My Highland Mate

Page 22

A Private Picnic
Rorycarriedthepicnic basket and led the way along a track. They came to a signpost pointing toward the waterfall, and Rory shoved the directions into his pocket.
Anita’s sure steps followed him, and he was ultra-aware of her presence. Her floral perfume floated to him—essence of Anita. Today, when they relaxed after eating lunch, he intended to kiss her and show her he was more than interested.
The thought had immediate repercussions for his body. Every part of him tensed at the idea of touching her. During their kiss, he’d let his hands wander unless she offered an objection or shoved him away. He didn’t think she’d protest, given her furtive glances when she thought he wasn’t aware.
“What do you do for fun at home?” he asked.
“Swim in the river. Ski during the winter. I enjoy baking and cake decorating. Reading. The feline community has regular runs in the backcountry.” She glanced back at him, and something about the way she cocked her head struck him as familiar.
He stilled halfway through a step and tripped over a stone when he focused on her. Aye, something about her teased him, but when he tried to follow his thought, all he could see was a blankness that did nothing to answer his questions. Frowning, he continued after her. He’d noticed her accent came and went, and sometimes it held a hint of Scottish.
“Are you certain you haven’t been to Scotland before?”
A definitive yes, but why had she lied? Somehow, he knew with total certainty this wasn’t her first time in Scotland, despite her words to the contrary. Rory pondered this and let it go for now.
“Tell me more about this furniture of yours. Do you have plans to expand, or do you get enough work and orders from your local town?”
He saw what she was doing—deflecting by changing the subject. Two could play at this game. “I’m happy for you to learn more about me, but I should get to know you, too. How about taking turns with the questions?”
“I thought that was what we were doing?”
A smooth reply with nary a pause, yet she didn’t fool Rory. Still, once again, he let her sidestep and pondered her familiarity. His guards hadn’t recognized her. Not that he’d asked them, but they would’ve mentioned it. Besides, no feline families lived near Castle Henderson.
“We have expansion plans and have started an advertising campaign to bring in more orders. Our strength lies in the solid artistry and the fact each piece is unique and designed for the recipient. This means we can charge a top price for our product. Word of mouth is big for us, and our craft is in demand from homeowners who want to renovate their 17th and 18th-century buildings. We received an order to construct a carved wooden banister for a staircase before I left.”
“Who’s keeping the business running while you’re at the gathering?”
“My best friend, Marcus, is a carpenter, and we set up the business together. He is more than capable of keeping everything running while I am away.”
“Marcus,” she said, and he looked askance on hearing her strange tone.
“Have you met Marcus?”
Her reply, instead of reassuring him, raised his hackles. Something reeked of two-day-old fish in this scenario, and Rory couldn’t figure out what it was or why she was prevaricating. Perhaps he should ask one of his team to investigate her. He considered this for all of two seconds and discarded the idea. No, not now. If she wasn’t more forthcoming soon, he might go that route. But he’d feel happier if the information he sought came from her.
Sneaky and underhand—that was his grandmother’s style, and he’d spoken to her more than once about this, telling her this way was not his. He preferred an open and honest approach.
“How long should this walk take?” Anita broke into his thoughts.
“The instructions showed around two and a half hours. I guess they want to make sure each couple has total privacy.”
Anita mumbled something under her breath that Rory didn’t catch, but he grinned at her stiff back, unaccountably enjoying her burst of temper.
“Aren’t you enjoying the walk?” he asked. “I would’ve thought if you work in an office, you’d relish this chance to get outside in the fresh air.”
“I told you, I get lots of opportunities to run in my cat form. Our local Feline Council is active, and they make sure we can safely exercise our cats. Also, where we live is sparsely populated, so we don’t face city dweller problems.”
Interesting. When they spoke about general things, Anita became quite chatty. Only when he directed the conversation into personal did she clam up and give him one-word untruths.
“Are you spending long in Scotland, or are you returning home straight after the gathering?”
“Saber booked us a week in Edinburgh so we can sightsee and experience city life as well as here at Glenkirk. The six of us in our group get on well together. It should be a blast in Edinburgh, doing touristy things and shopping for friends and family at home. What about you?”