Authors: Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Laura Childs
Tea Shop Mysteries
DEATH BY DARJEELING
SHADES OF EARL GREY
THE ENGLISH BREAKFAST MURDER
THE JASMINE MOON MURDER
BLOOD ORANGE BREWING
THE SILVER NEEDLE MURDER
THE TEABERRY STRANGLER
SCONES & BONES
AGONY OF THE LEAVES
SWEET TEA REVENGE
BOUND FOR MURDER
MOTIF FOR MURDER
FIBER & BRIMSTONE
POSTCARDS FROM THE DEAD
Cackleberry Club Mysteries
EGGS IN PURGATORY
EGGS BENEDICT ARNOLD
STAKE & EGGS
DEATH BY DESIGN
Tea Shop Mystery #14
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group
Copyright © 2013 by Gerry Schmitt & Associates, Inc.
by Laura Childs copyright © 2013 by Gerry Schmitt & Associates, Inc.
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Berkley Prime Crime hardcover ISBN: 978-0-425-25288-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-61964-3
An application to register this book for cataloging has been submitted to the Library of Congress.
: March 2013
Cover illustraion by Stephanie Henderson.
Cover design by Lesley Worrell.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.
Heartfelt thanks to Sam, Tom, Amanda, Bob, Jennie, Dan, and all the fine folks at Berkley Prime Crime who handle design, publicity, copywriting, bookstore sales, and gift sales. A special shout-out to all tea lovers, tea shop owners, bookstore folk, librarians, reviewers, magazine writers, websites, radio stations, and bloggers who have enjoyed the adventures of the Indigo Tea Shop gang and who help me keep it going. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
And to you, dear readers, I promise many more books to come.
Rain slashed against
stained-glass windows and thunder shook the rafters as Theodosia Browning hurried up the back staircase of Ravencrest Inn. Her long, peach-colored bridesmaid’s dress swished about her ankles as she balanced a giant box of flowers that had just been delivered to the inn’s back door. It was the second Saturday in June, the morning of her friend Delaine Dish’s wedding. Normally, Charleston, South Carolina, was awash in sunshine and steamy heat this time of year. But today, this day of all days, a nasty squall had blown in from the Atlantic, parked itself over the city, and turned everything into a soggy morass. Including, unfortunately, the bride’s temper.
Theodosia reached the top step and stumbled, almost catching her heel in the hem of her dress. Then she quickly righted herself.
“Delaine!” she called breathlessly. “Your flowers have arrived.”
Delaine Dish rushed out into the dark hallway and threw up her arms in a gesture of sheer panic. “Finally! And, can you believe it, the power’s gone out twice already!”
“I know, I know,” said Theodosia, trying to minimize the problem. “They lit candles downstairs for the guests. So all the parlors look quite dreamy and atmospheric.” She hustled past Delaine, carrying the cumbersome box into the suite of rooms that Delaine was using for her dressing room. The groom, Dougan Granville, was cloistered in his own suite of rooms down the long, dark corridor.
“How does my bouquet look?” asked a jittery Delaine, as Theodosia carefully opened the box.
“Hang on a minute.” Theodosia was practically as nervous as Delaine. All the bouquets had been ordered from Floradora, a florist she had recommended and often counted on to create distinctive centerpieces for her own Indigo Tea Shop over on Church Street.
“So many delays,” worried Delaine, as another flash of lightning strobed, giving the room the flickering, jittering look of an old-time black-and-white movie. “My guests must be getting restless.”
“Not to worry,” said Theodosia. “Last I looked, Drayton and Haley were serving peach and ginger tea accompanied by miniature cream scones. So your guests were happy as clams.” She lifted the bridal bouquet, a lovely arrangement of orchids, tea roses, and Queen Anne’s lace, from its tissue paper wrapping and handed it to Delaine. “Here you go. And it’s perfect.”
“It is, isn’t it,” said Delaine, smiling as she accepted the bouquet. She stepped over to a full-length mirror and peered into its murky depths. “How do I look?”
“Beautiful,” said Theodosia. And she meant it. She and Delaine had had their differences over the years, but today Delaine looked positively radiant. Her ivory, strapless ball gown–style wedding dress, with its delicate ruched bodice, served to highlight her dark hair and extraordinary coloring and set off her thin figure perfectly.
Delaine stretched a hand out to Theodosia. “Come over here, you.”
Theodosia joined Delaine at the mirror and stared at her own reflection in the pitted glass. With masses of curly auburn hair to contend with, Theodosia sometimes projected the aura of a Renaissance woman captured in portrait by Raphael or even Botticelli. She had a smooth peaches-and-cream complexion and intense blue eyes, and she often wore the slightly bemused look of a self-sufficient woman—a woman who, in her midthirties, had found herself to be a successful entrepreneur, possessed a fair amount of life experiences, and had hooked up with a nice boyfriend to boot. So life was good.
