Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 21

EMERIC

I could see it on her face the second she put it together that this isn’t going to be just any ordinary dinner meeting.

Rionach’s first clue was the number of guards that are accompanying us on this endeavor. Perceptive green eyes noted the four-car caravan when we exited the building and despite the question written across her pretty face, she didn’t dare ask it aloud. Her second clue was when we left Manhattan and entered a neighborhood with a heavy population of Irish in the Bronx. It’s a neighborhood I knew she would be familiar with. And even then, as she shifted anxiously in the leather seat next to mine, she didn’t utter a single word.

Ever the picture-perfect depiction of the poised and obedient mob princess.

The long-engrained mentality of being seen and not heard is going to take time to break. She’ll learn soon enough all she has to do is open her mouth if she has a question. As I told her before, if it’s within my capability to provide her answers, I’ll be more than happy to oblige her curiosities.

The smirk that grows on my face is one of pride when I hold my hand out to help her exit the bulletproof Escalade and she finally asks, “What the hell are you planning?”

“Good girl,” I praise her, pressing my lips to the back of her cold but steady hand.

It’s clear she doesn’t understand what she’s done to earn my approval based on the look she gives me in response.

“And why would that be?”

“By nature, you’re a very observant person and I can tell you keep hundreds of questions locked up in your head because you’ve never been granted an opportunity to freely ask them,” I explain. “I want you to be curious and I want you to ask questions. You’re so much more than a pretty face, my wife. It’s due time that not only does everyone else discover this but you also learn to accept it about yourself.” I release her hand so I can tilt her chin up. “And since I’m almost positive no one has ever told you, and I’m pleased as hell to be the first, you’re allowed to take an active role in your life, Rionach.”

“That’s rich coming from the man who forcibly saddled me with his last name.”

Her jaw stubbornly sets but I know it’s for show. There isn’t a hint of such emotion in those jade eyes of hers. If anything, it’s the opposite. Rionach doesn’t yet believe what I’m saying, but she will. I’ll make sure of it.

I hold her face in place when she tries to look away. “Despite what you’re currently thinking, this marriage isn’t another form of imprisonment, princess. I already told you I don’t want to keep you in a cage. You’ll learn soon enough that it’s your freedom.” Before she can hit me with another hostile retort, I reclaim her hand and lead her into the building we’ve been standing in front of.

Nova and Mathis walk in front and six other armed men trail behind us. If I hadn’t decided I wanted Rionach to join me for this particular meeting, I wouldn’t have brought as many guards with me, but I’m not about to knowingly put her in possible danger without taking all the necessary precautions. With the delightful way things were left between our two parties, I have no way of knowing the full extent of the hostile-filled environment we’re walking into. While I very much enjoy the way a good ol’ shoot-out or a knife fight gets my blood pumping, not having every possible protection for Rionach in place is nonnegotiable for me.

My team has already been told what will happen to them if a single hair is harmed on her head and to say I painted a very graphic picture for them is putting it mildly. My youngest guard, Camden, looked a little green around the gills by the time I was done. If my men weren’t scared of me before, they sure as shit are now, but that’s for the better. It’s best they be well informed of the consequences if they fail to protect what is mine.

“My God, Moran, this place is a fucking shithole,” I call in way of greeting once we enter the dimly lit dining area. “If all your businesses look as sad as this one, it’s no wonder you need to pilfer from my warehouses to make any damn money.”

The Irish Wife Pub was closed early tonight so we could have this meeting. Aside from the gaggle of men Niall brought with him and my crew, the establishment is dark and quiet. Depending on how this all goes down, that will work in our favor. We don’t want any civilian witnesses or accidental casualties. Getting rid of bodies is such a hassle.

My grip on Rionach’s hand tightens when her heels dig into the well-worn—and disgusting—carpet. I have to discreetly tug her forward to keep pace with me. The look I cut her is fleeting but my message is clear: don’t you fucking dare shy away from him or this.

