Sixteen (2)

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"I can't believe you invited him," Archie said.

Vita and he were in his cream coupé, driving to Weatherly. The sky was bright blue after several rainy days, and the sun glinted off the hood of the car. The soft top was down and a warm wind blew in their faces, tugging at Vita's hair under her cloche hat.

"I can't deny he's part of my life," Vita replied, her tone calm.

Archie muttered under his breath, tightening his grip on the wheel. He wore brown leather gloves and his Homburg hat, and he had a cigarette between his lips.

"I can't see how he can be much help," he said after a moment of silence. "And he might bring unwanted attention to you."

Vita watched the green countryside fly by. Archie was under the impression Holden, like her, had been turned into a phoenix by the scientists' experiments. She didn't want to lie to him, but she didn't know how to even begin to explain the truth without upsetting him.

"He was held captive longer than I was," she said instead. "He knows more than I do about all this. I believe he can help. Can you trust me on that?"

Archie took one hand off the wheel and pressed her fingers in his. "I trust you, love."

But Vita went on, her voice rising all of sudden. "I mean, shouldn't we give it a chance? Shouldn't we at least try to find a solution to this situation? To put an end to this madness?"

Archie slowed down the car, casting her a worried look. He threw his cigarette out. They were on a deserted road lined with tall trees. He kissed her gloved hand in a gentle gesture.

"Of course we should."

She breathed in deeply, her eyes on the road. When she spoke again, her voice was quieter.

"Partnering with Holden is far from ideal, I'll give you that, but right now he's the only one on our side, and the only one who actually knows what's going on."

"We could always go to the police," Archie offered.

"And tell them what?" Vita replied. "That I was kidnapped a month ago, and we didn't think it wise to let them know about it then? You said yourself there was no trace of the warehouse in East London, and Finley and his men have vanished into thin air. The police won't take us seriously, and if they do, they won't be able to do much."

She'd spent half the night awake, tossing in her bed at the Mayfair house and thinking this over. Holden's words kept echoing in her mind, insidiously convincing.

Archie accelerated again, and for a while they rode in silence. Cows grazed in the fields and flocks of birds flew above them, high in the clear sky.

"Do you think we can pull through?" Vita asked, her voice low.

Worry pulled her eyebrows together and her mouth down, and she avoided Archie's gaze.

"I mean, I'm not even human anymore. Even if we manage to stop Finley, I don't think there's a cure for what he did to me. There's no turning back time, and I don't know what the future holds anymore. Do we still get married? Can we even have a family together? A normal life? I don't know anymore!"

Archie pulled the car over and stopped the engine. Then he put his arm on the back of the leather seat behind Vita and sighed.

"Vita, look at me."

Uncertain, she raised her gaze to meet his. His face was serious and composed.

"Now, you listen." He said. "I've loved you since I was eighteen years old. I had always liked you, because you were brash and clever and so, so beautiful. But it was that summer before I left for France, when your mother received the news about your father and your uncles, and you sent me that telegram asking me to come to Weatherly, that I realised I was in love with you. Because you were hurting then, and the fact that you'd reached out to me made me passionately love you and want to protect you."

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