Fatal Threat

Fatal Threat, Book 11 in the Fatal Series

A New York Times and USA Today Bestseller!

“Force’s 11th Fatal romantic thriller continues her trend of writing likable, relatable characters who are entirely capable of handling the inevitably dire situations that occur in their high-risk jobs.” —Publisher’s Weekly

“I don’t think there is a book couple, after 11 books, that I love more than Sam and Nick. The stories get better and better. And this couple…they are constantly growing and evolving.” —Cocktails and Books

“A delightful almost-political but-not-quite story of murder, intrigue and yummie romance.” —4.5 star review from Mystery Sequels

“This series just keep getting better and better.” —5 star review from Mixed Book Bag

“Nick and Sam are the two halves of this indomitable couple. They are perfectly matched in both their brain power and physical energy to right what is wrong. The fact they adore each other feeds them to protect each other no matter what.” —5 star review from As You Wish Reviews

With a killer on the loose, it’s the worst time to be on lockdown… 

It’s just another day at the office for Washington Metro Police lieutenant Sam Holland when a body surfaces off the shores of the Anacostia River. But before Sam can sink her teeth into the new case, Secret Service agents seize her from the crime scene. A threat has been made against her family, but nobody will tell her anything—including the whereabouts of her husband, Vice President Nick Cappuano. This isn’t the first time the couple’s lives have been at risk, but when a bombshell from Sam’s past returns to haunt her, she can’t help but wonder if there’s a connection. With a ruthless killer out for vengeance, and Nick struggling to maintain his reputation after secrets from his own past are revealed, Sam struggles to tie the threat to a murder that can’t possibly be a coincidence. And she has to get it done before her husband’s career is irrevocably damaged…


Other Books in the Fatal Series

Chapter 1

A jogger spotted the body floating in the Anacostia River just south of the John Philip Sousa Bridge.

“I hate these kinds of calls,” Lieutenant Sam Holland said to her partner, Detective Freddie Cruz, as she battled District traffic on their way to the city’s southeastern quadrant. “No one knows if this is a homicide, but they call us in anyway. We get to stand around and sweat our balls off while the ME does her thing.”

“I hesitate to point out, Lieutenant, that you don’t actually have balls to sweat off.”

“You know what I mean!”

“Yeah, I do,” he said with a sigh. “It’s going to be a long, hot, smelly Friday down at the river waiting to find out if we’re needed.”

“I gotta have a talk with Dispatch about when we’re to be called and when we are not to be called.”

“Let me know how that goes.”

“To make this day even better, after work I have to go to a fitting for my freaking bridesmaid dress. I’m too damned old to be a damned bridesmaid.”

His snort of laughter only served to further irritate her, which of course made him laugh harder.

“It’s not funny!”

“Yeah, it really is.” With dark brown hair, an always-tan complexion and the perfect amount of stubble on his jaw, he really was too cute for words, not that she’d ever tell him that. Everywhere they went together, women took notice of him. For all he cared. He was madly in love with Elin Svendsen and looking forward to their autumn wedding. Wiping laughter tears from his brown eyes, he said, “I won’t make you wear a dress when you’re my best-man woman.”

“Thank God for that. I need to stop making friends. That was my first mistake.”

“Poor Jeannie,” he said of their colleague, Detective Jeannie McBride, who was getting married next weekend. “Does she have any idea that she has a hostile bridesmaid in her wedding party?”

“Of course she does. Her sisters left me completely out of the planning of the shower, no doubt at her request. I’ll be forever grateful for that small favor.” Sam shuddered recalling an afternoon of horrifyingly stupid “shower games,” paper plates full of ribbons and bows, and dirty jokes about the wedding night for two people who’d been living together for more than a year. The whole thing had given her hives.

But Jeannie… She’d loved every second of it, and seeing her face lit up with joy had gone a long way toward alleviating Sam’s hives. After everything Jeannie had been through to get to her big day, no one was happier for her—or happier to stand up for her—than Sam. Not that she’d ever tell anyone that either. She had a reputation to maintain, after all.

She’d been in an unusually cranky mood since her husband, Nick, left for Iran two weeks ago for what should’ve been a five-day trip but had twice been extended. If he didn’t get home soon, she wouldn’t be responsible for her actions. In addition to worrying about his safety in a country known for being less than friendly toward Americans, she’d also discovered how entirely reliant upon him she’d become over the last year and a half. It was ridiculous, really. She was a strong, independent woman who’d taken care of herself for years before he’d come back into her life. So how had he turned her into a simpering, whimpering, cranky mess simply by leaving her for two damned weeks?

Naturally, the people around her had noticed that she was out of sorts. Their adopted thirteen-year-old son, Scotty, asked every morning before he left for baseball camp when Dad would be home, probably because he was tired of dealing with her by himself. Freddie and the others at work had been giving her a wide berth, and even the reporters who hounded her mercilessly had backed off after she’d bitten their heads off a few too many times.

