Resort at Castaway Bay: Fit or Fatality
- Book info
- Author updates
In book 7 in the series, Syd is asked to play bodyguard for a popular fitness guru who is certain she's being stalked. Syd isn't sure that babysitting should be part of her job description until Colin fills her in on the deeply buried and never discussed roots to her past.
Release date: January 17, 2023
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Resort at Castaway Bay: Fit or Fatality
As a forensic psychologist for the FBI, I’ve been tasked with a wide variety of assignments. Most times, I’m happy to help out in any way I can, but when my boss, Colin Black, called and asked me to spend a few days with stalking victim Shayla Solomon, a professional athlete, clothing designer, and internet sensation, I will admit to being somewhat confused.
“I know who Shayla is, and I’ve seen her work. The woman is amazing, but I still don’t understand why the FBI is getting involved in a stalking case. Shouldn’t Shayla’s protection fall to her security team or the local PD?”
“Shayla doesn’t have a private security team, and normally something like this would fall under the jurisdiction of the local PD and not the FBI, but given Shayla’s unique circumstances, the FBI felt it was wise to provide a presence.”
“Unique circumstances?” I asked, assuming Colin was referring to Shayla’s wealth and popularity.
Colin hesitated briefly and then answered. I could tell by the tone of his voice that the situation was a lot more serious than it had initially seemed. “Shayla Solomon grew up as Shawna Sampson.”
“Shawna Sampson? Why does that name sound familiar?” I asked as I glanced out over the calm winter sea.
“It sounds familiar because Shawna Sampson is Stryker Sampson’s daughter.”
Suddenly everything fell into place. When Shawna was eight years old, her father killed ten individuals, including her mother, her elementary school teacher, and two detectives from the San Francisco Police Department. The detectives were shot in the line of duty while trying to apprehend the man who had kidnapped and killed seven women, including Shawna’s teacher, before eventually killing his wife and burying her body in their backyard.
“I remember this,” I said, searching my memory. “The first murder victim credited to Stryker Sampson was someone he worked with. It was rumored that the pair had been involved in a romantic relationship, although the romance aspect of the relationship was never proven as far as I know. After that first slaying, five additional women were murdered by the same man, in the same ritualistic manner.”
“That’s correct. The killer managed to avoid detection until Shawna’s teacher, Ivy Ellington, noticed bruising on Shawna’s arm. She’d tried to speak to the parents about it, but when they shut her down, she reported the family to child protective services. Ivy went missing the day after the woman from social services visited the Sampson home. A week later, Ivy’s body was found buried in a shallow grave less than a mile from where she’d likely been abducted and killed on the same day she’d disappeared.”
“If I remember correctly, at the time of Ivy’s death, while the police suspected Sampson of killing the teacher, they still didn’t realize that Sampson had killed the other women.”
Colin answered. “The first six women all died in a manner identical to the others in that group. They were kidnapped from public parking areas and then held captive for three days before having the blood drained from their bodies. Once their blood had been drained, their corpses were burned at the stake. The manner in which these six women died was ritualistic, which eventually linked them together. Shawna’s teacher’s death, however, seemed to have been born out of revenge or possibly even out of necessity in the killer’s mind.”
“So how did the police determine that the man who killed Shawna’s teacher was the serial killer everyone had been looking for?”
“After he was finally apprehended for killing Ivy, they searched his home and found jars in his basement with the blood of the six women he’d drained and burned. An exhaustive search of the property resulted in the discovery of the body of Shawna’s mother, who’d been stabbed to death and buried in the backyard.”
“So the teacher and the mother were simply obstacles to be removed, and for reasons probably known only to the killer, they weren’t candidates for the ritual he’d been carrying out with his first six victims.”
“That would seem to be the case.”
I shifted the phone from my right hand to my left. “This all took place twenty years ago, and I was just a kid at the time. I do remember that it was eventually determined that both Shawna and her mother knew about at least a few of the women that Sampson had kidnapped and murdered, but for reasons that were never really determined, Shawna’s mother decided to keep her husband’s secret and persuaded Shawna to keep it as well.”
