Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 1

RIONACH

I was fifteen when I came to terms with the fact that I was never going to be the center of anyone’s attention.

Second born and a girl.

Those are both traits that are deemed undesirable in my family’s eyes. My parents’ priority will always be my brother. He’s the heir to the Moran family empire and their goddamn golden child. There isn’t a single thing that Tiernan can do wrong. Doesn’t matter what vile thing he does or says, my parents’ rose-colored glasses will stay firmly in place when it comes to their deranged man-child of a son. I don’t even want to talk about my mother’s twisted relationship with him. If she could figure out a way to put him back into her womb, I’m pretty sure she’d do it. It’s gross and makes family holidays fucking weird.

And then there’s… me.

I got used to the blank look in my parents’ eyes when they stared at me. More often than not, it felt more like they were staring straight through me rather than at me. As if I wasn’t there at all.

For a long time, I fought hard for their attention. The twinge of pain in my chest from those blank stares caused me to act out. My infamous rebellious phase was short-lived and ended in disaster, but at the time I didn’t care what kind of attention I was getting. Good or bad, attention was attention, and that’s all I craved from them.

Looking back at my behavior, I’m embarrassed by my desperation. You shouldn’t have to demand—beg for—attention from the people who are supposed to love you the most. It was a tough pill to swallow as a teenager, but as I’ve aged, the pain has faded and my fuck you attitude has grown.

I stopped begging for attention from my family—from everyone—and found a way to be okay with their bland stares and general disinterest in me. Like an actress playing a role, I can shift seamlessly into the silent, well-behaved mobster daughter. What they see is a pleasant smile but, in my mind, I’m flipping them all off and pounding against the invisible steel bars that imprison me in this life.

The true version of myself, the one who enjoys standing a little too close to train tracks and feels most alive in a room full of chaos is something I keep tucked away. Safely out of everyone’s grasps. That side is for me and me alone. Even if there was someone who I could be myself with, I don’t think I could ever trust them enough to not try and destroy that side of me. Or destroy that sacred wild part of my soul.

I’d be lying if I said protecting that piece of me wasn’t a lonely task, but sometimes it’s better to be lonely than to lose yourself completely.

These days, I’ve found ways to use everyone’s indifference against them. It’s become a game of sorts for me. What can I get away with when no one is looking? When you make yourself appear small, people assume you’re not a threat. When you’re not a threat, people don’t pay attention to you, and when they don’t pay attention to you, you can move around a room like a ghost.

When you’re a ghost, you can get away with all kinds of shit.

The circles my family run in aren’t exactly made up of the most moral people. Money and blood go hand in hand in this world. Their squeaky-clean exteriors and practiced Colgate smiles hide the absolute hellscape that makes up New York’s most affluent families. Don’t let the political fundraisers and charity events like this one tonight fool you. This is a ballroom full of mobsters, crooks, and liars. I’d even wager that the political figures mulling about are just as—if not more—corrupt as the organized crime leaders they’re rubbing elbows with.

There isn’t a single person here who wouldn’t put a bullet in their grandmother’s head if it meant they’d become a couple million dollars richer. It’s been done too. You know how I know that? Because months ago, at an event just like this one, the governor’s own wife had one too many glasses of champagne and basically admitted to doing just that so they could get her inheritance money. The women who stood around her giggled and waved her off as if she’d just told them the funniest story before casually moving on to the next tidbit of juicy gossip. What the fuck, right?

While the men are out running their family’s empire, the women are sitting back and spilling secrets like it’s their job. Add in some free-flowing alcohol and then their overfilled lips really start moving.

And I’m there, silent and unseen, but overhearing all kinds of sordid tales.

I hear secrets similar to this all the time when I play my game. Like a collector, I store them all safely away in my head. I truthfully have no intention of ever repeating them to anyone, but there’s something about knowing I could take down some of the most important people in the city with a single email that makes my blood hum with excitement and power. After all, knowledge is power, and power is the only currency people give a damn about in this world.

Knowing I hold this kind of power over these people almost gives me the same feeling I get when I stand on roof railings and stare down at the yellow taxies a dozen stories below. Almost. Nothing can really compete with the adrenaline rush that runs through my veins when I’m faced with real danger—when I experience true fear.

Fear.

