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Kinetic

~ Psychic Crossroads, Book Three ~


Anna Durand

Contents

Title Page


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Epilogue


About the Author

Other Books by Anna Durand

Connect with Anna Durand

Copyright Page

Chapter One

Heal, dammit. Sean Vandenbrook commanded his psychic powers to activate, but got a big zippo in response. He hunched over the table, one hand lying palm up beside his empty lunch plate, and ran a finger of the other hand along the seam of the cut he'd gotten this morning while slicing open a well-taped box. Too bad he couldn't get rid of the stupid cut. What was the point of having the power to heal if he couldn't fix his own injuries? Psychic powers totally sucked.

"Did you hear me, Sean?"

He glanced up from his hand.

David Ransom was staring at him with narrowed eyes the way he did when he was in surrogate-father mode. Like David was old enough to be his father. Annoying big brother, maybe. Not a father. Why the hell did Sean care what David thought about him, then? He shouldn't. He wouldn't. Not anymore.

Sean felt nothing these days, by design. Maybe psychic powers didn't totally suck after all.

He leaned back in the white-painted, wrought-iron chair that matched the legs of the mosaic-tile table. His black leather jacket was making him a little too warm, but he didn't want to take it off. Maybe the jacket was his armor. Maybe he needed armor these days.

Elsewhere in the outdoor cafe, people talked and laughed and munched on trendy sandwiches. Sean barely noticed them, and he sensed nothing from them. No pain. No fear. Not even joy. He sighed at the relief of not knowing what other people felt. His first public outing in a couple months was going okay except for David's pestering.

Never mind that niggling uneasiness in his gut. It meant nothing.

"I heard you," Sean said. "Just don't have anything to say about it."

"Grace is worried about you," David said, slanting forward on the other side of the table to study Sean. "What have you been doing for the past two months? You don't call us. We only talk to you if we call you, and then it's brief and uninformative. You skipped your college graduation. Even dyed your hair brown."

Sean instinctively ran a hand through his hair. He'd let it grow out a few inches, and yeah, he'd covered up his red hair with brown coloring. So what? "I can change my hair without your permission."

"You're sitting there like a robot, like nothing affects you. What's wrong?"

Sean hiked up one shoulder and let it fall again. "I'm fine. Busy, that's all."

"Too busy to see your niece? Abby asks for you all the time."

"Your kid's not my niece."

David frowned. "You're her honorary uncle."

Sean snorted. "Honorary uncle? That's not a thing."

"At the time, you thought it was 'wicked awesome.' A direct quote from you."

"Gimme a break." Sean rolled his eyes. "I was eighteen and stupid. Maybe I don't need an honorary family anymore. I'm a big boy now, and you are not my dad."

Blocking his empathic powers might've made him a little… testy. No choice. He had to keep his powers in check for the sake of everyone else in the world.

David sat back, one hand on the table, fingers tapping. He fixed his blue eyes on Sean, and the irises began to glow with a preternatural fire.

Sean sensed the prickling pressure of David's mind trying to tunnel into his own. He gave it a psychic swat.

Across the table, David winced.

"What are you doing?" Sean asked, his voice low and dark. "Trying to read my mind? Grace told you to never, ever, ever do that. Better listen to your wife. You wanna go bat-shit crazy?"

Mind reading was the biggest no-no in the world of psychic powers. Grace had done it once and swore she'd never try it again. She'd made David and Sean both swear they'd never do it either.

Why the hell was David attempting it?

"You've left me no choice," David said, almost as if he were answering Sean's thought-question. "We know something's wrong with you. This hard-as-nails, don't-give-a-damn-about-anything attitude is a cover for whatever's going on with you lately. What happened to the boy who loved his powers and loved his honorary niece?"

"He grew up and grew a pair. I can take care of myself. Don't need my wannabe daddy giving me a heart-to-heart."

David watched him for a few seconds, then braced his elbow on the table and let his forehead fall into his raised hand. The energy seemed to flood out of him, sagging his shoulders. He drew in a long breath and raised his head to pin Sean with his gaze. "We care about you. You're a part of our family, and we won't give up on you no matter how much you act like a knucklehead. Do you realize how your behavior hurts Grace?"

Her face flashed in Sean's mind. Grace, with hazel eyes and auburn hair. Grace, with that kind smile and teasing manner. She liked to tousle his hair, even now, like he was still a kid. She'd encouraged him to get his GED and go to college. She'd saved him from torture of the most literal, physical kind — and of the psychic variety. If not for her…

A pang stabbed through his chest.

No, no, no. His shields had slipped. He slammed them back into place, shutting out all the emotions inside and outside himself.

Blessed emptiness.

"Not trying to hurt anybody," Sean said. The exact opposite, in fact. "You're all better off without me around, trust me."

The unease he'd experienced since entering this cafe resurfaced, tugging on his metaphysical senses. Movement caught his eye, and he glanced at the courtyard archway, the entrance to the cafe a dozen feet away. A young woman stood there, shoulders bunched, tension evident on her face. She'd tied her raven hair back in a long ponytail, the locks glistening in the sunshine. The light also glinted in her eyes, igniting the lighter highlights in her deep-blue irises. She was beautiful.

And for the first time in two months, despite his shields, he felt something. A twinge of what he could only describe as… longing. A bizarre impulse to wrap her in his arms. She seemed so lost, almost afraid. Of what?

"Sean," David said, with an uncharacteristic sharpness to his tone.

Blinking rapidly, struggling to shake the… whatever the girl had incited in him, Sean returned his attention to David. "What?"

"I'm glad you're still interested in girls," David said, "but we were having a serious conversation. Why would you think we're better off without you?"

"Because —" His gaze inexorably traveled back to the girl. She was fidgeting and scratching her arms, exposed by the short-sleeve shirt she wore. Her jeans had trendy slashes in them that gaped open around her knees, complete with fashionable threads dangling from them.

