Invitation Accepted Chapter Eighteen

You can read the story from the beginning here

“So you haven’t heard from Rhys?” Carli asked, leaning over the reception desk. “It might not mean anything. I heard that he’s got a lot of family problems at the moment.”

Surjit managed a shrug that almost looked unconcerned. “I’ve texted him loads of times,” she said. “But he hasn’t even checked.”

“Gareth says that he’s really, really, busy,” Carli said. She hated seeing Surjit so despondent.

Surjit’s shoulders slumped. “I really like him,” she admitted. “And he can be such a gentleman, but it’s no good. I’m not getting involved with that sort of drama. If it’s so bad that he can’t text then I don’t want to get caught up in it.”

Carli thought about the mess that the werewolves were in. “Perhaps it’s just as well,” she said. “Anyway, maybe you should speak to Alan in the warehouse. He seems nice, and I noticed that he couldn’t take his eyes off you in the canteen yesterday.”

Surjit managed a smile. “I’ll think about it,” she said. “So what are you doing down here apart from fixing my love life?”

“I’m just getting a sweater from my car,” Carli said. “I’ve brought in an extra space heater, but I’m freezing. The cold just rattles through the office.”

“You wait until it gets really cold,” Surjit said. “The windows in the office ice up. Last year when we had the cold snap, the sales team ended up working in the dyer’s room and most of the post was handled in a corner of the finishing room.” She grinned. “But with all the new stuff, I don’t know how that will turn out. Perhaps Luke might actually force himself to pay out for new windows.”

Carli chuckled, then shivered as she headed for the door. “I’ll be back in a second.”

She scurried across the car park and over to her modest hatchback. Why did she have to park all the way over here? She clicked the car key fob and nothing happened. Instincts started to prickle and she slowed down. She felt for her phone in her pocket and glanced around. She couldn’t see anyone, but that meant nothing. She dialled a quick number. “Gareth, could you come to the car park. I’m sure something’s off,” she said. There was no reply as Gareth hung up straight away. Carli hoped that meant he was coming straight down from the office. She approached the car cautiously. The cold light didn’t show any shadows under the car. She clicked the key fob to unlock the car again. Nothing happened. She glanced back at the entrance. She could glimpse Gareth through the inset glass panes in the wide doors. Surjit had caught his arm, no doubt still complaining about Rhys, but he would soon be here. Carli opened the back door and reached in for the sweater, glancing over her shoulder to see if Gareth was closer, then crying out with shock as someone grabbed her hand and pulled her hard into the car.

“Hello, Carli,” Rick said.

“What are you doing?” Carli snapped, struggling away from him. “You were told that you couldn’t come near me.”

“That was just them being jealous,” the young werewolf said. “You are my mate, my soulmate, my twin flame. We’re meant to be together.”

“No we’re not,” Carli said. “Please, just leave me alone.” Her voice cracked as she tried to pull free. “Just leave me alone.”

“You don’t understand,” Rick said. “We were good together, you remember.”

“I never dated you,” Carli said. “You just got it into your head. And you frightened off my boyfriend and scared my mother.”

“He wasn’t meant for you,” Rick said. “And your mother was just interfering. Let me take you to the wolf side.”

“No!” Carli cried. “Listen, your pack leader, he was supposed to keep you from following me. He was supposed to stop you. And you were warned.”

“They didn’t mean it really,” Rick said with a wide grin, his teeth lengthening as he spoke. “Besides, Chris is busy with that shitshow of the Leeds pack. He reckons that they’re going to change leaders and he’s there for the entertainment. And we’re not in Chris’s territory now. It’s down to the Leeds pack leader to make the rules, and they are kind of busy. There’s not even a paladin here. So no-one can come between us. Just admit it, babe, you know that you are drawn to my wild side. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’ve got a boyfriend,” Carli said. “And we’re not in Leeds territory. It’s the Otley pack in charge here.”

“No such thing,” Rick said. He reached over and pulled the keys from her unresisting hand. “Get in the car. We’re going to drive to your flat and you’re going to show me how much you’ve missed me and how much you’re sorry that you’ve played so hard to get.” His grin got wider. “Let’s have some fun. I’ve got wine in the back.”

“No!” Carli said, struggling harder. She pulled her arm free and backed away slowly. “I’m not going anywhere with you.” She looked over her shoulder and felt relief wash over her as she saw Gareth stalking across towards her. Behind him, Surjit was on the phone, pale faced and shocked and talking frantically. “That’s my boyfriend.”

“You prefer him me?” Rick asked incredulously. “Are you on glue? He’s just a skinny lad and nothing compared to me.” He pulled himself out of the car and slid out of his leather jacket. He flexed his muscles under the tight t-shirt. “I could break him in half without even going to fur. And does he know about the beast? I’m disappointed in you, Carli. I thought you had better taste.”

Carli looked back at Gareth. There was purpose in every step and his jacket had been wound around his left arm. He had a small knife in his right hand, held straight down and parallel with his thigh and he was gently rolling his shoulders and neck as he approached. Carli thought back to Gareth when she first met him and how he was now, with the extra layer of taut muscle and the experience of far too many brawls. He was still slim compared to the thickset brawn of Rick, though, and Carli’s heart sank as she could see no trace of Bron. “He’s kind, and gentle, and he is incredibly creative,” she said. “And he has a lot inside of him.”

“I’ll sure to have a good look when I rip him to pieces,” Rick said. He pushed Carli to one side. “Keep out of the way, now, bitch. The men are talking.”

Gareth stalked up. “Get your hands off her,” he said coldly.

