They finally arrived at a small house, deep in the woods; a glorified cabin, Gabrielle thought at first. It was thickly screened by the trees around, the long drive into it little more than a dirt path. She wondered if it even had running water.
pulled the car around into a hidden shed, shutting it off and looking at her. “I didn’t notice anyone following us,” he said, “But you should probably do your thing anyway.”
Gabrielle closed her eyes to focus and dropped her mental shields, listening intently for any sign of mental activity near them. She cast her thoughts out as broadly as she could, sending them into the depths of the woods, trying to catch even the faintest echo of a thought, any brain that might be lurking nearby. There was nothing—absolute silence. It was even more peaceful than her shielded apartment.
For a long moment, Gabrielle savored it, relaxing more fully than she had all day. She could dimly sense that Dustin’s brain was nearby, but she couldn’t hear his thoughts—nothing more than faint static in her mind, a sense of something solid and impenetrable in the darkness.
“No one’s here but us,” she told him finally.
Dustin got out of the car quickly. Gabrielle unbuckled her seat belt and unfolded herself from the seat, opening her own door and stepping out of the car. In spite of the fact that her legs were asleep, almost cramping from sitting for so long, she felt absurdly relieved. She wouldn’t have to shield for the rest of the day—or all night. The thought that she didn’t even know what was coming next bothered her in theory, but in the freedom of not having to guard herself against the intrusive thoughts of others, it seemed like a small matter at the moment.
, then,” Dustin said, and Gabrielle opened her eyes to see him pulling her duffel bag out of the back seat of the car.
Gabrielle grabbed her snacks, reasoning that she would probably be hungry later, and it would save a trip. She followed him out of the
small garage, wondering just how medieval the cabin would be—and why exactly this particular place was Dustin’s choice of refuge. He had said earlier that they were going to a friend’s house; but had that plan changed in light of the attack at her apartment?
Gabrielle looked around the property, taking in the serene beauty of it. One thing was certain; without any shielding on the house, she would hear anyone at all who came by, unless they were gifted with the same kind of mental stealth as
Dustin had. But surely, that wasn’t common.
didn’t bother looking for a key, Gabrielle noticed. He just raised his hand and made a few gestures towards the door, and she heard the locks—there was more than one—click quietly.
He opened the door and glanced back at her, raising an eyebrow. “That’s how I got into your apartment, by the way
,” he said with a faint smile, stepping over the threshold.
When Gabrielle walked into the house, she was surprised
. The humble exterior had concealed the fact that the house was as modern as any she’d ever been in. The kitchen had an expensive-looking culinary-grade range, deep sinks, and stone countertops. The house looked smaller from the outside than it really was, Gabrielle decided as she followed Dustin. The living room wasn’t immense, but it was big enough for there to be space between the couch and the recliner, and for both to have plenty of space between them and the fireplace set into the wall. A small hallway to the side of the living room clearly led to bedrooms; Dustin wafted her bag down the hall, letting it come to rest outside of a closed door. “The other room’s mine,” he said quietly, sitting down on the couch.
“Where are we? How long are we going to be here? And whose house is this?”
Dustin peered up at Gabrielle with his bright eyes, stretching indolently and yawning.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere, we’re going to be here for a few days, and the house belongs to a friend of mine.” Gabrielle set her jaw, ready to argue for more details, but
Dustin held up a hand to forestall her. “I can’t give you details, Gabrielle. Until my bosses come to talk to you, I can’t really tell you anything. But you’re safe here. Why don’t you go get settled into your room?”
Gabrielle considered rebelling against the suggestion, but realized it was futile
. Dustin could just pin her down telekinetically until she agreed to cooperate.
Sighing in frustration, Gabrielle went down the hall and stopped at the door where her bag was. She picked it up and opened the door on a small, but comfortable-looking bedroom. It was mostly bed—an antique-looking four-poster, made up with a quilt and some very large pillows at the head. There was a tiny bedside table next to it, and a dresser hugging the opposite corner of the room, along with a closet. There was definitely nothing to do—no TV, no computer, and Gabrielle had gotten chapter and verse from
Dustin, in one of his few talkative moods as they were leaving her apartment, about using her phone.
Stepping into the room, Gabrielle remembered her sense of annoyance with the whole situation and scowled over her shoulder at the door, thinking of
Dustin and his perfectly calm-cool-collected demeanor. As if he knew she had nowhere to go.
She slammed the door shut in a moment of pique. From the living room, she heard the muted sound of his laughter and almost screamed, settling instead for a low growl deep in her throat. For some reason,
Dustin seemed to take delight in her frustration, from the few interactions they’d had so far.
