The SEAL’s Convenient Wife - Leslie North Page 0,1

in her power to block him from seeing Ellery.

“So you don’t know?” Ms. Mendel sat at the desk next to him, looking more sympathetic now.

“Know what?” He felt a prickle at the back of his neck, a sensation he’d learned to heed during his years in the service.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you.” She paused before seeming to come to a decision and continuing. “It’s not really my place… but if I were you, I’d want to know. Ellery’s been in foster care for the past two months. Her mother left her with a nanny and then, well, didn’t come back. After more than a few days of not being able to reach the parent, the nanny called Child Protective Services.”

“What?” Patrick shot to his feet and towered over the teacher. “Child Pro—does that mean foster care? Why didn’t someone contact me? Where is she?”

“I can’t disclose that.” Ms. Mendel rose to her feet and took a step back, crossing her arms in front of her as if to ward him off. Her eyes strayed to her desk, where a phone sat.

“I’m her father,” he said through gritted teeth as he searched for the control that had gotten him through so many tough spots. He had no wish to alarm Ms. Mendel. She wasn’t the enemy. But she did know where his daughter was.

“I’m not disputing that, but you don’t have custodial rights,” she said. “You’re not even on the list of people permitted to pick Ellery up.”

“I’m not?” He and Rachel had talked about that when Ellery started school, and she’d assured him that she’d filled out the paperwork showing him as Ellery’s father, with parental rights. Another lie. He shouldn’t have been surprised.

“No. Look, I’ve told you as much as I can. If you want to see Ellery, you’ll have to go through CPS. You should go now.” Her words weren’t an invitation, but a dismissal. He got that he was making her nervous, but he had to ask one more thing.

“Just tell me if she’s okay,” he said. Foster homes weren’t always the best, and he wanted to know that his little girl was safe for now. “Please.”

Ms. Mendel’s face softened, making her look even younger. “She’s struggling with this. Any child would, but I think she’ll be okay in the long run. She’s a resilient girl.”

That helped. A little. But what he’d thought was going to be an unpleasant negotiation with his former girlfriend had just ramped up to a battle with an enemy that he knew little about—with Ellery’s safety and happiness at stake. How the hell did he go about extracting his daughter from foster care?

“Thanks. I’ll get out of your space now.” He stalked to the door and made his way back to his SUV. Just as he was opening the door, his phone rang.

“Hey, man. Got plans tonight?” Anderson, one of his SEAL team members, was on the phone. They’d been buddies since high school.

“I could actually use your help right now, if you’re available,” Patrick said. Anderson was a strategist and might be a big help in dealing with the bureaucrats at children’s services. “Can you meet me at the county office building?”

Anderson’s reply was instant. “Of course, but why?”

“I’ll explain when I see you.” Patrick hung up and drove to the modern building located just outside town. In his head, he replayed the conversation with the teacher. She hadn’t shared any information that was helpful beyond that last comment about Ellery’s welfare, which he hadn’t found all that reassuring. His job was clear, though: he had to get answers and formulate a plan to fix this.

Hours later, Patrick sat across the table from Anderson at one of their favorite hangouts, the Main Street Tavern. The beer was cold, the food good, and the atmosphere relaxing. All things that Patrick needed after wrangling with CPS.

“I thought there was red tape in the military,” Anderson said, taking a drink from his beer. “That place could give a lesson in complicating what should be simple.”

“You’d think being Ellery’s dad—and wanting to take care of her instead of leaving her with strangers—would be the end of it. But apparently that means jack to them.” Patrick traced the frogman-and-trident tattoo on his forearm that he’d gotten after his first SEAL mission.

The three different CPS representatives he’d spoken to had all asked the same questions while dodging his. Anderson had intervened more than once, getting more intel from them. His analytical mind sorted through the information more

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