Authors: Sophia Sasson
He can play the game, but she'll make the rules
Political science professor Kat Driscoll will not be “handled” by anyone. Certainly not by Alex Santiago, the suave, savvy and handsome campaign manager for Senator Roberts, the man recently revealed to be her father. Alex clearly sees the sudden revelation of his candidate's long-lost daughter as an unfortunate glitch in their race for reelection. One that needs to be carefully spun and managed. But Kat isn't about to play along, or comply with Alex's ridiculous attempts to make her more media friendly. He'll have to deal with the real Kat. And maybe, in the process, she can discover the real Alex...
Alex stopped mere inches from her, and she resisted the urge to back away.
She met his gaze evenly, waiting for him to reveal whatever it was that had him grinding his teeth.
“Did you talk to anyone on the way here this morning?” he thundered.
Kat straightened. “You know very well I wouldn't. What's this about?”
“The story about you writing a book on your father got leaked.”
Kat's stomach bottomed out. He loomed over her and she sucked in a breath, immediately regretting it. His scent assaulted her senses, a spicy deodorant and the clean smell of soap. For some unfathomable reason, her body seemed to welcome his closeness. After Colin, she wanted nothing more than to lash out at every man who got within touching distance.
So why wasn't she pushing Alex away?
As a resident of the Washington, DC, area, I am constantly
fascinated by the family lives of elected officials and those around them. I see
Capitol Hill staffers work themselves to the bone, sacrificing friendships and
love because they believe in their leader. While TV shows sensationalize
political deal-making, the staffers who advise our elected officials are no
different from you and me. They make tough calls, and sometimes they make
mistakes. For the most part, they're trying to do the right thing.
The Senator's Daughter
story of Katerina Driscoll, who has lived her life in the shadow of her
obligations until her father's identity brings her into the political limelight.
It's also the story of Alex Santiago, a first-generation American for whom
politics is about power; the power to change lives and to change how the world
sees people like him and his mother. The book is about confronting the inner
demons that keep us from being happy, set in the midst of Washington, DC,
I am tickled to share my hometown with you. To get free book
extras, including some Washington, DC, insider information, visit my website at
sophiasasson.com. I love hearing from readers, so please find me on Twitter (
) or Facebook (
or email me at
The Senator's Daughter
puts her childhood habit of daydreaming to good use by writing stories she hopes will give you hope and make you laugh, cry and possibly snort tea from your nose. She was born in Bombay, India, and has lived in the Canary Islands, Spain and Toronto, Canada. Currently she calls the madness of Washington, DC, home. She's the author of the Welcome to Bellhaven and the State of the Union series. She loves to read, travel to exotic locations in the name of research, bake, explore water sports and watch foreign movies. Hearing from readers makes her day. Contact her through
Books by Sophia Sasson
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To all the men and women out there who are not afraid to pursue their goals; and to my friends and family who support my crazy dreams.
This book, and the entire State of the Union series, would not happen without my awesome editor Claire Caldwell, who really makes my manuscripts shine.
My talented critique partner, author Jayne Evans, is not afraid to tell me to hit the delete button and start all over. I love her for it.
Also, thanks to the wonderful Heartwarming authors who support each other and have created this wonderful community of sweet romance readers and authors.
some tough questions ahead.”
The TV announcer's dramatic voice echoed as Kat opened the doors leading to the stairwell. She took the steps two at a time and burst into the hallway.
Kat turned to see her teaching assistant chasing after her. “Not now, Amanda. I'm late.” Kat hurried down the hallway.
She was due to administer a final exam to juniors at Hillsdale College and didn't want to come up with an excuse for being late because of her mother. Again. She especially didn't want to look bad in front of the dean.
Almost running through the door of the classroom, Kat stepped onto the stage and set her papers on the professor's table. She opened her mouth to silence the room. Her voice stuck. Fifty students stared at her like she'd grown two heads.
“You guys are eager to start the exam,” she said nervously. Something was wrong. She glanced at the clock on the back wall. Only a minute late. Was she wearing her shirt backward? She looked down at her clothes, and then chaos broke loose.
“Is it true?”
“Why didn't you tell us?”
“What does this mean for you?”
“Are we still taking the exam today?”
Kat blinked as the questions flew at her.
What's going on here?
“Professor Driscoll!” Her out-of-breath teaching assistant huffed up to the stage.
“The dean asked me to administer the exam so you can deal with the situation.”
Amanda stared at her, openmouthed. “You haven't seen the news?”
A pit formed deep in Kat's stomach. She shook her head. “What's going on?”
The cacophony of questions from the students intensified. Several were on their feet, holding out cell phones. Kat turned to see telltale flashes.
“Go to your office, don't talk to anyone and turn on the news. Go!” Amanda said.
Kat pointed the TA to the sheaf of exam papers, then turned and fled. Two more faculty members tried to stop her, but she blew past them.
