Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1) (5 page)

BOOK: Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1)
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Dirk caught her wrist as she turned. “My world? Woman, my world is a lifetime serving one man’s whims. It’s constant training for a battle that never comes. It’s pot shots and blind swipes. It’s being raised to serve a brother who’ll never claim the throne.” He clenched his empty fist. His arms trembled.

“What are you talking about?”

“There’re things you don’t know about me, Rachel. Things…things I can’t explain.” He lifted her wrist and pressed her hand against his heart. “But I promise you, I never pretended with you.”

Rachel looked up into his eyes. She could feel his heartbeat through the thin flannel shirt. It thumped beneath her hand in a familiar rhythm, though she’d never known it before. Her own heart slowed to match it. For a moment she had an overwhelming urge to press her face against his firm chest and let her ears hear what her hand felt.

“Who’s Alexandra Tenwick?” she asked.

Dirk’s eyes softened. “She’s my father’s way of making me useful.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Dirk.”

He nodded and lifted a hand to cup her cheek. “I know it doesn’t, but I can’t tell you any more.”

Warmth spread through her skin where his hand touched her. She leaned into the touch. It felt too good not to.

Dirk pressed his hand against the small of her back and pulled her closer. “Why did you take the picture?”

“For Miranda. She just wanted proof that I found you.”

“Before you take me back?” Dirk leaned forward and ran his lips along the line of Rachel’s jaw.

“No, she told me to let you go.” His touch was intoxicating, but it also made Rachel realize what was holding her to the lake. It was Dirk. Everything about him made her want to stay there with him.

He tilted her head and pressed his perfect lips against hers. His lips were soft and full, a drastic yet attractive contrast to the sharp angle of his jaw. The firm hand that cradled her cheek slid back to grasp the back of her neck, and as he moved his face and brushed his lips against hers.

She moaned, opening her mouth to give him access as he pulled their bodies closer. The warmth of his body radiated over Rachel as she melted against him. Yes, this was a moment she wanted to hold on to.

But it was all wrong. She wasn’t at the lake to fall for Dirk. Every reason why it was the worst idea in the world flooded through her mind, and Dirk’s lips and gently probing tongue blasted every one of them away.

He snaked his arm around her waist and lifted her from the ground as if she weighed nothing. She hadn’t been kissed like this in years, maybe ever in her life. It was passionate. It was amazing. It was everything she wanted. Right up until she tugged on the zip cuff to close it around Dirk’s massive wrist.

6

T
he scent
of pine wafted up to Dirk’s nostrils as he crushed a cone beneath his heavy foot. Rachel tried her best to guide him through the dense forest around Lake Gregory, and he tried his best not to laugh as she pulled him by his wrist.

She had no way of knowing it, but a grizzly didn’t go anywhere he didn’t want. In the few hours since his bear woke, Dirk’s senses had heightened beyond where they had been before his bear had disappeared. Even at arm’s length, he could smell her lavender shampoo and a faint hint of cheap coffee. He could still feel the sensation of her delicious lips against his. She tasted like brown sugar and cream. He wanted more. He needed more. But he only had a two-hour car ride to convince her to trust him.

Well, a two-hour car ride, and however long it took for her to realize that she was dragging him through the forest in the wrong direction. She’d taken the correct path away from the lake into the tree line, but a few feet into the dense woods, she’d curved slightly in the wrong direction. Now they walked parallel to the parking lot. He could have told her, but then she would get him back to the city faster. In the city, they’d be separated. And he didn’t want that. Not yet. She would notice on her own soon enough.

Rachel gasped as her foot collided with a tree branch for the third time on their walk and she was sent sprawling. Dirk caught her around the waist as gently as he could and set her back on her feet. He smiled as he heard her heart race at the contact.

“You didn’t think this through, did you?” He lifted his left hand, still zip-tied to her right wrist. “The whole capture and return thing.”

She shot him a look of contempt and continued tugging him in the wrong direction. “Are you really going to tease me while you’re tied to my wrist?”

“Good point. What happened to taking a picture and leaving me be?” he asked.

“That was Miranda’s plan. Cyrus would never agree to it and he’s the one that signs my check.”

A swell of pride rose in Dirk’s chest at her cleverness. Dirk shrugged and let his eyes drift over her curves. Their kiss was amazing, at least in his estimation. Better than any he’d had in years, and a damn sight more fulfilling. Then she’d ruined the whole thing by handcuffing him. By all rights, he should be pissed, but then his mate was chained to him, and he couldn’t manage to do anything but take it in while he still could. And try to keep her from falling over.

