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Losing lila, p.23
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       Losing Lila, p.23

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  ‘No,’ I said, pressing myself tighter against him.

  ‘Lila, we’re talking about destroying an entire building. I think you need to practise,’ he said, trying to pry me away from his chest.

  ‘On what?’ There weren’t exactly any spare buildings around that I could try blowing up.

  ‘We’ll start with candles.’

  Why I had to be tasked with destroying a building on a Marine base I had no idea. Surely a rocket launcher would be more reliable, but apparently C-4 explosive and rocket launchers were hard to come by. ‘You know, I’m not sure Demos’s idea is such a good one. I think we really should go back to the drawing board.’

  Alex sat up. ‘We don’t have time, Lila. We need to move tomorrow. And he’s right. We talked all along about bringing down the whole of Stirling Enterprises. We need to destroy all their research and all their data. That way we know they can’t come after you.’

  ‘And him?’ I asked, meaning Richard Stirling. ‘Will he be inside the building?’

  ‘No. We’re not going to hurt anyone,’ Alex said with a warning tone.

  I raised an eyebrow at him.

  ‘Unless we absolutely have to,’ he conceded. ‘The press will hurt him enough. We’re not him, Lila; no matter what he’s done or what you want to do to him we let the courts decide what happens to him.’

  ‘The courts will prosecute him for a crime he hasn’t even committed. What about what he did to Thomas? What about what he’s done to my mum? To all of us? He doesn’t deserve to live.’

  Alex put his hand on my wrist. ‘That’s not your call to make. And if the truth of what the Unit and Stirling Enterprises were actually doing ever became public knowledge, what do you think would happen then? You don’t think there are other men out there like Richard Stirling – other people who might try to do the same?’

  ‘And if we keep him alive, you don’t think that’s dangerous too?’

  ‘Lila,’ Alex said gently, ‘you’re not a killer.’

  ‘But you are,’ I said, the words flying out of my mouth before I could stop them.

  Alex flinched as if I’d slapped him.

  ‘I mean . . . I mean only that you’re a trained soldier.’

  ‘Look, Lila,’ Alex said and I caught the slight tremor in his voice, ‘I have to live with what I did in Joshua Tree for the rest of my life. But I don’t regret it. I was protecting you. And I would do the same again if I had to.’ He stopped, seeing the stricken look on my face, and lay back down again, pulling me close. ‘Hey, it’s all going to be OK,’ he murmured.

  My breathing stopped as his lips found mine. They were warm and perfect and a million miles better than Jonas’s had felt. I felt Alex’s arms pulling me tighter until I was almost lying on top of him. His breathing was getting faster, his hands running up my spine, tangling in my hair while my fingers were grasping at his T-shirt even as my mind was one step ahead and lifting it up so I could run my hands over the hard planes of his stomach.

  There was an urgency in his kiss that I hadn’t felt before, something that was drawing us both in deeper, and I was just going with it. Maybe his resolve was faltering. Maybe he’d forgotten about Californian state law. I wasn’t about to stop and ask – my lips were otherwise occupied and Alex’s hands were on my waist, now stroking across my stomach, caressing upwards—

  And then he stopped. Just like that. And I almost deflated and collapsed right there on top of him.

  ‘What? What is it?’ I whispered, my eyes flashing open, my face centimetres from his.

  In answer he pulled my T-shirt down and rolled me onto the bed by his side. I lay there, staring at the ceiling, feeling my pulse still running at a dangerous rate. He shook his head slightly and smiled. ‘The door’s open and you’re going to make me do something I shouldn’t.’

  The door clicked shut almost silently and he laughed under his breath. I willed him with every bone in my body to roll me on top of him again and do something he shouldn’t. But Alex was Alex. He took a deep breath and stood, shaking out his shoulders and running a hand over his hair, which I noticed was getting longer. Then he walked to the door and opened it again. Damn his honour. Damn his sensitivity towards my dad and Jack.

  He turned back to me, smiling, as though he’d heard my thoughts. ‘I don’t want to push my luck with Jack.’

  I scowled at him. ‘I thought Jack was cool with us.’

  ‘I wouldn’t say cool. He’s lukewarm.’ He sat back down on the bed, keeping his distance. ‘I found out why he changed his mind about me staying, though.’

