Charlotte sat back in the cushioned seat of the cafe, her tea steaming in the morning light as she waited. She patiently stroked her finger that she’d pricked on the thorn the other day as she waited, even though it was terribly sore. Something about the pain was comforting in a way that she could not place but it was like a promise of things to come. A kind of reassurance that the pain had been a part of a process. One that would soon come to fruition and all would finally be in place to leave this dreary town behind. She hadn’t even time to question this sense of confidence when the very object of her interest came into view. She smiled when she saw her enter, the bumbling fool. Her wool coat was at least two seasons out of date and the cloche on her head was ill-fitting and she kept drawing attention to it when she thought no one noticed as she endlessly adjusted it. Such a disgrace to fashion, she looked so hopelessly awkward, it was like seeing a comedy unfold before her. She wandered in, completely unaware that she was being watched. Charlotte could tell, even though her target was wearing those dark round glasses of hers, that she still wore that same worried, glazed expression of stupidity that she always had, particularly when she was up to something that was easy to blackmail her for. It lingered in the deepening lines of her face that seemed to grow into great branches across her brow. Charlotte was consumed with contempt and disgust but all it did was make her smile. After all, it was so rare that a target might grant her such an opportunity to extort her so very willingly. It was as though she wanted to be abused and Charlotte was all but too happy to fill that request.
Oh how she had always held such feelings of malice for her sibling. Half sibling, she quickly corrected her own thoughts. Their blood was thinned by her being the daughter of that insufferable git whom she paid worship to each time she breathed. How she always loved that vile man with all his rage and the tiny, pitiable amount of love that he reserved only for himself. There might have been a time when she might have found herself slightly more compassionate towards her foolish half sister but that had all but dried up since they had matured. Charlotte had been long privy to the understanding that her father, and most of the men that she married, were of the mind that they were to be treated as gods and it was the lot of people like the pathetic insect before her that dutifully granted them the pleasure. To see her witless sibling stumbling before her was to see the chasm of difference a little bit of guts and a little bit of young, fresh blood could do. It was a small blessing but Charlotte was more than happy to be able to even claim that much distance. That she must be familially tethered at all to that woman was entirely too embarrassing for her and it was a slight against their dear shared mother that she might have given even the wretch a hint of her grace. Thankfully, whatever traits she might have stolen from Mama in the womb were all but indistinguishable beneath the bumbling genetics of her father. The proof of this stood before her as the woman whom she called that hateful name Caroline busied herself with some unseen hem or some other such disgraceful fashion faux pas, completely unaware that she was being spied upon. Why, she’d gone and even stained her gloves. One of the fingers looking very much like she’d stuck her finger in a tart at tea, the clumsy oaf. Wouldn’t surprise her if Caroline had forgotten to remove them, given that she couldn’t seem to recall to hide such soiled gloves in her hand bag. Charlotte had to bite her tongue to keep from snickering.
The woman before her tripped and stumbled her way around like a drunkard, finally settling down into a seat and waiting to be served. The staff of the cafe were as appalled by her as Charlotte and for the briefest moment, she had to turn from the spectacle for fear that her shame might show on her face. That it might give her away. Best not to tempt fate at this point. She did, after all, need to keep her wretched kin alive and in one place for the time being. With Victor so close by in those hills, it was unlikely that she would venture too far away from this dreadfully boring town but she had surprised Charlotte by being difficult to find in the last day or so. While Caroline had never been clever or even the least bit observant throughout the years, she was rather good at getting upset when she did discover something unpleasant and it would prompt her to run for cover. Like a little frightened rabbit, she always was. When things became so difficult for her, even if they weren’t that difficult at all, there went little Caroline, sobbing into the bushes and bumbling about in a fit of useless rage that she took out on the plants and sometimes the animals if she wasn’t too clumsy to catch them. She looked just as pathetic now and there was no doubt that she would venture into hiding if she knew who was after her. If she even suspected that the woman in the green coat and the large hat was hiding the black curled tresses of the sister who had tormented her so when they were young, she might very well abandon her obsession on their brother altogether.
Well, perhaps not. She always did have such a great and unhealthy love for that boy and perhaps that might have prompted Charlotte to feel the least bit of disgust or even pity for Victor growing up. Perhaps it was the real reason that she thought that killing him would be too much of a loss for her. It had been so very easy to make him do what she wished when they were younger. She saw how Mama’s temper came out in him and how it was vexed the man they called Father and of course his simpleton of a daughter. Why, it was almost enough to make her feel something akin to pity when she thought of the tears that were shed in that house on account of Victor and the ways she could inspire him to break from that dreaded role they had sought to force him into.
That is, it might have inspired such feelings if not for how delightfully easy it was to pull her half sister’s very delicate strings when it came to the only boy in the house. He was a willful child for certain. All of Mama’s fiery temper but built to a slow, commanding kind of confidence that only grew as he got older. He had all the will but it was she who had the wits. The urge to throw chaos into the fold and watch them all writhe. Charlotte had prided herself on plucking at the boy every chance that she got, her influence helping to tear down the man who kept them captive. He’d been such a willing pupil under her too. It was as though he knew from that very young age that the man who claimed them as children and him specifically as heir was nothing but a dullard. He grew to hate him and Charlotte watched the widening gulf between them with glee. All while helpless Caroline fretted from the sidelines, trying desperately to get his attention from his rage and that silly little scullery maid. To know that Victor himself could barely stand her presence after a while must have been pure agony for her. How it must be playing on her now too, Charlotte smiled to the image reflected in the cafe window. The woman with the cloche on her head, hanging over a cup of tea and looking every bit the spinster that she was. This was everything that her devotion to that hateful man had gifted her with. Charlotte sincerely hoped that it choked the breath out of her for good soon.
The wind howled outside and with each rattle of the door or the shaking of the window frame, the woman before her trembled and gasped. It was all the tell-tale signs that she was hiding something of great importance. Her stained she wrung her hands endlessly, her tanned gloves showing the signs of great distress and with each passing minute, she seemed almost as though she might burst forth and run like a mad woman. All the time that she sat at that table, cupping but not drinking the tea before her, she did not remove that silly wool coat. It was very possible that her target was simply biding her time until she could stand herself no longer. In preparation, Charlotte very quietly and calmly paid her bill and relaxed, enjoying the spectacle.
As though she were reacting on cue, Caroline finally stood, her untouched tea now cold. She motioned to pay for the cold cup and with the first motion, a letter fell from inside her coat. Charlotte felt her gut instinct react and she fought the urge to scoop the envelop from the ground. Holding to her casual demeanor as best she could, she watched Caroline fumble as she scrambled to gather the letter and pay. Charlotte’s finger throbbed wildly as she thought of what might be in that envelop. What manner of things she might be hiding. Perhaps even the key to the money that she had taken advantage of. Whatever it was, Charlotte would know what it was soon. She waited until her target stumbled her way through the door and after forcing herself to wait a moment or two, gracefully took to the chase. She smiled brightly, her red lips all that could contain the growl of desire. If that letter contained the money she sought, it would surely be hers by the end of the day.