Resort at Castaway Bay: Truth or Dare
In book 1 in the series a group of ten high school students go camping but only eight return. The statements those who've made their way back have told to Sheriff Sam Stone are so different as to be completely useless. Syd has experience getting the truth out of people so she agrees to help Sam weed though the witness statements to find the truth both are certain exists beneath the lies. Meanwhile Syd's middle sister Emily has started a new lifestyle blog, her youngest sister Rory is fostering kittens, and Syd renews her relationship with Kelly Green, an FBI analyst she first met while working for the FBI on the East Coast.
Bonus Material: Text and photos for Emily by the Sea and Emily's Kitchen contributed by Christy Turner
Release date: June 1, 2021
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 142
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Resort at Castaway Bay: Truth or Dare
You can’t outrun your demons. Aunt Charley’s voice echoed through my mind as I leaned forward slightly and increased my pace in an attempt to do just that. I supposed I knew she was right somewhere in the back of my mind, although after a particularly long run, the pain in my body occupied my mind, allowing my soul to rest.
But the relief never lasted. Guilt, I’d learned, was the sort of emotion that bore down into the darkest corners of your mind, setting up a foothold from which to drive you crazy with thoughts, which, when examined in the cold light of day, were both destructive and pointless.
My heart raced as I pushed my legs to the limit, running harder and faster as the inky black night lightened to a predawn gray. Before the incident that would forever change my life, I’d been happy and optimistic. I was a glass-half-full person in a glass-half-empty world. I’d been the sort who expected the best in people, and in return, had tried my hardest to give others the best of myself. And then Conrad Baker came into my life.
As the sky lightened and the last of the stars faded from view, I paused, gasping deeply, as my heart rate slowed and my lungs filled with clean sea air. Turning toward the east, I willed my mind to focus on the sky as it turned from gray, to red, to pink, and eventually to blue.
“It’s going to be a beautiful day,” I said to Captain Jack, the terrier mix who lived at the resort with Aunt Charley, her father-in-law, Hank, my sisters, Emily and Rory, and Emily’s daughters, Estelle and Esther. “I especially love the way the pinks and grays mix as the sun makes its way toward the horizon.”
Jack tilted his head, making it appear as if he really was trying to understand. I reached down to pet him under the chin and then turned and began walking down the beach toward the westernmost tip of the peninsula. I’d always loved the resort early in the morning when the guests were still asleep, and it was just me with the birds that flocked to the shore in search of their breakfast. Sometimes, during my early morning runs, I’d be fortunate enough to see dolphins off the point, but it looked as if they were sleeping in today.
Once I passed the point, I set off again, slowing my pace just a bit as I neared the old pier that jutted out into the deep sapphire water that surrounded the island. This particular pier was unique in its position on the very southern end of Shipwreck Island. Most days, you could stand on the same pier to witness both the sunrise from the east and the sunset to the west. Deciding to take a break and enjoy the early morning surfers spread out over the breaking waves, I stepped onto splintered planks. The waves were somewhat lazy today, which wouldn’t provide much of a challenge for experienced surfers, but even on days such as this, the sun still shone, and the water still beckoned.
When I reached the end of the pier, I turned and looked back at the resort where I’d spent a good part of my childhood. My parents died in an automobile accident when I was nine, so I, along with my sisters, Emily and Rory, had moved to the resort at the southernmost tip of Shipwreck Island. Named for Jack Hamilton, the man who built the resort in nineteen thirty-five, it was an amazing place with pools, restaurants, lodges, and cabanas that stretched out like a long arm hugging the bay on the east and then jutting out toward the west.
As a child I’d found solace on the sandy shores of Castaway Bay so I supposed it wasn’t surprising that I’d return when I found myself yearning for solace once again.
Deciding it was best to give Jack a few minutes to rest before we continued, I took out my cell phone and checked my messages.
