Fire and Ice Young Adult and New Adult Books

A Taste of Venom

Demon Hunter #4

by Alice J. Black

"A Taste of Venom" by Alice J. Black Ruby is battling constant change and conflict in her life at a time when things couldn't get any more complicated.
Or so she thinks.

When Ruby is contacted out of the blue and learns that she has been gifted something which will change her life forever, she is left reeling in shock. As her news settles in she starts to dream of a positive future.

However, not everyone is supportive and as she battles her best friend in feuds that begin as petty arguments, she finds herself having to fight harder and be firmer in her own beliefs in order to prevent losing the last shred of normality in her life. As Ruby continues to learn and grow, time is ticking not only for her friendship, but her grasp on her life as a Hunter.






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Chapter One

I was alone as I crept through the building. It was dark and still but everything in my body told me that I wasn’t alone. I could feel the weight of the gun in my right hand hanging down by my leg. As I approached the door, I lifted it up, using it like a shield as I grabbed the door handle.

I fought against my nerves as my hand slipped. I wanted to turn and run out of there as fast as I could. I had no idea what I was going to face on the other side of that door, but I knew it wasn’t going to be good. Yet, this was my job. My job as a Hunter. I had to protect the innocent, stop civilians getting hurt.

I shouldn’t have been alone going into this. My backup was coming but I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to protect whoever was on the other side of that door.

Lifting my hand a second time, I gripped the handle firmly and took a deep breath. As I pushed it open, I stepped into the room. Suddenly a blast of white light hit me and as my eyes adjusted, I realised someone had turned the lights on. I wished they hadn’t.

In front of me, piled in a heap on the concrete floor like some forgotten pile of clothes, were bodies. This time they weren’t faceless people I didn’t know. Everyone I knew and loved was there. Becca, Delta, Luca. Vaughn. They all stared at me with dead eyes.

I screamed.


Chapter Two

I woke with a start in the dark, bolting upright in bed with a gasp that held an alarmed depth. Sweat soaked my body and matted my hair to my scalp. I glanced around the room, orienting myself. There were no piles of bodies or cement floors. I was safe in my room. Struggling to regain control, I held my breath for the count of ten, fighting for the reign of calm. Eventually, my breathing began to steady, and the panic subsided until it was nothing but a small ball tucked in the pit of my stomach.

The knot of anxiety had been there ever since we left Bridgendale two weeks ago. It was a constant reminder of what happened, what we saw. The carnage we’d witnessed under the church was like a polaroid image seared into my mind and no amount of relaxation could get rid of it. It was there in my waking moments, flashing into my mind by the simplest of triggers, and of course it was always there as I slept.

After getting back from the case late Friday night a couple of weeks ago, I had spent most of the weekend doing nothing. After my berating from Barbara, of course. I was hauled into the office straight away for not keeping in touch about my conference. Little did she know I was actually hunting demons in a community centre in Bridgendale and solving the disappearances of all those people. I was given extra chores as punishment and had been given the cold shoulder ever since. Any other time, I might’ve argued or been bothered about it, but I was too drained to care. Instead, I had accepted my fate, nodded and left her office. I had spent the entire weekend slouching around St. Helen’s, catching up with Becca, and trying to focus on anything else other than the carnage that sprung to mind every few minutes.

Bridgendale was behind me but I had gone two straight weeks with the same nightmare. Walking down those ladders, opening a door and stepping into a room dripping with gore. I saw faces and feet and dead limbs piled up, waiting to go to the grinder as just beyond, Pete—Gluttony—feasted. My nightmare was exactly as it had been down there, tinged in red with the metallic smell hanging in the air, a sharp tang at the back of my throat. The fact that I’d just woken up from a fragmented memory, one in which the people I loved had been the victims of Gluttony, was an unwelcome intrusion.

I’d willed the nightmare to go away, spent long hours in the bath leading up to bedtime, indulged in lavender scents and reading. Nothing seemed to work. I didn’t think I’d ever sleep right again.

On the opposite side of the room, Becca snored softly where she lay in her bed. Her hair was spread out on the pillow, and her head rested on her hand. It was a wonder I hadn’t woken her. The first week after getting back, I woke her up every night. Despite her exhaustion and my tears, she sat with me until I fell back asleep. She had become used to my early morning outbursts.

The frown on my brow, a seemingly permanent expression, worked its way into my skull now that the dream was finally fading, and the stress ripples began to beat in the rhythm of a headache. Shoving the covers back, I was met with a blast of cool air. It was a welcome relief to feel the chill of the morning air lick across my body. I brushed my hair back from my face and pushed myself up. Everything ached. I felt like I’d been fighting demons in my sleep. My head was fuzzy with fatigue and my limbs were weak. I reached for my bag, pulled it over my shoulder and then crept from the room. I needed caffeine and stat. There was nothing like a wake-up call from the all too vivid nightmares and a hot cup of coffee to take the sting away.

