Brutal Prince: Chapter 3

AIDA

We pile into Nero’s car, roaring away from the Griffins’ house as quickly as we can without running over any partygoers. Nero and I are whooping, Dante is glowering, and Sebastian looks mildly curious.

“What the fuck did you do?” Dante demands.

“Nothing!” I say.

“Then why are we running like we’re about to have ten cops on our tail?”

“We’re not,” I say. “I just got busted in the house. By Callum Griffin.”

“What did he say?” Dante asks suspiciously.

“Nothing. We didn’t even speak.”

Dante stares between Nero and me, thick eyebrows so far contracted that they look like one straight line hanging low over his eyes. Nero is trying to seem nonchalant, keeping his eyes on the road. Sebastian looks completely innocent because he is innocent—he was just drinking a Diet Coke with some redhead when we grabbed him.

I think Dante’s going to drop it.

Then he lunges forward and grabs a handful of my hair, pulling it toward him. Because my hair is attached to my head, this yanks me forward across the seats.

Dante inhales, then shoves me back, disgusted.

“Why do you smell like smoke?” he demands.

“I don’t know.”

“You’re lying. I heard an alarm go off in the house. Tell me the truth right now, or I’m calling Dad.”

I scowl right back at him, wishing I were as big as Dante, with gorilla arms that look like they could tear you to pieces. Then I’d be a lot more intimidating.

“Fine,” I say at last. “I was in the library upstairs. A small fire started—”

“A SMALL FIRE?”

Yes. Quit shouting or I won’t tell you anything else.”

“How did this fire start?”

I squirm in my seat.

“I might have . . . accidentally . . . let the curtains get a little bit in the fireplace.”

“Porca miseria, Aida,” Dante swears. “We just went there to drink their liquor and watch their fireworks, not burn their fucking house down!”

“It’s not going to burn down,” I say, without being entirely confident in my statement. “I told you, Callum was right there.”

“That’s not better!” Dante explodes. “Now he knows you did it!”

“He might not. He might not even know who I am.”

“I doubt that very much. He’s not as stupid as the rest of you are.”

“Why am I included in this?” Sebastian says.

“Because you’re stupid,” Dante replies. “Even if you didn’t do anything tonight, specifically.”

Sebastian laughs. It’s impossible to offend him.

“Where were you?” Dante says, rounding on Nero.

“I was on the main level,” Nero says calmly. “With Nora Albright. Her father owns the Fairmont in Millennium Park. He called me a greasy little criminal once. So I fucked his daughter in the Griffins’ formal dining room. Sort of killed two birds with one stone, in terms of revenge.”

Dante is shaking his head in disbelief.

“I can’t believe you guys. You’re acting like children. I never should have let you go over there.”

“Oh, get off it,” Nero says. He’s not one to take Dante’s shit, even if it means coming to blows. “Since when are you a good boy? You hate those paddy fucks as much as we do. Who cares if we ruined their party?”

“You’re gonna care if Callum Griffin gets that Alderman seat. He’s gonna tie us up in red tape and shut down every one of our projects. He’ll bury us.”

“Yeah?” Nero says, dark eyes narrowed. “Then we’ll go pay him a visit with a cattle prod and a pair of pliers. Go to work on him until he’s more cooperative. I’m not scared of the Griffins or anybody else.”

Dante just shakes his head, too irritated to even try to reason with us.

I’m torn. On the one hand, Dante’s right that we were all a bit reckless. On the other, the look on Callum Griffin’s face when his library caught fire was pretty fucking priceless.

“Turn here,” Sebastian says to Nero, pointing.

Nero takes a right on Division Street.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Dante says.

“Some of the kids are gonna hang out after the party. I said I’d meet them,” Sebastian says.

“Fuck that. You all need to go home,” Dante says.

Nero has already pulled the car up to the curb. Sebastian hops out of the convertible, swinging his long legs over the side as easily as getting out of bed.

“Sorry, big brother,” he says genially. “But I don’t have a curfew. And you’re not my mama.”

Nero looks like he’d like to do the same, but he’s stuck driving Dante back home. Faced with my angry big brother and the prospect of him ratting me out to Dad, I think Sebastian’s got the right idea. I scramble across the seat and jump out of the car, too.

“Get back here!” Dante shouts.

I’m already running after Sebastian, calling over my shoulder, “I’ll be home in a couple of hours! Don’t wait up!”

Sebastian slows down when he hears me coming. Even when he’s just ambling, I have to jog to keep up. Those damn long legs of his.

“Was the fire really an accident?” he says.

“More or less.” I shrug.

He chuckles. “I didn’t even get to see inside the house. Bet it’s nice.”

“Yeah. If you like pastel colors.”

Sebastian stuffs his hands in his pockets, strolling along. His dark, curly hair hangs down over his eyes. He’s got the curliest hair of any of us. He could probably grow it into an Afro if he wanted to.

“Nessa looked nice,” he says.

