My Highland Mate

Page 4

Rory shook himself from his thoughts and hustled along the line of tables until he reached table eleven. The woman he’d spied earlier already sat at the table, and he slid into the seat beside her. She took one look at him and froze, her champagne halting halfway to her mouth. She swallowed hard, and her glass trembled before she set it on the starched white tablecloth.
Rory thrust out his right hand, not liking the idea that something about his appearance startled her. “Rory Henderson. What was your name?”
Her mouth firmed, and she stared at him for a beat longer before extending her hand. “Anita Gatto.”
Her fingers were soft and warm, and she withdrew them too fast for his liking. “You’re not from around here. Your accent tells me that.”
“I flew in with a group from New Zealand,” she said, watching him closely.
He cocked his head. “Do I know you?”
She scowled and turned her attention to the hovering waitress without answering him.
“Are you ready to order?” the young woman asked.
“Yes, of course.” Anita picked up her menu before decisively choosing a pate starter and roast beef for her main.
The waitress took Anita’s menu and turned to him. “What would you like, sir?”
“The potted smoked salmon and the roast beef, please,” Rory said.
The waitress claimed his menu and moved on to the next person.
Rory glanced at Anita. “Have you been to the gathering before?”
“No, none of our New Zealand group has attended before,” Anita replied. “We’re not sure what to expect.”
“Me neither,” Rory said. “A man from our village attended. He didn’t return but traveled to Europe with a bear shifter. Or at least that’s what the gossip says.” His grandmother had been definite: she’d ordered him to ignore non-wolf shifters. This woman was feline. “Where in New Zealand? North or South Island?”
“We’re from the South Island—a small country town close to Dunedin.”
Rory noticed she didn’t inquire where he lived. In fact, she wasn’t adding to the conversation at all, merely answering his questions abruptly, her voice clipped and disinterested.
“Are you here under protest?”
“So it’s me you don’t want to speak with?”
“I have my reasons.”
“But we don’t know each other.” He scrutinized her and noted the slight flinch.
“How could we? I live in New Zealand.”
The woman sitting on his other side claimed his attention. A subtle sniff told Rory the curvy woman was a bear. She winked at him.
“Not interested in a mixed mating?” she asked.
“It wouldn’t go down well with my pack.”
She shrugged. “What happens at the gathering stays at the gathering. This is my third time. My stepmother is determined to get rid of me. She’s hoping the third time is the charm.”
“And what do you think?” Rory asked.