Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1) (4 page)

BOOK: Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1)
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Dirk tossed some money at the driver and grabbed his keys from the parking attendant. If he was lucky, he could be out of the city before anyone noticed he was gone. But Dirk was never lucky.

5

L
ouis took
Rachel to the Greenwood family accommodations in the penthouse at the Belmont hotel. The place was lavish; in fact, it was bigger than her and Megan’s apartment. Rachel wasn’t sure if the change of venue was designed to hide the impending conversation from prying eyes, or to remind her that Cyrus Greenwood had the money and connections to destroy her if he wanted. She’d have believed either.

An older man around Cyrus’s age stood to one side, clutching a glass of amber liquid. There were gray strands flecked through his jet-black hair, but otherwise his body was just as impressive as Dirk’s. The young woman in the gold, sparkling ball gown from the patio stood beside him. She sneered at Rachel and turned to the salt-and-pepper-haired man to whisper something.

Cyrus stood in the center of it all. He glared at Rachel, and the oppressive weight returned to her shoulders.

“This is a disaster! Not only did you fail to keep an eye on my son, but you also spent the evening drinking in the VIP bar?

“Mr. Greenwood I understand what this looks like—”

“It looks like you failed at your job on every level.”

“I don’t see how,” Rachel said. She couldn’t manage to keep the edge out of her voice. “You said to stay with your son and I did. He’s the one that left. And since he isn’t here anymore, he can’t embarrass you, himself, or your family.”

The invisible weight pushed harder against her shoulders, but she refused to sink under the weight of it. Not in front of these people.

“I assumed you had the mental faculties to realize that escorting him meant making sure he didn’t leave the building,” Cyrus spat.

“You may have assumed, but you never said. I don’t see what the big deal is. He probably found a woman he clicked with and went to show off.”

“The big deal, Miss Simmons, is that I was going to make an important announcement tonight. Dirk’s presence is absolutely essential.”

“Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now,” Rachel said.

“Don’t play games with me, Miss Simmons. I can assure you, you won’t win.” Cyrus looked over her shoulder. “Louis, have Miss Simmons’s vehicle brought around and escort her down to it.”

“What about the rest of my pay?” Rachel asked.

“I gave you two jobs, and you only completed half of either of them. You’ve been paid.”

Rachel might have dissolved into tears, but she didn’t want to give Cyrus the satisfaction of breaking her. Her mind raced. Half of the money wasn’t enough. She might barely keep her apartment, but she’d lose the business. Without the business, she’d have nothing left. She’d have to go onto the streets or back home to Seattle.

There was only one way for her to salvage the situation. “What if I made you a deal?”

“There’s nothing you have that I want, Miss Simmons.”

“What about your son?” Rachel waited for Cyrus to look at her before she continued. “I don’t have him, but I can find him.”

“I can hire professional for that.”

“I
am
a professional. I wasn’t always a baker.”

Cyrus raised an eyebrow. Good. She had his attention; all she had to do was close the deal. “Maybe you weren’t always a baker, but I hesitate to use the word ‘professional’ given your performance.”

Rachel glared right back at Cyrus. She had enough of jumping through his hoops. He could question her skill as a baker all he wanted, but not her skill as a tracker. Well, he could, but she couldn’t let him know that.

She turned on the soothing, but firm voice she always used with bail bonds clients. “Mr. Greenwood, your family knows money? Mine knows how to find people. I’ve been doing it my entire life, and I can assure you I’m very good at it.”

It was only half a lie. The blood of two generations of bail bondsman and bounty hunters flowed through her veins. Rachel’s first job was in her parents’ office running skip traces. The office side she could handle. The hunting part was where she lacked experience.

“Why would I let you work for me again?” Cyrus asked.

“Cops don’t find missing people who don’t want to be found. You could bring in another hunter, but unlike them, I’ve actually spent time with Dirk. Gotten to know how he thinks.”

The woman in the sparkling ball gown sucked her teeth. “This is ridiculous! She can’t keep up with Dirk in a hotel, but now she’s going to track him down?”

