Hannah has felt as bitter as November in Minnesota since Ross vanished without a trace and left their marriage in limbo. Still, she throws herself into a baking frenzy for the sake of pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving-themed treats while endless holiday orders pour into The Cookie Jar. Hannah even introduces a raspberry Danish pastry to the menu, and P.K., her husband’s assistant at KCOW-TV, will be one of the first to sample it. But instead of taking a bite, P.K., who is driving Ross’s car and using his desk at work, is murdered. Was someone plotting against P.K. all along or did Ross dodge a deadly dose of sweet revenge? Hannah will have to quickly sift through a cornucopia of clues and suspects to stop a killer from bringing another murder to the table . . .
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Hannah Swensen Barton glanced at the clock in the bedroom that she now slept in alone. There were tears in her eyes as she put on her warmest sweater. Her new husband, Ross Barton, had been gone for two weeks now and even though her youngest sister, Michelle, was staying with her at the condo, Hannah still felt terribly alone. It was easier during the day. When the sun had risen and it was no longer time to cuddle with Ross on their new couches or sleep beside him in their new king-size bed, she managed to convince herself that everything was going to be all right, that Ross was planning to come back to her. Then, with the sun shining brightly, it was possible to believe that the reason he'd taken their condo key and left all his other keys behind was proof that he planned to come home. But now, at five in the morning after spending a restless night, it was doubly difficult to convince herself that all would be well if she just waited patiently.
"Keep a positive attitude," she said aloud to her image in the mirror. "Ross will be home very soon and he'll explain everything." The words she spoke formed the mantra that she repeated every morning, even though she was fast losing hope. There had been no phone calls from Ross at The Cookie Jar, her bakery and coffee shop in Lake Eden, Minnesota, and no calls at night at their condo. She had no clue to his whereabouts or the reason he had left in the first place. It was as if her new husband had disappeared off the face of the earth and vanished into thin air without a trace.
A tear rolled down Hannah's cheek and she wiped it away with the back of her hand. It was a good thing she didn't wear makeup because the tears she'd shed during the long days and nights would have surely ruined it. As she picked up her hairbrush and attempted to tame her unruly red curls, she wondered if her appearance was at fault for Ross's defection. If she'd worn perfect makeup like her mother, Delores, and her fashionable sister, Andrea, would Ross still be with her? And if she'd been born with beautiful hair that looked cute in any style like her youngest sister, Michelle, would he be watching her admiringly as she got ready for work? Perhaps she should have tried harder to lose weight so that she could attain a perfect figure like the rest of the women in her family.
"If he'd just told me what was wrong, I could have fixed it," she told Moishe, turning to face her twenty-three pound, orange and white cat, who was nestled on Ross's pillow.
"Rowwww!" Moishe responded, and to Hannah's eyes, he looked outraged at the critical direction her mind was taking.
"Sorry, Moishe," she said, walking over to the bed to give him several comforting scratches and pats. "It's just that I keep trying to find answers and there aren't any."
"Rrrrrow," Moishe yowled again, and Hannah interpreted his response as an expression of sympathy. She was sure that Moishe missed Ross, too.
"I have to leave for work now," she told him. "But don't worry. Michelle and I will be back home in time to feed you your dinner."
Hannah shrugged into her parka and left the bedroom. She was just passing the guest room door as Michelle came out. Her youngest sister was holding a key ring in her hand. "Are these keys yours, Hannah?" she asked, handing them to Hannah.
Hannah examined the keys and shook her head. "They're not mine, but they look like the keys to Ross's car. I knew they must be here somewhere since it's still in his parking space. Where did you find them?"
"They were in the top drawer of the dresser in the guest room. They were sitting right on top of my warmest winter scarf. I never would have found them if I hadn't decided to use that scarf this morning."
"Well, I'm glad. I never thought to look there."
"That's understandable. I was really surprised when I found them. Why did Ross put them there?"
Hannah began to smile as her mind latched on to the obvious conclusion. "It's simple, Michelle. Ross wanted you to drive his car while he was gone. There's no other explanation."
"Are you sure?"
"The more I think about it, the more positive I am. He took the time to go into your room and put his car keys in your dresser drawer. There's no other reason he would have done that."
Michelle still looked doubtful. "But how do you feel about it? Do you want me to use Ross's car?"
"Why not? It should be driven. If it just sits there, it's not going to start when Ross comes home. He obviously wanted you to keep his car running for him."
"Well ... if you're sure ..."
Michelle began to smile. "I was going to ask Mother if I could borrow her car, but now I won't have to do that. It's a big relief!"
"Because Mother would say yes, but then she'd figure out some way to make you pay a couple of pounds of favors for the privilege?"
"Exactly!" Michelle headed toward the rug by the door where they kept their winter boots. She pulled on hers and then she slipped her shoes in the tote bag she was carrying.
"Take your time, Hannah," she said as she opened the outside door. "I'll help Lisa bake the dough we mixed up last night and get things ready in the coffee shop. Have another cup of coffee before you leave, and enjoy being a lady of leisure for a change."
