Daisy's Tea Garden in Pennsylvania's Amish country is known for its elegant finger foods—but now owner Daisy Swanson has to finger a killer . . .
Restaurant critic Derek Schumaker, notorious for his bitter reviews, is about to visit Daisy's Tea Garden, and Daisy and Aunt Iris are simmering with anxiety. A bad word from the culinary curmudgeon could really hurt their business, but Daisy tries to stay confident. After all, how can he resist her cucumber sandwiches with pimento spread—not to mention the cheesy cauliflower soup and strawberry walnut salad?
Schumaker takes a to-go order when the afternoon tea service is done, which Daisy hopes is a good sign. But when he perishes from a seizure, it looks like his food was dosed with something deadly. Considering a threat that recently appeared on his blog—and whispers of scandal in his past—Daisy has quite an assortment of suspects to sift through . . .
Release date: May 24, 2022
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 352
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Murder with Darjeeling Tea
Karen Rose Smith
The September breeze, with notes of cooler days ahead, lifted Daisy’s blond hair and tossed it away from her face. Scents from the pine forest near the eastern side of the cottage lingered, wafting toward her.
“Have you ever met Mr. Rumple?” Foster asked as they headed toward the fence to the side of the house with its sign RUMPLE’S STATUARY.
“I don’t think he’s ever visited the tea garden, but so many of my clients have bought statuary here. They tell me he’s a little odd. I’m not sure what that means.”
“We’re about to find out,” Foster warned as the gate on the fence opened.
A dog trotted out. Daisy had seen photos of canines like this one. It was a Plott hound, probably weighing in at about fifty pounds. His brown coat was brindled—striped with tan.
Foster’s elbow nudged Daisy’s. “Stand perfectly still.”
They did, but Daisy soon realized there was no need for that.
After the hound stopped about three feet from them, a short man exited the backyard and smiled as he approached.
Foster leaned toward Daisy’s shoulder and murmured for her ears only. “He looks like a troll.”
“Foster,” Daisy chastised, though looking at the little man, she had to admit there was some truth in Foster’s description.
Wilhelm Rumple was a stumpy man with unusual features. His brown hair was curly, fuzzy, and stuck out around his head. His nose was large and his mouth wide. His ears were more pronounced because of the style of his hair. He wore red overalls with a long-sleeved black T-shirt underneath. His feet were bare as he stood on the concrete walkway that led into his backyard.
“Mrs. Swanson?” he asked with a tilt of his head and a smile, as he extended his hand to her. The dog stood at his side.
“Yes.” Daisy glanced at the dog who seemed stoic. “We spoke on the phone yesterday when I called to ask about your hours.”
“I never forget a potential sale,” he assured her with a wink. “This time of year, I don’t have many customers stopping by, so private appointments are good to make sure I’m around.”
Daisy introduced Foster, and he too shook Mr. Rumple’s hand. “I’m the manpower,” Foster said in a kidding tone. “In case whatever Daisy buys is heavy.”
“Come on into the backyard,” Mr. Rumple invited. “Hans, here, won’t bother you. I already told him you’re safe. Tell me what you’re looking for.”
Following Mr. Rumple and Hans, Daisy realized she’d had never seen so many concrete statues. There was a lion practically as huge as a real one. It was surrounded by smaller statues that were replicas of frogs, birds, toadstools, and children. They were lined up everywhere in no particular order.
When Foster gave her a wide-eyed look, she almost laughed. She answered the proprietor’s question. “I’m looking for a statue for my boyfriend. He adopted a golden retriever. I thought a lawn ornament depicting one would be nice.”
“I sell a lot of these,” Mr. Rumple said, waving his hand over his backyard. “But I have a collection of dogs if you’re considering a birthday gift for someone special.”
“More expensive than these?” Foster guessed.
Mr. Rumple grinned. “Exactly. I keep them inside if you’d like to see them. Then you can decide if you want a collectible for a shelf or something larger for the outdoors.”
