Home > The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(8)

The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)(8)
Author: Courtney Milan

“I have something for you.” She turned back to the cloak she’d tossed aside and rummaged through the pockets until she found the gift.

“Oh!” Emily was sitting up straight now. “Oh, it has been forever since the last one.”

“I found it this afternoon, but Titus said you were not to be disturbed during your nap, so…”

She held out the volume.

Emily’s face lit and she reached out eagerly, taking the book with a reverent sigh. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you forever.” She brushed one hand gently down the cover. “I hope that Mrs. Blickstall didn’t raise too much trouble over it?”

Jane waved a hand dismissively. She had an understanding with her chaperone. Their uncle had chosen Mrs. Blickstall to accompany Jane, but it was Jane’s fortune that paid her salary. So long as Jane augmented the woman’s quarterly payments, Mrs. Blickstall was willing to alter the reports she delivered to their uncle…and to allow a little contraband from time to time.

Contraband like novels. In Emily’s case, dreadful novels.

“Mrs. Larriger and the Inhabitants of Victoria Land,” Jane said. “Really, Emily. Where is Victoria Land?”

A dreamy look stole into her sister’s eyes, and she clutched the book closer. “It is the land of ice and snow at the South Pole. At the end of the last volume—the one where Mrs. Larriger was kidnapped by Portuguese whalers and held for ransom—she talked them into letting her go. The whaler captain, in a fit of spite, deposited her on the icy shores of Victoria Land.”

“I see,” Jane said dubiously.

“I have had to wait two entire months to find out what happened to her.”

Jane simply shook her head. “I didn’t know there were inhabitants of Victoria Land. I had thought that a land without soil would be a harsh environment to support human life.”

“There are penguins and seals and who knows who else? It is Mrs. Larriger we’re talking about. She escaped execution in Russia after proving herself innocent of the murder of the Czarina’s pet wolfhound. She singlehandedly put down an armed revolt in India. She foiled the combined armies of Japan and China, and only then was she captured by whalers.”

“All those governments around the world,” Jane mused. “All wanting to execute the same woman. Surely they can’t all be wrong.”

Emily laughed. “You just don’t like her because she’s too much like you.”

“Oh, I’m like a fifty-eight year old woman?” Jane put her hand to her hip in mock disgust.

“No,” Emily said cheekily. “But you’re bossy and argumentative.”

“I am not.”

“Mm hmm.” Emily lifted the book to smell the fresh-cut pages. As she did, the sleeve of her night rail slipped to her elbow, exposing two round, shiny scars.

“Bossy or not, that book is tripe,” Jane said. But her throat felt too tight, and her fingers curled into a ball. She didn’t think she could ever forgive Titus for those scars.

If Emily took note of her altered tone, she didn’t remark on it. “There’s no smell quite so good as a newly printed, unread book. As for this one… It’s educational. How else am I to learn about other countries?”

There was nothing to be said about Emily’s scars, and the fact that she had them was no reason to stop teasing her. So Jane bumped her sister’s shoulder and adopted a severe tone. “You realize these books are fiction? That each separate volume is probably written by a different man, one who has likely never left London? They’re not educational. They’re made up, and I imagine that the actual residents of Russia, China, and Japan would be quite disturbed to hear what the supposed Mrs. Larriger says of them.”

“Yes, but—”

The door to the room opened without warning, interrupting the argument. Emily jumped and jammed the book under her skirts. Jane stepped in front of her sister. But the damage was already done.

Titus Fairfield looked from Jane to Emily and then back again, more slowly. He shook his head sadly.

“Oh, girls,” he said.

Their uncle Titus was balding and had heavy jowls. That, combined with his deep, somber voice, made him appear perpetually dour and disapproving—an appearance that he no doubt rejoiced in. Jane suspected that he practiced that glum expression in the mirror.

He probably thought an air of moroseness made him seem more intelligent.

“I am not fooled,” he said.

Jane looked at Emily. Emily looked back at Jane.

“Uncle Titus!” Emily said. “How lovely to see you.”

Their uncle held out one hand and tapped the finger of the other against his palm. Emily heaved a sigh. Slowly, she stood and pulled the book out from underneath her. Uncle Titus strode forward and took it from her.

“It’s an improving work,” Emily told him. “A very moral tale, about…”

“Mrs. Larriger and…” A sad sound escaped him. “Victoria Land.” He spoke those last words as if he were reluctantly reciting the name of a brothel. “Jane, my dear, what have I told you about leading your younger sister astray with novels?”

Jane would have been delighted to have Emily give up Mrs. Larriger and her string of unlikely, ridiculous exploits. It wouldn’t take much to divert her attention—just allowing her out in company. Even letting her outside for longer than ten minutes at a time might do the trick.

She’d tried to argue that point too many times.

“Oh, but Uncle,” Emily said, “it’s an educational tale, replete with…geographical features of interest.”

“A novel.”

Emily set her jaw determinedly. “A true story, covered with the thin veil of fiction to protect the identities of the innocent.”

Titus Fairfield opened the book, turned a handful of pages, and began reading aloud. “‘Having convinced the seals to pull my raft and catch my fish, it only remained for me to find some way to train the voices of the penguins.’” He looked up. “A true story, covered by the thin veil of fiction?”

No. Even Titus wasn’t that gullible.

Emily clapped her hands to her ears. “You’re ruining it. Don’t tell me what happens.”

Titus looked at her. “If that is what it will take to stop this. You’ve disobeyed me, and disobedience has consequences.” So saying, he shuffled slowly to the end of the book. “You should not be allowed to take pleasure in your willfulness. If you do not want to hear the ending, then…” He bent his head and began to read. ‘Chapter Twenty-Seven. After the sharks had come—’”

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