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The mind thieves the min.., p.5
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.5

           Lori Brighton
 

  Just as I turned toward the voice, a hard body tackled me to the ground, much like Maddox had done only yesterday at the beach. Crushed to the soft grass, I dared to open my eyes, but Maddox wasn’t staring down at me. No…I looked up into the blue gaze that had haunted my dreams for months.

  “Where are we?” I demanded.

  He didn’t respond, only stared down at me blankly, a look that for some reason broke my heart.

  “Cameron!” Strong hands gripped my shoulders. The blue-eyed boy disappeared. The brick house gone. Gasping, I opened my eyes. Maddox hovered next to me, his steel gaze narrowed in concern.

  “What happened?” he demanded.

  “I…I think I just had a vision…a memory.” I pressed my hand to my chest, my heart thumping so loudly I thought it might burst. Lewis. I’d seen my Lewis. He was slightly shorter than Maddox, his body more sinewy than muscular. His face more boyish than hard. But he had still been beautiful…stunning, and seeing him fully had produced such a deep ache within my soul that I knew it must be true. Lewis had been my boyfriend. Lewis had betrayed me.

  Maddox was silent for one long moment, merely watching me as cars zoomed by on the main road, stirring dust and garbage into the humid air. “What did you see?”

  For some reason I didn’t want to talk about my blue-eyed boy. At least not with Maddox. I rubbed my forehead, hoping to dull the ache that thumped there. “Nothing.” I looked away from him. “A brick house. I…I think I tried to escape or something.”

  He didn’t respond and I wondered if he knew I lied, that there was more to my story.

  “There was a child there with me,” I added.

  “There were quite a few children, actually. Aaron would kidnap kids with your abilities. He thought he was doing them a favor.”

  The words horrified me. Kidnap them from their families?

  Caroline, a blonde girl, flashed to mind. Seven? Eight? Oh God, she’d been kidnapped.

  “Promise you’ll come back for me?” The words whispered through my mind and I knew, in that moment, that I’d promised I’d save her. The realization left me shaken and confused. How? How could I possibly save her?

  Maddox reached around and took the backpack from my shoulders. “I’m sure more memories will come back to you. Here.” He opened the front pocket of the bag. “Your name is now Anne James.”

  Numb, I took the new passport. “Anne?”

  He nodded.

  I pushed aside thoughts of Caroline, thoughts of Grandma. Instead, I focused on survival. The only thing I could do at the moment was save myself. “So I take that to mean we’re headed to another country?”

  “Back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.”

  “And my Grandma?” I couldn’t help but ask.

  He sighed. “If they caught her, they won’t hurt her.”

  “How do you know?” I slid the passport into my sweatshirt pocket and followed him across the main road toward an outdoor market where a variety of colorful tents fluttered on the morning breeze.

  “I know.”

  I had mixed feelings about returning to the United States. It was home, after all. But in a way, being on this island had been a dream. A place where nothing went wrong, a paradise, and I felt like I was suddenly waking up when I wasn’t quite ready. I raked my fingers through my hair, combing it as best I could as we weaved our way around tents and booths.

  “You couldn’t have picked me up a toothbrush?”

  “Nope.” He paused at a small table, handed a man a dollar and snatched a can of Cherry Coke from the cooler where he was selling his drinks. “Swish around with this.”

  “Breakfast?”

  He shrugged. “For now.” He never once looked at me, but his gaze flickered back and forth around the grounds, as if searching for, or expecting an attack.

  “I hope you don’t have any kids,” I muttered.

  “Why?” He glanced at me. “You wouldn’t date someone with a kid?”

  Startled, I almost dropped the can of pop. “Since when are we dating?”

  “Well, not dating, actually. Married.”

  A sinking feeling entered my stomach.

  He wrapped his arm around my shoulders, pulling me into his hard body. “Just until we’re in the states. Now smile, we’re on our honeymoon.”

  “Great, wonderful.” I dropped the can in a trash bin. Caffeine would only make me sick this early in the morning. Already the market was crowded, shoppers looking for a bargain, tourists looking for that perfect object to remind them, in dreary future years ahead, of their trip abroad.

