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"I don't want to be here." Surrounded by familiar buff-colored cinder block walls, Sam felt claustrophobic and panicky. Even the burnt-coffee smell of the place nauseated her. She needed to get out of there. Now. "Sam."
She glanced at Dr. Trulo, who gazed intently at her, his gray eyes never wavering. His hair had gotten thinner since the last time she was forced to spend time with him, after young Quentin Johnson died at the hands of her officers in his father's crack house.
"I can't clear you to go back to work until you talk about it."
"What's there to talk about? I did a stupid thing, and I paid the price. Should I have gone in there alone? No. I know that. I knew it then, but I had no reason to suspect that Marissa Springer was going to turn into a murdering lunatic or that she'd partnered up with Stahl. As far as I knew she was a grieving mother, a disgruntled wife and a source of information." Sam shrugged. "There. I talked about it. Can I go now?"
He continued to stare at her without blinking. How did he do that? Everyone needed to blink once in a while, didn't they? Perhaps one of the job requirements for being a police department shrink was a freakish staring ability.
She shifted in her seat, crossed her legs and then her arms. "What else do you want me to say?"
"I want to hear about what happened with Stahl. How you coped during the assault. What you're thinking about now. How you're sleeping. You could start by telling me what it was like to be wrapped in razor wire by a man you once reported to."
"It was sharp."
Trulo finally blinkedand sighed deeply. "Maybe we should reschedule for next week."
"Next week is kind of busy. The inauguration and all that."
"Are you aware that your squad is frantically trying to find the person responsible for a series of knife attacks?"
For the first time she felt a twinge of guilt at letting down her closest colleagues. "I'm aware of that." The city was on edge after a series of brazen and seemingly random attacks that had left two people dead and two others gravely injured. Sam was sorry she wasn't able to help this time, but she couldn't single-handedly catch every killer who roamed the city's streets.
"Do you want to come back to work, Sam?"
"Yes! Of course I do. What kind of question is that?" Her heart began to race at how close he'd come to uncovering her recent anxiety about work and safety and the loss of her famous mojo. It would come back. Eventually. It had to come back. Didn't it? Who was she without it?
"It's an honest question. You've been in this game long enough to know that if you don't play the game, you remain on the sidelines. I can't clear you to come back until I'm certain you've dealt with the trauma of what happened and are in the right place mentally, physically and emotionally to resume your duties."
Sam was never more mulish than when pushed into a corner, and now was no different. "How am I supposed to prove to you that I'm fine?"
"You have to talk about it."
"What if I don't want to talk about it? What if talking about it makes it worse?"
"Have you talked to anyone? Your husband? Your friends, colleagues, your dad, sisters? Anyone?"
"Yeah, I've talked to them," she said, squirming again. She hated the feeling that he saw right through her bullshit the way Nick did too. He'd been watching her like a hawk recentlyto the point that she'd been actively avoiding her overly devoted husband for the first time ever.
Sam knew she wouldn't get away with that for much longer, and Trulo wasn't about to buckle either. "I'd like to leave now."
"No one is forcing you to be here."
She gave him her best "yeah right" look. Did he actually think any cop saw him voluntarily? "Hello, Command Referral. Like I have a choice."
"You know what I mean. This process is on your schedule. When you're ready, make an appointment. I'm here for you whenever you need me."
With the lure of freedom in her reach, Sam began to stand.
"Before you go, though
Foiled, she sagged back into the uncomfortable hardback chair.
"I want to say one thing." Trulo cleared his throat and seemed to force himself to look at her. What was that about? "I read the report on what happened that day at the Springers' house, and I just want to say
I've been doing this for a long time, and what happened to you, well, it was bad, Sam. Really bad. And there's no shame in admitting that you're traumatized by it, that maybe you've lost your taste for the job, that"
"No." Sam leapt to her feet. "Whatever you're going to say, just save it. I'm fine. I haven't lost my taste for anything except this meeting. Some people don't feel the need to air out all their shit in some touchy-feely room where it's supposedly safe to spill their guts. We aren't safe anywhere. That's the lesson learned here."
"Now we're getting somewhere," he said with a small, satisfied grin that infuriated her. "Call me when you're ready to talk about why you don't feel safe anywhere."
Pissed with herself and with him, Sam stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind her. She was on her way to a clean escape when Captain Malone waylaid her, taking her by the arm and escorting her into his office where she shook him off. "You need a refresher in sensitivity training if you think you can manhandle your female officers that way."
