Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 3

EMERIC

By the time I’d removed his fourth finger, my attempted assailant had lost consciousness.

Like a total pussy.

I was raised to endure an immeasurable amount of physical pain and psychological torment without making so much as a peep. Apparently, this weakling wasn’t afforded the same training because the screams that had ripped from his throat when I first brought the tip of my knife’s blade to his thumb were deafening. And embarrassing.

When the tears started falling down the Italian mafia capo’s face, my earlier assumption that he had balls of steel went out the window. I’d been giving Rocco the benefit of the doubt before that. If someone is going to come after me and actually fire their fucking gun, I’ve got to assume they have some serious gumption. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt a morsel of respect for the man when I first entered this room. To not only attempt to kill me, but to do it publicly? I’d been impressed. But then he started boohooing like a baby and I was proven wrong about the size of his balls. He isn’t brave. He’s an idiot driven by his anger and a foolish plan to even the score.

Whatever the fuck that means.

Apparently when I burned down Rocco’s family restaurant, he made some silly vow to his ailing father that he would get revenge for what they lost. That’s the rambling, tear- and snot-filled story I got before he went and ruined all my fun by passing out. It’s just not as satisfying to dismember someone when they’re unconscious. It sucks all the fun out of it.

What he forgot to mention when he was sobbing and blowing snot bubbles was the fact that he and his family had been warned—multiple times—what would happen to their precious restaurant if they didn’t cease the operation they were running in the cellar. I went to Rocco’s boss first, Cosimo, but the head of the Italian syndicate didn’t heed my warning. Then we went directly to the source and they still thought they could run underage girls in their underground prostitution ring in my city. They want to profit off flesh? Fine. They can go forth and get their cocks wet however they want, but they better leave children the hell out of it.

I’m not known for giving people multiple chances, but for this man I did, and to thank me for my generosity, he put a fucking bullet in my shoulder.

Ungrateful prick.

“Your silence is making me itchy, Nova,” I finally address the head-to-toe tattooed lumberjack of a man who’s been wordlessly leaning against the metal door for the better part of an hour. He crawled out of some godforsaken mountain town in bumfuck nowhere Alaska, and somehow made it all the way to me here in New York. He’s my second-in-command and one of the few people I trust. If I didn’t think he’d punch me in the mouth for saying so, I’d go as far as to say he’s my friend. “Is there something I can help you with?”

Behind me, he shifts on his booted feet as he sighs. I have no idea when he changed out of the suit he’d been forced to wear to the charity event last night, all I know is I’m still wearing mine and it’s going straight in the trash when I’m finished here. Even if I could get the blood out of the white button-down, there’s no fixing the goddamn bullet hole in the left arm.

“I’m just wondering when you’re going to be done with your art project so I can look at that shoulder. Need to know if I need to call in the good doctor to take a look at it. You probably need antibiotics too.”

“It was a through-and-through, a flesh wound,” I grumble, picking up one of the ten fingers sitting on the table in front of me.

The only reason Rocco’s bullet didn’t do any serious damage is because Nova was being more vigilant than I was. While I’d been distracted by an ethereal redhead, Nova had been watching the crowd. I can’t remember the last time I’d made a mistake like this one.

The fact that I managed to walk away with only a flesh wound is the reason I only cut off his fingers. If it’d been worse, I would have cut off something more… substantial, like his head, and sent that to Cosimo. By limiting it to only his fingers, the capo can still have an open casket at his funeral. I’m sure his family will appreciate that.

By my count, this is the second act of generosity I’ve shown this man.

Nova’s footsteps echo in the mostly empty room made of steel and concrete as he moves closer to where I work.

“Jesus Christ, Banes.”

To his credit, he doesn’t sound surprised by what he’s seeing, rather just resigned. Like he’s sick of my shit and after putting up with me for the past fifteen years, I can’t say I blame him. We’ve been through a lot since my older brother Astor abandoned ship and left the family empire in my safe and oh-so gentle hands. Nova has been the only person to stay by my side through it all and help as I’ve grown the business and made it into something my father could have only dreamed of achieving. I don’t want to give that fuckface any credit for what I’ve built, but I’ll admit a lot of what I’ve accomplished is due to the spite I have for that man. Resentment is a wonderful motivator, if you know how to harness it.

“What? Too much?”

“Is that an Edible Arrangements bouquet?”

