Sam Sanderson is an independent, resourceful, high-tech cheerleader. She dreams of becoming an award-winning journalist like her mother, so she’s always looking for articles to publish in her middle-school paper (where she secretly hopes to become chief editor). With a police officer for a father, Sam is in no short supply of writing material.
In the fourth book of the Faithgirlz Samantha Sanderson series, Sam’s friend Tam Lee is missing. As the days pass, all clues seem to point to something sinister in Sam’s opinion. Sam must decide whether to do what everyone wants her to and let law enforcement continue to work as though Tam is a run-away. Or should Sam follow her heart and keep poking around looking for more clues?
The Samantha Sanderson series is about an ordinary girl with extraordinary dreams. Each book touches on a crime straight from headlines, from bomb threats to bullying, while following Samantha and her friends as they navigate middle-school and questions of faith.
About the Author
Born and raised in Louisiana, Robin is a southerner through and through. Her passion has always been to tell stories to entertain others. Robin's mother, bless her heart, is a genealogist who instilled in Robin the deep love of family and pride of heritage--two aspects Robin weaves into each of her 14 published novels. When she isn't writing, Robin spends time with her husband of twenty years, her three beautiful daughters and two handsome grandsons, and their character-filled pets at home--in the South, where else? She gives back to the writing community by serving as Conference Director for ACFW. Her books have finaled/placed in such contests as the Carol Award, Holt Medallion, RT Reviewer's Choice Award, Bookseller's Best, and Book of the Year.
Read an Excerpt
Samantha Sanderson Without a Trace
By Robin Caroll Miller
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2016 Robin Caroll Miller
All rights reserved.
Why can't spring break hurry up and get here already?" Samantha "Sam" Sanderson whined to her bestie as she shut her locker in the breezeway of the seventh grade ramp of Joe T. Robinson Middle School.
The storm that had passed through just an hour or so ago had left the walkways wet, but the air cooler.
Makayla Anderson wrinkled her nose at Sam. "You're just excited because you get to go on a cruise for spring break."
"Yeah, and leave the rest of us here to be jealous," Lana Wilson said as she joined them at the lockers.
"I thought you were going camping with your parents for spring break." Sam slung her backpack over her shoulder and stared at Lana. Her parents had divorced, gone through counseling, then recently remarried. They were starting to do things as a family again, and Lana looked happier than Sam had ever seen her.
Lana shut her locker and stared at Sam. "Yeah, but camping here in the natural state isn't quite the same as going on a cruise and getting to swim with the dolphins. Hello? Did you not go through the same tornado warning I did?"
"She's got you there, Sam," Makayla said. "Arkansas or the Caribbean ... such a tough choice."
Sam laughed. "Hey, it's the first real vacation we've had in years. Mom or Dad are always working, or something else comes up." Sam's dad was a detective with the Little Rock Police Department and her mom was an award-winning investigative journalist.
"I know. We're only teasing." Makayla nudged Sam. "I'd better run to the bus or I'll be stuck sitting with the sixth graders."
"Me, too," Lana said. "I heard some of the sixth graders were crying because of the weather and the safety procedures."
"It was a little scary," Makayla confessed.
"Oh, man. I forgot the flyers," Sam said, rolling her eyes. "I told Ms. Pape I'd put them in the teachers' boxes before I left."
"Call me later then." Makayla smiled, then rushed off toward the circle of school buses, Lana with her. "Happy hump day!"
Sam hitched the backpack up on her shoulder and headed back into the school newspaper classroom. Ms. Pape had already left, but the paper's editor, and Sam's nemesis, Aubrey Damas, was still in the room.
"What are you doing back here, Samantha?" Aubrey never failed to use Sam's full name, just because she knew Sam hated it.
Eighth grader Aubrey was Sam's editor and she went out of her way, attempting to make Sam miserable. It was as if Aubrey took it personally that Sam wanted to be the best journalist in the history of the school, then high school, then college, then be as award-winning as her mom. After all, she had her heart set on attending the University of Missouri, which was ranked as the number one journalism college by Princeton Review.
