Murder with Clotted Cream
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Daisy Swanson and her Aunt Iris run a delightful shop in Pennsylvania's Amish country with an emphasis on tasty teas and treats—but murder is not so sweet . . .
As local merchants unite to attract tourists for a much anticipated weekend quilting event, business is sure to spill over into eateries like Daisy's Tea Garden. Gorgeous craftwork is hanging everywhere—but among the quilts, potholders, and placemats, one gallery owner is wrapped up in some dangerous affairs . . .
Reese Masemer had been dating one of Daisy's employees, Tessa, an artist, though their last interaction was as strained as a cup of loose leaf tea. Now Reese has been found dead near a covered bridge where Tessa's been practicing her sketches. She's the obvious suspect, but Daisy's learning that there were some major secrets in Reese's background, and several of his relationships were infused with resentment. To save Tessa, she'll have to find out who's tainted this quaint little town with murder . . .
Release date: May 26, 2020
Print pages: 320
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Murder with Clotted Cream
Karen Rose Smith
“But what if Margaret doesn’t like the apple gingerbread with clotted cream?” Aunt Iris asked Daisy as they stood at the sales counter of Daisy’s Tea Garden.
Daisy Swanson was co-owner of Daisy’s Tea Garden with her aunt Iris. Willow Creek, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, experienced a thriving tourist trade even into November and December if the weather held. However, business was sporadic in November and Daisy was glad to accept catering events in order to keep up their revenue around the holidays. She knew her aunt Iris was worried about one such catering event coming up in a few days. They were concerned about all of their events being as perfect as they could make them, but the woman who had hired them to present afternoon tea in her historic farmhouse had a reputation. Margaret Vaughn, former New York City actress, was particular.
There were only a few customers in the tea garden at nine a.m. on a Monday morning. Still, Iris lowered her voice. “Since Margaret’s husband built her that theater, and she made herself director of their productions, she’s even more persnickety. What if she doesn’t like what we serve? We worked on that clotted cream for three days!” Iris’s ash-blond short curls bounced with vehemence.
Daisy’s friend Vanna Huffnagle, Willow Creek Community Church’s secretary, had recommended Daisy to her sister, Margaret.
Margaret had insisted on genuine clotted cream for the catered tea. Daisy had assured her that they would oblige. Her aunt Iris was correct. The clotted cream was a lot of work to make. To buy it would be terrifically expensive. Daisy had wanted to give Margaret a competitive quote so she wouldn’t choose someone else to cater her event. She didn’t intend to disappoint either Vanna or the very exacting Margaret.
Daisy took the elastic tie from her shoulder-length blond hair and refastened it into a low ponytail. “Vanna told me that she and Margaret don’t always get along. I know too well sisters can be like oil mixing with water. I got the impression that they hadn’t had much contact at all during Margaret’s acting years in New York. It’s only since Margaret married Rowan Vaughn and they moved to Willow Creek that she and Vanna see each other frequently.”
Iris swept around the counter and counted the scones that were inside the case. Then her hazel eyes met Daisy’s blue ones. “Even though Vanna left her Mennonite faith behind when she married her husband, she adhered to its values. Margaret didn’t.”
“Just because she wanted an acting career didn’t mean she left her values behind,” Daisy offered, slipping her hands into the pockets of her yellow apron with its large daisy logo.
“Maybe not,” Iris agreed. “But Vanna believes big-city life changed Margaret.” Iris thought about their conversation for a few moments. “Since Vanna’s husband died, I think she’s been lonely. She was glad when Margaret moved back here. But I also know she believes Rowan building his wife that Little Theater and setting up an endowment for future expenses was really over the top of anything a husband should do.”
Most residents of Willow Creek knew Rowan Vaughn, a land developer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was worth millions. At least that’s what the Willow Creek gossip mill indicated. Vanna had shared with Daisy that Margaret had run away to New York City when she was fifteen. An actress was all she’d ever wanted to be. To escape the life and faith restrictions she didn’t want?
