by Stacey Rourke
The Gryphon Series, Book Two
Whether she likes it or not, eighteen year old Celeste Garrett has come to terms with being the Chosen One. She knew having a “normal life” would be tricky, between intense training sessions and epic demonic battles, but she didn’t know at what cost it would come. That is, until a dear friend is harmed by the malicious forces hunting her.
Now, she’d like nothing more than to retreat into a hermit lifestyle to prevent anyone else from getting hurt. But startling revelations, amazing new abilities, and mortifying moments in front of insanely hot guys won’t allow time for that. Soon, Celeste finds herself surrounded by darkness and wondering who she can trust—if anyone.
An Excerpt from Embrace
The next night’s patrol up into the mountains was all kinds of awkward due to how incredibly peeved Gabe still was despite my attempts to make amends. As we walked, he intentionally allowed a branch to snap back at my face. I caught it a split second before it impaled my eyeball. Kendall, with her sweet nature, easily forgave me and we hugged it out. Gabe told me where I could shove my apology. Maybe I had been somewhat out of line with the things I said, but he had been lying to me for months. Therefore, I’d had about all of his nasty attitude I could tolerate.
“Don’t worry about that branch, Gabe,” I snapped. “I got it. Thanks.”
Gabe halted. He kept his broad back to me as he let out a low, menacing growl.
I put my hand on my hip and shined my flashlight at him. “Oh, I don’t even think so! I don’t care how big and bad you think you are, you’re not gonna growl at me.”
His head whipped around. The light from my flashlight reflected off of his yellow cat eyes. That sight wasn’t new to me, yet it still gave me chills.
“Demon,” he rumbled, in a barely human tremor, then fell to the ground in a low crouch. His clawed hands dug into the dirt as his back arched in preparation for his change.
A rush of air behind me and Keni’s wings were deployed. She and I scanned the landscape in front of us with our flashlights. Trees. Light fog. Rocks. The occasional critter, but no demon. Then—not twenty feet in front of us—the brush rustled. A black shadow darted past us.
“Did you see that?” I followed it with the light, but it vanished before I could catch up.
Before either of them could answer, a shrill cackle echoed through the night. The shapeless form flew by in another pass. We spun to follow it but again failed to get a glimpse.
“Where’d it go?” Keni’s feathers tickled my shoulder as she curled her wing protectively around me. “I lost it.”
Pebbles kicked up as the demon skidded to a stop in front of us. Like matching spotlights our flashlight beams captured the creature.
Kendall giggled and put her wings away.
Gabe paused in the early stages of his transformation, stood up, and reverted back to human.
I screamed for all I was worth and dropped my flashlight.
Before us stood a gruesome, two-foot tall hobgoblin with green wart covered skin that hung off its tiny frame. Long, wiry black hair draped down passed the snarling, spitting creature’s itty, bitty shoulders. With beady little eyes, a snout for a nose, and a mouth full of shark-like teeth, this thing was straight out of my worst nightmares.
“Aww, it’s kinda cute!” Kendall gushed and bent down to extended her hand to it like it was a friendly pooch.
Then it charged. Its tiny legs blurred as it sped toward us with snapping jaws. I flew onto Gabe’s shoulders like a cat up a tree. Kendall released her wings just in time to lob the hobgoblin back where it started. That didn’t slow it down. It hopped right back up and ran at us again.
“Get off me!” Gabe ordered, but couldn’t shake my death grip from around his neck.
“NO! Not until you get rid of it!” I screamed. “Turn into a lion and eat it! Or shred it! I don’t care, just make it go away!”
Once again, Kendall hit it like a well-served tennis ball and sent it careening through the air.
“What do you need my help for?” Gabe asked, in what I considered to be an overly mocking tone, as he grappled to pry my arms and legs off of him. “You’re the “Chosen One” and I’m just your sidekick. Seems to me you should be able to handle this all on your own, oh-mighty one.”
“Gabe! Now is not the time to get into this!” I pleaded as I clung to him like a frightened koala bear. “Just kill it!”
“No.” While I couldn’t see his face, I could hear the smirk in his voice. “I think now is the perfect time to talk about this. You need to admit that you need both of us.”
The demon whizzed past Keni. I squealed and squeezed my eyes shut as Gabe casually punted it away from us. “I need you! I need you! Please! Get rid of that thing!”
“Now apologize for calling me your sidekick. That was very offensive.”
“You’re not my sidekick!” I whimpered. “You’re my sentry! Which is mythical, and heroic. Please make that horrible thing go away!”
“And you’ll never take us for granted again, right?”
“Oh, for the love of all that’s good and pure! Yes! I’m an awful person that took you for granted. It’ll never happen again!”
“Good,” Gabe relented. “Now climb down, and I’ll take care of the toddler-sized demon for you.”
