GhostWalker Rubin Campo’s rough upbringing made him into the man he is today: strong, steadfast and wary of outsiders. When he and his brother return to their family’s homestead in the Appalachian Mountains, he can immediately sense that a stranger has taken up residence in their cabin—a woman who just happens to be a GhostWalker too.
Jonquille looks deceptively delicate but is clearly a fighter. She also doesn’t seem to care that Rubin could kill her where she stands. She sought him out, wanting to connect on their shared interest in electrical charges. As one of the first failed GhostWalker experiments, Jonquille can produce lightning with her body—but she can’t control it.
Their connection is magnetic, their abilities in sync. Rubin knows she’s his match, the answer to a lifetime of pain and intense loneliness. But Jonquille came to him with hidden intentions, ones that threaten to destroy their bond before it can truly begin.…
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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.
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 lightning 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 being 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 either 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 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 her, 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 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 had ultimately saved their lives. They owed him everything. The two boys had 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.