Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 33

EMERIC

“So, can I count on your support, Mr. Banes?” Robert Holloway’s smile is so well rehearsed, it drips with sleazy insincerity.

It’s no different than the other politicians I’ve had to deal with during my climb to the top. They sit on their high pedestals and paint themselves as morally superior humans who wouldn’t dare get their hands dirty. In reality, they’re just as corrupt as I am. For four generations, the Holloways have hidden their depravity behind their shiny veil of religion and simulated altruism. But I know the truth and I also know how they’ve managed to possess political power for so long.

His smile falters when I blandly glance at his offered hand.

He’s trying his best to conceal it, but the trepidation he’s experiencing in my presence is plain as day. The way he’s blinking more than necessary and his throat bobs betrays him. Robert’s been cultivating and growing his political career since he was chasing co-eds in college. You’d think after all this time he’d be more skilled at reining in his emotions. Pathetic. And this guy wants to run the country?

I was originally pleasantly surprised he was brave enough to approach me after Rionach had slipped away to use the restroom. My surprise has already turned to ash and now I’m just unamused. My wife should be returning shortly and once she does, we’re blowing this political Popsicle stand.

I smirk at him when he awkwardly returns his arm to his side. “I wouldn’t hold your breath, Robby,” I tell him while casually stuffing my hands in my pant pockets. “I don’t have any interest in putting the West Coast’s Italian mafia in the oval office. You can see how that might negatively affect me and my personal interests, can’t you?”

It’s taken me nearly a decade to get my hooks into players in the United States government. Like everything else I do, it was a meticulous game of strategy and planning. I’ve carefully placed people in jobs of power that will serve me and my goals. If the walking, talking Ken doll standing in front of me ends up sitting pretty in Washington, D.C., he will royally fuck up what has taken me years to do. Especially if he has the Italians in his ear calling in the favors they’ve collected from the Holloways over the years.

Robert coughs and then forces a fake chuckle while his dark blue eyes dart around to make sure no one overheard what I said. “Mr. Banes… if you’re insinuating I’m anything other than a devoted husband and father, and a humble servant of the United States of America, you are sorely mistaken.” He steps closer as he quietly adds, “For God’s sake, I am not a member of the mafia.”

Already bored with this interaction, I sigh exasperatedly. “Using the company line on me of all people is not only a mistake, but it’s also a colossal waste of both our times. You know what kind of man I am, and I know what kind of man you are. Let’s just skip the monotonous part where we pretend we don’t, shall we?” I’ve already seen what I came here to see tonight, and now I’m ready to take my wife home. The taste of her I had before we left wasn’t enough to satiate me. It’s never enough. I always end up wanting more of her. “The Holloways and the Valentino crime family have been sucking each other’s cocks for nearly forty years. That’s no secret.”

Robert’s face tightens and pinches around his eyes and mouth. His shiny forehead doesn’t so much as flinch, but that’s normal for him. Up this close, the tiny scars near his ears from where he got a face lift years ago are visible.

My hand gives him a condescending pat on the shoulder. “Careful. There’re cameras everywhere tonight. We don’t want tomorrow’s headlines to read, ‘Hopeful presidential candidate seen looking tense while deep in conversation with a man known for making his enemies wear their entrails like a stylish scarf’, now do we?”

The color drains from his face but he forces another one of those fake million-dollar smiles back on his face. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t one of your cousins marry into this so-called ‘crime family’? I would think you’d be in support of whatever ongoing business relationship my family has with them seeing as you, too, have family involved.”

“You’ve assumed incorrectly.” A cousin I haven’t spoken to in decades does not outweigh my business’s need to keep its stronghold in the country’s capital.

“If you’re not here to support my cause, why are you here, Mr. Banes?”

My attention flicks around the room, landing on a few familiar faces.

“I wanted to see firsthand whose lives I’m going to need to fuck up to ensure they pull their support for your bothersome campaign,” I tell him honestly. “You claim your loyalty is to your god and country. Mine lies with the needs of my empire.” And my wife. “That’s all I give a shit about, and I’m not about to let your slimy ass and ill-conceived policies endanger it in any way.”

Indignation flares in his eyes. “You’re a respectable businessman and your power is vast, Mr. Banes, but you’re not strong enough to alter the outcome of a presidential election.”

“You don’t think so?” My head cocks to the side as I slowly examine him with calculating eyes. “Well, I suppose if I can’t sway the votes, I can always just eliminate the problem altogether.”

“Did you…” he sputters, ignoring the pair of young men signaling for him to join them near the stage. “Did you just threaten to have a United States senator executed?”

“Good luck with your speech, Senator.”

I give him one last knowing smirk before I nod my head in farewell and turn away from the gaping man.

