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Spotlight on Love (ebook and print) by Regina Andrews (Romance: Historical)

Spotlight on Love (ebook and print) by Regina Andrews (Romance: Historical)
 
(1 reviews)  

Ever-dutiful, Nurse Helen Middleton is a successful Emergency Room Supervisor at Rhode Island Hospital in December, 1941. To help her family through tough economic times, she has sacrificed her dreams of a singing career for steadier employment.

Things change when she meets William 'Red' Williamson, a dynamic and compelling man she finds irresistible. As they to get to know each other, Helen considers following her musical dreams and a new world of romance and song seems to be opening up to her.

Then, the horrors of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 change the world and throw Red and Helen into the danger and chaos of wartime. Will Helen's dreams be shattered by World War II or will the power of love triumph over all the obstacles in their way?

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Spotlight on Love (ebook and print) by Regina Andrews (Romance: Historical)
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1 Most useful customer reviews (see all reviews):
Larry Hammersley
Aug 26, 2016
This novel has so much going for it. I like the fact that Helen and Red get together and are compatible right at the start. Just when things seem moving along between Helen and Red, World War II breaks out. Helen and Red find themselves in danger in Algeria. Mystery, intrigue and the uncovering of under handed dealings kept me going through this novel. Much surprises occur, keeping me wondering if there will be reconciliation. I highly recommend this novel, another fine story by Regina Andrews, a talented author.
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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

Humming one of her favorite songs, "Pennies from Heaven", Emergency Room Supervisor Helen Middleton leaned against the counter of the nurse's station. As usual, she was early for the start of her 7 am shift.

Her keen hazel eyes scanned the pages of the morning medication charts with the intense concentration and efficiency that she was so well known for among the hospital staff. The number one graduate in Rhode Island General Hospital's class of 1937 constantly focused on her duties with precision and accuracy, two qualities which had indeed set her apart from her classmates on that proud day four years ago.

How was Dr. Peabody, she wondered, looking for his chart, and what was his condition after the incident yesterday? With all the activity Rhode Island General Hospital's ER had seen in the past twenty-four hours, she was beginning to think there was something to be said for the correlation made between accidents and the full moon.

At least, she mused, as she settled her slender five-foot four frame onto the creaky office stool behind the desk, this October of 1941 seemed to contain more frenzied activity and upheaval than normal.

"Thank you for saving my mother's life."

A deep, smooth voice traveled across the counter of the nurses' station, slid between the pages her reports and filtered upwards to please her discerning musician's ear.

Distracted from her task, she looked up. The early morning sunlight filtered in through the windows behind him, past the tweed jacket, and the confident, ruddy smile until Helen looked up and met the friendliest pair of cornflower blue eyes she had ever encountered.

She guessed him to be in his mid-thirties, a little taller than average, with sandy hair and just a hint of gold in his skin that would assure him of tanning easily. But what she liked the most was his rugged, open countenance.

Giving him an experienced appraisal, she gauged him to be in radiant good health and vitality. Unlike many of the patients she saw, he was well taken care of, wearing new clothes, well-nourished and apparently worry free. Just the way life should be for everybody; but in these days of uncertainty, with bombs falling in Germany and many families, including her own, still reeling from the Depression, she knew this gentleman had to have a background of privilege.

She couldn't resist flicking a glance to the enormous bouquet wrapped in white florist's paper that he had bundled up against him in the crook of his arm. Fresh flowers like that were a rare and precious commodity. What an extravagance in this day and age!

Her nurse's radar instantly went up. Sometimes the families with money thought that the hospitals were actually hotels, and the staff there to wait on them and cater to their every need. But as long as Nurse Helen Middleton was on duty as Supervisor, everyone had to adhere to the same rules.

"Excuse me, sir," she used her most professional tone. "It's too early for visitors and there are no floral deliveries accepted through the Emergency Room. They all go through the main reception area in our central lobby."

