Christine Carroll -

Excerpt from The Senator's Daughter

Excerpt 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.

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Christine Carroll -