Parker Hayden Media/Sandra Hill Books
October 2020 (10-15-20)
Amazon ASIN: B08L9TLWN8
BN ID: Coming soon

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On the road again…

Louise Rivard was cruising along the Louisiana bayou road in Lillian, her vintage lavender Chevy Impala convertible. Lillian was the name she gave to all her cars. Traded one in, got another, different make, usually a used jalopy in the early days, but still the same name.

But then, in the midst of her reverie, she heard the police siren behind her. Even with two cushions under her butt to compensate for her diminutive (okay, short, darnit!) height, she was barely able to see in the rear-view mirror. When she recognized the cop in pursuit, she let loose with her version of a curse, “Oh, for the love of Jude! Not again!”

St. Jude, her favorite saint, was the patron of hopeless causes. Not that she was feeling particularly hopeless today, seeing as how she was dressed to the nines, lookin’ good, if she did say so herself, and off to that new restaurant, The Mudbug, to have lunch with her niece…well, her niece a couple times removed or somethin’ like that. Mary Lou Lanier, Charmaine’s girl, a pre-veterinary student at Tulane, had begged her to meet today. The fact that she insisted on driving from their family ranch up north on a weekday when there were a bunch of mares about to give birth told Louise that it must be something important.

Hard to believe that Mary Lou is a young woman now! My, how time flies by! Or that Charmaine has a baby boy, a toddler, after a twenty-year break since Mary Lou was born! I remember when Charmaine was gettin’ married (and divorced) so many times her weddin’ cakes scarce had time to go stale, especially to the same man, Raoul Lanier, or Rusty, the sexiest cowboy this side of the Mason-Dixon line. Of course, Charmaine allus did match him in sexiness. She takes after me. Like the time me and Charmaine entered a belly dancin’ contest, and Rusty…never mind. Louise’s mind wandered a lot these days. She had to concentrate extra hard to keep her focus.

Glancing at the St. Jude bobblehead on her dashboard, she noted that the little statue wasn’t even doing the hula. How fast could I have been goin’?

She pulled over into the parking lot of Boudreaux’s General Store where a sign announced a special on jumbo bags of pork rinds, along with good deals on bait worms, okra, alligator meat, rods and reels, rotten chicken used for catching crawfish, and Tastykakes. She’d have to stop on her way back. The dumb animals who tried to ravage her vegetable garden…possums, raccoons, and the like…had a passion for those crunchy snacks, which she sprinkled around her fenced vegetable patch. She figured if she fed them the piggy treats they would leave her tomatoes and sweet peas alone. It worked so far. As for the okra, she had an overflow crop in her garden that she couldn’t give away, and any bayou lady worth her salt made her own cakes, thank you very much, Mister Tasty.

She put on her best glare as the copper got out of his vehicle, a dark sedan, unmarked except for the bubble light on top, and strolled up to the driver’s side of her car. He wasn’t wearing a uniform, but he was a policeman, all right. John LeDeux. A detective who’d transferred last year from the force in Lafayette to Houma. He was her great-nephew, or some such connection; sometimes, Louise forgot the fibs she’d been telling for decades and got her family tree mixed up.

Several faces were pressed up against the window of the store, trying to get a look-see at what she was doing. The nosy posies! Louise still had a snap in her garters, which attracted the men folks of a certain age and wimmen who wanted to see what she was up to these days, but then, maybe they were ogling her nephew who’d be the first to say he was hotter than asphalt outside a strip club on a summer day, and, yes, the rascal had been a stripper at one time…one very short time, bless his rascally heart. He wore a pure white button-down shirt, open at the neck, blue jeans, a navy sport coat, and dark sun glasses. Didn’t matter that there was a bit of gray at the edges of his overlong dark hair, now that he’d hit forty. Hot was hot when it came to Cajun men.

“Tee-John!” That was the name the rascal had been given when he was a little tyke, Small John, before he’d grown into his six-foot frame of male handsomeness. She loved the boy to pieces. “What did I do now? I know I wasn’t speedin’.”

He leaned against the side of the car, let his sunglasses slip halfway down his nose, and peered down at her. “Can I see your license and registration, ma’am?”

“Pff! I’ll give you ma’am! You know darn well I don’t have ‘em. Where’d you hide them this time anyhow?”

He shook his head as if she were clueless. “You were driving too slow. Buford Doucet called the station to say you had traffic backed up a mile on the bayou road.”

“That Buford has some nerve complainin’ about me. You oughta check out the old fart when he’s drivin’ that smelly farm truck of his. And he won’t let anyone pass him, either.”

“It’s a no-passing zone.”

She waved a hand dismissively. “Try smellin’ cow shit fer a half-hour and see if you don’t try to go around.”

“Tante Lulu! Such language!” Tee-John exclaimed with a grin. Tante was the Cajun word for aunt, which was what everyone called her, even those who weren’t blood kin. “Where you off to anyhow?” He gave her appearance a sweeping glance, taking in her neon blue, net driving scarf anchoring down a Farrah Fawcett wig, her heavier-than-usual blonde-toned make-up, thanks to the free samples from Charmaine’s beauty salons, and a pale pink tank top with silver sequins spelling out “Sizzling Senior” over hot pink capri pants.

She thought he murmured “Lordy, Lordy!”

“I’m meetin’ Mary Lou at The Mudbug.” She glanced at the St. Jude watch on her wrist. “And I’m late.”

“Well, auntie, shove your little behind over. Looks like I’ll be drivin’ you into town.”

“Why? I kin drive myself,” she complained, but she didn’t really mind. Sometimes she didn’t see the road signs too good. Used to be she could read those old Burma Shave signs from far away. Now…well, they were too faded, even the reproduction ones some local know-it-alls had deemed relics of historical importance. Leastways, that was her excuse for squintin’ now and then.

“Maybe I just like your company,” he said. He adjusted the sun glasses back over his eyes as he opened the driver’s door, tossed the cushions into the back, and pushed the seat as far back as it would go.

“How you gonna get back to yer cop car?”

“I’ll walk over to Luc’s office and shoot the bull for an hour or two, till you’re done with lunch. Then, I’ll drive you home.”

