Counter terrorist agent Taft Walker knows the Mexican cartel smuggling game. But posing as part owner of an adult store to ferret out the newest tunnel into the US is a first. So is Zoe Brooks, his partner, new to undercover and a sex-toy virgin. Taft’s up for the sexy challenge. At least until he sees the real Zoe beneath her tough façade and realizes, for the first time in his life, he’ll have to risk his heart to win.
After the death of a teammate, Border Patrol Agent Zoe Brooks is ready to get off the front lines. She’s willing to tolerate a swaggering partner like Taft for a chance to work investigations with ICE. But she’s not prepared for the way he understands her deepest, sexiest desires. Or the fact that she’ll have to break her own rules to grab hold of the passion she’s always wanted.
FIRST TEMPTATION is a novella length read at 40,000 words and part of the WICKED FIRSTS anthology along with 5 other bestselling authors, Elisabeth Naughton, Cythia Eden, Katie Reus, Laura Wright and Alexandra Ivy.
Read an Excerpt
Supervisory Border Patrol agent Zoe Brooks muscled the ATV beneath her at top speed across the rock-studded desert terrain of El Centro, California. Her heavy breathing echoed in rough pantsover the headset.
“Boss.” Nighthawk’s pilot’s voice scraped in Zoe’s ear. “You’ve got three of the runners due east of your current location, copy?”
With a jerk on the handlebars, she steered east and scanned for the smugglers through her night vision goggles.
“Copy. Do they still have the cargo?”Zoe said, the rough earth bouncing under her tires, making her voice jerk.
Her tires hit a puddle left over from a recent flash flood, and the ATV floated sideways. Zoe shifted her weight, twisted the handlebars, and eased out of the skid.
“Nice moves, boss.” Nighthawk’s voice warmed with appreciation. Zoe grinned, and the mud on her face cracked. The icy desert air cut through her uniform. “You’re coming up on them, boss. They’re still carrying packs. Another ten meters— Whoa, hold on.” Nighthawk paused, his voice rising with urgency. Zoe never slowed. “They got spooked. Dropped the drugs. Took a hairpin. All three are headed freaking straight at you, boss.”
Her heartbeat kicked higher. Her gaze scanned faster, searching for glowing green figures in her viewfinder. “Come on, where are you…?”
“Nighthawk to Roadrunners.” The pilot spoke to the team as a whole, which included four other Border Patrol agents scattered through the desert surrounding these Mexican smugglers from the El Diablo cartel. “Boss is going to need assistance, over.”
“Copy that, Nighthawk. Trigger and Smoke inbound.”
But they wouldn’t reach her in time for anything but cleanup. “Runners in sight.”
Zoe angled sharply, gritted her teeth, gripped the handles tight…and let the first one [L1] run right into her ATV.
He grunted, and his momentum nearly flipped him over her handlebars. She stopped the ATV and fisted the man’s shirt, throwing him to the ground.
“No mueva,” she yelled at smugglers two and three who’d stopped running just out of her reach.
With her boot on the first smuggler’s back, Zoe drew her weapon, turned on her flashlight and flipped up her night vision goggles. “Déjame ver tus manos. Tus manos! Conseguir en el suelo.”
The second smuggler put his hands up as directed. But not the third. And his eyes were darting around, searching for escape. She ordered them to the ground, threatening to shoot. “Voy a disparar! Conseguir en el suelo! Ahora!”
Number Two dropped, face-first to the ground.
As Zoe suspected he would, Number Three ran.
“Goddammit.” She holstered her weapon and jerked handcuffs from her duty belt. Breathing hard, she wrenched the first smuggler’s hands behind his back. “Nighthawk, I lost one.”
“I see him,” the pilot responded. “Running south.”
“Not for long,” Zoe muttered, securing the free cuff to the thick trunk of a manzanita bush and pulling out a second set.
Once Number Two was secure, Zoe took off on foot after Number Three. The brush was too thick for the ATV here…and she had a lot of adrenaline to burn.
“In pursuit…” she said between heavy breaths. “Give me…eyes, Nighthawk.”
The chopper’s floodlight cut through the night sky, swamping the desert in a circle of halogen. Zoe lifted her arm to shield her eyes until they adjusted to the sudden light.
