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Brutal Prince: Chapter 18


Aida is lying in my arms. I can feel how flushed and warm she still is. And I saw how hard she came. But I would be worried how she was feeling in the aftermath, if I weren’t so distracted with my own absolute amazement.

I’ve tied women up and fucked them roughly before. Some of them ask for it, and other times I was just experimenting. Some girls are so boring to fuck that you might as well tie them up, because they’re just going to lay there either way.

In all those instances, I felt like I was going through the motions.

With Aida, it was totally different.

Sex with her always is.

Fucking used to be about release for me. It was a manual act, that could be good, bad, or indifferent.

I never imagined it could feel so good that it takes me over, body and brain. The sheer, physical pleasure is insanely intense. Bizarrely stronger than what I’m used to.

And then there’re the psychological factors. Aida attracts me in a way I can’t understand. It’s as if every one of her features was formed with some kind of secret code designed to burrow into my brain. The long, almond shape of her smoky, gray eyes. The insane curves of her body. Her smooth, cedar-colored skin. The way her teeth flash at me when she grins. The way she bites the edge of her bottom lip when she’s aroused, or trying not to laugh.

Isn’t that the same thing with her? She loves passion of any kind. She loves to be angry, stubborn, joyful, or mischievous. The only thing she doesn’t like is a lack of feeling.

Unfortunately, that’s what I am. Cold. Restrained. Lacking in pleasure.

Until I’m around her.

Then my senses crank up to a feverish degree. I smell and taste and see more acutely. It can almost be too much.

It scares me, how I lose control around her. In the few weeks I’ve known Aida, I’ve lost my temper more times than in all the years preceding.

Yet, I don’t want it to stop. I can’t imagine going back to dull indifference. Aida is the doorway into another world. I want to stay on her side forever.

Jesus, what am I saying?

I’ve never had these thoughts before, let alone allowed them to form into words.

How am I getting so wrapped up in this girl, who frankly is out of her fucking mind? She tried to shoot Jack! In my kitchen! If she did that at a campaign event, I’d be royally fucked. And I wouldn’t put it past her, either.

I’ve got to calm down and keep my head on straight.

That resolution lasts about five seconds, until I press my nose against her hair and inhale that wild scent of hers, like sunshine and sea salt, dark coffee, pepper, and just a hint of honeyed sweetness. Then I feel that jolt again, that adrenaline shot, that switches off the governors on every one of my impulses.

When Aida’s phone rings, I almost jump out of my skin.

Aida jolts awake, having drifted off on my shoulder.

“Who is it?” she mumbles.

“It’s your phone,” I tell her.

She rolls out of the bed, amusingly clumsy. She doesn’t even try for grace, tumbling off the edge of the mattress like a panda bear. Then she roots around for the phone, finally locating it halfway under the bed.

“Dante?” she says, holding it against her ear.

She listens for a moment, eyebrows drawn together in a scowl rather like the default expression of the person to whom she’s speaking.

Cavalo!” she exclaims. “Sei serio? Che palle!

I’ve never heard Aida speak more than a word or two in Italian. I wonder if that’s what she speaks at home with her family. She’s obviously fluent.

Aida has a lot of hidden talents.

I underestimated her when we met. I thought she was spoiled, young, wild, careless, uneducated, unmotivated.

Yet she’s shown me several times now that she’s absorbed far more of her father’s business than I gave her credit for. She’s astute, observant, persuasive when she wants to be. Clever and resourceful. She knows how to handle a gun—my throbbing bicep can attest to that. And she’s brave as hell. The way she stared me down when she threw my grandfather’s watch over the railing . . . it was a dick move, but actually pretty smart.

She and Sebastian were outmatched. If she had handed the watch over, I could conceivably have shot them both and walked away. By throwing it in the lake, she goaded me into acting impulsively. She created chaos, and she split her opponents.

Aida can be rash and rageful, but she doesn’t panic. Even now on the phone with her brother, though something is obviously wrong, she hasn’t lost her head. She’s getting the information, responding quickly and concisely.

Capisco. Si. Sarò lì presto.”

She hangs up the call, turning to face me.

She’s glowing like a bronzed goddess in the watery light coming in through the shutters. She doesn’t notice or care that she’s completely naked.

“Dante says somebody torched the equipment on the Oak Street Tower site. We’ve lost about two million in heavy machinery, plus whatever damage to the building itself.”

“Let’s go down there,” I say, getting out of the bed.

