Five Years Ago
"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…"
Blank-faced stoicism firmly in place, 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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
Dread washed through her. "Wasn’t he an employee of
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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."
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
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?"
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.
"Are you all right?"
"You’ve been arrested?"
"Hell, Seth, can you say something besides ‘yes’?"
Swallowing the pain, he chuckled. "Not much more to say,
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."
"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
"You had so much going for you, Cavanaugh. What
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.
Three days later…
Seth stared out the grimy warehouse window--a perfect
match for the filth he felt to his soul. Would this ever
end? And how the hell could he even ask himself that, when
it had barely begun?
He’d been released a few hours ago. They’d let him sit
for three days before setting bail. The fact that Hector
Clemmons had posted the bail had been no surprise to anyone.
That had been the plan all along.
In those three days, Seth had refused to see his family
or Honor. What was the point…they were already hurt. It
couldn’t get any worse, could it? Two days after his arrest,
when Honor had shown up at his jail cell, demanding to see
him, he’d learned it could get worse. Yeah, a hell of a lot
He turned to the man sitting on an empty crate a few feet
away. "I told you to keep her out of it."
"I tried to, man…she was one determined woman." Bill
shook his head and added, "You knew the risks going in. Bad
time to start a relationship."
Jaw clenched in fury, Seth turned back to the window.
Bill was right. He had no one to blame but himself. The
minute he’d seen Honor, he’d wanted her. And damn it all,
despite every instinct telling him to run the other way, he
had pursued her. A relationship that had no future. Honor
Stone represented everything good and decent in this world.
And because of what he had agreed to do, Seth represented
everything vile and corrupt.
"You could always tell her the truth."
Bill’s words were said in a normal tone, but to Seth,
they sounded like the devil’s own temptation. As enticing as
the words spoken to Eve to lure her with forbidden fruit.
"Exposing Honor to this shit will put her in even more
danger than she’s already in."
"She’s an FBI agent, Seth. It’s not like she doesn’t know
danger or how to handle herself."
That was true. Honor was a trained professional, but the
moment he met her, he’d had the overwhelming need to protect
her. She might have dealt with hardened criminals but there
was a light inside Honor—pure and untarnished. To protect
his family, he hadn’t told them the truth. Could he do
anything less for the woman he loved?
Even if she knew the truth, what future could he offer
her? He could just see her face as he said, "Listen, honey,
I’m up to my neck trying to bring Hector Clemmons down. I’m
probably at least a couple of years away from doing that,
and in the meantime, I have to act like this slick, phony
sleaze. People are going to assume I’m a criminal. If you
continue to see me, it will damage your career and probably
endanger your life, so we need to call it quits for a while.
And, oh yeah, I probably won’t live through it. But, in case
I do, I’d appreciate it if you’d wait for me."
Sure, that’d go over real well.
"I understand Joel came to see you today." Bill’s
disapproving tone broke into his thoughts..
"He’s the oldest brother. With my dad gone, Joel sees it
as his responsibility to watch out for the family. Thinks if
he threatens me enough or piles on more guilt, I’ll stop
torturing everyone and come back into the fold."
"You need to find a way to keep your family away from
Seth whirled around and glared. "Don’t you think I know
Bill barely raised a brow at Seth’s anger. "Do you?"
"What the hell’s that supposed to mean?"
"You’re knee deep with Hector now. After this murder
charge, you’ll be shoulder deep. Won’t be long till you’re
in his sacred circle. Once you’re there, anyone who’s
attached to you is tainted by association."
"What the hell do you want me to do? I’ve told my entire
family I’m living my life on my terms and if they don’t like
it, they can fuck off." Seth turned back around before Bill
could see the pain on his face as he remembered the stricken
look in his mother’s eyes. For as long as he lived, he would
never forget her expression. No matter how this turned out,
he could never forgive himself for hurting her like that.
"You knew what the consequences would be."
Bill’s continual reminder did no good. Yeah, they’d told
him right off the bat. You agree to this assignment, your
life won’t be your own. You’ll probably lose your family,
most of your friends, at least for a while. They’d asked him
over and over if he’d really wanted to take on something
that would be so life altering.
But this had been an opportunity unlike any other. A
chance to go deep cover and take down one of the most
elusive drug lords in North America. The department had
never done it before--not this deep, intricate or even this
quickly. Setting up something so elaborate and multi-layered
usually took a tremendous amount of effort and resources.
