Thirteen

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Vita opened her eyes and drew in a shuddering breath.

Her limbs stiff, she sat up and frowned. She lay on the kitchen table in Archie's club, but she had no recollection of how she'd come to be there. She was alone in the dark room. No one had bothered to open the wooden shutters, and only a faint light filtered under the service door and between the blinds.

"Victoria."

It gave her such a start, she half-fell, half-scrambled down the table. Blood pounded in her ears at a frantic pace, and her gaze flitted around the room until a dark silhouette detached itself from the shadows.

"Don't be scared."

The man stood with his hands in the pockets of his black three-piece suit, the pale morning light keeping most of his face obscured. But Vita knew that intense gaze and slight foreign accent.

"Holden?"

Her voice sounded croaky and small. Then the memory of being shot flooded her mind. She closed her eyes.

Oh my God, I'm dead.

"You're not dead," Holden said.

His tone was calm and rational. With swift movements, he walked around the table and Vita's eyes snapped open. She retreated towards the cupboards.

"Stay away," she hissed.

He stopped in his tracks and held his hands up.

"I'd never hurt you."

He stared at her with thoughtful eyes, as if pondering how to approach her.

"You... You're dead," Vita said, her mind struggling to regain some self-control. "I saw you die at the warehouse."

He shook his head. "I didn't die. Just like you didn't die earlier today."

Vita blinked, her fingers gripping the side of the cupboard for support. She remembered his body vaporised in front of her. Yet here he stood. She remembered getting shot. Her eyes still on Holden, she felt around her chest and stomach with shaky fingers. Her dress was torn and stiff with dried blood, but there was no wound there, and no pain at all.

"How?" she asked.

Another memory tugged at the edge of her mind. Holden's ashes reassembling themselves into a winged being, just before she'd been electrocuted.

His answer came out gentle and simple.

"I'm a phoenix. I cannot die. Not for long, anyway."

Vita cringed.

"That's insane."

She wanted to sound self-assured and sensible, but her answer resonated like a question.

"But it's true," Holden said.

His composure infuriated her. She wanted to slap him until this nonsense ceased.

"And now, you're one too," he added.

A low, animal sound rose in Vita's throat. This couldn't be happening. She lunged at Holden, wishing him as shallow as a ghost and as unreal as a nightmare. But she collided with a strong body that felt all too real. He wrapped his arms around her in a soothing gesture, but she pushed him away, anger flushing her skin.

"Don't touch me!"

As she shoved him aside, a strong pull jerked her backwards and she tumbled on the floor. An alien weight dragged at her shoulders, sending her off-balance. Horrified, she caught sight of feathery black wings spreading from her back and flapping erratically against the cupboards.

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