Luc was Lucien LeDeux, his brother and Louise’s oldest “nephew.” Best known in these parts as the Shark Solicitor because of his talents in the courtroom. If you shot your wife’s lover, or were overlimit on your possum trappin’, or were caught moonin’ the mayor, Luc was the lawyer you wanted.

“Doan you have to be workin’?”

“I’m off duty today.”

“Ain’t it against police rules to be chasin’ people with a siren when yer off duty?”

He gave her a look that pretty much asked when he had been one to follow the rules.

He had a point there.

Just then, while Tee-John was making an exaggerated show of turning her car around in the parking lot…it didn’t have power steering…old man Boudreaux came out of the store with a broom and proceeded to sweep the sidewalk, which was already clean. Another nosy posy! He waved at her, and she waved back.

“Holy crawfish! Don’t tell me, that’s another one of your beaux from days gone by. Leon Boudreaux is ninety if he’s a day, and he’s lookin’ at you like you’re the cream in his café au lait.”

She smacked him on the arm. “No, I never dated Leon, but I did almost marry his brother Justin before he went up north to do his doctoring.”

“Really? I saw his obit in the Times-Picayune last week. A big-time brain surgeon in Chicago, I think it said. Never married.”

When he glanced her way, she imagined that his eyebrows, behind the dark glasses, were raised in question.

She just shrugged.

Almost married? Holy Sac-au-lait! How many marriage proposals have you had, auntie?”

“Seventeen,” she answered, without hesitation. “Seventeen serious ones. I doan count all those phony baloney ones where the dumb clucks thought they could get the key to my bedroom with a wink and a pinch.”

Tee-John blinked at her. It was always a pleasure to Louise when she could shock her wild nephew.

But then he exclaimed, “Seventeen!”

“What? Why are you so surprised? I’ve lived a long life.”

“That’s for sure,” he muttered under his breath, then asked, “When was your last proposal?”

“Two weeks ago. Leroy Hamm begged me to marry him, but he’s lookin’ fer someone to spring him out of the Happy Hours Nursing Home.”

Tee-John shook his head, not sure if she was joshing him or not. “I always figured it was your famous dead fiancée that turned you into a spinster, but now I’m wonderin’. This Justin Boudreaux…is he the reason why you never married? Or maybe one of those other seventeen men.”

“None of yer bees’ wax,” she said.

If he only knew!


When you need advice, go to the opinion goddess…

Mary Lou had just been seated in The Mudbug, the new Houma restaurant located on the ground floor of a restored Victorian mansion, hardly having time to check out her surroundings, when her great aunt arrived. She watched with amusement as the old lady walked across the dining area, wobbling on high-heeled, wedgie sandals toward their booth. Her colors shouted va-va-voom.

The small half-circle banquette Mary Lou had chosen was in an alcove at the far side, following the curve of a corner window that overlooked a back courtyard with a fountain and outdoor seating, not yet open to the public. Practically every table or booth the old lady passed had someone calling out for her to stop and chat, usually accompanied by a hug. Many of them, especially the older ones, had used her services as a traiteur, or folk healer, over the years. When the COVID-19 Virus hit last year, she’d been busier than ever. Still was.

Or maybe people just wanted to get a closer look at Tante Lulu’s outrageous get-up of the day. You never knew what color her hair would be, what kind of make-up she would be experimenting with this week (Can anyone say twenty shades of Maybelline eye shadow?), or whether her clothing came from Frederick’s of the Bayou or the children’s section of Wal-Mart, to fit her tiny frame, which seemed to be shrinking by the year, if not the day, bless her heart.

Today she was in blonde mode, a cross between Pamela Anderson and Betty White. Ironically, as over-the-top as her appearance might be to the young crowd, more than one old guy gave her great aunt a second, and third look, sometimes even a wink.

Kudos to her!

To tell the truth, Mary Lou’s very own mother Charmaine was a younger…well, fortyish…clone of Tante Lulu. Charmaine had once self-proclaimed herself in a magazine article, to Mary Lou’s pre-teen humiliation, as a “bimbo with a brain.” Which was an apt description. Charmaine LeDeux Lanier didn’t open a dozen beauty salons and spas on her outrageous looks alone.

Therefore, kudos to her mother, too!

Unfortunately, the apple fell far from my tree, Mary Lou thought, looking down at her faded skinny jeans and sleeveless white blouse. Mary Lou had to think for a moment to recall whether she’d put on any make-up at all this morning, or not. She often forgot as she went about her chores on the ranch, taking care of the horses, or even on the Tulane campus when she rushed to her pre-vet classes.

Yes, she decided, she had put on a little mascara and lip gloss, but her long, chestnut hair was pulled off her face into a simple pony tail. Nothing bimbo or outrageous about her at all. In fact…boring!

She winced at the significance of that last word and felt tears well in her eyes. That’s exactly how Derek, her longtime boyfriend, had described her…boring…when he’d broken up with her last week.

Immediately, Mary Lou stiffened and willed herself to smile, not wanting to alarm her aunt. She needed to ease into the reason why she’d requested this meeting with the lady known as the Ann Landers of the Bayou.

Standing, she gave Tante Lulu a warm hug and showed her with a motion of her hand that she’d had the waiter place a cushion on the opposite bench seat to compensate for her reduced height. In fact, Mary Lou, who was five-foot-nine, had to lean down to kiss Tante Lulu’s cheek. You’d wonder how there could be such a disparity in height among two women in the same family…her mother was tall, too…but then Tante Lulu wasn’t really their blood kin, though she considered herself aunt to all the LeDeux. It was complicated.

“Thank you for coming, auntie,” she whispered against her powdered cheek.

“Are you kidding?” Tante Lulu said. “I woulda driven all the way up to the Triple L if you asked me. Any time, sweetie.”

“Oh, no! I would never ask you to drive that far. Besides, the ranch is a madhouse today with preparations for tomorrow’s big birthday bash. You are coming, aren’t you?” Her aunt had to be wondering why Mary Lou couldn’t have waited until tomorrow to discuss whatever she had to discuss, but Mary Lou wanted privacy for what she had to say and there would be little of that at home.