With an efficient point of her pen towards the doors marked "Entrance to Main Lobby", she turned her attention away from the stranger, suddenly feeling self-conscious and intimidated by his obvious affluence.

Even from where she sat she could smell the deliciously pungent calla lilies and pink roses emerging from the deep green ferns and delicate baby's breath where they were nestled. It would take her six months of scrimping to be able to buy a small bunch of wildflowers for her beleaguered parents.

She tried to concentrate on her medication log but could feel him standing there watching her. Perhaps she should consider calling Security: gimpy old Pat Burns. A lot of good he'd do.

Without looking up, she said, "The main lobby us that way, sir, as I already told you. Through those doors."

With all the responsibility on her shoulders, at work as well as with her family, the last thing in the world she could do was indulge in the luxury of a romantic daydream with this handsome stranger. She had to keep her life in strict control. So she kept her eyes on her charts. Business was business.

After all, wasn't that why she and her sister, Marie, had enrolled in nursing school in the first place, fortunately winning scholarships and living in the dormitories on the hospital grounds with all the other nurses? Of course it was, so that there would be two less mouths for her parents to feed back in the old homestead. At least they had been lucky enough not to have to be separated, like many other families she knew.

"I'm not looking for the mail lobby. I came here to thank you. At least I think it's you. Are you Nurse Helen Middleton?"

Her eyes traveled back up to his and she was enveloped by his warmth and friendliness. He continued to smile at her, and she couldn't look away.

The telephone on her counter rang, bringing her back to reality. What in the world was she thinking about? She had an ER to run, not a daydreaming, eyeball gazing facility. She was a nurse, not and ophthalmologist.

Helen held up an index finger to him, indicating she would be with him in a moment, and picked up the phone.

"Rhode Island General Emergency Room. How may I help you?"

"Hi, honey. It's only me, Gladys. I'm calling to see how our new hospital hero is today?"

Helen's mind instantly went back to the crisis in the emergency room the day before, when Dr. Peabody had collapsed and Helen, to the amazement of the entire operating room surgical team, had completed the emergency appendectomy on the elderly female patient.

Helen smiled into the phone. At nearly seventy, Gladys had been a fixture at the hospital switchboard for nearly fifty years. "I'm okay, thanks, Gladys. How's Dr. Peabody? No one left me a note on how he's doing."

"Can't you just tell me how I can find Nurse Helen Middleton?"

Once again the visitor's voice interrupted her. She turned on her stool to look back at him, the tweed with flowers, a small frown furrowing her snowy, unmarked brow.

She regarded him steadily. "Gladys, let me call you right back."

She ended the call with one of the efficient clicks she was known for among her underlings in the hospital circles. She scanned the ER with her experience, eagle-eyed glance and saw that all was stable.

Turning to the handsome stranger, she asked: "I am Helen Middleton. How may I help you, sir?"

He answered her with a disarmingly warm smile that turned her insides into melted caramel. And what was that thumping all of the sudden in her chest?

"I came here to find an angel named Nurse Middleton and thank her for her heroic efforts yesterday that saved my mother's life." His glance landed on her name tag. "You're that angel, and now you are my new hero."

As she recalled the pressure packed situation, Helen felt the color rush to her cheeks--much to her consternation. In all her four years she had never been flustered. And today should be no different. Nursing Supervisors were not supposed to blush!

Observing her carefully, the stranger extended his hand and leaned in to her across the counter. "I'm Mrs. Williamson's oldest, William. My friends call me Red."

Something about his name sounded vaguely familiar to her, but she couldn't place where she might have heard of him. As she shook his hand, she noticed how warm and strong his grip was. And he had a good, steady pulse. The fact that she was feeling an electrical charge of about 20,000 volts pumping through her at his touch was a jolt she'd rather have ignored. She did her best to remain focused and unflustered, and managed to compose herself.

"Nice to meet you, sir. I'm very glad I could help your mother yesterday. But don't be misled. I'm no hero and I'm definitely not an angel."

