There’s no such thing as privacy in Lake Eden, but Hannah never thought things would go this far. Everyone has been telling her what to do ever since she got not one but two marriage proposals. Movie mania soon shoves Hannah’s marriage dilemma into the background and even gives her cat a shot at stardom. The Cookie Jar serves as snack central with Main Street rented out for the week. She stirs lots of fresh gossip, whipping up treats for cast and crew, including demanding director Dean Lawrence’s favorite - cherry cheesecake.
Everything’s on schedule until Dean demonstrates a suicide scene with a prop gun that turns out to be all too real. As filming continues, Hannah sifts through the clues, hoping against hope that the person responsible for Dean’s death is half-baked enough to have made a mistake. When it happens, Hannah intends be there - ready to rewrite a killer’s lethal script with the kind of quirky ending that can only happen in Lake Eden...
About the Author
JOANNE FLUKE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Hannah Swensen mysteries, which include Double Fudge Brownie Murder, Blackberry Pie Murder, Cinnamon Roll Murder, and the book that started it all, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. That first installment in the series premiered as Murder, She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. Like Hannah Swensen, Joanne Fluke was born and raised in a small town in rural Minnesota, but now lives in Southern California. Please visit her online at www.JoanneFluke.com
Read an Excerpt
CHERRY CHEESECAKE MURDERA HANNAH SWENSEN MYSTERY WITH RECIPES
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Joanne Fluke
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTwo Weeks Earlier
Hannah Swensen did her best to convince her sleep-logged mind that the insistent electronic beeping she heard was in the soundtrack of her dream. A huge semi tractor-trailer was backing up to the kitchen door of her bakery, The Cookie Jar, to deliver the mountain of chocolate chips she'd ordered for the gazillion Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies she'd promised to bake for her biggest fan, Porky Pig, who'd finally overcome his stutter with the help of a voice coach and was now being sworn in as president of the United States ...
The dream slipped away like the veils of Salome, and Hannah groaned as she clicked on the light. No doubt her dream was the result of watching Cartoon Network until two in the morning and eating two dishes of chocolate ice cream with a whole bag of microwave popcorn. She silenced the alarm and threw back the covers, sitting up in bed in an effort to fight her urge to burrow back into her warm blankets and pull them up, over her head.
"Come on, Moishe," she said, nudging the orange-and-white lump that nestled at the foot of her bed. "Daylight in the swamps, dawn in the desert, and sunrise in Lake Eden, Minnesota."
Moishe's yellow eyes popped open. He looked out the window into the darkness beyond, then swiveled his head to stare at her accusingly. Whilemost people didn't think cats could understand "human-speak," Hannah wasn't most people. This was primarily because Moishe wasn't most cats. "Sorry," Hannah apologized, backpedaling under his unblinking yellow gaze. "It's not really daylight in Lake Eden, but it will be soon and I have to get up for work."
Moishe seemed to accept her explanation. He opened his mouth in a wide yawn and gave the little squeak in the middle that Hannah found endearing. Then he began to stretch.
Hannah never tired of watching her previously homeless tomcat go through his morning calisthenics. Moishe rolled onto his back and gazed up at the bedroom ceiling. His right front leg came up in a fascist salute and after a slight pause, his left front leg shot up to join it. Then his back legs pushed toward the foot of the bed and spread out in a tensely inverted "Y," like the handholds of a witching rod. Once his whole body was stretched taut, he began to quiver like the proverbial bowlful of Jell-O.
The kitty quiver lasted for several seconds and then Moishe flipped from back to stomach. This was the position Hannah called "shoveled," because it was about as flat as a cat could get without the aid of a steamroller. All four legs were stretched out to the max and Moishe's chin was perfectly parallel to the worn nap on the chenille bedspread Hannah had rescued from Helping Hands, Lake Eden's only thrift store.
