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The mind thieves the min.., p.20
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.20

           Lori Brighton
 
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  Interesting, the same thing she’d said about my dad. He still hadn’t answered my question. “Dad, where’s my mom?”

  “She’s dead, Cameron.”

  The words hit me like a boulder to the chest, crushing my heart with the weight. I’d hoped…prayed… but the dream of her had only been that… my twisted and hopeful imagination.

  Dead.

  I slumped back against the wall of the building. I’d thought, figured, something had happened to her, but hearing the words, knowing them to be true…

  He sighed, raking his hands through his hair. “Maybe you need to take a break for a bit—”

  “How’d she die?”

  His lips pressed into a firm line. He didn’t want to tell me. But I knew, even before he said the word, “Drugs.”

  So I’d heard. Grandma had made it no secret that my mom was an addict. I moved to the lone bench hidden under a small redbud tree that was in bloom with tiny purple flowers. My legs were too weak to hold me and I sank down on the stone seat.

  “She died of a drug overdose,” my dad said. “She couldn’t handle life. It was all too much for her.”

  She couldn’t handle life? Or our sort of lifestyle? I felt oddly numb, my emotions conflicted. I hadn’t even been to her funeral. Had no idea where she was buried. Worst, was realizing that I would never, ever have a relationship with my mom. I supposed deep down I’d always hoped she’d miraculously return. “When did she die?”

  He shook his head, his gaze dropping to the ground. “I don’t know for sure. It was after she’d left you with Grandma. It was hard to keep track of her. I’d hear from her once in a while, but sometimes it would be months.”

  “Did she know what you could do?”

  “Read minds?”

  I nodded.

  “No.”

  But something tugged at my memory… a flash I’d had on the beach in Florida, right before Nora had found me.

  “Why are you doing this?” my mother asked.

  I was little. So young. I peeked around the corner of the hall, awakened by their argument.

  “To protect you. Both of you.”

  “John, you’ll protect us by staying with us!” She grasped onto his arm. “They’ll come for us. You know that.”

  “You know where to go if you need help.”

  “I don’t trust—”

  She didn’t trust who? Damn it, I couldn’t remember any more. But it seemed as if my mom had definitely known about my dad’s powers. Was he lying? Why?

  My dad sighed. “I have a meeting, but I’m going to have Maddox take you home, okay?”

  He hesitated for a moment, as if expecting me to say something. When I didn’t respond, he turned and started back toward the building. As I watched him walk away, a shiver of unease raced over my skin. He was my dad, but he felt like a stranger.

  “You’re thinking.”

  I surged from the bench and spun around.

  Jake stood there, arms crossed, smirk in place.

  “Yeah,” I snapped. “I know you don’t understand the concept, but people do tend to think from time to time.” I turned around and started toward the parking lot, intending to wait for Maddox alone.

  “I mean,” he started after me, “That you’re thinking about whether or not you can trust your father.”

  I froze, my heart slamming madly in my chest. He’d known all along I was having misgivings. He’d planted that seed of doubt on purpose. “Did you read my mind?”

  He paused in front of me, blocking my exit. “I didn’t have to. It’s written across your face.”

  I was silent for a moment, wondering how much to tell him. “Well?”

  He shrugged, looking somewhat confused. “Well what?”

  “Can I trust him?”

  He lifted a blond brow, looking about as shocked as I felt. I might not like Jake, but at least he had never lied to me…that I knew of.

  The left corner of his lips lifted. “You’re interested in my opinion?”

  “Don’t get too excited, it’s not like there are a lot of people to talk to around here.”

  His smile dropped and I almost felt sorry for him. He had fewer friends than I did. I hadn’t thought he’d have a heart, but I’d obviously hurt his feelings. “Fine, you want my opinion?”

  “Yeah.”

  He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “In this world, don’t trust anyone but yourself.”

  “Well, that sounds depressing.”

  He shrugged and backed up a few steps. “You wanted the truth. Don’t trust anyone, Cameron. Especially not your dad.”

  The soft fall of footsteps alerted us to another presence. I knew it was Maddox.

