Laura Childs

Shades of Earl Grey


Heartfelt thank-you’s to Mary Higgins Clark for her kindness and gentle noodge into mystery writing; my agent, Sam Pinkus; everyone at Berkley Publishing; friends from Malice Domestic, MWA, and Bouchercon; the wonderful tea hostesses (tireless entrepreneurs, all of them!) at countless tea shops around the country who have embraced my series; all the marvelous booksellers who have kindly recommended my books; the writers and reviewers who have generously featured my books in their magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and web sites. Much gratitude to my husband, Dr. Robert Poor, to Jennie, Mom, and Jim Smith, and the many readers who continue to be charmed by Theodosia and the Indigo Tea Shop. Tea and trouble keep brewing in Charleston because of you!

Find out more about the author,

her Tea Shop Mysteries,

and her Scrapbooking Mysteries


Chapter 1

Scurrying across the Italian marble floor of the Lady Goodwood Inn, Theodosia Browning glanced up at the gleaming painting of the inn’s venerable founder and matriarch. Harriet Beecher Goodwood gazed down at her guests from her lofty perch. With her glowing porcelain skin, heavy necklace of blue topaz, and pale peach organza gown cinched tightly about her waist, she was the very picture of Southern femininity. A woman with a properly demure manner who also conveyed a fine aristocratic bearing. Yet her watchful eyes seemed to betray a certain wistfulness, as though Lady Goodwood would prefer to step out of her formal portrait and mingle with the carefree throng that milled about below.

In her black satin slacks and figure-skimming smoking jacket, Theodosia breathed a silent prayer of relief that modern-day Charleston women were no longer bound by strict social constraints or uncomfortable, tightly corseted gowns. How on earth would she ever be able to fly about the Indigo Tea Shop, greeting guests and brewing tea, if she were costumed in ankle-length skirts, pantalets, high button boots, and a whale bone corset? Better yet, how would she even draw breath in an outfit like that? Especially when summer’s heat and humidity crept in from the low-country and turned the city into a real cooker!

“Theodosia! Over here!” Drayton Conneley, Theodosia’s dear friend and right-hand man at the Indigo Tea Shop, gave a casual wave to her from the spot he’d staked out near the potted palms. Sixty-two years old, with a head of grizzled gray hair, Drayton was dashingly attired in a cream-colored cashmere jacket, dove gray slacks, and trademark bow tie. Theodosia noted that, for this late autumn party, Drayton had chosen a muted paisley bow tie. Plu-perfect, of course, and the signature touch that always made Drayton the picture of elegance and charm.

Theodosia grinned at Drayton as she pushed her way through the crowd. What a sport he was to accompany her here tonight in lieu of her usual boyfriend, Jory Davis. Especially when Drayton didn’t even know the bride-to-be! But then, Drayton was always a gentleman and a good sport. Intrigued by her vision of starting Charleston’s first authentic tea shop in the historic district, Drayton hadn’t hesitated to resign his rather lofty position at one of Charleston’s major hotels and leap at the opportunity to become her master tea blender and majordomo.

Theodosia had a great admiration for risk takers. Of course, she’d been one herself. Just three years ago, she’d bid a hearty arrivederci to job security at one of Charleston’s major advertising agencies when she’d resigned her job as vice president of client services.

A long-abandoned, dusty little tea shop on Church Street had quietly beckoned. Along with a yearning for a far more independent lifestyle and a desire to chart her own course, make her own business decisions. Theodosia knew she would get out of the tea shop exactly what she put into it, and she was fine with that. More than fine, in fact.

And Drayton and Haley Parker, dear friends and willing accomplices, had been there with her from the very beginning.

Drawing upon his years spent in Amsterdam as a master tea blender, Drayton had immediately set about stocking the Indigo Tea Shop with an enviable selection of loose teas. Pungent, orange-red Assams. Smoky, slightly sweet Ceylon teas. Fragrant Darjeelings from the steep slopes of the Himalayas. There were also sparkling emerald green teas from Japan, gyokos and senchas, that were a touch puckery and a bit of an acquired taste. Plus a robust assortment of Indonesian, Malaysian, Turkish, and African teas, as well as the enticing black tea grown at the Charleston Tea Plantation located some twenty-five miles south of Charleston on Wadmalaw Island in the low-country.

Haley, Theodosia’s young pastry chef, was a sometime student who was still trying to determine her way in the world. How lucky for the Indigo Tea Shop, however, that Haley delighted in baking her infamous blackberry scones, cream muffins, gingerbread cakes, and shortbread in the tiny little aromatic kitchen at the back of the tea shop. Lately, Haley had even come up with her own recipe for marvels, those deep-fried cookies so peculiar to South Carolina.

And all the elements had come together. Beautifully. The Indigo Tea Shop had fast become a charming little gem of a shop, one stitch in the elegant tapestry of restaurants, shops, museums, and historic homes that made up Charleston’s famed historic district.

The tea shop’s interior, stripped of its former cork ceiling panels and indoor/outdoor carpet, now gleamed richly with original pegged wooden floors, exposed beams and red brick walls. Antique hickory tables and chairs, some Theodosia had salvaged from the out-buildings of her Aunt Libby’s farm, contributed to an atmosphere that was authentically cozy and inviting. Shelves that weren’t laden with copper canisters and sparkling jars filled with tea, were crowded with Yi-Hsing tea pots, tea presses, jars of DuBose Bees Honey and Devonshire cream, and their own house brands of packaged teas such as Cooper River Cranberry and Britannia Breakfast Blend. The Indigo Tea Shop was a setting filled with authenticity and grace, and it tantalized guests. And luckily for Theodosia, those guests descended upon her tea shop in droves. The shopkeepers from up and down Church Street, residents of the historic district who had been anxious to adopt a charming little tea shop as their own, visitors to Charleston who strolled the nearby walkways and hidden cobblestone paths.

Theodosia hurried over to Drayton and grabbed his arm. “So good of you to come,” she told him.

He smiled down at her. “You’re looking lovely,” he told her.

“To be perfectly honest,” she said, turning her blue eyes upon him and patting her auburn hair self- consciously, “I feel rather tossed together. Delaine called at the last minute to ask if she could borrow my baroque silver card receiver to use as a stand so she could display Camille’s wedding ring. So, of course, I had to scoot over here, where I immediately got roped into helping with a few more last-minute details. Then I had to make a mad dash home, give Earl Grey a quick run around the block, and get myself all fixed up. And then it started to pour buckets,” Theodosia added breathlessly.

The Delaine that Theodosia was referring to was Delaine Dish, a friend of Theodosia’s and Drayton’s who owned the clothing boutique, Cotton Duck, just a few doors down from the Indigo Tea Shop. Earl Grey was Theodosia’s dog, a mixed breed she’d found cowering in the alley behind the tea shop one rainy night. Theodosia had promptly adopted the bedraggled pup and dubbed him a purebred dalbrador. The very grateful and loving Earl Grey had been Theodosia’s constant companion ever since. He had taken to obedience and agility training like a duck to water and had also earned his Therapy Dog International certificate, which gave both of them the privilege

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