Lovely, Dark, and Deep (The Collectors # 1) by Susannah Sandlin
Publication Date: June 2014 by Montlake Romance
Genre: Romantic Thriller
From award-winning author Susannah Sandlin comes a heart-pounding romantic thriller that pits a quick-witted scientist and a scarred ex–combat diver against a ruthless billionaire treasure hunter with ties to the White House.
When biologist Gillian Campbell makes an offhand comment about a family curse during a TV interview, she has no idea what her words will set in motion. Within days, Gillian finds herself at the mercy of a member of the C7, a secretive international group of power brokers with a dangerous game: competing to find the world’s most elusive treasures, no matter the cost, in money or in lives.
To save her family, Gillian teams up with Shane Burke, a former elite diver who’s lost his way, navigating the brutal “death coast” of the North Atlantic to find what the collector seeks: the legendary Ruby Cross of the Knights Templars, stolen by Gillian’s ancestor and lost at sea four hundred years ago.
Heat Level: moderate; language; violence
Susannah Sandlin is off to a very good start in her new Collectors series with Lovely, Dark, and Deep. What made this book so enjoyable for me is the interweaving of a suspenseful plot and setting along with a great cast of memorable characters.
This series revolves around a secret group of rare artifact collectors who are known as “C7.” This group is comprised of uber-wealthy, powerfully connected individuals who compete against each other to see who can be the first to acquire hard-to-find treasures. It’s a selfish, ruthless game where the players use their resources to coerce innocent, everyday people into becoming participants in their search for the precious objects of their interest. Although the game does have its rules, intimidation, emotional manipulation, and even murder are tactics that may be employed to keep those forced to play along in line.
In Lovely, Dark, and Deep, the coveted item is a ruby embedded cross believed to have belonged to the Knights Templar.
Once C7 member Weston Flynn, a U.S. politician, learns of the legendary existence of this cross, he “enlists” the assistance of biologist Gillian Campell, whose ancestor is rumored to have stolen the cross but then died with it in his possession in a shipwreck off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. Although Gillian has no idea whether the family legend is true, she is forced into the search after her niece’s life is threatened. In order to find the cross, she needs the help of technical diver, Shane Burke, who has the knowledge and experience of diving in the deep, often treacherous waters of the wreck site if she has any chance at all of retrieving what amounts to “finding a needle in a haystack” within the given thirty day time period.
Although readers know the identity of the C7 player behind the search, Gillian and Shane are kept in the dark about the person manipulating them from behind the scenes. Their contact is a liaison whose nickname is “Big Tex” who gives them their instructions and inflicts damage to reinforce the severity of their situation. Failure is not an option, even though they both know their chance of success is slim to none.
Together they set sail for Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where the ship carrying the cross is rumored to have sunk. The obstacles they face seem almost insurmountable given the rocky coastline and treacherous ocean currents.
However, along their journey, they receive the help of some quirky characters whose distinct personalities are unforgettable. Shane’s friend, Jagger, who constantly hums Rolling Stones’ lyrics and the cantankerous elderly uncle whose B.S. deter never fails, play a vital role in their mission. When the group reaches Cape Breton, they are aided by ornery retired commercial fisherman Chevy, and his wife Cleo, who epitomizes the phrase, “I am woman, hear me roar.” These characters really livened up the story, and I especially enjoyed the minor conflicts that ensued among Shane and Gillian’s overprotective dog, Tank. Overall, the author does a great job with developing her characters except for the antagonists. They are flat and their motivations for being involved really could be fleshed out in more detail.
Both Gillian and Shane are very likable characters who are each burdened by past sorrows and regrets. Although their relationship is initially tenuous, the attraction between them is certainly there and the bond between them begins to solidify once they share their guilt and vulnerabilities with each other. Their romance and intimacy takes time to develop but smoothly blends into story. The love scenes are few and mildly descriptive, and I appreciated that they were never a distraction to the overall plot.
The action, pacing, and suspense throughout the story kept me turning the pages and I found it hard to find a good place to pause since almost every chapter ends with a mini cliff-hanger. I enjoyed the book and recommend it to readers who enjoy romance and a thrilling plot.
Source: I received an ARC of this ebook from the author to provide an honest and fair review.
He wasn’t sure what woke him, but the first thing Shane Burke saw when he cracked open his eyelids was the bottle of Jack Daniel’s, tipped over and resting on its side. He could’ve sworn he finished it off last night but there was at least an inch of rich amber liquid still resting inside.
Good. Now he didn’t have to wonder what he’d have for breakfast.
The second thing he saw was a great pair of legs. Well, technically, a great pair of ankles above a pair of leather sandals, and then the legs.
Obviously, he was starting his Saturday morning with hallucinations.
Only one good solution for that. He dangled an arm off the side of his bed and almost had his fingers wrapped around the neck of the bottle when one of the leather sandals kicked his buddy Jack Daniel’s under the bed, clipping his hand in the process.
“Ow.” Hallucinations didn’t take his booze and kick him in the knuckles.
Ignoring the throbbing in his hand and the stabs of hangover agony behind his eyeballs, Shane rolled onto his back and squinted at the rest of his non-hallucination.
