Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 18

EMERIC

Similar to how I felt last night watching her sleep in my bed, I get the oddest sense of rightness when Rionach makes herself comfortable on my couch. The sensation sits in my chest, right under my sternum. It’s so prominent, I find myself rubbing at the spot. Once. Twice. Three times. I have to force my hand back to my side so I don’t draw her attention to something I don’t understand myself.

Aside from Nova and Cerberus, I don’t enjoy having people in my space, and even then, Nova knows when he’s worn out his welcome. My home is my haven away from the battlefield that is my world and all the bullshit that comes from it. Allowing another person—specifically a woman—to sully that was something I was never willing to do. Arranging meetings at the sex club below Tartarus kept that line in the sand between casual and commitment well defined. Commitment is something I was never able to offer, or something I wanted in life.

Until her.

My obsession for Rionach is something I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully comprehend, but I don’t need to. Her parents barely put up a fight for their daughter, meanwhile I’d paint my city red with blood if someone tries to take her from me. My wife will need to be pulled from my cold dead hands for me to willingly give her up.

And from the looks of it, my dog—who’s been trained to rip out throats and has more kills under his belt than some of my soldiers—is also completely enthralled with the pretty girl. Knowing he’s not allowed on the furniture, he sits as close to her as he can get while resting his big head in her lap.

Without trying, Rionach already has Cerberus wrapped around her finger.

“So…” she prompts. “How do you see this working?”

I rest my arms on the back of the sectional and cross my leg over my knee. “What specifically are you asking? We’re married. We’ll live here together as husband and wife.”

“We’re going to, what? Play house? For how long?”

This has my eyes narrowing. “What do you mean ‘for how long’?”

Either unfazed or unaware of my shift in tone, Rionach just lifts her narrow shoulders. “I just want to know how long you plan to keep this up—what your end goal is here. Will you decide you’ve had enough when the amusement of my father and brother being pissed at you wears off, or maybe you’ll grow bored of me and that’s when you’ll realize you’ve made a mistake?”

She thinks I’ve made a mistake by marrying her?

While some would think that what she’s saying makes her sound like a needy or insecure girlfriend looking for reassurance, I know that’s not Rionach. It’s not her character. If anything, I think she’s asking these questions so she can plan and try to stay two steps ahead of the ending she clearly thinks is already barreling toward her.

“Did you not hear what I said yesterday?” My head cocks to the side as I greedily take her in. From what I’ve learned and observed during these past few weeks, her minimal makeup and casual outfit would never fly with her parents’ standards. “Till death do us part. I would strongly recommend you stop anticipating our demise because one of our hearts will have to be still in our chests for this marriage to end. It’s best you just accept it now.”

She fidgets in her seat for a second, attention shifting to the dog staring adoringly up at her. What a fucking sap. “What? Don’t tell me you don’t believe in divorce,” she says, still not looking at me.

“Quite the opposite. I’m a very strong advocate of divorce,” I correct. The best thing my brother did was divorce the hag who trapped him into marriage, and to this day, I wish our mother had been strong enough to do the same and leave our father. She might still be alive if she had. “I just don’t believe in ours. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m a very possessive man, Rionach. I don’t let go of things once they are mine. Not without a bloody fight, that is, and we both know I always win.”

“Okay, so we’re stuck married to each other⁠—”

“Stuck?” I repeat, shifting my body so I’m leaning my elbows on my knees. “If that’s how you see marriage, would you rather be stuck with me or with Bogdan? Either way, you were always going to end up married. At least as my wife, you’ll get to live.”

The second she pushed out a Koslov baby, her life expectancy would have dropped dramatically. If she lived to see the age of twenty-six, she would have been lucky.

“Do I?” she starts, green eyes sparking. “Get to live, I mean. What are you expecting from your wife, Emeric, because I’ll tell you right now, being arm candy at fancy social events and being a subservient housewife isn’t my idea of living. What am I supposed to do? Wait around—alone—here in your penthouse all day, and have a scotch poured and waiting for you when you finally wander home? And then what? Once you’re done eating the hot meal I no doubt prepared, I’m supposed to just spread my legs for you. Then we just repeat it over and over again until one of us dies? That’s not living, that’s hell.”

“Do I look or act like the kind of man who would want that?” She really hasn’t been paying attention if that’s the case. “I’m not sure what I’ve done that’s given you the impression that my dick gets hard for the pearl-wearing Betty-fucking-Crocker types, but that isn’t correct. If I wanted one of them, I could have been married ten times over by now with all those aristocratic daddies acting like their daughters’ pimp.” The mothers are even worse.

The look on her face tells me she doesn’t quite believe what I’m telling her. “It’s been my experience that the innocent girls wearing a string of pearls are exactly the kind of wife men like you are looking for.”

