A brutal home invasion. Two small traumatized survivors who may have witnessed the horror. Lieutenant Sam Holland has never worked a case quite like this one, in which her eyewitnesses are five-year-old twins. But when Sam steps up in a big way for them, she risks her heart as much as her career.
While Sam and her husband, Vice President Nick Cappuano, go to battle in more ways than one for her tiny witnesses, her colleague Sergeant Tommy “Gonzo” Gonzales battles his own demons. Months of unbearable grief and despair come to a head in an unimaginable way that threatens Gonzo’s status with the department and his relationship with his fiancée, Christina.
With trouble both at the precinct and on the case, Sam struggles to keep her priorities straight at home and at work while trying not to lose her heart to her latest crime victims.
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"This is a classic case of be careful what you wish for." Nick placed a stack of folded dress shirts in a suitcase that already held socks, underwear, workout clothes and several pairs of jeans. Only Nick would start packing seven days before his scheduled departure for Europe next Sunday, the day after Freddie and Elin's wedding. "That's the lesson learned here."
"Only anal-retentive freakazoids pack a week before a trip." Sam sat at the foot of the bed and watched him pack with a growing sense of dread. "Three freaking weeks. The last time you were gone that long, I nearly lost my mind, and I don't have much of a mind left to lose."
"Come with me," he said for the hundredth time since the president asked him to make the diplomatic trip, rep-resenting the administration on a visit with some of the country's closest allies. Since President Nelson was still recovering — in more ways than one — from his son's criminal activities, several of the allies had requested he send his popular vice president in his stead.
Sam flopped on the bed. "I can't. I have work and Scotty, and Freddie is going on his honeymoon for two weeks and ... I can't." No Nick at home to entertain her. No Freddie at work to entertain her. The next few weeks were going to totally suck monkey balls.
"Actually, you can." Nick hovered above her, propped on arms ripped with muscles, his splendid chest on full display. "You have more vacation time saved up than you can use in a lifetime, and you have the right to actually use it. Scotty will be fine with Shelby, your dad and Celia, your sisters and the Secret Service here to entertain him. We could even ask Mrs. Littlefield to come up for the weekends."
Their son's former guardian would love the chance to spend time with him, but Sam didn't feel right about leaving him for so long. However, the thought of being without Nick for three endless weeks made her sick. His trip to Iran earlier in the year had been pure torture, especially since it kept getting extended.
"Why'd you have to tell Nelson you wanted to be more than a figurehead vice president?" She play-punched his chest. "Everything was fine when he was ignoring you."
He kissed her lips and then her neck. "You're so, so cute when you pout."
"Badass cops do not pout."
"Mine does when she doesn't get her own way, and it's truly adorable."
She scowled at him. "Badass cops are not adorable."
"Mine is." Leaving a trail of hot kisses on her neck, he said, "Come with me, Samantha. London, Paris, Rome, the Vatican, Amsterdam, Brussels, The Hague. Come see the world with me."
Sam had never been to Europe and had always wanted to go, so she was sorely tempted to say to hell with her responsibilities.
"Come on." He rolled her earlobe between his teeth and pressed against her suggestively. "Three whole weeks together away from the madness of DC. You know you want to go. Gonzo could cover for you at work, and things have been slow anyway."
There hadn't been a homicide in more than a week, which meant they were due, and that was another reason to stay home. "Don't say that and put a jinx on us." "Come away with me. Scotty will be fine. We'll Face-Time with him every day and bring him presents. He'll be well cared for by everyone else who loves him." He kissed her neck as he unbuttoned her shirt and pushed it aside. "You'd get to meet the Queen of England."
Sam moaned. She loved the queen — speaking of a badass female.
"And the Pope. Plus, you'll need some clothes — and shoes. Lots of shoes."
"Stop it." She turned her face to avoid his kiss. "You're fighting dirty."
"Because I want my wife to come with me on the trip of a lifetime? I need you Samantha."
As he well knew, she could deny him nothing when he said he needed her. "Fine, I'll go! But only if it's okay with Scotty and if I can swing it at work."
"Yes," her husband said on a long exhale. "We'll have so much fun."
"Will we actually get to see anything?"
He pushed himself up to continue packing. "I'll make sure of it."
"Um, excuse me."
"My temperature after your attempts at persuasion."
A slow, lazy smile spread across his face, making him the sexiest man in this universe — and the next. "Is my baby feeling a little needy?"
She pulled her T-shirt over her head and released the front clasp on her bra. "More than a little."
"We can't have that." Stepping to the foot of the bed, he grasped the legs of her yoga pants and yanked them off.
"Lock the door."
"Lock the door, or this isn't happening." With Secret Service agents all over their house, Sam couldn't relax if the door wasn't locked.
"This is definitely happening, but if it'll make you happy, I'll lock the door."
