Hanson Tuttle pushed one hand through his floppy brown hair, trying to get it to stay on top of his head instead of falling in front of his forehead. It had to be the fourteenth time he’d done that. It may have been more but Hanson wasn’t counting. He didn’t like to use any kind of cream in his hair to make it slick and stop it from falling forward. The cream made him feel dirty.
He sat back in the chair, watching as Jack, the boarding house manager and his good friend, served dinner to the new guests who had arrived that morning.
Hanson ran a successful cattle ranch well outside of town. It was a half-hour ride by horse and sometimes took longer if the road or the two bridges he had to cross had been washed out by flooding. It often flooded during the monsoons in his hometown of Georgetown, Nevada. The year was 1870 and, at thirty-one, Hanson was one of the wealthiest ranch owners in Eastern Nevada. Despite his wealth, he was also known for his charm, integrity, and his great knowledge of many things, most of which he kept to himself for fear of challenging the intellect of others and making them feel dumb.
He wasn’t gloating when he spouted off knowledge and facts he’d read about somewhere. It was just that he remembered everything he read word for word and never had to read anything twice. He had a memory that some compared to the photograph—it was an exact replica of someone. For him, it was books. Hanson remembered everything he read. It was that simple to him.
“Don’t forget the salt,” he called in a light tone to Jack, who was stirring a pot of stew. “You didn’t put any in yet.”
“Yes, yes, I will do that,” Jack responded, turning to him from the stove and giving him a big grin. He was a round, short man, the opposite of Jack, who stood six-foot-three and had the muscles it took to run a ranch the way he did. He didn’t give all the work to others. He took it on himself to be a contributing member to the workload.
Jack picked up the salt can near him. He pinched some between his fingers and thumb and sprinkled it in a circular pattern throughout the stew. He picked up the long spoon he’d been using and started to stir once more.
“How long have you been in Georgetown, Mr. Tuttle?” one of the newcomers, Daniel Potter, one half of a couple, asked him.
“Oh, I come in town every now and then and stay here because my home is too far for me. I don’t drink much but if the saloon called me to come out, I would not ride the thirty minutes to my ranch. I stay here. I have a discount.” He flashed a big grin to Jack, who rolled his eyes.
The boarding house manager placed a big wicker basket filled with hot buttered biscuits on the table in the middle. “Rolls for you all. Enjoy.” He set one hand on Hanson’s shoulder and grinned at his new guests. “He supplies all the milk I need for a year from those cows of his. That’s where his discount comes from. I don’t mind bartering when I get a deal out of it. I trust him. It works out well for us, don’t you agree, Hanson?”
“I do,” Hanson replied, flashing dark eyes at his friend. “I do, indeed.”
He eagerly went for his soup, picking up a biscuit roll and using it to dip in the liquid. He could see Jack recoil but he loved the taste of beef broth soaked into a hot buttery roll. It was Heaven to his mouth.
He ate slowly, listening to the banter between the husband and wife next to him. They were traveling to join their son in California, who’d recently married the woman of his dreams—that was how his mother put it, anyway. She thought Mrs. Grace Potter was the luckiest and the most beautiful woman in all the world.
“It must be nice to have his family support you that way,” Hanson remarked. “I have my family as well. I can always count on them. My ma and pa have always been very supportive of me.”
“Where are they?” Mrs. Potter asked. “Do they live here in Georgetown?”
Hanson shook his head. “As a matter of fact, no. They live in California. San Diego to be exact. I was ten years old when they turned it into a city. A legitimate city. My father said that was something to be remembered. And, of course, I remember it.”
From the stove, Jack let out a loud guffaw. Hanson saw Mrs. Potter jump at the sound and then cover her mouth to giggle nervously. He smiled at her. “He does that when I mention remembering things. I remember things a lot better than the normal person.”
Mrs. Potter gave him an inquisitive look. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Do you have a copy of the Bible?” he asked.
“Not on my person right now, no,” the woman responded in a curious voice.
