Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 17

RIONACH

I woke up alone in a bedroom that belongs in luxury interior design magazines. Between the blindfold and the sex-induced haze I was in last night, I hadn’t looked around the room I’d been brought to after he drugged me. After our wedding.

Turns out the devil of New York doesn’t live in an underground lair, he lives in a penthouse that is so many stories up in the sky, I can see the entirety of Central Park. All four corners of the tree-filled space that takes up fifty-one solid blocks are visible from his bedroom windows. And windows don’t seem like an appropriate word to describe the walls of glass taking up two whole sides of his room. If we weren’t so far up, I’d worry about people being able to see in.

Emeric’s an incredibly elusive man. I know he wouldn’t dwell somewhere his privacy would be threatened.

My screaming bladder is what finally pulls me from my post-fuck comatose state and out of the massive king-sized four-poster bed. At least I now know what I was tied to last night.

Every muscle in my body aches. I thought I had been sore after my last bout with Emeric, but it turns out that was just a precursor for the true havoc he could wreak on my pussy. Between the tenderness and stickiness left behind between my thighs, I’m in desperate need of a shower. My first look in the mirror hanging over the black marble and chrome sink vanity further confirms my rough state.

I look like I was fucked to death. Or at the least, I’m doing my best impression of a roadkill raccoon. The dark eye makeup Monica had painstakingly applied has migrated all over my face, and my lipstick? Yeah, there’s no denying my mouth got thoroughly fucked. My hair is more tangled than the thoughts and emotions going through my brain, and my naked body is sporting a couple new bruises. As I’d guessed last night, my wrists and ankles are marked from how hard I’d pulled against the restraints, and my hip bones and thighs are dotted from where his hands gripped me. I hate that I like them, and I hate even more that I like that he’s the one who left them there.

With one last disapproving look at myself in the mirror, I turn to the walk-in shower that’s bigger than most New Yorker’s bedrooms and turn the water on to “burn your skin and sins away” hot.

After standing under the spray of water and attempting to collect myself for a long moment, I reach for the alcove in the tiled wall where bottles sit. I freeze at the familiar-looking bodywash and haircare products. They’re my brands. My exact brands. How the hell does he know what kind of shampoo I use?

Next to the bottles sits a razor with a lavender handle.

“That’s mine,” I whisper to myself after taking a closer look at it. Doing the same with the hair and body products, I find that some of them are half empty. Just like the ones I left in my own shower back at my parents’ estate. “What the…”

Rushing through the rest of my shower, I climb out and wrap myself in a giant fluffy black towel. Black to match his soul… cute.

One entire side of the bathroom is made of a long marble counter with two sinks. Between the sinks is a built-in vanity with a modern-looking stool in front of it. Opening the drawer in front of the leather seat, I discover that all my skincare and makeup have also been brought here and carefully organized.

And my electric toothbrush sits next to one of the sinks, like it’s always been kept there.

Still dripping wet, I charge out of the bathroom and into the adjoining massive closet. Sure as shit, every single garment of clothing I own is hanging or is folded neatly in the drawers in the marble-topped island in the middle of the room. Even my panties are folded and tucked neatly away. Not only are my own clothes here, but it also looks like a personal shopper had a field day with Emeric’s no-limit black card. Dozens of brand-new designer women’s pieces have been added to my wardrobe. Their tags are still dangling off them and I just know if I looked at the price of them, I’d want to throw up.

The man has been inside of me—I mean, fuck, he came in me last night—and yet, seeing my clothes and his perfectly intermingled together seems too intimate. It’s a jarring sight because until this very moment, I don’t think the gravity of yesterday’s events had really sunk in.

I’m married to Emeric Banes and now I’m living with him. This is now my home.

This is really happening.

“How is this going to work?” I ask myself like a lunatic because apparently on top of everything, I also talk to myself now. Neat.

