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The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister) by Courtney Milan - Romance>Historical Other
Miss Jane Fairfield can't do anything right. When she's in company, she always says the wrong thing--and rather too much of it. No matter how costly they are, her gowns fall on the unfortunate side of fashion. Even her immense dowry can't save her from being an object of derision.
And that's precisely what she wants. She'll do anything, even risk humiliation, if it means she can stay unmarried and keep her sister safe.
Mr. Oliver Marshall has to do everything right. He's the bastard son of a duke, raised in humble circumstances--and he intends to give voice and power to the common people. If he makes one false step, he'll never get the chance to accomplish anything. He doesn't need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn't need to fall in love with her. But there's something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can't resist...even though it could mean the ruin of them both.
The Heiress Effect is the second full-length book in the Brothers Sinister series. It is preceded by The Governess Affair, a prequel novella, and The Duchess War, the first book in the series. Each book stands alone, but those who prefer to read in order might want to start at the beginning.
Reader Rating: 4.7 (3 Ratings)
Cambridgeshire, England, January 1867
MOST OF THE NUMBERS THAT Miss Jane Victoria Fairfield had encountered in her life had proven harmless. For instance, the seamstress fitting her gown had poked her seven times while placing forty-three straight pins—but the pain had vanished quickly enough. The twelve holes in Jane’s corset were an evil, true, but a necessary one; without them, she would never have reduced her waist from its unfashionable thirty-seven inch span down to the still unfashionable girth of thirty-one inches.
Two was not a terrible numeral, even when it described the number of Johnson sisters that stood behind her, watching the seamstress pin the gown against her less-than-fashionable form.
Not even when said sisters had tittered no fewer than six times in the past half hour. These numbers were annoyances—mere flies that could be waved away with one gilt-covered fan.
No, all Jane’s problems could be blamed on two numbers. One hundred thousand was the first one, and it was absolute poison.
Jane took as deep a breath as she could manage in her corset and inclined her head to Miss Geraldine and Miss Genevieve Johnson. The two young ladies could do no wrong in the eyes of society. They wore almost identical day gowns—one of pale blue muslin, the other of pale green. They wielded identical fans, both covered with painted scenes of bucolic idleness. They were both beautiful in the most clichéd, china-doll fashion: Wedgwood-blue eyes and pale blond hair that curled in fat, shining ringlets. Their waists came in well under twenty inches. The only way to distinguish between the sisters was that Geraldine Johnson had a perfectly placed, perfectly natural beauty mark on her right cheek, while Genevieve had an equally perfect mark on her left.
They had been kind to Jane the first few weeks they’d known her.
She suspected they were actually pleasant when they were not pushed to their extreme limits. Jane, as it turned out, had a talent for pushing even very nice girls into unkindness.
The seamstress placed one last pin. “There,” the woman said. “Now take a look in the mirror and tell me if you want me to change anything out—move some of the lace, mayhap, or use less of it.”
Poor Mrs. Sandeston. She said those words the way a man scheduled to be hanged this afternoon might talk about the weather on the morrow—wistfully, as if the thought of less lace were a luxury, something that would be experienced only by an extraordinary and unlikely act of executive clemency.
Jane sashayed forward and took in the effect of her new gown. She didn’t even have to pretend to smile—the expression spread across her face like melted butter on warm bread. God, the gown was hideous. So utterly hideous. Never before had so much money been put in the service of so little taste. She batted her eyes at the mirror in glee; her reflection flirted back with her: dark-haired, dark-eyed, coquettish and mysterious.
“What do you ladies think?” she asked, turning about. “Ought I have more lace?”
At her feet, the beleaguered Mrs. Sandeston let out a whimper.
As well she should. The gown already overflowed with three different kinds of lace. Thick waves of blue point de gaze had been wrapped, yard after obnoxiously expensive yard, around the skirt. A filmy piece of duchesse lace from Belgium marked her décolletage, and a black Chantilly in a clashing flowered pattern made dark slashes down the sleeves of her gown. The fabric was a lovely patterned silk. Not that anyone would be able to see it under its burden of lace frosting.
This gown was an abomination of lace, and Jane loved it.
A real friend, Jane supposed, would have told her to get rid of the lace, all of it.
Genevieve nodded. “More lace. I definitely think it needs more lace. A fourth kind, perhaps?”
Good God. Where she was to put more lace, she didn’t know.
“A cunning belt, worked of lace?” Geraldine offered.
It was a curious sort of friendship, the one she shared with the Johnson twins. They were known for their unerring taste; consequently, they never failed to steer Jane wrong. But they did it so nicely, it was almost a pleasure to be laughed at by them.
As Jane wanted to be steered astray, she welcomed their efforts.
They lied to her; she lied to them. Since Jane wanted to be an object of ridicule, it worked out delightfully for all concerned.
Sometimes, Jane wondered what it would be like if they were ever honest with each other. If maybe the Johnsons might have become real friends instead of lovely, polite enemies.
Geraldine eyed Jane’s gown and gave a decisive nod. “I absolutely support the notion of a lace belt. It would give this gown that certain air of indefinable dignity that it currently lacks.”
Mrs. Sandeston made a strangled sound.
It was only sometimes that Jane wondered if they could have been friends. Usually, she remembered the reasons she couldn’t have real friends. All one hundred thousand of them.
So she simply nodded at the Johnsons’ horrific suggestions. “What think you two of that clever strip of Maltese that we saw earlier—the gold one, the one with the rosettes?”
“Absolutely,” Geraldine said, nodding her head. “The Maltese.”
