When you have their jobs, there’s no such thing as a peaceful vacation…
Sam and Nick are ready to get out of DC—and the White House—for a much-needed vacation to celebrate their second anniversary. Due to ongoing political pressures, they decide to scuttle their plans for a return to Bora Bora to stay closer to home at their favorite oceanfront house at Dewey Beach in Delaware. But before they can make their escape, Sam is summoned back to work to deal with yet another crisis in the ongoing investigation into former Lieutenant Stahl. Just when they think they’ve seen the full scope of his depravity, there is more. Sam leaves Gonzo, Freddie and the rest of the squad in charge of a new investigation of a murdered college student while Gigi and Cameron deal with the Internal Affairs Board and plot their strategy to deal with a lawsuit from the Patrick family. Meanwhile, Nick’s mother is working on a plea deal with an unexpected new advocate who wants her to reconcile with her estranged son.
As always for the first couple, nothing ever goes according to plan, but the chance to spend a week mostly alone is just what they needed until their children, family and friends join them for the final weekend at the beach.
It’s March in Dewey, and Sam and Nick are snuggling in front of the fire as they prepare to begin their third year of marriage.
Happy holidays from Marie, Sam and Nick as STATE OF BLISS releases Christmas week!
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State of Bliss
(First Family Series, Book 6)
The all-hands message arrived with a loud chime right after midnight on Friday morning.
Urgent notice! Chief Farnsworth will be briefing all members of the MPD on an important matter at zero eight hundred. Commanders should report to the chief’s conference room at zero seven thirty. Anyone not on annual leave is expected to be present either in person at HQ or remotely via the secure link provided below. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Sam groaned as she read the message.
She and Nick were due to depart on their anniversary trip at noon. Technically, she was on leave for the next ten days.
The curiosity would kill her. Usually, she was in the know on most things that went on in the department, but she had no clue what this urgent meeting was about.
“What’s up, babe?” Nick asked as he yawned.
“All-hands meeting at zero eight hundred. Commanders at zero seven thirty.”
“You don’t have to go, do you?”
“I don’t have to, but it might be better for both of us if I did so I don’t die of curiosity.”
His grunt of laughter made her smile as he put his arm around her and snuggled up to her. “I agree it’s better if you go, as long as you’re back in time for our very important date. I can’t wait to get the hell out of here.”
“I know.” She put her hand on top of his. “I promise I won’t be late.”
“I have the dreaded national security briefing at ten, so it’s fine. We’ll leave when you get back. Did you remember to tell your detail you have a meeting?”
“I was just getting ready to do that.”
He poked her side, startling her as she laughed. “Sure you were.”
She grabbed her phone off the bedside table and sent a text to Vernon, her lead agent. Urgent meeting at HQ at zero seven thirty.
Even though it was after midnight, he responded right away. Will be ready for transport at zero seven ten.
You’re the best.
Sam laughed at his cheeky reply. “He’s awesome.”
“I’m so glad you like him.”
“I do like him and Jimmy. They’re fun to be with.”
“Do they have any idea how lucky they are that you like them?”
“Duh, of course they do.”
“How silly of me to ask.”
“Freddie tells them all the time how lucky they are, because I hate people in general.”
“It seems to me, and I could be wrong, that you like a whole lot more people than you hate lately.”
“That’s not true, and I’d better never hear you say that outside the confines of these four walls.”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“Would I do that?”
“Yes, I’m quite sure you would, and the fact that I can feel you shaking is a dead giveaway.”
“My wife is funny. What can I say?”
He held her tighter and kissed the back of her shoulder. “Get some sleep. You’re going to need to be well rested when we get to Dewey.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
“I can’t wait for days and days and days alone with my wife.”
“Same, except for with my husband.”
“Whatever happens at the meeting, you can’t let it mess up this vacation.”
“Promise? My life depends on it.”
“Since your life is critically important to me, I promise.”
At seven thirty, the department commanders gathered in Chief Farnsworth’s conference room.
Lieutenant Archelotta from IT glanced at her. “What’s this about?”
“Huh, I figured if anyone would know, it’d be you.”
“You figured wrong.”
Captain Malone stood at the head of the table. “Thank you for coming in. The chief has called the all-hands meeting to provide an update on new information uncovered regarding former Lieutenant Stahl.”
Sam bit back a gasp. Holy hell. What now?
“We’ve received a credible tip tying him to as many as twenty missing women.” Malone pressed a remote that put photos on the screen at the front of the room. “Over a seventeen-year period, the following women have gone missing.”
The slide show provided an array of young, attractive women.
“Each of them was known to the MPD as a drug addict and, in some cases, had a history of prostitution.”
Sam was filled with sadness as she watched the faces of one woman after another go by. They were a variety of races with few similar characteristics to tie them to a type. What they’d been, she realized as Malone recited their names, ages and some of the details that were known about them, was vulnerable.
Stahl had preyed on those vulnerabilities.
