The Last Treasure

The Last Treasure

by Erika Marks

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Overview

The Last Treasure by Erika Marks

From the author of It Comes in Waves and The Guest House comes a novel of three lives entangled in the secrets of the sea and the enduring bonds of love.

As students with a shared passion for shipwrecks, Liv, Sam, and Whit formed a close bond searching for the mysterious Patriot, a schooner that disappeared off the Carolina Coast in 1812 with Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia aboard. But as the elusive ship drew them together, love would bring them even closer—and ultimately tear them apart.

It’s been nine years since Liv left Sam to be with Whit, and the once close-knit triowent their separate ways. Liv has given up her obsession with Theodosia Burr to focus on her career as a salvage diver and her passionate but troubled marriage to the reckless and hedonistic Whit. But when a diary of Theodosia’s is discovered in a collector’s estate, she is pulled back to the world of the Patriot, this time with startling new clues to what might have really happened. 

Diving back into the lost history of the Patriot could be just what Liv needs to find closure to a mystery that still haunts her. But when she and Whit reunite with Sam for one last salvage in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, buried romantic tensions begin to resurface, and once again Liv must choose between two men with very different hearts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101990841
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/02/2016
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 1,077,575
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Erika Marks has worked as an illustrator, an art director, a cake decorator, and a carpenter. She currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, a native New Orleanian, and their two daughters. This is her fifth novel, following It Comes in Waves, The Guest House, The Mermaid Collector, and Little Gale Gumbo.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2016 Erika Marks

TO: Sam Felder sfelder76@gomail.com
FROM: Beth Henson <bhenson@obshipwreckmuseum.org>

Sam:

I hope this email finds you, and finds you well.

Last week, our curator discovered a logbook in the home of a Buxton collector. It appears the last few entries were written by Theodosia Burr Alston in the months following the Patriot’s disappearance, so of course I thought of you right away.

I don’t know if you are still entertaining your investigation of the mystery, but I did want to let you know in the event you might wish to come to the museum to have a look. If you do, I’ll gladly reserve any announcements to the press until you’ve had a chance to see the journal for yourself. We are, as you can imagine, excited beyond words at this acquisition.

Also, I have an extra bedroom if you need a place to stay.

It would be lovely to catch up.

Fondly,

Beth

Bethany Henson
Director, Outer Banks Shipwreck Museum
Nags Head, NC

She descends through the mist, the weight of her tank rolling along her spine, the smooth motor of her fins cutting silently through the water.

She is looking for the wreck’s debris field, the pieces of its battered puzzle emerging through the murky haze, and the clouds of sand and silt that have kept the ship’s bones hidden for so long will part like smoke.

But something is wrong.

The strange color of the water is her first warning—a purplish black, bearing no resemblance to any ocean she has ever dived beneath. When she slides her hands through this water, it feels thick and warm, which the sea never is at such depths. She swims on, diving deeper, her weight belt fighting her body’s natural buoyancy. Where is the bottom? She should have reached it by now. Her bearings lost, she looks the only way she can, side to side, her vision restricted by the small window of her mask. She is desperate for some marker to ground her, the towline to the boat or telltale humps to signal the ocean floor. It is as if she has been set adrift in space, an eternity of nothingness around her, no edges, no corners, just endless dark and the curdling certainty that she is alone in the universe.

She reaches for her gauge to check her oxygen and sees the impossible—only a hundred pounds left; just a few minutes in the water and the tank is nearly drained. Blood rushes to her scalp, panic surges. She has to turn around, go back, go up.

Rising, she is relieved for a glorious second to feel her body obey; then fear returns. She swims harder, hands clawing as they race toward the glowing surface, as if she is buried in dirt and trying to dig out.

But she knows she swims too fast. Her joints ache. She has to slow down, but still her arms and legs continue to fight, even as excruciating pain tears through her elbows and wrists.

If she can just get back to the boat, back to the top.

If she can just breathe.

One

Key Largo, Florida

June 25

Liv bolts upright, her chest squeezed like a fist. She needs a breath, just one, but there’s no air, only hollow wheezing. She reaches into the dark and slaps at the nightstand, finding the drawer pull and tugging hard, sending the clutter of shells and hair clips inside it skidding to the edge like unbelted children in a swerving car. When her fingers finally land on her inhaler, she shoves the cylinder into her mouth and sucks in as she depresses the top, relief shuddering through her to feel the rescue of air.

Safe.

She falls back against the headboard, blinking into the black, and waits for her breathing to slow.

Stupid, awful dream. Third time this week. Whit would surely blame the leftover Thai she devoured shortly before ten, or the cup of mocha chip she indulged in afterward.

Whit.

She reaches out for the long compass of her husband’s sleeping body, but her fingers land on the empty mattress.

She feels for her phone and clicks it to life.

Three thirty-two.

He did return from dinner with Phil Edwards, didn’t he?

Or did she just dream the crash of him coming into their bedroom, the groan of the bed when he fell on it, still dressed, the two thumps of his shoes hitting the floor? What about when he rolled against her and reached up under her T-shirt, wanting to make love, then falling asleep before he could get her underwear off?

She scans the dark, listening. The familiar clanging of metal blows through the screens, the telltale clamoring of movement on the boat, then the frothy growl of Theo’s propellers spinning to life.

Oh God.

She kicks herself free of the sheet and lands on the cool Mexican tile of their bedroom floor, knotting her red hair as she rushes down the hall to the living room. Through the sliders, beyond the line of palms that separate the lanai from the concrete of the dock, she can see him on the upper deck of their thirty-foot dive boat.

She yanks the door open, no time to close it behind her. The humid air clings to her bare legs, a curtain of moisture, as if she’s stepped through a giant spiderweb.

“Whit!” She yells as she runs down the steps, terrified he won’t hear her over the whir of the motor. “Whit!”

Miraculously he turns and sees her, a drowsy, pleased smile spreading across his face. He’s wearing only a pair of boxers. Her immediate thought: Please, God, don’t let him fall in. Sober, he is the strongest, surest swimmer she knows; drunk, he will sink like a stone, and with his six-three and two hundred twenty pounds, his rescue will be impossible for her small frame.

“Avast, me beauty!” He swings his glass high, sending a necklace of liquor arching through the dock lights, and her pulse quickens.

He only speaks pirate when there’s bad news.

The concrete is damp and prickly under her bare feet. “Whit, what are you doing?”

“I thought I’d take the old girl out for a moonlight ride. Join me?” His blue eyes are wild, wolfish.

“There’s no moon,” she says, as if the correction might deter him. “And you’re not even dressed.”

“Right you are, lass.” He tugs a faded Marlins cap off the throttle handle and snaps it over his tousled blond hair, giving her a satisfied grin. “Better?”

Terrific.

She rushes onto the boat and climbs the ladder to the flybridge, feeling the tremors of panic soften when she arrives at the helm. This close, she could lunge for the ignition if she had to—but the current of dread still sizzles in the muggy air. A nearly drained bottle of scotch sits by the wheel, the amber liquid shuddering with the vibration of the engine. He’s done something foolish, but what? The possible transgressions race through her: An impulsive purchase they don’t need? The coltish blond he flirted with at Rachael and Daniel’s solstice party? Has he totaled the van . . .?