“Of course, keeping this secret led to further heartbreak when Shawna’s teacher and then her mother became her father’s seventh and eighth victims,” Colin added.
“I remember the outcry at the time of the trial when all of this was made public.”
“People were outraged,” Colin confirmed. “In fact, there were those who thought Shawna should have been detained and held legally responsible for the deaths that came after the first murder she was made aware of.”
“She was just a child who most likely didn’t understand what was going on,” I argued. “She did what her parents told her to do. I don’t see how she can be held responsible for something that likely paralyzed her at the time.”
“Again, I agree with your assessment. It isn’t surprising to me that an eight-year-old would choose to deal with this level of trauma by doing what the adults in her life told her to do.”
I paused for a moment to think things through before I tried to narrow in on my memories. “I thought Shawna Sampson was moved from the foster care system in California to an undisclosed location after the trial.”
“She was. After her father’s trial, Shawna was transferred from the California foster care system to the Idaho foster care system. She was never able to settle and ended up bouncing from home to home until she was fifteen and met a woman named Jayleen Solomon, who took her under her wing and provided her with a home. Jayleen worked as a coach and physical education teacher at the high school Shawna attended. She had a background as a long-distance runner and had even been an alternate for the Olympic team at one point. After an injury sidelined her dreams of Olympic gold, she developed a less intense approach to training that included cross-training and eating a whole-food diet. Jayleen shared her love of fitness with Shawna, who used that passion and began building a fitness empire after she turned eighteen and set off on her own.”
“So she changed her name and built her empire here in San Francisco.”
“Yes. Shayla’s business is based in San Francisco, although, as you know, she travels all over the world.”
I couldn’t help but wonder why after everything that had happened, she would have wanted to move back to the city where such a horrific tragedy had occurred.
“So is it the FBI’s assumption that the stalker knows who Shayla really is and is motivated by the events surrounding the deaths of those ten people twenty years ago?”
“No one knows for certain if the stalker is linked to Shayla’s past at this point, although given the message embedded in the threats she’s received most recently, a link is assumed to exist.”
“And what exactly is it that you want me to do?”
“I want you to spend time with Shayla and assess the situation. If possible, we’d like to identify the source of these threats before someone dies.”
“Do you think the stalker wants to kill Shayla?” I asked.
“To be honest, we aren’t certain of the stalker’s objective at this point. Since Shayla is the object of the stalker’s obsession, it makes sense that it’s her death that he’s working his way up to, but based on the content of the messages, it almost seems as if the person sending the threats wants to make Shayla an unwilling accomplice to a new spree of murders.”
“The same way her father made her an accomplice to his killing spree by letting her in on what he was doing and then forbidding her to talk about it.”
“So this isn’t just a simple stalking case, is it?”
“We thought it was at first, but now we believe the threats Shayla has received to this point are just foreplay to what will come next.”
“Okay,” I said. “Perhaps you should walk me through the investigation to date.”
“I’ll do that once you get here.”
I felt a twinge of disappointment as I glanced at the sunny sky and the hard-packed white sand beach. I’d been planning to take a nice long run since I had the entire afternoon free, but I supposed it could wait. I assured Colin that I’d make the crossing on the three o’clock ferry, and even with traffic, I should be at his office by five.
With that, I hung up.
“Sorry, buddy,” I said to Captain Jack Hamilton, the midsized terrier mix who’d been waiting for me to complete my conversation so we could go for our run. “Maybe Rory will take you for a run when she gets home from work.” I referred to my youngest sister, Aurora Whitmore. Rory worked for the local veterinarian, Ryder West, and was usually home in time to walk Jack if needed.
I looked down at my bare legs and filthy Nikes. “I guess I should change my clothes. I’ll drop you by the house first. I think Emily is baking today.” I referred to my middle sister, Emily Rose. “Maybe she’ll give you a treat to soften the blow of our missed run.”
