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Imminent Peril (Sasha McCandless Legal Thriller Book 10), page 1


Imminent Peril (Sasha McCandless Legal Thriller Book 10)

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Imminent Peril (Sasha McCandless Legal Thriller Book 10)

  Imminent Peril

  Melissa F. Miller

  Brown Street Books


  Also by Melissa F. Miller

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Thank You!


  About the Author

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2017 by Melissa F. Miller

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Published by Brown Street Books.

  For more information about the author, please visit

  ISBN: 978-1-940759-27-2

  Also by Melissa F. Miller

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  The Sasha McCandless Legal Thriller Series

  Irreparable Harm

  Inadvertent Disclosure

  Irretrievably Broken

  Indispensable Party

  Lovers and Madmen (Novella)

  Improper Influence

  A Marriage of True Minds (Novella)

  Irrevocable Trust

  Irrefutable Evidence

  A Mingled Yarn (Novella)

  Informed Consent

  International Incident

  Imminent Peril

  The Aroostine Higgins Novels

  Critical Vulnerability

  Chilling Effect

  Calculated Risk

  The We Sisters Three Romantic Comedic Mysteries

  Rosemary’s Gravy

  Sage of Innocence

  Thyme to Live


  To say that Dr. Prachi Agarwal was nervous and confused would be to vastly understate the situation. She was an utter and absolute wreck.

  Nothing during her short time as an employee of Playtime Toys had prepared her for an impromptu meeting with Charles Merriman, the company’s CEO, and Peter Jefferson, the Executive Vice President of Product Innovation. Yet, here she was, in Mr. Merriman’s private office, blinking furiously and hoping she wasn’t about to be fired.

  “Dr. Agarwal, the reason we asked you to join us is that we’ve got a bit of a situation. It involves the database you’re creating,” Peter Jefferson began.

  She shifted in the leather chair and nodded.

  The CEO chimed in, stating the obvious as though it were news. “We sponsored your visa and brought you over here from Bangalore to create and populate a database to track all our products through the development, testing, sales, and marketing life cycle.”

  “Yes, sir.” She thought, not for the first time, that it was astonishing the company had limped along without a functioning database for as long as it had. The creation of a database that suited their needs was complex, due to the way the company seemed to categorize and recategorize products periodically, but it was long overdue. Until now, they’d been using a rudimentary spreadsheet someone’s kid had created while home from college on a break.

  “And while you know that time is of the essence in your work, you may not know why,” Mr. Merriman continued.

  Prachi thought. “I understand that another company has made an offer to buy you—to buy us, rather. Mr. Jefferson has mentioned that my work must be completed as part of the sale.”

  “That’s close, but not quite right,” Jefferson interjected. “Recreation Group has made an offer to purchase the company and we’ve agreed to the terms. We have a closing date, but that’s not the deadline for your work to be completed.”

  “It’s not?”

  He cleared his throat. “No. You see, we were perhaps a bit overzealous and, well, we led the purchasers to believe that we already had a robust database.”

  “You lied?” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.

  Mr. Merriman and Mr. Jefferson exchanged dark looks.

  “We overstated,” Mr. Merriman corrected her. “It was an error, to be sure. And now we’re paying for it, aren’t we, Peter?”

  Mr. Jefferson smiled grimly. “We are indeed. What happened, Dr. Agarwal, is that Recreation Group’s lawyers have filed an arbitration claim. They say that the purchase price included some hefty amount for the database, which they now understand is not completed. They’re asking the arbitrators to reduce the value of the company.”

  “I see,” she said, even though she didn’t see at all.

  “The arbitration hearing is scheduled to occur before the closing date of the transaction,” Mr. Merriman told her.

  “We need one of two things to happen—we need to have a completed database in Recreation Group’s hands before that hearing date or we need to delay the hearing until after the closing.”

  “Why?” she asked, mystified.

  “If we give them the database, the issue goes away. There’s no hearing, and the forty-million-dollar purchase price remains. If we can’t meet that deadline, we need to push the hearing date back. That way, the sale will still go through at the agreed price. Then, if we don’t provide the database, the arbitration panel will determine how much money we need to return to the buyers. Do you understand?”

  “Not really,” she said. “What difference does it make if the arbitration panel reduces the purchase price before the sale goes through or if it tells you to refund Recreation Group after the fact?” It was the same ultimate result, she thought to herself.

  Mr. Merriman gave Mr. Jefferson a meaningful look. “Can you field this one, Peter?”

  He nodded. “Simply put, Dr. Agarwal, it doesn’t matter to the company. It matters a great deal to Mr. Merriman and to me, as our buy-out compensation is based on the purchase price.”

  Ah, of course. Money out of their pockets. The high-level interest in her mundane work suddenly made sense.

  “Oh,” she said.

  “Now, we don’t want to hold your feet to the fire. And we know the delays in getting your visa approved ate up a good amount of time. But, we need to know, can you get the database done within the next two weeks?”

  She hesitated. Her instinct was to please her superiors and assure them that, yes, of course she could. But the timeline was really very tight—close to impossible. She remembered something
her thesis advisor had told her when she was defending her thesis: Always, always underpromise and overdeliver.

  She squared her shoulders and met the CEO’s eyes. “I’m afraid I can’t promise that. I’ll work as quickly as I can, but you should make a contingency plan.”

  Mr. Jefferson nodded and spoke in a mournful voice, “We appreciate your honesty, Dr. Agarwal. Please do your best.”

  “Of course,” she promised.

  “That’ll be all,” Mr. Merriman said, dismissing her.

  She bobbed her head and scurried out of the room. She closed the door behind her and stood there for a moment, waiting for her heart rate to return to normal. As she did, she heard Mr. Jefferson’s voice.

  “If we don’t get them that blasted database before the hearing date, it all comes crashing down. And, you know, there is no contingency plan. We’ll have to figure out a way to manufacture a delay, Charles.”

  “I know a guy.”


  The crisis management consultant locked eyes with his newest client and held his gaze for a moment before answering. He wanted to ensure that he communicated both his understanding of the situation and his commitment to correct it.

  In his ideal world, he'd be an inside man, working solely for the company, and their trust in him and his loyalty to them would be beyond question. But this was the twenty-first century: the age of outsourcing; independent contracting; and the gig economy. Most companies either wouldn't—or couldn't—afford to keep someone like him on the payroll full-time, so he’d become a consultant of sorts, one whose services came with a hefty price tag.

  His name was passed along on golf courses, on fishing charters, in health club saunas, or over cigars and bourbon in the private rooms of country clubs. One CEO would bemoan a particularly thorny problem and somebody would say, ‘Call my guy. He can fix it.’ And then his phone would ring. That was how Charles Merriman, the nervous CEO of a successful toy company, had come to find him. He appraised Merriman now—the man was jumpy, almost frantic.

  After waiting the appropriate amount of time, he spoke. “I understand what you need, Charles. I’ll take care of it.”

  “But you don’t know the details—the timing of the transaction is critical. Are you sure you can help us? The issue is complicated. The lawyers and the bean counters can’t even agree on how much it might cost if we can’t make it go away.”

  “I don’t need to know every detail. I just need to know the problem. You’ve told me your problem; now I’ll fix it. I fix problems.” He said it with authority.

  That’s what he considered himself after all—a fixer. The men, and they were almost always men, who required his services preferred to think he was a problem-solver. And despite Merriman’s insistence that his problem was unusually complex, it wasn’t. Once he’d cut through all the corporate buzzwords and legalese, the consultant understood that the company needed to buy time. And he had figured out a way to make that happen. It wouldn’t be easy, but it was simple—elegant even.

  Merriman remained unconvinced. He furrowed his brow, anxiety pinging off his body. “How? What will you do?”

  He barked out a short laugh. “What I’ll do is get you your money. Because that’s how I’ll get my money. Consider it handled.”

  Most, but not all, of the tension drained from the CEO’s face. A sliver of apprehension remained—the amorphous worry of giving up control. That was the trade-off his clients had to live with. It was a small price to pay, really.

  Merriman opened his mouth then closed it, like a big, stupid fish.

  “Arrange for the wire,” the fixer instructed. He stood and extended his hand.

  Merriman examined it for a moment. Then he squared his shoulders and managed the handshake.

  The consultant walked away from a pair of leather chairs nestled against a two-top in the corner of the generic hotel bar and melted into the flow of foot traffic hurrying through the gleaming lobby. The CEO sat alone, staring into his martini glass.


  Sasha McCandless noticed the man before she even entered the bar. He was sitting with his back to the plate-glass window, his bar stool pulled over a little too close to a cluster of women in their early twenties. Their body language sent an unmistakable ‘get lost’ message, but he either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

  She eyed him as she walked through the entrance and into the narrow, crowded room. Mid-forties at the youngest; late fifties at the oldest. Salt-and-pepper hair, cut close to his head. Thick neck and broad shoulders, which were straining the seams of his navy suit jacket. The jacket was shiny with age.

