REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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When I arrive at the club the following night, I practically sprint through the corridors, making sure to avoid a certain someone. I'd woken up this morning—not only enduring a hangover from hell—but completely mortified about what I'd said to Liam last night. It's not as though I can avoid seeing him again as he's my boss.

God knows what possessed me to try to pursue him like that. Perhaps, I was reading the signals wrong. I'd stupidly assumed he was jealous. And because of my stupid hypotheses, I made myself look like a complete idiot.

Those thoughts nagged at me all day. Various scenarios clustered inside my head. Should I have participated sex talk? Was that what he wanted? Should I have kissed him first, in the hope he'd kiss me back? But then I remembered the evil glint in his eyes and sinister smirk. He was fucking with me. Asshole.

Fortunately for me, I don't see Liam all night—result.

Tonight, the hectic club is bursting with stags celebrating their last moments of freedom, so the demand for spirits has been a helluva lot higher than usual. Female employees complain about the stag's hysteria behaviour and lewdness. I find them quite entertaining. Yes, occasionally they throw around inappropriate comments, but their inebriated raucousness is harmless.

"Come on, lass," one guy pleads, tapping his thigh. "One naughty dance for the groom."

"Not my area I'm afraid." I smiled, organising their shot glasses. "I can send someone else over if you wish?"

The best man grinned. "Aye, I'm only pulling your leg, lass." He takes out a fifty-pound note and forces it into my hand. "For being such a fun waitress."

I thanked them, tucking it into my bra, headed back to the bar. "Josh?"

He peers up from his phone. "Yeah?"

"Any luck on your lady friend?" I hope my little stunt at the café helped him win her over. Jealousy is usually a massive factor in forcing someone's hand. I appreciate she's in a relationship, but stringing Josh along is unfair.

He winces, slipping his phone away. "We're not speaking."

I wilted on the spot. Not what I was going for. "Wasn't she jealous?"

"Oh, Perri was jealous, all right." He pursed his lips, rubbing his hands together. "She finished with me—said she cannot commit herself and wished me well in my new relationship."

I was tongue-tied. "I'm so sorry."

"Don't be." He faked a smile. "It had to end, eventually. You just sped up the process."

I feel like crud. I didn't want him to lose the girl.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you," he lowers his voice, resting his elbows on the bar top, bringing his face close to mine. "Boss called me into his office last night. Questioning me about you."

"Me?" My stomach does that little tightening thing again. "Why?"

"Told me I was to stay away from you." He waited for Nate to walk past. "In all the years I've worked for Warren, he's never called me to his office. I was fucking bricking it." A nervous laugh vibrated his chest. "I told him nothing was going on between us. I think he believed me, but I was kinda shocked."

"Why were you shocked? He doesn't like his employees dating each other." I rolled my eyes. "Except when it's him, of course."

His look was sharp. "That's fucking bullshit. I've been banging the backside of Natalie for years—Warren doesn't care."

"You're sleeping with Natalie?" I groaned theatrically, pretending to pass out on his chest. "You can do so much better Josh."

"It's only sex, Alexa, so I don't care. Anyway, I found it mad that he didn't want me near you." His lips turn into a thin line. "Think the Boss has a little thing for you."

Oh, don't get my hopes up. "No, he doesn't."

Josh jerked a shoulder. "Deny it all you want, but I feel sorry for you."

Hope obliterated. "Why?"

"This is Liam Warren we're talking about." Again, he waited for Nate to pass. "Just be careful around him, Alexa." I nod, not wanting to continue this conversation. "Want to play a game?" Josh nudged me with his hip.

Do I want to play games after what happened last night? Pretty sure they gamed me out. "A game?" I asked cautiously. "What type of game?"

"It's called: would you fuck me? Yes. No."

Is this Josh's way of asking if I want to have sex with him? "Uh..." I query, scratching the back of my neck. "What exactly are you asking me, Josh?"

"I select a suitable suitor." He indicates to the random people around the club. "You either answer with a yes-fuck or no-fuck." He grinned deviously. "Pretty straightforward."

I stare at him wide-eyed. "Josh, you do realise, this is the type of game you'd play with your male friends, right?"

"Yeah, I know. Don't worry." He points to a bald guy who looks about fifty. "Him?"

