Charlotte knew that the sleigh would stop in front of the hotel that she was in and she also knew that time was short. At the pace it was moving, she could only guess that it would not be Vivian in her condition. It would have to be Master Reginald Kent and while it was a wonder what he’d come all this way for, it was not likely a pleasure trip and Charlotte was well aware of that. Those horses were going at a decent clip and would be there soon. She could gather that this meant that whatever he wanted, he would be eager to find soon or he would be in a fiery temper. She freshened up her face quickly because she knew should she be caught unawares, it would be telling that she had been trying to escape. It was the bane of being a highly regarded woman. She could not simply be out in the street and be found out by the likes of that brute. Though he had no regard for a well put together woman, she knew better than to show any sense of hurry or panic. She was a professional after all. And besides, it was a disgrace to her mother’s memory to let herself be swayed to run like a common woman. She would do her best to avoid him but she’d be damned if she was caught unmade.

The sleigh was not yet two blocks from the hotel when Charlotte quietly slipped a couple of small vials into the lining of her purse and another one into the cup of her bra. She primped with her best coat and slipped out of her room before the jingle of the bridle could be heard from the end of the block and she was rushing down the steps before the breath of the massive horses could be seen. Pulling at her collar to avoid showing her face, she slipped out a back entrance and cursed at the heavy snow piles there that slowed her as she made her way through a small maze of alleys before finally finding her way to the streets. Some of them had been cleared now so there were other people milling about, speaking quietly to each other as she passed them. Now that she was out in the open, she threw her shoulders back, tilted her chin up and straightened her spine. She would walk with purpose and make her way through the streets with dignity and she would settle for nothing less. She would not allow herself to look foolishly afraid. The sleigh came to a halt in front of the door and the regal owner was let out as Charlotte reached the end of the street. She knew that it was there but did not dare risk the chance to look back at it. Instead, she wandered out beyond the end of the block and pretended to find the strings of lights decorating the streets interesting.

The holiday cheer around her was disgustingly cloying and she found it offensive, making it all the more difficult to try to blend in. She struggled to keep her own memories of this wretched time of year at bay. For the moment, she needed focus. She could not be caught unaware now. She did not know exactly what Reginald Kent was looking for but given her performance in the papers, she could guess that he would out for blood. It was true that she wasn’t sure if he’d seen the photographs taken of her but that hardly mattered given his temper. She knew there was a chance that he hadn’t but if she was wrong, the likelihood that he would find her and take out his frustrations with her family on the only confirmed living person to have been under that name was too high for her liking. Besides, given what had happened to his wife, even if he was incapable of loving her, he would likely want revenge for it. Who better to aim his vitriol at than someone who would not have had him if it meant that she would be cast out into the streets for refusing. Of course, Charlotte knew that she would not end up begging in the streets for denying Master Kent. In fact, she had managed to figure out her trajectory after his threats were issued quite easily but that was likely to have made him all the more angry. To know that he’d been bested by one of the members of the Fevrier family, why that must have made him burn to his very core.

Charlotte could not help thinking about it with a smile. There were few times that she even liked to think of her last name and what kind of reputation it held but it was still better than being saddled with the likes of the last name Kent. Thinking of it alone was enough to make her stomach turn and the idea that she might have once been considered a possible match for that brute and his vile family was enough to make her ill. They were so loathsome and she had grown up well aware of how awful that family was. Especially Reginald. Greedy, angry and constantly demanding more from the world, he was all the things she had hated about her own family head but somehow, he made even their father figure seem to pale by comparison. While her own so-called father had never hesitated to raise his hand when he was angry, he was also stupid and rarely made any attempt to interfere with their lives unless he seemed to think that someone might take Victor away from him and end his little arrangement that might make him more money to hoard. It was why Charlotte had been married off as soon as he could get her out of the house. Get her away from her only biological sibling and then Victor would be his for the shaping, so he reasoned. But that was her own life and she knew that her brother not be like the other their father no matter how many beatings he suffered through. Reginald Kent, on the other hand, needed no shaping at the hand of a tyrant. He was a born villain with a streak for making others miserable. He was no smarter than her own demented father figure but he was younger. He was stronger. He was convinced that the world owed him something which was in direct contrast to what she grew up with. Maybe her own family name was cursed to be greedy but her own so-called father knew that the world did not owe him. He just sought to convince people that it did. Reginald, however, believed it in all his heart and he would stop at nothing to get it.

The thought made her pick up the pace a bit but she still walked with the kind of confidence that she was required to. If only for her own dignity, she would not allow herself to hunker down and cower. She was well aware that this man would have motive to punish for his being made a fool. I didn’t matter what had shown his true nature to the world. He was a fool regardless and no one could stay ignorant to that for long. But he would use that anger and find a new victim eventually. She walked with her head up, internally cursing that man’s presence and deeper down, praying that Caroline had seen that picture. She had to have seen it or this gamble would be lost and all she would have turned up was the snake that had parked his fancy sleigh in front of the one place in town that everyone would have seen her. Oh yes, she knew that he must know she had been there. He might wait for as long as it took for her to come back but she could only hope that his temper would have him searching or scurrying off to an establishment that might get that lumbering idiot arrested for his drink choices.

Charlotte seemed to simply be following her feet, though she had no real clue where she was going. She felt drawn in whatever direction she could find that seemed easiest and she did not fight it, so long as she was taken further away from the sound of those horses. She knew that the sleigh had not moved from the front. If it had, she would have been found by now. She had not been gone long. It would take time for them to figure out she was not there but Charlotte could not be too confident on that. Someone might have noticed her walking down the street away from the building and that would be enough that they would start their search or their wait. She felt no need to guess at this point and instead, she simply allowed herself to travel at the will of the winds. Anywhere would do as long as it was away. She did not like this building sense of fear and she did not intend to let it rule her but if it helped to guide her somewhere that would give her an upper hand, she would allow it to stay for now.

Just as soon as she had accepted this last thought, she halted in front of an image of festive cheer before her. She scolded herself internally for not moving but she found that she could not be persuaded to move, even with the threat looming somewhere nearby.

Charlotte suddenly realized that she’d turned down a less used road and found herself in a quiet residential area. She was standing before a house with a large portrait window showing the scene before her like it was film displayed in dazzling color. She internally screamed, telling herself over and over that this was never a scene she would have found interesting at the cinema. She didn’t know why but it was captivating. It was simply a display of a hearth with a warm fire inside with a large bear skin rug laid out before it. There was an elderly woman inside, rocking rhythmically with a large, black cat on her lap. As if on cue, the cat’s wild green eyes opened and looked directed at Charlotte, making her take a step back. The elderly woman rose and disappeared, only to surface at her shadowy front door moments later. Charlotte felt like she was in a trance as she watched the old woman beckon to her.

“I’ve saved a seat for you, my dear,” the woman said. “I’ve much to tell you. Hurry and warm yourself before the cold catches up to you.”

Without thinking twice, Charlotte walked slowly into the house, leaving whatever reservations or fears about Reginald Kent to freeze in the snow where the wind was swiftly erasing her tracks.

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