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Authors: Stoker,Shannon

The Alliance

BOOK: The Alliance
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The

Alliance

 

UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

HarperCollins
Publishers

....................................

Also by Shannon Stoker

The Collection

The Registry

 

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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Copyright

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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Copyright © 2014 by Shannon Stoker. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address Harper­Collins Publishers, 195 Broadway, New York, NY 10007.

Harper­Collins books may be purchased for educational, business, or sales promotional use. For information, please e-­mail the Special Markets Department at [email protected]

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Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data has been applied for.

ISBN 978-­0-­06-­227176-­1

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Dedication

For the Wapole family, past, present, and future.

 

UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

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Acknowledgments

A huge thank-­you to my agent Paula Munier; I think I would have dropped dead several times during this experience if I didn't have you by my side. An equally giant thank-­you to my editor Amanda Bergeron; words cannot express how talented you are, and I am in awe of you every day.

Thank you to the wonderful ­people at Harper­Collins, including Camille Collins, Molly Birckhead, Lauren Cook, Alaina Waagner, and everyone else who helped me along the way. I am honored to have worked with you on this crazy project. Thank you to Mumtaz Mustafa and Martin Sobey for your hard work on the beautiful covers of this series.

I have to make sure my parents, Laura and Rod, know how much I appreciate everything they have done for me. None of this would have been possible without your support. Also, thank you to my husband, Andrew “Andy” Stoker; you are my rock. I know my dog can't read, but I have to thank Nucky since none of this would have ever happened if it weren't for him. I have to thank my brother, Frank, who has always been a huge influence on my life. A giant round of applause has to go to the Wapole family. I love that we are such a large bunch that if I named you all it could fill an entire book.

A million thank-­yous to my friends. Shout-­outs to Dalmy Bolivar, Katie Drum, Laura Alms, Erin Reid, Rachel Marsden, Nina Draganowski, and Megan “Jean” Long; thank you so much for being a part of this journey. I would be remiss to forget John Schaeffer and Jason Drum, who never minded when we had a girls' night and chose to join us in the celebrations every once in a while.

Also thank you to my “superfans” Meredith Stange, Elsa and Gary Miller, Josh Austin, and Dustin Inboden. A big thanks goes to Gail Borden Public Library and all their wonderful staff.

Finally thank you to all the readers out there! I hope you had as much fun reading this series as I did writing it. Happy reading.

 

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The

Alliance

 

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Chapter
1

Our enemy has been defeated and I am eager to return home. It has been three months since I have heard from Wallace and I hope he still wants to marry me when I arrive. I know he was scared about his fiancée heading to war, but once he sees my face I am certain all the old feelings will come flooding back.

—­The diary of Megan Jean

Lightning crashed and Mia slid along the floor of the boat, clawing at the floorboards, hoping to stop herself from slamming into the opposite side of the hull. Her efforts did little good and she braced for impact. Pain exploded through her right arm, but immediately the ship straightened itself out again and Mia landed on her left side with a thud.

They had told her to stay down here for her safety, but she wasn't doing a very good job at protecting herself from the effects of the storm. Another boom sounded from above and Mia couldn't take her feelings of helplessness any longer.

She forced herself off the ground and headed toward the small set of stairs that led up to the deck. The boat continued to wobble, but she made her way to the railing and gripped it tight. Filled with resolve, Mia did the only thing she'd been instructed not to: she climbed the stairs and reached for the handle, determined to offer her help in saving the ship and the rest of the crew from the storm.

Little effort was needed to open the door. The wind pulled it and it started to drag Mia out of the cabin. She saw a wave crash against the deck and water rush at her feet. Not that the excess water would make much of a difference; the rain was coming down fast and Mia's face felt like it was being pelted with pebbles instead of drops.

She saw several ­people trying to reinforce tarps over the center of the deck. Mia forced the door closed behind her and went toward them. She recognized Andrew. He was bent over, holding the tarp in place. She leaned down next to him.

“I want to help,” she yelled over the roaring storm.

He moved his head toward her and even in the dark she could recognize the anger on his face.

“What are you doing out here?” he yelled. “Go back under.”

He pointed toward the door Mia had just come through. She shook her head.

“I can help,” she said.

She reached down and grabbed the tarp from his hand. Another loud clap of thunder went off and Mia looked up just in time to see a wall of water ready to drop onto the deck. She raised her hands to protect her head and felt Andrew grab ahold of her wrist. The water hit and Mia fell back onto the wood. It felt like she was underwater and her body was being dragged away. Andrew tightened his grip and Mia was certain they were going overboard with the wave as it pulled back.