It can't be Mom.
She'd just come from making sure her mother was medicated and tucked away in bed. Had she done something in the fifteen minutes it had taken Kat to make it to campus? She vividly remembered being pulled out of class and into the principal's office in high school. The principal had the TV turned to the local news and asked Kat if the woman walking around in a bathrobe on Main Street was her mother. Indeed it was, and the media had filmed Emilia Driscoll in all her half-naked glory. Not one of the reporters had thought to call for help.
How had her mother pulled off a CNN-worthy stunt in the last few minutes?
Kat ran to her closet-sized office and shut the door. As an assistant professor, not tenure trackânot yet, anywayâshe got an office with barely enough room for a desk and two guest chairs. There was a TV, a necessity for any political-science professor, along with the musty smell of an office without a window.
Pressing the power button on the TV, she waited for CNN to come up. It was the default channel during election season. The image filled the screen. She dropped the remote.
Her own face stared back at her. It was her faculty picture. The unflattering one where her blond hair looked lifeless, her blue eyes tired and her cheeks paler than the white background. It was her post-breakup face, the face of a woman who'd been lied to by someone she loved, cheated out of her much-deserved faculty position and forced to start over at a new college. One bad media story had done that to her. Three years had passed, and Kat was not that woman anymore.
The volume was too low, so she searched the floor with trembling hands for the remote and turned it up, stabbing at the buttons until she could hear the announcer.
“...and we'll come back to this developing story.” Her picture disappeared and they went to commercial.
She let out a scream of frustration.
“Are you okay?” the professor next door called through the thin walls. She forced a breath into her lungs.
“Yes, sorry,” she mustered. While her colleagues seemed nice enough, she wasn't close with any of them. That was a mistake she wasn't going to make again.
Kat went behind her desk and turned on the ancient computer. The boot-up screen was maddeningly slow. She didn't have a smartphoneâan expense forgone because of the cost of the data plan on top of the pricey device. Once she got a promotion, she would treat herself to a tablet computer.
She punched in her log-in and password, keeping an eye on CNN. They were still on a commercial break. As soon as she was logged in, she opened the internet browser, which went straight to CNN's politics page. A yelp escaped her lips as she saw her picture, that same ugly faculty photo, load on the page.
Katerina DriscollâSenator Roberts's Secret Daughter the headline screamed. Her eyes widened. She read through the article as quickly as she could, needing to blink several times when the words blurred before her. She flipped open her dated phone and called home. It rang and rang, and she swore under her breath. The mood stabilizer she gave her mother sometimes knocked her out.
This can't be true.
Or could it? Her mother had mentioned that her father was a politician. Her mouth soured as she read the article. She knew Senator Roberts. Correctionâshe knew him the way a professor knows a subject, having lectured on the three-term US Congress senator from Virginia five times in the past month alone. He was in a tough reelection battle because he was proposing a bill to spend billions of dollars on Improvised Explosive Device, or IED, identification technology for overseas troops. The normally boring congressional election had taken the national stage since its outcome would determine the majority party in the closely held Senate. It had been an exciting few weeks for the tiny political-science department at her small-town Virginia college.
CNN came back and repeated the headline she'd just read online. It seemed the first story had appeared a little over an hour ago. Her heart pounded in her ears, muffling the words of the TV announcer. She fingered the pendant on her necklace and took short breaths to calm the sharp pain in her chest. This couldn't be happening. Not on this day.
Why do they think I'm his daughter?
She flipped open her phone and called the house again. Maybe the ringing would wake her mother.
None of the articles mentioned her mother's name; all that came up was an obscure reference to a “short-lived previous marriage.”
This had to be some horrible case of mistaken identity. She picked up her purse and checked her watch. Two hours until the committee would meet about her promotion. The only way to set this straight was to go home and rouse her mother.
The TV screen caught her eye and she gasped. A new picture appeared, one from just moments ago in the lecture hall. A scrolling Twitter feed showed next to it.
VA professor said daddy isn't the smartest. #SecretDaughter
Prof Driscoll thinks @SenatorRoberts blew it. #SecretDaughter
The scrolling text was too fast to read. She went back to the computer and brought up her Twitter account. The hashtag was new, obviously being used in all the Tweets related to the story. When she typed
into the search box, it brought up over a thousand Tweets, including a bunch from her students who were supposed to be writing an exam. There were at least ten photos of her standing in front of the class looking like a deer caught in the headlights. If possible, those images were even uglier than the faculty photo. Every crease on her tailored shirt showed, and her pencil skirt appeared to be a size too small against her newly gained five pounds. Her sensible flat shoes, good for traversing the campus, made her look short.
She struggled to take a breath but all the oxygen in the room had been sucked out. This wasn't just some small media story. It was big-time news, and she was right in the middle of it. She stood on shaky legs. The only way to put a stop to all this was to talk to her mother. She couldn't even call the CNN desk and yell at them for spreading lies. Her birth certificate, and every form she'd ever completed, had a blank next to her father's name. He was a figment of Kat's imagination, a man she'd created to fill her mother's silence.
