As local merchants unite to attract tourists for a much anticipated weekend quilting event in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, 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…
“Readers are immediately drawn to main character Daisy Swanson and her beloved Aunt Iris.”—Suspense Magazine
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The Victorian house with its gray siding and white gingerbread trim loomed in front of Daisy Swanson as she and Tessa Miller approached it. The January darkness had wrapped around the town of Willow Creek, Pennsylvania, early tonight with a cloudy pewter sky before sunset and the prediction of snow later. Daisy wasn't sure she should have let Tessa talk her into coming here to Revelations Art Gallery with her after hours. But Tessa was the chef and kitchen manager at Daisy's Tea Garden and Daisy's best friend. They'd been confidantes since high school. Still ...
Daisy voiced her concern as a gust of wind blew her wavy shoulder-length blond hair across her cheek. She brushed it behind her ear, thinking she should have worn her hat. The temperature was below freezing. "I don't know if I should have come with you."
Walking along the side of the house to the back door of Revelations, Tessa assured her, "I'm just going to pick up my sketchbook and leave your cinnamon scones on Reese's desk."
Tessa had been dating Reese Masemer, the owner of Revelations Art Gallery, since her show in October. She'd left her sketchbook there when she'd stopped in to have lunch with him.
Tessa went on, "You know you want to see the quilt display Reese set up. Quilt Lovers Weekend is coming up in a little over three weeks. I'm sure Reese won't mind you being in the gallery with me. He knows you and I are close friends."
Without hesitation, Tessa turned the key in the lock, stepped inside, and pressed in a security code. The long braid that kept her caramel-colored hair relatively confined swished across the back of her purple down jacket as she switched on a light. "He trusts me with the key and the code now."
And Daisy knew why. Often Tessa spent the night with Reese in his apartment upstairs.
Even in the dim light, Daisy could see Tessa blush a little. Her friend's relationship with Reese was fairly new, and Daisy wasn't sure what to think about it yet.
She stepped inside with Tessa and looked around at the office. It was business-messy with a few paintings positioned on easels and art books spread across a large maple desk. Papers — invoices and such — were scattered over the surface of the desk too. A computer station sat at the far wall and the computer was off. At least it looked as if it was off but it could have just been sleeping, Daisy supposed. Tessa's sketchbook rested on the corner.
"I'm surprised you and Reese aren't out on a date tonight," Daisy said. Reese and Tessa had been spending most evenings together.
Approaching the desk, Tessa set the foil-wrapped package of cinnamon scones there and picked up her sketchbook. "He has a meeting with a client tonight in York and he said he won't be back until late."
Willow Creek, in the heart of Lancaster County, was close to Lancaster as well as York, making it an ideal small town with other accessible services close by.
"I am interested in the quilts display." Daisy unzipped the first few inches of her fleece jacket patterned with cats. "Especially if Reese has any Album quilts. But then I want to get home."
"Vi only has a few more days at home before returning to college, doesn't she?" Tessa asked.
Her friend knew how much Daisy had missed her older daughter. "Yes, and I want to spend as much time with her as I can. And Jazzi —"
Her fifteen-year-old had had a lot on her plate the past six months. Not only had she missed her sister, Violet, who had gone off to college, but as an adoptee, Jazzi had decided to search for her birth parents. After weeks of silent secretive behavior in the fall, Jazzi had finally confided in Daisy. She knew her girls missed their father, who had died three years ago, and Jazzi particularly had been close to Ryan. Putting her own feelings about the search aside, she'd aided Jazzi's efforts to find her birth mother. Now Daisy wanted to be available to her younger daughter because Jazzi had an upcoming visit planned for this Sunday with Portia Smith Harding. Jazzi might want to talk about it. Although her daughter had spoken with Portia on the phone, she hadn't seen her face-to-face since their first meeting in October.
"Come on," Tessa said, disrupting Daisy's thoughts. Crossing to the doorway that led into the other rooms of the gallery, Tessa paused.
When Reese had bought the old Victorian to use for the art gallery, he'd kept its charm and only done renovations that would help show off work in the gallery. Now Tessa guided Daisy through a dark room into a larger one where ambient light glowed from a track along the ceiling.
"I have to find the light switch," Tessa said.
Daisy stayed perfectly still so she didn't inadvertently knock an elbow into an art piece. Most of the work Reese carried was from new artists, but some of it was still valuable.
There was an eerie quality about the Victorian that manifested in several ways. A light mustiness always floated in the air. Did that come from the house being over a hundred-fifty years old? Possibly. Or perhaps from the antiques that Reese used for display tables. The floorboards, although they had been refinished to their original character, creaked. It was hard to find one that didn't.
She and Tessa stood in one of the rooms toward the back of the house. As she peered through the duskiness to the front room, it looked as if shadows appeared to be waving in the streetlights. Those were tree branches swaying in front of the huge bay window.