The girl lowered one hand, her arm straight at her side, parallel to her body. She flexed her fingers.

"For Christ's sake, Sean, pay attention."

He flicked his gaze to David, but his focus was pulled back to the girl by an inexplicable sensation of impending danger. Sean's body went rigid. He stared at the girl, not blinking, not moving, racking his mind for the source of this dread.

"Grace thinks you're suppressing your powers," David said. "Is she right?"

"What if she is? It's my business, not yours."

"Sean, suppressing your powers is dangerous. Not to mention bad for your health, mental and physical."

"I'm fine."

Sean couldn't look away from the girl. She'd closed her eyes, her face pinched. The power of her anguish battered his shields, but only a trickle penetrated them. It was enough, though. Even a taste of her pain left a bitter tang in his mouth. He shouldn't care, goddammit, but something about her…

He jumped up. "Back in a minute."

Before David could protest, Sean stalked toward the girl, weaving his way around tables and chairs.

Eyes squeezed shut, the girl curled her fingers into her palm.

Sean reached her just as she snapped her fingers straight.

The building exploded.

Chapter Two

The force of the detonation threw Sean into the girl. They tumbled to the stone-paved floor of the entrance with her pinned beneath his body. Debris rained down around them, and something large whumped to the ground nearby, sending shock waves through the floor. Sharp fragments of debris clawed at his skin. Dust surged into his nostrils and mouth, making him hack and spit mud.

As the debris cloud settled, he made out shapes. His ears rang, though behind the noise, he detected muffled voices shouting and screaming.

Sean looked down at the girl.

Her blue eyes, enlarged by shock, stared up at him. Powdery debris turned her face a muddy, mottled shade of pale. Her entire body trembled. Her lips parted, and he could tell she was speaking, but the ringing in his ears drowned out her words. She pounded her little fists on his biceps, shouting loud enough he barely made out what she said.

"Get — off — me — can't — breathe!"

Sean rolled to the side, onto a sharp metal object. It stabbed into his hip. With a snarled curse that sounded far away even to his ears, he pushed up onto his knees. His chest heaved with every breath, his eyes burned, and cuts on his arms and face stung like the devil. He started to wipe at his face with his shirt but stopped when he realized the fabric was coated with dirt and spattered with blood. His blood? Her blood?

His heart thudded.

Not enough blood to suggest a major injury. He prayed neither of them had anything more serious than cuts. But the other people in the cafe…

The girl was struggling to get to her knees, hindered by the top of a table that had come loose from its legs and slid onto her feet. Sean grabbed the tile tabletop and heaved it off her. The thing crashed onto a pile of rubble, shooting up a plume of dust. He grasped the girl's hands and pulled her up with him as he clambered to his feet. His knees quivered. The rest of him seemed okay, but she was still shaking from head to toe.

He leaned in close, bent to level their gazes, and spoke in loud, precise syllables. "Are you okay?"

She nodded shakily. Her eyes remained wide, her pupils large. Her skin, what he could see of it through the dirt, looked ashen.

No, she didn't seem all right.

He frisked his hands over her body to check for obvious wounds but found none. When he closed his fingers around her wrist, feeling her pulse, it was fast and fluttery. She swayed a little, blinking slowly. Jeez, she needed a doctor. He took her upper arms in his hands to steady her.

Sirens ululated in the distance.

Or maybe they were close, he couldn't tell for sure. The ringing in his ears was lessening, but he hadn't regained normal hearing yet.

David.

The thought slammed through him, and his hands fell away from the girl. He swung his head around, zeroing in on the table where he and David had sat.

It was gone.

No. His heart pounded so hard it seemed like his ribs might crack from the pressure. He should never have left David. If he'd been hurt or worse —

The girl bolted.

Sean took a step to follow her but froze. She'd sprinted out the entrance and out of sight down the sidewalk. He had no time to worry about her, though, and had to hope the EMTs would find and help her.

He barreled across the remains of the cafe, vaulting over debris piles. He stopped once to help a woman who lay dazed amid the wreckage, but she needed aid he couldn't give. Since she wasn't bleeding too badly, he told her to wait for the EMTs and not move. Then he raced the last short distance to where the table should've been, the one where he'd left David.

A pile of bricks slumped where the table had stood.

One foot, covered by a brown sneaker, stuck out from beneath the pile.

No, God, no.

Sean seized one brick, tossed it aside, grabbed them two at a time and then three at a time. He hurled them away, praying he wasn't burying another victim he couldn't see. Save David. That single thought consumed him. He uncovered one of David's legs, then the other, and with agonizing slowness he freed the rest of the man who'd been like a brother and a surrogate father to him. His best friend.

David lay limp on his stomach, his arms and legs askew, his head bent to the side. His eyes were closed, his mouth open. Blood oozed from a wound on his head, etching red trails through the dirt on his skin.

Falling to his knees, Sean felt for a pulse in David's throat. Faint, but there.

The sirens had gone silent.

Sean glanced toward the entrance, what remained of it, and saw the pulsing lights of emergency vehicles. A fire truck had pulled up right in front.

"Help!" Sean hollered. "We've got injured people here."

While EMTs wended their way through the debris, Sean sat vigil beside David, unwilling to leave until he knew his friend would be found and treated.

The explosion. It replayed in his mind over and over. What had happened? Something caused this, someone caused this, but who and why?

Sean gritted his teeth. The girl. She'd done this. He had no idea how or why, but when she'd flicked her fingers, the whole place had erupted.

A psychic attack?

He didn't give a damn right now. Until he knew David was okay, nothing else mattered. If David died…

Sean would find that fucking girl and murder her.

