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The Fortunes of Francesca
By Betty Neels
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFRANNY was admitted by a butler who looked as though he hated her, shown into a small, cold room and bidden to wait there. She sat herself down on one of the stiff little chairs arranged round the table in its centre and wished that she hadn't come. The advertisement had sought a girl Friday. This term could cover anything from washing up in the kitchen to dealing with invitations on beautifully engraved cards and paying the household bills with an odd spell of babysitting when called upon. It was not what she would have chosen if given a choice, but a job and the wages which went with it had become essential.
The butler returned and frostily requested her to follow him. Crossing the hall and mounting the stairs behind him, Franny reflected that she could always refuse to take the job if she was offered it. She thrust the thought aside; common sense reminded her that she needed work.
"The young person," said the butler, opening the double doors at the head of the stairs. Franny sailed past him. She was of medium height, rather too thin, with brown hair and ordinary features easily forgotten, but she had an air of composed dignity.
"My name is Francesca Bowen," she said clearly, and advanced towards the occupant of the room. This was a forbidding lady if ever there was one; she was handsome, middle-aged, with rigidly controlled grey hair and a haughty nose. She looked down it now.
She gave Franny a regal nod. "You appear very young."
"I'm twenty-three, Lady Trumper."
Lady Trumper hadn't expected to be answered; she looked her surprise and leafed through some letters she was holding.
"You have trained for two years as a nurse. Why did you not continue?"
"I left to look after my aunt and my brother. My aunt was ill at the time."
"I do not require a nurse."
"Well, I didn't suppose you did," said Franny cheerfully, "but you never know, it might come in useful. I can type and keep accounts, answer the phone, walk the dog, babysit ..." She paused. "I'm not a very good cook."
"I have a cook, Miss Bowen. Nor do I require a babysitter. I am afraid that you are not suitable for the post I have in mind."
Lady Trumper stretched out a hand and touched a bell, and the butler opened the door so quickly Franny decided that he had been standing outside listening. He preceded her down the hall with an I-told-you-so look on his face, and was on the point of ushering her out into the street when an elderly woman in a large white apron rushed into the hall.
"Mr Barker - Oh, Mr Barker, come quickly. Elsie's cut her hand that bad; she's bleeding like a pig and screaming her head off. Whatever shall I do?"
Barker said with dignity, "I will come and see Elsie, Mrs Down, it is probably nothing more than a slight wound."
He followed her through the baize door at the back of the hall and Franny, unnoticed for the moment, went with them.
It wasn't a slight wound; it was a nasty deep slice in poor Elsie's forearm, bleeding profusely and no one was doing anything about it.
Franny swept forward. "Someone get a doctor or an ambulance, whichever is quickest. Clean towels and bandages, if you have them."
Elsie's face was the colour of ashes. Franny lifted her arm above her head, found the pressure point and applied a finger, and when Mrs Down came with the towels asked, "Can you cover the cut with several of them and press down hard? Just for a little while until help comes." She added cheerfully to Elsie, "It looks much worse than it is, Elsie. As soon as the doctor has seen to it, you'll feel much better. Close your eyes if you like." She added to no one in particular, "I hope that man hurries up ..."
Mr Barker left the kitchen briskly and made for the telephone in the hall. Like so many self-important persons, he was no good at all in an emergency and, while he resented Franny's high-handedness, he felt relief at not having to deal with the situation himself.
He had his hand on the phone when the door knocker was thumped, and almost without thinking he put the phone down and opened the door.
The man who went past him into the hall was thick-set and enormously tall, with fair hair going grey at the temples and a handsome visage. He said affably, "Anything wrong, Barker? You look a bit shaken."
Barker took his coat. "It's Elsie, sir. Cut herself something shocking. I am about to phone for an ambulance."
"In the kitchen, is she?" The visitor was already at the baize door. "I'll take a quick look, shall I?"
The kitchen was modern, all white tiles and stainless steel, and the group around the table looked all the more startling because of it: Elsie, her arm still held high, Mrs Down holding a blood-stained cloth over her arm, and a girl he didn't know applying pressure with the calm air of someone who knew what she was doing.
"Oh, sir," cried Mrs Down as he reached the table. Franny looked up briefly.
"Are you the doctor? Good! I think perhaps it's her radial artery."
He grunted and opened his bag, and glanced at Franny. "Hang on until I've got the tourniquet on." That done, he said, "Go on the other side of me and hold her arm steady." He looked down at Elsie. "I'll make you comfortable, Elsie, but I think you must go to hospital and have a stitch or two. It won't hurt, I promise you."
"Shall I call an ambulance, sir?" asked Barker, almost his pompous self once more now that there was someone to tell him what to do.
"No. I'll take her. Someone will have to come with me." His eyes fell on Franny. She was a nondescript girl, but she looked sensible. "You'll come?"
Franny heard Barker's quick breath, but before he could speak she said, "Yes, of course." She added in her sensible way, "Elsie will need a coat or a shawl; it's cold outside."
Excerpted from The Fortunes of Francesca by Betty Neels Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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