Murder with Cherry Tarts
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In Pennsylvania's Amish country, Daisy Swanson has a tea shop to run, a daughter to marry off—and a murder to solve . . .
Daisy's worried one of her employees at Daisy's Tea Garden may be in a spot of trouble. Lately Karina's been loading up on soup and second-day baked goods at the end of her shift—and while the shop's scrumptious treats may be hard to resist, Daisy suspects there's more going on, especially since Karina has been seen hanging out in a rundown part of Willow Creek.
Planning her own daughter's wedding is enough to keep her busy, but Daisy can't help feeling a protective maternal instinct—and an instinct to investigate. It turns out Karina has been helping a down-on-his luck single dad who's been making ends meet—barely—by selling antiques at a place called Pirated Treasures.
But when an employee at the antiques store is bludgeoned to death with a marble rolling pin, Karina's new friend is suspect number one. Though the motives are muddy and steeped in intrigue, Daisy is more than determined to flush the real killer out.
Release date: November 26, 2019
Print pages: 320
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Murder with Cherry Tarts
Karen Rose Smith
Daisy Swanson kept a keen eye on Karina Post as her server crossed to the sales counter at the end of their workday. Her twenty-something server with her purple hair and green neon clogs had given Daisy concern over the past couple of weeks. Daisy went by the philosophy that she should mind her own business . . . except when she shouldn’t. The mother of two teenage daughters, she couldn’t help but feel motherly toward her younger staff.
The aroma of sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate still rode on the cool currents from the air conditioner as Karina smiled at Daisy and approached the sales counter at Daisy’s Tea Garden. She was usually a self-possessed young woman with plenty of confidence and sometimes even brashness.
Now, however, Karina kept her eyes lowered as she asked Daisy, “Is it okay if I take some of the baked goods still left in the case?”
Daisy noticed the bag Karina was carrying and recognized the size. In it, there was probably a quart container of soup.
“Sure you can,” Daisy said. “I don’t want them to go to waste. The cherry tarts are fine, but some of the white-chocolate blondies have been in the case since morning. They might be a little stale. It seemed everyone wanted cherry tarts today.”
“It’s the special for the month of July, so that’s probably why,” Karina suggested, still not meeting Daisy’s gaze.
“Has your mom been working extra hours at her shop?” Karina’s mom owned a leather shop in town, Totes and Belts. In the summer, particularly in July, tourists provided most of the business for the stores in town. Busloads could arrive unexpectedly and wipe out a store’s inventory.
“No, she has a good manager who’s doing really well. I think she still wants me to go there and work full time instead of working here. And I’m grateful to her. After all, she took us back in when Quinn was born. But we’re around each other enough as it is. I can’t imagine working for Mom too.”
Not that Daisy wanted Karina to leave, but she wished the best for her server and her three-year-old daughter. “Maybe you could move into that manager spot some day if you worked at Totes and Belts.”
“That’s possible, but I’d rather go to nursing school. I’m thinking about starting when Quinn is older, maybe after she goes into first or second grade.”
Karina was a single mom. Daisy didn’t know the whole story, but from rumors in Willow Creek’s gossip mill, she’d gleaned that Karina had run away and lived on the streets before Quinn was born.
From things Karina had said, Daisy knew her mother Maris was a fine cook and she baked treats for Quinn. But for the past few weeks, Karina had been asking for the day-old baked goods and buying quarts of soup if Daisy’s kitchen manager Tessa didn’t have any remaining in the pot at the end of the day.
“Will Iris be in tomorrow, or do you need me to cover her shift again?” Karina asked.
Daisy’s aunt Iris, co-owner of the tea garden, had caught a summer cold. She knew better than to be around customers or their tea and food.
“I spoke to her a little bit ago, and she feels she’s ready to come in tomorrow. Her sniffles are gone and so is her cough. But—I told her to come in for a morning shift. Can you come in for the afternoon?”
“Sure. I always like picking up extra hours.”
Karina sounded fine. She acted as if nothing fazed her. But that didn’t mean her bravado wasn’t hiding something. Daisy took one more stab at coaxing information from her. “I hope you and Quinn and Maris enjoy the cherry tarts and soup.”
