The mind games the mind.., p.7
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       The Mind Games (The Mind Readers), p.7

           Lori Brighton
 

  “The pain was unbearable,” Nora whispered, scooping up the car keys Mom had left on the coffee table. They clanked together, the sound so loud it made me cringe; I was sure we’d be caught. I glanced at Mom’s door, but the room remained silent, thank God.

  “I lost count of how many times I blacked out,” she continued. “They broke into my mind, shifted through my memories to find answers. It was like a rake clawing over your brain.”

  Bile rose in my throat. I didn’t want to know any of this, yet I couldn’t help but ask, “And Dad knew about the break-ins?”

  She released a soft chuckle. “He planned them.”

  I wasn’t sure if I could believe her. Yeah, Dad had his issues, but torturing his own daughter? I wondered if there was more to the story, and I wasn’t sure who to believe. She started to the front door and I followed, wondering where the heck she was going.

  “How’d you escape?” I whispered.

  A dark look hooded her gaze. A weary look, as if she’d seen too much in life, experienced too much. “I had help. There was no way I could have escaped without help.” She paused, her hand on the doorknob. “You won’t have any. If you go, you’ll be totally alone.”

  I gave a quick nod. “I understand, but you haven’t talked me out of anything.”

  “I know.” She opened the door, a breeze of early morning air sweeping inside. “My point wasn’t to talk you out of going, it was to tell you that if you love Lewis, truly love him, you have to save him. Injured, he won’t last long. He certainly won’t last if they do to him what they did to me. We need to leave now.”

  My mouth dropped open as she moved onto the front stoop.

  “Wait, we?” I started after her, but came up short when she stopped.

  “Sierra,” she said in an overly cheerful voice. It was obvious she wasn’t expecting the old woman. “Good morning.”

  Oh hell, Sierra? I inched around Nora. Sure enough Sierra was seated on the front stoop looking fully awake and cheerful, a cup of tea in hand and two brown lunch bags at her side.

  “Lovely day, isn’t it?” She clutched the bags and lifted them toward us. “Breakfast. I didn’t want you to leave hungry.”

  I slid Nora a glance. She hesitated, then took the bags, the paper crinkling in her hand. “Thanks.”

  Sierra had known all along I was going to leave, but why hadn’t she warned my mom? Did she actually want us to save Lewis and the others?

  “Go on then, before your mother senses your energy.” She turned and made her way toward the boardwalk and around the house.

  “Weird,” I whispered.

  “Totally.” Nora shook her head as if shaking off the experience, and headed toward Mom’s car. “Get in.”

  I hesitated for the briefest of moments. The plan wasn’t to take anyone along. But I could admit I needed the help, even if it was just a ride to North Carolina.

  She pulled open the driver’s side door, tossed the bags inside, and glanced expectantly at me. “Come on.”

  Hey, if she wanted to offer help, who was I to deny her? Shrugging off my backpack, I pulled open the passenger side door and settled on the leather seat. When she started the car and we drove away from the cottage, I could finally breathe with some normalcy. We’d escaped the house. Next on the list… break into the compound. As we headed away from the island and back toward Savannah, I opened Sierra’s breakfast bags.

  “I’m guessing they aren’t pop tarts and cinnamon rolls?” Nora said sarcastically.

  I held up an apple and what looked to be a bran muffin.

  Nora shook her head. “Least she could do is give us junk food for what could be our last meal.”

  I ignored her comment. “One thing,” I said. “You can come along, but you’re not going into the compound with me.”

  She shot me a curious glance, as if trying to read my thoughts. Instead of arguing, she just nodded her agreement. I had enough guilt on my conscience; I didn’t want to see her tortured again.

  “So what’s your plan?” she asked, rolling down the windows and letting the crisp morning air burst into the car, a whirlwind that had papers scattering and our hair billowing. The sun peeked over the horizon; a brilliant half-circle of orange and pink that sent light tiptoeing across the landscape.

