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Book 4 in the Fatal Series
Back from their honeymoon, Senator Nick Cappuano and D.C. Police Lieutenant Sam Holland are ready for some normalcy after the whirlwind of their wedding, but someone has other plans for them. When Sam discovers wedding cards containing thinly veiled death threats, she’s not sure if she or Nick is the target. Already on edge, Sam and her team start investigating a series of baffling murders. The victims are well-liked with no known enemies, and the murders are carried out in a clean and efficient manner. Unable to find a clear motive for the deaths, she feels like she’s chasing her tail. With no obvious connection between the victims, Sam soon suspects that she may be the ultimate prize in the killer’s clever game. When the danger starts to hit a little too close to home, she has two goals: find the elusive murderer and manage to live long enough to enjoy her happily ever after.
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On the night before she was due to return to work, Lieutenant Sam Holland lay awake watching the bedside clock count down to midnight, the hour she’d officially be back on call. Five minutes to go. Sam had expected to be itching to get back to work after two weeks of constant togetherness with her new husband, U.S. Senator Nick Cappuano. But as the final minutes of their blissful interlude slipped away, she was filled with despair, wondering when they’d ever get that much time alone together again.
“What’s the matter, babe?” he asked from behind her.
Sam used to hate sharing a bed, and now she couldn’t imagine sleeping without his strong arms around her. Conceding defeat to the clock, she turned over and snuggled into his chest. “I’m not ready to go back to work.”
“You’ve got a few hours yet.”
“Is it after midnight?”
He raised himself up to peer over her shoulder. “One minute past.”
“They can call me in anytime now.”
“Maybe you’ll get lucky and the criminals will take a night off.”
“Let’s hope so.” She pressed a kiss to one of his well-defined pectorals, and slipped an arm around him. “You’ve totally ruined me, you know.”
“Before this, before us, I used to hate vacations. They’d make me take one twice a year whether I wanted to or not, and the whole time I’d be bored and jonesing to get back to work. But now…”
“I feel the same way.” He tipped her chin up and kissed her. “We’ve got much better things to do than work.”
“Exactly.” She gave herself over to the kiss, powerless to resist him even though they’d both be tired in the morning if they didn’t get some sleep. The trip home from their honeymoon in Bora Bora had left them jet-lagged.
Without breaking the kiss, he shifted on top of her.
“We already did this tonight—twice if I recall correctly,” she reminded him, as he trailed kisses from her jaw to her collarbone.
“Is there a daily sex limit law on the books?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Then shut up and kiss me.”
She was still laughing when her cell phone rang, making them moan with dismay.
“Ignore it,” he said, capturing her lips for another kiss.
That she was half-tempted to pretend she hadn’t heard the phone was so wildly out of character it scared her. Clearly, she’d gone soft in the head since she got married. “Let me go, Senator. Back to reality.”
“Don’t wanna,” he said as he released her.
Sam grabbed the phone from the bedside table and flipped it open. For the first time in two weeks, she said, “Lieutenant Holland.”
“Lieutenant,” the dispatcher said, “I was told you’re back on duty as of midnight.”
Since Nick was awake anyway, Sam turned on the light and reached for the pad and pen she kept handy. “That’s correct.”
“We have a report of a double homicide at Carl’s Burger World on Massachusetts Avenue.”
She wrote down the address. “I’ll be right there. Can you page Detective Cruz?”
Sam ended the call and turned to give Nick a quick kiss. “Sorry.”
“Duty calls,” he said with a long-suffering sigh. “What’ve you got?”
“A double at Carl’s on Mass Ave.”
“I don’t know that place.”
“A friend of mine worked there when I was in high school, but I haven’t been there in years.” She pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt since it was still chilly at night. Sitting on Nick’s side of the bed, she glanced at him as she put on socks. “Best vacation ever.”
“For me too.”
“We should do it again sometime.”
His face lifted into the sexy half smile she adored. “Absolutely.”
Sam tied her sneakers and got up to grab a sweatshirt. In the bedside table drawer, she unlocked the box where she kept the gun, badge and cuffs she hadn’t touched in two weeks—the longest stretch of time off she’d had since joining the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department twelve years earlier.
Before leaving the bedroom, she gave her husband one last kiss. “Have a good first day back.”
“You too.” He tugged on a strand of her long, toffee-colored hair. “Be careful out there, babe.”
“Always am. See you later.” She wasn’t even halfway down the stairs before she was hit by the urge to turn around and run back to him. If someone had told her a year ago she’d be so stupidly in love that she’d be mooning over a guy when there were dead bodies to tend to, she probably would’ve beat the shit out of the person.
“I may be stupidly in love,” she said as she went out the front door and down the ramp her husband had installed for her paralyzed father, “but it’s time to get back to work.”
Sam arrived on the scene at the same time as her partner, Detective Freddie Cruz. He’d donned one of the signature trench coats he claimed were necessary to staying in character and Sam claimed were proof he’d watched too much TV as a kid. He offered her a powdered donut from a six-pack as he jammed another in his mouth.
Shaking her head, she looked up at him. “Do you buy those things in bulk or something?”
“Never hurts to be prepared for middle-of-the night calls.”
“I hope I’m around when your metabolism slows down.”
He held up the yellow crime-scene tape for her, and she scooted under it. “Nice to have you back, Lieutenant. I’ve missed your sparkling wit.”
“I’m back one minute, and you’re already sucking up?”
“I see you still can’t take a compliment. Good trip?”