  I sat bolt upright.

  ‘Key.’ Alex nodded at the surprise on my face. ‘We have Key to thank. He apparently took him aside and told him that sometimes you have to let the people you love make their own choices. That you have to realise you can’t always protect them.’ Alex grimaced a little at this last part.

  ‘Wow.’ I shook my head in amazement. ‘You know, when I first met him, I thought he was just a homeless guy harassing me about noodles. I totally ignored him. And he’s done so much for me. For all of us. I’m not sure how I’ll ever thank him properly.’

  Alex stood up. There was a trace of guilt on his face. ‘Well, at least you didn’t beat the crap out of him.’ He headed once more for the door and I exhaled loudly in protest. He ignored me.

  ‘Can you sneak back here tonight?’ I asked, trying for innocence and seduction in the same breath.

  He narrowed his eyes at me and shook his head. ‘No. You’re sharing with Suki.’

  Oh God. So now I couldn’t even think of Alex or dream of Alex because Suki would be along for the ride. I fell backwards onto the bed.

  ‘That’s right. You’re sharing with me!’

  I sprang back up. Suki had appeared with immaculate timing in the doorway. From the glint in her eye and the sly smile on her lips it was clear she’d been waiting for the right moment to burst in. I guessed I should just be thankful it hadn’t been five minutes previously.

  ‘And, Lila, feel free to dream,’ she said, bouncing across the room and sitting next to me on the bed.

  39

  ‘It is so unfair. I never get to have any fun.’ Suki stamped her spiked heel.

  ‘Me neither,’ Nate mumbled, looking up at her from his facedown position sprawled on the bed.

  ‘Yes, you do. You get to fly around and spy on people,’ she snapped back at him.

  ‘You spy on people all the time, Suki. On their thoughts,’ I said, sitting up and bringing my knees up to my chest.

  She looked at me grudgingly. Then she weighed up what I was saying and decided I was right. Her narrow shoulders huffed up and then down. ‘Well, it’s still not fair. I want to come inside too. I want to see this headquarters where they do these bad things.’

  I winced. The bad things she was talking about were being done to my mum.

  ‘Sorry,’ she said quietly, looking at me through her frothy lashes.

  ‘It’s OK. I just want to go. I want to go now,’ I said, climbing off the bed and going to look out of the porthole. It was getting dark outside, the lights of other boats bobbing up and down the jetty, like candles in the dark. I’d fallen asleep for an hour. Suki and Nate had woken me up.

  ‘Harvey needs to finish his research,’ Nate said, looking up at me with his keen brown eyes.

  ‘I know, I know,’ I said. It didn’t kill my impatience, though.

  Harvey was busy online trying to brush up on security systems, figure out what tools he might need to take with him. He claimed he was a bit out of touch having been in prison and not having robbed any banks in the last few years.

  Jack, Demos, Alex and my dad were busy refining the exit strategy. Jack was refusing to entertain the idea that an exit strategy would be needed because, according to him, Sara was as trustworthy as a saint, but Alex was insistent on there being a contingency plan.

  I sat back down on the bed. ‘So, tell me, what happened in Washington?’ I hadn’t even bothered to
ask up until now, there had been so much else going on.

  Suki stopped pouting and started bouncing, clapping her hands together. ‘It was so much fun. We went shopping. Look – new shoes!’ She pointed at the four-inch, crystal-encrusted heels she was wearing. I stared at her, wondering if she was joking

  ‘Oh, sorry, you mean with the drugs and stuff,’ she giggled.

  Yes, of course I meant that.

  ‘Well, I wanted to keep some.’

  ‘Drugs?’

  ‘No, the money! But Demos wouldn’t let us.’ She pulled her face into a grimace then lowered her voice, her eyes flashing. ‘But I think he stashed some for himself. And I don’t think Alex bought this boat on his credit card, if you know what I’m saying?’

  I stifled a laugh. It was true. But I didn’t care how he’d got the boat, I just hoped one day we’d be sailing it off into the sunset while the others stayed on land beyond the scope of Suki’s hearing ability and Nate’s flying range.

  ‘But I never get to have any fun, Lila. Why can’t I come too?’

  ‘Would you please get out of my head?’

  ‘Go where?’ Nate asked, confused.

