Discover ‚Üí Psychological Thriller

The Seven Bridges Killer

By

Worth reading ūüėé

A good story with a great twist ending and an interesting main character, but the novel needs some editing and revisions.

Synopsis

"This is a book that will stay with you long after the final word. Ciana Stone writes about a victim in a way that makes you wonder if she understands this level of fear. And the monster who haunts the lives of the characters is shockingly real. A brilliant tale you won't want to put down, but definitely not for the faint of heard." - Candid Book Reviews

She was seven when the monster came and when he left that night, he took with him Isabelle's happiness, sense of security and belief in a God who would protect little children. He left her with a promise, one that she could never forget and one that filled her with terror.

"We're not done, you and I. You're my special girl, Isabelle. I'll be back for you."

For twenty-five years, she's feared that promise and his whispers in her mind. She's run from it, tried to deny it, looked for ways to forget or overcome it, and now she's ready to admit that there's only one way to reclaim her life.

Destroy the monster. Or die trying.

*** Reader Advisory. This book contains scenes of physical torture and murder.

First things first, I love the cover. Simple, but effective. Black and white with just a hint of blood red. You know right away exactly what kind of book this is.


The story is, for the most part, well done. It reminds me of the Dean Koontz books I read years ago, and if you’re a fan of that style, you will most likely enjoy this. But it does have some issues. There is an editor credited, however, I feel the novel suffers from a lack of professional editing.


For starters, there is a prologue, titled ‚ÄúPresent 2020‚ÄĚ. And then the first chapter is ‚ÄúJanuary 3, 2020‚ÄĚ. This means that the prologue here is happening after the first chapter. I found this a bit odd and confusing, especially as the rest of the book frequently jumps around in time between present day and flashbacks. A prologue‚Äôs purpose is to offer some bit of crucial information or point of view that chapter one cannot offer. It should catch the reader‚Äôs attention in a way that is different from the rest of the book. If your prologue doesn‚Äôt do that, get rid of it. Nine times out of ten, that is the case, as it is here. This prologue is not different from the rest of the chapters, so it should just be another chapter.


Also, there are a great deal of flashbacks in the book that I think could have been dealt with better. First of all, they are italicized, and should not be. We should know we are in a flashback by the way it’s written, starting with a few lines of past present tense and then slipping into simple past tense. Italics are not needed, and when used in large chunks of text like they are here, can be hard to read. Flashbacks should also be brief (these are very long), and the backstory should be shown, not told. We should never lose sight that this is a memory. I had trouble with that in Seven Bridges.


There are times, too, where the author is telling us who sat where in the car. The reader doesn’t need to know this. Every sentence should either move the plot forward or reveal something about a character. Telling us who sat where, or that she took off her shoes, does not do either of those things.


Also, a novel should have each paragraph indented, and there should be no space between paragraphs, so there’s a formatting issue here. But these are all things I think an editor should catch.


As I said before, the story itself is good. It‚Äôs well thought out, and there is a definite surprise twist near the end. One thing I really liked about this book was the changes in point of view. Two or three sections are written from the point of view of the killer, and I would have liked to have seen more of this. And while italics should not be used for flashbacks, they do work marvellously for the times Izzi hears the killer‚Äôs voice in her head. I think this part was really well done. To sum it up ‚Äď the story is good, but in need of some better editing!¬†

Reviewed by

I love books! As a writer myself, I read novels for the author's voice, not the plot, whatever the genre. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English, and took a creative writing course during my studies. I've written songs, poems, short stories, and a novella. I am currently working on a novel.

Synopsis

"This is a book that will stay with you long after the final word. Ciana Stone writes about a victim in a way that makes you wonder if she understands this level of fear. And the monster who haunts the lives of the characters is shockingly real. A brilliant tale you won't want to put down, but definitely not for the faint of heard." - Candid Book Reviews

She was seven when the monster came and when he left that night, he took with him Isabelle's happiness, sense of security and belief in a God who would protect little children. He left her with a promise, one that she could never forget and one that filled her with terror.

