Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 41

RIONACH

One Week Later

The wind howls through the private airstrip and whips my loose hair around my face and shoulders. It’s offensively early and the morning sky has just started to come alive with colors as the sun crests. I could be home, cuddled up in our bed, but I needed to be here for this. Emeric tried to get me to stay. I wouldn’t hear it.

I need to see this through.

The door of the private plane opens and a moment later, a familiar broad figure appears at the doorway. He descends the stairs and stalks across the tarmac alone. The armed security I know he brought with him is nowhere to be found. I’m not sure if he’s doing this as a show of good faith or if he stupidly believes my husband isn’t a threat to him anymore because they happened to part ways last time on relatively civil terms.

Emeric’s warm hand envelops my much colder one and he gives me a reassuring squeeze. Everything is going to be okay.

This past week, things have been better. Calm. After sleeping for over five hours on the couch in Emeric’s office at Tartarus, I waited another five for him to emerge from the basement. He was wired with a chaotic energy I’ve never seen in him before, and he was covered in blood. One day I might ask him how he ended their lives, but I haven’t yet. Maybe when the shock of what happened with Tiernan lessens, I’ll find the courage to ask. The amount of blood that was painted on my husband tells me it was brutal, and that’s all I need to know. Right now, I’m content not having all the gory details.

What I do know is the peace of mind of knowing they’re no longer out there posing a threat to us has been priceless. While there has been peace, there has also been grief. I haven’t been mourning the lives of my father and Tiernan. They don’t deserve that kind of energy and mental space from me, but the neglected little girl who still resides within me is mourning the loss of how things could have been. In another life, I could have been born into a family that loved and valued me, and the notion of that idealistic life is something worth grieving for. The little girl mourns that things will never change or get better. She’s sad that this is what it came down to, and this is how her family was undone.

I might not have been born into a loving family, but I can build one and that gives me hope for the future. A future I will share with him.

Emeric leads me forward to greet the new arrival.

“Tadhg.”

“Emeric.”

We’re using first names, that’s a good sign.

My grandfather stands before us, looking as stoic as ever in his three-piece tweed suit. Despite the seven-hour flight from Dublin, there isn’t a single wrinkle in the fabric. He could be angry and upset for the reason he was called back to the States so soon, but he appears to be completely neutral.

With his hands held casually behind him, Tadhg shifts his focus to me, and his observant eyes linger on the fading dark circles around my eyes. On top of the concussion that I got from Tiernan hitting the back of my head, I also got a matching pair of black eyes. They appeared about twelve hours after the whole ordeal.

“Rionach, I’m relieved to see that you’re well.”

I wish I could easily believe he means this, but my experience with my bloodline makes me tentative to accept his kind words.

“She almost wasn’t, thanks to your cockroach of a grandson.” The venom that laces Emeric’s voice has chills of awareness running down my spine.

My grandfather shifts uneasily on his feet. “Yes, both your grandmother and I were appalled to hear what had transpired between you two. Tiernan’s behavior is something we would never condone,” he tells me with what looks to be genuine sympathy on his face. “How his depraved behavior went unnoticed for so long is beyond me.”

“It wasn’t unnoticed,” I calmly argue. “It was purposely ignored because Tiernan was the golden child and my parents held him up on an untouchable pedestal. They told him over and over again how special he was, and how the world was his for the taking. He could do no wrong. It shouldn’t shock anyone that he would take that literally.”

To my utter surprise, my grandfather nods his head in agreement. “You’re right. His upbringing set him up for failure.”

At a loss for words, all I can do is stare at the man before me.

Failure,” Emeric repeats slowly like he’s trying it out on his tongue. “Is that what we’re calling almost raping your own sister these days? A failure?” He makes a tsking sound as he shakes his head. “No. That wasn’t a fucking failure. Tiernan is lucky my wife took care of the problem before I had a chance to get my hands on him, because I would have slowly and methodically taken him apart, and then made him eat the pieces.”

All of us standing here know he means every word he’s saying.

Tadhg clears his throat. “An understandable punishment. I would have reacted the same way if someone tried to force themselves upon my wife.”

“Glad we’re in agreement,” Emeric tells him, contempt still infused in his tone. “Let’s move on to why you’re here so we can get on with our day. You have a long flight back to Ireland, and Rionach and I have better things to do than chitchatting on a tarmac.”

My grandfather inclines his head. “Agreed.”

Emeric turns toward the three SUVs parked by the gate of the airfield and makes a quick motion with his free hand. Yates, who’s become Emeric’s go-to guard this past week, pushes off the back door he’d been casually leaning against so he can open it. He waits a moment for the person inside to emerge.

Looking more disheveled than I’ve ever seen her, my mother, Imogen, climbs out of the black vehicle. Her familiar red hair is knotted and tousled on one side of her head, and the cream sweater is buttoned wrong in the front and askew. Normally, she can walk in a pair of heels like she was born wearing them, but now, as she’s led toward us by Yates, she moves like a newborn calf learning to walk.

At my grandfather’s displeased inhale, Emeric passes him a bored look. “Given her current appearance I can see how you’d think we’re the cause of it, but I can assure you, your daughter has been perfectly safe while in our custody. The only person to blame for that hot mess is her. As you can imagine, she hasn’t exactly been handling the loss of her spouse and titty-baby well. She doesn’t look it, but fuck, that woman has some pipes on her. She screamed for nearly six hours straight. We finally had to sedate her just so my men could get some peace and quiet.”

“What reaction did you expect from her after you told her Niall was tortured to death and her child was killed? Your men then kept her sequestered within her bedroom for days on end like a prisoner,” my grandfather snaps, showing the first hint of agitation since arriving.

“Tadhg, before you get your knickers in a twist, I would like to remind you that allowing you to take your daughter home is an act of kindness from me. She was more than happy to sell her daughter to the Koslovs if it meant her social status increased and she got an extra couple million in her pocket. That act alone makes it well within my right to keep her. Just ask my brother’s mother-in-law. My brother had her enslaved to my empire for her crimes against her daughter. I would have no problem doing the same to Imogen, but like I said, I decided to be kind. So instead of staring at me with that irritating look on your face, perhaps you should be thanking me.”

My grandfather schools his expression and tightly says, “Thank you for allowing me to bring my daughter home. It will clearly be what is best for her.”

“You’re so very welcome,” Emeric replies, the satisfaction he’s feeling clear in his tone.

I step closer to Emeric’s side, and my hand tightens around his when my mother is delivered to our little group. Sensing my discomfort, my husband releases my hand so he can wrap his arm around me instead. I’m not scared of Imogen or anything like that, but there’s a lot of water under that bridge now and I don’t know how to navigate it.

Tadhg wraps his daughter into a tight hug that she doesn’t return and places a kiss to her messy hair before asking Yates, “Would you deliver her to the jet. I will join her in just a moment.”

Not willing to take an order from an outsider, Yates looks at Emeric for confirmation and once he has it, he takes my mother by her upper arm and tries to steer her away.

She allows him to lead her a foot away before her head whips violently around and her callous blue eyes pierce into mine. “This is all your fault. You ruined everything. We were on our way back to greatness, and you couldn’t play your fucking part. Now look at us. There’s nothing left. They’re dead and it’s your fault, you selfish brat.”

“Imogen!” It was rare that I ever heard my grandfather raise his voice during our few-and-far-between visits but hearing him roar her name reminds me why he’s been in charge in the UK for as long as he has. Tadhg Kelly has and always will be a force to be reckoned with. “Your family acted foolishly and were met with appropriate consequences. None of this is Rionach’s fault. Now shut your bloody mouth and get on the fucking plane!”

The already lackluster color drains from my mother’s face as she looks away and allows Yates to escort her to the waiting plane.

It’d be easy to think she said those things because of her declining mental state, but I know that isn’t the case. She wasn’t just lashing out. She was showing what’s always been behind the poised housewife mask she’s worn. Her mask has cracked over the years and I’ve experienced the vitriol that’s leaked out, but it’s never been like this.

Pop waits until she’s halfway there to turn back to us, and says, “I apologize for my daughter. She’s⁠—”

“Don’t apologize or make a shitty excuse for her behavior,” Emeric interrupts. “Just make sure it’s clear to your daughter that if she returns to my city, I won’t have any kindness left in me.”

With an exhausted sigh, Tadhg slightly inclines his head. “It never should have come to this, Banes. Niall was a small, imprudent man who thought he deserved everything. A trait he evidently passed on to his son. I know it was for the sake of your bride that you kept giving them chances, but they were never going to stop. We all knew it. I tried my best to warn them what would happen if they kept at it. They refused to listen.” He looks between both Emeric and me. “For what it is worth, I am abundantly sorry for the hardships they’ve caused, and, Rionach, no woman should ever be put in the position that you were. It was unfair. Your upbringing was unfair.”

My throat is suddenly tight because I’ve waited years to hear someone tell me this—for someone to acknowledge how I was treated. His apology is nice, but it’s not going to heal the wounds I’ve amassed through the years.

“You’re right,” I say. “It was unfair.” Emeric’s arm tightens around me like a calming cocoon. “Despite their best efforts, I now know what it’s like to be loved by someone unconditionally and how I should be treated. I know I didn’t deserve how they treated me.”

Being with Emeric, even with all his faults, has made it that much clearer just how emotionally neglected I was. He loves me and all the twisted pieces of my soul. Emeric isn’t with me because he has something to gain from it. If anything, making me his wife came with costs. Men died and The Daria is in ruins because he made me his. He did all of it because he wanted me. Just me.

“It isn’t worth much, I know, but I am pleased to know you are happy, Rionach,” my grandfather says. “And safe. Emeric Banes is a lot of things, yes, but he will keep you safe.”

“I shouldn’t have had to protect her from her own family,” Emeric snaps before pressing his lips to my temple and leading me back a step. “Come on, princess. It’s time to go. There’s somewhere I want to take you.”

I grant my grandfather a half smile and a small wave as I allow Emeric to guild me back to the waiting fleet of black cars.

“Princess,” Tadhg repeats loudly, forcing us to stop and turn around. “You call her princess,” he muses.

“Is that funny to you, Kelly?”

“It is,” he admits. “Do you know what Rionach means, Banes?” Taking Emeric’s silence as an answer, he continues, “It means queenly.”


LOOKING over the roof’s ledge, I tell Emeric, “When you said you wanted to bring me somewhere, I didn’t think you meant here.”

Large hands rest on my hips from behind. “This is where it all started. This is where I saw you—really saw you—for the first time,” he says close to my ear. “You stood right here on this ledge. I thought you were going to jump at first, and something in my chest cracked at the idea of snuffing out your flame, but then you raised your arms and smiled up at the sky. That’s when I knew you were mine.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes.” The warmth of his chest presses against my back as he pulls me closer to him.

Last week in the cabin’s cellar, when he first admitted our interaction in the hotel lobby that same night wasn’t our first encounter like I’d thought, I’d been too emotionally wrecked to ask any questions. Or even wrap my head around it.

And then he went and told me he loved me for the first time. After that, I definitely didn’t have the mental real estate to ponder the truth of how our story started. Now that we’ve both had time to decompress and settle, I want to know everything.

“You didn’t marry me as payment for their debt, then?” I ask, already knowing the answer, but I still want to hear him say it out loud.

“Your family stealing from me handed you to me on a silver platter. I had already been working on a plan to claim you, but then your brother raided my warehouse, and it was just too perfect to pass up. I was going to punish your family and I was going to take you as my wife. Our wedding gave me the opportunity to do both.” He runs his nose down the side of my face. “When you stormed down that church aisle, your eyes blazing with anger, I knew I’d made the right choice. You were magnificent, and there won’t be a day I’m not thankful to have that image of you ingrained in my brain. Just like the visual of you standing on this very wall is.”

He’d orchestrated the whole thing. Emeric knew what he wanted—me—and he used my brother stealing from him to his advantage. I’ve said it before, but we really are just a bunch of puppets and he’s the one pulling our strings.

Hearing him confirm I’ve always meant more to him than a token he acquired as payment has the invisible wall I’d placed between us shattering at our feet. It was the safeguard I’d built around my heart when I believed falling in love with him would only end in disaster. I believed one day he would realize he made a rash decision driven by revenge and spite and decide he wanted nothing to do with me.

I now know that isn’t the case because he loves me.

Emeric Banes, the monster, the devil, the cruel king, loves me.

How many people are lucky enough to say that?

He chose me, and in return, I will choose him. Every day.

“What made you follow me up here that night?”

He sighs. “I watched how you moved around the room trying your best to blend in with the walls. To make yourself small. I knew with one look at you that you were pretending to be someone you weren’t, and I wanted to know why. I wanted to know the version of you that you were trying so hard to hide.” His deft fingers collect my hair and brush it over my right shoulder. “When I found you up here, I got a glimpse of the woman you could be. I saw the life—the potential—that could thrive, if only given the chance. Most importantly, I found a kindred soul to match my jagged one.”

I once told him we fit together like a fucked-up puzzle—that we fit together. What took me many weeks to figure out, he learned in mere minutes.

“How did you know I was meant to be yours so fast?”

“When I looked at you, it was like I’d found my reason to breathe.”

His lips press to my temple before he releases me and moves to stand at my side. Confused, I watch him remove the black wool coat. Just like I’d done with my heels on New Year’s Eve, he discards it in the gravel beneath our feet.

With a devious smirk that makes butterflies erupt in my lower stomach and heat spread in my veins, Emeric pulls himself up onto the roof’s brick parapet wall. “Come on, princess, a little danger is good for the soul. It reminds us that we’re alive.”

Grinning like a lovestruck fool, I accept the hand he extends. With well-practiced skill, I join him on the ledge. The mid-morning sun shining down on us is a little different than the celebratory fireworks that were here the last time I stood on this roof, but the view is no less stunning. In fact, it’s better because I’m no longer standing up here experiencing the rush of adrenaline alone.

I’m no longer alone in this life because I don’t have to hide who I am anymore. The mask that has smothered me for so many years has been burned to ashes, and now I can just be. And it’s all thanks to him.

The man so many people fear, the man who stole me and set me free.

My husband.

Pressing the side of my body against his, I lift up on my tippy-toes and softly kiss his stubbly cheek. “I love you too,” I whisper against his skin. “Thank you for stealing me and making me your wife.”

He stares back at me and for the first time since I’ve known him, the violent storm in his gray eyes has calmed.

While I’ve found freedom in him, Emeric has found peace in me.

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