The Prince and the Paladin Chapter One

A picture that I took without adult supervision in Roundhay Park, October 2018

“Me and Mike broke up,” Kayley said, trying to stifle a yawn. The 6am weekly chats with her mother in Australia wore her down.

“Why?” her mother asked. “I thought he was a nice young man. Wasn’t he the one who worked in insurance?”

“That’s why we broke up, mum,” Kayley said. “He said he was insurance but he really worked in a garage that specialised in insurance claims.” She managed a sigh. “I wouldn’t have minded if he had just been honest.”

“I wouldn’t have accepted him before,” her mother said. “But you’re not getting any younger so I suppose I could have accepted a mechanic if you really liked him.”

“I just don’t seem to be lucky,” Kayley said.

“Get on that internet dating and fast!” her mother ordered. “Thank goodness Kieran here has found a nice girl. She works at a bank, you know. But that doesn’t let you off. I want grandchildren.” Her mother’s expression softened slightly. “And I don’t want to see you alone, my dear. I want to see you settled with a family for your sake.”

“It may never happen, but who knows?” Kayley said. “Listen, mum, I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late to work.”

“Your boss – is he single?” her mother asked.

Kayley rolled her eyes. “Mr Perrigo is single and about a hundred years old,” she said. “And he’s a good boss. The job is easy, the pay is good and there are plenty of perks. I’m not risking that for anything.”

“It’s worth asking,” her mother sniffed. “Just… just don’t end up alone.”

Kayley rang off and took a leisurely sip of her tea. She had plenty of time before she needed to be at work, but lateness was a good excuse to get her mother off the phone.

“If she didn’t want you to be alone she should have either taken you with her to Australia when she left England or not left at all,” Drake said.

Kayley smiled at the sound of her imaginary friend’s voice. “At least I can rely on you to be on my side,” she said.

Drake snorted. “I should hope so!” he said. “So what are we going with next?”

Kayley picked up the small paper notebook that charted her fake love life. “I can tick off Mike,” she said. “He didn’t last long. We could do with someone who will last a while and stop her nagging.”

“Nothing will stop your mum nagging,” Drake said. “It’s like one of Newton’s Laws. She’s as inevitable as gravity.”

Kayley could imagine him grinning. She looked over to the picture on her desk at home. It was AI generated and showed a blond man in his early thirties, his blue eyes crinkled as he smiled at the camera. She’d created it when she started imagining Drake. “I swear my father wears earplugs,” she said. “And I pity any woman who ends up with my brother.” She stood and stretched before carrying her cup over to the sink. “I suppose I’d better get ready for work. Let’s hope for a nice, quiet day.”

It was only a couple of miles between across Leeds between Kayley’s tiny flat and her work at her employer’s home in Roundhay, but those miles were congested and it took two buses. It wasn’t too bad as it gave her time to talk with Drake. “We need to work out some strategy with my dating,” she mentally told him. She could imagine him sitting next to her in the place of the harassed older woman, as he shone with mischief. “We need to make up some good stories to keep mum off my back.”

She could imagine Drake looking thoughtful. “We could string out something with someone that you like but who your mother thinks is unsuitable,” he said. “You know, someone who looks gorgeous but has a bad job.”

Kayley kept looking out the window at the cold November streets but mentally she smiled up at Drake. “You mean, like a janitor?”

Drake chuckled in her imagination. “Perhaps. Or someone who works at a chicken processing factory.”

“That would work!” Kayley sniggered at her imaginary friend as she shuffled off the bus, burrowing into her coat against the cold air. “She would be appalled!” She marched briskly along to the next bus stop. “We should make this into a novel – all the stories we tell my mother about my fake love life.”

She could feel Drake hesitate beside her as she imagined him striding with her along the pavement. “Perhaps you should date,” he said slowly. “I mean, for real.”

Kayley almost stumbled. “Why should I do that?” she mentally asked him, shocked. “Or are you listening to my mother?”

