Under the cajun moon, p.1

Under the Cajun Moon, page 1

 

Under the Cajun Moon
 



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Under the Cajun Moon


  U N D E R

  t h e

  C A J U N

  M O O N

  M I N D Y S T A R N S

  C L A R K

  HARVEST HOUSE PUBLISHERS

  EUGENE, OREGON

  Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

  The author is represented by MacGregor Literary.

  Cover by Dugan Design Group, Bloomington, Minnesota

  Cover photos © Florea Marius Catalin / iStockphoto; VisionsofAmerica / Joe Sohm / Getty Images

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to events or locales, is entirely coincidental.

  UNDER THE CAJUN MOON

  Copyright © 2009 by Mindy Starns Clark

  Published by Harvest House Publishers

  Eugene, Oregon 97402

  www.harvesthousepublishers.com

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Clark, Mindy Starns.

  Under the Cajun moon / Mindy Starns Clark.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 978-0-7369-2624-9 (pbk.)

  1. Cooks—Fiction. 2. Fathers and daughters—Fiction. 3. Cookery, Cajun—Fiction. 4. Cajuns—Fiction. 5. Louisiana—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3603.L366U63 2009

  813’.6—dc22

  2009019246

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, digital, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.

  Printed in the United States of America

  09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 / DP-SK / 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  In loving memory of my father,

  Robert M. Starns, M.D.

  1929–2008

  Louisiana born and bred, he passed along to me his joy in this land and its

  waterways. An avid reader, he taught me the value of a tale well told.

  To combine both for this story has been incredibly fulfilling.

  And with love to my father-in-law,

  John C. Clark Sr.

  Though a Yankee through and through, your enthusiasm

  for New Orleans makes you an honorary Southerner.

  Thank you for your love and

  support through the years!

  CONTENTS

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  ONE

  TWO

  THREE

  FOUR

  FIVE

  SIX

  SEVEN

  EIGHT

  NINE

  TEN

  ELEVEN

  TWELVE

  THIRTEEN

  FOURTEEN

  FIFTEEN

  SIXTEEN

  SEVENTEEN

  EIGHTEEN

  NINETEEN

  TWENTY

  TWENTY-ONE

  TWENTY-TWO

  TWENTY-THREE

  TWENTY-FOUR

  TWENTY-FIVE

  TWENTY-SIX

  TWENTY-SEVEN

  TWENTY-EIGHT

  TWENTY-NINE

  THIRTY

  THIRTY-ONE

  THIRTY-TWO

  THIRTY-THREE

  THIRTY-FOUR

  THIRTY-FIVE

  THIRTY-SIX

  THIRTY-SEVEN

  THIRTY-EIGHT

  THIRTY-NINE

  FORTY

  FORTY-ONE

  EPILOGUE

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  SAMPLE OF SHADOWS OF LANCASTER COUNTY

  DISCOVER THE SMART CHICK MYSTERIES

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Many, many thanks to:

  John Clark, my loving husband, story shaper, and best friend

  Emily and Lauren Clark, my incredibly sweet and helpful daughters

  Kim Moore, paragon of patience and editor extraordinaire

  Members of my online advisory group CONSENSUS

  Everyone at Harvest House Publishers

  Ned & Marie Scannell

  Chip MacGregor

  ChiLibris

  Thanks also to:

  My Cajun cousins, the Bourgs: Brett, Rhonda, Jesse,

  Tabitha, Virginia, Katrina, Jared, and Joel, and Brett’s

  parents, Druis and Catherine Bourg. Y’all rock!

  Don Beard, Kirk Bachmann, Cajun Jack and Dawn of Cajun Swamp

  Tours, Erin Compton Daniels, Jeff Gerke, John Heald, LUMCON, Marc

  Preuss, Sisters in Crime, John Sonnier, Amy Starns, Andrew Starns, David

  Starns, Jackie Starns, Sarah Starns, Mr. and Mrs. Elward Stephens, Erin

  Sullivan, Chef George Thomas, Kimberly Walden, and Shari Weber

  And last but not least:

  Thanks to all who repeatedly lift me up in prayer,

  especially my FVCN Small Group:

  Brad, Brian, Chuck, Fanus, Mariette, Robin, Tracey, and Tracie

  ONE

  Ringing.

  Something somewhere was ringing and just wouldn’t stop. Slowly, I opened my eyes. As I came more fully awake, I realized that the ringing was a telephone, and that the telephone was on a bedside table next to my head. Blinking, I looked around, trying to remember where I was.

  Where was I?

  The ringing persisted. I fumbled for the phone with one hand but the noise stopped before I could even lift the receiver. Licking dry, cracked lips, I let go of the phone and moved a hand to my forehead, feeling for a fever. My skin seemed cool, though I did have a splitting headache.

  What was wrong with me?

  More important, where was I and what was I doing here?

