Twelve

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It was so late that Archie's nightclub was closed when they walked in.

The band and employees had left, leaving only Mr. Lawrence to watch the place. Archie's other men were at Weatherly, keeping an eye out for the O'Reilly boys.

Vita's heels clanked on the wooden floor as she made her way to one of the booths and sat at a table covered with a white cloth. Mr. Lawrence turned the lights back on, while Archie summarised the night's events to him.

With shaking hands, Vita fumbled in her purse for a cigarette, and Archie lit it for her. Her cheek still stung from Izzy's slap, but she couldn't find it in her to be angry with her friend. She inhaled the smoke, struggling to process the fact Tallulah was dead. The green-eyed girl who could draw a still life in a few minutes, and dreamed of being an artist in Paris. Gone.

The wide-eyed, fearful gaze she had shot her before falling to her death haunted Vita. She'd recoiled from Vita's helping hand. Her instinct had told her it was better to plummet to her demise than to be touched by whatever Vita was.

"Drink this," Archie said.

Vita obeyed him without thinking, and winced when the gin burned down her throat.

"Another one?"

She shook her head. She didn't want to get drunk tonight. She wanted to go home. She'd come to London for its intoxicating urban swirl but everything here seemed to draw her further down into darkness. Only fear, monsters and death seeped through the city's pavements and lurked in its shadows. She now longed for the safety of Weatherly's old buildings.

"Give me a minute," she said.

She stubbed out her cigarette in an ashtray and stood up. Archie motioned to follow her but she stopped him with an extended hand.

"I'm just going to the cloakroom. Then can you take me home, please?"

Archie nodded. "Of course."

She met his dark gaze, shadowed by his furrowed brows. Then she walked to the back of the club, and into the cloakroom. She switched the lights on with a sigh and dropped her handbag by the sink. The mirror reflected an image of a dark-haired girl Vita barely recognised. She was pale as a ghost, with dark circles under her eyes and hollows in her cheeks. She squeezed her eyes shut.

A dog barked in the distance, somewhere in the alley behind the club, and men's voices reached her, faint and unintelligible. She ignored them and opened her eyes.

She turned the tap on and took off her gloves at last. She'd been hot all day, and it struck her that now that she was free to cool down a little, she no longer felt like she was burning up. A glance at her hands confirmed what her instinct whispered to her: the markings on her skin were gone. Her nails were still black as ebony, but her veins weren't lined with dark patterns anymore.

Her heart sped up at the realisation, and she pulled up her dress to check her legs, then her stomach. Her skin was pale and plain, with nothing unnatural about it.

She let out a sharp breath. It couldn't be a coincidence the markings had disappeared the night she had lost control of the energy inside her body. She'd ran a fever all day, and when the electricity had shot from her hands, that heat had been released, along with the dark lines on her body. It all had to be related. But how, Vita couldn't tell.

She grabbed her gloves and handbag, turned off the tap and walked back out of the cloakroom to tell Archie.

As she walked down the corridor, she became aware of loud male voices coming from the bar. Locked up in the cloakroom with the water running and her mind lost in a whirlwind of confused thoughts, she hadn't been aware that people had come into the club.

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