"We're not done, you and I. You're my special girl, Isabelle. I'll be back for you."

For twenty-five years, she's feared that promise and his whispers in her mind. She's run from it, tried to deny it, looked for ways to forget or overcome it, and now she's ready to admit that there's only one way to reclaim her life.

Destroy the monster. Or die trying.

*** Reader Advisory. This book contains scenes of physical torture and murder.

Prologue - The Present

 

It's over, Isabelle. 

I win.  If you surrender now, I'll let him live.

Oh God, not again.  She thought the last time was bad. Now here she was, once more faced with losing the man she loved, scared to fight, yet without another option.  She had to find a way to overcome her fear, or they wouldn't survive.

Are you listening, Isabelle?

How she hated that voice, how she hated him.  If only she could stop shaking.  Fear was as much her enemy as he. Yet, she couldn't blame it all on him.  This was a trap of her own design, one that had, unfortunately, not unfolded as planned.

Every creak of wood, drip of water, or brush of leaves against a window made her heart jump in her chest. A sheen of sweat made her hands slick, and her clothing cling damply to her. Isabelle rose just enough to peer from behind the window curtain. 

She didn't see movement outside, but at present, clouds covered the moon, casting the yard in indistinct shapes and varying degrees of darkness that shifted in the wind of the approaching storm.

At her feet lay the man she loved, the man who had already nearly died once trying to save her from this monster.  The last time, the monster had used a knife.  He'd used one tonight, and now her love's life was on the line once more.  Just like eight years ago.  Would this nightmare ever end?  

The deepest of the stab wounds in his upper back had luckily missed his lung, but she was worried that the second might affect his kidney. 

The third, the one in his shoulder, didn't appear to have hit any major arteries but was bleeding profusely and rendered him unable to raise his arm or grip the big 9mm handgun he carried as a service weapon.

She'd done all she could to bind the wounds.  With the power shut down and no internet or cell reception, they were cut off.  If he was going to survive, she had to figure a way to get them out of there.   

The problem was, Isabelle didn't know how.  The moment she opened the door, they'd be vulnerable to attack, and she was certain the monster would kill Gib this time.  She couldn't let that happen, but she had no weapons. She didn't know how to fire Gib's gun, and even if he told her, she probably couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

Isabelle, I'm waiting for you.

Come to me, my love.

Don't make me kill him. 

Come to me, and he lives.  Just take that step, Isabelle.  Cross the last bridge that will bring you forever to me.

She sank back down and whispered to Gib, "Maybe if I go outside, you can‚Äď"

"No," he cut her off.

She put her fingertips to his lips. "Listen to me. I'm not going to let him kill you, and you know he doesn't want me dead, so this is the best way. I'll make a deal with him.  I'll make him call for an ambulance, and then I'll go with him."

"So he can put you back inside a cage?  Iz, don't. We'll fight him together.  Just help me get my gun from the holster."

"Gi‚Äď"

"No, you listen. Take my gun from the holster and do exactly as I say.  You can do this."

For a split second, she hesitated. The part of her that was terrified to lose him said to just leave him there.  Leave him and go make a deal with the devil so Gib could live.

The part that was trying not to scream in terror at the idea of being a prisoner to the monster told her to take the chance. If she killed the beast, it was over. They were free, and the long nightmare could end.

"Do it, Iz.  For us. Let's end this."

"Yes," she agreed, letting herself succumb to her own darkness and need for the terror to end. "Yes.  Tell me what to do."

Within moments they were ready.  She was ready.  For the first time in her life, she willingly opened herself, allowing the evil to hear her. 

I have to see you. Face-to-face. Come inside.

She waited, trembling, and felt her hands grow wet with sweat. The gun felt too heavy, too big. If he came in, could she pull the trigger? Could she hit him?