That very question circles around in my head the entire time I dry my hair and apply my makeup. I still haven’t come up with an answer to my question by the time I’ve pulled on my favorite pair of leather leggings and a ridiculously oversized black sweater that comes down to my fingertips. The only hint of skin that is showing is a bit of my shoulder where my top hangs loosely. Good. I need to talk to my newly acquired groom, and I don’t need to give him any ideas while I do it. We both need to focus so I can get my answers.

Since my favorite pair of knee-high black boots are nowhere to be seen—another casualty to yesterday’s festivities—I settle on a pair of chunky ankle booties. My mother despised them, which only made me love them more, but it also meant I rarely got to wear them. She’s not here. She can’t tell you what to wear, a little voice in my head excitedly reminds me. Imogen Moran would keel over if she saw me wearing this. It’s too frumpy and casual for her elite tastes.

With no plan or idea for where Emeric even is, I decide my best bet is to just start wandering around the penthouse. Surely, I’ll come across him at some point, and if that doesn’t work, maybe I’ll just start a small fire. That should have him running to me in no time. Burning one—or ten—of his bespoke suits is well deserved after the show he put on yesterday.

Devious smirk on my face, I leave the safety of his bedroom and brave the rest of his luxurious space. The first thing I discover is that this well and truly is a penthouse. I was kind of just making an educated guess before since I couldn’t see Banes living in a two-bedroom apartment with a galley kitchen.

But nope, I was right. It’s an enormous fucking penthouse.

This place is obscene. What a single man is doing with this much space is beyond me. I have to remind myself that we’re not dealing with just any ordinary thirty-something-year-old male.

By every sense of the word, my parents are wealthy, but this home is calling them poor in about six different languages. I’m not an architect—never cared much about interior design either—and even I know this place is a work of art.

Three stories are connected by a wide spiral staircase that is made entirely of shiny metal and glass. Glass. It’s everywhere, between the abundant floor-to-ceiling windows and glass railings lining the various walkways on each story… one well-aimed rock could have this whole place shattering. The weirdest but prettiest chandelier I’ve ever seen hangs down the middle of the spiral staircase. I almost miss a step on my descent because I’m enthralled by the twisted metal and crystal monstrosity.

I make it down to the main level and am greeted by a very sleek and modern black and stainless-steel kitchen. It has the same vibe as his bathroom, and I can’t say it doesn’t match the property’s owner perfectly. Dark and moody with a hint of opulence.

Beyond the kitchen is a sunken-in living room with the biggest white sectional sofa I’ve ever seen. Does he have enough friends to justify this amount of seating? Doubt it. It sits in front of a black stone fireplace that reaches the second level of the penthouse.

I’m about to venture down the hallway leading past the living area, when a low growl has me turning into a piece of stone where I stand. Too afraid to breathe, I turn as slowly and calmly as I can toward the source of the noise. Emeric is psychotic enough, for all I know he could own a fucking lion. If I turn around to find Simba snarling at me, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.

To my relief, it’s not a giant cat, but it is a dog. A very large and very upset-looking Doberman Pinscher. I’m five-foot-four without any shoes on, and even in my thick-soled boots, the animal’s pointed ears reach my rib cage. It’s made of pure muscle—has to be at least one hundred pounds—and its teeth… well, I can basically count every single one with the way its lips are pulled back in a vicious snarl.

I’m trying to remember what I’m supposed to do if I’m ever faced with a dangerous animal—do I make myself big and retain eye contact or do I run screaming?—when a sharp whistle slices through the tension.

The dog’s menacing growling instantly ceases and its large head whips in the direction of the sound. I follow the animal’s gaze and find the man I’ve been searching for leaning casually against the white-painted wall.

“Cerberus, nein.” His low, raspy voice wraps around me, making shivers run down my spine. “Lass esFreund.”

Is that German?

Emeric stands in the hallway I’d been planning to search next, his arms crossed over his chest. The black button-down—an article of clothing that is a staple for him based on how many I saw hanging in the closet—is tight around his well-formed biceps and chest. Flashbacks of how his defined muscles had tightened and flexed under his golden skin as he pounded into me flood my mind. If it wasn’t for the scary man-eating dog stalking closer to me, I may have succumbed to those illicit thoughts a moment longer.

