Crimson Touch

"He made a vow to himself then and there. The summon stone would soon belong to him. And he would do whatever it took to possess it." Desperate to cling to the broken shards of her old way life, Ruby takes on restless Demon Lord Drayvex, who for reasons unknown sees her as Crichton's most wanted. Hell bent on stealing a precious family heirloom, Ruby bites off more than your average power-hungry demon king when creatures from the pits of his world follow behind in his wake. They're all after the same thing. The summon stone. Aka Grandma's necklace. But as a dangerous battle between two stubborn wills becomes more tangled than ever, a common enemy forces her to work with her demon rival to take down an even bigger threat. Crimson Touch is a new adult dark fantasy novel and the first in a planned series. If you enjoyed this sample and want to stay updated, you can sign up at the website below to stay informed! http://www.authorrachelhobbs.co.uk

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1. Chapter One

 

 

The first words that sprung to mind were 'mangled cat'.
It was large enough to be a dog, but was unmistakably cat shaped. Whole clumps of fur were missing from its misshapen torso and its bones jutted out at odd angles, as though someone had pulled the poor animal apart and put it back together in the wrong order.
Ruby stared at the creature and, for a moment, it stared back. Its muddy yellow eyes were large and round.
Then, as wild animals do, it bolted.
An overwhelming urge pressed at her. A curious desire to follow the strange animal, get a better look. She squinted after it, torrential rain obscuring her vision. Having never been one to deny herself an adventure, Ruby started after it.
She followed the drenched pavement that curved round to the left, then slipped down a smaller path between two houses.
Her phone buzzed against her leg. Ruby pulled it out and checked the screen:
'MEET ME AT THE SPOKE AFTER SHIFT. NO EXCUSES. DON'T BE LATE! S XOX.'
Sandra clearly had a mission of her own. Ruby closed her eyes and smiled, stowing her phone back in her jacket. Once Sandra Serling had an idea in her mind, there was usually no peace until she’d gotten her own way. Well, she would have to wait just a little longer.
The rain echoed and bounced off the walls within the little passageway, the smallest sounds magnified tenfold within the enclosed space. Ruby despised the wet. She suspected it was because hair dye and wet weather simply did not mix. This, she had discovered the hard way.
She scanned through the damp haze, shrinking into her jacket as a rogue gust sent drops splattering against the paintwork in a frenzy. This was going to be a challenge.
Ruby searched anyway. As a child she'd always had a knack for finding trouble. Now into adulthood, that much hadn't changed, except that these days she tended to go looking for it.
The rustic village of Crichton was normally quiet and empty, and today was no exception. The wind would heckle the trees, the rustling protests inescapable in a village so close to the coast. Birds would often cry out in strangled calls, echoed back by even stranger noises Ruby had trouble connecting to any existing animal. The sound of rain on the windows was a lullaby with which she had become all too familiar.
 Occasionally, travellers drifted through. They would use the local bed and breakfast as a halfway point on their journeys, sticking around to recharge their batteries and then moving on to bigger, better things. Yes, it was quiet and empty. But the villagers of Crichton seemed to like it this way.
Just then, Ruby kicked something. A crate, lying abandoned in the alleyway. She jumped as it scraped along the concrete, startling the cat who shot out from behind as though its tail was on fire.
And then it was gone. Whatever it was, it was fast.
Ruby jogged to keep warm. Her heart pounded in her chest and her arms prickled with goosebumps. Maybe she should be calling a vet. She'd never had any pets herself, but there was something that felt off about this animal. Then again, the chances of something that fast being injured had to be pretty small. Or… maybe she'd imagined the whole thing. Maybe she was chasing the neighbour's cat for no reason. Maybe, Crichton was already driving her crazy.
The wind picked up, throwing an icy blast at her back. Ruby tugged at her hood and crossed her arms,  a violent shudder shooting down her spine. Personally, she wasn't keen on quiet. She was a city girl and more than anything, the eerie calm of the country just made her restless.
Glancing both ways before crossing the road was a habit that felt redundant here. Still, as she made it onto the curb and the pavement began to slope, Ruby found herself hoping with the will of an optimist that the cat had taken the next turn. It would pan out well for both of them. Now, where was it?
She glanced ahead, just in time to spot a kinked tail disappearing behind the faded bricks of Wishy Washy Laundrette. She grinned. Got you, kitty cat.
As Ruby swung around the corner in pursuit she braced herself, anticipating resistance. Then, she skidded to a halt.
The alley was empty. The only thing in the vicinity was a thin sheet of corrugated metal, propped against the boarded up walkway that blocked the path. Holding her breath Ruby edged forward, hand outstretched and ready to rip away the sheet. Careful now.
The rain drummed steadily against the metal, causing tension to creep into her muscles and fingers. Rain had begun to soak through the fabric of her hood and as something cold and wet trickled down the back of her neck, her body gave an involuntary shiver. As the moment dragged, doubt pricked at the back of her mind. It could something dangerous. She should probably let it be.
Ruby reacted with childish impulse, snatching it away from the wall in defiance — then did a double take.
Nothing.
She gawked at the solid wooden construction panel in front of her. House to her left, laundrette to her right. No way forward. No cat.
Ruby held the sheet of metal in her hands, staring at it like an idiot. She lifted it above her head, flipped it over, checked the back, flipped it back. She couldn't understand it. She'd seen it go in and the only way out was back the way you came. It was a dead end. Yet, she reasoned as she stood frozen to the spot, the cat had disappeared into thin air.
Backtracking, Ruby turned and trudged back through the village. Let it go, she willed herself, pulling her soggy jacket around her tighter. There was really nothing more she could do. And Sandra was expecting her. As the welcome light of The Golden Spoke lit up the wet ground outside like a beacon, Ruby picked up her pace, eager to get into the warm, dry shelter of the tavern.  

