Untraceable

The Tracers Series, Book 1
Pocket Star Books
November 24, 2009
ISBN-10: 1-4391-4919-4
ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-4919-5

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2010 Daphne du Maurier Award winner!

Be careful what you look for…you might find it.

Private investigator Alexandra Lovell uses computer skills and cunning to help clients drop off the radar and begin new lives in safety. Melanie Bess, desperate to escape her abusive husband, was one of those clients. But when Melanie vanishes for real, Alex fears the worst and sets out to discover what happened. Using every resource she can get her hands on—including an elite team of forensic scientists known as the Tracers, and a jaded, sexy detective who’s helped her before--Alex embarks on a mission to uncover the truth, one clue at a time.

Homicide cop Nathan Devereaux wants to believe that Alex’s hunch about Melanie’s murder is wrong, but his instincts—and their visceral attraction—won’t let him walk away. As a grim picture of what really happened begins to emerge, he realizes this investigation runs deeper than they ever imagined. And each step nearer the truth puts Alex in danger of being the next to disappear. . . .

Reviewers Say...

Starred Review! "Taut drama and constant action surge through the engrossing first book in Griffin’s Tracers series… Griffin keeps the suspense high and the pace quick. A perfect combination of forensic science, mystery, romance and action make this series one to watch."
Publishers Weekly

"Top-notch romantic suspense! Fast pace, tight plotting, terrific mystery, sharp dialogue, fabulous characters . . . UNTRACEABLE is unforgettable. Laura Griffin’s latest is sure to thrill."
New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan

"Four and a half stars! "The characters are top-notch, and their gradual romance -- entrenched in mystery and suspense -- leaves readers sighing contentedly as the last page folds."
Romantic Times

"The superb first book in the Tracers series will leave you wanting more."
SingleTitles.com

"A non-stop roller coaster ride." Fallen Angel Reviews

"Once you start reading you can't stop! Laura Griffin is a hot new author you want to put on your 'must read' list."
Suzanne Coleburn, The Belles & Beaux of Romance


Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Melanie bumped along the pitted road, almost certain she wasn’t lost. She peered through the darkness and drizzle, searching for nonexistent landmarks. Had she missed it again? No way. First left after the low-water bridge--

She spotted the yellow porch light and sighed. Finally. Sex and Mexican food. She’d been craving both all day--and in that order--since Joe had called to tell her he was off tonight.

The Blazer pitched down, then up again, its worn shocks responding to every rut as she neared the house. She pulled in behind Joe’s Honda and noticed the house’s darkened windows. Maybe the game had ended. With a giddy rush, she gathered up the carryout bag and pushed open the door, and the smell of warm tortilla chips mingled with the cool dampness of the spring night. She glanced at the house again--

And froze.

The back of her neck tingled. She heard a voice from her past, a faint echo at first, then a whisper. She gazed at the house through the raindrops as the whisper grew louder.

Go, go, go!

And she did, numbly dropping the takeout food and yanking the door shut. Turning the key and shoving the Blazer into gear. Shooting backward down the driveway, then retracing her course, only the gently bumps were bone-jarring now, as she sped toward the highway with a hammering heart.

He was there.

How did she know? She just knew. Something about the house told her. She tried to keep the Blazer centered on the road as she rummaged for her phone. Her trembling fingers dialed Joe.

Voice mail.

Tears burned her eyes. She reached the paved highway and slammed on the brakes just as a sports car zipped past.

Think, damn it. What would Alex do? The tires shrieked as Melanie pulled onto the highway and groped for a plan. She had one. She had a plan.

What was it?

She took a deep breath. Her emergency kit was in the back. She could leave this instant, no stops. She could go to her safe spot.

But what about Joe? She slowed. She had to go back.

A pair of headlights winked into her rearview mirror. An objective part of her brain registered the height, the shape, the spacing. The rest panicked.

She floored the gas pedal. Her pulse skittered as the car behind her sped up, too. The speedometer inched past sixty, but still the lights behind her refused to fade. Her hands clenched the steering wheel. Her heart pumped furiously. He couldn’t find her. Not now.

Why hadn’t she listened to Alex?

A curve in the road. She jerked the wheel, then struggled for control. She felt the spin coming, felt her stomach drop out as the tires glided across the asphalt. Brakes squealed--or maybe it was her scream--and a wall of bushes rushed at her. Metal crunched. Her nose hit the wheel.

Then nothing. Just the rasp of her breathing and the tip-tap of rain over her head. No airbag. She clutched her abdomen and tried to take stock. Blood, warm and coppery, seeped into her mouth.

He’s coming.

The thought spurred her body into action. She pushed at the door, heavy because of the angle. She was in a ditch. She threw her shoulder against the door and muscled it open. Branches snapped at her cheeks as she heaved herself out of the car.

The only light nearby was a headlamp, now buried in leaves. Rain pelted her face. She blinked at the surrounding gloom and tried to orient herself.

She heard a low rumble--like thunder, but not. It was a pickup, diesel engine, somewhere behind her. She listened, paralyzed with terror, as the rumble ceased and a door slammed shut. He was here. The nightmare she’d imagined so many times, in vivid detail, was happening.

She clawed wildly at the vines and branches. Panting now, she crashed like an animal through the woods. No car. No phone. No emergency kit.

A distant whir growing nearer. Tires on pavement. She scrambled toward the sound. She broke through the foliage just as the car whizzed by.

“Help!” she screamed, waving her arms at the shrinking taillights.

