Read Losing Lila Online

Authors: Sarah Alderson

Losing Lila

Also by Sarah Alderson


First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

Copyright © 2012 by Sarah Alderson

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
All rights reserved.

The right of Sarah Alderson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
222 Gray’s Inn Road

Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney

Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

A CIP catalogue copy for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 978-0-85707-197-2
E-BOOK ISBN: 978-0-85707-198-9

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.

Printed and bound in Great Britain
by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

For Nichola and Vic, for always being there for me, even though we’re thousands of miles apart.
With love,
S x

















































I stared back at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. My hair was loose, my eyes dark-circled. I looked pale and a little gaunt. Alex was standing behind me, bare-chested and in jeans, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders. The bruise on his cheek had faded and there was only the faintest trace of a scar running at an angle across his cheekbone up to his eye. He looked tired too. The strain of the last week was starting to show.

‘Just do it,’ I told him.

He looped my hair, twisting it up like a rope, then pressed the scissors against the nape of my neck and cut. Blonde strands fell to the floor, but I kept my eyes on Alex, so focused on the job in hand. The only thing that was keeping me sane, keeping me from running straight back to California to find my mum and Jack, was him. Eight days zigzagging south over the border, trying to shake the Unit off our tail, had brought us here, to the sweltering heat of Mexico City, and this tiny hotel room.

After Alex was done, he put the scissors down and bent to kiss my bare neck. I drew in a breath, goosebumps rippling down my spine, and gripped the edge of the basin tighter. Alex looked up, caught my eye in the mirror and gave me one of his half-smiles.

‘You look beautiful,’ he said.

I stared at myself in the mirror. My head felt lighter all of a sudden. My eyes were massive in the pale oval of my face. I had expected to look more like a child, but I looked older somehow. The angles of my face were sharper, my neck longer. It was as if I’d lost the last vestiges of childhood along with my hair. Alex dipped his head once more, tracing kisses slowly up my neck towards my jaw, his fingers running through my cropped hair. He turned me round and, holding my face, kissed me full on the lips.

Despite everything I was feeling – a lurid, unwieldy mixture of fear and desperate hope – I couldn’t help but respond. I wrapped my arms round his neck and pulled myself close against him.

Ever since the night in Joshua Tree when we’d faced the Unit and Jack had been shot, I had felt like I had lost my balance – that the world was rolling under my feet. Alex was the ballast, the anchor that was stopping me from floating away. Just like he’d been when my mother died. But she wasn’t dead, I reminded myself. She was alive. And so was Jack. I had convinced myself of that, if only to avoid the crushing feelings of loss and guilt that threatened to sink me whenever I thought of what might have happened.

No, I told myself for the millionth time. They were
alive and we were going to find a way to rescue them.

Alex suddenly broke off from kissing me, the muscles across his shoulders and arms tensing. I glanced up at him, confused. He was looking over towards the bathroom door, as if he’d heard something.

‘Stay here,’ he said, pushing past me and reaching for the door handle. I heard it too then – a screech of tyres, the slamming of car doors.

My heart started to pound, my stomach constricted. Alex left me standing there and edged out into the bedroom, his hand automatically moving to his gun which was stuck down the back of his jeans. I looked round the bathroom – at the lack of places to hide or things to throw – and then followed him.

Alex was standing by the open window, pulling on a T-shirt as he scanned the street below. He turned to look at me over his shoulder.

‘They’ve found us,’ he said.

The ballast shifted inside me. From the expression on his face it was clear who had found us.

‘Come on, let’s go!’ Alex grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the door. The words were still sinking in and my feet were unresponsive. ‘Lila, come on!’ he shouted. ‘There’s no time, move!’

The Unit had found us. How on earth had they found us?

I let Alex pull me through the door of our hotel room. He threw our bag over his shoulder and we started sprinting down the hallway towards the fire exit at the far end. Just before it there was a cleaning closet. Alex opened it, unshouldered the bag, threw it up onto the highest shelf, then closed the door behind him. The bag contained most of our money, a couple of guns and our clothes. Before I could ask him what he was doing, he had taken my hand once more and was tugging me towards the fire exit.