  Jake’s gaze shifted from me to the area behind me and his eyes turned hard. “And especially not your boyfriend.”

  Chapter 20

  “One more store, okay? Then we can go to lunch.” Tara shifted her bags, attempting to juggle the monstrous amount of clothing she’d purchased, and started down the sidewalk of the outside mall. We’d shopped for just about everything a person could buy and now we were looking for shoes. I’d been ready to leave after the first store.

  “Yeah, sure,” I muttered, following after her like a freaking puppy dog.

  The day was perfect, really, a nice seventy degrees. The outside mall wasn’t crowded as most people were at work. The crabapple trees growing alongside the sidewalk were in full bloom, the soft wind sending the white petals raining through the air like confetti.

  Tara had found a babysitter for the kids and had insisted on shopping, doing everything a mother and daughter should be doing. I knew she was trying to make up for the fact that I hadn’t had a stable parent. It was sweet of her, but it was a bit too late to make up for lost time. As much as I loved buying clothes, there were more important things to worry about at the moment.

  “You okay?” She glanced at me, her soft gaze full of concern.

  I forced myself to smile. “Yeah, just tired.”

  Tired of not knowing who to trust. Tired of not knowing if my Grandma lived. Tired of not knowing whether Lewis had been on my side or Aaron’s.

  She paused and tilted her head to the side in a sympathetic manner. “Honey, you just sit there, okay?” She nodded toward an empty bench. “I need some shoes for Gemma and then I’ll be done. Don’t need to carry all these bags anyway. You mind watching them?”

  “No, not at all.” Thank God. I settled on the bench and Tara placed the bags around my feet like some kind of offering to the shopping gods.

  “I’ll only be ten minutes.”

  Right, she’d said that at the last store and thirty minutes later we’d finally left. She sashayed off, smiling like a demented clown, happy to have someone to talk to and lunch with. She lived too far from town to have real friends, and because of my dad’s secretive work, he frowned on having people over. Being able to read her thoughts made me even more bitter toward dear old dad. He’d screwed up my life and now he was screwing up a new family. How did he not see what he was doing to the people who loved him? Yeah, his job was important, but what about his family?

  I rested my elbows on my knees, and my face in my hands, blocking out the few shoppers who’d managed to escape work. Deborah, Jake, Nora…none of them trusted my dad. Even Grandma hadn’t seemed happy when Maddox had arrived with news from her own son. Thoughts of Grandma had me wishing for my former life. Who would have ever thought I’d want to be back with the grumpy woman?

  “You ready to leave yet?”

  At the sound of the familiar voice I jerked upright, my heart leaping into my throat. Nora sat on the bench next to me. She’d appeared so quickly and quietly that for a moment I thought I’d imagined her. Her blonde hair was pulled into a stylish ponytail. The skinny jeans she wore showed off her athletic frame and dark sunglasses hid her eyes. She wasn’t facing me though. Nope, she merely stared out at the parking lot, people watching.

  “Are you stalking me?” I asked.

&
nbsp; She laughed. “Just waiting.” She turned her head to look at me. My wide eyes stared back from her mirrored lenses. “You didn’t answer my question. Are you ready to leave?”

  I glanced toward the store where Tara had disappeared. How long had she been gone? Could I get rid of Nora before she reappeared?

  “Well?” Nora prompted.

  Surely Nora wouldn’t try anything now. There weren’t a lot of people around, but there were enough to make a scene if she did anything weird. As long as I stayed calm, in control, I might be able to handle Nutty Nora.

  “Well what?”

  She lifted her brows. “Leave? Ready?”

  “Why would I ever leave with you? It would be trading one prison for another.”

  She laughed again. “Ah, so living with your dad is like being in prison?”

  When I didn’t respond, she reached up and pulled off her sunglasses. Those blue eyes were oddly sincere. “You won’t regret it.” She shrugged. “If you stay with your father, I can’t promise that much.”

  Something wasn’t adding up. If they wanted me out of the picture, why not kill me? She’d had more than a few chances. Which meant she actually wanted to use me… like my father. They were no different. “Why do you want me to go with you so badly?”

