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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 Farns-worth'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 actually shot 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 sonsand 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 aliveand Gonzo never would've been shotif 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 jobshers 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 Loubou-tin 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 himwhile wearing only the shoesand 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 headlinesVice 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 neverending 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 wifeever.
"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."