Satisfied that my task for the night has been completed, I search the room for signs of my wife. She should have been back by now, but Callan did say that Ophelia was here. Perhaps she’s found her friend on the way back from the restroom? While this is a very strong possibility, my intuition tells me to keep looking. The crowded throng of attendees all push toward the stage as Holloway begins his speech. I don’t pay attention to a word he’s saying. My sole focus is on finding her distinctive red hair amongst the gathering people.

Tension snakes down my spine as a rock forms in my gut. Jaw set, I push my way through the chatting patrons and make my way across the room toward the bathrooms. She wouldn’t have run off, certainly not after learning the truth about my history with the Koslovs. Rionach wouldn’t risk her safety like that. Not again.

Camden is with her. I watched him escort her away. The guard is young, but he’s good at his job. I wouldn’t have assigned him this task if I didn’t think he could fucking handle it. The kid also knows what the consequences would be if he lost my wife. He wouldn’t risk my wrath.

When I stalk around a stone column just outside the exhibit where the party is happening, I find Mathis, concern written across his features like neon paint, rushing in my direction. The way he frantically speaks into his walkie-talkie confirms that someone is going to end up dying by my hands tonight.

“Start talking,” I grind out before he has a chance to say anything. “Where is my wife?”

His head shakes. “I don’t know.”

I take hold of his jacket’s lapels and viciously whirl him around until his spine collides with a nearby wall. Mathis doesn’t fight me off. I lift him until he stands on his tiptoes, and still, he doesn’t struggle against me. The hallway is empty because everyone is engrossed in the senator’s speech. This is good because I don’t need witnesses to the possible murder I’m about to commit.

“If you ever string those three words together in my presence, I will ensure they’re the last words you ever speak,” I snarl my threat out close to his now pale face. “So let me ask again, where is Rionach?”

His head fucking shakes again. “We found Camden in the emergency exit stairwell. It looks like someone got the jump on him. They broke his neck and dumped him there.” Flames of rage ignite in my bloodstream, but I can’t bring myself to mourn the young life that was taken. Not yet, not while Rionach is missing. “We searched the stairwell and the bathroom for Mrs. Banes, but she wasn’t in either. We’re trying to do a more extensive search while remaining discrete, but that’s hard to do when there’s so many people in the building.”

Drawing attention to our more illicit dealings in such a public and crowded space would be foolish. People in my line of work thrive in the shadows. When there’s too much light pointed in our direction, that’s when shit tends to go south.

“Then clear the fucking building, Mathis.”

“Sir?”

Without care, I drop the man trapped in my hold and march ten feet down the corridor to where the red fire alarm sits starkly on the white wall. The commotion taking place in the exhibit multiplies tenfold as the blaring alarm cuts through the senator’s speech and the emergency lights start flashing.

I stalk back to where Mathis stands wide-eyed. “Find my fucking wife.”


THE METAL DOOR of the archive room slams against the wall behind it. My hold on the gun I’d taken from Camden’s dead body tightens when my attention locks on the discarded high heels on the floor.

Rionach is here. Or she was here.

The room is vast and maze-like because of the rows of shelves. I step inside, Mathis and Yates flanking me on either side. Two other teams of three are searching other parts of the museum. Behind me, I’m vaguely aware of Yates telling the other two teams searching different parts of the museum our location.

Nova and additional men are heading to us now for extra backup, but we’re working on a time crunch. After retrieving Camden’s weapon, I’d sent a message to the city’s police commissioner and warned him to keep his people and the fire department away as long as possible. There’s always some young cop who believes their shiny badge is synonymous with a superhero’s cape and they ignore orders by charging into a scene. If that happens and they walk in on what’s happening inside this building right now, they’ll be effectively ending their career and possibly their life early.

Weapons raised, we ease into the room and search for any more signs of her. Since the second I saw Mathis’s alarmed face, I’ve been silently reprimanding myself for insisting we attend this fucking thing tonight. Rionach doesn’t feel well and still I made her come with me.

It’s my fault she’s in harm’s way right now.

You also trusted someone else to guard her tonight.

All my fault.

I nearly lose my very grip on reality and every ounce of self-control I have when we clear the second row of shelves, and two familiar figures emerge from the darkness of the third one. Between their much bigger frames, stands a smaller one. The glint of the silver pistol held to her temple catches in the flashing light.

Bogdan Koslov is holding a gun to my wife’s head and Tiernan Moran has his remaining hand wrapped tightly around her upper arm.

A murderous red haze falls over my vision as my world begins to tilt on its axis. In tandem, Mathis and Yates point their guns at the men’s skulls.

Igor’s son makes a disapproving tsking sound as he wags a mocking finger at us. “Be smart about this, Banes,” he shouts. “I can put a bullet in her head a lot faster than your goons can shoot us.”

