Joanne Fluke Christmas Bundle: Sugar Cookie Murder, Candy Cane Murder, Plum Pudding Murder, & Gingerbread Cookie Murder

BOOK: Joanne Fluke Christmas Bundle: Sugar Cookie Murder, Candy Cane Murder, Plum Pudding Murder, & Gingerbread Cookie Murder
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“Hannah?” Norman turned to his suddenly silent companion. “What’s the matter?”

Hannah pointed to an area on the other side of the door.

Norman turned to look. “There’s Larry.” He moved a smidgen closer to the prone figure on the rug. “There’s a brandy bottle on the coffee table. He could be dead drunk.”

“Or he could simply be dead,” Hannah said as she averted her eyes as Norman knelt down next to Larry on the rug. That’s when she noticed her platter on the floor, along with some scattered crumbs that could only have come from her Minnesota Plum Pudding. Larry must have been carrying the platter when he answered the door.

“No pulse,” Norman said, straightening up and turning to her. “He’s dead.”

“Dead,” Hannah repeated, not liking that diagnosis at all..

Books by Joanne Fluke
















Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation



This book is for the lovely Thea Giulia


A big kiss for Ruel, who fixes all the boo-boos. Hugs all around to the kids and the grandkids.

Congratulations to Dixie Lee, winner of the Kensington recipe contest, with her scrumptious German Apple Cake.

Thank you to: Mel & Kurt, Lyn & Bill, Lu & Sheba, Gina, Adrienne, Jay, Bob, Amanda, John B., Judy Q., Dr. Bob & Sue, Laura & Mark, Richard & Krista, Mark B., Lois & Neal, and my hometown friends in Swanville, MN.

Thank you to my multi-talented Editor-in-Chief, John Scognamiglio, for his infinite patience, excellent advice, and his unwavering trust in tasting every sample of Hannah’s baked goods that I send to him.

Thanks also to Walter, Steve, Laurie, Doug, David, Maureen, Karen, Meryl, Colleen, Michaela, Kate, Adam, Jessica, Peter, Robin, Lori, Mike, Tami, Susie, and Barbara.

Thanks to Hiro Kimura for the delectable Plum Pudding on the cover.
(I love the Santa on the dessert server!)

And thank you to Lou Malcangi for designing such a delightful dust jacket.

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

Thank you to Trudi Nash, a great friend and traveling companion! And thanks to David for batching it while she’s gone.

Thank you to Dr. Rahhal, Dr. and Mrs. Line, and Dr. Wallen.

Thanks to John at Placed4Success for Hannah’s movie and TV spots.
And thanks to Hans who saved me from buying a flat-screen TV to use for target practice.

Thanks to Ken Wilson, the master of iced coffee. And a big hug for Lois Brown, superb food stylist and baker.

Thanks to Jill Saxton for correcting my Minnesota mistakes, baking bloopers, spelling slips, and grammatical goofs. (You’ll notice she doesn’t correct alliteration.)

Many thanks to Terry Sommers for wading through the Wisconsin snow to her grocery store for the ingredients to test my recipes.

Thank you to Sally Hayes for so many yummy recipes. If I click my heels together three times can I come to your Kansas kitchen and bake with you?

Thank you to Jamie Wallace for keeping my Web site,
up to date and looking great.

Hugs to everyone who sent favorite family recipes for Hannah to try.
I’m going to increase the size of my “To Test” box…again.
And thanks so much for all the friendly letters and e-mails about Hannah.
I’m delighted that you enjoy reading about her and trying her recipes.

Chapter One

Lake Eden, Minnesota
Ten Shopping Days Until Christmas

here were nights like tonight, right after he’d bet a bundle on the losing team, when Larry Jaeger wondered why he’d ever come back to this dinky little town. When it came to money matters, people around here were clueless. Swindling them out of their savings was no contest at all. He preferred an even playing field where he could outwit the investors he thought of as his adversaries. It was a game, after all, and the game was boring if your opponents were pushovers.

In an effort to even the odds he’d taken more risks than usual, but not a single one of the locals were suspicious, not even Mayor Bascomb, who prided himself on his business savvy. This was like counting the leaves on a three-leaf clover, and that wasn’t his idea of fun. The thrill came from taking off with the money right before someone was about to catch on. These people weren’t about to catch on.

And then there was Courtney, his biggest investor, his partner, and his fiancée. She owned fifty percent of the Crazy Elf Christmas Tree Lot…on paper.