“You don’t— I was going to go over, but you don’t have to,” she says.

“Do you not want me to come?” I ask, standing in the doorway between the bedroom and the bathroom.

“No. I mean yes, you can, but you don’t . . .” she shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot. My little Aida, not embarrassed by nudity, but blushing from a direct question on the topic of what she wants.

“I’m coming,” I say firmly. “We’re on the same team now, right?”

“Yes . . .” she says, unconvinced.

Then, seeming to commit to the idea, she follows me into the walk-in, where I’ve put back all of her clothes. A job that took me all of five minutes.

I’ve ordered Marta to buy Aida a proper wardrobe of professional clothing. By the end of this week, Aida should have a full complement of gowns and cocktail dresses, slacks and sundresses, cardigans, blouses, skirts, sandals, heels, boots, and jackets. Whether she’ll actually agree to wear it or not is a different question.

For now, she pulls on a pair of jean shorts and an old Cubbies t-shirt. Then she sits down on the carpet to tie up her sneakers.

I pull on my own clothes.

Aida raises a shocked eyebrow.

Jeans?” she says, hiding a grin.

“So what?”

“I’ve never seen you wear jeans. Of course they would be Balenciaga,” she adds, rolling her eyes.

“Aida,” I say calmly. “I do not pick out any of my clothes, including these jeans. I don’t even know what Balan— what that brand even is.”

“What?” Aida says, eyes wide and only one sneaker on her foot. “You don’t buy your own clothes?”


“Who does?”

“Right now, Marta. Before that it was a different assistant named Andrew. We agree on an aesthetic, and then—”

“So you never go to the mall?”


“Why not?”

“Aren’t we supposed to be leaving?” I say.

“Right!” Aida pulls on her other sneaker and jumps up.

As we hurry down the stairs, she’s still pestering me. “But what if you don’t like the color, or—”

I hustle her into the car, saying, “Aida. I work literally all the time. Either on campaign projects or one of our numerous businesses. Some of which, as you very well know, are more difficult and hazardous than others. When I socialize, it’s at events where I need to network. I can’t remember the last time I ran an errand or did anything for entertainment.”

Aida sits quietly for a minute. Far longer than she usually stays quiet. Then she says, “That’s sad.”

I snort, shaking my head at her. “I like being busy. It’s not sad, it’s purposeful.”

“What’s the point, though?” she says. “If you’re not having any fun along the way.”

“Well,” I say, giving her a sidelong look. “I don’t consider Lord of the Rings marathons to be that fun.”

I can’t help taking a little poke at her, because I know very well that Aida is often bored or under-stimulated. It’s why she’s always getting into trouble.

Sure enough, she doesn’t retort with the usual flippant response. Instead, she bites the edge of her thumbnail, pensive rather than annoyed.

“I can do more than this, you know,” she says.

“I actually do know that,” I reply.

She glances over at me, checking to see if I’m mocking her.

I’m not.

“I see how smart you are. You had a better read on Madeline Breck than I did,” I tell her.

“I have a lot of good ideas,” she says. “Papa was always so afraid of me getting hurt. But I’m as smart as Dante or Nero. Or Seb. I’m smart enough not to get myself killed.”

“As long as you can keep your temper,” I say, half-smiling.

“I don’t—” Aida says hotly, breaking off when she sees that I’m teasing her. Mostly. “I don’t have a temper,” she says with dignity. “You don’t know what it’s like to always be the smallest dog in the fight. I have to attack first, and hardest. I never had much softness in me. I never have, and I never could.”

I can’t imagine her soft. It would ruin everything about her.

“Anyway,” Aida says quickly. “I still don’t know why you want to be Alderman. The Griffins are richer than god. You’ve got friends all across the city. Your territory’s secure. Why in the fuck do you want to sit in an office and deal with all that bullshit?”

“Why do you think people spend a half a million dollars campaigning for an Alderman’s seat, when the salary is $122,304?” I ask her.

“Well, obviously you can fuck around with zoning and tax law and suit your business interests, as well as handing around favors to everybody else.”

“Right,” I say, encouraging her to go on in guessing.

“It just doesn’t seem worth the trouble. You can get all that shit with bribes and trading favors. Or good old-fashioned violence.”

“But you’re always at the mercy of somebody else,” I tell her. “The incorruptible detective, or the greedy politician that got a better offer from someone else. Real power isn’t working the system. It’s running the system. Building it yourself, even.”

