The Faces of Evil Series: Book 1


By Debra Webb

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She thought she’d left the murders – and his obsession -behind . . .

Special Agent Jess Harris has spent more than a decade studying the many faces of evil. In her determination to stop a serial killer, she broke the rules, and it cost her everything. With her career in need of resuscitation and her love life dead and buried, Jess jumps at a chance to advise on a case that has the top detectives of Birmingham, Alabama, stumped. But the case forces her to confront all the reasons she put her hometown-and her first love-in her rearview mirror.

Four young women have gone missing, and Police Chief Dan Burnett will do anything to find them before it’s too late-even if it means asking for help from the woman who has spent a decade avoiding him. Jess agrees to lend a hand and welcomes the diversion of a new case, a new life to save to make up for the victims she’s lost. But then the unthinkable happens: the crazed serial killer from her past follows Jess to Birmingham. The situation is becoming increasingly desperate-and time is swiftly running out . . .

Praise for Obsession
“Compelling main characters and chilling villains elevate Debra Webb’s Faces of Evil series into the realm of high-intensity thrillers that readers won’t be able to resist.” — CJ Lyons, New York Times bestselling author

“This gritty, edge of your seat, white knuckle thriller is peopled with tough, credible characters and a brilliant plot that will keep you guessing until the very end. Move over Jack Reacher.” — Cindy Gerard, New York Times best-selling author

“Debra Webb’s name says it all…” — Karen Rose


Begin Reading

Table of Contents

A Preview of Impulse

A Preview of Power

A Preview of Rage


Copyright Page

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Birmingham, Alabama

Wednesday, July 14, 1:03 p.m.

Special Agent Jess Harris's career was in the toilet along with the breakfast she'd wolfed down and then lost in a truck stop bathroom the other side of Nashville.

God, this wasn't supposed to happen.

Jess couldn't breathe. She told herself to either get out of the car or power down a window, but her body refused to obey a single, simple command.

The scorching ninety-five degrees baking the city's asphalt and concrete had invaded the interior of the car about two seconds after she parked and shut off the engine. That appeared to be of little consequence to whatever reason she still possessed considering that ten minutes later her fingers were still locked around the steering wheel as if the final hours of her two-day drive had triggered the onset of rigor mortis.

She was home. Two weeks' worth of long overdue leave was at her disposal. Her mail was on hold at the post office back in Stafford, Virginia, where absolutely no one would miss her. Still, she hesitated in taking the next step. Changing her mind and driving away was out of the question no matter how desperately she wanted to do exactly that.

Her word was all she had left at this point. The sheer enormity of her current circumstances should have her laughing hysterically but the muscles of her throat had constricted in equal parts disbelief and terror.

Screw this up and there's nothing left.

With a deep breath for courage, she relaxed her death grip, grabbed her bag, and climbed out. A horn honked a warning and she flattened against the dusty fender of her decade-old Audi. Cars and trucks whizzed by, determined to make the Eighteenth Street and First Avenue intersection before the traffic light changed. Exhaust fumes lingered in the humid air, mingling with the heat and the noise of downtown.

She barely recognized the heart of Birmingham. Renovated shops from a bygone era and newer, gleaming buildings stood side by side, their facades softened by carefully placed trees and shrubbery. An elegant park complete with a spectacular fountain welcomed strolling shoppers and relaxing picnickers. Great strides had been taken to transform the gritty streets of the city once recognized as the infamous center of the civil rights movement to a genteel version of a proud Southern town.

What the hell was she doing here?

For twenty-two years she had worked harder than a prized pupil of Henry Higgins himself to alter her speech patterns and to swipe the last damned trace of the South from her voice. A master's degree in psychology from Boston College and seventeen years of relentless dedication to build an admirable career distinguished her résumé.

And for what? To come running back with her tail tucked between her legs and her head hanging low enough to the ground to smell the ugly truth.

Nothing had changed.

All the spritzing fountains and meticulously manicured storefronts couldn't hide the fact that this was still Birmingham—the place she'd put in her rearview mirror at eighteen—and the four-hundred-dollar red suit and matching high heels she wore would not conceal her plunge from grace.

