Traceless

Traceless

by Debra Webb

Paperback

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250054760
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 08/28/2007
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Debra Webb is the bestselling author of Everywhere She Turns, Anywhere She Runs, Missing and Safe by His Side. Born in Alabama, Webb wrote her first story at age nine and her first romance at thirteen. But it wasn't until she spent three years working for the military behind the Iron Curtain—and a five-year stint with NASA—that she realized her true calling. A collision course between suspense and romance was set. Webb lives with her family and two dogs in Alabama.

Read an Excerpt

Traceless


By Debra Webb

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2007 Debra Webb
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3180-9



CHAPTER 1

Holman Prison South Alabama Monday, July 15, 8:05 A.M.


The gray prison walls loomed behind Clint as he moved forward, his steps hindered by the manacles connecting his wrists and ankles with lengths of chain designed to impede movement. The shackles had been one last humiliation. For old times' sake, the warden had said. The guards on either side of Clint had snickered and snorted as they carried out that final order. Clint had simply stood there and allowed the bastards to do what they would.

For more than ten years his choices had not been his own. Accepting that reality had equated to survival.

No more.

The early-morning sun drew his gaze to the sky. Clint closed his eyes a moment to relish the welcome warmth. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been allowed to come outside. It had been months, at least.

The law said he got one hour a day in the fresh air, but that privilege had been cut long ago with a sham of an excuse. The guards liked putting pressure on inmates, amping up their anxiety level. They especially liked doing it to Clint. Just another attempt at causing him to fuck up.

Clint hadn't let the bastards get to him. He'd taken the punishments, the beatings for no apparent reason, the forgotten meals, all of it ... without so much as a word in argument or the slightest effort in retaliation.

He'd played by every single rule. Now his freedom was so close he could taste it ... smell it. There was nothing anyone could do to stop him from walking away.

As if to deny that certainty, fear, bone cold and irrational, trickled inside him.

A muscle in his jaw jerked with the pressure of holding back the questions about what happened next that he suddenly wanted to ask. The parole board had made its decision. He was free. The guards, the warden, no one here could prevent Clint from leaving. The affirmation rang hollowly inside him.

The command was given and the twelve-foot-high gate topped with its concertina wire yawned open, creaking and groaning as if it, too, was reluctant to permit his long-awaited departure. The boddom, the pits of hell called Holman Prison, didn't like vomiting back up the men it devoured. At least not until they were properly punished as God and the warden saw fit.

That trickle of fear widened into a stream of pure panic, knotting Clint's gut, clamping around his chest like unyielding arms. He'd waited for this moment for so long. The blood rushed to his brain and exploded there in a burst of sheer terror, urging him to go back ... to seek the security and sanctuary of that five-by-eight cell — the only place he'd felt the least bit safe for so damned long.

Fighting the impulse, he aimed his attention on the hope that open gate presented. His hands clenched into fists as the muscles in his legs cramped with the compulsion to run, but the shackles and the fear kept him paralyzed. Sweat squeezed from his pores as the air sawed in and out of his lungs. He ordered himself to be still. To focus. No sudden moves. The remembered pain from far too many reminders of that hard-earned lesson stung through his body.

The guard on Clint's right unlocked the cuffs around his wrists, then gave him the key. He bent down, his hands shaking, and released the steel bands circling his ankles. As he straightened, he handed the key back; then he froze.

What now? He'd been given no specific exodus orders, no directions on how to proceed. Reason had deserted him, leaving his already raw senses cluttered with confusion and doubt.

"What the hell you waitin' for, Austin?" The guard on Clint's left nudged him in the spleen with his baton. "Get the fuck outta here before we decide to keep your sorry ass."

Clint's heart rammed against his chest, urging him to act. Another prod from the baton ignited his long-slumbering fury, fueling the courage that had betrayed him this morning. He stepped away from the impotent shackles, resisted the temptation to break loose and run without ever looking back.

The guards would be watching, hoping he would make a move of aggression ... itching to use the weapons stationed at their hips. The snipers in the towers would be clocking his every move through the scopes of their high-powered rifles, praying for the opportunity to rid the planet of one more worthless piece of shit. It didn't matter that he was unarmed; they would have a story to cover up whatever played out this morning.

Not going to happen. He was out of here.

Clint took the four paces necessary to put him beyond the boundary of the fence that surrounded what had been his home for an eternity; then he stopped stone still. He turned around slowly, his hands hanging loosely at his sides in the expected submissive stance. His gaze met the warden's where he stood shielded by the guards, and Clint felt himself smile for the first time in over a decade.

He didn't say a word, didn't bother with any dramatic offensive gestures, no matter how deserving; he simply stared at the man, forced him to face the cold, hard truth ... he had lost this battle. Those three or four brief seconds almost made the years of pain and suffering worth it.

Almost.

