Marco bit his lip a moment and then hurried to release Nicky’s arms. He put down the side of the bed and climbed into the narrow space, lying beside him and held him close. Wrapping his arms around Nicky, he kissed his lips. “Be quiet, baby. Let me explain what I think has happened. Don’t be frightened, because I’m handling it, okay? Now are you ready to listen?”

Nicky nodded, snuggling up into Marco. Marco’s wonderful smell washed over him, and even though he knew Marco didn’t love him anymore, he reveled in his closeness.

“After the challenge, we heard a howling. We rushed over and found you—changed.”

The way his voice tightened at the last word alarmed Nicky. “Changed? What do you mean?”

“None of our pack has ever seen it before; we’ve only read about it in old books passed down through the pack. But we think—we think you went feral, Nicky.”

Nicky jumped. “What?”

“You went without feeding for a long time, too long. We’d only changed you a short time ago, and your body couldn’t withstand the deprivation. You needed my blood.” Marco kissed the back of his neck. “It’s my fault. I should have fed you the minute I saw you in the cave. Instead, I lost my temper and left you behind. I’m so sorry, Nicky.”

“But-but how do you know? What did I do? I just remember getting really angry after I heard what you said to Ian, and I remember yelling at you. You knocked me down, didn’t you? That’s the last thing I remember.”

“When we heard you howling, we ran over to where you were standing and you were changed.”

His voice did the same thing when he uttered the word, sounding horrified. “That’s the second time you said that. How exactly was I changed?”

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“You were bigger, more muscular. Sort of beast-like. Your face was a little like a wolf’s.”

“Oh my God!”

“See, I knew you’d freak out. It’s okay. You started responding right away to my feedings, and you’re almost completely back to normal now.”

“Almost?” Nicky’s voice cracked, a couple of octaves higher than normal. He tried to pull away but Marco held him tight. Nicky sighed heavily. “Right. That’s why I woke up strapped to a bed in the basement cell, and why you won’t let go of me.”

“Just a precaution, Nicky, until we’re sure you’re absolutely back to normal. You had to feed from Rory’s blood too, and we didn’t know if it would work as well as mine. You look like your beautiful self again.”

“Rory’s blood? But why? Didn’t-didn’t you want to?”

“Of course, baby, and I’ve been feeding you. But I couldn’t give you enough without getting sick myself. We’re in uncharted waters here. We didn’t know exactly what to do, so we’ve been feeding you every few hours. You’re the first pet to go completely feral in over a hundred years.”

“But what about Shawna’s mate?”

“After seeing you, we know now he was just angry and defiant. He was nothing like you. Your body even tried to shape shift.”

Nicky groaned. “It’s because I’m such a fuck-up. I should have listened to you when you told me. Now I’ve ruined everything.”

“You haven’t ruined anything. You’ll be back to normal in no time.”

“Then what happens? Will Rory be able to keep feeding me?”

“Rory? No, I’ll be able to handle it alone.”

After a long silence, Nicky sighed again. “I heard what you said to Ian about not caring about me anymore. It’s okay, Marco. I don’t want to be a millstone around your neck. You made a mistake in picking me for your mate, and you deserve someone better. I’m releasing you from your vows. You don’t have to do this anymore.”

“Oh, I don’t, do I? You’re releasing me? Well, I’m not releasing you!”

“Marco, please. After what happened, I know you don’t want me back in the compound. I know how you feel about me.”

“Oh, do you now?”

“Yes. I know you don’t love me anymore.”

“Oh, you think so?”

“Yes. Marco, why do you keep asking me questions like that? And why are you looking at me that way? I don’t want to be a burden to you anymore. I know I’m a disappointment and an embarrassment. I just couldn’t settle in like you wanted. I’m a bad mate, Marco. I embarrassed you. I’m not the person you need, and I’m so sorry I challenged you.”

Marco continued to stare at him. “You know, perhaps I’ve been coddling you too much the past few days, letting you lie here in bed, when what you really needed is some good old fashioned discipline.”

“Discipline?”

“That’s right, Nicky. I think I need to give you the spanking you’ve been asking for a very long time.”

“What?” Nicky licked his lips nervously. “But I told you, I’m not into all that.”

