Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 24

EMERIC

She’s pissed at me,” I tell Nova as I duck to avoid one of his meaty tattooed fists.

Sparring with Nova has been a long-held tradition between the two of us. In the past we had more free time to train than we do now, but we try to squeeze in a session—whether it’s a quick round in the ring or a trip to the shooting range—once a week. We’re not about to allow our honed and well-earned skills to grow rusty by becoming lazy or too complacent in our current ranking. People and organizations are constantly circling looking for a way to deliver a debilitating blow. Weakness of any kind isn’t allowed if you want to stay at the top, and I fucking do. I earned my throne.

Nova uses a wrapped hand to push some of the brown hair that has fallen from the stupid fucking man bun he put the longer strands of hair in to keep out of his face. The sides and back of his head are shaved, allowing for his tattoos to expand and be visible on parts of his scalp. Most people find the hulking man intimating, but I find that difficult to do when he looks like a Yorkshire terrier with his little topknot.

“Of course she is,” my second hand scoffs while blocking a jab and then cross from me. “You told Rionach almost two weeks ago that you’d find a man to put on her security detail so she can leave this place, and you haven’t. I’d be pissed at you too. She’s a human, not a pet, E.”

“I know that,” I snap.

Full of a wild kind of pent-up energy and emotions I’m currently too far removed from myself to fully recognize, I let it all fuel me as I lunge at Nova. I don’t hold back and he doesn’t balk or falter. He meets me with his own vigor and we trade blows back and forth.

I’m having one of my “bad days”. Personally, I’ve never referred to them as that, but that’s what Nova has called these episodes for over a decade. He knew the second I called him this morning at four-thirty a.m. what he’d find when he walked through the doors of my penthouse elevator. And if my ungodly early phone call didn’t alert him, the wired state he found me in clued him in immediately.

He showed up with two black coffees and his gym bag an hour later.

We talked in my office for over an hour going over upcoming shipments as well as the meetings we’ll need to attend in the coming month for our more legitimate businesses. Banes Corporation has its hands in many pies to ensure that our power and reach are well spread out. From hotels and clubs to technology development and politics, the Banes family’s income comes from many sources. I’ve expanded our brand into places my father could only dream of and because of it, I’ve made billions. I hope that knowledge makes him roll in his grave.

Once that was taken care of, we both changed into workout clothes and headed to the home gym. The makeshift boxing ring is nothing more than a large black floor mat, but it suffices our needs just fine.

We spar and battle it out until we’re both sweating and panting like dogs. We both succeeded at landing blows to each other, and I already know my ribs are going to be sore from Nova’s knee making contact, but I relish the muscle strain and the fatigue.

That is the end goal here, after all.

“How are you feeling? Have you had enough yet?” Nova asks before taking a long drink of his water when we finally take a break from trying to beat the shit out of each other.

“No, not yet,” I exhale, wiping sweat from my brow with the hem of my black T-shirt.

“Okay,” he says with an understanding nod as he begins to recheck the wraps around his knuckles so he’ll be ready for round two once we’ve both caught our breaths. “Are you going to tell me why you haven’t put a team on your wife yet and why you still have her locked up in this joint?”

“I haven’t found anyone I deem trustworthy enough to guard her,” I tell him simply despite there being anything simple about it.

He throws me a bottle of water, an incredulous look on his stern face. “That’s not the full reason and you know it.”

Of course I fucking know it.

I drink half the bottle in one go. “It’s not safe for her.”

He stares at me for a long moment. “It’s never safe in our world, Emeric. You know this.”

“My contact at the hospital told me both Niall and Tiernan have been discharged. It’s only a matter of time before they’re done nursing their boo-boos and come up with a plan to retaliate. You saw how Niall acted at the pub, he’s going to be out for blood and for that to happen, he’s going to need support.”

Nova positions himself back at the center of the mat and motions for me to do the same. “Are you thinking Tadhg will step in and help in his vendetta against you?”

“I don’t think her grandfather has any interest in going to war with me. The full weight of his power is in the UK. Bringing his men here will only weaken his stance back at home. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would be willing to jeopardize that, and he’s already admitted to my face he couldn’t win against me.” He at least has the sense to know when he’s been beat. His son-in-law, on the other hand… “Niall’s going to go to the Russians and reinstate the original deal they had but to make that happen, he’ll need to take Rionach from me to give to Bogdan.”

