The Cunning (Book 1/2)

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“You look like shit,” Sam said as Jase trudged into the kitchen, pushing his curls out of his eyes.

“I feel like it,” he mumbled, opening the cupboard and taking out the last of the paracetamol.

“What kept you up?” Jase considered telling him about the brief ordeal with Madison but decided against it. He could trust Sam, but he was still processing his thoughts.

“I just couldn’t sleep,” he replied. They were the only two in the house, besides the customer just leaving after a session with Annabelle. They watched him as he hurried out of the front door, hanging his head. A common occurrence.

“Is it alright if Janine comes down today?” Sam asked. Jase shrugged.

“Yeah. As long as she’s quiet whilst I run through some numbers for collection money.” Sam stood up. “If you’re going to get her now, open Madison’s door as well.” Jase ordered, as Sam left the kitchen.

“Jase said you can come down,” he said, leaning into Janine’s room. She smiled, getting up from her dresser and watched him walk to the end of the hall.

“What are you doing?”

“He said to let her out as well.” Janine narrowed her eyes, wondering what Jase’s game was. There were never any good intentions where he was concerned.

Madison joined everyone in the living room shortly after. Janine looked up from where she was sat on the floor, painting her nails. Her eyes followed the young girl as she lowered herself opposite.

“Want me to paint your nails?” Janine asked, blowing on the tacky paint she’d coated on. Madison shrugged,

“Sure.” She was still sleepy, having not long woken up after Jase had left the room. Last night, she saw a look in his eyes she hadn’t seen before. Regret.

The art of being able to stress herself into crying on cue had proven another valuable skill she’d gained from her childhood. He wasn’t a total animal.

Jase had a softer side, and she was successfully chipping away at it.

Naturally, the idea of him burning children had obviously thrown her. There were rules, even in this world, but that wasn’t what had encouraged her to cry. She had cried at the thought that all her appeal to the hope he possessed a conscience was wasted. The panic that her plan had failed was enough to send her spiralling into the thought that she really was trapped.

And then the idiot had reassured her, all because of a couple of tears.

After considering how he was towards her, and what Janine had said about him treating her differently, she wanted to put that to the test. See if his friendliness was legitimate. Before last night, it was unclear. But now, she was more than confident that, for whatever reason, Jase couldn’t bring himself to upset her. He’d unintentionally shown his real colours.

“You have nice nails,” Janine said, shaking the polish as she examined Madison’s cuticles, “did you get them done? Before here?” Madison shook her head,

“No, I’m not exactly a girly girl. I leaned more towards sports and books.” Janine shrugged, unscrewing the lid and taking Madison’s hand.

“No girly friends to do make-up with?” she asked. Madison smiled sadly,

“Not really.” She had very few friendships in the past. People were not so easy to trust, not with her upbringing. There was always so much caution when it came to outsiders. There was caution when it came to insiders too. Janine pouted.

“Shame. Not such an issue now you’re here I suppose. Not like we’re allowed sleepovers.” Madison could tell what she was doing. The poor girl was trying to pump in as much normality as she could about their situation.

“What about you?” Madison continued, playing along. It was nice to pretend. It unravelled the foreboding tightness in her chest and helped lift the atmosphere, even if it was solely between them. Janine arched her brows but was still focussing on Madison’s nails.

“Me? I worked on the streets before I came here so those girls were my only friends, not exactly a crowd I miss being a part of, to be honest.” She waved it off like coming to the house was as simple as switching the brand she worked for.

“Have any of the girls you used work with been brought here?” Madison asked. Janine’s eyes flickered over to Jase at the table. He stopped writing for a second, and she knew he was listening.

“Some of them,” she said cautiously, not withdrawing her eyes from him, waiting for him to say something. He’d thought about it, but he didn’t. Madison picked up on this and didn’t know what else to say so she remained silent. She didn’t want to get either of them in trouble for prying.

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