“You self-righteous liar! But then you never think of anyone but yourself!” As Peter Martin stepped into the front hallway of his penthouse in an exclusive residential area of downtown Toronto, he was surprised to hear his wife’s angry voice. The voice he’d been hearing a lot lately. The one he hadn’t realized she possessed until several months ago. But this time she wasn’t speaking to him.
He had come home early from the office to pack for their weekend trip, expecting to find his young wife in the midst of deciding what clothes she should take to dazzle their friends. Instead, she appeared to be telling someone off. Unless by some miracle she was annoyed with herself. “Yeah, right,” Peter said softly.
“But, Jillian, I wrote you weeks ago, and I asked you to let me know if this weekend wasn’t convenient.” The answering voice was soft and apologetic. Peter recognized it as belonging to his wife’s older sister, Shauna.
Peter crossed the tiny front hallway into the living room.
Jillian Martin, Peter’s wife, was seated on the chesterfield. Tone-on-tone embroidered ivory cushions served as a perfect backdrop for her flowing golden hair and tangerine lounging pajamas. As was inevitable when Peter saw her, he found his eyes caught and held by the smoothness of her tanned skin and the perfection of her delicate features.
But today he had to shift his glance to Shauna, Jillian’s opposite—tall, gangly, mousy-haired, and pale—standing awkwardly before Jillian like a child on the carpet, her hands clasped, shoulders hunched. The small suitcase at her feet only served to make her position even more embarrassing.
Jillian’s voice dropped to a purr. “Peter, darling, I’m so glad you’re home. Shauna has just arrived on the doorstep. She says I knew she was coming, but I didn’t, Peter. I’m sure I didn’t!”
“Hello, Shauna.” Peter held out his hand as he walked toward her.
“It’s good to see you even if there is a mix-up.” In spite of the thick lenses of her black-rimmed glasses, he could see relief in her eyes as she put her hand into his. The hand was limp and cold, and he held it for only an instant before moving to the sofa beside Jillian and inviting Shauna to sit down and make herself at home. Simultaneously, a part of his mind wrestled with the question of what to do with her.
“I’ve told Shauna I’m sorry, but we just won’t be here, will we, Petey?” Jillian’s clear blue eyes, big as saucers, gazed at him with a studied helplessness he was getting to know well.
“She’s right, Shauna. We’re going to one of my partner’s homes for the weekend. A house party. But perhaps we can work something out.”
Shauna had tentatively seated herself on the edge of a plush ivory chair. Now she leaned forward and twisted her hands. “Oh, please, don’t worry about me. I must have made a mistake. If you’re going away I can just get a bus back home. Or I could stay here while you’re gone and look after things. There are a couple of books I wanted to buy. I could read them.”
“What an utterly boring weekend!” Peter said with the involuntary shudder of a man who regarded books of all forms as work. “I think we can do better than that.”
Jillian placed a beautifully manicured hand on her husband’s arm. “But there’s nothing wrong with that, Peter. She can stay here and read or watch TV. She’ll be fine.”
“Yes, really I will, Peter.” Shauna sat forward eagerly, and he was almost convinced.
“So it’s settled,” Jillian said as she rose gracefully from the sofa. “Well, I have to get back to packing. You can put your things in the guest room, Shauna. I had a late brunch, so if you’re hungry you’ll have to fix yourself something. I don’t know what there is.”
As she left the room, she turned to her husband and said, “Don’t give it another thought, Peter. Shauna’s always preferred books to people.”
He had been ready to agree that Shauna should stay in the apartment. Now, perversely, he changed his mind. “No, she isn’t staying here. She’s coming with us.”
Jillian stopped in the doorway. “She’s what?” Her voice rose perilously close to a shrill note.
“I said she can come with us. George has a big house. One more person won’t make any difference.”
“You can’t be serious!”
Shauna rose halfway out of her chair. “Oh, no, Peter! I don’t want to go. I couldn’t possibly just go there uninvited. I don’t even know them!”
“They were at our wedding last year. You met them then. And you’ve seen George once or twice since. Ellen’s easygoing. She won’t mind.”