Daisy wasn’t exactly sure about going into a stranger’s house, but Foster was with her, and after all, this was Rumple’s Statuary ... a business. As she’d told Foster, many of her clients at the tea garden bought from Mr. Rumple and seemed pleased with their purchases.
Foster gave her a shrug as if this decision were up to her. She’d come to love this young man as she would a son. He and Vi, her older daughter, hadn’t married under the best of circumstances because Vi had been pregnant. But they were doing their best to forge a life together.
The truth was that Daisy respected Foster more and more each day. His russet-brown hair had also been blown by the wind, and his rimless glasses were slipping down his nose. He was wearing jeans and a green windbreaker with the Millersville insignia—the college he attended. Like Daisy, he’d worn sneakers, not knowing where they’d be trekking.
“I’d like to see what you have,” Daisy responded to the man, curious about the inside of the cottage. Even the back entrance had a storybook quality with its little red gable that protected the back door.
“Come on then,” Mr. Rumple encouraged, leading them to the granite steps.
On her way, Daisy passed a four-foot alabaster statue of a boy with a fishing rod. Beside him was a two-foot concrete statue of a little boy reading to a dog. That one was cute. She didn’t see any replicas of cats. Her two felines would be insulted. Maybe Mr. Rumple only liked dogs.
They entered a kitchen that was compact and tiny. However, it was up to date with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. The knotty pine cupboards, somewhat like those in her own kitchen, gave this space an old-world air.
“This is an unusual cottage,” she said to its owner. “When was it built?”
Rumple turned to them as he led them past a living room with a stone fireplace that had a wood stove insert and then into a room on the left. “The original house was built in 1934. When I bought it, I completely gutted and renovated it.”
“The millwork around the doors is beautiful,” Daisy noted.
“That’s oak. I did that all myself. I also used it on the walls in my office.”
In Wilhelm Rumple’s office, she studied what looked like a floor-to-ceiling gun safe. The room wasn’t large. There was a blond oak desk adorned with a small Tiffany lamp, but she noted the absence of a computer. Maybe there was a laptop in one of the drawers ... or elsewhere.
Mr. Rumple’s dog sniffed up and down the legs of Daisy’s jeans. Mr. Rumple asked, “Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” Daisy responded with a smile. “He probably smells my two cats.”
The man wrinkled his broad nose as if the idea of cats wasn’t attractive to him. Then he requested, “Can you and your son-in-law turn around while I open the safe?”
Now Daisy was intensely curious to see what was inside the appliance. From the interested expression on Foster’s face, she could tell he was curious, too.
Daisy heard the beep-beep-beep as Mr. Rumple tapped in digits. She counted six.
There was another second or two until the man said, “Okay, you can look now.” He set his thumb on a small square on the side of the digital pad. After another beep and a green light, he swung open the safe’s door.
That was some secure safe!
As the Plott hound finished sniffing Daisy’s legs and settled on the floor beside her sneakered foot, she peered into the safe. With a glance at Foster, she saw that his eyes behind his glass lenses were wide.
The shelves within the safe narrowed in height. There were six of them. Mr. Rumple began to explain what they were seeing. To that effect, he’d taken a pointer with a stiff felt tip from his desktop.
From her first glance at the dog figurines on the shelves, Daisy suspected they were all collectibles.
Mr. Rumple began with the lowest shelf, which was about five inches high. The first dog he pointed to looked to be primitive art.
“This is a paperweight,” he explained. “As you can see in the casting, it’s a Plymouth Foundry iron dog with the price of five hundred and fifty dollars.” He gave Daisy a wink. “Everything, of course, is negotiable.”
Daisy’s gaze traveled to the next dog, a replica of a Dalmatian.
Mr. Rumple carefully pointed to that. “That’s a Victorian bronze doorstopper. The price comes in at five hundred and ninety-five dollars.”
Foster stooped closer to the floor. “How can that be a doorstopper when it’s only as tall as a soda can?”
Mr. Rumple straightened to study Foster. “It’s very heavy ... small but mighty, and all that.”
