I am thrilled to have author Tina Whittle here today to celebrate her newest release in her Tai Randolph series, Deeper Than The Grave. For those of you who have not read this series because it looks to be straight mystery, I’m here to tell you that it is also a romance series. The romance between the two main characters, Tai Randolph, a woman who has inherited her uncle’s gun shop in Kinnesaw, Georgia, and Trey Seaver, a security expert and formerly Atlanta PD SWAT. is one of the best romantic couplings in fiction.
Tina has graciously agreed to share with us how Tai and Trey came to be.
Moni: Let’s get this out of the way. Your publisher promotes this as a mystery and if we were to get specific, it would be categorized as “amateur sleuth”, but you really don’t mind it being called romantic, right? Did you intentionally set out to write a romantic arc in Tai’s stories?
Tina: I am so happy when people call it romantic (especially people like you, Moni, because you know a thing or two about the subject!). Granted, the plot arc of each book is a self-contained traditional mystery with a whodunit and suspects, all that mystery stuff. But for me, the heart of the series is the heart of my narrator, Tai Randolph. She’s smart, assertive, and not afraid of going after what she wants, and from the second Trey Seaver appears on the scene, she wants him. Bad. And she gets him. He’s much more complicated than his surface suggests, however, and her greatest challenge is coming into relationship not only with Trey and all the twisty stuff under his cool Armani exterior, but with her own identity. I’m not writing a “will they or won’t they?” story or a love triangle. Other writers plumb that territory with much effectiveness. I’m writing a relationship, with all its challenges and joys and pain and growth. And Tai is the voice of it.
Moni: Now, I’ve always seen Tai as two main things – she’s a puzzle solver and an instigator, a catalyst, if you will. I see both of those traits as part of her initial attraction to Trey – those and the fact that she recognizes loneliness and isolation when she sees it, because she often feels that way. Trey is a puzzle she wishes to solve and her need to figure him out triggers an awakening in him that evolves over the following books. Am I wrong?
Tina: You are spot on, Moni – gold star for you! Tai gets restless without a challenge, which makes her an excellent amateur sleuth, but it also makes someone like Trey irresistible – all those layers and shadows and secrets. Eventually she realizes that she misjudged him from the start, that what she took for bored sophistication was actually profound confusion. And yes, a deep heartbreaking loneliness. I think she and I became aware of that loneliness at the same time, in a scene from the first book where he has driven her home, and before she gets out of his Ferrari, it hits her with a pang how singular and alone he really is. She says, “He was separated from me by a gulf far wider than a few feet of leather upholstery. I watched him drive away and thought of empty spaces. But I also thought of bridges.” [Moni: I loved that scene and Tai’s thoughts in it. Sigh.]
I figured something else out during this scene, that even though Trey seems as courteous and disengaged as ever, Tai’s full-hearted acceptance of him, her refusal to be bullied or coaxed or convinced to leave him alone because he’s so damaged and dangerous (which is what everyone who knows him keeps telling her) has worked on him. The next morning there is a slightly different Trey on the scene; I like your word “awakening.” Yes, he’s blinking into the light of some new feelings the next morning, quite perplexed but utterly intrigued in return.
Moni: Trey has a tragic past. And his friends and acquaintances use that past to pigeon-hole him as a victim and something less than what he was. Tai doesn’t – she sees his potential at becoming a new Trey. I found that very sexy. Is this why Trey falls in love with her?
Tina: This is one of my favorite Tai qualities – her acceptance of people as they are, shine and rust all together. While other people tiptoe around Trey’s past tragedy and present psychological and cognitive challenges, Tai is very matter-of-fact and honestly curious. I think she understands that we are all on the cusp of becoming someone new, that identity is always fluid and dynamic. And while everyone else mourns the Trey-Who-Was, Tai accepts the Trey-Who-Is . And that acceptance makes it easier for Trey to accept who he is too . . . because there’s really only one Trey, after all. Befuddled Trey, Tender Trey, Controlling Trey, and Hot-Blooded Trey . . . they’re all the same man. Tai loves the whole of him, and the whole of him responds in kind. [Moni: Um, can I say — I love Trey very, very much. But you knew that. :)]
Moni: Okay, I love your tight writing style. You can convey more in one simple sentence and action tag than many authors can in pages and pages. After the first book, the paragraphs in each of the next three (and I am not counting the short stories which supplement the books) are simple short, terse, and filled with undercurrents:
Darker Than Any Shadow, #2: “Be still,” he said, his mouth at my ear.
