Daisy Swanson, bride-to-be and owner of Daisy’s Tea Garden in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, may have one or two more murders to solve before she says “ I do . . .”
Daisy has a lot to celebrate this summer. She’s supervising a special tea event to help commemorate the 100-year-anniversary of her town’s historic covered bridge. But the main event is her upcoming wedding to her beloved fiancé Jonas. Somehow Willow Creek’s busiest brewer of specialty teas and amateur sleuth still finds time to be a guest on local journalist Trevor Lundquist’s crime podcast to discuss the last murder she solved.
After the podcast, Trevor receives an anonymous tip from a caller who claims a travel chest that’s about to be auctioned holds a clue to a twenty-year-old unsolved murder. Is it a hoax or a genuine lead? When a body turns up in Willow Creek, Trevor suspects a connection between this current homicide and the cold case. Has the murderer killed again to cover their tracks? Now Daisy has another mystery steeping and Trevor may just have his next podcast . . .
Includes delicious recipes!
Release date: November 28, 2023
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 320
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Murder with Chocolate Tea
Karen Rose Smith
Daisy exchanged a look with her best friend, Tessa Miller, who was the kitchen manager for Daisy’s Tea Garden, housed on the first floor of a refurbished Victorian house. Tessa was now acting as assistant for her boyfriend, Trevor, in his podcast venture. Tessa’s spare room in her apartment above the tea garden had become his studio.
As if Trevor wanted to nudge Daisy’s hesitation, he leaned closer to the condenser microphone. “Daisy . . .”
All of Trevor’s previous questions had been mostly fact-based about the last murder case she’d fallen into. “That question’s not as easy to answer as it might seem,” she said.
“How so?” Trevor always expected answers and cut to the heart of whatever he wanted to know.
“I care about Willow Creek and my family, friends, and neighbors who live here. When I returned to Willow Creek with my two girls”—Daisy smiled wryly at Trevor—“who are now young women, I merely planned to run the tea garden with my aunt Iris and make a new start after my husband died. But somehow, life gave me all kinds of twists and turns.”
“But we’re talking about murder, Daisy. Murders don’t crash down on everyone like they’ve hit you.”
Tessa, who was sitting beside Trevor, nudged his arm so hard that her caramel-colored braid swung over her shoulder. Daisy suspected Tessa thought Trevor was being overly dramatic for his podcast.
“Yes, we are talking about murders,” Daisy said somberly. “I would never have chosen to be involved.”
“Would you say you’re overly curious?” he asked.
Now she frowned at him. She had a long fuse, and she hadn’t considered that Trevor could ruffle her. But he streamed his podcast for a reason—he was trying to find a new facet to his career.
“I don’t believe I’m overly curious, but I want answers when loved ones or friends need help.” She knew her blue eyes were drilling into him, as if telling him not to press too much harder. After all, she could end the interview.
He seemed to get her message . . . and Tessa’s. Trevor gave Daisy a mischievous smile as he asked, “Do you think the fact that your fiancé is a former detective has helped you ask the right questions when you talk to persons of interest?”
“I think the fact that Jonas is a former detective challenges me to keep the cases and our lives in perspective.”
“Can I ask you a personal question? I think our listeners might appreciate a tidbit or two about you,” Trevor said as if he knew exactly what his listeners wanted.
“That depends. Go ahead and ask. But remember, when you want me to bake you chocolate whoopie pies with peanut butter filling, I might forget the sugar,” she joked.
Trevor laughed. “I would expect no less.” After a second’s pause, he suggested, “Can you tell our listeners if it’s true that you and your fiancé connected over a concern with your teenage daughter?”
Daisy realized Trevor was trying to involve his audience in a part of her life that could interest them most. After considering the consequences, she decided her answer could be worthwhile to his listeners. “I know rumors run rampant in Willow Creek. I hear most of them at the tea garden. But this one is correct. My younger daughter is adopted, and Jonas helped me find her birth mother. I’m grateful for that and always will be.”
