Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 40

EMERIC

“Igor knew I’d personally go to The Daria and that’s why there weren’t any bombs left at Tartarus,” I tell her, as my soap-covered hands glide over her smooth skin and wash away the evidence of what she was forced to do today. The water around the shower drain has only just started to run clear after many long minutes of scrubbing. I don’t want to make her stay here in the cabin any longer than necessary, but I knew we needed to get the mixture of Mathis’s and Tiernan’s blood off of her. The moment I have her dried and in clean clothes, I’m taking her back to the city. Once I’m done dealing with Niall and the Koslovs, I don’t plan to let her out of my sight for a downright obscene amount of time. “That’s the problem when dealing with someone who knows you on a personal level. Igor knew what that hotel represented, and he used it against me. His plan of luring me away from you and into a building rigged to blow nearly worked because of the sentiment I still have toward that hotel.”

Rionach pushes her soaked hair back from her face. Water droplets stick in her dark eyelashes, and they fall when she blinks up at me. “Is it really gone? The hotel?”

“It’s gone,” I sigh. “They put enough explosives in the basement that we’re lucky the neighboring buildings didn’t also come down.”

I’m beyond grateful and fucking lucky that I have placed people with power in my back pocket because stopping the nosey government agencies from sniffing around this shitstorm without their help would be almost impossible. On top of their assistance, many of the chits I’ve collected over the years are going to have to be called in to make sure this is reported as a gas main explosion and nothing more. The cost of protecting my business and my interests will always be worth every penny. It’s a price I will gladly play ten times over.

My left hand covers hers when she places her palm over my heartbeat. The pristine pink polish that had decorated her nails this morning when I left her in what I believed to be safe hands is now chipped and cracked. Along with the vast array of bruises already developing on her pale skin, her ruined nails are just more proof of how hard she fought today.

I’m so proud of her, but I will use every resource at my disposal to ensure she’s never put in a position where she has to fight like that again. I failed her once already by trusting her with Mathis, and that is a mistake I won’t make twice.

“What are you going to do?” she asks. The pronounced circles beneath her still red-rimmed eyes are growing darker by the second. I want nothing more than to crawl into bed with her, but we can’t rest. Not yet, anyway. There’s still something we need to deal with before either of us can get the sleep we desperately need. It’s already been well over twenty-four hours since I’ve slept myself. “Will you rebuild?”

“Yes.” The fingers of my right hand trail over the purple marks forming on her side and hip. Before we’d untangled ourselves from each other and left the basement, she told me what had happened here. Her hold on me only tightened more the longer she talked about what Mathis and Anneli had done for Soren, and then what happen with Bogdan and Tiernan. The only reason I’d been able to remain relatively calm during this is because her naked body wrapped around mine kept me grounded. “We’ll rebuild and we’ll find a way to honor and compensate the families of the ones who didn’t get out of the building in time.”

The warning I’d received about the hotel had saved my life along with the team of men who’d accompanied me there, but it also gave me the ability to order an immediate evacuation. If I hadn’t gotten that text message from my secret ally, over five hundred lives would have been lost in the blast instead of a dozen.

It doesn’t surprise me Igor Koslov, and subsequently Niall Moran, were willing to eliminate that many innocent lives just for a chance at ending my existence. Their desperation and ugly greed are making them act impulsively, and that kind of mentality can only lead to casualties.

“I want to help,” she doesn’t hesitate to offer. “The work at Tartarus can wait for a while because this is important. I want to help rebuild your mother’s hotel.”

“It was never actually her hotel,” I correct, my hand tightening around hers.

She waves me off. “It was hers in every way that counted, and I want to make sure we preserve the memory of her. She was your mom and she loved you. We’ll make sure The Daria is returned to its former glory.”

A crushing weight of an emotion I can’t quite place crashes into me and all I can do against it is wrap Rionach tightly up in my arms. I press her now clean body against mine and hold on for dear fucking life.

She clings to me just as fiercely and for several quiet moments, this is how we stay. Wrapped up in each other, standing beneath the warm spray of water from the waterfall showerhead above us.

The moment comes to a bittersweet end when she whispers against my sternum, “Is my dad dead too?”

Too.

This never should have happened. Her hands should have been able to remain clean.

“No,” I answer, my chin resting atop the crown of her head. “Niall isn’t dead yet. Both fathers are in my custody in the basement of Tartarus, and Bogdan is being delivered there as we speak.”

It was a text I received that consisted of only a single word, but it’s a message I will always be eternally grateful for because it saved my men from losing their lives and it ensured that I was able to return home to her.

Trap.

He risked everything by sending me that one syllable and because of it, I’m forever in his debt.

It was after we had retreated to the fleet of armored SUVs and started heading across town to meet Nova and his team at the club that I received a second message. This one was equally as important and the key to putting this war between our families to bed at last. We’d been circling each other long enough, and I was and still am fucking tired of playing these goddamn games.

The Irish Wife -B

If it still hadn’t been clear who was behind these messages, the emoji of a four-leaf clover at the end of the second text made it glaringly obvious. The men riding in the car with me had all stared when I had started to laugh. The symmetry of this all starting with his help and ending with it was hysterical to me because with one text, the final nail in the coffin of Niall Moran’s legacy was hammered in place. And by one of his most trusted men, no less.

The location had proven correct when both Nova and I, along with our teams of trained men, descended upon the decaying Irish pub and found both Niall and Igor prematurely toasting to their victory against me. The way the chubby Irish man’s face paled and the reality of his demise flashed in his eyes made the beast residing within me purr.

Igor, snide and smug till the bitter end, had just smirked at me once he was restrained, and asked, “Where’s that whore of yours, Banes?”

My fist connecting with his face—repeatedly—had silenced him, but that seed he’d planted had taken root.

She doesn’t know, but the night I removed her IUD, I’d also implanted something in her. A tracker. The night I couldn’t find her at Holloway’s fundraiser turned the whispering impulse I’d originally had about putting a chip in her neck into a dire need. I was never going to be caught in a situation where I didn’t know her location again. It was a nonnegotiable fact.

Because of Igor’s parting words, seeing the red dot on the tracking app lead to the cabin did little to settle me. Between that and Mathis’s sudden radio silence, I knew it in my bones something was very wrong. It wasn’t until I carried her out of the cellar that I felt like I could finally take a fucking breath.

Rionach stiffens in my arms. “Bogdan is still alive?”

“Barely.” Cerberus did a number on that fucker’s face. I’ve seen ground hamburger look better than that mangled mess. “I called in the good doctor to keep him breathing.”

Her chin presses against my chest as she stares wide-eyed up at me. “Why would you do that?”

“He doesn’t get to die yet. Not until I’ve had my time with him. With all of them.” I wipe the drops the water collected beneath her eyes with my thumbs. She could be bothered by what I’m saying and shy away from my touch, and I wouldn’t fault her. I’m all but admitting I’m going to tear the man she believes is her father into teeny-tiny pieces, after all, but Rionach doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t balk. She’s so fucking strong and she’s accepted this needs to be done. “Twice now, they’ve attempted to take you from me. The only way any of them will be granted the sweet mercy of death is by my hand. I will accept nothing less.”

Wiping Igor Koslov from the face of this earth has been a long time coming. It should have happened two decades ago.

Green flames flare in her eyes. “Make it hurt.”

“I promise, princess.”


WITH CERBERUS STANDING guard over her and Yates positioned at my locked office door, I left my sleeping wife on the black leather sofa in my office before I made my way to the concrete room in the club’s basement. In the back seat of the SUV, Rionach had passed out with her head in my lap on our drive here. I want to take her home and crawl into bed beside her, but taking care of this is far more important.

The life I want to provide for Rionach can’t happen while these men are still breathing. The threat they pose to her, and our future family, can’t stand any longer.

The tarp scrapes across the clean concrete floors as I drag my gift to Niall through the metal door Nova holds open for me.

The effects that today have had on my friend and second-in-command are written clearly across his stone-like face. Another man he put hundreds of hours into personally training died today. Mathis betrayed us, and then he was killed. The loss of losing Camden still weighs heavily on the big man’s tattooed shoulders, but to learn that the young soldier was slain by Mathis… that blow is going to take time to recover from. Just like I had, Nova put his life and trust in Mathis’s hands many times, and to learn he didn’t trust us enough in return to come to us about what was happening with Soren is a tough pill to swallow for Nova.

My wife reminded both Nova and me before we left the cabin that Mathis and Anneli did what they thought they had to in order to protect their family.

Now that I personally know the kind of desperation that infects you when someone you love is taken, I can’t bring myself to completely fault the pair for their actions. But they didn’t have to die. Their deaths could have been avoided if they’d only told me the truth because I would have told them that Bogdan was never going to let them walk away. Making them beg for their child and then killing them in front of Soren fed his psychopathic soul. He got off on their anguish and fear.

The boy, who Nova had found in the woods being guarded by Cerberus, is understandably traumatized by what’s happened. We’ve tried to get him to speak, but so far, the kid refuses to make a peep. Due to his friendship with Mathis, Nova has spent the most time with Soren out of all of us. This connection has resulted in Soren imprinting on my second-in-command and clinging to him like he’s his safety blanket. It was a struggled to get Soren to release his hold on Nova’s tattooed neck so he could join me here now. And I can tell by the look in the tattooed beast of a man’s face that he wants to get back to the little boy.

