Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 34

EMERIC

“I’m sorry about your tattoo.” Rionach’s voice comes from the doorway of the spare bedroom where Nova is currently being tended to by the doc. “You’re going to have a scar through it now.”

My friend doesn’t so much as wince or flinch when the good doctor threads another stitch through his skin. As always, he elected to not receive any kind of anesthetic while his bullet wound is being repaired. If I didn’t know better, I would say my friend likes pain, but since I do know better, I know for a fact he has an interesting relationship with pain. Hence the reason he’s covered chin to toe with tattoos.

“It’s all good,” Nova assures her, lifting his attention away from his damn iPad for just a moment so he can offer her a quick smile. Only Nova would continue working while he’s receiving medical attention. “It’s not my first scar and it certainly won’t be my last. Especially while I’m employed by this one right here.” His chin tilts in my direction.

Only offering him a bland look, I push away from the wall I’ve been leaning on while I observe the doc work and move to stand before my wife. “I thought I told you to go to bed.”

Green eyes, that still reflect a sliver of the distress she endured earlier, roll at me. “And then I told myself I’m not a toddler and my husband doesn’t get to dictate my bedtime. If you’re tired, I will be more than happy to tuck you into bed, though.”

She crosses her arms defiantly in front of her. When we got home, she changed into a tank top and a pair of cotton shorts. The bruises that have started to darken are fully on display to me. I fixate on them and as I do, the dark cloud of fury that had started to lift returns. It blankets over my shoulders like a heavy cloak.

She told me on the drive home what Koslov and Tiernan had planned for her. Learning they’d given her the option of leaving with them now or being punished if she waited until they came for her after they succeeded in eliminating me had me almost ordering the driver to follow the van with the twin idiots in it. I have a plan for what their next three days will look like, but I was more than willing to deviate from the schedule if it meant I could spill their blood right then and there. It was Rionach talking me down that had me returning home with her.

Noticing where my attention has drifted, Rionach’s palms shift over the marks decorating both her upper arms. “I’m fine. They’re just bruises. In a couple days, they’ll fade. No biggie. Nova is the one who had a bullet go through his shoulder.”

I capture her chin in my hand and bend so my forehead is nearly pressed against hers. “No biggie?” The two repeated words come out as a menacing grumble. Using my larger body to crowd her, I back Rionach up into the hallway until her back touches the white wall across from Nova’s recovery room. “Fine. If you’re going to elect to act so cavalier about your well-being, I’ll just have to be concerned enough for the both of us. Tonight, two men had their hands all over you and one of them had a goddamn gun pressed to your skull as he tried to take you from me. In my book, I would consider that to be a very big deal. I don’t take threats made against my realm lightly, but to have threats made against your life? My wife’s life? I won’t accept it.” Like a living entity taking shape inside of me, the venomous combination of fear and anger gains control over me. “They’ve been calling me a monster for years. They have no fucking idea what kind of monster I can really be, but if your life is ever put in danger again like it was tonight, they will be forced to learn the deadliest lesson of their lives. I will show them what happens when my wife is hurt. I don’t care if it’s just a bruise or a paper cut, no one causes you harm and gets to live.” My hand tightens its hold on her face to make sure she’s truly paying attention to what I’m saying. “Do you understand me, Rionach? No one.”

She doesn’t balk or tremble at the venom lacing my words. Rionach simply removes my hand from her jaw and holds it between her two smaller ones. It’s then I realize I’m the one trembling. My hand quivers in her firm, calming grasp. Eyes locked with mine, she brings our joined hands to her mouth where she then presses her lips to my knuckles.

“You’re not a monster,” my wife whispers. “Monsters don’t care about the health and safety of others. There’s a difference between being a monster and being willing to do monstrous things to defend the ones you care about. That makes you a protector, Emeric, and at your core, that is what you are. I can see that now. I know who you are.”

I know what kind of man you will become, my son, and I know you and your brothers will make me proud. It’s been decades since my mother’s voice has played in my head. The chill running down my spine that accompanies it feels akin to being visited by a ghost.

“I’m not a good man,” I tell my wife and the memory of my mother.

Rionach removes one of her hands from mine so she can place her palm over my erratically pounding heart. “But you’re a good man to me and that’s all that matters. Every jagged and bloodstained piece makes you who you are, and I wouldn’t change a single thing because I’ve grown fond of those flawed pieces.”

The magnitude of what’s just happened isn’t lost on me. The girl who’s been waiting her entire life to be accepted by someone has switched our roles and is now standing before me declaring her acceptance of me and my flaws.

“You have?”

She nods. “Yeah. We… fit together like a really fucked-up puzzle, but I think you figured that out before I did.”

If there was ever a better time to tell her about the night I found her on the roof, it would be now. She said we’re a puzzle and telling her this bit of information will give her the corner piece she’s been missing. Without it, she can’t see the full picture that paints who we are together.

My name being called from the bedroom cuts off the words that were sitting heavy on my tongue.

