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Fatal Justice (Chapter 11)

The lobster had been flown in from Maine, but to Nick, it might as well have been cardboard. The meal he had planned down to the garnish received rave reviews from his guests. He couldn't have cared less. Oblivious to his dismay, the other three laughed and talked and told old stories. Even though he participated in the conversation, Nick wished they would leave so he could go after Sam and nip this thing growing between them before it couldn't be fixed.

They lingered over dessert and coffee and then asked to see the rest of the house.

He took them through the three floors, answered their questions about his plans for the place, and withstood their good-natured ribbing about his oh-so-public romance with the pretty lieutenant.

By the time they finally left at eleven, Nick was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He grabbed his coat, rushed down the street and up the ramp to Skip's house. After a month of being in and out of there, it didn't occur to him to knock. Bursting into the darkened living room, he found Skip and Celia on the sofa locked in a passionate embrace.

"Oh shit," Nick muttered through his mortification. "Sorry."

Like a teenager who'd just been caught in a clutch with her boyfriend, Celia scrambled off Skip's lap and pressed her hand to her swollen lips. Skip's empty wheelchair sat next to the sofa where he was propped into the corner with pillows under his arms. Clearly, they had given this arrangement some serious thought, and Nick was horrified to have interrupted them.

"I'll, ah, just go up to see Sam."

"She's not here," Celia said. "We thought she was with you. At your dinner party for the justice."

"She was. Earlier. But we had an, um, a thing."

"A fight," Skip said, his sharp eyes trained on Nick.

"Sort of." Nick pushed a frustrated hand through his hair. "Where do you think she'd be?"

"How upset was she?" Skip asked.

"Pretty upset."

"Lincoln."

"Excuse me?"

"She goes to see Lincoln when she's upset or needs to think."

"As in the "

"One and the same."

"At eleven at night?" Nick asked, incredulous.

"She carries a gun. The dark doesn't faze her."

"All right. I'll check there. Thanks for the info."

"What did you do to her?"

"Nothing!"

"It wasn't nothing if she's gone to see Mr. Lincoln."

"It's nothing we can't work out," he said with more confidence than he felt.

"Go find her, Nick," Celia said, sending a pointed glance at Skip.

"Sorry again for the interruption," Nick said on his way out the door. He jogged down Ninth Street, cut through Eastern Market and hailed a cab on East Capitol.

"Lincoln Memorial," he told the cabbie.

"Not much happening there this time of night," the driver said, no doubt thinking he'd picked up a misguided tourist.

"I know," Nick replied in a clipped tone that discouraged further conversation. They arrived ten minutes later. Nick paid the driver, emerged from the car and took off jogging toward the lighted memorial.

"Help you, sir?" a park ranger said as Nick headed for the marble stairs.

He could've said no. The monument, like all the others, was open twenty-four hours a day, and he didn't need permission to be there. But for the first time in the two weeks since he was sworn in, Nick decided to take advantage of his newfound rank. "I'm Senator Nick Cappuano. I'm meeting someone here."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Senator." The ranger shook Nick's hand. "I believe your friend is on that side," he said, pointing, "under the Gettysburg Address."

Nick still found it hard to believe that he was half of a couple everyone in the capital region recognized. "Thank you." Over his shoulder, he caught the ranger's grin as he watched Nick take the stairs two at a time. He found Sam right where the ranger had told him she'd be. Sitting on the floor, she had her knees pulled up to her chest, her arms tight around them and her face tucked into the valley formed by her knees.

"Samantha."

Her head shot up, a shocked expression on her tear-streaked face. "What're you doing here?"

"Your dad told me I might find you here." Undone by her ravaged expression and wondering if he was responsible for it, he glanced at Lincoln. "Is it a coincidence that you flee to the first Republican president when you want to be alone?"

"I don't come because he was a Republican."

Nick sat down next to her on the cold floor. "Then why?"

She shrugged. "It's so peaceful here. I've always loved it."