The corners of his eyes crinkled upwards, and the sight of that made her fluttering heart race even quicker. He passed the enormous arrangement across the counter. "These are for you. With my sincere thanks."

Helen pursed her lips. "It's very thoughtful, but you really shouldn't have. We have hospital regulations about accepting gifts from family members. I'm sorry."

"Where I come from, Nurse Middleton, rules are made to be broken."

She gave him a sidelong glance. Oh, boy, do I like the sound of that, she thought. She took a deep breath before replying: "And where I come from, jobs are made to be retained. There are some patients who will enjoy these, though." Her eyes searched his face.

"Of course. I'll bring more if you like."

She waved her hand quickly, her cheeks reddening. "No, that's fine, please. We're not a charity hospital. And when someone does something like that it only makes the patients without such gifts feel left out."

"No offense meant." His voice was gentle.

"Fine. I can, sir, give you detailed information about your mother's condition. She is still in intensive care, but she's going to be just fine. We only have her staying there to monitor for post-operative infections. Even the tiniest internal puncture can cause trouble, as you probably know, but it's already been over fifteen hours and there's no sign of any problems."

He raised an eyebrow. "Something tells me you could have been a doctor." There was no mistaking the admiration in his voice.

"Where I come from, there's no time for frivolous daydreams like being a woman doctor," she answered with a good-natured shrug. "I have a responsibility to help out my family. Otherwise," she let a mischievous twinkle appear in her eyes, "I might as well let my wild side out and set my sights on being a cabaret singer, for all the chance I would have of making that happen."

"I can see you doing that, no problem. I heard you humming a moment ago," he offered.

"You didn't!"

He nodded. "Sounded pretty on key to me."

"I wasn't aware that I was humming. But, thanks..."

"See, there's something that didn't make you blush. So you do like it."

"It's not exactly what a Nursing Supervisor is supposed to be doing." She smoothed her skirt in a gesture of dismissal that mirrored the ways he had whisked her ambition of being a vocalist. She noticed his eyes following the path of her hands. Hopefully, he wouldn't notice the run in her stockings.

Just last night she had tried to mend it, unable to afford the price of a new pair until her next pay check arrived. The thirty-nine cents might as well have been a million dollars to her. Then her pride kicked in: so what if he had seen the run? She didn't make explanations or excuses about her life to anyone, and she wasn't about to start with Red Williamson. She didn't owe him a thing.

"But maybe it's the real you," he persisted.

Little did he know, that as farfetched as it sounded, it actually was her lifelong dream. But at this stage of the game, it seemed that life had other plans for Helen Middleton.

"Correction: it's the daydream me. The real me? I am a nurse, and I have been for four years. And I take my job very, very seriously."

"You seem to be the epitome of professionalism, if my opinion matters," he tilted in towards her. "Especially since it's only 6:45 in the morning. How about we keep your dream vocation our secret?"

She looked at him from the corner of her eye. "I'm not the kind of girl who shares secrets with strange men that I've just met."

The corners of his eyes crinkled upwards again and she thought she saw his broad linebacker shoulders heave up and down a few times.

"Now if you don't mind?" Raising her eyebrows archly, she fanner her hands over the paperwork covering her desk.

"No, Helen, I don't mind a bit. But here's something to think about." His voice sounded thoughtful to her. "The Depression has wreaked havoc with many of our plans, but no matter what happens in life, remember this: You must never give up on your dreams."

She wanted to reply: "That's easy for you to say, coming from such obvious affluence." But she didn't; it wasn't his fault that life's circumstances had fallen this way for her. She was much luckier than many of the other girls she knew. Besides, something in his voice struck a chord in her heart. This man, for whatever reason, somehow, really understood.

Just then the emergency room doors flew open and a team of medics wheeled in a gurney, one medic pumping furiously on the prone patient's chest.