  * 

 

Within the torrents of rain, something pulsed with energy. It called out to him, enticing with a promise of unimaginable power, demanding his full attention. From the moment he had arrived he’d sensed it, and it was getting stronger by the second.
When he'd first stood breathing in the alien atmosphere, gathering his bearings, he’d discovered two things: one, the powerful presence was moving towards him, and two, it was extremely close. So close in fact that Drayvex had tensed in response to its proximity, his body automatically reacting to the unknown entity.
In that moment, a low level demon skittered around the corner. It took him a second to realise that it was, in fact, his demon. Drayvex glowered from his rooftop perch. Kaelor had followed him through the portal and his idea of blending in was truly spectacular. Moron.
The rain lashed around him in waves, throwing itself at him, then evaporating into a fine mist upon contact with his hot flesh. The pulsing presence finally moved within view. He looked down, his sharp eyes cutting through the downpour, and zoned in on the source of power. What he saw threw him momentarily off his guard.
It was a girl. A human girl emanating a throbbing black aura.
Drayvex narrowed his eyes and relaxed his stance a fraction. He couldn’t see anything unusual or interesting, about her. Just a normal, plain human being.
Then he noticed what was around her neck. As he stared at the small trinket in revelation, everything clicked into place.
It was a simple piece of silver jewelery, hanging on a worn, leather cord. The charm its self was unusually shaped. Its main body was a crescent lying on its side, points facing downward. Underneath that was a smaller crescent, and under that a crescent so small it looked like a pincer. There was a small blood red gem in the centre, and written along each arm were inscriptions so old they were practically ancient. Demon inscriptions. This was exactly the kind of distraction he’d been looking for.
The girl began to backtrack, Kaelor having given her the slip. Drayvex made a mental note to punish the worthless ingrate. If he'd wanted to be followed, he would have told someone he was leaving.
He continued to feel the presence long after her absence. He brought up his hands, studying the curved black claws at his fingertips. These would have to go for what he had planned.
Drayvex clenched his hands into tight fists, then unclenched them. He flexed his fingers and examined the blunt human nails that now took their place. Their black sheen was the only thing that gave away his disguise. As his tongue wandered over a set of sharp teeth, he made a vow to himself then and there. The summon stone would soon belong to him. And he would do whatever it took to possess it.
Drayvex tracked the pulsing entity to a small building with a thatched roof. The sign hanging above the door read ‘The Golden Spoke’ and propped against the front wall was large, golden wheel. He scoffed as he stepped over the threshold. Humans. They were all the same. So predictable, with their habits and rituals, all boiling down to one thing — they were weak. The herd mentality they possessed made them all the same in his eyes, the majority too afraid stand out from one another for fear of rejection.
This was going to be simple. She was sitting by herself at the far end of the room. Her finger traced the rim of a full glass of amber liquid while she stared into space, a glazed expression on her face.
Once again, his eyes were drawn to the necklace dangling at her throat. It swayed gently as she shifted in her seat, the air around it rippling and distorting in its path. No doubt the girl would be a complication, although, nothing he couldn’t take care of.
More than anything, he found himself amused by the ridiculousness of the situation. You had to admire the power of a summon stone. Its  acquired defences were well known amongst all that craved status. Once a summon stone made physical contact with the wearer, ownership was secured, and the summon stone would protect its owner voraciously. This made it almost impossible to steal.
