The New York Times bestselling author of If Catfish Had Nine Lives returns to Broken Rope, Missouri, where ghosts of the Old West seek assistance from country cooks and amateur sleuths Betts Winston and her grandmother.
With summer tourists flocking to Broken Rope, locals volunteer to keep chaos to a minimum. Old West skits are running smoothly, actors are behaving, and stagecoach rides are more popular than ever, but when a spectral visitor appears by ghost train, it’s a job only Betts and Gram can handle.
Gram soon starts having nightmares about their ghostly visitor’s demise. And if a ghost and the hot summer weather weren’t making things sticky enough, one of the town’s volunteers—a man notorious for having more than his fair share of ex-wives—is murdered. When Jerome, Bett’s otherworldly friend, makes an unsettling appearance, this simmering double mystery becomes a recipe for disaster.
Includes delicious recipes!
About the Author
Paige Shelton is the author of the New York Times bestselling Farmers’ Market Mysteries, including Bushel Full of Murder, Merry Market Murder, A Killer Maize, and Crops and Robbers. Previous books in the Country Cooking School Mysteries include If Catfish Had Nine Lives, If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion, If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance, and If Fried Chicken Could Fly. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband and son. When she’s up early enough, one of her favorite things is to watch the sun rise over the Wasatch Mountains.
Read an Excerpt
At first the mournful whistle sounded far away and lonely. I was asleep and I liked the noise, as though it were part of a sad but hopeful dream. But then it became less a part of the dream and more the thing that was waking me up.
I sat up in bed and tried to gather my weary senses. I was home. Cliff wasn’t with me. Why? I remembered—he was in St. Louis picking up some equipment. He should be back tomorrow, or was that later today?
The train whistle sounded again, its volume much louder and its pitch high enough that it would surely hurt my ears if I was standing close to it.
I didn’t live anywhere near train tracks.
“Oh. Not true,” I said aloud with a sleep-cragged voice.
Clumsily, I rolled out of bed. I pulled a shirt and some shorts out of my dresser and threw them on over my nightshirt. I grabbed my phone, noticing that it was 3:04 in the morning, and hurried through and then out of the house, stopping short when I got to my small front porch.
My house was located on a dead-end street; the dead-end part, the spot where now there was just an open field of neglected grass, was once home to the Broken Rope train station. In its heyday and before Route 66 was the Route 66, this spot of Missouri saw lots of train traffic, and the area where my house was now located had been a thoroughfare, busy with travelers coming and going. I wasn’t old enough to have any memories of the station, of course, but my best friend and the town historian, Jake, had shown me pictures. Black and white renditions of women in tight-waisted long dresses and hats that made my neck ache just by looking at them, and men in heavy suits and ties posing in front of oily black engines that spat out white clouds of steam. There weren’t many smiles in those pictures. I liked to tease Jake that it was because those posing for the pictures were so miserable in their heavy, tight, and itchy clothing. He insisted that it was because back then everyone had such lousy teeth.
The field was five houses away, and currently no longer a field. Well, it probably still was a field, but I was seeing it differently. I was seeing it as it was back during the late 1800s when those long skirts and thick suits were all the rage, and back when people dressed up when they traveled.
I was both concerned and fascinated, but more intrigued than anything else. I knew what was going on and it wasn’t an unusual occurence—for me, as well as for my gram, Missouri Anna Winston. I’d become used to seeing and communicating with ghosts from Broken Rope’s past, so I knew the scene being played out at the end of the street was something that would contain at least one specter searching for attention from someone still alive. Mostly, my and my grandmother’s ghosts were pretty harmless, but there were moments when the danger they brought with them was real and present-day, and potentially deadly.
I stepped slowly and carefully down the porch steps, pausing again at the bottom. The train I’d heard approaching the station came into view nose-first, its squeaky brakes and loud whistle announcing that it was about to stop completely. I sniffed deeply and found a scent—flowers, a big, assorted bouquet of flowers. Or was that a neighbor’s garden? I couldn’t be totally sure, but the scent was so strong, so pure, that I thought that it was most likely attached to a visiting ghost.
The station platform was on the other side of the slowing train, so my view of whatever was going on there was about to be blocked. I looked around, confirmed that no one was watching me or peering through their windows, and then hurried down the street. I stepped in front of the now stationary locomotive and over the seemingly very real train tracks. Those few steps transported me almost fully into the past. Different than some time I’d spent in an old bakery, I could still see my house and neighborhood in their present-day state, though all the houses, streetlights, and cars were dim and murky and much less real than the feel of the wood planks shifting with my weight as I moved onto the platform.
