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Savage Lover: Chapter 12


I head back to Levi Cargill’s house because he’s throwing another party and I assume Bella will be there. He makes a good little racket off these shindigs—charging a cover at the door, five dollars for shitty beer, and then selling harder stuff through his little army of minions.

He never touches the product himself. That’s what makes him a good kingpin—always delegating.

Also, he loves a good theme. Tonight is some kind of foam party—he’s got machines spraying spurts of rainbow-hued bubbles all over the front and back yards. The swimming pool is so full of soap that it’s more suds than water.

Most of the girls are wearing bikinis, or they were when the party started. Now they’re naked and slippery, tossing around beach balls, or making out with each other to attract all the more male attention.

Trust me, I’d love to give them that attention. Unfortunately, I’ve got to find the one girl I’d rather not see.

Sure enough, Bella is reclining on a giant inflatable flamingo in the middle of the pool, along with her best buddy Beatrice. The two girls are wearing matching white bikinis. Bella’s is the kind that basically consists of three little triangles held on with string.

She’s tanned and fit. She’s managed to keep her makeup in place, despite all the foam. I really should give her credit.

But I’m not going to.

Bella demands that I be attracted to her. She expects it.

I hate being told what to do.

Still, I need something from her. So I slouch down on one of the pool-side lounge chairs, letting Bella float around right in my line of sight. I give her exactly what she wants, which is my eyes on her bare flesh. I watch her giggling and posing with Beatrice, throwing glances my way. Until she finally rolls off the flamingo and paddles over to me.

She climbs up the ladder, water streaming down her body. Her stiff nipples poke through the white bikini top. She tosses back her cap of blonde hair, which she carefully kept out of the pool.

“See something you like?” she purrs.

“Yeah. Where can I get one of those floaties?” I say.

“You can have mine.”

“That’s generous.”

“I’m a nice person,” Bella says sweetly. “Once you get to know me.”

“Maybe you’re right, Bella. Maybe we should go for lunch sometime.”

She raises an eyebrow, mildly suspicious. “What, like a date?”

“Just two people eating food at the same table. Getting to know each other better.”

She’s trying not to agree too easily.

“I didn’t know you were the dating type.”

“People change. You’re nice now, and I’m a romantic.”

Bella bites her lip. She probably thinks it looks seductive, but she’s getting lipstick on her teeth.

“When?” she says.

“Tomorrow. You know the Poke Bar on La Salle?”


Of course she does. It’s right across the street from Alliance Bank.

“I’ll meet you there at eleven.”


She’s smiling, pleased and excited. I’m trying to hide my smile too, but for entirely different reasons.

“You want to go grab a drink right now?” she says.

“I can’t. I’ve got to find Levi.”

“Oh.” She frowns, disappointed.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, though,” I say.

I leave her by the pool, pretending to head off in search of Levi. In reality, I don’t need to talk to anybody else. I’ve set my plan in motion. Now I can relax and have a couple drinks without Bella tagging along.

I bump into Mason in the living room. He’s slouched down on the couch, drowning his sorrows in a half-drunk bottle of rye.

“Hey, dude,” I say. “What’s your problem?”

He takes another slug of liquor, staring morosely across the room. I follow his gaze to where Patricia is dancing very close with a handsome, muscular man in a polo shirt.

“Who’s that guy?” I ask him.

“Rocco Dean,” Mason says bitterly. “He works at Ridgemoor.”

“Oh yeah, he teaches lessons, right?”

“Golf and tennis,” Mason says, taking another miserable swig.

“Hm,” I say, borrowing Mason’s bottle for a quick drink. “Makes sense. Patricia’s hot. And that dude’s a lot better looking than you.”

Mason yanks his liquor back. “Man, shut the fuck up.”

“I’m just saying it’s not your fault—there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just your face. Maybe if you had a better personality . . .”

He tries to slug me on the arm, and I knock his fist away, laughing.

“She says I have no ambition. I’m going nowhere.”

