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3.4 33
by Karen Robards

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From New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards comes a thrilling new novel of suspense and steamy seaside sensuality set in North Carolina's Outer Banks, where a serial killer combs the beaches filled with beautiful female tourists for his next victim.
Christy Petrino hadn't planned on a vacation on Ocracoke Island, but when she learns her fiancé


From New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards comes a thrilling new novel of suspense and steamy seaside sensuality set in North Carolina's Outer Banks, where a serial killer combs the beaches filled with beautiful female tourists for his next victim.
Christy Petrino hadn't planned on a vacation on Ocracoke Island, but when she learns her fiancé and boss, suave Michael DePalma, is a "made man" and the Philadelphia law firm where she works is a front for the mob, she breaks her engagement and quits her job. But no one walks away from the DePalma family business so easily....Only if she delivers a locked briefcase to a motel on Ocracoke Island will she -- and her mother and sisters -- be free.
But after clandestinely making her drop-off late at night, Christy suspects she is being followed on the moonlit beach -- and unwittingly runs into a new kind of terror. Now a witness at the center of a homicide investigation, Christy learns the police are hunting a serial killer they refer to as the "Beachcomber" because beautiful young women -- women who in fact resemble her -- have disappeared recently while vacationing at nearby beach communities. Christy doesn't know whom to fear more -- a serial killer who believes she might be able to identify him, or the DePalma family, whose tentacles she can't seem to escape.
Only when she's with Luke Rand, her big surfer-dude next-door neighbor, does she feel safe. But with Luke's asking so many questions about her ex-fiancé and his showing up almost too conveniently whenever danger strikes, she can't help but wonder if his interest in her is due to more than sexual attraction. Can she trust this handsome stranger to help her survive a hot and deadly summer?
Karen Robards creates a tour de force of passion and suspense in this scintillating page-turner, the quintessential summertime read.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Nicci French seems to know exactly what thrills and terrifies....harrowing.
Publishers Weekly
A horrifying premise catalyzes this fast-paced, suspenseful thriller.......suspenseful and harrowing...with powerful narrative drive.
Entertainment Weekly
Genuine chills and page-turning suspense.
Romantic Times
An edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller...keeps the reader on a white-knuckled, hair-raising thrill ride until the last page.
Mystery News
The tension is incredible and the mystery intriguing....French [is] immensely talented at writing horrifying, suspenseful thrillers.
Baltimore Sun
...[a] nightmarish first person account of being held prisoner in the dark by a stranger....It's a good read.
Kirkus Reviews
Tough, tenacious, and scared silly: the author’s quintessential heroine scores again in this third deft British import (The Red Room, 2001, etc.). Bound, gagged, a hood covering her head, terrified—that’s how we first meet Abbie Devereaux, a young Englishwoman convinced she’s about to be murdered. Her kidnapper has told her as much, and she’s learned to take him at his word. She’s been his prisoner for three days, she thinks, a reckoning made uncertain by fear and by the brain-fog resulting from brutality. He’s beaten her, toyed with her, half-starved and humiliated her, and he won’t tell her why, or what he plans for her, aside from the promised death. She knows he’s a psychopath, yes, but nothing else. Then—through luck and a heaven-sent miscalculation—she escapes and finds herself launched on part two of her nightmare: it seems no one will believe her when she describes her horrific ordeal, a problem compounded—excruciatingly—by post-traumatic amnesia. She can't remember the act of being kidnapped—that is, where it took place—or much about anything in the days immediately preceding. Hospital authorities have begun using the word "fantasy." Her friends listen to her with a sympathy edged in skepticism. Show us something in the way of corroborating evidence, the police tell her. She can’t. "My head has a black hole in it," she says helplessly. But Abbie, of course, has never really been the stuff victims are made of, and an unavoidable bedrock truth provides all the incentive she needs to stiffen her spine. Her kidnapper believes her. And since he’s out there now undoubtedly feeling threatened, she’d better find him before he finds her again. Abbie hasto stalk the stalker. Despite occasional plotting flaws, that sound you hear is the rustle of pages turning rapidly.

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Chapter 1

Two weeks later...

Sometimes in life, when one thing goes wrong it triggers another and another until disasters end up multiplying around you like horny rabbits. Unfortunately, Christy Petrino was getting the nasty suspicion that this just might be one of those times.

