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The Perfect House

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The Perfect House



Blake Pierce

Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which includes fifteen books (and counting). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series, comprising nine books (and counting); of the AVERY BLACK mystery series, comprising six books; of the KERI LOCKE mystery series, comprising five books; of the MAKING OF RILEY PAIGE mystery series, comprising three books (and counting); of the KATE WISE mystery series, comprising four  books (and counting); of the CHLOE FINE psychological suspense mystery, comprising three books (and counting); and of the JESSE HUNT psychological suspense thriller series, comprising three books (and counting).

An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit to learn more and stay in touch.

Copyright © 2018 by Blake Pierce. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright hurricanehank, used under license from








NEXT DOOR (Book #1)


CUL DE SAC (Book #3)



IF SHE KNEW (Book #1)

IF SHE SAW (Book #2)

IF SHE RAN (Book #3)

IF SHE HID (Book #4)

IF SHE FLED (Book #5)


WATCHING (Book #1)

WAITING (Book #2)

LURING (Book #3)

TAKING (Book #4)


ONCE GONE (Book #1)

ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)


ONCE LURED (Book #4)


ONCE PINED (Book #6)


ONCE COLD (Book #8)


ONCE LOST (Book #10)

ONCE BURIED (Book #11)

ONCE BOUND (Book #12)



















CAUSE TO RUN (Book #2)












Eliza Longworth took a long sip of her coffee as she looked out over the Pacific Ocean, marveling at the view only steps from her bedroom. Sometimes she had to remind herself just how lucky she was.

Her friend of twenty-five years, Penelope Wooten, sat in the adjoining chaise lounge on the patio overlooking Los Liones Canyon. It was a relatively clear March day and in the distance Catalina Island was visible. Looking to her left, Eliza could see the gleaming towers of downtown Santa Monica.

It was mid-morning on Monday. The kids had been packed off to daycare and school and the rush hour traffic had subsided. The only thing the longtime friends had on the schedule until lunchtime was hanging out in Eliza’s three-story hillside Pacific Palisades mansion. If she wasn’t so blissed out at the moment, she might even start to feel a little guilty. But as the notion slipped into her brain, she immediately forced it out.

You’ll have lots of time to stress later today. Just allow yourself this moment.

“Want a coffee refill?” Penny asked. “I need a potty break anyway.”

“No thanks. I’m good for now,” Eliza said, before adding with a mischievous grin, “By the way, you know you can call it a bathroom break when there are just adults around, right?”

Penny stuck her tongue out in response as she got up, unfolding her impossibly long legs from the chair like a giraffe getting up after a nap. Her long, lustrous blonde hair, so much more stylish than Eliza’s shoulder-length light brown variety, was tied up in a fashionably utilitarian ponytail. She still looked like the runway fashion model she’d been for much of her twenties before she gave it up for an admittedly less exciting, but far less manic, life.

She headed inside, leaving Eliza alone with her thoughts. Almost immediately, despite her best efforts, her mind returned to their conversation from minutes earlier. She replayed it as if on a loop she couldn’t turn off.

“Gray seems so distant lately,” Eliza had said. “Our one priority was always to have family dinner with the kids. But since he made senior partner, he’s had all these dinner meetings.”

“I’m sure he’s as frustrated as you are,” Penny had assured her. “Once things settle down, you’ll probably get back to your old routine.”

“I can handle him being gone more. I get it. He’s got more responsibility for the success of the firm now. But what bugs me is that he doesn’t seem to have any sense of loss about it. He’s never expressed regret that he has to miss out. I’m not even sure he notices.”

“I’m sure he does, Lizzie,” Penny had said. “He probably just feels guilty about it. Acknowledging what he’s missing would make it that much worse. I bet he’s blocking it out. I do that sometimes.”

“Do what exactly?” Eliza asked.

“Pretend that something I’m doing in my life that’s not really admirable is no big deal because admitting it is a big deal would just make me feel worse about it.”

“What do you do that’s so bad?” Eliza asked mockingly.

“Just last week I ate half a can of Pringles in one sitting, for one thing. And then I yelled at the kids for wanting ice cream as an afternoon snack. So there’s that.”

“You’re right. You’re a horrible person.”

Penny stuck her tongue out before responding. Penny was big on sticking out her tongue.

“My point is, maybe he’s not as oblivious as it seems. Have you considered counseling?”

“You know I don’t believe in that crap. Besides, why should I see a therapist when I have you? Between Penny therapy and yoga, I’m set emotionally. Speaking of, are we still on for tomorrow morning at your place?”


