Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 32

RIONACH

“Stop,” Emeric murmurs in my ear as his hand tightens around mine.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s beautifully preserved architecture is plastered in tacky red, white, and blue decorations and various-sized banners that boast Senator Robert L. Holloway’s smiling mug. I don’t care how attractive a person might be, no one looks good when their face is blown up to the size of a Mini Cooper.

Patrons are dressed to the nines in their designer suits and dresses. Fake smiles and surface-level small talk fill the crowded room. It’s like every other fundraiser and charity event I’ve been forced to attend over the years. Contrived and reeking of enlarged and unjustifiable egos.

I hate it, and the second I stepped through the glass doors on Emeric’s arm, I felt my well-practiced blank mask slip effortlessly back into place. Seems a month away from this bullshit wasn’t enough time for my skills to grow rusty.

“Stop what?” I whisper back.

We’ve only made it twenty feet into the building and already I can feel their stares. The looks on the guests’ faces as they stare at us—me—range from confused to appalled to angry. The latter sits predominantly on the faces of young women. It takes me a minute to figure out what their problem is, but when I do, I have to fight a smirk. They’re jealous of me because I’m his. Without even trying, I landed the most elusive and eligible bachelor in the state. Emeric told me he’s had fathers offering their daughters to him for years, but he’s always turned them down. He rejected these women and then chose me, the girl who’s always gone unseen.

Emeric pulls us to a stop, and he shifts so he’s standing directly in front of me, his wide shoulders blocking out everything in the crowded room behind him. “Stop trying to make yourself small,” his voice is quiet but still holds every ounce of his power. “Remember who you are. You’re a Banes now. You’re my wife, and that fucking means something, so act accordingly. We both know you’re not the reserved girl you pretended to be for so many years. Drop the disguise and show them who you are.”

Throat feeling oddly tight, I look directly into the storm flashing in his eyes. “How have you always been able to see the real me, but they never could?”

I don’t have to elaborate on who I mean by “they”He knows.

He twists the lock of hair I left loose to frame my face around his finger. The rest of my hair is twisted into a messy but still elegant braid that hangs down my exposed spine. I had ended up choosing a simple midnight blue dress that has thin straps and is nearly backless. My lower stomach is still bloated, but luckily the fabric hangs tastefully from my shoulders and doesn’t cling.

“Because they didn’t want to,” he answers simply. “The real you—the version you tried so damn hard to hide—is all I want, princess. I told you this once already, but I’ll say it again because it’s as true now as it was then. Your family doesn’t deserve you. Their blatant disregard is something they’ll come to regret. I’ll make sure of it.”

It’s ridiculous to think there was a time not that long ago I thought I could control my feelings for this man. We’re so far past that now. The train has left the station and we’re barreling toward something that scares me in the best way.

Peeking around his frame, I find inquisitive eyes locked on where we’re having our private conversation. “People are staring.”

“Let them.” He returns to my side and wraps his arm around my waist. “Come on, I want to show off my wife.”

For the next hour, I stand beside Emeric with my head held high and my shoulders back. I don’t retreat into myself like I’ve been conditioned to do. A few times I caught people whispering and not so subtly gesturing in our direction. They were too busy gossiping at first to notice, but the color leeched from their embarrassed faces when they realized I’d caught them staring. Their worry multiplied when I had narrowed my eyes at them. Emeric is an intimidating entity, and by association, I guess I now am too. That’s something I’ve never experienced before, and it gives me a sense of power that’s always been foreign to me.

“Rionach,” Emeric says, breaking me out of the thoughts I’d fallen into. His fingers thread through mine again. “This is my nephew Callan.”

Oh. On top of obscene wealth and influence, the Banes men have been blessed with achingly good looks. If Emeric gets his way and manages to knock me up—something that hadn’t appealed to me prior to him admitting his devious plan but is now consuming a large portion of my brain’s bandwidth—our babies will be beautiful.

Callan Banes is around my age, maybe a year younger, and he’s handsome as hell. Built similarly to Emeric with his tall frame and wide shoulders, he stands with a confidence that must be hereditary. The only pictures I’ve seen of Astor Banes have been on the internet, but the facial resemblance he has to his father is uncanny. His dark brown hair is tousled but doesn’t appear unkempt, and there’s a seriousness in his blue eyes. He’s got that all-American hottie vibe but there’s an obvious air of danger hovering around him too. Another trait I believe comes with his bloodline.

I can see why he once appealed to Ophelia, but I prefer the violence and wickedness that clings to my husband.

“Rionach,” Callan repeats, an easy grin on his face. “It’s good to finally put a face to the name.” He bends and presses a friendly kiss to my cheek. “I was betting my uncle was going to scare you off before I could meet you in person and welcome you to the family.”