“What is all this, sir?” Mr. Potter asked, sternly.
“I’m asking because I want to prove something to you. Jack?”
Jack held up the Bible he had already retrieved from a nearby shelf. He held it up to Hanson, pressing his lips together. He was always ready with it. Hanson often used it to prove his gift was real.
“Pick out a scripture and I will recite it for you.” Both Mr. and Mrs. Potter looked skeptical. He smiled at them. “Please. Go ahead.”
The couple looked at each other and then back at Hanson, whose smile had grown. “Titus 2:12,” the lady supplied.
Without hesitation, Hanson responded with the verse. “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldy lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.”
The couple raised their eyebrows and widened their eyes into saucers when Jack proclaimed, “He’s right! He’s always right. He’s got a memory like a photograph. He never gets anything wrong!”
He didn’t consider that bragging. But maybe it was just a little bit for show. Sometimes he liked the attention.
It was Zoe Walsh who normally made the beef stew that Jack was stirring. In fact, it was she that had put together the original batch that Jack was merely reheating. She’d taken that day off and Jack had promised to use it for lunch so that it didn’t go bad before it was served.
Zoe enjoyed working for Jack, who had a fine kitchen in his establishment. She was able to make up her own recipes and try them out on the guests. Visitors were often her first “test subjects”.
There was nothing she could improve on, she figured, so she kept tweaking her recipes, just a little at a time. She kept many notebooks on the reactions she received to her different recipes and wrote in them every night in her journal. She kept one journal for personal business and the other one for cooking business.
Her personal diary had little in it. She didn’t exactly live an exciting life.
Despite her lack of adventure, Zoe was quite content with her twenty-two years of living. She kept residence in Georgetown, Nevada and lived with her parents, Marcus and Marie, a couple known around town for being somewhat eccentric. She didn’t see it that way. She thought they were both geniuses and just didn’t have the money or exposure they deserved. Her father had taken ill just a week prior and was unable to work, leaving Zoe and her mother to bring in enough to cover their bills and allow them to eat properly.
There was nothing she could do about that, no more than she was already doing, anyway. She made as much as she could at the boarding house. Mr. and Mrs. Walsh owned the bakery. Despite the success of their business, they had never been running more than average over the black line. She was just glad they weren’t in the red.
It wasn’t gambling or drinking they sunk their money into—it was wine. It had always been the mutual dream of her parents to own a vineyard and produce the finest wine that could be made. Her father often talked about how he would “pour his heart” into the company to make the greatest wine possible, with the only exception being the water Jesus himself turned into wine for the celebration party for his friends.
Since there was very little chance they would have a successful orchard in the desert of Nevada, they stocked their pantry and cellar with bottles. Every year, they petitioned the council of Georgetown to let them have a wine-tasting festival. For Zoe’s twenty-two years, they had only been allowed that privilege for the last three. It was because of a change on the council board.
The new member broke the tie for them and ever since, they’d held a wine-tasting twice a year in the town square, providing everything from tables to decorations to the wine itself.
Zoe thought about her parents as she bent over to put a tray of biscuits in the oven. The latch on the oven door was hotter than she’d thought it would be. She didn’t grasp it correctly with the towel and her thumb sizzled where it touched the iron. She jerked her hand away with a soft shriek.
“Zoe!” Jack exclaimed, coming directly to her. “What’s happened? What is this? Are you over here burning yourself?” He gave her a bemused and sorrowful look at the same time. “Don’t you know that handle is hot?”
“Now, Jack, don’t you go making that girl feel worse than she already does. That’s got to be painful!”
Zoe’s heart skipped a beat when the attractive Hanson Tuttle came over from the table, where he’d just been about to sit. He held out his hand and Zoe automatically put hers in it, her eyes on his face, though he was looking down at her hand. The touch of his skin against hers gave her a tingle all over her body. “I know just how to take care of this, Zoe. Jack, fetch me some lime-water liniment, if you have some.”
