Victor knew better than to test Charlotte’s resolve in this moment. She was wearing a cameo that had once belonged to their mother, or so she had always said. It was a point that he never debated her on and he knew that she only wore it when she was feeling particularly vicious. It was like her medallion to guide her actions like some kind of perverse saint of cruelty. Without a word, Victor followed her and locked the door to his study behind him. She was unbecomingly patient which could only mean that she had tired of his company for too long. He did not yet know what manner of attack she had planned but he knew that it would be soon. Still, he showed no sign of being frightened or even fooled. She seemed to enjoy that as she smiled wickedly when she did toss a look back at him to ensure that her lamb was indeed coming along the right trail. It was tempting to want to throw a wrench in this plan of hers but he knew very well that she meant to harm someone and he figured that it was only proper that she attempt to kill him. It wasn’t as though it was the first time she had tried such an act. It was rarely as obvious to him, however, which was cause for alarm.
“I don’t suppose that you would move your invitation to the morning room,” Victor said icily as he trailed a step behind his treacherous sibling.
“Oh but that wouldn’t do for a talk between us,” Charlotte mused, her tone light and happy as though she were a girl who’d received her first introduction to a gentleman of good standing. “And we have much to discuss.”
“You know we don’t,” Victor replied, shortly. “I expect that whatever you mean to do, you will attempt with some haste. I have much to accomplish if you fail at your task.”
“Why Victor, were you anyone else, I would slap you for being so gauche!” Charlotte laughed in reply. “We both know that I would hardly be overt if that were indeed the case.”
“And is this why you wear Mother’s cameo pin this afternoon?” Victor replied, callously. He felt his anxiety become sharper when he saw no reaction in his sister. “The Charlotte I know should have slapped me for that alone. I’ll ask again, what manner of game are you playing?”
“You’re so impatient, my dear brother,” Charlotte replied, her tone giving no hint of offense or anger. “Of all the things that we might have inherited from our mother, I’m afraid she left us both most bereft of that most treasured trait of hers. And again, if you wish to know, you’re simply going to have to be a good boy and follow me.”
Victor felt somewhat foolish now, thinking and fretting about the widow this morning. Thinking of how she had plotted to keep him under her thumb and how he wondered if she had tired of him yet. If she had sought out to kill him. Oh how short sighted he’d been, thinking that a woman of her character might somehow rival that of his own murderous sibling. The widow was devious and utterly vicious but she had a kind of fondness for her charges, long enough to want to make them over in her image before stamping them out for their imaginary failures. Charlotte had no such designs. She was concerned only with what they could offer her before casting them off as distastefully as last season’s gloves. Victor knew that he only had his home to offer her truly, which in terms of how Charlotte functioned, was almost as good as useless. He always assumed that she would sooner find how tedious she found him, as well as all people in the world. It had been a wonder that she had taken this long to become so bored. Still, there was something in her demeanor. He had never seen her work but he knew well enough the method. Seduction into a position of vulnerability and then striking when they least expected it. He knew that she could not use such tactics with him but she had other means of catching him off guard. He doubted very highly that making her attempt to kill him so obvious was out of a misguided respect. It may still have been that she knew better than to try to fool him with her regular tactics while taking aim. The only way to find out was to play along until she revealed herself.
In the spotless drawing room, the curtains were drawn and a large fire going already. Victor wondered if this was what hapless moths felt as they were drawn to the flames that might yet destroy their tiny, vulnerable bodies. He knew very well at this point that there would be no getting out of this contract with his diabolical sibling. One of them would kill the other.
Victor would be lying to say that he had not thought of it in the past. The violence of their childhood under their father and then under their wicked, aging Nanny had primed them to know the world as a cruel and painful place and they had known how to bring out the worst in each other. It was the curse of being the two youngest, forever cast together for their similarities. It was only once Caroline had instituted herself as the makeshift replacement for Nanny after her disappearance that the two of them truly learned to harness their true hatred of each other. It was a time of silent malevolence that marked the true beginning of their brutal game. They continued for so long their wretched fights that they had as they grew to adulthood but there was always something in him that would stop short. Charlotte had excelled at firing up his temper but he could never so much as raise a hand to her. Not after he knew the way that he had felt the sting of it. She, for all her threats to end him for his venomous tongue that he unleashed on her frequently, had made few paltry attempts, all of which had failed. She had made a show of being frustrated, as she was expected to do, but never once had he truly attempted in earnest. When she turned her rage against her hapless string of husbands, they had allowed their hatred for each other to cool to a point where he had felt less of the need to stop himself at the thought of finally freeing himself from this dance they would forever do. Or so he had thought until this moment, as he sat before the fire and watched his sister do the same across from him. It appeared, he mused, that she had cooled her hatred just a little faster than he had.