  She shrugged. “Going with me is better than staying with your dad.”

  It was my turn to laugh. At least with Dad I knew what to expect, but not with Nutty Nora. “Forget it.”

  She turned toward me, crossing her right leg over her left and leaning her arm alongside the back of the bench. “What if I can take you to Lewis?”

  My heart stopped. I swore for one brief moment, my heart actually stopped. “He’s with Aaron…”

  She shook her head, her gaze gleaming triumphantly. “Nope. He’s on his own, and I know where he is.”

  She was lying, she had to be. I’d be an idiot to believe her. If Lewis had left Aaron, why wouldn’t he have come for me? At the very least, called? Hell, Emily had been able to locate our number, surely Lewis could. Unless…he didn’t want to.

  “By this time tomorrow, we could be there.”

  The temptation was strong. I could demand answers. He might be able to fill in the blanks, to explain why all of this had happened. But surely this was all too good to be true. “Why—”

  “Why isn’t he with Aaron?”

  Actually, I was more interested in why he hadn’t tried to find me, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to admit that. Instead, I nodded.

  She sighed, obviously agitated. “No more small talk. We’re sort of in a hurry here, no time to chitchat. If you want to see him, come on.” Suddenly, she’d gone serious on me. What was her problem?

  “How do I know I can trust you?”

  She shrugged. “Guess you can’t. But you didn’t trust your father or Maddox either, did you?”

  She stood and glanced toward the parking lot. Two men wearing jeans and t-shirts were headed our way, their faces completely serious, their steps sure and hurried. They didn’t exactly fit in with the stay at home moms strolling the outside mall. A shiver of unease tiptoed down my spine.

  “Listen,” Nora pleaded. “This could be your chance to see Lewis, you want to blow it?”

  The two men were obviously coming for us. I glanced back at the store where Tara had disappeared. If I stayed, I’d be putting her in danger. But by going with Nora, I was agreeing to work with her, agreeing to leave my father and Maddox behind. I closed my eyes. No other choice. I had to see Lewis. “All right.”

  “Good.” She glanced toward those men one more time. “Now stand slowly and walk casually with me toward that toy store.”

  “Wait, I have to tell Tara goodbye.”

  “We don’t have time and you’ll be putting her in danger.”

  “But I can’t just leave her bags—”

  “Cameron,” she hissed, her gaze snapping toward me. “Priorities.”

  So she had a point. “But…”

  She started to walk away.

  I glanced back, feeling terrible for leaving Tara with no word. She’d be totally traumatized. Would they call the police, thinking I’d gone missing? But no, my dad would make up an excuse because calling the police would bring attention to the situation.

  I hurried my steps, catching up to her.

  “In here.” She shoved me toward the toy store. The door fell open easily under the pressure of my hands and I stumbled into the small shop. The place smelled of cotton candy and the pink and blue walls were blindingly bright under the fluorescent lights.

  A young saleswoman glanced up from behind the counter, a ready smile in place. “Hello! Can I help you?”

  “No,” Nora replied. She latched onto my hand and dragged me down an aisle of basketballs and baseball bats.

  My jeans and t-shirt felt suddenly too tight. The air conditioning too cold against my damp skin. “What are we doing in here?”

  “Hiding.”

  The small store wasn’t exactly overflowing with hiding places. Unless we could shrink and fit into a Barbie doll house, we were screwed. “Hiding from?”

  “Them.” She pulled me down behind a bin of beach balls. There, through the mesh wiring, I could see the front door open. The two men from the parking lot strolled inside, only to pause, searching for us.

  “Can I help you?” the peppy sale’s girl asked.

  The taller of the two men glanced toward her. The poor girl didn’t have a chance. Under the weight of his powers, the saleswoman slumped to the ground, dead. Or, please God, just unconscious. He was a mind reader too. Wonderful.

  “What do they want?” I whispered, as they started down the aisle headed directly toward us.

  “You,” she replied.

