Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 37

EMERIC

I find her on the terrace, lying in one of the lounge chairs under the late morning sun. She’s still dressed in the same pair of black sweatpants and cropped long-sleeved top she changed into yesterday after her shower. The one she took alone after our… disagreement over her use of birth control. Knowing her reasoning for getting it in the first place and then keeping it for all these years didn’t make me second-guess my decision to remove it from her body. Her concerns about bringing a baby into this world were once all valid, but they’re not anymore. Not when she’s married to me, and I’ll be the one fathering her children. I’ll be able to meet every one of her requirements for having a baby and then some.

I’ll prove to her that our children will be loved and safe in our home and that they’ll be shielded from the bloodshed in our world for as long as possible. My childhood made me into the ruthless man I am today, but I would never wish for my child to be taught those same lessons. I want to do better by them than my father did for us.

Due to the ongoing problem at the Brooklyn shipping port, I had no choice but to return to work soon after our conversation ended. Rionach had let me kiss her again before I left, but she was still distant.

When I returned home around one in the morning, she wasn’t in our bed. The same panic that had rocketed through me when I couldn’t find her at the fundraiser reverberated through me until I finally located her in the screening room. She was curled into a ball in one of the leather recliners while the credits to whatever movie she was watching played on the projector screen.

Two things stopped me from picking her up and taking her to our room.

The first was the fact she’d brought her pillow and the blanket she prefers from our bed with her. She didn’t simply fall asleep while watching a movie. She fully intended to sleep in the recliner and not with me. Seeing as we’re both now fairly codependent on each other for restful sleep, her refusal to share a bed with me spoke volumes. She hasn’t yet fully forgiven me for what I did.

The second reason I didn’t take her to bed is because of the menace that was once my goddamn dog. I raised Cerberus since he was a puppy, and I put hundreds of hours into training him. His loyalty has always been to me and me alone. Until now. The bastard had the fucking nerve to bare his sharp canines at me when he deemed I had gotten too close to my sleeping wife. I would have reprimanded him for his behavior if I hadn’t been comforted by the knowledge he will keep Rionach safe if something were to happen while I’m away from her. She made the right call when she demanded that he stay home with her.

Needless to say, I didn’t go to our bedroom last night either since I knew sleep wouldn’t come without her body there to pacify me. Instead, I elected to spend the night taking shots of espresso like I was a spring breaker taking shots of cheap tequila while I sat at my desk and worked.

I did that for hours until Nova called to inform me about the three dead men strung up outside of my warehouse in Queens, and each corpse had B’s carved into their foreheads.

With what’s happened at the port with my containers full of destroyed merchandise and now the bodies, both Nova and I concluded that someone is trying to play a game with me.

And it’s not exactly a big mystery to us who the illustrious masterminds are.

A preschooler could connect these giant, glowing dots.

What I don’t understand is how Tweedledum and Tweedledee are operating in my blind spots. I’ve gone years without having incidents at either of these locations, but in less than forty-eight hours, both have been hit. This has both Nova and I revisiting how Camden died at the fundraiser and how it shouldn’t have been that easy for them to eliminate him. Doc had inspected his body and found no defensive marks on Camden. This leaves us with two possibilities. Either the person who ended his life was just that good, or Camden knew his attacker and he was caught off guard because of it.

My gut tells me it’s the latter, which opens up a whole other bucket of fun for me to deal with. Traitors caught within my organization are made into violent lessons that teach my other soldiers what will happen to them if they betray me. My methods are meticulous and sadistic enough that most wouldn’t dare toe that line, but if my hunch is right, my teachings didn’t stick for someone and they’re not just toeing the line, they’re tap-dancing over it.

After we spent hours dealing with the mess left on my warehouse’s doorstep, I returned home with Nova, Yates, and Mathis in tow. We need to go over my employees and narrow down who might be the mole, and we also need to come up with a plan to increase the amount of security posted at my properties as a precaution.

Most importantly, I wanted to check in on Rionach and see that she’s still okay with my own eyes. Igor and Niall, spurred on by the fact their sons are currently in my custody, are about to do something drastic and I don’t know what it is yet. Their attacks so far have been so small and seemingly random that it’s clear there’s a bigger play at hand. According to my wife, Bogdan had been very confident in his plan for how he’d claim her as his once they succeeded in eliminating me.

Waiting until after I’m finished with their sons is no longer an option. I’ll have to take care of them all at the same time, and that’s why I have instructed the surveillance teams assigned to both to bring them in. They’ll be taken to the cabin where their sons are waiting. Because I’m a big supporter of charity, I’ll even allow the four of them to share a few last moments of oh-so sweet father and son bonding time before I carve them up into pretty little pieces.

