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Calm and capable -- those were the words used to sum up Francesca. Certainly, she had plenty to cope with, looking after the home she shared with three elderly aunts and working at the local hospital. Yet she dealt with it all with her usual quiet efficiency and believed her life was complete . . . until the arrival of Dr. Litrik van Rijgen! Having taken the trouble to track her down while she was enjoying an occasional holiday in Holland, he seemed to have other plans for her. But was she really willing to let him take over her life and possibly her heart?

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About the Author:

Romance readers around the world were sad to note the passing of Betty Neels in June 2001.Her career spanned thirty years, and she continued to write into her ninetieth year.To her millions of fans, Betty epitomized the romance writer.Betty's first book, Sister Peters in Amsterdam,was published in 1969, and she eventually completed 134 books.Her novels offer a reassuring warmth that was very much a part of her own personality.Her spirit and genuine talent live on in all her stories.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The early morning sun of a midsummer's day morning shone with warm cheerfulness on to the quiet countryside, the market town tucked neatly into the Cotswold hills and its numerous windows. These included those of the Cottage Hospital, a symbol of former days, fought for and triumphantly reprieved from the remorseless hand of authority, and proving its worth tenfold by never having an empty bed.

Inside the grey stone walls of this Victorian edifice, the day's work was already well advanced. Its thirty beds were divided between surgical and medical patients, with two beds for maternity cases who couldn't make it in time to Bristol or Bath, and one private ward used for any child too ill to move or anyone too ill to nurse in the wards. There was a small outpatients' department, too, and a casualty room where the local GPs could be called to attend any accident. Small it might be, but it did yeoman service, easing the burden of patients on the big Bristol hospitals.

It was staffed by the local doctors, ably supported by Miss Hawkins, who still insisted on being called Matron, two ward sisters and their staff nurses, and four pupil nurses, sent from Bristol and Bath to gain experience.

There was a night sister, too, and a handful of nursing aides, local ladies, whose kindness of heart and willingness to work hard when everyone else was fast asleep more than made up for their lack of nursing skills. Miss Hawkins was nearing retirement age, an old–fashioned martinet who had no intention of changing her ways. Until six months ago she had had the willing co–operation of Sister Coffin on the medical ward but that lady had retired and her place had been taken by a young staff nurse from the Bristol Royal Infirmary, who had accepted the post of sister in preference to a more prestigious one at her own hospital. It was agreed by everyone, even the grudging Miss Hawkins, that she had proved her ability and was worth her weight in gold. She had a happy knack of getting her patients better, coping with emergencies without fuss, carrying out the various doctors' orders faithfully, and lending a sympathetic ear to the young nurses' requests for a particular day off duty.

She sat at the desk in her office now, the sun gilding the mousy hair pinned neatly under her frilled cap, warming her ordinary face, escaping plainness only by virtue of a pair of fine hazel eyes, thickly lashed, and a gentle mouth. The desk was more or less covered by charts and a variety of forms and she had a pen in her hand, although just for the moment she was doing no work at all, her thoughts far away, if rather vague. She was normally a sensible girl, prepared to accept what life had to offer her and not expecting anything very exciting to happen. Indeed, the three elderly aunts with whom she lived had imbued her with this idea from an early age. They prided themselves on their honesty and plain spokenness and had pointed out on a number of occasions her lack of good looks and amusing conversation. They had done their best to dissuade her

from training as a nurse, too, but she had been surprisingly stubborn; despite their certainty that she was too quiet, too shy with strangers, and lacking in self–assurance, she had gone to Bristol, done her training, and emerged at the end of it with flying colours: Gold Medallist of her year, the prospect of a ward sister's post in the not too distant future, and a circle of firm friends. The girls liked her because she listened to the details of their complicated love lives with sympathy. The young housemen liked her because she listened to them, too, about their fleeting love affairs and their dreams of being brilliant consultants. She sympathised with them when they failed their exams and rejoiced with them when they passed and, when on night duty, she was always a willing maker of hot cocoa when one or other of them had been hauled out of bed in the small hours.

But she had declined the ward offered her and had instead applied for and been appointed to the medical ward of the Cottage Hospital in her home town. All because her youngest aunt, Janet, had had a slight—very slight—heart attack and it had been impressed upon her by Aunt Kate and Aunt Polly that it was her duty to return home.

So she had come back to the small town and lived out, going to and fro from her aunts' rambling old house not ten minutes' walk from the hospital. And because she was a good nurse and loved her work, she had taken pride in changing the medical ward, with patience and a good deal of tact, into the more modern methods Sister Coffin had ignored. It had been uphill work but she had managed it so well that Matron considered that she had been the instigator of change in the first place. If she regretted leaving her training school and the splendid opportunities it had offered her, she had never said so, but just now and again

she wondered if life would have been different if she had taken the post at Bristol. She would have kept her friends for a start and used her nursing talents to their utmost; and who knew, perhaps one day she might have met someone who would want to marry her.