Her mistake hit her. She ducked back into the bushes, but it was too late. He was right behind her, closer now, so close she could hear his grunts and breaths.

Move! she willed her rubbery legs. She choked back a sob as he came closer, closer. Then smack! she was on the ground, her legs pinned. No air, no breath. She scratched and elbowed and kicked, her heel hitting something soft. A moan. She jerked herself free and lunged for the road. Another car--she heard it, saw its lights, beckoning her to safety. Just a few more feet…. She reached for the light, the pavement. She clawed at the gravel.

Help! Stop!

A hand clamped around her ankle and dragged her back.

###

Two days later 

Alex Lovell downed her last sip of tepid coffee, slung her camera around her neck, and checked her watch. Late again.

Fortunately, the subject of today’s surveillance liked to sleep in. But less fortunately, he lived in his girlfriend’s apartment near campus, which meant parking was going to be a bitch. As a backup plan, Alex grabbed the orange traffic cone that lived in the corner of her office and helped her get away with damn near anything.

Outside, an early morning downpour had snarled traffic. Alex cast a glance over her shoulder as she hurriedly locked the office. Cars inched along Lavaca Street, and she tried to decide which route to UT would be fastest.

A shadow fell over her.

“’Scuse me, ma’am?”

She surveyed the man’s reflection in the glass door before answering. Boots, jeans, western-style jacket. His six-foot frame was augmented by a cowboy hat. Was this guy for real?

“Think I might be lost,” he drawled.

She turned around. “Cattle Raisers Association’s two blocks over.”

He smiled slightly, and the lines bracketing his mouth deepened. “I’m looking for Lovell Solutions.”

She nodded at the words etched on the glass door beside her. “Looks like you found it.”

“Are you Alexandra Lovell?”

“Yes,” she said, certain this wasn’t news.

“I have something to discuss with you. Only take a minute,” he added, as she glanced at her watch.

“What’s your name?”

“Bill Scoffield.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a lawyer.”

She eyed him skeptically. Tufts of white hair peeked up from his shirt collar, and a slight paunch hung over his belt buckle. She put him at fifty-five. Her gaze dropped to his boots, shiny black ostrich. She’d been in Texas long enough to recognize expensive footwear.

She thought about this month’s receivables. “Five minutes,” she said, glancing at her watch again. She dropped the cone on the sidewalk and unlocked the door. “And I’ll hang onto that SIG while we talk, if you don’t mind.”

You would have thought she’d asked him to surrender his dick. His gray eyes narrowed as he fished the pistol out from the holster beneath his jacket. He passed it to her, butt first.

She led the way into her air-conditioned reception room. It lacked a receptionist. Alex glanced at the door to her messy office, which thankfully was closed. As the visitor removed his hat, she walked behind her assistant’s recently vacated desk.

“Little paranoid?” He glanced pointedly at the security camera mounted up near the ceiling.

She shrugged. “You can never be too careful.” The last man she’d let in here armed had put her in the hospital.

Alex nodded at a vinyl chair. “Have a seat.” She placed the pistol on top of the file cabinet behind her and settled into a swivel chair. “What can I do for you, Mr. Scoffield?”

He deposited his hat, brim up, on the mini-fridge beside him. “I’m here on behalf of a James Bess. I have it on good authority that his estranged daughter hired you a few months back.”

“I don’t know any Bess.”

“Melanie Bess? Married name Coghan?”

“Never heard of her.”

“Well, that’s too bad. See, Melanie’s come into some money, and it’s my job to get it to her.” He watched her, as if to see whether “money” was Alex’s magic word. Sometimes it was. But at the moment she was more interested in determining this guy’s agenda.

She tilted her chair back. “Where’d you say you were from again?”

“Midland,” he said. “Drove in this morning.”

“Long trip. You probably should’ve called first.”

They stared at each other for a moment. He pulled a photograph out of his jacket pocket and slid it across the desk. “You recognize Melanie?”

The picture showed a smiling teenage girl posing for the camera in a cheerleading uniform. Curly hair, laughing brown eyes, dimple. She looked a lot like Alex had looked in high school, only blonde and popular and with big breasts.

“She’s pretty,” Alex said. “I’d definitely remember her.”

“Listen, Miss Lovell.” He leaned forward and rested his elbow on the desk between them. “I really need to find Melanie. Her daddy just passed away. She’s got a lot of money coming to her, and I bet she could use it. Last I checked, she wasn’t exactly flush, if you know what I mean.”

“Have you tried the Internet?” Alex tipped her head to the side. “The online White Pages can be an amazing resource these days, if you’re trying to find someone.”

He frowned at her across the desk. She watched neutrally as he stood and tucked the photo back into his pocket, then rested his hands on his hips and gazed down at her. “How good are you at finding people?”

“If you can afford it, I can find them.”

“How much to track down Melanie Bess?”

She shrugged. “I’m pretty booked up right now. It would take me at least a few days to get to it.”

“The money’d be good.” He produced a business card and passed it to her.

She stood and slipped the card into the back pocket of her jeans. “I’ll think about it.”

He collected his hat, and she followed him to the door. When they were out on the sidewalk, she returned the pistol, and he wedged it back into his holster.

“You think about my offer, now.” He tipped his hat and strolled away.

In the side mirror of her car, Alex watched him head east, toward Congress Avenue, and turn the corner. She took out her phone and keyed a three-word message. She flagged it “urgent” and pressed Send.

 

Copyright © 2009 Laura Griffin