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The Senator's Daughter
By Christine Carroll
Medallion Press, Inc. Copyright © 2007 Christine Carroll
All right reserved.
Chapter One Sylvia Chatsworth was a bitch.
Unfortunately, it was one thing to suspect it about yourself and another to hear it proclaimed publicly. Trapped in a bathroom stall at the hot new San Francisco club, known paradoxically as Ice, humiliation made her chest ache.
"Didn't you hear?" hissed an eager female. Sylvia recognized the voice, the daughter of one of the honchos at First California Bank. "Rory Campbell never cared a whit about an alley cat like Sylvia; he was just using her while moving in on his future wife."
Sylvia's bronzed skin flushed; her scarlet nails sliced crescents in her palms. Rory had been married for ages, months anyway, but these cretins couldn't let it go.
It was all she could do not to rush out and start throwing punches and pulling hair like she was in fourth grade. Back then, she'd cooled her heels in detention for fistfighting when the boys said she had cooties ... another tidbit gleaned from gossip in the girls' room.
While the women outside the stall continued throwing verbal darts, Sylvia's vision of the elementary grades shifted to her preteen years when she had started what her Southern-bred mother called "maturing." Ahead of the game, with well-formed breasts overflowing training bras, and ample red lips that suggested she was breaking the no-lipstick rule when she swore up and down she wasn't ... all earned her the ostracism of less-endowed female classmates.
And late-night crying sessions she made sure no one suspected.
Looking down at her strappy sandals, a match to her vermilion leather sheath, Sylvia realized the gossip wasn't idle. One look under the stall at the distinctive footwear and her attacker had to know who was in here.
Corinne ... that was her name ... sounded like so many people whose attitude had changed when Sylvia's father ran for the United States Senate. During the campaign, the press started following everything she did the way they had the daughters of several U.S. presidents.
If only she were anywhere else ... a rustic Napa Valley inn, walking among the redwoods ... all she wanted was out of the limelight.
"We ran into Lyle Thomas at the bar." A different voice, not Walker's daughter.
"Do tell!" chimed in a third woman.
Corinne jumped back in. "I would never have believed it unless he'd told us himself. Lyle said he's meeting Sylvia for drinks and taking her to dinner. The poor SOB sounded happy about it."
"Lyle and Sylvia?" inquired the third party. "He's way too nice a guy for her."
"She's burned so many bridges," the banker's daughter chuckled, "it's a wonder she doesn't leave town."
* * *
Assistant District Attorney Lyle Thomas shot the cuffs of his Oxford shirt beneath his charcoal suit jacket and slid his elbow onto the bar top. The translucent glass with cerulean light beneath gave the effect of glacial ice.
He'd had a long day in court, putting away a slimeball who'd murdered his own wife and baby girl. Yet, he felt invigorated rather than weary. For a boy raised dirt-poor in the farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley, he'd come a long way. Through law school to helping crime victims and their families see justice done, as well as developing the financial means to frequent a place like Ice.
The club occupied the glass-walled rooftop of a building on the Embarcadero side of Telegraph Hill; with a three-sixty view ... Coit Tower, in the shape of a fire hose nozzle, crowning the hill; the pillars of downtown; and the Bay, bathed in ochre sunset. Inside, lots of dealing over the perfect martini; only later would the lights go down, the music come up, and cobalt lights illuminate the crowded dance floor.
People feeling good, like Lyle did.
Though getting a murderer a life sentence was an accomplishment, the main reason he felt at the top of his game was his date with Sylvia Chatsworth. She'd stood him up once back in June; now it was mid-September. Maybe she'd needed time; Lyle hoped she hadn't given too much of her heart to Rory Campbell before things went sour there.
Of course, some people thought Sylvia didn't have a heart. Take those gals he'd run into a while ago.
Shana Weston, an attractive attorney. He'd faced her once in court, representing the prosecution, she at the defendant's table. Lyle had always respected Shana, but this evening she'd been with sharp-nosed Corinne Walker, who bore an unfortunate resemblance to her big-eared banker father.
At any rate, when he'd come in, Shana and Corinne had greeted Lyle, all smiles. He was used to it, had been since puberty, when he'd grown into a blond giant with eyes the azure of a tropical sea.
Had it been Shana of the reddish curls, looking snappy in a short-skirted emerald suit, or Corinne, unfortunately shoehorned into a black-on-black ensemble that failed to hide her ample thighs? At any rate, one of them had pried his plans for the evening out of him.
Corinne had stared, disbelieving. "Sylvia Chatsworth? I heard she table danced topless in some Oakland club."
Someone had told Lyle about a feature by "On the Spot," the City's video equivalent of the tabloids. That made it hearsay, and he knew better than to either believe or disbelieve it of Sylvia. Supposedly, some bachelorette party where men danced a la Chippendales, while the daughter of a United States senator had grabbed one of the entertainers, doffed her blouse, and joined in.
Shana put a restraining hand on Corinne's arm, but the banker's daughter refused to be deterred. "Don't forget Sylvia's most recent distinction, when Rory Campbell left her cold after their engagement was announced."