Rionach lifts her head from the paperback in her hand when she hears me approaching. She wears a pair of dark round sunglasses but with the sun nearly at its highest point, they’re not enough and she has to use her free hand to shield her eyes further.

“You’re back.”

“I am.” I kiss the top of her head before gathering her ankles in my hand and lifting her legs up so I can sit. With her legs situated across my lap, I ask her, “Did you sleep well?”

She frowns at me and dips her chin to her chest. “No. Did you?” Her light pink painted nail picks at something on the cover of her book.

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep without you, so I didn’t bother trying. I ended up getting called back into work early this morning, anyway.”

Head snapping back up, her brow furrows as she stares at me from behind her sunglasses. Wordlessly, she drops the book in her lap and extends her arm. The back of her left hand tenderly trails down the side of my face.

I capture it in mine and bring it to lips before she can pull away.

“Do you remember?” I ask after pressing my mouth to her knuckles. The empty ring finger, something I’ve never paid much attention to before, catches my eye. Once I’ve dealt with her family and the Russians, I’ll make a point to remedy this problem.

“Remember what?”

“Have you remembered that you like me yet?” That you care about me. Hearing her say that yesterday caused me pain in a way I’ve never felt before. It wasn’t an ache that you could ice or use heat to alleviate. It hurt in a place that isn’t tangible.

She regards me again for another drawn-out and tense moment before she sighs. “I’m pretty sure for the rest of our lives, I will like you beyond all reason or common sense, Emeric Banes.”

I hadn’t realized that the ache from yesterday was still lingering within until now because, like a knife being yanked out of my sternum, the pain fades. Pulling, I slide her closer to me so I can drop my forehead against hers. “I don’t think that’s true at all.”

Rionach tries to yank back, but I don’t allow it.

“What? Why do you think that?”

“You’re not always going to like me, because one day I’m going to make you love me.” I tuck the loose strands of hair blowing around us behind her ears and then hold her face between my hands. “It’s going to be soon too.”

The first smile I’ve seen grace her face since yesterday pulls at her mouth. “Soon? You think so?”

“Yeah, I really do.” I can’t stop myself from touching my lips to that stunning smile of hers. “No more going to bed without me, princess. You can scream at me all you want, and you can break things, but when it’s all said and done, we don’t go to bed apart. Understood?”

Her nose slides against mine as she hums, “I understand.” She tilts her head just far enough that I can see the entirety of her striking face. “You know, one day I’m going to make you love me, too.”

In the past—meaning before her—I fought tooth and nail to avoid situations and conversation like this one with anyone, but especially women. Commitment wasn’t something I was capable of or willing to give, and the gooey-warm sentiment that is “love” felt like a trivial thing that was manufactured more times than not. It was something I never wanted because it seemed like a colossal waste of my time, and I didn’t believe in the authenticity of it.

But just like in so many other ways, my wife has forced me to have a change of heart. My views have shifted, and I now know without any doubt that when you fall in love with someone, it’s an all-consuming kind of experience and when it happens, it’s completely out of your control. You’re at the mercy of your emotions, and I think that’s what scares people the most. I know it scares the ever-loving shit out of me. Needing someone so you can breathe, or sleep, is daunting, but needing someone so you can simply just function is slice-you-to-the-bone terrifying.

It makes you vulnerable, and that’s something I was never allowed to be.

But for her, I’m willing to learn.

“Of course you will,” I tell her. “You won’t have to try very hard, either.”

“I won’t?”

My thumbs swipe across the soft edges of her cheekbones. “No, you won’t. I know no one has ever done anything to make you believe this about yourself, but falling in love with you is as easy as breathing, Rionach.”

Behind the dark lenses of her glasses, her eyes grow wide and her pink mouth parts as she exhales a shuddering lungful of oxygen.

“Boss.”

Our tender moment is blown to bits by Nova and Yates charging out onto the terrace. By the looks on their faces, I’m not going to fucking like what they’re about to say.

I pull back a bit from Rionach, but don’t remove her from my lap yet. If my mood is about to be shot to hell, then I want to savor her proximity for as long as possible before I’m forced to leave her again to deal with whatever bullshit is happening.

“You’re about to ruin my day, aren’t you?” I groan, hand scrubbing over my face. The nearly three days of facial hair growth scratches across my palms.

