Camille Douglas stepped into the spacious office and slammed the door behind her with a piercing thud. At the sound of a faint noise, she whipped her head to the side to see a single picture, encased in what appeared to be an expensive gold frame, topple from the mantle and fall with a soft thump to the floor. A tiny grin tugged at the corners of her mouth, but she fought it back, even as a childish sense of triumph stole over her.
With lazy steps, she sauntered towards the centre of the room, her high heels digging into the soft plush carpet, until she came to a stop in front of a large cherry oak desk. With a slight tilt of her chin, she schooled her features into a neutral expression and bravely met the gazes of the four men that stood before her, as hostility blazed in the matching depths of their eyes.
With a quick flick of the wrist, Camille tossed her unruly curls over her shoulder and straightened her back even as droplets of sweat coated her palms. She was scared, but she had no intention of showing it. The Downing brothers had brought her there to draw blood, but she would be damned if she gave them the satisfaction of knowing that she was nervous as hell.
"I'm here as you summoned," she drawled in her soft, southern accent, her voice dripping with contempt.
Jacob's eyes narrowed. He was the oldest and out of all of them, he was the most arrogant. She'd attended school with him so she knew him the best, and out of all of them she hated him the most.
"You didn't have to come, although I am sure you knew it was in your best interests to do so," he said tightly.
She stiffened at his words, her hands balling into tight fists.
"My best interests?" Despite a valiant effort, she couldn't stop the look of scorn that she knew, without a doubt, crossed her face.
"No, Mr. Downing--" she paused to glance at each of them. "Mr. Downings--" she corrected. "This meeting is in no way shape or form in my best interests, but what choice did I really have? You offered me a way to save my family ranch, so I'm here to take it."
She stared at each of them, the bitter animosity she'd fought to mask, now blazed in her gaze as anger ignited inside her at the thought of why she was there in the first place. If it wasn't for what the ranch symbolised she would have told them all to kiss her ass a long time ago. But with the predicament she was in, she was now forced to kiss their asses.
The Douglas Ranch had been in her family since her great-great grandmother, Ida Douglas, a former slave with almost no education, had managed to purchase a small plot of land outside of San Antonio Texas during the Reconstruction Era. At the time, it hadn't been much, but over the years, the ranch had grown in size, eventually becoming a lucrative and extensive ranching operation, until their name was synonymous with the wealthy black elite of Texas. That had all changed six years ago when her father died and her greedy, tramp of a step-mother squandered most of the family assets in one poorly conceived business deal after the next.
By the time Camille returned from her graduate studies in Dublin six months ago, it was too late. The ranch was up for foreclosure, and everything that her family had worked so hard for was now in the hands of their bitter enemies and hated rivals--the Downings. The four Downing brothers now held her family legacy in their hands, and with the exception of going on a murderous rampage, she would stop at nothing to reclaim her family heritage.
"Have a seat, Ms. Douglas," Jackson, the second oldest said and waved his hand towards the lone chair in the middle of the room. She glanced at it. There were no other chairs in the room. She shook her head. There was no way in hell she was going to sit, while those cocky, arrogant bastards stood over her.
"No thank you. I'll stand."
Jackson shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Apparently, that had been their one attempt at courtesy. From the stubborn set of their matching jaw lines, Camille could tell that their southern hospitality well had probably dried up long ago--or at least it had towards her and her family. That was fine with her. She wasn't there to be courted like some dainty southern belle. She was there to hear their terms so that she could negotiate the selling of her property back to her.
"Look gentlemen. There's no sense in pretending that this is an amicable meeting, so why don't we just skip the pleasantries and get straight to business. How much is it going to cost me to get my land back?" There. She'd said it. Her heart beat frantically in her chest as she watched them glance at each other, their expressions registering surprise. She was sure her bluntness had caught them off guard. No matter. That was the reason why she was there so it shouldn't have come as too big of a surprise that the subject of her ranch would end up on the agenda.
