Brutal Prince: Chapter 26

CALLUM

I’m standing in front of Nessa’s Jeep, turning the sneaker over and over in my hand.

It’s Aida’s, I’m sure of it.

How did she lose her shoe?

It’s been over an hour since Jack lost sight of her, but she hasn’t come back to the Jeep. I’ve called her phone twenty times. It keeps going straight to voicemail.

Dante and Nero pull up in a vintage Mustang. They jump out of the car, not bothering to close their doors after them.

“Where was she?” Dante says at once.

“At that restaurant over there,” I point to the patio on the far side of the street. “She was meeting a friend. After they ate, she disappeared.”

“What friend?” Dante asks.

“I don’t know,” I say.

He gives me a strange look.

“Maybe she left with the mystery friend,” Nero says.

“Maybe,” I agree. “But she lost a shoe.”

I hold it up so they can look at it. They obviously recognize it, because Nero frowns, and Dante starts looking around like Aida might have dropped something else.

“That’s weird,” Nero says.

“Yeah, it is,” I agree. “That’s why I called you.”

“You think the Butcher took her?” Dante says, his voice low and rumbling.

“Why the fuck are we standing here, then!” Nero says. He looks like a current just ran through his body. He’s agitated, spoiling for action.

“I don’t know if it was Zajac,” I say.

“Who else could it be?” Dante frowns.

“Well . . .” it sounds insane, but I’ve got to say it. “It could be Oliver Castle.”

Ollie?” Nero scoffs, eyebrows so high that they’re lost under his hair. “Not fucking likely.”

“Why not?”

“For one, he’s a little bitch. For two, Aida’s done with him,” Nero says.

Even under the circumstances, his words give me a glow of happiness. If Aida still had feelings for her ex, her brothers would know.

“I didn’t say she went with him. I said he could have taken her,” I say.

“What makes you think that?” Dante asks, scowling.

“The shoe,” I hold it up. “I think she left it as a sign. Based off something she said to me once.”

Oliver and I didn’t fit together. Like a shoe on the wrong foot.

It sounds crazy, I realize that. I don’t have to look at her brother’s faces to know they’re not convinced.

“Anything’s possible,” Dante says. “But we need to focus on the biggest danger first, which is Zajac.”

“It’s Tuesday,” Nero says.

“So?”

“So that means the Butcher is visiting his girlfriend.”

“Assuming he stuck to his normal schedule and isn’t taking a night off to murder our sister,” Dante says, grimly.

“Aida’s friend gave us the address,” I say. “Assuming she was telling the truth. She did drug us right after . . .”

“I’ll go to the apartment,” Dante says. “Nero, you can check Zajac’s pawn stores and chop shops. Cal—”

“I’m going to look for Castle,” I say.

I can tell Dante thinks that’s a waste of time. He glances over at Jack, his expression wary. He suspects that I sent Jack to follow Aida. He thinks I’m jealous and irrational.

He might be right.

But I can’t shake the feeling that Aida was trying to tell me something with this shoe.

“I’m going to Castle’s apartment,” I say firmly.

But then I pause, really trying to think this through. Oliver lives in a high-rise in the middle of the city. Would he kidnap Aida and take her there? One scream and his neighbors would call the cops.

“Jack, you go to his apartment,” I say, changing my mind. “I’m going to check a different place.”

“Everybody, stay in contact,” Dante says. “Keep trying to call Aida, too. As soon as someone finds her, let the others know, and we’ll all go in together.”

We all nod in agreement.

But I know right now, if I find Aida, I’m not waiting a moment for anybody else. I’m going to go in and get my wife back.

“Here, take my car,” I say to Dante, throwing him the keys. “I’ll take the Jeep.”

Dante and Nero split off, and Jack heads back to his truck. I climb up into the Jeep, smelling the familiar, feminine scent of my little sister—vanilla, lilac, lemon. And then, fainter but perfectly clear, the cinnamon spice scent of Aida herself.

I leave the city, heading south on Highway 90. I hope I’m not making a horrible mistake. The place I’m going is over an hour away. If I’m wrong, I’ll be too far away from wherever Aida actually is to help her. But I feel propelled in this direction, pulled by an invisible magnet.

Aida is calling to me.

She left me a sign.

Oliver Castle took her, I know it.

And I think I know exactly where he’s headed—the little beach house that Henry Castle just sold. The one that Oliver loved. The one that’s completely empty right now, without anyone around.

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