Fatal Justice (Chapter 33)

Fifteen minutes later, Nick opened the passenger door and grunted from the effort it took to lower himself into the car. Glancing over at Freddie, he said, "This had better be good."

Freddie flipped on the inside lights so they could see each other in the murky pre-dawn. "The Reporter is going to run a story that Sam had an abortion years ago."

Nick's pale face drained of what little color it had left. "What? What did you say?"

"It's not true. It can't be true. She could never – "

Nick sat perfectly still. "Tell me what you know. Everything you know."

Freddie relayed Darren Tabor's warning.

"Patient records are private. They couldn't possibly get the record."

"Are you saying it's true?" Freddie asked tentatively.

"I can't talk to you about this. I'm sorry. It's her personal business."

"Which is about to be splashed all over the news."

"Oh my God. This can't be happening."

"You need to warn her."

"No." Nick shook his head. "She's hurt. I don't want her to know about this." He reached for the door handle. "I'll take care of it."

"What're you going to do?"

"I don't know yet."

"Call me if I can help." With a quick nod, Nick worked his way out of the car and disappeared into the night.

Freddie sat there for a long time. He didn't envy Nick the task he had before him, but he did envy his love for Sam. What they seemed to have was something most people only dreamed about. Freddie started the car to head home, but home held zero appeal. Even though he knew he had no right, he called Elin.

"Hey," she said, sounding sleepy and sexy.

He yearned for her. "Sorry to wake you."

"S'okay."

"Can I come over?"

"Now?"

"Yeah."

With only the briefest of hesitations, she said, "Okay."

"I'll be there in a few minutes."

When she opened the door to him ten minutes later looking adorable and disheveled, he realized he'd missed her. Not the sex. Her.

"I'm sorry. I acted like an idiot."

She looked up at him with those bottomless blue eyes. "I missed you."

He reached for her, and she dissolved into his embrace. With one arm around her, he walked her into the bedroom, dropped his clothes into a pile on the floor, crawled into bed with her in his arms and fell instantly into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.

Nick stared out the window in Sam's room but could see nothing through the rage. That someone could do this to her…He checked on her, confirmed she was still asleep and stepped out of the room. Scrolling through the numbers on his phone, he found his attorney friend Andy, one of the guys he played basketball with. Andy and his wife recently had a baby, so he hesitated to wake them up. But then he thought of Sam, sobbing at the Lincoln Memorial the night she told him her darkest secret, and made the call.

"I'm sorry to bother you, Andy. It's Nick Cappuano."

"Senator," Andy said, sounding groggy and surprised to hear from him – especially at that hour. "Are you all right? I heard about the accident."

"I'm banged up, but I'll survive. Sam's a little worse off."

"Sounds like it was quite a wreck."

"Yeah, it was. So listen, I've got a problem I could use your help with."

"Sure, Nick, er, Senator. Whatever you need."

"Nick is fine, and it's about Sam." Nick told him about the tabloid. "Tell me there's something we can do. An injunction. Something. If this comes out, it'll kill her."

"Is it true?"

Nick hesitated, hating this more with every passing second. "Yes and no. She had an appointment for the procedure, but miscarried beforehand. It sounds like the source only passed along the first half of the story."

"If it's true, it's harder to claim libel. And since she's a public figure, that further complicates things."

"How can that be? This is her private medical history that someone sold to a tabloid for personal gain. How can that be legal?"

"You can file for an injunction since medical records are private, but I doubt you'd get it in time to stop publication."

Nick released a ragged deep breath. "So because she's with me, because I'm in the Senate now and we've gotten all this attention, she forfeits her basic right to privacy?"

"It's more like it can be taken from her without notice. I can file for an emergency injunction in the morning. The best we can hope for is a sympathetic judge who will move swiftly. Be advised, though, the injunction will make news, too. It'll all but confirm that the story is true – and in this case, partially true is enough to be damaging. She can also sue the asses off the clinic and the tabloid – and she absolutely should – but again, that'll only perpetuate the story."

Nick ran a hand through his hair. "I can't believe this is happening."

"You'll want to get with your staff to figure out how to respond from a political standpoint."

"There's no way I'm dignifying this with a response."

"Your communications people will no doubt advise otherwise."

"This has nothing to do with my job."

"It has everything to do with it, Nick. We're talking about the most divisive issue of our time. The public will be looking for your position on this."

"I love her, I support her right to choose. I support every woman's right to choose."

"Then that's what you say."

