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The Quiet Professor : Harlequin Reader's Choice Series
Megan thought she had it all--a good job, a caring family and a fiance who would make a wonderful husband. But then her perfect world fell apart, and she found that her one hope was Professor Jake van Belfeld.
He seemed determined to rebuild her life--but why was he taking such a personal interest in her? Did he think that her heart needed his attention, too?
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
June 01, 2012
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Excerpt from The Quiet Professor by Betty Neels
he corridor was gloomy by reason of its being on the top floor of the oldest part of the hospital, and largely unused save by the staff of the pathological department and anyone needing to visit them. One such visitor was standing there now, just where the corridor turned at a sharp angle, staring with horror at the shattered glass dish at her feet. She had been carrying it, and its grisly contents, and, believing there to be no one to impede her progress, had been running...
The person she had run into eyed the horrid mess on the floor thoughtfully. She was a tall, splendidly built girl, with dark hair twisted into an elegant chignon, a pretty face and large brown eyes.
She said calmly, 'You were running, Nurse Wells.' It wasn't an accusation, merely a statement. 'I take it that this is--was the specimen from Mrs Dodds? Do go and tell Professor van Belfeld that you have had an accident with it.'
Nurse Wells was a very junior nurse, healthily in awe of her seniors. She whispered, 'I daren't, Sister. He--he frightens me. When I dropped the forceps last week on the ward he looked at me. I know he didn't say anything but he-he just looked. Could I write him a note?'
Megan Rodner suppressed a smile. 'Well, no, I think not, Nurse.' She paused, looking at the woebegone face before her; any minute now and Nurse Wells was going to burst into a storm of tears. 'Go back to the ward, and tell Staff Nurse to give you something to do where you can pull yourself together. I'll see Professor van Belfeld and explain.'
She was rewarded with a relieved sniff and a watery smile. 'Oh, Sister, you are a dear--I'll work ever so hard.'
'Good--and don't run!'
Left alone, Megan stood for a mere moment staring down at the ruined result of several days' treatment on Mrs Dodds, who hadn't been co-operative and would be even less so now. The professor would be annoyed, hiding icy anger behind a calm face. Unlike Nurse Wells, Megan wasn't afraid of him--she rather liked him, as far as one could like a person who made no effort to be more than coldly courteous.
She walked down a small dark passage leading off the corridor and opened the door at its end. The path. lab. was a complexity of several large rooms, all occupied by white-coated workers and a vast amount of equipment; she went past them all, exchanging hellos as she went, and tapped on a door in the last of the rooms.
The professor's room was quiet after the hum of noise from the rest of the department. He was sitting at his desk, writing, a big man with wide shoulders and fair hair thickly sprinkled with grey. He said without looking up, 'Yes?'
'Sister Rodner from Queen's Ward, sir. The specimen from Mrs Dodds--'
He interrupted her, 'Ah, yes, leave it with Peters; I'll need to see it myself.' He added belatedly, 'Thank you, Sister.'
'I haven't got it,' said Megan baldly. 'The dish was--that is, it's smashed.'
He looked up then, his cold blue eyes searching her face. She studied his face as she waited for him to say something. He was a handsome man with a commanding nose and a mouth which could become thin at times. It was thin now. 'Where is it?' His voice was quiet.
'In the corridor...'
He got up, towering over her. 'Come with me, Sister, and we will take a look.' He held the door and she went past him, back through the department and out into the corridor with him at her heels, and she stood silently while he crouched down to take a close look. He got to his feet and growled something she couldn't understand--Dutch swear words, she reflected, and she could hardly blame him. 'You dropped the dish, Sister?' His voice, with its faint accent, was gently enquiring.
She looked him in the eye. 'It fell, sir.'
'Just so. And whom are you shielding behind your--er--person, Sister?'
When she didn't answer, he said, 'You are perhaps afraid to tell me?'
'Good heavens, no,' said Megan cheerfully, 'I'm not in the least afraid of you, you know.'