An edge to her voice, Jillian said, “Peter, Shauna doesn’t want to go, and she needn’t go.”
Peter stood up and took a few steps toward his wife. Clearly and softly, he said, “My dear, if Shauna says she told you she was coming this weekend, I believe her. She wouldn’t make a mistake like that. So it’s not her fault we weren’t prepared, and we are going to do the best we can to give her a good weekend. That means taking her with us.”
Jillian opened her mouth but shut it without making a comment. Instead, she fluttered her eyelashes. “But, Petey.” She came toward him, her eyes mutely distressed, lips in a beautiful pout, hands reaching up to grasp his lapels and pull him toward her. “It wouldn’t be fair to either the Brodies or Shauna. She would never fit in.”
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t, Peter.” Shauna’s voice was distressed.
“Jillian’s right. It’s very nice of you to suggest taking me, but I wouldn’t fit in at all. I’ll be just fine here when I get my books. Or—or I’ll go back home.”
“Either you go or we all stay here,” Peter said. Again, the words seemed to slip out of their own free will.
“That’s nonsense!” Jillian snapped.
“You can’t mean that!” Shauna’s eyes darted from her sister to the man in front of her. Peter saw fear in those eyes. Of whom, he wondered. Himself or Jillian?
“Peter, why are you being so silly? Shauna doesn’t want to go, and besides, she won’t have proper clothes.”
“She can borrow some of yours, can’t she? You’re the same size. I thought you’d given her quite a few of your things.”
The look Jillian flashed him was not one of unbounded love and affection. But Peter continued without regard for that look. “I came home to pack. I have to get back to the office for a meeting with a client. I’ll be here to pick you up about four. You should both be able to get ready by then.” He moved toward the bedroom.
“By the way, Jillian, I tried to call you this morning around eleven. There was no answer. I didn’t know you were going out.”
She followed him into the hallway. “I had shopping to do. Should I have checked with you first?” Her voice made him think of tempered steel.
“No, of course not. I only wondered if there was a problem.”
“No problem, Petey.” She walked up to him, her slim hips swaying in the silky pajamas, and he waited for her to come close.
“You look tired,” she said. “You know you shouldn’t work so hard. Do you really have to go back?”
“Yes,” he said bluntly. She was right, though. He was tired. Of his job? He didn’t think so.
Her slender hand came up to caress his cheek. But his mind ignored her touch and focused cynically on the very large, glittering diamond. The one he’d bought her. Stupid middle-aged fool, he thought ruefully. Then he remembered the wife before Jillian. No, he wasn’t a middle-aged fool. Just a fool.
She kissed him and he responded. Might as well get something for what he’d paid. As she felt his response, she pressed against him.
His arms tightened.
She whispered in his ear, “You didn’t really mean that about Shauna’s going, did you? You were just teasing me.”
He kissed her again before replying, his voice as gentle as hers. “I meant every word I said, and you’d better be nice to her or I’ll cut your clothing allowance in half.”
She pulled away, her blue eyes blazing with anger.
He touched his index finger to her lips. “Not a word or I’ll do it now.” He went into the bedroom and began packing the clothes he thought he’d need for the next three days.
A few minutes later, Jillian came in and stood watching him speculatively.
“Are you finished packing?” he asked after a moment.
“Haven’t started. But don’t worry, darling, I promise I’ll be ready on time.”
She had emphasized the word darling a little too much. So she was angry. Well, maybe he was, too. Angry and something else. Maybe wondering when he’d grow up. A lot of people would say a forty-three-year-old man who took a twenty-two-year-old bride needed to grow up.
“Have you talked to Douglass?” his bride asked.
She picked up a necklace and wrapped it around her fingers. “Are he and Anne going?”
“I believe so. Does it matter?”
“Of course not. They’re a couple of old stuffed shirts, anyway. Who else will be there? Besides George and Ellen, I mean.”
“Their son, Kendall, and his college roommate. You’ve met Kendall, I think.”
“I’m not sure. Does he look like George?”
