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The mind thieves the min.., p.8
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.8

           Lori Brighton
 
The thought made me ill. I hoped he was joking.

  I should have felt like a child under his administration. I didn’t. His touch was oddly gentle for a man who beat up people for a living. I sure as heck didn’t feel like a child. In fact, I felt the opposite. An unwelcome heat swirled low in my gut. I stared at his chin, took in the dark stubble along his cheeks and wondered if it would feel rough against my face if we kissed.

  Kissed?

  What was I thinking! My startled gaze jumped to his eyes. Those gray eyes surrounded by thick spiky black lashes. So gorgeous. I wondered if one of his parents had come from Spain for he had an almost exotic look to his tanned body.

  His strokes slowed, but my skin still tingled. I barely noticed the pain. My body thrummed as if completely and totally aware of his nearness. When was the last time I’d kissed someone? So long ago that I couldn’t remember. I was eighteen for God’s sake, I shouldn’t be embarrassed to have a guy this close.

  He cleared his throat and lowered his hand. “There. Done.”

  Was it my imagination or did his fingers tremble as he pulled a first aid kit from the backpack? Dear God, did he actually care about me? I wasn’t sure how to feel about the realization. This man I didn’t remember, this man I didn’t know… cared about me. I felt like I should be flattered in some way. But in reality, all I felt was confused.

  “You need to be more careful,” he grumbled.

  “Why?”

  He brushed aside my hair and pressed a band aid to my forehead. “So you don’t get hurt.” He took a penlight from the bag and shone it in my eyes. “Doesn’t look like you have a concussion.”

  “No, why am I here?” I slapped his hand away, the light annoying. “I need to know, Maddox. Everything.”

  He replaced the bandages and mini flashlight and watched me warily. “Like what?”

  “Well, for one, who is Blondie?”

  “Blondie?” He chuckled over the name and looked away. “The truth? She used to be with us… until they got to her.”

  “They who?”

  “Aaron. She works with Aaron.”

  I frowned, trying to remember, scratching at the surface of my brain, attempting to recall Blondie, or Aaron…anyone. “The man who took me?”

  The man who worked with Lewis. My supposed boyfriend.

  He nodded. “The man who betrayed your father.” He stood and strolled toward the windows. Lifting the blinds, he peeked out. “And now they want you, but I’m not going to let that happen.”

  I rubbed my throbbing temples. “I don’t remember her.”

  “That’s because you never met her.”

  “Oh.” That made sense, yet it didn’t sit well. I knew her from somewhere, I was sure of it. “I need more, Maddox.”

  “Like what?”

  “Anything on my dad? You can’t tell me where he is?”

  He turned toward me. “It’s for your protection, and his.”

  In case this didn’t work out and I was caught, I couldn’t spill their secrets. It made sense, but I didn’t like it. “Fine, but why can’t I at least talk to him?” To be honest, I wanted proof my dad really was alive. For all I knew, Maddox could have made up the entire story.

  He shrugged and started toward the bed. “That, sweetheart, is up to your dad.”

  In other words, Dad didn’t want to talk to me. The realization stung. “But you’re speaking with him, right?”

  He sighed and settled on his mattress. For one long moment he merely stared at me, as if attempting to decipher if I could be trusted with the truth. “North Carolina. All right?”

  I shook my head, confused.

  “You wanted something, I’m giving you something.” He reached for the bedside lamp. “We’re headed to North Carolina. I promise you’ll see him there in a day, two at the most.”

  North Carolina? We’d lived in North Carolina near the mountains when I was nine. Oh God, had my father really been that close by? The thought made me ill.

  I bit my lower lip, unsure if I could trust him. Things just didn’t make sense. Why would my father leave me with Grandma all these years? Why send Maddox? Why wouldn’t he have come for me? How did Maddox and Blondie know each other? Where was my grandma? So many questions, yet all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and fade away.

  “No more questions. You’re exhausted.” Maddox turned off the light, but the sun still shone through the threadbare curtains. Outside an air conditioning unit rumbled to life. “Now, get some sleep. Tomorrow we drive. No more airplanes.” He set his pistol on the bedside table and fell back onto his mattress.

