THE NEXT MORNING Gredel woke us before dawn. The burly man had gotten over his nerves around us and we'd discovered he had a pretty good sense of humor. We simply weren't in the mood to appreciate it first thing in the morning—sure, we may have had eight hours sleep, but a dozen more would have been nice.

Waking to the sudden clashing of two tin plates wasn't the best start to the day. Gredel retreated from the room at a decent pace when all our heads jerked up at the racket. Loi growled some not-so-polite words after him and a pillow flew from Sian's direction but fell short, bouncing off the edge of my cot. I dropped my head back with a groan and grinned when I heard Kassie do the same. It took another five minutes of grumbles and groans before we reluctantly climbed out of bed and shuffled around our small tent space, getting dressed and packing up.

Keeping busy almost allowed me to ignore the annoying voice in my head that mumbled about flying and heights (and lack of safety belts, parachutes, and oxygen masks). My pack ready, I glanced at the others. 'I'm just gonna pop to the river to wash my face and,' I shrugged and tried to work up a smile. 'De-stress for a moment.'

Kassie and Sian nodded while Loi gave me the evil eye. 'Just make sure you don't try heading off down it. You know we'll catch you!'

I sketched a salute to her. 'Yes ma'am.' Calling Audi, I ducked out of the tent.

LOI WATCHED CAT disappear with a little trepidation. The last time they'd been on a flight with her she'd clutched the arms of the chair for dear life with an enormous insane grin, for the entire flight. Needless to say everyone had stared and even the flight attendants appeared hesitant to approach her.

It hadn't concerned Kassie and Sian; according to them she'd been much better this time. When she'd last traveled with them the grin had been accompanied by a constant nervous giggle.

SIAN CAUGHT SIGHT of Loi's frown.

'Don't worry, Loi. Cat appears to get better with each flight and this is quite different to what she'll be expecting. She might even enjoy it.' Sian mentally crossed her fingers.

'C'mon,' Kassie said. 'Let's take our stuff out and get breakfast.'

The three of them, with Lucky draped around Kassie's neck like usual, walked out the tent to where the men waited. Or rather, where four of the men stood. Sian's eyes narrowed for a moment when she registered that Alek wasn't there. 'Where's Alek? He isn't swimming again is he?'

Sabyn and Gredel laughed which caused Daron to look up from the packs on Phroma's back. She flushed when he gave her a sexy smile, turning her attention to Rumal whose freaky gold eyes looked amused while he observed.

'No, I believe he saw Catherine head for the river and thought to spend a few moments with her to alleviate her concerns.' Rumal gave Sian a polite smile then moved his eyes to Kassie's face, his expression softening. 'At least that was his intention.'

ALEK STRODE DOWN the path and thought over the assurances he could offer Catherine. Loushka listened in while he mentally rambled away.

'Why don't you just see how she's feeling first and take it from there?'

Alek considered her suggestion. 'Probably a good idea. Thanks.'

He stopped when he reached the river and spotted Catherine. She lay on her stomach on the bank that leaned out over the river and had one hand dangling down to the water. Her fingertips traced the surface and the ends of her long red hair trailed in it.

Audrey, in the midst of paddling, let out a 'wooofwoff' in greeting when she caught sight of Alek which caused Catherine to look up.

AUDI'S HELLO SNAPPED me out of my daydream and I looked up to see Alek watching me. My stomach did a flip flop as I stared for a moment. He wore his armor again and damn, he looked good.

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