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The mind thieves the min.., p.25
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.25

           Lori Brighton
 
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  “I’m going home, even if I have to walk or swim.”

  He raked his hair back, his hand trembling. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

  “Cameron.” Lewis stood behind me, his warm hand resting on my upper arm, forcing me back into the present moment. “Don’t leave me.”

  There was an honesty in his words that melted the steel wall around my heart. Slowly, I turned. The sun was rising, outlining his body with a heavenly glow. He stood in the middle of the drive looking confused…alone…vulnerable. Just like that, my anger disappeared.

  He didn’t know me now, but maybe someday he would. Maybe someday he would remember me. Meanwhile, maybe we could start over, clean slate. If only he’d trust me. Would he give me a chance?

  “Lewis,” I said softly, taking that last step that would bring me so close, we almost touched. “We need to talk. I need you to listen.”

  His jaw clenched, but he nodded. For the first time since finding him, I felt hopeful.

  Boldly, I rested my hand at his chest, the beat of his heart strong against my palm. “You might not trust me, but the way I see it is we don’t have anyone else.”

  A twig snapped. Lewis’ arms came up protectively around my waist.

  “What was that?” I whispered.

  “I don’t know.” He scanned the woods but the forest was still too shaded to decipher plant from animal. “Stay here and I’ll…”

  The branches shifted, snapping and rattling. Surely it was just a deer…raccoon…squirrel. But of course nothing was ever that simple.

  I wasn’t exactly surprised when a man morphed from the trees. His familiar bald head gleamed under the rising sun and that massive frame was something I’d never forget. I recognized him immediately. Mr. Clean from the docks.

  Slowly he lifted his arm and pointed a gun directly at us.

  Chapter 25

  “Cameron, go!” Lewis shoved me forward, sending me stumbling toward the back of the car.

  Off balance, I fell to my knees, hidden behind the monstrous piece of metal. Damn him, the idiot was trying to save me and he’d most likely get killed because of his heroics. The chill morning air was suddenly hot on my skin. I couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.

  “Lewis!” I was more than relieved when he knelt beside me. My relief was short-lived as the realization of our circumstances caught up. As much as I didn’t want to care about him, and would probably get my heart broken because of it, I did care. I had a sick dreadful feeling this wasn’t going to end well.

  “They found us.” He leaned his palms against the bumper and rose just enough to peek through the back window of the car.

  “How?”

  He slid me a glance. “My bet is your friend.”

  “Nora?” I shook my head, refusing to believe she’d betrayed me. Not because I trusted her, no, but because she had no reason. “I never told her where we were.”

  “Doesn’t matter right now.” He glanced back at the woods, searching for an escape route. The sun was starting to rise, the brilliant rays piercing the darkness. I didn’t see anyone else hiding within the trees, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there…waiting.

  He glanced down at me. “Our best bet is the car. Can you make it to the passenger door if I hold him back?”

  I knelt beside him, my hands resting on the smooth bumper. No biggie. I’d defeated Mr. Clean before, I could do it again. “No, I can’t start the car. There’s no point in me going first. I’ll hold him back.”

  His gaze took on a stubborn look. “Cameron…”

  I held up my hand, cutting him off, in no mood for his saintly ways. “I’m as powerful as you, Lewis, in fact more so.” I wasn’t gloating, it was the truth, and he knew it as well.

  He frowned, but nodded. “Fine.” He looked through the back window once more. “He’s still there, waiting. When I say go—”

  “I’ll say it when I’m ready.”

  He rolled his eyes, but I swore I saw a glimmer of amusement in his blue gaze. A slight quirk of his lips that, despite our circumstances, sent warmth through my body. Wonderful, while our lives were at stake, I was busy watching the way the wind played with his hair, the way the sun made his skin glow. Pathetic.

  I took in a deep breath, ignored Lewis and delved within my mind. There, just below the surface, the energy sparked, waiting. I didn’t know where it came from; it had always been there. An energy that was as familiar to me as my own face. A sensing. A knowing.

  “Go!” I yelled.

