Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Read Chapter 1 of Hidden Threat

Hidden Threat (Hidden Threat #1) by Sherri Hayes
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Release Date: January 28, 2016

Book Summary

Cali Stanton has one goal in life, being a doctor. She has spent the last two years helping the less fortunate in Africa. It’s a job she loves and intends to do for the foreseeable future. That is until she receives a call from her father saying he’s been injured and needs her back in Chicago. Less than a week later she finds herself behind her father’s desk at Stanton Enterprises, running the family business…something she never wanted to do. But how could she say no to her father when he insists that she is the only one he can trust?

Matthew Andersen and his brother, Jason, have spent the last two years managing security at Stanton Enterprises. However, someone is determined to take down the company and with it its acting CEO, Cali Stanton.

Cali and Matthew must work together to find out who is behind the threats to not only the company but to Cali herself while they fight their growing attraction for each other. Can they figure out the hidden threat before it’s too late?

Chapter 1

Cali Stanton gave her appearance one final appraisal in the full-length mirror. It wasn’t an image she was used to. Not anymore, at least.
She’d spent over an hour getting ready, making sure her hair and makeup were just right before donning one of her new power business suits. Normally she left her hair down or pulled it back into a ponytail, but today, to give herself a more professional appearance, she’d twisted her reddish-brown hair up off her neck and secured it on top of her head with a clip that scraped against her scalp as she adjusted it.
To add to her tailored appearance, she slipped her feet into a pair of three-inch black pumps. The saleswoman had assured her that they would go well with her sleek black pantsuit, and they did. The fabric of the suit hugged her curves and the heels made her legs look long and elegant.
Sighing, she ran a hand down the front of the suit. “Ready or not, here I come.”
Cali grabbed her matching handbag from the bed and made her way downstairs. Her father’s house was huge. It was a far cry from the small dwellings she’d inhabited for the past two years in Africa with Doctors Without Borders. The vast amount of extra space was taking a while to get used to, even though she’d grown up here. 
As she descended the large central staircase, Cali could hear Jessie in the kitchen. Cali smiled as she thought of the older woman. Jessie had been her dad’s housekeeper for over twenty years. She’d seen Cali through the tough years after her mother’s death and stuck by her side during her not so tame teenage years. Jessie was like a mother to Cali and she was glad to have the older woman back in her life again.
Jessie glanced up when Cali entered the kitchen, and smiled.
“Good morning.”
Taking an exaggerated step back, Jessie gave Cali a thorough once-over before whistling her approval. “My, my. Don’t you look like something this morning?”
Cali blushed. “Thank you.”
She walked over to the counter and took a seat. Jessie placed Cali’s breakfast in front of her and once again she felt her love for the older woman surge. She hadn’t asked Jessie to make her breakfast this morning but she had anyway.
Digging in to her food, Cali asked, “You don’t think it’s too much, do you?”
Jessie waved her comment away. “No, no, of course not. But you will make a statement. Maybe you can give some of those stuffy businessmen a run for their money.”
Cali laughed. “Somehow I doubt that. I’m just hoping I’m able to hold things together until Dad’s well enough to come back.”
Jessie’s face became serious. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with that man. He’s not twenty anymore.”
“I know,” Cali said. “I don’t know what possessed him.”
“I’ll tell you what possessed him. He’s feeling his age, that’s what. You came back just in time. It’s a midlife crisis or something. Trying to learn to water ski at his age.” Jessie shook her head in dismay.
Cali didn’t know how to respond, so she said nothing. She agreed with Jessie. A midlife crisis was the most logical conclusion because it wasn’t like her dad to be so adventurous.
Forty minutes later Cali stood outside Stanton Enterprises. She took a deep breath and marched through the large glass doors that led into the first floor lobby. Situated in the center of the room was a massive reception desk. A smaller security station was nestled into the far corner. Both desks had an occupant who looked up at her entrance.
Since it was already after nine in the morning, most of her father’s employees were already at their desks working. That left the large lobby area feeling even bigger and impersonal.
Her shoes clicked on the tile floor as she walked toward the receptionist. The woman stood. “Good morning.”
“Good morning.” Cali plastered a smile on her face. “Could you let Lisa Morgan know that Cali Stanton is here?”
Shock crossed the woman’s face a moment before she went into action and reached for the phone. “Oh. Oh, yes. Of course.”
While the receptionist called Lisa, her father’s assistant, Cali took another look around the lobby area. The office hadn’t changed much over the years. In fact, the only thing she noticed beyond a fresh coat of paint on the walls was the addition of several security cameras. Cali wondered if that had anything to do with what her father had shared with her last night over the phone. Not that he’d told her much, only that something was going on and that his heads of security, Matthew and Jason, would fill her in.
The elevator doors opened and she pushed thoughts of whatever mystery situation awaited her out of her mind. Her father’s assistant glided elegantly into the lobby. Lisa made walking in four-inch heels look easy. Her legs looked a mile long and her long brown hair curled against her shoulders, bouncing with every step she took.