But had he killed them? They could’ve gone missing and ended up dead by any number of means, but she knew from experience Stahl was certainly capable of committing murder. The thought had her stomach turning as memories of him trying to kill her came surging to the surface.
Dear God… To think he might’ve actually killed other people while employed by the department was almost too big to process. The first time, he’d nearly succeeded in strangling her on her own doorstep before the Secret Service had intervened and saved her life. Later, he’d wrapped her in razor wire and threatened to set her on fire. He was now serving a life sentence at Jessup with no chance of parole for both crimes.
Sam tried very hard to never think about her former lieutenant or how he’d tried to kill her. Twice. Just hearing his name made her clammy and light-headed.
Archie’s voice dragged her out of the rabbit hole she’d fallen into as she relived her near-fatal encounters with the disgraced former lieutenant.
Sam glanced at him.
“Are you okay?” he asked quietly.
Her hands were shaking, so she tucked them between her knees. As if that could stop the cold wave of dread that overtook her whenever she thought of that day in Marissa Springer’s basement when she’d been certain she was about to die in the most horrific way possible.
That’d been his goal, of course.
He’d been outraged by her refusal to engage with him in any way as he went about his sinister task.
Maybe he’d hated her because he couldn’t just kill her. She wasn’t someone he could “disappear” the way he might’ve done to these other women.
“Needless to say,” Malone continued, “we’re taking this new information very seriously and plan to devote significant resources to reopening the investigations into the disappearance of each of these women. After the all-hands meeting at eight, Crime Scene detectives will be descending upon Stahl’s home. We expect this to be a major local and national story.”
As he said the word national, he let his gaze land on her.
The national media would salivate over the news that the first lady’s former boss and assailant might be a serial killer.
Sam looked away, mortified that her stature on the national stage would add to the media frenzy that was sure to ensue after these new suspicions went public.
“How do we plan to handle the media on this?” Lieutenant Max Haggerty from Crime Scene asked.
“We’re not saying anything publicly until we know more. Stahl’s attorneys have been notified about the warrant to search his property. Apparently, the home once belonged to his grandparents and was left to him when they died. For whatever reason he didn’t live there, possibly because he used the place for nefarious purposes.”
The thought of that turned her stomach.
His property wouldn’t have been searched in the earlier cases because neither of the attempts on her life had taken place at his home.
Sam hadn’t known much about his life outside of work. She’d tried to avoid anything having to do with him during the miserable years she’d worked for and with him.
From the first day she’d been put under his command, she’d tried to stay as removed from the nasty lieutenant as she possibly could. That he couldn’t goad, rattle or intimidate her was part of why he hated her. Her last name hadn’t helped. He’d hated her father almost as much as he hated her. Though they’d started out together, Skip Holland had rapidly advanced through the ranks to deputy chief, while Stahl had remained a lieutenant.
Sam’s gaze snapped up to meet Captain Malone’s. “Yes, sir?”
“Are you still going to Delaware this week?”
“Please stay after this meeting for a minute, if you would.”
“Your teams will have questions,” Malone continued. “As we will do in the all-hands meeting, please tell them no one is to speak to the press about this case. That’s all.”
After the others had left the room, Malone sat next to her and handed her a sheet of paper. “Two of the missing women are originally from Delaware. We’d like you to see their family members and update them on the reopened investigation while you’re out there, if you don’t mind.”
I mind, she wanted to say, screaming on the inside at the thought of anything interrupting her time alone with Nick, let alone something having to do with Stahl.
“We know it’s a lot to ask, but everyone will be on this, and it would be a huge help.”
The chief sat across the table from them. “Are you all right, Lieutenant? We know this news is difficult for you, in particular, to hear.”
“I’m fine. Are you?”
They both looked exhausted, as if they’d been awake for days. Maybe they had been.
“I’ve been better,” the chief said. “I’m mad as hell that this guy keeps besmirching the reputation of this department and the hardworking men and women who show up and give it their all every day.”
Sam glanced at Malone. “I assume the tip is from a credible source…”
“One of my longest-standing informants was told by someone he trusts that Stahl was well known for looking for women who wouldn’t have anyone sounding the alarm if they went missing, which they always did.”
Sam shivered as she contemplated the pure evil it would take to do what he was accused of doing. “Can you tell me what specifically you were told?”
“That we should look at Stahl for any missing-women cases over the last twenty years.”
“God, twenty years…”
“Our thoughts exactly,” Farnsworth said. “We’ve worked for forty-six hours straight to make a list of missing women and figure out a plan to deal with this latest nightmare he’s brought to our door.”
“Do you think he did it?” Sam asked.
“Before he wrapped you in razor wire and threatened to set you on fire, I would’ve said no way,” Farnsworth replied. “But now we know he’s capable of anything, even mass murder.”
“After everything that’s happened, it shouldn’t shock me,” Sam said, “but still… It does.”
“We were going to give you a heads-up,” Farnsworth said, “but we know you don’t like special treatment.”
“No, I don’t, so thanks for that.”
“The others were looking for your reaction,” Malone said. “They saw the shock.”
