When an international pop starlet rolls into town looking to buy the most expensive house on the market, struggling real estate agents and husband and wife duo Claudine and Henry think their terrible luck has finally turned.
The mysterious mansion has hidden secrets, and Claudine and Henry’s survival depends on no one finding out the truth about what really happened there. In a desperate move to secure the sale, Claudine decides to bury the house’s dark past and show it at its best – by inviting the singer to a lavish holiday party hosted inside the majestic mountainside mansion.
But when a murder weapon turns up as part of the party’s game of Secret Santa, Claudine’s carefully curated lie and the lives of all the party goers is threatened as they race to find the killer before they can strike again.
How far will Claudine go to protect her secrets? Is she prepared to kill to make a killing, or will she fall prey herself?
Extract: ‘The Secret Santa‘
by Trish Harnetiaux
I want to go on record saying I was not the one who brought that gift to the party. It couldn’t have been me. Look at the facts: I’d only flown in that day. I’d never met any of these people and I didn’t know what a Secret Santa game was until Claudine told me. Sure, yes, I brought a gift; we all did. That was the point. But no way did I bring that gift. Don’t even think it. See, this was a really weird time for me even before what happened that night. It was right after my breakup with Liam. Six months we’d been together. Personal record. I know that’s longer than most people thought we would last. I was twenty- three. He was thirty- four.
I was a former Disney TV child actor turned music sensation. He was a shock rocker who’d been mentored by Marilyn Manson and boycotted by conservative religious groups.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s the reason he pursued me. If it was all just a joke or a prank. People seeing him as the devil corrupting this perfect angel. I admit that was part of the initial appeal for me. I was tired of being thought of as a goodie- goodie. Which is why I decided to dye my hair blue. I wanted to stir shit up. But it doesn’t matter how it started, because feelings got real. Fast. Most relationships in Hollywood are publicity stunts. Not this one. I’m sure about that. And Liam would say the same thing if you asked him.
There were definitely parts of his public persona as ‘the prince of darkness’ that were genuine. Dude keeps serious vampire hours. Blackout curtains. Sleeps all day. And is obsessed with the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. Of course, you know that already. You’ve seen the giant tattoo on his back, the one that goes from shoulder blade to shoulder blade of her smiling that pretty, perfect pageant smile. Duh, I know: Maybe that’s what attracted him to you, Zara. Young, driven, innocent. Trust me, that’s the first thing I thought of when he hit on me that night at the Grammys after- after- party at the Chateau Marmont.
In fact, I called him out. I’d had a few drinks and was clutching my Album of the Year statuette close when I told him, “Don’t even think about trying to fulfill your perverted dead- girl sicko fantasies with me.” At first he laughed. I don’t think he expected that kind of attitude from me. Then he got real serious. Said there was nothing the least bit sexual about his interest in JB. To him, she represented the innocence of the world and how senseless and violent and vicious and evil humanity can be. And the injustice of it all— it sickened him that her killer had never been caught.
Liam had a whole library of JB footage. I’m talking dozens of VHS tapes. (He had to explain to me what VHS was. I’d never heard of it before. The eighties were so weird.) Most of them were those cheesy true- crime network TV shows that only run on Saturday night. We watched all of them. Both of us were in between albums and tours, so we didn’t have much else to do.
The more we watched, the more I was convinced— knew, the family was somehow involved. So obvious. Liam raged against my theories; he thought it was an outsider. Hours and hours we’d argue, each of us getting firmer in our conviction.
“What about the autopsy report?”
“Forget the autopsy report. The key is the 9- 1- 1 call.”
“Okay, well, what about the ransom note?”
“What about it? Faked obviously.”
“The boot print.”
“Three words: Burke Fucking Ramsey.”
Back and forth we’d go. Neither of us could let it go. I don’t know why. It was literally so stupid. We’d start raising our voices in exasperation and then the two pits would start barking, which would cause Pip to start yipping her head off until one of us picked her up and stormed out of the room. This happened often. Then one night I got a text.
Zara, I’m afraid this isn’t going to work. I’ve enjoyed our time together but I can’t be with someone who sees the JB case the way you do.