"So report me."
"What do you want?"
"Nice to see you too, Lieutenant. We've missed your charming self around here."
Sam rolled her eyes. Charming. Whatever. "Is there something you need?"
"Have a seat."
"I prefer to stand."
"I wasn't asking."
Since he so rarely pulled rank on her, she dropped into the chair he pointed to and crossed her arms again, keeping with the mulish theme of the day.
"How've you been?"
"I'm down one of my best officers, so things have been a little hectic, especially since someone is going around killing people with a hunting knife. But we're coping."
She refused to feel guilty about sitting this one out. Her team was highly trained, and they'd figure it out. They always did. "Glad to hear it."
"How's it going with Trulo?"
"You're not allowed to ask me that."
"Add it to the report you're going to submit on my bad behavior."
"I have been attending the appointments as required. Would you like me to tell you what we talk about in there? It would only take a minute. Probably less than a minute."
Malone sat back in his chair, exhaling loudly. "So you're not cooperating."
"I didn't say that."
"Don't you want to get back to work?"
Sam shrugged. "I'm kinda enjoying the time off. I like taking my kid to schooleven if the Secret Service has to butt into our time togetherand taking my dad to his appointments and hanging out with my husband and cleaning my house."
Malone sat up straight, his eyes wide with alarm. "You're cleaning your house? What the hell is wrong with you, Holland? You'd rather be cleaning your house than chasing down murderers? Things are worse than we thought."
"We? We who?"
"All of us! We're wondering what the hell is going on with you and why you don't seem to have any desire to come back to work. Every other time something crazy has happened, we've had to practically lock you to your sofa. But not this time. This time something's different."
Sam made a conscious effort not to squirm as he stared her down, looking for answers she simply didn't have. She didn't know why she had no desire to go back to work. She didn't know why she felt dead inside or why she wondered if she would ever again be able to trust her own judgment when it had failed her so dramatically. She didn't have the answers they all wanted so badly, and until she did, they weren't going to let her come back. So she'd decided to enjoy the unexpected time off. What else could she do?
"Sam, this is me" He'd been her mentor and friend since the day she made detective. "Talk to me, will you? Tell me what you're thinking."
His concern touched off another wave of guilt at knowing she had caused himand otherssuch dismay.
When she remained silent, he said, "I want you to know
We, all of us, from the chief on down, we failed you in this situation with Stahl. It never occurred to us that he would take it as far as he did, and that's on us."
Sam rose to her feet. "I gotta go, Cap. It was good to see you."
Before he could make it around his desk, she was out the door and headed for the morgue and the closest exit. She burst into the frigid January day and took deep breaths of the cold air. Her eyes darted around the parking lot, on the lookout for enemies. After fourteen years on the job, she'd made more than her share of them. Now she knew they weren't afraid to come after her, to try to take everything from her. She'd learned to be wary and more afraid than she'd ever been before.
When Nick accepted the president's offer to become his new vice president, he'd declined Secret Service protection for her so she could continue to do the job she loved. That she was actually thinking about requesting a detail was indicative of how screwed up everything had gotten since Stahl attacked her.
She got into her car and drove home, the one place she felt safe these days, surrounded as they were by Nick's detail and Scotty's. The house was like a fortress, and she liked it that way. No one could get to her there.
Sam pulled onto Ninth Street and was waved through the checkpoint by a Secret Service officer. She parked in front of the house and was surprised to see Nick's black BMW parked at the curb. What was that doing here? He'd told her he'd sold it since he could no longer drive himself.
Grabbing her purse, she got out of the car and went up the ramp to the home she shared with Nick and Scotty. An agent greeted her at the door and opened it for her. "Thank you," she said.
"My pleasure, Mrs. Cappuano."
Not that long ago, Sam would've told the agent to call her Lieutenant Holland, but lately she'd grown used to hearing her married name from the agents that surrounded her family. It didn't rankle the way it once would have. In the ten months they'd been married, some of Lieutenant Holland had given way to make room for Mrs. Cappuano.
Speaking of the devil who'd made her his missus, Nick came out of the kitchen wearing a gorgeous dark gray suit with a cranberry-colored tie that was one of her favorites. As he had from the moment she first met him years ago, he took her breath away just by walking into the room.
