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Authors: Laura Childs

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“And I’m not so sure about Charles Horton, either,” Delaine added.

“The stepson?” said Theodosia. “Why on earth would you be suspicious of him?”

“I find it
très
strange that Horton suddenly came crawling out of the woodwork once our wedding was announced,” said Delaine. “And that he suddenly wanted to go to work for Granville and Grumley.”

“But Horton’s a lawyer,” said Theodosia. “So it really does make sense. And I’m guessing he probably wanted to reconnect with his stepfather after all these years. Maybe a happy event like a wedding just made for perfect, feel-good timing. I mean, Horton did live with his stepfather when he was younger, didn’t he?”

“I suppose he did,” said Delaine. “For a few years, anyway.”

“Horton’s mother was Granville’s second wife?” Theodosia asked.

Delaine nodded.

“How many times had Granville been married?”

Delaine looked thoughtful. “Two that I know of. Maybe three.” She blinked, looked up, and said, “Hello, Haley.”

Haley gave an eager smile. “I brought you guys some fresh-baked scones and honey butter.”

Delaine gave Haley’s tray a listless glance. “I’m not very hungry.”

“Try a bite,” said Theodosia. “These scones are one of Haley’s premier recipes.”

Haley placed a scone on everyone’s plate, then continued to stand at their table, throwing meaningful glances at Theodosia.

“Thank you, Haley,” said Theodosia. She couldn’t figure out why Haley was still hovering. Usually, she darted right back to her kitchen, like a little mouse to its hidey-hole.

Haley cleared her throat self-consciously and said, “Theo, you should tell her.”

Delaine lifted her head and stared tiredly at Haley. “Excuse me?”

“Thank you for your input, Haley.” Now Theodosia’s voice carried a warning tone.

“Because I think she’ll be okay with it,” Haley continued.

“Now is not the time,” said Theodosia.

Delaine’s perfectly waxed brows knit together. “Now
is
the time,” she said, sounding vexed. “Pray tell, why are you two making goo-goo eyes at each other? What little secret are you trying to keep from me?”

“Something pretty important,” said Haley.

“The thing is,” Theodosia said with reluctance, “we had a strange pair of visitors this morning.”

“Two young men who claim to be ghost hunters,” said Haley. “Jed and Tim Beckman.”

“What does this have to do with anything?” asked Delaine, as Haley suddenly retreated, leaving Theodosia by her lonesome to sputter out some sort of explanation.

“They stopped by because they’re filming a documentary on Southern ghosts,” said Theodosia. She figured
documentary
sounded much more palatable than
reality show
. “And . . . well . . . they intend to explore Ravencrest Inn.”

Delaine’s eyes got wide and her every muscle seemed to tense. “What?” she said in a low whisper. “What did you just say?”

6

Oh, dear, now I have to go into the whole thing with her
, Theodosia thought to herself. “Okay, Delaine, here’s the thing.
The Beckman brothers came across an obscure legend that says Ravencrest Inn may be haunted.” She took another gulp of tea. “And they feel they have a better chance of contacting the spirit world since . . .” She paused. “Well, because . . .”

“Because Dougan died there,” said Delaine. Her voice was hoarse, her eyes pinpricks of intensity.

Theodosia swallowed hard. Delaine had a way of tossing harsh realities out on the table. “Well, yes.”

“And what exactly do these ghost hunters wish to do?”
asked Delaine. “How do they intend to contact the spirit world?”

“I imagine they’ll want to go inside room three-thirteen,” Theodosia said with some hesitation. “They’ll probably want to use infrared film and magnetometers and such to see if they can, um, make contact.”

Delaine peered at Theodosia. “That’s it?” She tapped manicured fingers on the table as if she were considering something. “I get the feeling there’s something you’re not telling me.”

“They asked me to accompany them,” said Theodosia. There, she’d said it. She’d laid out the whole foolish scheme. Indiana Jones and the Haunted House. Now Delaine could feel free to shed a few more tears and act highly offended, or toss the whole thing off as a stupid would-be parlor trick.

