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Authors: Laura Childs

Ming Tea Murder

BOOK: Ming Tea Murder
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Berkley Prime Crime titles by Laura Childs

Tea Shop Mysteries

DEATH BY DARJEELING

GUN
POWDER
GREEN

SHADES
OF
EARL
GREY

THE
ENG
LISH
BREAKFAST
MURDE
R

THE
JASMINE
MOON
M
URDER

CHAMOMILE
MOUR
NING

BLOOD
ORANGE
BR
EWING

DRAGONWELL
DEA
D

THE
SILVER
NEEDLE
MURDER

OOLONG
DEAD

T
HE
TEABERRY
STRANGLE
R

SCONES
&
BONES

AGONY
OF
THE
LEAVES

SWEET
TEA
REVENGE

STEEPED
IN
EVIL

MING
TEA
MU
RDER

Scrapbooking Mysteries

KEEPSAKE
CRIME
S

PHOTO
FINISHED

BOU
ND
FOR
MURDER

MOTIF
FOR
MURDER

FRILL
KIL
L

DEATH
SWATCH

TRAGI
C
MAGIC

FIBER
&
BRIMST
ONE

SKELETON
LETTERS

POSTCARDS
FROM
THE
DEAD

GILT
TRIP

GOSSA
MER
GHOST

Cackleberry Club Mysteries

EGGS
IN
P
URGATORY

EGGS
BENEDI
CT
ARNOLD

BEDEVILED
EGGS

STAKE
&
EGGS

EGGS
IN
A
CASKET

SCORCHE
D
EGGS

Anthologies

DEATH
BY
DES
IGN

TEA FOR THREE

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

Copyright © 2015 by Gerry Schmitt & Associates, Inc.

Excerpt from
Parchment and Old Lace
by Laura Childs copyright © 2015 by Gerry Schmitt & Associates, Inc.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

eBook ISBN 978-0-698-19735-0

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Childs, Laura.

Ming tea murder / by Laura Childs.—First edition.

pages ; cm

ISBN 978-0-425-28164-2 (hardcover)

1. Browning, Theodosia (Fictitious character)—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3603.H56M56 2015

813'.6—dc23

2014045914

FIRST EDITION
:
May 2015

Cover illustration by Stephanie Henderson.

Cover design by Lesley Worrell.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.

Version_1

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Heartfelt thanks to the usual suspects—Sam, Tom, Amanda, Troy, Bob, Jennie, Dan, and all the fine folks at the Berkley Publishing Group who handle design, publicity, copywriting, bookstore sales, and gift sales. An extra special thank-you to all the tea lovers, tea shop owners, bookstore folks, librarians, reviewers, magazine writers, websites, radio stations, and bloggers who have enjoyed the adventures of the Indigo Tea Shop gang and who help me keep it all going.

And to you, dear readers, I promise many, many more mysteries featuring Theodosia, Drayton, Haley, Earl Grey, and the rest of the crazy Charleston cast—as well as a few surprises!

Contents

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Laura Childs

Title Page

Copyright

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Favorite Recipes from the Indigo Tea Shop

Tea Time Tips from Laura Childs

Tea Resources

A Preview of
Parchment and Old Lace

1

With drums banging
and the sweet notes of a Chinese violin trembling in the air, the enormous red-and-gold dragon shook its great head and danced its way across the rotunda of the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, South Carolina. It was the opening-night celebration for the reconstruction of a genuine eighteenth century Chinese tea house, and the crème de la crème of society had turned out in full force for this most auspicious occasion.

And even though black-tie events weren't exactly topmost in Theodosia Browning's comfort zone, there had been no easy way to refuse this particular invitation, especially when your handsome, hunky boyfriend was the museum's public relations director. So here she was, applauding the music, mesmerized by the spectacle of the enormous dragon's gaping jaws as it snapped and slapped above the heads of the excited crowd.

Yes, the event was most impressive, Theodosia decided. Glowing red Chinese lanterns, stands of bamboo, elegant orchids, and miniature
penjing
trees had transformed the cold, marble rotunda into an exotic Asian garden. And then there was the food. Serving tables were laden with tempting bites of shrimp dumplings, honey-glazed pork buns, chicken satay, and miniature crispy duck rolls. Delicious!

Of course, the real treasure was the Chinese tea house itself, purchased and deconstructed in Shanghai, then rebuilt board-by-board inside the museum. The blue-tiled, exotically peaked roof, gleaming cypress walls, and intricately carved sandalwood screens seemed tailor-made for an emperor and his courtesans.

“I'm anxious to take a look inside,” Theodosia told Max, who was gazing about proudly if not a little distractedly.

“We pulled it off,” said Max. “I can't believe we actually pulled it off.” He sounded surprised that his PR efforts had yielded such a turnout.

“Of course you did,” Theodosia told him. “Because nobody would pass up an opportunity to enjoy a fancy celebration like this.”
Except . . . maybe me?

