As Vasile held Alina in his arms once again in the tiny bed, he did as he had told his pack, he sent up his prayer to his Creator. When his mate shifted restlessly beside him he looked down at her and blew gently on her face allowing his scent to fill her senses. She calmed and pressed closer against him. His mind wandered to earlier that day when he had finally kissed her. Nothing could have prepared him for just how completely extraordinary it would be. Her lips were soft as silk, her taste sweeter than the best ambrosia, and her response to him had nearly been the breaking point. His wolf had been demanding they complete the bond. He did not care that there was not a plush bed or soft candle lights. All he wanted, all he would ever need, was his mate, no frills necessary. But thankfully the human half was able to reason with the wolf as to why it would not be wise to strip themselves, as well as their mate, bare in a field, especially not for their first experience together.
He had decided to give her his bonding gifts before the challenges because he wanted her to know how much he adored her. He had not planned on kissing her, but they were alone. She was finally of age, and he could not stop himself. A smile played at his lips as he remembered her outrage at his flirting. Little did she know he was being completely serious, because to him there was nothing more beautiful than her―every luscious inch of her. He finally began to drift off to sleep, unwilling to think about the fights to come. He thought instead about just how much his lovely mate would blush when he could finally look his fill without any barriers between them.
Dawn came much too soon. Alina, like everyone else, seemed to be lost in thought as she dressed and got ready for the trek to the castle. She wished that she could somehow leap forward in time so they could simply skip all the fighting and killing and finally have a united pack again. And yet she knew not only from her father’s words but also through experience that it was when you were in the valley, with all of life’s difficulties raining down on you, that you experienced change and growth. The mountain top was wonderful, but if the only place she lived was on the mountain top, then how would she ever learn to love through pain, or laugh through heartache, or endure so that she could help someone else who might one day experience what she had? They needed the hard times in order to truly appreciate the good times but also to be refined into something better than they were before.
“We must go.” Vasile’s voice drew her from her thoughts. She turned and saw that he had his hand outstretched to her. She took it without hesitation and let him pull her to his side. They walked silently, joining the other pack members in the somber caravan as they headed towards what was sure to be a blood bath.
“You are quiet this morning,” Vasile said through their bond as he caressed the hand he held with his thumb.
“I do not want to see him and yet I want to rip his heart from his chest.” She did not want to feel that way about Serghei. He had been a friend for so long, but then he had gone and betrayed her, violated her, and murdered her parents. She was a merciful person, but she had to draw the line somewhere.
“He will not live much longer, my love. I will not allow it.”
“I do not think he will challenge you at the beginning. He will wait until you have been fighting for some time, thinking that he will have a better chance if you are tired.”
Vasile looked down at her and smiled. “Perhaps, I should make you the leader of my warriors. You think like a warrior.”
“Will you be alright?” Alina did not want to ask this question out loud. She would never question her mate’s abilities in front of pack members; it would make him appear weak. “With no sleep, no rest, how long can anyone go on like that, Vasile? I have no doubt in your ability to destroy every male out there, but to have to do it one after the other with no time to give your body a chance to heal will be difficult, and even you are not invisible.”
“I have fought in battles that lasted days. It is not easy, but when there is so much at stake you would be surprised what you become capable of.” He brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed her wrist softly. “Have faith in me; I will not fail.”
“I do, but I am your mate and it is my right to worry about you.” A smile twitched on his lips at her biting tone. “Why is that funny?” she huffed.
“It is not that I think it is funny, Mina. I happen to find you incredibly attractive when you growl at me.”
She rolled her eyes and inwardly groaned. “At a time like this, that is what you are thinking about?”
“Beloved, you will come to learn that there is not a time when a mated male is not thinking about his female like that.”
“Perhaps, we should go over the details again,” she suddenly said out loud. This brought a bark of laughter from her mate that had everyone turning to look at them. Alina ignored him and addressed Ion. “You and Nicu will be with me, right?”
Ion nodded. “We will not leave your side.”
“The other males will fall under the command of Alin while I am fighting,” Vasile added. “I want all of the fights being watched and I want a set of eyes on Emilian and Serghei at all times.”
Alina looked up at him, then something struck her. “Why have I not seen Sisily?” She had thought nothing of it two days ago, but now she was surprised that Sisily had not checked on her even once.
“I sent her and her parents to Anghel. They are embarrassed and ashamed by their son’s actions, and I did not want them to feel like they were under scrutiny. When things settle they will come back.”
Alina understood why he had done it, and she even understood why he had not mentioned it. He had been trying hard to avoid any topic that might bring up Serghei. She could not decide if it was more for her benefit because he did not want her to think on it, or for his because he would not be able to control himself if he dwelled on it.
“Both.” He answered her thoughts.
Her brow rose as she looked up at him. “Do I get no privacy?”
A wolfish smile spread across his face. “I will make sure you have plenty of privacy, Mina, just not from me.”
She decided then was not the time to argue about it. They had a lifetime and then some to deal with their differences. It was only a short time later that she began to hear the rumble of voices intermingled with snarls and growls. They were less than a mile from the castle and Alina suddenly felt very sick. Vasile drew their group to a halt and looked at each of them.