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The mind thieves the min.., p.4
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.4

           Lori Brighton
 

  “Are you kidding? You’re blaming me for this?”

  “You didn’t have to use your abilities! You could have been a normal kid. I wanted you to be normal.”

  I wasn’t sure which was more upsetting, that people were shooting at me, or the realization that Grandma hadn’t changed at all. The entire past six months had been a lie. “News flash, I’m not normal!”

  A sudden crash sounded from Grandma’s room. We froze. A grunt followed a thud, the noises sounding suspiciously like fighting. I surged to my feet and raced toward the room.

  “Cameron, no!” Grandma called out, but I ignored her.

  It was obvious she didn’t have a clue what was best for me. Time to make my own decisions. I paused at the door. Maddox was wrestling some large man dressed in black. They fell to the bed, then rolled off, tumbling to the floor with a thump that shook the small house. Frantic, I glanced around the room, looking for a weapon, something to help.

  “Cameron, get out!” Maddox snapped. Although he hadn’t once looked my way, somehow he knew I was there.

  The intruder brought up his knee, hitting Maddox in the gut. Maddox fell with a groan. The man spun around, his dark eyes burning through the mask he wore. His gaze met mine, and realization dawned in those dark orbs. I took a step back, feeling the coldness of that gaze all the way to my toes. He was here for me.

  Oh God, Maddox hadn’t been lying. They wanted me. But why?

  He surged forward. Maddox swept his leg out, catching the man’s ankle. The man crashed to the floor only inches from me. I stumbled back, too shocked to do much other than stand there with my mouth gaping open like an idiot.

  “Cameron, my bag. Get a gun, now!”

  I spun around and raced into the living room. Grandma was at the window, the binoculars in hand, keeping watch like she actually knew what she was doing. I, on the other hand, felt like Alice in freaking Gangland.

  “Just another typical family gathering,” I said.

  I dove for Maddox’s bag with the unsettling realization that perhaps Grandma had been right all along. How many times had she warned me that it wasn’t safe to let my secret slip? Was this all my fault? How I wished I could remember that lost time during my fake coma.

  Inside the backpack were two pistols and something that looked like a sawed-off shotgun. “So many to choose from,” I muttered.

  “Cameron!” Maddox called.

  With a groan, I grabbed the bag and darted toward the room. I didn’t have a clue what he wanted, and I’d be damned if they’d find my fingerprints on anything. Maddox had the intruder crushed to the floor, his knee in the man’s gut, his hands at his throat.

  “The bindings, get them, quick,” he said.

  “Bindings?” I stared at him blankly.

  “Hurry!”

  I dropped the bag and shuffled through the contents. My trembling hands made the task ten times more difficult. “Bindings…bindings…”

  Thin plastic strips caught my attention and I realized they had to be what he was looking for. “These?”

  He nodded, and I tossed them to him.

  He caught the bindings with one hand and with deft, practiced movements, managed to flip the intruder onto his stomach and tie him like a rancher tying cattle. I had the sudden urge to give him a Best in Show ribbon.

  Maddox gripped the man’s hair and jerked his head up at an awkward angle. “How many are out there?”

  The man didn’t speak.

  Maddox pulled the black mask from the man’s head and slammed his face into the floorboards.

  I cringed, looking away.

  “How many?”

  Silence.

  “Cam, hand me that stun gun.”

  Oh God, this couldn’t be good. If Maddox went to prison, I’d seen enough police dramas to know I was going down with him. Still, what choice did I have? Not like I could just say no thanks and walk away.

  I tossed him the weapon. Maddox didn’t hesitate, didn’t even give the man a chance to answer, but pressed the wire probes sticking out one end into the man’s neck. A blue charge jumped and crackled against the man’s sensitive skin. He cried out, arching his back.

  Maddox pulled his arm back. “How many?”

  “F…five,” the man stuttered.

  Maddox grinned, looking way too thrilled for having just tortured a man. Who the hell were these people? “Five, just as I thought.”

  “What are we going to do?”

  He jumped to his feet and grabbed his backpack. “Get the hell out of here.”

