“Stop mooning over your bumpkin-headed prince and get moving,” the cat called from the hallway.

Gabrielle looked up at the moon again. For a moment the heartbreak she was holding back threatened to overtake her. Gabrielle grimly shook her head and pushed the feeling back before she placed a hand on her hip and smirked at the moon. “I’m taking such fabulous care of Arcainia. You will have nothing to complain and bemoan when you get back. Just you wait,” she promised before she was out of the room and moving down the hallway.

The cat was just ahead of her, peering around a corner. “The hallway appears to be empty,” he said, leaping onto Gabrielle’s shoulder when she hunched over for him to do so. “I will cast invisibility on us, even though it isn’t necessary,” he said as Gabrielle felt the gelatinous sensation of invisibility cover her from head to toe. “If you paraded in front of a squad of soldiers with a four-piece band they would still tell Queen Clothead, with eyes as innocent as babes, that they haven’t seen the Crown Princess in months.”

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“That’s not something to complain about,” Gabrielle said as she padded down the hallway. “Besides, the invisibility allows them to stay truthful.”

“As you wish, Mistress,” the cat said, crouching low on Gabrielle’s shoulders.

Gabrielle grinned at him before she pushed open the unguarded doors to Queen Clotilde’s private quarters.

The cat jumped from Gabrielle’s shoulders, breaking the invisibility spell. “Prince Mikkael’s sneaks haven’t reported anything of interest besides the besotted squad of soldiers, correct?”

“Yes,” Gabrielle said as she snagged the Queen’s newest jewelry purchases and tucked them in a belt pouch. “No wonder the Treasury Department said the daily vault is draining—she’s spending a fortune on herself.”

“It would be worse if Fürstin Elise did not have the key to the treasury. Such a smart girl,” the cat said in a rare bit of praise as he rolled on the queen’s pillows.

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“What are you doing?” Gabrielle asked.

“The queen is allergic to cats,” the cat said.

“So?”

“So, I’m being petty. It happens. Carry on! You will hawk the jewels to cover the deficit in the military budget?”

“Yes. Has she left any nasty bits of her magic out?” Gabrielle asked.

“Not quite. She’s grown at least a little smarter and locked them up in this armoire. Although I must say it’s about time. We’ve been destroying her charms and potions since the princes were turned into swans in spring,” the cat scoffed.

Gabrielle joined him, standing in front of the armoire. “So, we can’t foil her?”

“I didn’t say that. I merely said she’s locked them up,” the cat said before he set about cleaning his face with a white paw. The armoire clicked, and Gabrielle was able to swing the doors open. “An amateur’s work,” the cat scoffed before leaping into the armoire.

Gabrielle smiled at the feline before she continued searching the room for jewelry and other valuables.

“She’s getting stronger, you know,” the cat said, his voice muffled inside the armoire. “The dark artifacts she keeps on her grow more powerful, feeding off her hate and greed.”

There was a crack of glass and a flash of light inside the armoire.

The cat cursed.

“Puss?” Gabrielle called.

“I’m fine; a charm was stronger than I thought it would be.”

“Do you need help?” Gabrielle asked.

“NO. I have told you before these petty things are nothing to a cat as magical and wonderful as I, but I do not want you anywhere near them,” the cat said, poking his black and white head out of the armoire to fix Gabrielle with a warning look before he disappeared back inside.

“Her charms and potions are getting stronger, as well. Not because of any increased skill but because of the dark artifacts. The longer she goes unchallenged, the more dangerous she will be,” the cat said.

“Angelique will help as soon as she can,” Gabrielle said, pocketing a gold bracelet.

“That may not be soon enough.”

“What can we do? The princes are still cursed; King Henrik won’t be waking from the stupor Clotilde has him in, and you and I make a fine pair of resistance fighters, but we cannot take her on ourselves,” Gabrielle said. “We don’t even know what the artifacts are.”

The cat leapt from the armoire. “All finished. That should set her back another month.”

“Puss…what are we to do?” Gabrielle said.

The handsome cat trotted across the room and jumped on to Gabrielle’s shoulder. “We do our best and wait for your bumpkin-head to return. Have faith, Gabi. I did not make you the Marquise of Carabas and snag you a prince for you to die young and beautiful at the hands of an incompetent hag,” the cat said before he rubbed his head against Gabrielle’s and purred.

The sound soothed Gabrielle, and some of the tension left her. “You are right.”

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