Christy Reece
 
 

EXCERPT: SWEET JUSTICE

Five Years Ago
Houston, Texas

Chapter One

“Seth Cavanaugh, you’re under arrest for the murder of Montgomery Jenkins. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney…”

Maintaining a blank-faced stoicism, Seth didn’t resist as his arms were wrenched behind him and he heard the clink of handcuffs. Staring straight ahead, he ignored the officer reciting his Miranda rights. Didn’t need to listen to something he’d memorized long before he’d entered the police academy. For barely an instant, he wondered what Greg Wallace thought as he read his former friend his rights. Greg had already been on the force for several years when Seth started with the Houston Police Department. He’d taken Seth under his wing; now he was arresting him for the murder of a scumbag.

They’d descended on his restaurant right in the middle of the lunchtime crowd. The timing had been no accident. Now an already newsworthy arrest was even more sensational. The television news crews would be outside waiting for him, along with the Houston Chronicle and every other news source within the greater Houston area.

He could hear the newscasts in his head: Well-known businessman and restaurateur Seth Cavanaugh was arrested today for the alleged murder of Montgomery Jenkins, better known as Monty Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins was found dead in his apartment yesterday from a single gunshot wound to his head. According to sources close to the investigation, Mr. Cavanaugh had an argument with Mr. Jenkins earlier in the day. He was seen leaving Jenkins’s apartment moments after a neighbor heard a gunshot.

The Houston news outlets were going to have a blast with this one.

“Let’s go, Cavanaugh.”

Hands cuffed, with a cop on each side of him, and one in front, they went through his office doors, down the hallway, and paraded him through the crowded restaurant.

Seth couldn’t resist an inner smile at their strategy. Could’ve taken him through the back door, where only a few employees would have witnessed this, or even through the kitchen, where maybe twenty or so would have been around to watch. No, they’d opted for the most visual and humiliating route.

Even when Ruth’s Place was empty, he didn’t think it’d ever been this quiet. Tables full of diners, every patron stopped in the middle of their meal to gawk. Oh yeah, Houston PD was eating this up.

“You’re a fool, you know that, Cavanaugh?” Greg Wallace snarled behind him.

So the man wasn’t unaffected by arresting a former friend. Well, he guessed that was something. Responding wouldn’t make a difference, so Seth remained silent.

Bright autumn sunlight hit him square in the eyes. Dammit, sunglasses would’ve been a nice touch, but he hadn’t bothered to ask for them. Besides, parading him in front of the half dozen cameras waiting for them to come out wouldn’t have near the impact if he’d been able to cover his eyes.

Five microphones were shoved toward his face. “Mr. Cavanaugh, what do you have to say about your arrest?”

“Mr. Cavanaugh, are you guilty?”

“Hey Seth, why’d you do it?”

Wonderful that so many people had faith in him.

Finished with their parade, an officer shoved Seth into the backseat and then slid in behind the wheel. Greg Wallace got into the front passenger seat, gave Seth a hard glare and then turned his back on him.

Settling back as comfortably as he could against the seat, Seth ignored the bite of the cuffs on his wrist and the uncomfortable wrench of his shoulders as he imagined all the things that were happening as they made their way to the police station.

His mother was just now getting the call…Sandra would be the one to call her. His sister was his senior by twelve years. The oldest of the Cavanaugh clan, she always took it upon herself to give the bad news to the family. For the first time ever, he wondered about that. Did she resent having to always be the bearer of bad news, or was this something she enjoyed? Guess it didn’t really matter, but wondering about it helped take his thoughts off the sheer agony he knew would be going through his mother’s mind right now. Her first question would be, “What can we do to help?” Mama Cavanaugh always wanted to rescue her babies, whether they deserved it or not.

Then, after Sandra told her, it would go down the line. Sandra would tell Patty, the next oldest, Patty would tell, Joel, and so on. Within five minutes, his five sisters and three brothers would know that their baby brother, the youngest and wildest of the Cavanaughs, had been arrested for murder. Houston news outlets had nothing on his family when it came to spreading news, both good and bad.

Someone else would tell Honor. Probably her supervisor. She’d be at her desk working, and the call would come for her to report to his office. There, she would be told that the man she was romantically involved with had been arrested for murder.