"Hey, babe. How was the appointment with Trulo?"
"More of the same." She dropped her coat and purse on the sofa, earning a frown from her neat-freak husband. In a mocking tone, she said, "'Tell us how you feel, talk about what happened, blah, blah, blah.' I don't know what they want me to say. It happened, I survived, it's over and he's locked up."
Nick kissed her forehead and gazed down at her, taking in every detail with gorgeous hazel eyes that saw right through herand her bullshit. "You know what they want from you, Samantha, and the sooner you give it to them, the sooner you'll be back on the job."
The Secret Service had given them the room, so she ran her fingertip down the silk tie and dipped it under his belt, pleased to realize he'd delayed the start of his day to be here when she got home. "Maybe I don't want to go back to work. Maybe I'd rather be the second lady for a while and tend to my vice president anytime he needs tending to."
His Adam's apple bobbed in his throat. "Um, who are you and what've you done with my wife?"
For the first time in hours, Sam laughed.
"No, seriously. You want to be the second lady rather than a cop?" He pressed his hand to her forehead. "No fever, but maybe we should call Harry just to be safe."
"Knock it off." She batted his hand away. "Is there anything wrong with enjoying a little break from the rat race?"
"If you were anyone else, I'd say of course not. But because you're you, I see reason for concern. Perhaps even alarm. You love the rat race. You live for it. Or you did until Stahl lost his mind. Since then, you haven't been quite yourself, babe. We've all noticed it."
Sam wasn't surprised that he was tuned in to her as always and wouldn't settle for the platitudes she'd given Trulo. "I'm working through some things having to do with the attack and the job and where I go from here." It was the most she'd said to anyone since that awful day. "I just need some time. As long as I'm on leave, I may as well enjoy it, right?"
"I suppose. But the cleaning and all that
You're kind of freaking us out."
Smiling, she put her arms around him and leaned into the comfort of his embrace, breathing in the familiar scent of home. "I'll knock off the cleaning."
He held her tight against him. "Thank God."
"How come your car is outside? I thought you sold it."
"Yeah, about that, I lied."
She lifted her head off his chest to give him the wifely evil eye. "You lied? Start talking."
"When we declined Secret Service protection for you, I didn't exactly do that without some significant fearsand that was before everything happened with Stahl. So I decided. Well, come with me. Let me show you." He held her coat for her while she put it back on and then took her by the hand to lead her to the door.
The agent on duty stopped them. "Are you leaving, sir?"
"Just going outside for a minute."
The agent spoke into the microphone attached to a wire that hung from his ear. "Hotshot and Fuzz are on the move."
"Fuzz?" Sam said, looking up at Nick. "That had better not be a reference to my hair."
"Did I forget to mention we've been assigned code names? And I believe yours is more about your job than your hair."
"It had better be. Fuzz? Really? How come you get to be Hotshot and I'm Fuzz? Is there an appeal process?"
Hand over his mouth, the agent laughed silently.
"It's not funny! I have a reputation to uphold here. Fuzz is a puppy or a kitten. It's not a badass cop."
"I'll take it up with those in charge," the agent said solemnly, obviously trying not to laugh out loud.
Sam scowled at him. "You do that."
"You may proceed, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Cap-puano."
Sam left the agent with a final glare as she let Nick lead her out the door.
"I can't tell you how much I hate having to get permission to walk out my own door," he said.
"You knew it would be like that."
"Still, it sucks balls."
"Speaking of sucking balls"
"Not here. Not now."
"How do you know what I was going to say?"
His side-eyed glance said it all. Removing a key fob from his pocket, he unlocked the BMW. "Hop in," he said, holding the passenger door for her.
"Um, okay. I thought you weren't allowed to drive yourself anywhere?"
"We're not leaving."
"I'm not making out with you in broad daylight with your entire detail looking on."
"Good to know," he said, laughing. "Now get your sweet ass in the car."
Sam slid into the soft leather seat and breathed in the familiar scent of leather and cologne that would always remind her of their first days together. They'd spent a lot of time in this car since then, and she'd been sad to see it go after he became vice president.
He got into the driver's side and pulled the door closed.
She leaned across the center console. "You've got me all to yourself, Hotshot. Whatever will you do with me?"
Flashing the irrepressible grin that made her panties damp every damn time, he said, "I'll show you around your new armor-plated, specially outfitted bulletproof security vehicle."