Dear Victor;

It pleases me greatly to hear from you after such a long lapse in communications. My own apologies in being neglectful of writing. I was completely unaware that you had made the journey to North America. I wish you well there. I have had many a colleague who has made the venture to great prosperity and I have no doubt that you will find yours as well. If your family name has any weight there, I should suspect that the Americas will soon be boasting a tycoon in a couple of years. It seems, however, that already you have found yourself blessed with much happiness upon leaving France. My sincere congratulations upon receiving the happy news of your marriage. Please do let me know when the date of your wedding was and I shall make a point to send a gift at once.

I regret my recent absence from the social circles as I have been away from the office for quite some time. I do hope that you were not at all offended when I did not reply to the invitation to your nuptials, as I was not here. I assure you that I would have responded as soon as I had the chance but it seems as though there are too many people who were attempting to contact me during that time. I do believe I may have even misplaced the letter and for that you will have to forgive me, dear Victor. That said, I trust your wedding was as beautiful as that of your darling sister, Charlotte. Please send her my warm regards to her and her husband. I will be happy to send correspondence to her as well as I have not yet heard from her in a time. Is she, by chance, still spending her summers in that charming house in Bordeaux? I can imagine that the vineyard has been incredibly prosperous as of late, though regrettably, hampered by the American puritanical laws. I’m certain, however, that dear Charlotte is still living well.

I must say that I am grateful to hear from you. The Fevrier house is, as far as I have heard, been quite a sombre place since your departure and while it is wonderful to hear that you are doing well, it would be a delight to see you reunited with your family again. I imagine that you are, yourself, eager to return to introduce your bride to the others. How sorely needed a little happiness will be. You must be so very worried, being far from your father and siblings where you are. I received word from his lawyers as well as the firm holding your accounts in England that he is unwell. I do hope that he will find the strength to come out soon. He is well missed on the social circuit. I am sure that he is simply under the weather for the moment and that he will turn from this, as he always does. Perchance might he be spending his days at the summer home by the sea? A dose of clean air from such a fresh setting might be just the thing to lift his spirits. Please do keep me informed as to his well-being in your next correspondence. I am eager to hear of his recovery to full health.

Finally, I must ask you if you have been in contact with your English firms to discuss the topic of your own heir and the future of your inheritance. I should think that it is most generous of you to be thinking so far ahead. Forgive me for prying but am I to read that perhaps your blushing bride is already with child? Please forgive the intrusion but as someone who has known your family for so long, I would be pleased to reserve the right to be the first to congratulate you if such is the case. I am well aware that you are prudent, however, in these matter and if your new bride is still yet awaiting the day when she gives you your own heir, please do keep me informed. Your family needs, as has always been the case, is my utmost concern.

Do contact me back as soon as you might as we have much to discuss and many forms for you to sign. I may be away from my office as I have taken to a dreadful fever on occasion as of late but I assure you that any word from you will be brought to my attention immediately and I shall write from my sick bed should need be. I eagerly await word from you and please do update me on all the happiness that you have found in your new home.

With warmest regards,

M. Roche

Victor had read the letter many times over, his eyes burning. He had stayed up late into the night to re-read it and even upon attempting to put it aside to lay his head down, he found that he could not rest. He rose early from what fitful attempt at sleep he had and found himself pacing the house in silence, enjoying the sound of his bare feet on the floorboards. It was the only noise he wished to hear as he tried to gather his thoughts. This was a truly disturbing development that he did not know what to think of.

Maurice Roche was dead. He knew this to be true. A part of him wondered if the con artist had managed to fake his own death but Victor knew this could never have been. It had been back in London and the men who knew his name meant to find him. They were furious upon finding out about his death and some even went to his grave to defile it. Victor knew that the man had earned it.

Maurice was a master at the art of swindling people for money and the Fevrier name could thank many of its debts on this man, though it was a well kept secret between himself and his father exactly how much they had lost on his account. Victor had thought of the sum when first he saw the wretched hand in which the letter was written. He could still hear his father’s hoarse voice, the sound of livid hatred bubbling beneath as he vowed to kill the man should he ever find his miserable hide on the estate. It was not an empty threat and certainly not the only one that Victor had heard launched towards the man he once knew as Papa Maurice. The man inspired love in all those foolish enough to trust him. It was a sour love that built to a toxic level of hatred in a very short amount of time and that name had become venom on the lips of many. That he would have tried to contact Victor was foolish and Maurice Roche was many things but a fool was not one of them. At least that was true of him when he was alive. Victor could not believe that he had survived the wrath of so many. He might have been a capable con artist but no one could be that lucky. Certainly not a man with that many enemies and particularly one so cavalier about contacting someone he knew he’d already conned.

It was strange, too, that this letter was written in such a remarkable hand but lacked a certain kind of mark and tone. It was a very convincing letter, to be sure. Upon reading it, Victor knew immediately whom that hand belonged to and he was even, for a moment, convinced that the slithering “papa” might have indeed still been alive. Doubt, however, had settled in early as he pondered the tone of that dreadfully saccharine letter. There was a kind of cloying sweetness that, while definitely in vein of how Roche spoke, was not something he might say in a letter. At least, Victor had never once been privy to such contact with him and the letters that his father had shown him were a far cry from such familiar and cordial tones. No, Maurice Roche was a swindler but he was blunt. His hand was to the point, almost to the degree that he was nervous that any false word on the page might give away his devious nature by accident.

Speaking of his hand, there was yet another thing that would not allow him to rest once he’d seen it. One of the few things that Victor had discovered after his break from the estate and his time living in England, was that one might always find out if something that tainted by Roche by his signature. In the time since his dealings with Victor’s father, Maurice must have found a few of his former friends were keen to show him exactly how unwelcome he was in France. Victor knew of only the broken fingers on his right hand but he’d heard rumors of other men who had found Roche and cut off parts of his left hand in payment for a bad deal. His signature from that point on was tainted by the awkward way he was forced to hold his pen. It was a small detail but a permanent one. No matter what name he signed, there was a clumsy line in the curvature that always showed within his signature due to the way that he wrote the “r” in the largest loop. It was missing here. Despite the tears and blood that stained the paper, Victor could plainly see that it did not appear in other places either. This hand, though terribly convincing, was not that of Maurice Roche.

Knowing this was difficult enough but now, Victor had a more pressing set of issues to contend with. Whoever the author of this letter was knew Victor well. Well enough to find him and well enough to know about his family affairs. This person, however, did not know of his family’s financial woes nor at least one of the reasons behind them. This person was attempting to gain access to his life through someone they should be wary of. And then there was the question of Charlotte’s involvement. Naturally, Victor needed to find out how she came to find this letter. She’d clearly had it in her possession and her reaction hinted that she might not have known such things. If this were the case, however, what could she meant to accomplish by bringing it here? Such wicked things he must discover now. So very many wicked people that might be behind them.

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