Marked (Book One of the Marked Saga)

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“Grace? Sweetie, can I come in?”

No, Grace thought. But the door to her old room opened anyway, so she rolled over on her side, turning her back towards her aunt as she came in.

Beth sighed, settling on the edge of the bed. Grace felt her hand move, and then Beth was pressing her fingers gently against Grace’s back.

“We need to talk about what you saw,” Beth said.

“I’m fine,” Grace grumbled.

“No,” Beth pressed. “You’re not. Neither are your friends.”

Grace squeezed her eyes shut tightly, struggling to hold back the tears. After Diana had escaped, and Beck stopped his mental attack, the four of them had made their way back into Wolf Valley. They cut across town, and they didn’t stop until they reached Grace’s aunt and uncle’s doorstep. Beth, just as she did three years ago, took Grace in. She invited Malcolm and Basil into her home as well, but when she tried to convince Beck to stay, he turned and fled. Grace received a text from him later that night, letting her know that he had made it safely home.

Grace sighed, turning over so she was facing her aunt. Beth had red hair, just as she and her father did. The locks were frizzy and flame colored, looking as if she had a halo of fire wrapped around her head.

“What?” Grace asked. “What do you want to talk about?”

Beth gave her a look. “Don’t play dumb,” she said. “What did you see? When Beck attacked the Petrov witch.”

Grace let out a long breath, sitting up in her bed. She wrapped her arms around her legs and said, “Pain. Fear. Agony? I saw a lot, Aunt Beth. Why?”

“Why what?” Beth asked gently.

“Why did I see all of that?” Grace asked. “Beck wasn’t attacking me.”

Beth sighed and said, “He’s a Seer. And a young one at that. He didn’t know what he was doing.”

Grace nodded. “I haven’t seen him since that night,” she said. “Does he hate me?”

Beth blinked. “Why would he hate you?”

Grace shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “But it’s like he can’t stand to look at me.”

“Can you blame him?” Beth asked, causing Grace to snap her head up to look at her. “He hurt you, and you’re his best friend. Just give him some time.”

Grace began to nod, but then she shook her head. She got out of bed, moving to her closet. She pulled on a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and her sneakers. Beth frowned and said, “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to see him,” Grace said. “I’ll be back later.” Then, before her aunt could say another word, she turned and left the room.

Grace thundered down the stairs, stopping when she saw Basil sprawled across the couch. He was watching TV with her younger cousins, their eyes glued to the screen. He glanced up as she entered, a small smile on his face. He frowned slightly and said, “You okay, Grace?”

She nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m fine. I’m going to see Beck. Where’s Malcolm?”

Basil grinned. “Seeing Beck.”

“Oh,” Grace said, deflating somewhat. She had wanted to see Beck alone. If Malcolm was with him… “How long will he be?” she asked.

Basil shrugged. “Don’t know,” he said. He gazed at her for a moment, then said, “Want to go on a walk? Maybe to the Hideout?”

She smiled. “I’d love that.”

The sun shone high above them, showering them with warm, golden rays. Grace breathed in deeply, slowly exhaling as she turned to stare at Basil. He was smiling as well, but there was something in his eyes that told her all was not well.

“What did you see?” she asked. She had no idea how Beck had done what he did, but she knew that everyone within fifty feet of him had suffered. Malcolm had been the first to break free from the prison of his mind, but not even he seemed fine.

“Everything,” Basil said. “Centuries of pain, fear, and anger. Everything I’ve suffered with the Sioux, the bittersweet memories of being with Diana. I remembered every time I’ve died, but especially the first time.”

They stopped walking as they neared the Hideout. Grace and Basil stared down the alley where Duncan’s men had attacked, and Grace shivered at the memory. The stench of burned flesh and the screams of agony haunted the air, and as a chill crept over Grace’s skin she pressed herself closer to Basil. In all of the chaos that was Diana Petrov, she had forgotten about Duncan Carter. He had been the first one to try and kill her, and now, just as Diana wanted her dead, so did Duncan. Both for very different reasons.