  I took in a deep, cleansing breath and gazed out over the marshland, watching a white egret move slowly through the water. The bird reminded me of Sierra. “No idea.”

  She laughed and reached forward, turning the radio onto a pop station. “That’s okay; that’s why you have me.”

  I sank my teeth into the apple, but the sweet flavor was lost on me and the food would barely go down my dry throat. Still, I forced myself to eat, knowing I’d need the strength. “You have a plan?”

  Her eyes lit up with wicked glee. “You know what’s easier than trying to sneak in?”

  I shook my head, her Cheshire grin worrying me.

  “Getting caught on purpose.”

  Chapter 7

  Six hours later we’d stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. When I’d fiddled with the silverware, then two seconds later almost knocked over my glass of water, Nora had asked our waitress to pack our order to go.

  Nora claimed I looked so nervous, they thought I was going to rob the place. So, instead, we settled at a small table outside the restaurant. It was better this way. If we needed to make a quick escape, the car was right there, waiting.

  I forced myself to bite into the greasy hamburger, watching the cars zoom by on the highway not far from us. It was loud, noisy with sounds of travelers peppering the air. But not ten miles from this highway, my father lurked. Soon, I’d be traipsing through the woods, who knew when I’d have time to eat again. I took another bite. The sun had found its way over the mountains and the day was starting to get hot, or maybe it was my nerves making me sweat.

  “We could go see a movie,” Nora said, pulling a fry from her bag. “Or go to the outlet mall not far from here.”

  I slid her a glance. “Right, because that’s exactly what I want to do.”

  Of course she was joking, I hoped. She said she supported me, but she’d been dropping little hints about returning home throughout our drive. I’d lost count of how many times she’d said I could change my mind. Finally I’d told her to shut up already.

  “He could be dead.”

  I sucked in a sharp breath, shooting her a glare. “He’s not.”

  She held up her hands in surrender. “Okay.”

  He wasn’t dead. I was sure of it. I took in a deep trembling breath and gazed up at the blue sky. Although I didn’t dare admit it to anyone for fear they’d think I’d gone insane, I swore I could feel his energy. I would know if he’d died. Wouldn’t I? Confused and unsure, I set my hamburger on the wrapper. Damn her for making me doubt myself.

  “You’re sure you want to do this?” Nora stood and tossed her garbage into the trash. I didn’t miss the way she watched every car that pulled into the parking lot; studied every vehicle that got off on this exit. She was good at this sort of life, but then she’d been born into it. Yeah, I’d been taught not to trust people, how to make a quick escape. But I hadn’t been taught how to protect myself; how to fight like Nora.

  “I have no choice.” I took a drink of pop, watching the cars speed down the highway. A variety of emotions bombarded me. I felt fear, worry, excitement. But mostly I felt determined. Saving Lewis was something that had to be done…like sleeping.

  “We always have a choice.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Spear me your ethics.”

  “It’s true.” She sighed, sticking her hands in her back pockets. “Hey, I have to at least get you to think twice.”

  “Why?” I asked. “I thought you were all gung ho about me saving Lewis.”

  What I really wanted to ask her was why she cared if I went in there or not.

  “I am eager for you to save him.” She played with the lid of her water bottle, twisting and turning the white c
ap. “Because I know what will happen to him if you don’t. But you’re…” She glanced up at me through her lashes. “You’re my sister, and honestly I’m worried.”

  Heat rushed to my cheeks. I was so not good with emotions thanks to Grandma, who had also doubled as a heartless robot for most of my childhood. My instinct was to say something sarcastic, even deny the relationship. Instead, I bit my tongue. I wouldn’t have what could be our last moment together turn into an argument. Truth was even I knew that I might not ever see her again. Might not ever see my mom. Might not even see Lewis.

  She glanced toward the road. “We need to get going. Mom has most likely sent a search party, hoping to catch us before we reach the compound.”

  I jumped up and threw my half-eaten hamburger into the trash. “You think she knows where we’re going?”

  Nora opened the door. “She knows.”