For the past three years, two students from Robinson High School had received full scholarships from Mizzou, and Sam aspired to do the same — especially since her parents had made it abundantly clear that hard work was the key to success. But getting on the high school paper was quite the task. As a general rule, they didn't allow freshmen on staff ... except for the editor of the middle school's paper. That one freshman, they would allow on without question. Sam was determined to make editor next year.
But first, she had to make it past Aubrey Damas this year.
"Just getting the ad flyers to put in the teachers' boxes." Sam grabbed the stack off the edge of the big layout table. "What are you still doing here?"
"Not that it's any of your business," Aubrey said, flipping her hair over her shoulder, "but I'm working on the new layout design."
The paper had recently received a rather large donation, which the staff had voted to use to redesign the look of the paper.
Sam swallowed a sigh and forced a smile. "Would you like any help?" she offered.
Aubrey snorted. "From you? I don't think so."
"Suit yourself." Sam turned and headed to the office. She was determined not to let Aubrey get under her skin so much, even though Aubrey seemed to thrive on getting on Sam's last nerve.
The school secretary looked up as Sam entered the office. "What can I do for you, Sam?" Mrs. Darrington asked. A few gray hairs had escaped her bun and her glasses had slipped down the bridge of her nose. "We're about to close up here."
Sam held up the flyers. "I just need to put these in the teachers' boxes for tomorrow."
The secretary lumbered toward her. "What are they?"
Sam passed one to her. "It's the paper's notification of selling ads for upcoming editions. It has the specs and the prices and everything. Ms. Pape will make the announcement in the morning, but wanted the teachers to have the flyers to hand out to the students."
Mrs. Darrington handed back the paper. "Go ahead then."
Sam eased behind the counter, set her backpack on the desk, and moved to the message area, where all the teachers had their slots, and began sticking the binder-set stacks in each bin. Only two more weeks and three days of school, then she'd be on her first cruise ship. Boy, was she ever excited! Their only planned excursion was to swim with dolphins and Sam could hardly wait.
The door to the office squeaked open. Sam moved to look around the wall. A small, dark-haired woman stepped inside, her eyes wide and face flushed.
"I can't find my son," a woman said, clearly on the verge of tears.
Mrs. Darrington shot to her feet. "Who is your son, ma'am?"
Sam shifted, staring at the lady.
"Tam wasn't in last period, Mrs. Lee," Sam blurted out. She clamped her hand over her mouth as Mrs. Darrington pinned her with a glare.
"He wasn't?" Mrs. Lee asked Sam.
"You're positive he was at school today, Mrs. Lee?" Mrs. Darrington asked as she threw Sam a keep-your-mouth-shut look and sat back down behind her desk and accessed her computer.
Tam's mother focused on the secretary. "Yes. I dropped him off myself this morning. Seven fifty on the dot."
Sam leaned against the wall, forcing herself to be silent. Tam hadn't been in newspaper last period, that much was for sure. Sam had been at school since eight, and she hadn't seen Tam in the cafeteria where all students had to remain until the bell rang. It was possible she just didn't see him — she'd been talking to Makayla and Felicia about the cruise and not paying attention to everyone else around — but Tam usually spoke to her.
"I'm showing he was marked absent for every class today," Mrs. Darrington said, standing up behind her desk.
"But I dropped him off here myself." Mrs. Lee's voice rose and her face got paler.
Mrs. Darrington turned to Sam. "Please go get Mrs.
Sam nodded and rushed down the office's hallway. It was a rare thing for her to be in a hurry to go to the principal's office since going there usually meant she was in hot water — but not today. Not now. She was worried about Tam. Where was he?
Mrs. Trees had her keys in her hand and her purse on her shoulder as Sam barged into her office. "What is it, Sam?"
"Mrs. Darrington needs you. Tam Lee's mother is here and Tam is missing."
The principal dropped her keys and purse onto her desk and hurried to the front office. Sam kept at her heels, but quietly. The last thing she needed to do was draw attention to herself and be sent away. She moved to the backside of the office, where she'd been putting the flyers in the teachers' boxes.
