Embrace (The Gryphon Series Book 2)

By: Stacey Rourke

To my husband, thank you for all your encouragement and for your willingness to share me with the imaginary people that live in my head.





CHAPTER 1





I raced through the trees at a speed no ordinary human could achieve. But then, I’m no ordinary human. My name is Celeste Garrett, and I happen to be a superhero. You know how it goes; your ancestors make a pact with a mythical being—in my case, the Gryphon—who then channels his powers through you. Suddenly, it’s up to you to fight an evil army and save the world. Wait, you don’t know? Huh. Guess it’s just me.

At the moment I was in pursuit of a very specific member of that vile brigade. A shapeshifter by the name of Darious. A few months back ole Dari boy told his boss, Barnabus—who happened to be able to transform into a friggin’ dragon—where I lived. Barnabus paid my house a visit and nearly killed my beloved, if slightly wacky, Grams. Sure, she pulled through and I slayed the dragon, but based purely on principle, this tattletale demon needed to die.

“Celeste!! Wait for us!” My younger sister Kendall has wings, yet somehow still managed to lag behind. I ignored her and pumped my legs even harder. This confrontation with Darious was long overdue. Besides, I didn’t need anyone’s help to bring him down.

The moonlight reflected off of the ebony panther sprinting ahead of me. Like synchronized dancers we dodged and weaved through the trees, each passed as nothing more than a blur and a whisper. Up ahead was the creek. I smirked. The water would slow him down. Kitties, even fierce ones, don’t like water.

I had every square foot of this terrain memorized. After all, it was my home and training ground, Gainesboro, Tennessee and the Appalachian Mountains that surround it. A great place to enjoy the wilderness and lure demons in for an impromptu smackdown.

The panther came to an abrupt halt at the base of the creek. I dropped low to the ground and crept around him in a wide circle. I could see him, but he couldn’t see me. His yellow eyes scanned the darkness as he paced beside the water. A twig snapped under my foot and the panther whirled around. With his ears flattened to his head, his muzzle curled up in a vicious growl. Since my sneak attack was ruined, I rose to my feet. Maybe being in the mouth of a dragon had jaded me. Or, maybe it was because I have a brother that can turn into a gigantic lion. Whatever the cause, I was miles from intimidated by this scrawny panther.

“I have a moral dilemma, maybe you can help me with.” The panther swiped at the air between us, but I didn’t flinch. Instead, I took another step forward, a wry smile curled across my lips. “I can’t decide whether to make it look like you put up a fight or just go ahead and rip your head right off your shoulders. Thoughts? I need feedback.”

To my surprise, Darious rose up on his hind legs. His skeletal system cracked and popped as he morphed back to his human state. Sweat drenched his gray-pallored skin. His ink black hair clung to his forehead. “I have valuable information!” He trembled. “I’m willing to trade it for my life.”

I fell into a crouch, posed for attack. “What could you possibly say that would be worth that trade for me? Barnabus put my grandmother in the hospital, because of you. My brother got stabbed in the chest, because of you. I nearly died, because of you. Why would I let you live?”

“Because Barnabus was just a pawn!” As the words rushed out, Darious’ eyes darted back-and-forth nervously. “He was never the mastermind behind the Dark Army! Our real leader has plans for you, horrible plans!”

“Yeah-yeah-yeah, I’ve heard it all before. They wanna kill me because of my link to the Gryphon. Seriously, save your breath dude. ‘Cause you don’t have too many of them left.”

“No! It’s much more than that!” he pleaded.

Unfortunately for him, I was done listening. I sprinted at him and sprung in the air. I gained momentum by repelling off a sapling, then swung at him. He bared his teeth and extended his dagger-like claws. My roundhouse kick connected with the side of his head at the same time his claws sank into my side. His bones snapped. Darious melted away into a substance resembling tar. But the damage was already done.

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