It's taken almost a year, but Tai Randolph has her new life together. She's running a semi-successful Atlanta gun shop catering to Civil War re-enactors. Her lover, the sexy-if-security-obsessed Trey Seaver, is sorting out his challenges. There's not a single corpse on her horizon, and her previously haphazard existence is finally stable, secure... and unsurprising. Then a tornado blows by a Kennesaw Mountain cemetery, scattering the skeletal remains of a Confederate hero. Assisting the bones recovery effort is a job her late Uncle Dexter would have relished, as does Tai. Does she hit the jackpot on discovering a jumble of bones in the underbrush?
No. The bones reveal a more recent murder, with her deceased uncle leading the suspect list. As Tai struggles to clear Dexter's name - and save the business he left her - she uncovers deadly secrets were also buried in the red Georgia clay. And realizes there's a live murderer on the loose, a clever killer who has tried to conceal the crimes of the present in the stories of the past. As she risks her own life to unravel two mysteries - one from a previous century, one literally at her doorstep - Tai rediscovers her dangerous taste for murder and mayhem.
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
Deeper Than The Grave
A Tai Randolph Mystery
By Tina Whittle
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2014 Tina Whittle
All rights reserved.
Trey's mouth was at my ear, his chest solid against my back. "Slowly."
"Firm and gentle pressure."
I sighed. "I have done this before, you know."
"And yet you're still snatching." He adjusted my grip on the revolver so that the butt of the gun rested solidly in my left palm. "Take a breath. Half exhale. Then squeeze. One smooth motion."
His voice was muted through the fancy electronic hearing protection muffs, but that hardly mattered—he was saying the exact same thing he always said. I wiggled my nose to adjust the safety goggles, sighted along the barrel. The revolver's sights bobbed red against the target, a human-sized silhouette with concentric rings highlighting its heart. I took one deep breath in, trickled it halfway out. Then I dropped the barrel a smidgen and squeezed. The .38 kicked in my hand as a fresh bullet hole appeared at the target's groin.
Trey examined the result. "You're supposed to aim for center mass."
"I'm supposed to stop the threat. Which I certainly did."
His blue eyes flashed annoyance behind his safety glasses. "Do you want to learn proper technique or not?"
I sighed again. Then I took my stance and emptied the rest of the rounds into the target. The holes clustered in the figure's chest region, right at the heart. Or where the heart would have been had I not pulped it.
I gestured with my chin. "There. How's that?"
Trey eyed me reproachfully. He was a stickler. I could recite his mantras from memory—watch your muzzle cover, watch your periphery, watch your background.
"Why didn't you do that with your first shot?" he said.
"Jeez, boyfriend. Unwind a bit, it's just practice."
"It's not practice, it's training. There's a difference."
"So you keep saying. Over and over again." I double-checked the cylinder to make sure the gun was empty before laying it on the shelf in front of me. "Let me try yours."
Trey retrieved his H&K nine-millimeter, popped the empty magazine. He thumbed bullets into the mag, then clipped it into place with the heel of his hand and handed it to me, careful to keep the muzzle downrange.
"Feet hip-width apart, slight lean forward, right arm straight, not locked."
I racked the slide. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Got it."
Trey's P7M8 was very much like him—sleek, powerful, efficient—and I savored the control and punch of it, even if the pleasure came with an edge now. It had been only four months since I'd held that same gun in my hand, the sights centered not on a paper target but on a human being. I remembered that same gun in Trey's hands, later that same rain-slashed night. Three shots, precise and ruthless.
I squeezed the grip to cock it, then fired three times fast, twice at center mass, then once at the forehead. To my dismay, only the first two hit home.
Trey stared at me. "What are you doing?"
"Mozambique triple tap."
"You don't need—"
"I've needed a lot of things I didn't think I would."
Trey didn't argue. He simply held out his hand. "Give me that."
I handed the nine back to him. He stepped up, then hit the switch with a closed fist and the target rattled its way toward him. He fired two shots, then a third a half-second later. As the target flapped to a stop in front of us, I saw two serrated holes in the center of the heart, and one final shot right below the nose. If the two-dimensional paper had been flesh and blood, the last bullet would have ripped a trajectory through the medulla oblongata, dropping the body like a meaty marionette with its strings cut.