Turning his back, Clint walked, his steps measured and deliberate, toward the visitor's entrance where his ride out of here waited.

The feel of unwashed denim and stiff polyester chafed his skin. His toes were stuffed into the cheap shoes that had no doubt been ordered a size or two too small for the sole purpose of ensuring his discomfort. It was one of the perks of surviving an Alabama prison. When and if you were released, you left wearing new clothes and in possession of whatever personal items you'd surrendered upon arrival. In Clint's case it wasn't much. His wallet that contained an expired driver's license and twenty bucks.

There wouldn't be much in the way of financial assets waiting for him back home. But he would have full access to the one thing that he wanted nearly more than his next breath. ...

The people who had stolen his life.


Samford Medical Research Facility
Birmingham, Alabama
9:15 A.M.

Your concerns were duly noted, but the decision has been reached and executed.

Emily Wallace sat at her desk, her fingers clenched on the arms of her chair, as the words reverberated inside her.

How could the parole board let this happen?

A convicted killer was being allowed to walk after only ten years — half his sentence.

Unwillingly, she filled her lungs, the repetitive action suddenly a burden. Medical records and reports that needed to be filed stood in mounds on her cluttered desk, vying unsuccessfully for her attention. She hadn't been able to concentrate on work for the past week. Hadn't been able to think of anything but the results of the hearing.

And now it was over.

She thought of the somber faces on that board as she'd offered all the reasons for Clint Austin's continued incarceration. Not so much as a flicker of emotion had slipped past those unfeeling masks as Heather's father had echoed those same pleas. They didn't care. It wasn't their daughter or friend who had died. One board member had gone so far as to say that she had read the trial transcript and felt the preponderance of evidence had been insufficient for a conviction in the first place. She'd gone on to toss out scenarios suggesting Clint Austin's innocence, each one a slap in the face to those who had loved Heather Baker.

Only moments ago the district attorney's office had called to confirm Emily's worst fears. She hadn't been able to move since dropping the receiver back into its cradle.

It was official now.

He was free.

The wail of Emily's own remembered screams filled her head, drowning out all other thought. She told her mind to quiet, but it refused. Like a faulty fluorescent light, images from that night flickered one after the other. Her old room in the house on Ivy Lane with the retro sixties stripes and the posters of her rock star idols plastered on the walls. The tiedyed comforter on her bed ... and Heather lying there in a pool of blood. Gaping wounds marring her beautiful face ... her slender arms.

He was there. His hands on Heather's throat, blood all over him. Emily had tried to pull him off, but he was too strong. Beyond the horror in her room she had heard the sirens in the distance ... so damned far away. Finally she'd managed to push Clint Austin aside and then she'd seen the other wound on her friend's throat. Nothing Emily had attempted had stanched the flow pulsing from that fatal gash ... all that blood had just kept seeping out around her fingers.

And then the police were everywhere ... the paramedics had urged Emily out of the way. Everything had happened so fast and yet it was all too, too late.

Heather was dead.

The room tilted and Emily's stomach churned violently. Moving with extreme caution, she stood, her legs trembling, then walked stiffly, slowly, to the ladies' room.

Fortunately, all three stalls were empty. Having anyone bear witness to her breakdown would only lead to questions. Questions she couldn't bear to answer. She went into the first stall, closed the door, and dropped to her knees in the nick of time. Her stomach heaved viciously. She vomited until there was nothing left before wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and collapsing on the cold tile floor.

She couldn't be sure how much time passed, but she cried until no more tears would come, until pain had gathered in a fierce band around her skull. Each breath proved a monumental task with the weight of guilt crushing against her chest.

She had failed.

Her friend was dead. Emily hadn't been able to save her all those years ago and now hadn't been strong enough to keep her killer behind bars.

Emily had failed her friend twice.

A decade's worth of rage lashed so abruptly inside Emily that she twitched with the force of it. The fury obliterated the weaker emotions in an instant. She sat up straighter and leaned her throbbing head against the wall of the stall.

He was out.

How the hell could she sit here wallowing in self-pity like this? There was more she could do. More she had to do.

The law could set him free, but that didn't mean she had to give up for one second on proving what she knew in her heart.

He was guilty.

He would pay for what he'd done. A mere ten years wasn't nearly compensation enough. There had always been the possibility that this day might come. All she had to do was be strong. It wasn't over until she said it was over.

Emily braced a hand on the toilet seat and levered herself to her feet. Still feeling a little unsteady, she flushed the toilet and pushed out of the stall. She washed up and headed back to her office, mentally ticking off the list of things she would need to do before leaving: clear her desk, transfer her calls to the switchboard, and divide up her workload between two of the file clerks in her department.

In a few hours she could be on her way to Pine Bluff to do what had to be done.

Clint Austin would not be free for long.