He said nothing to that, only gave her a frigid stare. 'Be good enough to repeat the treatment, Sister, and when it is completed kindly let me know and I will send one of the technicians to your ward to collect it.'
She smiled at him. 'Very well, sir. I'm sorry about the accident; it's kind of you not to be too annoyed.'
'Annoyed? I am extremely angry,' he told her. 'Good day to you, Sister.'
Dismissed, she walked away and he watched her go, very neat in her dark blue uniform and the muslin trifle the sisters at Regent's wore upon their heads. Only when she had reached the end of the corridor and was out of sight did he go back to his office.
Megan went back to her ward, spent a difficult fifteen minutes persuading Mrs Dodds that it was necessary to repeat the treatment once again, and then repaired to her office to drink a soothing cup of tea and wrestle with the off-duty book. She was joined presently by her senior staff nurse, Jenny Morgan.
'Nurse Wells is in the linen cupboard, tidying. She's still crying.'
'Are there enough of us on to keep her there for a bit? The list will be starting soon--you'd better take the first case up. Nurse Craig can take the next one.' She plotted out the afternoon's work and Jenny poured second cups.
'Was he furious?' she wanted to know.
'Yes, but very polite. He'll send a technician when the next specimen's ready.'
'Oh, good. No one knows anything about him, do they? Perhaps he's crossed in love.' Jenny, who was for ever falling in and out of love with various housemen, sounded sympathetic.
Megan had opened the off-duty book again, and she said indifferently, 'I dare say the man's married with half a dozen children. He might be quite nice at home.'
Jenny went away and she concentrated on the off duty, but not for long. She was going out that evening, a rather special occasion, for she was to meet Oscar's parents. She had been engaged to Oscar for six months now and this was the first time she was to meet his family. He was a medical registrar, considered to be an up-and-coming young man with a good future. He had singled her out a year or more ago and in due course he had proposed. She had had her twenty-eighth birthday a day or two before that and since he seemed devoted to her and she liked him very much, indeed was half in love with him, she had agreed to become engaged. She had had proposals before but somehow she had refused them all, aware that deep inside her was a special wish to meet a man who would sweep her off her feet and leave her in no doubt that life without him would be of no use at all, but in her sensible moments she knew that she expected too much out of life. Solid affection, a liking for the same things--those were the things which made a successful marriage. In due course, she supposed, she would become Mrs Oscar Fielding. During their engagement she had endeavoured to model herself on Oscar's ideas of womanhood; he had hinted that she was a little too extravagant--what need had she to buy so many clothes when she spent so much of her time in uniform? And shoes--did she really need to buy expensive Italian shoes? He was always very nice about it and she had done her best to please him but just once or twice lately she had wondered if she was living up to his ideals. He never allowed her to pay her share when they went out together nor had he suggested that she should save for their future, with the consequence that she had a nice little nest-egg burning a hole in her pocket. She would, she decided, have to talk to him about it. It wasn't as if she wasted her money--she bought good clothes; classical styles which didn't date, but just lately she hadn't bought anything at all, wishing to please him. Perhaps she would get the chance to talk to him that evening.
The theatre cases went up and came back, she applied herself to the running of the ward and at five o'clock handed over to Jenny.
'Going out, Sister?' asked Jenny, tidying away the report book.
'Yes, with Oscar--I'm meeting his people.'
'Have a lovely evening,' her right hand wished her. 'It's take-in tomorrow. I expect you'll go somewhere nice.'
She spoke sincerely. She liked Sister Rodner but she thought Oscar was a stuffed shirt. Not nearly good enough for the beautiful creature preparing to leave the office.
In her room, Megan inspected her wardrobe. Something suitable, but what was suitable for meeting one's future in-laws? She decided upon a crepe-de-Chine dress in a pleasing shade of azure blue, long-sleeved and high-necked, and covered it with a long loose coat in a darker blue. The coat was a very fine wool and had cost a lot of money justified by its elegance. She chose the plainest of her Italian shoes, found a handbag and gloves and went down to the hospital entrance.
