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Table of Contents
About The Book
For fans of Lisa Scottoline and Law and Order: SVU, former federal sex-crimes prosecutor Allison Leotta’s novel explores the intersection of sex and power as Anna Curtis investigates the murder of one of DC’s highest-paid escorts.
When a beautiful young woman plummets to her death from the balcony of the US Capitol, Assistant US Attorney Anna Curtis is summoned to the scene. The victim is one of the city’s highest-paid escorts. And the balcony belongs to Washington’s sole representative to Congress, the most powerful figure in city politics.
For Anna, the high-profile case is an opportunity. But as the political stakes rise, she realizes that a single mistake could end her career. At the same time, her budding romance with the chief homicide prosecutor is at a crossroads. Determined to gain respect in the office, Anna wants to keep their relationship a secret. But the mounting pressure and media attention that come with this case will inevitably expose their relationship—if it doesn’t destroy it first. And the further Anna’s investigation takes her, the larger the target on her own back.
From the secret social clubs where Washington’s most powerful men escape from public view to the asphalt “track” where the city’s most vulnerable women work the streets, Discretion is a gripping exploration of sex, power, and the secrets we all keep.
Even now, Caroline got nervous before every big job—and this was bigger than most. She knew how to smile past smirking hotel concierges and apartment-building doormen who deliberately looked the other way. The key was looking confident. But committing a crime in the U.S. Capitol was a different experience altogether.
She tried to radiate authority as she strode up the marble steps to the Capitol’s Senate carriage entrance. It helped that she was dolled up like a successful K Street lobbyist: ivory St. John suit, Manolo heels, hair painstakingly highlighted just the right shade of blond. Two men coming out of the portico murmured hello to her, and she smiled as if she greeted congressional staffers all the time. One staffer turned to watch her pass. His glance was appreciative but not shocked; she was young and beautiful, but she looked like she belonged in this world of high-octane political deal-making. Good.
She stepped out of the muggy August twilight and into the air-conditioned cool of the security vestibule. To calm herself, she concentrated on the feeling of lace garters skimming her thighs. This was one of the riskiest moments, so she arranged her face into its brightest smile.
“Hello.” She greeted the two Capitol Police officers with cool professionalism. “I have an appointment with Congressman Lionel.”
Her heart beat like hummingbird wings as she handed her ID to the officer sitting behind the counter. The guard just smiled as he cross-checked the ID against a paper on his clipboard. He scribbled something down and handed back her ID, along with a rectangular sticker that said VISITOR in red. “Just stick that on your suit, ma’am. Your escort will be right down.”
Caroline pressed the sticker onto her jacket as the second guard sent her Fendi bag through the X-ray machine. When she was on the other side of the metal detector, she took her purse off the belt—and exhaled.
She stood in the quiet entranceway, sensing the officers checking out her legs. The hallway was 1800s chic: mosaic floor, arched ceiling, black iron candelabras casting a golden glow on flesh-colored walls. She’d heard that the Capitol was one of the most haunted buildings in D.C., and she imagined the ghost of John Quincy Adams swirling through the corridor. Was it always so empty? This was a private back entrance reserved for congressmen, staffers, and VIP visitors who’d been pre-cleared. And it was almost eight P.M. on a Sunday. Most employees were home. Still, she wished it were busier.
A gangly young man rounded the corner. He wore an ill-fitting suit and sneakers, along with a smudge of tinted Clearasil on his temple. An intern. “Ms. McBride?”
“Yes.” Inwardly, she cringed at the sound of her real name, but she was an expert at keeping a serene face no matter what was in her head. Besides, the kid was harmless, in the way that only a young man wearing his first suit can be. His sleeves were too short, exposing two inches of pale, freckled wrists. He reminded Caroline of her little brother, whom she adored.
“I’m Chester! Congressman Lionel’s intern! I can take you up to his office!”
“Thank you.” She walked with him down the corridor.
