Black Wings & Stolen Things: Chapter 6

RIONACH

“This isn’t a good idea.” Ophelia’s hand flexes around mine with nerves as we weave farther into the dimly lit club. The only source of light comes from the purple strobes bouncing off the walls and the masquerade mask-wearing patrons. “We shouldn’t be here. You definitely shouldn’t be here.”

My friend is right. This might be the second dumbest thing I’ve ever done, and that’s saying something given my penchant for reckless behavior.

When Ophelia mentioned one of her students at the pole dancing studio she teaches at gave her a couple tickets to tonight’s exclusive event, I basically browbeat her into going. She fought me at first, arguing it wasn’t a good idea for us to attend given who the host of the event is.

What she still doesn’t know is that the host is the very reason I am adamant about being here tonight.

I just want to see him again—to bask in that chaotic energy of his and absorb it into my own hungry soul. To charge my empty battery. The short time we’d spent staring at each other in that hotel lobby last month had fed the empty pit in my chest better than anything else I’ve ever tried. Standing on roof ledges or train tracks don’t come close to the dangerous essence that surrounds Emeric Banes. They dull in comparison to him. Which is troubling, to say the least.

“It’s fine, Lia,” I lie through my ass.

If I get caught here and word gets back to my father, I’m beyond screwed. Not only will he be pissed at me, but he’ll also be pissed at Brayden, since it’s his security detail I slipped past two hours ago. The last thing I want is for Bray to take the brunt of my dad’s fury.

The irony that my parents would give a shit if I snuck out isn’t lost on me seeing as in reality, I’m just another pawn for them to move around their board. It all comes back to the fact that their image would be affected if their daughter got caught in enemy territory. I mean, what would it say about Niall and Imogen Moran if they couldn’t control their own daughter? Insert eye roll here.

It’s not very often I sneak out through my bedroom window. I try my best to limit my adventures for when I’m truly desperate—for when my skin is so unbearably tight it feels like I’m suffocating or the empty space beneath my sternum mirrors an endless cavernous pit. The sensation is comparable to hunger pains, only more intense. Painful on a soul-deep level, not physical.

There’s been times I swear Brayden knows I’ve left the estate’s iron gates. He’s good at his job. Excellent, even. I have to give him endless props for willingly being at my father and brother’s mercy. Bray is too good of a man to be their bitch, but what do I know? I’m just the docile daughter.

Whether Brayden knows I slip away or not, it’s never come up and I’m not about to broach the subject unless I have too. If we’re both pretending like I think we are, then it’s best to just keep at it.

“It’s not fine, Rio,” Lia huffs. “If you get caught, which of our bodies do you think your father will put in the Hudson River? Mine, because I’m the idiot that brought your ass here.”

“Relax. He’s not even in the city. Tiernan called him from New Jersey about something this morning and he left literal skid marks on the driveway when he went to meet my brother.” From the cursing that came from Dad’s office and echoed through the air vents, whatever Tiernan’s gotten up to in Jersey isn’t good. At all. My brother must have really stepped in it this time because the golden child does not get cussed out or scolded like he was this morning. It’s basically an unprecedented event, but a very refreshing change in pace nonetheless.

We come to a tight cluster of masked people blocking the arched hallway leading to the other side of the club. Not bothering to be polite and say excuse me, I push through them, forcing them to get out of our way. My hold tightens on Ophelia as I drag her through the group. Once through, I look back at her. Her pretty face is partially hidden by the white lace masquerade mask she wears, but even in the dim lights I can see the worry in her dark almond-shaped eyes.

“It’s not just your dad I’m worried about.” Lia pulls on my hand, forcing me to stop in my quest to find the bar. “You know whose party this is—whose club this is. Your family and his aren’t on good terms. What if he sees you here and doesn’t let you go? What if he sees this as an opportunity to use you as a bargaining chip?”

The yearly masquerade party at Tartarus is almost as infamous as the club’s owner. I’ve never attended before, but I’ve heard stories about the kinds of things that happen at this event. Having been here for five whole minutes, I’m starting to think those stories were nothing but fiction. Which is more than disappointing, to say the least.

