REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Alexa

Humming to myself, I rolled up my jogging bottoms casually at the knees and swiftly ran the mop over the small tiled area in the kitchen.

Liam requested that I accompany him to a charity event this evening. He's never asked me to attend anything with him outside of work, and I cannot deny my ever-increasing excitement. Earlier, I spent far too long rummaging through wardrobes, searching for something sophisticated yet sexy to wear. I want to make a good impression; I want Liam to look at me and approve.

Leaning the mop against the door frame, I pace to my bedroom, deciding to give it a clean before getting ready for my unofficial date. I strip the bed, then put on a new cover, rearrange drawers and then fold clothes before vacuuming throughout.

I fall back onto the bed with a sigh.

Time doesn't appear to be moving. I'm running out of places to clean.

My thoughts trail back to Liam. God, that man. The things he does to me. The plan was never to get emotionally attached to him, but how could I not? He is most certainly one of the hottest men that I've ever had the pleasure of sharing company with. And those eyes, I thought, imagining he was in front of me. Quite frankly, he makes the workplace an extremely challenging environment.

Rolling off the bed, I head to Chloe's bedroom—might as well scrub her room while I have a sanitise bug. I sort through her wardrobes and chest of drawers. Strip the sheets and put a new fuchsia pink duvet cover over the bed.

Plucking up the makeup scattered all over the floor, I arrange them into the container on the dresser and bin the dead plant.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, pleased with how tidy her room looks, I glance atop the wardrobe, boxes filled with Kathy's belongings.

This room used to be Kathy's when she lived here. After months awaiting her return, Chloe and I gathered up her things and stored them for when she came home. That's if she returned home.

I stretched my arm, trying to grab one of the boxes. Claiming one, I bring it onto the bed, remove the lid and avert my wet eyes, needing a moment.

I pick up the framed photograph, sweep my thumb across Kathy's face. Beside her, a younger version of myself, wearing a hideous, unflattering dungaree set that Kathy forced me to wear. In the image, my sister's hand rests on my knee, her genuine smile, warming my chest.

I miss her, I thought, exchanging the frame for the photo album, cringing at the awful orange paint Kathy previously painted our flat. "I don't miss the orange," I said with a light laugh, lacing her animal print scarf through my fingers. I lift the chiffon fabric to my nose, inhaling her sweet perfume from the soft fibres.

Beauty products, CDs and cassette tapes. A few romance novels. I didn't even know Kathy enjoyed reading. I'm about to replace the lid when a black book gains my full attention. Tattered and dated, I brush a layer of dust from the worn leather. "The Diary of Kathy," I whisper to myself, forehead creasing in perplexity. "Odd."

It is almost full. There must be at least five hundred entries. I slumped onto the floor, resting my head on the bed. Finding something so personal to my sister overwhelms me. It's wrong to invade her privacy, but I couldn't stop myself. I flipped it open and began reading.


Dear Diary,

It has been too long here, way too long. I do not know how I feel about my life anymore. I miss my family home—not the sperm donor. Why should I? He was not a father. He was the devil—a cruel, worthless man who I loathed more than He who took us.

I do, however, miss my mother. She loved us so much. I never did find out if she survived or not, but I am old enough to know better, to understand. I think she was dead before Alexa and I even left that day.

Alexa cries for our mother. She asked me once if we will ever see her again. I did not wish to upset her, so I lied to my baby sister, wanting to protect her.

Unfortunately, as it is forbidden, I seldom spend any time with my sister. Sometimes He allows me downstairs, lets me spend the afternoon with her. Alexa loves when I visit. Sometimes we craft together, creating colourful buntings to hang along her wall, adding a little sunshine to the darkness.

We often tell each other stories and, from time to time, we sing together.

I am sad when I leave her.

Alexa has always been scared of the dark, and that thought stops me sleeping at night.

I know she is sad.

I know she is scared.

I am sorry, Alexa.

I wish I could protect you.

Kathy.


He wasn't a father, she wrote. He was the devil—a cruel, worthless man who I loathed more than He who took us. When I questioned Kathy about our father, she'd instantly shut it down—claim she remembered nothing. I don't know why she had so much resentment towards him; I wish I did.

Her thoughts were correct. I was terrified back then. I did hate sleeping alone in that cold basement; however, she was wrong to believe it was the darkness that scared me. I welcomed the dark just as long as He didn't visit.


