Genre: Paranormal Romance
Heat level: mild
Date of Publication: December 18, 2013
Number of pages: 50
Word Count: approx. 15,000
When Faith Garrity’s twin sister died, she lost a part of herself. Unable to move past the pain, the once-driven ornithologist is at risk of losing her career as well. To save her job, she heads to the oil-ravaged wetlands of Louisiana. There, in the bayou community of Chenoire, she encounters the handsome but guarded Zackary Préjean, still suffering from a great loss of his own.
She’s drawn to Zack, but soon finds that the Préjean family isn’t what it seems… They have dangerous secrets—and deadly enemies. Caught up in a feud that threatens the area’s uneasy truce, Faith and Zack must learn to trust each other. Survival will require enormous sacrifice, but it just might also give them both a way to move on.
Zack Préjean wiped the blood from his skinning knife onto the faded blue bottom of the apron he wore, scanning the bayou that backed up to his papa’s back porch. Something had drawn his attention, but he couldn’t figure out what.
He’d been working on the small gator for half an hour, figuring to take off enough fresh meat for dinner and prep the rest to deal with later—it was too small for the skin to be worth much. The calls and caws of the birds and cackles of swamp hens soothed him, and God knew he needed soothing. Spending the whole month of gator season at Chenoire wasn’t what he wanted to be doing. But Papa had asked him outright for help, and he had to honor that.
Finally, he figured out what had caught his attention; the bayou was too quiet. He wedged the knife through his apron ties, covered the gator with a towel, and closed his eyes to focus on what he could hear. Footsteps coming from the path leading down to the house—heavy ones, stirring up a whiff of anger.
Zack tripped on his way through the kitchen, catching his toe on the edge of a chair because he’d been staring out the front window instead of watching where he was going. All this family time must be getting to him, because for a moment he swore he’d seen not a man on the path that angled toward the small circle of houses where the Préjeans had lived for generations.
No, he thought he’d seen an angel.
Except angels didn’t stomp their feet, curse like sailors, and swat at bugs, which is what this one appeared to be doing. What the hell was a woman doing on foot way out here at dusk?
Crossing his arms over his chest, Zack leaned against the frame of the front door, silent and still, waiting to see what trouble she brought. She looked like a city woman, and city women always brought trouble.
He couldn’t keep the grin off his face. Whatever else she was, his citified swamp angel was pissed off and dirty as sin. Bits of mud flaked off what might be a long, lean pair of legs underneath the grime that covered her from her shoes to the bottom of her khaki shorts—or maybe they were mud-covered black shorts. Hard to tell. Her hands flew around her head, batting at what Zack knew were probably the armies of tiny no-see-ums that swarmed near the small stand of trees this time of day. Occasionally, she swatted at her own head, giving her short blond hair a disheveled look he’d mistaken for a halo.
“Damned gnats. I’m gonna—” The angel finally spotted him and stopped in her tracks, dark-blue eyes growing wider as her gaze dropped from Zack’s face to the vicinity of the knife.
He cleared his throat and stifled the laugh that threatened to escape. “You lost, Angel?”
Excuse Me, But Is There a Rat Nailed to That Pole?
Have you ever stumbled across a place you didn’t intend to go, but which made such a huge impression on you that, years later, you can still remember it in all its detail?
It’s happened to me several times. A Sunday afternoon exploration of a neighboring county shortly after I moved to Alabama a few years ago introduced me to the small communities of LaFayette and Penton, which were mashed up and made into the setting of my Penton Legacy series. Last fall, on a long drive from Naples, Florida, back to Alabama, I decided to spend the night in Cedar Key, Florida, and fell in love. I want to move there. For now, I have to settle for using it as a key setting for my novel, Lovely, Dark, and Deep.
And so it was, a few years ago, that I ventured out of my longtime hometown of New Orleans and headed up Interstate 10 with the sole purpose of finding the town of Chalmette and buying a King Cake from a bakery named Randazzo’s. My coworkers and I had a running contest during the six-week carnival season every year to find the best king cake. (Louisiana Lesson No. 1: King Cake is a dense, slightly sweet bread twisted into an oval and baked, with a plastic or china baby hidden inside, and covered in sugar dyed the Mardi Gras colors of green, purple and gold. Whether it’s acceptable to also having icing and/or filling is a source of intense debate. Whoever’s piece of cake has the baby in it has to buy the next cake.)
