Home > The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(14)

The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(14)
Author: Courtney Milan

He touched the brim of his hat and gestured to his friend.

“Good day,” he said pleasantly, as if he’d not just uttered a horrendous threat, and he walked off.

“Good God,” she heard Mr. Malheur say as they walked away. “What was that all about?”

If Mr. Marshall answered, the response was swept away in the clop of horse hooves from a passing omnibus.

Chapter Four

The third time Jane met Mr. Marshall was even worse. She scarcely had a chance to speak with him at the Johnsons’ dinner, but she could sense his eyes on her all through the meal. He sat just down the long table from her, close enough to converse with. It didn’t matter what she said to him. It didn’t matter how she said it. He never gave her that freezing look that suggested that he’d been offended.

Instead, he looked…amused.

She felt wrong the entire evening—as if her shift was too small, as if she no longer fit in the armor of her clothing.

When the gentlemen joined the ladies in the library after, she found herself uncertain, constantly aware of him. Her responses were forced, not flowing. She felt like—what was it he had called her?—an anti-chameleon, burning brightly in the middle of the room.

Don’t marry me; I’m poison. She was poison. She was a blight. Her gown tonight was a wasteland of red-and-black silk, devoid of good taste and fringed with clattering beads. She loved it almost as much as she loved the band of polished silver on her arm. She’d perfected the art of holding her wrist just so—moving it back and forth so that it reflected light into a gentleman’s eyes. But she’d hit Mr. Marshall three times now, and he hadn’t so much as grunted.

God, what was she to do?

Mr. Marshall suggested that music might be a good way to spend the evening, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone would be looking at the performers, and they’d never ask her to join in. Jane wouldn’t have to be on. Being dreadful was such wearying work. The company adjourned to the music room.

Jane stayed in her seat, holding her breath, hoping nobody would notice she wasn’t moving.

Nobody did. They all filed out without glancing in her direction. Of course not; they didn’t want to see her.

She slumped in relief as the door closed behind the last man. Alone at last. Alone, with no need to pretend. She could breathe. She could stop thinking, stop examining every smile, stop worrying about why it was that Mr. Oliver Marshall kept glancing in her direction.

She set her fingers against her temples, wishing all the tension away, letting her eyes drift shut in relief.

Silence. Blessed, blessed silence.

“Thank God,” she said aloud.

“I rather think you should thank me.”

Her eyes jerked open, and Jane pushed herself to her feet. Her gown caught underfoot, the beads clicking together. She scarcely managed to catch herself from falling—and she swiveled, just in time to see Mr. Marshall. He was still sitting in his chair on the other side of the room. He watched her with a look of amusement, tapping his fingers against the arm of the chair.

Oh, God. Hadn’t he left with the others? What had she said aloud?

“Mr. Cromwell!” she blurted out. “I thought you had gone with everyone.”

His fingers paused in the middle of a tap. Those blue eyes of his met hers. The dim light made his spectacles into a shield, reflecting her own image back at her.

“There’s no need to pretend.” He spoke as if he were a mesmerist attempting to send her into a trance. “And you have no cause for worry.”

There was nothing common about him, first impressions be damned. Behind those spectacles lurked something feral and untamable. He hadn’t moved from his chair, and yet still she felt a little tickle in her palms. A catch in her breath.

His eyes were too sharp, his expression far too even. He set his glass on the side table next to him and leaned back, looking her over as if he were royalty and she the thief who had been caught raiding his larder.

“Worry?” she repeated in her best breathless voice. “Why would I worry? You’re a gentleman. I’m a lady.” She took a step closer to the door. “I’ll join the others after all.”

He waved a hand. “Don’t bother, Miss Fairfield. I have sisters enough that I can recognize the supposedly innocent act from a half-mile’s distance. You’re not fooling me.”

She blinked. “Why should I not act the innocent? I have no guilt on my conscience.”

Mr. Marshall clicked his tongue and stood up. There ought to have been a rule somewhere that men who wore spectacles could not exceed six feet in height, but he was easily that. He should have been a jovial, round-faced clerk. He should have been anywhere else but here.

He shook his head and took a step toward her. “You’re wasting your breath. I know your secrets.”

“I haven’t any secrets. I—”

“Cut line, Miss Fairfield. You are either very, very stupid, or extraordinarily clever. And I, for one, suspect that you fall on the side of cleverness.”

She stared at him. “Mr. Cromwell. This is becoming improper.”

He shrugged and moved closer to her. “How convenient,” he said, “that you notice impropriety when it serves your purposes.”

She sucked in her breath as he reached out his hand.

“And when it doesn’t…” His fingers were inches from her face. He could have reached out and touched her.

He didn’t. He snapped his fingers. She jumped.

“Miss Fairfield,” he said quietly, “I am not your enemy. Stop treating me as one.”

Her heart slammed in her breast. “I have no enemies.”

“That, Miss Fairfield, is bullocks, and you know it. You have only enemies.”


“And I,” he said, “know exactly what that feels like. Look at me, Miss Fairfield. Think about what I am. I’m a duke’s bastard, raised on a farm. I’ve never belonged anywhere. I spent my first few months at Eton with these jackasses, getting into fights three times a day because they wanted me to know I didn’t belong. There’s little love lost between me and Bradenton.”

She swallowed and looked at him. There was a proud set to his jaw, a fierce light in his eyes. She knew all too well that a little thing like expression could be falsified, but… She didn’t think he’d manufactured that note of anger.

“Bradenton thinks he can dictate what I do,” he told her. “So insult him and his ilk all you wish. I’ll applaud you every step of the way. Just stop lumping me in with them. I’ll tell you my truth, if you’ll tell me yours.”

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