Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 13

RIONACH

He nailed my father to a cross.

This time when I shrug out of my guards’ hold, they let me.

My walk down the aisle isn’t a slow, elegant stroll with soft music playing, it’s a wrath-filled and red-hazed march. There are no wedding guests smiling encouragingly at me as I walk to meet my groom. The only other people here other than Emeric and Dad are my guards and Emeric’s tattooed hulk of a man, and the only person smiling at me is him. My fingers aren’t wrapped around a bouquet of flowers, they’re balled so tightly at my sides that my nails are dangerously close to cutting into my palms. My father doesn’t walk arm in arm with me down the aisle, I walk alone with two armed men close behind.

Emeric is my target as I charge forward. I haven’t quite figured out what my plan is for when I finally reach him, but my fist connecting with his smug grin sounds like a good idea to me.

That plan goes out the window when I reach the first row of pews and see all the blood splattered and pooled there.

And the hand.

There’s a fucking hand just lying there.

Something bad happened here while I was locked in that tiny room being turned into mob princess Barbie.

“What the hell is going on? Whose hand is that?” I ask, my focus still locked on the appendage. Both of Dad’s hands are currently nailed to the cross, so I know it doesn’t belong to him, and it’s too large to belong to my mom… “Is that Tiernan’s?”

The gold pinkie ring with our family’s crest on it is still wrapped around the smallest digit on the hand. I’ve always hated that ring—I meancome on. A pinkie ring? Those don’t look good on anyone—but Tiernan wore it with pride. Refused to ever take it off. Looks like he’s holding true to that promise even now.

Footsteps moving on the raised dais have my eyes pulling away from the carnage and up to him. His hands, stained with blood, are clasped in front of him. It’s a posture so nonchalant, it doesn’t fit the current atmosphere of the room.

“I already told you, Rionach.” His perfect sultry voice washes over me, and try as I might, I can’t stop the chill from running down my spine. He shouldn’t still have that kind of effect on me, not now. Not after today’s charade. “I told you what happens to people who steal from me.”

I don’t allow people who steal from me to keep their hands.

“You said you’d take their hands…”

“Good girl.” Emeric nods, a pleased look on his face. “That’s correct. The only reason I didn’t take both is because he’s your brother. Which was a mercy on my part.”

“A mercy?” My dad’s strangled cry echoes through the hollow space in the rafters above. He pulls on the thick nails in his palms, making more blood pour from the wounds. “You mutilated my boy!”

My brain is trying to make sense of what I’m seeing and hearing. Usually, adrenaline rushes like today’s make me feel awake—clear—but the constant state of anger I’ve been in since I found out what Emeric’s plans are for me has my brain feeling cloudy.

“Tiernan stole from you…” I trail off as the frazzled and bloodied pieces begin to fall into place. “Last week, when you left to meet him in New Jersey…”

My father’s eyes flare at this, his mouth parting just a tad before snapping shut when he realizes I’m addressing him.

“Surprise isn’t a good look on you, Irishman,” Emeric taunts, swagging closer to where Dad hangs crucified. “Is it really that big of a shock to you that your daughter pays attention? That she might know more than she lets on?”

How can he know something like that about me after spending barely one night together while my own parents continue to be oblivious?

“Underestimating people gets you killed,” Emeric tells him before turning his attention back to where I stand. “Your brother stole half a million dollars’ worth of merchandise from my New Jersey warehouse and then dear old Daddy here sold it off to my competitors.”

I’ve spent the better part of the past decade building and strengthening the grip I have on my composure to ensure I never slip up in front of my family and allow them to see past my mask. Right now, all that self-imposed conditioning has gone out the window.

Have my family lost their ever-loving fucking minds?

“You stole from him. From. Him?” I’m taken aback by the low, dark register of my voice. My docile disguise is crumpling by the second.

My father stares at me like he doesn’t recognize me and Emeric looks at me like I’m a prize. His prize.

“It… it was just business. This is how things are done in our world—” Dad’s face, which has at least had the decency to show a morsel of shame since I walked down the aisle, shifts into that holier-than-thou expression I despise. It’s the same one Tiernan inherited from him. “No. Enough. I don’t have to explain myself to you⁠—”

Dad falls into a fit of wheezing coughs as Emeric’s fist collides with his ribs, effectively halting whatever other bullshit he was about to spew at me.

“Seeing as Rionach will be paying the price for your quote, unquote, “business dealings,” I think it’s more than appropriate she asks a few questions.” Emeric bends down so he’s right in my dad’s face, forcing the panting man to look him in the eye when he asks, “Don’t you agree?”

