Twenty-four (1)

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The ball was an outstanding success. Guests waltzed around the once abandoned parquet floored room, the music of the orchestra breathing life back into its golden chandeliers, red velvet curtains and high windows. Sparkling gowns scintillated under the warm light, shiny shoes tapped the dance floor, and smiling couples twirled around each other in graceful choreography.

Archie danced with Vita's mother, while Mr. Lang gave Vita a quick nod from across the room as he waited for Izzy to make an appearance. By the high windows, Izzy's cousin Henry Stratford also stood without a dance partner, his gaze searching for someone in the crowd.

Vita glanced at the long case clock by the double door, a frown lining the space between her eyes. Izzy was twenty minutes late now, and although she'd told them to start without her, Vita couldn't imagine she was happy to miss that much of her anticipated ball in favour of an impromptu discussion with her parents.

Vita put down her still half-full glass of champagne and made her way to the door. Holden materialised next to her.

"Where are you going?"

"I want to check on Izzy," she said, "she should be here by now. I don't know why her parents are keeping her for so long."

She had a guess, though. Given the look of utter betrayal on Lady Rhodes' face when she had taken Izzy with her, it was likely Izzy's parents had somehow found out about her plans of marrying Mr. Lang with or without their consent.

"I'll come with you," Holden said.

Vita paid little attention to him. Graham stood by the ballroom's open door, a silver tray in hand and his eyes on Vita.

"What is it?" Vita asked as she reached him.

A white envelope lay on the tray.

"A message for you, my lady. It's just arrived."

Worry swirled up in Vita's throat. She snatched the envelope, inscribed with her full name in a neat handwriting. She tore the envelope open, hoping this was a guest apologising for a delayed or cancelled arrival.

It wasn't.

Dear Victoria, the note inside read, please join Lady Isabel and myself for a meeting in the clearing. Why not bring Holden along with you? No one else. Yours sincerely, Dr Alistair Finley.

Vita's heart plummeted into her stomach and the room swayed around her. Her mind blank, she handed the note to Holden, and marched out of the room.

"Vita, wait!"

Holden caught up with her, the note crumpled in his hand. She hurtled down the staircase, a panicked buzzing in her ears blocking out his voice. Whatever he had to say was irrelevant anyway.

Finley had Izzy. She had to get Izzy back. It was as simple as that.

She reached the deserted entrance hall, her hurried footsteps resonating under the high ceiling.

"Vita, listen to me," Holden pleaded. "It's a trap. You don't know if he has her or not."

She stopped to face him. "If she's not with him, where is she? Where?!"

Holden held out his hands with a helpless shrug.

"Let's bring other people with us, then," he said. "Your fiancé, hers, some of the manservants."

She grabbed the note from his hand and shoved it near his face.

"He said: no one else." Her voice sounded inhuman. It was a growl, full of threat and anguish. "I'm not risking any more lives to stop him."

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