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The mind thieves the min.., p.3
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.3

           Lori Brighton
 

  My dad was alive. My dad was alive.

  My hands curled against the glass window. No matter how many times I repeated the words, I just couldn’t comprehend them. They refused to sink into my muddled mind.

  “Why?” I’d demanded the moment I reentered the cottage. I wasn’t even sure what I was asking, but it didn’t matter. Grandma’s answer was always the same.

  “We were trying to protect you.”

  Her gallant statement meant nothing. She’d known all along my father lived. She’d watched me mourn, she’d lied repeatedly. And now Maddox was here… another person sent to protect me. I was tired of being treated like a fragile child.

  I sank back onto my small twin bed.

  My dad was alive.

  I closed my eyes, but my brain would not rest. Instead of thinking about my dad, as I should have, the moment my lashes lowered, blue eyes flashed to mind. The same blue-eyed gaze I’d imagined for months now. The same gaze that haunted my dreams every night.

  Blue eyes, worried eyes. People screaming, voices high with panic, voices that echoed in a room…a study of some sort.

  I clawed at the memory, attempting to discern truth from imagination, but remained annoyingly clueless.

  It was a dream I’d had often. Perhaps not a dream, but a memory. But if a memory, what did it mean? My hands fisted against the mattress and I glared angrily at the dark ceiling. Elusive dreams that had kept me up at night. Memories that my grandmother had dismissed so easily.

  A blue-eyed boy staring down at me in concern.

  My head ached with the need to remember. Who was he? What had he meant to me? Certainly he was important. Or maybe he was a figment of my imagination, something I clung to in order to give meaning to those wasted months of my life.

  I pressed my fingers to my temples and squeezed my eyes shut.

  “Please, Cameron, please talk to me.” His voice echoed through my mind. So many nights now, I’d heard that voice.

  What had happened? The coppery taste of blood came to memory. I stiffened, startled. It had been my own blood. I’d been injured. Echoes of the past. But the more I tried to concentrate, the worse my head hurt, demanding I retreat. It did no good. The memories only came to me when they wished, when I hovered between sleep and awareness. And there was no way I could sleep now.

  I opened my eyes, frustrated and annoyed. Only one person could tell me what I needed to know. Grandma couldn’t be trusted to give me the truth, but Maddox might. I’d been too angry to listen to much of anything earlier, but now I needed answers.

  I sat upright and pulled a sweatshirt over the tank top and shorts I wore, attempting some sort of modesty. Quietly, I made my way down the short hall and into the living room, only to pause in the doorway. The lamp glowed from the far corner of the room, caressing his face and making him look softer. He slept on the couch, his large body half dangling off the end. He looked ridiculous, and damn it all, he looked gorgeous.

  My anger faded. A reluctant smile lifted the corners of my mouth. That black hair was tousled about his head, his face relaxed, almost boyish in sleep. With a sigh, I pushed away from the wall and started toward him. He was a man, just a man. No machine.

  Sleeping soundly, he sure as heck didn’t look like some secret agent. He wore only his shorts, no shirt, and his body was as fit as I’d expected. I reached for the sheet he’d kicked to the floor.

  Perhaps it was the lack of sleep making me weak, but in that moment I softened toward the agent. As gently as I could, I pulled the sheet over his body. It was silly of me, and I realized my mistake a split second too late. Strong fingers snapped around my right wrist. Before I could even blink, I found myself pinned to the couch cushions, a hard body holding me immobile.

  I gasped, resisting the urge to scream for Grandma.

  Maddox blinked down at me, his gaze full of sleepy confusion. “Cameron?”

  I squirmed underneath him, feeling highly uncomfortable. This was so not the plan. “Yes, you idiot! Get up!”

  “What the hell are you doing?”

  Please, as if this was my fault. I shoved my palms into his chest, remembered he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and pulled back. Trying to move him was like trying to move a boulder. A really gorgeous boulder. “Why the hell did you attack me?”

