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June 24-26, 2016: Third Annual Reader Weekend in Rhode Island

Fatal Deception Excerpt



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Chapter 1

“Can there really be this many kinds of mac ’n cheese?” Lt. Sam Holland asked U.S. Senator Nick Cappuano.

Sam’s normally unflappable husband looked somewhat flapped as he contemplated the wide array of choices. “How do we know which one to get?”

There were spirals and shapes and something called “Easy,” but Sam was certain it would be easy for everyone but her. “Maybe we should wait until Scotty gets here and let him pick out his favorite kind.”

“I want him to have what he likes in the house. How hard can it be?”

Sam scanned the shelves once again and decided it could be quite hard. “You don’t suppose there’s this many choices for chicken nuggets too, do you?”

The question seemed to suck the life out of Nick.

Sam pushed the grocery cart aside and reached for him.

Surprised by her rare public display of affection, Nick returned the embrace. “How am I going to convince him to come live with us permanently if I can’t even handle mac ’n cheese for a three-week visit?”

“He’s not going to care about the food, Nick. He cares about being with you.”

“And you.”

Sam took in the busy grocery store, overwhelmed by the task. Hunting down murderers was simple compared to this. “What’re we even doing here?”

Chuckling, Nick kissed her cheek and stepped back from her. “We’re doing what regular people do when they have a guest coming to stay with them.”

“So we’re regular people now, huh?”

“For a few more minutes anyway.” Nick took the box that proclaimed to be easy off the shelf and put it in the carriage. “Let’s hope for the best.”

“If he doesn’t like it, I’ll tell him it was your call.”

“That’s good of you, babe,” he said as he steered the cart toward the chicken nugget aisle. “So I’ve been thinking.”

Sam was busy enjoying the view of his denim-clad ass as she followed him through the store. He had rich brown hair that curled at the ends, hazel eyes and a mouth that was made for sin. And he regularly made sinfully good use of it. “About?”

“We need some help.”

“With what?”

“Let me rephrase—we need someone to run our lives, especially with Scotty coming to stay with us. What if we get caught at work or something comes up that we can’t get out of?”

Sam thought about that. “He could go to my dad’s.”

“True, but your dad and Celia have lives too. If Scotty lives with us, he’s our responsibility.”

“What do you think we need?”

“Someone to keep tabs on him when we’re not home. To drive him to practice if we can’t do it. To make sure the house isn’t a wreck, the dry cleaning gets picked up, the bills get paid, there’s dinner at night and some sort of schedule.”

Sam rolled her shoulders, already chafing at the thought of paying someone to boss her around. “I don’t know about this…”

“Someone to buy the mac ’n cheese and chicken nuggets,” he added with the charming smile that made her knees go weak. “You’d never have to step foot in a grocery store again.”

“That’s playing dirty, Senator.”

“We need someone like Shelby.” The tiny dynamo had put together their fairy-tale wedding in six short weeks. “Someone who can hold her own with you,” he added, ducking as she took a playful swing at him.

“Why does it have to be a her? I’m picturing a studly dude named Sven with muscles on top of his muscles.”

Over his shoulder, Nick rolled his eyes at her. “It doesn’t have to be a her. It has to be someone who can put up with you.”

Even though he was absolutely right about that, she’d never tell him so. “You’re skating on thin ice, my friend.” She followed him up one freezer aisle and down another until he stopped the cart in front of a mind-boggling selection of chicken nuggets. “I wonder if Shelby would be up for a career change.”

Laughing, Nick put his arm around Sam. “We could certainly ask her.”

“She won’t want to do it. She has a booming business.”

“You never know. It’s certainly worth asking. Maybe she knows someone who’d be interested.”

“We’re really doing this?”

“Let’s ask around and see what transpires.”

“You’re sure this she of yours will know what chicken to buy?”

Nick opened the freezer door and withdrew a bag of breast tenders, studied them and put them back. “She can’t screw it up any worse than we are.”

