The dawn was breaking quicker these days and earlier. It allowed Victor some solace in his silent house in these moments. It seemed there had been nothing but activity for nearly a month now between the arrangements that he’d been required to make over these few weeks. In fact, it had taken the better part of that month to get everything that Mr. Gray had requested. Well, demanded was more accurate if he was being honest. There was a kind of urgency in his letters that had passed simply his normal annoying presence into a full irritant but he seemed satisfied now. Victor had personally gathered some of the more sensitive items on that list. It had been a difficulty and in many cases dangerous but it was worth the effort to afford him what he also desired. For one, he would be able to go into these situations knowing that he had not sent anyone too inexperienced and chance putting the entire operation, whatever it was, at risk. It wouldn’t scare off a good contract with the hand of ineptitude on account of an easy, bumbling mistake. Besides, it was good to occasionally meet with ones associates. It had ensured that they would remain in good spirits and a little face to face meeting always seemed to resolve any kind of doubt, especially since he so rarely saw anyone in his web of contacts. Seeing him as a man in the flesh brought out their sense of camaraderie and, more often than not, allowed him a little bit of a peek into the workings that they had brewing. It all depended on their mood which he found he could lighten with so little effort.

There was also a second, somewhat more pressing, boon to dealing with these associates in person. Though Victor truly disliked to put himself in these situations, he did know the value of making sure that others knew he could be generous. It was through this open generosity that he could easily spread word about his needs and have things delivered in such haste. It also ensured that he would be able to know that should this dastardly plan go wrong, he would not be resting in vain. Though he wanted very much to believe that Mr. Gray’s hatred of the family in the woods would not allow him to betray Victor, a part of him could not overlook his cold and calculated methods. He’d been secretive and altogether frustrating to contend with. Victor was also of the understanding that in this instance, he himself was working blind. With so much power in Gray’s greedy hands, there was no telling what he was thinking of doing. Victor knew that he need not worry too much about the house or the staff. These arrangements were among the first that he’d squared away. Still, there was that little business of his own satisfaction. He knew that he might be completely out of power should Gray decide to betray him and get him killed. That didn’t mean that he was above being petty about it. He had already allotted Gray a sum in his will and it would stand. He didn’t know if it would do the man much good, however. In the event of his or Charlotte’s death, there would be repercussions and with the money he was set to receive, it would never be enough to get him away from Courtland County fast enough to outrun the people he would have to answer to.

Such a thought should have pleased Victor but alas, he found himself still thinking of it with a weariness as he watched the sun rise this morning. His thoughts were centred on the current state of the house and how such a thing might disrupt it. He was unaccustomed to this and it bothered him greatly. For years, since he’d first stepped away from that prison of an estate when he was barely old enough to call himself a man, he had prepared to meet his end. He’d been told that it would be his undoing and when that had failed to frighten him into proper behavior, he’d been cast out with the promise that he would be nothing more than a beggar on the street. He would be dead within a year, his father had promised. He’d called out to him like a drunkard on the street, screaming that he should prepare himself to stand before the almighty to repent and discover himself cursed to the pit. His faith in whatever might be lurking in the corners of existence might have faltered but his understanding that he would die was the only thing that remained with him as he moved towards whatever the future would bring him. He was prepared from that day forward that death would arrive for him. That his end would be guaranteed and he would allow it with open arms. He cared little for most things and in the beginning, he cared nothing for anything. His lover was gone and he could not allow himself to be drawn back to the place and the person that killed her. He had allowed himself to be as reckless as he might become and it had garnered him favor and, eventually, fortune. Through it all, a man who might have been looking to strike it rich might have become arrogant, like Reginald Kent. A man might become filled with haughty airs about his worth in the world. Victor would never allow himself to be that man. He knew his fate was to find his death and he was prepared for it in whatever form it might come, regardless if he was a beggar or a king. What he had significantly less preparation for was how it would affect those around him.

Of course, he thought mostly of Rosemary. More than a simple child that had taken refuge in his house, she had taken up a residence here and it had a profound impact on him. Never before had he been in the presence of someone who so innocently enjoyed his company. Slowly, she’d become less a familiar face and more like a child that he might even call a part of his family. It was a difficult swell of emotion he felt within him to see her transforming from the frightened child she’d once been, too old for her years and too silently aware of how cruel the world could be, to this bright, inquisitive and genuine girl that seemed to burst with life. Since his birthday, she’d taken to her light duties with a kind of diligence that was both entirely affectionate and heartbreaking. It was difficult to think that she could love him as a child loves a parent. Difficult for him to believe that anyone could love one such as himself. He was not unaware of his own countenance and yet even that, he’d taken note, had softened more recently. He was not the only one who had been affected by the changes here either.

Since Christmas, Victor had steadily been reducing the amount of work that Rosemary had been responsible for. There had been some apprehension that the other staff would immediately turn on her or begin to get out of sorts at the difference between her treatment and the rest of the house but to his very happy surprise, they had been more than happy to participate. It had been easier to accept this might be the case around the holidays, when she had been excited and the sense of cheer and good will were abundant as he could make it in the house. It had been more surprising, however, when that sense of charity from the rest of the staff continued on now. Even last week, he’d seen the cook teaching her basics on making simple sweets for herself. Naturally, she shared her bounty with everyone around her and reserved the larger ones for him. They all seemed to cherish her presence as much as he found that he did. He wished profoundly that this was legitimate and wholesome. She had been in such a state when he first met her that she might have been little more than a ghost upon her arrival. She’d done nothing short of haunt the place until he’d noticed her gift for being able to get information. Even that, now at this late hour, seemed rather callous of him. He only hoped that this life that she so seemed to love would make up for his initial coldness. This life, however, was always to be in not only his hands but the hands of the house as well.

He wanted to believe that they were trustworthy. His staff had been more or less chosen by Rosemary’s influence and the people around him now were genuine and kind. But still, he’d seen how hard hearts could turn. How greedy people could be. How petty. He’d seen it in his own childhood house. He’d been thankfully completely without the same kinds of incidents that plagued his rotten father all those years. So many servants had tried in vain to poison him. Victor himself had been the victim of one of them more than once. The first was an accident when his father had cruelly switched his plate with Victor’s and had allowed his own child to sample the food. The second time had been directed at Victor specifically to get back at his brute father. Both were things that he’d suffered for but had never once had a problem with in his own home. For as much as he had a temper, he knew well the price that one paid to have staff that felt the chill of helplessness. He only hoped that this was enough for them. He knew that there was a way to find out. If he leaned on Rosemary and her gift, he could know for certain that any of them were secretly plotting to harm one or both of them. As much as it tempted him, he could no longer bring himself to seek her council for such things. He couldn’t bare to see the look on her face if she thought she had been returned to her post as his lookout and his employee. Victor was not yet aware of what she had become in his life but he knew better than to dash her hopes. They were such lovely hopes and ones that brought warmth to a house that had been so far stained with sadness. It gave him hope that perhaps there was happiness to be found in these walls yet.

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