Divided (Element Preservers Series, Book 3) by Alycia Linwood - Read Online
Divided (Element Preservers Series, Book 3)
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Summary

After spending some time on her own, Ria thinks she is ready to meet Oliver's group of magic disease carriers and find out what her brother really wants. But when her father reveals the secret that affects the whole world, she will have to make a series of decisions that could change her life forever.

Book 3 in the Element Preservers series. Young Adult Fantasy/Romance for mature teens.

Published: Alycia Linwood on
ISBN: 9781301579419
List price: $3.99
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Divided (Element Preservers Series, Book 3) - Alycia Linwood

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Linwood

Chapter 1

The president’s daughter hasn’t been seen for a while, and she hasn’t returned to university, just like her boyfriend, a water elemental, Michael Teregov. The Element Daily is offering a huge reward for any image or video, but no one seems to be able to provide it. Richard Milanez hasn’t been forthcoming about his daughter’s whereabouts either, so the question remains: Where is Ria Milanez? the reporter said, giving the camera a worried look.

I switched off the TV, wiping off the beads of sweat that had appeared on my forehead while I’d been exercising. This was the ninth or tenth time the press tried to make a big thing out of the fact that they couldn’t just snap a dozen pictures of me and write a regular, boring article about how my dress was too dark or didn’t match my hairstyle. My father had to be sick of all the rumors because I knew how much he hated gossip, especially when his career could depend on what people assumed about his whole family.

Dropping down to the ground, I did a few more push-ups and decided that was enough for today. My muscles ached a bit, but I needed to be in shape if I wanted to outrun or fight anyone who might want to catch me. I’d been going to a nearby town for weeks and hadn’t gotten in trouble, but you never knew. Adrian, Paula, and Oliver would kill me if they found out I’d been risking being seen only because I couldn’t live without shopping.

Adrian probably suspected something since there was no way I’d be so cheerful most of the time during our chats through the video link. If he was truly suspicious, then he was wise to keep quiet and not ask me anything. When I talked to Paula, she was always too occupied with describing something new she had discovered, and that happened a lot lately. I guessed Oliver really had the best equipment and awesome experts working for him.

My phone, which was nestled in the covers on my bed, vibrated and I went to pick it up, checking the number before answering. I hadn’t received any calls from an unknown number, but it would unfortunate if I answered to someone who had hacked into my brother’s private network.

Oliver, I said, turning on the speakers so I could walk around the room and still talk to him. Strangely enough, my brother hadn’t bugged me with requests to visit him, but maybe this was the time when he’d start. He wasn’t exactly the most patient person.

Sis. So good to hear you, he said. Did you by any chance sit on the remote and turned on the TV? People are talking about you.

I know, but this isn’t the first time. I opened the closet and shuffled through my clothing, trying to find something warm and comfortable.

Father is looking for you. Everyone is, actually.

Tell me something I don’t know. I sighed. Wait, did something happen?

Don’t panic. You’re still safe, but you might be more careful next time you go out. The way he said the word ‘out’ meant that he knew that I’d been to town. Oh, shit.

Um, I don’t think anyone is waiting for me in the bushes in the yard. I opted for playing dumb. Maybe he didn’t know anything about me going to town. I mean, how could he? No one had been following me... Unless Oliver had sent a magic disease carrier after me. But I’d still be able to see that person since there weren’t many places to hide once you reached the clearing near the town.

Don’t play stupid, sis. We both know you wouldn’t have survived if you’d been trapped in that house alone for weeks.

Well, you guys call me all the time. It’s almost like I’m there with you. I held my breath for his answer.

True, but there’s something else. He laughed softly. I have proof you have left the house at least once.

Proof? Taking a step away from the closet, I turned to stare at my phone as if it were my brother. Oh, come on. I’d done everything I could to hide my little escapes. After all the planning, it seemed unlikely that I’d forgotten something.

Yeah, Oliver drawled, clearly trying to frustrate me into a confession. He was bluffing. He had to be.

Oh. Does that mean I have to call Father to ask him what exactly you have to do to obtain proof for something that didn’t happen? I hoped I sounded sure of myself and that the phone wouldn’t carry over the quiver in my voice.

