Once upon a time your company used to change the titles of Betty Neels books willy nilly. I would like to submit a request that future printings of A Secret Infatuation be printed with an alternate title. Here are a few suggestions for your consideration: Lost in a Fog of Love (references RDD lost in the fog), Love is a Battlefield (references the Bosnian interlude), Swing Doors of Destiny (okay, pretty oblique, but still better than the original) or Torquay is for Lovers (granted, more than a bit bumper stickerish). Any one of these titles would give the reader more of a fighting chance of remembering what an awesome book is inside the covers.
Thank you,Betty Debbie
Okay, just a word about that cover art. Is that heroine wearing tassels and appliques on her beige (!) windcheater? And a bow in her hair? He looks like James Bond (naturally the smoking hot blonde one) and even if he is wearing a pink shirt (no way in RDD h-e-double-hockey-sticks) it's all working for him. She looks like a foundling dressed up in cast-offs. Babes like Eugenie do not wear appliques. Still, as I shall assert presently, there is no gainsaying the awesomeness of A Secret Infatuation.
Eugenie Spencer (tall, dark-haired, gorgeous and 25) is a very competent theatre staff nurse not busily handing eminent surgeons their sharps or tamping down the rising bile brought on by seeing blood and guts arrayed before her.
Instead, she is home in Dartmoor with her father (who is recovering from a heart attack), her mother (who will never recover from being adorable every chance she gets) and the Reverend Mr. Joshua Watts (her father's locum living nearby and suffering from the flu and a belief that Eugenie is not way, way out of his league).
On her way home from a mission of mercy in the thick moor fog, Eugenie stumbles across a great, socking Bentley sitting idle in the road. Within is Professor Aserik Rijnma ter Salis but all Eugenie really hears is, "Blah Blah ter Blah...Dutch." He's charmingly helpless and admits it so she scoots across his lap and dumps herself in the passenger seat to navigate him through the fog.
He is invited to spend the evening at the Rectory and as he leaves the next morning, Eugenie waves him off, returns indoors and tells her mother, "I should like to marry him. Don't laugh."
But she doesn't see him for weeks. Father continues to recover, she fields proposals from Joshua Watts without laughing outright, and soon enough returns to work out her notice in the London hospital from whence she came.
As she waltzes through the swing doors of the operating theatre (Or should I say the Swing Doors of Destiny?), he (Blah Blah ter Blah) is the first man she sees. His reaction, she could swear, was initially pleasure but drifts into coolness. Oh well. At least now she knows his last name and what he does for a living and that he'll be there...manipulating the innards of unconscious cardiac patients...right in front of her! Sigh.
He drives her home on her days off. Not because he's in love with her or anything...(De-nial.)
She does not waste her time being missish.
Her: Are you married?
Her: But a hot RDD like you must be...(gulp) engaged.
She is devastated. She isn't about to steal him from the gal that got him first--she's much too nice for that. But she can forget him now...now...er...now. (It doesn't work very well.)
Mother, wife of a rector though she is, has fewer scruples. As Eugenie leaves again for London, Mom helpfully shouts, "Shall I give Joshua your love?"
Eugenie is much too honest to capitalize on all that helpfulness, so when Blah Rijnma ter Salis probes about the reverend (he can't help being interested) he is told in no uncertain terms that Joshua is less than nothing to her. But like a drooling baby with a cellphone, Blah can't let Joshua go and speaks unwisely. "That is his loss. You are just right for a parson's wife, bossy and outspoken and managing and capable." Eugenie, showing the Christian charity which ought to be the most important feature of a clergyman's bride, lets the insult to herself and, tangentially, to her charming mother, slide off her back. "Let's talk about the weather." Eugenie: 1 Blah: 0
Despite their verbal sparring (No. Really because of their verbal sparring....) Blah invites Eugenie to be his temporary theatre nurse in Groningen. A quick consultation with her parents and another proposal from Mr. Watts (Mother: "Why is it that the wrong people like you?") makes up her mind. She'll go to Holland, spend some lovely weeks working with the love of her life, remain professional and helpful and return a broken-hearted shell of her former self. That's the plan.
The first person she sees in Holland is Blah. The second person is Saphira...his fiancee'--Her English was almost perfect. It would be. As rotten as it is to meet the woman, at least now she knows that Blah's Christian name is Aderik. Finally!
When Eugenie does see Aderik (I miss typing Blah.) again socially, it is because Saphira told him to ask her to tea. Ugh. Condescension. He is not so dispassionate the next time, however, when he unfairly upbraids her for picking up strange men. Saphira was quite right when she suggested that I should warn you... But Eugenie isn't going to take that lying down. ...She is, I imagine, a good deal older than I am and probably knows more about being picked up than I do... Eugenie: 2 Aderik: 0 (You mess with a bull, you get the horns...)
But the apologies on both sides are as delightful as possible.
