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The Final Touch
By Betty Neels
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All right reserved. ISBN: 0-373-51246-5
Chapter OneThe vast entrance hall of one of Amsterdam's oldest and largest hospitals was very nearly empty. At eight o'clock in the evening, visitors had gone home and the chilly dark of a November evening had kept those of the hospital staff who were free indoors. There were, however, four people there: the porter in his kiosk, a telephonist manning a switchboard tucked away at the back of the hall and two men standing near the entrance, deep in talk - an elderly man with white hair and a flowing moustache and beard, not much above middle height and pretty portly, and his companion, strongly built and towering above him, his handsome head bent as he listened, the dim light above them turning his grizzled head to dull silver. The older man spoke at some length, pausing only when someone came in through the big swing doors. A girl, neatly dressed in a raincoat which had seen better days, a headscarf and sensible shoes. She took off the scarf as she crossed the hall, uncovering light brown hair pinned into a bun, and then ducked her head into the kiosk.
The two men watched her and the elder said softly, "The English nurse - you have not yet met her? She is good: capable and quick and does not fuss. She has no Dutch to speak of but she is learning fast." He added thoughtfully, "A rather plain girl and Ithink not happy."
"Homesick?" The question was casually kind.
"No, no. I believe she has no home. Young van Kamp met her when he was doing that course in London, took her here, there and everywhere and persuaded her to try for a job with us. Well, we all know van Kamp, don't we? A great one for the girls, and that's all right as long as they don't take him seriously. Only it seems that she has taken him seriously. He has taken her out once or twice but I hear that he has his eye on that new young woman on Men's Medical."
They watched the girl leave the kiosk and disappear down one of the corridors leading from the hall.
"You are very well informed," remarked the younger man.
"Huib -" Huib was his registrar "- hears all this from the junior housemen. He thinks it is a great shame; he wants to warn her, but, although she is well liked, there is no one close enough." He shrugged his shoulders. "But there, she is a young woman of twenty-three and presumably doesn't walk around with her head in a sack. Now, as to this patient ..."
The girl, in the meanwhile, had made her way to the nurses' home and gone to her room. Her head was by no means in a sack but for some months it had been in the clouds, kept there by daydreams of a happy future, but now, sitting on the side of her bed, still in her raincoat, she had to admit that the sooner she got her feet back on solid earth, the better. She had been a fool, but never again, she told herself fiercely. Sitting there, she went over the events of the last month or so and, being a girl of good sense, admitted that she had been blind and na�ve; Cor van Kamp had swept her off her feet just at a time when she had been fighting discontent with her life. She was happy as a nurse and she had done well but her home-life was nonexistent. Her mother had died when she was still at school and her father had remarried after a few years; a widow with a daughter a little older than she - company for each other, her father had declared happily, only it hadn't worked out like that. Her stepsister Eunice had grown into a pretty girl, found herself a job as a fashion model and left home, and shortly after that her father had died and her stepmother had sold their home and gone to live in the South of France. Within a year she had lost all contact with her and she saw Eunice only in the pages of glossy magazines. The tentative advances she had made to meet, even to find a small flat and share it, had been rebuffed.
She had known at the time that it had been silly to suggest it; she had almost nothing in common with her stepsister and she was aware that her ordinary features, old-fashioned ideas and lack of clever conversation would have been a hindrance to Eunice. Besides, she wore all the wrong clothes ... Cor van Kamp had changed all that for her; he had singled her out, talked to her, taken her to romantic little restaurants for dinner, walked with her in the parks of London, borrowed a car and taken her to Brighton for the day, to the theatre, to films ... She had been infatuated, believing every word he told her - that she was the only girl for him and hinting at a marvellous future - un-aware that he had been amusing himself. He had not wanted to go to London in the first place and he was bored, and then he had seen her and set himself the task of getting her to fall in love with him just for a joke. He had suggested that she might get a job at his own hospital in Amsterdam even though he hadn't meant a word of it; indeed, he was getting bored with her too. She was a nice little thing, but he was clever enough to realise that she was a girl with decided ideas about brief love-affairs, and she was tiresomely serious about marriage. All the same, he had found it all a bit of a joke when she had left her job at the hospital and applied for and got the post of staff nurse on Women's Surgical in Amsterdam.
That had been almost two months ago and during that time they had been out together only three times, brief meetings in cafés when he had talked easily and amusingly about the hospital and his work and never about their future together. He had kissed her carelessly and told her how much he missed her but that he had almost no free time. She had believed him, holding desperately on to the excuse that he worked even harder than she did, and on their last meeting she had tried hard not to notice that he was preoccupied, even impatient with her. All the same, she had told him that she would have a half-day at the weekend and could they meet, and everything had been all right again when he had said at once that there was nothing he'd rather do than be with her and told her to wait for him in the Rijksmuseum. "Sit in front of the Nachtwacht," he had told her. "I may get held up, but I'll come."
Excerpted from The Final Touch 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.