My brother’s deep laughter echoed through the room. Seriously, sis? Did you really think I wouldn’t notice? You no longer order certain things from the guy that brings you everything you need. The house might have heating, but it’s too big to get completely warm. And I’m sure you don’t go out in a summer dress. I don’t recall you brought any winter clothes with you.

Gritting my teeth, I mentally cursed myself for forgetting that detail. So you’re going through my shopping list? Thanks for making me feel as if I were in a game where someone watches everything I do and waits to press a button to off me when I do something he doesn’t like.

Look, he said wearily, I’m not blaming you for going out, but I thought you trusted us enough to tell us where you were going just in case something went wrong.

I’m not sure how you can expect me to trust you when you obviously don’t trust me. We were always back to the same old issue, but I had no idea how we were supposed to resolve that one.

You should come here, he said. You’d be safe. Besides, we need to work on a plan how to reintroduce you to society.

But if I reappear, our father will get me in a second. Was my brother insane? Now was the last moment I needed to become the target of the press. There’d be too many questions that I just wouldn’t be able to answer.

The rumor has it that you married Michael and went on a honeymoon, he said. They think Daddy is rich enough to allow you to stay longer and ignore university for a semester or two.

I’m married? Aw, great. I rolled my eyes, wondering why people didn’t have better things to do than worry about other people’s lives.

Yep. I’d totally congratulate you, but I’m offended you didn’t invite me to your wedding, so...

Very funny, I said dryly. Do you really think I can just walk back into the university as if nothing had happened?

Probably not. Oliver sighed. But you don’t have to go to university.

Should I travel somewhere with Michael so reporters can see us? I rubbed my eyes, not really excited about the idea of traveling somewhere with my ex-boyfriend. We’d kill each other sooner than pretend we were lovebirds. How about we just snap a few pictures of ourselves and anonymously send them to the press?

No, Ria, don’t be stupid. I couldn’t care less what the press says about you since they’re going to lie anyway. I’m talking about ruining our father’s plans. The cold and bitter undertone in his voice made me frown.

You don’t know his plans, I said and heard a groan on the other side of the line.

Yes, genius, he said. The time is ticking. We need to find out what his goal is, act fast, and overtake the Element Preservers.

What? I said incredulously. You can’t do that! Our father won’t let you simply walk into his headquarters with your people and give you the position of the president.

Oh, he will if we force him, my brother said confidently. That’s why we need your help. You’re the only one who can actually walk in there and beg for forgiveness.

No. I glared at the phone. I won’t do that. Our parents won’t make the same mistake twice. They will lock me up and all will be over. And you’re talking about ‘we’ again? Can I finally know who ‘we’ is? Neither Paula nor Adrian managed to figure out who is in charge of your little group, so why don’t you tell me? Oliver had probably forbidden them to tell me.

Come here and find out. Surprisingly enough, his voice wasn’t teasing this time. We came up with a perfect plan to ensure your safety around our parents. You only need to come here and meet with us.

A perfect plan? Yeah, right. Was that the one where I got killed and Oliver used my death as a way to bring our father down? What if I don’t want to come?

We’re going to expose your location. As simple as that, he said, not giving me any hints whether he would really do such a thing or not. I’m generous, so I’ll give you a week to decide. Tick tock, sis. With that, he hung up.

Asshole, I muttered as I turned back to the closet and dug out a black sweater. I’d always known it would come to this; Oliver blackmailing his only sister into risking her life so he could get what he wanted. Between him and my father, I wasn’t even sure who was worse. What bothered me the most was the fact that Oliver had no idea what our father was doing, and all he wanted was to get our father out of the way. Sure, our father was torturing magic disease carriers, but aside from that, what if his plans were good?

Too angry to even think, I put on a pair of dark blue jeans that fitted with my sweater, swept my hair into a ponytail, and stopped in front of the mirror. Heavy make-up would definitely call too much attention, especially in a small town, so I applied some lip balm and put in hazel contacts to hide my dark brown eyes. I wasn’t satisfied until I managed to completely hide my dark brown hair under a curly strawberry blonde wig. Dressed up like this, I couldn’t even recognize myself, but a tiny distraction or gesture could expose me and ruin everything.

