This was no chore.
Yusuf Ahmed smiled down at the girl who sat on the velvet couch, far more in his hungry eyes than the prosaic lust of a boy for a girl. Touching her jaw with a finger, he drew a gentle line to her chin: tantalising himself and her, feeling the hunger grow and letting it.
‘Another raki?’ He proffered the carafe.
‘I think I’ve had enough.’ Her voice was teasing.
He gave a soft laugh. Yes, he thought. Yes, I think you probably have.
Yusuf took a small step away from her, enjoying the masochistic kick of prolonging the wait. He was hungry, but not so hungry he would rush it.
Raising his eyes to the open window and the balmy night, he let himself soak up the beauty of it: the moon on the Bosphorus; the lights of a cruise ship strung like a glittering diamond necklace. High and hazy in the warm evening, the dome and minarets of the Blue Mosque gleamed like chalcedony.
It reminded him vaguely of Sacre Coeur, of last autumn term in Paris, when everything had changed. When things had begun, for the first time in so very long, to go awry for the Few. When that scruffy waif of a scholarship girl, Cassie Bell, had turned up at the Academy and been shockingly chosen by Estelle Azzedine, then tricked into becoming the new host the old woman needed for her powerful spirit.
He wished now that he’d never got involved … though he still remembered with some relish the frisson of excitement at the joining ceremony, the sense of entitlement and arrogance and power. He vividly recalled the Bell girl’s fury as they held her down at Estelle’s mercy, and he recalled too the unexpected pity – and fear – he had felt in himself. Because it had gone wrong so fast. The joining ritual interrupted; part of Estelle’s spirit joined with Cassie, part of it shut out in the void; and the Few left as stunned as if a bomb had gone off in their midst.
Yusuf shook his head. A new term had now begun, and the girl Cassie seemed to be settling into being one of the Few. He was actually glad. They were all glad. Or most of them were … So who knew what brighter turn things might take for the Few? Including himself.
Closing his eyes, he inhaled warm air scented with night flowers, sea breeze, petrol fumes and charcoal smoke. Gods, he was going to love it here. This was his final term at the Academy, and he felt a keen sense of regret mingled with the anticipation. His future glowed before him with wealth, success and influence: how could it be otherwise? But still, he’d miss the comradeship, the secrets, the power of being one of the Few at the Academy. It had been fun.
A light hand touched his arm. Yusuf turned to the girl, suddenly aching with the beauty of the night and with hungry longing.
She blinked. Her eyes were already a little unfocused and distant, her smile trembling on her lips as if she’d half forgotten it was there.
He set down his own glass and took her face between his hands. She was lovely, with her golden heart-shaped face and her huge dark eyes. Her lips parted and she made a small sound: it might have been desire or bewilderment, but he no longer cared. She’d drunk what he’d offered her. She wouldn’t remember.
For one moment longer, he hesitated. Feeding like this was forbidden, because it was too dangerous. But for that very reason the thrill made it irresistible. And Yusuf was nothing if not experienced. He was strong, he was skilled.
And damn, he was hungry.
Gripping her face, he brought her lips fiercely against his own. He felt the momentary simple pleasure of human contact. Then, inside his chest, the spirit pulsed and energy gushed into his veins. His eyes widened, reddening.
As the girl made a small moan of protest, he forced himself back under control. He wouldn’t hurt her: that wasn’t how he got his kicks. Relaxing his hold, he intensified the kiss, feeling life-energy thrill to his nerve-endings. Oh, this was feeding, this was satisfaction, this was bliss.
His senses sharpened, smell and taste suddenly acute. He could hear the thrum and beat of the city, the throb of the cruise ship’s engines. He could hear a soft footstep. And then a whisper said his name.
Yusuf Ahmeeeed …
Had he misheard? Releasing the girl, he went still, listening intently.
He’d chosen his place well: this secluded room with its romantic arches and nooks, above the restaurant in Old Istanbul. He’d paid the owner extremely well because he’d made it perfectly clear he did not want to be disturbed.
How did they know his name? Was it someone who knew him from the Academy …?
He shivered at the thought. That was trouble he didn’t want, not right at the end of his school career. Unauthorised feeding, in a forbidden manner? It wasn’t beyond possibility that he could be kicked out, like Katerina Svensson after the business with the Bell girl. Sir Alric took his rules very, very seriously …
Silent, every sense alert, he turned towards the darkness beyond the window arch. He stepped closer, then became preternaturally still as his eyes searched the night. Below him was a courtyard and the balcony extended round three sides of it, draped with shadows.
There. Against a cracked tile wall, one shadow darted past quickly.
Someone was spying on him. One who knew his name. Taunting him: a sixth former, one of the most powerful Few! The spirit inside him kindled, but this time with rage. How dare they!
He’d satisfied his hunger, and now the romantic moment was lost too: one more reason to turn his fury on the intruder. He touched the girl’s face. Gradually, gently, she came back to herself, eyes focusing, mouth curving into a more determined smile. She trailed a hand down his chest seductively, her fingers hooking on his gold chain and rolling its shark tooth pendant between her fingertips.