*****

Kira Magnusson stumbled around the corner onto another street, avoiding the EMTs by running in the opposite direction. Maybe she needed medical attention, but she couldn't risk it. Nothing seemed to be broken, so she ought to heal okay — eventually. On the outside. Inside…

A memory seized her mind, a nightmare come to life. Choking. Gasping. Lungs burning. Crawling on her stomach across the floor, desperate to escape. She deserved what they'd done to her that day. Compared to the horror of what she'd just done in the cafe…

Her stomach lurched.

She doubled over and vomited on the sidewalk.

Oh God, what had she done? What you had to do, a voice whispered inside her. Had this been her only option? They'd said it would be a smoke bomb, not — not — this.

Her stomach heaved again.

She staggered into an alley, knowing she couldn't make it much farther. At least in an alley, no one would notice her. Everyone was distracted by the… disaster. She sagged into the wall of a building, its concrete blocks cold against the bare skin of her arms. The disaster? She'd caused it. What if someone had died? She couldn't think about that, not now. Tears burned in her eyes, but she sucked in a breath and tried to stave them off. Stay strong, for Caleb.

Her phone rang.

She jerked at the sound, then dug the phone out of her pocket. With trembling fingers, she answered the call — no name, no number on caller ID. But she knew who it was.

"Well done," the familiar, electronically altered voice said. She couldn't tell if the speaker was a man or a woman, but the voice had an odd lilt to it.

"You told me it would be a smoke bomb," she hissed into the phone, sounding far stronger than she felt. Her knees quivered, threatening to buckle. "If anyone died, I'll —"

"Do exactly what we say, nothing more and nothing less. If you wish for your brother to live."

She absently flicked her thumbnail against her forefinger. A tiny spark flashed on the pad of her finger. She clamped her hand into a fist. "Let me talk to Caleb."

Scuffling, as the kidnapper moved his phone. "Kira? Are you coming to get me?"

Kira choked back a sob, clutching her stomach with her free hand. "Soon, sweetie, I promise. You be strong for me, 'kay?"

"I don't like it here."

"Won't be long, I promise." Lying to her eight-year-old brother? She had no choice. Telling him the truth, that she had no clue when the kidnappers might release him, would only escalate his panic. "I love you, Caleb."

"Love you too, Kiki."

She swallowed another sob when he spoke his nickname for her. Caleb was in this mess because of her. If she'd been more careful… But how could she have been? She didn't know how these evil bastards found her, much less how they got Caleb three days ago, sometime between school ending in the afternoon and Kira arriving to pick him up. In a matter of minutes, they'd taken her brother. She'd gotten slowed down by traffic and showed up three minutes late. Three minutes.

More scuffling. The altered voice of the kidnapper growled in her ear. "I suggest you find a place to hide and await further instructions."

"No, dammit, I will not —"

"Do you wish for your brother to die?"

The hand over her belly fisted, twisting her shirt around her fingers. She didn't dare speak, her emotions too wild to be trusted.

"I didn't think so," the kidnapper said. "We will be in touch."

Click. The call ended.

Kira stuffed the phone in her pocket. Pulled in a deep breath. Shoved a hand through her hair, filthy with dirt and who-knew-what other substances. Caleb had no one else, not since their parents ran away to another continent. To get away from her. She could almost understand that, but abandoning Caleb was unforgivable.

He had no one else, which meant she had to save him.

By whatever means necessary? Her conscience prickled at the thought.

She pushed away from the wall and hurried to… anywhere but here.

Chapter Three

Hospitals smelled like the aftermath of disaster and death as embodied by the odor of disinfectant used to clean up and cover up the catastrophes that brought people here. Sean hated the smell, hated the sterile colors and the hospital beds, hated sitting in a chair that barely fit his frame and made his tailbone hurt. The medical types had taken David into the ER, and though Grace had gone with him, they wouldn't let Sean accompany her. He wasn't family, not technically.

So, he slouched in an awful chair in the waiting room. And he waited. And waited.

Being in the hospital niggled at his memories, the ones he'd repressed for so long with so much effort. Now, the memories unreeled in his mind's eye. Screeching tires. The explosive bang of metal slamming into a wooden pole. Smoke. Flames. A blur of noise and movements, sirens and ambulances. When he'd finally had time to process the event, he was sitting in a chair like the one he occupied today. Just like then, his stomach churned and acid scorched up his chest into his throat. His muscles ached from the tension stretching them taut. His jaw ached too, thanks to his gritted teeth.

Someone entered the waiting room, but Sean noticed the figure only peripherally until a hand settled on his shoulder. He lifted his eyes to the newcomer.

Gabriel Amador gazed down at Sean with a tight smile.

Though his fingers crooked toward his palms, Sean maintained an outward calmness when he spoke to Amador. "Why are you here?"

"Grace called me," Amador said in his slightly accented voice. He skimmed his gaze over Sean, his brows tightening. "You are injured?"

"Some cuts, nothing major."

"You can relax," Amador said. "I am here to assist."

Oh how awesome, we're all saved. Sean kept the thought to himself.

Why on earth Grace trusted this man, Sean had no clue. Five years ago, Amador had drugged her and tried to convince her he had psychic powers when he had none, just to gain her cooperation in his nutjob scheme for revenge. He'd held a teenage girl hostage too. Grace had forgiven him, though, because Amador had a great sob story. His young son had been taken by Sean's grandfather, the wacko Karl Tesler, and tortured until he died. Then Amador's wife had committed suicide, broken by the loss. By Amador's own admission, he'd gone loony tunes after that.

Sean's nails dug into his palm. Good old gramps had tortured him too, but nobody caught Sean doing wacky things because of it.

Amador squeezed Sean's shoulder. "How is David?"

"Don't know yet."

The ER door swung open, and Grace shambled into the waiting room.

Sean jumped up, hands jammed in his jeans pockets, shoulders hunched beneath his leather jacket.