“Or what, shrimp?” Rick laughed. “Do you know what I am?”

“You’re a pathetic puppy,” Gareth said, the ice in his voice unchanged. “Do you know what I am?”

Rick didn’t get a chance to answer as Gareth stepped forward, telegraphing a blow to the head before stamping hard on the werewolf’s knee. Rick howled as his knee buckled, bringing his ribs within easy range of Gareth’s fist as he swung hard into Rick, punching deep and with purpose. Rick staggered back, swinging a wild punch that Gareth ducked with ease. “Don’t make me go to fur,” Rick yelled. “Carli – tell him what happens if I go to fur.”

“He knows,” Carli said as her stalker glared at Gareth. “He really does.”

Rick grimaced and started to change. Gareth didn’t wait but instead stepped into Rick’s reach, grabbing an arm and twisting it hard against the joint before slamming Rick’s head hard into the car roof. The sound echoed around the car park along with Rick’s howl as he writhed in Gareth’s hold. Still struggling to change, Rick kicked wildly back, catching Gareth’s thigh with a glancing boot. It failed to break Gareth’s hold, and he slammed Rick’s head down hard again. Ignoring Carli’s faint scream in the background, Gareth plunged the knife into Rick’s shoulder.

“It’s silver, mutt,” Gareth said. “You won’t change yet.” He released his hold on the knife, leaving it sticking obscenely out of Rick’s shoulder and punched Rick hard again in the ribs. “You need to learn that when a woman says ‘no’, she means ‘no’ and that’s when you walk away.

Rick screamed. “It’s silver! It’s fucking silver! Get it out! Get it out!” He fell hard to his knees and whimpered.

Gareth kicked Rick hard in the head. “Carli told me about you,” he said. “But did she have a chance to tell you about me?” He kicked Rick in the ribs. “I’m the paladin.” He grabbed Rick’s hair and threw him hard against the car. “But I’m playing nice until the local pack leader gets here.” He rolled Rick onto his front, the knife still wedged into the shoulder.

“They’ll come for you,” Rick said, panting. “And they’ll rip you into shreds. There’s no Prince to protect you.” He gasped as Gareth kicked him again.

“There’s always a prince with a paladin,” Gareth said. “And I think that you need to understand me. You stay away from Carli. Don’t try and convince yourself that she’s into you, or being shy, or playing hard to get. She’s not yours.” Gareth pushed Rick’s face hard into the dirt of the car park. “And she’s not mine, either. She belongs to herself and she has chosen not to be with you. So don’t come sniffing around here again, or I won’t be so gentle.”

“I’ll be ready next time, paladin,” Rick said. “Carli needs to be with me.”

Gareth knelt on Rick’s damaged shoulder. “If there’s a next time,” he said. “Because the local pack leader is on their way and Tyler is out for blood.” He leant forward, shifting his weight across the damaged joint as Rick howled. “Tyler feels that he owes Carli,” Gareth said. “And I think he may want to send a message.”

A white van raced down the street, swaying wildly as it swung into the car park and screeched to a halt, blocking the view between the factory and Rick. Tyler jumped out and grimaced at the sight of Rick, bloody and battered on the floor. Sir Philip jumped out of the passenger side and came around.

“Thanks for coming,” Gareth said. “You made good time.”

“We were just up the road anyway,” Tyler said. He nodded go Gareth. “You can let him go now.”

Gareth pulled the knife from Rick’s shoulder and wiped it deliberately on Rick’s shirt before standing. “I thought I should be clear,” he said.

“Bron?” Sir Philip said uncertainly. “Thank you for calling in Tyler and not dealing with it yourself. It saves on the paperwork.”

“It’s nothing to do with me, lad,” Bron said, making Tyler jump. “I thought the lad should deal with it on his own as it’s his lass that was affected.” Bron looked approvingly as Tyler hauled Rick up and pushed him against the side of the van. “He did a good job, and used more restraint that I would.”

“I wondered about that,” Sir Philip said. He looked over to Carli. “Are you okay? I’m sorry I didn’t realise that Rick had come up with the delegation. Perhaps Gareth can take you back into the mill and you can have a cup of coffee and rest for a moment.”

“He won’t bother you again, miss,” Tyler said with an edged finality. “I’ll make sure of that.” He opened the back door of the van and threw the young werewolf in. “You’re not hurt, are you?”

Carli shook her head. “Gareth got here really quickly,” she said, her lips trembling as she fought back the reaction to the shock. “What’s going to happen?”

“Gareth is going to look after you,” Tyler said. “And this mutt isn’t going to bother you ever again. That’s a promise.” He looked over to Gareth. “You need to be at the memorial tonight over at the Leeds pack house. There’s a lot going on, and they could use an outside view.”

“I’ll be there,” Gareth promised. He reached over and pulled out the sweater from the back of Carli’s car. “Come on, I’ll get you a nice cup of coffee,” he said, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders. He looked ruefully at the dent in the car roof. “I’ll get the car sorted out as well,” he said.

“It’s okay,” Bron said. “I know a garage that owes me a favour.”

Carli managed a chuckle. “Of course you do,” she said, clinging onto Gareth.

Tyler nodded. “I’ll send Kidder and Mortimer to meet you from work and take you to the citadel,” he said to Carli. “I’ll tell them to make a fuss of you.” He looked at Gareth. “Thanks for dealing with this properly. We’ll talk later.” Then he shut Sir Philip in with the whimpering Rick, climbed into the cab and drove off.

Gareth and Carli turned back to the mill to see Surjit standing, horrified at them. “You’re good with words,” Carli said to Gareth. “Please think of something that we can tell her.”

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