The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan Read Online (FREE)
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Cambridgeshire, England, January 1867
Most of the numbers that Miss Jane Victoria Fairfield had encountered in her life had proven harmless. For instance, the seamstress fitting her gown had poked her seven times while placing forty-three straight pins—but the pain had vanished quickly enough. The twelve holes in Jane’s corset were an evil, true, but a necessary one; without them, she would never have reduced her waist from its unfashionable thirty-seven inch span down to the still unfashionable girth of thirty-one inches.
Two was not a terrible numeral, even when it described the number of Johnson sisters that stood behind her, watching the seamstress pin the gown against her less-than-fashionable form.
Not even when said sisters had tittered no fewer than six times in the past half hour. These numbers were annoyances—mere flies that could be waved away with one gilt-covered fan.
No, all Jane’s problems could be blamed on two numbers. One hundred thousand was the first one, and it was absolute poison.
Jane took as deep a breath as she could manage in her corset and inclined her head to Miss Geraldine and Miss Genevieve Johnson. The two young ladies could do no wrong in the eyes of society. They wore almost identical day gowns—one of pale blue muslin, the other of pale green. They wielded identical fans, both covered with painted scenes of bucolic idleness. They were both beautiful in the most clichéd, china-doll fashion: Wedgwood-blue eyes and pale blond hair that curled in fat, shining ringlets. Their waists came in well under twenty inches. The only way to distinguish between the sisters was that Geraldine Johnson had a perfectly placed, perfectly natural beauty mark on her right cheek, while Genevieve had an equally perfect mark on her left.
They had been kind to Jane the first few weeks they’d known her.
She suspected they were actually pleasant when they were not pushed to their extreme limits. Jane, as it turned out, had a talent for pushing even very nice girls into unkindness.
The seamstress placed one last pin. “There,” the woman said. “Now take a look in the mirror and tell me if you want me to change anything out—move some of the lace, mayhap, or use less of it.”
Poor Mrs. Sandeston. She said those words the way a man scheduled to be hanged this afternoon might talk about the weather on the morrow—wistfully, as if the thought of less lace were a luxury, something that would be experienced only by an extraordinary and unlikely act of executive clemency.
Jane sashayed forward and took in the effect of her new gown. She didn’t even have to pretend to smile—the expression spread across her face like melted butter on warm bread. God, the gown was hideous. So utterly hideous. Never before had so much money been put in the service of so little taste. She batted her eyes at the mirror in glee; her reflection flirted back with her: dark-haired, dark-eyed, coquettish and mysterious.