The dullness of this town had seemed fatal even in the last breath of summer but as autumn approached, it seemed to have started to reap its boring harvest. The people in the shops and cafes were thinning to the point where Charlotte was concerned about appearing like the only fashionable attraction in the whole populated area. What a perfectly wretched idea! To become known as the living embodiment of the store mannequin. While Charlotte was used to turning heads, she was far less interested in being the only attraction in town. And considering who that attention might be coming from, her former husband’s creditors or even the common imbeciles that populated this sleepy nowhere, it was something she would much rather do without. She couldn’t imagine being able to show herself to a fashionable crowd ever again if she were to marry one of these cretins, even if the union did end up being brief. Oh, how could it be otherwise? The men here were clods and barely able to sustain themselves to the standards that might pique her interest. They certainly couldn’t afford her tastes and besides that, even if they could, they were certainly lacking in charm. Besides, a death in the family here was something of a stir that wouldn’t allow her the freedom she craved. Why, look at poor Vivian Kent, trapped in that vile family and now with the vultures circling her trying to find the best scraps of gossip on what really happened? This was no life for one such as herself. No, she could only stand the stagnation of domestic life for so long and it seemed as though no secret was held too close to its source here. For evidence of that, she only had to look as far as the local rags and see what manner of disaster she could find now. A disaster that might just be hiding her vermin half sibling.

No sooner had she found her way to a local cafe did she come across a paper with the Kent name sprayed over the cover like it was a fresh coat of blood upon the pavement. Charlotte had to laugh quietly to herself. It was adorable really. The way this pitiful little township liked to dress up its cute little tragedies as though they were on par with the waves of violence that the great cities of the world knew. Oh, she’d seen such violent images splayed out on the pages of the rags. Men who had their hats in their hands and their blood on the pavement as though they’d been in the middle of properly greeting their murderer. She’d also seen it all up close a few times, even when she wasn’t the culprit. The crazy life had a few more than its share of occupants who took the name a bit too literally. They were more entertaining from a distance, however. That distance was something that seemed like it was more of a luxury here than a feature.

When she’d had the misfortune of staying on American soil longer than she could have predicted, she’d always found that trouble was lurking around the corner, eager to pick up the tab. Europe was far less puritanical and its relying on names and familiarity meant it could be more hospitable to her sudden need to leave certain situations. This soil, on the other hand, had no names of importance and while the madness and the constant intrigue of danger and scandal were thrilling, it was also far more likely to turn on her. Here, in particular, Charlotte felt the gaze upon her wherever she went and while it might be too dull for madness, this town seemed like the perfect spot for its after effects. Scandal here had a sharper edge and it left a sinister impression that would almost be deliciously satisfying if Charlotte didn’t feel like it might be her neck in danger in less time than it would take to save it. Then again, perhaps that was to be expected. These were people who knew each other. They felt that intimate sense of loss when they cared about their fallen or malice when they hated them. Charlotte wondered how many among there were wringing their hands with guilt over the satisfaction they felt over the ruin of that wretch that lived in that rich house outside of town. From what little she could gather from the articles she’d skimmed so far, the name was known in town and their wealth would no doubt make them masters of someone. Knowing the Kent name and Vivian’s temper, Charlotte couldn’t imagine that they were necessarily well regarded and it might be a good gossip source. True, the Kent family wasn’t really in her line of sight right now but it was worth it to keep her ears open for potential blackmail treasures. Such things were always of some use later on. She also wondered how much darling Caroline knew about this and whether such an event might shock her out of hiding. The blight upon their family had always hated Vivian the most and the most recent news or even some scandalous rumors may be very useful in tugging her strings. Perhaps the clumsy oaf might have been considerate enough to give her a trail to follow in the wake of these stories coming out.

