Home > Fatal Reckoning (Fatal #14)(14)

Fatal Reckoning (Fatal #14)(14)
Author: Marie Force

“Won’t be the same,” Angela said.

“Nothing will be,” Tracy said bluntly, “but we have to keep doing what we’ve always done and make him proud of us by taking care of each other.”

Nick approached their table. “Sam, Graham and Laine were hoping for a chance to say hello.”

“Duty calls.” Sam leaned in to kiss Angela’s cheek as she got up.

Nick escorted her across the crowded room to where Graham and Laine were seated with Leo, Stacy, Terry and Lindsey. “Everything okay?”

“Angela is pregnant and sad that Dad won’t get to meet the new baby.”

“Well, that’s some big news.” He took a careful look at her, as if to gauge her reaction to yet another baby in their midst while she continued to be unable to conceive.

“I’m fine.”

They had a nice visit with Graham and Laine, who’d been like adopted parents to Nick over the years. And Sam finally got a chance to thank Terry for his efforts to get Nick home as quickly as possible the other day.

“I wish it could’ve been faster.”

“We appreciated the effort.”

After the O’Connors left, Freddie came over to talk to her. “How’re you doing?”

“I’m okay.” Sam felt like she’d said those words a thousand times over the last few days. She kept looking around for Skip and his wheelchair, thinking there was something she should be doing for him. Knowing he was finally at peace helped, even as she burned with the need to get back to work and start pulling every thread she could find in pursuit of justice on his behalf.

Freddie eyed her with concern. “It was a beautiful tribute.”

“That it was. I’m going back to work tomorrow with one goal in mind.”

“I’ll be there to help.”

“You’re on vacation until Monday.”

He returned her fierce stare with an equally fierce look. “I’ll be there to help.”

Realizing there was no point in arguing with him, she nodded.

“Everyone’s going to O’Leary’s after this to raise a glass to Skip. Can you come?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there.” She wouldn’t miss it. O’Leary’s had been Skip’s favorite haunt. Sam had frequently met him there for an after-work drink, including the night when she met Nick for the first time. “Spent a lot of time with my old man in that watering hole.”

“I know you did, and I also know, at some point, the reality of this is going to set in and it’s probably not going to be pretty. I’ll be right there for you when that happens.”

“There’s never going to be a time when I’m not pretty,” she said with a teasing grin.

“Either way, I’ll be there.”

Regardless of who might be watching, Sam rested her head on his shoulder. “Means everything to me that you were here for this.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

* * *

MUCH LATER, SURROUNDED by her brothers and sisters in blue, as well as her husband, Sam raised a shot of whiskey in tribute to her father and downed the liquor in one gulp that burned all the way through her.

“To Skip!”

That shot was followed by another and another, until Sam caught a comfortable buzz that took the edge off her raw emotions.

Then Archie busted out a heartfelt, soaring rendition of “Danny Boy,” surprising and delighting his colleagues with a beautiful voice that brought tears to Sam’s eyes that she didn’t try to contain. She didn’t have to in this crowd where she was surrounded by friends who’d loved her father almost as much as she had.

Nick stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders as Gonzo and Cruz flanked her.

Gonzo drank only water.

Sam was well and truly plastered by the time Nick and Freddie helped her into the Secret Service vehicle that waited at the curb to take them home. She pretended she couldn’t hear Nick and Freddie talking about her.

“It’s probably good for her to blow off some steam,” Freddie said.

“Agreed,” Nick replied. “But she’ll regret it in the morning.”

“She said she’s going to work.”

“I want her to take another day.”

That’s not going to happen. Sam tried not to puke in the pristine Secret Service SUV. Comfortable numbness was much preferred to the ache that came with profound loss.

Nick said good-night to Freddie and got in next to her, gathering her into his embrace.

She’d tried to tell him he didn’t have to come to O’Leary’s, that it was a cop thing and he could go home if he wanted to, but he’d insisted on sticking with her. Scotty had gone home with Celia and would spend the night there.

“I’m glad you came with me.” Her words were slurred, but she didn’t care.

“So am I.”

“Wanna know why I’m glad you came with me?”

“Can’t wait to hear this.”

