Sometimes natural predators need to be kept in check, and for that, there's Ryann David. Orphaned as an infant and raised by an exiled branch of the church to become a warrior for God, she and her fellow members of Venatores Daemonum have trained all their lives with only one purpose: destroy all demons in the mortal realm.
But when Ryann and her team are sent to hunt down a vampire who has killed one of their own, a new world of danger, betrayal, and conspiracy greets her. Allied with an irreverent psychic detective and the very monsters she was raised to kill, Ryann will risk everything—her life, her faith, and her heart—in pursuit of the truth as the black and white existence she knew turns a murky shade of gray.
Exclusive to the paperback as well as ebooks sold through Mundania is the Hunter-verse short story, Malice, narrated by series fan favourite, Zara Lain.
Award-winning author Skyla Dawn Cameron has been writing approximately forever. Her early storytelling days were spent acting out strange horror/fairy tales with the help of her many dolls, and little has changed except that she now keeps those stories on paper. She signed her first book contract at age twenty-one for River, a unique werewolf tale, which was released to critical and reader praise alike and won her the 2007 EPPIE Award for Best Fantasy. She now has multiple series on the go to keep her busy, which is great for her attention deficit disorder.
Skyla lives in Southern Ontario where she dabbles in art, is an avid gamer, and watches Buffy reruns. She’s naturally brunette, occasionally a redhead, and currently blonde. If she ever becomes a grown-up, she wants to run her own pub, as well as become world dictator. You can visit her on the web at www.skyladawncameron.com for free fiction, book news, a community forum, and tons of other totally awesome stuff.
Not only did Ms. Cameron win me over with her fantastically entertaining writing style, she made me a die-hard fan...The twists, biting humor, and diverse characterizations kept me hooked from the first page...Although this is a stand alone book, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the first book, Bloodlines. It will make Hunter immensely more enjoyable...If you're looking for something different and compelling, give this a try. I bet you'll be hooked.The Romance Studio
Recommendation: OH HELL YES! An Urban Fantasy read to enjoy and get the old mind to thinking in the end. There is a bigger story here, as it all starts to come together...I have to say Skyla has a way with character growth! Skyla is talented at setting up characters to be ones readers may not like then bring them to a point where you worry about them, even cheer for them. Surprisingly like them. Can I say that is a sign of great writing? Ha, I think I did...Skyla also has an amazing talent for story lines.Melissa of My World...in words and pages
I've definitely never read a book about a demon-killing nun, which is possibly the coolest thing I've ever read in my entire life. Just saying...The book, overall, really, really, really good. (Could. Not. Put. It. Down.)...It's really, really, really well written. It made me really feel for the character, and that shows what a good writer Skyla Dawn Cameron is.Mama Kitty -- Mama Kitty Reciews
Chapter One: No Escape
Ave Maria, gratia plena...Dominus tecum.
The house seemed empty. Empty in that I heard no sounds of scurrying rats, no creaking floorboards indicating someone attempted to get away. Empty in that anyone who didn’t have my training as a Hunter would probably just accept it as deserted.
I snapped closed the deadbolt. The click sent a shiver through me, brushed a prickle of fear down my arms and dryness in my throat. My eyes probed the darkness and though I couldn’t see far into the hallway, I didn’t sense anyone near. The chain lock slid easily into place next.
Remember to breathe.
The voices of my trainers rattled off a list of protocols in my head. Know the terrain, know the exits. Weapon ready. Watch for survivors.
I’d scouted the abandoned townhouse before entering. The backdoor was nailed shut. The windows were all boarded up. No survivors to worry about and I was armed. With the only exit now barred, I could safely say there would be no escape for him.
Not from me.
At nearly six in the morning, the sky outside remained dark, dawn late in her arrival. Streetlight filtered through the cracks in the boards over the windows, shards of yellow stabbing the dark around me. This wouldn’t do. Flipping on a light would alert my prey to my location; not turning it on had me at a major disadvantage because vampires could see in the dark and I couldn’t.
No choice. I reached to my left until my hand hit the wall, then felt around. My calloused fingertips ran over the grimy, textured wallpaper, then hit the hard plastic plate of the light switch. Success.
The bare bulb above me in the hallway flickered on, revealing an even less appealing sight than the dilapidated exterior suggested. Carpet beneath my feet was threadbare and torn, wallpaper peeled at the seams. A stench hung in the air, musty with an edge of stale cigarette smoke, wrapping its dirty fingers around me and weaving into my clothes, brushing my skin.
Straight ahead stood a narrow staircase leading to the second level; no light reached the upper floor from here and it was a big black maw waiting to chomp down on me. Next to the stairs was an even narrower hallway with doorways to the first floor rooms. A kitchen lay at the far end.
My task was simple: comb the place until I had found the vampire hiding within, and then kill it. Simple until one considers vampires have a strength and speed unmatched by any human, as well as heightened senses. Suddenly a simple hunt seemed more like I’d signed my own death warrant in locking that door behind me.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
I ghosted down the hall with quick, silent steps, sneaking glances at the staircase as I went. He could leap down and be on me in a second, but the moments ticked by and I remained alone. At the first doorway, I reached around the corner to flip on the light and prepared myself for the worst.
