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Authors: Gabrielle Meyer

A Mother in the Making

BOOK: A Mother in the Making
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Matchmaking with a Mission

Practical, steady, levelheaded: all qualities single father Dr. John Orton expects in both a governess and a wife. But his children's temporary governess Miss Marjorie Maren seems set on finding him an impractical woman to love...despite his plans of marrying solely for convenience. Nothing could be more exasperating to the handsome widower—except his increasing interest in Marjorie.

Vivacious and fun-loving: that's the kind of bride the reserved doctor needs. Before Marjorie leaves to pursue her acting dreams, she intends to match him with a suitable wife candidate. Yet growing affection for her four charges and their dashing father has awakened a new hope—that she might be his perfect bride. But can she convince her employer to take a chance on love and claim real happiness before it slips away?

“Miss Baker came to supper tonight.”

Marjorie wrapped her arms around her waist. “That's nice.”

“That's nice?” John wished he could concentrate on reprimanding her. Instead, he could only think about her curls and her beautiful voice as she sang to Laura. “You had no right to invite a guest to my home to dine with me.”

She was quiet for a moment and then she spoke softly. “I have a confession to make. She's not the only woman coming to supper this week. Miss Addams and Miss Fletcher will also be coming.”

“But—why?”

She took a step toward him, and he pulled back. He could smell the lilac scent she wore and it made his mind a jumbled mess. Why was he responding to her this way? She was the governess. He must keep that in mind.

“You said you're looking for a wife,” she said. “I thought each of them would be a good candidate.”

“What gives you the right to do that?”

“I care about your children—and you.”

She cared about him? He swallowed the rush of surprise that surfaced at her statement.

He couldn't allow himself to dwell on Marjorie Maren, or his growing attraction to her.

The sooner he found a wife, the better.

Gabrielle Meyer
lives in central Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River with her husband and four young children. As an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society, she fell in love with the rich history of her state and enjoys writing fictional stories inspired by real people and events. Gabrielle can be found at
www.gabriellemeyer.com
, where she writes about her passion for history, Minnesota and her faith.

Books by Gabrielle Meyer

Love Inspired Historical

A Mother in the Making

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GABRIELLE MEYER

A Mother in the Making

A man's heart deviseth his way:
but the Lord directeth his steps.

—Proverbs
16:9

To my children, Ellis, Maryn, Judah and Asher.
Thank you for being my biggest fans.
I love you with all my heart.

Chapter One

Little Falls, Minnesota, November 1918

J
ohn Orton stared at Anna's portrait, his grief nothing compared to his pulsing guilt. How could a physician let his own wife die?

“Papa?” Charlie entered the office, his heavy gaze lifting to John's face.

John put the photo in his desk drawer, wanting to spare his son the reminder of his pain. “Yes?”

“The new governess has arrived—”

A young woman stepped over the threshold without an invitation, her blond hair in a mass of curls under a wide-brimmed hat. She glanced around the neat interior before she dropped her bag on the floor and proceeded to take off her gloves in quick succession. Her bright green eyes found John and a smile lit her pretty face. “Where shall I begin?”

John stood, grappling for a foothold of familiarity. This was not the sensible woman he had expected his mother to send from Chicago. Standing before him, in layers of lace, and a cloud of flowery perfume, was a woman far too attractive and impractical to raise his children.

“Are you—?”

“Marjorie Maren.” She grasped his limp fingers in her right hand and lifted her left hand above her head in a great flourish, her gloves flapping in the air. “A governess by day—and an actress by night.”

John glanced at Charlie, whose eyes grew wide with interest.

It would be impossible to replace Anna, but surely there was a more suitable governess to take care of his children—one with the same gentleness and competence Anna had demonstrated.

This lady would not do—would not do, at all.

“You must be Charles.” Miss Maren dropped John's hand and turned to the ten-year-old boy. “My, but you look like your mother.”

“You knew my mama?” Charlie asked.

Miss Maren offered a kind smile, and dimples graced her cheeks. “Your grandmother showed me her picture.”

“You know my grandmother?” Charlie looked even more impressed with Miss Maren.

“I know your grandmother and your uncle Paul. They are my neighbors in Chicago.” Miss Maren removed the long hat pin from her hair, and slipped off her hat. Her curls looked like golden silk and for a fleeting second, John wondered how they could look so disheveled yet perfectly arranged. “
Were
my neighbors,” the young lady amended. “I don't expect to return to Chicago—I'm going to California to become a film actress.”

“You're going to be in the movies?” Charlie's face filled with awe.

It was time for John to take control. He rounded the desk, finally finding his voice. “Miss Maren, I think there's been a mistake.”

