Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 20


I’m knee-deep in my fourth movie of the day and almost completely through a bag of potato chips, when the dog who’s been resting at the base of my recliner rears up into a sitting position. Cerberus’s attention is now laser-focused on the doorway of the movie room. Following his intent gaze, I find a blonde woman standing there.

If I had to guess, I’d say she’s about ten to fifteen years older than me, and she’s pretty and tall—model pretty and tall. Her all-cream outfit reminds me of something my mother would wear. All clean lines and sophisticated. I’m almost positive Mom owns the same leather slip-on loafers the mystery woman is wearing.

“My name is Anneli,” she says, not making any move to step farther into the room. Her dark eyes keep flicking to where Cerberus sits. Wonder if she’s just not a fan of dogs or if she too has been a victim to a couple of those “love bites” Emeric talked about yesterday?

Shifting to the edge of the leather chair, I give her a brief wave. “I’m Rionach.”

“I know who you are.” Her voice, which has a slight accent to it that I can’t place, matches the same look written over her pretty face. Complete neutrality. She’s neither impressed nor aggravated by my presence here. “I’d wager most of the city knows who you are, and if they didn’t before, they do now. When the CEO of Banes Corporation announces he’s taken a wife, people are going to stop and take note.”

He announced our marriage? Jesus Christ, did he send it in his weekly newsletter or something? I can only imagine what was actually included in the announcement, but I’d bet my life it wasn’t exactly factual. There’s no way in hell Emeric can publicize the truth. Could you imagine what that statement would read like? “The notorious Emeric Banes fucked an Irish girl once in a giant birdcage. She must have left one hell of an impression because a week later, he’s stuffing her into a pretty dress and making her say “I do”. Oh, and let’s not forget about the small little detail of him chopping body parts off her brother and going biblical on her father’s ass. May they live happily ever after and all that jazz.” Yeah, no. That, while an immensely more entertaining story, simply wouldn’t work. It’s best the public and whoever else might be reading his statement believe whatever fabricated tale he spun about our nuptials.

But what about the Koslovs? Isn’t Emeric just rubbing it in their faces that he stole me from them and ruined the deal they had with my family? I might not be fully versed in the intricate dealings of this world but doing that doesn’t seem like the brightest of ideas. Then again, when you’re as powerful and psychotic as Emeric, you don’t have to worry about retribution.

Though, I’m not sure if that level of self-assurance is a positive or a negative in this case. People at the top tend to stop expecting attacks or uprisings from their underlings. I hope for Emeric’s sake that he’s retained some sense of humility through his rise to power.

“Oookay…” I drawl, reaching out to stroke the top of Cerberus’s head. “Well, you have me at a disadvantage then because I’m afraid I don’t know who you are.”

She clasps her well-manicured hands in front of herself. “Personally, I like to think of myself as Mr. Banes’s house manager. His assistant of sorts, if you will.” The unmistakable flicker in her brown eyes doesn’t go unmissed when she says his name.

The way she chose to phrase that has my eyebrows rising. “And what title does Emeric use for you?” Anneli’s neutral look falters at the same time I plant one of my well-trained smiles on my face. “I’m sorry. This is all new and my entire life has been turned on its axis. I’m trying to relearn what’s up and what’s down. I need to get my bearings and learn who’s who. You understand, right?”

“Of course.” She inclines her head, but her accented voice is now unmistakably tight. “Officially, my title is housekeeper and chef, but I do much more than cook and clean. I keep the house stocked with everything Mr. Banes requires and run errands when needed. I also keep track of his event and appearance schedule.”

I feel my eyes widen. “You’re in charge of cleaning this entire place? This penthouse must be over ten thousand square feet⁠—”

“Seventeen thousand five hundred and forty-five square feet. To be exact,” Anneli corrects. “And no. I don’t clean the entire home. There are two other housekeepers who assist me. I’m only in charge of the kitchen and the primary suite. Mr. Banes doesn’t allow anyone else into his personal bedroom. As you can imagine, a man of his caliber must take his privacy very seriously.”

Ah. So, when he mentioned the only women to step foot in his home were employed by him, he was talking about this Victoria’s Secret model and her team. Got it.

There’s no denying the very obvious fact that Anneli is a beautiful human and coupled with the fact that she’s intimately familiar with Emeric’s space—a space I still very much feel like an intruder in—I’m ashamed to admit there’s a twinge of jealousy currently bubbling in my gut. Emeric and Anneli are both stupid hot. It wouldn’t be an illogical to assume they’ve slept together, and I can’t exactly fault Emeric for having a life before he decided I was to be his wife. That would be insane of me… right?

Getting jealous over a man who kidnapped you and then coerced you into marriage might be a new low for you, Rio, that dumb little voice living in the back of my head pipes in.

