Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1) (9 page)

BOOK: Alpha Unmasked: BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Greenwood Shifters Book 1)
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Dirk nodded again. Rachel could see the sadness in his eyes.

She didn’t know why she’d asked. Dirk and Miranda had done what they could to protect her, even Maddock had helped, but Rachel had a feeling that it was Cyrus’s word that had saved her in the living room.

“The van’s outside,” she whispered. “Let’s run for it.”

“We can’t. I don’t know what Cyrus will say tomorrow, but he won’t let Marlow kill you. That isn’t the way he handles things. If we run now, we lose that protection. I know the Tenwicks. They wouldn’t stop trying to hurt you.”

The chill returned to Rachel’s blood, but she pushed it away. “You’ll protect me.”

He hooked a finger under her chin and tilted her face upward. He looked into her eyes. “I will always protect you, Rachel.”

She pulled their bodies together and marveled at how easily the curves of her body formed to the rigid lines of his. Warmth radiated between them. It enveloped her and pushed away the haunting memory of the darkness beyond the windows. She pressed her nose against the flesh of his bare chest. He smelled of cedar, his natural smell, not the expensive cologne he’d worn at the ball. The smell was plainer, and all the more alluring.

Something about the closeness gave her courage. Or maybe it was the way he gazed down at her, even in the darkness. There was something there she couldn’t place, something she’d never before seen in the eyes of any man who looked at her. She hooked her leg around his hip, pulling him into the curve between her thighs. His hardness pressed against her, teased her through the thin cotton fabric of her panties.

Dirk leaned forward and claimed her lips. The small movement pressed her slick folds against his hardness as their bodies moved closer together. Rachel moaned, granting him access to her mouth. He caressed the moist flesh of her mouth with his soft tongue, the tongue that had savored her the night before. A small twinge of pleasure crested through her, a memory that made her cheeks flush and her heart race.

His hands slid over her body, cupping and caressing her full breasts beneath the T-shirt she’d slept in. Then his fingers moved lower, grazing her sensitive flesh as he went.

“I missed you,” he whispered.

She smiled. “It’s only been a few hours.

His hand snaked between her thighs and caressed her wet folds. She moaned and writhed under his touch.

“Longer since I’ve seen that.” He brushed her hair aside and nibbled at the tender flesh of her neck as his fingers caressed the most sensitive part of her.

Her entire body throbbed as her hand clasped his, pulling his fingers to her entrance. He slid into her easily as he kissed her again and sucked on her lower lip. She braced her feet against the bed and spread her thighs as the tide of pleasure built. Dirk pressed tender kisses to every part of her, her full cheeks, the curve of her jaw, her full breasts. But the most passionate kisses he saved for her lips, kisses that stole her breath and made her heart race. They pushed her over the edge and sent her tumbling to her release. She clung to him as wave after wave of pleasure crashed over her and the world went white.

Rachel lay panting, cradled in Dirk’s arms. She knew then that she never wanted to be anywhere else. Never wanted those arms too far away from her.

“I don’t think I could ever get sick of seeing you this way,” he said.

But there were other ways to see her. Other ways he could pleasure her and she could pleasure him. She wanted them all. Needed them all. She couldn’t stand to be separated from him for another second. Maybe it was a bear thing. Maybe it was destiny. Or maybe it was just good, old-fashioned desire.

Rachel pressed her hands against the unyielding curve of his lower back and pulled them closer together. She could still feel his straining hardness through her now-damp panties. Her hips bucked, desperate for more.

Dirk pulled back from the kiss and buried his face in the soft curve of her neck. “Rachel,” he whispered. A prayer? A cry? She didn’t know. “We can’t.”

His lips refused, but his breath came in ragged gasps and his hips moved in harmony with hers.

“Please,” she whispered. “Everyone’s asleep.” She couldn’t know for sure, but she didn’t care.

“It’s not that. If we do this, it will bind us together. You will belong to me. I’ll belong to you.”

He didn’t have to finish the thought for Rachel to understand. In all likelihood, they would be separated in the morning. Forbidden from seeing one another ever again.

Rachel looked into his eyes. She missed the hazel, but the darkness washed away all of the colors.

“I’d rather belong to you for one night than never at all.”

It was all the encouragement he needed. Dirk pulled her closer and claimed her lips again. The scent of cedar and the sweetness of his tongue intoxicated her. She was already his. What did labels and titles matter anymore?

