Merciful Vices

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Chapter 14

When Charlotte woke the house was silent. Tara and her father had gone to mass and the staff appeared to have taken the opportunity to sleep in.

Charlotte had just made coffee and gotten comfortable with a book when the thunder of hooves startled her. She made her way to the front door and peered out a window. She cursed under her breath when she recognized Heather’s massive shire Gunner. Five or six people rode with her, Charlotte recognized some of them from the previous meeting.

She opened the door and stepped onto the porch, “Heather, what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to see Mr. Cabarro, obviously.”

Charlotte rolled her eyes at Heather’s tone, “He’s not here. He and Tara are at mass.”

Heather huffed, “I forget people are dedicated to that stuff.”

Charlotte unlocked the gate and waved the group into the back garden.

“Ya’ll sit. I’ll organize some drinks.”

“Look at you. Domesticated.” Heather teased, “I have a surprise for you when you get back.”

In the kitchen, Charlotte slumped against the counter. Seeing Heather was not getting any easier. The kitchen staff, roused by the horses, prepared tea, coffee, and a light breakfast for the unexpected guests.

Charlotte joined the group outside again and tried to remain collected.

“What is my surprise then?”

Heather flashed her a brilliant smile and whistled. A huge animal came bounding around the corner. Charlotte couldn’t contain her squeal of excitement when she recognized Heather’s timber wolf, Seras.

Seras recognized Charlotte as well. Her tail wagged furiously and she tried desperately to lick Charlotte’s face.

“I’ve missed her so much.” Charlotte said softly, “Thank you for bringing her.”

“I assume they’re not to know that we know each other, so I’m glad you got to see her alone.”

“Thank you, Heather.”

Seras settled down beneath Charlotte’s chair. She must have looked enough like a dog because the kitchen staff didn’t run away screaming at the sight of her when they brought breakfast out.

“You are living the high life over here aren’t you?” Heather teased as the staff walked away.

“I’m an employee. No high life for me.”

“Mm.” Heather mused. “Why though? This makes no sense Char, you’re not a maid.”

Charlotte chose to ignore the contempt in Heather’s words.

“I told you I wanted a normal life. I’m paid well. I live in a magnificent home. There’s no police on my tail.”

“These people are anything but normal, Char.”

Charlotte shrugged. An awkward silence filled the space between them. Eventually Heather spoke.

“Are you seeing anyone?”

“I’m not sure that’s any of your business, but yes. Are you?”

“You know I don’t care for an empty bed, but no one worth mentioning.”

“Heather-” Charlotte sighed.

“Please. Don’t start. I’m not yours to lecture anymore. Yes, I know my business is dangerous. Yes, I know the Cabarros aren’t what they seem. I have made it clear that this is who I am.”

“That’s not what I was going to say,” Charlotte pouted, “I was going to say I’m sorry for how things ended. It’s not much in the face of what I did, but I am sorry. We weren’t understanding one another and I handled it the absolute wrong way.”

Heather flushed slightly, “I appreciate that, very much.”

Charlotte looked around and lowered her voice, “I do have to warn you though. These are not the kind of people you want to tie your business to.”

“I have my reservations but that is my decision to make.”

A maid appeared suddenly and handed Charlotte an envelope.

“A young man delivered this on horseback. He said it’s very-” She paused searching for the English word.

“Urgent?” Heather offered, lifting a brow at Charlotte.

“Si.”

“How bizarre,” Charlotte muttered as she opened the letter.

2′o clock. We’re coming. Stay safe.

K.

“What is that about?” Heather asked.

“Oh. Uhm. Nothing.” Charlotte folded the note into her pocket and checked the time. Eleven.

She was about to warn Heather to make the meeting quick and get out when Mr. Cabbarro’s voice boomed around the corner.

“Miss Shepherd! What a delightful surprise.”

“My apologies Gio. I haven’t been a religious woman in quite some time. I didn’t mean to encroach.”

“Not at all. Not at all. I don’t know how I feel about it all myself. What I do know is when you live the life I do it’s best to cover all your bases.”

Heather laughed politely and shook his and Tara’s hands. Tara was unusually curt and quiet.

“Charlotte. Thank you for keeping our guests comfortable in our absence.”

She nodded.

He patted her shoulder and sat, “Stay. I value your input, My Dear.”

“Is that a fucking wolf!” Tino yelled as he jumped back. Mr. Cabarro laughed heartily.

“Tino. Relax. This is Miss Shepherd’s companion, Seras. She is a wolf, but I promise she is quite the sweetheart, “I met her at our first meeting.”

Tino eyed Seras suspiciously and took the seat furthest from the sleeping wolf.

Charlotte listened to the meeting in silence, her mind racing. The meeting was dragging on and she had no way to warn Heather. Whatever plan Kane had could not be good.

“Excuse me for a moment.” Charlotte stood and headed inside. In her room, she slipped her revolver into the waistline of her skirt and strapped her knife to her thigh. Every sense on fire.

When she glanced out her window Heather was standing and she looked furious.

“Jesus. What now?” Charlotte muttered as she ran back outside.

“I will not have my business sullied by your sketchy side deals.” Heather spat.

“Sullied?” Tara replied, “You’re a two-bit criminal with an illegal liquor business.”

Heather’s jaw tightened and her posse moved to surround her.

“Perhaps that is true, Sweetheart but even I have my standards. I don’t deal in opioids, and I never will.”

Tara stood and took a step towards Heather. She either ignored or didn’t hear Charlotte’s warning to calm down. She looked from Heather to her posse with unveiled repulsion.

“You cowboys think you are so much better than us because the bad things you do are steeped in patriotism and a self-imposed moral compass. You’re a murderer. Just like me, just like my father. The difference is we don’t have delusions of grandeur.”

Tara turned on her heel to walk away when a single shot rang out.

“What the fuck!” Heather yelled as she jumped to her feet covered in blood splatter.

At first, Charlotte couldn’t figure out whose blood it was then Tara began to scream. Her father lay face down in the flower bed at Heather’s feet.

Heather whistled for Seras and turned to her posse, “Get out of here. This isn’t our fight.”

Charlotte watched relieved as they left when she turned around Kane rounded the building with at least fifteen men. In seconds gunfire rang out all around her. Mr. Cabarro’s men tried desperately to hold off the assault but half of them weren’t even armed.

Tino appeared at Charlotte’s side, “I got Tara inside. Follow me!”

“I’m sorry Tino. I can’t.” He looked from Charlotte to the chaos and slowly it dawned on him, “You- You’re with them.”

“Tino I need you to go get Lena and get away from here. No one is going to survive this, do you understand me? Don’t die for a rich man’s war.”

Tino stared at her aghast for a few seconds before running inside calling for Lena. Charlotte tried to shake the look of utter betrayal on the faces of the guards she shot to get to Kane. He stood calmly in the middle of it all firing off the occasional shot.

“Charlotte. I’m glad you’re okay.”

“I could have done with more warning Kane.”

“I know I’m sorry. This was a hasty decision on my part. I couldn’t figure out how to reach you safely. Where is the heiress?”

“She’s inside. Let me go get her. I can talk to her. We don’t have to hurt her. She never wanted this life to begin with.”

Kane pulled her behind a flower bed, he spoke through gritted teeth, “Don’t go soft on me now Charlotte. I warned you, you don’t get special treatment. You always knew what this was.”

“I’m well aware.” She hissed, “Just trust me.”

“Fine. Bring her to me. This is almost over.”

Charlotte took off and Kane surveyed the scene. All but a few of Cabarro’s men were dead or surrendered. No one would have time to warn the rest of his men at the docks. They would be taken care of too.

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