Bakery owner Hannah Swensen has a dress to fit into and a date with her sister, Andrea, at Lake Eden's new health club, Heavenly Bodies. Dragging herself out of bed on a frigid Minnesota morning for exercise, of all things, is bad enough. Discovering the body of man-eating bombshell Ronni Ward floating in the gym's jacuzzi? Okay, that's worse. Nor does it help that there's a plate of The Cookie Jar's very own cream puffs garnishing the murder scene.
Trying to narrow the list of Ronni's enemies down to fewer than half the town's female population, Hannah has her plate full. Trouble is, when it comes to cookies--and to murder--there's always room for one more...
"Foodie fans will eat up Fluke's cozy. . . A fluffy mix of sweets and suspense." --Publishers Weekly
"Entertaining and sprinkled with tempting recipes. It's a sweet treat of a novel." --The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
"A tasty treat." --Kirkus Reviews
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January 26, 2010
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Excerpt from Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke
There was a loud crash as someone dropped a platter. A split second later, Hannah Swensen reached up to pick a piece of pepperoni out of her curly red hair. She examined it, identified it for what it was, and just barely managed to resist the urge to pop it into her mouth. Although one bite of the traditional pizza topping might not exceed her calorie count for lunch, it could pave the way to a self-indulgent feast from the menu at Bertanelli's Pizza, a popular eatery in Lake Eden, Minnesota.
One glance down at the salad she'd ordered and Hannah almost gave way to temptation. It was a perfectly good salad, crispy lettuce in three varieties, several slices of tomato, strips of yellow and red bell pepper for color, and a dressing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the side. Salads were good. Salads were healthful. Salads were much better than pizza when you had to lose at least ten pounds because everything you owned was too tight around the middle, including your very favorite pair of jeans.
"What's that?" her sister Andrea asked, watching Hannah wrap the meaty missile in a napkin and set it aside. "Pepperoni. I heard a crash right before it hit. One of Ellie's new waitresses must have dropped a pizza platter." Without another word, both sisters picked up their winter parkas and slid over to the edge of the booth so they could peer out at the other diners. It was Saturday, and Bertanelli's was packed with customers. It was also November in Minnesota, and that meant the coatrack by the door was also packed, and they'd had to stash their bulky outerwear in their booth. Andrea was sharing her side with her husband, Bill Todd, the Winnetka County sheriff. Hannah's lunch date was her sometimes boyfriend, Bill's chief detective, Mike Kingston. This was obviously a working lunch because the men hadn't even noticed the porcine projectile that had landed on Hannah's head. They were too busy discussing a bungled bank robbery that had taken place in a neighboring town that morning.
The interior at Bertanelli's was comfort itself, with carved wooden booths and tables, plastered walls with fake brick peeking through, and Italian scenes painted by the Jordan High senior art class. The candles on the tables were stuck in wine bottles that had been dripped with various candle colors, a tribute to the crafts movement of the fifties. All in all, it was a nice, relaxing place to have lunch, but not today.
"Uh-oh," Andrea said, beginning to frown.
"You said it," Hannah added, spotting Bridget Murphy, who had just righted herself after running smack-dab into the waitress who'd been carrying the pizza that had provided Hannah's unexpected slice of sausage.
Both women watched as Bridget, who was known for her fiery Irish temper, veered off toward the big round booth in the corner where Ronni Ward was holding court. Ronni was flanked by four of Lake Eden's most successful males. Mayor Bascomb and bank president Doug Greerson were seated on her left. Al Percy of Lake Eden Realty, and Bert Kuehn, coowner of Bertanelli's, were seated on her right.
Everyone had thought that Ronni was gone for good last winter when she got engaged and moved in with her fianc� to help him run his fitness center in Elk River. But Ronni and the man she'd promised to marry had broken it off, and, as Hannah and Andrea's grandmother had been fond of saying, the bad penny had turned up in Lake Eden again. Bill, who was a soft touch for a sob story, had rehired Ronni as the fitness instructor at the sheriff's department, and the word on the Lake Eden gossip hotline was that Ronni was flirting heavily, or perhaps even more, with the deputies at the sheriff's station, regardless of their marital status.