Rachel didn’t hide the movement of her hips now. She didn’t try to keep the motions small as she slid her wetness against him, spurring him to take over. He rewarded her efforts as he shifted his body on top of hers.

He hooked his thumbs into the waistband of her thin cotton panties and tore them away, a small growl coming from his lips as the sound of ripping fabric echoed through the room. His weight settled on her as she wrapped her legs around him.

A small measure of sense flooded back to her senses. “Wait, can a human and a bear…I mean could I get…you know…pregnant? I don’t have anything.”

He smiled and caressed her cheek. “If you were anyone else, yes. But you are my mate. And this is our bonding.”

Rachel wasn’t sure if she should be relieved or disappointed. Twenty-four hours ago, she would never have considered carrying anyone’s child. Now she saw a life before her, a life with Dirk and their children. She was his mate, but only for this one night. Tomorrow would bring cold reality, the reality that she didn’t belong in his world.

With her feet, she slid his flannel pajama pants over the curve of his rear. Nothing stood between them now, nothing but their own fears.

“Rachel, I love you,” he whispered as he slid inside of her.

He rained kisses down on her as his hips pumped in an easy rhythm, sliding in and out of her deliciously. Each thrust grazed her inner folds as she clamped down around him. She wanted to feel him. Needed to feel him. She reached for his hand and entwined their fingers. Her stomach quivered as an invisible string pulled them together.

The edge was coming again. She could feel it as Dirk moved his hips more desperately and she moved hers in harmony. The edge was coming for him too. And they toppled over it together, lost in ecstasy. For the first time, maybe for the last.

She didn’t notice the tears. Not until he wiped one away with his thumb and cradled her in his arms.

“I love you, Rachel,” he whispered again.

“I love you, too.”

11

F
our rooms away
, Dirk could still feel Rachel. He’d stayed in the guest room with her as long as he could. He watched her sleep. He smoothed the tense folds on her forehead. He’d stolen a dozen or so kisses. But he didn’t dare stay with her when the world brightened outside the panel windows. Sunrise loomed, and judgment came with it.

For the first time in his life, he felt right. How funny that it came when everything was going wrong. If Cyrus found him guilty of murdering an heir, the sentence would be death, but Rachel might live. If Cyrus found him guilty of revealing his true nature to a human he might live, but Rachel would die. The best he could hope for was exile. If he kept his position in the Greenwood clan, he’d keep their protection. He’d have to leave Crestline. He’d have to leave California. But he’d have Rachel, and he had no doubt that she would follow. Their bond would pull her to him.

Whatever happened in the next few hours, he’d found his mate. And she had accepted every part of him. Most bears couldn’t say half as much, and that knowledge filled him with an odd sense of pride.

Dirk was the first to arrive in the living room. At the first meeting, he stood on the other side of the room. He could see Rachel clearly from there, but he’d hoped the distance would keep Marlow and Alexandra from noticing their growing bond. It might have worked, if Marlow hadn’t, in his wrath, tried to attack Dirk. If Marlow would attack an Alpha’s son, even the second son, at a hearing, then he might attack Rachel. Instinct had taken over. In that moment, Dirk was certain of one thing – his own life didn’t matter

Marlow and Alexandra filed into the room and took their places on the couch. Neither looked at him, but both quietly seethed. Alexandra loved Cass, but Dirk knew her well enough to know that her bruised ego magnified the pain. Marlow’s only daughter had been rejected by a lowly second son in favor of a human and his heir killed to protect said human. Dirk wondered which fact bothered Marlow more.

Maddock entered next, all smiles as if they were sitting down to a typical family meeting, and not a conclave to decide his younger brother’s fate. He clapped Dirk on the back.

“I almost forgot what it was like to be here,” he said.

“Watching your little brother wait for his effective death sentence?”

“Gallows humor?” Maddock asked.

“Call it stark realism.”

“I meant back at the compound, jerk.”

“About that. Why are you here, Maddock?”

Maddock hesitated. That was new. Maddock was always arrogant, brash. He never considered the effect his words would have, because he didn’t give a damn what anyone thought of them. It was one of many things that made him an unsuitable leader, at least in Cyrus’s eyes. Dirk, however, always found it a refreshing change from all of the ritual and ceremony that came with life in an Alpha’s family.

“I haven’t decided yet, little brother.”

Dirk raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know why you flew halfway across the country?”

“Nah, I mean…it’s complicated. There’s just something nagging at me.”

“What’s her name?”

