“It’s not stupid to be afraid of the fae,” said Mary Jo hotly.
“No?” Honey disagreed. “But that’s not what makes you stupid,
Mary Jo. You aren’t arguing with Mercy because she’s wrong,
you’re arguing with her because you don’t know who she is. You
still think she’s some dumb bimbo who seduced our Alpha and
stumbled into a stupid magic trick that allowed her to become
part of the pack. That she is a mistake. That she is a weakness.”
She looked around the room. “Idiots. Every one of you. We drove
a volcano god out of our territory, and you are afraid of the fae?”
She made a noise. “Oh, that’s right. It wasn’t us—it was Mercy,
wasn’t it? She put herself between Guayota and us. She nearly died
to protect us— and you are all still wondering if she should be a
member of our pack.”
“She is a weakness,” said Darryl reluctantly. “Guayota saw it,
too. She was the first of us he went after.”
“And she defeated him,” Honey said. “She drove him out of her
“Tad and Adam defeated him,” Mary Jo said.
“That’s a theme here, isn’t it?” said Honey. “Mercy stands up for
what is right—and her friends back her up.” She paused. “Why do
you think that is?”
Her lip curled when no one said anything. “Because they know
she’ll have their back in return. Pack is about not standing alone.
About having people you trust to have your back. There is not
another person in this room that I would rather have at my back
“What about Adam?” asked Mary Jo instantly.
“Not excepting Adam,” Honey told her stoutly. “Your pardon,
Adam, if you find that offensive. But because you are our Alpha,
you have other considerations, other responsibilities. Mercy, once
she has your back, she has your back.”
Adam didn’t open his eyes. He just waved her apology away.
“Offering sanctuary to the fae boy was the right thing to do,”
Honey said. “He’d given aid to our fellow pack member. It is right
and proper that he ask for something in return.”
“And Joel wouldn’t be a member of the pack who needed help
if it weren’t for Mercy,” said Mary Jo fiercely.
Honey opened her mouth, but Adam spoke first.
“Enough,” he said, and his voice was silky-
soft.“Sit down, Honey.”
She sat, but her mouth was screwed up in anger.
Adam opened his eyes and surveyed the room with bright gold
irises. “Y’all are mistaken about the reason for this meeting.” His
Southern accent was unusually thick. It should have made his anger
sound softer, but it didn’t.
Beside me, Warren’s mouth quirked up.
“We are not here to discuss Aiden and the sanctuary he was
promised. We are not here to discuss the fae in any way, shape, or
form. We are here to discuss Mercy. And your attitude toward my
wife. My mate.”
He rocked to his feet and began pacing slowly back and forth.
“Mercy is a tough, smart woman. She can defend herself—I do
not have to protect her. She is not weak or dependent or needy.
She doesn’t need the pack. She doesn’t need me.”
I shot to my feet. “That’s not true,” I said hotly.
He tilted his head a little, his eyes meeting mine. His eyes softened.
“I misspoke,” he said in a steady voice. “She doesn’t need me
to make sure she has enough food or a place to live—that is my
privilege, but she doesn’t need me to do that. She doesn’t need me
to keep her safe or to make her a whole person. She doesn’t need
me to do anything except love her. Which I do.”
Well now, I thought, abruptly breathless. I nodded at him and
plunked down in my seat before my weakened knees gave out.
After I sat down, Adam started that slow pace back and forth
again. It was a hunter’s gait. When he spoke, it was even more
quietly than he had before. “When she agreed to be my mate and
when she agreed to be part of the pack, I understood that she would
not welcome my standing between her and you. She’s defended
herself all of her life, and she is capable of defending herself from
you when she cares enough to do so.” He stopped and looked
around, an eyebrow raised in challenge.
Warren coughed the words “blue dye” into his hand.
Adam’s smile flickered into being, then disappeared. “She has
rightfully earned the reputation, that goes back to her days in the
Marrok’s pack, of being someone people respected. No one in Bran’s
pack wanted to get on her bad side because Mercy always comes out
on top. And she has acquitted herself very well in my pack, defending
herself from whatever you’ve thrown at her. But today on the
bridge, I discovered something.”
He let the pause linger.
“I’m done with it.” All hint of softness was gone from his voice.
“I am done with listening to you attack my mate while she is trying
to save you. Again. I called this meeting to give notice. If I hear or
hear about any of you saying anything to my mate that is in the least
bit disrespectful, I will end you. No warnings, no second chances. I
will end you.”
And he walked through the aisle left between the chairs and
out of the room without looking me in the eyes.
Darryl stood up in the silence and addressed the room. “Adam
has authorized both Warren and me to help anyone who wishes to
leave this pack in light of this announcement. Do not go to Adam.
I assure you that he is quite serious.”
I sat where I was, dumbstruck. On the one hand— that was
pretty sexy. On the other— holy cow. He couldn’t do that. I’d just
started making real inroads into the general prejudice of the pack.
He’d silenced them. My life was going to be hellish, full of people
who hated me but couldn’t say anything out in the open so we
could hash it out. It would just fester.
“For what it’s worth,” Warren said to me, “if he hadn’t done
that, I think Honey would have. And that would have been a disaster.”
He looked at my face. “It’ll be okay, kid.”
I opened my mouth. “He can’t do that.”
Ben grinned at me. “Oh yes, yes he could. This isn’t a democracy,
Mercy. That was brilliant.”
I shook my head. “That was a disaster.”
“How so?” asked Mary Jo, who had gotten up and was standing
in the queue to get out of the room. “And I mean that respectfully,
She didn’t sound sarcastic, but it lurked in her eyes.
“He can’t dictate how people feel,” I said.
“Some people need to shut their mouths in order to use their
brains,” said George. He sounded . . . thoughtful.
I stared at him.
“And I’m beginning to think that I’m one of them,” he said. “I
think . . . I think that you’re right. The Tri-Cities is our territory. If
we don’t police our territory, then who could blame the fae for
thinking we wouldn’t do anything when they sent a troll through
downtown? It never occurred to me that the pack wouldn’t help. I
saw Darryl up there, and thought, ‘Good, they’ve made it.’ And if
I know that— maybe we should make sure that the rest of the world
knows it, too. It might stave off incidents like the one we had today.”
He crouched so his head and mine were at an equal height,
ignoring the way that meant he blocked the path out of the room.
“Honey was right,” he said. “If it had been Darryl up there on
the bridge, promising the sun, moon, and stars, we’d all have backed
him. And you not only outrank Darryl, you’ve proved that you
deserve that rank to anyone who isn’t an outright idiot. We should
have backed you. And now we will.”
“This isn’t a third-world dictatorship,” I said.
“Yes,” said Mary Jo slowly. “Yes, it is, Mercy.” Her voice softened.
“It has to be. We are too dangerous. Controlling our wolves
is much, much easier when we are a pack, following a leader. This
needed to happen a long time ago.”
Warren stayed by me as the room cleared of strangely happy
werewolves. When Honey made it to us, she slid into the row of
chairs in front. She pulled out one chair and stacked it on its neighbor,
then took another and turned it around until she faced us. She
sat on this one, crossed her legs at the knee, and waited, bland-
faced,for the room to clear. Under her gaze, it cleared a little faster than
it had been. Darryl gave her an ironic salute as he passed, which