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"Have you totally lost your mind, Pam? No matter what you say, we can't let you do it. You've given up so much for us already. We just can't."
Pamela Novak smiled as she glanced over her shoulder and saw the three militant faces frowning at her and quickly decided it would be best to give them her full attention. Drying her hands on a towel she turned away from the sink to face them.
She wondered what it would take to make her sisters see reason and understand that she had to do what she had to do. Not just for her own benefit but mainly for theirs. Fletcher was pushing for a Christmas wedding and here it was the first week in November already. So far they hadn't set a date, but he would bring it up every time she saw him. He'd let it be known that he didn't want a long engagement and, considering everything, a long engagement wouldn't be in her best interest, either.
She nibbled on her bottom lip, trying to come up with a quick yet effective strategy. If she could convince her sister Jillian of the importance of what she had to do, then Paige and Nadia would quickly come on board. But convincing Jillian was the big challenge. Jill didn't like Fletcher.
"And what makes you think it's something I'm being forced to do, rather than something I want to do?" Pamela finally decided to ask the three of them.
Of course, it was Jillian who stepped out to speak. Jill, as she was called by most people in Gamble, Wyoming, at seventeen was a senior in high school and was a spitfire. She was also smart as a whip. It was Pam's most fervent desire for Jill to leave Gamble next fall to attend the University of Wyoming in Laramie and pursue her dream of one day becoming a neurosurgeon.
And Paige, fifteen, and Nadia, thirteen, would soon be ready to pursue their aspirations. Pam wanted to make sure that funds were available for college when that time came. She also wanted to make sure that if her sisters wanted to return to Gamble, they would still have a home here. Pam felt certain that accepting Fletcher's marriage proposal made those things possible.
"You're sacrificing your happiness, Pam. We aren't stupid. What woman in her right mind would want to marry a jerk like Fletcher Mallard?" Jill boldly said.
Pam had to fight to keep a straight face when she said, "He is not a jerk. In fact, Fletcher is a nice man."
"When he's not being obnoxious and arrogant, which is most of the time. Already he thinks he can run things around here. We've been doing just fine without him," was Jill's bitter response.
Jill took a quick breather and then went on to say, "We don't care if we lose this house and it wouldn't bother us in the least if we don't get a college education. We refuse to let you marry the likes of that man to protect what you see as our bright futures. Speaking of futures, you should be back in California working on a real movie instead of spending your time teaching students at the acting school. You got a degree in drama, Pam. Being an actress has always been your dream. Your passion. You shouldn't have given it up for us."
Pam inhaled deeply. She had been through all of this before with her sisters. The problem was that they knew too much about the situation, something she wished hadn't happened. Unfortunately for her, they had been home that day when Lester Gadling, her father's attorney, had dropped by to deliver the bad news and they had overheard Lester's words.
"But I'm not in California. I'm perfectly satisfied being here in Gamble and running the acting school, giving others the same opportunity that was given to me," she countered.
She paused for a second and then said, "Listen, ladies, I've made these decisions because I love you."
"And we love you, too, Pammie," Nadia replied. "But we can't let you give up the chance to one day meet a really nice guy and—"
"Fletcher is a nice guy," she interjected. However, all she received for her effort were three pairs of rolling eyes.
"No, he's not," Paige spoke up to say. "I was in the bank one day when he went off on one of the tellers for making him wait in line for so long. He thinks he's all that, just because he owns a chain of grocery stores."
"Okay, you saw his bad side just that one time," Pam said. "Deep down he's a kind person. He's willing to help us out, isn't he?"
"Yes, but look what he'll be getting. Our home and the most beautiful single woman in Gamble," Jill pointed out.
"A single woman who isn't getting any younger and who will be turning thirty in a few months. Don't you think it's time I get married?"
"Yes, but not to him," Jill implored. "Anyone but him."
Pam glanced at the kitchen clock that hung on the wall. Fletcher was coming to dinner and would be arriving any minute, and she needed to make sure her sisters put this behind them. They had to accept that she was now an engaged woman and move on.
She of all people knew that Fletcher had his flaws and could be arrogant at times, but she could deal with that. What she refused to deal with was letting her sisters lose the only home they knew and a chance to fulfill their dreams by attending the colleges they desired.
She couldn't help but wonder what her father had been thinking to put a second mortgage on their home—a mortgage for which the full balance was due within a year of his death. There was no way she could come up with a million dollars. Fletcher, in the role of a friend, had made her an offer that she couldn't refuse. It would not be a love match, he was fully aware of that. She would, however, as agreed, perform her wifely duties. He wanted kids one day and so did she. And Pam was determined to make the most of their marriage and be a good wife to him.
"I want the three of you to make me a promise," she finally said to her sisters.
"What kind of promise?" Jill asked, lifting a suspicious brow.
"I want you to promise me that you will do everything I ask regarding my engagement to Fletcher. That, you will make me, as your oldest sister, happy by supporting my marriage to him."
"But will you be truly happy, Pammie?" Paige asked with an expression that said she really had to know.
No, she wouldn't truly be happy, but her sisters didn't have to know that, Pam thought. They must never know the extent of her sacrifice for them. With that resolve in mind, Pam lifted her chin, looked all three of them in the eyes and told a lie that she knew was going to be well worth it in the end.
"Yes," she said, plastering a fake smile on her lips. "I will truly be happy. I want to marry Fletcher. Now, make me that promise."
Jill, Paige and Nadia hesitated only for a moment and then said simultaneously, "We promise."
When Pam turned back to the sink, the three girls looked at each other and smiled. Their fingers had been crossed behind their backs when they'd made their promise.
