REVIEW: Dearest Eulalia by Betty Neels
Convenient bride…loving wife?
Eulalia cannot bear the thought of losing her home, especially at Christmas! But with money running out she knows there’s no hope…until handsome surgeon Aderik van der Leurs show up on her doorstep – with a very convenient proposal!
Though Aderik appears to want her simply as his convenient bride, he’s yearned for beautiful Eulalia from afar. But this Christmas dare he hope that his new wife will also surrender her heart?
Well, despite all the fans here I’ve never tried a Betty Neels book before. Shocker, right? Considering I’ve now taken up D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Cadell I figured it was time to try Betty and her comfort books with Dutch doctors and English nurses. Only this one is slightly different. The heroine works in the canteen of her local hospital (cafeteria for the US). But Aderik is a goner in love from the word go. Though of course he doesn’t tell her that. And Lally needs some serious financial rescuing.
Eulalia, or Lally as most people call her, is hardworking and industrious – as seen by how she’s dragged the canteen from little more than a hole in the wall to a place where patients waiting for clinic visits can get hot, filling food plus that British panacea for all ills – strong tea. She’s thrifty too as needed because of the trust that hamstrings her elderly and decrepit grandfather from selling the massive old home they live in or any of the contents. The old gent can’t even rent it out or have boarders to help pay the expenses. So Lally and their housekeeper Jane make do or do without for themselves while keeping grandpa in the dark about how dismal the conditions of the house outside of his bedroom are.
When Aderik arrives to visit the Colonel, who worked with Aderik’s dad during WWII, he’s slightly taken aback to see the (she doesn’t know it yet) love of his life greet him at the door in a grubby pinny (US apron) with a spanner (wrench) in her hand and a disgruntled look on her face. I guess he feared she was about to bean him with it. Anywho, despite being a world class pediatric surgeon, he manages to fix the just-gone-defunct ancient washing machine and Lally’s coolness towards him eases a bit. I will admit to falling on the neck of most males who can fix appliances for me, too.
Once inside, Aderik grasps the full extent of Lally’s financial straits. Meanwhile Lally ponders that he’s got a nice smile, is tall (something she likes as she’s “splendidly built”) and though not so young is handsome. He’s also got nice manners and after finagling his way into carrying her basket while she goes shopping, he notices the expensive things bought for her grandfather while she and Jane apparently make do with (shudder) butter substitute, instant coffee, tea bags (the horrors) and (gasp) streaky bacon. Yes, things are dire. Rather than jump right in and take over the situation, Aderik’s got a plan.
Once back at the old manse, Aderik calmly informs Colonel Langley that he wants to marry Eulalia to which her grandfather accepts with satisfaction. The two men in her life have now settled her future without asking her. Very convenient.
Aderik’s playing the long game though. Or relatively long. He asks Eulalia out for a day drive and Jane, who Aderik has already won over with his manners, practically pushes Lally out the door with him. Over the course of a long day during which these two down enough coffee and tea to float a battleship along with eating a (lushly described) lunch that would founder an elephant, Aderik proposes with the calm detachment of a man deciding if he wants peas or carrots with his supper. A stunned Lally primly turns him down but he’s not dissuaded.
His next move is the “leave ’em wanting more” followed by “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It does. Over the course of the next week, Lally’s world gets turned upside down and we discover that Aderik is apparently a man who can survive on no sleep as he crisscrosses the channel – first proposing again, then making all the arrangements, and then marrying Lally. While everyone else is wildly (for the English) enthusiastic about the match, Lally is still more lukewarm about her marriage of convenience. Can Aderik change that so that she matches his (for now banked) fires of love?
Then begins Lally’s makeover from practical canteen girl to wife of a rich Dutch doctor (called in the British fashion Mr. instead of Dr. because he’s a surgeon).
Once Lally and Aderik arrive in Holland, my Dutch geography and cultural lessons began and I agree with what Sunita said in her Betty Neels article about probably being able to find my way around Amsterdam by the directions and street names given here. Of course we see more signs that Aderik is a keeper – he has a dog which hurls himself at Aderik with unbounded joy, a houseful of loyal retainers, colleagues who obviously adore him and once his family arrives for Christmas (really, he waits until a week or so prior before even telling Lally these people exist?) they are delightful too. Everyone takes Lally to their collective bosom, doting over her and making her transition easy.
So why is Lally getting pissy? Because Aderik has the (deliberate) patience of a saint and is not going to rush Lally’s feelings nor will he play on her gratitude for marrying, her bringing her to a wonderful old house, all the money he gives her to buy a new wardrobe (only classic styles, including a few jersey dresses, and the rest fit to match the cashmere coat Aderik bought her) or the kitten he saves. Yes, really and I was about to crawl into my ereader at this point to marry him myself because of the kitten. Aderik takes his “playing the long game” to the final period, waiting out Lally’s change of feelings – he reads her emotions fairly well and can tell he’s getting closer to his end goal of her falling for him all on her own. Noble, yes but wow did he make her make up her own mind.
Despite this being a novella (originally part of an anthology) it felt much longer – not in a bad way but it is much more “complete” in feel than often seen in rushed novellas. Still I would caution readers that the price being charged for it doesn’t reflect that it’s a novella. This is my first Neels but I think I’ll be back after running any of my potential reads past our own Neelsista, Sunita. B