“You do live at your mom’s house.”

“I need a better job.”

I steal his drink again, taking a heavy gulp. “I might have something for you,” I tell him.

“Oh yeah?” He perks up.

“It’s not exactly simple. We need a driver, some muscle, a lock picker, and somebody to handle alarms. Plus some custom equipment.”

Mason grins. “What kind of equipment?”

“I’ll give you a list,” I say. “Tomorrow.”

Mason’s handy with fabrication. If I give him the specs, he can put together almost anything.

“Is Dante the muscle?” he says.


I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to rope my big brother into this one. He’s gotten so conservative. It might be best to spring it on him last minute, when the wheels are already in motion.

“I assume you’re working the locks,” Mason says.

“Of course.”

“We could use Jonesy for the alarms.”

“Yeah, if he’s back on his meds.”

“What about the driver?”

At that moment, Camille Rivera walks into the living room. She looks like absolute shit—hair a crazy tangle of curls. Huge dark circles under her eyes. Expression like she just watched a car wreck explode in front of her.

“To be determined,” I say to Mason.

I intercept Camille over by the kegs. She’s just poured herself a cup of Levi’s shit beer and she’s gulping it down.

“Where’d you come from?” I ask her.

“None of your business,” she snaps.

She finishes her beer and pours another, the cup half full of foam.

“You’re in a hurry,” I say, watching her drink that beer down just as fast.

“I don’t need your commentary, Nero,” she says, draining her second cup. “You’re about the last person on the planet who should be giving me shit for drinking too much.”

Usually this would be the point in the conversation where I’d tell her to knock herself out—literally. But today I don’t. I can see bright tears gleaming in the corner of Camille’s eyes. In all the years I’ve known her, in all the times I’ve seen her pissed off, agitated, or stressed, I’ve never seen her cry. Not once.

There’s something seriously wrong with that sight. It’s like a lion with its mane shaved off. It makes me feel the one thing I don’t ever want to feel—pity.

“What’s going on?” I ask her. “What happened?”

“What do you care?” Camille shouts. “Stop pretending to be nice to me! It just makes it worse.”

She’s drawing the attention of the people around us, but I don’t care.

She tries to stomp off away from me and I seize her arm and jerk her back again. I spin her around, her body pressed up against mine. It’s hot as hell in the house, and Camille’s flesh is even hotter. My blood is rushing hard, and I can feel myself grimacing, teeth bared, as I demand, “Tell me what’s going on!”

She stares up at me, those big dark eyes wide and furious. “Let go of me, Nero!”

“Not until you tell me what’s wrong!”

“She said let go,” a male voice interjects.

Fucking Johnny Verger. He’s shouldering his way over to us, playing the chivalrous hero. He’s got that surly look on his face that tells me he’s spoiling for a fight again. I’m pleased to see that his nose still looks swollen, with two wing-like bruises extending out under his eyes.

“How’s your face, Johnny?” I ask him, without letting go of Camille’s arm.

“Better than yours is gonna be,” he snarls.

A crowd is gathering around us. I can see Bella and Beatrice on one side, still wearing their bikinis and nothing else. Bella’s face is alight with excitement, anticipating the violence to come.

Camille’s eyes dart back and forth between Johnny and me.

“I don’t need your help,” she says to Johnny.

“This fuckstick needs to be taught a lesson,” Johnny says. “About keeping his hands to himself.”

“Maybe you should teach your girlfriend that lesson,” I sneer at him. “She seems to put her hands . . . and her mouth . . . anywhere she wants . . .”

Johnny roars and swings both fists at me at once.

I let go of Camille now, shoving her out of the way so she doesn’t get hit in the crossfire. In the time it takes to push her down on the nearest couch, Johnny hits me hard in the left ear with one of those meaty fists. I hear a popping sound, and bright lights explode in front of my eyes.

I fall on my back and Johnny tries to jump on top of me, but I kick my heels hard into his gut, flinging him backward. Then I leap up again, without even touching the ground with my hands. I’m running after him, while he’s still stumbling backward. I hit him twice in the face and once in the body.