  Suki ignored him. ‘Oh, oh, but it’s fine, isn’t it, when you want me to go into Alex’s head?’ She jutted her chin and rested a hand on her hip.

  I ignored her and turned to Nate instead. ‘Where did you put the drugs? How did you hide everything?’

  ‘We broke into Richard Stirling’s house,’ Nate said, rolling onto his back.

  ‘How? How did you get in?’ I interrupted. ‘Doesn’t Richard Stirling live in a fortress? I mean, he’s a billionaire.’

  ‘Yeah. Big house. Lots of guards.’

  ‘And dogs. Don’t forget the dogs,’ Nate added.

  ‘How’d you get in, then?’ I asked again.

  ‘Harvey broke in,’ Suki said.

  ‘Harvey broke in?’

  ‘Yeah. Easy-peasy for him. I told you, he breaks into banks. Houses are easy. Like a kindergarten game.’

  I nodded in fascination.

  ‘We switched the alarm off first,’ she said, reading my mind. ‘That was all me. I am so clever,’ she said, answering my silent how? ‘I read his dumb guard’s mind. I mean really? How silly is that as an approach to security? Telling your guards the code when you know there are mind-readers about? Stupidity like that deserves punishment.’

  It did. ‘And then what did you do?’

  ‘We hid it – in his safe. Harvey cracked that one too.’

  ‘He’s a genius,’ Nate piped up.

  ‘Well, in that case, how’d he end up in prison? I mean before, with his power and everything, how did he get caught?’ I needed to know. Just in case we could avoid making the same mistake again.

  ‘He got drunk one night, passed out in a bar.’ Suki shook her head, giggling.

  OK. Easy enough to avoid that one. Just hide all the alcohol.

  ‘How’d he escape?’

  ‘Demos.’

  ‘Demos?’

  ‘Yes, he broke him out of prison. Just walked in and walked out with him.’

  ‘What? Why?’ I asked.

  ‘Because he needed someone who could break into the Unit’s HQ. This was a few years ago when he was trying to get Thomas out. When he thought Thomas might still be alive. And Demos and Harvey knew each other – they used to work together – so Demos broke him out of prison.’

  I closed my eyes and tried to put it all together. Thomas had been caught by the Unit trying to find out what had happened to my mum. Demos had been trying to bring the Unit down ever since so he’d turned to Harvey for help. That made sense. ‘Hang on, you said Demos and Harvey used to work together?’ I asked, just figuring something out.

  Suki looked at me and pulled a face. My jaw fell open. ‘Demos? He . . . ?’

  ‘Yes. He robbed banks too,’ she said brightly.

  ‘They were . . . ?’

  ‘Yes. Bank-robbing buddies.’ She smiled at me, happy I was catching on so quickly.

  ‘No wonder your dad didn’t want you associating,’ I said to Nate.

  ‘No wonder your dad hates him,’ Suki said, looking at me knowingly.

  ‘Yeah and some,’ I said. It was true. My dad had plenty of reason to dislike Demos after what had happened between my mum and him.

  ‘Yeah, that’s hard for him. What with knowing Jack’s his son and everything,’ Suki said, her voice thick with sympathy.

  I frowned at her. ‘Excuse me?’

  Her face froze. ‘Nothing. Nothing.’ She flicked her hair so it fell like a black curtain in front of her.

  ‘Suki . . . what did you just say?’

  ‘Nothing. I said nothing,’ she said, climbing off the bed, ‘You’re hearing things. Crazy voices in your head.’

  ‘No, you said something about knowing Jack’s his son. What do you mean?’

  ‘I don’t know. Look, it’s just something I overheard.’ She was flat against the wall, her hands splayed. Her voice became whiney. ‘It’s not my fault, I can’t help it. I can’t filter. I just heard it earlier.’

  ‘He’s whose son?’ I demanded.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Suki cried, ‘I shouldn’t be the one telling you this.’ She dived under my arm and disappeared through the door before I could stop her.

  Every step I took seemed to keep time with my heart. Like a ticking bomb. I clutched hold of the banister and crept down the stairs. At the bottom I snuck into the room where they were all massed round the table, heads bent, planning.

