Laura Childs

Death By Darjeeling

This book is dedicated to Peg Baskerville,

true friend and voracious reader.

May you rest in peace

and enjoy all the time heaven allows for reading. 


Thank you to Mary Higgins Clark for helping point the way; Grace Morgan, agent extraordinaire; Judith Palais, senior editor and tea shop visionary; fellow writer R. D. Zimmerman for his insider’s view and wise words; Jim Smith for his friendship and encouragement; and my husband, Dr. Robert Poor, for all his love and support.

Visit our Web site at

Chapter 1

Theodosia Browning leaned back from the clutter of her antique wooden desk, balanced a bone china cup and saucer on one knee, and took a much-needed sip of Lung Ching tea. Savoring the emerald green color and delicate sweetness, she absently pushed back a meandering lock of the naturally curly auburn hair that swirled about her head, creating a haloed visage somewhere between a Rafael painting and a friendly Medusa.

Calmly, calmly, she told herself.

On this fine October afternoon with the temperature in Charleston hovering in the midseventies and the back door propped open to catch the languid breezes wafting off the nearby Cooper River, the Indigo Tea Shop seemed to be the epicenter of several minicrises, with all the fallout landing squarely in Theodosia’s lap.

Her customs broker, usually so masterful at snipping red tape and shepherding shipments from far-flung continents, had just called with disastrous news. Three cases of silver tips from the Makaibari Tea Estate in India had been unceremoniously dumped on a dock in New Jersey and left to sit in pouring rain.

Then there was the issue of the Web site.

Theodosia directed her gaze to the colorful concept boards that lay scattered at her feet. Even with marketing and design expertise from Todd & Lambeau Design Group, one of Charleston’s topflight Web design firms, launching a virtual tea shop on the Internet was proving to be a major undertaking. Selling bags, boxes, and tins of exotic teas as well as tea accoutrement required more than just being cyber savvy; it was a long-term commitment in terms of time and money.

And wouldn’t you know it, Drayton Conneley, her assistant and right-hand man, had gotten a last-minute call to host a group tea tasting. Drayton was out front right now, charming and chatting up a half dozen ladies. That meant final preparations for tonight’s Lamplighter Tour still weren’t wrapped up.

Ordinarily, Theodosia reveled in the oasis of calm her little tea shop afforded. Tucked between Robillard Booksellers and the Antiquarian Map Store in the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina, the Indigo Tea Shop was one stitch in a romantic, pastel tapestry of Georgian, Federal, and Victorian homes, courtyard gardens, and quaint shops.

Inside this former carriage house and tiny treasure, copper teapots hissed and bubbled, fresh-baked pastries cooled on wooden racks, and patrons scrambled for a coveted seat at one of the creaking hickory tables. Leaded glass windows, a wavering scrim to temper the intense South Carolina sun, cast filtered light on pegged wooden floors, exposed beams, and brick walls.

Floor to ceiling, a warren of cubbyholes held jars brimming with black powders, crumpled leaves of nut brown and ochre, and shiny whole leaves that shimmered like Chinese celadon. And what a tantalizing spectrum of aromas! Piquant gunpowder green tea from south China, lightly fermented Ceylonese garden tea, delicate fruited Nilgiri tea from the Blue Mountains of India.

The ringing phone nudged Theodosia from her reflections.

“Delaine’s on two,” called Haley, popping around the corner from the kitchen to hover at Theodosia’s elbow.

Haley Parker, Theodosia’s young shop clerk and baker extraordinaire, worked days in the tea shop and attended college classes a few evenings a week. Although Haley currently listed her major as communications, she had, over the past three years, alternated between sociology, philosophy, and women’s studies.

Theodosia looked up hopefully. “Could you help her?”

“Delaine specifically asked for you,” said Haley, her brown eyes dancing with amusement.

“Lord, love us,” murmured Theodosia as she reached for the phone.

“Mercury’s in retrograde,” Haley added in a conspiratorial stage whisper. “Going to shake things up the next couple days.”

Theodosia exhaled a long breath. “Delaine, lovely you should call.”

Delaine Dish owned Cotton Duck, a women’s clothing boutique that featured casual yet elegant cottons, silks, and linens. Delaine was also the neighborhood gossip.

“Tell me you’re not unaware of this man, Hughes Barron,” came Delaine’s somewhat strident voice.

“I’m unaware, Delaine.” Theodosia stood and stretched a kink from her neck, preparing for a siege.

“Well, he’s made an offer on the Peregrine Building.”

The Peregrine Building was three buildings down from the Indigo Tea Shop on Church Street. It was an ornate, limestone edifice that had been an opera house at the turn of the century and now housed a handful of professional offices and shops on its lower two floors.

“My dear,” continued Delaine, “you are an astute businesswoman. You understand complex issues such as zoning and commercial use.”

“What are you really worked up about, Delaine?” asked Theodosia, unswayed by Delaine’s flattery.

“Architectural integrity, of course. God knows what sins a developer with Barron’s reputation might wreak on a building such as that.”

The word developer rolled off Delaine’s tongue with obvious distaste, as though she were discussing manure.

“Tell you what, Delaine . . .” Theodosia stifled a giggle. “I’ll speak to Drayton. He’s—”

“A muckity-muck with the Heritage Society!” interrupted Delaine. “Of course, dear Drayton. Who better to have a pipeline to all this!”

“I couldn’t have said it better.”

“Theo, you’re a gem.”

“Bye, Delaine.” Theodosia hung up the phone, and carried her cup and saucer into the small kitchen. The air was delightfully fragrant from baking, the room dominated by an oversized commercial stove.

“You wouldn’t have to be on the Internet if you just hired Delaine,” said Haley. She yanked open the oven door, took a quick peek, and closed it again.

“Delaine’s a character,” admitted Theodosia, “but she does add a certain delirious passion to the neighborhood.” Theodosia lifted the plastic cover on a tray of cranberry scones. “These look heavenly.”

“Thanks. Hope this’ll be enough for tonight. more minute and you can take a fresh batch of butter cookies out to our guests.”

“How’s it going?” Theodosia nodded toward the front of the tea shop.

“Drayton is being his erudite self.”

“Your vocabulary continues to expand at a rapid pace, Haley.” “Thank you, I’m taking a class called verbal integrity.” “Outstanding,” said Theodosia. “And the credits hope

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