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Fatal Justice (Chapter 2)

Nick received hugs from his father, the O'Connors and the first lady. Amazing. The son of high school-aged parents, he'd been raised by his grandmother in a one-bedroom apartment in Lowell, Massachusetts. He'd landed an academic scholarship to Harvard where he'd met John O'Connor and later, John's family. Over the years, the O'Connors had become Nick's family, too, which was the only reason he was now a United States senator.

From the setting under the Capitol rotunda to the chief justice to the governor of Virginia, this whole thing felt like it was happening in a movie rather than to him. As the president of the United States extended his hand and said, "Congratulations, Senator," it finally became real. He was Senator Nicholas Cappuano, Democrat of Virginia. But when he remembered how he'd gotten here, that his best friend had been murdered, and that he had been tapped to take his place, Nick's heart ached. As if anyone could take John's place.

The crowd moved toward his suite of offices in the Hart Building for the reception the Virginia Democrats were throwing in his honor. Nick went against the flow to find Sam as he continued to accept congratulations. He saw her at the end of the line, tagging along behind her father and his fiancee Celia as they headed to the elevator. Reaching for Sam's hand, Nick held her back.

"We'll be right there," he said to Skip and Celia.

"Take your time, Senator," Skip said, the half of his face that wasn't paralyzed lifting into a grin.

"That sounds so weird," Nick said to Sam when they were alone.

She reached up to brush a stray lock of hair off his forehead. "You'd better get used to it."

Moved by her loving gesture, he still wanted to pinch himself when he realized he could touch her, be with her, sleep with her and love her every day after six years of dreaming about her. The one who'd gotten away was back in his life, and there was nothing he wouldn't do to keep her there. "Are you all right?"

"Sure," she said. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"You're a little pale."

"Am I?"

"Uh-huh. Are you still worried about all this?"

She looked up at him with those light blue eyes that betrayed her every emotion. "No."

"Liar," he said, smiling as he leaned in to kiss her.

She tried to pull back from him, but he resisted. "You can't do that here," she said. "You're a senator now."

He glanced around at the deserted rotunda. "Who's looking?" Tipping his head, he brushed his lips over hers and was gratified to feel some of the resistance leave her shoulders.

"Do I have to call you Senator now?" she asked with a glint in her eye.

"Only in bed."

Her cheeks flamed with color. "Why do you have to say that stuff?"

"Because it flusters you."

"It does not."

"Liar."

She poked his ribs, making him laugh.

A throat was cleared behind them. They turned to find Nick's communications director, Trevor Donnelly, waiting for him. Nick had retained all of John O'Connor's staff, including the perpetually frazzled, mop-topped Donnelly.

"Um, excuse me, Senator, but the media is waiting to have a word with you, and the president and first lady were looking for you in the office. They have to get going."

"I'll be right there."

"Should I, ah, wait?" Trevor asked.

"No, go on ahead."

With an awkward nod, Trevor left them.

"It has to be weird to them," Nick said, watching him go. "Two weeks ago, I was a staffer too. Now they have to call me Senator."

"There'll be some adjustments, but you'll make it work."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. I hope you're right."

"You'd better go. The president's waiting for you."

"Before I do," he said, reaching for her hands and bringing them to his lips, "I have to do something about that anticipating-disaster look on your face." When he had her full attention, he said, "I love you, Samantha, and you're the most important thing in my life. More important than my job, my new title and all the perks that'll come with it."

"That's sweet of you to say." She finally cracked a grin as they walked toward the elevator. "Do you know how many police lieutenants there are in this country?"

"Maybe a couple thousand plus one more today?" he said, perplexed by the question.

"That's about right. Guess how many U.S. senators there are?"

"That one I know – exactly one hundred. What's your point?"

"No point. I was just doing the math."

In the elevator, he backed her up against the wall. "Your big day was every bit as big as mine."

"No, it '," she said, her hands resting on his chest. "I got the mayor. You got the ."

"Big whoop. He came out of respect for John and because he's an old friend of Graham's."

"He came because he wants to court the newest Democratic senator."

Nick shrugged. "None of this is going to change me, Sam. I swear. I'm the same guy you woke up with this morning. I'm the same guy you're going to sleep with tonight. I promise."

"Making a lot of assumptions, aren't you?" She tossed a saucy grin over her shoulder as she stepped off the elevator ahead of him.

"No assumptions." He took her hand and fought her efforts to break free of him as they stepped into his crowded office. "Just stating the facts, Lieutenant."

"You'd better go talk to the president."

"Come with me."

"You go ahead. I'll be right over there." She pointed to where her father, Celia, Tracy, Angela and their families had congregated, outside of what used to be Nick's office.

Ignoring that, he tightened his grip on her hand and moved toward the president. As she reluctantly followed him he could feel her tension, but he refused to allow her to put distance between them. That was not going to happen.

"Mr. President," Nick said, extending his free hand. "I can't thank you enough for being here."