Making a motion to Tessa, who was sitting at the sound console, that he was ending the interview, Trevor thanked Daisy and gave his usual closing to the broadcast. “My podcast, ‘Hidden Spaces,’ is about what most of us don’t see, hear, or know. If you know a secret that involves our community or if you have evidence of a crime, call my tip line, and I’ll follow up.” He rattled off the number.
“This is Trevor Lundquist and ‘Hidden Spaces’ signing off.”
Daisy heaved a sigh of relief that the interview was over. She leaned back from the microphone setup and removed her headphones.
As Tessa worked at the laptop at the console, Trevor studied Daisy. “You really wouldn’t mess with my whoopie pies, would you?”
She smiled. “You were tough.”
Trevor turned serious. “I don’t want the podcast to be sensational, but it does have to engage ordinary people. My social media following is increasing. This podcast should really hike up the numbers and maybe gain me a sponsor or two.”
Turning to them, Tessa said, “All posted. Comments are already coming in.”
Standing, Tessa pushed back her chair and went over to the color-blocked shelf. In celebration of June and the warm evening, she’d worn a swirling tie-dyed, multicolored sundress. Her bejeweled sneakers went right along with it. The room reflected her as much as all the gizmos and equipment reflected Trevor. A trio of her paintings, which she’d created in the Victorian’s attic, hung over the bookshelves. They were long and rectangular and comprised a set. The first depicted Willow Creek and the willows dipping into its banks. The second one always made Daisy stop and study it. An Amish girl, maybe in her late teens, stood at a busy intersection on her scooter bike. Her cardigan sweater was slipping over one shoulder as if the wind and the scooter had drawn it down. She stood at the light pole waiting to cross the street, her back to the viewer. The Amish wouldn’t allow photos to be taken if they could help it. In the third painting, Jonas’s dog, Felix, romped across their backyard. He looked joyful, ears flying, tail a golden brush against the blue sky.
Tessa picked up her cell phone and eyed Daisy. “Are you going home now?”
“No, I’m walking down to Woods. Jonas and Felix are waiting for me. He dropped me off this morning. Why?”
“Because we have no idea what kind of comments are going to come in from your interview. It might be better if you’re with somebody when you read them.”
“Do you have trolls already?” Daisy asked Trevor.
“Everyone has trolls on their social media feeds,” Trevor answered matter-of-factly.
Trevor’s phone lay on the bookshelf, too. He’d put it there before they’d started the interview. Now it was vibrating.
When Tessa handed it to him, her eyebrows were practically raised under her bangs.
As soon as Trevor glanced at his phone, he smiled. “I’ll put this on speaker. It’s from the hotline.”
Daisy expected this might simply be a comment about the podcast . . . yet it was a tip line.
“Trevor Lundquist here with ‘Hidden Spaces.’ How can I help you?”
Since Trevor had opened the speaker on his phone, Daisy and Tessa could listen in. The male caller kept his voice low. “I know about a crime.”
Trevor’s face became elated and then more reserved. Daisy knew he’d had tips before about damaged property, but not anything significant.
The journalist was wary as he encouraged the caller. “I’m listening.”
Silence pervaded the small room as they all seemed to be holding their breath.
“I need to remain anonymous.”
“I understand,” Trevor assured him.
And he did, Daisy knew. Tips weren’t about the caller. According to Trevor, they were about the secret or the crime. He protected his sources.
“You have to investigate,” the caller cautioned.
Daisy thought the voice sounded middle-aged or younger. It was hard to determine.
“I’ll look into the crime if you give me a significant lead,” Trevor informed the man.
“The lead is in an old chest. There are several chests, but one holds the secret.”
Tessa looked pensive as she passed a note to Daisy. Do you think this guy is legitimate?
Daisy shrugged. There was simply no way to know.