The station was a long, wide, one-story building that ran along the back of the platform, made of what looked like the same pinewood planks under my feet. There were two doors in its middle, both currently open wide. To the right of the doors was a small window where I assumed long-ago tickets had been purchased. I stepped toward the doors and peered inside. There were two more ticket booths along one wall. The rest of the space was filled with rows of benches, also made of the same pinewood. The handiwork on the benches was much more utilitarian than I might have pictured it to be. Perhaps it was the movies of my time that made me think of curved, ornate arms and slanted backs, but these benches were simple, straight-backed seats that must have offered respite to only the weariest of travelers. The row of windows along the back wall seemed odd in a couple of ways. Daylight streamed through them, and they were made of glass and what looked like fancy wrought-iron frames. They looked almost elegant against the light pine everywhere. The contrast of the thick Missouri woods bathed in bright sunlight on the other side of the windows made me wonder why and when all the trees had been razed to make way for the present-day vacant grass field that now extended at least a hundred yards back.
As I turned toward the train, more images began to appear. With faded beginnings, people quickly formed and solidified, becoming dimensional and bathed in the same long-ago sunlight that lit the trees.
“But, Papa, I’m so very hungry,” a small girl with black curls and big green eyes said to a man with matching features who held her hand tightly.
“I know, Mary, but we’ll spoil our dinner if we eat the peanuts right now. Save them. Grandmama will have dinner on the table when we get there. Don’t ask me again.”
“All right,” she said with a sigh of disappointment.
With her bottom lip stuck out, she looked up at me. I smiled and waved, but she didn’t respond, didn’t even blink. Did she not see me?
An older gentleman who was still spry enough to be moving at a quick clip had his eyes on the pocket watch he held as he beelined directly toward me. I stepped to the side, but not quickly enough to avoid him completely. His left arm went right through me. I felt nothing, but it was one of those weird ghost things that I would probably never get used to.
It seemed that none of these ghosts saw me, which was a first. Usually, if there was a ghost in the general vicinity, they could see and communicate with both me and Gram. It was what I thought “this” was all about—we could see and talk to them because they could see and talk to us. But the ghost rules had already proved to be fluid, changing at least a little bit with each new ghostly guest.
I wondered what was going on, but didn’t sense any danger. I decided I could either go home and go back to bed or stay and wait for whatever happened next, discover if anyone would “see” me eventually.
So many ghosts materialized that the platform became crowded. Even though I could not feel anyone’s touch or any sort of breeze their movements stirred up, I became uncomfortable and a little claustrophobic. No one was dodging me, and it was impossible for me to dodge everyone else, so I wove my way to a spot close to the building’s doors and out of the main streams of traffic. I heard their voices as they hurried to purchase tickets and sped toward the train or from it and toward whoever was greeting them. I saw their faces and expressions clearly, but still no one saw me.
My fascination with this step back into another time wore thinner with each passing moment. It was late and I did have to get up early the next morning. Perhaps I could ignore all the noise that I was almost a hundred percent sure I’d still hear from my house and catch a few more hours’ sleep. But just as I made that decision, something changed.
The scent of flowers grew stronger, filling my nose so fully that a small twinge of sinus pain shot through my head. It mellowed quickly, becoming lighter and pleasant.
A ghost came through the doors, stepping from the inside of the station to the outside platform. She was stunning; the kind of beautiful that made it almost impossible to look away from her. I wanted to study her, see the specifics of her appeal. Since I didn’t think she could see me, I figured I could stare all I wanted.
She was tall and small-waisted—probably from a tight corset—she was curvy enough not to be called skinny, but thin enough not to be called chubby. Her neck was long and swanlike. Her dark skin was smooth and flawless and she had high, delicate cheeks. Her nose was button, but for some reason it fit well with her grown-up features. The sadness in her brown eyes was so palpable that when they pooled with tears my heart ached sympathetically.
“I’m so sorry,” I said quietly.
She looked at me, blinked back the tears and then opened her eyes wide. “Oh my, dear, where are your clothes? Here, let me give you my coat.” She made a move to unbutton the thin outer layer that looked like it was part of her dress.
“Oh,” I said as I looked at myself. “No, I’m fine, thank you anyway. You can hear me? See me?”
“Of course, silly thing, but what are you doing without so much as some good underpinnings on?”
As she continued to unbutton, the scene changed again. Suddenly, it was just she and I on the platform. The steam engine remained and puttered in the background. All the other ghosts disappeared.
She looked up and around and then at me. “Gracious, this is odd. Where did everyone go?” She stopped unbuttoning and took a large step toward the locomotive. Her fingers moved to a simple chain around her neck.
“Uh . . . I’m Betts, Isabelle Winston,” I said as I stepped next to her. “This is all strange because it’s not part of what is happening in present time. My grandmother is Missouri Anna Winston. Perhaps you know her?”
She looked at me and blinked. “I do not know your grandmother and I don’t quite understand what you mean. At all.”