Zoe noticed the look on her boss’s face.
“Okay, if you don’t have that, do you have honey? Bran?”
“I have both of those.”
“Make a good mixture, please, and quickly. Like a paste. That would be best. We’ll put the paste on your hand, Zoe, and fold it in with mustard cloth. You should be right as rain in the morning. Maybe you should take the rest of the evening off.”
Although Zoe was eternally grateful to Hanson for his help, the pain from her burn was coursing up through her arm, rattling in her brain. She knew she wouldn’t be able to take time off. She’d just come back from her one day off and couldn’t afford another.
“I’m sure I’ll be able to finish out the night,” she said in a strained voice. “I just need it to be taken care of, that’s all. The pain will fade. It always does.”
Hanson looked around. “Here,” he said suddenly and reached behind her so that she felt she had to duck. He pulled a bottle from a shelf and handed it to her. It was sweet brandy. She wasn’t a fan of drinking but knew it would help with this. Before she took it from him, she unscrewed the top. He grinned. “I certainly should have done that for you. I’m sorry I didn’t.”
Zoe nodded as she took several swallows of the sweet brandy. When she lowered the bottle, she said, “It’s all right. I understand.”
Hanson didn’t know what he was doing to her. She’d had a small infatuation with him harboring in her soul for the last year or so. He was one of the few bachelors who came in the boarding house to eat and solely for that purpose. To eat and sleep. That was the boarding house’s intention in the first place. Countless men had tried to get Zoe—who was admittedly a beautiful woman with long, wavy blond hair she had learned to keep up in several pretty hairdos and big blue eyes set in a heart-shaped face—to return to their rooms with them. She knew what they wanted and she was not having it.
Hanson had never treated her that way. In all the time she’d seen him coming to the boarding house to stay, maybe seven days out of a month, he never treated her with disrespect. He didn’t ogle her or touch her as she passed by, as so many men had done. Jack had felt the need to throw a few of those men out of his boarding house. They’d gotten aggressive with Zoe and he wasn’t letting her exist in that kind of dangerous environment.
Jack returned shortly thereafter with a paste of honey and bran spread over a piece of mustard cloth. Hanson took it from him and immediately wrapped it around Zoe’s thumb. She felt instant relief from the burn and blinked in astonishment at Hanson.
“I’m so glad you remember so much,” she said, having heard of his amazing gift. “Thank you for this. I really would be remiss if I went home now. I’d only be sitting there with my ma and pa reading a book or something of that nature.”
“I’m just glad I could help. Will you be all right?”
Zoe wanted to say she would need more of his help but she couldn’t think of anything that would keep him right in front of her with his generous and kind face, giving her a compassionate look. “No, I…I’ll be all right. Thanks again.”
He nodded and flashed his gorgeous smile at her, making her stomach do a turn. She sighed quietly, turning back to the stove.
Three days later, Hanson sat in the chow house with his ranch hands, waiting for Bert, the cook, to finish making breakfast. Hanson wished there was a good smell in the place but it stank a bit like rotten meat. It made him wary about everything he ate. He worried for his ranch hands, too.
Bert had been slowly progressing into what Hanson referred to as an alcohol haze. He was drinking excessively and though he’d shown promise when hired, he was descending into the depths when it came to cooking. His food was sometimes not cooked enough and was more frequently burned. Eggs were runny, mashed potatoes were clumpy, bread was moldy and had to have parts picked off before it could be eaten. He had no good recipes to offer.
The food was abominable and Hanson knew if he didn’t take care of the situation soon, the men would start revolting. He couldn’t afford to lose any of his men.
In reality, he could afford to lose them but he didn’t want to. It was his intention to make sure his men were fed properly and were able to work in fine conditions, where they wouldn’t feel beaten, starved or taken advantage of. He firmly believed that if he treated the men with respect, they would return the favor.
“What’s this?” he asked when Bert dropped a slice of breakfast ham on his plate. It was thin and looked like it had been sitting out for a day or two before it was cooked and served to him. He picked it up and examined it.
