Read the first three chapters of Makeshift Mate
Makshift Mate by C.E. Black
“This single father gig isn't so hard. Not hard at all. I'm not sure what all the fuss is about, really. It's been a breeze! Or so I thought.”
When Alpha Locke Winfield’s pack decided it was time for him to step up and take care of his own child for once, his whole life turned upside down. Too busy for tea parties and ballet recitals, he hadn’t realized his daughter, Sara, was no longer a little girl. And preteens, he was learning, were a whole other breed.
Locke needed a woman. One who could do more than take care of his daughter. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman had taken care of him. Which was why he joined the online dating site, Alpha Singles.
Sara needed a mother. And Locke needed a mate. ASAP.
There were thousands of women out there. Surely he could find one who was willing to take on a workaholic Alpha Wolf and his moody preteen daughter.
“If this land deal doesn’t go through, then we’re going to have a serious problem on our hands. Have you heard back from the realtor?”
Theo, my Beta, grunted on the other end of the line. “Yes, but he doesn’t have an answer for us. The owner is still thinking about it.”
I rocked back in my chair and shoved my free hand through my hair. “What’s there to think about? There’s no way he can get more money for that lot. We’re offering twice the asking price.”
“Dad. Can you take me to school?”
“The impression Dan gave me was that he’s thinking about not selling,” Theo replied.
A growl slipped through my lips and I threw the pen I’d been fiddling with onto my desk. “You have got to be kidding me! The Pack’s population has exploded over the last six years. We have to expand.”
My head snapped up, surprised to see my daughter, Sara, standing in the doorway. She wore her school uniform, khaki pants and a burgundy sweater, and her book bag hung off her back. I checked the clock.
“Hold on a sec, Theo. Why aren’t you in school?” I asked Sara.
“I’m late,” she replied.
I ground my teeth together when she offered up no more information. “Yes, I can see that you’re late.” I glanced at the calendar on my desk. “Where’s Tess?”
Sara shrugged her small shoulders. However, they didn’t look as slight as I remembered them.
“I don’t know,” she mumbled.
Sighing, I reached for my phone before remembering I was still holding it next to my ear. “Theo?”
“Tess didn’t show up to take Sara to school today. Find her,” I told him. “Make sure she’s okay, then send her over here. And call Jake for me. He can take her place today until we find out what happened.”
Holding the phone with my shoulder, I closed the file I’d been looking at and slid it to the end of my desk to put away later. I really needed to hire a secretary.
“He’ll need to take her to school,” I said. “But seeing how she’s already late, a few more minutes won’t hurt.”
Theo cleared his throat. “Tess is fine.”
I paused. “She is? Well… Then tell her to get here, ASAP.”
“She’s unavailable. And so is Jake”
“Okay.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Then send someone else. Lynn or Rebecca.” Damn, this wasn’t rocket science. My Beta knew the drill. One of them drove Sara to school every day. And picked her. And watched her after school and weekends.
“No. And… no,” Theo said, causing my hackles to rise.
“What about Brandon?” I didn’t have time for this. I glanced from the mountain of work piled on top of my desk to my daughter still standing quietly at the door and groaned.
Theo paused before saying, “Locke, we need to have a talk. Tess tried, but you wouldn’t listen. We can’t keep this up.”
I whispered harshly as I turned away from Sara, “What do we need to talk about? I thought this matter had already been settled.”
When my life had turned upside down, the pack stepped up and helped me through one of the hardest times of my life. When my father had died, I’d inherited the pack. At thirty-five years old, I was the youngest Alpha in the Wild River Pack’s history.
And if that hadn’t been stressful enough, days later, fate sent another blow, when my mate suddenly collapsed. She’d never woken up, leaving behind a demanding toddler for me to raise alone.
There’d been hard times, I won’t lie, but over the last five years, Sara and I had gotten along just fine. She pretty much stayed to herself. I worked long hours—being an Alpha is no cakewalk—but I paid the bills and gave her everything she needed. And the pack helped by doing the stuff I didn’t have time for.
“I just don’t see the problem,” I said.
