Dani Pettrey has sold more than 800,000 copies of her novels to readers eagerly awaiting the next release. Expertly combining suspense with romance, Dani considers herself blessed to be able to write the kind of stories she loves—full of plot twists, peril, love, and a longing for hope and redemption. Her greatest joy as an author is sharing the stories God lays on her heart. She researches murder and mayhem from her home in Maryland, where she lives with her husband.
In this interview, Dani talks with us about the third book in her Coastal Guardians Series, titled The Deadly Shallows.
FF: Can you please provide a summary of your new novel, The Deadly Shallows?
The Deadly Shallows is the third and final book in my Coastal Guardians Series featuring the Coast Guard Investigative Service team and those who capture their hearts. Set in Wilmington, North Carolina, amidst the beauty and backdrop of the wintry Atlantic Ocean, the quiet Coast Guard base is rocked to its core when gunmen open fire at a flight medic graduation ceremony.
CGIS Special Agent Noah Rowley and his team stop the attack but not before many innocent lives are lost. Furious and grief-stricken, he determines to do whatever is needed to bring the mastermind behind the attack to justice.
Coast Guard flight medic Brooke Kesler evacuates the scene of the shooting in a helicopter carrying the only surviving gunman. Gravely wounded, the man whispers mysterious information to her that immediately paints a target on her back.
As Brooke and Noah race to uncover answers, emotions brewing between them for months ignite. Noah struggles to protect Brooke at all costs and to conceal the secret that prevents him from becoming what he longs to be—the right man for her.
They quickly learn everything is at stake when a horrifying truth emerges: the mass shooting wasn’t the end game. It was only the beginning.
FF: What was the inspiration for the series and for this particular novel?
The Coastal Guardians Series was born out of research. I was looking up who would investigate a crime committed within our coastal waterways, and I landed on the Coast Guard Investigation Service. I was fascinated. The breadth of the CGIS’s jurisdictional area is limited but not nearly as limited as I first imagined. They investigate anything from a Guardsman violating a military code of justice, to broken maritime laws by civilians, to being deployed around the globe in support of Combatant Commanders.
Learning about what Coast Guard investigative agents do inspired me to create a team of agents led by Noah Rowley. Readers first meet Noah way back in the second book of my Chesapeake Valor Series, Still Life. He had a small but invaluable role to play. Ever since I introduced Noah, I’ve been wanting to tell his story, but other characters kept getting in the way. LOL! I am so excited to wrap up Coastal Guardians with Noah and Brooke in The Deadly Shallows.
FF: The Deadly Shallows features an overarching theme of coming to peace with your past. How does this play out in the lives of your protagonists Noah and Brooke?
In their own ways, both Noah and Brooke have pasts that they’d rather forget. For Brooke, it is a long line of boyfriends who fit the “leaves a lot to be desired” box because she never believed herself deserving of something better. For Noah, an accident shattered his dreams long ago and left him with a secret shame—one he’s carried alone and never shared with anyone.
Without giving too much away, Noah and Brooke have always kept people at arm’s length, but in The Deadly Shallows, they challenge each other to see themselves in a different light and move forward into a better future.
FF: Do you relate to either of your protagonists on a personal level?
I always love this question, and I usually identify with my heroines on a personal level, but in The Deadly Shallows I was drawn far more deeply to Noah. He’s a man I truly admire. I love his devotion to God and those he loves. I love the balance he must constantly keep in place and his perspective—being the strong leader of his CGIS team, while also being the tender, loving uncle, son, and boyfriend he is. Seeing a man who excels in both areas really touched me. While my hubby isn’t a CGIS agent, he does share similar qualities with Noah, so it was really fun and, at times, interesting to see Noah’s character develop and getting glimmers of my hubby in him.
FF: Both of your main characters are affiliated with the United States Coast Guard. What type of research was required to portray these occupations accurately?
