In 1944 Tess DeMello was planning to marry the love of her life, handsome doctor Vincent, who is specialising in working with patients who have contracted polio. She plans to finish her nursing qualifications, they will marry, and she will work alongside her husband while raising a family. But when Vincent goes away to Chicago to help with the infantile paralysis epidemic there, they end up spending much longer apart than both had anticipated. Long enough for Tess to go out with a friend to Washington. Dinner out with two strangers turns into a one-night stand for Tess – and then an unexpected pregnancy. Tess had been saving herself for her wedding night, and she knows Vincent will be devastated by her actions. She feels she has no choice to marry a stranger, Henry Kraft, the father of her unborn child.
Henry turns out to be a man of wealth, from a family of standing in Hickory, North Carolina. At first, he is kind, and Tess wants for nothing materially. But Henry is increasingly secretive, and she soon finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage of appearances. And Henry’s family and friends think Tess is a gold-digger and treats her with disdain. Tess becomes increasingly unhappy until a polio epidemic reaches their town, and Tess begins working at the hospital finally finding solace and meaning in her work.
The opening premise of this novel that the lovely Tess would sleep with a stranger after having too much drink just doesn’t seem credible (and later you will wonder at Henry sleeping with a stranger too). But apart from that, I thought that it was a fabulous book. The characters are very well drawn, and the mystery of Henry and the secrets he is keeping will keep any reader turning the pages. It tugs at the heartstrings and the ending was very satisfying. A great book to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon.