Katherine Marsh was practically a slave to her brother's family in the small English country village where she lived. Then she met Dr. Jason Fitzroy--and fell instantly in love. Dr. Fitzroy found her a job at the hospital and gave her a new sense of self-respect. He also gave Katherine her first taste of the freedom missing from her earlier years. But Katherine knew she could never be truly free--not while her heart was a prisoner of love.
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
June 01, 2010
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Excerpt from When Two Paths Meet by Betty Neels
Katherine rolled over in bed and pulled the blankets over her ears; it wasn't time to get up, she was sure of that, and she resented whatever it was that had awakened her. She tucked her cold feet into her nightie and closed her eyes, only to open them immediately at the steady thumping on the front door below her window. The milkman? Unreasonably early. A tramp? A would-be thief? But he wouldn't want to draw attention to himself.
She got out of bed, thrust her feet into slippers and dragged on her dressing-gown. By the light of her bedside lamp the alarm clock showed well past five in the morning. The thump came again, and she went softly along the landing and down the stairs; her brother and his wife, who slept at the back of the house, and very soundly too, wouldn't have heard it--nor, with luck, would the two children in the room next to her own.
It took a few moments to open the door, and she left it prudently on the chain, to peer through the narrow opening at the man on the doorstep. It was the tail end of October, and only just beginning to get light, but she could make out what appeared to be a giant.
He spoke from somewhere above her head. 'Good girl. Let me in quickly.'
He had a deep, unhurried voice which reassured her, nevertheless she asked, 'Why?'
'I have a new-born baby here, likely to die of exposure unless it gets warmed up pretty quickly.'
She undid the chain without wasting words, and he went past her. 'Where's the kitchen, or somewhere warm?'
'The end door.' She waved a hand, and applied herself to locking and bolting the door once more. All at once, she reflected that she could have bolted herself in with an escaped convict, a thief, even a murderer. And it was too late to do anything about it; she hurried him along and opened the kitchen door on to the lingering warmth of the old-fashioned Rayburn. He brushed past her, laid the bundle he was carrying on the kitchen table and unfolded it carefully and, from the depths of his car coat, exposed a very small, very quiet baby. Katherine took one look and went to poke up the fire, quietly, so as not to arouse the household.
When the man said, 'Blankets? Something warm?' she went like a small shadow back upstairs to her room and took the sheet and a blanket off her bed. The linen cupboard was on the landing outside her brother's room, and he or Joyce might hear the door squeaking.
She handed them to the man, who took them without looking at her, only muttering, 'Sensible girl,' and then, 'Warm water?'
There was always a large kettle keeping warm on the Rayburn; she filled a small basin and put it on the table. 'Now, just stay here for a moment, will you? I'll go to the car and get my bag.'
'I've locked the door, and my brother might hear if you go through the back door, it creaks. I'll have to go and unlock...'
He was looking around him; the house was old-fashioned, and the kitchen windows were large and sashed. He crossed the room and silently slid one open, climbed through soundlessly and disappeared, to reappear just as silently very shortly after. He was a very large man indeed, which made his performance all the more impressive. Katherine, who had picked up the blanketed baby and was holding it close, stared at him over the woolly folds.
'You are indeed a sensible girl,' observed the man, and put his bag down on the table. 'This little fellow needs a bit of tidying up...'
It was a relief to Katherine to see a little colour stealing through the scrap on the table. She handed the things he asked for from his bag and whispered, 'Will he be all right?'
'I think so, babies are extremely tough; it rather depends on how long he's been lying on the side of the road.'
'How could anyone...?' She stared across the table at him, seeing him properly for the first time. He was a handsome man, with fair hair and sleepy blue eyes under straight brows, and above a wide, firm mouth his nose was pure aquiline. Katherine was aware of a strange sensation somewhere under her ribs, a kind of delightful breathless-ness, a splendid warmth and a tingling. She stayed quite still, a small, rather thin girl, with an ordinary face which was redeemed from plainness by a pair of beautiful grey eyes, heavily fringed with black lashes. Her hair, alas, was a pale, soft brown, straight and long. Wrapped as she was in the useful, dark red dressing-gown Joyce, her sister-in-law, had given her the previous Christmas, she presented a picture of complete mediocrity. Which made it entirely unsuitable that she should have fallen in love with a man who was looking at her kindly enough, but with no hint of interest in her person.
She said in her quiet voice, 'Would you like a cup of tea? And where will you take the baby?'
'To hospital, as quickly as possible...' He paused, looking over her shoulder, and she turned round. Joyce was in the doorway.
She was a handsome young woman, but now her good looks were spoilt by the look of amazed rage on her face.
'Katherine--what on earth is the meaning of this? And who is this man? Have you taken leave of your senses?'
'If I might explain?' The man's voice was quiet, but something in it made Joyce silent. 'I found a new-born child on the roadside--this house was only a few yards away, I knocked for help. This young lady has most kindly and efficiently provided it. May I trespass on your kindness still further, and ask her to come with me to the hospital so that she may hold the baby?'
Joyce had had time to study him, and her manner changed rapidly. She tossed a long curl over her shoulder, and pulled her quilted dressing-gown rather more tightly around her splendid figure. If Katherine had looked ordinary before, she was now completely overshadowed. Joyce ignored her.
'You're a doctor? I must say all this is very unusual. I'll make you a hot drink. You must be so tired.' She smiled charmingly at him and said sharply to Katherine, 'You heard what the doctor said, Katherine. Don't just stand there, go and get dressed.'
And, when she had slipped away without looking at anyone, 'My husband's young sister--she lives with us.'
She gave a tinkling little laugh. 'Not ideal, of course, but one has certain responsibilities. Now, what about that drink? I don't know your name...'
'I'll not stop for anything, thank you, Mrs...'
He was bending over the baby again. 'I'll see that your sister-in-law gets back safely.' He straightened himself to his full height. 'Please make my apologies to your husband. Ah, here is Miss Marsh.'
Katherine, very neat in slacks and a short jacket, her hair screwed into a bun, came into the room. Without a word, she held out her arms for the baby, waited while the doctor picked up his coat and bag and bade a courteous goodbye to Joyce, and then followed him down the passage, with Joyce trailing behind. She made rather a thing of unbolting the door.
'I'm not very strong,' she murmured. 'So sorry, and having to get out of my bed at such an unearthly hour.' She gave her little tinkling laugh again.
'Wait here,' the doctor bade Katherine. 'I'll get the car.' He went down the short path to the gate.
It was very quiet and his hearing was excellent, so he couldn't fail to hear Joyce's sharp, 'Just you get back here without wasting any time. I'm not seeing to the children; they'll have to stay in bed until you're here to get them up.'
The morning light was strengthening; the car outside the gate looked large. The doctor got out and took the baby from Katherine, bade Joyce a coldly courteous goodbye, and opened the car door. Katherine got in, took the baby on to her lap, and sat without speaking while he got in beside her. She was a little surprised when he picked up the phone and had a brief conversation with someone-- the hospital, she supposed. She had heard of phones in cars, but she had never seen one, only on television.
He drove in silence, a little too fast for her liking, along the narrow road which brought them to the main road in Salisbury. The early morning heavy traffic was building up, but he drove steadily and fast, circumventing the city until he reached the roundabout on its outskirts and took the road to the hospital.
They were expected. He drew up smoothly before the accident centre entrance, opened Katherine's door and urged her through into the hospital. The baby was taken from her at once by a tired-looking night sister, and carried away with the doctor, a young houseman in a white coat, and another nurse behind them. Katherine watched them go and, since there was no one to ask where she should go, she sat herself down on one of the benches ranged around the walls. She would have liked a cup of tea, breakfast would have been even better, but she was a sensible girl, there were other more pressing matters to see to. She suspected that she had already been forgotten.
But she hadn't; within ten minutes or so she was approached by a young nurse. 'Dr Fitzroy says you're to have breakfast. I'll take you along to the canteen and you are to wait there when you have had it--he'll join you later.'
