Protective Mate is now available on All Romance for all those who have yet to get their copy. You can find it here
Blurb: Within the space of two years Zack lost nearly everyone that had ever meant anything to him. After his parents were killed in a car accident and his best friend succumbed to cancer, Zack is left alone with only his eighteen month old daughter. Her ultra-religious and homophobic grandparents will do anything they can to take his daughter away from him. To stop this, Zack packs up and moves to a small town in northern Victoria.
Simon has known he was gay since he was fifteen and he had resigned himself to never being a father. Walking into his house one afternoon, he is shocked to find not only his mate, but a two year old calling his mate daddy.
Is Simon ready to be a father? Can Zack open his heart after so much hurt and risk loving someone else?
"Daddy?" Zack looked in the rear-view mirror at the most important person in his life. His daughter sat in her booster seat surrounded by everything they owned.
"Yes, Pumpkin?" Zack constantly flicked his eyes back and forth between his precious cargo and the road ahead.
"Are we there yet?" Zack sighed. The question had been constant for the last several hours. It had to be hard for Hayley. Within the space of a six month period, she lost the mother she loved, the house she grew up in and was being taken from the day care she knew and friends she loved. To top everything off, her grandparents were trying to take her away from her father, so he'd finally left with Hayley to start over in a new town with new people and hopefully new friends.
"Not yet Hayley, but soon okay? We'll find the motel and unpack the car, and then we'll find a nice park where you can play for a little while. How does that sound?" The squeals of delight from the backseat let Zack know Hayley was onboard with the park idea.
Glancing back again, Zack couldn't believe how much she looked like her mother. Her sparkling jade green eyes and the cutest little button nose you had ever seen, above a small mouth with rose pink lips, reminded him daily of the only woman he'd ever loved. But her best feature Zack thought, the only feature she got from her father, fell past her shoulders in loose, bright auburn ringlets. One of Sarah's favourite things before she passed was to brush Hayley's hair.
Zack felt momentarily overwhelmed with grief at the thought of his best friend. On their first day in high school, Zack and Sarah had both gone to sit in the same seat at lunch, neither of them paying any attention to their surroundings, and ended up best friends by the time the bell rang to signify lunch was over.
Their high school years seemed to fly past with the two sharing everything. Zack confided in Sarah when he realised the boys at their school held more appeal to him than the girls. Sarah had hugged him and kissed him on the cheek and said being gay didn't matter and she would always love him. She'd encouraged Zack to talk to his parents and let them know what was going on with him. His mum had surprised him and said she'd suspected for a while and his dad nodded and said as long as Zack was happy then that was all he cared about. Zack had hugged his parents, never more thankful for their support.
Sarah however, kept the knowledge from her parents until after they'd graduated from high school and moved into an apartment together. Her parents, being the religious, god fearing people they were, were adamant Sarah have nothing further to do with him. When she refused, they informed her God would punish her for association with him.
Who knows what Sarah's parents would have thought if they ever found out he was a werewolf as well as identifying as gay. They'd probably keel over in an apoplectic fit. Zack chuckled at that idea and thought back to when Sarah found out he was a werewolf. The first full moon after Zack turned sixteen he and Sarah were lying on the floor in the lounge at his place, doing their homework. Zack's entire body had heated, like his blood was boiling, then his arms started sprouting fur. He'd looked over at Sarah, saw her wide eyes staring back at him and said the only thing he could think of. "Please don't scream."
Her eyes had widened even further at his words then his bones started to reshape, his face elongated and before he knew it, he stood on all fours tangled in his jeans and shirt and staring at his best friend as she looked back at him in wide-eyed shock.
Zack's mother had come through from the kitchen clearly in the middle of asking them a question when she noticed Zack and stopped in her tracks, mouth open. She quickly looked at Sarah and regained her senses. "Sarah, honey, are you okay?"
"That is so fricken cool!" Sarah turned and quickly picked up her homework before waving it in front of Zack's face. "Come on Zack! Be a good boy and eat this for me. That way I don't have to do it and I'll have such a good excuse." She giggled as Zack took a playful bite at her hand before his mother scolded him. She sent him sent to his room until he could change back so she could talk to Sarah.
Sarah tried to get him to eat her homework several more times after that and when they moved in together, she came home one day with a collar and lead and hung them by the door. She'd laughed herself silly then ran to the toilet before she wet herself the first time Zack saw the items.
Pulling himself out of his memories, Zack once again looked into the mirror and noticed his daughter was now fast asleep, her favourite toy, a plush wolf, held close to her chest. Concentrating on the road ahead, Zack wondered what he was going to do without his best friend. Sarah had been a constant in his life for thirteen years. When Sarah received her diagnosis of cancer, the news hit the friends like a tonne of bricks. They went to sleep that night wrapped in each other's arms, both with red rimmed eyes and tear streaked faces.
Sarah woke him up the next day by asking for his sperm. After the initial shock wore off, Zack had agreed. The doctors gave her a maximum of two years to live and wanted to start treatments right way; they didn't expect to be able to prolong her life by years, only months. Sarah had wanted to be a mother more than anything else in the world. Any treatment she undertook would take that opportunity away from her.
Zack couldn't deny his best friend anything, and as he was gay he never expected to have a child, but he couldn't think of anyone he would rather have one with. Knowing a part of Sarah would live on in their daughter, helped Zack with the loss of his friend.
After long discussions and more tears, they spoke with Zack's parents. The couple were overjoyed to find out they would have a grandchild. With Zack being an only child and gay, they had resigned themselves to having no grandkids. His parents were so happy they offered to pay for Sarah's wish to come true. Zack and Sarah were extremely grateful for their help, as all Sarah's parents said, upon hearing the news of their daughter's illness, was she would be punished for her association with Zack.
They were lucky and Sarah got pregnant on the first attempt. Zack could see the strain the pregnancy put on Sarah, but she never complained. She worked as much as possible to help pay for her share of the expenses, no matter how much Zack tried to tell her to slow down and take it easy.
Sarah was about 6 months pregnant when Zack received the phone call one night to tell him his parents had been involved in a car accident. They'd been driving back from his dad's Christmas party when the driver of a semi trailer had fallen asleep at the wheel and crossed into oncoming traffic. The truck hit them head on and they both died instantly. There were some things even being a werewolf couldn't save you from. They never got to see their granddaughter being born.
His parents left him their house, which was debt free, so Sarah and Zack moved out of their apartment and into the home he'd grown up in. Zack would never have gotten through those pain-filled weeks and months if not for Sarah. She gave birth to their beautiful baby girl the following March and they named her Hayley after his mum.
Valerie and Howard Stewart, Sarah's parents, didn't want anything to do with Hayley or Sarah as long as he remained in the picture. Zack and Sarah lived happily for nearly eighteen months before Sarah's disease really took hold. Then life was a constant juggle between work, day care for Hayley and hospital visits for Sarah. Sarah passed away peacefully in her sleep less than a month before Hayley's second birthday.
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.