The Perfect Facade (Jessie Hunt #12) by Blake Pierce



PROLOGUE





Claudia was afraid to move.

She felt like she was on the verge of throwing up and worried that any kind of physical action, no matter how small, might exacerbate things. Her hope was that she’d just drift off to sleep again and when she next woke up the flip-flops her stomach was doing would be gone.

She rolled over in the bed, away from the half-open bedroom door. Someone had left a light on in the main room of the hotel suite and a beam was streaming through, illuminating the bedroom more than she liked. She tried to ignore it and curled up in the fetal position, looking out through the crack in the curtains at the twinkling lights of the Hollywood Hills in the distance.

She pretended not to notice that her hair, sweaty and limp, was clinging to the back of her neck. She hugged the sheets closer to herself in a futile attempt to warm her clammy skin. As she tried to focus on the distant hills rather than her discomfort, she resolved never to drink like this again, whether it was a birthday celebration or not. When she got home, she would hug her kids, take a long shower, and spend the weekend in sweats.

The thought was comforting enough that she relaxed slightly. She pictured Callie and Joey running up to her as she came through the front door, asking if she’d missed them after one whole night apart. Suddenly her eyes felt droopy and the twinkling lights through the window got blurry. Her body sank into the mattress. She sank into sleep.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been out when a shadow crossed through the light from the suite, making her stir slightly. Despite the wishes of her stomach, she rolled back in that direction and blinked slowly.

It took her a second to understand that the shadow blocking the light from the other room was caused by a person beside her bed. It took her another moment to process that the person’s arm was swinging downward and that there was something large in their right hand.

But she didn’t have time to do anything about it—not to move, not to scream, certainly not to comprehend that she was about to die.



*



The inside of Veronica’s mouth felt like sandpaper.

She tried to swallow but her throat was so dry she thought she might choke. With enormous reluctance, she started to open her eyes. It required effort as they had stuck together slightly, likely a result of being too drunk to take out her contacts and sleeping on her face most of the night.

She rolled carefully onto her side and slowly pushed herself up into a sitting position on the converted sofa bed. Her head pounded and she felt slightly nauseated, but there was no immediate desire to vomit. Heartened by that small blessing, she glanced around the hotel suite.

Kimberly was lying next to her on the bed, sprawled out on her stomach, her red hair jutting out in every direction, almost as if it had been electrified. Lauren, completely naked, was lying on the floor beside the loveseat, which she’d apparently rolled out of during the night. Veronica couldn’t be sure, but from this distance, it looked like her friend might have bits of vomit in her blonde hair.

Veronica looked away. She couldn’t handle seeing that in her condition, especially at this hour. As she slowly stood up and staggered across the massive suite, she struggled to remember the events of the prior evening. The place was trashed, with food on the floor, empty glasses everywhere, and what appeared to be ceramic shards from a broken vase.

She had no recollection of how that happened. In fact, much of last night was a blur. Her brain was a convoluted mix of images that included club-hopping, endless shots, wild flirting, and perhaps more than that. She could have run naked through the street last night and she might not remember it. The possibility was embarrassing and a little scary. She closed her eyes tight at the thought of it all.

As she approached the bathroom, she glanced through the open door to the main bedroom, which birthday girl Claudia had gotten all to herself. Her friend was lying on her back, her arms and legs splayed out lazily.

Veronica turned back toward the bathroom and was about to step in when her brain caught up to her eyes. She glanced back in the bedroom to make sure she’d seen correctly. There was a large stain on the sheets near Claudia’s head. Blinking aggressively, she stepped into the bedroom.

It was hard to accept what she was seeing. The stain was more of a liquid pool, so large that it had dripped down the side of the bed into a small puddle on the carpet. As she got closer, Veronica looked at Claudia. Her friend’s eyes were open. Just above the left one was a massive indentation near her temple. That was the source of the liquid, which Veronica now understood to be blood.