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Laura Childs

Gunpowder Green

Acknowledgments

Heartfelt thanks to my editor, Kim Waltemyer; agent extraordinaire, Grace Morgan; publicity whiz, Julia Fleischaker; and the rest of the wonderful people at Berkley. Thanks, too, to my husband, Dr. Robert Poor, for all his ideas, suggestions, and support. 

Chapter 1

Theodosia Browning reached up and removed the tortoiseshell clip that held her auburn locks tightly in place. As if on cue, the brisk wind from Charleston Harbor lifted her hair, just as it did the graceful, undulating flags that flew from the masts of the yachts bobbing in the harbor.

It won’t be long now, Theodosia decided, shading her eyes against the brilliance of the midafternoon sun. Off in the distance, she could see dozens of sleek J-24s hurtling down the slot between Patriots Point and Fort Sumter. Masts straining, spinnakers billowing, the yachts and their four-man crews were fighting to capture every gust of wind, coaxing every bit of performance from their boats. Twenty minutes more, and the two hundred or so picnickers gathered here in White Point Gardens at the tip of Charleston’s historic peninsula would know the outcome of this year’s Isle of Palms Yacht Race.

Theodosia noted that most of the picnickers had drawn into cozy little circles of conversation, lulled by the warm April weather, sated by an abundance of food and drink. There had been a crazed hubbub when the sailboats from the competing yacht clubs took off, of course: cheering throngs, glasses held high in toasts, and loud boasts from both sailing teams. But once the flotilla of sailboats had zigzagged their way across Charleston Harbor and rounded the outermost marker buoy on their way toward the Isle of Palms, they were out of sight.

Which also meant out of mind.

The remaining yacht club members, with their abundance of friends, families, and well-wishers, most of whom lived in the elegant Georgian, Federal, and Victorian homes in the nearby historic district, had settled down to a merry romp in the verdant gardens that made Charleston’s Battery so utterly appealing.

As proprietor of the Indigo Tea Shop, located just a few short blocks away on Church Street, Theodosia had been invited to cater this “tea by the sea” for the Charleston Yacht Club, the host for this year’s race. She’d been pleased that Drayton Conneley and Haley Parker, her dear friends and employees, had displayed their usual over- thetop creativity in event and menu planning, and had enthusiastically jumped into the fray to lend a hand on this spectacularly beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Gulls wheeled gracefully overhead, and fat, pink clouds scudded across the horizon as Theodosia cinched her apron tighter about her slim waist and let her eyes rove across the two long tables that were draped with white linen tablecloths and laden with refreshments. Satisfied that everything was near perfect, Theodosia’s broad, intelligent face with its high cheekbones and aquiline nose finally assumed a look of repose.

Yes, it was perfect, Theodosia told herself. Wire baskets held golden breadsticks, while fresh cracked crab claws rested on platters of shaved ice. Smoked salmon on miniature bagels was garnished with cream cheese and candied ginger. And the chocolate-dipped strawberries with crème fraîche were...oh my... disappearing at an alarming rate.

Hoisting a silver pitcher, Theodosia poured out a stream of pungent yellow green iced tea into a glass filled with crushed ice. She took a sip and savored the brisk, thirst-quenching blend of Chinese gunpowder green tea and fresh mint.

Drayton Conneley, her assistant and master tea blender, had created the tea especially for this race-day picnic. The Chinese gunpowder green tea was aptly named since, once dried, the tiny leaves curled up into small, tight pellets resembling gunpowder, unfurling only when subjected to boiling water. The fresh mint had been plucked yesterday from her aunt Libby’s garden out in South Carolina’s low country.

Theodosia had decided to name the new tea White Point Green, a nod to the tea’s debut today in White Point Gardens. And judging from the number of pitchers that had already been consumed, this tea would definitely be packaged up and offered for sale in her tea shop.

“Your table reminds me of a still life by Cézanne: poetic, elegant, almost too beautiful to eat.” Delaine Dish, owner of the Cotton Duck Clothing Shop, hovered at Theodosia’s elbow. Her long, raven-colored hair was wound up in a Psyche knot atop her head, accenting her heart-shaped face.

Theodosia sighed inwardly. Cotton Duck was just a few doors down from the Indigo Tea Shop, and Delaine, though a kindhearted soul and true dynamo when it came to volunteering for civic and social events, was also the acknowledged neighborhood gossip.

“I mean it, Theodosia, this is an amazing bounty,” cooed Delaine. Ever the fashion plate, Delaine was turned out today in a robin’s egg blue silk blouse and elegant tapered cream slacks.

Theodosia wiped her hands on her apron and peeked down at Delaine’s feet. They were shod in dyed-to- match robin’s egg blue python flats. Of course Delaine would be coordinated, Theodosia decided. She was always coordinated.

Dipping an enormous ripe strawberry into a bowl of crème fraîche, Delaine stood with the luscious fruit poised inches from her mouth. “Did you ever think of switching to full-time catering, Theodosia?” she said as if the thought had just struck like a bolt from the blue. “Because you’d be brilliant at it.”

“Abandon my tea shop? No, thank you,” Theodosia declared fervently, for she had literally created the Indigo Tea Shop from the ground up. Starting with a somewhat dreary and abandoned little shop on Church Street, she had stripped away layers of grime and decades of ill-advised improvements such as cork tile, fluorescent lights, and linoleum. Somewhere along the way, Theodosia’s vision took hold with a vengeance, and she sketched and dreamed and haunted antique shops for just the right fixtures and accoutrements until the results yielded a gem of a shop. Now her little tea shop exuded an elegant, old-world charm. Pegged wooded floors highlighted exposed beams and brick walls. Antique tables and chairs, porcelain teapots, and copper teakettles added to the rich patina and keen sense of history.

Floor-to-ceiling wooden cubbyholes held tins and glass jars filled with loose teas. Coppery munnar from the southern tip of India, floral keeman from China’s Anhui province, a peaches and honey–flavored Formosan oolong. All the tea in China, as Drayton often remarked with pride. Plus teas from Japan, Tibet, Nepal, Turkey, Indonesia, and Africa. Even South Carolina was represented here with their marvelous, rich American Classic tea grown on the Charleston Tea Plantation, just twenty-five miles south on the subtropical island of Wadmalaw.

The tea shop had been Theodosia’s exit strategy from the cutthroat world of media and marketing. She’d spent fourteen years in client services, years that had taken their toll. She grew exhausted working for others and not for herself. Theodosia was determined never to climb aboard that merry-go-round again.

“I bet you’d make more money in catering,” cajoled Delaine. “Think of all the social tête-à- têtes that go on here in Charleston.”

“A foray into food service just isn’t for me,” said Theodosia. “I’ve got my hands full just running the tea shop. Plus our Web site is up, and Internet sales have been surprisingly brisk. Of course, Drayton is constantly blending new teas to add to our line, and he’s making plans to offer specialty tea events, too.”

“Pray tell, what are specialty tea events?” asked Delaine.

“Chamber music teas, bridal shower teas, mystery teas—”

“A mystery tea!” exclaimed Delaine. “What’s that?”

“Come and find out,” invited Theodosia. “Drayton’s got one planned for next Saturday evening.”

Theodosia knew that she and Delaine Dish were a breed apart. She had abandoned the fast track of competing for clients and was deliciously satisfied with the little oasis of calm her tea shop afforded her. Delaine,

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