Black Wings & Stolen Things: Prologue

EMERIC

New Year’s Eve

I’ve been called a lot of different things in my time.

Insane. Cruel. Calculating. Monster. Depraved. Sociopath. Or my personal favorite, unhinged. All accurate to some degree. Never have I considered ‘stalker’ to be an appropriate moniker for myself. That’s largely due to the fact that my attention span is historically shorter than my temper and my tolerance for other human beings is basically nonexistent. Neither of those attributes create the right… disposition for a stalker.

And yet here I am.

I’ve followed her through the quiet hallways of the historic New York hotel and up to the roof with a silence and patience I don’t recognize in myself. My normal course of action would be far less discreet. While I would just loathe to come across like a cocky asshole, I’m all but clapping myself on the back at the astonishing level of restraint I’m showing. Nova isn’t going to believe this when I tell him. He’ll probably think I’m fucking lying. Or ill.

She has no idea that I’m trailing behind her or that she’s caught and held my attention for the past hour. It’s no fault of her own that she’s ensnared me for the night. It’s not as if she went out of her way to prance around and draw eyes to her. No, unlike many of the empty-headed socialites and pompous cunts loitering around this so-called charity event, the auburn beauty that’s currently slipping through the unlocked roof access door didn’t so much as look in my direction all night. She walked amongst the partygoers like an apparition, keeping to the shadows and corners of the room.

It wasn’t the well-practiced empty expression on her face or the way she tries to make herself seem smaller in an effort to remain unnoticeable that initially caught my gaze. It was the fire that burns in her jade-colored eyes that she doesn’t hide but for some reason everyone seems oblivious to. That fire—spark—tells me her docile and passive persona is nothing but a façade. A ruse to make herself invisible amongst a room full of unbashful, attention-seeking whores.

Everyone else around us wants to be the center of attention, but she doesn’t. And I want to know why she tries to make herself seem inconsequential when, with one look at her, I knew she could set the world aflame if given the opportunity.

She already has the fire inside her. She just needs someone to give her the gasoline so she can really blaze.

The good news for her is I’ve always had a proclivity for fire. It’s gotten me in and out of trouble more times than I can count. Being burned has never scared me either. If anything, the dancing flames excite me, and I’d bet my bank account this girl would feel the same way.

This isn’t the first time she’s caught my eye. The first time I watched her was years ago when she was barely a legal adult, and back then the flames I’m currently fixating on were missing from her.

It was at a political fundraiser and her parents had been there trying to schmooze their way into the governor’s pocket. Their daughter had stood beside them, conversing with some of the most powerful people in the city with surprising ease. So pretty and poised. I was impressed with her ability to hold her own, but what kept my attention lingering on her was the way the perfect mask fell and the light in her eyes dimmed when she turned away from the group. How she’d peeked over her shoulder at her parents, as if she were silently begging them to acknowledge her. To just look once at her before she left. I watched, waiting for them to do just that, but they never did.

Tonight, nearly six years later, she’s grown up and the longing on her face has been replaced with that well-rehearsed emptiness. What’s changed in these past years for her to try and mold herself into something she’s clearly not?

She is still oblivious to the fact that I’m following behind her. Part of me is angry she’s not paying better attention to her surroundings. This insensible behavior is making her vulnerable. Doesn’t she know there are monsters lurking around every corner in this town? And that the most volatile monster is currently hunting her as if she’s his prey?

It’s probably for the best that she doesn’t know I’m here. I don’t want to spook her before I’ve fully had a chance to take her in. The reputation I’ve cultivated for myself isn’t one made of sunshine and rainbows, but of carnage and darkness. If she knew I was following behind her, I’m sure the fear that would seep from her pores would be suffocating, albeit delicious. Sane people with a strong desire to continue breathing go out of their way to stay off my radar. They know my temperament can change on a dime and without warning. Sometimes I have no idea how I’m going to react to a situation, but that’s okay. I like to keep even myself on my toes. It makes life exciting.

