Twenty-five (2)

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The agreed meeting point was the Lyons Corner House in the Strand. It wasn't the swankiest teahouse in the city, but it was smart enough according to Izzy, who had picked it for them. It was also conveniently situated close to Waterloo Station, and it served a nice afternoon tea.

As she rushed past the displays of appetising chocolates, cakes and biscuits in its front windows, Vita couldn't have cared less about the reputation of the teashop. Her mind was fixated on confronting Mr Lang while keeping her wings in check.

Leaving the chaos of the thoroughfare behind, she entered the three-storey building and made her way through the Food Hall, dashing past men with parcels and people queuing by a theatre ticket booth. Without catching her breath, she climbed the staircase leading to the first floor restaurant, and only paused on the landing, her heart hammering.

After the noise of the street and the shop below, the tearoom was a haven of peace, with its orchestra playing a soft tune in a corner, and the quiet chatter of patrons matching the clinking of spoons against china cups. Vita scanned the place, overlooking its Art Deco décor, plush dark wood interior and wall mirrors, to focus her attention on the customers sat around the white tablecloths.

As a young waitress in a maid-like uniform approached her with a polite nod, Vita spotted Mr. Lang at the far end of the room by a large window. Before the girl had time to speak, Vita strode forward, her jaw set and her gaze on her target. Halfway across the room, she realised Mr. Lang was alone at the table, a newspaper in hand. He lifted his head at her approach and put down his paper, standing up to greet her with an easy smile.

"Where is Izzy?" she asked.

A flash of surprise at her rudeness widened Mr. Lang's eyes, but he recovered with a chuckle.

"Hello to you too," he said. "Izzy is downstairs making a telephone call. She'll be back in a minute, have no fear."

Anger gathered in Vita's stomach like a storm. The nerve this man had, hiding his wickedness behind gentle manners and a mischievous grin. To think she had trusted him.

"No need to be flustered," he went on, pulling a chair for her. "You're not late. Izzy just wanted to call Mayfair to make sure her luggage was on its way to Southampton, you know how she is about those things..."

Vita sat down, barely listening to his small talk. A bead of sweat ran down her back, but she didn't take off her coat or hat. There was no way she was staying and having tea with this man.

She slammed the ivory lighter on the table. "Recognise this?"

Mr. Lang was in the process of sitting back down when her question caught him unawares. His features rearranged into a carefully neutral mask, and he settled down in his chair, his stare on the carved object.

"Graham found it in your room at Weatherly," Vita added. She struggled to keep her voice calm despite the blood pounding in her ears. "Is it yours?"

Mr. Lang folded his hands in front of him and sat back. He took a deep breath and his lips parted, but as he was about to speak, the waitress materialised at their side to hand them menus. Mr. Lang's face relaxed as he looked up at her. His mouth stretched into a smile, like an actor switching to his favourite character's role again, and he grabbed a menu. Vita bit back a dismissal to the waitress, and instead glowered at the girl's immaculate white apron and matching cap while she talked about teas, pastries and cakes with Mr. Lang. He must have ordered for all of them, as the waitress soon walked away with a cheerful promise to be right back. She nipped around the tables effortlessly, her black silk dress allowing her to blend in with the dark decoration, before she disappeared through a door at the back of the room.

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