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 . . .
Includes delicious recipes!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"I can't believe how he trashed that tea room," Foster Cranshaw said, studying Daisy Swanson's office computer screen on a Monday morning in mid-March.
Sitting at the desktop computer, Daisy worried her lower lip. Daisy's Tea Garden hadn't opened yet for daily business. She and her aunt Iris, who was her partner in the tea garden, had switched on the computer and googled Derek Schumacher. Soon, he'd be giving his professional opinion on Daisy's Tea Garden's offerings.
Foster was one of Daisy's assistants and her social media expert to boot. She'd become fond of him, in part, because he was dating her daughter Violet who was on spring break from college. She would be coming into the tea garden tomorrow to help out. When Foster had arrived for his morning shift, he'd brought up Derek Schumacher's blog to check on the critic's latest reviews.
"He's reviewing several tea rooms," Aunt Iris reminded them. "He can't give everybody a good review."
"He can if the food is good," Foster muttered, pushing his rimless glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose.
Although her aunt was repeating a practical line, Daisy could see Iris was worried, too, by the way she brushed her ash-brown curls up over her brow. She did that when she was anxious.
"Maybe he can't give everybody a good review," Daisy murmured, "but he doesn't have to be this harsh." She read his review aloud. "'Virginia has many elegant tea rooms. The Flowered Tea Cup isn't one of them.'" Daisy's voice rose as she continued. "'The bread on their sandwiches was as dry as the sand in the Mojave Desert.'"
Daisy clicked on a link for another review. "He says that Carla's Tea and Concessions served strawberry jam that stuck to his teeth like glue. Why did I ever agree to let him come here to taste our food and tea?" When she shook her head in exasperation, her blond low ponytail swished over her shoulder.
Foster straightened and backed away from the computer. "You accepted his request because publicity is good for any tea room."
"Not bad publicity," Iris warned Foster. "If he determines our food isn't tasty, it could hurt our business."
Daisy turned her head and peered through the glass windows of her office across the hall to the kitchen. Then her glance swerved to the doorway that led into the main tea room.
Daisy and her aunt had purchased this Victorian when Daisy had returned to Willow Creek, Pennsylvania — deep in Lancaster County — about a year after her husband died. When she'd made the decision to return to her hometown instead of remaining in Florida, she'd known she and her two daughters had needed a change ... and a fresh start. Her aunt Iris had always been a tea aficionado. Daisy's degree in nutrition and her love of cooking had made partnering with her aunt an easy decision. Ever since Daisy's childhood, her aunt had been a stalwart supporter of any project she'd taken on.
The pale green Victorian with its white trim, gingerbread edging, and covered porch had once housed a bakery. Converting it to a tea garden, with an apartment up above where her kitchen manager Tessa Miller lived, hadn't been too difficult. Two main front rooms on the first floor hosted their customers. They could be served or buy tea and goodies to-go in the main room, where the walls were the palest green to promote calm just as tea did. The room was furnished with oak, glass-top tables. The second room facing the street was a spillover area. With its walls the palest yellow and its bay window, that room was used when they were extremely busy or when they took reservations and served afternoon tea by appointment. Weather permitting, they also served tea, baked goods, soups, and salads on the side patio. In mid-March, with the first hint of spring in the air, their tourist business was picking up again.
Foster broke into Daisy's musings. "Derek Schumacher as a chef wasn't this nasty when he had his TV show. He traveled to popular restaurants and brought home cooks from the area to the restaurant to cook. The best cook won kitchen appliances. No one really knows why he left the show and began critiquing food instead of cooking it. His reputation as a chef had really taken off. He even had his own line of cookware on one of the home shopping channels."
Daisy continued to read a few reviews of other tea rooms Schumacher had visited. She pointed to a line of text on the screen. "In this review, he said the tea room's pound cake was as heavy as lead."
"Maybe he thinks because he's a food critic he has to be critical," Foster decided.
"That does not make me feel any better," Daisy said.
Foster pointed to a number at the bottom of the screen. "Just look at how many views his blog gets. That's why advertisers line up to market their products on his website."
Daisy blew out a breath. "Maybe he has that many hits because of his controversial way of reviewing. It's hard to believe his TV show became so popular. It had its beginnings in a studio in Lancaster. He lives in Willow Creek, you know. It's his home base."
"Maybe that means he'll be kinder to us," Iris suggested.
"Or harder on us so his audience doesn't think he's playing favorites," Foster explained. "I understand that Derek and his brother Bradley are opposites."
"Bradley Schumacher?" Daisy repeated. Where had she heard that name?
"His brother is the principal of the high school," Foster elaborated. "Everybody there thinks he's terrific — a great role model."
