The Bitter Storm
Demon Hunter #6
After saving a friend from the clutches of Lust, Ruby finds herself tried and sentenced for the crime of murder and is incarcerated in Ravenshill Prison. Seemingly abandoned by most of those she considers her friends, Ruby finds she has to adapt to her new surroundings quickly to avoid being walked all over. Yet even behind bars nobody is safe, and she finds herself wrapped up in another mystery as the women become targeted by something that could only be related to the demon world.
As Ruby fights to save those in her new environment, she is also learning more about her past than she ever considered, that is until a figure from the not too distant past comes back to haunt her and steal her dad's journal...
Darkness swarms in the air around me. Darkness punctuated by tendrils of light so fleeting that when I reach out to grasp them, they shrink from my outstretched fingers and are swallowed back into the depths of shadows. I feel like I’m falling, my body pulled downwards by gravity, but this is no rabbit hole.
Then I realise I’m not just falling, I’m being sucked into a deep oblivion, pulled further and further into the abyss of destruction below me. I feel the heat as it licks my toes. I fight, my arms swimming for the surface but I cannot emerge from the darkness that surrounds me because there is no escape. Everything I know and love in my life, in the world around me, it is gone. There is only the darkness, ever present and invading. And as I’m drawn down into the dark depths below, the heat sending coils spiralling up my calves, I realise with a sickening comprehension, that there is a deep ache inside. I want this more than I have ever wanted anything. I am about to lose myself.
* * *
My eyes flicked open just as the darkness threatened to consume my very existence. Terror prickled every inch of my skin, beads of perspiration swelling across the expanse of my back. I jumped, the covers shifting over my ankles, and I felt a trace of heat that lingered on my skin before it cooled with the chill of the early morning. Groaning, I rubbed my eyes and then finally, began to slow my heartbeat.
The dreams—the nightmares—had been coming to me for weeks. Not every night, but often enough to make me question my own sanity. That was something I hadn’t done since I first began seeing shadows move in the darkness. The dreams were always the same; darkness and heat and a sordid wish for the pain that licked my skin. I had nobody to consult about them, no Hunters I could call, but I knew that they signalled some sort of change, I just didn’t know what it was yet.
Pushing myself up and shaking the last of the dream away, I let my surroundings come into focus. Everything was white, from the shine on the walls forming a square around me, to the door and the floor. Live in the light. The phrase popped into my mind and I almost laughed. Almost. There wasn’t a dark shadow to be had in this tiny room and I was grateful to an extent after everything I’d witnessed of late, but I couldn’t muster the energy to crack a smile let alone laugh. Day by day, my energy, my willpower, seemed to deplete and the longer I stared at these four walls, the more I worried I would never return to normal. Whatever that was.
The night that started everything and had me coiled up in this mess came rushing back to me, as it always did, with sudden venomous force that brought tears to my eyes. There was always a sting of emotion that came with the memories. Sometimes it was overwhelming sadness that threatened to send me into the pit of depression. Sometimes it was fear of what was coming next. But mostly it was anger, the unshed tears of hurt.
My mind rushed back though I fought it and within seconds, my memory was rooted back on that night. There was a flash of the house—the brothel—of Cora leading the man upstairs, Melody’s tiny skirt. And then I saw it ending, pulling Melody into me, taking her home. My memory skipped forward to the point where I’d climbed into bed. I saw the flash of blue in the midnight sky and then heard the knock on the door. I had known then, with a deep dread in my heart and a knot in my stomach, that something had been set in motion.
I saw myself descending the stairs on light feet where I paused at the door, pressing my face to the door to look through the spyhole. There were two police officers in high vis jackets, the car at the kerb still flashing blue lights across the whole street. Opening that door had been one of the hardest things I had to do. I knew why they were there, but I also knew there was no escape. I’d opened the door then, felt a blast of cool night air against my skin.
“Ruby Dawson?” It was an identifying statement.
“Yes.” I still clutched the door with one hand, the other arm wound over my chest in an attempt to stay warm.