Nothing makes a man like Bogdan want something more than when he’s told he can’t have it or when it’s taken away from him. At that point it becomes a matter of damaged ego and by me stealing his future bride out from under his nose, the younger Koslov’s ego must be hurting something fierce.

I move to stand before Nova and tap my wrapped knuckles with his before we start circling each other.

His strong brow quirks and a skeptical look flashes across his pale eyes. “And you know that will be his plan, how? Do you have men watching both families?”

“I have men watching everyone,” I say as way of explanation before I dodge his tattooed fist and throw a jab of my own at his ribs.

Nova grunts at the contact but his raised hands don’t drop an inch. He’s ready for whatever else I’m going to throw at him.

“Between Niall and his son, they have two good hands and nowhere near enough money to fund a war against you. The Koslovs will see this too, and I can’t imagine them still wanting to keep up their end of the bargain even if they were able to get their hands on Rionach.”

On a normal day, my temper is always on a short leash, but on days like this when I’m actively feeling everything all at once, my hold on it is near nonexistent. My vision turns red at Nova’s choice of words, and I unleash myself on him.

“No one is putting their fucking hands on my wife!” I may have roared this, or I could have snarled it, I can’t be sure which. The only thing I can hear is the blood rushing in my ears like an angry current. “She’s mine and I’m going to keep her safe.”

Nova lets go of his control too and we attack each other. This time, it’s not a friendly spar, it’s a full-out bloodbath. By the time I get him on his back on the mat and the heel of my shoe is in his jugular, we’re both sporting matching split lips and bruises. I spit a mouthful of blood on the mat and glare down at my friend.

“All right, that’s enough for today, brother,” Nova says calmly, signaling for me to remove my foot by patting my shin twice. When he calls me brother, I’m reminded of the fact I have two brothers by blood and yet I’m closer with Nova than I am with Astor, or with Ledger when he was still around. This tattooed beast of a man had played a big part in my life for a long time.

Grunting, I pull my foot from his neck and offer him my hand to help him up off the ground. Nova slaps me on the shoulder once he’s on his feet and offers me an easy smile. We never get angry when we put each other on our asses. He knew when he found me in this state he was more than likely going to end up in this position.

“How many days has it been?” he asks, regarding me with an inquisitive stare.

I grab both of our waters and unscrew the cap off mine. “Days since when?”

He rolls his eyes because he knows I know what he’s asking me. “How many days has it been since you slept, and I’m not talking about just an hour-long nap here and there. I mean sleep.”

I once told Rionach I always win in a fight, but in a way that was a lie. I’ve been losing my battle against sleep since I was fifteen. Back then, the memories and thoughts I tried my hardest to avoid when I was conscious snuck into my unconscious mind and infiltrated my dreams. My plan then was to just avoid sleep altogether for as long as possible. I’d go days before I’d finally crash. That plan evolved and became a severe case of insomnia midway through my twenties.

Some of my most erratic and renowned acts happened because I was severely sleep-deprived. I’ve found lack of sleep may affect my decision-making skills and aggravate my already unpredictable disposition, but it also brings out a certain flair when I have a knife in hand and an enemy in my sights.

“I think I slept for almost four hours on Tuesday night, and I got an hour in on Wednesday on the couch at the office between meetings.”

You think? Jesus, Emeric. It’s Friday,” his tattooed fingers pinch the bridge of his nose. “You can’t do this anymore—not with her living here with you now. You know how you can get when you don’t sleep.” Erratic—more than I already am, which is saying something—irritable, paranoid, and if I go too long, hallucinations join the party. It’s a swell time for everyone. “I’ve said it before, but you need to address this. Find some kind of solution that allows you to fucking rest so you don’t lose whatever’s left of your goddamn mind. It’s different now because you’re not just putting yourself in danger.”

I don’t dare tell him that I’ve already found something that lulls me to sleep better than any drug we’ve tried. The best sleep I’d gotten in years was the first time I fell asleep with my cock still in my wife. I had still woken up early the next morning, but five hours of uninterrupted sleep was unprecedented for me. My original objective by staying buried in her was to keep any of my cum from escaping her womb, the sedative-like effect it ended up having was a welcome surprise. Tuesday night when I climbed into bed beside Rionach and slipped inside her warm welcoming pussy, I discovered it wasn’t a one-off thing. No, having her wrapped around me and in my arms put me right to sleep.