Rachel raised an eyebrow at the woman’s outburst. “I’m sorry, have we met?”

The woman tilted her chin upward. In her heels, she was nearly as tall as Dirk. “I’m Alexandra Tenwick. Dirk’s fiancée.”

A sinking feeling washed over Rachel and settled in her stomach. Here she was clicking with a man who was already attached and she hadn’t even known it. Had he ever seen her as anything other than the hired help?

The younger of the two men beside Alexandra stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. “She’s right,” he said. He turned to address the older man beside her. “Let me find him.”

The man was a few inches taller than Rachel, but Cyrus dwarfed him. He sneered down at the smaller man. “No. For now, this is a Greenwood matter. The Greenwoods will handle it.”

Rachel turned back to Cyrus. In the end, it didn’t matter that Dirk was already attached. All she’d lost was a bit of time flirting. She’d chalk it up to a fun night out, once she convinced Cyrus to hire her again.

“Give me forty-eight hours,” she said.

Cyrus stared at her in silence for a moment as he clearly weighed Rachel’s offer. “You have twenty-four.”

“I’ll see you in twenty-four hours.” Rachel turned and stalked out of the room. Her heart raced as she rushed down the hallway. Her father drilled one lesson into her head: if you want to track someone, you need to do it quickly. Every hour put another sixty miles between them and you. Maybe more, if Dirk had access to a plane.

If she hustled, she might be able to get to her computer before Dirk got too far. She started running through a list in her head of everything he’d told her. There was something about a friend at Los Angeles Magazine. Maybe they’d have an idea of where Dirk would go.

“Miss Simmons?”

The voice behind Rachel was so gentle, she forgot to be annoyed at the way it addressed her. Rachel turned to see Miranda Greenwood twisting a pale green embroidered handkerchief in her hands until the flesh of her fingers turned an angry red. Rachel stepped toward the woman and put a comforting hand on her arm.

“Mrs. Greenwood, I’ll find your son. I promise.”

“I know where he is,” she whispered.

Rachel heaved a sigh of relief at her shift of luck. “Great. Where?”

“I’ll tell you, but first you have to promise not to bring him here.”

“I just told your husband I would.”

“No, you told my husband you would find him. Cyrus wouldn’t expect you to be able to bring him back.” Her voice broke, and she brought the handkerchief up to her wet eyes.

“Mrs. Greenwood, whatever’s going on with your family, I can’t get involved. I just need your husband to pay me the money he owes. If you’ve got a better way to do that, I’m all ears.”

Miranda silently dabbed at her tears. Whatever battle Cyrus and Dirk Greenwood were locked in, she’d obviously gotten the worst of it. What must it have been like to watch the man you loved lord over the son you gave him?

Rachel squeezed Miranda’s arm and sighed. “What do you want me to do?”

“Find my son. Take a picture and send it to this number.” Miranda passed her a folded napkin. “I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Your husband?”

“I can take care of him, too.”

Rachel scrunched her lips upward as she ran through the variables in her head. She knew she couldn’t win another battle of semantics with Cyrus. The quickest way to secure the money was to find Dirk and contact Cyrus. But as she looked into Miranda’s green, water-filled eyes, it was hard to say no. Rachel sighed and nodded. “Where is he?”

“Lake Gregory.”

* * *

R
achel took
the final swig from her mega-sized coffee and tossed it to the side. The catering van’s engine revved as it crawled up the slope of the narrow country road, but she pressed it forward.

She’d driven away from the Belmont Hotel at just after ten p.m. She’d made a brief stop at her apartment to change and grab her hunting bag, which held her flashlight, pepper spray, and anything else she might need to take down a bounty. Her father had insisted she take the bag with her when she moved to Los Angeles, but this was the first time she had ever been thankful to have it. Then she stopped at a convenience store where she bought the largest coffee they had and pumped it full of cream and sugar. Both side trips, while absolutely necessary, had cost her nearly an hour thanks to weekend traffic. Mercifully, the traffic disappeared the closer she got to her destination.