“I wouldn’t miss it. I’m comin’ with Luc and his family in that new SUV of his. Gotta have room fer my Peachy Praline Cobbler Cake. Oh, I know there will be other cakes…in fact, five birthday cakes, but—”

“—it’s not a party without your Peachy Praline Cobbler Cake,” Mary Lou finished for her, with a smile.

“Yep. I’m hopin’ my cake will sweeten up those Mommies who’re still a little bit mad at me.”

“A little bit” was an exaggeration. More like, a lot. But then, Tante Lulu was always pissing off one person or another as she breezed through life like a mini bayou bulldozer. To say she had no filter when expressing an opinion would be a gross understatement. On the other hand, the people she pleased, those who loved and admired her, well, they far outweighed the other. She was a gem…flawed, garish to some eyes, but a treasure just the same.

If only I could…never mind. That can wait.

As to the family’s current gripe…tomorrow’s party marked the one-year birthdays for five boy babies, all born on the same day, to LeDeux family members. Timothy, or Timmy, to Mary Lou’s mother and father, Charmaine LeDeux and Raoul Lanier. Christopher, or Chris, to Uncle Luc and Aunt Sylvie LeDeux. Rafael, or Rafe, to Uncle Remy and Aunt Rachel. Sebastian, or Seb, to Uncle René and Aunt Val. Gabriel, or Gabe, to Uncle John and Aunt Celine. The ladies, and the men, too, for that matter, all blamed Tante Lulu for their late-in-life pregnancies, something to do with a casually tossed out wish by Tante Lulu to St. Jude that there would be more babies in the family. Or maybe it had just been a sigh. Her aunt’s connection to the saint was known to be powerful. For a long time after the mass pregnancy announcement, women throughout the bayou steered clear of her aunt for fear she would look at them in a certain way.

Actually, there would be seven birthday cakes, to include Uncle Dan and Aunt Samantha’s twin boys who’d been born two months earlier than the others. They were named David and Andrew, called the DNA twins because of their initials. A bit of Cajun or medical humor there, considering that Uncle Dan was a doctor.

With all the extended family and friends, at least a hundred people were expected to attend. Her daddy had started the coals for his humongous barbecue pit this morning. A half steer would cook slowly for at least twenty-four hours, with the promise of fork-tender steaks and ribs for the party. The sides would be brought by all the attendees.

Even her celebrity cousin Andy LeDeux, best known by the nickname “Candy Andy,” a hotshot New Orleans Saints football player, planned to stop by. Some of the cowboys on the ranch would have to do double duty as security around the periphery of the ranch to keep away the fans. Same went for the news media who’d gotten a whiff of Andy’s possible trade to a Yankee team. God forbid! The South would rise again if that happened.

She and Tante Lulu placed their orders for sweet tea, crawfish étouffée, Creole sunburst salads, and a salty caramel bread pudding which they would share. The waitress paused before leaving and asked, “Are you Tante Lulu?”

“I am, dear. Why do you ask?”

“My mama, Eveline Foucet, swears by your diaper rash ointment. Says it’s better than anything you can buy in the store. My baby has a bad rash that just won’t go away. The poor thing cries all night.”

Tante Lulu nodded and said, “You come to my cottage later today, and I’ll have the salve ready fer you. I live about a mile past Boudreaux’s General Store out on Black Bayou Road. Do you know where that is?”

“I do. Thank you so much!”

“And tell yer mama to stop by anytime. My fig tree is about to burst with fruit, and I recall how Evie allus had a hankerin’ fer fig jam.”

When the waitress was gone, Mary Lou looked at her aunt. “What’s in your salve that makes it so special?”

“Gator spit.”

Mary Lou wasn’t sure if she was serious or not. But then, it didn’t matter. Tante Lulu was Tante Lulu. Mary Lou wouldn’t put anything past her.

While they dined, they chatted about family, Tante Lulu’s continuing herbal healing business, Mary Lou’s studies, and Uncle René’s band, The Swamp Rats, which was planning a concert next month for Save the Bayou, an environmental group that was battling the oil industry on the gulf. Her aunt was as alert and funny, as ever, thank God!

“I hear that louse, Valcour LeDeux, has got another girl pregnant. At his age! They oughta chop off his pecker and pickle it in a Mason jar and send it to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. I’d do it myself, except I wouldn’t want to touch the slimy thing. Eew!”


“Sorry. I forgot, he’s yer grandaddy.”

“It’s not that,” Mary Lou said, laughing. “I hardly ever see him. It’s what you said…that word.”

“What? Pecker? I coulda said somethin’ worse.”

“I know, I know. Please don’t.”

Tante Lulu had hated Valcour LeDeux for a long, long time. Everyone knew that. In fact, when Mary Lou’s uncles Luc, Remy, and René were boys, they often fled the drunken rages of their father, running to the bayou cottage of Tante Lulu, who was in some convoluted way their aunt, or something. She knew he was an egg-suckin’ dawg from the first she met him. And the shelf life on Tante Lulu’s grievances against Valcour was like forever, but then he kept adding more chits onto his bad boy/man tab. There were four legitimate children born to two wives, one deceased and one hanging on by her expensive sculptured nails, but more and more illegitimate ones kept coming to light over the years. Mary Lou’s own mother, Charmaine, was one of the illegitimate ones.

It didn’t help with Tante Lulu that Valcour was also in bed with the oil companies.

By the time they finished their meal and were sipping at cups of café au lait, Tante Lulu, wise old owl that she was, decided that enough was enough. “No more beatin’ around the bush,” she said, “Obviously, you have a problem that only I can solve; otherwise, you would’ve saved the small talk fer tomorrow at the birthday bash.”

To tell the truth, Mary Lou was having second thoughts about unloading her issues on the old lady. “Well, actually, it’s nothing to bother—”

“Pff! Thass why God put me here. To be bothered. Thass why he assigned St. Jude to be my partner.” Tante Lulu beamed with encouragement. “Doan matter whether it’s big or small. There’s somethin’ troubling you, girl, and I’m here to help.”