My favorite king cake bakery, Haydel’s, had been snapped up by someone else and so, with my plastic baby in hand, I headed to the legendary Randazzo’s Bakery in Chalmette.
Now, Chalmette (Louisiana Lesson No. 2) is a town in St. Bernard Parish. People in New Orleans affectionately (mostly) call its people “Chalmatians,” which I don’t think the good citizens of Chalmette particularly like. St. Bernard is known as “Da Parish” because “da accents dey be heavy dere.” It sits directly east of New Orleans.
So, okay, I’ll admit it up front. I got lost.
One minute I’m driving up I-10, hanging a right New Orleans East. The next minute, I’m driving past the big Tenneco Chalmette oil refinery. So far, so good. Then, something went awry.
The road grew narrower. Water appeared in the distance to my right. More water appeared in the distance to my left. Then the seemingly endless bodies of water grew closer to the long, straight, narrow road. There was no place to turn around. “I’ll drive on. This is a paved a road, after all,” I thought. “It has to go somewhere.”
So I keep driving. Within a mile I saw a sign that read “Delacroix,” which despite a Bob Dylan song to the contrary, is pronounced “Della-crow.” Great, I thought, a town! Civilization! People! I kept driving. Did I mention I hadn’t seen a living soul since the oil refinery?
By this time, the road is only wide enough to accommodate my SUV and nothing more. The water on my right is less than three feet from the roadway. The water on the left is a comforting (not) distance of maybe ten feet, but the land between the road and the water doesn’t look solid.
Ahead, I spy a post stuck in the narrow wedge of land between me and the righthand source of my potential drowning. I slow down to see what it is, as there does not appear to be electrical lines (or much of anything else) around here. Did I mention St. Bernard Parish is 76 percent water?
There’s something nailed to the wooden post, which is about six feet tall. My mouth dropped open as I studied it and realized it was a dead nutria, strung up by its hairless pink tail. (Louisiana Lesson No. 3: Nutria are ginormous rodents the size of large housecats, and have orange teeth. They are Officially Gross.]
I waited for a Cajun version of “Dueling Banjos” to start playing but it didn’t, so I kept creeping down the roadway. In another quarter-mile, and about a minute shy of a total freakout, I saw nirvana. A small house sitting on a spit of land to my left, surrounded by water. I carefully turned around, keeping a wary eye out should anyone from said house decide to nail my hairless pink tail to a post, and sped back to the real world. I bought a king cake at the grocery store and yielded defeat.
While regaling my co-workers with my story of brave derring-do in Da Parish, a Chalmatian informed me that I was on the narrow road between Lake Lery and Lake Jean Louis Robin and, had I driven a couple of miles farther, would have reached the end of the road, where the land finally gives up and makes way for the wetlands and marsh. That’s where I’d have found the community of Delacroix, and where I’d have found the big sign that says, “You have reached the end of the world.” (Later, I’m happy to report, I found Chalmette and bought a king cake at Randazzo’s, although I remain a faithful fan of Haydel’s.)
But I got more than I expected from that adventure. I recently re-created a community at that little turning-around house, renamed it, and wrote a story about it called “Chenoire.” It’s about the mysterious people who just might live there, and the secrets they might hold.
I left the nutria and its hairless pink tail (and mine) out of the story, however. Because truth is much, much stranger than fiction could ever be.
Susannah Sandlin writes paranormal romance and romantic thrillers from Auburn, Alabama, on top of a career in educational publishing that has thus far spanned five states and six universities—including both Alabama and Auburn, which makes her bilingual. She grew up in Winfield, Alabama, but was also a longtime resident of New Orleans, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football, cheap Mardi Gras trinkets, and fried gator on a stick. She’s the author of the award-winning Penton Legacy paranormal romance series, a spinoff novel, Storm Force, and a new romantic thriller beginning this month with Lovely, Dark, and Deep. Writing as Suzanne Johnson, she also is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series.