Theo sighed. “And that is the problem.”
“Excuse me?” A dull ache bloomed behind my eyes. My Beta wasn’t making any sense.
Sara shifted from one foot to the other catching my eyes. Head bowed over her cell phone, her fingers sped over the screen.
“I don’t have time for this,” I said to Theo. “Call me if you hear from the realtor.”
I hung up before dialing Brandon’s number. New to the pack, Brandon had joined about eighteen months before when he moved into the area to attend college. There had been plenty of colleges near his home pack in North Carolina, but he’d needed to put some distance between him and a girl. Always a girl, I thought with a chuckle.
“’Lo?” Brandon answered, his voice raspy from sleep.
“Brandon,” I said, using my Alpha voice. “Do you have any classes today?”
“No, sir,” he replied, much more awake now.
“I need you to take Sara to school for me. Please,” I added as an afterthought.
There was a pause before Brandon said hesitantly. “I’m not sure…”
“Brandon.” The command went left unsaid.
“On my way, sir.”
I tossed the phone onto the desk and gave Sara a triumphant smile. Problem solved. “Brandon is taking you to school. He shouldn’t be long.”
Now that I’d fixed that issue, I switched focus. Back to work.
“Why can’t you take me?” Sara’s whisper was so light I almost didn’t catch it.
I turned away from my computer to face her. “You know I’m busy, June Bug.”
Sara looked up from her phone, her eyes flashing. “Don’t call me that,” she snapped.
“Sara June Winfield,” I began but the words died as she stormed out of my office.
Well, that was new. The Alpha wolf in me was a little irritated by Sara’s attitude, but there was no time for it. Plus, I had everything under control. I trusted Brandon. He’d take care of Sara while I got back to work.
As far as the pack, I was sure everything would be back to normal tomorrow. They wouldn’t refuse to help their Alpha.
“What do you mean you refuse to help me anymore?”
Gaze sweeping the room, I let them hear the growl in my voice. A few flinched, others ducked their heads. All of them lowered their eyes.
This was just another complication to add to the day from hell.
Brandon had taken Sara to school, but had failed to pick her up in the afternoon. Which, I could admit, was my fault. I hadn’t asked. So, I had to abruptly end an important phone call to do it myself.
Then had been the issue of what to make for dinner. But after a moment of panic, I’d remembered the pizza menu tucked away in a kitchen drawer. Presto! Dinner had been served!
However, when the quadruple meat pie had arrived, Sara informed me she only ate veggie pizza. After complaining she wasn’t hungry anyway, she’d run upstairs to her room, making sure to slam the door hard enough to rattle the windows.
I’d been ready to pull out my hair when I’d gotten the call from Theo about a pack meeting.
Sitting in a circle, with me standing in the center, fifteen of my thirty-three pack members had gathered at the community center. Then surprised me with this… this…
“What is this?” I demanded.
Pacing the circle, I sought out Theo. Looking at us, you’d think Theo was the dominant wolf in the room.
He was sitting in one of those folding metal chairs, but if he stood, he would have been at least four or five inches taller than me. He wore a thin, cotton t-shirt that displayed thick muscles under his umber colored skin. Especially, when he crossed his arms like the way he was doing now.
Though both of us were actually the most dominant wolves in the room, Theo’s wolf wasn’t as powerful as mine. Which was why I was Alpha.
His dark brown eyes flashed gold, meaning his wolf was close to the surface. I held his glare with one of my own, but within seconds, he dropped his eyes.
“An intervention,” Theo finally said, clearing his throat.
“An intervention,” Brandon, offered. His chin bobbed up and down as though he was listening to music as he explained, “It’s where friends and family come together to confront a person in a non-threatening way about—”
I growled, cutting him off with a swipe of my hand. “I know what an intervention is, Brandon. What I don’t understand is why we’re having one. For me.”
“We just want to help you.” The quiet words came from Tess. Though her arms were crossed and her chin held high, her expression held concern.
“Help me with what?” I asked, my voice softening.
