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Authors: Robin Caroll

Bayou Paradox

BOOK: Bayou Paradox
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“I found her like that. Just…just lying there…lifeless.”

“I know.” Bubba's voice cracked as emotion clogged his throat. “I need you to come to the living room now. Just a couple of questions.” Duty called, despite his tangled emotions. “When did you talk to Tanty?”

Tara blinked. “Around ten-ish. I'd called to ask her a question.”

“And why'd you come here tonight?”

“I've been training under Tanty.”

Right. He remembered now. His aunt had stepped in as a role model for the youngest LeBlanc. “What time did you arrive?”

“About nine or so. When I didn't find her in the workhouse, I came here to look for her.”

He glanced over the room. No sign of a struggle, no forced entry.

“Someone did this to her.”

He jerked his attention back to Tara. “What?”

She met his stare dead-on. “She didn't just fall ill. Someone set out to hurt her.”

Books by Robin Caroll

Love Inspired Suspense

Bayou Justice
#74

Bayou Corruption
#89

Bayou Judgment
#101

Bayou Paradox
#103

ROBIN CAROLL

Born and raised in Louisiana, Robin Caroll is a Southern belle right down to her “hey y'all.” Her passion has always been to tell stories to entertain others. Robin's mother, bless her heart, is a genealogist who instilled in Robin the deep love of family and pride of heritage—two aspects Robin weaves into each of her books. When she isn't writing, Robin spends time with her husband of eighteen years, her three beautiful daughters, and their four character-filled cats at home—in the South, where else? An avid reader herself, Robin loves hearing from and chatting with other readers. Although her favorite genre to read is mystery/suspense, of course, she'll read just about any good story. Except historicals! To learn more about this author of deep-South mysteries of suspense to inspire your heart, visit Robin's Web site at www.robincaroll.com.

ROBIN CAROLL
BAYOU PARADOX

I call on you, O God, for you will answer me:
give ear to me and hear my prayer.

—
Psalms
17:6

For my parents, Joyce & Chuck Bridges—
your belief in me, and unwavering encouragement,
allowed me to seek out the path to follow my dreams.
All my love, Robin

Acknowledgments

My most heartfelt gratitude to…

My talented editor, Krista Stroever, who's so dedicated to the stories she edits and supportive of her authors. You rock!

The team at Steeple Hill, who put much time and energy into all my books.

Kelly Mortimer, for being so much more than just my agent.

My mentor, Colleen Coble, for continuously teaching me, but loving me as well.

My prayer group, for lifting me before the throne daily.

My family/friends for invaluable input: BB, Camy, Cheryl, Dineen, Heather, Lisa, Pammer, Ronie and Trace. Love y'all.

My family for continued encouragement: Bek, Bubba, Robert and all the aunts/uncles/cousins/nieces/nephew. Love each of you.

My daughters—Emily, Remington and Isabella—the best blessings from God. I love you so much.

All my love to my husband, Case, for his support in following my dreams and heart.

All glory to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

ONE

“T
hey've brainwashed you.” Tara LeBlanc crossed her arms over her chest and glared at her grandmother. “I can't believe you're turning your back on what you've always believed just because of CoCo and Alyssa's influence.” And when Tara had opportunity, she'd tell her sisters exactly what she thought of their tactics. They'd played dirty in this silly game of religious gobbledygook.

Grandmere gave a slow shake of her head, the ends of her gray hair caressing her shoulders. “
Ma chère,
I thought the same thing for many years. Too many. Now, child, it's time to acknowledge the truth.”

Tara stared out the kitchen window, chewing the inside of her cheek until she tasted a sharp, coppery tang. How had her sisters duped Grandmere? By getting her so confused she turned away from the voodoo she'd lived, breathed and actively practiced for more than five decades, that's how.

The sunny kitchen darkened as the late-afternoon sun dipped behind the treeline of the bayou. A hush fell over Lagniappe, Louisiana, escorting in the May evening. Tara turned from the window. “I already know the truth. You taught me. I can't believe you've bought into their fairy tale.” That fact alone tore Tara's heart.

“So much wasted time. Had I realized how much I needed Jes—”

“Oh, don't start on the preaching stuff. I've heard it enough.” And enough, and enough.

“I'm so sorry,
chère.
I've led you wrong.”

“No, you haven't. CoCo and Alyssa have just skewed your thinking, is all.” She knelt before Grandmere, resting her hands in her grandmother's lap. “Come on out to the workhouse with me, yes? We'll mix a cleansing potion and get your head clear.” If Tara could just get her grandmother out into the shack beside the house, surely the old ways would beckon her and flush all this nonsense right out of her.
Please, please, come back and teach me, Grandmere.

“Oh,
ma chère,
I should have that lean-to torn down.”

Tara shoved to her feet and planted her fists on her hips, blinking back hot tears of abandonment. “Don't you dare. That's mine now. You may have been hoodwinked, but I sure as shootin' ain't falling for that fantasy trip.”