The living room. Not that anything was living there.
A torn up couch. The remnants of some cigarette packs and empty beer bottles on the scuffed coffee table. Even squatters had left the place to rot.
No vampires, however, which made it much like the rest of the downstairs, or so I found as I went through a closet and the kitchen. That just left the upper floor.
I paused at the foot of the staircase, hand over the standard issue, stainless steel stake holstered at my belt. Although wood looked more dramatic in the movies, Demon Hunters—or Venatores Daemonum as the church sect I belonged to called us—had upgraded to metal back in the seventies. Perhaps later than they should have, I supposed, but that was well before my birth, so I never had to deal with the inferior wooden stake.
The stake would do little to help me, though. The problem wasn’t the weapon itself, but that it was all I had. Generally, a Hunter stocked a full array of tools; we didn’t just hunt vampires, and few demons can be dispatched by a simple piercing of their heart. So this time I’d be slowing down the vampire with a stake to the chest, but wouldn’t be removing the head—not unless an ax magically appeared upstairs.
The silver cross hanging high on my chest was warm on my skin. My fingers twitched, wanting to reach up and touch the smooth surface of the plain charm, but I kept my arms loose and hands prepared to draw my weapon and fight. Breath came in short bursts, my throat closing to the size of a pinhole; my heart hammered against my ribcage. I gazed up the staircase.
I could handle anything right in front of me—it was the waiting that gave me a heart attack. Not knowing. Anticipating.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.
Here I go.
I started up the steps. One. Two. Three. I paused between each long enough for the wood to finish creaking. Listened. Still nothing. The lower light switch to my right didn’t work, forcing me to make my way upstairs in the dark. My heart thrummed louder, pounding in my ears. The darkness at the top of the stairs seemed blacker now that I knew the light wouldn’t work.
On the fifth step, I paused again. Air tightened around me, tense, expectant. Something didn’t feel right—
A pair of feet in black running shoes flew toward me.
They hit hard and fast, striking me in the chest. I reached for the banister. Missed. We tumbled, crashed, me on the bottom. Down, down—thud. My head struck the baseboard at the bottom of the steps and my vision blurred. Limbs felt weak and uncoordinated, unwieldy as I struggled to rise.
The vampire was already on his feet. Tall, white, with sandy streaks in silky brown hair that hung over his brow. Gray eyes looked down at me, lips pulled into a grin.
Deep breath. Move.
His foot sailed toward me again; I flipped off the ground and his kick went wide, missing me. I turned, sent a kick his way. The sole of my foot landed on his solar plexus; the shock sent vibrations up my leg, but I hit hard. He struck the railing and wood splintered.
But he was moving. A right hook swung toward me, cracked my jaw; my head snapped back and I stumbled. Move, move, don’t slow—don’t think. I gained my balance, righted myself. Licked my lips and tasted blood.
I kicked again at an angle, catching his thigh, then punched, fist grazing off of his shoulder. He sent a backhanded swipe my way and I dodged, but the hit was close enough for air to brush my cheeks.
My face throbbed where he’d hit, head ached where a bump was likely forming, but I pushed the pain back, focused on the adrenalin pumping through my veins. I feigned another punch, hooked my ankle around his leg, and tripped him.
His hand snatched mine as he started to fall, dragging me down too. A throaty cry left my lips as I twisted my arm against his thumb and jerked away. My back struck the wall with a rattling force I felt straight down to my toes.
No matter how many times you’re hit, it never gets easier.
I pushed off the wall, rushed at the vampire as he started to rise. Shoulder first, I hit him hard and he fell into the remnants of the banister, sprawled across the steps. I yanked the stake from its holster, raised it high, prepared to strike—
A hand locked on my wrist and stopped my attack midair. I glanced up—a young white woman stood on the bottom steps. Ah, so there were two of them. Great.
I seized her arm with my free hand and tugged her forward. She crashed, tripped over the broken railing, narrowly missing spikes of wood. Dust billowed in the air, itching my eyes and scratching my throat. I stepped back, coughing.
She swung her fist my way; I ducked and punched her in the gut. A foot slammed down on mine, but I landed an uppercut against her jaw. She stumbled back, dazed.
I’d have felt pretty proud of myself if I hadn’t realized I’d lost her partner.
A strong, thick forearm crossed over my neck, yanking me against a solid chest that felt like a brick wall. He squeezed. I fought, twisting, clawing, the steady rise of panic in every movement, but his grip was an iron band holding on tight.
The girl vamp sauntered toward me, grinning as my eyes grew heavy.
I slumped forward, slack in the male vampire’s arms. The woman came closer, closer, steps feather light on the carpet, ’til a floorboard beneath groaned just inches away. I whipped my arm up, stake poised, and struck her in the chest. Red splattered across the T-shirt over her heart.
A twist and I wrenched out of the other vampire’s grip, the force spinning me ’til I gathered my bearings again. My stake flew up; light glinted on the metal as it sailed toward my target. The tip struck home, right over his heart.