“I guess. His hair is brown, as I believe George’s was before it turned gray. He has a lot more than George, of course. Reasonably good-looking. Not too fat, not too thin. Medium height.”
“Doesn’t ring any bells. You said his roommate was coming. Male or female?”
“Male. I doubt if you’ve seen him. But we’ve offered to let both Kendall and him come into the firm. At George’s request, of course.”
“Does George always get what he wants?”
“He’s the senior partner.”
“Who else will be there?”
“That’s about it. Oh, no. Some female cousin of Ellen’s is coming. From out west.”
“That should be fun.”
She did sarcasm well, he thought. “Maybe Shauna will take care of her.”
“You were rather nasty about Shauna.”
“Was I? Sorry.” He finished packing and shut the suitcase with a quick snap.
“It’s not as if Shauna wants to go.”
“Maybe it bothers me that no one in your family ever cares what Shauna wants. And that reminds me. Fix her up with some decent clothes and some makeup. And try to do something with her hair!”
“Peter, she’s an old-maid librarian, and that’s exactly what she looks like. She doesn’t want to change.”
“She’s what, twenty-seven? Hardly an old maid. Especially these days. Anyway, I don’t have time to worry about Shauna. I have to get back to the office. See you at four.”
As he shut the door of the apartment, he took a deep breath. Funny how the air in there always stifled him. Maybe it was that perfume Jillian insisted on wearing. The stuff that cost a hundred dollars an ounce. Ridiculous! But he had to humor her. Her. Them. All of them were the same, weren’t they? He got into the elevator and traveled from the penthouse to the ground floor. While he descended, a subtle change took place as his mind turned from domestic matters to legal ones. He was back on solid ground.
And he was feeling good. He had a very rich, very important client coming to meet him in half an hour. And just that morning, he’d found the loophole his client needed to solve his tax problems, thus saving said client a good deal of hard cash, even after he’d paid his legal fees.
Twenty minutes later, Peter nodded to his secretary as he walked past her desk. His glance was casual, but thorough. What he saw pleased him. As always, her mahogany hair was perfectly sculpted, her makeup flawless. She was thirty-three, well-groomed, businesslike rather than seductive, yet feminine enough to rate a second glance from any client. Like the plush carpet, expensive leather, and mahogany wood, she gave his office the right tone, that of a successful person who knew how to deal with success.
Peter himself gave the same impression. His features were regular and misleadingly boyish. His light brown hair was longish and curling in the back, carefully styled by an expert; his clothes were the latest in business wear, discreet yet individual; his diamond-studded watch and gold ring were distinctive without being flashy. He had gained a little weight lately, it was true, but he visited his club enough to keep fit, and the filling out of his face and slight paunch only added to his sleek look. The picture of a contented man. Peter poured himself a drink and relaxed against the smooth leather of his executive chair, waiting for the lucky client appear.
His thoughts returned to Jillian and Shauna. Women! They had you no matter what you did. It was the same old story of “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.”
And that reminded him. He needed to give his secretary a raise. No way he was paying her enough for her to afford the designer clothes she’d been wearing lately. She sure looked good, though. That figure was worth some expense. Better still, she had class.
All in all, she was the ideal secretary. Easy on the eyes, unobtrusively in the background yet alert to his every need, intelligent yet deferential. She’d even thought to fib about where he was to Jillian a few times when she sensed he hadn’t wanted to be bothered with his wife’s petty requests. Jillian’s shrill voice popped into his thoughts. No tact there. Why hadn’t he seen that before? She had deceived him. Okay, maybe he had allowed himself to be deceived. But he saw her now for what she was. Selfish. Grasping. Out for all she could get. If he tried to divorce her, she would fight him every step of the way.
He smiled. As if she could defeat him. He would have to be careful, that’s all. Find a way to rid himself of her without losing everything he had worked so hard to get.
His intercom rang and he pressed the button. “Yes?”
“Mr. Jennings is here to see you, Mr. Martin.” She had a nice voice, too.
“Send him in.”
“Yes, Mr. Martin. Is there anything you need, Mr. Martin?”