St. Helen’s was still quiet. I often found myself up before the rest of the house, but these nightmares had added an extra layer of isolation when I found myself awake even before the sun rose.

As I crept down the stairs, shadows lurked in my peripheral vision. I fought the panic that clutched at my heart. I was alone. I was safe. I hadn’t seen a Cursed in St. Helen’s for a long time let alone anything else.

Bridgendale had left me raw. The image of the room beneath the church invaded my mind once again. I saw Gluttony, the hooves under the table, the extended bulbous stomach that hung across everything, the blood that dripped from its mouth as it stuffed its face full of—stop! I shuddered, trying to rid my mind of the picture. I stopped still on the steps and took stock of my surroundings. I could see the foyer from where I was on the stairs. Taking a deep breath, I grounded myself, pushing all thoughts aside. I just had to focus. 

I hurried down the last few steps and into the dining room. I made my coffee, steam curling from my mug as I stirred the instant scoop together. Holding it beneath my nose, I inhaled the scent. I felt my body sag, finally giving in to the exhaustion that rippled through my limbs.

Loaded with my bag and coffee, I moved into the common room. I did the two things I always did when I entered that room, turned on the TV and opened the drapes. It didn’t do much to let more light into the room, but I felt a little better when I glanced outside and saw sunlight approaching. It felt good to be in the light. For too long, I had been in darkness.

I sunk into the sofa and took a sip of my coffee, savouring the sweet taste. Later today, I had to go and hand in my kit at The Agency. Usually after a case we were expected in the next day. I had never gone so long without a debrief and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. On one hand, being able to avoid Sheila who seemed to provoke me to anger regularly now was good, but maybe a debrief would help clear my mind. I wondered what Sheila was doing that had kept her so busy. The last time I’d seen her was when she swooped into the community centre in the middle of the night, stuffed Gluttony between the bars of a silver cage and took off like nothing had happened. There was no empathy, no compassion for the deceased or their families. If it wasn’t for us, those people would still be down there, and their families left with no clue or closure.

But Vaughn, on the other hand, I couldn’t wait to see. He would be at The Agency, too. I had just spent a week in the same room as him, changing from tentative and unsure to being wrapped in his arms when I couldn’t sleep by the end of the ordeal. My stomach somersaulted at the thought of seeing him. Though we’d been in touch, lethargy, coupled with my anxiety, had prevented me from going out. I’d have to toughen up ready for later.

The news came on the TV, pulling my attention. Much of the news had been overtaken by the events in Bridgendale so I knew what I was going to see before I saw it, but it didn’t stop the wave of nausea that hit me. The shot was of the old church on the roundabout, a newscaster in the foreground while police officers stood guard outside the doors. In the background, I heard the sound of people vying for attention. People wanting answers.

“I’m here at the community centre in Bridgendale where dozens of bodies have been found beneath the old church. The investigation that started two weeks ago following an anonymous call continues. Behind me you can see several police vans, as well as those from a specialist team. The pace of the investigation has been slow, but I have been assured that the police are doing all they can to preserve evidence and respect the dead. The town’s residents are looking for answers, but nobody is talking and all that we know is that the carnage is reported to be worse than anything the local police have ever faced.”

The camera panned away from the woman towards the doors of the community centre. They were the very doors we’d crossed countless times, the same ones that we had thrown a light grenade at that final night. I’d watched the news reports after tipping off the police. We all did. As the days had gone on, their focus changed from identification and retrieval, to figuring out who could commit such an act, and finding him. Pete’s name had come up several times and they were keen to question him, but his location was unknown. They suspected he was on the run. Little did they know he was caged up somewhere in Sheila’s custody.

I shuddered as his dark beady eyes came to mind. He’d watched me from the moment I set foot in that church. Maybe he knew I didn’t like him. Maybe he was eyeing me up for his next meal.

A photograph of Pete came on the screen. He wore that same slimy smile, his eyes callous. I’d always known there was something about the man but until we got underneath the church, I could never have guessed just how wrong. Justice would never be served for the families of the deceased. Sheila was only interested in ridding the world of demons and then carting them off for some private party. But I was on to her. I may not have known everything but something about her actions screamed suspicious and I was determined to figure out what was going on.

The screen changed as a brief camera shot showed the room directly beneath the café. It exposed the ladders which led up to the hatch in the ceiling. The whole room was lit with fluorescent lights, petering out every shadow, and people moved back and forth some in high vis jackets, others in hazard suits.

The camera held the shot there for a moment, and two people in white suits walked into view and off the other side of the screen. They were heading to the bowels beneath the church, to the centre of carnage.