Her audience was not responding to her but Charlotte knew that she’d been heard. She could tell by her breathing that her enemy heard the sound of her voice and knew that she was in bad company. Still, she made no attempt to call for help or even move. Frozen in grief, Vivian Kent lay like the dead before her and Charlotte shrugged as she circled the bed, looking at the fine things that her enemy chose to surround herself with.

“I see you’ve chosen to stay quiet so I will forgive you this time for being so gauche. I suppose you did just suffer some form of trauma or something like that,” Charlotte mocked. She sighed. “How could you become a part of this infernal family? Surely being penniless could not be so horrible? Oh I admit that I never have been in such financial failure as your family is rumored to have been but there are always ways around these things. And to let that dirty Richard near you?! Oh how could you! He’s such a brute, Vivian. The tales they told of him in England, I shudder to think that you’ve seen even his silhouette with the lights off. And please don’t tell me that you’ve seen him in full light. I should think if I’d found myself saddled with such a repulsive husband, I might vomit each time he touched me.”

Charlotte tinkered with the crystal on Vivian’s vanity, enjoying the fine perfumes that she had there. There was a lovely compact too but it was expensive enough that it would be missed. As much as Charlotte wished to believe that her enemy might blame a servant girl in her delirious state, she could not count on such things. Pity. It was quite fetching. Instead, she smiled at her reflection, seeing that the faint trails of makeup that she’d gone to great lengths to cover made it look as though she’d been weeping for the poor Lady Kent and her lamentable loss. Charlotte had to repress another giggle at the thought. The only truly lamentable loss that Vivian had suffered was of her mind. How she could stand to be cooped up with that insolent fool was beyond Charlotte’s comprehension. She spritzed herself with the rose perfume that she liked best and seated herself next to the bed.

“You know, Vivian, I did always hate you. Perhaps it was the fact that we were forced to make nice when all we truly wanted was the same limited resources. And you just happened to almost snatch one that was out of my financial reach. My brother was never someone that you could control, no matter how much you might have wished to. Oh don’t believe that I tell you this out of any mislaid sense of sentimentality but I do admit that he’s far less vile than my sisters,” Charlotte said, primping her hair. “I should say, if we were part of a different world, perhaps we might have found ourselves in a much more uncomfortable position. After all, it was your father who suggested that insufferable git of a cousin of yours for my first marriage. If you had managed to marry my poor brother, why, you and I would have had to suffer a much more involved relationship. How kind of fate to intervene and leave us hanging in the balance as simply hated enemies rather than family. Heaven knows what manner of engagements we might have had to sit through in France if that were the case. Can you think of anything more insufferable and dull than being stuck there? Ah but that’s all the past now, is it not? Your cousin is long cold in his grave, my brother is in love with his suffering and you sold yourself to the highest and least desirable bidder. I suppose it all worked out.”

Vivian clenched the bed sheets weakly and Charlotte had to cover her red lips to keep from laughing out loud at the sight of it. She was about to continue goading her audience when she heard the shuffle of feet outside the door. She sneered and kept a gloved hand over her mouth to keep potential onlookers from noticing her smile. With her free hand, she gently wrapped her gloved fingers around Vivian’s trembling hand as though she meant to offer her comfort. The hidden grin she wore told her true intentions. Keeping her eyes low but spying on the reflection that she saw in the glass and crystal that surrounded her, Charlotte softened her voice and leaned in closer.

“Surely, you’ve better things to become enraged about, my enemy,” Charlotte said in the tenderest voice she could muster. “You want to know why I hate you, Vivian? You’ve become a pathetic wreck. Lowering yourself to this state of impotent rage over the loss of something that would well have kept you chained to an emotional invalid all your life? What kind of woman have you become? Ah but you had to be Lady Kent. Had to fall in love with that title and keep it comforting you while he laid his hands on everything that he should never have seen in the first place. You’ve failed at this game so badly that it has ruined whatever manner of woman you might have been. Hate me back if you will. It is your right and truthfully, if you were anything like the child I remember, I would’ve taken it as a sign of respect among those like myself. You could have been, Vivian. You could have been a woman of great respect and you gave it up to the Lady to a Master of idiots. To let yourself carry the hateful seed of that bloodline? To ruin your body with that kind of promise to a man whose worth in dollars barely registers as wealth? Disgraceful!”

“Harlot,” Vivian sighed with the last of her strength. Her eyes flickered for a moment but were soon glazed and unfocused again. Charlotte grinned widely.

“That’s the girl I know and hate,” she whispered. “I’ve no love for you but let me instill in you this small piece of advice. If you’re mourning this wretched mess that you think you’ve lost, you truly are a fool. Do you think, for one second, that this might have been his only child? Perhaps the first of the bloodline? Are you so thick to believe that there aren’t others? Maids who struggle to keep their brood a secret? Servant girls he’s promised the moon and stars for a chance to deflower them and so many live in secret disgrace for it. Oh it’s everywhere in London, if one knows who to talk to. You carried nothing but the blood of common uncivilized brute inside of you. Truly, you might thank nature for taking care of your little problem for you.”

Charlotte paused and looked up. The shuffling of feet was gone but she knew that her time was nearing up. She knew that she had wasted precious time that should have been spent trying to find Caroline but the imp in her knew this would never happen again. Her brother’s former fiancee was lying helpless before her and one of her competitors in the market for rich men was fallen. Was there anything more pleasing than to know that this tick of a woman would not vex her nor would she get in the way of the many things that Charlotte would do in the future? And she would but only if she got that last detail with her half sibling cleared up. Still, it was only right to make the best fun that she could with the gift she’d been given. Vivian was lying there and Charlotte knew that she had taken in her words. Heard the whole of her speech and struggled with futile rage at knowing she was being mocked. There were others who might have been easier on her but Charlotte could not let this go. Not without one more moment’s torment.

“You really loved the little rat that you were infested with, didn’t you?” Charlotte said with a wicked smile. “Did you really dream of what it would be like to hold it in your arms? To cradle it like it was the whole world wrapped in blankets? Hear me well, my enemy, before I leave you to ruin yourself anew, remember this much. If you insist on being a fool trapped of your own accord, at least make it worthy of your time. Children, should you actually insist on having the insufferable little vermin, can be found through other means. Husbands are good with names but once they’ve been given, you should really cut your losses. From one fiend to another, sometimes it does a Lady good to make friends with her chemist. So lament if you will but there are always new ways. Better ways. Just stay out of mine and let my advice serve as a way to pave your own.”

Charlotte sauntered out, pocketing some pearls she’d seen on a night stand. Perhaps it was not wise to give some of her best advice to Vivian Kent but truly, it would be more interesting to her to see if she actually did anything with it. True, it meant that there was more competition if her enemy did rise to the occasion. But then again, was Charlotte really eager to be that bored? She covered her face only so long as she was in the house. As she exited, she made her way to her gleaming car in the darkening twilight. She felt the corners of her mouth aching as she looked up to see the lone window lit by dim light above and wondered what manner of trouble she might have just stirred.

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