My Highland Mate

Page 2

“I hear you, but my parents nagged me to attend the gathering, so I caved. You take the first shower.” Becky glanced at her watch. “Better make it fast because it’s five-thirty. It pays to get to the Great Hall early. Soak in the details and inform people back home you’re meeting lots of shifters.”
“Brilliant plan, Becky. We’re gonna get along fine.”
Three-quarters of an hour later, Anita ascended the stairs with Becky. The Great Hall was already bustling with attendees. Most of the men wore kilts, and Anita, like the other women, wore a plain dress trimmed with the gray, green, and blue Middlemarch tartan that the Feline Council had ordered before their departure. A mixture of perfume and aftershave swirled together, along with the meaty scent wafting from the roving waitstaff’s trays.
Anita glanced around the crowded room, listening to the chatter and laughter, the flirtation that was already going strong between shifter men and women.
“Let’s get a drink. Ah, here comes one of the waiter dudes.” Becky plucked two glasses of champagne off the tray, leaving the waiter scowling.
Anita sent the man a sympathetic smile since she’d worked as waitstaff at several functions in Dunedin. The worst thing you could do was snatch the drinks off a tray because the balance was tricky.
She trailed Becky through the crowded room, stopping when she spotted Ramsay, Liam, and Scott, the male members of the Middlemarch party. Anita slowed, intending to introduce her roomie, but Becky disappeared into the crowd.
“This feels like a meat market,” Scott whispered, his tanned face scrunched in a scowl.
Ramsay chuckled, his black hair tamed in a tail for this event. “You’re out of sorts because you didn’t want to wear the Middlemarch kilt.”
“Why don’t I take a photo of us and email it to Saber? He’ll share it with the council members, and they’ll know we’ve started the right way,” Anita said.
“Plan,” Liam said, his blue-green eyes filling with amusement.
They crowded closer, shoulders touching, and Anita held up her phone to snap the shot. “Done. Let me take one of the three of you together so that they can ooh and ah over your kilts.”
“You just want to see our legs,” Scott complained, raising his kilt to display most of his muscular limbs.
“And very nice legs they are too,” Anita said, trying not to laugh. She took the photo and was about to ask Ramsay to take one of her when a fresh scent claimed her attention. It was the fragrance of Scotland—heather and sage and a hint of pine rolled together with wood smoke. She froze before dragging in one careful lungful of air.
“What’s wrong?” Ramsay’s green eyes narrowed. “You’ve turned the color of a batch of meringues.”
Ramsay was a chef, so the food comparison made sense, but what didn’t fit was the enticing scent and her reaction to it. She took two steps toward the decadent piney herbal musk, her gaze wandering the sea of faces. Her mouth turned dry, and her stomach churned because the fragrance brought back memories—embarrassing ones.
No, this couldn’t be. It was Anita’s imagination conjuring reminders because she’d returned to Scotland, the scene of her downfall. Anita swallowed hard, but this did nothing to shift the dryness of her throat. She sipped her crisp, fruity champagne and then drank more until no liquid remained. Better.
Once again, Anita scanned the faces of myriad shifters around her, all enjoying the drinks, snacks, and company. She sniffed carefully, her gaze landing on the nearest couple. The sweet berry musk of a bear. A hint of honey. Also, a bear. They had eyes only for each other. She continued, making a game of identifying the shifters.
“What’s wrong, Anita?” Ramsay pitched his voice low, but she heard his distinct worry.
“I caught a whiff of a familiar scent—one that doesn’t come with glorious memories.” Honesty as far as it went.
“Are you in danger?”
“No. At least I don’t think so.” Anita forced a laugh. “I’m sure I’m imagining things. It’s being back in Scotland.”
“All right.” He didn’t seem convinced, but he backed off. “I feel as if everyone is looking at me. The women,” he amended.
Anita smiled, the curve of her lips more natural now. “Ramsay, you’re an attractive man, and you don’t come with oodles of attitude and swagger. You’re friendly. Any woman would be lucky to win your love.”
“I don’t come from a wonderful family.”
Anita snorted. “The Mitchells have adopted you. They’re good people and excellent judges of character. You have nothing to worry about.”
A movement to her right caught her attention, and she glanced in that direction. The crowd was thick, with more attendees appearing by the minute. Becky had been right to suggest they arrive early.
Then that wretched scent floated to her again. The champagne tap-danced in the pit of her stomach, and she struggled to hold it down. She swallowed once. Twice.
This scent. It was familiar and one that lingered in her nightmares. A shudder worked through her, and Anita attempted to find the source of the smell.
Movement at the door had her turning. The distinct sound of bagpipes inflating sounded an instant before a lone piper marched into the Great Hall. The crowd split for the piper, allowing passage to the dining room beyond.
It was then Anita spotted him.
Rory Henderson.
The wolf who’d rejected her, even though Anita had been confident they were mates.
Her champagne flute dropped from nerveless fingers as she stared at her past. The thud of glass breaking attracted attention. His attention. His gaze swung in Anita’s direction.
Anita turned away to shield her face and pressed a hand to her breastbone. She dragged in a shaky breath, her mind whirring. As far as she knew, Rory Henderson had married another wolf. Her parents had told her this, and Anita had no reason not to believe them.
But if that was true, why was Rory Henderson at a singles’ gathering?