These days, everyone in Lake Eden, Minnesota, is buzzing with activity, and Hannah Swensen is no exception. But no matter how busy she may be, Hannah can always find time to help a friend in need—especially when he’s been murdered…
Hannah Swensen has to admit that her life is pretty sweet. Things are going well in the romance department, and her bakery’s delectable confections are selling almost as fast as she can bake them. Even her good friend Claire is on Cloud Nine, head over heels with her new husband, Reverend Bob Knudson. If only they could find time to take their honeymoon!
When Bob’s childhood friend, Matthew Walters, comes to town, it seems like divine intervention. Matthew, like Bob, is a Lutheran minister with a stubborn sweet tooth. Since he’s on sabbatical, Matthew is happy to fill in for Bob while he and Claire take that long-awaited honeymoon. It sounds like the perfect plan—until Hannah finds Matthew in the rectory, face-down in a plate full of Devil’s Food Cake, a single bullet in his head.
Determined to find out who killed Matthew, Hannah starts asking questions—and discovers that the good Reverend wasn’t quite the saintly fellow he appeared to be. But could the gold Sacagawea coins in Sunday’s collection plate hold the key to solving the crime? Or is the murder connected to that big jewel heist out in Minneapolis? Is it possible that Matthew’s love of chocolate somehow led to his downfall? It will take some more digging to find out, but Hannah is sure of one thing: even the most half-baked murder plot can be oh so deadly…
“You’ll never see a hearse towing a U-Haul!”
Hannah Swensen turned toward the parlor doorway
as she recognized her friend Claire’s distinctive voice. She
could hear her laughing in the parsonage hallway, obviously
delighted by the twist on the old adage, You can’t take it with
“Claire?” Hannah called out, but there was no answer.
That was odd. She’d clearly heard Claire and that meant
Claire and her new husband, Reverend Bob Knudson, must
be back from visiting sick parishioners at Lake Eden Memorial
“Bob? Claire?” Hannah called out again, but no one appeared
in the doorway. All was perfectly silent outside the
cozy sitting room where Hannah had been visiting with Reverend
Bob’s grandmother, Priscilla Knudson, and copying the
octogenarian’s recipe for Red Devil’s Food Cake.
Hannah got up and walked to the window to see if she
could spot Bob’s car. The scene outside could have been lifted
straight from a Christmas card. The birch tree on the other
side of the driveway was filled with winter birds enjoying the
suet that Grandma Knudson hung from the branches. There
were red birds, and blue birds, and green birds, and black
birds with iridescent feathers that seemed to be perched on every branch. They reminded Hannah of gems suspended from
a white gold filigreed pendant. Lake Eden, Minnesota, could
be truly beautiful in the winter . . . cold, but beautiful. If the
KCOW weatherman was correct, the mercury in Grandma
Knudson’s outside thermometer would shiver in the bulb at
the bottom of the scale, poking its head up for only a brief
period and then sinking down out of sight again.
Hannah’s gaze dropped to the driveway that ran along the
width of the house and into the garage. There were no tire
tracks in the freshly fallen snow. Had Bob and Claire parked
in front of the parsonage for some reason?
Puzzled, Hannah crossed to the doorway and stepped out
to peer down the hall. It was deserted. She was about to return
to the parlor when Grandma Knudson emerged from
the kitchen, carrying a tea tray with coffee and sample slices
of what she called her best company cake.
“Are Claire and Bob back?” Hannah asked, quickly relieving
Grandma Knudson of the heavy tray.
“Not yet. I asked Bob to call when they left the hospital so
that I could put on a fresh pot of coffee.”
Hannah retraced her steps to the sitting room and set the
tray down on the coffee table in front of the couch Grandma
Knudson called a “davenport.” It had been reupholstered
last month by a member of the Holy Redeemer congregation
who had chosen the material and the color. The forest green
couch that had gone so well with the green and yellow
striped wallpaper had been re-covered with bright pink velveteen
in a hue that reminded Hannah of the contents in a
“Would you pour, Hannah?” Grandma Knudson asked, as
Hannah settled down on the pink davenport again. “I know
young ladies like you prefer coffee mugs, but there’s something
so civilized about sipping coffee from bone china
Hannah reached for the silver coffeepot and carefully filled two cups. She set them on their matching saucers and was
about to hand one to Grandma Knudson when she reconsidered.
“I wonder if we might be better off having our coffee in
the kitchen,” she suggested, glancing down at the generous
slices of chocolate layer cake with fudgy frosting that her
hostess had placed on matching bone china dessert plates.
“Why is that, dear?”
“I’m worried that I might spill something on your pink
“Don’t give it a second thought,” Grandma Knudson told
her, reaching out to retrieve her cup and saucer. “Every time I
sit there, I hope I’m going to spill something. Unfortunately,
Donna Lempke Scotchguarded this darned thing after she recovered
it. Every single stain I’ve managed to make just
“Well . . . that’s good.”
“No, it’s not. It means I’m stuck with this pink monstrosity,
and it’ll probably outlive me!”
Hannah wasn’t sure exactly how to respond. Half of her
wanted to laugh because Grandma Knudson hated the color
of her davenport so much, she was actively trying to ruin it.
But the other half of her wanted to cry because Grandma
Knudson thought she’d die before the couch could be reupholstered
again. Since Hannah really didn’t know what to
say, she picked up her dessert plate and took a bite of
Grandma Knudson’s Red Devil’s Food Cake.
“Mmmm!” Hannah gave an involuntary exclamation of
pure pleasure. The sweet, fudgy melt-in-your-mouth goodness
of the frosting was tempered by the deep, dark chocolate
of the cake.