Dad tries his best to not shy away from him, but like a low-ranking wolf in a pack, my father submits and turns his head away. Emeric looks more than satisfied with this gesture when he turns back to me.

“Your father owes me a debt for stealing from me and I’ve decided what I’d like as compensation for my troubles.” He prowls closer to me, that assertive swagger I appreciated in the past now grating on my nerves. “I’m sure you’ve already put together what that might be, haven’t you, princess?”

“Me,” I manage to grit out between clenched teeth. “You think I’m going to marry you to pay off their debt?” The scoffing sound that escapes my lips has Emeric’s eyes darkening. Not in anger, but in hunger. It’s the same look he got when I challenged him in that cage.

“I don’t think anything.” He continues with his slow, methodical prowl toward me. It’s as if he doesn’t have a single care in the world and what’s happening here is just another day in the office for him. I suppose for Emeric it is“I know you’re going to be my wife, because I know what will happen to you if you don’t march your pretty ass up here and let me watch those lips of yours wrap around the words ‘I do’. Do you know what happens if you leave here without my last name, Rionach?”

At my stubborn silence, he inclines his head at the tattooed beast of a man standing silently at the side of the platform. He’s the same man who saved Emeric’s life on New Year’s. He looks like a Viking with his head shaved on the sides and his shorter but full beard. He also looks like he could crush someone’s skull with just his fist if he wanted to. In other words, I wouldn’t want to piss him off and end up on his bad side.

“Thank you, Nova,” Emeric tells him, taking the file that is offered to him.

He rifles through the papers inside and as he does, that casual and laid-back attitude of his melts away. Something dark washes over the sharp edges of his features and the ever-present storm in his eyes turns glacial. That change in his features, it makes me wonder if Emeric Banes also wears a mask.

“Are you familiar with the name Koslov? Specifically, Igor and Bogdan Koslov?”

This has my spine stiffening. Both of my interactions with people sporting the last name Koslov were less than ideal. My dance with Bogdan gave me chills in the same way a hundred spiders crawling on you would, and Polina Koslov… something about that woman was just off.

“Why?”

“I was just curious if you were familiar with the man your father has sold you off to.”

Sold me?

My confusion must be showing on my face because Emeric pulls one of the photographs out of the file and offers it to me. Stiffly, I accept it and find myself staring at the scarred-up face of Bogdan Koslov.

“That’s a face only a mother can love, isn’t it?” he comments dryly. “Didn’t your parents tell you about their deal with the Russians?”

“My parents don’t tell me anything, but I think you know that.”

I’ve already been forcibly brought to a church and stuffed into this dress. My brother’s missing a hand and my dad’s impersonating Jesus. At this point, why should I bother keeping up with the pretense that I own a filter?

“It was none of your concern⁠—”

“It was her concern. It became her concern when Igor told you the price for an alliance with the Russians and you willingly paid it, knowing what kind of man you’d be marrying your daughter off to.” The dangerous dark power that took over Emeric a moment ago blackens further. It’s like standing outside during a lightning storm and tornado sirens are going off in the distance. Sane people would be rushing to find shelter, meanwhile I’m hating myself because even now, I’m drawn to the madness.

The sneer that crosses Dad’s face is one for the books. “The hypocrisy of you—the notoriously deranged Emeric Banes—judging the character of another man is laughable.”

“When have I ever claimed to be a good man? I’m as morally bankrupt as they come and getting my hands bloody is one of my favorite pastimes, but I have never cut a woman up for sport.” Emeric holds the rest of the file out to me, silently ordering for me to examine its contents. “But can we say the same for Bogdan Koslov?”

Like the dutiful obedient girl I pretend to be, I take the offered folder.

“What are you showing her?” my dad demands, pulling on his nails again in his fit. The wounds tear and more blood pours from the wounds. He tries his best to sound outraged, but the unmistakable hint of panic is what has me anxiously opening the file. “What lies are you telling my daughter?”

“Stop. Fucking. Talking. Your voice is becoming grating, Niall. If you keep irritating me, I’m going to put nails in your feet too. That way we can complete the lord and savior look you’ve got going on.”

I’m not sure if my father responds because my ears momentarily stop working and all I can hear is a constant droning noise. It reminds me of the sound of crashing waves on the shore. One after the other with no break, it blocks out the rest of the chaos surrounding me as I look at what’s in my hand.

