Read Pretty Wanted Online

Authors: Elisa Ludwig

Tags: #Young Adult Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Social Themes, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Juvenile Fiction, #Adolescence, #Social Issues

Pretty Wanted


HarperCollins Publishers


Advance Reader’s e-proof

courtesy of
HarperCollins Publishers

This is an advance reader’s e-proof made from digital files of the uncorrected proofs. Readers are reminded that changes may be made prior to publication, including to the type, design, layout, or content, that are not reflected in this e-proof, and that this e-pub may not reflect the final edition. Any material to be quoted or excerpted in a review should be checked against the final published edition. Dates, prices, and manufacturing details are subject to change or cancellation without notice.


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About the Author



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my most wanted.


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Aidan and I darted through the maze of bleeping machines, dodging the mindless drone-type people attached to them. Our mirrored selves moved in my peripheral vision, silver flashes amid the blinking lights and too-bright colors. To anyone else, maybe, we were just part of the shiny casino décor.

We followed the patterned carpet out into the hallway where it seemed to stretch out into infinity. Past the dimly lit bar area, smelling of ancient smoke. Past the gift shop with its decks of souvenir cards and ashtrays and fuzzy dice. Past the change station with its yellow plastic buckets of tokens.

My heartbeat egged me on, a steady drumming. Legs, arms, lungs moving together in an orchestra of fear and adrenaline.

And my brain, churning. I thought of all we had learned so far, and what we still needed to find out. There were some clues by now, but too many unanswered questions. That was what kept me going. No matter how hard things got, I couldn’t forget what I’d come here for—to uncover the truth.

“Look out! Heads up!” Aidan called out as a man wheeled a metal cart in front of him. Aidan’s reflexes were quicker than mine as he lurched to the right and re-upped his speed. But I paused, feet jamming on the floor.

Big mistake.

A hand grabbed my shoulder.

I shuddered as I turned around, expecting to come face-to-face with the man who’d tried to kill us.

But when I looked up, I saw that the hand belonged to a security guard, a tall acne-faced guy in a pale blue uniform.

“Miss, can I see some ID?”

Bailey was after us. So were the police and an angry FBI agent in California, not to mention the general public, who’d seen our police sketches on the evening news. Now was not the time to stop.

“Sorry,” I called back over my shoulder, ducking out of the way.

He shouted something but I hurled myself onward, ignoring him, and followed Aidan through the entrance to the Rock ’n’ Steaks restaurant.

We tore past the hostess stand and the people waiting in line. Then the waiters and tables, the giant guitars. An Elvis statue and a mannequin dressed like Katy Perry and a buffet spread of green things and brown things.

“Excuse me,” I called out repeatedly to the customers, not wanting to be rude. Sure, we were interrupting their prime rib platters like the two derelicts on the lam that we were but at least we could be, you know, polite about it.

The side exit dumped us onto the dock in the middle of the river. The sky was darkening now, and I was trying to get a hold on where we were, where we would go. We had to get back on solid ground, back to where the road was.

“This way,” I called to Aidan, angling us around the outside of the boat toward the front entrance.

Our feet pounded the wooden boards and we flew down the ramp toward the parking lot. I had a stitch in my side and my head throbbed, but there wasn’t a fragment of a second to lose now, certainly not enough time to get our stolen car back from the valet. We’d abandon the wheels and go by foot.

The lights of the city were just flicking on, cars turning on their headlamps to forge through the purple dusk. I could make out Aidan ahead of me as we scrambled up the steps to the pedestrian walkway of an old railroad bridge. There was still shouting, sounds of running behind us. I couldn’t say how close.

We kept on running while two lanes of traffic rushed by in each direction, the Mississippi seething brown and frothy far below our feet. We were crossing back into Missouri and the Gateway Arch loomed ahead of us, lit up by strategic spotlights. Like a reassuring smile. Or a mocking one, depending on your frame of mind. Mine was, needless to say, a little bit bugged out.

I’d made mistakes. I’d taken chances. But I’d done it out of love, and that had to count for something, right? I only knew one thing and it was this fact that kept me going: We had to get there, before he got to us.


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forward, I flitted in and out of the dream. Me and Leslie, racing our bikes. In this imaginary world we were the same age—maybe eight or nine—going around and around a dead end in a suburban neighborhood. New Mexico, maybe? Or Washington State? I couldn’t place it. All I could see was the pavement, sparkling through the spokes of my wheels, and Leslie’s blond head bobbing in front of me. We were singing a child’s taunt:
They can’t catch us. They can’t catch us.

Then she stopped short.

Mom’s calling
, Leslie said.

I looked up and saw what could only be a bullet, metal glinting against the white sky, the body of it twisting in excruciatingly slow motion, coming for me.

Look out!

I startled awake, gasping. A scream caught in my throat.

“Willa? Are you okay?”