CHAPTER 2

Jackson County 11:18 A.M.


Clint took in the familiar passing landscape like a starving man introduced to an all-you-can-eat buffet for the first time. A hell of a lot had changed in ten years, but the closer they got to Pine Bluff the more things looked the same, as if the hole-in-the-wall that was his hometown had been frozen in time. Equal parts dread and anticipation coagulated low in his belly.

"You listening to me, Clint?"

Clint aimed one of those cold stares that had backed down more trouble than he cared to recall at the driver. "Yeah, sure."

Three hours on the road and Chief of Police Ray Hale had tried initiating a conversation several times, but Clint had no desire to talk or even to make the effort. The idea that Ray was likely the only friend Clint had should have but didn't arouse the necessary motivation.

He and Ray hadn't actually ever been friends, just acquaintances. Ray had graduated from high school the year before Clint. He'd been a green recruit on the Pine Bluff police force a decade ago, but now he was the chief and, truth told, he was probably the main reason Clint was free.

He was free.

He inhaled deeply. Even the air smelled different outside those damned prison walls. Gone was the heavy stench of days-old sweat and perpetual fear. A shudder rocked through him before he could stop it. He was never going back there.

"I know it isn't fair, Clint," Ray went on in spite of the lack of interest from his captive audience, "but the folks around here are going to expect a man filled with remorse and humility. Do you think you can handle that for a little while?"

Like Clint gave one shit what people in this damned town expected. Ray should give it a rest. No way was he going to make Clint feel what he wanted him to feel. ... Ray couldn't make Clint say what he wanted him to say.

"Mr. Higgins is offering you a job at his repair shop, and your mama's place is ready to move into."

Guilt broadsided Clint and he flinched. His mama was dead. Six years now. His request to attend her funeral had been denied by the warden. Clint's fingers fisted into tight balls of contempt. That was one son of a bitch if given the opportunity Clint was pretty sure he could kill and never feel the slightest guilt.

But he couldn't let anger rule him. He'd done that at first and he'd paid the price. Prison wasn't the place to go with a chip on your shoulder, especially if you didn't possess the necessary skills to back it up. What the hell did a nineteen-year-old kid who'd thought he was a tough guy back home know about surviving prison life with hard-core criminals?

Not a damned thing.

"Everything's pretty much set," Ray went on, determined not to let the one-sided conversation lull. "Be sure to keep in mind that a job is one of the conditions of your parole."

Clint surprised himself and said, "I'll talk to Higgins about the job." His voice sounded rough and unfamiliar, even to his own ears, but then there hadn't been a lot of need to talk where he'd been.

Ray made the final turn that would take Clint home. The house, weathered barn, and plot of land his mama had owned sat five or so miles outside Pine Bluff proper, surrounded by nothing but woods and mountains and dusty dirt roads going nowhere.

"You've paid your debt to society," Ray added, as if he hadn't said enough already. "Start clean from here, Clint. Don't be looking back." His gaze shifted to Clint's as he came to a stop in the driveway. "Looking back will only create problems you'll regret."

The naïve police chief had no idea. Regret was something Clint had learned not to feel, along with a host of other emotions. As if to contradict him, his heart started that fierce pounding that made him feel out of control. He had to concentrate hard to make it slow. That was the thing about prison; there wasn't much a man could regulate outside his own emotions. Getting real good at that kind of control had been Clint's only escape.

But he was home now and with that came baggage he couldn't hope to dismiss with the usual techniques. Adjustments would need to be made to ensure no one got too close. He couldn't afford to let that happen.

His gaze settled on the place he'd called home before his life had gone to hell. The aged, peeling paint left the small frame house a ghostly shade of silvery white. The yard was freshly mown, probably Ray's doing. Even the perennial plants Clint's mother had cultivated year after year were in bloom. He felt his chest expand with air. He hadn't realized until then that he'd stopped breathing.

He was back.

"Power's on," Ray said. "Well's working fine. The ladies from church came over and did a little cleaning. I stocked the kitchen so you wouldn't have to worry about that for a few days." He propped his elbow in the open window of the driver's side door. "You'll need to go into town to meet with Lee Brady, your parole officer. Be best if you did that today. Other than that, you might want to take some time before running into any unnecessary ... situations." He shrugged. "I know it'll be tough for a while."

Situations. Ray meant before showing his face around town any more than necessary. Before coming into contact with the folks who'd stolen a major portion of his life for a crime he hadn't committed.

Clint shifted his attention from the house to the man sitting behind the wheel. Anger whipped through Clint before he could stop it. "I don't need your pity or your advice, Ray." He knew he should have simply said, Thanks, but he didn't.

