Authors: Sherri Hayes
Cali Stanton turned to give her appearance one final appraisal in the full-length mirror. The image staring back at her was not one she was very familiar with, at least not for the last few years.
This morning she’d spent over an hour in the bathroom doing her hair and makeup, something she never did anymore, and donned one of her new power business suits. She pulled her reddish-brown hair up off her neck in a twist to give her a more professional air, as did the three-inch black pumps she wore. She looked good in the sleek black pants suit. Of course she should, given what it had cost. The sales woman had commented how much the suit complimented her figure, and she had to admit, it did show off all her assets while hiding her flaws.
She ran a hand down the front of the suit and sighed, whispering to her reflection, “Ready or not, here I come.”
She made her way downstairs after grabbing her matching handbag from the bed.
Her father’s house was huge, and although she’d grown up here, the size of everything still shocked her. After spending the last two years of her life in a small hut in central Africa with Doctors Without Borders, her father’s house seemed massive.
As she rounded the corner, she heard Jessie, the housekeeper, in the kitchen. A smile came to her face as she thought of the older woman. Jessie had worked for her dad for over twenty years and had seen Cali through those tough times after her mother died, as well as her not so tame teenage years. Jessie was like a mother to her, and Cali was glad to have her back in her life once again.
Jessie looked up to greet Cali with a warm smile when she entered the kitchen.
“Good morning.” Then Jessie took an exaggerated step back, giving Cali a thorough once-over. She whistled her approval. “My, my. Don’t you look like something this morning?”
Cali blushed. “Thank you.” She walked over to the counter where Jessie had already laid out her breakfast, took a seat, and began to eat. “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.” The housekeeper’s smile got even bigger. “Maybe you can give some of those stuffy businessmen a run for their money.”
Cali laughed and almost lost some of her breakfast. As she composed herself, she swallowed and said, “I somehow 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. I don’t know what possessed him.”
“I’ll tell you what possessed him. He’s feeling his age, that’s what possessed him. I’m telling you, Cali, you came back just in time. It’s some midlife crisis or something. Trying to water ski at his age.” She shook her head in dismay.
Cali didn’t quite know how to respond. She agreed with Jessie. It was the only thing that made sense.
One week ago
Cali was standing over a tiny cot examining a young boy with deep cuts covering his entire body. He had been unconscious when some villagers brought him into the small makeshift hospital last night. No one knew what had happened. She and one of the nurses managed to clean his wounds and gave him some antibiotics, but they were watching him closely.
Feeling someone approach her from behind, Cali didn’t turn to look. She guessed it was Rachael Michaels, one of her fellow doctors.
“How’s he doing?” Rachael asked.
“Still no fever, which is good, but he’s not out of the woods yet.”
“I’ll finish up here for you, Cali, you have a call.”
Only one person who would make an unscheduled call to her in the middle of Africa—her father.
She stood, handed the wet towel she’d been using to wash the young boy’s wounds to her colleague, and made her way out of the tent and 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. Placing the grungy handset that looked like it had been around for at least thirty years to her ear, she said, “Hello?”
“Cali? Cali, honey, is that you?”
“Yes, Dad, it’s me. Is everything okay?” she asked, worried.
“No, sweetheart, it’s not. I need you to come home.” Cali sat down in the beat up wooden chair Chad had recently vacated.
“Come home? Dad, what’s going on? What’s wrong?” She heard him sigh on the other end, followed by a moan. “Dad?”
“I kind of went and did something stupid.”
“What did you do?” She felt her body tense as it did so often when getting ready to work on an injury that they were ill equipped for. Cali didn’t like being unprepared for anything. People died that way.
“I went waterskiing with Henry.”
“You what!” She yelled, almost falling off her chair.
“I know, I know. Stupid, right? Not something a man my age should be doing. I’ve already heard it all from Jessie.”
“What happened? Are you alright?”
“Dad?” Why was he stalling?
Another sigh and another moan, “The doctors say I broke my hip and a couple of ribs. They say I’m going to be out of commission for about three months.”
“Oh, Dad,” Cali said with disapproval.
“So I need you to come home, Cali. I need to you run the business while I’m away. Look after things.”
“Dad…” She hesitated, not really knowing how to respond.
“Now listen, Cali. I know you’ve told me 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 trusted him. I thought you were grooming him to take over?”
“Peter is very good at what he does, and maybe someday I will feel confident turning the business over to him. But he’s not family. You’re the only family I’ve got, Cali, and I need you for this and only you.”
“I don’t know,” she said, leaning back in the chair, still unsure.
“Please? Your old man needs you.” Cali giggled.
“How soon can you get here?”
“I can get a ride into town tomorrow and catch the bus from there, but it will take me most of the day to reach the airport so…” Cali paused to do the calculations in her head. “I should be able to make it back by Thursday, Friday at the latest.”
“Good girl. Call me when you have your flight information, and I’ll make sure someone picks you up.”
“Okay, Dad,” she answered getting up from her seat.
“I love you, sweetie.”
“I love you, too.”
As Cali stood outside the Stanton Enterprises high rise, she took a deep breath and marched through the large glass doors. A massive reception desk stood front and center with a smaller security station nestled into a corner off to the side. Each desk had an occupant who looked up when she entered.
It was nine fifteen on a Monday morning, already too late for the average worker to be showing up. As Cali walked forward, the receptionist stood and asked, “Can I help you?”