He had called and she had promised to come and have a look at his case. It was the first time he'd asked her for anything since they parted ways after college. That he extended any sort of invitation astonished her and provided a much needed self-esteem boost. No one from her hometown had a clue about her current career debacle or the disaster zone that was her personal life. If she had her way, they would never know. The million-dollar question, however, remained: What did she do after this?

The wind from a passing car flapped her skirt around her legs, reminding her that this curbside parking slot was not exactly the place to conduct a cerebral overview of This Is Your Life.

Game face in place, her shoulders squared with determination, she strode to the Birmingham Police Department's main entrance. Another bout of hesitation slowed her but she kicked it aside, opened the door, and presented a smile for the security guard. "Good morning."

"Good morning to you, too, ma'am," said the guard, Elroy Carter according to the name tag pinned to his shirt. "I'll need your ID. You can place your bag here." He indicated the table next to him.

Jess handed over her official credentials and placed her bag as directed for inspection. Since she'd stopped bothering with earrings years ago and the gold band she still wore for reasons that continued to escape her didn't set off any alarms except in her head, she walked through the metal detector and waited on the other side for her bag.

"Enjoy your visit to the Magic City, Agent Harris." Another broad smile brightened the big man's face.

Probably retired Birmingham PD, undeniably Southern through and through. He obviously took pride in his work, past and present, and likely carried a wallet full of photos of his grandchildren. The only trait that wouldn't be readily discernible by way of a passing inspection was whether he was an Auburn or an Alabama fan. By September that, too, would be as clear as the rich color of his brown eyes. In Alabama, college football season turned even the closest of friends into fierce rivals.

"Thank you, Mr. Carter."

Extending a please, welcome, and thank you remained a stalwart Southern tradition. On the etiquette scale, the idea of passing a stranger without at least smiling ranked right below blasphemy. Keeping up with your neighbor's or coworker's business wasn't viewed as meddling. Not at all. It was the right thing to do. Concern was, of course, the motive.

Jess would give it twenty-four hours max before speculation about her business became the subject of water-cooler talk. Then the sympathetic glances would begin. Along with the reassuring smiles and the total pretense that everything was fine.

Fine. Fine. Fine.

As much as she wanted to avoid her dirty laundry being aired, the odds of complete circumvention fell along the lines of being hit by falling satellite debris twice in the same day. Once the news hit the AP there would be no stopping or even slowing the media frenzy.

Her life was a mess. She doubted any aspect of her existence would ever be fine again. But that was irrelevant at the moment. She was here to advise on a case—one that wouldn't wait for her to gather up the pieces of her life or for her to lick her wounds.

Jess set those worries aside, steeled herself, and headed for the bank of elevators that would take her to the fourth floor. To him.

None of the faces she encountered looked familiar. Not the guard who'd processed her in or either of his colleagues monitoring the lobby and not the woman who joined her in the elevator car to make the trip to Birmingham Police Department's administrative offices.

Once the doors glided closed, the woman attempted a covert inspection, taking note of Jess's Mary Jane pumps with their four-inch heels, the swath of skin separating the hem of her pencil skirt from the tops of her knees and the leather bag that had been her gift to herself on her fortieth birthday. When eye contact inevitably happened, a faint smile flashed, a superficial pleasantry intended to disguise the sizing-up of competition. If she only knew.

The car bumped to a stop. The other woman exited first and strolled down the long corridor on the right. Jess's destination waited straight ahead. The office of the chief of police. At the door she conducted a final inventory of her appearance in the glass, straightened her belted jacket, and plucked a blond hair from her lapel. She looked… the same. Didn't she? Her hand fell to her side.

Did she look like a failure? Like the woman who had just provided a heinous killer with a get-out-of-jail-free card and who'd lost her husband to geography?

Deep breath. She reached for the door sporting the name Daniel T. Burnett and passed the point of no return.

"Good afternoon, Agent Harris." The young woman, Tara Morgan according to the nameplate on her desk, smiled. "Welcome to Birmingham."

