Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1) (6 page)

BOOK: Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1)
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7

R
achel scrambled
to her feet as the giant bears roared at each other. The smaller bear that had been Cass stared at Dirk as if he was surprised to see him change. That made two of them. The black bear lunged at her, but the grizzly tackled him to the ground. The grizzly, Dirk, threw a look at Rachel over his massive fur-covered shoulder. Even in the dim light of the moon, the meaning was unmistakable. Run. Now.

She pumped her legs for all they were worth. Two man-bears were in the middle of an all-out brawl behind her, and she didn’t want to stay around to find out who won. Not even if she’d spent the last half hour with her lips locked to one of them.

In seconds, she burst through the tree line fifty feet away from her van. Rachel ran for it, tugging her keys out of her coat pocket. She slammed the door and locked it behind her. Could a locked car door keep out a full-sized bear? Even if it could, the windshield and window wouldn’t. Visions of her own bloody death flashed before her eyes.

Reason told her that she should just start the van and drive away, but that meant leaving Dirk behind.

The snarls from beyond the tree line stopped abruptly, leaving Rachel in silence. For the first time, it occurred to Rachel that Dirk might not win the fight. He was strong, but could he fight off Cass’s rage? A man approached the tree line, but Rachel couldn’t see his face in the shadows. One of them was headed for the parking lot, but Rachel couldn’t tell which one.

She shoved the key into the ignition and turned it. Dirk lunged out of the trees and ran in front of Rachel’s van, holding his hands out. He was naked and covered in blood and scratches, but he was alive.

He limped over to his car and tugged the door open, pulling out a black gym bag. Rachel averted her eyes as he pulled out a pair of shorts. A few minutes ago, Dirk’s naked body would have sent shivers of desire through her body. But this was wrong on so many levels. He reached for the door to Rachel’s van and found it locked.

“Open the door, Rachel.” He leaned against the door, exhaustion evident on his bloodstained face.

Rachel shook her head. She’d just seen him turn into a giant bear. That at least warranted a few questions. “What are you?”

He sighed. If she didn’t know better, she’d say he was about to collapse where he stood. “I’m the same guy I was twenty minutes ago. You just know a bit more now.”

Rachel stared at him. He looked the same, blood aside. His eyes were still the same vibrant hazel they’d been earlier in the night. Gentle, if weary. His hair was mussed and dried leaves clung to it. But otherwise, he looked like the same man she’d spent the evening with. The same man who’d shared a quiet story with her earlier in the night. The same man she’d had the hots for since she met him. She unlocked the door.

“Drive,” he said as he buckled his seatbelt.

She didn’t need to be told twice. Rachel slammed her foot on the gas pedal and peeled away from the parking lot. Dirk pressed his fingers against the angry claw marks in his abdomen.

“Where’s the hospital up here? All the ones I know are in the city.”

Dirk shook his head as his eyelids sank. “No hospitals. I’ll be fine.”

She wanted to argue, but his tone didn’t leave room for it. There didn’t seem to be much blood coming from his wounds, but they looked deep and probably needed stitches.

“You killed him, didn’t you?” she asked. The question hung in the empty space between them. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the truth. She already suspected, but it was another thing to have suspicions confirmed.

“It was you or him, Rachel.”

She knew he was right. Cass’s rage-distorted face was etched in her memory. He’d spat the word “human” at her as if she were made of dirt. As if she wasn’t worth the time it would take to kill her, but he’d spare the seconds anyway. Deep down, she knew that if Dirk hadn’t turned into a bear to defend her, she would be dead.

The last scrap of adrenaline leeched from her bloodstream and she started to tremble. At the beginning of the night, all she’d wanted was to lose herself in a fantasy, then head home for a warm bath. The fantasy slipped into a nightmare that almost ended with her dead beside a mountain lake.

Dirk caressed her arm with his strong hand. “I’m sorry you found out this way,” he whispered.

Tears spilled down her cheeks as she drove. “Why can you do that? The bear. Why can you turn into a bear?”

“I just can. Sometimes.” He slid his hand up her shoulder and caressed her cheek, wiping away the track of tears. “I bet you didn’t count on a knight in furry armor.” Rachel couldn’t see Dirk’s face in the darkness, but she could hear the smile in his voice.

She chuckled. “That was bad, even for you.”

“It got you laughing, didn’t it?” He groaned in pain.

“We should really get you to a hospital. It’s not like we’d have to explain much. I bet bear attacks are common up here.”

“Not as much as you’d think, but I’m fine. It’s healing already.” The exhaustion returned to his voice, and the hand that caressed her cheek fell away.

“Dirk? You know dying after kissing a woman is horrible manners.”

“I’ll be fine. I promise,” he whispered. “Just get us to a motel. I can rest there.”

Rachel nodded and continued down the two-lane road. She didn’t need Dirk to tell her why he wanted to go to a motel. He couldn’t go home with Cyrus looking for him. Her apartment would be the next place they looked. They’d made a deal for twenty-four hours, but Rachel had known then that Cyrus wouldn’t keep it. At best, he would give her twelve hours, which left eight until anyone started looking for them.

She slid her hand into her pocket and pulled out her phone. They had one chance to throw Cyrus and whomever else he sent off their trail. Only one person could talk Cyrus into backing off. Rachel could only hope that Miranda Greenwood was more honest than her husband.

