Steeped in EvilProprietor of the Indigo Tea Shop

I’ve never been a wine connoisseur, since tea is my forte – fragrant Darjeelings, malty Assams, and my current favorite, a house-blended orchid plum tea.

On the other hand, I’m enjoying myself here at Knighthall Winery’s rather upscale wine tasting. And Drayton, my right hand man and tea expert at the Indigo Tea Shop, is steering me toward an enormous trestle table where wine bottles beckon like shiny beacons and attentive waiters fill glasses.

Drayton handed me a flute of white wine. “This is Knighthall’s White Shadow,” he said.

I took a small sip and found the wine utterly delicious. Crisp and aromatic, with hints of apples and citrus. Not unlike a fine Oolong.

“Good,” I told him.

“And here’s our genial host,” said Drayton. Jordan Knight, the owner of Knighthall Winery came bounding up to greet us.

“Congratulations on a fine turnout,” I told him. Jordan had a shock of white hair and slightly pink complexion. He’d removed his jacket and his manner veered between nervous and ebullient.

“I’m pretty sure I just convinced the owner of the Lady Goodwood Inn to carry my wine,” Knight chortled.

“Well done,” said Drayton.

“Your winery appears to be thriving,” I told Knight. Being a business owner myself, I know how difficult it is for a company to succeed, let alone flourish in today’s tough economy.

“We’re starting to gain traction,” Knight responded. “And my son is currently negotiating a major deal with a Japanese distributor.” He gazed about distractedly. “You’ve met my son, Drew?”

I nodded. “I’d love to say hello to him. Is he here tonight?”

“Drew’s around somewhere,” Knight said as he scanned the crowd. “No doubt managing behind-the-scenes activity.” Now he glanced nervously at his watch.

“Relax,” Drayton told him. “This is your big night.”

Knight grimaced. “I’m worried about my presentation.”

“What is that?” I inquired politely.
“In about two minutes,” said Knight, “we’re going to do a special barrel tasting of our Cabernet reserve.” He flashed a hopeful smile. “I’m calling it Knight Music.”

“Catchy,” I told him.

“We’re pinning all our hopes on this,” said Knight. “Going for broke.”

“Good luck to you,” I said, as Knight hurried away.

Drayton and I edged their way slowly through the crowd toward a makeshift stage where two workers rolled out an enormous oak barrel.

Then Jordan Knight vaulted to the stage and the crowd hushed and pressed forward.

“Thank you all for coming,” said Knight. “This is a proud moment.” He clasped a hand to his chest. “We’ve labored long and hard to cultivate grapes in South Carolina.”

There was a spatter of applause.

“Our newest vintage, Knight Music, which you are about to taste, would never have been possible without a lot of hard work.” Jordan extended a hand toward a red-haired woman. “My wife, the lovely Pandora Knight, and my son, Drew Knight.” He smiled as his eyes searched the crowd for Drew. When he didn’t find him, he said, “Though my son seems to be missing in action at the moment.”

There were chuckles from the crowd.

As Jordan continued his speech, two workers began to tap the large barrel of wine. They fumbled, trying to get a spigot going, but nothing seemed to work.

“Of course,” said Jordan, playing to the crowd, “our winery is not without problems – as you can plainly see.”

One of the workers tilted the large barrel onto its edge. The other worker, frustrated and brandishing a crowbar, suddenly popped off the round, wooden top. The heavy lid went airborne, spinning like an errant Frisbee, and hit the stage with a loud bang. At that same moment, the entire barrel seemed to teeter dangerously.

“Whoa!” Jordan shouted. “Careful there!

But I could see that the giant barrel, unbalanced and heavy with wine, was more than the workers could handle. They fought valiantly to right it, but were beginning to lose their grip.

Slowly, the barrel tipped sideways and viscous red liquid sloshed across the stage, spattering the crowd, setting off cries of dismay.

Jordan Knight scrambled for the barrel in a last ditch effort to avert total disaster. He tried to muscle his shoulder beneath the huge barrel, but the laws of physics had been set into motion and he was clearly too late. The barrel continued to roll over in slow motion like a sinking ocean liner making a final, dying gasp.

The barrel landed on its side with a deafening crash and torrents of red wine gushed out like rivers of blood!

Now horrified gasps rose up as Jordan Knight staggered drunkenly. He crumpled to his knees, landing hard, and his entire face seemed to collapse. Then an agonized shriek rose from his lips, blotting out the music and even the cries of onlookers.

Curiosity bubbling within me, I pushed my way through the crowd to see what on earth was happening.

And was completely shocked to see the body of a dead man lying on the stage!

He was curled nose to knees, like a pickled fish. His skin was practically purple from being submerged inside the barrel of red wine.

My eyes flicked over to Jordan Knight, who was kneeling in the spill of wine, pants legs completely soaked as tears streamed down his face.

From the look of utter devastation on Jordan Knight’s face, I was pretty sure he’d found his missing son.

You can read more about Theodosia in Steeped In Evil, the 15th book in the “Tea Shop” mystery series, published by Berkley Prime Crime. The first book in the series is Death By Darjeeling. Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

Book Synopsis
When Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia attends a fancy wine tasting at Knighthall Winery, a body spills out of an oak barrel filled with Cabernet. It’s the son of the proprietor and Theodosia soon gets swept up in the murder investigation. Could it be the ex-girlfriend, neighboring golf course owner, or angry step-mother? In between her Downton Abbey tea and the Art Crawl Ball, Theo uncovers a raft of suspects. Still, it looks like this nasty killer might have her over a barrel. Halfway between a cozy and a thriller (a thrillzy!) book #15 in this New York Times Bestselling Tea Shop Mystery series offers fast-paced action, quirky characters, and recipes that include jammy scones, ladybug tea sandwiches, and crab casserole.

GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by 6pm EST on March 17, and you will be entered for a chance to win a copy of STEEPED IN EVIL, Laura’s brand new Tea Shop Mystery. Two (2) lucky winners will be chosen at random. Unless specified, U.S. entries only.

Meet the author
Laura Childs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and Laura ChildsCackleberry Club Mysteries, and a recent recipient of the Romantic Times Book Review’s Award for Best Amateur Sleuth. In her previous life, she was CEO/Creative Director of her own marketing firm and authored several screenplays. She is married to a professor of Chinese art history, loves to travel, rides horses, enjoys fund-raising for various non-profit organizations, and has two Chinese Shar-Pei dogs.

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