Dear Diary,

It is beautiful here, not all bad. The house is not like our mother's, but the warm colours and spacious rooms are maze-like and fun to investigate. When the sun comes up, I sit on the back steps, write to you, feel the beams on my face and sunbathe after breakfast.

Yesterday, I made a cake. The final piece was shocking, but I gave myself a thumbs up for efforts, plus, it tasted better than it looked.

For a while, I requested to see my sister, and He reprimanded me. I missed her and wanted to be sure she was okay. After a few weeks, though, the pain eased, and I didn't feel the need to visit Alexa anymore. Is it wrong that the torture I once felt about us being apart, did not hurt anymore?

I heard him talking recently, telling his friend that Alexa would not behave. I shook my head at that. If only Alexa would be more compliant. If only she would concede and listen, then she could have more freedom—like me.

I do not feel sorry for my sister anymore. Her troubling behaviour concerns me.

I am afraid there is not much more I can do for her.

I am sorry, Alexa.

Kathy.


Why would Kathy want me to act accordingly? That man took us—he stole us from our mother. Furthermore, I was a terrified child. I didn't have the sense or mature understanding to play those disgusting men at their own game. I merely mustered enough strength to finish those unpalatable meals they rarely tossed my way.


Dear Diary,

Alexa keeps crying. The sobs irritate me. I stand outside her door with my hand on the handle, contemplating breaking the rules and visiting her, or saving my backside and walking away.

Alexa called my name.

Alexa called His name.

Then she sang that song. The one our mother would sing when we were little. For a fleeting second, it had hit a nerve, but I shrugged it off and refused to be fooled.

I let go of the handle.

I did not want to be in trouble.

If Alexa cannot learn to control her temper, then she'd have to deal with the consequences.

I am no longer sorry, Alexa.

Kathy.


I continue to read, emotional and sickened. Her teenage entries trouble me. If my sister loathed me so much, why did she pretend for so long? Kathy's words suggest contentment, pleased with her new lifestyle.

While I was downstairs, fearing for my life, Kathy was sunbathing and baking cakes.


Dear Diary,

I am happy. I used to miss my mother. I used to miss my friends. I do not miss those people anymore. I love this place. I feel so grown up here, like having my own home. I cleaned the house, did the laundry, and even learned how to cook! I started with the basics, using the microwave to frazzle some bacon, then scrambled eggs. Last night I made curry. Okay, I might have cheated, using a jar... I still chopped the ingredients and cooked up a storm.

We went outside the woods today. Only to the nearby lake, so we could use the paddle boat for our adventure.

Diary, I think I am in love.

I am almost sure that He loves me too. He told me as much when we watched the stars twinkle last night. He held my hand, kissed and stroked my jaw, promised me the world.

However, I am hurting because He loves her, too. Why does she complicate things Diary? Will she leave him alone? She needs to understand that He is mine.

Do not worry, Diary, I have a plan, and she is not in it.

I am looking forward to my future Diary.

I am moving forward.

Kathy.


I slam the Diary so hard dust particles fly out. Sneering is disdain, I throw it across the room.

Kathy said she didn't remember much of that hell hole. But everything she once told me was a lie. He permitted my sister to venture outside, so why has she deceived me for so long? That night we escaped, when we found that lake, Kathy hadn't mentioned, she'd been there before. No, she faked shock and panic.

What the hell did I read? I don't understand. And I don't know if I want to. Why was she writing such hurtful entries about me?

My stomach clenches and nausea hits the back of my throat. I inhale a deep breath, needing to calm down, seconds away from losing it.

"Hey, Hon. Why are you sitting on the floor?"

I flinched at the sound of Chloe's voice. She stands in the doorway, shopping bags in hand; I didn't even hear her come in.

Disoriented and confused, my eyes dart back to the Diary, in a heap on the floor. I think back to my conversation with Josh. He didn't speak highly of my sister, and apparently, she was loathed by the others, too.

I loved Kathy dearly.

She was my sister.

My keeper.

My protector.

But why am I starting to get the impression that I didn't know her at all? Is that even a possibility, Not knowing the person that has been in your life from day one—your flesh and blood.

"Chloe, this is a bit random. What did you think of my sister?"

