Well. I suppose there isn’t much point to these letters anymore, is there? Not that there ever was much of a point to them collecting dust in my notebook.
Outside, Tino steadied Charlotte,” What’s going on? Are you okay?”
Charlotte inhaled sharply, “I’m fine. Thank you Tino. You’re right, this damned heat and the adrenalin went to my head.”
“Everything is okay. Tara and Mr. Cabarro are okay.”
Charlotte nodded and leaned her back against the wall.
“Tino, is it?” A voice came from behind him. He turned to find the red-headed moonshiner eyeing Charlotte with loosely disguised concern.
“Would you give me a minute with Miss Russo?” Tino looked from Heather to Charlotte. Charlotte nodded and he made his way back inside the building.
“Char.” Heather’s voice was calm and soft, “Are you okay?”
Hearing Heather’s voice after all this time hurt more than Charlotte could have ever imagined.
“Heather. I had no idea. I wouldn’t have come if I had. I know you want nothing to do with me.”
“I know, Char.” Heather took her bandana from her neck and dipped it in the water before holding it to Charlotte’s forehead, “I had no idea either. Obviously.”
“I wanted to write. I did write. I just, I never sent them.”
Heather sighed, “I needed distance. I hope you managed after I left? Why are you working for the Cabarro’s?”
“You know I always manage. As for the Cabarros it’s a rather long story.”
“I bet it is.” A grin ghosted Heather’s face.
The two stared at each other awkwardly, until Charlotte spoke.
“I work for Tara, his daughter, you won’t have to see much of me.”
Heather took Charlotte’s elbow to lead her back inside, “We can be cordial, I’m sure.”
Inside Mr. Cabarro had the whole room entranced with his stories of Italy, even Tara looked at ease as she laughed at her father’s jokes, but she stood as soon as Charlotte and Heather reentered.
“Charlotte. Is everything alright? Come sit with me.” She turned to one of Heather’s men seated beside her and he jumped up to offer the seat. Heather glanced from Charlotte to Tara and back again before taking her own seat.
“Mr. Cabarro. I look forward to working together, but I think this day has been quite long enough. I will come by your estate later this week to tie up the loose ends.”
“That sounds perfect.” Mr. Cabarro rose and shook Heather’s hand. Charlotte followed Tara and Tino back to their horses.
“Do you still want to go find that gang?” Tino asked Tara as they saddled up. “No. Miss Shepherd was right, it’s been a ridiculous day. Let’s just head back.
The ride home was a daze. Charlotte only barely managed to contain herself long enough to make it to the privacy of her room. Nothing could have prepared her for seeing Heather again. No amount of time nor distance made it any easier. To see Heather again felt like ripping the stitches from a wound she’d long thought healed.
She had no idea how long she’d been staring out the window when there was a soft knock at the door. She opened it to see Tara, her face awash with concern. Her usually neat, raven hair loose over her shoulders.
“Can I come in?”
Charlotte stood aside and Tara made herself comfortable on the window seat.
“You weren’t yourself today after we found Daddy. He’s okay. I spoke with him.”
“I know he is, Darlin’. It’s not that. Just this damned heat.”
“Oh Char. I am many things but I am no fool. You grew up here, if anyone can handle the heat it’s you. What really happened?”
Charlotte felt tears well in her eyes, “Tara. It’s such a mess. As most things are when I’m involved.”
Tara stood and wrapped her arms around Charlotte as she frantically tried to hide her tears.
“You can tell me Char. It’ll stay between us.”
Charlotte flopped backward onto her bed, “It’s Heather- uh- Miss Shepherd. We used to, well, I loved her. Very deeply and for a very long time. I was not expecting to ever see her again. I was just overwhelmed.”
“What did she do? I will tell Daddy to cancel this partnership straight away.” Tara stood, defiant and protective.
“No. No. It’s fine. She didn’t do anything. It was me. I was unfaithful.”
Tara looked genuinely taken aback at the admission. She took both Charlotte’s hands in hers, “You must have had your reasons?”
“Reasons? Maybe. Excuses? No. There was not and is not an excuse for my behavior. We both hurt each other but I broke her heart along with my own.”
“Are you going to be okay with this deal? There are a million other slimy moonshiners we can work with.”
“I’m sure she’s the best. I’ll be fine. I’m an adult.”
Tara patted Charlotte’s shoulder and made her way to the door, “As long as you are sure Char. I am in the business of making people disappear after all.” She winked dramatically and closed the door.
Talking about it had made Charlotte feel marginally better, she decided to go and find herself something to eat. Downstairs she heard Mr. Cabarro and two of his Capos talking. She slid into the shadows to eavesdrop.
“I’m telling you. Now is the perfect time to make our move. Kane’s men will be arriving any day now and then it will be much more complicated.”
“As of right now, there is no one ready and able to take over his position. Getting rid of him will be a serious knock for the Romano family.”
Charlotte stifled a gasp as Mr. Romano replied, “You’re right. We ride out at midnight.”
Charlotte scampered back up the stairs to her room where she threw on an outfit. She slipped out of the scullery exit and made her way to the stables. She saddled up her own horse so that no one would notice she had left.
Once again the New Orleans streets flew by her as she raced the familiar back allys to Kane’s home. The sun sat low in the evening sky by the time she arrived. Kane sat leisurely on his porch reading. He raised his gaze ever so slowly at the sound of hooves. Everything he did managed to be effortlessly seductive.
“Miss Locke. What a pleasant surprise.” He closed his book and offered her a hand off the horse. A stablehand appeared, seemingly from nowhere, to take Tanner to the stables.
“Kane. He’s coming for you, tonight.”
If the statement shocked him it didn’t show, “Of course he is. My men arrive tomorrow. The coward can’t even fathom a fair fight.”
“What do we do? There is no way we can win that fight.”
Kane rubbed his temples before taking Charlotte’s arm and leading her inside.
“Do you know when exactly?”
Kane poured them each a generous glass of whiskey and leaned against the counter. Charlotte watched as he swirled the brown liquor around.
“I’ve grown quite fond of this stuff.” He mused, “You Americans do not get a whole lot right, but liquor sure is one of them.”
Charlotte felt her frustration bubble and boil over. She slammed a fist down on the counter beside Kane and took the glass from his hand.
“Damnit, Kane! I race over here to tell you that people are coming to kill you and you are prattling on about whiskey.”
Kane laughed and pulled Charlotte into his arms. Their bodies fit into each other effortlessly.
“I’m so sorry Darling.” He stifled another bout of laughter and kissed the nape of her neck. “You’ve saved my life. I’m going to play the cowardly game as well. I’m sure the hotel in town can house me for a night. By morning my men will have arrived.”
“There’s something else.”
“Well. Don’t have me die of curiosity. Do tell. What news could compare to my impending doom?”
“Mr. Cabarro has aligned himself with Heather.”
Kane couldn’t mask his surprise this time, “Your Heather?”
Charlotte sighed, “The one and only.”
Charlotte could never have anticipated what happened next. Kane gently but abruptly untangled himself from her and moved away from her uncharacteristically awkward.“We can- I mean. This?”
It was Charlotte’s turn to laugh. “I’m not hopping back into her bed just because we crossed paths again. Not that she would extend the offer either way.”
Kane cleared his throat and his signature grin affixed itself to his face once more, “Let me grab a bag. Ride into town with me?”