AURORA'S FINEST ARE ON THE CASE AGAIN IN USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR MARIE FERRARELLA'S CAVANAUGH UNDERCOVER
Confronting "Ben Cartwright" in a seedy motel room, Detective Tiana Drummond is more than suspicious. A member of the CSI team, she's sure the handsome hunk is connected to the underground ring holding her sister captive. And like him or not, he's her only lead to finding Janie before it's too late.
But Tiana, always distrustful of men, more than likes him. "Cartwright" makes her feel like she's never felt before—desired, protected…and totally chagrined when she discovers he's undercover cop Brennan Cavanaugh! Teaming up on a dangerous search, they'll have to risk their lives. But keeping their covers isn't as easy as falling in love!
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"You've been nursing that beer for the last hour. Something bothering you, son?"
Brennan Cavanaugh was lost in thought as he leaned against the cool white stucco wall and watched people who constituted his newly discovered family enjoying themselves. It took him a moment to zero in on the man asking the question.
Brennan had an aptitude for names and faces-in his line of work, or former line of work, he corrected himself, he'd had to. He knew the man speaking to him to be Brian Cavanaugh, the Aurora police department's chief of detectives, younger brother of the man whose life he had saved, an act that had, as he'd silently predicted, terminated an active part of his own career, since he had to blow his cover in order to save Andrew Cavanaugh-his long lost uncle. He couldn't help thinking that truth could be a lot stranger than fiction. "Not really," he replied.
It was the easiest answer to give. In his experience, when people asked how you were doing, or if something was wrong, they really didn't want to know and certainly not in detail.
But Brian obviously did not fall into that general category, because he pressed a little. "Fakely, then?" Brian asked with an understanding smile.
Brian knew all about people's reluctance to talk. He'd witnessed it initially from his early days on the force when he questioned victims and suspects. He was aware of it currently because of the office he'd held for a number of years.
Since becoming the chief of detectives, he had come across more than one person who was afraid to share his private feelings because he thought it might affected his work life adversely. Brian's gift was that he knew instinctively how to separate the two and how much weight to give to what he heard in both capacities: as the chief of detectives and as a relative/friend.
"All right, let's just say, for the sake of hypothetical argument, that there was something causing you some minor concern. What would that be?" he asked when Brennan made no response to his earlier joking comment.
Because he wasn't quite ready to talk about it, Brennan went with the most obvious answer. "I'll be the first to admit that I grew up in a crowd scene. Every holiday, birthday or miscellaneous celebration, there were always acres and acres of family-but this, well, this gives a whole new meaning to words like overwhelmed. I've heard of family trees, but this, this is damn near a family forest," Brennan quipped with a grin that took its time in forming.
Brian laughed. "You have that right," he readily agreed. "But at the risk of harping, that's not what's bothering you." He saw the suspicious way Brennan looked at him. "Don't look so surprised, boy. I didn't get to where I am on good looks alone." The statement was accompanied by another, this time deeper, laugh. "I'm a fair hand at reading people." And there was definitely something bothering this young man who had saved his older brother's life. Brian intended, eventually, to get to the bottom of it. "Now, if you don't want to talk, I understand. But if you do," Brian continued, "I am a good man to talk to. I listen."
Brennan shrugged as he stared down at the light that was being reflected in what was left of his beer. The overhead patio light shimmered seductively on the liquid surface, as if it were flirting with him.
"It's nothing, sir," he finally said. "I was just wondering what I was going to do with myself come Monday morning, that's all."
Brian appeared slightly puzzled. "I thought you were working undercover for the DEA. Something to do with drug smuggling."
Brian left the statement vague despite the fact that he knew exactly what the young man next to him had been up to when he rescued Andrew. The moment he'd done that, Brian had made it his business to find out everything he could about the tall, strapping DEA agent with the same last name.
Brennan nodded, avoiding his eyes. "I was."
"Was," Brian repeated as if he was trying to see if he'd heard the word correctly.
At the last moment, Brennan withheld a sigh. "Yes, sir."
Brian was about to tell the younger man not to call him sir, but he knew it would be a wasted effort, so he let it pass. "But you're not anymore." It was now an assumption.
Brennan frowned, though he thought it hid it. "No, sir."
"Case over?" Brennan asked. Obviously his digging hadn't turned up the whole story.
Brennan shook his head. "No, sir."
