The dog days of summer have arrived, and Tai Randolph is feeling the heat. Running her uncle’s gun shop is more demanding than she ever imagined. Her best friend Rico is competing for a national slam poetry title. And Atlanta is overrun with hundreds of fame-hungry performance poets clogging all the good bars.
She’s also got her brand-new relationship with corporate security agent Trey Seaver to deal with. SWAT-trained and rule-obsessed, Trey has a brain geared for statistics and flow charts, not romance. And while Tai finds him irresistibly fascinating, dating a human lie detector who can kill with his bare hands is a somewhat precarious endeavor.
And then just when she thinks she might get a handle on things, one of Rico’s fellow poets is murdered . . . and Rico becomes the prime suspect.
Tai pushes up her sleeves and comes to his defense with every trick in her book a little lying here, a little snooping there. Trey wants her off the case immediately. So does Rico. Every poet in Atlanta has a secret, it seems, and one of them is willing to kill to keep theirs quiet. But someone else wants her on the job, someone dropping anonymous clues and clandestine tip-offs her way. Someone with an agenda that’s looking either positively heroic . . . or downright deadly.
Will Tai’s relationship with Trey survive another foray into amateur sleuthing? And even more importantly, will she?
About the Author
Tina Whittle is a mystery writer living and working in the Georgia Lowcountry. The Dangerous Edge of Things , the first novel in her Tai Randolph series, debuted February 2011 from Poisoned Pen Press. Described in Publishers Weekly as a "tight, suspenseful debut," this Atlanta-based series has garnered starred reviews in Kirkus , Publishers Weekly , Booklist , and Library Journal.
Read an Excerpt
Darker Than Any ShadowA Tai Randolph Mystery
By Tina Whittle
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2012 Tina Whittle
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Be still," he said, his mouth at my ear.
His hands moved around my neck and lay lightly against my shoulder blades, powerful and deceptively elegant. They had killed, those hands. I remembered this at unfortunate moments, like when his fingers brushed the nape of my neck—suddenly, from behind—when I'd barely had time to register his presence let alone prepare for his touch.
I stood very still. The effort unstrung me. I closed my eyes, but even then my thoughts galloped irresistibly into dangerous territory, taking my body with them.
Trey exhaled in exasperation. "You're still fidgeting."
I opened my eyes. There we were in the mirror, I in my scarlet cocktail dress, he in his immaculate Armani suit, black with a white shirt. My grandmother's pearls nestled in the hollow of my throat, tracing the path his hands had followed as he'd slipped them around my neck. The string of tiny orbs glowed against my freckled skin, cool as moonlight, but warming with each heartbeat.
I thought red made me look like I had a fever, but since Trey was the one with the AmEx Titanium and the thing for Italian couture in various vermillions and crimsons, I wiggled into it occasionally. He had an eye for cut, and I had to admit that this particular dress—a halter top with a plunging back and draped skirt—balanced my broad shoulders and sleeked up my hips quite nicely.
I tried to meet his eyes in the mirror, but he was focused on the clasp tangled in my hairline.
I yanked away. "Ouch!"
"Tai. Be still."
He was so close I could smell his evergreen aftershave, plus the mint of toothpaste, the talcum scent of soap. He had his French cuffs fastened, Bulgari Diagano watch in place, black hair brushed back. My Manolos weren't even out of the box yet, and the back of my dress was still unzipped.
Frustration tinged his voice. "How did this happen?"
"I don't know. Somehow it caught on the ... what are these things keeping my hair up?"
"The stylist called them something French."
"Épingles à cheveux?"
Trey finished unknotting the stubborn tangle and zipped me up. Then he hooked the dress at the top and eyed me in the mirror, adjusting the left strap a millimeter to the left. His fingers brushed the skin there, and the resulting tingle rippled across my shoulder blades.
He checked his watch, which was a formality. Even if he had to haul me out the door unzipped, pearls dropping behind me like bread crumbs, hair tumbling from my épingles à cheveux, we would be on time.
I scurried to collect my fancy purse and fancy shoes. He held the door for me, a dichromatic vision perfectly complemented by the blank white walls and black hardwood floor of his almost penthouse. His clear blue eyes were impatient now, the little wrinkle between them digging in deep. I smoothed it out with my thumb.