I return my full attention to the pudgy man looking notably worse for wear sitting alone at a round wooden table. A near empty tumbler of light brown alcohol sits between his two heavily bandaged hands with a pathetic-looking red bendable straw in it.

Poor guy can’t pick up his own glass. What an absolute bummer for him.

Behind Niall, leaning against the wall covered in various framed photographs and flanked by four other Irish guards, is a tense-looking Brayden. His intense green gaze is zeroed in on the woman standing at my side. The way he examines every visible inch of her doesn’t go missed. I cock my head at him in silent question when he shifts his focus to me. He expression turns into an impassive sheet of ice before his chin dips in a barely registerable nod.

“Jesus Christ, Niall—oh shit, that was a poor choice of words, wasn’t it? My sincerest apologies.” I give the defeated man my best playacting sympathetic smile before dropping the act with a casual shrug of my shoulders. “You’re looking a little rough around the edges tonight, aren’t you, old sport? I am, however, pleased as punch to see you managed to get free of those pesky nails. Although…” I wag a scolding finger at him. “I do believe the deal was you were to pull yourself free. You’re lucky your devoted wife was kind enough to send you assistance because after you hung there like a pussy for six hours, I was really thinking you were going to turn into a Jesuscicle.”

His round face turns a deeper shade of red.

“What?” I ask. “Of course, I know you didn’t get free of the cross all on your lonesome. Did you really think we’d just leave you there unsupervised after we left? We had eyes on you the entire time, Niall. Had to have a team on hand in case your poor little corned beef and potato heart gave out. We couldn’t just leave you there, you know? I’d hate to traumatize someone like that if they found your dead body.”

“My daughter was right,” a deep and thick Irish accented voice comes from the dark archway that leads to the other dining room on the opposite side of the pub. The looming figure takes a few easy steps forward until the scarcely available light illuminates his features. Tadhg Kelly might be well into his golden years, but he still stands strong as ever. “You do enjoy the sound of your own voice.”

Beside me, Rionach stiffens and her hand flexes in mine at the same time her air catches in her throat.

I suspected her grandfather might be joining us for this meeting after I got word his private jet landed in an upstate airfield last night. Tadhg’s attempt at being stealthy was admirable, but ultimately laughable. If he wanted to avoid my watchful eyes, he should have landed in Canada and crossed into the country that way. At the end of the day, despite that diversion, I still probably would have known of his arrival regardless.

His daughter, no doubt, called him with her sob story after she and Tiernan were dropped off at the hospital by my team of medics. I can’t help but feel a sense of compassion for Tadhg. I heard the pipes that woman has on her in person and they were borderline deafening, I can’t begin to imagine how shrill she sounded over the phone. That man’s poor eardrums.

“Well, isn’t this a charming impromptu family reunion?” I cheerfully note, looking at the two men related to the woman who now shares my bed. “Felt like you had to bring in the big guns for our little meeting, huh, Niall?” I ask, also sparing the seething man a quick glance.

Niall opens his thin-lipped mouth to finally speak, but his father-in-law beats him to the punch.

“He would usually bring his son to something like this, but seeing as my grandson is currently indisposed and recovering in a hospital bed from surgery, I thought it best I come in his stead,” Tadhg explains, sounding neither angry nor irritated. He’s calm, seemingly in complete control of his emotions, and that is why he’s always held my respect. Or whatever the closest attribute to respect is that I can manage to feel. “Given the current turbulent history between our two families and the fact you’re now married to my granddaughter, I felt it best we speak in person.”

For the first time, Tadhg grants his grandchild his full attention. Just like Brayden, he thoroughly examines her. No doubt looking for any signs of damage. Which is laughable given who her family had originally planned on handing her off to. I’m no angel but I don’t harm what is mine. At least, not in ways she won’t find enjoyable.

“Pop,” Rionach greets, finally finding her voice.

