Clutching the small white caplet that she’d thrown over her shoulders, Caroline made her way against the cold of the night, walking amid the streets as the wind swirled about. She’d taken the beggar woman’s shawl, hooded cloak and her boots to guard against the cold that was so icy that it was threatening to turn to snow. She was aware that the the flecks of blood spilled on her face had dried there, still spattering parts of her that she could not quickly wash off. Caroline hardly cared now. It was of no concern now that she knew that there was so little time.

Oh poor, dear Victor. Laid out in sickness just like his dear Papa. Just like she knew would happen. She never should have left him. Should have stayed so close when she saw who had been lurking in the shadows. That vicious Vivian had been to blame. It had to be her. She was punishing him for Caroline’s failure! It must be. She must have discovered who had tried to come for her. Who had tried to ruin her for all the sins that she’d committed. Oh that vindictive fiend! She had done it! She was trying to take her beloved Victor to an early grave.

And the money! She must have done it. Told him about the precious plans that Caroline had been putting so carefully into place. She must have seen her when she had come. Must have known that she was on the verge of making sure that he would return where he was needed. Oh how could she have stalled so long? How could she have let this happen? If she had been but a moment sooner, he would be back in the arms of the estate. The mansion would hold him close and he would not be injured like he was. Lost and alone up there with only that demon to watch over him like the harpy that she was. That vulture thought that she had won and Caroline feared that if she did not hurry, it might well be the case.

She knew Vivian would do such a thing. She would be the one to bring misery to the Fevrier name. The one who would bring about his downfall, just like Caroline always knew she would. That low born villain! It was her tainted blood that had caused this disaster! She had sought to cover the shame of her own family line but everyone knew. Everyone knew of the whispers of who she might really be and Caroline just knew it to be true. All together just too convenient that the lady of that rancid house falls ill around the time of her unfortunate birth and Vivian comes into that household and brings shame and death to them all. Caroline had watched it growing up. She had seen the way she grew to be the cruel witch that she was now. She’d seen the horrors that she’d caused in her own family. It would not happen to their house. Not to their name! She would not allow it!

The night had fallen hard and cold around her and Caroline’s fingers burnt against the chill of the air that seemed to seep right into her. She stumbled in the beggar’s boots, looking every bit as drunk as the man of that wretched inn had sought to make her. Oh how she would have loved to take the bottle with her but she had work to be done. Shameful work that must be accomplished before she could get to the important elements. She could not afford to be seen as who she was and thus the rouse must hold. She must make it to Victor before it was too late but it was too late for him to see Caroline. For him to see reason. He was sick and delirious. He was in bad need of care and he would not recognize how very much he needed her. He said such strange things.

The cold left her shivering but it felt so much like the last days that she spent in that frigid estate house. When she saw his frail body laid out like he was ready for his burial shroud upon those stiff white sheets. The scent of those sheets and the medicine on his breath when he spoke filled the air and made the draped canopy around the bed seem ever more like he’d been preparing for his tomb. He’d given up. Given up on her. Thought certainly that she would fail. They all did. No one ever believed that she could still find him. That she might yet find the key to preventing their ruin in society. All those wretched sisters of hers laughing behind her back. Mocking her for her crushing defeat. She was no longer a woman but a spinster, they had called her. He had called her. He lay there, that wicked old man, dying and yet he had mocked her. He’d said such strange things. Such cruel things he’d said to Victor. Oh but he needed him now, did he not? He needed her. They both did. They all did. She was the only one who knew what had happened to his precious heir. What might bring him back and bring them back from the brink of ruin. Oh and she knew for many months before she had presented to him the key to his salvation, the old liar. She knew and she had kept him in the dark. She might never have revealed it but he said such strange things. Such awful and strange and cruel things. How dare he say such wretched things to her!

Victor? Oh not her beloved Victor. She loved him still. Loved him with all her heart despite his faults. Oh he was not to blame. No. No it was always Papa. He’d done this. Driven him to seek out the world with his cruelty. His lashing out and his temper. The true author of their misery. If he had not been such a miserable brute, there would be no Vivian in their midst now. No disaster to fix. No secrets to keep from the world. No wicked, horrible sisters to have to tend to. To welcome in and treat like family when they were invaders. Oh such wicked, vile fiends, all of them looking to come in and take him away.

It was never his fault, that poor boy. He was only a child when it started, his own father trying to sell him off like a lamb to the world. And who could resist? He was such a beautiful child and growing each day into an even more beautiful man. He was perfect in every way, taking only the best parts of their flawed parents and creating something more divine in their stead. Oh how Papa hated him for it! Such vile jealousy that no one ever saw but Caroline. How he hated his own child for being his only heir. And it was this hatred that had burned so deeply. It must have been this that had made him want to pawn him off on any wicked wretch that happened to have the money to make him happy. Taking him away from the house that loved him and trying desperately to bring in someone else that could never understand how precious he was. How much he was needed in that house. In all their lives. She would not let him suffer any longer for their father’s clumsy and stupid mistakes. For his faults. Victor would be brought back to where he could never be harmed again. To where the world would never again lay eyes on him to make him into their puppet. Where there would be no new sisters.

Caroline would not fail this time. She was so much better now. So much more clear in her goals and she knew what she must do. First, she must destroy the woman in her way. Victor was no good if he was strong so the weaker his heart, the more it would be ripe for the picking. Easier to turn towards the place that needed him the most. She might have failed to ruin him financially but she could yet find a way to strike his poor, innocent heart. He would be more defenseless. As it was, his illness would yet make it simply still. He would be too delirious to know what was happening. Too weak in body and spirit to save his precious little temptress and she would fall easier this time. While he was heartbroken and his health ruined, she could seize that vulnerable moment and make him see things her way. And such luck that she already knew exactly how to do it.

There was always a need for a laundry maid around and it seemed as though poor Victor was without one. Caroline knew that she would not yet pass for a stranger in that house but with some effort, there would be a way to get by. Victor was too sick to do the hiring for himself so there must be another who might yet place her where she needed to be. Another that might be able to give her the key to his prison. Oh yes, she could find a way in and put an end to everything standing in her way yet.

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