Since the ghosts’ memories were sometimes scrambled when they first arrived, it could take time for them to acclimate, but if this was this ghost’s first visit it would also be my first visit without Gram to help me through the introductions. I thought about one of our previous experiences.
“May I ask your name?” I said.
“Grace,” she said absently as she searched the platform.
“Well, Grace, this is bound to be strange, but you are currently visiting the twenty-first century. This scene,” I waved my arm, “is something from the past.” I swallowed hard before I said the next part because it seemed so cruel, but Gram had told me that there was no need to be delicate. The ghosts’ realization that they were no longer a part of the living world couldn’t possibly harm them, and the sooner they knew the truth the better it was for them, and for her and me.
“Can you tell me what you think the date is?” I said.
“Of course. It’s August 16, 1888.”
“Actually, it isn’t. You died long ago, Grace. You’re just back visiting Broken Rope, a long time after you lived. My Gram and I are the only ones you will be able to communicate with.”
“I don’t understand. I’m in Broken Rope?”
I was surprised that this was the most curious part of what I’d just told her, but I said, “Yes.”
“I made it then, I made it,” she said as she stepped back, turned and looked around. “Is he here?”
“Robert. Is he here?” She continued to search.
“I don’t see anyone else around,” I said. “There were other people here a few minutes ago, but I don’t know who Robert is.”
“Oh, oh no. This isn’t right,” she said.
“What isn’t right?”
“This is not the Broken Rope station,” she said.
I felt words of protest rise in my throat—how could this be another station? We were in Broken Rope. But then I realized she might be right. I stepped away from the building and looked around. I thought about the pictures Jake had shown me, and though the people in their interesting clothing and the oily black locomotive were parts of what I had seen, the station building I was currently looking at was not. In the pictures, the building had been diminished, a part of the backdrop, but I knew it had not been an uninteresting one-story made of simple, boring pine planks. In fact, I remembered that at one time Jake had gone on and on about the station building and how it had been an attraction in itself, how it was something he wished could be rebuilt for the tourists to see and experience. I tried hard to remember the building details, but I just hadn’t found it as interesting as the people and the trains.
“Where are we?” I asked Grace as I peered out toward my house. It was still there in the murky distance. I was relieved.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “But . . .”
I looked at the building, searching for a name, a town, a signpost of some sort. There was nothing. In fact, there were no words anywhere.
“Grace,” I said, “who is Robert?”
She blinked and then turned her confused attention toward me. “Robert Findlay was the man I was supposed to marry. I was to meet him in Broken Rope, and we were going to run away together.”
“Run away?” I said. “Why did you need to run away?”
“We had to find a place we would be accepted. I’m from Mississippi, Robert was from Broken Rope. We were going to go north, perhaps as far north as we could go.”
“Accepted?” I said, but then I thought I understood what she was getting at.
“Yes. Of course, a white man marrying a negro woman is not welcome in many parts.”
I cringed at the word negro, but I had to remember that in 1888 that word wasn’t unsettling or racist, and an interracial marriage most definitely wouldn’t have been welcomed back then, or, sadly, for some time afterward.
“Do you think you didn’t make it to Broken Rope?” I said.
Grace fell into thought and I was once again taken aback by her beauty. She was not pretty in a youthful way, but in a wise and strong but slightly sad way. It would be easy to see how men, and women too, of all different colors would have found their eyes drawn to her.
“I don’t know. Wait, I do think I made it to Broken Rope.” She glanced at the building, her eyebrows coming together. “I don’t know what or where this station is, though.”
“Your station, from Mississippi maybe? Was this the beginning of your trip?”
“No, I really don’t think so. I don’t remember the station from Mississippi, but something tells me this isn’t it.” She paused, stared blankly at the planks of the platform, and then looked back at me. “Something terrible happened to me, I’m almost sure. Do you know what that was?”
“I don’t. Try to remember some specifics,” I said.
A long few beats later, she said, “I was killed, murdered, I think.”
“Grace,” I said as I stepped closer to her. I reached for her hand, glad it was solid. “Listen to me, you can’t die twice. You’re probably getting a bunch of jumbled memories coming at you at once, and that’s normal, I promise. But you don’t need to be sad or worried or afraid. You died a long time ago. Whatever you remember can’t hurt you anymore, and things will become clearer—if you give it time and allow yourself the memories. You will know.”
Grace looked at me briefly, but her anxious eyes were still focused on the past. It was long ago, but I still didn’t understand how the passing of time worked for the ghosts.
“I was killed, murdered, that I’m sure of, though I don’t understand how I’m so sure. I would never have abandoned Robert. Never.” She looked at the station. “But perhaps I never did make it to Broken Rope. Oh, dear. He must have thought I didn’t want to join him. I don’t understand. Is there any chance you can help me understand?”
