Fatal Justice (Chapter 34)

"No way, Senator," Christina said. "You can go out there and read this. It's political suicide to attach yourself so vocally to this issue."

"I'm attaching myself to her, not the issue."

Astounded, Christina stared at him. "Are you really that naive?"

Trevor cleared his throat.

"Speak," Nick said.

The communications director glanced at Christina. "I, um, I agree with the senator." Before she could pounce, he said, "The entire region is caught up in their romance. People will respond to him sticking up for her."

"You've lost your minds – both of you," Christina retorted. "He's a  who's going to tell the world that his girlfriend planned to have an abortion before a well-timed miscarriage saved the day. An "

"I'm going to say that fifteen years ago, when she was still a student, my girlfriend planned to have a legal medical procedure to end a pregnancy she was unequipped to handle at that time in her life. I'm going to tell them she miscarried before the procedure was performed and she's regretted the decisions she made at that time ever since. I'll say I love her, I support her and I support the right of all women to choose. Then I will tell them that neither the lieutenant nor I will have another word to say about this. Ever."

"Why can't someone from her family read the statement?" Christina asked. "Why does it have to be you?"

"Because I  her family, and this is happening to her because of me."

"How do you figure?"

Nick rolled his eyes. "Seriously, Christina? You don't see the connection?"

Trevor cleared his throat again. "If he hadn't agreed to finish Senator O'Connor's term, no one would care about Lieutenant Holland's past."

"Thank you, Trevor," Nick said, his eyes fixed on Christina.

"Fine." She handed him the statement. "Have at it. Just don't say I didn't warn you when the party tries to run you out of town on a rail."

"Unfortunately for them, I'm all they've got." Turning to Trevor, he said, "Let the media know I'll be making a brief statement in the hospital lobby at ten."

"Will do, Senator."

"Relax, Christina," Nick said. "It'll be fine."

Her expression rife with trepidation, she said, "Sure it will."

From her bed, Sam heard the whir of her father's chair coming down the hallway. Pushing herself up, she winced when pain bounced off every corner of her skull. She had a whole new respect for concussions.

Celia held the door open for Skip. "Morning, honey," Celia said. "How are you today?"

"Fine as long as I don't blink."

"You need to stay very still, which of course will be a challenge for you," Skip said, his sharp eyes assessing his daughter's condition.

"Did you have any trouble with the media?" Sam asked.

"Nope," Skip said. "We came in through the Emergency Room."

Sam's stomach tightened with the familiar pain, although she had to admit it wasn't as sharp since she gave up soda. Then again, she wasn't quite as sharp, either. "There's something I have to tell you."

"Why don't I wait for you outside, Skip?" Celia said.

"No," Sam said to her future stepmother. "Stay. Please."

"All right." Celia moved to the bedside and rested her hand over Sam's. "Are your injuries worse than they thought?"

Sam tuned into the worry on both their faces and hated that she'd caused it. "No, nothing like that. It's about something that happened years ago, something shameful. The media has caught wind of it."

"Whatever it is, Sam, we love you," Skip said, but she could see the trepidation on his face. "You know that."

Sam cleared the emotion from her throat. "Yes, I do, and that's why I never wanted to disappoint you."

"And you never have. What's wrong, honey?"

"Do you remember the French guy I dated in college? Jean Paul?"

"Vaguely. As I recall, there was no shortage of young men interested in my little girl."

Sam wouldn't have believed it possible to smile just then. Taking a deep breath, she told them about the terrible decision she'd been forced to make, the miscarriage she'd suffered and the consequences she had lived with every day since. "I didn't know what to do, Dad," she said softly. "I felt like I had no choice."

Both Skip and Celia seemed stunned.

Nick stepped into the room, came over to the bed and slipped an arm around Sam. Kissing her temple, he whispered, "You okay?"

She closed her eyes for a moment, absorbing the tender comfort only he could provide. "Yeah."

"Why are you telling us this now?" Skip asked, his expression unreadable.

"Because it's about to hit the news," Nick said.

Celia gasped.

"Someone from the clinic sold the story to one of the rags and told them I went through with it. We have no idea what they'll actually report, but we suspect it won't be the truth."

"But that's illegal!" Celia huffed.

"You have to do something," Skip said, his eyes darting from Sam to Nick and then back to her.

"We're doing what we can," Nick assured him, outlining the plan.

"Still," Sam said softly, "everyone will know." After a long pause, she glanced at her father. "Say something, Dad. Please."

"I'm sorry you didn't come to me when this happened."