Amador hurried to her, clasping her in a quick hug.

Disgust slithered through Sean. He couldn't like Amador, no matter how "nice" the guy pretended to be. Cari, the girl Amador had abducted and abused, was one of Sean's closest friends.

Grace looked ashen and tired, dark circles under her eyes. She tried for a small smile, but her lips quivered, and the expression disintegrated.

"David?" Sean asked, his entire body as rigid as concrete, his feet heavy as concrete too. He awaited her response with his pulse racing and a coldness washing over him.

"He's alive," she said. "They put him in a medically induced coma, so his body can heal."

A coma? David must've been seriously injured, more even than Sean had realized when he pulled his friend out of the rubble. "How long — I mean, do they think he'll be okay?"

"The doctor says he's optimistic, but only time will tell." She hugged herself, rubbing her upper arms. "Abby's going home with her great-grandfather. I'll stay here until visiting hours are over."

Amador took her hand in his, a smarmily concerned look on his face. "What can I do?"

"Nothing. But thanks for coming."

Sean wanted to tell Grace to go home, get some rest, because she couldn't do anything for David right now. He couldn't form the words. Grace and David had the kind of relationship Sean had thought only existed in romance novels. Their love had saved their lives and the lives of countless others — and that was no metaphor. The psychic bond they shared imbued their love with real power, the kind that could save the world. Sean knew he couldn't hope to find anything even close to that.

"David's still in there," she said. "As long as I can feel him, there's hope."

"Of course there's hope," Sean said. He raised his hands, intending to hug her, but let them fall back down. Though she'd let Amador hug her, did she want comforting from Sean? Instead, he expressed his support with words, or tried to. "You and David are like… I don't know, like Cinderella and that prince guy. You're meant to be together. Nothing can get between the two of you, not even this."

"Cinderella?" Grace almost smiled, though it dissolved into a downward curve of her lips. "Our relationship has never been a fairy-tale romance. We survived two psychos who wanted to destroy us, not to mention my amnesia. Maybe this is how it ends."

"No way." Sean grasped her upper arms, bending his knees until he could look her in the eye. "You're freaking out right now, that's all. David will get better. He will."

"Yes," Amador interjected, "he will."

The urge to smack the man seized Sean, but he restrained himself. He hated the way Amador had insinuated himself into Grace's life over the past five years. Still, it was her choice whether to trust him.

She nodded weakly, unshed tears shimmering in her hazel eyes. Never one to let the tears roll or let life knock her down, she swiped them away with the back of her hand, then hauled in a breath and straightened. "We need to find out who did this and why. They need to pay."

A steely edge gave her voice a sharpness Sean had never heard before from Grace. Sure, she could be tough when necessary. But she had the kindest heart of anyone he'd ever known.

If she wanted vengeance, he would mete it out for her and for David.

For everyone who'd been caught in the explosion.

"Revenge will not help," Amador said. "You're upset, Grace. Make no decisions now. I'm certain the authorities will apprehend whoever is responsible."

Yeah, sure. Once again, Sean wanted to deck the guy.

The ER doors opened, and Edward McLean trudged out with four-year-old Abby Ransom in his arms. The little girl had her teeth clamped down on her lower lip, her eyes red and her cheeks stained with the tracks of tears now dried. Her great-grandfather carried the little girl over to Grace but kept Abby in his arms.

"I talked to my friend at the police department," Edward said. "There were no fatalities from the explosion, but fourteen people were hurt. David has the worst injuries."

Grace struggled to stay calm, Sean could see it, but the tears won out. She sagged against her grandfather, wrapping her arms around her daughter. No sobs, though. No, Grace wouldn't do that, not with her child right there. Sean knew tears must be streaming down her cheeks, yet from this angle, she seemed to be simply hugging her daughter.

Edward's lip curled in disgust — not for Grace's reaction, but for someone else entirely. "Who could've done this?"

Sean realized the older man wasn't asking a question. He was expressing what all of them felt. Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Anger.

Abby stuffed a thumb in her mouth, something the four-year-old hadn't done in a long time.

The coldness that had infiltrated Sean, once borne of fear and shock, transformed into a tight, iron-hard ball of dangerous resolve. Vengeance? Yeah, he could do that.

"Don't worry," Sean said, hands clenching into fists. "I will find out who did this, and I will make them pay for it."

Edward drew his head back a fraction. "Sean, let the police handle this."

"Police?" Sean shook his head hard. "Screw them. They can't help with psychic attacks. I saw a girl right before the bomb went off. I think she caused the explosion."

"How?" Edward turned pensive, his brows knit together over his nose. "My friend said the bomb consisted of two substances that are harmless when found alone, but when combined they're explosive. Each was held in its own glass container. There must've been a trigger to shatter the glass, but they haven't found the trigger itself yet or detected any evidence of how it worked."

Like a frigging cartoon character, Sean sensed a light bulb popping on above his head. No one else noticed his epiphany, of course, since it was contained inside himself. Suddenly, though, the facts of what he'd observed fit together to form a coherent picture.

The girl. The bomb.

She'd flicked her fingers and then — boom.

A trigger? Hell yeah, he knew what it was. The girl had used a psychic ability, maybe telekinesis, to shatter the glass containers and set off the bomb.

"Cops won't find a trigger," he said to Edward. "But I know exactly what it looks like."

Grace's head sprang up, her bleary eyes trained on him. "What are you talking about? You saw the bomb?"

"No." He flattened his lips into a line, recalling the anguish he'd sensed from the mystery girl. "The bomb was triggered by a psychic. And I'm beginning to think it was no coincidence the girl who set it off picked the day when David and I would be there."

"How could anyone have known," Edward said, "when the two of you would be there?"

Grace pushed away from her grandfather. "Psychics have a lot of ways to spy. I think Sean may be on to something here, but I can't leave David to go investigate." She glanced up at Edward. "And I need you to look after Abby."

