Christine Carroll -

Excerpt from Children of Dynasty

Chapter One

Mariah Grant hugged her slender body against the deepening chill of the San Francisco twilight. Behind her, music and party chatter drifted out through the French doors of Davis Campbell’s Seacliff mansion. Perched on the brink of a precipice, the stucco-walled edifice boasted three wings, handmade clay roof tiles and a two-story wall of glass overlooking the Pacific. Mariah’s view from the terrace swept from the Golden Gate Bridge south to the trackless sea, while a line of ships headed for the expanse of open ocean. Their purpose and motion made her wish she were bound for some exotic port, to be anywhere but in the home of her father’s most bitter rival.

Only a month had passed since she joined the family company and, due to her dad being under the weather tonight, she represented Grant Development alone for the first time. Her hope this evening was to meet Senator Lawrence Chatsworth, former head of the Bay Area Regional Planning Commission, a man whose influence had opened doors for many.

Though she might feel confident invading the Campbell domain for business reasons, she had trouble setting aside her personal feelings. She expected Davis Campbell’s son Rory to be here, she counted on it, but the prospect of seeing the man she’d once loved made her chest feel hollow.

As the sun sank into the molten ocean, a salt breeze stirred her hair. She knew she should go back inside and look for the Senator, but instead stood compelled by the rugged San Francisco terrain, achingly familiar, yet now more precious for having spent her college years at UCLA, and four more working in Southern California. Virtual exile from her father, but it had been necessary both to pay her business dues and heal the wound inflicted by Rory Campbell.

Fixing her eyes on a deepening ochre sky, she steeled herself to rejoin the party. All the key players in the Bay Area developers’ community were here. Hundreds of guests crowded the elegant high-ceilinged rooms, drinking premium liquor and vying for information to help their interests or hinder others.

Before she could turn back toward the house, a hand brushed her forearm. "Mariah."

Startled, she turned and looked up into warm brown eyes. Six-foot-two inches of well-built man in a tailored tuxedo, Rory Campbell brought back all the memories she’d tried to forget.

"It’s been too long." His voice sounded familiar, deep, and even though she could no longer replay that seductive tone in her mind, her heart remembered. Treacherous images swirled of being in his arms when she was eighteen and innocent.

Rory’s gaze traveled from the straps of her gold sheath down to the curve of her waist. In the San Francisco boutique, the dress had seemed the perfect revenge, but now she wondered if it revealed too much. With a coolness she didn’t feel, she looked up at wavy, black hair above dark angled brows, high cheekbones, and a square jaw softened by a sensuous mouth. The scent of his aftershave wafted to her, bringing back a bygone summer when she’d sprinkled the fragrance on her pillow so she could dream of him. He’d been a slim blade of youth then, with a gaunt face composed of angular planes. Tonight, he wore an aura of self-confidence that declared the heir to Davis Campbell Interests had come into his own.

"How did eight years get away?" he asked.

"You were married for seven of them." She failed to state that his rush to the altar indicated how little she had meant to him.

He looked pained. "You know Elizabeth and I . . . that I’m single?"

She studied the sea cliffs. "Your divorce made the news."

Last fall when she was visiting her dad for Thanksgiving, the lead story in "On the Spot," the city’s video equivalent of the tabloids: "City’s most eligible bachelor once more at large."

"The paparazzi are relentless." Rory looked annoyed. "Ten minutes after you joined your father’s company, the word was out."

Through the French doors, Mariah spied Davis Campbell’s tall frame cutting a swath through the party crowd. "And for the past few months you, too, have been with your father." Her tone hardened. "You swore you’d never work for him."

Rory’s mouth twisted. "I remember saying I wanted to run white water raft trips."

They’d played that kind of "what if," sailing on the Bay where sunlight sprinkled diamonds over the water.

"We thought we’d do whatever we wanted when we grew up." Though Mariah knew he’d recently turned twenty-eight, Rory spoke with the sadness of a much older man.

To remind herself, and him, how he’d once caved in to his father, she looked a challenge at him. "What happened to your dream of being your own man?"

"The same thing that happens to so many with a legacy." Though his words rang with finality, his dark expression conveyed something like regret. "At least you’re where you’ve always wanted to be, training to run Grant Development. You said that was your dream, and here you are."

When she was a little girl, her father had taken her to construction sites. While he took notes on his aluminum, weatherproof clipboard and talked with employees, she watched with a child’s single-minded fascination. Dreams of a future where she saw her creations take shape had consumed most of her life.

Rory glanced over his shoulder at the crush inside. "I’m surprised you came tonight."

"Dad was a bit taken aback when we both got an unprecedented invitation from Davis Campbell. Then he decided it must have been a business courtesy." Reluctant to mention her father’s health lest it get back to his rival, she finished, "I came alone."

Speaking of her father, she realized that the wall of glass on the rear of the house exposed her standing with Rory. If the ever-active grapevine paired them, Dad would be sure to hear and be hurt by his daughter’s indiscretion.

"Would you be here if you’d known the invitation was from me?" Rory spoke with a trace of what could not be hesitation, not in the "the city’s most eligible bachelor."

Mariah went still inside, afraid of trusting too much in his statement. She had trusted him once before, and look where that had gotten her.

"Why would you invite me?" She tried to sound casual.

He smiled for the first time. It softened his features, making him more like the youth she’d known. "Maybe when I heard you’d come back to town I got curious."

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Christine Carroll -