REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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A few streets over from Alexa's building, I killed the Bentley engine, checked the time on my wristwatch and headed over. She's presently working at the club, and it'll take her at least thirty minutes to travel home, so now is the perfect opportunity for me to invade her privacy.

I'm not sure what it is I'm scouring for or hoping to achieve. All I know is that something about Alexa doesn't sit with me. I need to appease my scepticism and reservations.

As I walked toward the dated, concrete building, I spotted a cluster of youths in tracksuits, resting against their pushbikes, passing joints between them—their profanity and loud guffaws chiming into the night.

The display peeves me. Alexa doesn't live on the right side of town, but she's young—shouldn't be expected to deal with these wannabe hoodlums when she returns. "Isn't it past your bedtimes," I ridicule, stopping next to the one gulping down an energy drink.

"What's it you to you?" one foolishly affronted, shoving himself away from the wall, rolling his shoulders back, gearing up for a fight.

"Yo, ain't that Liam Warren?" another whispered.

"Indeed," I drawled, keeping my eyes on the chopsy fucker. "Go and find a different spot—"

He spat gum on the floor. "I don't need to listen to you—"

I caught him off guard, hand locked around his throat, drawing him so close he has no option but to wither under my cold glare "You need to pick a new spot," I warned, knowingly digging my fingers into the hollow flesh of his neck. "If I catch any of you motherfuckers chilling outside this building again, I'll hack off those puny cocks with a blunt butcher knife and make you choke on them." The lad whimpered, his friends already dispersing into the shadows with their push bikes. "Have I made myself abundantly fucking clear?"

He nodded vigorously.

"Good." I shoved him into a bike on a pathetic whimper, toppled over the frame, frantically dashing away from me. "Get out of here."

Once they're no longer in sight, I opened the metal gate precariously hanging onto the fence and moved through the communal garden. It's a diabolical mess, rubbish, and wet clothing litters the overgrown grass resembling a landfill site, tattered furniture, empty alcohol bottles— "Fuck." I kicked the used syringe aside, the blood in my veins burning. Graffitied walls, slang and vulgar images, and those lingering flies are concerning, infestation, as it seems.

I dodge unkempt thistles and thorn bushes spattering onto the path, and something squished under my sole. My face turned up in disgust. I stare down at the used fucking condom sticking to my black Ferragamo shoe. Unclenching my jaw, I drag my shoe across the grass, removing it.

Rechecking her address on my phone, I ascended the stairs to the top floor, pleased there's some distance between her home and the streets. I stopped outside her door, picked the lock with a bobby pin, warily entered.

I cannot see anything in the dark hallway. It smells nice, a hint of lemon and home-cooking lingers in the air. Utilising the torch on my phone, I glanced into the first room, a bathroom, horrendous polychromatic green wall tiles sans floor coverage, uneven floorboards—quite similar to the layout in the hallway—girly shit: pink loofah, minimal cosmetics, fluffy towels, nothing special.

I'm about to check the kitchen when espying movement. Alexa's roommate saunters into the living room, a towel wrapped around her head, a bowl of dry cereal in one hand, a glass of milk in the other.

I cut the torch, and darted into another room, released the breath I was holding, noisily shut the door behind me. One look at the red bedspread and I knew I was standing inside Alexa's personal space.

Amidst the restricting room, a double bed, covered in a wide range of colourful scatter pillows, steals most of the narrowed space, dark, mahogany furniture, a random armchair, and she utilises a threadbare rug as floorboard coverage.

Opening the wardrobe, I flicked through the few hangers, lifted the black dress she once wore at the club. Not much else occupies her room—minimal clothing, cheap makeup on the dresser, one perfume, miscellaneous items of fashion jewellery, a broken compact mirror, two drawers filled with more random junk than underwear.

I hate where she lives, hate that she's improvised and young yet unassumingly mature.

What am I missing?

Why is a nineteen-year-old girl deprived and penniless?

Why is she living with a friend and not family?

Alexa should still be under the guardianship of her parents, attending college, working part-time, partying with friends on weekends.

Instead, she hounded my ass and begged for work. It's no good. This burning apprehension is only amplifying.

I'm not an imbecile. I trust my instincts—fortunate enough to be perspicacious, a man whose gut has never failed him. This strange predicament and fascination I have with Alexa Haines are slowly starting to consume me.

Closing the drawer, I open a container to continue fossicking when the bedroom door swings open. I turned rigid, waited for the light to blind my eyes, but the roommate appeared to appreciate the dark.

I force my back to the wall, see Alexa in a towel, and the air inside the room thickens.

What the fuck is she doing here?

She's supposed to be working—another hour, to be exact.

I had no qualms about explaining my reasoning for being here. However, I'd rather avoid that conversation if I can help it.

What would I say?

I invaded your privacy because I can't stop thinking about you? That your sweet mannerisms are fucking with my head?