Shoulder-length hair that fell in a sheen of dark chestnut brown, fair skin, fierce brown eyes, red lips compressed in a tight line, black skirt and white blouse, big briefcase-style purse. Had he picked her up at Harley’s last night? If so, he had to cut back on the sauce.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I forgot your name.” Pity, ’cause she was a hot little number, way classier than the regulars at Harley’s. It’s not like he got laid so often that he could afford to forget it when he did.
“We haven’t met.” She propped her hands on her hips and muttered something that sounded like, “And you’re supposed to help me?”
Help her with what? Wait, maybe she was a charter. Had he chartered The Evangeline out to a tour group or fishing party today? Surely he’d remember if there was money coming in.
Color him officially confused. He struggled to a seated position and gave her another look. “What am I supposed to help you with?”
She crossed her arms and raked a ball-shriveling gaze the length of his body. “I came here to offer you a job, but I don’t think you’re up to it.”
He tugged the sheet up in self-defense. “I’m not at my best. Ever consider making an appointment? Not dropping in at the crack of dawn?” He had no idea what time it was but it couldn’t be that late.
“It’s past noon. And I didn’t figure, given your financial situation, that you’d be so picky about what time of day someone offered you money.” She shook her head. “Never mind. This was a mistake.”
She banged her head on the low doorway out of the master cabin, which served her right, the sanctimonious shrew.
Available from Amazon: Lovely, Dark, and Deep (The Collectors)
ASIN: B00H27TJ6U |Number of pages: 320| Word Count: 95,000
Susannah Sandlin writes paranormal romance and romantic thrillers from Auburn, Alabama, on top of a career in educational publishing that has thus far spanned five states and six universities—including both Alabama and Auburn, which makes her bilingual. She grew up in Winfield, Alabama, but was also a longtime resident of New Orleans, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football, cheap Mardi Gras trinkets, and fried gator on a stick.
She’s the author of the award-winning Penton Legacy paranormal romance series, a spinoff novel, Storm Force, a standalone novelette, Chenoire, and a new romantic thriller series, The Collectors, beginning this month with Lovely, Dark, and Deep. Writing as Suzanne Johnson, she also is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. Her Penton novel, Omega, is currently nominated for a 2013 Reviewer’s Choice Award in Paranormal Romance from RT Book Reviews magazine.
Website and blog www.suzannejohnsonauthor.com
Deep, Dark Romantic Research
by Susannah Sandlin
When I came up with the idea for Lovely, Dark, and Deep—a romantic thriller (think Indiana Jones with sex)—I thought my biggest research job would be studying the lost treasure of the Knights Templar.
They were the wealthy, powerful knights of the Middle Ages, and when they fell out of favor following the loss of the Holy Land, these crusaders became vilified by the church and the others who had previously supported them. As they disbanded and scattering throughout Europe, the knights’ great amassed wealth disappeared to history, with all kinds of wild theories about what happened to it.
Who’s to say one ruby-encrusted cross couldn’t have been stolen in the early 1700s? Or that the thief didn’t hop a ship heading for Canada, only to have the ship—and the cross—hit the rocks off Nova Scotia and sink?
Now, all these centuries later, the thief’s descendant, a Florida biologist named Gillian Campbell, is being blackmailed into finding that lost cross with the help of a washed-up deepwater diver named Shane Burke.
Turns out it wasn’t the Knights Templar that provided my biggest research challenge. It was Shane—or, rather, Shane’s occupation. I soon realized what I didn’t know about diving, especially deepwater salvage diving, could fill a library.
Put on a wetsuit, mask, tank, fins and hop in, right? Er, as it turns out, not so much.
First, there’s the equipment. Since my character lives in Florida but will be doing his dangerous dive in the much colder waters of the North Atlantic off the coast of Nova Scotia, he needs both a wetsuit and a drysuit. The drysuit is airtight and keeps water out, but it also keeps sweat in and is bulkier. Does he want to dive with one tank, or with one tank and a small “pony bottle” with extra air, or with two tanks? He needs a buoyancy control regulator to adjust how fast he rises or sinks in the water. He needs the right kind of boat from which to dive—will he take a giant leap over the side, or roll off backward?
Then there are the logistics. Shane wants to dive alone—he sure doesn’t want the sexy heroine diving with him. So of course she does anyway. How do they communicate with each other?
Finally, there is the location. How deep is the water off the eastern coast of Canada around Main-a-Dieu, Nova Scotia? It’s an area notorious for shipwrecks—what are the rock formations like, and what do ships get caught on? What would the water temperature be in September? At what depth does a diver have to worry about decompression sickness and not surfacing too fast? I learned, for example, that there are shelves of rock that sit just below the surface so in the days before sonar, ships could hit those things without being able to see them. That the area is extremely foggy. That the water is shallower than I would have thought. That the water is rough, and would offer a lot of challenges to a novice diver like Gillian—and even an experienced diver like Shane if he isn’t careful.
I now have amassed a considerable library of books on deepwater diving…and one lone book on the Knights Templar. Anyone want to take over my subscription to Diving Magazine?
Have you ever gone diving, or know a diver?
After reading this book, I became very interested in learning more about Nova Scotia and its reputation for shipwrecks. Here are some of the websites I visited that you may like. Visiting Nova Scotia is now on my bucket list!
(Map from Wikipedia)