Praise for Traceless:
If you like authors such as Gillian Flynn or Rachel Abbott then this is definitely a novel for you. This is a super fast paced thriller that keeps you guessing right to the end.
Although it is nominally a missing persons book it actually turns more into a psychological thriller as the investigators try to unravel what really happened.
The ending was definitely a surprise, you will never guess it. It marks the book out from others in the genre. ~ John Forrester, The Crime Scene
I loved this book. If I had an award to hand out for “best hook in a novel,” Clancy would win the gold medal. The minute I started reading my eyeballs nearly popped out of my head. Traceless keeps the action moving along at a nice pace and crosses the finish line with the momentum of an Olympic sprinter. – Belinda, Every Free Chance Book Reviews
Adam Stoltz vanishes in the middle of the night. His girlfriend, Darcey Ackerman, is the last person to see him alive.
Darcey escapes their mystery attacker, but the police doubt her story.
An international manhunt and police investigation ensues, but Adam and the mystery man are traceless.
Intrepid crime reporter, Gina Jones, believes that someone knows what really happened to Adam.
However, she soon discovers that nothing is as it seems…
Traceless. Some people should never be found.
Darkness descended as the young couple drove towards the mountains. A small ring of fire illuminated the turn-off.
“That’s strange. Maybe we should stop and put out the fire,” Darcey said, peering out the window.
“I’m not stopping,” Adam said, shivering as he caught a chill through the open window. “It looks as if it was started deliberately, like a signal of some sort.”
She laughed. “Don’t be so melodramatic! We’re the only people crazy enough to be out here in the dark.”
“I’m not stopping,” he repeated.
Darcey rolled her eyes, but she noticed the edge in his voice, and stopped laughing. She stared out at the lonely landscape, where the dancing shadows were enough to scare anyone.
He glanced at her and smiled fondly. “Sorry, babe, my imagination is running away with me again.” He put his foot on the accelerator and kept driving.
They drove along in companionable silence at a steady pace, until Adam noticed the bright lights of a vehicle behind them. As it drew level, the driver slowed to the same speed as the campervan.
Adam peered through the gloom of the twilight at the driver, who was gesturing wildly at him. He wound down the window to hear what the man had to say.
“Your exhaust is sparking!” He jerked his thumb towards the back of the campervan.
“Don’t stop, Adam! Please don’t stop!” Darcey cried. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Adam looked at her quizzically. “I have to see what’s wrong. I’ll only be a minute.” He patted her arm reassuringly. “You should stay here; it’s chilly out there.”
He jumped out of the campervan, leaving the door slightly ajar so that the interior light stayed on as he walked around the back to speak with the man who had parked his vehicle behind them.
Darcey clambered into the driver’s seat so she could get a better view of what the two men were doing. She stared in the mirror and leaned out the driver’s door to see what Adam was doing. He was bending down, examining the exhaust. She strained her ears to catch what they were saying.
“There were sparks coming out of your exhaust,” the man said. “I think you might have a problem there.”
“Thanks for stopping,” Adam smiled trustingly at him. A few minutes later, he reappeared at the window beside her. “Can you rev the engine, babe? We need to see how bad it is.” He grabbed his cigarettes and walked back to the rear of the campervan, where he vanished into the darkness.
She glanced in the rear-view mirror and caught the man watching her. He held her gaze until she looked away. She put her foot on the accelerator and revved the engine, while trying to see if Adam was signalling any further instructions. She strained to hear his voice over the rattle of the engine, but instead, a sudden, loud crack split the cool night air. It sounded like the campervan backfiring, or a gunshot.
She swung around in her seat and came face to face with the man. He was standing there, beside her at the driver’s window. He was alone, with a gun. Her blood ran cold.
Darcey stared in horror at the man holding the gun. He was pointing it straight at her. He wrenched the driver’s door wide open, and started to climb in.
“Adam!” she screamed. “Adam!”
“Switch off the engine,” the man ordered.
Stunned, she reached for the key but her hands were shaking so violently that she couldn’t grasp it. Impatiently, he pushed her aside, and switched it off. He shoved her into the passenger seat, and sat heavily behind the wheel. Then he leaned over to grab her.
