Garnet Harvey graduates from an orphanage and lands a job as a nanny for three motherless girls.
Chester Paul, a wealthy businessman, lost his wife in childbirth. After a long period of mourning, he hires a nanny to take care of his children while he works in the city. He remains involved in the girls’ daily lives, and comes to care for their new caregiver.
When Garnet’s guardian discovers the situation, she insists on a trial separation. If their feelings remain strong, how can Garnet be introduced to Chester’s social circle? How will secrets from Garnet’s past affect their growing love for each other?
Is it strong enough to grow as beautiful as the Colorado Columbine?
The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
Jefferson County, Colorado 1911
The back of Garnet Harvey’s neck prickled as if someone were watching her as she walked down the long circular drive to the three-story mansion. Chester Paul’s house was fancy indeed. She hoped she would make a good impression on whomever was watching.
Stray hairs from the bun on top of her head tickled her face and neck. The magazine had promised the easy-to-care style would keep her hair in place. Garnet hoped it would make her look serious enough to be a nanny to three young girls.
The door came into view. “Lord, help me a do a good job for You and for Sister Carmela.”
A broad-chested lady with white hair and matching apron greeted her. “Oh, good. You must be Miss Harvey. I’m Mrs. Griffin, the cook. Come on in. Mr. Paul is eager to meet you.”
Mr. Paul. Garnet’s heart dropped. Her opportunity to move out of the girls’ home and find meaningful employment lay in his lap. Would he remember any of the times they had met before? “I hope to meet the girls as well.”
The cook chuckled, as if she’d discerned Garnet’s nervousness. “Mr. Paul is a kind man, although he’s a lion where those girls are concerned.” She looked Garnet up and down. “You’ll do fine. Sister Carmela wouldn’t send anyone but the very best.”
Garnet swallowed hard. “Where do I find Mr. Paul?”
“I’ll take you.” A man of average height, dressed in an impeccable suit and wearing wire rim glasses, entered the kitchen. “I am Mr. Brooks.”
He had to be the butler.
“Mrs. Griffin rang as soon as you arrived. Follow me.” He took Garnet’s valise and left.
She fell in behind. He stopped outside the kitchen, where a variety of coats hung from pegs. “Your valise will be safe here.” He set her bag down and assisted her with her coat.
He navigated her through the kitchen and dining rooms and moved silently across the back the grand entrance. A family portrait caught her attention, but Mr. Brooks kept her moving forward and down a hallway and knocked on the door. “Miss Harvey is here to see you, sir.”
“Thank you, Brooks.”
When the butler left, Garnet got her first look in a long time at her prospective employer. The years weighed on him—the loss of a wife would do that to a man—but he was as handsome as she remembered.
Bookshelves lined one wall. A small table held an empty vase, begging for flowers, and open books. Underneath a high window, she spotted a box of toys. He brought his daughters in here?
“Only a lion where your daughters are concerned.” The words escaped, and she smiled nervously.
Her smile appeared to put him at ease. “Ah. You have a sense of humor. That’s an important quality of someone who works with small children. Humor, imagination, and a great deal of patience. Would you agree?” He returned to his seat and tapped his desk pad with a pencil.
“What other qualities would you consider important?”
Was he asking her for how she intended to care for his children?
“In my experience”—slight emphasis on experience— “children also do well with routine and discipline.”
“Are you a stern governess? I don’t believe it.”
Garnet’s cheeks grew warm, probably as red as her hair. “I’m stern when needed, but it is not very often.” She straightened her posture. “I’ve been dorm mother to ten girls under my care at the Children’s Home. They ranged in age from age five to twelve.”
“But my daughters—”
“Before that, I worked in the home’s nursery, with children up to age five. I have wide experience working with children, girls in particular.” As she spoke, she regained confidence. “I understand you have three daughters, ages one, three-and-a-half, and five. I look forward to meeting them.” She had thrown down the gauntlet. He could take her, or send her back to Sister Carmela.
Unperturbed, he studied her as closely as she had studied him. Of course he did. When he didn’t speak, she guessed at the conversation going on in his head. Sixty seconds passed before he spoke again. “Sister Carmela speaks highly of you. I was expecting someone a little older, with more experience—someone settled.”
Was he afraid she would marry and abandon his children? “I consider my age an advantage. I have more energy to keep up with children at play.”
“Play.” Standing with a sigh, he walked to the window that overlooked a large lawn behind the house. “It’s been too long since we’ve heard the laughter of children in this house.” He shook his head and turned around. “Miss Harvey, you appear to be an excellent candidate for my children’s nanny. But first you must meet them. They must also approve.”
Good. She had passed the first hurdle. But what man wanted his children’s approval of their nanny? She applauded the approach.
Mr. Paul led her to the stairs leading up to the landing. “The nursery is on the second floor. Your room will be next to the girls’, of course, in case they have need of you in the night.”
She nodded, although the grandeur of the house drew her attention away. It must surpass even Molly Brown’s mansion in Denver. Her family’s house had quality furniture, passed through several generations—now lost. The orphanage used pieces designed for function more than for beauty. But these pieces, oh my: leaves, fruit, flowers, carved in great detail on tufted chairs and divans—a garden done in wood.
On the second floor, a young lass with a cap and apron passed by, her head turned away. Halfway down the hall hung a portrait of a beautiful young woman, with hair the color of oak, a medium brown with hints of sunshine. Garnet couldn’t stop staring.