Despite his height and sturdy build, her husband looks fragile, something glued and not yet dried, and it scares her.

She can hear the tremble of uncertainty in her voice. “Love, shut her down and come back to bed. You need sleep.”

“God, I love this boat.” He drops into the captain’s chair and swivels around, his expression wistful as he scans the controls. “Do you realize that we could chart our entire life together on this boat, Red? That every moment of significance for us happened right here?”

She nods, nostalgia falling like a shawl over her too, snug and warm. Even now, beneath the diesel fumes, she can still find the scent of rusted metal and warm rubber, the intoxicating smells of a perfect dive.

But when Whit lifts his gaze to find hers, his eyes crackle with lust—it’s not their early memories of treasure hunting that he’s recalling.

“The first time I kissed you was on this boat,” he says. “The first time I held that gorgeous hair in my hands.” He opens his huge palms and closes them in fists. “Christ, I couldn’t get deep enough inside you.”

His eyes slide down her body, drinking her in, and the familiar tug of longing pulls at the space below her stomach, the weight of wanting his words could always coax from her like a fever.

But despite desire, impatience burns. She just wants it over with—wants to know what he’s done. Let it be something small, something easily and quickly repairable. They have only two weeks before they are scheduled to begin their next mission in North Carolina, the one Whit has promised will bring them the success their recent salvage missions haven’t.

“Whit, please.” She’s begging now. “What’s wrong?”

He spins the chair back around and lands under the glare of the spotlight. For a blissful moment, she thinks the crescent of purple under his right eye is a trick of the night, a reflection from the surface of the canal, and her heart holds for a second before it crashes.

“My God, your face!”

“It’s not so bad,” he says cheerfully. “Feel worse for the table.”

“You should be putting ice on it.”

“Good idea.” He slams his tumbler against his eye and winces. “Shit.”

She tries to help guide the glass to the worst of the bruise, but he waves her off. “It was all a big misunderstanding.” His voice is conversational, as if she might actually enjoy this story. “Phil and I were waiting for our beers, and this knucklehead next to us accuses Phil of stealing his seat, so I tried to—”

Phil? Blood rushes to her forehead. “Whit, please just tell me you didn’t let our project archaeologist see you get into a bar fight.”

He squints his uninjured eye. “I don’t think he saw much after that unfortunate pop to the side of his face.”

“He got hit?”

“It was just a tap, really. I doubt he’ll need more than a couple stitches. Serves him right for having such a lousy swing.”

“Whit!” Liv claps both hands over her mouth, sure if she doesn’t she will let go a scream that will draw every one of their neighbors out of bed.

They have spent months putting together this salvage project of the Siren, a blockade runner buried off the coast of Wilmington that sank with a fortune in her hold, and he has blown it up in a single night. All the pieces they’ve secured, the beach house in Topsail that is to be their base of operations, already rented. A seventy-eight-foot commercial dive boat, already chartered.

Panic sends her heart into a gallop, thumping hard against her ribs. “What are we supposed to do without an on-site archaeologist?”

Whit tugs off his cap and tosses it behind him. “We’ll just hire someone else.”

“Who? There isn’t anyone left on the planet who’ll put up with you!”

“Then you’re stuck with me, lass.” His eyes flash wickedly. “Let’s go below and I’ll shiver your timbers.”

“Whit—I’m serious!”

“Aye, so be I,” he growls playfully, yanking her into his lap and getting a bite on her neck before she wriggles free and moves for the ladder. “Red, wait.”

She hears the engine go quiet, but she is already back down and across the deck, training her eyes on the water and trying to find focus in the calm surface.

Two weeks. Maybe there is still a chance they can find someone else to take over the PA role in that time, even on such short notice. It would have to be someone familiar, with a good reputation. Someone who could step right in, no handholding. Someone who could keep Whit straight, keep him coloring in the lines, as Sam used to say—

Sam.

Gooseflesh flares up her bare arms. She grabs herself and rubs hard, afraid Whit will see the tiny, traitorous bumps.

She takes a seat on the bench and waits for him to descend the ladder. “What about Sam?” she asks.

Whit’s eyes cool, the teasing cornflower blue darkening to pewter.

“He used to be one of the best marine archaeologists out there, Whit.”

“Until he went back to law school.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s washed his hands of the field completely.”

Whit stares down at her with disbelief. “Felder left, Red. He left you—he left us. He made it clear he wanted out.”

“That was nine years ago. Maybe he’s let that all go.”

No wonder he continues to look at her as if she’s lost her mind. Sam who believed sentimentality was a character flaw; Sam who could—and did—turn off emotions like car engines?

Still she presses on. “Maybe he’s forgiven us.”

“Forgiven us?” Whit frowns at her. “What the hell did we ever do to need his forgiveness?”

We fell in love, Liv wants to say but doesn’t—and she doesn’t need to. Whit’s eyes find hers and flash with understanding.

“We have to at least consider asking him,” Liv says calmly. “Scrapping this project isn’t an option. Not when we’re so dangerously close to being in debt.”

Close? God, who is she kidding? They’re already sunk. The fortune they made from the recovery of the Bella Donna six years earlier has been bled—not to mention the legal fees they incurred fighting for their fair share of the valuables—and they are hemorrhaging with the cost of this new mission. The Siren may have held millions in gold when she sank on her way to Charleston—or so Whit insists. Even if they recover only a piece of that fortune, they’d be on firm ground again.

Whit blows out a hard breath and joins her on the bench, swinging his nearly drained bottle between his knees. “I don’t know, Red. There’s too much history there.”

“This time would be different,” she says. “This wouldn’t be about the Patriot.”

“Wouldn’t it?” Whit’s eyes hold hers, demanding truth. The mystery of the Patriot’s 1813 disappearance was the thread that had always stitched their lives together—hers, Whit’s, and Sam’s—from the moment they united as students to find the elusive shipwreck until the day they each went their separate ways.

Whit promised her that he’d find the answers Sam couldn’t. It had been a fierce and heartfelt vow—the only kind Whit could ever make. He’d even renamed their boat Theo’s Wish for the wreck’s most famous passenger, Theodosia Burr Alston, knowing how attached Liv had become to the lost woman. Whit had sworn not to quit until he and Liv solved the mystery, and proved what they’d always believed, that pirates had seized the Patriot and taken Theodosia captive. But thirteen years after their first expedition to search for the lost schooner, life and the pursuit of treasure have taken them far from their precious investigation, and Liv still doesn’t have her answer.

Tears sting the insides of her cheeks. She could tell Whit about her nightmare, make him feel especially guilty for putting all this at risk when he knows she has promised her doctor this will be her last deep dive, but she doesn’t want to relive it. And she doesn’t have to confess her dream to convince him.

He downs the last of his scotch, wincing as if he’s swallowing nails. Around them, the music of night animals stirs in the quiet, the buzz of insect wings, the trill of frogs. Whit’s phone sits on the hatch—he scoops it up and begins to type.

“You won’t find him that way,” Liv says.

“Watch me.”

