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Under Pressure

By:Kira Sinclair

1


“YOU’RE MY ONLY OPTION.” Sure, the words might have sounded like a plea for help, but that wasn’t how Kennedy Duchane meant them. At all.

She glared at the man in front of her, ready to use whatever means necessary to compel his cooperation. Despite being a foot shorter and roughly a hundred pounds lighter, she wasn’t opposed to dropping Asher Reynolds to his knees if that became necessary.

She had an older brother who also happened to be a former navy SEAL—he’d taught her plenty over the years.

Asher’s mouth formed a lazy smile. “Aww, cupcake, we both know that isn’t true. I’m sure the devil would be happy to fix whatever’s got your panties in a twist if you just ask nicely.”

Kennedy blinked. As far as she was concerned, Asher Reynolds was the devil, but she had no intention of asking him for anything, nicely or otherwise. She was demanding. He might be her boss—or one of them—but not even that was going to save him from doing what she needed this time.

Florida sunshine poured through the window at Asher’s back, gilding him in a way that was frustrating and enticing all at once. She could practically feel it warming her skin and wished she were on one of their beautiful Jacksonville beaches right now instead of in this office arguing—again—with the frustrating man.

But wishing wasn’t going to take care of the problem. Taking a deep breath, Kennedy marched the rest of the way into his office. As always, he was sprawled out, wireless keyboard in his lap, feet propped up on the corner of his desk. She had no idea how he accomplished anything. But he did.

Kennedy had to give him that, even if it did burn a little. He was brilliant at business. And, given a different set of circumstances, she would have loved to learn from him.

Knocking his black motorcycle boots off the desk, Kennedy relished the way Asher’s body rocked back in the chair as his feet connected with the floor.

“Seriously, you know you’re going to have to do this, right?”

He frowned up at her out of those moss-green eyes that had the ability to make her feel like a butterfly pinned to a board.

Plopping her butt on to the desk corner she’d just cleared, Kennedy crossed her arms over her chest and settled in. This was one fight she would not lose.

“We leave for the Bahamas tomorrow whether you like it or not.”

“Since when do you issue orders, baby girl? I’m pretty sure I’m still the one signing your paycheck.”

“Wrong, Jackson signs the paychecks, but even if you did, you’re still going. I need you on this documentary.” The words grated a little coming out of her throat, but they were true. She did need him. Desperately.

Several months ago, her brother, Jackson, had discovered a sunken Civil War ship lost for more than one hundred and fifty years. The company Jackson, Asher and Knox owned together, Trident Diving and Salvage, now had exclusive recovery rights. If the rumors of gold in the ship were true, it would put an end to their financial worries for good. In the meantime, she hoped the documentary about Trident’s discovery and salvaging of the Chimera would keep them in the media spotlight and bring in new clients.

“I don’t think so,” Asher drawled, his Southern accent smooth as aged whiskey. “Get one of the other guys to do it. Someone who’s actually spent time on the salvage team. Ryan, Juan, Drake.”

She was already shaking her head before he’d even gotten one name past his lips. “No, no and no. I promised the production company Jackson. I’ve already had to do some fancy footwork in order for them to accept you. Luckily, your face is rather appealing and makes up for your smart mouth.”

“Aw, shucks. You’re gonna make me blush.”

“Shut it,” Kennedy growled, knocking the pointed toe of her shoe against his shin. The tap wasn’t hard enough to even leave a mark, let alone a bruise. But she couldn’t quite suppress the small, petty spurt of satisfaction when he winced.

“I’m telling dad.” Asher mock whined.

“Go right ahead. I’m pretty sure he loves me more.”

Asher let out a huff, the first sign that he was really taking her seriously. “Jackson can leave Loralei in charge for a couple weeks.”

“You know we can’t spare either of them right now.”

It was bad timing. There was no doubt. But Kennedy couldn’t muster the energy to regret Jackson and Loralei’s newest discovery, several clustered artifacts found at the bottom of the Mediterranean. They were all salivating over the possibility that this new find could indicate a lost ancient city. Since they’d been challenged for their rights to the Chimera, they were taking no chances with their latest score. They had to keep it quiet until the paperwork was in place. And Jackson needed to stay at the site to protect their claim.