I ignore his mocking warning and focus on my wife. The lighting is dark, and I can’t make her out in great detail, but from what I can see from fifteen feet away, she doesn’t look injured. The only sign of damage is the way her artfully crafted braid is now loose, and more pieces of hair are falling forward around her face. And she’s barefoot. With a gun to her head and two men holding her captive, a panic-stricken appearance would be more than warranted, but she seems surprisingly composed. With her ability to tamp down and hide her emotions, for all I know she could be on the verge of hysteria. If that happens, every tear that escapes my wife’s beautiful eyes will be another slice of my blade across her captors’ skin.

“Talk to me, baby,” I call to her as I lock my gaze on the man holding the gun. “Are you hurt?”

Ignoring her brother’s warning growl to remain quiet, Rionach answers me. “I’m fine.” There’s an edge to her tone that I love. In the face of danger, she’s holding on to that wildfire burning inside her. “I want it noted for the record that this wasn’t my fault this time. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I know you didn’t, princess,” I assure her. “Everything is going to be okay. This will be all over soon.”

If Nova had accompanied us tonight, he would already have bullets between their eyes. His years of being a sniper for the army makes him deadly with a gun. Some of the shots I’ve seen him make should be considered impossible. Under normal circumstances, my aim is also impeccable, but with my wife standing in the crosshairs, I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger.

Tiernan, who should know to keep his mouth shut around me, interjects. “You’re right. This is going to be over soon because you’re going to move out of the fucking way and let us pass. If you don’t, we’ll be forced to make Rionach pay the price for your stupidity.”

“The only stupid people here are—” Rionach’s words are silenced when Bogdan shoves the barrel harder against her temple.

I don’t miss the way she winces. The beast living within me rattles the bars of his cage.

“If you return her to me with a single bruise, I will take a play out of your book and skin you alive, Koslov.” I pin him with a glare. “Before you, I was your daddy’s student, and just like you, he taught me where to cut to induce the most pain. I will gladly demonstrate my skills on you.”

Igor’s son chuckles humorlessly. “He may have taught you, but we both know I’ve practiced more. I’ve perfected my skill. Made it into fucking art and if you don’t get the fuck out of our way, I will carve her face until we’re matching.”

For the first time since I arrived, Rionach shows her fear. It’s quick, barely a flash across her face, but I saw it and it only makes my wrath grow.

“Okay, we’ll let you leave. You can take her,” I tell the pair, the words tasting like ash on my tongue.

The way Rionach’s face falls breaks my heart.

It’s okay, baby.

“Bullshit!” Tiernan spits. “I don’t believe you.”

“Your partner just threatened to carve up my wife’s face,” I remind him. “We’ll let you pass. No catch.” To show them that I’m serious, I drop my gun to my side. My trigger finger all but screams at me to use it, but I refrain.

Koslov’s free hand takes hold of Rionach and he tugs her so she’s placed directly in front of him like a human shield. Tiernan’s eyes nearly bug out of his head at this and like a scared child ducking behind his mother’s legs, he maneuvers himself to stand partially behind Bogdan.

Acting like she doesn’t have a pistol pressed to her skull, my wife dramatically rolls her eyes when she watches her brother do this. I’m almost positive her lips also mouth the word “pussy”.

Oh, how this woman was made for me.

I don’t think she realizes it yet, but Rionach owns my heart.

“He’s lying, he’s not going to let⁠—”

“Stop fucking talking,” Bogdan snaps at the nervous Irishman. “We need to get the fuck out of here and your yapping isn’t helping.”

“You should listen to him,” Rionach mumbles under her breath with a disgruntled sigh.

Bogdan grips her harder and yanks her closer to his chest. “You too. Both of you need to keep your mouths shut.”

For every step they take toward the door behind us, we mirror them and take a step back. Allowing this to play out is testing my patience in a way I’ve never experienced before. It’s painful. All I want to do is charge forward and return her to the shelter of my arms. And once I know she’s safe, I want to force bullets down Bogdan’s and Tiernan’s throats.

When the fear she’s fighting to keep at bay rears to the surface, I softly shake my head at her. “It’s okay, princess. Just keep those pretty eyes on me.” She does as she’s told. “We’ll be going home soon.”

“Don’t lie to her!” Tiernan shouts, his face turning red in the flashing lights. “That isn’t her home! It never was. Just like she was never yours!”

With my arms held causally behind my back, I take two steps forward and cock my head at them. “I didn’t lie.”

Because he never seems to learn, my wife’s brother opens his mouth to spew more bullshit but he never gets the chance to speak them out loud.

While they were so focused on us standing in front of them, they kept their backs to their exit. Rionach was right. They are stupid. Trying to steal what is mine was their first mistake. Selecting a room with only one door was their second one and their downfall. While the bar is set about an inch off the ground, Koslov is the smarter of the two and their mistake dawns on him five seconds too late. He spins, taking Rionach with him at the same time Nova and his team cut them off at the door.

