Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 4

RIONACH

“Riona,” my grandmother, Maeve, says from her spot across the large dining room table from me, pulling my attention away from the drop of condensation on my water glass that I’ve been busy tracking.

Riona… I can’t stand that nickname. It’s a name that’s been reserved solely for my maternal grandmother and my mom. Mom used to use it a lot more often when I was younger, but something changed the older I got. The name started to sound and feel like the rest of her motherly endearment. Fake. Just another show she’s putting on to keep up appearances.

“Yes, Nan?”

“I heard you had quite the scare last month at a gala. Your mother tells me there was an attempted assassination and you were close to where the gun went off. That had to be unnerving for you.”

Nan takes a sip of the whiskey in her tumbler, the singular ice cube clinking against the glass. The woman is Irish through and through. You’ll never see her drink anything but authentic Irish whiskey. She’s tough as nails too. My grandfather will never admit that his bride is as involved in his empire as she is. Allowing women to be part of the business is borderline unheard of in our world. Producing the next era of made men is our job. The fact that she didn’t sit at home and only raise babies makes my respect for my grandmother grow. I just can’t wrap my head around how things went so wrong with her daughter.

The effort it takes to not look at my mother with wariness is astounding. There is not a chance in hell she shared this information with her mother because she was worried about my safety. Now, if Tiernan had been caught in the line of fire that night, this would be an entirely different conversation.

I’m not about to admit I was never scared that night and I’m definitely not going to lie and say I was. Painting myself as a damsel has never been my favorite activity to partake in.

“I don’t think I was ever in any real danger,” I tell her instead. “Brayden was there, and he got me out of the building quickly. I heard everyone made it out alive, too. Which is good.”

My father scoffs loudly from his seat at the head of the table. His round face is redder than usual due to the amount of whiskey he’s guzzled. He tries to keep up with his in-laws, but even after all these years married to Mom, he’s yet to accept that they can drink him under the table without breaking a sweat.

It’s pathetic.

“I can’t believe that fool missed. He was right there. A trained poodle could have made that shot,” Dad grumbles, taking another swig from his nearly empty glass. “It would have been a favor to everyone—to this city—if he’d been killed. A dead Banes is the only good Banes.”

Okay, so apparently, it’s not, in fact, good that no one died. Noted.

Dad’s reaction to Emeric walking away from that hotel lobby isn’t surprising. No, I’d be more shocked if he weren’t pouting like he is now. I don’t have proof, just a few snippets of overheard words shared between my father and his men—but from the sounds of it, dear old Dad has tried to take out Banes on more than one occasion. Emphasis on tried. If Niall Moran isn’t a match for his sixty-five-year-old mother-in-law, he certainly isn’t a match for Emeric fucking Banes.

“I agree.” Tiernan’s fist pounds into the table next to my half-eaten plate, making the glasses and silverware noisily clang. “One of these days, we’re going to get the upper hand and make him look like a fool.”

Trapping my amused scoff in my throat, I suck my teeth and fix my attention back on the condensation on my water glass. They’re ridiculous thinking they can turn the tables and make Emeric look foolish.

Like a vulture, Banes has been picking at my family’s slowly deteriorating corpse for fifteen years. He’s leisurely and methodically taking us apart and he won’t be happy until there’s nothing but bones left. He’s doing the same to other crime families—his other competitors—and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me smile.

Dad and Tiernan are fighting to stay in the game, to keep the business afloat, but it’s only a matter of time before the Moran clan sinks. Dad doesn’t have anything left to fight Emeric with. If he decides to make a move against him, his only options would be equal parts stupid and desperate. Neither bodes well for a good outcome.

My grandfather, the infamous Tadhg Kelly, hmphs. “Sounds to me like the man takes after his father. Clever, cruel, and knows what the fuck he’s doing.” I don’t miss the pointed look Grandpa sends my father and I highly doubt anyone else at this table did either. “Ambrose Banes was a force back in the day, but he never came close to accomplishing what his son has.”

“You sound almost impressed with the idiot, Pop,” Tiernan sneers as his arm rests on the top of my chair. I instantly regret wearing this thin-strapped black dress when his fingers lightly trail the bare skin of my shoulder. Like a piece of stone, I freeze in my seat and grit my teeth. Pushing his hand away would only cause a scene and despite his inappropriate behavior, I’d still be the one at fault.

“I am.” My grandfather simply shrugs his broad shoulders. At sixty-seven years old, I would wager he’s in better shape than my dad. “He’s the youngest son of Ambrose. He was never supposed to be made king, but he was, and he’s not only taken on the weight of that responsibility, he’s thrived. The time to do something about him and his growing power was a decade ago when you stood a chance against him. When he was nothing more than a cocky boy, no one did, and now you’re facing the consequences of your cowardice.”