“That’s for sure.” Sam’s cell phone rang. “Saved by the bell.”

He frowned at her. Their rare day off together had taken a tremendous amount of schedule juggling to pull off, and she hoped this call wouldn’t ruin their plans. They’d even declined the standing invite to Sunday dinner at the Leesburg, Virginia, home of his adopted parents, retired Senator Graham O’Connor and his wife, Laine.

Sam flipped open the phone. “Holland.”


While Sam took the call, Nick studied the chicken tender options. He’d been nervous about Scotty’s pending arrival for days now. The three-week visit was actually a trial run for all of them. The boy Nick had met at a campaign stop at a Virginia home for children in Richmond had become their close friend. When Nick asked him to come live with them permanently, Scotty’s hesitation had surprised him. With hindsight, Nick could understand the twelve-year-old boy’s reluctance to leave the place that had become home to him.

He’d been elated when Scotty mentioned a baseball camp in the District and suggested he might stay with them while he attended. Nick wanted everything to be perfect for all of them, thus the knot of fear he’d been carrying around. Nothing about their life was ever perfect. Most of the time it was a bloody circus—literally—with Sam hunting down murderers while he campaigned for reelection.

They were lucky to get ten uninterrupted minutes together on a regular day. What business did they have bringing a child into that madness? But what choice did they have? He’d become essential to them, and now Nick could only hope they’d become essential to him too.

“What’s the matter?” Sam asked.

Nick dragged his eyes from the chicken nuggets and turned to her. “Was that work?”

She shook her head. “Tracy had another huge fight with Brooke.” Sam’s sister had been locked in World War III with her teenage daughter for months now. “It keeps getting worse.”

“That’s tough.”

“Trace is a mess.” She reached up to caress his face. “What has you looking so troubled?”

“I was thinking about Scotty.”

“What about him?”

“What if this visit is a disaster? What if we blow our only chance with him?”

Sam stepped closer, placed her hands on his shoulders and looked up at him with potent blue eyes. “It won’t be a disaster. It’ll be reality. He needs to see what our life is really like—the good, the bad, the ugly. There’s no sense sugar-coating it. If he comes to live with us, he needs to know what he’d be getting. He needs to know who he’d be getting.”

Amused and touched by her efforts to bolster his spirits, he said, “And who would he be getting?”

“Two people who’d love him and care for him and support him—always.”

“You’re right. Of course you’re right.”

“I usually am,” she said with a cocky grin that made him laugh.

“I refuse to dignify that with a response for fear of hearing about it for the rest of my life.” Reaching into the freezer, he grabbed a bag of breast tenders and tossed it into the carriage. “Let’s hope we got something he’ll eat. If all else fails, there’s always his favorite—spaghetti.”

“Even we can’t screw that up.”

“Don’t jinx us.”

She took his hand and linked their fingers. “It’ll be great. I promise.”

Since his gorgeous wife was, in fact, often right, Nick chose to believe her. For the first time in days, the knot in his stomach loosened a bit. Maybe, just maybe, it would all be fine.

After they stashed the groceries at home, Nick went looking for Sam and found her in the study in front of the computer. “Um, excuse me. Day off. Remember?”

“I need to check in, and then I’m all yours.”

He wrapped his arms around her from behind and stopped short when he saw that she’d rearranged his desk—again. “Really, Samantha? Every time?”

The kisses he placed in the most ticklish areas on her neck made her laugh even harder.

 He reached around her and pushed the power button on the monitor. “You’re done.” With more kisses to sweeten her up, he said, “What do you think about a trip to Georgetown? I bet our workaholic buddy Shelby is at her shop today. We can stop in and say hello. If she isn’t there, we can grab some lunch and do some window shopping.”

She curled an arm around his neck and brought him down for a real kiss. “Am I only allowed to window shop?”

“Whatever you want, my love.”

“Ohhh, I like the sound of that.”

