Runaway by Alycia Linwood - Read Online
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Surprised by Adrian's sudden disappearance, Ria is determined to find him, even if that means she has to trust her brother and go to her father's party. However, soon she realizes that her father, as the president of the newly-founded Element Preservers Organization, plays a big role in the future of not only magic disease carriers, but also everyone with an element. As the secrets surrounding the magic disease and elements are revealed, Ria doesn't know who she can trust. But when an ex-lover turns into an enemy and a tragic accident changes everything, it’s impossible to just run away.

The second book in the Element Preservers series.

Element Preservers series reading order (complete):
RUNAWAY (Book 2)
DIVIDED (Book 3)
NO ONE (Book 3.5)

Published: Alycia Linwood on
ISBN: 9781476008523
List price: $3.99
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Runaway - Alycia Linwood

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Chapter 1

I blinked, but the scene in front of me didn’t change. Adrian was really gone, and I had no idea what had happened. Fast footsteps echoed down the hallway, but I ignored them, the freezing air numbing more than just my fingers.

Ria! I heard Paula’s panicked voice and slowly turned to face her. She glanced at me and then at the room, her hand covering her mouth. What happened?

I don’t know, I whispered. Something’s wrong.

How did all that ice get here? Michael came to stand behind me, pulling me into a tight embrace and making me shiver.

Adrian did this, I said, my voice shaky. Something happened to him!

You’re saying Adrian did this? Paula raised an eyebrow at me in surprise. Right, I hadn’t told her, so there was no way she could know about sub-elements. Could I reveal Adrian’s secret just like that, even after I’d been protecting it for a long time? Yes, I could. Yes, if it meant they could help me save him from whoever had taken him. Because I was sure someone had dragged him out of this place by force, or all this ice wouldn’t be here.

Yes, it’s his element, I said. Ice is a sub-element, actually.

What? Paula and Michael said at the same time. I couldn’t see Michael’s face, but I could see surprise, shock, anger, and bewilderment flash across Paula’s beautiful features.

It’s a long story. I shook my head, moving away from Michael. As I looked down the hallway, I saw Alan approaching us, a grim expression on his face. Paula was just about to say something, but she hesitated when her eyes fell on Alan. I gave both Michael and Paula a warning look, hoping they wouldn’t blurt out something in front of Adrian’s guardian. Maybe Alan knew about Adrian, but he didn’t have to find out that more people knew too.

Where is he? Alan asked, frowning as he realized we were standing in the chilly air.

We don’t know, Paula said, rubbing her arms. I glanced back at Adrian’s room, which was still completely frozen. When the ice finally melted, all of his things were going to be wet. I was glad we had at least gotten the important files out of there. But what had happened? Had someone come for the files? It seemed impossible to explain this.

Damn it! Alan said, running his hand through his short dark brown hair, a pained expression on his face.

What? I glared at him. He knew something, but I wasn’t sure what.

I can’t believe he did this. I can’t... Alan closed his eyes for a moment as if he were trying to fight off a bad migraine. I wanted to snap at him to get him to say it already, but I had to stay calm, because my disease could show and then we’d all be in trouble. Just how in hell was I supposed to stay calm when all I wanted to do was go look for Adrian before he was lost to me forever? He’d disappeared only minutes ago. Whoever had taken him couldn’t have gone far. We were wasting time.

Do you know something? I finally asked, unable to keep quiet.

There was a murder a few miles away. The police just called me to tell me they would be questioning Adrian about it. You know that as a magic disease carrier he has to prove where he’s been during the murder if there are no witnesses or clues about the murderer. Now he’s gone, and that’ll mean only one thing to the police... Alan said.

They’ll think he did it! Paula stated the obvious, her blue-green eyes wide with fear. Oh my God, they’re going to kill him! You have to stop them!

I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do. The law is the way it is. They have permission to kill him on sight. Maybe they won’t do it if he doesn’t fight them, but... Alan sighed.

But you can tell them the truth, I said. You know he wasn’t there at the time of the murder.

No, I can’t, Ria, Alan said. They wouldn’t trust me out of fear I’m covering for him, and I don’t really have any solid proof.

Fuck, he was right. I didn’t know when the murder had been committed, but if it had been during the time Adrian and I had been in the hotel, it was better that no one found out about our whereabouts at that time. Alan knew we’d been there, but not that we’d actually broken into the Pandora’s Box. The last thing we needed was to get associated with that. We’d both be dead then.

