Nineteen

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Vita stopped dead in her tracks, forcing Archie to halt mid-stride and Holden to nearly collide with her.

"He's here!" she said.

Archie growled her name, but she ignored him. Slipping out of his grasp, she marched towards the spot they'd just left, where the doctor's figure now waited with his hands folded in front of him. He held a gun in them.

"He's here!" she shouted.

Where were the police when you needed them?

She was vaguely aware of Holden and Archie calling after her, but she didn't care. She wouldn't leave until she saw this through. Out of nowhere, Nyx, Astro and Pyralis materialised at her side, their teeth bared and threatening growls rising from their chest.

Behind her, Archie let out a loud curse.

"Stay away!" Holden commanded him. "Find the police!"

She was within talking distance of Finley now. She stopped, out of breath and anger flaring in waves inside her.

He looked the same as he had in the warehouse, save for the white coat. He still had his round framed glasses, a receding hairline and a grey suit. He was still impeccably shaved.

"Dear Victoria," he said with a thin smile. "I'm so happy to see you again."

The chimeras circled around her, their bodies tense and ready to attack Finley at the first hint of a threat from him. Holden stood behind her, his breathing loud. Finley's gaze travelled above Vita's head to meet his.

"And Holden," he said.

Vita glanced around her, expecting constables to burst out of the bushes and from behind the tree trunks at any moment.

"Don't worry about the police, dear", Finley said, "they're busy dealing with my men, I assume. We have time for a little chat."

"There's nothing to talk about," Holden spat.

Anger made his voice vibrate. Finley remained unperturbed, his tone condescending.

"Of course there is. We need to talk about how you two are going to join me again for my research."

Vita blinked, wondering what on earth made him think they would follow him. Holden seemed to agree, as he replied:

"Go to hell."

Vita's heartbeat was out of control. The police really were nowhere to be seen, and Finley was so smug she feared he did have a plan to escape arrest again.

"Holden," she said, "let's just neutralise him ourselves."

Between the two of them, they could do it. Finley just had the one gun, and they were stronger than he was. She just hoped the chimeras wouldn't take this opportunity to rip his throat out.

But Finley held up one lean hand. "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

"Why?" she asked.

Again, he turned his gaze to Holden to answer. "If anything happens to me tonight, I've given orders so that a telegram will be sent to Paris."

Vita frowned, confused. She glanced behind her at Holden, who had blanched. Dread rose in her chest.

"What?" she said. "What's in Paris?"

Holden didn't acknowledge her question, his stare on Finley. Hatred radiated from him and Vita barely recognised him.

"What, you haven't told her?" Finley chuckled. "Tsk, tsk."

He pointed his gun at them. "I think we have an understanding. You two come with me, or I contact our friends in Paris, who'll no doubt be delighted to hear where you are and what you've been up to."

Fear flashed across Holden's face, and Vita's blood turned ice cold. Holden wasn't afraid of anything, was he?

"I'll come with you," he said to Finley. "You leave the girl out of this."

Vita opened her mouth to protest, but Finley was quicker. He shook his head.

"I'm afraid this isn't a negotiation, my friend. Miss Victoria here is far too valuable for me to simply let her go about her life."

Something in Vita snapped. If there was one thing she hated, it was having men talk about her in her presence as if she wasn't there. Her wings burst out of her back with a whooshing sound and her claws grew without her conscious decision. To hell with capturing Finley alive. He was a killer, and he meant to hurt her. She'd stop him herself if she had to.

"It's Lady Victoria to you," she growled. "And if you want me, you'll have to come and get me."

Finley's eyes widened in surprise at her transformation and her reply. He pulled the trigger, and Vita side-stepped him, knocking the gun on the grassy ground. Then she punched him in the face. Her fist connected with his nose, and a satisfying crunching sound echoed.

"Vita, stop!" Holden shouted.

He grabbed her by the arm and forced her back. He was too strong for her to get free. Finley collapsed on the ground, holding his bloody nose. He reached for the gun, but Nyx swept it away from him and sent it flying in the water.

"Do not attack," Holden yelled at his chimeras.

The muscles of the three beasts worked under their scales, but they obeyed him. They circled Holden and Vita, snarling at the doctor on the ground.

"Vita!"

Archie's anguished voice came from far behind them. Vita turned around, folding her wings and retracting her claws. In the distance, Archie and half a dozen policemen ran towards them. Holden forced her to retreat in their direction.

"Go," he told the chimeras.

The three beasts disappeared into the bushes. Archie and the constables reached Vita and Holden, and Archie took Vita in his arms while Holden explained to the police Finley had tried to shoot them. One of the policemen handcuffed the doctor, while another asked where the gun was. Vita's heart sank when she realised it was in the water.

As Finley was led away by the policemen, Archie kissed her on the forehead.

"It's over," he said, "it's over now."

Finley cast her a last look, a smug smile creeping up on his lips. There was no gun, and he knew it. Nothing to link him with the shooting. Vita hoped there was something incriminating at the warehouse, and something to show his involvement in it.

Otherwise he'd be out on the streets again by morning.

It was far from over.

***    

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