‘Are you serious? Ancient ruins and dusty digs? No thank you.’
‘It could be fun!’
During the mêlée of voices, more than once Cassie found her gaze drifting towards Richard. To her surprise, he seemed to be concentrating on cheering up Isabella; her detached, gloomy look gradually faded as he joked and chatted. Watching him, Cassie felt a surge of reluctant admiration.
Admiration for his thoughtfulness, that was all. Not affection.
She told herself that she wouldn’t fall for his charm again. So far, he was acting pretty meek around her, but that was as it should be; he should feel awkward. OK, so he was being sweet to Isabella right now, but that didn’t cost him anything. Sweetness and charm were weapons to him, as far as Cassie was concerned. He was the one who tried to play all sides against the middle, even sucking up to the vile Katerina and her minions when it had suited him.
But it was hard to keep her resentment bubbling. Ever since she’d perceived Richard’s spirit, Cassie had begun to understand him a little better, in spite of herself. His seemed one of the weakest of all the ancient and immortal Few spirits that had merged with their human hosts, so it was maybe no wonder that he played the game so carefully. Again she glanced in his direction. Again, he kept his eyes and his smile averted, wary of her gaze.
Cassie felt another tiny flicker of a softening towards him. Try as she might, she wasn’t as mad at him as she’d expected. Maybe she’d been wrong – maybe her new attitude would allow her to move on, as far as Richard was concerned. Maybe she wanted to.
‘When did you guys get here?’ asked Cormac.
Cassie glanced at Isabella, but she stayed silent. ‘Just this morning. We, uh … we came on Isabella’s father’s yacht.’
‘Nice! That was a beautiful-looking boat.’ Vassily was smiling at her, though, with only a brief glance at Isabella, which made Cassie a little uncomfortable.
Again she looked at Isabella, trying to draw her in. ‘Isabella’s parents are incredible. It was really kind of them to let me come along. I’m sure my friend here didn’t give them much of a choice.’
Isabella gave a small chuckle and smiled at Cassie, but didn’t inject anything further into the conversation. Cassie sighed.
‘Hey, you’re one of us now, or near enough,’ Hamid said, laughing. ‘You need to get used to this lifestyle.’
‘Yeah, I …’ Cassie smiled, with another glance at Isabella. ‘I’m not quite there yet, I don’t think, as I’m sure Isabella would tell you.’
Isabella smiled, and finally opened her mouth to respond, but the conversation had moved on again. Ayeesha set down her tiny cup of thick coffee dramatically, goggling at it.
‘Man, this gets you going in the mornin’. I’ll be buzzing all day!’
‘And all night, with any luck,’ added Cormac.
‘Hmm, you might not want to press that Irish luck though, sweetie, or Ayeesha could well get tired of you,’ India interjected with a grin.
The Few hooted with laughter, even Ayeesha, though she squeezed Cormac’s arm affectionately. Cassie found herself joining in, but noticed uneasily that Isabella’s laughter was forced and half-hearted. She looked as though she was starting to feel pretty left out.
God, Cassie really just wanted Isabella to be happy again. If she could just move past everything that had happened with Jake, then maybe things might be OK – but right now Cassie really couldn’t see that happening. Funny how, when she’d first arrived at the Academy, Isabella had tried for so long to make Cassie feel happy there, and now here they were with their roles reversed. Because she was really getting there, Cassie realised with an inward smile. She was feeling more settled, she was starting to feel at home. As though she did belong.
That’s my girl! That’s my girl, Cassandra! It’s about time we started establishing ourselves here …
Even Estelle’s aside couldn’t dampen her mood. Cassie laughed out loud again, slightly out of place, earning a quizzical look from Richard. And yet when she turned to him, he was focused on Isabella once again, arm resting nonchalantly on the back of her chair.
‘Well, I don’t know about you guys but I love it here!’ exclaimed India. ‘What an amazing place for my last term! I think I might go and take a look at the Hagia Sophia this afternoon. Who fancies it?’
‘Wish I could,’ said Yusuf with a wink, tucking his gaudy shark tooth pendant back into his shirt. ‘I’m meeting someone.’
‘Aren’t you always?’ Ayeesha pointed out, to more chortling.
‘Well, I don’t remember him ever trying it on with me,’ said Richard, faux-hurt. ‘What am I, chopped liver?’
Yusuf chuckled wryly.
‘Maybe he just has better taste,’ Cassie added, though she couldn’t stop the smile on her face from softening the blow.
Richard shrugged and nudged Isabella. ‘A little harsh, your friend, isn’t she?’ he joked, though the twinkle was missing from his eyes. Cassie tried to ignore it, which wasn’t hard as she then heard India chime up again.
‘Speaking of hot dates, Isabella! When’s that hunky Yank Jake Johnson arriving?’
Damn. India was only trying to include her at last, thought Cassie as her heart sank to her boots. But as they all looked expectantly at Isabella, the Argentinian girl’s tan skin blanched.
‘Um … I’m … I don’t know …’ Isabella looked desperately at Cassie, then down at her watch. She gave a weak laugh. ‘Actually, I’m so silly. I forgot, I’m expecting a call from … from my mother. I had better be getting back. Nice to see you guys.’