Just as I was about to go outside, my phone vibrated in my purse. Oh, great. Who had such a perfect timing? One peek at the bluish screen told me it was Adrian. My brother had probably told him something or wanted to use him to persuade me to agree to his crazy idea. Did I want to deal with this right now? Nope. No, I didn’t. Stuffing the phone back into the small pocket inside of my black purse, I opened the door and walked out into the fresh winter air.

I wasn’t used to driving through the streets full of snow, but I didn’t have a choice. Living in the middle of nowhere meant that there wasn’t anyone to clear the path. In a big city, fire users trained for cleaning the snow would have already dealt with it, and here I couldn’t even warm the snow myself for fear someone might notice it. Luckily for me, the snow was already starting to melt on its own as I reached the town, but of course, that meant I’d have to walk through the mud and get my black leather boots dirty. It seemed like you could never have everything in this world.

A few minutes later, I found a perfect parking spot, not too far from the shops, but not in plain sight either. When I was sure no one was paying any attention to me, I eased out of the car and carefully stepped onto the sidewalk. Someone had cleaned the street, so I didn’t have to worry about slipping on the ice. Thinking about ice reminded me of Adrian, and a wave of warmth spread through me.

I missed him and I was sure he missed me, but we had more important things to do. Adrian wasn’t able to tell me what he had discovered so far because my brother was always listening in on our conversation, but I hoped he would be able to give me some clues about my brother’s plans once we saw each other. I was angry with my brother for blackmailing me, yet I secretly rejoiced at the idea of visiting Adrian.

Entering the first shop, I let out a loud sigh as the warm air enveloped me, chasing away the chill. The saleswoman greeted me with a broad smile, her gorgeous blue eyes sparkling. Judging by the way she treated me, I was her best customer.

Hello, miss. We have just received fabulous new coats. I’m sure you’re going to like them. Let me show you. She extended her arm, pointing toward the back of the shop. Oh yeah, I totally needed a new coat, preferably one that could easily blend with its surroundings, keep me warm, and ensure I didn’t get wet during a snow storm. Was I asking for too much? Probably, but at least I’d be occupied for the next few hours while I looked for a perfect coat.

Chapter 2

A shadow caught my eye as I emerged from the shop, my hands full of shopping bags. As I drew closer, the shadow took features of a tall, dark-haired man who was talking on his phone in a hushed, strangely familiar voice. Dread filled my chest as the man turned his face toward me, his brown eyes meeting mine. Alan blinked, taking me in, but then he dropped his gaze to the ground, concentrating on his conversation. A frown line appeared on his forehead, and I couldn’t help but wonder who he was talking to and what he was doing here.

Could it only be a coincidence, or had Alan and the others somehow discovered my hiding place? I hurried past him, my heartbeat echoing in my head. He hadn’t recognized me, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t suspect something if I lingered near him. I strained my ears to catch what he was saying, but all I could hear was Yes, You’re right, and Maybe. Chewing the insides of my mouth and clutching my bags, I strode to the parking lot. Alan’s presence here was very alarming and I had to notify Oliver as soon as possible.

Where do you think you’re going? Alan asked, just as I was putting my bags in the backseat. Everything inside of me froze, and I considered jumping into the car and locking myself inside. What were the chances that he wasn’t addressing me? I didn’t dare to glance behind me to see whether he still had his phone, but instead, I pretended I hadn’t heard anything.

I asked you a question. His voice became louder as he approached the car, his boots thudding against the pavement. Despite the cold, I felt sweat trickle down my back. How in hell had he recognized me? I jumped in the car, closing the door so fast that my coat got caught in it. Shit! I fumbled with the key as I tried to get it in the ignition, but Alan was advancing quickly enough that only a few steps separated him from my car.

Ria! I heard him yell. I just want to talk!

Stupid, stupid key! At the last moment, I gave up on the key and pressed the button to lock all the doors. Taking a deep breath, I reassured myself that he couldn’t break inside without making a scandal and drawing everyone’s attention. A hard knock on the window made me jump, and I looked up at Alan’s calm face. One part of my brain screamed at me to start the car and get out of here, even if that meant knocking down Alan and leaving him to eat my dust. But if he got hurt, someone would call the police, and then I’d be in serious trouble.

