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Savage Lover: Chapter 13


When Nero falls to the floor, Sione, Johnny Verger, and about five other guys start kicking and stomping him from all angles. Nero has more than a few enemies, eager to get their licks in while he can’t fight back.

Mason tries to intervene, jumping on Johnny from behind, but he’s no match for all of them.

I have to physically throw myself on top of Nero to get them to stop.

I do it on impulse, because I’m afraid they’re going to kill him. In fact, they look like they still want to, whether I’m in the way or not. But Levi backs me up.

“That’s enough,” he says to Johnny and the others.

He lets me haul Nero out of the party, out to my car. Probably because he doesn’t want to get in serious trouble with the Gallos.

“You gonna take him home?” Levi asks me.

He looks twitchy, like he thinks Dante Gallo might be back an hour later to set his whole house on fire.

“No,” I say. “I’ll take him to my place.”

I tell Levi that to put his mind at ease. But once I pull away from the curb, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. After all, I’m not exactly looking forward to facing the Gallos myself—Enzo scares the hell out of me, and Dante isn’t much better. Plus Nero’s in no state to defend me.

So I bring him back to my place and haul him up the stairs, which really isn’t an easy task. He’s heavy as hell, dead weight. Plus, wherever I put my hands, I can’t help noticing how hard his body is. Even unconscious, Nero is made of tense, lean muscle just about everywhere.

I lay him down on my bed and try to clean him up a little.

He’s an absolute mess. It’s almost like he wants to get his face caved in. Like he’s trying to destroy its beauty.

It won’t work. The cuts and bruises can’t hide what’s underneath.

With every bit of blood and grime I clean off his skin, I reveal another inch of that perfect face.

It’s funny how the most beautiful faces are atypical. Nero doesn’t look like Brad Pitt or Henry Cavill—he looks only like himself.

He’s got a long face, high cheekbones, a sharp jaw. The whites of his eyes and his white teeth gleam against his olive skin, whenever he speaks or looks your way. His eyebrows are straight black slashes directly above those light gray eyes—eyes that sometimes look bright as starlight, and sometimes as dark as the underside of a storm cloud. He has a broad nose, one that would almost be too big for his face. Except that it perfectly balances his full, soft lips. Lips that should be gentle. But are always twisted up in a sneer.

He’s got a shock of black hair, without a hint of brown in it. It falls over his eyes, then he tosses it back again. It’s an impatient, angry gesture, like he’s annoyed at his own hair, or anything else that dares to touch his face.

He dresses like James Dean, in a battered leather jacket that looks older than he is, torn up jeans, boots, or filthy Chuck Taylor’s.

That’s the Nero I’ve known for most of my life.

The one laying on my bed is a little different. For one thing, he’s sleeping. Passed out or knocked out, I’m not sure. So that intense look of anger is absent from his face. His features are relaxed. Almost peaceful.

The only other time I’ve seen him like that was when we were driving together in his car. Granted, we were fleeing from the cops. But it was the only time I’ve seen him that he almost looked happy.

His T-shirt is torn open from the fight. There’s a long gash across his chest. I clean that up, along with his face.

I notice that the skin on his chest is as smooth and hairless as the rest of him, and as deeply olive. I’m surprised to see that he isn’t covered in tattoos. Actually he doesn’t have any at all that I can see.

I wash his face clean. He groans as I touched the swollen parts of his face. It’s a pitiful sound.

I realize he really is in pain.

I never thought of Nero as someone who could feel pain like a normal person. He always seems to enjoy it.

I look at him lying there, and I think how young he is, really. Only twenty-five, like me. He always seemed so much older. Especially when we were in school together.

But he was only a kid back then. He’s barely an adult now.

He just grew up rough. Rougher than even I did.

The Gallos have money. But how old was he the first time somebody put a gun in his hand?

I look at that hand, curled up on his chest, trying to hold onto something. His knuckles are bloody and battered. His fingers are long, slim, and finely shaped.

I slip my hand into his just for an instant, to give him something to hold. I have long fingers, too. Our hands link together perfectly. Like fingers inside of a glove. Like they were made for each other.

Nero’s eyes flutter open. I pull my hand away, sitting back on my heels before he notices anything.

He tries to sit up, and I push him back down.

We talk for a while. More calmly than we’ve ever talked before.

Then he kisses me. Not like he kissed me in the car. That was violent, aggressive, like a punishment. This is the opposite. It’s gentle. Almost tender.

We kiss for so long that I forgot who he is and who I am. I forgot that I swore to myself a hundred times that I would never, never, never let Nero Gallo get a hold of my heart so he could tear it into tiny pieces and stomp on them, like he does to everybody else.

Then his hand brushes over my breast and I gasp, because the feeling of his palm grazing over my nipple is like an electric shock shooting through my body. And he pulls away from me, looking surprised and almost horrified.

Then he leaves.

And I’m alone in my bed for hours, wondering why I let him kiss me. And why he wanted to at all.

The next morning, I feel groggy and my head is thumping. I barely ever drink. Those two beers at Levi’s house didn’t do me any favors.

