Home > The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(12)

The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(12)
Author: Courtney Milan

“That’s not going to happen,” Oliver said sharply. “I don’t ruin women, no matter how annoying they are.”

Hapford was looking between them, his eyes worried. “Well said, Marshall.”

Bradenton seemed to come back into himself with one long, slow breath. The hatred in his eyes dimmed to mere amusement. “Oh, look at you two. Ruin her? Goodness, how sordid. I wouldn’t ask my worst enemy to kiss her.”

“Then what are you asking?”

The marquess leaned back in his seat. “I want her to know her place. Humiliate her. Hurt her. Teach her her lesson. You know how it’s done; it took you long enough to learn yours.”

For a second, the room seemed to go hazy about Oliver. He’d learned his lesson, all right. He’d learned to keep quiet in public and seethe in private. He’d learned to keep his ambition hidden. To let men like Bradenton see only what he wished to see.

“Don’t answer, Marshall. Work it through your principles.” Bradenton smiled. “But in the end, we all know how this will work out. It’s one annoying girl against your entire future. Against the future of voting rights.”

“I say,” Hapford muttered.

“It’s not pretty,” Bradenton said. “And yes, Hapford, there are times when you might not like the details, messy as they are. But this is how things get done. If there’s something you can’t do, that must nonetheless be done…”


“One day, your Miss Johnson will wish she’d cut the acquaintance far sooner. You’re doing her a favor, Hapford. You’re going to be her husband; it’s your duty to do what she needs before she knows it.”

Hapford lapsed into silence.

“And as for you, Marshall…” Bradenton looked at Oliver. “Take the time you need to salve your conscience. To tell yourself whatever it is you need to make this palatable. You’ll be doing her a favor, you know.”

No, Oliver thought. Not a favor. And I’m not doing it.

But that sick pit in his stomach felt differently.

Yes, it whispered. Yes, you are.

It usually took Jane one day, at most two, to crush a man’s interest in her. Any positive feelings her fortune engendered could be quickly overcome, so long as her first impression was sufficiently negative.

She had assumed that Mr. Oliver Marshall would prove no different.

She had assumed wrongly. The second time they encountered each other was on a street corner. She was going into the modiste for a second fitting with her companion; he was passing by, talking with a male friend.

He stopped on the street, tipping his hat to her. And that was when something awful happened.

She looked into his eyes. They were ice-blue and mobile. In the bright mid-morning, his spectacles made him look sharp and intelligent. He didn’t look over her head as if wishing her elsewhere. He didn’t curl his lip in disgust or nudge his companion as if to say, That’s her; she’s the one I was telling you about. He looked at her straight on, his eyes flickering over her as if he were wondering what lay beneath the blinding orange-and-green pattern of her day gown. And he smiled at her as if she deserved more than a few scraps of surface civility.

She wasn’t in heels any longer, so he had several inches on her now. His hair was a bright copper, and when he lifted his hat at her, the wind caught the ends. He seemed open and uncomplicated—so far from the dark, brooding gothic hero that filled the pages of Emily’s novels.

Still, she felt something that she’d only read about in the pages of a book. There was a slow prickle in her throat, a flush of heat that slid over her skin. She felt a sense of pure awareness. A frisson. She felt a real live frisson just from looking into his eyes.

How dreadful.

She looked away. “Mr. Cromwell,” she said, almost desperate to erase that feeling from her skin. “How lovely to encounter you again.”

He didn’t seem annoyed at her misidentification. He didn’t blink or correct her. “Miss Fairfield,” he said, and gave her a smile so friendly that she almost stepped back.

Mr. Marshall’s companion was a dark-haired gentleman who would have fit the brooding hero mold rather better. He blinked and looked between the two of them with a curious expression on his face. “Cromwell?” he asked in low tones.

“Yes,” Mr. Marshall said. “Did I forget to mention that? I’ve been politiciking under an assumed name. Play along, Sebastian.” He turned to Jane and said, “Miss Fairfield, might I introduce my friend? This is Mr. Sebastian—”

The other man took a step forward and took her hand. “Sebastian Brightbuttons.” This, with a glance at Mr. Marshall. “If you get to assume a name, I want one, too.”

In all the months in which Jane had been operating under a charade, she’d learned to deal with almost every emotional response to her mannerisms. She could manage everything from anger to disbelief.

Playfulness? That was new. She swallowed and tried to do what she always did. She imagined the conversation as a prime coach-and-four. She imagined it racing along a road at top speed, the wheels glinting in the sunlight. And then she imagined driving it straight into a hedge.

“Sebastian,” Jane mused. “Like Sebastian Malheur, the famous scientist?” A comparison guaranteed to put this gentleman off. Malheur was a name that one heard around Cambridge a great deal—a man who was known for giving lectures where he openly talked of sexual intercourse under the guise of discussing the inheritance of traits. His name was cursed alongside that of Charles Darwin, and sometimes with greater vituperation.

But instead of flushing, Mr. Marshall and Mr. Brightbuttons exchanged amused glances.

“Very much like him,” Mr. Brightbuttons said. “Are you an enthusiast of his work? I am.” He leaned in a little closer. “Actually, I think he’s brilliant.”

Marshall was watching her again, and Jane’s skin prickled under his perusal.

That was when Jane realized she’d made a mistake. Those freckles, his background—they’d all misled her into thinking that he was a quiet little rabbit.

He wasn’t. He was the wolf that looked as if he were lounging about on the outskirts of the pack, a lone hanger-on, when in truth he had adopted that position simply so that he could see everything that transpired in the fields below. He wasn’t solitary; he was waiting for someone to make a mistake.

He looked willing to wait a very long time.

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