Since Jess hadn't introduced herself, she assumed that the chief had ensured his office personnel, certainly his receptionist, would recognize his anticipated visitor. "Thank you. I'm here to see Chief Burnett."

"Yes, ma'am. If you'd like to have a seat, I'll let the chief know you've arrived."

At last, Tara politely left off. Jess was late by twelve minutes, most of which had been spent fortifying her resolve and gathering her composure to face the final buffeting winds of the emotional hurricane that had descended upon her life. The receptionist offered water or a soft drink. Jess declined. Getting anything, even water, past the massive lump lodged firmly in her throat was unlikely. Keeping it down, an unmitigated no-go.

Jess used the intervening time to evaluate the changes Birmingham's newest chief had made since taking over the office of top cop. From the marble-floored entry to the classic beige carpet and walls, the tranquil lobby looked less like the anteroom to the chief of police and more like the waiting area of a prestigious surgeon's office. Though she hadn't been in this office since career day back in high school, the decorating and furnishings were far too fresh to have seen more than a couple of years' wear.

Law enforcement and political journals rested in a crisp stack atop the table flanked by two plush, upholstered chairs. The fabric resembled a European tapestry and carried the distinct flavor of his mother's taste. It wasn't enough she'd influenced the decorating scheme of the palatial homes belonging to select members of Birmingham's elite simply by hosting a grand soiree and inviting the city's who's who list. Katherine Burnett set the gold standard for keeping up with the Joneses.

Jess wondered if the fine citizens of Birmingham approved of such wasteful use of their tax dollars. Knowing Katherine, she had paid for the renovation herself and spelled it all out on the front page of the Lifestyle section of the Birmingham News.

Just another example of how nothing changed around here. Ever. Jess deposited her bag on a chair and stretched her travel-cramped muscles. Eight grueling hours on the road on Tuesday and four this morning had taken its toll. She was exhausted. A flight would have provided far more efficient transportation, but she preferred to have her car while she was here. Made the potential for escape much more feasible.

Actually she'd needed time to think.

"You made it."

Whether it was the sound of his voice or the idea that he looked better now, in spite of current circumstances, than he had on Christmas Eve ten years ago, she suddenly felt very fragile and unquestionably old. His dark hair was still thick without even a hint of gray. The elegant navy suit he wore brought out the blue in his eyes. But it was his face, leaner than before but no less handsome, that conveyed the most damage to her brittle psyche.

The weight of the past seventy-two hours crashed down on her in one big knee-weakening wallop. The floor shifted beneath her feet and the urge to run into his strong arms or to simply burst into tears made a fleeting but powerful appearance.

But she wasn't that kid anymore. And they… they were little more than strangers.

She managed a stiff nod. "I did."

Funny how they both avoided calling each other by name. Not funny at all was the idea that five seconds in his presence had the two little words she'd uttered sounding as Southern as the day she'd hit the road after high school graduation.

She cleared her throat. "And I'm ready to get to work. First, I'd like some time to review the files."

"Of course." He offered his hand, then drew it back and gestured awkwardly as if belatedly realizing that touching was not a good idea. "Shall we go to my office?"

"Absolutely." She draped her bag over her shoulder and moved toward him, each step a supreme test of her self-control. Things that hadn't been said and should have battled with the numerous other troubles clashing in her head for priority. This wasn't the time.

"Coming all this way to help us figure this out means a great deal to me."

Still skirting her name. Jess pushed aside the confusion or frustration, maybe both, and the weariness and matched his stride as he led the way. "I can't make any promises but I'll do what I can."

He hadn't given her many details over the phone; that he had called at all was proof enough of the gravity of the situation.

He introduced her to his personal secretary, then ushered her into his office and closed the door. Like the lobby, his spacious office smacked of Katherine's touch. Jess placed her bag on the floor next to a chair at the small conference table and surveyed the four case files waiting in grim formation for her inspection. Clipped to the front of each jacket was a photo of a missing girl.

