Christmas at the White House Wouldn’t Be Complete Without a Murder or Two…
The holiday season is under way in Washington, D.C., but Metro Police Lieutenant Sam Holland is busier than ever as she contends with the murder of a well-liked wife, mother and businesswoman found bound, gagged and dead for quite some time inside her minivan, miles from her home. Who could’ve wanted her dead badly enough to make her suffer for days before she died? Sam is determined to close the vexing case before a much-needed vacation with her family, but the universe has other ideas when a second murder—this one someone she knows—has her wondering if the vacation is going to happen.
Meanwhile, Sam’s husband, President Nick Cappuano, deals with the first national tragedy on his watch, forcing him on the record on a contentious issue as he fills the role of comforter-in-chief to a nation reeling from another senseless act of violence. All the while, a custody battle for the twins he and Sam took in after their parents’ murder is looming, casting a dark cloud over everything this holiday season. With chaos swirling all around them, will Sam and Nick be able to pull off a big family Christmas at the White House?
As always, Sam and Nick turn to each other for comfort in the storm that is their life together. Join Sam, Nick, Scotty, Elijah, Aubrey, Alden and Skippy, the First Dog, as they celebrate a Christmas like no other.
State of Grace
First Family Series, Book 2
By: Marie Force
DC Metro Police Lieutenant Sam Holland rushed through the doors to NBC4 at a quarter after eight on a Monday morning, twelve days before Christmas. Her Secret Service agents, Vernon and Jimmy, followed close behind her. For this TV appearance, she was also Samantha Cappuano, first lady of the United States. The only reason the Today show was interested in this interview was because she was first lady, a title she was still getting used to two and a half weeks after her husband had suddenly been promoted from vice president to president.
The department’s psychiatrist, Dr. Trulo, was waiting in the lobby along with a staffer from the TV station and Lilia Van Nostrand, Sam’s White House chief of staff.
“I’m glad to see you,” Dr. Trulo said. “I was afraid you were standing me up.”
“Sorry I’m late,” Sam said. “Aubrey was having a rough morning, and I needed a few extra minutes with her.”
“Is she okay?” Lilia asked as they followed a young woman who seemed to know where she was going.
“She will be.”
Everyone they encountered stopped what they were doing to watch Sam go by. She hated that, but it came with the territory she and Nick now found themselves in as the nation’s first couple. If their profile had been uncomfortably high as the second couple, it was a thousand times higher now, and she was working on making the transition. However, after a seismic shift such as the one that had occurred in their lives, she would need more than a couple of weeks to fully process their change in status.
“Right this way,” the young woman said as she led them into a green room. “We’re so excited to have you here, Mrs. Cappuano.”
Even though she was in full uniform with the name HOLLAND on her chest, the woman still referred to her as Mrs. Cappuano. She was coming around to also understanding that everyone thought of her as Mrs. Cappuano, except her colleagues with the MPD. “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”
“It’s Yvonne, ma’am.”
Sam shook her hand. “Very nice to meet you, Yvonne.”
“Likewise, ma’am. You have no idea how exciting it is for us to have you here.”
“Thanks for having us.”
“Please make yourselves comfortable and have some refreshments. We’ll come for you in about twenty minutes.”
“Thank you.” Sam glanced with yearning at the table containing bagels, muffins and pastries. Carbs went straight to her ass, but she hadn’t gotten to eat breakfast before leaving the White House because she’d been tending to Aubrey. “Screw it. I’m hungry.” She helped herself to a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll. “Have something, you guys. We wouldn’t want to be rude.”
While Dr. Trulo and Lilia checked out the offerings, Sam took a bite of the pastry and had to hold back a moan of pleasure. Dear God, that was good. She usually avoided such things, especially these days, when she found herself on the business end of a TV camera far too often. It was true what they said—the camera added ten pounds.
The BlackBerry she carried to keep in touch with her husband buzzed with a text from the man himself. Aubrey is off to school and is all smiles. Whatever happened this morning seems to have passed. For now, anyway.
Sam wrote right back. Thanks for letting me know. I hated to leave her upset. Do you think they’re picking up on the tension?
Their maternal grandparents had recently filed for custody of the six-year-old twins who’d been living with Sam and Nick since their parents were murdered more than two months ago.
We just need to make sure we’re not bringing that tension around them. They pick up on everything.
Very true. I’ll be watching you on TV. Break a leg (not really).
Sam laughed. With her propensity for accidents, it was important to add that last part. I hope I don’t make a fool of myself (and you) on national TV.
Even if you do, I’ll still love you.
Thank goodness for that.
Yvonne returned exactly when she said she would, and they were shown to a studio, outfitted with microphones, told how the remote interview would be conducted and checked by hair and makeup people.
