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Fatal Justice (Chapter 10)

Rattled by the odd conversation with Nick, Sam did her best to put on her party face as they greeted the O'Connors and Julian Sinclair, who arrived at the same time. She was still getting used to the warmth the O'Connors directed her way simply because she was with Nick.

He slipped a possessive arm around her and introduced her to Julian, who held her hand between both of his. "It's such a pleasure to meet you, Sam. I've read all about you in the paper."

She rolled her eyes. "Oh joy."

"What did today's article say? 'Not since Jack and Jackie has Washington been so riveted by a political couple'?"

"Thanks, Julian." Nick shook hands with him. "She really needed to hear that again."

Julian laughed. "You're looking good, Senator. Power becomes you."

Sam was amused by Nick's befuddled reaction to the compliment. Julian was shorter than he appeared on television, his forehead barely reaching Nick's shoulder. He had smooth skin, silver hair and a warm smile. Erudite was the word that came to mind as she watched him interact with the others. Classy, elegant and right at home with Nick and the O'Connors – so at home, in fact, that Sam felt like an outsider looking in at a family reunion.

In the kitchen, Graham opened a bottle of merlot. "It's so great to have you in town for a while, Julian."

"I was so sorry I couldn't be here for John's service," Julian said. "I was in Sacramento for a wedding the day before the funeral. If I hadn't been the best man, I'd have been on the first plane."

"We got your lovely note." Laine patted his arm. "And the flowers, too. You were there in spirit."

"What's the latest with Thomas's case?" Julian asked as he accepted a glass of wine from Graham and followed the others into the living room.

Sam opened a bottle of pinot grigio and poured herself a glass before she joined them.

"They're exploring an insanity plea," Graham said.

"Not a bad idea," Julian said.

Graham's face tightened with grief. "It was my fault for keeping Patricia and Thomas hidden away for all those years. I forced John to live a double life and to lie to them. When Thomas found out there'd been other women in his father's life, he just snapped."

"You did what you thought was right, Graham," Julian said. "Those were different times. You would've taken a hard political hit if people found out that your teenaged son had fathered a child – not to mention what it would've done to John's future."

"Did you know?" Nick asked Julian. "About Thomas?"

Julian glanced at Graham. "I did."

Expelling a long deep breath, Nick sat back against the sofa.

Sam knew Nick was still dealing with leftover shock and disbelief that John had kept his son hidden from even his closest friend and most trusted aide.

"He was one of the few," Graham said quickly, tuning into Nick's dismay. "I didn't know what to do, so I asked a couple of close friends for their advice."

"I agreed with what you did, so that makes me partly culpable, I suppose," Julian said, swirling the wine around in his glass, a rueful expression on his face.

"There's no point in second guessing," Laine said, sending the message to the others that she had heard enough about the circumstances of her youngest child's death.

"You're absolutely right, Laine," Julian said, turning his attention to Sam. "So you're a detective."

"And a recently promoted lieutenant," Nick added with a proud smile.

"Congratulations," Julian said. "A wonderful accomplishment."

"Thank you."

"How's the new job, Sam?" Laine asked with what appeared to be genuine interest.

"Chaotic."

"She did a first-class job on John's case," Graham said. "First class."

With a small smile to acknowledge the compliment, she said, "Thanks."

"So your sister-in-law is getting as many headlines as you are lately," Laine said to Julian.

"Indeed," Julian replied with a chagrinned expression. "She does have her opinions."

"I never knew she was so hateful," Graham said. "To say what she does about homosexuals, Jews and African Americans, and on television, no less. I heard they're giving her a prime-time show. A whole hour of hate and venom."

"It's shameful," Julian said. "I never have understood what my brother sees in her. From the day he met her, he's been completely besotted. Did you hear the latest?"

"About her book?" Graham asked.

Julian nodded. "It'll be out in two weeks. An update on a book her minister father did years ago on how homosexuals will be the downfall of the republic."

Nick released a low whistle. "Wow."

"She's on a roll, lately," Julian said.

"Do you ever hear from them?" Laine asked.

