Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 27

EMERIC

The feeble hold I’ve had on my deteriorating control for the past few hours has finally snapped. I’m riding shotgun in my own body and mind. This is exactly what I feared would happen when I called Nova this morning. Rionach leaving the safety of our home thrust me violently over the edge I had been trying desperately to avoid.

Green eyes resembling precious gemstones widen and stare pleadingly up at me as my hand tightens around her throat. The relief of seeing her alive and unharmed with my own two eyes was fleeting. The toxic combination of fury and terror are now governing my actions and I am completely at their mercy as they burn through me.

Desperate for air, her free hand claws at my wrist, trying to break the unyielding hold I have on her airway. I don’t flinch or so much as acknowledge the red scratches now decorating my skin. The pain doesn’t register in my turbulent and frenzied nervous system either. I’m past the point of feeling physical pain.

My fingers dig into the soft skin of her neck, the arteries on either side pounding beneath my fingertips.

“That’s it, my boy,” a familiar, heavily accented voice praises from over my shoulder where I know cold, dark eyes are observing my every move. “Just as I taught you. Keep applying pressure just like that on the carotids and the bitch will be out like a light in no time.”

My stomach rolls when his rancid breath, caused by the combination of his hand-rolled cigarettes and a steady diet of pickled foods, hits my nose. The scent plummets me further into the memories already crawling out from the depths of my mind.

He’s not really here. Wake up, Emeric. Wake up!

I shake my head, trying in vain to regain a semblance of clarity, but it’s no use. With each passing second, I’m pulled deeper and deeper into that dark place.

My wife’s face grows redder, and her plump lips are parted but make no noise. So beautiful and to think I could have lost her because of her blatant stupidity. I thought she was smarter than her family. Her actions today have me thinking otherwise.

“I told you it wasn’t safe,” I snarl, bringing our faces together so we’re at eye level. “And then you knowingly put yourself in danger by defying my clear instructions. Anyone could have taken you from me today. It was so fucking easy to have my men scoop you off the street. Like a darling lamb to slaughter.”

My terrified wife tries to speak to me but can only manage to emit a strained gurgling sound as my hand continues to deprive her of oxygen. Already her eyes are starting to lose their focus.

“End her,” he whispers, hot breath washing over my ear. “Finish this and you will be rewarded.”

Rewarded. He means fed real food and not just the protein bars he chucks into my room—cell—twice a day, a bath, and clean clothes. Basic necessities are now my rewards.

No! They were my rewards. I’m not there anymore and. He’s. Not. Here.

His chuckle, a vile, humorless sound that has always made the hair on my body stand on end, washes over me. “Don’t lie to yourself, baby Banes. I’m always here because I’m ingrained in you.” A dry, callused hand gripping the back of my neck makes my anger rise further. I hated his hands on me. “She has to pay for what she did. Keep going.”

“I don’t understand how you can be so fucking reckless when you know what is out there waiting for you.” While I’m struggling to decipher what is reality and what are memories conjured by my sleep-deprived brain, I know for a fact the fear that’s been churning around in my gut like a snake since Anneli told me what happened is seeping into my tone. For all I know, it could be written across my face too. I usually have a better handle on keeping my emotions at bay, but that skill fails me when I’m in this state. “My goal was only to keep you safe, and you refused to listen. Does your life mean so little to you, Rionach?” I ask, knowing full well that she can’t answer me in her current state. “Your life means too much to me for you to behave this way. You are too valuable to me for you to be so careless.”

I warned her that she now has a target painted on her back. Making her my wife when I was fully aware she could be used as a token against me makes me a selfish bastard, but can’t she see she now means everything to me? Rionach is the most valuable thing I’ve ever had the privilege of calling mine and she put that at risk today.

Everything around us moves like we’re underwater. Movements are slow and floaty, and there’s a halo-like light around the dark red strands flowing from her head. The drumming sound in my ears has reached a fever pitch as the life shining in her big jade eyes begins to dim.

“That’s it,” he encourages in my ear again. “Just a little bit more.”

The hand that has been incessantly clawing at my wrist and forearm falls away and lands limply at her side, and her knees start to buckle under her weight. Her lips sluggishly mouth a singular word. I can’t be sure, but I think it’s my name.

“Look at her try to beg,” Igor mocks with a dark chuckle. “Pathetic. Just like the others, and you thought she was strong.”

She is strong, a voice in my disconnected and foggy brain argues. She’s brave and she’s special. What are you doing to her, Emeric?

The fight leaves Rionach and her limp body crashes into mine. I wrap my arms around her smaller frame, catching her before she can land in a heap on the ground. Her dead weight against my chest makes my heart seize—a sensation only she can make happen. Keeping her upright with one arm, I brush her messy hair from her forehead so I can look at her pale face. She’s alive, but she’s unconscious.

“The dumb whore deserved that for disrespecting your authority like she did,” Igor clucks, the telltale sound of his lighter clicking open quickly following. The distinctive scent of burning tobacco and cloves fills my nostrils.

This wasn’t supposed to be about my authority over her. It was about showing her how unsafe our world is, that going off on her own like she did put her in the direct path of our enemies.

