Home > Fatal Reckoning (Fatal #14)(2)

Fatal Reckoning (Fatal #14)(2)
Author: Marie Force

They’d been on borrowed time for almost four years now, during which Skip’s once-robust world had been reduced to three rooms. He’d been trapped in a kind of hell she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy. All that time, she’d known that at some point his body would surrender the fight.

Knowing it could happen at any time didn’t make the reality easier, though.

Her sisters lived close by, so it didn’t take them long to get there, rushing into the room and bringing the scents of cold and wood smoke with them. They took one look at Skip and broke down into heartbroken sobs when they realized what was happening. Sam didn’t acknowledge them or do anything other than stare at the face of the man who’d occupied the very center of her life.

Tracy’s husband, Mike, stood behind Sam and her sisters. “What can we do?”

“Nothing.” Sam gazed down at her dad. “We have to let him go because he wouldn’t want heroic measures.” Later, she’d probably wonder where the composure had come from. All she knew for certain was that her dad had demonstrated amazing grace since his devastating injury, and it was up to them now to let him go with the same grace in which he’d lived his remarkable life.

Angela went around the bed to try to comfort Celia, who was inconsolable.

Tracy wrapped her arms around Sam. Only with her sister’s warmth pressed up against her did Sam realize how cold she was.

As she wondered if he could still hear them, Sam thought about what she should say to him while she still could. But there was no need for last-minute platitudes. Nothing had been left unsaid between her and her father. He would leave this world knowing exactly where he stood with her and the rest of his family. Skip Holland had been loved and respected and adored by his wife and daughters, and had returned those sentiments tenfold.

They were all there, the four people he loved the most, when Skip took his last breath at 8:37.

Sam noted the time, because she knew it would matter. For a long time after his chest stopped moving, she continued to stare down at him. Through the fog of disbelief, she understood what had happened, and in one tiny remote part of her, she felt relieved for him. She’d never been a particularly religious person. However, the thought of Skip walking tall and proud, freed from the difficulties of his egregious injury, into the kingdom of heaven, brought badly needed comfort.

But when she thought about Celia, herself and her sisters, Skip’s beloved grandchildren, devoted sons-in-law, colleagues and friends—the many people who had loved him—she ached for everyone who would be left to go on without him. And in the corner of her soul that belonged to her family in blue, she seethed with rage, directed at the nameless, faceless criminal who’d taken Skip from them far too soon.

* * *

ON THE WAY home at last, Nick thought, watching the Paris skyline get smaller as Air Force Two climbed to altitude. He had a million things to do, emails that had given birth to more emails while he’d been away, briefing documents to review before he returned to the White House on Monday and a press corps on board hungry for interviews.

But all he could think about was eight more hours until he could see Samantha. That felt like an eternity after missing her terribly for an endless week apart.

They were absurd. He knew it. She knew it. They didn’t care who knew it. What had started as a crazy wildfire of attraction the night they met had been denied for six long years until they were reunited at a crime scene, of all places. Sometimes Nick thought they were still making up for lost time almost two years after finding each other again.

That was the best explanation he had for the absolutely ridiculous love they had for each other, the kind of love that made a life worth living. He was eager to get home to spend time with Scotty and the littles, who had recently joined their family. But he was absolutely desperate to see his wife, to hold her, kiss her, make love to her, breathe her in and stare at her gorgeous face. He could do that for hours and never get tired of the view. Her face was his favorite view in the world.

A knock on the door that separated his cabin from the rest of the plane drew Nick out of his thoughts. “Come in.”

His lead Secret Service agent, John Brantley, Jr., stepped into the room, his expression serious and professional as always. Brant rarely cracked a grin or removed the all-business facade that made him such an effective agent.

“What’s up?”

“We received a call from Agent Nixon.”

As Debra Nixon was his son’s lead agent, Nick’s first thought was for Scotty. “What?” He fought back a burst of panic.

“Your father-in-law.”

“What about him?”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you that he passed away a short time ago. Mrs. Cappuano, her sisters and stepmother were with Deputy Chief Holland when he passed.”

Sam. Oh no, no, no. “I need to speak to my wife.”

“We’re attempting to reach her now. She’s not answering her phone.”

“Call one of the other agents and have them find her.”

