The Brit by Jodi Ellen Malpas

Prologue - Part 1

London—Twenty Years Ago

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I could smell it. Bacon. Greasy, fatty bacon. It was making my stomach twist harder as I scavenged through the huge bin at the back of the burger bar I raided daily. My frantic hands were digging like my life depended on it, rummaging down and down though soggy chips and bread to find the good stuff. When I moved a cardboard box and the scent intensified, wafting up into my filthy face, I very nearly looked to the heavens in thanks. But I didn’t, because if there was a god, I wouldn’t have been rummaging through a bin like a tramp.

I was pretty sure bacon had never looked so good, and the piece I’d found had the remnants of melted cheese smothered far and wide. My mouth watered; my tummy growled hard. I shoved it past my teeth and chewed like a child possessed, swallowing way too soon. I should have savored it. Who knew when I’d find another piece of heaven like that, because, let’s face it, who took off the bacon on a bacon cheeseburger? It was my lucky day.

Dusting off my hands, I jumped down from the edge of the bin, wincing a tiny bit at the sharp pain in my rib. Pulling up my T-shirt, one of only two I had which was three sizes too small, even for my emaciated ten-year-old frame, I inspected the damage.

“Bastard,” I muttered, taking in the colorful patches over my torso, an ugly blend of purples, yellows, black, and blues. I was a dense fool. He’d told me to trust him. He’d promised not to cuff me if I did as I was told and got his beer. The moment I held out the can, he’d taken it and proceeded to pound me with it. It didn’t hurt. Never did during the actual beating. It was afterward, when I had escaped the arsehole and was no longer making myself numb, that the pain kicked in. Part of me knew when I took what he dished out without so much as a murmur, it made him angrier. But I learned years before that I got satisfaction in knowing I frustrated him. He’d never see me beg. He’d never see my pain. Never. Not even when he pinned me face first to the kitchen table and shoved his dick in my arse.

I picked up my feet and started strolling down the alley toward the main road. Not even the biting cold affected me anymore. I was hardened. Used to the slow torture that was my sad life. I was wearing a T-shirt, half ripped up one side exposing my scrawny torso. In December. It was minus one degrees, and I couldn’t feel a damn thing.

I just made it to the end of the alley when I heard my name being called. The voice should have made me break into a sprint and run away. But instead, I turned, finding Pedro, a boy from the posh estate up the road. He was flanked by his usual crew of five, all kids better off than me. It wasn’t a hard feat. Pedro was Italian. His family owned a restaurant on the main drag where I’d often scavenged. The first time I scrounged through the bin looking for leftovers, he caught me. From that day, Pedro made it his mission to make my life miserable. Or even more miserable.

The six boys circled me, and I passed my eyes over each one. I wasn’t scared. In fact, I was more in awe of their clean clothes and their brand-new trainers. They were all Italian. Cousins, I think. But Pedro was the leader of the gang, and he was also the largest by a clear foot, both in height and width.

“Find anything tasty, little tramp?” Pedro asked, nodding to the bin I had just crawled out of. His cousins started tittering, like they hadn’t heard him ask me the very same question a dozen times before. I didn’t bother answering. My reply wouldn’t have changed the outcome, and running away would have made the next time he caught me a longer encounter. So I stood and waited for him to approach me, shutting down for the second time that day. His grin was wicked as he leaned in and sniffed me before wrinkling his nose in disgust. “Well?” he prompted.

“Bacon,” I answered stoically. “It was better than that shit pasta I find in your family’s bins.”

His face faltered before he quickly gathered himself and his disgust grew. Sickly, I relished in it, despite the beating I knew was coming. “Cut him,” he spat, elbowing the tall lanky boy beside him. I think they called him Bony. I smiled on the inside. He had nothing on me.

Bony produced a flick knife from his stylish jeans, inspecting the blade. I should have flinched. I didn’t. Nothing I faced fazed me at that point in my life. “Get on with it,” I goaded him, stepping forward. His lip curled, and his arm shot forward. My eyes slammed shut, yet I didn’t move anything else, as I felt the blade sink into the flesh of my cheek and drag a few inches down.

The gang cheered, clearly thrilled with today’s work, and I opened my eyes, feeling warm dampness sliding down my face, meeting the corner of my mouth. I flicked my tongue out and licked up some blood, reacquainting myself with the coppery taste.

“You’re sick, man,” Pedro spat.

“Want a taste?” I reached up to my cheek and dragged my finger down through the stream of blood, presenting it to him.

The rage in his eyes thrilled me as he advanced forward, ready to land a few brutal thumps to my face. I was more than ready. Every minute of my life, I was ready. What I endured at home made it easy to take whatever this piece of spoiled shit threw my way.

Pedro pulled his fist back, but the sound of screeching tires halted him in his tracks, and we all turned in unison to see a beat-up old Merc speeding toward us. Pedro and his gang split. Me? I stood and watched as two more cars entered the alley, two other Mercs, but these ones brand new. One raced up behind the old Merc, and one came in from the other end of the alley, blocking it in.