Richard was watching her with amusement, and she remembered suddenly to be embarrassed. Honestly, she was eating like she hadn’t seen food for a month. She made herself put the pastry down and take a swig of coffee.
‘I like a girl with a healthy appetite,’ he said archly.
Cassie threw her napkin at him. ‘Aren’t you hungry?’
‘That’s not really the sort of thing I like.’ He ran a finger round the rim of his tiny cup of espresso. ‘Although Pain With Chocolate does sound very appealing.’
‘That’s not what it means,’ Cassie told him. ‘Even I know that. You are wicked.’
He raised a languid eyebrow. ‘You have no idea.’
Cassie had to laugh again, shaking her head. What on earth was she doing here? she wondered again. Sitting in the Paris sunshine in a pavement café with a boy who was so far out of her league he might as well be in the next galaxy. ‘Where are you from, then, devil boy?’
His grin flashed. ‘Hades and Norfolk.’ He took a sip of his thick black coffee.
‘Oh? Isabella said something about the West Country.’
‘Just because we own rather a lot of it doesn’t mean we have to live there.’
The face of him. For the first time she felt a tingle of disapproval. She scowled. ‘Is that how you got to join the Few?’
‘Oh, Cassie, don’t look at me like that, I beg you.’ He made puppy eyes. ‘I’m sorry if I offended you. I’m a rich spoilt brat and it sometimes shows. Of course, it’s also a good qualification for joining the Few.’
‘So that’s why Isabella isn’t one of you? I mean, she’s rich and beautiful, but she’s not a spoilt brat.’
‘Cassie, your words cut me to the bone.’ Dramatically, Richard clasped his hands over his heart. ‘It’s the truth that stings like a whiplash, I suppose.’ He gave her another grin that melted her hostility. ‘As for bella, bella Isabella, you never know. We’re due to initiate another member this term, and the Few aren’t all self-centred swines like me. She could be in with a chance. And if Isabella gets an invitation to the third floor, it won’t be before time, in my humble opinion.’
‘Has your opinion ever been humble?’ Cassie still couldn’t repress her smile, though her heartbeat had suddenly slipped up a gear. ‘What’s on the third floor?’
‘Our common room. The Few’s, I mean.’
‘Really?’ She took a casual sip of coffee. ‘I bet that’s something else. You couldn’t let me see it, could you?’
‘Tut tut!’ Richard wagged a finger at her. ‘Certainly not. What a temptress you are.’ He smiled again. ‘Not that special invitations haven’t been known.’
‘Go on. You’ve made me really curious.’
Cheekily, he tapped her nose with a forefinger. ‘Invitations to the common room have to come from all the Few. Sorry, my dear, but it’s a rule. I can’t just take you up there.’
Cassie shrugged as if she couldn’t care less. ‘Law unto yourselves, you lot, aren’t you? The Few. I mean, what kind of a name is that? What do you do, except skip classes? I mean, what are you for?’ Her laughter came out a little strained.
Richard was watching her closely again, his smile a more thoughtful one.
‘Coffee’s cold.’ He stood up, his zinc chair scraping on the flagstones, and glanced at the watch on his wrist. ‘And study time’s over. Heavens, Cassie, you’re quite a distraction.’ Carelessly he took her hand and drew her to her feet. ‘Come along. Back to the Academy with you.’
‘There you are, Cassie! How was the date? Come on, tell me all about it!’
Isabella was in the second-floor library, perched with Jake on a leather sofa the colour of polished conkers. Cassie wished she hadn’t interrupted. Isabella had looked more animated than ever, touching Jake’s arm, making him laugh, laughing back when he said something dark and droll. If she’d been in Isabella’s position, Cassie would have resented anyone butting in, but the Argentinian clapped her hands and beckoned her over. Jake glanced her way too.
‘Come on! What happened? Where did you go? What was Richard like?’ Isabella patted the seat between her and Jake, but Cassie chose the arm instead. She didn’t want to come between them and, anyway, she felt downright uncomfortable around Jake. The way he looked at her was unnerving.
Did he know she’d trailed him the other night? Had he spotted her after all? She stared at the bookshelves that reached almost to the elaborate plasterwork of the ceiling. The only section of wall that wasn’t covered in book spines was the massive gilt-framed mirror above the baroque fireplace. This room was as magnificent as the rest of the mansion, but who would ever find time to read all these books?
‘Well, come on, give! Did Richard kiss you, Cassie?’
‘Course he didn’t kiss me!’ Cassie shrugged, blushing. ‘He was nice. Interesting. I like him.’
‘M-hm.’ Isabella dug her in the ribs. ‘Where did you go?’
‘Ow! First the Pompidou Centre. Then this gorgeous museum in the rue de Sévigné that used to be a private house. And finally his perfect little café,’ she mimicked. ‘On the rue de la Bastille.’
‘Didn’t they lock up aristocrats there?’ muttered Jake. ‘Best place for him. Watch that guy, Cassie.’