“Where can I find these chests?” Trevor wanted to know. He looked as if he half-expected the man to say, “at the bottom of Willow Creek.” But the caller didn’t.
“They’ll be auctioned off next weekend. They’re included in two storage compartments at Bonner’s Storage.”
Trevor jumped on that information. “But auctions only happen when someone doesn’t pay the rental fees for a few months.”
“That is what has happened. One of those chests holds the secret to a twenty-year-old murder.”
The line went dead.
Daisy left Tessa’s apartment and made her way through the back parking lot of Daisy’s Tea Garden and out onto Market Street. With each step she thought about what had just happened. The warm mid-June air with its slight breeze swirled around her yellow and white cap-sleeved top and yellow slacks. Taking a colorful note from Tessa, she’d worn neon-green clogs today.
A gray-bonneted Amish buggy drove down Market Street, its horse’s hooves clomping along the asphalt. Daisy glanced at it and smiled. The buggies always reminded her to slow down and enjoy the pace of the Amish community.
Still, she heard in her head the words of the caller—“One of those chests holds the secret to a twenty-year old murder.”
Passing shops on her trek to Woods, she saw that most of them were closed—Vinegar and Spice, Wisps and Wicks, and a few business offices. At Woods, the furniture store owned by her fiancé, Jonas Groft, she stopped in front of the main plate-glass window display, as she often did. This month, Jonas had placed a high cocktail table in the window as the main showpiece, with stools that he’d created on either side of it. In the same warm walnut of the table, a curio cabinet stood to one side. It was filled with wooden Amish toys, from a toy train to a toy pull-duck to blocks. A multicolored rag rug had been placed under the table and chairs. A small hutch fashioned from reclaimed wood was painted in a distressed green. Daisy had loaned Jonas several teacups and saucers to add a vintage touch to the piece. The whole setup would definitely invite her inside to look around. That was the point of the display.
The coolness of the air-conditioning met Daisy when she opened the door. Out of habit, she glanced at the giant cubicle shelves along one side of the store that stretched from floor to ceiling. Ladder-back chairs stood in each of the cubicles ranging in different finishes from blue to cherry to dark walnut. Customers could order whatever finish they desired and as many chairs as they needed.
Jonas was specializing in islands now and could hardly keep up with orders. Each was unique, made from reclaimed wood with a stone, granite, quartz, or butcher-block top. Other pieces, like jelly cabinets, bookshelves, pie safes, and hope chests, were made by local craftsmen. Jonas sold the pieces on consignment.
The shop smelled like orange oil, and she liked the scent. She knew Jonas used it to shine up furniture that might have fingerprints on it at the end of the day. That was the case as she watched him rubbing over a maple dry sink. Felix, the cream golden retriever Jonas had adopted, sat on his haunches, watching Jonas’s hand move back and forth and back and forth.
Jonas had large, kind hands that could convey love in the best type of way. It wasn’t the fact that in his forties—trim, tall, and fit—Jonas’s sexy appeal had drawn her to him. She knew she was prejudiced that he was the sexiest man she knew. But it was his loyal and compassionate heart that had coaxed her to let her walls down and let him into her life.
Jonas suddenly turned to look at her, as if he’d sensed she was there. His vibrant green eyes drew her to him almost as much as his smile. Jonas was a caring, forthright man with integrity. She had to admit, though, whenever she looked at him, an all-encompassing flicker of excitement danced through her. She could hardly believe that in six weeks he’d be her husband.
The scar down the side of Jonas’s face reminded them both of his former profession as a Philadelphia police detective. But it seemed to disappear when he smiled—especially when he smiled at her. This evening, a wave of his thick black hair dipped over his forehead. The silver threading in the hair at his temples enhanced the laugh lines around his eyes rather than reminding her he’d once been a homicide cop who’d seen enough misery to turn all his hair gray.
They met at the center of the sales counter. When he wrapped his arms around her, she could feel the beat of his heart. They kissed a long while.