'I have to get back home...' began Katherine, her thoughts wincing away from Joyce's wrath if she didn't.
'Dr Fitzroy says he'll take you back, and you are please to do as he asks.'
The nurse so obviously expected her to do so, that Katherine got to her feet, mentally consigning Joyce and the children to a later hour, when she could worry about them at her leisure. For the moment, she was hungry.
The canteen was empty; it was too soon for the night staff going off duty, too early for the day staff, even now getting out of their beds. The nurse sat Katherine down at one of the plastic-covered tables and went over to the counter. She came back with a loaded tray: cornflakes, eggs and bacon, toast, butter and marmalade, and a pot of tea.
'I haven't any money with me,' Katherine pointed out anxiously.
'Dr Fitzroy said you were to have a good breakfast. I don't think he meant you to pay for it.' The nurse smiled and said goodbye and disappeared.
Katherine's small nose sniffed at the fragrant aroma rising from the tray. To have breakfast served to her, and such a breakfast, was a treat not to be missed. And she applied herself to the cornflakes without further ado.
She ate everything, and was emptying the teapot when Dr Fitzroy joined her.
She smiled up at him. 'Thank you for my breakfast,' she said in her quiet, sensible way. 'Is there no way I can get back without you bothering to take me?'
At the sight of him, her heart had started thumping against her ribs, but she looked much as usual--rather a nonentity of a girl, badly dressed and too thin. Dr Fitzroy sat down opposite her; a kind man, he felt sorry for her, although he wasn't sure why. He hadn't been taken in by her sister-in-law's gushing manner. Probably the girl had a dull life, as well as having to live with a woman who obviously didn't like her overmuch.
He said kindly, 'If you're ready, I'll drive you back and make my excuses to your sister-in-law. They will be wondering where you are.'
Katherine got to her feet at once; the pleasant little adventure was over and she would be made to pay for it, she had no doubt of that. But it would be worth it. Joyce's spite and her brother's indifference wouldn't be able to spoil it. It was ridiculous to fall in love as she had done; she had had no idea that she could feel so deeply about anyone. It would be a dream she would have to keep to herself for the rest of her life; it hadn't the remotest chance of ever being more than that. She buttoned her jacket and went with him through the hospital and out to the forecourt where the car was standing.
'Is the baby all right?' she asked as he drove away.
'Yes, although it's rather early days to know for certain that he's taken no harm. A nice little chap.'
She shivered. 'If you hadn't seen him and stopped...'
'We must try and find the mother.' He glanced sideways at her. 'I hope I haven't disrupted your morning too much.'
She said, 'Oh, no,' much too quickly, so that he looked at her for a second time, but her face was quite calm.
All the same, when they reached the house he said, 'I'll come in with you.'
She had her hand on the car door. 'Oh, really, there's no need, you must be busy...'
He took no notice, but got out of the car and went round to her door. He opened it for her and they walked up the path to the side door. 'We don't use the front door much,' she explained matter-of-factly. 'It makes a lot of extra work.'
She opened the side door on to a flagstoned passage, and prayed silently that he would go before Joyce discovered that she was back home. Prayers aren't always answered--Joyce's voice, strident with ill temper, came from an open door at the end of the passage.
'So you're back, and high time, too! You can go straight upstairs and see to the children, and if you think you're going to have your breakfast first, you are very much mistaken.' The door flung wide open and Joyce appeared. 'You little...' She stopped short. The change in her manner was ludicrous as she caught sight of the doctor behind Katherine.
'There you are, dear.' She smiled widely as she spoke, 'Do run upstairs and see if the children are ready, will you? I've been so busy.'
Katherine didn't say anything to this, but held out her hand to the doctor. It was engulfed in a firm grasp which was very comforting, and just for a moment she wanted to weep because she wouldn't see him again, only be left with a delightful dream.
'Thank you for bringing me back, and for my breakfast, Dr Fitzroy. I hope the little baby will find someone to love him.'
He looked down at her gravely. 'It is I who thank you, Miss Marsh. Your help undoubtedly helped to save his life. Be sure we shall try and find his mother, and if not, get him adopted.'