Authors: Toni Griffin
Tags: #gay paranormal erotic romance
Two months after Sarah's passing, Zack received a surprise visit from the Department of Children's Services. They'd received an anonymous tip stating his daughter was in danger and naming Zack as an unfit parent. Zack knew who the tip had come from even if the social workers wouldn't reveal the name. He'd clung to Hayley while they searched his house from top to bottom before being forced to hand her over so they could perform an examination.
After they determined Hayley looked to be in good health and a happy two year old, they handed her back to Zack and left, letting him know they would be in contact.
Zack waited until Hayley was in bed that night before he picked up the phone and dialled a number he never thought he would. The line picked up on the fifth ring and Valerie's uppity, I'm better than you, voice rang through. "Hello, Valerie speaking."
"How dare you!" Zack was so furious that these people, who'd yet to even lay eyes on their granddaughter, said he was an unfit father.
"Excuse me? Who is this?"
"I said how dare you. What gives you the right to call Child Services and say I'm an unfit parent? You've never even met Hayley. You want nothing to do with her."
"Ah… Zack." Valerie's tone was really starting to get to Zack. "Yes, well, we can't have our only grandchild being raised by someone like you."
"Someone like me? What? You mean gay?" Zack was pacing his bedroom by this time with the phone clenched so tightly in his hand his knuckles were going white.
"Yes, that is exactly what I mean. You are an abomination and unless you repent, you will be going straight to hell along with Sarah."
Zack paused in stunned silence for a second. How could anyone think Sarah would go to hell? Furious at the people who were supposed to love her no matter what, Zack gritted his teeth and forced out, "You stay the hell away from me and my daughter." He hung up the phone and threw it at the wall.
Collapsing on his bed and curling into a ball, his body shook with the force of his crying. Zack had lost his parents, then his best friend, now these people were trying to take his daughter as well. He knew one thing though, he would fight them every step of the way. Hayley was his, and he would protect her with everything he had.
That's how Zack ended up on this lonely stretch of road, driving towards a town he'd never been before and starting a new job in a week's time. His only possessions were what he could fit inside his small Toyota Camry. Valerie and Howard came through on their threat and Zack was forced to sell his parents' house to afford the lawyers who fought his case in court.
Luckily the case hadn't dragged on for long. The judge was smart enough to see what the Stewarts were trying to do and, with the Department of Children's Services on his side, the judge awarded him sole custody of his daughter. Valerie and Howard were furious and vowed to get their only grandchild away from her perverted father.
After that, Zack thought it a good idea to move. There wasn't anything tying him to his hometown in the Blue Mountains. His parents and best friend were gone and the house he grew up in no longer belonged to him. He thought it best to get as far away from Sarah's parents as he could.
Zack searched online and found a teaching position available due to the current teacher being out on maternity leave. Zack applied for the position through the internet, then interviewed over the phone with the principal. Apparently a relief teacher had been taking the high school math classes for the last several weeks as they'd been unable to fill the position permanently. However, math was not her strong suit and the kids were being disadvantaged by this. No one wanted to move to a small town in the middle of nowhere anymore. For Zack, that was exactly what he wanted to do.
Zack received the phone call the following week letting him know he was the successful applicant for the position. He wasn't sure if they even received any other applicants but he wasn't about to argue. He thanked Donald Murphy, the principal, and said he could start at the beginning of the new school semester. School was currently out for midyear break but would be starting again the week after next.
Zack could barely contain his excitement about his new job. He loved teaching and missed not having a class to call his own when he cut his hours back when Sarah got sick. Zack looked forward to getting back into the classroom, but he didn't fool himself the kids would be excited to see him. They were teenagers and had much better things to do with their time. He didn't care. Zack loved the feeling he got when he saw understanding dawn on a teenager's face as the youth started to understand what he was trying to teach them.