Theodosia had a smile that could light up a tea room—and often did, since she was the proprietor of the Indigo Tea Shop on nearby Church Street. But tonight she'd been smiling so exuberantly that her face felt like it was about ready to crack. She'd flitted about on Max's arm, chatting and rubbing shoulders with Charleston's old guard, most of them big-buck donors who were thrilled that their money had made it possible to import this masterpiece of a tea house.

But Theodosia was also counting the seconds to midnight.

Because when the clock struck the proverbial witching hour, she planned to cut and run like Cinderella. She'd kick off her pinchy black satin heels, climb into her pumpkin coach—which, in this case, was her venerable six-year-old Jeep—and head home to her cozy little cottage where her dog, Earl Grey, awaited her.

Shaking her head and forcing another smile because Max was saying something to her again, she leaned toward him, and said, “Excuse me?”

“I need to schmooze a couple more board members,” said Max. “You'll be okay?”

“I'll be perfect,” said Theodosia.

“Go check out the photo booth,” Max urged, “while I huddle with Edgar Webster, one of our illustrious donors.” He grinned. “Maybe take a selfie.” As a fun perk for the guests, Max had convinced the museum director to let him bring in a photo booth. And just as he'd predicted, there'd been a constant parade of guests in and out of the booth all night long. Everyone was seemingly thrilled with the notion of immortalizing themselves in photos, even if they were the small black-and-white variety.

“I'll do that,” Theodosia told him. “It'll be fun.” As she turned to push her way through the crowd, she caught sight of herself in a fragment of mirror. And as always, the image gave her pause.

Is that really me with that mass of auburn hair framing my face and blue eyes looking so expectant? Hmm, I don't look half-bad for being in my midthirties.

She'd swiped a hint of blusher on the apples of her cheeks, smudged on the bare minimum of mascara. But with her confident bearing, winning smile, and fair southern belle skin, she looked almost like a noblewoman who might have been portrayed in some delectable English painting. Perhaps something John Constable might have done.

“You're looking very lovely tonight,” said a voice behind her.

Theodosia whirled about to find Drayton, her dear friend and tea master, smiling at her.

“If not a bit mischievous,” continued Drayton.

Theodosia smiled and gave an offhand wave. “Ah, I think I might be a tad underdressed.” She'd worn a simple black cocktail dress, an armful of colorful bead bracelets, and heels, while most of the other women were glitzed and glammed in the latest runway creations from Dior and Oscar de la Renta.

“Nonsense,” said Drayton. “An LBD is always perfectly appropriate.” Drayton was sixtyish, tall, and debonair. Tonight his gray hair was slicked back straight, and he wore a slim-cut tuxedo with his trademark bow tie. He was the buttoned-up old guard to Theodosia's more playful boho cool.

“Did you get a gander at all the jewels these women are wearing?” Theodosia asked him. “I mean, a cat burglar would have a field day here.”

Drayton's bushy brows rose in twin arcs. “Please don't interject a criminal element into the occasion. Even if it is only imaginary.”

“Okay, then I'll just compliment you on all your lovely
penjing
, because they certainly add to the Asian atmosphere.”
Penjing
were basically Chinese bonsai, miniature trees that had been cut, trimmed, and wired so they could exist in small, moss-encrusted ceramic pots. Drayton, a master at creating windblown-style trees and miniature forests, had lent the museum a dozen of his trees. Most had spectacularly twisted trunks and leaves that were smaller than a lady's pinky nail.

“They do look nice, don't they? Particularly my Chinese elm.” Drayton prided himself on his composure and modesty, but he also appreciated a compliment now and then.

“You've been inside the tea house?” said Theodosia. They both had to take a step back, since the crowd was pressing so hard around them.

“It's a marvel,” exclaimed Drayton. “I took the liberty of exploring while all that Chinese-dragon business was going on.” He paused and smiled. “You should run over and take a quick peek, too. You'll love it.”

“I'm going to,” said Theodosia. “But first I promised Max I'd check out his photo booth.” She looked around, saw that Max was backed up against a wall talking to a rather red-faced man, a board member by the name of Edgar Webster. Neither of them looked happy.


Photo
booth?” spat out Drayton. Clearly he wasn't a fan. “What is this fixation everyone has today with memorializing themselves? And then posting every single silly photograph on . . .” Drayton made a face. “On the
Internet?

“Come on,” Theodosia cajoled. “It's not as bad as all that.”

“I'm just not sure a photo booth is apropos for an event such as this.”

“Still, it's fun. And everyone seems to love it.”

“You see,” said Drayton, “that's why I'm not everyone.” Drayton was a self-proclaimed Luddite who mistrusted smartphones, DVDs, and CDs. In fact, he was an old-fashioned vinyl record kind of guy.

“But you're perfect just the way you are,” Theodosia assured him. She glanced around again, but Max and Webster had apparently moved on.