Karina glanced away from Daisy and into the case. “Quinn tells me every day now that she’s a big girl since she turned three and doesn’t need her booster seat.”
That was a non sequitur if Daisy ever heard one, and Karina had easily sidestepped her question. It was time to give up . . . for now. “They grow up too fast, that’s for sure. I can’t believe Violet’s going to have a baby of her own come November.” And the wedding will be in a few weeks, Daisy added to herself. The past months had been a bit crazy.
After Daisy packed up the baked goods and Karina left, she began taking the rest of their inventory from the case. Cora Sue, another one of her servers, who had been sweeping the floor while she and Karina were talking, asked Daisy, “Do you need help?”
Cora Sue worked full time at Daisy’s Tea Garden. Her bottle-red hair pulled high on her head in a topknot was as bouncy and bubbly as she was.
“Sure,” Daisy answered, eager to drive home.
After the two of them finished emptying the case, Cora Sue said, “I saw you talking to Karina.”
“I was,” Daisy responded.
“I heard her ask Tessa for the bottom of the soup pot again.”
Daisy decided to be forthright with Cora Sue. “I’m a little worried about her. She’s been taking end-of-the-day baked goods home for a while now, but she won’t say why.”
“That’s not the only thing she’s being secretive about,” Cora Sue murmured.
Studying her server, Daisy wasn’t sure whether she should become involved or not. A question or two wouldn’t hurt. “Do you think she’s in trouble of some kind?”
“I really don’t know. My car was on the fritz last week, so I walked to work. It’s good exercise, only about a half mile. The shorter route takes me up Sage Street, which I know isn’t the best section of town, even though the town council is trying to rehab it. But I have taken kickboxing lessons, so I wasn’t too concerned. The thing was . . . I spotted Karina twice last week at the lower end of Sage Street. The part the town council wants to renovate.”
“Did she see you?”
“No, she didn’t, but I casually brought it up.”
Daisy was always interested in clues. After all, she’d helped solve three murders. Clues had led her to the killer in every instance. “What did she tell you?”
“She told me she enjoys looking around the antiques shop in that neighborhood, Pirated Treasures. It should be called Pirated Junk.”
A smile twitched up Daisy’s lips.
The owner of the shop, Otis Murdock, used to come in for the tea garden’s chicken soup. Lately though, his nephew had dropped in to buy it.
Daisy removed the band from her ponytail and let her blond, shoulder-length hair flow free. “I’ve passed the shop but I’ve never been inside. You know what they say—one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.”
Cora Sue grimaced. “I saw a broken bust of Benjamin Franklin in there one time. They’d glued it back together. It wasn’t pretty.”
Daisy laughed. “So you shop in the store even if you don’t like it?”
“No, a friend dragged me in there. She says she finds unusual things for her home decor. But mostly what she finds, I wouldn’t pick up at a yard sale.”
Thinking of Karina again, Daisy sobered. “Do you think Karina really shops in there or she was using it as an excuse?”
“I don’t know. If she has to lie about why she’s on Sage Street, I have to wonder about her purpose for being there.”
Realizing Cora Sue was right, Daisy told herself she should really mind her own business. But then again, what if Karina was in trouble?
That evening, Daisy backed her purple PT Cruiser out of her home garage, made a K-turn, then opened the driver’s side door.
Her daughter Jazzi, sixteen now, had obtained her learner’s permit. Daisy dreaded thinking about Jazzi on the roads with all the crazy drivers who passed through Lancaster County, especially in the summer. On top of that, her daughter would also have to learn how to handle driving on the roads with horses and buggies. Sometimes there was a separate lane for the buggies, but most times there wasn’t. In an accident between a car and a horse and buggy, the horse and buggy didn’t have a chance.
Jazzi’s long, straight, black hair blew in the hot breeze as she asked Daisy, “When are you going to let me back it out of the garage?”
