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Brutal Prince: Chapter 19


I have to leave early the next morning, because I’ve got a literature class I don’t want to miss. I’ve been buckling down this semester, actually passing my classes. I think it’s time to quit fucking around and finish my degree.

Callum doesn’t want me going anywhere until this thing with Zajac has come to a head, but he finally relents under the condition that Nessa and I have one of his men drive us to school.

Unfortunately, the only person available is Jack.

Under orders from Callum, he opens the car door for me with forced politeness, but waves of loathing are rolling off him and me. The tension in the car is so thick that poor Nessa is wide-eyed and confused, too uncomfortable to engage in her usual stream of cheerful conversation.

“So, uh, did you guys see there’s supposed to be some kind of meteor shower tonight?” she asks us.

Jack grunts from the driver’s seat.

I’m looking at the back of his head, wondering if it would be worth another fight with Callum to just pop Jack once in the ear when we pull up to campus.

“What?” I say to Nessa.

“I said—oh, never mind.”

Jack drops us off in front of the Cudahy library, his eyes fixed rigidly ahead as he waits for us to get out of the car.

“Thank you, Jack,” Ness says politely as she climbs out.

“Yeah, thanks Jeeves,” I mutter to him on my way out the door.

I can see his knuckles whiten on the steering wheel and practically hear his molars grinding together.

I slam the door behind me just to annoy him all the more, and then I head off to class, hoping Jack will be too irritated to pick me up again afterward.

I keep sneaking my phone out during class, to see if my brothers have texted me. Or Cal. I know they’re hunting down the Butcher.

I hope they’re all together, whatever they’re doing. Zajac scares me. I know where he came from. There’s a difference between growing up in a criminal family and fighting your way up in the criminal world. The Butcher is playing this game to win or to die. There’s no middle ground for him.

So I’m glad my brothers aren’t alone in this.

But I’m annoyed that, yet again, I’m being left out of the action. This morning, I demanded Cal to take me with him, but he refused before the words were even out of my mouth.

“No, Aida. We have no idea where the Butcher is or how far he plans to take this. We could be walking into an ambush everywhere we go.”

“Then why are you going? Send someone else. Like Jack,” I said hopefully.

“This isn’t an errand-boy kind of job. Zajac is not fucking around. He didn’t just shoot at us last night, he hit two cops. We have no idea how far he plans to take this.”

“I know people that know his people. I can help,” I insisted.

Callum seized me by the arm, hard enough to hurt. His blue eyes cut into me, narrow and unblinking.

“You’re not going anywhere near this Aida. So help me god, I will lock you in that closet for a month before I let you wander around Little Ukraine, talking to bartenders and strippers.”

Whenever anybody tells me what I can’t do, it makes me about a hundred times more determined.

Callum saw the flare of rebellion in my eyes and sighed, loosening his grip on my arm just a little.

“I promise you, as soon as I hear anything, I will call you.”

“Or text,” I demanded.

Callum nodded.

“I promise,” he said.

So I let him go, and I didn’t immediately slough off my classes and head to Little Ukraine. That’s not where I’d go anyway, if I wanted info on the Butcher. I have a much better lead than that.

But for now, I’m stuck in Comparative Literature, completely ignoring the analysis of feminist characters in Austen’s novels. Instead I’m wondering what Nero meant when he texted me:

We found the shooter. Got a tip on the old bastard, too.

I text him back, but he doesn’t send me anything else.

The class ends abruptly—or so it seems to me as I stare out the window totally distracted.

I snatch up an armful of books, not bothering to stow them away in my bag, then head outside, trotting across campus in the direction of the west lot where I’m supposed to meet Nessa and our detestable chauffeur.

When I’m almost at the right spot, I hear a male voice say, “Do you need help carrying all those books, little lady?”

For a second, I think it’s Callum. I don’t know why—he doesn’t do corny impressions, like some helpful cowboy. When I turn around, I’m met with Oliver’s tanned, grinning face instead. He’s bruised where Callum tuned him up. A dark line down the center of his lip marks the place where it split.

“Oh,” I say, annoyed. “It’s you.”

“Not exactly the enthusiastic greeting I was hoping for,” Oliver says, keeping pace at my side.

“What are you doing here?” I demand. He’s years out of school, there’s no reason for him to be hanging around here.

“I came to talk to you.”

I take a false step on a stone hidden in the grass, my ankle bending uncomfortably under me.

“Ouch! Fuck!” I hiss, stumbling a little.

“Careful,” Oliver says, catching my elbow.

“I’m fine,” I say, trying to pull my arm away. But I’m limping slightly now. I don’t think it’s sprained, it’s just that thing where it’s tender and wonky, and you have to baby it a minute.

“Come over here,” Oliver says. “Sit down a second.”

He steers me away from the parking lot, over to an underground walkway, at the head of which is a stone bench, partially hidden under an overhang.

Oliver is so big and overbearing that I can’t really pull away, not without hurting myself. I sink down on the bench. Oliver sits right next to me, almost forced to put his arm around me because of the tightness of the space. I can smell that cologne he always wears, pleasant but a little overpowering.