“Oh my,” said Drayton. As he gazed into the crowd, his placid expression suddenly changed to one of horror.

“What?” Then Theodosia caught sight of the small, blond woman who was speed walking toward them on clacking kitten heels.

“I'm going to let
you
handle this encounter,” said Drayton as he quickly slipped away.

“You look like you're having a
marvelous
time,” cooed Charlotte Webster. She slalomed to a stop in front of Theodosia and grinned like the Cheshire cat, practically upending her glass of champagne in the process. Charlotte was the bubbly socialite who presided over the Broad Street Garden Club, was a sometime customer at Theodosia's Indigo Tea Shop, and was married to Edgar Webster.

“It's a thrilling night,” Theodosia, mustering yet another smile, told Charlotte. Since Charlotte's husband, a prominent businessman and philanthropist, had put up the largest chunk of money to import the tea house, Theodosia pretty much had to make nice with his wife.

“I was just chatting with Percy Capers,” said Charlotte. She fluttered a pudgy hand and adjusted her necklace, a string of sparkling diamonds with a large yellow diamond as the center stone. “You know, the museum's curator of Asian art?”

Theodosia nodded. She'd met Capers a couple of times.

“Anyway, Mr. Capers was regaling me with horror stories about importing this lovely tea house. Shipping it across the Pacific, shepherding it through customs, misplacing some of the actual parts. Why, do you know there are no
nails
whatsoever in the construction? That the entire thing is held together with dozens of wooden pegs?”

“I've heard that.”

“Is that the craziest thing ever?” said Charlotte. “Wooden pegs?”

“I guess that's how they built them two hundred years ago,” said Theodosia.

“Two hundred years? That's how old that thing is?” said Charlotte. She took a quick glug of champagne. “Well, I certainly hope we got our money's worth, then.” She giggled loudly, patted Theodosia on the arm, and toddled off.

Charlotte was a real character, Theodosia thought to herself. And then, because she really didn't want to be unkind, decided that the Websters, as civic-minded underwriters of the tea house, really had done a wonderful thing.

As Theodosia slipped past one of the food tables, she accepted a miniature egg roll from a black-uniformed waiter. Then, when another waiter held out a tray filled with champagne glasses, she took a glass. As she sipped and surveyed the crowd, she was struck again by how fancy and formal everyone looked. Of course, many of the guests, board members as well as donors, were friends and neighbors who lived in the nearby Historic District. One of the Ravenels was conspiring with a Clayton and a Tisdale. And Mr. Pinckney was talking to a large man with a rather pronounced Texas bray.

The pounding of drums suddenly started up again, loud and hard, and Theodosia turned to see what was going on now. Oops, it was dragon time again. The Chinese dragon was humping its way through the crowd once more, tossing its head from side to side, its dragon beard fluttering with every move.

Theodosia had witnessed a dragon parade in San Francisco's Chinatown once, when she'd been roaming up and down Grant Street popping into tea shops, looking for unusual varieties and blends. But seeing this guy up close and personal was a lot more fun. And, from the enthusiasm generated by the crowd, they obviously thought so, too.

Edging her way through a clutch of suitably enthralled guests, Theodosia headed for the photo booth. Maybe she could slip in and take a quick photo right now. She wasn't all that hot to pose, but it would make Max happy. Give him a small souvenir of tonight's museum triumph.

Dodging around an enormous celadon pot filled with leafy bamboo plants, Theodosia darted past a red Chinese lantern supported by a heavy wooden post. Over here, in an alcove off the rotunda where the photo booth was located, it was a little darker, a little quieter.

Perfect.

Theodosia rounded a stone lion-dog statue, heading for the photo booth. The drums were pounding furiously now, the erhu—the Chinese violin—pouring out high, pleading notes. Finishing the last sip of champagne, she set her glass down on a small rosewood table and turned toward the photo booth.

Was it still occupied, she wondered, or could she dart in for a quick photo?

“Hello?” Theodosia called out, giving a couple of sharp knocks on the shiny, bright yellow exterior. She didn't want to go crashing in and photobomb someone. That would be just plain rude.

“Is someone in there?” she called again.

When there was no reply, Theodosia took a step forward. And just before her hand parted the flimsy black curtain, the toe of her strappy black stiletto slid into a patch of something sticky.

“Oh no,” she groaned. All she needed was to ruin her best pair of shoes because some exuberant guest had spilled a glop of sweet-and-sour sauce.

Theodosia glanced down, expecting to see sauce, fragments of an exploded pork bun, or a puddle of champagne. After all, this art opening had turned into a fairly raucous party.

Only what she saw instead was a small, dark puddle.

A spilled drink?

No, Theodosia decided. Champagne or tea would have been much more translucent.

As she pulled her foot back and stared at the floor again, taking a longer, harder look, her heart began to flutter. Then it began to dance a little jitterbug. Because whatever was on the floor was decidedly dark and sticky.

BOOK: Ming Tea Murder
5.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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