Suddenly they stopped moving. She wasn't sure which direction was up but if Andrew let go Mia thought she'd never see the surface again. The water rushed away and Mia felt its pull on her weaken. She opened her eyes and gasped for air. The boat was upright again and Mia was dangling off the side, hanging from Andrew's arms.

Mia tried to keep her grip on Andrew's forearm, but he completely let go of her. Her skin was too wet, she was sliding down. She raised her eyes and tried to get Andrew to give her his free hand. She continued to grab at Andrew with her other hand, but he didn't return her gesture. He looked down at her. His face wasn't the bundle of nerves she expected. Instead his brown eyes held a vacant stare. In her confusion Mia let herself slip down. Her arms flailed in the air, but it was no use. She braced herself for the impact of the ice-­cold water.

The cold water never came. Mia's eyes flashed open as she sucked in a large breath. She started to cough since her inhalation of air came as too much of a shock to her system. Mia felt a hand patting her back, trying to help her with the coughs. She turned, expecting to see Andrew, but instead Zack was behind her, handing a bottle of water over.

“Where's Andrew?” Mia asked.

She appreciated Zack's presence. The tall, blond man had proved himself a worthy ally during Mia's time with Affinity. She remembered when she first arrived in Guatemala at one of Affinity's bases. It had looked so quaint and rustic, but appearances were deceiving and Mia quickly realized the group had an arsenal of electronics and ­people behind it. Before becoming acquainted with Affinity Mia never would have thought stopping the Registry possible, but that was the group's core mission. Mia was proud to call herself a member and work toward that very goal.

She looked out the window at the small airstrip. She was three hours from Affinity's base but knew she would soon be farther than that when she arrived in France.

“He's loading the plane,” Zack said. “I convinced him to let you sleep some more.”

“I can't believe I fell asleep,” Mia said.

The group had left the Affinity base at three
A.M
. They'd traveled south to the nearest airport, about three hours away. Even though that had interrupted Mia's normal sleep schedule she'd thought her nerves were too rattled to rest.

“I was hoping we'd have some time to talk before we left,” Zack said.

Mia nodded. Zack had been born and raised in Affinity, while Mia had only been a member for a few weeks. Her time with the rebel group had been spent preparing for this mission, the only mission that mattered to Mia: infiltrating America and stopping the Registry and mandatory ser­vice.

 

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Chapter
2

The positive spirit of the troops has faded since none of them have received orders to return to America. I am sympathetic to their frustrations since my editor refuses to respond to any of my mailings, both electronic and print, or send me an itinerary of my travels home. This is the last time I agree to cover a war story. I am leaving this wasteland tomorrow and paying my own way. I'd better be reimbursed by the magazine when I arrive.

—­The journal of Isaac Ryland

The day was growing tedious. The backward teachings of Ian, the current grand commander, were too boring for Grant to focus on.

“So that is why we are funding an expedition into the wastelands,” Ian said.

“Because another country asked for money for a stupid project, we feel the need to hand it over?”

Grant made sure to speak in a low voice.

“What?” Ian asked.

“Because another country asked for money for a superior project, we must step in and take it over?” Grant asked. “The project, not the country.”

“Right,” Ian said. “Well, I think it's important American soldiers accompany these scientists. If Africa or South America becomes inhabitable I don't want another country to colonize it first.”

“They're nuclear wastelands,” Grant said. “The Great War destroyed any possibility of life there.”

“I always forget how well-­informed you are,” Ian said. “Either way, some scientists think the lands may be clear again, or at least safe enough to test. If the Great War taught the world one thing it was the dangers of superior weaponry.”

“You disagree with nuclear warfare?” Grant asked.

“I think it's important we remember that if there are no ­people left alive then there are no countries to rule,” Ian said.

Even with Grant's desire to learn about all types of weapons, he had been unable to discover much on the nuclear front. Once he was in charge that would change. Grant didn't care if the rest of the world survived. He would bring back that weaponry.

“So you would create an American colony there? Expand our lands?”

“Precisely,” Ian said.

“Wouldn't that make the ­people harder to control? Risk an uprising?”

Ian frowned.

“From what we know the radiation will still be too strong anyway,” Ian said. “At least if we're part of the expedition we will know firsthand the condition. And as always, it never hurts to have good international public relations. The Australians will see this as a sign of goodwill on our part and hush any crazy notions of human rights campaigns.”

