REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Alexa

Liam's given me a second chance to redeem myself. After everything that's happened, he's still willing to help me. I am struggling to digest this revelation. Then again, I'm struggling to digest him. The man gives me a severe case of whiplash. His confused state of mind should concern me, considering I'm leaving the fate of my life in his hands.

Chloe's right. Maybe I should leave. I had a somewhat indecipherable explanation. My sister isn't missing. She left London—left me. Double-crossing and thieving from a man like Liam Warren is hardly inconsequential or esteemed as meaningless pilfering. Her inexcusable actions necessitate chastisement. If Liam's the dangerous man people led me to believe, as much as I love and miss her, it's probably best she remains hidden.

I am thoroughly heart-broken, dangerously livid and inevitably disappointed; however, no matter what, I love and adore my beautiful sister. I mightn't know or understand the shades of her foolishness. I can only hope she had valid reasons and that somehow, someday, Liam will find it in himself to spare her.

What devastates me most is Kathy didn't say goodbye.

My sister walked away and never looked back.

My sister forgot about me.

My sister broke our promise.

Her betrayal hurts more than she will ever know.

"Pass the gin," Josh yelled over the music, shovelling ice blocks into glass pitchers. "And the cranberry—and the orange juice." I opened the chiller— "Grab the vodka, too."

"Josh," I scold, collecting juice cartons. "Why don't I just make the cocktails for you?"

"Don't be grouchy." He snagged ingredients, finished the order with sliced fruit. "It's an ugly look on you—next," he called, tossing notes into the till. "What did the boss want after?"

"Nothing," I lied, adding soda water to three tall glasses. "A little positivity and appraisal for working long hours this month."

"What?" he shrieked in a high-pitch voice. "That fucking sucks. I barely leave the building, and I don't get no damn appraisal or recognition."

"Don't be jealous." I hand the drinks to a customer. "It's an ugly look on you—next," I parodied, and he stared at me deadpan though sliced eyes. "What?"

"You're annoying." He pinched my nose, whipped a tea towel over his shoulder. "I'm gonna collect empty glasses while it's quietening down."

I nodded, smiled at two bouncers strolling past the bar. I checked the time, relieved to see half-an-hour left on the clock. While Josh's scarce, I clean the bar, restock the chillers and begin draining the ice generators.

"How's it going, Alannah?" Cherry strolled behind the bar, helped herself to neat Gordan's. "You're looking a little tired. Not getting enough sleep?"

"I'm fine, thanks," I reluctantly responded, gathering bottle tops off the tiled floor.

The slapdash redhead falls into a quiet conversation with Natalie. If I cared for their gossiping, I'd eavesdrop, but I've gone past yearning their approval and friendship. "He kills me," the blonde whispers, and I take back everything I just said. "I can barely walk, Cher."

Lifting the crate onto the bar top, I slide steamed glassed onto the shelf. Ears perked up.

"I wouldn't know." Cherry rests a shoulder to the wall, nursing a gin glass. "Boss hasn't touched me for months."

"What about you, new girl?" Natalie asked, wincing as she fixed her shorts. "Are you this sore after he fucks you?"

I hate that my cheeks redden.

I hate that Liam touching Natalie bothers me.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said, feigning boredom. "Unlike everyone else in this place, I don't spread my legs at his command."

Cherry choked on her drink, spraying gin everywhere. "Shit."

Natalie fumed. "You're only jealous."

Whatever. I finish routine jobs for the next fifteen minutes, ready for the morning staff, notice Natalie on the phone outback, and add tips to my bra.

The DJ leaves melodious music on for employees, but kills the light effects and vibrating sound-bars. I snag a cloth, wipe down the sides, contemplate asking Josh to grab early morning grub.

"New girl?" Natalie yelled, phone to her ear. "Boss wants you downstairs before the club shuts down." She puts the handset back. "You need to learn how to change kegs."

I eyed her sceptically. Training is Nate's strong suit. He hasn't mentioned it. "Really?" I queried dubiously. "After your last stunt, Natalie, I am inclined to check with Liam first."

"Go ahead," she snorts, dramatically limping past me. "He's down the cellar, so speak to him and look dumb."

She's fucking dumb, I thought, leaving the crane on the floor. I slipped out the back toward the narrow hallway, which offers nothing but off white walls, dull lighting and forgotten cleaning equipment.