Gabrielle tossed her duffel down in the small space in front of the dresser and threw herself onto the bed, sighing in exasperation. She didn’t know what to do
. She wasn’t sure whether or not she could trust Dustin, and the few bits of information she had heard from him weren’t entirely comforting. She was going to be meeting his bosses—but how could she realistically know whether or not they were any better than whoever was after her? And, given the fact that Dustin had shown no qualms at all about forcing her to cooperate through the use of his telekinesis, she wasn’t sure that his bosses were people she wanted to meet. She had always had the freedom to use her abilities more or less in the way she chose—to take clients or drop them, or not accept their jobs at all if they didn’t appeal to her. So, to be on someone else’s schedule, to have no assignments or things to do and to be in a strange, remote location—was galling and unnerving.
Gabrielle wondered to herself what
Dustin’s sleeping habits were like. She could, in theory, escape from the cabin in the middle of the night, if Dustin was dead to the world, deep in dreamland. But then, that presented a problem, too—namely, that she had no idea where she was. Dustin had only used the major highways when he couldn’t avoid it, and even then he had made so many corrections, he’d gotten off and back on again so many times that she hadn’t been able to keep track of what direction they had finally ended up traveling in before he started taking side roads and switchbacks.
Gabrielle had done some survival training and had been a scout as a little girl—but navigating her way out of the deep woods was not a prospect that she found imminently appealing. And while she didn’t know if she could trust
Dustin, she reminded herself that she hadn’t seen anything that had given her an indication that she absolutely couldn’t trust him, either. He hadn’t even tried to make a pass at her—although that could be because she wasn’t his type, Gabrielle thought, feeling her cheeks burn with a blush.
Why was she so concerned with whether or not she was his type? He was attractive enough, in an almost-hipster way that she had long since learned to identify with men who thought far too highly of themselves. His dark hair and bright eyes were his most appealing features, though if Gabrielle was honest, his lips were nice
, too. She had always been fond of tall, almost too-skinny men. While Dustin was lean, there was enough muscle on his arms to give her an idea that he was in good shape.
She realized the direction her thoughts were going in and brought her fist down onto the bed with a grunt. She was not going to allow herself to become attracted to the frustrating man who was—in essence—her jailer for the next several days. The last thing she needed was to get moon-eyed over a guy she didn’t even know, who might have motives that did her no good at all; and who was, at the very least, working for a shadowy organization whose plans and motivations Gabrielle knew nothing about, other than that they didn’t want her to fall into the hands of a particular person.
Then again, that person had sent two separate groups of violent thugs after her to get his or her hands on her, so perhaps that was for the best. Gabrielle wondered absently if the men who had tried to attack them at her apartment had been apprehended yet—and whether it had been by the authorities or by their own confederates. There were just too many questions on her mind, she thought, feeling the fatigue weighing on her along with the unaccustomed stresses of the day.
Well, if there’s nothing else to do I might as well take a nap
, she thought tartly, turning over onto her side, her back to the door.
She woke suddenly, aware of something on the other side of the door. Gabrielle wasn’t sure if it was a noise or a sense of proximity. For a heartbeat, she laid on the bed, tense, her eyes wide open and her heart pounding. Then there was a soft rapping at the door.
“Food, Gabby.” Gabrielle relaxed, recognizing
Dustin’s voice. A moment later, she grumbled lowly to herself at the ‘Gabby,’ sitting up in the bed. It was almost fully dark, to judge by how dim the light in the bedroom was.
“Don’t call me Gabby!” she called back, stumbling out of the bed and looking around to see if there was a lamp in the room. The bedside table had one, and she turned the knob on the base of it, brightening the room at least a little bit.
Gabrielle heard Dustin chuckling on the other side of the door and then the sound of his footfalls moving away. She closed her eyes and scanned the world around her for any presence of other people. Holding on to one of the bedposts, she sent her thoughts out as far as she could, in every direction—there was nothing to hear. Gabrielle decided that whoever might show up—whether it was Dustin’s bosses or more thugs looking to take her to whomever he was supposedly defending her from—she wanted to be the first to know.
Gabrielle realized that she was able to not quite “hear”
Dustin, but that there was something there—more than there had been the previous times she had tried to read him directly. It was almost like very quiet static for an instant, before the sense of nothingness returned. It was a break in his armor; a minor break, but it gave Gabrielle the idea that it wasn’t simply that she couldn’t read him at all, that there was more to it than that. The possibility that he had some kind of help in repelling her telepathic ability, that there were people with the know-how to do just that, was both interesting and faintly scary to Gabrielle. If more people discovered it, then she could find her business falling off in volume. Although, she thought reasonably, as she moved to open the door to the bedroom and join her captor, most people in general didn’t accept telepathy as a fact, and among those who did, there were plenty who wouldn’t be capable of doing whatever it was that Dustin was doing to block her.
