In need of fast cash to help her brother sneak into the US, Tova Sorenson takes a job as a sexcam operator, sparking an unlikely friendship with her very first customer. When Marcus Lucero’s border patrol teammate suggests a sexcam site for female companionship without heartache, Marcus figures he’s got nothing to lose.
While danger from Tova’s dark side brings them together in the flesh where their chemistry burns hotter than hell, it also exposes their divergent loyalties which could end not only their desires, but their lives.
Read an Excerpt
Rain pelted Marcus Lucero’s face. Wind howled in his ears. Mud slipped beneath his boots. Ten yards ahead, the smuggler scuttled along a steep embankment of San Diego’s Otay Mesa on all fours, searching for a path to level ground.
“Alto!” Marcus bellowed over the storm. “No se muevan, you fucker.”
The smuggler didn’t listen. They never did. Marcus had long ago decided that yelling was about following procedure and releasing aggression, not expecting compliance.
The man’s tennis shoes sank into the mud. He clawed at filaments of exposed roots, scaling the dirt wall like a salamander in a fish tank. But he was gaining ground inch by inch, and if he reached that flat surface, he’d disappear into the storm. Marcus was not going to repeat this scenario when the guy tried to push another five tons of marijuana across the border tomorrow night. Or worse, cocaine, meth, or heroin. He was ending this here. Now.
And he was almost close enough…
The smuggler reached for the ledge, grabbed the trunk of a Manzanita bush, and hauled himself up.
Marcus lunged, grabbing two fistfuls of soggy T-shirt. He dropped back to the ground, hauling the smuggler with him, and they landed in an icy bog pit. The guy was small, a foot shorter and fifty pounds lighter than Marcus, but he was a scrapper and hella slippery. He clawed, squirmed, twisted.
“Alto, motherfucker!” Marcus said through clenched teeth. “Alto!”
The guy kicked, pushed, pulled, punched. His fist connected with Marcus’s cheek, snapping his head sideways. Pain streaked through Marcus’s face, lighting the last fuse on his already short temper, and he exploded.
“God dammit.” Marcus plowed his fist into the guy’s middle. The smuggler went down with a guttural sound of pain. And stayed down, curling onto his side, coughing.
Bent over the other man, Marcus pressed his hands to his knees and caught his breath. Shook off the pain radiating through his hand and probed his cheekbone and temple. Probably no breaks, but—he spit out blood—plenty of cut gums.
God, he hated the taste of blood.
“Trigger to Smoke.” Meier Hudson, known as Trigger in the field, spoke to Marcus over the bud in his ear. “Need backup?”
“Negative.” Marcus breathed the word, then took a couple more breaths before adding, “Runner in custody.”
“Sweet. We picked up the package he dropped, an eighty-pounder. Haul his ass thisaway. His ride’s waiting.”
Marcus winced as he straightened. After sprinting miles over rough terrain, his legs feltlike rubber, but the storm, crashing from the north, had lowered temperatures twenty degrees, making him stiff. The wind had blown off his uniform ball cap, and the rain stung against his skin like icy needles.
Whoever thought the sun always shone in Southern California was dead wrong. And Marcus had the gooseflesh to prove it.
He nudged the smuggler with his boot. “Levántate, cabrón.” The man groaned and coughed again. “Your choice to be out here tonight, Einstein. Levántate.”
Marcus leaned down, made a cursory search for weapons—though if the man had them, Marcus was sure he would have used them by now—and dragged him up by the arm. After securing the smuggler’s wrists with zip ties, they trudged through the rain and mud and wind and dark back toward the main road.
What a fucking miserable shift.
“Eighty pounds?” Marcus asked. “Why’d they make a runt like you carry the biggest bale?”
He’d done nothing but chase and fight bad guys like this one, soothe the scared, and aid the injured the entire shift. Not one minute’s peace. Tonight had run the gamut from a family with a four-year-old hoping for a better life in the States, to a group of abused women led by cartel smugglers looking for American brothels, to these guys—drug dealers searching for American customers.
In the rain. In the cold. For twelve long fucking hours. For his twenty-fourth damn day in a row.