“I don’t scare easily,” I tell him, returning his smile.

“That you don’t,” Emeric chimes in under his breath.

Ignoring his cheeky comment, I keep my focus on his nephew. “Emeric told me you moved here from Washington to do accounting work for the businesses.”

Callan nods as he takes a drink of the scotch or whiskey in his glass. “I graduated early with a degree in forensic accounting. We thought we should put my education to use and help keep the books in order.” In other words, Callan helps launder the dirty money through the legit companies the Banes family owns. I’m sure this is precisely what his professors thought he’d end up doing with his private school education when he sat in their classes. “I heard you’re also joining the family business and you’re going to be working at Tartarus.”

Anticipation shoots through me as I squeeze Emeric’s hand, silently thanking him again for the opportunity. Having been pulled into another conversation with an older gentleman, he can only squeeze my hand back in acknowledgement.

“I am! I guess I’ll also be putting my expensive college degree to use. I’m actually really excited to get to work. Being a kept housewife is so boring.”

“Has Emeric brought you to the club during operating hours yet? If he hasn’t, make sure he does. You’d have fun.”

I bite my lip to refrain from telling him that his uncle personally gave me a tour of the club and the secret one residing in the basement. Instead, I give him my best blasé look as I casually tell him, “I’ve been before. I attended the masquerade party held there before we got married. My friend, Ophelia, managed to snag a ticket and she brought me as her plus-one. Do you know her? Ophelia? I think she mentioned once that she knew you when you all were kids, but I might be remembering wrong,” I play dumb to see what he’ll say.

A symphony of emotions dance across Callan’s face before he reins them all in and replaces them with a neutral expression. “That’s correct, I did know her when we were younger. I was good friends with her brother, Bash.” Yeah, whatever you say, buddy, but that isn’t all you two were, and we both know it. There’s more history between Callan and Ophelia than either of them is letting on, and one day soon, I’m going to get the full story out of someone. I make a mental note to ask Emeric about it once we’re home. “She’s actually here tonight. I saw her an hour ago or so.”

“She is?” My head instantly starts pivoting on my shoulders as I search for my best friend.

“From the looks of it, she’s on a date.”

At the bitter and venomous change of his tone, my eyebrows skyrocket to my hairline. I force myself to school my features. I have no idea if I should be on Team Callan or not since I don’t know their full history, but either way, I decide to stoke the flames of Callan’s obvious jealousy.

“Really? Good for her.”

“Yeah, sure. It’s great.” In one swallow, he drains the remaining contents of his glass before he shifts on his feet and looks around the room. “There’s someone I need to catch up with, but it was wonderful meeting you, Rionach.”

Oh, he’s big mad. I need to find Ophelia so I can tell her.

“Rio,” I correct before he can walk away. “You can call me Rio.”

“Okay, Rio.” He nods his head in farewell before slipping into the crowd.

I do another slow perusal of the giant room we’re in, but I still don’t see my friend. Sighing, I step closer to Emeric and give his companion an apologetic smile.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I’ll be right back. I need to run to the restroom,” I tell him quietly.

“Camden will escort you.” Emeric turns and lifts his hand. The young soldier I didn’t noticed lingering close by appears at our side a moment later.

I feel my face wrinkle as I ask, “Is that really necessary?”

The dark, unswayable expression on Emeric’s face tells me this isn’t up for debate.

Raising my hands in mock surrender, I start to back away from him. “Ugh. Fine, whatever, just stop looking at me like that.” With a cheeky grin, I duck away before he can say something back.


BETWEEN THE WOMEN reapplying their lipstick and fighting with the zippers on their formal gowns, it takes me longer to get out of the bathroom than I anticipated. Also, nothing aggravates pee fright quite like knowing there’s an armed guard standing in the hallway waiting for you to be done. The added pressure wasn’t working in my favor there for a minute.

Stepping around a pair of women who seem to be close in age with me, I push open the heavy wooden door. Before I slip though, I pause and glance at them over my shoulder. “You know, you two would probably enjoy your evening more if you’d stop staring at me like I stole your favorite toy during playtime.”

By the way their perfectly painted faces drop and then contort up into unjustified distaste, I know they weren’t expecting me to say something.

The bottle-blonde wearing the blood-red dress speaks first. “My father has been trying to discuss a possible courtship between Emeric Banes and myself for over two years, but Banes turned my father down every single time. And Dad isn’t just some random suit on Wall Street. People know who he is.” The way her arms uncross and recross in rapid succession give her away. She’s not as confident as she’s pretending to be.

