1. Article 22
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“You leave me no choice, Kolton,” Xavier told his son. “I will call upon your brother to force a mating. You are 21 years of age. You will take a mate, no matter what the circumstances.”
Kolton grumbled. He hated to be called into question, especially by his father. Besides, no one could force a mating, could they?
Oh - but they could.
Kane entered the room, a riot of noise following behind him. The twins must be up from their afternoon nap.
“Karter! Get back here!” He could hear his sister in law crying out to the future King of the wolves. Kolton had to smile. The little man was a chip off the old block and ready to wreak havoc on the palace grounds at only one year of age. Just like his father.
The door closed and the sounds of little arms and legs on wood became muted.
“What is going on?” Kane asked, sounding irritable. “I was playing with my children when Frederick told me you needed my help. What is happening?”
Xavier looked at his two sons with a grim expression before opening his mouth.
“He refuses the mating,” Xavier said.
Kane looked at Kolton, his younger brother by two years.
“I know he refuses to have a Coming of Age Ball,” Kane said, his voice measured. “He can still choose a female to mate with though, so all is not lost.”
“That’s the thing,” Xavier stated boldly. “He refuses to pick a mate at all. I have been trying to convince him, but he won’t hear of it. I’m afraid we may need to force a mating.”
Kane blinked, recognition slowly flickering over his face. “You mean we use Article 22 of The Code to force him to choose a female?”
“Article 22, chapter 14, to be exact,” Xavier stated as he opened up an old tome that he had amongst the other papers on his desk. He looked down upon it and explained. “It states that if a mate is not chosen or cannot be chosen, that the ruling family - the king, to be precise - can force a mating bond upon the 21st birthday of the royal wolf in question.”
”Victim in question!” Kolton corrected. Because he did feel victimized in this whole thing. He wasn’t like their youngest brother, Kade, who wanted a mate, or like his oldest brother who was already married and had two children by his. He wanted nothing to do with mates after the debacle of his older brother’s mating. His pride was too deeply rooted to choose a female who may not want him as a mate, and he didn’t want a female who wanted him only for his name. Prince Kolton Reifenberg.
Any way you sliced it, he wanted nothing to do with it.
“Kolt, you are 21. It is natural for the royals to claim a female to mate through the Mondblume Elixir,” Kane told him darkly. “I did it. Your brother will do it.” He paused, looking unhappy. “Louisa will have to do it when she comes of age.” Yes. He was definitely unhappy about his younger sister finding her mate.
“You’re the king!” Kolton told him, his silver eyes narrowing on his brother. “You can make exceptions to the rule! You could throw the whole damned rulebook out entirely if you wanted. No one would question it. You are the golden boy with the commoner queen whom all the kingdom loves!”
“And as king, I will see to it that you are mated and wed,” Kane said. “If you are not to choose, I will have myself or Father do it.”
Kolton scowled, dark thoughts cluttering his mind. He could run away or escape the island, maybe join the military. He already had the haircut for it.
Running a rough hand over his head, Kolton shook his head vehemently.
“I will not have a ball. I will not choose,” he told them both, King and prior King. “I do not want a mate. Not now anyway. I am young and free and wish to remain so until I am ready.”
Kane and Xavier shared a glance. Some sort of silent conversation went on for a minute before anyone else said anything.
Xavier stood up slowly before making his way to the door of his own office.
“You try to speak sense to him,” he told his son. “There has never been a Reifenberg without a mate upon their 21st birthday, and I will not have it happen during my lifetime.”
He looked over at his younger son and his voice softened.
“A mate will be the best thing you have ever had, Kolton,” he told him. “They come to be your everything. The bond, the pull you have toward each other - there is nothing like it.”
The man walked out of the room quietly, the door snicking shut behind him.
“If this has to do with Ali-” Kane began.
“It has everything to do with me determining my own fate and not being forced into a coupling like my ancestors before me,” Kolton told him. “You and Lexi are only a small part of my hesitance to find a mate, though you both seem happy as clams.”
Kane sighed. He was irritated that his brother had seemed to come to the conclusion that mates are more trouble than they’re worth. He would have blamed himself for choosing Alexandria and not someone else to be his queen if he wasn’t so irrevocably in love with his female.
“Give it one more night to think over,” Kane told him. “In the morning, if you refuse to bend, I will have father choose your bride for you. I know you still escape to the mainland at times. Surely you have come across a female that has caught your eye, have you not?”
Kolton didn’t answer, averting his eyes from his king and brother. He had met a few females he felt like he could live with on the occasion, but they had been either too young at the time or involved with another man. He hadn’t been in a hurry to meet his 21st birthday. Flirting was fine. A kiss or two in a secluded spot was normal. Never anything more. Royalty always stayed pure for their mates and he had every intention of staying pure until he met his.