"I'm drawn to Jefferson myself."

"Naturally. The original Democrat."

"One of them." He studied her for a long moment before he said, "Are you a Republican, Samantha Holland?"

"Will you love me less if I say I am?"

He shook his head and reached for her hand. "Nothing could make me love you less."

Her face tightened with strain that confused and scared him as he rubbed some warmth into her chilled hand. "Don't be so sure."

"That doesn't answer my question."

"Like I told Graham before – I'm a cop. I'm not affiliated with either party."

"But if you  be, which one would it be?"

She glanced up at Lincoln. "Neither, really. I'm more of an issues kind of gal."

Nick released a long deep breath.

"Are you disappointed I didn't say I'm a Democrat?"

"Of course not."

"I may not always agree with your position on issues that really matter to you."

"I don't expect you to."

"Are you sure of that? Politics is such a big part of who you are, Nick. Now more than ever. I'd understand if some differences were too big for you to deal with. After all, we rushed into this. We didn't really know each other – "

He stopped her with two fingers over her lips. "I know you. Do I know everything there is to know? Nope. Do I want to? Absolutely. Will there be other surprises? I sure as hell hope so. But don't tell me I don't know you. I know your heart, Samantha. I know what matters." He didn't expect her to break down into gulping sobs. Sliding his arm around her, he brought her head to rest on his chest. "What's going on, babe?"

"I'm sorry for the way I acted with Julian," she said when she could speak again. "I was way out of line. You were right. He was our guest, and I  baiting him."

"He's used to people with strong opinions. You can't have beliefs like his without generating some controversy."

"But you weren't expecting that from me, and I embarrassed you."

"No, you surprised me."

"I surprised myself. I had no plans to get into that with him."

"So why did you?" he asked, more curious than anything.

"All the coverage about him coming to town, about his nomination, knowing I was going to meet him. It's stirred up some stuff for me."

"What kind of stuff?"

"It's kind of a long story," she said with a wary glance at him.

He sat back against the marble wall and brought her in close to him to keep them warm. "Mr. Lincoln and I aren't going anywhere."

She was quiet for a long time – so long that he wondered if she was going to tell him what was causing her such dismay. "I've never told anyone this," she finally said. "Other than my sisters, that is."

Bracing himself for whatever he was about to hear, Nick linked their fingers and held her hand between both of his.

With a deep sigh, she said, "When I was a junior in college, I dated a French exchange student named Jean Paul for a couple of months toward the end of the school year. You probably don't want to hear this, but it was one of those relationships that was long on sex and short on relating, if you know what I mean."

He knew exactly what she meant and hated the idea of her with anyone else, but he kept his mouth shut so she'd continue.

"Jean Paul had already gone home to France when I discovered I was pregnant."

Sensing where this was going, Nick fought to retain his composure.

"Tracy had just had Brooke," she said of her fifteen-year-old niece. "I told you about Brooke's father leaving Tracy to raise her alone, right?"

Nick nodded, recalling how Tracy's husband Mike was raising Brooke as his own child.

"After watching what Tracy was going through, I totally panicked. I had one more year of school to finish and had my sights set on the police academy. With the dyslexia, school was a huge struggle, but I was determined to get that degree because I knew it would help me get promoted. How in the world was I going to fit a baby into that picture? And I had no one who could help me. My mother had run off to Florida with that guy she'd hooked up with, my dad was a mess over what my mother had put him through, Angela had a new job and was dating Spencer; Tracy was struggling to take care of Brooke. I can honestly say it was the only time in my life when I had no idea what to do."

Nick wiped the tears from her cheeks. "You couldn't have put the baby up for adoption?"

"My dad was so upset and disappointed with Tracy. Not that he ever expressed that to her, but he talked to me about it. No one even thinks about that anymore because we love Brooke so much, but at the time, it was a big deal."

"You didn't want to disappoint him, too."

"No," she said, sounding so utterly defeated. "I couldn't have taken that on top of everything else I was dealing with."

