Expected publication: March 1st 2018 by MIRA
A killer stole her voice. Now she's ready to take it back. Don't miss the chilling Shades of Death series from USA TODAYbestselling author Debra Webb.
Joanna Guthrie was free. She had been for eighteen years--or so she needed everyone to believe. What really happened during the longest fourteen days of her life, when she and two other women were held captive by a dangerous serial killer, wasn't something she could talk about. Not after what they had to do to survive.
But when more women go missing in an eerily similar manner, Jo knows her prolonged silence will only seal their fates. She's finally ready to talk; she just needs someone to listen. FBI special agent Tony LeDoux can't deny he finds Jo compelling--he's just not sure he believes her story. But with the clock ticking, Jo will do anything to convince him, even if it means unearthing long-buried secrets that will land them squarely in the crosshairs of the killer...
That inky blackness spread through Jo’s chest like icy water rushing over a cliff. “Where’s Ellen?”
Another of those humorless chuckles. “I wish I could tell you she’s at home with Elle—that’s our three-year-old. But Elle’s with my mom. My wife isn’t here at the hospital with me and Alton either.”
Jo held back her questions through another long, weary sigh. A steady beep, beep, beep echoed in the background. He’d said he and Alton were in the hospital. “Is Ellen sick?”
Wait, he’d said Ellen wasn’t there. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. Jo repeated those two words to herself during the silence that followed. Ellen’s problems weren’t hers.
Ellen made her own choices.
“No,” Art finally said, his voice cracking on the single syllable. He cleared his throat. “Alton is having his second surgery, by the way. They weren’t able to finish all the skin grafts with the first one. He’ll be okay. Maybe one more surgery after this.” Silence filled the air between them once more. “The fire wasn’t her fault, you know. She didn’t mean for any of this to happen. She tried. She really did. I should have given her more credit for trying.”
Fire? As hard as she tried to ignore it, worry gnawed at Jo.
“In case you didn’t know, Ellen had a serious problem.”
Had? More of that tension twisted in Jo’s gut.
Art drew in a shaky breath. “I tried to help her but nothing ever seemed to work. Don’t worry though, Alton will be okay. The burns on his hands and arms will heal. I tried to tell her he’d be fine, but I guess I was so angry I waited too long to reassure her. At first I was too upset to think rationally. Any father would have done the same. I was so scared and so damned furious. I told her she had to leave. That I couldn’t trust her to take care of the children anymore. So, you see, it’s really my fault. I shouldn’t have said so many hurtful things. I wasn’t thinking…I was so upset by what she’d done.” Pause. “I guess I should have called you sooner, but I—”
“Art,” Jo snapped, “where is Ellen?”
He cleared his throat. “Ellen killed herself three weeks ago today. Last night I finally worked up the courage to go through some of her things and I thought—since you were the only friend listed in her contacts—that you might want to know. And maybe you could tell me what she meant by the note she left. Three words and I don’t have a clue what they mean. She knows everything. Do you know what she meant by that?”
Jo ended the call.
Ellen had tried to call her three weeks ago and Jo had ignored the incessant ringing. No voice mail was left. If a caller didn’t leave a voice mail, you weren’t actually obligated to call back, right? It had been a Saturday. Must have been the day before…
Jo sank onto the floor and hugged her knees to her chest. She should have answered. She should have tried to be the friend Ellen’s husband thought she was. And Ellen was right. She did know everything—Jo had lived it with her. Now the only other person who knew what really happened eighteen years ago was dead.
Jo wondered why in all this time she’d never considered taking that avenue out of this pretend life she muddled through?
Maybe because she was a coward—or maybe because if she did then the bad guys won.
She looked around the place she called home for now. Her entire apartment was this one ten-by-twelve room. Even the bathroom was nothing more than a small corner hidden behind a makeshift partition wall. The wood floors were worn and creaked with every step she made. The plaster on the walls was cracked, the blue paint faded. The only window was covered with a cheap, nicotine-stained paper blind, the sort made for temporary use. There was a tired sofa that served as a bed, along with a rickety metal and Formica table accompanied by two well-worn chairs. Along the shared wall between this room and the neighbor’s the kitchenette looked like something out of a 1950s Airstream.
Jo blinked. None of it really mattered. There was a roof over her head and four walls to protect her from the weather and whatever other threat showed up. No leaks in the roof and the plumbing worked most of the time. She pushed to her feet and shoved her cell into the back pocket of her jeans. Uncertainty and disappointment and all the other weaknesses she rarely allowed herself to feel suddenly assaulted her.
Memories from her former life poured through the emptiness inside her before she could stop them. She’d had a family. She’d had a scholarship. The future had been hers for the taking. Now, Jo turned all the way around in the middle of the room, she was thirty-six years old and this was her life—all because she’d made a terrible, terrible mistake eighteen years ago.
Poor Ellen had tried as best she could to salvage some semblance of a life and look how that turned out.
Bottom line, they had both allowed persons whose names they hadn’t known—whose faces they couldn’t be certain they had ever seen—to get away with destroying their lives.
Determination surged in Jo’s veins. Ellen was dead. The other girl was dead. Jo suspected the bastards who had orchestrated all of this were responsible for numerous other devastated lives and deaths, as well. Was she going to do nothing and allow them to never have to face responsibility for what they’d done?
Jo had been silent far too long.
Besides, what did she have to lose?
Not one damned thing that wasn’t already gone.