"Which Operating Room, Helen? Stat! We're losing him!" cried the attendant.

"Number Four!" Helen jumped from behind the counter and headed off in their direction. Then she remembered her visitor and turned back to him with a broad smile. "Thank you so much for the flowers! The patients will appreciate them."

"You're welcome, Nurse Middleton," he answered.

She nodded professionally and turned to the next crisis awaiting her.

"Okay, and remember--I'm Red. And I always deliver."

She gave a jaunty nod and turned towards her duty. As he was leaving, what he didn't see was the wistful look that Helen Middleton gave him as she hurried toward OR number 4. She felt her face redden again as she noticed that other nurses and orderlies, too, were staring after him. Had they noticed the effect he had on her? She was human, after all, and it wasn't every day that a man like Red Williamson walked into her life.

With a pang of regret, she bit her lip and stopped herself from calling after him. The way her life was organized, she had to let him walk away. There was work she had to do. Just as easily as he had walked in, when she turned to look back, he was gone.

*****

Hours later, after doing an extra four hours in the pediatric wing, she plopped down on the bed in the Spartan dorm room she shared with her sister. As long as they worked at Rhode Island General, the nurses could live there and have her room and board.

Cringing, she shook her head "no," to the pleading look in Marie's eyes.

"Don't do this to me, Marie! I'm exhausted. You know what it's like to do one and a half shifts." And to be thinking about Red Williamson all day, she added silently to herself.

Her sister sat on the edge of the bed next to her, wringing a handkerchief in both of her hands.

"I know, Helen and believe me I would never in a million years ask you unless it was an absolute last resort emergency. I had Olive all lined up and now she's backed out at the last minute." She rolled her eyes expressively. "Please? You know how Jim is."

Looking at her sister, Helen couldn't help but smile. With her brown curls and hazel eyes, there was a definitely a Middleton resemblance. But even though Marie was only two years younger, their temperaments could not have been more different. Helen was Madame Calm, Cool and Collected, while Marie was Madame Frantic. Or so her parents said.

She closed her eyes at the thought of them. Even though they only lived fifteen miles away, she could only afford to take the trolley down to see them once a month. It seemed like an eternity between visits. Sometimes she missed them so much she could hardly bear it.

"You know I can't say no to you," Helen chuckled wearily and draped herself across the pillows.

Marie squealed, "Oh, thank you!" and moved to hug her.

Helen timed it perfectly: as soon as Marie was within arms' reach, she lunged at her younger sister and launched a relentless tickling attack on her sensitive ribs. After a few moments, they were spent.

"Draw me my bath and then pull me into it, Marie," Helen murmured, wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes and sighing in exhaustion.

"You sound like you're ninety, not twenty-six," Marie replied tartly. "The only thing that would save you now would be to sing me, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', like you're planning to do in the pageant."

"Twist my arm, sister," Helen's eyes twinkled. She clutched a pillow to her and began an acapella rendition of the song that brought nurses from their studies into the Middleton sisters' room to hear Helen's beautiful tones.

There wasn't a dry eye in the room when she finished. Marie was looking at her, her pretty face streaked with tears, her plump lips forming the words, "I love you, Helen."

She nodded, blinking away the tears that burned at her eyes. The words of the song echoed in her heart: Why oh why can't I? But she knew she never could follow her rainbow and be a singer.

How could she? Her family was depending on her and she couldn't let them down, even though the rush of fulfillment she felt when singing made her feel more alive than anything else in the world. Helen knew that singing was nothing more than an avocation for her, a pleasant pipe dream that would lead her down the road to nowhere. She had to be practical and face reality. Her parents needed her nursing stipend to keep the family homestead running. And that was her first obligation. Dreams had no place in her world!

Taking a deep breath, the softness melted from her features and her countenance hardened as she turned to Marie. The stern Nursing Supervisor Helen came to the forefront as she asked: "What time are these guys getting here?"

One of the nurses overheard her. "Don't tell me Helen is going out with you tonight, Marie?"