Okay, we're youths again. "No, fuck." Scanning the room, I notice a cute blonde wearing a tight black number. "Her?"

"Yes, fuck."

I ignore his lust-filled gaze and wait for him to point out my next challenge.

Josh signals to a guy wearing a snapback, swinging a whistle around his finger. "Him?"

"Seriously, Josh!" I chuckled, slapping a hand to my forehead. "No, fuck." I point to the brunette popping a cherry in her mouth. "Her?"

He groans approvingly. "Fuckkk."

My brows bend. "What?"

Josh nods approvingly. His eyes heavy, and there's no denying he's turned on by merely looking at her. That's If his wanton face is anything to go by. "Definitely fuck. And some dick sucking. And some pussy—"

"Okay!" I hold my hands up, stopping this absurdity from going any further. "I get the picture."

He rested an elbow on my shoulder, eyes slices as he scours. "Him?"

"Dead fucking God, Josh." The guy must be in his late forties. He's bald yet sports the bushiest beard known to man. "Are you choosing mingers deliberately?" I arched my brow at him. "No, fuck." I swiftly point to an overly broad woman with pink hair, knowing she isn't his type. "That one?"

He physically shudders, lip turning up with disgust. "Fuck. No."

I laugh hysterically. This is seriously ridiculous.

"What about me?" The question was from a customer, lingering near the bar. He's a tall guy, wearing a black three-piece suit and gold-rimmed glasses sit on the bridge of his nose. I'd guess a lawyer. He's cute. Still, I wouldn't look sideways at him. Not because he isn't handsome, but for the simple fact that he isn't my type.

When I didn't answer instantly, he sneered. "Surely, I'm not that bad." The crease between his eyebrows deepened. "Am I?"

"Yes, fuck," I lied.

Josh snorted beside me. He is so dead.

"See. It doesn't hurt to be nice, does it?" the customer barked a bit too harshly for my liking, storming off without his drink.

What the hell just happened?

Hacking up snorts, Josh leans over the bar, palm over his mouth. He's unsuccessfully limiting uncontrollable laughter.

I poke him in the ribs. "I blame you for that!"

"Ugh! Keep your scrawny little finger to yourself!" He laughs again. "That guy was fucking creepy, right?"

"Just a bit. Did you see how revolted he was when I didn't answer straight away? The guy was full of himself. Literally." My frown turns into a big cheesy smile when I notice the pink-haired woman approach the bar.

Payback is a bitch.

"Hey, you!" I call out, and she immediately glances in my direction.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Josh whisper-shouts behind me.

"My friend here has been watching you all night. He's too shy to ask you out." I squeeze his red cheek. "What do you say?"

Her eyes snap to Josh, and she approves, deliberately licking her lips like she wants to devour him. "I'll take a ride with you any time of day, pretty boy. How's tomorrow for you?"

"He's free midday," I responded hastily, making sure he can't decline her offer. "Out front—at the entrance." I reel off a meeting point. "He'll be impatiently waiting."

"It's a date." She blows an air kiss over her shoulder, paying Natalie for her drink. "See you tomorrow, sunshine!"

"What the actual fuck, Alexa?! I am not taking her out!" His eyes practically fall out of their sockets. "Are you insane? No!" He points at his shoes. "I'm putting my foot down."

"Oh no, mister. You're not getting out of this one. That's karma for encouraging that dickhead to take a pop at me." My grin widens, cheeks aching from never-ending laughter. "I need to pee. I'll be right back."

I hurry away from the bar, escaping the wrath of Josh. I reach the female bathroom facilities, but before I open the door, someone grasps my arm, preventing me from going any further.

"Where are you going cutie?" His hot breath clouds my nose. I can smell the beer and stale cigarettes.

Great, It's the creep from the bar just now. "Release me, please." I shove my hands into his chest, but his arms around me constricted and dread waved over me. Breathe, Alexa. Don't go into a panic. Breathe. "Get your sloppy hands off me, Asshole!"

His hand smoothed over my ass, and I hitched at the invasion. "What's the matter, cutie? You were only saying five-minutes ago that you'd fuck me." His fingers fumbled with my buttons, and I thrashed against him.