Isabelle watched the door until she was nearly blind, and everything seemed to merge into a featureless blur of shadow.  When the door handle moved, making a slight click, she almost wet her pants.

The door opened, and a darker form within the gray moved across the threshold.  Two more steps and the cloud cover shrouding the moon lifted. Light from the window to her left slanted across two tall figures.  Between them was a tiny figure, a child whose hands were in the grips of not one but two monsters.

 All the air went out of Isabelle's lungs, and she nearly dropped the gun.

"Oh, dear God." It was worse than she could have imagined.

"Shoot him, Iz," Gib panted the words, every moment, every breath an effort.  

Come, her monster urged.  I promise I'll let him live. I'll let them both live.

"Iz, shoot him!"

"I said come!" the monster's twin roared, this time for real, not just in her head.

Isabelle screamed, raised the weapon, and pulled the trigger.  It flashed brightly in the darkness, making spots of light dance in her vision, and the report of the gun made it impossible to hear. 

She felt someone grab her, trying to take the gun, and she pulled the trigger again. Almost simultaneously, there was another shot.  And then the world exploded into an endless sea of white.  





Chapter One

January 3rd, 2020


The past held her prisoner, refusing to release her. She didn't want to remember, to sink back into the night her life changed, but sometimes memories refused to be ignored. Like now. 

Unable to banish the thoughts, she let them claim her.

"Shhh, now. If you talk like that, I'll have to hurt you. Do you understand?"

Of course, she didn't. 

She didn't understand any of what was happening. One minute she was playing Super Mario Brothers with Donny in his room, and now she was in the middle of a nightmare.

Donny's tears tore at her heart. He loved that game. It didn't matter that sometimes it stopped working, or that the old television it was hooked to had lost its color, and often half of the screen vanished.  

That old television would never display Mario after today. The bad man, all dressed in black with the scary black mask, kicked the screen out. He laughed when he did it because it made Donny cry. He must enjoy making people cry. Mama was crying and begging him to leave, or to please let her children go.

That obviously made him mad because he shouted at her to shut her mouth or he'd cut her tongue out. Mama went white as a sheet. Donny peed his pants, and she almost threw up. 

Almost. But her Dad had taught her to stand up to bullies and not let them rattle you, so she yelled at him to leave her mama alone.

That made the bad man angrier, and he started beating on her mother, punching her in the face and the belly. She wanted so much to help her mother, but there was nothing she could do since she was tied up, just like Donny.

All she could do was yell at the bad man, call him names and say how her Dad was going to kill him when he found out. That she would kill him if he untied her.

That took his attention off her mother, and onto herself.

She would soon find out the cost of her actions, and the price was one she'd face every day for the rest of her life.

Isabelle screamed her way to consciousness and struggled to wake, climbing through the fog of sleep as the terrors fought to keep her trapped in the memory.

Isabelle.

She sat straight up in bed with her heart hammering in her chest and a cold sweat forming on her body. 

Her eyes moved, searching the darkness as her hands clenched into tight fists. There was nothing amiss. Her room looked no different now than when she fell asleep.

But appearance often lies, and this was one of those times. Everything was different now. She knew she hadn't dreamed that whisper. She'd feared it her entire life, knowing that each time he gave her respite, the moment would come again when she'd feel him reaching out for her. Call.

There was never a time she could just relax, stop standing guard on her walls, watching for the monster. She couldn't let her guard down because she couldn't predict when he'd reach out again, brushing her mind with his whisper.

Now the time was upon her, and she could barely function from the terror. Her breath was ragged, and sweat dampened her nightshirt and made her hair stick to her skin.

Isabelle.

She knew she couldn't acknowledge the call. It was imperative she keep her barriers in place, to hide behind those mental walls she'd constructed. It was the only way to stay safe, the only way to keep him from locating her again.

Happy New Year, my love.