  Lewis raced around the car as I stepped into the clearing. Mr. Clean didn’t seem shocked by my appearance, but looked as if he expected nothing less than to do battle with me. Oddly, he lowered his gun. But even with the pistol at his side, he wasn’t any less threatening. There was a determined gleam in his gaze that sent my pulse racing. In his eyes, I saw my future and it wasn’t pretty.

  I swallowed hard, the world around me spinning. I would stand my ground. Focusing, I threw my energy at him full-force. I hit the chip in his brain so hard, I actually stumbled back, gasping. Shoot, I hadn’t expected that. Mr. Clean had had surgery since our last meeting. I opened my eyes to find him smirking at me. Jerk.

  “The door won’t open,” Lewis said, tugging desperately at the handle.

  I knew what Mr. Clean was doing. A different agent, but it was the toy store all over again. Nora and I had won that round, but we’d had help. What to do now?

  A sudden breeze swept through the woods, rattling the branches and crying out in warning. Before I had time to formulate a plan, Mr. Clean lifted the gun. But he didn’t point it at me. No, he swiveled his arm left and pointed the gun at Lewis.

  “Lewis, get down!”

  But there was nowhere for him to hide. Frantic, I searched for a weapon and saw it in the rotten tree that leaned precariously over Mr. Clean. Did I have enough power to make it fall? No other choice but to try.

  Although the ocean was hours away, I swore I heard the waves roaring in my ears as I focused on that tree. I sent my energy across the open yard, willed the tree to fall. The man with the gun disappeared. Even Lewis disappeared. The only thing that mattered was a dead tree.

  Sweat broke out on my forehead as my body and soul strained to keep concentration. Was it my imagination or did the trunk waver, swaying back and forth? My breath caught, but I forced myself to remain calm, centered.

  Mr. Clean heard the tree crack right before the rotten trunk gave way. He stumbled back just in time. It didn’t hit him like I wanted it to, but it was enough to break his concentration. The door to the car opened easily under Lewis’ fingers.

  “Get in!” I raced around the front of the car and dove into the passenger seat. A quick glance forward and I noticed that Mr. Clean had already regained his feet and was headed toward us. I jerked the seatbelt across my chest. “Hurry!”

  Lewis placed his hands on the dashboard. It seemed like an eternity before the car roared to life. Without pause, he slammed his foot on the gas pedal and the car lurched forward. The driveway yawned long and dark before us…salvation. But just as I started to relax, wisps of smoke curled from the hood.

  “That’s not good,” I muttered.

  Lewis slammed on the brakes. “Damn it.” He clutched the steering wheel so hard, his fingers grew white. I felt sorry for him. He knew as well as I we were royally screwed. But I wasn’t about to give up.

  I tore off my seatbelt. “What now?’

  He shoved open his door just as flames shot out of the hood. The scent of smoke swirled within the cab of the car, replacing the oxygen in my lungs and making me cough.

  “Cam, let’s go!”

  But crazy me, I froze in place. With the hood on fire, and smoke filling the car so that my eyes and lungs burned, I just sat there.

  He had called me Cam.

  Cam.

  The same shortened version of my name he’d used when we’d dated in Maine. He glanced back at me and I realized he had no clue about the importance of that word. Was
it coincidence, or was his memory returning?

  “Come on,” he snapped, waving me impatiently forward.

  Jerked back into reality, I dove across the driver’s seat and stumbled out of the car, gulping in the fresh air. I wasn’t sure which to be more thankful for: Lewis calling me Cam, or the oxygen feeding my starved lungs.

  “The woods,” he said, latching onto my hand. “It’s our best bet.”

  We darted between the trees, branches snapping their protest underfoot. The sound was unnaturally loud in the quiet morning and I worried Mr. Clean would easily find us. For the first time in days, I had hope that Lewis’ memory would return. We would win this fight. “Do you know where you’re going?”

  “No idea.”

  “Great,” I whispered. Unable to resist, I glanced back. The guy had disappeared and my panic flared. “I can’t see him.”

  Where had he gone? As Lewis led me around a blooming Dogwood, I reached out with my senses, hoping to catch a trail of his essence. There, fluttering in my chest like a finch in a boney cage, I felt the slightest whisper of energy…his energy. I tore my hand from Lewis’ hold and paused in a small clearing. The air was cold, damp and left a fine mist upon my arms for the sun hadn’t reached the spot yet. It was cold, but I barely noticed.

