Chapter OneThe relentless rain came down, accompanied by ground-rattling thunder and great flashes of lightning. Jamie liked storms ... but not this one. This time he felt more than the turbulence of the weather. The air crackled with electricity-and good intentions. Determination. Resolve.
They hunted him. Well-meaning, but destructive all the same. He had only himself to blame. He'd allowed them to become friendly. He hadn't been aloof enough, had interfered too many times. But God, what other choices did he have? Watch them suffer? Feel their pain?
No, he couldn't. He had enough of his own pain to deal with.
Sitting on the plank floor, his back to a wall, his knees drawn up, he stared out at the darkness. Not a single lamp glowed in his home. The fireplace remained cool and empty; a chill skated up his spine.
He laid his forehead to his knees, trying to block them out, wanting to pray that they wouldn't find him but unable to summon the right words in the midst of so many feelings bombarding him.
Then it dawned on him. His head shot up, his black eyes seeing beyond his immediate surroundings. Not just the townsfolk. No, someone else crept up his mountain. Someone else wanted him.
Without conscious decision, Jamie pushed to his feet and padded barefoot across the icy floor. No locks protected his doors; he didn't need them. At all times, even in sleep, he kept himself open to data from the outside world. As a remote viewer, he could shut down or accept information at will.
But remaining open made him feel more secure. He used his focus on the townsfolk, on the throbbing life around him, as a psychotherapeutic tool, allowing it to tune out other influences. As long as he kept his brain busy accepting information from locals, no one, not even the profs at Farmington Research Institute, could control his intentions with automatic transmissions.
Shoving his raw wooden door open, Jamie moved out to the covered porch. The scent of wet foliage and earth hung heavy in the air. Rain immediately blew in against him, soaking his shirt and jeans, collecting in his beard and long hair until he looked, felt, like a drowned rat.
Something vaguely close to excitement stirred within him, accelerating his heartbeat, making his blood sing. He lifted his nose to the wind, let his heavy eyelids drift shut. He found a target through space and time ... and he knew.
The first visitor stood alone, a stranger. A woman. Seeking him out. Needing him.
Yes, this he could do.
Half-furious and half-thrilled for the distraction, he stepped inside the house and shoved his feet into rubber boots. Forgoing a jacket, sensing the limitations of his time frame, Jamie stepped off the porch and into the pouring rain.
Storms were different deep in the woods, with leaves acting as a canopy, muffling the patter of the rain, absorbing the moisture. Once, long ago, he had hoped they might absorb some of the emotions that assaulted him. But they hadn't. Even from such a distance, high up the mountain in the thick of the trees where no one ever ventured, he had still gotten to know the townsfolk: first the children, then the others.
And they'd gotten to know him.
Despite his efforts to the contrary, they were starting to care. They didn't know about the institute, about the time he'd spent as a guinea pig, learning more about himself than the profs could ever discover with their intrusive mind experiments and illegal testing.
The townsfolk didn't know that their caring could destroy him, could strip away the last piece of self-respect he had.
And he couldn't tell them.
Twice as dark as it'd be in the open, the day looked like night. Jamie made his way cautiously away from his home, down an invisible trail known only to him. He walked and walked, mud caked up to his knees, his clothes so wet they proved useless against the weather.
Pausing beside a large tree that disappeared into the sky, he looked down the hillside.
Clint Evans, the new sheriff who'd listened to Jamie's dire warnings without much disbelief, picked his way tirelessly up the hillside. Jamie narrowed his eyes, knowing this was Julie's doing, that she wanted Clint to get his agreement to attend their wedding.
He would have gone. To make sure everything stayed safe. To keep watch. Julie didn't need to send her hulking new lover after him. He should be pleased it wasn't Joe, because Joe wouldn't give up, no matter what. Worse, it could have been Alyx, Joe's sister, who'd surprised him once when she'd gotten too close for Jamie to send her away. After that she'd come back again. And once more.
She'd actually been in his home, and damn her, she wanted in his heart. She wanted his friendship.
They all did.
Jamie closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing, on blocking destructive sentiment so he could feel the other intruder. His eyes snapped open and he lifted a hand to shield his vision from the downpour. There, farther up the hill from Clint, she shivered and shook, miserable clear to her bones, tears mixing with the rain and mud on her face.