"The whole thing was trumped up by Rory's and Sylvia's parents." Lyle wasn't sure if he was defending Sylvia or himself for going out with her. "I was at that house party in Pacific Grove, and I happen to know Rory hadn't been seeing Sylvia for ages before that weekend."
A shake of Corinne's head sent her ginger-colored hair swinging. "None of that means Sylvia didn't want to marry him."
Lyle gave her a stare; this close to the blue neon behind the bar her complexion looked sallow. "Ancient history," he declared with a certainty he didn't feel.
Now, alone and awaiting Sylvia, he shoved up his sleeve and consulted his Rolex Submariner. Though not born to wealth like folks he rubbed elbows with in the City, he was doing all right in the DA's office.
Okay, well enough to be mortgaged to the hilt. At thirty-two, he figured the next year or so would determine whether he stayed with the prosecutor's office or went into a potentially more lucrative private practice.
Sliding his water glass across the bar, he gave up waiting on his date. With a gesture to the barmaid and the menu card, he ordered a martini, then pointed to the vacant stool beside him and made it two. Sylvia should be along soon.
He watched the drinks made, clear high-proof vodka kissed with a hint of vermouth, tossed in a silver shaker with ice. Then a snap, snap of the wrist and the mix was strained into chilled glasses with lemon twists.
Lyle gave the peel another turn, sending up a fine mist of citrus oil. The sharp scent and the clean taste of the drink pleased him.
Though it had only been a few minutes, he checked the time again. He'd booked reservations at a trendy new seafood place near Fisherman's Wharf.
Hoping Sylvia didn't make a game of having men wait on her, he tapped his fingers on the bar. And began to have doubts about taking on the Senator's daughter, whose reputation preceded her into any room. Was he trying to break out of his clean-cut mold?
Or was it a sex thing?
The sight of Sylvia was enough to rev the engine of any red-blooded male. Word was, her North Beach town house was decked out with leather couches so soft a man could fall in and take all night getting out. And the table dancing story made him consider how well she filled out whatever top she was wearing, along with the trademark red lipstick that made a man aware, too aware, of what a bad girl's mouth could do.
* * *
The catty women finally left the powder room.
Sylvia waited awhile, their words ringing in her ears, "Alley cat ... leave town."
Tears blurred the crystals in the granite surrounding the stall. She wasn't that bad. It wasn't like she did drugs or dealt them; she knew plenty of adult children of well-placed parents who were hooked on coke or heroin ... their folks, too.
Nobody suggested they leave the City.
Sometimes she thought she should run, leave the bright lights and find a forest path, like when she was little and her mother had taken her to Muir Woods. Yet, even if she wanted to, it wouldn't be easy. Wherever she went, people would be sure to recognize her as that senator's flamboyant daughter, the one who was involved in ... fill in the escapade of the week or the hour, depending on how often she was featured by "On the Spot." Though she hated hearing Julio Castillo lead off with her name, she had her VCR programmed to record each evening at eleven, whether she was home or not. Then she watched each sordid little invention, uncertain whether she was proud or ashamed of celebrity.
It wasn't even her fame, but Lawrence Arthur Chatsworth III's.
Well, let them stare. Sylvia would walk out of here and meet Lyle, whom she had now kept waiting over half an hour.
Outside the stall, her first hurdle was facing the attendant. Did she imagine a look of curiosity and displeasure before the uniformed woman turned her attention to polishing gold-plated faucets set in turquoise tile?
A look at the mirrored wall told the tale. Sylvia had turned down multiple offers to model, but this evening her looks had gone to hell. Mascara smudged her prominent cheekbones, her eyes were bloodshot, and her lipstick had transferred from her mouth to her laser-white incisors.
She could save this.
Lyle awaited, and she really wanted to see approval in him. His reputation as a straight shooter, in both the DA's office and in romance about town, preceded him. He'd been at wealthy retired developer Wilson McMillan's house party when the fake engagement nightmare, cooked up by her parents and Rory Campbell's, had gone down. The one person there whom she thought had not laughed at her was Lyle Thomas.
Sylvia splashed cold water onto her puffy eyes and flushed cheeks and dried with an aqua silk hand towel embroidered with the name of the bar. Italian red leather purse open, powder compact in hand ... this wasn't going to be as easy as she'd hoped.
She should just leave, as those "ladies" had advised. Walk out without Lyle seeing her. It wasn't a Chatsworth's usual "in your face" response, but tonight she felt infinitely weary.
The wall clock said Lyle had waited over forty minutes. She imagined him shaking his head. Sylvia was unreliable, as big a flake as "On the Spot" made her out to be. He would motor on to the next nightspot, or, with his spotless reputation, go home to bed alone.
What a waste. No man who looked like a Norse god, big and blond, and so handsome that women were reputed to throw themselves at his feet, should have to sleep by himself. Just considering Lyle and bed in the same thought sent a shiver through her.
Early in the summer, when Rory had married his old flame, she'd been more than a bit bruised. So much so that when Lyle had called and asked her out, she'd first said yes, then changed her mind. Thank goodness, he'd asked again.
