Trouble just walked onto Knox McLemore's shiptrouble with lush curves, red hair and an uptight attitude that both grates on his nerves and heats his blood. But former Navy SEAL Knox knows all about control. Especially when this sexy nautical archaeologist is the only thing standing between his diving team's claim on a famous shipwreck and utter ruin.
Dr. Avery Walsh is grateful her icy persona hides the effect intimidating (and way-too-hot) Knox has on her. For two people who don't trustor even likeeach other much, the physical chemistry between them is unbelievable. But getting in too deep with Knox is the last thing Avery needs. Because she has a job to do and dark little secrets to hide.
About the Author
Double winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award, Kira Sinclair writes passionate contemporary romances. Her first foray into writing fiction was for a high school English assignment, and not even being forced to read the love story aloud could dampen her enthusiasm...although it did make her blush. She lives in North Alabama with her two amazing daughters and their pet hedgehog. www.KiraSinclair.com
Read an Excerpt
"Here comes fun," Asher Reynolds taunted under his breath.
Knox McLemore fought the urge to wipe the crooked smirk off his business partner's face. At the moment Asher was making it damn difficult to remember they were also friends.
"Trouble," Knox countered. Clearly, the woman walking toward them was nothing but trouble.
From the deck of the Amphitrite, Trident's diving ship, Knox squinted. He didn't bother shielding his eyes from the glare of the Bahamian sun. It was a small nuisance compared to the major pain in his ass marching down the dock in their direction.
She paused, speaking with the two men toting her luggageall six matching pieces of it. He couldn't hear her words, but even from this distance, her no-nonsense expression had his spine snapping straight. Dammit all to hell.
He almost felt sorry for the men to whom she was currently giving detailed instructions.
Dr. Avery Walsh was dressed as if she thought the bustling pier was Wall Streetperfectly tailored cream pants with a knife-edge crease ironed into each leg, a jade silk top and a cream blazer that hugged the curves of her body and buttoned just below the swell of her breasts.
If she was trying to hide the assets God had given her, she was failing. The jacket's button sparkled in the sun, some kind of stone that drew a man's eye right there and then automatically up.
She looked tall, but that was an entirely artificial impression considering the five-inch heels she wore. How the hell did she manage to walk across the uneven boards without catching one of those spindly spikes in a crack?
But she didn't. In fact, she strode across the rough and splintered surface, staring straight ahead, with the kind of speed and purpose that drove Knox crazy.
"Come on, you're exaggerating," Asher said, a wicked grin stretching across his face and a delighted twinkle in his eyes. Bastard. "Avery isn't that bad. Her reputation is spotless and no one could argue with her expertise."
He might be right, but there was something about the woman that rubbed Knox the wrong way, and had from their first meeting several weeks ago.
It was her attitude and the stick lodged firmly up her ass. Life was meant to be enjoyed, savored. He knew it was too damn fleetingcould be snuffed out at any moment. You had to take time to appreciate the little things while you could.
Like the gorgeous turquoise water of the Caribbean surrounding them. The sky so clear it felt as if you could reach up and touch God. And the salty, floral scent of the air filling his lungs.
They were in Nassau. Most people would kill to have the open water as their office. Would lap up the laid-back island vibe and embrace the slower pace.
But not Avery. Apparently, the doc didn't know the definition of the word relaxed.
She'd come into that first meeting as a whirlwind of energy and information. Obviously, she'd done her homework on the Chimera, the Civil War ship Trident was claiming for salvage.
But Knox had picked up on an edge of desperation behind the wall of competence and confidence she used as protection. No one else on the team had seemed to notice.
Considering the scuffle he and the doc had gotten into in the parking lot outside the Trident offices in Jacksonville, everyone had ignored his concerns.
"There you go, spouting her credentials like you've memorized her résumé. If I didn't know you better, I'd think you had a hard-on for her intellect." Knox glared at his friend.
So Avery Walsh was one of the best nautical archaeologists in the business. That didn't mean there wasn't more going on.
"To hear you and Jackson talk, you'd think the woman walked on water instead of harvesting artifacts from beneath it."
As far as he was concerned, Jackson and Asher were all blinded by hope, believing Avery was the answer to the major snag their salvage of the Chimera had hit.
Several months ago Jackson and Loralei Lancaster, reluctant owner of Lancaster Diving and now Jackson's girlfriend, had discovered a Civil War ship that had sunk off the coast of Rum Cay over one hundred and fifty years ago. At the time, they'd thought the biggest obstacle to salvaging the Chimerarumored to carry millions in Confederate goldwould be the instability of the ship and her final resting place at the edge of an underwater ravine.
