Lightning Game (GhostWalkers #17) by Christine Feehan




1




Rubin Campo 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 a 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’d 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 had 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 and 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 on the farm closest to theirs: Mathew Sawyer. There were few choices for men or women to find anyone where they lived, but he 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 many times 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 so 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 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 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.