I examine the bouquet made of fresh fruit, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and fingers in front of me. “Yeah, but I wouldn’t recommend actually eating it. I think it became a lot less edible about five fingers ago.” Each of Rocco’s digits have been stuck on wooden skewers and arranged within the fruit. It looks very artistic, if I do say so myself.

His tattooed hand, which is covered in roses and all kinds of other unsentimental bullshit, lifts to his face as he pinches the bridge of his nose. “What are you going to do? Send that to Cosimo?”

“Yes.” When he doesn’t respond, I look away from the severed thumb I’d just placed between a piece of pineapple and cantaloupe. “What? Do you think I should send a mini muffin basket instead?”

Eyes, the same color as the frozen lakes from where he was born, narrow before he releases a long breath. “What are you going to do with him? Send the fingers and let Rocco return home once you’re done playing with him? Or will the rest of his body be arriving in some other colorful fashion?”

With the last finger placed, I turn from the table and face where Rocco is bound in the lone chair. His body is slumped pitifully in the seat, head lolled all the way back and his mouth gaping like he’s doing his best impression of a bottom feeder fish.

“What kind of message would I be sending if I allowed the man who put a bullet in me to live?”

I hold my bloodied hand out to my second-in-command, a silent order he knows well. Nova removes his Glock from the waistband of his worn jeans and hands it to me. Not a second later, I return the favor to Rocco by putting a bullet between his closed eyes.

The gunshot pierces through the air of the cavernous room, reminding me of the reverberating sound of Rocco’s gun going off in the hotel lobby eight hours ago. I’m fairly certain the screams that came from New York’s high society were louder than the actual gunshot. They all cried and ran for their lives, scurrying around the elegant space like fleeing sheep.

All but one, that is.

Rionach.

She hadn’t even flinched. The unwavering bravery I’d seen up on that roof remained steadfast as the chaos erupted around her. For the second time in a short period, I’d found myself completely enamored by the Irish princess. She’s so unlike the other women who run in those privileged and pampered circles.

Before Rocco’s utterly and completely rude interruption, when we’d locked eyes, she hadn’t shielded away from me. Where most have the good sense to avert their gaze, Rionach had unabashedly continued to study me.

Unwavering and unafraid.

I’ve grown accustomed to the look of fear and uncertainty in people’s faces when they look upon me. It was almost jarring to find both absent from Rionach’s stunning face. She was simply intrigued by me, a feeling I can confidently say is mutual.

My obsession with the princess was fast and all-consuming. I want to know everything about her, from what makes her feel alive and her heart race to what makes that smile of hers grace her face. The one she gave the sky as it erupted with fireworks all around her, I crave to have that smile directed at me. And only me.

I’m a man who gets what he wants, and I want her. Need her.

“Have someone put the body on ice. We’ll deliver it in a week or so. I want the Italians to think we’re going to deliver him back piece by piece. Let them panic for a bit,” I tell Nova, returning his gun to him. “Put in a call to the twins and get this place cleaned up. I want it so clean it sparkles.”

The identical blond men make up my favorite cleanup crew. They can make any gruesome scene look brand spankin’ new in an alarming short amount of time. With my proclivity for making messes, it’s good to have them on my payroll.

Nova nods his beard-covered chin toward the basket behind me. “And that? When are we delivering your masterpiece?”

“Now.” My entire body braces itself as I slowly begin to remove the sports coat and white button-down from my torso. Seeing as it’s been hours since the bullet ripped through my flesh, blood has dried around the wound, creating a scab that tears open again once the stained fabric is pulled away. Despite the searing pain and the fresh blood now dripping down my bicep, I don’t make a sound. Don’t flinch. The last time I reacted outwardly to pain, I was fifteen. “I want Cosimo to know where his capo is as soon as possible. Pick some men to leave it at his estate’s front gates and when you’re done with that, I have something else I need from you.”

“Besides calling the good doctor?”

“I told you it’s a flesh wound. Just need you to put a couple stitches in it and I’ll be as good as new.” I wave him off, but he doesn’t look convinced. “I need you to find out everything you can on Rionach Moran.”

My favorite thing about Nova? He knows me well enough to discern when and when not to push for more information. His brow furrows and eyes narrow, but he doesn’t ask the obvious question hanging between us. What the hell am I going to do with the Irish princess?

“Anything specific you want to know?” he simply asks instead.

“Everything.”

I want to know every-fucking-thing about the woman I’m going to call mine.

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