Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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The Fox

The smell of freshly baked bread, tea, and coffee wrapped itself around Grace like a blanket as she and Basil walked through the doors of the Hideout. The coffee shop was crowded with kids from her school, everyone hanging out after a long day of classes. When Grace returned from school, she had started training with Basil immediately, and hadn’t had time to even touch her homework.

A few kids looked up, but then returned to their conversations. Grace and Basil each took a seat at a table, and after a moment she realized it was the table. The one where she and Basil had officially met, and where her life changed.

“I’m going to go get us our drinks,” Basil said. “What would you like to drink?”

Grace narrowed her eyes as she peered at the chalkboard menu behind the counter. “Drink of the day,” she said.

Basil nodded. “You want anything to eat?”

Grace scrunched her nose and shook her head. “No,” she said. “I don’t think I could eat anything right now.”

He gave her a worried look. “Grace,” he said. “With the amount of training you’re doing, both magic and combat, you need energy.”

“I can’t eat,” she mumbled. “I feel sick every time I eat, or even think about food sometimes.”

He frowned. “Maybe you’re taking too much on at once,” he said. “I’ll talk to Malcolm, see if we can’t take things down a few notches.”

“I’m fine,” she protested, waving a hand. “Really.”

“No, you’re not,” he insisted. “You’re strong, but you can’t take all of this training on at once. We’ll slow things down for a while, and after a month or two, we’ll bring you back up to speed.”

“But—”

“Grace,” Basil groaned. He crouched beside her and took her hands in his. After he was assured he had her full attention, he said, “I don’t want you getting too sick because of this. I care about you, and I don’t want anything to happen. Please, eat something.”

She sighed. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll take a chicken wrap.”

He smiled victoriously. “Good,” he said. He stood and, after pressing his lips against her temple, he turned and made his way to the front counter.

Grace smiled, the warmth of his kiss filling her to her core. She leaned back in her seat, pulling out her sketchpad and a few pencils.

The bell chimed as the door opened. Grace glanced up, her muscles tensing as fury washed through her. Diana had walked into the Hideout, her eyes grazing over the crowd before her. She smirked as her eyes landed on Grace. Then, they took on a predatory gleam as she gazed at someone over by the counter. Grace followed her gaze, her insides going cold as she saw the target of Diana’s attention.

Basil had looked up when Diana walked in. His eyes had widened, taking on a frightened deer-in-the-headlights look. She moved to stand, but Diana had already started making her way towards Basil.

His eyes narrowed, the irises darkening as Diana came closer. The barista returned with Basil’s order, and without looking at the other girl, he began making his way towards Grace.

He reached their table, with Diana right behind him. Basil spun around, his chest heaving. Grace stood, moving to stand by his side. She lifted a hand and placed it on his back; his muscles were tense, his body quivering. Whether it was from rage or fear, she couldn’t tell. But Grace knew that she was right about Diana—she was bad news.

“What do you want, Diana?” Basil hissed through gritted teeth.

Diana lifted a hand to his arm, tracing circles on his arm with a long, manicured nail. He kept his head still, but moved his eyes to watch her finger. His brows were pulled together, and Basil looked at Diana’s finger as if it were some foul, rotten piece of bread that smelled of mold.

“I heard you and Malcolm had settled here,” she pouted. “I missed you, and I had hoped to see you again. It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other. Do you remember Kinkakuji? The light on the water?”

“Of course I remember,” Basil muttered. His hand moved, and he gripped Diana’s wrist. Grace frowned when she saw his hand shake, and she was afraid for a moment that he’d break her wrist. “It’s a memory I would very much like to forget,” he snarled.

Diana pulled her hand back, a fire blazing in her cool, blue eyes. “Does our history mean nothing to you anymore?” she asked. “Do I mean anything to you anymore?”

“I told you how I felt that night in Tokyo,” Basil said. “And I told you what I’d do if I ever saw you again.”

Diana’s eyes widened. She staggered back a step, and she looked as if she had been hit by a car.

“Leave, now,” Basil said in a cool, emotionless tone. “Leave, and don’t let me see you ever again.”