How would Dudley George tell her? “Honor, your lover has been arrested for murder. Now, don’t you wish you’d listened to me?” Dudley would want to pat himself on the back as he gave her the titillating news. Then he would sit back and watch her reaction.

Dammit, he’d wanted to say something to her last night. Telling your girlfriend that you were going to be arrested for murder was one thing. Telling your girlfriend who happens to be an FBI agent was a damn sight different. Honor was too intelligent to be satisfied with platitudes and excuses. She would’ve skewered him with questions. Ones he couldn’t answer.

“You want me to call your lawyer?”

Greg’s voice stopped Seth from his never-ending obsession of thinking about his family’s and Honor’s reactions. That had been his one and only regret, but damn, it was a big one.

Pulling his gaze away from the window, he said, with mild curiosity, “The laws get changed without me knowing? I thought I was allowed one phone call.”

“Figured you might want to use that to call your mother.”

Despite his need to stay in this cocoon of no emotion, Seth almost grinned. Greg really was a nice guy. Someday, he hoped to be able to thank him for his kindness. For now, all he could say was “Why call and tell her something she already knows?”

“Dammit, Seth. You had everything going for you. How could you screw it up so badly?”

No answer was better than the lie he’d have to give, so Seth went back to looking out the window at nothing. Might as well get used to it. For the next few years, that’s what his life would be. Nothing.

***

“Stone, got a minute?”

Honor jerked her head up to see Dudley George standing at her desk. Yes, she had a minute, especially since she’d been sightlessly staring at her computer screen for the last half hour, her mind occupied with Seth. Something was going on with him.

“Sure.” She stood and followed her supervisor. Several eyes bored into her back as she made her way into his office. At twenty-five, with just two years under her belt, Honor knew that some believed she was too inexperienced to be a field agent. A few thought her family had pulled strings. Telling them that she was mature enough to handle herself or that her family had no influence with the FBI would do no good. Proving herself was the only way to show them.

“Have a seat.”

The door clicked closed behind her. Honor sat in the uncomfortable, straight-backed wooden chair in front of Dudley’s desk. Rumor was, he’d sent back the standard chair that came with his office furniture and bought this one on his own. Definitely set the tone for his meetings.

“I just got some interesting news.”

He looked at her, waiting for a response. Dudley had a habit of delivering one-line statements for dramatic affect. Since she had no idea what the news was, Honor waited, too.

Looking a bit disappointed that she hadn’t taken the bait, he said, “Seth Cavanaugh has just been arrested for murder.”

She almost laughed, the statement was so ridiculous. But from the grim look on Dudley’s face, this was no laughing matter. Besides, Dudley wasn’t known for his sense of humor.

“There must be some mistake.”

“The police don’t think so.”

Honor could feel her head shaking back and forth in denial but couldn’t seem to stop it. “Who…how?”

“Montgomery Jenkins, aka Monty Jenkins. Ever heard of him?”

Dread washed through her. “Wasn’t he an employee of Hector Clemmons’s?”

“Until a couple of months ago, when Hector fired him for stealing. Clemmons didn’t press charges. Probably figured that would mean an investigation into his own dirty dealings.”

Dammit, she’d warned Seth that having any connections with Clemmons would come back and bite him someday. The few arguments they’d had stemmed from his association with the man. Each time, Seth had shrugged off her concern, saying that Clemmons had a legitimate import company and Seth relied on their business arrangement for his restaurant.

“Seth isn’t capable of murder. I’m sure there’s a reasonable—”

“That’s not the point, Stone.” Dudley leaned forward, his mud-brown eyes gleaming. “Your relationship with a man who has such questionable connections and associations has been a source of gossip in this office for months. I warned you what could happen.”

Locking her jaw to keep from telling the asshole what she thought of him, she forced a calm response. “Then what is your point?”

“That if you want to advance in the Bureau, you keep your associations clean from now on.”

His point was clear: break it off with Seth. As much as she loved her job, she loved Seth more. Standing, she said, “Is that all, sir?”

His expression became slyly speculative. “You given any more thought to that job offer you got last week?”

He was referring to an opportunity to work in the newly formed Child Abduction unit. Not only was it a coveted position, but the purpose of the unit was the very reason she’d joined the Bureau—something she’d been dreaming about since she was thirteen years old. She had delayed giving an answer for only one reason: Seth.