"Don't you remember how it was then? Mom had left, Tracy just had Brooke, everyone was upset and stressed. I thought it was my only option. And then I lost the baby. Not a day has gone by that I haven't wondered what might've been."

"I have no doubt."

"This is embarrassing to you. I'm sorry."

"Don't be ridiculous," Skip said tersely. "I couldn't care less what anyone thinks. All that matters is that you're okay."

Nick squeezed Sam's shoulder.

Overwhelmed, Sam said, "It's mortifying to have everyone know about my personal business, but I don't want you to worry, Dad. We'll get through this." On top of her other regrets, she hated that her past was going to cause political grief for Nick.

"I think it'd be best if you leave before the press conference," Nick said to Skip and Celia. "I'd hate for them to get ahold of you."

"We'll take our chances," Skip said.

"I'd rather you go," Sam said softly. "If you stay, I'll be worried about getting you out of here."

"Sam's right," Celia said to Skip. "We can come back tonight."

"Absolutely." Sam sat up slowly. Leaning down, she kissed her father's cheek and hugged Celia. "I'll see you later."

"Sam." When he had her attention, Skip said, "There is nothing, and I mean , you could ever do or have ever done that would disappoint me or make me love you less. . Do you hear me?"

"Yes," Sam said softly. "Thank you for saying that."

To Nick, Skip said, "Go out there and give'em hell, Senator."

"I will. Don't worry."

After Skip and Celia left, a nurse came in. "That very cute partner of yours called to check on you," she said as she scanned Sam's monitors. "He said he didn't want to wake you up by calling, and he'll be here shortly."

"Good," Sam said, drained by the conversation with her father. Her head pounded, and her mouth was dry as the desert.

"Is he single?" the nurse asked with nonchalance. "Your partner?"

"He's seeing someone."

"Oh well. My loss. He's ." Under her breath, she added, "So is your guy." She glanced at Nick who stared out the window at the gray, frigid day. "Yum."

Sam smiled but her heart ached at the thought of what he was about to do for her.

An hour later, Sam watched on television as Nick stood before the press to read the statement she had approved. Off to the side, Christina and Trevor watched anxiously. "I have a brief statement, and then neither I nor Lieutenant Holland will have anything further to say on this subject."

The gathered reporters all but salivated with anticipation.

Sam muted the TV. She couldn't bear to listen. Fixating on Nick's handsome, serious face, she noted how pale and drawn he appeared. He'd suffered serious injuries of his own the day before, and yet taking care of her was his top priority. Despite the firestorm his announcement would set off in both their lives, she wasn't as freaked out as she would've been without him by her side.

Anxious to think about anything other than what Nick was saying to the press and the pounding in her skull, Sam wondered if they'd found Preston yet. Where in the hell would he go? A man like him, used to the creature comforts, wouldn't last long on the streets. Had he checked into a hotel? Had anyone thought to look into that?

"I need to get back on that case." She pushed herself up as slowly as she could and then took a moment to contend with the accompanying swell of nausea.

Freddie tapped on the door and came in. "Morning, boss. How're you doing? What are you doing?"

"I gotta get out of here, Cruz."

"No way, Lieutenant." He stepped over to the bed and rested his hands on her shoulders, clearly intending to resettle her in the bed. "You're supposed to be still."

Gritting her teeth, she snarled at him. "Remove your fucking hands and get that bag of clothes over there." She pointed to the bag Celia had brought. "Hurry up. Before Nick gets back."

Startled by her tone, Freddie jumped back, jostling her in the process.

"The , Cruz." It was all she could do to get the words out. "Now."

"If you ask me to dress you, I'll quit the force."

"Dream on. Go out to the nurse's station and sign for my personal effects. Tell them I'm twitchy without my gun since a bunch of gang punks put me here. What if they show up to finish the deal?"

"They aren't going to give me your stuff."

Sam closed her eyes, seeking mercy from the pain. "Ask for Holly," she rasped. "For some unknown reason, she thinks you're adorable. Charm her, but make it snappy." She glanced at the TV and saw Nick stepping away from the podium. "We're running out of time."

With a wary glance at her, Freddie put the bag of clothes on the bed and left the room.

Swallowing the sickening waves of nausea, she got dressed in a sweat suit and sneakers. Thankfully, Celia had also brought a warm parka.

Freddie returned a few minutes later with a satisfied smirk on his face. A plastic bag containing her gun, badge, cuffs and wallet landed on the bed next to her.

Sam jammed the gun into the back of her sweats, put the other items in her coat pockets and stood up. Just as quickly, she sat back down when her head exploded in protest.

