Cassie gave him a surprised look, but cheerfully Isabella leaned across and slapped his knee. ‘Jake, don’t be such a grouch. He took her to the musée Carnavalet! It’s so romantic. So stunning.’ She sighed. ‘And so is Richard.’
‘He’s a stunning, romantic rat.’ Jake obviously wasn’t going to let it go.
‘Hey, leave it out,’ said Cassie lightly. ‘You mean I can only attract rats?’
‘Course not.’ He grinned at her. ‘But he’s a charmer. Watch yourself, that’s all.’
‘He’s a nice guy,’ said Cassie, starting to feel a little cross. ‘You can’t judge him by his family. Or by what he’s worth. I bet you wouldn’t like that yourself.’ Anyway, she thought, you’re the one that needs watching.
Jake’s face darkened. ‘My family has nothing to do with this.’
‘Well, maybe his hasn’t either!’
‘Jake, I know you don’t like Richard, but there’s no need,’ put in Isabella soothingly. ‘You mustn’t have such a ship on your shoulder. You are just the same with Ranjit.’
Cassie had never actually seen someone’s face freeze before. She’d thought it was just a figure of speech, but Jake’s expression had gone rigid as stone. That look of hate didn’t suit him. But that was what it was: hatred.
‘Don’t talk about him,’ he hissed, then forced his features into something like a grin. ‘And it’s a chip, by the way.’
Isabella’s startled breath had caught in her throat, but now she smiled with relief. ‘Very well, I won’t. Richard has nothing you haven’t got. Nothing important.’
Her good humour seemed to have restored Jake’s. ‘Yeah, but I know how charming he can be. He tried it on with me once.’
Cassie did a double-take. ‘He did?’
‘Oh, sure. But he’s not my type.’
Taken aback, she snapped, ‘So that’s why you don’t like him?’
‘Nah. I didn’t mind him hitting on me, but he sure as hell minded me turning him down. He’s had it in for me ever since.’
Isabella scowled at Jake. ‘Now you’re spoiling Cassie’s date.’
‘No, he isn’t. That doesn’t bother me.’
‘Quite right. Richard Halton-Jones is a catch, Cassie!’
‘Richard Halton-Jones is a love rat,’ muttered Jake. ‘And not just with girls.’
‘You know what? I think you are very sweet to worry about Cassie. You don’t need to, but it is very gallant of you.’ Isabella leaned over again to kiss him on the cheek. Reddening, he gave her a sidelong, surprised grin.
‘What a cosy little gathering,’ said an icy voice.
Jake practically knocked Isabella off the sofa as he jumped up, his blush now almost thermonuclear. ‘Katerina, I—’
The Swedish girl waved an elegant hand. ‘No, Jake, I shan’t interrupt. It’s lovely that Isabella is getting some attention. Sometimes I think she lacks it.’
Yup: definitely more Snow Queen than Dancing Queen.
Katerina had chosen where to stand deliberately, Cassie decided, because she knew the light through the tall windows would flatter her pale skin. She’d picked the right backdrop, too: against the richly swagged dark-blue curtains she shone like a cold angel. Jake seemed bewitched. Isabella was thunderous.
‘Katerina! Don’t go,’ pleaded Jake. ‘We were just talking. Isabella was just being … enthusiastic.’
‘Ah! Isabella is always enthusiastic. About everything! That’s what I love about her! Dear Isabella, I think you understand life and love so much better than we do. Always such joy. Like a puppy!’
Katerina wore a delighted smile, but Cassie didn’t miss the bite beneath her words. Isabella sucked in a breath, but even she had been silenced. Cassie looked expectantly at Jake, waiting for him to play the gallant again and leap to Isabella’s defence. For a moment it seemed as if he might. Then he closed his mouth and gave Isabella a sheepish glance.
‘Yeah, Isabella, I love how you enjoy life!’ he said, too brightly. He hovered for a moment, as if he might lean forward and kiss her back, but he was distracted by a discreet cough.
‘Jake, be a darling.’ Katerina turned to the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and brushed her fingers across a set of leather spines. Jake shivered, as if it was his spine they’d stroked. ‘I need the Voltaire, and the two volumes of Rousseau, but look at them, they are huge! I don’t think I can manage on my own.’
‘No problem, Katerina.’ Reverently he drew the books out of the shelf and carried them after her. Cassie watched transfixed as they vanished into the corridor.
‘“Ooh, can you carry my books, Jake?” Pah!’ Isabella had got her voice back at last – a little late, thought Cassie ruefully. ‘That boy will be horribly deformed by the time he leaves this school.’
‘He will?’ said Cassie.
‘From being twisted round Katerina’s little finger so often.’ Isabella clenched her fists furiously. ‘He is too stupid to know when he is being led by the nose. Like one of my father’s bulls. Hah!’
‘Don’t worry. I don’t think she really likes him. I mean, I think you’re right, she’s just stringing him along. She’ll get fed up. He’ll get over her.’
‘Worry? Why would I worry? Why would I care whether he gets over her, or throws himself into the Seine for love of her? I’m not interested in a boy whose brains are stuck in his—’