It was probably inconsiderate of him to show up without calling first, Dillon thought, as he turned into the long driveway that was marked as the Novak Homestead.
He had arrived in Gamble, Wyoming, earlier that day, with his mission on his mind. What had happened to his great-grandfather's other four wives, the ones he had before he married Dillon's great-grandmother, Gemma? According to the genealogy research James Westmoreland had done, Gamble was the first place Raphel had settled in after leaving Atlanta, and a man by the name of Jay Novak had been his business partner in a dairy business.
Dillon would have called, but he couldn't get a signal on his cell phone. Roy Davis, the man who owned the only hotel in Gamble, had explained that was because Gamble was in such a rural area, getting a good signal was almost impossible. Dillon had shaken his head. It was absurd that in this day and age there was a town in which you couldn't get a decent cell signal when you needed it.
He had finally gotten a signal earlier to contact his secretary to check on things back at the office. Not surprisingly, everything was under control, since he had hired the right people to make sure his billion-dollar real estate firm continued to be a success whether or not he was there.
Dillon parked his car behind another car in the yard and glanced up at a huge Victorian house with a shingle roof. It was very similar in design to his home in Denver and he wondered if that was a coincidence.
According to what he'd heard, four sisters occupied the house and the oldest was named Pamela Novak. He understood Ms. Novak had had an up-and-coming acting career in California but had moved back to Gamble upon her father's death. She was now operating the drama school a former teacher had recently willed to her.
When Dillon got out of the rental car he took time to stretch his legs. Like most Westmorelands he was tall, and because of his height he'd always enjoyed playing basketball. He'd been set to begin a career in the NBA when he'd gotten word of the plane crash that had claimed the lives of his parents and his aunt and uncle, leaving fourteen younger Westmorelands in his care.
It hadn't been easy and Tammi, his girlfriend from college, had claimed she would stick by his side no matter what. Less than six months into their marriage she had run back home hollering and screaming that she couldn't handle living on a ranch with a bunch of heathens.
That was after she had failed to convince him to put his youngest brother, Bane, who'd been eight at the time, his cousins—Adrian and Aiden—the twins who'd been ten, and Bailey, who'd been seven, into foster care because they were always getting into some kind of mischief.
He had understood that most of their antics had been for the attention they'd needed after losing their parents. However, Tammi had failed to see it that way and wanted out of the marriage. One good thing that had come out of his divorce was that he'd realized it was meant for him to be single and, as long as he was the head of the family, he would stay that way.
Another good thing about his divorce was that the younger Westmorelands—all of them with the exception of Bane—had felt guilty about Tammi leaving and had improved their behavior. Now the twins and Bailey were in college. Bane… was still Bane.
"You lost, mister?"
Dillon quickly turned around to look into two pairs of dark brown eyes standing a few yards away. Twins? No, but they could pass for such. Now he could see that one of the teenage girls was a head taller than the other.
"Well, are you?"
He smiled. Evidently he hadn't spoken quick enough to suit them. "No, I'm not lost if this is the Novaks' place."
The taller of the two said, "I'm a Novak. We both are."
Dillon chuckled. "Then I guess I'm at the right place."
"Who did you want to see?"
"I want to see Pamela Novak."
The shorter of the two nodded. "That's our sister. She's in the house talking to him."
Dillon raised a brow. He had no idea who him was, and from the distasteful way it had been said, he really wasn't sure he wanted to find out. "If she's busy I can come back later," he said, moving back toward the car.
"Yeah, because he might get mad if he thought you'd come calling just to see Pammie," the taller one said.
A look of mischief shone in their eyes as the two girls looked at each other and smiled. And then, screaming to the top of their voices, they called, "Pammie, a man is here to see you!"
Dillon leaned against his car with arms across his chest, knowing he had been set up, and the two teens were having a little fun at his expense. He wasn't so sure how he liked it until the door to the house swung open. At that moment he literally forgot to breathe. A strikingly beautiful woman walked out. It didn't matter that she was frowning. The only thing that mattered was that she was definitely the living, breathing specimen of the most gorgeous woman he'd ever seen.
She couldn't have been any taller than five-eight, and was slim with just the right curves in the jeans she was wearing. She had shoulder-length black hair flowing around her shoulders and a medium brown complexion that complimented the rest of her features. Her eye color was the same dark brown as the two scamps, and she had a pixie nose that was perfect for her face. She was definitely a stunner. A raven-haired beauty that made him nearly breathless.
"Hey, you're trespassing. May I help you?"
He looked beyond her to a big hulk of a man standing directly behind her in the doorway who'd asked the question in a high-pitched and agitated tone. And he was glaring at Dillon as if his very presence annoyed the hell out of him.
Dillon quickly figured that this must be the "him" the girls had been referring to, and was about to open his mouth to speak when the taller of the two girls spoke up. "No, you can't help him because he didn't come to see you, Fletcher. He came to see Pammie."
A dark scowl covered the man's face at the same time a smile touched the teen's lips. It wasn't hard to see she was deliberately trying to get a rise out of the man.
"Paige and Nadia, shouldn't you be upstairs doing your homework?" the gorgeous woman asked the two before turning her curious gaze on Dillon. Unlike her male friend, she smiled brightly and had a cheerful look on her face.
"Pamela Novak?" he heard himself ask, trying to force air into his lungs. He'd seen beautiful women before, but there was something about her that was doing something to everything male within him.
"Yes," she said, still smiling while stepping down the steps toward him. He pushed away from the car and began moving toward her, as well.
"Wait a minute, Pamela," the hulk of a man called out. "You don't know this man. You shouldn't be so quick to be nice to people."
"Maybe you should follow her lead, Fletcher."