The only guaranteed way a claimed summon stone could change hands was when the wearer discarded the necklace themselves, or died with it. The fact that the stone protected its wearer from malicious harm and intent made it all the harder to take it from them forcefully, and manipulative powers such as possession were definitely out of the question.
Yes, he mused. Whoever had placed that protection spell all those years ago certainly had a sense of humour. Then again, he would bet anything they hadn’t anticipated a human getting their hands on one. He could wait for the girl to die of natural causes, of course. Seventy years was nothing to someone of his calibre. Or maybe she was a klutz and would take herself out. Drayvex smiled, feeling his ego swell in anticipation of challenge. No, there was always a way to get what he wanted.
Drayvex tore his eyes away from the necklace and, with great reluctance, made himself look at the soggy girl.
She was small with a slight frame and bottle green eyes. Her hair was damp and fell down her back in a matted cascade, its rich burgundy sheen a stark contrast against her anaemic complexion. Water steadily dripped from the tips, making small pink puddles on the table that she was fingering into patterns. The small stud in her nose, along with the unnatural shade of her locks appeared to be her small attempt at human individuality. Her plain shirt accentuated what little curves she had, casually unbuttoned at the top.
There was something about the way she held herself that made her look older than she was. He narrowed his eyes as he drank her in. Her body language screamed insecurity, but her sullen pout said ‘bite me’.  As far as humans go, this one would be easy to seduce. Maybe he would devour her when he was done playing games. He smirked in response to that last dark thought and slipped across the room.
The girl was oblivious as he approached her table. He pulled out the opposite chair and sat down uninvited, allowing the legs to scrape against the hard wooden floor.
She glanced up, hope gleaming in her eyes… which died when she saw him.
She was expecting someone. Drayvex made himself comfortable, lounging back in the chair. He folded his arms and gazed at her with open curiosity.
The girl stared back, clearly at loss for words. She seemed to arrive somewhere between surprise and confusion, her mouth hanging open as though she’d forgotten how to use it. He could practically hear the cogs grinding inside her head as she took him in with wide, green eyes, her dismal attempts at subtlety failing.
He smirked, being careful not to trigger the natural sharpening of his human stumps into fangs.
“Can I, help you?” she asked, breaking the silence. The tension was audible in the tightness of her voice. She lifted a hand and began twisting a piece of hair around her index finger. A nervous habit?
A candle flickered in the centre of the table, throwing the light as it danced, creating patches of moving shadow across her unblinking face. Drayvex didn’t immediately answer. For a moment, he didn’t move or speak, allowing the moment to stretch and distort.
When he was satisfied that he'd gotten under her skin, he leaned forward and rested an arm on the table between them. “Yes, maybe you can,” he purred, catching her gaze and holding it. He smiled, confident of his abilities, knowing the effect his gaze had on humans.
The girl seemed to waver, doubt forming in the tiny creases at the corners of her eyes, which glazed over for the briefest of moments.
She quickly recovered herself, sitting up straight in one sudden movement. The stone bounced against her chest and fell still. The air around it thrummed. “Are you, looking for someone?”
Distracted, Drayvex reached out and picked up a stray bottle cap from the table, rolling it between two fingers. His demon blood screamed in his veins, yearning to be one with the presence. “No,” he answered, hearing a new edge to his voice. “I was wondering why you look so damn miserable.”