"Brad!" I shrieked. He backed me up against the wall, slapping a hand over my mouth, muffling my cries. "Brad!"

He abruptly pulled me into the male bathroom, locking the door behind us.

My eyes protrude. I scamper to the tiled wall, pressing my back firmly against it. Surely, life can't be this cruel. I've already suffered at the hands of a monster. I could never survive this again.

He strives towards me, hands fumbling with his belt and zipper. "Scream, and I'll hurt you."

I am quaking with all-encompassing fear, momentarily oxygen-deprived. I looked for something, anything to use as a weapon— "Get off me," I screamed. With excruciating force, he pinned me to the sinks, yanking my thighs apart, settling his hips between them. I grip the back of his head, latch my mouth over his cheek and bite into his flesh, striving to pierce the skin.

"Ah!" He jerked back, infuriated. "You bitch." He slapped me so hard across the face—I went out like a light bulb.

"Wear this one today sweet little Lexi," he said, holding up a long white dress.

"I like the one I'm wearing," I counter, keeping my arms locked around my knees. It's a lie. I hate my nightgown. It's torn, soiled and covered in vomit. It's two sizes too small, but I don't want to accept his gifts.

His soulless eyes twitched. "Get up."

Snivelling, I stand up on jittery legs.

"Take it off, Lexi," he snarls. "Don't make me ask again."

I whimper, hands trembling as I raise the gown over my head. I look away, ashamed. I stand here, wearing nothing. Bare for him. The violation disgusts me.

A groan of approval rattles in his throat. "Crawl."

"I don't want to—"

"You don't, what?"

"I don't want to crawl," I corrected myself, "daddy."

"That's right. I am your daddy, and your daddy requires you to get on your hands and knees. Now I won't ask again, sweet little Lexi. If you disobey me, you know the punishment."

I lowered myself to the floor, positioned onto my hands and knees, eyes downward as I crawled toward him. His shoes, fine leather, unmarked, are the first to come into vision. Blinking back tears, I lower my head, kiss the tips of his boots, feign adoration.

"There's a good girl," he cooed, smoothing a hand over my hair. "Now stand for me."

I rise back to my feet but refuse to make eye contact with him.

He's close to my now, his hot breath on my face. "Such a sweet little Lexi." His hand comes to my ass, finger moving over the curve of my cheek. "You're starting to develop."

I swallow vomit down my throat. "Please," I whisper, a stray tear rolling down my cheek. "Please let me go home."

He backhanded me, brutal, sharp. "What have I told you about that shit? You little cunt!"

My jaw vibrated, blood pools in the corner of my mouth. I touch my sore jaw, unable to see through impermanent vision impediment. "I'm sorry." He raises his hand to punish me again— "Please don't hit me," I begged, clinging to his shirt. "I'll do anything you say. I swear. I won't be difficult."

"That's what I like to hear." He worked his belt and zipper, the clanking buckle, stomach-turning. Taking himself into a tight fist, he rushes to arouse. I look away, sickened. "Now be a good girl, little Lexi. You know how to make me happy."

I return to the present, choking on a strangled breath. "Hm," I whimpered, dragging my shaky hands over my exposed stomach and loosened shorts, contemplating whether he'd violated me.

Muffled groans turned my quaking body into ice. I didn't move a muscle, listening to harsh blows, agonising screams and furious rants. And like three dark angels, Liam, Brad and Nate, looming above a blood-beaten body, alternating between unmerciful attacks.

Brad kicked the guy's face, splattering blood up the white tiles.

I must've made a noise because Nate's attention darted to me. He wipes his cracked knuckles with a rag cloth, his shadow falling over me. Squatting beside my weightless body, he redid my buttons, helped me stand, though, he doesn't utter a word. He puts his back to me, shielding, blocking me from the commotion.

Fisting the back of his shirt, I glimpsed over his shoulder, witnessing Liam deliver blow after blow, kick after kick. "Mr Warren, please. I didn't know—" He gets cut off with Liam's fist.

"Didn't know what, cunt?" Liam slams him with another fist, shattering the guy's nose, sharpened dusters penetrating his unrecognisable face. "You don't put your hands on one of my fucking women." The final punch knocked the guy unconscious. "Get him," he panted, wiping blood from his face, "the fuck out of my club."

