- READ AN EXCERPT
Book 8 in the Fatal Series
“Emotionally charged and yet deliciously romantic, Sam and Nick need to work their way through their jobs, their marriage, and an adoption. I so recommend this book and this series as it’s the perfect mesh of mystery and romance.”—5 star review from Terri at Night Owl Reviews
As a new year dawns in the capital city, dual scandals rock the Metropolitan Police Department—and Lieutenant Sam Holland is right in the middle of them. Chief Farnsworth is catching heat for the way he handled a recent homicide investigation, and Detective Gonzales is accused of failing to disclose an earlier connection to the judge who decided his custody hearing.
When Gonzo’s fight for his child turns deadly and he has a shaky alibi, Sam must defend two of her closest colleagues. All while her husband, Vice President Nick Cappuano, settles into his new office at the White House.
Nick begins to wonder if the president is using him for a political boost, and his worries mount over a complication in the plans to adopt Scotty at a time when Sam is being put through the wringer by the always-rabid D.C. press corps. As the evidence against Gonzo piles up, Sam suspects someone is gunning for her—and her team.
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The dual scandal ripped through the city with the power of a tsunami, flooding the airwaves with headlines that struck fear in Sam’s heart. “Springer Alleges Farnsworth’s Incompetence Caused Son’s Death” and “Detective ‘In Bed’ with Judge on Custody Matter.”
Sitting in front of the TV in the master bedroom, Sam hung on every word that was being said about her beloved chief of police, the man she’d known first as Uncle Joe. And her close friend, Detective Tommy “Gonzo” Gonzales, who’d been shot during the Springer investigation shortly after he’d been granted full and permanent custody of his young son Alex.
“Springer alleges that Farnsworth personally ordered the homicide investigation into the stabbing deaths of his younger son Hugo and eight of Hugo’s friends be put on hold to allow for the conclusion of a six-month undercover narcotics investigation that had focused on Billy Springer and his associates.” The talking head on CBC seemed to be taking great pleasure in reporting on the events that had led to Billy Springer’s death at the hands of a Metro PD SWAT team.
“Are they going to mention how he shot at us?” Sam asked the TV. “Of course not. That won’t be brought up.”
“The department faces the secondary scandal surrounding Detective Sergeant Thomas Gonzales, who was shot in the neck by Springer during the confrontation at Springer’s grandmother’s house in Friendship Heights.”
“Thank you!” Sam said. “Finally! Thanks for remembering Springer actuallyshot one of our people!”
“Gonzales’s custody case was heard in the courtroom of Family Court Judge Leon Morton, the brother of Eva Morton, whose homicide case was investigated by none other than newly promoted Detective Thomas Gonzales. Neither the judge nor the detective disclosed their earlier connection, which is a conflict of interest, according to the attorney for the baby’s mother, Lori Phillips.”
“Oh my God, Gonzo,” Sam whispered. She couldn’t even think about what it would mean to Gonzo if he lost custody of the son he adored. “What a fucked-up mess.”
“What’s a fucked-up mess?” Sam’s husband and the country’s new vice president asked as he came into the bedroom where she sat at the end of the bed watching the news. It was one of two rooms in the house that wasn’t being monitored by the Secret Service around the clock. The other was their loft on the top floor of the double-sized townhouse, the place they escaped to whenever they needed some time alone.
“What about him?” Nick asked.
“He failed to disclose an earlier connection to Judge Morton, who presided over Alex’s custody hearing. He investigated the murder of Morton’s sister years ago.”
“And now Lori and her lawyer are making a big stink out of the fact that they failed to disclose. She’s taken her case to the media, and they’re eating it up like the rabid dogs they are.”
“Tommy must be freaking out.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he is. And he’s got enough on his mind with the wound taking forever to heal.”
Sam blew out a deep breath to calm nerves that went nuts every time she relived the way the Springer investigation had blown up in their faces and how they would’ve lost Gonzo without his partner’s quick action.
Sensing her disquiet, Nick came to her and wrapped his arms around her, which calmed her like always. “He’s fine, Sam. A little battered but fine. And this thing with the judge will blow over when something bigger happens. You know how the news cycle in this city works.”
Sam looped her arms around his waist and breathed in the rich, masculine scent of home. He was so beautiful with his brown hair that curled at the ends, the dark olive complexion that made him look tan, even in the dead of winter, and the hazel eyes that saw her like no one else before him ever had. “And this thing with the chief. I’m worried about it.”