I've waited a long time, Isabelle. Soon it will be our time. You'll cross the final bridge, and then you will be mine.

No. She would not.

Bile rose in her throat, and she bounded off the bed and to the bathroom. By the time she was bent over the toilet, the need to vomit had dissipated, but her heart still pounded, and her skin felt clammy. She recognized what was happening.

A panic attack.

It'd been a while since she'd had one, and she knew what to do to combat it, so she went back to the bedroom, sat cross-legged on the floor in a patch of moonlight, and forced herself to focus on one thing. Breathing. 

In and out. Inhale for a slow three-count, exhale for a slow six-count, and with every three cycles, increase the length of the exhale.

By the time her exhale count reached seventeen, the attack had abated, but the whispers were still there, just at the edge of her perception. Intelligible, but audible, like the buzz of an insect from afar.

Confident she was now in control, she remained where she was. Thinking. Why now? Was it because this was the anniversary of the night he killed her family? Or had he been calling out to her all along and had just now broken through to her mind?

What had changed to weaken her mental barriers enough for him to breach her defenses?

The answer came to her immediately. She was alone. Lonely. 

That annoyed her. She should be stronger, able to stand on her own. 

After all, it wasn't just herself she was protecting.

That thought acted like alchemy, transforming her fear into anger, and strengthening her resolve, allowing her to fortify her defenses. She felt the barrier grow denser, solidifying until it was as strong as iron forged in the fires of hell.  

Her body was drenched and trembling before the whispering faded into nothing. Even then, she delayed, scared it might be a ruse. 

After several long hours, she felt safe enough to stop pouring her strength into the barrier.

That's when the memories closed in on her. Like a hungry pack of wolves, they circled, snapping and growling, growing ever closer until finally, they overwhelmed her. Images and sounds pounded her, wearing her down.

She saw it all again, felt every awful moment. No, not every moment. Why was it that no matter how many times the memories imprisoned her, there were gaps? 

Just out of reach. She'd tried many techniques, undergone hypnosis, regression therapy, and a host of others, but nothing would summon those missing moments.

Unexpectedly, it became clear. Finally, after all these years, she understood. It was him. He didn't want her to remember. If she did, then she would have something to tell the police or FBI, and he couldn't allow that.

With effort, she pushed the memories back down into the dark, seeing them disappear in a swirl, down the drain, and into the deep well before she closed the lid and locked it. 

Then she rose, stripped off her wet nightshirt, and picked up the smooth worry stone from her nightstand. She walked over to open the window, letting the night air whisper over her skin. As much as she'd hoped to escape this path, she realized now she had no choice.

 Isabelle.

She grimaced. 

She'd known he'd try again, thinking her too weak to endure another assault tonight. Isabelle was smart enough to realize that something had to have taken place to prompt him to reach out. 

He'd left her alone for a year. 

She sensed that he'd done so to try to lull her into a false sense of peace. To make her believe he was finished with her. That way, when his whisper came in the night, it would provoke a higher level of terror because she thought it was over.

Isabelle? I know you can hear me.

 Do you still hear them? Your mother and your brother? Do you hear their screams of anguish? Do you still dream about it? About me? Can you still feel me? Feel the touch of my hands, the searing pain of the blade as it sliced through your eyes?  

Or perhaps those old memories have faded, been replaced with thoughts of our last special time together. I thought perhaps you'd be ready for me, but you'd sullied yourself with that man. I had to redeem you, you understand. You're my special girl, my true love.

I'm happy that you've finally come to your senses and banished the men you allowed into your life who do nothing but let you down or disappoint you. Perhaps this past year of reflection has finally shown you they're not your destiny.

We've crossed many bridges together, my love. From that first one, when I claimed you until you turned your back on me in favor of him. 

I have forgiven you. I will accept your apology and your submission when the time is right.