Camille silently fumed, when they leaned in close to exchange hushed words. Their voices were barely more than a whisper, but she could still hear her name. She tapped her foot angrily against the soft carpeted floor, amazed by their rudeness, and a little annoyed that the sound of her stomping foot was muffled.
When they finished with their discussion, Jackson, Jeff and Jason all nodded at their older brother, as if signalling that they were in agreement.
She watched with wary eyes while Jacob studied her. His gaze settled first on her face, before leisurely drifting across her figure. A gasp of shock threatened to erupt from her lips when his eyes lingered on her overly large breasts that strained against her gray suit. As a size sixteen, it was hard to find decent clothing to contain them, but she thought she'd done a good job of hiding her chest that day. Apparently not. A fresh wave of fury washed over her as she bristled under his scrutiny, barely suppressing the urge to ask if he wanted a closer look when his eyes zeroed in on the area between her legs. She shook her head, appalled by his audacity. When he lingered there for several moments, she couldn't contain herself any longer.
"Mr. Downing? Is there something that you would like to say to me--to my face?" She snapped angrily.
Jacob arched a single eyebrow and his lips curled up into a slight grin that looked more like a leer.
Her nostrils flared at the gesture. There was nothing amusing about his actions.
"Actually, there is." His eyes held her gaze, his expression blank. "How much is the ranch worth to you?"
Camille stood there for several moments considering his question, before giving him the only answer that she could--the truth.
"It's worth everything. It's been in my family for generations, and I would do anything to keep it," she said, knowing her eyes revealed the sincerity of her words.
She blinked for several seconds. There was something in his voice that gave her pause, but she finally nodded saying, "Yes. I would do anything to keep it." She fixed her gaze upon each of them before adding. "I cannot buy it at market value yet, but I have a trust and some money saved. I can give you some now and then work out a pay--"
"Thank you, Ms. Douglas for that offer, but we have already come to a decision on the payment plan."
Relief instantly flooded her at his words, and for the first time since she'd agreed to the meeting, she allowed the tension to seep from her body. They were going to let her buy it back. She had been so worried that with the bad blood between their families they would simply refuse to sell.
"How much? How much do I owe you?"
"It's not an amount."
She shook her head, puzzled. "I don't understand."
"It's not money we want from you."
"Then how am I supposed to pay you back for the ranch? It's worth almost three million dollars. What could I possibly give you that would compensate for the amount you paid?"
Her eyes widened, not quite comprehending Jacob's statement. "Huh?"
"You are the payment, Camille."
His words hit her like a ton of bricks. She stared up at them, the cold expressionless masks that were their faces. A soft gasp ripped past her lips when Jacob's words finally penetrated the fog that had settled in her brain. They were serious. They wanted her as payment!
"P--payment how? In what capacity?" She swallowed the lump in her throat. Maybe they wanted her to be their housekeeper, because the alternative was infinitely more terrifying than the thought of scrubbing their floors and doing their dirty laundry for an eternity.
Jacob's eyes flashed with impatience.
"What do you think, Camille? You are the payment."
She shook her head in protest, but he ignored her.
"For six months you will serve all of our sexual needs in any way we see fit. You are to be available to service us at any time, and any place." She had to restrain herself from rearing back in shock when she glimpsed the tiny flash of desire in his eyes.
"If you comply with our demands for the entire time, then the ranch is yours."
She stood there stunned. Yet the shock was quickly replaced by fury.
"Absolutely not! I have a job gentleman and it does not include being your twenty-four hour mistress. Those terms are unacceptable--"
"This is not up for negotiation. This is the only offer we are making. You can either take it, or lose your ranch for good," Jeff said.
She whirled around to stare at Jeff, the third oldest, surprised by his boldness. But then again he was a Downing so what had she truly expected?
"We were under the impression that as an advice columnist and freelance writer, you work mostly from home."
She slid her gaze to Jason, the youngest, and shot angry daggers from her eyes at him for his insinuation.
A bitter chuckle escaped her lips.
"So you think because I work at home, that I having nothing but endless amounts of time to play your mistress?" She asked in a shrill voice.