Daisy climbed out of the car, glanced at the garage, and then back at Jazzi. “I promise I’ll let you do it soon. Maybe tonight we’ll head over to Bird-in-Hand. The farmers’ market has a huge parking lot and the market will be closed. You can practice backing up there.”
Daisy handed her car keys to Jazzi.
Jazzi winked at her. “I’m getting good, Mom. Honest. You don’t have to fear for your life when we go driving.”
As Jazzi had probably intended, Daisy laughed. “You are so reassuring.”
“What else are daughters for?”
As if that comment caused Jazzi to think about something more serious, once they were seated in the car, she was quiet.
Daisy guessed that meant Jazzi was thinking about her birth mother again. In the fall of last year, unbeknownst to Daisy, Jazzi had tried to search for her birth mother on the Internet. Daisy had known that time might be coming because she and her deceased husband Ryan had adopted Jazzi. Still, Jazzi’s search had been a shock.
Knowing if she didn’t support her daughter Jazzi might pull away, Daisy had aided her in finding Portia Smith Harding. They’d enlisted the help of Jonas Groft, a former police detective who now owned Woods, a furniture store just down the street from Daisy’s Tea Garden. At first Portia hadn’t told her husband about Jazzi. It had been a long-kept secret. Once she had told him, he’d felt betrayed and had moved out of their house for a while. That event had made Jazzi feel guilty, so guilty it had affected her schoolwork and her friendships enough that Daisy had sought out a counselor for her. Finally, however, in the spring, Colton had moved back in with Portia and their children. Jazzi’s relationship with Portia now was tentative because of Colton’s attitude, and when Jazzi needed to talk with someone objective, Daisy made an appointment for her. Part of the reason Jazzi felt comfortable with the sessions was because Lancelot, a yellow tabby, accompanied the counselor to the sessions. With a purring feline on her lap, Jazzi felt more comfortable sharing.
“I wanted to ask you something, Mom.” Jazzi switched on her turn signal and made a right turn onto the rural road.
“Ask me anything.” Daisy hoped that was true. She hoped both of her daughters could trust her that much.
“It’s only a few weeks until Vi and Foster’s wedding.”
“I’m well aware we still have a lot on our to-do list. Vi and Foster have to decide on a cake, and I have to shop for a mother-of-the-bride dress.”
“We might have to take Gram shopping too. She still doesn’t approve of Vi and Foster getting married, does she?”
“I think she’s accepted the fact that it’s going to happen.”
Vi’s situation with Foster had brought back so many memories. Years ago Daisy’s mother had had to accept the fact that Daisy had married when she was eighteen and moved to Florida with her new husband. However, Daisy hadn’t gotten pregnant until after she married. She and Ryan had wanted a baby with all their hearts. Daisy wasn’t sure Vi and Foster were ready for marriage, let alone a baby. Still, Violet had insisted marriage was what she and Foster wanted. They’d been adamant. So Daisy had helped them figure out how they could make it work.
Raising a baby and supporting themselves wasn’t going to be easy. Since the floor above her detached garage hadn’t been finished when her barn home was renovated, she’d decided to finish it into a small apartment for the couple. That had always been the plan for added income. Or for one of her girls if either decided to live in Willow Creek. She’d told Vi and Foster they could live there rent free for the first year. Foster’s dad, a contractor, had overseen the construction. It was finished now except for furniture.
“When Gram sees her great-grandchild, I think she’ll be less disapproving,” Daisy reassured Jazzi.
Jazzi still hadn’t asked Daisy her question, and Daisy suspected that she was working up to it.
“I’m supposed to call Portia tonight.”
As Jazzi braked and switched on the turn signal, Daisy said slowly, “Okay,” almost afraid of what was coming.
“I’d like to ask Portia and her husband to the wedding. That would give me a chance to meet Colton and maybe spend a little time with them both.”
Mixed feelings wound around Daisy when she thought about the couple coming to the wedding. However, this wasn’t really her decision to make. “You know Vi wants to keep the wedding small.”
“Why don’t you run the idea past her,” Daisy suggested.
“Portia might just come herself,” Jazzi reminded Daisy.
