Home > Fatal Reckoning (Fatal #14)

Fatal Reckoning (Fatal #14)
Author: Marie Force

CHAPTER ONE

AS SHE HAD every morning for seven days, Sam reached across the bed, looking for Nick, finding his side of the bed cold and unoccupied. He would be home from his trip to Europe later that day. Thank God. In his absence, she’d been forced to make do with rushed FaceTime conversations on their son Scotty’s phone, texts and the press coverage of the trip that had included an audience with Queen Elizabeth. Sam had been sorry to miss the chance to meet a woman she idolized, but she’d remained at home to care for their son, Scotty, as well as Alden and Aubrey, the five-year-old twins who’d recently become part of their family after their parents were murdered. At this early hour, Scotty and the twins were still sleeping, but the younger kids would be up soon.

She’d put the time away from work to good use, getting “the littles,” as Nick had nicknamed the twins, back on a schedule that included a return to their kindergarten class. Dr. Trulo, the Metro Police Department psychiatrist, had helped her find a qualified therapist who would work with the children together and individually to help them cope with their terrible loss. And she’d fielded phone calls from their mother’s family members, who were suddenly concerned about the children’s well-being now that the men responsible for their parents’ murders had been brought to justice.

Sam couldn’t stand hypocrites and had gritted her teeth each time a member of a family that had initially expressed no concern whatsoever for the children called to check on them. Fortunately, the twins’ parents had made their older brother, Elijah, their legal guardian, and he’d asked Sam and Nick to serve as the children’s custodial guardians while he finished college at Princeton. What would happen after he graduated, Sam didn’t know and couldn’t think about. Not now when the children needed everything she and Nick and their devoted assistant, Shelby, had to give them to get their lives back on track, or as close to it as they could get without their beloved parents.

One step at a time, she told herself, just as she often did while working a homicide investigation. The activity with the littles had been good for her as she served a seven-day suspension for taking in the children of her murder victims, something she’d do again in a hot second. Was it a conflict of interest? Absolutely, but she hadn’t thought about that when she saw two babies in need of something she could give them. It had only taken a few days after she brought them home for everyone associated with their household to fall in love with the twins.

She moved from her pillow to Nick’s, which bore faint remnants of his distinctive cologne, the scent of home. If her time-zone calculations were correct, he would be on Air Force Two by now, about to begin the seven-hour flight home from France. Her phone rang, and she wondered if it was him, telling her he’d be home soon. Greedy for anything from him that she could get after a week apart, she grabbed the phone and flipped it open without checking the caller ID.

“Sam!” The urgency she heard in her stepmother’s voice had Sam sitting up in bed.

“Morning. What’s going—”

“Sam, it’s your dad. Something’s wrong.”

“I’m coming.” Sam was out of bed and running before she gave a thought to the fact that she was wearing pajama bottoms, Nick’s favorite ratty Harvard T-shirt and no bra. She bolted from the bedroom, past the shocked Secret Service agent in the hallway and down the stairs as she held the phone to her ear and tried to beat back a tidal wave of panic. The agent working the front door opened it for her, thankfully without asking any questions. As she didn’t have Secret Service protection, Sam could come and go as she pleased, and the agents had gotten used to her mad dashes.

Barefoot and oblivious to the cold October air, she sprinted down the ramp Nick had installed so her dad could visit their home and covered the short distance between her home and her father’s in seconds, cruising up the ramp to his front door and bursting into the house.

“Back here.”

Following Celia’s voice, Sam went from the living room through the kitchen to her father’s bedroom in what used to be the dining room. With one quick glance, she noticed his color was all wrong, and his lips were blue. In that moment, none of her training or years of emergency experience was available to her. In that moment, she wasn’t a decorated police officer. She was only a daughter staring at the lifeless face of the first man she’d ever loved.

“Sam! What should we do?”

Celia’s frantic tone and her fearful expression nudged Sam into action. With shaking hands, she called 911 and requested help.

The operator asked for specifics.

“Sixty-four-year-old unresponsive quadriplegic.” She recited the Ninth Street address. “Tell the Secret Service that Lieutenant Holland said to let them in.”

“Of course, Lieutenant.” The operator perked up when she realized who she was talking to. “Do you know the victim?”