“So what are you here to see the Congressman about?”
“Constituent services.” She smoothly changed tacks. “What do you do for the Congressman?”
Men—whatever their age—were always happy to talk about themselves. The intern enthusiastically described the process for answering congressional correspondence. “We can send sixty different form letters, depending on what a constituent asked about!”
He stopped for a breath as they entered the most beautiful corridor Caroline had ever seen. The hallway itself was a work of art.
“These are the Brumidi Corridors,” Chester said in an excited stage whisper. “Originally painted in the eighteen hundreds. Most tourists don’t get to see them.”
Every inch of wall and arched ceiling was covered in elaborate paintings of American history. Chester pointed to the figures of men sculpted into the railings of a bronze staircase. “The Founding Fathers.” He waved at a lunette painting above a wooden door. “The Goddess of War.” Despite herself, Caroline was impressed.
The clack of her heels echoed off the walls as they walked into a circular chamber, as large and ornate as a cathedral. She remembered coming here ten years ago, on a seventh-grade field trip. This was the Rotunda, the ceremonial heart of the Capitol. She recognized some of the iconic canvases: the Declaration of Independence, the Landing of Columbus. The domed ceiling, 180 feet above, was covered with The Apotheosis of Washington, a fresco painting of the first President depicted as a god among angels.
“Wow,” she whispered.
For the first time that night, Caroline had a real sense of the history of the place. It wasn’t some TV backdrop. So much had happened in this building, so many famous people had made world-changing decisions here. Who was she to be prancing through? She was a fraud.
Then she noticed the paintings of revolutionary America. Among hundreds of soldiers, explorers, and men in white wigs . . . she saw only four women. Of those, two were naked and on their knees.
She felt better. Some things never changed. She wasn’t a fraud—she was a constant.
Chester led her past a sign that said NO VISITORS BEYOND THIS POINT. They went up a series of curved staircases and down some empty white corridors, then stopped in front of an unlabeled door tucked around a corner.
“Here’s the Congressman’s hideaway!”
She had no idea what a hideaway was.
“His personal office,” the intern whispered. “A little oasis. Where he can get away from the hustle-bustle.”
There didn’t seem to be much hustle-bustle at this hour, but Caroline understood the precaution. Her prior appointments, at the Congressman’s regular office in the less glamorous Rayburn Office Building, had caused difficulties. She was glad for the privacy this place afforded.
Chester pushed the door open and gestured for Caroline to go in. He himself stood outside, as if fearful of crossing the threshold. The door clicked shut behind her.
The hideaway was quiet and unoccupied. It looked more like a sitting room in a nice hotel than an office. The walls were deep maroon; the floors were covered in Oriental rugs; a leather couch faced a white marble fireplace. Pictures of the Congressman in action crowded every horizontal surface. An antique desk in the corner seemed less a place to work than a space for displaying more photos.
A door at the back was open to a wide marble balcony overlooking the National Mall. Caroline’s breath caught. The Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial were framed against a fiery sunset. It was a stunning view, better than a postcard.
A man stood on the balcony, his elbows resting on the railing, his back to her. The sunset threw his figure into dark silhouette.
She smoothed her skirt and ran a manicured hand through her hair. This was the part she liked best. She was good at it—great, to be honest. She had a talent for it like nothing else she’d ever tried. It gave her incredible satisfaction.
She smiled and walked out to meet him.
A woman’s scream pierced the stillness of the Capitol grounds.
Officer Jeff Cook was on patrol on the Capitol steps. He’d been a Capitol Police officer for twelve years, but he’d never heard a scream like that around here. He put a hand on his holster and turned toward the sound. His eyes flicked over the scenery until they identified the source of the scream. There—up the hill—the third-floor balcony of the Capitol’s south wing. A man and woman locked in a jerky dance. Cook couldn’t make out the people, but he knew the geography: That was Congressman Lionel’s hideaway.
The couple lurched left, then right. The woman shrieked again.
