Sacrifice (The Gryphon Series Book 3)By: Stacey Rourke
Thank you to my family and friends for your unwavering support. To the crew of Anchor Group Publishing, thank you for believing in me and motivating me without fail. A big thanks to my amazing editor, Melissa Ringsted, and all of my beta readers. I appreciate you more than you can imagine. And, of course, to the Condu-nuts, you keep reading ‘em, I’ll keep writing ‘em!
Dedicated to my mom and David, thank you for dragging a reluctant teenage me to the gorgeous Biltmore Estate. If it wasn’t for you Gabe and Alaina probably would’ve gotten married on a river boat.
“Right jab. Left jab.”
My fists connected with the punching bag in time to the commands.
“Right hook. Left hook. No!” Bernard pointed his cane and electricity jolted through me. My muscles seized up, the world swam out of focus, and I could taste metal. “You’re being lazy! Again. Left hook.”
I used to have an irrational fear of garden gnomes. Then I met one. Turns out it wasn’t so irrational. They’re evil little jerks. Okay, that’s generalizing. Maybe it wasn’t all gnomes, just Bernard. In his defense, we didn’t really start our relationship off on the right foot. I have what you may refer to as “gnome-phobia”. They creep me right out. Therefore, when one walked into my bedroom after being introduced as my Spirit Guide, I had a slight case of the wiggens—by which I mean I screamed my fool head off and whipped every piece of my bedding and my sister’s at him. The low point came the moment I picked up my sister’s stuffed zebra. The second it went airborne things seemed to happen in slow motion.
Kendall screamed, “Mr. Hoofington! Nnnooooooo!”
Bernard got knocked clear across the hall when the dopey, grinning zebra walloped him.
In retrospect it probably wasn’t the best way to meet my new mentor. No wonder he got slaphappy with his zappy cane during our training sessions.
With still blurred vision, I swung blindly at the punching bag, missed, spun myself around and landed on the ground tangled in my own legs.
Bernard shuffled over, his cane clicking across the cement floor. Red pointed hat, long white beard, green shirt belted around his paunchy mid-section, and tan pants tucked into tiny little leather boots. Somewhere there was a flower bed with a Bernard-sized hole in it. He leaned against his cane and eyed me with contempt as he crammed one pudgy little hand into the satchel that hung around his waist. Extracting a handful of berries, he popped them into his mouth one after the other. They were fermented. He had a bit of an addiction.
Blue juice dribbled down his white beard as he chomped. “You’re not even trying. Such lack of effort by the Conduit is disgraceful.”
“Shouldn’t you be making cookies in a tree somewhere?” I grumbled under my breath.
“What was that?” He glared. The berries made him especially surly.
I tightened my ponytail and rose to my feet. “I said, ‘I’m sorry. Let’s go again’,” I lied with my best fake grin.
With a brisk nod, Bernard turned on his heel and marched back over to the perimeter of the musty garage. I fought the urge to quicken his trip by punting him there. Our training sessions normally took place at a clearing in the Appalachian Mountains, just outside of the tiny town of Gainesboro, Tennessee where we live. But a couple of weeks ago we got two feet of snow dumped on us. Grams didn’t want our warrior alter egos to get lax, so she transformed her one car garage into a training facility. It wasn’t much—a punching bag, space heater, and a small area the size of a mid-sized SUV for sparring—but it beat getting frost bitten toes.
I shook out my limbs and awaited Bernard’s next command. He banged his tiny cane against the floor to signal it was time to begin. I centered myself and let the power course through me. A smile curled my lips at the surging energy that electrified every muscle and joint of my body.
“Right jab.” Dust flew as my fist connected with its target.
“Left jab.” The bag rattled on its chain.
“Right hook.” Mid-swing a titter of laughter distracted me. Instead of hitting the bag, I caught it and steadied it.