  I jerked my gaze toward her. She was totally serious. There was no mocking laughter in her eyes. “Why?”

  She sighed. “You’re new, you’re fresh meat and you’re gifted. They’re going to keep you no matter what it takes.”

  My heart slammed wildly in my chest. How many times had I wanted to be popular in high school? Yeah, not so much anymore. “What’s the plan?”

  Nora surged to her feet. “We get the hell out of here.”

  “Sound plan,” I muttered.

  We bolted down an empty aisle, following a row of pink dolls smiling mockingly at us. There were only three aisles in the store. If they picked ours, we were screwed.

  “And we head to Lewis the moment we leave?”

  She glanced back at me, those blue eyes flashing with irritation. “Don’t worry; we’ll see your boyfriend.”

  A shiver of unease raced over my body a split second before I noticed the shadow shifting toward the end of the aisle.

  “Nora, watch out!”

  Too late. She ran directly into the broad chest of an intruder. He wrapped his arm around Nora’s waist and pulled her up against him. In one swift movement he had a pistol pointed at her head, but his cold gaze was on me. I froze in indecision.

  “Leave with me,” he said, his voice oddly emotionless. “And I’ll let her go.”

  Nora struggled in his grasp. “Don’t believe him, Cameron.”

  “Don’t go with us, I kill her and take you anyway.”

  Would he really kill her? Why not take both of us? Nora had powers as well. Nora twisted, shoving her elbow into the man’s gut, but to no avail.

  “Stop!” I said, glaring at the struggling Nora. I needed time to think, and I couldn’t think when I was worried she’d get her head blown off.

  She paused, her breath coming out in harsh pants as she glared at me. She obviously wasn’t used to listening to someone else. God, no wonder why her relationship with Maddox hadn’t worked. I was surprised they hadn’t killed each other.

  I shifted my gaze to the man holding her. “Alright, I’ll go with you.”

  “Cameron, no.”

  Shut up, I mentally said to her. When I say duck, drop to the ground.

  “Just release her,” I said t
o the man. “And I’ll go with you.”

  I could hear the thump of feet coming up the aisle behind me. The second man was getting close. I had to hurry. No time to wait.

  The man holding Nora narrowed his soulless, black eyes. I felt the slightest pull on my brain and knew he was trying to read my mind. As if I’d let that happen. I reinforced that mental wall, and stared him down.

  After what seemed an eternity but was no more than a few seconds, he released his hold. I didn’t have time to gloat. Just as he let go, I threw my energy toward the boxed Barbie doll castle on the shelf above.

  Duck! I mentally yelled at Nora.

  She dove toward the ground. The box hit the man on the head, sending him stumbling back. The impact hadn’t knocked him out but he was stunned, and it was enough to give us a head start.

  “Go!” I grabbed Nora’s arm and helped her to her feet. Together we raced toward the door. There was no time to think, only time to act.

  “Outside, hurry.” Nora latched onto the door handle and pulled. The door wouldn’t budge.

  “What’s happening?” I demanded frantically.

  “They’re keeping it closed with their minds.”

  I glanced back. Both men were headed our way, the looks of determination upon their faces unnerving, to say the least. “Move!”

  She stepped aside. I focused on that door, threw all the energy I had at the handles. The door rattled, but stayed put. Yeah, my powers were real special indeed. My body was shaking, my legs weak. I was pathetic.

  I spun around, grabbed Nora’s hand and jerked her down an aisle of toy trucks.

  “What’s the plan now?” I asked, breathless.

  She rested her hands on her hips, her breathing just as harsh. “No clue.”

  Wonderful. “Who are they?” I spun around, searching the toys for a make-shift weapon. Unless a foam sword could do harm, we were in trouble.

  “Your dad’s men.”

  I jerked my gaze toward her. “He was having me followed?”

  “Of course.”

  I wasn’t sure how I felt about the fact that he obviously didn’t trust me. Seriously, this was getting better and better. One of the men stepped out from behind the aisle, blocking our escape. We spun around. The other man was there, waiting. We were trapped by Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-I’ll-kill-you.

 
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