Thankfully, I love research because a lot was required. Prior to creating Noah’s character, my only experience with the Coast Guard was a friend from high school who joined the Guard. And, not to age myself, but that was many years ago.
I started my research the same way I always do—online. I started googling all aspects of the Coast Guard and spent about two weeks doing that. At the same time, I researched books on the Coast Guard that I thought might be particularly helpful. I always order a minimum of three but a maximum of five as I’m a research junkie and would stay in research land forever if there wasn’t a novel to get started.
I also reached out to my awesome readers and was able to connect with three different Guardsmen. One had been in the CGIS, one was newly in the Guard, and one was retired. They were all so very helpful. I find getting firsthand accounts to always be the most helpful aspect in understanding the community and world I’m writing about.
FF: Are there any threads that run through the whole series that will be wrapped up in this book?
Yes. Noah started the series out, so his story being the last will really help wrap the series up and answer a lot of questions regarding not just him but a secondary couple as well. There are always threads that run through my series, even if they are just relationally, so I hope readers will enjoy The Deadly Shallows and find it a satisfying conclusion to the series.
FF: Did anything surprise you while writing this book, or did everything turn out exactly as you initially planned?
Lol! Nothing turns out exactly as I planned. I tend to be an instinctual writer, which means I follow my gut and God’s leading, and often that takes me into uncharted territory. It takes a whole heap of drafts to wrangle the story out of the weeds and shape it into place. Much to the chagrin of my editor, it usually ends up in a completely different place than where it began. The Deadly Shallows is the last book I wrote in this method. For subsequent projects, I’ve begun storyboarding my novels ahead of time—playing, researching, and fine-tuning before I start, and it’s working out far better for keeping the story on a relatively straight path.
FF: Are readers always promised a “happily ever after” in your novels? Why or why not?
Absolutely! My favorite description for the type of books I write is the “page-turning adrenaline of a thriller with the chemistry and happy-ever-after of a romance.” Or as one marketing friend likes to say, “happily-ever-after thrillers.” Writing romantic suspense combines my three literary loves—the fun of a whodunit mystery, the heart-pumping thrills of imminent dangers, and that sigh-worthy ending of a satisfying romance. Those are the books I adore reading, and I feel very blessed to be able to write them.
FF: What do you hope readers will gain from reading this novel?
I hope readers will take away that God comforts us not only in times of peace but amid crises. He rules the waves whether they are roiling and threatening to throw His disciples from the boat, or they are calm at the very sound of His voice. He’s in the turmoil and the peace. Brooke and Noah learn to lean fully into God while their world is turned upside down. He is there, He is Sovereign, and His love for them is unchangeable. They find an indescribable peace even in the depths of sadness. Knowing God cares and is always there fills them with the strength they need to move forward one step at a time on the path He’s laid out for them. We can find the same peace even in deep sadness or chaos by leaning into Him and trusting He’ll give us grace for the moment—one step at a time.
The Deadly Shallows
Coastal Guardians Series #3
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Release Date: July 5, 2022
A deadly attack, a stolen weapon capable of immense destruction, and a painful secret that threatens to tear two hearts apart…
CGIS Agent Noah Rowley is rocked to the core when several of his valued team members come under fire on his Coast Guard base. He and his remaining team race to the scene and end the attack, but not before innocent lives are lost. Furious and grief-stricken, he vows to do whatever is needed to bring the mastermind behind the attack to justice.
Stunned by the ambush, Coast Guard flight medic Brooke Kesler evacuates in a helicopter carrying the only surviving gunman. The gravely wounded man whispers mysterious information to Brooke that immediately paints a target on her back.
As Brooke and Noah race to uncover answers, emotions between them ignite. Noah struggles to protect Brooke at all costs and to conceal the secret that prevents him from becoming what he longs to be—the right man for her.
Everything is at stake as a horrifying truth emerges. . .
The attack wasn’t the end game. It was only the beginning.
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