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Henry Danvers Willoughby was an extremely fortunate young man. On a marital eligibility scale he ranked slightly below millionaires and well above promising young doctors. He was aware of his status, but was rather inclined to resent people who described him as lucky, for he felt that he owed his success to his own abilities intelligence, honesty, hard work, and charm. His family connections had nothing to do with it. Undeniably his branch of the family was not overly endowed with money; it had taken every penny his father could save, borrow, or beg to get Henry through Harvard law. The question of how he got into Harvard Law was one Henry did not discuss. The other branches of the family were happy to use their influence, so long as it didn't cost them any hard cash.
At the age of twenty-seven Henry was a junior partner in one of Washington's dullest and most influential law firms. (It was his uncle's firm, but Henry did not stress that fact.) In twenty years he could expect to be a senior partner and a very wealthy man. He was already comfortably situated financially, he was healthy, reasonably good-looking and socially popular. His schedule included a daily workout at the gym, for, as he sometimes said to his fiancée, "Mens sana in corpore sano...." He had forgotten the rest of the quote, if there was any more, but the point was clear.
Henry looked complacently at the aforementioned fiancée, whom he considered another of his assets. He did not entirely approve of her casually bizarre clothes, but that would change when she became his wife, alongwith several other defects. They were minor flaws; he had selected Ellie because she met his requirements in all major areas. She was extremely pretty that went without saying. Blond, of course. Blue eyes, widely spaced; a neat, pointed nose, and a mouth with the full lower lip which, Henry believed, indicated a passionate nature. Henry's smile widened as he contemplated his bride-to-be fondly. Ellie sensed his smile and turned her head to smile back at him. She had excellent teeth another of Henry's requirements. Good teeth were hereditary and orthodontists were expensive.
"Don't take your eyes off the road, darling," he said.
Ellen turned her gaze to the windshield. Henry had let her drive, although the car was his. Ellie's driving technique was one of the minor flaws he meant to correct before he put her in charge of his car and his handsome, intelligent, white-toothed children. When they had married and had moved to the suburbs, he would buy a station wagon. Ellie would drive the children to their exclusive private schools, wearing slacks and a tailored shut, her hair tied back in a ponytail.
At the moment her hair was too short for Henry's taste. He was working on that point too, but had grown rather fond of the clustering golden curls.
Yes, he had chosen well. One of his criteria had been Ellie's physical appeal, for he considered sexual attraction important in marriage. Ellie was also intelligent for a woman and he certainly didn't mind that; he was careful not to put her down when she tried to talk about intellectual topics. After all, children inherited intelligence from both parents.
And now to discover that, in addition to Ellie's other attractions, she had a rich, childless aunt! It was almost enough to make him believe in luck. Sweet, silly little girl, she had been afraid he would be angry when she told him her Aunt Kate wanted her to spend her two-week vacation house-sitting while Kate went off on some jaunt or other. He had agreed to forgo their planned trip with such magnanimity that Ellie had flung her arms around him and kissed him enthusiastically. They were on their way now to Kate's mansion in Virginia. Henry had offered to come along and on his way back drive Kate to catch her plane at Dulles. As he had explained to Ellie, he wanted to meet the dear old lady. Wasn't he about to become a member of the family?
Henry had no doubt of his ability to charm the dear old lady. Old ladies loved him. They liked his short hair and honest, candid look, and his championing of the good old-fashioned virtues. And yet...
The faintest of frowns creased his high, tanned brow (a little too high; Henry would be bald as well as wealthy in twenty years) as he remembered the letter Kate had written her niece. He amended his description: dear old eccentric lady. It had been a rather peculiar letter, and he had taken exception to the postscript when Ellie read it to him.
"'P.S. Are you sleeping together? I need to know because of the sheets.'"
"What does she mean, 'sheets'?" Henry had demanded.
"Oh, you know. She doesn't want to put clean sheets on two beds unless it's necessary."
"I think it's funny," Ellie said defensively.
"Certainly." Henry smiled. "But for a woman of her generation to speak so casually of "
"It does go on, you know," Ellie said seriously.
"Hmmm," said Henry.
Remembering this letter, Henry's frown deepened. It might behoove him to learn a little more about Aunt Kate. Eccentric old ladies had to be handled with care.
"Darling," he said. "No, don't look at me, sweetheart, how many times have I told you you must never take your eyes off the road. A simple 'Yes?' will suffice."
"Yes?" said Ellie.
"Your aunt. Is there anything I ought to know about her? Any little foibles or prejudices I should consider? Perhaps we might stop along the way and get some flowers for her."
"She has masses of flowers," Elli said. "She's an enthusiastic gardener.
"Ah," Henry said. This hobby was quite...
Devil May Care. Copyright © by Elizabeth Peters. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.