"Thanks," Hannah said as Michelle went out and closed the door behind her. Then she shrugged out of her parka, draped it over the back of the couch, and went into the kitchen to pour herself another cup of coffee. The coffee was still hot enough to drink without reheating.
"A lady of leisure," she repeated Michelle's phrase to Moishe, who had followed her into the kitchen and seemed to be staring at her curiously as she took a seat at the kitchen table. "I'm not exactly sure what that is."
Moishe made no comment. Instead, he headed for his food bowl. As her feline roommate crunched kibble, Hannah stared out the window at the snow blowing past the pane. It had been less than three minutes since Michelle had walked out the door, and Hannah was already feeling guilty for not putting on her boots and following her sister to work.
"Either I'm not a lady, or I don't know the meaning of leisure," she told Moishe. "If you don't mind, I'm going to gulp down this coffee and drive to work."
* * *
A biting wind hurtled icy snow against Hannah's cheeks as she left the condo and hurried down the covered staircase to ground level. As she passed her downstairs neighbor's window, she noticed that the kitchen light was on. That meant Sue Plotnik was up fixing breakfast for her three-year-old boy, Kevin. His father, Phil Plotnik, would be home soon from his night supervisor shift at DelRay Manufacturing. Phil would eat breakfast with them and then Sue and Kevin would leave for her teaching job at Kiddie Korner, Lake Eden's preschool. Once they'd left, Phil would go to bed and sleep until Sue and Kevin got back home. It was a demanding schedule, but Sue and Phil had worked it all out. They'd spend the rest of the day together with Kevin until Phil went back to work again at eleven that night.
When Hannah started her Suburban, she noticed that the engine sounded a bit sluggish. It was time to start using her engine block heater and plugging her cookie truck in every night. The garage had a strip of outlets on the wall in front of the parking spaces for that purpose. There was also a strip of outlets in the parking lot at The Cookie Jar.
As Hannah drove to work, she thought about the busy days ahead. It was Monday, and Thanksgiving would arrive soon. That meant they had to prepare for the Thanksgiving baking. The orders for pumpkin pies, pumpkin scones, pumpkin cookies, and sugar cookies decorated with turkeys and pumpkins were already pouring in. The pumpkin pies could be made no more than a day in advance and the same was true for the scones and cookies. They could, however, mix some of the ingredients together ahead of time and have everything ready for the marathon of baking that was necessary on the two days before the November holiday.
For the most part, things had gone smoothly the previous year, but there were more orders this year. Hannah was thankful that she had help. Her partner, Lisa, was a dynamo in the kitchen. They also had Jack and Marge Herman, Lisa's father and stepmother, to handle the business in the coffee shop while they baked in the kitchen. This year, they had two additional bakers, Lisa's aunt Nancy, who was a genius at coming up with new recipes, and Michelle, who would pitch in when she wasn't busy with rehearsals. Part of Michelle's college curriculum was work study, and she was in town to direct the Thanksgiving and Christmas plays that their local community theater group was performing, and also to direct the high school junior class play, which would be performed between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
There was no traffic at this time of the morning, and Hannah pulled into her parking spot in back of The Cookie Jar much sooner than she'd expected. She got out of her cookie truck, locked the doors, plugged in her block heater, and hurried to the back kitchen door. When she came in, both Lisa and Michelle looked surprised.
"I thought you were going to take time for coffee," Michelle said by way of a greeting.
"I did, but coffee by myself was boring. I thought I'd have another cup with you two here."
"I'll pour some for you," Lisa offered. "And since we already have bar cookies in the oven, Michelle and I can take a break."
"How about a piece of Raspberry Danish?" Michelle asked Hannah. "Lisa was here early and she baked some company-size ones." She turned to Lisa. "It's cool enough to cut, isn't it?"
"It should be." Lisa turned to Hannah. "Aunt Nancy baked it for us when Herb and I went to her house for brunch last weekend. She gave me the recipe and I wanted to try it here."
"Is it difficult to make?"
"Not at all! I thought that if you like it, we could serve it here."
"That's a really good idea. We've never served any kind of Danish before, and I'm sure our morning customers would appreciate it. Personally, I just love Danish!"
Michelle smiled. "So does almost everyone I know. I think it would go over great, Hannah."
Lisa hurried to the bakers rack, removed a pan from one of the shelves, and carried it over to show Hannah. "Doesn't it look pretty?"
"It certainly does," Hannah told her. "And it smells wonderful, too. I love the scent of raspberries. If they could bottle it, I'd be tempted to use it as perfume."
Both Lisa and Michelle laughed. Then Michelle warned, "That would be dangerous, Hannah."
"Strangers everywhere would follow you around just so they could sniff you."
"I know Herb would," Lisa told her. "He ate three pieces at Aunt Nancy's brunch."
"Is it made with puff pastry dough?" Hannah asked.
"Yes, and I like it a lot better than the raspberry Danish you can buy in the bakery aisle at the store. Those taste like sweet rolls with raspberry jam on the top."