When all is said and done, I have no doubt who will end up taking Soren in. I just wonder if Nova’s figured it out yet himself.

Nova gives me a nod of solidarity before pulling the metal door closed and locking me in the room with them.

Let the games begin.

I know the precise second Niall sees what my gift is when his muffled, inconsolable wails fill the soundproof room.

With a dramatic flourish of my hand, I gesture at the bloodied and very still body of his son atop the blue tarp. “Did I or did I not tell you both you’d get to see your sons again?” I ask the two gagged men who are strapped down naked on rolling steel tables. The black straps across their chests and legs keep them firmly in place and right where I need them. To the left of Igor is Bogdan in a similar state. The only difference is the collection of bloodstained bandages covering his unrecognizable face and throat, and the IV in his arm. It would seem Doc went all out to follow my orders to keep the Russian breathing. Good. “I always follow through with my promises.”

I nudge Tiernan’s head with the toe of my shoe until it lolls to the right. Milky, lifeless eyes now stare in the direction of his pathetic, weepy father.

Stepping over the speed bump that is technically my brother-in-law, I pass through Igor’s and Niall’s tables. My knuckles tap rhythmically against the shiny metal surface of both as I pass to stand at Niall’s head. Leaning over him, terrified and tear-filled eyes peer up at me. Fear-induced adrenaline makes his body quake like he’s a fucking Chihuahua. He’s downright pitiful.

Niall wanted to be at the top of the food chain, but he never had what it takes to sit upon my throne. He would have been eaten alive.

“I do believe I made you a promise at your shitty bar, Moran,” I tell him, the corners of my lips already tugging as a familiar thrill begins to hum in my bloodstream. “I told you what would happen if your family moved against mine. Again. Do you remember this?”

He doesn’t offer me any form of answer.

My tongue clucks disapprovingly. “Perhaps you don’t. You were nursing your sorrows that night in a bottle of whiskey. Let me remind you. I told you that before I killed you I would take you apart bit by bit. Is this starting to ring a bell in your meatloaf of a brain yet?”

Niall’s eyes squeeze closed and force more bitch-baby tears to stream down the sides of his ruddy face.

“I promised you that your god wouldn’t recognize you by the time you go to heaven’s gates.” I mockingly cross myself before leaving him and going to stand above Igor. “Just like your son, you taught me the art of flaying flesh off bodies. While your spawn was out butchering random women for sport, I was perfecting my craft with hopes that you’d one day be the one under my blade.” A delightful mixture of hatred and rage settles on Igor’s face as he glares up at me. “During all those years I spent as your student, did you ever think I’d end up using your teachings against you? I know my father never saw it coming. He thought you’d managed to beat me into submission, but as it turns out, all you did was create a much bigger problem. Do you think as he choked to death on his blood, he realized his mistake?”

Unsurprisingly, Igor doesn’t offer me any kind of response.

I take the wicked sharp switchblade from my pocket. The swishing sound of it opening bounces off the stone walls.

“Slicing away every inch of skin from a person’s body is a tedious task. It takes precision and patience. As we both know, I’m not historically a patient man, but for this—for you—I will make an exception.” To really drive my point home, I drag the tip of the blade over his heart. My pressure isn’t hard enough that real damage is caused. Only a whisper-thin line is sliced into his skin. “Most don’t survive being skinned alive. The pain causes the body to go into shock and the heart just gives out. The ones who do survive, they inevitably die of hypothermia. See, without your skin, your body loses its ability to keep heat in and you freeze to death.”

I leave the head of his table and begin to slowly prowl between all three. Bogdan is so close to death as it is, I don’t know if he’s comprehending what I’m saying. His head turns ever so slightly in my direction as he tracks the sound of me moving around the room. He only had one good eye to begin with and after Cerberus’s attack, I have no idea if either eyeball is still intact. The white bandages Doc placed conceal whatever remains, not that it really matters at this point whether or not he can see me coming. We both know I’ll be his executioner.

“What do you say, Niall and Igor?” I jovially ask the set of fathers as I push the sleeves of my shirt farther up my forearms. I have other plans for Bogdan Koslov but forcing him to listen to his father be flayed alive seems like a decadent amuse-bouche for his own death. “Do you think you’ll live long enough to freeze to death? I sure hope you both do because I would just hate to see our time together cut so short.” Blade twisting between my fingers, I come to a stop at the end of Igor’s bed. “Who wants to go first?”

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