I know the second the expression on my face turns lethal because she sits up straighter on her couch cushion.

“This one time, I’m going to let you have a pass for grouping me in with the cocksuckers you were raised around.” Those pseudo-alpha types who demand virgins and submissive wives are the very men who start crying the second I walk into my concrete room with a pair of pliers. No, I’m nothing like them. “As for what your daily schedule will look like as my wife, we’ll need to figure that out. Contrary to what you’re currently assuming, the only cage I want to keep you in resides under Tartarus. I don’t want to keep you locked up at home because, you’re right, that’s no way to live.”

The relief she feels hearing this washes across her face immediately. “So, if I wanted, I could leave whenever and do whatever I want?”

I find myself curious about what she wants to do with her freedom. She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl who will spend her entire day in high-end boutiques shopping her little heart away. Perhaps I can find her a safe position somewhere working with me. That would solve two of our problems: her boredom and my very obsessive desire to keep her close to me at all times.

“Not by yourself,” I correct, instantly stealing her relief. “The last name Banes offers you a level of protection you’ve never had before, but it also paints a target on your back. It’s no secret I’ve amassed quite the list of enemies over the years. To get to me, they’ll now try to use you.” My obsession. My weakness. My wife. I knew when I gave her my last name that they’d try to use her against me and when they do, they’ll quickly—and brutally—learn what a vast mistake that is. I thought I was creative before with my torture, but if someone comes for my wife, there’s no saying what I’ll do. “I’m working on finding the right guards to assign to your detail. It should only take a few more days. Nova is narrowing down the candidates as we speak.” It would seem I’m having difficulty selecting a man I can trust to keep his hands and eyes off my girl. “Until that happens, you will have to stay in the penthouse unless Nova or I are available to escort you.”

“Escort me? And ugh, bodyguards. The only one I ever liked was Brayden, but the rest were either mean as hell or pervy. Or both,” Rionach groans, slumping farther into the couch. Sighing, she rests her head on the back of the cushion. After a second of contemplation, she says, “Promise it will only be a couple of days. I’m serious about this. While it’s a very pretty cage, it’s still a cage if you keep me locked up in here.”

I nod. “I’ll speak to Nova about it when I meet him in a bit.”

She pats the top of my lovestruck dog’s head. “Fine. I’ll stay cooped up in your gargantuan penthouse with your dog.” She gives me a pointed look. “For two days. Only. If you try to keep me in here longer than that, I’m warning you now, I won’t be so compliant with your plan.”

“Oh? Is that right? Do you worst, Rionach. I would love to see what you have up your sleeve.” She’s going to find out soon that the only way to access the elevator is with a key card. If she wants to leave this place, she’ll need one of them, and since there’s only five of them in existence, her chances of escape aren’t looking too good.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” The not-so-innocent look that dances across her face almost has been picking her up and bringing her back to my bedroom.

“I heard you loud and clear,” I counter, completely unconcerned with her threat. “Cerberus is better trained and more lethal than most of my soldiers. He’ll keep you safe while I’m away at work.”

“Then you should just hire him to guard me. He’s cute and he can’t talk. Sounds like a win-win situation to me,” she offers with a small but real smile. It’s the first one that’s graced her lips since we were married. “Also, Cerberus and Tartarus… do you have a thing for Greek mythology?”

“I’m impressed you put that together.” I incline my head at her.

She smiles again with a casual lift of her shoulders. “What can I say? I majored in hospitality and minored in myth studies at NYU. The Greek stories were my favorite.”

This has my own lips twitching. This is just another odd but perfect way that Rionach’s pieces fit with mine. “My mother was half Greek and spent most of her childhood in Greece. Instead of reading traditional bedtime stories, she told my brothers and I the myths she grew up hearing. They must have stuck because I named my guard dog after Hades’s beast, and my brother Astor has a golden eagle named Periphas after a legend about Zeus.”

Rionach’s mouth gapes a little. “Your brother has an eagle? What kind of pet is that?”

I bark out a laugh. “Not a good one. Between the bird and his newly acquired wife’s thoroughbred horse, he basically has a fucking petting zoo.”

“Your brother recently got married too?”

“Yes, a few months back. Her name is Indie. Remind me to tell you about how he met his bride sometime. It’s quite the story.” Astor tries to pretend he’s removed himself from the depravity we were raised in by becoming a prestigious member of academia in Seattle, but he’s a Banes through and through. Stealing his own son’s girlfriend is evidence of that. The fact that he also tossed his wife’s stepfather out the side of a helicopter is further proof he’s not as straitlaced as he tries to be. Flying out there to assist him with that endeavor was a bucket of fun… a true brotherly bonding moment for us, if I do say so myself.

She leans forward and considers me with a look I can’t quite decipher.

