Mercy Thompson

 
 

Mercy Thompson Book 2 - Page 45


His posture didn't change as he walked through the doorway-and Adam's did. Adam pushed against the wall with his shoulders, propelling himself completely upright. Then he took two steps forward until he stood between Warren and the stranger.

The red bearded man was a head taller than Adam, and for a second tried to use that extra height as an advantage-but he was no match for the Alpha. Without a word or an aggressive move, Adam backed him down.

Samuel appeared not to notice anything. I doubt that anyone else would have seen readiness in the slowly tightening muscles of his shoulder.

"When he is well," Adam said, "if you give fair challenge, Paul, I won't stop the fight."

Under the Marrok's rule, there were very few sanctioned fights-real fights, not just a couple of snaps and a bite or two. That was one of the reasons there were more werewolves in the New World than in Europe, where the werewolf, like the fae, had originated.

I can usually sort out the pack from most dominant to least (or the reverse), just from body language. Wolves are better at it than I am. Humans, if they pay attention, do the same thing-though it's not nearly as important to them as it is to the wolves. For a human it might mean getting a promotion or not, or winning a hard-fought argument. For a werewolf, survival depends upon the pack-and a pack is a complex social and military hierarchy that depends upon each member knowing exactly what his place is.

Dominance among wolves is a combination of force of personality, strength of will, physical ability and a component of other that I can't explain to anyone without the eyes, ears, and nose to sense it-and those with the proper senses wouldn't need it explained. Willingness to fight is as close as I can come. It is because of that other that, outside of a pack, the natural dominance of a wolf changes within a fairly broad range. Like all of us, some days they are tired, depressed, or happy-all of these affect natural dominance.

In a pack, these natural swings are gradually sifted through. In wolves that are near-dominants, sometimes a fight between them will allow strength to determine pack rank. An Alpha's second and third were the next two most dominant males in the pack.

Warren, among enemies, was quiet and watchful, rather than adapting the more typical aggressiveness of a dominant male. His body language skills weren't even as good as mine because he'd spent so little time with a pack when he was first Changed. He ran beside the pack, rather than inside it. Because of that, he was vulnerable to challenge from wolves who thought they might be stronger, better, faster.

It was Adam, I knew, who told the others that Warren was his third. If Adam had been less dominant, less well-liked or respected, there would have been blood shed over his declaration. I knew Adam's determination was right-but I was one of the few people for whom Warren dropped his guard.

A significant minority of the wolves felt that Warren wasn't strong enough for the position he held. I knew-from Jesse rather than from any of the wolves involved-that some of the wolves wanted Warren out of the pack or, even better, dead.

Evidently this Paul was one of those, and one dominant enough to challenge Warren. Something Adam had just given him permission to do.

Paul gave a small, pleased nod and left the room with brisk steps, unaware that Warren would wipe the floor with him. If Warren survived-by Samuel's careful focus, I knew that was still in doubt.

Adam watched the man leave with a brooding gaze. He lifted it at last and saw me watching him. His eyes narrowed and he came up to me and took my arm, tugging me out of the room behind him.

He led me to Jesse's room, hesitated and dropped my arm. He knocked once, lightly, on her door and then opened it. She was sitting on the floor with her back against the bed, her nose red and tears running slowly down her face.

"He's holding his own," Adam told her.

She scrambled to her feet. "Can I go see him?"

"Be quiet," he told her.

She nodded and headed for Warren 's room. When she saw me, she hesitated, then gave me a smile like sunshine peeking out from the clouds of Warren 's condition. Then she hurried past.

"Come," Adam took my arm again-I really disliked that-and escorted me to another closed door. This one he opened without knocking.

I held hard to my irritation as I jerked free and walked all the way into the room. If I was irritated, I wouldn't be afraid. I really hated it that I was afraid of Adam now.

I folded my arms and kept my back to him, only then realizing that he'd brought me to his bedroom.

I'd have recognized it as Adam's room, even if it hadn't smelled of him. He loved textures and warm colors and the room reflected that from the dark brown Berber carpet to the Venetian plaster treatment on the buttercream walls. There was an oil painting as tall as I was and twice as wide on one wall, a mountain forest scene. The artist had resisted the impulse to add an eagle in the air or a deer in the stream.

A human might have found the painting boring.

I touched the canvas before I realized I had moved. I wasn't familiar with the name of the artist, which was scrawled almost illegibly on the lower right corner and on a small brass plaque on the center of the frame. The title of the piece was Sanctuary.

I turned away from the painting to find Adam staring at me. He had his arms crossed and there were the little white marks along his wide cheekbones that told me he was in a temper. That in itself wasn't unusual. He had a hot temper and I was pretty good at getting him worked up-though not lately. And not, I would have sworn, today.

"I had no choice," he snapped at me.

I stared at him without the foggiest notion what he was talking about.

My doubtlessly stupid look seemed to enrage him further. "This will keep Paul from ambushing him. It has to be a real challenge, in front of witnesses."