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The doors to my chambers flew open, revealing my younger brother standing there with a wide grin on his face.

"Wake up Ryder, it's already noon and the search begins today!" He laughed, shoving me off the bed.

I growled at him as I hit the floor, and turned to chuck a boot at his head. It hit him square in the face, eliciting a yelp of pain from the small fool. As I stretched, I noticed the maid hurriedly donning her gown in the corner. I grinned internally at the memory of the night before. She looked up at me for a moment and I returned my features to stone as I sent her away.

My brother whistled as we watched her dash out the door. "Fun night?"

I grunted in response, moving to get washed and dressed. He sat on the bed reading a letter when I exited, and I quickly snatched it from his hands, hitting him with it.

"Keep your filthy paws out of my business Cristopher," I growled, shoving the letter in my desk.

"Does Margaret know about your late-night trysts?" Cristopher mused, a lazy grin on his face.

"What occurs in my bed is no concern of Margaret. She knows her duty, and we are not married yet." I stated, rolling my eyes.

"I must say I do feel sorry for you, brother, being betrothed before your birth is a large burden on your shoulders." He responded sarcastically, narrowly missing the book I chucked at his head.

"It's politics. It's my duty. It's a contract." I shrugged, exiting my room with him in tow. "I don't have to love her, it's more for appearances and... pleasure."

"Pleasure indeed, she's not hideous." Cristopher agreed, smiling at the blushing maids as we passed. For a 15-year-old, he was definitely a heartbreaker. "Can I see it?"

I stopped in the hallway and turned to face him. He eagerly looked at my wrist as I turned it, revealing my dark mark. It was an intricately designed half-moon. My matches would have a mark on their bodies that coincided with mine, such as a star. I'd never heard of two people with the exact same mark, it was unheard of. Only one matched and his matches came of age at a time, that way they would avoid confusion with other matches.

Pulling my wrist back, we continued down to the dining hall and I smiled at my mother as she greeted us. My father raised his eyebrow as we sat at the table but made no comment. This was as it had always been. My mother and father weren't matched, he hasn't been blessed with a mark. I was the first to be marked in over twenty years, not that the public knew.

"You will begin the inspection today." My father announced, his eyes boring into the side of my head.

"Yes, father." I agreed. "I'll send guards to the towns immediately."

He tilted his head in acknowledgment and we continued to eat in silence. I removed myself from the tense atmosphere and called the guards, announcing that they must begin the inspection in the nearby towns.

"We are looking for eighteen-year-old girls with a tattoo-like mark on their wrists, neck, or possibly their ankles," I spoke loudly, "Find them and bring them by any means necessary."

Dismissing the guards, I began walking down the hall towards the library when my mother called out for me. I turned and looked at her, smiling in greeting.

"Ryder," She laughed as she approached, "Care to join me for a walk?"

"How could I say no to you?" I responded, offering her my arm as we exited the grounds.

We wandered into the garden and I heard my mother sigh as she halted next to a bench. "I'm sorry."

"Whatever for?" I asked, turning to face her as she sat down.

"This marriage, you never had a say in it." She mused, a frown on her features.

I shook my head and laughed. "It is alright Mother, I know my duties."

"Your duties yes, but being forced into a loveless marriage isn't what I had hoped for you. And your match, you won't be able to claim her for a wife..." Mother trailed off, her eyes falling to the floor.

I sighed and pushed my hair back out of my eyes. "Margaret is quite attractive, I don't see a problem there, and as I've been educated by father, my matches will simply provide me heirs, I don't see myself becoming attached to them."

A sad, knowing look danced across mother's features before she stood up again, brushing off her dress. "Let us return."

After dropping my mother off in the library, I began walking towards my room when a shout halted me. I turned to see a guard moving towards me.

"My Prince, we have found a girl." He stated, breathing heavily.

"Just one?" I questioned, raising an eyebrow.

"Just one, for now, my Lord, we are still searching the other towns, and girls are coming of age every day." He responded, standing tall under my gaze.

"Very well." I accepted, nodding my head. "Put her in the guest wing. When you find more girls place them there as well. I shall greet them at the end of the week."

Without waiting for a response I continued to my room, shutting the door behind me. Pulling out the letter from earlier, I began reading it as I sat in the chair.

Prince Ryder of Petros,

My sweet Prince, how I cannot wait to see you.

I rolled my eyes at the hearts dotting the cursive I's.

My father is very thankful for this arrangement, and I am too. It will bring our kingdoms together and profit us both greatly.

I snorted as I continued to read Margaret's letter.

I do hope you understand that with this marriage I will not tolerate some of your... playboy antics, aside from your matches of course, so long as they understand that they are beneath me. But enough of that, we can discuss it when I arrive.

Kisses, Princess Margaret of Brisia

Rolling my eyes, I crumpled up the letter and tossed it into the rubbish bin. This was merely a business deal, and as much as she can say she won't tolerate my wandering ways, she won't have a choice. Stretching my back, I began moving towards the door to find my brother when my mark suddenly began to heat up. I moved my hand to touch it and felt sparks jolt through me. What the hell is this? Stumbling, backward from the shock, I fell onto the bed.

I felt myself being pulled into a dream state as my eyes closed, and I found myself standing in a field. A girl with dark red hair stood with her back towards me. I moved towards her and reached out, slowly turning her to face me. My breath caught as I took in her beauty and some primal protective urge took over me. The words instinctively leaped from my mouth as I pulled her against me.


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