When there was a bump and swish as if a branch had brushed against the side of the house, Daisy jumped. She wasn't a nervous person, only anxious when she had concerns for her daughters. But this gallery, devoid of patrons, was giving her the creeps.
Finally Tessa found the light switch. An overhead light glowed mildly over the room. Daisy knew Reese didn't want glaring illumination to disturb the atmosphere of his displays or damage any of the works.
"Over there." Tessa pointed to a corner where Daisy could see quilt stands and several quilts folded over chairs. Another was spread across a table. The array drew her to it as she forgot all about the eeriness of the Victorian house. She went straight for one of the quilt stands where she recognized an Album quilt. It was beautiful. The tag on the quilt read BALTIMORE ALBUM QUILT.
"Isn't this gorgeous?" she whispered.
Tessa came up beside her. "Reese said that one's worth about fourteen thousand dollars."
"Just look at this fine needlework."
"It's hard to believe it's from the nineteenth century. I can't imagine anyone sewing so evenly with those tiny stitches."
"This is appliqué and reverse appliqué, embroidery, and more padded appliqué that makes up the three-dimensional blocks. I really should learn to quilt. Rachel Fisher teaches it." Rachel and Levi Fisher, friends of Daisy's, owned Quilts and Notions. They not only sold quilts but cloth and sewing supplies, too.
"Reese believes the Quilt Lovers Weekend will bring in the most business for Rachel and Levi."
Daisy knew the Amish family well. Although she'd moved away from Willow Creek after college, she remembered her childhood as if it was yesterday. Rachel's parents had grown shrubs and trees for Daisy's mom and dad to sell at their nursery, Gallagher's Garden Corner. So Daisy had spent time on that farm. She admired the family and their Amish way of life.
Reluctantly, she moved away from the Baltimore Album quilt to study another.
Suddenly she heard a noise coming from another room. It didn't emanate from the office or the front gallery. If she remembered the downstairs layout correctly, it was coming from the stairs that led to the second floor.
"Someone else can't be here," Tessa murmured, stepping toward a sculpture of an old man sitting on a tree stump. She picked it up as if she intended to hit someone with it.
Daisy held her breath, unsure what Tessa would do next. Tessa hadn't yet taken a step when Reese appeared in the doorway!
They were as surprised as he was.
Reese Masemer wasn't quite six feet tall, but he was fit and lean. At forty-something, his hair was sandy brown, thick, and long. It shaggily splayed over his denim shirt collar. His dark brown eyes landed on Daisy and Tessa. His face, which had seemed too pale, showed a little more color.
Tessa spoke first. "What are you doing here? I thought you had dinner and a meeting with a client."
Appearing a bit shaken, Reese shrugged. Then he smiled. "I thought I had intruders. I'm glad to see it's the two of you. I was worried I might have to invest in a new alarm system."
Crossing to Tessa, he wrapped his arm around her waist. "My client cancelled so I was spending the evening working on my laptop upstairs. I have a lot to catch up on — invoices to input from the sales over the holidays." He wiggled his brows at Tessa. "Including two of your paintings that sold. I'm ready for you to bring more to the gallery."
Daisy's woman's intuition told her that Reese was trying to distract Tessa from the fact that he was still here and hadn't told her.
Her friend, a bit besotted by her relationship with him, let him do it. "I came over to bring some of those cinnamon scones you like so much and pick up my sketchbook. The scones are on your desk. I asked Daisy along because I knew she'd like to see the quilts before we had to scramble through people to view them. They're going to be a big draw."
"I suspect they will be," he agreed. "Those Album quilts are a real find. But that's another reason I'm concerned about security."
He did seem troubled, Daisy thought. But did his concern really have to do with the Album quilts?
Reese gave Tessa another squeeze. "Remember, we're going to have a candlelit dinner in York on Saturday evening. Is that still good for you?"
"It is. But I hope we can spend some time together before that. Are we still on for dinner tomorrow evening?"
With Reese and Tessa gazing into each other's eyes, Daisy felt like the proverbial fifth wheel. This was Wednesday. She imagined Tessa would be staying overnight again before Saturday. "I'll let you and Tessa say a proper good-night." Crossing the room, she headed for the office and the outside back door.
It wasn't long before Tessa joined her, rosy-cheeked and looking just-kissed. However, she was quiet as they left the gallery and closed the door. Once outside, she glanced up at the apartment on the second floor where all the blinds were drawn. No light escaped. Had Reese really been working up there?
A cold wind buffeted them. Daisy pulled the zipper on her jacket up to her neck and turned toward the tea garden where her car was parked.
Tessa took a few quick steps to keep up and asked, "Do you think Reese rushed us out?"
In spite of the wind, Daisy stopped. "What's on your mind?" "Reese's assistant, Chloie Laird, flirts with him constantly. What if she's been doing more than flirting? What if she was upstairs with him?"
Daisy watched as Tessa took another look up at the second floor. "Are you saying you don't trust Reese?"