“You’re under arrest for murder.” The words had hit me like a sledgehammer, their weight leaving me breathless. My legs had buckled beneath me and I went down. I was hauled to my feet, the cuffs locked on my wrists as I was read my rights. Then I was dragged away, my house disappearing in the darkness as I was shut up in the back of the car. In the space of a few hours I had lost everything I knew, everything I’d fought for. I was appointed a state lawyer who seemed nice enough, but I often saw the look on his face when he thought I wasn’t looking. Judgement. Disgust. Pity.
The worst part of it all, was sitting there alone that very first night in a cell, completely alone. I hadn’t heard a thing in the few weeks I’d been in a cell awaiting my sentence either. The only time I’d seen a familiar face was when Becca came to the courtroom during my trial. She left that day in floods of tears, mascara tracking down her cheeks, and I hadn’t seen hide or hair of her since.
None of the Hunters had shown up at the trial. No Delta, Justin, Luka or Roan. And worst of all, no Vaughn. That hurt the most. I often saw his face in the dead of night when I couldn’t sleep; the dimples in his cheeks when he smiled, his warm chocolate eyes, the muscular arms that held me close. I worried I was beginning to forget his face. And that was speckled with flashes of anger that he had made no effort to see me.
I had even foolishly thought, allowed myself to hope, that Sheila would come. Despite everything she had done, it would have been a friendly face. And not only that, but I knew she was a powerful woman who held a lot of sway; I thought that she might be able to do something to alleviate my situation, that she might be able to free me, but she too had stayed away.
I was completely and utterly alone.
When I was dragged into the cell in the early hours of the morning and asked for my statement, I told them the truth. Nothing else would have worked or given a credible explanation for my actions. When I started talking my lawyer encouraged me to quieten but I knew I had to try. The room had been cramped with the four of us in there, a thick table between me and the officers and a recording machine set on top of it.
The first time I told them I killed the woman because she was a demon, they laughed, suggested that I needed my blood testing for drugs. The second time they had looked at each other with one of those looks that suggested they thought something was amiss. And then third time, well, that’s when they called in the psychiatrist. I couldn’t say I blamed them with everything I was coming out with. Demons and darkness and shadows. I wouldn’t have believed me going back a few years, but I guess that’s where I’d hoped Sheila’s sway would muscle in.
The psychiatric assessment came back with nothing, as did the blood tests, and the questioning continued.
I remembered the good cop and his well-thought wise words. “Ruby,” he had paused and leaned across the table, his eyes shining with something that was supposed to resemble sympathy. If I had been lying, I might have been inclined to confess. “It’ll be easier on you if you tell us the truth. Nobody is going to believe this story. Why did you kill Cora Peony?”
My answer had been simple and the same as the last time he’d asked: “Because she was a demon.”
They went ahead and pressed charges for murder. And I had been in the cell ever since, waiting for my sentence and the rest of my life to begin.
I shook the memories from my head. They came unbidden on a regular basis and I knew they always would, but I had to snap myself from the reverie at some point or I’d spiral into that pit I desperately wanted to avoid. I sat up, wrapping the meagre covers around my bare feet, and stretched. I’d almost become accustomed to being in that cell. It had been my home for long enough now and the four walls were familiar with all of the dents and chips from its previous occupants, but nothing would ever make me forget the comfort of home. I closed my eyes, leaning back against the cold wall, not for the first time wishing I was curled up on the sofa with Vaughn beside me.
Vaughn. Sometimes it hurt too much to think about him. When I was first arrested and locked up while police gathered their evidence, I cried a lot. I thought about Vaughn, pined for him. There was no way that I could contact him, and every waking moment had me wondering what he was thinking, whether, after everything, he still loved me. Our last conversation had been an argument and I hated it but had to hope he could see past it. But whether he could see past murder, whether he’d understand why I did what I did, was another matter.
As the weeks rolled by, my emotions and thoughts began to stabilise until I became numb.
Down the corridor I heard the echo of steps, thunderous and confident—they always had an air of authority stamped in their boots—and I knew they were coming to get me. My stomach knotted.