San Francisco Bay Area reporter Gabriella Giovanni has finally got it all together: a devoted and loving boyfriend, Detective Sean Donovan; a beautiful little girl with him; and her dream job as the cops' reporter for the Bay Herald. But her success has been hard-won and has left her with debilitating paranoia. When a string of young co-eds starts to show up dead with suspicious Biblical verses left on their bodies—the same verses that the man she suspects kidnapped and murdered her sister twenty years ago had sent to her—she begins to question if the killer is trying to send her a message.
It is not until evil strikes Gabriella's own family that her worst fears are confirmed. As the clock begins to tick, every passing hour means the difference between life and death to those Gabriella loves...
The setting sun turns my family into dark silhouettes as I step onto the warm sand. The beach is nearly deserted, except for a lone figure walking north of us along the sand where the waves are crashing in from the Pacific Ocean.
A cool breeze makes me glad I trekked to the car to retrieve my daughter’s little lavender parka. We promised her we’d stay until the sun set.
Donovan’s back is turned, phone held to his ear. He’s pacing in his bare feet, his jeans rolled up, a scowl on his face from what he’s hearing. A murder. Every once in a while he glances back at Grace kneeling in the sand playing.
Grace has dug deep channels with a small red shovel, chatting to herself, weaving tales about mermaids and sea creatures and fairies. She bounces a plastic dinosaur along the sand, a prize won in kindergarten for reading two books in one week.
Everything I’ve ever wanted is on that beach—Donovan and our daughter, Grace. My own little family. My life.
I’m still far away, closer to the parking lot, when I see the figure walking along the shore is growing closer. It’s a man. His shadow, with its elongated arms and legs, stretches across the beach until it seems to take on a life of its own. Something about his movements seems angry and frenetic—instead of the wandering gait of a casual sunset stroll—and sets off small alarms in my head. I walk faster, the sand seeming to reach up and grab at my ankles, slowing my progress.
Donovan’s pacing takes him in the opposite direction, away from Grace. He’s not paying attention to anything besides his phone call. The man is now closer to Grace, who seems alone on the beach, although Donovan is twenty feet away. Donovan squints up into the pink and orange clouds, raking a hand through his perpetually spiky hair.
The man’s path takes him straight toward Grace. My heart races. I can’t tell for sure, but it seems like he’s watching her. He walks at a determined clip, covering ground much faster than me in my flat, strappy sandals. I lean over in mid-stride and rip a sandal from one foot without stopping. Then I scoop up the other in one fluid motion.
Still, each step feels like my bare feet are being sucked into quicksand. I hurry, but feel like I’m moving in slow motion.
“Grace.” I shout, but my words are carried away on the wind. I’m breathless from fighting the sand tugging at my feet. The breeze, which has grown stronger in the past few minutes, whips my hair. Grace’s brown ringlets bob as she hops her plastic dinosaur around, not noticing anything else.
Donovan isn’t far from Grace, but now the man is closer.
At the same moment Donovan turns and sees the look on my face, the man reaches Grace. His long shadow falls over her small figure. She looks up with a smile and starts chatting. He leans down. His hand reaches toward her, his fingers millimeters from her arm. A wave of dread ripples through me. My feet feel cemented into the sand. My mind screams, but no words come out of my open mouth. Inside, I’m flailing and thrashing to get to Grace, but on the outside, I’m struck immobile.
The man reaches down and grasps Grace’s arm, turning her toward him, and the spell is broken. I’m on wet sand running, the scream caught in my throat coming out as a birdlike garble. I scoop Grace up onto one hip and take a step back. I gasp for air, but I can’t breathe. My heart is going to explode in my chest.
Kristi Belcamino is a writer, photographer, and artist. In her former life as a newspaper crime reporter in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, watched autopsies, and interviewed serial killers. She is now a journalist based in Minneapolis and the Gabriella Giovanni mysteries are her first books.