The part that came next was Hannah's favorite. Moishe's back legs moved forward, first the left and then the right, in what her first grade friends had called "giant steps" in their games of Captain, May I. This continued by awkward measure until Moishe's rear was up in the air, his hips so high it turned him into a kitty teepee. Once the apex had been reached, he gave a little sigh, a little shake, a little flick of both ears simultaneously, and then he made a big leap to the floor to follow Hannah down the hallway.
"Hold on," Hannah said, hopping from foot to foot as she pulled on her fleece-lined moccasin slippers. "You know you can't open the Kibble Keeper by yourself."
After a short trip down the hall spent dodging Moishe's efforts to catch the laces on her slipper, Hannah reached the kitchen. She flicked on the bank of fluorescent lights and winced as the walls shimmered dazzling white to her sleep-deprived eyes. Perhaps it was time to paint her walls a darker color, a color like black, especially if she kept operating on three hours of sleep. Last night had been another night in a long string of nights spent in her living room, stretched out on the sofa with a twenty-three pound cat perched on her chest, watching television until the wee small hours of the morning and wrestling with a decision that would have stymied even Solomon.
An indignant yowl brought Hannah back to matters at hand and she opened the broom closet to lift out the Kibble Keeper. It was a round, gray, bucket-type container with a screw-on lid that was guaranteed to keep out even the most persistent pet. Hannah had found it at the Tri-County Mall after Moishe had defeated every other means she'd tried to keep him from helping himself to his own breakfast. It wasn't that she begrudged him food. It was the cleanup that made feline self-service dining unfeasible. Hannah had swept up and dumped out the last kitty crunchy she was about to sweep and dump, and the salesclerk at the pet store had assured her that no living being that lacked opposable thumbs could open the Kibble Keeper. It was made of a resin that was impervious to biting and scratching, knocking it over and batting it around had no effect at all on its sturdy exterior, and it had been tested on a tiger at the Minnesota Zoo and come through with flying colors.
Even though Hannah knew that Moishe was physically incapable of unscrewing the lid, she still concealed her actions from him. It wasn't wise to underestimate the cat who was capable of so much more than the ordinary tabby.
"Here you go," she said, scooping out a generous helping and dumping it into his bowl. "Finish that and I'll give you some more."
While her feline roommate crunched, Hannah poured herself a cup of steaming coffee and sent a silent message of thanks to whoever had invented the automatic timer. She took one sip, swallowed painfully, and added a coffee ice cube from the bag she always kept in the freezer. A regular ice cube would dilute what her grandmother had called "Swedish Plasma," and that was why Hannah kept one ice cube tray filled with frozen coffee. She needed her caffeine full-strength in the morning.
Several big gulps and Hannah felt herself beginning to approach a wakeful state. That meant it was time to shower and dress. The lure of a second cup of coffee would make her hurry, and she was awake enough not to doze off and turn as red as a lobster under the steaming spray.
Hannah reentered the kitchen eleven minutes later, her red hair a damp mass of towel-dried curls, and clad in jeans and a dark green sweatshirt that proclaimed CHOCOLATE IS A VEGETABLE-IT COMES FROM BEANS in bright yellow script. She'd just poured herself that second cup of coffee when the phone rang.
Hannah reached for the bright red wall phone that hung over the kitchen table, but she stopped in midstretch. "What if it's Mike? Or Norman?"
"Rrowww!" Moishe responded, looking up at the phone as it rang again. "Yowwwww!"
"You're right. So what if they both proposed? And so what if they're waiting for me to choose between them? I'm thirty years old, I run my own business, and I'm a sensible adult. Nobody's going to rush me into a decision I might regret later ... including Mother."
As Hannah uttered the final word, Moishe's ears flattened against his head and he bristled like a Halloween cat. He despised Delores Swensen and Hannah's mother had a drawer full of shredded pantyhose to prove it.
"Don't worry. If it's Mother, you don't have to speak to her."