The sisters cast each other looks above their fans—an exchange of sly smiles saying, clear as day: Let’s see what we can get the Feather Heiress to do today.
“Miss Fairfield.” Mrs. Sandeston put her hands together in an unthinking imitation of prayer. “I beg you. Keep in mind that one can achieve a far superior effect by employing fewer furbelows. A lovely piece of lace, now, that’s the centerpiece of a beautiful gown, dazzling in its simplicity. Too much, and…” She trailed off with a suggestive twirl of her finger.
“Too little,” Genevieve said calmly, “and nobody will know what you have to offer. Geraldine and I—well, we have only a mere ten thousand apiece, so our gowns must reflect that.”
Geraldine gripped her fan. “Alas,” she intoned.
“But you—Miss Fairfield, you have a dowry of one hundred thousand pounds. You have to make sure that people know it. Nothing says wealth like lace.”
“And nothing says lace like…more lace,” Geraldine added.
They exchanged another set of looks.
Jane smiled. “Thank you,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without the two of you. You’ve been so good to me, tutoring me in all things. I have no notion of what’s fashionable, nor of what message my clothing sends. Without you to guide me, who knows how I might blunder?”
Mrs. Sandeston made a choking noise in her throat, but said nothing more.
One hundred thousand pounds. One of the reasons Jane was here, watching these lovely, perfect women exchange wicked smiles that they didn’t think Jane could understand. They leaned toward one another and whispered—mouths hidden demurely behind fans—and then, glancing her way, let out a collective giggle. They thought her a complete buffoon, devoid of taste and sense and reason.
It didn’t hurt, not one bit.
It didn’t hurt to know that they called her friend to her face and sought to expose her foolishness to everyone they saw. It didn’t hurt that they egged her on to more—more lace, more jewels, more beads—simply so they might fuel their amusement. It didn’t hurt that the entire population of Cambridge laughed at her.
It couldn’t hurt. After all, Jane had chosen this for herself.
She smiled at them as if their giggles were the sincerest token of friendship. “The Maltese it is.”
One hundred thousand pounds. There were more crushing burdens than the weight of one hundred thousand pounds.
“You’ll want to be wearing that gown Wednesday next,” Geraldine suggested. “You’ve been invited to the Marquess of Bradenton’s dinner party, have you not? We insisted.” Those fans worked their way up and down, up and down.
Jane smiled. “Of course. I wouldn’t miss it, not for the world.”
“There will be a new fellow there. A duke’s son. Born on the other side of the blanket, unfortunately—but acknowledged nonetheless. Almost as good as the real thing.”
Damn. Jane hated meeting new men, and a duke’s bastard sounded like the most dangerous kind of all. He would have a high opinion of himself and a low opinion of his pocketbook. It was precisely that sort of man who would see Jane’s one hundred thousand pounds and decide that he might be able to overlook the lace dripping off her. That kind of man would overlook a great many defects if it would put her dowry in his bank account.
“Oh?” she said noncommittally.
“Mr. Oliver Marshall,” Genevieve said. “I saw him on the street. He doesn’t—”
Her sister gave her a gentle nudge, and Genevieve cleared her throat.
“I mean, he looks quite elegant. His spectacles are very distinguished. And his hair is quite…bright and…coppery.”
Jane could just imagine this specimen of thwarted dukehood in her mind’s eye. He would be paunchy. He would wear ridiculous waistcoats, and he’d have a fob watch that he checked incessantly. He’d be proud of his prerogatives and bitter of a world that had led him to be born outside of wedlock.
“He would be utterly perfect for you, Jane,” Geraldine said. “Of course, with our lesser dowries, he would find us quite…uninteresting.”
Jane made herself smile. “I don’t know what I would do without you two,” she said, quite sincerely. “If I didn’t have you to look out for me, why, I might…”
If she didn’t have them trying to set her up as a laughingstock, she might one day—despite her best efforts—manage to impress a man. And that would be a disaster.
“I feel that you two are like my sisters, given the care you take for me,” she said. Maybe like stepsisters in a blood-curdling fairy tale.
“We feel the same,” Geraldine smiled at her. “As if you were our sister.”
There were almost as many smiles in that room as there was lace on her gown. Jane offered up a silent apology for her lie.
These women were nothing like her sister. To say as much was to insult the name of sisterhood, and if anything was sacred to Jane, it was that. She had a sister—a sister she would do anything for. For Emily, she would lie, cheat, buy a dress with four different kinds of lace…
One hundred thousand pounds was not much of a burden to carry. But if a young lady wanted to remain unmarried—if she needed to stay with her sister until said sister was of age and could leave their guardian’s home—that same number became an impossibility.
Almost as impossible as four hundred and eighty—the number of days that Jane had to stay unmarried.
Four hundred and eighty days until her sister attained her majority. In four hundred and eighty days, her sister could leave their guardian, and Jane—Jane who was allowed to stay in the household on the condition that she marry the first eligible man who offered—would be able to dispense with all this pretending. She and Emily would finally be free.
Jane would smile, wear ells of lace, and call Napoleon Bonaparte himself her sister if it would keep Emily safe.
Instead, all she had to do for the next four hundred and eighty days was to look for a husband—to look assiduously, and not marry.
Four hundred and eighty days in which she dared not marry, and one hundred thousand pounds to the man who would marry her.
Those two numbers described the dimensions of her prison.
And so Jane smiled at Geraldine once again, grateful for her advice, grateful to be steered wrong once again. She smiled, and she even meant it.
The Heiress EffectBy: Courtney Milan