Immediately, tears welled in Mary Lou’s eyes. She’s pulling out the St. Jude card. Must be, she thinks I’m hopeless. I am! Mary Lou wailed inwardly.

Tante Lulu reached two hands across the table, squeezed one of Mary Lou’s, and continued to hold on. “Tell me, honey.”

“Derek dumped me,” she confessed, on a sob, then immediately lowered her voice when she noticed a couple at a nearby table look their way.

Tante Lulu nodded. “I wondered why you didn’t mention him. And you’re not wearing that friendship ring.”

“Promise ring,” Mary Lou corrected, then realized that it didn’t matter. The ring and the promise were gone.

“You were keepin’ company with that boy fer a long time,” her aunt pointed out.

“Yep. Two years. Ever since we were seniors in high school.”

The old lady narrowed her eyes suddenly, which caused the mascara clumps to stick together. “Did he cheat on you?”

“No, no,” Mary Lou said. “Not that I’m aware of. No, he said I’ve become…boring.”

Tante Lulu stared at her for a moment, then burst out laughing. “Girl, I thought it was something serious, like bein’ preggers. You aren’t, are you?”

“No!” Mary Lou exclaimed.

“Aw, shucks! I was kinda plannin’ on convertin’ my spare bedroom into a nursery fer you and the baby.”

“I am not pregnant,” Mary Lou declared emphatically. That’s all she would need is for her mother to get wind of a rumor about her only daughter about to make her a grandmother. And, frankly, Mary Lou was rather offended that Tante Lulu would think she was that dumb. “I’m on the pill, auntie.”

Tante Lulu put her hands on her ears. “Doan be tellin’ me stuff like that.”

Mary Lou was surprised, continually, by the old lady’s conflicting ideas. She could be as outrageous as any hell-raising senior citizen, a feminist from way back, but then adhere to her strict Catholic opinions on other things, like birth control.

“Anyhow, being boring is serious to me,” Mary Lou said, bringing the subject back around. “The ultimate insult, I think.”

“Boring, huh? Thass one thing no one has ever said about the women in this family.”

Mary Lou shrugged. “Guess I’m the exception.”

Tante Lulu studied her appearance, tapping a fingertip against her lips which were now minus color except for a red line around the edges. Mary Lou resisted the temptation to lean forward and use a napkin to wipe off the excess.

“Well, that just dills my pickle! You’re a beautiful girl, Mary Lou, and if brains were leather, that Derek wouldn’t have enough to saddle a piss ant,” Tante Lulu concluded, getting a bit red in the face. “Mebbe yer hair could be fluffed up a bit, and it wouldn’t hurt to add a bit of rouge to yer cheeks, and, holy moley, tart up yer clothes once in a while, but other than that, that boy had no bizness callin’ you boring.”

“Is that all?” Mary Lou should have been offended but it was hard to take Tante Lulu’s jibes to heart when she meant well. “Actually, I don’t think it’s my physical appearance so much that he means as boring. More my personality.” She turned on her male voice and imitated Derek by husking out, “All you talk about, Mary Lou, is horses, horses, horses. I swear, honey, you’d live in a stable if you could. And all you ever want to do is ride, ride, ride. Not that I don’t like a certain kind of riding. Ha, ha, ha! Think about it, sweetheart, you look down on my frat parties, but you’re the first one at a barbecue at some shit-stinky ranch or out roping or branding the animals. Be careful, sweetheart, or you’re gonna start lookin’ like a horse.”

Tante Lulu’s jaw dropped and she just stared at her for a moment. Then, she said, “What a schmuck! Did it ever occur to him that all he talks about is football? To some of us, tossing a ball around and men tacklin’ men to break their bones fer fun is bor-ing. And all those bulgy steroid muscles! Do they wanna look like Popeye? Eew!”

Tante Lulu had a point there. Derek played football for Tulane, and he spent all his spare time watching NFL games on TV or working out with weights, sometimes both at the same time.

“You never did like Derek, did you? I always figured it was because he wasn’t Cajun.”

“Nope. There are plenty of good non-Cajun men out there. But I suspicioned early on that he was using you to get close to yer cousin Andy. Mebbe get an in with the Saints’ big brass.”

Mary Lou felt her face flush. That thought had occurred to her, too.

“Not that he wasn’t attracted to you and all,” her aunt added quickly. “More like he was lookin’ fer a little lagniappe, along with the sex.” Lagniappe was the little something extra a merchant threw in with a customer’s purchase in Cajun land. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little hanky panky. I never did go for that, ‘Why buy the cow when you kin get the milk fer free?’ To me, it’s jist as easy to say, ‘Why buy sausage when steak is on the menu?’ What’s good fer the goose and all that!”

“Tante Lulu!” Mary Lou exclaimed again. You couldn’t say the old lady wasn’t blunt…and possibly right. And wasn’t it odd how her language fluctuated from almost illiterate to highly intelligent, practically from sentence to sentence? Did she do it on purpose, to give the wrong impression, so she could then zap a person with some wisdom? Probably.

“I’m too old to waste time on pretendin’ I doan know what you young folks do. Old folks, too, fer that matter. But thass beside the point. Did you tell yer mother about Derek bustin’ up with you? Betcha she’d have some good advice, specially since she was a Miss Louisiana at one time and broke more hearts than the shredding machine at Whitman’s Sampler the day after Valentine’s.”

Mary Lou just blinked at that long spiel, but then she said, “I’m not that crazy…or desperate. If I told Mom, she’d blab to Dad, and you know what he’d do? He’d go after Derek with a cattle prod. I overheard him telling Uncle Luc one time that, if any guy hurt his little girl, meaning me, he’d shoot his balls off.” Uncle Luc had three daughters and was always complaining about how they were giving him premature gray hairs, but he’d agreed with her father.

“Yep. You are yer daddy’s girl. Allus have been, from the moment he first saw you in the hospital. He cried when he held you fer the first time. Did you know that?”

