Brutal Prince: Chapter 27

AIDA

I wouldn’t have gotten in the fucking trunk if I knew how far Oliver was going to drive. I feel like I’ve been in here forever. Also, I drank a lot of water with lunch, and I really have to pee. Also, I’m worried about what Oliver might have done with my purse. He wasn’t stupid enough to put it in here with me, unfortunately. I’m anxious that he just chucked it out of the window or something, which means that my precious little package is already missing again.

For a long time, I can feel that we’re on the freeway – smooth, steady progress in the same direction. Eventually, we turn off and start driving slowly and erratically down roads that are obviously narrower and less well-maintained. A couple of times the car jolts hard enough that I do hit my head on the top of the trunk.

I’ve been hunting around in the dark, looking for anything useful. If there was a tire iron back here, I’d use it to brain Oliver the second he opened the trunk.

At last the car slows down. I think we’ve arrived at wherever the hell we were going. I haven’t found any weapons, but that’s not going to hold me back. I wait, crouched and ready, for Oliver to pop the trunk.

The tires crunch over gravel and roll to a stop. I hear the car door opening, and I feel the suspension lift as Oliver removes his considerable bulk from the front seat. Then I hear him walking around to the back of the car.

The trunk pops open.

Even though the sun is going down, the light is still brilliant compared to the darkness of the trunk. My eyes are dazzled. Still, I kick out with both feet, as hard as I can, right toward Oliver’s crotch.

He jumps backward, my feet barely making contact with his thigh. Those goddamned athlete reflexes.

“So predictable, Aida,” he sighs. “Always fighting.”

He grabs my foot and yanks me halfway out of the trunk. He pauses when he notices the lack of a sneaker on one foot.

“What happened to your shoe?” he says.

“How should I know?” I say. “I was busy being kidnapped and stuffed in a trunk. You better not have lost my purse, too.”

“I didn’t,” Oliver says.

He lets go of my foot and I stand up, looking around.

We’re parked in front of a little blue beach house. The water is only a hundred yards away, across smooth, cream-colored sand. The house is bracketed by thick stands of trees on both sides, but the view down to the water is clear from the back.

I’ve never been here before. Still, I know exactly where we are. Oliver talked about it all the time. It’s his family’s cabin.

He wanted to bring me here. We’d been to another cabin, right on the edge of Indiana Dunes State Park. That was the night Oliver was talking about at the fundraiser—when I wore the white bikini and we had sex out on the sand.

Apparently, he thinks that was some magical night. To me, it was cold and uncomfortable, and I got a shit-ton of mosquito bites.

Now we’re back here, this time at the Castle residence. Oliver came here as a child. He said it was the only time he got to see his parents for more than ten minutes in a row. Which is sad, but not sad enough to make me forget the kidnapping part.

“What do you think?” Oliver says, his expression hopeful.

“It’s, uh . . . exactly how you described,” I say.

“I know!” Oliver says happily, ignoring my lack of enthusiasm.

“Don’t forget my purse,” I tell him.

He opens the driver’s side door again, so he can retrieve my purse from the front seat.

The moment he leans over, I sprint away from him, running down toward the water.

It would have been easier to run to the road, but then he’d find me in two seconds. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to hide somewhere in the trees or the dunes.

As soon as my feet hit the sand, I realize what a stupid plan this was. I don’t run at all, let alone through soft, mushy sand. It’s like a nightmare where you sprint as hard as you can, yet you barely move.

Meanwhile Oliver used to run the forty in 4.55. He may have put on a few pounds since his glory days, but when he puts his head down and pumps his arms, he still charges through the sand like a linebacker.

He tackles me so hard that it knocks every last molecule of oxygen out of my lungs. They’re so deflated that I can only make a horrible gagging sound before I can finally drag in a sweet breath of air.

My head is pounding. I’m covered in sand, it’s in my hair and in my mouth. And worst of all, in my cast, which is gonna drive me fucking bonkers.

Oliver is already on his feet again, watching me with pitiless eyes.

“I don’t know why you do this to yourself, Aida,” he says. “You’re so self-destructive.”

I want to tell him that I didn’t fucking tackle myself, but I’m barely breathing, let alone able to speak.