When no one spoke up, I growled out my frustrations. “Someone, please. Tell me what’s going on. You said you weren’t going to help me with Sara anymore. Why? Do I need to pay you? I’ve offered you money time and time again—”
“We don’t want your money, Alpha,” Theo said.
“Then what do you want?” I clenched my fists at my sides so I wouldn’t pull out my hair.
“We want you to take care of Sara yourself,” Tess said. “She needs you.”
I shook my head. “You’re making no sense. What does Sara have to do with this?”
“You’re a bad dad, Alpha,” Theo blurted.
Silence descended. In fact, it got so quiet, I couldn’t hear a single one of my pack mates breathing. However, I could hear the galloping of their hearts.
I inhaled and let the accusation wash over me. It hurt. It did. But I wasn’t sure I agreed with the statement. I wasn’t a bad dad. Was I?
My gaze swept the room once more, noting the tense expressions on their faces. However, not a single one of them looked like they wanted to oppose their Beta’s opinion.
“Is that what you all think?” I asked, my voice flat.
When no one answered, I sighed. “I just don’t see it. I’ve never hurt her.”
“Of course you haven’t,” Theo said. “That’s not what this is about.”
“Then what is this about?”
“It’s about Sara needing her dad and not just a bankroll.” He talked over my scoff. “When was the last time you spent any time with her?”
“Her birthday,” I answered immediately. “She had a party. I was there.”
“That was last year.”
“No, it wasn’t. It was like a month ago.”
“Her birthday is in June. It’s January.”
“Really?” I gave him a dubious look. “What about her ballet recital? That wasn’t that long ago.” The pack all gave me a look like I was crazy. “What?” I asked.
“Her last recital was four years ago. She doesn’t take ballet anymore.”
I rubbed at my forehead. “How old is she again?”
“Nine, Alpha,” Theo said patiently.
“Wow,” I whispered. “Time flies.”
“That it does,” he agreed. “But not that fast. We won’t enable you any longer, Alpha. Taking care of Sara is your responsibility.”
“Of course, she’s my responsibility, and I’m taking damn good care of her by having my pack, who I thought cared about us, help us out while I do my job. You know, the really important one you all seemed to have forgotten about.”
“You work too much. We can help you with pack business. Please, call me, or any of us, for help.”
“The pack is my responsibility,” I replied, my voice clipped.
Theo shook his head. “It’s obvious you’re not going to listen to us.”
He turned away from me to pick up his chair. The pack followed suit and the room soon filled with the sound of chairs scraping against tile as everyone began stacking them against the wall. Then one by one they stopped to pat me on the shoulder, offering small words of encouragement.
“You’ve got this, Alpha.”
“Don’t worry. She loves you. Just show her you love her too.”
“Take her shopping. Girls love that stuff. What? It’s the truth.”
“Don’t listen to Brandon. He’s an idiot.”
“Call us if you need help with anything other than babysitting.”
“Unless it’s an emergency.”
“Tell Sara we love her. And I’ll come by and visit soon.”
As the pack finally drifted away, I was left alone with my thoughts. According to them, I was a bad father who needed to spend more time with my daughter. But what about work? As the Alpha, I couldn’t exactly take any day off I wanted. That’s not how it worked. How was I going to do this all by myself?
Brandon stuck his head back into the room. “What you really need, Alpha, is a mate.”
“Brandon!” the pack all called from outside.
“What?” he said over his shoulder before disappearing behind the door once more. “It’s the truth!”
As the others chastised the boy, a slow grin spread across my face. I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t thought of it before. It was the perfect idea.
“Brandon, you’re a genius!”
With no time to waste, I implemented plan A by inviting over the perfect person to help me.
When the doorbell rang, I hurried to open it with what I hoped was a welcoming smile. “Hi, Tess. Come on in.”
Tess and I had grown up together. We were the same age and both were loyal to our pack. Not only was she a kind woman, she’d always been a great friend to both me and Sara’s mother before she passed.
Tess smiled back, her expression wary. “Alpha,” she nodded as she walked passed me, her head moving side to side as if searching for something.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “Where’s Sara?”