“I can’t stay,” I tell him. “Somebody’s picking me up.”

I pull off my sneaker and massage my ankle, trying to work out the kink.

“They can wait a minute,” Oliver says.

He takes my socked foot and pulls it into his lap, kneading and massaging my ankle. It feels good, but I don’t want him to get the wrong idea. So after a minute I say, “That’s good, thanks,” and take my foot back.

Oliver looks down at me with his big brown eyes, his expression reproachful.

“Aida, what you did cut me to the bone. Do you know how painful that was, to see a picture of you on fucking Facebook, wearing a goddamned wedding dress? Standing next to him?

I take a deep breath, trying to be patient.

“I’m sorry, Oliver. It was sudden. I was pretty fucking surprised myself.”

I don’t know how to explain it without telling him too much. All I can really say, lamely, is, “I didn’t do it to hurt you.”

“But you did hurt me. You’re still hurting me. You’re killing me every day.”

I let out a breath, both guilty and annoyed. Oliver can be a bit . . . dramatic.

“I didn’t even know you were dating him!” he cries.

I press my knuckles into my forehead. My ankle is throbbing. It’s actually kind of cold here, out of the sunshine and close to the chilly cement tunnel.

I feel bad about the way I dumped Oliver, I really do. It was the weirdest thing. He never did anything wrong, exactly. He took me on trips, bought me about a thousand gifts, told me how desperately infatuated he was with me.

It started out as a casual fling. I didn’t think some country club, uber-capitalist trust-funder would pursue me so aggressively. I figured Oliver just wanted to get fucked by a bad girl. Tired of the Madisons and the Harpers of the world refusing to make eye contact during a BJ.

We happened to be at the same party, two summers ago. We drunkenly kissed in the boathouse, then he tried to put his hand down my bikini bottoms, and I shoved him in the lake.

A couple of weeks later, we met again at a party in Wicker Park. He gave me shit about the lake thing, I told him he was lucky we were swimming, not mountain-climbing.

The next day he sent a bouquet of three hundred pink roses to my father’s house.

That’s how it was from then on. He kept chasing after me with these grand, exotic gestures, and I went along with it for a while. Dinners, dancing, weekend trips. But I didn’t take it seriously. I doubted that he’d want to bring a gangster’s daughter home to meet Mr. and Mrs. Castle. Even around his friends, I could tell he was sometimes proud to show me off, sometimes nervous, like I might pull out a switchblade and shank somebody.

I was tempted, a time or two. I already knew some of Oliver’s friends, from running in the overlapping circles of the party crowd, the criminal crowd, and the wealthy heirs of Chicago.

They weren’t all bad. But some of the would-be upper crust made me want to puncture my own eardrums just to avoid the sound of their idiocy.

Plus, it kinda freaked me out how Oliver told me he loved me after a couple of weeks. He called me a goddess, an angel, the only real person on earth.

It was weird, because I’m no angel.

He said we were soulmates, but to me he was just another guy—sometimes fun, sometimes good in bed, but barely a boyfriend let alone a best friend or soulmate.

I felt like Oliver didn’t really know me at all. Like he just loved some exaggerated version of me in his mind.

I tried to break up with him a few times, but he’d follow me around, finding me at every party, begging me to take him back. Once he even flew all the way to Malta to surprise me on a trip. He could be persuasive. He’s handsome, considerate, a decent lover. When I was going through a dry spell, he made it so easy to fall back into his arms.

But I knew I had to break it off for good. Because if he really did love me, I couldn’t drag it out—not without feeling the same way in return.

So I finally dumped him, as brutally and finally as I could. Trying to make him get the message at last.

Then after that, I pretty much had to turn myself into a hermit for a few months. No parties or dinners or dancing or even fucking bowling, because I knew Oliver would be watching, trying to find a way to “bump into me” again.

I had to block him everywhere, change my number. And finally, finally after months of messages, flowers, missed calls, and even fucking letters, Oliver stopped. He stopped for almost two whole months. So it was pretty jarring seeing him again at the engagement party. And then again at the fundraiser.

This is the most uncomfortable meeting of all. Because how, exactly, did Oliver even know I was here? Does he have my class schedule?

“Oliver,” I interrupt him, “cut the shit. You need to quit stalking me.”

He makes that wounded face. Like he’s a giant puppy and I keep kicking him.

“I’m not stalking you, Aida. I’m visiting Marcus’s little sister. I promised to take her out for lunch on her birthday.”

Hm. Possible. The attempt to make me jealous is misguided, however.

“Okay, I believe you, but you still better quit trying to make conversation everywhere I go. My husband is kinda the jealous type, if you didn’t notice.”

“I know exactly what Callum Griffin is like,” Oliver says through gritted teeth. “That stuck-up, arrogant, dirty-money piece of shit. No offense,” he adds, remembering that my money is just as “dirty” as Callum’s. And also that I’m married to the guy.

“I can’t believe he puts his cold, dead hands on you every night,” Oliver says, his eyes feverishly bright. “How in the fuck did this happen, Aida? How did he make you fall in love with him when I couldn’t?”