But it doesn’t really matter how we got here, does it? We’re already here. The papers are signed, I’m sleeping in his bed and my clothes are hanging next to his in the closet. At the end of the day, I’m married to Emeric. He’s my husband and he promised me he’ll remain faithful. Until he gives me a reason to believe he’s not keeping up his end of the bargain and Anneli treats me with respect, everything will be fine.

I’ve been married to the fool for a little more than forty-eight hours, I can’t go peeing circles around the man. A man who I’m not even sure I like yet. As a person that is. There’s no doubt in my mind I thoroughly enjoy how he makes my body feel. I’m not sure how I feel about him in my head yet. Part of me believes if I truly allow myself to like him as a person, it’ll put me on the fast track to developing real feelings for his crazy ass. And as it is, if he keeps me locked up in this place like he has, it’s going to become a Beauty and the Beast situation and make me develop Stockholm syndrome, but at the end of this story, I don’t foresee the sexy growly beast turning into a pampered-looking prince.

“I guess you were right,” I say, returning my full attention to Anneli. “You really are like the house manager.”

The blonde’s pale pink lips flick up for only a mere second, but I don’t miss it or the way she seems to relax. “That’s why I came to find you. Mr. Banes called me. You are to attend a dinner meeting with him tonight.”

I am?”

“Yes. You are.” It doesn’t sound like there’s much room for debate on this one. “He mentioned that he’d tried contacting you himself, but you didn’t answer the call. He asked me to ensure the new cell phone is working properly.” A perfectly waxed brow arches at me in silent question.

“Oh!” I search the blanket and leather chairs on either side of me. “It works fine, I think I must have left it in his bedroom this morning.”

Without my full contact list and access to my social media accounts, I haven’t seen much use for the device. I’m aware that I could sign into my accounts at any time, but it’s been sort of nice detoxing from the internet for the last two days. I also have my parents’ phone numbers memorized; if I wanted to, I could call them but they’re the last people I want to talk to right now. I find I don’t even want to know if Dad managed to pull himself free of those nails. After learning they were so willing to put my life in the hands of a man like Bogdan… I’m not sure if that’s something I will ever be able to forgive. The whole thing really put in perspective how little they valued me as their daughter. As a person.

The only person I want to talk to is Ophelia, but I don’t even know what I’d tell her. The situation I’ve found myself in is so insane it borders on unbelievable. I need more time to process it before I bring my best friend into the loop.

My head needs to be on straighter to fully explain the shit show that was my wedding.

“Hmm…” Anneli doesn’t appear impressed by this. “I would recommend keeping it close by in the future. Just to ensure your husband can reach you.”

“Will do,” I vow with an awkward salute.

“Mr. Banes said he will be home at eight tonight. He requested that you be ready to leave then so you both will be on time for his meeting.”

“I don’t understand why I need to attend a meeting with him,” I tell her. “Do you know what it’s about?”

Anneli’s head tilts ever so slightly. “Mrs. Banes, that information is above my pay grade. I’m simply just relaying the instructions that were given to me.”

Mrs. Banes. This is the first time someone other than Emeric has called me that name and there’s no way of knowing if the shiver zipping down my spine is caused by my lingering unease over the whole situation or from some kind of toxic thrill brought on by knowing I’m his.

“Okay… what time is it now?”

She glances at the gold watch around her wrist. “A little after six.”

I had to take a shower this morning when I woke up because just like yesterday, Emeric’s cum had left a mess between my thighs, but I didn’t wash my hair. After a day of lounging and being a complete bum, I don’t have to look in a mirror to know that I need to wash it to make it look presentable. It’s well past dry shampoo and a curling iron.

I woke up alone in his bed again this morning. His side of the bed was stone cold and the sheets were barely wrinkled from where I’d assumed he’d fallen asleep next to me. I don’t know what time he wakes up every day, but it has to be obscenely early because I’d rolled over just as the sun was peeking over the horizon and he wasn’t there. It was so early I’d guessed he may have just been using the bathroom before coming back to bed. Hours later when my eyes had cracked up at a much more acceptable hour, he was still nowhere to be seen. That kind of sleep schedule can’t be sustainable, not when most of his more illicit affairs take place after the sun goes down.

“All right,” I pat the big dog’s head once more before standing. “I guess I’ll go get ready.”

IT’S TAKING me longer to pick an outfit than it did for me to do my makeup and hair. I have no information about what kind of dinner this is. I don’t want to wear the simple black dress I have pulled out if we’re going to a fancier restaurant, and I don’t want to wear heels if he’s taking me to a dive bar. Not that I think the great Mr. Banes seems like a frequent flyer at dive bars, but then again, what the hell do I know? The man is a walking—albeit very sexy—question mark to me.

Anneli said this was going to be a business dinner too. Does that mean we’re meeting clients or business partners? If that’s the case, I want to make a good impression on them. The irony that I suddenly give a shit about the way I look or am concerned about which outfit will be most impressive to his people isn’t lost on me. Imogen has been trying to instill this belief system in me for years, but I always silently fought against it.

