Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1) (10 page)

BOOK: Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1)
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“And a fill up on pump four,” she said.

The clerk nodded. He was an old man, his face weathered and wrinkled by the California sun. No need to worry about the bill now. She had more money than she’d make in six months tucked into the pocket of her jeans. The question was, what to do with it.

The practical thing would be to sink it into the bakery and pray business picked up enough to distract her. Turn her doomed encounter with the Greenwoods into an opportunity. Keep going.

But a part of her, a larger part than she would ever admit to anyone, wanted to sell everything and take off for the East Coast. She didn’t know where the Tenwicks lived, but with Alex’s fancy clothes, New York was a safe bet. She could find Dirk again. Even in a city of a few million people, they would feel one another. Marlow Tenwick couldn’t touch her. What did she have to fear?

“Isn’t none of my business,” the clerk said as he passed the card back to her. “But if he makes you cry like that, he don’t deserve you.”

Rachel nodded, but she didn’t believe it. She wished she could, but there was a simple truth of her life that she’d let herself go blind to, one constant that she had let his strong but gentle arms push from her mind. She’d almost let herself believe she belonged there. With him, in his arms.

But Rachel Simmons was an outcast.
Happily so
, she thought as she looked at herself in the rearview mirror. And love was the place she fit least of all. For her, it just wasn’t meant to be.

12

D
irk tossed
a sweater into his gym bag, hanger and all. Most of his clothes were already packed, though he’d had to shoo Ana away three times already. He didn’t want her hovering. He just wanted to finish the process and get moving.

Marlow and Alexandra left the Greenwood compound hours after Rachel, just long enough to make sure Dirk didn’t chase after her, and to hammer out the details of the clan transfer. The subject of his living expenses was simple enough. He was a rich man and he preferred to pay his own way given the chance. Alexandra’s eyes lit up when Dirk quoted his net worth. Too bad for her, Marlow rescinded the marriage agreement. Something about Dirk being unworthy to succeed him. Alexandra would have to find a new match, and Dirk would spend the rest of his life serving that man’s whims.

There were a few other details to agree to, but Marlow decided to deal with them in New York, while Dirk was in Tenwick territory.

All that was left was to condense his entire life into three suitcases. That task he had to do alone. It wasn’t hard; Marlow demanded that most of his belongings be left behind. Including the one that meant the most to him.

He couldn’t feel Rachel anymore. The warmth of her presence faded over the day, replaced by a gnawing emptiness that shot through his gut and up into his head. Part of him knew it didn’t really exist, that it was just the emotional bond he’d form with Rachel making itself known, but the longer he spent away from her the worse he felt.

Get used to it
, he told himself. This is the price he had to pay to keep her safe. He couldn’t back out now.

Dirk heard heavy footsteps approach his room and smiled for the first time in what felt like days. Maddock flung open the door. Once when they were kids, Dirk had demanded everyone in the house knock before they came in his room. Miranda was the only one that obliged. Cyrus let Dirk know in no uncertain terms that this was his house and he was Dirk’s Alpha. There was nothing Dirk owned that wasn’t also his.

Maddock’s refusal was gentler. The elder Greenwood son would be Alpha someday, after all, and if the current Alpha wouldn’t listen, then why should he? But he found ways to respect Dirk’s privacy anyway. He stomped down the hall so that Dirk knew he was coming.

“Hey, little brother,” Maddock said. He flung himself onto the bed, right on top of Dirk’s suitcases. “How’s the packing?”

“Better before you sat on my clothes. If you came to help, don’t bother.”

“Just came to check on you. How are you doing?”

Dirk picked up a T-shirt from his bed and the scent of lavender mingled with orange oil hit his nostrils. His gut churned harder, but his bear stayed quiet. He didn’t think it was dead; his senses still felt too sharp, but that part of him went into hibernation again when Rachel left.

He sat down on the bed and held the T-shirt in his hands. “I’m moving across the country with a clan who hates my guts and I’ve been forbidden from contacting my mate. How do you think I’m doing?”

Maddock didn’t have a response for that. Dirk wanted to take some satisfaction in leaving his brother speechless, but nothing seemed worth enjoying anymore. Better to focus on the soft cotton in his hands and drink in as much of the smell as he could before it faded.

“The first day is the hardest,” Maddock said. “After that, being away from her will be easier. It will never be good, but it doesn’t eat at you as much.”

Dirk raised his eyebrow and looked over his shoulder. Maddock twirled a small white handkerchief between his fingers.

“Are you serious? You found a mate?”

“Lightning struck twice, I guess.” Maddock tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket and shrugged.

“Then why the hell are you here? Why aren’t you with her?” Dirk couldn’t imagine ever leaving Rachel by choice.

“The truth? I had some big idea about challenging Cyrus. Snapping that Alpha spot right out from under him.”

Dirk snapped to his feet. If Maddock claimed the Alpha position, he could overrule Cyrus. He could revoke the deal with Marlow Tenwick and give Dirk the right to claim Rachel.

“What the hell are you waiting for?”

Maddock shook his head. “She wouldn’t want this. All the ceremony. The duty. Trading off family like they’re cattle. She’d hate it here, Dirk. And she’d hate me for forcing her into this life.”

“Yeah but you’d be Alpha, you could change things.”

“She wouldn’t see it that way, and I love her too much to force something on her that would make her unhappy. Nobody should understand that better than you.”

The spark of hope drained from Dirk as quickly as it had appeared. He flopped down into his office chair. Of course Maddock couldn’t save him, and Dirk couldn’t ask. No reason for both of them to risk losing their mates. Not when all Maddock had to do was hop a plane back to wherever he lived.

“I’m sorry, little brother. If it was just me…” Dirk didn’t need him to finish the sentiment. If it was just him, he would have done whatever it took to protect Dirk’s mate. But he had a mate of his own to consider now.

Dirk laughed. “Who would have thought, Maddock Greenwood putting someone else first for a change. Cyrus would be proud.”

“Hell, no. Cyrus would hate her. She’s too mouthy for him.” Maddock pushed himself to a sitting position. He had a few inches on Dirk, but the difference in height between the bed and the chair tipped the balance in Dirk’s favor. “I’m not doing this for him. And you shouldn’t be going with Tenwick for him either.”

“I’m not doing it for him. I’m doing it for Rachel.”

“Really? Because from where I’m sitting, it’s a bad deal. Even if the Tenwicks don’t kill her, and that’s a big if, do you honestly think she’ll be happy if she has to spend her life away from you?”

“She’ll be alive.” Dirk clung to that thought like a man adrift in the ocean. Whatever happened to him now and however much it hurt, Rachel would live.

“Nothing will ever be the same for either of you. Nothing’s ever going to feel right. She’ll try to move on. She’ll fake it, and she may even be good at it. She might get married, have a few kids. But she’ll always know it’s a lie. Nothing will ever feel right.”

“Stop it!” Dirk sank lower into his chair. Of course Rachel would marry. She was beautiful, smart, and sexy. The kind of woman men wanted even if they were too vain or proud to admit it. But he didn’t want to think about what her life would look like without him.

“If you can’t stand to hear it, how are you going to handle it when it actually happens?” Maddock stood and placed a comforting hand on Dirk’s shoulder.

Dirk had no response. No defense. He hadn’t even given Rachel the chance to decide what she wanted. That wasn’t the way he wanted to treat his mate. That was the way Cyrus did things.

“So I’m thinking,” Maddock said. “Either you don’t feel as strongly for her as you think you do, or deep down you’re just as desperate for Cyrus’s approval as you were when we were kids.”

Dirk rubbed at his face. His stubble scratched at his fingertips. There wasn’t a glimmer of doubt in his mind about his feelings for Rachel. He loved her. He wanted her. And whatever the price, he would pay it to spend his life with her, because he couldn’t stand anything less.

“What would you do?”

Maddock smiled. The same lopsided smile that Dirk saw in the mirror. “For her? Anything.”

* * *


C
yrus Greenwood
!” Dirk cried.

Sunset was only an hour away, but the heat of the day had yet to dissipate from the backyard of the compound. It lapped at his bare muscles and coated him in a thin sheen of sweat. The scent of dry grass mingled with perspiration permeated the air.

He’d come to this place, the ground where so much of his and Maddock’s blood had spilled over the years, as he always came, shirtless, shoeless, and ready. Maddock stood nearby, but this wasn’t his fight. He would only bear witness to Dirk’s triumph or defeat.

This ground had only been used for practice, simple spars with nothing at stake. But they’d known since they were boys that one day one of them would claim right of challenge. They’d been trained for it, taught to issue the challenge properly. As they would one day teach their sons.

Dirk tilted his head back. His heart raced in his chest. He reached for his bear, but again felt nothing. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t renege on a challenge once issued. And if he was ever going to earn his mate, this was a challenge he had to face.

“Cyrus Greenwood!” he cried again, his eyes fixed on the doorway into the house.

Cyrus stepped through the doorway flanked on either side by Miranda and Louis. He came prepared to fight. Shirtless and shoeless, the shifter suit of armor. His eyes flashed in annoyance as he looked at the center of the yard to greet his challenger. He blinked in surprise when he saw Dirk at the center of the yard. It was the first time in years Dirk had seen Cyrus surprised by anything.

Dirk pointed at Cyrus and beckoned him, the formal motion of challenge.

If he didn’t know better, Dirk would say that Cyrus looked pleased as he stepped off the porch and down into the yard.

“First blood?” Cyrus asked as he took position in front of Dirk.

Dirk shook his head. “Alpha rite is last man standing.” He slid into a fighting stance.

Cyrus shook his head and clasped his hands behind his massive back. “That right belongs to the first son.”

“Who has graciously declined it,” Maddock said.

Cyrus glanced at Maddock, then back at Dirk. Was he considering the rules? Was he trying to find a loophole to forbid the challenge?

The Alpha unclasped his hands. They hung limp at his sides. “Is she really worth all this?”

“We both are,” Dirk said.

Cyrus roared, as a giant grizzly bear seemed to rip its way out of him. He fell forward on his front paws. His honey-colored eyes fixed on Dirk.

“The rite of challenge has been issued,” Miranda said. “Does the Alpha accept?”

Cyrus tilted his snout toward the ground.

“Does the challenger accept?”

Dirk nodded. He wanted to look at his mother to reassure her, but he didn’t dare take his eyes off of the bear. Dirk was still a human man, with a human man’s reflexes, too slow to counter when the grizzly rammed into him. Dirk rammed his fist into the grizzly’s ribs. The massive beast groaned and reared up, giving Dirk just enough time to scramble away.

Dirk called for his grizzly. Nothing. His heart pounded in his chest. His bear was at least as strong as Cyrus’s, but much faster. With his grizzly, he had a chance to win this fight. Without it…

Cyrus roared and charged at Dirk again. His massive head sank painfully into Dirk’s stomach and knocked the air from his lungs. Fortunately, the momentum sent him sprawling across the lawn. Damn it, he had to be faster than this. He couldn’t take another tackle like that. He needed his bear. Again he reached for it. Again, nothing.

Dirk flipped to his feet. He had to keep moving, light and easy. Cyrus reared back on his hind legs. As a grizzly, he towered over Dirk. Well over eight feet and nearly one thousand pounds of raging muscle. Dirk dodged and caught Cyrus around the neck.

The muscles of his arms bulged as he fought to keep the grizzly in a headlock. Years of cardio and mock challenges kept Dirk in the kind of shape that any man would envy, but he didn’t stand a chance against the massive wall of muscle hidden beneath Cyrus’s chocolate-brown fur. Cyrus shook his head from side to side, flinging Dirk aside as if he weighed nothing. He tumbled to the grass, pain shooting through his right side where his full weight came down on his shoulder.

Again, he climbed to his feet. Cyrus stared at Dirk as he rubbed his tender shoulder. Even without a word, Dirk could read the meaning in his gaze.
I always told you never start a fight you can’t win
. Dirk expected to see anger in those eyes, or annoyance, but there was neither. In fact, there was a kind of sadness as if the Alpha regretted the situation.

Dirk stared right back into Cyrus’s round, pale brown eyes, renewing his wordless challenge.

“I can beat you,” Dirk said.

Cyrus reared back on his hind legs again, but this time he swiped his massive paws at Dirk. Each paw was bigger than Dirk’s head, tipped with razor-sharp claws. Cyrus batted Dirk from side to side between his paws. The claws left jagged wounds in Dirk’s chest that trickled blood. The force of the blows rattled Dirk’s head, leaving him dizzy.

He collapsed to his knees as the world spun around him. Adrenaline pounded through his veins and bile welled in his mouth. Dirk flopped over onto his stomach as Cyrus bore down on him. He shielded his face and neck with his arms just as the Alpha clamped down.

The pressure behind those massive jaws was painful, but it was nothing compared to the teeth that sank into Dirk’s forearms, shredding muscle in their wake. He knew what happened next, but the pain that shot through him as Cyrus wrenched his neck back and forth, tossing Dirk around like a rag doll, was a on a level he’d never known.

It was all over. He’d never see his mate again. Never hold her close to him, feel her heart beat in time with his. He’d never savor her scent again.

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