"Chill out, boyfriend. We've got plenty of time."
He cocked his head. "Boyfriend. Interesting."
I laughed, stepped into the Manolos, and kissed him, not even having to stand on tiptoe to do it. It was one of those kisses, the kind that sneaks up like a rogue wave. I closed my eyes, inching my hands along his rib cage, skimming his torso ...
Until I hit warm leather and cold metal.
I tilted my head back and looked him right in the eye. Armani suits were usually good for concealed carry—something about the cut and break of the jackets—butTrey's H&K was not exactly an easy hide, especially not from a handsy girlfriend.
"Did you forget to tell me something?"
He shook his head. "No."
"So you're packing your nine-millimeter because ..."
"Because Rico asked me to."
Rico. My best friend.
I put my hands on my hips. "And you didn't tell me because ..."
"Because Rico asked me not to."
"We're going to a debut party for a bunch of poets! Why does that require firepower?"
Trey checked his watch again. "Can I explain in the car?"
"Oh yes." I pushed past him toward the elevator, trying not to teeter in the ridiculous heels. "You can absolutely do that."
* * *
He left me waiting out front while he retrieved the Ferrari. I took advantage of the delay and stepped out of the tortuous shoes, stretching my toes. Even in the shade, the pavement baked the soles of my feet, and the air smelled of scorched pollen and cement.
It was hot, blazing hot. The meteorologists displayed thermometers exploding red at the top, temps in the triple digits. Keepers at the Atlanta Zoo fed the otters ice cubes. The unfortunate cops stuck on speeder patrol stuffed ice packs down their polyester pants. Desperate people threw themselves into the tepid waters of the Chattahoochee River or Lake Lanier, which meant drownings were on the rise. Lightning strikes too, including three fatal ones, as rainless thunderheads flared and erupted on a daily basis. It was as if Mother Nature had a bad case of PMS, and she was taking it out on the city.
I understood how she felt. I was a little put out myself. Tonight was Rico's debut as a member of Atlanta's Spoken Word Poetry team. The event was one of many in preparation for the Performance Poetry Internationals, two days of wordsmiths and spitfires from around the world competing onstage for cash and glory.
It was a big deal, and this was Atlanta's first time as host city. Hence the impossible shoes, form-fitting dress, and precarious up-do. And yet my best friend Rico was keeping a secret, one that required my elegant badass boyfriend to strap on his semi-automatic.
The concierge smiled weakly in my direction. I smiled in return. "Hey, Mr. Jameson."
Jameson was a slip of a man, fair-skinned and beige, his soft features forever knotted into perpetual anxiety. He winced as Trey's F430 coupe roared into earshot, its guttural growl like a chainsaw mated with a sonic boom. Trey slung it around the corner and slammed it to a precise stop two feet from where I stood. Jameson took a deep breath and opened the door for me.
I put my shoes back on and eased inside. "Thank you."
He shut the door and hot-footed it back to the safety of the portico. Trey checked his mirrors, then hit the street in a burst of acceleration—zero to speed limit in three seconds flat—and then he nailed it there, not one tick of the speedometer over.
I shook my head. "I can't believe Rico put you in vigilante mode and didn't tell me!"
"He said he wanted to explain the situation himself. And I'm not in vigilante mode."
"So that gun is just an accessory, like an ascot?"
Trey used his patient voice. "Rico asked me if I'd be willing to keep an eye out tonight. His words. I asked him what that meant. He said he was concerned about a former team member, an armed and dangerous one."
"Rico said 'armed and dangerous'?"
"Exactly those words?"
That was a bit unnerving. Rico was as precise as Trey was with the vocabulary. If he said armed and dangerous, I understood why Trey was holstered up.
"Does this poet have a name?"
"Maurice Cunningham. But he performs as Vigil."
"Vigil. The guy with the big V's all over his website?"
"I don't know. But I do know he was recently released from jail after a weapons-related parole violation."
Vigil. If I remembered correctly, he yelled a lot on stage, fast and loud in a machine-gun patter of alliteration and curse words. He won poetry slams, though. Again and again, the crowd awarded him the money pot. Until he'd gone to jail anyway.