"You know it's hard for me to trust anyone."
Daisy did know that. But before they could delve into that subject, Tessa changed it. "We're going to be passing Woods. We could stop in and say hi to Jonas."
Tessa was aware that Daisy and Jonas Groft had spent time together. Daisy enjoyed his company and, if she had to admit it, more than enjoyed it. However, Jonas had closed his shop from Christmas to New Year's and gone to Philadelphia to spend the holidays with good friends. They'd spent New Year's Eve together, though, with her girls. That was a few days ago. Since then, she hadn't heard from him. She wasn't sure she should visit Woods because she didn't want to push.
Because of his background as a former Philadelphia detective, Jonas had gotten pulled into her life to help Jazzi search for her birth mother. It was quite possible he didn't want a serious relationship. To be honest, she wasn't sure she did.
Still, Tessa caught her arm and pulled her along, saying, "Come on. You've got to take risks in your life. You don't very often."
"Opening the tea garden with my aunt was a risk." After her husband had died, she'd returned to her hometown to start over. She and her aunt Iris had bought a house to establish Daisy's Tea Garden, and Daisy had also renovated an old barn where she and the girls now lived.
"Your aunt knows more about tea than Wikipedia. And the two of you created a place where everybody comes to chat and relax, eat good food, and drink the best tea. How could it have missed?"
"It still could. You know the track record with small businesses."
"I do. But we're growing. We hired more help."
"When you become a rich and famous artist, you won't want to be my kitchen manager."
With a frown, Tessa studied Daisy. "If I ever do become rich and famous, I'll still be your best friend. And if I have to quit my job, I would find you the best kitchen manager on the face of the earth."
"Now that reassures me," Daisy said wryly as they stood in front of Woods.
"Come on," Tessa urged again, opening the door and pulling Daisy inside. "At least we'll get warm for a few minutes."
Daisy just shook her head and gave in to the inevitable enthusiasm Tessa usually exhibited. However, to her relief, Jonas was nowhere in sight within the store. Elijah Beiler was. He was an Amish woodworker who sold furniture through Jonas's shop. In his forties, Elijah wore black pants with suspenders and a dark blue shirt. His beard signified he was married.
"Good evening, ladies," Elijah said with a broad, welcoming smile.
"Evening, Elijah. Is Jonas around?" Daisy asked.
"No. He went searching for reclaimed wood. He's thinking about adding a line of furniture created from it."
"I've seen furniture crafted from reclaimed wood on those building shows on the Home & Garden channel," Daisy recalled. "They're beautiful."
Elijah went to the counter in the back of the store and reached underneath. After he brought out a few sketches, he carried them to Daisy and Tessa. "Would you like to look at these? They're what Jonas has in mind."
When Daisy had renovated the old barn that she now called home, she'd included an island in her kitchen. She'd examined many in her search for the best one for her use and was familiar with the styles. She admired the plans for islands that Jonas had designed, as well as those for a sideboard table and a practical desk.
"You and Jonas are both very talented," Daisy said, meaning it.
A humble man like most Amish, Elijah reddened at her praise. "Like me, Jonas takes pleasure in bringing the real nature of wood to life."
"I'm looking forward to seeing what the two of you come up with," Daisy assured him. She glanced at Tessa. "We'd better go. I want to get home to the girls."
"I'll tell Jonas you stopped in," Elijah assured them.
Daisy wasn't certain she wanted him to do that, but she kept silent. After a round of good-byes, she and Tessa left Woods.
They walked briskly up the street. In front of Daisy's Tea Garden, they paused and glanced at their Victorian. The tea garden took up the first floor. Tessa lived in the second-floor apartment and used the attic for painting.
A light that came on at dusk and went off at dawn glowed on the front porch. It illuminated the pale green exterior with its white and yellow trim. On the first floor Daisy and her aunt had furnished the be-served or buy-it-to-go room with oak, glass-top tables. She'd painted the walls the palest green. A second tea room on the first floor was a spillover area. It was also the room they used when they took reservations and served afternoon tea by appointment. That room's walls were the palest yellow.
Daisy's office was located to the rear of the tea room and the kitchen spread behind the walk-in room. They also had a side patio where they served customers outside, weather permitting. A private parking area for Daisy's, her aunt's, and Tessa's vehicles ran in back of the Victorian.
"Business is still good," Tessa reminded her. "Even though it's early January and the tourist season has slowed down. That means the community is embracing Daisy's and the tea garden is an integral part of the area."
"I hope that's what it means. The uptick in business could still be from the notoriety of the murder that happened here."
Daisy's Tea Garden had been the scene of a murder in the fall, and there had been publicity from that with local TV coverage as well as discussions on online blogs.
"Foster has really helped to spread the word about Daisy's Tea Garden on social media too," Tessa added. "You have to give him credit for that."
Excerpted from "Murder with Cinnamon Scones"
Copyright © 2018 Karen Rose Smith.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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