“How come? Everyone knows Springer is just spouting off because he doesn’t want to accept that one of his sons killed another of his sons—and a bunch of other kids too.”
“I know, but what Springer is saying about Farnsworth. It’s true. He did put the murder investigation on hold when it was zeroing in on Billy Springer because the narcs were completing a long-term undercover investigation and needed more time to sew it up.”
“And that’s unusual?”
“Nothing trumps murder. The whole thing was totally bizarre. We all thought so.”
“Did he tell you why he made that call?”
“It was about money and the huge investment that’d already been made into the narcotics investigation. If nothing came of that outlay of cash, it would hurt us at budget time. Or something like that. And now it’s coming back to bite him in the ass anyway.”
“He’s withstood worse. He’ll get through this too.”
Sam wanted to believe Nick was right, but she was worried nonetheless. “Ever since the chief put the murder investigation on ice, I’ve had a bad feeling about how it could come back to haunt us.”
“So you’re saying Springer has good reason to be pissed?”
“Well, not necessarily. His son was, in fact, a murderer, and what father ever wants to admit that? But Billy might still be alive—and Gonzo never would’ve been shot—if we’d arrested Billy the night before the standoff with SWAT. And we’d all like to know how he found out we were focusing on him. The entire thing was a fucking disaster.”
“Are you still up for going out tonight?” Nick asked.
Sam forced herself to rally for his sake. He needed this night out more than she did, and she needed it pretty damn badly. “Of course I am. I’ve been living for date night with my sexy husband.”
He rolled his eyes at her as he always did when she commented on his supreme hotness.
“Besides, I know it’s taken a tremendous amount of coordination to make it happen, so I wouldn’t dream of backing out.”
At the reminder of the restrictions that came with his new job, his smile faded. “Yeah, it did. It takes a freaking act of Congress for me to be able to walk out the goddamn door.”
He’d known, of course, that round-the-clock Secret Service protection would be confining. But knowing it and living it were two very different things. He’d had protection at the end of his recent campaign for the Senate after Sam’s family had been threatened. However, Nick was finding a huge difference between having a detail as a candidate and having one as vice president.
“Let me grab a quick shower and get changed,” Sam said. “Where’s Scotty?”
“He and Shelby are making pizza. Rumor has it her boyfriend will be joining them.” FBI Special Agent Avery Hill was hardly her husband’s favorite person, probably because of the not-so-secret crush he’d once had on her. “I’ll be down in fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll be waiting.” He left her with a kiss and headed downstairs to spend some time with Scotty before they left.
Sam rushed through a shower and changed into the sexy black cocktail dress she’d bought weeks ago with this evening in mind. It was their second New Year’s Eve as a couple, and they were returning to the place where they’d gone last year to celebrate their new jobs—hers as the lieutenant in charge of the Metro Police Department’s Homicide Division and his as a newly sworn-in senator, taking the place of his slain best friend, John O’Connor.
She smoothed Nick’s favorite lavender- and vanilla-scented lotion onto her arms and legs as she thought about him and the changes they’d all endured since he accepted President Nelson’s offer to become his new vice president. While her life had remained more or less the same, Nick’s had changed dramatically, and she could see him chafing against some of the restrictions.
For one thing, the insomnia that had plagued him for most of his adult life had been relentless in the last couple of weeks. For another, the constant, intrusive presence of his Secret Service detail was driving them both to drink. The director of the Secret Service had given them special permission to remain in their own Capitol Hill home, but the officers assigned to protect Nick were clearly put out by the directive. Not that any of them had said as much to Nick, but it was obvious to both of them that the detail didn’t approve.
They’d much rather have the family living at the Naval Observatory in the traditional home of the vice president. But with Sam’s dad three doors down from them and still recovering from his recent surgery to remove a bullet from his spinal cord, there was no way she could move. Nick had known that and had made remaining in their own home a condition of accepting the president’s offer.
Thank God he’d also negotiated for no Secret Service protection for her, which allowed her to continue in her role as the lieutenant in charge of the MPD’s Homicide Division. The thought of being trailed by a detail gave Sam the heebie-jeebies. So while she retained the freedom to come and go as she pleased, Nick and Scotty were under lock and key, which had been an adjustment for all of them.
