Brutal Prince: Chapter 5

AIDA

My brothers are down in the basement, suiting up. Or at least, Dante and Nero are. Sebastian is still at the hospital with my father. His knee is fucked, that much is certain. Ribs are broken, too. I can’t bear the look of misery on his face. His season is ruined. Possibly the rest of his career. God, he might not even walk right after this.

And it’s all my fault.

The guilt is like a shroud, wrapping around and around and around my head. Each glance at Sebastian, each memory of my idiocy, is like another layer wrapping around my face. Soon it will smother me.

I wanted to stay with Sebastian, but Papa snapped at me to go home.

There I found Dante and Nero strapping on bulletproof vests and ammo belts, arming themselves with half the guns in the house.

“Where are you going?” I ask them nervously.

“We’re going to kill Callum Griffin, obviously,” Nero says. “Maybe the rest of his family, too. I haven’t decided yet.”

“You can’t hurt Nessa,” I say quickly. “She didn’t do anything wrong.”

Neither did Riona, but I don’t have the same sense of charity toward her.

“Maybe I’ll just break her knee, then,” Nero says carelessly.

“We’re not doing anything to Nessa,” Dante growls. “This is between us and Callum.”

By the time they’re ready to leave, they look like a cross between Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator.

“Let me come with you,” I beg.

“No fucking way,” Nero says.

“Come on!” I shout. “I’m part of this family, too. I’m the one that helped Sebastian get away, remember?”

“You’re the one who got him in that mess to start with,” Nero hisses at me. “Now we’re going to clean it up. And you’re staying here.”

He shoulder-checks me on his way by, knocking me roughly against the wall.

Dante is marginally kinder, but equally serious.

“Stay here,” he says. “Don’t make this worse.”

I don’t give a shit what they say. The moment they leave, I’m out the door, too. So I follow them up the stairs, not knowing exactly what I’m going to do, but knowing I’m not going to be left here waiting like a naughty puppy.

But before Dante is even halfway up the stairs, his phone buzzes in his pocket.

He picks up, saying, “What is it?” in a tone that makes me certain that it’s Papa on the other end of the line.

Dante waits, listening, for a long time. Then he says, “I understand.”

He hangs up. He’s looking at me with the strangest expression on his face.

“What is it?” Nero says.

“Take off that vest,” Dante says to Nero. “Aida, go change your clothes.”

“Why? Into what?”

“Something clean that doesn’t look like shit,” he snaps at me. “Do you own anything like that?”

Maybe. Possibly not, by Dante’s standards.

“Fine,” I say. “But where are we going?”

“We’re going to meet with the Griffins. Papa said to bring you.”

Well. Shit.

I didn’t much enjoy my last meeting with Callum Griffin.

I’m really not looking forward to a second. I doubt his temper was improved by a swim in the lake.

And what to wear to such an event?

I think the only dress I own is the Wednesday Adams costume I wore last Halloween.

I settle on a gray turtleneck and slacks, even though it’s too hot for that, because it’s about the only thing I have that’s sober and clean.

When I pull the shirt over my head, it sets the knot on the back of my skull throbbing again, reminding me how Callum Griffin shoved me aside like a rag doll. He’s strong under that suit. I’d like to see him face off against Dante or Nero—when he doesn’t have his bodyguard along for the ride.

That’s what we should do—tell them we want a meeting, then ambush the motherfuckers. Callum had no problem attacking us on the pier. We should return the favor.

I’m amping myself up the whole time I’m getting dressed, so I’m practically vibrating with tension by the time I slide into the back of Dante’s Escalade.

“Where are we meeting them?” I ask him.

“At The Brass Anchor,” Dante says shortly. “Neutral ground.”

It only takes a few minutes to drive to the restaurant on Eugenie Street. It’s past midnight now, and the building is dark, the kitchen closed. However, I see Fergus Griffin waiting out front, along with two bruisers. Wisely, he didn’t bring the shit stain that stomped on Sebastian’s leg.

I don’t see Callum anywhere. Looks like Daddy put him in time-out.

We wait in the SUV until Papa pulls up as well. Then all four of us get out at the same time. When Dante slides out of the front seat, I see the bulge under his jacket that shows he’s still carrying. Good. I’m sure Nero is, as well.

As we walk toward Fergus Griffin, his eyes are fixed on me and me alone. He’s looking me up and down, like he’s evaluating every aspect of my appearance and demeanor on some kind of chart inside of his head. He doesn’t look very impressed.

That’s fine, because to me he looks just as cold and arrogant and phony-genteel as his son. I refuse to drop his gaze, stubbornly staring straight back at him without a hint of remorse.

“So this is the little arsonist,” Fergus says.

I could tell him it was an accident, but that’s not strictly true. And I’m not apologizing to these bastards.

Instead I say, “Where’s Callum? Did he drown?”

“Luckily for you, he did not,” Fergus replies.

Papa, Dante, and Nero close rank around me. They might be angry as hell that I got us into this mess, but they’re not going to stand for anyone threatening me.

“Don’t talk to her,” Dante says roughly.

With a little more tact, Papa says, “You wanted a meeting. Let’s go inside and have one.”

