get attached to objects, and I was an expert at packing quickly and efficiently. But here…I’d relaxed and settled in, thinking this small Caribbean island would finally be the home I’d never had but always wanted. I’d painted the walls a light blue. I’d framed pictures of sunsets. You couldn’t take a bad photo here. Yep, I’d settled in.

  Stupid me.

  It was hard to believe this was my last night on the island. Hard to believe this life was over. Hard to believe the anxiety of not knowing what would happen next was rearing its ugly head once more.

  No one else seemed upset. Grandma slept peacefully in her room, while our new best friend Maddox was on the couch. I wondered how they could rest at all on a night like this...a prequel to devastation. That ticking clock in the living was like a time bomb getting ready to explode.

  And me? I stood near the windows in my small bedroom, staring at our little food stand across the road. Staring at the fathomless ocean, dark, for it was a new moon, no light to fill the sky. This was the picture I’d awoken to for months. The view I thought would be mine forever.

  Anger fought with frustration until I wanted to scream. I suppose deep down I’d always known this wouldn’t last…always known it was too good to be true. Part of me blamed Grandma for making me believe we could actually have a happily ever after. Part of me blamed Maddox for bringing this new danger with him. But most of me blamed my father for not only abandoning me but lying.

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