Home > The Perfect Veneer (Jessie Hunt #26)

The Perfect Veneer (Jessie Hunt #26)
Author: Blake Pierce





Grover Nix was behind schedule, and it irritated him to no end.

He was supposed to knock on the bedroom door of Mr. and Mrs. Booth with breakfast at exactly 7:30 a.m. Depending on whether they were ready for him to enter or not, he would bring it into the bedroom suite or simply leave it on the table outside the door. Either way, he was supposed to be knocking at 7:30.

With a full tray of food, it took a good five minutes to walk from the kitchen, through the mansion, up the stairs, and down the long hallway to the bedroom. But it was already 7:26 and he was only now putting the metal covers over the plates.

The chef had let Mr. Booth’s eggs teeter beyond over easy to over medium and had to redo them, pushing everything back. In addition, Mrs. Booth’s cantaloupe was sloppily cut. It had been a disaster of a morning.

Grover finally gripped the handles of the tray and turned to the kitchen door, ready to make haste, when a loud, piercing alarm sounded, echoing throughout the grounds. Unlike the main alarm for the estate, this was one he’d never heard before. Rather than guess what it meant, he did what he was trained to do: he put the tray down and immediately began running toward his employer’s bedroom.

Grover wasn’t just a valet. Before entering the world of hospitality, he’d been an SAS soldier in the British Army, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While he hadn’t worn the uniform in over fifteen years, his time in the military was what had earned him multiple private security and bodyguard positions. And it was what had gotten him his position here at the Booth Estate.

Grover sprinted as fast as his suit and his forty-six-year-old legs would allow as he shot through various first floor rooms and reached the stairs. Part of the reason he’d taken this job was that his body could no longer stand the rigors of daily, nonstop, public-facing security scenarios. Protecting a sixty-four-year-old billionaire who rarely moved outside the bubble of mansions, limos, high-rise office buildings, and private jets was supposed to mean an end to all the physical stress. And yet, here he was, about to bound up three flights of stairs.

“All units,” he huffed into his comm as he leapt up the stairs two at a time, trying to be heard over the shrill alarm siren, “this is Prime. I am approaching the Principal’s nest. I need unit one to meet me there. Unit two, secure the estate perimeter. Control room, get me eyes.”

He had to stop talking as he reached the top of the stairs. He was out of breath, and he wanted to stay quiet as he approached the bedroom. He carried a sidearm but was reluctant to remove it from its holster. The likelihood was that this was an unintentional activation of some alarm, and he didn’t want to escalate the situation by inadvertently shooting someone, especially his boss. So, instead, he pulled out his retractable nightstick as he jogged toward the Booths’ bedroom door. When he saw that it was open, he knew something was wrong. They never just left it open.

Stepping inside, he scanned the room. There was nothing overtly unusual. The bed was unmade. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Booth was anywhere in sight. He slid along the wall, his back pressed against it to support his slightly shaky calves as he neared the giant barn door that led to the bathroom.

He was about to spin around the corner when he thought better of his choice of weapon. Whatever was going on, he was now dubious that it was just an accidental tripping of an alarm. He replaced the nightstick, unholstered his gun, took a deep breath, and rolled into the open doorway facing the bathroom.

The space was larger than most other bathrooms, with a marble vanity that stretched fifteen feet across, two farmhouse-style sinks, and separate his and hers toilet stalls and closets. No one was visible in those darkened areas, though he noted that there was a dim light coming from the back of Mr. Booth’s closet.

He got to his feet and was just moving in that direction when he heard footsteps behind him and swung around, ready to fire. Staring him in the face was Rufus, aka “Unit One,” in the four-person security team. The younger man with the dark buzzcut looked stunned to have a weapon pointed in his face and seemed about to gasp when Grover held the index finger of his free hand to his lips to indicate silence, then pointed at the closet.

He mouthed the words “cover me.” Rufus nodded and removed his own weapon. Grover indicated what he planned to do next. Again, Rufus nodded. Lying to himself that it wouldn’t hurt, Grover knelt at the edge of the closet, took a step, and did a somersault into the closet, popping up onto his knees with gun pointed in the direction of the light.

It took him a second to process what he saw. The back wall of the closet, which had several long coats draped on hangers, appeared to actually be a door, leading to another, hidden room. It was slightly ajar. That was where the light, and the ear-splitting noise, was coming from.

Grover stood up and dashed over. There was just enough room to get through the opening. Once he’d passed through, he realized he was in a high-tech panic room, one that Mr. Booth had never informed him of. But that fact became secondary almost immediately.

More pressing was the fact that his employer, billionaire Lowden Booth was lying on the floor with a giant indentation in his forehead where it had clearly slammed into the corner of the nearby safe on the floor. The safe was bloody. His head was bloody. The cement floor around his head was quickly pooling with blood from the gaping wound. And Booth’s wide-open eyes were proof that he was beyond help.

Grover turned his attention to Booth’s young wife, Devon, who was seated, slumped on the floor beside him, her head resting against the wall of the room. She was either dead or unconscious. Her hands were tied behind her back.

“Jesus,” muttered Rufus from behind him.

Grover walked over to the control panel, studied it for a second, and then pushed one of the buttons. The alarm went quiet.

“Control room,” he said into his com, “we have a home invasion. The intruder or intruders may still be on the property. Make an announcement alerting all staff to lock themselves in secure rooms. Monitor all CCTV cameras for suspicious movement. They can’t have gotten far. Unit two, have your weapon ready. The intruders have violently attacked the Principal. Assume they’re armed and dangerous. Unit one will be coming to assist.”

He was about to give Rufus further instructions when a soft moan escaped Devon Booth’s lips. He felt like an idiot for not having immediately checked her status. He was getting sloppy in his old age.

“And control room, call LAPD. Use the private emergency number we were given. Let them know who’s calling and alert them that we need immediate assistance. Tell them that we have an assault victim with a head injury and another victim who is deceased. Do this now.”






“You do realize that you are the only patient I ever allow to go over time.”

Jessie Hunt couldn’t help but smile when she heard the words.

Dr. Lemmon had said them with what was clearly intended to sound like exasperation but, despite her best intentions, affection had slipped in ever so slightly. Jessie looked at her therapist on the screen of her laptop and batted her eyes flirtatiously.

“Why Doc, does this mean that I’m your most favoritest patient ever?”

The doctor stared back at her impassively behind her thick glasses. The sixty-something psychiatrist with aggressively permed blonde hair and a reputation as the best in the business wasn’t about to let Jessie get the upper hand.

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