Now Daisy remembered. She'd seen Bradley Schumacher's name on the program when Vi had graduated. Her daughter Jazzi, who was a sophomore, had mentioned his name lately in regard to the talent show the school would be putting on. Jazzi had been texting with Vi about it for weeks, discussing what to sing, what to wear, and how to keep the jitters at bay.
"I can't quite picture Bradley Schumacher," Daisy said. Fortunately, Jazzi was a good student and hadn't had any association with the principal. Vi's senior year at the school had passed quickly without incident. Her older daughter had been focused on getting accepted at Lehigh University.
Foster shrugged. "He looks like an average guy ... not too tall, not too short, brown hair and glasses."
"I believe Jazzi said he stops in at the practices for the talent show." Changing the subject and trying to divert her attention away from Derek Schumacher's visit the following week, Daisy said to Foster, "I hope Vi will be able to get home for Jazzi's show Easter weekend. How are her end-of-the-semester projects going?" She knew Violet talked to Foster about school projects more than she talked about them at home.
"She's on schedule with her research papers. It depends on how much progress she makes until then ... although she is determined to come home for Easter."
"I certainly understand that, and I know Jazzi will too. But she'll be disappointed if Vi doesn't make it home."
Violet and Foster both were in their first year of college, although Foster was a year ahead of Vi. He was attending nearby Millersville University. At twenty, he had a mature head on his shoulders, was paying room and board to his dad to earn independence, and took as many hours to work as Daisy could schedule him at the tea garden. He'd also set up websites for a few other businesses in Willow Creek. He was definitely a self- starter with a huge dose of ingenuity.
Suddenly, Tessa appeared in the doorway. Entering the office, she said, "Good morning, everyone." She hung her sweater coat on the wooden coat rack in the corner.
Iris headed toward the door. "I'd better put the blueberry scones in the case. Foster, do you want to pull the salads out of the walk-in?"
Daisy rose from the computer. "I'll put the soup on. I'm planning chicken noodle for today."
When merely Daisy and Tessa remained in the office, Tessa asked her, "So what were you all doing in here?"
"Checking Derek Schumacher's reviews. That was a mistake. He can actually be vicious. What if he gives us one of those miserable reviews?"
"He won't," Tessa assured her.
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because we're going to make each item we serve him perfect, tasty, and the best we know how." Tessa hung her arm around Daisy's shoulders. "Right?"
Daisy had to laugh. Tessa had been her cheerleader in school too. They'd been best friends when they'd skipped a grade, and they still were now. Having Tessa as her kitchen manager had made opening the tea garden an even more special endeavor.
After Daisy had put the soup on and her servers had arrived, she baked lemon tea cakes until Iris called her to the counter to help three women who wanted to take along Daisy's special blend of tea. Customers came and went all morning along with two buses full of tourists. Daisy didn't even think about lunch as she worked beside Iris and her servers to maintain steady service.
To Daisy's surprise, her mother entered the tea garden around three o'clock. Her mom and dad owned and ran Gallagher's Garden Corner, a nursery that serviced Willow Creek and the surrounding area. Rose Gallagher was as involved in the business as her husband Sean. It was unusual for her to be out and about instead of at the nursery on an early spring afternoon.
As her mother hurried to the counter, her ash-blond hair permed tightly around her head hardly moved. As usual she wore a bright pink lipstick. She was dressed in a knit pantsuit because casual clothes were what she wore for a day at the nursery. The steel blue color of it matched her eyes. Daisy's eyes were more like her dad's — sky blue — and she hoped they held the twinkle that his did. Right now, however, she forgot about her father and focused on her mom, who wasn't smiling.
The tea room had quieted for the moment as it often did midafternoon unless they were serving tea by appointment.
"It's good to see you, Mom, but this is a surprise."
"No doubt it is," her mother said, looking tense.
"Is something wrong? Did Dad get hurt carrying a tree ball?" Daisy worried that as her father aged, he wouldn't be able to keep up with the physical demands of the nursery.
"Nothing like that," her mother snapped.
Daisy and her mother had clashed more than once since Daisy had returned to Willow Creek. There were lots of reasons for that. The main one — her mom's critical attitude. That's why Daisy and her aunt Iris had always been close. Although sisters, Iris's personality and Daisy's mother's were very different.
The latest clash concerned the man Daisy was dating — Jonas Groft. He was a former detective and now the owner of Woods, a store that sold handcrafted furniture, some of which Jonas made himself. Rose didn't believe Jonas had the ambition he should have, or that he was thinking seriously about having a family to care for. Daisy had made the mistake of telling her mother that she and Jonas were taking their relationship very slowly. However, they'd been dating steadily since January when Daisy had become involved in her second murder investigation. She and Jonas were both happy with the way things stood, and she didn't want her mother interfering. But Rose Gallagher's interference was a given.
"I didn't come to have a cup of tea or chat," her mother explained. "I came to see your aunt. Where is Iris?"