  I lay down, cushioning my head on the soft pillow and closed my eyes. But my mind spun with odd thoughts and possibilities. I’d never be able to fall asleep this early.

  “I came for the chick, of course.” Blondie’s words whispered through my memory.

  She wasn’t going to kill me. She could have… easily. She’d come to take me somewhere. She’d claimed she could protect me better than Maddox.

  “Darling, Maddox, really, you know me better than that.”

  Maddox said he had a chip in his head, which was why I couldn’t read his thoughts. But Blondie had been able to use her magical mind powers on him. She’d made us think we’d heard her in a different spot while in that garage.

  “Maddox.”

  “Yeah?”

  “Why could she influence your mind, but I can’t?”

  He rolled on his side, his back to me. “Who?”

  “Blondie.”

  He was silent for a long moment. I held my breath, waiting for his response. “Cameron?”

  I stiffened. “Yeah?”

  “Go to sleep.”

  With a disgruntled sigh, I rolled over and closed my eyes. There were many things he wasn’t telling me. But we had a long drive in the car to get to North Carolina and he would have no way to avoid my persistent questions.

  ****

  I didn’t think I would ever sleep, but at some point deep within the night, the aspirin started working its magic and my throbbing head eased, allowing my mind to drift toward slumber. But it wasn’t a peaceful sleep. As with most nights for the past six months, dreams flashed through my mind like I was on a roller coaster, odd pictures that left me disorientated.

  The boy with the blue eyes.

  Lewis, his name whispered through my mind.

  Always there, never far away.

  All these months I’d thought he was some dream, now I knew he was real.

  The picture of the guy shifted.

  I was standing near the shore at Lakeside, a café teens frequented when we lived in Maine. Students surrounded me, pushing, shoving. Slowly, I turned. My blue-eyed boy stood near the parking lot…watching me, the wind tousling his hair. There were screams in the background and vaguely I wondered why everyone was crying. But I couldn’t take my gaze from him. I worried if I looked away, he might disappear.

  Had it been real? Had this Lewis really been at Lakeside? The memory shifted.

  A tall man with brown hair was in front of me. I didn’t know him, but I recognized the living room. We were at a party at Emily’s house. The man was walking toward me. So many people dancing, laughing… but I couldn’t look away from him. Something was off… I was scared… nervous and the man was headed my way. I wanted to run, but I was frozen, nerves getting the better of me.

  And then there was Lewis, stepping close to me and my fear fled. “Keep calm,” he whispered near my ear. And for some reason I did.

  The dreams changed once more.

  We were in a car. “You don’t have to feel this way.” He leaned closer and cupped the side of my face with a warm, comforting hand. “I know you’re scared. I know you’re tired but you can trust me.”

  I felt tears sting my eyes. “How can I? I don’t even know you.”

  “I know you, Cam. You don’t have to be alone anymore.”

  The pictures swirled together, mixing, combining. Everything was so damn confusing.


  The blue-eyed boy was gone and Maddox was there. Maddox with his hair messed up, bruises on his face. Maddox with hard, determined eyes that made me nervous.

  “Maddox?” I said.

  Maddox’s arm shot out, wrapping around my waist. Suddenly I was slammed against his chest. My Swiss Army Knife was clutched in his fist. He flipped open the blade and pressed it to my skin, the metal cold and sharp. I didn’t dare move, barely breathed.

  “Come any closer and she’s dead,” Maddox said.

  I came awake with a start. Darkness surrounded me. It was night and the only light was a gray square patch coming through the curtains. Cold sweat covered my body, my chest rising and falling with each harsh intake of breath. I didn’t dare move, confusion and fear holding me frozen on the hard bed. The room was silent. The only sound was Maddox’s soft breathing.

  Slowly, I turned my head. He lay upon the bed next to mine, his right arm thrown across his pillow. He looked so peaceful and innocent in sleep, but I knew only too well what he was capable of. Who the hell was he? The helpful man he claimed to be, or the man from my dreams… the man who had held a knife to my throat. I turned my head and spotted the dark silhouette of Maddox’s backpack. He wouldn’t dare have anything telling in that bag…would he?

