Charlotte took Vivian’s spiteful words as all the invitation she needed and welcomed herself into the room as though she were coming to her own home. She sighed contentedly and gingerly tossed her coat aside on the first piece of furniture that she could find. Her reluctant hostess pursed her lips and paled at the object as though it were a dead animal draped on her sofa. She glowered with intense hatred at the intruder to her room. Charlotte was well aware of how easily she’d rattled her nemesis and immediately felt foolish for dreading this encounter. Clearly, this was going to promise to be far more fun than she’d anticipated. What was even better was that her hostess was intent on guarding everything in the room at once, providing Charlotte with an array of objects to inspect and touch to make Vivian ripe with a kind of smoldering rage. Why, she hadn’t had a set up this easy since that hapless fool she’d once married agreed to take her with him to his hunting lodge, saying that he didn’t trust her by herself and he assumed that she would be under lock and key in his quarters. The idiot had let her go to the chemist immediately before they left as well, leaving Charlotte to assume that he truly had just accepted his fate that he would not be returning to the house that she immediately put up for sale once she was a widow again. Likewise, she could only imagine that Vivian was just itching to have her play with and potentially break almost anything in the room for how it showed on her face how she valued it.
Since her initial words, Vivian had stayed stone silent in her anger and disgust at having company. Charlotte knew this would not last but she was looking for just the right kind of stimulation to get her talking again. Something that might truly get under her skin and make her panic. Something she would very much fear losing. Yes, that would make her speak quite a bit. Charlotte smiled sweetly at her hostess as she took in the veritable treasure chest of precious garbage that Vivian jealously guarded with such fervor. There was so much to choose from that it was overwhelming and yet equally dismally disappointing for her. After all, Vivian had made this entirely too easy for her and it did not help that everything in this room was something she would expect to see at the funeral of a dead relative who had long ago escaped the clutches of anything fashionable for fear that it might infect them with a sense of taste. Truly, the household was not only a prison but a time capsule as well. As if it weren’t painful enough to be stuck in such a rotten place, it was that much more offensive that she had almost nothing of value to take from this wretch.
After a few moments of playing cat and mouse with her worthless treasures, Charlotte finally found something of interest to her. She cast her wicked smile over at the vanity in the far corner of the room, its surface sparkling with pristine glass bottles from different parts of the world. Ah, she should have known that her nemesis was keen on perfume. It had been a bit more muted since her failing health had started to take hold of her senses but Vivian had always had an interest in the way that a scent could mark the mind. It was a lovely tool but far too easily traced for one such as Charlotte. Thankfully, Vivian wasn’t able to see past this and her eyes widened with a livid color as her uninvited guest made her way over to where the bottles were sitting. Charlotte had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing as she looked over the bottles. Each one of them were scents that were gone from the fashion world before her third husband was complaining of stomach cramps. She sighed and shook her head as she made a disgusted face at the lovely glass array before her. It was the final straw for Vivian who could hold back no longer.
“Oh you wicked harlot, what the devil are you doing here?” Vivian snapped in barely restrained frustration.
“Might you be referring to my extended incarceration in your dreary home?” Charlotte replied, innocently. She smiled. “Well, my good lady, that would be the fault of your witless husband. Left to my own devices, I might have found another fool who was keen to squander a fortune on me and would likely be back in Paris right now.”
“You think you might return to the country that would see you swinging from the gallows?” Vivian mocked.
“Oh that shameful little tryst with that aristocrat would be long forgotten by now,” Charlotte replied, dismissively. “Really, Vivian, you must get out of this house more. The air in here is stale and it has dulled your sense of the world.”
“I will ask again, what are you doing here,” Vivian said, her frustration now plain and sounding vicious. “If you’ve nothing better to do than wander in here looking for something to thieve off of me, I’ll thrash you as if you were one of the worthless servants.”