Isabelle felt the hate rise, and she latched onto its heat, letting it replenish her resistance. He wanted to believe she could care for him, but she never would. She'd used her respite from his contact to work on ways to strengthen her ability to thwart his attempts to penetrate her mind and locate her.

A flash of light in her mind brought a revelation, one she'd prayed for and thought she'd be denied. Miraculously, she felt the acrid heat of her hatred fade. This epiphany made her weak with gratitude, then amazingly filled her with power. 

Izzi felt a bit ashamed to not have realized it before now. She no longer needed her hatred for strength. She wasn't a frightened child anymore, or even a terrorized young woman, unsure of her own ability to fight. Now she knew where to find her power. Where it'd been all along, waiting for her to recognize and accept.

He was a creature of the dark and gained his power from it. She was his opposite. A child of the light. The one place where he held no sway.

Isabelle's eyes lost all color, and she dove into the light that flowered like the opening of a blossom for her. Here she found assurance that he'd not laid claim to her soul.

Nor would he ever. 

She'd never forget or forgive, and one day, she would destroy her monster, watch him blaze like dry tinder until not even his ash remained. That was her destiny. She just wasn't sure when she'd find the courage and strength to physically face him again. Today definitely wasn't the day. As much as she longed for it, the time had not yet come when she was secure in her ability to best him.  

And until she could eliminate all fear, she couldn't win. So how did she dismiss the fear and dread? The problem was the anticipation of what might happen seemed to constantly gnaw at her. She tried to remember the last time she felt safe, powerful enough to battle the monster.

It came to her, and the memory brought tears. She almost sunk into self-pity, almost wailed to the fates, Why me?  She'd never understood why her life had been filled with so much horror and pain. Was it some kind of karmic debt she had to pay? If so, she prayed every day she'd paid in full.

She wanted a life, one that had no monsters whispering in her mind, one where the man she loved was by her side. One where she was just a normal woman, living an ordinary life with a husband and maybe children.

What a sweet dream. 

She didn't know if destiny would grant her that. All she could do was wish and try to find ways to bolster her courage so that when the time came, she could banish the monster once and for all.

And with luck, survive to seek that life she so desperately wanted.

 



Chapter Two

February 14, 2020


It was going to be a perfect evening. He could feel anticipation singing in his veins, putting a spring in his step. Were it not for the fact he had no desire to attract attention, he'd have been tempted to do like the old song from the classic film his father had loved and "whistle a happy tune."

Not that he needed the act of whistling to feel happiness rise like effervescent bubbles inside him. Everything was perfect, just as planned. The quarry had been chosen wisely, as always, to get the most pleasure possible from the evening.  

It was a Valentine's gift. While he wouldn't be spending it with the woman he wanted, he would, nonetheless, think of her every moment, and imagine her bearing witness to the events of the evening. 

And one day, he'd share these special moments with her. He was currently rethinking his methods of winning her devotion but knew their time would come. Until then, these missions satisfied his cravings and helped him to stay at the top of his game. And on the top of the FBI's most-wanted list. 

He took pride in that accomplishment. 

Tonight, he'd completed his first mission of the new year. He thought about it as his footsteps crunched on the gravel of the narrow path. It'd taken a bit longer than expected to locate the perfect candidate, and he deliberately chose one he felt would put his skills to the test.

The location had to fit a strict set of parameters. He was utterly inflexible on those requirements and would not budge even a fraction from the rules he'd established. Even if the woman was a perfect candidate, if the location of her home did not meet his criteria, he moved on.

Finding the right woman was more complicated than anyone would imagine. First, she had to be a mother with small children living in the home. Her partner, or ex as the case might be, had to be someone who offered little support and wasn't interested in exercising custodial privileges.

Meeting this strict criterion and locating the perfect target was a challenge and he prided himself on meeting challenges. He enjoyed pushing himself and each time he made a selection, he felt a sense of pride.