"I'll get it done," Sean said. "Trust me, I will track down the girl and find out what the hell is going on, one way or another. All of us have pissed off plenty of bad guys over the years. The ones we know about are long dead, but they had facilities all over the world. Could be cronies who escaped. Either way, I'll root out the truth."

"This is a mistake," Amador said, his tone oddly sharp. "Grace, please do not encourage Sean. This is a reckless idea."

"Sean will be careful." Grace rushed forward to clasp Sean's face in both of her hands. "Don't do anything crazy. Promise me, Sean. I can't lose anyone I love, not again."

Grace didn't mean David, though all of them worried for his fate. Grace meant her parents who'd died at the hands of the lunatic Jackson Tennant seven years ago.

"I'll be careful," he assured her. "You won't lose anybody. Not David, not me, not anyone. We all will get through this safe and sound, you have my word."

He'd make sure nobody harmed his family, even if he had to take extreme measures to ensure it. After all, he'd promised he wouldn't get himself killed — not that he wouldn't take out the bad guys.

Sean understood Grace's fears of losing the people she loved. He feared for the same thing.

No one would die. No one except the scumbags who'd brought it on themselves.

Amador eyed Sean with a strange expression, something between curious and annoyed.

Well, the jerk had spent a good chunk of the past five years in a psychiatric clinic, off and on.

"I should get going," Sean said. "I know exactly where to start investigating."

The last place he'd seen the girl. The cafe.

*****

The stench of smoke permeated the air, and slender tendrils of it curled up from the blackened remnants of the cafe. The sallow glow of the streetlamps outside the entrance wall, which stood mostly intact, illuminated the smoke trails with a ghostly effect. Kira hunched in the entrance on the exact spot where she'd stood ten hours earlier. Though yellow police tape was strung across the entrance, she'd ducked under it. No one had been around to stop her since the cops seemed to have gone home for the night. She supposed they saw no need for guards. Only an idiot would sneak back into the scene of the crime she'd perpetrated.

Nighttime lent the devastation an eerie, almost otherworldly aura.

Cuts and bruises, that's all she had. But the victims in the cafe…

She fingered the strap of her little purse. The strap hung over one shoulder on a diagonal across her chest, the purse itself positioned over her hip. Inside the bag, she had chocolates and cigarettes. Her mouth watered, though not for candy. A smoke, that's what she needed. Even the toughest person would fall off the wagon in these circumstances. Who cared about wrecking six smoke-free months? She'd caused a catastrophe.

Biting down on her bottom lip, she tried not to think about cigarettes. But her thoughts came back to the bomb, the detonation, the screams. Carrying a pack of cigarettes in her purse to test her willpower had sounded like a good idea a month ago. Now, she craved a smoke so badly.

A chill skittered down her spine. She had done this. If anyone had died…

They said it was a smoke bomb. No excuse, and she knew it. For the rest of her life, she would live with the knowledge of what she'd done.

For years, she'd feared the possibility of anyone discovering she had powers, feared what the wrong people might do to her if they knew. Her nightmares had come true, more horrifying than she'd ever imagined.

"I knew you'd come back to admire your handiwork."

Kira jumped and spun around. Her heart thudded so hard she couldn't breathe for a second.

There, backlit by the streetlamps, hunkered a manlike silhouette. Shadows obscured his features. He seemed huge, like a demon straight out of Hell sent to drag her into the bowels of eternal torment.

The man surged forward to clamp his big hands around her arms. "Don't even think about running."

His voice snarled, like she'd always thought a demon's would.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

No voice. All she could do was gasp.

The demon spun them both until they stood sideways to the entrance, facing each other, his grip on her never easing up even the tiniest bit. His fingers pressed into her flesh, eliciting pains that webbed out into her shoulders.

And at last, she saw him.

The man who'd landed on top of her after the bomb went off.

His green eyes seemed luminescent in the spooky glow of the streetlamps. He must've been six feet tall, maybe a little more, with arms corded with muscles she could see even through the leather jacket he wore. His biceps bulged from the effort of holding her. His V-neck black T-shirt clung to his body, and so did his jeans, accentuating his every muscle.

This man could crush her with his bare hands.

"You detonated the bomb," he growled, "and I want to know why. Scratch that. You are going to tell me why if you want to keep all your limbs."

She started to scratch her thumbnail across her forefinger but tamped down the nervous instinct. Had he known someone who died here? Had she killed a human being?

No, God, no.

Kira didn't think about what she was doing. Panic gripped her in its icy talons, and she lashed out with all the power inside her, flinging it at the stranger.

He flew backward. With a thud and a grunt, he smacked down flat on his backside.

Run. The instinct propelled her. She barreled out the entrance, swerved left down the sidewalk, and —

Powerful arms latched around her torso and hauled her to a stop, her arms pinned to her body.

She yelped as the stranger hoisted her up, her feet dangling inches above the cement.

"You can talk here," he hissed into her ear, "or I can take you somewhere more private and find ways to motivate you to tell me what I want to know."

Was he threatening to abduct her? Like hell she'd let that happen.

"Don't," he said, and squeezed her so hard she couldn't breathe. Letting off the pressure just enough she could gulp in sweet oxygen, he told her, "I know you have powers, and I'm sure you want to use them on me again, but don't bother. Wherever you go, I'll find you. Someone I love is in a coma because of you."

What could she say? People had been injured — died, for all she knew — and maybe she deserved to be crushed to death by an avenging angel.

If she died, Caleb died too.

Kira marshaled all the energy she had left, tapping into her powers to the point of draining them, and willed his body to fly backward.

He jerked but held his ground. Held his grip on her too.

She was too weak to fight. Tears burned her eyes, but she refused to let them flow. Showing weakness in front of a man bent on exacting vengeance on her seemed like a really, really stupid idea.