Boy, had they all been wrong.
Since the wreckage sat in international waters, they'd petitioned the US government for exclusive salvage rights under constructive in rem jurisdiction. Jackson was handling the business side of things, trying to work through the red tape that accompanied claiming and salvaging a ship with the Chimera's pedigree.
Knox, on the other hand, had been eager to take on the challenge of heading up the salvage once their permits were approved. Until it'd become clear that included dealing with Avery Walsh.
They'd all been blindsided when, several months into the process, Anderson McNair had made a claim that the ship they'd discovered wasn't actually the Chimera, but another ship that he 'd found first.
McNair, an American running his own diving company out of Turks and Caicos, had a reputation for cutting corners, destroying historically valuable artifacts if they had no monetary value and generally being a pirate.
Trident hadn't dealt with him before now, but Knox had asked around and none of his contacts thought highly of the man. Unfortunately, not only did McNair have enough clout and charisma to pull Trident into a media war, the man had bent some Bahamian official's ear and they were now putting pressure on the US court to pull Trident's salvage permits.
None of them knew for sure what McNair's endgame was, but they all assumed this was a play to claim the wreckageand treasurefor his own.
Thanks to his charm and some fancy talking, Jackson had convinced all sides to let them hire an expert to authenticate the wreck. Trident was paying for Avery's services, although both governments had retained refusal rights on their chosen expert. Luckily, McNair and the judge had agreed.
Now they were racing against the clock to prove the ship was the Chimera before they lost everything.
He didn't dispute the fact that Dr. Walsh had a stellar résumé. However, that did little to allay his disquiet where she was concerned.
He'd be the first to admit that from the moment he'd laid eyes on her, his blood had been stirred. They hadn't exactly started off on the right foot and she'd been pissed, her gorgeous blue eyes filled with fire even as her words had remained steady and clipped. He'd seen the passion she couldn't hide and had wanted to channel it in other ways.
But it hadn't been until they'd sat across a conference table from each other that the back of his neck had begun to tighten and tingle with wariness. She'd given all the right answers. Had appeared absolutely perfect. Too perfect.
He'd made no secret that he hadn't wanted her for the job. But he, Jackson and Asher were equal partnersthe three of them having served together in the SEALs before opening Tridentand he'd lost the vote.
"This is going to be damn entertaining." Asher grinned, his gaze tracking Dr. Walsh as she climbed aboard the ship.
"Tell me this isn't the only reason you're here," Knox grumbled. The woman hadn't even set the pointy toes of her pumps on his deck yet and he was already in a foul mood.
"Of course it is, man. I wouldn't miss the fireworks for anything."
"Don't you have another job to do?" Knox asked, irritation bubbling through him. This entire situation was going to be bad enough, he really didn't relish having an audience especially Asher who would delight in rubbing the tension in his face at every opportunity.
"Yeah," Asher shrugged. "But I don't have to leave for the Great Barrier Reef until next week." Setting his back against the railing, Asher spread his arms wide and gave him a shit-eating grin that Knox wanted desperately to knock off his face.
Unfortunately, he didn't have time to swap bloody noses right now. Even if going a few rounds of hand-to-hand with his friend might drastically improve his mood.
"Thought I'd come help you out for a few days."
"You just didn't want to be locked in the office alone with Kennedy."
Asher pretended to shiver. "True. That woman could teach the Navy a thing or two about control and intimidation."
Knox laughed. He never had any trouble with their office manager. But then, Kennedy actually liked him. He had no idea what Asher had done to her, but his friend had obviously ticked her off. Staff meetings were often an exercise in veiled barbs, which could be highly entertaining since they weren't aimed at him.
"Gentlemen, if you're done swapping barbs and figuratively smacking each other on the ass, perhaps we can get to work?"
The irritated voice scraped down Knox's spine. He tossed a glance over his shoulder, even though he knew exactly who was going to be standing there.
She was just as gorgeously untouchable as Knox remembered. Every bright red hair on her head perfectly in place. Hell, the woman had even put on lip gloss. He didn't want to notice how shiny, wet and utterly kissable it made her mouth, but he was human after all.
Knox took a deep breath, preparing for the battle he fully expected. He'd faced terrorists, bombs, men with machetes and machine guns. He'd been shot, stabbed and had various body parts nearly blown off in explosions.
