Yes, my dear girl! More than strong, we’re better than him! You and me! TOGETHER!
‘For God’s sake!’ she hissed out loud. Blushing as surprised faces turned to her, she muttered, ‘Can’t get this to work.’
‘I know the feeling,’ mumbled Isabella crossly, jabbing a forefinger into the mess of her sculpture. Then she looked up and followed Cassie’s gaze as she glanced once again at the handsome face behind her. Isabella’s own face darkened, and she touched Cassie’s arm, smearing it with wet clay. Lowering her voice, she said, ‘Ah. Cassie, are you OK?’
Cassie blinked. Was she that obvious? ‘I’m fine. Fine.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes! Stop it. I’m fine,’ said Cassie, raising her voice more than she intended. She flushed as more students turned to look at her, and as she saw Isabella’s hurt expression.
‘Look, I’m sorry, Isabella,’ she whispered. ‘I just—You’re right, it’s a bit weird. Let’s talk about it later, eh?’
Isabella nodded and turned back to her clay with a sigh. Feeling another stare, Cassie flicked her gaze towards Richard. He seemed very solemn, till she caught his eye. Then he winked, and smiled proudly down at his creation.
Cassie followed his gaze, and a moment later flung her hands to her mouth to stifle her explosion of laughter. She just about managed to disguise it as a coughing fit, and Signor Poldino hurried across to pat her back and reassure himself that his favourite student wasn’t about to expire. As he fussed, Cassie turned back to Richard with a deadly look. His eyes opened wide, innocent, and he splayed his hands questioningly above his suggestive sculpture. This might look like a fine pair of taut buttocks, his pleading eyes seemed to say, but that’s only your dirty mind. To prove it, he slapped his hands on to them, closing his eyes briefly, then opening them and grinning.
‘You,’ she mouthed through her smile, ‘are disgusting!’
It only made his grin all the wider.
Grudgingly, Cassie couldn’t help but think that she was glad Richard was in class that morning. She couldn’t deny that he’d cheered her right back up, and she wasn’t sure she would have lasted the class without his lewd mischief-making to distract her. Not with Ranjit’s lethal, beautiful eyes boring into her back. As soon as they’d cleared up and the class was dismissed, Cassie bolted. She wasn’t going to hang about and risk a grisly confrontation with her ex.
Her ex. Yes, that was all he was. Cassie gritted her teeth and dodged swiftly through the corridor crowds, ignoring the wrench of misery in her gut. The spirit’s gloating voice wasn’t really helping; that only served to remind Cassie of how strong the pull of him had been, for Estelle as well as herself. Frankly, she thought, Estelle was protesting too much. But how might she expect a vicious spirit to behave when it was scorned and rejected? No wonder the old bat was bitter. No wonder she wanted herself and Cassie to triumph alone. If only Estelle didn’t keep reminding her of his attractions.
Who cares about a pretty face? Hypnotic eyes? Hah! The feel of his skin? What’s that worth? We thought he was our protector, didn’t we? Our forever lover, the missing part of us. But he let you down, Cassandra! He betrayed you! Betrayed us!
Well, supposedly it was for our own good, Estelle, Cassie thought – though she could hardly believe she was using Ranjit’s own defence as justification. Apparently he had to obey Sir Alric’s orders to keep me out of the Confine …
He’s a coward!
That he certainly is, thought Cassie grimly. She needed to keep remembering that. Ranjit could have tried, found a way around it. He had given up. Estelle was right. He had let her down.
For the rest of the day Cassie managed to avoid Ranjit. Maybe that was because she was so hyper-aware of his presence, but she was pleased with herself anyway, for pulling herself out of his magnetic field every time she felt the tug. Isabella seemed to realise she was having a hard time, because she stuck close to Cassie all day, taking her arm as they hurried away from each class. Of course, thought Cassie, her friend knew just how she felt …
‘Go on, give me the gossip,’ Cassie said in the lull between English lit and Russian. ‘I bet you’ve picked some up already.’ And besides shopping, a good gossip had always helped cheer Isabella up. Maybe it would work for both of them.
Isabella brightened a little, seeming glad to be distracted from her gloom. ‘OK. Well, Alice,’ she whispered, nodding across the courtyard at the English girl who’d once been the evil Keiko’s roommate. ‘Her and Yusuf, apparently, though probably not for long, knowing him. But they were in the boathouse last night. Richard spotted them kissing.’
‘No!’ Cassie stared at the girl. ‘I thought Yusuf only went for other Few. I hope he’s behaving himself.’
Isabella rolled her eyes. ‘I don’t think he’s that picky. And of course he isn’t, he’s completely – what’s the word? – incorrigible.’
‘That isn’t what I meant.’ Cassie gave her roommate a meaningful look.
‘Oh! Oh, I see. Well, I’m sure he’s careful, even if it’s – you know – feeding he’s after. He’s OK, really. Much nicer than Keiko.’
‘Well, if he is, he better not let Sir Alric find out, with his precious rules. And anyway, you’re so obvious, Isabella! You reckon he’s OK? What, just because his eyes are the colour of eighty per cent Belgian chocolate …’