"I can't protect her, Andy." The helplessness overwhelmed him. "I hate that I can't protect her from this."

"I haven't met her, but from what I've read about her in the papers, I can't imagine that she'd expect you to protect her."

"That doesn't mean I don't want to," Nick said. "Could I offer the tabloid more money than they paid for the story not to run it?"

"No doubt that would get out, too, adding gas to the story's fire."

Nick sighed. "I'm really sorry I woke you up."

"I'm glad you called. I'm heading to the office now. I'll get that injunction filed first thing and let you know when it's done."

"I really appreciate your help. Send me the bill for your time."

"Don't worry about it. I'll be in touch."

Sam floated somewhere between dreams and nightmares. Victims and perps and hideous crimes cycled through her mind. Scenes from the Sinclair investigation flashed one by one, parts and pieces that refused to add up to a whole. Julian's body in Lincoln Park, his estranged brother and sister-in-law, the beloved nephews, one of them shot, his roommate killed. Preston Sinclair missing. Where had he gone? Why had he gone? What was she overlooking?

She could feel the answer circulating close to the surface. If only she could find the final pieces to the puzzle. If only she could find Preston.

The pulsing pain coming from the cut on her head interrupted the flow, demanding her full attention. Her eyes fluttered open. "Preston."

Nick turned from his post at the window. "What's that, babe?" In obvious pain, he moved slowly to the bedside and lowered himself down.

"It's Preston."

"What is? I don't follow."

"Preston shot Julian and Devon."

Nick curled a lock of her long hair around his finger. "What? Why?"

"To protect Diandra. I can't believe I didn't figure it out sooner."

"But why would he shoot his own brother and son?"

"Think about it. For thirty years, he lives with this domineering woman who has unpopular beliefs that caused him to be estranged from his brother. He had to make a choice – her or Julian. She was his choice. Now here she was, weeks away from her book being published, and Julian was going to steal the limelight from her. Everything about his life was going to come out, and Diandra would be embarrassed. She might even lose her TV gig. What if the publisher got squeamish about taking on a new Supreme Court justice and cancelled her book? She wouldn't have wanted to risk it."

"So he lured his own brother out of a hotel, hog tied him and shot him in Lincoln Park?"

"Julian never went into the hotel." The whole thing clicked into focus with such amazing clarity it was all she could do to keep up. "That's why we couldn't find him leaving on the tape. Graham and Laine said they dropped him off at the hotel, but neither of them could confirm they saw him go in the door. No one in the hotel could recall actually seeing him after he returned from dinner."

"So he snuck off and met Preston somewhere?"

"They'd been in touch. Preston said he hoped to see his brother while he was in town."

"Do you think he intended to kill Julian?"

"Yeah, I do." Sam stared at a spot on the far wall, imagining the crime going down.

"Did Diandra know?"

"She planned the whole thing. She would've been freaking out about the timing, Julian coming to town for contentious hearings just as her book was released. She worried that she'd lose her TV show. How could she continue to spew hate and venom about gays when her Supreme Court justice brother-in-law was one of them? She worked on Preston until he saw no other option but to get rid of his brother. No one would suspect him. They hadn't spoken in years."

"What about the money in the Caymans?"

"She did that as a backup. In case Preston couldn't do it. She probably had someone else lined up."

"How do you explain their son being shot?"

"Austin might've told their father what Devon confessed to us when we interviewed him."

"I don't get why Austin would tell their father that."

"Who knows? Maybe he was rattled from being interviewed by cops. Maybe Preston somehow pressured him into recounting everything they told the cops. Hard to say. However it happened, Preston found out Devon was gay, and all he could see was how it would affect Diandra."

"So she didn't know Preston intended to shoot Devon?"

"She had no idea." Sam recalled Diandra's reaction to the news about her son. "But she knew right away that Preston had done that, too. What she doesn't know is why."

"He's gone mad, and she drove him to it."

"Yes, he pulled the trigger. Both times. He was the one with the gun, but I'll bet we can prove she was an accessory to Julian's murder."

They stared at each other, adrenaline pumping through them.

"I think you've got it," Nick said.

"It took a knock to the head and forty stitches, but yeah, looks like we've got it nailed. Finally. Is Captain Malone still here?"

"He's asleep in the waiting room."

"Would you mind getting him for me?"

"Sure."

While he was gone, Sam closed her eyes in an effort to calm the pounding pain in her head. It had definitely gotten worse overnight. The smallest of movements made her nauseous.