“Yeah, well, I am, and you’re getting a spanking, sweetheart, and probably on a regular basis from now on, and that’s not a threat, that’s a promise.”

“A-a regular basis? From now on? Does that mean you still want me?”

“I told you when I first fucked you that you belonged to me. Did I stutter?”

“No, but…”

“Hush! You don’t have permission to speak.” He turned him loose. “Take your pajama pants off. Now.”

Nicky’s nerve broke, and he tried desperately to break Marco’s hold and get out of bed. Failing miserably, he was helpless as Marco sat up and pulled his body up to his own.

“I said, get your pajamas off.”

Trembling, Nicky did as he was told, scooting out of them while Marco watched him with brooding intensity and growing excitement. Finally he sat in front of Marco, naked and shivering. “Please, Marco. Tell me what you plan to do with me. I’ll do anything you say. Just don’t make me go away.”

“You’re not listening, boy. You’re not going anywhere. You belong to me. You’ll always belong to me. I’ve been angry with you, yes, and said some things I never meant. I’ve been punishing you. And punishing myself right along with you. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

“It doesn’t?”

“No, baby. I love you very much. I’m sorry for scaring you like I did when I shifted on the trail. I’m sorry you overheard things that hurt you. I was trying to show off in front of my beta, but I promise I’ll never do that again. I’d rather die myself than hurt you.”

“Oh, thank God,” Nicky said fervently. “Can I come back home then? I’ll try to be submissive if you want me to. I’ll try to be whatever you want me to be. I promise I’ll do everything you say.”

“Oh, you’re coming home all right. And you’ll submit to me in the bedroom. You’ll also do what I tell you to do, because you’re way too reckless and headstrong. I will be your protector and your guide, whether you want me to or not. You’re far too important to me to risk. You’ll obey me or suffer the consequences. Do you understand?”

Nicky’s head bobbed up and down.

“However, I agree I’ve been a little too protective. You’ll still wear my collar to show who you belong to, but the leash is not necessary. I’ll give you more freedom if that will make you happy. You can start up your painting again. That should keep you occupied and out of trouble.”

“Oh, yes, Marco. Thank you, darling. Can we go back home now? I don’t like it in here.”

“Right after I remind you whom you belong to.”

“What—what does that mean?”

Marco took him by the arm and held onto him as he settled himself on the side of the bed. He pulled Nicky belly down over his lap.

“No, Marco, please!”

Ignoring him, he lifted Nicky up a bit and took a firm hold of Nicky’s rigid cock, tucked it down between his own legs and tightened his thighs. With one large hand in the small of Nicky’s back, he held him down firmly. “Your safe word is candy. Use it if this gets too intense and we’ll stop for a while. Everything will start up again later though, so don’t use it unless you have to. You’re mine, Nicky, and though we may decide not to live this lifestyle all the time as you said, we will live it in our most intimate time together. Do you understand?”

“Y-yes.” A hard slap came down on his backside, making him jump in pain. “Ow!”

“That was for even thinking I don’t want you anymore. You are never, under any circumstances to ever think that again. Do I make myself clear?”

“Y-yes, sir.”

Marco’s hand came down hard again with a loud popping sound. “That was for taking anyone’s side against me, your mate. Now tell me how sorry you are.”

“I’m sorry! Marco, please,” Nicky cried loudly, trying desperately to get away from Marco’s unrelenting grip. His cock, still tucked firmly between Marco’s legs and hard as a rock, rubbed against Marco’s thighs, driving him crazy.

Another slap came down hard. “That was for cussing me. Say you’re sorry.” “Candy!”

“Nicky? Do you need to stop?”

“Not really. I just wanted to make sure you would.”

“Are you ready to say you’re sorry?”

“I’m sorry.”

He spanked him again. “That was for staying away and not coming to ask me to forgive you. I think you know what to say.”

Nicky began to sob. “I’m sorry!”

Marco brought his hand down one more time. “And that is for even thinking of leaving me. Say it!”

Nicky was sobbing loudly and squirming in earnest. Marco waited patiently for him to gulp out his last apology. Then he turned him upright and sat him down hard on his lap, enjoying his winces of pain as his hard lap met Nicky’s abused and tender ass. “Now I’m going to fuck you, Nicky. And the way I’m feeling right now, I’m afraid my knot may come out to play. We may be here a long while.”