She shivers, her hands clasped, toes clenched. She considered searches like this a hundred times, curious to where life took Sam in the years after he left her. It is the ease that has kept her from looking—knowing how much she could find out, and how quickly.

“He’s on the cape,” Whit announces, holding out the phone to show her. “Captain of a dive charter boat.”

Liv takes it, startled. Sam back to dive charters? Is Whit sure it’s the same Sam Felder? What happened to his pursuit of maritime law? She scrolls to read all about the captain of the Flotsam. There isn’t a picture, but there’s no question Whit’s found him.

She hands back the phone quickly, as if she couldn’t care less what has become of Sam Felder, only that he’ll accept their offer, and Whit begins to dial.

“You’re calling him now?” she says.

“Why not?”

Her skin warms again, regret surging. She stands, too quickly, and feels light-headed. A wave of guilt quickly steadies her.

In all her disappointment and fear, she’s been neglectful too.

“Maybe we should see if there’s another time, a better time,” she says sheepishly. “Maybe wait till the fall now.”

When she glances back at Whit, he is frowning at her. “What are you talking about?”

She shrugs. “I’m just saying, why rush? We’ve hit a bump—it happens. Maybe the best thing to do is step back and see if we can’t reschedule the project.”

“Red . . .” His voice deepens. “If this is about your father . . .”

She shakes her head and looks away. “It’s a long time to leave him.”

Whit groans. “For Christ’s sake, you’re not leaving him—you’re going away for a few weeks. For work. Besides, he won’t even know you’re gone.”

She closes her eyes, the reminder terribly painful though she knows Whit doesn’t mean to hurt her.

“Baby, he has people there to take care of him.” His tone has turned tender, all reproach gone.

But still she can’t relent. “People,” she says. “Not his daughter.”

“At some point, you’re going to have let yourself off this cross, you know.” He reaches out to stroke her cheek, but she turns away and rises. There’s no point in this argument—it’s always been so simple for him. But then Whit was the one who’d convinced her to move out of her father’s house into the dorms, when Sam had cautioned her to use patience, to live at home awhile longer. Sam who promised her there would be a reward for propping up her overly dependent father—Whit who’d urged her to cast aside duty and spread her wings, to soar the way her mother never had the chance to do.

“I’m going in,” she says.

“Red.” Whit’s call stops her at the edge of the boat. She turns back, seeing a flash of trepidation spark in his eyes. He levels a hard look at her, those silver-blue pools like two whitecapped seas, swirling and deep and blowing right through her. His appeal is a force of nature—as unyielding as the tide.

“She’s still out there somewhere and we’ll find her,” he says. “I intend to keep my promise.”

She blinks back tears as she turns for the house. “You always do.”

Damn.

Whit climbs back up to the flybridge and stares out at the canal. He never meant to finish the bottle. He never meant start that fight in the bar—or lose them their PA.

He never means any of it.

Dueling points of pain pierce his temples. He squeezes his eyes shut.

Livy.

She can look at him, flutter those long red lashes, and wreck him. Whit tells himself he’s made her happy all these years and most days he believes it. Then there are nights like this one, black nights so silent you have to remind yourself you’re not underwater—and how do you know you’re not? When you breathe, which sometimes you have to remind yourself to do too—and then you’re full of doubt, fat and bloated with it like a tick.

He worries about her diving. The Siren is deep—nearly a hundred and fifty feet down—the deepest she’s ever dared to go. But how can he forbid her now, when he was the one who’d convinced her to learn to dive in the first place, teaching her that weekend Sam was out of town and she’d nearly drowned in the process?

Jesus, he’d been so scared of losing her that day. And she hadn’t even been his to lose yet.

If he weren’t so drunk, Whit knows he could untangle his thoughts, but maybe it’s best they stay all knotted up. He’s not dumb—not even when he’s drunk. Sometimes he thinks he might just be sharper this way. People get lazy when they know you’re drunk, unguarded and loose, sure you won’t remember their confessions or even hear them. He’s learned a lot at the bottom of a bottle.

And now he has to ask Sam Felder to save his skin. And Sam will see that Whit hasn’t kept his promise to Liv—the only one she ever really cared about: to find out what happened to the Patriot, and, more important, to Theodosia. Theo.

Maybe Liv’s right—Sam never hung on to the past. Of course Sam’s probably given up the mystery of the Patriot. Whit has nothing to prove—especially not to Sam Felder. Only to Liv. Only her.

The light in their bedroom blinks out. Whit stares at the dark rectangle of glass, imagining Livy lying in her usual pose: one leg long, the other bent. His flamingo. Just like the one he’d had tattooed on his shoulder three years ago after he lost their wreck claim in a poker game on Wes’s boat. Still furious, she’d told him the tattoo looked like a mutant crawfish, but she’d kept them in bed until noon the next day admiring it until she teared up. “I thought flamingos were supposed to be pink,” she said. “Not mine,” he told her.

Yes, maybe it’s better that he’s plastered, he thinks as he rolls his thumb over the screen to find Sam’s number. Maybe numb like this, he can pretend he doesn’t care. He’s done it before.

Provincetown, Massachusetts

“Yours.”

Justine’s voice purrs through the darkness, so effortlessly Sam thinks he dreams the word, but the chimes continue, growing louder.

He turns his head, disparate pieces of information coming together in sharp focus. His ring. His phone. He reaches across her naked body for his cell, squinting to read the screen. He doesn’t recognize the number, so he lets the call go to voice mail, dropping the phone back on the shelf and blinking up into the watery blue-black, listening to the familiar sounds of the sea at rest all around him, the slap and suck of waves against the hull. The lullaby of the tide. He was dreaming of a coral reef, curtains of fish like stained glass, and he wants to get back there.

He throws an arm over his eyes and sleep returns.

Justine is already dressed when he gets to the galley to make coffee at six thirty.

Her blue eyes ice over. “I’m not sleeping here anymore. My back can’t take it.”

She made the same ultimatum the last time he met her for dinner. After all, she argued, she has a beautiful town house with windows instead of portholes, and sheets that don’t smell like salt and rust. She should have known him three years ago when he was still at the firm and living in a condo with a tenth-floor view of the Chicago River. She would have liked his digs just fine then.

He knocks the old grinds out and gives the basket a rough rinse.

“You could rent a real place, you know,” she says. “God knows you could afford it.” Her face softens slightly when she reaches out to touch his short beard. “The office gets new listings in every day. I could show you some.”

“This is a real place.”

“I mean a real place on the ground.”

He pops the top off the coffee can.

“So, who was that who called last night?” she asks. “And please don’t tell me you’re married.”

The phone. Sam walks back to the berth and picks up his cell, seeing the telltale envelope in the corner of the screen. He listens to the message as he returns to the galley. The man’s voice is rough, tentative, familiar.

“Sam, it’s Whit . . . Yeah, that Whit . . .”

After that he hears only pieces.

“—need a new project archaeologist—

“—I screwed the pooch—

“—kind of last minute, I know—”

An interminable rambling minute later, Sam hangs up.

Justine studies him as he returns to the galley. “Everything okay?”

“Fine.”

“Who was it?”

“Wrong number.”