"It'll make me happy, which will, in turn, make you happy." She splayed her legs wide-open to give him a show as he returned from locking the door, and was re-warded with gorgeous hazel eyes that heated with desire when he saw her waiting for him.
"You little vixen," he muttered.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Sure, you don't," he said, laughing as he came down on top of her and set out to give her a preview of what three weeks away together might be like.
They broke The news to Scotty the next morning at breakfast. "So," Nick said tentatively, "what would you think if Mom came with me to Europe?"
Thirteen-year-old Scotty, never at his best first thing in the morning, shrugged. "It's fine."
"Really?" Sam said. "You wouldn't mind? Shelby, Tracy and Angela would be around to hang with you, and Gramps and Celia too. We thought maybe Mrs. Littlefield could come up for a weekend or two if she's free."
"Sure, that sounds good."
Sam glanced at Nick, who seemed equally perplexed by his lack of reaction. They'd expected him to ask to come with them, at the very least.
"Is everything okay?" Sam asked her son.
"Uh-huh." He finished his cereal and got up to put the bowl in the sink. "I'm going to finish getting ready for school."
"Okay, bud," Nick said.
"Something's up," Sam said as soon as Scotty left the room.
"I agree. He didn't even ask if he could miss school to come with us."
"I thought the same thing."
"We'll have to see if we can get him to talk to us before we go — and not in the morning," Nick said.
"I'll ask Shelby to make spaghetti for dinner. That always puts him in a good mood." Sam's phone rang, and when she saw the number for Dispatch, she groaned. "Damn it. You jinxed me!" So much for getting out of Dodge without having to worry about work. She took the call. "Holland."
"Lieutenant, there was a fire overnight in Chevy Chase." The dispatcher referred to the exclusive Northwest neighborhood that was home to a former U.S. president, ambassadors and other wealthy residents. "We have two DOA at the scene," the dispatcher said, reciting the address. "The fire marshal has requested Homicide detectives."
"Did he say why?"
"Okay, I'm on my way." Thankfully, she'd showered and gotten dressed before she woke Scotty. "Please call Sergeant Gonzales and Detective Cruz and ask them to meet me there."
Sam flipped her phone closed with a satisfying smack. That smacking sound was one of many reasons she'd never upgrade to a smart phone.
"You'll still be able to come with me, right?" Nick asked, looking adorably uncertain.
Sam went over to where he sat at the table and kissed him. "I'll talk to Malone today and see if I can make it happen."
"Keep me posted."
A ringing phone woke Christina Billings from a sound sleep. Two-year-old Alex had been up during the night with a fever and cold that was making him miserable and her sleep deprived. Her fiancé, Tommy, had slept through that and apparently couldn't hear his phone ringing either. He was due at work in an hour and was usually up by now.
"Tommy." She nudged him, but he didn't stir. "Tommy. Your phone."
He came to slowly, blinking rapidly.
"The phone, Tommy. Answer it before it wakes Alex." He needed more sleep and so did she, or this was going to be a very long day.
Tommy grabbed the phone from the bedside table.
Christina saw the word Dispatch on the screen.
She couldn't hear the dispatcher's side of the conversation, but she heard Tommy's grunt of acknowledgment before he ended the call, closing his eyes even as he continued to clutch the phone.
Christina wondered if he was going back to sleep after being called into work. She was about to say something when he got out of bed and headed for the shower.
Nine months ago today, his partner, A. J. Arnold, had been gunned down right in front of Tommy as they approached a suspect. After a long downward spiral following Arnold's murder, Tommy had seemed to rebound somewhat during the summer. But the rebound hadn't lasted into the fall.
In the last month, since his new partner, Cameron Green, had joined the squad, Christina had watched him regress into his grief. He'd said and done all the right things when it came to welcoming Cameron, but he was obviously spiraling again, and she had no idea what to do to help him or how to reach him. Even when lying next to her in bed, he seemed so far away from her.
Sometimes, when she had a rare moment alone, she allowed her thoughts to wander to life without Tommy and Alex at the center of it. She loved them both — desperately — but she wasn't sure how much more she could take of the distant, closed-off version of the man she loved. They were supposed to have been married by now. Like everything else, that plan had been shoved aside to make room for Tommy's overwhelming grief. It'd been months since they'd discussed getting married. In the meantime, she took care of Alex and everything else while Tommy worked and came home to sleep before starting the cycle all over again.
They didn't talk about anything other than Alex. They never went anywhere together or as a family. They hadn't had sex in so long she'd forgotten when it had last happened. She was as unhappy as she'd ever been. Something had to give — and soon, or she would be forced to decide whether their relationship was still healthy for her. She did not want to have to make that decision.
Only the thought of leaving Tommy at his lowest moment, not to mention leaving Alex, had kept her from making a move before now. She loved that little boy with her whole heart and soul. She'd stepped away from her own career as Nick's chief of staff to stay home with him and had hoped to add to their family by now. When she thought about the early days of her relationship with Tommy, when they'd been so madly in love, she couldn't have imagined feeling as insignificant to him as a piece of furniture that was always there when he finally decided to come home.