  Slowly, I inched my way down the mattress. My feet hit the carpet and I sank to the floor. Hidden by my bed, I pulled the backpack closer. My heart hammered wildly, my head pounded. If he heard me, I could always say I was looking for more aspirin. I stuffed my hand into the bag and found the penlight.

  Pistols and knives were gone, replaced by a folder. Holding the mini flashlight in one hand, I pulled out the thin binder and opened it. Me. Pictures of me walking the beach with Grandma. Pictures of me working at our food stand from months ago. Pictures of me at the cottage in Maine. My stomach churned. Maddox, or someone, had been watching me for months…years.

  I shoved the folder back into the bag. My heart slammed wildly in my chest. Demanding answers would do no good. I’d found that out the moment I’d met him. What to do?

  Then I saw his wallet… there, nestled at the bottom of the bag. With a trembling hand I pulled out the leather billfold and flipped it open. A driver’s license. Two hundred dollars. Nothing else. I started to close the billfold when I noticed the tiniest bit of white standing out from behind the license.

  I waited a breathless moment, then pulled it free. A picture of two people standing, arms around each other, wide smiles upon their faces. A couple.

  I shifted the penlight, flashing the beam over their grinning faces.

  Maddox and…

  Blondie.

  She had dark hair, but there was no mistaking her features. My heart jumped into my throat. Maddox and Blondie hugging. Obviously more than friends. My mind shifted to that airport garage. Their fighting had been almost playful. Their banter almost flirty. She’d had the chance to shoot him, but hadn’t.

  Dear God, what was happening?

  “Cameron?” Maddox said, his voice gruff with sleep.

  I froze.

  “You all right?”

  I dropped the light, grabbed the money and shoved it into my pocket. I knew what I had to do. Slowly, I stood. I’d bested Blondie, surely I could best him. “Yeah. Just… looking for aspirin.”

  He was sitting on the edge of the bed, a large, intimidating form. “It’s in the front pocket.”

  I nodded.

  He reached out, turning on the lamp that sat on the bedside table. The pistol lay there within reach. For one long moment, we didn’t speak. He was watching me…suspicion in his gaze. I was watching him…fear in my gut. Something shifted between us and I realized he knew.

  I dove across the bed, my fingers wrapping around the pistol, reaching the weapon before him. Without pause, I stumbled back, putting the bed between us.

  “What the hell?” he demanded, surging to his feet.

  I pointed the pistol at his chest, my breath coming out in sharp pants. “Tell me the truth.” I edged around the bed, starting toward the door. “I want to know everything, now!”

  “Well, this is a rude way to wake someone up.” His gaze flickered from my face to the gun, back and forth. “I told you, your dad’s in North Carolina.”

  “No! I saw it, Maddox, I saw you holding a knife to my throat.”

  He shook his head, his brows drawn together. “What? When?”

  “I don’t know!” My back hit the door. “Because I don’t remember anything!”

  He held up his hands, his gaze on me. “Cameron, I can explain. Calm down.” He started toward me with determined steps. My body started shaking. I could barely hold onto the gun. “You don’t want anything to happen that you’ll regret.”

  “Don’t trust anyone,” Lewis flashed to mind, his voice hard, demanding.

  “No!” I was so confused, so damn confused. “I saw the picture of you and Blondie in your wallet.”

  His jaw clenched, his eyes flashing. “Going through my things?”

  I ignored his anger, wouldn’t let it affect me. “How do you know her?”

  He paused at the end of the bed. “We dated, once.”

  They’d dated. Oh God, were they in this together? Some devious plan to kidnap me? My head thumped, the pain almost blinding in its intensity. I flinched, but didn’t dare lower the pistol. Didn’t dare take my eyes from him.

  “You’re making a mistake, Cameron. Just calm down.”

  “I need time to think.”

  “You don’t have time!” He surged toward me.

  I pushed out with my mind, using my mental energy to knock him down. Better than using the gun.