“I see that you felt that afternoon tea should hold a hint of midnight? A better killing time for you, Charlotte, or are you simply not fond of how blood looks on your lips in the harsh light of day?” Victor asked as he gestured to the drapes, folded expertly over the windows.
“You prefer to see the dreary nothingness of a foggy afternoon that threatens to keep us ever so close together?” she replied, looking down on him as he settled. “Even your dour moods must prefer the easy warmth of a fireplace to the icy winds outside.”
“You should pour the tea,” Victor said, his voice void of any hint of patience. “If we must do this dance, I would prefer to get it over with as soon as possible.”
“Are you so suspicious of me, Victor?” Charlotte said, settling down in the chair and taking extra time to make herself comfortable simply to annoy him. He groaned with frustration.
“Only an idiot wouldn’t be,” he replied. “Do you think me too stupid to know that you are planning to kill me?”
“Oh and why would I think that? We are too much alike for such silly ideas,” Charlotte said, pouring the tea finally. It smelled fine but Victor didn’t move to drink a drop as his sister settled back. “I do very much wish you were more like Caroline sometimes. Would make it much easier to dispatch you once that money has passed into your hands.”
“Ah but there is nothing that you can lay claim to in the even of my passing so there is nothing for me to give you at this point. I’m no fool, Charlotte. I know there is no reason for you to keep me alive.”
“You think that I would do that while still living under your roof?”
“You’ve lived with every husband you’ve had at the time of their suspicious deaths,” he replied. “I see no reason why it should stop you now. Besides, you have no interest in leaving a place of comfort. If you did, I should think you’d replaced my most vicious sibling with an imposter and a cheap one at that.”
“Oh how you flatter me but it’ll get you nowhere right now,” she laughed.
“And what shall it be, then? Are you after the house? You wish to force me to sign away a large sum of money to you to get you through until you can swindle that inheritance from Caroline?”
“Tell me, Victor, do you truly think that I could kill one of my family members? That I would lay waste to the ones that I had grown through all those awful years on the estate with?”
“I think you would do it in the time it took to blink,” he said, rising out of his seat. He was becoming too annoyed to look at her. In turn, she was thrilled at this game. “You’ve yet to touch your tea, I notice.”
“I’m waiting upon my host,” she grinned with an impish gleam. “It’s only proper.”
“And I suspect that it will get cold before either of us touches it,” he said.
The darkness of the room was getting to him. He knew that she had done this on purpose. He also knew that the tea was too easy for one such as Charlotte. She hadn’t escaped the hangman’s noose all these years by being so obvious. She didn’t love him that much, assuming that she felt anything resembling love at all for him, so it couldn’t have been anything so bold as respect either. He knew that he was in her trap and that somewhere the bait was lying directly in front of him, waiting ominously for him to touch it or get just a little too close for it to spring the deadly plan she’d created. He measured his movements careful as he made his way around the room, pacing but seldomly letting Charlotte out of his sight. She smiled venomously at him but never moved, waiting all the while and enjoying as he watched. He tired of this game. He knew that whatever it was that she’d set for him, he would stumble on it soon but he also just resented giving her the satisfaction.
He could not stand to wait in darkness anymore. Charlotte made no attempt to stop him as he marched over to the drapes keeping the light from the room. It was only once he laid a hand on the fabric did he realize his error, why she had not tried to correct him. He’d barely pulled the soft dark velvet an inch apart before he heard the movement of her skirts being moved behind him. He turned only slightly before he felt the prick of something enter his neck and felt a cold hand gently cradle the wound. Whatever might have been on the tip of the sting had begun to work immediately as Victor felt his face beginning to become feverish and his vision become blurry.
“Oh my darling brother,” Charlotte cooed too cloyingly. “Why look at you! Working yourself into such a state that you’ve become ill. Hush my dear Victor.”
Victor was livid but his limbs would not move, suddenly stricken with lead and too heavy to lift. He felt as though he were drowning into nothingness and though his mind was still frightfully aware, his body was helpless to do anything but witness.
“Maid, fetch a pitcher of water! My brother has fallen ill!” Charlotte said, playing the role expertly as she always could.
With no voice to speak any longer, Victor let the wave of the poison take him over and slowly, the world around him turned black.