"So what did you do?"

After a long pause, she said, "I made an appointment at a clinic," in a voice so soft it was almost a whisper. "I couldn't see any other way out. I was awake the entire night before with what I thought were stomach pains, but when they examined me before the procedure, they discovered I was miscarrying."

"You didn't do anything wrong, Sam."

"I was going to  my baby!" The hysteria he heard in her voice alarmed him. "How can you say I didn't do anything wrong? My periods were never the same afterward, and then the endometriosis set in a year or so later. It was like my body was punishing me for this awful thing I almost did." Her voice caught on a sob. "I'm so ashamed, Nick. Even all these years later, I'm still so ashamed."

Because he didn't know what else to do, he held her tight against him and let her get it out.

"I cried for two weeks afterward. My sisters took care of me, saw me through the worst of it, but I've never told another living soul about that day until right now. I know it's why I miscarried twice more, and it's why I can't have others."

"How do you figure?"

"I'm being punished for being so willing to toss away the one I didn't want."

"Sam, honey, how can you think that?"

"Because! Look at what's happened! When I  to get pregnant, I couldn't, and then when I finally did, I couldn't  pregnant. How else am I supposed to see it?"

"As an awful coincidence. How would you have supported that child as a twenty-year-old college dropout?"

"I would've found a way."

"But you never would've been a cop. Think of the lives you've saved and the murders you've prevented by getting all those killers off the streets. Doesn't that in any way compensate?"

She shook her head. "Nothing can compensate for not wanting my own child."

"You were a kid yourself. You felt trapped and alone. It wasn't about  your child. It was about knowing you couldn't care for him properly."

"Sometimes I wonder if he knew I didn't want him, and that's why I miscarried."

"I'm sorry this happened to you. That you were put in this position and had to make such an awful choice."

"I know you must think less of me."

"I don't, Sam. I swear I don't. I support a woman's right to choose – any woman. Even you."

As if he hadn't spoken, she said, "Your own mother was only fifteen when she had you, and you turned out fine."

"No thanks to her."

"But still." Sam took a deep shuddering breath. "At the crowd-control meeting we had at work the other day, they showed us some of the propaganda so we'd be prepared for what to expect from the protestors. They had pictures of aborted fetuses. I hit the recall button on my pager to get myself out of there. I got so sick in the bathroom. I thought it would never stop."

"I'm sorry, babe," he whispered. "I'm so sorry you had to see those pictures. I'm sorry you had to go through this whole ordeal and that you carry such a heavy burden."

"In some twisted way, I think maybe I baited Julian because I wanted to tell you. I just couldn't figure out how. But I wanted you to know."

"I'm glad you told me."

Resting her head on her knees, she turned her face so she could see him. "This is why we won't have kids."

"You can't know that for sure. You may have ended up with endometriosis anyway, even if you hadn't had that miscarriage. Maybe you already had it, didn't know it, and that caused the miscarriage."

Startled, she looked up at him. "You really think that's possible?"

"Anything is possible. The point is you'll never really know so why assume the worst? Have you tried to have kids with anyone other than Peter?"

"Of course not."

"How much you wanna bet he was the problem, not you?" Nick waggled his eyebrows at her. "We've already proven  was the problem in another important area, right? You've never tried to have  kids. And remember what I told you – when we're ready, we'll have them. If we can't have them the usual way, we'll adopt, we'll hire a surrogate, whatever it takes. We'll have them."

"I don't know if I deserve them – or you."

He got up and reached out a hand to her. "Sure you do."

She took his hand and let him help her up.

Because he needed it as much as she did, he hugged her close to him.

Under his coat, her fingers clutched his back. "I love you," she whispered. "I love you so much."

"And I love you even more than I did earlier, if that's possible." With his arm around her shoulders, he led her to the stairs. "Let's go home. I saved you a lobster."

She glanced up at him, a hint of a smile on her face. "Thanks."

He knew she wasn't talking about lobster. "Any time, babe."

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