Blood, Ash & Bone, #3: “Do it again,” he said.
Deeper Than the Grave, #4: Trey’s mouth was at my ear, his chest solid against my back. “Slowly.”
Okay, I don’t know about anybody else, but after what I read in the first book, those lines are suggestive and sexy. The readers of this blog will have to read the books to see what each short terse paragraph leads to, but I just get chills at the idea Trey is touching Tai and speaking to her that commanding way. Please tell me you did this on purpose.
Tina: Thank you, Moni! That means a lot coming from you. And yes, I do my best to capture Trey’s physicality, the way he inhabits his body with a visceral awareness. He’s a former SWAT team leader, and even though he’s very polite and soft-spoken, he still has a strong command presence, which is how cops describe using one’s body and tone of voice to maintain control of a situation. Words don’t always come easily to him – he is very much a show-don’t-tell guy – but he understands muscle and sinew and skin. He understands sensation and response. Combine that quality with his almost supernatural ability to focus, and you’ve got a man who can make even a force of nature like Tai weak in the knees, even during the most mundane of activities. Tai gets hot and bothered watching him sketch floor plans at his desk. And I gotta admit, so do I. [Moni: Me, too.]
This is one reason I enjoy writing two very sensual people who are also in love – their intimacy, which gets deeper every book, is most obvious in the permissions they grant each other with their bodies. Trey is a highly trained close combat fighter – he keeps a boundary around himself at all times, and people who trespass, even accidentally, are likely to find themselves flat on the ground in the suspect prone position. Tai, however, has earned an all-access pass. Which means that even the tiniest gesture between them is ripe with connection. And to me, there’s nothing sexier than that level of trust. It’s been interesting to watch it develop from the first book – when Trey was very guarded, very reserved – to this fourth book, where they’ve created a give-and-take energy that infuses their entire relationship, whether in bed or on the training mat or at a stakeout. Words sometimes fail them, but touch never does.
Moni: Trey recreated a world he could function in after a traumatic brain injury. He pulled his new world of grays, blacks, and whites from an Italian issue of GQ. The English major in me sees the symbolism in those choices – his psychological affect is things are black and white, yes and no, right and wrong. His world has become choices and shades of gray. So, he picks a red dress out for Tai to wear to what becomes a climactic scene in the first book. Why red? Or am I reading too much into why he chooses at that point in time to shift his worldview from black, white and gray?
Tina: Full disclosure – I’m an English major too, so I love the language of symbols. I love the texture they weave into a narrative. That said, I am very careful to let them develop organically, from my characters’ choices, and not from my own writerly fascination with imagery. So yes, the color red, especially that first red dress and other red clothing, are recurring symbols . . . only I didn’t figure that out until I finished writing the book. And I didn’t figure out that it was a symbol running through all the books until you pointed it out.
But when I looked back, I noticed that at almost every crucial point where Trey has to step out of his comfort zone and meet Tai on untested ground, she’s wearing something red. Sometimes it’s a haute couture cocktail dress. Sometimes it’s flame-red La Perla lingerie. But it always represents a vibrancy that he’s had a hard time finding within himself, a spark that Tai kindles with her presence. Since then, I’ve noticed lots of red around her – her cherry-red Camaro, her very private vixen-fox tattoo – and even though Trey still keeps his apartment and his wardrobe in dichromatic black and white, there’s a warmth inside him now. Like the Phoenix that symbolizes Atlanta (where the books are set), Trey too has been reborn from ashes. I can’t wait to see what slow-burning ember Tai manages to fan to flame next.
Moni: When Tai first meets Trey he is involved with Gabriella, his physical therapist and sometime lover. Tai doesn’t hate Gabriella, but she sure as hell doesn’t like the woman’s relationship with Trey. I see their relationship as “détente.” Will there be some cat fight in these ladies’ future?
Tina: I’m writing that cat fight right now, for the 5th book – it’s long overdue. Tai thinks Gabriella is a fancy French nut job who might want back in Trey’s bed. Gabriella thinks Tai is a reckless dilettante who doesn’t think twice about dragging Trey into danger.
