Read Carrot Cake Murder Online

Authors: Joanne Fluke

Tags: #Mystery, #Romance, #Thriller, #Crime, #Contemporary, #Chick-Lit, #Adult, #Humour

Carrot Cake Murder

This book is dedicated to Dale Constantine.

Acknowledgments:

Thanks to Ruel, my in-house story editor, research team, and cheerleader.

And to our kids who know that there is no substitute for butter.

Hugs to the grandkids as they try to convince their moms that carrot cake is a vegetable.

Thank you to Mary Ann Grossman who gave me the idea for the victim in this book.

Thank you to our friends and neighbors:

Mel & Kurt, Lyn & Bill, Gina & the kids, Adrienne, Jay, Bob, Amanda, Dale, John B., Trudi, David, Dr. Bob & Sue, Laura & Mark, Richard & Krista, and my hometown friends from Swanville, Minnesota.

Thanks to the Hannah fans at Mysteries To Die For for taste-testing the Viking Cookies.

Thank you to my Editor-in-Chief, John Scognamiglio.

You’re the absolute best.

The same goes for Walter, Steve, Laurie, Doug, David, Maureen, Magee, Meryl, Colleen, Michaela, Kate, Jessica, Peter, Robin, Lydia, Lori, Mike, Tami, and Barbara.

Thank you to Hiro Kimura for the incredible carrot cake on the cover.

And thanks to Lou Malcangi for designing such a delicious dust jacket.

Thanks also to all the other talented folks at Kensington who keep Hannah sleuthing and baking up a storm.

Thanks to Levy Home Entertainment for inviting me to the 2007 convention in Chicago. Not only did I have a great time, I met some really wonderful people!

Thank you to Dee for Alison Wonderland’s stage name. Thanks to John for proofreading and for keeping my computer running. And thank you to Jill Saxton for catching more goofs than anyone else.

Thank you to Dr. Rahhal & Trina for all that you do.

Thanks to Mrs. Line for trying out so many recipes. And hugs to everyone who sent favorite family recipes for Hannah to try.

Massive hugs to Terry Sommers for testing all the recipes and trying them out on her family. Nobody’s keeled over yet, right Terry?

Thank you to Jamie Wallace for keeping my Web site, MurderSheBaked.com

up to date and looking great.

And many, many thanks to everyone who e-mailed or snail-mailed.

Writing is solitary work, but when you invite me into your lives, you make me feel like family.

Chapter One

The Amen couldn’t come fast enough to suit Hannah Swensen. She was sitting in the third pew from the front of Holy Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lake Eden, Minnesota, and her ears were still ringing from the fifth and final chorus of Jesu Priceless Treasure. She thought she might have suffered a slight hearing loss from Marge Beeseman’s attempt at a high G, but that wasn’t her primary concern. Her eyes were trained on Reverend Knudson as he emerged from the small dressing room adjacent to the pulpit. He was wearing an ordinary suit, the type Doug Greerson, president of the Lake Eden First Mercantile Bank, wore every day to work. The minister’s vestments had gone the way of his solemn manner, and he was smiling as he walked forward to informally address his flock.

An ecumenical fly droned its way from the open doors at the back of the church, alighting momentarily on Lutherans, Catholics, and Bible Church members alike. The church was packed this last Sunday in August, and much of that was Hannah’s mother’s doing. Delores Swensen had spent the previous evening on the phone, convincing scores of Lake Eden residents to attend Reverend Knudson’s ten o’clock service.

Hannah turned to look at her mother. Delores was watching the reverend with the same intent gaze that Hannah’s cat, Moishe, employed to run surveillance on the chipmunk that frequented the flowerbeds beneath Hannah’s living room window. The other occupants of the pew had also drawn a bead on their minister in mufti. Hannah’s two younger sisters, Andrea and Michelle, appeared mesmerized by his every move. And their mother’s business partner, Carrie Rhodes, was clutching her hymnal so hard Hannah was afraid she’d crack the spine. Even Carrie’s son, Norman, looked nervous. This was the showdown, the eleventh hour, the pivotal moment they’d all come to witness.