"Rico said they found a replacement, one of the alternates, some new guy. Is that the problem, Vigil wanting back in?" Then I did the math. "Wait a minute, Vigil was only in jail four days. What's he doing out already?"
"The charges were dropped."
"On a technicality."
"So this is why Rico put you on lookout? A frustrated poet with a grudge and a tendency to carry inappropriate firearms?"
"Not a firearm. A switchblade. At a middle school arts function."
Ah. I was beginning to understand. But I still didn't get why Rico hadn't told me, had decided instead to sic Trey on the problem. Granted, Trey was a former SWAT officer with martial arts training. But I was Rico's best friend.
Once we cleared the high rises, we hit the frustrating tangle of stop-and-go traffic, worsened by too many testy drivers making too many tight lane changes. I blamed the city-wide vehicular crankiness on the weather, the low gray-yellow sky and stagnant heavy air. I felt prickly too, unsettled and agitated.
I leaned my head back and stared at the black expanse of Ferrari upholstering. I hated being left out of the loop, hated not knowing what was going on. But I did know one thing—Rico Worthington had some explaining to do, and as soon as I got my hands on him, that's exactly what he was going to do.
Chapter Two"Of course I didn't tell you," Rico said. "You'd do exactly what you're doing right now—give me the third degree."
Gone for this one night were Rico's baggy warm-up pants and oversized football shirt. No baseball hat, no unlaced Converse. Instead he sported an ice-blue linen shirt, complemented with graphite gray trousers and spit-shined grown-man shoes. Every piercing he had remained, even the one in his eyebrow, but he'd gone with tasteful diamond studs and sophisticated silver hoops for the occasion. They gleamed against his chocolate skin like pirate booty.
"This isn't the third degree," I countered. "Third degree involves yelling and thumbscrews."
I was almost yelling anyway, over the increasing din of the restaurant. Lupa was packed wall-to-exposed-brick-wall with poets and friends of poets and wanna-be poets—it smelled of perfumed sweat and air conditioning mingled with a barely detectable hit of polyurethene.
"It's not like I wasn't going to tell you," Rico said. "I figured you'd notice when Trey strapped on the gun."
"You could have told me before then."
"I never had a chance."
"You had lots of chances!"
He slid an impatient glare toward the front door of the restaurant, where Trey stood at the entrance, backbone like a ruler. I knew Trey required a wall against his spine. He needed a clear line of sight to at least two exits, plus a primary cover and a secondary one. No distractions, which meant no conversation, no food, and no drink—except for Pellegrino. Trey always had a Pellegrino close at hand, this time with a twist of lime. He was a man of habits. I'd been able to break only one—he now occasionally kissed me without being told to do so first.
We did other things too. He still waited for me to suggest those.
Rico looked frustrated. "Doesn't he ever sit down?"
"Can't he at least be—oh, I don't know—covert?"
"Former SWAT ops don't do covert. In Trey's experience, 'look out for things' means prepare for the threat of imminent lethal aggression." I pointed. "See how he keeps his right hand free? That's his gun hand. Even from a shoulder holster under a jacket, he has a draw time of one-point-four seconds. That's how close he is at any moment from ventilating someone's chest cavity."
Two twenty-somethings at a nearby table simpered at him, crossing and re-crossing their legs. One wrapped her lips around a pink straw in a pinker drink. Trey took a sip of his Pellegrino and put the glass back down. He used his left hand to do this.
I leaned closer to Rico. "So maybe you don't want me poking at your problem. Maybe you prefer Trey, who will keep a nice respectful distance and not ask any inconvenient questions. But remember this—you cannot undo him. He's the nuclear option. Once you've engaged him, you'd better be prepared for whatever follows."
Rico examined Trey again. I knew he was seeing the surface— polite, controlled, efficient. He couldn't see the underneath. I'd tried explaining and gotten nowhere. But how could I explain? I myself had only glimpsed it from an angle, like seeing a ripple of patterned hide in the jungle and knowing it for a tiger. I had only seen its shadow. Yet the memory held me transfixed sometimes, like when his strong gentle hands went around my neck ...
I swallowed the last of my champagne. Rico kept his eyes on Trey.