I step over strewn paper towels, reach the ajar door, place my ear to the cold steel, checking for any sounds. The hinges complained as I gently eased it open. Dusty darkness and eerie silence concerningly greet me. I descend the precipitous stairs, running my palm over the masonry wall for support.

In the depths of Club 11, I waded through dusty boxes, toward the veiled light, filtering beneath a door at the back. "Mr Warren?" I hesitate, instincts suggesting this is another hoax.

"Bitch." I turned to leave when a suppressed sound gained my awareness. I looked back over my shoulder, gravitated to the door. "Mr Warren?" His muffled voice resounds, and I breathe out a relieved sigh. "You wanted to see me." Knocking the door, I jerked the handle and, in an irrational, obtrusive manner, I welcomed myself into a breath-snatching, spine-chilling and gruesome event that I was not privy to.

I watched the scene play out in slow motion. Liam and the austere Suits straightening to their full, intimidating heights, nothing but the sound of my erratic blood pressure roaring in my ears.

Liam, in an almost imperceptible movement, put a cautious step forward, mouth moving, though, I heard no words as he calmly spoke.

For the first time since knowing him, I see the feared killer and true, promising evil aflame in those specious eyes. And the blood. From his beautiful, pale features to his once white shirt, seeped gore painting a horrifically macabre image.

I lowered my eyes to lifeless body disjointedly tossed onto a plastic sheet, eviscerated organs—traumatism surfaced vomit, and I retched, stumbling back on jittery legs, knocking over a wine crate, bottles dispersing, prolongedly shattering across the ground.

Chucked on the floor, Darren's decapitated head and dead eyes torment me, face grotesquely swollen, purple and blue.

Liam killed his own in an inhuman act of cruelty.

"Why are you down here?" Liam's curt, furious voice sifted through my temporary hearing impairment. "Alexa?"

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

Sparked by stomach-turning panic, I tripped onto my backside, kicked back, frantic, blew out one assuaging breath and then dashed, sprinting throughout the cold room, dodging boxes, eyes solely focussed on the stairs.

I heard the men call me but never looked back. Not once. I belted upstairs, straight into the main room, unsure if I passed Josh or Natalie. I don't even think I breathed until reaching the head doorman, who hadn't batted an eyelid as I scuttled out, cold winds whipping against my face.

On the curbside, an impending taxi beckoned me, the driver reading a newspaper. I opened the door, threw myself into the backseats. "Drive! Now!" I screamed, slapping my palm against the headrest, spotting Liam's men falling out of the club, into the street. "Quick!"

Alarmed, the driver fired the engine, shrieked the accelerator and sped straight past Club 11 as I ducked to hide.

I am getting the fuck away from that man.

***

I hide inside overgrown shrubbery opposite the flats. Through thin twigs and frosted leaves, I watch Liam's men ransack my bedroom, overturning furniture, searching cupboards, every room a representation of Blackpool.

My nosy neighbours must be beside themselves. Nobody wants Warren's men in their proximity, especially after that dramatic entrance. Those Bentleys closed in and swarmed the complex like a specialised enforcement agency in their all-black attire and wielded firearms.

I am picking my fingernails when Brad, the last member, exits the building, accolading the men yet undeniably frustrated.

He stops near the black car, speaks to someone on the phone, spits on the floor and then falls into the passenger seat.

Collectively, those bright headlights blind me as the cars vibrated to life and sped down the street.

Uneven rocks numb my backside, but I don't rush to leave. I wait a further twenty minutes to be sure they don't return, unobtrusively crawling out of the bushes and toward the building.

On my hands and knees, I keep low, mist forming against my hot breath, dodging scattered litter and sodden clothes residents previously hurled out the windows.

I peer over my shoulder, check it's clear and pull the main door open, wedging myself into the foyer. I know they're gone, yet I am still too frightened to go upstairs and check the damage or even contemplate packing.

Rounding the stairway in an amok haze, I tumble to my door, unlock, enter, lock and bolt. I step back, stare at the shaved wood, paint peeling, in need of décor. I double-check the locks, swallowing the knot in my throat.

Lackadaisical and nauseated, I sidestep into my bedroom. Shrouded by darkness, I scuttle across the mattress, opening the wardrobe. "Shit," I breathe, gathering clothes from the floor, snagging the half-packed suitcase Chloe started, stuffing random belongings inside.

