Charlotte plucked one of the roses from the bush and after carefully removing the thorns from the stem, she placed the bloom in the lapel of her coat and allowed herself to be drawn towards her car. She felt the prospect of where she might end up wash over her and she felt filled with a kind of wicked delight fill her heart. It had been a while since she’d really had a chance to get her hands dirty in the slums. There might yet be some true filth in this dreary little town after all. There would have to be if darling Caroline was still roaming free. Charlotte still so loved the finer things and would always rise back to her rightful place but there was something so satisfying to know the world of desperation where rules that she’d been forced to follow all her life didn’t apply. How she was going to enjoy this. The little fling with the unfortunate pup in his glorified tavern didn’t quite count as truly lowering herself. After all, those young wild ones had a chance to taste the money they moved. They may live fast but they knew of life beyond their birth place. It would be foolish for her dullard of a half sibling to stay among them. Clearly she had been trying to for a while already if the importance of the man she killed would register with the nouveau rich in town. If she were still trying to move among them, Charlotte would have found her by now. For one, she could only stay in their good graces for so long and by now, she would be overstaying her welcome and had likely been drawing attention. Besides, she knew that pathetic wretch and how she was longing to be back at the estate by now. How it must have galled her when she saw the palatial museum that Vivian Kent had fallen in. How green she would have become if she knew what it was to see the Kent house proper. So much more garish and lush than the poor state of the Fevrier estate. How she must be rife with envy!

Here Charlotte felt so foolish now, sitting behind the wheel of her car, staring at her reflection. Why, she’d been so focused on what she wanted, she hadn’t stopped to think about darling Caroline and her stupidity. A woman born to blue blood that they all were aware had been thinned over the years. Oh it was still the blood of the arrogant but there was always that tint to it that was never quite blue enough. There was something vile in there and didn’t it just make that Caroline feel the slightest bit nervous. Would not the smallest of riches seem so important to her, especially now? She would yearn for what she once had. Crave that sense of superiority but by now, she couldn’t touch it. At least, if what Victor had hinted at was true, she couldn’t. For now, whatever she’d been trying to do was locked up and the inheritance that she’d been trying desperately to squander was safe. For the moment, anyway. But how she must be longing to spend it to make herself feel better. How she must be missing the lavish lifestyle that she’d once known. Even if they’d had to tighten up their resources by the time that Charlotte married for the first time, they had never known true poverty. How could she feel superior to anyone when she was surrounded by the common people who had found a way to make more than she had. No, it was more important that Caroline find her way to the true wretches of society. The ones who had never tasted wealth and knew riches as the daily allotment of food. Their treasures were rags soaked in memories and sickeningly cloying sentimentality. Something her dour half sister might yet be able to look down upon. Oh yes, she would never allow herself to be taunted by the finer things that were just out of her grasp. She would not stand for such an insult. She was of high birth, or so she thought.

Charlotte might question her linage a bit less now that she’d shown some promise that perhaps their mother might have been a part of her existence. For as much as she had called her a half sibling in secret, she had mostly regarded that as simply a kind of politeness that she’d retained in private, no matter how much she wished to be rid of it. She had always more or less assumed that the half didn’t count. Seeing Caroline react like this, clumsy and utterly devoid of any talent for murder whatsoever, she winced at the prospect that there might have been a spark of their mother’s blood in there after all. It pained her to do so. She did so love her mother and hated having to share her at all, even with the likes of Victor. But at least he still had her charms about him, even if he had such a stormy temper. Victor could at least be fun. Caroline, on the other hand, was just so dull and so very much the picture of what their supposed father was. It was obscene to her that Caroline carried so very many traits of the Fevrier family. Charlotte still refused to believe that the true Fevrier blood had anything of grace in it. If not for the long memory of the aristocrats of Europe, holding desperately to their precious linages, the name itself would be worth less than the contents of a piss pot but thankfully there were pennies to be wrenched from it still. At least there would be if she could get her hands on that now frozen inheritance. Her thoughts turned to where she might start her search as she dabbed her face with powder. It soothed the revelations that she found more unpalatable.