Seducing the woman was the easy part and definitely in his wheelhouse. He prided himself on being able to read a woman and know how she'd respond and how fast she was willing to let things progress between them.

He preferred women who were ready to invite him into their homes and beds within a couple of weeks. 

More than that, and he quickly grew bored.

This month's delectable was harder to win than he'd expected, but by the time twilight fell on Valentine's Day, the woman's handsome new suitor was walking up to her front steps. A leather duffle bag was slung over one shoulder, and he carried a dozen roses in a crystal vase in one hand.

Naturally, there was red tissue paper covering the glass. Leaving a fingerprint would be unacceptable. He thought back to his mentor, and all the times he'd had to clean up after the man.

Those mistakes would not be attributed to him. History would record that fact. The most prolific serial killer in the history of man, and the smartest. The one who was never caught.

That thought made him smile. He was still smiling when she opened the door.

"For you." He offered the flowers.

The smile of happiness and lust she rewarded him with was amusing. Soon that would change, and she would give him what he craved.

Her pain and fear.

February 15, 2020

 

It was a day of potential. A day to choose happiness in whatever form it was offered. But then what day was not? She reminded herself of that daily. Like morning prayers, it was her mantra. Sooner or later, it would take hold and become part of her instead of something she had to remind herself to strive for.

Isabelle looked around as she walked across the side yard to a large planting bed near the driveway. She'd meant to get it weeded for some time and if she didn't pay attention to it soon, once spring arrived, the weeds would choke out her flowers. Funny how weeds always seemed to be much hardier than whatever she planted.

She smiled as it dawned on her that the concept held true for mental gardens as well. You had to stop the negative before it became too rooted. Once it was well dug in, it grew robust and could choke out your mental well-being and happiness, leaving you scared, angry, or just unhappy.

Her smile faded as she considered all the times she'd held on to her negative. A lot of work had gone into ridding herself of that habit. She couldn't claim she'd achieved success, but with luck, one day she'd be free of it. Until then, she'd continue to be mindful and put in the effort.

The sound of a plane passing overhead had her shielding her eyes and looking up. It was unseasonably warm today, hovering in the mid-sixties. Fluffy clouds decorated the field of blue above. As she watched, the plane disappeared into one of those clouds. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, remembering what it felt like to fly through clouds. 

Her first time experiencing it had been like something from a dream. Being enveloped in clouds, out of touch, literally, with the earth. She liked it and was scared of it at the same time. That, and other flights, taught her she was a creature of the earth. She liked being grounded, feeling the earth beneath her feet, being able to dig her fingers and toes into the soil.

Like she would do today. She opened her eyes and smiled. Yes, this was a good day to be outside. Tomorrow could be back down into the thirties, so she'd make good use of the beautiful weather while it lasted.

Isabelle towed her garden cart to the edge of the flower bed, removed a five-gallon orange bucket from the cart to put weeds into, pulled on her gloves, and knelt. There was something calming and peaceful about working in her flower and herb gardens. She'd spent many hours this last year working outside, searching for and soaking up whatever peace and serenity was available to her.

For a time, she turned her attention to her weeding, setting her mind free. Thoughts came and went, and she observed and noticed but didn't settle on any single one. Instead, she recognized things she'd circle back to later for more in-depth reflection.

She thought perhaps she'd reached a milestone in her healing. At least she thought that until she felt the change in the air. The wind of change. The corners of her mouth rose as she considered how many people over the years had smiled at her for such statements. Until they realized her words were not made in jest, nor were they a boast.

Isabelle's senses were… different. Maybe it wasn't even that. Perhaps she'd just been forced as a child to develop insights that everyone had, but rarely used. Most people adhere to the assumption that humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. The sensory organs associated with each of these senses send information to the brain to help us perceive and understand the world around us.

Because of the unique nature of her childhood, she developed additional senses. It was those "extras" that inspired Isabelle to dig deeper into potential human abilities. She needed to convince herself that she wasn't a freak, and that quest had netted knowledge she'd used as stepping-stones to discovery.