Of course, Alan would probably tell on us once the Council realized that their important guy was missing, but I hoped it would take them some time. Besides, the fact that Adrian’s car had been somewhere else at the time of the murder wouldn’t mean anything to the police since no one could prove Adrian had been near the car. Still, the Council would blame Adrian for stealing the files from the Pandora’s Box without a second thought. I wondered why Alan hadn’t told them everything already.

The car, I suddenly said, startling everyone. Is the tracker still in place?

Yes, but he left the car here, Alan said, and I immediately felt disappointed. If Adrian hadn’t gone in his car, then I was even surer someone had kidnapped him. But who and why? I brushed past Alan and took my phone out of my pocket so I could dial Adrian’s number. My call went straight to voicemail. Damn it! It was suddenly hard to breathe, and I ran down the hallway. I stopped just around the corner, sinking to the floor, my head in my hands. How was I supposed to fight off the pull of elements on my own?

Ria, calm down. It’s going to be all right, Michael said, his element inviting me for a drink. He tried to come closer to me, but I raised my hand to stop him.

I have to find him, I said determinedly. I have to go after him!

Why? We can find a way so that you don’t need him anymore. There was a hint of anger in Michael’s voice.

"It’s not that! I need to find him!" I rose to my feet and saw hurt in Michael’s green eyes.

And I don’t understand why! So why don’t you enlighten me? Why do you so desperately want to help a guy who broke your friend’s heart, manipulated you into sleeping with him, and then embarrassed you in front of everyone? You’re not stupid, Ria. What has he done to you? Michael was glaring at me, the force of his element intensifying. How could I ever explain it to him without hurting him once again?

I need to go after him... because no one else will, I said softly, meeting his eyes. The temperature in the hallway suddenly went up, and I knew my element was doing that. It was far better to feel my own element than to try to go for Michael’s. He observed me for a moment, then his eyes narrowed.

You feel something for that bastard! he finally said. You got caught up in his spell, too! Ria, wake up! He doesn’t care about you! He probably killed someone and ran away! What can you expect from a person like him?

He didn’t kill anyone! I said through my teeth. You don’t know him at all!

Oh, and you do?

I closed my eyes, wondering what I should say to that. I knew Adrian, or at least I thought I did. My phone rang, startling me, and I answered before I even looked at the number of the caller.

Yes? I said, turning my back to Michael and walking farther down the hallway.

What’s up, sis? Oliver asked.

I sighed. Now’s not the time... I couldn’t think of a reason for my brother’s call since he’d been here not a long time ago.

"I have your toy," he said, his voice strangely teasing. What was he talking about? Oh, shit.

I clutched the phone in my hand as if it were the only thing keeping me alive. You what?!

You know what I’m talking about, sis. There was a hint of a warning in Oliver’s voice. Of course, he was being paranoid again and thought someone was listening in on our conversation. Could he really be the one who had kidnapped Adrian?

Why? I choked out, glancing back at Michael, who was watching me carefully.

Oh, you’ll be thanking me later. But listen carefully, Oliver said ominously. Act as if nothing were going on. Someone has to be around you. Don’t breathe a word to anyone. Not even to those you trust. It has to be a surprise.

Okay, I said, my heart jumping in my chest. What game was he playing now? Was Adrian all right? Oliver now knew for sure that Adrian had an element. Would my brother try to steal Adrian’s element just because he didn’t have that one yet? I hoped not, but I just didn’t know.

Have you heard that our daddy is getting promoted? He’s becoming the president of the Element Preservers Organization, Oliver said casually. He’s going to have a big formal party in two days. I want you to take that other boy with you and go there. Oh, and try to appear in as many photographs as you can.

Oh. I had no idea. I frowned. What exactly is this Element Preservers Organization? Something like the Council?

Even better, sis, Oliver said. The Element Preservers is an organization in charge of everything related to magic disease from now on. They’ll control all the information and take care of the experiments.

Experiments? I suddenly had a good idea what kind of an organization the Element Preservers was. My father was going to be in charge of those evil laboratories that had ruined his son’s life, and he’ll help the government cover up all the essential information about magic disease carriers... People like me.

Yup, Oliver said. Well, congratulate our dad for me, will you? It’s such an awesome thing, right? Because our dad is going to do everything to get monsters and freaks off this planet. Magic disease is just way too dangerous.

