Rubin Campos stood in front of the small cabin made of mostly broken lumber his brothers and father had dragged or cut from the trees in the forest and pieced together. No one had lived there in years, but he and Diego came back every year and fixed the place up. He had no idea why. Some compulsion buried deep in them that pulled them back he supposed.
They’d been born there. The cabin hadn’t been so large then. At the time it had been one room. His two older brothers and father had begun expanding it as the family grew in size. Eventually, there were nine children. Had their father not died when his horse stepped in a hole and fell, rolling on him, breaking his father’s neck, there most likely would have been more children.
They had lived off the land and were distrustful of outsiders. He’d learned hunting, fishing and trapping at a very early age. By the time he was three, he had learned to shoot. Every bullet counted. None could be wasted. It mattered little what age he was, if he pulled a trigger, he was expected to bring home something to put in the cooking pot.
“Someone’s been moving around the property,” Diego said, coming up behind him. “Tracks everywhere. Been coming here for a while.”
“Stripping the place,” Rubin guessed. He’d noticed the tracks as well.
The community was a very closed one. They didn’t let outsiders in and everyone within several miles of their land knew the brothers returned to their property. They were doctors and they came back and treated the sick. The people were so distrustful of government and everyone else, they refused to go to the nearest towns for medical aid, relying on homeopathic treatments. Rubin and Diego returning, two of their own, were welcome. No one would steal from them. Whoever was taking things from their cabin had to be an outsider, yet the tracks indicated that the person was coming and going on regular basis.
“Maybe,” Diego mused.
Rubin didn’t know why it bothered him that someone would take anything from the old cabin. It wasn’t like they lived there or needed the things they left. People were poor. He remembered being hungry all the time. Real hunger, not knowing when his next meal was coming or even if it was coming. He knew exactly how that felt.
Rubin was ten months older than Diego and they’d been seven years old when their father had died leaving their mother with nine children and only the land to sustain them. Their two oldest brothers, at fourteen and fifteen, had gone off looking for work, hoping to bring in money, but they never returned. Rubin and Diego never learned what happened to them.
The two boys, as young as they were, began to hunt, fish and trap, to put food on the table for the family. The girls helped by gathering plants, roots and growing as much as they could to help provide. Out hunting rabbits, the boys discovered a spring up above their cabin. Both were already showing astonishing promise of their genius abilities in spite of their lack of formal education. By the time they were eight, they figured out how to use gravity to bring that water to their cabin and for the first time, they had running water in the house.
They were nine years old when Mary left to marry a man, Mathew Sawyer on the farm closest to theirs. There were few choices for men or women to find anyone where they lived, but the was a good man. She was barely of age and she died in childbirth nine months later. Their mother didn’t smile much after that no matter how much the boys or their sisters tried to coax her.
Rubin reached back and rubbed at the knots in his neck. “I swear every time I come to this place, I think it will be my last, but I can’t stop.” He turned away from the cabin. “It’s really beautiful up here. I need the isolation of it. I love the swamp in Louisiana and our team, everyone there, but sometimes...”. He trailed off.
Sometimes, he needed space. He had gifts—psychic gifts that were rare. He belonged to an elite and covert military team called GhostWalkers. All of them had psychic gifts. His entire team. It was just that his gift or one of his gifts happened to be extremely rare and they protected him. They shielded him so that any enemy would never find out that he had such an ability. As far as they knew, only two people in the world had the gift of a being a psychic surgeon. He was one of the two. The team tended to hover until sometimes he felt he couldn’t breathe.
Diego sent a him a small grin. He got what Rubin meant without a huge explanation. “There’s nothing like the fireflies in the spring, is there?”
Rubin referred to the fireflies as lightning bugs and he always looked forward to dusk. The setting of the sun brought that first note in the beautiful melody, as the fireflies rose up to dance in harmony along the edges of the grass. He used to sit with his sisters and whisper to them of fairies and fey creatures, telling them stories he made up to entertain them. He knew Diego listened just as raptly as his sisters did.
The lightning bugs represented peace to him. Magic. Their world was one of survival and grim reality. But in the spring, when the fireflies came out at the setting of the sun to dance and provide their spellbinding performance, Rubin took his sisters outside and would sit with them in spite of his mother’s forbidding silence. He would spin tales for them to go along with the glowing dips and spins of the fairy-like lighting bugs.
A traveling man had once told stories to them when he had stopped by, trying to get their mother to purchase cloth from him. They had no money. They made their own clothes from hand-me-downs. Most were too small or too big because they traded with other families from farms. Rubin and Diego had kept a rifle on the man the entire time he was near them. He never saw it. They concealed their weapons under a blanket. Rubin had followed him off the property while Diego had gone up into the trees to cover Rubin. Rubin hadn’t liked the man, but he liked the stories.
“I miss the lightning bugs when we’re in the swamp,” Rubin conceded. His throat closed at the memories welling up. His sisters. Lucy, Jayne, and the twins, Ruby and Star. They would sit so still when he told them stories, rapt attention on their faces.
Rubin and Diego were ten when they managed to find a way to get in the old mining shaft, found the equipment and stripped it. They figured out how to make a generator after taking apart the one at the mine. It was the first time their mother ever had hot water and electricity. That winter was a good one. They were able to keep food on the table. Their mother didn’t smile, but she participated a bit in the conversations.
That next summer, four men hiked the Appalachian trail and camped just past their land. Lucy, their twelve-year-old sister had gone night-fishing with eight-year-old Jayne. It wasn’t uncommon for them to be gone most of the night, but when they didn’t come home in the morning, Rubin and Diego went looking for them. They found Lucy’s body half in and half out of the stream, her clothes ripped off her and blood under her fingernails. Little Jayne lay beside her, drooling, clothes torn, head bleeding from where someone had struck her a terrible blow. She screamed and screamed when she saw her brothers, not making any sense at all.
Rubin carried Jayne home while Diego carried Lucy’s body. They left both to be looked after by their mother and Ruby and Star, the thirteen-year-old twins while they collected their rifles and went back to look for tracks. They caught up with the four men the second night. The men had camped up by a little waterfall and were laughing and talking like they didn’t have a care in the world. The boys each chose a target, took careful aim and shot them through the heart. Two shots. Two kills. Just like they’d been taught from the time they were toddlers. They couldn’t afford to waste ammunition.
The other two men took to cover, hiding. Scared. It didn’t matter. They were varmints. And they were hunted by experts. They might be boys but they were elite trackers already. They both could call on animals to hunt with them, usually raptors. They knew the land. This was their world and they were merciless when they had to be. By early the next morning, the other two men were dead as well.
They didn’t bother to bury or hide the bodies. The men had gone off trail. The boys had no respect for them so as far as they were concerned, the vultures could have them. They were many miles from their run-down cabin and by the time someone did find the bodies—if they did—there would be no tracks leading back to them.
Rubin glanced down at the tracks around his cabin. They were recent. The grass was barely pressed down, as if the person going in and out of their home didn’t weigh much or enough time had passed that the grass was beginning to stand again. He’d let his brother figure it out. Diego was amazing at tracking.
“You going inside?” Diego’s southern accent had deepened as it often did when they returned to their roots.
“I’m thinking on it,” Rubin said. “It was a long trip and I’m tired, but if I go inside and the place is a mess, I’ll be upset and won’t be able to settle for the night.” He wouldn’t anyway. There were too many memories crowding in. It always happened that way when they came back. He was always conflicted when he first came home. Always. How could he not be? They’d lost so much.
The flu hit the winter they turned thirteen. Ruby, Jayne and their mother, all came down with it. Rubin had never felt so helpless in his life. He’d tried to nurse them back to health. He tried every potion and herbal medicine he knew to cure them. Nothing seemed to work. He couldn’t bring down their fevers. They buried Jayne first. Three days later, Ruby died. Their mother was down for six weeks. She never spoke a single word after that. She sat in a chair and rocked back and forth, humming songs and refusing to eat or acknowledge any of them no matter how much Star tried to coax her.