Lisa skipped the formalities and hugged Cali. “It’s good to see you again.”
Cali returned the embrace. Over the years, she’d gotten to know Lisa well. “Same here.”
Taking a step back, Lisa grinned and motioned toward the elevators. “Shall we?”
They made their way up to the top floor where her father’s office was located. Lisa gave her a brief tour and then left her alone in her dad’s office. She sat down behind the imposing desk—the desk that would be hers for the next three months—and tried to take it all in.
One week ago, she’d been standing over a tiny cot examining a young boy with deep cuts covering his entire body. He’d been unconscious when a group of villagers had brought him into the makeshift hospital the night before. No one knew what had happened, so Cali and one of the nurses cleaned the boy’s wounds and made sure he was comfortable. They were watching him closely for any sign of infection.
She’d felt someone approach her from behind and figured it was Rachael Michaels, one of her fellow doctors, so Cali hadn’t turned around to look.
“How’s he doing?” Rachael asked.
“No fever, which is good, but he’s not out of the woods yet.”
She came up beside her and placed a hand on Cali’s shoulder. “I’ll finish up here. You have a call.”
Cali knew only one person would make an unscheduled call to her in the middle of Africa—her father.
She stood and handed the wet towel she’d been using to wash the young boy’s wounds to her colleague. The sun beat down on her as she exited the small hut where the boy was being treated and trudged through the heat over to the small rundown metal shack that housed the only working phone. Chad, one of the locals, handed her the phone as soon as she entered.
“Thanks,” Cali said as she placed the grungy handset that looked as if it had been around for at least thirty years to her ear. “Hello?”
“Cali? Cali, honey, is that you?”
“Yes, Dad, it’s me. Is everything all right?”
“No, sweetheart, it’s not. I need you to come home.”
Cali collapsed into the beat-up wooden chair Chad had recently vacated. “Come home? Dad, what’s going on? What’s wrong?”
He released a sigh followed by a low moan.
She’d been a doctor long enough to know that he was in some level of pain. “Dad?”
“I kind of went and did something stupid.”
She tensed. “What did you do?”
He hesitated. “I went waterskiing with Henry.”
“You what?” Cali’s voice reverberated through the small metal building.
“I know, I know. Stupid, right? Not something a man my age should be doing. I’ve already heard it all from Jessie.”
Cali tried to tamp down the fear running through her body. “What happened? Were you hurt?”
“Well . . .”
Her father released another sigh followed by a more pronounced moan. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth as she awaited his response.
“I broke my hip and a couple of ribs. The doctors say I’m going to be out of commission for about three months.”
“Oh, Dad.” Cali’s voice was laced with disapproval.
He pretended not to hear her. “So that’s why I need you to come home. I need you to run the business while I’m away. Look after things.”
“Dad . . .”
“Now listen to me, Cali. I know you’ve told me that you don’t want to take over for me when I retire. And although I’m not happy about that, I will respect your wishes. However, at the moment there are some things going on and I would feel much better with someone I trust watching over my interests.”
“What about Peter? I thought you were grooming him to take over?” She was grasping at straws and she knew it, but the last thing she wanted to do was travel halfway around the world to run her dad’s company. Even if it would only be for three months.
“Peter is very good at what he does, and maybe someday I’ll feel confident turning the business over to him, but he’s not ready. He’s not family.” Her father paused. “You’re the only family I’ve got, Cali. I need you for this. Only you.”
The guilt trip was working. “I don’t know . . .”
Alvin Stanton turned on the charm. “Please? Your old man needs you.”
Cali giggled.
Her father knew he’d won.
“How soon can you get here?” he asked.
She thought about it for a moment, going over the logistics in her head. “I can get a ride into town tomorrow and catch the bus from there. It will take me most of the day to reach the airport so . . . I should be able to make it back to Chicago by Thursday or Friday.”
“Call me when you have your flight information. I’ll make sure someone picks you up from the airport.”
“Okay, Dad.” She arose from her seat, her mind going to all the things she needed to get in order before she left the next day.
“I love you, sweetie.”
Her lips curled up into a soft smile. “I love you, too, Dad.”
The phone on the desk buzzed, startling her. She placed a calming hand on her chest and pushed the intercom button like Lisa showed her. “Yes?”
“Matthew Andersen is here to see you.” Lisa’s voice came through clear and confident.
“Who?” Cali asked.
“Mr. Andersen. Head of security.”
Well . . . nothing like jumping in with both feet.
“Send him in.”
Cali stood and straightened her suit jacket. She could do this.
The door opened and a man not much older than her entered. He strolled confidently across the room and offered her his hand. The most intriguing blue eyes she’d ever seen stared back at her.
She cleared her throat as her gaze drifted over his dark hair and broad shoulders. “You must be Mr. Andersen.”
For a moment, she didn’t think he was going to answer. “And you must be Ms. Stanton.”
They stood there for a moment, and the air around them felt heavy and charged. She felt warmth rushing to her cheeks and looked away.
Swiping her hand back, she attempted to collect herself and hurried back behind the desk. It didn’t matter that she could still feel the burn of his palm against her skin. Or that the way he seemed to own that suit he was wearing reminded her how long it had been since she’d had a man in her bed. She had a job to do and it didn’t include fooling around with one of her father’s employees.