“Then let’s go.”

They grabbed a cab to the swanky neighborhood where Shelby kept a storefront bridal boutique. “Damn it,” Sam said when she saw the closed sign outside the main door. “It was too much to hope that she’d be open today.”

“Look.” Nick pointed to a pink Mini Cooper parked across the street. “Who else could that belong to?”


“Call her. Maybe she’ll see us.”

Sam pulled out her phone and placed the call.

“Did you already blow it with the sexy senator?” Shelby asked when she answered.

“Ha-ha, no, I didn’t already blow it with him,” Sam said with a smile for Nick. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, though. We’re outside your store. Got time for a quick visit?”

“For you? Always!”

Sam slapped the phone closed. “She’s coming.”

A minute later, Shelby appeared at the door to let them in. The tiny blonde, dressed in a pink silk jogging suit, greeted them with hugs and squeals of delight, though her face was puffy and red. “You guys look fabulous! Married life is clearly agreeing with you. Are you here about the replacement dress? Vera promised it by the end of the month. I still can’t believe someone actually slashed a Vera Wang original!”

“What’s wrong, Shelby?” Sam asked. “Have you been crying?”

“Oh no, no. Allergies.” She led them back to her office. “They’re a bitch this time of year.”

Behind Shelby’s back, Sam grimaced at Nick, letting him know she didn’t believe Shelby’s explanation.

When they were seated in pink leather easy chairs and holding glasses of pink lemonade, Shelby clapped her hands and let out another giddy squeal. “It’s so good to see you! I’m thrilled you came by. The dress should be in any time. Unfortunately, we caught Vera in the height of the spring wedding season.”

“Actually, we’re not here about the dress, even though we appreciate your help in replacing it,” Nick said, glancing at Sam. “We have a bit of an ulterior motive.”

“What’s that?” Shelby asked.

“We’re hoping you might know someone who’d be interested in a job.”

“What kind of job?”

“Basically, we need someone to run our lives.” He explained about Scotty coming to stay with them, how they were hoping to adopt him and how they needed someone to see to the day-to-day details. “Do you know anyone who might fit the bill?”

By the time he finished speaking, Shelby had tears running down her face.

Alarmed, Sam looked at him and then at her. “Shelby, what is it?”

“I’m so sorry.” Shelby tried frantically to deal with the tears. “I’m a mess lately. It’s the hormones. They’re making me into a wreck. And the business. I’m trying to figure out what to do, and then here you come and you’re looking for—”

“We’re looking for you,” Sam said, “or someone exactly like you who is ruthlessly organized.”

“And can handle her,” Nick said, pointing a thumb at Sam.

As Sam scowled at her husband, Shelby laughed through her tears. “I should explain. I’ve been trying to have a baby. I know it might seem crazy, but I’m forty-two, and I’m tired of waiting for Mr. Right to show up. I really want a baby, you know?”

Nick reached for Sam’s hand and squeezed. “Yes, we know.” Thinking of the baby they’d lost in February was like reopening a still-raw wound.

“I see happy couples through the most wonderful day of their lives, wishing all the time that one of those happy days might be mine. Before you dropped by, I was sitting here by myself, mired in paperwork, weeping all over the place as I wondered how much longer I can do this. I was going to have to either give up on the baby dream or give up the business, because I can’t continue to work with happy people while I’m crying my eyes out all the time.”

Sam sat up a little straighter. “Does that mean you might—”

“It would be an honor and a privilege to work with you both—and to help take care of your Scotty, who is absolutely adorable.”

“Really?” Nick said. “What about your business?”

Shelby shrugged as if it were no big deal to step away from a successful business. “I have people who could run it for me. I’d keep half an eye on it from a distance.”

“Are you sure about this?” Sam asked.

“Your visit here today was the sign I’ve been waiting for. I need a change, and working with you again would be wonderful. As long as you won’t be put out by some occasional tears.”

“Not at all,” Nick said.

