A low growl started in Vasile’s chest. “I have no mate.” It killed Vasile to deny Alina but if it kept her safe, then he would deny her to his dying breath. “If I had a mate I would have shouted it at the top my lungs, I would have recognized it for the blessing that it was, and she would be standing beside me now. Who gave you such information?”
“You went and visited all of the villages in your territory.”
Vasile nodded, waiting for him to go on.
“In the last village, Solca, the one Petre Sala oversees, did you not claim his daughter as your true mate? Did you not threaten a male who had supposedly kissed her, telling him you would cut off his hands if he ever touched another female?”
Vasile’s rage was growing as he began to put the puzzle pieces into place. Serghei had been in on the plot before him. He had told Emilian what he knew, and sadly enough it was a brilliant plan on the young male’s part. Alina bore no marks nor had Vasile’s changed. There was no way the pack would believe she belonged to him. “No,” he answered finally. “The information you received has been…distorted.”
“So you now deny that she is your true mate,” a new voice called out from the back of the crowd which was parting to let the male through.
Vasile recognized the young male to be none other than Serghei. He barely held himself in check to keep from ripping the male’s head from his body.
“Until I leave this castle for the final time, or I am slain where I stand, I am your Alpha.” He met the male's gaze and Serghei dropped his eyes immediately. “You will speak to me with respect or I will show you why I am Alpha and you are not.”
“Forgive me, Alpha,” the male bit out as he bared his neck. “I would like to know why you are now denying that you claimed Alina Sala as your mate when you so adamantly claimed that she belonged to you while you were in our village?”
Vasile felt something twist inside of him at the sound of her name. He missed her, missed her like he would miss his own heart if it was ripped from his chest. To have her spoken about as though she was just some female, not important to him nor under his protection any longer, was causing his wolf to pace restlessly.
“It is obvious from the anger in your voice that you have feelings for this female,” Vasile began, his voice was even despite the turmoil brewing inside of him. “Is she your true mate?” For some reason asking Serghei if Alina Sala was his made Vasile want to rip the young male's head off. But the show had to be convincing. Vasile had to show everyone here that he truly did not believe Alina was his. Emilian knew that Vasile would be stronger with his true mate. If Emilian thought for one second that Alina truly was his mate, he would hunt her down and kill her just to keep Vasile from bonding with her, denying Vasile her strength. The need pulsing inside of him to rip Serghei limb from limb was surprising to him in its fury. Maybe the madness from being without his true mate was already catching up with him. Even though he was only a century old, maybe all the loss he had suffered had caused the darkness in him to move more quickly than in other males.
“She is not of age yet and so the mating signs have not appeared,” Serghei dodged.
“Does she love you?” Vasile did not know what prompted him to ask that question, but he felt sick at even the remote possibility of his Mina loving that mongrel.
Sergehi stood straighter, raising his head but not looking Vasile in the eyes. “She will.”
“What difference does that make?” Emilian snarled. Vasile’s attention was drawn away from the young male back to the larger threat. “Are you claiming someone, Vasile, just as your father did, that does not belong to you?” There was a rumble of agreement across the crowd and nods to go with it, but still no one met his gaze.
“My father is dead and his deeds died with him!” Vasile suddenly yelled out. He stepped back so that he could see his pack, could look at each of them and gauge their reactions. “I am not my father. I will make mistakes but they will not be the same ones he made. I am telling you that this female is free and clear of me. I am not taking any female as my own that does not bear my marks. I would never disrespect a woman in such a way, or her future true mate.”
“Can you prove she is your mate?” Louis, one of the males he had stayed with when visiting the villages, asked ignoring all that Vasile had just said.
“Why should I have to prove it if I am not claiming her?” he countered.
“Would you be willing to let a select group of pack members chosen by the pack see your mate’s markings once you find her?” Anton, another male asked.
“You would really ask such a thing of your Alpha?” Ion growled at the man.
Vasile held a hand up to stop his third from saying more. “I would never allow another to see my mate’s markings, just as no male here would allow such a thing.”
Louise stepped forward. He held no threat in his countenance, but neither did he bare his throat in submission. “We trusted your father and mother. We loved them as our Alpha pair, and for a very long time they performed their role as required. But this is too much Vasile. Even you must see how hard this is for our pack to accept. To lie about something so very vital to our species, how do we get past that? How do we trust you?”
Vasile shook his head. “I do not know.” His answer was as honest as he knew how to be. He truly did not know how to move forward. For most of his life he had felt sure of things, and now everything including himself seemed broken beyond repair.
“Then maybe it is time to let someone else lead.” Louis’s words were not said out of anger or hate. Vasile could tell the man truly wanted what was best for the pack. Vasile could respect that but he did not agree with it.
“All in favor of me stepping aside?” He waited to see how many hands would raise. Slowly one by one the air was filled not everyone but as good as.
“And who will lead you?” Alin asked the pack not wanting to let them assume Emilian should take over but wanting to see if the Beta would actually claim it as his own place.
Emilian stepped forward, his shoulders pulled back, and his head held high, though he still would not look Vasile in the eyes. “I believe this would be considered the same as a challenge. I brought to light the treachery. You are stepping down because of it, therefore, I will take your place as Alpha.”
“This is what you want?” Vasile asked looking to Louis who seemed to have taken the place as spokesperson for the pack.