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LOI WOKE BEFORE the others the next morning and rolled onto her back. Rain buffeted the windows. That sounds really heavy, she thought, and rolled onto her side to peek out of the window. Sure enough, rain hit the courtyard and the clouds gathered thickly overhead. Might as well get up and have a shower, at least I don't have to wait for anyone else, she thought and hunted for her slippers. Tiptoeing through the room, she was astonished to see they had an over-stayer. Audrey and Nnelg lay curled up together on the dog's generous bed. So cute. Wish I had a camera to capture it. She smothered a giggle as she slipped into the bathroom.

Awhile later she sprawled across her bed fussing over Lucky while the others sorted themselves out. Nnelg and Audrey had played up as soon as everyone woke so had been banished from the room, which left little Lucky all by herself, not that she seemed to mind. Loi gently rubbed the cat's tummy while Lucky, in the throes of pleasure, alternated between curling one forepaw in and then the next; so very cute.

'Aw.' Kassie's voice came from behind her and Loi turned to find her gazing down at Lucky.

'I'm so glad she seems to have settled in well, especially with the lack of time I've had for her.' Kassie said it guiltily and Loi reached out to give her a one armed hug.

A whining at the door let everyone know Audrey waited for them and they hurried after the dog to the Great Hall for breakfast. Afterward, Elena summoned them to the library for a quick reminder of the plan. 'Today will be your final free day for some time, so do enjoy it,' she urged them all at the end of her speech.

They headed for the solar, following Audrey who seemed to know where they were going. Either that or we'll end up in the kitchen, Loi thought in amusement. While they walked she realized Cat wore a dark blue dress. How unusual, Cat hardly ever wears dresses. Then she spied Cat's high boots underneath and smirked; I'll bet she has her pants on too, Cat didn't like the exposed factor of dresses. 'Aww, Kitty Cat, don't you look pretty,' she teased.

Cat flushed red and gave a defensive shrug. 'I like it. And anyway, I have my pants and boots on underneath.'

When they reached the solar, Sabyn and Rumal lounged on chairs and the others looked over a map. They glanced up at the girls' footsteps.

'We're off to visit the town are we?'

Loi started. She hadn't noticed Citaan in the corner of the room. The gold eyed woman smiled at them and indicated the window highlighting the heavy rain.

'It'll stop within the hour, why don't we take horses?' Citaan addressed Gredel who nodded. The men led the way to the stables.

ALEK HAD GIVEN me an oddly cool greeting when we arrived and now he marched ahead of us all. Sian bumped into my arm and I turned to look at her.

'S'up?' she arched an eyebrow.

Feeling anxiety twist my stomach I shrugged. 'Dunno.'

When we reached the stables the grooms helped set us up with a horse each, and the whole time we were there, which must have been close to an hour, Alek avoided me. What the hell? Had I said something? I racked my brains for any possible faux pas I might have made as we rode the horses out toward the inner gate. He rode out in front talking to Gredel, Citaan hung back, riding beside me. I answered her questions as well as I could, but this had really thrown me. He was so affectionate yesterday. What's going on?

SIAN WATCHED AS Cat distractedly replied to Citaan, her eyes fixed on Alek's back. So weird, out of the four of them Cat seemed to have the tightest friendship so far. Maybe Elena or Yakov thought it inappropriate? That must be it. She felt a sense of relief, of course it is, he is the Crown Prince after all.

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