Sam nodded in agreement. “How soon could you start?”

“How about a week from Monday?”

“Wow, that’d be great,” Nick said. “That’s the day after Scotty gets here.”

“I’ll have to deal with the weekend weddings I’ve already committed to for a few months. I hope that’s okay.”

“Of course,” Sam said, still not fully sold on this plan of Nick’s, which had fallen into place rather easily. She also wasn’t sure how she felt about being around another fertility-challenged woman when she’d had her own difficulties in that area. “One thing I should mention is the uniform.”

Nick looked at Sam. “What uniform? We never talked about that.”

Forcing a blank look, Sam said, “Absolutely no pink allowed. I’m afraid this is a deal breaker for me.”

Nick and Shelby laughed, as Sam expected them to.

“I can’t believe this has happened,” Shelby said with another squeal. “It’s like an answer to a prayer.”

“For us too,” Nick said as Sam’s phone rang.

“Crap,” she said with a regretful look for him. “It’s dispatch.”

“There goes our day off,” Nick said to Shelby. While Sam was occupied, he talked salary with Shelby.

In a state of shock, Sam listened to the rote recitation of details from dispatch.

Nick glanced up at her. “What is it, babe?”

Her voice was little more than a whisper when she said, “Victoria Kavanaugh has been murdered.”


Chapter 2

“Do you know what happened?” Nick asked as they raced to their Capitol Hill home in a cab, so they could pick up a car.

Sam knew he was thinking of his close friend, White House deputy chief of staff Derek Kavanaugh, and Derek’s gorgeous, vivacious wife.

“Derek came home after weekend meetings at Camp David and found her on the kitchen floor. Hang on a sec.” She held up a finger. “Cruz, we’ve got a homicide.” Sam rattled off the particulars to her partner. “See you there.”

“What about Maeve?” Nick asked of the Kavanaugh’s baby daughter.

“She wasn’t in the house.”

“So she’s…”

“We don’t know. Victoria could’ve left her with someone or—”

“Technically she’s missing then.”

“At the moment.”

“Jesus,” Nick whispered. “Poor Derek.”

Sam stared out the window as the city flashed by in a blur of buildings and people. A thick haze of humidity hung over the District. The locals called this time of year the “dog days of summer.”

When the cab pulled up in front of their house, Nick tossed a bill at the driver. They rushed to his car, which was closer than hers.

“It took months for him to get up the nerve to ask her out,” Nick said as he drove the two blocks to the Kavanaugh’s home.

Sam reached for Nick’s hand and held it between both of hers. “I’m so sorry. She was lovely. I can’t imagine what he must be going through.”

He glanced over at her. “You won’t look at him for this, will you?”

“I’ll have to question him, but if he was with the president when she was killed, I’d say he’s got a pretty solid alibi.”

“And Maeve?”

“Finding her will be our top priority.”

“Is it okay if I call Harry?” he asked of his and Derek’s mutual friend. “Derek would want him there.”

“Sure. I don’t see any problem with that.”

When they alighted from the car, a patrol officer met them on the sidewalk.

“What’ve we got?” Sam asked.

“Lieutenant.” The young officer nodded to Nick. “Mr. Kavanaugh returned home after two days at Camp David to find his wife dead on the kitchen floor. Their thirteen-month-old daughter was missing from the home. He’s been calling the child’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends to see if anyone has her.” The officer gestured to Derek, who was on the phone, pacing back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the house he’d shared with Victoria and their daughter.

“Thank you.” She pointed to Nick. “The senator is with me.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

They went over to Derek, who visibly crumbled when he saw them coming toward him. He quickly ended his call.

“Someone killed Vic,” he said, incredulous.

“I’m so sorry.” Nick embraced his friend and held him as he sobbed helplessly.

Never comfortable with grief, Sam hung back and let her husband do what he did best while she itched to get inside and get to work. Nick held on to Derek for a long time, speaking softly, assuring him they’d do anything they could for him and Maeve.