Courtney had insisted on taking a room at the Lake Eden Inn, rather than staying with him in the double-wide trailer they called Elf Headquarters. She was afraid that people would talk because they weren’t married. She was right. They would talk. But that wouldn’t bother him. His concern was that Courtney was living separately, and that gave her time to think. It was much easier to keep tabs on her when they were together twenty-four seven. She had some surprisingly good business instincts, unlike some of the other girlfriends he’d had. Courtney might just have the smarts to compare the business he’d fabricated for her on paper to what was actually happening right here in Lake Eden Park. If she did that, she might discover the inconsistencies that no one else had noticed.

The customers were long gone and the last employee had left the lot at least ten minutes ago. He was completely alone and once Hannah came to pick up her check, he’d be alone for the rest of the night.

It was time to close up shop. He stepped out the back door of the trailer and walked to the pole that held the breaker box. It was cold tonight, now that the elves had turned off the standing heaters, and he shivered even though he was wearing a heavy sweater.

There were three switches inside the weather-proof box. The top one controlled the electricity for the buildings, tree tents, rides, and tall candy cane lampposts that illuminated the park. The second switch powered the bare bulbs that were strung in a crisscross pattern overhead. They were the night security lights and they kept the park dimly illuminated when the main lights were out. The third breaker controlled the electricity for Elf Headquarters, and that was permanently set in the on position. He’d told the electrician to rig it so that no misguided employee could cut the power to his television set in the middle of an important game.

The music was blaring as usual and it seemed even louder now that it wasn’t tempered by noisy crowds and the squeals of children riding the attractions. His trailer wasn’t soundproof, but he’d learned to tune out the noise when he was inside. Now that the park was empty, the continuous loop of Christmas carols seemed ear-splitting.

Silent Night
was playing as he clicked on the overhead security lights. He’d learned his lesson the first night he’d spent in the park. Once the main lights were doused, it was impossible to see the second switch. He’d picked his way gingerly back to the trailer to get a flashlight to illuminate the second switch so that he could engage it.

Larry reached for the top switch as the music went into the chorus. “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is…”

He threw the switch and smiled. “Not bright. Not bright at all,” he said, heading back to the lights and warmth of Elf Headquarters.

A big swallow from the brandy snifter on the coffee table made short work of his shivers. A second snifter took care of his icy toes and hands, and then he played channel roulette with the remote in an effort to find something interesting. He bypassed cooking shows, nature programs, reenactments of great moments in history, several movies with actors he didn’t recognize, a performance by a symphony orchestra with a conductor he didn’t recognize, and reruns of ten-year-old game shows. He finally concluded that there was nothing he really wanted to watch on any of his two hundred plus satellite channels. The only thing that was slightly better than nothing at all was a replay of the championship college basketball tournament that had taken place last year.

A few sips from a third snifter of brandy made it easier to pretend that he hadn’t seen the game before. He watched a three-pointer sink in without even rippling the net, and then he looked up as car lights flashed outside his window.

Someone was parking on the street and it was probably Hannah and the dentist. No one else would come here this late. The sign on the gate announced that they were closed, but he’d left it unlocked so that she could come in.

An envelope with her check and receipt was waiting on the table next to the door. He was nothing if not prepared. He picked up the platter she’d used for her plum pudding and glanced down at the remaining crumbs. She’d be pleased to hear that everyone had loved it and agreed that it would be a big hit at the Crazy Elf Cookie Shop.

When the knock came on the door, he was ready. He pulled it open, but when he saw who was standing there, he began to frown. “What are
doing here? You’re the last person I expected to see!”

be the last person you’ll see.” The words were clipped with anger. “It’s what you deserve for what you’ve done.”

“What do you mean?” His frown deepened and he stepped back in an effort to avoid a confrontation. It was clear that this was not a friendly social visit.

His uninvited guest stepped in, shut the door, and took another step forward, forcing him to back up even further. “What do you want?” he asked.

The answer to his question came in tangible form. When he saw the gun, he backed up several more steps and dropped the platter with a crash. His hands shot up in a futile effort to protect himself.

“No! You can’t…” were the last words he spoke.

BOOK: Joanne Fluke Christmas Bundle: Sugar Cookie Murder, Candy Cane Murder, Plum Pudding Murder, & Gingerbread Cookie Murder
13.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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