“Thank you, Hannah,” Grandma Knudson said with a
smile. “I’m glad you like my cake. And I’m very flattered that
your mother is going to serve it at her book launch party.
Now . . . what made you think Claire and Bob were back?”
“I was sure I heard Claire’s voice in the hall. And I’m almost
positive I heard her laugh.”
“You didn’t hear Claire. You heard Jacob.”
“But it was Claire’s voice. I recognized it.”
“Jacob can imitate Claire. What did he say?”
“You’ll never see a hearse towing a U-Haul,” Hannah
said, repeating the words she’d heard.
“Then it was definitely Jacob. He was with Claire and Bob
in the church office when they were trying to find something
to put on the billboard sign for Sunday. Just wait until I tell
them! They’ll be so pleased he learned something new.”
Hannah knew there was some information she wasn’t getting.
“Who is Jacob?” she asked, deciding to cut straight to
the heart of the matter.
“He’s Pete Nunke’s mynah bird. Bob agreed to keep him
while Pete recovers from back surgery.”
Hannah laughed. “Well, Jacob fooled me. I really thought
he was Claire. Does he imitate you, too?”
“Not me. And not Bob either, at least not yet. He says two
things he learned from Pete, though.”
“What are they?” Hannah took another forkful of cake. It
was so delicious, she wanted to just put her head down and
“The first one is, Brrr, it’s cold out there! And I won’t repeat
the second one. It has something to do with the weather
and someone digging a well, though.”
A possible phrase popped into Hannah’s head, but she
wasn’t about to utter it in the parsonage. “Has Jacob learned
anything else since he’s been here with you?”
“No, and it’s not for lack of effort. Bob and Claire have
been trying to teach him to say his name, but he doesn’t seem
The phone on the end table rang, and Hannah took another bite of her cake while Grandma Knudson answered it.
The cake layers had a slightly reddish tint and Hannah remembered
that the recipe she’d copied had called for a half-
cup of cocoa powder. Cakes made with cocoa powder often
took on a nice mahogany color. She reread what she’d written
on the recipe card that Grandma Knudson had given her
and realized that the deep, dark flavor she’d failed to identify
initially must be from the strong coffee that complemented
the chocolate. No wonder this cake was so good!
“That was Bob,” Grandma Knudson told her, replacing
the phone in its cradle. “They’re on their way home, and they
said they’re bringing a surprise for me.”
“Any idea what it could be?”
“Coffee ice cream, pickled herring, or ring bologna.”
Grandma Knudson gave a little giggle that sounded as if it
had come from the throat of someone one-fifth her age. “I’d
better turn that coffee on. I have it all ready to go.”
In less time than it took Hannah to finish the rest of her
cake, Grandma Knudson was back. “Maybe they aren’t
bringing me something to eat. I was thinking that they might
have picked up a tall, dark-haired stranger. I’d really love it if
they brought me a tall, dark-haired stranger!”
Hannah stared at Grandma Knudson in surprise. “You’re
thinking of dating again?”
“Good heavens, no! It’s just that it would be fun to tell
Pam Baxter that she was right. She was the one who told me
I’d meet a tall, dark-haired stranger.”
“Of course,” Hannah said, remembering that Pam was the
teacher who’d dressed up in a fortune-teller costume at the
last Jordan High carnival.
“Did you have your fortune told, Hannah?”
“Yes. Pam told me that I was going to come into money.”
“And you do every day at The Cookie Jar,” Grandma
Knudson named Hannah’s bakery and coffee shop on Main
Street. “Pam was right in your case.”
“But not in yours?”
“No. My problem seems to be that there aren’t many
strangers who come to Lake Eden and wind up at the parsonage.
As a matter of fact, I can’t remember the last stranger
who came to town and ended up here. There were more
strangers when we had the hotel, but now . . .”
“We’re back!” a voice called out, interrupting Grandma
Hannah opened her mouth to call out a hello to Claire and
Bob, but she reconsidered. Had she heard Claire’s voice, or
was it Jacob who’d imitated her again?
“It’s Claire,” Grandma Knudson said, responding to Hannah’s
unspoken question. “Jacob’s in his cage in the bedroom,
and Claire’s voice came from the other end of the
“Here we are,” Bob announced, stepping into the parlor
with Claire. They made a perfect couple. Bob’s dark, wavy
hair and sturdy body set off Claire’s blond, sylphlike beauty.
“Hello, Bob. Hi, Claire.” Hannah couldn’t help noticing
that they were holding hands. Not only that, they were both
smiling, and they looked supremely happy. Of course smiling
and looking supremely happy wasn’t all that unusual for
newlyweds. Bob and Claire had married on New Year’s Eve
and this was only the first week in February.
“Where’s my surprise?” Grandma Knudson demanded of
her grandson. “Hannah and I have been on pins and needles
trying to guess what it is.”
“What was your guess?” Claire asked Hannah.
“I didn’t have the foggiest notion. Grandma Knudson did,
though. She told me it was probably coffee ice cream, pickled
herring, or ring bologna.”
“It’s not any of those,” Bob said with a laugh. “Try another
“If it’s not those, then it must be a tall, dark-haired
“What?” Bob looked at her in surprise.
“Don’t look so shocked. Pam Baxter told me I’d meet a
tall, dark-haired stranger at the last school carnival and . . .
Oh goodness gracious! There he is!”
“It looks like Pam Baxter was right,” the stranger said,
crossing the room to give Grandson Knudson a big hug.