But I find myself with equal sympathy for all three people involved in this conflict. I like Gabriella; she’s known Trey for over five years, before and after his accident, and while they were lovers for most of that time (until Tai showed up) they weren’t an exclusive couple because Gabriella could never be fully satisfied with only one lover. Trey, however, is a one-woman man in both temperament and practice – they were incompatible from the start, but truly cared about each other, and still do. After his accident, she used her skills as a massage therapist and herbalist to help him recover. The care she provides is a necessary part of Trey’s continuing recovery, but she can be over-protective and over-involved. She cares for Tai too, and is very happy to see Trey thriving in his relationship . . . but she’s ever-vigilant.
Tai has tolerated this dynamic even if she hasn’t liked it because she understands the backstory, the history that Trey and Gabriella share. Since they share a common goal – Trey’s best interest – the two women have gotten along pretty well for four books, but now the claws are out. And since they are both fierce, no-holds-barred fighters, the battle is gonna get savage, I suspect. [Moni: My money’s on Tai.]
Moni: After The Dangerous Edge of Things came out, you posted on your web site what you’d originally intended to be a last chapter in the book – you called it “U-Turns and Other Tricky Maneuvers.” First, I want to thank you for doing that – the novel had ended rather abruptly and while my vivid imagination could fill in what happened next – as a romance reader and author, I loved the scene. Do you plan to continue to offer such extra looks into Tai and Trey’s burgeoning romance?
Tina: Oh, absolutely! I enjoy writing their love scenes very much – there’s no better character study than getting two people into the bedroom – but I’ll tell you a writerly secret. I adore Tai and Trey, but I do tend to throw monkey wrenches into their happily-ever-after. Lots of corpses and conspiracies, killers and complications. Tai rolls up her sleeves and deals with whatever I dish out, but Trey will literally walk off the page and not come back if the conflict gets too heavy. So I coax him back with a lovely little sexual rendezvous here, a torrid session on his desk at work there. And then he’s more cooperative.
Even though I wrote these scenes for my eyes only, I decided that I would share these little snippets and stories with my readers. Tai and Trey’s bedroom scenes often get left out of the final edition of the book because of genre constraints, but for readers who have been following their relationship, these glimpses into the intimate parts of their lives are an important part of the overall arc of the series. I’m working now on a short story set at a romance writer convention – the working title is “Fifty Shades of Trey.” I promise to share it when I’m done.
Moni: I liken your Tai Randolph series romance arc to what J.D. Robb did in her In Death series: Each book has a good mystery, great secondary characters, and the romantic relationship between the H/H continues to evolve into an even stronger and more beautiful relationship. Please tell me that Tai and Trey’s romance will continue as they are thrown into solving mysterious deaths thrown in their paths.
Tina: I certainly hope so! They make great sleuthing partners because they make great romantic partners, very complementary in their strengths and skills and aptitudes. Of course there are challenges both in and out of bed – Tai is impulsive, emotionally-driven and intuitive, while Trey is cool, calculating, and intellectual – but they are learning to cooperate, stretch beyond their respective boundaries, and support each other in their vulnerabilities. But even when they fight – which they do – they tend to channel that friction into other intriguingly combustible activities.
Moni: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?
Tina: If anyone would like to learn more about the series, or about Tai and Trey, they can visit my website http://www.tinawhittle.com (where I have several of those extra stories and scenes posted in the Other Writing section) http://www.tinawhittle.com/pages/otherwriting.html. There you’ll find my blog, my schedule of appearances, and all the different ways I hang out in the social media world, including Facebook https://www.facebook.com/tina.whittle and Twitter https://twitter.com/TinaWhittle. You can also check out my various Pinterest boards http://www.pinterest.com/tinawh/, including Trey and Tai’s Accessories, Trey and Tai’s Atlanta (which includes an interactive map), and Cast of Characters (which features some awesome shots of actor Dylan Bruce without his shirt because I find that inspiring). And if you’re into music, you can listen to Tai and Trey’s Playlist https://play.spotify.com/user/sapphiresays/playlist/4pwxXjJ7uOPOxinixqGTuB on Spotify.
Moni: Thanks for being here and discussing Tai and Trey. Oh and I love the excerpt you provided for Deeper Than the Grave – it is so Trey. Love him. Love you and your writing.