She walks to the bed edge and takes a seat, letting her shopping bags drop to the floor. "I don't know, Hon. She was okay..." Her eyes held mine, never strayed. "I guess."

I can sense Chloe is lying to me. She knows how much I love my sister, so she's cautiously selecting her words, trying not to offend me. "You don't have to lie to me, Chloe. You're entitled to your opinion, even if you think it'll hurt my feelings."

She continues to observe me, deep in thought. "I don't want this to affect my relationship with you, Alexa." She clears her throat. "If you think it will, then I'd rather keep my opinions to myself."

"Chloe, nothing can affect our friendship. Not now, not ever."

"Okay, then honestly, I can't stand Kathy, Hon. I understand she's your sister, and you love her, but I thought she was a bitch." She pauses, waiting for my reaction. When I don't give her one she continues, "She hates me staying here, you know? I've never admitted that to you, but she would corner me when you weren't around, telling me I wasn't welcome."

"Why would she do that? Kathy was barely here. She should've been pleased that I had you."

"My observation..." Chloe sucked her top lip. "I don't think the feeling was mutual between you two. Kathy was never here, and when she was, she only did what was necessary when it came to you." She folds her arms, resting them on her knees. "I always caught her watching you. Her face—it was loathing, Alexa. Like you irritated her."

Hearing Chloe's real thoughts and evaluation regarding Kathy hadn't upset me. After what I've read, nothing would surprise me. Chloe isn't saying those things to be a vindictive opportunist. My friend kept those concerns to herself, but why would Kathy feel that way? It makes no sense.

"Chloe, you think Kathy felt those things?" It's an unfair question as Kathy's the only person who can answer.

Chloe stiffly nods.

"If this was a few months back, what you said would've gone through one ear and out the other, Chloe." I shake my head slightly. "However, I'm starting to question whether I even knew my sister at all. Everyone at Club 11 dislikes and disapproves of Kathy. And I could defend her—say she only reciprocated their bitchy bitterness."

Chloe is completely silent, waiting for me to finish.

"But some of them are good people. I mean Josh is great. It is impossible to dislike him."

"Josh?" She frowned, toying with her bangles. "Is he the cute guy with brown hair?"

"Yes. Josh is the guy who served us the first night we snuck into Liam's club."

"God, you're so lucky. You have all these hotties around you." She dramatically fans herself. "So, Josh is good-people, huh?"

I smiled fondly. "I can't imagine anyone harbouring a problem with him. The guy's great and working alongside him is such a pleasure, but he didn't like Kathy at all. He told me she was nothing but a bitch that didn't get on with anyone working there, and he once dropped a bombshell on me—said Kathy was sleeping with customers for money."

Chloe's eyes protruded. "Alexa, Kathy was a prostitute. How did we not know that?"

"Well, Liam wouldn't appreciate me calling them prostitutes, but that's what they essentially are. They take paying men to private rooms, to do private dances, and sleep with those men in private for money."

Chloe curved a brow and deadpanned, "All in private, huh?"

"Okay, so it seems I like that word today. Can we not make fun of me, and continue?"

She sighed. "Okay, whether I liked Kathy or not, whether the people at the club liked her or not, she was still your sister, Hon." She pursed her lips. "Where is this conversation going, anyway?"

I lean over and pick up the Diary, then hand It to Chloe. "It's Kathy's. I found it in the box on top of your wardrobe. Read some of the stuff she wrote."

Chloe doesn't hesitate to flip it open, eyes scanning the page curiously. She brings a hand to her mouth. "Alexa, have you read all this?" She asked, keeping her head down.

I pulled myself up and sat beside her. "No, I've only read a few entries. Honestly, I'm not sure I like where it's leading."

"Dear Diary," Chloe reads, "I am sorry I haven't opened you in a while. I have been swamped. I finally asked him about Alexa, though. He was mad until I made him see reason. I must get her out of here. She's too much of a liability. If he allowed me to take her away, then we can both continue our relationship, without her being part of it—"

"What the fuck?" I cursed, pressing my fingertips to my temples. "Chloe, the night we escaped, Kathy came to me and said it was our only shot in running away. Not once did she mention that He authorised it. I...I mean..." I am speechless. "I don't understand what you're reading."

Chloe touched my shoulder. "Do you want me to stop?"

I blew out a calming breath. "No."