His who would choose for himself when he felt the time was right to settle down. Not before.
“How was the meeting with Father?” Kade asked.
Kolton had spoken with Kane for a few minutes, neither one of them budging. Kane had thrown up his hands at him as Kolton slinked from the room, annoyed.
He turned 21 in one week. His mother was upset with him. His father. And now his brother was irritated with him.
Kade and Louisa were not, though Kade was a little baffled as to why he wouldn’t choose a mate at all. Now they were outside their rooms, Kade standing as he was about to leave his, Kolton on his way into his boudoir.
“It was the same as it has been for the past five months,” Kolton grumbled. “Father trying to force me. Me trying to tell him I’m not ready. He brought Kane in.”
Kade’s eyes widened a bit. He wondered where his oldest brother stood on the mating. Surely he would be for it, for he was happily mated himself with two children and another on the way. The current Queen, Alexandria, was six months pregnant with another male baby. Kane was beside himself to be having another son.
“What did Kane say?”
“He’s with Father on the mating,” Kolton muttered, pulling the door to his bedroom wide. “Should have figured he would since he has his ‘happily ever after’.”
He walked into his room, Kade following behind him.
“Most males cannot wait to be mated and claimed by their females, and most of them do it by the time they are your age,” Kade told him. “Why are you the exact opposite? Surely your tendency to be contrary doesn’t go so far as to deny a mate completely.”
Kolton shrugged his shoulders and stepped over to his nightstand, straightening his alarm clock and a photograph he had there. He was impeccably tidy for a man. The complete opposite of Kade who wouldn’t pick up his room if it had layers of gold underneath the bundles of clothing and piles books.
Kolton pitied Kade’s poor maid and manservant.
“I said everything I needed to say to Father and Kane,” Kolton grumped. “I do not wish to beat this dead horse any further with you. I already know the dreamer you are and that you wish to be a year older so you can find your mate as well.”
Kade shrugged but did not deny it. If he had been in Kolton’s place, he would have been eager to place a claim on his female. Kolton was... an oddity for a wolf.
“What’s the problem with finding a mate?” Kade asked. “She would be yours and only yours. Surely there would be someone out there who could catch your eye and make you dizzy with lust at the sight of her. If Father chooses, he could choose anyone and you would have no say. Pick someone so that he doesn’t have to.”
“Fine. Be that way,” Kade told him. “But if Father chooses, you know she will be noble and boring. If Kane chooses, he will most likely choose someone who is the complete opposite of you. You know how he likes you to be challenged.”
“And what is the complete opposite of me?” Kolton had to ask.
“You know - pleasant and docile. Petite and happy to oblige. Lord knows you like to make life difficult for anyone in your path. She’d be easygoing and pliant, but something makes me think you would like that in a female, so you’d better hope that Kane chooses instead of Father. Father picked Mother, and though she has gotten better since Lexi came, she is still as authoritarian as always.”
Kade then left the room, as always, finishing his conversation abruptly and moving on to the next thing, his mind was so flighty.
“Enjoy your book,” Kolton grumbled just before Kade had a chance to completely close his bedroom door.
“I will,” he heard his youngest brother say before moving off down the hallway, most likely on his way to the library.
Kolton moved off to his window and watched some of the boats on the lake as they went from the island to the mainland for the night. Only one boat remained on the lake after a few minutes, slowly making its way toward the island. It was not a large vessel, and with his sharp eyes, he could see people moving across the deck as they came closer to the mooring at one of the piers.
Shaking his head, Kolton moved away, only slightly interested in what was going on outside his own head.
Floors beneath Kolton, Xavier was welcoming a guest at the front door.
“Ah, Adam! Good to see you again!” Xavier exclaimed as soon as the doorman opened it to his guests.
“Your Highness,” Adam said with a bow to his former king.
“I’ll have none of that, Adam,” Xavier chided gently. “We’ve known each other for ages. Please call me Xavier. I’m King no longer since Kane has taken over the reins. And who is this?”
A diminutive and quiet female was behind Adam DeWitt, quiet and respectful with her head bowed to her former king.
“Ah, this is my daughter, Eliza,” Adam told him. “It’s... uhm, well - it’s on account of her that we’re here.”
The man seemed saddened by the thought, almost ashamed. Xavier could sense it and invited them in.
“Well, as it’s late, I’ll have the maids show you to your rooms,” Xavier said. “We can chat in the morning if that would suit you.”
The man nodded back at Xavier, his gaze flickering over to his daughter whose head was still bowed, eyes to the ground.
The two visitors were given two suites in the guest wing on the second floor. Adam, whose journey had been long, got ready for bed immediately while his daughter in the next room sat up for some time.
Jonathan, she thought, her countenance crumbling under the mere mention of the name. He had been her best friend for years until about a year ago when she found out she was his mate.
His mate. And he didn’t want her as his.