Nick returned with Captain Malone in tow.

"How're you feeling, Sam?" Malone asked.

"As long as I don't move, I'm fine."

"Ouch. Nick tells me you've managed to crack the Sinclair case from your hospital bed." His face lifted into a proud smile. "Only you, Holland."

Sam told him her theory. "Here's what needs to happen. We need to get Austin Sinclair away from his mother. Get him to confirm that he told his father about Devon being involved with his roommate Tucker. I need to know how and when that happened." A blast of pain reminded her of the need to stay still.

"Take it easy, babe," Nick said.

She took a shallow breath, fought back the nausea and continued. "We have to find Preston. He's armed and unhinged. We need to get him before he hurts someone else. If he has any capacity left, he's probably aware of what he's done and feeling desperate about his son. Maybe we can use Devon to somehow lure him in."

"What about the wife?" Malone asked.

"Have Cruz trace the purchase of the rope that was used to tie Julian. I'll bet my life she bought it. She set this whole thing up. She convinced her husband that killing his brother was the only way. The brothers were estranged because of her. She violently disapproved of Julian. He came to town for Supreme Court nomination hearings just as she was due to realize the dream of a lifetime by seeing her book published. No way was she going to let him deny her that. When Preston found out about Devon, he went off on a rogue mission to neutralize that threat, too."

"He shot his own son," Malone said, incredulous. "Preston saw him as a threat to the wife and took action."

"Yes," Sam said. "His lawyer will argue diminished capacity, and it'll probably fly. He'll end up in the psych ward. She's the one I want behind bars. She didn't pull the trigger on Julian, but she made sure her husband did."

"We'll get them both," Malone assured her. "You worry about getting better."

"I hate that I can't go after them myself."

"I'm sure you do, but we've got it covered."

"Keep me posted?"

"You know I will."

After the captain left, Nick could see that Sam's burst of energy had faded and the pain had her full attention.

Clutching her hand, he studied her precious face, aching from what he needed to tell her. If he had his way, she'd never know about the tabloid. But they had a deal about keeping things from each other, so he owed her nothing less than the truth, even if telling her would break his heart – and hers.

"What?" she asked. "What's wrong? Is it Julian? I know it's so hard for you to hear about how he was killed."

"No, babe. It's not Julian. Something happened while you were asleep before, and I wish I didn't have to tell you this."

"Not my dad," she said in a small voice.

With his good arm, Nick hugged her as best he could. "No, honey." Holding her against him, he pressed his lips to her temple and very softly, very gently told her about the tabloid.

As his words registered, she stiffened in his arms. "No," she whispered.

"I'm so sorry, Sam. I'd do anything in my power to protect you from having to deal with this. My lawyer is filing for an emergency injunction this morning, but he doesn't think it'll happen in time to stop the publication."

"My dad," she said, frantically. "I have to tell him before he reads it in the paper." She struggled free of Nick's embrace, and then nearly fainted when her head injury fought back.

He eased her to the pile of pillows. "Sweetheart, you can't go anywhere right now."

"I have to tell him."

"I'll call Celia. She'll bring him here. I'll make sure she brings him in a side door so no one gets to him before you do." He brushed the hair back from her face. "It's going to be okay, Sam. You didn't do anything wrong."

"Everyone will know what I was going to do," she whispered.

"How about we steal their thunder?"

"What do you mean?"

"We could release a statement that tells the story your way, on your terms, rather than waiting for it to explode in the . We could pull the legs out from under them."

"Come right out and admit it? I don't know if I could do that."

"Tell your story, Sam. Tell the same story you told me. We'll issue a joint statement saying this is the only thing either of us will ever have to say on the issue. And then we'll sue the asses off the clinic, the woman who stole your record and the . I'll bet you all can come up with something to charge her with criminally."

She looked up at him. "How do I make a statement?"

Proud of her courage, he said, "Christina and Trevor are on their way over here now. We'll take care of everything."

"You can't be involved with this, Nick. You're running for office. This'll be a nightmare for you."

"Of course I'm involved with it. I told you before I ever accepted this job that you come first and you always will. Political fallout is the very last thing on my mind right now. This is happening to you because of me and my job. You have to let me fix it. I  to fix it, Sam."

Biting her lip, she studied him for a long time. "Okay."

Nick called Celia and asked her to bring Skip over as soon as possible. Returning the phone to his pocket, he reached for Sam's hand and brought it to his lips. "It's going to be okay. I promise."