Wild Man’s Curse
Wilds of the Bayou Series
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Date of Publication: April 5, 2016
Number of pages: 284
Word Count: approx. 86,000
Cover Artist: Michael Rehder
The bones said death was comin’, and the bones never lied.
While on an early morning patrol in the swamps of Whiskey Bayou, Louisiana wildlife agent Gentry Broussard spots a man leaving the home of voodoo priestess Eva Savoie—a man who bears a startling resemblance to his brother, whom Gentry thought he had killed during a drug raid three years earlier. Shaken, the agent enters Eva’s cabin and makes a bloody discovery: the old woman has been brutally murdered.
With no jurisdiction over the case, he’s forced to leave the investigation to the local sheriff, until Eva’s beautiful heir, Celestine, receives a series of gruesome threats. As Gentry’s involvement deepens and more victims turn up, can he untangle the secrets behind Eva’s murder and protect Celestine from the same fate?
Or will an old family curse finally have its way?
The bones said death was comin’, and the bones never lied.
Eva Savoie leaned back in the rocking chair and pushed it into motion on the uneven wide-plank floor of the one-room cabin. Her grandpere Julien had built the place more than a century ago, pulling heavy cypress logs from the bayou and sawing them, one by one, into the thick planks she still walked across every day.
She had never known Julien Savoie, but she knew of him. The curse that had stalked her family for three generations had started with her grandfather and what he’d done all those years ago.
What he’d brought with him to Whiskey Bayou with blood on his hands.
What had driven her daddy to shoot her mama, and then himself, before either turned forty-five.
What had led Eva’s brother Antoine to drown in the bayou only a half-mile from this cabin, leaving a wife and infant son behind.
What stalked Eva now.
The bones said death was coming and, once Eva was gone, the curse should go with her. No one else knew the secrets of Julien Savoie and this cabin and that box full of sin he’d dug out of the bayou mud back in Isle de Jean Charles.
Might take a while, but sin catches up with you. Always had. Always would. And the curse had driven Eva to sin. Oh yes, she had sinned.
She’d known her reckoning would catch up with her, although it had taken a good long time. She’d turned seventy-eight yesterday, or was it eighty? She couldn’t remember for sure, and the bones said it didn’t matter now.
On the scarred wooden table before Eva sat three burning candles that filled the room with the soft, soothing glow of melting tallow. She’d made them herself, infusing them with the oil of the fragrant lilies that every spring spread a bright green carpet over the lazy, brown water of the bayou. The tools of her ritual sat on an ancient square of tanned hide passed down through generations of holy ones, of those blessed by the gods with the ability to throw the bones.
A small mound of delicate chicken bones, yellowed and fragile from age, lay inside the circle of light cast by the candles. Daylight would come in an hour or so, but Eva didn’t expect to last that long. Death was even now making his way toward her.
She leaned forward, wincing at the stab of pain in her lower back. Since the first throw of the bones had whispered her fate two days ago, she’d been cleaning. Scrubbed the floor, worn smooth by decades of bare feet. Washed the linens, folding them in neat piles in a drawer at the bottom of the old pie safe. Discarded most of the food in the little refrigerator that sat in the corner. Dragged the bag of trash down the long, overgrown drive past LeRoy’s old 1970 Chevy pickup that she still drove up to Houma for groceries and such once a month. Left the white bag at the side of the parish road for the weekly trash collection.
She’d spit on LeRoy’s truck as she passed it because she couldn’t spit on the man who bought it. He was long gone.
Now the cleaning had been finished. Whoever discovered her raggedy old body wouldn’t find a mess, not in Eva Savoie’s house.
A few minutes ago, with the old cabin as clean as she was capable of making it, she’d thrown the bones one last time. Part of her hoped they’d read different, hoped she’d be granted a few more days of grace.
But the bones still whispered death. Eva accepted it, and she sat, and she waited. At least the girl, Celestine, would inherit a cleaned-up house. The girl, Antoine’s granddaughter, knew nothing of the secrets, nothing of the curse. Eva had made sure of that….
Eva waited for her heart to fail—that seemed to be her most likely way to go. As she rocked she noted each steady beat, biding her time for the instant when the thump-thump-thump would falter and her breath would catch, then stop. She reckoned it would hurt a little, but what if it did? The curse had doled out worse ends to those who came before her.
She’d doled out worse herself.
The buzz of a boat’s motor sounded from outside the cabin, faint but growing louder. Wardens on patrol already, most likely.
The boat’s engine grew louder, finally coming to an abrupt stop so near, it had to be right outside her door. Silence filled the room once again, until through her bones she felt the thud of someone jumping onto the porch that wrapped around the cabin. The porch formed the platform on which the house sat, linking it to the spit of land behind it when the water was normal. When storms blew through, it provided an island on which the cabin could sit or, if need be, float.
As heavy footfalls crossed the porch, Eva struggled to her feet. Every pop and crackle of her joints knifed streaks of pain through her limbs as they protested the cleaning they’d done, followed by the sitting.
Prob’ly a game warden, checkin’ on her. Too bad he hadn’t stopped a little later, after she was gone. She didn’t like to think of her body having to bake in the hot cabin for days before anyone found her.
But the curse was what it was, and the bones said what they said.
