‘Aren’t you going to kiss me, then?’
If only you knew, he thought dryly.
‘Sorry, habibi. I’ve had a text, it’s an emergency. You have to go.’
Her sulky pout was delicious to behold. He laughed. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow night. I’ll make it up to you, yes?’
‘Oh, yes. You certainly will.’ She winked, blew him a tantalising kiss and was gone.
Yusuf gave one last yearning sigh, but his muscles were already tensing for a chase. Light and swift, he vaulted through the arch and out on to the rickety balcony. The dark figure had had plenty of time to make an escape, but only when he dropped lightly down to the courtyard did Yusuf see it break into a run. Foolish, he thought.
The figure managed to keep several steps ahead of him as they chased through the alleys of Sultanahmet; its footsteps were almost as deft and light as Yusuf’s own. It was growing dark and lonely as they travelled through the streets, the sounds of the city muffled by distance, as if he had pursued the shadow into another time zone. No one around.
Slowing, he realised with surprise that the figure was heading up the steps of an outbuilding beside the Hagia Sophia. Was it a mausoleum? Still, Yusuf felt no fear. He approached the entrance and realised the crypt was empty of people, closed for renovation. But as he entered, despite his expectations the place was not dark. Above him a domed Byzantine ceiling gleamed in the light of hundreds of candles.
He stopped, ears pricked. Every inlaid door leading off the room was open.
Yusuf was very alert now. Beyond the vast atrium, the place was a maze of arches and passageways, and whoever the prowler was, he was hiding. And he was very good at it …
Yusuf felt himself thrill at this stealthy hunt. Not a wasted evening, really. An opponent was almost as much of a kick as a lover. He was going to teach this upstart a lesson.
Ha! Movement, sharp, at the corner of his eye. There, beyond that arch with its chipped and faded gilding. Yusuf moved, swift and silent as a cat.
The anteroom was small, with fretwork cloisters and half-destroyed blue mosaics, and the glow of candlelight didn’t penetrate the shadows beyond the pillars. There was no exit: it was a trap. Yusuf halted, smiling wryly. Time to turn the tables and flush him out, this insolent stalker.
‘Show yourself.’ His voice, clear and commanding, echoed through archways.
In response there was only silence. He turned a slow half-circle, eyeing every corner, every shadow.
‘There’s nowhere to go. Face it.’
Still nothing. The flickering golden air was heavy with the stillness.
‘Who the hell are you? Show yourself now.’
A movement, a sound behind him. It might only have been a footfall, but it was close. Too close.
He spun on his heel, tensed to strike, furious at the audacity. The glint of a smile met him, and another, more sinister glint.
‘You! What the hell—’
Yusuf staggered back, flinging up his hands in horror. He didn’t even have time to scream. Couldn’t run. Couldn’t shut his terrified eyes. He only felt, for the first and last time, a crushing and paralysing terror as the figure sprang for him.
Then every candle in the building went out and Yusuf’s world turned to absolute blackness.
Three weeks earlier
‘I miss him.’
Cassie Bell remained quiet. Her friend looked over at her again.
‘Jake. I miss him.’
‘I know, Isabella,’ Cassie replied. How could she forget …?
Seared by guilt, Cassie kept her eyes studiously fixed on the blue water and the bright morning over Istanbul. She had no right to get impatient with her lovelorn roommate. It was partly her fault, after all, that Isabella Caruso’s beloved Jake wasn’t coming back to school this term.
She wished Isabella could be happier, that was all. It wasn’t just that she hated to see her friend so subdued; she wanted to stop feeling so bad about it herself. There was a whole new term ahead, a whole new city to discover. And a whole new Cassie, if she could keep her focus and reboot her school life.
‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ She nudged the Argentinian girl and smiled, then nodded at the view.
With a visible effort, Isabella pulled herself together and focused on the blue Bosphorus and the city beyond the yacht’s bow rail, all hazy domes and minarets. A slow smile curved her lips as if she couldn’t help herself.
‘Yes, you’re right. It’s stunning.’
Cassie had never seen a skyline quite like it – though that was hardly surprising, since she’d only begun to be introduced to the exotic cities of the world less than a year ago. Until then, her life had alternated between unsuccessful foster homes and Cranlake Crescent care home. Thank God that was all over.
Another shot of guilt. Cassie gulped and tightened her fingers on the rail. Cranlake Crescent wasn’t exactly the Darke Academy, but it had been home for a very long time, and it hadn’t all been bad. There had been her mates, and the younger kids who looked up to her – and, of course, there had been Patrick Malone. Her friend, her mentor, her key worker. Kind, supportive Patrick.
Patrick, who betrayed her by sending her to the Darke Academy without bothering to mention its terrible secret …
She shook herself. Going over and over that shocking discovery from last term didn’t help – finding out that Patrick had known about the dark spirits of the Academy, known that they inhabited some students and fed on others. He had known the danger he was sending her into. But still he’d sent her.