Emerging from the kitchen, Daisy’s kitchen manager, Tessa Miller, came over to where she was standing. Tessa was a colorful addition to the tea garden with her flowing orange and green smock and her braided caramel-toned hair interspersed with orange ribbons. “Do you have the menu worked out yet for the tea at Margaret Vaughn’s house? If I have time today, I thought I’d run through the food and make sure everything is tip-top. The apple gingerbread recipe has turned out delicious every time I’ve baked it. Do you want me to serve it in ramekins or do you want to serve slices on dessert plates?”
“Which do you think would look better with the clotted cream?” Daisy asked.
“I think the slices would look best,” Tessa answered. “The gingerbread cuts well, and our tea guests can see that spicy goodness and apples along the outside edge of the slice.”
Iris nodded. “I think Tessa’s right. Not only that, but we won’t have as much difficulty transporting the cake pans. Ramekins can slide all over the place. Besides that, you’d have to make sure when you dump the gingerbread out of the ramekins that it’s a perfect shape. Slices make sense.”
“Slices it is,” Daisy said with a smile, then motioned Tessa to her office. “I have the menu on my desk. I was going to have Jazzi print off enough for Margaret’s guests when she comes in after school.”
Jazzi, Daisy’s sixteen-year-old daughter, earned money by helping at the tea garden after school and on weekends.
Her voice gentle, Tessa leaned close to Daisy to say, “I’ll bet Jazzi is looking forward to spending a weekend with Portia and her family.”
Tessa’s words caused a twinge in Daisy’s heart. Adopted, Jazzi had gone on a search for her birth mother a year ago and found her. Since then, there had been emotional ups and downs for all of them. Portia Smith Harding hadn’t known if she wanted to disrupt her life by telling her husband she’d put a baby up for adoption before she’d met him. She’d finally revealed her secret, which had caused marital issues. But now Portia and her husband seemed to be on stable ground and Jazzi was going to spend a weekend with the family. All were hoping Jazzi and Colton, Portia’s husband, could connect. Daisy didn’t want her daughter getting hurt.
Responding to Tessa’s comment, Daisy said, “Jazzi’s looking forward to it, but she’s nervous, too. She won’t admit it, but I think she’s afraid she’ll do or say something wrong. She doesn’t want to cause any more problems for the couple.”
“Jazzi would be a wonderful addition to any family,” Tessa said.
“I tell her the same thing,” Daisy agreed with a wide grin.
When Daisy had lost her husband to pancreatic cancer four years ago, she’d taken a year to try to balance her emotions and her life. Finally she decided moving back to Willow Creek from Florida with her two daughters would be the best decision for all of them. Violet, who was three years older than Jazzi, had been more vocal about her feelings. Jazzi had kept a lot of hers inside.
Iris peeked around the corner of Daisy’s office. “Vanna’s here and she’s upset. I think you should talk to her.”
Daisy checked her watch. Nine thirty. Vanna’s hours at the church were flexible. Daisy bet that more than a scone and a cup of tea had brought the church secretary into the tea garden this morning.
Daisy hurried from her office to the main tearoom, which had been painted a soft, welcoming green when she and her aunt Iris had renovated the Victorian. Her customers seemed comfortable with the glass-topped tables and mismatched antique oak hand-carved chairs. At the beginning of November, before the Thanksgiving season, a rustic bud vase with dried herbs, lavender, and a white mum decorated each table.
As Vanna moved forward to meet Daisy, Daisy could see that her friend was upset. Her hair was steel gray in a no-nonsense short cut. She was wearing a chocolate-colored pantsuit with no coat. She’d probably driven from church or from home. It was too chilly a day to be running around without outerwear. Vanna’s sturdy tan tie shoes clicked on the floor as she approached Daisy. Her hazel eyes brimmed with something akin to . . . frustration? Disappointment?
There was no point in guessing. Daisy motioned her into the adjoining spillover tearoom, which was painted the palest yellow. Its white tables and chairs always looked fresh. The seat cushions in blue, yellow, and green pinstripes added a whimsical look. This room, where they took reservations for and served afternoon tea on specified days, reflected the finest aspects of a Victorian with its bay window, window seat, diamond-cut glass, and crown molding.
