Middleton, author of some 30 novels, here offers a sturdy, penetrating study of a man who ``doesn't seem to consider consequences'' and of the women who surround him, notably his housekeeper/lover. Adrian Hillier, a ne'er-do-well who inherited a fortune and now patronizes the arts, especially a small theater, finds what pleasure he can in casual affairs. His housekeeper, Elsie Mead, also his lover, ``prepared herself every morning, unconsciously, for her employer's assault.'' Then Hillier hires teenager Peter Fowler--the son, it turns out, of Alice Fowler, Hillier's former lover, who's now married to a man fretting over a long-promised promotion by Top Fare, a grocery chain where Hillier has connections. On that framework, Middleton builds a stately comedy of manners. Hillier unsuccessfully puts the moves on Alice, who in turn becomes good friends with Mrs. Mead (``I regret nearly all my life''). And things begin to fall apart for Hillier: ``His'' theater decides to abandon classical drama for popular farce and musicals, whereupon Hillier resigns and takes sick; Elsie meets poet Stephen Youlgrave, who takes to Elsie, many years his junior, and proposes; Elsie, whose first husband was an older man and a suicide, accepts and--now promised though still Hillier's housekeeper--refuses Hillier's advances. Meanwhile, Alice works on Hillier until he helps her husband attain the promised promotion. By the wedding scene and its denouement, everyone ends up relatively happy, even Hillier: ``There are always women. That keeps me from despair.'' Vintage workaday Middleton, neither surprising nor spectacular, but carefully built and realized--a book that also manages, via poet Youlgrave, to speculate at length on the uses of art: ``...poetry has more than a straightforward commercial exchange in view.''