Hannah took a deep breath and grabbed the phone, sinking down in a chair to answer. If it was her mother, the conversation would take a while and there were bound to be unveiled references to her unmarried state. If it was her younger sister, Andrea, the conversation would include the latest about Hannah's two nieces, Tracey and Bethany, and it would also take a while. If it was Michelle, Hannah's youngest sister, they were bound to have a discussion about college life at Macalester College and that would also eat up the minutes Hannah had left before she had to go to work.
"Hello?" Hannah greeted her caller, hoping mightily that it wasn't either of the two men in her life.
"What took you so long? I was almost ready to give up, but I knew you wouldn't leave for work this early."
It was a man, but it wasn't either of the two in question and Hannah breathed a sigh of relief. It was Andrea's husband, Bill, the only other early riser in the Swensen family. "Hi, Bill. What's up?"
"I am. I'm out here at the sheriff 's station and we've got a problem."
Hannah glanced at the clock. It was only five-fifteen. Bill kept regular hours now that he was the Winnetka County Sheriff. He never went to the office until eight unless there was an emergency. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"You bet there is. And you're the only one who can fix this mess!"
"What mess?" Hannah had visions of homes burglarized, motorists carjacked, public buildings vandalized, and murder victims stacked up like cordwood. But if crime was running rampant in Lake Eden, she certainly hadn't heard about it. And how could she possibly be the only one who could fix it?
"It's Mike. You really did a number on him, Hannah. One minute he's on top of the world, telling everybody that you're bound to choose him. The next minute he's all down in the mouth, absolutely sure that you're going to ditch him and marry Norman."
Hannah did her best to think of something to say. It wasn't her fault that Mike couldn't handle the stress of waiting while she made up her mind which proposal to accept. It had been only a week. A girl, even one whose mother thought her old enough to qualify as an old maid, was entitled to all the time she needed for such an important decision.
"Look, Hannah. I know it's not totally your fault, but I've got a dangerous situation here."
"That's right. Mike's supposed to be my head detective, my right hand when it comes to solving crime. The way he's acting right now, he couldn't catch a perp even if the guy stood in front of his desk holding a sign that said, I DID IT. I mean, what if we have a real murder, or something like that? What'll happen then?"
Hannah let out her breath. She hadn't even realized she'd been holding it. "So what do you want me to do?"
"Make up your mind so Mike can get back to work. Fish, or cut bait ... you know?"
"But I can't rush my decision. It's just too important."
"I understand," Bill said with a sigh, "and I'm not really trying to influence you. I just know it'll be Mike in the long run. If you love him as much as I think you do, you'll accept his proposal today and put him out of his misery. He's the right one for you and that's not just my opinion. Everybody in the department thinks so, too."
"I'll ... uh ... think about it," Hannah said, settling for the most noncommittal reassurance in her arsenal.
"Think fast. And keep your fingers crossed that we don't need Mike for anything until you give him a yes."
Hannah promised she would and hung up the phone. She could understand Bill's point. A week was a long time to keep anyone on hold, but she was no closer to making a decision than she'd been on the day both men had proposed. Mike was handsome and exciting. Norman was dependable and endearing. Mike made her stomach do flips when he kissed her, and Norman's kisses made her feel warm and tingly all over. She wished she could have both of them, but she couldn't. And there was no way she could give up one for the other.
Before Hannah could take another swallow of her coffee, the phone rang again. She grabbed it in midring, certain that it was Bill who'd forgotten to tell her something. "What did you forget, Bill?"
"It's not Bill, it's Lisa," Hannah's young partner replied. "I just wanted you to know that you don't have to hurry to work this morning."
"Because I'm down here at The Cookie Jar already."
Hannah glanced up at the clock. It was five-thirty and Lisa wasn't due at work until seven. "Why so early?" she asked, hoping that Lisa hadn't had a fight with her new husband.
"Herb had to get up at four and after he left, I couldn't go back to sleep."
"Why did he have to get up at four?"
"He's driving to Fargo for the Traffic Tradeshow."