“This call is for Sydney Whitmore. My name is Yvonne Colton, and I’m a psychologist with the FBI. I need you to call me to set up the first of what I assume will be a series of sessions in the aftermath of your incident with Conrad Baker.” The woman then rattled off a phone number as well as an email address. I had no intention of allowing a brand new psychologist right out of grad school anywhere near the very up close and terrifying experience I’d had with this particular serial killer. I hit next and listened to the second of the three messages I had waiting for me.
“Hi, Syd, it’s Colin.” Colin Black was my boss in San Francisco, where I worked as a forensic psychologist. “I know you’re taking vacation time, and I know I promised not to bother you during your three weeks on the island, but I had a call from Sheriff Sam Stone this morning. He’s dealing with a couple missing teens and is looking for help, and I figured that since you’re already there…” He let the sentence trail off. “Anyway, call me.”
I hit next, figuring I could call him after I got back to the house.
“Hey, Syd, it’s Kelly.” I smiled. Kelly Green was a friend who’d worked for the FBI when I was just starting out. She’d quit the FBI and moved to Shipwreck Island, so it had been a while since I’d spoken to her. “Ryder told me that Rory mentioned to him that you were on the island.” Ryder West was both the mayor of Shipwreck Island and its only veterinarian. My youngest sister, Aurora, Rory for short, worked for him as a veterinary technician. “I heard about what happened.” She paused before continuing. “At least I heard part of it. I doubt I have all the facts. Anyway, I wanted to reach out in the event you wanted to get together. Maybe we could have lunch or go for a run.” Kelly was a runner like me, and we’d run together when we both lived on the East Coast during our early years with the FBI. At the time, I was a profiler, and she was a strategist. “If you want to talk, I’d love to listen. If you want to run in silence, I’m up for that as well. Really, whatever you need. Call me.”
I slipped my phone back into my pocket, intending to ignore the first phone message. I’d been careless, and I’d allowed a serial killer to get the upper hand, which had resulted in the death of a close friend and a near-death experience for me. You could bet I wouldn’t do that again, and I certainly didn’t need a rookie psychologist to help me deal with my trauma. I was an experienced agent, and I knew that my trauma was something I was just going to have to work through.
As for the call for help from Colin, I was on vacation, and he had agreed to give me some space, but I supposed that helping to find a couple missing kids was more important than my need for time off. I’d call him when I got back to the house.
As for Kelly’s call, I really did want to get together with her. Kelly and I hadn’t been super close when we’d worked together, but we had been friends and colleagues for many years, and I realized that I really did want to get reacquainted.
Once I’d deemed Jack to be rested, I headed back down the beach. I figured the family would be up by now, and Aunt Charley did appreciate it when the whole family showed up for breakfast. Charley lived with my sisters and nieces in the resort’s main house, which was located on the ocean side of the peninsula. It was a gated property that provided some level of privacy despite the dozens of guests who were in residence at any point in time.
“Morning, everyone,” I said after I stepped from the patio into the large, farm-style kitchen through the back door.
“Wipe your feet,” Charley, a tall thin woman with salt and pepper hair, called as she slipped something out of the oven that smelled a lot like her famous sausage casserole.
“Something smells good,” I said as I gave Jack a fresh bowl of water.
“Sausage casserole. It’ll be ready in ten minutes.”
“I’m heading up to the shower now,” I said, turning and heading toward the stairs. When we’d lived here as children, my sisters and I each had our own bedroom suite with a private bathroom on the second floor. Even after I’d moved out, my room had always been my room until Emily’s husband had been killed in an auto accident a year ago, and she’d moved back in with Aunt Charley. Now, my nieces, Estelle and Esther, occupied the room that had been mine. When I’d decided to come home in the hope of getting my head on straight, Charley had made up the bed in one of the guest rooms for what we both assumed would be a temporary stay.
As I passed Emily’s room, I poked my head in through the open door. She was twisting her long dark hair around a finger, and it appeared she was scowling at her computer.
“Hey, Em,” I greeted, taking a step into the room. “Whatcha doin’?”
She looked up. “Trying to figure out my life.”
I walked further into the room, taking a position just behind where she was sitting. “Sounds serious. Anything specific on your mind?”