Maddock laughed and for a second they were teenage boys again, dreaming about the day Maddock would take over.

“It’s not that,” Maddock said. “Look, when I figure it out, you’ll be the first to know.”

“Gallows humor?”

“Call it blind optimism.”

Rachel’s scent wafted to Dirk’s nose before he could comment. Lavender, with a hint of the orange oil soap his mother loved. He turned and watched her walk into the room. The urge to take her into his arms almost overwhelmed him, just as it had the day before. This time, he gave in to it. There was no point in hiding their bond anymore. Everyone in the house knew, even if they didn’t know how deep it now ran. He swept her into an embrace that lifted her feet off of the floor.

She smiled and his heart melted. He’d have given everything he owned to keep that smile there.

“What happened to playing it cool?”

“To hell with cool,” he whispered as he kissed her. The kiss was sweeter now that they’d bonded. His senses filled with lavender and orange oil.

Behind him, Alexandra made a noise of disapproval and Dirk set Rachel back on her feet, sweet and warm and calm. He’d never felt anything quite like it. Just being near her made him feel more powerful than ever before. Like nothing could touch them, not even the schemes of those around them. But he knew better.

“Then again, we wouldn’t want another scene like yesterday,” he said as he cast a sideways glance at Marlow.

Rachel took her seat in the armchair. Maddock stood on the other side. Dirk nodded thanks for the silent show of backup. If it came to a fight, he wouldn’t fight alone.

Cyrus and Miranda came into the room last. The Alpha stood in front of the fireplace in the center of the room, and his mate took her place beside and behind him. The formal stance reminded Dirk once again of the gravity of the situation.

Faint circles under their eyes told Dirk that neither of them slept the night before. At some point in the night they’d gone into the woods around the house. Dirk didn’t know what time they’d returned, only that they were both in their room as he left the guest room.

He tried to take some comfort in the fact that whatever decision Cyrus had made, it hadn’t been easy.

“Dirk Greenwood, second son of Cyrus Greenwood, you stand accused of the murder of Cass Tenwick, first born of Marlow Tenwick. I don’t take these accusations lightly. Battles among clans must be witnessed. Any shifter who would kill a brother shifter in battle without witness is little better than a rogue, and should be treated as such.”

Marlow’s chest heaved as if he wanted to interrupt Cyrus, and then thought better of it. Cyrus went silent for a moment. His eyes dared Marlow to interrupt his judgment, but the other Alpha remained silent.

Cyrus clasped his massive hands behind his back and continued. “There is only one crime I can imagine that outweighs the murder of a brother shifter. The murder of a brother shifter’s mate.”

Dirk placed a protective hand on Rachel’s shoulder. She reached up and stroked his fingers. Just that small gesture was enough to calm him. He didn’t regret killing Cass, but he wasn’t happy about it either. They were never fond of one another, and Cass had attacked first, but not even he deserved to die alone in the woods.

“I believe that the bond between Dirk Greenwood and Rachel Simmons was forged before Cass Tenwick’s death. I find that Dirk acted in defense of his mate, and that Cass’s death was justified.” Cyrus said.

Dirk released a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Rachel’s hand tightened around his. On the other side of the chair, Maddock grinned. But Marlow slapped his hand against his thigh and stood.

“This is an outrage, Greenwood!” he shouted.

Cyrus crossed the room in two steps. He stood nose-to-nose with Marlow, glowering down at him. “You know the rules, Marlow. As long as you are in my territory, you will abide by them.”

Marlow fell silent again. Satisfied, Cyrus turned to Dirk. The air above Dirk’s shoulders weighed down on him as Cyrus asserted his dominance. Whatever he wanted to say, he wanted to make damn sure everyone took it seriously.

“I never expected a son of mine to find a true mate. True mates are rare now, but even I recognize how amazing and precious that bond is.”

For a moment, Dirk allowed himself to hope. Maybe for once, Cyrus would do what was best for him, instead of what was best for the family. Maybe Cyrus would toss the rules aside and let him and Rachel stay together. Beside him, Rachel picked up on his excitement. She leaned forward in anticipation of Cyrus’s verdict.

“In a different time, or a different family, this would be cause for celebration. But this isn’t that time. And we don’t live in that world.”

The glimmer of hope Dirk felt crashed into darkness. He knew what came next, but he wouldn’t give anyone in the room the satisfaction of seeing it break him. Only one person would ever see him vulnerable again. Rachel. But for now, he needed to be strong for her sake.

