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Fatal Justice (Chapter 14)

After another quiet ride, Sam was even more alarmed by Nick's withdrawal. Her attempts to lure him into conversation failed, and he passed most of the ride staring out the passenger window. As she pulled into a parking space on Ninth Street, her stomach began to ache. She desperately needed to get to HQ, but how could she leave him like this?

"Nick?"

He stared unseeing out the window.

Reaching out to him, she rested her hand on his arm. "Nick, honey, come on. We're home."

All at once, he seemed to snap out of the stupor he had sunk into. "You must need to get to work."

"I'll walk you in." She got out of the car and went around to open his door. Following him up the stairs and into the house, Sam watched him lower himself into the first chair he encountered and drop his head into his hands.

In her pocket, her pager vibrated for the sixth time in the last ten minutes. Her cell phone rang, but as much as it pained her to let it ring, she ignored it – again. She went into the kitchen to make him some coffee and found his cell phone on the counter. Debating for a moment, she reached for it and scrolled through his list of contacts. Second to her on his speed dial list was Christina. Sam pressed send.

"Senator," Christina said. "I just heard about Julian Sinclair. I'm so sorry."

"Um, it's Sam."

"Oh. Hi. Is he – "

"He's a mess. I need to go to work, but I can't leave him like this."

"I'll be right there."

"Do you mind?" Sam asked, cringing at how foolish she sounded.

"Of course not. I care about him, too, you know."

"I know you do."

"I'm sorry. I just can't believe this has happened."

"No one can."

"I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Thank you."

Sam was astounded when she opened the front door twenty minutes later to find Christina and Gonzo.

"What're you doing here?" she asked Gonzo as she stepped aside to let them in.

Right before Sam's eyes, the formidable Tommy "Gonzo" Gonzales blushed. "I was, uh, with her when she got the call about Sinclair. I thought maybe I could help."

Sam looked from Gonzo to Christina, who had gone straight to Nick on the sofa, back to Gonzo. "Define with her."

He squirmed. "You know, with her." Nodding to Nick, he added, "The way you're with him."

"Are you freaking kidding me?"

"What? We're both consenting adults."

Before she could reply, Sam's cell phone and pager rang simultaneously. She checked both LCDs and took the call from Captain Malone.

"Lieutenant. I've been trying to reach you for an hour."

"I was interviewing Senator and Mrs. O'Connor, probably the last people to see Sinclair alive."

"What've you got?"

She recited the O'Connors' version of the routine drop off at the hotel. "I sent McBride and Tyrone to the Willard to get the security tapes and interview the staff."

"She's back with the tapes. They're viewing them now. The bellman who was working the door is coming in at noon."

"Good, tell her to let me know what he has to say. I need you to authorize travel to Miami for myself and Detective Gonzales."

"Where's Cruz?"

"Good question."

"What's in Miami?"

Sam checked the sofa and saw Nick speaking softly to Christina. She tried not to be bothered by the fact that he had been unable to talk to her but was having no problem unloading on his chief of staff.

"Lieutenant?" Malone said.

Tearing her eyes off the scene on the sofa, Sam said, "Sinclair's long-time lover. Duncan Quick."

"He was gay?"

"Yes. He ended a twenty-year relationship with Quick a year ago, and apparently, Quick is still partially in the closet."

"The confirmation hearings would've blown the lid off that."

"Your thinking parallels mine. I want to see Quick's reaction to the news that Sinclair's dead."

"Approved."

"We'll be back tonight."

"Do we need to be worried about Cruz?"

"Hang on a sec." She did a quick scroll through her missed calls and pages, but found nothing from Freddie. "No word from him at all this morning. That's not like him."

"I'll send patrol by his apartment."

"Let me know." She ended the call and turned to Gonzo. "I'll meet you outside."

"Got it."

Sam approached the duo on the sofa. "Ah, would you mind giving us a minute?" she said to Christina.

"Sure." She released Nick's hand and got up.

Sam sat next to him and lifted her hand to brush the hair from his forehead. "I'm going to Florida to talk to Duncan."

"Okay."

"I don't feel right about going. About leaving you." She rested her forehead on his shoulder.