"You've got a tell," he murmured into her ear.

"I've got a what?"

"A little movement you do right before you activate your powers. It gives away the game and gives me time to get ready for the attack." His lips were hot and dry against her ear. "You caught me off guard once. It won't happen again."

Wonderful. She had a tell, and he knew what it was. She didn't.

"I won't tell you anything," she said. "Either kill me or let me go."

"Nice try." He straightened, his arms still buckling her to his hard body. "But I'm not letting you out of my sight until I have all the answers I need."

Why oh why hadn't she bought a gun? A knife, even. Hell, a Taser would've done the trick. She'd never needed to defend herself until a few days ago, and by then it was too late.

She couldn't fight back against an invisible enemy.

The man grasped her wrists and yanked her hands behind her back, cuffing them in one of his hands. Something like hard plastic, a thin but strong cable of it, closed around her wrists. A zip tie? Her captor cinched it tight, though not so tight it would dig into her skin. Just snug enough to restrain her.

"I notice you're not screaming for help," he said, his strong hand holding onto the zip tie, his fingers between her wrists. "More proof you're guilty. Innocent people pray for help, fight to get away until they're bloody and beaten, scream for help until their throats are raw and they can't breathe."

The way he said those words, with a roughness and a slight break on the last syllable, she got the weirdest sensation trickling down her spine. He sounded like he knew people fought and screamed because he'd been in their shoes. He'd been a victim.

Oh no, she would not feel sorry for the man abducting her.

For all she knew, he was the world's greatest actor, conning her into empathizing with him as a means to break her will.

The stranger tugged on the zip tie. "Time to go."

He dropped a burlap sack over her head, plunging her into darkness.

She couldn't scream for help because she was guilty. She couldn't fight either because she was exhausted and powerless.

The stranger hauled her down the sidewalk. She tripped when they veered off the curb into the street. He kept her from falling down but dragged her onward until they halted, and she heard the distinctive sound of a car door opening. He shoved her into a bucket seat, shoved her feet inside too, and then strapped her in with the seatbelt. It pinned her to the seat with her hands bound behind her back, the strap at a diagonal across her chest. The lower portion of it banded her pelvis.

The door slammed shut.

Another door opened — the driver's door, she assumed — and slammed shut a moment later. The engine growled to life. The car shot forward, swerved right, rocketed ahead.

The momentum of each movement thrust her first backward into the seat, then sideways, and finally backward again. The zip tie dug into her wrists with sharp, stinging pain. She winced, gritting her teeth.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked.

"Not telling. Why do you think I put a hood over your head?" The car swung around a corner, and the engine roared as he floored the accelerator. "So you can't see where we're going."

Her wrists burned. A warm liquid oozed down from her wrists to her palms. Every wild movement of the vehicle shifted her position until the diagonal section of the seatbelt pinched her throat.

"Slow down," she said, her tone rife with a disquieting, almost pleading tone. "My wrists are getting rubbed raw, and the seatbelt is about to choke me."

Her captor let out a soft, harsh laugh. "This is a kidnapping, princess, not a spa vacation. You're probably lying, anyway. Criminals like to do that."

"Not lying," she grated between her clenched teeth. "Blood is running down my wrists. Look for yourself if you don't believe me."

Silence. Kira counted the seconds. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi.

The man in the driver's seat muttered, "Shit."

He swerved the car to the right, stopping with a suddenness that threw her forward. The seatbelt cut into her throat, choking her.

A click, and the seatbelt withdrew into its housing with a zzzt sound.

The release of pressure made her haul in a deep breath but that brought on a coughing fit.

He waited until she'd stopped coughing, then clasped her around the waist and angled her to the side. Large fingers felt around the zip tie. He muttered another oath. She heard him moving around, followed by the sharp sound of nylon snapping, and her wrists were free. Air wafted over them, making the scrapes sting and her eyes tear up from the pain. She gasped, partly from the pain, partly in relief.

Noises indicated he was rooting around in the backseat.

He wrapped a smooth rope — nylon? — around her wrists and cinched it tight enough to bind her without the rope cutting into her wrists. Once he'd knotted the rope, he secured the seatbelt around her again, leaving her hands free of the waist strap.

"There," he said. "You can't escape, but I don't have to listen to you whine about the zip tie anymore. No sneaky shit, understand? If you try to get away, I'll zip-tie you from head to toe. Besides, I turned on the safety locks which means you can't get out of the car. No sneaky —"

"I get it." What choice did she have? She leaned back into the seat, her bound hands in her lap. "The safety locks are only for the backseat, you know."

"Do up your seatbelt. And stop talking."

Since she had nowhere to go anyway, she complied with his orders. The rope irritated her raw skin, but that was the least of her worries. Blinded by the hood, she shut up and prayed this wasn't part of a plot devised by the people holding her brother. What they wanted her to do next, she had no idea. Their endgame remained a mystery too, one she needed to figure out but feared uncovering.

No way out.

Chapter Four

Sean parked in the space right in front of the door to the motel room he'd rented earlier. Yeah, okay, he'd planned on kidnapping the girl. Goosebumps prickled his arms and raised the hairs on his skin. Kidnapping. He was a kidnapper. Christ, that made him almost as bad as Bomb Girl and her cohorts.

Almost. But not quite.

He hadn't killed anyone.

Not yet, a voice whispered in his head, but you're awfully close to hurting this girl. Anything to get what he needed from her. That's what he'd sworn to do, though he'd promised himself he wouldn't go too far. Trouble was, he didn't know what "too far" meant anymore. Every time he considered untying Bomb Girl, he flashed back to the explosion and the injured people — and David crumpled under a pile of rubble. David in the hospital, comatose. Grace crying. Little Abby crying.