“Great trip. Went by too fast.”
The patrol officers who’d responded to the initial call showed them to the restaurant’s back room, where the sub-zero freezer door was propped open. Inside were two people who looked as if they’d frozen to death.
“Ugh,” said the District’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Lindsey McNamara, as she joined them. “What a way to go.”
“No kidding,” Freddie said, putting the rest of the donuts in his coat pocket. Apparently, he’d lost his appetite.
“How do we know this is a homicide and not an accident?” Sam asked the patrol officers.
“The door locks from the outside,” one of them said, pointing to the mangled padlock that had been broken open.
“Who did that?”
“The boy’s father.” The patrol officer pointed to the young man in the freezer. “Daniel Alvarez, age seventeen. When he didn’t come home after work and wasn’t answering his phone, his father came looking for him. The door was unlocked, so he came in and found the boy’s stuff sitting here on the counter.” He pointed to a wallet, keys and cell phone next to an unzipped bank bag that bulged with cash, which ruled out robbery as a motive. “The father went crazy when he saw the lock on the freezer, found a hammer and went to town on it. By the time he got in there it was too late.”
“So not only did he pound the fingerprints off the lock, he probably compromised our crime scene by touching the vics too. Am I right?”
The patrolmen shuffled from one foot to the other. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Fabulous,” Sam muttered as she stepped into the freezer for a closer look at the two victims. She recognized the second one as Carl Olivo, the owner and proprietor. He’d aged since the last time she saw him during her senior year of high school when her friend Melissa had worked for him. Both victims had a bluish tint to their skin, and their eyes were open.
Freddie grimaced as he squatted for a closer look. “No obvious sign of other trauma.”
“The lack of oxygen in here could’ve gotten them before the cold did,” Lindsey added. “I’ll know more after I get them back to the lab.”
Sam studied both victims and took a good look around the freezer. “Go to it,” she said to Lindsey. “I’d like to talk to the kid’s father.”
“Joseph Alvarez,” the patrolman said. “He’s outside with Officer Gentile.”
Sam followed the officer through the kitchen and out the back door to an alley behind the restaurant.
Joseph Alvarez was tall and broad-shouldered, and those broad shoulders were heaving with sobs as Officer Gentile did her best to comfort the grief-stricken man. Looking relieved to see help arriving, she stepped aside to make room for Sam.
“My only son,” Joseph said to no one in particular. “My boy.”
Dealing with the families of murder victims was the most difficult part of Sam’s job, and it never got any easier. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Mr. Alvarez.”
“I don’t understand. Who would do such a thing to my Daniel? Or Mr. Olivo? Everyone loved them both.”
“Is it possible that another worker locked the freezer without knowing they were in there?” Sam asked, still not entirely convinced this was a homicide.
He shook his head. “It was only the two of them closing for the night. As soon as I saw Danny’s phone sitting on the counter I knew something was wrong. My son is never without that damned phone. I was always after him about it. If he wasn’t looking at it between customers at work, it was in his pocket. Someone had to have threatened them to get him into that freezer without his phone.”
“How long after closing did you wait to come check on him?”
“A couple of hours. They close at nine, and he usually goes out with his friends after. He has to be home by eleven, so when he wasn’t home at eleven-thirty and wasn’t answering his phone, I came looking for him.” Mr. Alvarez rooted around in his shirt pocket and withdrew a pack of cigarettes. His hands shook as he lit one. “I don’t know what drew me to the freezer. Just a feeling I had.” Shuddering, he broke down again. “I’ll never forget seeing the two of them in there.”
“Did you notice if anything in the kitchen area or restaurant was disturbed?”
He shook his head. “Everything looked normal to me. At first I thought I was losing it for storming down here like an over-protective father, but when I saw that phone…I knew something was really wrong when I saw Danny’s phone.” Wiping his face, he leaned back against the wall and looked up at the sky. “I lost my wife a year ago. Breast cancer. Danny and I… We were just getting back on track. I can’t believe this has happened.”
Moved by his despair and more certain now that this had, in fact, been a homicide, Sam laid a hand on his arm. “We’ll do everything we can to find the person who did this.” Not that an arrest would bring much comfort, she thought. His son would still be gone forever.
Nodding, he took another deep drag on his cigarette.
“Did Danny have trouble with anyone at school or outside of school?”
“No one. My boy was popular. Everyone loved him. He had a nice girlfriend, lots of good friends. Played sports. A good kid.” Joseph gestured to the back door, which was propped open. “This was his first real job.”
“Did he say anything about Mr. Olivo having trouble with anyone?”
“Not that I ever heard. His wife died last year too. We had that in common. Had a few talks about it here and there while I was in to see Danny at work.”
“Did Mr. Olivo have any other family in the area?”
“I don’t think so. He said something once about his kids being scattered and not getting home much since their mother died. I got the feeling there was some strain between him and the kids. Nothing that would’ve led to this though.”
“You’ve been very helpful. Is there someone I could call for you? A family member maybe?”
He shook his head. “It was just me and Danny. My family’s gone, and since my wife died, we haven’t seen much of her people.”
“I can’t leave you here all alone.”
“I’ll call my buddy from work. He’ll come get me. Go ahead. I’ll be okay.”
Sam needed to get to work figuring out what’d happened here, but a quick glance at Joseph Alvarez’s shattered expression told her he was anything but okay. Standing next to him, she put her hands in her pockets and leaned against the same wall that propped him up. “I’ll wait with you until your friend gets here.”
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