“If she and her husband both come,” Jazzi added, “I suppose they could reserve a room at the Covered Bridge Bed and Breakfast or Tumbling Blocks B and B. That could be expensive for them, though.”
Jazzi’s comment was like a helium balloon that she wanted Daisy to bat back in some way. She thought about the situation. “Vi will be moving into the apartment as soon as she and Foster find time to go shopping with Gavin to buy a mattress.”
“I like that dresser they found at the antiques store in Smoketown.”
“Apparently Foster has good negotiating skills,” Daisy said with a smile. She’d hired Foster Cranshaw as one of her servers back in the fall, never expecting him to become her son-in-law. He’d quickly become a valuable employee with his knowledge of tea and his social media skills that helped promote Daisy’s Tea Garden.
After a pause, Jazzi glanced quickly at her mom, then back at the rural road. “Are you saying Portia and Colton could have Vi’s room?”
“Actually, they could have the whole upstairs if you slept on the pull-out couch in the living room.”
A sly smile crept across Jazzi’s lips. “That’s a great idea, Mom. But I know you’re going to be busy with the wedding and all and might not want to entertain guests.”
“That could be your job.” Daisy was half teasing and half serious.
“What if Colton doesn’t like me?”
“What’s not to like?” Daisy asked affectionately.
“Mom . . .” Jazzi drew out the word as she always did when she was frustrated with her mother.
“I’m serious, Jazzi. If Portia’s husband comes, then he should at least keep a bit of an open mind, don’t you think? Why else would he accept the invitation?”
Reassured, Jazzi nodded and concentrated on driving.
Daisy just hoped her logic was correct.
On Friday around noon, Daisy and her aunt Iris exchanged a look at the sales counter and high-fived each other with wide grins. The last of the tour bus visitors had exited the tea garden to catch their ride to their next destination. The onslaught of sightseers was always good for business, but a tea blogger had once knocked the tea garden down a notch for service, writing that they needed more help. Since then, Foster had garnered more hours in preparation for his new job of husband and father, though he was still trying to keep up with his studies at Millersville University. Out of school, Jazzi and Vi were helping too.
Daisy glanced at the almost empty case. “I’ll pull more cookies and apple bread from the walk-in.”
“See how many cherry tarts are left. We’ve been running out of them every day,” her aunt reminded her.
“Will do. I suppose we’ll have to keep making a double batch of them since they’re so popular.”
Violet, who had come up to the sales counter, heard them talking. Her daughter’s medium brown hair was streaked with blond highlights, but she hadn’t renewed the practice since she’d learned she was pregnant. Her morning sickness, which had turned into all-day sickness at the beginning of her pregnancy, had gotten better. But today she looked tired. She had dark circles under her eyes and Daisy suspected she wasn’t sleeping because of this high-stress time. Last night she’d heard her daughter come downstairs in the middle of the night. The low whistle of the teapot had alerted her. She and Vi had already discussed the fact that all teas weren’t safe for a pregnancy. But Daisy’s rooibos tea was. The canister where Daisy kept the tea, usually in her pantry, sat on the counter this morning.
Obviously overhearing Daisy’s conversation with her aunt, Vi said, “I was hoping we could take cherry tarts home. As soon as she arrived, Karina put three back for herself to take along tonight. Can we do that? Maybe four?”
Karina’s food gathering was still a mystery. “Of course, we can.” After a pause, Daisy asked Vi, “Has Karina told you why she takes along the baked goods?”
Vi shook her head and tucked her shoulder-length hair more neatly into the net she wore over it today. “No, she doesn’t really talk to me like she used to. When she came in today, I thought she looked upset, so I asked her if something was wrong. She insisted it wasn’t.”
Pushing thoughts of Karina aside for now, Daisy studied Vi more thoroughly. As she often did, Vi was turning Foster’s high school ring around on a finger of her left hand. It was her engagement ring.
“Do you want to leave early?” Daisy asked. “You look tired.”
“No, I’m good. I’m saving the money I earn for a crib. Gavin wanted to find us a used one, but I’d like one new thing for the baby.”
