Victor felt dazed as he read over the words in the letter that had prompted his misery. The very sight of this letter was breaking his heart so cruelly. Here, in the hand of one that he would move heaven to find again, was the very thing that allowed the wretch to come to try to ensnare him back in hell. How could he have missed it? Yes, he’d had precious few scraps of the pieces of her writing but he’d committed them to memory. Banished them to his former self and left them with the rest of the world that he’d forsaken to come to this place. Perhaps he’d forgotten and years had come between him and his beloved memories enough to fool him. To give that wicked Caroline the means to find his heart beneath the stone that he’d tucked it under. It was an unforgivable crime and yet it was not the only one that he had since discovered.
When Victor had made himself sift through all of his correspondences for the last year and a half, he had found that there were certain letters from Caroline and yet they never seemed quite like her writing more than half the time. There were some letters where the tone and the hand they were written in looked suspiciously like their old nanny. Even reading them now, knowing as he did that they were only from the one fiendish sibling, he felt the fear that they were meant to inspire. The heavy hand of the insideous woman echoed from his past and the words were not lost on him. He had not the means to look at his own responses but he knew himself. The kind of person that he’d been when he’d left and the kind of person that he was now. For all his cynicism, he knew what would make him buck and apparently, so did Caroline. Dozens of letters he’d scanned through now, looking at the difference in tone. Ones that came across as possible threats created within him a surge of anger that he could hardly contain and yet others were so tender, he thought for certain that might be reading the lines he longed to hear from his beloved.
That revolting thought was a bitter thorn to have to contend with. With Nanny’s oppressive hand, in truth, though Victor had feared her as a child, he had very few other memories of her. As it turned out, fear was not enough to keep his interests seated in her hand. He had started pushing her away soon enough and Caroline had reflected on this when she wrote to him after he’d failed to respond to two letters. From what he could tell, this one letter and a scant few others were the only ones written in her tone. It was cloying and overbearingly saccharine but there was a desperation in there that made him push the paper from him as though it were her in the room speaking with him. There she was in that tone that he loathed to even be reminded of, trying so dearly to find him again. To bring him back to the house though by that point, even their father and his lawyers had ceased attempting to contact him. He had no idea if the pressure that she conveyed in her begging was from his father, having finally found a means to speak to him, or if it was her own delusional mind. From these hastily written pages, there was no way to tell. There might have been two letters in the whole of the pile that she had written to him in her voice and yet the writing style was still curiously difficult to point to as her own. In the one letter that was strictly her tone, the writing looked almost like his own father’s. In the other, it looked surprisingly similar to their family barrister who had taken on the affairs of the inheritance when Victor had began his initial steps to take over the household.
Suddenly, Victor straightened in his chair. There may yet be something far more sinister afoot here than what he was seeing. He sorted his pile of letters that Caroline had given him, putting them in order before going through his drawer to find other correspondences that he had been plagued with recently. He’d found at least one or two letters in recent memory that alluded to a marriage and the coming of children of his. One of them from a dead man. If Caroline had meant for this letter to reach and fool him, who else might she be looking to fool as well? Victor dug through his correspondences with his own financial groups, specifically any of them who might have contacts in London or France. To his great relief, only two of these letters was suspect but of them, at least one seemed legitimate. Edward Holly had a very specific hand and tone and while he had nothing to prove this letter was the work of the man in question, he also had one very major downfall. Caroline had access to his written materials and had very likely even sent some letters from this very house with the rest of the outgoing mail. He would have to see what manner of damage she had done to his accounts here if that was the case. He felt a flicker of rage in him but it paled when he realized how futile that anger was to him at this moment. Better to savor it. It had once been the means to escape the clutches of their fool of a father. Now it would be the flame to burn the connections between him and his wretched sibling. There would be little to be done about Edward Holly except to write to him in an attempt to put things right but this placed upon him the burden of the inheritance and the estate. A means by which they could pull him back and there was enough debt buried in that place to do just that.
Still, amid these troubles, Victor found himself drawn to the last two letters that Caroline had sent. Her signature upon the page dashed so carelessly, it scarcely looked like hers at all. Yes, she had clearly studied Annabelle’s hand. The delicate method by which she dragged the pen across the page. The curves of the letters that could evoke in him the sense of longing that he detested. The fire in him felt cold at this horrible moment and for that brief second, he felt the tremor within him. The overwhelming need to see her once more. To see her eyes and see himself reflected within them. To know that she had seen him and known that he loved her. Oh how he would have given anything to be by her side now. His beloved. Gone in the instant and her diaphanous memory lingering like the remains of the light on the horizon. He dashed the pages away from himself more out of pain than anger. The deception was too horrible to look at. To know that beautiful hand had written those sweet words to him in his own desperate mind. In the mind of a sick woman who had done this to his torment. To bring about his downfall. He felt ill as the tears rose to his eyes but he swallowed his emotions before he would allow himself to weep. He should burn these wretched lies but he could not allow himself to even look upon the lines. Could not allow himself to be drawn into the memories that they stirred within him any longer. He would survive this only as a means to vent his anger. This betrayal should not be his undoing.
His grief was disturbed by the loud chime of a clock. The infernal sound echoed about him but there was no place for the clock to be chiming from. Victor knew from where it came. The image that he had been haunted by before. It had struck an hour and just as soon as he thought perhaps it might drive him to madness, the sound ceased. Quickly almost all of the letters back in his desk, Victor grabbed the evidence that he needed and proceeded to make his way out of the study, locking it behind him.
Following his feet to the drawing room, he knew immediately when he saw the door open that his audience had arrived. That she had come calling and it was time to confront what needed to be done. Gripping the paper hard in his hand, Victor marched purposefully towards the open door where the light spilled upon the carpets. The light of the afternoon had faded into a sinister dark that would no doubt turn evening into an even dreary night fast. He paused in the door when he saw Charlotte pacing in the room as she was known to do when she was scheming.
“I come with some shocking news, my brother,” she said, not bothering to face him as she continued to move back and forth. “I trust that you’ve seen by now the trash that I left behind. Seems that someone close to us has some interesting friends and has made some formidable enemies.”
“Oh Charlotte,” he sighed coming forward and grasping her by the arm hard enough to alarm her. “My dear sister, I think you’ve been had.”