  Just then my Grandma’s cell phone rang, the overly mellow reggae ringtone I’d installed not exactly right for the moment. I jumped toward the bedside table and answered before I thought better of it.

  “Hello?”

  “Cameron, it’s Emily.”

  For a moment, I drew a blank. Emily? My former best friend from Maine, Emily?

  “I’ve decided to forgive you,” she declared.

  That arrogant tone came rushing back on a surge of memories. Dear God, when we’d left Maine, I thought I’d finally left that life. A life of pretending to be someone I wasn’t. But somehow, not only had my former life found me, but Emily had as well. “Emily? How the hell did you get our number?”

  “Daddy got it through your Grandma’s medical records.”

  Well, that seemed totally illegal, but I had more important things to worry about, like the five men trying to kill me. It didn’t make sense. If it was so easy for Emily to find me, who else knew my whereabouts?

  “Let’s go,” Maddox demanded.

  I crouched low and followed him into the living room. “Great to hear from you,” I whispered, “but now’s not a good time.”

  She sighed long and loud, obviously annoyed that I wasn’t eating up her every word as I used to. She hadn’t changed at all. Surprise, surprise.

  “Get down!” Maddox grabbed my arm and pulled me to the floor just as we entered the living room. The glass in the second window cracked and a bullet sped through the room. It hit the wall with a thud that sent a fine powder of plaster to the ground.

  “Cameron?” Emily screeched. “Cameron? Are you brushing off my offer of friendship because there’s a guy there?”

  “Seriously,” I hissed. “This isn’t a good time.”

  “Cameron, if you hang up, our friendship is totally over.”

  I grunted as I crawled on my hands and knees, attempting to hold the phone with my shoulder. “Emily, there’s something I’ve always wanted to say to you but never had the chance.”

  “What?” she asked in a huff.

  I paused in the middle of the living room. “Go screw yourself.” I turned off the phone and slid it across the floorboards to Grandma. “You might want to block that number.” I turned toward Maddox. “What do you need me to do?”

  “Nothing. We’re leaving.”

  As much as I’d come to love our cottage, I was completely fine with the idea of escaping. At the moment it felt more like a prison.

  Maddox sat against the back of the couch, shuffling through his backpack. “But first we need a diversion.”

  “I’ll be the diversion.” Grandma set the binoculars down and looked our way, her gaze stoic and hard. There was something there, in her eyes, that I didn’t quite understand, but apparently Maddox did.

  He was quiet for one long moment then finally nodded.

  “I don’t understand. We’re just going to leave her?” No offense to anyone, but Grandma was old, and we were leaving her to fight off trained military creeps while Maddox and I snuck off like some cowards?

  “The car.” Grandma grabbed the jacket I’d left on the coat rack and shoved her arms through the sleeves. “I’ll head south.” She pulled the hood over her head.

  “At least two will follow you.” Maddox pulled on his shoes. “We’ll wait, then disappear through the woods.”

  “Her moped.” Grandma glanced briefly at me. “You can take that.”

  My moped. My b
eautiful Vespa. I hadn’t had much time to enjoy my birthday present. The furthest I had driven it was from the food stand to the garage a few hours ago.

  Thoughts of the moped reminded me of my birthday. I crawled to the wall and grabbed my tennies. It was my birthday. I glanced at the clock.

  3:00 a.m.

  Was.

  My birthday had come and gone. No cake this time. It was on the counter, still in the box…forgotten. At seventeen I hadn’t realized how normal my life had been. Now at eighteen and a day, my life had been turned upside down.

  Grandma looked at me. “Cameron, I’m so sorry. I thought…” Her voice caught and actual tears swam in her hazel eyes. My anger faded, wavering with her emotions. Mesmerized, I could merely stare at her. Had I ever seen her cry? Not that I could remember.

  “I thought we could be normal. I thought we could have an actual life.”

  “But we can’t, can we?” I whispered.

  I wanted to tell her that normal was totally overrated. I wanted to see her smile once more, but couldn’t.

  She didn’t respond, merely gripped my shoulders and drew me to my feet, pulling me close for a quick hug. “You go with Maddox. He’ll protect you.”

