Sixteen (1)

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In the corridor by the ladies' cloakroom, the atmosphere was stifling. Vita used her black ostrich feather fan to cool off a little, without much success. Her evening gown, made of black lace and white silk, didn't help. Sweat ran down her spine. She wished Izzy would hurry up so they could return to the auditorium.

The night at the opera had turned into the most boring occasion. The Royal Opera House was showing Mozart's Don Giovanni, which Izzy had deemed unmissable. It was conducted by some famous German musical director whose name Vita had forgotten. It made Covent Garden the place to be this evening, yet the whole thing wasn't as exciting as it sounded.

The girls had come with Izzy's parents, and Archie had declined their invitation to join them. He hated the opera and Vita couldn't blame him for finding an excuse to avoid this chore. Mr. Lang, however, was there and Izzy had convinced her father to invite him to join them in their box. Vita could only imagine the awkward conversation they were having right now, while Izzy and she were gone. Or maybe Mr. Lang was doing brilliantly. He seemed to adapt to any situation, including when faced with supernatural creatures.

Vita lit a cigarette and leaned against the wall, under the disapproving glare of a matron waiting to access the cloakroom. She blew smoke towards the ceiling with an impertinent look for the old lady, who muttered about today's lost youth.

"Good evening, Vita."

She froze and her jaw tensed. "I thought you weren't supposed to follow me anymore."

She turned to face Holden, who stood with his hands in the pockets of his impeccable black three-piece suit.

"You were attacked again yesterday," he said, his voice even.

Vita narrowed her eyes at him. This wasn't the guilty apology she waited for.

"And this justifies you forcing your way into the opera house?"

"I bought a ticket," he replied.

Vita rolled her eyes. He had an answer for everything, and he kept looking at her with a worried frown.

She took a drag of her cigarette. "What do you want?"

"Were you harmed?"

"No. What was Nyx doing there?"

Holden shrugged. "I stayed away, but I couldn't leave you without any protection. And I was right, wasn't I?"

Vita snorted, shaking her head in disbelief. "He killed someone. He's not a bodyguard, he's a grim reaper."

"That man attacked you," Holden said, his tone cold and his features hard. "He got what he deserved."

Vita waved his reply away. "I'm not having this conversation with you. I'm fine. Go away, and take your chimeras with you."

She turned to face the entrance to the cloakroom, waiting for him to leave. He didn't. She finished her cigarette, ignoring him, until he spoke again.

"I apologise. I didn't come here to upset you."

Vita glanced at him. His lips were pressed in a thin, anxious line.

"Finley is after me," he said. "After you. I narrowly avoided him this morning. He's recruited new partners now, and he's bent on bringing us back into the fold."

Vita paled, although she tried to keep a calm expression.

"He knows your name," Holden went on. "He likely knows where you live and he can find out about your comings and goings easily. It's only a matter of time before he makes his move."

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