The winter they turned fourteen was a bad one and they had no choice but to go out hunting, often long distances or starve. When they returned from one particularly long hunt, Star was sobbing. Their mother’s body swung from a rope hung from the center beam of the miserable little cabin. Star was inconsolable, certain their mother’s death was her fault. She’d fallen asleep for just a few minutes. It was left to Rubin and Diego to cut their mother down and bury her alongside her husband and children in the graveyard behind the cabin, a nearly impossible task in the hard, frozen ground.
They woke the next morning to find a note from their sister explaining she couldn’t stay. She was sorry and hoped they would forgive her, but she was going to the nuns in the neighboring town a good distance away. Rubin and Diego were alarmed. The snow and ice were bad and the distance too far. None of the family had good winter gear. She was dead by the time they found, frozen in a small crevice near the stream where Lucy and Jayne had been attacked. It took them three days to dig a hole deep enough to bury Star in the family graveyard.
The graveyard was still behind the house. They planted wildflowers over the graves and kept it nice each year they returned. They also worked on the cabin, improving it just a little, knowing they would return to help those who distrusted doctors and refused to go anywhere near cities or towns and outsiders, but would trust one of their own.
“You going inside or just going to stand there with your hand on the door?” Diego prompted him again.
“I’m contemplating.” Rubin gave him a look. Sometimes being ten months older meant he could be bossy, not that Diego ever acknowledged anyone was his boss. He preferred to think they were twins and therefore the same age.
Diego flashed a little cocky grin. “If you keep contemplating, we’re both going to have white beards by the time you make up your mind whether or not to open the door.”
“Did it ever occur to you this could be a trap? Someone might have a grenade strapped to the doorknob and if I turn it and walk inside that’s the end of both of us? We’ve got a few enemies. I could be saving your life.”
“I don’t make enemies. No one ever knows I exist. I’m a ghost,” Diego pointed out.
That was true enough, Rubin had to concede. In a forest, or just about anywhere really, Diego was difficult to spot. He was one of the best and once set on an enemy, he would find them. Animals and birds aided him. He was silent and deadly. Diego appeared mild-mannered, but he truly was a dangerous man.
“Still, step aside. I might have to be the one to open the door. I can’t take chances that the brain in our family gets blown up. I’d have to file all kinds of reports and I do hate paperwork. Not to mention Ezekiel would be really pissed.”
Ezekiel Fortunes. The man who ultimately saved their lives. They owed him everything. The two boys waited until spring before they packed what little they had and hiked to the railway, hopping the train leading out of the mountains. They rode the rails for days, staying hidden, until they got off in a big city thinking they could find work. It was a terrible mistake, one of the worst they’d ever made. There were no jobs. Now they had no home and no forest to hunt or trap in. No stream to fish in.
Everyone they loved was dead. No one knew they even existed. Not a single person cared whether they lived or died. And then they ran into Ezekiel Fortunes. He wasn’t much older than they were, but he knew the streets of Detroit. He had two younger brothers he protected but he was still willing to take them on as long as they followed his rules.
They believed in Ezekiel so much they ended up following him into the military and ultimately into the GhostWalker program. And yeah, he’d be pissed if they got blown up because they were so careless they didn’t look for a grenade when they knew someone had been in their cabin.
“There’s no grenade,” Rubin admitted. “I’d feel it.” He could too. He could disrupt electronics with the energy in his body and he could feel traps fairly easily.
He’d been enhanced, just as all GhostWalkers had, both psychically and physically. They’d all signed on for the psychic enhancements, but they had been tricked into the physical enhancements. There was no going back. Dr. Peter Whitney had performed the surgeries on all of them, changing their DNA, giving them different traits and abilities, making them into something they were never meant to be.
The first team Whitney had experimented on, were ‘flawed’. Many suffered all kinds of physical problems and needed ‘anchors’ to work outside of their environments without the continual assault from the outside world on their unprotected brains. There were four teams and Whitney improved his soldiers with each team. No one realized that prior to working on the soldiers, he had performed hundreds of experiments on orphaned girls, believing them to be useless and in his mind giving them a higher purpose—serving their country.
