Crimson Touch

"Everything bent to his will. It was only a matter of time and eventually, she would bend to it, too."

Go-getter city girl Ruby is desperate to get out of Crichton and back where she belongs. But when a silver-tongued stranger takes an interest in her and her mundane country problems, she gets far more than a sympathetic ear. Drawn into the world of demons, darkness and deceit, she may well get the adventure she craves after all.

Be careful what you wish for...

When restless Demon Lord Drayvex stumbles across a small girl with a powerful demonic pendant, he makes stealing it from her his number one goal. But the stone does not wish to be stolen from its human owner. In fact, it seems to be perfectly content being dear old Grandma's necklace.

Game on.

Crimson Touch is a new adult dark fantasy novel and the first in a planned series of four.

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2. Chapter Two

Ruby breathed out as Gary headed back to his table. His face was tomato red. What had her new friend said to him, she wondered with vague intrigue.

Drayvex retook the seat opposite her and lounged against the hard wooden backrest, making it look somewhat comfortable. This guy. He would make a bin bag look swish, she thought, grinning.

She stopped, the smile slipping from her face as she realised that she was being watched. No, not watched. Scrutinised. Pinned down by those piercing eyes. Her heart pulsed in her throat. They were such a strange shade, a powdery blue so pale that they were almost white.

It was impossible not to stare. They were striking and stood out against his jet black hair, which she could only describe as organised chaos. His face was cold and handsome with a compelling still, like the calm before a storm.

Her trail of thought was interrupted by that soft masculine voice. 

"A friend of yours?"

It was rich velvet and smooth chocolate. As this thought entered her head, she felt her face grow warm. Ruby, she scolded herself, don't be a freak. Keep it together. She made an effort to steady her voice before speaking. "A friend?" Not exactly. "No, he's a friend of a friend. He's a bit of a pain, but harmless enough." She supposed she at least owed him that much.

"That so," he mumbled, his attention drifting to the wall behind her. When he looked back, he flashed her a smile that briefly touched his eyes. "Ruby, right?"

Ruby fought the urge to ruffle her hair like a girl. "Urhm, right. That's me. And, you are?" There was something strange about him. She couldn't put her finger on it.

"Drayvex."

She tore her eyes away from the stranger and glanced at the room behind him. They quickly found him again, drawn to him like a magnet. She stopped trying. "Well, thanks. It would have been rather awkward had you got up and left me. And a little sad."

Drayvex made a sound of agreement. "A consequence of preferring your own company," he said, before gazing down at her chest in fascination.

Ruby baulked. He was a Lech. Of course he was. She should have known that he'd want something from her. Torn between making her escape and hitting him over the head, a thought just then occurred to her. Was he... looking at her necklace?

Ruby took the charm between two fingers. She supposed it was rather pretty. "It's a family heirloom. I don't think it's worth much, but..." She trailed off as memories of her gran, both fond and painful, flooded her mind in stereo. Her heart squeezed. It was worth a lot to her.

Drayvex studied the charm between her fingers, a faraway look on his face. Then, as his eyes regained their focus, they flicked up to her face. "I'm sure it's valuable in other ways." He sounded serious.

Ruby sucked in a breath. Was that a lucky guess?

Just then, in one fluid movement Drayvex got to his feet. Without saying another word he left the table and then she was by herself again.

Ruby was taken aback. Had she somehow offended him? Snippets of conversation buzzed in her mind. She swatted them away. No, she didn't think so.

Drayvex was back before she'd come to an answer, holding two tumblers of golden liquid. He sat back in his seat and slid one across the table towards her. The liquid inside sloshed up to the rim in a heady, honey coloured wave. "To life's unavoidable idiots," he toasted, draining the contents in one.

Ruby smirked, unable to disagree with such a simple toast. Following suit, she picked up her glass and held it at eye level. "To independence," she echoed, draining her own and dropping it down.

The wheezing jukebox sprung to life. A modern tune drifted through the air from across the room and the tavern got louder in response, the background murmur rising in volume to match the song's energy.

"So, if you haven't been stood up..." He flicked a stray peanut on the table, which bounced off her arm. "What's eating you?" The ghost of a smile was playing on his lips.