  “So, we just fly out of the airport, no big deal.”

  He winked, leading me down a narrow aisle, sellers calling out their wares. “No big deal.”

  I shrugged off his arm, uncomfortable under his touch. Discussing our upcoming plans was better than worrying about Grandma. “Right. So no one will be looking for us?”

  “I didn’t say that. But first things first, we’re going shopping.”

  Why didn’t those words thrill me like they normally would have? Although the sun was just beginning to rise, piercing thick gray clouds, already people were strolling the market. I’d been here before and worried I’d see someone I knew.

  A low rumble of thunder shook the skies. Dark clouds hung low, threatening rain. The shouts and Caribbean accents sounded harsh instead of calming, as they normally did. Every little disruption ate at my nerves. Even the gravel crunching underfoot sounded too loud.

  “Relax,” Maddox whispered, taking my hand in his.

  His warm fingers wrapped around mine, holding me captive. I had to resist the urge to pull away.

  “Don’t make a scene, honey.” He grinned. “Happy couple.” He lifted a wooden statue from a nearby stall and made a pretense of showing it to me. I tried to smile at the female figurine, but I think it came out as more of a grimace.

  “Why can’t we be brother and sister?”

  “Because we look nothing alike. Besides, this is where people come to honeymoon.” We moved onto another aisle, weaving our way through vendor stalls, some with brightly colored tents, others were merely open tables.

  “So, what are we looking for exactly?”

  He pulled out his cell phone. My interest piqued and I did my best to see what was written on the screen. But before I could make out the words, the phone was back in his pocket. The realization that it could have been my dad texting left me feeling oddly emotional. He might not want to talk about my father now, but once we were trapped on the plane, he’d have nowhere to go, and I was getting answers.

  “Any word about my Grandma?”

  “Nope, and I don’t expect there to be. I’m not exactly keeping tabs.” He cupped my elbow and steered me toward a stall selling pottery. “I’m more concerned with getting us the hell out of here.”

  Grandma was gone. Disappeared. Who knew if I’d ever see her again. I was completely alone, I had no money, no car, nothing but the word of a man I was supposed to know but didn’t remember.

  “What, exactly, are we looking for?” I asked, needing to think about something, anything.

  Maddox let go of my elbow and for a moment I was relieved, until he slid his arm around my waist. I stiffened. I couldn’t be this close to him. It felt…weird, like I was cheating on Lewis, which I knew was ridiculous considering I barely remembered him. And oh yeah, he had betrayed me.

  “You all right?” He smiled down at me, as if he knew exactly how uncomfortable I felt and found joy in the prospect of unnerving me.

  I frowned up at him. “Just tell me what we’re doing here so we can leave as soon as possible.”

  He turned me toward a booth selling clay jars. “Shopping, like I said.”

  A low rumble of thunder shook the sky. Maddox glanced up and smiled. “Excellent.”

  “You’re excited it’s going to rain?”

  “Yep. Rain means people go inside. Those left outside avert their gazes, trying to keep the rain from their eyes. In othe
r words, sweetheart, we have less of a chance of being recognized.”

  “Rain means we get soaked, Harriet the Spy, and we don’t have any other clothes,” I said bitterly.

  “Something I’m going to remedy right now.”

  He steered me toward a booth selling carved objects in a dark wood. Typical island junk sold to tourists.

  “How can I help you?” the man behind the stall rubbed his hands eagerly while smiling at us under his bushy black mustache. His beady eyes darted back and forth between the two of us, obviously trying to decide who controlled the wallet in our happy little family.

  This will be an easy sale, he thought.

  Maddox picked up the statue of a pig. “We’re on our honeymoon.”

  “Ahhh!” The seller clapped his pudgy hands together. “Wonderful! True love!”

  I gagged.

  Maddox threw me a threatening glare as he replaced the statue. “We want to find something special to remember our honeymoon. Don’t we, my dear?”