“No, Miss Parker. Not right now.” But you never know, he thought as he stood to welcome Mr. Jennings. An engaging smile lit his face. You just never know.
Eight blocks from the offices of Brodie, Fischer, and Martin, Attorneys-at-Law, the newest member of the firm, Kendall Brodie, only son of the senior partner, set down the cellular phone he had been using and sank into an ultramodern chair designed in one of the Nordic countries and sold in a large carton to those who didn’t mind putting their own furniture together. It was impossible to sink far, and Kendall quickly straightened up. Stupid chair. He had wanted black leather, overstuffed and relaxing. But Nick had to have this beige plastic stuff that was supposed to be good for your posture. It also showed every speck of dirt. But Nick didn’t care. His idea of decorating was to buy something cheap and throw it out when you tired of it. False economy!
The chair, however, was merely an annoyance. What was really bothering Kendall was the fact that Nick had been gone since seven-thirty the night before. He’d come in from who knows where, changed from jeans and a T-shirt into black linen pants, red sports shirt, and gray tweed blazer, yelled something about a sudden date, and rushed out. Likely a pick-up, Kendall had thought in disgust.
And where was he now? Maybe lying in an alley someplace with no ID.
But no. Someone was at the door, fumbling with the knob. It was locked, of course. And, as happened not infrequently, Nick had forgotten his key. Kendall waited until the bell rang before he pulled himself out of the chair.
“You’re just a little bit late,” he commented as Nick walked through the doorway. “In fact, I was wondering if you were going to show at all.”
If Nick noticed the tone of reproach in his roommate’s voice, he hid it well. “What a babe!” was all he said as he collapsed his lithe six-foot frame into the twin of Kendall’s chair. “I wouldn’t have missed last night for anything!”
“Where’d you pick her up?”
“Well, actually, she picked me up.” The soft baritone that women and law professors adored changed to a Hollywood falsetto.
“She’s an actress, dahling. At least she hopes to be. And she didn’t know anyone in the big city and I looked so tall, dark, and handsome I must be an actor, mustn’t I? And it didn’t matter anyway, because I was just so good-looking, all she could think of was running her fingers through my hair and would I mind terribly if she did?”
“You fell for that?”
“Kendall, the lady was gorgeous!”
“So—it was a mutual admiration party. We even had champagne. And when things got a little fuzzy, we finished the party up in her hotel room.”
“You’ve been there till now?”
“You have a problem with that?”
“I just think you should use a little intelligence, that’s all. You can get diseases from casual encounters like that.”
“I’m not stupid, Kendall. Anyway, it isn’t as if you’ve never had a little fun. What’s the real problem? Jealous?”
Kendall faked a swing, which Nick parried with his arm. “Just annoyed. You left me behind to answer the phone when Candace called last night looking for you. What was I supposed to say when she wanted to know where you were?”
“What did you say?”
“I told her you were out with some of your skiing friends. The male ones.”
“She buy it?”
“What do you think?”
“Oh, well, I’m becoming a little tired of Candace, anyway. She’s starting to get possessive.”
“Good old love-’em-and-leave-’em Donovan, huh?”
Nick grinned. “Did Marilyn stand you up last night? Is that why you’re in a bad mood?”
“Marilyn and I played squash and ate a late lunch together yesterday, as a matter of fact. I told her I was busy last night. I thought we could talk. You and I. Seriously, for a change.”
Nick rose and strolled to the kitchen where he rummaged in the fridge for a couple of cans of Coke. When he returned, he threw one to Kendall and sat across from him. “We’ve been over this already.”
“You haven’t given it serious thought yet.”
Nick smiled and threw Kendall a quick glance. “I’ve given it a little.”
“And I don’t think I’m ready for it.”
“You may never get another chance like this. A job with the law firm of Brodie, Fischer, and Martin is a dream come true.”
“For you, maybe. Not necessarily for me.”
“Do you know how much money you would be making?”
“I’m making fairly decent money now.”
Kendall shook his head. “Oh, sure. Risking your neck all the time. One of these days you’ll break a leg or maybe your back and then what? You’ll have to start right at the bottom in some no-name office. Maybe even from a wheelchair.”