I’ve just pulled a pair of black wide-legged and high-waisted trousers down from a hanger when every hair on my body stands on end.

I know what—or who—I’m going to find before I turn around.

Dressed in another black suit, but with a charcoal gray button-down today, Emeric leans against the impressive walk-in closet’s doorway. “I hope for the sake of every man we encounter tonight you’re not planning on wearing that to this meeting.”

I flick my eyes down to the only garments of clothing I’ve managed to put on. A basically see-through dark green lace bra and a matching thong. “Oh yeah? And why is that?”

“I don’t get squeamish about much but eyeballs…” he trails off, taking two steps into the room. “I’ve never enjoyed dealing with eyes. The texture is rather off-putting, but if you insist on wearing that as an outfit, I’ll have no qualms about plucking the eyeballs out of the heads of every man who sees you.”

The delightful image he paints flashes in my head and has my face wrinkling. “Gross. Please don’t.” After a moment I manage to shake the overwhelming visual of a bunch of peeled grapes from my brain. “I’m obviously not going to just wear this. The information that Anneli passed along from you was vague. ‘Dinner meeting’. I have no idea what kind of dress code that entails and it’s not exactly like I’ve been invited to one of these in the past that I can use as reference.” When he doesn’t instantly give me any kind of guidance, I wave my hands in the direction of all the clothes hanging and folded neatly around me. “Don’t just stand there and stare at me, tell me what to wear.”

Stormy gray eyes lazily scan me, taking in every inch of exposed skin before he moves to stand before me. “But I enjoy staring. My wife makes for such a pretty view, after all.” He uses his index finger to lift my chin up toward his face. My breath gets trapped in my chest when his lips skim over mine in a barely-there touch. Such a simple contact has my entire body coming alive for him. He keeps his mouth close to mine as he says, “I don’t give a fuck what you wear, Rionach. It can be as revealing as your current outfit, or it can be a goddamn ski suit, for all I care. Wear whatever makes you feel beautiful.”

No one has ever insisted I wear what makes me feel beautiful. Aside from those few stolen nights away with Lia, my wardrobe has been closely controlled by my mom since I left college. Selecting an outfit without being ridiculed is now a foreign concept to me.

“Okay,” I manage to whisper back in a surprisingly steady voice despite the lightning storm he’s ignited in my body. “I should only be a few more minutes, sorry if I’m making you late.”

“I don’t give a fuck if we’re late,” he assures me, pressing a brief kiss to my temple before stepping back. He does this as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, like he’s been showing me affection for a lifetime and not just a few days. “Our dinner companions will wait as long as I force them to. They’re not going anywhere.”

Of course. Why would I think otherwise?

Despite his reassurance, I quickly dress in a pair of black sheer tights and a formfitting thigh-length skirt. Over the silk tank top that I tucked into the waistband of the skirt, I put on an oversized blazer since it’s still chilly out. The all-black outfit is fairly simple but the red-bottom stiletto ankle boots on my feet help make it appear more sophisticated. The only jewelry I wear are the various studs and loops already decorating up and down my ears.

Running my fingers through my freshly curled hair one last time, I turn away from the full-length mirror hanging on the wall and face Emeric.

I’m not expecting to find him standing shirtless on the opposite side of the closet with his back to me. I’m also not expecting to find the dark tattoo covering both of his defined shoulder blades. How could I have missed this? Thinking back to all the times he’s been shirtless around me, I realize that either my back has been turned to him or his back was turned away from me. Or I’d been blindfolded. The dark—black—wings decorating his golden skin are beautiful. Emeric isn’t the kind of man you’d think you could describe as beautiful and yet I find myself thinking it often. Beautiful body, face, eyes… and now with these wings on his back. I can’t help but think of him as a fallen dark angel.

His muscles flex under his tattoo as he pulls on a fresh black button-down. I watch him with a sense of greed the entire time and only do I look away when he’s pulled on a mid-length black wool coat. I couldn’t tell you why, but for some reason I didn’t want Emeric to catch me staring at him. Perhaps it’s because we’re only two days in and I’m struggling with trying to remember I’m supposed to be mad at him. He forced my hand at marrying him, but the alternative was far less appealing. Emeric is known as a vicious man—a monster—and yet, I haven’t seen an ounce of that infamous wrath pointed in my direction. What has been directed at me is a delicious form of dominance and I can’t get enough of that. I like the way he takes control and despite the pit of shame in my stomach when I think about it, I like it even more when he takes my choice away. The rush—the fear—that comes from it is my new favorite kind of high.

I even find it difficult to fault Emeric for what he did to my brother and father. Stealing from a man like Emeric Banes will go down in history as one of the dumbest choices one could make. My family paid the price for their stupidity.

“Okay, I’m ready,” I say once he’s fully dressed and facing in my direction again.

He gives me an approving nod and holds out his hand for me.



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