REVIEW: The Mistletoe Kiss by Betty Neels
“Plain and mousy”—that was how Emmy Foster saw herself. A receptionist in London’s St. Luke’s Hospital, Emmy couldn’t imagine why the very handsome Professor Ruerd ter Mennolt would take an interest in a girl like her. Ruerd couldn’t figure out why, with a beautiful fiancée, he troubled himself with Emmy. Even more puzzling was why he invited her home for Christmas with him in Holland. But after he did, Ruerd couldn’t help but wonder—was he engaged to the right girl?
With a little time left to squeeze another Christmas Neels in this year, I took Barb’s rec and ran with it. I’m already starting to pick up on the tropes of Neelslandia and this time there was space for the jealous girlfriend though, alas, no explosions. Would a bomb near the hospital count? But we do have the hero who likes to manage things with a heroine who seems to like that – though she will stand up for herself when it counts.
Ermentrude. Wow, just … wow. Emmy’s got an old fashioned name to go along with her “chosen for durability” brown wardrobe. Not only Emmy but the hospital where she works is slightly shabby too. It’s due to be closed and replaced but is still loved by those who have been treated there over the years. Emmy lives on a slightly shabby street but her family has some “rather good” china – a holdover from their past home in Somerset where the people were more friendly and knew each other – unlike Londoners. Emmy’s general friendliness has got her ticked off (US – written up) before for not being respectful enough to her seniors but that hasn’t stopped her yet. Dr. ter Mennolt decides after she pokes her head into his office to deliver a message that he’s not a fan of her cheerful nosiness. He makes a point of telling this small, slightly plump person to inform his secretary to never send Emmy to him again. Not love at first sight. Emmy, meanwhile, does think of this foreign doctor, all alone in his office. He, however, forgets her as soon as she’s out the door.
Let’s see, Professor (aka Dr.) ter Mennolt is Dutch, has graying blond hair, ice blue eyes that turn even colder when he’s annoyed (see above) and is a world famous doctor. Emmy’s family has come down in the world but works hard. Keen to help out, Emmy has given up her dreams of doing something with her artistic skills and works the switchboard at the hospital. The family has Snoodles the cat and George the (elderly) dachshund. Soon her father’s work will probably send him and mother to another town leaving Emmy (but she’s only twenty-three! However she should be home by dark.) on her own.
And let us not forget that this is the era before mobile (US – cell) phones – or at least Betty was writing the story that way. So Emmy’s switchboard job was much more busy than would probably be the case today. And who should call asking for Dr. ter Mennolt but a thoroughly haughty sounding voice. Must be the doctor’s wife as he seems the type to want the tall, slim and beautiful person Emmy imagines belonging to That Voice. But then even though she’s short and plump, she’s got a posh voice herself – thanks to her schoolmaster father.
The next encounter Emmy has with the good doctor goes slightly better – he even remembers who she is, her name – old fashioned enough to put him in mind of a lady with ringlets and a crinoline – and where she works. At first Emmy is slightly startled at the image but then concludes that “he’s foreign” and “one of those clever people” so that’s okay.
So not only is a kitten saved but a dog as well. Double win. Plus the doctor’s snooty fiancée will be pissed off about the dog so mark down another win. Neels heroes often “pop” their heroines into cars. Is this like stuffing a jack-in-the-box back in? And court shoes (US – pumps) make an appearance. While we’re not even a third of the way into the story, the hero is already musing about the heroine’s dowdy clothes and wondering what she’d look like in the type of bespoke dresses that “Scream money” from every seam. She, however, is slightly miffed that he not only spoke about her to his posh fiancée but described her as mousy and plain. He did have the gumption to admit that to her when she frostily confronts him with it. I like that Emmy doesn’t take anything off of him.
They keep telling themselves that there’s nothing between them, never could be with their different stations but those pesky thoughts keep cropping up. Dr. ter Mennolt is a honorable man and having asked the haughty fiancée to marry him, he’ll stick to that even if he’s never loved her and merely thought she’d make a good society wife for him. But, there are things he could do to make Emmy’s life better so why not do them. Fairy Godfather, your name is Ruerd.
Before long Ruerd has rearranged Emmy’s life as well as that of her parents though he’s smart enough to keep this hidden. Then he deftly maneuvers them all to his Old Family House in Holland (with lovely antiques) for the holidays where all the aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, siblings, parents and grandparents plus assorted friends arrive and meet Emmy. Not surprisingly, they all want her and not The Voice to marry their boy. Everyone is kind, charming and effortlessly polite to Emmy and her parents thus putting The Voice’s rudeness into greater contrast. But though everyone except Emmy and Ruerd can see which way the winds of love are blowing, those two in their exquisitely mannered way continue to miss the obvious. I’m sure even Ruerd’s dogs were shaking their heads in exasperation.
Until finally one of them plucks up enough courage to state how they feel. Ah, at last they’re on the same page. Betty gives us their sizzling moment of passion.
He kissed her soundly. ‘We will talk later; I’m going to kiss you again.’
‘Very well,’ said Emmy. ‘I don’t mind if you do.’
They stood, the pair of them, just for a while in their own world, oblivious of the wind and the waves and the dogs running to and fro.
Whoa, I don’t know about you but I had to fan myself, there. B