Nova passes me his handy-dandy iPad. “Moran and Koslov slipped the surveillance detail you’ve had on them before our boys could pick them. We’ve had teams checking the feeds of all the nearby CCTV we have access to for signs of them. To at least figure out what direction they headed in.” His tattooed finger points at the screen in my hand. “Five minutes ago, they caught them on the city’s traffic cameras.”

Grainy, black-and-white screen grabs of two different video feeds are displayed on the screen. One is of Igor walking across a street with a hood pulled over his thinning blond hair and the other is of Niall stepping through a very familiar set of antique revolving doors.

My head snaps up to look at my second-in-command. “Moran is at The Daria Hotel?”

Rionach leans over to look at the picture of Niall. “Of all the hotels in the city, why would he be staying at the one you own…” Her words trail off as realization dawns on her. “Oh. He’s not spending the night there, is he?”

“No.” My answer is forced out between my clenched teeth.

“The problem you’ve been having at the port, he’s behind that, right?” Her face pales at my stiff nod. “What’s he going to do to your mother’s hotel?” The night I told her about how my mom died, I also told her about how we’d changed the name of our family-owned hotel to honor her. I didn’t think when I was telling her about my mother’s love for the tearoom there, that in a few weeks’ time Niall would be headed there to possibly desecrate the place that holds so many memories of her. “And I thought my dad and Igor were working together on all of this.”

“They are.”

She points at the candid shot of Igor. “Then why is he about two blocks away from Tartarus?”

When I glance at Nova for confirmation, he nods once. “That’s what we were coming out here to tell you. We can’t tell what their plans are, but it’s something. I think the cargo containers and the warehouse were both just meant to be distractions while they organized whatever it is they’re planning to do to the hotel and club. They’re much bigger and more lucrative businesses. Hitting them will affect you and your bottom line harder than the port or the building in Queens.”

Yates stands like a soldier with his arms held behind his back and his stance wide. “They’re also splitting our resources by choosing two locations—locations they know are important to you. They know you’ll send people to both establishments.”

This plan is too well thought-out to be a Niall Original. This has Igor written all over it. Perhaps if Niall had made the Russian an ally ten years ago, his family’s legacy and empire wouldn’t metaphorically look the same as a depressing child’s birthday party no one showed up for, where the cake is stale and the singular, sad balloon is half deflated. Absolutely pitiful.

“Divided or not, we have three times the man and fire power as they do. They knew this and that’s why they had to try to weaken us by going to both locations.” Reluctantly, I remove Rionach’s legs from my lap and pull myself off the lounge. “Make the calls, Nova, and get our men divided equally between the two places. I’ll going to The Daria, you and your boys take Tartarus. Everyone needs to keep their radios on. I want there to be constant communication between our teams. If there are any updates on your end, big or small, I want to know about them immediately. Got it?” I look between Nova and Yates.

“Yes,” they answer in unison. Plan decided, they head inside to start getting things in order.

With them gone, I’m able to return my sole focus to Rionach. “I’m going to have Mathis stay here with you while I’m gone. He and Cerberus will keep you safe.”

The unmistakable air of worry pouring off her pulls at the place inside of my chest. “Don’t you need Mathis? He’s one of your best guys.”

“He is. I’ll focus better on the task at hand out there as long as I know you’re here safe. Far away from this bullshit. In my eyes, no one will ever be good enough to guard you, but my back’s up against a wall and I don’t have a choice. I have to take care of this. I’ve had too many opportunities to end this in the past and I was more lenient than I should have been. That needs to stop.”

She stands from the lounge chair and pushes her sunglasses atop her head. Coming to stand before me, she softly agrees, “I know it does.” Rionach loops her arms around my neck, and she holds me close. “Just like Tiernan, my dad brought this on himself. He has no one to blame but his own idiocy, and Igor’s been living on borrowed time since the moment he put his hands on you when you were a child.” The ruthlessness in her tone makes me proud of her and the way she’s slowly coming into her own. “We won’t be able to move on with our lives until they’re gone, and whatever future family we may have one day won’t be safe if any of them are walking this earth. They’ll always be a threat to us. Do what needs to be done, Emeric. My conscience is clear.”

I hold her so tight to my body, I wouldn’t be surprised if it edged on painful for her, but she doesn’t complain. “You remember what the plan is if shit hits the fan, right?”

“Go to the cabin.”

“Good girl.” I touch my lips to her temple. “If it comes to that, I’ll meet you there as soon as I can. This goes without saying, but if you do end up at the cabin, stay out of the basement. I’ll deal with the guests down there when I’m done with the fathers.”

“Everything is going to be fine.” I don’t know if she’s reassuring herself or me. “Now, go teach those bastards what happens when they fuck with the Banes family.”

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