Nate rushed to assist, and I lost my footing, hands latching onto the sink. I close my eyes, inwardly chastise myself. Suck it up, I thought, you've suffered worse and survived.

I hear the Suits convey his lifeless body out of the bathroom. I sense Him behind me and open my eyes, catching his reflection in the mirror.

His hand gingerly touched my lower back. "Alexa?"

I shook my head. I am unflappable, but if he comforts me, I'll break.

Exhaling a heavy sigh, he wrapped me in his arms and lifted me bridal style. I didn't care to process his thoughtful gesture. I clung to him, unperturbed by the blood on his shirt, mollified by his familiar cologne.

Moments later, he stepped into the alleyway, and I welcomed those cold winds. He unlocked the parked Bentley, lowered me onto the passenger seat and then fell behind the steering wheel.

Normally, panic attacks, anxieties and nightmares set me back into that dark hole I laboriously clawed from, but I am not prepared to go there. I had a lucky escape—need to be more vigilant in the future.

Liam fires the engine, tires shrieking as he slams down on the accelerator. My hands slapped against the dashboard, reminding me to buckle up. He drives like a madman, taking sharp turns, breaching the speed limit.

Out of the corner of my eye, I stare his split knuckles as he works the steering wheel. His gaze steadfast, unwavering from the road, the muscles in jaw ticking with each passing second.

I'd give anything to curl up onto his lap with his arms protectively wrapped around me. As crazy as it sounds, developing feelings for my boss is a step in the right direction.

It's not an ideal situation. He's a notorious crime lord and a drug baron and his act of kindness tonight means nothing—for him, anyway. For me, though, it means everything. Liam's the first man to awaken me and brighten the darkness.

Liam glanced at me, and my heart thumped. I touched my chest, the erratic movement exhilarating, keeping me alive.

"What?" He veers the car into my street; I'm not surprised he knows where I live.

"Nothing," I lied, falling harder. "It's the block here on the left."

He mounts the curbside and cuts the engine. His disapproving eyes toured the graffitied walls, overgrown grass and old fridge freezer balancing on a dirty mattress.

"Thank you for tonight," I said, unbuckling my seatbelt, climbing out. I hesitate, but Liam doesn't respond. As I walk away, I don't hear the engine start, either, so I assume he's making sure I get inside safely.

"Fuck it to hell," I groaned, kicking strewn post mail away as I round the stairwell. Fumbling with my keys, I stop at the front door, ready to unlock when Liam appears from nowhere, stealing a panicked shriek from my lungs. "Jesus," I scold, bending down to pick up my keys. "I thought you left."

Opening the door, I stepped inside, turned to face him. He raised his arms, gripped onto the doorframe, eyes wandering past my head. "Are you going to invite me in, or must I push past you?"

Gnawing down on my bottom lip, I gaze over my shoulder into the darkened hallway. My place isn't unkempt. It's dated, and I don't have much. It's humiliating enough that he knows I live on a council block. "Why? Do you often visit your employees outside of work?" Before he opens his mouth, I hold up my hand. "Don't answer that. Feel free to come inside. I don't have any of that expensive stuff you drink at the club, though" I half-joke as he grazed past me. "You'll have to settle for some cheap beer."

I kick off my heels, shut the front door and follow him into the living room. He looks around, taking in the crap that I call furniture.

Inside the kitchen, I snagged two beer bottles from the fridge, passed him one, then took a long swig of mine. The uncomfortable silence is too much. "Seriously, thank you for tonight. For dropping me home and handling that guy..."

His lips twisted in disgust. "I didn't like seeing where his hands were." Swigging his beer, he sat onto the coffee table. "No one touches what's mine."

I bite down on my lip. Did he call me his?

"You belong to the club, Alexa. I'd never tolerate it."

Well, that answers my question. Sparked with more demoralisation, I re-enter the kitchen to retrieve the first aid box from under the sink.

A million miles away. Liam's drooped his head. Forearms rested on his knees. He flinched when I kneeled in front of him. "What are you doing?"

Opening the box, I grab antiseptic cream and warily reach for his balled-up fist. I touch him, wait for protest. His fingers relax when I gently clean his knuckles, thumb occasionally stroking my inner wrist.