Then the man shoved her over the edge.
The woman seemed to fall in slow motion, emitting an operatic wail the whole way down. Arms flailed in graceful circles, legs kicked in lazy swings, as she dropped past marble flourishes and arched doorways.
A thud. And silence.
She’d landed on the marble terrace in front of the Capitol. Elegant for walking on, it was a disastrous place to fall. What would that slab of rock do to flesh and bones traveling at the speed of gravity?
Cook squinted back up at the balcony. The man was still up there; he peered over the balcony, then turned and disappeared inside.
Cook ran up the Capitol steps.
Reading Group Guide
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A beautiful young woman falls to her death from the U.S. Capitol office of Congressman Emmett Lionel, a political powerhouse. Prosecutor Anna Curtis quickly learns that the woman is one of D.C.’s most desired—and high-priced—escorts. The revelation starts Anna down a shadowy road through the capital’s underworld, where sex and power intertwine. The timing couldn’t be worse for Lionel, tangled in an increasingly brutal primary fight. To the public, Lionel professes his innocence and vows to seek justice, but to the investigators, he obstructs every move.
Complicating matters is Anna’s secret romance with chief homicide prosecutor Jack Bailey, who leads the investigation.
The case leads Anna to Discretion, an escort service “for the man who can afford anything but publicity.” The agency is ruthlessly determined to protect its clients, and the clients have so much to lose—and so much power to wield—that Anna’s job and life are soon in grave danger.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Do you think it is ethical for Anna and Jack to work on the same the case while in a romantic relationship? What are the pros and cons of their working together?
2. Did you have any previous knowledge of the Jefferson case? Do you think police should be allowed to search the offices of politicians being investigated for corruption?
3. Do you think Anna and Jack are a good match? How do they complement each other? What struggles do you see ahead for them?
4. How would you define “prostitute”? How about “escort”?
5. Do you know what “the girlfriend experience” provided by high-end escorts is? What do you think is the appeal of this for participants on both sides of the transaction? Do you think a woman who provides this is a prostitute, even though she does not solicit on the street?
6. What was your reaction to learning that Caroline and Nicole were students at Georgetown, a prestigious and academically rigorous university? Did this change your perceptions about who might be a sex worker and what would motivate someone to become one? Besides money, why do you think both girls decided to work at Discretion?
7. What was your opinion on prostitution before reading the book? Did the story change your mind?
8. Was it fair for Dylan Youngblood to use the case against Lionel for political gain? Do you think politicians’ personal lives should become issues in their campaigns?
9. How would you characterize Lionel’s behavior during the investigation? Do you think some of Lionel’s concerns were valid? For example, consider his fight to keep investigators from searching his office or his opposition to an acquaintance of his political rival working the investigation.
10. Did learning about Nicole’s childhood change your opinion of her? How do you think her past affected her choices? Besides her drug problem, does she exhibit any other signs of addiction?
11. Discuss actual cases that are similar to those in Discretion. Consider the scandals surrounding Governor Eliot Spitzer, New York’s “Millionaire Madam,” and the “D.C. Madam.”
12. The intersection of sex and politics is a recurring theme in modern entertainment—and real life. Why are these two so often intertwined? Why do you think we find this fascinating?
A Conversation with Allison Leotta
Was Discretion inspired by your work or by any specific cases?
For twelve years, I prosecuted sex crimes, domestic violence, and other crimes in Washington, D.C. I saw the cases the press would glamorize—high-end escort services like that of the D.C. Madam and New York’s Millionaire Madam. But I also saw that both high-priced call girls and low-rent streetwalkers were among the most vulnerable of women to being raped, assaulted, and murdered. I wanted to understand the lives of these madams and their employees: why so many college girls choose such a high-risk route, the secret lives they have to juggle, the dangers they face every time they meet a client.