Reverend Knudson made his way to the head of the center aisle with all eyes upon him. He was still smiling and he didn’t look as if he had an important announcement to make, but almost everyone in the congregation, members and visitors alike, knew that he did. The reverend was about to tell them that he planned to marry Claire Rodgers, owner of Beau Monde Fashions, Lake Eden’s only designer dress shop.

Startled by a poke in the ribs, Hannah turned to her youngest sister. “What is it, Michelle?” she whispered.

“Two rows back on the other side,” Michelle replied, her voice so soft it was almost inaudible. Then she jerked her head in the direction she wanted her oldest sister to look and nudged her again.

Hannah turned around and gave a little gasp as she saw the couple seated two rows behind them on the aisle. It was Mayor Bascomb and his wife, Stephanie. And they were the very couple Hannah had least expected to see at Holy Redeemer Lutheran this morning!

“Mother convinced Mrs. Bascomb to come,” Michelle continued, her lips close to Hannah’s ear. “She didn’t think anyone would have the nerve to object to Reverend Knudson and Claire getting married if they were here for the announcement. I mean…what reason could they give in front of the mayor’s wife?”

“Diabolical!” Hannah breathed, shooting her mother an admiring look. Rumor had it that Claire had once been Mayor Bascomb’s mistress. No one could prove it, but some members of the congregation tended to look down their noses at Claire. It was the reason Hannah, her family, and the scores of people that Delores had recruited were here to support the reverend’s announcement. There was no way Hannah and her extended family were going to let anyone throw a damper on this happy occasion.

“I’m delighted to see so many of you at services this morning,” Reverend Knudson said, beaming. And then he proceeded to announce upcoming activities for the week. Hannah learned that Bible study would take place on Monday night, there would be a church rummage sale on Tuesday afternoon, they would hold twilight services on Wednesday at seven with choir practice immediately after the service, and Luther League would meet in the church basement on Thursday night. Friday evening was slotted for Lutherans Without Partners, a new singles club. There would be two weddings on Saturday, and the regular services on Sunday morning.

“And now, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to say something on a personal note. There is someone in this congregation who is near and dear to my heart.”

Hannah nudged Michelle. This was it. Reverend Knudson was about to do it!

“That someone is Winifred Henderson, and I’d like to thank her for her years of service in the church nursery. Because of Winnie, many of you mothers have enjoyed worry-free Sunday church services, knowing that your children are well cared for and happy in the nursery. Even though we don’t ordinarily applaud in church, I think Winnie deserves a standing ovation.”

Hannah stood and applauded along with everyone else, and then she sat back down to wait for the last announcement. Reverend Knudson’s eyes met hers for a moment, and then they quickly skittered away.

Uh-oh! Hannah breathed, coming very close to groaning out loud. There was only one reason for Reverend Knudson to avoid her eyes. Claire had gotten cold feet and asked him to delay the announcement again!

The reverend’s hand began to rise in a signal for the organist to play the recessional. But Hannah was quicker, and she shot to her feet. “Wait!” she said loudly. “I have an announcement to make.”

All eyes swiveled in her direction, and Hannah came close to wishing that the floor would open up and swallow her. But something had to be done right now and she had to do it. Reverend Knudson and Claire were perfect for each other. And Claire was letting her fear of rejection stand in the way of their future happiness.

“I know you’re too modest to mention how hard you work to keep all these church activities going,” Hannah began, making up a speech as she went. “I didn’t realize it before, but you just told us about a meeting, or group, or event every single day of the week. And you go to every one of them. Not only that, you counsel people if they have a problem, you visit the sick at Lake Eden Hospital, and you or Grandma Knudson are always available on the phone if we need you. I know I speak for everyone here when I say that we appreciate all the time and effort you spend looking after us and the church.”

“That’s right,” Marge Beeseman called down from the choir loft. “We think you deserve a standing ovation, too!”

This is nice, Hannah thought as she applauded with everyone else. They’re in the mood to applaud, and they’ll go right on applauding when I throw them a curve.