* * *

T
wo hours crawled
by with no word from Miranda. Rachel leaned forward and winced at the corresponding creak of the vinyl-upholstered armchair. Miranda’s lack of response might not mean anything or it might mean that her attempts to reason with Cyrus had failed. Rachel’s heel bounced away from the floor rhythmically as she reviewed her options. If Miranda couldn’t keep up her end of the deal, then Cyrus would come after them. Rachel’s gut told her that Cyrus was the last person she wanted on her ass. She’d pressed the vinyl armchair against the only door to the room, hoping it would reinforce the flimsy door if someone tried to kick it in. Bounty hunters played rough.

A thousand questions swirled in her brain, and only one person could answer them: Dirk. But he’d collapsed on the cheap, king-size bed shortly after they arrived, and he hadn’t woken up since.

Dirk’s quiet moan pulled Rachel from her thoughts. The claw marks on his stomach slowly healed before Rachel’s eyes. Now, there were only faint pink scratches in his tanned flesh. It was as if her eyes, having always shown her the true world before now, refused to present the information correctly.

Dirk pushed himself into a sitting position. For a long time, he said nothing, just stared at her. The warm, dim light of the room cast shadows on his muscles, making them seem larger.

She wanted to go to him. Crush her lips against his. Let him use his lips and hands to convince her that everything would be all right. The world had seemed so right the last time she kissed him. Before Cass ripped a hole in her view of the world. Before she learned that monsters were real, and living in Los Angeles. Rachel braced her hands against the arm of the chair. Sooner or later they had to talk.

“What are you?” Rachel wrapped her arms around herself, as if the support would cushion her from the blow of his words.

“I’m a shifter,” he said. “There are people like me; you saw a lot of them at the masquerade. You just didn’t know it.”

That much she knew. It didn’t seem likely that there were only two shifters in the world.

“Only bears?” she asked.

He pulled his legs up on the bed and crossed them in front of him. “Some can turn into wolves. Some can turn into panthers or tigers. I can turn into a bear.”

Rachel nodded, and tried to process the information. Hearing him say the words gave the situation a heavy finality. But it was information, and that gave her a foundation to cling to in this strange new world.

“What about Cyrus? Miranda?” she asked.

He nodded. The slight movement made his abs ripple under the light. Rachel struggled to tear her eyes away from them. “Them too,” he said.

“Louis is a rat, right? I mean he can turn into a rat?”

Dirk laughed. The sound cut through the heavy air in the room. “A mountain lion, actually.”

She scoffed. “Pretty twitchy for a mountain lion.”

A distinct look of relief cross Dirk’s face. “You’re taking this better than I thought you would.”

“If you’d told me you could do…that...when I first met you, I’d have said you were crazy. But seeing it…” She leaned forward and raked her fingers through her hair. The banter came so easily, and the urge to kiss him followed.
Not yet.
There were things she needed to know. Details to bring the picture into focus.

“Why did you run?” she asked. “Was it the stuff you were telling me by the lake?”

“Yes…and no. Cyrus gave me a choice. Marry or go to the unclaimed territory.”

“Marry Alexandra?” Even the bitch’s name made the hair on Rachel’s neck stand on end. “So you were headed for the unclaimed territory? Whatever that is.”

“Natural bears are solitary; human bears can’t afford to be for the most part. We live in family groups. Clans. The clans stake out territory along the coasts, but nobody claims the middle.”

“So he sends you to the unclaimed parts to plant a flag in his name.” The words tasted like bile in Rachel’s mouth. She’d known Cyrus was a son of a bitch, but treating his own child like a pawn was a level of awful that she hadn’t thought anyone was capable of.

“Or die trying,” Dirk whispered. He pushed himself back along the cheap duvet and braced his back against the fake headboard glued to the wall. “When you found me at the lake, I was about to leave.”

The words stung more than they should have. Twenty-four hours ago she’d never even heard of Dirk Greenwood, but the fact that he was going to disappear from her life forever made her heart clench in her chest. “I sent Miranda a photo to prove I found you. She’s supposed to use it to make Cyrus back off, but he won’t.”

“No, he won’t.”

“You’ve got about six hours to get out. By then Cyrus will have sent another tracker after you.”

Dirk shook his head. “It’s not that simple. They’ll check the lake. They’ll find Cass’s body.”

“They’ll find a body mauled by a bear.” Rachel was sure she’d heard stories about bear attacks. Bears were moving into human areas more and more. The punishing drought strangled their food supply and forced them to find other sources.

“That’ll fool a human, but not a shifter. Trust me, he’ll send a shifter. And then they’ll have your scent.”

Rachel’s heart raced in her chest. “What do I have to do with anything?”

“Humans aren’t meant to know about us, Rachel. I can’t leave while you’re in danger. I’m not sure I can leave you at all.”

She rubbed her temples to keep the growing headache at bay. “This isn’t my fight. I don’t—”

He pushed himself to his feet and knelt in front of her, resting his hands against her knees. “I know you’ve felt it too, Rachel. When we’re together you must have felt it.” The confidence he’d had only a moment ago was completely gone from his voice. The now-familiar warmth spread from his fingers up her thighs.

“I don’t know what I feel,” she whispered as he caressed her. She could almost see the glowing warmth creeping up her leg. It had almost reached the bend of her hip now.

“There 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.

Dirk leaned forward to claim her lips. The kiss was sweet, at first, but then grew hotter, more insistent. He swept her from the chair into his lap, without breaking the kiss.

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