“Yes, sir.”

Nick’s entire body felt cold with shock and despair as he imagined Sam dealing with such an awful loss, and while he was hours away from her. He’d never felt more useless or despondent as he thought about what she must be going through.

Brant returned a short time later, speaking on a secure satellite phone. “Hold on just a moment. Here he is.” He handed the phone to Nick.

“Sam?”

“I’m here.” Her dull, flat tone told him so much but nowhere near enough.

“Babe... I’m so, so sorry.”

“Thank you. I know you loved him too.”

“I did. So much. I would give anything to be there with you right now.”

“I wish you were here too.”

“What happened?”

“Celia called when she couldn’t wake him. The paramedics came, but I told them he wouldn’t want to be resuscitated.”

Oh God, she had been the one to make that call? Nick closed his eyes, put his head back against the seat and released a deep breath, thinking about what it must’ve cost her to make that decision on her father’s behalf. “What can I do for you?”

“It helps to hear your voice. I have to go tell Scotty, and the kids will be getting up.”

“Samantha...”

“I’ll see you when you get here, okay?”

“I love you so much, and I’m just heartbroken for you and Ang and Trace and Celia.”

“Thanks. I love you too. I can’t wait to see you.”

“Me too, babe.”

The line went dead, and he handed the phone back to Brant.

Visibly shaken, Brant took the phone from Nick. “I’m very sorry for your loss. Is Mrs. Cappuano...”

“She sounds bad. Flat.”

“She’s in shock.”

Nick leaned forward, elbows on knees, head in hands. Skip is dead. Tears filled his eyes and spilled down his face, his thoughts full of Sam, Scotty and the rest of their family. This would be a devastating loss for all of them. And it was a devastating loss for him. Skip had been a friend and father figure to him since the day Nick met him. Even paralyzed from the neck down, Skip had managed to completely intimidate Nick with the formidable blue-eyed stare that had put him on notice. Take care of my baby girl, or you’ll deal with me. Few things had ever mattered more to Nick than keeping the promises he’d made to Skip Holland that first day.

Brant’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “I’m going to ask Mr. O’Connor to step in, if that’s all right.”

Nick nodded and used the sleeve of his shirt to mop up his tears.

Terry came into the cabin, shock etched into his expression. “I just heard the news. I’m so sorry, Nick.”

Nick insisted his chief of staff call him by name when they were alone. “Thanks.”

“Were you able to talk to Sam?”

“Briefly.”

“I won’t ask how she is.” Terry took a seat. “Did you hear what happened?”

“He was unresponsive this morning. They chose not to resuscitate him. He had a DNR.”

“What can I do for you?”

“Get me home to her as fast as you can. I don’t care what has to happen.”

“I’ll arrange for Marine Two to meet us at Andrews. We can land on the south lawn of the White House and have you home within minutes.”

“Thank you.” That would be quicker than being conveyed to the city via motorcade, but it was still going to take far too long.

CHAPTER TWO

AS SOON AS she could put two thoughts together and identify her most pressing need, Sam called Shelby Faircloth, their devoted assistant and friend.

“Morning.” In the background, Sam could hear Shelby’s son Noah’s baby chatter. “Noah says hi too.”

“Shelby.”

“Sam? What’s wrong?”

For the first time, Sam had to say the words out loud, each of them like a sharp knife to her heart. “My father died.”

Shelby’s gasp came through the phone. “Sam... Oh God. I’m so sorry.”

“I know it’s Sunday and you have a life, but the kids—”

“I’m coming. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. You tell me what you need, and I’ll do it. Whatever it is. I’ll do it.”

“I haven’t had a chance to tell Scotty, but he’ll be asleep for a while yet. The littles will be up, though. The agents are there.” She didn’t have to tell Shelby that childcare wasn’t the Secret Service’s job.

“I’m on my way. Don’t worry about anything other than your family. I’m on it.”

“Thank you.” Overwhelmed by Shelby’s support, Sam closed the flip phone without the usual satisfying slap. Then she reopened it and placed a call to her captain.

“Well, if it isn’t my favorite lieutenant. I really hope you had a good week off, because I’m ready to have you back. Doing your job on top of mine is an even bigger royal pain in my ass than you are.”

   
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