Rubin opened the door to the cabin, bracing himself for the flood of memories, before walking inside. The cabin should have been dirty. Dusty at the very least. Instead, it was not only immaculate, but someone had fixed it up, repairing the sink that he’d been telling himself he would get to the last two visits. The wood around it had rotted. He was going to replace it, but never had enough time. Someone had not only done so, but the job was impeccable.
Rubin turned to look at his brother, not knowing how to feel about someone invading their cabin and actually working on it. No one had ever done anything to the Campos cabin other than a Campos. He stepped into the middle of the room and took a long slow look around, taking in everything. His brother took his back, doing the same. It was a familiar position, but they were looking at a very unfamiliar cabin.
Their cabin didn’t even smell the same. Coral honeysuckle was rare to find in the mountains and yet the cabin definitely held the subtle fragrance mixed strangely enough with the scent of daffodils. His mother called them Jonquils. All along the neighboring holler where they grew freely, they referred to them as Easter lilies. There was no hint of a musty smell at all. The loft held a new mattress. He could tell because it didn’t stink of the usual rodents that had burrowed their way inside the foam. A sleeping bag covered the top of the mattress.
Someone hadn’t been taking things from their cabin. Someone was living there. That someone was female. There were no flowers, but that fragrance told both men the occupant was a woman.
“I’ll get rid of any sign outside that we were anywhere near the place,” Diego said.
Rubin nodded. He was uneasy. When he was uneasy, it usually meant something was very wrong. “Be careful, Diego. I’ve got a bad feeling.”
“I’ve got the same bad feeling. Stay away from the windows.”
Rubin didn’t need the warning. He waited until his brother had slipped outside. Once Diego was out of the cabin, he felt better. He had never seen anyone who could match his brother’s ability in the forest. At least he knew Diego would be safe. He crouched low, squatting, the way his father had taught him, relieving pressure on his spine while he studied the interior of the cabin, inspecting every corner.
The floors were spotless. There was a handwoven rug at the foot of the ladder leading to loft where the bed was. Four years earlier, they had roughed in a shower and toilet. It had been very rough. They had been used to an outhouse and an outdoor shower when they came to the mountains. The shower was still open, but it was much nicer. The floor of the shower had been set in smooth, polished stones over the plastic around the drain they’d roughed in. They had packed in a brand-new porcelain toilet when they came that year and it was spotless.
The kitchen sink was immaculate. The small gas stove had been thoroughly cleaned. That had been brought up only last year. Ordinarily, they made due with a small grill they kept in the shed around back. The woman who was living in their cabin believed in cleanliness. She hadn’t made things worse, but she had made changes to the kitchen, the bathroom, and even fixed the ladder going to the loft.
Rubin glanced up at the ceiling. They were planning on reroofing this trip. There had been water damage and they hadn’t been able to do more than patch the roof before they had to leave last time. There were no water marks on the ceiling. The wood had been replaced. That wood had been there since he was born. Even with water stains, his father and brothers had hauled that wood from the forest, trimmed it, notched it and put it in place. It had lasted all these years. An outsider had taken it down and replaced it. It didn’t matter that she’d done a damn good job, that was part of his family legacy—all Diego and he had left other than the graveyard behind the cabin.
At least she hadn’t touched the two rocking chairs their father had carved so long ago. Diego and he had kept them in pristine condition. Each year they’d returned, they’d polished the wood and treated it so no insects would bore into it and ruin it. The seats were wide and very comfortable. The armrests were the perfect height. Had anyone stolen or harmed those rocking chairs, he might have considered hunting them down and shooting them. He definitely would have hunted the thieves to retrieve the chairs.
In the dresser built into the wall going out to the mud porch—that had been the practical place to store extra clothing when they had no indoor shower—he found two pair of jeans in the second drawer. They were a small size. Three tank tops, all dark colors and three others in light colors. Four T-shirts in dark colors. Socks. Two sweaters. A puffy vest. The top drawer held leggings and a tank only.
She didn’t have much in the way of clothing. Not summer gear. Not winter gear. What the hell was she doing up here? He was planning on asking her. She hadn’t brought her own tools. She clearly was using their tools right out of the shed.