Just as I attempted to scale my way down my building-sized brother, the mini-goblin zipped at us again. I screeched, lost my hold, and thudded to the ground. Right into the path of the incoming two-foot terror.
Yelling, “Celeste look out,” was all Gabe and Keni had time to do.
In utter panic, I brought one arm up to shield my face and held the other out to block the attack. With my eyes clamped shut I tensed for the moment when those gruesome teeth would shred me to the bone.
No shredding, biting, or nipping of any sort came. Nothing did.
“Uh, Celeste?” Keni’s tone was a question mark.
“What?” I squeaked my response through a locked jaw, but didn’t dare open my eyes.
“I think you got a new power.”
That was the last thing I expected to hear. Hesitantly, I pried one eye open. The hobgoblin hovered over the ground, suspended in midair. Its teeth gnashed angrily. It kicked its hooved feet at nothing. But it remained suspended. I relaxed enough to open my other eye. When I lowered my hand slightly, the goblin went down. Hand up, goblin up.
I gave a giddy little laugh, then turned to gauge Gabe and Kendall’s reactions. In the process I dropped my hand without thinking. Hearing teeny feet scurry in my direction, I whirled back around. With a girlie yelp, I waved my hand and the miniature demon went sailing through the air. It slammed into a tree trunk with a sound like a watermelon being cracked in half. This time it fell to the ground in a heap, and stayed there.
Kendall crinkled her nose and turned Yoda green.
Gabe held his hand up for us to hold our positions—as if we had any desire to see—while he crept over to investigate. “It’s nothing but black ooze now.” His eyebrows disappeared into his hairline as he glanced up at me in surprise. “You killed it.”
His face folded into a frown as he left the dissipating remnants of the demon and rejoined us. “Ya know the caliber of demon the Army is sending after us just isn’t what it used to be. Whatever happened to panthers and dragons?”
“Totally,” Keni agreed with a sympathetic pout. “I feel bad for that little guy.”
“What?” I screeched as I brushed pine needles off my backside. “That was without a doubt the scariest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Gabe gave me a playful shove. “Then I guess it’s a good thing you got that new power when you did. Otherwise, it would’ve devoured you one eensy, weensy bite at a time.”
My eyes bulged.
“Look on the bright side, Cee.” Gabe laughed at my terror. “The tiny little demon helped us work through our issues. You should thank him.”
Thank him for making me apologize to my jerk of a brother who had been deliberately deceiving me about his icky relationship with our feathered guide? Nope. The tree thunking was the correct response.
About the Author
Writing is something I have always done. I can remember in elementary school creating stories that I would stand up and read aloud to my classmates…whether they liked it or not. As I grew older I didn’t flaunt my writing as freely. It became something I did just for me to vent my teenage angst, or chronicle my journey to adulthood. I never thought about becoming a writer because that title prompted the visual of a grey-haired man in a tweed smoking jacket with suede elbow patches, slaving over an old fashion typewriter while puffing away on a pipe. No way was that stuffy kind of life for me. (Plus tweed is itchy.) Instead I wanted to be in the spotlight! I wanted to be–pause for dramatic effect–an actress! I gave it my best shot, too. Got about as far as any aspiring actress can get in Flint, Michigan. Which is exactly no where. But I did get two great things out of my time delving into the theatrical world; I gained the ability to act out the scenes I write to make sure they’re believable (yes, I really do that and no, you can’t watch) and I met my amazing husband.
My theater ambitions behind me, I decided to do the “mature,” “grown up” thing and went back to college. As I worked toward my Bachelor’s degree in marketing I did a lot of writing. Essays, research papers, PowerPoint presentations. All of it mandatory, none of it what I would ever call fun. Even then, becoming a writer never entered my mind. No, then I was going to be a business tycoon…or somethin’.
Truth be told, I never picked writing. It picked me. During my time as a stay at home mom I needed an outlet to give me a mental break from diapers, formula and midnight feedings. That’s when my hands found their way back to the keyboard. Story ideas began coming at such an incessant rate that my rapidly clicking fingers couldn’t keep up. Post-It notes and scrapes of paper with story ideas decorated every inch of our house. In mid-conversation with my husband I would dart off to jot down things that would come to me. Sweet guy my hubby is, he would just shake his head at my obvious rudeness and hold my place in the conversation.
My first book was completed for an entire year before I told anyone about it. I outed myself as an author and then sent out my first round of query letters to literary agents. Surely, it would be picked up immediately and become an overnight success! Yeah, not so much. For two years I got rejection, after rejection, after rejection, after rejection…you get the idea. Thankfully with the ever increasing pile of rejections came feedback. I digested all the suggestions and applied the usable ones to my manuscript. Little by little, the rough edges were chipped away and the diamond shone through. The work paid off when I received an email from a publisher offering me a contract on The Conduit.
It’s been a long road, and it ain’t over yet. But now, at thirty-mumble, mumble years old I finally know what I wanna be when I grow up–-a writer.
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