“I can’t find Maeve,” Derek said between sobs. “No one has her. Vic said they were having a girls’ weekend while I was working… If only I’d been here. Who could’ve done this?”

“We don’t know yet, Derek,” Sam said. “But I promise you we’ll find out, and we’ll find Maeve.” She assured him despite the sinking feeling in her belly. The child could be anywhere by now. She pushed that depressing thought to the side and forced herself to focus. “I need your help.”

“Whatever I can do,” he said, wiping tears from his face.

“I have to go inside for a few minutes, and then we’ll go downtown to talk.”

“I’m not a suspect, am I? I never could’ve harmed her. She was my life.”

“I was told you have a solid alibi.”

Derek nodded. “I was with the president, the senior staff and the campaign leadership all weekend.”

“Good.” She glanced at Nick. “Stay here until I get back, okay?”

Her husband nodded, knowing she expected him to console Derek the best way he could while she viewed the crime scene.

The patrolman held up the yellow tape for her, and she ducked under it. Inside she went to the kitchen in the back of the house where the District’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lindsey McNamara examined the body. Victoria’s long, dark hair was fanned out on the floor. Bruises covered her face, and her lips were blue. She wore black yoga pants and a yellow T-shirt.

Sam grimaced at the sight of a woman she’d met many times in the months since she’d been with Nick.

Lindsey looked up, her green eyes brimming with compassion. “Beaten to a pulp and manually strangled,” Lindsey said, gesturing to the bruises on Victoria’s neck.

The kitchen bore signs of a struggle, with chairs toppled and broken dishes on the floor.

“Any indication of sexual assault?” Sam asked.

“Not that I can tell from visual inspection. I’ll know more when I get her back to the lab. She put up a fight.” Lindsey held up Victoria’s right hand to show Sam the bruises on her knuckles. “I’m glad she got a few hits in.”

“For all the good it did.”

“Looks to be some skin under her nails too,” Lindsey added.

Sam called for crime scene detectives and then took a walk through the well-appointed house that was full of photos of the blonde baby girl who was the center of her parents’ lives. Mixed in with the family photos were pictures of Derek with his boss, the president of the United States, and other political luminaries as well as his parents and what looked to be his siblings along with their families.

His framed degrees from Yale University and Yale Law School hung in the study along with a certificate from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and Victoria Taft’s degree from Bryn Mawr. Sam pulled the notebook from her back pocket and made a note of Victoria’s maiden name as well as the year of her graduation from college. On the shelves in the study were sports trophies that Sam took a moment to study. All of them were Derek’s. Soccer and lacrosse had been his games at St. George’s School in Rhode Island.

Sam thought it odd that she didn’t find photos of Victoria with anyone other than her husband and daughter. In the master bedroom, which was done in shades of blue with white accents, she picked up a silver-framed photo of Derek, Victoria and Maeve and studied the woman who’d been killed, noting her serene smile and the happiness that sparkled in her brown eyes.

She thought about what she knew of Victoria, overall impressions, pieces of conversations from the last eight months. Sam, who’d always fancied herself a bit of a fashionista, had felt like an amateur next to Victoria, who did stylishly sexy with that effortless grace some women seemed born with.

Sam might’ve envied Victoria for that effortless grace if she hadn’t been so warm and genuine and funny. Every time she’d been with Victoria, Sam had found her to be a happy, peaceful person who was clearly in love with her shy but accomplished husband and thrilled with her sweet baby girl.

A deep, penetrating sadness settled into Sam’s bones when it dawned on her that Victoria might’ve made for a good friend if Sam had taken the time to get to know her better.

“We’ll find your little girl, Victoria,” Sam whispered, as the sound of a throat clearing caught her attention. She returned the photo to the bedside table and turned to face her partner, Detective Freddie Cruz. His dark hair was mussed, and he looked sleepy-eyed and rumpled. Ever since he moved in with his girlfriend Elin a few months ago, he always looked like he’d just rolled out of bed—and he usually had.

