“Yes, last night. It was the strangest thing I ever felt. I couldn’t get close enough to him.”

“Yes, you two are a blood match, so his blood sang to yours right away. That’s why you instantly recognized him. We’re totally drawn to them, you see, beyond reason, beyond any human ties. We always go to them willingly and submit to them completely. At least at first while we’re in heat. Our masters subdue us, make us submissive to them and the masters are all very skillful at it.”

“Okay, back up. What do you mean ‘master’? As in slave and master? I’m not going to be a slave for anybody, even Marco. They can all forget about that.”

“No, dear, calm yourself. It’s not like that. Masters are the wolves, the shapeshifters. Don’t you know about that? The word refers not only to the relationship but to the hierarchy in the pack. The Alpha, ours is Marco, is the highest ranking member of the pack. Then comes his beta, or second in command. The rest of the wolves are gammas, and then come the pets. Pets are always the mates and submissive to the wolves. We call them ‘sir’ and ‘master’, and they take care of us. You see?”

“Sort of—Rory was telling me something. Do you mean this is all for real? They actually turn into wolves?” Nicky’s voice took on a horrified tone. Surely this was all a crazy dream. Or was he truly mad?

“Oh yes. Big, beautiful wolves, who are very terrifying when adopted pets first see them. Certain members of the werekin or wolf clan become shifters when they reach maturity. When a baby is born, the parents never know if they are destined to be shifters or pets. It’s not until they reach puberty that it becomes clear. It can happen to both male and female children. The ones who don’t shift become pets for other masters. Since they were born to the pack, they don’t have to wear leashes when they go out or be restrained in any way, like those of us who are adopted. The natural born pets don’t seem to have the same tendency as we do to go feral. If the masters can’t find their mate, their blood match, among the pack, they’re allowed to adopt a pet—like us. When they bite us, they turn us into werekin. Their bite and their blood literally change our body chemistry and DNA. We’re healthier, stronger, and live longer, almost impervious to illness. We’re always submissive to them. It’s just the way it is. It’s the way it has to be.”

“This is some crazy shit, Tara.”

“The wolf packs are very old and have always lived side by side with humans, but we… humans…have never been aware. There are old stories about werewolves whose bite turns a human into a monster. These stories have some basis in truth.” Tara’s voice lowered, and her expression sobered.

“What do you mean?” Nicky voice dropped to almost a whisper, too.

“Our masters aren’t monsters of course, but if a pet is not tamed right away, if he or she is allowed to too much freedom, they can become feral, very savage. They never shift, at least not totally, but their hair grows all over their bodies, and they become like animals. They have to make us very submissive from the beginning to prevent it from happening.”

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“Submissive? Like some kinky sex thing? I’m not into all that. Hell, I’m not even gay, but Marco picked me! I don’t like the sound of this whole thing.”

“It has to be this way. Hundreds of years ago, when humans were bitten, they became quite violent and savage. The masters, the shapeshifters, learned to control this in the newer ones, or they would have had to be put down. Eventually, they managed to breed docility into the natural pets, and they developed other methods to train the adopted pets. We have to become submissives. It’s the only way to keep the savagery out of our natures. Believe me, you’ll be much happier if you’re controlled. It makes us all feel safer. Didn’t you notice when you wore the leash you felt calmer?”

“Calmer? I’d have felt a whole lot calmer if I were somewhere else. Why didn’t they let me live my life? Why did they do this to me? I don’t want to be somebody’s pet dog.”

“No, no, you’re not a dog. Not at all. You’re thinking of it the wrong way. They do use the canine terms, because they’re wolves, after all, but it doesn’t mean the same to them as it would to humans. Nothing degrading. The masters cherish pets and love us very much. Remember, all of them have family members who are pets—their mothers or fathers and some siblings. The masters never adopt without careful consideration and then only when it’s a blood match. They would never treat us with disrespect.”

She fingered his collar. “This is all about protection and safety. Once we’re bitten, we become wolf-like. Not quite human anymore. We’re only calm when we’re being controlled. Collars and leashes remind us we’re controlled by the masters. Otherwise, we’d deteriorate into something utterly savage. Believe me, you don’t want that. I heard a pet who escaped a few weeks ago wandered in the hills for over two weeks before the masters found him. He fought them savagely. Once we give in to our feral nature, it’s almost impossible to come back. Especially for someone new to the pack. When the escaped pet was finally recovered, they said he had to be in heavy restraints for two weeks, and they’re still not sure if they can save him.”