When he leaned away, he murmured, “I wish we were at home.”
After Jonas had moved in with her last fall, the transition from dating to engaged couple had seemed seamless. They belonged together, and they knew it.
“We’ll be home soon,” she promised him.
Felix brushed against her leg in greeting, his fluffy tail wagging.
Stooping to the canine, she laughed. “I’m glad to see you, too.” After she gave Felix the attention he wanted, she straightened.
“How did your interview go?” Jonas asked.
“I’m not sure. We’ll have to check the comments on Trevor’s social media stream to find out. He sent me a curveball when we were closing.” She explained to Jonas about the personal question. “I answered because other families might have the same situation with adopted children.”
“I’m glad Trevor didn’t push too hard. I know how much he wants his podcast to propel him into more income and a better career.”
“I didn’t tell you about the unusual thing that happened,” Daisy said, petting Felix again.
“Nothing would surprise me when you’re with Trevor and Tessa.”
“You know his hotline?”
“I do. I think the patrol officers caught some vandals who were smashing mailboxes because of it.”
“This was a lot more interesting than that. Someone claims they know about a twenty-year-old murder.”
“Whoa!” Jonas blew out a heavy breath. “That’s the type of thing Trevor has been waiting for. Do you think it’s legitimate?”
“I don’t know. I guess it could be a hoax, but it’s an involved one. Apparently some old chests are going up for sale. It’s an auction that the storage company has when renters don’t pay the rent.”
“Old chests are going to explain a murder?”
“Supposedly one holds a ‘secret’.”
Jonas shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe somebody just wants the bidding to go up on the contents of those two storage compartments.”
“That’s possible. Trevor has a week to think about it. While he does that, I’m going to be considering wedding gowns. I’m going shopping tomorrow.”
“Is anyone going with you to give you advice?”
“Mom and Aunt Iris are. Jazzi’s going to cover for Iris at the tea garden, and Tamlyn is putting in extra hours. Jazzi tells me if I find something, I have to text her a picture immediately so she can okay it.”
“Do you think you’ll find what you want?”
“I haven’t up until now, but I’m hopeful. We’re going to shop at vintage stores this time instead of the ordinary ones.”
“You could wear a sheet, and I wouldn’t care,” Jonas said with a smile.
“I don’t want a ball gown, but I do want more than a sheet,” she teased.
Jonas strode behind the counter to his computer. “Do you want to check out Trevor’s comments before we leave, or do you want to wait until we get home? They could cause indigestion.”
“Let’s look now, then I can forget about it for the night.” At least, she hoped she’d be able to.
Jonas sat on a stool, pressed a few keys, and then whistled. “Trevor is gaining followers. Apparently true-crime buffs tuned in. A lot of the comments are about the last murder you helped to solve.”
“And the others?” She really didn’t know if she wanted to look herself and read them.
“Here, sit and check them out. I think you’ll find them interesting.” Jonas stood and let her take up position on the stool. As Jonas had said, many of the comments were about the crime itself and the way it had been solved.
But she saw other comments, too. Some that said adopted children shouldn’t try to search for their birth parents because it would hurt the adopted parents. She didn’t agree with that. It hadn’t been easy, but her younger daughter had needed answers.
She saw others, however, that admired Daisy for helping Jazzi find her birth mother. Then there was the comment—Daisy Swanson should keep her nose out of police business.
There was another—The Willow Creek Police Department should hire Daisy Swanson. This isn’t the first murder she’s helped solve.
There were other comments like—Daisy Swanson is too curious for her own good.
And . . . She could have gotten herself killed. She wasn’t thinking of her family.
“Listen to this one,” Daisy said to Jonas. “Somebody thinks I have too much time on my hands.”
He shook his head. “You have the gamut there, Daisy. Everybody has an opinion on everything, including you and the murder and anything else that happens in Willow Creek.”
Glancing over her shoulder at Jonas, she acquiesced. “I suppose. What do you think will happen if Trevor investigates those chests?”