Given the situation, I wouldn’t have faulted her if her voice wavered even the slightest, but my wife is strong, and her even voice reflects that.

“Lass,” he responds. “You appear to be in one piece.”

Can’t say the same about your other grandchild, now can we?

Keeping her head high, she gives him a single nod. “I am.”

I release an exasperated sigh. “Fucking hell, people. Did you think I was going to eat her alive or something?” A devious smirk settles on my face. “Don’t get me wrong, I did eat her alive, but from the way she cried and begged for more, I think it’s safe to say she thoroughly enjoyed being devoured.”

A small hand reaching out and smacking the center of my chest has everyone in the room sucking in a collective breath and turning into stone statues. I know what they’re expecting. They’re all waiting for the legendary wrathful beast to rear its vicious head and punish Rionach for raising a hand to me. They’ll be waiting a long time for that.

I catch her by her slender fingers before she can completely pull away. Her eyes widen and she fights me for a second before giving in to me as I bring her hand up to my mouth. If the room was silent before, it turns deafening when I press my lips to the thundering pulse point in her wrist.

Just like that, Rionach is the only relaxed person in the room.

“My apologies, my wife,” I tell her with a subtle wink. “Talking about our extracurricular activities in front of your father figure and grandfather was crass of me.”

She simply rolls her eyes. Another move that before she entered my life, only Nova could get away with, and even then, he had to catch me in a good mood. There’s no need for Rionach to go through such measures to ensure she isn’t on the receiving end of a bad reaction from me.

I love this side of her because it’s authentic.

The obnoxious clearing of Niall’s throat has my trigger finger twitching. “Can we move on from this circus and get to the real reason we’re all here?”

“Ah, yes. Let’s.” I lead Rionach closer to the table and take a seat in the single chair situated across from Niall. She attempts to back away from me, but I’m not having it. Snaking my arm around her narrow waist, I forcibly bring her down on my lap. Rionach shifts anxiously and once again tries to leave the protection of my body. Like a vise, I lock my arm around her middle and force her to remain still. She does what I silently demand of her, albeit rigidly. “You owe me half a million dollars, Niall.”

Tadhg slides into the chair next to him.

My new father-in-law—if we can really call him that—sniffs and glares at me. “It’s here. I’ve brought you what is owed.”

I rap the knuckles of my free hand against the slightly sticky lacquered surface of the table for a few beats before gesturing at Tadhg. “I’m assuming you’re the reason behind this quick turnaround?”

My sources told me that while Niall had only recently sold the weapons off to my competitors, the money from those sales has already dwindled from his accounts. My assumption is the Moran family owed debts to people other than me.

Tadhg doesn’t bother denying it, and with a sure nod, he says, “I was told that your messengers told my son-in-law you expected to be reimbursed within the week.”

“A week was more than a fair amount of time,” I explain.

Niall’s entire body lurches forward so fast, my hold on my wife tightens. “Fair? You think you’ve been fucking fair?”

“I’ve been nothing but fair,” I tell him, the dark edge I’ve managed to keep at bay thus far emerging. “By not putting nails through your eye sockets, I was being fair. When I only took one of your thieving son’s hands, I was being fair. When I allowed you, the idiot who instilled the holier-than-thou and entitled mindset into your half-witted son, to leave that church alive, I. Was. Being. Fair.” I swear, this clown keeps forgetting he’s the reason he’s in this situation to begin with. “Believe it or not, Niall, this is what my leniency looks like, but if you continue to push me, I will have no problem showing just how unfair I can fucking be.”

Rionach shifts in my lap, her hand coming to rest atop my forearm. I can’t be sure she’s aware of making such a move and while the comforting gesture isn’t needed, I find it endearing.