Alexa combes through the piles of clothes on the chair, and finds what she's looking for and then the towel drops—I stop breathing. She unties her bobble, allowing her long hair to fall down her back.

As much as my cock appreciates the view of her ass, I pray she doesn't turn around as I'd likely reveal myself and advance with carnal desire.

Humming quietly to herself, she drew on red laced knickers—and I'm fucking finished. When she turned to face me, I looked away, though, the temptation is there, the desire to check her out is immense; I won't steal her beauty. It's immoral—being here is immoral, but perving on her is something else.

"Alexa, have you eaten?" Chloe yelled from across the hall. "There's leftovers in the fridge."

"I already ate," Alexa lies, tugging on an oversized T-shirt. "Thanks, though."

"Why are you home early?"

"Brad." Alexa moved to the door, rested a shoulder against the wall. "He said I could leave earlier because it was quiet."

That bastard is catching a slap.

"Any updates?" Chloe mused, and my ears perked up.

"Nothing," Alexa sighed, picking imaginary lint off her tee. "I'm struggling, Chloe."

"What happened? Is that bitch giving you a hard time again?"

My eyes narrowed, eyebrows curving into a frown.

"I can handle Natalie," she responds, and I noted keeping an eye on this situation.

"What about Warren?"

"Liam left early," Alexa whispered, and a small smile danced on my lips. "Honestly, I'm glad. That asshole gives me a severe case of whiplash," she added, and my smile turned into a frown.

"He's hot, though, right?"

Alexa growled. "He might be hot, Chloe. But that man is a notorious womaniser. Quite frankly, it disgusts me."

I fought from admonishing her. Yes, I like women. I'm not a womaniser, though. And she finds me disgusting. Not what I expected. Duly fucking noted.

"Anyway, I'll see you in the morning," Alexa said, arms stretched above her head, yawning. "I'm knackered." She closed the bedroom door, crawled onto the bed and groaned into the pillow.

I wait for her breathing to even out.

After five minutes, I'm ready to sneak out when she rolls onto her back and studies the ceiling, wide awake.

Fuck's sake.

Why did I think coming here was a good idea?

Propped on her elbows, she studied her wiggling toes, and then she suddenly stopped breathing. I glued my back to the wall, thinking she sensed my presence when her thighs parted, and she lifted the tee, settling it on her waist, exposing her slender stomach.

Almost teasingly slow, she slipped the underwear off, kicked the lace to the floor, dropped onto her back, hand smoothing over her chest, gradually lowering to the apex of her thigh—I close my eyes, inwardly berate myself, heart rate becoming painfully erratic. Never have I wanted a woman to stop her sexual advances. I can't witness her like this. It'll mess with my head, and I won't be able to look at her again without remembering this moment, or the sound of her laboured moans.

A quiet whimper escaped her lips. I bit my knuckles, tampered down the growl determined to rupture my tight throat. Another breathless moan fell from those lips, and my cock hardened, pushing against my trousers, aching to come out, for a release. I can hear how wet she is—hear her fingers stimulate as she pleasures herself. Her heavy breathing indicates she's close—" Alexa, do you know where my phone is?" Chloe shouted, and relief washed over me. "I thought I left it in the kitchen."

Alexa caught her breath. "In the bathroom." It's comical how these girls communicate through walls. "I left it on the windowsill."

I chanced to open my eyes. Alexa sighs in defeat, pulls her T-shirt down, curls onto her side, determined pleasuring herself can wait until another time. If I wasn't hiding? If Alexa invited me in her bedroom tonight, she wouldn't be falling asleep unsatisfied. I'd help her out. Fuck. I'd need to help her after that display. Touching herself is unnecessary as I'd do all the work for her.

My mouth salivated at the thought of tasting her, teasing her pussy, feeling her pulsate under my tongue. It's not something I often participate—I'm selfish like that. I'll fuck a woman breathless, but I never put my mouth down there. It's too personal, in my opinion. I'd likely make an exception for her. I'm still doubting if she's even been with a man, judging by her virtuousness, so I am more than happy to relieve that unknowing ache for her.

Alexa's breathing settles, so I moved away from my corner, relieved she hadn't caught me here.

I stopped before reaching the door to watch her sleep. She's beautiful—too young for me, but beautiful. My hand gravitated toward her face, and I stroke her jawline with my knuckles. "What is it about you?" I whispered, draping a blanket over her, so she's warm. I squatted beside the bed, head turned to the side, trying to understand this intensity between us. "Beautiful."

Her delicate features twitched, and those lips pouted. Dreaming, I thought, tucking hair behind her ear, thumb lingering on her cheekbone. Before I do something stupid, I slipped out of her bedroom, locked the front door behind me and posted the keys through the letterbox.

The journey back to the club ended too soon. I'm still disordered when inside my office. I'm playing with fire. I shouldn't have hired Alexa—shouldn't be calling her to my office, sharing a drink with her.

