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Kensington
October 2010
On Sale: September 28, 2010
304 pages
ISBN: 0758234953
EAN: 9780758234957
Hardcover
$23.00
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Mystery Anthology

The holiday season is made even more delectable with this charming collection of holiday mysteries.

Also by Leslie Meier:

A Winter Wonderland, November 2012
Paperback
Chocolate Covered Murder, January 2012
Hardcover
Wicked Witch Murder, August 2011
Paperback (reprint)
English Tea Murder, July 2011
Hardcover
Gingerbread Cookie Murder, October 2010
Hardcover
Mother's Day Murder, April 2009
Hardcover
St. Patrick's Day Murder, March 2009
Paperback (reprint)
Bake Sale Murder, December 2007
Paperback
Candy Cane Murder, October 2007
Hardcover
Bake Sale Murder, January 2007
Hardcover
New Year's Eve Murder, November 2006
Paperback (reprint)
New Year's Eve Murder, November 2005
Hardcover
Star Spangled Murder, June 2005
Paperback (reprint)
Christmas Cookie Murder, October 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Mistletoe Murder, October 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Turkey Day Murder, October 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Trick or Treat Murder, September 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Father's Day Murder, June 2004
Paperback
Father's Day Murder, May 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Wedding Day Murder, May 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Tippy Toe Murder, March 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Valentine Murder, January 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Back To School Murder, August 2003
Paperback (reprint)
Birthday Party Murder, May 2003
Paperback (reprint)

Also by Joanne Fluke:

Blackberry Pie Murder, March 2014
Hardcover
Winter Chill, August 2013
Paperback (reprint)
Video Kill, May 2013
Paperback (reprint)
Red Velvet Cupcake Murder, March 2013
Hardcover
Cinnamon Roll Murder, March 2012
Hardcover
Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook, October 2011
Hardcover
Devils Food Cake Murder, March 2011
Hardcover
Gingerbread Cookie Murder, October 2010
Hardcover
Apple Turnover Murder, March 2010
Hardcover
Plum Pudding Murder, October 2009
Hardcover
Cream Puff Murder, March 2009
Hardcover
Carrot Cake Murder, March 2008
Hardcover
Candy Cane Murder, October 2007
Hardcover
Key Lime Pie Murder, March 2007
Hardcover
Cherry Cheesecake Murder, February 2007
Paperback (reprint)
Sugar And Spice, November 2006
Paperback
Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, September 2006
Hardcover (reprint)
Peach Cobbler Murder, October 2005
Hardcover
Sugar Cookie Murder, October 2005
Paperback (reprint)
Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, February 2005
Paperback (reprint)
Fudge Cupcake Murder, January 2005
Paperback (reprint)
Sugar Cookie Murder, September 2004
Hardcover
Lemon Meringue Pie Murder, February 2004
Paperback (reprint)
Blueberry Muffin Murder, February 2003
Paperback (reprint)
Strawberry Shortcake Murder, February 2002
Paperback (reprint)

Also by Laura Levine:

Killing Cupid, January 2014
Hardcover
Secret Santa, November 2013
Mass Market Paperback
Death of a Neighborhood Witch, September 2012
Hardcover
Pampered To Death, August 2011
Hardcover
Gingerbread Cookie Murder, October 2010
Hardcover
Death of a Trophy Wife, May 2010
Hardcover
Killer Cruise, April 2010
Paperback (reprint)
Killer Cruise, May 2009
Hardcover
Killing Bridezilla, April 2009
Paperback (reprint)
Killing Bridezilla, June 2008
Hardcover
Death By Pantyhose, May 2008
Paperback (reprint)
Candy Cane Murder, October 2007
Hardcover
Death by Pantyhose, June 2007
Hardcover
The PMS Murder, May 2007
Paperback
The PMS Murder, June 2006
Hardcover
Shoes to Die for, May 2006
Paperback (reprint)
Killer Blonde, May 2005
Paperback (reprint)
Last Writes, June 2004
Paperback
This Pen for Hire, June 2003
Paperback (reprint)

Gingerbread Cookie Murder
by Leslie Meier, Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine

Excerpt

GINGERBREAD COOKIE MURDER by Joanne Fluke

Twenty-four reindeer burned to a crisp and it was all her fault! Hannah Swensen pulled the smoking cookie sheets from her oven and dumped the contents in the kitchen wastebasket. She should have known she’d never hear her stove timer over Ernie Kusak’s deafening Christmas music.

To bake, or not to bake. Hannah pondered the decision for several seconds. She’d left work early to come home to bake, and if she quit now, she’d have to get up very early tomorrow to finish the cookies she’d promised to deliver to her niece Tracey’s first grade class in time for their morning snack. On the other hand, she’d probably burn several more herds of reindeer unless she stood with her ear to the oven. And Tracey had promised her classmates that Aunt Hannah’s gingerbread reindeer cookies were the best cookies in the whole world.