  I was saved from answering by the overly helpful salesman. “Of course, of course!” He scurried toward a table holding wooden bowls. “How is this?”

  So many people remained, even though the day was dark and dreary. Did they have any idea what was truly out there in this crazy world? I had to believe Grandma was well, and if she was out there amongst the sea of people, I’d find her.

  “No, something else. Something…with a lid.”

  What the heck was he doing? We were supposed to be running for our lives and he was buying a gift for someone? I glanced around, growing anxious. We couldn’t seriously be shopping, so what was Maddox up to?

  Thunder rumbled menacingly again, making the very earth tremble. Shoppers were fleeing to the few cafés on the corners.

  I started to turn toward Maddox and urge him to hurry when someone at the red tent next to us shifted. I couldn’t say why the woman caught my attention, but she had. About my age, maybe a couple years older, her blonde hair was pulled into a sleek ponytail that whispered across her tanned back as she sashayed away. The sundress she wore tied around her neck and hung low around her backside, showing lots of skin. I knew before she turned that she was beautiful. Envy surged through me. As if sensing my attention, she paused.

  I took a hesitant step closer, curious about her in some way I didn’t understand. Slowly, she turned. She wore sunglasses that covered her eyes, but it didn’t matter. There was something about her… about her face, her body, her very being that seemed oddly familiar. Her lips lifted into a smile that was more of a smirk, almost as if she understood my confusion.

  Who was she?

  “Here’s your new wardrobe.” Maddox stepped close to me, drawing my attention to him. He lifted the lid off the jar he held. A wad of bills was tucked neatly inside. It had to be thousands of dollars.

  I gasped, shocked when really at this point nothing should have surprised me. “How?”

  He winked. “I have my resources.” He closed the lid and glanced around. “You ready?”

  Rain fell from the skies, pattering against the tents, soaking my sweatshirt. “I guess.” I glanced down the aisle, looking for the blonde girl. She was gone.

  “What is it?” Maddox rested his hand on my lower back.

  The base of my skull began to throb. “I thought…nothing.” I rubbed my neck and turned toward him. “Let’s go.”

  Chapter 6

  I’m pretty good at lying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some sociopath who likes to bend the truth just for the fun of it. But I lie…a lot. Little white lies that help me slip out of sticky situations. But also lies to protect myself and those close to me.

  When Emily was in a low self-esteem mood and needed to hear she looked hot, even if she didn’t, I would tell her. When the police would show up because of my weird behavior, I’d act the way they wanted me to, say the things they hoped I’d say.

  But as I stood in line at the airport with a ridiculous smile plastered to my face while pretending to be happily married to Maddox and clutching a passport with a name on it that wasn’t mine… my lying abilities seemed to sink to that of an amateur. And all I kept thinking about was that I was leaving home, the first home I’d truly had. I was leaving Grandma and the life we’d established.

  “Stop shifting,” Maddox mumbled, his own smile more easy-going and less brittle. He obviously had this lying to the government thing down to a fine art. “You’re making me nervous.”

  “I have to go to the bathroom.”

  “Again?”

  “Yes!” I shoved my fake passport into his hands.

  “Christ, when we get to the states you’re getting some antibiotics for a urinary tract infection.”

  I blushed at his comment. I didn’t want to talk about my urine or tract or any of my body parts with him. Instead, I jumped from my spot in line and scurried toward the bathroom.

  Unfortunately, I wasn’t fast enough and heard Maddox say to the couple behind us, “She gets a nervous bladder on planes.”

  I rolled my eyes. No, I got nervous when lying to governmental officials. So I didn’t actually have to go to the restroom, but I needed a moment, even a few seconds, to myself.

  I didn’t need the warning from Maddox. I knew if we were caught, there would be no getting out of this situation. I didn’t miss the ridiculousness of trusting a man I barely knew. I could be headed directly into a trap. But what choice did I have but to trust him?

  With my lack of training and a spotty memory, I’d be easy prey on my own. Besides, Grandma trusted him. I pushed open the bathroom door, dodging the long line of travelers waiting for an open stall and headed straight for the sinks. If Grandma trusted him, I’d try to.