Vanna followed Daisy into the room. As Daisy motioned to a table for two, she asked, “How about a cup of Earl Grey and a blueberry scone?”
Vanna let out a huge sigh. “The tea sounds nice, but I don’t have an appetite.”
Although Daisy wanted to know what was going on, she said, “I’ll be right back. Relax for a few moments.”
Daisy’s Tea Garden was all about relaxing, chatting, and appreciating different blends of tea as well as baked goods, salads, and soups. Daisy said to her aunt, “Two cups of Earl Grey. I’ll try to find out what’s going on.”
Returning to Vanna’s table, Daisy sat across from the church secretary. “You look upset.”
“I am upset. I recommended you to Margaret. I knew she could be difficult, but I didn’t want you to suffer for it. And now she’s thinking about canceling the tea.”
That was a surprise to Daisy. “Why is she thinking about canceling?” Daisy emphasized the first word, knowing the reason for Margaret’s state of mind could mean everything to Daisy figuring out what to do next.
Vanna waved her hand at the green room. “Her decision has nothing to do with you or your tea or your food. It’s about her, really, and it’s her own fault.”
“What’s her fault?”
Cora Sue, one of Daisy’s servers who worked full time and was as bubbly as the bottle-red hair curling in her topknot, brought a tray with two Royal Doulton teacups as well as a matching four-cup teapot. After she greeted Vanna, she unloaded the tray onto the table quickly as if Iris had given her specific orders to serve and leave. Along with the tea service, she left a petite dish of sparkling sugar, a stone-craft cup with wildflower honey, and a crystal dessert plate with slices of lemon and a small fork.
Vanna looked it all over as if she couldn’t decide whether to answer Daisy’s question or fix her cup of tea. As if she decided she needed the bracing liquid, she used a spoonful of honey and squeezed in a lemon slice, setting the rind on her saucer and wiping her fingers on her napkin. “You do know how to serve tea,” she murmured.
Daisy smiled at the grudging compliment, thinking she’d take good vibes when she could get them. Vanna didn’t give her time to give thanks.
“You know, don’t you, that Margaret imported a lighting expert and a stage manager from New York City.”
“No, I didn’t know that. She didn’t want to use local talent?”
“Her attitude was that she couldn’t find local talent.” Lines around Vanna’s mouth became more evident as she frowned. “I don’t think she looked very hard. Glenda Nurmi, who wrote the play, believes she should be the director, not Margaret. After all, she is the playwright. But Margaret doesn’t agree with that.”
Daisy had heard the name of the play was Christmas in the North Woods. Now she repeated to Vanna something else she’d heard. “Heidi Korn, from the Rainbow Flamingo, is in the play as well as Arden Botterill, right?” Arden owned a shop called Vinegar and Spice.
Vanna let out a big sigh. “Since Heidi owns the dress shop, she wants to give Margaret advice on the fashions for the play. But Margaret, of course, won’t take it. Even when she was five she was right about everything.”
Daisy suppressed the urge to chuckle. Margaret definitely was an opinionated, take-charge woman.
“You know Daniel Copeland’s in the play too,” Vanna offered.
Daisy hadn’t heard that. Daniel was the assistant manager of the Willow Creek Bank. He had an attitude similar to Margaret’s. As soon as she thought it, Daisy chastised herself for judging the man. She didn’t know Daniel all that well.
“There are a few others from town,” Vanna went on. “As you know, Jonas is helping with the set design, not that he has any say in it. But he is helping to construct it.”
“He seems to be enjoying that.” Daisy had been dating Jonas Groft since last New Year’s Eve. Their relationship had experienced bumps, but some highs too. He was a former detective from Philadelphia who had seen enough of the seedy side of life. He now owned Woods, a furniture store down the street from Daisy’s Tea Garden. He crafted furniture to sell along with the other pieces he took in on consignment.
Daisy thought about everything Vanna had told her while Vanna seemed to relax a bit as she took a few sips of tea. When the secretary closed her eyes, Daisy put together the pieces and figured out what was probably going on.