“Later,” she said with a sigh, covering the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and sliding it into the refrigerator. The cookies could wait. Earplugs, however, could not.

Hannah hurried to her bedroom, pulled out the top drawer of her dresser, and took out a small plastic pouch. The last time she’d worn earplugs was when she’d watched her business partner, Lisa, compete in a pistol match. Ernie’s music was certainly as loud as a gunshot, and that meant they ought to work just fine.

The earplugs were the squeezable kind and fairly comfortable, but even after she’d put them in place, she could still hear the refrain of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus quite clearly. They didn’t completely drown out the racket, but they did make it bearable.

Hannah was about to turn to go back into the living room, when she spotted a lump under the covers of her bed. Her feline roommate had also made an effort to escape the musical assault.

“Smart boy!” she complimented the twenty-three pound, orange and white cat who cohabited her condo. It was clear that Moishe shared her opinion of Ernie’s music, because he’d tunneled under a quilt, two blankets, a sheet, and a feather pillow.

At least it wasn’t the same song, over and over. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas had been blaring away when Hannah had come home from The Cookie Jar, her bakery and coffee shop in town. The previous evening she’d been subjected to the strains of We Wish You a Merry Christmas when she’d climbed up the stairs to her second-floor home. The night before that it had been a dozen verses of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Twice. There was nothing wrong with Christmas music. Hannah loved Christmas music. But this was way too early, a whole month before Christmas, and Ernie turned it up way too loud. Lisa had suggested that Ernie might have a hearing problem, and Hannah agreed. If Ernie had no hearing loss now, he was bound to have one before the holiday season was over!

Hannah gave a little sigh. She’d done her best to solve the problem today when Ernie had come into The Cookie Jar for coffee. With unprecedented tact for one who had none to speak of, Hannah had asked him very nicely if he would please lower the volume of the music. Ernie had agreed immediately, promising to reduce the decibels right after his kids came home from school and saw the newest addition to his Christmas display. Hannah had been so grateful, she’d given him a dozen gingerbread Santa cookies to seal their bargain.

Everyone in Lake Eden, Minnesota, had reeled in shock when Ernie Kusak had divorced his wife Lorna in June. As far as the founders of the Lake Eden gossip hotline knew, the Kusak marriage was rock solid. They didn’t have financial worries. Lorna worked as a legal secretary for Howie Levine, Lake Eden’s most popular lawyer, and Ernie made good money as the manager and head driver for Cyril Murphy’s Shamrock Limousine Service. The couple had two teenage children who earned high grades in school and appeared happy and well adjusted. Their son, Christopher, was a senior at Jordan High and their daughter, Lindsay, was a junior. Lorna had never complained to any of the local women about Ernie, and on the infrequent occasions that Ernie had time off and joined the crowd in the back room at Hal and Rose’s Cafe to play a hand of poker, he had nothing critical to say about Lorna. No one was sure why their twenty-year marriage had suddenly dissolved, and neither Lorna nor Ernie was talking.

Once the Kusak divorce was final, Hannah’s sister, Andrea, had sold their house to Gary Jenkins, one of Ernie’s coworkers, who wanted to move from a neighboring town and reduce his commute time. She’d found a condo in Hannah’s complex for Lorna to buy with her share of the proceeds, and Gary had invited Ernie to live in what had formerly been Ernie’s own basement bedroom. He’d been living there for four months when fortune smiled on him and he purchased the winning ticket in the Super-Six Lottery with a jackpot of over eight million dollars.

The lottery changed Ernie’s life. When he moved out of his old basement and used some of his newly found riches to buy a condo in Hannah’s complex, speculation ran wild that Ernie had come to his senses and was attempting to get back into Lorna’s good graces. But Lorna wasn’t convinced she wanted to re-marry Ernie, even though he was now a wealthy man.

Hannah was the first to admit that establishing a college fund for Chris and Lindsay was a good first step toward restoring Lorna’s affections. Buying both kids new cars, however, was a bit much. Of course the kids liked to hang out at Dad’s condo with their friends. Ernie had equipped it with the newest video games, there were always cold drinks and snack foods on hand, and Ernie had programmed the takeout number for Bertanelli’s Pizza on his phone. A giant-screen television in the media room was set up to receive first-run movies and sports events via satellite, and Chris and Lindsay’s friends were always welcome. According to Lorna, the only part of the three-bedroom condo that Ernie had set aside for his own pleasure was the master bedroom. That said, Lorna had snapped her mouth shut and refused to say anything further.