“The same thing happened with my family,” the blonde’s friend huffs. “And we own an airline, and I’m not talking about some small private one, I mean an entire commercial airline. Do you know how wealthy that makes us? It didn’t matter because Banes still snubbed my father’s messages.”

Emeric wasn’t kidding when he said he could have been married ten times over with all the suitors that were being shoved his way.

This is what happens to women’s minds when they’re told from girlhood their worth is dependent on who they marry and have children with. It corrupts their heads and blinds them to their true value. My heart bleeds with sympathy for them because they never stood a chance but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let them try to run all over me.

Equal parts annoyed and sad for the women standing here, I raise a brow and ask, “Is there a question in there somewhere?”

The blonde looks at me down her perfectly sculpted nose. “We know who your family is and that they stopped being relevant years ago. What we don’t know is what makes you so special that he chose you. Why would he want to marry you?”

Okay, ouch. Fixing my sweetest, most condescending smile on my face, I say, “That seems like a question for Emeric. Why don’t you go ask him? I dare you.” Their indignant expressions don’t change until I add, “Or, better yet, I can ask him for you. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to make it crystal clear to him that it’s you two questioning his decisions.”

Like rehearsed choreography, the blood drains from their faces at the same time and matching gasps come from their plump red lips.

Head cocking, I examine their visible and tangible fear. “This. This is why neither of you could have married him. The fear dripping off you right now is proof you couldn’t survive being his wife. You wouldn’t last a night in bed with Emeric. He would eat you alive and smile while he did it.” Luckily for me, I fucking love that smile. “We’re currently standing in a building that is filled to the brim with wealthy and powerful men. Go find yourself one and stop fucking glaring at me for having something that was never going to be yours.”

Not bothering to wait around to hear what they have to say, I turn back around and leave them to stew in their misplaced envy.

The bathrooms are located down a long hallway away from the main exhibit where the bustle of the function is taking place. A man’s voice that I’m assuming belongs to the man of the hour and future presidential candidate echoes through the corridors. He’s speaking into a microphone and by the time his words reach me, they’re garbles. I don’t have to be present to know what Senator Holloway is saying. He’s making all kinds of outlandish promises about how he’s going to save America when he becomes president, but for that to happen, he needs everyone here to write a very big check for his cause. Yawn.

With the attendees wanting to listen to the speech, the hallway that was populated with people when I first went to the bathroom is now empty. Completely empty. As in the guard who Emeric assigned to me is nowhere to be found.

I’m worrying about the young guard’s overall health and safety for when Emeric learns Camden abandoned his post and me when footsteps sound behind me.

My head has just barely had the chance to turn in the direction of the noise when an arm wraps around me from behind and a hand clamps down on my mouth. Due to his aptitude for chasing and abducting me, for a single heartbeat, my body thinks it’s Emeric’s arms around me. But the body pressed against mine as it starts to drag me backward feels wrong. The warm, slightly clammy hand covering my mouth is wrong.

Adrenaline floods my veins and fight settles in my bones because this isn’t my husband hauling me away. A knowing twinge in my gut tells me he’s also not behind this. I haven’t done anything that would warrant being taught another lesson like the one in the woods. I’ve been good.

My legs search for purpose, or any kind of traction, and my elbows thrust backward until they connect with a set of ribs.

His back slams into a nondescript white door that is meant for employees only and he rushes us inside the dimly lit space. With my struggling and hysterical thrashing, I vaguely take in the room I’ve been brought to. There are rows of metal shelving with carefully placed boxes and items organized on them. We’re in one of the museum’s archive rooms.

The man chuckles when I try in vain to grab one of the items placed on the shelves when he drags me past them. With the disarray happening in my head and the panic-induced haze overtaking my focus, I can’t be sure what I was even reaching for. Anything can be made into a weapon if you hit someone hard enough with it, right?

The room is deeper than I initially thought, and he weaves us back farther between the shelves. It’s not until we reach the last stack of items does his hold on me loosen. Regaining my balance, my now bare feet—apparently, I lost my stilettos at some point—stand on the cold tile floors at the same time the hand releases my face.

I’ve just managed to suck in a breath so I can demand to know what the hell this is about when another figure steps out from behind a shelf. My words turn into sawdust on my tongue and I nearly choke on them when the figure moves out from the shadows.

It’s been over six months since our dance this fall and the damage to the left side of his face is just as horrifying as it was the first time I saw it. The skin that looks to have been shredded from his skull and down his neck before being sewed back on is made of ugly raised pink and silver lines. His eyelid, which also appears to have been reattached, doesn’t move when he blinks. I still don’t know if he can see anything with the partially hidden, milky eye that sits beneath it.