"What's that?" Hannah asked, although she suspected that if she'd remained silent, Lisa would have gone on to tell her.
"It's everything to do with traffic and parking, like signs, parking meters, and traffic signals. Mayor Bascomb called us at home last night and he wants Herb to check out the price on parking meters."
"Parking meters?" Hannah was shocked. Parking had always been free in Lake Eden.
"That's right. He told Herb to find out how much it would cost to put them up on Main Street."
"On Main Street?"
"Yes, but Herb thinks it's a smokescreen."
"A smokescreen?" Hannah repeated, feeling more and more like an obedient mynah bird.
"There's a group that wants Lake Eden Liquor shut down. They say the city shouldn't be making a profit on the sale of alcohol."
Hannah gave a little snort. Every few years someone organized a group to close down the municipal liquor store. "I wish people would learn that you can't legislate morality. Closing the liquor store isn't going to cut down on drinking."
"I know, but this time they're really serious. They're collecting signatures to get it on the next ballot. Herb's sure that's why Mayor Bascomb wants an estimate on those parking meters."
Hannah took another slug of coffee, but she still didn't see the connection. "What do parking meters have to do with the liquor store?"
"Herb thinks the mayor's going to give them a choice. Close the liquor store and put parking meters on Main Street to make up for the lost revenue, or keep it open and forget about the tax increase they'll have to pay to get the parking meters installed in the first place."
"That ought to work," Hannah said with a smile. The mayor was almost as devious as her mother.
"I think so, too. Everybody wants to park for free and nobody wants to pay more taxes. Anyway, I'm here and you don't have to come in until you want to. You need some time to think."
"About Mike and Norman. Mayor Bascomb asked Herb if you'd made up your mind yet."
"He did?" Hannah was surprised. "I didn't know he cared one way or the other."
"Well, he does. He wants you to marry Norman. He says it's your civic duty."
"That's exactly what Herb said, but Mayor Bascomb explained it. He said that they can always hire a new detective, but finding a dentist to take over the clinic will be a lot harder."
"Wait a second ... the mayor thinks the man I don't marry will leave town?"
"Yes, and he's not the only one. Herb says Mike's not going to stick around and feel like a loser if you end up marrying Norman. He's too proud to eat crow in front of the whole town. And Norman's not going to stay here and watch you live happily ever after with Mike. He really loves you and it would be too painful for him. Not only that, if Norman leaves, Carrie will probably go with him, because he'll be all depressed and she'll think he needs her. And then your mother will end up losing a partner."
"Oh, boy!" Hannah groaned under her breath. This was a whole new set of problems to consider. She'd been thinking about how her choice would affect her own happiness, but now it seemed it could have ramifications on the whole town of Lake Eden!
"Anyway, take your time about coming in. I'll see you when you get here." Hannah said goodbye and turned to look at Moishe. "I wish I'd known sooner. Turns out we could have slept in."
"Rrrow!" Moishe replied, and Hannah thought he looked disappointed. Sleeping in while nestled at the foot of the bed, half buried in the fluffy comforter, was one of Moishe's favorite activities.
"Oh, well. I guess I might as well carry out the garbage and ..."
Before Hannah could finish telling an uninterested feline her plans, the phone rang again and she snatched it up. "Hello?"
"Hi, Hannah. It's Barbara Donnelly. I know it's early, but I wanted to catch you before you left for work."
"Hi, Barbara." Hannah grabbed the steno notebook she kept on the kitchen table. Barbara was the head secretary at the sheriff's station and she always ordered cookies for the staff meetings she held on Monday afternoons. "Do you want cookies for this afternoon?"
"Yes. Give me three dozen Black and Whites. I'll send one of the girls in to pick them up. On second thought, better make it four dozen. They're our favorites. But that's not the reason I called. I need a favor."
Excerpted from CHERRY CHEESECAKE MURDER by JOANNE FLUKE Copyright © 2006 by Joanne Fluke. Excerpted by permission.
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