Like now, I have no idea how I’m going to react once I finally have her cornered. Will I taunt her for a moment and then let her go? Perhaps I’ll sink my teeth into her creamy flesh and allow myself a small taste before setting her free. One thing I know for a fact is that keeping her isn’t an option. I don’t keep my toys. Never have. I use them and break them, releasing them when I inevitably grow bored.

My hand slips between the metal door and the frame before it can slam shut behind her. I wait a beat before opening it again and stepping outside. It’s windier up here, eighteen stories from the ground. The frigid winter New York air cuts through my three-piece black suit and chills me to the bone. She has to be freezing wearing nothing but that dark green silk dress. The thin straps leave her arms completely bare and the slit on the side that goes up to her mid-thigh leaves her long leg exposed.

My guess is that she’s simply up here stealing a moment for herself away from her family.

Her family.

The thought of them has a smirk growing on my face. The Irish Moran clan. The name once held power. People respected them. But that was well over a decade ago and before I took over my family’s empire. I’ll admit, when I first started out, I made a show of destroying my competitors. All these years later, it’s still one of my preferred hobbies. I’ve found it’s just not as fun doing this job if people aren’t pissed or shooting at you. In this world, if no one is trying to kill you, you’re just doing it wrong.

After her grandfather kicked the bucket, her dad, Niall, donned the Irish crown. The unimpressive man is a walking joke. It’s become one of my favorite pastimes to toy with him. He’s an easy target and the way his pudgy face turns red when he’s angry makes me smile. The fear and control his family once had has slipped under his reign, and now they’re getting sloppy and, quite frankly, desperate with their dealings. Niall is still clinging to whatever status he has left. Showing up at events like this one tonight is his desperate attempt to prove his family is still relevant. It’s cute… in a pathetic kind of way.

Sticking to the shadows, I round the corner of the roof and stop dead in my tracks.

All my assumptions of what she could be doing up here go out the window when I notice her discarded heels on the gravel-covered ground and see her pulling herself up onto the roof’s parapet wall. My heart seizes in my chest. It’s a sensation I’m not accustomed to and one I don’t quite understand, but something about watching her stand with surprising grace on the brick railing eighteen stories in the air has the organ constricting.

Did I follow her up here only to watch her fall?

My foot lifts off the ground to go to her, to stop her from doing something irreversible, but I freeze in place when the most breath-taking smile spreads across her face.

Arms spread wide at her sides and her face tilted up, Rionach Moran grins at the dark cloudy sky above her as if she’s embracing an old friend. In this moment, I can’t think of a single thing more alluring than the sight of her standing there, a curtain of dark red hair blowing around her shoulders and back.

Anyone else looming up this high would be shivering with fear, but she’s coming alive. And suddenly I get it. I understand what she’s doing up here. She didn’t come here to end it all, to snuff out that fire simmering inside her. She came up here to let it blaze, to let the inferno free.

I recognize the look on her face as she holds her arms at her sides and tiptoes across the wall, her eyes looking over the edge, glancing at the earth many stories below her feet. It’s a look I’ve felt grow across my face many times.

It’s one of pure freedom.

People would call her crazy for standing up here like this, for finding pleasure in the danger, but I get it. I understand it—understand what she’s craving. There’s an addictive kind of freedom that comes when you give in to the fear. An intoxicating rush.

And then I know. I know what I’m meant to do with her. I know what she is to me. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my entire life.

She isn’t a toy for me to break. She isn’t a toy at all. She is so much more than that.

Rionach Moran’s soul matches mine in a way she doesn’t yet understand. How could she? These little stolen moments of danger are all she’s been given her entire life. Her wildfire has been snuffed out by a family who doesn’t see her. They refuse to. But I see her. I see the potential of everything she could be if simply given the chance.

Around us, the sky illuminates with fireworks, the city below celebrating the new year. They shine around her, outlining her lithe silhouette as she teeters on the edge. They reflect in her jade eyes as she looks at them with wonderment.

Don’t worry, princess, you’ll be free from that cage soon enough.

Rionach doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to steal her and she’s going to be mine.

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