“As much as I love my grandmother, she needs to trust me to do the best for our pack. No one goes hungry now. Our youngsters stay with the pack instead of leaving, and I believe we’re successful. Am I wrong?”
“You’re not wrong,” Hugh said.
“Excellent. Report if you feel the need, but you will tell Grandmother I am participating in the activities and meeting wolf shifters. Don’t give her specifics of the women I’m associating with or other personal details. Those are things I will tell her once I arrive home. If she tries to pull rank or threatens your positions on my staff, you will tell her nothing extra. I am the pack alpha, and your allegiance is to me. I’ll remove you from my security team if you ignore these instructions. Do you understand?”
Rory met Hugh’s impassive gaze and waited for an acknowledgment.
Hugh offered a clipped nod while the other two wolves stared at him.
“Do I have two heads?”
“Nay, alpha,” one said while the other gave a vigorous nod.
“We will keep your activities confidential,” the other said.
“Aye,” Hugh said.
“Thank you.” Rory picked up his beer and swallowed a generous mouthful. It was excellent and a fitting way to celebrate him laying down the law. His grandmother would fight him, but she wouldn’t win.
When he finished his beer, he stood. “That’s me for the night.”
The three men rose.
“You have my permission to have another beer. It’s a ten-minute walk, and I have my phone should I encounter problems.”
The men dithered, and Rory bit back a grin.
“Look,” Rory said, “when I was a child, a security team to keep me safe made sense, especially after Grandmother received the death threats. Since I’ve taken over, I haven’t faced problems. I highly doubt anyone followed us here. It’d be difficult to sneak around with this many shifters. Also, the security is tight at the gathering. No one gains access without an official invitation. Please, stay. What Grandmother dinna ken won’t hurt her.”
After this speech, Rory exited the pub without glancing back.
To his relief, none of his team trotted after him. He scanned the vicinity and caught the scents of the pub patrons—the bite of sweat, cheap aftershave, and a teasing note of Anita’s flowers.
The woman acted like a skittish deer, but he savored a challenge. Tomorrow, he’d learn which activities she planned to attend and make sure he put himself in front of her. Now that he’d decided to pursue her, the last thing he wanted was competition.
The woman belonged to him, even if she fought him now.
Rory strode the short distance to the castle and found an activity underway. He grinned because it looked as if Anita was playing, and it wasn’t too late for him to join this game.
Rory drifted to the rear of a line of male shifters.
An announcement crackled through the loudspeaker—the compere again, decked out in an eye-grabbing sparkly tartan. “Ladies, you will remain in your seats and leave them arranged precisely how we have them. This is important. This game is a little like musical chairs with kissing.
“When the music starts, the gentlemen will stride toward you in a line. When the music halts, a gentleman will pause in front of each of you. They will smile and do nothing else if they are not interested in pursuing a relationship with you. If they might be interested but aren’t certain yet, they will kiss your cheek and move on to the next lady. If you think this lady is your fated mate, please kiss her on the lips and hold her as if you’re never letting her go.”
Faint laughter greeted this.
Rory studied the women. There were around twenty-five participants. The compere blasted a horn, and the first man strutted forward to the music. His position at the rear might be problematic, but he’d go with that. At least he might get to kiss Anita. He waved as he passed the first woman and blew her a kiss.
The bystanders laughed and cheered, and the man sauntered onward.
Gradually, the waiting men joined the parade, and the audience cheered. The ladies flirted, fluttering their lashes and puckering their lips. The male shifters lapped it up, creating much laughter with their shenanigans. Soon, it was Rory’s turn, and he strode toward the first shifter female—a wolf. He winked at her when the music continued. The music stopped when Rory was halfway along the line of chairs. He hadn’t reached Anita yet and didn’t think she realized he was partaking in the game.
“Gentlemen, turn to face the beautiful lady in front of you. Remember, you can smile, kiss her cheek, or lay one on her. It’s up to you and your shifter half to determine if she could be the one for you.”
Rory smiled at the woman, who faced him with a trace of anxiety. He’d hate to embarrass her, but he didn’t want to encourage hope when there was none. Anita was the one for him.