“Little more to your right…” Nighthawk said.
She altered her path.
“Two meters dead ahead, boss. Trigger and Smoke have your other two runners. Joker and Zoomie have the drugs. Huge haul, boss.”
Zoe couldn’t take in the details. Couldn’t feel the triumph. Not yet. There was still one out here. One loose.
Even one was one too many.
Number Three moved in the distance. Excitement spurted through her chest. “Got you, cabron.”
She pushed all her strength into her legs and pumped out the distance, coming up on the smuggler fast. He caught sight of her, turned into a frenzied, hunted animal, and hauled ass.
“No you don’t.”
Zoe pushed harder. Past the burn in her legs. Past the stab in her side.
An unexpected downhill slope turned the chase into a chaotic sprint, and with her muscles depleted, she lost control of her speed. Zoe let the momentum carry her and reached out with both hands. A split second before she fisted the guy’s shirt, everything slowed to quarter time and flashed in her mind like mini events.
Her body slammed into his. The smuggler crumpled. Zoe landed on top of him. Together they rolled several yards. Two, maybe three hard hits against the ground stuck in her memory, but no pain registered. Her mind filled with the sole objective of keeping her fingers clenched in the fabric of his shirt. That and keeping her head off the ground.
Zoe didn’t know how many times they rolled before her boot finally dug into the earth. Finally stopped their forward motion. All she knew was lying against the hard ground, then Number Three straddling her and pointing a handgun at her forehead.
Her brain didn’t go instantly sharp as she’d expected. Her thoughts pinged first, to irrational places, contemplating bizarre, useless things.
When it did focus, everything inside her body chilled. And she thought of Cody. But instantly forced him from her mind.
She pulled in a breath to request assistance but realized Nighthawk was already speaking.
“More to your right, Trigger,” the pilot said. “The weapon is in his right hand, against her head.”
But memories trickled in anyway. Cody’s smile. His laugh. His blood spilling over her hands.
She dragged herself back into the moment and forced words out of her mouth to make him consider the consequences of killing a Border Patrol agent. “Ya sabes lo que te va a pasar si usted mata a un agente del Border Patrol?”
“If I kill this Border Patrol Agent…” Number Three’s English held a heavy Spanish accent, and his voice was rough with fatigue. Zoe focused on his face in case she needed to identify him again, but he was covered with mud. “Then we won’t have to worry about perra blanca no more.”
“Drop…the…weapon.” Trigger’s voice behind the smuggler filled Zoe with so much relief, she almost closed her eyes.
Then someone else moved on their right. Another person on their left.
“You’re surrounded, gilipollas.” Smoke’s dark voice rasped among the thick whap of Nighthawk’s blades.
Zoe’s mind slipped. Back to Cody. To the way the sound of gunshots traveled in the night like wavelets. To the speed with which blood left the body from a gunshot to the head. To the way the sun baked soil soaked it up like a sponge.
I’m not going to die tonight. Or like that.
She tore her gaze from Number Three’s face, honing in on his exact position above her. Her sleeve had ripped and flapped in the gust from the chopper’s blades, hitting her face. She squinted past, found the hand holding the gun in her peripheral vision and let her adrenalin surge.
She brought her knee up with all her strength at the same time she grabbed the wrist of the hand holding the weapon. She tilted the gun toward the ground and rammed her knee into his crotch. When his hand released its grip, she twisted the gun away.
While he curled into a ball, holding his nuts, Zoe flipped him to his back, jammed a knee to his chest, and pointed the weapon at his face.
“This white bitch,” she rasped heavily, “ain’t going nowhere, cabron.”
Zoe parked her Border Patrol ride at the back of the café’s lot and pulled her uniform ball cap off. Leaning forward, she rested her cheek on the steering wheel and let the air-conditioning bathe her face.
She was still sweating. Still shaking. For Zoe, the fear always came after. In the moment, under pressure, she was solid. But later, when she had time to think and reflect, that was when all the what-ifs hit.
“I have to get out.”
She’d needed to get out of this job since Cody had died. Could probably have gotten out faster if she’d admitted to the trauma his death had caused her. But—right or not—that would make her look weak. And as a cop, especially a female cop, weakness was the quickest way to lose alliances, respect, and opportunities. Besides, she didn’t want to take just any job.