Mary Lou did know that. Tante Lulu had told her about it at least a hundred times. “I never get tired of hearing about daddy’s love for me, and Mom, and the brat,” which was the affectionate name she’d given the new baby, Timmy. It was embarrassing to see how her father looked at her mother sometimes, his heart in his eyes, as old as they both were…almost fifty, for heaven’s sake!. But that’s the kind of love she’d been looking for, hoping for, with Derek. And that’s wasn’t so unreasonable, dammit! She and Derek had been a couple for years now, and he said he loved her. They’d even talked about marriage sometime in the future…the far future, after graduation, but still…

“So, what do you want now? To get Derek back, or to move on? I got advice that could go both ways.”

“I’m not sure. I do love him. On the other hand, I’d like to show him that I can do better.”

Tante Lulu nodded.

“You really could help me?”

“For sure, darlin’.”


“Well, it’s obvious to me,” Tante Lulu shook her head sadly, causing the Farrah Fawcett to go a bit lopsided, “you’ve lost something important, and I don’t mean the schmuck.”

Mary Lou tried to laugh, but it came out as a choke. “What?”

“The thing all bayou gals are born with.”

“What?” she repeated dumbly.

“Cajun sass.”


In Tante Lulu’s world, there’s a recipe for everything…

Some folks would discount Mary Lou’s heartache as young love that would soon pass, like wind in the bowels, or a bad hair day. They would pat her on the back in a patronizing way and say, “It’s not like you have cancer or polio or a bad case of the swamp runs, honey chile.” Then there were those dimwits that would say, “Time, the great healer, is your friend; you’ll forget that loser quick as spit.” Or Louise’s favorite: “Men are like buses. You miss one, and another will be along in five minutes, sure as Bourbon Street sin.”

Louise didn’t say any of those things. After all, she’d been the same age as Mary Lou when she’d fallen in love with Phillipe Prudhomme, then lost him the next year in the big war. More than fifty years later and her heart still ached for him every single day.

“Oh, auntie! Mary Lou said with a laugh and reached across the table to squeeze her hand. “You are such a treasure!”

“’Course I am.” She preened.

“Where do you come up with this stuff?”

She stopped preening. “Stuff? This ain’t stuff. It’s pure, guar-an-teed bayou wisdom.”

“There’s no such thing as Cajun baby girls having a gene for sass,” Mary Lou said in a gentle tone, so as not to offend.

Hah! It would take a lot more than that to offend her.

“I certainly never had one of those genes to lose.”

“Genes, smenes! Thass all you know, girl. They’re there, all right. The lucky females let it shine right outta their skin, practically from the time they leave the crib. Those are the ones that bat their flirty little eyelashes and turn their daddies into butter. But some gals hold it in. Like constipation. Others jist need a jolt to trigger it loose, like you and me.”


“Yep. For a long time, years after my Phillipe was gone, I jist wallowed in my miseries. Dint care ‘bout my appearance. Heck, I never went out anywhere to be seen.”

“Didn’t you have to work?”

She shook her head. “No jobs were available, lessen I went into Nawleans to my old job as a typist. But I dint have the energy to make the effort. Plus, I would have had to do my hair and press my clothes. In the end, it was easier to jist sleep way too much, ‘cept when Mama dragged me out into the swamps in her pirogue to gather herbs fer her healin’ business.”

“At least you had that saving grace. Learning to be a folk healer, even if it was against your wishes in the beginning.”

Louise was pleased that Mary Lou was following her story so closely, and seemed to understand. She was a smart girl, way too smart for that Derek dope. “Then my Mama died of the cancer and left me with little Adèle, my brother Frank’s daughter, to care for.”

“Adèle? That was Uncle Luc, René and Remy’s mama, right?”

“Right. Adéle was only five at that time, though, and a handful. Believe me, a toddler runnin’ wild with snakes and gators nearby dint allow fer no wallowing. I had no choice but to straighten up and take responsibility.”

“So that was your trigger?”

Louise shrugged. “The first of many.”

“I know you’re trying to be helpful, auntie, but our situations are entirely different. My being boring and unable to hold onto my boyfriend is nothing compared to your grief.”

“Grief is grief. The cure is the same.”

Mary Lou arched her brows in question. “To pull up my big girl panties?”

“So to speak. You gotta remember that a dash of Cajun sass kin go a long way to cure jist about anything.”

Mary Lou groaned. “That again!”

“Always that, sweetie. But not to worry. I have the recipe.”

“You have a recipe for Cajun sass?” Mary Lou laughed.

Did she think this was a joke? Not to Louise. “Of course. Ain’t that what I been tryin’ to tell you?”

“You have?” Mary Lou hit the side of her head with the heel of one hand and smiled. “And the ingredients are…?”

Louise could tell that the girl was still an unbeliever.

“SASS. Style, Attitude, Smarts, Stubborness. Fer a start. ‘Course there are lots of other things…the spices. Like bravery, focus, optimism.”

Mary Lou laughed out loud. “You’re serious!”

“Aren’t you glad you came to me fer help?”

Just then, Tee-John walked up. “What’s taking you so long, old lady? I’ve been sitting in the parking lot, baking my ass off, waiting for you.”

“I thought you were going to Luc’s office.”

“I did, but he’s in court today. You about talked out?”

“Doan be such a grump.”

“Hi, Uncle John.”

He sat down and began to eat the remainder of the bread pudding. “Yum!” he said, then, “You two were laughing like hyenas when I came in. What was so funny?”

Mary Lou used a napkin to wipe at the tears of mirth that still rimmed her eyes. “We were just talking about recipes,” she told him.

“Recipes? I like the sound of that.” He turned his attention to Louise. “Hope it’s the recipe for Hot Pepper Jam. I ran out of that batch you gave me for Christmas.”

Tee-John had a fondness for the preserves that she made with habaneras and rhubarb served over cream cheese-slathered crackers.

“No, Tee-John, this is an entirely different recipe. It’s one of those change-your-life formulas.”

“Well, hell’s bells! Count me in. I’m always up for a new experience.”

“Celine would have something to say about that,” Louise said.

“Only good things,” Tee-John protested. “My wife loves all the new experiences I bring her way.” He waggled his eyebrows for emphasis.