I sighed inwardly, but I tried not to let it show too much. There was a time not long ago that I would have said there was probably nothing I could do to help her. I wouldn’t have been cruel enough to tell her that the answers just didn’t matter anyway. The past was the past and dead was dead. But my perspective had changed. I had been able to “do things.” I had been able to help—maybe just a little, and while the historical facts hadn’t been altered, little changes had been made, little changes that somehow helped the ghosts deal with their tragic situations, though I didn’t totally understand what that meant. It didn’t matter that I never knew the end results. I was glad to be of some small assistance.
I looked at her, squeezed her hand as I smiled, and said, “Maybe.”
I made it back to bed at around 4:00 A.M., able to easily fall back to sleep and catch a couple more hours’ rest. That was something else that had changed. My visits with the ghosts didn’t keep me up all night. I didn’t spend as much time worrying about them or trying to figure out exactly what I could do for them. I wanted to help if I could, but I was beginning to take them more in stride. But as I swung my legs off my bed again, happy that I wasn’t too worn out, I recognized my own casual attitude and a chill zipped up my back.
“These are ghosts we’re talking about,” I said aloud to myself. “They are beings that aren’t supposed to exist. I should never, ever consider them just another part of my day or night, or as something not to worry about.”
My words were greeted by silence. I looked at the doorway and took a big sniff just to see if, perhaps, someone might have appeared. No unusual or strong smells. No scent of woodsmoke. No cowboy-hat-clad silhouette filling the space. No Jerome.
My first ghost, Jerome Cowbender, and I had formed a complicated relationship. I had a crush on the old dead cowboy; I was pretty sure he had a crush on me. Of course, as a real relationship, it could never work; ghosts and live people should probably not develop crushes on each other. The heart does what the heart does, though, no matter how much you will it not to.
I thought I’d gotten better. During Jerome’s last visit, I hadn’t kissed him on the lips—this was a good start. I told him we needed to quit flirting. He’d agreed.
Fortunately my live boyfriend, Cliff, and I had continued to expand our relationship. Things had only gotten better and better between the two of us. We’d been high school sweethearts, but a decade or so later, after a few career changes, post his marriage and divorce and his return to Broken Rope, we had what I thought was a bright new outlook on the kind of couple we could be. Things were going great.
Except for one thing. Okay, well, maybe two.
The first one was that Cliff was a smart guy and he had sensed that something wasn’t quite right. I’d tried not to let my weird and probably morally corrupt feelings for the dead ghost (whom he could neither see nor communicate with) show. I’d tried to make those feelings disappear, actually. But Cliff had picked up on the fact that there was something “in between” us, something keeping me from jumping all the way into what Cliff and I could be. I told him that the “something” wasn’t his imagination, but it also wasn’t something he needed to be concerned about. There was a very weird component in my life that might make me seem distracted, but it didn’t change how I felt about him. I even offered to tell him what it was if he really, truly wanted to know. But he needed to be more than one hundred percent sure he wanted to know because—and I said this a million times—it was unquestionably weird. Before he left for the weekend, he mentioned that he decided he wanted to know the full story, and he wanted to hear it this week when he got back. My mind was working double-time to try to figure out the best way to tell him the truth. I was ready and willing, but still working on the right combination of words and the best approach.
The second thing was simply this: No matter how much I loved Cliff, how often I saw us having a future together, how much stronger we had become, how I told him that he didn’t need to be concerned about my feelings for him—and I believed that statement, mostly—I still could not stop thinking about Jerome. I tried. I beat myself up over it. But it didn’t work. This was not good, of course, and Cliff deserved better. Unfortunately, I was just selfish enough that I wanted him to accept the messed-up me. I wanted my live man and my ghost, too.
I glanced at the doorway one more time.
As I got ready, I decided I would find Jake later and discuss Grace and her situation with him. Though he couldn’t see or communicate with them either, he knew all about the ghosts and was typically more than willing to lend a hand in uncovering their histories. For now, I forced the majority of my thoughts away from the ghosts and toward present-day activities.
Summer in Broken Rope was our busy tourist season. All of Gram’s and my most recent crop of full-time cooking students had recently completed their nine-month training and were off beginning or continuing their food-centered careers. The school year had been unusual and punctuated by murder and danger, but then ultimately successful, turning out some stunning cooks and bakers. We were as proud as we could be and hoped next fall’s students would be even better.
As the classes wound down and we kicked off the part-time evening classes with Vegetables and Why Cheese Makes Them All Taste Better, I had been recruited to assist with a new Broken Rope summer tourist attraction. One of our part-time night students (we called them “nighters”), Roy Acres, presented a proposition to the vegetable class: Did anyone want to help him with one of his inventions? It seemed that Jake had originally approached Roy with the idea of motorized wagons. Big Old West wagons, not small red ones.