The knock, when it came, was soft, and Eva reached the door with the help of a sturdy cane she’d carved herself. Opening the door, she squinted into the glare of a flashlight that seemed almost blinding after the soft light of the candles. She peered up at a young man with eyes that gleamed from beneath the hood of a jacket. He was not a game warden, and it was too hot for a jacket.
“Who are you?” Her voice cracked. She knew who he was. He was Death.
“The devil come to pay you a visit, Eva.” The man’s voice was smooth as silk, smooth as a lie, smooth as death itself. “And you know what the devil wants.”
She knew what he wanted, and she knew the only way to end the curse was to deny him.
She’d been granted no easy passing by the Savoie curse after all, but she would die today.
The bones never lied.
Author's Guest Blog Post
Genre Jumps: Paranormal Thriller versus Romantic Suspense
Sometime during the last couple of years, as I kept hearing about the death of paranormal fantasy and knew my publisher wasn’t buying paranormals anymore, I looked around with interest at other genres and wondered what else might capture my interest.
First, I love paranormals. I love the worldbuilding. I love finding ways to twist the old tropes of vampires and werewolves and zom…okay. I never liked zombies. I love the dance of science and magic that fantasy brings, the juxtaposition of the real and the fantastical.
I enjoy reading historical romance—all those proper folk put in compromising situations and repressed women letting their corsets loose. But I can’t imagine writing one. I’m too OCD about details; I’d never get one finished. I’m also too quirky, I think. I write quirky characters who do quirky things, and quirky doesn’t always work well in the historical worlds.
I enjoy historical fiction, too, but talk about stuff that doesn’t have a big readership.
Finally, I realized the solution was sitting right under my nose…or in my keyboard. What I write as Suzanne Johnson is urban fantasy with romantic elements. What I have written as Susannah Sandlin has been paranormal romance with urban fantasy elements.
What they all have in common are quirky characters, sexy humor, a lot of action, and my adopted home state of Louisiana. My characters have burned down wetlands in Plaquemines Parish, destroyed the parish courthouse in New Orleans, created a vampire stronghold in my former neighbor’s house in NOLA, created a scandal at LSU in Baton Rouge, and entranced half the deputies in the Terrebonne Parish prison. They’ve burned down houses, set a rollercoaster on fire, and gone on insane chases through the Atchafalaya swamps during hurricanes.
Somewhere in there, they have fallen in love with unlikely partners.
Humans can do most of those things too. It’s called “Romantic suspense” or “Romantic thrillers.”
I had my second genre all along. Plus, writing in Louisiana, I can always play with voodoo and Native American mysticism and keep one foot in the supernatural and one in the human world.
I wrote a couple of romantic suspense novels that I loved the premise of—following the bad guys instead of the hero/heroine from book to book—but turns out people want to see the bad guys get theirs so that idea didn’t quite work.
When I came up with the proposal for my new Wilds of the Bayou series, though, I knew this one had legs. The series follows a group of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement agents working in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. These are not the department biologists who clean the tar balls off the pelicans or study the effects of oil spills on wild game; they’re the cops of the department. They’re the badass agents with paramilitary training who are the first responders after a flood or other natural disaster, especially on water. They train to work in miserable heat and snake- and gator-filled waters to chase down everything from drug runners to poachers to you, if you’re doing something felonious. And don’t think they can’t arrest you just like any other law enforcement officer. They’re tough alpha males—and females.
And as heroine Celestine Savoie notes, there’s something about an alpha in a uniform that women love….she attributes it to their duty belts with all the equipment hanging off, emitting pheromones. I can’t attest to the truthfulness of that theory, however.
In WILD MAN’S CURSE, book one of the series, the pheromone-emitting hero is senior enforcement agent Gentry Broussard, who discovers the body of an elderly voodoo practitioner deep in the waters off Bayou Terrebonne. He also gets a look at the killer—a dead ringer, no pun intended, for his older brother Lang…except Lang’s been dead three years. Gentry killed him in a drug bust. Most people think he’s moved past it, but he hasn’t.
Gentry is forced to confront his feelings about his brother when the murdered woman’s heir, Celestine, comes back to Terrebonne to settle her great-aunt’s affairs. Before long he knows that whoever killed Eva is now after Celestine. He also knows he’s coming to care about her. Maybe a lot.
What he doesn’t realize is that Celestine Savoie has some skills of her own, learned at the bone-throwing table of her Tante Eva.
Voodoo. Native American rituals. Killers stalking the bayous and marshes of South Louisiana. Sexy heroes and strong, smart heroines. Try it; you’ll never miss the paranormal.
About the Author:
Susannah Sandlin is the author of the award-winning Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series, including the 2013 Holt Medallion Award-winning Absolution and Omega and Allegiance, which were nominated for the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Award in 2014 and 2015, respectively. She also writers The Collectors romantic suspense series, including Lovely, Dark, and Deep, 2015 Holt Medallion winner and 2015 Booksellers Best Award winner. Her new series Wilds of the Bayou starts in 2016 with the April 5 release of Wild Man’s Curse. Writing as Suzanne Johnson, Susannah is the author of the award-winning Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. A displaced New Orleanian, she currently lives in Auburn, Alabama. Susannah loves SEC football, fried gator on a stick, all things Cajun, and redneck reality TV.