“Just do it,” Dirk said.

“For taking a human as a mate, I find you in violation of Clan Greenwood laws,” Cyrus said. “But I will not force you to comply. Instead, I will give you a choice. I find you unfit for your position in my clan. You will be exiled to Clan Tenwick. There you will serve Marlow Tenwick, however he desires. If you accept your punishment without question, I will extend the full rights of protection to your mate.”

Dirk sank his teeth into his lip. “If I refuse?”

The was a change in Cyrus’s eyes, an emotion he hadn’t seen in so long he had forgotten what it meant. “For the crime of taking a human as your mate, you will be sentenced to banishment. You and your mate will receive no quarter or protection in this territory, or any other with ties to us.”

The news hit Dirk like a brick. Banishment would strip him of his name and his ties to all clans. In effect, it would make him a rogue. Not even Maddock’s sentence had been as harsh. Maddock had only been exiled. If Maddock wanted to, he could pledge himself to another clan. Dirk wouldn’t have that option. No clan would have him. Anyone who helped him or Rachel faced banishment from their own clans. He’d have a target painted on his back for every rogue to see. That is, if the Tenwicks didn’t catch up to him first.

Clans had long memories. He couldn’t hope to protect Rachel completely on his own. The knowledge that he couldn’t protect his mate gnawed at Dirk’s insides. If he asked her to go with him now, it was a death sentence.

Dirk leaned down and pressed a kiss to Rachel’s temple. He inhaled the scent of lavender and orange oil. The smell would have to last him a long time, the rest of his life. He crossed the room and stood in front of Cyrus, holding his gaze as he spoke.

“I submit to the will of the Alpha,” he said.

Maddock stared at Dirk, disbelief on his face. “What?!”

Marlow wore an expression of smug satisfaction. Why shouldn’t he? Cyrus had just made Dirk his personal whipping boy. Miranda kept her expression neutral, but Dirk knew her well enough to see the sadness etched in the corners of her eyes. Had she approved of Rachel? Had she been happy that her son had found his true mate, despite the circumstances? None of it really mattered now.

Dirk couldn’t bear to look at Rachel’s face, but he didn’t have to. He could feel the pain and confusion radiating from her.

“Dirk…” she whispered, but he didn’t dare look at her. If he did, he might crumble. If he looked into her eyes he might sweep her up in his arms and run. But he couldn’t do that. He’d sworn to protect her.

“Louis,” Cyrus said. “There’s a check for Miss Simmons on my desk. Give it to her, then see her to her car.”

Dirk’s bear became frantic as Louis guided Rachel from the room. It knew that its mate was leaving. He could hear her struggle to control her breath as the tears came.
That’s my girl
, he thought.
Don’t let them see you hurt. Don’t let them have it. For me, my love.

The bear inside Dirk roared in mourning, and then fell silent.

* * *

R
achel never thought
she’d be so grateful for midday Los Angeles traffic. She was still about an hour from her apartment if she was lucky. On another day, she would have rapped her fingers against the steering wheel and shouted at other drivers who cut in front of her lumbering van without so much as a signal or a wave.

Today was different. Today she was thankful for bumper-to-bumper traffic that kept the traveling speed slow and gave her time to wipe the tears from her eyes. No sense adding a car crash to her list of woes.

Cyrus had kept his end of the deal, finally. The check Louis shoved into her trembling hands was far more than what Cyrus owed her for the ball. She didn’t know if it was a bonus or hush money, a few extra bucks to keep the human quiet.

It didn’t really matter. She wanted the money so badly. She needed it, without question. But she’d lost something more valuable. Something she hadn’t expected to find at all. The loss left her insides cold.

How many people in a hundred could say they met and lost the love of their lives in a single weekend? How many had a glimpse of a better life for a few hours? It wasn’t the money. It wasn’t the sex, mind-blowing as it had been. It was
him
. The weight of his arms around her, is hazel eyes that devoured every color around them and made them his. The smell of cedar that still clung to the fabric of her beat-up old van.

Rachel wiped at the fresh tears with the back of her palm. She pulled off of the road and into a gas station. The car needed gas, and she probably needed a drink to replace everything the tears took from her.

The hellish autumn heat beat down on her shoulders as she exited the van. She wished she hadn’t left Dirk’s T-shirt in the guest room of the compound. She wasn’t usually sentimental, but the thought of having nothing but her memories to remember him by was too depressing.

She slammed the bottle of water on the counter and passed her credit card to the clerk.

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