Hannah frowned. "The puff pastry could be a problem. I read through a recipe for that once, and it took hours to make. You had to mix it up and roll it out, put chunks of butter on the top, fold it up, and refrigerate it for a while, before you rolled it out again. I don't remember how many times you had to do that, but it was a lot. The recipe said that all the buttering and rolling was what made the dough tender and flaky."
"We don't have to make the dough from scratch," Lisa told her. "I used the frozen kind this morning. Aunt Nancy said she made puff pastry from scratch once, and the frozen dough is just as good."
"How about the raspberries?" Michelle asked her. "It's really hard to find a source for fresh raspberries in November."
"You can use either frozen or fresh. I used frozen and so did Aunt Nancy. She told me she uses fresh berries when she can get them, but frozen work just fine."
"Don't tease us by talking about it, Lisa," Michelle told her. "Cut the Danish and give us a piece. I've been dying to taste it ever since you took it out of the oven. The way I feel right now, I could eat the whole thing, all by myself."
Both Hannah and Michelle watched eagerly as Lisa placed the large Raspberry Danish on the stainless steel surface of the work table and picked up a knife to cut it. "Who wants the end piece?" she asked.
"I do!" Hannah said a split second before Michelle spoke.
"But so do I!" Michelle looked disappointed.
"Relax," Lisa told them. "Both of you can have an end piece. And I bet I know why you both wanted end pieces. You think there's more raspberry filling on the ends."
"Isn't there?" Hannah asked.
"No, but it looks like it. The raspberry filling is the same in every piece."
Once Lisa had cut the large pastry into pieces, she gave one end piece to Hannah and the other to Michelle. She took a middle piece, and there was silence for several moments as the three women sipped coffee and enjoyed their breakfast treat.
"What do you think?" Lisa asked when only a bite or two of her piece was left.
"I think I want another piece!" Hannah told her, and Michelle nodded agreement.
"So do I," Lisa admitted, getting more for all of them.
"I think our customers will want a second piece once they taste the first," Michelle said quickly. "Hannah and I have to test that theory."
Hannah looked thoughtful. "I wonder if there's a way we could make them individually."
"Good idea!" Lisa said. "Aunt Nancy and I will experiment. And we'll have a taste test to see if the individual Danish are as good as the large ones. Dad just loves Raspberry Danish and so does Marge. And Aunt Nancy's friend Heiti is crazy about her Danish."
"Check on the time it takes to make the individual Danish as compared to the large ones," Hannah told her. "The individual ones might not be cost effective."
"Good point," Lisa responded. "I didn't even think of that. I'll know after next weekend. Herb and I are having everyone over for Sunday brunch, and I'll tell you on Monday morning."
"One more piece, Lisa?" Michelle begged. "It was so good!"
Hannah stared at her youngest sister in awe. Michelle loved sweets and she ate cookies and other sweet treats whenever she wanted. If the world were fair, Michelle would weigh three hundred pounds by now. But her youngest sister somehow kept her perfect figure. Perhaps if she'd gone to the gym every day and worked out for an hour or so, or jogged miles in the morning, Hannah could understand it. But Michelle only went to the gym when she wanted to go, and Hannah had never seen her jog. Hannah had asked Doc Knight about it once, and he'd told her that the only explanation for Michelle and Andrea's failure to gain weight had to do with body chemistry, an active metabolism, and luck of the draw. He'd also said that no doctors he knew could really explain it and perhaps it was simply hereditary. Hannah figured that whatever it was, she didn't have it. It seemed as if she could simply walk by the bakers rack, glance at the cookies, or pies, or cakes cooling on the shelves, and she would gain weight. There were times when life just wasn't fair and there wasn't anything she could do about it.
* * *
DO NOT preheat your oven yet. You must do some preparation first.
Hannah's 1st Note: Frozen puff pastry dough is good for all sorts of things. When you buy it for this recipe, buy 2 packages. You'll only use one package in this recipe, but keep that second package in your freezer for later. Thaw it when you want to dress up leftovers by putting them inside little puff pastry packets and baking them, or make some turnovers from fresh fruit. Puff pastry can also be used for appetizers.
One 17.5-ounce package frozen puff pastry dough (I used Pepperidge Farm, which contains 2 sheets of puff pastry)
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon water (right out of the tap is fine) White (granulated) sugar to sprinkle on top
The Raspberry Sauce:
¾ cup fresh raspberries (you can also use frozen, but you'll have to thaw them and dry them with paper towels so they won't have an excess of juice)
2 Tablespoons water (right out of the tap is fine) ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (if you don't have it, use cinnamon)
1 and ½ Tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup white (granulated) sugar
The Cream Cheese Filling:
8-ounce package brick cream cheese, softened to room temperature (I used Philadelphia)
1/3 cup white (granulated) sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
The Drizzle Frosting:
1 and 1/4 cups powdered (confectioners) sugar (pack it down in the cup when you measure it)
¼ cup whipping cream (that's heavy cream, not Half & Half )
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Thaw both sheets of puff pastry dough according to package directions. Do this on a floured surface (I used a bread board). To prepare the surface, sprinkle on a little flour and spread it around with your impeccably clean palms.
Excerpted from "Raspberry Danish Murder"
Copyright © 2018 H.L. Swensen, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.