Thinking about it now, all joking aside, maybe marriage counseling wasn’t such a bad idea. Eliza knew that Penny and Colton went every other week and they seemed to be the stronger for it. If she did go, she knew at least her best friend wouldn’t rub it in.

They’d had each other’s back ever since they were in elementary school. She still remembered when Kelton Prew pulled her pigtails and Penny had kicked him in the shin. That was the first day of third grade. They’d been thick as thieves ever since.

They’d helped each other through countless struggles. Eliza had been there for Penny when she had her bout with bulimia in high school. In their sophomore year of college, Penny had been the one to convince her it was not just a bad date, but that Ray Houson had raped her.

Penny went with her to campus police and sat in the courtroom to offer moral support when she testified. And when the tennis coach wanted to drop her from the team and pull her scholarship because she was still struggling months later, Penny went to him and threatened to help her friend sue the bastard. Eliza stayed on the team and won conference player of the year as a junior.

When Eliza miscarried after trying to get pregnant for eighteen months, Penny came over every day until she was finally ready to crawl out of bed. And when Penny’s older son, Colt Jr., was diagnosed with autism, it was Eliza who did weeks of research and found the school that finally helped him start thriving.

They’d been through so many battles together that they liked to call themselves the Westside Warriors, even if their husbands thought the name was ridiculous. So if Penny was suggesting she reconsider marriage counseling, maybe she should.

Eliza was pulled out of her thoughts by a ding on Penny’s phone. She reached over and grabbed it, ready to let her friend know someone was reaching out. But when she saw the name on the text, she opened the message. It was from Gray Longworth, Eliza’s husband. It read:


Can’t wait 2 c u 2nite. I miss your scent. Three days without u is too long. I told Lizzie I have a partner’s dinner. Same time & place, right?

Eliza put the phone down. Her head was suddenly swimming and she felt weak. The mug slipped from her hand, hit the ground, and shattered into dozens of ceramic shards.

Penny ran back outside.

“Everything okay?” she asked. “I heard something break.”

She looked down at the mug with coffee splattered all around it, and then up at Eliza’s stunned face.

“What is it?” she asked.

Eliza’s eyes moved involuntarily to Penny’s phone and she watched her friend track them with her own. She saw the moment of recognition in Penelope’s eyes as she put two and two together and realized what must have so startled her oldest, dearest friend.

“It’s not like it seems,” Penny said anxiously, dispensing with any attempt to deny what they both knew.

“How could you?” Eliza demanded, barely able to get the words out. “I trusted you more than anyone in the world. And you do this?”

She felt like someone had opened a trap door below her and she was falling into a pit of nothingness. Everything that grounded her life seemed to be disintegrating before her eyes. She thought she might throw up.

“Please, Eliza,” Penny begged, kneeling down beside her friend. “Let me explain. It did happen, but it was a mistake—one that I’ve been trying to fix ever since.”

“A mistake?” Eliza repeated, sitting upright in her chair as nausea mixed with anger, making a churning cauldron of bile bubble up from her stomach to her throat. “A mistake is tripping on a curb and knocking someone over. A mistake is forgetting to carry the one in a subtraction problem. A mistake isn’t accidentally letting your best friend’s husband inside you, Penny!”

“I know,” Penny acknowledged, her voice choking with regret. “I shouldn’t have said that. It was a terrible decision, made in a moment of weakness, fueled by too many glasses of viognier. I told him it was over.”

“‘Over’ suggests it was more than once,” Eliza noted, scrambling to her feet. “Exactly how long have you been sleeping with my husband?”

Penny stood there silently, clearly debating whether being honest would do more harm than good.

“About a month,” she finally admitted.

Suddenly her husband’s recent time away from the family made more sense. Each new revelation seemed to pack a new punch to the gut. Eliza felt that the only thing keeping her from collapsing was her sense of righteous rage.

“Funny,” Eliza pointed out bitterly. “That’s about how long Gray has been having those late-night partner meetings you told me he probably felt bad about. What a coincidence.”

“I thought I could control it…” Penny started to say.

“Don’t give me that,” Eliza said, shutting her down. “We both know you can get restless. But this is how you dealt with it?”

“I know this doesn’t help,” Penny insisted. “But I was going to break it off. I haven’t talked to him in three days. I was just trying to find a way to end it with him without blowing things up with you.”

“Looks like you’re going to need a new plan,” Eliza spat, fighting the urge to kick the coffee cup shards at her friend. Only her bare feet prevented her. She clung to her anger, knowing it was the only thing keeping her from falling apart completely.

“Please, let me find a way to make this right. There has to be something I can do.”

“There is,” Eliza assured her. “Leave now.”