Tadhg raises a hand and cuts Niall a sharp look. “That’s enough!” The pure authority in his voice is impressive. “You’ve already done enough damage. Keep your trap shut and stop digging yourself deeper into the shite you’ve found yourself buried in. Maybe then you can leave with whatever sliver of dignity you have fucking left.” Yep. It’s official, I like the grandpa. “Niall is incapable of supplying the amount of money that you’re owed.” If it were possible for words to physically bitch-slap a person, Tadhg just delivered one hell of a blow. “I will be footing the bill for his mistake.”

My eyes narrow at this. “Why would you do that? And spare me the ‘he’s family’ bullshit. It doesn’t take a psychology degree to know you’d trade his flat-pasty ass for a sloppy blow job tomorrow if given half the chance.”

Niall has the audacity to look revolted by this. “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. We are family. We⁠—”

He’s cut off by his father-in-law. Irritation and rage eat away at his expression.

“While it exasperates and confuses me greatly, Niall’s demise would break my daughter. She is my family. No father wants to see his daughter heartbroken,” Tadhg says matter-of-factly, not an ounce of emotion tangible. “I’m also smart enough to know I don’t want you as my enemy, Banes. I respected your father.” I take it back. I don’t like the grandpa. “And I find I can’t help but respect you in kind. The empire you’ve built, while impressive, is more powerful than anyone could have seen coming. You don’t make an enemy out of someone you know you can’t beat. You make them an ally.”

“Smart man,” I offer, still not sure what his endgame is.

Ignoring a fuming Niall at his side, he inclines his head at me. “For this very reason, I have brought you the money to cover my son-in-law’s debt. Half a million dollars in untraceable gold bricks are in the back of our vehicle. Say the word, I will have my men transfer them into your custody.” He leans forward in his chair, resting his arms on the tabletop. “I’m also prepared to include an extra hundred thousand as a sign of good faith if you’re willing to accept this offer. I can understand your wish to force Niall to pay for his own debt whether it be in money or blood, but as I told you, I’m trying to protect my child’s heart.”

I look between the two men. “It’s refreshing to know that someone in this godforsaken family gives a damn about their daughter’s well-being.”

Tadhg clears his throat and looks at his granddaughter sitting in my lap. “Your grandmother and I weren’t aware of your engagement to the Koslov boy. If we had been, we would have⁠—”

“You would have what?” Rionach interrupts, body going stiff against mine. “Put a stop to it? For some reason, I find that very hard to believe. If the Koslovs were truly the highest bidders, that’s who you would have picked for me because that’s how it’s done. Always has been. Sons learn the business and daughters are sold off to whoever will make the strongest ally. Doesn’t matter if he’s a sadistic serial killer or a rapist, as long as he benefits the family, who cares, right?”

Both Niall and her grandfather stare at my wife like they don’t recognize her, and I find my chest puffing with pride.

That’s my girl. Show them your fangs.

“You’re right,” her grandfather concedes without a fight, meanwhile Niall looks like he wants to reach across the table and strangle Rionach. Try it, buddy, see what happens. “But that doesn’t matter now, does it? You’ve secured a strong union to a much more powerful family than the Russians.”

It’s my turn to interject. “My marriage to Rionach will never be used as an advantage to the Moran clan. I am not an ally. Just as I’ve always been, I am the thorn in your side slowly dismantling your empire.”

“What have we ever done to you?” Niall spits.

I shrug. “Until recently, nothing notable. You were simply just in my way.”

You can’t amass the kind of empire that I have without cutting out your competition along the way. Rarely is it a personal vendetta. It’s the ugly side of an even uglier business. Niall used to understand that when he still had his balls intact. Now I think they’re kept in his shrill wife’s designer handbag.

“I’m growing tired of this conversation and I’m growing remarkably more tired of looking at your pork roast of a face, Niall,” I tell them while looking at the Rolex on my wrist. “Because of this, I will accept your offer of six hundred thousand in gold, Tadhg. Please have your men move it into my SUV immediately.” With a nod of my head, Camden and Mathis move in tandem to oversee this exchange. They’ll make sure there aren’t any kinds of explosives or tracking devices within the package before putting it in the car. You only make that kind of mistake once. “Before we end this meeting, I want to make it abundantly clear that this is where my benevolence comes to an end. If your family moves against mine again, not only will I kill you, but I will also take you apart in such a way that not even your precious god would recognize you when you try to enter his pearly gates.”