Daisy knew sisters argued. She and her own sister certainly did. Vi and Jazzi did sometimes, yet there was always an underlying bond. Since she'd returned to Willow Creek, Daisy hadn't felt that bond between her mother and her aunt Iris.
"She's in the kitchen," Daisy said. "I'll let her know you're here. The two of you can use my office if you need to talk."
"We certainly do." Her mother marched into Daisy's office as if she owned it.
Daisy entered the kitchen and crossed to her aunt, who was running the mixer. Iris's ash-brown curls were bound in a hairnet. At five-foot-six, she was about three inches taller than her sister. But the laugh lines, rather than worry lines, around her eyes and her ready smile set her apart.
Unable to hear above the sounds of the running mixer, Daisy placed a hand on her aunt's shoulder to get her attention.
Iris glanced around and turned off the machine.
"Mom's here to see you. Do you know what it's about?"
"I have no idea," Iris responded with a shake of her head. "I guess she can't wait until I finish mixing up this scone batter?"
"I'll handle the scones. Go ahead and see what she wants. She's in our office."
Iris headed that way. After Daisy finished mixing the scone batter, Eva Connor, Daisy's dishwasher and Girl Friday, said she'd scoop them out if Daisy wanted to join her mom and her aunt. Daisy let Eva take over the scones as she hurried to the office.
Daisy stopped outside the closed door because her mother's voice was raised. But through the glass window, Daisy could see the anger in her mother's eyes.
"You should never have encouraged Sean to go on a fishing trip. He's leaving on Thursday." Rose's cheeks were dotted with color, and she looked more upset than Daisy had seen her in a while.
"You can survive, Rose," Iris said. "Sean told me he has plenty of help coming in."
"This is our busiest season at the nursery. Sure, we have help, but they don't run things, and I can't run everything without Sean."
"Can't you give the people you hire more responsibility? Sean said even his temp employees would work more hours."
Rose's face, already with high color, reddened more. "You just don't understand what running a business is like."
Iris crossed her arms over her chest. "I think I do. Daisy's Tea Garden is a business."
"Maybe so, but it's very different from the nursery. I can understand Sean needing an escape for a day or two. But a whole week?"
"He's only going upstate," Iris pointed out. "It's not as if he'll be that far away."
"Well, he's not going to drive back here to take care of a special order or to clear the network if the computer goes down."
Daisy was about to enter the office to intervene, but she stopped when her aunt said, "Maybe you should give Sean freedom to do what he wants. Maybe you'd both be happier that way."
Daisy expected an explosion ... but it didn't come. Instead, her mother pushed the office door open and said to Daisy, "I'll see you this weekend."
Daisy was going to try to follow her and catch her, to find out why she was really upset. But her mother gave her no chance to do that. Rose rushed through the tea room, swiftly passing Jonas as he strode in.
He was over six feet, lean and perceptive. A scar marred his cheek but only made his face more interesting. With silver at the temples of his black hair, he represented a picture of what a detective on TV or in the movies might look like. But his years as a detective in Philadelphia had been very real rather than pretend. He, too, had come to Willow Creek for a fresh start.
When Jonas arched a questioning brow at Daisy, she felt world-tilting attraction for him that could take over her dreams and desires if she let it. His green eyes sometimes seemed to see straight through to her heart, and she was hard pressed to deny her growing feelings for him.
He must have seen her frustration or maybe her fatigue from a full day of waiting on customers. On the other hand, perhaps he recognized her worry about the food critic and the argument between Aunt Iris and her mother. He came up to Daisy and asked, "Would you like to take a break? You can come to my workshop and see the reclaimed wood island I just finished."
Could she? "I should talk to Aunt Iris first. She might be upset. She and Mom had a disagreement."
"If she is upset, she might need to calm down a bit before she wants to talk."
Jonas was probably right. "Do I need my jacket?"
"Haven't you been out since you came in this morning? It's warm for March."
"No. I didn't take time for lunch either."
"Do you want to take along soup? I don't think you'll need your jacket."
She pulled the bow from the tie of her apron at her back waist. She liked the Tea Garden's aprons with their huge daisies and DAISY'S TEA GARDEN printed on the front. But she'd rather just walk around in her normal clothes — a pair of navy slacks and a pale blue, boat-neck top. "I'll just tell Aunt Iris I'm leaving."
Five minutes later, they were walking to Jonas's shop, which was located behind his store. "I told Aunt Iris we'd talk when I get back. She'll have time to gather her thoughts, and I'll be fortified with fresh air and soup."
Jonas raised the bag she'd handed him. "This feels heavier than soup for one."
"That's because it's soup for two with pecan tarts thrown in."
He smiled. "You just want to make sure I eat healthy snacks."
"I do. Sometimes I think you're addicted to fast food."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches"
Copyright © 2019 Karen Rose Smith.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.