Read an Excerpt
SECRETS OF ROUX RIVER BAYOU
By Kathy Herman
David C. CookCopyright © 2012 Kathy Herman
All rights reserved.
Zoe Broussard burst into the kitchen at Zoe B's Cajun Eatery and turned on the TV, motioning for her husband to come over.
"Pierce, you need to listen to this," she said. "Hurry!"
Pierce Broussard, clad in his chef's hat and apron and dusted with flour up to his elbows, grabbed a hand towel and walked over to stand beside her. "What's going on, babe?"
"Jude's on the courthouse steps with Police Chief Norman. He's going to talk to the media any second. Something big is happening." She turned up the volume.
"We're live on the steps of the Saint Catherine Parish Courthouse," said a male reporter's brisk voice. "Sheriff Jude Prejean and Police Chief Casey Norman have just come outside and are standing in front of the microphones. We're told Sheriff Prejean will be the official spokesperson. The sheriff's taking the mike now. Let's listen...."
"I'm going to comment on a developing situation," Jude said, "but neither I nor Chief Norman will be taking questions at this time. During the past ninety minutes, eight residents of Saint Catherine Parish have been admitted to the emergency room at Hargrave Medical Center with symptoms consistent with cyanide poisoning. Seven of the victims were treated with a cyanide antidote kit and are expected to recover. I'm sorry to report that four-year-old Dominic Corbin, the son of Joshua and Margot Corbin of Les Barbes, failed to respond to the antidote treatment and died."
Zoe sucked in a breath and couldn't seem to exhale, her mind's eye clearly seeing the adorable dark-haired, blue-eyed playmate of her daughter, Grace.
Pierce put his arm around her and pulled her close.
"Local health officials are working to pinpoint the source of contamination." Jude shot a glance at a uniformed officer who said something to Chief Norman. "The one thing we know for certain is that all the victims had eaten at the food bar at Marcotte's Market—"
Police Chief Norman cupped his hands and whispered something in Jude's ear.
Jude paused, visibly shaken, and then continued. "We've just been informed that two more people have now been admitted to the emergency room at Hargrave after eating at the food bar at Marcotte's. Chief Norman and I want to emphasize that there is no reason to assume this was a criminal act. The food bar at Marcotte's Market has been closed, and health officials are working with us to determine which food item or items were contaminated. The most important thing each of you can do is to remain calm and wait for updates on the situation. That's all I have to say for now. Chief Norman and I will come back with new information as we have it."
Tears spilled down Zoe's cheeks, and she struggled to find her voice. "I ... I can't believe Dominic is dead. Margot and Josh must be devastated. How are we going to explain to Grace that her playmate isn't coming back?"
Pierce exhaled. His silence spoke more loudly than any words he might have uttered.
"I sure hope our food hasn't been contaminated," Zoe said. "What if it has? We could be serving our customers poison."
Pierce held her face in his hands and wiped her tears with his thumb. "Don't assume this goes beyond the food bar at Marcotte's. Jude didn't give any indication that's the case."
"He may not know yet!"
"Zoe, calm down. The authorities will keep us informed."
"Sure, after the fact."
Pierce kissed her cheek. "I can't worry about what might happen. I've got a whole stack of orders to fill. We need to stay calm, stay informed, and keep this place running. We can't afford to take a financial hit in the middle of tourist season."
Zoe's heart sank. "Oh, no! I just remembered I've got a carton of fresh fruit I bought at Marcotte's. I don't want the kids eating it. Or any of the produce either. I'm going to run upstairs and tell Maddie."
"Babe, there's no need to panic. Calm down."
"How am I supposed to calm down after what happened to Dominic? I'd rather be safe than sorry."
* * *
Zoe pushed open the front door of her apartment and went into the kitchen. Her daughter, Grace, was seated at the table, and her son, Tucker, was in his high chair—both eating pieces of fresh fruit.
Zoe snatched the fruit from each child and tossed it into the garbage disposal, aware of the startled expression on the babysitter's face.
"Mrs. Broussard, what are you doing?" Maddie Lyons took a step back.
Zoe grabbed some wet wipes and handed them to Maddie. "Here, wipe Tucker's face and hands. Hurry!" She plucked several more and wiped Grace's face and hands herself.
Tucker started to cry.
Zoe went over to his high chair, picked him up, and rocked him from side to side. "Shhh. It's okay, sweet boy. Mommy didn't mean to raise her voice."
"What's going on?" Maddie said. "Why did you throw out the fruit? Did I do something wrong?"
"No, honey. Something awful's happened." Zoe paused and caught her breath, relieved to see that her children were all right. She lowered her voice and told Maddie everything she'd heard on the news.
"Dominic is dead?" Maddie whispered. "Just like that?" She dropped into a chair, the expression drained from her face. "How could this happen?"
"That's what the authorities are trying to figure out."
Grace Broussard looked from Maddie to Zoe, her innocent topaz eyes questioning, her eyebrows furrowed. "Why are you sad?"