“My my, Vivian,” Charlotte replied, sweetly smiling at her before turning back to the bottles. Her hostess walked up behind her watching her movements with furious jealousy. Her hands balled into fists. “You take such offense at so little. Aside from a perfectly reasonable assessment of what appears to be a collection of dismal scents, I’ve seen fit to offer a hand in friendship to the Lady of this house.”
“Friendship,” Vivian scoffed, her bitter eyes watching the bottles as she was visibly counting them all. “Is this your tedious attempt to take your place here? Did you have designs on getting comfortable as a Lady that you should never become?”
“Oh how you wound me, Vivian,” Charlotte laughed, picking up one of the bottles to look at it closer. “Of all the horrid names that I might have been saddled with, there would be none so truly hurtful to be called as Lady Kent. Really, I don’t know how you can stand it.”
“Enough with your foolishness,” Vivian spat, snatching at the other bottles on the vanity as Charlotte put the one in her hand down. “I know what manner of floosie you are. I know what you truly desire and you cannot have it. This title is mine and I’ll see to it that you will never claim it.”
“Vivian,” Charlotte sighed, her voice now dropping into a tone reserved for those who were truly thick or filled to the brim with bad liquor. “Please understand me fully when I say to you that what I tell you is the truth. There isn’t a single woman alive who envies you. This house, the title and the museum of lack of culture that you exist in is so utterly charmless that even those on the brink of starvation in the streets would not hesitate to pass up so wicked a scene to die in. And that isn’t the half of it. Aside from being forced to carry the weight of the name of that abysmal brute that you married, you’ve settled into that unbecoming matronly body now and you are completely unaware that every single one of these scents that you hold so dear have fallen out of fashion years ago. You’ve nothing for me to envy, Vivian. There is nothing here that even the poor servants cannot see how wretched it is.”
“Shows what you know of these rotten houses here,” Vivian sneered. “Any one of those wretches that tends to the dinner table or dusts the sitting room would give anything to get their hands on these bottles. It is the only culture they ever see, the fools. And it’s all mine and always will be.”
“Are you so blind?” Charlotte laughed, cheerfully. “No one in this house has any interest in becoming Lady Kent. As it is, you paint such a horrid pictures of domestic bliss that it’s no wonder that the imbecile has to resort to abduction in his attempt to start another marriage. The servants are well aware that he cannot be trusted and he brings out only the most vile parts of your personality that they can already see how utterly worthless he is.”
“Listen here, you trollup!”
“I will not,” Charlotte snapped back, the affect gone from her voice and replaced with icy vitriol. Vivian was shaken by the sudden shift in her but remained poised in her anger. “Look at you in this pathetic prison. Reduced to cowering over bottles of swill when you could be a force to be reckoned with. You’re a disgrace for what you’ve allowed that swine to do to your body and your home. As much as I consider you my adversary for most things, I cannot stomach to watch your idleness when that man could be in the ground and his money spent getting out of this rancid corner of hell already.”
“He has nothing,” Vivian snarled back, her curt response dangerously cruel. “The fortune in this house is contingent on there being a Lady Kent and it is the only reason that I am here. As long as there is a wife with the same last name as his, the house remains as it has been.”
“Oh Vivian you perfect fool,” Charlotte laughed naturally now as she handed Vivian one of the perfume bottles. She put a hand to her chest to contain her amusement. “Fortune has seen fit to smile upon a wretch like you and you insist on squandering it.”
“I will be the only Lady Kent,” she seethed back.
“But of course,” Charlotte said, dismissively. She wiped away mirthful tears, careful so as not to ruin her eye makeup. “By all means, keep your wretched name. It suits you well and you wear it as well as anyone might, I suppose. But Vivian, you must truly face down the reality of this situation now. Why suffer the company of the beast when you’ve already gotten everything he was ever good for? After all, if he is of no value and Lady Kent is, how better to ensure there is no future Lady Kent to contend with than to end the line that might give it out to another?”