“What are you thinking?” Basil asked, nudging her with his shoulder. After a moment, they began to make their way down the street again, towards the Hideout.

She shook her head. “Nothing,” she said. “It’s just… I can’t believe I have two powerful supernatural beings that want me dead. How am I supposed to fight against both of them?”

“Well, you have me and Malcolm,” Basil said. “And you have Beck. But most importantly, you have your magic. That is going to be your best ally in the coming future.”

He stopped talking as they entered the coffee shop. After ordering two Italian sodas, they exited the small building and continued walking. After a while, Grace spoke again, voicing what she desired.

“I want to restore my family’s name,” she said. “On the Council. I want to return the name MacEntyre back to its former glory.”

Basil nodded. “A noble goal,” he said. “How do you plan on doing that?”

Grace frowned a moment. She didn’t know. She didn’t even know where the Council was. She was about to give up on the thought before she remembered something that Diana had said.

“Diana said something about a tournament,” she said. “What’s that about?”

Basil laughed. “The King and Queen’s Tournament,” he said. “They have a tournament every few centuries, and the mage to win the tournament becomes the next king or queen of the Mage’s Court. For the past thousand years, it’s been a MacEntyre to wear the crown.”

Grace nodded. She felt Basil’s gaze on her, and after a moment she looked up into his eyes.

“Are you sure you want this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be Queen.”

She nodded. “I know,” she said. “I know I don’t need to be Queen. But… if Diana becomes Queen, you and I both know she’ll hunt me down, as well as anyone else that bears the name of MacEntyre.”

Grace sighed, staring forward as they walked. Her stomach churned at the thought of being ruler of a secret community that she hadn’t heard of until just a few months ago. How was she supposed to beat twelve other mages that had hundreds of years of experience in magic and the ways of the Court? All she could hope for was that she had enough strength and determination to win.

“Why did Duncan kill my parents and Regan?” she asked. “Why did he try to kill me?” All she knew was what her sister told her, that Duncan had been killing members of their family for centuries.

“Duncan used to be a mage in one of the thirteen clans,” Basil said. “I don’t know much, but I know that he felt the MacEntyres wronged him somehow, and he’s wanted revenge since. He wanted to be King, and he never had the chance.”

She nodded. They stopped as they reached the edge of town, the forest looming before them. Grace shivered, but it wasn’t from the cool breeze that danced across her skin. She felt as if there were eyes on her, watching from the shadows of the forest. Basil draped an arm over her shoulders, pulling her close. She snuggled up against his side, letting the warmth and comfort of his embrace wrap around her.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll keep you safe, and I’ll help you. So will Malcolm, and Beck.”

She sighed. “If Beck will ever speak to me again.”

“He will,” Basil promised. “Just give him time, and understand that he needs a little space to get his head together. You are his best friend, and he hurt you. That’s a lot for someone to have weigh on their mind.”

Grace nodded. He was right, after all. If the roles were reversed, and she had hurt Beck like that, she would avoid him as well. Not from anger or spite, but from shame. She couldn’t bear the thought of hurting someone she loved.

Basil kissed the top of her head, inhaling deeply. She smiled and tipped her head back, staring into his gold-and-brown irises. Their gazes locked, and for several moments, Grace couldn’t look away. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Basil leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers. Grace inhaled deeply, turning in his arms to press her chest against his. She kissed him back, her hand sliding up his back to the nape of his neck. She smiled when he shivered under her touch, tangling his hair between her fingers.

He broke the kiss, breathing heavily. Grace found she was having difficulty breathing as well, and the thought made her smile.

“Let’s head back,” Basil said, stepping away. He laced his fingers through hers, and after tugging gently, Grace followed. But she couldn’t help looking over her shoulder, back to the forest, as if someone was watching from the depths within.

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