ALEK SAW CATHERINE'S eyes widen a bit at his outfit. He stepped closer to her and, after an instant of hesitation, lowered himself beside her. 'Good morning, are you ready for your flight?'

THE WORDS I wanted to say froze on my tongue so I lied.

'Good morning yourself. Yes, I'm looking forward to it.' I could feel his disbelief so changed the subject. 'What's with the armor? Are we expecting trouble?' At least now I could check him out without seeming rude.

He smiled and leaned back on his hands, arms stretched out behind him. 'No. We always fly in our armor, just in case,' his sapphire eyes watched me. 'It's best to be prepared.'

CATHERINE SAT UP and stretched, shaking her hair back. Alek reached out to catch a lock with his fingers and studied it. The hair glowed ruby in the morning light with streaks of bronze and copper. Staring into Catherine's surprised eyes, he reached out and tucked it behind her ear. He felt a rush of attraction for this determined woman, she'd never allow her fear to conquer her and it surprised him. Many women might have pleaded their sex as an excuse, but not Catherine; this woman who was so obviously self-sufficient and independent. He never imagined he would find it sexy. It wasn't what he had expected when Elena told him they were to collect four women.

Catherine studied his breastplate then glanced up at him. He reached out to touch her cheek gently. 'I promise, I won't let any harm come to you.'

ALEK'S WORDS FLOWED through me and at his touch my cheek flared hot. We stared into each other's eyes and he gave me a quirk of a smile. 'And Audrey, of course.' He stood, offered a hand and lifted me to my feet. We stood about an inch apart, hands joined and his eyes on mine. My skin tingled at his close proximity, heart thudding madly and the air between us felt tense with anticipation.

'CATTTT? ALLLEKKK... Time to GOOOOO.' Loi's voice bellowed from down the track.

We jumped apart; dammit! Ugh, fantastic timing, Loi.

Alek made a courtly bow and offered me his arm. 'Shall we?'

The intenseness between us vanished and his eyes sparkled with light-hearted mischief. I laughed. 'We shall.'

We walked back to the campsite to find it packed up. Everyone mounted and waiting for us. Sian, rather daringly, sat in front instead of behind like Kassie and Laura. That'll be my challenge, to be able to ride in front. The thought made me want to laugh. It brought back memories of squabbles with my cousin over who got to ride in the front seat of the car. An unexpected wave of homesickness hit me. I closed my eyes, swallowed hard and willed the nauseating thoughts away. As Alek and I approached Loushka, Gredel called Audrey to him. She whined at me. 'Go on then,' I said. The dog dashed across to Gredel who scooped her up onto Phroma's back. Audi thought it great fun and began to pounce on Phroma's saddle which caused the griffon to twist, this way and that, to see what the little imp was up to.

'Audrey, settle down,' I commanded in a stern tone, while everyone else tried not to laugh. Audrey looked abashed and whined at me, then inched her way forward to Phroma's head to give her kisses of apology.

'How are you going to fasten her down?' I didn't want to lose my furry rat-bag no matter how mischievous she might be. Gredel explained how he intended to belt Audrey to him and the saddle.

I must have looked more concerned at this as he again reassured me. 'It's perfectly safe. I've done it with my niece and nephew before as well as my own dog.'

I looked across to Audi who sat nicely, pretending to be on her best behavior. 'You behave, little miss.'

Alek spoke to me and I turned my attention back to him and Loushka. Loushka had her front legs down on the ground so I could get up easier and Alek crouched down to give me a leg up. I stared down at his hands.

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