For most people, it has them sweating and shaking where they stand. The good ole fight-or-flight response kicks in, and their bodies go into self-preservation autopilot. They’re going to face whatever is in front of them, or they’re going to run for the hills so fast they leave burn marks in their wake. They’ll pick the path with the highest chance of safety because who in their right mind would seek out danger?

Me.

I’m the girl who searches for danger like an addict looking for a fix. While fear shuts everyone else down, it makes me feel alive. My body fills with intoxicating adrenaline and my soul ignites. And it’s those fast and fleeting moments when I feel like I can truly breathe. When I don’t have to don my mask and pretend I’m the innocent Irish mob princess.

The waiter nods his head as I lift my third flute of champagne of the night off his tray. He appears to be having just about as much fun here as I am. Which means he would probably prefer to be anywhere else but here. A dentist appointment, a trip to the DMV, a funeral… all preferable over this charade.

Turning my back toward the rest of the room and conversing people, I stare at the wall decorated with framed pictures of the hotel throughout the years. Three mouthfuls later, my glass is empty, and the alcohol in my bloodstream is well on its way to making this night more tolerable.

I made it an hour at tonight’s charity event before I weaved between the ostentatious partygoers and fled to the elevator. It lifted me to the eighteenth floor and the closer I got to the roof exit, the calmer I became. The weight on my chest lessoned and the second I slipped off my painful four-inch stilettos and climbed onto the roof’s ledge, I took in my first real breath of the night.

Standing there with the biting cold against my skin and sky alive with the New Year’s fireworks, I was free. Free to just be… me and to breathe. But it was a fleeting feeling, one I could only cling to for a moment before I had to climb down and reenter the festivities here in the brightly lit ballroom. It was only a matter of time before one of my father’s goons realized I was gone and alerted him. After all, the people who are on my parents’ payroll are the only ones who would have noticed I was missing, not my actual parents.

Which is ironic, seeing as for the entire car ride into the city, my parents droned on and on about being on our best behavior tonight and that we were to continue to uphold the appearance of the “perfect” family.

It’s a joke, honestly, and I’m fighting a genuine grin at the thought of it when my mother’s willowy frame appears at my side. With her is a shorter blonde woman who looks familiar, but I can’t quite place her.

Mom’s boney, cold hand lands on my shoulder, giving me a little squeeze, and her red-painted lips pull upward. Observers would probably look at this as a woman greeting her daughter with a comforting gesture. Imogen Moran is a lot of things—a skilled actress being at the top of that list—but comforting isn’t one of them. The grip on my upper arm isn’t a greeting, it’s a warning. Play your part, Rionach.

My spine goes stiff and the rehearsed pleasant smile slips into place as I lock eyes with the unknown woman. Her hair has been bleached within an inch of its life and is slicked back into a low bun I can only describe as severe. My guess is she’s around my mother’s age, give or take a few years, but like the rest of the women in this room, she’s against aging gracefully. She’s clearly had a face lift at some point. The untouched skin of her neck gives that away, just like it gives away her true age. The lines that decorate the skin around her pursed lips are the only “flaw” I can spot on her face. My guess is she’s been a smoker for most of her life. We all have a vice. Hers is nicotine and mine is dangling dangerously close to the roof’s edge, so I’m not entirely in a position to judge.

She’s pretty, but just like my mom, she can’t hide the coldness in her eyes as she reaches her hand toward me in greeting.

“You remember Polina Koslov, don’t you, Rionach?” Mom asks, her Irish accent strong as ever. She takes the empty glass from my hand and silently passes it to a waiter walking past our chummy little trio.

Nope. “Of course, I do.” I shake Polina’s hand and return her smile. “Your dress is lovely, Polina.” The black-and-gold embroidered mess looks like a figure-hugging tablecloth, but what do I know about fashion?

Her cool blue gaze scans me from head to toe, no doubt searching for any imperfections. That’s what women in these social circles do. They need things to talk about at their next get-togethers, after all.

“You as well, dear. Green is really your color.”

I’m a pale Irish woman with dark auburn hair. Of course green is my color.

Releasing her hand, I run both my palms down the front of my formfitting silk dress, trying to subtlety smooth out any of the wrinkles I may have gotten while up on the roof. I should really start picking dresses with more forgiving fabrics if I’m going to keep up with my escapades.

“Thank you, Polina.”

Thank God Mom jumps back in before I have to talk about clothes any longer.

