Eighteen (2)

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They were finishing their picnic and a new race had started when Holden appeared.

He materialised next to their small party, casting a long shadow over the leftover strawberries and Pimm's. Sat on a blanket, they had to look up and shade their eyes to recognise him.

"Oh my," Izzy exclaimed. "For a second I thought you were him."

She fanned her flushed face with her hand.

His tone clipped, Holden addressed Vita. "Come with me for a minute, please?"

Vita took her time to put down her glass and to stand up. Archie and Robert motioned to do the same, but she extended her hand to stop them.

"No need. I'm not going anywhere, and I'll be back in a minute."

She gave Holden a bright smile, ignoring his scowl. They walked to the edge of the river, far enough not to be overheard by Izzy and the men, but within their line of sight.

"How are you liking my plan?" she asked.

"It's the most stupid plan I've ever heard of," Holden replied through gritted teeth. "I can't believe your fiancé let you go through with it."

"Great," Vita said, ignoring his tone. "I like it too."

Holden let out an angry sigh and stared at the river, his jaw set and his hands in fists. Vita narrowed her eyes at him. The ever-calm Holden could lose his temper after all. In a way this was reassuring. Part of him was human.

"You're just cross because you didn't get to make the decision, this time." Vita said. "I did."

He turned his dark gaze back on her, seething. "I'm angry because it's a reckless plan that's likely to get you hurt."

Vita's own temper started to rise. "Well, your plan was plain ridiculous. Forgive me for coming up with an alternative that didn't require me to run away with you."

Holden took a step forward and stood very close, towering over her. He kept his hands in his pockets, as if willing himself not to touch her.

"Why are you so determined to hang on to your life here when you know it's already over?"

"Why are you so determined to convince me my life here is over?" Vita snapped back. "Here is an idea: take your chimeras and run away by yourself."

She gestured towards Archie, Izzy and Mr. Lang. "I'll be perfectly safe here."

Holden let out a joyless chuckle, shaking his head in disbelief. It made her lose the last thread of patience she had. Her cheeks reddened.

"Come on," she said, "it'll make your life so much simpler. You saved my life out of some primal instinct. It was a mistake, you didn't know me, and you don't have to pay for that mistake for the rest of your existence. I don't expect anything from you. Just leave and do whatever it is you do somewhere else."

Holden didn't reply straight away. It gave her a moment to calm down. He stared at her, with the puzzled expression he had whenever she said something that he didn't anticipate.

"You want me to leave?" he said at last.

His voice was low, but without anger now. He sounded surprised. And a little hurt.

"Not right now, obviously," Vita said, unsettled by his reaction. "You said you'll stay until Finley is out of our lives, and I understand that. But once Finley is arrested, yes."

A sadness Vita didn't understand fell on his face.

"I told you, I'm not giving up my life here," she insisted. "There's no reason for you to stay."

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