  I could feel everything, every muscle, every limb, even his heart beating against mine. It was humiliating and…okay, he was hot, and I couldn’t deny I felt a surge of attraction as I lay underneath him. But any heterosexual woman would, right? Still, Grandma could walk out at any moment and how the heck would I explain our little cuddle session?

  “Get off me!”

  He frowned, looking nothing but peeved. Obviously he didn’t feel the attraction I felt. “I will, when you tell me what you’re doing here.”

  “Nothing,” I hissed, stealing a glance at Grandma’s door, praying she didn’t suddenly appear. “Besides, it’s my house. At least until tomorrow.”

  When he continued to stare at me, I sighed and stopped struggling. Moving underneath him was only making me more aware that we were pressed intimately together. “I couldn’t sleep.”

  His dark brows drew together. “You’re worried?”

  “What do you think?” I shoved my hands into his chest once more. “Of course I’m worried!” When he didn’t move, my frustration mounted. “Why can’t I read your mind?”

  He shifted, bracing himself on his elbows and relieving some of his weight, but not enough. He was still too close. “I have an implant that keeps my thoughts blocked.”

  An implant? How science fiction. How creepy. Maybe he was a machine after all. “You’re not a mind reader?”

  “No, thank God,” he muttered. “Just a normal human.”

  I frowned. As if I wasn’t a human? “Then why?” I asked, trying to make sense of him. “Why is all of this so important to you? You can’t read minds, so why are you so invested in me… in us?”

  He pushed himself up and jumped from the couch, but not before I noticed the look of annoyance that crossed his eyes. With his weight gone, I could finally breathe once more. “Let’s just say I have a personal interest.”

  “No,” I snapped, standing. Surely he could hear the anger in my tone, but he ignored me and moved toward the windows. I was tired of being ignored, tired of being treated like a child.

  “No more secrets. I want to know why.” I reached out, tightly grasping his arm. “I want to know where my father is—”

  Perhaps I’d gone too far. Too late to back down now. He turned toward me, latching onto my upper arms and shoved me up against the wall. He stood only inches from me, his breath hot on my face. Apparently he was not a morning person.

  “I told you last night, you’ll find out when we’re on the road.”

  “Then tell me what you can. Tell me why you’re here!”

  “This has nothing to do with you, sweetheart. I suggest you mind your own business.”

  “Fine,” I hissed. “Then tell me what is my business? You’ve come here, ruined any chance I have of a normal—”

  “I came here to save your ungrateful ass.”

  “Ungrateful?” I slammed my fists against his chest. “You’ve lied to me! Turned my life upside down. Excuse me for not being grateful!”

  He gritted his teeth, his jaw clenching in a way that fascinated me. For one long moment we just stared at each other. As strong as I pretended to be, after only seconds of our staring contest, I was sweating. I was pretty sure I’d lose this battle of wills, but he surprised me when he finally closed his eyes and sighed. Surrender?

  “You know me, Cameron. You saved my life.”

  Shocked, I stiffened. “I did?”

  “Yes.”

  I had saved a life? How? When? It was like finding out you were a secret superhero. I wouldn’t have been more surprised if he’d told me I’d saved a bus full of children.

  He opened his eyes, and in his gaze was something I couldn’t quite identify. Someth
ing I wasn’t sure I wanted to identify. There, in his gaze, for the briefest of moments, I swear I saw him. The real Maddox. A person I knew. It left me feeling shaken and confused.

  “Yeah, you did. I’d been taken captive. When you realized Aaron wasn’t the hero you’d been told he was, we escaped.”

  Then he did the oddest thing of all…he cupped the sides of my face. His gaze actually softened with some unidentifiable emotion. Almost as if…as if…he cared.

  And the surprises kept coming.

  I wasn’t sure how to respond to his bold, yet oddly familiar touch.

  “We understood each other at one time. We worked together so that we could both be free.”

  He almost seemed sad that I didn’t remember him. Of course I wondered if we’d been more than just friends. My gaze dropped to his lips. I racked my brain, but came up blank. Did I want him to be more than a friend? I frowned. Yeah, he was gorgeous, and yeah, I was attracted to him, but … No, I didn’t think about gray eyes every night. I dreamt about blue.