She was terrified, but she expected Adam to appear at any minute to rescue her. “Adam!” She screamed again, but he never came. Instead, there was only the man.
“Put your head down,” he calmly instructed her. “Put your hands behind your back.”
Shocked, she automatically began to do as he ordered, until she suddenly woke up. “No!” she yelled, fighting against his big hands as he tried to force her down.
She lifted her feet up on to the shelf that Adam had built under the dashboard, desperately trying to get enough leverage to swing her body around and escape through the passenger door.
“Put your head between your legs!” the man roared, realising what she was trying to do. “Get your hands behind your back, NOW!” He shoved the muzzle of the gun against her head.
Terrified, she did as he ordered. He pulled out some black electrical ties, looped them around her wrists, and pulled them tight. Then he flung her out the passenger door of the campervan, where she fell face down on the ground.
Her bare knees were throbbing from the impact, and she could taste the iron flavour of blood on her tongue. The man straddled her, and bent down to tie her ankles together.
“Adam!” She cried out, but her voice was absorbed into the blackness. The only noise was the sound of the man’s heavy breathing as he struggled with the tape. She couldn’t stop thinking about Adam. Was he injured? Was he dead? A sense of abject emptiness engulfed her. She was staring into an abyss, and it was up to her to fight her way out.
Rage flooded through her, and she began to kick as hard as ever she could. She twisted her body and tried to kick upwards, aiming at the man’s crotch. Her hands were tied together behind her back, but she had some room to manoeuvre. With all her might, she pushed her arms up and away from her body to punch him between the legs.
“Keep still!” He yelled in exasperation as he tried to avoid her blows, while attempting to tie her ankles with the electrical tape.
Eventually, he gave up and released his grip on her ankles. He leaned down and punched her hard on the temple. The force of the punch took her breath away. He pulled her to her feet and pushed her towards his vehicle, one hand at the nape of her neck, the other on her shoulder.
He looked at her, his blood boiling; this was proving much more difficult than he had imagined. Why did she have to be such a fighter? He had planned to tie her ankles together to make it easier, but it was impossible to continue struggling with her.
Every second they were on the road increased the risk of someone driving by and seeing them. There was no way he was going to take the chance of being caught. He knew he had to get away quickly, but there was still the matter of the body to dispose of before he could have his fun with the woman.
Darcey was reeling from the punch to her head. She stumbled as he pushed her towards his vehicle. He tried to tape on her mouth, but his fingers wouldn’t work properly. She did her best to wriggle and squirm away from him.
The tape was tangled in her hair, so he couldn’t wrench it free over her mouth. He swore under his breath, before reaching into the vehicle, grabbing a sack and pulling it over her head.
“Help!” Darcey yelled, finding her voice again. “Adam! Where are you?”
“Shut up!” The man shook her, and pushed her into the passenger seat. As she twisted around, the sack slipped off her head and she saw a dog sitting patiently in the driver’s seat. She edged towards the driver’s door, hoping to escape, but the dog blocked her exit, and he wouldn’t move.
“Help!” She screamed again.
The man shoved her into the back of his vehicle. She lay there for a second on her stomach, with her legs towards the back of the vehicle. She rolled over onto her back and did her best to sit up. Her eyes strained to adjust to the dark. She could hear the man outside.
“What do you want from me? Where’s Adam? What have you done with him?”
“Shut up or I’ll shoot you dead!”
“Are you going to rape me?”
Her answer was a deafening silence. She realised that she was more afraid of being raped than of being shot and killed. She took a deep breath. “Did you shoot Adam?”
He didn’t answer. Then she heard the sound of something, or someone, being dragged away. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, trying to block out the last image of Adam that flashed through her mind: smiling, trusting Adam; he didn’t deserve any of this.
Anger surged through her and with that the need for action. This was her one chance to escape. She may not get another. “This is not the end,” she whispered. “This is not the end.”
Slowly, quietly, she slid towards the rear of the vehicle, with her hands still tied behind her back. This was it: her one and only chance to escape. She paused for a moment before jumping, and landing heavily on the ground. Then she pulled herself to her feet and ran for her life.
