Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 2

RIONACH

“O’Malley went to grab the car, sir,” my father’s head of security, Brayden, tells us as we wait for the attendant at the coat check. Similarly to Mom, Bray moved here from the motherland and his accent is just as thick as it was twenty years ago when he first stepped foot in America. “It should only be a few more minutes. I’m going to wait by the door. I’ll come gather you when he pulls up.”

Like my father, he has a stockier build. Unlike my father, he doesn’t have a gut. His hair is shaved close to his head and the red beard that gives away his Irish heritage is longer but still well groomed. Although he’s not a very vocal man and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen him smile, he’s always been kind to me. Honestly, if I were ever in a bind and needed help, he’s the one I’d call. My parents would be my last resort, and my brother… well, I would literally have to be dying to call that man and even then, dying may be the better alternative. Owing Tiernan a debt of any kind is the last thing I want.

My father barely acknowledges Bray as he leaves us, he’s too busy muttering about something with Tiernan. I somehow managed to avoid both of them tonight and after my run-in with Polina, I never spoke to Mom again. That doesn’t mean I didn’t hear her. Her fake-as-hell laughter tends to echo.

All in all, tonight could have been worse. It was boring as hell but I wasn’t trapped in any more awkward conversations and my father didn’t try to introduce me to any potential future husbands.

Yeah… husbands.

I’ve never been naïve to what my future is going to be. As the daughter, I was never going to be groomed to take over the business like Tiernan has been. If anything, they go out of their way to keep me blind to that side of our family. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a tendency to eavesdrop. What can I say? Our house is older, and the air vents carry more voices than actual heat.

My only worth in this world I’ve been raised in is my last name and my womb. Both things that will be auctioned off to the highest bidder when the time comes. And that time is fast approaching. At twenty-four years old, I’m already considered old in some people’s eyes. Most prefer to marry their girls off by eighteen. My mistake years ago granted me a few extra years of singlehood, but it’s only a matter of time before they find a made man willing to overlook my flaw.

If it weren’t for my mother’s parents, I’m sure I would have been married off the day after I turned eighteen, but they insisted that I attend college before that happened. My grandfather is the boss back in Ireland and I’m fairly certain my father is scared of his in-laws. Every day I was at NYU, I sent a silent thank-you to my grandparents for stepping in and gifting me that small taste of independence.

Those short few years are the only true taste I’m going to be granted. After I’m married off, I’ll trade in my innocent-mobster-daughter persona for a well-behaved-mobster-housewife one. If I don’t want to bring shame upon my family and my husband, they’ll expect me to fall pregnant within the first year of marriage.

Domesticity is a lot of women’s dream; the picket fences, golden retrievers, and minivans full of giggling children the ultimate end goal.

It sounds like another cage to me.

The girl gives me a quick nod when she hands over my long black coat before disappearing back between the racks of other outerwear. I’ve barely turned away from her when the wool fabric is yanked from my fingers.

“I got it.” Tiernan gives me his signature grin, the one that portrays something more sinister than genuine happiness, as he holds the coat out for me to easily slip into.

“I’m more than capable of putting on my own coat.”

His brown eyes, the same color as our father’s, darken and the corners of his mouth pull tighter. “I know, but I wanted to help.”

I stare at him a second longer, debating if it’s really worth fighting him on this before giving in and turning my back to him. You know how they tell you, you should never turn your back to a mountain lion? This feels similar to that.

I’ve seen firsthand what happens when he gets his claws in his prey, and it’s not pretty. On more than one occasion, I’ve woken up from nightmares of that night. The night all my suspicions about my brother were confirmed in a very bloody way.

My body aches at the effort it takes to remain still and it’s a true test of my willpower to not flinch when I feel his warm fingers trail against the skin of my neck. I stop breathing altogether when he gathers the long strands of my trapped hair and pulls it free from my collar.

His hands press into the top of my shoulders and his breath tickles my ear when he murmurs, “There you go.”

“Thank you,” I grind out, stepping forward two steps once his hands are off my body.

Tiernan wasn’t always bad at respecting my personal space. Most of my childhood, it was a miracle if he even spoke to me. Something happened when I turned thirteen, though. Suddenly I couldn’t be in a room with him without him finding some reason to touch me. Similar to the one a moment ago, they’ve all been seemingly innocent touches.

While my parents act like I’m invisible and don’t look at me, Tiernan’s calculating gaze is locked on me more often than I’d prefer. The dark look has sent chills down my spine for over a decade. He hasn’t done anything to me that could be considered a problem, but everything in me tells me that he’s thought about it… that it’s only a matter of time before the voices in his mind win.

