Folks in Lake Eden, Minnesota, may have had their doubts, but at long last, Hannah Swensen is getting married! And her excitement only grows when she learns the man of her dreams will be able to join her on her trip to New York City for the Food Channel’s dessert chef contest. They get a taste of the Big Apple before Hannah wins the Hometown Challenge—and the producers bring all the contestants to Lake Eden to tape the remainder of the show.
It’s nerve-wracking enough being judged by Alain Duquesne, a celebrity chef with a nasty reputation. But it’s even more chilling to find him stabbed to death in the Lake Eden Inn’s walk-in cooler—before he’s even had a chance to taste Hannah’s Butterscotch Sugar Cookies! Now Hannah has not only lost her advantage, she’ll have to solve a mystery with more layers than a five-tiered wedding cake…
“Fluke’s cast is lively and winsome.”—Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Wedding Cake Murder
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 H.L. Swensen, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"No, it's not the wedding I dreamed of, but it is the wedding I want!" Hannah Swensen's hands shook slightly as she replaced her cup of coffee in the bone china saucer. She'd been so startled by Grandma Knudson's question that a few drops had sloshed out of her cup and landed in its matching saucer. The matriarch of Holy Redeemer Lutheran Church was known for being outspoken, but Hannah hadn't expected to be grilled about her upcoming nuptials when Grandma Knudson had called her at The Cookie Jar, Hannah's coffee shop and bakery, and invited her to the parsonage for coffee.
"Everyone's talking, you know," Grandma Knudson confided, leaning forward in her chair. "No one can understand why they haven't been invited to the wedding. I told them you preferred a small, intimate family affair, but they feel left out. And almost everyone from my Bible study group asked me if there was something wrong."
"Wrong?" Hannah repeated, not certain what Grandma Knudson meant.
"Yes. People always think that there's something wrong when a wedding takes place behind closed doors. Weddings aren't supposed to be private. They're supposed to be joyous celebrations."
"I am joyous! I mean, joyful. And so is Ross. I just thought it might be easier for everyone if we didn't have a big public display."
"Because of Norman and Mike?"
"Well ... yes. That's part of the reason. This is rather sudden, and they haven't had time to get used to the idea that Ross and I are getting married. I thought it would be ..." Hannah paused, trying to think of another word, but only one came to mind. "I thought it would be easier for them this way," she finished.
Grandma Knudson was silent as she stared at Hannah, and that made Hannah want to explain. "You know ..." she continued. "If I'd invited everyone to a huge wedding and reception, it would be almost like ... like ..."
The older woman let her struggle for a moment, and then she gave a nod. "Like rubbing their noses in it?"
"Yes! I mean, not exactly. But some people might think that that's what I was doing."
"Perhaps," Grandma Knudson conceded. "Tell me about Ross. Did he think that a small, private wedding was a good idea?"
"I ... actually ..." Hannah paused and took a deep breath. "Ross and I didn't really talk about that. He just told me that anything I wanted to do about the wedding would be fine with him."
"I see. Did you at least meet with Mike and Norman and talk to them about what you'd decided?"
"No. I wanted to spare their feelings. I thought it might be too painful for them to discuss it."
"You mean you thought it might be too painful for you to discuss it, don't you?" Grandma Knudson corrected her bluntly.
Hannah sighed heavily. She had to be truthful. "Perhaps you're right," she admitted, and made a move to pick up her cup and saucer rather than meet the older woman's eyes. "I guess I really wasn't thinking clearly, and I certainly didn't think that a small wedding would cause all this fuss. I just wanted to get married before I had to leave for the Food Channel Dessert Chef Competition. I thought that Ross could go with me and it would be our honeymoon."
"I see. And the competition is in three weeks?"
"That's right." Hannah managed to take a sip of her coffee and then she put it back down on the table again. Why was Grandma Knudson asking all these questions? There must be a reason. As Hannah sat there, trying to think of why Grandma Knudson was giving her the third degree, the light dawned. "Mother!" Hannah said with a sigh.
"What did you say?"
"I said Mother. She put you up to this, didn't she? She wanted me to have a big wedding and I refused. So Mother came running to you to see if you could convince me to change my mind! Isn't Mother the reason you invited me here for coffee?"
"She's part of the reason. But the other part is that I wanted you to taste my lemon pie. It's the easiest pie I've ever made. All you need is a lemon, sugar, butter, and eggs. You put everything in a blender, pour it into one of those fancy frozen piecrusts Florence carries down at the Red Owl, and bake it. But you haven't even sampled it yet."
Hannah looked down at the dessert plate resting next to her cup and saucer. Grandma Knudson's pie did look delicious. "Is that crème fraiche on the top?"
"Yes. It's your crème fraiche, the one you use on your strawberry shortcake. And if you don't want to go to the bother of making that, you can use vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream. Taste it, Hannah. I want your opinion."