The blood lust is on me. I can barely even feel my fists making contact with his flesh, though I can see each impact. I want to hit him harder and harder. I want to pound him into mush.

Johnny swings back at me. I dodge the first punch. The second hits me across the jaw. The pain is shocking, blinding.

I fucking love it. This is the only thing that feels real. The only thing that feels genuine. I hate this shithead, and he hates me. We want to tear each other apart.

Beating him proves that I’m better than him—smarter, faster, stronger.

I’ve killed men before, when I had to. That’s work, and I don’t enjoy it.

Fighting is different. It’s pure fun. And I’m really fucking good at it. One-on-one I almost never lose.

Johnny is a big dude. A worthy adversary. When he hits me again, square in the chest, I could almost respect him.

I’m still going to take him apart.

I watch for his next haymaker, then I duck under it and I boot him again in the chest, sending him crashing backward into Levi’s grandmother’s china cabinet. The glass doors shatter, broken dishes raining down on Johnny’s shoulders.

That’s when the Samoan hits me with a punch that feels like a redwood log upside the head. I didn’t see it coming, and there was no way to brace for it. It knocks my brain halfway out of my head, so I don’t even feel myself falling to the ground. One second I’m standing, the next my face is pressed into the filthy carpet.

I hear a scream—possibly Camille. The Samoan gives me a couple kicks to the body that rearrange some organs. That would hurt pretty bad if I were still fully conscious.

All I hear is Levi shouting, “I said no fighting in the house!”

Then I fall into blackness.

I wake up in some kind of glassed-in porch. I can see the corner of a neon sign overhead, and the edge of a high-rise. The rest is just black summer sky, dense with clouds. The humidity is so thick it’s like gauze.

I’m about to drift away again, until I hear the rumble of thunder. It pulls me back to consciousness.

Somebody is washing my face. They’re using a rough washcloth. Their touch isn’t rough—it’s gentle and careful, cleaning blood off my aching flesh.

My mother used to wash my face like this when I was sick.

She’s the only person who ever saw me like this—helpless. Vulnerable.

I try to sit up. Camille pushes me back down, saying, “Relax.”

I’m lying on some kind of shitty thin mattress, right on the floor with no bed frame beneath it. The tiny room smells damp. But it also smells like soap and gasoline—like Camille herself. I see a stack of paperbacks in the corner, and a couple of potted plants. Those, at least, are thriving.

This is her room. The most pathetic little room I’ve ever seen.

Camille is kneeling next to the bed. She has a bowl of warm water in front of her, rusty with my blood. She wrings out the cloth, darkening the water even more.

“Did that Samoan hit me?” I say.

“His name is Sione,” Camille informs me.

“Fucking hell, I’ve never taken a punch like that.”

“I’m surprised you have any teeth left in your head,” she says.

“Eh, strike that. I think Dante hits that hard. When he’s really mad.”

“You seem to bring that out in people,” Camille says.

I could be wrong, but I think there’s a hint of a smile on her face. She’s probably enjoying this. Seeing me get my just desserts for once.

“How’d you get me back here?” I ask her curiously.

“I dragged you,” Camille scowls. “And you’re not light, by the way.”

“Lighter than a transmission,” I say, grinning.

“Not by much,” she replies.

We’re silent for a minute. The quiet is broken by the patter of raindrops on the glass roof. I look up, watching each of the raindrops burst against the glass. Soon there’s too many to count. The patter turns into a steady drumming sound, that ebbs and flows in a soothing way.

“I love summer rain,” Camille says.

“You must like this room.”

“I do,” she says with a fierce kind of pride.

I look around the room again. It’s dingy and tiny. But I can see why she would like it—it’s a tiny capsule of complete privacy. A space that belongs only to her. Half outside, half inside. In the rain, and yet sheltered.

“Why do you always do that?” Camille asks me.

“What?” I say.

“Why are you so violent?”