The wicked red of her lips parted into a vivid smile when she realized how easy her search would be. How kind, Charlotte thought as she looked over the first of a few papers, of her half sister to be so obvious. There were clues within the first headlines of her rag newspaper. A small story on the vandalism of a hotel room was of no particular interest in London or Paris but here, it was of some worth at the mention of blood being found in the room. Now, Charlotte had no proof that her pathetic half sibling had been the culprit. It did raise some questions as to what she might have gotten up to, should she have been the vandal in question. The fact that the person they were blaming for the incident was a woman who was a stranger to the area was promising and even more so that she had left a fake name that did not match the one she gave a driver that had been hired to take her to the museum earlier. It wasn’t a sure bet, of course. For all Charlotte knew, the wretch was somewhere on a ship back to France, bemoaning the separation she felt from her disgusting Papa. The probability of coincidence, however, that the vandal had disappeared in the middle of the night and the car this person had been seen driving had turned out to be a rental vehicle, was far lower than it might be anywhere else. It might not be her but it was a good place to start looking. She wouldn’t have left yet. No, Caroline would not leave without her prize and Victor was very firmly planted here. She would have her prey soon enough. Easing back in her seat, Charlotte enjoyed the idea of finding little Caroline. Of taunting her with the knowledge of how Vivian was there and soon enough, the girl that had once been set to join their family would be flustered and angry as a rabid wolf for her loss. How might that stir her darling, sensitive half sister?

There was a flicker in the back of her mind at the thought of the girl Vivian had been. She was the favorite of all who lived with her. Like a prized sow that would win the day before being led off to the slaughter, Charlotte thought with wicked satisfaction. How she had fallen so far, that wretched woman. She had everything she needed to make herself twice the woman she was now and she gave it up. She was a beauty with the kind of vanity that would command respect, even if it hadn’t been earned. She was selfish and cruel in a way that even rivaled her own abilities. These were a tool set that should have brought the world to her feet to pay worship. She could have had any man she wanted and that must have been something her pathetic parents must have known. Even when they were young, she could not be denied anything. It was almost too perfect to think that the one thing she truly wanted was ownership of their estate and by proxy, ownership of their only brother just to have it. Vivian hardly needed their little house and she cared almost nothing for Victor, except that he should belong to her. He was beautiful, even as a child, and from the start, he was so utterly stubborn. He would not submit to anyone in the household and how that must have been attractive to the narcissistic harlot that was set to be his wife. How beautiful it was to know that their brother turned out to be so utterly reckless. It left their father scrambling for cover and Vivian short a plaything and a groom to cover the expenses that her family could fail to provide. And then she became one of the Kent family. Charlotte was tempted to think that was almost punishment enough. Of course, it wasn’t but that wasn’t important at the moment. No, what was more important was to see what kind of emotions this might stir in the gnat who would sooner see Vivian in the ground than at the altar or anywhere near their brother.

When they were all children, Charlotte remembered the fateful visit wherein they were informed by their imbecilic father that the girl they all despised was going to be a part of their family. When Victor was of age, he would marry her and the news of this betrayal left Caroline inconsolable. Why, her rage was embarrassing, naturally, but it was awkwardly entertaining after some time. Watching their father squirm as he struggled to contend with the bawling brat of a daughter and realizing that her rage would not be controlled by his normal method of incompetent hollering. She had almost been interesting at that point. Her face had been scarlet with the kind of fury that for a moment seemed real. For one clear second of time, Caroline had transformed from a spoiled child of sour temper into a genuine threat. In her fit, she had laid into Vivian, frightening her for only a moment before she got up to fight back. The beating she’d been shown afterwards by Nanny was vicious even by the normal standards but it had done little to quell that rage in her. There seemed a time when Caroline was destined to take the girl to the grave and Charlotte had never truly forgiven her for failing. It was hardly surprising, however. As they got older, the idiot girl who could no more control her temper than her father could had turned neurotic, fearful and pathetic. She learned to fear her enemy for her power and beauty rather than respecting it. Than learning what she could to take it. It was why she would always fail. Why she would also show herself whenever she tried to be discrete in any way.

As Charlotte looked through a second rag paper, she smiled wolfishly at a second story about the mystery vandal. Seemed as though there was someone who might have made their way to the museum recently as well. Why, what a coincidence! Charlotte might just have to find her way there to find out more about what kind of treasures might be hiding amid the rabble.

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