"I want you to find out who did this."

"Are you going to work?"

"Yeah. Christina told me the Senate is going to take up John's bill as its first order of business in the new session."

"Oh, Nick. That's great news."

That he seemed to barely care only added to her growing list of worries.

She pressed a kiss to his cheek. "I'll be back. As soon as I can."

"I know."

Reluctantly, she got up and went into the kitchen where Christina was pouring coffee. "You'll be with him?" Sam asked.

"Every minute."

Sam glanced at Nick staring off into space in the next room. "This is worse than after John."

"Yes."

Running her fingers over hair that she'd corralled into a clip, Sam considered taking a pass on the case. It was up to her, after all. She could put Gonzo in charge, send him to Florida and stay in D.C. with Nick. But he'd rebuffed all her efforts to comfort him.

"Sam."

She turned to find Christina studying her intently. "He'll understand if you go. He knows it's your job, and he has to go do his today. We need his vote."

Sam nodded. "Don't leave him alone." And then she remembered Christina wasn't one of her detectives. "Please."

"You have my word."

"Thank you." She went into the living room and bent to kiss Nick's forehead. "I'll see you tonight."

If he heard her, he gave no indication.

Only when she was outside did she realize he hadn't told her to be careful.

Sam approached the car where Gonzo waited for her. With every step she took away from Nick, she became more conflicted. Pacing the sidewalk, she tried to figure out what to do. Unused to being paralyzed by indecision, she examined every angle and kept coming back to the same conclusion. Before this, before Nick, there'd never been a decision. The job came first. Always. Now it wasn't quite so simple.

Gonzo waited patiently, watching her as she moved back and forth.

Finally, Sam stopped and turned to him. "Go to Florida." From her pocket, she withdrew the slip of paper Laine had given her, handed it to him and filled him in on what she knew about Duncan Quick. "He was with Sinclair for twenty years, so be gentle in how you deliver the news. I want to know where Quick has been for the last twenty-four hours. I want confirmation from anyone he names as an alibi."

"You aren't coming?"

Sam glanced at the front door to Nick's house. "No."

Gonzo's eyes widened with surprise.

"Don't say it," she growled.

His expression one of total innocence, he said, "Say what?"

"Call me the minute you have anything."

"I'm on it."

She watched him walk to his car and drive away, and then she kicked the living shit out of one of the tires on her own car.

"Sam?"

Looking up, she found her father and Celia watching her.

"What's wrong?" her father asked, directing his chair around a patch of ice on the sidewalk as he came toward her.

"Did you hear about Sinclair?"

"The chief called your father," Celia said. "We're stunned. How's Nick?"

"Horrible."

"Is that why you're abusing your car?" Skip asked.

"I need to go to Florida to interview Sinclair's ex-lover, but how do I do that when he's practically catatonic?" Sam asked, gesturing to Nick's house.

"Is anyone with him?" Celia asked.

"Christina, his chief of staff," Sam said. She should be the one offering comfort to Nick, but for some reason he didn't want it from her.

Nick's front door swung open, and they watched as Christina held the storm door open, urging him out ahead of her. He had changed into a suit, but hadn't bothered to shave.

Sam, Skip and Celia watched them come down the stone stairs.

"What are you still doing here?" Nick asked Sam in a dull, flat tone.

"I sent Gonzo to Florida."

"Oh."

"We're going to the Capitol so he can be there for the opening of the new session and to vote on O'Connor-Martin," Christina said.

"I'll catch up to you after," Sam said.

"Talk to Senator Cook," Nick said, still wearing a far-away expression on his face.

"Why?" Sam asked.

"He made a comment to me about Julian," Nick said. "That he should watch his back because someone might take a shot at him."

"I'll talk to Cook." Sam went up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "That helps. Thank you."

Christina ushered Nick into her car, and they drove off.

"Wow," Skip said. "You weren't kidding."

"What do I do?" Sam said. "I don't know how to help him through this."

"You love him," Celia said. "You just love him. That's all you can do."

Freddie awakened from a deep sleep, his body languid and replete after an all-night sex fest. With his hand tucked into the soft lushness of Elin's breasts, he wondered if there was any special morning-after stuff he should say or do.