This was why she had come all this way. However much his call gratified her ego, piecing together this puzzle was her ultimate goal. She leaned forward to study the attractive faces. Four young women in the space of two and a half weeks had disappeared, the latest just three days ago. No common threads other than age, no suggestion of foul play, not a hint of evidence left behind. Macy York, Callie Fanning, Reanne Parsons, and Andrea Denton had simply vanished.

"These two are Jefferson County residents." He tapped the first and second photos; Macy and Callie were both blondes. "This one's Tuscaloosa." Reanne, a redhead. "The latest is from Mountain Brook, my jurisdiction." The fourth girl, Andrea, was a brunette and his attention idled there an extra moment or two.

Jess lowered herself into a chair. She opened the files, one by one, and reviewed the meager contents. Interviews with family and friends. Photos and reports from the scenes. All but one of the missing, Reanne, were college students.

"No contact with the families? No sightings?"

She looked up, the need to assess his facial expressions as he answered a force of habit. His full attention rested on the files for a time before settling on her. The weight of the public service position he held had scored lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth. Lines that hadn't been there ten years ago. Funny how those same sorts of lines just made her look old, but on him they lent an air of distinction.

He shook his head in response to her question.

"No credit card or cell phone trails?" she went on. "No good-bye or suicide notes? No ransom demands?"


With a fluidity and ease that spoke of confidence as well as physical strength and fitness, he propped one hip on the edge of the table and studied her, those familiar blue eyes searching hers as blatantly as she had assessed his seconds ago. "Sheriff Roy Griggs—you may remember him—and Chief Bruce Patterson in Tuscaloosa are doing all they can, but there's nowhere to go. The bureau won't budge on the issue of age of consent. All four of these girls are nineteen or older, and with the lack of evidence to indicate foul play there's nothing to investigate, in their opinion. File the report, add the photos to the various databases, and wait. That's what they can do."

According to the law, the bureau was correct. Unless there was evidence of foul play or vulnerability to a crime, there was no action the bureau or any law enforcement agency could take. He knew this but his cop instincts or his emotions, she hadn't concluded which yet, wouldn't let it go at that. And she did remember Griggs. He had served as Jefferson County sheriff for the past three decades.

"But you think there's a connection that suggests this is not only criminal but perhaps serial." This wasn't a question. He'd told her as much on the phone, but she needed to hear his conclusion again and to see what his face and eyes had to show about his words.

His call, just hearing his voice, had resurrected memories and feelings she'd thought long dead and buried. They hadn't spoken since the summer after college graduation until ten years ago when they bumped into each other at the Publix in Hoover. Of all the grocery stores in the Birmingham area how they'd ended up at the same one on the first holiday she'd spent with her family in years still befuddled her. He had been newly divorced from his second wife. Jess had been celebrating a promotion. A volatile combination when merged with the holiday mania and the nostalgia of their explosive history. The last-minute dessert she had hoped to grab at the market before dinner with her sister's family had never made it to the table.

Jess hadn't heard from him since. Not that she could fault his after-frantic-sex lack of propriety; she'd made no attempt at contact either. There had been no random shopping ventures since on her rare visits to Birmingham.

"There has to be a connection." He surveyed the happy, carefree faces in the photos again. "Same age group. All attractive. Smart. No records, criminal or otherwise. Their entire futures—bright futures—ahead of them. And no one in their circle of family or friends saw a disappearing act coming." He tapped the fourth girl's photo. "I know Andrea Denton personally. There's no way she would just vanish like this. No way."

Two things registered distinctly as he made this passionate declaration. One, he wasn't wearing a wedding band. Two, he didn't just know number four personally. He knew her intimately on some level.

"Someone took her," he insisted. "Someone took them all." His expression softened a fraction. "I know your profiling reputation. If anyone can help us find these girls, it's you."

A genuine smile tugged at the frown Jess had been wearing most waking hours for days now. She had absolutely nothing to smile about but somehow the compliment coming from him roused the reaction. "That might be a bit of a stretch, Chief." Sitting here with him staring down at her so intently felt entirely too familiar… too personal. She stood, leveling the playing field. "And even the best can't create something out of nothing and, unfortunately, that's exactly what you appear to have so far."