  Feeling slightly ill, as if I’d been caught cheating, I pushed his hands away. “Blue eyes.”

  He stiffened, frowning. “What?”

  I darted around him and headed toward the middle of the room. I couldn’t think when he was that close. “I keep dreaming about a guy who has blue eyes. He’s… my age, maybe a little older.”

  The confusion in his gaze faded. Before I could read his features, he turned toward the windows. “Of course.”

  He said the words as if it was totally normal for me to dream about a guy with blue eyes.

  “Maddox?” He glanced back at me. I stared into his gaze, as if I might be able to read his memories and finally understand the truth. “Do you know him?”

  Maddox nodded, reaching for his T-shirt and pulling it over his head. His movements were unhurried, controlled. Always in charge.

  “Who is he?” I demanded.

  He rested his shoulder against the wall, staring out the windows. He was silent for a moment, and I figured he wasn’t going to answer my question. Perhaps he didn’t know the answer.

  “Lewis. His name is Lewis. He’s your boyfriend.”

  The room spun, the words impossible. Surely I’d heard him wrong. “My what?”

  He turned to face me, his features once again unreadable, yet I knew he wasn’t joking, as I’d expected. As I’d hoped. “Boyfriend.”

  My mouth dropped open. Even learning that I was missing a chunk of my life hadn’t been this shocking. I had a boyfriend? But that made no sense! Who was he? Where was he? I sank onto the arm of the sofa. I’d never had a serious boyfriend. I sure as heck had never been in love. Hell, maybe I wasn’t even a virgin anymore. The thought was too much to bear. It couldn’t be. I would have remembered.

  Yet… I had a boyfriend. Why did it make sense? Like finding a warm, comfortable blanket from childhood.

  “Maddox, tell me everything.”

  He raked his hands through his hair, leaving it mussed. He was obviously flustered by the conversation, but why? Was he jealous? Angry? In the background the clocked ticked the seconds by and I waited. I wasn’t going to budge an inch until he told me the truth.

  “He was Aaron’s ward. He was the guy who showed up at your town in Maine and took you to Aaron’s. He’s the one who started this all. The guy who betrayed you.”

  It should have been shocking, but the word betrayed didn’t feel right.

  Lewis. I rolled the name around on my tongue, attempting to find its familiarity. It sounded right. Despite Maddox’s words, Lewis’ name sounded good. I crossed my arms over my chest, as if I could keep that warmth inside of me.

  But Lewis had betrayed me, according to Maddox. “So, this Lewis… he was a mind reader too?”

  Maddox’s face remained oddly veiled as he watched me, as if he was trying to read my mind. “Yes.”

  The word sank into my gut like hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. Instead of fear or shock, I was mostly thrilled. There were others like me. I wasn’t alone. “How many are there?”

  He slammed his fist against the wall, not hard enough to dent the plaster, but hard enough to shake the house. “Damn it, Cameron. This isn’t something to smile over.”

  I smoothed my face into unreadable lines. I hadn’t even realized I’d been smiling.

  “These people,” he sneered, “are anything but friendly. Lewis betray—” He froze. His shoulders tensed, his head lifting slightly, like a hunting dog sensing a meal.

  “What is it?” I asked.

  He held up his hand, silencing me. “Quiet.” Slowly, he turned toward the windows.

  I didn’t dare move, my heart slammed wildly in my chest as I waited. “What…”

  He reached into the side pocket of his cargo shorts and pulled out a small pistol. My heart jumped into my throat. I’d never seen a gun, and the realization that he carried a weapon that could so easily kill left me chilled. Was he trying to frighten me, or was there really something wrong? Something terribly, horribly wrong? “Maddox, what’s going on?”

  He brushed aside the curtain, not bothering to look my way. “They’ve arrived earlier than I thought they would.”

  Chapter 4

  “They who? What do you mean?” I demanded.

  “Get down!”

  I dove to the floor, trusting a man I barely knew, and gritted my teeth to prevent the curse from slipping out. The sound of shattering glass caught me off guard. Startled, I dared to look up. Maddox was crouched low, the curtains fluttering on a breeze. There was a hole in the window that I’m pretty darn sure hadn’t been there before.

