A Shadowed Beginning
Demon Hunter #1
Ruby Dawson is about to discover a whole new world—one of demons and devils.
Following the death of her father four years ago, Ruby is sure her life can't get any harder. Living in a care home for girls, struggling with the last two years of school and working part time at an employment agency seem almost too much at times.
And then she sees the man with the crescent scar. He's a memory from her past and one that she knows will have answers. He's the last link to her dad.
Ruby goes looking for answers but only ends up with more questions as everything she thought she knew was real is turned upside down and her own life becomes all too connected with a world she didn't know existed.
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He wore the scar on his cheek like a badge of honour as he walked into the room. His eyes scanned the area, as if he was searching for something, and then he was moving, walking past the reception counter towards the door where our boss, Sheila Quigley, was always seated. As part time admin assistant, it was my job to stop him and take his details before letting him through, instead, I stood and stared at him, my head moving with each step he took. There was something about the guy that held me rapt and I think it had a lot to do with the white scar emblazoned on his tanned skin. I realised I had seen that mark on his cheek before and I was transported back to the day with a sudden visceral force. My dad’s funeral.
I sucked in a breath and kept following him with my eyes. For a second his gaze met mine, and I saw something flicker deep in his ice blue eyes before he turned away and carried on walking right past me.
“Mr Mason, if you’d like to go on through,” Deidre, the older woman I worked with, indicated. His eyes flicked from Deidre and back to me just for a second, and then he was walking away.
His figure was beautifully sculpted, a God in a man’s body I had no doubt. The muscles in his shoulders rippled and his arms swayed naturally as they flexed beneath his tight shirt. I couldn’t decide whether I liked him or whether I was scared of him. Both I think.
“Ruby, what has gotten into you?” Deidre asked as I remained standing long after the door to Sheila’s office shut, his deep scent lingering in reception.
I shook my head. “Sorry, I just thought... that I recognised him.”
“Back to work. There’s plenty to do.”
I turned and nodded, grabbing the stack of paper I had been asked to photocopy and made my way across to the centre of the small space that housed the open reception and began my task. The good thing about having a monotonous job was that it gave me plenty of time to think. Working at The Agency part time fitted well around my school timetable and it showed me that I didn’t want to do this forever. I still had no clue what I wanted to do with my life in the long term but having an extra couple of years to decide would give me more options. The age of leaving school used to be sixteen but now that the law had changed and education was compulsory until the age of eighteen, I’d chosen to stay on at school rather than go to college.
I fed the papers into the machine as my mind wandered. Had he recognised me? I’d probably changed a lot in a few years—four to be precise—since my dad’s funeral. That was the last time I saw him. He on the other hand, hadn’t changed at all. Except the last time I saw him he was in a dour black suit and he barely looked up. Strange he should show up at a place like The Agency when I knew he had a solid job at a bank. Or at least he did. My mind was ticking over and I wanted to know more.
I kept feeding papers into the machine, my eyes flicking over to the office every now and then. The door was shut and through the small, rectangular window, I only got the briefest glimpse of his hair, dirty blonde and pulled up into a ponytail, now and again. He was in the office for well over an hour. I wondered what the conversation was, and why he was there.
When he finally left, the door opening and the two inside shaking hands, I found that my heart was thudding in my chest. I had been unable to get him off my mind ever since he walked into the office, and I knew that he would be on it for a long time. I had questions that needed answering and he had known my dad. Maybe that was the way to find out what I needed to know.
As he strode back past reception, his heavy boots thudding on the floor, he offered me the same piercing stare, his lips pressed tightly together. Our eyes connected and he watched me watch him. Then he was gone. My breath caught in my chest and my heart continued to pound long after he left as indecision rolled through my mind. It was the only time I had seen him in The Agency and it might be the last. I had so many questions, so many things I wanted to know and the person who could give them to me had walked right out the door. I had to know.
Without another thought, I took off from behind reception, throwing my body around the small door and thrusting myself into the office. My pumps slapped the floor and vibrated with each step I took as I made my way to the exit.
“Ruby!” Deidre shouted, standing up. I glanced back and saw her staring at me from beneath her round glasses with wide eyes. “Where are you going?”
I didn’t answer. Instead, I pulled the door open, ignoring the slam it made as it hit the wall. The small foyer leading to the stairwell was empty, which meant he was already outside. I set myself into motion, my feet whirling down the stairs, hand gripping the wooden banister to keep myself upright.
At the bottom, I threw the door open and glanced both ways down the street. My initial thought was that he couldn’t have gotten too far and being stuck in the middle of a quiet industrial estate might have given me a good chance at finding him, but there was no sign of the dark blue jeans or black jacket that I searched for. I thought I had lost him despite the fact that the street was virtually empty. Then I spotted him up ahead crossing the road. He was almost through the industrial estate and heading towards town. He marched like a man on a mission and didn’t stop.
“Hey!” I yelled waving my arms above my head. He didn’t turn. Whether he didn’t hear me or he was purposely ignoring me I didn’t know but I couldn’t stop there. I just couldn’t.
Taking off, I skipped across the road, dodging a taxi just in time to avoid running into its rear bumper and made it to the other side of the pavement. I kept jogging, my eyes moving between my shoes where they slapped the pavement and the man’s trajectory up ahead. I couldn’t lose him now. He seemed impossibly fast. I sped on, jumping over a black bag dumped on the pavement and skirting around a lady walking her dog who gasped in protest and pushed her hand to her chest.
The man turned left down an alley. My stomach jolted. If he was heading down an alley he either had a shortcut or was close to his destination. I almost had him. I hurried on, pouring on the speed to catch up, and then I turned into the alley myself, careening around the corner and almost falling.