The easygoing facade is gone. The full extent of my wrath and promised pain is laced in every syllable I utter. Everyone in the room has grown deathly still except my bride in my lap. No, Rionach isn’t afraid of me or my threats in the same way everyone else present is. The way her hips rock ever so slightly and her perfect round ass grinds into my suddenly stiffening cock is proof of how she truly feels about my change in demeanor. Her chest rises and falls in a more rapid succession and the hand that’s been resting on my forearm tightens its grasp.

My free hand coming down on her hip and abruptly squeezing the flesh there has her jumping in her seat. Her head turns just enough that I get a peek at her widening eyes. The embarrassment reflected in those green orbs tells me she wasn’t fully aware of the reaction happening in her body until I broke the spell with my rough grip.

I don’t appreciate the sheepish look cutting across her now flushed features when she ducks her face away from mine.

It’s now a task to return to the conversation at hand. “I will also remind you, Rionach is now my family. Mine, not yours.” I let the silent threat linger between us for a long moment. She’s my family and if all goes to plan, she will also be the woman who brings the next generation of our family into this world.

“I understand,” Tadhg nods. “For what it’s worth, I’m pleasantly surprised by how protective of her you are.”

“It’s worth nothing,” I tell him without a second thought while patting Rionach on the hip, silently signaling for her to stand up. On steady legs, she gracefully removes herself from my lap and stands. I follow suit and loom behind her with an arm still protectively wrapped around her middle. “Niall here has firsthand experience with what I’m willing to do to protect what is mine, and that was just a drop in the very bloody bucket of what I’m capable of.”

Her grandfather considers me with a look, head cocking ever so slightly to the side. “Your father would be proud of you.”

This has me barking out a dark wicked laugh. “No, he wouldn’t.”

Niall apparently doesn’t know when he’s been well and truly beat, or maybe somehow in the last couple minutes, he’s rediscovered his balls because he has the nerve to open his mouth again.

“The fact you’re standing before me threatening me and my family with the full extent of your ire over an impure and broken-in whore is beneath you, Banes.” If I thought the room had fallen silent before, I was wrong. A heavy—painful—quiet and stillness settles over the room like a suffocating fog. It chokes everyone present. Both Tadhg and Brayden have the sense to look very nervous as the dumbass before me keeps talking. “Do you know why I sold her to the Koslovs? They’re the only ones who were willing to pay good money for a bitch they knew wouldn’t bleed. Bogdan apparently has a thing for redheads and was willing to look past the fact that she’d already spread her legs for another man.”

The sound of Rionach’s pained gasp does something to my chest. Inside the cavity I’d long thought empty, something painfully squeezes. The only other time I’d experienced the sensation was the night I thought I was going to watch her leap from the rooftop.

What has she done to deserve the treatment she gets from her family?

“Keep talking, Niall. I dare you. You’re so close to signing your death warrant and I’ve been itching to make you bleed since I walked into this shithole.” My voice comes out deathly calm despite the violent storm building in my veins.

Of course, he doesn’t listen.

“I know about the time you spent with Igor when you were a child. He told me all about it over a bottle of vodka.”

Tadhg releases an exasperated sigh before he flies up from his seat and forcibly yanks his son-in-law up from his. The way Niall sways on his feet makes me wonder how many of those drinks he’d had before we got here.

“For fuck’s sake, listen to the man, Niall.”

He doesn’t.

“Do you still have the scar on your back?” Rionach’s father taunts. “That’s right. I know about that too.”

At the mention of the scar, the skin on my left shoulder blade burns. The same way the iron had when I was fourteen.