She stifled a sigh and looked up with a smile as her staff nurse came in. Jenny Topps was a big girl, always cheerful and amiable and with no wish to be anything but a staff nurse. She was getting married in a year's time to a rather silent and adoring young farmer and her ambitions lay in being a good wife. She said now,

'We're ready, Sister. There's time for a quick cup of tea before Dr Beecham gets here. I've sent the little nurses to coffee; Mrs Wills—the nursing auxilary—is in the ward.'

'Good. Yes, let's have tea, then I'll go over to the Women's Medical. It's quiet there and Staff can cope, but I'll just take another look at Miss Prosser. Mr Owen's not responding to his antibiotic, is he? I'll see if Dr Beecham will change it. He might be better off at the Infirmary.' She took the mug of tea Jenny had fetched from the ward kitchen and sipped it.

'You must miss the Infirmary,' observed Jenny. 'It's pretty quiet here—bad chests and diabetics and the odd heart case...'

She studied Sister Manning's quiet face on the other side of the desk; she liked her and admired her and although she wasn't pretty she had a pretty name—Francesca.

'Well, yes, I do, but I do need to be nearby my aunts...' She finished her tea, got to her feet and said, 'I'll be back in five minutes. Get the nurses to start making up that empty bed, will you? There is a diabetic coming in at two o'clock.'

The ward was quiet, the men waiting for the bi–weekly

round from the consultant. Most of them were on the mend. Mr Owen worried her a little, and the new patient who had come in during the night, a suspected coronary, might spring something on them. She went slowly down the old–fashioned but cheerful ward, stopping for a word here and there and casting an eye on these two, and then went through the door into the women's side.

Here she was met by her second staff nurse, a small dark girl who like herself lived out.

'All ready for Dr Beecham?' asked Francesca. 'How's Miss Prosser? She was a bit cyanosed when I did the round this morning.'

'Still a bit blue. She's had some oxygen and she's quite bright and cheerful.'

They stood together and looked along the facing row of beds. It was a small ward with pretty curtains at the windows and round each bed, and plenty of flowers. Half the patients were up, sitting by their beds, knitting or reading or gossiping. Francesca walked slowly to Miss Prosser's bed and made small talk while she studied that lady. They had had her in before and she was by no means an easy patient; she would have to talk to Dr Beecham about her. She smiled and nodded at the other patients and went back to her office, tidied the top of her desk, and with a glance at the clock went back to the men's ward. Dr Beecham would be there at any moment now.

He came through the door within moments, a short stout man with a fringe of hair on a bald head and twinkling blue eyes. She had known him ever since she had begun her training; he had been one of the first lecturers she had had and as she became more senior he had occasionally explained some unusual case to her. She liked him and the smile which lighted up her face made it almost pretty.

He had someone with him. Not just Dr Stokes, who was the RMO; a tall man with massive shoulders, fair hair with a heavy sprinkling of grey and the good looks to turn any woman's head. Francesca sighed at the sight of him. She knew him, too: Dr van Rijgen, a specialist in tropical diseases who had come to the Infirmary at regular intervals to lecture the students. He lived in Holland and worked there as far as she knew, although he seemed equally at home in England. Years ago when she had begun her training she had had the misfortune to drop off during one of his lectures; even after all these years, she remembered his cold voice, laced with sarcasm, very quietly reducing her to a state bordering on hysteria. They had encountered each other since then, of course, and she had taken care never to allow her feelings to show, and he for his part had never betrayed any recollection of that first unfortunate meeting. He eyed her now with a kind of thoughtful amusement which made her fume inwardly. But she replied suitably to Dr Stokes and Dr Beecham and then bade him a frosty good morning.

He had a deep slow voice. 'Good morning, Sister Manning. I see that I must congratulate you since we last met at the Infirmary.' He glanced round the ward, half the size of those in a Bristol hospital. 'Hiding your light under a bushel?'

She said in a voice which made his fine mouth twitch, 'If I remember aright, sir, my light was a very small one—a mere glimmer.'

He gave a crack of laughter. 'Oh, dear, you have a long memory, Sister.'

'A useful thing in ...

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Published by MILLS & BOON (2002)
ISBN 10: 0263836479 ISBN 13: 9780263836479
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Irish Booksellers
(Rumford, ME, U.S.A.)

Book Description MILLS & BOON, 2002. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0263836479

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