Delaine patted her dark, upswept hair and her eyes glittered. She was a successful business owner, too, with her upscale Cotton Duck boutique. But she was of a predatory nature, always on the prowl for the next new experience or thrill. Theodosia, on the other hand, had found contentment. Her tea shop was cozy, charming, and always stuffed to the rafters with good friends and guests. And Drayton and Haley, her two dear friends, worked alongside her.
Delaine turned from the mirror and shrugged. Her nerves were starting to fizz again and she could barely stand still. She whirled one way, then the other, and asked, “Have you seen my sister? Where on earth is Nadine?”
“I know,” said Theodosia. “She’s late.” Then again, Nadine was perpetually late.
“That woman would be late to her own funeral!” Delaine spat out.
There was a
from out in the hallway, and then an overly chirpy cry of, “Here I am!” Nadine charged into the room, looking damp, self-absorbed, and not one bit apologetic. “Sorry to be late,” she chortled. “But did you know Bay Street was actually flooded? My cabdriver had to detour for
Delaine’s mouth fell open as she stared in horror at her sister, who was practically a spitting image of her, if not a couple of pounds heavier. Nadine brushed drops of rain from her khaki trench coat as she struggled with the handle of a pink paisley umbrella.
“Close that umbrella!” Delaine cried.
Nadine stopped fussing, frowned distractedly, then stared down at the damp, half-open umbrella that was clutched in her hands. “What’s wrong now?” she asked.
“Don’t you know it’s bad luck!” cried Delaine. “You
open an umbrella in the house.” Delaine was a big believer in signs, portents, and superstitions.
“Sorry,” Nadine mumbled. Then added, in a more acerbic tone, “But in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s raining buckets outside!”
“I noticed,” said Delaine, gritting her teeth. “Really, do you think I
for bad weather? Do you think I called the National Weather Service and asked for the
day on which we were going to have a deluge of biblical proportions?”
Nadine stiffened as she struggled with her umbrella. “You don’t have to be so snippy!”
“Whatever,” said Delaine, turning away from her.
Not wanting to get dragged into a sister-versus-sister fight, Theodosia continued to unpack the five smaller bouquets made up of tea roses and chamomile. These, too, were perfectly composed. Dainty and fragrant and frothy with blooms.
“Maybe you could take these bouquets into the next room,” Theodosia suggested to Nadine. “And give them to the other bridesmaids.”
“I suppose,” sighed Nadine, whose nose was still out of joint.
When she was finally alone with Delaine, Theodosia said, “Okay, what else do you need?” She was finding maid-of-honor duties to be more trouble than she’d ever imagined. Good thing it would all be over in a matter of hours.
Delaine did a little pirouette, letting her enormous skirt billow out around her. Then she peered into the mirror again. “I really look okay?”
“Gorgeous,” said Theodosia, trying to stifle a yawn. She’d been up late, helping to decorate and arrange seating in the downstairs Fireplace Room.
“I do feel we could have used a touch more planning,” said Delaine.
“It is what it is,” said Theodosia. “You had such a short engagement.”
Like about four weeks.
“Which is why I had to settle for this place,” said Delaine, her mouth suddenly downcast.
“It’s lovely,” said Theodosia. Truth be told, Ravencrest Inn, with its old-world cypress paneling, narrow hallways, and looming presence in the Historic District, was dark and a trifle shabby. The rooms were claustrophobic and furnished with mismatched pieces, and the plumbing clanked noisily. But Delaine had pushed everything ahead at warp speed so she could hastily tie the knot with one of Charleston’s top attorneys. It was your basic Southern shotgun wedding without the baby.
“Did you see this place even has a widow’s walk?” said Delaine.
“Which makes it quaint,” said Theodosia.
“It’s a dump,” replied Delaine.
“But this is a pretty room,” said Theodosia, trying to find one small spark of joy. Delaine was flitting about the room like a crazed hummingbird: dipping, sipping, constantly in motion.
“You think?” said Delaine. She pointed to a shelf of antique dolls that stared blankly out at them. “Look at that. Another silly collection.”
“I find it interesting,” said Theodosia, “that every room has been themed with a different collection. Teapots, dolls, angels, leather-bound books, you name it.”
“But you know how I feel about dolls in particular,” said Delaine, tapping her foot.
know,” said Theodosia.
But I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.
“They’re horribly creepy,” said Delaine. “With their glassy little eyes and puckered rubber faces. And, look.” She pointed a pink-enameled finger at the offending shelf. “There’s even a bride doll swathed in ghastly, frayed lace. Makes me think of
Bride of Chucky
or something nasty like that.”
“This is not what you should be fretting about on your wedding day,” said Theodosia, determined to stay upbeat. “Come on over here and let’s pin your veil on.”