He spotted the backpack pushed inside the pantry where they normally stored potatoes. It was darkest there. He pulled it out, unzipped it and began pulling out the contents. She didn’t have much there either. A pair of running shoes. A first aid kit, but it was pretty sparse. Lightweight flashlight and batteries. Knife in a leather scabbard, this one lethal looking. Pocket knife that she should have had on her if she was running around in the woods.
On the bed was a sketch pad, charcoal drawing pencils and colored pencils. She was a good artist. Lots of flowering plants. He knew all of them. Knew where they were located. Most were quite a bit off the beaten path. She could easily get lost if she was off chasing flowers and mushrooms, lacy ferns and shrubbery through the forest, especially if she wasn’t native to the area. Most were medicinal plants. She obviously knew something about homeopathic medicine.
Where the hell was she? The sun was long past setting. He was beginning to feel a little worried about her, which was stupid since he didn’t know her and she’d been trespassing. He inhaled again, the scent of coral honeysuckle filling his lungs. It was a beautiful flower, one rare for the mountains. Extremely rare. He wondered if she was a transplant just like that flower, rare like the fragrance permeating his cabin.
For some reason he couldn’t quite identify, he was beginning to lay claim to the woman. Maybe because she was in his cabin and that fragrance was filling his senses. He was essentially a loner. He preferred it that way. Diego and he always stayed close to one another and they stayed close to the Fortune brothers, but in terms of letting people know who he was, that just didn’t happen.
He was intelligent enough to know he’d suffered too much loss early in his life. He didn’t believe anyone would stay so he locked his emotions away and he fiercely protected Diego just as his brother fiercely protected him. Still, for all that, that scent was wreaking havoc with his senses and his protective instincts.
The flute-like notes of the nightingale added to the sounds surrounding the cabin. Rubin listened to the rich ballad, the male crooning to a female. The sky had turned a variety of dark purples and deep blues, long after the sun had disappeared, leaving the sky to the moon. Diego, in the form of that nightingale, had warned Rubin he was about to have company. Diego had perfected the art of singing like any bird he’d heard at a very young age, so much so that he could draw them to him.
Rubin moved into position in the middle of the cabin, waiting for his brother to tell him if she was coming to the front door or the back. The song started again just a few moments later, the male clearly persuading his potential ladylove to accept him. The notes doubled up if one listened closely, which meant his transplant was coming in through the backdoor. Not surprising when she’d been traipsing through the woods.
She easily could be a potential enemy sent by any number of foreign nations anxious to acquire a GhostWalker. She also could be sent by Whitney. He wanted his soldiers back, particularly the ones with special talents. He often pitted his ‘super-soldiers’ against the GhostWalkers to see which of his experiments would live through the battles.
Rubin slid into the shadows and went still. He’d learned years earlier to disappear there. The back door opened and a slight silhouette came through. The door closed and she crouched down to unlace her hiking boots. Putting the boots neatly aside, she tossed her socks into a small basket and then hung her jacket on a hook by the door. Pulling her shirt over her head, she tossed that into the same basket along with her bra. Stripping off her jeans and panties, those went into the basket and she stepped into the shower.
Rubin was inherently a gentleman. It wasn’t that he wasn’t male enough to want to look at the female body given the opportunity, but he wouldn’t take undo advantage, especially in this circumstance. This woman was out in the middle of nowhere, alone and would be terrified as a rule, confronted by two men except for one thing. Most GhostWalkers recognized the energy of another GhostWalker. Rubin recognized her energy immediately.
It was impossible that it was a coincidence that a female GhostWalker just happened to be in his cabin in the Appalachian Mountains, camping out. Whitney had sent her. If Whitney sent her, she was his enemy. She was there to distract or kill him. Either way, there were more coming. It was no secret that he returned to his home to treat those refusing to trust outsiders. Both Diego and Rubin came sometimes twice a year. She was living in the cabin for a reason, and that reason was to get to them.
