Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1)

BOOK: Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1)
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Alpha Unmasked
Greenwood Shifters Book 1
S.A. Ravel

C
opyright © 2016 by S.A
. Ravel

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues in this book are of the authors’ imaginations and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

Sneak Peak


T
here are stories
,” he whispered. “Stories of shifters who find their true partner. You’d call it…a soul mate. I thought they were just stories, but now I’m not so sure.”

She shook her head to clear away the addicting vibrations his touch sent through her. “How romantic! You make it sound like it’s just hormones.”

“It’s so much more, Rachel.” He sat higher on his knees and slid his lips along her jaw. Her body melted against him. “Tell me you feel it, too.”

As he moved closer, Rachel became aware of his immense build. He loomed over her, and she felt tiny by comparison. It should have scared her, but she knew he would die before he let anyone hurt her. She wrapped her arms around him, and her breath came in ragged gasps. He was asking her to abandon everything she’d ever known, to accept not only his world, but also him. This wasn’t a one-night stand or awkward first date. This was monsters and love and nothing she’d ever thought she’d feel. It was destiny.

He held her there for the longest time. The seconds ticked by in Rachel’s mind. What happened next was her decision.

“I feel it too,” she whispered.

1

D
irk barely dodged
the mountain lion’s powerful jaws as it lunged for his torso. He answered with a sharp swipe to the animal’s nose. The lion shook his head and backed away, throwing Dirk a reproachful glance.

“Watch the skin,” Dirk snapped. “I’ve got places to be tonight.”

The mountain lion, Louis, tilted his head and positioned himself for the next attack.

The California sun was high in the sky. Dirk wiped beads of sweat from his forehead before they could trickle into his eyes. Louis already had the edge on him. Two minutes against a mountain lion would’ve been an impressive feat for a normal man, but Dirk Greenwood wasn’t a normal man. For the third time in two minutes, he reached for his bear. As usual, he felt nothing. A shifter’s inner animal wasn’t just a tool for fighting; it was part of who they were. For better or worse, a shifter’s animal form brought out different aspects of their personality, aspects often best left hidden in civilized society.

In his human form, Louis was a nervous little man who skittered around the Greenwood compound like a field mouse. But as a mountain lion, Louis was 150 pounds of pure muscle and raw strength. Dirk admired that, but he also hated it. Louis had been Dirk’s only consistent sparring partner for nearly a year. In the same timeframe, Dirk’s bear had retreated deep within him and beyond his reach. But even the loss of his bear didn’t excuse him from routine spar. He’d almost gotten used to fighting the way a normal man would. Almost.

Louis swiped at him with his razor-sharp claws. This time, Dirk didn’t dodge completely, and Louis left painful gashes in his abdomen. Dirk rolled away and pressed his hand to the wounds. Strictly speaking, the fight was finished. Louis had drawn first blood and was therefore the winner, but that wouldn’t be enough for the mountain lion shifter. He had orders to prove a point to Dirk: the next opponent, real opponent, wouldn’t show mercy because of Dirk’s disadvantage, and they wouldn’t stop at first blood. The moment of hesitation was exactly what Louis was waiting for. Dirk barely had time to cry out as the huge mountain lion tackled him to the ground. In desperation, he pressed his forearm against the huge monster’s neck. He’d already failed; a grizzly never fought from a place of desperation.

Louis lunged forward, pushing Dirk’s head into his mouth. In his bear form, Dirk could have ended this fight the moment it began. As a human, he was lucky to have lasted this long.

Again he reached for his bear, for the surge of power that would let him end this futile exercise. Nothing. He twisted his body, his muscles straining as he tried to wriggle out of Louis’s grasp. But he mountain lion’s jaws didn’t budge. There was only the feeling of the warm earth on his bare back, and Louis’s sharp teeth as they grazed the flesh of his skull.

“Mr. Dirk? Mr. Greenwood wants to see you.” Ana, the housekeeper, called from the patio.

Louis slid to his feet and sauntered away from Dirk. He sat on his haunches, licking the blood from his paws. Dirk climbed to his feet and brushed away the dirt and blades of grass that clung to the dried blood on his stomach. At least he still had rapid healing, the wounds would have required stitches otherwise, but the skin around the injuries had already fused shut leaving only a slight itch where pain had once been.

“Next time you scratch me, Kitty, I rip off your tail.” It was an empty threat. Cyrus, his father and Alpha, would break Dirk’s neck if he hurt Louis. But at least it sounded tough.

