By Florence Stuart
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1964
“I dare you to fall in love with me,” he said. Dr. Nat gave Nurse Lacey a slow, wry smile. Then his arms encircled her and drew her close. His lips brushed against hers. Suddenly Lacey broke away. She was trembling. “I don’t want you to think that kiss meant anything,” she said. “It was just a pleasant way to say goodnight. I haven’t forgotten I’m going to marry Jeff Ward.” But Lacey was lying. And both she and Dr. Nat knew it.
“Ted needs his job, you know he does. His sister has to have all sorts of expensive treatments if she’s to lick that awful paralysis.”
The eponymous nurse in this book is Lacey Drake. The orderly is Ted Tracey, the boyfriend of Lacey’s roommate, Joan Webster. Now, just put those ideas right out of your head: I can absolutely promise you that there are no shenanigans between Lacey and Ted, or even hints of possible shenanigans, which does make me wonder who named this book, and had they actually read it when they did? So although I spent much of this book vainly waiting for the red herring of the title to come through, it is nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable story.
Lacey is caring for Ricky Ward, a six-year-old boy who had been lost in the woods for three days and is recovering from pneumonia. His father is doctor Jeff Ward, and Jeff is still mourning the death of his beloved wife Marcia in a car crash two years ago. Ricky had run away from his absolute “Gila monster” of a grandmother. Dorothy Ward beats Ricky, dominates Jeff’s life with an iron fist, and broke up Jeff’s marriage, which ended just before Marcia died. When the story opens, Jeff has persuaded Lacey to marry him because he needs her help to manage his mother and son.
Just as this happens, remote and gorgeous Dr. Nat Harrington also decides to declare his love for her. “I had my life all planned,” Nat tells her. “The trouble is, I didn’t know I’d ever find a girl like you.” But she promised Jeff! What to do, what to do? Meantime, little Ricky is convinced that his mother is still alive. Ted the orderly abets this hypothesis by placing an ad in the Los Angeles Express, and now Jeff is getting strange phone calls, and letters and gifts are arriving that could be from Marcia. How will it all turn out? Well, you can easily guess, but that’s not why you should read this book.
The characters are thoroughly enjoyable. Joan is a nursing student who is “not the stuff of which dedicated nurses are made.” She sneaks cigarettes in the patients’ bathrooms, and she is constantly agonizing over her endocrinology class—she can’t even pronounce pituitary. But she’s feisty: “They had a long discussion as to whether or not Joan should fix Ted’s favorite spaghetti sauce. If she did, she was a fool. What she should feed the bum if he showed up was a dish of steamed worms.”
Then there’s Dorothy Ward, who is truly an ogre. If slapping Ricky around isn’t enough, imagine saying this to a little boy: “Your mother is dead, Richard. She was a worthless woman to start with. You imagine she loved you, but she didn’t. She didn’t care anything about you. She deserted you and your father. Then she got a divorce because she didn’t want to see you any more. And after that, just as she deserved, she was killed in a traffic accident. She was burned alive.”
The best medical moment is when Dorothy, caught abusing Ricky at the hospital, takes the easy way out: “The lady had clutched at her heart, moaned that she was dying, been given medication and sent home in an ambulance.” How medicine has changed: At that time she would have stayed in the hospital for a week if she’d had a baby, but chest pain—which today would be an immediate admission to rule out a heart attack—buys her some pills and a ride home.
It’s no real shock how everything sorts itself out, but the ride is lots of fun. The writing is humorous and snappy, and you’ll tear through this book in under two hours. This is exactly the sort of story you hope for when you pick up a vintage nurse romance novel.