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An Unlikely Romance
By Betty Neels
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All right reserved. ISBN: 0-373-51248-1
Chapter OneTrixie Doveton, trundling old Mrs Crowe from the bathroom back to her ward, allowed a small, almost soundless sigh to escape her lips. The ward doors had been thrust open and Professor van der Brink-Schaaksma was coming unhurriedly towards her. He had a sheaf of papers under one arm and a book, one finger marking his place, in his other hand. He wasn't due for another twenty minutes and Sister Snell was already hurrying after him, intent on heading him off with a cup of coffee in her office while her nurses raced around getting the patients into the correct state of readiness. He was always doing it, reflected Trixie, rolling Mrs Crowe's ample person into her bed; arriving early, not arriving at all, or arriving half an hour late, tendering the politest of apologies when he discovered his mistake, his brilliant mind engrossed in some ticklish problem concerning endocrinology, a science of which he was a leading exponent. Trixie took another look at him while she tucked Mrs Crowe into her blankets; he was such a nice man - the nicest she had ever met, not that she had actually met him, only seen him from time to time on the ward or in one of the corridors, either with his nose buried in some book or other or surrounded by students. She was quite sure that he wasn't even aware that sheexisted. He was towering over Sister Snell now, smiling gently down at her rather cross face, a tall, very large man, his pale hair grey at the temples, his eyes heavy-lidded and, she suspected, quite unaware of his good looks. He glanced up and she glanced away quickly, and when she peeped again it was to see his massive back disappearing through the doors.
"He's a nice chap, ain't he?" observed Mrs Crowe.
"No side to him neither."
She beamed at Trixie's face; she was a friendly girl who would always find time to say a few words, offer sympathy when needed and even, when her seniors weren't looking, put in a few curlers for such of her patients who needed to be smartened up for visitors. She would have enlarged upon this but Staff Nurse Bennett, racing up and down like a demented sergeant major, had come to a halt by the bed.
"Nurse Doveton, for heaven's sake get a move on. Professor van der Brink-Schaaksma's here, far too soon of course, and the place is like a pigsty and you standing there gossiping. It's time you learned to be quicker; you'll never make a good nurse at this rate. All this mooning about ..."
She hurried away, saying over her shoulder, "Find Nurse Saunders, she's in one of the treatment-rooms, and tell her to make sure all the path lab reports are on the trolley."
Trixie patted Mrs Crowe's plump shoulder and trotted off obediently. She was a small girl, nicely plump with a face which, while not plain, was hardly pretty; her nose was too short and her mouth too large, but it curved up at the corners and her smile was charming. Only her eyes were beautiful, large and hazel with pale brown lashes to match the neat head of hair under her cap. She was twenty-three years old, an orphan and prepared to make the best of it. She had the kindest of hearts, a romantic nature and a good deal of common sense, and she liked her job. In another year she would have completed her training, despite Staff Nurse Bennett's gloomy prediction. She was aware that she would never be another Florence Nightingale, but at least she would be earning her living.
Nurse Saunders was in a bad mood; she had had words with her boyfriend on the previous evening and had no chance of seeing him for several days to come. She listened to Trixie's message impatiently, thumped down the tray of instruments she was holding and said, "Oh, all right. Just put these away for me and look sharp about it. Why can't the man come when he's supposed to?"
She didn't give Trixie a chance to answer, but went into the ward, slamming the door behind her.
Trixie arranged the instruments tidily in the cupboard, tidied up a tiny bit and opened the door; the professor wouldn't have finished his coffee yet. She would have time to slip into the sluiceroom and find something to do there. The coffee must have been tepid or the professor's mouth made of cast iron, for he was there, in the ward, only a few yards away, deep in talk with Dr Johnson, while Sister hovered at his other side against a reverent background of medical students, and behind them the furious face of Staff Nurse Bennett. Trixie, intent on a prudent retreat into the treatment-room, took a step backwards, tripped over her own feet and tumbled untidily to the floor. She had barely touched it when the professor paused in the discussion, stooped forward, plucked her back on to the offending feet, dusted her down, patted her on her shoulder without apparently having looked at her and resumed his conversation. It had all happened so quickly that beyond a startled look from Sister and grins from the students the unfortunate incident might never have been. Trixie, edging her way to a discreet distance, doubted if the professor had noticed her; he was notoriously absent-minded, and he would have done the same thing for a child, an old lady or an overturned chair.
In the fastness of the sluice-room she polished and scrubbed everything in sight; it wasn't her job but she felt that she should make amends for annoying Staff Nurse Bennett, and - once that young lady had had the chance to tell her - Sister.
Sure enough, later that morning she was told to go to Sister's office where she was reprimanded by that lady. "Professor van der Brink-Schaaksma is not to be bothered in such a manner, Nurse Doveton. He has far more important things to do than picking up girls off the floor. How could you be so clumsy?"
"I was surprised," observed Trixie reasonably, "and he need not have picked me up - I mean I didn't ask for help or anything like that." She smiled kindly at her senior, who was quite scarlet with ill temper. "I'm so sorry if it upset you, Sister. It was most tiresome of me but I don't think the professor noticed anything."
Sister Snell said crossly, "It is to be hoped not. Go and do Mrs Watts's ulcer and then take her down to physiotherapy. When are you off duty?"
"Five o'clock, Sister, and then I have a day off."
The day with its manifold tasks wore on. Because Mrs Watts had held things up by feeling sick, Trixie was late for her midday dinner. The canteen was almost empty by the time she got there, although several of her friends were still sitting over their cups of tea. She fetched boiled cod - it was Friday - and mashed potatoes and parsnips, and joined them.
"You're late," observed Mary Fitzjohn accusingly. She was a girl who took pride in plain speaking, correcting people and telling them if they had a ladder in their tights or their caps were on crooked. She had a good opinion of herself and was tolerated in an amused way.
Trixie lavished tomato sauce on the fish. "Mrs Watts felt sick." She began to gobble her dinner. "I must go over to my room and pack a bag. I've got a day off."
"Going home?" a fat girl with a pretty face asked.
"Yes. It's Margaret's birthday."
Excerpted from An Unlikely Romance 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.