I feel his penetrating glare and look up to find him watching me. I suppose thanking me isn't his nature. "Brad and Nate," he said, stalling, thinking. "The only employees that I socialise with outside of work."

"What?" I frowned, not understanding why he randomly threw that out there.

"You asked if I often visited my employees' homes," he reminds me, eyes fixated on mine. "Those two men are the only people I socialise with outside of work."

My heart skipped a beat, digesting his admittance. I want to ask why he's here then, but I don't want to push my luck. I want to believe he feels for me the way I do him. "Then why are you here?"

"I don't know," he answers honestly. "Do you want to talk about what happened tonight?"

"Not really." I smiled flatly. "I'm not sure I want to know what happened after I blacked out. It might be better for my sanity if I'm ignorant of it."

"He didn't touch you. Not like that," Liam confirmed, withdrawing his hand from mine. "If that's what you're worried about."

"I didn't think he did." I put the medical gear back into the box. "That's the first thing I checked when I opened my eyes—that my clothes were intact."

He unexpectedly snatched my jaw, putting us eye-level. "I was in that bathroom the moment you went down."

"Thank you," I whisper.

"I wouldn't let anyone hurt you, Alexa."

I want to believe him. "I need to use the bathroom." I head straight to the toilet, empty my bladder, go to the sink to wash my hands. I smile when I see the lipstick note Chloe left me on the mirror, telling me not to wait up.

My hands tighten on the basin, knuckles whitening. I do a few breathing exercises, mulling over tonight's antics. My boss is in my home. Liam Warren is here. In my living room. And he is waiting for me to join him.

What are you going to do about it, Alexa?

I want to go in there and throw myself at him. That's what I want. What if he rejects me again? We're in my private home—just the two of us. No witnesses. I felt the surge between us tonight. Liam mightn't reciprocate my feelings, but there's no denying that he feels some form of attraction towards me. It could be lust. I'm probably one of the few women at the club that he hasn't slept with—I am a challenge.

Do I want to be a challenge? Could I handle being that woman? Participate in consensual sex without expectations. I'm not sure. I've only slept with one man, and that was a very long time ago.

Fuck it. I determine, right here, right now, I am more than capable. I'll walk into that room and kiss him. Hopefully, he'll participate. If our kiss leads to more—I'll roll with it, see how far I am willing to go. And If he turns me down—yeah, let's hope that's not the case.

Swinging the bathroom door open, I hurried back to the living room. "Mr Warren?" He's no longer sitting on the coffee table, vacant. "Sir?"

Did he leave without telling me?

Liam suddenly stormed out of the kitchen. I flinched, hand to my chest, ready to calm myself down. And then I perceive the murderous glint in his eyes, and my heart plummets to my stomach. "Is something wrong?"

I didn't get a chance to register. His hand locked around my throat, shoving me against the wall, the forceful smash knocking the wind right out of me.

Eyes rounding in fear, I gripped his wrist, fingernails clawing his skin between heavy bracelets. "Please," I gasped, eyes welling up. "You're hurting me."

"You better start talking bitch," he snarls through gritted teeth, thrusting the barrel of a gun onto my temple. "Now!"

Liam was angry earlier, but this is much worse. His lips twist in disgust, eyes protruding, daring me to lie to him. His grip around my throat, compressed, unyielding; I can't even swallow. I open my mouth to answer, but he doesn't give me a chance. He flings me across the room, toppling my body over the coffee table, bottles shattering from the impact. Unbearable pain shot up my spine, the backs of my legs ripping across broken glass. "Please," I gasped, trying to roll onto all fours. "Mr—"

"No." He grabbed my hips and tossed me onto my back, his heavy body suffocating as he straddled my waist, pinning me beneath him. "Alexa!"

"I don't know what you're talking about," I whimper, fingernails ripping at his arm. "You're hurting me!"

"The photo on your fucking fridge, Alexa." He fists my hair, keeping me still, face aligned with mine. "Start. Talking."

What is he...? The daunting realisation hits me hard. I blinked away tears, turned my face, unable to withstand the disappointment in his cold eyes. "It's not what you think."

His fingers tightened in my hair, yanking my head back, gun thrusting under my chin. "I won't ask again."

What do I say? How do I tell him?