“Yeah, she’s pretty,” I agree. “Don’t get any ideas though. Papa would burst a blood vessel.”

“I’m not,” Sebastian says. “You know what Mom always said: ‘Calm water doesn’t need more water—you need wind to move your sail.’ I probably need to find a little maniac like you.”

I grin up at him. “If I get married, it’ll definitely be to someone who doesn’t give me any shit. Can you imagine going from being bossed around by Dante to bossed around by somebody else? Fuck that. I’d rather be single forever. In fact, I wouldn’t mind that at all.”

We’re just coming to Dave and Buster’s, but I can already see through the window that Sebastian’s friends aren’t inside yet.

“What should we do while we wait?” Sebastian asks me.

“Are there any ice cream places around?”

“Didn’t you eat at the party?”

“Yeah.” I shrug. “But that was a long time ago.”

Seb laughs. “Alright, I’m not gonna turn down ice cream.”

We walk a little further toward the lake until we find a place that has soft serve. Sebastian gets a cup; I get a cone. We take it out to the boardwalk to eat, walking along the pier so we can look down at the water.

The lake is so big that it looks like an ocean. It has waves just like the sea, and storms that blow in. Not right now, though. Right now, the water is as calm as I’ve ever seen. We’ve walked all the way to the end of the pier, to the point that juts out furthest over the lake.

Sebastian finishes his ice cream, chucking the cup into the nearest trash can. I’m still working on my cone.

We’re chatting about his classes at school, and about mine. I’m taking courses at Loyola—a little bit of everything. Psychology, poli-sci, finance, marketing, history. I like taking whatever I’m interested in at the moment. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how it’s gonna all add up to a degree.

I think Papa’s getting annoyed with me. I know he wants me to finish up and come work with him full-time. But he’s not going to let me do the interesting or difficult stuff—he’s already got Dante and Nero for that. He’s going to try to shunt me off in some boring office doing busywork. And that sounds like a fucking nightmare to me.

I’m the baby of the family and the only girl. There’s never been much in the way of expectations laid out for me. Maybe if my mother were alive, it would be different. But I’ve basically run wild my whole life. As long as I wasn’t getting in too much trouble, my father had more important things to worry about.

My brothers are good friends to me, but they have their own lives.

Nobody needs me, not really.

That’s okay, though. I’m not whining about it. I like being free and easy. Right now, I’m hanging out with Seb, eating ice cream, and enjoying a summer night. What more do I need?

That feeling of contentment lasts about five seconds. Then I look up and see two men walking toward us. One’s wearing a suit, the other a hoodie and jeans. The suited guy has brown hair, freshly cut, and his hands balled into fists at his sides. The expression of fury on his face is all too familiar to me, since I last saw it about forty minutes ago.

“Seb,” I whisper, making my brother stand up straight.

“Is that Callum Griffin?” he mutters.

“Yup.”

“Look who it is,” Callum says. His voice is low, cold, and full of rage. He has extremely blue eyes, but there’s nothing pretty about them. They’re painfully intense, the only color on his person.

I don’t know who the guy is standing next to Callum. He looks mean as hell. He’s got the build of a boxer, a shaved head, and a slightly squashed nose, like he’s taken a hit or two. I’m betting he’s doled out a whole lot more.

Unconsciously, Sebastian has moved closer to me and a little bit in front of me, shielding me with his body.

“What do you want?” he says to Callum.

Sebastian isn’t nearly as intimidating as Dante, or as vicious as Nero. Still, he’s taller than Callum and his thug, and his voice is as stern as I’ve ever heard it.

Callum just scoffs. His face is handsome—or at least, it should be. But I’ve never seen such a cold expression. He looks like he hates everything. Most especially me.

Not that I can entirely blame him for that.

“What is it with you Italians?” he sneers. “Where did you learn your manners? You come to a party where you’re not invited. Eat my food, drink my liquor. Then you break into my house. Try to burn it the fuck down. And you steal from me . . .”

I feel Sebastian stiffen ever so slightly. He doesn’t look back at me, but I know he wants to.

I’m also confused about what the fuck Callum is talking about. Then I remember the pocket watch, still tucked in the front pocket of my shorts. I’d completely forgotten about it.

“Look,” Sebastian says, “the fire was an accident. We don’t want any trouble.”

“Well that’s just bullshit, isn’t it?” Callum says softly. “You came looking for trouble. And now you’ve got it.”

It’s not easy to rile up Sebastian. Threatening his little sister is a good way to do it. Now he’s bristling, balling up his fists in return, and stepping all the way in front of me.

“You think you’re some kinda tough guy, bringing your boyfriend along?” Sebastian says, jerking his head toward the still-silent boxer. “I’ve got brothers, too. You better fuck off before I call them here to peel your lily-white skin off.”

Not bad, Seb. For someone who doesn’t do a lot of threatening, that came out pretty menacing.

