‘Richard, that’s not—’
‘Yeah, I know. My honour’s not worth that much.’
Not what I was trying to say, she thought, smiling with a touch of regret. But he was already grinning and striding towards the boat where Isabella was waving from the stern.
Inferior, Estelle’s voice injected. Inferior stuff, my dear. He won’t get us anywhere.
Ignoring her, Cassie jumped down into the launch after Richard. As he began chatting easily with the young boatman, exchanging opinions about some dreary football match, Cassie went to Isabella’s side.
‘God, Cassie, did I overreact? I’ve just got to stop thinking about him,’ Isabella announced fiercely, eyes on the horizon as the sea breeze tangled her mahogany hair.
Cassie hesitated. ‘Well yeah, I think you might be right. Though I understand, babe. I really do.’
Isabella paused, and then spoke again. ‘And you need to do the same, you know.’
‘Maybe I’m wrong, Cassie. But somewhere deep down, aren’t you still thinking about Ranjit?’ Isabella watched her with concern.
Cassie’s cheekbones reddened as Isabella raised an eyebrow.
‘OK. Well I hope not. Seriously,’ Isabella said, winding her fingers into Cassie’s and squeezed them. ‘Because that would just be a fine thing, wouldn’t it? Staying in one of the most exciting cities on earth, and both of us pining for a pair of deadbeats who don’t even deserve us? No. Tell you what, Cassie, I promise I’m going to try and snap out of it. I’m going to be like you. Single and ready to tingle.’
Cassie burst into laughter. ‘Mingle!’
Isabella grinned. ‘Deliberate mistake.’
‘Freudian slip, more like!’ Cassie found herself giggling with her roommate. ‘Deadbeats who don’t deserve us, eh? So Richard’s got to you!’
‘I think he’s getting to you, too.’ Isabella gave her one of her lethal rib-nudges.
Cassie gasped and laughed. ‘As if!’
‘Whatever you say, Cassie Bell. Still, perhaps you should let him …’ Isabella turned haughtily away, but a small smirk was playing on her lips.
Cassie frowned at the island as it drew closer. She hadn’t been thinking about Richard, and she sure as hell hadn’t been thinking about Ranjit. Hadn’t. Except to be angry, no, furious at him. Other than that, she couldn’t bear to think about the boy. Mustn’t. She couldn’t deal with thoughts of his betrayal, his cowardice; not right now.
A small chuckle interrupted her thoughts.
It’s all right, dearest. I’ll take care of things for both of us!
‘Feel your clay, ladies and gentlemen! Feel what it wants to be!’
Signor Poldino was full of the joys of early summer, bouncing excitedly on his heels. Did the man never run out of energy? wondered Cassie. The light that poured in at the open windows of the elegant room had a green tinge from the lush gardens, and she could catch glimpses of bright sky, but if she had to be in a classroom, this was one of the better ones.
She was aware of stifled giggles behind her – the sculpture class was barely containing its collective hilarity at whatever Richard was working on, but the arts master didn’t seem to have noticed. Cassie, for her part, made every effort not to turn around and catch Richard’s eye. Off to her right, Cormac was studiously forming an out-of-proportion pair of legs. He seemed to be taking it unusually seriously till he quipped out of the corner of his mouth, ‘Feet of clay, Cassie.’
‘Har har,’ she whispered back sarcastically.
‘You know what my clay feels like?’ hissed Isabella, examining her piece as she stood next to Cassie. ‘It feels like crawling under the table and dying. Look at this thing. It’s terrible!’
And it really was unidentifiably awful. Cassie shrugged.
‘I don’t know,’ she replied. ‘I thought it might have been a Rodin pastiche!’ She started to laugh, but it died on her lips. It was as if a black veil had been thrown over her, closing her off from the rest of the class, and out of nowhere, Cassie’s light mood vanished.
The feeling in her chest was dark and intense and … yearning. Something was calling to her, tugging on her like a magnet. Cassie lifted her head and looked back, though she knew exactly whom she would see.
A jolt of electric lust raced through her body, and she had to suppress an involuntary shudder of excitement. Where had he come from? How long had he been there? She certainly hadn’t noticed him being there at the start of the class, and in fact she hadn’t seen him at all around the Academy in the couple of days before the start of term. Not that she’d been looking, of course. Cassie had assumed he was off being dark and mysterious or doing Sir Alric Darke’s bidding, which was usually his default position around this school.
But here he was now, tall and beautiful, his amber eyes boring into her soul, and she couldn’t look away. He gave her a single hesitant nod. There was something indefinable in his expression: hope, and longing, and fear, all mixed up into one desperate silent cry. It was a cry that got an answer from deep inside her:
No! No! He rejected us, Cassandra! It doesn’t matter if we want him. We’re strong without him. More than strong enough just us, together!
Cassie swallowed hard and forced herself to tear her eyes off him and concentrate on her work. She didn’t need Estelle for a cheerleader. Of course she was strong enough. It was nothing more than a minor infuriation that he still made her nerve-endings crackle and her heart crash against her ribcage.