"My pleasure, Senator," President Nelson said. Turning his attention to Sam, he added, "And it's nice to see you again, Sergeant."

"Actually," Nick said, sliding an arm around Sam's waist, "it's Lieutenant. As of about two hours ago."

"Well, congratulations to both of you."

"Thank you," Sam said.

"We have to be going," President Nelson said, "but I look forward to working with you. If I can do anything for you, my door's always open."

"Likewise, sir," Nick said.

"We'll be hosting a state dinner for the prime minister of Canada in a couple of weeks," the president added. "I hope you both can make it."

Nick felt Sam stiffen. "We'd be honored," he said.

President and Mrs. Nelson left a few minutes later. While Nick and Sam visited with his father's family, Trevor approached them again.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, Senator, but several reporters are waiting for you in the conference room."

"Would you please excuse me?" Nick said. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

He left Sam with his family and followed Trevor. Over the next thirty minutes, he made it clear to the press that his top priority was ensuring passage of the immigration bill that had been scheduled for a vote by the full Senate on the day John was found murdered.

"Will you be a co-sponsor?" a reporter from  asked.

"Senator O'Connor's name will remain on the bill as a co-sponsor with Senator Martin. My office will work with Senator Martin's staff to get the bill on the floor for a vote."

"Have you been apprised of your committee assignments yet?" asked a reporter from the .

"No, but I imagine I'll take Senator O'Connor's assignments since I'm only here for a year."

"Your relationship with Lieutenant Holland has gotten a lot of attention lately – "

"I'm not going to discuss that."

"The public is interested."

"My personal life is of no consequence to my duties as a United States senator. Let's keep the focus on that."

"Do you plan to get married?"

Frustrated, Nick stood up. "I have an office full of guests, so if you'll please excuse me, I'd like to get back to them." He left the conference room and bumped into Christina Billings, whom he had promoted from deputy chief of staff into the job that used to be his – chief of staff.

"What's wrong, Senator?" she asked. "You look pissed."

He ran a hand through his hair, noting the odd sound of his new title coming from his long-time friend and colleague. "The country's at war, the economy's in shambles and all they want to talk about is my love life."

"People are curious. It's to be expected."

"It's annoying."

Nick watched her glance across the room to where Sam was in the midst of an animated conversation with her father and sisters.

"Are you going to be able to get past it, Chris? She matters to me."

"She was a total bitch to me. Treating me like a murderer. As if I could've killed John."

"She was just doing her job."

"Her job sucks."

"On many days, she'd agree with you, but I need you to get over it. She's not going anywhere."

Her eyes clouded as she tucked a strand of short hair behind her ear. "It's only been a couple of weeks."

"I know." Nick's heart went out to Christina, knowing she'd suffered from unrequited love for John O'Connor and had been heartbroken by his death as well as the murder investigation that briefly focused on her. Nick spotted John's brother Terry in the crowd and realized he was heading for the door. "I'll catch up to you," he said to Christina as he set out to stop Terry.

"Hey, Terry!"

At forty-two, John's older brother had settled into middle age after a string of problems added ten extra years to his once-handsome face. With dark hair gone to salt and pepper and dark, dead-looking eyes, he bore no resemblance to his late blond-haired, blue-eyed younger brother. Broken capillaries in Terry's face were a testament to his long-running battle with alcohol.

After Terry was caught driving drunk three weeks before he'd been scheduled to announce his candidacy for his father's Senate seat, Graham O'Connor had turned to his younger son John, who reluctantly buckled under enormous pressure to run for the seat that had been in their family for nearly forty years.

"Hey, Nick, er, I mean Senator," Terry said.

Even more than five years later, Nick could still sense the bitterness in Terry. It had kept Terry on Sam's short list of suspects in his brother's murder, especially when Terry had been unable to produce the woman he'd had a drunken encounter with on the night John was killed. "May I have a minute?" Nick gestured to Christina's office since it was closest.

"Sure," Terry said with a shrug.

Nick ushered Terry into the room and closed the door behind them.

"What's up?" Terry asked.

"How've you been?"

"Fine. You know, it's tough."

The brothers hadn't been close, but Nick had no doubt Terry's grief was real. "Yeah. I keep waiting to feel better, but I'm not quite there yet."

"Mother says these things take time."

They shared a smile over their mutual love for Laine O'Connor, a pillar of strength and gentle wisdom, even during the darkest days of her life.

"Listen, the reason I wanted to talk to you is I'm sure you heard I promoted Christina to chief of staff."

"That's a good move," Terry said. "She'll be great."

"I agree. But her promotion leaves me in need of a deputy. I wondered if you might be interested."

If Nick had said Martians were landing on the south lawn of the Capitol, Terry probably wouldn't have looked more surprised. "What?" he whispered.

"Would you like to be my deputy chief of staff?"

Terry stared at him.

"Terry?"

"Why me?" he stammered. "Surely you can find someone who's not dragging a shitload of baggage behind him."

"I want you."

