Southern Born
Louisiana, Book 4
Release Date:

May 21, 2024



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Bayou Redemption


Susan Sands

She wants to find Mr. Perfect, but first she needs to fine tune her own Ms. Perfect…

Skilled cardiac surgeon Elizabeth Keller is determined to turn over a new leaf. Not easy when you live and work in the same small town where you grew up and your family’s rocked by scandals. Plus, there’s the painful fact everyone remembers your brilliant, beautiful, blonde mean-girl adolescence. But Elizabeth doesn’t give up easily. Ask anyone, including the new hot surgeon gunning for her job.

When Dr. Charlie Beaudoin arrives in Cypress Bayou, he’s relieved to put the past and New Orleans behind him. His new partner is as gorgeous as she is captivating, and definitely suspicious of his professional intentions. At first, Charlie works to establish respect, trust and friendship with Elizabeth because he needs the job. But when a hurricane threatens the town and hospital, he and Elizabeth pull together to create a safety plan and soon the lines between professional and personal blur.

But when the skies clear and secrets and threats surround them, will their budding romance and fragile trust survive?

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“Dr. Keller, your sister is on line one.” Jenny, our administrative assistant for the cardiothoracic surgery department, stuck her head inside my private office. To my credit, I didn’t roll my eyes at the interruption. I’d forgotten to close the door again, so it was my fault entirely.

“I’ll take it. Thanks, Jenny.” I wasn’t in the mood to speak with anyone after the five-hour open-heart surgery I’d just scrubbed out from, but my sister Allison was the exception.

“Hi, what’s up?” I tried to inject a little enthusiasm in my voice—even smiled when I spoke.

“Tough morning?” My half-sister, Allison, was weirdly in tune with my tone of voice, so I rarely got anything past her, even when I tried.

“How could you tell? I tried not to sound snappy.”

“No, you weren’t snappy, but I can tell when you want to be, Elizabeth.” She laughed.

“I’ve just come out of surgery, and I’m about to dig into charting for the next two or three hours, so maybe I’m a little irritable.”

“Have you eaten anything?” she asked. I could hear the motherly tone. Funny how when a woman gives birth, they develop that skill almost immediately and use it with everyone.

I glanced at my watch. It was well past noon. “No, but I suppose I should.” I often got busy and forgot to eat, which contributed to my cranky mood.

“Come on over, and I’ll heat some of Nana’s gumbo, and you can get your Henry fix.”

“Two questions: Will my nephew be awake? And gumbo? In this heat?” Though my stomach growled at the thought. I didn’t want to leave the building because of those charts staring at me from the screen on my iPad, but my nephew and her grandmother’s gumbo were not to be missed, even at the height of summer. I could chart later.

“Ha. He’s awake. Sleeping is not his thing these days. And you love gumbo, especially shrimp gumbo, so come on over. Oh, and that was three questions.”

“I’ll be there in ten.” Both the gumbo and the juicy, teething nephew were too tempting to resist.

I threw my purse over my shoulder and breezed through the back office toward the exit. “I’m headed out to lunch. Let me know if Mrs. Robichaud has an issue. Otherwise, please take a message.” I almost got out of the door, but then I turned and said, “Thanks.”

I saw Jenny suppress a smile. “Yes, Dr. Keller.” I wasn’t always such a ray of sunshine, and that was putting it mildly.

I took the stairs despite the height of my heels. Stairs were the sign of a good heart doctor. Never ride when you can walk is what I’d suggested to my patients for years.

The employee parking was off the side entrance of Cypress General. There wasn’t a parking deck, but there was flat asphalt and plenty of it in the side and main lots. We were a level III trauma center, which guaranteed my on-staff surgical position. Cypress General was the go-to hospital for Cypress Bayou and many smaller towns and communities in the north/central area of Louisiana, so many people relied on us for scheduled surgeries, emergency services, and critical care. We mattered to this area of the state.

I inhaled as I stepped outside into the somewhat muggy but otherwise gorgeous August day. The weather here was pretty predictable—hot and humid most days between June and September, with frequent afternoon thunderstorms that cooled things off for an hour or so. The vegetation was lush and green everywhere because of our semi-tropical weather.

Besides my med school years spent in New Orleans, I’d lived my entire life in Cypress Bayou, and it still thrilled me to drive through the brick streets of the historical town. The homes were all kinds of charming, and the downtown sat alongside the slow-moving bayou surrounded by cypress trees, tall green grasses, and gorgeous flowers everywhere.