Like an animal with its kill in its sights, all of my attention is locked on Niall as I lift my hand and signal. The Irish guards behind the two men in front of me all jump to alertness. Brayden’s reaction is much slower, but he still draws his gun. My men in the room with us don’t flinch. The signal wasn’t for them.

“You keep talking about the color red. Virginal blood. Redheads…” I pause, head cocking. “But I’ve got a say, I think it might be your color, Niall.”

The red dot in the middle of his forehead has Tadhg releasing a violent curse and Rionach sucking in a shallow breath.

“What the hell are you talking about, Banes?” Niall asks at the same time the second sniper fixes their target on the middle of his chest. The realization of his impending peril has the blood rushing from his face as he staggers back a step.

“Say it again,” I taunt. “Call my wife a whore one more time.”

Emeric…” Rionach’s whispered warning is barely audible over the pounding in my ears. The only reason I’m not straddling his body while my fists connect again and again with his face is because she’s here.

Niall’s chin sets. “She’s a⁠—”

I hold two fingers up on my left hand and not even half a second later, window glass explodes and Niall screams.

As I said, with Rionach here, I am going to provide every possible level of protection for her, and that includes snipers.

Just like when the gun went off on New Year’s, Rionach doesn’t duck or run for cover. She merely flinches once from the sudden noise but otherwise stands still in my grasp.

Tadhg, however, ducks behind the table we’d vacated while Niall screams and the white of the bandage on his right hand is eaten away by a bright crimson. Blood pours from the new wound. He got off easy before with the wounds the nails caused. With time, I’m sure he would have regained almost full use of his hands. Not anymore. His right hand is a mangled mess from where the bullet sliced through it. A few of his fingers appear to be hanging on by sheer will alone.

“I warned you,” I tell him, raising my voice over his own screaming to ensure he’s heard me. “But you didn’t listen. You better pray you can jack off with your left hand, because from the looks of it, your right hand’s days of making you come are over.”

Like bloodhounds locked on a scent, the Irish guards—Brayden excluded—surge in our direction. They don’t get within five feet of where I stand with Rionach before my own men are meeting them head-on.

Enough!” Tadhg’s orders fall on deaf ears. “Stand down!”

To my left, in quick succession, Nova snatches a pistol away from one of the other guards and backhands the man across the face with it. The sickening sound of facial bones crunching and teeth hitting the ground accompany the chorus of grunts and yells now echoing through the empty pub.

Within seconds my men have each of the Irishmen incapacitated and on the ground.

To his credit, Brayden keeps his own weapon aimed in my direction as he takes a defensive stance behind a wailing Niall.

Repositioning my hold on Rionach so my body is now angled in front of her smaller one, I stare both Niall and her grandfather down.

“The only reason—a reason you should be immensely grateful for—I’m going to allow you to walk out of this building with your blood still pumping through your veins is because she’s here.” I shoot a dark look at Tadhg as I repeat the words he’s spoken earlier. “I’m trying to protect my wife’s heart. A daughter shouldn’t be forced to watch the man who raised her be eviscerated.” After the way she’s been treated by her father, Rionach shouldn’t shed a single tear for him, but at the end of the day, logic and emotion don’t always see eye to eye. “Watching my father choke on his own blood and finally die will go down as one of the best moments of my life, but I don’t think my wife would share that sentiment if I replicated what I did to him to you, Niall.”

There’s been rumors for decades Ambrose Banes was killed by his own children so they could usurp his crown and take over his kingdom, but never have they been confirmed. Until now.

Fuck it.

Rionach’s fingers grip the wool fabric of my jacket. I allow myself one brief glance at her to ensure she’s okay before returning to stare at the threat in front of me.

“We understand,” Tadhg says.

“Do you?” I demand, voice raised. “I’m not sure your boy does because if he truly grasped the way his life is currently hanging in the balance, he would be on his fucking knees thanking Rionach for being the sole reason he’s being spared tonight.”

The grandfather nods his head stiffly. “You’re right, he should be.”