I nodded. It was a dream, I knew that. Yet the pain on my brow was real. The driver must have hit a bump; my head must have hit the window.

“Damn,” I said, rubbing it. Sensation flooded my body as the reality came back in bits and pieces. The bus. Aidan next to me.

“You had a nasty bang-up there.”

“Yeah. I startled myself,” I said. What I didn’t say was that the dream was worse than the hit. The dream chilled me to my bones, and I wanted it gone from my mind. “Where are we?”

“Almost to St. Louis. We just crossed the Missouri,” he said.

Sure enough, the brown-and-green strips of farms had given way to office buildings and shopping centers. A little later, the city skyline appeared on the horizon, silvery and ghostlike, the famous Arch cupping it protectively. It was a welcome vision, a relief. We were here, finally.

We limped out into the fluorescent light of the Greyhound station on a Monday afternoon, the noisy, low-ceilinged den filled with people and their sprawled baggage. It was a thirty-six-hour bus ride from Bend, Oregon, or it would have been except that we got off at Boise, Idaho, and spent a few days lying low, waiting for the media firestorm to die down. This included Thanksgiving in a diner, eating open-faced turkey sandwiches. Which, believe it or not, was not as depressing as it sounds.

Thanksgiving was rolling into Christmas as it’s wont to do, and the new holiday was already here, it seemed, hanging from the green boughs strung up all over the depot. There were also cardboard strings of dreidels, even red, green, and black flags that said
. It was time for inflatable, lawn-sized snow globes, peppermint everything, sugar binges, and forgetting grudges.

I welcomed the cheery atmosphere, especially after this last leg of the journey, a full seventeen hours. My knees had forgotten how to straighten, and my whole body felt sore and battered. That wasn’t even counting the bruises and aches we’d both acquired while running away from the cops and the thugs that were trying to kill the woman I’d always thought was my mother but who, as it turned out, was actually my sister.

Let’s put it this way: It had been a rough few days. Add to that my constant fear that everyone we saw was looking at us funny, and I was in quite the jacked-up state.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little more hopeful in a new place. On the way out, I grabbed a city map from the tourism and information desk. Neither of us had been to this city before and that added to the sense of possibility and excitement.

Then we put on our sunglasses, adjusted our hats—all part of the disguises we’d picked up at the last stop in Denver—and stepped out into the cold air. I was already rocking the hideous dye job I’d given myself at Sam Beasley’s house in Santa Barbara, California, a few days back. (Yes,
Hollywood star Sam Beasley, and no, we did not get to meet him, because, well, we’d broken into his house and squatted there overnight.)

Aidan pinched the thrifted, baggy, boy jeans that were hanging off my hip bones. “Anyone ever tell you that you look sexy when you’re undercover?”

My heart lifted and shimmied, like one of those inflatable men outside of a car dealership. No, nobody had ever said that to me. Sure, I’d never been on the run before, but I’d also never really had a boyfriend, either.

“You don’t look so bad yourself,” I said, appraising his hunter-green down vest, the now-shaggy blond hair falling across the broad planes of his face and some newly acquired stubble. Even thirty-six hours on a bus and countless days on the road before that could not diminish his charms. He was a hottie. It was his essential nature, like birds and flying, or the sun and rising. Just something he did very, very well without trying.

Aidan held up a plastic-wrapped wedge we’d picked up somewhere along the way. Boise? Laramie? “We’ve got half a roast beef left. Want some?”

He took a few bites and handed the sandwich to me, which I gobbled gratefully as we walked, even though it was soggy and the bread was now infused with the chemical flavor of its packaging. “Can I just say that you’re awesome?”

He put his arm around me. “You don’t have to say it.”

“I do, though. How many guys would put up with this?” By “this,” I meant the life on the run, the danger, the crappy food, the questionable fashion.

His green eyes locked on mine. “Since you come along with it, I’d say it’s a pretty good deal. Besides, I kind of like the excitement.” That part I already knew. He outperformed everyone, even me, in the danger junkie Olympics.

I melted into the crook of his elbow. At least I had Aidan. After she’d disappeared, we’d spent days searching for my sister, Leslie—it was still weird to even think of her as my sister and to call her “Leslie” when I’d always known her as Joanne/Mom. It was when we’d finally found her that she’d dropped the bomb about who she really was. She was on the run, too, and now, with the help of FBI Agent Jeremy Corbin, we’d “killed” her off and she was on her way to Mexico. I’d probably never see her again.

I’d lost everything—I had no structure, no semblance of real life, nothing else to keep me tethered to any kind of sanity, but I had Aidan. We’d gone through some rough patches, and he still harbored secrets—namely why he’d gotten kicked out of school and why some skank named Sheila was sexting him. I’d chosen to look beyond that, though, because I couldn’t have done any of this without him. And because I had a major case of the lovins.

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