“I like skiing.”
Kendall stood up and walked in a circle in front of Nick. His voice was earnest, as though he were pleading with the jury to understand a client’s alibi. “So do I. But as a hobby. Besides, freestyle isn’t skiing.” He walked a few steps further and turned back, hands outstretched. “Okay, I like to watch. But you would never catch me doing it for a million bucks.”
“You can’t do it. I can.”
“All right. You’re good. And you’ve been fortunate. So far. But one bad fall and it’s game over.”
“So then I’ll give law a shot.”
Exasperation replaced Kendall’s earnestness, and his face took on a boyish look of chagrin. “You’re nuts! Why did you bother going to law school in the first place? Why waste the time and money?”
Nick remained relaxed. “You know I paid my way through by skiing. The servant became the master, that’s all.”
“But won’t you even think about it? Talk to Dad? Ask him to tell you about the opportunities?”
“I don’t know what he could say that you haven’t.”
“Not good enough. Nick, this weekend is a perfect opportunity! They’re all going to be there, Dad, Douglass, and Peter. Once you’ve met them, you’ll see what I mean. You’ll want to be one of them instead of…”
“Instead of what?” Nick prodded.
“Instead of whatever you call yourself.”
“Whatever I call myself?” Nick’s voice was mocking, his eyes filled with laughter. “I call myself a freestyle skier, and a good one at that!”
“You can do a lot more good as a lawyer, Nick.” Kendall was pleading again. “And Brodie, Fischer, and Martin is one of the top legal agencies in the city. Think of what you could accomplish with their backing!”
“Speaking of backs.” Nick finished his Coke and stood up. “I think I’m going to hit the shower and wash mine. Then I’m going to pack—assuming I’m still invited, of course. After that I’m going to allow myself to be driven by you to your parents’ home where I hope I won’t have reason to regret the impulse that made me accept the invitation.”
“I don’t want you to make a mistake you’ll regret for the rest of your life.”
“Kendall, I’ve roomed with you for three years. Why, I don’t know. But not so you could tell me how to run my life.”
“I’m only thinking about your own good!”
“You’re not my mother. And that line is a cop-out.”
Kendall’s normally pleasant face was set in a hard line. “Somebody has to do your thinking for you. Right now you act like life is one big party, but there’ll come a day when you’ll wake up and realize you’ve blown it. I don’t want that to happen.”
“How old are you again? I could have sworn you turned twenty-five last month, but you sound more like fifty-five.”
“Nick, come on!”
“Kendall, there’s lots of time for settling down. Right now, I just want to be free to do what I want to do.” Nick grinned ruefully.
“Can you seriously see me in a three-piece pin stripe with a briefcase and Gucci loafers?”
But Kendall didn’t smile. “You’re really going to turn down my dad’s offer?”
“Your dad’s offer? But it was your idea, Kendall. You talked him into it. And you didn’t even ask me if I was interested.”
“I was going to surprise you! I thought you’d be thrilled. And I wasn’t sure he’d do it. As a matter of fact, I had the devil of a time talking him into taking you. And now…”
“Now, thanks to you, I’m going to look like a complete idiot! Nick, you’ve got to take this job!”
Surrounded by windows dressed with yard upon yard of fabric flowers in rose, blue, yellow, and white, seated on a matching soft floral chair, Ellen Brodie was able to take a few moments to sip a ginger ale and get herself ready. She smoothed the skirt of the chic turquoise dress from the small boutique on Yonge Street and patted her hair, which was dark brown freely intermixed with gray, and had been put up in as modern a style as her despairing hairdresser could get her to approve. Cutting it was out of the question. Her hair had been waist length all her life and she couldn’t fathom it any other way. Besides, George liked it long.
Her figure was good—comfortable, she called it. She’d put on a few pounds over the years, but not enough to worry about. In fact, she rarely worried. And she wasn’t worried now. Only she did hope this weekend went well.