He cracked the door open a centimetre. The boom of footsteps thundering up the fire-escape stairs hit us. The Unit men were about two floors below us, and moving fast in our direction.

Alex swore under his breath and turned to look at me, frowning. I hated that frown. Then he took a deep breath, pushed the door wide open and pulled me through after him. With our backs flush to the wall, we sidestepped up the stairs as silently as possible. The men below were gaining on us; the noise of their steel-toe-capped boots pounding the concrete steps was echoing off the walls, ringing in our ears.

My breath was ragged in my throat. I hugged the wall, expecting, with every step, to feel my head explode with pain and my legs fall out from under me. It would come soon. I knew it would. And I knew, when it did, I would fall to my knees. Alex’s grip on me tightened as if he was expecting it too and was getting ready to catch me.

We made it to the sixth floor at the same time as the men below us hit the fourth, barrelling through the exit we’d just come from. The door flew back against the wall with an almighty crash and Alex opened the door onto the roof at the same time, the noise muffled by the shouts and footsteps below us.

I stepped ahead of him onto the flat roof of the hotel. In the distance I could see the dome of the cathedral, but no way down to the street below. We were trapped on an open expanse of concrete about the size of a basketball court.

‘Which way now?’ I asked.

Alex ran to the edge of the building, dropped to his knees and scanned the alley below. He ducked immediately, leaning back against the wall out of sight of whoever or whatever was below. The rest of the Unit were probably down there covering the exits. We were fish in a barrel. I looked at Alex and saw a panic so real cross his face that my insides liquefied.

I spun round. There was no way off the roof. I ran back to the door. The footsteps were heading our way now. Voices were calling out, barking orders. They knew we were here.
Damn it. Damn it

I glared at the door, focusing my mind, and it slammed shut with a crash. There was a discarded plank of wood lying twenty or so metres away. I spun it across the roof and into my outstretched hands, then rammed it beneath the door handle, hoping it would buy us a few more seconds.


Alex was on the other side of the roof. I sprinted across to him and peered over the edge. There was an empty, garbage-strewn alley running down the side of the building. The Unit didn’t appear to be guarding it, but there was no way of getting down there. We were six floors up. I looked at Alex, wondering what he was thinking. He wasn’t looking down, though. He was looking across at the opposite roof.

‘We’ve got to jump,’ he said.

‘Are you kidding?’

He wasn’t kidding. The thump of metal slamming against metal made us both look round. The plank of wood I’d placed against the door was buckling. There was a whole army of men on the other side of the fire exit. We had maybe ten seconds to get off the roof before we were staring my mother’s torturers in the face.

I paced back a few metres then took off, hitting the ledge and throwing myself forward, feet pedalling emptiness until I felt them make contact with brick. I stumbled and rolled until I was lying flat on my back, the wind knocked out of me. I glanced up and saw the top of Alex’s head. He was staring at me in disbelief. Then he took off. It was an easy jump for him. He landed by my side in a crouch.

He shook his head at me, pulling me to my feet, and we raced to a doorway on the far side, ducking behind it just as we heard the sound of metal shearing. The Unit had broken through the fire exit. We could hear their footsteps running to the sides of the building to look down, searching for our escape route.

‘Why aren’t they firing?’ I whispered. I wasn’t talking about bullets. I meant why weren’t they firing the weapon that made my head explode like a swarm of wasps stuck inside my skull.

‘They’ve only got one shot,’ Alex whispered back. ‘They’ll want to save it until they have you in sight.’

One shot. That would be all it would take to bring me to my knees anyway. And then I had one minute before they could fire another round. Not that they’d need to. I’d be writhing on the concrete in agony after the first one.

‘This way,’ Alex said.

We moved to the edge, still well out of sight. The roof of this building ran straight into the next, with just a low ledge separating it. We dropped over the side and skirted a pile of garbage until we were on the adjacent roof. There was a fire exit on this one, but it was locked from the inside. Alex thumped it with his fist and swore again.

‘Over here!’ a man’s voice shouted behind us.

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