SPOILER WARNING: This preview contains a major story development. I don’t recommend reading unless you’ve been following all the previous preview chapters!!!
“Mrs. Roberts? It’s Agent Wilcox.”
“Yes,” I choked out.
“I’ve got some news.”
Time froze. In less than a second, my mind ran past all the incidents where Wilcox had given us news. When they found her car, with the broken phone. When they found the bracelet Lori gave her in Chase’s apartment. The weekly calls for a year, then less often since then. But he still called, and he almost always prefaced those calls with the statement, “I don’t have any news, I’m just checking in.”
Today he’d said, I’ve got some news.
“It’s her birthday,” I said.
I swear to God I wasn’t going to say anything. I wasn’t going to mention it. I wasn’t going to do this.
His face clouded, and he looked to the floor. “I know,” he said in a rasping voice. “Eighteen.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. It was too much to think he’d come over and hug me. And I didn’t know how to approach him. Not anymore. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.
“Do you think she’s still alive?” I asked.
She was petite, maybe five feet two. She wore a red silk blouse with matching lipstick, and a green skirt that was inappropriately short for any kind of business function. The skirt revealed long shapely legs, propped up by three-inch heels. She had brown eyes and dark brown hair, and a too-large nose. Her clothes looked a size too small, showing off a waist that demonstrated half-starvation underneath augmented breasts. At first glance, I thought she was twenty years old and an intern.
From the second I saw her, I didn’t like the way she looked at my husband.
She began to blather on. “It’s nice to meet you too, Mrs. Roberts. Cole talks a lot about you.”
Daddy, Lucas, Uncle Bill. The purveyors of violence from my childhood. Not that Daddy abused me or anything, but after all, his profession was to dispense violence—to kill people. It was something I never forgot. That contrasted vividly with Uncle Bill, whose drunken rages rained down chaos and violence on everyone around him. I struggled sometimes with the memories of that violence, the stink of the beer on his breath, the engorged blood in his face as he attacked his wife and son. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t be like my family, and especially, I wouldn’t be like him.
But this was different.
The weapon felt comfortable in my hand. It even smelled right. I lifted it to the back of the store, raising it to a firing grip with my left hand gripping the pistol, my right hand supporting the left.
It was late Tuesday afternoon when Lori called me to the phone. I’d slept briefly and fitfully the night before, and by this time I was running on empty. Cole was asleep, sprawled on the couch, exhaustion on his face.
“Erin? It’s Agent Wilcox.”
I flew to the phone, panic rising to my throat.. “Agent Wilcox? Did you hear something?”
He sighed. “No, ma’am. Nothing yet. I was actually calling because you’ll certainly hear on the news soon, Chase was released by the Fairfax County Police.”
“What?” I cried. “Why?”…
Cole ran his hand through his hair, frustration showing on his face. “What about Chase? Is he talking yet?”
Wilcox shook his head. “At this point were questioning him… he’s a person of interest. But we don’t have any reason yet to believe that he’s involved with her disappearance.”
“Bullshit!” Cole’s face was red as he blurted out the word. “Who else is there? Of all the fucking incompetent—“
“Cole…” I interrupted. “That’s not helping.”
In the dream they always shouted. “Why did you let her go?” “Why did you give her a car?” “It’s your fault!” Stan Wilcox, the FBI agent, and Hunt, they circled around me.
Hunt sweating, contempt in his voice. “Your daughter wouldn’t have run away if you had been a better mother.”
Somehow Angela was beside me. “I tried to warn you. Of course she was hanging out with older guys… her father betrayed his family. You should have left Cole when he cheated.”
Stan Wilcox said, “Almost three hundred thousand children in the United States are at risk of being trafficked.”
Hunt replied, “Because their parents let them go without supervision.”
Wilcox said, “You’re saying they need better mothers.”
Cole’s mother Virginia appeared. A crooked line appearing between her brows, she stuck her finger in my face. “If you’d listened to me, this would never have happened.”…
Chase’s voice was high-pitched. Panicky. Was he afraid we would find out something? Had he done something to her? “Mrs. Roberts, I don’t know where she is! If she didn’t come home, you need to call the police right now!”
For a second or five or a hundred I stood there, with my heartbeat whooshing in my ears. But then it hit me. He’d said they’d had a fight and that she’d left at midnight. Either he was lying, and he done something to her… or he wasn’t lying… and something had happened to her. My daughter.
Note: This is an unedited preview of my upcoming novel Winter Flower, releasing June 22, 2019. Pre-orders are available at all major retailers. Click here to read previous chapters. Erin When my eyes drifted open in…