Mrs. Darrington quickly explained the situation to Mrs. Trees in hushed tones.
"I'm positive I dropped him off at exactly seven fifty. I know because I checked the time when I saw the gate wasn't unlocked and I was worried I might be too early," Mrs. Lee said. "I remember thinking that you were late unlocking the gate and that I might need to call the office again."
Sam bit her lip as she eavesdropped. Mrs. Lee had touched on something that annoyed Sam's dad too. Students were not supposed to be dropped off before seven forty-five. The school didn't unlock the gate so kids could enter by the cafeteria until that time. However, there were many times the security guard didn't unlock the gate until closer to eight, or sometimes even after. Dad had complained several times about buses letting students off with the gate still locked, and that there was no place for the students to safely wait. Sam had always thought Dad was just in "cop mode" when he complained, but maybe he'd been right.
"I'll check with my staff to see exactly what time the gate was unlocked this morning, but is it possible that Tam skipped school and is now at home waiting for you?" Mrs. Trees asked.
"No. My son doesn't skip school." Mrs. Lee's voice sounded confident. "He never has. He doesn't have a reason to. He's a wonderful student."
Sam silently agreed from behind the wall. Tam was one of the smartest kids she knew, and he loved school. He always had a smile and was willing to help anyone, even the bratty sixth graders.
"Besides," Mrs. Lee said, "I've already called home, just in case. There was no answer. No answer on his cell phone either." Her face turned even redder. "I called his father, and he hasn't heard from Tam since this morning."
"Well, he wasn't marked present in any classes today," Mrs. Darrington said.
"Then something happened to him this morning after I dropped him off. When you didn't have the gates unlocked on time ..." Mrs. Lee's voice rose again. "I'm calling the police."
Sam peeked around the wall as Mrs. Lee put a cell phone to her ear and began talking. Mrs. Trees looked at Mrs. Darrington. "Get both of the security guards in here, right now."
As Mrs. Darrington rushed to the walkie-talkie, Mrs. Trees spied Sam. "Sam, you need to go now."
Sam put the last of the flyers in the slots. "Yes, ma'am. I'm just about finished."
"Now, Samantha." No question she meant Sam was finished right now.
Sam nodded and swallowed. She grabbed her backpack from the desk, slung it over her shoulder, and moved slowly toward the door.
"The police said they'd send someone over immediately," Mrs. Lee said, sliding her phone back into her purse.
Sam paused at the door. "I hope you find Tam soon. He's my friend," she told Mrs. Lee, then stepped out into the open breezeway.
She bounded down the stairs just as one of the security guards approached, a graveness showing on his face. The buses were already gone, so Sam rushed to the parking lot. She drew up short for just a moment as she spied Dad's truck instead of Mom's car.
"Hey, pumpkin," Dad said. "I was about to come looking for you. How was school?"
She tossed her backpack onto the floorboards of the backseat. "Why isn't Mom picking me up?"
"She's finishing up her last piece before vacation. The power cutting off put her a little behind schedule." Dad reached for the keys in the ignition. "Hop in."
"Dad, the police are on their way here right now."
"Why? What's going on?"
Sam quickly filled him in, then ended with, "Can you please go find out what's going on? I'm scared for Tam."
"It's not my case." But his eyes looked weighted down in the corners. "The sheriff 's office has jurisdiction here."
"Can't you just go in and offer support or something until they get here? Mrs. Lee was really upset." Her own fear for Tam twisted in her stomach. "And Mrs. Trees knows you."
He sighed, then pulled the keys from the ignition. "Just to keep everyone calm until someone from the sheriff 's office gets here."
"Thank you, Daddy." Sam slammed the passenger door closed and had to double-step to keep up with her dad's long stride.
As she passed the gate and followed her father into the office, her mind wrapped around one question and one question only: where was Tam?CHAPTER 2
Detective Sanderson," Mrs. Trees said as they walked into the office. For once she looked relieved to see him rather than her usual look of annoyance at his presence. Which, to be honest, usually meant Sam had done something questionable.