As the cold winter weather had set in, they’d been content to spend many an evening at home during the holiday season, watching movies and playing round after round of Monopoly with Scotty, who was shaping up to be a real estate shark in the making. He won every game. Sam couldn’t help but wonder, however, what would happen when her guys began to chafe at being stuck at home so much of the time.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” she decided. For now, she was thrilled to have a romantic evening ahead of her with the love of her life. She secured the diamond key necklace he’d given her as a wedding gift and slid on the gorgeous engagement ring she only wore when she wasn’t working. He’d told her he liked seeing it on her hand, so she wore it for him as often as possible.
In the room that served as her closet, she found a black wool coat that she tossed over her arm before she headed downstairs wearing the four-inch black Louboutin stunners with the red bottoms that Nick had bought her for Christmas. Her husband knew the way to her heart was through her shoes, and she’d found one hell of a way to thank him. She smiled when she remembered dropping to her knees before him—while wearing only the shoes—and the way his eyes had widened with surprise and then pure desire when he’d realized her intention.
As she entered the living room, the doorbell rang and the Secret Service agent working the door admitted Avery Hill, who stopped to give Sam the head-to-toe once-over before he cleared his throat and said hello.
She really wished he’d quit looking at her that way before Nick ran a rusty steak knife through the guy’s heart. Wouldn’t that make for some memorable headlines—Vice President Cappuano Charged with First-Degree, Premeditated Murder by Rusty Steak Knife of FBI Agent Who Lusted After His Wife. Story at eleven!
The thing about it, though, was that Hill was a trusted and valued colleague on the job, and he had a relationship that was starting to be long-term going with their friend and personal assistant, Shelby Faircloth. Yet every so often, he still looked at Sam like he wanted to kidnap her and drag her out of her happy home to be his sex slave.
Whoa. Where the hell had the sex slave thought come from?
“Sam?” he asked, his brows furrowed. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, sure. I’m fine. You?”
“Great. Good holiday?”
“Very nice. The whole family was in Charleston for the first time in years.”
Sam sucked at small talk, but she made an effort for Shelby’s sake. She wanted Shelby to feel free to have any guest she wanted over to visit since she spent so much time at their house. Hill was at the top of Shelby’s guest list, much to Nick’s never-ending dismay.
Speak of the devil. He came into the room, and his amiable expression instantly hardened when he saw that Hill had arrived. Nick put his arm around her and kissed her temple. Not for the first time, she was grateful he didn’t lift his leg and pee on her to mark his territory in front of the agent.
“What do you think of this shit with Farnsworth and Gonzo?” Hill asked, apparently oblivious, as usual, to the fact that Nick would prefer that Hill didn’t speak to his wife—ever.
“I’m hoping it’ll blow over when something bigger happens.”
“Springer’s out for blood. He’s not going to be happy with anything less than Farnsworth’s head on a stick.”
Sam’s stomach turned at the thought of anyone other than her beloved Uncle Joe as the chief of police.
“No sense speculating on what might happen,” Nick said. “We’ve got somewhere to be. Are you ready, babe?” The Secret Service detail was hovering by the front door, waiting for the signal from Nick that they were set to go.
“Let me just say good-night to Scotty, and then I’ll be ready.”
“He’s in the kitchen with Shelby.”
Reluctant to leave Nick and Hill alone in a room together, she took hold of her husband’s hand and tugged him along with her to the kitchen, where Scotty was making pizza with Shelby. At times like this, Sam felt like a total loser as a mother because it would never occur to her to make pizza from scratch when there were perfectly good take-out numbers to call. Fortunately, Scotty didn’t seem to realize he’d landed a dud for a mother. He lit up at the sight of her and Nick the way he always did.
“Sam! Check it out! I tossed my own crust just like that chef guy on TV does it.” He’d recently turned thirteen and had grown at least two inches since he came to live with them over the summer. A member of Scotty’s Secret Service detail sat at the table reading the paper, sticking out despite his effort to be unobtrusive. They were all obtrusive, and Sam hated having them in her house. But the alternative of having Nick and Scotty unprotected was unthinkable.
“Looking good, buddy. If I tried that, the crust would be stuck to the ceiling.”
Nick patted her shoulder. “It’s best that you have your pizza delivered.”
How did he always know what she was thinking? That was one of her life’s most enduring mysteries.
“We’re heading out,” Nick said. “Are you guys all set with everything?”
“We’re good,” Shelby said, smiling at Hill, who hovered in the doorway.
Scotty nodded in agreement. “Yep.”