The case of the D.C. Madam particularly interested me. She operated a high-end escort service that catered to politicians, diplomats, and wealthy businessmen. My office prosecuted and convicted her, but before she was sentenced, she committed suicide. There were plenty of people—wealthy, powerful men—with an incentive to shut her up. My sensible prosecutor side dismissed the speculation, but the crime novelist in me wondered if someone might have killed her and how it might have been done.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I drew on my experiences prosecuting sex workers within the criminal justice system—and talking to former sex workers who now serve as victims’ advocates, helping others leave the business. I also spoke with law enforcement officials and social workers to understand different angles of the sex trade. I was gratified by the candor with which people talked to me about the facts, fantasies, and fetishes that are serviced, and the methods that are employed in this often cutthroat business. In writing Discretion, my challenge wasn’t finding real-life material, but deciding how to explain details that might be shocking for readers to learn.
I also visited the U.S. Capitol and walked through the Rotunda, where famous paintings of America’s birth cover the walls; hundreds of men are portrayed—but I saw only four women and two are naked and on their knees. I started thinking about the sexual power dynamics that have surrounded our country from its founding, and that still surround us today. Those paintings in the Rotunda became part of my first chapter.
The Jefferson case plays a crucial role at the investigation’s outset and is probably unfamiliar to readers. What are your thoughts and interpretations of it?
This is one of the few areas where you can find bipartisan agreement in Congress! Most politicians agree that their offices should not be searched during a criminal investigation.
As a former prosecutor, I think politicians shouldn’t get a free pass to commit crimes from their offices. I was surprised by the court decision in 2007 that held that the FBI was not allowed to search Congressman William Jefferson’s office because of the Speech or Debate Clause ruling. Before that decision, courts had narrowly interpreted that constitutional clause. Since then, many political corruption investigations have been stymied and the result of the case has been to make it easier for politicians to use their offices to commit crimes.
The rights of sex workers are a controversial issue. Is it one you’ve thought about or formed any opinions on? Do you think events like those in Discretion could be averted with any type of legislation?
As a sex-crimes prosecutor, I worked with many sex workers who were victims of violent crimes. One challenge was getting them to trust a system in which they had been repeatedly arrested and prosecuted.
In writing Discretion, though, I was not advocating for a particular reform or legislation. I wanted to tell the story of these people, and the story of prosecutors who try to help them. I hope that when readers put the book down, they will feel entertained, informed, and connected to the characters. I hope the story will spark discussion about and interest in the subject.
What prompted you to start it your blog, the Prime-Time Crime Review? What’s been the reaction to it?
I evaluate TV crime dramas for what they get right and wrong. Lately, I’ve been watching every episode of Law & Order: SVU and giving a recap and reality check. Blogging has been far more productive than throwing slippers at the TV.
I’ve always loved TV crime shows: The drama! The issues! The tear-jerking speeches! These shows were part of what inspired me to go to law school and become a prosecutor. But now, when I relax in front of the TV, only half of my mind is enjoying the story. The other half wants to stand up and shout, “Objection!”
The response to the blog has been surprising and wonderful. It’s won several awards and has an enthusiastic following. The Huffington Post now carries it, too. I enjoy talking to fans about the ins and outs of the stories and the courtroom machinations.
What shows are the most realistic? What shows are the least believable?
The Wire was so realistic that drug dealers in Baltimore were rumored to watch it in order to find out what methods the police used to track them. The Good Wife often covers real issues in a plausible and realistic way.
CSI is the worst offender. In fact, there’s a phenomenon called the “CSI effect,” where jurors come to court expecting to see some forensic magic that instantly solves the case. Prosecutors have to lower these expectations so they’re in line with reality. In real life, some of the best police work is done by a detective with a notebook and good people skills.
Do you think being a prosecutor in Washington, D.C., is different than working in any other city, given all that happens there?
Yes! D.C. has gaggles of politicians and diplomats and is the center of American government. So we have more than our share of the usual suspects. And because it is a federal city, the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes both local and federal crimes. D.C. prosecutors have some of the most varied and interesting work in the country. I loved working there, and was only tempted to leave by the prospect of writing books, which is a dream come true for me.