“We’re sorry to take you away from the festivities.” The smooth timbre of his voice could be considered pleasant if I didn’t know it was a lie. Or a tool he uses to lure women to their horrific and bloody ends. “As you can imagine, it’s been a difficult task to find time to speak to you alone. Banes hasn’t made it easy on us by keeping you locked away in his stronghold in the sky.”

Fear, and not the fun kind, wraps around my diaphragm and squeezes until it hurts. Images of butchered women swirl in my head, causing my stomach to roll. As if Bogdan Koslov can read my mind, an evil grin spreads across his fucked-up face.

It takes a moment for what he said to register in my brain. We. Us.

“What are⁠—”

I’ve been so focused on the butcher standing before me that I momentarily forgot about the person who carried me in here until he speaks.

“Hello, little sister.”

Chills erupt down my spine like a hundred spiders scurrying across my skin. I spin around at such a violet speed I nearly topple over.

“Tiernan,” his name catches in my throat as I choke it out.

He’s my brother, I know this, but raking my eyes over him now, I barely recognize him. Tiernan’s always taken pride in his appearance. Was borderline fanatical about keeping his dark blond hair neatly trimmed and styled, and I’ve never seen him with more than a day’s worth of facial hair. It looks to me like he hasn’t cut or shaved either since the church. The taupe blazer he wears is wrinkled and a size too big because of the weight he’s lost.

The deranged side of him that I always saw but everyone else ignored is on full display.

“What are you doing? Why are you…” Once again, my words are stolen from me. It shouldn’t be a shock to see him without his right hand. I mean, for fuck’s sake, I saw the carnage lying on the dusty floor of the church, but there’s something jarring about seeing his jacket sleeve hang empty for the first time.

Tiernan follows my gaze, and a bitter grin lifts his lips. “Appreciating Banes’s handiwork?” He shoves the sleeve of his blazer up his forearm and presents the wrapped stump to me. “He sent it back to us. My hand, I mean. Did you know that? It was left on our porch and Mom opened the box. She thought it was something she ordered online. It was a big box, after all. But no, it was just my hand with a ‘get well soon’ balloon tied around it. She just screamed and screamed, the damn balloon floating in her face. Dad had to have her sedated for days after that. She’s still not back to herself.”

The way he’s staring at me… he’s waiting for me to be outraged by Emeric’s actions. He’s going to be waiting a very long time for that kind of reaction from me. After the way my family behaved in the church, I think Emeric has every right to taunt them further by returning the severed hand. Doing so in such a colorful manner is completely on brand for the man I now share a life with.

“What the hell did you think was going to happen? Did you think you’d get away with it?” I grit out, hands balling into fists at my sides to conceal the way they shake. I’m not sure if it’s from the fear or the rage now humming within me. “You. Stole. From. Him.”

“And then he stole you from us!” Tiernan points between his chest and Bogdan’s.

From us. Interesting.

The weird conversation we had the morning he came into my room back at our family estate reemerges in my head. Marrying outside our heritage is what’s weakened our bloodline. He was visibly angry at the prospect of me being married off, and now he’s teamed up with Bogdan, the man I was supposed to marry?

He’s up to something and based on how well his last scheme went, I don’t foresee whatever this is ending well for him.

Stupid, stupid man. Do you want to lose another body part? Perhaps your head this time?

“He stole you from us and ruined everything we had planned between our families.” His face turns red as he takes a step closer to me.

I lift my foot to back up a step but stop when I remember that will only put me closer to Bogdan. Not liking the fact my back is already to the Russian, I shift away and position myself so they’re both somewhat in front of me. I want to see both of them at all times until I figure out how to get the hell away from this.

I’ve been gone too long, it’s only a matter of time before Emeric notices and he comes searching for me. I just have to make sure these two pricks don’t try to take me to a secondary location. As long as I remain in the museum, it’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.

Emeric has men everywhere. Someone will find me.

“Where’s the man who was guarding me?” I ask instead of acknowledging his retort. Arguing with him isn’t going to get me anywhere. All it will do is further piss him off and I know what Tiernan can be like when he’s angry.

“Why do you care?” Tiernan snaps. “He’s just one of Banes’s lackeys.”

“I’d prefer to not have an innocent man’s blood on my hands because you decided to throw a tantrum in the middle of a political fundraiser.” Oops, there goes my plan of not pissing him off.

Bogdan chuckles. It’s a dark, sinister kind of sound that has alarm bells sounding in my head like a category five tornado is imminent.

He stalks toward me. I try to stand my ground, but when he closes in on me, I end up with my back pressed against the shelving.

Idiot, I scold myself.