Her friend stared at her for a moment. But she must have sensed how serious Eliza was because her hesitation was brief.

“Okay,” Penny said, picking up her things and scurrying toward the front door. “I’ll go. But let’s talk later. We’ve been through so much together, Lizzie. Let’s not let this ruin everything.”

Eliza forced herself not to scream epithets in response. This might be the last time she ever saw her “friend” again and she needed her to understand the magnitude of the situation.

“This is different,” she said slowly, with emphasis on each word. “All those other times were us against the world, having each other’s back. This time you stabbed me in mine. Our friendship is over.”

Then she slammed the door in her best friend’s face.


Jessie Hunt woke up with a start, briefly unsure where she was. It took a moment to remember that she was in midair, on a Monday morning flight from Washington, D.C., back to Los Angeles. She looked at her watch and saw she still had two hours left before they landed.

Trying not to drift off again, she roused herself by taking a sip from the water bottle stuffed in the seatback pocket. She swished it around her mouth, trying to get rid of the cottonmouth coating her tongue.

She had good reason to nap. The last ten weeks had been among the most exhausting of her life. She had just completed the FBI’s National Academy, an intense training program for local law enforcement personnel designed to familiarize them with FBI investigative techniques.

The exclusive program was only available to those nominated to attend by their supervisors. Unless accepted to go to Quantico to become a formal FBI agent, this crash course was the next best thing.

Under normal circumstances, Jessie wouldn’t have been eligible to go. Until recently, she had only been an interim junior criminal profiling consultant for the LAPD. But after she solved a high-profile case, her stock had risen rapidly.

In retrospect, Jessie understood why the academy preferred more experienced officers. For the first two weeks of the program, she’d felt completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information being thrown at her. She had classes in forensic science, law, terrorist mindsets, and her area of focus, behavioral science, which emphasized getting inside the minds of killers to better understand their motives. And none of that included the relentless physical training that left every muscle aching.

Eventually, she found her bearings. The courses, which were reminiscent of her recent graduate work in criminal psychology, began to make sense. After about a month, her body was no longer screaming when she woke up each morning. And best of all, the time she spent in the Behavioral Sciences Unit allowed her to interact with the best serial killer experts in the world. She hoped to one day be among them.

There was one added benefit. Because she worked so hard, both mentally and physically, for almost every waking moment, she hardly ever dreamed. Or at least, she didn’t have nightmares.

Back home, she often woke up screaming in a cold sweat as memories of her childhood or her more recent traumas replayed in her unconscious. She still remembered her most recent source of anxiety. It was her last conversation with incarcerated serial killer Bolton Crutchfield, the one in which he’d told her he would be chatting with her own murderous father sometime soon.

If she had been back in L.A. for the last ten weeks, she’d have spent most of that time obsessing over whether Crutchfield was telling the truth or screwing with her. And if he was being honest, how would he manage to coordinate a discussion with an on-the-lam killer while he was being held in a secure mental hospital?

But because she’d been thousands of miles away, focused on unrelentingly challenging tasks for almost every waking second, she hadn’t been able to fixate on Crutchfield’s claims. She likely would again soon, but not just yet. Right now, she was simply too tired for her brain to mess with her.

As she settled back into her seat, allowing sleep to envelop her again, Jessie had a thought.

So all I have to do to get good sleep for the rest of my life is spend every morning working out until I almost throw up, followed by ten hours of non-stop professional instruction. Sounds like a plan.

Before she fully formed the grin that was beginning to play at her lips, she was asleep again.


That sense of cozy comfort disappeared the second she walked outside of LAX just after noon. From this moment on, she would need to be on constant guard again. After all, as she’d learned before she left for Quantico, a never-captured serial killer was on the hunt. Xander Thurman had been looking for her for months. Thurman also happened to be her father.

She took a rideshare from the airport to work, which was the Central Community Police Station in downtown L.A. She didn’t formally start work again until tomorrow and wasn’t in the mood to chat, so she didn’t even go into the main bullpen of the station.

Instead, she went to her assigned mailbox cubby and collected her mail, which had been forwarded from a post office box. No one—not her work colleagues, not her friends, not even her adoptive parents—knew her actual address. She’d rented the apartment through a leasing company; her name was nowhere on the agreement and there was no paperwork connecting her to the building.

Once she grabbed the mail, she walked along a side corridor to the motor pool, where taxis were always waiting in the adjoining alley. She hopped in one and directed it to the retail strip center that was situated next to her apartment complex, about two miles away.