  I slid into the passenger seat, my heart hammering so fiercely I was sure it was going to explode all over the windshield, leaving the glass a bloody mess that no cleaning fluid would get rid of.

  “She’s worried about you,” I said, mostly to make conversation. “And I suppose I’d be worried too if the daughter who had been tortured was headed back into the lion’s den.”

  “Oh please.” She didn’t get on the highway, but turned left instead, starting down a country road. “She’s worried about you. You’re the important one. You’re the carrier.”

  An awkward silence fell between us. She’d said the words in a way that made it seem as if she didn’t care. But I had a feeling she did. How could she not? I’d swept into Savannah and suddenly everything was about me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want to be a part of this mess. I looked out the window, not really seeing the mountains. They claimed I was important. I didn’t feel important. I felt like…me. Just a girl stuck in a really crappy situation.

  “She’ll never forgive me,” I said. “Especially if they tap into my brain and find out she’s still alive and in Savannah.”

  She shrugged, turning right. “You’ll just have to make sure they don’t get any information.”

  Yeah, we both knew that was going to be easier said than done. She turned again, heading up a steep hill. She didn’t remember the way; she’d memorized it via maps and satellite photos online. According to Nora, everyone who worked for Mom knew the coordinates of the S.P. I. compound.

  “Don’t worry, we have people on the inside,” Nora said. “You won’t be completely alone.”

  I thought of Tara and Jake; two people I’d grown to actually like while living with Dad. “Mom said they wouldn’t help.”

  “Maybe not Tara, but some of the guards work for us. They won’t help, unless it’s desperate.”

  I almost laughed. As far as I was concerned, the situation was already desperate. “They helped you?”

  She nodded. Sure, they’d helped Nora, Mom’s supposed only daughter. They knew nothing about me. Would they be so willing to risk their lives for a stranger? There were so many things to worry about that the ten minutes rushed by and I knew we were getting close. Not that I remembered the area well, but I felt my energy level change. I didn’t understand it, but it was there. My entire body started to tingle, an awareness that whispered down my spine like a ghostly hand.

  “You promise you’ll do everything you can to protect Savannah?” I asked, sounding slightly desperate.

  She glanced at me, and I could see the concern in her eyes. She was worried I’d freak out. Who knew, maybe I would. “If I see movement, or sense anything at all, I’ll call and warn them to leave the city.”

  I looked at my lap, feeling guilty. Mom was right; I was putting everyone in danger. “And they’ll have to leave their homes.”

  She turned again, so many turns I felt like we were going in a circle. Thick evergreens sprung up alongside the road. “Yeah, but a life, Lewis’ life, is more important than a building, right?”

  I nodded, thinking of not only Lewis, but Caroline. How many children did my dad have locked away? How many children were being tortured? “If I can, I’ll help as many people escape as possible.”

  “No, worry about you and Lewis.” She turned left, driving down a dirt road. A rocky wall rose up on my right side, fir trees on the left. I stretched my hands, fingertips tingling with awareness.

  Nora started to slow. “You sure you don’t want me to go with?”

  “Yeah.Fewer people to worry about when the time comes.”

  And I would worry about her. I might not like admitting it, but I would.

  My heart slammed wildly in my chest…fear, worry, anticipation, all fighting for control. I wasn’t just nervous about seeing my dad. I knew without a doubt I’d have to face Maddox as well. The agent had been a friend at one time; I doubt he’d be so kind to me now.

  “How’d you meet Maddox?” I asked, partly out of curiosity and partly to bide the time.

  “College.”

  “I know. Saw his memories. But how, exactly? I mean a S.P.I. agent and a Mind Reader? That’s a Romeo and Juliette story if I’ve ever heard one.”

  She grinned. “I didn’t exactly just run into him. Our eyes didn’t meet across a crowded frat party.”

  The trees were growing thick on either side of the road. I was desperate to talk about something, anything other than the impending death and destruction that was sure to come. “They sent you to spy on him.”