“Save him? From what?”

“From turning into a wild animal, who lives only to feed on human blood.”

Nicky’s mouth turned dry, and he was silent for a moment. “Could that happen to me?”

“It could, but I’m sure it won’t. You have a very caring master in Marco. He loves you and will always take care of you.”

“But Marco’s a guy, and he’s not even gay. I heard him say he’d never been with a male pet before. Why did he pick me?”

“You’re his blood match.” Tara shrugged expressively. “He had no control over it, just like you have no control.” She shrugged. “We love whom we love, and that’s it. From the first moment he saw you, he could no more resist you than he could stop breathing. You can’t resist him either. My master told me Marco first saw you two months ago and tried to resist you, because he found out you were straight and was afraid you’d never submit well. But he couldn’t resist. He made himself sick, and since he’s our Alpha, the whole pack suffered. When he heard you’d been injured, he dropped everything and rushed to your side. Wolves mate for life. There will never be anyone else for him but you. You’ll never be able to love anyone else again, either.”

Nicky sighed. “He saw me two months ago? He’s right. I’m straight, but with Marco…I don’t know. It’s different somehow. I’d never seen him—I would have known instantly. It’s like a drug, an addiction. He’s just so perfect.”

Tara laughed. “I know. I feel the same way about my master, and Marco really is something special. Being the Alpha’s mate is quite an honor.”

“Is there some other reason he waited so long?”

“I’m not really sure, but don’t worry. He’ll explain everything soon.”

“What if he wanted children?”

Tara shrugged. “You really shouldn’t worry so. Our pack is large and all inter-related. There are plenty of children to go around.” She smiled at him in the mirror as she turned him back around. “You have to relax. Your fate is sealed anyway. You can’t go back. You can never leave. I’ve explained what will happen if you do.”

"Well, what if those Hunter people attack again? Would they kill me?"

Tara nodded. "If they could, they’d kill all of us, but you're worrying too much. Our wolves will protect us. Always."

Most of the time Tara had been talking, she’d been curling his hair with a hot iron and his back was to the mirror. Now she turned him around while she brushed and shaped it with her fingers and stepped back to let him get a good look. In shock as he looked at himself in the mirror, Nicky only half heard the last of what she said.

His mouth dropped open. There was an actress in an old late night television show he’d seen once when flipping channels; Shirley Temple, and her hair always lay in her trademark tight clusters and ringlets all over her head. As Nicky gazed at himself, he could have sworn little Shirley was looking back at him. Not wanting to hurt Tara’s feelings since she was so sweet, he gulped hard and smiled at her. “Thank you,” he said, in a choked voice. He looked like a damn girl.

“Okay,” she said. “Only one more stop and you’ll be ready. You have to be waxed. It will hurt a little but will remove all the hair from your body. It will help make you feel less beast-like, less wild and feral. Besides if you don’t keep it waxed, it might start to grow out of control. This has to become a regular thing for you now. Remember, everything they do for us is for our own good.”

“Oh hell, no, I’m not getting my body waxed. Are you crazy? No way in hell.”

“Nicky,” Tara said sadly. “Please watch your language and your temper. You really have no choice. If I have to, I’ll call your master. He’ll spank you for your disobedience, and you’ll be waxed anyway. Isn’t it easier just to submit?”

Nicky put his head in his hands, and to his horror started to cry. Before all this happened to him, he hadn’t cried since he was a little kid, and now he couldn’t seem to stop acting like the little girl he looked like. Tara rubbed his shoulders, and he felt her breasts graze across his back. Still no reaction from his stupid, stubborn cock, which was apparently holding out for Marco.

“It’s okay to cry, Nicky. It’s really good for you to give in to your feelings and get in touch with your feminine side. It makes you more docile.”

Nicky gulped in shock. “Feminine side, my ass!”

“Nicky, please watch your language!”

“Now that’s another thing.” Nicky sniffed hard. “Why do I have to watch my language and never cuss? Is that more control?”