Wrapped in a heavy coat and scarf, Caroline practically ran down the steps to the front desk. She wore her hat as well to hide the embarrassing color that was coming through the shoddy hair cut as it grew out. She was aware that this entire scene made her look foolish but she had no choice until she could get more dye. It was seemingly for nothing as the clerk at the front took barely any notice of her at all as he handed he the package and immediately ignored her. It was one of the few times that Caroline was utterly thankful for the lack of proper manners that had been part of this vile little town that her brother had brought her to. She only wished that she had never come here in the first place and she might still have escaped with a shred of dignity. Still, there was no point in dwelling on that. She knew very well that there would be more sacrifices to be made soon. Possibly sooner, depending on what this package contained.

Acting as though she were on her way out to town, she briskly took her package and headed out the door. It wasn’t until she was standing outside in the gloom of the dusk that she allowed herself to get a look at it. The plain paper wrapped parcel was much too small to give her any indication of what it might be. She looked over the paper for any sign of where it had come from. She carefully cradled it against her as she made her way around the corner and back towards the back alley entrance to the hotel. All the while, she wondered, almost disgusted, at who this package might have come from. The clerk had told her it was someone who called themselves her sister.

Could it be that one of her siblings had come to call? One of those treacherous little leeches might have tried to follow her to her destination? Perhaps someone wishing to try to find Victor and report her failure to Papa? Oh that would be like them, those wretched little beggars. And such things they would tell him if they knew. They would tell their Papa about how Victor had become wealthy. Much wealthier than the family that he left. They would tell him of Vivian and how she’d come here to ensnare him. Oh and wouldn’t that make their rancid Papa so very happy. Maybe he could make peace between their families again and that would just make him ever so giddy. Caroline gnashed her teeth at the thought of it. The very thought that one of those little golden haired minxes might come here to tattle on her made her seethe. But might it be one of them or someone else? Someone closer?

Caroline trembled at the thought that it might be her. The thought of that wicked wretch calling herself sister to Caroline made her stomach clench in agony and disgust. She had already laid her talons on Victor which was a thought that Caroline could barely stand to think of without seething in rage. She repressed it quickly before it could paralyze her. Instead, she forced herself to hurry to the back of the building and hide in the gathering shadows of newly fallen night as she watched the kitchen help wander to and fro around the back entrance to the building. She focused intently on their movements, waiting for the right time to enter so as not to be seen, clutching her package to her chest. Still, the thoughts of that harlot bubbled in her brain and she couldn’t deny that it might yet have been her who had found her out. As she waited, trembling in the cold, she pondered her enemy. Vivian. The married woman who would take her beloved Victor into her web to humiliate and destroy him. Could she have recovered so quickly? Oh that Vivian was a snake but to have come back from the sorry state that Caroline had left her in, one had to wonder if there was something more devilish about her serpentine ways. And if it was her? Would she remember who it was who had failed to take her out? Had she managed to come out of the shadow of death to exact her revenge? Only the contents of the package in her arms would tell her for certain.

It felt like an eternity waiting for the help to find its way out from in front of that shadowed door but finally there was a break in the coming and going of people and Caroline took her chance and slipped into the building. The corridor was dark and she made her way around, clutching the package like she was frightened that someone would rip it out of her arms at any second. She fumbled around until she found a shoddy staircase that the maids would use every morning to come up to make the beds. Even though the hotel she was in had clearly fallen into disreputable hands, it had once been worthy of someone with her bloodline. It was a shame to see these little touches that remained from when it was once something special. Caroline would lament further if it didn’t allow her to escape to the sanctity of her room. There, she knew that she could see the contents of this horrid package without the threat of prying eyes once and for all.

Scurrying up the stairs, she looked about like a wild animal as she listened carefully to the footsteps of anyone who might have seen her. There were, after all, eyes everywhere. People looking for a murderess. People who might know that she had come to claim Victor and bring him back to where he belonged. Oh yes, there were those who would be most angry about that, weren’t there? Wicked women whose virtue was lower than that of a common whore. They would be most angry about Caroline’s arrival to take away their favorite toy. Their promised prize. Her prize that she would claim yet. She alone could do this and she had not failed just yet. But the package she held, her nails digging into the paper expectantly, might yet be another setback. Something sent by that vile serpent to tease or torment her. Caroline had to know soon. Making her way up to the fourth floor, she waited until the coast was clear before she allowed herself to emerge and walk briskly towards her own room. The corridor was long and her room was in the opposite wing to the one that she had come into. As soon as the door was in view, Caroline could hardly contain herself as her feet rushed clumsily on the carpet. Very soon, she would know what this wretched package would spell for her future. All the while, she could practically feel the eyes upon her. It was as though each and every downtrodden vile occupant to each of these dirty rooms was peering out at her. Watching her suffering as she scrambled to keep from dragging her feet and tripping. They would catch her then. She would be forced to face that serpent that she hated so much. A lynch mob of eyes followed her every move and she just knew they were waiting for her to fall. To mess up the careful steps that she had taken. When she fell upon her door, she bust through it in a panic, slamming it behind her as though the world had been trying to snap at her heels.

Slumped down on the floor, she felt close to tears as she felt the weight of those eyes on her still. Caroline knew that there was no one there but a part of her feared that they would start scratching. Their nails tapping and digging rang in her head but she knew it couldn’t be. No, she could not allow her mind to play such dirty tricks. She had to stay focused. The vultures were already circling. Back home, they circled with all their vile questions and demands to know things they should not ask about. Things only she understood. Those wretched winged devils had found her here. Yes! They came within inches of her now and she knew that if she let her mind wander too far, she could panic and ruin everything. She could not allow them to win at this late hour. Not when she had her beloved Victor in her grasp.

The package had tumbled from her arms and rested uselessly upon the barren floor of her room. She saw it now and hated the very sight of it. How tragic it looked and how perfectly it mirrored how she felt. She wanted to destroy it. To render it nothing but a pile of shredded paper and pieces that could never be seen again by anyone as anything. Crawling towards the vile mass, she was tempted. Beyond tempted to make this package into rubbish. Forget that it was anything and move forward where the beasts of burden wheeling above her head could not find her. But it contained the only clue as to who knew who she was. Who might have found her. It was important, even though she wished very badly to forget this. To dismiss it entirely as a taunt from one of her enemies. But if it was from that wretch or one of her pathetic siblings, she needed to know. She must put an end to their plans to stop her. She must know who had come to her.

Her hands dug into the mass of paper wrapping with careless rage as she tore strips out and clawed her way inside. When her hand struck something hard, she ripped it out and tossed the piece on the bed. Her hand had already found another when she looked up to see the offending object staring back at her. Her face blanched and her lip quivered as the horror of it seized her heart. Clutching to her chest with her free hand, she fell back on the floor and slowly backed away, staring forward at this pitiful thing.

“Those eyes,” was all she could whimper at the sight of it.

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