He smiled at the bear shifter, a large, curvy woman. She wasn’t attractive—more striking, with her bright blue eyes and long curly black hair. He blew her a kiss, and she winked at him in return.
A roar lifted the roof, and Rory spotted a man laying a hot and heavy kiss on a petite blonde. She wasn’t arguing, but was kissing him right back.
The onlookers cheered.
“We have an early winner,” the compere spoke over the suggestive comments that flew quick and salty through the room. “Our first couple so far? Am I right?”
Rory didn’t care. He wanted to continue the walk and let fate decide if he could kiss Anita tonight.
“Congratulations,” the compere shouted again. “Please see my efficient and delectable hostess here, and she will give you a special prize.”
Rory’s curiosity rose since most couples in his pack were not fated mates. They rubbed along well enough, but he’d heard proper mates had something special binding them together, making their relationship magical. Since he had little experience with the mate concept, he remained a little skeptical.
The couple walked near Rory on their way to speak with the hostess. His quick sniff told him they were wolves. The woman took shaky breaths while the male blinked rapidly, yet it was easy to discern their happiness. Their glow. The male had his arm wrapped around his mate’s waist, and a distinct growl rumbled up his throat when another shifter male stumbled too close.
Huh! Interesting. Maybe he shouldn’t dismiss the mate concept so fast because Anita did draw him.
The compere tested his mic with a rapid tap-tap of his fingers. “Ready to go again?”
A male shifter in front of Rory pumped his fist into the air.“Yes.”
His enthusiasm had Rory grinning.
The music recommenced, and Rory’s heart raced as he rounded the end of the first line of women and started back. Each step took him closer to Anita. Her two friends sat on either side of her, and they were flirting big time. Anita looked as if she was frowning, but she still hadn’t spotted him.
The music ceased. Rory came face-to-face with one of Anita’s friends. He couldn’t recall her name, but she snuck a glance at Anita before grinning at him and puckering up.
Rory laughed aloud, dipped his head in acknowledgment, and grinned back.
The music started straightaway, and Rory glanced at Anita. He saw she was staring back in distinct apprehension. The music halted, and the compere cackled at the instant confusion because every male had only advanced one spot.
Rory turned toward Anita, who was staring at him in horror. His inner wolf growled. Oh hell. Was she crying?
An urgent need to comfort her and ease her distress propelled him close enough to place his hands on her shoulders. A shudder ran through her, and he witnessed her audible swallow. His wolf growled again, but soft enough for only him to hear. Every part of Rory craved her kiss and to stake his claim. He leaned nearer, tuning out the laughter, the chatter, the surrounding hilarity. He dragged in a breath full of her flowery perfume and the faint muskiness of her feline.
He struggled to control his wolf, to wonder at the terror in her expression. What filled her with trepidation when the two of them were so right? Every fathom of his being, every thought, reiterated they were mates, that he was wrong with his doubts. And crazily, there was something familiar about her, yet he couldn’t put this sense of knowing into context. He stared into her brown eyes, his wolf compelling him to show her he was her mate and master. He was her alpha.
Their gazes connected. Clung.But one overriding thing became apparent to Rory.
Anita didn’t want him in the same way he craved her.
He froze, hesitating, and at the last moment, he jerked to the left and placed his lips against her silky cheek. Her shoulders slumped as he stepped back. His wolf growled, the sound full of anger, but Anita’s gaze held thanks. Relief.
The music burst into life again, and his feet propelled him forward.
All he could think was that Anita Gatto was his fated mate, and she didn’t want him.
She’d rejected them—him and his wolf, and that was a crime.