As he pondered that question, she stirred, her muscular ass brushing against his groin.

His dick actually ached from what he'd put it through during the night. It was a good thing he had to work this morning. Otherwise, he might be expected to perform again, and he wasn't sure he could.

Stretching his stiff muscles he raised his arm to check his watch to see how much time he had before his cell phone alarm would tell him it was time to get up. "Shit!" He sat up so fast that Elin almost fell off her side of the bed.

"What?"

Freddie bolted from the bed and ran for his coat, which Elin had put in the living room the night before. Rifling through the pocket, he found his cell phone and stared at it in stunned disbelief. It was off. He never shut off that phone. Ever. "Did you shut my phone off?" Returning to the bedroom, he powered up the phone.

Still half asleep, she muttered, "Hmm?"

"Elin! " It went crazy beeping with messages. ""

"You were off duty," she said without opening her eyes. "I wanted you to relax."

"Are you ? I'm a homicide detective! I'm never off duty!" Multiple calls from Jeannie McBride, Sam and Captain Malone popped up on the list of missed calls. "Shit, shit, ," he whispered, tugging on his clothes as fast as he could, his heart racing with anxiety and dread. What had he missed?

Elin watched him from the bed, the sheet pulled up snug against her ample breasts. "Are you mad?" she asked in a small voice.

He was so far beyond mad he was afraid to say anything for fear he'd totally lose it with her. Pushing his feet into the hiking boots he favored in the winter, he headed for the door without tying them.

She got up, donned a robe and followed him into the living room. "I'm sorry, Freddie. I wasn't thinking about your work."

Without a single look back, he stalked out the door and let it slam behind him.

On his way to HQ, Freddie fought back surge after surge of nausea. He had no one to blame but himself. This was his punishment for abandoning his morals for a night of mindless sex. If he hadn't given into his base urges, he'd be at work right now where he belonged rather than desperately trying to come up with an excuse that Sam would buy.

"Play that back again." Sam watched the screen with intense focus. "There. Freeze that." She pointed. "Is that him talking to the doorman? The height is about right."

Jeannie consulted her notes. "The doorman said he didn't remember Sinclair talking to him."

"It's kind of fuzzy, Lieutenant," Malone said from behind her. "Could be anyone."

"No one recalled talking to him," Jeannie said. "We interviewed the entire shift."

"Take it to the lab," Sam said. "See if they can enhance that frame for us."

Freddie came bursting into the room.

"Cruz," Sam said. "Nice of you to join us."

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant," he said, breathing hard. "I overslept. My phone died."

"Which is it, Detective?" Sam said, studying his disheveled appearance.

Freddie took a deep breath. "My phone died, the alarm didn't go off so I overslept. I apologize. It won't happen again. What did I miss?"

"A homicide," Sam said, filling him in on the details.

"Isn't that Nick's friend?"

"Yes."

"Oh man," Freddie said.

He turned his head, and Sam zeroed in on the hickey on his neck.

"What can I do?" he asked. "Give me something to do."

Still eyeing him suspiciously, Sam handed him the tape and repeated the instructions to have the lab zero in on the frame in question. "I'll be partnering with Detective McBride on this one."

"Why?" Freddie cried. "Because I was late one time?"

"No." Sam leveled him with a cold stare. "Because you lied to me."

"I told you what happened! I've never been late before. Ever."

"Take the tape to the lab, Detective, and then go relieve the officers watching Reese's house."

Freddie's mouth fell open. "For real?"

"You heard me."

He stalked out of the conference room, slamming the door behind him.

"I'm, um, going to check on the canvas," McBride said, scooting out after him.

Malone studied Sam.

"What?" she snapped.

"Being kind of hard on Cruz, aren't you?"

"You told me to run my command any way I see fit. That's what I'm doing."

"How do you know he lied?"

"I know him."

"Very well," Malone said. "I'll leave you to it. You know where I am if you need me."

When she was alone, Sam paced the small room. The frustration threatened to boil over. Where was Clarence Reese? Who killed Julian Sinclair? How would she deal with Nick and his devastation in the midst of two homicide investigations? And lastly, who had been chewing on her partner's neck?

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