“Sometimes we take you for granted,” Hannah continued. “We forget that you have a personal life in addition to your life as our pastor. And I know that’s why you’re not mentioning the most wonderful news of all.” Hannah looked around at the congregation. She had them on the edges of the pews. Everyone was leaning forward, waiting. “And that wonderful news is that wedding bells are about to ring for you and your bride.”

If they lean forward anymore, they’ll fall on the floor, Hannah thought fleetingly, noticing that people in the front pew were canting forward at close to a ninety-degree angle. But she went right on despite Reverend Knudson’s startled expression. “I’m happy to tell all of you that she’s a member of our own congregation. Since the Reverend is too shy to do it, I’m announcing that Reverend Knudson and Claire Rodgers will be getting married at Christmas! And I think our beloved minister and his bride-to-be deserve a standing ovation.”

Of course they all applauded. They were programmed for standing ovations. And thanks to Delores and her phone recruiting, more people approved than objected. Now there was only one more thing for Hannah to do and that would be easy.

“I thought we should have a small celebration on this joyous occasion, so I brought several kinds of cookies and Edna Ferguson made coffee. There’s juice for the kids, and everything’s all set up on tables outside. Please enjoy yourself, and don’t forget to tell Reverend Knudson and Claire how much you’re looking forward to their marriage.”

“Hannah?” Norman came up to her and slipped his arm around her waist. “That was just amazing what you did back there. You could sell kitty litter to nomads.”

Hannah laughed. Norman had a way with words. “Thank you…I think. Did you happen to notice how fast the Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies went?”

“They’re almost gone. Decorating them with Claire and the reverend’s initials was a brilliant touch.”

“Thanks,” Hannah said, knowing full well that Norman had caught her psychological ploy. Anyone who took a cookie with the two sets of initials encircled by a heart was giving symbolic approval to the marriage. “How about the Viking Cookies?”

“What Viking Cookies? The little sign is still there, but the plate’s empty. And I didn’t even get to taste them.”

“Don’t worry. I saved some for you.” Hannah was pleased that the Viking Cookies were such a big hit. The recipe was a new one that Lisa had perfected and it was made with her favorite white chocolate.

Marge Beeseman came up to them with a huge smile on her face. “That was an excellent speech, Hannah.”

“Thanks. I figured I’d better do something or Reverend Knudson would cop out again. Did Lisa tell you that we saved a few dozen cookies for this afternoon in case some of your relatives come in early for the family reunion?”

“She told me. And that’s so sweet of you, Hannah. My sister Patsy and her husband are here already, and so is Lisa’s oldest brother, Tim, the one who moved to Chicago.”

“How many people do you expect?” Norman asked. Although he wasn’t a Lake Eden native, he’d been here for almost three years now and he knew that Lisa’s family was huge, and so was the Beeseman family.

“Almost all the out-of-town relatives sent in the card that Lisa and Herb mailed with the invitation. And some locals called instead of filling it out. As it stands right now, I think we’ll be over a hundred.”

“That’s a big party!” Hannah said, wishing she’d saved more cookies. “Did Andrea find enough rentals for you at the lake?”

“I think so. And if we’re a little short on room, we’ll just double up. The Des Moines Beesemans are bringing their RV and there’s room for three more in there, and the Brainerd Hermans are bringing an extra tent in case anyone needs it.”

“Are you looking forward to seeing all your relatives again?” Norman asked.

“I’ll say! There are some grandnieces and grandnephews I haven’t even met yet. It’s going to be the most wonderful week! There’s only one thing I wish…” Marge stopped speaking and looked a bit wistful.

“What’s that?” Hannah asked her.

“It’s my brother, Gus. I was hoping he’d hear about the family reunion and show up.”

“He didn’t respond to the invitation?” Hannah was curious.

“He didn’t get an invitation. I don’t have an address for him.”

There was a story here, and both Hannah and Norman realized it. Like a good, attentive audience, they remained silent and waited for Marge to explain.

“Gus left Lake Eden over thirty years ago, and no one’s heard from him since. I hired a private detective to try to find him when my mother got sick, but he said Gus probably changed his name, and unless he knew what it was, he couldn’t get a lead on him.”

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