REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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Displeased with tonight's result, the customer, a middle-aged man, rebuffed service payment. "I don't see why I should settle the bill when leaving unsatisfied."

He hired a private room and selected Cherry to accompany him. His erroneous marriage outlook bewilders me. Once a fortnight, he comes here, requests female companionship, receives a blowjob, but never sex as it's too passionate and disrespectful to his wife who's unmindful to his unfaithfulness.

"I didn't orgasm," he continues, pinning Cherry with a disgruntled look. "It's unsatisfactory. With all due respect, Mr Warren, I pay extortionately for their services."

"I spent over an hour on him," Cherry argues, flinging a hand in the direction of his jean-clad manhood. "That opportunist took some Viagra or something. It is impossible for any man to withstand oral for that long without release."

"A time limit wasn't enunciated under the rubrics of sexual activity with someone for payment," he recapitulates contract guidelines. "Fixed fee per coital assistance and guaranteed pleasure. You didn't deliver, Cher. I shouldn't have to pay—"

"Enough," I silenced, temples throbbing. "Displeased or not, Cherry spent over an hour with you, so stump up and request someone else next time."

At the end of the hallway, I see Alexa exiting the employees' changing rooms with a chortling Josh.

A week has passed since that night we fucked. I left her in my bedroom to barricade myself in the bathroom, stood under the warm shower spray, pondering how to cut ties inoffensively. Let's just say I was both speechless and dumbfounded to find an empty penthouse. My security detail hadn't blinked when my naked ass stepped out into the hallway, looking for her. They confirmed she'd flagged down a taxi five minutes before.

Alexa is a damaged and vulnerable woman.

Nonetheless, I feel blessed that after all this time, it was me she trusted, in the wake of Him.

Maybe It was insensitive to state we wouldn't surmount to anything merely seconds after we slept together. An unexplored and indescribable sombre ardour emanated in out mist, and her exhilaration, satisfied and reflective smile had panicked me. I immediately set the record straight—bad timing but necessary. I can't let her think sex will turn into anything more. My rationale had nothing to do with cold emotionlessness or inappropriate dispassionateness. If anything, I care too much, and that's troubling.

"Extra two hundred," Brad intervenes, extracting cash from the guy's wallet. "For wasting our time."

Nate ambles around the corner and stops to speak with Josh and Alexa. Hands to her hips, she cranes her neck to look up at his looming frame, smiling wickedly as she playfully scolds him for something.

My eyes raked over her body, lingering on those sexy legs, evoked by pleasant memories. Sex with her was fucking incredible. Inexperienced yet impassioned, Alexa satisfied my cravings in more ways than one. If I were to be truthful and candid; I don't commit to a woman's sexual release. I am selfish and uncompromising. I only care about my needs, pleasure and outcome. With her, though, It was different. I couldn't wait to bury my head between her thighs and taste, to witness the look in her eyes as she came while moaning my name.

However, Irrelevant to how good fucking her felt, the odd but passionate connection between us was unendurable. I have never felt this way before. When braced above her, I considered sleeping with another woman concerningly inconceivable. I thought my fascination with her would've fizzled out by now, but that's not the case. In reality, I want her more. However, Alexa Haines shouldn't get emotionally involved with a man like me. I am not her prince charming or the answers to her prayers. If anything, I am a predicted heartbreak.

Brad waved a hand in my face. "You still with me, Bossman?"

Both the customer and Cherry made themselves scarce. "Yeah," I said, clearing my throat. "Where did she go?"

"Cherry's outback, smoking a cigarette." He folds cash and hands it to me. "Am I paying her for tonight?"

"No." Stuffing the money in my pocket, I watch Alexa follow Josh into the main room, flooding the hallway with momentary trance music. "But don't assign her with him next time."

Conveying the club-takings, Nate jerks his chin as he passes, headed to my office.

"Go and help Nate," I ordered, raking a hand through my hair. "I'll be up in a minute."

Brad jogs upstairs, teasing two dancers on-route.

I punched the code and descended the steps into the main room. "Now You're Gone" reiterates around the cavernous room together with humid smog and flashing strobe lights. I evade drunken masses, catching sight of Josh flirting with middle-aged women occupying the corner booth.

Opening the side door to the bar, I stroll past operating glasswashers and energetic staff tending to customer demand.

Alexa's nowhere in sight, so I lingered by the end cash register, opened it, deducted takings.

"Mr Warren," Natalie calls, wiping spillage from her hands. "Did you need something?"

Back to the counter edge, I flickered my gaze throughout the room. "Where's Josh?" I asked, knowing full well he's off pegging cougars.

"Um..." she pouts, scanning over customers' heads, "I don't know, actually. He was here a minute ago."

Carrying a crate of steamed glasses, Alexa zigzags between co-workers, sets the crane down and begins restocking shelves.

Natalie mumbled something.

My gaze returned. "What?"

She frowned confusedly, sliding a disapproving sneer to Alexa. "I said, do you want me to go and find him?"

"Yes," I lied, shutting the till drawer, calmly walking to the woman who spent all week circumventing dealing with me.

Truthfully, I presumed she'd call in sick after the gala, avoid facing me, but she proceeds to confound expectancies. Although showing face, she's yet to address me once. No small talk. No eye contact. Nothing.

Alexa sensed my approach, eyeing me once as she emptied the crane. I stopped behind her, witnessing goosebumps blossom over her arms. Intentionally pressing my chest to her back, I reached over her shoulder, selecting an unopened Jameson bottle from the counter.