He returns to the coffeemaker and frees the empty carafe. Justine slides in between him and the counter, blocking him, her eyes trying to hold his. Her fingers dance up his bare chest. “My first showing canceled,” she says. “Maybe we could give that awful bed of yours another try?”

Sam reaches around her to push the pot back onto the plate. It’s almost seven. He doesn’t have time for coffee—what was he thinking?

“I need to get the boat ready,” he says. “It’s late.”

Justine steps aside. “Wow, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bunk, Captain.” She sweeps up her purse and moves to the ladder.

Sam watches her exit the cabin, thinking he could stop her if he wanted, say something kind, but his thoughts are already a million miles, another lifetime, away.

Today’s passengers are a bachelor party, three men from Boston, all in their late twenties. Cape Cod is loaded with wrecks, several of which are in the harbor and easily accessible—others, such as the famous pirate ship Whydah—lay just outside park waters. Sam has chartered to those sites on occasion, but since today’s tour members have requested an easier dive, he will take them to Marisol, a trawler not far from shore that sank in forty feet of water, her pilothouse still intact and covered in a colorful rug of anemones.

His first mate, a good kid named Pete, helps the men set up on the deck. Sam watches them carefully as they strap in. Often divers inflate their experience to be allowed down without a guide, and Sam fears these men have done just that. Two stumble with their gear—and though Sam can’t know if it is the effect of too much partying the night before or a general lack of skill, it doesn’t matter. Even an easy dive comes with risks, and he is not a betting man. Sam has dived and crewed with careless men and he knows the ripple effect of one poor decision when you’re under.

He tells Pete to suit up and follow them down as a guide. The ringleader, a cocky, doughy-faced blond, is insulted and resistant, insisting the charter company assured them they could dive on their own, but Sam is feeling especially agitated this morning and he doesn’t care. The guy can agree to a guide, or they can all go back to the marina. There are a few tense moments of indecision, but the man finally consents. Minutes later, the four take their giant strides off the swim platform and descend, leaving Sam on board to watch the water and the horizon. Bad weather can appear without warning and churn the sea in a heartbeat. Still it will be a good dive for them, he thinks as he walks the deck. Good visibility.

If it was a tougher dive, he might have considered joining them. The water seems too quiet up top. Or maybe his thoughts are too loud.

An hour later, the group surfaces, and just in time too. Clouds have gathered and the sea is building a steady chop. Out of their gear, the men congregate on the benches and drain sodas.

The blond cowboy makes his way over to Sam at the bridge, wearing an admonished smile.

“Sorry about that earlier,” the younger man says. “I was thinking maybe we’d find ourselves a little luck down there. A few gold coins, you know?”

“Not likely on a fishing boat,” Sam reminds him.

“You ever find treasure around here?”

“Not here, no.”

The man’s eyes brighten. “But somewhere, right?”

Sam shrugs, his patience thinning again. “Somewhere, yeah,” he says, turning his attention to the wheel.

Back at the marina, the men pile into their cars and head into town for their last night of debauchery. Sam tells Pete he can take off early, that he’s more than paid his dues for the day, and the young man is grateful. More than anything, Sam just wants the boat to himself again.

Night arrives while he works, putting away gear, refilling tanks. Around him, the marina hums, the other charter boats winding down for the night too, last-minute maintenance and cleaning, shouts between decks, a few muffled televisions. The village of water homes. Lives clocked by the tide, as easily untethered as their boats.

All day he’s had distractions, reasons to keep his mind and hands off the ghost call from his past and the snaking curiosities it brought with it, but now the night stretches out before him as vast and quiet as the sea.

Now when the question knocks again, he will have no choice but to answer.

Might as well let it in, he thinks as he slips belowdecks.

He has to move two file boxes out of the hanging locker beside the berth to get to it, but the map is right where he remembers.

He takes the roll to the table and uncurls the heavy paper, securing the corners to keep it flat—if the four ends can still be called corners, as speckled with tack holes as they are, reminding him of those target papers at shooting ranges. He’s not sure there’s even enough paper left to attach it to a wall anymore.

The haphazard scribbles of their years of notes swim over the yellowed map, Liv’s handwriting and his. He finds himself reading them and smiles, remembering when they added each one, especially the first few; the labels Liv set down with feverish speed that night in Hatteras, spilling everything she knew about the Patriot’s disappearance while she wrote, explaining that she wanted to know where the schooner sank so she could find out what happened to her most famous passenger, Theodosia Burr Alston—an interest Sam marveled at, even if he didn’t entirely understand Liv’s passion at the time. How quickly and completely he’d found himself transfixed watching her slide her pencil all over the coastline that night, the determined way she’d sucked on her lower lip. He’d wanted to suck on it too.

He’s nearly thrown the chart away a dozen times. Life on a boat requires a maniacal degree of downsizing. Must-haves are priority: clothes, food, a modest library of only one’s most treasured books. And yet he found room for the chart.

He still isn’t entirely sure why he took it when he moved out of their apartment, knowing how much the map meant to Liv, knowing how many years of research she’d collected on its thick, crackled surface—much of which they’d collected together, he reminds himself. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have a right to the chart—it had belonged to them equally, hadn’t it? Had he taken it to punish her for not wanting to go to Chicago with him? Maybe. Or was it because he wanted to be the one to deliver her the answer to the mystery? He wonders if Liv even cares anymore about the Patriot, about Theodosia—Theo, as Liv had always called her, as if the lost woman was a dear friend.

When Sam learned that Liv had married Whit Crosby, he’d found it wholly impossible to believe. It didn’t make sense. Whit and his reckless methods, his total lack of self-control or regard for rules. Even now his mind still can’t form the image of the two of them together—and he avoids trying.

He slides his hands over the dry paper, the heat of his palms drawing out the salty smell of age and wear.

He forgot how Liv never bothered to dot her i’s.

There are seamen who believe they can hear the cries of the lost when they near a deadly stretch of water, fiercely superstitious men who live and breathe by signs when they cross an ocean. Sam traveled with one on the salvage mission of a submarine: a wiry man with milky blue eyes who went belowdecks when they anchored, shaking because he claimed to see the ghosts of drowned soldiers rising from the sea.

If Sam were one of those men—which he isn’t—he might decide the universe has aligned his stars. Because just the week before, out of the blue, he received an e-mail from Beth Henson—a former classmate from ECU he hasn’t heard from in years—telling him of curious news: a diary, believed to be written by Theodosia Burr Alston, and dated after the Patriot’s disappearance, had just been acquired by the Outer Banks Shipwreck Museum where Beth is now the director. Maybe Sam would like to come down and have a look through it—that is, if he was still interested in the mystery?

Truthfully he hadn’t been. Not anymore. He’d put the Patriot and Theodosia away when he and Liv broke up. Sure, he thought about it from time to time, casually following any leads that cropped up in his news feeds about unidentified shipwrecks, especially those found around the Outer Banks, but now . . .

Whit’s message. The chance to see Liv again.

Beautiful, stubborn Liv.