When I was at NYU and students talked about this party, they told tales that were so explicit, they’d make most people blush. I half expected to walk into this building and find people fucking against walls and running trains on women on the bartop, but so far, I’ve seen nothing more than some sloppy make-out sessions. Tartarus appears to be just another upscale New York nightclub. While I had no intentions of partaking in such activities, I was still curious.

“If Emeric Banes tries to take me as a bargaining chip, he’s not as smart as people say. I can’t think of a single thing my parents would be eager to give up in order to get me back.” Now, if Tiernan’s life was the one on the line? They’d trade me like I was nothing more than a lone penny they found on the ground to get him back. “Either way, we’re not here to cause trouble. We’re just here to have a few drinks and dance. Just some harmless fun.”

Lia adjusts the black feather mask that covers my eyes. “Harmless fun,” she repeats. “You can pretend all you want, Rio, but there’s nothing harmless about you, and we both know it.”

I give her my best appalled face and hold a hand to my bare chest. The strapless tight black dress leaves little to the imagination. I figured if I were already risking my neck, I might as well go big or go home with my outfit. This dress has sat at the very back of my closet for nearly two years. It was an impulse buy on one of my rare shopping trips with Lia. It makes me feel hot. Powerful, even.

“I don’t have the slightest clue what you mean by that,” I tell her, my voice sickly sweet. “I am always on my best behavior.” Ophelia knows I push against the boundaries that have been shackled around me, but she doesn’t know just how hard I push.

I met Lia in my second year at NYU. She worked harder than anyone else in the classes we shared, putting my moderately good grades to shame every time. Her studious habits weren’t what originally drew me to her. It was the way she’d managed to live on the edges of the world I was brought up in without being fully pulled in. Her family, the Argents, were at the forefront of textile manufacturing for years. During that time, her parents mingled with the same CEOs and politicians as my family. They attended the same kinds of galas and since her father is currently sitting in prison, I think it’s safe to say her family occasionally dipped their toes into the less savory side of things.

That lifestyle all changed when she was nineteen and her family’s company went bankrupt. After that, Ophelia Argent became another scholarship student with a single mom.

She was raised close enough to my world to know the players, which means she knows what the Moran name means. She knows who I am. I don’t have to lie and say that my dad’s in importing and exporting and dabbles in real estate. I also never had to try and come up with an explanation for the men dressed in suits who drove me around in blacked-out SUVs. She just… understood. She never pries for information and avoids bringing up my family in general. Lia’s a friend I can simply exist with.

“Yeah, sure,” she rolls her eyes mockingly before taking my hand back in hers and leading me in the opposite direction to where I was headed before. “The bar is this way.”

Glad one of us knows their way around here…

“I didn’t know you’d been here before,” I raise my voice so she can hear me over the heavy bass music.

“Yeah…” The look she sends me over her shoulder is one I can’t quite decipher. “A few times.”


“I’LL BE RIGHT BACK,” Lia leans in close so I can hear her. Two drinks in and almost an hour of dancing has relaxed my friend. She’s still on alert, but she seems to be finally enjoying herself. “Don’t go far. This place is like a maze.”

Leaning against the ornate wrought iron bar, I wave the glass in my hands at her. “I’m not going anywhere. I don’t need some idiot bumping into me on the dance floor and making me spill. Having gin-soaked clothes is not on my agenda for the night.”

She glances behind her at someone, but I can’t pinpoint who she’s looking at in the commotion of masked patrons. Between continuing her education and getting her master’s degree at NYU and the pole dancing classes she teaches, Lia is a busy person with a full contact list. We rarely avoid running into someone she knows when we’re out.

Nodding her head, she gives my shoulder a squeeze. “Are you sure? I’ll be quick.”

I wave her off, perfectly content with where I am.

Curious, I follow her curtain of blue-black hair through the crowd, hoping to see who she’s meeting, but I lose her in the crowd within twenty seconds.