Sean yanked the key out of the ignition. He twirled the keyring, and the metal keys jangled each time he caught them in his closed fingers, only to swing them around again and again.

"What are you doing?" Bomb Girl asked, shrinking away from him.

"Planning how to torture you." He cringed at his own voice. Was that him growling like a bastard bent on revenge? Well, he supposed he was. Only a bastard would tie up a girl and drag her off to a motel. And vengeance was what he craved. Retribution. Bad enough to lose his mom when he was fifteen and just coming to terms with his powers. Worse to find out the mad scientist who tortured him had been his grandfather. But he'd be damned if he'd lose his new family, the people who'd saved his life and taught him to understand and appreciate his psychic gifts.

David and Grace had no idea how whacked he'd gotten. His powers… He caught the keys, fisting his hand around them. His powers weren't gifts anymore.

Sean had already hurt one girl. So what if he hadn't meant to. He'd done it. If he could hurt an innocent girl, one he'd cared about, he could sure as hell do whatever it took to wring the truth out of the terrorist in the passenger seat.

"Listen up, Bomb Girl," he said, "you've got two choices here. Walk into the m — the room I'm taking you to, or I tie up your feet, gag you, and throw you over my shoulder to haul you in there."

"Gee, let me think." She bobbed her head side to side as if considering the options. "I'll walk, Un-incredible Hulk."

"I'm not green." He thrust the driver's door open. "I'm red, with horns and a forked tongue."

She scoffed.

He almost smiled at her defiance. She had spunk, a quality he liked in women.

Not that he liked her. The terrorist.

As he climbed out of the car, he said over his shoulder, "You sure talking back to your kidnapper is such a bright idea? Getting sassy won't earn you any leniency."

He shut the door before she could talk back some more. Striding around to the passenger door, he swung it open and bent down to unhook her seatbelt. She flinched. He stepped back.

"You wanted to walk," he said, "so get your butt out of the car."

Bomb Girl swung her legs out first, testing the ground's solidity with her toes before setting her feet flat on the pavement. She struggled to get up, hindered by her bound hands.

Watching her flounder made his throat tighten. When she bumped her head on the car's roof, he grimaced and took hold of her rope-tied hands to help her stand.

On her feet at last, she shook her hands free of his.

Sean rested a hand on her back to guide her to the motel-room door. He warned her about the curb, but she stumbled over it anyway. When she fell backward into him, he couldn't help noticing the firm roundness of her buttocks.

He held her to his body and hoisted her over the curb.

Naturally, she scrambled away from him — and nearly smacked into the wall.

With one hand on her arm, he halted her inches from disaster and redirected her to the door. She sniffed, as if annoyed that she'd needed assistance. He felt a near smile tugging at his mouth again while he unlocked the door with the keycard.

Once he had her inside the room, with the door shut and locked and the security chain in place, he pushed her down onto the bed. "Sit there."

He whisked the hood off her head, tossing it onto the table by the windows. Thick curtains blocked the view through the windows. He shed his leather jacket, draping it over a chair.

"No sneaky shit, remember?" he said as he dropped into the nearest chair and draped his arm over the table.

She speared him with her midnight-blue gaze. "Now what?"

He shrugged one shoulder. "You could tell me everything I want to know and save yourself a lot of trouble."

Save him from doing things he didn't really want to do.

Of course, she had to be contrary about it.

"I can't tell you anything," she said. "Might as well kill me."

"What kind of kidnapper offs his victim before getting what he wants?" Sean leaned back and propped one ankle on the other knee, feigning a casual attitude he didn't feel. His gut burned with acid, and his jaw ached with tension. "What's your name?"

She lifted her chin, those blue eyes shimmering in the harsh light from the bedside lamp.

He tapped a finger on the tabletop. "Guess I can keep calling you Bomb Girl."

"Whatever."

"Or I could come over there and search you for ID." Sean let his gaze wander over her body. Lush breasts. Narrow waist. Womanly hips. She had a body made for sin but a face worthy of an angel, with a small mouth and a perky little nose. The idea of frisking her made his blood heat up and his skin tighten.

She said nothing, just glowered at him and tossed her raven hair.

"All right," he said, and rose to stride toward her. "Body search it is."

He fought to ignore the excitement that rushed over his skin like an electrical current. What kind of creep got turned on by the girl he'd abducted? She was a terrorist after all.

A beautiful, sexy one.

Sean gritted his teeth and slanted down until his face hovered in front of hers. The feminine scent of her surrounded him. Her eyes went large, and her lips parted. He tore open her tiny purse, the one she'd slung around her neck so it hung at a diagonal across her torso. Searching with one hand, he found no ID, just lipstick, a compact, a cell phone, a bag of candy, and a pack of cigarettes. Tossing the phone on the table, he settled his hands on her thighs, trying not to notice the soft curves of them, and slid his palms around her hips to her backside. When he found the hip pockets of her jeans, he thrust his hands into them.

Eureka.

He pulled out a thin, pink wallet.

Bomb Girl's mouth popped open on an irritated gasp. She clapped her jaw shut and glowered at him some more. Pissed because he'd found her wallet.

Or maybe because he'd kept his other hand in her hip pocket, pressed against her behind.

He withdrew that hand, straightened, and flipped open the wallet. He couldn't stop the triumphant laugh that chuckled out of him. "What kind of terrorist carries her ID with her when she's committing a heinous crime?"

A faint blush tinged her cheeks, and she averted her eyes.

The driver's license photo didn't do her justice, but at least it gave him a bit of information about the suspect seated in front of him.

"Nice to meet you," he said, "Kira Magnusson of Walnut Drive, Topeka, Kansas. A local girl, huh? Got a funny way of showing your community spirit."

She pursed her lips, glaring at the ugly carpeting for a change.

"I love having the upper hand," he said as he sat down at the table and slapped her wallet down on its surface. "I know a lot about you now, and you don't even know where you are."