His hand reaches out, and his calloused fingers drag down the side of my face. Bile starts to rise in my throat. The blood that coats Bogdan’s hands might not be visible now, but it still drips from them. Emeric’s hands are also bloodstained. That’s never been a secret to me, but I’ve never shuddered at the thought of his touch. I’ve never shied away because I know in my very soul I’m safe in his hands.

Rough fingertips trace across my jaw.

“Mmm, such soft skin,” he mumbles mainly to himself, before pinning me with his gaze. “I appreciate your spirit, Rionach.” His praise and touch have my entire body heaving in disgust. “I prefer my women to have a decent amount of fight in them. It keeps things exciting. Lively.”

“I’m not your woman,” I instantly snarl back, refusing to allow him to see the fear that is racking my insides.

His light blond brows pull together—or whatever remains of his left eyebrow tries to. “Because you’re his?” The tsking sound he makes is mocking. “No. You were promised to me first. I chose you. You’re not Banes’s, you belong to me. I have a contract signed by your father saying just that.”

Thick inky dread twists my insides, but still, I lift my chin to meet his eyes… eye? “I have a signed marriage license that says I’m his.” A marriage license my signature was forged on, but whatever. Semantics and all that. That’s information he doesn’t need to know.

Tiernan scoffs loudly. “License or not. It’s a sham of a marriage.”

It may have started out that way, but it’s not anymore. My marriage to Emeric is more real than I ever thought it would be. It’s evolved into something I didn’t see coming… something I didn’t know I needed.

“Emeric won’t agree with that sentiment,” I warn my brother over Bogdan’s shoulder.

“We aren’t concerned about Banes,” Bogdan snaps. “His days on top are numbered. We’re coming for him.” He moves on from petting my faces to the long braid hanging down by back. He wraps the woven strands around his palm and tugs. My head is forcibly snapped back, and my throat is exposed to him. I fight against the submissive position he’s forcing upon me, but all I succeed in doing is making him yank on my hair harder. The bones in my neck have reached their limit. My neck cannot physically go back any further, but still he pulls. “That’s why we’re here. Either way, you will be rightfully mine, but I’m giving you the option to make it easy on yourself. If you voluntarily leave here with us tonight, I won’t punish you too severely for willingly spreading your legs for Banes all these weeks. But if you decide to stick around at his side like the obedient whore you are, I’ll make sure you regret it after we annihilate him and you’re left unprotected.” The way he examines my exposed throat feels like he’s imagining what it’d be like to slice a blade across it. “When you’re nothing but sweet fruit ripe for the picking.”

I think it’s a reflex when my eyes dart to where my brother stands behind Bogdan. Of the two evils in the room with me, Tiernan is the safer option and I think that’s why I look at him for help. It’s pathetic and if I get out of here, I’ll find time to feel shame over it.

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” I grind out.

A smile that could be the cause of nightmares tugs at the corners of his mouth. “Like I said, I prefer women who have fight in them.” He leans in close so he can whisper in my ear. “I think I just like beating it out of them. Nothing gets me harder than when they finally beg for their lives.”

The terrifying smile vanishes and twists into liquid fury when he pulls back and I snarl, “Fuck you,” before spitting in his face.

Hand like a vise wrapped in my hair, he pulls me by the braid and whirls me around. The unforgiving metal of the shelf crashes into my chest and thighs when I’m slammed against it. The bones in my sternum scream in pain and I just barely manage to swallow my cry.

The full length of the front of his body presses into my back as he forces me to discover what kind of affect I’m having on his body. My breathing stills in my chest and every muscle in my body goes agonizingly rigid.

Oh God… the fear I felt when Emeric staged my kidnapping pales in comparison to what is currently wrapping its clawed hand around my heart.

“Bogdan. This wasn’t the…” My brother’s warning comes just as an insanely loud and high-pitched ring cuts through the turbulent space. Lights on the ceiling and over the doors flash with each eardrum-rattling beep.

The fire alarm. Someone pulled the fire alarm.

Despite Bogdan’s hands still being on me, I calm down and a weight lifts from my chest. And then I start to laugh. I laugh because I know who’s behind this and I know what that means.

“You’re fucked,” I tell the pair of men standing at my back between giggles. The Russian’s hold on my hair hinders me from turning my head. To make sure they’re hearing me over their own concern and the deafening noise, I raise my voice and say it again, “You’re so unbelievably fucked!”

“We need to move,” Tiernan shouts at his new companion. “Leave her here for now. We’ll get her later. Just like we talked about⁠—”

“Stop talking!” Bogdan’s yells his demand over the alarm.

Emeric’s coming for me.

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