Unable to live on the small salary the sheriff's department paid her, Ronni had found a part-time job at Heavenly Bodies, the new fitness spa at the Tri-County Mall. Her track record there appeared to be more of the same. She'd sold more memberships than anyone else on the staff, but the members she'd signed were almost all male. Several local wives weren't happy about their husbands' resolve to get into shape by joining one of Ronni's exercise classes or hiring her as their personal fitness coach after hours.
"Here comes Cyril," Hannah said as Bridget's husband attempted and failed to intercept his wife before she reached Ronni's table.
The two sisters watched for a moment. At first only words were exchanged, but with each salvo, Bridget's frown grew fiercer and Ronni's scowl etched deeper.
"What's happening?" Bill asked, tapping his wife on the shoulder.
"Ronni Ward's arguing with Bridget Murphy, but Cyril's there and he's trying to break it up."
Almost simultaneously, Bill and Mike reached for another piece of pizza. Hannah thought she knew what was running through their minds. Bertanelli's had the best pizza in Minnesota. If Bill and Mike had to leave to break up a catfight between Ronni Ward and Bridget Murphy, they wanted to finish their lunch first.
"Bridget doesn't look happy," Andrea went on with her running commentary.
Hannah watched Bridget's husband put himself in what might be harm's way to block Bridget's access to Ronni.
The women's voices became louder, and Bill reached for a final piece of pizza. "What's happening now?"
"I think it's almost over," Andrea told him. "Cyril's got Bridget in one of those holds you see on the wrestling channel, and he's hauling her away. I wonder what set her off?"
Ronni did, Hannah thought, but she didn't say it. She's enough to set any woman off. "I wonder if Ellie knows where Bert is," Hannah speculated.
"She knows. She's over there at the kitchen door, just staring at Bert. If looks could kill, Bert would be a statistic. One of these days Ronni is going to get hers, and it won't be pretty."
"Right," Hannah said, and then she leaned across the table and lowered her voice. "I just hope I'm there to see it."
"Me too! Maybe someone ought to call Stephanie Bas- comb, and Sally Percy, and Amalia Greerson, and invite them to come out here for lunch."
"You wouldn't!" Hannah said, giving her sister a long hard look.
"Probably not, but it's fun to think about what would happen if somebody . . . uh-oh! Bridget got loose!"
Both sisters watched anxiously as Bridget raced back toward Ronni's table. Cyril looked dazed, and Hannah had a sneaking suspicion that Bridget had bitten him on the shoulder since he was rubbing it through his shirt. It took him a moment to recover, and that gave Bridget time to reach her goal. Once she arrived, red-faced and panting, she hurtled herself at Ronni and grabbed her by the hair.
"Have you no shame?" Bridget's voice took on the thick Irish brogue of her ancestors. "He's got a wife and baby, and another one on the way. You leave my boy alone or you'll answer to me!"
"You tell her, Bridget!" someone shouted, and it sounded like Ellie to Hannah.
"Knock it off, will you? We're trying to enjoy our lunch here!" a diner shouted, and Hannah recognized the voice. It was her downstairs neighbor, Phil Plotnik, and he was sitting with a whole table of DelRay workers.
"Be quiet! Both of you!" a woman called out from a booth across the room. "And if you can't, do us a favor and take it outside!"
Several other shouts for Ronni and Bridget to cease and desist came from various sections of the dining room. Almost everyone wanted the altercation to end, but it was pretty clear that there was even more trouble brewing when a half- dozen Jordan High students at a table in the center began to clap and whistle.
"Food fight!" one of the boys yelled, and all six of them started to hurl garlic bread and meatballs.