Instead, Delaine leaned forward and said, “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

“You do?” Theodosia was stunned. Maybe Delaine hadn’t heard her correctly. Sure, that had to be it. Delaine was still in deep, dark shock and not absorbing the full impact of her words.

“The only thing I ask,” Delaine continued, “is that I go along!”

*   *   *

The rest of
lunch was crazy busy. Theodosia ferried luncheon plates while Drayton brewed pot after pot of tea. Then one table requested a tea tasting of three different Japanese green teas, so Drayton had to pull down his tins of Sencha, Gyokuro, and Bancha and tend to that.

As lunchtime morphed into afternoon tea time, Theodosia was able to relax a little bit. The pace grew slower, their guests a little less harried and demanding. Mostly, the folks who came in for afternoon tea were looking for a genteel respite in the middle of their day. They wanted to slowly sip a cup of oolong or Lapsang souchong and savor their scones and jam.

Still, the phone continued to ring off the hook, and Theodosia found herself booking two tea parties and, depending on the bid she came up with, a catering gig for the Charleston Opera Society.

“That’s it,” said Theodosia, leaning over the counter as Drayton measured out scoops of Formosan oolong, “I’m not taking any more calls.”

So, of course, the phone shrilled yet again.

Sighing, Theodosia picked up the receiver and said, “Indigo Tea Shop. How may I help?”

“Theo?” came a rich, baritone voice.

“Max!” said Theodosia. Note to all: This was one call she definitely wanted to take. In fact, she could just picture Max sitting in his office at the museum, feet up on his desk, looking more like a grad student than the PR director. Tall and thin, with a tousle of dark hair, he had an olive complexion and generally wore a slightly sardonic grin. Theodosia had decided that you needed a good sense of humor in that job just to deal with all the donors and docents.

“How are you holding up?” asked Max.

“Doing okay.” Theodosia and Max had talked at length over the weekend about the wedding debacle and Granville’s strange death. They’d turned it over and over, offering up a few suppositions, but had come to no firm conclusion. Now, Max was going to stop by for dinner tonight. “You’re still coming tonight, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” said Max. He’d been one of the wedding guests in the downstairs parlor who’d been kept in the dark, both literally and figuratively.

“Come around seven,” Theodosia urged. “That’ll give me time to take Earl Grey for a good run and fix us something wonderful to eat.”

“I wouldn’t mind one of your designer pizzas. Hint, hint.”

“Any one in particular?” Theodosia loved to create interesting pizza combinations such as gorgonzola, figs, and caramelized onions. Or chanterelles with Burrata cheese.

“Why don’t you surprise me?” said Max.

*   *   *

When the clock
struck three and just a few tea room guests lingered, Theodosia ran into her office and trundled out two boxes of T-Bath products. This was her own proprietary line of tea-infused lotions and potions that were soothing, cruelty-free, and blended to her exact specifications. Much to her delight, the T-Bath products also sold like hotcakes in her shop, online, and at a few Charleston boutiques. Green Tea Lotion was her biggest seller, but White Tea Bath Oil and Green Tea Feet Treat were holding their own. And her two newest T-bath offerings, Ginger and Chamomile Facial Mist and Lemon Verbena Hand Lotion, were finding a following, too.

Just when Theodosia was sprawled cross-legged on the floor, with jars and bottles spilled out all around her, just as she was composing a new arrangement on her display shelves, Detective Tidwell came lumbering in.

She saw his heavy-duty cop shoes trudge toward her, saw his billowing trouser legs. Then Tidwell came to a halt and his booming voice called out, “Is that you down there?”

“It’s me,” said Theodosia. Her head popped up between two tables like a manic gopher. “You caught me restocking shelves.”

“And a fine job you’re doing,” said Tidwell.