"Tell him to stand down, and we'll talk."
"Not until you spill it."
Rico eyed me warily. "Fine. But you gotta promise not to tell Adam. He's freaked out enough already."
He jabbed his chin toward the merchandise table, where his boyfriend Adam stacked tee-shirts and CDs. The two of them had been dating for five months, living together for four of them, and already I could tell that it was serious. They made a good couple—Rico dark and suave, Adam fair and boyish. Tonight he looked like a cross between a choir boy and a farmhand, with blue jeans and a windowpane plaid shirt, his corn-colored hair in a halo of tousles and cowlicks. He waved and grinned when he saw us looking, as innocent as cherry pie.
I waved back, then crossed my heart seriously. "Not a word to Adam."
Rico poured another glass of champagne. "We want to put Vigil back on the team."
"Vigil the switchblade-toting felon? Is that a good idea?"
"Depends. He's a good poet."
"If you like anger and attitude."
"People do. And he's got community support."
I remembered the PR materials for the team, which played up Vigil's do-gooder status. Vigil shooting hoops with kids at the Atlanta Children's Shelter. Vigil attending community initiative meetings and working voter registration drives.
Rico poured more champagne for me too. "Only one problem. He's got it in his head that I was the one who set him up."
"Nope. He called yesterday, told me I'd be sorry for slipping that knife in his pocket and siccing the cops on him. I tried to call him back, but he's not answering, and nobody knows where he is, not his sister, not his mama, not the team."
"How did this happen?"
"We were at a middle school art show, all of us, team members and alternates and significant others, everybody. The damn metal detector goes off as Vigil's walking in, so the cops search him, find the knife, haul him downtown."
"Why does he think you're the one slipped it on him?"
"Beats me. And now he's threatening me instead of letting me help him figure out this mess."
I knew better than to ask Rico why he hadn't gone to the police. He had a philosophical stubborn streak about organized law enforcement. The fact that he not only tolerated Trey but also genuinely liked him said more about Trey than about Rico relaxing his prejudice.
"So you decided to put Trey on lookout duty?"
"We've all got a lot riding on this next week, as individuals and as a team. Not that I think anything's going to happen. But you two were coming anyway, and I thought better safe than sorry." He sent another look Trey's way, like maybe he preferred risking sorry after all. "So will you tell him to sit down now?"
"Not on your life."
"But you said—"
"You were threatened by a recently released felon with a vengeance issue, and you expect me to tell Trey to sit down? Screw that."
Rico muttered a curse and tossed back the last of his champagne. Then he poured another glass, keeping his eyes on Adam, who still hustled merchandise beside the makeshift stage, empty except for a microphone stand. Rico was usually the crown prince of smooth, pure butter, but tonight he jangled.
I put a hand on his wrist. "Let Trey handle Vigil. That's why you called him, right?"
"Vigil's only a part of the problem. There's another part right there."
I followed his gaze to a table in the corner where two people sat, male and female. The guy was an ambisexual creature in black leather pants and a rivet-studded white tee-shirt, an artery of red highlights running through his ebony hair. The overall effect was art-kid and fey, but the details were pure goth, from the slant of eyeliner to the pendant around his neck, a grinning skull melded with an Egyptian ankh. It was as big as his fist, ostentatious, designed to provoke.
"Lex Anderson," he said. "Vigil's replacement. Frankie's busting his chops for coming late to the photo shoot this morning and missing practice yesterday. Four days on the team and he's falling apart."
Frankie, I recognized. The team leader. Dazzlingly tall and built like a Valkyrie, she wore earth-toned flowing pants and a low-cut saffron blouse with bell sleeves. A massive curly mane tumbled in dark brown tendrils around her shoulders. She had eyes like sharpened pieces of topaz, and she never remembered my name. I was beginning to think that every time Rico introduced us, it was the first time all over again.
Excerpted from Darker Than Any Shadow by Tina Whittle Copyright © 2012 by Tina Whittle. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Having read the first book in the series, and the last, I knew I had to catch up with all the ones in between. I think I'd love reading this author even without a story (although this one had everything from poetry to pythons). You don't skim these books; you savor the rich imagery and the deft writing. And the characters. A hero with a traumatic brain injury who's learning to cope with his new 'after' persona, and a headstrong heroine who understands him, even when she doesn't like it. Highly recommended.
