With the week of their wedding finally upon them, Washington, D.C., Police Lieutenant Sam Holland and her fiancé, Senator Nick Cappuano, are at odds. In the aftermath of a tragic loss, they struggle to reconnect as the big day draws near, but their work keeps pulling them apart. When a new clue into a cold case surfaces, Nick asks Sam not to take any foolish chances before the wedding and to leave it alone for the time being. Sam agrees, but she can’t let it go entirely and winds up trapped in an explosive situation. Then an unwelcome visitor from her past threatens her future happiness. With trouble at every turn, will Sam survive long enough to walk down the aisle?
(Fatal Series Book 3.5)
By Marie Force
Nick stood before the window, looking out over Ninth Street as rain mixed with snow to create a slushy mess on the pavement. The city had been buzzing all day about the late wintry blast and the impact it might have on Washington’s fabled cherry blossoms, which were due to bloom any day now.
Hands in pockets, Nick stared intently at the orange glow of the streetlights, not seeing any sign of Sam or her car. Any minute now, he thought. She’ll be home any minute.
Behind him voices, laughter and the distinctive clink of ice meeting crystal echoed through the double-sized townhouse he shared with Sam. The “Jack and Jill” shower had been Shelby’s idea. The wedding planner Sam called Tinker Bell had suggested a gathering of their family, close friends and colleagues. Shelby had correctly assumed that Sam would prefer that over the more traditional all-female event. Nick had gone along with it because Sam had liked the idea. Whatever made her happy made him happy.
But now she was late, and he was worried. Not that it was unusual for her to be late—the nature of her job as the lieutenant in charge of the city’s homicide detectives’ squad made her late more often than not. Since she wasn’t in the midst of a hot case at the moment, Nick had expected her home more than an hour ago. Now here it was fifteen minutes after the party started with no sign of her, and her phone had gone straight to voicemail.
His gut twisted with unease. Ever since her ex-husband had been released from jail on a technicality, Nick had found himself obsessing even more than usual about her safety. Peter Gibson had affixed crude bombs to both their cars, injuring them when the device attached to Sam’s car exploded in late December. A glitch with evidence collection had been Peter’s ticket out of jail, and the stress of waiting for him to come at Sam again had Nick as tightly wound as he’d ever been.
She’d be furious if she knew about the private investigator he’d hired to keep tabs on Gibson. Or he supposed she would. Truth was, she hadn’t been herself since the miscarriage she suffered just after Valentine’s Day, and more than a month later, Nick was left with nagging doubts about whether she still planned to marry him one week from today.
The signs of something amiss were hard to ignore—rather than spend time together, she’d cleaned up her mess of an office at work and devoted hours she’d normally spend with him organizing the closet he’d had built for her in their new home. The Sam he knew and loved—his Sam—would rather be hung upside down by her toes than clean or organize anything. But that was only one sign of trouble. That they hadn’t made love since the miscarriage was another hard-to-miss sign of impending doom.
It was his own fault—he’d been so caught up in work as the Senate wound down to the Easter recess with heated budget debates, a flurry of legislation and the relentless pace of his campaign. By the time he’d resurfaced from four of the busiest weeks of his life, Sam had drifted so far from him he had no idea how to bring her back.
He sucked in a sharp deep breath as he finally acknowledged his greatest fear, thoughts he hadn’t allowed himself to have before she failed to show up for their shower. Did she still want to marry him? Had he made a huge mistake by pushing for a short engagement? And what would he do if she decided she didn’t want to marry him after all? How was he supposed to live without her after the bliss of being with her these last few months?
His queasiness increased as each question added to his overwhelming anxiety. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.
“Nicky?” The touch of his father’s hand on his shoulder roused Nick out of the pensive state he’d slipped into but didn’t erase the sense of panic that grew with every minute Sam failed to appear. “You okay?”
He turned to his father. “I can’t imagine where Sam is.”
“Probably got hung up at work,” Leo said.
Nick glanced over his father’s shoulder to where Sam’s partner Freddie Cruz talked with fellow detective, Tommy “Gonzo” Gonzales, as well as Gonzo’s fiancée and Nick’s chief of staff, Christina Billings. If something were going on at work, wouldn’t Freddie and Gonzo be at HQ too?
“I’m sure that’s all it is,” Nick said to his father. “Excuse me for a minute, Dad.”
“Of course,” Leo said. Just fifteen years older than his son, Leo looked more like Nick’s older brother than his father. But Nick was grateful to have the father who’d been absent for so much of his childhood by his side for what he hoped would be the most important week of his life—that is if the bride hadn’t changed her mind.
On his way to Freddie, Sam’s older sisters Tracy and Angela waylaid him.
“Where is she?” Tracy asked through gritted teeth.
“Not sure.” Nick gestured for Freddie to follow him into the kitchen.
