Twenty (1)

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When Vita, Archie and Mr. Dalca appeared at the end of the towpath at last, a sigh of relief escaped Izzy's lips and her shoulders relaxed. She let go of Robert's hands and hugged Vita in a tight embrace that made her friend stiffen.

"Thank goodness you're all safe," she said.

Vita detached herself from Izzy's arms and adjusted her hat, her face a cold mask.

"So?" Izzy asked. "What happened?"

"Finley was arrested," Archie replied. He slid an arm around Vita's waist to draw her near, and she didn't protest. "It's over."

They started walking towards the train station in the cool evening air. It was a short walk, along two deserted streets where the streetlamps created golden halos in the shadows of the falling night. Almost every Londoner had already taken a train back to Paddington Station, and Izzy hoped they hadn't missed the last train. To her delight, Robert took her arm as they made their way along the pavement, their footsteps echoing against the brick facades.

"I don't think it's over," Vita said, after a short silence. "Finley's gun was thrown in the water, and if he denies any involvement in the shooting, they'll have nothing to keep him behind bars."

Izzy frowned, and glanced at Archie for reassurance. But his answer wasn't as straightforward as she wanted.

"We'll know for sure in the morning," he said. "There's no point worrying about it until then."

Vita gritted her teeth, clearly worried.

"Maybe the police found something at the warehouse," Izzy said, trying to back Archie and calm Vita. "Some proof of his illegal activities."

Robert nodded, and warmth spread across her cheeks at his support.

"And at least we know you're safe for the night," he said.

"But are we?" Vita snapped, turning to Mr. Dalca.

He walked next to her with his hands in his pockets, his expression darkened with concern.

"Who's in Paris, Holden?" Vita went on, her eyes bright with veiled anger. "What's Finley blackmailing you with?"

Izzy stared at Mr. Dalca, interested in this new turn of events. He didn't meet anyone's questioning gaze.

"This isn't the time or place for this conversation," he replied, his voice low.

"Right," Vita said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "let's carry on with hiding crucial pieces of information that are likely to get us killed."

Mr. Dalca stopped in his tracks, forcing everyone to halt in the middle of the street.

"The people in Paris don't even know you exist," he told Vita, his tone still quiet, "you have nothing to fear from them."

"That's so flattering and reassuring!" she snapped back.

"You don't understand--"

"Yes," Vita interrupted him, "yes, I do understand. You're in over your head in a mess you've created and you can't get out of. I understand you dragged me into this mess and you refuse to tell me the truth about it because you think it'll somehow protect me. I understand that despite what you think, I'll be far safer once you're out of my life."

Vita's face was reddening uncharacteristically, and her voice was rising. Izzy took a step towards her to calm her down, but she pulled away from Archie to stand tall in front of Mr. Dalca.

"So you know what, Holden?" she said. "Just go. That's the last time I'm telling you to leave. I'm not interested in your secrets, in your truth or in your lies. I don't want your protection. I don't need you in my life. So just go."

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