I pulled in behind Allison’s car across from her loft on Front Street. She had lucked into the place with its view of the bayou when she’d moved from the Chicago suburbs just over a year ago. She was my newly discovered half-sister on my father’s side—the Keller side.

Allison was adopted at birth and had met her birth mother and two half-sisters a couple of years ago during a health crisis that required a bone marrow transplant—the Bertrand side.

So, I guess she’d lucked into that too. The Bertrands were a large, tight, old-money family in town. Mine were equally established but far less respected since my father’s recent indictment. The Kellers and the Bertrands weren’t exactly besties on a good day, anyway.

Allison had met Nick Landry the day she’d arrived in Cypress Bayou, and they’d fallen for each other almost instantly. She’d married him right last year after Christmas and gotten pregnant soon after. So, in addition to a new sister, I now had a brother-in-law and a year-old nephew whom I adored more than anybody else.

They were the miracle I didn’t know I needed. The miracle that helped me realize I needed to change my ways and my life.

“Come on up. Gumbo’s ready,” Allison called to me from her scrolled-iron, second-story balcony that canopied the shop below. Cypress Bayou was reminiscent of a smaller-scale New Orleans French Quarter. Allison lived above her home interior store, which used to be a soapery.

Careful not to catch my shoe on one of the uneven bricks, I dashed to the other side. The old streets dated back to the early seventeen hundreds, so they were pretty but not very smooth in some places.

I entered the access code for the private exterior staircase that led up to her place. Allison was waiting when I got to the landing. “Come on in. We can eat outside in the shade if you want. I’ll move Henry’s high chair out there.”

Looking around her apartment, I felt a little envious. The ceilings soared at least twenty feet, with enormous windows overlooking the bayou and the street below. I couldn’t complain because my little historic house on Pike Street was sweet perfection—without the water view. Since Nick had been living in a garage apartment at his parents’ place when they’d met, he moved in here with Allison when they got married. He’d been saving to build a house at the time.

Their new home on the bayou would be finished in a couple of weeks, and they would be moving out of this gem of an apartment into a house that overlooked the bayou near Leah Bertrand Carmichael and Carly Bertrand Carmichael, her other sisters who’d married the Carmichael brothers.

I had no idea how Allison juggled everything the way she did, and I wondered briefly who would move into this fantastic place, as it had been Jake Carmichael’s during college, then Jake and Leah’s, and now Allison’s.

My attention shifted from Allison’s apartment to Allison’s baby. Henry stood in his playpen and squealed when he saw me and raised his arms for me to pick him up. Of course, I did. His chin was dripping due to some serious teething.

“Look at you, my handsome boy!” I couldn’t resist those adorable two bottom teeth when he grinned at me.

“Better put the blanket over your shoulder, or that dress will be gonezo in less than a minute. He’s slobbering so much that I keep a bib around his neck pretty much all the time.

I loved Henry way more than this dress, but I did love this dress. “Got it.”

Allison led me to the kitchen, where she’d ladled gumbo from a pot on the stove into two white gumbo bowls on a platter. Alongside the gumbo were small bowls of potato salad, a loaf of French bread, butter, and a couple of small plates.

“Mmm. Smells good. Shrimp, you said?” Shrimp was my favorite food.

Allison nodded, showing her dimple as she grinned at me. “It’s so good.”

Leftovers weren’t something I usually liked, but a reheated bowl of her nana’s gumbo was a treasure worth sharing, even on a warm August day. “Yes, let’s head outside. The weather is gorgeous today, especially in the shade.”

I carried Henry and followed Allison as she brought our lunch out and set the tray on the shaded deck’s familiar iron table, with Henry’s high chair on one side. I slid the little squirmer in and clicked his buckle before he could protest. Allison immediately spread Cheerios on his tray to distract him.

“I remember this table from when Jake and I—” I was going to say dated, but I guess Jake and I didn’t actually date. I could admit now that I’d pined after a guy who had solidly put me in the friend zone as early as middle school.

“It’s okay to talk about Jake.” Allison was a safe space for me. She’d fought through my crusty exterior and dug up the decent person inside—someone very few people knew about. My arrogant façade was legend in this town ever since Jake had rejected me for Allison’s younger half-sister, Leah Bertrand, in seventh grade.

My outer shell of confidence and complete independence from weakness had formed that day. But I hadn’t given up on Jake. Becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon had been a favorable outcome of that unrequited love. I’d followed Jake to medical school. I’d earned a stellar reputation in my field, but I’d initially gotten there by pursuing Jake Carmichael.