Please, he said, his voice muffled by the glass. I promise you I won’t hurt you.

A couple walked by, giving Alan suspicious looks. He let his hand drop and kept looking at me as if I had stolen the last cookie from the jar. Okay, I could do this. With a scowl, I lowered the window so we could hear each other, but not enough for him to reach me through the opening.

I have no idea who you are and what you want. I changed my voice a bit, my accent more pronounced.

Ria, don’t play games. I know it’s you. More wrinkles appeared around Alan’s eyes, his mouth set into a tight line.

You have mistaken me for someone else. A quick look at the rearview mirror told me I still had my contacts and my wig, so I doubted Alan could be a hundred percent sure he was talking to me.

Do I have to follow you home? I know where you live, Ria. He cocked one dark eyebrow at me. Aw, crap. I leaned over the steering wheel, shaking my head. This was so not happening. Couldn’t I wake up in my bed?

How? I choked out. Had he already notified my father? Was he stalling so the whole squad of my father’s guards would have time to arrive? It was highly unlikely that Alan was here alone.

I have my resources. His lips spread into a smug smile.

No shit. I glared at him. At least he hadn’t asked me to step out of the car... yet. Alan was quiet for a long moment, and I chewed on the insides of my mouth. Is my father coming? Are you going to get an award for finding his stray daughter?

I’m here on my own. He spread his arms wide as if to show me that he wasn’t carrying a gun tucked in his pants.

Right. I gave him a deadpan look. Do you think I’m stupid?

Let me explain. He paused, licking his lips. I have a proposition for you.

A proposition, huh? I scratched my chin. Um, yeah. You want me to have a nice little chat with you until help comes, don’t you?

I’m not working for your father. He shifted his weight onto the other leg, trying his best to look harmless. Well, if he hoped I was going to let him sit in my car, he was wrong.

Don’t make me laugh. I glowered. You betrayed Adrian and informed my father about Adrian’s sub-element. Hell, you’re his friend and an ex-member of the Council. I’m not sure what your role in the Element Preservers is, but I find it hard to believe you don’t have any connection to my father. Oh, and did you forget the part where you drugged me and threatened me to get a confession from Adrian?

My methods weren’t always the best. I’ll admit that. He pressed his long black coat tighter around himself, but I didn’t want to worry about whether he was cold. The bastard was the main reason for all of Adrian’s suffering, even if he had saved Adrian’s life by accepting to be his guardian.

What do you want? I wanted to finish this conversation and disappear before anyone else discovered my location. As far as I knew, Alan was lying about everything.

Let’s talk in there. He nodded toward the café down the street. I’ll buy you coffee or whatever you want. I’ll even tell you how I found you.

And if I don’t want to talk to you? I crossed my arms in front of me, hoping he could see how annoyed I was.

I’ll call your father. He’ll be on you before you can say cheese. The grin on his face reminded me of a cat who had eaten the canary.

I swallowed, weighing my options. It would be nice to know who I should blame for the breach in our security. There had to be a breach, because Alan wouldn’t have known when and where to show up otherwise. Oliver was going to be so pissed off about that. Could I trust Alan? Nope, definitely not.

All right. My voice didn’t sound quite like my own when I said it, probably because I wasn’t sure of my decision. Alan took a step back so I could get out of the car, and he rubbed his hands together. Closing the window, I grabbed my purse and keys and slowly got out, constantly keeping an eye on Alan. Maybe there wasn’t anyone with him or he hadn’t called for help, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t hit me in the head when I wasn’t looking and drag me to my father himself. Was that what this was about? Did he want to get credit for bringing me in?

Stop looking at me like that. Alan laughed softly, and my car beeped to indicate the doors were locked. Yeah, I totally adopted that car Oliver had given us to come to Earthwind.

Like what? I sidestepped a puddle of melting snow.

Like I’m going to kill you.

I have no idea why that surprises you. Had he taken some pills and gotten amnesia? Seriously, the man was insane if he thought I’d drop my guard around him.

I’ve never thought I’d have so much trouble with you. Amusement flickered in his eyes. "You were supposed to be Richard’s