The Cunning (Book 1/2)

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As the days passed, edging them closer to Madison’s birthday, she grew progressively quieter. Until the night before, Jase walked into the bedroom and found her crying on the bed.

“Hey, what’s up, has someone done something?” he asked, closing the door quietly and sitting down on the edge of the bed. Madison shook her head, using the sleeves of his jumper to dry her eyes.

“No, nothing like that.”

“Then why are you crying?” She looked at him, her bottom lip trembling.

“It’s my birthday tomorrow,” she breathed shakily. Jase’s heart dropped. Of course, she was crying over that. He chewed the inside of his lip before sighing and pulling her into his arms.

“I know,” he whispered, scrunching her hair up gently.

“I don’t want to be here,” she said, “we both know that, but in this room, with you, there’s an element of safety. And I’m never getting that again.” It hurt Jase, seeing her like this. What hurt him more was knowing he had played such a big part. And no matter how much he had tried to push it back, the inevitable was fast approaching.

He pulled her to lay down with him, both arms wrapped around her securely as her sobs eventually subsided and she was just left with silent tears.

“That night I saw you in the alleyway,” Jase said softly, “I thought you were the prettiest idiot I’ve ever seen in my life.” Madison let out a weak laugh. “I didn’t really have to think about letting you go. I just saw you and knew you didn’t belong here. Then when they had you in the living room, hands bound, my heart dropped.” He looked down at her. She had her hand up to her mouth, sucking on the knuckle of her index finger as tears continued to stream down her cheeks. Every now and then, a breath would shudder through her lips. “I was worried about you saying something, sure. But I also just didn’t want you here. The other girls, it’s so easy not to feel sorry for them because of how my mum was. You just assume they don’t have any self-respect because they chose this life. And I know that’s no excuse to objectify them further but I knew that wasn’t you from the offset. When you escaped, so much of me wanted to let you go, I really did. But we weren’t the only ones about that night and at least with you here I could sort of control the things that happened.” He sighed, “if I could just let you go, get you away from here, I would. Sure as fuck would make my life easier. But nothing’s that simple.”

“You don’t want to be here either, anymore. Do you?” She said after a brief silence.

“What makes you say that?” he asked.

“Because you’re not an awful person, Jase.” He smiled sadly.

“And why do you think that?”

“Because you don’t have to be how you are with me. You’ve made conscious choices for my benefit. I bet since your hand got sliced you’ve been questioning whether this is all really worth it.” She was right. When your life was threatened, it put a lot into perspective. He’d already had this conversation in his head.

“And what do you suggest I do, Madison?” he brushed her cheek with his thumb, “Because I can’t just leave. Everyone in this business knows who I am, and I’ve pissed plenty of people off with some of the things I’ve done. I dare say this won’t be the last time someone tries to kill me.” He held his hand in front of her face to show the pink scar that was healing nicely. “It’s not as simple as quitting a job and turning a blind eye to everything.” He looked up to the ceiling, rubbing his chin with his free hand. “I don’t even have anywhere else to go or anything else to do. This is what I do best.” Madison’s shoulders sank. He was right and she hated it. This wasn’t fair on him either.

“So that’s it?” she asked, “you just sit around waiting until you get shot or stabbed?”

“I made my bed,” he whispered, kissing the top of her head. She saw so much of her dad in him, the way he accepted the consequences of his actions like a true man dedicated to the cause.

The tears and exhaustion eventually took their toll on Madison, and she fell asleep in his lap. Jase continued brushing her hair out of her face. Her cheeks were stained with mascara, lips swollen. He couldn’t stand seeing her like this.

It took Sam a few minutes to open Janine’s bedroom door. His brows furrowed at Jase standing there.

“What’s up, you good?” Sam asked sleepily. Jase poked his tongue in his cheek,

“Get dressed, I need your help with something.”

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