Home > The Perfect Neighbor (Jessie Hunt #9)

The Perfect Neighbor (Jessie Hunt #9)
Author: Blake Pierce

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

She didn’t want to be nosy.

At least that’s what Priscilla Barton told herself as she walked along the Manhattan Beach Strand with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in her hand.

Technically, Prissy, as she preferred to be called, was welcoming a new neighbor to the community. She and her husband, Garth, had been away at their Palm Springs estate for much of last week and must have missed the new people moving in. Since the Bartons returned to town, Prissy sometimes noticed the movement of a silhouette behind the always-drawn shades in the mansion next door. But she’d never seen anyone come in or out.

It was difficult to keep track these days anyway. Since so many of her neighbors in this wealthy, beach-adjacent stretch of town spent large chunks of the summer traveling, it was hard to know who was on vacation, much less who had rented or lent out their home.

Prissy knew that the owners of the house next door were a Hollywood agent and his wife, who ran some kind of scholarship fund for underprivileged youth. But they weren’t especially friendly and were gone for long stretches of the year. In fact, she’d overheard another neighbor say they’d be gone until August. Since she hadn’t seen them in weeks, it made sense that the person she’d seen was a renter.

As Prissy approached the front door, she felt a tingle of anticipation. What if the agent had lent out his house to a client, maybe a famous celebrity? It wouldn’t be unusual. Lots of famous people lived or vacationed here. She could often spot them because they wore baseball caps, sunglasses, and ratty clothes. It was like their uniform.

Plus, they rarely looked up. If she saw someone who looked borderline homeless hiding their face and refusing to make eye contact, there was a solid chance it was a celebrity. Of course, she’d learned the hard way that sometimes it was a homeless person. So she was more cautious about approaching them than when she’d first moved in.

It wasn’t like Prissy was a stranger to wealth. For the last nine years, she’d been married to Garth Barton, who was an extremely successful executive with Sharp Kimsey, an international oil and gas company. Until last year, they’d lived in the historic Hancock Park neighborhood, not far from all those gleaming downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers.

But Prissy, who had grown up poor and sweaty in Catahoula, Louisiana, had grown tired of the sweltering summer heat of central L.A. and demanded they move to the beach, which was usually fifteen to twenty degrees cooler. But living at the beach didn’t mean being embraced by the locals. Prissy had yet to be accepted.

She liked to tell herself that it was because these were insular, aloof types who despised newcomers. And there was some truth to that. But deep down, she knew that it had a lot more to do with her sometimes grasping, social-climbing personality, the one she tried to hide but which always seemed to emerge at the most inopportune times.

She just couldn’t help it. That aggressive persona had helped her scrape and claw her way out of the bayou to get to LSU, where she met the suave New Orleans boy who wanted to become a master of the universe.

After graduation and the wedding, Garth got the gig at Sharp Kimsey and they settled in Metairie, not far from the company’s New Orleans office. They were transferred to Houston after two years and then to L.A. after four more. They’d been here for three years and Prissy loved it.

She loved the glamour of the town. She loved the unrepentant gaucheness. She loved the too-skinny women carrying around their too-tiny dogs in too-small purses. She wanted to be a part of it, even if her attempts made her look a little desperate. That’s why she was currently standing at her neighbor’s front door with a bottle of wine and a wide grin plastered on her face—to be a part of the scene.

She glanced back at the Strand, a pedestrian-friendly cement path that often came within a casual newspaper toss of many homes in the towns of Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach. It was surprisingly unpopulated for this late afternoon hour, which meant no one was around to judge her curiosity.

Prissy gave herself a once-over in the thick, shimmering glass of the door. She thought she looked good. At thirty-one, she still had the bouncy body she knew she needed in order to keep Garth’s eye from wandering. All the yoga, Pilates, and beach boot camp workouts had paid off, keeping her tight in all the right places. Her dyed-blonde hair was loose around her shoulders and though it was early evening, she used the warm weather as an excuse to wear a sports bra and high-waisted yoga pants. She was pretty sure she’d make a good impression, whether the new resident was a celeb or not.

Prissy rang the doorbell but heard nothing. It must be broken. She knocked on the door and waited. There was no answer. She tried again and still got no response. She was about to give up and was debating whether to leave the wine on the doormat. But she hadn’t brought a card and there was no way she was going to just leave the stuff without the recipient knowing who’d provided the gift. So she tried one last time. If no one answered this time, she’d just come back later. She banged hard on the door with the soft side of her fist. To her surprise, it opened inward slightly.

“Hello?” she called out loudly but tentatively.

There was no answer. Baffled by the oddness of leaving a multimillion-dollar home unprotected, she pushed the door open a bit more.

“Hi, it’s your neighbor!” she called out as she peeked in the foyer for a pen and paper, anything to let the resident know that she deserved credit for the wine. Just leaving the bottle inside the door as an anonymous gift defeated the whole purpose of coming by in the first place. Seeing nothing, she closed the door behind her and stepped further inside the house.

“Hello! Anyone home? I swear I’m not here to rob the place. I have a housewarming gift. I’m just going to leave it in the kitchen.”

She wandered down the cavernous hallway in the direction she assumed would lead to the kitchen. She felt slightly nervous. After all, she was trespassing. If someone was home and hadn’t responded because they were in the shower or had earbuds in, they would be justified in reacting badly to an interloper sauntering into their home. But she also got a delicious thrill out of sneaking around.

She didn’t meet a soul on the way to the kitchen. Every light in the house was off, which gave her the impression that the resident was gone and had just forgotten to lock or even properly close the door. She placed the wine on the kitchen island, found a pen, and wrote a short note on a nearby Post-it, which she stuck to the front of the bottle.

Slightly disappointed, she started back down the main hall when curiosity got the better of her again. As she reached the entrance to the large living room, she couldn’t help but step inside and marvel at the place, which looked like it had been picked up and transported here directly from Cape Cod.

She was just considering pulling out her phone to snap a few photos so she could steal some ideas when she heard a rustling sound in the corner of the room. Looking over, she saw that it came from behind a large plant. For a second, Prissy thought she’d frightened a pet that was staying out of sight for safety.

But then, in a sudden burst of movement, a man shot out from behind the plant and ran toward her with a look of dark intensity on his face. Prissy felt an unexpected rush of panicked terror consume her. She wanted to scream but her throat had gone completely dry. The man was barreling right for her. She finally snapped out of it when she heard his breathing, heavy and fast.

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