Sam won’t lie—he’s curious. Not about the journal, not that. About Liv. He’s curious to know how the years have treated her—if living with Crosby has changed her, if she ever wishes things had turned out differently. He wonders if she’s surprised he left his father’s law firm and returned to the water. If Sam saw her again, if she saw him, would she wish they’d never said good-bye?

And yes, maybe it turns him on to think he could return with news of a diary. That he could give Liv the one thing she always wanted: to know what really happened to Theodosia.

Challenge—hot and ferocious—charges through him; memories spill like an overturned glass.

Sam could wait to call them back, he supposes as he picks up his phone and retrieves Whit’s number. Make them wonder, maybe even make them sweat—but it’s a waste of time.

Already he can see the flash of excitement in Liv’s eyes when he tells her about Theodosia’s diary; the grateful wash of salmon that will flood her cheeks, swallowing the starry map of her freckles.

He closes his eyes and pulls in a hard breath.

Already he can feel the heat of her body under his.

Two

Topsail Island, North Carolina

Two weeks later
Tuesday

When Whit turns the van into the driveway of the three-story Caribbean-style castle just before noon, Liv is certain it is the largest, most ostentatious house she has ever seen. Palms flank the arched entryway like palace guards, bright blue hurricane shutters swing out, and decks wrap around all three floors, not including the top story, which appears to be made entirely of glass.

“Now, I know we said we wouldn’t go crazy this mission, Red—”

“We?” She spins in her seat. “You promised me something cozy, something small.”

“This is small . . . ish.”

“Compared to what? Buckingham Palace?”

“Exactly.” Two weeks after his row, the curl of navy and purple that circled his right eye has finally softened to a yellowish green. He gives her his very best smoldering smile, which he knows damn well can absolve him of practically anything, short of murder—and very well maybe that too, though she hopes they never have to find out—but today she’s determined not to give in to his charms.

“Maybe it only looks big on the outside,” he says.

She closes her eyes.

“We’ve got a crew of eleven, Red. Did you think we’d all share one big bed?” His grin widens. “Kinky girl.”

He reaches across the seat to grab her thigh, but she twists away from him, not yet ready to let him off the hook.

A warm breeze drifts through the front seat, salted and feathery and so achingly familiar she thinks she could cry. It’s been almost a decade since she left North Carolina. Standing at the rental car counter at the Wilmington Airport that morning, she waited for the sensation of her return to settle into her bones, sure it would the minute she and Whit stepped off the plane or walked through the sliding doors to find their shuttle—it didn’t. And now she understands why.

Until she arrived at the water’s edge, she wasn’t yet back.

Whit rubs his jaw. “Okay, maybe the elevator is a little over-the-top.”

“There’s an elevator?”

He leans over and kisses her hard on her gaping mouth, the way he always does when he knows he can’t win an argument or change her mind and he is simply too impatient to keep trying.

Then he yanks the handle and kicks open the door. “Last one in has to scrub all six heads.”

Eight, actually. Counting the two outdoor showers, which Liv does as she tours the three floors, finding a view of the Atlantic in nearly every room, and decks scaled for cruise ships, which makes perfect sense, really, when the polished wooden ceilings look like upside down ships, their laminated beams curved like ribs. Madness.

The first crew members arrive shortly after one. Four men in their twenties climb out of an enormous white truck—one with a completely shaved head and sleeves of tattoos, another with a ponytail; all with deep, even tans. They unload their gear and a ridiculous amount of beer. Whit has promised not to partake, but Liv isn’t holding her breath. She knows how the spell of preproject euphoria can take over, how small toasts can lead to drained bottles, shots to tumblers. She just hopes everyone gets along. Emotions can run high on the water—and under it.

An hour later, four more crew members arrive, these men much older than the first group, their skin leathery, their thin lips chapped. Two of them, Chuck and Dennis, Liv knows from their work on the Bella Donna. They smell so strongly of diesel when they hug her that Liv wonders if they have bathed in fuel. Whit whisks them inside where they complain of the traffic and the crappy roads before dropping their gear in the foyer and demanding a bathroom and a beer before any further interaction. By four, the men are all downstairs in the game room playing pool, and the pristine kitchen has been turned into a mess hall. Bags of potato chips and empty beer and soda cans litter the huge granite island; the Sub-Zero fridge is packed with stacks of meat and bags of shrimp bound for the home’s outdoor grilling station later that night. Liv doesn’t dare ask how much it all cost.

By five, still no Sam. It would serve her right, Liv thinks as she steps out onto the deck and sinks into one of the Adirondack chairs that line the back of the house, if she pushed so hard to get Sam here only to have him leave them hanging—the very thing he always used to claim Whit did to them—which Whit did, on more than one occasion.

Maybe this will be Sam’s final chance at tit for tat.

Or maybe she’s just nervous and paranoid.

A quartet of pelicans glides across the sky. She watches them descend, smiling at their wobbly landing on the water. The breeze that brushes past her is fragrant with the dry, herby smell of sunbaked dune grass. The water is calm today, at least on the surface, part of the stretch of sea known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Liv traveled its length like a highway when she and Sam and Whit ran their treasure-hunting charter.

Looking out at the water now, she finds it hard not to think of Theodosia or the Patriot, but she can’t allow herself to get caught up in the search again. They are here to recover the Siren. But God, it’s hard, really, to look at any part of this view and not think about those early days, when she and Whit and Sam believed themselves clever enough to find the Patriot on their own. When the mystery of Theodosia Burr Alston’s fate had consumed her—only slightly more than her need to belong to Sam Felder.

Behind her, through the high wall of windows, the rise and fall of the men’s loud voices draw her out of her memories. She is sure it must just be the excitement of a victorious billiard match, but then the deck door swings open and Whit appears with his hands on his hips.

He can flash that smiles all he wants—she’s still pissed about this ridiculous house.

She leans back in the chair. “I’m still not speaking to you, you know.”

He grins. “Fine, don’t speak to me. Just come inside. You’re going to want to see this.”

In the living room, she finds the crew huddled around Whit’s computer, their voices climbing over each other. He shouts for them to move out of the way and plants Liv in front of the screen, his hands heavy on her shoulders. Even before she sees the blurry image of the seafloor, she can feel his pulse thrumming through his palms, and her own heartbeat hastens.

He’s found something.

Something big.

“What does that look like to you?” He points to the lower right corner of the gray image, tapping his finger on the faint edge of a crescent shape that pokes out of the gray bottom.

She twists to look up at him; his eyes flash knowingly, but he won’t say a word. And she doesn’t want any hints. Identifying artifacts from scans, figuring out what is treasure and what is just rubble, is one of her favorite parts of the hunt. It could be the lip of a medicinal jar, she thinks, studying the image again—after all, medicine was one of the more popular contrabands blockade runners delivered—or maybe a porthole. Or maybe . . . Liv tilts her head. Is that the bottom of a letter just above the ridge? Maybe an N or an R? It could be, and looking closer she thinks there might be more letters. And the edge of the curve looks flat, not rounded. Tapered, like a—

Her cheeks flush hot. She spins around to face him. “You found the bell!”

