The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.7Lori Brighton
“Please,” Maddox said, giving the woman his best smile as we jogged alongside the vehicle. “Can we get on?” I wasn’t even sure if she could hear us through the glass doors and over the rumble of the engine, but charmed by Maddox’s pleading eyes and sexy smile, she slowed.
“Perfect,” Maddox whispered.
I had a feeling the man was used to getting what he wanted.
The driver pulled on the lever, opening the door.
“Hurry up,” she sighed.
I stumbled up the steps, finding an empty seat. Maddox settled next to me. The door closed and the bus lurched forward. We fell awkwardly silent. The three other people on board watched us with obvious interest. I was sweating, my hair falling into a lopsided ponytail. I knew I looked a frantic mess. Some classical elevator music played on the speakers and there we sat, pretending like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. The situation was so ridiculous, I almost started laughing.
“Okay,” I whispered, trying to regain control of my frantic breathing. “Want to tell me what’s going on now, because no way we could be running from a skinny blonde chick.”
“Not here,” he said through a clenched smile.
I slid our traveling companions a glance. The woman across from me thought we were on drugs. Her little girl thought I was a princess and was being chased by pirates. She had no idea how close she was to the truth. Well, except for the princess part. I wish.
And the guy at the end of the bus clutching his duffle bag to his scrawny chest and looking way too excited… well, he was too busy checking out Maddox’s biceps to care about me.
The bus stopped next to a parking garage. Maddox leapt from his seat, taking my hand and jerking me toward the door.
“Thanks sweetheart.” He winked at the driver, who probably hadn’t been flirted with in decades. The woman flushed, looking entirely too pleased.
I stumbled down the steps after him. “Seriously? You’re flirting now?”
“No, I’m making it look like we’re late for something and not running from someone.”
So he had a point. I was definitely giving off an “I’m running for my life” sort of vibe. I tried to calm my racing heart, pasted a smile to my lips and attempted a serene look, which was hard to do when you were being dragged into a parking garage by someone you barely knew.
We darted down a ramp, weaving around cars, sticking to the shadows.
“She’s with them.” He stated the words so casually, as he peeked into the windows of the cars we moved passed, that it took a moment for the words to register.
“What?” I demanded.
He reached out, sliding his fingers under the door handle of a gray Toyota and lifting. The door didn’t open. “She’s with them and she has the same abilities as you.”
I shook my head as we moved on. “No…no, I read her mind, she’s not.”
He reached for the handle of a white Ford truck. It didn’t open. “She can hide her thoughts, make you think she’s thinking something she isn’t. She knew exactly who you were. She knows exactly who I am.”
Even as I wanted to deny it, I knew, deep down, Maddox was right. It all made sense now. My shock gave way to anger. At the market, in the airport bathroom… she’d been toying with me. “Fine. I believe you, she works for them, but who is them?”
“Not like they have some secret code name.” He moved to the next car and tried the door.
“Yeah,” I mocked, “Because something like, say, S.P.I. would be silly.”
He held up his hand to silence me. For one long moment, he didn’t move, merely scanned the garage with his intense gaze, searching for something or someone. The area was quiet, in the distance the rumble of cars leaving and entering could be heard, but not much else.
“Get down!” Maddox dropped the backpack, grabbed my arm and jerked me to the oil-stained ground.
The tap of shoes on pavement echoed through the garage, barely audible over the roar of blood to my ears.
“Come out, come out,” a feminine voice sing-songed.
I knew that voice well. A shiver of unease raced over my body. Maddox’s jaw clenched and unclenched, a pulse ticking erratically at his temple. His anger was almost tangible. I didn’t need to ask him, I knew it was the woman from the plane. Cinderella had found us.
“Stay down,” he said softly.
He hunched low and moved toward the bumper. With his back pressed to the car, he reached behind him, taking a pistol from a holster underneath his t-shirt.
“How’d you get on the plane with that?” I whispered.
