The fifth Will Trent novel, from the Number 1 Bestseller. Special Agent Faith Mitchell returns home to a nightmare. Her baby daughter Emma has been locked outside, and there's a trail of blood to the front door. Without waiting for back-up, Faith enters the house. Inside a man lies dead in a pool of blood. Most worrying of all, her mother is missing. When the Atlanta police arrive, Faith has some difficult questions to answer. But she has some desperate questions of her own. What were the killers searching for? And where is her mother? Suspended from duty, Faith turns to her work partner, Will Trent. Together he and Sara Linton must piece together the fragments of a brutal and complicated case, and catch a vicious murderer with only one thing on his mind. To keep on killing until the truth is finally revealed.
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International bestseller Karin Slaughter grew up in a small south Georgia town and has been writing since she was a child. She is the author of fourteen books that have sold over 30 million copies worldwide in 32 languages. She lives in Atlanta. To find out more about Karin Slaughter visit her website at www.karinslaughter. com or catch up with her on www.facebook.com/AuthorKarinSlaughterExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Faith Mitchell dumped the contents of her purse onto the passenger seat of her Mini, trying to find something to eat. Except for a furry piece of gum and a peanut of dubious origin, there was nothing remotely edible. She thought about the box of nutrition bars in her kitchen pantry, and her stomach made a noise that sounded like a rusty hinge groaning open.
The computer seminar she’d attended this morning was supposed to last three hours, but that had stretched into four and a half thanks to the jackass ion the front row who kept asking pointless questions. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation trained its agents more often than any other agency in the region. Statistics and data on criminal activities were constantly being drummed into their heads. They had to be up -to -date on all of the latest technology. They had to qualify at the range twice a year. They ran mock raids and active shooter simulations that were so intense that for weeks after, Faith couldn’t go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without checking shadows in doorways. Usually, she appreciated the agency’s thoroughness. Today, all she could think about was her four-month- old baby, and the promise Faith had made to her mother that she would be back no later than noon.
The clock on the dash read ten after one o’clock when she started the car. Faith mumbled a curse as she pulled out of the parking lot in front of the Panthersville Road headquarters. She used Bluetooth to dial her mother’s number. The car speakers gave back a static-y silence. Faith hung up and dialed again. This time, she got a busy signal.
Faith tapped her finger on the steering wheel as she listened to the bleating. Her mother had voicemail. Everybody had voicemail. Faith couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard a busy signal on the telephone. She had almost forgotten the sound. There was probably a crossed wire somewhere at the phone company. She hung up and tried the number a third time.
Faith steered with one hand as she checked her Blackberry for an email from her mother. Before Evelyn Mitchell retired, she had been a cop for just shy of four decades. You could say a lot about the Atlanta force, but you couldn’t claim they were behind the times. Evelyn had carried a cell phone back when they were more like purses you strapped around your shoulder. She’d learned how to use email before her daughter had. She’d carried a Blackberry BlackBerry for almost fifteen years.
But, she hadn’t sent a message today.
Faith checked her cell phone voicemail. She had a saved message from her dentist’s office about making an appointment to get her teeth cleaned, but there was nothing new. She tried her phone at home, thinking maybe her mother had gone there to pick up something for the baby. Faith’s house was just down the road from Evelyn’s. Maybe Emma had run out of diapers. Maybe she’d needed another bottle. Faith listened to the phone ring at her house, then heard her own voice answer, telling callers to leave a message.
She ended the call. Without thinking, she glanced into the back seat. Emma’s empty car seat was there. She could see the pink liner sticking out over the top of the plastic.
“Idiot,” Faith whispered to herself. She dialed her mother’s cell phone number. She held her breath as she counted through three rings. Evelyn’s voicemail picked up.
Faith had to clear her throat before she could speak. She was aware of a tremor in her tone. “Mom, I’m on my way home. I guess you took Em for a walk …” . . .” Faith looked up at the sky as she merged onto the interstate. She was about twenty minutes outside of Atlanta and could see fluffy white clouds draped like scarves around the skinny necks of skyscrapers. “Just call me,” Faith said, worry needling the edge of her brain.
