You can read the story from the start here – Invitation Accepted
Gareth looked up at the large, rambling house. The setting sun was blood red as it sank behind the hills and there was a chill in the air. “She’s a vampire?” he said.
“Yes, but she’s not a bad vampire,” Sir Dylan said. “I explained. She has arrangements, no-one dies, no-one is fed on without consent and no-one is converted without some sort of oversight.”
“She drinks people’s blood,” Gareth said.
“She is what she is,” Sir Dylan said. “Don’t worry, she’s mostly okay.”
“Just mostly?” Bron chipped in.
“I hate it when you’re both speaking,” Sir Dylan said. “Listen, just be respectful and don’t let her take liberties.” He ran a tired hand over his face. “I’m going to have to get someone else in to explain stuff.”
“That would be a help,” Gareth said. “Especially as I’m not actually a defender, Bron is.”
“It’s a paladin,” Sir Dylan grumbled. “Anyway, if there’s a paladin then there’s a prince. The non-normals usually sort it out between themselves, but Mary Dutton is old, powerful, knows everyone and is marginally possible to deal with. At least, we’ve not had to deal with her much.”
“And you’re as much the defender, I mean, paladin as me,” Bron said. “You’re getting there.”
Sir Dylan looked at them with narrowed eyes. “What does that mean?” he asked suspiciously.
“Shall we meet the blood sucker then?” Bron said, switching subjects.
“Don’t call her that,” Sir Dylan said wearily. “And she’s in a relationship with a werewolf called Tyler.”
“What’s he like?” Gareth asked.
Sir Dylan shrugged. “I’ve never met him. I heard that he works as a carpenter and on building sites. He’s not part of a pack, but he’s never caused trouble.”
“A stray then,” Bron said thoughtfully. “Like those in The Iron Sickle.”
“Not exactly,” Sir Dylan said. He climbed out of the car and took a deep breath of the bracing air. “She’s expecting us.”
“Oh good,” Gareth said.
Bron took the measure of the man who opened the door. Like most werewolves, he was well built and in shape, with short, greying hair and sharp brown eyes. He would be unlikely to start trouble but would be difficult to deal with if trouble started. “We’re here to see Lady Mary,” Bron said. “You must be Tyler.”
“I can’t wait for you to tell Mary that she’s a lady,” Tyler said. “Come in.”
He led them down a narrow, tiled hall and into a wide reception room. It didn’t look much like Gareth’s idea of a vampire’s drawing room. Instead it was minimalist. There were groups of plants around in the corners, and the grey and blue sofas were plentiful, broad and soft, with throws layered over the backs. However the rest of the room was bare. A single print was hung on each cream coloured wall and, apart from a luxurious thick rug in front of the woodstove, the floor was immaculately polished bare wood. Heavy grey curtains framed the wide windows and their spectacular views towards Ilkley. The woman drawing them was tall and slim with sleek blonde hair elegantly styled in a twist. She smiled as they came in.
“So you’re the people who want to make me a prince,” she said. “Take a seat. Would you like coffee?”
“If there’s a paladin, there has to be a prince,” Sir Dylan said, sinking onto one of the sofas.
“And this corner of the world is somewhat neglected,” she said. She held a hand out to Gareth who had remained standing. “I’m Mary Dutton, apparently the new prince.” Her eyes narrowed. “And you are not exactly what you seem.”
Gareth shook the cool, dry hand. “I’m Gareth and I went to look for a warrior spirit to be more assertive at work. I accidentally summoned the spirit of Bron, a Bronze Age defender, into me. It’s been complicated.”
“And I’m Bron,” added Bron. “I’m the defender, although Gareth has potential. And I suppose I was around to be summoned because someone disturbed my burial and brought out the Orache Stone. It sounds like it reached the pack of strays at The Iron Sickle. They need to be stopped.”
“And the first thing I need to do if I’m a prince is something unpleasant against my own kind,” Mary said. “That seems somewhat unfair.”
“Do you think that your kind won’t suffer if these strays get out of hand?” Bron asked. “The stone sends the owner mad, but they scramble for power as they go there. It’s not pretty. I remember it from the first time.”
“And are you sure that it’s still the same?” Mary asked. “After all, it’s been a while.”
“Have you been to The Iron Sickle recently?” Bron asked. “I was lucky to get out of there alive.”
Sir Dylan remembered his visit with Bron and suppressed a shudder. Bron’s calculated and vicious skills had got them out of there alive. “It’s true, Lady Mary,” he said. “The strays from the area are banding together and it’s not healthy.” He turned to Tyler. “I know that you’ve been keeping an eye on some of the pups and strays in the area. There isn’t a strong pack around here. What have you heard?”