More than a fucking miserable shift. This was a fucking miserable existence.
For all of them.
“Why do you do this, man?” Marcus prodded when the smuggler didn’t answer. He’d asked this thousands of times during his career, growing more and more curious over the years what drove people to such extremes. And the more stories he heard, the more curious he became. Human nature fascinated him—though not necessarily in a good way.
But tonight he wouldn’t get another story. His prisoner remained silent.
A fifteen-minute hike brought Marcus face-to-face with the four other Border Patrol agents assisting in the capture of the drug smugglers. Two transport vans waited, along with four more transport personnel.
When he handed off his prisoner, the transporter took hold of the man’s arm, standoffish and grimacing, as if Marcus had handed him a bag of shit. “What the fuck happened here?”
“Afraid of a little dirt, Ace?” Marcus planted his hands at his hips and glared. God, he was so exhausted he wanted to fall over. “Are we going to have to change your name to Pussy?”
The others’ laughter floated on the storm. Ace’s partner stood from the passenger’s side of the van, one arm hanging over the frame. “What happened to you?”
Marcus threw both arms up. “What are you two? Dumb and Dumber? Rain plus dirt equals mud, dude. Did you not pass kindergarten? Have you not been monitoring the radio? Do you not know this has been the goddamned shift from hell?”
His partner, Trigger, slid the door to the van closed as Ace rounded to the van’s driver’s side, muttering some shit Marcus was glad he didn’t hear. “This shift isn’t your problem.” He had that damned know-it-all-grin tilting his mouth and rain dripping off the brim of his hat. “You need to get laid, dude.”
“You’ve been a bitch for months.” This came from behind Marcus, from one of the other agents nicknamed Zoomie. “Ever since what’s-her-name.”
“That’s because what’s-her-name was the last chick he banged,” Trigger said.
“What was her name?” Lucky called over the wind from where he leaned against the side of the second van, soaked to thebone but kicked back, arms and ankles crossed like it was eighty degrees and sunny.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with what’s-her-name.” Even Marcus couldn’t remember her name. “Excuse me for getting pissed when someone tries to break my face.” He started toward his SUV, which was equally caked in mud. “I’m gonna be tasting blood for a fucking week.”
“Trigger’s right.” Lucky called as he climbed into his own vehicle. “You need some tail.”
“Like I have time.” He lifted his hands, gesturing to the group. “Like any of us have time.”
“If you won’t go pick someone up,” Zoomie said, rounding to the passenger’s side of Lucky’s SUV, “grab a sexcam girl and get personal with your hand. But do something, dude.”
Trigger’s grin was bright in the darkness. “A lot of those chicks are seriously hot.”
“And a lot less trouble than the real thing,” Lucky added. “With the same result.”
Sexcam? Marcus climbed into his truck and turned the engine over. Finally—no rain hitting his face. He reached forward and turned the heater up. Trigger opened the passenger’s door, and another gust of wet wind swept in. A shiver snaked down Marcus’s spine.
Would this night ever end?
Trigger shut the door and pulled on his seat belt, grinning. “That was fun.”
Normally, Marcus would have agreed. But more and more often over the past six months, his adrenaline burned out faster and faster.
“For you maybe.” Marcus slid his jaw to the side, testing his mobility. Pain sliced through his face.
He shoved the SUV into drive and swung it around to head back to the station. With their shift finally over, Marcus was dreaming of a hot shower and a soft bed. Having a woman ride him to a rocking orgasm before he drifted off to sleep soundedpretty damn heavenly too. But, no woman in his life meant no one giving him a rocking orgasm either. There was a real drawback to that whole too-busy-for-women thing.
“What was Zoomie talking about?” Marcus asked.
“What do you mean?”
“The sexcam thing.”
Trigger turned a frown on him. “You don’t know what a sexcam girl is? Where the fuck have you been, dude? Under a rock?”
“I’ve been out here with you, asshole.”
“That’s one of your problems. Cut back on the crazy OT, and you’d have time to find a woman.”
“And who’s gonna cover these shifts until we get the new guy ready to work on his own?”