  “Cameron?”

  I ignored him and closed my eyes. There…the slightest tingle of energy coming from the left. I opened my eyes. “This way.” I grabbed Lewis’ hand and pulled him toward the right.

  “How do you know?”

  “Just shut up and trust me,” I said, in no mood to stand there and argue my defense. Had I ever questioned him? No, because even now, even with this new Lewis, I still trusted him.

  I jumped over a fallen log and burst through underbrush just coming to life. There were too many shadows; it was too hard to tell man from nature. Breathless, I paused behind an oak. Lewis caught up to me.

  “Shhh,” I whispered as he parted his lips to question me further.

  I closed my eyes and leaned against the tree, the bark rough under my fingers.

  I could feel the energy immediately, a tingling awareness coming closer…closer. A twig snapped behind us. “Get down!”

  I shoved Lewis and we fell together into a patch of ferns just sprouting from the damp ground. Something whizzed by our heads and a piece of bark flew from the tree above.

  “So they want us dead,” I muttered, staring at the damage done by the bullet.

  “At least me. Come on.” Lewis grabbed my hand and pulled me behind the injured tree. “Who are they?”

  I shoved aside a low-hanging red bud branch, the tree out of place in the hardwood forest. Tiny purple blossoms sprinkled into my hair, raining down around us. “S.P.I. Society for Paranormal Investigation.”

  “And why do they want you?” We darted through the trees, seeking shelter under the low branches of an elm. “They obviously don’t care about me as they didn’t arrive until you did.”

  Lewis was close, but I couldn’t read his gaze in the shadows of the tree where the rising sun couldn’t reach. His tone was oddly neutral. Was he annoyed? Or just curious? Did he blame me for this mess?

  “I don’t know why they want me.” I stumbled over a root, but managed to keep to my feet. “My powers, I guess.”

  “You guess, or you know?”

  I didn’t respond. We paused for a moment and listened. Not a sound. Not even birds. But I knew better than to think we had lost Mr. Clean.

  “What do they do, this S.P.I.?” Lewis whispered.

  I knew when I told him the truth, he might freak out, but I wouldn’t keep him in the dark any longer. And I sure as heck wouldn’t lie to him. “It’s a governmental branch. They use our powers to find terrorists.”

  He raked his hair back from his face. “Hell, it’s like a freaking science fiction movie.”

  I started forward. “You’re telling me.”

  “Wait!” He held up his hand.

  I froze.

  Silence. A stillness that worried me. A stillness that was unnatural, as if the world was afraid to breathe. In the silence I heard nothing, but I felt the man’s energy. He was close. So close. I searched the forest, attempting to decipher shadow from man.

  There, behind that elm just twenty feet away. I couldn’t see him, but I sensed he was there.

  “Lower your mental wall,” I whispered.

  Lewis stepped closer, his body warm at my side. “He’ll hear me.”

  “No, open your mind just for me. You know how, you taught me.”

  He looked unsure, confused.

  “Focus on me, my energy.” Slowly, I lowered to the ground and picked up a broken branch. It felt heavy in my hands, pulling at my exhausted muscles. “Go left. He’ll follow.”

  For one long moment we didn’t move, merely stared at each other. We didn’t need to speak, I knew what he was thinking. If it didn’t work out…if something happened to either of us…

  He was sorry.

  My heart ached and I had to resist the urge to reach out to him. Lewis took in a deep breath, and then darted from our hiding place and into the open. I could only hope my plan would work.

  I waited for a few seconds, waited until I heard the thump of footsteps from Mr. Clean. Waited an entire five seconds with my heart slamming wildly in my chest. Waited, praying I wouldn’t be too late. The world around me faded and only that man came into sharp focus as I inched out behind my hiding spot, stick raised.

  The man stood with his back to me, that gun lifted and pointed at Lewis. And Lewis…Lewis stood frozen, as if accepting his death.

