First the calm. Then the storm…
Escaping D.C. during the dog days of summer is one of the smartest moves Washington Metro Police Lieutenant Samantha Holland ever made. Beach walks aren’t quite as romantic with the Secret Service in tow, but Sam and her husband, Vice President Nick Cappuano, cherish the chance to recharge and reconnect—especially with a scandal swirling around the administration.
No sooner are they back home than a fatal drive-by shooting sets the city on edge. The teenage victim is barely older than Sam and Nick’s son, Scotty. As more deaths follow, Sam and her team play beat the clock to stop the ruthless killers. With Nick facing his greatest challenge—one that could drastically change all their lives and even end Sam’s career—will the mounting pressure deepen or damage their bond?
SIGNED PRINT EDITION
(Fatal Series Book 12)
By Marie Force
“‘What did the president know and when did he know it? That will be the question Congress faces as members return to Washington from the summer recess. Hearings begin next week, investigating President David Nelson’s potential involvement in his son’s sinister scheme against Vice President Nick Cappuano and his family.’”
Listening to her brother-in-law Spencer read from the morning edition of the , Sam looked across the breakfast table at her husband, Nick, and saw a flash of dismay cross his handsome face. He dreaded the hearings, the attention, the renewed interest in the scandal that had rocked the nation’s capital earlier in the summer. Sam and her Homicide squad had uncovered the nefarious plot hatched by Nelson’s son Christopher in a failed effort to discredit Nick, all because Christopher had presidential aspirations of his own.
The sitting president claimed to have no knowledge of what his son had been up to and continued to proclaim his innocence throughout the dog days of summer. In the meantime, Nick was left hanging, waiting to hear if Nelson would be impeached or forced to resign.
Sam knew exactly what Nick was thinking. As much as they wanted Christopher Nelson to fry for what he’d put them through, the last thing Nick wanted—the last thing wanted—was to see the president forced from office. Because that would mean… No. It was too much to even think about, and Sam refused to allow that stress to creep into her relaxing vacation. Standing, she said, “I’m going to take a walk.”
Nick jumped up. “I’ll go with you.”
“Was it something I said?” Spencer asked.
“,” his wife, Sam’s sister Angela, said as she fed their daughter, Ella, who was seated in a high chair at the end of the long picnic-style table. “You think they want to talk about that BS?”
“Sorry, guys,” Spencer said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“No worries,” Nick said. “It’s not going away, as much as we wish it would.”
“But you don’t have to deal with it this week,” Spencer said. “My bad.”
“Don’t sweat it.” Nick held out a hand to Sam. “Let’s walk.”
She took his hand and followed him through the sliding glass doors to the deck, where several members of his Secret Service detail were gathered at a table, drinking coffee.
John “Brant” Brantly Jr., the lead agent on Nick’s detail, stood when he saw them coming. “Good morning, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Cappuano.”
“Morning, Brant,” Nick said. “We’d like to take a walk on the beach.”
“Of course, sir. Give us a few minutes to make that happen.”
Sam watched Nick’s jaw tighten with frustration. He hated having to ask permission to do something as simple as take a walk with his wife. She dropped his hand, slipped her arms around his waist and rested her head against his chest, hoping to give him something else to think about.
He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head, his body relaxing in stages as the agents conferred and planned for a simple walk on the beach. Except nothing was ever simple. Not anymore. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. When it was just the two of them, alone together, it was still as simple as it had ever been, even as the world went mad around them. As they did when the madness swirled, they closed ranks, spent as much time alone as they possibly could and weathered the storm the best way they knew how, by keeping their heads down, their mouths shut and their arms wrapped around each other.
The press was desperate for interviews from either, or preferably both, but other than a perfunctory statement issued from Nick’s office after Christopher Nelson’s arrest, they hadn’t said a word about the controversy swirling around the president and his son or how it affected them. Nor had they offered any speculation on what it could mean for them if Nelson was forced to resign.
They were taking it one day, one hour, one minute at a time.
It had done them good to get out of Washington for this beach getaway with their extended family. Sam had spent weeks coordinating with the Secret Service to make it happen. Planning the vacation had been a huge undertaking that included finding a beachfront property big enough for all of them that met security requirements, clearing Nick’s schedule, taking vacation from her job as the Metro Police Department’s Homicide lieutenant and ensuring her paralyzed father would be able to join them for a visit. But the hassle had been so worth it.
