Former SEAL Jackson Duchane has spent almost a decade hunting down the wreck of the Chimera, a Civil Warera ship rumored to be filled with gold. Now he's agonizingly close to the biggest discovery of his life. With a rival diving team hot on his tail, Jackson is determined to get there first, but he didn't bargain on a sexy distraction
Heading up a diving team is Loralei Lancaster's nautical nightmare. Fortunately, nothing distracts a girl from her water phobia like a gloriously ripped surf god. And Jackson is hot enough to make Loralei forget everythingincluding the fact that he's an arrogant jerk! And when heated words lead to steamy nights, Loralei finds herself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea!
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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
Loralei Lancaster forced back the lump of fear clogging her throat and walked out on the dock.
The damn thing moved beneath her feet, swaying with the gentle lap of the water. Only to her it felt like a tidal wave preparing to swamp her, sweep her over the side and down into the bright blue water.
For most people a trip to Turks and Caicos was a prime vacation. For her it was pure hell. She was surrounded by water. And not just standing out here on the dock. Every window she looked through seemed to have an ocean view.
Suck it up, buttercup.
She could hear her dad's voice, low and gruff in her head. It wasn't any more soothing now than it had been when he was alive. Not that she'd heard it very often.
In fact, growing up, she'd gone months without hearing from him at all. And seeing him that had happened maybe once or twice a year, if she was lucky. Or maybe it had been lucky that he hadn't tried to drag her into the transientand water-centriclife he'd led.
Maybe they both had been happier, although that didn't quite negate Loralei's resentment. After her mother had died in a freak diving accident, her father had dumped her on the mainland and let his in-laws raise his daughter.
"Loralei!" Brian hollered from a ship that was tied several feet down the dock. To her it felt like a mile.
She'd taken barely a handful of steps onto the dock before her body had frozen. Now her feet refused to move. There weren't any railings for her to cling to for safety and support. Why weren't there railings to keep people from falling in to the water?
Some masochistic part of her brain urged her to look. To turn her head and glance down. But she didn't. She knew that would be too much.
Suddenly, Brian was standing in front of her, wrapping his arms around her stiff body. He didn't seem to notice that she was stuck. Which was good. Maybe no one would notice her fear of the water.
She'd worked so hard to keep the weakness a secret.
Logically, she knew it was silly. Hundreds of thousands of people got in the water each day and they didn't drown. But logic hadn't helped her over the years. The few times she'd attempted to dip her toe in a pool as a teenager hadn't gone well. And here she was, the brand-new owner of Lancaster Diving and Salvage. What the hell was she supposed to do with a diving company?
Especially one in such dire financial straits.
Loralei pulled up the same pep talk that had gotten her butt on the plane in Chicago. She just needed to get through the next few weeks. She could do this. She had to.
Her father, along with making her the sole beneficiary of a company she really didn't want, also had left her with the means to make the company profitable enough to at least be tempting to potential buyers. He had been hot on the trail of a legendary shipwreck, the Chimera.
History suggested the ship had sailed from the Virgin Islands toward New Orleans and the Confederate States to deliver supplies and munitions.
But many believed that hadn't been the only thing in the hold when a hurricane had set upon the ship and sunk it somewhere between Haiti and Turks and Caicos. According to legend, there was gold. Lots of it.
What Loralei had found historically interesting was that, if the rumors of gold were true, and if the ship had reached port as planned, the Chimera's cargo could have changed the outcome of the war.
Of course, that was pure speculation. But a secret stash of gold provided by Caribbean plantation owners, who'd had a stake in the issues the Confederacy was fighting for.
As a historian, Loralei's interest had been piqued the moment she'd begun reading her father's research on the Chimera. But the story itself wasn't the only surprise. Until she'd found the documentation on the Chimera, she'd never known her father had been interested in history at all. She'd grown up thinking that her driving need to uncover the past and discover how people thought, loved, hated and lived had come out of nowhere.
Why had it taken her father's death to learn that they actually had something in common?
That, more than anything, haunted Loralei. And it was the biggest reason she'd pushed herself to come here, despite the damn water, and finish what he'd started.
According to the records she'd found, her dad had thought he'd narrowed down the potential resting places for the Chimera.
