Fatal Justice (Chapter 30)

Sam wandered into the cozy study that Nick had put together with his unique blend of style and practicality. She marveled at how quickly he had made this big empty house into a warm, inviting home. His outstanding taste and sense of style were just two more reasons to love him. Sam had to admit that it no longer seemed preposterous to imagine living here with him.

"Huh," she said, resting her chin on her fist as she absorbed the astounding revelation. "Wonder when that happened?" Over time. That's when it had happened. He hadn't pushed. Instead, he'd allowed her to come to her own conclusion in her own time. "Crafty of him." She decided to wait until she closed Sinclair to act on the decision she seemed to have made at some point over the last few weeks. "Wonder what he'd say if I just show up with all my crap and say, hi honey, I'm home." The idea of disrupting his finely tuned sense of order had her chortling with laughter.

Scooting the leather chair up to the desk, she checked things out. Of course, Nick being Nick, everything was exactly where it belonged, which all but dared her to mess with it. Feeling a little reckless after the conversation they'd just had, she moved a few items around on his impeccable desk while waiting for the computer to boot up.

Delighted with her handiwork, she tried to focus on the computer and the long list of names she needed to run. But rather than log into the police department system, she opened the Internet browser and did a search for endometriosis treatment.

That's where Nick found her fifteen minutes later. "What're you looking at?" he asked, massaging her shoulders from behind. "And why do you have to screw around every time you sit at my desk?"

Startled, Sam attempted to minimize the window but clicked the wrong button and made it larger.

Nick leaned in for a closer look. "Laser surgery offers revolutionary hope to endometriosis sufferers," he read from the screen.

She closed the window and attempted to shake him off.

"Hey! I was reading that."

"And now you're not."

"What did it say?"

Sam could hear the excitement in his voice, which is exactly why she hadn't mentioned it earlier. She couldn't bear to get his hopes up only to see them dashed the way hers had been by two miscarriages when she was married to Peter. "Nothing. It's nothing."

"It's not nothing." He spun the office chair around, forcing her to look at him. "Talk. Now."

"There's nothing to say."

He raised an eyebrow to let her know he wasn't buying it.

"It's just this thing Harry mentioned. It probably doesn't even apply to me, so there's no need to get all worked up over something that'll never happen."

His eyes widened with understanding. "He said there's something you can do – something we can do – didn't he?"

"See? You're already excited, and I can't deal with that!"

"Maybe if you just told me what he said, rather than expecting me to decode your ramblings, we could have an honest conversation here."

Sam folded her arms in defense against the gamut of emotions storming around inside her. "He mentioned a new treatment for endometriosis. Surgery that's been apparently yielding great results."

"And you're going to try it?"

"I don't know! I just heard about it today."

"Why wouldn't you?"

"Because! You have no idea how awful it was to go through three miscarriages. I thought this door was closed to me, and I've made peace with that. Now there's this tiny little crack, letting it all in again." She looked up at him. "I don't know if I'd survive if it happened again, Nick."

He dropped to his knees in front of her. "Then don't do it. Close the door, put the lock on and we'll go on with our lives as if we never heard about this. When we're ready, we'll adopt or hire a surrogate. Whatever we have to do."

Astounded, she stared at him. "You'd do that? Even if it might be possible for us to have our own?"

"I've told you before and I'll tell you again –  we have them doesn't matter one bit to me. That we have them – someday – that's what matters. As long as we're on the same page there, the rest is details to me."

Once again, she said a silent prayer of thanks to whatever higher power had arranged to have their paths cross again, years after they first met and connected on every possible level. He always knew just what to say to her, just what she needed to hear. "It's all I can think about," she confessed. "That I could have what Harry calls a simple surgery and then maybe…"

"Were you going to tell me?"

"I didn't want to get your hopes up only to see them crushed when it doesn't work out. And it  crushing. Take my word for it."

"I can't even imagine. But I can't help but remember what you said before."

"What?"

He shook his head. "Never mind. I don't want you to think I'm pressuring you, because I meant it when I said it doesn't matter to me if they're our biological children."

"Tell me anyway."