She could feel the discomfort in Drake. “It’s just that, well, you know that I love you…”

“You’re supposed to love me,” Kayley said quietly. “That’s what I dreamed up. I tried to imagine what a perfect boyfriend would be like.”

“And that means that I want the best for you,” Drake said. “You have so little going on in your life. If you tried dating then perhaps you’d find someone decent who would look after you. They could interrupt your mum for you and perhaps you’d even have a family.”

Kayley pushed back a stab of emotional pain. “Are you ditching me?”

“No!” Drake said. “But I worry about you sometimes.”

Kayley thought about it as she stood shivering in the bus queue. “But I’m happy,” she said. “The attempts that I’ve had at dating have been awful. A couple of those dates were downright scary. Right now I feel the happiest in years. My mother is on the other side of the world, I have an amazing job and I have you. I don’t want to change.”

Kayley could feel Drake standing thoughtfully beside her as the bus pulled up and she climbed on. She could almost feel a comforting arm around her shoulder. “Your job is pretty good,” Drake said. “I’d say it was perfect for you. Apart from anything else, you get to read the bodice rippers from Mr Perrigo before anyone else.”

Kayley mentally chuckled. “I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” she said. “Mr Perrigo has a spicy imagination, but he’s so sweet with me.”

“He’s probably up to something,” Drake said darkly. “Perhaps those herbal remedies that he sells on the internet are illegal drugs. That’s what he’s doing and the books that he’s writing are really money laundering fronts.”

“That’s outrageous!” Kayley giggled inside her head. “I can’t imagine Mr Perrigo doing anything like that at all! He even insists that I get ethically sourced coffee for him.”

“He’s paying you a fortune,” Drake said.

“He’s paying a good wage for the work,” Kayley said. “It’s not crazy money.”

“You’re getting well paid for easy work,” Drake said. “You’ve got the office stuff, so you send invoices, sort out letters and take in deliveries. You open the door three times a week for the courier to pick up and answer about three phone calls and two emails a week.”

“It really is an easy job,” Kayley agreed.

“And then you transcribe all of Mr Perrigo’s outrageous stories,” Drake said. “Last chapter was the innocent heroine being chased across nineteenth century Leeds by the villainous Mr Galway. It was shocking!” he teased.

“But she did manage a chaste kiss after chapel with the handsome Lord Allerton,” Kayley said.

“That was before she was thrown out from her position as governess by Lady Gimpton,” Drake pointed out. He frowned. “He’s another who doesn’t have much of a life. He makes his herbal remedies, writes his stories and that’s about it.”

“And cleans,” Kayley said. “I hope that I’d keep a good house, but Mr Perrigo’s house is immaculate.”

“We share chores, remember,” Drake said. “If one of us cooks, the other cleans the kitchen.”

Kayley almost found herself smiling. “But we don’t live together, so I don’t know if you’d stick to that. I know I couldn’t keep my home as clean as Mr Perrigo.”

“Here’s your stop,” Drake said. “I wonder what’s happening to the hapless Sabitha today.”

Kayley let herself into Mr Perrigo’s house. It was a comfortable rhythm. She would usually get to work around 8.30am and let herself into Mr Perrigo’s house. Her first jobs were to switch on the coffee maker and open all the downstairs curtains before settling down to a sparse to-do list in the office. There would be a small pile of paper covered with Mr Perrigo’s elegant copperplate for her to transcribe and then Mr Perrigo would usually emerge after lunch. There would be a brief chat about what was needed and then Mr Perrigo would disappear into the small workshop in the back garden and scents of lavender and ginger would waft across the immaculate lawn and fill the house. Kayley would finish at 5pm, leave the typed manuscript and any letters out neatly on her desk and lock the front door behind her as she left.

“It’s no wonder that you invented me,” Drake said as they walked down the hall. “You say about fourteen words a day to Mr Perrigo and the rest of the conversations are things like bus drivers or people at the checkout when you go shopping.” Kayley imagined his devilishly handsome smile. “And also because I’m amazing.”