Finding the missing ship could make the difference between a debt-laden burden and a company that would be a nice boost to her bank account and allow her to focus on her academic and research career.
The problem was she couldn't afford to hire anyone to oversee the operation. She was already afraid she wouldn't be able to pay the divers' salaries. But she'd worry about that if and when it became a reality.
Brian wrapped an arm around her shoulders and propelled her forward.
Loralie almost told him thank you before she realized he wouldn't understand her meaning and bit back the words.
Her body was wooden, but at least it was heading in the right direction again.
She'd known this man most of her life, even if she could count on her hands and feet the number of times they'd actually been face-to-face. Brian had joined her dad's team when he was fifteen. It had been a logical jump from summers and holidays to working full time once he was out of high school.
When she was younger, Loralei could admit to being a little jealous at how much time her dad spent with this man instead of his own daughter. Now, she was just grateful to have someone who was knowledgeable about what was going on and could help her through the next few weeks.
Grasping her around the waist, Brian lifted her up the ladder and onto the deck of their ship, Emily's Fortune.
Seeing her mom's name painted along the side in peeling, faded red letters sent an unexpected jolt of pain through her chest.
Somehow she managed to push that down, too.
To her relief, Brian led her into the belly of the ship. She could still feel the gentle sway as waves rocked against the hull, but at least she didn't have to look at the water anymore. If she closed her eyes maybe she could convince herself she was on a train or a plane or something.
Although, the scent of salt in the air and the sound of sea birds pretty much killed that fantasy.
"The team from Trident is already here."
Dropping onto the bench running along the wall behind a table in the galley, Lorelei rubbed a hand over her temple. "What?"
"Trident. You know, the diving company I was telling you about over the phone."
"The one that's been stealing clients from us for the last eight months?"
"Yeah, that one. They're here."
Dropping her hand, Lorelei looked up at Brian. He was about nine years older than she was, although when he smiled he looked even older. All his time in the sea and sun had etched extra lines at the corners of his eyes and across his forehead. His skin was a deep, dark browna few shades darker than the natural caramel color she'd inherited from her Latin motherand leathery.
Brian frowned, the line between his brows angling into a deep groove.
"I have no idea, but it makes me uneasy."
Yeah, it didn't exactly thrill her, either.
If Brian was telling her the truthand she had no reason to doubt himTrident had been a thorn in her dad's side for months.
It couldn't be coincidence that they'd shown up here now, could it?
No, her life didn't work that way.
"Damn, this means we have competition, doesn't it?"
Jackson blended into the bustling activity of the marina and watched.
He'd never seen the woman Brian greeted with a hug and a deep smile, but he supposed it wasn't a leap to assume she was Lancaster's daughter.
He'd heard James had died from a heart attack three months ago. Damn shame, but not surprising. He hadn't looked healthy the last time they'd spoken. Of course, the man had been red-faced and screaming at him.
It hadn't taken James long to realize Tridentand Jackson specificallywas poaching his clients. The man had made it damn easy to do. But James had been livid, storming into the Trident offices to throw his weight around and threaten him with that non-compete clause he'd originally signed.
By then Jackson had discovered just how much financial trouble Lancaster was in, so he'd told the man to go ahead and hire a lawyerhe'd known James couldn't afford one.
And he hadn't felt a single twinge of guilt. Not when people's lives and safety were involved.
That potential mishap with the explosives was how shit like oil rigs exploding and millions of gallons of crude spilling into pristine waters happened.
Several weeks later their front door had been smashed in and their offices ransacked. All the expensive dive equipment and computers had been left untouched, nothing of value missing.
It had taken Asher, Knox, Kennedy and himself several days to deal with the mess. There was no way to prove the burglars had paid an inordinate amount of attention to his research on the Chimera, or that the person behind the theft was James Lancaster, but his gut had told him that's what had happened.
He'd had plenty of experience trusting his gut. On dangerous missions those hunches often had been the difference between life and death.
And now his gut was telling him Lancaster Diving's presence in Turks and Caicos wasn't a coincidence. Loralei Lancaster disappeared below deck, Brian right behind her, his hand hovering at the small of her back without actually touching. The diving community was small and he'd made it his business to know everything he could about Lancaster Diving including the woman who'd inherited the mess James had left behind.