"Why?" he asked again, his face still slack with shock. He had a bullshit job at a lobby firm that his father had gotten for him, but otherwise his prospects had been slim since his once-promising political career flamed out following the DUI.

Nick took a step closer to the other man. "John was my best friend, my brother as much as he was yours."

"No question about that."

"I think he'd approve of you helping to ensure that all his hard work wasn't in vain, that what he started here continues. And I could use someone with your political acumen on my team."

"You mean it?" Terry asked, his expression wary.

"Yes, I mean it, but I have a condition."

"I should've known there'd be strings."

"No strings, just a condition – thirty days in-patient alcohol rehab, followed by daily AA meetings. This is a one-shot deal, Terry. One screw up, and you're out. I may not have any illusions of a career in politics, but I won't stand for anyone disgracing me, John or this office."

Terry jammed his hands into his pockets and appeared to think it over.

"So what do you say?"

"Don't you need someone now?"

"Christina can handle it for a month. We'll hold the job for you if you want it."

Terry was silent for another long moment, during which Nick wondered if he'd asked too much.

"Yes," Terry finally said. "I'd be honored."

"Great. I'm sure your doctor can refer you to some treatment facilities. If that doesn't pan out, let me know, and I'll have someone here look into it for you."

"That won't be necessary. I'll work it out." He extended his hand to Nick. "Thank you."

Nick nodded. "I hope this'll be a whole new start for you, Terry." He paused. "There's one other thing."

"What's that?"

"Sam."

Terry's expression hardened. "What about her?"

"She's in my life to stay. You'll be running into her."

"Yeah, so?"

Nick didn't care for his tone but let it slide. "Can you handle that?"

The woman Terry had been with the night John was murdered eventually come forward to cement Terry's alibi, but not before Sam reduced him to a shell of a man in the interrogation room.

"If I have to."

"I'm going to need better than that," Nick said. "Either you assure me you'll treat her with courtesy and respect, or the deal is off."

"I'll do my best," Terry said.

Nick extended his hand to the other man. "Then I'll see you in a month or so."

"I'll be here." He shook Nick's hand.

Terry opened the door to find his father approaching.

"There you both are!" Graham said, smiling. "You have a special guest, Senator." Graham stepped aside to usher Julian Sinclair into the room.

Nick let out a surprised gasp. "Julian! What're you doing here?" He was shocked to see Graham's close friend. Nick had known Julian since his years on the Harvard hockey team when Julian, a Harvard Law professor, had been one of the team's most ardent supporters.

Grinning, Julian returned Nick's embrace before greeting Terry just as warmly. "I have a meeting in town tomorrow," Julian said, "and I wanted to be among the first to congratulate the newest United States senator."

Nick took a good long look at his friend, noting that his hair had gone entirely to silver since the last time Nick saw him. The hint of sadness in Julian's brown eyes was also new. John's sudden death had hit them all hard.

"Listen to him being modest," Graham said. He looked happier than Nick had seen him since John died, which made Nick feel lighter, too. "Tell them who the meeting is ."

"Nelson," Julian said with a sheepish grin.

"Oh!" Nick said, understanding dawning on him all of a sudden. "The court." Longtime Justice William Jeremiah had recently announced his retirement, giving President Nelson his first opportunity to make a nomination to the Supreme Court.

Graham clapped his hands together. "You said it, Senator. You boys are looking at the next Supreme Court Justice!"

"Wow," Terry said. "Congratulations."

"Thank you, but it's all up to the Senate, of course," Julian said. "I'm told I should prepare for one hell of a dogfight."

Nick couldn't disagree with him. Julian's liberal views on abortion and other hot-button issues made him a polarizing choice on Nelson's part.

"You've got at least one vote sewn up, right, Senator?" Graham said.

"Of course," Nick said. "I'll do anything I can to help. This is one of those times when I'm glad I only have a year in the Senate and can piss off anyone and everyone without a worry."

Julian laughed. "Don't expend all your political capital on me, my friend."

"I can't think of anyone better to spend it on," Nick said sincerely. Julian was one of his favorite people. "How long are you in town?"

Julian shrugged. "For the duration, come what may."

"We'll have dinner at my new place next week," Nick said. "I want you to meet Sam."

"I can't wait to meet this woman who's got our boy's head all turned around – and a cop, no less," Julian said, grinning at Graham.

"When you meet her, you'll see why his head is turned," Graham added with a wink.

"All right you two. That's enough." Nick was thrilled to see Graham's playful side reemerging after the grim days that followed John's murder. "She's here somewhere."

"I have to take a rain check. I don't have any time right now, and I'd like to be able to really get to know her." Julian checked his watch. "I'm due to meet with Hanigan," he said, referring to the White House chief of staff. "I just wanted to pop in and say congratulations." He extended his hand to Nick. "I'm so very, very proud, and John would be, too. He always said you were the brains behind the entire operation."

"Thank you," Nick said softly. "That means so much coming from you."

"Make us proud."

"I'll do my best."

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