Her heart thudded. Take away her rock of stability? No, she wouldn't let that happen.

“Tara—”


Non,
I won't listen anymore. I'm going to clean up the workhouse before I head over to Tanty Shaw's.” At least
some
one took over Tara's training to become a voodoo priestess. She only mourned that it wasn't Grandmere.

“You'll see, child. God will move in your heart.”

Yeah, and so would Santa Claus, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy, too.

Tara let the kitchen screen door slam behind her. She stomped toward the workhouse, her steps crushing the dried grass. Her stomach twisted into tight knots. For three years she'd studied under her grandmother's tutelage, and because of her sisters' meddling, now she had to continue her studies with someone outside the family. Tradition called for the gift to be passed down from grandmother to granddaughter. Now everything had been ruined. And Tara was the one who suffered.

It was just wrong on so many different levels.

The fishy odor of the bayou drifted on the breeze, tickling Tara's nostrils. The smell reminded her that she needed to gather foliage in the next day or so. If they didn't get rain soon, she'd have to harvest all she could find before the flora died. Tara's stock had slowly diminished since Grandmere had stopped gathering. A lonely sigh escaped.

The rumble of an engine overwhelmed the cacophony of crickets, tree frogs and cicadas readying the bayou for night. She paused at the door of the lean-to, staring out over the waterway. A boat, much too big to maneuver in the tight canals, turned sharply toward the LeBlanc inlet, and suddenly the engine died. The momentum of its surge shoved the boat into the smaller cove.

If the boat kept its course, it'd run right into CoCo's airboat. That would send her oldest sister, currently away on her honeymoon, into a tailspin for sure. What a humdinger to return to—her work craft demolished.

“Hey! Slow down. Use your breaks,
cooyon.
You're gonna hit a boat.” She made fast tracks down to the live oak tree anchoring her sister's airboat. “Stop!”

The nose of the big boat veered sharply right, barely missing the end of CoCo's vessel.

Tara popped her fists on her hips as the captain of the big craft moved to the bow deck. “What do you think you're doing? You almost crashed into the airboat.”

“Sorry.” The man's wide smile diminished his apology. “Didn't realize what a tight fit it'd be.”

“Who are you and what are you doing here? This is private property.”

“The bayou's privately owned?” He glanced around as if waiting for someone to answer his question. Three more people—two men and a woman—appeared on the deck.

Tara gestured at the ground where one of the men jumped, holding a rope. “That land you're standing on belongs to me. State your name and what you're doing here before I grab my shotgun and shoot you for trespassing.”

“No need to shoot anybody, I assure you.” The captain laughed and stepped off the boat. The marshy ground sucked in his foot, sloshing water over his pristine white sneakers. Tara bit back a laugh. He gave a shrug and extended his hand. “Name's Vincent Marsalis, and I'm with Winn Pharmaceuticals. We're a research team sent to—”

A pharmaceutical company! “You're trespassing. Get off my property. Now!” Her heart thudded anew. How many times had companies sent out research teams who only damaged the precious plant life? Well, not now. Not on
her
land.

“I don't think you understand. See, we're he—”

“I don't need to understand. You're trespassing, and I'm ordering you to leave. Go.” She grabbed the cell phone from her shorts pocket. “I'll call the sheriff.”

Vincent What's-His-Name held up both hands in mock surrender. “We don't mean any harm.”

“I'll give you till the count of three.” She pressed a button, turning on the phone. “One…two…”

“Hey, we're not here to cause trouble.”

“Three.” Tara jabbed numbers.

“Okay, we'll leave.” Vincent nodded at the other man while taking a step backward.

She flipped the phone shut. “And don't come back.”

“So much for Southern hospitality,” the woman on the deck muttered, her accent making it all too clear she came from up North. Way up North.

“Not when it comes to you meddling Yankees.” Tara narrowed her eyes, making sure the group moved quickly.

The engine roared to life. Murky bayou waters swished as reverse engaged, and the boat inched backward. The nose was brought around, then the engine revved. A high arc of water rooster-tailed in the craft's wake. Tara waited until the vessel sped out of sight.

The sun had since melted into the horizon. If she hurried, she could make it to Tanty's before the moon ambled to center sky. At least she didn't have to work at the jazz club tonight. Numbers and accounting didn't hold much interest for her at the moment. She dug out her car keys as she rushed along the gravel path. The evening breeze kissed her flaming face. When would she stop letting people get her so worked up?

Maybe when her life made sense again.

Normally the drive to Tanty's took a good fifteen minutes. Tonight, she made it in less than ten. Pretty good time, considering the condition of her car. Of course, irritation had pushed her foot a little harder on the accelerator. She patted the cracked vinyl of the dashboard. The Mustang might be old and in need of some cosmetic work, but she'd paid for it herself and loved the thing.

