Guilt twisted Cassie’s stomach again. Isabella had waited so long for Jake to fall in love with her, but as soon as he did, Cassie had, deliberately or not, managed to come between them. If the shoe had been on the other foot, Cassie had often wondered in the weeks since, would she have sacrificed love for friendship? She was almost certain she would have done the same for Isabella. Almost.
Yet there were times when her heart, her whole body still ached for Ranjit Singh. That couldn’t be helped. But Cassie’s own love life hadn’t been any more of a success than Isabella’s had turned out to be. It was over between Cassie and Ranjit – and her new start meant starting again without him. Estelle insisted they could live without him too; the vicious spirit that part-possessed Cassie was all for making it on their own. Ranjit had betrayed Cassie, after all. Betrayed them both …
Absolutely, Cassandra, my dear! We must forge ahead.
Halting in the passageway, Cassie stiffened. Isabella came to a halt a few steps later, and turned back quizzically.
Well, well, Cassie thought acerbically. There you are, Estelle. Back just in time to see your old pals, eh?
The spirit had been so quiet over the holidays, apparently just happy and satisfied with her regular and lively food source. Trust the old bat to reappear in time for school term.
Tut tut, Cassandra! That’s not a nice thing to call your old friend now, is it?
Cassie couldn’t help a wry grin playing on her lips.
‘Cassie? Are you OK?’
‘I’m fine, Isabella. Sorry.’ Cassie walked on to her friend’s side.
‘We’re here. Look!’ Isabella pointed to the wall beside a heavy carved door. There it was: the familiar plaque.
Cassie released one of her battered cases and placed a hand against the warm old wood of the door. She cocked an eyebrow at Isabella.
‘Shall we take a look? Or shall we just go for a coffee and not bother?’
Isabella laughed. Turning a huge iron ring, she swung the door wide.
Cassie was silent for a moment, breath caught in her throat, as Isabella marched into the room and dumped her bag.
‘Well,’ sighed Cassie at last. ‘The interior décor just gets better and better …’
She was gazing across a huge room, filled with ornate mahogany furniture, colourful rugs and tapestries, kilims strewn across sofas. Directly facing her was an arched window, the shutters flung open to reveal lush gardens, and beyond them the shining Bosphorus and the city itself.
Isabella had already flung herself on to one of the four-poster beds, pulling the drapes around her like a cloak. She peeked out, covering the bottom half of her face as if she was a harem seductress. Still investigating, Cassie ignored her and pushed open another carved door.
‘Holy herrings! The hand basin’s solid marble.’ Cassie gasped and pretended to stumble dramatically. ‘And the bath too!’
‘What about the loo?’
‘Nah. Bog-standard ceramic.’
‘How disappointing,’ Isabella said with a small smile, as she flung away the heavy drape. ‘At least it feels very different from New York here, huh? Not too many reminders of last term. I like it.’
‘Mmm.’ Cassie paused, trying to inject a brightness into the proceedings. ‘Well, you’re used to this kind of elaborate surrounding. Imagine how much I like it.’ Standing at the window, Cassie stretched out her arms and inhaled the salty scented breeze. ‘You’ll soon be feeling cheerier, I promise you. You’re sounding better already,’ she said, glancing back hopefully at her friend.
‘Mm-hmm.’ Isabella didn’t look at her, she noticed, but went on gazing up at the heavy silk canopy. ‘I just wish …’
Damn it, Cassie, don’t push your luck! Snatching up one of the kilims, Cassie threw it over her roommate, so that Isabella squawked and had to struggle free.
‘Come on, hon.’ Catching Isabella as she emerged from the tumble of fabric, Cassie smiled. ‘It’s rough, but we are going to have a good time here. You’ve still got me, right?’
Isabella rubbed one eye, and gave her a grin that was a little forced, but better than nothing. ‘Yes, I still have you. And you will know better than anyone how I try to kick-start a good time, Cassie Bell …’
Shopping. She should have guessed. It really was kind of touristy, thought Cassie, but at least a light of sorts was back in Isabella’s eye.
Beneath its elegantly arched and tiled roof, the Grand Bazaar was a tumble of noise and exotic scents: tobacco smoke, roasting nuts, spices. She’d lost count of the shops selling jewellery and carpets and Iznik pottery. The prices were outrageous, and Cassie wasn’t about to buy anything except the pistachios they were nibbling as they walked, but Isabella was doing her best to get back to normal, and for her that meant retail therapy.
Brightening, Isabella strode into a shop and began to bargain over an especially beautiful kilim. She could have afforded it at the tourist price, of course, but Cassie had a feeling she’d want to haggle for the sheer sport of it – or usually she would. On this occasion Isabella’s heart just wasn’t in it. After five minutes, with a shrug, the shopkeeper gave up on her. Cassie was beginning to feel seriously terrible about her friend’s depressed mood.
All my fault, she thought. All my fault …
Pausing in the tumult to flick desultorily through a rack of colourful scarves, Isabella pushed her bag of pistachios into Cassie’s hand with a sigh.