As she looked through the glass doors at the patio with its brightly colored umbrella tables and fabulous gardens, she wanted to pinch herself. She still found it hard to believe this spectacular house, mansion, really, was hers. She had spent her entire life in Cabbagetown, one of the oldest areas in downtown Toronto: her childhood in a small, battered third-story apartment, her first four years with George in a dingy basement, the next ten years in a narrow row house, and finally, the last twenty-four in a very comfortable three-story house on a large, well-treed lot.
Cabbagetown had been home. But this spring, George had decided Cabbagetown was no longer good enough for them; they should move far from the heart of the city to a suburb where other affluent people lived. It took some getting used to. She suspected her feelings were much like Cinderella’s might have been after the honeymoon when Prince Charming carried her over the threshold of the castle and said, “Okay, honey, this is home now.”
But this one room she loved. She smiled as her eyes moved from the view through the patio doors to the interior of the room. She called it the “day room” because the real estate agent had deemed that to be the proper name, but she thought of it as her own personal refuge—a soft, gentle space, perhaps a little large with its numerous groupings of chairs and coffee tables, but bright and cheery and comfortable. The feminine equivalent of her husband’s heavy book-lined study. Only in this room did she really feel at home. But it was to be expected that it would take some time to get used to living in a mansion.
A bright whistle from outside broke into Ellen’s thoughts and she started, turning her head toward the now-open patio doors.
“Hello, Aunt Ellen.”
Ellen’s glass of ginger ale tumbled from suddenly numbed fingers. Amber liquid seeped into the thick rose carpeting.
A tall man in his mid-thirties stepped through the patio doors. Backlit by the bright sunshine, his silhouetted frame looked thin to Ellen, and somewhat stooped. His face, indistinct at first because it was cast into shadow by the intensity of the sunlight behind him, was an ordinary face, unremarkable except for the complete baldness of his shaven head.
He set down a worn dufflebag, walked over to pick up one of the foil-wrapped toffees threatening to overflow an elegant crystal swan candy dish, and sank into a floral recliner chair. “You’ve certainly done well for yourselves,” he said.
Ellen leaned toward him, her back stiff, every muscle taut. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“Just dropped in to see my favorite aunt.”
His favorite aunt looked anything but pleased to see him. “What on earth have you done to your hair?” Her voice changed suddenly. “You aren’t sick, are you?”
“It was turning gray at an alarming rate. Made me look old. It was either dye it or shave it. This seemed easier. Besides, baldness is in these days. Very sexy.”
“Does George know you’re here?”
“Bart, you know how upset he’ll be. We have guests coming! There’s no room.”
“You mean you’d turn me out in the cold? Your own flesh and blood?”
“You aren’t either my flesh and blood! You’re George’s nephew. And it’s not cold out. It’s July, and so hot you could live outdoors easily. You probably have been.
“And what happened to the money George gave you? Surely you haven’t gone through it already? You know he said it had to last the rest of the year.”
“Slow down, Aunt Ellen. You’re getting all worked up. The truth is I’ve had a bit of bad luck. But I can get the money back with a little ingenuity. I was in the neighborhood, so I dropped in. I’ll leave if you don’t want me.”
Bart stood up and reached for his dufflebag. As he picked it up, he said, “Sure is hot out there. I had to walk for miles.”
Ellen said nothing.
At the open patio door, he turned. “Are you really going to send me penniless into the cruel world?”
She stared at him. There was something of her husband George there, and something of their son Kendall, too. But it was muted by the lines of dissipation on his face and the cynicism in his eyes. She hoped with all her heart that life would never do to Kendall what it had done to Bart.
“Well?” He set the bag down and held out his hands. “What’s the verdict?”
There was nothing about him that looked beggar-like. He wore an expensive black tweed sports coat, gray slacks, and a white silk shirt, and his loafers were thin, well-cut leather. But the clothes were dusty. And the way he shuffled his feet made her think they were sore. Neither the clothes nor the man were made for walking along a highway thumbing rides.
It must have been a year since she’d seen Bart last, though George had given him money a couple of times. He looked older and—and lost somehow. The baldness seemed to draw attention to every bone in his face. Made him look harsh, even tough. Made his eyes stand out. Hard eyes. Perhaps even wary? He must be thirty-five, the only son of George’s favorite sister, long dead. A hustler, sometimes living it up, sometimes owning only the shirt on his back. But the shirt was inevitably silk.