  Carefully, I raised myself onto my elbows, my head throbbing with the effort. Looking around the dark room, it didn’t seem familiar. To my right, judging by a thin rectangle of light, was a window covered by heavy drapes. Was I in a hospital? There were no machines running nearby, no tubes coming from my body. Looking down, I could see that I was fully dressed. At least I recognized my own Theory suit, though the cream linen looked wrinkled in the dimness. Somehow, I had a feeling that I wasn’t in a hospital but rather a hotel.

  Light. I needed light to figure this out. Ignoring the thousand pounds of mush inside my head, I sat all the way up. Making sure of my balance, I stood and stepped to the shades, pulling them open.

  “Agh!” I cried, covering my eyes with a hand. The glare was blinding.

  Fumbling frantically, I felt my way back to the bed and sat on the edge, my heart pounding. In all of my thirty-two years, I had never had anything like this happen to me, had never once woken up in a strange place without knowing how I had gotten there. After a few seconds I lowered the hand from my eyes and gingerly opened them again, thinking that if this was a hangover, I must have had one doozy of a night. Except that I didn’t get hangovers. I rarely even drank.

  Looking around, I felt sure I was in a hotel room, though it wasn’t one I recognized. The decor was bland, if a little worn, and though there were no suitcases on the floor, my purse was sitting on the dresser. Standing again, I moved to it and looked inside, but nothing seemed amiss. My wallet was there, and a quick count of the cash it held assured me that no money was missing. Glancing around for some clue as to where I was, I spotted a small vinyl notebook imprinted with a fancy logo and the words “Maison Chartres.”

  My own image in the mirror above the dresser caught my eye, and I paused to study it. I looked like me—or at least a disheveled, exhausted version of me. My long ash-blond hair was
a tangled mess, my blue eyes bloodshot and tired.

  Where was I and how had I gotten here?

  Moving again toward the window, I placed my hands on the glass and looked out. I was on the first floor, and judging by the unique architecture outside, I was in New Orleans, the city of my youth. I wasn’t familiar with this particular hotel, but given the name it was probably on Chartres Street, in the French Quarter.

  The French Quarter.

  Vague memories of yesterday began edging their way into my brain. My mother’s phone call. My father’s injury. My frantic flight from Chicago to New Orleans.

  From the airport, at my mother’s insistence, I had driven to our family restaurant in the French Quarter to meet with my parents’ lawyer and handle some paperwork before going to the hospital to see my father. I remembered that much.

  Suddenly, the phone on the bedside table began to ring again. This time, I leaped toward it and snatched it up quickly.

  “Hello?”

  “Yes, hello. This is the front desk,” a woman’s voice said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I thought I should tell you that the police are on their way to your room. They’ve been very persistent. Apparently, someone else in the hotel called in a complaint about noise.”

  “Noise? What noise?” The only noise I had heard was the ringing of the phone. I wanted to ask if the woman knew how I had gotten here, but before I could even form a coherent question in my mind, there was a pounding at the door. I quickly concluded the call and made my way toward the sound.

  Rounding the corner of what I assumed was a bathroom, I realized that this wasn’t just a single hotel room but, in fact, a suite. The front room was as dark as the bedroom had been, and I stumbled through it to get to the door. Once there, I swung it open, revealing two policemen standing in a sunny courtyard. Just the sight of their crisp uniforms and no-nonsense expressions flooded my soul with relief. Maybe they could help me figure out where I was and what was going on.

  “Sorry to disturb you, ma’am. Is everything all right?”

  I blinked, wondering where to start.

  “Ma’am? Have you been a victim of domestic violence? ’Cause we can take you out of here right now and bring you somewhere safe.”

  “Domestic violence?” I asked, reaching a hand to my cheek, wondering if they saw something I hadn’t noticed in the mirror, a cut or a bruise.

  “We had a complaint of noise. They said it sounded like two people having a big fight.”

  I took my hand from my face, swallowed hard, and tried to think of how to reply. Before I could say another word, one of the cops stepped forward into the room, causing me to take a step back.

  “You’re obviously confused, ma’am. Let’s take this one thing at a time.” He was speaking in the measured tones usually reserved for small children and senile adults. “Are you physically injured in any way?”

  Again looking down at my wrinkled suit, nothing seemed amiss. I ran my hands over my arms and down my sides, but I didn’t feel anything painful or unusual.

  “No. Physically, I think I’m fine.”

  “All right. How about him? Is he okay?”

  As I looked to where the policeman pointed across the room, I gasped. There, in the light that spilled from the open doorway, I could see someone sprawled out on the couch. It was a man, dressed in a dark brown suit, eyes closed and mouth open.

  The second cop came inside and went over to him, shaking his shoulder and saying, “Sir? Sir?”

  Watching them, I realized that the sleeping man looked familiar. Then it came to me. He was the lawyer I had met with last night at the restaurant, at the request of my mother.

  “Are you under the influence of something?” the cop asked me now. “Are you on drugs?”

  Drugs. That must have been it. I must have been drugged.

  “It’s hard to explain. I—”

  “Excuse me, ma’am,” the cop interrupted, not waiting for my answer but instead responding to a grunt from his partner, the one who was now kneeling beside the couch.

