Merciful Vices

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Chapter 5

Heather,

I hope you are okay. Wherever you are.

Yours,

Charlotte

-Letters I’ll Never Send

*****************************************************

Thunderous rain woke Charlotte. Kane’s room was still dark and he snored lightly beside her. She rose quietly, a technique she was well practiced in. She started to gather her discarded clothing from various corners of the room.

“You wouldn’t sneak out on me, would you?” Kane’s sleep-heavy murmur came from the bed. Charlotte spun around to find him propped up on an elbow, his Cheshire grin in its place.

“I was promised breakfast, Mr. Romano.”

He sat up, “That you were.”

“Paulina will be up soon. I’m going to head to the guest room.”

“Ashamed of me?” He teased.

Charlotte tossed a sock at him and left.

“Miss Russo. Breakfast is ready.” Paulina knocked lightly an hour later.

Charlotte found the table set with lavish fruits and pastries.

“Paulina. You’re too good to me.”

“Oh, Dear. It’s my absolute pleasure.” The older woman beamed, proudly.

“Good Morning, Bellisima.” Kane patted the chair beside him.

Charlotte took a cup of coffee and sat, “Kane. Last night-”

“Don’t fret about it. I know things are a bit complicated. We had a wonderful night and that’s that.”

Charlotte felt her stomach unknot in relief and reached for an orange.

“A wonderful night indeed.” She winked.

They sat chatting and gorging themselves on the delicious food.

“How are you and Tara getting on then?” He asked suddenly.

“She’s lovely. We’ve bonded a lot over books and poetry.”

“That’s wonderful. And her father?”

“He appears to like me but, Kane. He seems to know a lot more about me than you’ve led me to believe.”

Kane put his coffee down and cupped his hands beneath his chin.

“He does. He doesn’t know who you really are but he’s aware you’re no average handmaiden.”

“Why wouldn’t you tell me that upfront? I could’ve exposed myself or got caught in a lie.”

“He needs Tara to believe you’re her handmaid and her friend, not some plant from him. And well, I needed to make sure I could trust you.”

Charlotte jumped to her feet, “Is that what last night was about?”

Kane stood as well, trying to catch her flailing hands.

“You had to make sure I was well and truly under your stupid spell?”

Finally, he got a hold of her hands and pulled her to his chest, forcing her to look up at him.

“God. No. Last night was as unexpected for me as it was for you. You aren’t known for being the most trustworthy My Dear. We’re both criminals after all. Last night had nothing to do with all this.”

“I best head back before they get curious of my whereabouts.”

Kane let her hands go, “Of course. I’ll have Tanner brought out front.”

Charlotte grabbed her satchel from upstairs. She stood for a second before the mirror. Last night her loneliness had had such a hold on her heart she’d made a careless choice. Working with people like Kane and The Cabarros left no room for recklessness.

“Mistakes kill people every day.” Heather’s voice filled her head.

When she went downstairs Kane stood by the front door looking sheepish, his grin absent for once.

“Charlotte. I don’t want you to leave upset at me. Please.”

The look in his eyes and that word on his lips were both so foreign it caught her off guard. The realization of the endless repercussions of last night faded to the back of her mind as her resolve softened.

“I’m not upset at you. You’re the only friend, other than my uncle, that I have right now. I don’t regret last night. I wish you’d been transparent from the start but I know my reputation precedes me. It isn’t the most reassuring.”

“It isn’t, Outlaw.” His grin finds its way back to his eyes. “But I should have known better than to listen to rumors.”

Charlotte looked from him to the dark storm clouds outside, “Could I borrow a coat?”

“Of course.” Flustered he pulled a long grey one from the coat rack. He held it out for her to slip into. His hands lingered on her waist.

“I wish you could stay.”

“Behave yourself.” Charlotte laughed. She turned to face him and then gave him a spin, “How do I look?”

“Ravishing, as always.” He kissed her cheek and sent her on her way.

By the time Charlotte got back to the Cabarro estate, she was soaked through. She handed Tanner over to a rather annoyed stablehand and went around to the kitchen door.

“Well, well, well. Look who it is.” Tara’s voice came from the pantry. Charlotte jumped.

“Tara. I thought you’d be at Mass.”

Tara coughed dramatically, “I’m too ill.”

Charlotte laughed and extended her hand, “Let’s get you set up in bed then.”

Tara grabbed a bottle of Merlot from the pantry and took Charlotte’s hand.

“Nice coat, by the way.”

Charlotte tucked Tara into bed and poured them each some wine.

“I’ll be right back. I’m going to change out of these soaked clothes before I catch my death.”

“Don’t be silly, put my robe on. It’s nice and soft.”

Charlotte shrugged off the wet clothes and wrapped herself in the fluffy robe.

“There! Now sit.” Tara shuffled over and Charlotte hopped into the bed. They’d spent many afternoons like this, getting to know each other.

“So. Why were you sneaking in through the back door, in a man’s coat?”

“You’re too nosey for your own good. It’s my uncle’s. I saw him yesterday. Why are you feigning ill to skip Mass?”

“You said your uncle was a bear of a man. That coat looked quite-” Tara faltered, “accogliente.”

“Snug? It was soaked. You didn’t answer my question.”

“Fine. Mass is a bore and Daddy has been relentless about introducing me to business contacts. He’s readying me to take over. I can’t stand another minute of it.”

“Not many women get an opportunity like this, Tara.”

“Why would I want to live a life of crime and stress and bloodshed. You know that’s what Daddy’s life is, right? No one gets this wealthy without it.”

Charlotte’s heart panged at Tara’s pleading tone. She’d heard it in her own broken heart so many times.

“I understand that, but to turn down this life for uncertainty, out there, is such an incredible risk. Don’t think I didn’t notice you pining for that seamstress in town.”

Tara blushed crimson. “I wasn’t- I. That’s absurd.”

Charlotte took her hands, “It’s okay. The love of my life was a woman. So were many other loves of mine. I’m not judging you. I’m just telling you. There’s hardly a life for married women out there. There’s certainly no life for women who love women. It’s hard for you to fathom that life, Darlin’”

“I can’t live the rest of my life in a world I want no parts of. It’ll destroy my soul. Just like it has Daddy’s.”

Charlotte pulled Tara into her arms as the tears fell, “Okay, Darlin’. You’re okay. You’ve got time to work this out.”

Tara’s sobs died down to sniffles and she looked up at Charlotte, her eyes shining with defiance.

“I’ve not been pining after the seamstress for a while now.”

“Oh. Who then?”

“Who’s coat is that?”

Charlotte laughed, “No deal, Sweetheart.”

“You’re no fun, Char.”

“So I’ve been told. I think I hear your father’s coach. You best finish that wine and lose the bottle. I’ll go and make you some tea.”

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