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Nanny By Chance
By Betty Neels
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneARAMINTA POMFREY, a basket of groceries over one arm, walked unhurriedly along the brick path to the back door, humming as she went. She was, after all, on holiday, and the morning was fine, the autumn haze slowly lifting to promise a pleasant September day - the first of the days ahead of doing nothing much until she took up her new job.
She paused at the door to scratch the head of the elderly, rather battered cat sitting there. An old warrior if ever there was one, with the inappropriate name of Cherub. He went in with her, following her down the short passage and into the kitchen, where she put her basket on the table, offered him milk and then, still humming, went across the narrow hall to the sitting room.
Her mother and father would be there, waiting for her to return from the village shop so that they might have coffee together. The only child of elderly parents, she had known from an early age that although they loved her dearly, her unexpected late arrival had upset their established way of life. They were clever, both authorities on ancient Celtic history, and had published books on the subject - triumphs of knowledge even if they didn't do much to boost their finances.
Not that either of them cared about that. Her father had a small private income, which allowed them to live precariously in the small house his father had left him, and they had sent Araminta to a good school, confident that she would follow in their footsteps and become a literary genius of some sort. She had done her best, but the handful of qualifications she had managed to get had been a disappointment to them, so that when she had told them that she would like to take up some form of nursing, they had agreed with relief.
There had been no question of her leaving home and training at some big hospital; her parents, their heads in Celtic clouds, had no time for household chores or cooking. The elderly woman who had coped while Araminta was at school had been given her notice and Araminta took over the housekeeping while going each day to a children's convalescent home at the other end of the village. It hadn't been quite what she had hoped for, but it had been a start.
And now, five years later, fate had smiled kindly upon her. An elderly cousin, recently widowed, was coming to run the house for her mother and father and Araminta was free to start a proper training. And about time too, she had reflected, though probably she would be considered too old to start training at twenty-three. But her luck had held; in two weeks' time she was to start as a student nurse at a London teaching hospital.
Someone was with her parents. She opened the door and took a look. Dr Jenkell, a family friend as well as their doctor for many years.
She bade him good morning and added, "I'll fetch the coffee." She smiled at her mother and went back to the kitchen, to return presently with a tray laden with cups and saucers, the coffeepot and a plate of biscuits.
"Dr Jenkell has some splendid news for you, Araminta," said her mother. "Not too much milk, dear." She took the cup Araminta offered her and sat back, looking pleased about something.
Araminta handed out coffee and biscuits. She said, "Oh?" in a polite voice, drank some coffee and then, since the doctor was looking at her, added, "Is it something very exciting?"
Dr Jenkell wiped some coffee from his drooping moustache. "I have a job for you, my dear. A splendid opportunity. Two small boys who are to go and live for a short time with their uncle in Holland while their parents are abroad. You have had a good deal of experience dealing with the young and I hear glowing accounts of you at the children's home. I was able to recommend you with complete sincerity."
Araminta drew a steadying breath. "I've been taken as a student nurse at St Jules'. I start in two weeks' time." She added, "I told you and you gave me a reference."
Dr Jenkell waved a dismissive hand. "That's easily arranged. All you need to do is to write and say that you are unable to start training for the time being. A month or so makes no difference."
"It does to me," said Araminta. "I'm twenty-three, and if I don't start my training now I'll be too old." She refilled his coffee cup with a steady hand. "It's very kind of you, and I do appreciate it, but it means a lot to me - training for something I really want to do."
She glanced at her mother and father and the euphoria of the morning ebbed way; they so obviously sided with Dr Jenkell.
"Of course you must take this post Dr Jenkell has so kindly arranged for you," said her mother. "Indeed, you cannot refuse, for I understand that he has already promised that you will do so. As for your training, a few months here or there will make no difference at all. You have all your life before you."
"You accepted this job for me without telling me?" asked Araminta of the doctor.
Her father spoke then. "You were not here when the offer was made. Your mother and I agreed that it was a splendid opportunity for you to see something of the world and agreed on your behalf. We acted in your best interests, my dear."
I'm a grown woman, thought Araminta wildly, and I'm being treated like a child, a mid-Victorian child at that, meekly accepting what her elders and betters have decided was best for her. Well, I won't, she reflected, looking at the three elderly faces in turn.
"I think that, if you don't mind, Dr Jenkell, I'll go and see this uncle."
Dr Jenkell beamed at her. "That's right, my dear - get some idea of what is expected of you. You'll find him very sympathetic to any adjustments you may have in mind."
Excerpted from Nanny By Chance by Betty Neels Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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