Which writers and books have influenced your writing?
No shocker, I think prosecutors turned authors best capture the legal stuff. John Grisham is a master of making those pages fly. Scott Turow, a former Chicago assistant U.S. attorney and all-around phenomenal writer, paints wonderfully dramatic and accurate courtroom scenes. Linda Fairstein, who was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for decades, played a crucial role in the tectonic shift in attitudes about prosecuting sex crimes. Her knowledge and compassion now infuse her thrillers. Two of my favorite nonlawyer crime writers are Laura Lippman and George Pelecanos, both of whom authentically capture the people and cities they write about. Their novels transcend the crime genre and are just great literary fiction.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Download “Ten Rules for a Call Girl,” Leotta’s free short story about how Nicole lured Caroline into the escort business (available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or the iTunes store). How does this prequel to Discretion enhance or change your view of Caroline’s character? How about Nicole’s?
2. Rent or download the documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. How does that case parallel the story in Discretion? How does it differ?
3. Learn more about the Jefferson case and the court ruling that stemmed from it. Start with this Washington Post article “‘Speech or Debate’ Clause Invoked in Investigations of House Members” about the chilling effect the case has had on prosecuting subsequent political corruption cases (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/16/AR2011011604612.html).
4. Consider the choices Caroline and Nicole made and compare them to the those of the Duke porn star (“Duke Porn Star Reveals Her Identity,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/04/duke-porn-star_n_4898544.html). Compare and contrast their lives, stories, and reasons for engaging in their work.
5. Check out Allison Leotta’s blog, the Prime-Time Crime Review. Discuss some of Leotta’s critiques. Compare and contrast some TV dramas with the case in Discretion (and Leotta’s other books, if you’ve read them).
- Publisher: Gallery Books (June 3, 2014)
- Length: 352 pages
- ISBN13: 9781476710358
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Raves and Reviews
Praise for Discretion:
Named One of the Top Ten Best Books of 2012 by Strand Magazine
"Leotta, a federal former prosecutor, writes with authority and authenticity. Imagine one of the best episodes of the TV series, Law and Order: SVU but set in Washington, D.C., instead of New York City. Besides the realistic feel of the courtroom machinations, Leotta also takes readers on a journey inside the elite of Washington and the world of escort services."
– Associated Press
“A first-rate thriller. Leotta nails the trifecta of fiction: plot, pace and character. Ranks right up there with the wonderful Linda Fairstein.”
– David Baldacci
“Allison Leotta scores big again with Discretion, her top-notch follow up to Law of Attraction. Smart and sexy, Discretion showcases Leotta’s rock-solid plotting as well as another star turn for her protagonist, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Curtis. If you liked Law of Attraction—and who didn’t?—you’ll love this one!”
– John Lescroart
“The best legal thriller I’ve read this year, beautifully crafted and frighteningly real. Leotta knows her stuff cold and will bring you into a world of big money, corruption, high-end prostitution and murder. If you’re a fan of Grisham or Richard North Patterson, you simply have to buy this novel.”
– Douglas Preston
“Fresh, fast, and addictive, and Allison Leotta's experience as a federal sex-crimes prosecutor shines through on every page. The result is a realistic legal thriller that's as fun to read as it is fascinating.”
– Lisa Scottoline
“Allison Leotta is quickly making her place at the table of D.C.’s finest crime and legal thriller novelists. She’s an assured and authentic voice, and a highly entertaining storyteller. Discretion is another winner from this talented writer.”
– George Pelecanos
“A terrific read. Slick, sexy, and very smart. Allison Leotta is a master at creating tension and then mercilessly tightening it. This is the kind of book I love to read, crafted by a wonderfully imaginative writer, who really knows what she is talking about. Allison Leotta is headed to the top of the heap.”
– Michael Palmer
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