The Perfect Secret by Blake Pierce

PROLOGUE





He wasn’t supposed to be there.

Under normal circumstances Cord Mahoney would never have come near this part of the mansion. But the guest house where he was crashing was clear across the estate and he knew he’d never make it in time.

He’d tried every guest bathroom he could find in the house, but at a party with more than five hundred revelers, they all had long lines. So he’d snuck up to Jasper’s private wing, the one area that was off limits to guests, which meant it was also the one area with an available toilet.

Even in his drunken, uninhibited state, part of him worried that Jasper would kick him out of the guest house he was letting him stay in if he found him up here. It wasn’t a ridiculous concern. Jasper Otis was a notoriously volatile guy, and as a billionaire dozens of times over, he could afford to be.

But when you have to go, you have to go. That’s how Cord found himself stumbling past the mahogany doors into Jasper’s private wing and clumsily tiptoeing through the man’s massive bedroom toward the closed door that he desperately prayed hid a bathroom. If it didn’t, he was going to be reduced to using a trash can.

He pushed open the door, turned on the light, and almost cheered out loud when he saw the toilet. He hurried over and relieved himself just in time, though his aim wasn’t perfect because of his unintentional swaying. Then he moved to the sink to wash his hands. As he dried them off, he glanced in the mirror and saw the large shower behind him. It was about the size of a sauna and even had a marble bench built into the back wall.

Then he noticed something else. At first, he doubted what he was seeing, maybe because the room was spinning slightly. But when he squinted, it was still there. Lying on the shower floor near the bench was a woman, wearing just a bra and a long, black skirt with a slit up the side. She looked like she’d passed out. That wouldn’t have stunned Cord. Jasper’s parties were infamous for all kinds of wildness: live bands, endless booze, copious amounts of drugs, bikini-clad young women, and occasional orgies. So seeing a half-naked woman crashed out in a shower stall wasn’t as shocking as some might think. Seeing her like that in Jasper’s shower was.

Cord called out to her quietly to see if he could rouse her, but she didn’t respond. She was lying on her back, which could be a choking hazard if she threw up, so he peeked through the glass to make sure she hadn’t. He saw nothing other than a reasonably attractive woman in her early forties. She was no bikini girl, but at Jasper’s parties, it took all kinds.

He did notice that her head was bent at an awkward angle that would leave a nasty ache in her neck when she woke up. He decided that the gentlemanly thing to do was to shake her slightly so she could readjust her position. So he opened the glass door, bent down, and gave her a gentle jostle on her shoulder. Her skin was wet. He looked down and saw that her clothes were too, along with the shower floor. He gave her another little shove. She didn’t react—at all.

That’s when Cord noticed that she wasn’t breathing. Panic welled up inside him but he managed to force it down long enough to remember the CPR training from his junior lifeguard days. He got out his phone, dialed 911, put it on speaker, and rested it on the shower bench. Then he moved beside her and prepared to start compressions.

He was about to press down on her chest for the first time when he noticed something else. Her neck wasn’t just bent awkwardly. It was lolling to the side sloppily, as if there was nothing supporting it. If he didn’t know better he’d think it was broken.

It was just as the 911 operator came on the line that he realized it was. That’s when he began to scream.





CHAPTER ONE





Jessie Hunt officially gave up on sleep at 5:10 a.m.

She’d been awake since four anyway and there didn’t seem to be any point in lying in bed, especially today. So she got up and quietly made her way out to the kitchen to start the coffee.

Jessie’s half-sister, Hannah, wasn’t an early riser under any circumstances, but certainly not on a Sunday morning. And since she’d just started her senior year of high school, weekends were especially precious to her. Jessie did her best to be respectful of that, if for no other reason than to keep the peace.

It was easier to avoid accidentally waking anyone up since the big move. It had been a month since they’d left the apartment of Jessie’s best friend, Kat, and started to settle in at the house Jessie had inherited from her mentor and friend, Garland Moses. There was lots more space and the walls were thicker.

The new house had an added benefit. As a one-story home formerly occupied by a long-widowed senior citizen, it was already well-designed for people with mobility challenges. That was a major plus considering that Jessie’s boyfriend, LAPD Detective Ryan Hernandez, was coming home today.

Nearly six weeks after being stabbed in the chest by Jessie’s ex-husband and four weeks after being taken out of a medically induced coma and removed from a ventilator, he’d been given approval to leave the hospital. Jessie’s excitement when Dr. Badalia gave her the news was tempered by his warning that the hardest part of Ryan’s recovery had yet to begin.

He would need multiple daily visits from a nurse to help out and evaluate his progress, in addition to daily physical therapy. Dr. Badalia had suggested a full-time, in-home nurse for a few months but Ryan had balked at the idea. Jessie didn’t want to make him feel powerless so she’d consented to his wishes. But she worried that even with all the equipment she’d had installed, including handrails, bath and toilet accessories, and help buttons in every room, she might still not be prepared for the responsibility.