Soon all the nurses had reconverged on the Middleton sister's room, chatting excitedly about the prospect of Helen having a date.

"Sevenish," Marie gave her a quick hug. "Thanks Helen. Now off you all go! Let us get ready."

"You'd better tell us everything tomorrow," called one nurse.

"Do everything I'd do, and then more!" called another, as peals of laughter faded down the hall and they went back to their rooms.

After a quick shower, Helen put on her herringbone suit - the only dressy outfit she had--her beige silk blouse, and dabbed two precious drops of Shalimar behind her ears.

Even though it was still only mid October, there was a brisk wind kicking up over the Providence riverfront hills as Marie and Helen stood outside the nurse's residence under the starry autumn sky. The brisk wind told them that winter was definitely on the way.

"It's already ten past," Helen said, using her best warning tone.

"Look!" cried Marie, relief flooding her tone. She pointed to a set of headlights that had just turned into the long, winding drive. "They're here."

"Jim owes me so big for this one it will take him years to pay me back," Helen muttered, then giggled, unable to keep up her stern act in front of her ever earnest little sister.

"We made it, Marie," Jim Newberg jumped out of the driver's side, waving and smiling. "Helen, you won't believe how much I appreciate your helping me out tonight. Wait till you see-"

Before he could finish, however, a dashing figure had emerged from the passenger side of the car, calling, "Helen Middleton, Angel of Mercy. Isn't life just full of surprises?"

Astonished, Helen looked over. It couldn't be--but it was! Red Williamson, from earlier that day, in the car with Jim.

Marie grabbed Helen's arm. "Oh my God, Helen! He's gorgeous! Olive missed out BIG time tonight. You know him?"

Helen stared at her sister. This was the worst thing that could have happened! Her surprise blind date to do her sister a favor had turned out to be an absolute disaster.

"Marie, I can't go! He's my patient's son."

Marie looked at her as if she had suddenly sprouted a second head. "What?"

"You know we're not supposed to go out with family members of our patients!" Helen's voice was getting shrill.

"Oh, come on, Helen," Marie waved her hand breezily, "no one pays any attention to that stupid old rule."

Helen's stomach was churning. She didn't want to let down Marie, but she couldn't jeopardize her job.

"Are you ready to paint the town with Red?" Red approached the car, ready for a good time.

What was she supposed to do? She looked at Red and her heart started racing double time. Who would it hurt, really, if just this once she let her guard down and enjoyed herself for a change?

Marie jostled her arm. "Come on, Helen. It's not like you're a doctor or anything. Wake up and let's go have some fun!"

"You're looking way too serious for an off duty nurse, ma'am," Red said with a smile. "I think there's some action out there in big old Providence with your name written all over it."

He took her arm and walked her to Jim's car. And at that moment something spoke to the foxy little part of her that craved attention and believed that rules were meant to be broken. His touch sent an electrical charge through her. She knew that she was about to have the time of her life.

"I'm just surprised it's you, that's all," Helen said. She could hear Marie's sigh of relief behind her.

"I'm not so sure surprises are your favorite thing, Nurse Middleton."

"I know you're teasing, Red, but you have a point," Helen answered saucily.

"Hey, you two sounds like you already know each other." Jim got behind the wheel of the metallic gray Studebaker as the other three clambered in. "We're going to the Biltmore," he added. "What about it, Helen, you know Red?"

She looked at Red out of the corner of her eye and he gave her the kind of wink that made her stomach to back flips.

Moistening her lips, she replied: "He stopped by to visit someone today, and I showed him the door."

Roaring with laughter, Red slapped his thigh. Helen couldn't help but notice how thick and solid it was. She looked away quickly.

"This beauty saved my mother's life yesterday."

"What do you mean?" Jim turned the car on the thoroughfare along the waterfront, the lights of the city glimmering in the Providence River.