Tyler looked at them thoughtfully, then at Mary. “It’s the idiot that calls himself Fang,” he said. “He’s dragging the strays together and it hasn’t been pretty.” He looked hard at Bron. “I heard that you caused some damage at The Iron Sickle.”
“It was me or them,” Bron said. “And I’d do it again, every time. They were mad dogs, Tyler, and you know it. It wasn’t a punch up or a bit of a scuffle, it was war and kill or be killed.”
A silence ran around the room and the tick of the mantel clock echoed. Mary stood. “I can’t interfere with The Iron Sickle and this Fang immediately. Lord Marius was in touch with me and Mark and his pack are going to deal with the matter. At this moment, it’s completely out of my hands. However, if the matter isn’t resolved soon then I shall have to deal with it myself.” She glanced at Tyler. “I daresay that I’ll have to make a lot of changes in the area. I’ll be getting in touch with all the local non-normals and get an idea of how they feel. I’ll also be in touch with Lord Richard, over in Hebden Bridge, as he is a vampire that had to take on a domain unexpectedly.” She nodded at Gareth. “Take off your shirt.”
Gareth blushed wildly. “What?”
“The lady wants to see our mark,” Bron said. “It’s just business,” he added with unusual tact as Tyler glowered at him. He shrugged off the battered leather jacket and started unbuttoning his shirt. “Now, if she talks about our trousers, that’s something else.”
“Keep a respectful tongue in your head,” Tyler snarled. “There’s all this talk of paladins and there’s a shift in the area around the Chevin, but that’s not proof.” He leant a little closer. “And I may have to scratch a bit, just to make sure that it’s real.”
Bron met his glare without flinching. “You could try,” he said. “But it would be a shame to get your blood all over this pretty room.”
“Gentleman!” Mary snapped. “Get the shirt off.” She prowled around Bron as he coolly removed the shirt and handed it to Sir Dylan. “Someone’s been hitting the gym, I can tell. The body’s shaping up nicely, Bron, but you need to stop getting hit.” Mary shook her head at him. “So many bruises.” She peered closer. “Hmm, two crossed swords. I’ve never heard of that.”
“What?” Sir Dylan said. “There was only one a few days ago.” He edged politely past Mary and peered at the mark. Instead of one indistinct sword, there were two of them, dark and crossing on Gareth’s shoulder.
“There are two of us,” Bron said, twitching the shirt out of Sir Dylan’s hands and sliding into it. “We’ll be going, then, Lady Mary. But you’ll know how to contact us. And take care. The Orache Stone is not a toy or a game. If I were you, I’d make sure that I had my people in fighting fettle.”
“You may make a habit of taking over other people,” Mary said. “But you haven’t taken over in me. I’ll make my own decisions, and, if necessary, I’ll be in touch. I’m sure that you can see yourself out.”
Gareth and Sir Dylan left in silence and climbed into the car. Rain started to fall as the light faded and the car seemed chilled. “Well, that could have gone worse,” Sir Dylan said.
Rhys stalked around the building site. He’d managed to placate the client, excusing the absent builders with the excuse of problems with suppliers, but he wasn’t happy. This build had been going pretty well, despite the usual snags, and the delays this was causing stung. They had strutted into The Iron Sickle like they owned the bar and had been badly mauled. It was one of the elementary rules – overconfidence was punished.
Rhys nodded to Tim. “That’s looking good,” he said, nodding at the plastering. “You’ll have it finished in no time.”
“But I won’t have as much finished as I’ll be waiting on Joe and Josh,” Tim said. “They were really badly hurt.” He slapped the float onto the plaster. “And I know I shouldn’t say it, but the boss got it wrong.”
“If you know you shouldn’t say it then you don’t say it,” Rhys said evenly.
“I’ve got to say something or I’ll burst,” Tim said. “What about Will? He’s a mess.”
Rhys sympathised with the young werewolf. “Well, we’ll know better next time,” he said. “And there has to be a next time. We can’t let rabid strays like that around. The boss will work it out.”
“The boss is busy with Claire,” Tim muttered. “It’s like no-one else exists.”
“That’s enough,” Rhys said firmly. “Listen, if you finish the plastering, there’s a few bits that need tidying up over on the third floor. There’s some panelling that needs fixing. If you could do that, it would be a help.”
Tim stared at the wall. “I’m happy to do that for you,” he said. “You were right there with us and if you hadn’t got James out of there, it would have been a lot worse.”
A chill ran through Rhys. They didn’t need this sort of division in the pack. And the last thing Mark needed to worry about was the pack switching allegiance away from him. And what was worse, that sort of talk was dangerous to Tim. He put a brotherly hand on Tim’s shoulder. “We can’t talk like that, Tim,” he said. “We have to trust in the boss and stick together as a pack. I’m going over to the clubhouse later to speak with Mark and we’ll see where we go to from here. We handed out a lot of damage to them, so we need to be careful. They are hurting more than us. But Mark will know what to do and we’ll all pull together.”
