Promise of Gold wraps a romance between an English viscount and a flamenco dancer inside a quest for sunken treasure. The details of the dive expeditions, circa 1898, are well-researched and fascinating. The romance fails to satisfy, mainly due to the characterization of the leads and too many predictable events.
Derek Carlisle, Viscount Graystone, has traveled to Cuba with his ship, Pharoah’s Gold, and a crew of seven trusted men in order to purchase a 270-year-old journal from a Cuban plantation owner. The journal may contain clues to the location of the Augustina, a Spanish galleon reputedly carrying a fortune in artifacts when it went down off the Florida coast. As Derek impatiently waits through endless entertainments provided by his host, his attention is caught by a lovely flamenco dancer. Later, Derek catches her with a sack of stolen goods, including the journal. She is able to slip away from him, but Derek vows to find her.
Rosa Constanza Wright is supporting her three overprotective, elderly godfathers by thievery, and when they witness her exchanging a kiss with Derek before eluding him, they frame him by putting the stolen journal in his guest room. When Rosa finds out that Derek has been taken to a dungeon and will apparently be executed, she insists that he be rescued. She purchases a voodoo potion that will make Derek appear to be dead, and arranges to slip it into his last meal. Then, posing as a young soldier, she takes possession of the body and spirits Derek away. They re-steal the journal, and Derek, Rosa, the godfathers, and the crew leave Cuba.
Derek doesn’t want to take Rosa or her three protectors along, but agreed to make her a one-quarter partner in the expedition in exchange for stealing the journal again. First stop: Galveston, where Derek can visit with his sister (from the previous book) and they can attend the obligatory romance novel ball, so Rosa can dress up and Derek can notice her beauty and feel twinges of jealousy. Then it’s off to the Florida Keys and the search for the Augustina.
Neither Derek nor Rosa made a particularly favorable impression. Rosa spends most of her time wheedling, storming about, insisting she be treated as a partner, arguing that she should be allowed to take full part in the search activities, and generally behaving like an immature brat. Derek, for his part, is Grimly Determined a lot, as in grimly determined not to take Rosa seriously (who could blame him?) and grimly determined to keep her out of his dive activities. Yet he’s lusting after her lips, her hips, her breasts, her buttocks, yadda, yadda. Rosa keeps daydreaming over Derek’s manly form and golden-blond hair. But since neither of these two do anything but bicker and yap at each other for most of the book, their romance felt absolutely false and based on nothing more than physical attraction. Could they at least have had one in-depth, honest conversation? When they finally consummate their relationship, they still know virtually nothing about each other, except for the lips-hips-golden blond hair thing. Love? No way.
The author obviously spent a great deal of time researching diving techniques of the period, including the heavy brass helmets and air pumping systems. I had much more fun reading about the discovery of the Augustina and the subsequent recovery of artifacts and treasure. Conveniently, the only other crewmember who can fit in the diving gear gets hurt, so Rosa gets to dive. All of the usual out-to-sea plot elements are here: pirates, storms, friendly dolphins, sharks. A lot of this felt like filler. The book could have been fifty pages shorter and would have probably been better for it, especially if Rosa and Derek had spent it in adult conversation.
Promise of Gold looks to be the second of a trilogy - there is still a younger sister in Derek’s family, and hints are given at the end that she’d be a likely lead character. I recommend this book if you have an interest in sunken treasure tales and enjoy historical details, but if you’re looking for a gripping, emotionally satisfying romance, keep on looking.