“Breakfast ham, a’course,” the man responded in a cold voice, turning away immediately and sauntering back to the long, waist-level counter he’d installed for when the men wanted to serve themselves. “Seconds” were available if any were left right there for them to come up and get. It saved him the hassle of cleaning more plates and took some of the weight off his feet when he sat down after serving them.
“It doesn’t look like any breakfast ham I’ve ever had,” Hanson’s voice was even icier. “Take it back and get me a good slice.”
“There ain’t much and I was gonna use it in a stew later.”
Hanson felt his stomach turn and hoped he wasn’t green in the face. He could only imagine what that would taste like. Bad ham cooked and then boiled and served out. He almost gagged.
“Don’t you dare do that. I’m going to town after breakfast and getting new food stocks.”
Bert grunted and sneered at him but only slightly. Hanson was sure the old man didn’t even know Hanson could see right through him. “You don’t know what we need,” Bert said with one lip curled up.
“I’ll take inventory after breakfast, too. Before I go. I can trust you to stay out of my way?”
“I’m not cookin’ nothin’ new,” Bert retorted, obviously miffed.
“You will cook what you’re instructed to cook or you’ll find yourself out of a job here. These men work hard. You are the cook here, which is an important job and we have to make sure we are being fed the right food. I can’t have anyone getting sick or dying because of the quality of food. If I get fresh food—meat, vegetable, dough, fruits—you won’t bother with them, will ya? I’m not going to allow that.”
Bert had a deeply resentful look on his face. “Why wouldn’t I use ‘em? I know how to cook.”
I don’t think you do, Hanson thought but kept his mouth shut. “Just see that you do. And quickly. As soon as I get back, I want you to take the time to go through the storage room and throw out anything that isn’t good. I’ll be checking the meat cellar. I want you to use only the ingredients I agree on. Is that clear?”
With a sniff and baring his crooked, dirty teeth, Bert nodded, turning away. Hanson pulled in a sharp breath and then immediately wondered why the man always smelled like fish. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d served them fish. Probably last time one of them caught one during some down time.
“You gotta do something about this, Hanson.” Hank Bearsley, his foreman, picked up his own breakfast ham and flapped it in front of his boss. It was almost slimy and the motion made several long drips come off it. Hanson thought he was going to be sick. He gagged and looked away.
“Makin’ fun of my cookin’ again, are we, Hanky?” Bert hadn’t walked away yet and saw what the foreman was doing. He snatched the ham from the man and tossed it over his shoulder. It slapped down on the table behind him, causing all the men sitting there to jump back and groan loudly as if they’d rehearsed it.
“Bert!” Hanson snapped, shooting to his feet. Hank did the same thing but he took a step closer to the cook with a sneer on his face.
“You gonna snatch food out of my hands like that again, Bert, and we’ll be fightin’.” His deep voice grew even deeper with anger, making it sound like he was growling the words.
“I ain’t scared-a you,” the cook replied with a sneer.
Hank recoiled and gave the cook a look of disgust. “You stink. You been on the booze again.” He turned his eyes to Hanson. “He’s been on the booze again, boss. You gonna put up with that?”
Hanson hated confrontation. He wanted everyone to get along all the time. Unfortunately, it was getting harder and harder to control Bert. A replacement would have to be found. But right then, they had no one else to cook for them. Hanson admitted to himself he should have started looking sooner.
“You been drinkin’ again, Bert?” he asked, making his words sharp like a knife.
“I’m a grown man!” the cook roared. He almost tipped over and Hanson knew he’d actually been drinking a lot more than he was owning up to. No wonder he’d served rotten meat. He was too drunk to tell the difference. “I can handle my booze!”
“Obviously you can’t!” Hank yelled back, directly in the cook’s face. He was just inches away and Hanson thought they might come to blows. He would intervene but if things went wayward, the other ranch hands would jump to their defense against the cook. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
The foreman spun on him. “You have to take control here, Hanson. I know you’re a nice fellow and all, a real gentleman, but you gotta be smart enough to admit when you made a mistake. Hiring this man was a big mistake!”