Julian shook his head. "I haven't spoken to either of them in years."

"Were you surprised to be nominated to the Court?" Sam asked, sensing they were all anxious to change the subject.

"Well, since David warned me I'd be at the top of his list the first chance he got, I can't say I was all that surprised to get the call."

"David did, did he?" Sam wasn't sure where this edge to her voice was coming from. She chalked it up to the mood Nick had put her in with his odd behavior earlier.

Nick directed a raised eyebrow her way.

"I'm sorry," she said in a more conciliatory tone. "I'm still getting used to being around people who call the president of the United States by his first name."

"I call him Mr. President when I'm with him," Julian clarified.

"I've seen your face on the front page as much as I've seen my own lately," Sam said.

"We knew the nomination would generate some controversy," Julian acknowledged.

"Protestors will be descending on this town in the next few days," Graham added.

"We had a meeting yesterday about crowd control," Sam said. "They're expecting up to a million people."

"That many?" Julian said, seeming taken aback.

"You're surprised?" Sam asked.

Nick's face was set in a stony, unreadable expression Sam hadn't seen before.

"I knew there'd be some protests," Julian said quietly. "But a million. Wow."

"People feel very strongly about this," Sam said. "After all, your confirmation would tip the court firmly to the left."

"Are you opposed to that, Sam?" Laine asked. Her question seemed to contain only interest and not judgment.

"I'm a cop."

"With no beliefs?" Graham asked, arching a white eyebrow with what might have been delight at her sauciness.

A quick glance at Nick told her he was anything but delighted.

"I have a few. Usually, I keep them to myself."

"Please," Nick said. "Enlighten us."

Something in his tightly spoken words sent a trickle of discomfort through her. "I'm sure you all have other things you'd rather talk about."

"Actually, you've got us riveted," Nick replied, his eyes boring a hole in her.

Her stomach churned with anxiety. "I'd like to see the abortion issue resolved definitively," she ventured.

"And you don't think it was with Roe v. Wade?" Julian asked.

"If it had been, we wouldn't still be talking about it more than thirty years later."

"That's a good point," Laine said.

"So if you were Julian," Nick said, "and a case came before the court that would overturn Roe, how would you vote?"

Sam squirmed under the heat of his gaze. "I don't know. Don't ask me that."

Clearly flabbergasted, Nick stared at her. "You don't believe in a woman's right to choose?"

"I never said that."

"You don't know if you'd vote to overturn Roe? That doesn't make you much of a supporter of women's rights."

"No," Sam shot back, "it makes me a supporter of those who can't speak for themselves."

"I never would've guessed," Nick said, incredulous.

After a long period of uncomfortable silence during which Nick stared at her, Sam cleared her throat. "I think I smell something burning. I'll go check." Getting up quickly, she went into the kitchen and leaned against the counter, trying to stop the pounding in her chest. How had she let the conversation get so heated and out of control?

"What the hell was that?" Nick fumed as he followed her into the kitchen.

"What?" Sam asked, opening the oven and peering inside – more for something to do than anything.

"Were you baiting him?" he asked in an exaggerated whisper.

" were baiting "

Ignoring that, he said, "Have you forgotten he's our guest?"

" guest."

"Right." He stormed around the kitchen, adding dressing to a tossed salad and retrieving dishes warming in the oven. "It's not like we're a couple who'd do something so  as entertain together or anything."

Sam folded her arms, her back rigid with tension. "Maybe I should just go."

"Fine. Run away. That's what you do, isn't it?"

"No," she said softly, "usually I stay, which is how I ended up unhappily married for four long years to a man who tried to control my every thought and action."

Nick's expression shifted from anger to regret.

The anger, she decided, was easier to handle.

"Sam – "

She held up a hand to stop him from approaching her. "I'm going to go so you can visit with your friends in peace. I don't belong here."

"That's not true. You know it isn't."

"Tell them I got called into work," she said, desperate to get out of there before she embarrassed herself by getting emotional. "I'm sorry." With a last glance at his unreadable face, she darted from the kitchen, grabbed her coat and headed out the door while contending with a huge knot in her throat.

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