I closed the door and gestured for her to sit in the living room. My gaze ran over her lithe form as she sat stiffly on the sofa. Her honey brown hair had been swept up into a messy knot, and her face was free from makeup. Tess didn’t need it.
“You said there was an emergency?” she asked making me realize I hadn’t answered her question.
I sat down next to her, turning my body so we faced each other. My leg brushed hers and she pulled away quickly, though her concerned expression didn’t change. I retreated, keeping a safe distance so I wouldn’t make her uncomfortable.
“Um, no. No, there’s no emergency,” I confessed. When her lips drew tight, I hurried to explain. “It was the only way I thought I could get you to come over. I’m sorry.”
Softening, she gave me a small smile. “Don’t be ridiculous, Alpha. Of course, you can call us over. You are our Alpha.”
She was right. I was their Alpha, and they had to obey me. For the most part, anyway. But I hadn’t thought to call Tess using the excuse of pack business. She rarely participated in those things. Not because she wasn’t important, she was. She owned a local diner called Silver’s. And as a business owner she had a lot of say on what happened in the pack. But Tess preferred sending her sister, and business partner, Riley, whenever anything came up.
However, I’d known for a fact Tess would come running for Sara.
“You’re right, Tess. I’m sorry. And please, stop calling me Alpha. You can call me by my name, you know.”
Her cheeks turned a lovely shade of pink. “Umm…”
I slid closer, but not too close. I didn’t want to scare her off. “Tess, I was wondering if you would like to go to dinner sometime.”
Her blue-green eyes widened to the size of saucers. “What are you doing, Alpha?”
I grinned, hoping it looked charming. It had been a long time since I’d asked a woman out. Too long.
“Dinner? Want to go with me?”
“Like a date?” she squeaked.
“Yes.” I leaned in just a little, letting my wolf taste her scent. She smelled like coffee and… my Beta?
Tess leaped to her feet. “I’m sorry Alpha, but I can’t. I-I-I’m seeing someone.”
“Theo,” I confirmed, my shoulders falling.
“I’m sorry,” Tess said again. “It’s new. We just started dating. I had no clue you were interested. Not that that would have changed anything…”
Her face twisted as if she were in pain. It was painful. Not her rejection but the entire situation was agonizing and embarrassing.
“I mean, you’re an attractive man, Alpha,” she hurried. “I just don’t feel that way. Oh, God.”
I held up a hand to stop her. “Tess, it’s fine. I’m the one who’s sorry.” Offering her an apologetic smile, I stood. “Can we forget this ever happened?”
“Um, sure.” She wrinkled her forehead. “But why did you ask me on a date? It’s kind of out of the blue.” When my neck turned red, her gaze turning knowing. “Ah, you were taking Brandon’s advice.”
I shrugged, not wanting to confess the truth.
“Thank God.” Her whole body sagged in relief and I winced.
“I’m not that bad,” I grumbled.
She chuckled. “Sorry, it’s just a little awkward. I’m flattered you thought of me, though.
“You were my first choice,” I admitted.
Her cheeks turned pink again and she ducked her head. “That’s farfetched.”
I gave her my Alpha eyes. “You have no clue how perfect you are, Tess. Theo is a lucky man.”
Another blush from her and a few more apologies from me, then I walked her to the door.
Plan A had been a bust. There were a couple more single women in the pack, but I was rethinking my approach. This had been a bit more embarrassing than I’d thought it would have been.
Before she left, Tess turned, giving me kind eyes. “If you want a mate for you, then I say go for it. Start searching. But you don’t need a mate to help take care of your daughter.”
I watched Tess climb into her car before shutting the door and pounding my head against the solid wood. She was wrong. I did need a mate.
And now I also needed to call Theo and apologize. Damn it. I might be his Alpha but he was going to kick my ass when he found out I’d made a pass at Tess.
Deciding to put off that unpleasant phone call for now, I went to my office to think. I needed a plan B. How do I find a mate? And fast?
I drummed my fingers against my desk and sighed. I had nothing. Bars didn’t appeal to me and I didn’t have the time for that kind of dating, anyhow.
Finally, realizing I was wasting precious time, I picked up my phone and called in reinforcements.