I stumble out to the kitchen, where Vic is actually out of bed, with his textbooks sprawled across the table, and his nose an inch away from his paper as he scribbles notes.

“What are you doing?” I ask suspiciously.

“I signed up for those AP courses like you said,” Vic says.

He looks humble and apologetic, like he’s trying to make penance with me.

He knows I’ve been shanghaied into selling Molly for Levi Cargill. I haven’t told him about Officer Schultz. Working with the cops is one of the most dangerous things you can do in Old Town. If Vic knew what I was doing, it would only put him in danger.

“What are those notes for?” I ask him.

“Evolutionary Biology,” he says. “It’s all about natural selection and common descent and speciation.”

“Like that stuff with Mendel and the pea plants?” I say.

I vaguely remember filling out a bunch of squares that were supposed to teach us recessive and dominant traits.

“Yeah,” Vic says. “Basically.”

“What are those charts you do for inheritance?” I ask him.

“Punnett Squares,” Vic says.

“I remember those.”

“Well, we covered that in normal biology,” Vic says. “This is a bit more advanced. Look . . .”

He flips the page on his textbook and gestures for me to sit down and read it with him.

“So, I’m reading about epigenetics, which is the modification of gene expression, rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.”

He’s not reading that out of the book. He’s just rattling it off out of his own brain. Vic is so damn smart. That’s why I can’t stand the thought of him throwing his life away on some menial job—or worse, no job at all. Rotting in a prison cell because he made the mistake of trusting a guy like Levi.

“But look here,” he says, pointing. “Here they’re talking about inherited mutations. This one’s on the FOXC2 gene. It’s called distichiasis. It’s the same mutation that Elizabeth Taylor had. It gives you a double row of eyelashes.”

“That’s cool,” I say, trying to remember exactly what Elizabeth Taylor looked like.

“I have it, too!” Vic says proudly.

“What?” I lean in to examine his face.

He does have very thick eyelashes. It made him look like a girl when he was little—especially when we didn’t cut his hair often enough.

“How do you know you have it?” I ask him.

“Cause look—the lashes aren’t just thick. They grow in two lines.”

I look closely at his eyes. It’s true—the lashes grow on top of each other, not just in a single row.

“Is that . . . bad?” I ask him.

“It can cause irritation,” he says. “Not for me, luckily. Distichiasis is really rare. But it’s an autosomal dominant disorder.”

I stare at him blankly.

“Passed from parent to child,” he adds helpfully.

“Did Mom have it?”

Vic frowns. “How should I know?”

I sometimes forget that he doesn’t remember her at all. She never came to visit him, after that night she dropped him off at the house.

I think our dad talked to her sometimes. In fact, I’m almost sure of it, after what Ali said. The only way my mom could have gotten that picture of me is if Dad gave it to her.

Ali said my mom kept it on her mirror. That doesn’t make me feel good.

Actually, it pisses me off. She had no right to look at a picture of me, when she couldn’t be bothered to come see her real, actual daughter, who was still living in the same damn neighborhood as her.

“That’s really cool,” I say to Vic, trying to shake thoughts of our mother out of my head. “Glad to see you studying.”

“I should have time to finish the whole course before the summer’s up,” he tells me.

“That’s great, Vic. I’m proud of you, dude.”

I ruffle his caramel-colored hair, as I stand up from the table.

Vic really is a good-looking kid. He got a lot of our mom’s best features, though he’s more fair.

I try to remember if my mom had thick eyelashes. She had big, dark eyes like me and Vic. But I don’t know if the lashes were anything special.

Actually, much as I hate to admit it, I’ve only ever seen one person with lashes like Vic: Bella Page. And I’ve known her long enough to know she’s had them since we were kids. They’re not extensions like so many girls are getting these days. She’s always had thick, black lashes even when she was a skinny blonde kid . . .

My stomach gives a strange squeeze inside of me.

I saw Bella’s parents once at our high school graduation ceremony. Her mom was slim and blonde, much like Bella. Her father was tall, with a shiny bald head. But he did have one rather striking feature: thick, dark eyebrows and lashes. They made his eyes look oddly feminine in an otherwise masculine face.

That’s just a coincidence, I’m sure.

“Hey Vic,” I say. “How rare is that dis—that mutation?

“I dunno.” He shrugs. “Maybe one in fifty million?”

Well, shit.

That’s a pretty big coincidence.

I’m supposed to be working in the auto bay, but instead I’m downtown, in the financial district.

This is where Bella’s father works. He owns Alliance Bank, on LaSalle Street. Or at least, that’s what Google tells me. It’s confirmed by the company directory located over by the reception desk.

I’m not stupid enough to talk to the haughty-looking receptionist. I know there’s no way on god’s green earth that she’s going to send me up in the elevator to whatever stunning corner office Raymond Page occupies. Bank managers don’t meet with random mechanics who come wandering in off the street.

In fact, the receptionist is already eyeing me suspiciously, based off the fact that I’ve been poking around the lobby for about ten minutes, and I’m dressed in jeans and a hoody, instead of the suit and briefcase apparently required to gain entry to the upper levels.

