Double Fudge Brownie Murder
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP. Copyright © 2015 H.L. Swensen, Inc.
All rights reserved.
It was a brisk September morning and to say that Hannah Swensen was excited would be the understatement of the year. Not even the specter of her upcoming trial for vehicular homicide, which had been postponed again last week, could dampen her spirits.
"Don't worry, Moishe," Hannah told the orange and white cat who was staring at her from the top of her dresser. "I'm only going to be gone for three days and Norman should be here to pick you up any minute now. You're going to stay with Norman and Cuddles while I'm gone."
Hannah smiled as she slipped off her robe and dressed in her stylish, new, forest green pantsuit. Some people claimed that cats didn't understand when you spoke to them, but Moishe always reacted with an excited yowl whenever she said Cuddles. Norman's cat was Moishe's favorite friend. Hannah admitted that she might be anthropomorphizing, but she was convinced that Moishe loved Cuddles every bit as much as her mother loved Doc Knight.
Hannah slipped on her shoes and walked to the foot of the bed. Her suitcase was open on top of the bedspread and she checked the contents again. Claire Rodgers Knudson, the owner of Beau Monde Fashions, the upscale dress shop right next to The Cookie Jar on Main Street, had chosen what she called a mini trousseau for each of the three Swensen sisters. It was a gift from Doc Knight, their mother's groom-to-be. Of course, Delores had her own, much larger bridal trousseau, which was currently stashed in the trunk of one of Cyril Murphy's Shamrock Limousines, waiting for the wedding surprise that Doc and Delores's daughters had planned for her.
At first, all three Swensen sisters had been reluctant to accept Doc's lovely and expensive gifts. Such largesse was highly unusual in Lake Eden, Minnesota. There were a couple of rich families in town, but most people worked hard for their money and didn't have any excess to spend on luxuries. Hannah, Andrea, and Michelle fell into that latter group.
It had taken Doc a week, but he had convinced them to accept his generous gifts. He'd reminded them that presents for members of the wedding party were traditional, and with the exception of Doc's best man, Hannah, Andrea, and Michelle comprised the whole wedding party. He'd also stated that the lovely mini trousseaus were doubling as thank you gifts for helping him implement his wedding surprise for their mother. With that said, Doc had led them into Claire's shop and turned them over to her.
The Swensen sisters didn't shop in Claire's designer boutique very often. All three were on a budget. Hannah's bakery and coffee shop made enough money for her to live a comfortable life, but designer clothing was low on her list of priorities. Andrea, the middle Swensen sister, loved to wear designer things, but most of her commissions as a part-time real estate agent went into a college fund for her two daughters. Andrea's husband also worked. Bill was the Winnetka County sheriff, but most of his salary went toward the family's living expenses. Michelle, the youngest Swensen sister, was in college at Macalester and everything she earned from working part-time was spent on tuition, books, and living expenses.
Hannah reached out to touch the gorgeous sapphire blue dress that she would wear to her mother's wedding. Andrea and Michelle had identically styled dresses, but they were in gradiated shades of blue. Hannah's was the most vivid and the sapphire blue looked wonderful with her red hair. Michelle's dress was a lighter shade that brought out the red and gold highlights in her brown hair. Andrea's dress was the palest, an ice blue that was worthy of a winter princess. With her light blond hair worn up in a twist and secured with a rhinestone-studded comb, she looked positively regal.
Tonight, Delores would marry Doc Knight in the Little Chapel of the Orchids in Las Vegas with only Doc's best man and Delores's three daughters in attendance. The bride-to-be had no idea that Doc had planned a surprise elopement when he'd invited her to a special board member breakfast at the hospital. The breakfast had been Andrea's idea to make certain that Delores wouldn't wear her Rainbow Lady volunteer jacket and slacks.
When Delores arrived at the hospital, Doc would whisk her away in a waiting limousine that would take them to the airport. Doc had hired a second limousine to take Michelle, Andrea, and Hannah to the airport, and once they'd arrived, they would be escorted to the plane where Doc had somehow arranged for all five of them to be served a champagne breakfast.
Delores had no idea that any of this was going to happen. Hannah knew that Doc had surprised Delores several times in the past with impromptu dinner parties and gifts she hadn't expected. So far, Delores had loved his surprises. But this surprise was the biggest one of all!
Hannah readily admitted that she was a bit nervous about the whole scenario that would play out today. When her mother discovered that Doc and all three of her daughters were co-conspirators in this elopement, one of two things would happen. Either Delores would be so angry at all of them that she'd refuse to marry Doc or she'd be delighted with Doc's romantic spontaneity and grateful that they'd all helped him with her surprise.