Fergus nods. His two men enter the restaurant first, making sure it really is empty inside. This place belongs to Ellis Foster, a restaurateur and broker who has connections to both the Irish and our family. That’s why it’s neutral ground.

Once we’re all inside, Fergus says to my father, “I think it’s best if we speak alone.”

Papa slowly nods.

“Wait here,” he says to my brothers.

Papa and Fergus disappear into one of the private dining rooms, closed off by double glass doors. I can see their outlines as they sit down together, but I can’t make out any details of their expressions. And I can’t hear a word they’re saying.

Dante and Nero pull a couple of chairs out from the nearest table. Fergus’s men do the same at a table ten feet away. My brothers and I sit along the same side, so we can glare across at Fergus’s goons while we wait.

That keeps us occupied for about ten minutes. But looking at their ugly mugs is pretty boring. Waiting in general is boring. I’d like to get a drink from the bar, or maybe even poke into the kitchen for a snack.

The second I start to rise up from my seat, Dante says, “Don’t even think about it,” without looking at me.

“I’m hungry,” I tell him.

Nero has his knife out and he’s playing with it. He can do all sorts of tricks. The blade is so sharp that if he made a mistake, he’d lop off a finger. But he hasn’t made one yet.

It might look like he’s trying to intimidate Griffin’s men, but it’s not for their benefit. He does this all the time.

“I don’t understand how you’re the one that eats the most out of any of us,” Nero says, without looking up from his knife.

“I don’t!”

“How many times have you eaten today already? Tell the truth.”

“Four,” I lie.

“Bullshit,” Nero scoffs.

“I’m not as worried about my figure as you are,” I tease him.

Nero is vain about his appearance. With good reason—all my brothers are handsome, but Nero has that male-model prettiness that seems to make girls’ panties spontaneously combust. I don’t know a single girl who hasn’t slept with him, or tried to.

It’s a weird thing to know about your own brother, but we’re all pretty open with each other. That’s what comes of living in the same house for so long, with no mom around to keep them from treating me like just another little brother.

And that’s how I like it. I’m not anti-woman—I’ve got no problem with girls who want to be pretty or feminine or sexy or whatever the hell. I just don’t want to be “treated like a girl,” if that makes sense. I want to be treated as myself, for better or worse. Nothing more or nothing less. Just Aida.

Aida who is bored out of her mind.

Aida who is starting to get sleepy.

Aida who is heartily regretting annoying the Griffins, if only because I’m going to be trapped here until the end of time while Fergus and Papa talk and talk and talk forever . . .

And then finally, almost three hours later, the two patriarchs come out of the private dining room, both looking somber and resigned.

“Well?” Dante says.

“It’s settled,” Papa replies.

He sounds like a judge pronouncing a sentence. I don’t like his tone one bit, or the expression on his face. He’s looking at me mournfully.

As we head outside, he says to Nero, “Take my car back. I’m going to drive home with Aida.”

Nero nods and gets in Papa’s Mercedes. Dante climbs into the driver’s side of the SUV, and Papa gets in the back with me.

I definitely don’t like this at all.

I turn to face him, not bothering with my seatbelt.

“What is it?” I say. “What did you decide?”

“You’re going to marry Callum Griffin in two weeks,” Papa says.

This is so ridiculous that I actually laugh—a weird, barking sound that fades away in the silent car.

Papa is watching me, the lines on his face more deeply engraved than ever. His eyes look completely black in the dim light inside the car.

“You can’t be serious,” I say.

“I am absolutely serious. This is not up for debate. It’s settled with the Griffins.”

“I’m not getting married!” I say. “Especially not to that psychopath.”

I look to the driver’s seat for Dante’s support. He’s staring straight forward at the road, hands clenched on the steering wheel.

My father looks exhausted.

“This feud has been going on too long,” he says. “It’s an ember that smolders and smolders and continually bursts into flame, burning down everything we’ve worked for. The last time we had an eruption, you lost two of your uncles. Our family is smaller than it should be, because of the Griffins. The same is true for them. Too many people lost on both sides, down through the generations. It’s time for that to change. It’s time for the opposite to happen. We will align together. We will prosper together.”

“Why do I have to get married for that to happen?” I shout. “That won’t help anything! Because I’m going to murder that bastard the moment I see him!”

“You’ll do as you’re told!” my father snaps. I can see that his patience is at an end. It’s 3:00 in the morning. He’s tired, and he looks old. He is old, really. He was forty-eight when he had me. He’s nearly seventy now.

“I’ve spoiled you,” he says, fixing me with those black eyes. “Let you run wild. You’ve never had to face the consequences of your actions. Now you will. You lit the match that started this particular blaze. It’s you who will have to put it out again. Not by violence, but by your own sacrifice. You’ll marry Callum Griffin. You’ll bear the children that will be the next generation of our mutual lineage. That is the agreement. And you will uphold it.”

This is some kind of fucking nightmare.

I’m getting married?

I’m having fucking babies?!

And I’m supposed to do it with the man I hate worse than anyone on this planet?

“He crippled Sebastian!” I shout, my last-ditch effort to express how utterly revolting this man is to me.

“That’s as much on your head as his,” Papa says coldly.

There’s nothing I can say in response to that.

Because deep down, I know that it’s true.

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