Tina Whittle in her new book, “Darker Than Any Shadow” Book Two in the Tai Randolph Mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press gives us another adventure with Tai Randolph. From the back cover: The dog days of summer have arrived, and Tai Randolph is feeling the heat. Running her uncle’s gun shop is more demanding than she ever imagined. Her best friend Rico is competing for a national slam poetry title. And Atlanta is overrun with hundreds of fame-hungry performance poets clogging all the good bars. She’s also got her brand-new relationship with corporate security agent Trey Seaver to deal with. SWAT-trained and rule-obsessed, Trey has a brain geared for statistics and flow charts, not romance. And while Tai finds him irresistibly fascinating, dating a human lie detector who can kill with his bare hands is a somewhat precarious endeavor. And then just when she thinks she might get a handle on things, one of Rico’s fellow poets is murdered . . . and Rico becomes the prime suspect. Tai pushes up her sleeves and comes to his defense with every trick in her book a little lying here, a little snooping there. Trey wants her off the case immediately. So does Rico. Every poet in Atlanta has a secret, it seems, and one of them is willing to kill to keep theirs quiet. But someone else wants her on the job, someone dropping anonymous clues and clandestine tip-offs her way. Someone with an agenda that’s looking either positively heroic . . . or downright deadly. Will Tai’s relationship with Trey survive another foray into amateur sleuthing? And even more importantly, will she? Who would have thought that a poetry competition would be deadly? I mean, come on, poetry? All you have to do is keep your meter and rhyme the last words in your sentences and not even that so much anymore. Don’t get me wrong I can’t do it and I think it is quite an accomplishment for the individuals that can. Tina Whittle has given us a great detective in Tai as she works to clear her friend of murder charges and then actually figure out who did the murder and why. Danger, excitement, a mysterious box, a python and murder all figure into this highly complicated plot. “Darker Than Any Shadow” is loaded with twists and turns that will leave you guessing all the while you are flipping pages to find out what happens next. And let’s not forget about the romance between Tai and Trey. I am so looking forward to the next book in this series. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Poisoned Pen Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
‘“Technically true but deliberately evasive”’ (page 103) is an appropriate description for Tai Randolph the owner of an Atlanta gun shop. Tai often skirts the edges of the truth as she looks for answers, while Trey Seaver, her boyfriend, is a security analyst who can extrapolate security scenarios and take down a human without a second thought. In their second mystery, Tai’s best friend, Rico, is participating in a national poetry slam and the competition is a killer. When Rico’s accused of murder, Tai’s at her ‘“technically true”’ best searching for answers in ways that sometime run counter to Trey’s rule-book. This series does not disappoint and book two’s setting, a poetry slam, was fascinating. I’m looking forward to her next book in the series, Blood, Ash and Bone, which is coming out in February 2013. Beware of plot spoiler below: For anyone who knows someone who is affected by a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), this series is a little bittersweet. The stories are mysteries, but they also follow Tai and Trey's romance as she learns how her boyfriend was changed by his injury and he begins to come out of his shell. TBI can kill a person’s sense of self, relationships, or transform them into unrecognizable territory. Such as Trey’s estrangement from Garrity, who misses his buddy and still cares for him at a distance. Without being overdone or slowing her pacing, Whittle provides nuggets on how the TBI changed Trey. There are glimpses of his old self, mixed with the new, and Tai’s realization of what he has lost and gained at the same time. Tai and Trey fit well together, especially when they have to work at it.
Tai and Trey are always evolving with each book, and this one is no exception. Tina Whittles fantastic ability to use a variety of settings to bring out Tai's best (and worst) qualities and keep Trey in a place he's uncomfortable is perfect for an event like the national poetry slam. Like in book one, The Dangerous Edge of Things, I was still guessing as if I was watching Dallas for "Who Shot JR". It all made sense after the killer was revealed, but you were never sure until the end. And once again, the vivid imagery and descriptions make you feel as if your in the middle of it all. I just love Tina's writing style, and I hope she is working on Book 3, because I just can't get enough of Tai and Trey.