Roy was not only a country boy with a heart as big as all of Missouri, he’d also been trained as a mechanical engineer. Through the fine art of what he called “tinkering” he’d created more farm machinery around Broken Rope than you could shake a tractor at.
His experiments and inventions could be found in barns and on farms all around Missouri. Perhaps there were even some in Kansas. Most were successful and useful, but not all. Jake had attached one of Roy’s fertilizing implements to his riding mower. Unfortunately, things weren’t balanced correctly and the getup didn’t move quite right. After narrowly escaping the mower’s lethal blade when it tipped over and landed precariously close to Jake’s leg, the attachment was removed and discarded. Roy abandoned that particular idea. However, he still had lots of successful inventions; one of them being his motorized wagons. He’d made three, all of them fondly named Trigger, followed by the numbers one, two, or three. They were exactly what they sounded like: wagons with motors and steering wheels. Roy had created them because of growing concern about the horses—well, both the horses and the tourists that filled the town’s Main Street during the summer. Broken Rope’s popularity had continued to grow. We had more tourists than ever visiting our little town. In years past, we’d used horse-drawn wagons to escort people down Main Street, pointing out and talking up the highlights. The horses never seemed to mind and the crowd was controllable enough to stay on the boardwalks. Not so much anymore. Neither the horses nor the tourists were having as much fun lately. There was just too much activity. So Roy created the wagons, and they’d become one of our more popular attractions. Everyone loved to ride the funny-looking things that seemed like a cross between a wagon and a jalopy. The tourists were happier, so were the horses.
Not only were they easier to control, the Triggers’ top speed was less than ten miles per hour and the side boards were padded for comfort, at least more comfort than the original wagons offered. Safety first with the added bonus of more comfort were always good things.
My summer volunteer job was to drive a Trigger one day a week, every Monday. The task was much less wearing than some of the other jobs I’d had in the past; things like acting (which I was not good at) and clean-up duty (which I was okay at but didn’t enjoy). This was the first year I got to do something that allowed me to spend more time talking to and getting to know our visitors and I enjoyed my new semi-ambassadorish role.
The invitation to participate had been almost an accident, a convergence of unexpected events. Gram and I had both been surprised by Roy’s interest in our night classes. Anyone who knew Roy would find his desire to cook vegetables, or anything, curious.
But the mystery was solved when we learned that he had met someone on an Internet dating site. Roy and the “fiery woman from Iowa’s” plans were to meet in person at the end of the summer and Roy wanted to be able to cook for her since she “was searching for someone who could handle themselves in the kitchen” because, apparently, she couldn’t. Roy told Gram he would be participating in all our nighttime classes throughout the summer.
One night a few weeks earlier, as the vegetable class was discussing the questionable need in the world for Brussels sprouts, Roy asked everyone in attendance if they’d be willing to be his drivers. Except for Gram, we all agreed enthusiastically. I was glad to have a task already in place when the cleaning crew came looking for volunteers, and I’d had a few great Mondays so far. I was looking forward to the rest of the summer behind a Trigger’s wheel.
Not only was Monday my drive day, it was also the drive crew meeting day. I wanted to be early to the meeting, which was being held at the cooking school, so I hurried to get ready. As I bounded down the front porch stairs toward my old Nova, I glanced down the street to the spot where I’d met Grace. I slowed as I thought I saw something else coming into view.
It was faint at first, an outline and then some faded colors that became a little stronger, a little deeper. Not much stronger or deeper, though, because it was daytime and the ghost world wasn’t solid in the sunlight.
As far as I could tell, the building I saw was tall, two stories with a wide front porch, its ceiling held up by four columns across the front. The top floor, with three large windows, stuck out all the way over the porch. The walls were bright red and the windows were framed by white shutters.
The last two things that came into view were the sign across the front that said BROKEN ROPE and the figure of a man sitting on a bench on the wide platform. No other people appeared, just the man who had leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. There was no train, but I knew I was seeing the real Broken Rope station, the one from the past.
“That’s more like it,” I said aloud, now better remembering the building from Jake’s pictures. They’d been black and white so my mind hadn’t preserved them exactly like what was coming into view, but the image was close enough.
“And I bet I know who you are.”
I looked at the time on my phone. I would probably be a little late, but I needed to talk to the man on the bench.
I hurried down the street, feeling less secure about my activities in the daylight. I didn’t think anyone had observed my actions last night but if anyone was watching now, they’d wonder what I was doing in the otherwise vacant grass field.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t miss the opportunity.
I scurried, furtively looking in all directions, probably being way too obvious.