She and Dr. Trulo had met the previous afternoon to go over their notes for the interview, and Sam felt as ready as she ever did to speak in front of millions of people. They’d been asked to talk about the grief group she and the doctor had recently founded within the Metropolitan Police Department that provided an outlet for victims of violent crime.
Now that she was the first lady, the effort had gained greater exposure, and she hoped to make the program part of her platform in her new role.
Both Hoda and Savannah would be interviewing them, and before they went live, the two anchors came on to say hello and thank them for coming on the show.
“It’s so nice to meet you after hearing so much about you,” Hoda said.
“Thank you,” Sam said. “You as well.”
“How’s life in the White House?” Savannah asked.
“It’s different,” Sam said with a laugh. “We’re still getting used to it and finding a new routine there.”
“Do you mind if we ask you about the adjustment during the interview?”
“No, that’s fine. I just won’t speak about my husband or his administration. Since I’m not briefed on any of that, I’d rather not be asked those questions, especially when we’re here to talk about the grief group.”
“Understood,” Hoda said. “We’ll be back from commercial in a few and will bring you right in.”
“Sounds good.” She glanced at Dr. Trulo, who was looking at her with amusement. His wiry gray hair had been combed into submission for the occasion. “What?”
“‘I’m not briefed on any of that.’”
“Well, I’m not.”
He laughed. “It’s a good way to say, ‘Stay in the lane we agreed to.’”
“Exactly. If you knew how many times reporters asked me questions about Nick, you’d know why I said that.”
“I get it. I just thought it was funny that you’re speaking the lingo now.”
“I’m really not. That’s about the extent of my political-wife lingo.”
“Stand by,” the producer said. “We’re back in three, two, one.”
“We have two very special guests with us this morning,” Hoda said, smiling. “Our new first lady, Samantha Cappuano, also known at the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, as Lieutenant Sam Holland, and Metro PD psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Trulo are here to talk about an exciting new initiative they’ve founded within the MPD and one they hope will become a national project. Welcome to both of you.”
“Thanks for having us,” Sam said.
“Thank you for the invitation to talk about a project that’s near and dear to both of us,” Dr. Trulo said.
“Before we get to that,” Savannah said, “we’re all curious about how you and your family are adapting to your new home.”
“Everyone is doing well,” Sam said. “It’s been two days since the last time I got lost trying to find the residence inside the White House, so I take that as progress. The kids are doing much better than I am with finding their way around.”
“This is the first time in more than a decade that young children have lived at the White House,” Hoda said. “What’re they enjoying the most?”
“Scotty, who just turned fourteen, loves the movie theater, and the twins, who are six, are partial to the pool. They want to swim every night after dinner.”
“Who’s on lifeguard duty?” Hoda asked. “You or the president?”
“Mostly him, but I’ve done a few shifts.”
“We asked you to come on today to discuss the grief group for victims of violent crime that you’ve initiated within the MPD,” Savannah said. “Can you tell us about that?”
Sam looked to Dr. Trulo, who signaled for her to take the lead. She’d get him for that later. “As you may have heard,” she said with a laugh, “I’m a homicide detective. In the course of my work, I encounter family members and others deeply affected by the violent loss of loved ones. For some time, I’ve wished there was a mechanism in place to better support the secondary victims of violent crime. When I mentioned the idea to Dr. Trulo, he suggested a grief group.”
“And you’ve formed the group within your department?” Hoda asked.
“We have,” Dr. Trulo said. “We’ve had the first meeting and feel it was a big success. People who’ve lost spouses, children, parents and friends attended the meeting, and we’ve heard from several of them that they’ve met up again outside the meeting.”
“That’s amazing,” Hoda said, “that they’re making friends and finding additional support.”
“That was our hope,” Dr. Trulo said, “and we also hope our model might be adopted by other police departments across the country. Grief groups are a source of tremendous support to people suffering from loss. We wanted to provide an extra level of support to those grappling with violent loss, which often involves a protracted criminal proceeding that adds to the agony. The justice system moves slowly, and the families need support sometimes for years.”
“There’s such a huge need,” Savannah said. “How do you narrow down who’s invited?”
“It’s open to anyone who feels they need it,” Sam said, “but we do ask that the people attending have been touched by violent crime.”
“You’ve had experience with that in your family as well,” Hoda said.
“That’s right,” Sam said. “My father, Skip Holland, who was the MPD deputy chief at the time, was shot on the job and left a quadriplegic for nearly four years before he succumbed to his injuries in October.”
“We’re so sorry for your loss,” Savannah said.
A picture of Sam with her dad from before the shooting came on the screen, triggering a tidal wave of grief that caught her off guard and unprepared to manage it while on national television. It took a huge effort not to let the pain show. “Thank you. We miss him.”
“If other departments are interested in finding out more about your grief program, how can they get in touch?” Hoda asked.