By the time I finished dealing with the shipment of weapons from my contacts in Turkey on Wednesday, it was already morning, and she was awake when I got home. I got caught up again last night at Tartarus, and didn’t make it home until after four a.m. this morning. I was too wound up to go to her and that’s when I called Nova in. In the past, sparing a couple of rounds exhausted me enough to knock me out, or at the very least take the edge off.

And if that doesn’t work…

“I brought a sedative,” Nova says like he’s read my mind. “I wasn’t sure what we were dealing with and figured it couldn’t hurt to have the option.”

I give him a look that has him holding his hands up in front of him.

“Look, man, it’s not a strong dose. It will knock you out for a couple of hours and allow your body and mind to rest and reset. You know you’re running on fumes and close to going over the edge. What do you say we just avoid that dog and pony show?”

I contemplate what he’s saying and know he’s right.

The volatile and wired energy coursing through me makes me feel dangerous in an out-of-control kind of way. People like to tell stories about how uncontrollable I am because it’s easier for them to believe I do the things I do because I can’t help myself. I can’t honestly say that hasn’t happened in the past, but in most cases, I’m in complete control of my actions, and if you ask me, this makes me ten times more dangerous. It means I’m fully aware of how depraved my deeds can be and actively seek opportunities to do more.

I know what kind of man I am, but the sleep-deprived side of me is one I’m not sure I want my wife seeing. I promised I would protect her, and I’m now starting to understand that also means even from myself. And if I’m being honest, getting to the point of exhaustion where I hallucinate is something I’d like to avoid. In the past when it’s happened, I have found myself thrust back into the memories I’d much rather forget.

“I don’t want Rionach knowing.”

The image of her walking in and finding I’ve had to be medically sedated crosses my mind, and I find I don’t like it.

Nova nods in understanding. “We can go to the office or the hotel.” He’s talking about the hotel we own on the other side of Central Park called The Daria. After my father died, we changed the family-owned hotel to my mother’s name. She always loved the tearoom there, and we were searching for new ways to honor the great woman and mother who had been taken from this world. It doesn’t feel like enough, though. “Hell, we can go to my place, and you can crash in my spare bedroom.”

“Your place,” I choose, knowing it’ll be the most private of the three options.

Nova wastes no time scooping his gym bag off the floor as he heads toward the double glass doors leading out of the gym. “Okay, let’s go. The sooner that brain of yours can shut down, the better it’ll be for everyone, but especially you.”

Scrubbing my hand over my sweaty face, I push my hair back from my forehead with an exhausted sigh. “Yeah, all right.” I begrudgingly follow.

We’ve barely made it down the hallway when a panicked-looking Anneli rushes toward us. In all the years she’s worked for me, I’ve never seen the willowy woman look as distressed as she is now, and I rescued her from her abusive john. Something is wrong. Every fiber of my being is instantly on edge and painfully alert. My eyes scan the vast living room area, surrounding it for signs of danger, but the only person present is my housekeeper.

“What is it?” Even if I tried, I couldn’t keep the aggression from my tone. Not now.

She nervously shakes her head back and forth, pale blonde strands of hair flying about. “I don’t know how she got to it. I always keep it in my back pocket.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Got to what?”

Nova and I speak at the same time.

Anneli looks between us, eyes wide. “Mrs. Banes.”

My heart instantly turns to stone in my chest, and this time I can’t stop myself from reaching up and touching that tight spot on my sternum. “What about her?” I grit out between clenched teeth.

“She somehow managed to steal my key card,” the Scandinavian woman before me touches the empty back pocket of her beige trousers. “She left. She’s not here, Mr. Banes.”

For the second time in an hour, my vision goes red, but this time, my world tilts along with it. “What the fuck do you mean she’s not here?” my raised voice bounces off all the glass in the room, reverberating around us. “Where is my fucking wife?” My question comes out as a violent roar, making Anneli flinch.

“I don’t have the slightest clue where she’s gone, sir,” she whispers. “I’m so sorry… it was in my pocket. I would have felt if she’d taken my key card from me, right? I don’t see how it’d be possible to not⁠—”

“Stop talking,” I order as I push past her and head for my office. Other than the bedrooms and bathrooms, there are cameras around the penthouse. I also have access to the ones outside the building and up and down the street. It won’t take me long to find her… that’s if I find her before someone else does. Fuck! “Nova, call your men. Put them on standby. We’ll need them here shortly.”

“On it.” Nova already has his cell phone to his ear.

Feeling a mixture of blinding anger and nauseating dread, I surge through my office doors.

You’re going to regret this, princess.

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