The wine was gone. In her desperation, she needed something and now, though she was nowhere near drunk, it was all gone. Caroline had been pacing, working her fingers together so violently that they began to ache. She cared little about the pain though. It was well past midnight and she was in dire need of a plan. She had missed something. Left herself open somewhere and she was now on the verge of panic. Her plan had been going well, despite the bruises and crooks along the way. She had been so very careful so as to keep her fingers out of the money until the time was right. He should never have been alerted to the accounts. It made no sense. She had made all the preparations necessary. There was no reason for him to suspect. No reason at all.
It must have been her. That woman was the bane of her entire existence and she had done this, Caroline just knew it. It must have been. Who else but Vivian could have engineered this manner of treachery? The harlot had survived and now she had told her vicious lies! That was the only way. How else could Victor have found the truth about her arrangements? He would never listen now. So willful, he’d been bewitched and now he would be livid. He could never be reached while that thieving wretch lived to tell her side of the story. And she would be sure to make it so that he would be so far out of reach that by the time she’d trapped him, he would be lost forever.
Caroline could never have expected this. She never imagined that the viper would strike so fast. She thought for certain that she would be using her charms to coax him back. To use her injuries to ensnare him. No, she’d done something worse. Something far worse. There was no method for speaking to him now. She only hoped that her last letters had gotten to him. It was a small chance but nowhere near as effective now that he’d been turned. Her sweet brother had been corrupted. Her beloved sibling was lost to her venomous stories and the hope of reuniting her family had been all but dashed. The idea had scarcely crept into her mind that she didn’t feel the tremor of fear that she had failed. It was quickly overwhelmed by the burning fury of her rage.
Caroline felt it well up in her so fast that she could barely contain herself. The devil witch would have to pay for this. Yes it had been her all along. She had brought this curse to pass. This horror to their lives had been her doing. She should never have dabbled in this family. That girl never did belong with them. Never would have made a good wife or mother to anyone. Caroline would see to it that she never would. Victor would never fall prey to that vixen again. The strife that she had already inflicted on them all was too horrid a crime to allow. Too much damage had been done and her brother could not afford the price of it. He would not escape again. They would not escape this time. The wench would die for her crimes. Victor would come home and it would be made clear that this was where he would stay. The young one had been allowed his fun but it had cost them all so much. If only he knew the terrible price and he would soon understand that it wasn’t free, even for him. Caroline had allowed this to run too long. Too much had been lost in the meantime and the devil woman had nearly ruined them all. Maybe she had managed to turn Victor against them but she knew how to fix that. She knew what to do that would bring him back to sense. She would make it permanent this time.
She knew what must be done. What she’d been too weak to do when she arrived. How sick love had made her. How soft! She’d too long struggled to think of ways to trap him. To force his hand and make him come home of his own accord. It had been a good plan but he was just so willful. She should have known it would never work. She had wasted so much precious time trying to reason with him that should have been spent making it known what he was dealing with. Who he was dealing with and what was at stake. It should have been obvious the first time but he was either too stubborn or his wretch was simply too wicked to care. Her mind raced as she paced back and forth viciously as she was plagued by this never ending task that had become a festering wound in her heart and her memory.
In the back of her mind, Caroline was choking back the infuriating feeling of her father’s last words that had imprinted on her. So bitter those memories playing in her head that she could scarcely stand it. No amount of trying to force it back was holding this tidal wave of a crushing sense of betrayal and resentment. She knew that to make this right again, it was up to her. It was on her broad shoulders to ensure that he returned where he was supposed to be. She’d been sent to correct the mess that was placed at her feet. A mess, she thought bitterly, that had been made by someone else’s rotten temper. The brutal heat of her anger began to grow hotter still as she thought of this. Of the horrid things he’d said to Victor. About him when he’d left. Of the things that he’d said about the boy. Her breath came out in short, staggered shots as though it was painful to allow them to leave for the heat that they gave off. In that moment, she hated him. She hated him for taxing her with this wretched chore. She hated him for forcing her to make amends on his behalf when he had been the one to make him run. Poor, dear Victor had been so young and pushed by the vile words that had been thrown at him. How dare he speak to his only son like that! To say that he was not his own flesh and blood!
