My Highland Mate
Middlemarch Gathering, Book 1
July 14, 2022
Rejection ripped out her heart, but the reunion might kill her…
Years ago, Anita suffered a humiliating and devastating rejection from her fated mate. Her announcement at the pack dinner created waves that rippled through her life and changed her path. Now at the Highland gathering, she has come face-to-face with the horrid, dumb-arse stupid wolf.
She’d hoped the years would heal, but no. Every painful, embarrassing, and soul-destroying moment shoves her back into uncertainty and a vulnerable state. Worst of all, she still wants him with an instant craving that threatens to chop her off at the knees.
The problem: Rory’s gawking at her as if he likes what he sees, and even worse, he asks for an introduction. He’s looking and looking hard, but he doesn’t recognize her…
Introducing the first romance in a Middlemarch Shifters spin-off series. A stubborn werewolf and an irked leopard shifter dance around their feelings at a special gathering to find fated mates. Forbidden love and second chances bring suspense and danger, and the handsome and oh, so sexy wolf faces up to the truth about his headstrong feline lover.
Other Books in the Middlemarch Gathering series
Read an Excerpt
“My God, it’s an honest-to-goodness castle,” Suzie said as the van that had picked them up from Edinburgh airport pulled through a stone portico and into the courtyard beyond.
Anita Gatto gaped as much as her friends and fellow feline shifters from Middlemarch, New Zealand. The castle before them was a storybook one with turrets and gray stone walls. Set among a forest of pine trees, and was that a loch in the foreground? She half expected something magical to happen.
Then Anita shook herself. Not possible.
The six of them were here to represent their town at the biennial Highland gathering where shifters of Scottish descent came from around the world, hoping to discover their fated mate.
Not that Anita believed in the concept of a soul mate. Not any longer. Popular culture pushed the idea of fated mates, but she doubted this would happen for her.
Been there and barely escaped with her sanity.
Despite what the Middlemarch Feline Council members had informed them, Anita believed a sensible arrangement between consenting parties with common interests was way better than this mate business. But when Saber Mitchell had approached her to represent Middlemarch at the gathering, she’d agreed. Loneliness assailed her, and while a rejection from the man she’d called her mate had scarred her, she’d acquiesced to Saber’s proposal because she hoped to find a like-minded shifter. If that failed, she’d at least enjoy a holiday in the Highlands.
“Well,” Edwina, the third female member of their party, said. “The man with the clipboard means business. We’d better gather our enthusiasm and get this party started.”
Anita exited the van and gave her name to the officious gray-haired man in a kilt. The tall, spare man oozed efficiency while his piercing blue eyes took in every detail. He checked her name off his list, and she waited while the others reported in with the man. A shifter, but his scent baffled her, and she didn’t like to question him.
The man introduced himself. “I am Angus Falconer, the castle steward. If you require anything, contact me, and I will help. Right, follow me, and I’ll show you to your rooms. Someone will deliver your luggage shortly.”
The castle entranceway was vast and airy, with high windows. The window facing the doorway had stained glass, and rainbows reflected and colored the whitewashed walls. On one wall, shiny silver swords displayed in a circular pattern grabbed Anita’s attention, every blade large enough to lop off heads. Edwina and Suzie trailed Angus while the guys—Ramsay, Scott, and Liam—exclaimed over the weapons. Anita, who was at the rear, trotted past a suit of armor and gave it a side-eye. The armor remained frozen in position, but she sniffed the air to make sure nothing lurked inside the manlike figure.
Angus led them up stone stairs and along carpeted passages. They passed a roped-off stairway and a notice stating Private. One by one, her friends disappeared into their allocated rooms until only Anita remained.
“You will share with another woman. She hasn’t checked in yet.” The steward halted in front of a wooden door and handed over a key.
“Have most of the attendees arrived?” Anita asked.
“Aye. It’s quiet now since a few have walked into town while others joined an organized fishing trip. The rest are in their rooms and preparing for the welcome ball this evening. Dinner begins at seven, and everyone is meeting in the Great Hall for pre-dinner drinks at six-thirty. You will find the relevant details and activities on the program in your room.”
“Thank you,” Anita said.
The steward strode away, his red and black tartan swishing around his skinny legs.
Anita sighed and pushed open her door. She wasn’t looking forward to this evening. Her Middlemarch contingent had discussed the schedule, and they were of an accord. Days full of embarrassing meetings and rejections. That they might find their fated mates during a week of events was ludicrous.
Her room was beautiful and far more comfortable than she’d imagined. She even had an en suite. Small but perfectly functional, with luxurious towels and other amenities. Her explorations led her to the bank of windows. The loch view and the vibrant green of the forest beyond brightened Anita’s mood. At least she’d run with other shifters this week since the castle sat on almost twenty thousand acres of mountains and pasture. Plenty of room to run and experience freedom. Heck, she could always go feline for the week.
Something to consider.
She yawned and considered a pre-dinner nap, and she’d send her snooty stepchildren a photo of the castle and perhaps some shots of the interior. Oh, she was terrible. Despite her arranged marriage, she’d grown fond of David and had missed him after his unexpected death even though their relationship had been tense at the end. Grinning, Anita stripped off her clothes and crawled into bed. The twenty-hour flight had exhausted her, and even though they’d stopped over in Dubai, fatigue weighted her limbs and stung her eyes. Probably the reason her mind had drifted to the past and rejection. The locale didn’t help.
Scotland was her birth country, and she’d traveled to New Zealand with her much older husband and new stepchildren. Being here brought back more memories. And nope. She wasn’t dwelling on the past.
Anita slept for almost three hours until her roommate, a wolf shifter from Canada, arrived.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to wake you,” the redhead woman said.
Anita smiled. “I’m glad you did. It’s time to shower and think about getting ready for tonight. Have you attended a gathering before?”
“No, but my older sister has. She met a bear shifter, and it was instalove. My name is Rebecca. Becky for short.”
“Anita. They were fated mates?” Anita asked.
“I know. Go figure, eh? My sister adores her mate. She has two cubs and another on the way.”
Anita shook her head. “Must be a fluke. I don’t believe in this destined mate business.”
“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.
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?