Grocery store. Gas station. Pharmacy. Her mother had a car seat identical to the one in the back of Faith’s car. She was probably out running errands. Faith was over an hour late. Evelyn would’ve taken the baby and … . . . Left Faith a message that she was going to be out. The woman had been on call for the majority of her adult life. She didn’t go to the toilet without letting someone know. Faith and her older brother, Zeke, had joked about it when they were kids. They always knew where their mother was, even when they didn’t want to. Especially when they didn’t want to.
Faith stared at the phone in her hand as if it could tell her what was going on. She was aware that she might be letting herself get worked up over nothing. The landline could be out. Her mother wouldn’t know this unless she tried to make a call. Her cell phone could be switched off or charging or both. Her Blackberry BlackBerry could be in her car or her purse or somewhere she couldn’t hear the tell-telltale vibration. Faith glanced back and forth between the road and her Blackberry BlackBerry as she typed an email to her mother. She spoke the words aloud as she typed—
“On-my-way. Sorry-I’m-late. Call-me.”
She sent the email, then tossed the phone onto the seat along with the spilled items from her purse. After a moment’s hesitation, Faith popped the gum into her mouth. She chewed as she drove, ignoring the purse lint clinging to her tongue. She turned on the radio, then snapped it back off. The traffic thinned as she got closer to the city. The clouds moved apart, sending down bright rays of sunshine. The inside of the car began to bake.
Ten minutes out, Faith’s nerves were still one edge, and she was sweating from the heat in the car. She cracked the sunroof to let in some air. This was probably a simple case of separation anxiety. She’d been back at work for a little over two months, but still, every morning when Faith left Emma at her mother’s, she felt something akin to a seizure take hold. Her vision blurred. Her heart shook in her chest. Her head buzzed as if a million bees had flown into her ears. She was more irritable than usual at work, especially with her partner, Will Trent, who either had the patience of Job or was setting up a believable alibi for when he finally snapped and strangled her.
Faith couldn’t recall if she had felt this same anxiety with Jeremy, her son, who was now a freshman in college. Faith had been eighteen when she entered the police academy. Jeremy was three years old by then. She had grabbed onto the idea of joining the force as if it was the only life preserver left on the Titanic. Thanks to two minutes of poor judgment in the back of a movie theater and what foreshadowed a lifetime of breathtakingly bad taste in men, Faith had gone straight from puberty to motherhood without any of the usual stops in between. At eighteen, she had relished the idea of earning a steady paycheck so that she could move out of her parents’ house and raise Jeremy the way that she wanted. Going to work every day had been a step toward independence. Leaving him during the day had seemed like a small price to pay.
Now that Faith was thirty-four, with a mortgage, a car payment, and another baby to raise on her own, she wanted nothing more than to move back into her mother’s house so that Evelyn could take care of everything. She wanted to open the refrigerator and see food that she didn’t have to buy. She wanted to turn on the air conditioner in the summer without worrying about having to pay the bill. She wanted to sleep until noon, and then watch TV all day. Hell, while she was at it, she might as well resurrect her father, who’d died eleven years ago, so that he could make her pancakes at breakfast and tell her how pretty she was.
No chance of that now. Evelyn seemed happy to play the role of nanny in her retirement, but Faith was under no illusion that her life was going to get any easier. Her own retirement was almost twenty years away. The Mini had another three years of payments and would be out of warranty well before that. Emma would expect food and clothing for at least the next eighteen years, if not more. And it wasn’t like when Jeremy was a baby and Faith could dress him in mismatched socks and yard sale hand-me-downs. Babies today had to coordinate. They needed BPA-free bottles and certified organic applesauce from kindly Amish farmers. If Jeremy got into the architectural program at Georgia Tech, Faith was looking at six more years of buying books and doing his laundry. Most worryingly, her son had found a serious girlfriend. An older girlfriend with curvy hips and a ticking biological clock. Faith could be a grandmother before she turned thirty-five.
An unwelcome heat rushed through her body as she tried to push this last thought from her mind. She checked the contents of her purse again as she drove. The gum hadn’t made a dent. Her stomach was still growling. She reached over and felt around inside the glovebox. Nothing. She should stop at a fast- food place and at least get a Coke, but she was wearing her regs—tan khakis and a blue shirt with the letters GBI emblazoned in bright yellow on the back. This wasn’t the best part of town to be in if you were law enforcement. People tended to run, and then you had to chase them, which wasn’t conducive to getting home at a reasonable hour. Besides, something was telling her—urging her—to see her mother.
