Charity thought she had it all--marriage to respected consultant Tyco van der Brons and being a mother to his two children. So why did her heart yearn for his love, too? She had known from the start that theirs was a marriage of convenience--so it would be foolish to wish for anything more...wouldn't it?
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
March 01, 2012
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Excerpt from The Final Touch by Betty Neels
The 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 I think 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 naive; 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 non-existent. 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--unaware 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 cafes 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.'
It had rained, but she hadn't minded that. She had hurried off duty, eaten a hasty lunch and changed out of her uniform, boarded a tram and filed into the museum with a sprinkling of tourists and locals anxious to get out of the chilly November rain. The row of chairs before the famous painting was empty; she chose a seat in the centre and composed herself to wait. From time to time someone would come and sit down near her, the better to study the magnificent painting, but time wore on and Cor didn't come. However, he had said wait, so she waited while the afternoon edged itself into dusk and one of the attendants came to tell her that the museum would be closing very shortly.
So she went back into the damp streets, uncertain what to do. She had no idea where he might be. The best thing to do would be to go back to the hospital and ask at the porter's lodge; Cor might have left a message. The thought cheered her and she went into a coffee shop and had coffee and a spiced bun before getting on a tram once more. The tram was full of people in damp coats and she had to stand, her small slender person jammed between two stout matrons with laden shopping bags. The tram stopped close to the hospital but on the other side of the busy street and she had to wait for a gap in the traffic. Visitors were streaming out of the hospital forecourt and she glanced at her watch. It was just after half-past six, and if Cor was free there was still time for them to go out to dinner or to a film.
He was free--she saw him a moment later--but not for her. He had strolled on to the opposite pavement, his arm tucked into that of a girl--one of the staff nurses in Theatre whom she knew slightly. As she looked he bent his head and kissed her and they laughed together and went walking off, still laughing.
She watched them go and all the small doubts she had tried so hard to ignore during the last few weeks came crowding back, presenting her with a clear picture quite unlike her dreams. She turned on her heel and walked back towards the shopping streets, their windows still lighted, and went from shop to shop, gazing unseeingly at their displays, but it kept her from thinking. It was striking eight o'clock when she went through the doors into the entrance hall and asked in her quiet voice if there had been a message for her, knowing already that there hadn't.
Now she sat on her bed, doing her best to think sensibly. She couldn't pack her bags and go; she had a contract for six months and, besides, she had nowhere to go, and she had to see Cor; there might be some good reason.
She got up and studied her face in the looking-glass. It looked exactly the same as usual, a little pale perhaps, but her nice unremarkable face showed no sign of her troubled thoughts. She tidied her hair, used powder and lipstick, and went down to the canteen for her supper.
When her companions asked her if she had had a pleasant half-day, she replied serenely that she had enjoyed herself immensely. Only Zuster Smit, another of the staff nurses in Theatre, gave her a faintly surprised and thoughtful look; she went out occasionally with one of the house surgeons and had been told something of the reason why the English girl had come to the hospital. Charity Pearson was a nice girl and deserved better; besides, she was in a strange country. Zuster Smit finished her supper, wondering uneasily if she should do something about it. Warn Charity that van Kamp wasn't serious and seemed unlikely to be in the foreseeable future? Mention casually that he was free for two or three evenings each week? And that he dated a different nurse each time?
She found herself unable to do any of these things.
She could mention it to the houseman she was friendly with, and ask him to talk to van Kamp. That wouldn't do either. She leaned across the table and invited Charity to have a mug of coffee in her room with half a dozen other nurses; she hadn't eaten her supper and she was pale and quieter than ever.
It was Theatre day on Women's Surgical the next morning, something Charity welcomed for she was kept too busy to think about anything but her work. The routine was familiar by now and very similar to that of the London hospital where she had trained, and she had acquired a basic Dutch so that she could answer the patients' needs; she went to and fro with the cases for Theatre, saw to drips, inspected dressings and, under the Hoofdzuster's sharp eye, gave necessary injections. She was off duty at five o'clock but it was nearer six by the time she left the ward and began the lengthy walk through the hospital to the nurses' home. The surgical wing was new, built on to the original main hospital, and the women's ward was on the third floor. She went slowly down the wide staircase to the floor below--the floor where Cor worked, although on the other side of the main building, where the medical wards were housed. Tired though she was, she allowed her feet to carry her along the wide corridor at the back of the old hospital--there was just the chance that she might meet Cor. She had never gone to that wing deliberately before but now it seemed to her urgent to see him. She was halfway along it when he came out of the swing doors of the children's ward, saw her, hesitated, and then came towards her.
'Darling...' he was smiling at her . .I've been trying to see you all day--but I'm up to my eyes and still hard at it. I'm so sorry about yesterday--an emergency--didn't have time to leave a message for you; actually I was in Theatre until after midnight, giving anaesthetics.'
Charity looked at him without smiling, willing him to tell the truth and beg her to forgive him, but he stood there, smiling still.
After a silence which went on far too long she said in her quiet voice, 'No, you weren't, Cor. I saw you yesterday evening with that pretty staff nurse from Theatre. You were on the pavement outside the hospital.' She went on steadily, 'Oh, it's quite all right--it's me that's been silly--I thought... Well, never mind what I thought, but you didn't need to lie.'
He blustered a bit then. 'I don't know what you mean--there's no harm in a man's taking a girl out.'
'None at all, only you weren't very fair, were you? I sat in the Rijksmuseum for hours. Did you forget?'
'No, no, of course not; I thought you'd have the sense not to wait for more than half an hour or so.' He smiled again--he smiled too easily, she thought. 'Anyway, no harm done. We had fun together while it lasted, darling, and you've got a good job here.'
'Yes, I have.' Her voice was suddenly sharp. 'And don't ever call me darling again.'
His smile became a sneer. 'Oh, be your age, for heaven's sake--good lord, you would think I had intended marrying you.'
When she stayed silent he said, 'My God, you did... You must have been out of your mind.'
She said, her voice quite quiet once more, 'Yes, I think I was, but I'm sane now.' And, suddenly impatient, she added, 'Oh, go away, do.'