“Give me a hug,” Sam said.
“My hands are all dirty, and you look really nice,” Scotty said.
“I’ll risk it.”
He held his hands up and away from her while she gave him a squeeze and a kiss on the cheek. “Be good for Shelby.”
“Duh, I’m always good.”
And wasn’t that the truth? He was a good and decent boy, and they were blessed to have him in their lives. If only they could get his adoption finalized, everything would be perfect. As required by the courts, they had a private investigator looking for Scotty’s biological father, but so far their efforts hadn’t yielded any results.
“Shelby said we can have champagne at midnight.”
The tiny blonde Sam called Tinker Bell balked. “I said no such thing! Don’t get me in trouble.”
Scotty laughed at her outrage.
“I said you could stay up until midnight, but if you get me in trouble, it’s off to bed with you right now.”
“I’ll behave,” Scotty said gravely, a devilish glint in his eyes.
“Happy New Year,” Nick said.
“Same to you,” Shelby said. “Have a good time, and don’t worry about anything here.”
“Thanks, Shelby.” With a hand placed possessively on her lower back, Nick ushered Sam from the kitchen.
Hill ducked out of the way to let them pass. “Happy New Year,” he said.
“Same to you,” Sam said while Nick remained stubbornly silent.
As they stepped into the living room, the Secret Service agents sprung into action, talking on radios and doing all the stuff they did every time Nick dared to leave the house. Before her eyes, his entire body went tense, letting her know how much he detested all the hoopla.
Brant, the lead agent on his detail, waited by the front door. “Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Cappuano, we’re ready for you.”
After Nick held her coat for her, Sam squeezed his arm and smiled up at him, hoping to defuse some of his tension by reminding him that at the end of the day, it was still about the two of them. “Let’s go have some fun.”
He returned her smile and seemed to relax ever so slightly. “Let’s do it.”
Nick had secured the same K Street lounge where they’d held their promotion party last year. Except this time, it was just the two of them and his detail rather than the raucous crowd of friends and family that had joined them a year ago.
“Are they closed tonight?” Sam asked.
Nick gestured to a candlelit table set for two in the middle of the big room that usually served as a bustling nightclub. “For a private party of two.”
“My husband must have some kind of cache to be able to shut down a hot spot like this on New Year’s Eve.”
“Yes, he’s very powerful and influential,” he said with the self-deprecating grin she loved so much. “In truth, the only way the Secret Service would go for it was if we had the place to ourselves.” He shrugged. “So we have the place to ourselves.”
She ran her hand down the length of his red silk tie and hooked her index finger under his belt. “Having the place completely to ourselves doesn’t totally suck.”
“Don’t get any ideas. We’re not alone.”
Though his detail had faded into the background, they were always there and always watching. Determined to ensure he had a good time tonight despite the prying eyes around them, Sam walked over to the table. He was right behind her, holding the chair for her. The moment they were seated, a waiter emerged from the kitchen.
“Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Cappuano, it is indeed an honor to have you here tonight. I’m Mario, and I’ll be your waiter.”
“Thank you, Mario,” Nick said. “I believe we need some champagne.”
Sam nodded in agreement, and the waiter hustled off to get it. “Champagne makes me silly and uninhibited,” Sam reminded her husband.
“Does it? I’d forgotten that.”
Since he never forgot anything where she was concerned, she rolled her eyes to let him know she wasn’t buying it. “I think you’re just trying to make sure you get lucky later.”
“Do I ever have any problem getting lucky?”
“Are you calling me easy, Mr. VP?”
“If the Louboutin fits…”
Laughing, Sam said, “I can’t even deny these accusations.”
“I love that you’re easy.” He kissed the back of her hand, sending shivers of sensation darting up her arm and straight to her nipples, which stood at attention. Naturally, he noticed, his hazel eyes heating with pleasure at the way she reacted to him. “You have no idea how much I count on the one thing in my life that’s always easy and effortless.”
“You’re the only one who’s ever said that dealing with me is effortless.”
“I love dealing with you, as you well know.”
She loved when he looked at her the way he was now, as if the sun, the moon and the stars rose and set with her.
The moment ended when Mario returned with their champagne, which was presented with flourish. “Please enjoy,” he said when he’d filled two crystal flutes. “I’ll be back with your appetizers momentarily.”
“So we don’t have to order?” Sam asked when they were alone again.
“All taken care of.”