Was he seriously going to shoot the blonde? Wouldn’t that only exacerbate the situation? Like, make us wanted for murder? I could see our mug shots now, “Wanted, for killing Cinderella.” We’d put the evil stepsisters to shame.
I looked heavenward, to the cement ceiling, rumbling overhead from cars. My heart pounded madly. It hadn’t slowed since yesterday. At this rate I was totally going to have a heart attack by the time I reached nineteen.
“Oh Maddox,” Cinderella called out. “I know you’re here. I can practically hear your mind spinning.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Her footsteps came closer…closer. Maddox shifted ever so slightly, his thigh muscles bunching under his cargo shorts. I wanted to ask him what he was planning, but instead I bit my lower lip to keep from giving us away. Closer, those shoes tapped, so close she was almost on us. Suddenly, Maddox surged upward, pistol extended.
I braced myself against the cool metal of the car and started to stand. Before I could straighten, an arm wrapped around my neck. I was tugged to my feet, my back crushed to a set of perky boobs.
“You should know better.” Blondie’s melodic voice rang into my ear, but I knew she wasn’t talking to me.
“Shit,” Maddox grumbled. He lowered his arm and slowly turned to face us. He looked more annoyed than nervous. Why was he just standing there? Why wasn’t he doing the crazy ninja moves he’d used on the intruders in our cottage?
“Surprised to see you,” he said quite casually. His gaze moved up and down her body, only to rest at her head. He quirked a brow. “Blonde? Interesting.”
“Well, they do have more fun.”
Seriously? Were they actually flirting? Blondie might be skinny, but she had a heck of hold on my neck. If he wasn’t going to help, I would. I started to lift my elbow, intending to jab her flat gut when I felt the distinct press of a metal pistol to my temple. My blood went cold.
“Darling, Maddox, really, you know me better than that.”
And I realized, in that moment, that they must have known each other even better than I’d first realized. Maddox lowered the gun to his side, looking irritated, yet slightly amused. Wonderful, so glad he was taking this seriously.
I took in a deep breath, attempting to focus. Maddox had said they wanted me. I assumed that meant they wanted me alive. But I wasn’t about to stand passively by while Maddox twiddled his thumbs. I reached out with my mind, attempting to read Cinderella’s thoughts.
Her arm tightened around my neck. “Now, now, sweet pea, none of that. It’s no use anyway as you’ll find that I’m well protected. How about you?” I felt the slightest tingle in my head, as if someone was pushing on my brain. Immediately, I reinforced that steel wall Grandma had taught me to build, a mental barrier that would keep others from reading my thoughts.
“Well done indeed. So, the old bat trained you after all.”
I stiffened at the realization. She knew my grandma? Old bat? My anger mounted. No one called Grandma an old bat but me.
“Let her go,” Maddox demanded.
“Uh, okay, sure.” Blondie laughed, her warm breath stirring the loose hair around my face. “I’ll let her go if you leave and swear you’ll never be in contact with her again. How about it boo, we both move on?”
I tried to understand their conversation, but was too confused to catch hold of anything.
“Yes, but the question is, who is better at protecting her?”
“I’m not a damn toddler,” I snapped, my hands fisting at my sides. They were talking about me like I was their three year old child and they were fighting for custody.
Blondie chuckled. “Feisty, I see why you like her.”
Feisty, the same word Maddox had used only yesterday.
“Stuff it, Sweetheart, and tell me why you’re really here,” Maddox demanded, his mood souring. Was he annoyed because Cinderella thought he had feelings for me? Or had he finally had enough of her?
“I came for the chick, of course.”
“I can’t let you take her.”
My fear was slowly easing into annoyance. This whole talking about me like I wasn’t there was growing old. I almost hoped they would shoot me. Death was preferable to listening to their banter. The rumble of an approaching vehicle shook the floor underfoot. I didn’t think, but acted. Perhaps it was stupid, but I knew this might be my only opportunity. I shoved my elbow into Cinderella’s gut. Her hold loosened just enough. I spun around, out of her grasp. They wanted me alive, not dead, I had to remind myself.
