Read Conspiracy Girl Online

Authors: Sarah Alderson

Conspiracy Girl

Also by Sarah Alderson:

HUNTING LILA

LOSING LILA

FATED

THE SOUND

OUT OF CONTROL

Available as eBook originals:

TORMENTING LILA

LILA SHORTCUTS

First published in Great Britain in 2015 by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd
A CBS COMPANY

Copyright © 2015 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

1st Floor, 222 Gray’s Inn Road

London

WC1X 8HB

www.simonandschuster.co.uk

Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney

Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

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

PB ISBN: 978-1-47112-196-8

EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-47112-197-5

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

Typeset by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh

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

For Nichola Stallwood and bump

Contents

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EPILOGUE

NIC

Dusk is falling fast so I up my pace. One hand is in my pocket, wrapped tightly around my Taser, and the other is clutching on to Goz’s leash. I turn the corner on to my
street and take a quick glance over my shoulder as I approach my front door, which is a slab of metal as thick as a cell door. There’s no number. No mailbox. No name. It’s as
deliberately anonymous as the street, which is tucked away in a semi-quiet corner of the East Village.

‘Sit,’ I tell Goz as we pull up in front of it. I scan in all directions before pulling out my key.

Goz sits facing the sidewalk, covering my back, but as soon as I enter the alarm code into the pad hidden in the wall and push open the door he steamrollers ahead of me, anxious to get in out of
the cold and no doubt snarf his dinner in front of
Dancing with the Stars
.

I slam the door behind me and then, bracing myself, cling on to Goz’s leash as he bounds up the stairs, dragging me behind him like a chariot.

On the second landing I pause briefly outside Hugo’s door, wondering if I should knock and say hi, but it’s late and Goz has other ideas anyway.

‘OK, OK,’ I say, switching the leash to my other hand and letting him tow me up to the third floor. ‘Calm down.’

A growl bursts out of Goz’s throat the second we reach the door to my apartment. He hunkers down, his pinball head sinking between the broad slabs of his shoulders, and bares his teeth at
the door.

My hand freezes halfway to the lock, my heart rocketing into my throat, pulsing wildly. My eyes fly to the keypad – it’s placidly flashing green – then to the ceiling, checking
that the cameras are all switched on.

‘Quit it,’ I tell Goz, yanking on his leash angrily. Some guard dog he’s turning out to be, barking at his own shadow all the time. He’s supposed to make me feel safer,
not more paranoid.

Goz ignores me and keeps whining as I punch in the alarm code and insert my key into the lock.

I take a deep breath, my heart still galloping, and push open the door. The leash goes flying out of my hand as Goz races into the living room, leaping over the sofa as though he’s watched
one too many stunt movies.

The apartment is just as I left it – blinds drawn, lights on, bedroom doors shut. Not a cushion out of place. Goz slides to a halt in the middle of the living room and looks around,
confused, his head tipping to one side. He sniffs a bit and then pads over towards the kitchen, glancing back at me to see if I’m catching the hint. The security company advised me to get a
French mastiff and, while I love Goz, sometimes I wonder at the size of his brain. In comparison to the rest of his body, which looks like it’s been fed steroids, his head is
peanut-small.

I shake my head and close the door behind me, drawing the three bolts across it and then resetting the alarm. I check the bolts twice, out of habit, and when I’m done with that little
ritual I strip off my jacket, scarf and hat and toss them on to the sofa along with my bag.

It’s late, I’m tired and all my muscles are aching from the workout I just did. I kick off my boots and head towards the kitchen, which is separated from the living room by a long
wooden counter. When I had the architects remodel the apartment I told them I wanted as few doorways and walls as possible. No blind spots. Nowhere anyone could hide. The result is an open-plan
living space that I’ve tried hard to make homely. There are framed photographs of family on the walls, a couple of vintage ballet posters, a large squashy sofa, lots of lamps – which I
walk around switching on now until the room is ablaze – and a large-screen television on one wall.

Despite all these things though, because of the cameras set into the ceiling, I sometimes feel as if I’m starring in a one-girl version of
Big Brother
, and that my apartment is
nothing more than an elaborate television set with me the solitary star faking the part of being a normal person.

