Paula carefully opened the door and gestured for Ian to step through. “Come in,” she said, shutting the door and locking it. “Would you like a tea or a coffee?”
“A tea would be nice,” Ian said, following Paula into the kitchen. “Are you okay?”
It was a reasonable question. Paula looking like a deep breath would break her and her elderly face was strained. She forced a smile. “I am a little concerned. That’s why I asked you here.”
Ian’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not keen on me, I know. I married your niece and you play nice, but you’ve never warmed up to me.”
Paula licked her dry lips as she filled the kettle. “You’ve always been good to Jeanette,” she said. “And I’m very grateful for it. And heaven knows that poor kid deserves some luck in life. Her mother is dreadful.” She flicked the kettle on and pulled out two mugs. “You said tea, didn’t you?”
“Yes, no sugar.” Ian watched Paula fumble with the teabags. “I treasure Jeanette, and I make no secret of it. I’m lucky to have met her. I’m even luckier that she will have me. And you know my family have welcomed her. You were at the wedding.”
Paula dropped the teabags. “I’ve never been to a happier wedding,” she said as she scrabbled around for the teabags. “But you’re a werewolf.”
“Yes,” Ian said. “And so are most of my family.”
Paula pulled a fresh box of teabags out of the cupboard and struggled with the wrapper. “Jeanette always looks so happy.”
Ian took the box from her and opened it before casually dropping the teabags into the mugs. “You didn’t ask me to come around just because I am a werewolf. You’re obviously terrified.” He frowned for a moment. “Well, you’re safe. Try and relax.” He fidgeted with the bowl on the kitchen counter, avoiding Paula’s eyes. “I’m not like that. I never have been.”
“That’s garlic,” Paula said, holding on to the edge of the counter.”
“Hmm?” Ian said, tossing a bulb and catching it. “I love garlic,” he said. “Jeanette always grows extra for me.” He shot a hard look at Paula. “It’s vampires that are affected by garlic, not werewolves.” He set the bulb back in the bowl and picked up the boiling kettle. “Let me. You’re a bag of nerves.”
Paula swallowed. “You like garlic?”
“You should have silver against werewolves,” Ian said impatiently as he made two mugs of tea. “Come on, Paula, what is it? I’ll always go the extra mile for you. Jeanette told me how good you were to her growing up, and she needed it. Just try not to treat me like a monster.” He pushed a mug into Paula’s cold hand. “What is it?”
“There’s something in the garden,” Paula said quietly. “I hear noises, but I can never see anything. I’ve looked as much as I’ve dared, but I’ve seen no-one.”
Ian looked at her and then out of the window. It was dark outside and the huge garden was hidden from the window. “You’re scared of me, but you’re more scared of what could be out there.”
“The garden is getting too much for me,” Paula said. “It’s quite overgrown at the end. I thought it could be something…” she trailed off. “I never used to quite believe in werewolves.”
“I’ll have a look,” Ian said.
“You will be careful, won’t you?” Paula said, catching hold of his arm. “If there’s something dreadful out there, I don’t want you to be hurt.”
Ian patted her hand. “I can take care of myself. But lock the door after me and watch out of the window, just in case.”
Paula watched the hard faced, hard muscled man disappear into the shadows at the bottom of the garden. Even if she didn’t know that he was a werewolf, she would have found him intimidating. There was an unforgiving air around him. But she had seen him with her niece and their kids and Ian doted on them. And Jeanette absolutely adored her husband, it was clear a mile off. Paula peered into the darkness. She had heard a few stories through the years and seen enough not to dismiss what she was told. Besides, there had been a lot more large, wolf-like dogs at the end of the wedding then there had been at the beginning. Some of them had had bowls of beer.
She picked up her tea and took a reassuring sip. Surely there would be nothing. A doubt gnawed at her. What if she had sent Jeanette’s husband into trouble? What if it was darker than he could deal with? What if things went wrong? She couldn’t really call the police if it was something worse than a werewolf.
There was a commotion in the darkness and Paula nearly dropped the tea. It splashed wildly on the counter as she jumped but Paula didn’t dare stop to wipe it up. Instead she stared through the window, wondering what was going on. Something was emerging from the darkness. It was Ian with two teenagers. Paula started to breathe again. The young lad had the start of a black eye and the young girl was scarlet faced as she hastily buttoned her top. Behind them, Ian’s face was carefully expressionless, but Paula could see a glint of amusement in his eyes as they got closer. She unlocked the door.
Ian gave the lad a small shove. “What are you going to say?”
“I’m sorry, Miss, for trespassing in your garden,” the teenager blurted out.
“We won’t do it again,” the girl added.
“And why won’t you do it?” Ian said firmly.
“Because we realise that we were being disrespectful,” the lad said, glancing nervously back at him.
“And what are you going to do to apologise?” Ian prompted.
“We’ll come back tomorrow in the day to weed the front drive,” the lad said.
“We’re really sorry,” the girl added. “We didn’t think that you would realise we were there or that you would be worried.
“So, off you go and get back here around 10am, and no messing about,” Ian said with an almost paternal authority. His face stayed set in stern lines until the teenagers were well out of sight before he broke into a grin. “A little youthful romance,” he said. “They genuinely didn’t mean to scare you.” He chuckled. “The lad was accusing me of all sorts until I got his attention and explained. The lass was just about dead with embarrassment. But they’ll do something useful and that will be the end of it.” He frowned. “But I can’t have people thinking that no-one is bothered. I’ll come around tomorrow and get some tidying up done. Jeanette’s really the gardener, but I can at least get the worst of it cleared until she can come down here. Just make a list of what you want doing.”
“There’s no need,” Paula said.
“You were there for Jeanette when she needed you. That means that there’s every need,” Ian said firmly. “I’ll see you tomorrow – don’t forget to lock the door.”
Paula watched Ian stride away before carefully locking the door. She finished her tea and washed the mugs. Ian was intimidating, tough and relentless and looked like he was made of iron. But she remembered his grin after the teenagers had left, and the kindness he had shown her. Perhaps he was safe after all. She would have to make something for him as a snack tomorrow. Paula smiled. Perhaps she could make him garlic bread.