  I dropped my gaze to the wooden floor where glass pieces lay shattered upon the ground not five feet from me. “Holy—”

  The back room light came on. “Cameron?” Grandma came rushing out of her bedroom.

  “Get down!” Maddox shouted, ever helpful.

  Get down? That was his advice? I had to curl my fingers into the floorboards to keep from moving, from doing something, anything. A vase on the shelf behind me cracked, the pieces falling like shards from heaven. I gasped and tucked my head, covering my neck. Grandma dove beside me, hitting the ground so hard the floor vibrated.

  “Are you okay?”

  I lifted my head enough to nod.

  “My bag,” Maddox demanded.

  I looked around the room. There was his backpack on the floor about ten feet from me. No time to think, only time for action. Grandma started to stand.

  I clasped onto her arm. No offense to Grandma, but she was getting old and wasn’t exactly quick on her feet. As angry as I was with her, I didn’t want to see her shot. No! I’ll get it, I said, reaching out to her with my mind.

  I pressed my toes into the floorboards and inched my way across the room. The gunfire had died down; no other objects had been ruthlessly destroyed, but it didn’t keep the sweat from beading between my shoulder blades.

  “Hurry!” Maddox hissed.

  I threw the jerk a glare. As far as I was concerned, he’d brought this insane war to us. “Hey,” I grunted, closing in on the black bag. “I have an idea, why don’t you leave and maybe they’ll leave with you?”

  He smirked at me. “They’re not here for me, sweetheart, they’re here for you.”

  I averted my gaze, refusing to see the smug satisfaction on his face. Reaching the bag, I gripped the handle as best I could and pushed it to him. It swooshed across the floor, stopping near the windows.

  “Excellent.” With quick, professional movements, Maddox unzipped the bag and pulled out some binoculars with green lenses. Binoculars weren’t the only thing his bag of mysteries held. I saw two pistols and some other weapons before Grandma tugged on my ankle, urging me back toward the couch and relative safety.

  Maddox flattened himself to the wall, still crouched low as he peered through the binoculars and onto the front lawn. “Three in front. I’m guessing at least two in the back.”

  “Five?” I whispered, lying on the f
loor next to Grandma.

  There were only three of us, and let’s face it, unless Grandma had some secret ninja past, neither of us were going to be much help.

  Maddox dropped the binoculars and grabbed a pistol from his bag. My stomach twisted. For a moment, I merely stared at the gun, too shocked to move. I’d woken up searching for answers and suddenly found myself in the middle of a war.

  But I wasn’t about to just lie on the ground doing nothing. I crawled forward and grabbed the binoculars as Maddox checked his pistol. Plastered to the wall, I inched my way up toward the window.

  “Cameron!” Grandma called out. “Be careful!”

  I ignored her concern and pressed the binoculars to my eyes, peering through the window. It took a moment for my gaze to adjust to the green-tinted scenery the night-vision goggles produced. Besides the odd hue, everything looked normal. The large magnolia tree in the front yard. The road and ocean beyond. The woods to the left… I started to lower the binoculars when something shifted by our jasmine bush. I froze.

  A man. My heart slammed wildly against my chest. A man was crawling across the front lawn with what looked suspiciously like a rifle in hand. A branch on the magnolia tree wavered, and another human form moved into the clearing. And another by the road. They crawled from the shadows, emerging from the night and inching toward our cottage.

  I dropped the binoculars and slumped to the ground, my breath coming out in harsh pants. “They’re coming.”

  Maddox grabbed the binoculars, jumped to his feet and sprinted through the living room and kitchen, disappearing into Grandma’s bedroom at the back of the house.

  With Maddox gone, I focused on Grandma. “What are we supposed to do?” I asked, feeling the panicked need to move, do something.

  “You’ll do nothing!” Grandma crawled toward me. Her face was oddly furious, as if she, for some reason, blamed me for our predicament. “You understand? This is what I’ve been trying to protect you from your entire life! This is why I never wanted you to draw attention to yourself!”

 
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