Seven (2)

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Despite Izzy's protestations, they dropped her off at the house in Grosvenor Square, then Mr. Lawrence drove Vita to Archie's club.

As far as nightclubs went, Archie's was a respectable one. Situated on Bond Street, near Piccadilly, it boasted a seven-piece orchestra and the Prince of Wales as a patron. Archie had bought it after returning from the war, and turned it into a lucrative business.

Vita's heels clanked on the wooden floor as she made her way to the counter near the stage. The dance floor was square, with booths garnished with tables lining the walls. At this time of the day, the place was deserted, save for Archie and a couple of workmen. Only a few table lamps illuminated the club, keeping most of it in shadow.

Sat on a stool, Archie turned his head when Vita entered the room. With a frown, he stubbed out his cigarette in a silver ashtray while she closed the distance between them.

"What happ-?"

Vita didn't let him finish. She had wanted to be in Archie's arms since the moment Madame Vacani had told her about her kidnappers. So she dropped her beaded handbag on the counter before grasping his neck and pulling him into a kiss. The club dissolved around her and there was only the touch of Archie's soft lips on hers, his familiar scent of cigarettes and after-shave, and the taste of his breath. He put his hands on her hips, but didn't draw her in or push her away. Vita closed her eyes and forgot to breathe, willing the world away.

After a while, Archie pulled back and kissed her cheek, and she blinked. His tall silhouette and the club came into focus again, and the banging noises of the workers preparing the stage for the night reached her.

Archie kept her in his embrace, scrutinising her face.

"What happened?" he said, his voice was low and concerned. "You're shaking."

Vita looked down at her gloved hands. She was shivering. Archie led her to one of the tables and she took off her coat. Then they sat down with Mr. Lawrence.

"Will you tell me what's wrong?"

So she did. She explained the men's visit at Madame Vacani's school and she took off her gloves to show him her hands, which she hadn't managed to clean despite her efforts. She described what had happened at the warehouse, from the moment she had woken up and found Holden in his cage, to the last thing she remembered: the electrical current knocking her unconscious. The words came out rushed, as if she had been holding on to them for too long and they wanted out.

When she was finished, Archie stared at her for a long time in silence. She waited, her heart thumping, afraid of the blankness of his expression. His jaw worked silently for a while, until his eyes darkened and she bit her lip with worry.

If he called her mad and sent her back home, she wouldn't blame him, but she wouldn't know what to do either. With her father gone, her mother withdrawn from the world and Izzy absorbed by her Season and her marital status, she had no one else.

At last he took out a silver lighter from his jacket pocket and lit his cigarette. Then he gently grabbed her hand in his, and held it in the lamp's yellow light.

"When did the markings appear?" he asked.

Vita released a breath. If he asked for details, it meant he wasn't giving up on her already.

"I noticed them this morning."

"What were you doing?"

His voice was kind and caring, with an edge to it, as if they were discussing how she had hurt herself.

"I was playing the piano."

Archie's gaze went from her fingers to her face. "What did you feel?"

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