Professionally, some VIP is charming enough to get heart complications in Madeira. Eugenie isn't about to mope and be depressed just because Aderik is lost to her. He wants to go to Madeira with little notice? Score. She'd always fancied a visit to Madeira.
Lots of nursing. She is chatted up by a driver, a doctor and the patient and enjoys herself. She and Aderik have one day together doing tourist stuff and being together at the end of which he kisses her unhurriedly. I mean really kisses her. Mr. Rijnma ter Salis had made sure that she wasn't going to forget his.
Back in Holland, things settle down (unhappily she's not being backed into linen closets for a spot of snogging) until they day she tries to catch a bus in a thunderstorm. He pulls up in his Bentley and...oh dear. Am I the only one with the lyrics of Don't Stand So Close to Me running in her head? ("Wet bus stop. She's waiting. The car is warm and dry...") Is it hot in here?
But that interlude is interrupted by an irate Saphira--happily shouting in Dutch to save Eugenie's blushes. When Aderik meets Eugenie at the bus depot again at the end of the day, surely it's coincidence. (Yeah, I don't buy it either. How much do you think he paid his butler to run over and collect a current bus schedule? How many times did he practice saying nonchalantly, 'I was out walking...' in his bathroom mirror? How many times did he casually walk his dog past that spot until he hit pay-dirt?)
They are called away to Bosnia. (In fact, that's how I think of this book. 'Oh, the Bosnia one.'--because the title gives away nothing.)
Flying into a war zone with camouflage uniforms, a blue helmet and a loosely enforced cease fire doesn't terrify her as long as Aderik is right there. And when the surgeries are over, they meet for an enchanted moment in the rubble of the hospital garden. Thank you, Eugenie...my love.
Certainly a comment like that should have been followed up with, "Love like, "I love this pudding"? Or love like, "Saphira, what Saphira?" But she is shy.
Back in Holland once more, Saphira is whiny and demanding. She just needs the slightest push and an American millionaire on the horizon and all will be well. Aderik, meanwhile, has abandoned any pretense to himself that he is doing anything other than chasing after Eugenie. He runs her to ground at a museum on her day off, whisks her off to the country for the day and then hectors her into coming in for tea.
Her: This is a silly conversation to have in the middle of the pavement.
Him: Indeed, yes. Let us go indoors before I do something even sillier...
But Saphira is inside his house (does his manservant not have a peephole and a dead bolt?) so we never get to see him get sillier (Drat!) and she's so awful that she deserves to have her hand painfully gripped by Eugenie when they bid each other good day.
Saphira pays her back by setting the date with Aderik...at least, that's what Iago...er...Saphira tells our strapping heroine. Oh, and that day out was only to make me jealous, the little cat simpers.
Eugenie leaves Holland and Aderik with a Don't you 'Eugenie' me. Tear it up, girlfriend.
What? How did we end up in Torquay? Upon her return to England a friend of a friend offers her a job as his nurse. Pretend that Aderik is Kevin Bacon... (see right). Yes, he knew the friend of the friend and maneuvered her into a job (without her knowledge) just so that he could keep an eye on her!
She doesn't love her job and when Aderik comes to see her she is starchy--more so after he tells her that he got her the job. But he has to tell her the truth. No hidden agendas here. When she's still prickly (but delightfully so) he responds cheekily, Enjoy your sausages!...and while you eat them reflect upon the fact that I am not the reverend Mr. Watts, to be rolled up and dismissed with ladylike venom.
Home for the weekend she gets yet another proposal from the persistent Mr. Watts.
And back to Torquay again.
And then Aderik drives her home again. Hey, Saphira is no more...The next morning she finds him waiting for her on an upturned bucket at 6am which is as nice a place for proposals as I can think of.
Rating: Oh my heck, this is great. I stayed up until almost 1am to finish this book--partly to get it out of the way and partly because I kept laughing out loud. The verbal sparring was just so fantastic and sharp that I can't believe The Great Betty was 84 when she published this. Eugenie is darling and alarmingly frank, Aderik is in a coil but not for long, her mother practically steals the show every time she makes a peep. I could have lived without the detour through Torquay (though the sparring there is awesome too) because, plot-wise it seems like a stretch. And I don't like how Eugenia says 'your Saphira' all the time (though I get the point of that--she underlining the fact that as the women aren't friends she can't say just plain 'Saphira' and she is Aderik's responsibility after all). But otherwise I have so little to complain about that it seems picky. Queen of Blinking Puddings!
Food: Croquettes and salad, uitsmijters, tomato and onion soup, filete de espada, maracuja, bolos de mel. She drinks her first beer and he drinks lemon squash with a pained expression. We also get a revolting dinner of sausages, spinach, potatoes with prune and custard. Ick.
Fashion: Wellies and tweeds belong to Dartmoor. Holland gets a jersey dress, a chocolate chiffon pleated skirt, hyacinth blue swimsuit and wispy undies. Madeira has cotton dresses, a chambray dress in nutmeg brown and a straw hat. Bosnia is camouflage and a blue helmet.