I danced back, muscles aching, and surveyed the two of them.
The twenty-five year old female “vampire” brushed the fringe of dark hair from her face and checked her watch. “Wow, you tracked him and staked us in twenty minutes.” She let out a deep breath and sucked in another noisily. Sweat dotted her brow and she gave me a grin. “Good job, kid.”
My shoulders relaxed, tension bleeding away and heart rate slowing to normal. “Good considering I was only supposed to be staking one. Should’ve brought two stakes.” I slipped the weapon in its place at my belt. “I thought you were on assignment.”
Grace rolled her shoulders and twisted her neck with a crack. “I finished up last night, and Chris suggested I join him here. He told Father Matthew you’d be up for the challenge.”
I glanced over at Christian, but a half smile was his only response. Grace stifled a giggle.
I tried not to sigh or roll my eyes, and only about half succeeded. “Right.”
They were both pretty red-faced and out of breath, and I suspected it wasn’t just due to our fight minutes ago. Regardless, I wouldn’t call them on it. We lived by many rules and protocols, and most of us operated under the assumption that certain things were better left not talked about.
At least certain things when it came to Christian.
I’d never be so bold as to question the policy St. Michael’s had against Hunters fraternizing. There was no cause for me to break them; it wasn’t my fight. But I also wouldn’t expose Christian and Grace’s relationship. They deserved a little happiness. I just hoped there weren’t any cameras upstairs where they’d been, else Father Matthew might be getting educated in a bit more than my progress as a Hunter.
“We should get coffee or something,” Grace said, “since we’re not expected back for awhile.”
I nodded to her “bloodied” shirt. “I don’t think it’ll bode well for your superiors if you’re seen around town like that.”
“Tough and smart. You just might be right about this one, Chris. I don’t suppose anyone brought a—”
Christian gestured behind him. “I stashed a bag in the closet down there. You’ll find a couple of extra shirts.”
“Hey, thanks.” Though she started down the hall, she paused after a few steps and looked back at me. “Seriously, really good work, kid. Glad you’re graduating—you can join us in the field soon.”
I nodded and she continued for the closet, steps heavy and labored. At least I’d hit her as hard as I’d been hit. After tossing Christian a clean T-shirt of his own, she disappeared into the kitchen to change.
“I’m going to recommend you to be passed tomorrow.” Christian yanked his shirt off and threw it to the side. He unhooked the metal vest he wore beneath, which was what prevented my stake from killing him. Combining it with a pocket of red paint that broke open under the pressure from the tip of the weapon, and we had the perfect tool for teaching future Hunters.
“I know it isn’t up to you.”
His bare chest was slick with sweat, mostly hairless but for a fine down in the rough shape of a T, and a blush suffused my cheeks. I turned to the side and averted my eyes as he changed. Under any normal circumstances, he would have laughed at me for such a display of propriety—despite the fact it was supposed to be ingrained in the Hunters within the church—but we both knew the cameras were still running, and Father Matthew watched from his office at home.
That and he was Grace’s, so I kept my gaze to the right until he finished.
Everything in me ached. I leaned against the wall and reached for the cross around my neck. After Grace’s stop for coffee, I was in for a trip to the infirmary. Then a psychological test, which the nurse would insist I wait and take tomorrow, but I’d push on and take it immediately instead. I didn’t slow, didn’t rest. Didn’t like showing weakness. This close to graduation, my every move would be scrutinized, and I couldn’t risk seeming as if I wasn’t up for the job.
“You’re right, it’s not up to me, but you did good, Ryann.”
I glanced back; he was clothed now.
His eyes crinkled as he smiled at me. My heart thumped a little wilder when he did that, even though I knew it was wrong. “You’re ready to fight and we need you in the field, not in this useless training.”
I glowed. I might not have cared about Grace complimenting me, but Christian...at only six years my senior, he was a legend among those of us in training. The best of the best and a favorite among our superiors. My teacher, my mentor. And friend.
I gathered all those glowy feelings up and tucked them away. “I appreciate it.”
“I’m sure Father Matthew will see it that way as well.” He smoothed back the hair from his face and stretched out his long arms. As he rolled his left shoulder, his expression tightened to a wince. “Especially after he sees the damage you did in only a few minutes.”
“You should talk—you hit like a hammer. If you weren’t so tanned, I’d swear you were a vampire yourself.”
“You can’t judge the undead by how much sun it looks like they got, though,” Grace said as she returned. “Those spray-on tans are pretty popular. So are we ready to go? I’d kill for a French vanilla cappuccino.” She swept her shoulder-length dark hair into a ponytail, straightened her T-shirt, and nodded to the door. “Ready?”
Christian nodded, unlocked the door, and opened it. He gestured to me. “After you.”
“Thanks. Um, and Christian...” I forced back a grin as I started past him.
“Your fly’s undone.”
Grace threw her arm around my shoulder as we walked out into the early morning sun, her laughter echoing through the deserted street. “I definitely like this kid.”