Features over Ten Cookie and Dessert Recipes from The Cookie Jar, including Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes and Chocolate Covered Peanut Cookies!
"Culinary cozies don't get any tastier than this winning series." --Library Journal
"Loaded with mouthwatering recipes and clever plotting, the latest Hannah Swensen mystery delights." --RT Book Reviews
"If your reading habits alternate between curling up with a good mystery or with a good cookbook, you ought to know about Joanne Fluke." --Charlotte Observer
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
RED VELVET CUPCAKE MURDER
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2013 H.L. Swensen, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"You're staring at me again!" Hannah Swensen emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of steam, a towel wrapped around her unruly red curls. She grabbed her favorite robe, shrugged into it quickly, and turned to face the only other occupant of her bedroom. "It's not polite to stare at me when I'm not wearing anything and you're sitting there in your fur coat."
When there was no response to her comment, Hannah sat down on the edge of the bed and picked up the package of panty hose she'd purchased on her way home from The Cookie Jar, her coffee shop and bakery. She wasn't looking forward to putting on her best formal clothing on the hottest, muggiest evening ever recorded in Lake Eden, Minnesota's history. Actually, if she was completely honest, she never enjoyed donning formal clothing, even when the weather cooperated. She was much more comfortable in jeans and a billboard T-shirt, or, as a concession to her family, a comfortable pantsuit. She wasn't looking forward to tonight's party either. She'd much rather spend the evening on her living room couch, sipping cold lemonade and watching a movie on television with one of her boyfriends, either Norman Rhodes or Mike Kingston. Unfortunately, her presence tonight was mandatory since The Cookie Jar was catering dessert.
"It's not the heat, it's the humidity," she told her roommate, who was watching her intently. "At least that's what Great-Grandma Elsa always used to say. But she also used to say that nobody in Minnesota needed air-conditioning, that a fan blowing over a block of ice was enough."
This comment was met with widened eyes and what she interpreted as an incredulous look.
"I know," she reassured him. "Great-Grandma Elsa was wrong. Or maybe it was cooler back in her time. I'll turn the air-conditioner on high just as soon as I'm through getting dressed."
Even though the sun would be setting while she was gone, Hannah knew that air-conditioning would be necessary. In some areas of the country, the nights cooled off considerably, but not in central Minnesota. Perhaps the temperature would drop a few degrees as night approached, but that wouldn't provide much relief. The outside walls of her condo had been baking in the sun all day and they would still be warm to the touch long after midnight.
It was hot in her bedroom. She'd opened the window to let in some outside air, but the curtains hung limp and lifeless. There was no breeze and the humidity was still sky high. Hannah could testify to that fact because even though she'd dried off thoroughly after her shower, her skin felt moist and hot again.
"It's not even summer yet," she told him, sighing a bit. "The Summer Solstice isn't until June twentieth this year and today is only the ninth. Technically, it's still spring and this afternoon it was hot enough to fry an egg outside."
It was difficult to tell, but Hannah thought he looked impressed at this news. Earlier in the afternoon, when the mercury had reached its highest peak in the thermometer that hung outside the window in the coffee shop, her customers had decided that it was hot enough to cook an egg on the hood of a car. Hannah's partner, Lisa Herman Beeseman, had volunteered her old black Ford for the test and the egg was duly cracked on the hood. After twelve minutes in the blazing sun, the yolk was still a bit runny, but the white was definitely cooked. Since no one wanted to stand around in the heat any longer to wait for the yolk to solidify, the dozen or so customers who'd trooped out to the parking lot to watch had declared the experiment a success.
Hannah rolled up one leg of the panty hose and glanced over at him again. It seemed to her that he was smiling. "Watch it," she warned. "I don't know if you can laugh or not, but if you even look amused, I'll ... I'll ..." She paused to choose the most effective threat. "I'll put you on a diet!"
"Rrrowwww!" The twenty-three pound orange and white tomcat, who was perched on top of her dresser, let out a howl.
"That's right. A diet. And that means no more salmon-flavored, fish-shaped kitty treats. So if I were you, I'd be very careful!"
Hannah gave a little nod of satisfaction as Moishe turned his head away. She wasn't sure if he'd understood her words, or simply reacted to the tone in her voice, but the desired effect was the same. As she looked down at the rolled sock in her hand, she thought about how much she hated to put on panty hose. The way she saw it, she had two choices. She could stretch out on the bed on her back, raise the panty hose up in the air, and try to thrust both feet into the sock parts at the same time. That required coordination she wasn't sure she possessed. The second method was to sit on the edge of the bed, lean over and place one foot in the sock part, pull the panty hose up part way, and then try to get her other foot in. Either way required perfect balance and the skill of a contortionist.
"Gotta do it," she said, deciding to try the second method. But just as she began to thrust her right foot into the toe of the sock, the doorbell chimed.
There was a ripping noise that sounded very loud to Hannah's ears, and she let out an exasperated expletive that she would never have used around her two nieces. Her toe had poked completely through the sock part and there was no way she could wear these pantyhose now. It was a good thing she'd bought an extra pair.