She was being followed as she walked along the moonlit beach. She knew it. Knew it with a certainty that made her heart pound and her breathing quicken and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickle to attention. Someone was behind her. She felt eyes on her, hostility directed at her, the intangible vibes of another presence, with a sense that was more trustworthy yet less dependably there than the usual five. Tonight, as it typically did when it hit her, this sixth sense of hers made a mockery of sight and sound, smell, touch, and taste. She'd learned in a hard school to trust it implicitly.

Please, God...Fear curled inside her quicker than a coiling snake. Like any other good Catholic girl trembling on the brink of danger, she turned to a higher power for help even though it had been an embarrassingly long time since she had actually been inside a church. Hopefully, God wasn't keeping score.

I'll go to Mass this Sunday, I swear. I mean, I promise. Just let this be my imagination.

Clutching the slender can of Mace that was her next line of defense against the dangers that lurked in the night, she did her best to dismiss what her sixth sense was telling her even as she brought her other five senses to bear. The rush and hiss of the ocean as it lapped practically at her feet filled her ears. It drowned out all other sounds, not that it was likely that she would have heard any pursuing footsteps anyway, given the sound-deadening properties of the beach, she realized as her own steps faltered. Casting a compulsive glance over her shoulder, she saw nothing behind her but an empty seascape barely illuminated by dusky moonlight. Considering that it was after one in the morning and a drenching summer squall had done its bit to add to the suffocating humidity only an hour or so earlier, the fact that there was absolutely no one around could not be considered sinister: the family types that populated this particular stretch of Ocracoke's ocean frontage during August were doubtless all sound asleep inside their snug summer cottages. Except for those darkened cottages, set well back from the beach and barely visible over the rolling dunes, there was nothing to see but the lighthouse in the distance, willowy sea oats blowing in the rising wind that pushed a rippling line of whitecaps toward shore, and the pale narrow curve of the beach itself as it crooked like a bent finger out into the midnight blue of the Atlantic.

She was alone. Of course she was alone.

Letting out a sigh of relief, she cast her eyes skyward. Thank you, God. I'll be there front row center on Sunday, I sw -- promise.

Then her pesky sixth sense reared its unwelcome head again.

"Are you being paranoid or what?" Christy muttered the question aloud. But accusing herself of paranoia didn't help. She started walking back to the house with -- okay, she'd admit it -- mounting fear.

She didn't like being afraid. Being afraid ticked her off. Growing up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on the wrong side of I-5 in the less-than-aptly named neighborhood of Pleasantville, she'd learned early on that if you showed fear you were liable to get your butt kicked, or worse. A girl whose father was dead and whose mother worked all day and partied all night had to be able to take care of herself -- and, in Christy's case, her two little sisters as well. She'd learned to be tough and she'd learned to be confident in her ability to handle anything life threw her way. Now, at twenty-seven, she was five feet seven inches tall, rendered fashionably slim and fit by dint of much effort, with medium brown hair that just brushed her shoulders, cocoa brown eyes, and a face that wasn't exactly beautiful but wouldn't send grown men screaming for the exits either. She was, in other words, all grown up, a lawyer -- of all unbelievable things -- with a life that until three days ago had been as close to perfect as she could make it.

Now it was blown to smithereens. And she was afraid.

"Wimp," she said under her breath as she walked on. There was nothing -- well, probably nothing -- to be afraid of. After all, she'd done what they wanted. She'd come here to the beach house on Ocracoke and stayed put, waiting for a phone call. When the call had finally come half an hour ago, she'd done exactly as she'd been told: take the briefcase down the beach to the Crosswinds Hotel and put it in the backseat of a gray Maxima parked by the pool. What was in the briefcase she didn't know. Didn't want to know. All she wanted to do was get rid of it, which she had just done. In doing so, she'd purchased the keys to her prison.

It was over. She was free.

God, she hoped so. The truth was, if she was really, really lucky, and said her rosary fifteen times and buried a statue of St. Jude, patron saint of impossible causes, upside down in the surf, then maybe she would be free.

Or maybe not.