Dr. Trulo gave his email address. “Or they can call the MPD and ask for me. I’d be happy to talk to anyone about what we’ve done so far and what we hope to do in the future.”
“Definitely call him,” Sam said. “You’re more likely to get a reply.”
“What she said,” Dr. Trulo added, smiling.
The hosts laughed, thanked them for coming on the show and wished them luck with the grief group and with her new role as the first lady.
“Thank you so much for having us,” Sam said, breathing a sigh of relief that she’d gotten through the interview without embarrassing herself or Nick.
“That was great, guys,” Savannah said after the show went to commercial. “I’m sure you’re going to hear from departments all over the country who are interested in your program.”
“We appreciate the chance to talk about it,” Sam said.
“And we appreciate the first national interview with the new first lady,” Savannah said, smiling.
“I do what I can for the people,” Sam said, trotting out her trademarked saying, which the hosts found amusing.
After they said their goodbyes, another young woman appeared to help remove Sam’s microphone. She couldn’t get free fast enough. Even though it was for a good cause, seeking publicity would never fall into her comfort zone.
Sam had shit to do and no time for delays. Starting today, she and her squad were reexamining unsolved cases overseen by disgraced officers Stahl, a former lieutenant, and Conklin, former deputy chief, to make sure they’d been handled properly. After recently solving the fifteen-year-old murder case of Calvin Worthington in a single afternoon, Sam was afraid of what they might find.
“You did good, kiddo,” Dr. Trulo said as they followed Yvonne through the winding hallways that hopefully would lead them out of there.
“Thanks, you did, too. I hope you’re ready to be inundated with requests for info.”
“I’m ready. I typed up a program description and a list of suggestions for getting started that I can send to anyone who requests it.”
“Of course you did. I keep hoping I’m going to wake up one day as the kind of person who comes prepared, but so far it hasn’t happened.”
Dr. Trulo cracked up. “Good thing you’re surrounded by others who can handle the prep work for you.”
“Thank God for that, especially lately.” She never would’ve survived the last couple of weeks without a cadre of dedicated family, friends and colleagues who’d helped her, Nick and the kids through the biggest transition of their lives. Everything would be going as well as could be expected if it hadn’t been for the custody battle that loomed over every breath she took.
“Do you have time for a brief parking-lot consult?” she asked.
“I’ve always got time for you.”
“In case I’ve never told you, you’re one of the people I’m thankful for.”
“Aw, thanks. It’s a pleasure to work with you and to be your friend.” In a whisper, he added, “My friend is the first lady of the whole United States!”
“Hush with that nonsense.”
His laughter made her smile as they walked out together with Vernon leading and Jimmy bringing up the rear.
Sam would never get used to the Secret Service detail, but had compromised by agreeing to have two agents with her at all times. Mostly, she tried to ignore them and pretend they weren’t there.
“Now, what can I do for you this fine morning?”
Sam glanced up at the dark clouds that hung over the nation’s capital and shivered in the late autumn chill. With Christmas right around the corner, the days were getting shorter, and every day seemed colder than the last. “Are you one of those people who loves the winter?”
“I love all four seasons for different reasons.”
Sam leaned against the black BMW Nick had outfitted to protect her from just about anything that could happen over the course of an average workday. “The twins’ maternal grandparents have filed for custody of them.”
“Oh damn. I hadn’t heard that.”
“We’ve kept it quiet so it won’t turn into a three-ring circus. That’s the last thing they need. The twins don’t even know about it, and if I have my way, they never will.”
“What’re the lawyers saying?”
“That they have no case. Jameson and Cleo were very clear who they wanted making decisions for Aubrey and Alden, and that’s Elijah.” Their older brother was a junior at Princeton and had designated Sam and Nick as the children’s legal guardians while he was still in school. The three of them made all the big decisions about the kids together, and Elijah had become part of their family, too.
“Then it should be okay, right?”
“‘Should be’ are the key words there. They’re making a BFD about custody now that Nick is president. They don’t want the kids in the spotlight or in danger because of their proximity to him.”
“They say that as if the twins aren’t protected by the finest security in the world.”
“Exactly, and the ultimate irony is they wanted nothing to do with the kids before their parents’ killers were caught. The minute we solved the case, they tried pulling the concerned-family act. Elijah thinks they’re far more interested in the billions in inheritance that come with the kids than they are in the kids themselves.”
“He may be right about that. I know it’s hard not to go to the worst-case scenario with this situation, but you have the parents’ wishes working in your favor. The courts take that very seriously and would have to find fault with Elijah to even consider overturning the parents’ request. The grandparents’ case is a huge long shot, and they know that as well as you do.”
“Still, the stress is real.”
“I’m sure it is. You and Nick have invested a lot of yourself in those kids and their brother.”
“It was the strangest thing, Doc. It took all of a day for them to feel like ours.”