Hannah reached for her slippers and glanced at the clock on her bedside table. It was only six-fifteen and her sister wasn't due to pick her up until seven. Barring some kind of family emergency or national disaster, there was no way Andrea would be forty-five minutes early.
The doorbell pealed again and Hannah stood up. Salesmen weren't allowed in her condo complex, but sometimes one slipped past the guard at the kiosk. It could also be a neighbor with a problem and now that she was a member of the homeowners' association board, she had a duty to listen. As she hurried down the carpeted hallway with Moishe at her heels, she thought about how interruptions always seemed to come at precisely the wrong time. But was there a right time for interruptions? She really wasn't sure.
Hannah glanced down at her cat as they arrived at the door. She was hoping that Moishe would give her some sort of clue to the identity of the person standing outside the door. "Who is it?" she asked him in a whisper.
If ever a cat could shrug, Moishe did. But there were other signs that told Hannah something about their visitor. His ears weren't back against his head, and he didn't seem agitated in any other way. That meant it couldn't possibly be her mother. Delores Swensen was not Moishe's favorite person and her mother had several pairs of snagged silk stockings to prove it.
"Okay, it's not Mother," she whispered. "And it can't be Norman. He's my date for the party, but he's working late at the dental clinic and he said he'd meet me there."
Moishe moved closer to the door and the end of his tail began to flick in excitement. It was definitely someone he knew. Hannah was about to unlock the door to see for herself, when she remembered that she should check the peephole.
One glance and Hannah's mouth dropped open. It was Andrea! She unlocked the door in a rush and pulled it open. "What's wrong?" she asked the second she saw her sister's worried expression.
"Everything!" Andrea exclaimed, stepping in.
"Bethie's okay, isn't she? And Bill? Tracey?"
"They're all fine. Mother called and told me to get right over here." Andrea shut the door behind her. "I didn't even have time to finish my French braid."
"You can do it in the guest bathroom. The light's good and there's a vanity in there." Hannah stopped speaking as a dire possibility occurred to her. "Mother's all right, isn't she?"
"Mother's fine. She's worried about you."
"Yes. She wanted me to get right over here and give you the news in person before anyone else told you about it."
"Is anyone sick? Or injured? Or ... or dead?" Hannah felt her heart rate soar at the possibility.
"No. Nothing like that. You'd better sit down, Hannah. It's shocking."
"The bad news."
Hannah sat down on the couch. Andrea was so agitated, she wasn't making much sense, but if she sat down it might have a calming effect. "Okay, I'm sitting. Now tell me."
"You've got to promise not to get too upset."
"Why should I get upset? I don't even know what you're talking about yet."
"All right then." Andrea took a deep breath. "She's back!"
"Her! Mother and I just don't know what to do! We never thought we'd see her again, but she's back and she's staying out at the Lake Eden Inn with Roger Dalworth. Sally called to tell Mother. But that's not the worst part of it. Sally told Mother that she's coming to the grand opening with Roger tonight!"
"Sally's coming to the opening with Roger?"
"No! She's coming to the opening with Roger. And that's why I had to get right over here to warn you."
"Thanks, but I still don't know who you're talking about." Hannah grabbed her sister's arm and pulled her down on the couch. "Take a deep breath and calm down."
"I can't! Tonight is going to be a nightmare. If I didn't have to go, I wouldn't, but I have to go because I'm selling the condos for Roger. And it'll be even worse for you. I just don't know how we're going to get through it with her there!"
"Who's her?" Hannah asked, doing her best not to sound exasperated at Andrea's overuse of pronouns.
"Doctor Bev! She's back in town! And Sally thinks she's dead set on revenge!"
Chapter TwoAs she stepped inside the beautifully decorated lobby of the recently renovated Albion Hotel, Hannah decided that her struggle to get dressed in her very best outfit might just have been worth it. She'd taken a quick peek at the hotel when it was being remodeled, but she hadn't seen it now that it was finished.
The lobby was absolutely gorgeous. It took up half of the ground floor and it was designed as a recreation and party area for the occupants of the seven luxury condos on the floors above. The old original mahogany floor had been torn up and the best boards saved and refinished. They made up a parquet design around the borders of six massive rose-patterned carpets, each featuring a different variety and color of rose. Wing chairs and couches in matching colors formed five conversational groupings. The sixth carpet held several game tables with matching chairs.
Since she was there early and happened to be the sole occupant of the lobby now that Andrea had gone off to the ladies' room, Hannah walked around to take a look at the lovely rugs. The first rug showcased yellow roses and the rose name, Midas Touch, was woven into the border. As she explored the rest of the lobby and read the rose names, Hannah thought about how much fun it must be to name a rose. The purple ones were Ebb Tide, the pink were Tiffany, the orange blooms were Tahitian Sunset, the white were Polar Star, and her favorite, the red roses, were called Sedona.