Faith picked up her phone and dialed Evelyn’s numbers again. Home, cell, even her BlackberryBlackBerry, which she only used for email. All three brought the same negative response. Faith could feel her stomach flip as the worst scenarios ran through her mind. As a beat cop, she’d been called out onto a lot of scenes where a crying child had alerted the neighbors to a serious problem. Mothers had slipped in the tub. Fathers had accidentally injured themselves or gone into coronary arrest. The babies had lain there, wailing helplessly, until someone had figured out that something was wrong. There was nothing more heart -wrenching than a crying baby who could not be soothed.
Faith chided herself for bringing these horrible images to mind. She had always been good at assuming the worst, even before she became a cop. Evelyn was probably fine. Emma’s naptime was at one-thirty. Her mother had probably turned off the phone so the ringing wouldn’t wake the baby. Maybe she’d run into a neighbor while checking the mailbox, or gone next door to help old Mrs. Levy’s take out the trash.
Still, Faith’s hands slipped on the wheel as she exited onto Boulevard. She was sweating despite the mild March weather. This couldn’t just be about the baby or her mother or even Jeremy’s unconscionably fertile girlfriend. Faith had been diagnosed with diabetes less than a year ago. She was religious about measuring her blood sugar, eating the right things, making sure she had snacks on hand. Except for today. That probably explained why her thinking had gone sideways. She just needed to eat something. Preferably in view of her mother and child.
Faith checked the glovebox again time to make sure it was really empty. She had a distant memory of giving Will her last nutrition bar yesterday while they were waiting outside the courthouse. It was that or watch him inhale a sticky bun from the vending machine. He had complained about the taste but eaten the whole bar anyway. And now she was paying for it.
She blew through a yellow light, speeding as much as she dared down a semi-residential street. The road narrowed at Ponce de Leon. Faith passed a row of fast- food restaurants and an organic grocery store. She edged up the speedometer, accelerating into the twists and turns bordering Piedmont Park. The flash of a traffic camera bounced off her rear-view mirror as she sailed through another yellow light. She tapped on the brakes for a straggling jaywalker. Two more grocery stores blurred by, then came the final red light, which was mercifully green.
Evelyn still lived in the same house Faith and her older brother had grown up in. The single-story ranch was located in an area of Atlanta called Sherwood Forest, which was nestled between Ansley Park, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, and interstate Interstate eighty-five85, which offered a the more or less constant roar of traffic, depending on which way the wind was blowing. The wind was blowing just fine today, and when Faith rolled down her window to let in more fresh air, she heard the familiar hum that had marked most every day of her childhood.
As a lifelong resident of Sherwood Forest, Faith had a deep-seated hatred for the men who had planned the neighborhood. The subdivision had been developed after World War II, the brick ranch houses filled by returning soldiers who took advantage of low VA loans. The street planners had unabashedly embraced the Sherwood concept. After taking a hard left onto Lionel, Faith crossed Friar Tuck, took a right on Robin Hood Road, coasted through the fork at Lady Marian Lane, and checked the driveway of her own house on the corner of Doncaster and Barnesdale before finally pulling into her mother’s driveway off Little John Trail.
Evelyn’s beige Chevy Malibu was backed into the carport. That, at least, was normal. Faith had never seen her mother pull nose-first into a parking space. It came from her days in uniform. You always made sure your car was ready to leave as soon as a call came in.
Faith didn’t have time to reflect on her mother’s routines. She rolled into the driveway and parked the Mini nose-to-nose with the Malibu. Her legs ached as she stood; every muscle in her body had been tensed for the last twenty minutes. She could hear loud music blaring from the house. Heavy metal, not her mother’s usual Beatles. Faith put her hand on the hood of the Malibu as she walked toward the kitchen door. The engine was cold. Maybe Evelyn had been in the shower when Faith called. Maybe she hadn’t checked her email or cell phone. Maybe she had cut herself. There was a bloody handprint on the door.
Faith felt herself do a double -take.
The bloody print sh...
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