She turned her gaze on John, and he was startled again by her pretty face. If she wanted to be an actress, she would be a charming one—but what reasonable woman wanted to be an actress?

“A mistake?”

“I expected—” How could he tell her he had expected an older woman, who wasn't quite so...fetching?

“You expected what?”

When she looked at him with those big green eyes, he couldn't recall what it was he had expected—but certainly not her.

“Your room is connected to the night nursery, on the second floor, with Lilly and the baby,” Charlie said. “Petey and I sleep on the third floor, next to the day nursery.” He picked up Miss Maren's bag. “You can follow me.”

“Charlie, would you please leave for a moment so I can speak with Miss Maren alone?” John usually appreciated his son's hospitality—but at the moment he needed Charlie to put down the bag until he knew what he would do with the young woman.

Charlie was a perceptive boy and he studied John's face now. His grip tightened around the handle of Miss Maren's bag. “I'll just bring this up to the day nursery.”

Miss Maren ran her hand over her blond curls and smiled at the boy. “Thank you, Charles.”

The boy's cheeks filled with color and he dipped his head. “You can call me Charlie.”

John lifted his eyebrows. The boy rarely gave people permission to use his pet name—and never so soon.

Charlie left the room—with the bag in hand—and Miss Maren turned her charming smile on John. “He's a lovely boy.”

“Would you please have a seat?”

She lowered herself into the leather chair facing John's desk. Though she had just spent a few days on a train, she looked as fresh as a bed of flowers after a summer rainstorm. “I'm eager to meet the other children,” she said. “Your mother and brother spoke of them so often, I feel as if I already know each one. How old is Laura now? Six months old?”

“Yes—six months.” He dropped to his chair and tried to pull himself together. He was a physician and he prided himself on staying calm in every situation. Surely he could manage something like this. He would have to be direct and honest—two attributes he appreciated in business dealings. “Miss Maren, do you have any experience with children?”

She tucked a curl into her bun with a great deal of nonchalance. “I'm afraid not—but your mother said the children are so well behaved I won't have any troubles.”

“My children are well behaved, but they are still children—and my mother is a bit biased.”

Miss Maren laughed.

If he had been in a different frame of mind, he would have enjoyed the sound. It had been absent from his home for far too long. Instead, he cleared his throat. “I had expected someone with experience—and maturity.”

She shrugged. “How do you gain experience if you aren't given your first job?”

That was fair enough. “What types of skills do you have?”

She waved the question away with her hand. “Oh, this and that... Who has been caring for the children since your wife's passing?”

“My wife's mother and sister.”

“Do they live close?”

“Too close...” He paused, embarrassed at the hasty words. “They live across the street.”

Miss Maren frowned. “Why do you need a governess if you have their help?”

“I...” He paused again. He was the one interviewing her, wasn't he? “What led you here to be our governess?”

She blinked several times. “Didn't your mother tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“This is a stopping point for me on my way to California. I need the money, and you need a governess, so your mother thought it the perfect solution.”

John steepled his hands on his desk. What had his mother been thinking? Normally she used better judgment, and he had no reason to question her advice—but now he could see he should have asked her more questions. Had she sent Miss Maren in the hopes of matchmaking? If she had, Mother would be sorely disappointed. “I'm afraid I'm in need of someone with experience raising children. My work is very demanding and I must have complete confidence in—”

“You can be completely confident in me.” Miss Maren's face and voice became very serious.

She would make a convincing actress. He almost believed her.

“I have some questions for you, too,” she said.

He leaned back in his chair. “Oh?”

“How long will you need my services? I won't be able to stay permanently—but I don't want to leave until the job is done.”

He wasn't sure he would need her past this conversation. “I had intended to employ a governess until—” He hated to admit his plans, but what did it matter what this young woman thought of him? “Until I find a wife.”

She leaned forward, her voice lowered as if she didn't want anyone else to hear. “You'd marry again so soon?”

Irritation flashed warm under his collar. Who was she to question his decision to remarry? It had been a month since Anna died. Not nearly enough time to think of a second marriage in the traditional sense—but more than enough time to realize his children needed a mother. “My concern is for my children.”

“But surely it will take some time for you to grieve—and then fall in love again.”

He stood abruptly. Fall in love again? He could never love another woman the way he had loved Anna. “I would never dishonor my wife's memory by marrying for love. This is purely a practical decision on my part.”

She rose, as well. “Practical?” Her voice was filled with passion. “Marriage should be everything but practical! It would be dreadful to be married for practicality's sake.”

Her response was unnerving. He leaned forward, his hands on his desk, and couldn't help asking, “What is marriage, if it isn't practical?”