She brushed her black hair over her shoulders, renewed her signature scarlet lips, and headed out to face the lions.
* * *
"Sorry to be late." The voice came from behind Lyle, but he knew in a heartbeat to whom it belonged.
Hearing a note of coquetry, his irritation increased. "I don't think you're the least bit contrite; keeping me drumming my fingers on the bar for forty ..." he checked his Rolex, "seven minutes."
Though his irritation started to ease at seeing Sylvia up close, a schoolboy's wet dream in a low-cut leather sheath, he did shove her now-warm martini across the bar a little energetically.
And watched it slosh over the rim. "Our reservations for fresh seafood at the Pearl have gone away."
Sylvia's huge dark eyes swept down to focus on the mess and back up at him. With a little slam in his chest, he took in smears of mascara on her cheeks above a high flush. Though they were brightly rouged, her full lips looked like she'd been biting them. Funny though, how the under-an- arctic-sea lighting seemed to flatter her complexion when it was cruel to Corinne Walker.
Unsteady hands cupped, Sylvia picked up the glass and stopped before she got it to her mouth. "I really am sorry," she said in a normal no-nonsense tone. "When you told me about the Pearl's Puget Sound oysters, all fresh and briny, I was ready for them."
Lyle's heart rate edged up, for he had frankly proposed them for their highly touted aphrodisiac properties. He ought to suggest they have a drink here and go on to the Pearl, sit at the bar, and have some of the raw shellfish.
Sylvia's hands trembled while she put her drink down, spilling a bit more of it. "I shouldn't tell you, maybe it's as catty as what they were doing." She drew in a breath that sounded like a sob.
"What happened?" His fingers tightened on the stem of his glass.
"Some women were gossiping, making fun of me being spurned by Rory. I just ... couldn't come out of the stall until they left."
It was Lyle's turn to be sorry and to glance around for his prime suspect, Corinne Walker. She wasn't in sight.
"Look ..." But how could he tell Sylvia she brought notoriety on herself? Certainly, she knew and did outrageous things by design.
With a sigh, he shifted gears. "Do you still want oysters?"
He could have sworn she gave him a look of genuine hurt, but it flashed by and her chin lifted. "Would you rather cancel? Not be seen with me?"
"I didn't say that." Despite his resolve not to bring up her fame, he heard himself say, "Maybe I'm off base, but you don't seem the type to dance bare-breasted with a boy toy."
She matched his look with a sharp one. "Did you see the 'On the Spot' in question or just hear about it?"
"I just ..."
"Fell for hearsay, counselor? If you saw the show, you'd know there was footage of me and the girls laughing with the dancers, and the voice-over, 'A little later, the Senator's daughter got into the spirit of the club and did a dance herself.'" Sylvia slapped her palm on the bar top. "I was fully clothed."
She couldn't know how glad he was to hear it, but before he could reply, a commotion at the door accompanied a glare washing out the blue atmosphere.
Turning, Lyle saw the familiar figure of roving reporter Julio Castillo out doing nightly recon for "On the Spot." The athletic, dark-haired thirty-something sported a black suit and a lavender open-necked shirt.
"Bad news," Lyle told Sylvia. He'd been enjoying the scene, but now it was starting to look like he should have asked her on a drive to someplace remote and rustic.
With a look toward the camera crew, she favored Lyle with a view of her chiseled profile while her lips expelled a four-letter epithet. He slid what he hoped was a reassuring hand onto the smooth skin of her forearm. "Ignore them."
"Easy for you to say, Mr. DA." Beneath his fingers, he felt her tension.
Castillo, black eyes intent in a face made for being on TV, advanced on them.
"Tell them we have no comment," Lyle insisted. "It'll be all right."
Her laugh managed to be both mocking and warm. "You think that's all it takes? If you don't look at the mariachis they won't play at your table?"
Even as adrenaline started to pump, Lyle let his hand tighten on her. Sylvia's eyes slammed into his, and he had a sudden below-the-belt problem.
"They'll keep shooting," she purred, "until they have what they think are the goods. And they'll twist it into whatever they want."
"Come on," he argued. "How much trouble can we get into?"
Sylvia's answer was immediate. She kissed him.
* * *
They were filming, all right; she could see the red camera light from the corner of her eye.
Sylvia Chatsworth and Lyle Thomas, "Mr. Straight Arrow," caught together after she was publicly dumped. Why, from the clinch they were in, who would believe she cared about anything or anybody?
To make it good, she tilted her mouth beneath Lyle's and let her lips part. In an instant, the scene went from faking it to better than a reality show, from the passionless press of dry lips to a wet, scorching kiss sending thrills down all her nerves.
She didn't qualify for shrinking virgin, but the miniscule number of her lovers would have shocked her public. The reason was that she'd wanted to know, to trust a guy before she would shuck even the smallest item of clothing. How to explain, then, since she barely knew Lyle, he was blowing her circuits with a single kiss.
Excerpted from The Senator's Daughter by Christine Carroll Copyright © 2007 by Christine Carroll. Excerpted by permission.
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