Jamie felt ... something. He didn't know what. Odd, because normally only those he cared about muddled his perception. His powerful acclaim to telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition left most people and events as clear to him as an open book.
But when he cared, emotional reactions mixed with his truer senses, leaving him as confused as everyone else.
Maybe she didn't know what she felt, so how could he know?
Dismissing Clint from his mind, already knowing what Clint would see and what he'd do, Jamie pushed away from the tree. The woman wore no hat, and her hair was plastered to her skull. A redhead, Jamie thought, although with her hair soaked it looked dark enough to be brown. He didn't have to survey her to know of her pale skin barely touched by freckles, or her blue eyes, now bloodshot.
Her face, more plain than otherwise, served as adequate deception to her body, which bordered on sinfully luscious.
With an absorption wrought from years of isolation, Jamie studied her incredible breasts, her small waist, her long, shapely legs. Those legs ...
Trying to gain better footing on the slick hillside, she turned, showing him her profile. She had a behind that would excite many men. That is, if they noticed. More likely, her quiet demeanor, choice of clothes, and ordinary face put them off. As she intended. She hid, just as Jamie did.
They had that in common.
Holding tight to a skinny tree, she tried and failed to take a few more steps up the mountain. Her feet gained no purchase on the rain-slick ground and she fell forward with a gasp that got her a mouthful of mud. Moaning, she rolled to her back and just lay there, more tears coming, her chest heaving as she coughed and spewed out mud.
Jamie picked his way toward her, and with each step he took, a sense of alarm expanded until her fear and worry and pain became his own. One of the pitfalls of remote viewing was the level of sensory absorption. Sometimes it could be a serious setback.
For most people, time filtered their emotions, unconsciously burying pain, fading loss, and overlooking illness. Only the strongest emotions remained on the surface, powerful enough for others to perceive. For a remote viewer, the more hidden emotions were also clear.
At the moment, the woman's emotional pain and physical discomfort were strong enough that they became Jamie's too.
Exhaustion and a lingering fever robbed her of strength, leaving him weakened as well. Her lungs labored and her eyes burned.... Jamie cut her off, breaking contact so he could concentrate on reaching her.
But before he could get to her, before he could warn her not to move, her determination surfaced and she again tried to stand. She got upright, then one foot slipped out from under her and her arms flailed the air-and she fell back. Hard.
She didn't roll down the hill.
The rock kept her from doing so.
In seconds, Jamie reached her. She was so incredibly still. Squatting down, he touched her cheek and knew that her fever wasn't cause for alarm. Sick, yes, but not so feverish as to be life threatening. The bump on her head ... that worried him. He coasted his fingers through her tangled, wet hair, gently prodding, searching, and encountered a considerable swelling behind her right ear, but no blood.
Jamie patted her cheeks, unwilling to speak because Clint drew nearer and he simply couldn't deal with them both right now.
Tipping a leaf to gather the moisture off it, Jamie wiped some of the mud from her face. Her hair spiked up in front when he pushed it away from her eyes, giving her an appearance that might have been comical in other circumstances. He tapped her cheeks again, smoothed his thumb along her soft, fever-warm cheekbone, and her eyes opened.
As he already knew, they were blue, but unlike any blue he'd ever seen.
Her eyes weren't intense, like Alyx and Joe Winston's. They weren't a gentle blue like Deputy Scott Royal's. They were deep, dark cobalt blue, reminding Jamie of a stormy sky. At first vague, her gaze sharpened the moment it met his.
Jamie half expected hysterics. Absurd, given he should have known exactly what she'd do. But still, her reaction surprised him. Her eyes widened. Then her lashes sank down in relief and she sighed, "Jamie Creed. Thank God I found you."
And just like that she drifted off, as if exhaustion had been hot on her heels and only sheer grit had kept her going until she found him.
Left eye twitching, muscles tensed, Jamie ran through his options before deciding what to do. He wouldn't take chances. He didn't know her, had no idea what she wanted with him. He had to protect himself, because God knew no one else would do it for him.