Turning back toward the house, I took several deep breaths of the salty air. It was mid-January, so technically, it was the middle of winter, but here on Shipwreck Island, most days were sunny and mild. Located off the coast of Central California, we did have a bit of rain from time to time, but most days of the year, you could count on the nearly perfect weather that made the resort where I lived an ideal weekend getaway.
As predicted, Jack and I were greeted with the scent of vanilla and cinnamon when we arrived at the back door of the large oceanfront home where my Aunt Charley had raised Emily, Rory, and me after our parents died. Emily had moved away from Shipwreck Island when she’d married the love of her life, David Rose, but after he’d been killed in an auto accident, she’d moved back to the resort with her two daughters, Esther and Estelle. I think living in the same large home with Charley, Charley’s father-in-law, Hank Hamilton, and my youngest sister, Rory, worked well for Emily and her daughters, but after moving back to Shipwreck Island following my own personal tragedy, I’d decided to take up residence in the cabana next door.
“I thought you said you were taking Jack out for a run,” Emily commented as I slipped off my sandy running shoes and crossed the hardwood floor in my stocking feet.
“I was, but Colin called, and I need to head to the city.”
“Didn’t you just get back from an assignment in the city?”
“I did, but apparently, the bad guys don’t care that I’ve really been looking forward to some time off. I’ll likely be gone for at least a few days. Maybe up to a week. I don’t have all the details, but I’ll call you once I have a better feel for the assignment.” I picked up a cookie and took a bite. “I was supposed to help Rory with the fundraiser she’s been working on for the local animal shelter. I’ll call and let her know that I have to head to San Francisco, but in case I’m not able to get ahold of her, I wanted you to know that I left the boxes with the donations I collected for the auction here at the house.”
“Are you talking about the boxes in the den?” Emily opened the oven and slipped a tray of snickerdoodles inside.
I nodded. “Rory gave me a list of twenty-five businesses to hit up, and I managed to speak to and collect auction items from every one of those businesses when I was in town yesterday. Those businesses who decided to provide services rather than products have filled out the gift cards Rory made up.”
“Wow, I’m impressed that you did that all in one day,” Emily said, leaning a hip against the counter. “Rory gave me a list of twenty-five businesses to solicit too, but so far, I’ve only gotten around to speaking to fifteen of the twenty-five.”
I shrugged. “You have until the end of the week, and you’ve been busy dealing with the remodel of the resort’s ocean-side cabanas. How’s that going, by the way?”
“It’s going well. I wasn’t sure at first if my idea to paint the cabinets and add a few modern elements to the natural décor we’ve used in the past would work, but so far, I’m thrilled with the way things have turned out. The new flooring should arrive in the next few days. I’m excited to see how that will look once it’s installed.”
“I think the bamboo flooring in the white sand color that you selected is going to look awesome with the pretty seafoam paint you selected for the walls. Not that I know a thing about decorating or selecting materials or color schemes, but I know what I like.” I turned to leave and then turned back. “By the way, I meant to tell you that I ran into Jonas when I was in town this morning.”
“Jonas? Jonas Jeffries?”
I nodded. Jonas had been Emily’s high school sweetheart. The pair had broken up after he’d left for college, and she’d decided to stay here on the island. Initially, they’d remained friends and had made an effort to stay in contact with one another, but over time, they’d both become busy with their own lives and stopped calling and texting the way they once had.
“He said to say hi,” I informed her. “He read your New Year’s blog and said it really helped him put some things in perspective. He asked for your cell number after mentioning that he wanted to catch up. I gave it to him since it seemed odd not to. I hope that’s okay. I guess he’ll be on the island for two weeks and hoped to have the opportunity to catch up with you.”
“I’d like to catch up with him,” Emily said, although the tone of her voice didn’t quite match the casual response she’d provided. “It’s been a long time since we’ve run into each other. Was Vivica with him?”
Vivica was Jonas’ wife.