"I don't understand why he doesn't get rid of her. It hurts me, Diary. I have given my all to Him, so why must he go to her. I shouldn't love him. After all, the man did take us away from our mother. But I can't help it. I love him so much. Sometimes, although wickedly cruel, I consider getting rid of Alexa myself, but he'll be mad at me. And I can't handle him being mad at me. Why doesn't he realise how much he means to me? I'll take her away in the morning. I'll help her start again. And then I'll return to him."

"Oh, God," I shout, jumping to my feet. "My sister wanted me dead—she was in love with our monster." Shock shrilled through me. "But she claimed to love Liam, so how can she love them both, Chloe? Please help me understand. It's too much," I cry, raking a hand through my hair. "I wish I didn't find that stupid journal."

"Alexa—"

"All this time," I continued, pacing the bedroom, "I feared for my sister. I was terrified that something bad happened to her."

The entire time Kathy cared for me, she resented me. I thought I was safe. I thought I was protected. I've spent years fearing that the demons of my past would come back for me, not realising I was living with a monster all along.

"Alexa, I'm as shocked as you. Kathy was lying about everything, Hon. She isn't the sister you thought she was."

I'm going to throw up. Slapping a hand over my mouth, I rush to the bathroom, drop on the floor in time to vomit lunch down the toilet. I retch violently, hearing Chloe turn on the cold tap.

Satisfied there's nothing left, I pulled the flush, rested back on my haunches. She used a damp cloth to wipe puke from my chin, assuring me everything is going to be okay. "Jealous of what?" I asked, catching Chloe's muffled assurance. "And why would Kathy be upset Kathy that He came to me? She knows how much I detested Him. If that's what she wanted, well, good for her, they could've been sick-fucks together for all I care. I didn't want any part of it, though." I held onto the towel rack, pulling myself off the floor. "How could she have those feelings for him? He wasn't even a person, Chloe. He was a monster—an abhorrently cruel, facinorous and disgusting monster."

"I don't know, Hon. Maybe it was that thing..." She tilted her head, awaiting my response—I had no idea what she's talking about. "What do they call it when someone develops feelings for the person that's holding them against their will?"

I made a noncommittal noise.

"Do you want me to read another?" she asked, taking a seat on the floor opposite me.

"Can you skip the beginning?" I scratched the back of my neck. "Maybe read some from the back."

Chloe nodded, opening the Diary. "There's some about Liam."

I'm not sure I want to know about Liam's history with my sister, but curiosity gets the better of me. "Just read one."

"Dear Diary, it's been seven weeks since I'd started working for Liam Warren. I assumed getting a job at Club 11 wouldn't be easy, but I was wrong. That man was practically eating out the palm of my hand the very first night I entered his office. He doesn't have any affections towards me, though. I don't think he's even capable of such love, but he has a soft side when it comes to me. Maybe it's because I give killer head. Perhaps it's because the other dancers can't match my nightly takings. Who knows? Either way, it doesn't matter."

She turns the page. "I'm certain I'd have fallen for Liam, had I met him before, but it's impossible to love two people at once, right? Liam and I shared a bed last night, although he didn't stay around. I pretended his coldness hadn't bothered me, but deep down I was angry he'd tossed me aside again. I've told Alexa about him. I had to really. That girl's more switched on than I give her credit for. I'm leaving soon. He'll realise what I've done, and he'll find Alexa to use against me. But Liam can play his games. Only this time he won't win. He can take my sister. He can use her against me—"

"I can't hear anymore," I cut Chloe off, slamming the Diary shut. "I'm supposed to be going out tonight," I remind myself, switching on the shower, letting steam fill the small bathroom. "Her entries are cryptic. Most of that shit doesn't even make sense."

I could sit in my pyjamas all day, eating ice cream and wallowing in self-pity, but I want to pretend that the last few hours haven't happened and get ready for the gala this evening.

For the first time, in a long time, I want to put myself first and not let thoughts about Kathy exhaust me.

"Where are you going?" Chloe teased, striving to cheer me up. "And without me, might I add."

"Liam's asked me to attend a Gala with him this evening." Well, Brad made the call, but the request was from Liam. "I must wear a dress."

"Liam?" She shrieked, watching me climb into the bath, tugging the shower curtain across. "What, like a date?"

I suppose it is somewhat a date.

I don't answer. I smile to myself.

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