“You come with designated drivers.”

“Is that all I’m good for?”

“That’s one of many things you’re good for.” She rested her hand on his leg and started to slide it upward when he stopped her. “Don’t be a stick-in-the-mud.”

He laughed. “Will you remember any of this tomorrow?”

“I’ve never forgotten a second that I spent with you.” She pushed his hand away and continued her quest to get at what she wanted.

“Samantha.”

“Yes?”

“Can you hold that thought until we get home?”

“As long as I’m allowed to indulge that thought when we get home.”

“You can indulge all you want when we’re behind closed doors.”

“Okay.” She leaned her head against his shoulder, closed her eyes and sighed, the stress and strain of the last few days leaving her in a whoosh of air. “Nick...”

“I’m right here.”

“My dad...”

“I know, honey.”

“What am I supposed to do now?”

He held her tighter, his lips skimming her forehead. “You’re supposed to keep doing what you do and keep making him proud just by being your perfect self.”

Tears burned her eyes, so she closed them. Just for a minute.

* * *

HER QUESTION BROKE Nick’s heart. What would she do without Skip? He couldn’t begin to know, but he hoped she would take comfort in being reminded of how proud her father had been of her. Her body went lax against his, and he was relieved that she had fallen asleep.

When they arrived at Ninth Street, Nick lifted Sam into his arms and carried her up the ramp, into the house and straight upstairs, where he helped her out of her uniform and tucked her into bed. He was kind of glad she’d let loose with her colleagues and had gotten a little drunk after the week she’d had.

He went to look in on Aubrey and Alden sleeping peacefully after spending the evening with Shelby and Avery, who were asleep with Noah in the guest room. Thank God for good friends at times like these.

Keyed up after the long, emotional day, Nick changed into sweats and a T-shirt and went downstairs to have a drink. He’d abstained during the day so Sam could let loose. But now he needed to take the edge off.

Bourbon, he decided, having been weaned on it at Graham O’Connor’s table while at Harvard with Graham’s son John. He poured a healthy shot and took it to the sofa, pulled out his phone and checked his messages for the first time all day. Work stuff could wait for the morning, he decided, not wanting to fuel his insomnia with stress. He read a text from Freddie.

I’m worried about Sam. Has she cried yet?

Not that I’ve seen, Nick replied. I think she was holding it together in public.

She says she’s going back to work tomorrow. Is she ready for that?

I suppose we need to let her decide that.

Yeah, I guess. I’ll be there to keep an eye on her.

That’ll help. It meant so much to her that you came home to be with her.

I wouldn’t have missed it. What a day this was.

I know. It was amazing. He would’ve loved it.

Yes, very much so. Try to get some sleep.

You too.

Nick already knew that she hadn’t cried yet. He’d checked with her sisters as well as Scotty. Now Freddie had echoed his concerns.

Brant came out of the room the Secret Service used as an office, the bag he carried to and from work on his shoulder. “Mr. Vice President. I almost didn’t see you there in the dark.”

“Heading out?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll see you in the morning?”

“Hey, Brant?”

“Sir?”

“Thank you for all you do. The last few days couldn’t have been easy for you or the others, but you made it easy on us. It’s very much appreciated.”

“Thank you, sir. Everyone on our team was fond of Deputy Chief Holland. We were honored to serve you and your family this week.” He paused, seeming to consider his next words. “But if you ever run away from your detail again, I won’t be responsible for my actions. Understood?”

Nick laughed. “Sorry about that.”

“I understand why you did it, and I might’ve done the same thing myself under the circumstances. However...”

“Say no more. I got it.”

“Is Mrs. Cappuano doing all right?”

“She’s better now that she has a belly full of whiskey. Not sure how she’ll feel in the morning, though.”

“It’s a tough loss for her. It was obvious to everyone how close they were.”

Nick stood to shake the agent’s hand. “Thanks again for everything.”

Brant shook his hand. “It’s an honor to work with and for you. Tomorrow, we need to talk about the plan for the Armstrong children. I’ve been in touch with headquarters about providing them with security. You should be aware that the GOP minority leader has inquired about whether taxpayer dollars should be used to protect children you voluntarily brought into your family while in office.”

   
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