When I reached the tracks, I slowed. They were like the ones last night—in good condition. There were present-day tracks in that spot, but unusable and grown over. I glanced to the right and to the left. Though I didn’t see a train, I was hesitant to cross. I’d seen the train last night, watched it stop. Ghost trains could appear out of nowhere, and though a ghost train probably couldn’t hurt me, I didn’t want to test the theory.
Finally, I stepped over quickly and then up to the platform. I felt sturdy planks beneath my feet and a new scent filled the air. It was earthy, perhaps musky. I couldn’t place its organic form but it reminded me of a subtle men’s cologne, perhaps something my dad had once worn when I was a little girl.
“Mr. Findlay?” I said when the man sitting on the bench didn’t look up right away.
He brought his head up slowly and then squinted in my direction. It was difficult to distinguish his features, but he had a pleasant face, though it didn’t seem happy to see me.
“Help you?” he said.
“Well . . .” I began.
He sat up straighter and squinted harder. “Who are you, young lady? You’re wearing more men’s clothes than women’s. Why is that?”
“Do you know where you are, Mr. Findlay?”
“Of course. I’m at the Broken Rope, Missouri, train depot.” He looked around and his eyebrows came together.
“You are,” I said with a smile. “Sort of.”
“You’re not making sense,” he said, but I heard the doubt in his tone. He suspected something was wonky.
I recalled my spiel with Grace. Though it wasn’t easy to tell someone they were dead, my limited experience had taught me that the ghosts never fought the truth too much. Once they were told they were dead, they seemed to move quickly past that one unchangeable hitch in their bizarre existence. When I told him that he’d died a long time ago he didn’t seem to want to argue the point.
“I’m part of what would be your time’s future. My name is Betts Winston. My grandmother, Missouri Anna Winston, and I are able to talk to ghosts from Broken Rope’s past. Do you know my grandmother? She’s known as Miz.”
“I don’t believe I do,” he muttered.
“Other than this trip, can you recall ever coming back to Broken Rope after you died?”
“No. It doesn’t seem possible,” he said.
“Seems to be possible around here. Broken Rope’s wild and crazy past must have made quite the impression on time. I look at it as if something got stuck or hung up—pardon the bad pun—somewhere.”
“I see.” He blinked, looked around again and then back at me. “Young lady, if when I was alive I had seen someone who was dead, a ghost, I would be concerned and scared. You seem fine with the whole idea.”
“You’re not my first ghost. I’ve met a few, but I was most definitely concerned and scared when I met the very first one.”
“I imagine so. I guess I wonder what am I doing here. Why am I here? And what are you doing here in your pants and unladylike shirt?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I suspect it has something to do with Grace,” I said.
“How do you know about Grace?” He stood. “Is she here?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I said.
He stepped forward and then to his right and his left, stopping at the doorway of the station.
“Do you see anyone else?” I asked, because I saw no ghost other than Robert.
“No,” he said as he remained in the doorway. An instant later, he turned and looked at me. “I suppose me being dead has something to do with that.”
“Maybe. There aren’t a lot of clear rules to this stuff. And when they become a little clear, they change. But for now, all I see is you and me. And . . . well, last night I saw Grace.”
“You did? Here?”
“Not here, exactly, but at another station, though that station was here in the same spot as this station.” I sighed. “I’m sure that doesn’t make sense.”
“Doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make sense. Tell me about Grace. How was she?”
“She was sad,” I said. “She hoped to make her way to you, but I was under the impression that never happened.”
“No, I don’t think it did,” Robert said. “I . . . I waited. I came back day after day for a very long time, but Grace never joined me in Broken Rope. That was our plan, you know. She was going to meet me here and we were going to run away together.”
“She told me.”
“I don’t know what happened to her.”
“I have a little more news,” I said, “but you won’t like it.”
Robert frowned and then squinted again. I hadn’t noticed that he’d been holding a hat, but he started to rub his finger over the brim as he inspected me this time. “How could it possibly matter that I won’t like it? I’m dead. I’m assuming Grace is, too.”
“Yes.” I cleared my throat. “Grace said she was killed, that she was trying to get to you, but she was killed—not accidently, but murdered.”
As transparent as Robert was, it was a surprise to see his face become paler. He returned to the bench and sat. “Murdered?”
“Someone must have realized what she was doing, coming to me, a white man. Of course you know how difficult it is for people of different skin colors to be in love.”
“Things have changed a little over time, Robert, but not completely yet. Prejudice still exists, but there are many biracial couples now living happy lives together without the need to run away or hide.”
He looked up and blinked at me. “How wonderful. How incredible.” He moved his eyes back to the platform. “We were born in the wrong time, I suppose, Grace and I.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“No matter.” The set of his jaw was now straightened with determination. “I guess the only thing that matters now is Grace. I would like to know who murdered her. I realize it’s too late to truly acquire justice, but isn’t knowing the truth always a good thing, and somehow its own form of justice? And, perhaps there’s a hope that she and I might be together now. Oh, wouldn’t that be the most amazing thing?”