I pause, remembering a little of our overlapping family history.

“You remember when the Italians ran this city?” I say to her. “Capone had the mayor on his payroll. Imagine if Capone was the mayor. Or the governor. Or the fucking president.”

“I don’t like how you use the past tense to refer to our glory days,” Aida says lightly. “But I take your point. I guess it makes sense why your dad was keen to make an agreement between our families. It’s not about this election. It’s about the one after. If you want to run the whole city, you really do need us.”

“Yes,” I say quietly.

We’ve pulled up to the tower, its skeletal, half-built frame jutting up into the sky. Only the bottom few floors have been completed. The lot is a jumble of heavy machinery, stacks of building materials, makeshift offices, Porta Potties, and parked trucks.

The site would be dark and deserted if the whole north side wasn’t lit up by lights and sirens. I see a fire truck, two ambulances, and several police cars. Dante is speaking with a uniformed officer, while another cop takes notes from a battered and bandaged security guard. I assume that’s the guard who was on duty when someone torched the machines.

The air stinks of gasoline and charred metal. At least four pieces of heavy machinery are unsalvageable, including two excavators, a backhoe, and an entire crane. The blackened hulks are still smoking, the ground beneath muddied by the firemen’s hoses.

“It was that fucking Polack, I know it,” a voice says on Aida’s opposite side.

It’s Nero, appearing out of the darkness as quiet as a bat.

He’s quick and fucking sneaky. He could probably steal the gun out of the nearest cop’s belt without the guy noticing until he tries to disarm at the end of the night.

“How can you be sure?” Aida murmurs back. She’s keeping her voice down because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. Me, because I don’t want my name attached to this, and Nero because he has, at the bare minimum, a fuckton of unpaid parking tickets.

“This is their calling card,” Nero says. “They’re like Russians, but crazier. They love to make a scene, and they love symbolism. Besides,” he jerks his head toward the crane, where a blackened lump smolders against the base, “they left that.”

“What is it?” Aida breathes.

Her face has gone pale. I know she’s thinking the same thing as me—the object has the raw, cracked look of charred flesh.

“It’s a boar’s head,” Nero says. “The Butcher’s calling card.”

Dante joins us, his skin darker than ever from all the smoke in the air. Sweat has cut pale tracks on the sides of his bristled cheeks. His eyes look black and glittering, reflecting the flashing lights atop the police cars.

“The security guard is telling them it was a bunch of punk kids. We got the story straight before the cops rolled up. Luckily, the fire truck was faster than the cops, or we would have lost half the building, too.”

“You don’t want them to know it’s Zajac?” I say.

“We don’t want them in our business, period,” Dante replies. In fact, he shoots a questioning look at Aida as to why I’m here.

“I asked to come,” I tell him. “I feel responsible, since it was me who aggravated Zajac at the fundraiser.”

“He already had it out for us,” Nero says with a quick shake of his head. “We’ve gotten into it with him twice already over his men encroaching on our territory. Ripping off our suppliers and robbing banks in our neighborhoods.”

“He’s intent on starting conflict, that’s obvious,” Dante says, his deep rumbling voice like an idling engine. “We should—”

What he proposes is cut off by the rapid-fire snaps and cracks of a semi-automatic. It sounds like a string of firecrackers but a hundred times louder. A black Land Rover roars by, three men hanging out of the rolled-down windows, guns protruding and muzzle flashes illuminating their masked faces.

The moment the shots start, Aida’s brothers try to surround her. But I’ve already wrapped my arms around her shoulders, pulling her down behind the wheel of the nearest truck.

The remaining police officers shout and likewise dive for cover, using their radios to call for backup. Hunched behind their vehicles, a few even attempt to return fire, but the SUV has already sprayed the lot with a hail of bullets and disappeared around the corner.

One of the officers was hit in the chest. Thanks to his vest, he’s only knocked backward against the bumper of his cruiser. Another officer, less lucky, took a bullet to the thigh. His partner drags him behind a stack of pilings, shouting for an EMT.

“Are you hit?” Dante growls to the rest of us.

“No,” Nero says at once.

“What about you?” I ask Aida, manually rubbing my hands down her bare arms and legs to make sure they’re uninjured.

“I’m fine,” she says firmly.

I try to actually pay attention to my body, above the rushing thud of blood in my ears and the frantic firing of my neurons. I don’t think I was shot either.

“We’re good,” I tell Dante.

“Did you see any of the shooters?” Dante asks.