Hannah picked up her fork and took a bite. And then she took another bite. "It's delicious," she said. "It has exactly the right amount of tartness to balance the sweetness."
"I'm glad you like it, but let's get back to Mike and Norman. You're not getting off the hot seat so easily. Your mother's very upset, you know. People have been stopping her on the street and asking when your wedding invitations will arrive."
"Did she tell them that it was a small, private wedding?"
Grandma Knudson shook her head. "No. She was too embarrassed. You know as well as I do what people think when you get married so fast in a small, private ceremony."
"They think I'm ... ?" There was no way Hannah could finish her question. She was too shocked.
"Of course they think that. It's usually the case, especially with a first marriage like yours. There's even a betting pool that Hal McDermott set up down at the café for the date the baby will be born."
Hannah's mouth dropped open and she shut it quickly. And then she gave a rueful laugh. "What happens to the betting pool if there's no baby? Because there isn't!"
"Good question. My guess is that Hal gets to keep the proceeds, and that's not right. I think I'll have Bob and Claire go down there and convince him to give all that money to the local charities. That would serve people right for betting on something like that!"
"Do you think Hal will agree to give the money to charity?"
"He'll have to. Betting pools are illegal in Winnetka County, and Hal knows it. So is playing poker for money behind that curtain of his in the back room of the café. He'll knuckle under. You don't have to worry about that. And if he doesn't, Bob will give a rousing sermon about gambling the next time Rose drags Hal to church."
Hannah couldn't help it. She laughed. Grandma Knudson always got what she wanted, and this would be no exception.
"That's better," Grandma Knudson commented. "It's good to hear you laugh. Now what are you going to do about Mike and Norman?"
"What do you think I should do? Invite them to be Ross's groomsmen at a huge church wedding?"
"I think that's exactly what you should do! Give Mike and Norman a chance to step up to the plate. As it stands right now, everyone's buzzing about the fact that their hearts are broken. If both of them are in the wedding party, it'll put all those wagging tongues to rest. Believe you me, they'll jump at the chance to do that!"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm positive." Grandma Knudson locked eyes with Hannah. "Neither one of those men enjoys being the butt of gossip, and both of them like Ross. Of course they're disappointed that you didn't choose one of them, but they'll do the right thing if you ask them."
Hannah thought about that for a moment. Norman and Mike did like Ross. The three men were friends. And she knew that Ross liked Mike and Norman. If she'd said she wanted a big wedding and asked Ross to choose two men to be groomsmen, he would probably have chosen Mike and Norman.
Grandma Knudson was waiting for an answer, and Hannah hedged a little. "You may be right, but I'll have to ask Ross what he thinks of the idea."
"I did that this morning. I called Ross at work and he said it was fine with him if that was what you wanted. And Mike and Norman are definitely on board. I double-checked with them right afterwards. And both of them told me that they'll accept if you ask them."
"You called Mike and Norman, too?"
"Of course I did. I wanted to make sure this would work."
Hannah gave a little groan. Railroaded. She'd been railroaded, but Grandma Knudson had a point she couldn't ignore. If everyone in town was gossiping about her and Hal had even set up a betting pool, she had to do something to turn things around. And then she remembered what Grandma Knudson had said. "You said you double-checked with Mike and Norman this morning?"
"If you double-checked, that means you or someone else had checked with them before this morning. Was that someone you?"
Grandma Knudson looked slightly flustered. "Actually ... no."
With a burst of lightning clarity, Hannah saw the whole picture. Her eyes narrowed and she faced the matriarch of the church squarely. "Mother checked with them before you did. Is that right?"
Grandma Knudson sighed. "Yes, but she didn't want you to know that it was her idea."
"That figures," Hannah said with a sigh.
"Your mother is an expert when it comes to gossip," Grandma Knudson attempted to explain, "but she was afraid you'd reject her plan out of hand if she was the one to suggest it. That's why she asked me to talk to you about it. And I did. Your mother, Andrea, and Michelle are already working out the details of your wedding."
"They're planning my wedding without me?"
"Yes, but you know how long wedding plans take. Delores and the girls have everything organized, but nothing's been firmed up yet. All they need is for you to give them the go-ahead."
Hannah was silent. She wasn't quite ready to cave in yet.
"Your mother said to tell you that she knows you're busy at The Cookie Jar and you have to be in New York for the dessert competition very soon. She's absolutely certain that everything will be ready so that you can get married, have a reception at the Lake Eden Inn, and leave for New York the next morning."
"Mother can pull off a big wedding in less than three weeks?"
"Yes. And you don't have to do any wedding planning. Your sisters and Delores are completely prepared to arrange everything."
Again, Hannah was silent. She didn't like the idea of turning everything over to her mother and sisters, but it seemed like the only reasonable option since she'd made such a mess of it on her own.