Darcey ran as fast as she could into the undergrowth. Her hands were tied behind her back, which made it awkward to run. She crashed through the bushes in the blackness of the moonless night. She tripped several times, but scrambled back up again and kept on running.
Finally, when she couldn’t run any longer, she sank to the ground and dragged herself behind a bush to hide. She was sure the man had heard her. Every sound echoed on the still night air.
She curled up into a tight ball. Her breath came in loud gasps from the fear and the effort of running. With each breath, the fight left her body. It was so quiet that every noise sounded explosively loud. Her heart thundered in her chest, but she forced herself to remain perfectly still, knowing that her life depended on it.
The man swung around as soon as he heard the noise. He peered into the darkness behind his vehicle, but couldn’t see anything. Then he ripped open the door. Inside was empty; the girl was gone. He swore loudly. He should have been more careful. He should have hit her harder, and then tied her ankles, just as he had planned. He had to go after her.
It wouldn’t take long to find her. It was impossible for her to get far with her hands tied behind her back, but it would be irritating if she hurt herself; that would make everything more awkward. Besides, he wanted to be the one who hurt her.
He fumbled around in his vehicle for a torch, and closed the door, leaving the dog behind. He smiled, deciding to enjoy the chase; it made it more exciting. He was the hunter, and she was his prey. He would take his time showing her that he was the boss.
Darcey lay behind the bush, her heart pounding. She tried to curl up even smaller, and put her head on her knees, covering her bare legs with her hair. The man’s footsteps were getting nearer, smashing through the undergrowth. Branches cracked and fractured under his weight. Any second, he’d be upon her.
She didn’t have any energy left to run. Her legs were trembling too much. She had no option but to stay where she was, hoping and praying that he wouldn’t find her. The light from his torch swept the ground. She closed her eyes, resigning herself to the inevitable.
He edged closer, so close she could hear him talking to himself. She held her breath, convinced he was looking straight at her. She tensed, expecting his punch, but it never came; he was looking the other way. The torch light was nearby, but not shining directly on her. He walked straight past her, within touching distance, but then he turned and walked away.
Darcey exhaled, her whole body was ready to collapse. She knew she couldn’t let go yet. He might return, next time with the dog.
He peered into the dark, wondering where she was, knowing that she couldn’t be too far away, but he couldn’t see her. He cursed his bad luck. If only he had tied her legs. Nothing was going to plan. If anyone drove past, they might stop to see what was going on, and then he’d have to deal with them too.
Everything was lurching out of control. If he had stuck to the plan, the campervan would have been hidden and he would have been long gone with the woman tied up in the back of his vehicle.
Darcey stayed tightly curled up in a ball, too petrified to move. She wondered what he was doing, and if he’d return with the dog. If he found her, she wasn’t sure if she’d have the energy to keep fighting. Icy tentacles of fear gripped her. She was exhausted. What hope did she have out there all alone?
Her eyes filled with tears. She did her best to blink them away. Letting go was not an option, not yet. She knew once she started to cry, she wouldn’t be able to stop. She strained to hear the man. A vehicle door slammed and an engine started. Had he really given up?
The vehicle pulled away, but then the powerful headlights blasted into the undergrowth, illuminating it like a stage, blinding her. She closed her eyes, dreading the worst, while he tried to find her.
However, the bushes were like a solid wall, and the light reflected off them made it impossible to see beyond. Suddenly, the vehicle reversed, and to her amazement, she realised that he was driving away.
The man started to panic. His plan had been to leave the woman tied up in his vehicle while he dumped the campervan on the track he’d found a kilometre away. He saw the first flash of headlights in the distance. He swore silently, and swung onto the road, pulling away. His first priority was Adam. The woman could wait until later.
His hands shook on the steering wheel as he passed the car. Why were they driving so slowly? Had they seen something? Were they suspicious? Had they seen his face? He couldn’t concentrate. He’d forgotten to pull his cap down low over his eyes.