But in a relatively short period of time, Seth had gone from
respected cop to dirty ex-cop, then a restaurant owner with
questionable ties to the underworld. And now murder suspect.
Whoever said time flies whether you’re having fun or not was
right on the money.
The cover had needed to be rock solid and his superiors
had believed the restaurant guise would be the most
difficult issue to develop. For Seth, that’d been the only
bright spot in this entire operation.
He rubbed the back of his neck where the tension of the
last few days had gathered, trying to lock his muscles in
place. "How much longer before the charges are dropped?"
"Next day or two should do it. The doubts and suspicions
have been cast. Clemmons will be contacting you soon for a
solution to your problem…strings attached, of course.
"Your not so good name has been tarnished even more,
greatly diminishing the damage done when he learned you were
seeing an FBI agent. With him playing the rescuer, he’ll
think he’s got you by the balls. Once the charges are
dropped, you’ll be in his debt, right where he wants you."
"You’d think after working with the man for months, I’d
have some street cred with him."
Bill shrugged in that nonchalant way that lately had made
Seth want to knock the man’s teeth down his throat. "We knew
going in he’d be a tough sale. With you being a former cop,
it made him more wary. Having you leave the force under
suspicion of misconduct helped, but he’s been around too
long to take chances."
And that had been yet another rip in his family’s heart.
They’d had such high hopes for the youngest Cavanaugh. With
a master’s degree in Criminal Justice and a driving ambition
to make an impact on the world, he should have had so many
choices, so many opportunities. Instead, in lieu of
disciplinary action because of several accusations of
questionable conduct, he’d resigned. Though all of it was
planned and part of his undercover act, both Seth and his
family had been publicly humiliated.
Tensions had eased when he opened the restaurant. His
success had come as no big surprise to the family since he,
along with his brothers and sisters, had learned to cook
very early and often had cooking competitions at home.
Ruth’s Place, named after Seth’s mother, had become an
overnight success. The Cavanaugh clan had fully supported
his new venture. That is until he’d been linked with Hector
Like most families, they’d made excuses for him, not
daring to believe that he’d be associated with a man of
Clemmons’s reputation. Murky and slimy were two of the
kindest descriptions his family had been able to come up
The Houston Police Department knew Clemmons was more than
that…they just needed proof. It was up to Seth to provide
that proof. They’d been looking to put him away for years
and no one had even been close. With time and patience, Seth
intended to change that.
"Hey kid, if you’re bored with this undercover stuff and
just want to sigh about your girlfriend, let me know. I’ve
got some things to do."
Bill Keaton’s sarcastic, smoke-graveled voice shook Seth
out of his melancholy. As much as he’d like to shove his
fist down the asshole’s throat, he’d said the right thing.
He’d agreed to this job and a Cavanaugh always kept his
Bill’s lack of empathy wasn’t surprising. The man had no
family. No one to hurt if his life went to shit in a
heartbeat. Seth had grown up in a large family where
everyone knew everything and thought they had a right to
share their opinion. Sandra, the oldest, had her say first,
via the longest voice mail in cellphone history. Then, his
brother Joel had cornered him at the restaurant a couple of
hours ago. Wouldn’t be long before he heard from the others.
His mother would wait. His brothers and sisters were the
tenderizers. His mother would be the fire. She would sear
him with one look and he’d feel lower than a slug. And he
wouldn’t be able to give her anything other than what he’d
already told her—my life, not yours.
Turning his back to the window, he asked, "How’s this
scenario going to play?"
"Pretty much what we talked about. Hector’s already got
some mad love for you. Not only do you look like you could
be one of his sons, hooking him up with that little shipment
from Venezuela showed him you have the kind of connections
"And now he’s impressed that I killed one of his former
employees," Seth added.
"Yeah, but even though he thinks he’s buying your
freedom, keep denying it to his face. We want him to think
that you might actually have done the deed, but can maintain
a semblance of your reputation. Hector’s got more than
enough dirty people surrounding him. He needs you to stay
Seth nodded. Semi-respectable would mean something else
to his family. His mother had been through so much this
year. His dad had died from a massive heart attack less than
nine months ago. Having one of her sons under suspicion for
murder was going to cause her more pain. And yet, even
knowing what he knew now, if he was offered the same job
today, he’d take it. Hector Clemmons had gotten away with
garbage for years. This was as close as the authorities had
been to his inside circle. There was no choice but to go
If he pulled this job off successfully, Seth knew he
would be saving lives. Question was—would he have a life to
go back to when it was over?