“Like the time you were a stripper? Or the time you went to the underwear optional party? Or when you drove my convertible into Lake Pontchartrain?”

“Those were all before Celine and I got together. So, they don’t count.” He sat back and grinned with satisfaction, as if he’d won the argument.

The fool!

Mary Lou’s head was swiveling back and forth as she witnessed this exchange, probably learning a few things she didn’t need to know about her uncle.

“Anyways, the recipe Mary Lou and I were discussing is fer women only.”

“Aw, shucks!” he said. But then, as he thought for a moment, he added, “I can’t imagine any time when you needed a change-of-life experience, auntie. Seems to me, you’ve always been a bayou gal, born, bred, and stay the same till you’re pushin’ up daisies…or okra.”

“You have no idea,” she said. “Now, skedaddle. Mary Lou will drive me home so we kin continue our discussion. I gotta give her the exact recipe.”

She noticed Tee-John and Mary Lou exchanging a look, probably wondering if she was losing it. People had been giving her that look for decades now. That didn’t matter to Louise. She needed a little time to recollect that period in her past when she’d been at her lowest and felt the need to call on her bayou background…to garner her…yes, her Cajun sass.

Of course, there had been a man involved.



Bayou Black, 1951…

Don’t get around much anymore…;

Louise stepped out the back door and off the porch of her cottage, then flinched as the afternoon sun hit her with a wallop of steam heat.

Even though it was August in the South with its seasonal high temperatures, she was surprised to find it hotter outside than it was inside where she had a five-gallon pot on the kitchen stove simmering up a new batch of croup syrup. A wave of summer flu had swept through the bayou these past few weeks, leaving her sorely depleted of the highly effective, homemade cough medicine. Fortunately, it appeared to be the tail end of the mini epidemic.

Putting her hands to the small of her back, she arched out a few of the kinks and sighed. What she really needed was to crawl into bed and take a nap. Or a bubble bath would be nice. She probably smelled as bad as she looked.

If only she had the time!

Thou hadst time to drink two cups of coffee this morning. Thou hadst time to take the Lord’s name in vain when chasing that swamp creature. But, forget thy stink, didst say thy morning prayers? No. Ah, the priorities of God’s children!

St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases, was Louise’s favorite, ever since he’d saved her from a soul-rending despair six years ago. But then he’d stuck around, speaking to her in her head on occasion…like now. To say, he was a royal pain in the patoot at times was an understatement. But still, she couldn’t ignore him. Oh, no! One did not ignore a celestial messenger.

Okay, okay. I’ll shower before Adèle wakes up and then say my prayers.

Priorities again!

She made a growly noise. Got it. Prayers first.

Bless you, child.


In Louise’s defense, it had been the day from hell (Forgive my language, Mister J, if that sounds sacrilegious!), starting with two of her late mother’s customers showing up practically at the crack of dawn needing medicinal herbs, not for the croup, but for equally desperate issues…to them, leastways.

For some reason, without her actually making a decision, people had assumed she would take over as Bayou Black’s only traiteur when her mother died last year. Although she’d learned much at her mother’s side about folk healing herbs, she was still winging it in many regards. For example, this morning, even though she had the receipt book that had been passed down through three generations of Rivard females, it had taken what seemed like forever, not helped by her sleepiness, to match up the recipes with the dusty bottles on the pantry shelf for two different customers suffering from migraines and male genital rash.

Another job for her when things settled down…organizing Mama’s “pharmacy.”

More priorities! St. Jude said.

Louise rolled her eyes.

After her customers had left, she had to use a broom to chase a baby alligator out of her blueberry patch and back into the stream where its anxious mama, Gloria, was no doubt waiting to take a bite of some tasty human flesh. Her five-year-old niece Adèle had gotten so hyped up by the encounter…jumping up and down with excitement, giggling, screaming, wanting to pet the stupid thing…that it had taken Louise more than an hour afterward to get the by-then weepy, fussy child down for her usual nap. Two loads of laundry were waiting for her, and she still had an order of fresh fruit and vegetables to deliver to Boudreaux’s General Store, a small but essential source of income to supplement her folk healing proceeds.

Louise was only twenty-six years old, but she felt like seventy-six most days. And it wasn’t just physical exhaustion that wore her down. It was the never-ending grief of losing her father, her fiancée Phillipe, her brother Frank, and her mother, but mostly Phillipe. And the responsibility of raising her daughter while pretending the child was actually her niece.

Louise sighed again and picked up a large, oval, wicker gathering basket by its handle and walked over to the fig tree where she began to gather the ripe fruit. She would need to make fig jam for herself but this first harvest would be for sale. Every penny counted these days. She was saving to buy new tires for her jalopy, which she’d named Lillian two years ago after trading in the car she’d inherited from Phillipe when it had broken down once too many times.

Once she dumped the figs into two sturdy cardboard tomato boxes, she moved to the vegetable garden. Tomatoes, green peppers, scallions, string beans, okra, several varieties of lettuce, squash, zucchini, and snap peas soon filled two more boxes on the porch. She was back in the garden, bent over, pulling out carrots by their green fleecy tops from the loose soil when she heard a motor vehicle approaching, then pulling into the clamshell driveway behind her at the side of the cottage. She didn’t straighten and look back…not at first, figuring it would be another of the traiteur customers seeking some herbal remedy.

When she did glance back over her shoulder, she saw a man leaning against the front of a short bed truck, arms folded over his chest, staring at her bottom which was pretty much aimed in his direction.

Men! Pfff! Wearing loose bib overalls over a short-sleeved man’s undershirt, both of which once belonged to her brother, belted with a twisted scarf at the waist and the ankle cuffs rolled up to mid-calf, she knew her figure was nothing to garner any kind of attention. Heck! Even naked, or wearing fancy lingerie, she was no voluptuous pin-up these days, if she ever had been, never mind those posters she’d done for Phillipe when he’d been stationed overseas. No breasts or hips to speak of, and only five-foot-three on a good day. As for her hair, which was a frizzy dark cloud about her face in this humidity, she couldn’t recall if she’d even brushed it this morning. And the sun was doing a great job of turning her skin not to a burnished gold but a red raspberry tone.

