‘That’s kind of you, Jake. Cassie, welcome to the Academy. I’m sure it will be a completely new experience for you, and that you will learn very much.’
With a superhuman effort, Cassie kept smiling. She wished Katerina would wipe her own off her face. The girl was all teeth.
‘Well. So much to do. The Few have called a Congress for tomorrow, and I must help with the preparations.’ She gave Isabella a glance that to Cassie seemed sly and taunting.
Oh, for crying out loud, thought Cassie. Her imagination was working in overdrive. Katerina had smiled at Isabella, that was all. The girl had the tact and sensitivity of a Rottweiler, but she wasn’t Cruella de Vil. If Cassie didn’t stop making these snap judgements, she was never going to make any friends.
‘Bye, Katerina,’ she managed. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘Likewise, I’m sure. Goodbye, Jake.’ Katerina let her hand linger on his arm. ‘I’ll see you later.’ With a last smile, she stalked off, graceful as a panther.
Isabella had fallen silent. Jake’s cheekbones reddened as he stared after Katerina with yearning. Cassie cleared her throat and swallowed her pride.
‘Thanks,’ she said brightly. ‘You saved me from a messy death this morning.’
‘Under a car? At the gate?’
‘Oh. Yeah.’ Jake scratched his neck awkwardly. ‘That’s OK. I’m sorry I was kinda curt. You gave me a … a fright.’
‘Well. They wouldn’t really have run me over, of course.’
‘You reckon?’ he said darkly, before abruptly changing the subject. ‘So you’re enjoying Fresh Meat Day?’
Cassie made a face. ‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Jake!’ scolded Isabella.
‘I’m sorry, did I say Fresh Meat? I meant Freshman Day, of course.’ Cassie blinked at his bitter sarcasm. ‘Listen, Isabella, it’s great to see you, but I need to go register for classes. See you later, ’kay?’
‘Oh. OK.’ Her disappointment was way too obvious.
‘Nice to meet you, then,’ said Cassie.
‘And you,’ said Jake abruptly. ‘Welcome to the Academy. Oh, Isabella?’
For heaven’s sake, thought Cassie. The girl might as well have Ask anything of me tattooed on her forehead.
Jake nodded at Cassie, but he was looking at Isabella. ‘Take care of her, OK? You know this place. She doesn’t.’
‘Sure, Jake. You know I will.’
‘Patronising git,’ muttered Cassie as he strode away.
Isabella tore her gaze away from his retreating back to stare at Cassie. ‘No, really, he’s just a bit …’
Cassie gave her a slow grin.
Isabella shrugged, bit her lip ruefully. ‘Just a bit up himself?’
‘You got it.’
They both laughed, Isabella a little too hysterically.
Isabella linked her arm through Cassie’s. ‘Let’s go and register.’
‘All right. I—’
Something prickled the back of Cassie’s neck. Frowning, she turned.
At the curve of the stairs stood a boy, immaculately dressed in a stylish black suit. A book was open in his hand, but he wasn’t reading it; he was watching her, intently, and he seemed to be holding his breath. She expected him to be embarrassed, but he didn’t turn away. His dark, pellucid stare was riveted on hers, but he didn’t smile.
Cassie didn’t either. Her neck tingled again. She felt a sort of thrilling surprise at his nerve, but if he wasn’t going to look away, why should she? He was black-haired, tawny-skinned, and beautiful. As beautiful as Katerina, but in a different way. His beauty wasn’t cold. It was serious and warm and the word noble popped into her head—
For God’s sake! What was she thinking? She tugged at Isabella’s arm.
‘Come on!’ she hissed.
‘It’s OK.’ There was laughter in Isabella’s voice. ‘You can look, you know. You might as well. That is all anyone gets to do with him.’
‘Why?’ She would not, would not, would not turn back to see if he was still there. Even though the effort was killing her.
‘That,’ said Isabella, ‘is Ranjit Singh.’
Cassie kicked off the last cotton sheet and lay spreadeagled, staring up mesmerised at the chandelier. It winked in the moonlight, tinkling gently. Half an hour ago she’d pulled the heavy damask curtains a little apart and slid the window open, but it hadn’t helped. The room was too hot, the bed way too soft. Her cheap supermarket pyjama T-shirt clung to her skin. And Isabella, sleeping the comatose sleep of the innocent, was snoring gently.
Cassie gave her roommate a wry grin. Nice that even tempestuous Latin American beauties snored. Anyway, Cassie had no intention of waking her. Of course Isabella wasn’t going to be as over-excited as a scholarship girl on her first night.
Oh, this was hopeless. Sliding off the bed, she padded back to the window and pulled the curtain a little wider. Recognisable landmarks sparkled like huge jewels, familiar from the books Patrick had shown her: the Arc de Triomphe, the towering obelisk in the place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower. Earlier tonight, Isabella had hauled her across to the window.
‘It’s so beautiful, look! La ville lumière, Cassie – the City of Light!’ Isabella had laughed with delight. ‘What better place for the Darke Academy?’