While I’m gasping and gagging, Oliver rummages through my purse. He finds my phone. Kneeling down on the sand, he picks up a rock the size of his fist and smashes the screen. His face is red with effort, the muscles straining on his arm and shoulder. My phone practically explodes under the rock, while Oliver keeps hitting it again and again.

Then he picks up the broken metal and glass, and he flings it into the water.

“Was that really necessary?” I ask him once I’ve recovered my breath.

“I don’t want anyone tracking you,” he says.

“Nobody—” I break off, my mouth hanging open.

I was about to say, “Nobody has a tracker on my phone,” but I realize that isn’t true.

Oliver put a tracker on my phone. He must have done it when we were dating. That’s how he always knew where to find me. At restaurants, at parties. And later, at Callum’s fundraiser.

That’s probably how he found me today. He’s been watching where I go. Most of the time it’s completely boring places like school. But it still gives me a sick feeling, knowing that I was a little dot on a screen, always under his eye.

Oliver leaves my purse laying in the sand.

“Come on,” he says. “Back to the house.”

I don’t want to get up, but I don’t really want him to carry me either. So I drag myself up and shuffle after him, with only one shoe and an itchy sand-filled cast that’s already driving me crazy.

I try to shake it out.

Oliver says, “What happened to you?”

“Got my hand slammed in a trunk,” I say. A perverse giggle bursts out of me, as I realize that I’ve been shoved in a trunk twice this week. A new record, over the zero times it had happened in my entire life before this.

Oliver watches me, unsmiling.

“I knew this would happen,” he says. “I knew he wouldn’t be able to take care of you.”

I scowl, stomping through the sand. I never wanted anybody to “take care” of me. Oliver was always trying to do it, and that’s one of the things that annoyed me about him. Once we played pickleball with another couple, and Oliver almost got in a fistfight because the guy slammed the ball right at me. Oliver wanted a chivalrous game. I wanted a challenge.

He was always calling me “princess” and “angel.” And I always thought, “Who in the fuck are you talking about? Because that sure ain’t me.”

But I guess I misread Oliver, too. Because I never thought he’d do something as crazy as this.

I follow him up to the back of the beach house. We climb the weather-worn steps. Oliver holds the door for me.

I’m surprised to find the house almost entirely empty inside. We’re in the living/dining/kitchen area, but there’s no table or chairs or couches. Just a bare mattress on the floor, with a blanket on top.

I can’t say I like the look of that any better.

“Why’s it so empty in here?” I ask Oliver.

He looks around resentfully, as if counting all the things that are missing.

“My father sold the house,” he says angrily. “I asked him not to, but he said the value is as high as it’s going to get, and now’s the time to sell, before they build more properties in Chesterton. As if he needs the money!”

He gives a harsh, barking laugh.

“This place didn’t mean anything to him,” he says darkly. “I was the only one who cared about coming here.”

I’m very familiar with Oliver’s spoiled-yet-neglected only-child upbringing. He told me how jealous he was that I had brothers. He had no siblings, and no real friends either—just the schoolmates he was “supposed” to associate with. He told me how jealous he was that I had brothers. He never met my brothers, though. I couldn’t see them getting along.

“Well,” I say, trying to mollify him. “I’m glad I got to see it, finally.”

He turns to look at me, his eyes very dark in the dim light. His face looks mask-like. He’s gained probably thirty pounds since we dated, which has made his face wider and older-looking. More like his father’s. He’s still big and muscular—in fact, the extra weight makes it all the easier for him to overpower me, as evidenced by our short-lived struggle on the beach. I’m not sure how the fuck I’m going to get away from him when he’s stronger and faster than me.

“I wish you could have seen it how it used to be,” Oliver says. “With all the pictures and books. And couches. It’s alright, though. I brought this here, so we have somewhere to sit, at least.”

He sits down on the mattress, which creaks beneath his weight.

“Come on. Sit,” he says, patting the space beside him.

“Uh, actually, I’ve got to pee really bad,” I say.

It’s true. My bladder feels like it’s about to burst, especially after Oliver body-slammed me on the beach.

For a moment he stares at me suspiciously, like he doesn’t believe me. I shift my weight from my barefoot to the one with the shoe, not exaggerating my discomfort.

“The bathroom’s over here,” Oliver says at last, standing up again.

