Blood, Ash, and Bone - By Tina Whittle


A writer is only as good as her support group, and mine is made of stars and magic and solid gold. Special thanks to three ladies of The Mojito Literary Society—Annie Hodgsett, Susan Newman, and Laura Valeri—who are always there to share their brilliance, encouragement, and enthusiasm. Fine writers in their own right, they are fine friends and human beings too. In addition, Amber Grey lent her editorial expertise and wholehearted encouragement. I owe them all buckets of gratitude.

Big thanks go to historian and fellow mystery writer Jon Bryant, who not only helped me piece together this tangled web, he also provided the essential story seed from which the book blossomed. In addition, he lent wordsmithing, research acumen, and general rah-rah support to this effort. Special thanks also to Pam Wynne, who shared her expertise on private detective licensure in the state of Georgia, and Girish Patel, who finally learned to hold on to his peanuts.

My loved ones deserve special kudos, especially my parents, Dinah and Archie; my parents-in-law Yvonne and Gene; my sibling and siblings-in-law, Tim and Lisa, and Patty and Rich, plus my wonderful niece and nephews. And, as always, much gratitude to the fine folks at Poisoned Pen Press—especially Barbara Peters, Annette Rogers, Jessica Tribble, Rob Rosenwald, and Suzan Baroni— a writer’s dream team that serves both writers and writing in exemplary fashion. Sincere thanks to the creative team of Nan Beams and the folks who lent their artistic genius to the design and cover art. I am also grateful to my fellow PPPers—the Posse—for their unwavering good cheer, good advice, and good faith.

And, last but never least, XXX and OOO to James and Kaley, who have my love forever and always.

Chapter One

“Do it again,” he said.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead, my legs shaking. “You’re kidding.”

“No. One more time.”

“I need to catch my breath first.”

He moved behind me and ran his hands down my ribcage to the small of my back, palms flat. He toed my feet two inches further apart and tucked my hips under. “One more time. Shoulders down and back. Keep your feet in neutral.”

“Can’t we move to side kicks?”

“Round kicks.”


“One more set.” He stood in front of me again and picked up the kick pad. “Keep it sequential.”

I gave up arguing and straightened my stance. We were alone in the workout room at the gym, his students long gone. No way to avoid his laser-lock attention. I took a deep breath and kicked one more time, channeling my annoyance into the kinetic chain of hip-thigh-ankle. To my astonishment, I landed it solid, all of my mass and energy converging in a blow so powerful it knocked Trey back a step.

I bounced on the balls of my feet. “I nailed that!”

He didn’t smile, but I did detect satisfaction. He always looked so boyish with a light sheen of sweat on his forehead, his black hair mussed.

“Good,” he said. “Stop bouncing and finish the set.”

I squared my stance as he put the kick pad up again, then launched into the rest of the set, seven more kicks in rapid succession. I felt like a ninja, a starburst, a firework.

I put my hands up in a fighting stance. “Come on, let’s do some sparring.”

“Not today.”

“You always say that.”

He lowered the kick pad and started untying his handwraps, eyes down. I put my hands on my hips.

“Trey. We have talked about this.”

He shook his head, not looking at me. “Nonetheless.”

I exhaled in frustration. Three months previously, in the heat of a bitter argument, I’d grabbed his elbow. He’d popped my hand away in a Krav block, a move as precise and sudden as a lightning strike. It hadn’t hurt, but it had certainly shocked me. Trey too. He’d stared at his hands like they were alien things, then babbled an apology. And we hadn’t sparred since.

“You still spar with your other students. Why not with me?”

He didn’t deny the charge. His attention remained on the neat unwrapping of his hands.

I spread my arms. “Look at me. Shin pads, combat vest, gloves. I’ve even got the damn helmet on. You’re wearing a t-shirt and shorts, barefoot. I’m a virtual tank, and you’re one layer from naked.”

He folded his arms. I recognized the gesture—full defensive lockdown—which meant I wasn’t breaching his perimeter with a direct assault.

I took two steps closer, and he narrowed his eyes, wary. Up close, he smelled like sweat and bleached cotton. I imagined how he would taste, the salt sting of bare skin against