"I don't mean to interfere, Mrs. Trees. I just thought perhaps I could assist a bit," he said in that calm and steady voice of his. Sam loved that about her dad — he seemed to ooze confidence that made people less likely to panic around him.
"Of course. Detective Sanderson, this is Mrs. Lee." The principal gestured to Tam's mother who sat on the bench across from the front counter.
"I understand you can't find your son," Dad said to Tam's mother in his soothing tone as he eased onto the bench beside her. "I'm not here in an official capacity as this isn't my jurisdiction, but I'm happy to help in any way possible."
Mrs. Lee nodded. "I appreciate that. I can't imagine where Tam is." She started wringing her hands, literally. Sam thought that only happened in movies or books.
Dad noticed too because he laid his hand on top of hers. "Do you have a picture of Tam? The sheriff 's office will need a recent picture."
She blinked several times. "On my phone, but I don't have a paper picture." The panic eased back into her voice as she tapped her phone and showed him a photograph.
"It's okay. We can print one off your phone." Dad took her cell phone and handed it to Sam, giving her a nod.
Sam was able to identify the school's printer easily enough and send the picture to print. She handed the phone back to Mrs. Lee, then pulled the picture from the printer. Her heart skipped a beat as Tam smiled up at her. Had he been safe during the bad storm?
She laid the picture on the counter and shifted to stand against the wall on the other side of the counter. Maybe if she stayed out of Mrs. Trees' direct line of sight, the principal wouldn't make her leave or wait somewhere else.
"We've sent the security officers out to look over the campus," Mrs. Trees offered.
The office door opened, and a Pulaski County sheriff 's deputy in a brown uniform filled the space. He was tall, taller than Sam's dad, but a bit heavier. He spoke out of the corner of his mouth from under a droopy moustache. "Someone needs to fill out a missing person's report?" he asked with a voice as thick as his black hair.
Mrs. Lee nodded. "My son. He's missing." She went back to wringing her hands.
"I see." The deputy set his clipboard on the counter.
Dad extended his hand. "Detective Charles Sanderson, LRPD."
"Deputy Orson Jameson." The deputy shook his hand. "Your son?"
"No. I just happened to be here when Mrs. Lee couldn't find her son."
Sam pinched her lips together and tried to blend into the wall beside the counter. Please don't ask us to leave.
"I see." The deputy looked at Mrs. Lee. "Tell me what happened." He lifted his pen over his notebook.
"I dropped Tam off at ten before eight this morning. I'm positive about the time because I checked the clock in my car when I saw the gate wasn't unlocked yet." Mrs. Lee threw the principal a hard look. "The gate is supposed to be open at seven forty-five, but it's hardly ever unlocked on time."
"Now, that's not —" Mrs. Trees started.
"We'll get to you in a moment," the deputy interrupted. He nodded at Tam's mom. "Please, continue. You dropped him off. Did you see where he went, what he did, who he was with? Tell me everything you remember." His tone was much softer when he talked to Tam's mom. Sam liked that.
Mrs. Lee mashed her lips together for a moment. "He got out of the car and walked toward the gate area. There were several other kids sitting on the stairs and bunched around the table there."
"Did he join any of the other kids?" The deputy still held his pen above the notebook.
Mrs. Lee shook her head. "He leaned against the wall, on the side opposite the gate." She looked at Deputy Jameson. "He was alone and gave me a wave as I drove off."
"Did you recognize any of the other kids you saw there?"
"No. I couldn't even tell you how many boys or girls there were."
"That's okay," he said with a smile, his tone very gentle. "What was he wearing today?"
Without pausing, Mrs. Lee replied. "Jeans and his gray t-shirt with SENATORS in gold. He wears black sneakers."
Dad handed Deputy Jameson the picture Sam had printed. "Here's a recent photograph of Tam."
Excerpted from Samantha Sanderson Without a Trace by Robin Caroll Miller. Copyright © 2016 Robin Caroll Miller. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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