“I didn’t want to hurt her, I only wanted to teach her a lesson,” I tell him while keeping my attention on her. Bruises will start to form around her throat soon. This isn’t the first time I’ve left marks on her skin from my rough handling, but the previous ones were results of our intense fucking. Those were different and they weren’t given with the intention of purposely hurting her. I can’t say the same about the ones that will blossom on her neck soon.

“Lessons are best learned when pain is involved. I taught you that,” the Russian man’s voice floats through the air along with the smoke of his cigarette.

The type of pain Rionach enjoys is the same kind that I like. Pain mixed with pleasure. That had been my plan with bringing her out here, but I crossed a line. I allowed my anger and Igor’s taunting to pull me into a place I didn’t intend to go with her.

An emotion I can’t recognize settles in my very soul like a boulder. and a bitter taste floods my mouth. Guilt. Is this guilt?

Too far. You went too far.

A hand slaps and shoves at my chest, and over the drumming in my ears, someone is calling to me. My arms try to curl tighter around Rionach’s suddenly weightless form but when they do, I find that they’re now holding nothing but air.

Where is she?

Startled, my eyes dance between my now empty arms and the space around me. The bright aura that had been around her head moments ago has grown and given everything a bright, disorienting glow. It takes me a minute to realize that the shining figure currently standing before me is my wife.

Slow blinking and deep, measured breaths have everything coming back into crystal-clear focus. As this happens, the clove-tinged smoke vanishes along with the looming presence that’s been behind me, coaching me like he did when I was a teenager.

Rionach, pinned between my body and the van, is still a ball of ferocity and is wide awake.

“Emeric. That’s enough, let me go.”

I look between her angry face and her throat—a throat I’m still indeed grasping, but my hold isn’t meant to strangle, only to control. Her airway is unobstructed and the only reason her breathing is currently labored is from the array of emotions currently wreaking havoc on her.

Hallucinating. You hallucinated all of it.

Given the Russian guest that was along for the ride, it should be obvious that none of that actually happened, but when I get like this, it’s difficult for my brain to untangle what is real and what’s not. Just to be certain, I release my hold on her neck and search for evidence of strangulation. The perfect pale skin of her throat doesn’t sport a single red mark.

Relief that I didn’t nearly choke the life out of her crashes down on me at the same time I remember why we’re at my property an hour outside the city to begin with. With my newfound—albeit shaky—clarity, I refocus my attention to the original plan I had in store for her.

“Emeric…” She searches my face with an inquisitive gaze. While I imagined my fingers compressing her arteries, what was I actually doing, and how long was I doing it? “What⁠—”

“You put yourself in danger today,” I say, cutting her question off.

That defiant aura of hers firmly settles around her. “You promised me it would only take two days to find me a bodyguard and from there I could come and go as I please. You didn’t do that, and I do believe I warned you what would happen if you didn’t uphold your end of the bargain, buddy.”

She’s right, she did. I was cocky and didn’t believe she’d find a way around my security system. Color me surprised to learn my princess is quite the skilled pickpocket. I can’t wait to ask her where she learned that skill and for what purpose. She doesn’t exactly strike me as the type to walk around Grand Central Station stealing loose change and knockoff Rolexes from tourists.

“That was before our meeting with Niall,” I snarl, dipping my head closer so she can see the full extent of my anger reflected in my eyes. “Niall, despite my warnings, has no intention of rolling over and showing me his submissive, fat belly. He’s letting his emotions govern his actions, which means he’s going to do something beyond idiotic in a misguided attempt to exact his revenge on me. I could have taken care of the problem right there in that shithole he calls a pub, but I didn’t because the thought of you witnessing his organs splattering on the dirty carpet didn’t sit well with me. I was protecting you then, just as I was when I kept you from leaving our home unattended, but you’re too goddamn stubborn to see it.”

Rionach crosses her arms in front of her chest. “So, your marvelous solution was to stage my kidnapping and make me think my father or, worse, the Koslovs came for me? This was you teaching me a lesson or something?”

She’s trying to hide it, but I can see the lingering terror still residing in her body from being abducted. Even if she wasn’t in any true danger with my men, up until the bag was lifted from her head, it was real to her. My wife gets off on fear, but this isn’t the kind she finds enjoyable. For all she knew this was a genuine life-or-death situation. Which was the whole point of this charade.

I tap under her chin with two fingers. “That was precisely what that was. You needed to learn how fucking easy it would be for someone to take you from me.” While this seems like a repetitive conversation for me due to my hallucination, I have a strong inclination it isn’t for her. With the way none of my guards still loitering nearby are staring at me like I’ve grown a second head, I believe it’s safe to assume I wasn’t standing here having a conversation with myself while I imagined choking her. “Just like you’re about to learn what happens to those who defy my orders.”

Her perfectly shaped brows pull together. “What does that mean? You haven’t already done enough?”

“Oh, sweet Rionach, we’re just getting started.” I take her arm in my hand and pull her with me into the thick trees that surround us. “You chose a very bad day to decide you want to be punished, my wife.”

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