Cali didn’t recognize the woman and figured she must be a new addition. She gave the woman a warm smile. “Yes, will you let Lisa Morgan know that Cali Stanton is here?” Her father told her last night on the phone that his assistant would be expecting her.
It took only a split second for the young woman to make the connection. Her eyes went wide. “Oh. Oh, yes.” She reached for the phone, almost knocking the handset off its base.
While the woman behind the desk scrambled, Cali looked around the lobby. Most of it was exactly how she remembered with the exception of several security cameras. She wondered if this had anything to do with the information her father had shared with her last night. Her father wouldn’t go into any details, but said his heads of security, Matthew and Jason, would fill her in. That didn’t sound promising.
Cali turned as the elevator doors opened and saw her dad’s assistant glide elegantly into the lobby, wearing a tailored jacket and fitted skirt. The woman made walking in four-inch heels look easy. Lisa came to a stop and gave her a warm hug.
“It’s good to see you again, Cali,” she said.
“Same here,” Cali said, returning the hug.
Taking a step back, Lisa motioned to the elevators. “Shall we?” Cali nodded.
Matthew sat behind his desk, going through the e-mails that never seemed to stop when Brad called to let him know the boss’s daughter was here. He’d talked to Alvin yesterday. Apparently, his boss had kept his daughter in the dark and had left it to Jason and him to bring her up to speed. She had no idea what was going on, and Matthew just didn’t have time for this.
He waited fifteen more minutes to allow her time to reach her office before he walked down the hall and knocked on his brother’s door.
“Come in,” came the gruff voice.
Matthew opened the door and stepped inside. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Jason smiled at his brother.
Matthew adjusted his already perfect tie, “She’s here. Alvin wants her brought up to speed ASAP.”
“You go on ahead,” Jason said, turning his attention back to the diagrams in front of him.
“You’re not coming.” It wasn’t a question.
With a heavy sigh, Jason looked up again at his brother. “Because the last thing I want to do this morning is entertain a pampered princess. Besides,” he said, waving a dismissive hand, “you’re much better at corporate politics than I am.”
Matthew couldn’t believe his brother. Well he could, but still. He knew Jason didn’t like what he called the “suit and tie” part of the job. Jason was much better with the hands-on aspects where Matthew thrived on the technical and theoretical side. Jason preferred to be out in the action, and Matthew liked to work alone.
They made a great team, which was why Alvin hired them eighteen months ago when he first started receiving threats. Thus far, they’d already managed to derail or neutralize three theft rings, as well as exposing a man from accounting that had been embezzling for the past seven years.
He could tell by Jason’s tone that there was no budging him on this. “Fine. I’ll give you the rundown later.”
“You do that, little brother.” He gave one last wicked smile to Matthew. “Have fun.”
Have fun. Somehow, Matthew thought that was the last thing he’d be having.
He’d never met Alvin’s daughter, although he knew she was twenty-eight and a doctor. All he could hope for was that she wasn’t the pampered princess Jason thought she’d be. If so, it was going to be a very long three months.
Cali just sat down behind her father’s desk, her desk—well for the next three months, anyway. When the phone on the desk buzzed, she hit the intercom, “Yes?”
“Matthew Andersen is here to see you,” Lisa’s voice came through the phone.
“Head of Security,” Lisa supplied.
Oh, Cali thought, Well…there’s nothing like jumping in with both feet. “Send him in.”
Cali closed the open window on her computer. She heard the door open and close quickly. Taking a deep breath, she stood and looked up. Staring back at her was a man with the most intriguing blue eyes she’d ever seen. His hair was black, and cropped close to his head. His broad shoulders were covered in a chocolate-colored suit that fit him perfectly. Wow was the only word that came to mind.
Suddenly she realized she’d been quiet for too long. Shaking herself out of her stupor, she took a step toward him and extended her hand. “You must be Mr. Andersen.”
For a moment, Cali didn’t think he was going to respond, but then he nodded and shook her hand. “And you must be Ms. Stanton.”
Cali could feel the blush moving up her cheekbones. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to release his hand and take a step back.
she mentally berated herself.
He works for you, remember?
Brushing a loose tendril behind her ear, she rushed back to the desk, bumping into the corner in passing. “Um…why don’t you take a seat Mr. Andersen?” He sat his tall frame into the offered seat.
She nodded after taking her seat again. Placing her hands in her lap and out of his sight, she rubbed the skin that was still tingling from his touch.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, and he appeared to be assessing her.
She wasn’t sure she liked that. Clearing her throat, she said, “My father said there were some things you needed to talk to me about.” She forced her voice to sound business like.
“Yes,” he said in a clipped tone. “What has Alvin told you?”
“Just that he needed someone he could trust right now.” She paused. “What’s going on?”
Matthew had seen pictures of Alvin’s daughter—pictures of her when she was little and even one from when she’d graduated from medical school—but nothing had prepared him for the woman in front of him. As soon as he opened the door to Alvin’s office and saw her, he lost his equilibrium.
Cali Stanton wore a black pants suit that showed off every curve she had. The jacket hugged her waist and had a v-neck that plunged just low enough to give a hint at the skin beneath. The red hair he remembered from the pictures was pulled up into some fancy hairdo with just a few stray curls caressing her face.