Read An Extract From Nina Laurin’s The Starter Wife

Starter Wife

Claire Westcott tries to be the perfect wife to Byron but fears she will never measure up to his ex, Colleen. After all, it's hard to compete with the dead....
We're delighted to share an extract of Nina Laurin's new thriller 'The Starter Wife'.

Posted on April 24, 2019 in Extract, Guest Author
Tags: Author Content, Extract, crime thriller

Claire Westcott tries to be the perfect wife to Byron but fears she will never measure up to his ex, Colleen. After all, it’s hard to compete with the dead.

We’re delighted to share an extract of Nina Laurin’s new thriller ‘The Starter Wife’, which you can pre-order here.


Byron let me sleep in this morning. There. That way, it sounds nicer than “my husband snuck out of the house while I was still asleep.” Because that’s exactly what happened and what’s been happening every day of the week so far, and we’re at Thursday.

This morning, the balmy September sun finally gave way to rain, and with the bedroom windows facing north, it’s still kind of dark when I wake up. It could have been just dawn breaking, around seven a.m. Except Byron’s side of the bed is empty and there are no footsteps downstairs in the kitchen, no water running in the bathroom.

I get up, grab the imitation ring from the nightstand, and put it on the ring finger of my left hand, where it settles into the groove it has made in the skin. He just presented me with it one day, and I didn’t press the issue further. He never actually told me whether the stones were real. I decided to let it go and never asked.

It’s ten thirty. I run my fingers through my hair, which is tangled and matted with sweat, and eye the digital clock in mild dismay. Yesterday it was ten ten. The day before, on Monday, it was nine fifty. Byron gets up at seven every morning like clockwork—to go running in good weather and to hit the gym at the college in bad. If he goes running, he comes back to take a shower before changing to go to work.

September has been beautiful this year, dry and sun filled. He hasn’t gone running once, as far as I can tell. At the start, I’d get up at six fifty and have breakfast ready for him: French toast and cheese omelet, with a glass of orange juice and coffee with cream. Now I’m wondering if he ate all that fatty food to be polite, because these days his breakfast is an energy bar. And I guess I can’t complain— I see other men his age at university events when he takes me. By forty, they have paunches and double chins while Byron, at forty-seven, has the body of someone half his age. He’s also one of the lucky ones who has his hair, all of it— except with age, the points of the M of his hairline have sharpened a little, and the blond color has grown bleak with gray hairs. When I met him, it was easier to forget the twenty-year age difference.

And that name. The name caught my attention even before he did, took me back to high school English lit where the teacher made us pick poems apart to the bare bones. I hated it—it ruined their beauty, made the magic evaporate.

Ironically, the original Byron never had a romance that wasn’t thoroughly dysfunctional—ranging from mildly unhealthy to downright unhinged. Back when he was courting me, it didn’t raise any red flags. Then again, neither did the first wife. I make my way downstairs and start the espresso machine. Byron is particular about his coffee beans while I could drink any swill from a filter—the way he puts it. The truth is I find the fancy espresso too bitter, too sour, like sandpaper on the palate. But today I’m feeling especially foggy so the caffeine buzz seems worth the tongue torture. And those exotic beans do deliver the buzz—can’t complain about that.

While the machine hisses, I get my laptop from the little office Byron set up for me upstairs, the one I almost never use. Whenever I can, I sit outside or down in the living room in front of the giant bay window, basking in the natural light. That’s what I do now, pulling up my pajama-clad legs and balancing the sleek Mac on my knee. I check both my email accounts, the personal one and the one I use for writing-related contacts, even though no one ever emails me on either. My friends, the few who still keep in touch, prefer to text, and the last batch of queries I sent dates back months. Some agents still have my manuscript but let’s face it—it’s not going to happen.

The cliché should make me sad. I admit I cringed a little all these months ago when I first wrote my bio for emailing literary agents. Back then, I was full of optimism and hope, with Byron leaning over my shoulder to peek at the screen and then kissing my temple and working his way down to my neck. Here’s what it says, in clunky third person that’s apparently industry standard: Claire Westcott has a degree in English and creative writing from Ohio State University. Her work has appeared in the campus newspaper as well as several small literary publications. Presently, Claire writes full-time. She lives with her husband, a professor of literature at Mansfield Liberal Arts College in Ohio.

This is a fancy way of saying I’m one of those women. Those girls my evolved, progressive classmates at Ohio State sneered at: the boring white women who married a man who can support them while they write their irrelevant little stories. I know I’m not exactly in the zeitgeist, but Byron loved to tease me about it, calling himself the Leonard to my future Virginia Woolf, a man destined to fade in his famous writer wife’s shadow.

I didn’t remind him how that story ended. I wasn’t thinking about it at all in happier times. Now, as I open the second inbox, it dings, a sound that now fills me with dread rather than anticipation. Looks like one of my queries has netted a response, months later. I scan the form letter shallowly when the ding repeats itself. Two in one day? But the ding is from my personal inbox this time.

There’s no subject line, and the address is gibberish. I really shouldn’t click on it—it’s probably a virus—but my hands are faster than my mind today. As I rush to hit the Back button, the image downloads, and my hand freezes over the touch pad. It knocks the wind out of me. I stare at it, my eyes drinking in every pixel, but there is no explanation.

I’m looking at a close-up of the emerald in my ring. My replacement ring? The real thing? But it’s…impossible. Then I see the name of the sender, and it takes everything I have not to slam the laptop shut and hurl it away from me, as far as possible, like it’s a venomous spider nestled in my lap. COLLEEN.

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