One of the first things Zack did when he received the news he'd gotten the job was to call his Alpha and find out if there was a pack in the area. Jeremy Stretton was a good Alpha and looked after all his pack. He didn't discriminate over the colour of your skin or sexual preference. Alpha Stretton let him know a pack existed in the area and was led by a man named Alexander Holland. Alpha Stretton hadn't known much about the other Alpha as he'd only recently taken over the pack from his father and Stretton had only met the man once at the yearly Alpha gathering.
Alpha Stretton gave him the number he had on record for Alex Holland. Once Zack hung up with his Alpha, he called Alpha Holland and arranged to meet when he got to town. Zack was a little nervous, if truth be told, about meeting his new Alpha. He hoped he wasn't some bigoted asshole. He needed this job and didn't want to be forced to leave town before he even got to start work.
Zack had no idea how long he'd been lost in his thoughts but it must have been for some time as he noticed the welcome sign on the side of the road and realised he'd finally reached his new home.
Glancing in his mirror again, he saw Hayley still slept soundly and hoped she would stay that way long enough for Zack to find the hotel and check in. He slowed the car in accordance with the speed signs and the directions he printed from his computer showing the way to the hotel.
Navigating through the streets, Zack eagerly surveyed his surroundings and liked the look of the town. It was smaller than where he grew up in the mountains but he thought he could be happy here. Arriving at the hotel, he pulled up in the driveway and stopped in front of the reception. Zack left the car running in the hope Hayley would sleep for a little longer. He stretched out his muscles that threatened to cramp from sitting in a car all day. Once he felt a little better, he headed inside to check in.
A middle aged lady with slightly greying hair sat behind the counter and smiled at him as he approached.
"Good afternoon, Sir. How may I help?"
"Hi, I have a reservation for a week under the name Zack Bennett." Zack watched as the lady clicked away on the computer.
"Ah, yes. Here we are, a double bed with a port-a-cot." She read from the screen.
"Yes, thank you, if it's not too much trouble."
"Not at all, sir. The room should already be set up for you. If you just wait one moment, I'll get the paperwork." Zack nodded as she walked to the printer and waited for it to spit out the forms.
Zack stepped back and looked out the glass doors to the car, heaving a sigh of relief when he realised Hayley was still sleeping peacefully in her seat. Turning his attention back to the reception desk, he found the paperwork, with a pen, waiting for him to complete. After filling out the form and handing over his licence and credit card, Zack received his room key and a map of the hotel grounds which had his room circled with red ink.
"If you need anything else or there is something wrong with the room, please don't hesitate to call reception. Our hours are from seven am to eight pm."
"Thank you, I will." Zack picked up everything and headed back to his car. He drove around the side and found his room. After parking in the space provided, he once again left the car running until he had the room unlocked.
Opening the door to his current home, Zack looked around. The room wasn't much. For the money he was paying, he definitely wasn't expecting the plaza. The queen size bed dominated the room, with a brightly coloured quilt that looked faded from being washed so often.
After unbuckling Hayley from her car seat, Zack carried his daughter inside the room and gently laid her down in the port-a-cot. The cot barely fit between the left wall and his bed. Once he was sure Hayley was okay, Zack turned on one of the bedside lamps to give him a little light.
The carpet was an ungodly green colour; it looked to be stained in several places and worn in several others. It wasn't home by any means but it would do for a week or so while he looked for a place for him and Hayley.
Zack headed back to the car and started to unload his luggage. Placing his suitcases on the luggage rack and the small table, the room quickly filled with their belongings. On his third trip back to the car he heard his daughter cry out. Zack rushed back into the room and bent down over the cot to pick Hayley up. "Hey now, Pumpkin. Everything's okay," Zack reassured in his most soothing voice. He straightened himself up and patted her back as he rocked her a little.
Hayley's sniffles came to an end quickly and she leaned back to look him in the eyes. "Daddy, we stopped. Park now?"
Zack chuckled. "Yes, Hayley, we're here. Let me finish unloading the car then we can have a snack and go to the park." Zack kissed his beautiful little girl on the cheek and placed her back in the cot.