And yet this man had a grin tugging at his lips and his eyes sparkled mischievously as he perused her with bold appreciation.

Men! she thought again. They can be aroused by a tree limb if it’s the right shape. She straightened and turned, planting her hands on her hips. It was then that she realized he wasn’t looking at her with admiration, but rather amusement. Or indifference.

The man was not attracted to her.

More than that, he thought she was funny.

For some reason, that annoyed her. Not that she was attracted to him. Still, no woman wanted a man to laugh at her.

On closer scrutiny, she admitted that he was good-looking in a lean, lazily sexual way. Who was she kidding? The man was ten kinds of sexy. And he knew it, if the spark in his whiskey hued eyes was any indication. Light brown, overlong hair stuck out from under a battered, but jauntily tilted, straw Fedora. A faded plaid, button shirt hung over the slim hips of black work pants, ending in scuffed leather boots. He was clean-shaven, but dark whiskers already shadowed his face, not in an unappealing way. He appeared tall, but was probably under six feet.

There were plenty of men about since the war ended five years ago. Some of them were shell shocked, and a few had lost a limb or two. But mostly the men of the bayou who’d returned provided a vast array of handsome Cajun masculinity to the girls who’d stayed behind.

But none of that mattered. A man was the last thing she needed in her complicated life, and, really, no one could ever take Phillipe’s place. “Can I do somethin’ for you?” she asked testily when he continued to just stare at her, and say nothing.

Which, of course, was a poor choice of words.

“Oh, mais oui, darlin’,” he said with an exaggerated Cajun accent, pushing away from the truck. Before she had a chance to be offended by his innuendo, which was misplaced considering his lack of attraction, he added, “My father sent me to pick up a delivery.”

“Your father?”

“Joseph Boudreaux. I’m his older son, Justin. I believe you know my younger brother Leon.”

Just then, she noticed the logo on the door of the truck. “Boudreaux’s General Store.” She stepped forward out of the garden, clapping her hands together to remove some dried mud. Better not shake hands, she thought, even before his upper lip curled with distaste at her grubbiness.

“I was fixin’ to deliver the produce later this afternoon.”

He shrugged. “I had to be out this way; so, dad asked me to stop and save you the trouble.” It was obvious the side trip was not a welcome one to him.

She motioned him toward the back porch. “Come, you, sit down while I get the rest of my order ready. Would you like a glass of iced sweet tea while you wait?” Or some sour lemonade to match your mood? He was frowning as he watched a gator floating down the bayou stream. Possibly the baby’s mother from this morning, but, no, this one was much bigger. Had to be a male. Maybe Gloria’s boyfriend. She didn’t know why Justin should be frowning, though. Gators and other wild creatures were a fact of life on the bayou.

“I’d love a cold drink,” he said, once the gator was out of sight, and sank down into one of the two high-backed rocking chairs. There was a two-person swing at the other end of the porch.

“Be back directly,” she told him and went inside to wash her hands and turn down the heat on the stove. Before she returned outside to pack up the rest of the produce, she checked on Adèle, who was thankfully still knocked out on her cot from her energetic morning. As Louise had suspected, when she glanced in the mirror, she saw that she was a mess. There were even some twigs in her hair. Oh, well! She wasn’t out to impress anyone…least of all a full-of-himself Cajun stud.

“Can I help you?” he asked half-heartedly a short time later as he sipped at his drink, his long legs extended and crossed at the ankles.

“No. I’m fine. I’ll be toting in lots more next week, gettin’ ready for Labor Day weekend.”

He nodded, and contented himself with observing her packing up more of the vegetables into boxes, along with a passel of fresh-cut sunflowers which she tied with a string into a half dozen clumps and slid into a paper sack. Sometimes folks bought a bouquet or two on a whim, though she wasn’t about to explain that to him.

“Who is that?” he asked, holding up a paper napkin with a face imprinted on it, then pointing upward to the wind chimes hanging from the porch ceiling with bronze discs displaying the same image.

“St. Jude.”

He arched his brows in question. “You mean the traitor, the guy who betrayed Jesus.”

“No. Jude Thaddeus, the brother of James, was an apostle. He’s often confused with that other apostle Judas Iscariot, the bad guy,” she told him. She waved at the napkin and wind chime and explained, “Maisie Fontenot got them for me when she went to Rome last year. She also bought me a St. Jude umbrella.”

“Isn’t Jude the patron saint of hopeless cases?”

She felt her face heat. Why did she always have to defend her devotion to St. Jude, like it was weird of something? “Yes.”

“Are you feeling hopeless?”

“Not now. But there have been times in my past.”

He chuckled. “Maybe I could use a little of his help in preparing for my medical board exams.”

He was probably joking. Still, she offered, “I could give you a medal.” She had more than twenty left from the stash she’d bought at a church rummage sale last year.

“Thanks, but I’ll pass for now.” She must have given him a dirty look because he added, “I’m not much for wearing jewelry.”

She thought about warning him not to annoy the saint, but then St. Jude whispered in her head, Not to worry, child. I am overburdened with prayers for help these days.

Suddenly, Justin scrooched up his nose, looking toward the open door of the cottage. “What is that godawful smell?”

At first, she thought he referred to her body odor and barely restrained herself from sniffing at an armpit. But then she noticed him looking toward the cottage interior. “Croup cough syrup.” She’d become immune to the pungent odors after all this time.

“You’re making medicine? Isn’t that…illegal?”

“I don’t call it medicine. Folk healing relies on herbs and such.” Although the new FDA regulations under the Durham-Humphrey Act didn’t speak to folk medicine, it clearly tried to outlaw any drugs that could be harmful or habit forming without a physician’s prescription. Which wasn’t a problem for Louise. But it was best to be careful. The last thing she needed was some FDA person snooping into her business.

He frowned and gave her a skeptical look. “That’s splittin’ hairs, don’t you think?”

“What are you…the medicine police?” Lordy, Lordy, could he be FDA?

“No, but I am a doctor, or almost a doctor.”