“I think it would be,” I said.
“What shall we do, Betts Winston? How shall we proceed?”
“I’m not sure, yet, Robert, but I promise I’ll try to figure it out.”
“Anyone else having starter problems?” Roy asked.
Everyone except April and Todd shook their heads.
“Good,” Roy said. “April, Todd, I’ll get that taken care of before your next shifts. What are you two—Tuesday and Friday?”
“I’m Tuesday,” April said.
“I’m Friday,” Todd added.
“Not a problem. It will be done,” Roy said.
We were sitting around one of the large center butcher blocks in the cooking school. Gram had come in early to make us breakfast, effectively turning the meeting into one of the more delicious get-togethers we’d had. It was unlike Gram to spend much time in the school, other than the night classes, during the month of June. This was usually her time off. I’d been surprised to find her Volvo out front and then her inside along with the scents and sounds of cooking bacon, eggs, biscuits, and gravy.
“Making some grub for the Trigger crew, Betts. After the meeting, I need to talk to you, okay?” she’d said.
I’d said that would be no problem but I became immediately concerned regarding the subject matter of our conversation. Gram was acting strangely. Though she loved any form of cooking and baking, there was something forced in her breakfast preparation, in her voice. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to ask her any more questions because the rest of the Trigger drivers started arriving, and it was obvious that Gram didn’t want our conversation overheard by anyone else. She disappeared toward the back of the school the second she had the food dished onto serving platters.
Roy Acres led the meetings. They were about his Triggers, after all. After we ate and chatted about some of our adventures with the tourists, Roy got to the business at hand and wanted to know if we were having any problems, questions, or concerns. In the few weeks we’d been driving the vehicles, the problems had been few and far between and never anything serious.
The Triggers were stored in an old, big barn right behind Bunny’s Restaurant on the edge of town. As far as I could tell, Roy never slept or ate, but drank lots of coffee and was always tinkering with the machines. We all joked with him that he’d upgrade and improve them so much by the end of the summer that there would probably be flames painted down their sides and they’d hover instead of move with wheels.
Roy was in his mid-fifties, and along with a constant cup of coffee in his reach, he always wore plain white T-shirts, except on him they rarely remained plain or white for very long. Grease and dirt spots decorated the shirts and I frequently tried to interpret the resulting shapes. Just the other day, I saw a monkey hanging from a tire swing. Even though it was early, there were already a couple spots showing, though I couldn’t make them into pictures yet.
Roy also always wore tan work pants, the type you’d see on construction workers in the winter. I never understood why he wore the thick, heavy pants, particularly during our hot and humid summers.
He kept his dark hair short and I was certain that behind his thick glasses were pretty blue eyes, but he was so far-sighted that the lenses enlarged his eyes to buglike, alarming proportions.
He was a true gentleman and a sweetheart, and I’d always been sad that he had never married, never even really dated anyone. When he told us about his interest in cooking classes because of a potential new romance, I’d been thrilled, almost to the point of pitching him some wardrobe ideas, but I hadn’t wanted to offend him.
“I just thought of something, Roy,” Lynn said. “There’s a tear on the back seat cushion on Trigger Two. Did you notice that, Derek?”
“No, but I don’t think I checked back there last time I drove her,” Derek said.
The group of Trigger drivers/nighters was eclectic. Lynn and Derek Rowlett, the drivers of Trigger Two that operated on Thursdays and Saturdays, were family. Derek and Roy knew each other from way back. Derek was also in his mid-fifties. He was a handyman by trade and he’d been married a number of times, though I’d lost track of how many exactly. Derek was not an attractive man; in fact, Gram had said more than once, “that poor man sure got a lot of bad cards dealt to him.” Looks are easily forgotten, though, if someone is pleasant to be around, but adding to his unattractiveness, he also wasn’t all that pleasant—he was rude and petty like his mother. He could also be quiet and sullen and usually seemed to blend into the background. His wives, the Mrs. Rowletts, must have seen something in him that Gram and I didn’t because they’d all apparently become smitten enough to answer his proposal in the affirmative. I didn’t think any of the marriages had lasted long, but I’d never spent much time looking into the matter. Since he’d started taking the class, I’d shallowly wondered a time or two if the attraction had something to do with money he might have inherited from a rich relative, but Gram was certain he wasn’t rich.