One reason she’d picked this place to live after her friend Lacy had insisted she move out was that it was difficult to find and even harder to access without permission. First of all, its parking structure was under the adjoining retail complex in the same building, so anyone following her would have a hard time determining where she was going.

Even if someone did figure it out, the building had a doorman and a security guard. The front door and the elevators both required keycards. And none of the apartments themselves had unit numbers listed on the outside. Residents just had to remember which was theirs.

Still, Jessie took extra precautions. Once the cab, which she paid for with cash, dropped her off, she walked into the retail center. First she passed quickly through a coffee shop, meandering through the crowd before taking a side exit.

Then, pulling the hood of her sweatshirt over her shoulder-length brown hair, she passed through a food court to a hallway that had restrooms next to a door marked “Employees Only.” She pushed open the women’s restroom door so that anyone following her would see it closing and think she’d gone in. Instead, not looking back, she hurried through the employee entrance, which was a long hallway with back door entrances to each business.

She jogged along the curved corridor until she found a stairwell with a sign marked “Maintenance.” Hurrying down the steps as quietly as possible, she used the keycard she’d gotten from the building manager to unlock that door too. She’d negotiated special authorization to this area based on her LAPD connection rather than by trying to explain that her precautions were related to having an on-the-loose serial killer for a father.

The maintenance door closed and locked behind her as she navigated her way along a narrow passage with exposed pipes jutting out at all angles and metal cages securing equipment she didn’t understand. After several minutes of dodging and weaving among the obstacles, she reached a small alcove near a large boiler.

Midway down the passage, the recessed area was unlit and easy to miss. She’d had to have it pointed out to her the first time she’d been down here. She stepped into the alcove as she pulled out the old key she’d been given. The lock to this door was an old-school bolt. She turned it, pushed open the heavy door, and quickly closed and locked it behind her.

Now in the supply room on the basement level of her apartment building, she had officially transitioned from the retail center property to the apartment complex. She hurried through the darkened room, nearly tripping over a tub of bleach lying on the floor. She opened that door, passed through the empty maintenance manager’s office, and walked up the tight stairwell that opened onto the back hallway of the apartment building’s main floor.

She rounded the corner to the vestibule with the bank of elevators, where she could hear Jimmy the doorman and Fred the security guard amiably chatting with a resident in the front lobby. She didn’t have time to catch up with them now but promised herself she would reconnect later.

Both were nice guys. Fred was a former highway patrolman who had retired early after a bad on-the-job motorcycle accident. It left him with a limp and a large scar on his left cheek, but that didn’t stop him from constantly joking around. Jimmy, in his mid-twenties, was a sweet, earnest kid using this job to pay his way through college.


She moved past the vestibule to the service elevator, which wasn’t visible from the lobby, swiped her card, and waited anxiously to see if anyone had followed her. She knew the chances were remote but that didn’t stop her from shifting nervously from one foot to the other until the elevator arrived.

When it did, she stepped in, pushed the button for the fourth floor, and then the one to close the door. When the doors opened, she scurried down the hall until she got to her apartment. Taking a moment to catch her breath, she studied her door.

On first glance, it looked as nondescript as all the others on the floor. But she’d had several security upgrades added when she moved in. First, she stepped back so that she was three feet away from the door and directly in line with the peephole. A dull green glow that wasn’t visible from any other angle emanated from the rim around the hole, an indicator that the unit had not been forcibly accessed. Had it been, the rim around the peephole would have been red.

In addition to the Nest doorbell camera she’d had installed, there were also multiple hidden cameras in the corridor. One had a direct view of her door. Another focused on the hall facing back to the elevator and the adjoining stairwell. A third pointed in the other direction of the second set of stairs. She’d checked them all on the way over in the cab and found no suspicious movement around her place today.

The next step was entry. She used a traditional key to open one bolt, then swiped her card and heard the other sliding bolt open as well. She stepped inside as the motion sensor alarm warning went off, dropped her backpack on the floor, and ignored the alarm as she rebolted both doors and pulled the sliding security bar across as well. Only then did she punch in the eight-digit code.

After that she grabbed the nightstick she kept by the door and hurried to the bedroom. She lifted up the removable picture frame beside the light switch to reveal the hidden security panel and punched in the four-digit code for the second, silent alarm—the one that went straight to the police if she didn’t deactivate it in forty seconds.

Only then did she allow herself to breathe. As she inhaled and exhaled slowly, she walked around the small apartment, nightstick in hand, ready for anything. Searching the whole place, including the closets, shower, and pantry, took under a minute.

When she was confident that she was alone and secure, she checked the half dozen nanny-cams she had placed throughout the unit. Then she evaluated the locks on the windows. Everything was in working order. That left only one place to review.