Almost a year had passed since their teammate, Cody, had been killed during a bust. But every time Marcus stepped onto the desert floor, the wound felt fresh, like they’d lost him yesterday. And still…nobody had paid for his murder.
“Cooper’s doing great,” Trigger said.
Marcus shook his head. “It’s too soon.”
The kid wasn’t on his team, but Marcus had made an arrangement with the watch commander and the other team leader to provide coverage for an extended amount of time toallow Cooper to keep a partner longer. More often than not, agents worked alone. And even when they did work as a team to take down a large group of illegals, they ended up separating to chase them down, and often confronted one or several suspects on their own. But keeping a second agent with Cooper required another body to fill the vacant shift, one Marcus had been taking the brunt of, since it had been his idea. His passion.
“If he had a few years on the streets,” Marcus said, “or at the border crossings, search and rescue, military, something…maybe he’d be ready. But…”
“You wouldn’t have said that a year ago. I swear you’ve aged ten years in the last one.”
Marcus blew out a heavy breath, propped his elbow on the window ledge, and wiped mud from his forehead. He’d have to shower and scrub for an hour to get this sandy shit off. When the hell had that become a chore? “A lot was different a year ago.”
“Got that right. You were fun. Total chick magnet. In fact, hard to imagine now, but I was getting sick of going to bars with you and always ending up with your leftovers.” Trigger snorted. “Who knew you’d turn into such a fun suck?”
“Fuck you. You haven’t exactly been the life of the party either.”
Trigger shook his head and stared out the rain-and-mud slicked windshield as they made their way back to the station where they still had paperwork waiting. “At least I’m still living life.”
Animosity simmered between them on the rest of the drive. That, more than anything else that had happened over the last year, told Marcus he needed to make some kind of change. He and Trigger were never at odds. In the six years they’d worked together, nothing had ever hung between them. And Trigger was the most fun-loving, easygoing of the group. If Marcus was rubbing him wrong, he had a problem.
As they pulled through the outer gates to the station, Marcus said, “You didn’t answer me. What is this sexcam thing?”
“Sexcams, camming, webcam models, they’re all the same—hot women performing on webcam, doing whatever you want them to do, saying whatever you want them to say, while you jerk off watching. You see them, they don’t see you. Totally anonymous, interactive, personal, safe, and way better than porn.”
The idea shot heat through Marcus’s gut, but his psyche was muttering not my thing.
“And I know what you’re thinking,” Trigger said as Marcus pulled to a stop at the back of the building. “It’s not your thing.” Marcus almost laughed, but his teammate was serious, so he didn’t. Trigger met Marcus’s gaze across the cab and grabbed the handle, pushing the door wide. “But how would you know if you’ve never tried it?”
Marcus unlocked the front door to his townhome in the East Village of San Diego near BalboaPark and dumped his gear down on the tile in the entry. His mind still whirled around the events of his shift as he dragged the uniform he’d hosed down at the station to his laundry room. He remembered the women, far more scared of their smugglers than of the Border Patrol agents, all with visible bruises. The drug smugglers, three of the eight, wanted in other countries for violent crimes.
His worktonight had hindered drug and sex traffickers. These busts had kept violentoffenders, drugs, and dealers off the streets of America. A job well done.
But as he stuffed the still-grimy, more-brown-than-olive uniform into the washer, he thought of the family with the kid. Marcus wasn’t a big fan of kids or anything, but that little guy had been adorable. A social butterfly who spoke decent English and never stopped asking questions and touching everything. A kid who begged Marcus to pick him up, to let him ride in his truck, to touch his badge, to wear his hat, and reminded Marcus that he hadn’t gotten back to Texas to see his family or his own nephews for almost two years.
Hell, the kid had made Marcus laugh for the first time all damn week. Then he’d sent the family right back to Mexico where, if they stayed, the kid would probably end up being one of the mules Marcus arrested years down the line, smuggling drugs for one of the cartels.
The flutter of fabric caught his attention—a tear in his jacket sleeve. “Fuck me.”
These damn jackets were expensive, and he’d burned through his uniform allowance months ago.