I need to get away, find a new home, start again. Liam might've cleared me of vindication this afternoon, but there's no way in Hell I will live another day after what I'd witnessed tonight.

What about Chloe?

Leaving her is an option. She has a life here. A job. Not the best family, but still, family. I can't expect her to uproot and move away with me. It's selfish.

What if Liam comes for her to get at me?

What if he uses her as leverage?

"God," I murmur, yanking open the dresser drawer, fossicking through underwear—

"We need to stop doing this," Liam said in a baritone voice, sending shivers up my spine, "Miss Haines."

I scarcely shook my head. No, he didn't enter with the men—didn't even arrive in the same car. I'd have seen him.

I span around so fast, I thumped a lamp off the dresser, fragmenting the ceramic base.

Eyes darting around, I search for his form, silhouette—nothing. And then I see a cherry-red light in the corner, catching the sound of exhalation as he breathes out smoke.

"Three strikes and out, huh?" I half-joke, though, It's hardly a laughing matter. "How did you get in here?" There's no way I missed him entering this building. "The men—"

"Irrelevant," he clipped, cuddle chair groaning as he stood. "Why did you feel it was your business to be down in the cellar tonight?"

"Natalie said you needed me," I callously threw her straight to the wolves. "She said you wanted to show me how to change kegs." I gripped onto the sideboard edge to stop my hands from shaking. "I'm sorry."

Near the window, under the moonbeam, I outline Liam's face as he tossed a cigarette into the communal garden. He focused on the starless sky, his blue eyes accentuated like rare sapphires, misleadingly captivating. "Why did you run?"

I didn't want him to kill me, too. "I was scared."

He gave a sharp nod, seemingly satisfied with my response. "What did you see, Alexa?" I hadn't realised he prowled until he loomed over me. I cowered away, dipping my head, fear cleaving to my stiff muscles. His finger tilted my chin, forcing me to face him. "Alexa?"

"I didn't see anything," I said, praying it's what he needs to hear. "Nothing that I care to discuss."

"Good girl," he whispers, rough palm flatting against my cheek.

I tilted my head back to look at him, fingernails clinging to the dresser. He lowered his eyes to my lips, thumb parting them. Another step closer.

I hold his gaze, chest rising and falling unsteadily. The way he's looking at me, I felt an overwhelming urge to cry. "Liam," I whisper, inwardly scolding myself. "Mr—"

Liam's thumb entered my mouth, pressed onto my tongue, silencing me. His eyes searched mine before he lowered his lips, soft to the corner of my mouth, hands smoothing around my neck, stealing my breath away.

I stiffened all over as he backed me up. His muscular chest fused to mine, lips firmer, hungrier, dominating, seeking more.

A hollow inhale caught in the back of my throat, and he took my parted lips as an opportunity to lazily stroke my tongue with his.

It was my first real kiss, and it was perfect—more than I'd ever imagined.

I followed his lead, hands reaching up, clinging to his neck, head tilting, allowing him to deepen our kiss, embosomed in his strong arms as he curled them around my shoulders, pinning me in his hold.

Liam eased, forehead rested on mine, breathing shallow, and then he came back, devoured my mouth, hand capturing my jaw. "Alexa," he moaned my name and flutters ruptured in my chest.

His arm aimlessly sweeps everything off the dresser before he abruptly shoves me atop it, hips wedging between my thighs.

I cling to his shirt, close my eyes and feel his lips travel down the column of my neck, soft yet those whispers burnt me up inside.

He fists the back of my hair, tugging my head back, elongating my throat.

My fingers grapple onto his shirt collar, drawing him close.

He sucks my neck, leaving painful marks in his wake, taking what he wants from me. And I let him. "Oh, God," I moaned, his hard length pushing against me, the friction, incredible.

He only rears his head to rip the T-shirt off and snap my bra, flinging both aside, hands grasping my breasts, his growl falling into my mouth.

Cheeks burning with self-doubt, I clip his hands away, try to cover myself—

"Stop," he rasps, uncurled my fingers, replacing them with his. "I want to see you."

The women at the club have flawless breasts. My mounds are barely a handful. I don't need to tell Liam my concerns, though. He witnesses the embarrassment in my panicked eyes.