Jonas clasped her shoulders. “That depends on his attitude and how he goes about it. If he actually finds something, his broadcast could explode, not just in Willow Creek but with a much broader audience. Are you thinking about attending the auction with Trevor if he goes?”
“I have a wedding to prepare for, a daughter to get ready for college, and a tearoom to run.”
“And a fiancé to keep company,” Jonas added with a grin.
“See all that time I have on my hands?” she joked, repeating the sentiment of one of the comments.
“You haven’t answered me.”
“I’ll think about going to the auction with Trevor,” she said. And she would. She had to admit that buying an old chest with secrets was an intriguing idea.
“Why do you think your mom wanted to meet us here?” Iris asked as she and Daisy followed the walk to Daisy’s childhood home on Saturday morning.
The scent of roses and lavender were noticeable as they climbed the porch steps to the covered front door.
“I don’t know. I told her about the shop that sold vintage dresses, and I thought we’d visit there. But she wanted us to come here first.”
After Daisy rapped on the door, she opened it. The front entrance led into the living room, where the flower-patterned sofa had a camel back and chunky legs. The side table legs were chunky, too . . . and outdated. But her dad’s recliner was comfortable for him, and the pillows on the sofa suited her mom.
Rose came hurrying in from the kitchen through the dining area. She’d had her ash blond hair permed recently. It was a short, manageable cut that required the minimum of styling. She was wearing green summer slacks and a lighter green sleeveless blouse. Her lipstick was its usual bright pink.
Rose hugged Daisy and then Iris.
Iris said, “Daisy told me about the shop in Lancaster with vintage-style gowns. She has to find something soon.”
“I’ve looked online. There are lots of beautiful dresses, but nothing feels quite right,” Daisy said.
“I want to show you something,” Rose explained. “I need you to come to the attic with me.”
Iris’s eyebrows rose. “It will be hot up there.”
“Sean opened the windows, and hopefully there will be a crosscurrent. Let’s do this while the morning air has some coolness to it.”
Daisy followed her mother up the stairs to the second floor, Iris trailing behind. They walked down the hall to the spare room.
Rose turned around to look at Daisy before she opened the door to the attic. “Your father and I went to the town council meeting last night,” she said, waiting until Iris was in the room, too.
“I heard Amelia Wiseman was in the center of it,” Iris said. “A hundred-year-old celebration for the covered bridge near her bed-and-breakfast would be a good reason for her to get involved.”
“She’ll want to take advantage of it to promote her bed-and-breakfast,” Daisy agreed.
Rose put her foot on the first step of four that led to a landing toward the attic. “Five years ago, Amelia managed to secure a grant to have that bridge restored. She spent a lot of time, effort, and some money on it, so it only makes sense she’d have a say in this celebration. I imagine the whole town will get behind it. Tourist trade should flow in for it. All the businesses will benefit.”
As Rose stood on the landing, she motioned to Daisy and Iris. “It’s really not so bad up here. The air is moving through. There’s quite a breeze.”
“Thank heavens for that,” Iris mumbled.
Once they were in the attic, Daisy said, “I haven’t been up here since I went to college.”
The attic was spacious enough for an adult to stand up straight along the center aisle. Small windows at the centers of the points of the roof let air flow through the space. Boxes lined both sides, with chairs and small tables stashed here and there.
“Your dad and I try to come up here at least once a year.” Rose pointed toward a corner. “After we return the Christmas decorations, we attempt to clean up a bit.”
The old wood under the roof had a unique smell. Daisy remembered it from searching the attic for curtains to play dress-up. She also recalled that knickknacks that had once graced the rail above the kitchen cupboards were stored up here, as well as boxes of old books. Daisy’s mom and dad were neat, so every box was labeled.
Iris said, “If I had an attic, it wouldn’t be this organized.”
“I like to know where everything is,” Rose said. “Or if I don’t, at least I can point S. . .
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