Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Out of breath from running down the hall to get to the designated conference room before this bogus deal could go any further, she stood there for a moment, chest heaving, suddenly unsure of what exactly she wanted to say.
"What are you doing here?" her stepmother asked as she stood, tossing her a more than disdainful look.
As Camille's heart rate slowed her anger grew. Moreen Scott Davis, her father's second wife, was impeccably dressed in a dark blue suit with silk lapels. Her glossy black hair framed her flawlessly made-up face. She looked like the twenty-firstcentury version of Diahann Carroll. Too bad she had a long way to go to ever be that classy.
"I should be asking you the same question," Camille said, taking a step closer to the table. There were two men gaping with surprise from her to Moreen but she wasn't concerned with them at the moment. Right now her top priority was nipping the Merry Widow in the bud. A task she'd been unhappily executing for the last three months.
That's when her father had died.
Randolph Davis, multimillionaire, A-list Hollywood producer, Moreen's third husband and Camille's beloved father, died of coronary disease in Cedars-Sinai Hospital one rainy July night at nine forty-five.
Camille was ten years old when Moreen, the tall, sexy model, had come into her room on her father's arm being introduced as her new stepmother. Camille had hid her fury initially, waiting until she'd had her father alone to explode. Even then Randolph had an uncanny way of calming her down. She'd been thoroughly upset at the thought of her father with another woman but then he'd explained things to her in a way that had her thinking only of his happiness. Camille loved her father too much to ever do anything that would make him unhappy.
She only wished his new wife had felt the same way. From day one Moreen made a point of informing Camille that decisions where she, the child, was concerned could no longer be manipulated through Randolph. That would now be Moreen's job. Private schools, summer camps and endless classes on etiquette and grooming were Moreen's idea of the perfect childhood. They were Camille's idea of torture.
Camille's mother had died when she was eight, from complications of pneumonia, her father said. And for two years Camille and her father had been close, relying only on each other to survive the darkest time in their lives. The darkest time, that is, until Moreen came. Her father was completely brainwashed by the sexy vixen.
Camille hated her.
That harsh emotion spun from the brash and uncaring way Moreen had of reminding Camille that she was not her child and that she was not worthy of all her father had showered on her. Remarks like, "I don't know why we waste money sending you to etiquette class, you'll never amount to anything," "You're so plain, so unattractive," "You're too short and too pudgy," had been the norm in the Davis household.
As a result, Camille struggled with depression and roller-coaster weight loss and gain. Finally, when she was in her second year of college Camille had collapsed. She was exhausted from working as an assistant in a design house and taking a full class load, and she was malnourished from trying to be like the skinny models she worked with on a daily basis. In essence, she was slowly killing herself.
Finally, when Camille had felt as if she were at the end of her rope, she'd decided to try seeing a counselor. That was her saving grace. Her counseling sessions were private, a place where she could share her innermost feelings without fear of her father finding out and having to face his rage at her exposing what he would have termed "private matters." She told of Moreen's verbal abuse and was rewarded by the fact that she was not the cause of her extremely low self-esteem, Moreen was. But even finding the cause didn't always heal the wound.
Now she was in a face-off with Moreen yet again. Only this time Camille planned to come out on top.
"I'm taking care of business," Moreen huffed.
"You're trying to sell my father's house without my permission."
"I don't need your permission."
"I own half of that house." Camille took another step closer to Moreen and tried not to flinch at the heated waves of animosity emanating from the woman to her. "You can't do anything with that house without my approval and my signature."
Then, as if she finally decided to acknowledge the two men still sitting at the table, Camille looked in their direction and asked, "Did you know that I owned half the house? Did you know that what you're trying to do here is illegal? Do you know that I can sue the pants off you and your big brass corporation for attempting to fraudulently buy my property?"
Her heart was pounding again and she didn't wait for their answer as she swung back to Moreen. "I don't know what it's going to take for you to get through your head that he left everything down to his socks to you and I. Fifty, fifty. Now I have no idea why he'd do such a fool thing but I am attempting to deal with that. You, on the other hand, seem to think you can do whatever it is you please no questions asked."
"Now you just wait a minute, young lady." Moreen stepped away from the table to get closer to Camille. "I don't know what's come over you"
That made two of them because Camille didn't have a clue where she'd gotten the nerve to jump on a plane to Las Vegas, bumrush a major corporation and interrupt a meeting she was sure was worth millions of dollars. But at the present time none of that was relevant. The only thing that mattered was saving the house she'd grown up in, the house her mother had lived in.
She'd found out that Moreen was attempting to sell the house from her best friend and business partner, Dana Palmer, whose mother ran in the same social circles as Moreen. And she'd dropped everything to get here in time to stop her. "I'm tired of dealing with your drama. Your father catered to you but I certainly will not."
"Ah, it seems that you two have some sort of personal issue going on here. But we were in the middle of a meeting and" a male voice interrupted.
Camille paused, almost stopped breathing as she listened.
It couldn't be.
She'd dreamt of that voice.
Every night for the last six months, except for the two weeks after her father's death, she'd dreamt of that voice, that man.
The deep timbre resonated throughout her entire down her spine spreading familiar spikes of warmth in its wake.
Camille paused, then moved in a way that had her convinced the entire room had been switched to slow motion.
Their gazes met and held. "ah, we were " The man in her dreams cleared his throat.
It was him. From the close-cropped hair and smiling eyes to the strong jaw and not-too-thick lips. It was him and she didn't know how to react.
The man sitting beside her dream man stood. "What my partner is trying to say is that you and Mrs. Davis should probably deal with your family business at another time. We are in the middle of a very important meeting."
Moreen interrupted. "I must apologize. This is my stepdaughter, Camille Davis."
The man extended his hand and nodded. "I'm Maxwell Donovan."
Camille accepted his hand with a brief nod. He was certainly easy on the eyes with his carameltoned skin and funny-colored eyes. But he was nothing in comparison to the man beside him. The man she couldn't bring herself to look at again.
"This is my partner, Adam Donovan." Camille sighed. The man in her dreams now had a name.
It would be rude not to look at him now especially since he was also standing and extending his hand. She took a deep breath and accepted his hand as well.
In her more fanciful thoughts she expected sparks to fly or maybe fireworks to explode in the distant sky at their first touch. What she didn't expect was that warmth his voice had solicited to swirl and center in the pit of her stomach then slowly slither lower.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Davis. Since you obviously have an interest in this deal, why don't you take a seat and join us," he said in that voice that Camille swore would make any woman scream.
Camille sat, ignoring Moreen's evil glare from beside her.
"As I was saying," Max continued. "This meeting was simply to get an idea of what was on the table. We haven't made any formal offers nor has Mrs. Davis accepted anything from us. However, we have done some preliminary investigation into the property. The property is a value all by itself. And the house, while in good condition, can be worth almost double once we're finished with it. Your father was a businessmanI'm sure you would agree that he would at least entertain our offer."
"It's too much space for me, Camille. And you haven't lived there in years," Moreen pleaded.
"It was my father's house. I was born there and I grew up there. It's not for sale," she said adamantly. "If she informed you otherwise then she was out of line."
Camille stood to leave. In her mind there was nothing more to discuss.
She expected the silence. Or maybe she expected Moreen to start on one of her tirades. What she did not expectbut probably should have since this seemed to be the year of surprises for herwas the touch on her arm.
"Why don't you hear us out and then decide if you're interested?" Adam asked.