She looked to be on the verge of tears. Up until that point, Grace had been practically invisible. Now, Diana turned her attention to the young mage with a fury in her eyes. “Watch your back, MacEntyre,” Diana warned. Her eyes flicked to Basil and she said, “Or else the bear will chew you up and leave you behind, broken and lifeless. Like he did to me.” And with that, she turned on her heel and stormed from the Hideout.

As soon as she disappeared from view, Basil sighed. His shoulders slumped, and he looked as if he had aged a decade within seconds. He turned away from Grace, lowering himself into the chair beside him. Grace sat next to him, keeping her hand on his arm.

“What was that about?” she asked gently. “How do you know Diana?”

“She and I were exclusive, once,” Basil replied in a weary voice. “Back in Japan, when Malcolm was training me. She was an envoy from the Mage’s Court, coming to speak in counsel with Malcolm We met, and it was love at first sight.” He paused, then added, “At least, I had thought it was love at first sight.”

“What happened? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“She’s a Petrov,” he said. “Their Mark is the fox, and she’s just as sneaky, just as clever as a fox. She’s cruel and merciless, and she strung me along behind her like a lovesick puppy. I didn’t realize until too late how blind I was.

“She was only interested in me for as long as I was a mage. When I became a Mejhan, I lost any magic I had before. As a mage, even though I didn’t belong to any clan, I was very powerful. She felt that if we married and had children, we would strengthen the Petrov bloodline. When I returned to her after my death, she turned me away and slammed the door in my face.”

Basil was resting his hands on the table, his fists clenching and unclenching as fury and despair played across his body. Grace slid in closer to him, wrapping both of her arms around his bicep. She rested her head against his shoulder, and he lay his chin atop her head. “A part of me still loves her, and I hate myself for it. I want nothing more to do with her, and there’s still a part of me that wants her.”

He squeezed his eyes shut and turned his face away. He was breathing heavily, as if he had run a marathon. Grace knew she should be angry. She knew she shouldn’t allow any insecurities to plague their relationship, now matter how confusing their relationship may be. And yet, a part of her understood. She knew Diana had to be his first love, and she understood feelings like that didn’t just fade away.

She reached over and gently cupped his chin with her hand. She turned his face towards her, but he kept his eyes closed. She stroked his cheekbone with her thumb, and his eyelids fluttered open. His gold-brown irises were as dark as the earth, and she could see almost two hundred years of pain in them.

“Don’t ever hate yourself for how you feel,” she said sternly. “I don’t blame you for the feelings you still have for Diana.”

“But—”

“No,” she insisted. “I don’t. I understand; she was your first love, and you haven’t allowed yourself the time to search for anyone else.”

He sighed. “I’ve been wandering the world alone for almost a hundred years,” he said. “I’ve spent time with Malcolm occasionally, or I’d stay with a House for a time. But then I’d go my own way. Mejhan aren’t tied anywhere, and our only obligation is to ensure that demons and Kuren do not take over. So, no, I haven’t tried searching for anyone else. But then, I met you.”

Grace smiled. Without thinking, she leaned closer and pressed her lips against the corner of his mouth. “And I am so glad you did,” she said.

“Grace…” Basil opened and closed his mouth several times, searching for the right words to say. He finally said, “I don’t want you to think that Diana still has a hold over me. Any feeling I may have left for her, I promise they won’t interfere with what we have.” He pressed his forehead to hers and said, “For the first time in a very, very long time, I feel happy. You’ve brought a light to my life, and you’ve brought me back to life.”

She frowned. “But you were already alive,” she said.

He smiled. “My body and mind was, but my soul wasn’t. You’ve reawakened me, and I don’t think anyone, Diana or otherwise, can do for me what you have.”

All she could do was grin. She had never thought that anyone would fall for her, and yet here was this beautiful, incredible man, telling her that she had brought him back to life.

“I don’t want to waste this wonderful food and drink before us,” Basil said. “What say you we eat all of this, and then go back home? We can have some hot chocolate and hang out in the library by the fire.”

Grace reached over and took the chicken wrap from her plate. She took a bite, and smiling through a mouthful of chicken and lettuce, she said, “I’d love to.”

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