“What’ve we got?” he asked, taking in the spacious bedroom.

Sam walked him through what she knew so far. “Crime scene is on the way,” she said. The detectives would go through every square inch of the home looking for evidence.

“She was a friend of yours, wasn’t she?”

Sam looked down at the photo. “We socialized occasionally. Her husband and Nick are good friends, but I didn’t know her all that well. She always had the baby with her, so it wasn’t easy to chat about anything other than Maeve.” Sam didn’t add that she’d been jealous of Victoria because she had the baby Sam had been denied.

“I need to get Mr. Kavanaugh to HQ and get to work. Can you take care of the canvass and wait for crime scene?”

“I’m on it.”

“Thanks.” Sam went downstairs as Lindsey was overseeing the removal of Victoria’s body from the house.

Derek’s keening wail at seeing the body bag broke Sam’s heart. She simply couldn’t imagine what he must be feeling—and didn’t want to. The thought of losing her wonderful husband so violently didn’t bear considering.

Her wonderful husband was, at the moment, holding his friend up as he cried his heart out.

Across the street, photographers from the city’s newspapers took photos of the two men.

“Get rid of them,” Sam snapped at Freddie. “Heartless bastards.”

Darren Tabor from the Washington Star crossed the street. “What’ve you got, Lieutenant?”

“Why do you vultures have to take pictures of a husband’s unimaginable grief?”

“Because he’s deputy chief of staff to the president, and he’s being comforted by one of the nation’s most popular senators.” Darren shrugged. “That photo will sell a lot of papers tomorrow.”

“It’s sick.”

“Maybe so.”

Thinking of the promise she’d made to Victoria, Sam forced herself to make eye contact with the earnest young man who’d once done her a huge personal favor—one she was not likely to ever forget. “Put the word out that Kavanaugh’s daughter, thirteen-month-old Maeve, is missing and presumed kidnapped from the scene.”

“Holy Christ.”

“Do it, Darren. The sooner we have everyone looking for her, the faster we’ll find her. Cruz, go back inside and get a photo of the kid. Hurry up.”

“On it.”

“Get it out on the wires as fast as you can,” Sam said to Darren, who looked a little paler than he had initially.

“I will. If you have anything else you can tell me, you know where to find me.”

Sam left him with a quick nod and went back to Derek and Nick. Their friend, Dr. Harry Flynn, had joined them and was hugging Derek.

“We need to find Maeve,” Derek said, hiccupping on a sob. “Whoever did this to Vic took her.”

“We’ll find her, but we need your help. I’d like to take you downtown to HQ now, but before we go, you need to call your folks and anyone who shouldn’t hear about Victoria’s murder and Maeve’s disappearance from the media.”

“Oh God, my parents,” Derek said. “When I called to see if they might have Maeve, I told them I couldn’t reach Vic… I didn’t tell them anything yet…because I couldn’t…I couldn’t get the words out…”

“Do you want me to call them for you?” Harry asked.

“Would you?” Derek seemed relieved by his friend’s offer. “I don’t think I could say the words… That would make it real…”

“What about Victoria’s family?” Sam asked.

Derek shook his head. “She doesn’t have any. Her parents died years ago, before I met her, and she was an only child.”

“Aunts, uncles, cousins?”

“None that I knew of.”

Sam thought it was odd that Victoria had no one, but she kept her expression blank so as not to add to his distress.

“Go ahead and make the call to his folks,” she said to Harry, who took Derek’s phone from him.

“Do I tell them about Maeve?” Harry asked.

“You may as well,” Sam said. “I asked the Star reporter to put it on the wires, so it’ll be on the news before too much longer.”

Harry nodded. “I’ll meet you at the station,” he said to Nick. “I want to be there if Derek needs me.” He walked away to make the call.

