Vita's attention was brought back to her table when Mr. Lang put his elegant fingers on the cigarette lighter and slid it toward him, his eyebrows knitted together.
"So?" Vita said. "Is it yours, or not?"
Mr. Lang played with the lighter, and it produced the clicking noise she had heard during her kidnapping.
"I remember it from the warehouse," she said, her temper rising the longer he took to answer her. "So don't lie to me."
Mr. Lang let out a sigh, and pocketed the lighter.
"It's mine," he said.
A weight plummeted into Vita's stomach. It was him. Yet despite his confession, his demeanour was still much too calm and unapologetic for her liking.
"You... you kidnapped me," she said. Rage constricted her voice and flushed her face. "And Holden, and those girls. You killed them, you..."
Leaning across the table, Mr. Lang attempted to grab her hand. She recoiled, her skin crawling at the idea of him touching her.
"Listen," he said, his voice low. He flattened his hand on the tablecloth and stared into her eyes. "I didn't do any of those things. Finley did."
"But you were the one paying him to do them!" Vita replied. "You even came to the warehouse!"
"I went to the warehouse to remind him no one was supposed to die," he said, his whole body tense towards her. "It's the one and only time I set foot there. I paid him to find a way to cure death, not to murder innocent girls. You have to believe me, Vita."
She wrinkled her nose at the sound of her nickname on his lips, but let him talk. This man was married to Izzy. For her friend's sake she ought to hear his side of the story. This was why she had come after all, instead of calling the police or Archie.
"I had this dream, you see," he said. "I had it for the longest time. And one day, I met Finley, who had the means to make it come true. He was like an answer to all my prayers. So I trusted him. And I know I shouldn't have, but I did. And I believed in him, until it was too late."
He paused and lowered his gaze, pain flashing across his features. Vita sat frozen in her seat, wondering whether she could believe in his regrets.
"Finley told me he'd be in touch as soon as he had results for me," he went on. "But weeks went by, and I realised he was lying to me, hiding some terrible deeds from me. So I tracked him down, and went to the warehouse."
"You saw me," Vita said, resentment bubbling up inside her again, "you saw Holden. You didn't do anything."
"I didn't recognise you," Mr. Lang replied. "I didn't make the connection between the lady I'd met at Burlington House and the unconscious flapper girl Finley told me had volunteered for the experimentation."
Vita snorted at the notion. "You thought the girls volunteered?"
She shook her head at his naivety.
"Like I said," Mr. Lang went on, "I believed what Finley told me. And when I saw you at the warehouse, he promised me he was so close to success the girl –you- wouldn't die. So I left, and waited to hear from him."
He raised his gaze to meet Vita's. "I can't tell you how sorry I am I left you there. I've regretted it ever since. I've replayed the scene in my head a thousand times, and I've imagined a thousand ways I could have helped you then."
Vita frowned. "Why? The experimentation was a success. I'm not dead. You got what you wanted."
"I didn't," Mr. Lang shook his head. "You didn't volunteer. Finley tortured you and turned you into something you never wished to be. I realised too late how insane he was, how he had lied to me. How much you hated him – and me by association. This whole venture was a disaster."
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The Bright and the LostHistorical Fiction
#WATTYS2017 Winner - HIGHEST RANKING # 5 - DOWNTON ABBEY meets Libba Bray's THE DIVINERS in this YA Historical Fantasy set in 1922 England. Unlike all the Debutantes she knows, eighteen-year-old Vita couldn't care less about her coming out ball. Tra...