"Delores said to tell you that there are only two things you have to do," Grandma Knudson spoke again. "The first thing is to choose your wedding dress. Your mother has already consulted with Claire at Beau Monde, and Claire has ordered more than a half-dozen gowns for your approval. When they come in, Claire will let you know so that you can run next door to try them on. All you have to do is choose the one you want to wear and Claire will do any alterations you might need."
Hannah gave a slight smile. At least they were letting her choose her own wedding gown! And it was true that she didn't have time to organize a big wedding. The nightmare of trying to arrange Delores's wedding was still fresh in her mind. There was no way she wanted to get involved in a morass like that again, but she was the bride and it was a bit disconcerting not to be involved in any of the planning. "What's the second thing they want me to do?" she asked.
"Show up at the church on time."
Hannah's sarcastic nature kicked in, and the question popped out of her mouth before she could exercise restraint. "Do they want me to show up with or without Ross?"
Grandma Knudson burst into laughter. "With Ross. Not even your mother could accomplish a wedding without a groom." The older woman reached out to take Hannah's hand. "Are you all right with this plan, Hannah? If you're not, we can try to come up with something else that'll work."
Grandma Knudson was waiting for an answer and Hannah took a deep breath. "Yes, I'm all right with it as long as Ross and I can get married before the Food Channel competition. Do you think that's possible?"
"Your mother assured me that it was."
Hannah gave a reluctant nod. "All right then. I'll do it, if you'll do something for me."
"I'd like a second piece of your lemon pie, and I'd also like to have the recipe. It's the best non-meringue lemon pie I've ever tasted!"
EASY LEMON PIE
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F., rack in the middle position.
Note from Grandma Knudson: I got this recipe from my friend, Lois Brown, who lives in Phoenix, AZ. She has a lemon tree in her backyard so she always has lemons to make this pie.
Hannah's 1st Note: You can make this recipe in a food processor or a blender. We use a food processor down at The Cookie Jar.
1 frozen 9-inch piecrust (or
one you've made yourself)
1 whole medium-size lemon
½ cup butter (1 stick, 4
ounces, ¼ pound)
1 cup white (granulated)
4 large eggs
Sweetened whipped cream to
put on top of your pie
If you used a frozen pie crust, take it out of the package and set it on a cookie sheet with sides while you make the filling for the pie.
If you made your own piecrust, roll it out, put it in a 9-inch pie pan, cut it to fit the pie pan, and crimp the edges so it looks nice. Then set it on a cookie sheet with sides to wait for its filling.
Cut the tough ends off your lemon. Cut it in half and then cut each half into 4 slices. (The slices should be round, like wagon wheels.)
Cut the other half-lemon into 4 similar slices to make 8 slices in all.
Examine the slices and pick out any seeds. Throw the seeds away.
Place all 8 seedless slices in a blender (or a food processor).
Turn on the blender or food processor and process the lemon slices until they are mush. (This is not a regular cooking term, but I bet you know what I mean!) Melt the half-cup of butter in the microwave or on the stovetop. (If you'd rather do it in the microwave, this should take about 50 seconds on HIGH.)
Pour the melted butter over the lemon mush in the blender.
Add the cup of white sugar.
Crack open the 4 eggs and add them one by one.
Turn on the blender or food processor and blend everything until it is a homogenous mush. (Another nonregulation cooking term.)
Pour the lemon mixture into the crust.
Bake your Easy Lemon Pie at 350 degrees F. for 40 minutes or until the mixture turns solid and the top is brown.
Take your pie out of the oven and cool it on a cold stove burner or a wire rack. Once it is cool, cover it with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate it until you're ready to serve.
Hannah's 2nd Note: I like to use my Crème Fraiche on this pie. Here's the recipe just in case you don't have it handy:
HANNAH'S WHIPPED CRÈME FRAICHE
(This will hold for several hours. Make it ahead of time and refrigerate it.)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
½ cup white (granulated) sugar
½ cup sour cream (you can substitute unflavored
yogurt, but it won't hold as well and you'll have to do
it at the last minute)
½ cup brown sugar (to sprinkle on top after you
cut your pie into pieces)
Whip the cream with the white sugar until it holds a firm peak. Test for this by shutting off the mixer, and "dotting" the surface with your spatula. Once you have firm peaks, gently fold in the sour cream. You can do this by hand or by using the slowest speed on the mixer.
Transfer the mixture to a covered bowl and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve your Easy Lemon Pie.
To serve your pie, cut it into 6 generous pieces or 8 smaller slices and put each slice on a pretty dessert plate.
Top each slice with a generous dollop or two of Hannah's Whipped Crème Fraiche.
Sprinkle the top of the Whipped Crème Fraiche with brown sugar.
Hannah's 3rd Note: If you want to get really fancy, cut a paper-thin slice of lemon, dip it in granulated sugar, and put it on top of each slice of pie.
Excerpted from Wedding Cake Murder by JOANNE FLUKE. Copyright © 2016 H.L. Swensen, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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