If he is the man responsible for my sister's disappearance, I am dead anyway. "That girl in the photo is my sister and..." I can't even finish telling him. I break down, filling my flat with huge sobs—no preventing them. Years of encumbering grief and heartbreak drain from my body.

Liam said something, but I hear nothing except the thudding pulse in my ears. He released me, and I scampered backwards, hitting the sofa. "I'm sorry," I sobbed, relieving the pain in my chest, unable to assuage my breathing—hyperventilating. And then, behind his beautiful, concerned face, I see a shadow, an unreal yet tormenting soul, determined to keep me in the burning pits of hell. "No," I shout, fingernails raking down my bare arms, tearing through flesh, scratching and eliminating disgusting filth.

His foreign words pounded inside my head. Fingers tangled in my hair, I tugged, pulled and caused pain to my scalp, to keep my eyes open, to focus and not go back there.

I waited patiently for months and damaged everything in the ten-careless-minutes. Liam will think I had a hidden agenda—personal to him. All this was because of Him. That monster destroyed me—ruined my sister. If it weren't for him, Kathy would still be here.

"Don't fucking do that shit." Liam dropped the gun on the table, kneeling in front of me. "Breathe through it."

I cried in agony, sweltering, burning up. Why does everything feel so tight? Filth, dirt, shame and embarrassment slithered in my veins like acid. I'm unable to catch my breath. Flashbacks recurrently impede my eyes, taunting, ridiculing, I thought it was gone. Why isn't it gone? When I heard those familiar, sickening whispers reiterating inside my head, I screamed, "What's happening to me?"

Liam used force to untangle my fingers. I clung to him, hands to his forearms, fingernails pinching his skin. "Breathe, Alexa," he said, but all I heard was Him. "Slowly. In and out." His eyes focus on mine, not breaking contact. "Deep breaths."

"Sweet little, Lexi."

"Lie down for me."

"Good girl."

"Touch yourself."

"Touch me."

"Bring yourself back, Alexa." He held my jaw in one hand, his ice-cold blues searing through me. "Don't allow yourself to go there."

"Be a good girl, Lexi."

"It's just you and me," he rasps, fisting my hair, causing a sharp sting. "You and me."

"," I repeated, my voice breaking. "You...and me."

"That's right." He nodded, inhaling, exhaling. "Just us."

My heart is still doing double time.

"It's not real," he tells me as if he could read my mind. "Whatever is going through your head right now? Isn't real."

I blew out a shaky breath, arms lethargically drooping to my sides.

Relief flashes over Liam's trained features. "Alexa?" His thumbs circle my teary cheeks. "There you are."

Humiliation heightened between us. I look away, mortified by what he witnessed.

"Get cleaned up," he stood, lighting a cigarette, "and then we'll talk."

"Okay," I whisper, eager to hide inside the bathroom. I slam and lock the door behind me, but my back to the wall, nervously chewing my inner cheek.

An unrecognisable girl stares back at me in the mirror, weary, bloodshot eyes, hair matted, diluted mascara sticking to her cheek.

What do you see, Alexa?

"I see a mess," I said into nothingness. An abolishment of a person that needs to get her head straight.

Eliminating my clothes, I turned on the shower, letting steam fill the bathroom and then step under the faucet. I lather my long hair, watch the door as the suds run down my back.

Liam recognised my sister. His vexation floored me. I mean, I speculated the feeling wasn't mutual between them—but that much hate, anger and resentment. He was going to kill me for knowing her. "Shit, Kathy," I whisper, hugging myself, wondering what the hell happened between those two. He spat out her name like she was poison to his tongue—like vermin.

Tonight, I confirmed my foreknowledge. After what I learned about that man, I knew to keep Kathy a secret—protecting myself from his merciless capabilities. The truth is out. I no longer harbour guilt or lies. All I can do is hope he's lenient, understands and acknowledges that my harmless deceit, based on emotions, caused no harm. At least he's gotten to know me for me, regardless of my sister. Fingers crossed; he likes me enough to think about that before he ends me.

First option: I could try and run. Though Liam will probably catch me within five minutes, then kill me.

Second option: Go out and face him, hoping he'll listen, and pray that he doesn't kill me.

Either way, my life is in Liam Warren's hands.

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