“What about Knox?”

Kennedy sighed, allowing herself one brief moment of disappointment before she pushed it away. Working with Knox would have been a breeze. And come with the added bonus of Avery Walsh, a nautical archeologist with years of experience.

Goddamn the flu.

“It’s you, Asher. Don’t make me call Jackson and Knox.”

As far as she could tell, they were the only people in the world who could compel Asher to do anything. Now that she thought about it, in the two years she’d known him, Kennedy had never heard him speak of any other friends or family. Trident appeared to be his entire life. The man didn’t even have a pet.

Asher leaned forward, sliding the keyboard he’d been holding onto the top of his desk. “Trust me when I say you need to find someone else.”

She’d known, the moment she’d realized Asher was the only option she had, that he wouldn’t want to do it. She’d anticipated his refusal, his arguments and hadn’t counted out the possibility of a full-blown tantrum.

What she hadn’t expected was the earnest, intense way he stared at her as he evenly announced he wasn’t the man for the job. For a second she almost believed he had a valid reason for refusing.

But then she realized who she was talking to and swallowed back the unwelcome well of concern. Asher didn’t deserve it. He was playing her, nothing more.

Leaning forward, Kennedy chucked him under the chin. “Sorry, frogman, time to take one for the team.” And then turned to leave.

Stopping at the door, she tossed a warning glance over her shoulder. “Our plane leaves at nine in the morning. If I have to hunt you down, I’ll make you regret it.”

* * *

ASHER UNCLENCHED HIS fists from the arms of his chair. Blood rushed back into his fingers.

He could feel the tension building inside his body. Just the thought of what she was asking him to do...

First, his shoulders and back tightened. Then his stomach cramped, tying into knots any sailor would be proud of. His throat closed up. His mouth went dry. And his tongue suddenly felt useless, four times bigger than his mouth.

Familiar symptoms for a major problem he couldn’t seem to conquer no matter how hard he tried. His body reacted the same way to any stressful situation. Had since he was six years old.

The sensations were so familiar. Straight out of his childhood nightmares. The memories, the taunts. The humiliation and embarrassment. Everyone staring as his mouth stumbled and refused to form the words his brain was screaming.

He was a goddamned navy SEAL. Was the toughest of the tough, could stare down terrorists, defuse bombs and take a bullet with barely a flinch. But this, this one weakness he’d been struggling with for so long, he couldn’t master.

Over the years he’d perfected avoidance tactics, successfully extricating himself from situations likely to trigger his speech impediment. Hell, even his best friends weren’t aware of his issue.

And he wanted to keep it that way.

Unfortunately, Kennedy’s request—no, demand—was going to blow that possibility straight out of the water.

And to put the icing on this craptastic cake, she would be there to witness his humiliation.

There was no doubt in Asher’s mind that just her presence was going to make the situation ten times worse. There was something about Kennedy Duchane that got under his skin.

Her scent. Her take-charge attitude. Her ability to call him on his bullshit and the way she stared at him out of those whiskey-brown eyes.

The fact that there was no way on God’s green earth he could touch her even though that was the only thing he wanted whenever she was close.

Even now, the scent of Kennedy’s perfume lingered in his office, taunting him long after she was gone.

It bothered him, the way she could affect him without even trying. The way his body always seemed to overrule his brain.

Kennedy was off-limits. His best friend’s little sister, his employee, not to mention nine years younger than he was. There were so many reasons to keep his hands to himself, but the more time he spent with her the harder that seemed to be.

His solution was to avoid Kennedy as much as he could. A little difficult considering she worked for the company he co-owned. So when that wasn’t possible, he did his best to push her away with snarky comments.

Lucky for him, she was easy to manipulate. Because he suspected if she ever realized how much power she held over him...she wouldn’t hesitate to use it.

And he could admit he’d probably earned her wrath.

The project she was ready to throw him headfirst into was a bad idea on multiple fronts. How the hell had he ended up in this situation?

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