Rubin considered whether or not to confront her while she was shampooing her hair. She hadn’t turned on lights. Or lit candles. The night hadn’t completely fallen so it wasn’t completely dark yet, but still, most people, when they were alone, preferred to have lights. A GhostWalker wouldn’t necessarily need lights. Whitney’s experiments often included animal DNA so many of them could easily see in the dark.
He studied her body while she conditioned her hair. She was fit. Really fit. Feminine, but without a doubt, muscles moved beneath that flawless skin. Her hair was nearly white it was so blonde and the color was natural because the tiny curls at the junction between her legs were just as white as the wealth of hair on her head.
He found himself fascinated with the way her body moved, a display of feminine power, of beautiful lines and movement, almost like a dancer, yet clearly that of a fighter. She was deceptively delicate, so when wearing clothes, no one would ever see that beneath she would be deadly, a true assassin coiled to strike.
The water went off and she stepped out of the stall and wrapped a towel around her body. He let her get into the center of the room away from all potential weapons. She had toweled off the blonde pixie-cut framing her face, now a shade or two darker from the dampness of the water than it had been when she’d entered the shower.
“I think you might want to just stop right there and stay very still. My brother has you covered dead center from the window and he doesn’t miss, which I’m certain you know.” Rubin kept his voice low. Smooth. “No, don’t turn around. Stay facing that window.”
Diego would be able to see her without a problem. Whitney had made certain of that.
“Start with your name. You must have one.”
“Of course, I have a name. It’s Jonquille. Are you Rubin? Or Diego?”
“Diego is the one with the rifle pointed right between your eyes. I’m Rubin. We aren’t going to be playing any games with you. This isn’t a coincidence that you’re here. I know you’re a GhostWalker. I can feel your energy. You know I am. So, let’s just cut to the chase. When is the team going to arrive and how many should we be expecting?”
“There is no team. I came here looking for you. I studied everything about you I could find. There was no way to get anywhere near you in Louisiana. Your team was always around you. In any case, it was too dangerous for me and everyone else. So, I came here and just waited. I knew you’d come, although you’re early.”
He couldn’t detect a lie in her voice, but some GhostWalkers were adept at lying convincingly. “Why would you study everything about me and then stalk me?”
“I do sound like a stalker, don’t I?”
For the first time nerves crept into her voice. Before, she had just sounded excited. Not even upset that she was naked beneath the towel and he’d caught her in a vulnerable position. Just excited.
“That’s not how I meant it. I saw you speak at a conference on lightning. It was brilliant. You were brilliant. I know you’re a hotshot doctor and all, and mostly you go to medical conferences, but you have an interest in lightning and you seem to have insights most so-called qualified people don’t.”
She talked so fast, her words tumbled over one another. Again, she started to turn.
“Don’t.” He reminded her sharply. “Diego will shoot you without hesitation.”
“Can’t you just tell him to put down his rifle for a minute so we can talk? If you don’t believe me, he can pick it back up again.”
He wanted to smile at the sheer exasperation in her voice. “No, I’m afraid we can’t do that just yet. Keep talking.”
He found it interesting that she wasn’t in the least impressed with his being a ‘hotshot’ doctor. He had a profound interest in all things lightning. He had written papers on it. Talked theories. Discussed ways to harness it. Uses for it. He had come up with ways to redirect natural lightning bolts in order to reduce damage to personal property everywhere. It could prevent loss of life. Part of being home was to test his ability to redirect lightning strikes. Up in the mountains, away from everyone, he would ensure no one was around to get hurt. No one knew about his intentions other than a very select few.
The uses for a potential military weapon didn’t sit right with him, but the potential use in so many other areas for good was huge. Already, the military was looking at harnessing lightning in different forms for weapons. He couldn’t stop that, but he could continue with his experiments with the consent of Major General Tennessee Milton, the direct commander of GhostWalker Team 4. He knew he would have to cooperate with those looking to weaponize lightning as well, but he’d looked at those experiments and realized it was too late to ever go back from them.
“What makes you so interested in lightning?”