Hannah was betting on the latter for several reasons. The most important was that Delores loved Doc totally and irrevocably. If he wanted to sweep her off her feet and elope with her, she would not hesitate. The odds in Hannah's mind tallied at ninety to ten, perhaps even steeper than that. But there was the slim chance that Hannah's mother would balk at the way that Doc had chosen to take the planning of their wedding away from her.
"That's not going to happen!" Hannah said aloud, as if by voicing that opinion, she could assure its validity. She was almost positive that Delores would go with Doc to the ends of the earth. Seeing the two of them together made Hannah long for the same kind of total consuming love. In retrospect, she knew it was the reason she hadn't accepted either Norman's or Mike's proposal. She loved both of them, but it wasn't the heart-pounding, can't-live-without-you kind of love she craved. Just once in her life she wanted to be swept off her feet by the perfect man on the perfect night with perfect love.
Did she want too much? Was there such a thing as perfect love? By refusing to settle for something less was she depriving herself of a fulfilling life?
A knock on her door pulled Hannah from her contemplative mood. She shut her suitcase, hurried from the bedroom with Moishe at her heels, and arrived at the door slightly breathless. "Hi, Norman," she said, pulling open the door.
"You didn't look through the peephole, Hannah," Norman chided her gently as he came in.
Hannah laughed. "At eight-thirty in the morning? Besides, you said you were coming at eight-thirty and you're never late."
"Okay." Norman looked a little sheepish. "I might have overreacted, but I wish you'd remember to use the peephole. I could have been someone you didn't want to see."
"Never!" Hannah reached out to give him a hug. "You couldn't possibly be someone I didn't want to see. Not as long as you're you, Norman. I always want to see you!"
Norman hugged her back and Hannah knew she'd said the right thing. And he did have a point. She really ought to get into the habit of looking through the peephole before she opened the door.
"Hello, Big Guy." Norman bent down to pet Moishe. "Cuddles is at my house waiting for you. I hope you're ready to play all day and sleep all night."
Moishe looked up at him for a second and then he walked over to his Kitty Kastle. He jumped up to the perch and jumped down again with a toy mouse in his mouth.
"You want to take that with you?" Norman threw it down the hallway once and let Moishe retrieve it. "Okay," Norman picked up the mouse. "I'm putting it in my pocket for you. I'll give it to you the minute we get to my house ... okay?"
Hannah watched the interaction between cat and man with some amusement. Norman really did get along wonderfully with Moishe. Of course Mike did, too. Both of the men in her life liked her cat. And he liked both of them. Moishe hadn't helped her at all in any permanent decision making. He liked everyone ... except Delores. And since falling in love with Doc Knight had mellowed Delores, Moishe had become much more tolerant of her.
"Do you want me to carry out your suitcase?" Norman asked her.
"Thanks, but no. Doc said the limo driver would come up to get the luggage and load it. Wheeling it out right now might upset Moishe."
"You're probably right. I just didn't want you to have to do it yourself." Norman took Moishe's harness and leash from the hook by the door and held it out. "Come on, Moishe. It's time to go and see Cuddles."
Hannah watched while Norman harnessed her pet. Moishe had always objected to getting into a cat carrier, but he loved to wear his harness. That was probably because he didn't like to be confined and preferred to roam around in the back seat of Norman's car or in the back of her cookie truck.
Norman hooked the leash to Moishe's harness and stood up. "Have a great time, Hannah. And don't let wedding fever get the best of you ... at least not until you get back here."
"Don't worry. I won't." Hannah smiled at him. "And I won't let gambling fever get the best of me, either. I'm only taking along the money that I can afford to lose. And that's not much!"
"Do you need to borrow some from me?"
"No thanks. This way I'm not tempted. And to tell the truth, I'm really not tempted, anyway. It's just something to do while I'm there."
"I've got something else for you to do while you're there." Norman pulled an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to her. "These are for you."
Hannah opened the envelope and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "These are ... show tickets!"
"That's right. Three tickets to Cirque Du Soleil, three tickets to the Beatles Retrospective, and three tickets to the New Irish Show Band."
"How wonderful!" Hannah threw her arms around his neck and hugged him hard. "This is so nice of you, Norman. Michelle's been talking about Cirque Du Soleil for practically forever and Andrea just loves the Beatles. And I read about the New Irish Show Band in Sunday's paper. The dancing is supposed to be fantastic."
"That's what gave me the idea. I called the paper and found out that they had a special deal if you went through the Las Vegas visitor's bureau to order the tickets." Norman looked down at Moishe, who was trying to pull him toward the door. "I think he's anxious to go and see Cuddles."
"I know he is. When I said her name this morning, he gave me the most pitiful, yearning yowl I've ever heard."
"Just like I do when I think about you." Norman reached out to hug her again. "Have a good time, Hannah. And don't worry about a thing back here. I'll keep an eye on your place and I'll make sure that Moishe has a good time while you're gone."