  She flicked her eyes away and then back to the women jammed between his barstool and the chalkboard listing the happy hour specials. There were three. Two leggy redheads who could pass for sisters and a petite dark-skinned woman, no taller than Sasha. The small woman and one of the redheads were shooting daggers at the guy. The other redhead had her back to the man—and Sasha—and she was swaying in her heels. The man’s hand hovered near the small of her back but didn’t make contact.

  It’s none of your business.

  She looked away and focused her attention on pressing through the crowd to find Maisy. Her bright blonde curls made her easy to spot. Sasha stretched up on her tiptoes and scanned the bar. No Maisy. But she did see a couple at the bar settling their tab. As the woman eased herself off her barstool and took her date’s arm, Sasha weaved through a knot of business casual polo shirts and khakis and claimed the stools the couple were vacating. She propped her bag on one stool and positioned herself on the other so she could see the door from her peripheral vision, more out of ingrained habit than any need to watch for Maisy.

  The bartender picked up the departing couple’s credit card slip and wiped his bar towel across the surface in front of her in a half-hearted circle. “What can I get you? Specials are up there.” He pointed to the board behind the redhead.

  The happy hour cocktail menu might have appealed to a younger, childless Sasha. But the current, always-exhausted, working-mother-of-twins Sasha knew she’d be facedown on the bar after about half a mixed drink.

  “I’ll have your house Sangiovese. And a glass of water.”

  “Do you want a half-carafe or just a glass?”

  “Just a glass, please.”

  He nodded.

  From behind her, a familiar, honey-laced voice breathed, “Nonsense. She’ll have the half-carafe. And I’ll have that gin and basil shrub drink. You know, the one with the lime?”

  “The General’s Mistress?”

  “That’s the one,” Maisy confirmed as she slid onto the barstool next to Sasha. “Glass of wine, my sweet behind,” she murmured as the bartender turned to get their drinks.

  Sasha laughed. “Hello to you, too.”

  Maisy leaned in for a quick half-hug. “Well, I’m sorry, sugar, but really. How long’s it been since we’ve had a girl’s night out?”

  Sasha searched her memory but couldn’t quite pinpoint the last time she’d seen her old neighbor. “Too long.”

  “Mmm-hmm. Exactly. So one glass of wine’s not going to cut it. Now, how the heck did you manage to stop working at a decent hour for once? Did your office catch fire?”

  “I had a close of business filing deadline in a commercial arbitration. I finished up early this afternoon. Then I decided I could catch up on paperwork or meet my favorite journalist for a drink. I’m glad you weren’t busy emceeing a gala or something.”

  Maisy could pretend all she wanted that Sasha’s schedule was the only impediment to their socializing, but as one of Pittsburgh’s most beloved local news personalities, Maisy spent most of her time in front of a camera or behind a dais at some community event.

  “You did have good timing. I’m just finishing up a three-part story about the dangers of shopping at those big consignment sales, you know the ones for kids’ clothes and toys?”

  Oh, she knew the ones. Most of the women in her mothers of twins group swore by consig
nment sales. As she was learning, kids grow fast—and keeping two of them supplied with clothes that fit and age-appropriate toys could strain a budget. She hadn’t yet delved into the world of consignment buying or selling, though, because, in her case, time was the scarcest resource. She’d rather pay full price, click a button, and have her well-researched purchases arrive within two days through the magic of free shipping than comb through racks of outgrown clothes and boxes of discarded toys hoping to stumble across a gem.

  “Sure. What’s the angle? Germs, I bet. Are those used toys so germy?”

  “Probably, but that’s not what the story’s about. Locally, several kids have been injured—or worse—by baby equipment and toys that have been recalled but never removed from the resale market. Apparently, recalls are really common among baby toys and gear.”

  Sasha nodded grimly. “Small parts, loose straps, collapsing rails, lead paint, beads, batteries. The nursery section of any store is a veritable death trap of potential strangulation, suffocation, and swallowing hazards.”

  “You make parenting sound like such a fantastic adventure,” Maisy deadpanned. Then she asked, “So is the arbitration thing interesting?”

  “I guess that depends on your interests. It’s a dispute arising out of a proposed acquisition. We represent a local company that’s made an offer to purchase a competitor. But there’s an issue about the valuation of one of the intangible assets, and the parties want to arbitrate now rather than after the sale closes.”

  Maisy’s eyes were glazing over. “Got it.”

  Sasha sipped her wine. “Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the details.” Unlike criminal defense attorneys, who had loads of entertaining war stories, a corporate litigator was rarely tempted to spin yarns over drinks. The hard truth was nobody was all that interested in the possible breach of an intangible asset provision of a sale and purchase agreement—not even her.

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