“I’m one of Whitney’s first experiments. One of his first orphans. I escaped from his compound and managed to get away on my own and stay hidden under the radar. He had a microchip on me, but it didn’t work. I have too much electrical current building up in me at times and it short-circuited. I know you’re on his fourth team, the one he considers perfection. You get to be perfect because he started years ago with orphan girls. Infants. He experimented on us. He has laboratories all over and female orphans to experiment on. Once he believed he knew what he was doing, he transferred those experiments onto his first team of soldiers.”
Rubin was well aware of what she was telling him. It was the truth. Whitney had more than one laboratory. He had many backers, although most didn’t know—or didn’t care—about the young girls he experimented on before he psychically enhanced his first team of solders. He had also, without their consent, physically enhanced them using animal DNA. The first team of GhostWalker had many problems. They were good at their jobs, but they still had problems.
“I’m one of those very flawed experiments,” Jonquille confessed. A little shiver when through her body. “It isn’t safe for anyone to be around me for very long. Not ever. I’ve read everything I can about lightning. No one seems to really know how it works. I started taking chances, sneaking in to the conferences on lightning and the various uses. I stayed away from everyone until I could tell I was drawing too much energy and then I’d leave. I’m a trained GhostWalker soldier. That was one thing Whitney did do for us. We were very well trained and we all speak multiple languages. I also went to med school. He wanted us to be productive. It wasn’t difficult to get into the conferences.”
Rubin couldn’t help but be interested. Either she was the best liar in the world or she was telling the absolute truth. She also had an extremely interesting and well-rounded education for one of Whitney’s orphans.
“You stay right there. Don’t move. Diego has that rifle on you. I’m getting your clothes. I’m not taking chances you might have a weapon stashed. That would get you killed.”
“Fine, just hurry please. Tank top and there’s a pair of leggings I wear in the evenings. Can you grab those for me? Top drawer. After hiking all day, I like to be comfortable.”
He resisted smiling. She still had that little bit of eagerness in her voice, as if she was so happy she’d finally connected with him, that she didn’t really care that his brother had a gun aimed directly between her eyes. If she had done any research on him—and being a GhostWalker—most likely she was able to find out what others couldn’t—she had to know Diego really didn’t miss.
He wanted to tell his brother to stand down, but he couldn’t take chances. She smelled good. Really, really good. The subtle fragrance of coral honeysuckle was alive and well, drifting through the cabin, filling his lungs with every breath he drew in. He found it intoxicating—and distracting. That was unprecedented.
He pulled the one pair of leggings out of the drawer along with a shorter tank top, both very soft. He could see why she preferred to wear them at night. The garments would cling to her body and he didn’t need any more of a distraction, nor did he need Diego to be looking at the clear outline of breasts and bottom in her clingy nightwear. He added the one long sweater she had. She could wear that as well. The woman could do with some modesty. So far, she hadn’t shown any.
“I’m going to hand you your clothes. You’re going to have to get dressed right there.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake. This is ridiculous.”
“You’re the one who invaded our home. You had to know the chance you were taking. You’re lucky we didn’t just shoot you as you came up the trail. Coming at you over your right shoulder.”
He tossed her the shirt first. Clutching the towel with one hand, she caught the tank with the other and pulled it over her head, keeping the towel in place. She was very coordinated. Very. She caught it without looking. Even when she had to switch hands, it was done so smoothly and fast, pulling the tank down, without removing the towel.
“Pants coming over left shoulder.” He wanted to see if she was trained equally on both sides. She was. She had no problem snagging the leggings out the air without seeing them, and dragging them on. Only then did she fold the towel.
“I’ve got a sweater for you to wear.”
“Are you going to call off your brother?”
“You’re going to put on the sweater and then sit in the rocker. I already checked it for weapons. I checked your leggings and tank as well.”
“What could I have been hiding in these leggings or my tank?”
“Don’t be obtuse. A garrote. You probably stashed any number of weapons around the cabin.” He lifted his hand to the window and made a short circle to tell Diego to come inside. “Put the sweater on, Jonquille.”
