The story from the beginning can be found here
Rhys found himself smiling as he turned the corner into Reception. Surjit was there, frowning over the post and making quick notes on the computer. “Hi,” he said. “I’m just checking in.”
Surjit looked up and her answering smile seemed to light up Reception. “Hi, Rhys. Have you time for a quick coffee?”
Rhys nodded. “Don’t you know, I’ve got it all planned out,” he said with his best smile. “I’ve got my routes all sorted so that I can make my coffee stop here.” He had a quick scan of the area before he strode over past the desk and into the tiny back room. “And as it’s my stop, I’ll even make the coffee for you.”
“You’re an angel,” Surjit said. “I’ve got so much on here.”
Rhys looked around the half assembled security equipment littering the small room. “If things carry on, this room is never going to be big enough.” He added coffee to the filter and slotted it back in.
“We’ll need proper security,” Surjit said. “They’re talking about getting the old looms out. A few of the sales team were talking about it, but they don’t get it. Luke is putting in massive orders for wool and dyes as well as booking a team in to get the looms running. We’re opening up the bigger warehouse.”
Rhys frowned. “I don’t think that I know half of this place,” he said. “I’ve been slacking.” He pulled out two mugs.
“I don’t think that you’ve been slacking,” Surjit said. “You’re always moving around and you don’t seem to miss much.” She paused. “I was planning on heading up to Bolton Abbey at the weekend. I like getting out and about, and it’s beautiful up there with the leaves starting to turn. Do you fancy coming with me? Just for a friendly day out?”
Rhys was torn. “I normally spend the weekend with my family,” he said. “Will your family miss you?”
Surjit grimaced. “Embarrassing admission – I don’t have family. I think I’ve got some third cousins down in Leicester and a few very distant aunts and uncles in Pakistan, but that’s it,” she said. “So weekends can be quiet. I like to keep myself busy.” She smiled shyly. “I can pack a picnic.”
Rhys’ hand clenched around the mugs. He wanted to go with Surjit. He wanted to forget about the prim, closed down Carli and fall into Surjit’s open smile. He wanted to tell his duty to go to hell, to shake off the shame of souring a romance to get a favour. Mark had got his tail twisted and his fur tangled. Where was the honour? Where was the pride? He was supposed to get someone into bed because he was ordered to? He stared at the hissing coffee maker. What had he become? But he had a duty to the pack. He had a duty to Mark. He needed to be at hand to make sure that Mark’s crazy obsessions didn’t wreck the pack any further. He needed to be there for the rest of them. He had to do his duty, force Carli to cheat with him and… There was a sharp crack and he looked down. The mug had shattered in his hand and the cut across his palm from the broken pottery felt like ice.
“Are you okay?” Surjit asked quickly. “That looks like a bad cut – I’ll fetch the first aid kit.”
“I’ll be fine,” Rhys said. “It looks worse than it is and I heal quick.” He looked at the shattered pieces. “I’d love to come out with you,” he said, dropping the pottery shards into the bin and rinsing his hand in the tiny sink. “And if you’re packing the picnic, I’ll drive, and I’ll even buy us a cuppa at the overpriced tea rooms.” He felt his heart light up with Surjit’s bright smile.
“It’s a deal,” she said. “I’ll pack plenty of food.”
“I’m not a vegetarian,” Rhys warned. His heart turned over at the sound of her chuckle.
“That’s okay,” she said. “Neither am I.”
Rhys walked away from Reception, deep in thought. He wouldn’t take the reputation of a dog around the bitches, no matter what Mark said. It was wrong. There had to be another way. Besides, for the last two years he had danced around Mark’s whims, no matter how outlandish, keeping the pack and the business together despite all that was thrown at him. Now, when he finally found someone with a smile that warmed his heart, he wasn’t letting it go.
He pushed that thought aside. He’d have to deal with Mark, but that could wait. He had another duty. He had the duty to keep this mill safe. But he didn’t know all the places. Surjit was talking about the looms, but Rhys had no idea where they were. He had suddenly become aware that there were large areas of the mill that had been closed for years – and anything could be there. He paced on his route, keeping a careful eye out. Technically he wasn’t a real security guard. The chances of Fang ever coming back were slim. Besides, Gareth and Bron could take care of most threats. Rhys had seen the way Bron held himself, the way he moved as he crossed the car park and the power of the man. That man was death. Rhys was never going to cross him, not even on Mark’s crazy orders. But he felt it, deep down, that he should be protecting the people here. That’s what they expected, so that’s what they should do. It was so deeply ingrained in werewolves. The loyalty, the passion and the protective spirit. He had a duty.
The mill was old and massive, sprawling across four floors and a scatter of outbuildings. There were two floors currently working as the old plan expected, with knitting machines on one floor and the making up of the garments on the other. Then there were the offices and the canteen, tucked away on one side but still attached to the factory, and the main stores with the new racks for the dyes and the massive bundles of fleece and cages for the threads. Now the nearest shed was opening up and Rhys could see a figure dragging out rubbish towards a skip. He jogged over. “Hi, I’m Rhys Davies, the security guard,” he said, running an assessing eye over the young lad.
“I’m Kidder Bronson,” he said. “I’m clearing this out now, but I’m going to be starting on the looms next week.” He hefted a bucket of rubbish. “There’s plenty to keep me busy.”
Rhys looked at him closely. “Shouldn’t you have presented yourself to Mark Davies,” he said. “You know that all werewolves are supposed to attend a pack whenever you cross into a territory.”
Kidder raised an eyebrow. “Does that mean that you should have attended on Tyler?” he asked. “This isn’t Leeds Domain anymore.”
“Don’t get clever with me,” Rhys snarled. “Where are your manners?”