That actually makes me feel bad, at least a little bit. I didn’t fall in love with Callum. It’s cruel to let Oliver think that I did.

“It wasn’t . . . it’s not . . .” I lick my lips. “It’s not about love, exactly.”

“I knew it,” Oliver breathes. “I knew it as soon as I realized what his family is. They’re fucking mafia, just like yours.”

I wince. I never spilled any secrets to Oliver. But it’s not exactly classified information that the Gallos have been Chicago gangsters for the last six generations.

“Our families have a . . . relationship. I think you’ll agree that Callum and I are a better match, culturally, than you and I would have been. So there’s no point—”

“That’s bullshit,” Oliver interrupts, his voice low and urgent. He’s trying to take my hands, and I’m pulling them away like we’re playing Red Hands. “I know they forced you to do this. I know you would have come back to me, Aida—”

“No,” I say sharply. “We weren’t getting back together, Oliver. We’re never going to. With or without Callum in the picture.”

“We’ll see,” Oliver says, looking at me intently.

I’m about to stand up. I’m definitely late—Nessa will have been waiting at least ten minutes. But Oliver grabs my wrist, pulling me back down on the bench. He holds me tight, looking into my eyes.

“I know how you feel about me, Aida,” he says. “Whether you can admit it, or not.”

He looks down at my chest, where my nipples are poking through my t-shirt.

“That’s not—it’s just fucking cold on this bench!” I start to shout.

Oliver silences me with his mouth, kissing me hard and wet.

I shove him off as quickly as possible, jumping up from the bench and immediately stumbling again on that stupid ankle.

“Don’t!” I say, holding out my hand to stop him as he tries to stand up, too. “I have to get back. Don’t follow me. Don’t call me. And definitely don’t fucking kiss me anymore.”

Oliver doesn’t reply. He just stands there, brows furrowed, and hands stuffed in his pockets.

I hobble back in the direction of the car, stomping on my one good foot and fuming over that encounter.

I’m pissed that he kissed me! My marriage to Callum may not be exactly real, but I’m not ready to be unfaithful. Especially not with Oliver, who’s really starting to creep me out.

When I get to the lot, I see Nessa standing on the sidewalk with her bag slung over her shoulder.

“Where’s Jack?” I ask her.

“The car’s there.” Nessa points to a nearby parking stall. “But it’s locked, and empty.”

I get out my phone, planning to text Jack’s phone with something polite and simple—like maybe one of those yellow middle finger emojis. Then he pops up next to me, saying, “You ready to go?”

“Yes!” Nessa says sweetly.

“We’ve been ready to go for twenty minutes,” I lie. “Where were you?”

“Taking a leak,” Jack says.

He holds open the back door so Ness and I can slide inside.

I lean back against the leather seat, not really believing him.

I’m quiet on the drive back to the Griffins’ mansion, wondering how in the fuck I’m going to avoid Oliver Castle in the future. About halfway home, I get a text from Callum saying:

Come meet me in the library when you get back.

I get out of the car as soon as it stops moving, hurrying into the pleasantly cool house and heading directly up the stairs to the library.

Callum is sitting in one of the new armchairs—cream leather this time, instead of brown. I take a seat in the chair opposite.

He looks pale and composed in his dark suit. I can already tell that he found something, from the resolute set of his shoulders.

Before he says anything, I want to tell him about Oliver showing up on campus. The problem is that Oliver groping me the other night was the one and only time I’ve seen Callum lose his temper. It’s a sore subject between us. I’m not exactly looking forward to bringing it up. Especially when we’ve been working so well together.

Before I can start, Callum says, “We found one of the shooters. Not the Butcher, though. Your brothers think we should smash up Zajac’s casino tonight. Try to flush him out.”

“Are you going with them?” I ask.

He steels himself, and says, “Yes. And you could come, too. If you wanted.”

I can tell it’s not what he wants at all, but he’s offering it, not even waiting for me to make the demand.

Now I definitely don’t want to tell him about Oliver.

Instead, I say, “I do want to come.”

Callum looks slightly pained but doesn’t take his offer back.

It’s funny that he invited me into the library. I haven’t stepped foot in here since the first night we met.

The restored portrait of his great-great-however many greats-grandmother is back above the mantel. Also the carriage clock and the hourglass. But no watch anymore.

Callum already knows what I’m looking at.

“The watch was mine, the clock is Riona’s, and the hourglass is Nessa’s,” he says.

“What do they mean?” I ask him, not sure if I even want to know.

“My grandfather passed them down to us when we were born. He said, ‘All we have is time.’”

“Were you close to him?” I ask.

“Yeah.” Callum nods. “Closer than anyone.”

Fuck, I hate feeling guilty. Why did I grab that fucking watch? If I’d never touched it . . .

I wouldn’t be here right now, I guess. Looking at Callum’s lean, handsome face.

“I’m . . . sorry about that,” I say.

Callum shakes his head, like he forgot it was even lost.

“That’s in the past, Aida. Let’s concern ourselves with tonight.”


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