  The mere thought of Grandma sent unwanted tears to my eyes. I leaned over the sink, splashing cold water on my face. I should have been angry, if anything. Wasn’t this her fault for once again keeping me in the dark? She’d left me completely unprepared. I glanced up, searching my own hazel gaze in the mirror. The same-colored eyes as Grandma. The same-colored eyes as my dad.

  But here, now, none of my Grandmother’s lies mattered, and all I wanted was to be back in that small cottage by the sea. I slipped my hands underneath the cool water, watching it fill my palms and cascade into the sink. The conversation and thoughts from others faded. I had to believe Grandma was well. Just the thought that she had been captured sent me into a near panic.

  “Here.” Some Good Samaritan shoved a towel in front of my face.

  I took the scratchy paper. “Thanks.” With my head bent, I studied her feet. She wore black converse high tops and dark skinny jeans. Young, by her outfit and the sound of her voice.

  “Planes scare you?” she asked, propping her hip against the sink as if she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. What was her deal? Did I seriously look like I wanted to make conversation?

  I dabbed at my face, then dropped the towel into the trash basket. “Yeah, I guess.”

  I forced myself to smile as I lifted my head and met the woman’s gaze in the mirror. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. It was the woman from the market. Stunned, I sucked in a sharp breath. The entire bathroom faded, and all I could hear was the frantic beat of my heart.

  But it wasn’t just the market. Somewhere else… I knew her from somewhere else….

  Pictures flashed through my mind. Memories I couldn’t hold back.

  A basement. A small room. A man sitting on a chair, his arms tied behind him, his head lowered as if in defeat. I knelt on the cold stone floor, attempting to get a better look.

  Maddox, his eyes closed. Maddox, with blood trailing from his mouth.

  A warm hand touched my shoulder and I was back in the airport. The fluorescent lights seemed overly harsh, the crowded bathroom too loud.

  “You okay?” The blonde was still beside me, her gaze full of concern, yet… something lurked there in the back of her blue eyes. Interest…suspicion. Was it a coincidence that she was here now, when I’d seen her at the mark
et only this morning? My gut told me no, it wasn’t coincidence. Yet, rationally I knew lots of travelers went to the market and used this airport, the only airport on the island. But how could I explain the flashback of Maddox? It made no sense.

  I shivered with unease and took a step back from her.

  “Yeah.” I swallowed hard. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

  She nodded and started around me. Nothing suspicious then, for she was leaving. Yet, I couldn’t let go of the nagging sensation that I knew her from somewhere else. Somewhere besides the market. I reached out, grasping onto her wrist before she got away.

  She stiffened, her attention snapping in my direction. For a brief moment I thought I saw a flash of anger, hardness. Surprised and confused, I released my hold and took a step back.

  Okay, so she didn’t like to be touched. “Sorry, but… do we know each other?”

  She didn’t respond, and leery, I reached out with my mind, testing her thoughts.

  Gotta go, going to be late for my plane.

  Innocent thoughts, but she smiled a brittle smile that didn’t seem to reach her eyes. “We’ve never met.”

  Before I could respond, she broke through the bathroom line and started toward the door.

  “And don’t worry,” she said over her shoulder. “I have a feeling this plane ride will go a lot quicker than expected.”

  What the heck did that mean?

  “Excuse me.” Someone nudged me aside to get to the sinks, reminding me of where I stood.

  “Sorry.” I made my way across the bathroom, my shoes tapping against the tiled floor, and pushed open the door. The hall was bustling, full of travelers eager to get wherever it was they were going, but the blonde was gone, disappeared into the crush. It was only then, as I stood in the middle of the corridor, that I realized she hadn’t really answered my question.

  “Sorry, but…do we know each other?”

  “We’ve never met.”

  “Are you ready?” Maddox’s sudden appearance startled me. “They’re boarding.”

  For a few seconds I didn’t answer him, couldn’t answer him…lost in that moment with Blondie. Was I just being overly paranoid?

 
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