The Cunning (Book 1/2)

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It sounded like a typical house party. Bottles hissing open, chatter, music, laughter. If anyone were to walk in right then, they wouldn’t know it was a brothel, not unless you really looked at the girls. They were all on the thin side, pale beneath the layers of foundation and blush Lily had painted on them. None of the smiles reached their eyes. It was like walking amongst a collection of china dolls. They all had perfect porcelain skin, any track marks were purposefully concealed, even in their revealing clothes.

Jase watched Madison hesitantly make her way downstairs followed by Adam, who had been sent to fetch her. Her body language was painfully readable, he was sure she’d get a talking to from Benny for making herself appear so uncomfortable.

They all had a role to play, and Madison wasn’t taking to hers as fluently as he wished she would. He watched her through the smoke of his cigarette as he inhaled deeply, seeing her rub her arm and avoid eye contact. This was going to be a difficult night; he knew that much.

His worries were confirmed when he saw a middle-aged man, a long-time customer, approach her. He slid an arm around her waist, pulling her away from the wall she’d been backed up against and leaning in to whisper in her ear. Jase could only assume it was something vulgar from the revolted look on Madison’s face as she ripped herself away. The man didn’t take too kindly to this.

“Don’t touch me-” Madison started, just as Jase put his arm in front of her, and stepped between them. The last thing he wanted was for her to cause a scene at the showing and then get worked up enough to reveal their encounter on the street. This, of all times, would be the worst for that to come to light.

“You ought to get your birds under control, Jase, I pay good money to visit,” the man said snidely. Jase had never cared to learn his name; he wasn’t anyone majorly important that they worked with.

“She’s new,” he began to explain, looking down at Madison. He didn’t break eye contact. “Still naive enough to have some fight in her.” She glared back, unblinking. It amused Jase. Even after the earlier situation with Annabelle, it hadn’t thrown her for too long. She was determined, he’d give her that. But it was foolish.

“We can soon sort that,” The man grinned, walking his eyes up Madison’s body hungrily. Madison caught a gag in her throat and reared back slightly, preparing to spit at him when Jase dragged her by her wrist into the corner of the hallway.

“You’re really not helping yourself here, Bunny,” he growled, annoyed at how much of a nuisance she was this early on in the evening. She opened her mouth to argue back when what he’d said registered.

“Bunny?” there was no time for him to explain as Sam interrupted.

“What’s going on?” he asked suspiciously, staring down at Madison who quickly avoided eye contact. Jase turned to him,

“Nothing, I just had to remind her where she was,” he said. Sam nodded. He didn’t like Madison. He didn’t like how much confidence she had or her demeanour when talking to Jase, but he didn’t say anything, having never needed to question Jase’s way of dealing with things before. He had faith that there was a good enough reason behind why she hadn’t received a slap yet. Jase was a people person, could get in their heads, stir them up. Everyone had their limits. Madison would crumble eventually, Sam figured Jase was just wearing her down in his own time.

“I can take her and remind her if you like?” Adam said, grinning as he stepped out of the living room. Madison stiffened slightly, hoping she hadn’t stepped too much out of line to warrant a private ‘conversation’ with the likes of Adam. He was one person she didn’t want to push. She watched Jase through her lashes, anxiously awaiting his response. His eyes were fixed on hers, then he shook his head and she relaxed.

“No, it’s fine. You’ll be on your best behaviour for the rest of the night, won’t you?” his tone dared her to talk back with all three of them present. She swallowed her pride, knowing it was wise to pick her battles carefully and nodded. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

“Yes,” she replied. He looked down his nose at her, satisfied with the response as he folded his arms in a minuscule triumph. Adam leaned into her ear.

“Watch yourself, little one,” he teased, stroking her face with the back of his fingers. “You wouldn’t want to give us a reason to mark that pretty face of yours now, would we?” She didn’t react, and he grabbed her cheeks, squeezing them so hard she was sure his imprints would bruise. “Would we?” Spit flew from between his gritted teeth as he attempted to intimidate her. Madison felt as though she was being tested, forced to cower. And so, she did, not liking the direction this was heading in if she kept on with the stubborn attitude.

“No,” she said. Adam smiled, shoving her face away from him and laughing bitterly.

“Oh, you’re going to be fun,” he decided before walking away, Sam leaving with him. Madison could feel the tears stinging at her eyes as the anger boiled in her. Seeing Adam grab her forced Jase to recognise how small and young she was once more. He was right to have let her go that night, he concluded, she didn’t belong there and he didn’t particularly want her there either.

“Behave. Walk around. Be polite. Just give Benny what he wants for a little while and I’ll take you back upstairs early,” he said before leaving her in the corner as she angrily wiped her eyes.

Jase had bargained with her; he didn’t want her causing any trouble. All she had to do was grit her teeth and bear the miserable evening for a few hours before she was removed. Easier said than done but not impossible. Taking a deep breath and ignoring the ache in her cheeks, she walked out into the kitchen and grabbed one of the fruity beverages that Lily said they were allowed. She tossed the cap into the bin and plastered on her best smile.

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