Mind Etched: Mind Web Psychological Thriller Series, Book 2

Nowhere to run from the pain etched in her mind.

Psychologist Katherine Draper lost an important day. When a former client is determined to protect her from what she no longer remembers, her natural instinct is to fight the interference. Their minds are linked as closely as the cases they are investigating, and the risks these connections entail come at a steep price.

As the evil visions arise unbidden, she can do little to block them. The only person she can rely on is herself, but standing alone puts her in jeopardy as the world she built with deliberate care crumbles around her. Giving in to the allure of the cult may prove easier than fighting it.

Katherine's thoughts are no longer hers alone, and she has no words to satisfy the police and no wisdom for the many who rely on her. Can she use the links etched in her mind to venture deeper into the darkness and destroy her enemy? Even if she succeeds, she may never again call her mind and her soul her own.


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 1 - Tuesday, Portland

She could have been alone on the planet for all of the company she had. Usually she liked it, feeling like she owned the street, letting its quiet wrap her in its warm embrace. Today, though, weariness and depression turned it isolated and stark. Eyes belonging to someone she could not see seemed to track her every step, and she increased her pace in response.

Making the left turn at the bar on the corner, she glanced inside. An odd assortment of people basked in its muted light. It was an old style establishment, the kind that usually had its windows blacked out so patrons could drown their sorrows in anonymity. But paint no longer guarded this interior, an effort to attract a younger, hipper crowd who wanted to be seen, she supposed. Two young men occupied a small window table, scanning the street. One of them paused, giving her a chilly smile from behind unneeded sunglasses. Seen, perhaps, but not amiable.

She glanced away, adjusting her briefcase and looping the strap across her body. The weight on her right shoulder was heavy, its edge digging through her coat and reminding her of the terrible contents she carried. Shifting it again, spiked heels poked her instead. Concentrating on the sharp stab was oddly comforting. Pain was something she understood.

Her back throbbed from long hours holding her body still through the tension. A glass of wine or something stronger might sooth the physical hurts, but she would not be able to forget the emotional agony. An existence closer to bondage than any other lifestyle. Slave to a mind not one’s own. Life or death choices, where death seemed the preferable avenue of escape.

She did her best to push those thoughts aside. There were only two means to relieve her grief. The option requiring mental energy would be all she could manage in her present state. She reached behind her to rub the aching spot. Fingers shackled her wrist and yanked hard enough to make her stumble.

“That’s it, bitch. Make it easy for us.” Another hand captured her opposite upper arm and pulled her backwards.

She stilled, trying to think fast. If they wanted her money, she would give it to them without hesitation. No possessions were worth getting injured or worse. But there was more to consider than dollars or shoes in her burden.

“I have money, cash. You can have all of it.” Proud of herself for keeping any quiver from her voice, she tried to turn her head to see the man behind her.

“Face forward, bitch. No way you’re making us.” A second male voice murmured so close to her ear, she could smell the sweet aroma of soda on his breath. Rough notes in his tone belied the intimacy of his whisper.

“Give me the bag.” The second voice emphasized the command with another tug on her briefcase. The first set of hands stiffened. She caught a brief sight of them, noting their broad fingertips and roughen appearance. Thug’s hands. She tried to set their description in her mind as they jerked again. Stretched between the two attackers, she felt the tug deepen on the strap.

“Crap, she’s got it wrapped around her neck. Pull it over her head, come on.” Frustration and anger colored the first raised voice. They were distracted, and she tried to glance in the direction of their struggles. If she could just get a look at one of them –

Someone slapped her turning cheek, hard. A hand. She knew what a slap to the face was like. This would leave a mark. Unwanted tears bit into her eyes as the burn grew strong on skin and bone.

“Face forward, unless you want us to hurt you.” The second man used her momentary paralysis to hitch the strap over her head.

She had to reason with them, have them agree to take the money, and maybe the tablet. It was password protected and they wouldn’t be able to access its information. But the rest of the case’s contents were another story. The need to safeguard that was instinctive.

“Take the money, the credit cards, the tablet. Take the phone.” She was proud of her voice for sounding calm when she shook with impotent rage on the inside.

The first man gave a bitter laugh. The second swore as he lifted the bag, attempting to work it around the hands holding her in place. She glanced down at a metallic gleam. The short, stubby fingers of his bloated right hand held a lethal looking gun. She hated guns.

“Damn, this thing is heavy. What does she have in here, rocks?” He grunted, momentarily sidetracked by the swing of ungainly weight in his hands.

She kicked back, aiming for what she hoped were the first man’s knees. If the impact hit hard enough, he wouldn’t be able to run after her. She was fast, and she bet she could outrun the second guy, even with the bag flapping behind her.

Her foot connected with something firm, and the hands pinning her loosened as the man grunted. The hands closed again quickly as if he realized he’d almost let her go, but this time, they only clutched loose fabric. The second man still held her bag, and between the three of them, they were now a tangled mess of strap, coat and fighting limbs.

“I swear, bitch, I’m going to slug you hard enough to put you out.” The second man jerked the bag again, and this time, he pulled her off balance. If the first hadn’t been holding on to the sleeves of her coat, she would have fallen.

“Shit, she’s strong. Let her go. Grab the bag.” A set of hands shoved her toward the street.

She opened her mouth to scream in the hope that someone looking out a dark window would see what was happening. Her left arm tangled in the strap as one man pulled the briefcase and the other pushed her body. The fall spun her around to view her attackers.

The face of the man pushing her hid under a hoodie pulled far forward, masking his identity. The other jerking at the bag wore a dark ball cap and sunglasses, but his face carried a smile. It was the same chilly smile she saw when she glanced inside the bar. The two young men, they’d followed her.

Hoodie kept pushing her, and she considered telling him it would do no good. Keys on a chain at his waist jangled and clinked with each forceful jerk. The harder he pushed, the more frustrated Chilly Smile became as he tried to work the bag free. The arm of Chilly Smile’s sweatshirt had shoved up during their struggles, revealing a tattoo that resembled a stylized phoenix on his forearm. Hoodie grunted and shoved at the same moment Chilly Smile cursed and wrenched in the opposite direction.

She felt something separate in her shoulder, the sensation matched by a distinct pop she could hear over the shuffling of their bodies. The cry of pain wasn’t something she could hide. Chilly Smile laughed triumphantly as her briefcase came free, and Hoodie pushed against her in response. The extension of her good arm to break her fall was automatic, even as self-preservation coached her to protect her dominant wrist from breaking. She tried to focus on the men’s faces, hoping to memorize distinguishing features. Time seemed to pass in slow motion as pain engulfed her shoulder. Hoodie’s hood slipped back for a second, his face impossibly young but its characteristics otherwise indiscernible, and Chilly Smile widened that evil grin.

“That’ll teach you to mess in business you have no right to be in, bitch.”

With a sharp crack that felt like her skull split open, everything went black.

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