The cold of the air had kept most of the people in town at bay but late in the day, as the wind died down, the workers arrived and cleared part of the road to the house. It was workable now but unfortunately for Victor, not wide enough an opening for the larger deluxe car that Charlotte had arrived in. He didn’t know if this was preferable considering what manner of trouble she might get in after being this restless but he also knew that there was something of a wild storm brewing in her. At breakfast this morning, she was acting casual as was her method when she was trying to pretend that she wasn’t hiding something. He considered it really just a courtesy of hers to make like she was behaving herself. Likewise, he extended the same when he pretended that he didn’t notice and allowed her to simply run about her business, assuming all the while that as long as he didn’t see it, it was none of his concern. He’d been letting himself go more recently, however, letting his manners slip more than a few times now. He knew that she’d noticed as well, her veiled barbs getting more obvious. Nothing that the household staff could see, of course. She was much too clever for that and she would be ashamed of such clumsiness on her own part. No, her method was only to hit out at him and she knew his sore spots. She had been taking aim more carefully these days, trying to get him to lash out in anger. Getting more frustrated when he was too distracted by his own predicament to worry about her paltry greed. It was a dangerous method of dealing with a viper but he knew that he could not allow himself to be too distracted by her at a time like this. He simply had too many irons to worry about in the blazes that he’d started and there was much concern that they would easily become too difficult to control.
Victor had no concern for money. It had been out of necessity that he had learned the vile tricks that had brought him to a state where he no longer needed to worry about it. Those tricks had a high price, however. He’d learned that very young. He’d known since the day that he turned ten that his world was one of deception. His siblings were altogether in the dark about the dire situation that he was set to inherit. The responsibility to remain in control of the house of cards that they lived in was set heavily on his shoulders the day that they revealed to him who had truly owned the house. What had kept them alive and in good standing for so very long. It infuriated him to even think of those final tender moments where his innocence was spent like the last coins dropped in a beggar’s cup. He’d seen it before him that day, the poverty that they were to live with.
That wasn’t to say that they were going to be cast out as street urchins. There was money, of course. His father was a greedy man who never knew how to say no to himself and the sheer level of squandering that he enjoyed could ruin the lives of fifty men. In this case, it had only ruined the lives of several of his daughters and his only son at that point. His eldest sisters had been sold off for marriage at a higher price than anyone would reasonably pay. Well, anyone who wasn’t at the mercy of a heartless man who had his own little dirty tricks for finding suitable husbands. Men who had more money than they did friends and a few bad habits that might yet send them to the gallows. No one was too good for his daughters to marry, so long as they were able to pay the bills. Two daughters in the grave and a wife to follow. There would be no need to become street urchins with fewer mouths to feed and yet another daughter set to marry someone wealthy and cruel. Victor had watched it all, helpless to intervene and growing more accustomed to the cruelty of it. Then came his own soul up to be sold and the highest bidder had come to claim. Victor was barely thirteen when he was offered up to be claimed by a woman whose body was teeming with the presence of a soul made of malediction. The image of her burned in his mind and made his stomach turn with rage at what might have been. Who it had always been for. It was a marriage to be worth a fortune, none of which Victor or his siblings would ever see of course. By that point, his arrogant father would be long gone and Victor was to take his place in hell, paying for his sins while the parasite collected his fortune to remake his life somewhere else. If only he could keep his greed in check, he might have been able to get closer to his goal. His father, not one to allow money to spoil, had the vast fortune he’d been paid for Victor’s future marriage more than half spent before his fifteenth birthday. It was on that day he discovered more of the brute’s other unsavory secrets. Secrets that the bastard had gone out of his way to hide from everyone.
Victor didn’t say a word to anyone else in the house. By that time, Charlotte had already been sold off to her first husband and had been urgently looking for a cure for her vows to remain with that man for life. He wondered then, as he did now, if she might not have figured out her favorite little tricks had she known what he’d discovered. No doubt he would have been forced to be the man of the household that very day if she knew and had been there to react. Would it have not saddled him with a lifetime of misery stuck in that crumbling house, he might have sought her out to tell her anyway. She could finally go through with the act that he had thought of over a thousand times but had never the strength to go through with until it was too late. She always could have. He was well aware that she already believed him to be the murderer of their mother but there was something more tragic behind that tale. He didn’t know if the vile pig had been the one to strike her down but he knew for a fact that he’d spared no moment to mourn her when she was dead. He alone knew the real reason why he’d taken her image away from them all. Why he’d punished her by trying to erase her memory from the estate and from their minds. It was such a cruel secret that he truly wondered how the man had lived with such bloodied hands and still managed to sleep.
Such wicked memories. Victor wondered now if it was preferable to have the men work for just a little longer to allow his sibling to roam off the grounds. Let her vent her frustrations elsewhere but let him alone to sit with his own memories. Purge them or hold them down where he could not see them anymore. He no longer wished to think of the terrible things that man did. What he’d done to so many others before them. How he’d cheated them all and had managed to con the others into believing him. He felt no sense of relief at having escaped him or his prison of an estate. It was cold comfort knowing that he would forever have to carry these secrets with him.
“You brood so, it’s as though you live in a perpetual midnight,” the sing song voice of his hated sibling came from behind him. He rolled his eyes.
“I close the door of my study so that I am not disturbed by anyone,” he replied, allowing the annoyance to show in his voice. “I might wonder why everyone else in the house is able to respect such a small act but I know better when it comes to you. What manner of banal complaint would you like to trouble me with now? Are the curtains not to your liking or was the tea too weak for you at breakfast?”
“My dour brother,” Charlotte laughed. “Why would I knock or wait for your permission when it might rob me of your charmingly insufferable temperament?”
“I trust that this intrusion was for something more noble than to irritate me into a foul mood,” Victor sighed, turning to face her now. His suspicions were immediately aroused when he looked at the dress that she wore. She smiled wide at his expression as though she were a child waiting for a reaction. “Your quest for another hapless husband should be able to resume within the day or so. If not for the wind this morning, it might have been as early as this evening.”
“There will always be fools in the waiting,” Charlotte shrugged, making her way past him to look out the window. She cast a glance at his desk and sighed with disappointment when there was nothing for her to riffle through. “It’s you I wish to spend my time with, my brother.”
“I’m afraid that I’m too busy for such an invitation,” Victor replied, his voice taking a darker tone. “What manner of game are you playing, Charlotte?”
“If you truly wish to know,” she said, her voice dripping with a mocking sweetness, “you’ll join me for tea in the drawing room. Of course, if you’re too busy with your own affairs, I suppose there’s always someone else in the house who might lend me their ear.”