Cali cleared her throat. “Um . . . why don’t you take a seat, Mr. Andersen?”
He lowered his tall frame into the offered chair.
She retook her own seat and placed both her hands in her lap.
They sat in silence for several moments. He seemed to be assessing her. For what, she had no idea, but Cali wasn’t sure she liked it.
“My father said there were some things you needed to discuss with me.” She attempted to sound as businesslike as possible.
“Yes.” He paused. “What did Alvin tell you?”
Cali tried not to let his brisk tone bother her. “Not much. Just that he needed someone he could trust running his company right now.” She gathered up her courage and leveled a look at him Cali saved for her most difficult patients. “What’s going on?”
Matthew Andersen had seen pictures of Alvin’s daughter before. Pictures of her when she was little and even one from when she’d graduated from medical school. None of those had prepared him for the woman sitting in front of him.
When security had called to let him know the boss’ daughter was here, he’d been dreading the encounter. Alvin had called him to say that he wanted his daughter, Cali, to be brought up to speed on the current situation. She had no idea what was going on—what she was walking into—and Matthew didn’t have time to hold her hand. But that’s what he was going to have to do because it was part of the job.
Of course, his brother Jason had blown off the meeting in typical fashion. Jason didn’t like what he referred to as the ‘suit and tie’ part of the job. He was much better with the hands-on aspects where Matthew thrived on the technical and theoretical side of things. Jason preferred to be out in the action, while Matthew liked to work alone.
As Matthew sat across from Cali Stanton he recalled exactly what his brother had said when he’d gone to get him. “The last thing I want to do this morning is entertain a pampered princess.”
Looking at her sitting across from him at her father’s desk, Matthew wondered if his brother would have the same opinion upon meeting her. Cali did have that air about her that said she came from money, but there was also something else. An edge that he couldn’t quite explain. He’d done his research on her and knew she was twenty-eight and had been working as a doctor with Doctors Without Borders for the last two years. And while he knew working outside the US had its challenges, he couldn’t imagine what she would have seen for him to be getting such a vibe from her. But Matthew had learned long ago to trust his instincts and something told him that she wasn’t a pampered princess as his brother had suggested.
The black pantsuit she wore wasn’t any different than what most of the other women in the office wore, but it had him struggling not to squirm in his seat. Her jacket hugged her waist and had a V-neck that plunged low enough to give a hint of the skin beneath. The reddish hair he remembered from the pictures was pulled away from her face and into some fancy hairdo that left a few stray curls caressing her face. He wanted to twirl the hair around his finger and see if it was as soft as it looked.
Then there were her eyes. They were brown with a hint of copper. He could easily get lost in them.
That thought brought him up short. This was his boss’ daughter. His boss for the foreseeable future. He had no business thinking about how soft her hair was or how easy it would be to slip her jacket off her shoulders and . . .
Matthew shifted his focus to the window behind her in an attempt to clear his thoughts. He had a job to do and, damn it, he was going to do it.
For roughly the next hour, Matthew explained the situation to her. She took it better than he thought she would. After all, it wasn’t every day you found out people were threatening violence to you and your company.
Cali listened closely to what he had to say, stopping every now and then to ask for clarification. While he could see concern in her eyes, he didn’t see panic. That impressed him. Although Matthew understood why Alvin had wanted his daughter to run things in his absence, he was aggravated with the old man as well. Being thrown into a situation like this was no place for a woman like Cali Stanton. Once word got out that she was running the company, Matthew had little doubt that the threats her father had been receiving would transfer to her.
As Matthew left Alvin’s office, the danger threatening his new boss bothered him more and more. It wasn’t often something rattled him, but by the time he returned to his office, his frustration boiled over. He slammed his door shut, marched over to his desk, and fell into his chair.
Two knocks sounded on his door. Matthew ignored them. He didn’t want to deal with anyone right now.
Unfortunately, his brother wasn’t known for leaving well enough alone. Jason opened the door and gently closed it behind him. Matthew leaned his head back and closed his eyes, willing his brother to go away.
He should have known better.
“Meeting with the princess didn’t go well, I take it?”
Matthew ran a hand over his head and met his brother’s gaze. “Don’t call her that.”
His brother raised both eyebrows but didn’t comment on Matthew’s outburst.
Matthew reached for his keyboard and logged in to his e-mail, doing his best to ignore Jason’s scrutiny. “The meeting went as well as could be expected. She didn’t have the slightest clue about what’s been going on. I still can’t believe her father didn’t warn her.”
“Well, at least now she knows.”
“Yeah.” Matthew glanced down at a Post-It note on his desk. “How are things looking for Friday?”
His brother hesitated. “Good. Everyone’s keeping their ears to the ground. I’ll be notified if they hear something.”
Matthew nodded, pushed away from the desk, and stood. “I’ll stop by your office later. I need to get the security clearance finished for Ms. Stanton.”
Without waiting for Jason to grill him about his unusual behavior, Matthew side-stepped his brother and strolled out the door.

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