  Suddenly I couldn’t wait for this guy to wake up and tell us what was going on. But then the cops both stood and turned to look at me even more strangely than before. That’s when I realized that the man on the couch wasn’t going to wake up at all.

  The man on the couch was dead.

  TWO

  Life should have an “undo” function. If one simple click could move time backward by a step—just one single step—then maybe that would make all the difference between success and failure. Between right and wrong.

  Between life and death.

  If I could, I thought now as I stood in the hotel doorway and looked across the room at the body of a man I could hardly recall, I would go back and undo that precise moment, yesterday, when everything had first begun to go wrong.

  I had been in downtown Chicago, filming my second guest appearance on a local public television show, Business Time Live. During a commercial break, my assistant, Jenny, had come over and whispered that my mother was repeatedly texting and calling, and that she urgently wanted to talk to me. As the show only had seven minutes left, I told Jenny that my mother would have to wait and that I could call her back as soon as we were off the air. I didn’t bother to add that surely the woman who had barely given me the time of day my entire life could survive another seven minutes. Looking unsure, Jenny had ducked away just as the break came to an end.

  “Welcome back to Business Time Live,” the host said as the cameras began rolling again. “I’m your host, Tony Gray, and today’s guest is Chicago resident and international business etiquette expert Chloe Ledet.” Turning to me with a polished smile, he continued. “Chloe, you’ve given us some fascinating information here today, but let’s get specific. Say I’m a business executive used to the American way of doing things. What’s going to get me in trouble when I’m out of my element?”

  Putting thoughts of my mother out of my mind, I had jumped back into the interview with my full attention, explaining the various faux pas that Americans frequently committed in international business situations—from accidentally making offensive gestures with their hands to wearing the wrong clothes to saying the wrong things.

  “In fact, Tony, if we were in parts of Africa right now, just the way you’re sitting would be incredibly insulting to me.”

  “How so?” he asked, animatedly looking down at his own posture.

  “With your leg crossed over the other one like that, you are exposing to me the sole of your foot, something that’s unacceptable in certain cultures.”

  “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said, placing both feet on the floor. “It’s like a minefield out there!”

  “Absolutely, Tony, and those mines pop up around clothing, gifts, business cards, introductions, protocol, and so on. That’s why I always advise my clients, no matter which country or culture they’re going to be dealing with, to take time to learn about it first. Respecting other cultures is good business. Proper etiquette is the grease that oils civilized society.”

  “Well, Chloe, thank you so much for all of your excellent advice today. Before we close, I wanted to take a minute to ask a more personal question, one that my viewers are eager to hear the answer to.”

  Like a deer caught in headlights, I was afraid I knew exactly where he was going, but I had been helpless to stop him. Looking back now, I found it ironic that even as Tony was bringing up the topic of my famous father, neither one of us had known that man’s very life had been hanging in the balance.

  “Tell all of us what it was like growing up as the daughter of the great Chef Julian Ledet. The man’s a legend. As beloved as Paul Prudhomme. As accomplished as Mario Batali. As recognizeable as Emeril Lagasse. Did your fascination with good manners originate in Ledet’s restaurant, maybe even as a small child?”

  Tony continued to smile as he waited for my response, but I was furious. He had known the question would upset me, but he had gone there anyway.

  “
Well, Tony,” I replied evenly, “the great Chef Julian Ledet may have been famous, but to me he was always, simply, ‘Daddy.’”

  Tony knew that wasn’t exactly true, but it was the only answer I was giving him on live TV. I couldn’t believe he had blindsided me with the very topic I had told him was off limits, one that had hounded me my entire adult life.

  “When you were growing up, did he cook fancy meals at home or just at the restaurant?” Tony persisted.

  “Mostly at the restaurant.”

  I knew what Tony was getting at, and I wasn’t going to go there. He wanted me to share my poor-little-rich-girl story of lonely meals in boarding school dining halls or at home in front of the television, eating reheated leftovers by myself. I had told that to him in confidence when he took me out to dinner just last week. Now he was trying to get me to repeat myself on national television—even though I had made it clear that I was sharing those things in confidence.

  “How about you? Do you cook too, Chloe?”

  “Only if microwaving counts,” I joked, glancing at the clock to see how much longer he was going to drag this out. Ninety seconds left, which meant he had no choice but to move on.

  “Well, to bring this back around to the topic of business, just one more question,” he said, leaning toward me in his chair. “What’s the secret behind Chef Julian’s Secret Salt? Its unique color and flavor have made it a best seller in gourmet shops and professional food outlets for many years, despite the fact that quantities are often limited. Where does it really come from?”

  “Come on, Tony. You know better than that. That’s like asking Colonel Sander’s daughter to reveal her father’s eleven herbs and spices.”

  Laughing, Tony agreed. He shook my hand and thanked me for coming, and then he turned directly back to the camera and gave a plug for the next week’s show.

  As soon as we were off the air and the tech had removed the microphone pack from my suit, I thanked Tony for the interview and asked that he please never call me again—not for another appearance on his show or a second date.

  Marching from the room, I could hear him calling after me.

 
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