Dad’s face is so red now, it’s basically purple. “You could have sent assistance. Helped us fight this war against him.”

If Pop is bothered by my dad’s accusatory tone, he doesn’t show it. His composure borders on shatterproof. It’s a trait I admire and try my best to emulate when I’m stuck wearing my passive mask.

My mother’s parents don’t travel to the States very often. I think it’s been two years since I’ve seen them in person. They can’t take the time away from their own business. The Kelly clan are the largest arms dealers in the homeland and in the UK. Nearly thirty years ago when the Moran name carried the same weight here in the States, my grandfathers bartered a deal, and thus Imogen Kelly became Imogen Moran.

“I offered, but as I remember, you declined. Wanted to be a man and take care of your family yourself. I found that commendable at the time, but had I known that your family—the family I allowed my only daughter to marry into—would be a crumbling laughingstock a decade later, I would have rethought your answer and insisted you accept my charity. Might have rethought a lot of things if I knew then what I know now.”

If I hadn’t already been resting my chin on my palm, I’m pretty sure my jaw would have hit the table with the same force that Tiernan’s fist did.

This is it… this is the moment my father’s face is going to pop like a grape.

Before Dad or, worse, Tiernan, has the opportunity to come up with a retort, my mother is cutting in.

“Rionach, why don’t you go get the dessert from the kitchen? Oh, and some clean plates.” Mom pushes her chin-length red hair, the same color as mine, behind one ear as she smiles tightly at everyone at the table. “It’s apple cake. I asked the chef to make it as it’s Tiernan’s favorite.”

Of course it is.

For once, I’m happy to be dismissed. The air at this table is anything but comfy and I’m all but chomping at the bit to be free of Tiernan’s touches. He’d started twisting a strand of my hair around his finger a moment ago, and the act makes me want to shear the long strands from my scalp.

To my surprise, Nan also stands when I jump from my seat. “I’ll help you, dear.”

Before she can catch herself, Mom’s eyes turn into slits at her mother. The taut expression lasts only a moment before her fake-as-hell smile slips back into place. “Lovely idea, Mother.”

Nan pats her daughter’s shoulder as she rounds the table to follow me into the kitchen. It’s a move my mother does often to me, but when Nan does it, it’s a genuine display of affection, not a farce.

When the kitchen’s swinging door closes behind us, I let out a subtle breath and try to steady myself. Visits from my grandparents never go smoothly, but I don’t think they’ve ever been as tense as they are now. And it’s all because of him.

Nan is quiet while she gathers up fresh forks and I grab the plates from the other side of the kitchen.

Her silence only lasts a moment, though.

“Have they found you a husband yet?”

Without my permission, my mask slips from my face. My only saving grace is the fact that my back is currently to her.

“I don’t know,” I answer, awkwardly clearing my throat. “They don’t tell me these things. All I know is that they’re definitely looking for one. Dad introduced me to a couple different men in the past year. I’m assuming they’re on his short list.”

The thought makes my dinner churn in my stomach.

She makes a hmm noise. “Did you find any of them up to your standards?”

My filter fails me and I speak before carefully thinking over my words. “I wasn’t aware my opinion was needed let alone mattered in this situation.” Or any situation. Realizing my mistake, I drop the plates on the granite countertop and turn to face my grandmother. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t polite.”

“I find that honest words are rarely polite.” To my delight, there isn’t any disappointment in her face. Only… understanding? That’s an expression I’m not often awarded. “You don’t have to tell me how your marriage isn’t fair to you. Silly young girls all dream of marrying for love, but women like us have to marry for advantage. Our unions are business transactions and that can be a very somber thought, but you must remember, my dear girl, that we all have roles to play. The men make the money and build the empire, and we birth the next generation that will rule that empire. It’s a balance we must all abide by.”

I want to kick and scream, but all I do is simply nod. “I understand.”

I don’t understand. I never will. How anyone can look at their child and marry them off to men, most of whom are wholly inappropriate matches for young women, I’ll never understand. That’s their baby… their blood. It’s disgusting and sad.

“Your options may be a tad bit more limited than most girls in your situation, seeing as you’re older than most and you’re no longer…” she trails off, knowing I know what she’s talking about.

A virgin. Pure. Innocent.

I’m no longer a virgin and that is a turn-off for a lot of made men. The fact that they won’t be the first to make their young brides bleed makes their nose upturn in disgust. To them, I’m now used goods. Dirty.

My lack of a hymen is the only reason I’m not married off yet, but it’s only a matter of time before my father finds someone willing to look past my impurity.

Giving up my virginity didn’t come without a price. It’s something I’m still paying for six years later and something I dream about just as often. During those sleepless nights, the sound of the young man’s head hitting glass echoes in my head, taunting me.

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