I heard her grunt, but was too busy escaping to savor the satisfaction. Her leg shot out, her foot catching my ankle. I stumbled, hitting the cement floor with my knees. My entire body vibrated as I fell to the ground.
Off balance, I tumbled sideways. My head whacked against the floor. For a moment, I merely lay there. The garage spun, stars and darkness taunting the edges of my vision. As the spinning faded, I forced myself to my elbows.
Maddox jabbed his right first toward Blondie. She ducked, coming up with an upper hook that told me she was no novice. Her fist connected with his chin. Maddox grunted, stumbling off balance. Was Cinderella seriously going to beat Maddox, a man twice her size?
“You still know how to fight.” He grinned and rubbed his jaw, as if proud of her.
I thought she was the enemy, but Maddox acted like she was an old sparring partner. Grasping onto the car bumper, I managed to get to my feet. Something wet and warm trickled down the side of my face. I groaned, pressing my fingers to my temple. Red covered my hand. Blood. My blood. But no one else seemed to notice my injured state.
“Oh God, that can’t be good,” I whispered.
“Bring it on,” Maddox said, ignoring me.
“I learned from the best,” Cinderella replied, doing a roundhouse kick toward his face.
Maddox caught her ankle and jerked her forward. She slammed into his body and paused there for a moment, in his embrace. I wasn’t sure if they were fighting or making out and I suddenly felt ridiculously annoyed. Seriously, weren’t we supposed to be running for our lives here?
Ugh. This so wasn’t going well and Maddox seemed more interested in kissing our supposed arch-nemesis than saving me. What an ass. Cinderella spun around, her back to me as she pointed the gun at Maddox’s chest.
“You wouldn’t,” he said, smirking at her.
I narrowed my eyes and kicked forward. The heel of my foot hit Blondie directly behind the right knee. She folded like a tent in a hurricane. Her pistol fell from her hand, skidding underneath the car.
I looked at Maddox. “Can we go now?”
The surprise upon Maddox’s face was almost worth my head injury. “You realize she could have shot me.”
I shrugged. The shocked look upon his face cleared and a grin spread across his lips. “Yeah, let’s get the hell out of here.”
He grabbed the backpack and only then did he spot the injury. It must have looked as bad as I felt, for he actually paused for a brief moment, his smile fading.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“You know I’ll find you,” Blondie yelled.
“Looking forward to it,” Maddox replied. Without looking back, he lifted his middle finger into the air. So mature.
I didn’t care what he did as long as we could leave, although I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on a bus looking like I’d had a run-in with a baseball bat. My head throbbed with the slightest movement and there was the oddest ring in my ears.
A sudden flash of lights alerted us to an oncoming car. Maddox released my hand and like an idiot, jumped in front of the vehicle. The man slammed on the breaks, the sound of screeching tires echoing through the garage.
“What the hell?” he yelled out his open window. Maddox raced around the side and tore open the driver’s door.
“Sorry, but we need your car.” Maddox grabbed the man by his button-down shirt and pulled him from the seat.
The poor victim stumbled into a parked car. “Here, take my wallet.”
“Just the car, thanks.” He glanced at me. “Get in.”
Wonderful, we were adding grand larceny to the long list of illegal hobbies we’d adopted. I stumbled around the front of the vehicle and pulled open the passenger door.
“Oh God, don’t get blood on the leather!” the man cried out.
“Hurry,” Maddox demanded.
I practically dove into the front seat and before I’d even fully closed my door, Maddox slammed on the gas. I fumbled with my seatbelt, my heart thundering madly in my chest. Only once I was safely locked in, did I turn and look out the back window. Cinderella was gone.
I faced forward and slumped into my seat, my body finally relaxing. “We lost her. That was easy.”
