You can find the story from the beginning here
“Thanks for seeing me,” Gareth said as he stepped into Tyler’s workshop. “Me and Bron are both here, so it may sound odd.”
Tyler gave him a long look, then shrugged. “Two people in the same body is nothing compared to what’s been coming and going at the house. Lady Mary has been having a fit.” He waved a hand at a chair against the wall. “I’m mostly dealing with the more mentally stable side, but it’s still a shock to the system. How can I help a paladin?” He shook his head. “I’ve spent most of my life hiding from paladins. Now I’m here and chatting and about to ask if you want a tea.” He looked at them enquiringly.
Gareth shook his head. “We can’t agree how we take it,” he grinned.
Tyler shook his head and propped himself against his workbench. “So how can I help you?” he asked.
“It’s Kidder,” Gareth said. “He’s been staying with us in the paladin house, and he’s been a great help.”
“He’s been helping us get set up and he’s working too hard,” Bron added. “Like he’s scared we’ll throw him out or turn on him.”
Tyler briefly closed his eyes. “I’m never going to get used to this,” he said, then waved a dismissive hand. “It’s not surprising that Kidder’s in a bad place. He got thrown out of his pack down near Luton for practically nothing. Then he drifted around, keeping his tail up and his fur flat, and generally doing his best. He heard that there were places in Yorkshire where strays can settle and found Fang.” Tyler stood and started pacing. “Fang wasn’t always bad. I mean, a normal going into their bar would end up in trouble, and not all of the sheep kills around the Yorkshire Dales are from foxes or stray dogs, but he was okay with the other strays. They didn’t come together like a proper pack, not until Fang got hold of the Orache Stone, but he watched out for cubs like Kidder.”
“The Orache Stone is bad news,” Bron said. “I remember it last time. Don’t underestimate the power it has. It nearly blew Lord Marius away a few days ago.”
“So I heard,” Tyler said. “But back to Kidder. What do you want to do about it? I’m happy to have him here, if he wants it, but I think it’ll be hard for him to trust a werewolf, at least for a bit. I can ask around if any elfen will take him but that could take time.”
“I think he should stay with us,” Bron said. “If it’s okay with you and Lady Mary. He’s a big help. He’s got a knack for fixing things up, and he’s not bad company.”
“It’s not the usual run of things,” Gareth added. “Sir Dylan is having a hard time with it all. But Kidder seems happy enough, and I think it’ll be better once he knows that he’s staying. And we’re getting a brownie to help out,” he added. “Kidder won’t be on his own.”
“Sir Dylan wasn’t keen on that, either,” added Bron. “But I remember the hearth-keepers from the old days. They could be like a stone in your shoe when it came to keeping the home and garden tended, but they were harmless. They were more likely to hide behind a defender than attack them.”
“You have a brownie?” Tyler asked. “That’s…” He stood in front of them and stared. “You’re just breaking the rules for the fun of it, aren’t you?” He ran a hand through his hair. “Okay, I’ll take on the role of Kidder’s pack leader, though. Are you paying him a fair wage and treating him well?”
“I’ll keep a close eye on him,” Bron said. “I can tell that there’s a good lad under all the fear.”
“And he’s not really going to be working for us,” Gareth added. “Once the place is set up, he’ll be more like a lodger. And I’m sure that I’ll be able to get him work at the mill, if he’s willing.”
Tyler’s eyes narrowed. “What sort of work? How safe will he be?”
“Luke is really strict about safety on the mill floor at the moment,” Gareth said. “And I know he’s looking for people in the warehouse and trainees for the weaving. And after a recent scare, he’s been running a full audit of safety in the place.”
“It’s been fun to watch,” Bron said. “It’s a battle every day between him hating to spend the money and worrying about someone getting hurt. Luke looks like he has permanent toothache.”
