The Convenient Wife. Betty Neels

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The Convenient Wife - Betty Neels

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      She peeped at him. He was smiling, but not nicely. “Oh, dear, what have I said to make you smile that way?”

      “Like what?”

      “Well, you smile like that when you lecture the nurses and one of them makes a silly reply to a question.” She paused. “Ready to pounce.”

      He roared with laughter. “Am I such an ogre? Do you think I am an ogre, Venetia?”

      It would be best not to tell him what she thought of him. “No,” she told him sedately. “I’ve never thought that. You’ve always been kind to me.” She added, suddenly bold, “When you’ve remembered that I’m here.”

      He said blandly, “Oh, but I’ve never forgotten that.” A remark that left her puzzled, and hunting for a suitable reply.

      Romance readers around the world were sad to note the passing of Betty Neels in June 2001. Her career spanned thirty years, and she continued to write into her ninetieth year. To her millions of fans, Betty epitomized the romance writer, and yet she began writing almost by accident. She had retired from nursing, but her inquiring mind still sought stimulation. Her new career was born when she heard a lady in her local library bemoaning the lack of good romance novels. Betty’s first book, Sister Peters in Amsterdam, was published in 1969, and she eventually completed 134 books. Her novels offer a reassuring warmth that was very much a part of her own personality, and her spirit and genuine talent will live on in all her stories.

      The Convenient Wife

      Betty Neels

      MILLS & BOON

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      VENETIA FORBES, sitting at the end of the back row of Casualty’s crowded benches, allowed her gaze to roam; it was a nice change from watching the clock on the wall facing her, something she had been doing for over an hour. She was a smallish girl, pleasantly plump, with an ordinary face redeemed from plainness by a pair of magnificent grey eyes, thickly lashed. She had pretty hair of a soft mouse shade which curled on to her shoulders, although at the moment she was so covered in dust and dirt that it was difficult to see that. Her clothes were torn and filthy, and one sleeve had been roughly torn apart so that a first-aid pad could be tied around her forearm, which she held carefully cradled in her other hand. She was a nasty greenish white, but she was apparently composed, unlike her neighbour, a stout woman who was threatening hysterics at any moment and with an eye rapidly turning from an angry red to a rich plum colour. By morning, Venetia thought, it would be an even richer purple.

      She glanced at the clock again, and then studied her surroundings. Casualty was bulging at the seams, for not only had those seriously injured in the bomb blast at a nearby Woolworth’s been rushed to St Jude’s, but the majority of those less seriously hurt as well, St Jude’s being the nearest Casualty—a large department, always comfortably occupied, but now crowded to the doors. Most of the people round her had minor wounds—deep scratches and grazes, sprained ankles, perhaps a broken bone or two, and until the really ill victims had been dealt with and warded they would have to possess themselves in patience. There were fifty or sixty people ahead of her, and already a number of them were demanding attention which the hard-pressed nurses and housemen were unable to give.

      The woman next to her nudged her bandaged arm, and Venetia went a shade greener and closed her eyes for a moment.

      ‘Sorry, ducks. ’Urt yer arm, ’ave yer? What abart me eye, eh? I’ve lorst me shoes. ’Ow am I going ter get ’ome, that’s what I want ter know?’ She surveyed her feet in their remnants of stockings. ‘Can’t walk like this, can I?’

      ‘I expect they’ll send you back in an ambulance.’

      ‘An’ when’ll that be, I’d like ter know?’

      ‘Not just yet, I’m afraid. They have to attend to the ill people first.’

      ‘Course they do, ducks, but we’ve been ’ere for getting on for two hours…’

      There was a good deal of shuffling from the front bench, and the first of the slightly injured was wheeled away to a cubicle. Venetia, to keep her mind occupied, began doing complicated sums in her head to discover how long it would be before her turn, and looked at the clock once more. Not too long, she hoped. She was feeling sick.

      Various persons had been hurrying to and fro past her for ages now, and she had kept her mind occupied by watching them. Quite a few of them she knew, at least by sight—Mr Inglis, the orthopaedic surgeon, his registrar, two consultant surgeons, the senior physician, and any number of house doctors and house surgeons—and she had more than a passing acquaintance with several of the nurses hurrying to and fro, but none of them noticed her. In any case, she reflected, she was probably unrecognisable.

      She turned her attention back to the clock and watched the second hand jerking from minute to minute, and she went on staring at it as a very tall man went past and was met by one of the registrars, who ushered him into a cubicle at the far end of the department. She had never spoken to him, only attended his lectures, and she thought it unlikely that she would ever speak to him. Perhaps that was a good thing—from all accounts he was an impatient man, not suffering fools gladly, and with a coldly biting tongue when annoyed. Probably crossed in love, she decided, watching his large back disappear behind the curtains.

      It was all of half an hour before she saw him again, and by then the occupants of the benches around her were being dealt with with efficient rapidity. He walked back the way he had come, talking to his registrar, and Venetia’s neighbour said, ‘Cor—look at ’im. There’s an ’andsome bloke.’ She put a large hand on Venetia’s injured arm; Venetia gave a small, gasping sigh and little beads of sweat shone on her dirty face.

      This time, she thought hopelessly, there was nothing for it—she was either going to be sick or faint. She closed her eyes, so she didn’t see Professor ter Laan-Luitinga pause by her.

      ‘This girl was here as I came in,’ he observed. ‘She’s all in. I wonder…?’ He lifted the pad off her arm and stood studying the splinter of glass which had gone in one side of her forearm and out the other.

      Venetia opened her eyes and looked up into his dark face. Very handsome, she thought hazily, and indeed he was, with a high-bridged nose above a rather thin mouth, dark eyes under alarming eyebrows, and a head of dark hair sprinkled with silver. She said clearly, ‘I’m so sorry, but I think I’m going to faint.’

      And she did. The professor picked her up off the bench. ‘An empty cubicle?’ he demanded. ‘I’ll get this thing out— I’ll need a local in case she comes round.’

      Venetia had never

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