  Duck, Lewis! I threw out my mental message as I swung the branch forward. It hit Mr. Clean’s head with a thud that echoed through the trees. Slightly stunned by what I had done, I dropped the branch and stumbled back. With a grunt, Mr. Clean fell forward to his knees and then to the ground, his face pressed to the damp earth. He was still, unmoving. Dead?

  “There’s a lake,” Lewis said breathlessly. “Not far from here. If we follow the edge, we might find a boat, or house with a car.”

  Something else to steal, but I knew we didn’t have a choice. I only hoped the people had insurance. I cringed at my practical side. There was no time for regrets. “Let’s go.”

  Instinctively we found a deer trail and raced down the narrow path, ducking under low-hanging branches, searching the dark shadows where the sun didn’t quite reach. We didn’t speak, but savored the silence, too afraid to talk for fear we’d be found.

  Even though my fingers were numb with cold, sweat trailed down my temples. Were there more men waiting for us within the shadows of the trees? I didn’t dare close my eyes but attempted to find their energy.

  “Lewis, we have to call Nora. She’s our only chance at answers, at help.”

  He shook his head.

  I grabbed onto his arm, jerking him to a stop. “Sometimes you just have to trust people, when there’s no other alternative.”

  He shrugged off my hold and started forward once more. “There is an alternative, we trust no one and figure things out on our own.”

  With a growl of frustration, I followed him. Yeah, it sort of warmed my heart that he was including me in his great plan of isolation, but he didn’t understand how many were out there, after us. After me. We needed help.

  “There’s a field up ahead.” Lewis paused next to a birch tree, resting his hand on the white, curling bark and taking in a deep breath. “Ready to make a run for it? The lake is just beyond.”

  The trees had thinned and just ahead I could see the sun bursting across an open field. Plan, we needed a plan. But I could barely think, the adrenaline overtaking and urging me to flee. A loose lock of hair fell across my eyes. I brushed it aside, the strands damp with my own perspiration.

  “Ready?” he asked again.

  I nodded. We had no choice but to make a run for it. “Let’s go.”

  We burst from the trees and into the field. For a brief moment I was blinded
by the brilliant sun. Although I could barely see, I kept running…running…running. Purple and blue flowers brushed against my legs, tangled around my feet, tripping me, but still I continued on. Birds, startled by our approach, squawked and took flight. How I wished I could fly away with them, head up into the sky with that dark, protective mass beating beside me.

  “Almost there,” Lewis called out from slightly ahead of me.

  I could barely hear over the roar of wind around me and the thump of blood to my ears, but I forced myself to lift my head, to narrow my gaze on the trees wavering in and out of focus…safety. Even though the sun was bright, burning, I didn’t look away and that’s when I noticed a shadow shift within that forest ahead. I stumbled, my pace slowing. There it was again. A man. Tall. Broad shouldered. Dark Hair. Lewis kept going, continued to run toward the trap.

  “Lewis!” I cried out, surging forward and grasping onto his arm. But his stride was too powerful, his body too strong. He easily broke free.

  Fumbling, he turned his head and glanced back, confused. “What is it?”

  But I was focused on that form ahead. They’d found us. Surrounded us. I stood frozen in the middle of that field as the man stepped from the trees just fifteen feet from us. He had dark hair peppered with gray. He looked…normal. So normal. I didn’t need to turn to know if Mr. Clean had followed. I knew he was there, behind us.

  Following my line of vision, Lewis turned his head toward the woods.

  Kill the boy.

  For a brief second the man’s thoughts whispered closer on the breeze. He raised his arm and metal flashed under the bright sun. I’d already lost my grandma, I couldn’t lose Lewis.

  “No!” I yelled, my voice echoing across the field.

  Lewis didn’t even flinch, but in one fluid movement he spun around and shoved me toward the ground. I hit the rocky soil hard, groaning as pebbles bit into my back and Lewis’ heavy body fell atop me.

  With a grunt, Lewis managed to flip to his back, giving me room to breathe.

  My entire body ached, I didn’t want to move, but knew we had to run. “Lewis.” I shoved my hands into the damp earth and sat up, hidden by the flowers around us. “Lewis, we have to…” I turned toward him and froze.

 
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