Foster straightened, too, and arched his brows at Daisy. “Which is the most expensive dog you’re selling? Not that Daisy’s interested. But I’m curious,” Foster confessed.
Mr. Rumple didn’t seem put off by Foster’s question. “The priciest collectibles here are those.” He pointed to a pair of blue dogs on the center shelf. “Four thousand for these. Herend Reserve Sapphire Blue Chrysanthemum Foo Dogs, porcelain, made in Hungary with twenty-four-karat gold accents. They only made a hundred pairs. The folklore says these dogs keep away evil spirits.”
“They should, for that price,” Foster muttered.
Mr. Rumple just gave a short, almost cackling laugh. “You’d be surprised what folks value. I have an eighteen-karat gold pug pin on the way to me that will sell for six thousand dollars.”
Foster’s eyes almost glazed over. “I hope you have security on this place.”
“Oh, I do. And I don’t just show anyone this collection. But speaking with your mother-in-law yesterday, I had the impression she might appreciate it.”
“Oh, I do,” Daisy responded. “But I really am searching for something simpler.”
Mr. Rumple nodded. “Let me secure this, and we’ll go look for something out back.” Moments later, Mr. Rumple commanded his dog, “Outside, Hans.”
The dog headed out of the room towards the back door.
As Mr. Rumple led them through the house once more, Foster leaned close to Daisy. “There weren’t even any normal-looking dogs in that safe. Why would he think you were interested?”
“Maybe he thinks I’m a high roller,” Daisy teased. “Or ... I did mention I owned the tea garden. Maybe he thinks I’ll spread the word.”
Daisy again admired the stone fireplace and chimney as she walked through the living room. She preferred a real wood fire, and that’s why she hadn’t had a wood stove insert installed into her fireplace. But she supposed Mr. Rumple’s method kept the house warmer.
Outside again, Mr. Rumple said, “Come on. I’ll show you the section where I have the most dogs.”
They walked down a gravel path, turned right at a concrete bench, and entered an area where statues stood in an assortment of heights. She spotted a greyhound right away. Another statue, about two feet high, resembled a cocker spaniel.
Suddenly, there was a yell from the gate where Daisy and Foster had entered the property. A man called, “Rumple, I need to talk to you.”
Mr. Rumple didn’t seem bothered by the intrusion. To Daisy and Foster, he said, “You just look around. I’ll be right back.” Hans trotted after his master.
When Daisy checked the fence again and studied the man who’d come into the sales yard, she thought she recognized him. She’d seen his face more than once in the Willow Creek Messenger and on the local news. Leaning closer to Foster, keeping her voice low, she asked, “Isn’t that Stanley King?”
Foster took a look for himself. “You mean that CEO of the pet supplements company?”
“Yes, that’s the one. He has that large farm over near Possum Road.”
All at once, King’s voice raised enough in volume that both she and Foster could hear him. “My son’s wedding is costing me a mint. You’re just going to have to wait for this month’s payment.”
She watched as Hans took a step closer to King, but she didn’t hear him growl. Mr. Rumple nonchalantly kicked a stone at his foot, and it tumbled through the grass as he answered Stanley King. “No, I won’t wait. You’ll just have to scale down your flower order for the wedding.”
Mr. King studied the dog and growled something that Daisy couldn’t hear. Abruptly, he left the yard, slamming the wooden gate behind him.
As Mr. Rumple and Hans returned to the area where Daisy stood, she quickly turned back to Foster. They perused the statues once more. It wasn’t long before Daisy found one she liked. It was a two-foot-high concrete statue of a golden retriever and looked just like Felix, the dog Jonas had adopted. It would be perfect for his townhouse’s porch.
“Do you think he’ll like this one?” she asked Foster.
“That looks like something Jonas would appreciate. Vi told me that you were spending all your free time together. Felix sure likes your place, too.”