She leaned back in her chair, slightly turning so we were facing each other. Her deep blue eyes were sad, and her expression guarded. It seemed as if she was working up the courage to voice whatever it was she had on her mind. “It’s been a year since David died.”
I pulled up a chair and sat down next to her. “I guess the anniversary of the accident is coming up. I’m so sorry.”
She smiled a weak little smile. “Me too. But while I wouldn’t wish the horror of the past year on anyone, my current angst really isn’t due to losing David. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss him every day, but I really do think that the girls and I have finally found a way to be in this world without him.” A tear appeared in the corner of her eye, but like a good soldier, it hung there and didn’t trickle down her face. “The thing is that while I feel like I’ve worked through the worst of my grief, I also feel stuck.”
“Maybe stuck isn’t right. Perhaps stagnant is a better word.” She paused briefly and then continued. “This past year has been a nightmare, but like I said, I think the girls and I have found a way to move on.” She laced her fingers together. “Estelle is excited to start second grade in a couple months, and Esther is thrilled to be old enough for kindergarten. And I’m excited that they are excited to find what the school year will bring, but as I was hemming their back-to-school dresses yesterday, it occurred to me that while they have something to look forward to, my life has stalled.”
“Stalled?” I asked, really wanting to understand. “Stalled how?”
She blew out a slow breath. “I’m not really sure. I guess that’s part of the problem. Generally speaking, I’m happy with my life. I love helping Aunt Charley out at the resort. I love planning events and getting to know the guests, and you know how much I adore decorating for the holidays. It’s been fun planning menus for the various reunions and receptions we’re becoming famous for, and when the resort is booked during the summer, I do tend to be kept hopping. But sometimes I feel like everything I do is really for Aunt Charley or the family, but maybe now that the girls are going to be in school, it’s time to carve out a tiny piece of my life that is only for me.”
“You have your volunteer work,” I reminded her.
“Which is something I do for the community. I feel like I need to find something that will help me explore my own interests. I’m just not sure what that might be.”
Okay, I supposed I understood that. Emily was the member of the family who seemed to hold everything together. She took care of her daughters, helped run the resort, volunteered at church and in the community, and was always around for Rory and me when we had our own crisis and needed to talk. “You’re good at so many things,” I pointed out. “I feel like you have a lot of options.”
“Yeah.” She sighed. “I do have a lot of interests, and I suppose honing in on one of them might be key. I like to write, and I like to cook, so initially, I thought about maybe writing a cookbook, but I’m not sure that feels quite right. I also thought about selling my crafts at the flea market on the weekends, but I’m not sure I’d enjoy the selling part of that pastime.” She paused thoughtfully and then continued. “I thumbed through the help wanted section of the newspaper, looking for a part-time job that might appeal to me, but then I realized that I didn’t want to be tied down to specific hours. Being flexible is important to me, and it’s important to the girls as well. I also need to manage expectations in terms of a time commitment since I do have other obligations.”
I paused to think about what Emily had told me. She really did have many talents, and I was sure that there were others who’d benefit from what she had to share. “What about a blog?”
“You’re really good at a lot of things,” I pointed out. “You’re an excellent cook, and the crafts and decorations you have scattered all around the house and the resort are unique and highly sought after by almost everyone who stays with us. But you also like to garden and sew. And you love to entertain. You’re very creative when it comes to repurposing discarded items and finding the perfect accent to bring a room together. Maybe you should think about doing a lifestyle blog that touches on all these things. A blog will give you the chance to focus on different things, and it’s the sort of thing you can fit in whenever you have extra time.”
“A blog?” She narrowed her gaze just a bit. I could see she was considering my suggestion. “I need to process this a bit, but, conceptually, I think the idea has possibility. I mentioned before that I’d considered a cookbook, but if I focus on a broader subject matter, I can write about whatever I’m working on at the moment.” She tapped her index finger on the table she’d been working at, as she seemed to be considering things. “Maybe I’ll just start with an introduction of sorts and then take it from there. Most of my best ideas are spontaneous, so perhaps it would be best if I kept the door open to go wherever my muse takes me.”