"All I'm asking is that you try. These girls," he gestured to the files, "deserve whatever we can do."

He'd get no argument from her there. "You know the statistics." If they had in fact been abducted, the chances of finding one or more alive at this stage were minimal at best. The only good thing she could see was that they didn't have a body. Yet.

"I do." He dipped his head in a weary, somber move, emphasizing the grave tone of his voice.

Eventually she would learn the part he was leaving out. No one wanted to admit there was nothing to be done when anyone went missing, particularly a child or young adult. But this urgency and unwavering insistence that foul play was involved went beyond basic human compassion and the desire to get the job done. She could feel his anxiety and worry vibrating with escalating intensity.

"Will your counterparts cooperate?" Kicking a hornet's nest when it came to jurisdiction would compound her already complicated situation. That she could do without. Once the news hit the public domain, there would be trouble enough.

"They'll cooperate. You have my word."

Jess had known Daniel Burnett her whole life. He believed there was more here than met the eye in these seemingly random disappearances. Unless emotion was somehow slanting his assessment, his instincts rarely missed the mark. More than twenty years ago he had known she was going to part ways with him well before she had recognized that unexpected path herself, and he had known she was his for the taking that cold, blustery evening in that damned Publix. She would lay odds on his instincts every time.

She just hadn't ever been able to count on him when it came to choosing her over his own personal and career goals. As ancient as that history was, the hole it left in her heart had never completely healed. Even knowing that hard truth, she held her breath, waiting for what came next.

"I need your help, Jess."

Jess. The smooth, deep nuances of his voice whispered over her skin and just like that it was ten years ago all over again.

Only this time, she would make certain they didn't end up in bed together.

Andrea Denton squeezed her eyes shut and tried to fight the effects of the drug. She didn't know what the white pill she'd been forced to swallow was but she knew it was bad. The other girls were like zombies. Andrea would be too if she didn't fight harder. She couldn't let that happen.

Stumbling and staggering like a drunk person, she paced back and forth in the darkness. The other two girls huddled in the corner, too afraid to move.

Andrea's stomach churned with the urge to puke again but she held it back. She'd eaten handful after handful of dirt, clawing it from the packed floor and shoving it into her mouth. She'd lost count of the number. Maybe it was stupid and she'd probably swallowed rat poop and no telling what else, but whenever any of her friends got this messed up they ate everything in sight and danced or walked or jumped around to try and wear off the effects of the alcohol or the drugs they'd partied with.

Doing something was better than doing nothing.

She kept walking. Once or twice she bumped into the metal bunk beds. The beds were shoved against the back wall. The springs stretched and creaked whenever they were forced to lie down. That and the oatmeal were her only ways to measure time. Oatmeal before bedtime. Bedtime being at night made sense. Then oatmeal again when they were roused from bed, in the morning she assumed. Her brain hurt when she tried to remember how long she'd been here. Three plastic bowls of soggy, unsweetened oatmeal.

Looking for a way to escape, she had felt her way around the whole room. She'd almost had a heart attack when a rat ran over her hands. She shuddered. But she'd kept searching. There was a door but it was steel and there was no knob or lock on this side. A case of bottled water—she'd chugged as much as she could stand—sat in one corner, and a stinky pot with a lid for a toilet was in the other.

After her first day she'd had to use it. When she lifted the lid, a stench had hit her in the face and made her puke. She tried not to use it until she couldn't hold it anymore. The walls were mostly dirt and brick. Except for where the door was. That wall felt different. Wood or something. Smelled like a basement to her. Like the one in her great-uncle's house. He'd always told Andrea it was haunted to make sure she didn't sneak down there. Eventually she had and she'd discovered his nasty magazines and stash of weed. Creepy old bastard.

When those bad people brought her here, the bag over her head had prevented her from seeing anything. Maybe this was a cave, but she didn't think so. A cave would have stone floors. Probably. This place smelled like a basement.

As strong as the musty, damp odor in the air was, it didn't cover up the smell of human waste where some of the others had peed their pants or worse. Andrea figured the effects of the drug and the fear caused them not to be able to make it to the pot. That happened sometimes to people when they died too. She shuddered. Didn't want to think about dying.

