Fifteen (2)

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In perfect English fashion, they carried on with their day as if nothing had happened.

Like every year since the war, Archie had booked a table at the Trocadero Restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue where they went to celebrate their winnings at Ascot and their return to urban life.

This time, Archie convinced Izzy's parents their daughter was safe with him, and from Waterloo Station, she took a cab with him, Vita and Robert towards Piccadilly. Lord and Lady Rhodes, unaware of the events of the afternoon, left them for a party in Mayfair, after demanding that the girls be back by ten o'clock. Mr. Lawrence went his own way, to Archie's nightclub. Izzy envied him for missing the ghastly business in the men's lavatory entirely. The Five Shilling Stand didn't sound like such a bad place to be during the races after all. At least no one had died there.

They walked across the marble foyer of the entrance to the Lyons restaurant, decorated with a long frieze depicting Arthurian scenes. They took off their coats before being ushered to their table in an impressive room on the ground floor. The whole place was in the style of a baroque opera, with thick carpets and heavy velvet curtains.

"I hope we're not having the nine-course meal," Izzy said, as they took their seats. "I'm not even sure I can eat anything."

Archie asked the maître d' for the à la carte menu and soon a waiter came for their order.

"It's a lovely place," Robert commented politely.

Izzy smiled at him. She'd promised they'd explain everything to him, although now that the four of them were alone, she had no idea where to start. 'Do you believe in the supernatural' sounded pathetic after witnessing Vita and a scaled monster taking on barehanded three armed men.

A waiter brought their entrées and for a moment they ate in silence. Then Vita put down her knife and fork and turned to Robert.

"All right, I don't know how to do this, so why don't you ask whatever questions you have?"

"Yes," Izzy retorted as Robert paused, his fork mid-air between his plate and his mouth. "Like when you've learnt to punch people in the face."

Vita and Archie exchanged an amused glance, which made Izzy's eyes roll. Of course he had taught Vita to throw a punch. Just like he had taught her how to drive, play tennis and shoot deer.

But Robert cleared his throat, a tight smile on his lips. Izzy turned her attention back to him with an encouraging nod.

"I suppose my first question is: was everything real?" he said.

Vita folded her gloved hands in front of her. "Unless you saw a unicorn in the men's lavatory, I'm afraid it was."

For a disturbing second, Izzy wondered if unicorns were real. But Robert took Vita's answer in stride.

"May I ask what you are, then?" he said.

"You may," Vita replied. "It seems I'm a phoenix, although this is quite a recent occurrence."

Robert mumbled a Chinese word under his breath.

"What is that?" Izzy asked.

"We have such mythological creatures in China," he said. "Female birds, usually associated with the male dragon. It's a very positive symbol, associated with virtue and grace."

"Well, I'm afraid I'm not mythological," Vita noted, her tone sarcastic. "And I'm not sure about the positive side of this either."

"What about the other creature?" Izzy asked. "The monster one?"

"It's a chimera," Vita said. "I've been told it's here to protect me."

Archie was the only one still eating, but this stopped him short.

"Told by whom?"

Vita took a sip of her water before answering without meeting anyone's gaze.

"By someone well versed on the subject."

Archie and Robert exchanged a puzzled look, while Izzy was struck by an idea.

"It's that Russian man, isn't it? The one who called you Victoria at Selfridges."

Archie raised an eyebrow at this new piece of information, and Vita let out a sigh of surrender.

"He's not Russian. And yes, he's the one who told me about what I am and about the chimera."

"Wait, who's this cove?" Archie asked, his face darkening.

He put an arm on the back of Vita's chair, in an unconscious possessive gesture.

"The man whom I thought died at the warehouse," Vita told him. "It turns out he didn't die. Because he's also a phoenix."

"He was kidnapped with you?!" Izzy gasped.

This was new, although Archie didn't seem surprised by Vita's reply. She'd confided in him more than she'd confided in Izzy, again.

"I thought he'd died," Vita said to Izzy. "That's why I didn't talk about him."

"But then he reappeared at Selfridges?" Izzy asked.

Vita had seemed ill-at-ease and eager to get rid of the man then, now that she thought about it.

"In essence, yes," Vita said.

"I apologise," Robert put in, "but I'm thoroughly confused."

They all turned to him. His smile was apologetic.

"You're a phoenix," he told Vita, "and there's another phoenix in the city that's been helping you with this situation. There's this chimera creature that's been protecting you, although from what I've seen today, you don't seem to be in need of much protection. What's the link with the men who attacked us today?"

"There isn't one," Izzy said.

She turned to Vita for confirmation. Vita nodded.

"Those men were after Archie," she said.

"But they've seen you now," Robert replied, his tone worried.

Vita shrugged. "One is dead, one was unconscious most of the time, and the last one thinks he saw an angel. And they're both in prison. I'm not worried about them."

Robert passed his finger over his lips in a pensive gesture. Izzy stared at his mouth, reminded of their kiss, before looking away. Her cheeks flushed despite herself. Part of her was desperate to kiss him again.

"Mr. Lang," Vita said, her tone suddenly stern. "I have to ask for your discretion in this matter. I hope you understand."

Distracted from his train of thought, Robert looked at her, his gaze frank.

"Of course," he said. "You saved my life today. I wouldn't dream of betraying your secret."

The waiter returned at that moment, asking how their meal was going and shooting anxious glances at their only half-eaten plates. Archie reassured him and sent him away.

"I think we better finish our entrée, before we give the chef a panic attack," Robert said, amusement crossing his features.

They resumed eating, and Izzy leaned in to speak to Robert in a low voice.

"You're taking all this rather well."

He shrugged. "I was raised listening to my grandmother's tales of dragons, mountain spirits, reanimated corpses and demons. She believed in all of these creatures. I suppose part of me was prepared for the possibility she might be right."

Izzy's lips stretched into a loving smile. She couldn't help it, or hide her feelings. He was too perfect for her to stay away.

"Your grandmother sounds like an extraordinary lady," she said.

His smile was nostalgic. "She was."

Izzy put her hand on his arm and squeezed. He didn't pull away.

***

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