“Yes.” Sam tried to swallow around the huge knot of fear wedged in her throat. “He’s my father.” My touchstone. My hero. My best friend forever. “Please hurry.”

“EMS is on the way. Has your father had any recent health issues?”

“Nothing other than the paralysis.” He’d been doing better in the last year after surgery to remove the bullet that had remained lodged in his neck for three years. He’d regained some sensation in his extremities, but he seemed to become frailer with every month spent immobile. Sam walked around the hospital bed to comfort Celia, who was stroking Skip’s face and hair and begging him to open his eyes, to talk to her.

“Please don’t do this,” Celia pleaded with her husband between sobs. “Not yet. Don’t leave me.”

Debra Nixon, the lead agent on Scotty’s detail, appeared in the doorway, probably after having been told of Sam’s sprint. “What can I do?” She assessed the situation with sharp eyes.

Sam held the phone to the side. “Tell the agents at the checkpoint to let in EMS.”

“Done. What else?”

“Ask the agents at the house to keep an eye on the kids? Don’t let Scotty come over here.” Dear God, Scotty... He adored his gramps. All at once, Sam couldn’t breathe as the potential magnitude of what was happening registered, leaving her staggered, her legs nearly buckling under her. Somehow she remained standing, but only because Celia needed her to keep it together. Inside, she crumbled.

“EMS has arrived,” the operator said. “I’ll pray for your family, Lieutenant.”

“Thank you.” Sam slapped the phone closed.

Debra went to let in the paramedics, who brought equipment and badly needed competence. They immediately took over, tending to Skip as Sam and Celia stood with their arms wrapped around each other. Watching one of her worst fears play out, Sam wondered if she might be dreaming this. It had to be a dream because the possibility that this could be real was too frightening and heartbreaking to entertain.

The lead paramedic looked to Sam and Celia. “Has he had any recent health issues?”

“Nothing other than the paralysis and a persistent urinary tract infection.” Celia dabbed at her tears with a tissue. “He’s been on antibiotics for that.”

“Has he ever been unresponsive like this?”

“No.” Celia shook her head. “Never.”

Sam knew she should call her sisters but couldn’t bring herself to move or do anything other than hope and pray.

The paramedic listening to her father’s heart shook his head, and the other one sprang into action, setting up a portable defibrillator. Seeing the paddles and understanding what they were doing snapped Sam out of the dreamlike trance she’d slipped into as the surreal scene unfolded around her.

“No.” Sam said the word before the thought had fully registered. “No.”

“Sam! What’re you doing?”

Sam stared at the face of the man who meant the world to her. “It’s not what he would want.” She knew it without a shadow of a doubt. In some ways, the most difficult decision she’d ever made was also the simplest.

“Please, Sam.” Celia sobbed helplessly. “Please.”

Sam met the intense gaze of the lead paramedic. “He has a DNR.”

Hearing that, the paramedics stepped back.

Sobbing, Celia pulled free of Sam’s embrace to lean over her husband, kissing and caressing the half of his face that had retained full sensation after the shooting and the stroke that’d followed. Long after his injury, Sam and her sisters learned that, for quite some time before the shooting, he’d been dating Celia, who became his devoted nurse and, later, his wife.

The lead paramedic cleared his throat. “Lieutenant, would you like us to transport him?”

A lifetime of holidays, celebrations, parties and other events in this house ran through her mind in a flash. Skip Holland had lived there for most of his adult life. It seemed only fitting that his life should also end in the home he’d loved. If he was in pain, he probably couldn’t feel it. She took comfort in that.

“No, thank you.” Sam’s heart hurt, her hands trembled and her mouth had gone dry from fear. How would she ever go on without him?

The paramedics stepped out of the room.

Sam wanted to beg them to stay. She couldn’t handle this. She couldn’t bear it. Tracy. Angela. She had to call them. Her hands were shaking so badly she could barely make the call to her eldest sister.

“Are you losing your mind without your man?” Tracy’s teasing tone barely registered with Sam.

“Trace.”

“What? Sam? What’s wrong?”

“It’s Dad. You need to come. Tell Ang too. Hurry.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“He’s... Just come. As fast as you can.”

“Sam.”

“Call Angela and get over here. Now.”

“We’re coming.”

Sam moved around to the other side of the bed and gazed down at her dad’s face. Tears threatened, but she fought them off, determined to stay strong for Celia, who was hysterical.

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