So call her a pessimist. Some people got visited by the blue bird of happiness. The bird that fluttered periodically through her life was more like the gray bird of doubt. Doubt that sunshine and roses were ever going to be a permanent fixture in the life of Christina Marie Petrino. Doubt that a pink Caddy with Happily Ever After written on it was ever going to pull into her own personal parking space. It was that doubt that kept suspicion percolating through her brain now, that made her imagine bogeymen in the shadows and threats in the whisper of the wind as she trudged back along the beach.

They had no reason to come after her. She had done nothing to them.

Except know too much.

Despite the humid warmth of the night, Christy shivered.

"Do this one thing for me," Uncle Vince had said. Remembering how she had been intercepted on the way to her mother's house and pushed into the backseat of a car where he'd been waiting, she swallowed. For the first time in her life, she'd been afraid of Uncle Vince, who'd been her mother's off-and-on boyfriend for the last fifteen years. Christy hadn't grown up in Pleasantville for nothing. She recognized a threat when she heard it. Uncle Vince had been a made man when Tony Soprano had been no more than a gleam in his daddy's eye, and his "request" had been on the order of one of those offers you didn't want to refuse.

But now she'd done what he'd asked, she reminded herself, walking faster now, in a hurry to get back inside the house even though she was (almost) sure there was no real reason to do what her instincts were screaming at her to do and get the heck off the beach. She'd delivered the briefcase. They knew now that she was loyal, that she wasn't going to go running to anybody, much less the cops. So she'd quit her job. Big deal. People did it all the time. So she'd said buh-bye to her fiancé. People did that, too. All over the world, employees quit and engaged couples broke up and nobody died. Just because Michael DePalma, who had been her boss at the up-and-coming Philadelphia law firm of DePalma and Lowery as well as her fiancé, had said Don't you know you can't quit? After what Franky told you, do you really think they're going to let you just walk away? did not mean that she was now first in line to get whacked.

Did it?

Maybe Uncle Vince, or somebody else, had decided that something more was needed in the way of ensuring her continued silence. Something permanent. Because she could still feel someone behind her in the dark. Watching her. Waiting. The picture that popped into her mind was of a hunter carefully stalking his prey.

The idea of herself as prey did nothing for Christy's blood pressure.

Drawing a deep breath, trying not to panic, Christy tightened her hold on the Mace can, and strained to identify shadowy shapes rendered spooky by darkness. Oh God, what was that -- and that -- and that? Her heart skipped a beat as she spotted possible threats. Only slowly did it resume a more even rhythm as she realized that the motionless rectangle that lay ahead of her that she'd first thought might be a man squatting in the surf was, on more careful inspection, a lounge chair left close by the water's edge; while the towering, swaying triangle -- a man's head and shoulders? -- rising menacingly over the top of a nearby dune was nothing more than a partially furled beach umbrella in its stand; and the round object -- someone hunkered down? -- just visible beside a patio fence was the protruding rear tire of a bicycle left trustingly outside.

Nothing but harmless, everyday, island-variety objects as far as the eye could see. As Christy told herself that, her alarm faded a little but refused to disappear entirely. The niggling sense of being watched, of another presence -- of danger -- was too strong to be routed by lack of visual confirmation. Wrapping her bare arms around herself, she continued to warily probe the darkness with every sense she could bring to bear. She stood very still, with the loose, ankle-length green gauze dress she had pulled on for her beach adventure blowing tight against her legs and her toes burrowing into the sand. Stars played peekaboo with drifting clouds overhead; a fingernail moon floated high in the black velvet sky; frothing with foam, waves slapped the sand, withdrew, and rolled in again, beach music with a never-ending rhythm that should have been comforting but under these disquieting circumstances was not. She listened and watched and breathed, tasting the salt tang on her lips as she wet them, smelling the briny ocean in the deep, lung-expanding breaths she deliberately drew in an effort to steady her jangled nerves.

"Okay, Christy, get a grip." Talking to herself was probably not a good sign. No, she realized glumly, it was definitely not a good sign. If she was getting a little crazy, she thought as she quickened her pace toward the small, single-story house that was now beckoning like an oasis, that should fall under the category of Just One More Big Surprise. She was up to her neck in disasters, and there was no telling where another one of those horny little rabbits was going to pop up next. Ordinarily she loved Ocracoke; she'd vacationed here at least half a dozen times in the past. Use of the beach house was an occasional perk of her mother's special friendship with Uncle Vince. But now this tiny beach community in North Carolina's Outer Banks was starting to feel like it had been ripped right out of the pages of a Stephen King novel. A vision of Blackbeard's ghost -- the notorious pirate was said to haunt Ocracoke's beaches, his severed head tucked under his arm -- shadowing her along the water's edge popped into her mind, raising goose bumps on her arms. Which was ridiculous, of course. Who believed in ghosts? Not she, but -- the phrase that kept running through her head was, something wicked this way comes.

