Three

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The aggravating sound of water dripping on metal woke up Vita.

Both her tongue and eyelids were heavy, and her whole body was so stiff she couldn't move. She lay on her back on a cold, hard surface, a fierce headache hammering against her temples. A vague recollection of the club's cloakroom made her think she had fainted on the tiled floor, below a leaking tap. She didn't recall having had more than two drinks, though. It usually took a lot more than that to make her ill.

She took a sharp breath, and a wave of nausea rippled up her throat. To keep her stomach in check, she breathed more slowly. The air around her was stale and hot, making her wince. She needed fresh air. She needed to get out of the club and be swept away by the spring gusts of wind.

Where was Mr. Lawrence when you needed him?

Gritting her teeth, she made an effort to ignore her pounding headache and to focus. Her eyes fluttered open. Above her, a big water pipe ran across the high ceiling.

Her heart stuttered.

She wasn't in the club's cloakroom.

She was in a large basement, with plaster peeling off the brick walls and a complex web of iron pipes lining the ceiling. A single light bulb lit the room, casting shadows in every corner.

Panic rose in Vita's chest, and she swallowed her nausea for the second time. She couldn't afford to give in to fear now. She needed to get out of here – wherever or whatever here was. Moving slowly, she lifted her head and peered around her.

The room had no windows, and a single metal door on the opposite wall. It was closed. The furniture consisted of several long wooden tables, chock-full of glass beakers, phials filled with dark liquids, piles of books and pieces of paper and – more worrisome – knives and surgical tools. A few stools had haphazardly gathered themselves around the tables, while against the walls, all manner of odd steel machinery with wheels and wires stood, as if waiting to come to life.

Her mind reeled, incapable of deciding whether this was reality or a nightmare. A tremor ran up her body and she gave her head a shake until her thoughts cleared.

A run-down warehouse, she tried to analyse rationally. Probably in East London. Likely isolated. It would do her no good to scream for help, and it was more probable she'd attract the attention of whoever had brought her here than a helping hand.

With a heavy sigh, she gathered her strength to stand up. Her limbs, still asleep, had trouble responding to the command, while her mind was closer to surrendering to panic with every second that ticked by.

Then her gaze travelled down her body, and stopped on her wrists. She was tied with coarse rope to a stretcher, which lay on a table. She bit her lips, forcing a whimper back down her throat, but her breathing accelerated despite herself.

The memory of a man standing behind her in the club's cloakroom and of a syringe at her throat came back to her in a flash.

Who had taken her and why? Did they know who she was? Were they rivals of Archie's? What did they want with her? Her imagination ran wild at the possibilities.

Her heartbeat now thrashing in her ears, she pulled at the ropes. Her ankles were tied as well, and one of her shoes had fallen off. She was still wearing most of her clothes, but her coat must have remained at the club. Sweat beaded her forehead and back as she struggled, to absolutely no avail. Whoever had tied her down had known what he was doing. She was too weak from the drug they had given her and from her own hangover to get free just by pulling at the ropes.

She glanced at the door, the realisation that her captors might be returning soon dawning on her. She might not have much time.

She focused her attention on the nearest table, where a small and sharp-looking knife lay abandoned. It wasn't far.

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