SKIN IN THE GAME
TAI RANDOLPH, under-employed research librarian, is returning to her hometown of Atlanta with three objectives: get her father to the airport without strangling him, score a better job, and finally get a handle on her love life. A fender bender is not in those plans, especially when the driver-less car she rear-ends turns out to have a dead body in the trunk.
As the news of her part in the sensational murder reaches her father, he convinces her to go someplace more secure than his house -- say, the Ritz Carlton -- where she meets corporate security agent TREY SEAVER.
They talk, and she learns that he knew the dead girl, ELIZA COMPTON. Curious, she pumps him for information-- to no avail -- but after a few more drinks, she invites him to her room for a nightcap that becomes much more.
The next morning, Tai returns to her father's house where she surprises an unexpected visitor -- Trey. Before she can call 911, however, Trey's supervisor KENT LANDON arrives and informs her that he and Trey work with her father at Phoenix Security and have been hired to protect the house. Tai agrees to go with them to get the full story, but only when family friend DAN GARRITY of the Atlanta PD escorts her.
At Phoenix, Trey explains that the dead girl was an employee of important clients, and that he and Landon were hired to protect not only Tai's father's house, but Tai as well (which didn't stop Trey from sleeping with her, a fact that confuses and angers her). Garrity has an unexpected explanation for Trey's unscrupulous behavior -- he sustained head trauma in a car accident over two years ago, and although he's considered recovered, the cognitive -- and emotional -- changes have been acute.
oh please, when did a man need a justification, let alone a diagnosis of brain damage, to explain why he wants sex? He’s a man! Of course he wants to sleep with her.
Despite being both intrigued and moved by his story, Tai has little time to ponder Trey's psychological eccentricities. She discovers that Eliza had approached her father the day before she died, hinting that she had a terrible secret. She meets MARK BEAUMONT and his wife CHARLEY, the wealthy Phoenix clients who were Eliza’s employers, and who are offering a reward for information about the murder.
Tai immediately starts looking for answers, convincing Trey to let her investigate with him, even though he explains that he's not investigating anything. His job is simple: do whatever the Beaumonts want. And it seems they want lots of photo ops, all garnished with the cachet of a high-class bodyguard (specifically, Trey). Tai suspects that their do-gooder public image is a fraud.
She meets Eliza’s stepsister JANIE, who reveals mysterious details of Eliza’s past, like the fact that Eliza was abandoned with Janie's family when she was just an infant. Janie also mentions that Eliza had come to Atlanta to escape BULLDOG, her violent, meth-dealing ex-boyfriend.
When Tai interviews JAKE WHITAKER, the manager of the Beaumont's newest apartment complex where Eliza lived, she decides that no matter how guilty her father looks, the other players in the drama have more to hide, and she is determined to uncover their secrets.
She soon discovers Eliza’s connection with GUY ZARELLO, a shady paparazzi, and finds evidence that Eliza was obsessed with the Beaumonts. Tai also learns that Bulldog was following Eliza the night before she was killed. Even Janie comes under suspicion when her barely concealed hostility for her dead sister surfaces.
what the hell is a paparazzi doing in Atlanta?
But nothing prepares Tai for the fallout her inquisitiveness provokes, especially when Bulldog -- the top suspect in Eliza’s murder -- is killed. Or when Zarello is discovered shot to death in a parking garage. And if multiple new corpses aren't enough, Tai also has to deal with a growing attachment to Trey.
I guess she’s forgiven him that brain damaged lust now?
Her research provides further tantalizing clues, like the fact that Eliza was hiding a secret girlfriend. Even more surprising is an appearance by the supposedly-deceased Bulldog, who tries to evade Trey and Tai in a nerve-wracking car chase, eventually ending up in police custody. Tai isn't convinced of his guilt, however, and surprisingly, it's Whitaker
that breaks the case for her.
At the Beaumont's fundraiser reception, police arrive with a warrant for Whitaker, accusing him of computer theft. (theft of what? computers?) Whitaker flees, but not before attacking Charley, an act which wounds him and puzzles Tai. Later, when Whitaker is captured and Charley also tries to flee, Tai realizes her instincts are correct -- there's more to this story than meets the eye. Before she can get any answers out of Charley, however, Tai is forced to kill her in self-defense.
Tai and Trey meet at the hospital, where Whitaker has been taken to the ER. Landon arrives minutes later, but when Tai realizes that he's there to kill Whitaker before he can talk, Landon takes her hostage. She escapes, and he is arrested.
Later, Garrity fills her in on Whitaker's story. Eliza was actually Charley's illegitimate daughter, and a blackmailer. Fed up with Eliza’s demands, Charley convinced Landon, her collaborator, to take care of the problem, which he accomplished by killing Eliza. He was transporting her body for dumping when an overheated engine forced him to abandon the vehicle. He then killed Zarello (who also knew Eliza's secret) and tried to kill Bulldog. Whitaker stumbled onto this information during his computer theft, and at the reception, threatened Charley withr evelation if she refused to help him escape.
An information dump at the end to explain the plot is weak ass writing. If Tai doesn’t solve the crime, it’s emotionally unsatisfying to have someone just explain it to her (and us).
In the end, Tai's father, finally cleared of suspicion, returns to Atlanta, and the owner of Phoenix, impressed with Tai's performance, offers her a job. She decides to take it, especially since she'll be working closely with Trey.
Three objectives, three successes. All in all, she thinks, not a bad start.
You say that Tai is a research librarian, but you never show her using those skills in this synopsis. You only mention her doing “research” once.
I like the idea of a librarian heroine, and this could work better in the book than this synopsis reflects.