“Will you drive us to HQ?” Sam asked Nick as crime scene detectives arrived on the scene. “I don’t want to give the vultures a photo of him being put into a police cruiser when he’s not a suspect.”

“Of course. Come on, Derek. Let’s get you downtown so Sam can figure out what happened and find Maeve.”

While Sam had a word with the crime scene detective in charge, Nick settled Derek into the backseat of his car.

Sam joined them a minute later, sending her husband a small smile of thanks for his help with Derek. Usually dealing with the grief-stricken fell to her, and she hated that part of her job more than any other. What did one say to someone whose life had been violently changed forever?

Using his elbow to flip up the arm rests that would block Derek’s view of the center console, Nick reached for her hand and held it all the way downtown.

“I know your loss is unimaginable, and I’m truly heartbroken for you and Maeve,” Sam said when she had Derek settled in an interrogation room at HQ, “but I need you to take me through the last few days. Your schedule, Victoria’s, anything unusual that she or anyone else might’ve said or done.”

Derek’s light brown hair was standing on end, as if he’d been running his hands through it, and his brown eyes were red from crying. With his elbows on the table, he hung his head and was quiet for a long time.

Watching him and his terrible grief, Sam vibrated with tension and fury. Someone she knew and considered a friend had been murdered in her city, and she was pissed off. That anger would fuel her every movement until she found the person who killed Victoria and took Maeve.

“I didn’t want to go to Camp David,” Derek finally said, his voice barely a whisper. “It was Vic’s birthday yesterday, and I wanted to be with her and Maeve.”

“What was the reason for the weekend at Camp David?” Sam asked.

“We were fine-tuning the president’s convention speech. The convention starts in two weeks in Charlotte.” He glanced at her. “Nick’s name came up as a possible keynoter.” Derek huffed out a deep breath. “I was going to call him about it tomorrow.” It seemed to occur to Derek right then that all his future plans had been altered.

Even though Sam was stunned to hear her husband had been considered for such an honor, she couldn’t take the time to process that now when she had murder and kidnapping on her mind. “Was Victoria having any problems with anyone that you knew of?”

“No. You knew how she was, bubbly and friendly. Everything I’m not.” As a fresh wave of sobs racked his muscular but wiry frame, he dropped his head into his hands. “I’m sorry. I know you need my help, but all I can think about is where’s Maeve, and how am I supposed to live without Vic?”

Moved by his raw grief, Sam dragged her chair over next to his and rested a hand on his back. “I’m so sorry, Derek. I know this is a nightmare, but time isn’t on our side where Maeve is concerned. I won’t quote statistics, but it’s imperative that we find her soon.” She watched him make an effort to pull himself together. “You’re certain Victoria hadn’t had recent conflicts or problems with anyone?”

“Not that she told me.”

“And she would have?”

“I think so. We’re tight, you know?” His use of the present tense saddened Sam. Family members of murder victims almost always used the present tense when speaking of their loved ones right after they were taken from them suddenly and violently. Poor Derek had a long road ahead of him as his staggering loss registered. “I work a lot—too much, especially lately with the campaign heating up. So it’s possible something could’ve happened and she hadn’t had a chance to tell me.”

“If something big happened and you were at Camp David with the president—”

“She would’ve called me. I might have an important job, but she knew that she and Maeve came first—always.”

“I have to ask about your work and if there’s anyone or anything you’re involved with that might factor into this.”

“That’s my job,” a familiar voice said from the doorway.

Sam bit back a groan when FBI Special Agent Avery Hill and her boss, Chief Farnsworth, stepped into the room. Hill had butted into an earlier investigation of hers before Farnsworth sent him packing back to Quantico.

“I’ve got this, Hill,” Sam said in her best dismissive tone. “But nice of you to come by.”

“Actually,” Hill said in a honeyed Southern accent that no doubt worked on most women. Unfortunately for him, Sam wasn’t most women. “Since I have a top-secret security clearance and you don’t, I’ll be looking into Mr. Kavanaugh’s work and any tie-ins.”