Tiernan is tackled to the ground while Bogdan struggles to keep my wife tucked against his body. He raises his gun to fire but at the same time, Nova launches himself at the entangled pair.

All three go crashing to the tiled floor and my world momentarily ends when the gun goes off.

I’m surrounded by chaos. The lights flash. The fire alarm blares. More of my armed men rush into the room. And yet, everything is deathly quiet and still inside of me. My eardrums can’t register any noise and my eyes refuse to see anything but the place where she disappeared between two bodies. Nobody moves.

My knees suddenly weak, I stumble forward two steps. I think I say her name, but I can’t be sure.

Please be okay.

I force myself to take more steps toward her, and this time when I open my mouth, I know I manage to really get her name out because my roar echoes through me as everything snaps back into focus. The world around me speeds up and returns to its normal pace.

Rionach!

I reach them just as Nova pulls himself up from where he was partially concealing my wife’s body. Barely able to give my friend more than a passing glance until I know if Rionach is injured, I take her in my arms and lift her bridal style off the unconscious Russian’s body.

For the first time since the gunshot went off, my heart beats in my chest as her shaky arms circle my neck and she pulls herself tight against me. The only sound she makes is her labored breathing.

“Talk to me, baby,” I urge into her hair when I drop my head against hers and inhale her. “Are you okay? Does anything hurt?”

She shakes her head in answer.

I gently try to urge her to loosen her grip on my neck so I can see her face, but she refuses.

“Rionach,” I murmur. “Let me look at you. I need to see that you’re okay with my own eyes. Please.”

The please must be what finally does it because her arms relax their hold on my neck just enough that I can finally see her face and chest. My heart goes back to malfunctioning when I find her pale skin streaked with crimson. Unceremoniously, I place her back on her unsteady feet in front of me so I can trail both of my hands over her body. I search for the source of the blood but can’t find anything.

“It’s not mine,” she finally speaks. “I didn’t get shot.”

My eyes shoot to her slightly dazed ones. “Then who⁠—”

“Don’t worry, E, it was just a through and through,” Nova announces behind me.

Turning, I find my second-in-command holding his right hand over a gunshot wound in his upper left shoulder. He’s a little pale but doesn’t look to be hovering anywhere near death’s door. Thank fucking God.

“Nova, if you wanted matching gunshot scars, you could have just asked,” I deadpan. With my arm securely around my wife, I move us closer to him. “You didn’t have to go through the theatrics of letting a Russian shoot you.”

He barks out a laugh and accepts my offered hand with his free one. He winces when I squeeze his hand in mine but returns the favor. I’ll tell him soon how thankful I am to him for taking a bullet for my wife when I can find the right words. Until then, he knows what I’m trying to say now.

“He’s out cold,” Yates, who’s squatted beside Koslov, tells us. “It looks like Nova’s big-ass body colliding with his made the back of his head smack the ground. He’s breathing, so I’m guessing he’s just got a wicked concussion.”

“I can confirm that Nova’s body packs one hell of a punch,” Rionach chimes in, her voice sounding clearer now that the adrenaline-induced fog is lifting. “I think I need a chiropractor to put my bones back where they belong.”

Nova’s face blanches further, but not from pain. “I’m so sorry, darlin’.”

Darlin’? We’ll be talking about that nickname later when he doesn’t have a gunshot wound gushing blood. I grant him that time to recover, but once Doc puts stitches in there, we’ll be having words.

My wife waves him off. “I’d rather have a sore spine than…” She points at where his dark gray T-Shirt is turning crimson. “That, and I’m pretty sure you just saved my life. So, please don’t apologize, big guy.”

Near the door, Mathis is helping the guard who tackled Rionach’s brother restrain him. Due to the missing appendage on his right arm, handcuffs are out of the question. Another guard joins Yates at Koslov’s side.

“We need to get moving,” I tell everyone. “The authorities are going to show up here any minute. Yates and Mattis, take these cocksuckers to the cabin. I want them strung up and waiting for me in the basement.”

“The van is parked in the alley.” Nova digs in his pockets and tosses the keys to Yates. “I’ll meet you there once I’m stitched up.”

The men nod at both of us before carting the stars of this shitshow out the door.

“I need someone to get Camden.” Nova’s head whips in my direction when I say this. “We can’t leave him here for the cops to find. Take him to Doc’s office. We’ll notify his family tomorrow.”

Nova’s face goes from murderous to sorrow and back to murderous in the span of a single heartbeat. My second-in-command is the one who picks who will join the team and then spends months training them. He knew Camden better than any of us. Stiffly, he nods his head in agreement before exiting the room.

Scooping Rionach in my arms, I follow him out. “Come on, princess. Let’s get you home.”

She drops her head on my shoulder with an exhausted sigh. “I told you I didn’t want to come tonight.”

My chest tightens at this, guilt clawing at my insides. “I know.”

Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset