The Cunning (Book 1/2)

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Madison tucked her chin into the neck of her windbreaker, breathing into the material and creating heating for her lower face. The wind was strong and made her ears ache every time she looked up from her feet. It was, nevertheless, a more preferred option than accepting a lift home from Peter. Anything but that.

The streets were empty. All residents in the block of flats along the road seemed to be asleep. Every twenty meters was lit with the orange glow of the looming streetlights, some of them flickered every now and then, inadvertently creating an ominous feel to the night. She brushed off the anxiety that was stewing inside her and picked up speed. Five more minutes and she would be home.

Curling her arms tighter into her body in a futile attempt to lock in as much warmth as possible, she rounded a corner only to come to an abrupt halt when she bounced off of something soft.

The weight of hands on the sides of her shoulders hadn’t immediately registered as she peered up at the large figure that was now steadying her.

A scream burned in Madison’s throat, and her lips parted but no sound came out as her eyes darted over the stranger’s face.

Every feature was hidden behind a black bandana and a hood, leaving nothing but the eyes and a singular curl resting almost purposefully in the middle of his forehead. A tell-tale curl.

Panic was a feeling she was well acquainted with, and she knew the heat that crawled up her body and pulsed in her head was fear. Fear that wasn’t present in the eyes that were staring back at her. The eyes that went from malicious slits to what she perceived as concern.

Familiarity seeped through all of the other emotions.

Twenty Marlborough.

Slowly, he raised a gloved finger over his hidden lips, signalling for her to remain quiet. Instinct convinced her to listen. The crowbar that was held in his left hand was suddenly hard against her upper arm as the feeling came back to her limbs. The cement blocks that had kept her feet pressed firmly to the pavement dissolved and she had to fight nausea that now replaced the leaden weight in the pit of her stomach. He pointed over her shoulder and hesitantly, Madison looked, spotting the alley before turning back to the empty space he had been stood in.

Without a second thought, she bolted in the direction he’d pointed to. No time to question whether he was leading her to something or whether he had simply let her go to carry on with whatever he had been doing.

She didn’t stop sprinting until she was at her front door, jamming the key into the lock and slamming it behind her. Only then did she allow herself to breathe, gulping in air as if she had been held underwater and just resurfaced.

What had just happened?

Her head span as she slid her back down the door, feeling her entire body vibrate with the adrenalin coursing through her veins. Her blood ran ice cold.

The silence was deafening.

What the hell had happened?

“Jesus Christ,” she stammered under her breath, scrambling to her feet and into the kitchen. She pulled a bottle of brandy from the cupboard. Her numb hand shaking as she poured a large glass.

Finishing the drink in one, she poured another and raised the glass to her lips and spotted the note left on the kitchen side in her mum’s elegant handwriting.

She had gone to America for two weeks on overseas business.

The stranger’s eyes flashed in her head, breaking her concentration on the words. Why had he looked concerned? Had he panicked too?

The second drink went down much smoother than the first, and she savoured the burning sensation it left in her stomach, dulling the knot that had formed. Trying to process the last ten minutes right now was futile. After one more drink, Madison took herself to bed, staring out of her window until the sky turned a miserable grey. Only then did her eyes close for longer than a few seconds.

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