Isabella wiggled her eyebrows. ‘You noticed that too, then!’
‘Heh! What do you expect? He’s Few – being pretty is part of the package,’ Cassie grinned, though with a hint of sourness. Then again, maybe Isabella should do a bit of flirting, even if it was with the notorious Yusuf. So long as that was all it was, Cassie thought warily. Still, the girl certainly could do with a bit of fun. She seemed to be obsessing less about Jake – hadn’t mentioned him since, oh, the lunch break – but when her friend was off guard, there was still that intense sadness in her dark eyes.
‘How have you been getting on, Isabella? I know it’s hard being back in classes and stuff.’
‘Don’t worry about me. I’m all right. Really.’ Her smile was a little bit too bright, and Cassie ached for her roommate. Poor Isabella. Cassie had to start finding more ways to cheer the girl up; she owed it to her.
‘Listen, if you really want to know what happened in the boathouse, why not go and have a little chat? He’s right over there, and he keeps smiling at you.’ Cassie jerked a thumb in Yusuf’s direction.
‘Oh, I don’t know, I …’
‘I can’t believe you’re passing up a juicy bit of gossip! Go on! And to be honest, I wouldn’t mind knowing myself,’ lied Cassie, ‘but I’d never have the nerve to ask. He’ll spill to you though. Give it a go.’
‘He’ll tell me where to go. And how to get there quickest.’
Cassie made her best puppy-dog eyes at her friend, and Isabella gave a small smile. ‘OK, fine. I suppose it can’t hurt to exercise a couple of flirty muscles, even if they are mainly in retirement at the moment.’ Isabella seemed to pull herself together, with a hint of an old glint of mischief in her eye. ‘Let me see how much I can get out of him. Coming?’
‘You go ahead, scandal queen.’ Cassie grinned, delighted at her success. Isabella would never take the philandering Yusuf seriously, but a bit of his attention would be bound to boost her confidence. ‘You better report back to me, and I mean everything. I’m going to check my emails, see if Patrick’s sent his travel details through yet.’
Cassie watched Isabella till she was sure she was chatting to Yusuf, then turned happily and headed upstairs.
Big mistake. Turning beneath the archway that led to their room, she came to a dead halt. An all-too-familiar figure was leaning against the door. Her heart lurched and she almost stumbled, and that made her even angrier. How could he still keep having this overwhelming effect, even now?
‘What are you doing here?’
Ranjit Singh pushed himself upright, rubbed his neck. ‘Waiting for you. Obviously.’ He risked a smile.
Cassie didn’t return it. ‘I don’t see why. We’ve got nothing to say to each other.’
‘Don’t be like that, Cassie—’
‘Like what? I’m doing as I was told, aren’t I? Doing what you want. Being a good girl.’ She felt her face twist into a sneer. ‘I mean, you made your position pretty clear last term, Ranjit, didn’t you? We can’t be anything to each other, we can’t be together. It’s not appropriate, it’s not possible, it’s not allowed.’
‘Cassie, that’s not what I—’
She shook her head violently, afraid she might lash out – or worse, burst into tears. ‘We can’t even stand by one another in a crisis, can we, Ranjit? Or at least one of us couldn’t. So there’s nothing to talk about.’
He opened his mouth, but seemed momentarily stricken. With a sound of disgust, she tried to shove past him, but he caught her arm in a fierce grip.
‘Don’t touch me!’ she shouted, though something inside her thrilled at his touch. He let her go as if her flesh burned him.
‘I’m not here to cause trouble.’
‘So why are you wasting your time? There can’t be any other reason.’ Even as she said it she could feel the closeness of him, the way she yearned to touch him, the almost irresistible desire to kiss him, draw him in, consume him.
‘You still feel it,’ he whispered.
Cassie opened her mouth to lie, but thought better of it.
‘Yes,’ she said fiercely. ‘But it doesn’t matter what I feel, never did. It’s over, Ranjit. Get it through your thick head, and your spirit’s too.’
Wrenching the iron handle, she shoved through the door and tried to slam it in his face. His beautiful face.
‘Please, Cassie. Hear me out!’ His eyes were brilliant with something beyond desperation as he gripped the door, holding it open. Excitement? Was that excitement she saw?
She hesitated, trembling – with rage, and with something else a lot less welcome. She exhaled until she had no more air in her lungs, concerned she might unleash the mysterious, invisible power that her unfinished Few ceremony meant she possessed; the power that had caused so much trouble last term. Then she spoke quietly.
‘Go on, then. Say whatever it is you have to say. And then just – get out of here.’
He took a deep breath, dropping his arms to his side but wedging a foot in the door just in case she changed her mind. ‘Cassie, listen. I’ve thought about it over and over, what happened last term. I’ve thought of nothing else.’
‘Good,’ she told him viciously. He ignored that.
‘We meant something to each other, Cassie. You were everything to me. I’ve never felt anything like that, and I think – I know – you felt the same. Thought I’d get over it, but I didn’t. I stopped even wanting to!’ He raised a hand as Cassie began to protest. ‘Please hear me out! Look, I hate what I did last term. You were right. I should have fought for us. It was the biggest mistake of my life, Cassie, the biggest mistake of my life.’