“What happened to Haley Cooke?” asked one of Haley’s classmates, wearing a cheerleading outfit.
“Kidnapped. Probably dead,” a newscaster answered, her voice low and somber, like she was sharing a secret.
“No!” Linda Varner wanted to scream. Her daughter wasn’t dead. Her daughter was missing. She was out there somewhere, just waiting for the police to do their jobs and find her. Just waiting for some good Samaritan to recognize her and call the hotline.
“She ran away,” Linda’s ex-husband – Haley’s father – said, shaking his head.
He looked so matter-of-fact, so blasé about the whole thing that Linda wanted to scream. She wanted to run over to her ex’s house and slam a baseball bat through his window the way he’d once threatened to do to her head. She wanted to shut him up, stop him from talking to the cops and the reporters and social media, telling his lies.
Haley hadn’t run away. Some maniac had grabbed her, stolen her away, and since no one else seemed to be able to find her, it was up to Linda.
“Haley!” Linda jolted upright in bed, breathing fast, tears clouding her vision.
Her husband sat up more slowly and she could actually hear him swallow back a sigh. “Honey, you’re having another nightmare.”
No, she wanted to argue. This was real. This was her life now. Her only daughter missing for almost a month and no new leads.
“Did you take the medicine your doctor prescribed?” Pete persisted, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
She nodded. It was the only way she could get any sleep at all. Usually the pills sent her into a blissful darkness where Haley wasn’t missing and Linda’s sole purpose wasn’t a non-stop mission to find her. But every once and a while, they seemed to just turn her life into high-def, a blaring movie she couldn’t escape.
Pete tugged her to him and she let herself relax in his embrace. “You need to sleep,” Pete reminded her. “Maybe you should think about going back to work.”
“No.” Going back to work meant eight fewer hours every day where she could be doing something to help find Haley.
She’d worked in Human Resources for a huge corporation, earning promotions faster than she’d ever thought possible when she’d returned to work after her divorce from Haley’s father. She’d loved it more than she’d expected to, but it had been simple to walk away when Haley went missing. When days turned into weeks and still there were no answers.
How was it possible for a seventeen-year-old girl to walk into her high school for cheerleading practice and then simply disappear?
The truth was, it wasn’t possible. Someone must have seen something. Someone knew where Haley was. So, every day, Linda searched for that person – by making pleas on whatever news stations would have her, on social media, at the police station.
She knew how many cases the police had. She’d seen their stacks of case files when she visited the station every day. And she knew the best way to keep them invested in finding Haley was to keep the pressure on: make sure that the whole country was watching.
Linda pushed away from her husband and climbed out of bed.
“What are you doing?” Pete asked. “It’s four in the morning.”
“Someone’s awake now,” Linda replied. “I’ll try social media, see if anyone has any leads.”
“You know how many wackos are on the Internet,” Pete said, throwing off his own covers even though she knew he was exhausted. “You’ve got to stop doing this to yourself.”
She spun to face him, willing him to understand. “I have to do this, Pete.”
Furrows formed between his sensitive eyes, the feature that had drawn her to him in the first place. “I know. I’ll make you some coffee.”
As he trudged down the stairs, she tried to feel grateful for his support. She knew she was lucky to have him, especially with Haley’s father making his crazy accusations. And she knew he wanted his step-daughter to be found unharmed.
But as much as he loved Haley, it was different. Linda had carried Haley in her belly for nine months, rejoicing in those little movements, even the morning sickness because she’d wanted a baby so badly. The years had passed too quickly: Haley had gone from diapers to pigtails to cheerleading pom poms in the blink of an eye. But there was supposed to be so much more to come: Watching Haley graduate. Walking her down the aisle at her wedding. Holding Haley’s hand as she brought her own baby into the world.
Linda couldn’t give up on those dreams any more than she could give up on Haley.
But day after day, as the news stations slowly lost interest as there was nothing new to report, everyone around her was beginning to accept something Linda could never believe.
Haley was never coming home.
Stalked is the fourth book in the Profiler suspense series, published by MIRA, December 2016.
If you’re reading this, I’m already dead. . .
That’s the note seventeen-year-old Haley Cooke leaves behind when she disappears from inside her high school. FBI profiler Evelyn Baine is called in to figure out who had reason to hurt her. On the surface, the popular cheerleader has no enemies, but as Evelyn digs deeper, she discovers that everyone close to Haley has something to hide. Everyone from estranged parents to an older boyfriend with questionable connections to a best friend who envies Haley’s life.
Secrets can be deadly. . .
One of those secrets may have gotten Haley killed. If she’s still alive, Evelyn knows that the more the investigation ramps up, the more pressure they could be putting on her kidnapper to make her disappear for good. It’s also possible that Haley isn’t in danger at all, but has skillfully manipulated everyone and staged her own disappearance. Only one thing is certain: uncovering Haley’s fate could be dangerous—even deadly—to Evelyn herself.
Read an excerpt at elizabethheiter.com/stalked
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About the author
Critically acclaimed author Elizabeth Heiter likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range.
Elizabeth writes a suspense series called The Profiler series and a romantic suspense series called The Lawmen series. Her novels have been published in more than a dozen countries and translated into eight languages; they’ve also been shortlisted for the Daphne Du Maurier award, the National Readers’ Choice award and the Booksellers’ Best award and won the RT Reviewers’ Choice award.
All comments are welcomed.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Stalked. US entries only, please. The giveaway ends December 31, 2016. Good luck everyone!