“Mom said she introduced you to the Koslov woman.”

He shoves his hands into the pockets of his coat like he’s trying to make himself appear casual. Something he’s failing miserably at. It doesn’t matter how he stands, the crazy radiating from him is practically tangible.

“She did,” I nod, unsure where this is going, but I’m even more suspicious about the odd interaction with Polina earlier. Something is definitely going on and I don’t enjoy being in the dark.

“What did you think of her?”

Oh yeah, I’m not falling into that trap, so I lie. “I spoke to her for only a moment, Tiernan. It wouldn’t be fair of me to create an opinion on someone based on a passing conversation.” My head cocks. “Don’t you agree?”

I’m saved from having to continue this conversation when Bray shows back up and motions to my father for all of us to follow him to the exit. Loitering back a couple steps, I wait for Tiernan to walk ahead of me so I can continue to maintain the distance I’d established between us.

With my head down and eyes locked on the shiny marble floors of the hotel lobby, I silently follow behind them all. I’ve taken no more than five steps when I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end and my scalp tingle in awareness. It’s a different sensation than the usual one I get when Tiernan is leering. It still sets my alarm bells off, telling me something dangerous is lurking within the crowd, but it’s not the same kind of danger that my brother emanates. It’s the kind of danger I relish… the kind I go out of my way to find. To be sure it isn’t coming from him, I lift my gaze to my brother’s back, but it never finds him because someone else is standing directly in my path.

One look at his alarmingly symmetrical face and I’m stuck frozen in place, the air sucked violently out of my lungs. His wavy hair is black, the kind of black that doesn’t reflect light but absorbs it, and his eyes are the color of the sky when a thunderstorm is rolling in. Like bottled lightning, I swear there are glints of silver flashing within those orbs every time he blinks. The energy around his tall frame is just as magnetic and alive as the storm in his eyes. The air surrounding him is crackling with a wickedness that, if I were normal, I’m sure would scare me away.

I think we’ve already established I’m not normal and that I don’t run away from fear, but toward it. Even to my detriment.

I know who he is. Of course, I know who he is. The entirety of New York knows who this man is, and if for some reason they don’t, they know his name. His name is almost more notorious than he is. It’s a name I’ve heard my father curse more often than I can count. It’s whispered in fear across the city and beyond, and looking at him now, I have no doubt it’s moaned just as often.

Emeric Banes is the human embodiment of sin itself.

Between parted lips, I suck in my first shuddering breath since being trapped in his crosshairs. Like a predator, his head cocks to the side as he leisurely examines me. My skin warms with the trail his eyes make. With my long coat on, I’m basically fully clothed, and yet he makes me feel as if I’m standing here naked.

The Banes family makes the other organized crime families look like amateurs. Like they’re nothing more than hobby criminals. And that’s all thanks to Emeric and his ruthlessness. He took what his ancestors made and built it into something more. His family’s influence expands far past this city, and it’s said they’re even pulling strings in the government now. That’s something that will never be confirmed, but with one look at this man now, I know it’s true. Unadulterated power seeps from Emeric Banes’s pores and I’m all but choking on it as I greedily breathe it in. There is no doubt in my mind his power has successfully slithered its way to Washington.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been in the same room as him. No, like us, Banes is a frequent flyer at events similar to this one. No doubt trying to keep up the upstanding citizen façade like the rest of the crime families here. Through the years, I’ve caught glimpses of the infamous man before me, but never have I had the opportunity—the privilege—to inspect him as I am now.

Tall, dark, and oh-so fucking dangerous.

I should break this spell and walk away. If the red soles of my Louboutins would unglue themselves from the floor, I’d do just that… well, I think I would. My brain may be short-circuiting right now.

As if he can read my mind, the corner of Emeric’s mouth curls into a smirk and I swear my heart momentarily stops. Wicked. That’s the only way to describe that smirk. It’s a look that promises something I haven’t yet figured out but somehow, I know it’d be my kind of fun. A type of fun I’d be an idiot to indulge in.

His dark brow lifts as if he’s daring me to do something. Your guess is as good as mine about what that could be. There’s a litany of things someone like Emeric could want from me and I’m not in a position to give him anything—no matter how tempting. I learned my lesson when I was eighteen about the consequences of allowing men to come near me. If I think hard enough about it, I can still feel the sting of my mother’s palm against my cheek after they found me in that hotel room.

When my eyes narrow at him in challenge, his smirk only grows.

