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Roses Have Thorns
By Betty Neels
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSarah sat behind her desk and watched the first of the patients for Professor Nauta's clinic come in through the swinging doors. Led, as usual, by old Colonel Watkins, recovering for the third time from a stroke, and eighty if he was a day.
The Professor's clinic started at half past eight and it had become Sarah's responsibility, although she wasn't sure how it had happened, to come on duty early in order to check his patients. The other two receptionists, married ladies with homes, husbands and children to cope with, were adamant about leaving exactly on time and not a minute later, just as they arrived exactly when they should and not a moment sooner. So that Professor Nauta's clinic, held weekly at eight-thirty, invariably fell to the lot of Sarah, who, being single, living alone and therefore from their point of view without cares, was the obvious one of the trio to come early or stay late.
The Colonel was followed by Mrs. Peach, who had been coming for years, and hard on her heels came a pair of teenagers, giving their names with a good deal of giggling, and after them a steady stream of people, most of whom Sarah knew by sight if not by name.
She bade each one of them good morning, made sure that the new patients knew what was wanted of them, and ticked off her neat list. There were five minutes to go before the half-hour when the last patient arrived, and exactly on the half-hour the Professor came through the doors, letting in a great deal of chilly March air.
Sarah took a quick look at him and decided that he seemed no more impatient and ill-tempered than usual. He was a very big man, tall and broad-shouldered and good looking, with fair hair already gray at the temples, a high-bridged nose and a thin mouth. His eyes were pale blue which turned to steel when he was annoyed - which was quite often, although it was conceded by those who worked for him at St Cyprian's that he was invariably kindness itself to his patients, however tiresome they were.
He went past Sarah's desk with a snappy, "Good morning, Miss Fletcher," and a glance so brief that he couldn't have noticed if she had been wearing a blonde wig and spectacles.
She would have been very surprised to know that he had taken in her appearance down to the last button as he'd gone past her. Small, a little too thin, pleasant-faced without being pretty, beautiful pansy eyes, a thin, delicate nose, a wide mouth and a crown of hair which took her some considerable time to put up each morning. He had noted her sparkling white blouse, too, and the fact that she wore nothing which jangled, only a sensible wristwatch. A sensible young woman, he reflected briefly, as neat as a new pin and not given to chat. Not all that young - late twenties, perhaps - although she had the freshness of a young girl.
He reached his consulting room, greeting the nurse waiting for him, and sat down at his desk, dismissing Miss Fletcher from his mind without effort, listening to Colonel Watkins' tetchy old voice complaining about the treatment he was having at the physiotherapy with a patience and sympathy at variance with the cool manner he demonstrated towards the hospital staff.
Sarah, left to herself for a time, got on with the morning's chores until Mrs. Drew and Mrs. Pearce arrived, and, hard on their heels, the first patients for the Surgical Outpatients. After that there was no time for anything but the work at hand until, one by one, they went along to the canteen for their coffee break. As Sarah made her way back to her desk she could see the vast back of Professor Nauta, trailed by his registrar and a houseman, disappearing down the long corridor leading to the main hospital. He was walking fast and she felt a fleeting pity for his companions who, while trying to keep up with him were probably being treated to some of his impatient and caustic remarks.
The day, wet and windy as only March could be, darkened early. The clinics were finishing, Sarah and her companions had gone in turn to their cups of tea and, since there was nothing much to do, she had been left to deal with the telephone or any enquiries while they went to tidy themselves up so that, promptly at five o'clock, they could leave to catch their buses. Mrs Drew lived in Clapham and Mrs Pearce had a long journey each day to and from Leyton, and since Sarah had a room within ten minutes' walk of the hospital it had been taken for granted for some time now that she would be the last to leave. She cleared up, put things ready for the morning and went back to her desk to scan the appointments book.
It was quiet now; the nurses had gone and so had the doctors, all but Professor Nauta, who had returned half an hour previously and gone to his consulting room, pausing just long enough to tell her that on no account was he to be disturbed. She had just stopped herself in time from enquiring what she should do in case of fire or emergency. Leave him to burn to a crisp, neglect to inform him of some dire happening? He would never forgive her. She had murmured politely at his cross face and gone back to her work. And now, in five minutes or so, she would be free to go home.
The wide swinging doors, thrust open by a firm hand, caused her to look up in surprise. She eyed the elderly lady who was advancing towards her with a purposeful air, and said politely, "I expect you've missed your way? This isn't a ward - just the outpatients' clinics. If you will tell me which ward you want, I'll show you the way."
The visitor stood on the other side of the desk studying her. She was a handsome woman, and dressed with an elegance which whispered money discreetly. She put her handbag down on the desk and spoke. She had a clear, rather high voice and an air of expecting others to do as she wished. "I wish to see Professor Nauta; perhaps you would be kind enough to tell him."
Sarah eyed her thoughtfully. "The Professor left instructions that on no account was he to be disturbed. I'm sorry - perhaps I could make an appointment for you?"
"Just let him know that I wish to see him ..." She smiled suddenly and her whole face lit up with a faintly mischievous look.
Sarah lifted the receiver and buzzed the Professor's room. "A lady is here," she told him. "She wishes to see you, sir."
He said something explosive in what she took to be Dutch; it sounded forceful and very rude. "Good God, girl, didn't I tell you that I wasn't to be disturbed?"
Excerpted from Roses Have Thorns by Betty Neels Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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