Dear God, I'll go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of my life if you'll just get me safely out of here.

She had to calm down and think this through.

If someone truly was behind her, if this terrifying sense of a hostile presence stalking her through the night was not just a product of overabundant imagination and overwrought nerves, then, clearly, it behooved her to get the heck off the beach. If she ran, anyone who happened to be back there would know she was on to them. If she walked, anyone who happened to be back there just might catch up.

That was the clincher. Yanking her skirt clear of her knees, she ran.

The sand was warm and gritty underfoot, dotted with puddles and strewn here and there with webs of stringy seaweed. Moonlight glinted on the clear blob of a jellyfish as it came tumbling toward her, rolling along on the outer edges of the inrushing tide. Fighting bubbling panic, gasping for breath, her heart beating a hundred miles a minute, her straining legs only wishing they could pump as fast, she pushed everything from her mind but the urgent need to get off that beach. The sound of the surf effectively deafened her; blowing strands of her hair whipping in front of her face all but blinded her. She couldn't hear so much as the slap of her own feet hitting the beach; she could barely see where she was going. But she could feel -- and what she was feeling terrified her.

Her five senses be damned: at the moment only the sixth one mattered. And it was telling her that she was in imminent danger. There was someone behind her, giving chase -- hunting her.

In the very act of casting what must have been the dozenth in a series of frightened glances over her shoulder, Christy tripped over something and went down.

She hit hard. Her knees gouged twin pits in the sand. Her palms thudded and sank. Her teeth clinked together with a force that sent pain shooting through the joint that connected her jaws. Salt spray hit her in the face as a large wave broke with particular enthusiasm just yards away.

Stunned to have been so abruptly catapulted onto all fours, she registered all that in an instant. She'd tripped. What had she tripped over? A piece of driftwood? What?

He's coming. Move.

Heart leaping as her own personal early warning system went off in spades, Christy obeyed, scrambling to her feet and at the same time instinctively glancing back to see what had felled her. Not that it mattered. Whoever was out there was closing in fast. She could sense him behind her, almost feel him....

A slender arm, inert and pale as the sand itself, lay inches behind her feet. Realizing just what had tripped her, Christy was momentarily shocked into immobility. Then her widening gaze followed the limb down to the back of a head covered with a tangle of long, wet-looking dark hair, narrow shoulders and waist and hips, rounded buttocks, long legs. A woman lay there, sprawled facedown in the sand. She was wet, naked as far as Christy could tell, with one arm stretched out across the beach as if she had been trying to crawl toward the safety of the houses. She didn't move, didn't make a sound, didn't appear to so much as breathe.

She looked dead.

Then her hand moved, slender fingers closing convulsively on sand, and her body tensed as if she were trying without success to propel herself forward.


Had Christy really heard the muttered words? Or had she just imagined them? The pounding surf coupled with the frantic beating of her own pulse in her ears was surely enough to block out even much louder sounds. But...

"I'm here," Christy said as she crouched, touching the back of the woman's hand with equal parts caution and concern. As her fingertips made contact with cold, sand-encrusted skin, a swift rush of pity tightened her throat. Poor thing, poor thing...

The woman's fingers twitched as if in acknowledgment of her touch.


There was no mistake: she really heard the broken syllables, although this time they made no sense. The woman was not dead, but she seemed not far from it. Something terrible must have happened. Some kind of terrible accident.

"It's all ri -- " Christy began, only to break off as her peripheral vision picked up on something moving. She glanced up, beyond the woman, to see a man perhaps three hundred yards away, slogging past the dunes that had concealed him up until that point, headed inexorably toward her, head down as he followed the footprints -- her footprints -- that even she could plainly see in the sand. Her pursuer! For vital seconds she had forgotten all about him. Terror stabbed through her now, swift and sharp as an arrow. Her heart leaped into her throat. He was little more than a bulky shape in the uncertain moonlight, but this was no ghost, no figment of her imagination. He was unmistakably there. Unmistakably real. The Mother of All Rabbits in a dark jogging suit with the moonlight glinting off something shiny in one hand.

