My guest today is Susannah Sandlin, a.k.a. Suzanne Johnson, whose romantic suspense WILD MAN’S CURSE releases TODAY!!! Suzanne is one of my online author pals. She has a great blog and her book series always sound intriguing, including this latest one, which is set in the Louisiana bayous. She’s here with more info on her game warden hero, an excerpt from Chapter 1, and a chance to win some amazing tour-wide prizes (5 $10 Amazon eGCs and 1 $50 Amazon eGC). (The winner of my March newsletter is also listed below). Welcome, Suzanne!

Susanna Sandlin, Suzanne Johnson, Wild Man's Curse, romantic suspense, Louisiana

“Dangerous jobs call for a special kind of alpha”

Okay, let’s get this out of the way early. Wildlife agents are the stuff of great romantic heroes. People might want to call them “possum cops” or the old-fashioned “game wardens,” but I’m here to tell you that they have dangerous jobs that call for a special kind of alpha. And it’s pretty damned sexy.

Don’t believe me? Talk to the hero of my new novel WILD MAN’S CURSE, Gentry Broussard. It’s the first in a new series, Wilds of the Bayou, that follows a team of wildlife agents as they work and find love in the far corners of rural Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. Terrebonne is the second-largest parish (county) in the state, and is more than 50 percent water, with an inhospitable climate and a big-hearted, but stubborn, people, most of whom are well acquainted with a shotgun.

How did I settle on wildlife agents for my new romantic suspense series? It’s been brewing for quite a while.

Not being a fishing or hunting (or even hiking or nature-trail) type myself, I didn’t even have the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on my radar until about ten years ago, when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and I fled at the last second to what turned into an unplanned 62-day exile.

I watched TV coverage of my decimated hometown with millions of others, reacting in sorrow and disbelief and eventually anger over the squabbling between the state and federal officials over whose jurisdiction it was to do what and when. Meanwhile, people were dying.

Except those who were saved by the real first-responders. Some were other Louisianans who didn’t ask permission; they just rode in on their boats and started plucking people out of harm’s way. Joining them were Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agents. I don’t know how they got in so fast and managed to bypass the red tape, but they arrived in an army of boats, got things organized, and got to work while the governor and feds were still finger-pointing.

At that time, I’d never even thought of writing novels. But fast-forward a decade and last summer, as I watched the Katrina 10th-anniversary coverage, I thought again about Louisiana’s “game wardens,” as they used to be called. I started to do a little research on them and realized these were men and women of hero status. They needed a series.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the course of writing WILD MAN’S CURSE:

Wildlife agents in Louisiana receive paramilitary-style training that’s among the toughest to be found anywhere, and quite a few agents come from military backgrounds. They’re fully-empowered law enforcement officers (yes, they can even arrest you for speeding). And if they’re part of the enforcement division, like the team in my series, they have additional rounds of training to be able to work in harsh environments (in snake-infested water in a hundred-degree swamp, for example), enforce state laws, and take part in homeland security missions. Probably because of their extensive training, they prefer to be called “wildlife agents” to “game wardens.” Their most dangerous encounters are with two-legged wildlife.

Since Katrina, LDWF enforcement agents have become Louisiana’s official first-responders in water search and rescue. Because agents came under gunfire while helping evacuate stranded citizens after Katrina (something that brings shame to this New Orleanian, at least), officers are now equipped with high-powered, long-range rifles in addition to their standard Sig Sauer .45s. (I have been most sternly informed that they do not use the term “assault rifles” because they don’t assault anyone. LOL.)

Agents rarely (and I suspect this is true of other law enforcement agencies as well) use their official radios other than for the most brief and banal communication. They use cell phones. On the part of wildlife agents, poachers and other illegal hunters had taken to monitoring the radios and making sure that wherever the agents were, the wrongdoers were somewhere else. Wily poachers.

Because of the type of terrain they have to cover and the conditions in which they have to work, agents are equipped with all kinds of “big-boy toys.” They drive black extended-cab AWD pickups, but also have different types of boats and all-terrain vehicles. They’re also heavily armed—because most of the hunters, fishermen, and rural dwellers with which they deal are also heavily armed. Plus, in a large rural parish, they’re the ones most likely to be chasing a poacher and stumble across somebody doing something much, much more dangerous.

Finally, sadly for my hero Gentry, male agents (well, I guess female agents too) aren’t allowed to have facial hair. I’m not sure what the rationale is, but Gentry sure did grumble when I made him shave off that sexy stubble!

So that’s the scoop on Wildlife-Agents-as-Romantic-Heroes. Don’t you want one of your very own? What’s your theory on the no facial hair? Clean shaven=more professional? Safety issue?

Excerpt from WILD MAN’S CURSE, Chapter 1

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.

Susanna Sandlin, Suzanne Johnson, Wild Man's Curse, romantic suspense, Louisiana
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More about WILD MAN’S CURSE

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?

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Susanna Sandlin, Suzanne Johnson, Wild Man's Curse, romantic suspense, Louisiana

More about Susannah

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.

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More about Susannah’s Giveaway

Susannah is giving away one $50 Amazon eGC and 5 $10 Amazon eGCs. To enter, click here for the Rafflecopter form. For Jill’s complete giveaway rules, click here. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.

Jill’s Quarterly Newsletter Winner

MARTINA R. won my March giveaway (Fireball Laser Cut Wood Earrings or a $10 eGC to Book Depository). Martina, I’ll be in touch! Everyone else, THANK YOU for subscribing! The next newsletter will likely be a bonus one with some background info on the cover for POCKET FULL OF TINDER. Interested in subscribing? Sign up here.

Congrats, Suzanne, on the release of WILD MAN’S CURSE! Thank you for guest blogging today!