Whit lifts her off the floor and kisses her deeply, managing to swing her a half turn in the thick of the huddle. Another round of victory cheers and high fives; Liv wants in too, demanding they slap their meaty palms against her small hand. It’s tremendous news. If they’ve located the ship’s bell, they can prove the wreck is the Siren even before they bring up a single artifact. Whit orders them all into the kitchen to celebrate and tears into a bottle of champagne he vowed to save for their first day on the water, but Liv knows better than to remind him. She searches the high cabinets for flutes but is too late. The men are already passing the bottle around and swigging from it. When it is her turn, she takes her sip and tips her face up when Whit swoops in to deliver her a champagne-soaked kiss.

They are still emptying the bottle when Liv sees Dennis cock his head strangely, as if he’s heard something. He raises his hand to quiet their noise and in the next instant, the chime of the doorbell comes.

Sam.

Liv meets Whit’s eyes, and a chill flutters the hairs on the back of her neck, like a scarf being pulled off in winter; skin covered now exposed to the elements again.

It is Whit who greets him, recruiting a few of the crew to join him in the foyer for introductions.

Liv flees to the upstairs and listens from the hallway to the clatter of the men’s voices spilling into the kitchen a few minutes later. She tells herself it’s best not to overwhelm Sam with a mass welcome, but she knows that isn’t the real reason she stays away—and she suspects Whit does too. Suddenly she isn’t quite as indignant about having so much space. Maybe this behemoth isn’t big enough.

She calls Rachel, knowing her old friend is of the opinion that no amount of gold is worth opening old wounds, and is disappointed to get her voice mail. So she unpacks and takes a bath in the suite’s enormous tub, sinking as deep as she can under a froth of lavender bubbles. When she hears the telltale sounds of food being prepared, chairs and tables dragged across floors and music blaring on the deck, she knows the bacchanalia of dinner is under way. A perfect time to make her entrance, she decides, toweling off and dressing in a pair of ivory shorts and a peasant blouse. All the activity will serve as smoke, cloaking any tension that might exist when she and Sam greet each other. Passing a mirror in the hall, she sees a faint blush on her cheeks and stops, feeling a strange pinch of guilt. It’s just the heat of the day, she tells herself. Just the residual flush from the excitement of finding the bell.

Coming downstairs, she glimpses Whit outside at the grill, the crew flocked around him, shouting over Van Morrison. But where is Sam?

In the den, she finds him scanning the home’s wall of books.

He has a beard.

This is her first thought when she sees him. He has buzzed his wavy brown hair military-style, shorter than she’s ever seen it. Against the high shelves, he seems taller, tauter. He’s always been lean, but now his body possesses a remarkable tightness, machinelike.

She lets her hands fall to her sides, not sure what to do with them. “Hi, Sam.”

He closes his book and smiles. “Hey, Liv.”

To hug or not to hug. Whether to even touch. Uncertainty overwhelms her. Liv slows her advance and Sam remains at his post, the decision made for them.

“I was starting to think you were hiding from me,” he says, sliding the book back into the shelf. “It wouldn’t be hard to do here. This place should come with a map.”

“You said that about the last place Whit found for us.”

“Did I?”

Just the mention of that first weekend together thirteen years earlier and the enormous room fills with memories, charged and electric like the air before a summer storm. Liv feels herself sinking and forces her thoughts to stay afloat. In the present, where they belong.

She gestures to his jaw. “It’s different.”

“It’s easy.” He rubs at his beard. “I’ve gotten lazy in my old age.”

“I find that hard to believe.” She smiles. “I like it. It suits you.”

His eyes flicker over her face. “You look good, Liv.”

“God, not really.” She pushes at the limp knot of her hair. “I feel about as toned as a roasted marshmallow. You’re the one who looks like you could swim the English Channel.”

“That’s kind of you.”

“I’m anxious to get back in the water. This project will probably be my last time diving. At least that’s what I’ve promised my doctor.”

His eyes widen briefly.

“You look surprised,” Liv says.

“I am. I can’t believe you’re still diving.”

“You couldn’t believe I ever started.” She regrets the comment as soon as it’s out. The air, once fresh and unblemished, feels heavy now, the weight of their old argument landing between them like a dropped stone. She wants to repair her mistake.

“Can I get you a glass of wine?” she asks.

“No, thanks, I don’t drink anymore.”

She blinks at him. Sam, not drink?

He smiles wryly. “Now who looks surprised?”

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting . . .”

“It’s okay—I get that reaction all the time. It’s like telling people I’ve quit showering. They’re horrified.”

She laughs, maybe too loudly. She wonders if something happened to make Sam stop drinking completely.

“I would take some coffee, if you have it.”

“Of course.”

A purpose. Thank God. She leads him to the kitchen and crosses to the still-warm carafe, finding some coffee remains. She pours, grateful for the crackle of the liquid rising to fill the quiet, hopeful her hands will hold without trembling when she delivers him the cup. She doesn’t bother to offer him cream or sugar—he always took his black. To pretend she doesn’t remember seems insincere. As he takes several long sips, she notices the strands of red in his short beard, reminded of the ones she was so shocked to find farther down his body when they’d first slept together. Copper and gold threads. In those early days, everything had reminded her of treasure.

She rubs her bare arms. “Thank you for rescuing us, Sam. I wasn’t sure you’d be able to. Or want to, for that matter.”

“So asking me was your idea?”

Liv meets his eyes. There’s no point in lying; Sam would never have believed the suggestion came from Whit.

She moves to the sliders and looks out, not sure what she’s searching for, or who. It’s dark enough that she can see Sam in the reflection. He’s watching her as he drinks.

She turns back but remains against the glass, the cool surface startling on her neck.

“I was surprised to see you back in the charter business,” she says. “I assumed when you left for law school, you’d eventually practice.”

“I did. For a while. But after my dad died, I got out. He left me some money and I figured a boat was as good an investment as any.”

“Your dad?” Sympathy washes over her. “I’m so sorry. When did he die?”

“Five years ago.”

“God, I’m sorry,” she says again, not sure what else to say. She’d never felt close to Robert Felder—he’d made sure she didn’t—but Sam had been devoted. The loss must have been impossible for him. “So you’re a dive captain again?”

He smiles. “Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan.”

A flutter of nerves dances down her spine. The frankness of his comment dangles between them. She looks toward the window.

“What about you?” he asks. “Still writing?”

“Some. Mostly papers for journals. Lectures when I can. Whit keeps me pretty busy.”

“I’ll bet.” The edge of insinuation is unmistakable.

Liv gestures to the island, covered with food. “It’s gross, isn’t it? You’d think he meant to invite all of Topsail.”

“Knowing Whit, he probably did.” Sam takes a slow sip of coffee. “I heard he bought back the Phoenix.”

“He did. He changed the name. She’s Theo’s Wish now.”

“I was always told it was bad luck to change the name of a boat.”

She smiles. “That’s Whit for you. Tempting fate every chance he gets.”

Sam’s eyes flicker, as if she’s sparked a long-forgotten memory. “So you and Whit have kept up the hunt, then.”

“We try.” She shrugs. “Life keeps getting in the way, though.”

“You’ve done well for yourselves. The Bella Donna was quite a find. I heard two million in coins?”

“Two point five, actually. And almost thirty feet of gold chain. It was incredible.”