“What?”

“This is just the first bit of information I’ve learned about you that isn’t about your diabolical warfare or the havoc you wreak on the city. Or about what your tastes are like in bed,” she explains, her eyes flashing at the mention of our more intimate time spent together. “This was just about you. Your family. It was real.”

Talking about my family or personal details about myself always felt like a surefire way to give my enemies ammunition to use against me or my growing empire. It always seemed smarter to never allow someone to delve that deep. It helps that I scare most people shitless and they wouldn’t dare try to pry for personal information about me. There was a time both Astor and I worried about my nephew, Callan. Just as I will do with my own children when the time comes, we kept Callan shielded and protected from the ugliness of this world for as long as we could. That came to an end last summer when he visited and informed me he was ready to be involved in the family business. At almost twenty-four years old, who was I to tell the young man no? By the time I was his age, I’d been running the Banes empire for nearly three years.

“You should do that more often moving forward. If we’re really married, I’d prefer if I didn’t feel like I was cohabitating with a complete stranger who occasionally fucks me.” Her eyes flick over me from head to toe. “That’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about.”

“You want to talk about me fucking you?” I muse with a smirk. “I’m liking this change in subject already. Where should we start?”

This time she doesn’t smile. “We can start with you telling me whether or not you’re going to fuck other women while you’re married to me. From what I’ve seen, faithfulness isn’t something taken very seriously in our world. I might not have much to my name or to offer, but I have my pride and I’m not going to let you take that from me. I’ve seen the wives dangling off their husbands’ arms thinking they’re a prized possession while everyone else in the room knows he spends his weekends with his mistress. It’s sad and embarrassing, and I swore I’d never end up as one of those women if I could help it.” That stubborn look of hers settles across her face. “So far, you’ve demanded everything from me, and I haven’t gotten a say in any of it, but I am going to demand this. Treat me with the respect I deserve and keep your dick out of other people.”

“Keep my dick out of other people?” I repeat, rising from my place on the opposite side of the sofa. I close the distance between us and prowl to her. My dog ducks out of the room before I come to a stop directly in front of her legs. Her eyes flare when I lean over her sitting frame and take hold of the back of the cushion behind her, effectively caging her in. This isn’t her first—or last—time being trapped by me and just like before, there isn’t a glimmer of fear on her face as she tilts her chin up to look at me. “You think I want to fuck other people?”

I’m fixated by the way her tongue sneaks out and swipes across her bottom lip—a lip I very much want to bite. My own lip is still tender today from where her teeth sank into it yesterday at the church, I’m so very tempted to even the score now.

“How am I supposed to know what you want?” she asks, breath hitching in her throat when the tip of my nose trails from her temple down to her defined jawline.

“You ask,” I whisper. “And I’ll tell you exactly what I want.”

I press my lips to where her pulse is thundering in her throat. Gasping at the contact, her hands, which had been sitting in her lap, snap out and fist my shirt at my sides.

“What do you want, Emeric?” With barely any contact, I’ve made her voice go from strong—demanding—to breathless. So. Fucking. Responsive.

I nip at the creamy flesh of her neck. “Princess, do you honestly think I would go through all the fucking trouble of making you my wife if I wanted to, as you so eloquently put it, stick my dick in anyone else? I’m a very busy man with a lot of options at my fingertips. Options I don’t have to bloody or tire myself to obtain. I don’t have to work to get what I want, but for you, I did. What does that tell you?”

“That you want me.”

“Yes,” I hiss, skimming my lips against hers.

She still doesn’t know the entirety of my reasoning for taking her as my wife. When she asked, I momentarily considered telling her about seeing her on the roof—about what I saw in her up there. That piece of her she keeps so well hidden calls to me like I am a moth to a flame, but I know she isn’t ready to learn the whole truth. For now, her believing I wanted her because of what her family did is good enough. In time, when she finally comes into her own and spreads her wings, I’ll tell her the truth.

Rionach pushes herself higher to try and deepen the barely-there kiss. I pull away before she can succeed at doing so. The frustrated look reflected back at me almost makes me grin.

“I’m not going to fuck anyone else.” It seems trivial to vow such a thing when I haven’t so much as thought about other women in nearly two months. “But, my dear wife, you must know by now that I’m not a man who shares well. I already showed you what happens to people who steal from me, and you…” I caress the side of her face adoringly before seizing it in a tight, unyielding hold, “Are my most priceless possession. If another man touches you, not only will he lose his hands and his cock, but he will also lose his life. And I will take them in that very order. Then I will bring them home to you gift wrapped like it’s fucking Christmas. We haven’t even begun to talk about what your punishment will be if you let another man’s hands anywhere near you, Rionach.”

