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Fatal Justice (Chapter 6)

While Nick spent New Year's Day packing up his Arlington house, Sam sat hunched over her laptop scrolling through every scrap of information she could find on Clarence Reese. In the meantime, Gonzo and Arnold were leading the manhunt for him on the streets. Through her research, Sam learned he'd grown up blocks away from her Ninth Street childhood home and wondered if perhaps he'd had a neighborhood altercation with her father. A call to Tracy, who was just a year older than Clarence, yielded nothing useful since she had no recollection of being in school with anyone with that name.

By noon, Sam was ready to tear her hair out. The connection had to be there. It had to be. Her stomach rumbled, and she decided to venture downstairs on a fishing expedition. She found her father sitting at the kitchen table scanning the reading device propped in front of his wheelchair. Bending to kiss his cheek, she said, "How's it going?"

"All right. What've you been up to all morning?"

"Just catching up on some paperwork."

"Nice party last night."

"That was all Nick."

"No kidding, really?"

His sarcastic eye roll amused her. "Would've been beer at O'Leary's if I'd gotten my way."

"Gives you a run for your money, that boy. I like that about him."

Anxious to change the subject, she nodded to the reader. "What's that?"

"The ."

"What're they saying about the DD yesterday?" she asked in what she hoped was a nonchalant tone as she opened a diet cola and joined him at the table.

"Most of what you already know. They interviewed some neighbors and friends who're shocked. Never would've suspected he'd be capable. The usual. The kids and the wife were well liked, but he kept to himself. Apparently, he just got laid off."

"Something about his name is familiar to me." Sam watched her father intently. "Ring any bells with you?"

"Nope."

She hoped the disappointment didn't show on her face. "I read that he grew up on Seventh."

"I saw that. Who's running the investigation?"

Nothing, Sam thought with dejection. If Skip Holland had ever met Clarence Reese, he didn't remember it. "Gonzo and Arnold."

"Losing his job could've triggered something."

"Maybe. Judging by the condition of the house, things had been rough for some time. But the job thing might've been the final straw."

"Nice article about Nick's swearing in if you want to check it out. The  did a poll in Virginia yesterday, and more than eighty percent of those surveyed approved of the governor choosing him to finish out O'Connor's term. That's a hell of an approval rating to start with."

Sam reached for the front page and almost choked on her soda when she saw the huge picture of her holding the Bible as Nick took the oath of office. "Oh my God! You could've warned me!"

"And miss that reaction? No way."

The caption read, "Metro Police Lieutenant Sam Holland holds the Bible as Chief Justice Byron Riley administers the oath of office to Nicholas Cappuano. A Democrat from Virginia, Cappuano will complete the last year of recently murdered Senator John O'Connor's term. The romance between Cappuano and Holland has captured the attention of the entire capitol region over the last few weeks."

Skip laughed. "It's quite a picture. You look petrified."

Sam dropped her head to the table. "Why do they care about us so much? Why?"

"You're young and attractive, you have important jobs and people love a good romance."

"Why can't they just mind their own business?"

"Not gonna happen, honey. It's probably going to get worse before they lose interest –  they lose interest."

"Great."

Skip's nurse and fiancee Celia emerged from the basement carrying a laundry basket. "Hey, Sam, did you see the paper? What a wonderful picture of you and Nick!"

Skip smiled as Sam scowled.

"Yes, it's ," Sam said.

"Sam's not loving her moment in the spotlight," Skip said.

"I think it's so sweet," Celia said with a dreamy expression. "You two are just  together."

As Skip chortled with laughter, Sam banged her forehead against the table.

Detective Freddie Cruz paced the sidewalk in front of Total Fitness on Sixteenth Street. On this first day of the New Year, he was all about resolutions and none of them involved spending more time at the gym. No, this was the year he was finally going to get laid. No matter what it took, no matter what he had to do, no matter what personal ideals he had to sacrifice, he was going to have sex.

Raised a devout Christian by a single mother, he'd done his best for twenty-nine long years to make his mother proud by saving himself for marriage. But since he didn't even have a girlfriend, let alone a potential wife, and with rampaging hormones making his life a living hell, he had decided to give in.

Nick's aide Ginger had practically thrown herself at him at the party last night, but Freddie wasn't interested in her.

Since he and Sam interviewed personal trainer Elin Svendsen during the O'Connor investigation, he found himself fantasizing about her day and night. The way she'd been so free about her sexuality and talked so openly about the kinky sex she'd had with the dead senator. She was all Freddie could think about. She was the one he wanted.

That was why he was lurking outside Total Fitness, wearing one of his trademark trench coats while trying to work up the nerve to step inside to inquire about personal training. She didn't need to know he was interested in personal training of a different sort. At least not right away.

"Detective Cruz?"

Startled, he looked up, and there she was. Tall, blonde – so blonde her eyebrows were almost white – she had dark blue eyes and a smile right out of a toothpaste commercial. Carrying a tray containing four coffees and wearing a light blue down vest and black yoga pants, it was all Freddie could do to keep from drooling. She was even sexier than he remembered – and he remembered every excruciating detail of the night he'd spent protecting her in a hotel room while Thomas O'Connor hunted down his father's ex-girlfriends.

"I thought that was you," she said. "How are you?"

"I'm, um, fine. And you?"

"Crazy today. It's the busiest day of the year for us – all the resolutions."

"Right," Freddie said, remembering his own resolutions.

"Are you working on a case?"

"Me?"  Freddie thought'. "Not today. I was just in the neighborhood and thinking about resolutions."

She smiled.

He went hard as a stone and was thankful for the long coat.

"Do you want to come in? I could show you around and tell you about our program."

"Um, sure, that sounds good." He wondered if she'd think it strange if he kept his coat on inside.

After spending Sunday helping Nick finish packing up his place in Arlington, Sam woke up Monday morning with a stomachache. She lay still in Nick's big new bed and tried to breathe her way through pain that had become predictable. Any time she was nervous or stressed out, she could count on her stomach to let her know. And judging by the particularly sharp pain, she was some kind of nervous.

Today she would officially take command of the HQ detectives. She had wanted the job for as long as she'd been a detective, but was nervous about all the responsibility that would come with overseeing forty detectives, hundreds of cases each year and all the accompanying personnel matters.

Another stabbing pain made her whimper.

Nick looped an arm around her. "What?"

"Stomach."

"That's it. I'm making you an appointment."

"I'll do it. Today."

"Promise?"

Sam bit her lip and nodded as another sharp pain took her breath away.

"Come here." Arranging her head on his shoulder, he rubbed her back and spoke softly to her.

Sam couldn't help but relax into his embrace. Surrounded by the fragrance of soap and sporty deodorant, the scent of Nick, she focused on breathing her way through it. "Are you nervous?" she asked. "About today?"

"Nah. We're both going to work in the same place with the same people."

"Except we're the bosses now."

"Is that going to change you?"

"I'm not planning to let it," she said.

"Neither am I. So everything will be just fine. Be yourself, be fair and you can't lose. The other detectives love you. They'd do anything for you, and they know you'd do anything for them."

"Some people in the department think I got this promotion because of my father and his connections."

"Which you know isn't true."

Sam swallowed hard and glanced up at him. "It kind of is."

His eyebrows narrowed with confusion. "What do you mean?"

"I had trouble with the exam. I flunked it the first two times – because of the dyslexia. I just barely passed this time."

"But you  pass."

"My dad told Farnsworth about the dyslexia. He used his discretion as chief to authorize my promotion. If that ever gets out, people will scream favoritism."

"Is the exam the only qualifying factor?"

"No, there's more to it than that – experience, training, interviews, the graduate degree I worked my ass off to get. It all counts."

"Then it sounds to me as if Farnsworth promoted the most worthy candidate."

Sam smiled and realized her stomach no longer hurt. "And you're not the slightest bit biased."

"Not one bit," he said, tipping her chin up to receive his kiss. "You're going to be the best lieutenant that department has ever had. I have no doubt."

She needed to get up and get moving but couldn't seem to bring herself to leave the warmth of his embrace. "Thanks."

"Any time." He shifted so he was on top of her.

"What's this?" she asked with a coy smile.

"Just making sure you get a good breakfast on your first day," he said, entering her.

Sam laughed even as she gasped from the impact. "We don't have time…"

"Then we'd better be quick."

"Mmm," she sighed. "I love quick."

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