“Amazing how that happens, huh? All those years of fertility struggles, and now you’re the mom of three and a half kids.”
“I know. Nothing happened the way we thought it would, but we wouldn’t trade this family for anything.” Sam’s cell phone rang, and when she checked the caller ID, she didn’t recognize the number. “I probably ought to grab this.”
“Go ahead. I’ll see you back at the house. Reminder that my door is always open to you, Lieutenant.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Sam squeezed his arm and then opened her flip phone. “Lieutenant Holland.”
“Um, hello, this is Marlene Peters. I’m a friend of Cameron Green’s. We spoke during the Armstrong investigation.”
“Oh right. What’s up?”
“I heard something through the PTA grapevine that I thought might be of interest to you.” Her children attended the exclusive Northwest Academy on Connecticut Avenue, where Aubrey and Alden were kindergarten students.
“The name of the person who leaked the photos of the president at Aubrey and Alden’s birthday party.” Those photos had caused a shitstorm for Nick, who’d taken advantage of a break between meetings during a tense standoff with Iran to come to their former home on Ninth Street to celebrate the twins’ birthday. One of the other parents had violated the nondisclosure agreement everyone had signed by leaking pictures of Nick with the kids while the secretary of State was being detained by the Iranians.
“You’re right. That’s info I’d very much like to have.”
“It won’t come back to me, will it?”
“Absolutely not. Your name will never be mentioned.”
“His name is Bryson Thorn. His son Sebastian is in class with Alden and Aubrey.”
“How do you know it came from him?”
“Multiple reliable sources. That’s all I can say, or it’ll come around to bite me in the ass.”
“Any idea why he’d do it?”
“I don’t know him, but one of the people who told me it was him said he’d do it for the attention and to stir the pot.”
“Who’d want that kind of negative attention with everyone pissed at him, not to mention potential legal exposure for violating the NDA?”
“You know that saying about how some people will take any attention, even bad attention? I think that applies here.”
“I’ll never understand people.”
“Right there with you. I’ve also heard that he’s spouted off about your husband’s youth, inexperience and reluctance to be president.”
“Do you know where he lives?”
She provided an address in the swanky Spring Valley neighborhood.
“What does he do for a living?”
“Stockbroker. The wife is a piece of work. None of the other mothers like her.”
“I appreciate this info, Marlene.”
“I think it’s egregious that he leaked those photos. Just about everyone I’ve spoken to agrees. Your husband wasn’t doing anything wrong, and Bryson did it with the sole purpose of causing trouble for him. He may not align with him politically, but he was a guest in the man’s home.”
“It’s good to know others see it the same way we do.”
“Many others do. People are pissed, and the word’s getting out that he was the leaker.”
“Thanks again for letting me know.”
“You got it.”
Sam ended the call and thought about how she wanted to handle the info Marlene had given her. She’d planned to go right to HQ and change out of the uniform that had gotten a little snug since she’d worn it at her dad’s funeral. She needed to quit with the comfort eating.
However, the uniform might come in handy on this mission. Opening her phone, she put through a call to her friend Lieutenant Archelotta, who ran the department’s IT division.
“Hey, Sam. Saw you on TV this morning. The place is buzzing about it.”
“In a good way, I hope.”
“Mostly. People love the grief group and think it’s a great idea. Well, Ramsey doesn’t, but no one listens to him.”
“I wish he’d find someone else to obsess about. But I didn’t call to talk about that jackass. I need a personal favor.”
“Um, okay, but I thought we weren’t doing that anymore?”
Sam laughed at the unexpected comeback from the only fellow officer she’d ever fooled around with when she was between marriages. “Shut up.”
Archie sputtered with laughter. “What can I do for you?”
“I found out who leaked the photos of Nick at the twins’ birthday party, and I could use some proof that they came from his IP address.”
“I’d have to investigate something like that after hours.”
“Understood, and I’d be happy to pay for your time.”
“No charge. I’d love to help you nail the guy who did that.”
“You’re the best. I’ll send you his info.”
“I’ll get on it tonight and let you know what I find.”
“Thanks, Archie. It means a lot to have friends watching our backs in this new situation.”
“Situation,” he said, snorting with laughter. “You mean the situation with you guys being the first couple?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“We got you covered. I’ll text you later.”
Thankful to have him in her corner, she ended that call and put through another to her partner, Detective Freddie Cruz.
“You looked good on TV,” he said when he picked up.
“I always look good.”
She could “hear” his eyes rolling through the phone. “Whatever you say, rock star. What’s up?”
“We need to take a trip to Spring Valley.”
“What’s way the hell up there?”
“The guy who leaked the photos of Nick at the twins’ birthday party.”
“Oh snap, a revenge mission. I’m always up for that, even if it means a trip to the outer reaches of Northwest.”
Sam gave him the address. “Meet me there?”
“On my way.”