When will I see you again? I asked, trying to get out of my mind the idea that my father could be so cruel. Oliver had something in mind and he had Adrian. There was nothing I could do except follow his orders.

"Soon. It’s fine, Ria. I promise." With those words, he hung up. Why did I have a horrible feeling he’d just referred to Adrian as if he were a thing? Placing the phone back into my pocket, I walked over to Michael. Oliver wanted me to go to a party, but how was I supposed to forget about Adrian so suddenly and not do anything about finding him? If Oliver wanted Adrian’s element, he’d have taken it already. He must have found out somehow about the murder - if he hadn’t committed it himself - and decided to help Adrian. But why? Adrian’s disappearance was only making things worse. No, my brother definitely knew a lot more than I did.

Is something wrong? Michael eyed me suspiciously.

No. My father got promoted. He wants me to come to his party. I ran my hand through my hair, taking a deep breath. Michael... I’m sorry. You’re right. I shouldn’t worry about Adrian. He... He’s...

I couldn’t finish that sentence. What was I doing? Lying to Michael as if his feelings didn’t mean a thing to me? I was even worse than Adrian if I was going to keep up this pretense. Couldn’t I just tell Michael what was really going on? Surely, he’d help me... but what if I would be putting him in danger? Damn you, Oliver, for not telling me everything! How could I decide what was best when I didn’t know anything? Ugh!

It’s going to be all right, honey, Michael said, his face softening. You can live without him. We’ll find a way.

Yes, I murmured, letting him pull me into his arms. At least his element was no longer all over the place, which meant he trusted me completely. Oh, Michael, my perfect boyfriend.

Are you going to your father’s party? He sounded hopeful, probably thinking that a party would be an awesome way for me to forget about Adrian.

I don’t know, I lied. What if all the elements jump on me? It would be inconvenient if my disease showed at the party with all the press around.

Wait a second. Was that what Oliver had in mind? To expose me in front of everyone? Michael must have felt me tensing because he started to gently rub my back. I buried my face into his shirt, inhaling his fresh scent, which calmed me almost instantly.

You can take a pill. I know you hate those, but I’ll be there with you, he said.

I looked up at his green eyes, biting my lip. No pills, Michael. I have to learn how to be around people without Adrian’s help.

Fine, then. Michael smiled. I trust you, Ria. I know you can do it. If you start feeling bad, we can always leave.

Right. If only Michael knew why I was so afraid of taking any kind of pills. How would he react if he found out I couldn’t remember anything from the night we’d spent together? I promised myself these were the last lies I was going to tell Michael. He didn’t deserve my dishonesty. I only hoped I could keep my promise without putting him in danger. Yeah, I kept telling myself it was all because I was worried about his safety, but was it really? I sighed.

Well, I guess I’ll just have to call the police, Alan said, as he and Paula approached us. I didn’t like the tone of his voice. It was almost as if he had planned to say that for a long, long time. Maybe he had, because it wasn’t a secret that everyone expected Adrian to give in to the disease soon. But this seemed different. I just couldn’t figure out why I felt that way.

Will you tell them Adrian’s been kidnapped? I asked, stepping away from Michael and getting in Alan’s way. Alan stopped, arching an eyebrow at me as if I had said something insane.

Kidnapped? Ria, dear, I don’t think that’s what happened. There are no traces of a struggle under all that ice. I believe Adrian did this himself to make us believe he’s been taken, even though I’m not sure what he used to bring all that ice into his room. There was a sad look on Alan’s face, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

And why do you think he’d do that? I glared at Alan, feeling warmth welling up inside of me. Taking a deep breath, I pushed my element back. Now wasn’t the time for turning the hallway into an oven.

I think the disease finally got the better of him. He must have run away because he didn’t want to hurt anyone. Alan sounded so reasonable and convincing that Paula actually burst into tears. She still had to be feeling something for Adrian, despite everything he’d done to her. But then again, she’d forgiven me too, but I knew we’d never be as close as we used to be.

Wouldn’t that be a strange coincidence? I asked, not ready to accept his theory because I knew for a fact that it was wrong. What I wanted to know was why he wanted to make everyone believe Adrian would do such a thing. I knew he didn’t want to tell Michael and Paula about sub-elements, but saying someone else had done the ice thing would be more plausible, so why hadn’t he said that? Someone gets killed nearby, and Adrian’s disease shows right at that time so he’d get blamed for everything? Yeah, right.