As she neared the huge window overlooking the garden on the side of the lobby, she saw that a sizable area had been reserved for special use. Tonight it would be a dance floor with a raised platform that had been set up for a dance band. Chairs, microphones, and a sound system were already in place.
Hannah had just seated herself in a wing chair on the Sedona rose rug to wait for her sister when she saw Lisa beckoning to her from the doorway of the Red Velvet Lounge.
"I need to talk to you, Hannah!" she called out.
"I'll be right there." Hannah got up and walked across the lobby to the bar and grill that occupied the other half of the hotel's ground floor. One glance inside the open doorway and she was suitably impressed. Roger Dalworth, the money man behind converting the old hotel, had done a great job of preserving an early nineteen-hundreds look. The faceted crystal decanters behind the highly polished oak bar glittered in the beams from halogen lights positioned at strategic places in the ceiling. The sepia-tone prints in old-fashioned frames that lined the wood-paneled walls depicted the Albion in its heyday. There were also some scenes of Lake Eden life from that time period, and a player piano complete with a wooden case that held at least three dozen piano rolls. Best of all, the banks of booths that lined the perimeter of the room were upholstered in a shade of red velvet that perfectly matched the color of the red velvet cupcakes that they were serving tonight.
Lisa was arranging cupcakes on the three-tiered revolving display that her husband, Herb, had built for them. When she spotted Hannah, she left her work and rushed over. "I'm glad you're here, Hannah. There's something I've got to tell you!"
"It's okay, Lisa. I know. Andrea told me."
"Thank goodness! I was worried sick you'd run into her before anyone told you. Does Norman know?"
"He should by now. Mother talked to Carrie and Carrie was going to call him."
"This is bad, Hannah. What are you going to do?"
"Not a thing until I find out why she's back."
Lisa considered that for a moment. "Okay. I guess that makes sense. But I just know she's going to try to get even with you for exposing the truth about her. There's no other reason for her to come back here. You've got to be careful, Hannah."
"I will be."
"Just don't make the mistake of underestimating her. She might be all sweetness and light tonight, but you can't judge a book by its cover and you know she's bad to the bone. She's dangerous, too. You have to remember that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
Hannah gave her first genuine laugh of the evening.
"What's so funny?" Lisa asked.
"You just used three clichés in a row."
Lisa thought about that for a minute. "It's four, unless you didn't count the Shakespeare quote."
"It's not a Shakespeare quote."
"No. It's a misattribution."
"A misquote of something William Congreve wrote in the late seventeenth century. And I did count it."
"Okay, here's another cliché and I don't know who said it first. Leopards don't change their spots overnight."
"I don't know who said it either, but this leopard did change her spots. Doctor Bev's got a whole new look. Now she's a blonde. Sally thought she might have had a facelift, too."
"That's desperate. I guess she thought she'd better repackage since she was getting so close to the sell-by date."
Lisa's mouth dropped open and then she started to laugh. She laughed long and hard, and then she said, "You've really got a way with words, Hannah. But I'm curious. When did you see Doctor Bev?"
"I didn't. Andrea told me."
"Then Andrea's seen her?"
"No. Sally's the only one who's actually seen her. Doctor Bev's staying out at the Inn with Roger."
"And Sally called to tell you?"
"Not exactly. Sally called Mother, and Mother called Andrea, and Andrea told me."
Lisa laughed. "It's good to see that the Lake Eden Gossip Hotline is working. But Doctor Bev didn't actually change her spots, Hannah. All she changed was her appearance. She's still the same scheming, conniving, selfish person inside."
"You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig?"
"Exactly. It's like you always say, Hannah. The reason they're clichés is that they're true most of the time. And here's another couple for you. Forewarned is forearmed, the best defense is a good offense, and you shouldn't trust her any further than you can throw her."
"I'm ready, Hannah." Andrea stood in the doorway of the Red Velvet Lounge. "I'll show you the condos now, before everybody gets here."
Hannah turned to look at Lisa. "Do you need help arranging the cupcakes?"
Lisa shook her head. "I'm almost through. Don't worry about me, Hannah. Herb's coming back with a couple of chairs and we're going to restock the display when it gets low."
"But I should help you."
"No, you shouldn't. Herb has to be here anyway. He's running security here in the lounge."
"Security for what? It's Lake Eden. Nobody's going to steal anything here."
"I know that and you know that, but Roger Dalworth doesn't. He's from Minneapolis and it's different there. Roger hired Herb to cover the whole hotel."
"But how can Herb do that if he's sitting here next to you?"
"He'll be wearing earbuds and he'll be in constant communication with the other members of his security staff. Besides, you said it before. It's Lake Eden. The only thing that might happen is that somebody has one too many glasses of champagne. If that happens, one of Herb's guys will handle the driving and take that person home."
A phrase Lisa had used caught Hannah's attention and she repeated it. "One of Herb's guys? How many guys does he have?"
Excerpted from RED VELVET CUPCAKE MURDER by JOANNE FLUKE Copyright © 2013 by H.L. Swensen, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. 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.