After another moment of hesitation, he said, "It's just what you said, about what kind of people we're going to be. Are we going to do what's easy or are we going to take some chances?"

Sam released a jagged deep breath. "We're not talking about a job, Nick. This is much different."

"Is it? Is it really?"

"So you're only  you'd be okay adopting?"

"No, babe. I mean it. But I'm not thinking about me. I'm thinking about you, and I know this is something you want so badly, even if you'd never admit it. You say you've made peace with it, but you haven't. Not really. How could you?"

She didn't want to cry, but the tears seemed to have a mind of their own. They came in a great torrent that reminded her of the aftermath of her third miscarriage. This subject could be counted on to make her cry every time it came up.

Nick wrapped his arms around her and held her until she got it all out. "It's okay, Sam," he whispered, stroking her hair. "I'm here now, and no matter what happens, we'll deal with it together. Whatever you want to do is what we'll do."

"I don't  what I want to do," she said, sobs hiccupping through her. "I can't even talk about this without bawling my head off. Can you imagine what a mess I'd be if I had the surgery and managed to get pregnant? I'd spend the whole time panic-stricken, waiting to lose it."

"I can't picture that. The Samantha I know and love is ballsy and fearless and so courageous it often takes my breath away."

Touched by his faith in her, she attempted a smile. "You haven't seen her pregnant."

"I'd  to see her pregnant, but only if it's what  wants." He leaned in to kiss her and wipe away the remaining tears. "I love you, no matter what, and I'll support whatever you decide to do."

"Thanks," she said, "for getting me, and for understanding how this would hit me without needing me to draw you a map."

"Don't put pressure on yourself to decide anything right away. We've got plenty of time."

"My eggs aren't getting any younger."

"Puleeze, you're a spring chicken." He kissed her again. "Are you going to tell me what else Harry had to say?"

"Do I have to?"

"Uh-huh."

"He said to say hi to you," she said with a big smile.

"Fabulous." He poked her ribs. "What else?"

She made a face at him. "He's making me give up soda."

Nick's mouth fell open. "You're kidding."

"I wish I was. Be prepared to see me at my very worst, starting tomorrow morning when I don't get my daily kick start."

"Thanks for the warning."

"You think it's funny now."

"So that was it? Just give up the soda and see what happens?"

"For now. He was very thorough, your pal Harry. I hope you're not planning on having him over or anything. I doubt I could make eye contact."

Nick hooted with laughter. "That sounds like a dare."

"' you dare!"

"Do you feel better, babe? About the other thing?"

She exhaled a long deep breath infected with the hitches that follow a good cry. "Yeah." Rolling her shoulders, she sat back in the chair. "But I feel all revved up. You know what I'd really like to do?"

He raised a swarthy eyebrow. "Again?"

Laughing, she gave him a little shove. "Get your mind out of the gutter. I want to go back to Julian's hotel room and take another look. Sometimes when I'm stuck it helps to start all over."

"How about I go with you?"

"You don't want to do that."

He reached out to help her up. "There's nothing I'd rather do, and besides, maybe I'll be the one who figures this whole thing out."

She rolled her eyes at him. "Whatever. Stick with me, rookie. I'll show you the ropes."

Nuzzling her neck, he said, "Oh, ropes. That sounds promising."

Sam punched in the police code to unlock the hotel room door. Inside, she flipped on the lights and took a long look around at the large, elegant room where everything was neat and orderly.

"Looks like he was never here," Nick commented, "but I can smell his cologne."

Sam turned to him. "If it's too hard for you to be here – "

He rested an index finger on her lips. "I'm okay."

Even though crime scene detectives had already done it once before, she went through the room again with methodic precision. She checked suit coat pockets, zippered linings in the suitcases and briefcase, and poked through the shaving kit in the bathroom but found nothing out of the ordinary.

"Are all your friends as anal retentively neat as you and Julian?" she asked.

Nick sat at the desk and flipped through Julian's date book. "Not all of them." He turned to the page from the day of the murder. "Lunch with Trip. That would be Ackerman, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee."

"We couldn't figure out who that was." Sam marveled at how quickly he had given her a lead to follow.