"There," he said. "Triple tap, properly known as a failure drill. Useful in circumstances when direct hits to center mass do not stop the target, most likely due to a tactical vest." A cock of the head. "Is that what you want to learn?"
I fingered the ragged paper. "Yes."
"Okay. Then work on your stance, your form, your breathing, your aim, your draw, and the ability to target center mass. Because without those basic skills, you'll never master this one." He checked his watch. "We've got fifteen minutes. Back to triggering."CHAPTER 2
Trey drove me back to the gun shop. During our time inside the range, the sun had set, and I huddled into my jacket as I stepped out of the warmth of his Ferrari and into the night. The evening wasn't terribly cold by most standards—low fifties, zero wind—but I was a creature coddled in the briny marsh of the Georgia Lowcountry, where winters were mild and smelled of clean pine and the ocean. February in Atlanta, however, was twenty-eight odd days of seasonal mood swings. All during the summer and fall, the cold lay low in the upland mountains, deep within the granite, until sometime around Christmas when it came slinking down into the city. Now it sprang like a wild animal from unexpected places, bolting up stairwells, rushing at a canter across parking lots.
Trey had moved into his winter wardrobe months ago—the Prada trench coat and the Armani wool suits, the finely textured cashmere scarves and leather driving gloves, everything black as bituminous coal. He stood very close behind me as I wrestled with the door to the gun shop.
I felt the deadbolt give. "Wait here a second. I want to surprise you."
"I don't like surprises."
"Go with it, this one time."
He made a noise of acquiescence, so I ducked inside, punching in the security code that would disable the multiple alarm systems, then taking him by the hand and pulling him in after me. The smell of sawdust and fresh paint and industrial adhesive rolled over the threshold in a wave, clean and chemical mixing in a singular wallop. Trey stepped gingerly, his patent-leather Brionis making soft echoes on the linoleum.
I punched the light switch, and the overhead fluorescents sputtered to life. "Ta da."
He opened his eyes, and his expression shifted to pleased astonishment as he took in the front room. My counter, formerly paint-splattered, now stripped and refinished in a rich golden maple. The newly scrubbed and re-waxed floor. Fresh yellow paint on the walls.
Of course the rest of it was a mess. Dozens of my Uncle Dexter's framed photographs remained propped against the walls, waiting to be rehung. I'd managed to find space in the storage room's gun safe for all the firearms, but the ammo was still on the floor, the edged weapons crammed into a single display case. The cash register sat in the empty planter boxes, the dead marigolds in the trash, and I'd stuffed all the reenactment uniforms into a friendly blue and gray tangle, a Confederate-Union mishmash that would have offended my uncle no end had he been there to see it. There was a rumor of order to the place, however, and Trey noticed.
"You've been working," he said.
"I have. I found every single gun missing from the inventory. I wish I could say the same for the other stuff." I shook my head. "God rest Uncle Dexter's soul, he loved this shop, but I don't know how he stayed in business."
Trey surveyed the box next to the cash register, a jumble of looseleaf papers that I was attempting to turn into an official Acquisition and Disposition book for the ATF. "Will you have this ready by Friday?"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure." I smiled at him. "And don't worry. I destroyed all the paperwork surrounding our little 'sex for handguns' arrangement."
He ignored the joke and reached inside. "I could—"
I intercepted his hand. "Leave it be. I want to do it myself."
"For real, Trey."
He reluctantly left the scattered A&D materials alone, but it pained him physically, I could tell. And he was right to be concerned—all joking aside, if I didn't pass the audit, I lost my Federal Firearms License, and without an FFL, I couldn't sell guns and ammo and black powder. And there would go seventy-five percent of my income.
He surveyed the rest of the shop. "You took down the new security camera."
"Then where is it?"
"You tell me."
A pause, then his eyes tracked the room. He scanned the empty shelving units, the cabinets, the walls, finally stopping on the deer head mounted behind the counter. He stepped closer and scrutinized the mangy relic.
I joined him underneath it. "Damn. That was fast, even for you."
"Where did you get ... that?"