He was waiting for her; he was also in deep conversation with Professor van Belfeld, who saw her first but gave no sign of having done so. Megan wasn't a girl to dither; she walked across to them and said, 'Good evening, sir' and then, 'Good evening, Oscar.'
The professor rumbled a good evening and Oscar said self-consciously, 'Oh, hello, Megan. Of course you know the professor?'
'Indeed, yes.' She gave him a smiling nod.
'Don't let me keep you,' said the professor. He sounded quite fatherly. 'I wish you a very pleasant evening.'
Oscar beamed at him. 'Oh, I'm sure of that, sir. Megan is to meet my parents for the first time.'
'Ah--delightful, I'm sure.' His chilly gaze took in the diamond ring on her finger, his face expressionless.
He watched them get into Oscar's elderly car before turning away and going to the wards.
Oscar's parents had come to London from their home in Essex. It was their habit to spend a few days each year at a modest hotel, attend a concert, see a suitable play and see as much of their son as possible. Megan, who had received a polite letter from his mother when they had got engaged, was feeling nervous. Supposing his mother and father didn't like her; supposing she didn't like them? She voiced her uncertainty to Oscar who laughed. 'Of course you'll like each other,' he told her. 'There's no reason why you shouldn't.'
Which was true enough. All the same, when they got to the hotel and joined the Fieldings in the half-empty bar she knew at once that she and Oscar's mother disliked each other at first glance. Not that there was any sign of this; they kissed the air beside each other's cheeks, said how glad they were to meet at last and made polite remarks about the splendid weather for March. There was a short respite while she was introduced to Oscar's father, a small man with a wispy moustache and an air of apology; she liked him but they had little chance to talk for Oscar seated them at a small table, ordered drinks and settled down to talk to his father.
Megan sipped the gin and tonic which she hadn't asked for and which she didn't like and engaged her future mother-in-law in small talk. Mrs Fielding brushed aside the chat and embarked on a cross-examination of Megan's life, her family, where had she gone to school, just how old she was...and it was to be hoped that she was a home-loving girl. 'These career-minded young women,' observed Mrs Fielding severely, 'have no right to go to work when they have a family and a husband to look after.'
Megan looked at her companion. She was short and stout with a sharp nose and beady eyes, dressed in what Megan could only describe as economical clothes and with a fearsome hair-do. Oscar had told her that they were in comfortable circumstances and she had no reason to doubt him; perhaps they were just careful of their money... It seemed as though that was the case, for when they sat down to dinner Mrs Fielding made it clear that they would all have the set menu. 'I'm sure we shall enjoy it,' she said in a voice daring anyone to say otherwise, 'and a glass of wine is sufficient for us.'
It surprised her that Oscar did not seem to mind his mother's managing ways; he affably agreed to everything she suggested and when she observed presently that when they married they could have a quantity of furniture stored in the attics he thought it a splendid idea.
'What kind of furniture?' asked Megan.
'Oh, tables and chairs and a very large sideboard and several carpets which I inherited from my parents. There are several things from Mr Fielding's father too, I believe. Some quite nice chests of drawers, and, if I remember rightly, a pretty what-not.'
Megan, uncertain as to what a what-not might be, decided to say nothing. Later she and Oscar would have a talk. When--a small voice added if--they married, she wanted, like every other young woman, to choose her own home. Where was that home going to be, anyway? Somehow she and Oscar hadn't got around to talking about that.
Later as they drove back to Regent's she asked.
'Oscar, what do you plan to do when you've finished at Regent's?'
'Get a senior post--I'd like to stay here but there might not be an opening. Plenty of other hospitals in London, though.'
'You want to stay here, in London, for always?'
'Possibly. I'll have to see what turns up.'
'What about me?'
'Well, if I can get a flat with the job I should think the best thing would be that; if not it would be best for you to live with Mother and Father. I could come home for weekends and free days--it's only a couple of hours in the car.'
'You don't mean that, do you?'
'Mean it? Of course I do. What else is there to do? It would be a waste of money to pay for a flat or even rooms when you can live at home for the price of your keep.' He laughed and patted her knee. 'If I thought you...but you're such a sensible girl.'