I can feel myself flushing. The heat makes my face throb all over again, especially in the places I was hit. My ribs are groaning. Sione might have broken a few.

I want to say something cruel, to punish her. She has no right to judge me. To ask questions.

But for once, I keep my temper. Camille pulled me out of that party. She dragged me all the way back here and tried to clean me up. She did that—not Mason or Bella or anybody else. She didn’t have to help me. But she did it anyway.

I look at Camille. Really look at her, in the dim, watery light. Her skin glows like it’s illuminated from the inside. The humidity has turned her hair into a wild halo of curls, all around her head. Her dark eyes look huge and tragically sad. I see the pain in them.

I know the reasons she should be miserable—she’s poor, her mother abandoned her, her father can’t keep this shop together, and she’s trying to raise her delinquent brother all on her own.

But all that never seemed to bother her before. Why is she finally falling apart?

“What happened today?” I ask her. “Why are you so sad?”

She wrings out the cloth angrily, refusing to look at me.

“I’m not,” she says.

Even while she’s saying the words, two tears run down the sides of her face, in perfect parallel.

“Tell me what happened.”

It’s not an order. It’s just a request. Still, she shakes her head, making the tears fall down onto her lap.

“No,” she says. “It’s none of your business. And I don’t trust you.”

“Well,” I say. “That’s probably smart. I’m not that trustworthy.”

Camille gives me a suspicious look, like she thinks I’m messing with her.

“I’m not some fragile flower,” she says. “I grew up right here in Old Town, the same as you.”

“Not exactly the same. You’re a good girl.”

“No, I’m not.” She shakes her head. “You have no idea what I’m capable of doing.”

I sit up again, wincing at the pain in my ribs. She doesn’t try to stop me this time. I lean closer to her, hair falling over my eyes.

“I’ve got some idea,” I growl.

I take her face between my hands and I kiss her. This time I do it slowly, so she could pull away if she wanted to. She stays completely still. She lets me run my tongue over her lips, and then thrust it into her mouth, tasting her. She tastes a little bit like beer, a little bit like Coca Cola, and a little bit just herself.

Her lips are soft and flexible under mine. The top and bottom lips are almost equally full.

This time it’s me who sneaks a look at her face up close. Her thick, dark lashes fan out against her cheeks. Her skin is smooth and clean. Her face is rounder than usual—not a supermodel oval. But that makes her look youthful, especially when her hair is loose. Especially when she isn’t frowning for once.

She smells like fresh rain and clean laundry. Her tongue massages mine—gently, softly.

She brings her hands up to my face, too, and I smell the last remnants of diesel on her skin. One of my favorite scents in the world—intoxicating and raw. It makes my heartbeat pound against my throbbing ribs.

I pull her down on top of me, trying not to groan at the pain in my ribs. We lay side by side on the narrow, lumpy mattress, still just kissing.

I’ve never kissed a girl like this, without trying to go further. I’m so wrapped up in how good it feels that I’m not pushing on to the next thing. I just want to taste and smell and touch her, just like this.

Maybe I’m still floating from that hit to the head, because I barely feel the floor beneath us. I feel wrapped up in the rain and her warm skin. I feel a rush of contentment that I haven’t known for years.

I don’t know how long it goes on. Maybe an hour or two. The time has no meaning, because it’s the only time that matters. If you could see my whole life laid out on a string, this would be the one bright bead. The one moment of happiness.

Then my hand brushes over her breast, accidentally, and she stiffens.

I don’t know if she’s pulling away, or if she liked it. But the moment is broken.

We’re both drawing back, staring at each other. Both confused.

The rain stopped. I didn’t notice it, when it happened. The room is utterly silent.

“I should go home,” I say.

I don’t know if I’m saying what I want, or what I think she wants.

She nods.

“Thanks. For . . . you know.” I gesture awkwardly at the bowl of rusty water.

Camille nods again, eyes darker than ever.

And that’s it. I leave. Wondering what the fuck is happening to me.


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