"The attic." I knocked on the muzzle of the cockeyed creature, its left antler broken at the tip, its nose dented and dinged. "It's fake, felt and plastic on the outside, hollow as a balloon inside. Perfect for a single-lens covert camera."
Trey peered into the deer's glassy eyes. "You hooked it into the wireless grid?"
"What about the—"
"Primary and secondary power supplies, yes." I put my hands on my hips. "You think I don't listen to you, but I do. Every word."
He pulled out his phone and tapped in a code. Two seconds later, his screen filled with an image of the shop, the two of us looking up at the deer head. Even in two-dimensional black and white, Trey was a six-one, black-haired, haute couture hot dish. My charms were more down-to-earth—dirty blond curls rioting under a baseball cap, faded jeans, scuffed work boots. We seemed utterly mismatched on the tiny screen, like two people on a disastrous blind date. Regardless, there he was, at my side. As usual. I took his arm in mine, watched my video twin do the same, and then the image switched to the back lot, where my Camaro was parked next to the dumpster.
Trey pulled up the third feed, the parking lot out front, with the entrance, burglar-barred windows, and his Ferrari in plain view. There was no fourth image, however. This was Trey's current worry point.
"Have you talked to your neighbor about setting up a camera in the alley?" he said.
"Brenda? I tried, twice, but she won't go for it. And since the alley is technically her property, not mine—"
"But that makes no sense."
"Sure, it does. Dexter sold access rights to the previous owner, when Aunt Dotty got sick and he needed the money. Now Brenda's using that to make me miserable so I'll leave and she can have this end of the square all to herself." I folded my arms. "She complained about your Ferrari, you know. Said it damaged her ears."
Trey made a scoffing noise. "The threshold for short-term hearing damage is one hundred and twenty decibels. The F430 produces ninety-six point nine decibels at full throttle, which—"
"My point is she has an agenda."
But Trey wasn't listening anymore. He abandoned me under the deer head to check out the new door to the storage room. It was an innocuous-looking hunk of wood—beige, bland as baby food—but he ran his hand across it with an almost sensual reverence.
"It came," he said.
"It did." I stepped beside him. "I was expecting something less ordinary."
"It's designed to look ordinary, but underneath the veneer is a hardwood core with fiberglass sheathing. It has a UL rating of four, which is military grade. Guaranteed to defeat ballistic assaults up to .44 magnum caliber, resistant to .50 cal."
He punched some numbers on the keypad, and the deadbolt clicked opened with a well-engineered snick. I saw the twitch at the corner of his mouth that was almost a smile.
He stepped inside, and I followed. What used to be Dexter's secondary storage room was now a state-of-the-art safe room. Well, not as state-of-the-art as Trey wanted—he'd envisioned something along the lines of the Pentagon—but an adequate compromise. The walls were already concrete, the ceiling inaccessible from the front room. All it needed was a bulletproof door, which I now had, thanks to him.
He walked under the casement window, a three-paned hand-cranked antique installed when Dexter built the place back in the sixties. The window was one foot tall and three feet wide and provided the only outdoor light in the room. Trey glared at it.
I stood beside him. "I know you don't like the window, but it's staying for the time being."
"It's ten feet off the ground and too narrow for a person to get through. Plus you've got glass-break sensors on it."
"One thing at a time, boyfriend. I'll fix it when I get the camera situation figured out and the audit completed."
"Hush." I slipped my arms around his waist, resting my palms flat against his lower back. He smelled like gunpowder and the ghost of his Armani aftershave. "Use your mouth for something besides talking."
His eyes narrowed. "You're trying to distract me from the point, which is—"
I stood on tiptoe and kissed him quiet. On the training mat, at the range, he was pure masculine force—direct, active, aggressive. In all matters romantic, however, he preferred to follow my lead. I moved my hands upward, across the plane of his back, the familiar geography of rhomboids and deltoids.
"It's been two weeks since I've had my way with you, boyfriend."
"Six days. Don't exaggerate."
"We can fix that, you know. Upstairs. Where there's now—surprise surprise—an honest-to-goodness real bed. With 600-thread-count, Egyptian cotton Frette sheets."
He leveled a look at me. "You took my sheets."
