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Sweet Justice

Sweet Justice, September 2011
Last Chance Rescue #7
by Christy Reece

Ballantine
Featuring: Seth Cavanaugh; Honor Stone
352 pages
ISBN: 0345524071
EAN: 9780345524072
Kindle: B004J4X2W6
Paperback / e-Book
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"Brilliantly Plotted Romantic Suspense With a Twisted Villain Makes This A Winner"

Fresh Fiction Review

Sweet Justice
Christy Reece

Reviewed by Diana Troldahl
Posted August 11, 2011

Romance Suspense

Honor Stone has found a tenuous peace with her past working for Last Chance Rescue. Her former job with the FBI involved too many cases where she got there too late to save the victim. In the few months she's been with LCR she has helped to bring victims safely home, healing some of the wounds left by her former job. That peace is threatened when she is told Seth Cavanaugh will be coming to LCR for help. In the years since he was arrested for murder she buried her dreams and her love but with him back in her life she learns her feelings were hidden but not extinguished.

Seth had been working undercover to bring down one of the biggest crime lords in Texas but breaking her heart was an unintended consequence, one she finds hard to forgive. Now she must summon all her professionalism to work side by side to help him find his kidnapped niece. Kelli, like any other victim she can help, deserves her best.

Young women from all over the country have been disappearing. Unconnected by physical characteristics or anything beyond being young college students, the disappearances have not been linked by the authorities, until now.

In this thrilling romantic suspense novel Christy Reece continues her Last Chance Rescue series with a twisted villain and brilliantly plotted book. The love story, as always, is hot and emotive and balanced well with the exciting and well-crafted mystery. Her main characters are vulnerable yet strong, and even the villains are written with skillful and delicate brush strokes haunting your mind long after the book is done. SWEET JUSTICE is book seven in the series and may be the best one yet.

Learn more about Sweet Justice

SUMMARY

Honor Stone is a young, idealistic FBI agent when her path collides with Seth Cavanaugh. For a girl who has never walked on the wild side, the dark and dangerous Seth is a temptation she can’t refuse. But then Seth walks out the door and out of her life.

Five years later, Honor is an operative with the elite Last Chance Rescue organization and Seth is a desperate ex-cop searching for his missing niece—one of many young women who have mysteriously vanished from college campuses.

Going undercover, Honor will attract the maniacal cult leader behind the kidnappings and find a way to work with Seth—while steering clear of the passion and need that’s just one touch away from explosion. Seth knows he had all the right reasons for the wrong he did five years ago. And from the moment he sees her—and takes her in his arms again—this former undercover man will risk everything for one more chance with Honor.

Excerpt

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…"

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 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.

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 worse.

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 you."

Seth whirled around and glared. "Don’t you think I know that?"

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 Clemmons.

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 with.

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 word.

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 he likes."

"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 semi-respectable."

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 forward.

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?

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1 comment posted.

Re: Brilliantly Plotted Romantic Suspense With a Twisted Villain Makes This A Winner

This read sounds great!!!!!!!!!!!
(Joanne Bozik 6:44pm November 20, 2011)

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