After setting down the receiver on her most recent phone call, she fixes me with an icy stare and says, “Can I help you?” in the tone of voice usually reserved for telling people that their fly is undone.

“I’m waiting for . . . my uncle,” I say lamely.

She raises an eyebrow in disbelief.

I turn my back on her, looking around for someplace to lurk out of sight while I wait for Raymond to come down.

It’s almost lunchtime. Unless he’s planning to eat in his office, he probably goes out for a steak and martini in one of the many fancy restaurants in a three-block radius of this place.

The lobby is all black marble and sleek, reflective surfaces. There are no good places to hide. Not even a potted plant to crouch behind. I can see the receptionist getting antsy, casting glances in my direction more and more frequently. She looks like she’s going to call over one of the uniformed security guards any minute.

At that moment, the elevator pings. The gold doors part, and three suited men step through. The one in the middle is tall, bald, and obviously in charge.

Raymond Page.

I hurry over to intercept him.

I can see the security guard hustling toward us from the opposite side. He knows who Page is better than I do, and he has no intention of letting me talk to him. Unfortunately for the guard, I’m closer. I position myself right in front of Raymond, so he has no choice except to stop or run right into me.

“What?” he snaps, breaking off his conversation with the other two men.

“Mr. Page?” I say.

“Yes?” he says coldly.

He’s looking down into my face, his eyes as dark and stern as a hawk’s, with those drawn-together brows and his beak of a nose between them. His face is coarse—thick-skinned, and heavily lined. But there’s no mistaking that incongruous double row of lashes that line his eyes like kohl.

“What is it?” he barks, again.

“I . . . I know your daughter Bella,” I stammer.

“Then you should know better than to interrupt me at work,” he says.

He pushes past me and sweeps through the doors to the outside, the other two men hurrying after him. The security guard blocks me from following him.

“Time to go,” he says, arms crossed over his chest.

“Already leaving,” I reply, heading for the opposite door.

I can’t believe that. The mention of Raymond’s daughter didn’t interest him in the slightest. He had no curiosity. No concern that something might have happened to her.

It almost makes me feel bad for Bella.

Until I see her walking across the lobby arm-in-arm with the last person in the world I’d expect to see here: Nero Gallo.

Nero looks equally surprised. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him speechless before. His mouth is hanging open in a way that would almost be funny, if the sight of him and Bella together wasn’t such a punch to the guts.

Bella looks back and forth between us, confused and annoyed.

“What are you doing here?” she sneers. “Applying for a janitor job?”

I don’t look at her. I’m staring at Nero. He’s dressed up nicer than I’ve ever seen before, in a button-up shirt and slacks. His hair is even combed back. If I didn’t know him, I’d think he was one of the young professionals in the building. The perfect date for the bank manager’s daughter.

“Going for lunch?” I ask them. My lips are dry. It’s hard to speak.

“We already ate,” Bella says, like I’m a complete idiot. For once, I think she’s right. “Nero wanted a tour of Daddy’s new building.”

“You just missed Daddy,” I tell them, watching Nero’s face.

I think I see a flicker of something there. It’s definitely not disappointment.

“How do you know?” Bella demands.

“I just saw him leave.”

I’m still looking at Nero, trying to figure out exactly what the fuck is going on here.

He hates Bella. He always has. Did he do this to make me jealous? But he didn’t know I was coming down here today. I didn’t know myself until an hour ago.

Why would he meet Bella for lunch, dressed like a yuppie? It doesn’t make any sense.

Unless he’s not here for Bella at all . . .

I glance swiftly around the lobby, to see if any of his friends are lurking around. There’s nobody here—except the normal crowd of financiers and wealthy clients.

Nero sees my expression change. His face darkens. He doesn’t want me fucking this up for him.

“Let’s get going,” he says to Bella.

“I don’t know if I can show you the vault if Daddy’s not here . . .” Bella says.

The vault . . .

Nero casts me a look, telling me to keep my mouth shut.

I think I know why he’s here.

Still, it makes me burn with jealousy, seeing him freshly scrubbed and shaved, with Bella hanging off his arm. She’s wearing a pretty yellow sundress and heels, her sleek blonde bob shimmering every time she tosses her head. They make a gorgeous couple.

Meanwhile, I look so scrubby that I almost got booted out of this place before I spoke a word.

“I won’t keep you. Enjoy your date,” I hiss at Nero.

“We will,” Bella says with poisonous sweetness.

Nero doesn’t say anything at all. But I can feel his eyes burning into my back as I stomp out of the air-conditioned bank, back out into the sweltering heat.

I knew it. I fucking knew it.

Nero doesn’t give a shit about Bella, and he doesn’t give a shit about me. He’ll use either one of us when we suit his purpose.

He’s a snake. I was a fool to let him slip his fangs into me for even an instant.

Still, I feel myself pausing on the sidewalk. Like he’s going to leave Bella in there and chase after me.

Of course he doesn’t.

I’m just standing there all alone, while cars whiz by, and pedestrians have to part ways around me.

Whatever Nero has planned in there, it’s a hell of a lot more important than me.


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