Theodosia pulled herself to her feet, dusted herself off, and gazed at Tidwell. “Tea?” He’d been coming in regularly for a couple of years now and she’d finally turned him into a tea drinker. Not quite a tea connoisseur yet, but Tidwell showed promise and she was infinitely patient.

“Please,” said Tidwell, who had already deposited his bulk in a creaking captain’s chair. “And a sweet treat if you have it.”

“I’m sure we can scrape up a few crumbs,” Theodosia told him. She nodded to Drayton, who was already fixing a pot for Tidwell, then flew into the kitchen and grabbed a ginger scone and a mint bar.

When Theodosia set his tea and dessert in front of him, she said, “That’s a tippy Yunnan tea.”

“Interesting,” said Tidwell. He lifted the lid of the teapot, gave a sniff. “Mmm, slightly spicy. Must it steep for another minute?”

“I think it’s probably ready right now.”

“Excellent,” said Tidwell, as he lifted the teapot and poured a stream of golden liquor into his teacup. Then he glanced up and said, “Well, have you begun your investigation yet?”

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Theodosia. She tried to project what she thought was an air of sincerity.

Tidwell wasn’t fooled. He let loose a belly laugh that caused his entire body to jiggle like a mound of shrimp in aspic. “Of course, you would,” he growled. “And probably have. I’m positive the irascible Delaine Dish has already pleaded her case, playing the wounded victim and venting her deepest, darkest suspicions. She’s probably come to you on bended knee, begging you to investigate whomever she sees as her suspect du jour.” Tidwell took a sip of tea, lifting his pinkie finger as he did so. “Delicious.”

“She did ask me to take a look at Simone Asher,” Theodosia admitted. Why not tell Tidwell? What did she have to lose?

“Simone of Archangel,” said Tidwell. “Mr. Granville’s most recent ex-girlfriend. The one he spurned in favor of Miss Dish.” He gathered up his cloth napkin and gently patted his lips.

“When you put it that way, it sounds like Simone really is a suspect,” said Theodosia. She stared directly at Tidwell and, when he didn’t answer, said, “Is she?”

Tidwell shook his enormous head. “Doubtful. Although she was questioned at length.”

“What about Delaine? You questioned her at length, too. You don’t really believe she’s the killer, do you?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” said Tidwell. “It’s where the clues lead and the evidence piles up.” He picked up a silver butter knife, cut his scone in half, then applied an enormous pat of butter.

“And where have the clues led so far?
Are
there any clues?”

“That information is strictly confidential,” said Tidwell, chewing as he answered.

“You can confide in me,” said Theodosia. “After all, I was there. I’m a star witness.”

Tidwell guffawed. “You were an unlucky passerby.” He helped himself to another bite.

“I’m sure you’ve interviewed many of the wedding guests by now?”

Tidwell made a noncommittal grunt.

“What about Granville’s business partner?” Theodosia asked. When Tidwell’s left eye twitched oh-so-slightly, she knew she’d struck gold. “Ho, you
are
looking at him. At . . .” For some reason she couldn’t dredge up the man’s name.

“Grumley,” supplied Tidwell. “Allan Grumley.”

“Right. But what I’d like to know is
why
you’d take a hard look at him? I’ve always been under the impression that Granville and Grumley was an incredibly successful law firm. That the two partners functioned extremely well together. They certainly got enough publicity to bear that out.”

“To all outward appearances, yes, they seemed like an unstoppable force. But when individual staffers were questioned, there appeared to be . . . let’s just call it seeds of unrest.”

“What kind of unrest?” asked Theodosia. She wondered if this internal unrest had accounted for Delaine’s poor treatment this morning.

“That I cannot divulge,” said Tidwell.

“Are you taking a careful look at Granville’s stepson, Charles Horton?”

Tidwell nodded. “I am.”

“And?”

“He appears to be an amiable chap,” said Tidwell. “I’ve found nothing out of the ordinary. Certainly nothing to suspect him of foul play.”

Theodosia was beginning to feel frustrated. “Have you figured out who was in the room next to Granville? The mysterious Mr. Chapin?”