“I think that’s a good idea, and if you do decide to do a blog, I think it’s going to be awesome. You’re definitely the queen of all things domestic and creative in our family. I know there are women out there, and maybe even a few men, who will love to hear what you have to share.”
She leaned over and hugged me. “Thanks, Syd.”
“Anytime, little sis.” I glanced toward the stairs. “I need to head upstairs and jump in the shower. Aunt Charley almost has breakfast ready.”
“I should grab the girls and head down as well. Will you be home for dinner?”
“I should be. I’ll call you if I’m not going to make it.”
“I’m making fajitas.”
I did love Emily’s fajitas. “I’ll be here one way or the other.” I took a few steps toward the stairs. “Oh, I ran into Rita in the lobby when I passed through on my way out for my run. She wanted me to remind you that the Millers are arriving today.”
The Miller family had been coming to the resort since Emily, Rory, and I were kids. They had three sons, all grown and married by this point, but the Miller boys and the Whitmore girls had had a lot of fun together during those long-ago childhood summers.
“I’m looking forward to seeing them.” I lowered my voice. “It’s awesome that they were able to come for Charley’s birthday.”
“That did work out well,” Emily agreed. “Especially since it’s her sixtieth.”
“Do you think she knows that you’re planning a party?”
Emily shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’ve put all sorts of diversions in place. Martha Miller knows what we’re doing, and she’s agreed to help me with the planning.”
“When you suggested a surprise party, I wasn’t sure, but I actually think you might pull this off.”
“Oh, I’ll pull it off.” She grinned.
Knowing Emily, she’d do just that. Heading down the hallway to my room, I grabbed some clean clothes and then headed to the guest bathroom across from the two guest bedrooms. Stripping off my sweat-drenched clothes, I stepped into the glass enclosure. Allowing the cool spray to wash over my head, I paused to consider how I’d gotten here.
Emily, Rory, and I were born in San Francisco to John and Gwen Whitmore. My mom had planned to have three children all along, but she didn’t want them too close together, so I’d been eight when Rory was born. Our parents had been killed in an auto accident when I was nine, Emily was five, and Rory was one. Charley was Mom’s sister and had offered to take us in. The three of us had lived here at the resort with Charley and Uncle Bobby during our formative years. When I graduated from high school, I went to college at Berkeley and then did post-graduate work in psychology at Stanford. During my time at Stanford, I applied for and was granted an internship at the California State Prison in Vacaville. The internship only lasted a few months over the summer, but it was enough to change the course of my career, causing me to leave a career as a therapist behind and seek a career in the criminal justice system.
Apparently, I was good at what I did, and after graduation, I headed to Quantico for training as a profiler. I lived and worked on the East Coast for quite a few years, but eventually decided I wanted to be closer to home and family, so I took a job with the FBI based in San Francisco. Things had gone as planned, and I loved my job, loved my friends, loved my life, and was generally very happy. Then, four months ago, I was assigned to a case involving a serial killer named Conrad Baker, and from that point forward, things began to go downhill.
I knew it was my fault that Faith was dead. Everyone had tried to tell me it wasn’t, but I knew better. After my team and I had been successful in identifying the man we referred to as the Gemini Killer, we’d been determined to locate and arrest the guy. I’d stumbled onto a lead that I wasn’t really sure would pan out but had a good feeling about, so Faith and I set off to a house north of the Golden Gate Bridge to check things out. When we arrived, I’d suggested we split up and look around rather than waiting for backup, even though I knew doing so went against protocol. I’d become overconfident and even somewhat cocky after being the one who realized that the tattoo on each victim’s shoulder was the symbol for the astrological sign of Gemini and not a Roman numeral two, as investigators had assumed for years. That realization led to the discovery that all the victims were twins, which led to a much better profile than the profile the team had been working from, which led to the name and identity of our elusive killer.
Once I had the man in my sights, I’d grown impatient, and that impatience had caused me to be careless, leading to the mistake that resulted in Faith’s death and my being taken hostage. A good friend and excellent agent had died that day, and Conrad Baker had almost gotten away. I knew it shouldn’t have played out that way. I’d missed the hints that should have alerted me to the fact that the man I helped profile had become a very real threat and that I should never have underestimated his ability to gain the upper hand.