Kidder looked him straight in the eye. “What are you talking about? Tyler is the pack leader, I’m staying with Gareth and Bron, I’m nothing to do with Leeds Pack and I’m not going to go fawning around some strange dog because they can’t keep their tail straight,” he said. “I’m not going to start anything, but this is my job. This is the first chance I’ve had in years. I’m not letting some overfed hound push me out of it.”
Rhys felt the fury rise up in him. “You’re yapping pretty hard for a stray,” he snapped.
Kidder dropped the bucket and glared at Rhys. “You stay out of my fur and I’ll stay out of yours,” he said. “But don’t think I haven’t seen you sniffing around Carli – who’s spoken for, by the way. Everyone can see it, everyone can smell it. What sort of dog does that?” He jabbed a finger towards Rhys. “And you ought to be glad I’m here, with Bron and Gareth. Because if Fang comes back here, you’ll need all the help you can get if you want to step up as security and push him out. If he catches you on your own, he’ll eat you, rhinestone collar and all.”
“Big bark, small paws,” Rhys said. “I can handle myself.”
“Yeah, I heard about when you tried to take on The Iron Sickle,” Kidder sneered. “You didn’t keep your tails up then, did you? And it’s getting worse, so if I were you, I’d leave Gareth’s lady alone and get on his good side. Because you’ll need him if Fang comes calling.”
“You might be tagging along with a normal,” Rhys snarled, “But don’t fool yourself. You’re either in a pack or a stray, and we all know what strays are like. Trust me, if I see a claw the wrong way I’ll shred you and they won’t even find your collar.” He spun on his heel and stalked off.
Kidder jogged up to Rowan Cottage. He’d worked an extra few hours under the watchful eye of Luke and Brian and felt a little tired and very satisfied. It was good to be working again. He grinned to himself. They’d even paid him his overtime cash in hand, just this once, so he had some decent money in his pocket. Things were looking up, even if there was that fluff furred security guard hanging around. He slowed down slightly. There were a lot of cars around, and that could mean trouble. He tried to keep calm. If the worst happened, he had the money in his pocket, right?
Carli met him at the door. “It’s chaos in there,” she said, waving at the kitchen. “I thought brownies were supposed to be amazing homemakers.”
Kidder stared. “They are,” he said. “They do homemade everything and keep the house surgically clean. They fold their towels in fancy ways and rotate their stores of toilet paper.”
Carli took a deep breath. “I’m an outsider, right?” she said. “But I think I can see a pattern here. This is a Paladin’s Citadel, isn’t it?”
Kidder nodded. “The place where the paladins live and where normals can come to for help.”
“So having non-normals living there is kind of a problem, as they’re protecting against non-normals?” Carli continued.
Kidder shifted uneasily. “I suppose I shouldn’t be here,” he muttered.
Carli sighed. “I don’t think that Bron would let anyone kick you out now,” she said. “You’re stuck here. He’s seeing you as family, heaven help us all. But you’re a werewolf that’s not a stray, because you’re here. And you’re not in a pack, because you’re here. You’re just part of the household. And now there is a brownie moving in. But not just any brownie! It’s a brownie that doesn’t know how to clean.”
“There’s no such thing,” Kidder said flatly.
Carli sighed deeply. “According to Sir Dylan, Mortimer has been living in a hole in the ground for all of his life, up until now. He explained something about a lord fading and another lord taking over and rescuing some trapped non-normals, over near Hebden Bridge. Mortimer hasn’t had any contact with things like washing machines or microwaves, or, well, have a look.” She ushered Kidder into the kitchen.
A young, tall and extremely skinny brownie was standing by the sink. “Water on,” he said. “Water off. Water on. Water off. Water on. Water off.” He stared, fascinated, at the water coming out of the faucet every time he turned the knob. “There’s so much water.”
“That’s right,” Sir Dylan said. “That’s the cold tap and this is the hot tap.”
“But where is the well?” Mortimer asked.
“There isn’t one,” Sir Dylan said. “It’s all taps.”
The brownie looked thoughtful. “So I don’t have to fetch water?” he said.
“No, you don’t,” Sir Dylan said patiently. “It’s all taps.”
“And I don’t need to heat it over a fire?” Mortimer asked.
“No, it’s all done with the plumbing,” Bron said gently. “Kidder, this is Mortimer and he’s going to be looking after the house.”
Mortimer looked around with determination. “I shall prove worthy of the trust you put in me,” he said. “Lord Richard has given me a device to access the internet and instructed me. There are many cleaning and homemaking resources.”
Kidder thought that he heard Sir Dylan swear under his breath. “I’m pleased to meet you,” he said. “I’m Kidder, and I’m a werewolf.”
Colour drained from Mortimer’s face but he swallowed, took a deep breath and stepped forward to shake hands with Kidder. “I am honoured to meet you,” he said. “I understand that you are a member of this household. May I enquire – do you prefer a bed or a rug?”
“It’s definitely beds,” Carli said with an edge to her voice. “Let’s keep it more standard, in case anyone visits.”
“Of course,” Mortimer said. “I should start making dinner.”
“It’s okay,” Bron said. “With everything being so confusing, I’m ordering pizza. I get a discount.”
“Is it the one near my old flat?” Gareth asked, making Mortimer start. “Have you been helping them out with troublemakers when I’m not around? Because I’ve noticed some really interesting bruises.”
“All you need to worry about is that we get an extremely generous discount,” Bron said. “And the food will come here nice and fresh.”
As Sir Dylan and Bron tried to explain pizza to Mortimer, Carli looked helplessly at Kidder. “Do you know how many cleaning blogs there are?” she asked him. “Or how many YouTube channels just about cleaning? Anything could happen!”
Kidder looked over where Bron was refusing to explain why the pizza place was on speed dial on the phone. “Yep,” he said. “Absolutely anything.”