He leads me down the hall to a pretty little bathroom with wainscoting all over the walls and a shell-shaped sink. I’m sure there were nautical-themed towels and soap in here when the house was furnished.

When I try to close the door, Oliver stops it with one meaty hand.

“I don’t think so,” he says.

“I need to pee,” I tell him again, like he forgot.

“You can do it with the door open,” he says.

I glare at him, in a stand-off between his stubbornness and my throbbing bladder.

I can only last a few seconds. I drop my shorts and sit down on the toilet, letting go. The pee comes thundering out, with more pain than relief.

Oliver stands in the doorway, watching me. There’s a tiny smile at the corner of his mouth. His eyes look hooded and pleased.

I wish he would turn the fuck around and give me some privacy. Or at the very least, I wish I wasn’t peeing so long. It seems to go on forever, and it’s fucking humiliating.

He’s right, though—if he’d left me alone in the bathroom, I would have climbed out the window in five seconds.

When I’m finished at last, I pull up my shorts and wash my hands, wiping them dry again on my clothes, since there aren’t any towels.

Oliver watches this too, with a scowling expression. I think he’s looking at the cast again. Then I realize he’s actually looking at my left hand, at my engagement ring.

I’ve started wearing it more often, not just when I’m going to an event with Cal.

I can tell Oliver hates the sight of it. In fact, as soon as we’re back in the living room, he barks, “Take that off.”

“This?” I say, holding up my left hand.

“Yes,” he hisses.

Reluctantly, I slip it off my finger.

I hated that ring when I first got it. I don’t mind it so much anymore. It’s kind of pretty, how it sparkles in the sunshine. And it doesn’t look as strange and false to me as it did at first.

I’m about to slip it in my pocket for safekeeping, but Oliver says, “No. Give it to me.”

I don’t want to hand it over to him. It feels like a betrayal. But if I refuse, it’s not like I can stop him wrenching it out of my hand. So I pass it to him, silently.

There’s a tool bag sitting on the kitchen floor, next to a slightly paler patch of wall that probably had water damage, until someone fixed it.

Oliver opens the bag, taking out a hammer. He sets my ring on the kitchen countertop. Then, like he did to my phone, he smashes it over and over again with the hammer.

The metal bends, the claws coming loose around the diamonds and the stones scattering. Still he keeps hitting it, until the band is twisted and ruined, and the main stone has rolled away.

It hurts more than I expect, seeing that ring destroyed.

But what really disturbs me is how the hammer is taking huge chunks out of the butcher block countertop. Oliver doesn’t give a damn how much damage he’s doing. Knowing how he feels about this house, that can’t be a good thing.

As he swings the hammer, his fury is terrifying. His eyes are glittering, his face is flushed. He’s sweating, dark patches showing through on the chest, back, and underarms of his t-shirt. He hits the ring about a hundred times.

Finally, he stops. He’s standing there panting, looking at me. Still holding the hammer.

He takes a step toward me, and I take a step back, my heart racing.

I really think he’s losing it.

When I knew Oliver before, he seemed like a nice enough guy. Sometimes a little shallow. Sometimes a little clingy. But mostly normal, with only little swings into oddness.

Now, it’s the opposite—he seems to be dangling on the precipice of madness, only hanging on by a thread. But I’m not sure what that thread is—is it this house? Is it his affection for me? Or is it just the appearance of calm—fragile, and easily shattered?

He takes one more step, then seems to remember that he’s holding the hammer. He sets it down on the counter, pulling his phone out of his pocket instead.

“Let’s have a little music,” he says.

He scrolls through his playlist, selecting a song and setting the phone down on the counter to play.

The tinny sound of “Make You Feel My Love” fills the little room.

When the rain is blowing in your face

And the whole world is on your case

I could offer you a warm embrace

To make you feel my love

Oliver advances on me. There’s not really any way to refuse. He takes my cast in his left hand, putting his other hand around my waist. Then he sways us back and forth, a little off the beat.

I can feel the heat radiating off his body. His hand is sweaty, wrapped around mine. There’s a slight metallic tang to his sweat. I don’t know if it was always like that, or if this is new.

In sharp contrast to our apparently romantic position, every muscle of my body is tense, every nerve is screaming that I’m in danger, that I need to get away from this man.