Jackson almost felt sorry for her. But not enough to stop his campaign to put them out of business. Which was secondary to keeping them away from the Chimera. He'd been researching the shipwreck for the past ten years. There was no way he'd let the Lancaster team find her first. Especially using his own damn work.
There was no denying Loralei was beautiful. Exotic. Her skin was a deep, sun-kissed brown. The shorts she wore hugged the curves of her hips, leaving plenty of long, delicious leg on display. Her lightweight shirt fluttered loosely against her body, making her look tropical and carefree.
Based on the information he'd been able to gather, he'd expected her to be bold and unabashed as she'd walked across the dock toward Emily's Fortune. But she'd kept her gaze focused straight ahead, every movement of her body stiff.
He didn't know, and he didn't want to care. But the soldier in him couldn't help but catalogue and consider.
Part of him wanted to stomp down the dock, storm onto her ship and confront her.
But that wouldn't lead him anywhere. No doubt she'd simply lie just as her father, Brian, and everyone else attached to Lancaster Diving had. So, he had a better plan.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Jackson leaned against a low railing and settled in to wait. This was something he was comfortable with, trained to withstand the kind of boredom that could drive most men crazy.
He watched the ships coming and going from the marina so that anyone who noticed him would just assume he was a tourist taking in the native color. But he never lost sight of Lancaster's ship.
Luckily, his wait wasn't very long. An hour later Loralei emerged, Brian still glued to her side.
She kept her head high and her focus squarely in front of her. Brian's mouth moved, but Jackson couldn't hear what the man said. Not that it particularly mattered. Lo-ralei was either bored or unimpressed because she didn't bother responding. Her mouth was pulled into a tight line and her body strung with tension.
Her long black hair swirled in the soft breeze blowing off the water. For some reason he'd expected her eyes to be deep brown, but as she drew nearer Jackson realized they were actually a pale green. Like her father's.
It was about the only resemblance he found between the bear of a man with red-tinged skin permanently burned from too many years in the sun and harsh sea air, and the woman striding ever closer.
Jackson didn't bother moving as they drew even. Both of them were absorbed. Brian didn't notice him at all.
Loralei's gaze, though, brushed over him. And lingered. Not on his face, but on his body. He knew what she saw. He'd spent years honing his form into the weapon he needed it to be. He depended on strength and mobility to get the job done.
He was used to women noticing him. And he had to admit, the danger and secrecy of being a SEAL helped build a reputation many women found appealing. Over the years Jackson had been happy to take advantage of that job perk.
It had been months since he'd had the time to indulge, though. All his focus and energy had been going into opening Trident, building a reputation and client list, and gathering the research and capital to fund this search for the Chimera.
It irritated him that Loralei Lancaster stirred to life the first hint of awareness he'd felt in eighteen months.
Apparently, his dick didn't feel like being picky. Good thing his brain had better sense.
Her perusal only lasted a few moments, enough time for her to walk past him and then it was gone. But the sensation she'd awakened lingered, an unwanted buzz beneath his skin.
Clamping his fingers around the railing, Jackson forced himself not to turn and watch her walk away. There was no point. He knew exactly where to find her.
Loralei needed a drink. Or several. Yep, definitely several of those pretty orange and pink things every restaurant and bar seemed to offer. Fruity concoctions with enough alcohol to help her forget that tomorrow she would be on a ship surrounded by nothing but ocean.
God, she wished Melody was here. Her best friend had offered to come, but she couldn't get the time off. Melody was about the only person who knew of Loralei's phobia. She supposed it wasn't that important to keep it a secret, but she didn't like weaknessespecially in herself. And it was difficult to look at her fear as anything but that. Over the years she'd tried to logic herself out of the irrational reaction, but nothing seemed to work.
Melody had discovered the truth by accident several years into their friendship. Even then, Loralei had been reluctant to admit the extent of her phobia until her friend had backed her into a corner, unwilling to accept her lies.
She didn't bother changing clothes before heading down to the bar attached to the hotel. She wasn't in the market to get picked up so she didn't care if her makeup was smudged and her clothes wrinkled after a long day of traveling.
She honestly didn't care about anything aside from settling her nerves.