“Polina is Bogdan’s mother. He was at the event this fall at the Aquarium—you know, the one for the charity for pediatric cancer… or was it for the homeless? I just can’t keep these things straight. I swear, we’re dressing up and writing checks every month.” Polina joins in as they both laugh at Mom’s tasteless joke. Meanwhile, I’m over here fighting for my life trying to not roll my eyes. “I do believe you danced with Bogdan then, Rionach. Tall. Blond. The one with the scar…” Realizing her mistake, Mom’s words die out as her fake smile tightens. “Charming. He was very charming.”

Nice recovery, Imogen. 2/5 stars.

Polina’s perfect face tightens at Mom’s slipup, but she doesn’t acknowledge it further.

“Yes. My boy seemed to be very taken with you.” Sharp, red-painted nails reach for me as her fingers twist a strand of my hair around them. My molars grind as I force myself to stand still. Jesus, who is this lady? This whole interaction feels weird. “He spoke so fondly of this hair of yours. Which was interesting, seeing as he’s always shown a proclivity for blondes, but now that I’m seeing you up close, I find myself understanding his fascination.”

I didn’t remember who the hell Bogdan was until Mom mentioned the scar. Scar is a kind word for what cuts through the young Russian’s face. He looks like he was mauled by a wild animal. It runs from his hairline to his collarbone, slicing right through his left eye. I’m truly not sure how he still has an eye there, never mind be able to see anything with it. The morbid curiosity side of me wanted to know what happened to him, but my self-preservation side, which has historically not been very vocal, screamed at me to keep my mouth shut.

It wasn’t just the scar that was… off-putting. Everything about that man was off. The unwavering intensity in his gaze when he looked at me while leading me around the dance floor made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Dangerous things are attractive to me, they’re like sinful little treats that feed my soul, but nothing was alluring about that man. The alarm bells were wailing. Loudly.

His mother’s weird-ass demeanor is making me think his entire family is like that. Which is concerning, and begs the question: what the fuck is my mother doing with her, and why is she bringing up Bogdan now?

“How… flattering.” I mean, come on, what else am I supposed to say to that shit? Keeping my soft smile firmly in place, I reach for her hand and take it between both of mine. The sharp edges of her diamond tennis bracelet scrape across my fingertips as I do. “He was a lovely dance partner, especially since I can’t dance to save my life. Without him leading us, I’m positive I would have tripped over my own feet and landed on the floor. He probably saved me from embarrassing myself.”

“Taking the lead,” Polina muses, while something I can’t place flashes in her cold eyes. “Yes, that does sound like him.”

I glance briefly at my mom before squeezing Polina’s hand once again. “I’m so sorry, but I’m afraid I need to go find the ladies’ room. My couple glasses of champagne have caught up with me. It was lovely seeing you again, Polina.”

There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll get a tongue-lashing from my mom on the drive home for leaving, but Mrs. Koslov is giving off ‘the witch from Hansel and Gretel’ vibes, and I don’t know how to speak with her. Which is a rare challenge for me because, like I said, I’ve honed the perfect-daughter persona. I can talk to a senator about his plans and in the next breath, I can navigate a conversation with one of the criminals that run with my father. It takes a lot to stump me, and Polina Koslov has done just that.

Nodding my head at both women, I turn gracefully in my stilettos and make my way across the boisterous ballroom. It takes everything in me to fight against the triumphant upturn of my lips when my fingers tighten around my consolation prize.

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but I find I enjoy them so much more when they’re stolen.

I have no use for a diamond tennis bracelet, and I have zero intentions of keeping it for myself. The thrill of simply taking it was all I wanted. Before you get any ideas, I’m not a kleptomaniac. I don’t have a compulsive need to steal from people. Much like my trip to the rooftop earlier tonight, I just enjoy the adrenaline rush. Plus, I pawn everything I acquire and donate every dime to charities. People like Polina and my mother use these charity events to help their own images. They don’t give a single fuck about the cause. By donating the money from my stolen goods to them, it makes me believe I’m evening the cosmic score in a way.

Is that sound reasoning? I don’t know, you tell me.

Polina doesn’t know it yet, but she’ll technically be donating twice to tonight’s charity group after I send them the funds I get for the bracelet I subtly hide in my cleavage.

I get my adrenaline rush and people in need get a little extra help.

It’s a win-win for everyone… well, maybe not for Polina, but I think she’ll be okay.

Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset