The Nanny's Homecoming

By: Linda Goodnight

Prologue

George Clayton Sr. did three things before he died. He made his peace with God. He sold the Lucky Lady Silver Mine to a fella out of Denver named Gabe Wesson. And he wrote a will.

Now, it was the will that brought the simmering pot of Clayton, Colorado, to a full-out, rolling boil. The way old George figured it, sometimes a wound’s got to fester before it can heal.

And fester it did.





Chapter One


Gabe Wesson was a desperate man.

Inside the aptly named Cowboy Café, a hodgepodge of western types and various other townsfolk gathered at the long, Formica-topped counter for homemade pie and socializing. Gabe joined the counter crowd, his toddler son perched on his knee.

In a few short weeks, he’d discovered that if a man wanted to know anything or spread any news in the town of Clayton, Colorado, the Cowboy Café was the place to do it. Today, what he needed more than anything was a nanny for his son, A.J. Funny that he could run a corporation with dozens of employees but he’d hit a brick wall when it came to finding suitable child care in this tiny Rocky Mountain town.

He was a gambler of sorts, a speculator. Some would even call him a troublemaker, though he always left a place better than he’d found it.

He’d found Clayton to be a sleepy community time had forgotten. With an abandoned railroad track slicing through town and an equally abandoned silver mine perched in the nearby hills, the town was just about dead.

It was the “just about” that had brought Gabe here. He had a knack for sniffing out near-dead businesses and bringing them back to life. This gift—and he was convinced it was a gift from God—had taken him from a scrappy kid stocking groceries to the head of his own Denver corporation by the age of thirty-three.

But unless he found a nanny soon, he would be forced to move back to Denver, something he did not want to do. At least not now, not when the weight of the past two years was starting to lift.

The friendly young waitress, Kylie Jones, sailed past with a slice of hot pie oozing cherries and drowning in vanilla ice cream. Gabe’s mouth watered. He ordered the pie and a coffee for himself and a grilled cheese with milk for his son.

Filled with the smell of home-baked cakes and cinnamon, the long, narrow café was warm, welcoming and always busy. Square wooden tables with chunky, straight-backed chairs crowded every space. The Denver Post, well-read and refolded, lay next to the old-fashioned cash register and a credit card machine. From a jukebox beside the door, George Strait sang about the best day of his life.

On the stool next to Gabe a cowboy type in boots and Wranglers angled a fork toward the street. A white hearse crept past. “They’re planting old George today.”

“Cody Jameson, show some respect.” Red-haired Erin Fields, the surprisingly young café owner, took a swipe at the worn counter with her bleach rag. “This town wouldn’t exist without George Clayton and his family.”

Kylie, carefully filling a salt shaker, looked up. “Nobody liked him that much, Erin, even if he was the only lawyer in town. Or maybe because of it.”

“Still. Speaking ill of the dead doesn’t seem right. His grandkids are here for the funeral and they’re good people.” She propped a hand on one hip and gazed at the street. “Brooke came in yesterday and bought burgers to take over to Arabella’s. That girl is still sweet as that cherry pie.”

“I’d love to see Brooke again,” Kylie said wistfully. She’d moved on to stuffing paper napkins into tall, metal holders. “We played basketball together in high school. She was a terrific point guard.”

Erin tossed the bleach rag into the sink behind the counter and ran her hands under the faucet. “Then see her, Kylie. None of the Clayton kids have been in town for ages, but she’ll probably stick around for a couple of days.”

Kylie’s pretty face tightened. “You know how Vincent feels about that side of his family.”

Erin’s lips thinned but she didn’t say anymore. She took a pair of roast-beef–laden platters from the order window, grabbed an iced tea pitcher and moved toward a couple seated at one of the square tables.

Gabe listened with interest, gleaning the facts and the undercurrents. He’d returned to Clayton this morning after a three-day trip to corporate headquarters in Denver. Between then and now, the former owner of the Lucky Lady Silver Mine, George Clayton, had passed away. He wondered if George’s heirs knew he’d sold the mine to an outsider.

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