“Oh… umm,” I sputter when it pushes its cold wet snout into my fingers.

Emeric doesn’t seem the least bit concerned. “Don’t take the display of teeth personally, he’s trained to corner and neutralize intruders.” Oh lovely, he has an attack dog. “You should feel flattered that he hesitated like he did. Usually, he takes a chunk out of anyone he deems a threat without question. Just ask Nova. He’s been on the receiving end of a love bite once or twice.”

“Who the hell would be stupid enough to break in here?” Cerberus licks my fingers, making me jump back a step. Niall and Imogen have a strict no-animal policy. My experience with dogs is limited to the ones I’ve stopped to pet here and there on the street or subway. Most often than not, they were the size of stuffed animals and not the size of a small pony like this one is.

“The level of human stupidity never ceases to amaze me. Just take your father and brother, for instance.” Emeric chuckles.

“Do you think what happened yesterday was funny?”

“Immensely.” He doesn’t hesitate a second with that response. “You don’t have to worry about Cerberus. He knows you’re a friend now.”

The look on my face tells him I think he’s full of shit. “You just told me he’s bitten Nova. Isn’t that Viking your lieutenant or something? That means he’s here all the time. Meanwhile, I’m nothing but fresh meat.”

“Fresh meat?” he repeats, a wicked grin pulling at his lips. “I’ve never told him Nova is a friend.”

Cerberus walks around me in a slow circle, sniffing as he goes before returning to stand before me. This time he gives my hand a demanding nudge. Cautiously, I pet his head. The scary guard dog persona is completely gone when he plops down on his butt and happily accepts my attention.

“Why would you do that?”

“Nova isn’t scared of much. Seeing him get nervous around my dog is amusing to me.”

“Jesus, you’re…” I trail off, not knowing how to finish that sentence. The options are endless. “Why do you give him commands in German?”

Emeric stalks lazily closer to me. His expensive leather shoes clicking against the light stained hardwood floors. “I don’t want anyone else to try and tell something that belongs to me what to do. Orders should only be obeyed if they’re coming directly from me.”

It feels like there’s a deeper meaning to his words and I’m going to dissect the possibilities at a later date, but not now. Not when I’m still looking for answers.

“I was looking for you.”

This perks him right up, the wicked gleam in his eyes shifting to an arrogant one. “Oh? And what were your plans for when you found me?”

He’s hoping I’ll say something along the lines of, Jump your bones and ride you until I’m weak in the knees, so I tell him the opposite. “Stab your eyes out with a letter opener and then find your most expensive bottle of whiskey so I can propose a toast to this sham of a marriage.”

I knew it when I said it that my taunt would have the opposite desired effect on him.

Emeric’s stormy eyes all but twinkle as he traces his hand down the side of my face. “Vicious little thing, aren’t you, Rionach?” His voice drops an octave, sounding dark and delicious. Not fair. Fingers threading into the strands of loose hair around my ear, he holds me firmly in place and leans his tall body down so we’re eye level. “Nothing about our marriage is a sham. In fact, the official marriage license was signed and filed with the state this morning. My people told me your new social security card, driver’s license, and passport should be delivered within the week.”

“What? I didn’t sign anything.” Even as I say it, I know I’m being silly. A man like Emeric Banes doesn’t need to go through normal—or legal—channels to get what he wants. “And why do I need new identification?”

His lips curl as his thumb swipes over my cheekbone in slow, methodical grazes. “Because you’re no longer a Moran. You’re my wife and your name is now Rionach Kara Banes.” That sinister gleam returns to his eyes. “I like the way that sounds… it just rolls off the tongue, don’t you think?”

Cocky fucker.

I gape at him. “What if I didn’t want to change my name?”

“My bride can’t have the same last name as my competitors—even if they are agonizingly pathetic,” he explains. “Competitors doesn’t feel like a fair word for your family, though. Then again, it’s not Niall’s fault. He’s been fighting a losing battle for over a decade. Never really stood a chance.”