Delaine ghosted across the room. “You know, I had a fight with Dougan this morning.”
Theodosia gathered up a long veil of French lace and held it a few inches above Delaine’s swirl of dark hair. “That’s probably normal. Frayed nerves and all that.”
“Don’t you want to know what it was about?” asked Delaine.
Theodosia knew when she was being goaded. “Not really.” She centered the veil, then set it carefully on Delaine’s head and gently spread the sides of the veil over her bare shoulders.
“Dougan wants to cut the honeymoon short,” said Delaine. “Because of work. We screamed and hollered; I’m quite sure everyone here heard us.”
Theodosia picked up Delaine’s bouquet and shoved it into her friend’s twitching hands. “Time to get you married.”
Could I be any chirpier?
Could I be in any more of a hurry to jump-start this wedding?
“Let’s get you and your lovely bridesmaids lined up at the top of the staircase so we can do any and all final adjustments. Then you, my dear, shall make the world’s grandest entrance in front of your guests.”
The lights flickered once again and thunder crackled as five bridesmaids, one maid of honor, and a nervous bride gathered at the top of the stairs.
“Remember,” Theodosia told the bridesmaid at the front of the pack, a distant cousin of Delaine’s who was supposed to lead the procession. “As soon as you hear that first note of music . . .”
Swish, swish, chuff.
Someone was hurrying up the back staircase. They all turned, en masse, silk and lace rustling, to look.
It was Drayton Conneley, Theodosia’s tea expert and dear friend. Dressed in a slim, European-cut tuxedo with a plaid cummerbund, Drayton’s patrician face was drawn and slightly flushed beneath his mane of gray hair. Despite his normally quiet reserve, his eyes were crinkled with worry.
Theodosia hastened over to meet him. “What’s wrong?” she whispered.
Drayton put a hand to his chest to still his beating heart. He was edging into his high sixties and not used to bounding up two flights of stairs like a crazed gazelle. “We have a problem.”
“No lights?” asked Theodosia.
“No groom,” said Drayton.
“Typical.” Delaine’s voice floated out behind them. “He’s probably holed up in his room texting away. Dealing with some important client or political bigwig.” She sighed deeply. “That’s my Dougan. Always puts his work first.”
Before Delaine could get any snappier, Theodosia said, “I’ll take care of this. I’ll go get him.”
“Please,” said Delaine, in an arch tone.
“Thank you,” said Drayton, turning on his heels and disappearing back downstairs.
Theodosia flew down the narrow hallway to Dougan Granville’s room. Interestingly enough, Granville was her next-door neighbor. Her home, her quaint Hansel and Gretel–style cottage in the heart of the Historic District, had once been part of his larger, more grand estate.
She rapped on the door of Granville’s suite. “Dougan, it’s time,” she called out. Theodosia knew he was a hard-driving attorney who was probably working right up until the last millisecond.
Nothing. No movement, no answer.
Theodosia leaned forward and put an ear to the door. Maybe he was . . . slightly indisposed? Could it be that he really was a nervous bridegroom?
“Dougan? Mr. Granville? It’s Theodosia. We’re all waiting for you.”
Wondering what protocol she should observe for something like this, Theodosia hesitated for a few moments, then decided it didn’t much matter. Guests were waiting; it was time to get moving. She gripped the doorknob and turned it, then pushed the door open a good six inches.
“Dougan,” she called again, trying to inject a little humor in her voice. “We have an impatient bride who’s waiting for her handsome groom.”
There was no sound, save the monotonous drumming of rain on the roof and the gurgling of water as it rushed through the downspouts.
Theodosia pushed the door all the way open and stepped across the threshold.
The room was completely dark and ominously quiet. Straight ahead, she could just make out a faint outline of heavy velvet draperies pulled across a bay window.
Did Granville fall asleep? He must have. Wow, this is one relaxed guy on his wedding day.
Shadows capered on the walls as she stepped past a looming wardrobe and pieces of furniture. The room had a strange electrical smell, as if an outside transformer had exploded. Theodosia tiptoed across the carpet, her silk mules whispering softly. When she reached the foot of the bed, she stared. A tiny bedside lamp shone a small circle of warmth on a battered bedside table, but there was no one lying on the bed. Nothing had creased the dusty pink coverlet.
What on earth?
Flustered, nervous now that they might have a runaway groom on their hands, Theodosia fumbled with the curtains and ripped them open. Lightning flashed outside, a sharp blade cutting through a wall of purple-black clouds.
Still, this is better. A little more light.
Just as Theodosia turned, something caught her eye. A fleeting image that she couldn’t quite process but one that unnerved her anyway. She slowly retraced her footsteps. Back to the sitting room area that had been in total darkness, as thunder boomed like kettle drums in some unholy symphony.