She stopped loading her produce and looked to him with question. Now that he mentioned it, she recalled Leon mentioning a brother, about four or five years older than the two of them, who was studying medicine. “Almost?”

“I’m doin’ a residency this summer at Charity Hospital in Nawleans. Hope to finish up by next month.”

“And then?”

He shrugged. “Not sure. Maybe continue my studies with a specialty. Or take a job with a family practice for a year or two, then decide if I want to branch off.”

“Back here in the bayou?”

“I’m not sure. There are some excellent hospitals up north where I could learn a lot. It would be an honor to be asked to join them.”

“And are there no ‘excellent hospitals’ in the south?”

“Of course. It just depends on what specialty I choose, if I choose a specialty.”

“And in the meantime you’re deliverin’ vegetables. And gettin’ all hoity-toity over my cough syrup.”

He laughed, and, boy oh boy, his handsomeness amped up to about too- hot-to-handle. “No, I was just helpin’ dad on my afternoon off work.”

Good for you, Daddy’s boy! she thought. But you probably hoped to hook up with some beautiful bayou gal along the way. Instead, you got stuck with me.

A grin twitched at his lips as if he knew what she was thinking.

The fat-head!

His head shot up as if a sudden thought had come to him. “Please don’t tell me you were doling out medicines during that Asian influenza epidemic last year?”

She bristled. Something about this almost-doctor really got her dander up and she exploded, “No, I did not. Me, I am not so much a fool that I would think I have a cure for some strange virus. If I did, I would be famous and rich as one of them Rockerfellers, now wouldn’t I? But what I did do was give my customers herbal remedies to relieve shortness of breath or fever. And, yes, I kept my pantry cleaner than a bleach factory, cleaner than some doctor’s offices I been in.”

He was clearly amused by her reaction, probably an overreaction, to his insulting words, which might very well have been teasing. She didn’t know him well enough to tell the difference.

“Where at you studyin’ medicine?” Sometimes Louise deliberately dumbed down her language when she was around people who considered themselves superior intellectually.

“Up North. Harvard.”

Well, you couldn’t get any higher intellectual reputation than Harvard, she supposed. “Well, la dee da! So, you become yankee now?”

He smiled. “Hardly. You jump to a lot of assumptions, my dear.”

He even sounded uppity, not at all Cajun-ish. “You know what they say about Yankees, dontcha? They’re like hemorrhoids. A pain in the be-hind when they come South, but a relief when they go back up.”

A slight tic at the side of his closed lips was the only indication she’d pricked his pride. “That joke is as old as time.”

She shrugged. “If the boot fits, no sense throwing it out.”

But then he smiled. “I can’t believe we’re arguing about old jokes. You’re a little bit snippy, darlin’. Did I say somethin’ to offend you?”

Hah! He thought he could toss out a “darlin’” with a sexy smile and suddenly become Cajun-ish. “Is the sky blue, darlin’? Do birds fly?” she inquired sweetly, then explained, deliberately dumbing down her language again, “Ain’t ah knowin’ what yer thinkin’ here, cher? You, a Southerner-turned-Yankee raise yer precious nose at mah croup syrup. Like all doctors, ya think folk healers are quacks.”

“Don’t presume to guess what I’m thinking, chère. Just because I said your concoction stinks, doesn’t mean I disapprove of your work; so, no need to pitch a hissy fit.” He inhaled and exhaled, as if to control his temper, then said in a softer tone, “You have to admit, there are lots of charlatans out there, putting out magic elixirs that cure everything from constipation to cancer, but—”

She put up two hands to halt his words. “Truce,” she declared with a laugh. “Anyways, how come it’s taken you so long to get through medical school? You gotta be at least thirty.”

“Thirty-one,” he said. “I spent three years in the Army during the war as a combat medic.”

Ah, Louise realized the irony then. Her Phillipe had intended to study medicine after the war, as well. Unfortunately, he hadn’t survived to fulfill that dream. It wasn’t a subject she wanted to discuss further. And she didn’t have to because, just then, a whimper came from within the cottage, followed by the sound of tiny feet walking through the rooms. “Tante Lulu!” Adèle cried, dragging her pet blanket on the floor behind her.

Louise opened the door and lifted the child into her arms, blanket and all.

“Lulu?” Justin inquired.

“This is Adèle,” she said, kissing the top of the girl’s touseled hair. “From the time she was a toddler, she was unable to say Louise; so, Lulu it became. And stuck.”

Justin nodded but said nothing, studying the two of them. With Adèle’s cheek pressed against hers, staring at the stranger, Louise knew there was a strong resemblance, which she didn’t bother to explain.

And what he thought was obvious. Louise could almost see the facts click in his bachelor head. Young bayou woman. Not so attractive. A little bit snippy. Has a child. Not for me!

Not that Louise cared.


But she was annoyed.

Very annoyed.

And something shifted inside of her, something important which she would examine later.

Uh-oh! the voice in her head said, immediately followed by, “It’s about time!” as if Jude were speaking to someone up above.

“See you around,” Justin said just before lifting himself up to the driver’s seat of his truck. Then he did the worst thing possible. He winked at her.

To Louise, it was the most patronizing, condescending gesture, when done without any evidence of attraction on his part. Like the most popular boy in school winking at the shy, fat wallflower.

A pity wink.

How pathetic! Louise practically growled at what was tantamount to waving the red flag before a bull. A challenge if she ever saw one. How dare he make her feel pathetic?

In that moment, Louise recalled that there was a time when she was the epitome of Cajun Sass, a bayou girl who could stand up to the most arrogant male, and there were plenty of them in bayou land. It had nothing to do with beauty, exactly. More with attitude, which translated to attractiveness, even sensuality. That young Louise never would have allowed Justin Boudreaux to treat her like she was less than what he was accustomed to.

The question was: How to regain her Cajun Sass when she’d lost it for five long years?

On the other hand, did a bayou-born gal ever lose her Cajun Sass?

Maybe she should check her mother and grandmother’s receipt books to see if they’d written a recipe for Cajun Sass. Which was highly improbable.

Or was it?

She laughed out loud.

And heard laughter in her head, too.


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