“You keep your nose out of my business!” Bert shrieked.
“You can’t be drinking on the job, Bert,” Hanson said, trying to sound reasonable. “You know that. You gotta get yourself under control.”
“You don’t know nothin’!” Bert yelled and stomped to the door that would take him to the part of the chow house that served as his rooms. He had an indoor water closet, a bedroom, and a sitting room back there. Hanson considered it “back there”, but it wasn’t to the back; it was an addition to the side of the building by Hanson when he first purchased the ranch. He wanted the person cooking for them to be comfortable and to be able to concentrate on the food. Bert wasn’t much of a social person so having his own living quarters served him well. Especially since he had to live there despite having a family. At times, Hanson wondered why Alice didn’t want her husband home every night. But that was none of his business.
Maybe it served him a little too well. He had taken advantage of the space and decided to get drunk from dawn to dusk since he had no other responsibilities other than cooking.
“Come with me, Bert. Let’s have a conversation.”
Once Hanson had his cook in the living quarters attached to the chow house, the man had calmed down some.
To Hanson’s dismay, however, the moment they were in there, Bert went to the cabinet which held a variety of liquor bottles and took one out.
Hanson went directly over to him and snatched the bottle from his hand. It caused Bart to cry out in despair and practically leap for the bottle to get it back. Hanson jerked it out of the shorter man’s reach.
“Huh-uh,” he said, shaking his head. “Not while I’m talking to you. You’re already three sheets to the wind. You don’t need any more of this.” He jabbed the top with his thumb and forced it off.
“What are you doing? You can’t drink my stuff!”
“I’m not planning to.” He went to the nearest window and opened it, holding his hand out and turning the bottle on its head so all the liquid would drain out. “I’m going to do this to all the other bottles you have, too, Bert. I expect you to dry out as much as possible. You’ll have to start looking for a new job soon.”
Bert frowned. At least he wasn’t too drunk to understand that he was losing his job.
“You can’t do that to me!” he cried.
“I don’t have a choice,” Hanson retorted coldly. “You’ve put yourself in this situation, buddy. And I don’t think I can help you anymore. You’re putting the lives of my workers at risk because you aren’t paying attention to the food you’re serving. You aren’t doing your job. I can’t keep a cook here who won’t cook. The whole point of this”—he spread his arms out to take in the whole area—“was so you could be comfortable while you work on recipes and plans and stock and inventory and supplies. But you don’t have any of those things in mind, I’m sure of it.”
The thought of Zoe Walsh back at the boarding house made him feel warm inside. Now that girl could cook. He hated to take a good thing from his friend, Jack, but he was going to ask her if she wanted to come and work for him.
In the meantime, he was fully prepared to give his cook one more chance. But only if he dried out as instructed.
“I don’t want to let you go, Bert. I have to. But I’m going to give you one last chance to save your job, okay?”
He saw the grateful look on the man’s face but couldn’t help feeling apprehensive. He’d seen it before. With some men, the drink was such a strong temptation, they weren’t able to say no. He wasn’t in a place to judge.
“Sit down and talk to me, Bert. Tell me what’s going on that’s making you do this. Remember when you came to work for me? You cooked that delicious meal for me in the big house. Is it harder for you to cook in the chow house? Do you not like cooking for the men? Tell me what the problem is.”
“The problem…” the man grumbled as he stumbled to the couch and dropped onto it as if he weighed a thousand pounds. “The problem…” He closed his eyes and shook his head before resting it back against the couch. A few seconds later he was snoring loudly, his mouth hanging open.
Hanson pushed himself from the chair he’d taken and walked to the liquor cabinet. He took out each bottle and dumped its contents out the window in the same spot. The liquid mixed with the Nevada mud, soaking in almost immediately.