"Helen, what happened?" Marie was aghast. "Don't tell me you're the one who did that emergency appendectomy? I heard of it, but I didn't know it was you!"

Red sat forward. "I'll tell you what I know. My mother was on that table and Old Doc Peabody pulled the big one. Flat out, right on the floor. The whole place was in turmoil trying to keep him from checking out, and someone had to finish Mrs. Williamson." He took Helen's hand. "That would be this Florence Nightingale right here."

"Way to go, Helen!" Jim beamed.

"She is a nightingale, too, you know, Red. She sings like an angel." Marie added proudly.

"Don't say?" Red looked at Helen. "What's that, some sort of secret dream of yours?"

Helen glared at him in the darkness, glad her flaming cheeks were in the shadows.

Marie was nodding eagerly. "You can hear her at the hospital pageant--which she is directing--on December 7th."

"That's quite enough, all of you. Any nurse would have closed up Mrs. Williamson. It was just a few stitches, for Heaven's sake."

"That's not what I heard." Marie's protest was subdued but insistent.

"Me, neither," Red agreed. "They told me you had to do the whole thing."

Helen remained silent, trying to calm the uneasiness in her heart about being out with her patient's son. But Marie was right, in a way. She wasn't a doctor, so Mrs. Williamson wasn't really her patient. And she had never heard of anyone being spoken to about who they were seen with after hours, anyway.

Jim pulled into the parking lot of the Biltmore Hotel. With its fancy dining room and sizzling jazz lounge, L'Exotique, it was the hottest night spot in all of Providence.

And that night, it seemed as if all of Providence was there. They checked their coats and were ushered to their corner table in the Neptune Room. No sooner had they been seated than two very well dressed and prominent looking men approached their table.

"It's Mayor Carter! With Senator Kendrick!" Marie exclaimed, in a breathless stage whisper.

"What's our sterling Senator doing with our shady Mayor?" Helen murmured, hoping he would just pass them by. Everyone had read about his questionable exploits in the Providence County Gazette, and Helen was of the opinion that there was more to all of the stories about him than anyone really knew. Lately, however, his involvements had become a welcome diversion from the ominous war news coming out of Europe. The Senator, though, seemed on the up and up.

"Well of course Red would know them," Marie added, "being Postmaster General and all."

Helen's eyes widened. This handsome stranger was the Providence Postmaster? That's why everyone was staring at him earlier. And why he had said he always "delivered". Where had she been--obviously in the ER too long.

"How are you, Red?" the charismatic Mayor grasped Red's outstretched hand firmly as they all stood up to acknowledge him. "Thought you'd be out delivering the mail. Nice looking company. I see you've upgraded."

Red laughed. "I'm always trying, Michael, you know me. Whatever it takes."

The Mayor raised a bushy black eyebrow. "Don't I just, now? You're a real patriot." He slapped his back in camaraderie.

"Please, Mayor, Senator," Red indicated the table, "Won't you gentlemen join us at least for a drink?"

Shaking his head, the Mayor replied: "Some other night for sure, on the condition that you bring your friends. But we have to get to the Heart Association fundraiser."

Red nodded, then introduced the men around the table. "Helen, here, saved my mother yesterday when Doctor Peabody collapsed."

Senator Kendrick looked at her thoughtfully. "Did you? I'll just bet we have some medal or commendation for that one."

"There's no need for that -"

"On the contrary. That's just what the commendations are for." Senator Kendrick was looking at her thoughtfully.

"You still look familiar to me, though," Mayor Carter continued. "Have you been here before?"

Marie piped up. "She's been the vocalist at L'Exotique a few times. Maybe you've seen her?"

"Could be," he replied, "could be. But I'll make more of a point of it now, if I know you're going to be here."

She noticed Red looking at her out of the corner of her eye, a grin as broad as Texas across his handsome face. The pounding of her heart made her want to yell for help--she was falling for Red Williamson fast and hard. And that could only mean trouble for her.

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