The Last Widow Page 1

Author: Karin Slaughter

Series: Will Trent #9

Genres: Mystery , Thriller

Part One

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Michelle Spivey jogged through the back of the store, frantically scanning each aisle for her daughter, panicked thoughts circling her brain: How did I lose sight of her I am a horrible mother my baby was kidnapped by a pedophile or a human trafficker should I flag store security or call the police or—


Michelle stopped so abruptly that her shoe snicked against the floor. She took a sharp breath, trying to force her heart back into a normal rhythm. Her daughter was not being sold into slavery. She was at the make-up counter trying on samples.

The relief started to dissipate as the panic burned off.

Her eleven-year-old daughter.

At the make-up counter.

After they had told Ashley that she could not under any circumstances wear make-up until her twelfth birthday, and then it would only be blush and lip gloss, no matter what her friends were doing, end of story.

Michelle pressed her hand to her chest. She slowly walked up the aisle, giving herself time to transition into a reasoned and logical person.

Ashley’s back was to Michelle as she examined lipstick shades. She twisted the tubes with an expert flick of her wrist because of course when she was with her friends, Ashley tried on all their make-up and they practiced on each other because that was what girls did.

Some girls, at least. Michelle had never felt that pull toward primping. She could still recall her own mother’s screeching tone when Michelle had refused to shave her legs: You’ll never be able to wear pantyhose!

Michelle’s response: Thank God!

That was years ago. Her mother was long gone. Michelle was a grown woman with her own child and like every woman, she had vowed not to make her mother’s mistakes.

Had she over-corrected?

Were her general tomboyish tendencies punishing her daughter? Was Ashley really old enough to wear make-up, but because Michelle had no interest in eyeliners and bronzers and whatever else it was that Ashley watched for endless hours on YouTube, she was depriving her daughter of a certain type of girl’s passage into womanhood?

Michelle had done the research on juvenile milestones. Eleven was an important age, a so-called benchmark year, the point at which children had attained roughly 50 percent of the power. You had to start negotiating rather than simply ordering them around. Which was very well-reasoned in the abstract but in practice was terrifying.

“Oh!” Ashley saw her mother and frantically jammed the lipstick into the display. “I was—”

“It’s all right.” Michelle stroked back her daughter’s long hair. So many bottles of shampoo in the shower, and conditioner, and soaps and moisturizers when Michelle’s only beauty routine involved sweat-proof sunscreen.

“Sorry.” Ashley wiped at the smear of lip gloss on her mouth.

“It’s pretty,” Michelle tried.

“Really?” Ashley beamed at her in a way that tugged every string of Michelle’s heart. “Did you see this?” She meant the lip gloss display. “They have one that’s tinted, so it’s supposed to last longer. But this one has cherry flavoring, and Hailey says b—”

Silently, Michelle filled in the words, boys like it more.

The assorted Hemsworths on Ashley’s bedroom walls had not gone unnoticed.

Michelle asked, “Which do you like most?”

“Well . . .” Ashley shrugged, but there was not much an eleven-year-old did not have an opinion on. “I guess the tinted type lasts longer, right?”

Michelle offered, “That makes sense.”

Ashley was still weighing the two items. “The cherry kind of tastes like chemicals? Like, I always chew—I mean, if I wore it, I would probably chew it off because it would irritate me?”

Michelle nodded, biting back the polemic raging inside her: You are beautiful, you are smart, you are so funny and talented and you should only do things that make you happy because that’s what attracts the worthy boys who think that the happy, secure girls are the interesting ones.

Instead, she told Ashley, “Pick the one you like and I’ll give you an advance on your allowance.”

“Mom!” She screamed so loudly that people looked up. The dancing that followed was more Tigger than Shakira. “Are you serious? You guys said—”

You guys. Michelle gave an inward groan. How to explain this sudden turnabout when they had agreed that Ashley would not wear make-up until she was twelve?

It’s only lip gloss!

She’ll be twelve in five months!

I know we agreed not until her actual birthday but you let her have that iPhone!

That would be the trick. Turn it around and make it about the iPhone, because Michelle had purely by fate been the one who’d died on that particular hill.

Michelle told her daughter, “I’ll handle the boss. Just lip gloss, though. Nothing else. Pick the one that makes you happy.”

And it did make her happy. So happy that Michelle felt herself smiling at the woman in the checkout line, who surely understood that the glittery tube of candy pink Sassafras Yo Ass! was not for the thirty-nine-year-old woman in running shorts with her sweaty hair scooped into a baseball cap.

“This—” Ashley was so gleeful she could barely speak. “This is so great, Mom. I love you so much, and I’ll be responsible. So responsible.”

Michelle’s smile must have shown the early stages of rigor mortis as she started to load up their purchases into cloth bags.

The iPhone. She had to make it about the iPhone, because they had agreed about that, too, but then all of Ashley’s friends had shown up at summer camp with one and the No absolutely not had turned into I couldn’t let her be the only kid without one while Michelle was away at a conference.

Ashley happily scooped up the bags and headed for the exit. Her iPhone was already out. Her thumb slid across the screen as she alerted her friends to the lip gloss, likely predicting that in a week’s time, she’d be sporting blue eyeshadow and doing that curve thing at the edges of her eyes that made girls look like cats.

Michelle felt herself start to catastrophize.

Ashley could get conjunctivitis or sties or blepharitis from sharing eye make-up. Herpes simplex virus or hep C from lip gloss and lip liner, not to mention she could scratch her cornea with a mascara wand. Didn’t some lipsticks contain heavy metals and lead? Staph, strep, E. coli. What the hell had Michelle been thinking? She could be poisoning her own daughter. There were hundreds of thousands of proven studies about surface contaminants as opposed to the relative handfuls positing the indirect correlation between brain tumors and cell phones.

Up ahead, Ashley laughed. Her friends were texting back. She swung the bags wildly as she crossed the parking lot. She was eleven, not twelve, and twelve was still terribly young, wasn’t it? Because make-up sent a signal. It telegraphed an interest in being interested in, which was a horribly non-feminist thing to say but this was the real world and her daughter was still a baby who knew nothing about rebuffing unwanted attention.

Michelle silently shook her head. Such a slippery slope. From lip gloss to MRSA to Phyllis Schlafly. She had to lock down her wild thoughts so that by the time she got home, she could present a reasoned explanation for buying Ashley make-up when they had made a solemn, parental vow not to.

As they had with the iPhone.

She reached into her purse to find her keys. It was dark outside. The overhead lights weren’t enough, or maybe she needed her glasses because she was getting old—was already old enough to have a daughter who wanted to send signals to boys. She could be a grandmother in a few years’ time. The thought made her stomach somersault into a vat of anxiety. Why hadn’t she bought wine?

She glanced up to make sure Ashley hadn’t bumped into a car or fallen off a cliff while she was texting.

Michelle felt her mouth drop open.

A van slid to a stop beside her daughter.

The side door rolled open.

A man jumped out.

Michelle gripped her keys. She bolted into a full-out run, cutting the distance between herself and her daughter.

She started to scream, but it was too late.

Ashley had run off, just like they had taught her to do.

Which was fine, because the man did not want Ashley.

He wanted Michelle.


Sunday, August 4, 2019


Sunday, August 4, 1:37 p.m.


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