  “But who will protect you?”

  “Ladies, we have to go now,” Maddox interrupted, tossing the backpack over his shoulders.

  Grandma stepped back, her face growing hard…the Grandma I knew. For some reason it made me feel better. “I’ll be fine.”

  She snatched her keys from the kitchen counter and raced to the back door that led into our small garage. Wrapping her hand around the door handle, she paused and glanced back at me for one long moment. I parted my lips to say something, anything, but before I could get the words out, she was gone. I heard the car chug to life, the lights flashing across the house as she tore out of the garage.

  “Where will she go?”

  Maddox moved to the windows, using his binoculars to search outside. The roar of the car faded, the night growing silent once more. “Just like I said, two went after her. The one in the bedroom is still tied up, which means...”

  “Two to go.”

  Maddox shoved the binoculars into his backpack. “We have to leave, now.” He latched onto my arm and dragged me toward the door where Grandma had just disappeared. No time to gather my belongings. I glanced back toward the living room, then to my bedroom door…

  “Maddox, what will happen to my Grandma?”

  “She’s the bait.” He tore open the door.

  “And if they catch her?”

  Maddox reached into his bag as we stepped into the garage. The door was still open and my Vespa sat shiny and new against the far wall.

  “She knows what she’s doing.” He pulled something out of his backpack, drew his arm back and tossed it toward the front yard. “Now!” He pulled me toward the Vespa.

  “Maddox, please, slow—”

  Boom!

  The front yard exploded. For a brief moment the yard lit up like it was New Year’s Eve. The explosion was so loud my ears rang. My instinct was to flinch, but he forced me to stay upright, dragging me toward the gleaming moped.

  Heart hammering, my feet tripped as we raced toward our mini vehicle. I could barely breathe, unsure if I should be terrified, or thrilled that we were finally making our great escape.

  Maddox jumped onto the moped and shoved the backpack into my hands. Afraid he’d leave me, I clutched the backpack to my chest and jumped on behind him. “You blew up our front yard!”

  “Not like you’ll be coming back.”

  His words struck me hard. But I didn’t have time to wallow. Shouts rang out, footsteps thundering toward us. Maddox turned the key and the Vespa jerked forward. We sped down the drive, directly toward two shadowed forms. We were moving fast, but we couldn’t outrun bullets. When they lifted their arms, guns trained on us, my heart actually stopped beating for a brief moment. I prayed to God that Maddox knew what he was doing.

  “Hold on.” He lifted his right arm and pointed his pistol at the men coming toward us. One man dove into the underbrush. Maddox did a quick left turn, the Vespa tilting so far I had to tighten my hold on his waist for fear of falling off.

  The other man swung around, his aim on us.

  “Maddox!” I cried.

  It was too late for Maddox to react. But not for me. I gripped the backpack handle with one hand and swung it forward as we drove close to the intruder. The bag hit the man in the face, propelling him backward.

  Maddox laughed, apparently delighted with my bravery. “I knew you’d come back.” He turned onto the road and we sped down the street, the wind cold against my legs.

  “At least this is over,” he said.

  How I wished. I slid my arms through the backpack and pressed my face to him. Taking in a deep breath, I closed my eyes and prayed.

  I knew for a fact this was far, far from over.

  Chapter 5

  As the moped finally began to slow, I allowed my eyes to open and my hold to loosen around Maddox’s waist. My heart, though, remained firmly in my throat. It wasn’t the attack that had my adrenaline pumping, but Maddox’s driving skills. I felt like I’d just been in my own version of Grand Theft Auto.

  He cut across traffic, gaining us a few curses and honked horns. My stomach tightened and for a moment I thought I might puke. I never had been good with roller coasters. Why did I have a feeling that before this day was over, I’d be lying in a ditch with road rash? So much for feeling the wind through my hair. At this speed, all I noticed were bugs smacking me in the face.

  Maddox turned into a parking lot and slowed.

  “You’re kidding, right?” I said as he stopped directly in front of a one-story motel.

  He cut the engine and glanced back at me. “What?”

