The Caroline

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Shoot him?

Wyatt shook his head. “I dare not, other than as a last resort. The brother married. Something I had not expected or planned for. He may have an heir and not even know it himself. It must be done this way now.”

“Ah.” She began to understand. “I knew that it was not just a coincidence that brought you to us that day in New Orleans; it was fate that saw all our paths cross just at that moment and in the way that they did. Fate also intended that you would be grievously hurt too, in that encounter, and that we would be the ones to repay you by looking after you for the time that we did, so that you might learn more of us, and so that we would all meet up in this way at this time. Even fate can sometimes take a misstep. We will never be able to repay you for what you did for us then and since. We would gladly have done ten times what we needed to do to see you back on your feet. Even to have killed that man for you before now. I would not have let you die after what you unhesitatingly did for us, risking your life then, for us, just as you risked it the other evening to save his sister from his murderous intent.” She seemed to know much more than he realized.

“My family has been ready for you to return to see to that other devil when you would not allow us to do so for you. Fate saw to that too. It saw us brought together on this boat now, all of us, to continue what they began and to see justice done. It must have a role for her to play too, somewhere. I wonder if he feels the angel of death getting closer and breathing down his neck. He cannot know that he is shortly to die, though whether at your hand or at mine or my father’s, but that is also fate. Perhaps it is my fate to die also for the part I will play in this. He will want to kill me after what will happen to him.”

“It is not your time, Leonie, nor mine. It is his and his alone. No. I shall be the only one in danger when he finds out what we have done, and I will be ready for whatever might happen. Tonight will not be difficult. The light will be dim, and I shall give him no clues to trigger any memory that might warn him. As far as he is concerned, I am a cautious gambler, but that you have persuaded me that I cannot help but win with your help. He cannot know that everything is stacked against him instead of me. It is tomorrow night that he will become dangerous, after he loses everything, if all goes as planned. But that part of it is for me to see to after you and your father and the others have gone.”

“Be careful.” She put a hand on his arm. “He is treacherous, like his father. Even worse, as he is a coward. He will shoot you in the back if he is given a chance and then come after us and perhaps even the others at the table if he believes they may have had any part in his losing, and he will suspect.”

“I know.”

“I think I should be jealous of her rather than she of me, but then I love you only like a sister who has but the one brother, but even that love is overpowering. It is a strange feeling. I hope she is worth it. You have spent too many of your lives looking for her, protecting her, and being revenged upon them.”

“She is worth it. I had no real life until I found her again. The greatest satisfaction will be for me to see her living in her own home once more and able to see me for who I really am. Those other painful memories will soon be behind her, as they always should have been. However, I am not doing it just for her or out of revenge. Revenge is a force that destroys too many people and especially those who try to carry it out. No, I regard this as long-overdue justice, just as I did with her father, even though that meeting was accidental. I had no choice in what I did then. She would have no peace and nor would others as long as even one of them remains alive. He shall recognize me just before I kill him. I shall have thatsatisfaction, at least.”

“Be careful. That was the downfall of his brother at your hands.” She reached up and touched his face. “In another time and another life.” He took her hand and kissed it. She recollected their purpose in being there. “If we do not go forward now, we may lose the opportunity. He believes that I am seeking you out even now to persuade you into a game that he has prepared for, for the last few days with my help. He has learned to begin to trust me, though he will never truly trust me when the stakes become as high as they soon will be. He believes he cannot lose with me to help him.” She laughed gently, even cynically. “Me! If only he knew. When he does find out, he will try to kill us all. He is worse than his father, but few know that.” Wyatt was already aware of the lengths he would go to remove even small obstacles and embarrassments from his path, including his grandmother (he and his father had worked together on that) and more recently his own sister. Perhaps even his elder brother, if the truth were known, seeing his opportunity to remove him from his way. He would not have grieved long, if at all, over loss of his father either, seeing the entire property come to him in the end, despite its crippling debt.

“He will try. He will not succeed. We know of him. He does not know of us for the moment, but he soon will. What of the others?”

“They are ready too. Tonight it will be easy for you to win as he intends for you while he will lose a little of what he has already won to encourage you. He has not dared to cheat as he usually does, not with Culbertson watching him and the cards like a hawk and insisting that I run after whatever else they need.

“I am free to move about the room to serve drinks and some food, as Culbertson dictates, as well as to deal the cards as required [Henstridge cannot believe his luck there], so I can see most of the hands one way or another in a mirror or the glass-fronted drawings or by seeing them as I approach the table to do what is demanded of me, though none of them are hidden from me anyway. No one might suspect how it is done, except he knows, while believing that he is the only one who does, and not everyone at that table. I let him know with a slight movement of my head, when only he can see me, whether to bet small or large or not at all. He does not know that the entire table will be against him tomorrow. It is important for a man to know who his friends might be, but it is much more important to know who his enemies are, and he has many of those that he does not know. He believes that I would do anything to see Culbertson lose to gain my freedom from him. His plans for me after that are all too obvious. If he only knew that Culbertson is my father and is itching to kill him as I do, if you don’t!”

“As long as he continues to suspect nothing.”

“He suspects nothing. Nothing!” She poured him a glass of liquor. “You will need the smell of this on your breath and to appear slightly inebriated.” He rinsed a little of it around his mouth before swallowing it and dabbed a little on his coat lapel. She moved back into his arms, as a sister might, for a well-loved brother, and not at all shy to do so as he kissed her on her forehead. She gently disarranged his hair to give him a slightly wild look as though he had been drinking and had become careless of his appearance. He smiled at her.

“It will soon be over now. It is a pity I did not do this years ago and saved you from this danger.”

“Do not worry about me. There is a time for everything: a time to be presented into the world, a time to live, a time to die. I am scared, but I have done all that I can. Be very careful. If he recognizes you, he will suspect what we are trying to do, and he will try to kill us both tonight rather than see the game continue, even though he believes that he would eventually be a major winner. At least he believes that he will win. He even has that winning hand prepared.” She laughed.

“Yes. That hand is already dealt and is ready to be played tomorrow night. He will call for a new deck of cards for that. There can be no suspicion of him cheating when he wins. He carries those cards with him all of the time. He trusts no one, not even me, with so much at stake. He saw to the initial arrangement of the deck which will be most carefully introduced into the game after the shuffle and the cut. That is for me to do. He does not know that I also prepared another deck just like it. Mine will be the one played and not his, but he will still get the hand he expects. Your hand, however, will beat it. I will make sure everything is clear to you tomorrow. Tonight does not matter. No matter how badly you play, or how poor your cards, you will be allowed to win, somehow. They all trust me, though Henstridge has difficulty trusting anyone quite that far, and with good reason. You do your part this evening, and then we can do what we need to do tomorrow. We need to go now before he becomes too impatient.”

“If he finds out that you are Culbertson’s daughter—”

“If he finds out who you are, it will be the same thing. He opened his door and looked out carefully before they left together.

Caroline had gone from her table back to her room, but it was getting late, so she had probably retired. He guessed what she might be thinking after he had gone off with Leonie but could do nothing about it. It would all be revealed soon enough.

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