Her first breakthrough came from reading a paper that stated some scientists believe all humans have far more than five senses. The exact number was and is still a point of disagreement. Most of those familiar with the subject agree there are between fourteen and twenty, depending upon how one defines a sense.

Isabelle used the most straightforward definition. That a sense is a channel through which your body can observe itself or the outside world.

That definition was one she felt became metaphorically etched in stone at the age of sixteen, her first year in college, thanks to a parapsychology lecture she sneaked in to observe, being given by one of the top researchers in the field.

Since that day, her definition had held firm, and her knowledge base had grown. That comprehension was what helped her to let go of perceptions others ascribed to her and to accept herself, without the label, "freak."

Now, what some would call her psychic ability alerted her to the fact that a visitor would soon arrive, and would, quite likely, put her boast of achieving peace to the test.

Less than five minutes later, a car rounded the curve in the long drive and slowed to a stop near her garden cart, currently blocking the driveway. Isabelle looked up, and the driver's side door, which was on the opposite side of the driveway from where she sat, opened.

Some things never change. The first time she set eyes on Gibson Foster, it took her breath. 

Time hadn't dulled the effect he had on her. She peeled off her gloves and stood.

"Iz."

At thirty-two years old, Isabelle had heard her name, or some diminutive form of it spoken thousands of times, possibly tens of thousands. It'd been voiced in compassion, friendship, anger, jest, praise, flirtation, condemnation, threat, and lust, but no one had ever spoken her name like Gib.

When he spoke her name, it sounded like a prayer, a deep-seated wish-given sound. It thrilled and humbled her, made her weak and not just physically. 

Her resolve threatened to evaporate like mist in sunlight. Dear God, where was her strength when she needed it the most?

"Gib." She found her tongue.  

He closed the car door and walked around to the front of the vehicle. She'd forgotten what a striking figure he cut. Standing three inches over six feet, Gib carried his two hundred plus pounds well. Slim in the waist with a full chest and muscular arms, he gave the impression of strength and power, a commanding presence.

And was still as handsome as the day she met him, despite the added gray in his hair and the short, Van Dyke beard that adorned his face.

"Iz, I…" He reached up to rub his index finger and thumb over his beard, from the corners of his mouth, downward. She recognized the motion. It signified he was at a loss for words, which didn't happen often.

He didn't need words. 

She knew why he was there. For her, but not for them.

"The answer is no."  She gave an answer before he could ask.

"Can we at least talk about it?"

"To what end?"

"So that I can say my piece and know I did everything I could to stop this bastard. At least give me that."

"Fine." She tossed her garden gloves onto the cart, turned, and headed for the house.

 

Gib followed, thinking of the reason he'd come here today. There'd been a murder in Mississippi, one that matched the pattern of an Unsub the FBI have been trying to capture for decades. The Seven Bridges Killer.

In 1995, a series of grisly murders earned the Unsub the title of the Seven Bridges Killer. Over eight months, seven families were destroyed. In each instance, a mother and her children were murdered, and something‚ÄĒan organ or body part‚Äďwas taken from the mother and left, along with the murder weapon, hanging on a nearby bridge.

Because the items were found on seven different bridges, law enforcement assumed the location of the bridges held significance. So far, that theory had neither been substantiated nor refuted. The Unsub had, however, become something of a legend. To date, there'd been no other evidence found at a murder scene. No material or trace that would lend clues to his identity had ever been found. Not one.

The knifes used to murder the victims were ones taken from the homes of the victims; thus, all trace evidence led back to the family.

Three times, Gib convinced Isabelle to help them catch this killer. The first time, she fell in love with him. 

Gib wasn't ignorant or blind. He knew it was happening. Hell, he might even have encouraged it, if he was completely honest. They started as friends, or at least that's how he wanted to remember it. Maybe the truth was, he was attracted to her at first glance.