In the three days they’d been here, Nick had been more relaxed than he’d been in weeks. Not to mention, he was actually sleeping rather than being tortured by the insomnia that plagued him, particularly during stressful times. Sam was determined to ensure he continued to relax and didn’t think too far into the future about what might happen when they returned to town the day before Labor Day.
“If you’re ready, Mr. Vice President,” Brant said a few minutes later.
Neither Sam nor Nick commented that they’d been “ready” fifteen minutes ago.
Nick kept an arm around her as they followed the detail down the stairs to the boardwalk that led to Dewey Beach on the Delaware coast. They’d garnered quite a bit of attention from people on the beach, but for the most part, they’d been left alone to enjoy their vacation. If by “left alone” you could overlook the Secret Service agents and the media that were camped nearby, hoping for a glimpse of the second family—or perhaps an exclusive, which wasn’t going to happen.
As they walked toward the water’s edge, Sam made a conscious effort to forget the agents trailing close behind them so she could focus exclusively on her husband. “Sorry about that back there,” she said.
“No need to be sorry. He was just reading the headlines plastered across the front pages of every paper in the country.”
“Still… We were hoping for a total break from it.”
“Then we should’ve confiscated every smartphone, unplugged the TV and forbidden newspaper deliveries,” he said with a note of humor in his voice. “Or we should’ve taken our vacation on the moon, where we’d be out of satellite range.”
“I’ll see if I can arrange that next year.”
“I don’t care where we are. As long as you and Scotty are there, I’m good.”
“Even if Washington chaos interferes?”
“What would our lives be like without a little Washington chaos to keep things interesting?”
“Um, is that a rhetorical question?”
“Yeah, babe,” he said with a chuckle. “Maybe when we retire, we could get a place out here so we can walk on the beach every day. I could get used to this.”
“What’s this word you speak of? Who’s planning to ?”
Laughing, he said, “Only you would see that as a dirty word.”
“It’s a disgusting word, and I never want to hear it out of your mouth again.”
“Yes, dear,” he said in the long-suffering tone of husbands everywhere. “But the beach house… That might be possible even if we never do that word thing, yes?”
“I might be willing to consider that. It sure is beautiful here.”
Seagulls squawked overhead as the waves crashed against the shore. A few families had gotten an early start, and as Sam and Nick walked past, they nodded to say hello to the stunned people they encountered. One man was so surprised to see them that he seemed to forget he’d taken his toddler to fill a bucket with water. Only Brant’s quick action stopped the child from being sucked off the beach by a wave.
Brant handed the sandy toddler to his grateful father. “Sorry about that. I wasn’t expecting to see the vice president and his wife on the beach.”
“He must be living under a rock,” Sam muttered to Nick. “The whole freaking world knows where we are.”
“This must be what it feels like for a goldfish stuck in a bowl,” Nick said. “Constantly being watched as he swims in circles.”
“Speaking of swimming…” Sam dropped her arm from around his waist, kicked off her sandals, pulled the cover-up over her head and ran for the surf, calling over her shoulder, “Catch me if you can.”
She dived into a wave and resurfaced to look for Nick, but didn’t see him on the beach or in the water. Then a tug from below dragged her underwater. She came up sputtering as her husband laughed at her reaction.
“I caught ya,” he said, bringing her into his embrace. “I’ll always catch you, Samantha.” Turning his back to the shore, where the Secret Service, photographers with long-range lenses and other gawkers were probably watching them, he kissed her.
Sam was tempted to look over his shoulder to see if they were attracting even more attention, but she forced herself to stay focused on him and this moment alone in the fishbowl. She curled her legs around his hips and her arms around his neck, raising her face to the warm sunshine.
His hands slid up her ribs to cup her breasts under the water, running his thumbs over the hard points of her nipples.
“Mr. Vice President, don’t you have enough chaos and scandal swirling around you without making it worse?”
“If it means I get to cop a feel of my gorgeous cop, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
“Cop away,” she said with a sigh. After all, when had she ever objected to him putting his hands on her? She gasped when she realized he’d untied the bottom half of her black bikini top. “Nick!”
“You’re playing with fire.”
“No, I’m playing with my gorgeous wife.” As he pinched her nipples between his fingers, he captured her mouth in a deep, searching kiss that had her forgetting where they were and who might be watching. She couldn’t spare the brain cells to care when her every thought was focused on him and the way he made her feel every time he touched her.