“She wasn’t, and to be honest, I didn’t ask about her. If Jonas calls, you can ask him if Viv is along on the trip. Right now, I need to get going.” I grabbed two more cookies for the road and headed next door to my cabana to pack and change clothes. The ferry terminal was on the island’s east side, so I’d need to hurry if I was going to make the mid-afternoon trip to the mainland, as I’d assured Colin I would. Given the fact that it was a weekday in the off-season, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about the ferry being full as it often was during the holidays and busy summer season.
Once I reached my cabana, I texted my best friend, Logan Alexander, and explained that I’d have to cancel our dinner date the following evening. I really hated to do that since I’d barely seen him since Christmas, but duty called, so I hoped he’d understand that my assignment was important. I didn’t want to go into a lot of detail in the message, so I promised to call him when I had a chance. Once I’d sent the text, I began tossing my clothes into an overnight bag since I’d need to hurry if I was going to get to the terminal on time. Sometimes having to make the almost hour-long voyage every time I needed to go into the city was a pain, but I usually enjoyed the journey and the opportunity to relax. The drive from the ferry terminal to Collin’s office essentially took as long as the voyage across the sea. There were times when I considered giving up my job with the agency and finding a way to make a living without leaving the island. Several people had mentioned that opening a private practice made sense, but in the end, I loved the variety inherent in the work I did for both the FBI and Ezra, a reclusive billionaire who had assembled a highly skilled team he utilized to take a second look at cold cases.
Luckily, as predicted, when I arrived at the ferry, I found it wasn’t crowded, which would make for a pleasant trip from the island to the city. Once I’d parked on the auto deck, I headed up to the open-air passenger deck and looked out over the sea. It really was a gorgeous day. Warm and sunny with not even a hint of a breeze. If not for the fact that I was on my way to work, I’d be tempted to dig out my surfboard and take on a few waves.
“Is that Sydney Whitmore?” I heard someone say from behind me.
I turned and smiled at the woman who just happened to be Ryder West’s older sister. “Carrie, how are you?”
“I’m good. I’m on my way to visit Jessica.” Carrie referred to her daughter, who I remembered was likely in her early twenties. “I guess you heard that she got married.”
“Kelly mentioned that your daughter had gotten married.” I referred to one of my best friends, Kelly Green. “Tell her congratulations when you see her.”
She smiled. “I will. Jessica is so young, and the whole thing was really sudden. Initially, I wasn’t sure how I felt about her decision to quit school to marry this man she’d known for less than a year, but things seem to be going well, and she seems to be really happy.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Kelly said that Jessica and her new husband moved to San Francisco.”
She nodded. “They did. Jacob’s an attorney, and shortly after Jacob and Jess became engaged, he was offered a job in a newly formed firm in San Francisco. While I hadn’t been thrilled about the engagement at first, I was happy to find out that Jess was coming home. At one point, she’d announced that she planned to move to New York after she graduated from college. I’m just glad that she met someone who wanted to start a life on this side of the country.”
“I guess it’s hard when children move away.” Not that I’d ever be likely to experience such a thing since I had zero interest in having children at this point in my life. “So what sort of law does Jacob practice?”
She wrinkled her nose just a bit as if trying to formulate an answer to the question. “The firm Jacob works for specializes in something called holistic law. I’m not sure I fully understand it, but rather than just hunting down criminals and putting them in jail, Jacob’s firm considers the entire situation. They look at the crime, of course, and the person who committed the crime, but they’re also interested in determining why the crime was committed.” She paused and then continued. “For example, if someone robbed a convenience store, Jacob would not only be interested in the fact that a crime had been committed, but he’d want to know why the crime had been committed. It seems to be important to him to understand whether the person who committed the crime was simply down on his luck and trying to feed his family or if he was out for a thrill. There’s more to it than that, and I’m probably explaining it wrong, but Jacob seems to be really into it.”
“I’ve heard of holistic law,” I said. “And there is a lot more to it than just looking for the why. Holistic lawyers look at the crime, the criminal, the impact the crime had on the victim, as well as the impact on society as a whole. It’s not a field I know a lot about, but I am interested to see how the concept impacts the traditional way we’ve done things in the past. I haven’t had a lot of experience with these sorts of cases, but I have heard of a few where a solution was worked out that seemed to benefit everyone.”