“Good for you. From what I hear, it’s getting harder and harder to secure a license to bring up a barrel of bottles, let alone gold.”

“It’s been a challenge getting a recovery mission under way. Which is why we were so terrified of losing this one. Did Whit tell you he found the bell? At least, we’re fairly certain it’s the bell.”

“I heard that,” Sam says.

Liv can’t help wondering if Sam has heard other things too: the string of missions Whit has lost or sabotaged in the years since their success with the Bella Donna, the crew members he’s pissed off trying to circumvent red tape and cut corners.

What does it matter? Sam’s here, isn’t he?

“Whit’s sure there’s even more money on the Siren,” she says.

“So he tells me.” Sam’s eyes narrow slightly, signaling doubt.

“You don’t believe it,” she says.

“Blockade runners rarely carried gold. It would be unusual.”

“And yet you came.” She considers him. “So you must think there’s at least a good chance of finding something.”

Sam smiles. “I think there’s a very good chance.”

His eyes meet hers and hold, gently probing. Liv has the feeling he wants to tell her something else. Maybe something that has nothing to do with treasure or diving, that he has someone special in his life; that he’s fallen in love, that he’s married. She knows she isn’t entitled to this information, and maybe that’s best. She’s not sure she wants to know.

“Hallelujah!” Whit blows into the room, startling them both. One glance at his crooked grin and Liv knows that he’s amply drunk. “In case you’re wondering,” he says, flinging open the fridge hard enough to rattle the beer bottles lined along the door, “it takes four crew members and one thickheaded project leader to figure out how to turn on a five-thousand-dollar grill.” He reaches in and begins tossing packages of meat onto the counter. “Hope you’re as hungry as that fire.”

“None for me, thanks,” says Sam. “I ate on the road.”

“Really?” Liv can hear the disappointment in her voice.

“Damn,” Whit says. “I was hoping we could all break bread together. Maybe even drag some wood down to the beach and get a fire going, for old times’ sake.”

“I’m pretty sure they’d fine us now,” Sam says, looking at Liv. “See you all bright and early.” He raises his mug to her before setting it down. “Thanks for the coffee.”

She nods, feeling traitorous and not even sure why, when Sam excuses himself with a short wave.

She can feel Whit’s eyes trying to catch hers as she takes Sam’s mug to the double sink and rinses it.

He comes behind her. “Told you he’s not over it.”

“I think it went fine,” she says, more defensively than she intended.

She can feel Whit’s smile against her ear. “Liar.” He kisses her neck and disappears out the slider. She watches him reunite with the men at the grill, letting the tangle of emotions pass through her. It’s just the first night, she tells herself. The first time the three of them have been in the same room together after so many years. Of course it’s awkward. Things will surely improve in the days ahead. They’ll find their way to friendship. They had once before, hadn’t they? Three strangers with nothing in common but a passion for treasure and the mysteries of the sea.

Even though it seems another lifetime to her now, they came together once upon a time.

And they can do it again.

Reading Group Guide

A Conversation Between Erika Marks and Her Editor

Editor: What made you center a novel around a shipwreck? How did you come to use the story of Theodosia Burr Alston and the Patriot in this novel? Was it a part of the novel from the outset?

Erika: I have long been fascinated with shipwrecks. I grew up near the ocean, so sailing history and the legends of the many ships lost along Maine’s rocky coastline buried themselves in my imagination from an early age. When I was researching lighthouses for The Mermaid Collector, I knew I would eventually thread a shipwreck into a later novel—the only question was how.
While I had always planned to have Liv, Whit, and Sam pursue a mysterious shipwreck, I assumed I would have to imagine one for the story. Then, as so often happens in writing, remarkable narrative roads intersected and provided me with something different. While doing research on the Outer Banks, I discovered the history of the Patriot and her most famous passenger, Theodosia Burr Alston, who, upon further investigation, proved as fascinating a subject as the ship she disappeared with. Curiously enough, Theodosia, like my present-day character Liv, had a complicated and deeply dependent relationship with her father, Aaron Burr. The parallels between the two women were too remarkable to ignore—so how could I not bring the Patriot and Theodosia into my story?

Editor: The Last Treasure features a love triangle—something you explored in previous novels, such as Little Gale Gumbo and The Guest House. What about this concept interests you?

Erika: I think there is something fundamentally exciting and fascinating about watching two men vie for a woman’s love. I remember seeing a performance of Camelot when I was young and being fascinated by the dynamic of Arthur and Lancelot vying for the attention of Guenevere—not who would choose her, but who would she choose, and why? Whose love was right for her, and how did she balance that choice in her heart? And when the three people are all close friends, does that strain affect their unit as a whole? Love and desire change us at our core—and the ripples of our feelings spread far out into the pond of our lives. In The Guest House, Edie, who is a fiercely unconventional young woman, finds herself smitten with a charming summer visitor and yet also confused by her growing feelings for a man she has always considered a bossy, older-brother type. The reader follows her journey to discover which suitor is ultimately the one her heart craves, and the road getting there is, of course, bumpy and full of unexpected turns.
For The Last Treasure, I wanted to explore the dynamics of two very different men in one woman’s heart. Whit and Sam came easily to me—especially Whit, whom I loved deeply from the very start. Despite his messiness and his reckless ways, his love for Liv is unwavering, and that level of unabashed desire and certainty is, to me, the sexiest quality in a leading man. So often the “bad boy” is patently unfaithful, his lothario ways somehow romanticized, which I think is a fatal flaw. I can forgive a man most anything in a novel, if his heart remains faithful to the woman he loves, and Whit’s always does—even when his actions suggest he can’t get out of his own way at times.
With Sam, I wanted to explore the man who appears to be the total package on the surface—attractive, responsible, faithful, dependable—but over time, he reveals himself to be someone very different. All of us grow through relationships—or hope to—and what we think makes sense in a partner isn’t always right for us, and it can take a long time to understand that distinction. I wanted to explore Liv’s evolution of listening to her heart, to see her finally breaking away from familiar patterns of her past—her father’s control, her fears of taking risks and of being alone—to find her happiness.
I loved Liv’s duplicity—sometimes she is fiercely defiant; other times she is terrifically fragile—and I wanted to watch how she would reveal herself in the company of men who spoke differently to those contrasting personality traits—and ultimately, which one would allow her to be her most honest self, which I think is the measure of true love.
When the novel opens, Liv is on the threshold of possibility—her marriage is strained to the breaking point and her old lover comes back into her life. What would a woman do when faced with that opportunity to revisit—and possibly rework—the past? Would she find her heart’s mind changed by nostalgia or would it be a chance to be reminded of all that is right in her marriage? I knew Whit would have to work to win her back—and I wanted very much to see him succeed, but I also wanted the readers to be waiting for that mystery to be solved, just as they were for the mystery of the Patriot.

Editor: What intrigues you about writing stories that have a contemporary/present story as well as a past story? Why do you enjoy writing about people at various points/periods of their lives? What does that enable you to do as a writer with the story?