During infrequent calls from Nick, he’d been rushed and annoyed and equally out of sorts, which didn’t do much to help her bad mood. Two more days. Two more long, boring, joyless days and then he’d be home and things could get back to normal.

What did it say about her that she was actually glad to have a floater to deal with to keep her brain occupied during the last two days of Nick’s trip? It means you have it bad for your husband, and you’ve become far too dependent on him if two weeks without him turns you into a cranky cow. Sam despised her voice of reason almost as much as she despised Nick being so far away from her for so long.

Twenty minutes after receiving the call from Dispatch, Sam and Freddie made it to M Street Southeast, which was lined with emergency vehicles of all sorts—police, fire, EMS, medical examiner.

“Major overkill for a floater,” Sam said as they got out of the car she’d parked illegally to join the party on the riverbank. “What the hell is EMS doing here?”

“Probably for the guy who found the body. Word is he was shook up.”

Dense humidity hit her at the same time as the funk of the rank-smelling river. “God it’s hotter than the devil’s dick today.”

“Honestly, Sam. That’s disgusting.”

“Well, you gotta figure the devil’s dick is pretty hot due to the neighborhood he hangs in, right?”

He rolled his eyes and held up the yellow crime-scene tape for her. Patrol had taped off the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to keep the gawkers away.

The closer they got to the river’s edge, the more Sam began to regret the open-toe sandals she’d worn in deference to the oppressive July heat. The squish of Anacostia River mud between her toes was almost as gross as the smell of the river itself. She had her shoulder-length hair up in a clip that left her neck exposed to the merciless sun.

Tactical Response teams had boats on the scene, and from her vantage point on the riverbank Sam could see the red ponytail belonging to the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Lindsey McNamara. She was too far out for Sam to yell to her for an update.

“Let’s talk to the guy who called it in,” she said to Freddie.

They traipsed back the way they’d come, with Sam trying to ignore the disgusting mud between her toes. Officer Beckett worked the tapeline at the northern end of the area they’d cordoned off. He nodded at them. “Afternoon, Lieutenant. Lovely day to spend by the river.”

“Indeed. I would’ve packed a picnic had I known we were coming. Where’s the guy who called it in?”

“Over there with EMS.” Beckett pointed to a cluster of people taking advantage of the shade under a huge oak tree. “He was hysterical when he realized the blob was a body.”

“Did you get a name?”

Beckett consulted his notebook. “Mike Lonergan. He works at the Navy Yard and runs out here every day at noon.” He tore out the page that had Lonergan’s full name, address and cell phone number written on it and gave it to Sam.

“Good work, Beckett. Thanks. Keep everyone out of here until we know whether or not this is a crime scene.”

“Yes, ma’am. Will do.”

“Why would anyone run out here during the hottest part of the day?” Sam asked Freddie as they made their way to where Lonergan was being seen to by the paramedics.

“For something called exercise, I’d imagine.”

“When did you become such a smart-ass? You used to be such a nice Christian boy.”

“Things began to go south for me when I got assigned to a smart-ass lieutenant who’s been a terrible influence on my sweet, young mind.”

“Right.” Amused by him as always, Sam drew out the single word for effect. “You were easily led.” She approached the paramedics who were hovering over Lonergan. “We’d like a word with Mr. Lonergan,” she said to the one who seemed to be in charge.

He used a hand motion to tell his team to allow her and Freddie in. The witness wore a tank top, running shorts and high-tech running shoes. Sam put him at midthirties.

“Mr. Lonergan, I’m Lieutenant Holland—”

“I know who you are.” His shoulders were wrapped in one of those foil thingies that runners used to keep from dehydrating or overheating or something like that. What did she know about such things? She got most of her exercise having wild sex with her husband. Except for recently, thus her foul mood.

Lonergan’s dark blond hair was wet with perspiration. His brown eyes were big and haunted as he looked up at them.

“Can you tell us what you saw?” Ever since she’d taken down a killer at the inaugural parade, she was recognized everywhere she went. She hated that and yearned for the days when no one recognized her. But that ship had sailed the minute her sexy young husband became the nation’s vice president late last year. Her blown cover was entirely his fault, and she liked to remind him of that every chance she got.

“I was running on the trail like I do every day, and when I came around that bend there, I saw something in the water.” He took a drink from a bottle of water, and Sam took note of the slight tremble in his hand. “At first I thought it was a garbage bag, but when I looked closer, I saw a hand.” He shuddered. “That’s when I called 911.”

“How far out was it?” Sam asked.

“About twenty feet from the bank of the river.”

“Was there anything else you could tell us about the body?”

“I think it’s a woman.”

“Why do you say that?” Freddie asked.

“There was hair.” Lonergan took another drink of water. “Once I realized what I was looking at, I could see long hair fanned out around the head.” He looked up at them. “Do you think it’s that student who went missing?”

Sam made sure her expression gave nothing away. “We’d have no way to know that at this point.” The entire Metro PD had been searching for nineteen-year-old Ruby Denton for more than two weeks. She’d come to the District to take summer classes at Capitol University and hadn’t been seen since her first night on campus. The story had garnered national attention thanks in large part to the efforts of her family in Kentucky.

“I bet it’s her,” Lonergan said.

“Do me a favor and keep that thought to yourself for now. No sense upsetting the family before we know anything for certain.”

“That’s true.”

Sam handed him her card. “If you think of anything else, let me know.”

“I will.” After a pause, he said, “I was out here yesterday, and she wasn’t there. I would’ve noticed if she’d been there.”

“That’s good to know. Thanks for your help.”

“It’s sad, you know? For someone to end up like that.”

“Yes, it is.” She stepped away from him to confer with the paramedic in charge. “Is he okay?”

“Yeah, he’s in shock. He’ll be fine. You think it’s Ruby Denton?”

“I’ll tell you the same thing I just told him—we have no way to know until Dr. McNamara gets the body back to the lab. Until then, we’d be speculating, and that sort of thing only makes a hellish situation worse for a family looking for their daughter. Ask your people to keep their mouths shut.”

“Yes, ma’am. No one will hear anything from my team.”

“Thank you.”

“What’s going on over there?” Freddie asked, drawing Sam’s attention to the tapeline, where Beckett was arguing with a bunch of suits.

“Let’s go find out.”

They walked back the way they’d come, along the trail to where Beckett held his own against four men in suits with reflective glasses and attitudes that immediately identified them as federal agents.

“What’s the problem, gentlemen?” Sam asked.

“There she is,” one of them said in a low growl that immediately raised Sam’s hackles.

“Let us in,” another one said. “Right now.”

“I’m not letting you in until you tell me what you want,” Beckett said. “This is a potential crime scene—”

“We need to speak to Mrs. Cappuano.” The one who seemed to be in charge of the Fed squad took another step forward. “It’s urgent.”

Sam’s heart dropped to her belly and for a brief, horrifying second she feared her legs would give out under her. Nick… Why would federal agents have tracked her down at a crime scene in the middle of her workday unless something had happened to him?

Please no.

Sam immediately began bargaining with a higher power she didn’t believe in. She’d give up anything, anything in this world except Scotty, if it would keep the man in front of her from saying words that could never be unsaid or unheard.

Only Freddie’s arm around her shoulders kept her from buckling in the few seconds it took for Sam to recover herself enough to speak. “What do you want with me?”

“We need you to come with us, ma’am.”

“That’s not happening until you tell us who you are and what you want,” Freddie said.

In unison they flashed four federal badges.

“United States Secret Service,” the one in charge said. “We need you to come with us, ma’am.”

Sam didn’t recognize any of them. Why would she? Nick’s detail was in Iran, and Scotty’s was with him. “I…I’m working here. I can’t…” Bile burned her throat as her lunch threatened to reappear. With her heart beating so hard she could hear the echo of it strumming in her ears, she somehow managed to choke back the nausea. Later she’d be thankful she hadn’t puked on the agents’ shoes. Right now, however, she couldn’t think about anything other than Nick. “Has something happened to my husband?”

Freddie tightened his grip on her shoulder, letting her know his thoughts mirrored hers. That didn’t do much to comfort her.

Looking down at her with a stone-faced glare, the agent said, “We’re under orders to bring you in. We’re not at liberty to discuss the particulars with you at this time.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Freddie asked. “You can’t just take her. She’s not under Secret Service protection, and she’s working.”

“I’m afraid we can take her, and we will, by force if necessary.”

“What the fuck?” Beckett spoke for all of them. At some point he’d moved to the other side of her.

Like someone flipped a switch, they moved with military precision, busting through the tapeline, grabbing hold of her arms and quickly extracting her before her stunned colleagues could react. Sam fought them, but she was no match for four huge, muscled, well-dressed men who whisked her away with frightening efficiency.

In the background, she could hear Freddie and Beckett screaming, swearing—at least Beckett was—and giving chase, but they, too, were no match for this group. Before she knew what hit her, she was inside the cool darkness of one in the Secret Service’s endless fleet of black SUVs, the doors locking with a sound that echoed like a shotgun blast.

“Move,” the agent in charge ordered.

The car lurched forward just as Freddie and Beckett reached it. Freddie pounded once against the side window with a closed fist before the car pulled out of his reach.

Sam watched the scene unfold around her with a detached feeling of shock and fear. Something awful must’ve happened. That was the only possible reason for this dramatic scene. She was far too afraid for Nick to work up the fury she’d normally feel at being kidnapped by federal agents. Her hands were shaking, and her entire body was covered in cold chills.

If Nick had been harmed in some way or if he was… No, no, no, not going there. If he was hurt, what did it matter if Secret Service agents had grabbed her? What would anything matter?

She bit back the overwhelming fear and forced herself to focus. “Would someone please tell me what’s going on here?”