Crestline was a smallish town in the National Forest about two hour’s drive north of Los Angeles. Cyrus and Miranda Greenwood raised their son there, and by Miranda’s best guess, that’s where Dirk intended to go.

“He loves that lake,” she’d said. “He’ll go there to say goodbye before he goes anywhere else.”

The small mountain town seemed like a strange place for a controlling billionaire to raise his son. But then, Cyrus was the kind of man who did whatever the hell he wanted, even if that meant in the mountains with lizards, snakes, bears, and God knew what else.

The memory of Miranda Greenwood’s tearful bargain nagged at Rachel. If she wanted to let Dirk go live his life, why hadn’t she fought that battle with her husband before? Why undercut Rachel’s assignment?

She pulled on a light jacket and flicked on her flashlight as she pushed the van door shut. The path from the parking lot to the lake was longer than she expected and grew wilder the farther she went from the parking lot. After twenty feet the tree line became so thick that she couldn’t see a path at all. Her flawed sense of direction was reason ninety-nine why she’d made a lousy bounty hunter. Her parents had been disappointed when she decided not to follow them into the family business, but not surprised.

She saw Dirk kneeling at the edge of the lake as she approached. The sight of him, even in cold, artificial light, made Rachel’s heart race. She swallowed, and tried to ignore the throbbing in her belly. She had one job, get a photo of Dirk, and then get the hell out of there. Miranda could handle the rest.

Dirk had changed clothes since Rachel had last seen him. But then jeans and a flannel probably made for better escape attire than a toga. The toga had revealed his thighs, but the jeans clung to them in delicious ways.

Focus, Rachel.

A gentle breeze blew past her. Her hair blew in her eyes, and she silently cursed herself for not remembering to tie it back. By the time she pushed the errant strands away from her eyes, Dirk had turned his head in her direction. He squinted at the glare from her flashlight.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Rachel reached for a clever lie, but found nothing. “Being the worst stalker in the history of stalkers? How’d you even hear me?”

Dirk gestured toward the beam of the flashlight. “Not exactly the best way to sneak up on someone in the dark. Could you point that somewhere else?”

Rachel angled the beam toward the ground. “Don’t run,” she said.

“Why would I run from you?”

“You ran from your fiancée,” she said. The words had more venom than she intended.

Dirk tilted his chin downward and stepped toward her. “That woman is not my fiancée. Did my father send you? I told you to lie low.”

“I tried that. Didn’t work out.” Rachel took a step toward Dirk. All she needed to do was take the photo and leave, but something held her there. “Miranda sent me.”

“Ah.” Dirk shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and shrugged. “Well, here I am, but I’m not going back. I’ve had enough posing and posturing for one night.”

“Oh, please!” Rachel hadn’t expected him to go back with her willingly, but she wasn’t in the mood for a victim routine. “You know, it’s not so much the Prince Valiant routine. I guess every guy wants to play hero once in a while. But you could have told me you were taken. And you didn’t have to pretend to like me.”

A puzzled looked crossed Dirk’s face, mixed with an emotion Rachel couldn’t identify. Was it pain? “Why are you so upset?” he asked.

“I’m not upset!” Even as she said the words, fury mixed with arousal in her blood and left her barely able to breathe.

“Rachel—” Dirk took another step toward her, nearly closing the distance entirely. He reached out to touch her face. She jerked her hand a way and took a step back, retreating from him. She couldn’t explain how, but she knew that the second he touched her, all the fury would evaporate. She needed that fury. It was the only way to get the job done.

“I get it. I don’t belong at your fancy party with your Greek costumes and your expensive scotch. Your father reminds me every time I’m in a room with him. Of all the places I don’t belong, that ball was at the top of the list. But was it really that much for me to exist in your world for one night?”

She’d had it. Screw the Greenwoods. Screw Dirk with his lopsided smile and warm voice. She didn’t need him. She didn’t need any of them. Rachel fished around in her pocket until she found her cell phone. She snapped a picture of Dirk’s face, and then turned to stomp back to her van.

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