“Since you work in law enforcement, you should chat with Jacob sometime. I can forward you his contact information.”
“I’d like that.” I turned slightly so that the wind was at my back. “So, is Jessica working now that she’s married and settled?”
Carrie nodded. “She’s currently working as a volunteer for a child advocacy group.”
“That’s wonderful. Child advocates do such important work.”
“They really do.”
Carrie launched into a story about one of the cases Jessica was working on. She then asked me about some of my cases, and we continued to chat until the ferry approached the terminal. Once the ferry docked, I pulled into traffic and headed toward Colin’s office.
“So what do you know?” I asked after taking a seat across the desk from Colin. “Other than what you’ve already shared on the phone, that is.”
He answered. “As I previously mentioned, the purpose of this meeting is to discuss the threats Shayla has been receiving. The content of the threats seems to suggest the messages are in some way connected to events relating to her father.” Colin shoved a file across the desk. “Initially, the threats came as comments posted to her videos. The comments were subtle enough not to be taken seriously by anyone, including Shayla, but lately, the threats have changed, and references have been made to both birth by fire and baptism by fire. Baptism by Fire: The Birth and Death of a Serial Killer is the title of a book written by Sampson while he’s been in prison. It was recently published, and the threats began soon after the book hit the shelves.”
“The Birth and Death of a Serial Killer? Isn’t the man still alive?”
“He is. I think the part about the birth and death is symbolic.”
I adjusted my position in my chair. I didn’t like the direction this conversation was heading. “So, based on the most recent messages directed toward Shayla, is it your belief that the individual who has been sending these threats has just been warming up to his or her own killing spree?”
“Yes. At this point, we believe that to be true.”
“So you want me to move into Shayla’s home, hang out with her, and maybe dig around in her life a bit in an effort to try to identify the person behind the threats before the threats turn into something deadly.”
“Does anyone else live in the house?”
Colin nodded. “In addition to Shayla, Ali Carter, her publicist, hairstylist, and all-around assistant, lives in the mansion, as does her producer and business manager, Evan Hitchcock, and her cameraman, Zeke Zion.”
“It seems a little odd to have your staff live in your home,” I said.
“I think the group is comprised of close friends, and I suppose it makes sense to live together rather than supporting several residences when the team travels all over the world to film the hiking, running, and biking segments. Shayla, Ali, Evan, and Zeke were out of the country for twenty-seven of the fifty-two weeks last year.”
I supposed that sharing a home did make sense when you looked at it that way.
“I’ve seen some of Shayla’s stuff,” I said. “She did a hiking series in Slovenia last year that was totally awesome, and the running series filmed in Bora Bora had me wanting to make the trip myself. Of course, I think my favorite was the biking series through Italy. Talk about gorgeous. And not only were there daily workouts to follow, but Shayla also filmed segments about the local food and wine. In addition, she provided anecdotes about the local history of the areas she visited, and she filmed local chefs preparing their signature cuisine for her YouTube channel. It really was very well done.”
“Shayla has a knack for pulling in her audience,” Colin agreed. “She’s not only gorgeous, but she’s personable and seems to care about the sort of things the average person would care about, which makes her relatable.”
“Do you have an address?” I asked.
Colin assured me that he’d already texted it to me.
“Pacific Heights,” I said after checking my text. “Fancy. I assume the estate is gated, and I’ll need a key code to get in.”
“There’s an intercom at the gate. Shayla is expecting you, so I’m sure there will be someone to let you in. Once you’ve had a chance to get settled, call me. We’ll need to do an assessment of the property so we can evaluate the effectiveness of the security measures already in place.”
I quirked a brow. “Are you sure there isn’t something more you aren’t telling me?”
“I’ve told you what I can,” Colin said. “I’ll listen for your call in a few hours.”
I considered the idea of pushing harder for whatever it was Colin wasn’t saying, but I decided to head downtown to pick up the workout attire I’d need instead.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...