Nevertheless, he was married, and despite having feelings for her, he didn't want to screw up his life or break up his family. Isabelle didn't hold that against him. But then things went south, people died, and after admitting she was in love with him, she returned home and took a job teaching. He went on with his life, trying to fool himself into believing he was over her.

The next time another member of Gib's Unit, Leo Grant, almost died. Isabelle and Leo had history. He was the first member of the BAU to meet her, the first to be her friend and for a time, her lover. She told Gib once that when she thought Leo would die, it made her realize that her monster would never stop. With him, it was kill or be killed. That's when she decided she wanted the monster to die.

It just didn't happen. A few years later, the Unsub kidnapped her. It took Gib and his team three months to find her. Gib nearly died saving her. Izzi confessed to him that she saw it for what it was, that she was a danger to all of them. They were safer without her around. So, once he healed, she left again and returned home again to North Carolina.

She hadn't spoken to him since.

Gib wasn't psychic, but it didn't take special abilities to know that she didn't want any part of an investigation dealing with what she called her monster. Gib wasn't stupid or insensitive. Isabelle was the only known survivor of the Seven Bridges Killer. He'd deliberately let her live after blinding her. Luckily her sight was restored through surgery and since that time, her senses had multiplied, taken on more power.

Isabelle was convinced there was some kind of psychic link between her and the Unsub. She feared if she helped the FBI with the case again, the killer would know and would make sure to hurt or kill someone she cared for. She thought that's why Gib and Leo almost died. Gib didn't discount her feelings or her conviction about the psychic connection. He'd seen too much to write it off. But he still needed help and had to try.

Her back was ramrod straight as she walked in front of him. He noticed she was thinner than the last time he saw her a year ago. She'd also cut her hair. A year ago, it'd reached her waist. Today it was just past her shoulder blades, falling in uneven layers, giving her that look she had when they first met.

A nymph from the forest, or a fairy princess.

As if hearing his thoughts, she looked over her shoulder at him, and when she did, she stumbled. With one slightly larger than normal step, he had hold of her, sweeping his arm around her for balance. Then without thinking, he pulled her close.

For a moment, they were frozen, gazes locked, and bodies pressed together. Feelings he'd spent a year trying to quell raced to the surface, expunging all the effort that had gone into putting a lid on them.

"Don't." 

It wasn't an admonishment but a plea, and one he understood because of the feelings rampaging inside him. 

"Please."

Gib released her, and they continued to the house. Once there, she led him to the back porch, mounted the steps, kicked off her shoes, and opened the kitchen door. He followed her in and stopped just inside the door.

All houses have smells, the leftover odors from cooking, the residuals of cleaning solutions, washing detergents, dryer sheets, perfumes, furniture polish, and a host of other scents. Izzi's house always smelled like a blend of sweet herbs and spices, both energizing and calming, despite the dichotomy of that description.  

Perhaps he perceived it that way because until a year ago, it'd been his home away from home, the place they came to escape the world.

"Coffee?" she asked. "Tea, iced water?"

"No, thanks."

She fixed herself a glass of iced water and turned to him. "Porch?"

Gib stepped aside and gestured for her to precede him. She did and took a seat on the porch swing. He followed and hesitated until she patted the seat beside her.  

He sat and was struck, not for the first time, by how small she was. Her feet dangled free, not touching the floor. From habit established some time ago, he started slowly rocking them.

"Do you remember the first time you came here?" she asked, took a drink from her glass and then set it on the table beside the swing.

That question took him back twelve years.  

About the author

Ciana Stone is the bestselling author of paranormal, suspense, thrillers, and romance novels and often writes a mash-up of several genres combined. Her books have gardnered rave reviews and endear her to new readers every day, for which she is grateful beyond words. view profile

Published on June 26, 2020

70000 words

Contains explicit content ‚ö†ÔłŹ

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Reviewed by

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