She wanted the job she was here to talk to Rio about.
She wound her hair back into a bun and pulled her ball cap on, then shut down the engine and climbed from the SUV, wincing at the aches in her body—shoulders, hips, knees, hands.
“Damn,” she breathed through the pain.
“Good morning, Agent Brooks.”
Zoe spun toward Rio’s voice and found him strolling toward her. He had a big grin on his handsome face, and those pretty green eyes scanned her from shoulders to boot tips. Then his gaze moved to her SUV.
“I’m not sure who had more fun last night, you or your vehicle.”
The chase had been fun until she’d seen her life flash before her eyes.
She made herself relax. Made herself smile back. “Agent Cordova. I got held up and had to come straight from processing a rough group. I promise I did shower and change, but…” She held her arms out wide and shrugged. “This is my spare uniform, if you can believe that.”
Rio’s grin widened as he turned toward the café. “Come on. And call me Rio, please.”
Rio had spent eight years undercover all over South America, only recently returning to the states as the Director of Investigations for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Zoe had worked with Rio gathering information for investigations in the past and knew he’d be a great boss.
“How’s Cassie?” she asked.
“Amazing.” His expression softened when he spoke of his pregnant wife. “Finally getting a belly.”
He held the café door open for Zoe, and as she passed through, it seemed every gaze turned toward her. She was used to that—the uniform and the weapon always drew attention. Tenfold on a woman.
As soon as they chose a table, the waitress poured coffee and took their orders.
When the menus were gone, Rio said, “I didn’t want to ask you this over the phone when we talked the other day, but I’d like to know if your transfer request has anything to do with your teammate’s death last year?”
Zoe’s throat closed around a sip of coffee. She choked, forced the liquid down, and coughed into her fist. “I love that about you, Rio. Get right to the heart of it. And, no,” she lied. “I’ve been on Border Patrol for eight years. I’m ready to get out of the harsh conditions.”
Rio nodded. “Okay, then. Here’s what I’ve got.”
Zoe set her coffee down. Excitement bubbled in her gut. The stories she’d heard from investigators at ICE intrigued her. She knew she’d love working in the department, would enjoy working for Rio, and would be fascinated and challenged by the complexity of the cases.
“We have credible intel on a new tunnel leading into the Otay Mesa area here in San Diego from Tijuana,” Rio said. “Word is it belongs to El Diablo. The tunnel isn’t quite finished yet. In the next week, the architect will be making a visit or two to inspect the structure.”
“That’s a freaking long tunnel.” Zoe spun her coffee cup between her palms, keeping her voice low. “Shortest distance between Tijuana and Otay Mesa is over five hundred feet. It would be a modern marvel.”
“Which is why we want to get a hold of the architect. Not only so he won’t keep designing these marvels, but so we can get intel on El Diablo.”
Zoe nodded, staring at her cocoa-colored coffee. “What store is fronting it?”
Rio’s green gaze made a casual sweep of the café before returning to hers. “A smoke shop in the Otay Mesa Premium Outlets.”
“That mammoth mall at the border?”
Rio nodded. “The store requires membership to shop there, which is an effective way to keep people out. I had one of our guys go in last week to inquire about membership, and he was told they aren’t taking new members at this time.”
“Convenient. What’s your plan?”
In her peripheral vision, movement at the edge of the table alerted her to the waitress’s return, and Zoe sat back so the woman could set her meal down.
Rio glanced up. The moment he smiled, Zoe knew the waitress wasn’t the person standing there. The grin was for someone Rio knew.
Zoe cringed and sent up a silent prayer that she didn’t also know their visitor. By now, last night’s events had surely passed through the grapevine, and she didn’t want to rehash the harrowing experience. Nor did she want anything to overshadow this opportunity with Rio’s department.
Zoe cast a sidelong glance toward the man shaking Rio’s hand and focused in on a tight torso covered in a fitted black tee.
But Zoe’s fried brain couldn’t absorb any more eye candy. She was exhausted and just wanted him to go away. She rested her chin in her hands and tried to keep her eyes open.