Obediently, she caught the sweater and slipped into it. He did his best not to notice the way her breasts moved enticingly beneath the tank. He knew her body was going to be a distraction beneath that thin, clingy shirt. Her hair was beginning to dry, going light even there in the gathering dark of the cabin. She flounced over to the rocker and curled up into it. She looked smaller than ever in it.
Rubin and Diego were both a quarter of an inch just shy of six feet. Their family was not made up of small people. Jonquille may have been diminutive in size, but she didn’t feel that way to him. She might look deceptively delicate with clothes on, but he’d seen the muscles running like steel beneath her skin. She’d been confronted alone, far from any help, completely vulnerable by two male GhostWalkers—and she knew what that meant—yet she didn’t flinch from the danger. She was lethal and had her own secrets, there was no doubt about that. For the first time in his life, Rubin was seriously interested in knowing more about a woman.
The door to the cabin opened and Diego entered. His gaze slid over their guest and then jumped to Rubin’s face. She’s a GhostWalker. It was an accusation. They were quite capable of speaking telepathically to one another. Diego was a strong telepath, capable of building bridges for those weaker on the team.
Yes, she is.
You should have told me immediately. She’s most likely bait.
I don’t think so.
You don’t get to take chances with your life. Diego was obviously irritated with him. That happened very seldom. He stalked to the small crisper. Dumping the duffel bag on the floor he began to shove their supplies into the drawer.
I was making certain I wasn’t taking chances with yours.
Throughout the entire conversation, Rubin didn’t take his gaze from Jonquille. She regarded the brothers carefully, a small frown on her face. Her large blue eyes jumped back and forth between the two of them. Finally, she sighed.
“Here’s the thing. Whitney’s first experiments were very, very flawed. I’m one of those. Women can get moody. Temperamental. Let’s say stormy under the right conditions. Like the weather changing. Dark clouds overhead. Pissed off.”
“Spit it out,” Diego said, his tone mild.
Rubin raised his gaze to his brother’s. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m already feeling protective of her. It was a warning as well as a hope that Diego would protect her as well.
Yeah, I figured as much. That’s got to be a Whitney thing if it’s happening this fast, you know that, right? Another thing to be suspicious about. Diego sounded resigned.
Rubin already was well aware that Whitney had a penchant for ‘pairing’ his experiments. He often used pheromones to cause attraction between the two he wanted paired. Rubin had seen the results of those pairings. Whitney had definitely caused a physical attraction, but he hadn’t counted on an emotional one. There was no controlling that side of things. Whitney didn’t feel real emotion so he couldn’t comprehend it.
Whitney certainly didn’t understand the closeness the GhostWalker teams developed amongst one another or the loyalty they showed to one another. He had no idea of the protectiveness they could feel toward their women and children or even one another.
“Jonquille?” Rubin prompted.
She gripped the arm of the rocker with one hand, and her thigh with the other, the first sign of real tension she’d showed since Rubin had entered the cabin. “Whitney had this notion when I was about four that it would be a great idea to use lightning against our enemies. He’s always wanted to use weather rather than soldiers, so no loss of life to us, but he could ruin their food sources and destroy their satellites, or use a series of devastating direct strikes against military installations. Several of us were used in related experiments, all considered failures. I am his lightning failure.”
Rubin was gripped by the utter sorrow in her voice. His heart actually jumped in his chest. A human lightning bolt? He leaned toward her. That was impossible. But was it? If Whitney had really paired them, he would be a logical match. He was a master of electrical control.
Is it possible? Diego asked. Cause this doesn’t feel like a lie.
I don’t know.
“Are you saying that when a storm brews you can actually direct lightning? Not only direct lightning from the storm, but produce it?” Rubin asked.
He had to work to keep his voice mild. He didn’t want to sound in any way like Whitney had to have sounded when she had been a child and the cold-blooded man had tested her over and over. Suppressing excitement wasn’t easy. There was no one like her in the world that he’d ever heard of, if what she said was true. A human lightning bolt?
“I can’t direct lightning. That was the problem. And disappointment. Just produce it.”
But he could direct it. Jonquille was the weapon. Rubin was the trigger. He met his brother’s gaze over her head. Whitney had definitely paired them.