A pair of hands grabbed me and I was slammed against the wall, the breath forced out of my lungs. My vision faded for a moment and then I gulped down a huge breath of air and looked up. It was him.
His fists were wound around the lapels of my shirt and his nose was inches from mine. His blue eyes stared at me with something close to fury and I waited, holding the breath in my lungs as I prayed that he wasn’t some serial killer. I thought he might shout, get angry, maybe even knock me out. Instead, he growled. “Why are you following me?” His breath swept over me. My eyes flicked to his scar and then back to his eyes, considering what I should tell him.
“I... I have to know,” I stuttered. His hands loosened slightly and his head tilted to the side. “About my dad,” I finally finished.
His eyebrows twitched and his eyes widened. Then slowly, his fingers unfurled and he let my taut body slide down the brick wall. I felt my stomach churn and the breath returned to me as I panted heavily. Blood rushed through my ears as I stared at the man in front of me. The man who had stood at my dad’s graveside. The man who was his partner at the bank.
His hand automatically went to his face, fingers lightly brushing the crescent moon scar, and I wondered whether it was a tic. Silence passed between us and I recognised the workings of his mind through his eyes as he took me in, lips slightly parted.
His mouth opened and closed and then he heaved a breath through his nose. “Ruby?” he asked.
I nodded. This man knew me. Maybe he didn’t recognise me at first; I had probably changed a lot. The last time he saw me I was twelve and at sixteen I figured I probably looked quite different. But now he did. His eyes narrowed as he took in my face.
“It’s good to see you.” A smile lifted the corner of his lips. My day was going from strange to bizarre.
I would have returned the sentiment, but technically I didn’t know this man. I had seen him once, nothing more. “Who are you?”
“I’m Delta. I was friends with your dad for a long time. Come with me. We have a lot to talk about.”
I bit the corner of my lip. This could have been a big mistake. This man was asking me to go with him to some unknown destination. I didn’t really know him from Adam, and I realised suddenly how stupid I’d been to leave. I was running from The Agency on a fool’s errand. I suddenly took in my surroundings. The alley was dark and there were plenty of hiding places—or dumping places. I took a step back and shook my head. “I should be getting back to work.”
“Ruby, you have to trust me. Your dad was a good man but there’s a lot you don’t know.” He held out his hand, standing still and offering me to go with him. The talk about my dad had my pulse racing again. He was right; we did have a lot to talk about. He was the only person I knew who knew my dad and that was something special to me. Besides, if this guy was going to hurt me he could have done it already. I figured I was safe enough for now.
He opened his palm. I eyed it for a moment, biting my lip and then sighed. Whatever happened I needed to know. I reached forward and grabbed his hand, feeling the heat from his palm radiating through mine. His fingers curled over mine as he smiled, then without another word, we took off along the alley. For a moment, I stumbled as his pace outmatched mine, but it didn’t take me long to find my feet and before long we were marching side by side, my hand dropping from his so my arms could pump.
We made twists and turns taking routes I never knew existed, which I thought was pretty shameful, considering I had lived in Black Haven my whole life, and came out on the other side of town where the street bustled.
He paused at the entrance to the street, head swivelling left and right as if afraid stepping out of the darkness of the alley would leave him exposed. I frowned and stepped forward.
“Where are we?” I asked.
We hurried across the street, narrowly avoiding a motorbike that came speeding down the road and made our way through a set of glass doors. He nodded at a man who stood in the spacious lobby, who looked something like a porter, and then we made our way to the back of the building past a long bank of post boxes—just how many flats are in this place?—and into the lift. He pressed the button for the top floor and I swallowed hard with the realisation that we were now going to be completely alone. I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. He stared at the doors of the lift, his hands clasped in front of him and his legs wide. I let out the breath I was holding. I had to hope my instincts were right about this guy.
The lift announced our arrival with a small ding and then the doors slid open smoothly. I followed Delta out into the small passage and then he unlocked the door in front of us and stepped in. I stuck close behind him as I stepped into the apartment and my jaw dropped.
His apartment was huge. Compared to the small room I occupied and shared with Becca, which was tantamount to a square box and the same amount of appeal as given to cardboard, this place was a palace. The ceiling was high and the spotlights set into it so bright it illuminated everything. Most of the décor was white from the sofas to the curtains that hung over the huge ceiling-to-floor windows on the other side of the room. To my left there was a breakfast bar with an open plan kitchen. I could see several doors leading off from the main room, all of them closed.
“You want a drink?” he asked, moving across to the kitchen to open the fridge.
“Sure.” I nodded, still a little dazed as I took in my surroundings. He grabbed two cans of pop and handed one over as he sank into the couch. The tin was cold in my hand. I pulled the ring tab back and took a sip of the liquid, feeling it fizz on my tongue. It wasn’t often I drank anything like this much preferring caffeine through hot means, but it was a nice treat.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
I sighed as I looked at him and the plain expression on his face. I wondered if guilt was written all over mine. As I sat on the sofa in the luxurious apartment I realised what I’d done; skipped out from work and chased a man I barely knew halfway across town looking for answers. “I should be at work. This isn’t me.”
He shook his head and his lips pulled together in a tight line. “That’s the least of your worries.”
I bristled. I had gone after Delta on a whim, but it seemed that now I was about to learn that there was so much more to this than I realised. My stomach churned; I took another sip from my can then held it between my hands, playing with the metal tab. I sat there and waited for him to go on, unsure what to say.
“There’s a lot your dad didn’t tell you. But don’t think it’s because he didn’t want to. It was for your protection.”
“Like what?” I glanced up and saw Delta was studying me closely. I wavered under his gaze and dropped my eyes.
“Like the fact that he didn’t work for a bank.”
“But…” I trailed off as the words sunk into my mind.
“Ruby, your dad was a Demon Hunter.”