Caroline was so enraptured with the relief of her anger that she hardly registered the sound of tapping at her door. Engrossed in her pacing as she thought of her wicked Papa. Thought of how badly she wished she still loved the wretched fool. In her hands, had gripped the empty wine bottle, wishing that it was still full. She might be able to clear her head if that was the case. The wine kept her so calm and it was so much easier to allow herself to just think. But the rage was never far behind. The anger that had driven her to do the chores that had needed doing. She wished that she could be the Caroline that was lovable once. The one that she had so dearly wished that Papa would love like when she was a child. She was the one he would turn to. The one that he trusted with his secrets and he gifted her with such things. She was the one to wrangle the young one and so she was his favorite. He’d never said as much but she knew it had to be so. Why else would he have allowed her to ride longer than her siblings? Why else would he have trusted her to care for his only male heir? He was supposed to love her more than everyone else. She had delivered on her promise to take care of the one person that was most important to their household and he, in turn, was supposed to love her most. He had promised her such things. He’d sworn to it and he’d even shown it before in how she’d escaped his temper.
He’d betrayed her. He’d never loved her as much as he should have. Caroline had perhaps always known it but she thought for certain that she could prove to him that he was wrong to deny her. That if only she could show him how dedicated she was to making sure that he got what he wanted of their household, he would see that she was truly more deserving. She had taken care of their treacherous eldest sibling when she had tried to rob him of his heir. She had always been the one to bring him the son that he could not control. She had replaced the mother the younger ones needed after their own had died. She had even discreetly started serving as head of housekeeping before she’d left to save him his reserves. And how did he repay her? He drove Victor away with his ignorance and his temper! He ignored his most dedicated daughter in favor of others. He beat on the boy that he would lay the household name upon. He made him leave and denied that he was even his father. It was an insult most dire! How could he spit upon all her work in bringing him his heir? How could he have been so foolish? Oh yes, she could feel the hatred bubbling deep inside of her now, those bulbs of malice breaking the surface and bringing with them the memories of his terrible words. His baseless promises to spare her from his temper because she was the one he trusted most. And yet he’d failed at that too. She suffered the whims of his demands, treating her more like his house staff than his daughter, nevermind his most precious child. The one that could provide for him when no one else could. Yes, this was worthy of such hatred. He had taken advantage of her and led her to this moment now. Abandoned her when she was alone and destitute. Left her with nothing but the same bloody task to bring back the son that he drove off.
The pulsing in her head continued in the same rhythm as the pounding somewhere in the building. Vile place, Caroline seethed silently. He was to blame for this too. He’d squandered their fortune and reserved so much for himself. He was the one to teach Victor his bad habits and now look at what it had cost them all. The noise seemed to swell in time with her fiery temper and she felt the heat of it rising as she paced, the bottle clenched in her shaking fist. Her rage would not go unsatisfied this time. Not on his account. Caroline had done everything to gift wrap his future for him. She’d done so much to create what he had envisioned and now her lies could not sustain her. He’d dashed her hopes for her future with his pig-headed stupidity and it was she who had paid for it all.
With a sudden burst of wooden splinters, the hinges of her door skittered across the room and she saw not the brute of a man who had sold her the room but the fiend that had abandoned her here. His shouts were those of her Papa, screaming at her until his face was purple. She’d swung the bottle at his face with such force that it smashed, leaving glass shards and blood sprayed across the filthy floor. In that moment, she saw with perfect clarity Papa’s stunned grey eyes. His lips quivering with rage and sudden fear. She hated that look. She hated that it had led to those words he’d said. The curses that he’d uttered at her. His most precious daughter, he’d said. He dared to say that Victor was not his! He dared to call her an embarrassment! He had sold her like a common whore and bragged about it! To be married to that filthy lawyer for a pittance! Each of her thoughts were punctuated with the swinging of the remains of the bottle, the spray of blood becoming thicker and more violent. When Caroline had exhausted her arm, she stepped back, her heart thundering in her chest and her breath coming out in staggered whimpers. Amid the blood, she saw not Papa’s grey, furious eyes but the muddied brown eyes of the brute who had come for payment for more wine. The wine bottle slipped from her blood slicked fingers as the light faded from his eyes.