So, we were back to this. "Why do you care?" What was his game, she wondered.

"I don't." He shrugged. "It doesn't matter to me what form your misery takes. I'm merely here passing time."

Ruby gawked at him, lost for words. Wow, she thought. Blunt.

"But, I'm a good listener." Holding up two fingers, he raised his eyebrows at her in an unspoken question. A question that spoke for itself in a place like this.

Folding quickly, Ruby fell back against her chair and gave a small smile. Two more.

 

Two rounds later, Ruby found herself speaking freely to the charming stranger who had taken an interest in her life. She felt oddly comfortable talking to him, although she was beginning to suspect that the liquid courage had something to do with it.

"We've lived here for two years now." She traced the swirling patterns in the rustic table with a finger, her mind drifting back in time. "My mum and I. We moved here from Callien."

She paused, waiting for his reaction, but after a beat she looked up.

Drayvex was giving her a blank look.

"The big city one hundred miles from here." She smiled. "Not local, huh." Not that she'd ever doubted that.

Drayvex smirked as though she'd said something funny. "No, Ruby. I'm a long way from home at this moment."

Another passing visitor to the village frozen in time. Ruby bit down on her tongue, quelling her senseless frustration. "Yeah, it's obvious you're not. Crichton is a small place. Everyone knows everyone, as most people have lived here for a veeery long time. There are no secrets here. It's kind of creepy."

The corners of his mouth lifted. "I see."

Once again, Drayvex got to his feet. This time, he moved towards her, seating himself on the padded bench beside her.

Ruby gasped at the sudden change in proximity, their faces and bodies now inches apart. Despite having just watched him get up and move, it felt instantaneous. It was an unpleasant sensation, not unlike that of being snuck up on from behind.

"So, if someone were to see us here, together..." Drayvex draped his arm across the back of the chair. Her chair.

He was more glorious and terrifying up close than she'd imagined, and Ruby wasn't sure which was winning. She found her eyes drawn to his lips as he spoke. All coherent thoughts slipped through her fingers. She wanted those lips.

"... people would talk?"

Ruby leaned in. He was warm — very warm. A soft heat radiated through the thin jacket he wore, as though he'd just been standing in out the blistering sun. She struggled to hold onto a single thought as, finally, she scanned up from his lips. Their eyes locked.

Just like that, Ruby was snared within his gaze. Those pale eyes that seemed to contain such depth. Soft, enticing. As he inched closer still, she couldn't help but feel light-headed. Hypnotised, even. As though she was the bird, he, the snake. Snake.

Ruby snapped back to her senses. Her mind reeled, on high alert. What the hell was she doing?

Her skin was cold to the touch, as though she'd been doused in icy water. She slid back, putting some space between them. She'd almost given herself to him. A man she'd met, what, an hour ago? "It would give them plenty to talk about," she mumbled, peeking at him from the corner of her vision. Truth be told, she had no idea why she had acted so forwardly. It was so out of character.

Drayvex didn't reply. He remained motionless as his gaze bored into her, until Ruby didn't know how much more she could stand.

Then, out of nowhere he threw her a half smile, relaxing back into the seat. He gestured towards her. "You were saying?"

Ruby sucked in a breath, running some fingers through her tangled hair. The candle danced in the centre of the table, illuminating the dimming tavern. She was talking about home. Her stomach squirmed in response to the word.

"You miss the city."

Ruby looked up from her reverie, the same tired old line hanging on her lips. Why would I want the stress of the city when I have this carefree place? But she stopped. She was homesick. And so tired of pretending. "I... miss everything about it."

Bottled frustrations, both old and new, bubbled to the surface. "I love all the noises and the smells. The to-ing and fro-ing of the people going about their daily business. I miss my old job, my old friends. The night life. The buzz of the city itself."

She made herself take another breath. She shouldn't be talking to this guy. He was making her spill her secrets and she wasn't even sorry.

It wasn't a secret that she missed the city; anyone who knew her would say this. But the fact that she wasn't coping? That part wasn't so public. "Every day was an adventure in Callien. I had a life, a future. Now, I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere, and..." She left her sentence hanging. Where on earth was Sandra?

"And now life is a mind-numbing bore," Drayvex finished.