The guy was too handsome for his own good, and Sam hated to admit that if she hadn’t been recently—and happily—married, she might’ve been interested in getting to know him better. He wore his golden-brown hair combed back off his face in a style he could pull off thanks to chiseled cheekbones and equally golden-brown eyes that zeroed in on her with laser-sharp purpose.

Of course Nick picked that moment to step into the room to see if Derek needed a drink or anything to eat. Over the last eight months, Nick had become an unofficial member of Sam’s team. They’d all but deputized him a few times, so no one thought a thing of him coming into the room where his friend was being questioned. When Nick noticed her staring match with the agent, the subtle lift of one eyebrow was the only change to her husband’s otherwise expressionless demeanor.

“Let’s put aside the turf war,” Farnsworth said with a warning look for Sam. “We all have the same priority—finding Maeve Kavanaugh and catching Victoria Kavanaugh’s killer.”

When the man that Sam once called “Uncle Joe” used that particular tone, there was no point in arguing. “Follow me,” he said to her and Hill.

“Excuse me for a minute,” Sam said to Derek, annoyed by the interruption.

On the way past Nick, she rolled her eyes.

Farnsworth led them to a conference room where Special Victims Detective Ramsey waited with another officer.

He nodded to Sam. “Lieutenant, we meet again.”

“Detective.” Their paths had crossed right before Sam’s wedding when she’d gone to him seeking information on an old case that might’ve been tied to her father’s unsolved shooting. It had turned into another dead end.

“My partner, Detective Harper,” Ramsey said.

The younger officer reached out a hand to Sam. “Heard so much about you, Lieutenant. Pleasure to finally meet you.”

The sucking up earned him a scowl from Ramsey.

Harper quickly pulled back his hand after Sam shook it.

Sam never had figured out what Ramsey had against her. She’d decided he was put out by the fact that he was easily ten years older than her, but she had two ranks on him. Whatever. His fragile ego was the last thing on her mind at the moment.

“Here’s how this is going to go,” Farnsworth said as Sam’s mentor, Detective Captain Malone, joined them. Farnsworth pointed to Sam. “You’re the lead on the Victoria Kavanaugh murder. Hill’s in charge of looking into any possible connections to the husband’s work, and Ramsey is leading the investigation into the missing kid. Anyone have a problem with that?”

Sam had a problem with it, all right. Her team could easily handle every aspect of the investigation without assistance, but she held her tongue, knowing the chief expected her to do what she was told.

“Anyone who can’t work collaboratively will be taken off the investigation and disciplined accordingly,” Farnsworth continued.

Hill smirked at Sam, letting her know that he expected her to be disciplined before it was over.

Fuck that, she thought, determined to close her third of the investigation while the other two were still tripping over their own dicks. That thought made her smile as the chief made eye contact with her.

“Am I clear, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir,” she said in her sweetest tone.

Unused to such easy capitulation, let alone sweetness, from her, Farnsworth eyed her suspiciously before he moved on to the others. “Ramsey? Hill?”

Both men muttered their agreement.

“Now, get to work, and keep me posted. Lieutenant, I’ll need you to brief the media at zero seven hundred.”

“What if we don’t have anything by then?” Sam asked.

“Get something,” Farnsworth said as he walked away with the other men in tow.

“Sure, no problem.” When they were alone, Sam turned to Cruz, who had joined them. “Where are we with the canvass?”

“We checked the whole block and didn’t find anyone who heard or saw anything unusual. Naturally, all the neighbors wanted the lowdown on what happened.”

People were always obscenely interested in crime—until it happened to them. “Call in Gonzo, Arnold, McBride and Tyrone. We need all the help we can get on this one.”

“And of course you’ll want to close the case before Hill or Ramsey,” Freddie said.

Sam rewarded him with a shit-eating grin. “Duh.”

Fatal Deception, out November 12!

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