Lights from Tanty's workhouse caught in the crystal prisms hanging from the windows, sending colors across the darkened bayou. Tara grabbed her backpack and tossed it over her shoulder. Tanty viewed voodoo not only as a way of life, but also as a business. Her workhouse, three times the size of Grandmere's—no, now Tara's—boasted shrubs along the outer walls and a fresh paint job. Nice blue paint, to keep the bad spirits at bay.


Bonjour,
Tanty. Where are you?” Tara stuck her head inside the door. The stench of burnt roots stung her nose. “Tanty?”

No response.

Tara glanced over the tables and stations. A beaker sat atop a burner, the glass bottom singed black. Holding her breath, she flipped off the gas and grabbed an oven mitt. She lifted the container carefully and moved it to the counter.

Something brushed against Tara's leg. She jumped, bumping the metal file cabinet with her hip. A couple of pieces of paper drifted to the floor.

Meow.

Tara laughed and lifted the black cat. She scratched under his chin just the way he liked. “Hey, Spook. Know where Tanty's hiding?”

Spook purred and nudged her hand with his nose.

With a final rub, she lowered the cat to the counter. A drawer sat ajar in the cabinet. Had she bumped the cabinet so hard it opened? She shoved it shut, but not before another piece of paper fluttered to the floor. Tara retrieved all the loose scraps, glancing at them before she put them back in the drawer. Client notes.

Something wasn't right. Tanty kept meticulous records of business transactions, people she'd helped and money she'd taken in. Everything was fanatically filed. Shrewd but smart, that was Tanty Shaw. Why were these not filed properly?

Tara inspected the building a final time. No sign of her mentor. Maybe Tanty had to take a call. Probably in the house, the lit burner totally forgotten. Tanty still had a sharp mind, but she'd passed the seventy-year mark this past April. Only natural she'd get distracted sometimes.

Tara left the workhouse open to air out the scorched odor and strode to the back of Tanty's house. She rapped on the frame of the screen door twice before yanking it open. “Tanty? You in here?”

Silence. Each step Tara made, fear caused her lungs to burn like she'd just jogged a five mile sprint. She moved from the kitchen into the living room. “Tanty?”

A strong weight of oppression stretched across Tara's shoulders, stealing her breath. She closed her eyes. In an instant, the feeling left her.

Peeking around the room, Tara took in the neat and organized space. Not a single thing out of place. Orderly, eerily so, but still no sign of the elderly woman.

Tara took cautious steps down the hall. The wood floor creaked. “Tanty?” Past the bathroom—empty. Past the library—empty. The master bedroom. Her hands cramped as she pushed the door open a crack. “Tanty?”

She took one step into the room. Her heart dropped to her knees.

“Tanty!” Tara rushed to the fallen form on the woven rug. She lifted the limp upper body, dragging the woman's head into her lap. “Tanty!” Her fingers quivered as she pressed hard against her mentor's neck. Very weak pulse.

Ice cloaked her and her stomach churned. She scooted across the floor, reaching for the phone.

 

Blue strobe lights flashed against the live oaks lining the drive up to his aunt's house. An ambulance met him on the dirt road, then flew past, heading into Lagniappe. Sheriff Bubba Theriot struggled to keep his emotions in check. He needed to remain professional, distance himself from the fact that the victim happened to be his relative. He brought the cruiser to a stop with a skid before slamming the gear into Park. Stirred dust settled over the windshield and hood, providing a fine layer of brown. They needed rain. Soon.

Deputy Gary Anderson cleared his throat. Loudly. “Boss, I can handle this one for ya if you want to head on over to the hospital. Will probably be nothing for us to do except file a report.”

Bubba shook his head and reached for the door handle. “It's my job. I'm fine.” Although he didn't feel fine—his gut was clenched tighter than the worn grip on his service Beretta. Hadn't the mayor of Lagniappe phoned just last week, demanding that crime in their town be extinguished? All crime, period. And now Bubba'd been called to the scene of another incident—a woman unconscious for no apparent reason.

Aunt Tanty.

At least her illness didn't involve foul play. But when a woman, no matter how old, just fell unconscious, a report had to be filed. Not to mention the 9-1-1 call required a follow-up report. Could be a break in a gas main, which could put the good citizens of Lagniappe in danger. He quickened his pace up the stairs to Tanty's house, the deputy dogging his heels.

The front door stood open. Even from the foyer, he could make out low murmuring coming from Tanty's bedroom. He nodded at Anderson and strode quickly down the hall. Pictures of his family, himself included, lined the darkened walls. Bubba swallowed the lump in his throat and reached his aunt's room.

Tara LeBlanc was slumped on the floor against the master bed, her eyes closed and her lips moving. As an officer of the law, he had to observe body language and what people didn't say. He could detect nothing but concentration from the youngest LeBlanc. But concentrating on what?

BOOK: Bayou Paradox
12.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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