Ian stopped walking. They were in front of the secret room that housed the master lists, in a bombproof bunker that was impossible to take out. The server that held the data for the Registry as well as the ser­vice records. It was the only one in existence, updated manually by Ian every few weeks. The code to enter the room was one of the only key pieces of information Grant had yet to learn from the grand commander.

“This is the final project I have for the day,” Ian said.

Grant tried to look as Ian punched in the code. He couldn't see what digits were entered. It was the tightest security available and beyond cracking.

“Sir,” Grant said. “Why not use an iris or fingerprint scan?”

“What, and give someone the idea to chop off my hand or pluck out my eye?” Ian asked, an eyebrow raised.

Grant had to admire the man's astuteness. It was true that had that been an option Ian would have been long since disposed of by now. The metal door opened up and Grant followed Ian into the small room. Ian pulled out a card and slid it into the master Registry server. A few lights started to blink and the information was updated.

“There is much more cutting-­edge technology available,” Grant said.

“But I know how to use these well,” Ian said. “And they require little to no maintenance, and there is absolutely no way to reach them remotely. Every time the public databases are uploaded, I manually transfer the information to those servers. When you're grand commander don't underestimate your enemies. They may be closer than you think.”

Ian was correct about that too. Grant doubted he would change out the hardware in this room. Only the code for the door would be switched. Grant would create another hidden master list though. Ian had expressed his fear that having more copies to protect would lead to more disasters to avert, but Grant thought this server too valuable to only have one in existence. Ian finished his business and the two men returned to the hallway, and the hidden room vanished into the wall again.

“Three weeks until the wedding,” Ian said. “I hope you're not getting nerves.”

“Nothing to worry about,” Grant said. “Your daughter will make a dutiful wife.”

“Unlike your first choice,” Ian said.

Grant tried hard to keep a straight face. Amelia may have escaped, but Grant knew she was returning and he would have his revenge.

“I'm not speaking about the bride or ceremony,” Ian said. “There will be many important guests. Dignitaries from all over the world are coming to meet you.”

“I'm still not comfortable with allowing foreign nationals into our borders,” Grant said.

Normally he kept his disagreement with Ian's ideas quiet, but when the man told him outside influences were coming in he couldn't hide his objections.

“And I explained we are only allowing absolute allies inside,” Ian said. “Representatives from nine countries. This way it will be covered by all the international news outlets and your transition into grand commander will be well respected.”

“It's still dangerous,” Grant said.

“Nonsense,” Ian said. “They're all arriving with detailed itineraries and will be escorted by our top agents. None of them will do anything to harm our way of life. All of them jumped at my offer. Keeping the world happy keeps trouble away from our doors. How to conduct foreign policy is one of the most important and most difficult lessons to learn.”

They reached the exit of the Mission, the capitol building of America.

“Have a safe drive home,” Ian said.

“I'll see you next week,” Grant said.

He shook the man's hand and walked out toward his sports car. The hour-­long drive home was Grant's favorite part of his day. He thought back to Ian's snarky comment. Amelia was disrespectful, and worse, she wasn't satisfied with merely avoiding his grasp. Grant was aware she'd taken up with a rebel group and was planning on reentering the country. Carter Rowe had made sure Grant had that knowledge.

“We're all coming back,” Carter said. “Including Mia.”

“When should I expect you?”

“That wasn't part of the deal,” Carter said. “Now let me talk to my father.”

“The deal has changed,” Grant said. “I want to know everything your little club is up to.”

“Five weeks,” Carter said. “We'll be there in five weeks.”

“That's cutting it close to dear old Dad's deadline,” Grant said.

“We'll be there,” Carter said. “Then you make the trade. Mia for my father.”

“And you can continue to call every day to check in with him.”

“I won't be able to,” Carter said. “It's getting too dangerous. We need to stop communication. They're starting to suspect something.”

“So you're sacrificing the opportunity to speak with your father?”

“If it means staying alive, then yes,” Carter said. “If they think I'm a rat and in bed with you this whole journey will get called off. Five weeks and she'll be on your doorstep.”

“With a pretty bow wrapped around her?”

Carter made a disgusted noise and Grant couldn't help but laugh in response.

“Remember,” Grant said. “You're on speakerphone.”

He walked into Rod's makeshift hospital room and held the phone up so Carter could check in with his father.

That phone call had been two weeks ago. But there were too many coincidences. The end of Carter's phone calls and foreign nationals on their way to Grant's wedding meant one thing: Mia's return would be sooner than next month and Grant would be ready.

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