Despite my parents’ best efforts, I don’t consider myself to be a sheltered person. Growing up in the mob exposes you to a lot of stuff at a young age. I’ve been kept away from the true bloodshed, but I heard the men and boys talking about their escapades during gatherings. They boasted about their kills with pride. None of those stories could have prepared me for these photographs.

The women pictured are so butchered and bloodied, they’re borderline unrecognizable as human beings. The only reason I know they were women is because of the few scraps of long hair still attached to their mutilated and disfigured scalps. The skin has been methodically removed from the heads of half the victims, while the others appear to have had their skulls bashed in until there was nothing but gore left of their once pretty faces. Their poor naked bodies don’t appear to be in any better shape. I pray for their parents and loved ones that they never saw what became of them because no one should be remembered this way.

I can’t tell how many different women are photographed. All the blood makes it hard to tell them apart. There are at least four. Four women who were mutilated and murdered for the fucking fun of it by a sadistic man. The same man my father planned to marry me off too…

“Did you know?” I don’t recognize my own voice. The venomous edge is one I didn’t really know I was capable of. “Did you know what Bogdan does to women when you decided to form the alliance with his family?”

My father lifts his head defiantly, looking down his nose at me. Even now, nailed to a wall and with no certainty he’s going to walk out of this church alive, I’m beneath him. I’m not worth the truth. I’m not worth anything to him. It’s something I’ve always known deep down, but having it confirmed hurts more than I’ll ever admit.

“Answer me, dammit! Did you know who you were selling me to? Did you know what Bogdan does?”

His brown eyes flare. There’s not an ounce of shame reflected in them when he admits, “I’d heard the rumors, but never thought it necessary to go through the trouble of confirming them. True or not, I believed it would be worth the risk if it meant we got to ally with the Russians. They could help us restore our family name. Regain the power we lost.” Dad thrusts his chin to Emeric. “Together, we could be strong enough to take him on. Please, Rionach. That’s why you can’t marry him. You’ll be ruining our chances of⁠—”

“Shut up!” my cry revibrates through the room like a shrill scream.

My fingers release the photographs when I take my first step toward him. My designer heels clank against the worn floors. I’m a walking ball of fiery rage, I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked behind me and found my footsteps scorched into the cracked concrete. I stop directly in front of him. So close the hem of my lace dress sweeps through the small pools of his blood gathering.

“How dare you?” I can’t bring myself to feel ashamed of the way my voice cracks. “How dare you ask anything of me. You sold me to a legitimate monster without a single care for my safety. What he did to those women… if I married him, I could end up just like them and you. Don’t. Care.”

Dad’s nostrils flare at my outburst. I’ve never felt more out of control than I do now. My perfectly crafted mask has turned into a pile of ash at my feet, and I can’t bring myself to care. There’s no coming back from this.

“You call Bogdan a monster, but you’ll marry him? He might not do that to women, but that doesn’t make him a fucking saint. He’s the worst out of all of us. He takes pleasure in the destruction he’s made of our family and families like ours.”

I see his point. Emeric isn’t a saint, but he isn’t a fucking serial killer. We’re walking a very fine line here. One I know he teeters on daily. Emeric has done terrible—horrific—things and he’s more than likely capable of doing much worse, but peeling the faces off women to get his rocks off? Would he go that far? Something in my gut tells me no.

“You’re right, I do,” Emeric admits with a nonchalant shrug. “You’re also correct about the whole saint thing.” He sarcastically draws a halo around his head with an eye roll. “I’m certainly not one of those. What I am is a man who’s owed a debt, and while I’ve loved watching that fire of yours peek through, princess, we need to get this show on the road. I’ve shown what would inevitably become of you if you left here and went with your father’s choice in groom.”

Bogdan now has a claim to me and if he gets his hands on me, I’ll become one of the women in the pictures.

“You say the word ‘choice’ like I have one, Banes,” I bite out, turning my glower to him.

This has his lips pulling up in a smirk. “You’re right, that was misleading of me. You don’t have a choice in groom. You will pay the debt owed to me by leaving this church with my last name. The choice I am willing to give you is this: will you stand here on your own and recite your vows, or do I need to have my men hold you in place?”

“Fuck you.”

Like a hunter with a kill in its sight, Emeric prowls to stand before me.

“I already did that, or have you already forgotten what it feels like to have my cock buried so deep in you, you can’t breathe?” His fingers trail down my temple to my cheekbone. I despise the fact that I enjoy the trail of heat that follows his touch. Emeric’s cocky grin only grows when I bat his hand away. “While the idea of other men touching you makes my trigger finger twitchy, I will have them hold you still until you say, ‘I do’. It’s your choice. Decide, princess.”

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