When he left the Masquerade, he wasn’t sure where he intended to go. He just needed time away from everyone to figure out what to do. The clear mountain air had done wonders. As he stood beside the still water, everything seemed so simple. To hell with who or what he’d been before. What did it matter? He’d found his mate, and nothing on earth could make him give her up. Let Cyrus banish him, if it meant he could keep Rachel.

He could move farther south, to start. The edges of Cyrus’s territory extended into Orange County, but he rarely defended it that far south. As a clan-less shifter, Dirk could have anonymity if he was careful. More than that, he wouldn’t be bound by Cyrus’s orders anymore.

That would buy him enough time to court Rachel properly. It might not even take long. He could tell from the way her heart raced when he touched her. She felt the same pull toward him that he felt toward her. She just didn’t know what it meant.

“What exactly is the plan?” Dirk spotted another tree root. This time, he lifted Rachel off of her feet before she tripped over it.

She yelped softly as her feet lost contact with the ground. “The plan is get you back to the city and get my money from Cyrus.”

“That’s it?” he asked, pulling her closer to him. God, he wanted her, but he couldn’t rush this. A shifter would know about fated love and natural mates, but as a human, Rachel would not. “You could have gotten that from my mother.”

Rachel squirmed in his arms. “She’s too nice. Cyrus would overrule her the second he found out about our deal.”

“I knew you were smart.” He tilted his face toward her just a bit. “But there’s two problems. One, my parents won’t be in the city anymore. Cyrus would never deviate from his schedule. They’ll be at the house with the VIPs.”

He set his mate back down on her feet, reluctantly.

“So I’ll take you there instead.” Rachel nodded her head in resolution. Dirk couldn’t help but smile at the adorable action.

“Which brings me to the second problem,” he said. “How are you going to drive?”

“I brought my van. You can send someone to pick up your car.”

“I can. But how are you going to drive curvy mountain roads in a van like this?” Dirk held up the wrist that was bound to his.

Rachel’s expression shifted from confusion, to realization, to horror in a matter of seconds as she realized that driving the winding mountain roads was impossible, and the size of the van meant she and Dirk would be separated by a foot. He watched her screw her lips up and to the left as she tried come up with a way to get him back to the city without unhooking him. Dirk couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Enjoying being handcuffed to a beautiful woman in the middle of the forest? Show me a man who wouldn’t.”

Rachel leaned against the trunk of the nearest pine tree. “You’re right. I’m horrible at this.”

Dirk felt a twinge of regret in his chest. He didn’t mean for his teasing to make her feel bad. But it provided a lesson. When his mate felt bad, so did he. “I wouldn’t say that. You did manage to get a man nearly twice your size handcuffed. The kiss was an inventive touch.”

“You kissed
me
,” she said. “Don’t blame me because you regret it now.”

He raised an eyebrow and stepped closer to her, trapping her body between his and the tree trunk, and reached down to run a finger along the curve of her jaw. By the moonlight, he could see her full lips. “Who says I regret it?” he whispered.

She gazed up at him through her eyelashes. “Then why are you complaining?”

He leaned close, stopping just before his lips brushed against hers. “I’m only complaining about the way it ended.”

This time, Rachel broached the distance between them. She gasped as their lips met and she wrapped her free arm around his waist. The small motion granted him access, but he didn’t take it. This time, she would set the pace. If she wanted him, on any level, it would be the only push he needed. She rewarded his patience by sliding her soft tongue over his lips.

“Dirk?” she asked as she finally pulled away. “You knew I was walking in the wrong direction, didn’t you?”

The smell hit Dirk before he could respond. Cologne mixed with the odor of musty fur. The unmistakable smell of a shifter. He grasped Rachel’s handcuffed wrist and pivoted so that his body blocked hers from view.

If the other shifter was close enough for Dirk to smell, he was close enough to hear them. He’d only just found Rachel, and he wasn’t going to let anyone hurt her.

“Let me handle it,” he whispered.

* * *

R
achel peeked
around Dirk’s arm in confusion. Their first kiss had been amazing, but she’d ruined it. Whoever ruined this one would face her wrath. But something about the way Dirk shielded her from view made her nervous. What had he heard that she hadn’t? She placed a hand on the back of his arm, more for her comfort than his.

At first, she heard only the sound of her own breathing. Then the leaves ruffled and a man emerged from the darkness. She recognized him immediately as the man from the twisted family meeting she’d been summoned to, the one so eager to get his hands on Dirk.

The man grinned like a bully who’d just found his favorite victim, but his tone was polite. “Going for a stroll, Greenwood? We’re waiting for you back at the big house.”

“And they sent you as a messenger?” he asked. “I know the way to my own house, Cass.”

From the small gap between Dirk’s arm and body, Rachel saw that Cass had ditched the tuxedo coat. He’d rolled the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his elbows to reveal his massive, rope-veined forearms. What had possessed him to come this far into the forest in dress pants?

“Doesn’t look like it,” Cass said. “Come on, Alex is waiting for you.”

Rachel’s breath caught in her throat at the reminder of Dirk’s fiancée. She’d forgotten that the man who kissed her deeply enough to make her toes curl wasn’t available. She glared at Dirk’s broad back.

“I’ll be there when I get there, but not to see Alex. I haven’t committed to anything yet,” Dirk said.

“I can see that. Is that the bounty hunter-turned-baker I see back there?” Cass laughed. “She handcuffed you? Brilliant!”

“Leave it alone, Cass,” Dirk warned.

Rachel stepped out from behind Dirk. Whatever he’d been worried about wasn’t happening, and she could handle a smart-mouthed rich kid. The sooner she got herself unhooked from Dirk the better. Cass’s gaze moved over their tied wrists and he doubled over laughing.

“Come on, I’ll untie you,” he said as he closed the distance between the three of them and reached for Rachel’s wrist.

Dirk growled and jerked their hands away with such force that Rachel nearly lost her footing again. “I said leave it alone!” He planted his massive hand against Cass’s chest and shoved him backward.

Cass stumbled backward several steps and tilted his head in confusion. Then realization settled over his features. He looked from Dirk to Rachel and back, sniffing the air. The smile on his face melted into a sneer.

“You’re rejecting my sister… for a human?” Cass spat.

Dirk wrapped his arm around Rachel’s waist protectively. “This isn’t your business, Cass.”

Something about the roughness in Cass’s voice made the hair on Rachel’s neck stand up. His chest heaved as he glared at Rachel, and it took every ounce of courage she had not to shrink out of sight behind Dirk.

“Unhook him,” Cass said.

Rachel shook her head. “No way. If you take him in instead of me, Cyrus will cut me out again.”

Dirk may have been an amazing kisser. He may have made her heart race and her knees weaken. But he was still part of a job. One that Rachel increasingly regretted taking.

Cass’s glare shifted to Dirk and remained there as he ripped open his dress shirt.

Dirk tried to slide his wrist through the zip cuff, but the plastic remained tight. “Rachel, unhook me,” he demanded.

She stared at Cass. Was he really going to throw a punch? That seemed like overkill. Dirk ripped at the zip tie again, his movements fierce yet precise. “Unhook me!”

“You don’t stand a chance, Greenwood,” Cass spat.

Rachel slipped her hand into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out her knife. She looked back at Cass as he howled in pain. Something wasn’t right. Even in the dim light of the moon, Rachel saw his jaw grow lower and longer as the shape of his head rounded. The hair on his body thickened before her eyes until it seemed to explode in a puff of fur that covered every inch of Cass.

No, it was not Cass. A black bear fell forward onto its front paws where Cass once stood.

“Rachel!” Dirk growled. “Stay back.”

She wanted to move, but she couldn’t. Didn’t they tell people to stay still if they saw a bear? Her mind reeled as it tried to process how the pissed-off man could turn into a bear. She cursed herself for not bringing mace or a taser with her. Would those even work on a bear, or just piss him off more?

In one swift motion, Rachel cut the plastic link and released them both. The change in weight distribution pushed Rachel off balance and she fell backward, just as the giant bear swiped at her. The pocketknife slipped from her fingers and tumbled into the dirt.

Dirk moved in front of her, blocking the bear from her view. His shoulders and the muscles in his back tensed and relaxed rhythmically. He looked over his shoulder at her.

“Run,” he snarled, pointing in the direction of the parking lot. “Don’t look back.”

With that, Dirk stepped toward Cass. The muscles in his back tensed again, but this time, the muscles and bones expanded. His skin split into a coat of fur as he morphed into a massive grizzly bear.

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