In her past life, before him, it would’ve made her crazy to have a man order for her. But when he did it, she felt cared for and maybe a bit coddled. Not that she’d ever admit as much to him. She had a reputation to maintain, after all.
“I can see the gerbils working overtime on the treadmill as you try to convince yourself to let go and roll with it,” he said, amusement dancing in his eyes.
“You can see no such thing.”
“Whatever you say, babe. Any minute now there’ll be smoke pouring out your ears.”
He knew her better than anyone ever had—better than anyone ever would. Her inclination at first had been to fight that, to preserve a piece of herself so she’d survive if things between them didn’t work out. Now, after a year with him, she had faith it would work out and knew for certain she’d never survive without him.
“Now what’re you thinking?”
“You tell me. You’re the one with ESP.”
He studied her intently, making her squirm ever so slightly in her chair. “You’re thinking that you love me so much it’s not even funny, and you can’t wait until we get home to the one place where there’re no prying eyes so you can have your wicked way with me. Am I close?”
“If you hadn’t already told me how easy I am, I’d tell you you’re delusional. But we know better, don’t we?”
“Yes, we do.” Smiling, he raised his glass to her. “To my gorgeous, sexy, exasperating, easy wife, I love you more than anything, and I can’t wait to see what our second year together will entail.”
Charmed and touched by his sweet words, she touched her glass to his and took a sip of the dry, chilled bubbly. “Mmm, that’s good.”
“Drink up. I’ve got plans for later, and I need you uninhibited.” He waggled his brows suggestively, which had her squirming in her chair for a whole other reason.
Sam glanced toward the far side of the large room where four Secret Service agents were seated at a table talking quietly and pretending they weren’t watching them. She knew others were positioned outside, creating a perimeter of protection all around them. If she allowed herself to think too much about being surrounded every time she was with her husband, she’d lose her mind. So she chose not to think about it—most of the time.
“Pretend they’re not here,” Nick said. “Focus on me.”
Focusing on his exquisitely handsome face was certainly no hardship. Mario plied them with four courses of delicious food and wine and more champagne before he carried out a flaming soufflé for dessert.
“So, are you going to tell me how the deposition went today?” he asked as they dug into the soufflé with two spoons.
“How do you think it went? I had to relive the nightmare day when Melissa came into our house with a bomb strapped to her chest.”
“Did it take all day?”
“Yep. Her lawyers were nothing if not thorough.”
“And I’m sure you were unrepentant.”
“You’re damn right I was. I don’t regret anything I did that day. She can sue us all she wants, but I did my job and I have no doubt that Freddie and I saved all our lives that day.”
“I was there. I can attest to that. What happens now?”
“Who knows? They take my deposition, and the whole thing goes away until it rears its ugly head again. I’m not giving it another thought until I have to.” Eager to change the subject, Sam said, “You know what the good thing is about your detail?”
“Is there a good thing?”
“Yep. We can get totally hammered, and they have to drive us home.”
“That isn’t a bad thing. Are you totally hammered?”
“I think I might be. Are you?”
“Nope. I paced myself.”
“Always in control, aren’t you?”
He gazed at her meaningfully. “Not always.”
Sam’s bite of soufflé got stuck in her throat. The reminder that she was the one person who could break his legendary control made her want to go home immediately. “Is it time to go?”
“Not quite yet.” He fed her another bite. “Want to dance?”
Sam looked over at the Secret Service detail. The three men and one woman were done eating and were monitoring them without actually looking at them. “I’d prefer to dance at home without an audience.”
“We can do that.” He checked his watch. “It’s almost midnight.”
“Are they going to let us go up to watch the fireworks?” It went against everything she believed in to ask anyone for permission to do anything, but she didn’t want to make his life any more complicated than it already was by constantly clashing with his detail.
Nodding, he said, “That was my primary request for this evening. I had a promise to my wife that needed to be kept.”
Last year, they’d stood on the rooftop of this very building, newly in love, newly back together six years after an unforgettable one-night stand. They’d promised to come back to that spot to see in every New Year together. She’d wondered if they’d get to do it in light of his new security constraints.
“Did you doubt that I’d remember?”
“Oh, I knew you’d remember. I’ve learned not to question such things. Your memory is freakishly good. I just wasn’t sure if they’d allow it.”
“Apparently, there’ll be sharpshooters on adjacent buildings keeping an eye on us, so no sudden moves.”