He’s right. My dad was never going to be strong enough to take Emeric on. I think his grand plan was to raise Tiernan to be strong enough to do it. With a single swing of an ax, Emeric proved how misguided that thinking was.

“You can change my last name, but you can’t change my blood. Doesn’t matter if my name is Moran or if it’s Banes, I will always carry their DNA.”

A look I can’t decipher flashes across his striking features, but when I blink, and it’s gone.

“You’ve never been one of them.” He grips my face tighter. “The second they decided to sell you to the Koslovs, they forfeited any claim they had on you.”

The anger I’d felt toward him yesterday while standing in the deteriorating church rears its ugly head. I shove his hand away and step back from him and his dog.

Or at least, I try to. Cerberus moves with me and lies his big body down basically on my feet.

“And what do you think that makes you? My savior?” I scoff at this. “That’s a joke and you know it. You don’t save people and even if you did, it wouldn’t be out of the goodness of your black heart.” At the root of my hair, my fingers tug at the strands as I shake my head at him. “I don’t understand you. You could have married anyone at any time. You’re powerful, richer than most small countries, and you’re hot.” Why beat around the bush? It’s not as if he doesn’t already know this. “You could have had your pick of the litter. So, I want to know. Why now? And why me? It can’t be because we fucked that one time at Tartarus. You’re not a monk. Trust me, I’m fully aware that I’m another one of the many notches on our bedpost.”

“But you are the only one to sleep in my bed.” He shares this tidbit of information so casually, meanwhile I can feel my eyebrows hit my hairline. “You’re also the first and only woman who isn’t an employee to step foot in my home.”

That can’t possibly be true and if by some insane chance it is, then it’s only going to make me more confused about why he chose me. What does he see in me that made him decide I was worthy of marrying him and sleeping in his bed?

Not willing to allow this information to completely derail me from my objective, I refortify myself against him. “Why did you force me to marry you, Emeric?”

Shoving his hands into the pockets of his black dress pants, he releases a long sigh. As he does, gray-colored eyes scan me head to toe. Just like that night in the hotel, I’m fully dressed and yet I feel exposed. That storm-cloud-filled gaze has a way of making you feel like it sees deeper than what’s visible on the surface. They see past the walls and facades you build around yourself.

“Your father and brother stole half a million dollars in weapons from me,” he starts, voice now hard and unemotional. “I was owed compensation for their thievery.”

The way he says these words makes the whole thing sound so… cold and transactional. I guess that is the correct and safe way to look at the new status of our relationship. If we can even call it that yet. We’re married, but are we in a relationship?

It’s hard to reconcile that this was nothing more than another business deal when last night, when I was tied to his bed, it felt anything but. It was intense and passionate. The complete opposite of what business should be.

My arms cross tightly against my chest. “And finding another clever way to tell my father ‘fuck you’ was just the cherry on top, right?”

“What can I say? I never turn down a good time.”

I stare at the mysterious man in front of me. Emeric’s still a puzzle to me and I’m trying to put him together while missing the crucial corner pieces. All the information I have on him is from the rumors I’ve gathered over the years and from the short moments we’ve spent together. And during those very heated moments, we weren’t exactly doing much talking.

The person I’ve married is a stranger to me, and what an alarming thought that is.

“So… half a million, huh?” I ask, shifting on my feet. The movement makes the Doberman’s big head perk up. His brown eyes flick to me once before he returns to his relaxed state. “That’s all I’m worth?”

And just like that, the impassiveness lifts from Emeric’s face. “Niall thought you were worth that much.” When he pauses, I’m ashamed of how my heart sinks. The pain of my parents’ indifference is a wound I don’t think will ever fully heal, no matter how hard I try to not let it affect me. “But me? I would have paid more.”

I’m not sure if he’s more surprised by my laugh that escapes or if I am.

He raises a dark brow. “Do you think I’m lying?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I don’t know you. Shit, I don’t know what we’re doing. My entire life feels like a giant question mark right now. That’s why I was coming to find you, so we could talk.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

Oh, what a loaded fucking question. “Mainly, I just want to know how the hell this is going to work.”

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