ALEK PACED AT the front of the lodge while he waited for Catherine. About to go in search of her, he stopped when Audrey appeared at his feet, whining and crying with excitement. He laughed and bent to pat her.

'She's super excited,' Catherine called out as she walked in.

Alek looked up to greet her then stopped. She wore shorts that revealed shapely legs and a fitted tunic. He gaped at her for a moment. 'Run?! Err, I mean go for a run?' He flushed when she gave him a funny look, suddenly aware of his abrupt tone.

'Yep, are you feeling alright?' Her green eyes stared up at him in concern.

Shake it off Alek, he thought to himself. It's not like you haven't spent the last two days together. 'I'm fine. It's just warm in here. What did you do to your hair?' he changed the subject quickly and studied the intricate braid that ran down the back of her head.

I TURNED TO show the plait off. 'Sian did it for me. It'll keep my hair out of the way.'

'Clever,' he commented and gestured with his head. 'This way.'

We wandered through the village until we reached the north end, meeting a dozen dogs along the way. It made me very relieved that in dog world Audi was submissive, so she only said a brief hello before zooming back to us. Alek had already confirmed with the locals as to which track to take, but on our way out of the village we were stopped and warned to be careful by a variety of people. Way to install confidence, I thought and asked, 'What are we to be careful of?'

ALEK LOOKED DOWN at Catherine. Her eyes seemed troubled so he decided to deflect the question a little. 'Do you always go by Catherine? Can I call you Cat?'

She looked surprised. 'Um. Well, my friends and family call me Cat.' Then she grinned at him, 'So you can certainly call me Cat.'

The bubbly response amused him and he flashed her a smile while explaining. 'There have been tehnear sightings lately, that's why they're warning us.' Seeing her confusion he continued, 'It's a large carnivore, but I don't think we'll have any issues. The griffons should scare anything like that off.'

HE SAID IT nonchalantly so I wasn't bothered. Even after our encounter with the gragnolls and elgrids, not to mention the griffons we rode each day, it still seemed bizarre that this land had things that would eat us. Such a vast difference to back home. If Alek isn't concerned I guess there's no reason for me to be, I thought. I followed him past the village entrance.

We turned and began to jog along a track, just wide enough for us to run side by side. Audrey ducked from my side to his and back again, prancing as she did when happy. All my stress and tension began to dissolve while we ran along. I hadn't realized how off I'd felt. Going for a run felt like such a normal and pleasant thing, just what I'd needed. We started racing each other down the track, darting through the trees. Okay so I raced and he just ran but we had fun, laughing at Audi darting between us. I didn't notice her disappear at first, the easy track made it effortless to dash along. When I realized she'd vanished, I stopped and twisted to look back.

Alek halted abruptly. 'What?' He looked around in confusion.

'Audrey must have scented something, she's disappeared. I want to make sure she catches up.' I looked around and listened carefully. I couldn't hear anything yet, but didn't panic, knowing how much Audrey loved to explore.

Alek looked up and down the track too, a lock of black hair brushing his eyebrow. My stomach did flip-flops at the sight, especially when he turned that blue gaze on me. 'Should we call for her?'

Too busy mentally swooning, I took a moment to register his words. 'What? Oh right.' I turned. 'AUDDRREEYYY!'

ALEK WINCED. CAT certainly has a good set of lungs, he thought. The contrast between the attractive woman beside him and the voice that sounded like a bull roaring...The edges of his lips twitched with repressed laughter and naturally, that was the moment Cat glanced up. She gave him a wide grin. 'I know, I know. Not exactly what you'd expect from me.'

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