She rested her hand on his leg and ran it slowly up to cup him intimately. “So nothing like this?” she asked as he hardened under her hand.
“That’s absolutely allowed.”
Sam laughed at the lusty look he sent her way as he covered her hand with his to keep her from getting away. “How about you save that for when we get home?”
“There’s plenty more where that came from.”
“There’s so much I could say to that.”
Nick put his free arm around her and pulled her and her chair closer to him. With his lips close to her ear, he said, “I know it sucks balls to be constantly under surveillance, babe, but I just want you to know… That we can still be us in the midst of it is the only thing saving my sanity right now.”
“We’ll always be us, no matter where we are or who is watching.” She stroked her hand up and down his length, loving the way he throbbed under her palm. “Speaking of sucking balls, I have a hankering—”
He kissed her before she could finish the sentence. “Don’t say it, or I’ll drag you out of here without keeping my promise.”
Sam happened to glance over at the table full of agents, all of whom were face-first in their phones, except for Melinda, who was watching them. The tall, frosty blonde seemed to enjoy her job a little too much if you asked Sam. “Tell Secret Service Barbie to quit looking at my hot husband.”
“Um, she’s sort of paid to look at me.”
“I don’t like her.”
“Oh, Jesus. Why not? What’ve you got against her?”
“I don’t like the way she looks at you.”
“Samantha,” he said, “are you being serious right now?”
“Dead serious. There’s something about her that bugs me.”
“Just like there’s something about Avery Hill that bugs me?”
“Something like that.”
Nick busted up laughing, which had Sam removing her hand from his crotch. If he was going to laugh at her, he didn’t deserve a hand job. A buzzing noise from under the table interrupted the snappy retort she was working up.
“Saved by the phone,” he said, aware that he’d gotten himself into trouble.
“I know I should ignore it, but what if it’s Scotty?”
“Go ahead and check it. You won’t relax knowing there’s an unread text on your phone.”
And wasn’t that the truth? She retrieved her phone from her purse and flipped it open to find a text from Gonzo.
Shit is hitting the fan. Need to talk to you. Call if you can.
“Crap, it’s Gonzo. He says the shit’s hitting the fan. He wants me to call him.”
“Go ahead. We have time before midnight.”
“They’re supposed to be celebrating their anniversary tonight.” Gonzo had met Christina, Nick’s former chief of staff, at their party here last year and they were now engaged. Sam placed the call and waited for Gonzo to pick up.
Nick put his arm around her and kept her close while he took advantage of the opportunity to check his own phone. Sam had learned to hate that phone, which often rang in the middle of the night, with Terry passing on information he thought Nick needed to know. It had been bad enough when only her phone did that. Now they had two of them that went off at all hours.
Gonzo picked up on the sixth ring. “Hey, sorry. I was on the other line with Andy.” Nick’s lawyer friend had spearheaded Gonzo’s efforts to get custody of his son. “Lori’s lawyer filed an injunction to overturn the ruling that gave me full custody.”
“Shit. What did Andy say about that?”
“That they’ve got a case, and I should be worried. Lori also went to the fucking media, and now it’s a total shitstorm.”
“I saw some of that earlier.”
“I don’t know what to do, Sam. Part of me wants to pack up Alex and run. The other half of me wants to pretend this isn’t happening. And then there’s the part that wants to wrap my hands around her fucking neck and squeeze the life out of her.”
“Please don’t do that. And it won’t help anything if you run away. You’ll have to come back eventually and face the music.” She leaned into Nick’s embrace. “Just remember that everyone felt you were the better parent. If they reopen the case, another judge isn’t going to necessarily see it differently.”
“I can’t believe I might have to go through that hell all over again. I wish she’d just go away. She doesn’t even want him.”
Sam didn’t know what to say to that. From everything she’d heard, Lori Phillips had gone to tremendous lengths to clean up her life in an effort to get custody of her son. But that wasn’t what Gonzo needed to hear right now. “I know this has to be really stressful, but there’s nothing you can do on a holiday weekend. Try to relax until you know more. And don’t do anything stupid that’ll make your case more complicated—or mess up your recovery. We need you back at work.”
“I know. I just feel like… God, Sam, I’m losing it over here.”
“Do you need me to come over there and keep you from doing something stupid?”
“No, Chris is here, and she’s doing what she can. The thought of losing Alex… I can’t lose him. I’d never survive it.”