I don’t need protecting, though. I dart forward so I’m right next to Sebastian and I say, “Yeah, fuck off back to your fancy little mansion. You wanna play at being a gangster? You’re just a bitch-ass politician. What’re you gonna do, rubber stamp us to death?”

Callum Griffin fixes me with his icy stare. He’s got thick, dark eyebrows above his pale eyes. The effect is inhuman and unpleasant.

“That’s a good point,” he says softly. “I do have an image to protect. But it’s funny . . . I don’t think there’s anyone around at the moment.”

That’s true. The pier is empty, all the way along its length. There are people up at the shops on Division Street. But no one close enough to hear us if I yelled.

My throat tightens.

I don’t feel afraid very often. I’m scared now. Despite what I said, I don’t think Callum is weak. He’s tall, powerfully built. And above all, he’s staring me down without an ounce of fear. He’s not wondering what he should do. He’s already decided.

He gives a nod to his enforcer. The boxer steps forward, fists raised. Before I can speak or move, he’s hit Sebastian four times, twice in the face and twice in the body.

Blood bursts from Sebastian’s nose. He doubles over, groaning. He tries to fight back—all of my brothers have been trained to fight in one way or another. But where Dante and Nero took their practice to the streets, Sebastian’s interest has always been athletic, not violent. Still, he manages to get in a couple of hits thanks to his superior height and reach. One of his punches makes the boxer stumble backward a step. But the nasty fucking goon blocks Sebastian’s other blows, before slamming my brother in the kidney with a punch that makes him crumple and fall to the ground.

The whole fight lasts maybe ten seconds. I’m not just standing there—I try to hit the guy from the side, and indeed I succeed in popping him once in the ear. He shoves me back with one hand, so hard that I almost fell over.

So I launch myself at Callum instead. I manage to nail him once right in the jaw, then he shoves me hard in the chest, and this time I do fall back, smacking the back of my skull against the pier railing.

Callum looks a little startled, like he didn’t quite mean to do that. Then his face hardens, and he says, “Where’s the watch, you fucking degenerates?”

“We don’t have your watch,” Sebastian says, spitting blood onto the wooden boards of the pier.

I do have the watch. But I’m not giving it to this gaping asshole.

The boxer grabs Sebastian by the hair and cracks him across the jaw again. The blow is so hard that for a second the light goes out of Seb’s eyes. He shakes his head to clear it, but he looks dazed.

“Get away from him!” I shriek, trying to pull myself to my feet. My head is spinning, and my stomach turns over. The back of my skull is throbbing. I bet there’s a lump the size of an egg back there.

“Give me the watch,” Callum says again.

The boxer kicks my brother in the ribs to encourage him. Sebastian groans and clutches his side. The sight of this monster beating my youngest and kindest brother is driving me out of my fucking mind. I want to murder both of these men. I want to douse them in gasoline and set them ablaze like those fucking curtains.

But I don’t have any gasoline. So I reach in my pocket and pull out the watch instead.

It’s heavy in my palm. My fingers clench tightly around it. I hold it up over my head

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I say to Callum.

His eyes move to my fist, caught there, and for a moment his face softens with relief.

Then I cock back my arm and I fling that fucking watch into the lake like I’m throwing the opening pitch in Wrigley Field.

The effect on Callum Griffin is incredible. His face goes marble white.

“NOOOO!” he howls.

And then he does the craziest thing of all.

He launches himself over the railing, diving down into the water, suit and all.

The boxer stares after his boss in astonishment. He’s confused, not sure what to do without instructions.

Then he looks back down at Seb. He lifts up one booted foot and he stomps it down on Sebastian’s knee as hard as he can.

Sebastian screams.

I charge at the boxer. I’m smaller than him, and I weigh a whole lot less. But by getting low and diving at his knees, with the element of surprise on my side, I actually manage to knock him over. It helps that he trips over Sebastian’s outstretched legs on his way down.

He falls hard on the pier. I’m punching and pummeling every inch of him I can reach. With his good leg, Sebastian rears back and kicks the boxer right in the face. I jump up and kick him several more times for good measure.

But this guy is the fucking Terminator. That’s not going to keep him down for long. So, I grab Seb’s arm and I haul him up, making him yell again as he accidentally puts weight on his bad leg.

I sling Sebastian’s arm around my shoulder. Leaning heavily on me, he half hops, half limps down the pier. It’s like a nightmare three-legged race, where the prize is not getting murdered by that boxer, or by Callum Griffin once he realizes there’s no way in hell he’s finding that watch in the freezing cold, pitch-black lake.

My head is still pounding, and the pier seems a mile long. I keep dragging Sebastian along, wishing he wasn’t so tall and so damn heavy.

As we near the street at last, I hazard a look back over my shoulder. The boxer is leaning over the railing, probably looking for his boss. He seems like he might be shouting something, but I can’t tell from here.

I hope Callum drowned.

‘Cause if he didn’t, I have a feeling I’m going to be seeing him again very soon.

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