She glanced around, her focus landing on the bedside table, then her lips kinked in a haughty, closed-mouth smile. "I know exactly where I am."

He gave a harsh laugh. "Yeah, you're my hostage in a motel room. But you have no clue —"

"We're in the Home Sweet Motel in Lawrence."

Sean froze. Slowly, he rotated his eyes until he spotted the telephone on the bedside table. It featured a big sticker emblazoned with the information she'd recited. "Crap."

"You suck at kidnapping."

He ran a hand over his face. "Yeah."

She studied him with measured interest. "What do you hope to gain from holding me hostage?"

"The truth." His voice had grown rough, and a pain gnawed at his gut. "That bomb put my best friend in a coma. I want to know why you blew up the cafe."

"I had no choice."

He scowled at her. "Everybody has a choice."

Kira chewed on her lower lip, and her gaze turned assessing, like she was sizing him up.

"Fine," she sighed. "You want the truth? Some very bad people took my eight-year-old brother and threatened to kill him unless I do what they want."

Sean narrowed his gaze on her. "Let me get this straight. To save one kid, you blew up a whole building full of innocent people? Why didn't you call the cops?"

Kira stared down at her lap where she wrung her hands. "I tried, but they basically laughed at me because I couldn't say who these people are or where they're hiding. I had no proof they'd taken my brother. My parents are in Uganda, and I was supposed to take care of Caleb —"

Her voice choked off.

Sean hated the twinge of sympathy he experienced when he saw her anguished expression.

"They swore," she continued, "it was a smoke bomb, nothing more."

"Bad guys always tell the truth."

She shot him a hard look. "You should know, being a bad guy yourself."

"I'm not a villain." He squirmed in his seat. "And I never set off a bomb."

"Maybe you don't believe me, but I'm telling the truth." She inhaled a shaky breath. "They showed me what they'd do to Caleb if I refused to do what they wanted."

"They — hurt the kid?"

"No." She bowed her head, and her shoulders slumped. "They hurt me."

He clenched his fist, itching to punch something, anything. Why did she have to say that? He hated anyone who hurt kids or women, which explained why he hated himself these days.

"I couldn't let my brother suffer," she said, "because of me. I believed the device was a smoke bomb and no one would get hurt. This was the final test of my powers, they said. I'm guilty of being an idiot, but I am not a terrorist."

"How the hell did you set off the bomb? Can you use your telekinesis from a distance?"

Mouth tight, she flicked her thumb against her index finger, and a tiny spark ignited.

Telekinetic and she could make electricity? Damn.

As the spark fizzled out, she said, "I didn't know I could until three days ago when these people took my brother and ordered me to practice setting off the smoke bomb. They told me to get two glass bottles and place them inside a metal box with a gap between them, close the box, and break the glass with my powers. I had to do this repeatedly, moving the box farther away each time. When I could break the bottles while the box was in another room, they said I was ready for the final test."

"Detonating the bomb at the cafe."

"Yes." Her thumb raked across her finger again, setting off another, bigger spark that floated down to the floor as a miniature ball, sputtering out just as it touched down. "I've done everything they wanted."

"Where have your parents been this whole time?"

"Gone."

"Oh jeez, I'm sorry. When did they —"

"They're not dead." Her teeth snagged her bottom lip. "I don't want to talk about them. Like I said, I'm an idiot and maybe a coward. But I am no terrorist."

Should he believe her? He didn't trust his intuition right now because the battle between his anger and his need to squelch his emotions had him tied up in knots.

"Can't let you go," he said. "Not until I've got proof of what you're saying about your brother and these mysterious bad guys. If you help me find that proof, it'll go a long way to showing you're not evil."

"Fine, I'll cooperate." Kira lifted her bound hands to him. "Untie me. Please."

"Please?" Sean raised one brow. "Playing nice won't make me let you go. I still don't trust you."

"I know." She stood, hands held out to him. "The rope is rubbing on my wounds from the zip tie. I won't try to escape, you have my word. Please untie me."

He mulled the situation for a moment, fingers drumming on the tabletop.

Then he removed the rope.

*****

The second the rope fell away from her wrists, Kira bolted for the door. Two feet from it, she was yanked backward by two powerful arms that snared her around the waist and hoisted her off her feet. Pinned to her captor's body, she flailed her feet but couldn't kick him. He'd pinned her arms too, and she couldn't reach any part of him to bite. Trapped.

Her heart hammered, her breaths came shallow and fast. Caleb needed her. She could not let this jackass waylay her. When the next call came… Would she obey their commands?

No choice.

The man restraining her in his vise-like embrace set her feet on the floor. His arms stayed belted around her. His lips scraped the shell of her ear as he hissed, "I'll cooperate, you said. I won't try to escape, you said. That one was a promise. I was nice, and you took advantage."

She swallowed hard. A cold sweat broke out on her forehead, and her palms grew clammy.

"Can't trust your word," he snarled. "You brought this on yourself."

He dragged her toward the TV stand near the foot of the bed. A black duffel bag slumped on the floor there, its zipper undone. He forced her to kneel with him, so he could dig items out of the bag. She couldn't see what he was doing, but she heard the rustling and felt his muscles flexing around her as he maintained his iron grip with one arm.

She ought to be able to wrestle free of him. He held her with one arm. But struggle as she might, she failed to gain any leeway. Holy cow, he was strong. He'd said she brought this on herself, but what exactly did he plan to do with her?

He leaned sideways, the heat of his body retreating, and pulled her hands together in front of her belly. While he held her wrists in one hand, with the other he wrapped something soft around them. Soft? She glanced down and saw he'd folded a length of fleece in half. Once he had the material around her wrists, he secured them with a zip tie again. The thick fleece protected her skin from the sharp edges of the nylon restraint.


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