When she opened the door, Gabrielle was greeted by the smell of good food—something meaty, she thought. She just hoped it wasn’t more convenience food. Her stomach had only just started to recover from their “lunch,” and she knew deep down that part of her fatigue was not just from fighting off the thugs or the long car ride, but the wrong kind of calories.
When they had been in the car, she’d had to keep checking to see if there was anyone in the area, anyone who was looking for them. Every stop, she had had to scan the crowds of people for a potential abductor. On the subpar truck stop food, her brain hadn’t gotten the fuel it needed, and her stomach had been so upset that she couldn’t get the right food into her; even the prospect of eating had made her feel nauseated.
But she was finally feeling better, and the food smells coming down the hall were certainly tempting enough. Gabrielle shuffled past the living room and into the kitchen, blinking at the change in light
. Dustin had turned on every light in the kitchen, it seemed—the hallway and the living room had been darkening from the late afternoon hour.
was moving something onto the small table that was in the breakfast nook, and Gabrielle watched him with something approaching respect. The setting wasn’t fancy, but there were plates and glasses, with flatware on the side. He was putting down a platter with two steaks on it, and on the table already were green beans, potatoes, and some kind of salad.
“Mighty fancy, aren’t we?” Gabrielle commented, crossing her arms over her chest.
Dustin glanced over his shoulder at her before straightening and turning to face her.
“I’m not a savage, you know,” he replied, a faint smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He had taken off his hoodie, and in his t
-shirt and jeans he almost could have passed for a younger man—maybe a sophomore in college. But on his face, Gabrielle could read the lines that had begun to form; hard decisions, difficult choices, and just plain adult living.
He sat down on one side of the table, gesturing for her to seat herself. “I’ve been living on my own for a while now, so I learned some cooking skills.”
Gabrielle nodded, sitting and serving herself a large helping of the green beans and the salad. It was perfectly dressed, exploding with colors—bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and even one or two strawberries sliced up and added in.
put one of the steaks on her plate in the midst of helping himself.
“So. Since you won’t tell me about anything regarding why I’m here and what I can expect, why don’t you at least give me some details about yourself?”
Dustin took a bite of potato and shrugged, glancing from her face to his plate. Gabrielle started in on her salad, needing something refreshing in her mouth. The dressing on the salad was a vinaigrette of some kind, she noticed. Her opinion of him improved slightly, though she wouldn’t admit it.
“I’m a telekinetic. I was recruited when I was about seventeen, and I’ve been working since then.”
“That doesn’t give me a very good reason not to wait until you’re asleep and try and escape.” Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the curt answer. She had already discarded the notion or she wouldn’t have mentioned it, but she did want to see Dustin’s reaction.
“Gabby my dear, if you tried to escape in the middle of the night
, I’d have you back here by tomorrow afternoon. You wouldn’t last a day in these woods.” He snorted.
Gabrielle cut into her steak, finding it medium—just how she preferred it. She raised an eyebrow at
Dustin’s confident assertion, taking a bite of the meat and chewing it for a moment, calmly.
“Don’t call me Gabby. And what makes you so sure I don’t have any wilderness skills?”
“I’m certain that you do. But a few hikes when you were a kid don’t prepare you for the deep woods. Besides, I’m trained as a tracker, or I’d never have found you in the first place. Better for all of us if you just sit tight and wait for my bosses to come and say hello.” Dustin shrugged, taking a sip of water from his glass.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
“Okay, so give me a reason to trust you, then.” Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
grinned, the expression lightening his features in a way that made Gabrielle’s heart beat faster for just a moment. She ruthlessly suppressed the reaction. I do not need to develop feelings for a glorified abductor, she told herself.
“Since I know for a fact that it’s driving you crazy that you can’t read me and find it all out on your own, I guess I could tell you a few things about myself.”
Dustin paused for a few more bites of his dinner. “My parents kicked me out of the house when I was fourteen—couldn’t handle a teenage telekinetic. I kicked around the shelters for a little while before I found a place to live more permanently.”
Gabrielle nodded, taking in the import of what he had said
. He’d been living on his own since he was in his early teens.
He shrugged again, glancing away from her face. “Not much more to say. Whenever I’m not abducting helpless maidens
,” he grinned, “I like music and movies.” Gabrielle laughed.
“Well, as evidenced by the drive to this remote location, you enjoy music even when you’re abducting helpless women. I am not a maiden.”
“I believe that,” he said with a smirk.
gave her a long look, from her hair down to where her body disappeared behind the table.
Gabrielle blushed a deep crimson, looking down at her plate while she attempted to gather her composure. She speared some green beans on her fork and ate them quickly, at a loss for anything else to do. How was it that
Dustin kept managing to get the upper hand? Gabrielle instinctively tried to reach out to read him and was rebuffed by his mind once more, increasing her frustration.