“Hey, Banes,” Nova’s starts. “You’re going to want to see this. They got the boys strung up in the basement.”

Rionach’s face pinches. “Is he talking about Bogdan and my brother?” Hand still captured in hers, she walks us back into the bedroom where the good doctor is just about finished with his handiwork and Nova’s unaffected attention is still locked on the screen in his lap. “What do you mean strung up?”

Nova raises a brow at me in silent question. Do you want her to see this?

I incline my chin. Rionach’s a permanent fixture in my life now and it’s important she gets familiarized with what comes with that. A large portion of my schedule revolves around sitting through boring-as-hell board meetings for Banes Corporation and attending events like tonight’s to ensure my interests are being protected. It’s no secret the other half of my time is spent in the depths of depravity, and that’s the half I much prefer.

Rionach doesn’t make a sound of surprise or worry when Nova turns the screen. She stands there, silently accessing what’s being done to her brother and the fiancé she didn’t know she had. When she finally does speak, she only grumbles, “I could have gone my entire life without seeing my brother naked. Thanks so much for the warning.”

Nova laughs so hard, he has the doc jumping in place. He mumbles a quick apology before fixing my wife with a perceptive stare. “That’s all you have to say?”

Her shoulders casually rise and fall. “What would you like me to say? They’re just naked and hanging from the ceiling by their wrists. Or wrist in Tiernan’s case. They look like human piñatas.” They’re not suspended completely off the ground. Their bare toes are still able to touch the concrete floor. Rionach leans in closer to the screen before glancing at me. “Is this at the cabin? When you said basement, I thought you were talking about the club. Why didn’t you take them there? It’s a lot closer.” It takes her a long moment of examining the serious expression on my face before it finally clicks for her. “Oh, right… The cabin is where you bring people when you want to stretch out their pain and punishment.”

I don’t miss the way Nova’s arctic-hued gaze cuts to mine in astonishment. “You told her?”

Rionach answers for me.

“I’m his wife,” is all she offers as explanation, but that’s all she has to say for him to understand. She’s my wife and I vowed I would answer every question of hers as long as the knowledge wouldn’t jeopardize her. Making Rionach an accomplice in our illegal activity isn’t on my to-do list. She may not be innocent at heart, but she will remain that way in the eyes of the law. “What’s the plan? What are you going to do to them?”

“The cellar they’re in is temperature-controlled. I used to store my imported wines and expensive bottles of alcohol in there before I decided the room would be better utilized if I stored cocksuckers like Bogdan and Tiernan in it. We’ve dropped the temp in the room to the lowest possible setting. They’ll shiver and shake so violently they will think their exposed dicks are going to freeze off. It’s just warm enough to prevent anyone from actually developing hypothermia.” I tap the screen where a black box is mounted in the upper corner of the room. “There are speakers in every corner. All four are turned on to max volume and the most annoying songs you can think of are playing on repeat. This will prevent them from sleeping. For the next seventy-two hours, they are going to hang there without food, water, clothes, sleep, or heat. It will be⁠—”

“Torture.”

“Yes.” And they’ve only got themselves to blame.

She looks away from the live footage streaming on Nova’s iPad. “What happens after seventy-two hours?”

Rionach says I’m not a monster, but when the visual of my blade slicing across their skin—repeatedly—fills my mind, the bloodthirsty beast that resides in my soul purrs with anticipation. “That’s when I’ll go visit and teach them that lesson I was telling you about a moment ago,” I tell her honestly. “I know Tiernan is your blood⁠—”

She raises her hand and silently cuts me off.

“Our shared blood didn’t matter to my family when they willingly sold me off to Bogdan Koslov. Our shared blood didn’t matter for all those years I silently begged them to look at me and see me as a person. As a member of their family. And our shared blood certainly didn’t matter to Tiernan when he assisted in trying to kidnap me and allowed someone to hold a loaded gun to my temple.” The sliver of fear that was lingering in her eyes has morphed into molten rage.

“You’re right.” Pride swells in my chest as I swipe my thumb across her cheekbone where her skin has turned flushed.

“I’m a Banes now. I don’t owe him anything.” She may say this quietly, but the intensity in which she declares this isn’t lost on me. “And the world will be better without Bogdan Koslov roaming freely in it. I won’t lose any sleep over his death.”

“Amen,” Nova murmurs under his breath.

She looks at Nova. “They’re also the reason Camden is dead. He didn’t deserve that.”

Tomorrow I’m going to have to personally call his mother to inform her that her son died. Along with paying for his funeral, I’ll also pay her three years of Camden’s salary. Doing that won’t bring back the life that she lost, but it’s all I have to offer. Well, that and the promise that her son’s killers will be brought to justice. That is if what I plan to do even counts as “justice”.

With the front of his shoulder stitched up, Nova shifts on the bed so the doctor can begin working on the exit wound on his back. For the first time since he stepped in this room, I see him wince in pain. Thank fuck. I was starting to worry that the not-so-Jolly Green Giant was a robot.