After rinsing the shampoo from my hair, I applied conditioner and began to soap my legs. I had to admit that my pasty white legs had turned a nice golden brown in the past week. Not that I really cared since I wasn’t the sort who gave much thought to how I looked.
After rinsing off, I pulled one of the thick bath sheets off the rack and wrapped it around my body. Like all the women in my family, I was petite, and my figure tended to run on the thin side. Emily was the only Whitmore sister to develop much of a figure, which had caused a bit of jealousy on my part when we were younger. Her eyes were blue but darker than the aqua blue that Rory and I shared. Unlike me, who was headed for a big life and a big career, Emily seemed determined to find her prince and have a family. And she’d done just that. She’d married a really nice guy named David Rose, who shared her dream of a traditional family where the wife cooked and entertained and stayed home with the children. It wouldn’t have been my cup of tea, but Emily had been happy until David died and her world had come crashing down around her.
I dried my skin and slipped on white shorts and a yellow top while I thought about my baby sister, Aurora. No one ever called her that since she preferred Rory, and it seemed everyone else did as well. When I’d been a teenager living on the island, I couldn’t wait to head off to college and spread my wings, but Rory had seemed quite content to stay. After Rory graduated from high school, she worked in several dead-end jobs until she eventually went to work with Ryder West, who encouraged her to get the training she’d need to work as a veterinary technician. Rory seemed to love her job, and from what I’d heard, Ryder loved having her as his veterinary technician as well.
Once I wiped down the bathroom, I dumped my towels and soiled clothes in the hamper and headed downstairs.
“How was your run?” Rory asked after I’d returned to the kitchen where the entire family had gathered.
“It was good.” I tugged on her long brown ponytail the way I had for most of our lives. “Jack and I hoped to see dolphins, but I guess we missed them. It was a gorgeous sunrise.”
“One of the best we’ve had for a while,” Charley agreed as she tossed her long braid over her shoulder. While Charley wasn’t a runner, she did seem to enjoy getting up early to putter around in her garden.
“I heard there was a shark sighting off the point this past weekend,” Hank Hamilton, Charley’s father-in-law and the current owner of the resort, informed me. Hank was a young eighty-two but too old to do much of the heavy lifting, so it was Charley who ran things with Emily’s help since she’d moved home.
“I heard that as well,” I said, grabbing a glass of orange juice and sliding onto a chair. “I noticed a few signs had been posted, but the surfers were out as always this morning.”
“Personally, I’ll stick to the pool,” Emily shared. She looked across the table at her daughters. “I want the two of you to stick to the pool as well, even when you have an adult with you.”
“If I saw a shark, I’d punch him in the nose,” seven-year-old Estelle informed the group. With her black hair and blue eyes, she was going to be as beautiful as her mother.
“I’d kick him in his fin with my swimfin,” Esther, a brown-haired and brown-eyed cutie, added, not wanting to be outdone.
“What are your plans today?” Charley asked after Emily shooed the girls upstairs to get dressed once they’d finished eating.
“Kelly Green called and left a message.” I glanced at my youngest sister. “Rory mentioned to Ryder that I was on the island, and she suggested lunch. I thought I’d call her back after breakfast. If she’s not busy, I might make plans with her today.” I decided not to mention the call from Colin. My family had been terrified to learn that I’d almost died at the hands of a serial killer, and I knew it gave them comfort to believe I was on vacation for the next three weeks, and they need not worry about me. I glanced at Emily. “Em told me that she’s making fajitas for dinner, so I’ll definitely be home in time to eat.”
“I’d forgotten that you knew Kelly from Quantico,” Charley said. “Talk about a small world.”
“Kelly and I were surprised to discover that we both had ties to Shipwreck Island when we met. She’s eight years older than me, and she was a summer-only resident who spent those summers in a house on the north shore, so we didn’t know each other during our youth.” I took a sip of my coffee. “Still, it was fun to catch up back then, and I’m looking forward to catching up with her again.”
