The Cunning (Book 1/2)

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“Oi, you want her, you pay.” Benny’s bellowing ricocheted off the walls from the hallway into the kitchen. Jase and Sam promptly stopped their conversation, looking up from lines of cocaine and frowning at each other.

“I’ll put money on that being Madison,” Sam mumbled. Jase got up, stepped out into the hallway and saw that he was right. Madison was pinned up against a wall by Charlie, a young boy, not much older than Madison herself. He’d been distracted by Benny just long enough for her to tip her head back and smack it into Charlie’s crooked nose, causing it to explode and gush down his white t-shirt.

“You little bitch!” he yelled furiously, naturally bringing his hands to his pained face and covering up the bloody mess before he raised one at her. Everyone had abandoned their conversations, even people with keys directly under their noses turned to watch the commotion unfold. Jase was between the pair in seconds, forcing Charlie’s hand back into his chest before he could make contact with Madison’s face. She was now hiding behind Jase as he spoke.

“We have a way of doing things here. You don’t touch the girls until you’ve handed over the money, fuck off home,” He demanded. Charlie didn’t get a chance to reply, Madison was already being stiff-armed upstairs and into the bedroom where Jase closed the door behind him.

By this time, she had realised what she’d done and the panic set in. Drinking on an empty stomach had gone straight to her head but she was sobering up rapidly and the apologies started to spill from her lips uncontrollably.

“I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me, he started groping me and I freaked and I didn’t know what to do. It won’t happen again, I swear, I know I messed up-” Jase was frowning, trying to listen to any continuing drama downstairs but he couldn’t hear it over Madison’s rambling. He looked at her, angry,

“Shut the fuck up a second.” She clamped her lips, the profound fear of what was about to happen chewing up her insides. She was going to throw up. Jase recognised the look of sheer dread on her face and quickly wrenched the door back open, grabbing her again. Vomit was in her mouth and she only just made it to the toilet, spewing all the liquid that had clouded her judgement earlier. He sighed in frustration as she keeled over on the floor.

“Please don’t hurt me, I promise I’ll behave.” She groaned through heaves. Jase just stared down at her.

“How much have you drunk?” he asked when it finally seemed to subside. Madison was shaking, her head resting on the rim of the toilet. She didn’t answer and he rolled his eyes. “Too fucking much, clearly.” Stepping over her, he ran a flannel under the cold tap, wringing it out until it was just damp. Madison looked up weakly, accepting the cold compress. “Clean yourself up, get back to the room.” She didn’t put up an argument, aware that she’d royally messed up, and she’d definitely need to keep her head down for a while if she was still going to bide her time before she figured out a way to get out.

“Get on the bed and stay quiet.” He ordered when they were back in the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Madison sucked her bottom lip in,

“What are you going to do to me?” she questioned, not entirely sure she wanted to know the answer. He leaned his back up against the desk and ran his hands through his hair before looking at her again.

“Nothing. You’ll get yourself killed before I have to do anything if this is how you’re going to be.”

She stared back at him with her frightened doe eyes and it was like it was the first time he saw her, really saw her.

Mascara had smeared beneath her eyes and the foundation was separating on her clear skin. The layers that had made her appear so much older earlier were melting away and exposing her age once more and even after what she’d done, his anger subsided in an almost instant.

He couldn’t blame her for how she had behaved. She was trying to look after herself and that was understandable. He hadn’t even wanted her in the house in the first place and his natural response to this situation was grating on him. Of course, she was putting up a fight. She had more to live for than the others.

“The punters aren’t supposed to touch you unless they’re paying for it. As far as I’m concerned, whilst in no way was what you did okay, Charlie was the one originally in the wrong.” Madison didn’t trust his words. He was playing with her. He had to be. There was no chance he was just letting her off. Jase picked up on this and added, “I also can’t particularly stand the bloke myself and nor can Benny, he’s always giving it. He’ll be a laughing stock being put in his place by you.” She didn’t know what to say, so she stayed silent as they just watched each other. Jase was first to look away, lifting his back slightly to pull the cigarettes from his pocket.

“So, you’re not going to send Adam up here?” Madison asked after he’d had a few puffs. He shook his head,

“Jesus Christ, no. But don’t get this all twisted. I only got you out of the situation because if people see Charlie breaking the rules then they will too. And he was about to hit you.”

“And if he did that?” she was asking out of curiosity more than anything else, to see if it was always the girls that took the brunt of things. Jase’s facial expression straightened as if he had just realised, he was treating her almost like a genuine person and for a second, he’d forgotten where he was.

“What you did was incredibly stupid. If you step out of line again, it’s not Adam you’ll have to worry about. This is the only warning I’m giving you.”

“I am sorry,” she said quietly, her apology soft and sincere. He knew she hadn’t head-butted Charlie out of rebellion but out of instinctual reaction and for that, he could overlook it this time. He stood up, reaching for the door handle, “Jase,” he stopped with his back to her, “thank you.” Her words hovered in the air for a second before he replied.

“Don’t call me by my name. We are not equal here.” He made sure his words were cold enough to make a point and silently wished she hadn’t thanked him. It made it seem as though he’d saved her and technically, he had, but not for her sake. He didn’t want her thinking it was for her sake. It was to make a point that they had rules in place and they would enforce them.

The noise downstairs kept on until the early morning. Madison had unpinned her hair and wiped the makeup off with pads Lily had left. Finding a small pair of joggers and a jumper in the wardrobe, she stripped from the skin-tight dress and curled up on the bed. The events of the evening continued to run through her mind. Jase had forced her upstairs with so much anger that she was sure she wasn’t going to see the light of day again. Then, as quickly as it had arrived, his anger dissolved.

He didn’t even seem mad at her like his mood had been a show for the others rather than a result of her actions. Something told her that there was a lot more to him than he put across from this encounter, on top of the time they met in the alleyway.

If there was anyone in the house that seemed to have some inkling of conscience, it was Jase.

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