Even though now, with her earplugs in place, Ernie’s music was borderline tolerable, Hannah supposed a member of the homeowners’ association should go down and caution Ernie again. But Ernie had promised her he’d turn down the volume right after his kids came home from school. Perhaps they’d had a late afternoon activity at Jordan High and they weren’t home yet.

Hannah glanced out the window that overlooked the grounds as she left her bedroom. The wind had tossed the fresh snow that had fallen during the day, rearranging it in long ridges that buried the winter plants and formed irregular hillocks on the ground. Now that evening was fast approaching, the plush blanket of snow was imprinted with Dali-esque shadows of trees and buildings, as if she were viewing it through an ancient, wavy glass. The light level was different, too. It seemed to be a lot brighter than it should be for this time of night and it appeared to be . . . green!

Hannah flicked off her bedroom light for a better look. The light reflecting against the bank of snow was definitely green, a bright Kelly green. But wait . . . it had just changed color! Now it was red, as red as a stoplight, and as she watched, it changed again to flashing yellow. What on earth was going on? The Northern Lights had never been this brilliant before!

Puzzled, Hannah headed back down the hall to see if the scene was the same from her guest room window. Yes, the snow that had gathered in clumps against the bushes was also reflecting the changing colors. The simple solution was to go outside to see if she could figure out what was happening, but she had another piece of business to accomplish first.

As she passed by her desk in the living room, Hannah picked up the list of condo board members that was propped up against her computer keyboard. The other residents would be coming home from work soon and she had to find a board member to give Ernie another warning. He’d been cooperative when board members had warned him in the past and there was no reason to think he wouldn’t cooperate tonight. Music this loud was simply unacceptable. She could hear every word of We Three Kings right through the same earplugs that had effectively blocked out the sound of gunshots the last time she’d worn them.

The president of the homeowners’ association was the logical choice to call. It was Sue Plotnik, Hannah’s downstairs neighbor, and she occupied the unit across from Ernie’s. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for them, the Plotnik family had left this morning for Sue’s parents’ house in Wisconsin.

The next name on the list was the vice president, but he wasn’t home when Hannah called him. Neither was the secretary nor the treasurer. That left three members-at-large and they didn’t answer her calls either.

There was only one name left on the list. It was hers. She’d been elected to the board last week to fill a vacancy left by a member who’d moved. Since no one else was available, she had to go downstairs and ask Ernie to turn down the music.

Going out in the Minnesota winter, even just running down the stairs to knock on a neighbor’s door, required donning survival gear. Hannah put on her parka and zipped it up, jammed a ski cap over her unruly masses of red curls, and pulled on her snow boots. Once she’d thrust her hands into fur-lined gloves, she opened the door and stepped out onto the frigid landing.

And there she stopped. And stared. The mystery of the colored, flashing lights she’d seen reflected on the snow outside her windows was solved.

It was well below zero and Hannah’s breath steamed out in clouds of white vapor, but she didn’t notice. Her gaze was fixed on the sky above, where penguins in Santa hats were cavorting wildly with polar bears shaking tambourines.

As Hannah watched, mesmerized, an infinite line of elves on ice skates wound around the unlikely couples, carrying gaily wrapped packages that looked much too large for them to handle. Every motion, every turn, every swooping swirl was carefully synchronized with Ernie’s Christmas music.

It took a few moments for Hannah to recover her power of speech. When she did, she uttered a phrase she’d never use around her young nieces. Not only had Ernie installed a theater quality sound system to play his music at a deafening level, but he’d also just added a spectacular laser display as a showcase.

Hannah stamped her feet to restore mobility. They felt like square blocks of ice. Standing here staring at Ernie’s exhibition wouldn’t solve the noise problem. She headed down the stairs, turned at the bottom, and clumped past Sue and Phil’s darkened condo. Ernie had the unit on the other side of the staircase and she glanced up at the condo immediately above his. Only the kitchen light on the table was burning and Hannah was familiar with Clara and Marguerite’s habits. When that light was on and the rest of the condo was dark, the Hollenbeck sisters were not at home.

There was a drum roll from overhead and Hannah glanced up at the sky. Good heavens! Here came flying snowmen holding sleigh bells just as the music segued into Jingle Bells! Hannah tore her eyes away from the sight and concentrated on keeping her footing on the icy walkway. She reached Ernie’s door without incident and rang the buzzer several times.

Nothing, absolutely nothing happened. That didn’t surprise Hannah. She doubted that Ernie could hear the buzzer with all this racket going on. She tried again several times, and even used the ornamental knocker on the outside of the door. When that had no effect, she resorted to pounding on the door with her gloved fists.