If they had driven by a few minutes earlier, they would have seen everything. He rubbed his aching forehead, wondering if they would connect the campervan on the side of the road with him.
Everything was going from bad to worse. He knew he had to hurry in case they came back for a better look; that was the last thing he needed. He waited until the lights disappeared into the distance, before pulling over. Then he jumped out, locked the doors, and ran back towards the campervan and the woman.
Darcey expected to hear the rumble of the vehicle returning at any second, but it didn’t come. She knew she had only one chance. The makeshift handcuffs were cutting into her skin. She twisted her wrists, wondering if she would be able to manoeuvre them to her front. She stood up, and brought her wrists down her back, passing her left leg through, followed by her right.
Next, she did her best to unpick the ties, but they were tightly fastened. She tried biting them, but only managed to bite off a small corner. Then she tried easing her wrists from the cuffs, but they wouldn’t budge.
She racked her brain for a solution and remembered the tube of lip-gloss in her skirt pocket. Using both hands, she pushed the tube up through the pocket. As it popped out, she grabbed it and lifted it to her mouth, pulling off the cap with her teeth.
Then, she squeezed the gloss over the ties on her hands, praying that she would be able to slide her wrists from the cuffs. They were too tight. She almost screamed with frustration when she realised that they weren’t going to budge.
The crunch of footsteps made her drop to the ground. He was back. She started shaking, knowing that he would be determined to find her this time. She could hear him dragging or pulling something again. Then, just as suddenly, the noises stopped and a door slammed. He was gone.
The man paused for one final moment to stare into the undergrowth. He knew she was out there, probably nearby. He longed to get his gun and go in search of her, but he knew it was too risky. He had been seen and he had to make his escape as fast as possible.
He kicked some dirt and stones over the pool of blood, climbed into the campervan and started it up, cursing its noisy clatter. Then he drove back up the road, past his vehicle, and turned onto the track he’d scoped out earlier. He drove along the track, and parked the campervan behind some trees, ensuring that it wouldn’t be easily discovered.
He jumped out, closing the door softly behind him. Then he walked back down the track, glancing over his shoulder to check that the camper was hidden. It was barely visible, and he knew it would be a long time before anyone found it.
He jogged the rest of the way to his vehicle, gunned the engine, and drove back down the mountain, feeling a pang of regret that he didn’t have more time to search for the woman. He smirked, knowing that a silly little South African woman would never survive out there all on her own.
Darcey lay crying quietly. She heard a vehicle slowing down briefly, before it roared away into the night. She couldn’t think straight; was the man gone for good, or was he trying to trick her into leaving her hiding place? If only Adam were there, he’d know what to do.
She lay completely still under the bush for hours, too scared to move, expecting the man to return at any minute to resume his hunt for her. She didn’t dare risk hoping that he might have gone. It was probably a trap. She imagined him waiting silently for her to emerge, ready to pounce.
As the hours passed, she knew she’d have to make a move eventually. She had been lying in the same spot for ages, and the temperature was plummeting fast. Her earlier panic and adrenaline had kept her warm, but now she was chilled to the bone.
She couldn’t stop thinking about Adam. If he was alive, he’d need help, and she’d have to go and find someone. Slowly, she uncurled her cramped body, doing her best not to make any noise. She stretched out her legs, then her arms, and quietly sat up. Then she crawled a few metres back towards the road, making agonisingly slow progress.
Tentatively, she struggled to her feet and stood completely still, expecting him to grab her. Nothing moved. It was as quiet as a graveyard. Summoning every bit of courage she had left, she forced herself to walk towards the road. She looked nervously left and right. There was nothing and no one around. She felt exposed and vulnerable without the cover of the undergrowth.
She ducked back into the long grass on the other side of the road and crouched down. From her vantage point, she could see any approaching vehicles, but they couldn’t see her. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally saw the headlights of a car approaching in the distance.
She took a deep breath, stood up, and got ready to make her move. When it was about ten metres away, she stepped onto the road. She held her handcuffed wrists in front of her so that the driver would realise that she needed help.
The car drove past, and for a moment, she thought it wasn’t going to stop. Then she heard the screech of the brakes.