  There was Jack. He was sitting beside Demos and they were huddled together conferring. Both dark-haired. Both the same height. I heaved in a sticky breath of air then turned my head slowly towards my dad. He was looking from Jack to Demos and I caught the haunted, sad expression in his eyes and it sucked the wind out of me.

  My dad looked up and noticed me and I sank down onto the sofa. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. Jack was the spitting image of Demos, apart from his eyes – my mum’s eyes – and the fact that Jack was good-looking. But other than that they were almost identical: the widow’s peak; the way they both arched their left eyebrow from time to time when something amused them.

  It felt suddenly like the world was crumbling or the boat was sinking. I tore my eyes away. I got up and gripped the banister and I climbed the stairs, feeling the sway of the boat almost taking my feet out from under me.

  Jack was Demos’s son.

  Suki and her big mouth. She must have heard it. My dad knew, then. Of course he knew. That’s why he didn’t want Jack near Demos. Maybe that’s what explained the animosity between the two of them. Or at least part of it. So, everyone knew. Everyone, that is, except for Jack.

  My room was empty now. Suki and Nate had made themselves scarce. I sat down on the bed and put my head in my hands. Demos had been the man Jack had been hunting for years. Oh God, it was Oedipal or something. Jack couldn’t find out.

  I looked up and walked to the mirror. What if? No. What if? No. No. No.

  No. There were bits of my dad in my reflection. I had his nose. His chin.

  ‘Are you OK?’ It was Alex. He was standing in the doorway. I turned and stared at him, speechless. Then I turned back to the mirror. Alex came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders and I looked up at his reflection.

  ‘Do I look like my dad?’

  ‘What?’

  ‘Do I look like my dad?’

  ‘No, you look like your mum. You know that. I’ve told you already.’

  I turned round in his arms, tilting my chin. ‘And Jack. Who does he look like?’

  He smiled at me, shaking his head in confusion. ‘Where are you going with this?’

  ‘I think Demos might be Jack’s father.’

  Alex started to laugh, but when he saw I wasn’t, the smile died on his lips. ‘What?’

  ‘Suki let it out the bag. But look at them. Go and look at them. They’re so alike.’

  I saw the sudden realisation
dawn. I turned back to the mirror. ‘What about me? Is he my father too, do you think?’

  ‘No. No way. I remember when you were born.’

  ‘You do?’ I looked at him in surprise. He’d been four, almost five.

  ‘Yeah, of course. Your dad’s your dad. You have his nose. And his lashes.’

  ‘That’s what I thought.’ I glanced in the mirror at Alex. ‘So, how is he Jack’s dad?’

  ‘You said your mum and dad met while she was dating Demos. Maybe she was already pregnant?’

  Oooh, gross. I wrinkled my nose. Is that why they left for Washington? Had Demos known? I looked back at Alex. ‘We can’t tell Jack.’

  Alex frowned at me. ‘I think your dad needs to tell him. Jack needs to know.’

  ‘Not now. Not on top of Sara and my mum and everything else. It’ll take him over the edge.’

  Wake up from coma. Find you can heal yourself. Discover girlfriend may be evil. Then discover your father isn’t your father but the man you’ve been trying to kill. No, it wasn’t a good idea to tell him. Not before tonight.

  Alex nodded agreement. ‘OK, after, then. But he has to be told.’

  40

  I found Suki hiding in the galley. She was sitting behind an opened closet door eating a bowl of dried cereal.

  ‘Sorry,’ she said, looking up guiltily.

  ‘It’s OK,’ I said. ‘It’s not your fault. I’m glad I know.’

  ‘Did you tell Jack?’ she asked.

  ‘No, and you can’t either. Or Nate – I know what a big mouth he has. But I think if my dad or Demos wanted Jack to know, he would by now. Anyway,’ I said, ‘that’s not why I’m here. Alex wants you to help me practise.’

  ‘Practise what?’ Suki asked brightly. ‘Mind-reading? Japanese? Making splashy-splashy with the waves? Kissing? You name it, I am here for you.’

  I shook my head. ‘No, none of the above. Making fire.’

  ‘Oooh, like cavemen,’ she giggled. ‘We should invite your brother.’

  ‘Ha ha,’ I replied. ‘Well, at least we know now where he gets it from.’

  Suki linked her arm through mine and we headed back to our cabin.

 
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