I know it’s hard to believe, Ria. Alan’s dark eyes flashed with annoyance. You two were close, but you’ll have to accept the fact that he’s gone.

Oh, it was just plain mean to say things like that while my boyfriend could hear it. Alan really seemed bent on getting rid of Adrian and moving on with his life. But hadn’t he been so happy when he found out Adrian had an element? Unless... Unless Alan had already reported his discovery to the Council or whomever, and they had decided to do something about it. That made perfect sense.

Alan had probably thought Adrian would start showing more symptoms of the disease, and when that hadn’t happened, he’d figured Adrian could possess an element. He’d actually made us trust him, pretending that he was happy with the news. But what if he wasn’t? What if that murder hadn’t even happened and it was just a ploy to kill Adrian... or even worse, to send him back to that research place.

Would the Council go so far as to invent a story about a magic disease carrier going wild and then to fake his death to be able to do experiments on him? Of course they would. Alan would be free and the government would get their lab rat. Was my father a part of this? He was Alan’s friend and the future president of the Element Preservers Organization, so it was highly possible. Oh, shit. Was that why Oliver wanted me at the party?

So you’re just going to say you don’t know where he is, I said matter-of-factly. Fine, I wasn’t about to let him know I had a good idea about what was going on.

Well, the police will come here to investigate. Alan shrugged. There’s nothing we can do. I’m sorry.

This is all just... crazy. I sighed, doing my best to look resigned. Alan gave me a small smile and went down the hallway. Bastard!

I can’t believe this, Paula cried. 

But didn’t you say Adrian had a sub-element? Michael looked at me. So how can he have the disease?

Well, I kept my element, I said, so it doesn’t make much difference.

Then you agree with what Alan said? Paula sniffled.

Um, I’m not sure. I awkwardly reached out for her, putting my hand on her shoulder. I’d probably made a bad decision when I told them about sub-elements, but I couldn’t take it back now. The less they knew, the better. At least until I could talk to my brother and ask him for an explanation.

Well, it had to happen sooner or later, Michael said. I just nodded, but Paula was still sobbing.

I’m going to take you to your room, okay? I said to Paula, taking her hand and leading her down the hallway. Her element was pretty strong, but for some weird reason it didn’t bother me as much as it should. Oh yeah, it was probably because I was strangely calm, almost numb. This was all a bit too much for me. But at least Adrian was more or less safe with my brother, even with a death penalty threat hanging over his head.

I had no idea what the Council planned to do now that Adrian was out of their reach. Would they keep it all a secret so they could just take him to one of those research facilities? But he couldn’t just disappear, so maybe they’d have to announce it, which meant everyone in the country could be looking for Adrian in the next few hours to collect the prize offered for killing a magic disease carrier who’d turned into a murderer. Oliver better had something smart in mind. Or we were all screwed.

I’m coming with you, Michael said. We need to talk.

Chapter 2

We were sitting on the floor in Paula’s room and going through the papers Adrian and I had taken from the Pandora’s Box. I had actually decided to tell Michael and Paula everything about the Box, because they just wouldn’t stop asking how I’d gotten the papers, although I’d left out a few dangerous tidbits about the security system and my brother’s involvement.

I can’t believe no one told us about this! Paula was upset and back in her scientist mode, her worry for Adrian completely forgotten or at least buried inside. She kept staring at the papers, shaking her head in disbelief. Most of the files were about various tests that had been conducted on magic disease carriers all over the world, similar to the ones Oliver and Adrian had experienced. Unfortunately, those files weren’t really useful to us, except maybe to Paula. If Adrian and I hadn’t been in such a hurry, we could have found something more valuable.

Does Alan know about Adrian’s sub-element? Michael’s eyes met mine.

Yes, but you two are not supposed to know, I said. So don’t tell anyone about this and don’t talk about it where someone could overhear you. It’s obviously a delicate piece of information when they bothered so much to cover it up.

But Alan knows you know, too. That means you’re in danger! Michael’s element rose like a wave, worry written clearly all over his beautiful face.

Michael, please. Stop that water, I choked out, taking a deep breath. The water immediately stopped its assault on my senses. Good. I slowly got to my feet and walked over to the window, staring outside. But one look at the windowsill made me think of Adrian’s soft black hair and his breathtaking gray-blue eyes, and... No. I couldn’t be thinking about Adrian. Not now. I turned around and went back to Michael and Paula.

Are you okay? Paula asked,