There is nothing romantic about this at all. I’m struggling to understand how I ever dated Oliver. I guess I never paid that much attention to him. I was looking for fun; he was just along for the ride. Now that I’m really looking into his eyes, I don’t like what I see there: need. Resentment. And a little madness.

“We never went dancing together,” Oliver says sulkily. “You always wanted to go with your friends.”

“Oliver, I’m sorry that—”

He interrupts me. “You used to call me ‘Ollie.’ I like that much better than Oliver.”

I swallow uncomfortably.

“Everybody called you that,” I say.

“But it sounded so beautiful when you said it . . .”

He’s pulling me closer against his body. I try to keep the space between us, but it’s like swimming against the tide. He’s so much stronger than me.

He pulls me right up against his chest so I have to crane my neck to look up at him.

“Say it,” he orders. “Call me Ollie.”

“Okay . . . Ollie . . .” I say.

“Perfect,” he sighs.

He bends down his head to kiss me.

His lips feel thick and rubbery against mine. They’re too wet, and that metallic note is in his saliva as well.

I can’t do it. I can’t kiss him.

I shove him away from me, wiping my mouth on the back of my arm atavistically.

Oliver folds his arms over his broad chest, frowning.

“Why do you always have to be so difficult?” he says. “I know you’re miserable with the Griffins. I took you away from that. I brought you here instead, to the most beautiful place in the state. Look at that view!”

He gestures out the window to the pale, moonlit sand, and the dark water beyond.

“You won’t kiss me, but you kiss him, don’t you?” he says, eyes narrowed. “You’ve probably fucked him, too. Haven’t you? HAVEN’T YOU?”

I know it’s only going to make him angrier, but there’s no point lying about it.

“We’re married,” I remind him.

“But you don’t love him,” Oliver says, eyes gleaming. “Say you don’t love him.”

I should just go along with it. The hammer is still laying on the counter, only a couple of feet away. Oliver could snatch it up again any moment. He could bring it down on my skull with the same fury he applied to the ring.

I should say whatever he wants. Do whatever he wants. I never told Callum I loved him. It shouldn’t be hard to say that I don’t.

I open my mouth. But nothing comes out.

“No,” Oliver says, shaking his head slowly. “No, that’s not true. You don’t love him. You only married him because you had to. You don’t care about him, not really.”

I press my lips together hard.

I’m thinking about Callum pushing me back against the leather seats and putting his face between my thighs in the back of the town car. I’m thinking about how he wrapped his arms around me and jumped down in that pipe without hesitation when the Butcher’s men had their guns pointed at us. I’m thinking how he said we should work together every day. And how he took my hand at dinner last night.

“Actually . . .” I say slowly. “I do. I do love him.”

“NO, YOU DON’T!” Oliver roars.

He backhands me across the face, knocking me to the floor. It’s like being swiped by a bear paw. There’s so much force behind it that my whole body goes limp, and I barely catch myself before I hit the floor.

I can taste iron in my mouth. My ears are ringing.

I spit a little blood out on the floor.

“Just take me home,” I mutter. “You’re not going to get what you want.”

“You’re not going home,” he says flatly. “You’re all the same. You, my father, fucking Callum Griffin . . . you think you can just give somebody something and let them have it and use it and believe it’s theirs forever. Then you rip it out of their hands again, just because you feel like it. Well, that’s not happening.”

Oliver goes back to his tool bag and pulls out a coiled rope.

I don’t think that’s a tool bag, not really. Because why the fuck does he have rope in it?

I think Oliver’s been planning much more than a home repair for quite a while now.

I try to run, but I can barely stand. It’s easy for Oliver to truss me up like a chicken, and stuff a rag in my mouth.

He crouches down in front of me, his face inches from mine.

“Here’s what you have to understand, Aida,” he says, his voice low and crooning. “I can’t make you be mine. But I can stop you from belonging to anyone else.”

I mutter something around the gag.

“What?” Oliver says.

I say it again, no louder than before.

Oliver leans in even closer.

I rear my head back and smash my forehead into his nose, as hard as I can.

“Oww, FUCK!” Oliver howls, cupping his hand over his nose as blood pours through his fingers. “Fuck, Aida, you BITCH!”

Oliver hits me again. This time when I topple over, I sink right through the floor into thick, quiet, darkness.

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