Tyler ran a hand over his face. “Okay,” he said. “Two tongues, three people talking. It takes a bit of getting used to.” He paced for a moment. “I’m fine with Kidder staying with you – for now. And I’ll be dropping by regularly. Don’t let him get too fluffy and keep his fur flat, okay? He’s a werewolf, not a pet, and not a human – a normal.”
“We won’t forget,” Bron said coolly. “But we won’t make it a definition. The lad needs to work on himself and we won’t stop him. He’s nearly grown.” He met Tyler’s angry gaze without flinching. “And you need to start worrying about the strays that will be lost and without direction when Fang falls. You’ll have a pack to pull together and you’d better be ready to lead it.”
“I’m no pack leader,” Tyler snarled.
“That’s funny,” Bron said. “You were acting just like a pack leader five minutes ago.”
Rhys smiled as he saw Surjit behind the reception desk. “How are things going?” he asked.
“Not too bad,” Surjit smiled back. “I’ve got another rep from a dye company coming in an hour and Luke is having fits about that. He’s spending a lot of money.”
“I was there when the insurance company found out about the lack of security here,” Rhys said. “They still paid out for the dyes, as it turned out that the packaging was substandard. But he’s only got so long to get all the cameras and stuff set up.”
“Cameras?” Surjit asked. “I mean, we’ve got the alarm system and I think that there’s a camera on the car park…”
Rhys shook his head. “The cameras are on their last legs and half of them don’t work. My boss, Mark, put Luke in touch with a contractor, and he got a good deal, but there’s a lot to do.”
“I suppose so,” Surjit said. She looked around a little nervously. “Luke is spending a lot of money recently. We all thought he was running the place down, with him having no kids of his own. But now he’s got a new designer and he’s making all these improvements…”
“I don’t think that Luke is losing his touch,” Rhys said. “If you heard him arguing with the contractor, you would know that he’s as sharp as anything. Perhaps he’s just been distracted and he’s getting back to things.”
“I suppose so,” Surjit said doubtfully. She looked towards the door. “Hi, Carli, have you heard about the security update?”
“I know I’m going to be working away from the office for the next few days because I daren’t risk a power surge on my laptop,” Carli said from behind them. “The last thing I need is losing that while they’re playing with the electric. It cost a fortune.”
Rhys turned around and gave her his best smile. “Will you need a hand getting your stuff to the flat?” he asked. “I’d be happy to help.”
Carli smiled politely. “It’s okay, thank you,” she said. “I’ll be working with Gareth at his place. It’s not far away so we can get back here if we need anything.”
Surjit shook her head. “You need to make him take you on a proper date,” she said. “Or at least make you a nice dinner.”
Carli laughed. “Perhaps I could cook for him as a thank you for letting me work with him,” she said. “I mean, his place is so much nearer and there’s a lot of space.”
“I thought that he just had a little flat,” Surjit said.
Carli shook her head. “He’s moving into somewhere different that’s near to the mill. I’m not sure of all the details, but I know that it needs a lot doing to it, and that he’s got a good deal on the rent.”
“Don’t let him use you for free labour!” Surjit said. “Make sure that you at least get a trip to the cinema or something.”
“He won’t take advantage of me,” Carli said. “Anyway, I need to get busy. I’ve a lot I want to get done today before they start with the security systems, and I need to speak to Allen on the machines first.”
Rhys watched her walk briskly over to the factory. “I wonder if she knows how much she’s fallen for him,” he said.
“I don’t think either of them have realised,” Surjit said. She sighed softly. “And they’re both really nice people. Carli’s the designer, you know and could really throw her weight around. But she doesn’t. She’s really sweet.”
Rhys turned back to Surjit. “But so are you,” he said, watching the blush run over Surjit’s face. “Anyway, I can’t stay here forever, no matter how much I want to. I like to keep an eye on the back of the mill, so I’ll just take a quick walk. I’ll see you later.” He winked at Surjit.
“I’ll see you later,” Surjit said, flustered.