Dirk stopped next to Ana and pulled her into a side hug.

“How’s my girl?” he asked. “And what did I do this time?”

She swatted at his sweaty chest and stuck her tongue out, rubbing the dirt off on her apron. Ana, a shifter herself, had worked for the Greenwoods since Dirk was a boy and was used to the frequent backyard battles. Dirk adored Ana, almost as much as his mother. He could always rely on Ana for a hug. Now that he was a grown man, Miranda, his mother, reserved her hugs for special occasions. He couldn’t remember the last time his father had hugged him, but then Cyrus had been less his father and more his Alpha for years.

A summons to the Alpha’s office was never a good thing. It was worse when the Alpha was your father, and the office was down the hall from your childhood bedroom. Cyrus Greenwood wouldn’t take the few steps down the hallway to summon his youngest son. No, sir. Cyrus wanted everyone to come to him. That was an Alpha’s privilege.

Dirk stopped in his bedroom to put on a fresh shirt, but he didn’t dare tend to his wounds. That would’ve cost time, and Cyrus Greenwood was not a man who liked to be kept waiting on normal days. He would hate to be kept waiting on the single most important day of his social year.

A flurry of activity engulfed the Greenwood Compound and its occupants on the night of Callisto’s Masquerade. There were high-profile guests from all over the country to entertain, guests they couldn’t slight. Shifter clans had a long memory. It wasn’t uncommon for debts and grievances to be settled a generation after they occurred. Ever since his brother Maddock’s exile, more and more of the family social obligations, and the pressure that went with them, fell to Dirk.

He stepped into his father’s office and slammed the door behind him. “Couldn’t it wait? Wouldn’t want to shirk my sparring duties.”

If luck was on Dirk’s side, Cyrus would only want to give him a rundown of VIPs he was expected to entertain that night. If not, he’d somehow managed to screw up the few courtesy e-mails he’d sent to the more prominent guests.

Dirk was never lucky.

“Have a seat,” Cyrus said. “You smell like blood.” There wasn’t the slightest hint of concern in Cyrus’s voice.

No pleasantries.
With anyone else, Dirk would have assumed he was in trouble. But Cyrus despised small talk, a quality that Dirk appreciated.

“Yeah, Louis has a better reach than I remember.”

Dirk didn’t have many possessions, only a room in his parents’ lavish house that served as his bedroom and office. It was large enough to serve both purposes, or so he reminded himself whenever he felt cramped. He rarely took business meetings in person. And when he did, it was easier to drive to the city. He had more than enough money of his own to move out, but as second son, he was expected to stay in the main house until his brother took charge or he took a mate. By tradition, the youngest son became second-in-command when his older brother became Alpha. The second child stayed close, but the eldest was king of the castle. Dirk was the younger of the Greenwood boys, he was never meant to rule. With Maddock gone, the succession of the Greenwood Clan Alpha was in crisis, and it had been the topic of conversation at every social event he’d yawned his way through that year.

Would Dirk ascend to the Alpha position? Had a tragic flaw made Maddock unsuitable to lead? Was Cyrus grooming his younger son for greatness? Hell no, and he wasn’t the least bit bitter about it. An Alpha was always on call. Always balancing between advancing his clan and keeping the peace. Sometimes one had to be sacrificed for the other. Either way, an Alpha’s wants and plans were almost never a consideration. Not if they were fit to rule.

Maddock hadn’t done a damned thing to earn exile, except maybe be a little too selfish to rule. But that had been enough for Cyrus. And Cyrus sure as hell wasn’t grooming Dirk to take his place. Nothing in the house had changed at all, except for Maddock’s empty room which Dirk still couldn’t bring himself to look at.

“There’s been a change of plans,” Cyrus said. “Some offers have come in that I have to move on.”

Dirk raised an eyebrow in mock surprise. They weren’t supposed to discuss business on the day of Callisto’s Masquerade. Miranda instituted the rule after Cyrus missed the opening ceremony one year thanks to feverish negotiations on a real estate deal. Cyrus never stuck to the rule. Dirk didn’t either.

“Offers for what?”

“I’ve just heard from Sam Crimmons. He’s looking to marry off his youngest daughter.”

“Never heard of him.”

“You wouldn’t have. He’s got a small clan in the unclaimed territories. Texas, I think. They’re a young group, but the men are decent fighters.”

“They’d have to be to survive out in that dump.” Dirk slouched in the chair and tried to ignore the itching and tingling that had replaced the pain where Louis had clawed him.

