The Heiress Hunt (The Fifth Avenue Rebels #1) - Joanna Shupe
New York City, 1895
No one hated being poor more than a rich man.
Harrison Archer, dressed in his shabbiest suit, tapped his knee with two fingertips and struggled for calm. It was nearly impossible in this house, the place where he’d grown up, surrounded by a family who made vipers seem friendly.
Remember why you’re here.
Indeed, everything he’d been working toward was close at hand.
He’d been plotting for a long time. Three years, in fact. Three years of studying and scheming in Paris, doing everything he could to amass a fortune large enough for the right moment.
That moment was now.
The Archers were weak. Nearly broke. Their company’s stock value was the lowest in twenty years. Through investigators, Harrison learned that his father, who’d died eight months ago, had been borrowing company funds to cover personal debts for a decade. Thomas Archer, Harrison’s brother, apparently had the business sense of a lump of coal, because he’d only worsened the situation when he took over as company president.
All that suited Harrison just fine. The destruction of the Archers was under way.
They’ll never see it coming, not from a son they consider nothing more than a wastrel and lackwit.
His mother sucked air through her teeth, her cold stare sweeping over her second son. “I cannot fathom why it has taken you this long to return home, Harrison. Your father died more than half a year ago.”
Harrison smoothed the rough wool of his old trousers. “You mean the father who disowned me three years ago? Funny, but no one sent me passage home to attend the funeral.”
“Why on earth would we send you a ticket?” She lifted her nose as if a foul odor had overtaken the room. “Between all the mistresses and parties we hear about, no doubt you can afford passage on a steamer.”
He could afford damn near anything, but he wouldn’t tell his family as much. They had to think him poor and shiftless, no threat whatsoever to their precious little world. “That hardly matters, as I am here now.”
“And thank God for that.” Thomas rocked in his chair behind the desk, acting like the king of the kingdom he was raised to become. The panic lurking in his blue gaze gave him away, however, and Harrison relished the hint of desperation in the room. He wanted to soak in their anxiety, savor it like a fine wine.
Thomas nodded once at him. “Just in the nick of time, I might add. I assume you received my telegram.”
There had been six telegrams, actually, all asking the same thing, but no use quibbling. Instead, Harrison reached into his coat pocket and withdrew the last one. He tossed the paper on the desk. “I came to New York just to tell you no to your faces.”
And bankrupt them, of course, but he couldn’t play that card quite yet. Shares of Archer Industries stock were still being located and purchased.
But soon. So very soon.
Today’s visit was merely to watch them squirm when he refused their request.
“You cannot say no.” Thomas slapped the smooth top of the walnut desk. “We need you to marry an heiress—quickly.”
“Why would I bother?”
“Is it not obvious?”
“Not to me.”
“We will lose the family company if you don’t. Our grandfather founded Archer Industries before the war. We cannot be responsible for losing it.”
Harrison lifted a brow. “We?”
Their mother huffed and thumped her cane on the floor. “Harrison, for once in your godforsaken life, pay attention.”
The barb stung, a reminder of his childhood and the misery of living in this house.
Why can’t you be more like your brother?
Why can’t you sit still?
Why can’t you ever do as you’re told?
As a boy, he’d been energetic and unable to focus his attention for long stretches of time. That seemed to annoy just about anyone he encountered, including his nanny and tutors. His mother dealt with it through ice-cold silence, while his father’s approach had been to use a heavy hand. A very heavy hand. As they grew, Thomas took to ridiculing Harrison, riling him up at every turn and causing him to lash out, which made Harrison appear increasingly more ill-mannered, an embarrassment to the family. His father began focusing more and more on Thomas, the perfect brother, until Harrison became an afterthought.
Harrison stroked his jaw. “Oh, I have been paying attention. You think I care about saving a family who disinherited me.”
“Disinherited or not, you are part of this family,” Thomas said. “Our name won’t be worth anything in this city if you don’t help us.