Erika: I love this question because I have often asked myself this when I begin a novel and find myself invariably drawn to the structure of moving back and forth in time with my characters. I myself tend to hyperanalyze most everything in my life (don’t we all?), so I’m always drawn to characters who are at a place in their lives where they are facing a crisis of some kind that requires them to dig deep into their pasts in order to move toward their futures. So often we rewrite our histories to suit our emotional needs, which is all well and good—until someone enters that story and reminds us that maybe what we’ve been telling ourselves for so long isn’t the reality.
In the case of Liv, when the reader meets her, she is vulnerable and torn. She loves Whit desperately but is forced to consider whether she can continue to stay married to him. During this, she is reunited with Sam—the ex-boyfriend who was once everything stable and safe in her life. How can she not reconsider the choice she made to leave their relationship?
Structuring the novel by moving between the present and the past allowed me to explore the evolution of these characters as individuals, as pairs, and as a trio. It also allowed me to show the reader the foundation that Liv’s marriage—and her relationship with Sam—is built upon. Not only that, but looking back allows Liv the opportunity to revisit the truth of her history with both men—and to be honest with herself and her heart at a time when she might easily rewrite her past to suit her present.
It is that moment of indecision, that gripping flash of consideration, that intrigues me as a writer; a pivotal instant in a person’s story that has been building up for years and years. In life, we rarely have the opportunity for leisurely reflection in the midst of emotional distress—in fiction, we can grant our characters that gift.
Questions For Discussion
1. While the end of the novel indicates that the mystery of the Patriot was solved by the discovery of Theodosia’s diary, Whit brings Liv possible proof of an alternate solution. Which do you believe is the real story? Do you believe Theodosia wished to have absolution by writing the diary to her father? Do you like to imagine the diary was eventually delivered to him?

2. Though they lived nearly two hundred years apart, in what ways are Liv and Theodosia similar? Why do you believe Liv is so devoted to solving the mystery of what happened to Theodosia, and why is she attached to the theory that Theodosia ultimately escaped from the ship? Do you think Liv sees herself in Theodosia? How?

3. At one point, Liv’s mother claims that “People aren’t always who you think they are” in reference to Liv’s father. To whom else in the novel could this statement apply?

4. Throughout the novel, feeling at odds with her marriage, Liv is given the opportunity to revisit her past with both Sam and Whit—and possibly be given a chance to make a different choice in her present. Do you feel the choice she makes at the novel’s end is the best for her? Was it the choice you’d hoped she’d make?

5. Sam claims he isn’t sure why he took the chart when he broke up with Liv. Why do you think he did it?

6. The novel’s nautical themes of “wrecks” and “salvage” could also relate to the emotional journey of each of the main characters, who all act in ways that derail their happiness at one point or another. Did you find yourself rooting for one character’s redemption more than another’s? Were you satisfied that each character grew through his or her mistakes by the end of the novel and emerged as more emotionally healthy people? Who did, and who didn’t?

7. Just as Whit and Sam are two very different men, Liv acts differently around each one. Which man brings out her most authentic self? Which one ultimately gives her what she wants? What about what she needs?

8. The reader senses Whit’s attraction to Liv (as does Sam) long before Liv will admit to it herself—why do you suppose that is? Do you believe her attraction to Whit was there all along? If not, when do you think Liv first became aware she had feelings for Whit beyond friendship?

9. Did Sam’s later confession regarding what happened after leaving Zephyr’s Restaurant surprise or shock you? Why, or why not?

10. What did you think of the final scene between Whit and Sam? Do you believe the men came to a place of peace—or do you think that isn’t in the cards for them?

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The Last Treasure 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the 2nd book i have read frlom this author Will contine to check what she has written Very good author
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Three's a crowd. A love triangle. Three's a crowd. This book was completely about how a group of three never works out. Two men and one woman and there are feelings flying around from their college years to their reunion for one last adventure. With chapters taking place both in the current place time and from their college years and into their adult years, I loved how this story was told. The other part of this story that was beyond interesting was the focus on underwater excavation - maybe not the exact terms, but the fun of discovering abandoned ships and maybe even treasure deep underwater. I am not a diver and don't know much about this hobby or professional, so I just loved reading about people pursuing this type of work and finding joy in discovery.
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
Erika Marks delves into the lost history of the Patriot, a vessel lost at sea in the early 1800’s and delivers page-turning adventure in her latest novel The Last Treasure. It’s been nine years since Liv and Sam parted ways. There was a time when it seemed destiny would place Sam and Liv in happily ever after. The third member to their trio, Whit, was the ‘bad boy.’ He was the one who was unpredictable—borderline undependable. Yet, Liv ended up with Whit. They had a salvage business and her childhood obsession toward uncovering the real story behind the demise of Theodosia Burr was a mystery Liv was certain she would uncover someday. Coming out of yet another treasure seeking mission gone wrong, Liv and Whit are reunited with Sam for one last mission. Old feelings surface and Liv is once again at her crossroads; questioning whether the one she let get away (Sam) was the one true love she never should have let go. When the crew learns they have the chance to perhaps uncover the mystery of the Patriot and Theodosia Burr, the temptation is too great to walk away. The team finds themselves deposited back on the coast of the Outer Banks to search for the long lost vessel. Tempers flare, romance ignites once more and for the first time in his life, Whit needs to demonstrate to Liv that she did make the right choice in leaving Sam behind so long ago. Time and challenges will be the indicator as to whether happily ever after will surface along with whether the mystery of Theodosia will be solved once and for all. Erika Marks has a knack for setting the tone and pace instantaneously in this latest body of work. The nuance of ‘things aren’t quite perfect’ is established within the first handful of pages. Marks accomplishes mystery and intrigue at the onset and plays on the mystery of 'what if.' She consistently delivers rich prose and crisp dialogue for the reader to engage and participate in the story. Marks complements the dialogue with precise timing and placement of descriptive scenery that manages to enhance the thrill and suspense of diving into the deep to uncover the long-buried treasures of the past. There is a distinct voice throughout this novel that is easily detected and turning each page is far from being a chore. Well done Ms. Marks. I look forward to your next body of work. Quill says: The Last Treasure is a well-thought-out and enjoyable read.
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
The history, the facts, and the story all pulled me right into the story of Theo. Liv is obsessed with Theodosia Burr and what happen to her. She pulls both Sam and Whit into her search for what happen to Theo. While the history is interesting and I learned so much about a person that I didn’t even know existed before I picked up The Last Treasure, I really enjoyed the dynamics between Liv, Sam, and Whit. The odd trio work meet in college and end up working together to search shipwrecks. I was interested in who Liv would end up with. Would she be better matched with Sam or Whit? Erika Marks did a great job showing how a relationship could or would be with each of the guys. I am still on the fence as to who is better with Liv but I am sure there is a true love winner in this trio. I really liked was how true Liv stayed true to herself. She grew up without a mother and with a father who was extremely demanding of her time and attention yet she was able to learn to stand up for herself, stand on her own two feet, and blaze her own trail in life. She did not let those saying she couldn’t, shouldn’t, or wouldn’t be able to dive, find out the truth, or live her own life pull her down or push her off her path. The Last Treasure is a romance, but more than that I felt it was a mystery. A mystery of what happen to Theo and what Liv’s future is. I recommend picking it up.