I was jealous. Brad informed me Alexa went for lunch with Josh. He's a decent lad. If anything, he's a stellar candidate for someone like her. I don't want her with any of the men, though. I'm not sure I could stomach it.

After our meeting the other night, I made an impulsive decision by asking her to drink with me. Since that awkward moment, I haven't stopped thinking about her, hence my recklessness tonight.

Slumping onto the chair behind my desk, I poured myself a Jameson and lit a cigarette. Brad joins seconds later. My right-hand man doesn't knock on arrival. He pretty much invented his own rules. I pretend his assurance peeves me when, in reality, I'm quite fond of his rebellious characteristics. "Where's Nate?"

"He's doing clean-up with the men," he says, helping himself to my bottle. "Where were you?"

"Why was Alexa sent home early?"

His features sharpened. I puzzled him. "We were quiet."

I rolled the glass between my fingers. "We're never quiet."

"Alexa is exhausted." He gave an insouciant shrug. "Have you noticed she has barely any time off?"

I had noticed, but I've yet to ask questions. I'm at the club seven days a week. When Alexa is here, it gives me something decent to look at. "She's a big girl," I said, exhaling a veil of smoke. "No need to fight her corner, Brad.

Rolling his eyes, he hands me a folder. "We got a shipment coming in tomorrow. I need to run it by you before I order the men to collect."

"It looks good." I half-heartedly scanned the details and tossed the notes onto my desk. "Give the go-ahead." I can't focus. My head is all over the fucking shop, thanks to the beautiful girl who's consuming my mind.

"What's up with you, anyway?" He slipped a toothpick between his lips. "You ill or something?"

"I'm never ill," I retort, avoiding his curious eyes.

"Why are you stressed?" He gave me a wolfish grin, his eyes brows dancing. "Is our lady friend giving you a hard time?"

Brad is observant. His vigilance is a requirement for our line of work. Sometimes, though, it's an annoying trait, mainly when it concerns me. He hasn't asked what I intend to do with Alexa, but the man knows I keep her around for a reason.

"Has she at least sucked your dick? I'm guessing that would be a no since you're quite snappy lately. Plus, she's a virgin, right? Well, that's what I reckon."

The man has never taken an interest in my sex life before. Lately, his line of questioning regarding Miss Haines is limitless.

Why was Alexa in your office?

Do you think she's a virgin?

You're staring at her again.

Is there a reason you keep watching her?

Honestly, Bossman, you're coming across like a bastard pervert.

He's fucking relentless.

Although after tonight's antics, a fucking pervert fits the goddamn bill. "Haven't you got obligations you should be dealing with?" I adopted a bored expression. "Instead of pestering me."

"Not really." He scratched his jaw, deliberating. "I think Cherry is downstairs. I might see if she needs sorting out."

When Brad says, "sorting out," he's referring to himself. The ladies here love his good looks and arrogance. He's never struggled for sex and, more often than not, the man's juggling multiple women. Cherry, however, is one of his favourites. I'm sure her tongue piercing sealed the deal. The woman gives decent head.

"Honestly, Bossman. I'm curious," he probes, and I breathed a frustrated sigh. "What's the deal with her?"

I drop my head back, blow smoke toward the ceiling. "Your inquisitiveness can get the better of you."

"Fair enough," he quips, raking a hand through his dishevelled hair. "Thought you should know, Alexa, kissed Josh today."

Rage immediately burnt my insides. "And you're telling me this why?" He's fucking with me. Alexa wouldn't dare—not after our meeting. I'd said the company forbids fraternising in the workplace, and she bought my bullshit in a heartbeat.

"Fine—whatever." He heads to the door. "Do you want me to send someone up? Natalie finishes in ten minutes."

"No." I gestured to the documents on my desk. "I'm busy. Perhaps, I'll join you later."

He dipped his head. "No worries, Boss."

Once he made himself scarce, I grabbed the phone and dialled the bar. "Mr Warren," Natalie purrs down the receiver. "Anything I can help you with?"

"Send Josh to my office," I ordered, ending the call.

My bitter behaviour is irrational. I don't understand what's come over me, and I'm unfamiliar with this powerful, painful obsession fulminating inside me. I hardly know the girl, yet to decide if she's trustworthy. Even with this contradictory knowledge, I want her, crave her, ache to taste something I forbid myself.

Maybe that's the answer. If I want something, I usually take it. If I had Alexa just for one night, I'll possibly be done with her and get my head back in the game.

Josh knocked on the door, poking his head into the room. "You wanted to see me?"

I didn't miss a beat. "You're not permitted to date any of your co-workers."

"Boss?" His spine straightens, confusion etching his harsh features. "What are you talking about?"

Don't show weakness, Liam. "I want you to stay away from Alexa Haines."

"Alexa?" he mused, scratching the back of his neck. "Alexa and I aren't dating."

Brad and his fucking mind games. He gained an extra slap for this. "You better keep it that way."

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