"I see," Brian replied quietly. And he did because all the pieces suddenly came together. "You blew your cover saving my brother."
Brennan didn't want any accolades. He'd done what needed doing. That it cost him wasn't the victim's fault. "I had no choice."
"Some people might argue that you did have a choice."
At bottom it was an argument that debated the responsibilities of a cameraman. Does he or she watch a scene unfold and film it as it happens no matter what that might be or interfere if what is being filmed depicts something immoral or illegal? Some felt it was their duty to record events as they happened; others felt duty-bound to come in on the side of right.
Brennan shrugged. "Doesn't matter what anybody argues. Way I see it, I didn't have a choice. He would have been dead if I just stood and watched."
Brian smiled and nodded. "Good answer-for all of us. So, does this mean you're currently out of a job?" he asked.
"Change of venue," Brennan corrected. "They put me on desk duty."
"Until we can trust you to keep your assignment foremost on your 'to-do' list and not play superhero, you stay behind a desk," Lieutenant Lisbon, his direct superior, had shouted at him. As fair skinned as they came, Lisbon had a habit of turning an almost bright red whenever he was angry and he had been very angry the day he'd thrown him off the case.
Brian looked at him knowingly. "Let me guess. You're not a desk duty kind of guy."
Brian didn't even pause before asking, "Have you given any thought to having a different sort of change of venue?"
Was the chief of Ds being philosophical, or-? "What do you mean, 'different'?"
Brian felt him out slowly, watching Brennan's eyes for his true response. "Let's just say going from the DEA to being a police detective on the Aurora Police Department?"
Brennan's electric blue eyes narrowed as he stopped taking in the people in the immediate vicinity and focused completely on the man he was talking to.
"Are you offering me a job, sir?" he asked a little uncertainly.
The politely worded question almost had him laughing out loud. "Boy, after what you did, you can write your own ticket to anything that's within this family's power to give, so yes, I am offering you a job. As a matter of fact, something recently came to my attention that you would undoubtedly be perfect for, given your undercover background."
Brennan could feel himself getting hopeful. He needed to nip that in the bud if this wasn't going to pan out. "You're not just pulling my leg, are you, sir?"
"I have been known to do a great many things in my time, singularly or on an ongoing basis. However, leg pulling does not number among them, so no, I am not pulling your leg."
Setting his own glass-now devoid of beer-aside on the closest flat surface, Brian turned his attention completely to the subject he was about to share with this new member of the family.
"Word has it that we've had more than our share of runaways lately. There have always been one or two in a year. However, the number went up dramatically recently. Ten in two months."
"You don't think they're runaways?" It was a rhetorical question.
"I do not," Brian confirmed. Runaways were bad enough. What he was about to say was infinitely worse. "Rumor has it that these missing girls are being 'recruited' one way or another for the sole purpose of becoming sex slaves, used to sate the appetites of men whose sick preferences tend toward underaged girls. Preferably untouched underaged girls. I'm putting together a task force to track down the people in charge of this sex-trafficking ring, and I could use a man like you on the inside to do what you normally do."
"And that is?" Brennan asked, curious as to how the chief perceived him.
"Get the bad guys to trust you," Brian said simply, humor curving the sides of his mouth.
This definitely sounded as if it had possibilities and it certainly beat the hell out of sitting behind a desk, aging.
"Who would I have to see about applying for the job?" Brennan asked.
"You're seeing him," Brian assured him, then Brian laughed softly to himself as he shook his head and marveled, "Who knew it would be such a small world and that someone from the very branch of the family that Andrew set out to track down wound up saving his life." Brian straightened, moving away from the wall. "I guess that's what they mean when people talk about 'karma.'"
"Maybe," Brennan allowed.
He certainly had no better or other plausible explanation for why he'd been where he was that fateful night. He hadn't even known that his late grandfather had had any family other than the four children he had fathered.
The life Brennan had chosen didn't allow him to make any unnecessary contact with anyone from his "other" life for months at a time. Since he wasn't married and his last semimeaningful relationship was far in the past, he was a perfect candidate for the job he'd had.
Emphasis, Brennan reminded himself, on the word
Brian grinned at him as the man straightened and indicated a keg several yards away. "Let's see about getting you that refill now," he prompted.
Brennan looked down at the glass he was holding and noticed that it was empty. Without realizing it, as he'd talked to Brian, he'd consumed the rest of the beer.