“What’s up?” Freddie asked.
Nick noticed that Freddie looked tired. He’d taken the recent breakup with his girlfriend Elin hard. “Have you heard from Sam?”
Freddie stole a canapé off a tray and popped it into his mouth. “Not since earlier. Why? Where is she?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
Freddie stopped chewing, his eyes widening. “You don’t know where she is?”
“I have no idea,” Nick said.
“The last I talked her she said she’d see me tonight. That was around four.”
“That’s about when I last talked to her too.”
Freddie glanced around to make sure no one could hear him. “You don’t think…”
Knowing where Freddie’s thoughts were heading, Nick’s chest tightened with a new wave of anxiety. He withdrew his BlackBerry from his pocket and pressed the speed dial number he’d assigned to the guy watching Gibson. With every passing moment, he wished he’d hired someone to follow her too, but he hadn’t done that knowing what she would think of it when—not if—she figured it out. At least by putting someone on Gibson, Nick always knew where that scumbag was.
Nick headed into his study, away from the party fray. “Where’s Gibson?”
“Been home all day. Haven’t seen him.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“Positive. Why? What’s up?”
“Sam is late getting home, and we can’t reach her.”
“I wish I could help you out, but she hasn’t been around here. Not today anyway.”
Nick stood up straighter. “What does that mean?”
“She came by the day before yesterday, watched the place for half an hour or so. Never got out of her car or anything.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this?” Nick asked, working to keep the anger out of his voice.
“Because you’re not paying me to watch her. You’re paying me to watch him.”
Nick rested his hand on the top of his head to keep it from blowing off his neck. “If you see her there again, I want to know. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir. I apologize for not letting you know before now.”
“Don’t let him out of your sight.”
“Me and my people are on it. Don’t worry.”
Nick ended the call and jammed the BlackBerry in his pocket. “Don’t worry,” he muttered. “What do I have to worry about?”
“Everything all right?”
Nick spun around to find Skip Holland’s wheelchair in the doorway to the study. “I’m not sure.” He’d learned to be honest with Sam’s dad, who valued that quality above all others—especially from the man his precious daughter slept with.
“I wish I knew.” Hands on his hips, Nick shifted his eyes to meet Skip’s steely stare.
“You’re not thinking… Gibson…”
Nick could see the fear on the older man’s face. “I’ve got a guy on him.”
The half of Skip’s face that wasn’t paralyzed lifted into a smile. “Of course you do. Does she know?”
“What do you think?”
Skip chuckled. “Hope I’m around to witness the explosion when she finds out.”
Nick had no doubt the explosion would be something to see, but he didn’t want to talk about that. “Something’s not right with her.”
“Hasn’t been since just after Valentine’s Day.”
“So I’m not the only one who’s noticed?”
“I don’t think she wants to get married—”
“It’s not that.”
“But we got through that. We talked about it. She said she was okay, that she was coping with it.”
Skip used the one working finger on his right hand to roll his chair farther into the study. “It breaks her. Every time it happens, it breaks her a little more than the last time. The pieces never seem to go back together the same way they were before.”
“She always says what she thinks we need to hear. That she’s okay, feeling better, stronger, but inside… Inside, she bleeds.”
Nick wanted to shriek with frustration. “How could I not see this?”
“Because she’s become masterful at hiding it from everyone.”
“Even from me?”
“Especially from you. She wouldn’t want you to know how badly she’s suffering.”
Nick hung his head. “Why wouldn’t she turn to me? Doesn’t she know that I’ve suffered too? That I’ve suffered for her and with her?”
“I suspect that embracing your pain would only make hers worse. She knows how much you want a family of your own.”
“Not at this price I don’t.”
“Don’t be too quick to say that. You’ve had one setback, but just think, she was sure she couldn’t get pregnant again, so at least there’s hope now.”
“I guess. I can’t even think about any of that until I know she’s safe.”
“I have an idea of where she might be.”
Instantly on alert, Nick said, “Where?”
“Oh, God. Lincoln.” He wondered why he hadn’t thought of it. After all, he’d found her there once before during an earlier crisis. “Is she purposely skipping the shower?”
“Doubt it’s even on her radar at the moment.”
“Do we need to postpone the wedding?”
“You’ll have to play that one by ear.”
Nick released a harsh laugh. “It’s in seven days.”
“If she’s not ready, she’s not ready.”
Nick swallowed a new surge of panic. Somehow he knew if they didn’t get married next Saturday they never would. “I’m going to find her. Will you hold down the fort here?”
“Thanks for the head’s up about what’s going on with her.”
“You’d have figured it out eventually.”
“I wish I was so confident.” Just when he thought he really knew her, he discovered he didn’t know her at all. The unsettling thought did nothing to calm his rattled nerves. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. If for any reason it’s not going to happen tonight—”
“Just call. Take care of Sam. We’ll take care of things here.”