Daisy and Jonas Groft, who owned Woods—a furniture store down the street from Daisy’s Tea Garden—had been dating seriously for months. They’d had bumpy times over those months, but the outcome of each challenge was that they’d grown closer. They were serious about their relationship. They’d both said I love you. They hadn’t taken their relationship to a more intimate level, but Daisy was ready and expected that Jonas was, too. She was planning a surprise birthday party for him at a farm-to-table facility in an old barn. She was inviting friends and family, and she hoped he’d be pleased.
In the silence of the early evening, Daisy heard a car angrily start up outside the property’s gate. The car sounded angry because King revved the engine three times, and the tires squealed as he pulled away.
Mr. Rumple glanced in that direction but didn’t seem particularly bothered by what he heard.
Daisy said, “I’ll take this one,” and pointed to the statue. The price tag was on it, and she thought it was fair.
Mr. Rumple said, “If you give me your credit card, I’ll take care of it inside and then bring out your receipt.”
“I’ll carry it to the car for you,” Foster offered. “It has weight to it.”
After giving Mr. Rumple her card and making sure Foster didn’t need help with the statue, she turned to watch Mr. Rumple walk under the red gable to the inside of his house. As he did, she wondered what his dispute with Stanley King was all about.
Daisy walked through the main tearoom at Daisy’s Tea Garden early the next morning, making sure everything was ready for the first visitor. Daisy and her Aunt Iris had bought the old Victorian after a bakery had closed on the first floor. She and her aunt had renovated the downstairs into a tea, baked goods, soup, and salad business, and the upstairs into an apartment. Daisy’s best friend Tessa from high school, who was her kitchen manager, lived upstairs now.
The main tearoom wasn’t fussy like many tearooms, though it did have a subtle flower theme. She and her aunt had wanted men to feel comfortable here as well as women. They drew from the professional offices in Willow Creek and Lancaster, too, as well as from the tourist trade. Lancaster County Amish country was a popular getaway. The walk-in, be served, or buy-and-go room was welcoming with its oak glass-topped tables and mismatched, antique oak hand-carved chairs. The walls had been painted the palest green because Daisy believed the color promoted calming ... as tea did.
The spillover tea area—where she was heading now carrying a tray with cups and saucers—was a more private room. The quaint qualities of the Victorian—a bay window, window seats, crown molding, and diamond-cut glass—characterized the area where the walls were painted the palest yellow. The tables here were pristine white, and each chair wore a seat cushion in blue, green, and yellow pinstripes. Iris and their staff took appointments for full-service tea customers in this room on specified days.
“I’m right behind you,” Tessa announced, carrying another tray, this one with baked goods for their meeting. Daisy, Tessa, and Iris would be discussing the Storybook Tea, an event they were hosting in October.
Daisy glanced over her shoulder at Tessa. Her best friend’s rich caramel hair was braided today. She’d paired her lime-green top with white slacks. She liked wearing smocks in lieu of the usual chef’s coat.
Iris was already waiting at the table in front of the window where autumn sun flowed into the room. As Daisy set the tray with cups of Darjeeling tea on the table along with a pot of wildflower honey and thin slices of lemon, Iris sniffed the flavor in her teacup. “I do love Darjeeling.”
Darjeeling tea was the tea garden’s special of the month. The Darjeeling region in the Himalayan Mountains of West Bengal, India produced a black tea. Today, Daisy was serving the group a first flush Darjeeling that was harvested in the region in mid-March. It had a light color and mild aroma.
Daisy smiled, seeing her aunt’s pleasure at breathing in the scent of the brewed tea. Daisy and her Aunt Iris had always been close. Her aunt’s short ash-brown curls bounced with enthusiasm as she arranged the tea service on the table for all of them. The sun glinted over Iris’s shoulder. She’d already donned her Daisy’s Tea Garden apron with its huge daisy logo on the yellow fabric. Under the apron, she was wearing a pale pink T and matching slacks with taupe and black sneakers. She took a cheese biscuit from the tiered tray Tessa had brought in, setting it on the dessert plate as Daisy and Tessa took their seats.
“I’ve already started the flyers for the Storybook Tea,” Daisy explained. “At least, the text on them is finished. Foster will be able to set it up and then print them out when he arrives. Iris mentioned that the children should bring their favorite book, and that their parents should bring their favorite childhood book. If they don’t have it, they should wear a name tag displaying the title. We’ll provide the tags, of course.”
Tessa added a spoonful of honey to her Darjeeling which had been poured into a porcelain cup with a fluted rim. The finish was pearlescent aqua. “Are we sure Ned Pachenko will be able to play and sing for the kids?”
Daisy added a cinnamon stick from a small crystal bowl to her cup of tea. She’d poured hers into a Royal Doulton cup with blue flowers and a silver trim. “I spoke with him yesterday, and he’s assured me that he’s ready. He said he even made up a few songs with children’s book titles. He’s going to put a placard in his store about the Storybook Tea, and we might gain some new customers. Foster will be advertising it on a few tea websites along with the newsletter that we send out. I’m hoping we’ll sell all the tickets. There’s no telling what the weather will be, or if we’ll be able to serve at the outside tables.”
The tea garden had a side entrance that led to a patio where they served customers in acceptable weather under yellow-and-white-striped umbrellas.
“We can always sell more tickets closer to the date,” Iris suggested. She took a bite of the cheese biscuit that was still warm, flaky, and oozed cheesy goodness.
Studying the tiered tray, Daisy lifted a lemon teacake from it and set it on her plate.
From the other side of the silver serving stand, Tessa selected a mini-cherry tart. She popped it into her mouth, chewed, and then wiped her fingers on a napkin. “Did you find Jonas a birthday present last night?”
“I did. It was an interesting visit to Wilhelm Rumple’s house and business. Jonas and I have passed that house many times on our bike rides.” Jonas had bought the two of them bikes that one of his customers had been selling. They’d found one for Jazzi—Daisy’s younger daughter—at Wheels, Willow Creek’s bike shop, and the three of them often went bike riding together.
“In what way was it interesting?” Tessa asked with a side tilt of her head and a mischievous grin.
“Mr. Rumple is an unusual man.” Daisy didn’t know how else to say it. She explained how he’d invited her and Foster inside to see the expensive statues in a gun safe. “Afterward, while I was outside choosing a statue for Jonas, Stanley King stopped by.”
“Stanley King?” Iris asked. “The one with all the money, who always has his picture in the Willow Creek Messenger?”
“That’s the one. And he didn’t seem happy. I don’t know exactly what he had to do with Mr. Rumple, but Mr. Rumple mentioned Mr. King’s son’s wedding.”
Tessa lifted a snickerdoodle from the tiered tray and set it on her plate. She pointed to it. “I have more dough for these ready to go in the walk-in.” Then, moving the conversation back to the discussion, she admitted, “I know all about the King–Miller wedding. Trevor is going to cover it for his Pennsylvania Country blog.”
Tessa was dating Trevor Lundquist, a reporter for the Willow Creek Messenger. In recent months, though, he had expanded his career into blogging, hoping to earn more money from advertisers.
As Tessa continued, she smiled. “Talk about storybooks. The King–Miller wedding is a Cinderella story for Clancy Miller’s daughter.”
“How so?” Iris asked.
As a side thread, Daisy added, “Violet loves the croissants from that bakery.”
After Tessa nodded in agreement, she answered Iris’s question. “Miller’s daughter Caroline works at Pastry Goods. She met King’s son Andrew when he contracted with their bakery to deliver bread products to the King farm on Sunday mornings. Apparently, they have a family brunch every weekend.”
“Is Clancy Miller related to you?” Iris asked.
“Not that I know of. He and his daughter moved to Willow Creek about three years ago. I suppose every Miller is related in some way from way back when.
“What type of statue did you buy Jonas?” Tessa asked, dropping the subject of a wedding.
“It’s a sitting golden retriever, about two feet high. I hope he’ll like it. I’m meeting him at the animal shelter this afternoon.”
“Is he volunteering again?” Iris asked.
“He is. He makes time for it, like so many volunteers do. I wish I could help out.”
“. . .
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