  She nodded, her smile falling. Maybe when she’d first met Maddox she hadn’t cared, but it was obvious she’d fallen for him. I couldn’t believe I’d made out with my sister’s ex-boyfriend. I could just imagine how she’d react if she found out. Forget waiting here for me, she’d leave me to rot.

  “Mom didn’t want me to go, after what had happened, but I went anyway.”

  Nora had had revenge on her mind. She’d wanted to get back at my father, instead she’d fallen for his number one agent. Falling for the enemy; such a romance movie cliché. But then I wasn’t much better.

  “You sure you don’t want me to go through that gate with you?” Nora asked, her fingers tight around the steering wheel. I wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

  The car bounced along the road, making my already upset stomach clench. “Yeah, I think it will be better if I go alone.”

  She nodded. “I’ll drop you off and you’ll head through the woods. When they come after you, run. Make it look like you’re trying to evade capture. There’s a quicker way to the compound, but this is the back entrance.”

  She slowed the car and my pulse kicked up a notch. Although the air conditioner was on, sweat gathered between my shoulder blades. “Got it.”

  “You can trick them for a while…until they break into your mind.” She sighed. “Once that happens—”

  “My secrets will be out.”

  She stopped the car alongside the road. “All our secrets.”

  I wondered if she was having second thoughts. “I’ll escape before it gets that far.”

  “Make sure you do.”

  She turned off the car, the area falling silent. We sat for one long moment, neither of us in a hurry to move. Although the air inside the car was cool, the morning felt heavy, oppressive. The sun wasn’t high enough to add light, and the forest held ghostly shadows that made it difficult to tell tree from man.

  “You’ll head two miles in,” Nora whispered, as if afraid of being overheard. “Keep northwest.”

  I nodded and slipped my hand into my pocket. The metal compass she’d given me earlier reassuring against my fingertips.

  “You’ll hit a shallow stream about half a mile before you’ll reach the fence.”

  I took in a deep shaky breath. “Got it.”

  She turned toward me, her face pale. “You remember our meeting place?”

  I nodded.

  “That end of the compound is much closer to the road,” she warned. “Which means there will be more guards. When you escape, you and Lewis jump into the car and we take off.”

/>   That simple.

  I knew I could wait; if I waited, if I truly thought about what I was going to do, I’d never leave the car. Nothing else to say, no reason to resist. With trembling hands, I grabbed my backpack and shoved my door wide.

  “If I’m not there, I’ve been captured,” she warned. “Head straight to Savannah.”

  I stepped from the car, my knees practically buckling as my feet hit the dirt. “Understood.” I slung my backpack over my shoulders and started toward the side of the road. The woods were silent, empty, watchful.

  “Cameron,” Nora called out.

  I paused at the bumper. “Yeah?”

  She was hanging out the window. I saw no amusement, no annoyance, nothing but genuine concern on her face. “Be careful.”

  I nodded and started for the trees. The car roared to life as Nora took off. For a long moment, I watched her go. Watched until the cloud of dust she’d stirred settled back to the dirt road and the silence of the woods fell around me.

  From somewhere above a bird tweeted.

  I had nowhere to go. Couldn’t turn back now. I jumped over a ditch and into the woods, grateful for the protection of the trees. Sticks crunched under foot, unnaturally loud in the quiet. Could they hear me? Were their cameras watching my every move even now? I wouldn’t be surprised. But it didn’t matter. I wanted to get caught.

  I moved slowly through the forest, allowing my eyes to adjust to the shadows. Two miles; at least thirty minutes of hiking to save the guy I loved. All in a day’s work.

  ****

  I ducked under a branch, trying to watch my compass and keep from running into a tree at the same time. I’d been walking for almost an hour, the hills and trees slowing my progress and making my arrival later than I’d assumed. It had given me plenty of time to think, and plenty of time to worry about how this would all play out.

  Me, lying still upon the forest floor with a multitude of gunshot wounds peppering my body kept coming to mind. Let’s face it, I might not even make it to the compound. How pathetic would that be? Killed before I’d even set foot over the perimeter.

 

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