Hannah had just pulled her rolling suitcase into the living room when there was another knock on her door. She gave a quick look through the peephole, thinking that perhaps Norman was back for something he'd forgotten, and gave a little gasp when she saw who was standing there.
"Hannah," Mike greeted her when she opened the door. "Good for you!"
"I'm glad you looked to see who was there before you opened the door. We'd have less crime if everyone would do that."
Hannah sent a silent thank you to Norman for reminding her and ushered Mike in. "Did you come to say goodbye?"
"That and something else." Mike pulled her into his arms and hugged her. "I got something for you to take with you. I know you've never flown before, so I brought you a good luck charm."
Hannah accepted the bag Mike handed her and opened the top a bit gingerly. She didn't really think that it was a foot from a roadkill rabbit, but you could never tell with Mike.
"Do you like it?" Mike asked, grinning widely.
"It's ... beautiful," Hannah answered quite truthfully, staring down at the pendant inside the little jewelry box.
"It's a four-leaf clover encased in silver, and it's on a silver chain. They had silver rabbits' feet and little horseshoes, and lots of stuff like that, but I thought this would be better. So did Sharon. She said it would be perfect for you."
"She's the woman who works at the jewelry shop. The minute she said it, I knew she was right. Four-leaf clovers are harder to find than rabbits' feet or horseshoes. And Sharon personally guaranteed that there's a real four-leaf clover under that silver."
"Well, I'm not about to break it apart to find out!" Hannah slipped it on over her head and touched it gently with her fingertips. "Thanks, Mike. It's really beautiful."
"She said you'd say that. She told me she wanted one the minute she saw the display."
Hannah wasn't about to ask if Mike had gotten one for Sharon, too. She really didn't want to know. Mike was a flirt, pure and simple, and even though he wasn't Irish, he had an even bigger helping of Irish blarney than Cyril Murphy did!
"I didn't," Mike said.
"You didn't what?"
"I didn't buy one for Sharon."
Hannah frowned slightly. "I didn't ask you if you had."
"I know, but you were thinking about asking. I heard you loud and clear. This is just for you, Hannah. It's special because you're special."
Hannah didn't say anything. She just hugged him. Mike could be really sweet when he wasn't playing his officious cop role. She was wondering if she should thank him again, she really did love the silver clover, when there was a knock at her door.
"I'll get it," Mike said, pulling the door open without looking through the peephole.
Hannah had the urge to remind him that what was good for the goose was good for the gander, but she didn't when she saw Michelle's excited face.
"Hi, Mike," Michelle said, stepping in with her suitcase. "Are you all ready, Hannah?"
"I'm ready. Did you see Andrea on your way in?"
Mike, who was still standing by the open door, pointed toward the visitor's parking lot. "Bill just dropped her off and she's wheeling her suitcase down the walkway. And your limo just pulled in. The driver's parking out by the road."
"Great!" Hannah felt a hoard of nervous butterflies take flight in her stomach. She'd never been on a plane before and she wasn't quite sure what to expect. There was something about being up in the clouds with nothing but air beneath her that was terrifying, but the thought was also exhilarating.
"I'll carry your suitcases down for you."
"But the limo driver will come to get them," Hannah said.
"That's okay. I'll do it." Mike grabbed both suitcases and started down the stairs. "Hannah?"
"Make sure you double lock your door."
"But the deadbolt doesn't fit right."
"It'll work if you lift up on the doorknob. Just do it, Hannah. It's important."
Hannah sighed. "All right, Mike. I'll do it."
"All cops are alike," Michelle grumbled just as soon as Mike was out of earshot. "I'll help you, Hannah. I've double locked your door before and it's a two-person job."
Hannah inserted her key and Michelle lifted up on the doorknob so that Hannah could throw the deadbolt that wasn't quite lined up correctly. It took three tries, but the bolt finally slid home.
"Mike always tells me to double lock the door," Hannah said with a sigh, dropping her keys into her purse, picking up her large carry-on by one strap, and following Michelle down the stairs. "It's a royal pain to do and I don't really have anything for anyone to steal."
"I know, but Mike's a cop and they all say that. Lonnie told me to double lock my door when we left my place, and two of my roommates were still inside. I'll bet you five bucks that Bill reminded Andrea to double lock their door this morning."
Hannah laughed. "There's no way I'm going to take that bet, not when I'm sure you're right. People who work in law enforcement are very safety conscious."
"Oh, it's not that." Michelle turned around at the base of the stairs to smile at her older sister.
"No. Lonnie explained the whole thing to me this morning and it's not a matter of safety at all. It's just that they have to file a report for every theft that occurs, and they don't want to fill out all that paperwork." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Double Fudge Brownie Murder by JOANNE FLUKE. Copyright © 2015 H.L. Swensen, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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