“Hey, boss.” The man’s voice vibrated in a smooth, rich timbre that made Zoe want to close her eyes. “Looking good. How’s your girl?”
No, Zoe definitely didn’t know this man. She would never forget a voice like that. It curled through her body like the first sip of her hot coffee, tingling down her chest and spreading through her belly.
She was either really, really tired or this guy was really, really yummy.
As Mr. Yum talked to Rio, Zoe glanced up, appreciating an overall build as delicious as his abs and his voice put together, but his face was blocked by the brim of her uniform ball cap. Just as well. This was not the day to meet a hot guy—immediately after the night from hell, in a dirty, butt-ugly uniform. No makeup, hair knotted in a ball cap. In fact, if she didn’t want in on this little operation so bad, she’d cut the meeting with Rio short and meet up with him later.
“Let me introduce you to Agent Brooks,” Rio said.
God, this was so her standard luck with guys.
Zoe pushed to her feet, wincing at the aches. She turned on a polite smile as she extended her hand and met the man’s gaze. “Nice to—”
His looks derailed her mind like a runaway train. Mr. Yum was more like Mr. Scrumptious. Black hair, brows, and lashes. Liquid brown eyes that made her crave one of her mother’s chocolate-dipped caramel apples. And his face… His face was just…
The irritation in his gaze registered, and Zoe realized she hadn’t finished her sentence and he hadn’t taken her hand. Her gaze darted to Rio, whose brows were pulled in curiosity.
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s been a long night. Nice to meet you.”
Scrumptious didn’t respond. But he did take her hand in a firm, dry shake. The annoyance in his eyes made Zoe want to feel nothing when he touched her, but no. His hand fit nicely around hers, the slide of his palm heatingplaces on her body completely unrelated to her hand.
“This is Agent Walker,” Rio said. “He’s with the counter terrorism unit of the Department of Homeland Security.”
Peachy. DHS and CBP had never been best buddies.
Zoe gave a brittle smile and pulled her hand out of the shake first. He was probably used to women drooling over him, and she’d always hated being just another salivation gland to a hot guy.
“Let’s sit down,” Rio said. “Walker, you want some breakfast?”
Walker lowered his muscular body into a chair.
Zoe looked at Rio and turned up her palms in cop sign language for What the fuck?
Rio grinned and scraped his fingers through the hair at his temple. His expression said he found her amusing. Which was when Zoe realized who she was scolding—not one of her guys—and slumped into her seat, sure she’d already blown her chance at this assignment.
And it was all Mr. Scrumptious’s fault.
The waitress showed up with plates, and Walker eyed Zoe’s food.
“Wanna order?” the waitress asked him in a cougher’s huff.
“No, thanks.” He pointed to Zoe’s plate. “I’ll just eat what she doesn’t. That’s way too much food for a girl.”
Oh, good. He was an ass. So much easier to disregard looks when a guy was an ass. She’d seen him take notice of the rank on her uniform as soon as his dark gaze turned on her. Watched those liquid eyes take her in, sum her up and dismiss her all within seconds. Typical of men who’d never worked with her before. But it still burned.
Zoe lifted one side of her mouth in a dry smile and salted her eggs. “Touch my food and I’ll stab you with my fork.”
He just gazed at her with that maddening expression, part irritation, part inquiry. Finally, he turned his gaze on Rio and spoke in an undertone. “Look, buddy, I really want to get moving. Maybe Agent Brooks can move to another table and eat so we can—”
“I can hear you,” she said, overly loud. ”Your mother didn’t teach you to take turns when you were a kid, did she?”
Zoe speared chunks of scrambled eggs onto her fork and paused before putting them in her mouth, even though her stomach was suddenly ravenous at the scent of food. She made sure to meet Walker’s sexy caramel gaze when she said, “This is how it works, Walker. I was here first. First come, first served. You’ll get a turn when mine’s finished. Simple, right? Something even DHS can follow.”
Rio snickered and tried to cover by drinking his juice.
Zoe made a mental note not to schedule morning appointments. She was not at her best when she hadn’t slept in nearly a day and a half.
“And since you were the one who interrupted our important conversation,” she continued, “feel free, Walker, to find yourself another table until we’re finished.”