Ruby smiled, the muscles in her face feeling tight and wrong.

"So, what's keeping you here?"

Deciding that the damage had already been done, Ruby kept going. "My mother had an incident at work. Your average manic with a gun, you know?" She reached out to the candle, barely even seeing it as her mind conjured bits of old memories. Her finger skimmed over the top of the flame, the heat licking at its tip. "Moving here was supposed to calm her nerves, you see. Help her forget about things for a little while. But now, she doesn't want to go back." She frowned, pulling her hand back. "It's just the two of us now and, well... I keep her sane I suppose."

Pause. "What about you?"

Ruby shrugged in a pathetic way. What could she say? It was Sandra that kept her sane. Thank god for her.

Mirroring her previous actions, Drayvex reached out towards the candle. Without flinching, he pinched the wick between two fingers, extinguishing the flame. "So, that's it, then? You're going to sacrifice a large portion of your life giving your mother what she needs? Admirable."

Ruby stared at where the flame had just been, a weight settling in her stomach.

Fingers still on the candle wick, he shot her a calculating look. "Looking at you, taking a wild guess at your mothers age, she may have another forty or so years of life left. Unless you plan to leave this place a pensioner," he said, "I suggest you draw a line and stick to it."

Just then, he let go of the wick. The candle burst into flame.

Ruby did a double take. What the hell? Was he a magician?

"You only get one shot at life, after all."

She looked from Drayvex, to the flame, trying to gather her scattered thoughts. She couldn't remember the last time anyone had been so brutally honest with her. People usually had the annoying habit of tiptoeing around her. Like she was some poor fragile thing that needed protecting from the truth. Having somebody speak to her in this way was refreshing.

"But it would be selfish to abandon my mother, when I know that there's no one else around to take care of her," she said, fiddling with the top button of her shirt. Would it be socially acceptable to put a cool glass to her forehead?

Much to Ruby's amazement, he shrugged off her comment. "When you break a leg, sometimes you have to re-break it to set it on the right track. Counterproductive and then productive."

Well yes, that was true. But... Ruby's mind went blank. It was still selfish. "What about you?" she jabbed. "Surely, you must have ties of your own back at home?" She was doing all the talking. It was time to shift the focus.

Drayvex's eyes gleamed with wicked humour. "Irrelevant."

Irrelevant? She couldn't tell if he was laughing at her, or enjoying a private joke. "What?" 

"Any ties I may or may not have bear little significance to my actions. I'm here now because I want to be. The very word describes a compulsion to carry out an action against your will. I never do anything I don't want to do. Therefore, these ties, as you put it, have no power. Their existence is irrelevant."

Ruby studied the stranger. His expression and body language were devil may care. As she processed his brazen words, an uncharacteristic bitterness seeped into her heart. It must be nice to wake up and go wherever you want, whenever you want, she thought, squashing the stab of jealousy that followed.

"Ruby. Oh, Ruby." Sandra's voice carried across the tavern, attracting not only her, but the eyes of the few occupants seated nearby. She stood waving at the entrance, her blond pigtails bobbing as she bounced on the balls of her feet, before weaving towards them.

About damn time, Ruby fumed, remembering her reason for being here. She threw a fleeting glance at her new friend, who was smirking at her. She wondered how she was going to explain the man at her table in a way that didn't lead to a thousand questions.

"Rube, I'm so sorry I'm late. I got held up at work. Old Mrs Hargreaves just wouldn't let me go and — hello. Who's this?"Sandra beamed, ogling Drayvex. Probably in the same way that Ruby had herself not long ago.

Drayvex was watching Ruby. Clearly amused and enjoying her discomfort, she knew what he was thinking. She squirmed in her seat, recalling her earlier protests of not having been stood up.

Ruby ignored her friend's question. "Sandra, why didn't you call? I've been waiting here for over an hour."

"Well, at least you had company," she giggled, grabbing the chair opposite and pulling it out.

Ruby sprung to her feet, falling into damage control mode. This was a recipe for disaster. "Don't bother, Sand. I've got to get back to Mum." She fussed over her crumpled jacket, smoothing out the folds.

"Ugh, but I've just got here. And my feet are killing me. What were you drinking? Was it the special?"