Goz whines in anticipation as I head his way, drool hanging like viscous vines from his teeth. The refrigerator is empty except for a single egg. Goz stares at the bare shelves then looks up at
me with big brown eyes, cocking his head accusingly.

‘Sorry, all out,’ I tell him. ‘No milk, no ice cream, no nothing.’

I could order in, or go out for groceries, but it’s dark outside now and as a rule I don’t go out at night or let delivery men into the building.

Ignoring Goz’s stare I shrug and close the refrigerator door. ‘Looks like it’s just you, me and
The Notebook
tonight, Goz. And a scrambled egg.’

Goz makes a hacking sound, shaking his head so hard drool splatters the wooden floorboards.

I raise my eyebrows at him and he goes and lies down in a humph on his bed in the corner of the kitchen next to his bowl of untouched Kibble.

‘I’m just going to run a bath,’ I tell him.

Goz ignores me but a waft of something pungent hits my nostrils and I know he’s making clear his displeasure without actually giving growly voice to it.

‘Nice,’ I tell him. ‘That’s going to make you a real hit with the ladies.’

I roll my eyes at myself. I can’t believe I’m talking to a dog. But the fact is on most days I probably speak more words to Goz than to any person, except for the days I have therapy
and have to listen to myself drone on to Dr Phipps telling him all the things I’m doing to move forward with my life.

I walk into my bedroom, set my phone to charge on the nightstand beside a photograph of my mum and Taylor, and head into the en-suite bathroom to run the bath, noticing that Goz has got over his
huff and followed after me. I smile, feeling a sudden wave of affection for my dog as he stations himself in the doorway like a slobbering sphinx. I might be a screw-up when it comes to human
relationships, but at least I can get canine ones right.

‘Come on then,’ I say to him with a sigh, heading back through the living room to the kitchen, where the solitary egg awaits us.

Goz pads after me, his barrel body brushing my thigh, and I am just reaching down to pet him when a creaking noise from somewhere in the apartment makes us both freeze mid-step. I turn,
adrenaline flooding my system like wildfire. Goz careers past me, barking at the top of his lungs, his paws clattering sharply against the wooden floor. He leaps at the door to the spare bedroom,
throwing his whole weight against it, barking and growling furiously.

For a few seconds I think I must have imagined it, but then it comes again, the wooden floorboards creaking under the weight of a footstep.

Someone is inside my apartment.

It takes me several seconds to process that fact. And once I do, my brain stalls and paralysis takes over, despite the adrenaline that’s making my heart smash into my ribs like fists
against a door.

Finally, my legs unglue themselves and I dart for the front door, panic fuelling me. At the very last moment I catch sight of the three bolts drawn across it and veer in blind terror towards my
bedroom.

‘Goz!’ I shout hoarsely as I sprint towards it. ‘Get over here!’

Goz glances at me, then back at the door, and I see him hesitate before his training kicks in and he turns and races after me. I slam my bedroom door shut and draw the bolt, scrambling towards
the panic button that’s built into the bedside table and ramming the heel of my hand down on it. Collapsing to my knees, I stare wide-eyed at the door.
Three minutes
, I tell myself.
The armed response unit will be here in three minutes.

The door is reinforced with steel. Nothing,
no one
, can get through it. The security guy told me my apartment was as safe as the President’s nuclear bunker. Even so, my whole body
is locked rigid and a sob is blocking my throat. The room is starting to close in on me.

Glass shatters somewhere in the apartment and I shrink back against the bed with a whimper, drawing my knees to my chest.
Oh God. Not again
.

Footsteps make their way slowly across the living room. Where is the armed response team? How long has it been? It feels like hours but it must only have been a few seconds.

I bury my head in my arms and cover my ears but it doesn’t matter because the voices are inside my head and I can’t get away from them. I hear my mum pleading, begging for her life.
I hear Taylor – her screams echoing in my skull. Their voices drown out Goz, who is working himself into a wild frenzy, bashing against the door.

I want to call him over to me, but my voice won’t work.
Get it together
, I order myself furiously.
Come on!
Forcing my eyes open, I struggle to my knees and grab my
phone. I dial 911. Nothing happens. There’s no dial tone. I shake the phone desperately. What the hell is going on? I dial again, terror now taking hold of my breathing, making me almost
hyperventilate. Still nothing. The phone won’t connect.

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