After several moments, she stopped. It was no use. The old-fashioned globe lights that dotted the grounds of the complex clicked on and Hannah shivered. Night had fallen and it was bitterly cold. The wind whipped around the corner of the building and threatened to blow off her ski cap. Strands of hair not covered by the stretchy knit fabric were transformed into miniature whips that flayed at her cheeks. Her feet had lost all feeling and her teeth were chattering faster than the wind-up denture toy Norman Rhodes, one of the men she dated, kept in the kids’ corner of the Rhodes Dental Clinic.

She’d make one last attempt and then she’d go home. Hannah pressed the buzzer repeatedly with her right hand and beat a volley of thumps on the door with her left. When there was no response before her arms tired, she convinced herself that Ernie wasn’t home and turned to retrace her steps. As she passed the grated ground-level openings that let air and light into the underground garage, she noticed that Ernie’s new Ferrari was parked in his spot. Dragging her icy legs up the stairs, Hannah decided that there were only two conclusions to draw from this new piece of information: Either Ernie was home and hadn’t heard her, or Ernie had left with someone else.

A welcome blast of heat greeted her as she opened her condo door and she took a big gulp of the non-frozen air. She’d done her duty as a board member, even though it hadn’t worked. She tossed her parka on the couch and glanced at the phone on the end table to see if she’d missed any calls. The red light wasn’t blinking and that meant no one had called. That was good. She probably couldn’t have heard the message if she’d played it back anyway.

Hannah was about to go off to the kitchen to pour herself a steaming cup of coffee when she had an idea. There was one last way she could try to contact Ernie. She could call him and if she let the phone ring long enough and he was home, he might hear it, especially if a relatively quiet Christmas song came on.

The moment she thought of it, Hannah kicked off her boots, sat down on the couch, and reached for the phone. She was just in time. The current song ended and a softer transition to another Christmas carol began to play. And then, just as she was about to pluck the phone from the cradle, it rang.

“Hello?” she said, just as the first bars of Go Tell It on the Mountain, sung by an extremely powerful soprano, began battering her eardrums.

“Hannah? Are you there?”

“Hold on!” she shouted, doing battle with the soprano by racing to the laundry room and banging the door shut behind her. The noise, muffled by four interior walls, abated somewhat and she turned back to the phone. “I’m here,” she said.

The voice answered again, but she couldn’t make out the words. Had she suffered permanent hearing loss? She reached up to touch her ear and her fingertips encountered a foreign object. For a moment, she was puzzled, but then she remembered that her earplugs were still in place. “Hold on,” she said again. “I have to take out my earplugs.”

A moment later she was back on the line. “Norman?” she asked. “Is that you?”

“It’s me. Why do you have your music turned up so loud? And what was that about earplugs?”

“It’s not my music. It’s coming from Ernie Kusak’s place. And my earplugs are preventive medicine for hearing loss.”

“Poor Moishe!” Norman sounded very sympathetic. “His hearing is even more acute than yours.”

“I know. I’m sure it hurts his ears. He’s hiding under the covers on my bed and he never does that.”

“I’d better come over and get him right away,” Norman said, and that made Hannah smile. When it came to her, it was a case of Love me, love my cat. And Norman loved her cat almost as much as he loved his own cat. “Moishe can stay with Cuddles while we go out for dinner. It’s nice and quiet at my place. Can you be ready in twenty minutes?”

“Yes,” Hannah said quickly. It was Norman to the rescue once again. She just hoped that things wouldn’t change once his new business partner and former fiancée, Beverly Thorn- dike, moved to Lake Eden in January. Norman had sworn that nothing would change between them, but Hannah wasn’t so sure. Even though Norman had done his best to convince her that his relationship with Beverly was strictly business, Hannah just couldn’t believe it was that simple. Beverly and Norman had been engaged for over a year. Was it possible to completely turn off the loving feelings that they must have had for each other? Or would those feelings return when they were together all day at the Rhodes Dental Clinic?

“Hannah?”

Hannah came back to the present with a jolt as she realized Norman had asked her a question. This was not the time to worry about what might and might not happen between Norman and Beverly. “Sorry,” she apologized. “What did you say?”

“I asked you if you could put on Moishe’s harness and leash before I get there.”

“I’ll try, but he may not want to come out from under the covers.”

“I can’t blame him for that. I can barely hear you over the music. Just have everything handy and I’ll hook him up when I get there.”

“Will do,” Hannah promised. “If you don’t have earplugs, stick some cotton in your ears before you get out of your car. And don’t bother to ring the doorbell. If Ernie’s music is still on, I probably won’t hear it anyway.”

“Do you want me to bang on the door?”

“Don’t bother. That might not work either. I’ll be watching for you to come up the stairs and I’ll let you in.”

Excerpt from Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Leslie Meier, Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine
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