Zoe wondered if she should wait to tell Grace about Dominic. Would there ever be a right time? What if she heard it from someone else? Or on the news?
"Sweetie, Mommy needs to tell you something, and you have to be very brave, okay?" How could Zoe expect a four-year-old to grasp what she was about to say? She handed her son to Maddie and went over to Grace, bending down next to her chair.
"Domi ate something that made him very sick. He died." Zoe heard herself say the words but felt as if someone else were talking. "He's in heaven with Jesus."
"When is he coming back?" Grace cocked her head.
Zoe swallowed the emotion that she refused to unleash in front of her children and stroked her daughter's long blonde curls. "He's not coming back, sweetie. Remember, we talked about this. People don't come back when they die. But someday we will go to heaven and see Jesus. And then we'll see Domi again."
Grace's face fell, her little mouth drooping. She slid out of her chair and went into the living room and came back with a drawing. "Domi made this for me."
"May I see it?" Zoe asked.
Grace handed the drawing to Zoe. "The boy and girl is Domi and me, and the big heart is because he loves me lots and lots."
Zoe blinked the stinging from her eyes. "What a beautiful reminder of him. I think we should put this in a frame and hang it in your room. Would you like that?"
Grace gave a firm nod.
"I can't believe any of this," Maddie said. "What are you going to do about the eatery?"
"Stay open." Zoe forced herself to sound positive. "The authorities haven't indicated the threat goes beyond Marcotte's food bar."
"Then why did you rush in here and throw out the fruit?" Maddie said.
"Because I bought it at Marcotte's, and I'm not taking any chances with my children. Until we know more, I want you to feed them packaged snacks and only canned fruit. I'm sure the milk and cheese are fine. They've already had some."
"I was just about to fix their lunch," Maddie said. "How about grilled cheese sandwiches, frozen lima beans, and the canned pears I saw in the pantry?"
"Perfect." Zoe patted Grace's knee, then got up and took Tucker from Maddie and put him back in his high chair, her heart lightened by the big grin on his face. She glanced over at Grace. "You and Tucker eat only what Maddie gives you—so you won't get sick like Domi."
"Why did the food make him sick?" Grace's eyes were wide and round—the picture of innocence.
"We don't know yet," Zoe said. "Something bad got in the food bar at Marcotte's Market. The sheriff and important people who understand poisons will tell us what happened. Until then, I don't want you to eat anything unless Maddie says it's okay."
Grace heaved a sigh. "I wish Domi didn't die."
"Me, too, sweetie. We need to pray for his mommy and daddy. They're very sad." Zoe walked over to the fridge and took out all the produce she had bought at Marcotte's and put it in a trash bag. "I'll drop this in the Dumpster out back. I guess I'd better get back to the dining room and keep things operating as normally as possible."
"I'll keep the kids safe," Maddie said. "I still can't believe what happened to Domi."
Zoe paused for a moment to let the severity of the situation sink in. She dreaded facing Margot and Josh. How would she have ever dealt with it, had Grace or Tucker been the victim?CHAPTER 2
Emily Jessup sat at a corner table at Zoe B's Cajun Eatery, enjoying a refreshing orchard smoothie and admiring the array of oil paintings for sale by local artists. At a nearby table, a young couple and their four kids, each dressed in a green souvenir T-shirt from GatorWorld, sat drinking limeades. What a contrast they were against the open grand step-back cupboard where Zoe's prize collection of D'Arceau Limoges collector plates was displayed.
Emily turned her gaze to her handsome friend Chance Durand as he took another sip of chicory.
"I've never developed a taste for that," Emily said. "My college friends all like it. But no matter how I psyche myself up, it still tastes like warm mud to me."
"I can't ever remember not liking it. Even as a kid I chose chicory over sweet tea or soft drinks. My dad said it was a fitting drink for someone who's dumber than dirt." Chance smiled wryly, his dark eyes peering over the top of his square glasses.
"You're kidding, right? You're the only one I know going to Harvard Med on a full scholarship."
"Yes, but when I was in grade school, Dad thought I was stupid—before I had my eyes examined and the ophthalmologist told him how poor my vision was." Chance raised an eyebrow, which disappeared under the sleek brown hair combed across his forehead. "After my folks got me glasses, my grades went from Ds and Fs to straight As. And my teacher told them I had the highest IQ in the class."
"I hope your dad apologized for saying something so awful."
"That's not his style. He can be a real jerk. But you should've seen the look on his face the first time I brought home all As. I honestly think he was mad at me for not being stupid." Chance smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, I didn't mean to go off on that. What I started to say is that Dad couldn't stand chicory either, but Mom loved it and let me have it as a kid. Can't hurt you. There's no caffeine."
"I love caffeine," Emily said. "I would never have made it through my first year at LSU without it."
Chance pushed his glasses up higher on his nose. "I've found a more effective way to stay alert and study longer—"
"Not me. I've been offered every kind of upper imaginable. But I made up my mind from the day I started college that I wasn't going to depend on anything other than hard work and determination—and maybe a lot of caffeine. Not because my mom's a cop, either. I just don't want to start down that path. I've got a long way to go before I get into medical school, and I sure don't want to break the law to get there. I don't want any skeletons in my closet."
Chance held up his palm, a broad smile exposing a row of perfect teeth. "Whoa, girl. Neither do I. The way I'm able to stay alert and study longer is by running five miles a day. I focus better. I sleep better. And I have more energy."
"Oh." Emily stirred the luscious blend of fresh fruit, cherry juice, and vanilla yogurt, hoping her face wasn't as pink as her smoothie. "No wonder you're so fit. I used to jog with my mom almost every morning, but I got out of the habit when I started college."
"It's never too late to start up again. Maybe we can run together sometime."
"I'd like that." Emily mused, "Do you realize it was three weeks ago today that we met? My first outing after I arrived in Les Barbes was to check out the library. I certainly never expected to make a friend."
Chance took his index finger and traced the rim of his cup. "I'm glad our paths crossed. It's great hanging out with a woman who understands what it takes to pursue a career in medicine. I look forward to spending more time together."
"So are you enjoying your stay at Langley Manor?"
"Absolutely," Emily said. "I always do. My sister and brother-in-law have turned it into the most popular bed-and-breakfast in the area."
"Are you staying in one of the guest rooms?"
"Actually, I'm not. Those rooms are booked all the time. I'm staying downstairs in the living quarters with Vanessa and Ethan. They have an extra bedroom. There's plenty of room to hang out with them—and with my nephew, Carter. He's turning nine next month. You'll have to come out and let me show you around. The grounds are amazing. The caretaker is a descendant of a slave who helped the founding Langleys move runaway slaves up north on the Underground Railroad. Southern Living did a whole spread on it last summer."
Chance nodded. "I heard that."
"I enjoy staying out there, but I love coming into town. I'm a city girl. I like people watching, especially in places like Les Barbes that draw tourists from all cultures."
Emily glanced out the window at the row of quaint, old-world buildings along rue Madeline, each with a gallery or balcony decorated with flowerpots and greenery and extending out over the sidewalk.
"The first time I visited Les Barbes," she said, "Vanessa and Ethan were up to their ears in the renovation of Langley Manor and living in the apartment upstairs." She nodded toward the ceiling. "I used to stand out on the gallery in the evenings and wave to the tourists. This place rocks after dark. It's like a carnival."
Chance smiled. "I guess it does. I don't give it much thought, since I grew up here. But I always thought the Broussards lived upstairs."
"They do, but there used to be two apartments. After Vanessa and Ethan moved out, the Broussards knocked out the walls and made it into one large apartment. Vanessa is still best friends with Zoe. That's how I got a part-time job waiting tables here."
"So are you staying all summer?"
Emily dipped her spoon into the orchard smoothie and took out a chunk of fresh peach. "Until the eighteenth of August, and then I'll drive down to New Orleans. I signed a lease for an off-campus apartment near LSU. My roommate, Clarissa, will arrive the same day. It's furnished, so getting settled before classes start on the twenty-third should be easy. What about you?"
Chance wiped his mouth with a napkin. "My classes start on the twenty-fifth, and my flight leaves for Boston on the seventeenth. My scholarship includes a private room at Vanderbilt Hall. It's furnished. All I really have to do is unpack. I have several friends from last year who will be staying there too. So do you know Clarissa, or is she just someone you hooked up with to pay half the rent?"
"We were in the same biology class last year. She's hoping to get into medical school. She wants to be an ob-gyn too."
Chance flashed a wry smile. "Think I'll stick with being a neurosurgeon. At least my patients will show up by appointment—and not at all hours of the night."
"I've wanted to deliver babies since I was a kid. Vanessa let me come into the delivery room when Carter was born. I was only ten, but it was awesome. I think the nurses thought it would be too much for me, but I went to the classes with Vanessa and was well prepared. Actually, I cried. I could hardly believe that living, breathing little baby came out of my sister—and I was holding him just minutes after he was born. Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You're intriguing. Intelligent. And you're really pretty. But I guess you hear that a lot."
Emily did hear that a lot. But it was usually a line. Why was she so inexplicably drawn to this guy? "Thank my parents. I had absolutely nothing to do with it."
He laughed. "I suppose not. But you got the pretty genes."
Emily heard a commotion and saw a man in a chef's hat, his back to her, talking to some customers in close proximity. She realized it was Pierce Broussard. His voice was lowered, and she strained to listen.
"The food here is perfectly safe," Pierce said. "The incident at Marcotte's was isolated. There's no reason for concern. I make everything from scratch, and we get our ingredients from a New Orleans wholesaler. And our produce from the farmer's market."
"I wonder what's going on," Chance said. "Judging from the intense looks on the customers' faces, it can't be good."
Excerpted from RELENTLESS PURSUIT by Kathy Herman. Copyright © 2012 Kathy Herman. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.