The girl stared at him, clearly wondering if he was in possession of his sanity. “Excuse me?” She moved to grip the table. “What did you —” As she did, her arm collided with her drink, pushing it straight off the edge.
The girl gasped and froze as the glass disappeared from her line of sight, her reactions not unlike that of a week old corpse.
Drayvex moved with preternatural reflexes, plucking the glass from the air before it could fall and shatter. As he produced the sloshing glass from beneath the table her eyes grew wide. He placed it back on the surface, sliding it towards her with the push of a finger.
The girl moved to receive it. “I, um… oh, wow.” She laughed once, a sound of disbelief, her eyes flicking down to her glass. “I can’t believe I just did that. You’re fast.” Her laugh had warmth to it. He found himself wondering how often she genuinely used it. “Thanks.”
Drayvex leaned forward, letting the table take a portion of his weight. He picked up the discarded cap and spun it on the varnished surface, proceeding as though the glass had never left the table. “Have you been stood up?”
The smile slipped from her face. She laughed again, this time, without warmth. “Stood up?”Her eyes narrowed minutely, then shot to the side, her voice frosty despite the telltale lilt. “I actually prefer my own company.”
As he watched her stare at a rather interesting patch of wall, it was obvious she thought she could lie to him. Although, he didn’t find it hard to believe that she preferred to be alone. This one didn’t seem to possess the ridiculous need to surround herself and blend in.
“That so,” he responded, using his mind to spin the cap. Occasionally he let it fall, using his fingers to start it again, for the sake of the girl. “Well, I hope you’re good company.”
‘Hey, Ruby. Rubeey!’ An irritating voice behind him penetrated their bubble.
Drayvex turned his a fraction and took in the tall, ginger mop bobbing over to their table.
“Hey,” he panted, stopping to hover behind Drayvex’s left shoulder. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here. How are you?”
She seemed to visibly shrink into her seat as the boy threw this question her way. The grimace that flashed across her face was not something he missed either. “Hey Gary,” she said, sounding resigned. “I’m fine.”
“Wanna join us? We’re just over in the other corner.” The level of hope his voice projected was pathetic.
Drayvex watched the girl named Ruby cringe. Then, with what looked like a fair amount of effort, she smiled politely back. She seemed to flounder for a second as the human named Gary stood, waiting for her reply.
“Actually, I…” She paused, her green eyes falling on him across the table. They pleaded with him, and Drayvex thought that if her eyes could speak they’d have a speech prepared. “… I’m already with someone,” she finished, taking the plunge. “Sorry.”
Drayvex watched Gary in the wall mirror. His beady eyes grew wide as they fell on him. The boy gawked as if he’d just appeared out of thin air, but his clenched fists told a different story, turning white as though he’d just been slapped.
I’d be happy to oblige, Drayvex thought, irritated, but I won’t stop there. He ignored the weed and focused on the girl as she proceeded to communicate with him using her eyes. He rewarded her with a smirk. Okay, he thought. I’ll bite.
“Gary,” he drawled.
It took the boy a moment to reply. “Who are you?” he demanded rudely.
Drayvex smiled without humour. He stood and fully turned to face the boy, matching him in height. “I’m busy,” he replied in a bored voice, directly meeting his gaze. “In fact, we're both busy. You see, Ruby and I have a lot to talk about.” He continued, allowing his voice to become cold and unfriendly. “Or —” Drayvex moved in close, putting his mouth next to Gary's ear. “We may not talk at all.” He winked for added effect.
Gary change from pale to flame red within seconds. He shot one last glance Ruby’s way, then back, before turning and skulking away.
Drayvex smirked, amused at how easily he’d been able to bait the boy. Humans really were stupid. 
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