Mind made up, Jamie stripped her useless jacket from her shoulders and laid it flat on the ground. She wore a thick shirt, and he gripped the front of it in both hands. Drawing a breath, he jerked hard, rending the material from neck to hem. She didn't move. Her body remained boneless. With methodical intent, he stripped her of every shred of clothing, placing each garment atop the jacket so he could easily gather them into one bundle.
When she lay naked in front of him, the proof of her perfect body there for him to see, Jamie took only a moment to absorb the sight of her before hefting her into his arms. She wasn't a petite woman, but then, he wasn't a slouch. He could, would, carry her-as far as necessary.
With his right hand, he snatched up her torn pile of clothing. It had been so long since he'd held anyone, since he'd allowed himself the comfort of physical contact, that his heart felt full to bursting, pounding hard and fast. Never mind the mud and rain and whatever ailed her, she still smelled like a woman: soft and feminine and ripe with sex appeal.
He'd missed that smell so much.
First things first. Rather than climb back up to his cabin, Jamie made his way to the west, toward the plunging edge of a cliff. He looked over to a deep ravine cut through the mountain by a fast-moving stream, now swollen from the heavy rains. Tightening his hold on the woman, he reared back and slung her clothes over the side. The ruined garments soared, sank, and hit the creek with a dull splash, separating, dragged along by the current to get dumped a good distance away from him.
Just getting rid of the clothes made Jamie feel better.
She could still have a surveillance device on her body somewhere, and he'd check for that as soon as he got her out of the foul weather. She might not like his thorough inspection-what woman would? But then, he didn't like being hunted, either. Given the howling wind and stinging rain, it looked like they both had to tolerate a few things.
Even burdened with the woman's weight, the climb to his cabin didn't tax him. Whenever he went anywhere, he walked, so his legs were strong and he had an abundance of stamina.
The woman didn't make a peep, didn't open her eyes again, but she must not have been entirely out of it, because her arms went around his neck and she tucked her face in near his chest to avoid the rain. Prodded by a strange yearning, Jamie curled her closer still, even bent over her a bit to afford her more protection. He could feel the rapping of her heartbeat on his chest, her gentle breath on his throat.
Cravings he hadn't suffered in far too long awoke within him. He didn't like it. Or maybe he liked it too much.
He knew the moment Clint spotted them. He felt the sheriff's shock and curiosity slapping against his already heightened senses. Eyes narrowed against the rain, Jamie forged onward, refusing to look back.
Clint called to him, but his words blew away on the storm. Knowing the woods better than even the bears, Jamie easily lost Clint by moving between trees and boulders and across narrow streams.
By the time he reached his cabin, he knew Clint had turned back. What tales he'd tell to the others, Jamie could only guess. But when the rain stopped and the mud dried-tomorrow or the next day-they'd come for him.
He knew it as sure as he knew the woman in his arms would be trouble.
And still, he carried her over the threshold and into his cabin.
When he nudged the door shut with his shoulder, she shifted, making a small, purely feminine sound of discomfort. Charmed, Jamie watched and waited for her to become fully aware.
She lifted her head slightly. Her gaze shied away from his, and she took in her surroundings, then, blinked twice. No smile. No fear. But she had nervousness in spades, almost equal to her tenacity. While Jamie continued to hold her, she licked her lips, hesitated, and finally turned her face up to his.
His awareness on a razor's edge, Jamie assessed her. Mud streaked her pale cheeks. Her long, wet hair tangled around his shoulder. Her lips shivered with the cold.
Taking him off guard, she lifted one small, woman-soft hand to touch the side of his face. "Thank you."
Very slowly, Jamie set her on her feet. Faith tried not to waver, but a hollow weakness invaded her every muscle. At the moment, staying upright seemed pretty impossible.
Showing all the external emotion of a manikin, Jamie caught her upper arms to steady her.
"I'm sorry," she told him in a voice that sounded raspy and thin. She clutched at his shoulders. "I've been sick. I ... I need to sit down."
"Not until I know you're safe."
A lump of uncertainty lodged in her throat. He
didn't mean safe from danger; he meant safe to
have her in his home. Carefully keeping her thoughts
blank, a practice she'd perfected through necessity,
Faith nodded her agreement.