After adding a half teaspoon of honey to her own tea, Daisy stirred it in. Vanna opened her eyes again.
Daisy guessed, “So what you’re telling me is that Margaret is upset because there are problems between her cast and the production staff?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you. The cast seems to resent the people from New York telling them what to do, especially since Glenda doesn’t seem to have much input and she should. The New York duo, even though this is what they do—go on the road to help developing theaters—seem to resent the fact that the cast thinks their opinion should count. I stopped in at the theater yesterday, and to me it all seemed like a muddled mess. Margaret’s not sure everyone will pull together and that’s why she’s thinking about canceling the tea. Why should she go to the expense of a full-course tea service for everyone when they can’t seem to get along?”
“Why did Margaret wait so long to think about having the tea?”
“I don’t know. She’s not used to organizing. She’s used to acting. I was the organized sister. She was the flutterbug, though a determined one who followed the wind.”
Daisy imagined that that was resentment she heard in Vanna’s tone. Firsthand, she knew about sisters and resentment, but she definitely didn’t want to go there right now. She took a sip and then another of her tea, letting the warm brew calm and settle her. She’d opened the tea garden with her aunt because she wanted the residents of Willow Creek to have a place to come that was safe, calming, and a respite where friendships were formed and made stronger.
“Thank you for coming to me today,” Daisy said. “I think I should talk to Margaret myself. I’m going to need a final decision if my staff and I need to prepare for her tea. I need to know now. I’ll give her a call and see if I can meet with her.”
“There’s a rehearsal tonight, but I think she said she’d be at home most of the day. Maybe you can catch her.”
“I’ll do that. In the meantime, before you go back to your job, wouldn’t you like a muffin or a scone or a brownie?”
Vanna, gazing around the restful room, rethought her previous decision. “A brownie before noon. That sounds decadent, doesn’t it?” She had a twinkle in her eye. “I think I’ll have one since that’s as decadent as I get.”
Daisy took a few more sips of tea then rose from her chair. “Enjoy another cup of tea. Cora Sue will bring you a brownie.”
As Daisy was about to turn away, Vanna called her back. “I wish Margaret was more like you. I’d have a real confidante then.”
Daisy felt herself blush. “You can talk to me anytime, Vanna. You know that, don’t you?”
Vanna’s eyes seemed to mist over and she simply nodded.
Daisy was going to tell Cora Sue to serve Vanna an extra-large brownie.
A few minutes later Daisy was headed to her office to call Margaret when her son-in-law opened the tea garden door. Foster Cranshaw let Violet precede him inside. His russet brown hair was mussed from the wind and his rimless glasses fell low on his nose.
Daisy felt empathy and sympathy for her daughter, who was counting days at the end of her pregnancy. Daisy remembered those last few weeks of her pregnancy well. She hadn’t been able to see her feet, and fatigue interspersed with moments of high energy prodded her to do everything she had to do before the baby was born.
Daisy didn’t waste any time in showing the couple to the spillover tearoom. Foster wasn’t slated to work until tomorrow. He had classes this morning. Her daughter was supposed to be at home resting.
As soon as Foster pulled out Vi’s chair and helped her remove her black-and-white color-blocked wool cape, Violet said, “I wish I hadn’t stopped working so soon. I’m so bored I don’t know what to do.” Vi’s honey blond hair had grown a ways down her back. Its natural wave was wind-tossed this morning. Her cheeks were fuller than they’d been before her pregnancy.
Foster looked frustrated as he sat at the table with his wife. “Otis misses her at Pirated Treasures. Even though she’s kept his inventory list and his bookwork up-to-date, as well as Arden Botterill’s bookkeeping, she doesn’t know what to do with herself.”
Vi ticked off tasks with her fingers one at a time. “I have the baby’s area ready. I have receiving blankets and clothes all washed. Clean sheets are on the crib mattress, and I dusted our whole apartment until I can’t dust anymore. I wanted to take a walk farther than from our apartment to your house, but Foster won’t let me.”
