Home > The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(11)

The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(11)
Author: Courtney Milan

“Money?” Hapford guessed.

His uncle nodded.


Another nod.

“Um…” The young earl pulled back and shook his head.

“Tell him what you want, Marshall.”

Oliver unclenched his jaw. “Everything,” he said. And it was the simple truth.

Later, when he was gone, Oliver was sure that Bradenton would tell Hapford even more. He’d explain how Oliver was coming up in influence—a longer path than the one Hapford treaded, one where he had to work harder, with less training. For now, that single word would do. Oliver wanted everything, and Bradenton could speed his way.

“Oh,” Hapford said in confusion.

“Speaking of everything,” Oliver said. “The bill that—”

“Not yet,” Bradenton interrupted. “Tell me, Hapford. What think you of Miss Fairfield?”

Hapford blinked at this sudden change in conversation. “She’s a little odd, I grant you, but Geraldine vouches for her…” He trailed off in confusion. “I don’t know. I don’t like speaking ill of people.”

“That,” said Bradenton, “is a nicety you’ll have to rid yourself of. Tell me, what makes Miss Fairfield so odd?”

Hapford stood and walked to the window. He stared out it a long time. Finally, he turned around. “She doesn’t…she doesn’t seem to know what’s expected of her. What her place is.”

Bradenton was usually so good humored. But at that, Oliver caught a look in his eye—a thinning of his lips—and he remembered that in all the nonsense that Miss Fairfield had spouted that evening, she’d told Bradenton that nobody would think anything of him if he hadn’t been a marquess.

“Yes,” Bradenton said tightly. “She doesn’t know her place, and she’s too stupid to be taught it by the normal methods. What are we to do about it, Hapford?”

Hapford frowned. “I don’t see why we need to do anything. She isn’t hurting anyone, and Whitting takes such amusement from her that it would be a shame to deprive him of it.”

“There’s where you’re wrong.” Bradenton’s voice was quiet. “It harms everyone when people don’t know their places. Something should be done about it.”

Hapford considered this. “Even if that’s true…” He shook his head. “No. Geraldine doesn’t let anyone speak ill of her. I don’t want to upset her.”

“Yes, well,” Bradenton said tersely. “In another few years, we’ll see if you’re so eager to do Miss Johnson’s bidding. But never mind. You’re right in essentials. A gentleman never hurts a lady; the potential repercussions to his reputation are not worth the risk.”

Hapford looked relieved.

Bradenton shook his head and leaned over, tousling his nephew’s hair. “Watch, and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

And then he looked over at Oliver. He looked at him as if he’d been planning this moment for hours—and he probably had. Oliver felt a sick pit open up in his stomach. Whatever it was that Bradenton was thinking, he didn’t want to hear it.

“Very well, Marshall. It’s your turn now. We’re going to talk about the vote.” His voice was soft once more. “Do you know why I voted against the last bill?”

Oliver had his own suspicions. “I suppose you’ll tell me.”

“It was too expansive. People need to know their places or there will be chaos. If even Parliament won’t hold them to order, we might as well surrender.”

Oliver swallowed. “Actually, my lord, the last bill was rather conservative. You see, the—”

“You’ll never get my vote on anything more liberal. I ask for so little—just that rate-paying clause I introduced. If they can’t afford to pay it, what business do they have offering an opinion?”

Oliver shut his mouth in annoyance. That would only put this same debate off another ten years. But a small step forward would be better than nothing. “Perhaps we could come to an agreement if the rate was low enough.”

“Perhaps.” Bradenton tapped his fingers against the arm of the chair. “But there is one other thing I need. Hapford, why do you suppose Marshall is so keen on this bill?”

“I had thought his background.” He flushed. “My apologies for speaking of it so openly, Marshall.”

“Yes. What else?”

“I…” Hapford shook his head, looking at Oliver for some hint. And perhaps he found it because his brow cleared. “Because everyone is talking about the issue,” he said. “And if he plays a role in getting it passed, he’ll get the credit.”

“Precisely,” Bradenton said. “It was me and my friends who got the last bill voted down. Think what it will mean if he is the one to broker the compromise. He’ll be respected, elevated, talked about for office of his own. It will be a coup.”

Oliver’s nostrils flared.

“It’s one I’m willing to grant him,” Bradenton said. “That’s what it means to be us, Hapford. We don’t just vote. We give power.”

Oliver leaned forward, wanting. Wanting so hard that he could almost taste victory in his mouth.

“And so if we’re going to be doing it,” Bradenton said, “we have to be sure of him.”

“We do?” Hapford echoed.

“We do. We need to know that he’s going to be part of the proper order. That he’ll know his place, and expect everyone to be in theirs.”

That taste of victory turned metallic. Oliver didn’t know his place. He’d spent too many nights seething at the way of things, too long wanting to rise in power, not just so that he might wield it, but so that he might wrest it from the hands of those who abused it. They’d spent years trying to teach him his place; he’d learned through long, hard experience that the only way forward was to keep quiet until he grew so tall they could no longer shove him down.

But all he said aloud was, “I should think I’ve proven my discretion over the years.”

Bradenton simply smiled. “Didn’t you hear me, Marshall? I don’t want your words. I have a job that needs doing, and I cannot do it myself.”

That sick sensation in Oliver’s stomach grew.

“You see, Hapford?” Bradenton said. “He wants. I have. The only way to make a deal is if I want something, too.” He leaned forward. “And what I want, Marshall, is Miss Fairfield.” There was no masking the venom in his voice. “I don’t want to see her or her annoying gowns. I don’t want to hear her thoughtless jibes.” Bradenton’s nostrils flared. “She’s the worst of the worst—a woman with no birth to speak of, who thinks that her hundred thousand pounds makes her my equal. A woman like her, running about, spouting her tripe… She does damage to us all, and I want her gone.”

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