I’d wasted over a decade of my life pining after a guy who just wanted to be my friend because his heart was entirely taken by another. Throughout high school and college, I’d hated Leah with a red-hot burning anger. It had taken me a long time to realize she wasn’t the actual devil preventing me from having Jake’s love. “I’m happy for Jake and Leah.” I meant it, too. Leah had given birth to their son Mason a few weeks before Henry was born. And yeah, he was almost as cute as Henry.

Leah and I had buried the hatchet recently since finding out about our mutual sister, Allison. It was time, and I was over Jake by then. But the humiliation lingered. Now, I was trying to figure out what I wanted in my life and pursue something resembling real happiness. Allison was instrumental in convincing me that I could change—or at least improve.

Truth was, people in my hometown, besides my family, didn’t like me much because I’d never been particularly pleasant and hadn’t even pretended to fit in. Plus, I was six feet tall and blonde. I knew I was pretty early on because I saw the envy in the other girls’ eyes. Through the years, I’d used my good looks as a weapon and a tool. Small Southern towns like mine had long memories, and they’d pegged me as a self-important snot with great shoes years ago.

It still hurt when I got snubbed at a restaurant or while shopping, but I took it as punishment for my mean-girl behavior over the years. Hurt them before they can hurt you. It had been my modus operandi and had served me well until it didn’t. As a woman in her early thirties, it was time for me to work toward being someone worthy of my sister and nephew’s respect and love.

Henry pulled me away from my deep thoughts by blowing loud, wet raspberries. I turned my attention to him and blew a few back at him. He dissolved into giggles and shoved a few more Cheerios in his mouth as saliva ran down his chin.

Allison laughed at our antics. “I love how you are with him.”

It embarrassed me a little when she threw out kindness to me, so I grinned at her and asked, “So, how’s business?” Allison had opened her interiors and gift shop under the apartment not long before Henry was born. Her landlord, Mrs. Sibley, owned pretty much the whole block of prime real estate, both residential and commercial, including this apartment. When it came time for Allison to open her shop, Mrs. Sibley insisted Allison lease the space downstairs for a fraction of what anyone else would have to pay. The woman had a soft spot for my sister—seemed like everyone did around here.

“It’s crazy how busy I’ve been since the weather has warmed up a little. People are out shopping from early morning until closing. And I’m up to my armpits in floral orders for the beginning-of-semester rush dances—and I’m up to my eyeballs in Henry.” She laughed, referring to rush week where the students were recruited into sororities at the local college right on the edge of downtown across the railroad tracks. Allison had a gift for flower arranging, so her business had blossomed as a flower shop as well. Weddings, funerals, proms, and homecomings kept her hopping.

“Sounds like a good problem to have.” Unlike when I was too busy. Last year, we’d had to call in another cardiologist from Alexandria—too many heart patients at once. Luckily, things had settled down, and I had my department well under control again.

“Yes. I’ve hired a couple of students to help with Henry and the shop part time, and I have one full-time intern through the interior design college. Plus, Carly, Nana, Nick, and Momma fill in when they have time.”

“Those Bertrand women are handy.” I tried to keep the sarcasm from my voice, but it might’ve leaked through just a little, so I added, “And Nick has turned out to be the best, hasn’t he?” I adored my brother-in-law now that they were together. I’d actually known Nick growing up, but we hadn’t been close.

“Yes, Nick is awesome. And don’t be like that about the others. They’ve all been very helpful since I opened the shop.” She took a dainty bite of potato salad. Allison told me how she saw things, and I respected her for it even when it annoyed me that she was right.

“I don’t doubt that. But they’ve chafed me my entire life, so give me a minute to make the transition to liking them.”

“I get it. I just hope now that we’re all related, things will improve. How’s your father?” Allison asked, changing the subject and omitting that we shared the same father. Allison only met her birth family a couple of years ago but still struggled with how Daddy had treated her mother, Karen, when they’d been sixteen, and she’d gotten pregnant. He’d been one of the reasons she’d given Allison up for adoption. But not the only reason. So I could ignore the small slight towards my daddy. He definitely deserved it from Allison’s perspective.

“He’s doing pretty well. Taken up growing hothouse orchids if you can believe it.”

She shook her head. “I can’t even picture it.”

My daddy was the honorable Judge Arthur Keller, Esq., and for most of his career, had been one of two district court judges in the area. But to his detriment, Daddy’d been too tight with his childhood buddy, Carson Carmichael, the most loathsome human I’d ever known. Carson’s influence on Daddy had been the downfall of his career and reputation in town. Add to that, everyone found out he’d had a secret daughter by Karen Bertrand. It still made for the very best gossip in town. So, Momma and I also suffered the consequences of his ruin. And now, Allison. I didn’t blame her for her reluctance to embrace him fully.