She put her hand over her heart. “It should be whimsical and utterly romantic. It should be entered into for love, and no other reason.”

“You are young and naive, so I will forgive you.”

“Forgive
me
?” Ire rose in her countenance for the first time since entering the room, and he had a glimpse of the spark beneath all the fluff. “I know something about practicality, and it is overrated.” She put her hands on her hips and stared at him—and he suddenly felt like a schoolboy being reprimanded. “You need a bit of whimsy in your life. I could tell the moment I entered this room that you're much too serious for your own good.”

He crossed his arms and offered her the stern look he gave the children when they were being impertinent. “You may have time for whimsy, Miss Maren, but I do not.” He was a widower, as well as a doctor with a pandemic on his hands. He had no time for anything resembling whimsy—and Miss Maren was at the top of his list.

He dropped into his chair and pulled a piece of paper out of his top drawer. The picture he had studied earlier peeked out at him. Anna had been as pragmatic as they had come—and he had admired her. Never once had she demanded anything else but practicality from him.

He began to scribble a note to his mother, informing her that sending Miss Maren was a mistake, no matter what her intentions. “I'm sorry, Miss Maren, but I will have to send you back to Chicago.”

The lady lowered herself into the chair, wilting like a plucked rose. “I can't go back.”

He didn't bother to look at her. “I need a steady, levelheaded woman to care for my children until I find a wife.” He would put her on the next train back to Chicago—and tell his mother exactly what he thought of Miss Maren.

* * *

Marjorie stared at the doctor, never imagining her day would end like this. “I've cut all ties to my life in Chicago—I can't possibly return.”

Dr. Orton didn't look up as he continued to scribble on the paper. A lock of brown hair fell out of place and brushed his forehead. “That's not my concern.”

“But it is.”

He lifted his head, his brown eyes filled with frustration. “How is it my concern?”

“You asked me to come.”

“My mother sent you.”

“At your request.”

“At her suggestion.”

“Your mother told me I would be welcome.” Mrs. Orton had said that Dr. Orton's family needed someone like Marjorie to bring joy back into their lives.

Dr. Orton paused and he looked as if he had to concede. “Everyone is welcome in my home.”

Marjorie toyed with a silk flower on her hat. “I don't feel welcome at the moment.”

He sighed, put down his pen and then rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I suppose I can't make you return home tonight. You'll need to rest.”

Home
. What a strange and lonely word at the moment. After Marjorie had left Preston Chamberlain at the altar, her parents had turned her out of their house and withheld her allowance, unless she marry him. But Preston did not love her. To him, she was an advantageous match—a business deal. Out of fear, she had almost caved to her parents' demands, but then she was reminded of their own loveless union. They had married to strengthen social and financial ties, and they had been miserable.

Marjorie could never marry a man who didn't love her.

If it hadn't been for Mrs. Orton's suggestion, and Dr. Orton's need, Marjorie would have nowhere else to go. “I have no home to return to.”

He looked at her as if he didn't believe her. “My mother told me you are a neighbor, from a good family.”

“Yes, they are good people.”

“Then surely you have a home.”

She needed to change the subject. She stood and ran her hand over the walnut mantel on the large fireplace. “You have a beautiful home. Your mother told me all about it. Actually she told me a great deal about you and the children.”

“That's interesting,” Dr. Orton said as he crossed his arms. “She told me very little about you.”

Marjorie lifted her shoulder, trying to sound blasé. “What's there to tell?”

She wished to say she had led a boring life, but the past few weeks had proven otherwise. Hopefully he hadn't read the Chicago newspapers recently. They had covered the jilting and Marjorie's subsequent departure from her parents' home. But why wouldn't they? Who would deign to reject Preston Chamberlain?

Marjorie, that was who.

Dr. Orton stood and motioned for her to follow him out of his office. He was a tall man, exuding confidence and authority as he strode to the door. “I will see that our cook sets a plate for you to join us for supper, and then you're welcome to sleep in the governess's room, but I will put you on a train to Chicago in the morning.”

“I beg you to reconsider your decision.” Marjorie wanted to put her hand on his arm and stop him from making plans to send her back—but she refrained. “I'll show you I'm the right person for this job.”

“I doubt you could convince me to change my mind.”

Marjorie clutched her hat in her hands. “Give me until the end of the year—and if you're unhappy with my work, I'll leave.” In those two months, she might raise enough money to go to California.

“The end of the year?”

She nodded and offered him an innocent look. “What harm could I do in two months?”

He lifted an eyebrow, his face filling with skepticism. He stepped out of his office and Marjorie followed him into the front hall.

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