Home > The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(13)

The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(13)
Author: Courtney Milan

But he hadn’t had to. She’d used the wrong-name trick on Marshall the other night, and here she was, repeating it again. Use a stratagem too many times, and people began to be suspicious.

She blamed that damned frisson.

Mr. Brightbuttons, or whatever his name was, was grinning at her, too.

“Tell me,” he said, “do you really think that I’m like Sebastian Malheur? Because I’ve heard that he is excruciatingly handsome.”

He smiled at her, and Jane realized she’d made another mistake. He wasn’t Sebastian some-random-name-that-he-hadn’t-admitted-to. He was Sebastian Malheur in the flesh.

Mr. Marshall was friends with the infamous Malheur. Jane swallowed.

“You can’t be very much like Malheur, then,” she managed. “I’ve been looking at you for a full thirty seconds, and I haven’t had a single flutter of interest.”

Mr. Marshall let out a crack of laughter.

“Very well, Miss Fairfield,” he said. “You’ve earned it. May I introduce Sebastian Malheur, my friend and cousin. He won’t assume you’re as dreadful as rumor says, so long as you give him the same credit.”

Jane opened her mouth to agree. She almost did, before she realized what he’d said—and what she’d almost assented to. She had to physically yank her hand behind her back to keep from offering it in friendship.

“What are you talking about?” Her voice sounded far too high. “I haven’t got a dreadful reputation. And Malheur—isn’t he some kind of evolutionist? I have heard that his lectures are entirely wild.”

“I’d planned to call the work I’m preparing now ‘Orgies of the Peppered Moth,’” Mr. Malheur said brightly. “It’s a series of heated interrogations of winged insects, completely unclothed, doing nothing but—”

Mr. Marshall jabbed his friend with an elbow.

“What? Have you got some sort of vendetta against moth-on-moth—”

“Really, Sebastian.”

His friend shrugged and then looked back at Jane. “Only one way to find out,” he said. “Come to my next lecture in a handful of months. I’ll start off with snapdragons and peas. Nobody can object to a discussion of plant reproduction. If they did, we’d require flowers to don petticoats instead of wandering around, showing their reproductive parts to all and sundry.”

Jane choked back a laugh. But Mr. Marshall was watching her, a quizzical expression on his face.

She swallowed and looked away.

“Miss Fairfield,” Mr. Marshall said, “are you familiar with chameleons?”

“I dare say I was just reading about those,” Jane said officiously, trying to regain her balance. “Those are a species of flower?”

Mr. Marshall didn’t even twitch at that, and that made Jane feel all the more uneasy. He was supposed to smile at her. Better yet, he was supposed to sneer.

“Or maybe it was a hat,” she added.

Not so much as a curl of his lip.

“The chameleon,” Mr. Marshall said, “is a species of lizard. It changes its coloration so that it hides in its surroundings. When it darts across the sand, it is sand-colored. When it slips through the forest, it is tree-colored.”

His eyes were the color of an unforgiving winter sky, and Jane shifted uneasily in her tracks. “What a curious creature.”

“You,” he said, with a small gesture of his hand, “are an anti-chameleon.”

“I am an ant-eating what?”

“An anti-chameleon. The opposite of a chameleon,” he explained. “You change your colors, yes. But when you are in sand, you fashion yourself a bright blue so that the sand knows you are not a part of it. When you are in water, you turn red so that everyone knows you are not liquid. Instead of blending in, you change so that you stand out.”

Jane swallowed hard.

“Well, Sebastian,” Marshall said, turning back to his friend, “what think you of that sort of adaptation? What kind of creature tries to stand out from its surroundings?”

Mr. Malheur frowned and rubbed his forehead as he considered the question. “Poisonous ones,” he finally said. “Butterflies do it all the time. They are brightly colored so that birds cannot confuse them with other creatures. ‘Don’t eat me,’ the color shouts. ‘I’ll make you vomit.’” He frowned as he said this. “But one ought not apply the principles of evolution to human behavior. Individual choice is not the product of evolution.”

And yet the comparison was all too apt. That was precisely what Jane intended, even if she’d never thought of it that way. She did want everyone to notice her—and she wanted them to think her poisonous.

“Well, then, Miss Fairfield. You have it yourself, from Mr. Malheur’s mouth.” He gestured at his friend. “We can conclude nothing.”

“Mr. Cromwell…”

Mr. Marshall held up a hand, cutting her off. That frisson went through her again, tingling at the base of her spine.

“It’s Mr. Marshall,” he said quietly. “But I think you’re clever enough to know that.”

God, she was in dire straits. You’re intelligent enough to remember two syllables was hardly a compliment, but she’d not received any praise at all in months. It left her feeling warm and utterly confused.

“I—I’m not sure—” She took a deep breath, tried to gather the shreds of her charade about her. “Was I mistaken then? I’m so sorry, Mr. Crom—I mean, Mr. Marshwell.”

“I am not going to lie to you,” Mr. Marshall said. “And might I suggest…”

She looked at him, looked up into those eyes like a winter storm. She looked up into a face that should have been ordinary, and Jane felt her whole body come to a standstill. Her heart ceased to beat. Her lungs seized up in her chest. Even her hair felt like a heavy burden. There was nothing but him and his foolish not-even-compliments.

“Might I suggest,” he finally said, “that you don’t need to lie to me, either.”


He held up a finger. “Think about it,” he said. “Think carefully, Miss Fairfield. And once you’re done thinking… Well, the two of us might have a very productive conversation.”

She swallowed. “About fashion? You don’t appear to be the sort to care.”

He smiled, just a curl of his lip. “About a great many things. And yes, Miss Fairfield. About fashion. About the colors you wear, and what they are hiding.”

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