Tina: Thank you so much for having me! You’re the kind of reader every writer dreams about, and I wish you all the best with your own work.
It’s taken almost a year, but Tai Randolph finally has her new life together. She’s running a semi-successful Atlanta gun shop catering to Civil War re-enactors. Her relationship with the sexy if somewhat security-obsessed Trey Seaver is going smoothly. Most importantly, there’s not a single corpse on her horizon, and her previously haphazard existence is finally stable, secure . . . and utterly unsurprising.
Then a tornado scatters the skeletal remains of a Confederate hero, and Tai is asked to assist with the recovery effort. It’s a job her late Uncle Dexter would have relished, as does Tai, especially when she discovers a jumble of bones in the Kennesaw Mountain underbrush.
Her problem? The skeleton doesn’t belong to the missing soldier. Tai’s discovery reveals a more recent murder, with her deceased uncle leading the suspect list. As Tai struggles to clear Dexter’s name — and save the shop he left her — she digs up more than old bones. Deadly secrets also lie buried in the red Georgia clay.
Tai realizes there’s a 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.
Will she and Trey survive yet another foray into amateur sleuthing? Or will the Civil War add two modern-day casualties to its death toll?
I burrowed under his coat, wrapping my arms around his waist, pressing myself into the circle of his warmth. He uncrossed his arms to let me in, but that was his only response. If I wanted a goodnight kiss, I’d have to take it. As usual.
I looked him in the eye. “Trey Seaver, what do I have to do to get you to make a move on me?”
He blinked in confusion. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You know. A move. A pass. Something—anything—that will end with us having sex.”
He cocked his head. “Are you asking me to seduce you?”
“Yep. That’s it. Got it in one.”
“Oh. Okay. I can do that.” He leaned back against the car, pondering. “I’ll need your help, of course. Because you’re somewhat difficult to seduce.”
I resisted the urge to thump him between the eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding. You’ve never even tried, you jackass.”
His eyes flashed. “I’ve never had the chance. You’re very . . . I need a word, multisyllabic, starts with A.”
He shook his head.
“Fast. You’re very fast.”
I glared at him. “Fast doesn’t start with A.”
“Nonetheless.” He looked down at his shoes, a slight flush running warm along his cheekbones. “Fast isn’t a bad thing, of course. I like fast. But I’m . . .”
“Not slow.” He raised his head. “Just less fast.”
I caught his scent then—subtle, as always, carried on body heat and proximity, the mixture of that evergreen aftershave and the musk of skin. My fingers itched as I remembered the muscles camouflaged under the sleek Armani suit, the sure touch of his hands, the intense pleasure he could deliver . . .
I move my mouth closer to his. “I could take you now if I wanted.”
“Right up against this Ferrari. You wouldn’t put up any resistance whatsoever.”
“None at all. But that would hardly count as a seduction on my part, now would it?”
I almost caved. The pull of him was gravitational, like planets circling into suns, ever closer, as reckless and heedless as physics. It was science, chemicals and laws and rules, and all I had to do was kiss him, and he’d kiss me back, and the chain reaction would begin . . .
I forced myself to take one step backwards. “There. That’s me being less fast.”
He watched me. Considered long and hard. Then he got in the car, leaving me standing alone in the freezing solitary night. He started to close the door, but I stopped it with my hand.
“What the hell, Trey?”
He looked up at me. “What?”
He nodded. “For now.”
“Are you serious?”
“Of course I’m serious.”
He said it calmly, softly. But his eyes gleamed, even in the low light. Yes, he was serious—he was always serious. But this was a new kind of serious.
I leaned forward into the car. “Trey. Boyfriend of mine. I don’t know what you think seduction is, but this isn’t it.”
I saw the quirk at the corner of his mouth, and a fresh desire flooded me like sap in the springtime, especially when the quirk deepened into one of his rare crooked smiles. He kept his eyes on me as he started the Ferrari, all four hundred horses under its hood leaping and snorting in a growly eight-liter rumble somewhere close to ninety decibels.
“Of course it is,” he said.
Moni: And it’s tightly written, sexy, teasing scenes like the one above that has me coming back for more Tai and Trey. And when Trey lets loose, well, let’s just say, I want my very own Trey Seaver, all to myself.