Tim nodded reluctantly. “I suppose so,” he said.
“And we’re going to have to secure all the sites and keep all normals away. It could get nasty. If you could do a round up of the site before you go home, I’ll be glad of it. Just make sure that everything’s locked up and put away,” Rhys said.
“Mark was talking about everyone staying down at the clubhouse,” Tim said. “That’s the sort of thing you do when it’s war.”
Rhys could feel the uncertainty radiating from Tim. “And if it’s war, we’ll win,” he said firmly. “We’ll talk it all out, we’ll give Mark our advice and our support and we’ll stick together as a pack. That’s what we do. At least we’ll get good cooking out of it.”
Tim managed a chuckle. “Yeah, it’s always good when the wives get cooking together,” he said.
“Well then, I’ll see you there later. Now get this bit finished and the panelling done and call it a day. We can’t do much more now,” Rhys said. “And don’t worry. Remember, we’re the pack.”
Rhys’ sense of unease had grown all day and he could feel it settling between his shoulder blades as he strode into the clubhouse, nodding at the other werewolves around the entrance. Men were gathering in low voiced conversations while the cubs chased each other around the car park and the wives were setting up camp beds in corners. It was undoubtedly the right thing to do. The pack at The Iron Sickle were small and almost certainly didn’t have the reach to get to the clubhouse, what was a works club on the planning permission but was the pack headquarters and social meeting place in reality. All the single werewolves lived in the rooms upstairs, and even those who were living out were close. Rhys couldn’t remember when it had last been this full or this tense. He pushed his way through the cluttered hall, past Claire’s room and into Mark’s office.
“Sit down,” Mark barked. The slash on his face hadn’t fully healed yet and he was working a sore shoulder. “What a mess.”
Rhys kept a neutral expression. “We weren’t expecting that,” he said. “It must have been the stone.”
“Whatever it was, we got our tails singed,” Mark said. “But we’ll be better for spending time together. And I’m calling in a few favours and asking around. There’s some goblins up there that owe us for those jobs at Menston. We helped them out then so they’re helping us now. I’ve told them to keep a good distance unless they want to be chew toys, but they’re keeping an eye on things and letting me know what the movements are around The Iron Sickle.”
“Can they be trusted?” Rhys asked.
“They’ve no reason to lie,” Mark said. “Besides, we’ll take the information and check it against other stuff. And there’s other help there as well.”
“You mean from Lord Marius?” Rhys asked.
Mark shook his head. “This is a werewolf matter,” he said. “It may take a bit of time, and we can ask for help in return for favours, but we’ll keep the damned elfen out of it. And that’s why I needed to speak to you.”
Rhys looked at him warily. “How can I help?” he asked.
“You’re a dapper dog,” Mark said unexpectedly. “You seem to be able to charm the bitches. Well, you can turn that charm on for the pack.”
Rhys felt a chill run over him. “You want me to talk to someone?”
“I’ve had a normal Private Investigator make some enquiries,” Mark said. He rummaged in the drawer with his good hand and pulled out a file. “This is Carli Sykes,” he said. “She’s not a bad looking lass, and I’m sure you won’t find it a hardship. I want you to charm her.”
“You mean, get her talking to us?” Rhys said. “Is she a werewolf?”
“She’s a normal, but she’s seen Fang,” Mark said. “And what I mean is, get into her knickers. Get her fixed on you. Show her some good werewolf loving, flex the muscles and show her a good time.” He pushed another envelope towards Rhys. “There’s some expenses to start with and the key to the flat near Roundhay Park. Give her a good feed and get her drunk. If you show her some good moves then she’ll be licking your hand.” Mark glared at Rhys. “Do whatever you have to but get that bitch away from Gareth Peterson and into your bed. And that’s an order.”
“Seriously, boss? You want me to…” Rhys couldn’t believe it. “You want me to seduce her?”
“You’re good looking enough, you have bitches following you around all the time and you’re good at the smooth talk,” Mark said. “The file will tell you where to find her. The investigator was pretty thorough. Bump into her at the gym or something – whatever it takes.” Mark leaned across the desk. “Because that’s what we need to get an important favour. Bed that bitch and make sure she’s hooked on you.”
Rhys stared at the pack leader for a long moment, then picked up the files. “Okay boss,” he said.
“And start right away. Get a clean shirt on and start sniffing around. We can’t waste time,” Mark said, indifferent to Rhys’ stony face.
Rhys nodded, turned on his heel and strode out of the office.