Over the loud base music, I caught her breath hitch and lowered my eyes to those compressed lips. "You okay?" I asked, putting us shoulder-to-shoulder.

Loose strands framed her face, irritating her brow. "I'm fine," she said convincingly, smiling secretively to herself.

I settled my back to the counter lip, facing her head-on, bottleneck in hand. "You've been quiet."

My scrutiny seemed to surprise her. "No different than normal." Snagging a damp cloth from the drawer, she began clearing clutter, preparing the bar for morning changeover.

Alexa's dismissiveness chagrined me. I thought she'd be a headache, a constant demand necessitating reassurance. "Your performance appraisal is coming up," I lied again, veering my gaze. "Can you fit it in after shift?"

"It's late." She scowled slightly, checking the time on her wristwatch. "Can we do it tomorrow? I'll come in half an hour earlier."

Why isn't she snapping at the opportunity?

Did I evaluate her inaccurately?

Had I been too presumptuous and arrogantly terse to think she'd want more from me?

"Sure," I said aloofly, biting back frustration. "How are you getting home tonight?"

Neglecting the cleaning equipment, she crossed her arms and puzzled yet pert eyes stared up at me. "Why?"

"No need to be sassy, Alexa." I passed her a harsh glance. "I was gonna offer you a ride home."

She responded after an imperceptible pause. "Why?"

I rasped a gravelly exhale. "Why, what?"

"Why are you offering to ride me home?"

"I don't fucking know." My brows snapped together. "To be nice, I guess." She laughed, and my frown heightened. "Why the fuck are you laughing?"

Alexa grinned slowly, an infectious smile that knotted my stomach. "I just am, Liam."

I dipped my head slightly, scratching the back of my neck. I definitely underestimated her.

Gnawing the corner of her lip, she brazenly stepped closer, right hand clasping to her opposite elbow. "I—"

"Mr Warren," Natalie interrupted, virtually wedging herself between us. "I found Josh. He was tending to customers." She set a hand on my forearm, looking up at me beneath fluttering eyelashes. "Did you need anything else?"

Alexa looked between us and stiffly shook her head with a restrained eye roll.

I tested her patience. "Did you need that lift?"

Arching a defined brow, she averted her attention to Cherry who's loading the cash register with change for the morning. "No, I'm good."

"Fine." Shrugging haughtily, I purposely shouldered past her, leaving the bar, not bothering to appease Natalie.

Perplexed and unsatisfied, I wander back to the office, find Brad and Nate gathered around the coffee table, sharing a joint, counting this week's takings. "Did you watch Alexa get home last night?" I mused, deliberating between the Jameson and cognac and then poured a drink.

"Yes, Boss, I watched as she let herself in," he mumbled with the roach balanced between his lips. "I watched as she grabbed a beer from the fridge. I then watched," he blethered sardonically, "while she was spread eagle on her sofa, getting herself off."

"What the fuck did you say to me?" I flung Nate a glare when he started clapping his hands, chortling in hysterical glee. "You can shut the fuck up."

Nate's archness exaggerated. "Sorry, Sir."

I am glad my situation fucking amuses them.

"Last night, Alexa went home, and the blonde chick let her in. For an hour, I waited until the lights switched off then drove straight back." Brad blew out smoke, tossing money down. "Seriously, Bossman. What is this about? You claim not to like the girl, but you've got us all surreptitiously supervising her."

I don't answer. I don't need to.

"You shouldn't have gone there," he continues, and I looked heavenward. "Alexa is not like the women downstairs, Boss. She—"

"You think I don't fucking know that," I lash out, sinking onto the leather chair behind my desk.

Brad has a soft spot for Alexa and vehemently opposed against me going there without a level of benevolence, but how I handle her is none of his business.

"Whatever," he mutters, lip curling up in repugnance.

My second in command has to be the most contradictory person I've ever met. He treats women like complete and utter shit. Sure, he'll happily fuck a woman or get his dick sucked when it suits, just like the rest of us, but he's passionately against female hindrance—prefers the single life.

Why he's outraged by my actions is convolutedly extemporaneous.

He should worry about his fucking dramas, instead of getting worked up over mine.

"Well, changing subjects. I got a lead on one of Flamur's warehouses." Nate stands to hand me photos. "I think he might be using this place for storage."

"Nate, this is fucking brilliant." I swiped through camera shots, chucked them in the drawer. "Your take?"

"I say we get down there tomorrow night." He strums his tattooed fingers on my desk. "Early hours and raid the fucking place."

"If Flamur is there, I want him left unharmed. I'll play when we bring him in."

Brad slips a toothpick between his lips. "I'll take great satisfaction bringing his fat ass downstairs."

I get to my feet, buttoning up my suit jacket. "Get the rest of the men ready. Brad, round up some extra ammunition. We have no concept of what we're walking into, so we must be vigilant and prepared."

"Boss," they both respond in unison.

Nate tidies the table and leaves to gather the men, Brad two steps behind him.

I senselessly opened my mouth. "Brad?"

He paused in the doorway. "Boss?"

I know she left five minutes ago. "Find Alexa," I ordered, ignoring his gleefulness. "Ensure she's home safe."

The son of a bitch winked. "Boss," he said, exiting the office.

While Alexa works for me, considering her history, I genuinely believe the man from her past will resurface, and when he does, I'll be waiting to end him.

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