On his way to the door, Nick took a second to squeeze Skip’s right hand, which retained sensation more than two years after he was shot on the job and left a quadriplegic.
“She loves you,” Skip said. “I’m sure of that.”
“I hope you’re right.” Nick grabbed a coat and went into the kitchen to go out through the backdoor. No sense alerting everyone that he was leaving. Whatever was going on with Sam was her business—and his.
In the cab he took to the Lincoln Memorial, Skip’s words echoed through Nick’s mind: She loves you. I’m sure of that. Nick had been too. But something had changed in the last few weeks, something fundamental and essential. Whether or not they could get back what they’d once had was anyone’s guess.
And the last thing Nick wanted the week before he was due to marry the love of his life was to be guessing about whether she still loved him enough to marry him or if losing his baby had broken her so badly she’d never be the same again.
As he took the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, Nick recalled the last time he’d come here to find her, after she’d met his friend Julian Sinclair, the Supreme Court nominee. She and Julian had sparred over right-to-life issues, which had brought up the painful memory of her first miscarriage years earlier. Nick had learned then that Sam came to Lincoln when she was troubled by something.
Where would he look next if she wasn’t there? He had no idea.
Rounding the monument, he headed for the Gettysburg Address, and there she was, knees pulled up to her chin, lost in thought, oblivious to him watching her. Overwhelmed with relief that she was safe, he wondered if he should leave her alone. Or should he remind her that there was somewhere else she was supposed to be?
United States Senator Nick Cappuano, who was rarely at a loss, had no idea what to do.
Just then she shifted her eyes and met his gaze, a look of surprise overtaking her pretty face.
He took a step forward.
“What’re you doing here?” she asked.
“I might ask you the same thing.”
“I had an errand down this way and decided to pay Mr. Lincoln a visit.”
“You must’ve lost track of time.”
“I guess.” She shrugged and checked her watch. “Wow, it’s getting late.”
“Sam, the shower—”
“Oh shit! Shit, shit, shit.” She scrambled to her feet. “Let’s go.”
He stopped her when she would’ve headed for the stairs.
She looked up at him, questioning. “We’re late. We have to go.”
“Is everything okay?” He hated the weird, needy tone of his voice. But more, he hated that he had to ask.
“Everything’s fine. I’m sorry I was late. I lost track of time. Now are we going to go or stand here all night asking questions?”
“It’s not just tonight.” He reached out to caress her cold face. “You haven’t been yourself lately. I’m worried.”
“What are you worried about?”
She looked like his Sam. She sounded like his Sam. But her eyes…the clear blue eyes that had always been the gateway to her innermost feelings were shuttered now. Did he dare say it? Did he dare risk opening that door? How could he not?
“Is it the wedding? Is that the problem?”
She stared at him as if he had two heads or were speaking a foreign language. “What about the wedding?”
Nick’s heart raced, his mouth went dry and his palms were suddenly damp. “Do you still want—”
“To get married?” she asked, seeming incredulous.
“Yes! You know I do! I just don’t know what you want anymore. You won’t talk to me! If you’ve changed your mind or something has happened, I wish you’d tell me. Just tell me. Anything would be better than wondering what’s going on with you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Haven’t I been going to dress fittings and meeting with Tinker Bell and doing all the things I need to do?”
He nudged at the marble with the toe of his loafer. “Yeah.”
“Why would I be doing that if I didn’t want to get married?”
Nick couldn’t think of a good answer to that.
“I was late for the shower. I’m sorry about that. But let’s not turn it into something it’s not, okay?”
Biting his tongue and holding back the desire to shake her until she leveled with him, Nick nodded.
She brushed past him, and he followed her, relieved to have found her but still riddled with worries. She’d said exactly what she thought he needed to hear. But the wall was still up, and he was beginning to wonder if it would ever come down again.
The gifts had been opened and properly oohed and ahhed over. She’d eaten and laughed with her sisters and coworkers and even razzed his deputy chief of staff, Terry O’Connor, a man she’d tangled with in the past, about his flirtation with Chief Medical Examiner Lindsey McNamara.
Their guests left with an impression of a happy bride eagerly awaiting her big day. The moment the last guest left, though, Sam mentioned a headache and went upstairs to bed. Before the miscarriage, they’d always gone to bed together. Always. Now, it seemed she couldn’t go far enough out of her way to avoid him.
Listening to the soft cadence of her breathing, he remembered something she’d once shared about being lonely with her ex-husband. She’d said that even when Peter was sitting right next to her on the sofa or lying next to her in bed, she was often lonely in the relationship. They’d vowed to never let that happen to them. Yet here in the dark of night with the woman he’d waited so long to find sleeping right next to him, Nick was lonelier than he’d ever been in his life.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
~ Calvin Coolidge