"Prep school nickname. They probably went over how the nomination hearings would go, and he answered any questions Julian had. Will you talk to Ackerman?"

"First thing in the morning." She leaned in to kiss his cheek. "Thank you."

"I told you I'd figure this out for you."

She laughed. "Don't get all full of yourself quite yet."

"What do you suppose this refers to?" He pointed to an entry in the book that said, "P/a.d."

"No idea. I wondered if the P referred to his brother. Preston said he'd been in touch with Julian and hoped to see him while Julian was in town."

"What could a.d. stand for?" Nick asked.

"After Diandra goes to bed?" Sam ventured. "Austin and Devon?"

"After dinner?"

"Could be. I just wish we had tape of what happened after Graham and Laine dropped him off."

"Is it possible he managed to get back to his room but didn't leave again on foot?" Nick asked.

"What do you mean?"

"He could've been taken out in a laundry cart, for instance. I saw that in a movie once."

"So you're saying someone came in here, tied him up, tossed him in a laundry cart and wheeled him out without anyone seeing a thing?"

"Could've happened."

"We can't even prove that he came into the hotel after they dropped him off. In this fictional scenario of yours, did Julian go willingly? Did he just hop into the laundry cart and say, 'Tie me up and take me for a ride'?"

"Of course not."

"So then where's the struggle?" She gestured to the immaculate room. "Wouldn't a lamp be toppled or the bed covers rumpled or  disturbed?"

"Not if the attacker had a gun pointed at Julian. He'd do whatever he was told to stay alive."

Sam hated to concede the point. "That's possible. A gun would explain the lack of struggle."

Nick's grin lit up his face. "See, I'm a natural."

"You're still a rookie, though."

"So then teach me, master."

Hands on her hips, Sam surveyed the room, trying to imagine how it had gone down. "I'd love to have the background check the administration must've done on Julian."

Nick reached for his cell phone.

"What're you doing?"

"Getting it for you."

She watched in silent amazement as he called the White House deputy chief of staff at home and requested a copy of the vetting document on Julian Sinclair.

"He's emailing it to you," Nick said when he hung up. He looked up to find her staring at him. "What? We play racquetball together. He's a friend."

"Who ' your friend?"

"Are you complaining?"

"Nope. You might be pretty useful to have around, rookie."

"Is that your ass-backward way of saying thank you?"

"I'm sure I'll think of  way to thank you – but not until we're off duty."

His eyes went hot with lust.

"Don't even think about it." As Sam took a step back from him her cell phone rang.

"Hey, Lieutenant," Jeannie McBride said. "I went through two years' worth of financials on all the principal players. The only interesting thing I found was a ten thousand-dollar wire transfer from Diandra Sinclair's personal account to an account in the Cayman Islands."

"Owned by whom?"

"I'm still trying to figure that out. The bank is closed right now, but I've left messages. I also tagged the Cayman police to make them aware of our investigation."

"Good work, Jeannie. Go on home. We can pick this up in the morning."

"It's something anyway."

"Absolutely. I appreciate you staying late. Any sign of Preston Sinclair?"

"Not that I've heard."

"Thanks again, Jeannie."

"Have a good night, L.T."

Sam ended the call and filled Nick in on what she'd learned.

"What do you suppose it means?"

"She could've paid someone to off her brother-in-law."

"If she did, why wait until he's here for nomination hearings? Everyone knew he was on Nelson's short list for the court. His nomination was hardly a surprise."

"Who knows? Maybe she had someone on retainer in case it ever got this far. At any rate, I'd like to speak to her again. What do you say we hit GW on the way home? I want to check on Devon, too."

"It's not exactly on the way."

"No grumbling, rookie."

"I'm just saying…"

Patting his cheek, she said, "I can always drop you off at home if it's getting too late for you."

"And miss all this excitement? No way. Besides, you promised me a reward for getting you that background check. I intend to collect."

Closing and locking the hotel room door, she shot him a look full of innocence. "I was planning to make you an ice cream sundae. My nieces and nephews love my sundaes. Is that what you had in mind?"

"Not exactly," he muttered. "Although you can feel free to include hot fudge and whipped cream in my reward."

Somehow he always managed to get the last word.