Sunday, January 21, 2024

Nurse Rivers’ Secret

By Anne Durham, ©1965
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

Everyone at Ripplegate General Hospital was tremendously excited when the film star Dawn Delaney was admitted as a patient—everyone, that is, except Nurse Nina Rivers, who knew Dawn only too well and dreaded the complications she would inevitably bring with her.


“She’d be a proper corker out of that horrible uniform.” 

“No one looks at a nurse unless she’s doing something to attract attention.”

Nurse Nina Rivers has made a life for herself apart from her family; she comes from a fairly broken home. Her father died when she was very young, and Mother married Alexander Fitchworth, a very nice man who had been a real father to Nina. Of course, he went and died, and Nina became a sort of Cinderella to her temperamental and beautiful stepsister Alexandra, waiting on her hand and foot. Astonishingly, when Mother and Alexandra had decided to move to America, Nina elected to remain in the U.K. to become a nurse, and neither of them has ever forgiven Nina for “abandoning” them and what would have been a life of unappreciated drudgery.

Imagine poor Nina’s surprise when her sister is brought in to her hospital as a pampered private patient—under the name Dawn Delaney, as she is now known, as she is a rising movie star and is making a film in a castle nearby; Dawn had fallen through a rickety balcony when she had been up there outside of working hours with a film mogul who could do things for her career. Nina is immediately sacrificed at Dawn’s altar by none other than Mommie Dearest. Not a hug or word of affection passes from Mommie’s lips after years apart from her first daughter before she is exhorting Nina not to tell anyone of the relationship. “You’ve always said you didn’t care for that sort of life. This is what you prefer, and as soon as Alex has recovered, she will go right out of your life again, and not trouble you,” she says, blaming the victim. “You must come and have tea with us one day,” she adds, finishing the job with a knife to the heart.

But Dawn/Alex is a spoiled brat, always on the call light and sobbing in self-pity, and the only one who can soothe her is Nurse Rivers, who is constantly pressed into duty to pat the limpid hand of her sister. Dawn is also one of those ladies who “always found the men belonging to other girls much more acceptable to her than other men. She didn’t mean any harm; she just couldn’t help it.” Yeah, right. And of course the first man she notices is Dr. Antony Alsford, who is all but engaged to Nina—if only they can settle the thorny issue of whether she will quit working when they get married. “I just want a career of my own,” she tells him repeatedly, but he is having none of it. “He didn’t like his girl-friend to be the one with ideas, the one to want to make plans. He would want a yes-woman, Nina felt.” It’s clear why she wants to marry him and why she is heart-broken when he becomes starry-eyed over the dewy, rose-colored Dawn—and breaks off their engagement with a story about how he is doing her a huge favor by ending it. “I’m standing in your way,” he generously explains. He has no idea how right he is, and unfortunately neither does Nina.

Because there’s nice old Dr. Stephen Cornwell to help her over the rough patches, give her a lift into town and buy her tea and pass over his handkerchief. Though he starts out “much as a kindly uncle,” his charm grows naturally on Nina, and he is clearly in love with her—though she, of course, is the last one to figure this out. She does come to understand something her own feelings early on, however—“a rather special feeling towards Dr. Stephen Cromwell, that had begun deep down in her almost imperceptibly, and was now like a glow of warmth on a cold day, stealing gently yet swiftly all over her. A glow that made her want to be with him all the time.” Unfortunately Dawn, recognizing the attraction between the pair, now decides that, having won Antony for her own, she no longer wants that fickle man and has her heart set on winning poor Dr. Cornwell. “She hadn’t really wanted Antony permanently; she had just wanted to feel that she could take his attention away from another girl, and now she was finished with him.” What a sweet girl!

Now Dawn is making herself sick with longing for the good doctor, and Nina feels she has no choice but to exhort Dr. Cornwell to go along with the charade that he loves her in order to help her recover. “Dawn wanted him, and they must consider her, because she was so ill,” she decides. He flat out refuses, however, proving himself to be a man of principles and character. “She’s behaving like a spoilt child. She wants something. She must have it. It doesn’t matter if it’s some pretty toy or a man’s attention, it’s all one to her. And I, for one, will not pander to it,” he tells her, adding, “I think you’ve let Dawn and her mother make a doormat of you for years, and I’m going to personally stop it.”

But Nina is a clever lass, smart enough to figure out another way to get Dawn off Dr. Cornwell’s leg—even if in enacting her plan she risks losing the doctor for good. Complications and misunderstandings ensue, of course … and in the end we have another fairly typical Harlequin story, sweet and slow, with an admirable, strong heroine—and in this instance, we are lucky to have an attractive love interest as well. Some side characters are well-drawn; Nina’s mother in particular was terrifically horrid in a subtle sort of way. If overall this book is not especially sparkling, it’s still well worth an afternoon.

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