However, despite his faults, which were many, he was family, and despite the hard-nosed appearance George presented to both client and associate, he had a strong sense of family. Even though he’d never liked Bart’s father, and had been very angry with his sister for marrying him, for his sister’s sake he’d given Bart an allowance, which Bart had used for gambling. He’d pulled some strings to get Bart a job in a bank and then paid off the bank so that Bart wouldn’t be arrested for embezzlement. He’d offered all kinds of incentives for Bart to make something of himself, and, at last, offered to give him money so long as he stayed away—a modern version of the old remittance man.
But he hadn’t stayed away, and George would not be pleased to see him, especially not this weekend with the partners and their wives here. But then, she thought, Bart was always a good actor.
He was still standing, waiting for her, probably knowing how much she hated to make anyone unhappy.
“You might be useful,” she said at last. “You’ve always had a way with women.”
Bart raised his eyebrows quizzically.
When she didn’t continue, he asked, “What exactly do you have in mind?”
“Oh, come back and sit down! I shouldn’t even be thinking of this. What George will say—!”
The door was shut, the dufflebag dropped in a corner. Bart reached for another toffee before settling himself back in the recliner. “I’m all ears, my dear—no, my favorite, aunt.”
“Do you think you can exercise your charm for a weekend without straining yourself?”
“Are you implying that my charm is wearing thin?”
“Not at all. If you had half as much ambition as you do charm, you could probably get elected to the government.”
“How sweet of you to say so, and how intolerably revolting a thought.”
“Never mind. I’ve got your uncle’s law partners and their wives coming for the weekend. Can you concentrate on keeping the wives busy? You know, amuse them for me. They’ll be far more interested in talking to you than to me. If you can keep them happy, I’ll put in a good word for you with George.”
“When you phrase it that way, how can I possibly refuse?”
“You’ll have to see if Mrs. Winston has time to make up a bed for you. There’s an apartment for a chauffeur over the garage, but so far George hasn’t saddled us with one. I dare say there are a few mice, but they shouldn’t bother you.”
He chose to ignore her assumption that he was familiar with rodents. “And where do I find Mrs. Winston?”
“Go straight past the hallway when you go out of here and turn left at the first door. You’ll be in the kitchen. She should be there.”
“Oh, and Bart,” Ellen cautioned as he picked up his dufflebag, “don’t waste your charm on Crystal Winston. It wouldn’t be appreciated.”
“Mrs. Winston’s daughter. She’s eighteen and idealistic. Just the type who takes to you. So see you mind your own business where she’s concerned. George wouldn’t like it one bit if you made Mrs. Winston unhappy.”
He saluted. “I shall amuse wives, not maids.”
“See you do.”
He started to turn toward the kitchen.
“There’s one other girl who’s going to be here,” Ellen said thoughtfully. “Her name is Lorry.”
“Stay away from her, too.”
Bart raised an eyebrow. “That sounds intriguing.”
“Not at all. She’s the daughter of my favorite cousin, and she’s not in the least your type.”
“Your cousin’s daughter, eh? Now why do I suspect something? Could she perhaps be Kendall’s type?”
“Perhaps. But it’s none of your business. Just stay away from her.”
“Your wish is my command.” He bowed to kiss her hand. “What time will they start arriving?”
“Dinner is at eight, but I told them they should try to come in the afternoon. To avoid traffic, you know. And they might like a dip in the pool first.”
“Then I’d better waste no time in getting settled and learning my way around so I’ll be ready to go into action when your guests arrive.”
He wandered toward the kitchen and Ellen leaned back in her chair. “Stupid,” she said aloud. “I should have sent him packing.”
That’s what George would say, and he would be right. George said she had a soft spot for Bart. Her only excuse was that most women did.
She stood up, and wetness seeped through the flimsy straps of her sandal.
The drink she’d spilled! She’d forgotten all about it. She hurried out to find a cloth and stain remover.