RoryHendersonheardthe hubbub of chatter long before he reached the Great Hall. A hint of roast beef drifted from a kitchen, tucked somewhere close but out of sight. That delicious dinner aroma faded under the onslaught of perfume and aftershave. His wolf senses picked up a shifter musk—many shifters of varying species. He wrinkled his nose, sneezed, and breathed through his mouth.
This was why he preferred to stay at home in the mountains, surrounded by pines, birch, and the odd oak. He favored the crisp mountain air and hard work to ascertain his pack not only survived but thrived.
His grandmother thought otherwise and continually nagged him to take a female wolf and produce the next generation. She wanted him to choose her friend’s granddaughter. Rory disliked her candidate, and attending the biennial Highland gathering was the compromise.
The truth was even though he loved his mountain life and producing the quality furniture his pack had become known for designing, he was lonely.
Not a substantial reason to take his grandmother’s candidate to wife.
“Let’s do this,” he said to his male pack mates. They were here to act as bodyguards, but he didn’t need security. This was another of his grandmother’s conditions. Her spies, he suspected but didn’t care. As long as he joined the gathering activities, everything would work fine.
Rory paused on the threshold, taking in the room’s occupants. Most, like him, wore their clan tartans since every shifter bore Scottish ties.
The power of a stare hit his chest, and every muscle in his body tightened like a compressed spring. Casually, he spoke to the werewolf on his left. “Do you see anyone you know?” He let his gaze sweep their surroundings as he spoke. Like a magnet, his attention focused on the staring woman.
A stranger and an attractive one. She had long black hair and skin the color of honey. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he was the object of her interest.
“Nope,” his security guard said. “But I see lots of sexy ladies who I wouldn’t mind becoming acquainted with before the week ends.”
Rory waved his hand. “Have at it. Don’t stay by my side. If you find someone interesting, follow your instincts.”
The men hesitated.
“The only danger here is single shifters searching for a mate. I’m old enough and wise enough to cope with the ladies. I don’t intend to make mistakes or let any female drag me into a situation where she forces me to make her my wife.”
“If you’re positive,” one wolf said.
“That’s an order,” Rory said. “Go. I have my phone and will call if I need you.”
By the time his security team had vanished, Rory couldn’t spot the woman. A waiter passed and offered Rory a glass of champagne.
“Is it possible to have a beer?”
“Yes, sir. Check the bar in the far corner. They’ll get you a beer.”
“Thanks.” Rory walked in the direction the waiter had indicated, dodging groups and inattentive shifters. He felt the crawl of gazes, flicking the length of his body and mentally undressing him. Bloody hell. Putting up with this for the entire week would strain his temper. He fervently wished he hadn’t given in to his grandmother’s urging for him to take a wife.
He didn’t see the woman again, although he searched for her.
The piper who’d arrived before him finished his bagpipe rendition. An older man wearing a kilt announced dinner. “Please check in with the hostesses just inside the door.”
The piperstarted a rousing ‘Scotland the Brave’ before leading the crowd into dinner.
Rory waited until the crowd thinned before heading to the dining room. The delectable roast beef scent was even heavier in the air, and his stomach rumbled. At least the food stirred his appetite. That was a plus.
“Your name, sir?”
The woman consulted her list. “Table eleven. This way. The table toward the end of the row.”
“Thanks.” Rory made way for the next person in the line.
Chairs slid across the flagstone floor as diners took their seats. Old acquaintances called loud shouts of welcome, and Rory heard more than one person mention they were here for a repeat gathering since they still hadn’t found a mate.
Huh! And his grandmother expected the mating lightning bug to hit him. Doubtful, and even less so given his lack of interest.