Cyrus had a way of equating fighting prowess with strength, but Dirk had learned the hard way that things weren’t always so clear. Maddock was a decent fighter--more than decent-- but nobody in the family had heard from him in months. Technically, Maddock still had a high position in the clan system, high enough to command some respect even in his exile. But not all rogues respected the clans, and even those that did might figure they could disappear before the powers-that-be figured out who killed their exiled brethren. Dirk knew his brother was in danger, but he couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge it for too long. No, Maddock was alive. Dirk could feel it. Maddock just needed space to cope. There was no way a rogue got the best of him.

“Given the circumstances, you could do worse.” Cyrus said.

“Does Sam Crimmons think his daughter could do worse?” Dirk asked.

“He’s not in a position to complain, is he? A mate for his daughter with ties to the most powerful clan on the West Coast? He’d be a fool to reject it.”

“Even if the mate can’t shift?”

Dirk hadn’t managed to shift since Maddock left. A bear that couldn’t shift couldn’t fight, couldn’t protect what was his. A generation or two ago that would have been a death sentence for Dirk. Any rogue shifter looking to prove a point or low-ranking shifter looking to rack up an easy kill would have ended him long ago. Now, diplomacy and negotiation kept clans in line. Strong clan ties kept the rogues at bay.

“We’ll make the announcement during the Masquerade.”

Dirk struggled to control his breathing as a wave of fury ripped through him. He should have expected his father to have already worked out the deal. Somehow, he always underestimated his father’s schemes. Everyone served the Greenwood Clan, even if it was by their absence.

“Will she be moving in after the ceremony?” A little humor might calm his anger. “Mama will be thrilled to have someone to dote on. As long as she doesn’t try to change anything.”

“You’ll be moving there.”

The room tilted in Dirk’s vision. “You’re sending me to the unclaimed territories?”

“To a safe enclave within it. Daniella has brothers that Sam assures me are capable fighters. Your position there won’t be any different from here.”

Dirk’s stomach roiled. Visions of his future flashed in his eyes, and they weren’t pretty. He would be the low man on the totem pole, with rabid rogues on his doorstep to boot. The unclaimed territories was a war zone. There was plenty of land to go around, but rogues staked claim to most of it. Every now and then, a lowborn son set up a clan there in desperation to have territory to call his own. It always ended bloody.

“You’re exiling me.”

“Nobody who matters will see it that way.”

There was only one silver lining that Dirk could see. A small group like the Crimmons Clan would be hurting for capable fighters, maybe enough to let Maddock join the fold. If Dirk could find him.

“You said there were other offers?”

“One,” Cyrus said. “Marlow Tenwick is still searching for a mate for Alex.”

Dirk groaned. “That woman is a bitch on wheels.”

Alexandra Tenwick was Marlow’s second-born child, his only daughter. He was a member of the most powerful clan on the East Coast. The two clans never got along well. The Greenwoods tried to stay close to nature. They built their clan compound in forests just north of Los Angeles. The Tenwicks didn’t even pretend to enjoy nature. They preferred the concrete jungles of Manhattan.

Sam Crimmons might save Maddock from exile after Dirk sired a cub or two to secure the line. Not Marlow Tenwick. Marlow didn’t need bodies; he needed to bolster his clan’s status. His grandson ascending to Alpha of the Greenwoods was a fine way to do that. Bringing the disgraced heir apparent into the fold was not.

Either match would secure Cyrus an heir of decent stock. Either match would be hell for Dirk.

“If I don’t want either of them?”

Cyrus’s expression hardened. “You can choose one of the mates I’ve selected for you, or you can join your brother.”

A bride or banishment. Marriage or death.

“How long do I have?”

“I’m making an announcement during the mid-ceremony address. You have until then to decide which announcement I make.”

Dirk didn’t remember the walk to his bedroom being so long. He hadn’t dared to hope he would ever find his true mate. Fated matches were a rare thing in the clans, where political alliances depended on mate selections. His parents weren’t fated mates, and their marriage was strong. But he had hoped to have more of a say in who he married.

He should have been grateful. A second son was never guaranteed the right to mate or have cubs. It was the Alpha’s decision, usually rooted in politics. Dirk knew that.

Only one person would understand what it was like to be blindsided by Cyrus Greenwood. Only one person would care.

Dirk reached for his cell phone and fired off a single text message. Maybe this time, Maddock would answer.

Where are you? We need to talk.

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