Tidwell hesitated for a moment. “No.”

“What about the missing paperweight?” Theodosia asked.

“Nothing yet,” said Tidwell.

Theodosia furrowed her brow.

“What?” said Tidwell.

“Don’t you find it interesting?” said Theodosia.

“Find what interesting?”

“That the killer didn’t bring a murder weapon with him,” said Theodosia. “No gun, no knife, no rope. He used whatever was at hand.”

“What you’re saying is the murder wasn’t premeditated,” said Tidwell.

Theodosia tilted her head, considering this. “I guess I am. So that means the killer didn’t start out with an intent to kill. He acted rashly, in the heat of the moment.”

“It’s certainly possible,” said Tidwell.

“Then it had to have been a wedding guest,” said Theodosia. “Unless someone else sneaked into the building.”

Tidwell looked smug. “See, you are investigating.”

Theodosia almost lost it. “Well,
somebody
has to!” she blurted out.

*   *   *

“I’m taking off!”
Haley called. She popped out from between the velvet curtains, looking a little harried. She wore a T-shirt and jeans and had a colorful raffia book bag slung over one shoulder.

“Drayton’s gone already?” asked Theodosia. She was just rinsing out a teapot. It was four thirty and their customers had long since departed.

“He’s off to prep for his Heritage Society lecture tonight,” said Haley. “Something about Carolina coast shipwrecks. Or maybe it’s on lighthouse architecture.”

“Trust Drayton to pick a slightly academic subject,” said Theodosia.

“Our boy’s a real smarty,” said Haley.

“But you’re off to class, too,” she observed.

“Just a night school class,” said Haley.

“What is it this time?” Theodosia asked. Haley vacillated between business, English, marketing, and art history. Probably, once she finished taking classes, she’d have enough credits for two master’s degrees and a PhD.

“Mass communications,” said Haley. “But I’m taking it mostly for fun.”

“Then have fun,” said Theodosia. After seeing Haley off, she did a quick check of the front counter, snatching up a tin of Dimbulla tea that had somehow lost its lid.
Can’t have that happen
, Theodosia thought to herself. Heat, moisture, and light were the enemies of tea, and Charleston gladly offered all three of those in abundance.

“There it is,” said Theodosia, spotting the lid behind a stack of shiny indigo blue take-out bags. She grabbed the silver lid and popped it on, just as someone pounded on the front door.

“Can’t they read our sign?” she wondered aloud. “Don’t they know we’re closed for the day?”

But the pounding continued, a cacophony that built to an annoying din.

Stepping to the front door, Theodosia swept the curtain aside, ready to act out her slightly apologetic
We’re closed
pantomime. But when she saw Charles Horton standing there, she undid the latch and pulled open the door.

“Charles,” she said, wondering what he was doing here.

“I was afraid I’d missed you!” cried Horton. He had a loud braying voice that came across a little too high volume, a little too hearty, and echoed through the deserted tea shop.

“I was just leaving,” Theodosia told him.

Horton took a presumptuous step inside. “Then I promise I won’t take up much of your time.”

“Okay,” said Theodosia. She wasn’t thrilled, but she knew she had to be cordial. If only for Delaine’s sake.

“I know you’re one of Delaine’s dearest friends,” Horton began.

Theodosia gave an imperceptible nod. “We’re friends, yes.”

“The thing is, Delaine and I seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot.”

“Really?” said Theodosia, trying to show a modicum of surprise. Of course, they’d gotten off on the wrong foot. Horton had popped up a few weeks prior to the wedding and suddenly insinuated himself into his stepfather’s life. And into his law firm. Which had left Delaine feeling a tad worried and suspicious. And could you really blame her?

“I think Delaine initially saw me as a rival for my stepfather’s affection,” said Horton.

“I don’t know about that.”

“And now I have the strangest feeling that Delaine thinks I had something to do with his death!” Horton said in a rush.

BOOK: Sweat Tea Revenge
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