Estrella Rios smoothed a hand back over her hair, hoping her unruly curls stayed in place. At least for the next three hours. As a favor to her former college roommate, who was also her best friend, she was filling in for one of the hired servers at Sabrina’s first professional art show. It was at a well-known studio and drew serious buyers. Estrella understood her friend’s neurotic need to control every little detail tonight.
Since Estrella had waited tables during college, carrying a tray around all night was a piece of cake. Or it would be if a certain tall, extremely sexy man would stop staring at her—and following her around. It was unsettling. Well, she couldn’t prove he was following her, but everywhere she turned, there he was.
Watching her with pale green eyes that were damn unnerving, he moved with a liquid, almost supernatural grace.
Almost as if the man knew she was thinking about him, he appeared in her line of sight again. Even with the throng of people between them she could feel the heat of his gaze, as if he was actually touching her. He stared at her with laser-like focus. Then he blinked and she sucked in a deep breath. Oh crap. He was like her. She could see the animal lurking in his gaze. It had only been a brief flash but she’d recognized the animal peering back at her.
He was a shifter—a human who could turn into an animal. The few male shifters she’d met in college were jerks who thought they could dominate and tell her what to do just because she was packless. That was another term she’d learned while in college. Apparently packless translated to unprotected in the shifter world. Whatever. She wasn’t concerned with learning anything about packs or other shifters. She’d grown up in the human world. Luckily, all of her friends were human and she’d blended into their world almost perfectly from the time she was five years old and abandoned to the foster system. She knew how to blend in and hide from those who thought their strength gave them a free pass to treat her however they wanted.
Swallowing hard at the thought that the hot stranger could be just like some of the other shifters she’d known, she took a step back and collided with a wall of muscle. The tray in her hand dipped, the champagne glasses sloshing and threatening to fall, but two strong hands encircled her from behind. One steadied the tray and the other clutched possessively around her hip.
She knew it was him before she even turned around. He had an earthy scent that reminded her of the forest after a fresh spring rain. No matter how good he smelled, she did not appreciate the way he was holding on to her. As if he knew her and had the right to touch her.
Firmly clasping the tray, she stepped away from him and was careful to keep the drinks balanced as she turned. When her eyes clashed with his pale ones, a shot of pure warmth and adrenaline punched through her. The man was certainly attractive in an edgy, dangerous sort of way. With dark hair just a little too long and sharply defined cheekbones, he looked as if he’d been cut from stone. He’d triggered her fight-or-flight response, but not necessarily in a bad way. Her inner jaguar told her to run fast and far from this man who was clearly a predator. She could see it in his gaze. No one in their right mind would mess with this guy.
Even though her jaguar was spooked, her purely female human side was very interested. Estrella was glad her dress wrapped around her like a second skin.
“Your name,” he said, his voice raspy and sexy as it twined around her.
She blinked as his words jerked her out of her stupor. “Excuse me?”
“What. Is. Your. Name.” All right, he was definitely ordering her to tell him.
And she did not like his demanding tone. “Think you can ask like a normal person?”
He blinked and she realized she’d taken him off guard. Clearing his throat, he took a step closer, and she was very thankful to have the flutes of champagne as a barrier. “You’re in my Alpha’s territory but you haven’t announced your presence or asked for permission to be here. I want your name.”
Uh-oh. So there was no doubt he knew she was a shifter too. Maybe she’d broken some unwritten rule. Estrella ignored the sliver of fear that trailed down her spine. “I don’t know what an Alpha is and I don’t really care.” Though she could guess what it was. “I don’t have to ask anyone for permission to be anywhere. And if you even think about touching me again, you’ll lose your hand.”
He blinked again and this time she knew she’d surprised him. Something told her that didn’t happen very often. Before he could respond, she swiveled and moved to mingle with other art patrons. She used her supernatural grace to weave through the crowd of well-dressed people as she offered them drinks.
When she finally turned back toward the trio of black-and-white oil paintings of the Everglades, Estrella felt a mix of relief and disappointment that the mystery man was no longer hovering there. For a moment her gaze lingered on the paintings, each one depicting the moon in various phases. In the third one, Sabrina had added a stark orange moon—the only splash of color in the darker scenes. Forcing her gaze away, Estrella quickly scanned the rest of the first floor before doing an actual physical walk through.
He was gone. And she had a job to do.