Bron and Gareth parked the car and looked at the house. The light was fading but they could still see a thin plum of smoke curling from the chimney and lights were on in the kitchen and living room.
“It seems odd to have a wood stove in this day and age,” Gareth said. “But I suppose that we need to be prepared for anything.”
“We really do,” Bron said as they reached the door. “That book that Sir Dylan gave us had quite a list of things to look out for. Still, the house is well built and we can be comfortable.”
“I hope Kidder can as well,” Gareth said.
Kidder was busy in the kitchen. “Hi,” he said, jumping around to face them. “I thought that you might like something and I put on a casserole like my mum used to make. But if you’ve already eaten then it will freeze or you can put it in to the fridge for tomorrow. They say that a casserole is better on the second day.” He looked at them anxiously.
“It smells delicious,” Bron said. “Full of good meat and flavour. When will it be ready?”
“It’s ready now,” Kidder said, fidgeting with a tea towel. “I’ve got baked potatoes in as well.” He shifted from one foot to another. “It’s supposed to save energy, cooking baked potatoes and a casserole at the same time.”
“Sounds great,” Gareth said. He pulled out deep white bowls, plates and silverware. “I’ll make the tea.”
“I can do it,” Kidder said quickly.
“You’ll be too busy dishing up the dinner,” Gareth said. He was probably the same age as the werewolf, but he felt so much older. “And I’m starving.”
Kidder dished up two generous servings of beef casserole with huge baked potatoes on side plates, squishy and slathered with butter. Gareth put two mugs of tea on the table and sat down. “This looks great,” Gareth said and took a large forkful.
“This is really good,” Bron said. “And we’re grateful for it. But it shouldn’t all be on you. We’ll have to take it in turns.”
“While I’m here,” Kidder said awkwardly.
“That’s something we need to talk about,” Bron said. “We called in to see Tyler today. I suppose he’s the nearest thing to a pack leader around here.”
Kidder tensed. “Does he want me to move on?” he asked.
Bron shook his head. “We suggested that you stay with us for as long as you feel like it,” he said. “At the moment, you’re sort of a guest and helping us out with setting up the place. And there’s plenty to do,” he added.
“But once things are stable, we thought you could be a sort of lodger,” Gareth said. “We’d charge you a bit of rent, and as we’re getting a brownie housekeeper then you won’t have to do much cleaning.”
“If I remember rightly, you won’t get a chance to do cleaning,” Bron said. “But they’ll raise hell if you make a mess.”
Kidder managed a faint smile. “I’ve heard about them,” he said. “But what about rent and that. I mean, what do I do?”
“We’re trying to work it out,” Gareth said. “But I promise it won’t be much. I’ll look at the bills and see what a fair share of them is. We won’t cheat you.”
“And it isn’t fair that you have to cover stuff that we need because we’re paladins,” Bron said. “But a share of the food and some of the bills sounds about right.”
Kidder stared at them and swallowed. “But that’s…”
“And if you’re looking for work, I think that there’s some jobs at the mill,” Gareth said. “It’s noisy, and no-one knows about non-normals, but it’s okay.”
“I didn’t think… Are you sure?” Kidder asked. “I’m a stray. Do you know what it means?”
Bron shrugged. “It sounds like you’ve had some bad luck. Anyway, Tyler has said that he’ll be looking out for you to make sure that you get treated fairly here. He’s not a bad leader,” Bron said. “Even if he has got his fur up at the moment. There’s papers that you’ll need and he’s sorting that out.”
“Sir Dylan is having fits,” Gareth said, “But he’s agreed that you would be best here for a while, although you can leave whenever you like.”
“So after we’ve cleaned up, we can all have a beer and relax,” Bron said. “And plan how to make this place comfortable.”
“Thank you,” Kidder said, his voice cracking a little. “Thank you so much.”
“I’d wait until we’ve met the brownie before you get too grateful,” Bron said.