It played over in her mind a million times. Every waking moment provided a new detail that she could not escape and again, she felt the pain as if it were brand new and searing through her like a double edged bolt of humiliation and horror. She’d been a fool for going out that day. She knew that she’d be spotted. She’d felt the weight of eyes on her from the moment that she left the hotel, her heart racing in anticipation of the final moment as though it knew the play before the climax. She’d been so distracted by everything in her own mind and the damned throbbing from the prick on her finger. It was all too perfect. Caroline had walked along the course of the tragedy like she’d been in a puppet in a play that was known to everyone but her and yet she’d played the part of the fool so perfectly.
In her mind, she could still see the cursed thing. She still saw the way it fell from her aching fingers and onto the floor amid the tumble of other letters. In an instant, it was on the floor and then gone. Swiped out of the sight and beyond her reach. The envelop that she’d held to for dear life, knowing how important it was. The letter would have promised everything would turn out okay. Everything would have been secure and the wheels that might have brought everything in motion would have been working towards her better ends, finally. In one clumsy heartbeat, it was all gone. The hours that she had spent to bring the finances into play were lost and it was all over. It was all so cruel, it twisted her gut to the point of making her ill.
She had sent for Papa Maurice but never heard from him. His office had wired back to her that he was in the process of moving and there was no method for contacting him at present. It seemed as luck was running against her but she knew that he would not let her down. He had always been so good to her own Papa and if anyone knew the method to bring Victor home, it would have been him. When she thought of him, she could practically see his jovial face looking down on her. Thinking of the way that he so admired their sister Charlotte for her fire and her wit. The way his eyes lingered on her and how he spoke so kindly and fondly of her. The way that he looked upon Victor and spoke of the things that they would one day accomplish. These images danced before her eyes and it was as though he’d been sitting next to her all that time. All the while, she could practically hear him speaking. She knew that tender, kind voice and knew that he would say such lovely things. Such promising and hopeful words that she had wished to hear. Why yes, it was as though he knew how to find her at this time. Saying just what needed to be said. The letter was written quickly and well. It was done as though he might have written it himself. Why, after she had laid down her pen, she was astonished. It looked as though written by the man she had thought of. The tone of his voice shone through and Caroline was at ease with the words. Written in that familiar script that had adorned her family’s letters for so many fond years. Yes, it was meant to be this way. Papa Maurice always had such a soft spot for their lovely boy in the family. His letter would set things right.
There was no telling where that letter was now. Who might have scooped it from her. That wretched woman in front of her with the whining child had been insistent that she had done no wrong. Caroline had snarled at the memory of her simpering face. The audacity that she had to be offended when it was her who had been to blame for the loss of her letter. The key to bringing order to her beloved family lost to a tramp and her useless daughter. Had she the energy for rage right now, she might be able to come up with a just punishment for that woman.
Caroline stood still as though she had been struck. The color drained from her weary face as it dawned on her for the first time what had happened. So distraught she had been by her loss that she could hardly believe that she had not seen it before. Such a treacherous trick! So wicked was she that it made Caroline ill to think of it. It was her! It must have been. Who else might have so wished to foil her plans to bring her family together. It had to be that wretch who had gloated when she planned to steal her brother. Oh Vivian! How sour the name sat in her mind!
It was all coming clearer now. Of course it had been that wicked animal of a woman. Caroline knew that she’d been watched when she was on her way to the post. She knew without a doubt that someone had seen her. Someone had looked her way with that air of contempt. Who else might have been so offensively cruel? Vivian. The name of rotten hatred. She had seen the stain on her cups and decided to ignore the warning. She knew that she was being told she couldn’t have him. She knew. Oh how vile that woman was and she had come to destroy their chances at happiness. She was trying to thwart her efforts, Caroline just knew it. Yes. It had been her. She knew that Caroline would be vulnerable. She knew it was her because she knew only Caroline would have the gall to try to save her family. To save her beloved brother. Vivian! She couldn’t stand not to have him. Couldn’t bare to let his beauty be taken away. She was trying to leave them in ruins. Oh yes, that was how she would work. Take away their means and then he would be forced to come to her. His family fortune was tied up and he could not last alone in the world. She would take him in. She would take his heart hostage and Caroline would be forced to watch from afar as her brother was made victim to her whims, the monster!
She could not bare it. Not this level of offense. She would have her revenge. She would make it known that they could not take him from her. Her only brother and he was to become the head of her household. Her family. Yes, it would be this way and no one would get in her way!
Caroline had begun pacing her hotel room, her hands twisting together so forcefully they ached. Her pierced finger pulsed angrily and she feared it may start to bleed again but it was no matter really. She would wear her black gloves next time. With this new revelation, it was clear that her enemy knew her disguise. Knew her aims and was actively trying to stop her. This called for a more drastic measure to be taken. She must look different. She must be able to walk outside again but not in this wool coat and not as Caroline any longer. She looked upon her coat with disgust. It had failed her. Failed to keep her concealed. This disgraceful costume had run its course and she was forced now to find a new one. Something that no one would be able to see through. Looking over at her cloche with the stains on the white brim from where her soiled glove had touched it, she could see now how obvious it would be to others. The whole of this wretched little town knew who she was. Victor would know by now what she had been planning. She knew that he would reject this if he did not see the plan work immediately. He was a child and he needed to know that this was all for his own good. For the good of everyone. For her. He would not be taken away. She must act now! She must make sure that this would not slip by her! And this would call for her to rise to the occasion.
Caroline tore open her vanity in the room until she found what she looked for. A pair of perfectly sharp scissors with beautifully gilded handles. Grasping them forcefully by the blades, she took them to the bathroom and looked upon her reflection. The woman in the mirror was one that she loathed to see. She could see the stains on her face where the tears had trailed down her face. Tears of wretched defeat and incompetence. Swollen, red eyes that had turned from anguish to fury. Blazing behind her irises, the fire she felt in her soul directed her hands as she grabbed her hair in her fist and began to cut. The long gold tresses fell to the floor, littering the tiles in uneven hanks. She cut off more, the motions so furious that her hands scarcely had time to move before she dove in to make another slice. By the end, she stared at her new image in the mirror. A wicked shorn version that sneered back as a woman she’d never seen before. Her aching hands twitched with delight and rage as the blood from her many cuts trailed down the white porcelain. It would not be the only blood she would see today. This was a promise.