Read an Excerpt
An Old-Fashioned Girl
By Betty Neels
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
Copyright © 2003
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
The two men stood at the window, contemplating the dreary January afternoon outside, and then by common consent turned
to look at the room in which they were.
"Of course," observed the elder of the two, a short, stout man with a thatch of grey hair and a craggy face,
"Norfolk - this part of rural Norfolk - during the winter months is hardly welcoming." Despite his words he sounded
"I do not require a welcome." His companion's deep voice had the traace of an accent. "I require peace and quiet." He
glanced around him at the pleasant, rather shabby room, apparently impervious to the chill consequence to the house's
having lain empty for some weeks. "Today is the sixth - I should like to come in four days' time. I shall have my
housekeeper with me, but perhaps you can advise me as to the best means of getting help for the house."
"That should be no difficulty, Mr van der Beek. There are several women in the village only too willing to oblige and
should you require someone to keep the garden in order there is old Ned Groom who was the gardener here ..."
"Excellent." Mr van der Beek turned to look out of the window again. He was an extremely tall man, heavily built and
still in his thirties, with a commanding nose in a handsome face, a firm mouth and light clear blue eyes. His hair was
so fair that it was difficult to see where it was already silvered with grey. "I will take the house for six
months - perhaps you would undertake the paperwork."
"Of course." The older man hesitated. "You mentioned that you required peace and quiet above all else. Might I suggest
that you should employ someone: a general factotum, as it were, to relieve you of the tiresome interruptions which are
bound to occur - the telephone, the tradespeople, bills to be paid, the tactful handling of unwelcome visitors, the
care of your house should you wish to go away for a few days ..."
"A paragon, in fact." Mr van der Beek's voice was dry.
His companion chose to take him literally. "In-deed, yes. A local person well known in the village and therefore
someone who would not be resented and is the soul of discretion. Your housekeeper need have no fear that her authority
will be undermined."
Mr van der Beek took his time to consider that. "It is probably a good idea, but it must be made clear to this person
that she - it is a she, I presume? - will come on a month's trial. I will leave you to make that clear and also to
deal with the wages and so forth."
"What wages had you in mind?"
Mr van der Beek waved a large impatient hand.
"My dear fellow, I leave that to your discretion." He went to the door. "Can I give you a lift back to Aylsham?"
His companion accepted eagerly and they left together, locking the door carefully behind them before getting into the
dark blue Bentley parked in the drive before the house. Aylsham was something under twenty miles away and they had
little to say to each other but, as Mr van der Beek drew up before the estate agent's office in the main street, he
asked, "You have my solicitor's number? Presumably the owner of the house has a solicitor of her own?"
"Of course. I shall contact them immediately. Rest assured that the house will be ready for you when you return in four
They bade each other goodbye and Mr van der Beek drove himself on to Norwich and on down the A140 before cutting across
country to Sudbury and Saffron Walden, and, still keeping to the smaller roads, to London. It would have been quicker
to have taken the A11 but he had time to spare and he wanted to go over his plans. It had taken careful planning to
arrange for six months away from his work as a consultant surgeon; his meticulous notes had reached the stage when they
could be transformed into a textbook on surgery and he had spent some weeks searching for a suitable place in which to
live while he wrote it. He was fairly sure that he had found it - at least, he profoundly hoped so.
The house agent watched him go and then hurried into his office and picked up the phone, dialled a number and waited
impatiently for someone to answer. He didn't give the dry-as-dust voice time to say more than his name. "George? Dr van
der Beek has taken the Martins' house for six months. He wants to move in in four days' time. I'm to engage daily help
and when I suggested he might need someone to help the housekeeper he's bringing with him he agreed. Will you see
Patience as soon as possible? I didn't tell him that she was the niece of the owners, but in any case I don't think he
will notice her; he wants complete quiet while he writes a book. Provided she can keep out of sight and get along with
the housekeeper the job's hers ..."
Mr George Bennett coughed. "It is very short notice - the paperwork ..."
"Yes, yes, I know, but the Martins need the money very badly, and besides, Patience can add something to that miserable
pension of theirs. It's a godsend."
Mr Bennett coughed again. "I will go and see Patience this afternoon. It is getting a little late; however I do agree
with you that this is a chance not to be missed. Was the question of salary raised?"
"No, but he drives a Bentley and didn't quibble over the rent. I think it might be a good idea if she were to call and
see the housekeeper - she's coming with Mr van der Beek. I rather fancy that he will leave the running of the house to
"Very well. I shall go and see Patience now and make sure that everything is in order by the tenth. Shall we leave it
to her to engage the help needed?"
"I should think so. She is well known here and liked. There should be no difficulty."
Excerpted from An Old-Fashioned Girl
by Betty Neels
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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