Excerpted from "If Onions Could Spring Leeks"
Copyright © 2015 Paige Shelton.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“I’m addicted to [these] mysteries…Ghosts, history of the Old West, and cooking are blended together skillfully.”—Lesa’s Book Critiques
“[A] blue ribbon–winning recipe for a tasty read.”—Jenn McKinlay, New York Times bestselling author
“Shelton lets readers hit the ground running.”—Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Betts Winston and her Paternal Grandmother, Mizz, run a country cooking school in the town of Broken Rope, Missouri. Not only do they run the cooking school, they both hear voices and see thing…ghostly voices and things that is. Having been born with the gift of being able to interact with ghosts, Betts is tasked with solving the murder of the young, beautiful Grace from the xx00s who was murdered while en route to meeting the man she loved, XXX. While everyone always says you can’t be hurt by ghosts and apparitions, Betts may have something different to say about that as she enters their ghostly world from the past. There’s a whole lot of activity going on in Broken Rope, and not all of it is part of the Wild West shows the town puts on for tourists in honor of their Wild West history. Oh no, there’s also spectral activity going on too. Not only is there a visit from ghosts past, the murder of a local town resident brings a ghost from the present and a second murder to solve. Toss in a ghostly love interest and you’ve got yourself a recipe for love, mystery, and murder! An enjoyable and fun read, this was the first book I have read by Paige Shelton and while it is the fifth in the Country Cooking School Mystery series, I certainly did not feel like I was missing chunks of information for not having read the first four books. I’m gong to get books 1-4 and spend some time catching up with Betts and her friends, both living and dead.
I’m always surprised when I start a book in this series because I’m thinking it’s only a culinary cozy, which it is, but it’s also a paracozy. And what a fun paracozy it was! Any fan of the Country Cooking School Mystery series is going to be simply thrilled with this installment. Author Paige Shelton wasted no time in getting the mystery and action going in this story. It started on page one and didn’t slow down until almost the last chapter. With all the twists and turns, then the surprising reveal, this was one of the best in the series so far. Author Sheldon is going to have a lot of work to do to top this one. But I have no doubt she will! The characters in this series are wonderful. I adore Betts and Grams. Just the thought of being a “ghost whisperer” with my grandmother is outrageous. But it sure is fun to read about with this pair. And I’m head over heels for ghostly Jarome. Rather you prefer traditional cozies, culinaries, or paracozies you’re going to be thrilled with IF ONIONS COULD SPRING LEEKS. Ms. Shelton also included 5 yummy recipes. Make sure to look for them in the back of the book!
Shelton has this cozy mystery series as well as a 'Farmers' Market' series. This series is my favorite of the 2, but they're both good. This one revolves around a cooking school in an Old West style tourist town in Missouri. The teachers at the school (aunt & her niece) also assist ghosts in solving mysteries surrounding their deaths. Sounds weird, but it works well. I found 2 other books ( 1 each for 2 different series) by Shelton. One is about a typewriter/stationers/book repair store in Utah, & the other is about a mysterious/magical antique & book store in Scotland. Neither is very good. They feel like they were written before she polished her voice & honed her skills. Old potential stories revived to fill time between new books in the more popular series, maybe? If they're new, she's lost focus.
Summertime in Broken Rope is a busy time for the tourist season, recreating Western skits and giving the audience a wonderful taste of the town's colorful history. But in addition to the history reenactments, Isabelle (Betts) and her grandmother also get to experience visits from some of the former ghostly residents, as they task the two of them to solve one mystery or another. In addition to the occasional ghostly visitor, Betts also receives visits from one handsome and affable ghostly cowboy, Jerome, whose presence is normally precipitated with a scent of wood smoke and brings with it a sense of romance that should not exist between human and ghost. In this story, Betts visits a ghostly train station and meets Grace, who was murdered on her way to be reunited with her love, Robert. The nature of her death appears to be horrific, so much so that it is haunting Gram's dreams. Was her death caused by Robert, the man she was going to meet, or was it caused by another, possibly racially motivated, as it was unacceptable for a black woman to be joined with a white man. In addition to resolving the ghosts issues, Betts also is involved in solving a more current murder, when the body of local resident, Derek, is found murdered in the barn. And this time its personal, because when Betts discovers his body, she is knocked unconscious by the killer and left for dead. With five ex-wives all living in the area, the possible murder suspects may be too much for Betts, and Jerome seems to be having a problem helping her to stay safe. I love this series and the connections between the ghosts and the town's history. The main characters are also interesting and I like the improving relationships between them, including her boyfriend, Cliff, her friend, Jake, her brother, Teddy, and of course, Gram. I look forward to the next book in this series to see how these relationships continue to progress.
I thoroughly enjoyed this cozy/paranormal mystery. This is the first book that I have read by this author and I can't wait to read more. The main characters were likeable and the story flowed well. This is the fifth book in the series but it can be read as a stand-alone book. It was full of mystery with a hint of romance and kept me guessing who did it. I highly recommend this book. I was given a copy of this book for an honest review.