He flashed a grin now and said, "Sure, why not?"
Brian clapped an arm around his shoulders, directing him toward the keg. "Can't think of a single reason," he confirmed. "Let's go."
"A little overwhelming, isn't it?" the tall, broad-shouldered man who had joined Brennan nursing something amber in a chunky glass, asked, amused.
The dinner had been served and now everyone had broken up into smaller groups, some remaining in the house, some drifting outside. All in all, Andrew Ca-vanaugh's "get acquainted" party was teeming with Cavanaughs. Brennan was still trying to absorb everything that his chance action several weeks ago had brought about.
So many names, so many faces, he couldn't help thinking.
Brennan looked now at the man who was addressing him. They were around the same height and there was something vaguely familiar about him.
Or maybe it was that the amicable man looked a great deal like the lion's share of the men who were meandering about the house and grounds, talking, laughing or, in some instances, just listening.
"You could say that," Brennan agreed.
"Don't be shy about it. First time I attended one of these 'little' family gatherings, I thought I'd wandered into a central casting call for Hollywood's answer to what a family of cops was supposed to look like."
"The first time," Brennan repeated, having picked up the term. "Does that mean that you're not a Cava-naugh?"
"Well, yeah, actually, I am," the other man more than willingly admitted, then grinned as he remembered the confusion that had ensued over this discovery coming to light. "But at the time, I thought I was a Cavelli."
If this was some kind of a riddle, it left him standing in the dark. "I'm sorry, but I just don't follow."
Thomas laughed. "At the time, neither did I. I'm Thomas," he said abruptly, realizing that he hadn't introduced himself.
Shifting his glass to his other hand, he offered it in a handshake, which Brennan easily took. "Brennan," Brennan told him.
The expression on Thomas's face told him that he didn't need to make the introduction. His name had made the rounds. "My father's Sean Cavanaugh, the-"
"-head of the daytime crime scene investigative unit," Brennan completed. "I looked over the roster at the department before I came here." Even so, he couldn't untangle the confusion associated with what Thomas was telling him. "But if your father's a Cavanaugh, then I don't-"
Thomas decided to tell this story from the beginning. "There was a time when he didn't know he was a Cavanaugh. You notice the strong resemblance between my father, Sean, and the former chief of police, Andrew-the guy whose life you saved," he added.
Brennan nodded. "Yeah."
"Well, so did a lot of other people a few years ago. They thought that the chief was snubbing them and flat-out ignoring them. Since he was doing no such thing and wasn't even in these places they claimed to have seen him, he did a little detective work of his own to see if he could track down this man who supposedly had his face.
"That led to tracking down a few important details-like where he was born, when, all that good stuff. Turns out that the day my dad was born, so was another male baby. And if that wasn't enough of a coincidence, they were both named Sean. One was a Cavanaugh and the other was a Cavelli-Two Cs," he emphasized.
"And let me guess, the nurse got them confused."
"Give the man a cigar. Story goes she'd just been told her soldier fianc had been killed overseas by a roadside bomb. She was completely beside herself and just going through the motions to keep from collapsing in a heap. To add to our little drama, the infant the Ca-vanaughs brought home died before his first birthday."
"I guess that trumps a divorce and estranged brothers," Brennan quipped.
Thomas held up his hand, indicating that he not dismiss the matter so quickly. "Not when the reunion brings twenty-four more Cavanaughs to the table." He laughed.
Brennan looked around. He knew that all his siblings and cousins, not to mention his father, aunt and uncles, hadn't all been able to make this gathering. Despite that, it still looked like a crowd scene from some epic, biblical movie.
"Just how many Cavanaughs are there?" he asked, looking at Thomas.
"You asking about Cavanaughs strictly by birth, or are you including the ones by marriage, too?"
Brennan shrugged. "The latter, I guess." He'd heard that once you entered the inner circle, you were a Ca-vanaugh for life.
"Haven't a clue," Thomas admitted honestly, keeping a straight face. "But I'm betting we could have easily had enough people to storm the Bastille back in the day." The oldest of the Cavanaugh-Cavelli branch- not counting his father, Sean-Thomas grinned as he raised his glass in a toast to Brennan. "Welcome to the family."
Brennan laughed. "Thanks," he said, draining his own glass. Being part of what was perceived to be a dynasty felt rather good from where he stood.