A gun?

Even as she gaped at him, he lifted his head. It was impossible to see his face, his features, anything more than the sheer bulk of him. But she could feel his gaze on her, feel the menace rushing toward her as he looked at her and realized that she was looking back. For an instant, a dreadful, blood-freezing instant, they connected, hunter and prey zeroing in on each other through the imperfectly concealing darkness.

All thoughts of trying to help the woman were instantly forgotten as that sixth sense of hers went haywire, signaling bad news and screaming at her to move! Propelled by an acute attack of self-preservation, Christy leaped to her feet. Letting loose with a scream that could have been heard clear back in Atlantic City, she ran for her life.

Copyright © 2003 by Karen Robards

Meet the Author

Karen Robards is the author of more than forty novels and one novella. A regular on the New York Times, USA TODAY, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists, among others. She is the mother of three boys and lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

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Beachcomber 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book! It's a great summer read for all who enjoy romantic suspense thrillers!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Christy Petrino thought she had it all, a wonderful career as a lawyer, a great boss who was also her fiancé. But she had her eyes opened by a relative, her job is mob controlled and so is her fiancé. She dumps the fiancé but the mob won¿t let her go unless she does this one favor for them. Christy goes to Ocracoke Island to deliver a package but she then stumbles onto a murder. She is helped by her neighbor Luke Randolph. Luke befriends Christy and they start to grow close. But Luke is keeping a big secret that could tear them apart. Christy keeps having terrible things happen to her and she things that the mob isn¿t done with her. But there is something more sinister out to get Christy. The suspense is terrifying and the relationship between Luke and Christy is intense. This is another Karen Robards must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not sure what all the fuss is about with the ending but I thought it was a great read that I couldn't put down!!
newby More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book! It had just enough love and mystery for my liking. Best Karen robards book so far!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It didn't start off as well as her other books. You have Christy Petrino who is an honest attorney. The FBI guys Luke and Gary. Her shady fiance Michael De Palma,A hitman who doesn't plan very well. And Marvin the cat. I thought the cat was great. Every time I put the book down I still got lost.The ending did bite.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First let me say I own & have thoroughly enjoyed nearly every book Karen Robards has written so I couldn't wait to start this one. I saved it for vacation & expected to fly through it in one day. Five days later I finally struggled to the end. The plot is ridiculous & I couldn't dredge up any interest in any of the characters. I guess every author is entitled to a clunker but this one surprised me, it was THAT boring.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Though the tie-in to the Jersey mob is in her blood and further connected through her mom¿s relationship with Uncle Vince, corporate attorney Christy Petrino always adhered to the law, having nothing to do with criminal activities of friends, family, or sponsors. As the fiancée to her boss Michael DePalma, her personal life looked as settled and contented as her profession. However, that illusion is ends when she suddenly knows too much to live.

Hiding in the North Carolina Outer Banks, Christy¿s collapsing life falls further apart when she stumbles on a dying woman on the beach and sees the shadow of the murderer. She flees only to catch Luke Rand on her beach property. A FBI agent, Luke wonders how his surveillance of Christy could go so wrong as he tries to learn what she knows about her boss Michael. That same night Luke rescues Christy from an attack from the shadowy figure she saw earlier. Marked by a serial killer, the mob and the FBI, Christy¿s first day in the Outer Banks makes Atlantic City seem safe.

This romantic suspense novel opens at a very fast-pace, continues throughout with plenty of action and never lets up until the final moment. This leaves readers breathless trying to keep up. Christy and Luke are a delightful lead couple struggling with attraction vs. commitment (to a job that is). Though the diverse subplots (serial killer and mob) take adjustment to keep track of since the female protagonist is caught in the crosshairs of both, fans of Karen Robards will value this terse thriller.

Harriet Klausner

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Read this book many years ago & enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
328 pages - good book with lots of suspense - a little too much sex
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Prefer an honest description of contents and age suitable like movie ratings is this a book to give to your minister for light reading whike recuoeratibg from flu?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked & never suspected the ending
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this is a really good book. It really makes you think about your surroundings and who might be watching you.
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