So, Daddy had broken laws and gotten thrown off the bench. For now, it looked like he wasn’t going to jail—he’d testified against Carson Carmichael, who most certainly was going to jail for a long time.

“What’s the latest on his case?” Allison asked as she began to feed Henry spoonfuls of pureed green stuff. It smelled like broccoli. I had to look away.

“We should know something within the month. What happens next depends on what the judge decides.” There were no more excuses for Daddy, and I’d had to let go of my anger and frustration over his amoral behavior. I could only be responsible for my own actions.

“It’s a shame that my brothers-in-law have such a despicable father.” Carson’s sons were married to Allison’s half-sisters. Leah and Carly had married brothers: Jake and Tanner. This was real small-town stuff I couldn’t make up if I wrote fiction. Our whole family situation was complicated.

Our gazes caught, and we laughed over the irony. “What a mess, huh?” Keeping a sense of humor about it eased some of the stress over the judge’s quandary because we were powerless to control any of it.

Henry shrieked, and Allison handed him a sippy cup.

“How’s the situation at the hospital going?” she asked.

I tore off a piece of French bread. “I have no idea what the board has planned.” Honestly, I tried not to think about the inner workings of hospital administration.

“You’ve saved so many lives in this town, so your job should be rock solid, right?”

I shrugged. “I haven’t caught wind of anything lately, so I’m hoping it was just a rumor tossed around the hospital when things got busy last year.” There were whispers about expanding my department and adding another, possibly older, male cardiologist to our staff. Since I was the only one, currently, it meant I was the department head. Bridget, our competent physician’s assistant, handled most new consults, checkups, and post-op appointments. Bringing in another surgeon now might upset the balance we’d all worked to create within our department. It would surely upset me. I didn’t like change very much.

Allison was the only person I’d told about my fears regarding my job at Cypress General. Momma couldn’t keep from spreading anything she heard far and wide, even if the truth about it was questionable. So, she wasn’t the kind of mother one confided in.

I didn’t expect to be demoted from my role as head of cardiology, but I wondered what might happen if they brought on someone eventually with more years of experience.

“Oh, I wanted to invite you to my dinner party next Friday. It’s a way of saying goodbye to this apartment before I start packing for the move. It will be super casual with plenty of Bertrands and Carmichaels there, but I really want you to come.” Allison was on a mission to ease tensions between both sides of her family, except for my parents. She wasn’t quite ready to fully embrace them into her fold yet. Momma had been a little stiff the few times Allison had come over to the house or they had gone out for dinner together, but she was trying.

“Of course I’ll be there. I can be civil despite all the former nastiness.” The whole Jake Carmichael thing was in the past, so that wasn’t the issue. Besides, I saw him nearly every day at the hospital, mostly in passing. It no longer excited or hurt me every time we interacted. After I’d witnessed how much he loved Leah and how crazy he was about his new baby boy, I’d let him go completely. Finally. It was cathartic. We were friendly colleagues now.

The issue with Allison was that Karen Bertrand was Allison’s birth mom, and Daddy was Allison’s father. It still chafed that Daddy had kept this all a secret from us. Their teen hookup had had lasting consequences. The two still weren’t on speaking terms. I blamed Daddy for that. He’d treated her horribly back then, and she blamed him for pretty much everything she’d endured.

“This was nice. Thanks for making me eat. Now, I can go back to my office and knock out the charts before I do evening rounds.”

“Of course. I’ve got to get back to work too. Meg is watching the shop during my lunch break. This internship thing has worked out well, I’ve got to say.” I knew for a fact that she almost never took time away from the business for lunch until recently.

“The customers can do without you for a little while.” This forty-five-minute lunch was a welcome break after such a long surgery this morning.

“You’d be surprised how in demand I am in the shop. People expect me to greet them personally. It’s so strange. It wasn’t a thing back in Chicago, but then, neither was gumbo.”

“Gumbo is essential to a happy life.” I said this as I took the very last bite of mine and checked my watch, realizing it was time to go. “I need an intern to keep me on schedule.” I generally got to the hospital by six thirty a.m. for early rounds, then performed procedures and scheduled surgeries, then worked on charts and did evening rounds. Every day was different, depending on the schedule.

“Nah, you just need to accept that you aren’t Superwoman. Maybe bringing on another cardiologist could help with that.”

I tightened up at the suggestion. “The last thing I need is to share my patients and space.”

End of Excerpt

Bayou Redemption is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-962707-52-7

May 21, 2024

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