"The spare ones, yes. Also your shampoo and a pair of pajamas. And some towels. Do you mind?"
He shook his head. I could almost see the picture forming in his mind. No longer was my upstairs living space a wretched hovel. Tiny, yes, as cramped as a ship's cabin. But thanks to a trip to Goodwill and a teensy raid of his bathroom closet, well stocked with everything he'd need to feel at home, at least for a few hours.
I looped my arms around his neck. "Stay here tonight."
"I cant, I ve—"
"So stay right now."
"That doesn't ... Oh."
I flicked a glance at his watch. "It's seven-fifty-five. Your bedtime is nine o'clock. The drive will take forty-eight minutes tops, which leaves seventeen free minutes."
His eyes slid to the right, the better to access his perfectly sharp left frontal lobes, the seat of logic and time management and schedules. The right side of his brain had some hiccups still, an artifact of the car accident three years earlier, but the rest of him agreed with me, that two people could do a lot with a new mattress and seventeen minutes.
I moved closer, hip to hip. "Sixteen minutes and counting."
He exhaled softly, his posture loosening, and I knew the battle was mine. His left brain made a formidable opponent at times—rigid, calculating, inclined to lock down the systems at the slightest emotional chaos—while his right brain tended to lurch into paralyzed befuddlement. My strategy was simple—bypass the neuronal circuits and go straight for the body, which had its own agenda.
I reached to loosen his tie. And he froze.
"Did you hear footsteps?"CHAPTER 3
He cocked his head. "Footsteps. In the alley. There shouldn't be anyone back there this time of night."
I listened, but all I heard was the buzz of overheads. Our breathing, suddenly quickened. "I don't hear anything."
He pulled out of my arms. "I'll go take a look."
He slipped his gun from the holster. "Stay here."
I recognized the tone. It always happened so fast, the shift from boyfriend to bodyguard. I felt the chill, involuntary, a flash of memory. Not all stalkers stopped with stalking. Some shot at you from across great distances, the crosshairs trained on the back of the skull, or the T-zone between your eyes, or the bull's-eye where your heart and lungs pumped....
I grabbed his elbow. "Don't go out there."
"I'm serious. Call 911."
"I have to check."
He slipped backward into the hall, then slammed the door behind himself so fast I didn't have time to stop him. I snatched at the handle, but without the code, the door wasn't budging. I kicked it once for good measure, but Trey was already out the back door and into the night.
Cursing loudly, I shoved aside two garbage bags filled with packing peanuts and climbed on top of the display table, then stood on tiptoe and peered through the window into the lot below. The yellow haze of security lights bathed the deserted pavement, washing my red Camaro a sickly orange. The dumpster squatted directly below me, surrounded by shadows as darkly impenetrable as the mouth of the alley, which I could barely see from that vantage point.
No sign of Trey.
I cranked open the window and pressed my face to the opening. "Goddamn it, Trey, get back here right now and let me out of this room!"
No answer. My lips felt numb, my hands too. I rubbed them together, but the sensation spread.
Excerpted from Deeper Than The Grave by Tina Whittle. Copyright © 2014 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
Oh, the agony of waiting for a new book from the public library! At least, I was number one on the waitlist :). It’s wonderful when a book you’ve been waiting for meets and exceeds your expectations. Tina Whittle’s Deeper than the Grave, is another great addition to her series featuring Tai Randolph, a gun shop owner, and Trey Seaver, corporate security agent. A tornado comes through town, tearing up the land, and revealing the dead secrets of the past and present. Relic hunters and artifact preservationists, Civil War reenactors and the protectors of an Old Southern family’s past clash. Tai and Trey dig into the mystery while also dealing with the psychological fallout from their previous adventure in Blood, Ash, and Bone. Whittle ends her story with a visit from a mysterious stranger, setting the stage for another great adventure in book five. Oh, the agony of having to wait a whole year to find out what happens next!
