Breaking the Mold on Romantic Suspense
Romantic suspense and romantic thrillers can be pretty formulaic, right? Hero and heroine are drawn into a dangerous situation—oftentimes, he is in security or special ops or law enforcement. The bad guy turns up the heat. The hero and heroine come out on top, and the bad guy is thwarted. True love reigns.
It’s a tried-and-true formula for a reason; it works, and readers like it. But I’m kind of ornery, because I’m a Southerner and we’re like that. We’ll say, “Bless her heart,” and skewer somebody with some serious shade.
And there was something about romantic suspense that bothered me. Let’s say Heroine and Hero are on the run from a crazed Finnish drug cartel (see, I’m picking on Finland because, to my knowledge, they don’t HAVE drug cartels). The gun-wielding Fins are hot on their heels and Heroine is following Hero through the back alleys of Helsinki thinking, “That is one nice butt on that man.” While Hero is lobbing gunshots over his shoulders and thinking, “Will she like the way my biceps look in this shirt?”
Then, after several such encounters, they will be stuck together in a padlocked Finnish jail cell and have hot monkey-sex while the cartel worker-bees are planting bombs outside the building.
Right. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But, really, not that much. Sometimes it’s set in Copenhagen instead of Helsinki.
When I came up with the idea for my Wilds of the Bayou romantic suspense series, I knew that the suspense had to carry its own weight and not be dragged along behind the moments of lust.
I wanted to make sure my hero was more than a six-pack with legs and a bad attitude.
I wanted my heroine to be smart and not be so stubborn that she fell into danger through her own boneheaded behavior.
The first book, WILD MAN’S CURSE, accomplished my goals. With the second book, BLACK DIAMOND (they can be read as standalones), I pushed the envelope even more:
· The suspense plot—two diverging storylines of aggressive alligator attacks and the proliferation of a new designer drug in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana—is front and center.
· The heroine is a game warden, or in current parlance, a wildlife enforcement agent. She’s working the gator angle since the drugs are under investigation by a DEA task force.
· The hero is a broken man who has been living off the grid for five years, during which time he’s had neither a conversation with another human nor a haircut.
· The hero and heroine don’t even meet until about a third of the way into the book.
· They do have a happily-for-now, but it comes at the very end, after the suspense plot has been wrapped up.
· There are some lustful thoughts floating around but, I hope, they’re taking place at times where the hero and heroine are not running for their lives.
So, does that make BLACK DIAMOND a romantic suspense novel or a suspense novel with “romantic elements.”
I don’t know, to be honest. What type of story do you like in your romantic suspense—where the romance drives the plot or where the plot drives the romance?
Wilds of the Bayou Series
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Date of Publication: October 18, 2016
Number of pages: 266
Word Count: approx. 80,000
Cover Artist: Michael Rehder
For some people, the untamed beauty of the bayou is a place to hide. For Louisiana wildlife agent Jena Sinclair, it’s a place of refuge—one where she can almost forget the tragedy that scarred both her skin and her soul. But when the remains of yet another fisherman turn up, Jena realizes that Bayou Pointe-aux-Chenes is not safe for her…or anyone else.
The mysterious deaths aren’t her only problem. A dangerous drug known as Black Diamond is circulating through Terrebonne Parish, turning addicts into unpredictable sociopaths. Jena’s investigation leads her to Cole Ryan—a handsome, wary recluse struggling with his own troubled history—who knows more than he’s willing to admit. If they want to stop the killer, Jena and Cole must step out of the shadows of their pasts and learn to help each other…before the evils lurking in the bayou consume them both.
Cole stood inside the door, knowing she’d be there any second. She would knock, probably with a firm rap to remind him who had the authority here, and it wasn’t him. She would expect to come inside, and while he could deny her entrance without a warrant, he wouldn’t. It would raise too much suspicion.
His fists clenched and unclenched. Again. Again. The press and release of tension filtered out some of the stiffness from his arms and shoulders. The woman was striking, her wistful expression had resonated with him, and he had wanted to look at her. He’d looked long and hard enough that she’d caught him standing in the doorway like an idiot. Otherwise, he could’ve pretended to be gone and not answered his door. Now, hiding wasn’t an option.
The last thing he needed in his life was a woman. Especially a woman with a badge and a gun.
Though expected, the sharp knock made his shoulders jerk upward, and his fingers clenched again into fists. Weapons his body provided to protect itself, to protect him, to keep everyone away.
“Sir, I know you’re in there. I’m Agent Sinclair of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries.” Her voice was clear and no-nonsense. He tried to place her accent—she wasn’t from Terrebonne Parish but didn’t have a typical Southern accent either. “I want to talk to you about the gator in front of your neighbor Doris’s house. It’ll only take a minute or two.”
Damn. Now that he knew his neighbor’s real name, the Wicked Witch was dead. Now she was Doris.
He took a deep breath, turned, and opened the door an inch. Maybe two inches.
A hazel eye, heavy on the green, and the bill of a dark-green baseball cap came into view, peering through the crack. A strand of hair that trailed over her forehead from beneath the cap shone like pure molten fire.
“You can open it all the way, you know. I don’t bite. I’d like to come inside for a few minutes and talk, or you can come out on the porch. Having a conversation isn’t optional, but where we have it is. For now.”
Damn it. Cole had to admit he was stuck and it was his own damned fault for standing in the doorway and watching her for so long. He opened the door wide, dread giving way to curiosity when he finally saw her face up close. She was beautiful but lightly scarred, more on her cheeks than her forehead, so she’d probably been hit by flying glass rather than having her head go through a windshield. Fairly recent too. The spots were still pink, but they were scars and not wounds. Five or six months old, he’d say. Eventually, they’d fade and, with her fair skin, would easily cover with makeup. If she hadn’t been so close—not to mention his fixation on her face—he wouldn’t have noticed them even now.
“Are you going to let me come inside, or are you coming outside, or do I need to make it an official order?”
About the Author:
Suzanne Johnson writing as 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 wrote The Collectors romantic suspense duology, including Lovely, Dark, and Deep, 2015 Holt Medallion winner and 2015 Booksellers Best Award winner. Her new suspense series Wilds of the Bayou started in 2016 with the release of Wild Man’s Curse and continues with Black Diamond. Johnson 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.
Twitter: @Suzanne_Johnson https://twitter.com/Suzanne_Johnson
Twitter: @Suzanne_Johnson https://twitter.com/Suzanne_Johnson