Charlotte was now feeling more than ever the itch to get out of the watchful gaze of this house and particularly her very suspicious brother. He had been more attentive to his affairs of late and while that usually meant she could come and go as she pleased without so much as a word from him, he had been annoyingly more alert to her movement. It was a given that he knew she was scheming and he barely asked her much of anything, knowing all the while that she was lying to him on some level. It was the bane of having a sibling that was actually intelligent and while she did much more enjoy being around him than any of the other dour inhabitants of the Fevrier estate, that wasn’t saying much. He was still Victor, after all. Always clinging to his sentimentalities and assuming that no one could see it. Always victim to his own dreadful temper but it drove him to find his own wealth where he had been denied. It was a curse to admire her own bloodline because while she still hated him, she couldn’t quite hate him enough, especially right now when she was so close to that stolen money that needed only to pass into her hands. Still, these days, it was very tempting to think of ways to dispatch him for all that he was irritating her with his own secrets and his suspicions.

Perhaps this irritation might also be due to a few other, very minor, difficulties that she’d had over the past few days. For one, she had found the wind most disruptive the last few nights and the whispering in the trees had become quite tedious to listen to. Oh, it was only the wind. She was not a woman given to fanciful thoughts but some nights she was ashamed to admit that she’d fallen victim to the need for sleep and simply could not make sense of the world around her. How mad she might have sounded to even herself to say out loud what she’d been thinking in those dreadful small hours in the night. Pitiful really to think of it but it did happen and while she liked to forget that she’d been even the slightest bit disturbed, in the quieter moments of the afternoon or early evening, she had noticed that she was startled by the memories of it. She would scold herself severely and think again of the money that was to be hers. Yes, it was the prize that she could not afford to lose sight of for some stupid trick that midnight had played on her. Already she was losing days to this damned fallen tree limb as Victor’s workers took their time removing it. She wanted to hold to the panic as she thought of how many dollars had already slipped by her. How Caroline might already have found a way to squander more of that already dwindled fortune away with her stupidity and her need to hang on to her fantasies of bringing their brother home. Still, the panic could not erase what she heard. What she thought she heard. That voice lilting on the wind, hiding in the echoes of the trees as they shook their leaves free from the quickly drying limbs and scraped by along the dying ground.

It was just about time for afternoon tea and she could feel the anticipation of nightfall coming. She knew that darkness would come shortly after and for this moment, she was alone. She primped herself, as she so often did when she was stuck in a situation like this. Oh how many husbands had watched her do this, thinking, foolishly, that it was for them? It brought a softer smile to Charlotte’s lips to think of all the men who thought for certain that she had been won. That they had overcome the initial stages of refusal only to trap her once and for all. If only they had known that this was her method of ritual that prepared her for what was to come. She knew that someone would die soon and she knew that all eyes would be on the widow. She had to look her best and she knew it. It was always all about appearances and she knew that she couldn’t simply look dishevelled and devastated. There were limits to what society would allow her to show and she had become a professional. She didn’t yet know who was going to meet their demise in this situation but she knew for certain that the time was growing short for someone and she needed very badly to decide soon. That money could not slip away on her. She couldn’t afford such foolishness. Not for a haunting voice that she longed to hear again.

Charlotte viciously looked away from the mirror, sick of her own reflection for possibly the first time in her life. This is madness, she thought angrily through the well of tears threatening to fall. Still, she couldn’t deny it. She loved that lilt that she heard on the wind. She ached to hear it singing to her again all the tales of how she would grow up to be the queen she was meant to be. Oh the unfairness that she could still hear that voice ringing in her mind like the woman she loved had sang it to her only yesterday. Ripped away from her and seen now only in moments of pitiful weakness and sentimental exhaustion. How dare these memories mar her perfection now! How dare they come to make her remember the only person she might ever truly love. How dare these idle thoughts come to show that beautiful face gaze upon her through the looking glass. She was not her mother’s equal but damned if she wasn’t nearly so perfect as the one who brought her to life. All of this captured in the woman that she saw facing her now, reflected back. Not perfect enough to be the Mrs. Fevrier that had once been but close enough to be painful.

“How could a pauper who dreamt of being a king kill a queen like you?” Charlotte whispered to her own eyes. “You, who taught me everything I knew of the world and how to own it. It should be you here, staring back at me with disapproving eyes. How could he rob me of this, the filthy monster?”

“Ah but monsters, they come in all sizes, my dearest darling,” the shadow of her reflection replied softly. “There was more than one in that prison. I’ll save my pity for those who could not escape but, of course, I knew my true children would. My favorites always did have a talent for defying those around them.”

Charlotte sat breathless, looking at the woman before her. She shook her head, feeling slightly dizzy. The woman in the mirror simply smiled, if a little amused at her startled reaction.

“I know he did this,” Charlotte said, firmly.

“Oh he did but that story was far from complete when the fragments finally reached you, my darling,” the woman reflected back purred at her. “Did you think he was truly clever enough to accomplish such a thing alone?”

“Of course not,” Charlotte seethed. “He’s a selfish oaf but he is a brute too.”

“Was,” the woman said with a sinister smile. Charlotte looked at her startled. “Oh he’s still alive. You can still yet have your true revenge and, if you’re as cunning and ruthless only my precious child could be, you’ll discover the truth that even Caroline doesn’t yet realize about that inheritance. Call it a gift from Mama to her favorite doves.”

Charlotte’s breath caught at the sound of that word. Oh how long had it been since her mother had called her that loving name. Her doves. Her only true children.

“The only heirs worthy of anything that name might have to offer and not a drop of his vile blood runs in your veins,” the woman said, her vicious smile spreading across her too pale face. Her black eyes burnt with a kind of fury that Charlotte felt in her own soul. A fire that she felt building in her now as she gripped the vanity and edged closer to her venomous reflection.

“I’ll make you proud, Mama,” Charlotte whispered, the poison in those words vile enough to kill a dozen hapless husbands. “You’ll have not left us in vain because I will succeed in getting our precious revenge. Tell me where I might go and I’ll get my hands dirty. I’ll show you what your daughter can do. I’ll show you all she learned from you.”

“Patience, my beloved dove,” the woman smiled. “The chain is already forming now and it will wrap around the throats of those who have parted us. Let the foolish do the hard work for you and there will be so little dirt to wipe clean, it will be easy. The only work you must do is allow the chain to grow long enough to trap our little monster. She must think the bait is slipping out of her hands. She’s so dreadfully desperate to have him in her grasp and she always was so very clumsy when she wanted a favorite toy. Do you recall what fun it was to see her throw her fits? How easy it was to find her when she would storm her way through the halls of that gloomy estate? You’ve everything you need to see such a display again and he is none the wiser. You know what to do and together, we can let the monster show herself without any of this tedious chasing. Do this and Mama will set things right for you. You’ll see the spoils of all your efforts soon.”

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