It had been a long time since anything or anyone had unsettled him.
Avery Walsh scared the shit out of him.
"Welcome aboard, Firecracker," Asher said.
Firecracker. It was the perfect nickname for the woman standing in front of them, and not simply because her hair was a deep, dark red, the sun popping bursts of copper off the mass pulled into a tight knot at the top of her head.
Knox didn't want to admit, even to himself, just how much he wanted to reach up and pull every last pin out of the mass just to watch it tumble around her ivory face.
Avery Walsh struck him as the kind of woman who was wound so damn tight that at the first sign of friction she could simply spark up and igniteand not necessarily in the good way.
He much preferred women who knew how to roll with the punches and wouldn't hesitate to explore a good time. The kind who were up for any adventure as long as it had fun written all over it. Something told him Avery wouldn't know fun if it bit her on the ass, and was more likely to maintain the ice-queen persona than explode with lust.
Which was a crying shame.
Asher let his gaze travel up and down Avery's body in an open invitation that the man didn't even realize he was making half the time. It usually had women melting into puddles at his feet.
Reinforcing Knox's impression, Avery simply stared at Asher, her mouth thinning into a tight line before she completely dismissed him. "Mr. McLemore, I understand you're in charge of the Amphitrite'"
Knox leaned back against the railing crossing his ankles. "I sure am, doc," he drawled.
"Avery." Her icy eyes snapped with annoyance. They were gorgeous and clear, unbelievably pale, which only added to the impression that she could cut you with nothing but a laser glance.
These next couple of weeks were going to be brilliant.
"Remind me to murder Jackson the next time I see him," Knox muttered at Asher out of the side of his mouth.
"Loralei might have an objection."
A few months ago, Jackson and Loralei had been at odds, racing to see who could find the Chimera first. It turned out they'd both won. Not just finding the ship, but each other as well.
Shaking his head, Knox pushed away from the railing, sauntering closer to the good doctor.
The self-indulgent part of him wanted to set her off-kilter. To ruffle her feathers just to prove he could. But even as he crowded close, towering above her despite the heels, Avery simply stood her ground.
Knox was the guy the SEALs had called on to crack the most difficult men, to interrogate and terrify. On the surface he might seem laid-back and unconcerned, but he'd broken some of the most stubborn and highly trained enemy operatives in the business without resorting to tactics that skirted legalities.
Dr. Walsh didn't even flinch as he came within an inch of brushing against her body. She kept her eyes trained completely on his, her face perfectly blank as she stared up at him.
"Let me know when we're finished with the pissing contest," she said, her voice smoky and even.
All right. Apparently they weren't going to dance around this thing. "I don't want you here, Doctor."
"Avery. And you made your position abundantly clear during my interview, Mr. McLemore. But here I am."
A smile bloomed across her face. What did she have to smile about? They were locked in a battle of wills, one he was beginning to worry he might actually lose.
But even as that thought flashed across his brain, her damn smile distracted him. It changed everything, taking her from remote and untouchable to downright breathtaking. It didn't just brighten her face, the twinkle in her eye revealed the first insight he'd gotten into how she ticked.
She was enjoying this, even if she'd never admit it. Getting off on the tension and antagonism between them.
"Just so we're both clear on where we stand," he said. The corners of her lips lifted higher. "I know exactly where I'm standingon the deck of your ship. So I guess I win."
Knox couldn't stop his own lips from twitching. "For now."
It bothered him, her flat-out determination to be a part of this project, even in the face of his obvious lack of enthusiasm. That only made more warning bells clang deep inside his brain.
Why had she pushed so hard to be involved, to the point of contacting Jackson several times even after meeting with the Trident team? Was it simply ego and a drive for another line on her résumé, or was there something more behind her eagerness?
His instincts told him it was the latter, he just couldn't prove it. Yet.
Cocking her head, she said, "In a few hours we'll be in the middle of the Caribbean. I don't think you can change the status quo by then, especially considering you lost that fight the first time around, but feel free to try."
Inside, Avery was a quaking mess. She was bluffing, but then most of her life had been a bluff.
The problem was, this time someone was waiting to call her on it.
Anderson McNair had her trapped and there was nothing she could do about it.
Almost six weeks ago he'd walked into her office and informed her that he knew her little secret and if she wanted it to stay just between the two of them she was going to help him. Remembering that day made her stomach churn with anxiety and guilt.
Anxiety and guilt she'd been fighting for years.