  Maddox stumbled, crying out. I wasn’t sure if I’d injured him or not, but I didn’t wait to find out. I tore open the door and dove into the night, having no idea where I was going or what the hell I was doing. I did know one thing, Lewis had been right…I could trust no one.

  Chapter 9

  I remembered the fort vaguely…a distant memory that grew foggier with every year that swept by. The last memory I had of my father.

  I had been four and Dad had taken me to the beach. I remembered playing in the ocean, laughing as my father threw me high, only to catch me safely within his arms. A time when life had been perfect. The day had been warm, the beach crowded with summer vacationers.

  But this morning the sand underneath me was cold and the beach almost empty. A different day. A different life.

  My father had left later that week and I’d never seen him again. I’d never expected to see him again…until now.

  A man I thought was dead. A man who was supposed to be dead.

  A man who apparently wasn’t dead.

  Maybe. If I believed Maddox.

  I rested my head in my hands, Maddox’s pistol lying upon the sand in front of me. What if my father’s sudden rebirth was a lie? A horrible, terrible lie?

  Could I trust Maddox? I stared at the pistol. I’d never shot anyone and I didn’t want to. But would Maddox have shot me if he had gotten to the pistol first? How I wished I could talk to Grandma.

  I was so tired of not knowing the truth, or who to trust. I drew my knees to my chest and gazed out at the ocean. The sun was just peeking above the horizon. If I’d left with Maddox, if I’d trusted him, I’d be on my way to North Carolina right now… away from the beach. Away from everything I loved. But maybe I’d be with my father.

  Gulls cried above, their high-pitched screams comforting. Familiar.

  I knew all I’d have to do is let down the wall inside my head that was keeping my thoughts locked away. If I let down the wall, someone would find me. Blondie, maybe even my dad. But I wasn’t ready to be found.

  A few men had wandered onto the long pier that led out into the sea, preparing to fish the morning away. How relaxing and calm their lives must be. None looked my way; they were too caught up in watching the beautiful sunrise. That fiery ball just peeking over the horizon, forcing the night away with its brilliant rays of
orange and pink. Gulls were racing up and down the sand, crying to each other in their search for an easy meal. And there, upon the shore, purple sea urchins that had been washed up. Helpless sea urchins with nowhere to run, with no chance of survival.

  “Get!” I surged to my feet, shooing the birds away from the easy prey.

  They scattered, but didn’t dare go too far. Carefully, I scooped up a prickly urchin, then gently tossed it into the water. One down, a thousand to go.

  The birds merely watched me warily, keeping their distance from the crazy human. They looked hungry. They needed to eat as well. Who was I to choose who lived and who died?

  I pushed aside the depressing thought and sank onto the sand, giving up my desperate attempt to save the sea life. With a cry, the white and gray birds rushed toward the feast once more.

  Perhaps I should have heard Maddox out. Maybe I should have tried calling Grandma. Maybe… maybe…

  I rested my face in my hands, confused and frustrated. Alone. Always alone.

  “You’re making a mistake, Cameron. Just calm down.”

  “I need time to think.”

  “You don’t have time!”

  Maddox had surged toward me, only to stumble when I pushed out with my mind. What had I done to him? What if I’d injured him… or worse?

  “Need a tissue?”

  I jerked my head upright, my hands flattening into the gritty sand. Blondie sat beside me. So close that if I reached out, I could touch her.

  “You certainly cry a lot.”

  For one crazed moment, I thought I might be hallucinating. But no… she was all too real. I could smell the sweet, flowery scent. I didn’t dare move, afraid that if I startled her, she’d do something desperate. And I was completely aware of what she was capable.

  My heart jumped into my throat. Panic, a bitter taste on my tongue. Without turning my head, I scanned the area around me, wondering where she’d come from, if she had backup.

  She tsked, shaking her head. “With Maddox only two days and already injured.”

  God, I hated her. “The injury is from you, moron.” My fingers curled, digging into the sand as I resisted the urge to grab that gun at my feet. Could I reach it in time?

 
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