“Not yet, sir. I was told I had till the end of the month to answer.”

“You do. However, with this new development, you might want to consider committing sooner.”

Meaning it could be rescinded. Bullshit. She wasn’t going to let Dudley bulldoze or intimidate her. However, pissing him off wasn’t the right path either. “I’ll take that under advisement. Anything else?”

Dudley shook his head, the light burning even brighter in his eyes. Half the time she thought he was on her side; the other half she could swear he’d just as soon see her leave the Bureau for good.

Honor turned and walked out of the office. She had to grab her cellphone and get out of the building. She needed to call Seth. There had to be a reasonable explanation. Seth Cavanaugh was many things—arrogant, opinionated, and quite often infuriating; an excellent cook, an incredible dancer, and one of the most wickedly handsome men she’d ever known. Those things and a million more made him the man he was. But one thing she knew without a doubt? Seth was not a murderer.

***

Still looking out the window of the car as it headed to the main jailhouse, Seth heard his cellphone ring. Making every effort not to tense up or show any emotion, he kept his eyes averted. His cellphone had been confiscated at his arrest, so there was no point in worrying about who was calling. No point, but it didn’t stop him from doing just that.

Since he had known the arrest was coming, maybe he should have changed his voicemail message. Something like: “I’m in jail right now. Leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I make bail. And oh, by the way, I didn’t do it.”

“Hello.”

Seth jerked his head around when he heard those words. His cellphone should have been bagged for evidence. What the hell was Greg doing holding it? Seth’s concern about who was calling was buried beneath his concern for Greg. There were only three people, other than Seth, who knew the whole story. The only way this was going to work was to keep it to a minimum. Did Greg know something or was he making exceptions because he figured something was hinky?

He focused on the one-sided conversation Greg was having on his phone. “Yes, it’s true.” A pause; then: “He’s in handcuffs, I can’t—” Another long pause and then a sighing “All right. Hold on.”

Twisting round, Greg unlocked the barrier between the front and back seats. “Lean forward, I’ll hold the phone to your ear.”

Seth held back a sigh. The man knew better than to do what he was doing. Not that Seth was planning to escape—that would defeat the whole purpose. Still, Greg had been on the force too long to commit such a rookie mistake.

Since giving him a lecture would seem more than strange, Seth leaned forward and put his ear to the phone. “Yes?”

“Seth?”

Despite his lecture to maintain control, Seth closed his eyes. Honor. He hadn’t planned on talking to her until he made bail. Had hoped, by then, to be able to come up with something reasonable that she would buy.

“Yes.”

“Are you all right?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve been arrested?”

“Yes.”

“Hell, Seth, can you say something besides ‘yes’?”

Swallowing the pain, he chuckled. “Not much more to say, is there?”

The shaky breath she released sliced into the cloak of coldness he was trying to maintain. Dammit, all his fault for getting involved with an FBI agent. Maybe if Honor had another profession, he could have told her something she would believe…maybe she would have agreed to wait. No, that wouldn’t have happened anyway. It wasn’t just Honor’s job that was the problem…it was her intelligence.

Twenty-eight years on this earth, and he’d never had strong feelings for or a need to commit to any of the women he’d dated—and then, when he was on the biggest job of his life, he falls for a woman like Honor. Irony sucked.

“What can I do to help?”

And not only did he have to fall in love with a beautiful, intelligent woman, she also had the most amazing heart and a deep, fierce loyalty. If there was one thing he could do for her, it was this: “Stay out of it.”

“But I—”

“I’ve got an attorney. The charges won’t stick. I’ll be out on bail in a few hours. We can talk then.”

The silence was painful. He had hurt her, but that had been inevitable. Hell of it was—it was only going to get worse. Dammit, he had known what was coming down.

“Call me,” she said quietly and then the line went dead.

Seth leaned back against the seat once more. He could feel Greg’s eyes on him, but refused to engage in any kind of discussion. If Greg did know what was going on here, talking about it in the vicinity of anyone else would be stupid.

“You had so much going for you, Cavanaugh. What happened?”

Seth still didn’t look at him. Maybe Greg didn’t know. He hoped he didn’t. The man was a nice guy, a good cop. Knowing the truth could get him killed.

 

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