"Fucking perfect," Liam said throatily, thumbs brushing across my taut nipples. He licks the shell of my ear, sucks my lobe, gathers me into his arms and carries me to the bed.

I fell onto the mattress. He stalked over me, seizing both wrists in one hand, pinning my arms above my head. "Kiss me," he breathes over my lips, tongue stroking mine.

I brushed our lips, slowly licked his tongue, sucked him into my mouth.

Descending my neck to the crevice of my breasts, Liam released my wrists, removed my shorts, underwear, laid me bare for him.

I was vulnerable to him as he parted my thighs, mouth ravishing my navel while slipping off his suit jacket.

I am inexperienced and apprehensive, but I try to be responsive, fingers spearing through his hair, pulling him into me. I anchored my spine, core sensitive, soaking. Hands dipping under his bunched up shirt, I raked my fingernails down his spine.

Liam groaned his approval. "Fuck." Mouth returning to mine, he sank his teeth in my lower lip, delivering a sharp pain. "Baby." He pressed the heel of his hand to my hot sex and pushed two fingers inside me, all while holding my eyes with his.

A moan fell from my lips. "Liam." Hands latching onto his shoulders, I instinctively bucked my hips, sank onto his knuckles. "Shit."

His thumb circled my clit, torturing me there as he finger-fucked me, and I crested a pleasurable wave building deep, aching for more.

"I need to fuck you." He withdrew his hand, and I watched fascinatingly as he sucked my arousal from his fingers. He settled his hips between my thighs. "Need that cunt around my cock."

Before I had the chance to respond, his mouth slanted across mine, hand fumbling with his belt, shoving his trousers and boxer shorts mid-thigh, shaft weighing heavily between us.

I have never wanted a man so much in my life. Liam is rushing, though. His clothes, dishevelled, but still on. No mention of a condom. Thanks to those incorrigible Suits, the mattress sans sheet and coverlets, isn't offering the most romantic ambience. Technically, this isn't my first time, but realistically speaking, it would be the first time I wanted it.

Kissing my jawline, Liam fisted his shaft, eased his swollen crown past my lips—I reached down and gripped his wrist, preventing him from going further.

"Alexa," he whispers in my ear, stopping instantly. "What's wrong?"

Saying no to Liam has nothing to do with my past. If it were another man above me, those dark demons and harrowing memories might affect and ruin the moment.

It's different with Liam.

He always brings me back.

He always makes me forget.

"Liam, I'm not experienced," I confessed. My involvement has been with one man only. And I can scarcely even call it an experience as it was Him taking from me.

Hands repositioning on either side of my head, he looks down at me, silver chain draping from his neck, white gold tags laid on my chest. Something indistinguishable flashed in his eyes, and he cursed, falling onto his back beside me. "Fuck," he spat, rubbing his hands down his face. "That was wrong of me."

"Liam, you haven't done anything wrong—It's me." I'm more than ready to remove the negative and replace it with the good. And I couldn't think of anyone better than Liam to do it with, but his experience with women concerns me. "It's not the right time."

What if I'm not good enough? Liam knows what he's doing. Even his kiss was all-consuming, demanding and enthralling.

I don't want to disappoint him.

No. I'm scared I'll disappoint him.

Then there's my sister.

What if he compares me to her?

He tucked himself away, dragging up his zipper, buckling his belt.

Feeling like a disappointing, wanton cock-tease, I climbed off the bed, searching for clothes.

Propping onto one elbow, Liam follows my movements, legs outstretched to the side. "You're beautiful," he said with furrowed brows, and I paused, T-shirt firmly gripped to my chest.

Bewildered, I hold my breath, meeting that intense glare. He called me beautiful. Me. Alexa Haines. "You think I'm pretty?"

"You putting words in my mouth now?" he mused, soaring from the bed. "That's not what I said." While he adjusted his suit, I stared at him, unblinking. "Stop thinking so much." Snatching the T-shirt from my hands, he tugged it over my head. "Forget about it."

I am speechless, and that doesn't happen often.

"You can't stay here tonight." He eyed the messy bedroom, jangled car keys. "The men trashed the place, so stay with me until it's sorted."

I am in a twilight zone. "You want me to stay with you?"

His eyes lingered on my bare legs. "Don't make a big deal out of it, Alexa."

It's hard not to.

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