“I still don’t get it,” he mumbles so lowly I think he’s talking to himself until he turns his head to meet my eyes. “Camden was good. I trained him myself. The building was full of witnesses, and he knew what both of those fuckers looked like. He would have been on the lookout for them. How did Koslov and a one-handed Moran manage to get the jump on him and snap his neck?”

The same thought has already crossed my mind.

Both our heads snap in my wife’s direction when she shifts on her feet and says, “I’ve been wondering this too.”

“You have?” Nova’s astonished look sets my teeth on edge.

The glare that settles on Rionach’s face could turn someone into a pillar of salt and I love to see it. “I know women in our world are typically just nice lawn ornaments for men to look at, and they’re kept around because they fall to their knees and suck cock like their lives are on the line.” For the first time tonight, the good doctor’s attention is pulled away from his task. Behind the small glasses that sit on the tip of his old, crooked nose, he gapes at my wife. “But I actually have a brain. A brain that I occasionally like to use. So, if you could wipe that look off your face, Viking, I’d appreciate it.”

Nova’s expression only turns more confused as he openly gapes at my bride.

“What now?” she snaps.

“How did you do it?” he asks.

“Do what?”

“Pretend to be someone you’re not for so long? How did your family miss… this?”

They didn’t miss it. They simply chose to ignore it, just like they did with everything else that has to do with her.

Rionach visibly relaxes next to me. “I’d stand on the edge of rooftops until I felt like me again and then I’d shove it all back down. Rinse and repeat as needed.” Nova already knows about her proclivity for rooftops, but I don’t think either of us were expecting her to admit it so openly to him. I’m proud of her for doing so. It means she’s learning how to freely and unapologetically be herself. She’s owning it. “But whatever, back to Camden. I think there’s more to what happened to him. Maybe there was a third guy there tonight no one saw? Regardless, you should look into that.”

I cock an eyebrow. “Did you just tell me what to do?”

“Sure as shit did.” Her grin drips with fake sweetness. “Anyway, I’m going to go take a shower. I need to wash the smell of the Russian’s cologne out of my hair.”

I have to remind myself again that three days of systematic punishment before I slowly and artistically end his life is what Bogdan has earned because the knowledge that my wife currently smells of him has me chomping at the bit to get it over with now.

“I’ll join you once the doc is done putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

Before I release the hand that’s been wrapped up in mine since we entered the spare bedroom, I tilt her chin up and press my lips to hers in a fleeting kiss. I do the same to her temple next and I have to fight back a growl when the faint scent of Koslov’s cologne tickles my nostrils.

She nods, her bottom lip between her white teeth. “Okay, try not to stay up too late. You need to sleep.”

If anyone else had said this to me, I would have taken it as condescending as hell and ripped their head off because of it. Instead, her concern has my black heart tightening in a way only she can cause.

“I won’t be long.”

“Good.” She backs away toward the open door. “You know I struggle to fall asleep without you these days.”

Being dependent on someone is something that would have scared the ever-loving shit out of me twenty years ago. The very idea of it would have made my skin crawl and my balls shrivel into raisins. It went against my very nature to need someone like that.

But with Rionach, I couldn’t give a single fuck and I know I’m no longer alone in this thinking because we need each other now.

“I know, princess.”

She smiles at me and then waves at Nova. “Thank you for saving my life tonight, Viking.”

“Anytime, darlin’,” he calls after her.

I wait until her footsteps move down the hallway before my hand slaps against the back of Nova’s shaved and tattooed head. “Call my wife darlin’ one more time. I dare you.”

He laughs so hard the white-haired curmudgeon of a doctor at his side grumbles in irritation.

“She cares about you,” Nova observes, a soft grin lifting his lips.

I turn my head toward the door she’d just escaped through. “Yeah, I think she does.” As I say this, echoes of the panic and fear when I couldn’t find her earlier tonight slither through me.

When this business with her family and the Russians is finally put to bed, I will no longer be her only source of protection. I will have to finally build her a team that I can trust her with. Though, tonight’s events don’t make the thought of doing that an easy one to swallow. It’s impractical and unfair to her to think I can always keep her in my sights. There will be times when she’s away from me living the life I promised her I’d provide her. For my own sanity, I need to find a way to ensure I always know where she is. “Hey, Doc. When you’re done with this, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”

The doctor glances at me over the wire frame of his glasses. “Okay.”

I snap my fingers when Rionach’s comment from earlier tonight comes back to me. With all the chaos that ensued tonight, I nearly forgot how our evening started. “Oh, there’s something else I need you to do. I need you to look deeper into my wife’s medical records.”

He frowns at this. “I believe I had my people already deliver that information to Nova months ago.”

“You did, but I don’t think you found everything.” I ignore the confused look on my second-in-command’s face. “I’m pretty sure my sneaky bride is hiding something from me.”

Something that will put a big kink in my plans if my suspicions are true.

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