“It’s not fair that you’re getting me all hot and bothered when we can’t do anything about it for hours and hours.”
“I feel a nap coming on.”
“We can’t today. Freddie and Elin are coming out for the day.”
Nick moaned—loudly. “Whose big idea was it to have friends?”
“Not mine. That’s for sure.”
His chuckle made her smile. “You’ll have to make it up to me at bedtime.”
“What do you have in mind, Mr. Vice President?”
“All sorts of dirty things. In the meantime,” he said, nuzzling her neck and setting her on fire despite the cold water, “we need to talk about what we’re going to do if this thing with Nelson goes bad.”
“We have to talk about that ?”
“At some point, and now is as good a time as any.”
“If we’re going to talk about the possibility of you becoming president, you need to put my boobs away.”
He stuck out his lip in a little-boy pout. “I don’t wanna. They’re my favorite toys.”
“Boobs or doomsday. You can’t have both.”
“I hate this day, and it’s only ten o’clock.”
Sam laughed and patted his head as he tied her back into her bathing suit. “Why do you want to talk about this now when we’re trying to pretend it’s not happening?”
“I got a call yesterday from Brandon Halliwell,” he said of the Democratic National Committee chairman. “They’re making plans. Just in case.”
She eyed him warily. “What kind of plans?”
“Well, he asked me if I’ve thought about who I might want to be my vice president.”
Sam stared at him, poleaxed by the implications. “Come on. No way. What did you say, and why didn’t you tell me this yesterday?”
“Because yesterday was a really great day at the beach, and I didn’t want to ruin it for you. I told him I haven’t given it a thought, and I don’t intend to unless I absolutely have to. He said I absolutely have to.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means the party believes Nelson won’t be able to hold on to his presidency.”
“Please drown me right now. Hold my head under and keep it there. That’ll be a less painful way to go.”
He laughed, and then kissed her. “Maybe we could hold each other under and go together.”
“We can’t do that to Scotty, and besides, Brant would rescue us, that bastard.”
“Yeah, he would.”
“Could we fake our own deaths and take Scotty with us?” she asked, brightening.
“I like that idea. We could take over an island in the South Pacific and live off coconuts, rum and nonstop sex. I could totally get on board with that plan.”
“Scotty would miss his friends, baseball and video games. And the nonstop sex might annoy him too.”
Nick kissed her nose and then her lips. “And you’d miss your dad, your sisters and your squad.”
“How can this be actually happening? You were appointed vice president and could inherit the presidency. Is that even legal?”
“Unfortunately, yes. It would make me the ‘luckiest’ politician in history by getting to hold the two highest offices in the land without spending a single day on the campaign trail.”
“Yay for luck,” she said, profoundly depressed by the prospect. Sure, they’d known it was possible he could ascend to the presidency if he became vice president, but neither of them had ever thought it would actually happen—not like this anyway. “Maybe Nelson really had no knowledge of what his son was up to.”
“That’s entirely possible, but Halliwell doesn’t think it’s going to matter in the final analysis. It’s telling that the party is preparing for life after Nelson. It means his own supporters are turning against him, and the hearings haven’t even started yet.”
Sam closed her eyes, put her hands over her ears and began to chant. “Lalalalalalalala. Can’t hear you.”
He tweaked her nipples, which startled her out of her tantrum. “That’s no way for the potential first lady to behave.”
“Still can’t hear you. Lalalalalala.”
This time he kissed the protest off her lips, subduing her the way only he could. He kissed her until she had forgotten what she was protesting. Oh right. . Ugh! “No matter what happens, one thing will never change and that’s you and me and us and this. We got this. No matter what. Tell me you agree.”
“Samantha… I need this. I need . Tell me.”
She gave him her best mulish look.
He tipped his head adorably, imploring her with his eyes and that face. Dear God, that face… She loved him more than anything, and there was, literally, nothing she wouldn’t do for him, which she proved beyond a shadow of a doubt when she said, “We’ve got this. No matter what.”
His arms banded around her as he rested his face against the curve of her neck, his nearness sending tingles to all her most important places. “It’s going to be okay, babe. I promise.”
He’d never broken a promise to her yet, so she held on to his assurances as tightly as she held on to him while he guided them over every wave that threatened to topple them. But deep inside, in a place she rarely allowed her thoughts to stray, she was afraid—deeply afraid of what was to come for him—and for them.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
~ Calvin Coolidge