“Do you promise you’ll stay calm and let the process work the way it’s supposed to?”
After an uncomfortably long silence, Gonzo said, “Yeah.”
“Gonzo, seriously. Don’t do anything you’ll regret. Think about your hard-won career and the family that needs you. Stay calm.”
“Thanks, Sam. Chris told me to call you. She said I’d feel better after I talked to you, and I do.”
“Sorry to interrupt your evening. I know you guys had plans.”
“No worries. You know you can always call me. I’ll check in with you tomorrow.”
“Sounds good,” he said. “Happy New Year.”
“Same to you, and happy anniversary too. It’ll be a happy New Year for all of us. I know it will.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Um, when have you ever known me not to be right?”
Her husband and friend groaned in stereo.
“On that note, I’ll let you go.”
“Take care.” Sam closed the phone and blew out a deep breath. “He’s freaking out.”
“I heard,” Nick said.
“And blaming himself.”
“I wonder how Lori found out about his connection to Morton.”
“Her lawyers must’ve done some digging around.”
“You know I’m always on Gonzo’s side,” Nick said tentatively. “He’s become my friend as much as he’s yours.”
“He fucked up by not disclosing his past relationship with Morton. I’d be surprised if the whole case isn’t tossed. The bar will probably have something to say about Morton not disclosing it either.”
“Damn. What a mess. Poor Gonzo. He thought he was home free with permanent custody of Alex, and now this.”
Nick consulted the silver TAG Heuer watch she’d given him for Christmas, much to his surprise. “May I be selfish for a minute here?”
“But of course.”
“Before we start another crazy year, I need a few minutes alone with my wife on the roof.”
“Your wife is always happy to give you a few minutes.”
He got up and helped her out of her chair and into the coat that magically appeared, brought by a member of the attentive restaurant staff. With the coat in place, he gathered her long hair and let it slide through his fingers in a move reminiscent of when they first reconnected after John O’Connor’s murder. He’d been combing his fingers through her hair as often as he could ever since.
Hand in hand, they followed two of his agents up the stairs to the roof while two others followed behind them. Their city stretched out before them, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument to Lincoln to the right and Jefferson to the left. In the middle sat the White House, where Nick now had an office in the West Wing that he would report to for the first time the day after tomorrow. When they’d stood here a year ago, they never could’ve imagined that particular development transpiring the way it had.
“We’ve got you set up over here, sir.” Brant gestured to a protected corner of the roof that left only two sides open. A small sofa had been placed on the roof along with a blanket.
“Thanks, Brant.” With his hand on her back, Nick guided Sam to the appointed spot.
“Much more cozy than last year,” Sam said.
“And far less private.” The agents had faded into the darkness, but they—and others—were watching closely. They’d been told to tell no one of their plans for New Year’s Eve. If no one knew where they were, the chances of any sort of incident were minimized.
Sam snuggled up to him. “We’ll make the most of it.”
He put his arms around her and tossed the blanket over them. “I remember how cold you were last year even though you pretended otherwise.”
“How could I be cold when you were holding me and making me hot for you the way I always am?”
“Mmm,” he said in a low growl that sent shivers dancing down her spine. “I love that you’re always hot for me. This, right here…” He hugged her in closer to him. “The best thing in my life, hands down.”
“And the boy.”
“And the boy,” he said. “Thank you for the most amazing year of my life. A year ago tonight, if I’d employed my wildest imagination, I never could’ve conjured up the year we’ve spent together. Just when I think I love you as much as a man can possibly love a woman, I find out there’s more.”
Sam sighed with pleasure and delight at the magic she found in his arms. “I keep waiting for it to get real, you know?”
“How do you mean?”
“The blush has to wear off the rose eventually, doesn’t it?”
Chuckling, he said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen to us, babe. It keeps getting better all the time. Especially lately. Living in the bubble like we are, the time we spend by ourselves out of the spotlight is even more important than it used to be.”
“My New Year’s resolution is to spend as much time completely alone with my husband as I possibly can.”
“Your husband wholeheartedly approves of that resolution.”
“To continue to love my wife and son with everything I have to give them.” He sealed his resolution with a kiss that ended when the first of the fireworks erupted over the city, casting the landmarks in vivid blues and reds.
Sam appreciated the way he used his muscular frame to shield them from the watchful eyes of his detail. She caressed his face, dragging her index finger over his lower lip that was still damp from their kisses. “Same time and place next year?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”