Tai Randolph is the owner of a gun shop in Atlanta that specializes in Civil War re-enactment relics along with run-of-the-mill firearms and ammo. Formerly owned by her Uncle Dexter, Tai has organized the inventory and has settled in, making the business profitable in the process. Her boyfriend, Trey Seaver, has beefed up security for the shop. As a corporate security agent, and former FBI agent, he is obsessed with keeping Tai safe. She finds his security measures equally aggravating and endearing, but thinks he has crossed the line due to problems he has had in the past, including an accident, that has left him with a brain injury. Tai admits the security is good to have around the shop as there have been several times her system has detected attempted breaches. She suspects the neighboring business owner, who is trying to run the gun shop out of business by any means possible, going as far as not allowing video surveillance in the alley because it is “her property”. A storm is brewing, both figuratively and literally for Tai. A tornado rips through the area, causing untold damage to Kennesaw Mountain Cemetery, the final resting place for Braxton Amberdecker. The Civil War hero’s grave is damaged and his bones are missing. Tai and Trey are called upon to help locate them. When a skull is found by Tai, the search is called off, but the police are not happy. These remains cannot be those of Amberdecker, because a NASCAR belt buckle accompanies the bones. The police suspect Tai, who starts digging for the truth with Trey’s reluctant help. When her dead Uncle Dexter if pulled into the investigation, she really heats up her search for the true killer, putting herself in more danger than she has bargained for. Deeper Than The Grave is Whittle’s fourth book in the Tai Randolph Mystery series. I love the plot twists and energy that made me read “just one more chapter” every time I tried to put this book down. Tai is like a crazy friend you love to spend time with and Trey is vulnerable, edgy, and unpredictable all bundled into a gorgeous package. The two main characters interact beautifully together. This is the first book I have read in the series. It worked as a stand-alone novel for me, but I hesitate to jump in with both feet saying it will work for everyone. Some questions remain unanswered as to what happened in the past with Trey’s accident as well as Tai and Trey’s relationship. This may bother some readers, but did not especially bother me. It is a solid, interesting story that leaves me wanting to know more, so I’ll go back and read the first two novels in this series to fill in the gaps. I looked at it as meeting someone new that was reluctant to share all of his or her past all at once, but as they became more comfortable, I learned more. The other really great thing about this book is the last few pages of Author’s Notes. Whittle shares her Pinterest name (tinawh) where you can see her boards about the Civil War, Tai and Trey, Deeper Than the Grave Research and much more. If you are on Pinterest, I highly recommend searching her out to add another layer of interest to reading her books. Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.
Could not put it down. Enough said.
Tai Randolph is determined to make a go of her uncle’s Atlanta gun shop, which caters to the Civil War Reenactor crowd. One of the added perks of the north Georgia location is the relative proximity of her boyfriend, security expert Trey Seaver. Though both Tai and Trey suffer from PTSD, Tai’s worries don’t stop her from trying to figure out what happened to Private Braxton Amberdecker’s missing bones. After a tornado blew through the area, the Civil War soldier’s coffin was shattered revealing another’s bones where his should have been. The current crop of Amberdeckers suspect Tai’s late uncle, among others, as having something to do with the desecration and grave robbing. Tai redoubles her efforts to clear her uncle’s good name. Trey and Tai team up for the case as they grapple their way around the “L” word. Tina Whittle is a Wordslinger Extraordinaire. Every page of Deeper Than The Grave is a rich tapestry of words to savor. Trust me, you’ll want to read this one slow and enjoy all the imagery. Who else would think to describe a sky as having the ponderous weight of a mudslide? I totally get her writing style, and I’m ready for Book Five in this compelling series.
For those of you who have grown tired of the Nina Wilde and Eddie Chases series, this one is for you. This is the first Tai Raddolph book I have read. I can assure you I just added the others to my Kindle. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. So many things connected me with what was going on. I grew up in the area covered by this book. I lived right near Kennesaw Mountain and spend a lot of time at Stone Mountain and points in between. It's always interesting to get to connect on that level with a book. The background really comes alive as you meld in all the things you remember with the picture the author is painting. The characters are perfectly flawed and display the Southern attitude without stereotypes. Very few authors can get this right, and Tina Whittle is one of them that can. Action keeps the pages turning and the mystery is just enough out of reach that it kept me guessing almost to the end. The backstory was filled in just enough so you aren't lost in the history of the characters but not so much that it seems like you are reading another book all over again. One of my new favorites in the action genre. Move over Andy McDermott, you've been replaced.