Ray let go another of those heavy, exasperated sighs. "That attitude won't help," he offered in response to Clint's edict. "Most folks don't want you back here. But, with time and patience, it'll all blow over."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Traceless by Debra Webb. Copyright © 2007 Debra Webb. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
CHAPTER ONE - Holman Prison South Alabama Monday, July 15, 8:05 A.M.,
CHAPTER TWO - Jackson County 11:18 A.M.,
CHAPTER THREE - Probation and Parole Office 3:25 P.M.,
CHAPTER FOUR - Cedar Hill Cemetery 6:00 P.M.,
CHAPTER FIVE - 212 Cedar Street 7:10 P.M.,
CHAPTER SIX - Tuesday, July 16, 7:55 A.M.,
CHAPTER SEVEN - The Den 7:59 P.M.,
CHAPTER EIGHT - Pine Bluff High School Wednesday, July 17, 7:50 A.M.,
CHAPTER NINE - City Hall 11:30 A.M.,
CHAPTER TEN - 3:00 P.M.,
CHAPTER ELEVEN - 3:15 P.M.,
CHAPTER TWELVE,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - 5:10 P.M.,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - 9:45 P.M. 302 Dogwood Drive,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN - Half Moon Café Thursday, July 18, 11:59 A.M.,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN - 2:00 P.M.,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - Friday, July 19, 8:00 A.M.,
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - Saturday, July 20, 1:03 A.M.,
CHAPTER NINETEEN - Valley Inn 12:30 P.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY - 125 Carriage Avenue 9:45 P.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE - Valley Inn 10:10 P.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO - City Hall 11:45 P.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE - Valley Inn Sunday, July 21, 8:00 A.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR - 9:45 A.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE - 125 Carriage Avenue 10:00 A.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX - 10:20 A.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN - 302 Dogwood Drive Monday, July 22, 6:45 A.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT - 1:55 P.M.,
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE - 3:30 P.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY - Turner Mansion 9:30 P.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE - Valley Inn 10:15 P.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO - Tuesday, July 23, 1:30 A.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE - City Hall 10:35 A.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR - Valley Inn 1:20 P.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE - 410 Oak Avenue 3:45 P.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX - 302 Dogwood Drive 4:30 P.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN - Pine Bluff City Hall 5:00 P.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT - Mercy Hospital 10:00 P.M.,
CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE - Turner Mansion Midnight,
CHAPTER FORTY - Austin Place Wednesday, July 24, 12:35 A.M.,
CHAPTER FORTY-ONE,
CHAPTER FORTY-TWO - 224 Old Columbiana Road Hoover, Alabama Monday, September 16, 5:00 P.M.,
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS,
Praise for DEBRA WEBB,
NAMELESS,
Copyright Page,

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Traceless 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this up because I had ran out of books to read. I am so glad that I did! This has turned out to be one of my top five favorite books. It hooked me at the beginning and never let me put it down easily. It always kept me on the edge of my seat. I just loved Clint and Emily! I cannot wait for her next one to come out!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read so often that sometimes one book becomes another..same plots,same people-different names-you know how it goes....But then sometimes you get a suprise like this one. WOW!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The newest in a long line of romantic suspense thrillers, this is clearly the best of Debra Webb's notable work. This book is fast paced and suspense filled - the characters compelling - you will not be able to put it down! A must read
Guest More than 1 year ago
the book was great... it left you guessing what would happen next... debra webb is a great author i hope she comes up out with as a good of novels as this one...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Emily and Clint aren't perfect, they're delightfully human and it's easy to see yourself in this nail-biting suspense novel. Debra Webb has created a complex plot with complex characters that is amazingly entertaining and easy to read and follow--and I did. In one sitting!
harstan More than 1 year ago
A decade ago in Pine Bluff, Alabama, the testimony of Emily Wallace led to the murder conviction of her boyfriend Clint Austin. Emily saw Clint¿s bloodied hands at the slashed throat of her best friend Heather Baker. He swore he was innocent that when he saw Heather bleeding to death he tried to stop the flow of blood. --- However, Emily is stunned to learn that in spite of the violence of the crime, Clint has been paroled from Holman Prison. He, hardened by his time, returns home obsessed with uncovering the identity of the real culprit. Emily, hardened by his crime, leaves her position at the Samford Medical Research Facility in Birmingham to also come home to insure that her high school squeeze is always reminded of what he did. Clint makes inquiries into the Heather homicide not realizing that the killer watches his every step while plotting a second frame that would insure Austin never comes home again this time the murderer will use Emily as the victim --- This is a superb romantic suspense thriller that grips readers from the moment a stunned Emily learns Clint is free and never slows down as a master manipulator plays the lead characters and the readers like a virtuoso violinist plays his or her instrument. The story line is fast-paced and filled with twists and red herrings in spite of a large support cast made up of the citizens of Pine Bluff. With a fabulous spine chilling climax to close this tense small town thriller, fans will clamor for more tales like this from Debra Webb. --- Harriet Klausner