The cook was still out when he left that half of the chow house. Hanson moved to the cupboards, opening them to see what canned goods and other offerings the cook had in there. He checked the basket and saw there were seven eggs left. The icebox held some cheese, a pint of milk, butter that had been churned in town packaged and delivered to the ranch, and a few other small items best served when kept cold.
“You men still hungry?” he asked, turning with the eggs, milk, cheese and butter in his hands. He set them on the tall counter along the back of the chow house. It was the perfect level for him to comfortably make food. He wondered if that counter was, in fact, too high for the shorter Bert. Maybe it made his working life harder. Hanson vowed to remember to look into installing a lower counter for someone shorter than his six-foot-three.
He heard a positive outcry from the men still seated at the tables. A few had left.
He whipped up scrambled eggs and took a loaf of bread, slicing it for each of them to have some. He sat with them, astonished by how much was available when he was done. He hadn’t realized it would make such a good amount of food.
Before they left, each ranch hand slapped him on the shoulder and thanked him heartily for the breakfast he made. He told each of them they would be rewarded for their patience soon enough. He would do something about Bert. As much as he hated to let anyone go, he would have to fire him. Perhaps he could find another more suitable job for the man. Perhaps in a prison somewhere—cooking, not serving time.
He went ahead and gathered up the plates left behind by his men. That was normally another job Bert was obligated to take care of. He washed the plates off with the pump he’d had installed over the two-barrel sink. He stacked them in the cupboard and did the same with the mugs and utensils that were used. When he left that kitchen, he would leave it spotless and he would be proud of himself. He always like to finish a task not just successfully but completely.
He took a cloth and went around to all the tables, wiping them down. The men weren’t messy and there were no children to clean up after, so it didn’t take much effort. Hanson thought quietly about his life while he went about cleaning up. He was mostly content with how things were going. His father and mother wrote to him frequently. They would be taking a trip overseas soon and he was a little worried about that. He didn’t really trust boats, not that he had a reason not to—he’d never actually been on one. He just didn’t trust anything that claimed it could float from one oceanfront to another miles and miles away. He was sure there were far more lost boats and lost people because of those boats than was reported.
He had to admit that supplies did reach him and everyone else fairly consistently. He couldn’t say that he’d heard of any boats not delivering supplies as promised.
Still, it was a scary thought and he was sure he would never actually go out on the water himself. He couldn’t imagine such a thing. It made him queasy to his stomach when he thought of it.
Going back to the cupboards in the kitchen, Hanson passed his eyes over the canned and jarred goods that were there. This time, his intention was to take a photograph in his mind of the contents that he would revert to when he went to pick up supplies. He never had to make a list; he just remembered.
He was about to leave when he heard Bert’s voice behind him.
He turned and raised his eyebrows at the cook.
“Can I talk to you a minute?”
“Of course, Bert.” He held out one hand to the first table closest to the man. “Sit down. Let’s talk.”
“Sharing Love’s Secret Recipe” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Zoe Walsh is a cheerful yet quiet young woman having her time evenly distributed between helping at her parent’s bakery and working as a chef in the town’s boarding house. As her cooking skills are highly appreciated by the patrons, she unexpectedly receives a job offer from a handsome rancher to work on his behalf. While at first, she is reluctant to forsake her peacefully settled life, an unfortunate incident will make her reconsider the proposition.
Will she dare give everything up for a better chance by his side?
Hanson Tuttle runs his successful ranch uneventfully until his workers start getting sick due to spoiled food. Being rather desperate to find a reliable cook, he turns to the talented lady at the boarding house he frequently stays at. If he could only persuade her to follow him, far away from all she holds dear…
Could she be the one to touch his lonely heart?
With a common interest paving the way, Zoe and Hanson will have to face multiple challenges to reach their happiness. Will the mutual attraction they both feel manifest itself as they become closer and closer? Or will they bury it forever out of fear, losing their chance in love?
“Sharing Love’s Secret Recipe” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.