She slid him a side-eye. “I had nothing to say, so I remained quiet.”
His blue eyes twinkled. “Ah, a woman who doesn’t chatter for the sake of filling a silence. My favorite kind.”
Anita sipped her wine, pushing herself to take her time and savor the fruity notes instead of slugging it back. Hopefully, their appetizers would arrive soon, so she had food to help settle her stomach.
“Your accent. Australian?” the wolf shifter sitting on her left asked.
“I’m from New Zealand. You?”
“I came over from Canada with a group from my pack. I’m Richard.”
“Anita. Are you looking for a mate?”
“If someone tempts me, I wouldn’t say no, but I’m not ready to settle down with one woman.”
“An honest man.” Anita glanced upward. “Has the sky fallen?”
Richard laughed, a huge booming sound that attracted attention from the neighboring tables. “My parents decided this’d be a life-building experience. Um, I might’ve been getting into a little trouble with my friends.”
Anita studied the blond man and noted he was younger than her first guess. Too immature for her.
A line of waitresses entered the Great Hall, each carrying appetizers. Anita relaxed and introduced herself to those seated at the same table. Most of the shifters she’d met so far were feline, wolf, or bear, but she’d met two fox shifters.
A waitress placed pate in front of Anita. She smiled her thanks and chatted with Richard while waiting for everyone to receive their appetizers. Then she glanced down at her plate. The scent tossed her deep into memories of when she was eighteen and approaching Rory Henderson to declare she was his mate.
A fine film of perspiration coated her skin, and a croaking sound escaped her. Her limbs became heavy weights, anchoring her in place, and the scene—the awful, horrid tableau—kept replaying on a loop. She recalled the shock on Rory’s face, his parents’ contempt, and the disgust written on his grandmother’s chilly visage.
She’d stood, frozen, unprepared for Rory’s grandmother to issue the order to two warrior guards to remove her from the Great Hall.
Anita sucked in a hasty breath to ease the tension crawling through her limbs. She was no longer that young feline girl with a head full of dreams. She’d married and helped to raise stepchildren. And after her husband had passed, she’d made a home for herself. She had friends in Middlemarch, a respectable life, even if loneliness blitzed her at times.
Another deep breath seized the meaty liver pate scent and grabbed at her throat. Her stomach lurched, and she gulped.
She was gonna be sick.
She had to get out of here. Anita pushed back her chair and knocked into a waitress carrying a tray. Plates crashed to the floor. Conversations stalled. Shifters at other tables turned to stare. Rory stood and squatted to help the waitress pick up the broken pieces of china.
“I’m sorry.” Anita gasped, her stomach bucking and roiling. She took two steps past the mess of plates and food, mostly pate, she noted. The liver-rich scent rose, and Anita lost the fight. She barfed all over Rory Henderson.
The ugly scent of vomit joined that of the pate. Anita’s throat burned as another wave of nausea had her repeating the act.
“I’m so sorry,” she managed before she clapped her hand over her mouth and fled.