Victor didn’t allow himself to lament in vain. Once he was warm and his leg recovered from the walk to the study, he allowed those memories to spur him on and he made his way to the desk. Inside was locked the letter that would tell him what Mr. Gray had proposed and whether his easily upset associate had forgiven him enough to help with this endeavour. He had banked on this to some degree. He knew how much his associate despised the Kent family and that he was quite keen to see a challenge to their stranglehold on the real estate dealings in this town. He also knew that the same associate was rather frustrated with Victor’s attempts to loosen their grasp in more quiet manners than he was hoping for. Possibly the only reason that his associate was still on board for most of his affairs was that it had been very privately paying off and their land holdings were beginning to unravel. All this, of course, was of no concern to the master of that household as long as he didn’t know about it. It was a crux that they had often been at odds over but over time, it seemed as though Mr. Gray had come around to this manner of thinking. It seemed strange to him, even at the time, but then again, Mr. Gray was a strange fellow and one he admitted that he knew little about other than the necessities of their relationship required.

As he thought about this now, he found that he paused at the notion of looking at the letter. Victor knew only that Gray was intent on getting even with the Kents on some level. He never said as much but he had made it very clear that he was intent on ruining their operations in this town as well as he could. When they had first been associated, he figured he understood at least a little bit. Their mutual entanglement had brought them into some difficulty with Kent’s lawyers and while it was easily resolved in a fairly short time, he had been viciously interested in going for the throat then. Victor was too new to their communications back then to really see the seething behind it but he recognized that language now. The way that he’d behaved and how he’d been so keenly focused on making sure that they lost everything he could take from them. It made him wonder, now especially, what he had hoped to gain from this. Victor had no love for that family and no interest in gaining their approval or alliance in his life but he was curious now what they had done to Mr. Gray that would turn him against them so completely. Made him also wonder, with some concern, if that same mistake might be repeated by someone else. He was rather put out last time he’d written.

Finally, he decided to face down what may be coming to him. Upon handling it, there was nothing amiss. Mr. Gray had made a point to keep their communications short, not only for the sake of simplicity but also out of needing to keep a distance from each other. This letter was no different on the surface. As he pulled it out, he saw that it was of a similar length though his penmanship seemed a tad more hurried than usual. He sighed, hoping that this was not yet another exercise in arguing back and forth with his most valuable and least personable associate.

The letter started off with his usual formalities. First the greeting and, naturally, the man’s inexhaustible need to bring up his disapproval of Victor’s method of doing anything. Perhaps, he thought belatedly, this might have been his own fault for sinking to his level and making that small retort about the tea ladies. He internally scolded himself for allowing himself a moment of pettiness that was currently costing him in personal irritation. No matter. He could not allow himself to get dragged into an argument with his associate now when there were more pressing matters at hand. Days had passed now and Charlotte’s fate was going to be increasingly more difficult to change if they didn’t find a way to extract her from that situation soon. He doubted that she had succumb already to the beast that lived in that house but he also was well aware of what his sister was likely up to. If she hadn’t tried to poison someone already, she had murder on her mind. He could only imagine that she had already found someone to take her frustrations out on. He only prayed that it would not complicate matters further. As he briefly scanned through the letter once to try to find out more details, he could see no mention of his venomous sibling so he could only assume that she was still alive. He knew that she wasn’t likely dead yet but he knew that game wouldn’t last for too long. Master Kent, after all, had far less patience than even their own father who had barely any.

The letter was indeed brief but he soon found that he understood the hurried penmanship of it. Seems his associate was rather busy and this was something less of a counter offer to his proposal as it was a formality. It was vague which did not please him. There was also a somewhat surprising request along with it. Even for Mr. Gray, this was something that stood out at the best of times but what he was asking for was something of a grand departure for him. A rather suspicious one at that. Victor was also quite unhappy to find that if he was to find out more about this or any of what was to be done, if anything, he would have to attend this request as soon as possible. The dastardly fiend had planned this, of course. Victor rolled his eyes at how that clod had likely been giddy over how he was making him jump through such hoops for this. The urge to be petty was rising within him again but for the greater good, he would swallow it. For now.

Upon finishing the letter, he knew that he should do as he always did. He would throw it in the fire to erase its existence and reply immediately to make sure that its contents were still fresh in his mind. He always did this on account of making sure that the letters were never forgotten or left. Still, he paused on this one. He took it to the chair by the fire and though he told himself he would throw it in, he sat and read it again. The tone was correct. It was definitely the same Mr. Gray that he’d been dealing with for years now. And he was still saying the same things that he always had, a bit more terse than perhaps usual. There was something else there, however. Something that was difficult to figure out. Something seemed completely unlike his associate that he couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t as though it was like him to be vague either. He had addressed the proposal but not given quite an answer either. Victor sighed and closed his eyes as he clutched the letter. He knew that he would be writing back in a moment and he would have to give him what he asked for. If the bastard just wanted money, it would have been simple. He could have it in abundance and Victor would not have had a single care about this. Let the man’s greed take him over. For all that he had in common with her, he perhaps should have let Charlotte have her way with the man and let him find out the hard way what her tastes were like. No, that would not have done well and he knew it. No sense in losing a good associate to something preventable such as a murderous sibling. At least, Victor could only hope that he was still a good associate. This letter had done little to quell his concerns about that.

Before he could think about it for too long, he cast the papers into the fire and watched as the flames slowly turned them black around the edges. The holes consumed the interiors and quickly spread outward as the edges curled upward into blackened petals only to be reduced to ash moments later. As they fluttered skyward, the light parchment that it had been reduced to crumbled before him and he paused, feeling a heaviness in his heart. It was time, he supposed, to concern himself with his will again. He knew that he should have done this before but he hadn’t exactly been expecting to be poisoned. A mistake he should have been able to anticipate. No, he should have been preparing for this. He knew that he played a dangerous game and while he cared little for his family, they were becoming less of a part of his life, save for the one that very nearly made that will an active document. No, he couldn’t deny that he had grown here and in settling, there were people in this house who depended on him. They saw him every day and he knew that there were now people who might care more for him than he’d originally thought. People who needed him to be here longer than he’d bargained for. He knew not how he’d managed to find these poor souls who had found it in their hearts to care for him but he knew that he could not leave them with nothing. He knew that he would die and likely it would be sooner than later. He had come to this country prepared for such a thing. He had not prepared for anyone to want him to continue on being his regular brooding self. While he wondered about the right minds of such people around him, he could not trouble himself with such things now. What mattered was to ensure that upon the arrival of his death, those who had been foolish enough to care for him now would not be punished for it. For all he knew, this invitation that he was not looking forward to may well be the end that he’d been anticipating all this time.

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