She doesn’t cower, doesn’t even flinch at my threat. Instead, she stares up at me like she’s considering allowing another man near her just so she can learn what her punishment could be. The possibility of pain and reprimand by my hands excites my wife.

“Glad we made that clear,” she exhales, and the breath of air dances across my lips and chin. “And it’s Rio. My friends call me Rio.”

Unable to stop myself, I graze her bottom lip with my blunt teeth. “I’m not your friend.” With one last slow, gluttonous perusal of her pretty features, I retreat and stand to my full height. “I’m your lawfully wedded husband.”

“So you keep reminding me,” Rionach quips sarcastically. She shifts to the edge of her seat when she notices me backing out of the room. “Where are you going?”

I check the Rolex on my wrist. Yep, I’m going to be late but getting to talk to Rionach is worth ruffling Nova’s Boy Scout feathers. That man hasn’t been late a day in his life. What a goddamn show-off. I already know I’m going to be walking into a room with an irritated and huffy tattooed not-so-Jolly Green Giant.

“Nova is waiting for me at the office. We have to go over a shipment we’re expecting from our Turkish contacts. With your brother helping himself to my inventory, I’m trying to bring in new merchandise. Buyers were already lined up and waiting for those weapons to be delivered to them. While they’ll be patient with my tardiness, it would be bad business to keep them waiting much longer.”

Rionach’s brows shoot up and she gapes at me a moment before clearing her throat and composing herself. “I can’t believe you just told me that.”

“Why not? You asked. I answered.”

“I’m not used to getting a real answer when I ask questions like that one. Usually, I get some vague response… that’s if I get a response at all.” She stands from the couch and moves her waist-length hair over one shoulder. “I’m more accustomed to being kept in the dark about these kinds of things. A woman’s place is in the kitchen and all that other bullshit, I guess.”

Her family’s antiquated belief system is going to be the thing that destroys them. It hinders their growth and keeps them in the dark ages. Some of the best business-minded people I’ve ever come across are women—just look at Giuliana. She can make grown men cry in courtrooms and she smiles while she does it. She’s a cold-blooded shark who not only helps keep me out of federal prison but also helps me make hundreds of millions a year.

I want to allow Rionach to become something more than what she’s been offered her whole life, but I also need to ensure her safety. If she gets in too deep with the murkier sides of my business, it will implicate her in the criminal activity, and orange is simply not her color.

“I’m never going to be able to tell you everything. It would be unwise and unsafe to do so,” I explain. “But I will try to always tell you what I can.”

Her head nods once. “Thank you.” I find it interesting how providing her with that little bit of reassurance seems to put her at ease. “Okay. Well, I’ll snoop around here for a while and find something to entertain myself with. Will you be home late?”

While it might not look like it, I feel every nerve in my body stumble at this question. When was the last time someone was waiting for me at home? It must have been when I was eleven and my mother was alive. When my father was unfortunately still breathing air and I was sharing a roof with my brothers, it was never this way.

I manage to shake off the unwanted memories that flood my head. That’s twice today that I’ve thought about Mom, and I’m not sure if I like it. Sometimes our mind does us a favor by burying memories. It’s a way of self-preservation.

“Most likely. Don’t plan on me being home for dinner. My housekeeper and chef comes three days a week, and loads the fridge with meals. Help yourself to anything you want, and if you need anything, there’s a new cell phone waiting for you on the kitchen counter. My number as well as Nova’s is programmed into it.”

“What happened to my cell phone?”

“Fuck if I know.” I shrug. Truly, I don’t have the slightest clue where it ended up after Mathias collected it from her. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t want anyone with the last name Moran to have a way of accessing you. A new phone number will help rectify that.”

The new phone’s location is also shared with mine, so I will be able to monitor her movements once she’s allowed out of the safety of my home and able to wander as she pleases. Wander within reason, the possessive and newly protective demon inside me whispers.

I move back to her and press a kiss to her head. The scent of her shampoo floods my nose and I breathe it in deeply. I’m not ashamed to admit I smelled the citrus-scented shampoo this morning when I found it in my shower. While Giuliana and the guards brought Rionach to the church, a handful of men stayed behind and packed up every single item that belonged to Rionach. They were just finishing moving her belongings into my room when I arrived home with my unconscious bride. I wanted her to have her own things here to help make the transition easier, but here was no way in hell I was going to allow her to go back to her parents’ estate to collect them herself.

“Have fun snooping.”

“I’m going to start with your underwear drawer.”

I bark out a laugh. “Good luck finding that. I don’t wear underwear.”

On that cheerful note, I leave my brand-new wife alone to explore her new home. During the entire one hundred and twenty-nine floor elevator ride down to the parking garage, I have to stop myself from going back up and bringing her to work with me.

Rionach Kara Banes has made me into a stage five clinger, and I can’t say I’m mad about it.

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