With my back and elbows resting on the bartop and my drink dangling from my fingertips, I take a second to slowly examine the rest of the club and its guests. If he’s really here, it will be almost impossible to find him out of a crowd, especially if he too is wearing a mask. Won’t it? It’s not like I’ll be able to pick him out solely by the storm-like presence, right?

I take in the club as I continue my hunt. The building is old and historic, but any updates made to the space have kept the integrity of the architecture. The main floor is mostly one vast room. Along the outskirts of the space, marble archways lead to smaller, more intimate spaces. I’m assuming that’s where people go when they want a little bit more privacy. The top floor, which is strictly off-limits, appears to be one big circular balcony that wraps around the entire room. Tonight, heavy black curtains have been pulled over the carved marble railings, but I can all but imagine Emeric standing up there staring down at the partygoers like he’s their god. A king on his throne reigning over his subjects.

“I like your mask.” A voice to my left cuts me out of my thoughts.

Turning to look at the man who now stands at my left, I find myself instantly underwhelmed and disappointed. In every sense of the word, he’s handsome, but he gives off golden retriever and “missionary is my favorite and I leave my socks on” vibes. Ugh.

“Thanks,” I tell him politely.

He smiles at me like he’s won something. “It’s very ‘angel of death’.”

I shrug my shoulder. “I’m afraid there isn’t a deeper meaning here. It’s just a black mask with feathers.”

“Yeah,” he rubs the back of his neck, “I didn’t put much time into my costume either.”

This has me fighting back a grin. “Really?” I question, eyes taking in the white plastic that hides half his face. The Phantom of the Opera at a masquerade party, how original. “Are you sure? It looks like you put a lot of effort into that.”

The smile drops from his face, and his lips slightly gape. It takes him about five seconds too long to figure it out. “You’re fucking with me.”

Not being able to stop myself, I choke on a laugh. “Nothing gets past you, does it?” Knowing this exchange isn’t going the way either of us wants it to, I cut it off before he can continue with his failing attempt to pick me up. “I’ll see you around, Phantom.”

“Who? That’s not my name.”

Jesus. “Oh my God,” I whisper under my breath as I abandon my drink on the bar and weave my way back onto the dance floor.

Sorry, Lia, I lied about staying put.

I’m halfway across the room when I feel it. When I feel him. I was so painfully wrong thinking I wouldn’t be able to find him in a crowd. Every hair on my body stands on end when I turn in a slow circle and scan the balcony above me.

There.

There you are.

I imagined him standing above the club like a king or god, but with the dark red medieval horned mask that covers the top half of his face, he doesn’t look like either of those things. He looks like the devil looking over the condemned souls of Hell.

Suddenly the club seems perfectly named. Tartarus. A realm of the underworld. The very place in mythology where the Greek gods imprisoned their enemies.

A delicious and addictive rush of adrenaline thunders through my bloodstream as I stare up at him. While I can’t see his eyes from here, I can feel them. All over my body. Like small intimate caresses. Does he know who I am? Does he recognize me like I do him?

His tanned hands are wrapped around the intricately carved banister and his shoulders seem tighter. The composed demeanor from the hotel lobby is gone. From here, I can sense how wired he is, and I think I like this version of him more. The wildness and unpredictability appeal to that thrill-seeking demon who resides in my soul.

I don’t know how many songs play as we continue our intense staring contest, but at one point, his head turns ever so slightly. It’s as if he’s silently asking me, “What are you going to do next? Are you going to come to me?”

A smirk pulling at my lips, I shake my head once. My answer is just as clear as his unspoken question, “If you want me, come and get me.” I’m not going to him simply because he called. He’ll have to find me himself.

I lied when I tried to tell myself all I wanted was to see Emeric. Turns out, I do want to dance tonight and, luckily for me, he’s precisely the kind of danger I want to dance with. I want to feel its chaotic melody hum in my ears and vibrate my ribs.

With one last look at his tall frame, I turn away from him and melt into the shadows.

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