Could the news story be true?
She shook her head. Senator Roberts was a public figure, and if he was her real father, someone would have mentioned it. The only person who could refute this nightmare was her bipolar mother, who was sleeping off a manic episode. She closed her eyes, took a fortifying breath and stepped out of her office. And ran right into a solid mass. She stepped back.
“Dean... Gl-Gladstone,” she stammered. The dean was an imposing man in his sixties with gray hair and a broad chest. He was well over six feet and used every inch of his height to rule the faculty. She had interacted with him only in group settings, preferring to deal with the dean through the department chief, who didn't have a notorious temper and didn't fire staff for sneezing the wrong way.
Dean Gladstone took up nearly all the space in the tiny foyer-slash-anteroom-slash-coffee-station. They didn't have a receptionist; they barely had working phones.
“Professor Driscoll, I need a word with you.”
“Of...of course.” She waved him into her tiny office, wishing she had tidied up. Stacks of papers littered her desk. He strode in and took a seat. His huge frame looked comical in the tiny, threadbare visitor's chair. Kat put down her purse and sat, keeping her back as straight as she could.
“There are reporters and news vans outside this building, harassing students, asking if they know you,” he said without preamble.
“What?” No one had been there when she'd walked in just twenty minutes ago.
“I have guards escorting them to the campus gates, where our jurisdiction ends. I've had to request more security.”
Kat swallowed. How was she going to get out of here?
The dean continued in a dramatic, gravelly voice. “Now, I've come to tell you that this school does not welcome such publicity shenanigans. You should have disclosed you were the senator's daughter when you applied for your position here.”
She put her hands on her lap so he wouldn't see them tremble. “Dean, I have no idea why they published that story. I don't know my fatherâhe left before I was born.” Her voice was tinnier than she wanted, but at least she'd managed to keep it steady.
“Surely your mother must have said something about him.”
You'd think so, wouldn't you?
She shook her head. “My mother was quite traumatized by my father's desertion. It made her so sad to talk about it that I stopped asking. I really have no idea where this story came from. Believe me, I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize this college.”
“Regardless, until it dies down, for the safety of the students, you need to go home and stay there.”
Kat's heart sank to her toes. She couldn't keep the tremble out of her voice as she asked, “Are you suspending me?”
“Not yet. But I'm not allowing you on campus. I'll have your colleagues cover your exams and deliver them to your house for grading.”
Kat swallowed, trying to dislodge the big lump in her throat that threatened to choke her. It sounded like a reasonable course of action; they were a small school, and security consisted of old-man Pete and his sidekick. They couldn't deal with the likes of CNN. But she knew this was the step before suspension. They'd let her grade the last papers and then fire her. If a big university took issue with a page-three newspaper article, a small-town college wouldn't put up with national headline news.
And today of all days.
“Dean, I hope this won't affect the APT Committee's discussion.” The Appointments, Promotions and Tenure Committee was scheduled to meet today to go over Kat's record and determine whether she qualified to become a tenure-track professor.
“That remains to be seen.”
He stood, and Kat followed suit. “I recommend you not talk to the media unless you can conclusively refute what they're saying and take the attention off yourself...and this school.”
She nodded dumbly. He left, and she collapsed in her chair. For two years, she'd been working toward the promotion by taking on classes that no other faculty member wanted, mentoring extra students on their dissertations and writing as many papers as she could. She had even learned how to blog, working herself to the bone to make tenure. Now this! Her luck couldn't be this bad, could it? What if the story was true? Emilia had been moodier than usual for the past several months. Kat had chalked it up to a medication adjustment, but what if...
She stood and made her way to the back entrance of the building, the one the students used to cut through the large quad area between classes. Opening the door just a crack, she peeked out. There was a man in a business suit with his back turned to her and a phone pressed to his ear. He wasn't dressed for a college campus, but he didn't have a microphone or camera, so she stepped out and walked over the grass to the faculty parking lot.
As she hurried past, she sensed him move. “Miss Driscoll?”
Ignoring him, she kept walking as fast as her legs would go. His footsteps fell heavily on the concrete path behind her, so she broke into a flat-out run. The parking lot wasn't that far; she could make it. Keys were clipped to the side of her purse, and there was a can of Mace attached to them.
Always keep keys and pepper spray within easy reach.
Her fingers closed on the metal and she automatically unlocked her car, comforted by the beep. Her pulse raced, and her finger was on the alarm button. Thankfully there was no one next to the car.
So close, only a few more steps.
The car was within touching distance when she felt someone grip her elbow. She froze for a millisecond, but then her self-defense training kicked in. She screamed and whirled, instinctively pushing out with her hand.
Go for the nose, eyes or throat.