  “The Coconut Motel isn’t exactly known for being five stars.” I released my grip on his T-shirt, flexing my stiff fingers. “In fact, when it’s on the news it’s usually because there’s been a drug bust.”

  “Sorry, Princess.” He patted my thigh, urging me to stand. “Don’t worry. We’re not staying here. Just dropping off the Vespa.”

  I kicked my leg over the seat and prayed my trembling muscles wouldn’t leave me collapsed in a pathetic heap on the cracked asphalt. The weight of the backpack didn’t help. My entire body hummed with nerves and exhaustion, but one thing stood out loud and clear… dropping off the Vespa?

  “Wait, you’re leaving my moped here? Are you insane?” I stepped closer so the few people milling around outside wouldn’t overhear. “You realize it’ll be stolen?”

  He stood, towering over me. “We can hope.” With a cheeky grin he turned away from me, facing two young guys who were sitting on lawn chairs near the office door. “Want a new Vespa?”

  “You can’t be serious!” I hissed.

  Maddox didn’t even bother to glance my way.

  They looked at him warily and I was forced to keep my mouth shut, figuring he must have some great plan he was about to set in motion. They looked about as confused and suspicious as I felt. For the longest moment, the only sound was the neon pink hotel sign buzzing in the quiet morning.

  Total setup, the taller man thought, then asked, “You a cop?”

  As if he’d admit it, the shorter guy thought.

  “Nope.” Maddox tossed them the keys. “Just make sure it can’t be traced.”

  He latched onto my arm and pulled me away, maybe sensing I wasn’t going to go without some minor pushing. I watched my beautiful moped as the two men zoomed off into the gray dawn, nearly being hit by a truck. Gone. It was gone. Silence settled as we turned a corner and I was forced to let go of my birthday present and focus on the new day.

  But my mind felt fuzzy with a lack of sleep, and I was finding it hard to care about anything at the moment, but rest and food. “Where are we going?”

  “To find supplies.”

  I pressed my fingers to my throbbing temples, attempting to make sens
e of his words. “Did you have to get rid of the moped?”

  He slid me a glance, a look that said he thought I was being utterly ridiculous and immature. “Yes.”

  I sighed. Around me the world was slowly coming to life. The horizon had turned a brilliant pink as the sun prepared to make its grand entrance. Soon the town would be buzzing. Would we be in danger out in the open? “So, after supplies, are we meeting up with my grandma?”

  Maddox paused for one telling moment, looking down at me with a combination of sympathy and amazement. I felt utterly stupid under his gaze.

  “Cam, they’ve most likely caught your grandma.”

  I stumbled back a step. “What?”

  He shrugged and darted across a side street, not bothering to wait for me. “She knew what she was doing.”

  I raced after him. “I don’t think she did! You didn’t tell me I might never see her again!”

  I made it to the curb and he latched onto my arm, pulling me closer. “Shhh, quiet. There are too many witnesses. We’ll discuss this later.”

  I glanced around, wondering who would possibly overhear our conversation. Not even the hookers were out. He started through the parking lot of a gas station.

  I jerked away from him. “No, we’ll discuss this…”

  Suddenly the world went dark. A whirlwind of pictures and memories flashed before me so quickly I couldn’t catch hold of one. Faces of people I knew, yet faces I didn’t remember.

  Then it stopped just as quickly as it had started.

  I was in a dark tunnel lying on my stomach, my breath harsh in the cold.

  “Almost there, Caroline,” I said, but I knew I was forcing my voice to sound jovial. I pushed my elbows under my body and inched forward, slower than a snail. The ridges along the pipe hurt, digging into my muscles. “Almost…”

  “Cameron!” a child screamed.

  A firm grip grasped each of my ankles.

  “Cameron, can you hear me?” Maddox’s voice was muffled, as if coming from far away.

  Then it shifted and I was outside, the soft grass beneath my feet. I turned, studying my surroundings. A large brick house loomed before me. A familiar brick house. Where had I seen it before?

  “Cameron!” someone called my name. A voice I didn’t recognize, yet it sounded oddly familiar.

 
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