Kayley didn’t get a chance to reply. Instead she opened the office door and stepped into what felt like a whirlwind.

“Good morning, Kayley,” Mr Perrigo said. His normally immaculate white hair was wildly dishevelled and his tie was askew. “I’m a little flustered this morning, and I’m afraid that I’m going to run you quite ragged.”

Kayley slid out of her coat and unwound her scarf. “Of course, whatever needs doing,” she said. “Is everything okay?”

Mr Perrigo wrung his hands. “You have been an excellent employee,” he said. “You’re so discreet.”

“He’s going to fire me!” Kayley whispered to Drake, panicked.

“Stay calm and listen,” Drake murmured reassuringly.

“I hope that you will continue in your role as things develop,” Mr Perrigo said. He started pacing around the office. “You are quite invaluable.” He took a deep breath. “But, well, that is…”

“Should I make you a nice cup of tea?” Kayley asked carefully. “I saw some camomile tea bags in the cupboard.”

“I never know quite what to say in these situations,” Mr Perrigo said. He visibly pulled himself together. “I have a list.”

“I’ve never seen him so rattled,” Kayley murmured to Drake. “I hope everything is alright.” She felt Drake’s hand on her shoulder. It may be imaginary but it was also comforting.

Mr Perrigo pulled a list from his jacket pocket. “Right, um, yes… First of all, there are quite a few pages of manuscript of The Lothario of Leeds to type up.” He smiled wanly. “I write more when I’m stressed as it helps me relax.”

Kayley looked dubiously at the stack of paper on her desk. This looked at least triple the normal amount. “He must be frantic,” Drake whispered to her.

“I’ve ordered a selection of sandwiches,” Mr Perrigo continued. “Oh, wait a moment, I’m out of order. That’s right – I’m expecting a few people for a meeting. I’ve put a list of names on the table and you can show them into the drawing room. I’ve already got it all set up. I’ve ordered a selection of sandwiches from the shop down the road, the one where you get your Friday treat from, and I would be grateful if you would take an early lunch and pick them up on your way back.”

“Of course,” Kayley said. “It won’t be any bother. I can get all the plates and cups ready beforehand as well, if you like.”

“No, that’s all in hand,” Mr Perrigo managed. He paced faster, wringing his hands. “I am aware that this may be an inappropriate question, and I’m sure that a pretty young thing such as yourself has a frantically busy social life, but I wondered if you were available tonight.”

“Is he trying to hit on you?” Drake murmured in Kayley’s ear.

“I’m not suggesting anything inappropriate,” Mr Perrigo said hastily. “However there will be a dinner party which will also be something of a symposium – a gathering of minds, if you will, and I would be grateful if you could stay and take notes. Food would be provided, of course, and I will compensate you fairly for the extra hours.” He came to a sudden stop in front of Kayley’s desk. “And I would like you to speak with the vicar this afternoon,” he said. “The vicar will explain everything.”

“Is it a real vicar?” Kayley asked before she could stop herself. She could hear Drake chuckling inside her head.

Mr Perrigo looked at her blankly. “Of course. He is a little younger than you may expect, and he’s not very vicar-like, but he’s a properly ordained minister of the Church of England.” He grimaced. “He’s not what you may expect as a vicar, but he’s very good. Will you be able to stay?”

“Of course,” Kayley said. “I’ll be happy to.”

“Are you sure?” Mr Perrigo said. “Let me know if you can’t reschedule any social engagements. And I’ll pay for a taxi home, of course.”

“I’m fine,” Kayley said. “Is it about your herbal remedies?”

“The vicar will explain everything,” Mr Perrigo said. “Excuse me.”

Kayley watched him dive out the door and then mentally turned to Drake. “What was all that about?”

This is the first instalment of a story that is also being published on Royal Road. There are all sorts of wonderful stories by all sorts of authors if you feel like going over and having a look.

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