Maddox tore out of the garage, the sunlight welcome and warm. “Sweetheart, nothing is ever that easy.”
My head throbbed and I was barely aware when an hour later Maddox pulled into the parking lot of a motel. Barely aware until two women started fighting out front, their screams vibrating through my head like a jackhammer. The blonde slapped the brunette and all hell broke loose.
“Seriously?” I muttered. “Considering fugitives always hide in seedy motels, isn’t this the first place the cops will look? I mean there’s not a Hampton nearby?”
“It’s not seedy,” he grumbled, putting the car in park.
“You bitch!” the brunette screamed.
I gave him a pointed glance.
He shrugged. “It’s perfect. Everyone’s watching them. We can slip inside unnoticed.” His gaze traveled to the wound on the side of my head. I’d managed to clean off the blood at a roadside bathroom, but apparently it was still pretty hideous, even with my makeshift toilet paper bandage. He was feigning indifference, but I could see the worried look in his tight features.
“Come on.” He pushed open the door and stepped outside.
I followed more slowly. The afternoon sun was bright, too bright. The world around me spun. I felt a strong arm wrap around my waist and draw me close to a warm body.
Maddox. Just being near him made me feel better, even though I didn’t want to rely on someone I didn’t trust.
On one arm he carried the backpack, the other he held me upright. “You should have left the fighting to me.” He propped me against a pink stucco wall.
“Are you serious?” My annoyance flared. “While you two were dancing around the garage, I was trying to escape.”
“We weren’t dancing.” He pulled a key card from his back pocket. “I had everything under control.”
I gave an unlady like snort, but fighting wasn’t going to get us anywhere. “Where are we anyway?”
He pushed open the door. “We have safe homes throughout the country.”
I lifted a brow. “You call this safe?”
He wrapped his fingers around my upper arm and led me into the room. It smelled dank, like someone had left behind damp clothing. Lovely. There were two beds, at least. A small television sat on a table against the wall. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were on the local news for stealing the man’s car, among other things.
“On that bed?” My skin crawled at the thought. “I’ll probably get an STD.”
“I’m tested and
My face heated. I slapped my hand against his flat stomach. “Not from you. As if that would ever happen.” I pointed toward the mattress. “I mean from that!”
“Impossible.” He shrugged. “Maybe crabs, but you can get rid of those.”
“Oh really, you know that from personal experience?”
He sighed and dropped the backpack on the floor between the two beds. “Will you just lie down? Meditate, or whatever it is you people do.” He paced across the small room. His usual unruffled manner gone. He seemed flustered. At the windows he paused. “You shouldn’t have done what you did.”
I went to the bed and collapsed onto the blue duvet. “Done what? Saved myself? Or lay on what is most likely a bedbug infested mattress?”
He didn’t respond, just went into the small bathroom and turned on the water. I found this concerned Maddox unsettling.
“I had a plan. You were perfectly fine.”
I rolled my eyes. Was he kidding? “Yeah, perfectly fine… with a gun pointed at my head.”
The water turned off and he reappeared, a washcloth in hand. Was that guilt that fluttered across his gorgeous face? I shifted, uneasily, and sat up. I didn’t do well with emotions, thanks to Grandma and her heart of steel.
He sat beside me, the mattress dipping. “Those aspirin kicking in yet?”
I nodded, even though they weren’t. My forehead was throbbing, and the pain seemed to be migrating toward the back of my skull and down my neck.
Carefully, more gently than I’d thought possible, he removed the bandage. The white tissue paper covered with brilliant red blood made my stomach churn. He pulled the backpack up next to him. “I don’t think it needs stitches.”
“I don’t need them, or you don’t want to blow our cover by taking me to a hospital?”
He held my chin with one hand and with the other, used the washcloth to swipe at my injury. The contact stung, although I did my best not to flinch. “You don’t need them. If you did, I’d just do them here.”
The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers) by Lori Brighton / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes