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Fatal Justice (Chapter 8)

At noon, Senator Robert Cook escorted Nick into the Senate dining room. "So glad you could join me today, Nick."

He was nervous in the company of Cook, a senatorial institution. Sure, he had worked closely with Cook's staff for many years but he'd had limited contact with the man himself. Dining alone with him was certainly unprecedented. "Thanks for asking me."

"It's a good chance for us to get better acquainted while we're out of session," Cook said in a deep southern Virginian drawl.

They were shown to a table in the ornate room where only one other table was occupied.

"Southern Comfort, neat, darlin'," Cook said to the waitress.

She smiled. "Sweet tea, Senator?"

"Oh all right," Cook said with a hangdog expression that made Nick grin.

"Same for me," Nick said.

"Millie's told everyone about my damned blood pressure," Cook grumbled about his wife. "Can't get a decent drink anywhere in this town."

Nick smiled at his dismay.

"You've gotta try the Senate bean soup," Cook said.

Nick ached when he remembered how much John had enjoyed the traditional soup. "I've had it before. Senator O'Connor loved it."

"Yes," Cook said. "He did."

When the waitress reappeared with their drinks, they ordered two bowls of the soup along with turkey clubs.

When he shook his head with dismay, Cook's mane of snow-white hair barely moved. "Such a terrible shame what happened to him. I know I don't have to tell you."

"No, sir."

Cook squeezed a lemon into his tea and stirred, his every movement and gesture signaling his utter comfort in his own skin. Nick couldn't help but be a little intimidated. "What's that saying?" Cook asked. "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?"

"Where I grew up in Massachusetts we say you squeeze them on a lobster."

Cook's lined face lifted into a smile. "I like that. Very good." He took a long drink from his glass. "Life has handed you some lemons lately, Nick. It's time to squeeze them on a lobster."

"That's my plan. In fact, I talked to Senator Martin earlier, and between the two of us, we're going to call every member and try to get O'Connor-Martin back on the floor as the Senate's first order of business after the recess."

Cook nodded his approval. "I hate to say it, but we need to play the grief card and get it done before people move on and forget about O'Connor's untimely death."

Nick was quite certain he would never forget John O'Connor's untimely death but chose not to say so, knowing the older man was speaking from decades of political experience – and that he was right. It wouldn't take long for official Washington to forget that John had once graced the halls of power. The time to act on the landmark immigration legislation he had co-sponsored was right now.

Leaning in, Cook lowered his voice and seemed to choose his words carefully. "You've only got a year, Nick. I'd like to help you make it count."

"I'd appreciate that, Senator."

"Call me Bob. But as I was saying, the time will go quickly, and I'm sure you're interested in making as big an impact as possible."

Nick ate the flavorful soup and nodded in agreement. "Of course."

"I think it would be best if you just followed my lead, son. Let me blaze the path, make it easier for you."

Nick rested his spoon in the bowl and wiped his mouth with the white cloth napkin. He might be younger and he might be green, but he recognized condescension when he heard it and wondered if Cook had tried to pull the same thing on John. If so, Nick hadn't heard about it. "I'm afraid I don't follow you, Bob," he said, deciding to play dumb in case he was reading it wrong.

"Well, let's face it, you don't have time to strike out on some independent path all your own. We're both serving the same constituency. If you let me call the shots, you come out looking good, the people are taken care of, and the party gets what it needs from both of us."

Nope. Not reading it wrong. Swallowing his anger, Nick forced himself to stay quiet and let the other man continue to dig the hole.

"Take this nomination of Julian Sinclair, for instance."

"What about it?"

"He's a poor choice for the high court. Way too far out to the left. I don't know what Nelson was thinking." Cook scowled. "He's put us in a terrible spot – what choice do we have but to confirm him? After all, we can't hand the Republicans that kind of easy victory."

"Sinclair's a respected jurist. I think it's a wise choice."

"He's a divisive and inflammatory son of a bitch," Cook snapped, his amiable expression hardening as it seemed to dawn on him all of a sudden that Nick had a mind of his own and fully intended to use it. "Surely you can't tell me you support this nomination."

"I more than support it. In addition to being a good friend of mine, Julian is a respected attorney, and I have nothing but the utmost regard for him."

Cook scowled. "Wait'til the protestors get ahold of him. I hope he's watching his back. Someone might take a shot at him."

"Is that a threat?" Nick asked, appalled by the implication.

"Don't be ridiculous. Of course it isn't a threat." Cook took a long drink of his tea before turning hard eyes on Nick. "Son, you haven't been around long enough to know how much damage a nomination like this can do to the Senate. It'll split us right down the middle, and the ill will could infect the entire session."

Nick could tell he startled the older man when he stood up and dropped his napkin on the table next to his half-eaten bowl of soup. "I appreciate you laying out the ground rules for me, Senator, but I'm fairly certain I've been around just long enough to know how to get the most out of my year in office." He took a step away from the table before he turned back. "Oh, and you can feel free to call me Nick or Senator, but I'm not your son. You have a good day now."

Sam stood in Clarence Reese's bedroom, staring at the photo of him with his wife and children. They had scoured the city and found no sign of the man who'd slaughtered his family. If Reese's mother or brother knew where he was hiding out, they weren't talking. Until they located him, Sam could only wonder what involvement Reese had in her father's shooting.

"Are we done here?" Freddie asked from the doorway. "This place gives me the creeps."

Taking another long last look at the man in the picture, Sam turned to her partner. "We're missing something."

"Crime scene took this place apart." The disheveled condition of the house backed up the statement. "There's nothing else here."

She rested her hand over her gut, her most trusted ally when it came to situations like this. "There's something. I know it."

"What do you want me to do? Where should I look?"

"That I ' know," she said, feeling defeated. "I wish I did."

"Sam, listen, maybe it's just a coincidence that Reese had those clippings – "

"You don't believe that any more than I do."

The clatter of metal in the alley behind the house caught their attention.

"What was that?" Freddie whispered.

Sam drew her weapon and gestured for him to do the same. She pointed him toward the front door and headed for the back of the house.

Moving slowly, her gun leading the way, Sam crept toward the back door. Another clatter rang through the alley, announcing the presence of a cat, a raccoon or a foolish perp returning to the scene of a crime. Sam hoped and prayed it was the latter. The door swung open.

"Freeze!" Sam caught a brief glimpse of Reese's startled face before he turned and bolted. "Freeze, police!" She took off after him, down the back steps and through a fetid alley stacked three feet deep on both sides with trash. Normally, she might've taken a shot at him, but he was no good to her dead. He had information she desperately needed. Hoping Freddie would cut Reese off at the other end of the alley, Sam chased after him, her thighs burning from the exertion, her lungs tight from the cold air pumping in and out.

Reese looked back, saw she was gaining on him and fired an erratic shot over his shoulder. The bullet whizzed past Sam's right ear, fueling her rage and her desire to catch him. That might've worked on my dad, you son of a bitch, but it's going to take more than a cheap shot to take me down. Running on adrenaline, she jumped over the bag of trash he threw in her path, came down on a patch of black ice and went flying.

Her chin took the full brunt of the fall. Sam howled with pain and tried to get her unarmed hand down to break the second half of the fall. Elbows and knees connected with hard pavement. She looked up in time to see Reece round the corner at the end of the alley. Freddie was nowhere in sight.

For a long moment, Sam lay there assessing her injuries and trying to catch her breath. The cold air made breathing painful, but that pain was nothing compared to the burn in her chin, knees and elbows. Forcing herself to move, she got up and called for backup to start a canvas of the neighborhood. Clearly, Reese hadn't gone far after butchering his family.

With each step more agonizing than the last, she made her way slowly to the end of the alley. Not seeing Freddie, she moved around to the front of the house to find him slapping cuffs on the arms of a stocky, dark-haired man. Her heart began to race. Had he gotten Reese after all? But when he turned the cuffed man around, Sam could see that it wasn't Reese but his brother, Hector, whom they'd interviewed the day before.

"What've you got?" Sam asked Freddie as she limped up to them.

"What happened to you? You're hurt."

"I'm okay. I fell on some ice chasing Reese. No biggie. What's up with him?"

"You have blood pouring from your chin, and you say no biggie?"

Sam wiped away the blood with an impatient sweep of her hand and gave him a look that said he'd better start spilling on Reese's brother.

"Caught this guy coming in the front. He said he needed to get a few things, and he has every right to go into his brother's house."

"It's a crime scene," Sam reminded Hector Reese. "You were told to stay out of there."

"My mama wanted some of the kids' things," he said in a surly tone, glaring at her. "This is hard on her."

"If that's so, why'd you bring your brother with you? The same brother you told us earlier today you couldn't find? The same brother who killed those kids your mama is grieving over."

"I didn't bring him here," Hector retorted. "And he didn't kill no one."

"Oh, so we're supposed to believe it's a coincidence that you and your brother were sneaking into the house at the same time?" Glancing at Freddie, Sam added, "You buying that, Cruz?"

"Not for one second, Lieutenant."

"Got anything you want to tell us, Reese?" Hector looked down at the ground, his posture tight with hostility.

"I'll take that as a no." Sam gestured to one of the newly arrived officers. "Take Mr. Reese to HQ and book him."

"On what?" Hector cried. "This is my brother's house!"

"Tampering with a crime scene, aiding and abetting a fugitive from justice."

"I told you! I ' where he is!"

Sam got right up in his face. "I told you. I don't believe you."

"Cunt cop," he muttered under his breath.

"What's that, Hector? I didn't hear you."

He glared at her.

"Add a disorderly conduct charge to that list," Sam said to the officer leading Hector to a cruiser. "Oh, and if you want to tell us where your brother's hiding out, I'd be happy to talk to the U.S. Attorney about lesser charges for you."

"Fuck you."

"I try to be nice and it just gets thrown back in my face," Sam said to Freddie. "That hurts my feelings."

"If you had feelings, I'd be sorry for you."

Sam snorted. "Good one, Cruz. You're getting better."

"I work on it in my spare time." He glanced at Sam. "We should hit the E.R. and get that looked at."

"I've got bandages at home." Or at least she hoped Nick did. She took a long look around. "Reese is hiding out close by."

"Wonder what he left behind in the house that was important enough for him to risk coming back."

"I want twenty-four-hour surveillance. Tomorrow, we're getting crime scene back here to find out what he was after. And then we'll take down the tape and set a trap. He came back once. Whatever he's after, he'll be back for it again. Next time, we'll be ready."

Much later that night, after what seemed like at least sixty takes to nail the recording that welcomed visitors to Virginia airports, Nick let himself into the Capitol Hill house he was due to close on the next day. He was greeted by throbbing music coming from the second floor. Smiling, he leaned back against the front door. He had learned in the last few weeks that Sam had a passion for all things Bon Jovi, and volume was key to her relationship with the band.

Tilting his head, he listened intently and recognized the song "Make a Memory," a particular favorite of hers. Even though Nick was anxious to see her, he took a moment to look around at the vast emptiness of the first floor, realizing he felt more at home in this house he didn't even officially own yet than he ever had anywhere else.

Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why, he thought, as he dumped his coat, work bag and keys in the kitchen and headed upstairs to her. The music grew louder the closer he got to the bedroom. Jon Bon Jovi's distinctive voice soared through the melodic chorus. In the doorway, Nick stopped to study the scene. Sam was asleep in bed, a book folded over her chest, every light in the room on and the music set to ear splitting.

Shaking his head with amusement and the ongoing delight at finding her in his bed each night, he bent to turn off the combination alarm clock and iPod docking station she had shown up with a few days ago. He'd been encouraged by her moving something of hers into the new house until it dawned on him that, other than a toothbrush, it was the only thing she had brought.

He took a closer look at her and noticed the bandage on her chin and the bruises surrounding it. Hurt again. His heart ached and his mind raced when he allowed himself to think about the many ways she risked herself every day. The idea that she could one day be taken from him without any warning chilled him to his bones, and suddenly he needed to be close to her.

Draping his suit over the footboard, he shut off every light but one, hit the bathroom and crawled into bed. When he saw what she'd been reading, he laughed softly: Congress for Dummies. Gently, he attempted to lift the book off her chest.

She stirred and studied him with sleepy eyes.

He leaned over to kiss her. "Sorry, babe," he said, brushing the hair off her forehead.

"You're late," she said, her voice hoarse and sexy from sleep.

"I tried to call, but I guess you couldn't hear the phone over Bon Jovi."

She flashed him a sheepish grin. "Sorry."

Trailing a finger lightly over the bandage on her chin, he studied her face. "What happened?"

"Me versus black ice. The ice won."

He winced.

She tugged two badly bruised and scraped elbows out from underneath the comforter.

"Ouch." Dropping soft kisses on each elbow, he said, "Did you have X-rays?"

"Nah. Nothing broken." She made a brave attempt to bend each arm to prove her point. "Stop. That's making me hurt just watching it. Anything else?"

"Knees. Same as the elbows."

"Samantha, my poor baby." He brushed a soft kiss over her lips. "Did you put something on the road rash?"

"Celia fixed me up."

"So this was really just you and some ice?"

"Uh-huh," she said, looking away.

"You can either tell me the truth or I'll tickle it out of you, which, in light of your injuries, might not be as fun as usual."

"You wouldn't do that to an officer wounded in the line of duty."

He raised his fingers in a menacing claw over her ribs. "Try me."

"Fine! I was chasing Reese. He came back to his house when Freddie and I were doing another walk through."

"Without backup?" Nick asked, alarmed.

"I had Freddie. Do you want to hear this or not?"

He gestured for her to go ahead, and she told him the rest.

"He  at you?"

"It was a wild shot. Missed by a mile." Nick put his head down face first into his pillow and groaned.

"I heard that, and you made me tell you."

Turning on his side, he faced her. "You wouldn't have, though, would you?"

Her eyebrows knitted with confusion. "What?"

"You wouldn't have told me if I hadn't forced it out of you."

"I don't like to upset you, and my job can be upsetting. I'm fine, so what's the point in dumping it on you and getting you all wound up?"

Reaching for her hand, he laced his fingers through hers. "The point is I want to know. If you get shot at or hurt in any way, I want to know. Deal?"

"You promise not to freak? That was kind of an issue with Peter. I never told him anything because he always freaked out. But then he would find out from someone else, and that was always worse."

"I can't promise not to be upset, but I won't freak. At least not at you."

"Or anyone else from the MPD."

He hesitated.

"Nick…"

"Or anyone else from the MPD, unless – "

She silenced him with a kiss. "No unless. We have a deal."

"Where'd you get this?" He held up the book she'd been reading and couldn't believe it when his brave, competent cop blushed.

"You weren't supposed to see that." She took the book from him and dropped it to the floor.

Careful to avoid her injured chin, he gently turned her face to force her to look at him and raised an eyebrow in question.

Sighing in defeat, she said, "I've lived in this city all my life, just a mile from the Capitol, but I don't really know what goes on there."

"I could tell you."

"I wanted to be able to talk to you about it," she said with a shy glance that staggered him. "I wanted to know what your day would be like."

His heart galloped in his chest as he brushed his lips over hers. "I love you," he whispered and was thrilled when her mouth opened under his to welcome him in. Her injured arms encircled his neck, and Nick sank into the kiss. "So what did you learn?" he asked many minutes later as he sprinkled kisses over her face.

"That a filibuster is a technique used to prolong debate in order to stop or postpone a vote," she said with a proud smile. "I've always wondered what that was." Her smile transformed into the coy grin he loved so much. "Do you think you'll ever get to filibuster?"

"I don't know," he said, laughing. "I suppose if desperate times call for desperate measures…"

With an exaggerated shudder, she said, "Oh, that's so sexy, imagining my man hijacking the Senate floor with his eloquent rhetoric. But you know what's not sexy?"

Reveling in being referred to as her man, he nuzzled her neck. "What's that?"

Shifting onto her side to face him, she rested her hand on his chest. "Seersucker Thursday," she said, wrinkling her nose.

"What?" He feigned offense. "You don't think I'll look hot in my seersucker suit?"

The hand caressing his chest stilled. "You aren't serious."

"I want the full experience, babe. Besides, it's a tradition, a harbinger of spring."

"Seersucker is seriously  sexy."

"It will be on me."

"A little full of yourself, aren't you?"

"I'm just saying." He hooked his leg over her hip to tug her in close to him.

"I won't be seen with you."

Cupping her breast, he rolled her nipple between his fingers. "Yes, you will."

"No way."

"Other than getting shot at, how was your first day, Lieutenant?"

As he toyed with her nipple, her eyes fluttered closed. "Fine. Nothing special. And don't try to change the subject."

"You want to talk about Congress some more?"

"Just one more thing." She rolled on to her back and brought him with her.

"What?" he asked, breathless with wanting her as he hovered over her, mindful of her injuries.

With a big grin, she raised her hips and pressed against his erection. "Fill her, buster."

Laughing, he did as she asked.

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