Home > The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)

The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)
Author: Courtney Milan

Chapter One

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.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Fixed series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)
» Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1)
» Norse Mythology