Ruby started for the door, and then hesitated. Drayvex. She chewed on her lower lip, unsure of how to leave. After a seconds thought, she settled with a rather weak, "it was nice to meet you," and headed straight for the exit. Sandra would follow if she knew what was good for her.

She pushed her way through the double doors and stepped out into the fading day, instinctively filling her lungs with cool evening air. Crichton had a certain smell at night. It was deliciously fresh, and one of the few things she preferred about the country.

The door swooshed open behind her. "I'm sorry, Rube. Forgive me?"

Ruby ignored her, setting off at a leisurely pace. As she strolled along the pavement past the tavern, her shoes squelch against the wet ground. It wasn't really Sandra she was mad at; it was herself.

For two years, Ruby had just gritted her teeth and gotten on with things without complaining. Until today, when a silver-tongued stranger came along, said all the right things and she cracked wide open.

"Ruby. Who's your friend?"

Ruby rolled her eyes. She stopped walking and span in the street, her feet crunching against the tarmac. She didn't really see the point in playing dumb, but she did want to make Sandra work for her juicy gossip. "Who was who?"

Sandra sighed, slapping her arms to her sides in a dramatic gesture. "The guy," she pushed. "That guy sitting at your table. You know, the one you were talking to when I arrived?"

"Oh," Ruby said lamely. "The guy."

"Yes, you dummy."

"I dunno, Sand. He just sort of invited himself over." No sooner had these words left her mouth, she realised her mistake.

"Oh. Oh, ooh. I seeee." Sandra winked, her blue eyes sparkling. "Rube, maybe he fancies you."

Sandra's voice contained far too much enthusiasm for Ruby's liking. "Well, he's not from around here. I'm pretty sure he was just being friendly. You know, when in Rome..."

They kept going, the two of them walking side by side in silence, steps falling into perfect sync.

"But he's cute, though, right?"

Ruby laughed out loud, astounded by her one track mind. She gave her friend a small smile. "Yeah, I guess."

She could still see his eyes in her mind. Like looking into a bright light for too long and being temporarily blinded, then seeing nothing but the light after looking away. It was hard to describe.

Her stomach gave an uncomfortable squirm, reacting to the memories. When she looked at him, two conflicting feelings battled for dominance. The first was understandable enough. After all, he was attractive. But the second was harder to explain. It was almost like some deep, primal instinct, warning her to stay as far away from this stranger as possible. That one made no sense at all. 

The remaining wisps of day lingered on the skyline, painting the empty streets varying shades of grey and black in its wake. The two of them walked side by side, moving along the winding lane past Wishy Washy Laundrette, now closed and in darkness. Ruby stole a glance down the passageway as they passed. The vanishing cat crept into her thoughts as she did, its earlier escape act sticking in her mind. That little mystery was really going to bug her.

A sudden breeze drifted by and the prickle of cold air teased at her bare skin, the hairs on her arms standing to attention. Ruby moved to rub them, but stopped. She glanced into the shadows, unable to shake the strange sensation of being watched.

"I wanted to tell you something." Sandra spoke from beside her, interrupting her thoughts. Her fingers picked at a loose button on her shirt, while her eyes darted everywhere but her direction. Sandra had become visibly smaller, her naturally tall frame small and squashed.

Ruby's shoulders tensed in apprehension. "Okay," she said, wanting to make this easier for her. "What is it?"

"I'mmovinginwithmydad," she said, her words tumbling out in a hurry.

Ruby was a few steps ahead by the time she realised Sandra was no longer with her. She stopped in her tracks and fell still, her back to her.

"I'm moving in with my Dad."

She felt numb. Her head was a vacuum, but a different kind of emptiness was creeping into her heart with each passing second.

"Rube?"

Ruby turned around, blinking back a betraying dampness.

Sandra sighed and trudged towards her, stopping a few feet away. She looked down, intently focused on the perfectly manicured fingernail she picked at. "I'm going to work for him. Become his apprentice." Her voice was heavy with forced enthusiasm.

Ruby groped around in her sluggish brain for an emotional response. What she found was unwelcome; a dull, throb of panic, pulsing away in a steady rhythm. Form words, dammit, she pushed. "You're leaving?