The task at hand was both mercifully simple yet more complicated the closer she got to getting the rat out of her hiding place. This tiny town had a lack of true gutters to swim in and though she knew her half sibling didn’t appreciate that, she well should have. In her current situation, in any other town or city Caroline was more likely to get lost amid the rabble of the streets, reduced down with the whores and the beggars. While there were definitely women of the night who worked here, there always were when it came to the wealthy, they were more refined than this. Granted, with so many young pups hanging about now, bringing new money into a world where old money had been before, there might yet be some gutters for her to find yet. Oh how she could still sink down further and not know it. How desperate that might yet make her.

For a moment, Charlotte wondered if she had come about this wrong. Perhaps she should be taking a softer approach? Oh but that felt so very wrong. Caroline was stupid but she wasn’t immune to the odd thought that might strike her as odd. To suddenly have Charlotte be asking her to come seek asylum with her might arouse some kind of suspicion. But it was worthy of at least some thought, as she started the car and began to make her way out the long, winding drive. A strange approach for her but perhaps something more subtle could yet be useful.

She knew she shouldn’t be distracted like this. The trees had been touched with frost in the mornings for a week now and it would bring much cooler weather yet. This wretched house would be a near prison for how difficult it would be to get out from come the first snow fall. A fact that her pitiful brother might yet find comforting but a nuisance that she must take into account soon.

As the car crawled down the trail, Charlotte noticed for seemingly the first time how treacherous this dreadful dirt road was. It was still early enough in the morning that the dirt was firm beneath the tires but she could see the glint of silvery frost that had formed in delicate designs on the stagnant ponds in the deep trenches on either side. The way it slithered up the trees, turning the trunks white in the distance. Still the fog had crept through these frozen shapes, unreached by the sun’s admittedly weak heat. Rising thicker as she descended, the foggy blanket swirled about like a veil amid the trunks with the leaves dotting it, falling like feathers on a ballroom floor. Charlotte felt uncomfortable for once and it was disconcerting to her. She was not given to enchantment and the images coming to mind right now were more akin to a hunting ground than a romantic scene. She tore her eyes away from the trenches and the billows of mist creeping about her as she focused heavily on the road. A road that felt entirely too narrow all of the sudden.

Charlotte felt her heart quicken in a way that was completely unlike her as she spotted something in the distance. Something that didn’t belong there, waiting in the mist. She dared not go any faster for fear that she would miss a curve and the car would lurch into the trunks for her mistake. Still, she could not take her eyes off the image. A woman. For one stiff minute, she thought for certain that Caroline had come crawling back here. That she had come to beg for asylum here. Charlotte gripped the steering wheel, taking all her will to fight her instinct to speed up and end the treacherous wretch once and for all. Her murderous heart wailed loudly, clawing at her to be sated, but she ground her teeth against it and approached with caution, thinking back to that potential in the softer approach. If it was Caroline, Charlotte wanted to catch her for good. To trap her where she could not run away and take with her that precious money that she’d chased her all this way for. She crept closer still.

Getting within reach of the figure, she could see now that it was not Caroline and her heart sank but it was still seconds later when she saw the familiar sway of this woman’s hips. The careless fluttering of her dark, perfect hair. Waved and thick black locks moved gently on the breeze like a veil revealing the goddess she was. Charlotte couldn’t even feel the tears streaming down her face for shock as she stilled the car. The woman before her was tall and perfect. Everything that she’d made in her own image. The mother she so adored. Charlotte slipped from the driver’s seat of the car and followed in rapt disbelief as the woman before her stopped. There was barely any space between them and for a moment, Charlotte for certain that she could step forward and touch her. To grab hold of her and bring her back here to this space. Perhaps only ten steps away. She could do it but her body was frozen in place in amazement and grief. The woman’s head slowly turned in her direction and to her core, Charlotte wished against any hope that it was indeed her. Let it be the mother that she so worshipped. Let it be the eyes to mirror her own and Victor’s.

Instead of the vivid, lively dark eyes, there was only a flash of green and Charlotte was briefly filled with a sense of horror. She stepped back as a large branch crackled above her head like thunder and stormed forth slicing the space between her and the figure. Falling to the ground in shock, Charlotte quickly scrambled behind the car, its hood now sporting fresh scratches from the fallen tree limb. The figure was nowhere to be found. In her settling state now, Charlotte grasped at her heaving chest, her gloved fingers caressing the rose petals from the bud in her lapel. She knew that branch might have well meant her death. She looked down in disgust as she stood just a few paces away. To think she could have been found in such dirty and outdated shoes! Charlotte settled into the driver’s seat of her car and allowed her vanity to soothe her while she tried to forget what she’d seen.

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