"Sam – "

"Shut up," she growled. With one hand on the bed, she pushed herself back up and took a second to contend with the now-predictable burst of pain. Reaching up, she snatched the knitted skullcap off his head and dragged it over her injured dome, tucking her long hair inside. "Let's go."

"That's okay, I wasn't using that."

"I need it more than you do."

"Nick's gonna kill me for this," Freddie muttered.

"No, he's gonna kill . So let's make it worth it."

Moving down the hallway, dodging nurses, Sam discovered her body hurt everywhere. The diagonal seatbelt bruise, stretching from shoulder to hip, protested every movement. Apparently, she'd also managed to hurt her knee, but no one had noticed that thanks to the head injury.

At the elevator bank, she pressed the up arrow.

"Where're we going?" Freddie asked, puzzled.

"To see Diandra. Did you get anything on the rope that was used to bind Julian?"

"Diandra purchased a spool of rope from the Home Depot in Gaithersburg two weeks before Julian was murdered. Gonzo is getting a warrant to search the house for the rest of it."

Sam wished she had the strength to dance a jig. "Excellent! I knew it. What else have you heard today?"

"Gonzo talked to Austin. Devon is still critical. Could go either way. Austin confirmed that he told his father about your conversation with Devon."

"Bingo. I knew it. Preston heard Devon was gay, and lost it. We  to find him. He's the key to this whole thing."

They rode the elevator to the ICU where Sam flashed her badge and asked for Diandra. "It's critical we speak to her," she told the nurse on duty. They were granted entry to Devon's room where Diandra sat hunched over her son's bed.

"Mrs. Sinclair," Sam said from the doorway.

The face that looked up was barely recognizable as the stylish, put-together woman who made her career as a TV commentator. When Sam first met her, Diandra believed she had the situation fully under control. Her husband had done her bidding and taken out his inconveniently nominated brother. Everything was right in her world. Until the moment Preston went too far and shot their son. That, most definitely, had not been part of Diandra's plan.

"What do you want?" Diandra asked, her voice and posture defeated.

"How is he?"

"How does he look?"

"Not too good. May I speak to you outside for a moment?"

"I don't want to leave him."

"It'll only take a minute."

Diandra bent to press a kiss to Devon's forehead. In the hallway, she crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall, exhaustion all but rippling from her.

Aware of the nurses clustered around the monitoring station a few feet away, Sam kept her voice low. "Where's Austin?"

"He went home to change."

"What about Preston?"

"I have no idea." Clearly her concern from yesterday had morphed into anger overnight.

"Where would he go?"

Diandra shook her head. "I wish I knew. He doesn't even know about Devon."

So, Sam thought, still in denial, are you, Diandra? Still not sure your husband could really shoot his own son? Still not aware of just how much power you exert over Preston or how far he'd go to ensure your happiness? Being on top – or thinking you're on top – made the fall that much harder and longer. This woman had a huge fall coming her way, even if Devon survived.

"We'd like to speak to him." Sam nudged Freddie. "Give her your card. Call Detective Cruz if you hear from him. Do you understand?"

"What does Preston have to do with anything?"

"I don't know yet. That's why I want to talk to him."

"What's wrong with you?" Diandra asked, zeroing in on Sam's face. "You're trembling and ghostly pale."

"She was in a car accident last night," Freddie said.

"And you're working on Devon's case?"

"I'm working on both cases – Devon's  Julian's."

Diandra appeared startled to hear that. "What does one have to do with the other?"

Sam took a moment, sized up the other woman, measuring her every movement. "I don't know yet." Despite what the motion cost her aching head, she leaned in closer. "But I'm going to find out, Diandra. You can bet your ass I'm going to find out. Detective Cruz? Let's go."

Emerging through the ICU double doors, Sam gripped Freddie's jacket to keep from falling down. Her legs had the consistency of cooked spaghetti. "Get on the horn with the lab," she whispered. "Tell them they have one hour to get me the report on the weapon used on Devon. I already know it was the same gun that did Julian. I just need confirmation. One hour."

"Lieutenant, maybe you should sit for a minute."

"Not'til we're out of this place. Get me out of here without going anywhere near the lobby."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Yeah."

"Why didn't you nail her just now? You've all but got her on accessory to murder."

"Because we still need to sew up a couple of loose ends, and then I'm going to let Preston nail her. It's the least of what he owes her. All we have to do is find him." She staggered, and Freddie tightened his hold on her. "Make the call."

Freddie gripped her arm while dialing the cell phone with his free hand.