“Ah, have I made you uncomfortable, Gabby? Surely you already know you’re an attractive woman.”
“Stop calling me Gabby! I hate that name!” Gabrielle put her fork down, crossing her arms. She felt decidedly uncomfortable—not just because she couldn’t read the man sitting across the table from her, but because everything was so uncertain, and in spite of her instinct that she shouldn’t trust him at all, she found herself increasingly attracted to him. It was a problem. “I keep telling you that I hate that name, and you keep calling me by it—what the hell is wrong with you?” She scowled.
“Maybe I enjoy seeing you riled up. It’s a good look on you… Gabby
.” Dustin put his fork down calmly, maintaining eye contact with her.
Gabrielle inhaled sharply, standing up abruptly and pushing her plate away from her on the table. She had to get away from him. She turned and began to stalk out of the room, trembling with the force of her anger. Wheeling around, she started to go to the bedroom she had taken; but that wasn’t far enough away.
They had come in through a back door, Gabrielle realized. The front door was to one side of the living room, and she unlocked it, fumbling over the unfamiliar system for a moment before hearing the clean shooting of bolts. She pulled the door open and went through it, stepping onto a porch, confronted by the deep tranquility of the woods around the house. There was a slight clearing in front of the patio, but only a few feet away from the front door, the trees took over. Gabrielle exhaled, starting to feel slightly silly at the strength of her reaction. Why was she so angry?
It wasn’t just that
Dustin had called her Gabby. While that name annoyed her, with a mixture of meanings associated with it that she didn’t want to deal with, there had been plenty of people in her life that had called her by it without her needing to outright leave the room. It wasn’t even his persistence in using the name when she told him not to. It was something to do with her sense of attraction and distrust, with her uncertainty and fear about the situation as a whole, not even knowing who was after her or why—and whether the people Dustin were allied with could be trusted any more than the people she was supposedly being protected from.
Part of her wanted to trust him—more than that, she had to acknowledge. He was good-looking. The objective fact of it wasn’t something that she could ignore any better than she could ignore the fact that two separate groups of thugs—one of which contained someone with the ability to control electricity—had come for her with bad intent. Why was she a target all of a sudden? How had she managed to come to such attention, when she had been flying under the radar for her entire life?
The door opened behind her. Gabrielle had sat down on the porch, at a loss for something to do as her thoughts became increasingly conflicted. She knew she couldn’t leave. Even without Dustin’s boast about being able to track her, she hadn’t made any preparations, and going out into the woods blind was just inviting disaster.
The momentum that had propelled her away from him had stopped upon being confronted with the
near silence of the early evening of the woods.
She didn’t look behind her at the sound of the door, however
. She wasn’t ready to face him. Anger—fear—still bubbled away inside of her. She thought of something her grandmother had told her when she was young. All anger is just fear being active. After years of reading people’s minds, Gabrielle accepted it as a basic fact. There had never been a flash of anger in any person she had ever read that hadn’t had an essential fear at its heart—the fear of losing power, of giving up control, or something specific—a resource, a good, something the angry person felt entitled to.
Gabrielle still didn’t turn when she heard
Dustin clear his throat. She flexed her hand, feeling the pain from the cut across her palm throbbing, clearing her mind somewhat.
She still didn’t turn around, instead wrapping her arms tightly around her knees, clamping down on her sense of fear and anger. She had never liked not being in control of her own life, and the situation she was in was as far from being in control as she could recall ever experiencing.
Of course, if I had been formally abducted, tied up and knocked out
… she shuddered at the thought. It was not outside of the realm of possibility, still. There wasn’t a rule that said that the thugs wouldn’t find them just because they were in the deep woods. More to the point, she didn’t know for sure that Dustin wouldn’t do the same to her—or that whoever he represented wouldn’t.
“Come on, Gabrielle. I’m not going to apologize to your back.”
“Why apologize at all? If I ran away, you’d just track me, right?” She wasn’t ready to accept his apology—she couldn’t bring herself to trust it. She let go of her knees and stood, barely glancing over her shoulder at him. “How far would you even let me get, anyway?” Gabrielle took a deep breath, trying to get her thoughts under control.
She started to move away, taking a few quick steps off of the patio and into the clearing. She was taunting him now—she knew she was trying to make him as angry as she was, even if she didn’t know what buttons to push.
“Would you let me get to the woods?” She started to cross the clearing, her anger turning into a kind of bitterness. Before she reached the tree line, she came to a stop, frozen in place, an invisible barrier surrounding her. Gabrielle tried to bring her hands up instinctively to push at it, and her hands were restrained by an invisible force as well, held at her sides.