Christina hadn't told anyone about the trouble brewing between them. In her heart of hearts, she hoped they could still work it out somehow, and the last thing she needed was her friends and family holding a grudge against him forever — and they would if they had any idea just how bad things had gotten. Her parents had questioned the wisdom of her giving up a high-profile job to stay home to care for her boyfriend's child, especially when she'd made more money than him. But she'd been ready for a break from the political rat race when Alex came along, and she had no regrets about her decision. Or she hadn't until Tommy checked out of their relationship.
This weekend they'd be expected to celebrate at Fred-die and Elin's wedding, and she'd have to pretend that everything was fine in her relationship when it was any-thing but. She wasn't sure how she would pull off another convincing performance for their friends. Tommy was one of Freddie's groomsmen, so she'd get to spend most of that day on her own while he attended to his friend.
Dangling at the end of her rope in this situation, more than once she'd thought about taking Alex and leaving, even though she had no legal right to take him. Another thing they'd never gotten around to — her adoption of him after his mother was killed. What would Tommy do if she left with his son? Call the police on her? That made her laugh bitterly. She'd be surprised if he noticed they were gone.
Tommy came out of the bathroom and went to the closet where he had clean clothes to choose from thanks to her. Did he ever wonder how that happened? He put on jeans and a black T-shirt and then went to unlock the bedside drawer where he kept his badge, weapon and cuffs.
She watched him slide the weapon into the holster he wore on his hip and jam the cuffs and badge into the back pockets of his jeans, the same way he did every day. Holding her breath, she waited to see if he would say anything to her or come around the bed to kiss her goodbye the way he used to before disaster struck, but like he did so often these days, he simply turned and left the room.
A minute later, she heard the front door close behind him.
For a long time after he left, she lay in bed staring up at the ceiling with tears running down her cheeks. She couldn't take much more of this.CHAPTER 2
Sam was The first of her team to arrive on the scene of the smoldering fire that had demolished half a mansion in one of the District's most exclusive neighborhoods.
"What've we got?" Sam asked the fire marshal when he met her at the tape line.
"Two bodies found on the first floor of the house, both bound with zip ties at the hands and feet."
And that, right there, made their deaths her problem. "Do we know who they are?"
He consulted his notes. "The ME will need to make positive IDs, but the house is owned by Jameson and Cleo Beauclair. I haven't had time to dig any deeper on who they are."
"Are we certain they were the only people in the house?" Sam asked.
"Not yet. When we arrived just after four a.m., the west side of the house, where the bodies were found, was fully engulfed. That was our immediate focus. We've got firefighters searching the rest of what was once a ten-thousand-square-foot home."
"Any sign of accelerants?"
"Nothing so far, but we're an hour into the investigation stage. Early days."
"Has the ME been here?"
"Could I take a look inside?"
"It's still hot in there, but I can show you the highlights — or the lowlights, such as they are."
Sam followed him up the sidewalk to what had once been the front door. Inside the smoldering ruins of the house, she could make out the basic structure from the burned-out husk that remained. The putrid scents of smoke and death hung heavily in the air.
"That's them there," the fire marshal said, pointing to a space on the floor by a blackened stone fireplace where two charred bodies lay next to one another.
Sam swallowed the bile that surged to her throat. Nothing was worse, at least not in her line of work, than fire victims. Though it was the last thing she wanted to do, she moved in for a closer look, took photos of the bodies and the scene around them, then turned to face the fire marshal. "Anything else you think I ought to see?"
"Keep me posted."
He walked away to continue his investigation while Sam went outside, carrying the horrifying images with her as she took greedy breaths of fresh air. As she reached the curb, the medical examiner's truck arrived. She waited for a word with Dr. Lindsey McNamara.
The tall, pretty medical examiner gathered her long red hair into a ponytail as she walked over to Sam.
"Fire victims," Sam said, shuddering.
"Good morning to you too."
"Hands and feet bound with zip ties."
"Here we go again," Lindsey said with a sigh. "Looks like it was quite a house."
"Ten thousand square feet, according to the fire marshal."
"I'll get you an ID and report as soon as I can."
"Appreciate it." Sam opened her phone and placed a call to Captain Malone. "I'm at the scene of the fire in Chevy Chase."
"What've you got?"
"Two DOA, bound at the hands and feet, leading me to believe this was a home invasion gone bad. I need Crime Scene here ASAP."
"I'll call Haggerty and get them over there."
"I want them to comb through anything and everything that wasn't touched by the fire, and they need to do it soon before the scene is further compromised. We've got firefighters all over the place."
"Got it. What's your plan?"
"I'm going to talk to the neighbors and find out what I can about the people who lived here while I wait for Lindsey to confirm their identity."
"Keep me posted."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fatal Invasion"
Copyright © 2018 HTJB, Inc..
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