Daisy could understand that. “Standards on children’s furniture change from year to year too, so putting your money into the crib is wise. Maybe you can consider the kind that transforms into a daybed for when the baby is ready for his own bed.”
“Or her own bed,” Vi joked. “I know some moms want to be surprised, but Foster and I can’t wait to learn the sex of the baby. Soon, we’ll have the ultrasound and then we’ll know.”
Iris jumped into the conversation now. “Just remember, honey, I want to be your major babysitter.”
“You might have to wrestle Gram for that job.”
“Guess who would win,” Iris returned with a wink.
Daisy’s aunt Iris and her mom didn’t always see eye to eye. They had very different personalities. Where her aunt was a listener, accepting, and nonjudgmental, Daisy’s mom was the opposite. Rose Gallagher liked to share her opinion before anyone asked for it. Daisy had lived under her mom’s critical eye all her life, and her aunt Iris had always been her ally. Daisy and her own sister Camellia had very different personalities too. Their mother and Camellia usually stood firm together. As she was growing up, Daisy had often felt like the odd girl out.
Thinking about that again, Daisy realized that conclusion wasn’t completely true because her dad had consistently stood in her corner. At least it seemed that way.
Vi snapped her fingers. “Pregnancy hormones are affecting my memory. Tessa wants to know if she should put the rum-raisin rice pudding on the menu for tomorrow. Something about needing more eggs for the weekend from your supplier if you do.”
“I’ll talk to her. I can ask Rachel Fisher if their farm has any extra eggs. I could stop on my way home and pick them up.”
As Vi moved away, Iris said, “Since I’m leaving early, I could stop for them. You have enough to do with getting the apartment ready for Vi and Foster along with wedding plans.” Her aunt lowered her voice. “And with tonight’s little celebration.”
Her aunt was right about her to-do list, including their surprise for Vi and Foster tonight. “I’d appreciate that,” she said. “Let me talk to Tessa.”
Early that afternoon, on the way to the kitchen, Karina waylaid Daisy outside the office. “Can I speak to you for a minute?”
“Sure. Do you want to go into my office?”
“No, that’s not necessary.”
Daisy’s gaze slid over Karina. Her hair was shorter, so she must have gotten it trimmed, and the purple was brighter. Her neon green clogs peeked out from the hem of her white slacks. Her yellow apron with the daisy logo seemed to complement Karina’s personality. She looked like a colorful garden.
Daisy waited, knowing that if Karina didn’t want to go into her office, then she didn’t have anything serious to discuss.
“I need to leave around four instead of five. Is that okay?”
Even though the tourists from the tour bus had left, the tearoom was still filled with customers. However, when her employees needed time off, Daisy usually complied, knowing they had responsibilities and errands outside the tea garden. “Do you need to pick up Quinn early from day care?”
Karina didn’t answer right away. Finally, she responded, “No, but I have an errand to run before I pick her up. This is important, Daisy. Honest, it is.”
There was vehemence in Karina’s voice, and maybe something else.
“You can leave early today. We can cover for you. Will you be here for your regular shift tomorrow?”
“I’ll be here on time and I’ll stay for my whole shift,” Karina promised.
“Sounds good. Some day when you’re not working, you’ll have to bring Quinn in for a visit.”
“She talks a mile a minute,” Karina said with a smile, and checked her watch. “I’d better get back to work. Thanks again, Daisy . . . for understanding.”
Daisy watched her server as Karina went into the kitchen. She had the sense that Karina was hiding something. Just what could it be?
Daisy’s servers and staff had all left when she turned over the OPEN sign to CLOSED on the door of Daisy’s Tea Garden. After tossing around an idea in her head, she decided to stop in at Woods for a few minutes to talk to Jonas.
She left by the back door of the tea garden, walked through the small parking lot, and down the drive that led to Market Street. A horse clomped past, pulling a courting buggy. She didn’t know the young couple riding on the bench seat but she smiled anyway.
On Market Street she glanced back at the tea garden, a pale green Victorian with white trim, gingerbread edging, and a covered porch. It had once housed a bakery. Converting it to a tea garden with an apartm. . .
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