Still weeping and howling over his blown-apart hand, Niall mutters incomprehensible words, but he is silenced when his wife’s father yanks him by the collar of his navy-blue sports coat and shoves him at Brayden. “Put him in the fucking car. Now!

Brayden cuts me one last fleeting look before taking his boss by the arm and forcibly leading him out of the establishment via the back alleyway exit. With a discreet wave of my hand, my guards release the Irishmen they’re still holding at gunpoint and return to their positions behind me.

All but two of the Irish guards remain and flank the legendary arms dealer in front of me.

Hands on his hips, Tadhg looks at the water-damaged ceiling and releases a long, exhausted sigh before looking at his granddaughter. “I will tell your grandmother I saw you with my own two eyes and that you appear to be well.”

Rionach is forced to look around my frame to see her grandfather when she says, “You don’t have to do that.”

“She asked I report back to her about the status of your well-being.”

I swear, these people really thought I was going to maul her to death within the first forty-eight hours of marriage or something, and their artificial concern for her safety is starting to grate on my already shredded nerves.

When she tries to move out from behind me, I hold my arm out in front of her, blocking any further movement, and step partially in front of her once again. After that latest erratic display from Niall, I don’t want her any closer to a family member than she currently is.

“Has Mom asked about me?”

I bite my tongue to stop myself from scolding her for asking a question I know is only going to wound her.

Forcing myself to remain where I stand so I don’t give in to the desire to close the space between us and wipe the condescending look of pity off Tadhg’s face, I reach behind me and lace my fingers through my bride’s.

Her hand is limp in mine as her grandfather simply shakes his head and says, “No, lass.”

“Okay,” Rionach responds. Her ability to make herself sound unfazed by his answer is a skill I have no doubt she’s been honing for years. “Tell Nan I said hello and that I’m not in any danger with Emeric.”

We both know that’s a lie, just as we know she craves danger.

“I will,” he promises with a dip of his chin. “Give your parents time, they’ll see eventually that this union is a good thing for everyone.”

I turn in time to watch her head tilt and an intensity settle in her jade eyes.

“Pop, I don’t think you’ve been listening,” she tells him, a cool and collected confidence reflected in her words. “Emeric already told you he will not allow our marriage to become something that my father or anyone else can benefit from, and I won’t allow it either because I’m done. My final act of service for the Moran family was marrying Emeric—something that only happened because of my father and brother’s desperate stupidity and blatant greed.” There’s going to come a time when she learns this isn’t the full truth, but now is not that time. Especially not now as she’s finding her voice and standing up for herself in front of her grandfather. “I’ve been told my entire life my only value is in what kind of marriage I can procure, but that’s over. You and the rest of them are done trying to find ways to bleed my worth dry.”

My wife has no idea how unbelievably intoxicating she looks right now as she slowly steps into her newfound power. I’m half tempted to bend her over and fuck her right here on the wooden table, whispering words of praise in her ear as I do. The way blood is currently rushing to my cock, I think it’s safe to say that it’s also on board with that plan.

Rionach doesn’t falter or shy away as her grandfather observes her with a familiar intense perception. Seems he must be the one she inherited that trait from.

After a pregnant pause, he simply says, “You’re right. You’re no longer a Moran, Rionach Banes. Just as you no longer belong to us, neither does your loyalty.” He turns his intense focus to me. “I just hope you’re worthy of it.”

Through narrowed eyes, I stare back at him but don’t bother to dignify his retort with one of my own.

Hand tightening around hers, I begin to back us toward the front exit of the pub. “Come on, princess. We’re done here, it’s time for us to go home.”

Home. I thought it would take longer to adjust to the idea of sharing my home—my sanctuary—with another person, but the idea that my penthouse is now our home settles something wild inside my soul.

Hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks, her grandfather dips his head in farewell. “Rionach.”

My wife does the same, offering a quiet, “Pop,” before turning around and allowing me to lead her away from him and her past.

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