She stepped into the bathroom and opened the narrow closet that held shelves with supplies like extra toilet paper, a plunger, some bars of soap, shower scrubbers, and mirror cleaning fluid. There was a small clasp on the left side of the closet, not visible unless one knew where to look. She flipped it and tugged, feeling the hidden latch click.

The shelving unit swung open, revealing an extremely narrow shaft behind it, with a rope ladder attached to the brick wall. The tube and ladder extended from her fourth-floor unit down to a crawl space in the basement laundry room. It was designed as her last-ditch emergency exit if all her other security measures fell through. She hoped she’d never need it.

She replaced the shelf and was about to return to the living room when she caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. It was the first time she’d really studied herself at length since she left. She liked what she saw.

On the surface, she didn’t look that different from before. She’d had a birthday while at the FBI and was now twenty-nine, but she didn’t look older. In fact, she thought she looked better than when she’d left.

Her hair was still brown, but it seemed somehow bouncier, less limp than it had been when she left L.A. all those weeks ago. Despite the long days at the FBI, her green eyes sparkled with energy and no longer had the dark shadows underneath that had become so familiar to her. She was still a lean five feet ten, but she felt stronger and firmer than before. Her arms were more toned and her core was tight from endless sit-ups and planks. She felt…prepared.

Moving into the living room, she finally turned on the lights. It took her a second to remember that all the furniture in the space was hers. She’d bought most of it just before she’d left for Quantico. She hadn’t had much choice. She’d sold all the stuff from the house she’d owned with her sociopathic, currently incarcerated ex-husband, Kyle. For a while after that, she crashed at the apartment of her old college friend, Lacy Cartwright. But after it was broken into by someone sending a message to Jessie on behalf of Bolton Crutchfield, Lacy had insisted she leave, pretty much right then.

So she’d done exactly that, living in a weekly hotel for a while until she found a place—this place—that met her security needs. But it was unfurnished, so she’d burned a chunk of her money from the divorce all at once on furniture and appliances. Since she’d had to leave for the National Academy so soon after buying it all, she hadn’t gotten a chance to appreciate any of it.

Now she hoped to. She sat down on the love seat and leaned back, settling in. There was a cardboard box marked “stuff to go through” sitting on the floor beside her. She picked it up and began rifling through it. Most of it was paperwork she had no intention of dealing with now. At the very bottom of the box was an 8x10 wedding photo of her and Kyle.

She stared at it almost uncomprehendingly, amazed that the person who had that life was the one sitting here now. Almost a decade ago, during their sophomore year at USC, she’d started dating Kyle Voss. They’d moved in together soon after graduation and gotten married three years ago.

For a long time, things seemed great. They lived in a cool apartment not far from here in downtown Los Angeles, or DTLA as it was often called. Kyle had a good job in finance and Jessie was getting her master’s degree. Their life was comfortable. They went to new restaurants and checked out the hot bars. Jessie was happy and probably could have stayed that way for a long time.

But then Kyle got a promotion at the company’s office in Orange County and insisted they move to a McMansion there. Jessie had consented, despite her apprehension. It was only then that Kyle’s true nature was revealed. He became obsessed with joining a secret club that turned out to be a front for a prostitution ring. He began an affair with one of the women there. And when it went bad, he killed her and tried to frame Jessie for it. To top it all off, when Jessie uncovered his plot, he tried to kill her too.

But even now, as she studied the wedding photo, there was no hint of what her husband was ultimately capable of. He looked like a handsome, amiable, rough-around-the-edges future master of the universe. She crumpled up the photo and tossed it toward the trash can in the kitchen. It dropped right in the center, giving her an unexpected cathartic rush.

Swish! That must mean something.

There was something freeing about this place. Everything—the new furniture, the lack of personal mementos, even the borderline paranoid security measures—belonged to her. She had a fresh start.

She stretched out, allowing her muscles to relax after the long flight on the tightly packed plane. This apartment was hers—the first place in over half a dozen years she could truly say that about. She could eat pizza on the couch and leave the box lying around without worrying about anyone complaining. Not that she was the type to do that. But the point was, she could.

The thought of pizza made her suddenly hungry. She got up and checked the fridge. Not only was it empty, it wasn’t even turned on. Only then did she remember that she’d left it that way, not seeing any reason to pay for the electricity if she was going to be gone for two and a half months.

She plugged it in and, feeling restless, decided to make a grocery run. Then she had another idea. Since she didn’t start work until tomorrow and it wasn’t too late in the afternoon there was another stop she could make: a place—and a person—she knew she’d eventually have to visit.

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