“How can he still shock me? How is that even possible?”
“Trust me,” Farnsworth said. “We get it.”
“We’re going to ask your squad, in conjunction with Special Victims and Crime Scene, to head up the investigation with Gonzo taking the lead to avoid any potential conflicts of interest,” Malone said.
He meant because she was the victim in the two crimes that had already put Stahl away for life.
“That’s a good idea. Gonzo is more than ready for something like that.”
“We agree,” Farnsworth said.
“Where’s Jeannie?” Sam asked, referring to Deputy Chief McBride. “I thought she’d be at the commanders’ meeting.”
“She’s preparing for the all-hands,” Malone said.
“We’re sorry to ask you to work during your vacation,” Farnsworth added.
“It’s no problem. I can knock it out in an afternoon.”
“You don’t have to stay for the all-hands since you’re on leave,” Malone said.
“I’ll be there. Appearances, you know…”
Malone nodded, and the three of them got up to attend the second meeting. While Malone and Farnsworth headed toward the chief’s suite, Sam went to her pit to watch the meeting with her team.
The Homicide squad was seated around their conference room table with the TV set to the meeting, which would begin shortly.
“Morning,” Sam said when she joined them.
“What’re you doing here, LT?” Sergeant Tommy “Gonzo” Gonzales asked. “You’re on leave.”
“Curiosity got the best of me.”
“Can you give us a preview?” her partner, Detective Freddie Cruz, asked.
“When do you leave on vacation?” Detective Cameron Green asked.
“Ah, I’m so jealous,” Detective Gigi Dominguez said. “You’ll have the best time.”
“That’s the goal, and I’m happy to see you here. How’re you holding up?”
“We’re okay.” Gigi glanced at Cameron, her boyfriend. “Thank you for giving us your lawyer friend Andy’s number. We’re going to reach out to him soon.”
They were recently sued, along with the department, for the wrongful deaths of Cameron’s ex-girlfriend and her mother. The two had been killed after they took Gigi and Jeannie McBride hostage in separate incidents. Both were clean shots, and Sam had full confidence that the lawsuits would go nowhere. But she felt for Gigi and Cam, who were dealing with the awful stress of a looming Internal Affairs hearing and a lawsuit while managing a relatively new relationship that had been making them both very happy until his ex-girlfriend intervened.
“When’s your IAB hearing?” Sam asked her.
“Wednesday,” Gigi said.
“Shit, I wanted to be there. I’ll be sure to put in a good word ahead of the hearing.”
“I’d appreciate anything you can do.”
“Of course. Don’t lose any sleep over this stuff. You survived. That’s what matters.”
“I’ve been trying to tell her that,” Cam said.
“It’s a tough thing to take a life, even if it was done to save your own,” Sam said. “If you get so jaded you aren’t affected by that you should hang up your gold shield and call it a day around here.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Gigi said softly. “I needed to hear that.”
“Stay strong. You’re on the side of right here.”
“We’re trying,” Gigi said with a warm look for Cameron.
“The whole thing is so fucked up,” Gigi’s partner, Detective Dani Carlucci, said. “Gigi was taken hostage in her own home and fought back. How is that grounds for any of this nonsense?”
“It’s not,” Sam said, “but she has to go through the motions and see it through, unfortunately.”
“It’s bullshit,” Dani added.
“Agreed,” Sam said. “Unfortunately, it’s how our world works.”
Jeannie’s face appeared on the screen.
“Look at our pal,” Gonzo said, smiling at the sight of their close friend, who’d been recently promoted from their squad to second-in-command.
“I’m bursting with pride,” Sam said.
“Thank you all for being here this morning, whether you’re in the building or logged in remotely,” Jeannie said. “We’ve called this meeting to pass along important information about a former member of the department, Leonard Stahl.”
Sam appreciated that Jeannie didn’t give him the courtesy of referring to him by his rank. He didn’t deserve courtesy of any kind.
“Jeez,” Gonzo said. “What now?”
Sam’s team watched in stunned silence as Jeannie went through the presentation the commanders had been shown earlier and discussed the tip Captain Malone had received from a trusted source.
“We’ll be asking Detective Sergeant Tommy Gonzales, on behalf of Homicide, to lead the investigation along with Detective Erica Lucas from SVU and Lieutenant Max Haggerty from Crime Scene.
As Gonzo glanced at Sam, she gave him a smile and a thumbs-up.
“Holy crap,” Freddie uttered after the last photo had been shown. “He’s a freaking serial killer.”
Stahl was also facing numerous other charges for failing to perform even the most perfunctory investigations in several cases, as well as fabricating evidence that put an innocent man in prison for twenty years on bogus rape charges. “We don’t know for sure that he’s done any of this,” Sam said, “but if he did, we’ll nail his ass to the wall—again.”
Sam had no sooner said those words than Gonzo’s radio crackled to life with a call from Dispatch for Homicide detectives to report to a dormitory at the George Washington University on Foxhall Road Northwest for a student found dead in her room.
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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
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