Where was she? Why had these crazy people taken her and the others? For money? The trembling started again, first in her legs, then in her arms.

Maybe they were planning something really bad. Like in the movies when they tortured their victims or cut them into pieces.

She had to get out of here.

Walk. Just walk. You'll figure something out. Her mother would be upset. Maybe her dad, too. And Dan. Tears burned her eyes as Andrea hugged herself. He had warned her about stuff like this. And she'd listened. She was smart. Always watchful. She never drank too much like some of her friends.

But she hadn't expected the evil Dan had warned her about to come in the form of a nice lady who clipped coupons. Andrea had seen her plenty of times at the super Walmart nearest her house. She carried one of those ridiculously massive binders with coupons stuffed into the pockets of the plastic pages inside. She had told Andrea about taking the coupons from the newspapers others tossed away. Stupidly, Andrea had suggested she check the recycle bins in neighborhoods like her own.

After that, every week on recycle day Andrea had been giving the woman whatever coupons had been jammed into the Wednesday and Sunday papers. They even laughed about that crazy coupon reality show. A bitter taste welled in her throat. She shouldn't have trusted a stranger, even one who looked like she could be anyone's mother.

A thump overhead made her freeze. Her heart thudded hard. Were they coming back?

Andrea couldn't breathe… couldn't think. The silence screamed in her ears as she listened harder than she had ever listened in her life. Her heart pounded faster and faster, made her chest ache.

Please don't let them come back!

Last time they had taken a girl. Andrea tried to remember her name. Mason or Macy. She'd been gone for what felt like hours.

Even though Andrea couldn't see shit, she lifted her gaze to the ceiling. She hadn't heard any shouting or crying from up there. Maybe they wouldn't hurt the other girl. Maybe this was a mistake… a joke. Some crazy sorority prank. If some of those crazy bitches had set this up Andrea would beat their effing asses.

Another thwack overhead made her jump. The girls huddled in the corner started to moan and sob. Their misery grew louder and louder with every shuddering breath that filled their lungs.

"Be quiet!" Andrea whispered. "They'll hear you!"

But the girls didn't stop. She put her hands over her ears to block the sounds. She didn't want to hear them. She didn't want to be here. This wasn't supposed to happen to a girl as smart and careful as her.

A door slammed.

The moans and sobs hushed as if a switch had been flipped.

Heavy footfalls echoed in the darkness.

They were coming!

Adrenaline fired through Andrea's veins, clearing the fog from her brain but doing nothing for her frozen limbs.

Run! There was nowhere to run.

Hide! There was nowhere to hide.

Fight! She was too weak to fight.

Warm pee trickled down her thighs.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, 5:00 p.m.

Dan watched as Jess placed the photos on the case board, then sketched a timeline. Beneath each photo she wrote the relevant information. Name. Address. The names of family and close friends. Then the date, time, and location of disappearance.

Exhaustion tugged at his ability to concentrate. The past three days he'd worked night and day and he had nothing to show for it.

He stared at the photos and another wave of regret and urgency washed over him. How could his and two other departments have slogged through every aspect of these girls' lives and have nothing?

Jess faced the group assembled at the conference table and adjusted her glasses.


On Sale
Aug 7, 2012
Page Count
384 pages

Debra Webb

About the Author

Debra Webb, born in Alabama, wrote her first story at age nine and her first romance at thirteen. It wasn’t until she spent three years working for the military behind the Iron Curtain — and did a five-year stint with NASA — that she realized her true calling. She set a collision course between suspense and romance. Since then she has penned nearly one hundred novels including her internationally bestselling Colby Agency series. Her debut romantic thriller series, Faces of Evil, propelled Debra to the top of the bestsellers charts for an unparalleled twenty-four weeks and garnered critical acclaim from reviewers and readers alike. Don’t miss a single installment of this fascinating and chilling series!

You can write to Debra at PO Box 12485, Huntsville, AL, 35815, or learn more at:
Twitter @DebraWebbAuthor

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