He paused and looked at the church. “My late wife. I want our children to see her frequently and remember her always.”
“How long ago did she die?” Garnet asked.
Chester’s throat constricted at Miss Harvey’s question. Talking about Marie hurt him still.
“Ten months ago.” He didn’t tell her about the fever which had claimed her life, about the fear he might also have lost baby Maude.
“I’m so sorry.” She didn’t speak again as they headed down the hall. He didn’t mind her silence, as long as she connected with the girls, helping them return to joy from the quiet sadness of their faces betrayed that mattered most.
“This will be your room.” He pointed to a room with a connecting door to the nursery.
After a swift glance, she stepped forward. “Then this must be the nursery.”
She reached for the door, but he got there first. Behind the door, he heard the pitter-patter of the girls’ feet, and it brought a smile to his face.
He flung the door open. “Daddy!” Margaret, his middle girl, ran forward first and thrust her arms in the air for him to pick her up.
Mary followed, holding a squirming Maude in her arm. Although the toddler had grown too big for Mary to carry, she still played mother to her little sister.
Maude squirmed to the floor and took two-three-four steps to reach him, her unsteady gait as victorious as it was funny. “Look at my girl go.” He eased Margaret to the floor and picked his baby up, kissing his baby on the cheek. She tucked her head against his shoulder.
He bent over and hugged Mary close. “How are you doing today, Mary-girl?”
Her eyes strayed to Miss Harvey. “Who’s she?”
She stepped forward before he could speak. “I’m Miss Garnet, and I hope to take care of you.” She knelt so she was eye-to-eye with Mary. “You must be Mary. You’ve done a good job taking care of your sisters.”
“We don’t need help.” Mary’s chin went up.
“I can see that.”
Chester loved the way Miss Harvey took Mary so seriously.
“But maybe I can make it easier for you. And I tell you what.” Miss Harvey—Garnet, her hair demanded she be called by her given name—lowered her voice. “I always need help. It means a lot to know you’ll be here if I need help. Will you do that for me?” Garnet smiled and held out a hand.
Mary stared at the adult-sized hand and glanced at her father, as if asking for permission. He nodded.
“I will.” Mary shook Garnet’s hand.
Chester felt Garnet’s desire to pull Mary close and hug her, but she resisted the temptation. With a woman like this, maybe his sweet Mary, the girl most like her mother, would laugh once again.
Margaret stepped between Mary and Garnet. She never liked being out of the limelight for long. Mary hovered, ready to pull away her sister if she made a wrong move.
“Are you going to be our new mother?” Margaret asked.
“Margaret.” The name whistled through Chester’s teeth, as quick and rough as a winter wind.
“Oh, no, Margaret. I’m going to be your nanny, if you and your sisters agree.”
Chester wanted to laugh at the confusion on his daughter’s face. Mary said, “That’s silly. Daddy will decide if you’re our nanny or not.”
Garnet glanced up at him. “I’ll tell you a secret. He already offered me the job, but only if you agree.”
“What’s a nanny?” Margaret asked.
Maude reached out and touched Garnet’s hair. She tugged out a strand that hung down the side of her face, softening the strict lines the bun had created. Chester held his speech, waiting to see how Garnet responded.
Garnet focused on his youngest daughter. “You like my hair? It’s pretty and bright, like yours.”
Maude reached out again but Garnet laced her fingers around Maude’s hands. “But you can’t grab somebody’s hair. Not mine or anyone else’s.”
Maude reached again. Chester shook his head, and she looked at the floor, embarrassed.
Margaret giggled, then she grew serious. “So what’s a nanny?” she repeated her question.
“I’ll take care of you. I’ll wake you and help you get dressed. I’ll be with you all the time you’re awake. We’ll do fun things, too.”
“Won’t Daddy take care of us anymore?” Margaret’s lips trembled.
Chester’s heart broke. “I’ll see you every day, sweetheart. But I have to spend more time in town.”
“She sounds like a mother.” Mary’s voice was even and soft—unfriendly. “I don’t want another mother.”
“I will never take your mother’s place.” Garnet put her hands on Mary’s shoulders. “I lost my mother, too, and no one could ever take her place. But someone helped me after she died. She’s special to me. I want to do that for you.” She squeezed her fingertips together while she waited for Mary’s response.
Mary lifted her chin. “We can try it. Margaret?” The two girls nodded their heads in unison.
“Wonderful. I need to settle into my room, but I’ll start spending time with you. . .” Garnet looked at Chester.
He smiled to himself. “So the decision has been made. Good. Welcome to our family, Miss Harvey. Girls, she’ll be with you tomorrow.”
“Yea!” Margaret hugged Garnet, and Mary shook her hand. Chester knew he’d made the right decision in hiring Garnet.
“Say goodbye. The maid will continue to care for you until tomorrow morning.” He hugged and kissed them each, handing Maude back to Mary. Mary held tight, as if afraid she would drop her. Thank God he’d found someone to help them all. “Come, Miss Harvey. Let me show you around.” Chester took Garnet’s arm and led her through the door, eager to give her a tour of his home.
Thanks for sharing the first chapter of Colorado Columbine with my readers today, Darlene!
Best-selling hybrid author Darlene Franklin's greatest claim to fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. This year she expects to reach fifty unique titles in print and she’s also contributed to more than twenty nonfiction titles. Her column, “The View Through my Door,” appears monthly in Bookfun Magazine. Her most recent titles are Colorado Columbine and Love's Turning Point.
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