“Not when she’s alone,” Foster confirmed to Daisy. “I’m not taking any chances.”
“When do you see the midwife again?” Daisy ventured.
Vi shifted, trying to arrange herself more comfortably in the chair. “Tonight. You’re welcome to be there. Willa knows you’re worried.”
Daisy thought she’d hidden her concern about Violet having a midwife deliver her baby in their apartment. Apparently, one woman to another, Willa knew how Daisy felt. She was a Mennonite woman who was a nurse practitioner as well as a midwife and well-qualified for her profession.
“Yes, I’d like to be there,” Daisy assured her daughter.
“Vi asked me to bring her here so she’d have a change of scene,” Foster explained. “I need to meet with my professor at the college this afternoon.”
“Anything wrong?” Daisy asked, then thought maybe she shouldn’t have. She really tried to let her daughters make their own choices, and let Foster guide where he wanted his family to go.
Foster pushed his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose and answered easily. “No problem. Actually, we’re talking about independent study after the baby’s born. It would make my hours more flexible.”
“Rooibos iced tea with a scone?” Under Daisy’s direction, Vi had learned what teas were safe for her to drink during pregnancy. The herbal tea with ginger and mint had helped her morning sickness. There were teas that were unsafe during pregnancy like cleansing and detoxification teas as well as those with certain herbs such as black cohosh. Daisy had also counseled Vi that she should limit her tea intake to one cup a day. Two or three cups were supposed to be safe, but as with everything else, since a pregnancy scare back in August, Vi wanted to go in the direction of caution. She stayed away from any drink with caffeine.
Violet looked almost like the little girl Daisy remembered when she asked, “Can I come back to the kitchen and visit with Tessa? It will give me something to do. Then I just want to sit here and watch your customers. Can I do that, Mom?”
Daisy would do anything to help the last few days of Vi’s pregnancy go smoothly. Her older daughter was welcome to watch passersby and tea drinkers if that would help her occupy herself. “I’m sure everybody in the kitchen would be glad to see you.”
Foster raised a brow. “You’ll watch over her?”
“Of course. If I don’t, Iris will, or Cora Sue, or Eva.”
Looking relieved, Foster stood and he helped Vi to stand too.
Vi sighed. “I don’t think I ever realized that pregnancy would be like carrying around four bags of sugar or flour. I’ve gained twenty pounds,” she bemoaned.
“And you look beautiful,” Daisy reminded her. “You’re healthy and strong, and according to your OB/GYN, the baby is too.” Willa had a gynecologist backing her up just in case she needed one. Fortunately, Vi’s doctor was on board with everything they were doing.
“You have to say that,” Vi murmured. “You’re my mother.”
Daisy could tell Foster was suppressing a smile.
“She doesn’t believe it when I tell her she’s beautiful either,” he said. Then he kissed Violet and left the tea garden.
Daisy walked with Vi to the kitchen, where everyone welcomed her. Before Vi had had a scare with her pregnancy, she’d worked at the tea garden beside everyone who was working there now.
The aromas that wafted from the kitchen were cinnamon and chocolate, vanilla and sugar. There was a yeasty smell too, which meant Tessa was baking cinnamon rolls.
Vi caught the scent right away. She said to Tessa, “If any of those cinnamon rolls are baked, I’ll have one.”
“They’re almost baked.” Tessa looked Vi over. “You’re glowing. Pregnancy becomes you.”
Vi just shook her head. “You all made a pact to make me feel good, didn’t you?”
As Tessa laughed, and she and Vi began talking, Daisy said, “I have a call to make. I’ll be back in five minutes.”
She hoped it would be five minutes.
In her office, Daisy called Margaret from the handset on her desk.
“Vaughn residence,” someone answered on the other end of the line.
“This is Daisy Swanson from Daisy’s Tea Garden,” Daisy explained. “Is Mrs. Vaughn in?”
“This is Tamlyn Pittenger, Mrs. Swanson. Mrs. Vaughn is in a meeting right now in her study.”
“I was wondering if it would be convenient for me to vis. . .
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