“I will not hide,” Vasile said calmly after hearing the news Nicu had returned with. He was done hiding. He looked at the faces of the group of males that had gathered with him in the meeting hall. More had been added to their numbers, and there were well over thirty wolves willing to fight alongside him.
Alin stepped into the room looking grim. “Well, it is too late to attempt to conceal ourselves regardless; Serghei is here.”
Vasile nodded. “Then let us not keep him waiting.” He walked through the men who parted for him making a way toward the door.
“You are either brave or an even bigger fool than I had first thought to show your face here,” Vasile said as he stepped outside. Dawn was breaking through the darkness of night and the sky was quickly becoming lighter.
“No more a fool than you, Vasile,” Serghei practically spit his name. “Emilian is not the only wolf who wants you dead.”
“I do not fear death, not anymore,” he said with a confidence that had Serghei taking a step back.
“If I could I would fight you right here, right now,” the young wolf snarled.
“What’s stopping—” Vasile was interrupted by another small group of wolves. They walked out of the forest and headed straight up to Vasile and Serghei. “You will get your chance, Serghei,” the leader of the group told him and then looked at the rest of the wolves present. His eyes did not linger long on Vasile and they did not meet his face. “Emilian has commanded us to spread the word. There will be a dominance challenge at the castle. Any male may enter, including you two. The winner will be the undisputed Alpha of the Eastern Romanian Pack. Starting tomorrow at noon, the challenge will begin. The format will be ‘king of the mountain.’ Three matches will begin simultaneously. The first six wolves to step forward will be paired up and will fight. The winner of each challenge will then have to accept the next wolf who wishes to fight, and so it will continue until only three remain, then two, and then one. There will be no breaks, not even for sleep. It is not only a challenge of skill but of endurance as well.”
“I don’t like this. Emilian would never willingly compromise his position. He has something up his sleeve,” Vasile said.
The wolf smirked. “Afraid you cannot compete?”
“Where is the honor in winning a fight by trickery?” he challenged.
“The honor is simply in winning, not in the manner it took to get there.”
Vasile shook his head. A small laugh of disgust rumbling from his chest. “Alright, if that is how Emilian is going to do this, so be it. I am sure he wants to know if I will be there. You can assure him my face will be the last thing he sees on this earth.”
“You have to get through all of us, including me,” Serghei spoke up.
Vasile glanced at the wolf who had hurt his mate. “You are no more than an irritating fly, and all it will take to stop your buzzing is a single swat. If you expect me to fear you, then you are delusional.” He walked away, giving the group his back, making it perfectly clear that he did not consider any of them a threat.
Alina melted into the arms that wrapped around her from behind. Vasile’s large chest pressed firmly against her back. He pressed his lips to her hair, and his chest rumbled contentedly as he breathed her in.
“How are you?” he asked as she stared into the water of the river. He had led her to her spot after dealing with the males, and as they walked he explained what was going to happen. She did not like it, but she had to accept it. Her mate was a dominant and an Alpha and fighting would always be a part of his life.
“I am surviving,” she said honestly.
“Do you feel well enough to take a short walk?”
Her interest peaked at the hopefulness in his voice. Alina turned her head and looked up at him. “I will go anywhere with you.”
His full lips stretched into a breathtaking smile, and she wished with every cell in her body that he would kiss her. But he did not. He released her and then took her hand, leading her along the river following it deeper into the trees.
They walked in silence; the sounds of the world around them were the only sounds. At least fifteen minutes later the trees parted, and they walked out into a clearing where a small barn had been built. She looked over at Vasile curiously but he simply smiled and continued forward. Once they reached the doors he stopped and turned to her.
“While we were apart, there was not a second that I did not think of you. I longed for the day when we would be bound to one another for eternity. In that time I thought a lot about our bonding ceremony, our Blood Rites, and the things I wanted to say and give you. I came across this beautiful creature during my exile, and I immediately knew she was meant for you. This is my gift to you, to show you that I can provide for you. I will protect you and I will strive to bring joy to your life.” He opened the door before she could respond and standing there just on the other side was a beautiful sable mare with a dark chocolate mane and tail. She was so beautiful and without a doubt cost a fortune. She had never owned a horse; they had never been able to afford one. She felt tears welling up in her eyes as she reached up and stroked the animals soft nose to which the horse responded by stepping closer to Alina and lowering her head.
“She is magnificent, Vasile,” she said still looking at the horse. “Thank you, I will treasure her.”
“I am glad that you are pleased. What will you call her?” he asked.
Alina smiled. “Cosmina, because she is a beauty.”
He took her hand then, drawing her attention from Cosmina. “I have something else for you.”
She looked down and saw that he held his signet ring, the one that identified him as royalty and as the member of a long line of Alphas.
“It is yours because you belong by my side. You are the woman who will bear the next child to carry on this lineage. To me, you are more than royal, you are my Luna. Your sway over me is complete and absolute. No other will come before you. You have captured me, heart, body, mind and spirit; I am yours.” He took her hand and slipped it onto her ring finger and somehow it fit her perfectly. He felt her curiosity and smiled. “I had a cantankerous fae work some magic on it so it would fit,” he explained.
Alina held her hand up to examine the ring more closely. Her eyes narrowed as she took in its every detail. It had an oval-shaped face and on that face was a grid of four diamonds. In each diamond there was a symbol. The top left was a crown; the top right was a wolf; the bottom left, a sword; and the bottom right, a full moon.