Ghost From The Past
“MyGod,it’san honest-to-goodness castle,” Suzie said as the van that had picked them up from Edinburgh airport pulled through a stone portico and into the courtyard beyond.
Anita Gatto gaped as much as her friends and fellow feline shifters from Middlemarch, New Zealand. The castle before them was a storybook one with turrets and gray stone walls. Set among a forest of pine trees, and was that a loch in the foreground? She half expected something magical to happen.
Then Anita shook herself. Not possible.
The six of them were here to represent their town at thebiennial Highland gathering where shifters of Scottish descent came from around the world, hoping to discover their fated mate.
Not that Anita believed in the concept of a soul mate. Not any longer. Popular culture pushed the idea of fated mates, but she doubted this would happen for her.
Been there and barely escaped with her sanity.
Despite what the Middlemarch Feline Council members had informed them, Anita believed a sensible arrangement between consenting parties with common interests was way better than this mate business. But when Saber Mitchell had approached her to represent Middlemarch at the gathering, she’d agreed. Loneliness assailed her, and while a rejection from the man she’d called her mate had scarred her, she’d acquiesced to Saber’s proposal because she hoped to find a like-minded shifter. If that failed, she’d at least enjoy a holiday in the Highlands.
“Well,” Edwina, the third female member of their party, said. “The man with the clipboard means business. We’d better gather our enthusiasm and get this party started.”
Anita exited the van and gave her name to the officious gray-haired man in a kilt. The tall, spare Scot oozed efficiency while his piercing blue eyes took in every detail. He checked her name off his list, and she waited while the others reported in with him. A shifter, but his scent baffled her, and she didn’t like to question him.
The man introduced himself. “I am Angus Falconer, the castle steward. If you require anything, contact me, and I will help. Right, follow me, and I’ll show you to your rooms. Someone will deliver your luggage shortly.”
The castleentranceway was vast and airy, with high windows. The window facing the doorway had stained glass, and rainbows reflected and colored the whitewashed walls. On one wall, shiny silver swords displayed in a circular pattern grabbed Anita’s attention, every blade large enough to lop off heads. Edwina and Suzie trailed Angus while the guys—Ramsay, Scott, and Liam—exclaimed over the weapons. Anita, who was at the rear, trotted past a suit of armor and gave it a side-eye. The armor remained frozen in position, but she sniffed the air to make sure nothing lurked inside the manlike figure.
Angus led them up stone stairs and along carpeted passages. They passed a roped-off stairway and a notice stating Private. One by one, her friends disappeared into their allocated rooms until only Anita remained.
“You will share with another woman. She hasn’t checked in yet.” The steward halted in front of a wooden door and handed over a key.
“Have most of the attendees arrived?” Anita asked.
“Aye. It’s quiet now since a few have walked into town while others joined an organized fishing trip. The rest are in their rooms and preparing for the welcome ball this evening. Dinner begins at seven, and everyone is meeting in the Great Hall for pre-dinner drinks at six-thirty. You will find the relevant details and activities on the program in your room.”
“Thank you,” Anita said.
The steward strode away, his red and black tartan swishing around his skinny legs.
Anita sighed and pushed open her door. She wasn’t looking forward to this evening. Her Middlemarch contingent had discussed the schedule, and they were of an accord. Days full of embarrassing meetings and rejections. That they might find their fated mates during a week of events was ludicrous.
Her room was beautiful and far more comfortable than she’d imagined. She even had an en suite. Small but perfectly functional, with luxurious towels and other amenities. Her explorations led her to the bank of windows. The loch view and the vibrant green of the forest beyond brightened Anita’s mood. At least she’d run with other shifters this week since the castle sat on almost twenty thousand acres of mountains and pasture. Plenty of room to run and experience freedom. Heck, she could always go feline for the week.
Something to consider.
She yawned and considered a pre-dinner nap, and she’d send her snooty stepchildren a photo of the castle and perhaps some shots of the interior. Oh, she was terrible. Despite her arranged marriage, she’d grown fond of David and had missed him after his unexpected death even though their relationship had been tense at the end. Grinning, Anita stripped off her clothes and crawled into bed. The twenty-hour flight had exhausted her, and even though they’d stopped over in Dubai, fatigue weighted her limbs and stung her eyes. Probably the reason her mind had drifted to the past and rejection. The locale didn’t help.
Scotland was her birth country, and she’d traveled to New Zealand with her much older husband and new stepchildren. Being here brought back more memories. And nope. She wasn’t dwelling on the past.
Anita slept for almost three hours until her roommate, a wolf shifter from Canada, arrived.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to wake you,” the redhead woman said.
Anita smiled. “I’m glad you did. It’s time to shower and think about getting ready for tonight. Have you attended a gathering before?”
“No, but my older sister has. She met a bear shifter, and it was instalove. My name is Rebecca. Becky for short.”
“Anita. They were fated mates?” Anita asked.
“I know. Go figure, eh? My sister adores her mate. She has two cubs and another on the way.”
Anita shook her head. “Must be a fluke. I don’t believe in this destined mate business.”