He added soap, slammed the cover, and set the dials. He’d never be able to sleep now. Not with everything circling through his brain like this. So he trashed the dozen pizza boxes and half-dozen Chinese food boxes in his living room, cleaned his kitchen, and vacuumed the whole town house. He had a beer. He scanned the six hundred channels on TV. And he still couldn’t relax.
He really did need to get laid.
He pulled his laptop from the coffee table and opened a browser. He’d just look. The whole sexcam thing kind of made him want to squirm, the same way strip clubs did. But he wasn’t going to use the site, just…check it out.
Within five minutes, he understood everything there was to understand about camming, sexcams, and webcam modeling—it was all just a high-tech, paid peep show. They charged by the minute, the higher prices allocated to private chats, the lower prices to group chats.
And seriously? The women… Marcus would have to have a talk with Trigger about his standards if he thought a lot of these chicks were hot. There might be a handful that looked like models, but the rest… Ninety percent of them wouldn’t garner a second glance. At least not from Marcus.
Maybe he was too picky; his friends had always said so. Maybe he needed a vacation; he hadn’t taken any time off in years. Maybe…
Maybe he was just fucked-up.
He forced himself to click on one last URL from Google with a growing fear there was something legitimately wrong with him. At thirty-one, he might be a little older than the other guys in his team, but nowadays, he got hard just pulling on his uniform pants. It wasn’t like he didn’t want it.
His screen filled with two images. Active, live webcam images. Okay, that was a littlemore interesting than the stills—but in a way, that felt a little…perverse.
One woman, wearing nearly nothing, sat on a bed smoking a cigarette, looking blankly at a wall. Another, wearing some type of black lace bodysuit, was painting her toenails.
Really? Was that supposed to be sexy? And how was this different than picking up a hooker on the corner?
Hypothetical question. He knew how it was different—intellectually—but ethically?
He glanced at the clock in the upper corner of his screen—2-freaking-a.m. Maybe he’d try a run on the treadmill, if his legs could take it. Or maybe another shower—this time cold.
He lifted his hand to close the lid just as the images changed. The two videos of the other women shrank, and two more replaced them, one of which was a close-up of an eye, as if someone had the camera held right up to their face.
Marcus jerked back with a muttered “What the fuck?”
The eyeball shifted left, then right. And the bizarre situation made Marcus laugh. “Okay, that’s just freaky.”
In the other image, a woman lay on a bed in black bra and red panties. She was caressing a dildo, one that looked remarkably real with veins and ridges, which, for some reason, seemed even freakier.
This simply wasn’t for him.
He started to close his laptop and caught the sound of music over his speakers. His gaze darted back to the eye. Something about the lighting had changed, and he paused. The center’s amber starburst faded into bright moss green, all rimmed in a deep shade of blue. The sight reminded Marcus of a nebula, shards of color and swirls of light.
In the background, the deep voice of Theory of a Deadman’s lead singer murmured a song he couldn’t make out.
“What the hell is wrong with this thing?”
The woman’s voice cut into the quiet, startling him. He sat back, hands coming off the laptop, wondering if he’d somehow activated a connection he didn’t know about. The other cams hadn’t had sound. Then again, smoking, painting toenails, and fondling a dildo didn’t really generate noise…
The camera panned out, showing half of a young woman’s face, her mouth turned in a frown, brow furrowed in frustration. She was still looking directly into the camera and, Marcus almost believed, straight into him.
He took a slow breath, then tried a tentative “Hello?”
“God dammit.” The image jiggled and blurred and bounced, then a close-up of dark hardwood filled the frame. “This was a stupid idea. I can’t even get the damn camera to work.”
She’d obviously gotten it to work better than she realized. He searched for directions on how to use the site. At the bottom of the screen, it said a potential customer could chat with any of the girls for free, then ante up with a credit card number if they wanted more.
Marcus registered with a false last name and the e-mail he’d created for junk, then navigated back to the girl. He poised the arrow over the Chat Free button, but paused. She’d picked up the camera, struggling again, but this time, he could see her face and shoulders. And she was… Wow. She was cute. Or pretty. Or whatever…she was…wow. Her hair was long and dark. Her face sweet and smooth. God, she looked young. Too young. He liked a woman who was at least several years into adulthood, and this one looked about twenty—not far enough into adulthood to interest him in engaging.