Trouble. Trouble. Trouble.

His Italian leather shoe lifts from the ground like he’s decided if I’m not going to come to him, he’s coming to me.

His other foot never gets the chance to move because a thunderous voice cuts through the constant droning of the patrons around us and echoes off the marble of the lobby.

Banes!

The sudden sound is loud and abrupt enough that it has everyone halting and the Emeric Banes spell I’ve fallen under breaking.

You know in movies when something terrible happens and everything starts to move in slow motion? I didn’t think that was something that could happen in real life, but as a man emerges from the crowd with a dark hood pulled over his head and he lifts his arm, the silver gun in his hand gleaming, time slows to a crawl.

The screams of the people around me sound like they’re miles away and I barely feel their bodies bump into mine as they try to flee from the gunman. I should probably be following their lead by running, just like I should be feeling what they’re feeling—that sickly nauseating kind of terror when faced with the possibility of death. But I’m not scared.

Just like he’s not scared.

The cunning gleam in Emeric’s eyes never falters. Not when he turns his head to meet the man head-on and not when the man pulls the trigger. He barely even blinks when a giant tattooed wall of muscle slams himself into the gunman’s smaller frame and takes him to marble floor at the same time the gunshot pierces through the air.

The two men crumble to the ground at Emeric’s feet with a violent thud.

Like a rubber band snapping, time returns to its normal pace. It’s utter and complete chaos around me and my ears are now ringing from the gun going off less than ten feet from me. People are still shoving past me, but I’m a rock in a river, refusing to move from the spot I’ve been glued to for these long minutes.

Blood seeps from between Emeric’s fingers as he presses them into the wound at his left shoulder. If the tattooed beast of a man hadn’t jumped in when he had, Banes would probably be dead on the ground, his blood staining the shiny pristine floors.

Despite the gunshot wound in his shoulder, he’s still the picture of calm as he gives orders to the tattooed man. By the look of respect on his face, I’m guessing his savior is part of his security detail. Whatever Emeric commanded the guy has him pulling the assailant off the ground and violently yanking him toward the exit. No doubt cops are on their way here as we speak, and there’s not a chance in hell someone like Emeric Banes is going to allow the NYPD to deal with his attempted assassin. My guess is that guy doesn’t last the night and will inevitably die by Banes’s own hands.

Emeric watches them leave before turning his attention back to me. This time it’s his turn to narrow his eyes, but he’s not challenging me. No, he’s looking at me like I’m something he’s trying to figure out, as if I’m a puzzle he doesn’t understand.

A figure in a dark suit steps in front of me, blocking my view of the most dangerous man in New York, and a hand clasps my shoulder.

“Rionach!” Brayden’s bearded face is suddenly level with mine and concerned dark green eyes scan me wildly. When I don’t immediately answer my father’s head of security, he tries again, this time yelling my nickname loud enough to cut through the ringing in my ears. “Rio! Goddammit! Answer me. Are you okay?”

Blinking slowly once more, I shift my eyes to meet Brayden’s.

My shoulders shrug under his tight hold. “Jesus, Bray, you don’t have to yell. I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be? I obviously wasn’t the target.” I gesture casually behind him. “They already got the guy out of the building. Honestly, the whole thing was anticlimactic, but who knew a hooded gunman is all it’d take to make one of these fucking events more exciting.” I give him a rare, genuine smile. “We should keep that in mind for the next one they decide to parade me around at. Could be a quick and easy way to leave early.”

The long exhale that comes out of him as he shakes his head at me only makes me smile harder.

“I swear to God, you’re going to be the reason I retire early.”

Bray is probably the only person in my household I don’t have to watch what I say around. He knows the soft-spoken and innocent persona is nothing more than a mask.

“That’s a dirty lie and you know it,” I wave him off. “You’d miss me.”

His only response is an unamused grunt as his arm comes around my shoulders and he ushers me toward the exit. With his wide frame out of my way, I instantly seek out the captivating man from before, but the only evidence that he was truly ever in this room with me are the bright red drops of blood on the white floors.

“Fucking Banes…” Bray growls as we pass the bloodstain.

I can’t stop myself from asking, “Why would someone be dumb enough to try and kill him during a public event?”

The real question is, why would someone be dumb enough to try and kill him, period? You don’t come after a man like Emeric unless you’re one thousand percent certain you’re going to be successful in killing him, because if he can still get up when you’re done with him, you’re going to wish you were dead.

“The path to the top doesn’t come without making a few enemies, and if there’s anything Emeric Banes does best… it’s making enemies.”

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