The Perfect Facade (Jessie Hunt #12) - Blake Pierce Page 0,1

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.

It was only after her brain had taken in all of these seemingly disparate facts that she was able to connect them. And only then did the screaming start.

CHAPTER ONE

Jessie Hunt was on a high as she walked out of the lecture hall.

Whenever she did these monthly Saturday morning seminars, she worried that there would be an embarrassingly sparse turnout. But just as with the last two, the room had been packed, not only with students from her own class, but with all the ones who hadn’t gotten in and apparently wanted some other way to hear her speak.

It had been almost three months since she’d accepted the lecturing position at UCLA and it had gone much better than she’d expected. So well in fact, that she’d turned down Captain Decker’s multiple requests to consult on cases for the LAPD. She hadn’t worked one since a high-powered entertainment lawyer was murdered at the home of a billionaire mogul back in September.

She’d simply been too busy. There was all the prep work required for her weekly lecture in criminal profiling, plus these monthly Saturday morning seminars, which were an unmitigated hit. Each one focused on a different element of profiling, usually using one of her cases as an example. Beyond that, she was supervising her boyfriend’s rehabilitation and trying to keep up with the mood swings of her teenage sister. It was a lot.

“I think that went pretty well,” Kat said, snapping her out of her thoughts.

Katherine “Kat” Gentry, her best friend, was walking beside her along the tree-lined path of the quad. Kat had been her special guest at today’s seminar. That was because, in addition to being Jessie’s friend, she’d also served as the head of security for several years at a facility that incarcerated multiple mentally unstable criminals, including the notorious serial killer Bolton Crutchfield, the subject of the seminar.

Her tenure had ended badly, with Crutchfield and others escaping while she was out of town. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t offer valuable insight into the challenges of operating a place charged with housing men intent on killing people for sport.

“Me too,” Jessie agreed. “You were a big hit.”

“I’m not so sure,” Kat said. “I thought I saw some judgy faces when we talked about how Crutchfield escaped on my watch.”

“First of all, it wasn’t on your watch,” Jessie corrected. “You weren’t on site and your right-hand man turned out to be working for Crutchfield. And second, did you see people’s faces when you said you were now a private eye? They were smitten. I bet you get a dozen referrals because of today.”

“That’d be nice,” Kat said. “Because for every quality case I get these days, the next five are suspicious spouses who want evidence of infidelity. Those wear on you after a while.”

“Don’t worry,” Jessie assured her playfully. “I bet you get a bunch of rich college students asking you to track down their stolen PlayStations after this.”

“From your lips,” Kat replied.

They made their way down a steep flight of stairs that opened onto a large courtyard filled with a collection of brightly colored flowers. Jessie marveled once again at how different this work environment was from LAPD’s downtown Central Station, a large, bland, rectangular building just blocks away from skid row, with a courtyard highlighted by a solitary tree. This was vastly preferable.

“How’s Ryan doing?” Kat asked, referencing Jessie’s boyfriend.

Detective Ryan Hernandez had nearly died over the summer when he was stabbed in the chest by Jessie’s ex-husband. He was in a coma for weeks. When he regained consciousness and eventually left the hospital, he’d moved in with Jessie and her half-sister, Hannah. Since then, he’d been engaged in intense daily physical therapy in the hopes of rejoining the force.

“He’s getting there,” Jessie said. “We got rid of the night nurse this week and it seems to be going okay so far. He doesn’t need help getting to the bathroom anymore. We still keep the day nurse since he’s