His mind darted back to the women smuggled over the border earlier that night.
Get your head out of the fucking job.
He pushed thoughts of work aside and assessed the woman again. She wore a fair amount of makeup, and her eyes popped. Her lips shone. Her shirt was white and low-cut, and her breasts filled out every inch, her cleavage displayed in a way that made Marcus’s body tighten from shoulders to thighs.
“Grrrrr.” She sat back and slapped her thighs. “Perfect end to a shitty day.”
Her voice was deeper and smokier than he’d expected, and the sultry sound didn’t quite fit with that sweet face. It also made her seem older.
On the second screen, the woman playing with the realistic dildo pushed the toy into her mouth with a low moan. A burst of heat registered deep in Marcus’s gut, but his mind was 100 percent on the woman having camera issues.
Camera issues. That was something he could help with… Right? Not a sex chat. Just…helping. Yeah.
Before he’d thought it through, his hand moved, and he clicked the Chat button.
The image of the woman in white expanded and filled the screen. Everything else disappeared, and a small menu ran along the bottom. A gentle ping-ping sounded on both his computer and hers. Nerves skittered around his stomach. And a voice in his head whispered you’ve done it now.
The sound seemed to surprise her as much as Marcus. She flinched and pulled in a breath, covering her mouth with both hands. Her eyes went wide, her body still as she stared at the screen. Anticipation spread through Marcus’s body in a slow, hot wave. This was just…bizarre…and entertaining in an I-shouldn’t-be-doing-this sort of way.
“Oh shit,” she whispered, fisting her hands at her neck, a look of utter panic transforming her expression with a sliver of vulnerability. “Oh, shit,” she said again, then fluttered her hands as if that would help her think. “Now what?”
“What the fuck?” Marcus asked himself softly. Was this an act? Because it was really cute. And doing weird things to his insides.
But over his ten years in law enforcement, Marcus had become excellent at reading people. He could always tell when someone was lying, could sense violence brewing inside someone, could evaluate rising stress levels before they broke. And he read this woman as a first timer. Which made her even more appealing.
His finger hit the mouse pad again, and the ping-ping repeated in stereo.
She licked her lips, repositioned herself so she was sitting sideways at the base of the bed behind her, and stretched out, leaning back on her elbows. She was wearing super short jean cutoffs and a clinging white top that crisscrossed her breasts.
“Holy mother…” Marcus murmured. Everything inside him loosened and knotted at the same time.
Her body was tight and slim, her legs toned and tanned, feet bare. Then she tossed that coffee-colored hair over her shoulder, plastered on a hot smile, and tapped her mouse.
“Hi,” she said, her voice soft and deep with that hint of smoke that did crazy things to his belly. “I’m Tandi. What’s your name?”
The song in the background, “All or Nothing,” switched to “Heaven.” She was listening to one of Marcus’s favorite albums.
He hesitated and tried to focus. This situation suddenly seemed so completely ridiculous. “Tandi? Really?”
She laughed softly, shifting toward the camera. The simple act of watching her move spread a tingle of heat into Marcus’s groin.
Maybe there was something to this sexcam thing…
“Really. Who am I talking to?”
“Marcus.” Then his mind went completely blank. The way it sometimes did when an attractive woman approached him in a bar. So he forced words out. “I was just surfing through and…”
And what? Saw you fumbling?
“And liked what you saw, Marcus?” Her voice was terribly seductive, and, man, it had been a long damn time since he’d heard his name in a hot, sugary voice like that.
She rolled to her side and rested her head in her hand. Her breasts tested the stretchy fabric of her top, and Marcus’s mouth went from desert to oasis. “I definitely like what I see,” he murmured, his brain half-hazed. “But that’s not why I requested a chat.”
She bent her knees, easing her body into a soft curve, and slid her free hand over her hip and down her thigh. Marcus squeezed his hand closed, running his fingers over his palm, wishing he were touching her skin.
“Are you sure?” she asked sweetly. “I could show you a little more… Maybe change your mind…”