Hayley's excited screams about the park followed Zack as he went to get another load of boxes from the car. Half a dozen trips later, the car was finally empty. Zack went to the cooler he'd packed some food into with ice that morning and pulled out a yoghurt then found a spoon. Setting Hayley in one of the chairs at the table, Zack fed her the snack. When she was finished, Zack went to the bathroom and wet one of the face cloths and cleaned his daughter up. No matter what Zack tried, Hayley always seemed to end up with food all over her face. The mess was always worse when she fed herself.
Checking his watch, he noticed it was five to four. He'd arranged to meet with Alpha Holland at his place at five thirty. That gave him plenty of time to take Hayley to the park. He picked up the phone and dialled reception. After several rings the same lady who'd checked him in earlier answered. "Reception, how can I help you?"
"Hi this is Zack Bennett from room 122. I was wondering if there was a kids' play park nearby?"
"Yes, sir. If you head back to the main street and turn right, there's one not too far down on the left."
"Thank you, have a good day."
"You too, sir. Enjoy." Zack hung up the phone and made his way to Hayley.
"You ready to go play in the park, Pumpkin?"
"Yay!" Zack broke into a smile at his daughter's excitement. If only
life was that simple. Zack picked Hayley up and made his way out of the room and to his car while listening to the excited chatter of his two year old the entire way.
"Do you have to do that here?" Simon didn't know exactly who he was talking to. All he wanted to do was relax after a long day at work, and he came home to find both his brothers and their mates making out in the living room. The television blared in the background, long since forgotten. Simon didn't begrudge his brothers their mates, it just seemed every time he turned around they were attempting to get into each other's pants. They could barely be in the same room together without constantly touching and, quite frankly, Simon was a little jealous.
Simon wanted to find someone who lit up the room when they walked in, someone whose touch caused his body to ache in such a good way, someone who looked at him as if he was their whole world, someone he could lose himself in and forget the world around him.
The growl coming from his brother, Alex, was actually quite impressive since he continued to kiss his mate, Jason, the entire time. Jason finally broke the kiss and giggled. He leaned his head back on the couch and looked up at Simon standing in the doorway. "Sorry."
Alex growled again. "Don't apologise, sweetheart. If he doesn't like it, he can always leave." Alex then started trailing kisses down Jason's neck.
Jason swatted Alex on the arm. "Be nice."
"Don't worry about it, Jase. I think I might go for a run. Give you all time to finish whatever you're doing here. Be back in about an hour." Simon turned and walked down the passage to his room. Running had always been one of his favourite things to do, whether in wolf or human form. Simon could always manage to lose himself and forget everything going on in his life in the rhythm of his feet hitting the ground.
In his room, Simon undressed and found his running clothes. Once dressed in shorts and a tank top, Simon slipped on his Nike running shoes and found his armband for his iPod before finding the device itself. Searching through his bedside drawers Simon then found his headphones. Connecting everything up and strapping the player in, Simon did some quick stretches then headed out of the house.
Simon jogged down the drive and turned left along the footpath. His body soon loosened up and he settled into a rhythm, heart beating steadily, feet pounding the pavement in time with the heavy base beat of the music. Simon cleared his mind and let all his thoughts and worries flow right out of him. All that mattered was putting one foot in front of the other, everything else could wait.
The sweat was soon dripping down his back and his leg muscles started to ache but Simon was just getting started. He turned down the main street of town, most of the shops already locked up this late in the afternoon on a Thursday. The footpaths were clear except for the occasional teenager on a bike. He passed the park where parents played with young children, gradually fading into older kids on skateboards and rollerblades as he neared the skate park.
Simon had resigned himself to never having kids. He'd suspected as young as fifteen he was gay. Kissing his best friend Mark after school when he was sixteen confirmed his suspicions. They'd fooled around together and he discovered what it was like to have sex with another boy.