“They had their faces covered,” I say. “I think I saw a gold watch on one of their wrists. Nothing useful.”

“The end of the license plate was 48996,” Aida pipes up.

“How did you see that?” Dante demands.

Aida shrugs. “I’m shorter.”

“That crazy son of a bitch!” Nero says, shaking his head in amazement. “He really wants us to fucking obliterate him, doesn’t he?”

“He’s trying to provoke a response,” Dante says, frowning.

“Don’t get up!” I say sharply, seeing Nero about to rise. “We don’t know if that was the only car. There could be another. Or other shooters.” I nod upward to the countless windows in the high rises surrounding the site.

“We can’t stay here,” Aida mutters. “The cops are gonna sweep the whole lot. Unless they’re dumb enough to write that off as a coincidence, they’re going to be taking this a hell of a lot more seriously now.”

Moving slowly, we sneak off the opposite side of the site, making our way back toward Nero’s truck. It’s the closest vehicle, and the one in the least well-lit area.

We all crowd into the cab so Nero can drive Aida and me around the corner to the spot where we left my car.

“We can’t do anything rash,” Dante says. “Zajac might be trying to lure us into an immediate retaliation. We need to hole up for the night. Figure out how we’re going to respond. Aida, you should come home with us.”

“She’s staying with me,” I say at once.

Dante frowns. “We don’t know exactly who the Butcher is targeting. He hit our building site, but he came to your fundraiser. We don’t know if that was for Aida, or for you. Or for both.”

“Exactly.” I nod. “Which is why Aida should stay with me. If it turns out that he’s aiming his attacks at your family, she’ll be safer with mine.”

“What exactly did Zajac say to you two?” Dante asks.

I summarize the conversation.

“I don’t know if he really wants that CTA property, or if he was just testing me. Actually, he mostly seemed annoyed about the wedding. I think he’s trying to crack us before the alliance is solidified.”

“Could be,” Dante says, his forehead wrinkled in thought. “The Butcher is touchy. Insanely prideful, easily offended. He’s probably angry that we didn’t offer Aida to him first.”

“Fucking gross,” Aida interjects. “For one thing, he’s old. For another, I’m not a fucking pog.”

“Either way, it’s too late,” I growl. “You’re mine. And whatever he wants as a consolation prize, he’s not getting it.”

“I still think she should come with us,” Dante says. “We know the Butcher better than you do.”

“Not happening,” I say flatly. I’m not letting Aida out of my sight.

Dante scowls, not used to anybody contradicting his orders. But it’s not all ego—I can see the concern in his face, his fear for Aida. It softens my tone, just a little.

“I’ll protect her,” I promise him.

Dante gives a curt nod. He believes me.

“We’ll ride out the night,” Dante says again. “Then in the morning, we’ll find out where Zajac is hiding and plan our response.”

“A coordinated response,” I say.

“Yes,” Dante agrees.

Aida and I get out of the truck, transferring over to my Audi.

I can see Dante is still reluctant to let his sister leave with me.

It’s Aida who convinces him. “I’ll be safe with Callum,” she says.

She gives her oldest brother a quick hug and squeezes Nero’s arm.

“I’ll see you both soon,” she says.

As I pull the car away from the curb I say, without looking at her, “I’m glad you stayed with me.”

Aida tilts her head, looking at my profile while I drive.

“I want us to be partners,” she says. “Not just . . . unwilling roommates.”

“I want that, too,” I tell her.

Easier said than done. But it doesn’t seem impossible anymore. I’m starting to believe that Aida and I could actually work together. We could be stronger together than apart.

Aida sighs.

“He certainly hit us where it hurts,” she says.

“Because the tower is such a big project?” I ask her.

“No. It’s not the money, exactly. It’s the work—we have to provide a constant flow of contracts to the various trades and unions to keep them loyal. The materials, the jobs—if you can’t feed the machine, then it all grinds to a halt. And of course,” she casts a sideways look at me, “there’re the other layers of the machine. The shipments that carry more than lumber. The businesses that wash money for the other businesses. It’s a web, all interconnected, all reliant on the smooth operation of the individual parts.”

I nod. “We work the same.”

Our businesses may differ, but the strategies are similar.

“The election is only a couple of days away,” Aida muses. “I wonder if Zajac will try to blow that up, too.”

My hands tighten around the steering wheel.

“If he tries, the Butcher’s going to find himself on the wrong end of the cleaver this time around.”


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