Once breakfast was over, I helped clear the dishes and then headed out to the deck to return Colin’s call. There was no shortage of fabulous places within the resort to sit and while away an hour, but one of my favorites was the deck of the main house. The main house had been built on the ocean side of the peninsula, while the lodge and reception area hugged the bay. The view from the lodge was nice, but I preferred the larger waves that crashed onto the shore on the ocean side.
“Hey, Colin, it’s Syd. What’s this about missing kids?”
“I received a call from Sheriff Sam Stone early this morning. Apparently, ten teenagers went camping, and only eight returned. Sheriff Stone has interviewed the eight teens who made it down the mountain in the hope of figuring out what went on up there, but so far, all he’s managed to come away with are conflicting stories. He called the FBI looking for help with the case, and it occurred to me that you’re already there and uniquely qualified to help him dig the truth out of all the lies.”
Part of me wanted to insist on him honoring my vacation time, but these were kids we were talking about. “Okay. I’ll call him. Do you have a number?”
Colin rattled off Sam’s digits, and I promised to call the man right away. Once I’d hung up with Colin, I punched in Sam’s number.
“Sheriff Stone, my name is Sydney Whitmore,” I jumped right in. “I was asked by Colin Black from the San Francisco office of the FBI to contact you about some missing kids.”
“Yes. Thanks so much for contacting me. I have two missing teens and eight witnesses who appear to be lying or leaving out parts of their story. Given the nature of the situation, I called Colin in the hope of gaining help from the FBI.”
“Do you believe the missing teens have been kidnapped?” Kidnapped minors fell within our jurisdiction, whereas runaway teens would not.
“I’m not sure. I think it’s possible. My deputy and I are alone on this side of the island, and given the serious nature of the incident, I’d love a second opinion.”
I appreciated a cop who knew he needed help and asked for it. Not everyone we worked with welcomed our presence in their case. “I happen to be on the island and would be happy to meet with you about the situation. When would be a good time?”
“I’m up on the mountain with my deputy and a civilian search party. If we don’t find the kids this morning, I plan to head back and re-interview the eight teens who returned from the weekend getaway. I can meet you in my office around one-thirty.”
“One-thirty works for me. If your search this morning is fruitful, call me; if not, I’ll see you then.”
With that, I hung up and called Kelly. “Kelly, it’s Syd.”
“Syd! I’m so glad you returned my call. I was surprised to hear that you were here on the island. I’d love to take you to lunch.”
“I’d love that as well. I have an appointment in Hidden Harbor at one-thirty, but perhaps we can meet at noon.”
“Noon sounds perfect. How about the Boho Bar and Grill? The sandpit is open for the summer, and there’s usually good shade at that time of the day.”
“I do love their crab sandwiches. And the view from the grill is one of the best on the island.”
“Great. I’ll meet you there.” She hesitated. “We can talk. Or not. It’s totally up to you.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that. I’ll see you at noon.”
After I hung up, I looked out toward the rolling waves as they made their way toward the sandy beach. I remember sitting on this same deck when I was a little girl, wondering if I’d ever be happy again. Rory was just a baby when Mom and Dad died. She knew they were gone, but she didn’t really understand what was going on or that they were gone forever. Emily was old enough to feel the pain associated with their loss, but she was young enough to be easily distracted from her pain. But as a nine-year-old, I was old enough to conceptualize what was going on. I was old enough to experience the terror of an uncertain future and to worry that life as I’d once known it was gone forever.
Jack jumped up onto the lounger I was sitting on. I adjusted my position to allow him to settle in next to me. Jack was actually Hank’s dog, but he was the friendly sort and quickly became the resort’s mascot once Hank brought him to live here. I wasn’t sure how old he was. It seemed like he’d been around for a long time, yet he was still playful and energetic.
I leaned back in my chair and listened to the waves. I let the steady rhythm wash over me as I tried not to think about Faith or the monster who’d killed her. I knew that the grief that came with the murder of a loved one would take time to process, but it wasn’t the grief that threatened my sanity; it was the guilt I knew I could never escape.
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