Finally, Sandra looked up at her. The colour in her face was gone. "I didn't want to tell you until it was set it stone."

"When?"

She opened her mouth, hesitating. "T —Tomorrow. But, but, everything has happened so fast, and my mother is really keen for me to go which —"

"But you hate your dad." Ruby was trying to understand, but none of this made any sense. "Why now? When was the last time you spoke? Did you even get a birthday card this year?"

"Rube." Sandra grabbed her shoulders in either hand and squeezed. "This is what I want."

"But —But why so sudden, Sand? Where's the fire?"

"Ruby, this is what I want." Sandra's eyes were wide and pleading. It was the kind of look that she often used when she was hiding something and didn't want to explain.

Ruby stared into the big blue eyes of her dearest friend, and came to an understanding. This wasn't sudden. Just a well kept secret.

"Please, Rube."

How could she just drop this on her and walk away? It was a low blow, considering all they'd been through. And yet, how could she deny her this one thing? What kind of friend would she be if she did?

"I'll come back for you," Sandra said, emphasising with a look. "For you both. I promise."

Ruby couldn't speak. There was nothing she could say. As Sandra took her hands off her shoulders, the emptiness spread out from her chest. Threatening to overwhelm her.

"I... I'm sorry," Sandra mumbled, before turning and dashing off down the street.

As Ruby watched her best friend run away from her, the numbness inside flared up into angry betrayal. What was she not telling her? Did she think her to be untrustworthy? "You're a coward, Sandra Serling!"' she blasted after her, watching the tail of her coat disappear around the corner.

Her words echoed and bounced off the cobbles. The world around her got darker.

Ruby was alone.

*
Picking Earth on sheer whim was not coincidence; it was fate.

Drayvex had never considered the existence of fate before today. Entertaining the idea that some 'higher power' prick had its own plans for him was a ridiculous notion. For one, there was no higher power. Having stood at the top of the food chain for some time, he knew that there was nothing out there capable of backing up any bloated brag claiming a say over his actions. As a being that had both a massive ego and the stones to back it up, things such as fate didn't concern him. On the other hand, it was on days such as this that you had to stop and think about it.

Drayvex stood in the construction wasteland at the edge of the village, more focused than he had been in years. He was thinking about it now. What were the chances that of all the planets he could have escaped to, of all the countries and cities spread across its surface, he would end up at the one tiny spit of a place hiding a summon stone?

The moon was full and bright, an eyesore in an otherwise pitch black sky. He breathed out, clouding the night air and blocking it briefly from view. It always took him longer than anticipated to adjust to this planet's disparate atmosphere. Then again, he rarely had such a fortuitous reason to stick around.

Drayvex smiled, his fangs extending in anticipation. He didn't believe in coincidence. But he did believe in opportunity. Now, fated or not, the stone belonged to him. And it was just beyond his grasp.

Navigating around mounds of earth, he advanced towards the disguised portal. This area wasn't like the rest of the village. Far from sickeningly quaint, this crumbling wasteland looked more like the end result of one of his personal missions. The kind of mission where something he required was inside a building; one moment in his way, the next scattered into dusty chunks within a one mile radius.

As of right now, there were no demonic presences in the vicinity. At least, none worth his time. Still, Drayvex never left anything to chance.

Raising a hand towards a particular hunk of crumbling concrete, he reached out and hovered within an inch of its surface. Concentrating, he drew power directly from his core, sending it down his arm to the tips of his fingers.

When he felt it burn, he stopped. Then, he inched his hand forward and placed it on the concrete. 

The portal shifted. It threw out judders of protest as it fought against his wishes, but Drayvex held fast, absorbing the impact. Everything bent to his will eventually. It was only a matter of time.

The concrete rippled then pulsed once more, before falling still.

Drayvex stared at the rubble, satisfied. Now, nothing else would get through. Nothing with any real power. He turned and slipped into the shadows, his business here complete. Any demon with a scrap of ambition would want the summon stone for themselves, but only weaklings would be able to pass through.

He licked his lips, his form slipping as he thought of the carnage yet to come. Ruby and the stone would both soon be his. Eventually, she would bend to his will too.

 

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