REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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"You're back?" Josh exclaims, hauling me in for a tight bear hug. "I missed you way too much for it to be considered normal." He released me, tucking his hands into his trouser pockets. "It kinda sucks ass when you're not around."

I am not in a good place mentally or emotionally; I am far from over my sister's death. In saying that, I need some level of normalcy back in life.

The night I returned to work, everything passed in disorienting fuzziness. I zoned out numerous times, smashed an unnecessary number of glasses and even allowed Natalie to continue her pointless blabbering disapprovals without so much as batting an eyelid.

Liam called me to his office and expressed stern gratitude for my return. His nonchalant and platonic demeanour had puzzled me considering we'd slept together the night before, but I suppose his professionalism at work made sense.

Brad welcomed me back with a painful shoulder punch.

Nate asked if I needed assistance.

Cherry called me Alannah.

I gave her the middle finger.

Work became life's reasoning. I snapped up every shift, worked unsociable hours and fell asleep standing.

After three weeks, Liam found rectitude and self-discipline a challenge. He unabashedly demanded I swing by his office each night where he'd pounce before one word passed my lips. His passionate kisses and overwhelming desire invigorated me. I let him take me against that locked door; I willingly bent over his desk and moaned his name as he fucked me.

"What did the boss want?" Josh asked, pouring ice blocks into three pitchers. "You look flustered."

I smothered a smile, pouring two white wines. "Just checking in," I told him, discerning Natalie's heightened awareness. "Nothing serious."

Josh believed my bullshit response.

Natalie smelt a rat.

I cared not.

Days overturned weeks.

Weeks rolled into months.

Chloe loved living in the penthouse.

I concurred and ate too much ice cream.

"Did you need a ride home?" Liam whispered in my ear, knuckles furtively dragging down my spine.

Sporadic club lights and deafening music encircled us. I smiled at the friendly customer, handing her four sambuca shots. "It depends," I teased, eyeing him over my shoulder, "on who is offering."

Liam brushed a thumb over his bottom lip, quenching merriment. "Your boss."

"My boss?" I turned, faced him, hands to my hips. "I am not sure I like him very much."

"Really?" He bent a brow, grasping the bar top, caging me in. "You weren't saying that last night," he murmurs, tugging my ear lobe between clenched teeth. "Do you need a reminder?"

I blushed further shades of embarrassment, recalling his head between my thighs, devouring me like a ravenous man. His hands investigating my body, breathless kisses and groaned sentiments. We'd agreed to a sexual relationship, and thus far he's delivered immensely. If we're not undressing in his office, he's crawling into my bed at night, consuming every part of me.

Still, Liam's yet to stay at my side. Once he's finished fucking me into submission, a fused kiss, a short conversation, a goodnight departure. His indifference is somewhat deflating but expected. It's what we agreed on.

In work, however, Liam's becoming more careless, often seeking my attention, with or without the watchfulness of others. Like now, for instance, demonstrating adoration and ardour with Josh merely inches to our right.

"Alexa?" Hand tightening on my hip, he whispered feather-light kisses to my neck. "Don't make me repeat myself."

Of course, I waited until Liam finished with the Suits and accepted his car journey back to the penthouse. On arrival, I'd kick off my heels, jump into his awaiting arms and demonstrated just how much I appreciated our ride home. He carried me to the master bedroom while we undressed, fell above me on that king-sized bed and coaxed me to moan his name with each invigorating pinnacle.

Inhabiting with Liam Warren was indescribable. It is groundless and illogical, but neither seemed to care for reasonable explanations. Instead, we overlooked what some might consider abnormal and rolled with routine.

"I like these," said Chloe, exhibiting glitter-filled glass baubles. "Look, Hon. They are personalised."

I selected the delicate glass oval decoration, contemplating Liam's reaction. He'd frown upon Christmas sentiments, I am sure. My assured prognostication hadn't stopped me from purchasing, though.

"It looks like St Nick shit all over the penthouse," Brad half-joked one night, giving the eight-foot tree a disgruntled look. "Does the Boss know you're splashing sprinkles in his gaff?"

I shrugged, adding metallic beads to evergreen branches. "I love Christmas."

"Why?" He tousled wet hair, shower dews on his bare chest. "It's just another day."

"Because I missed so many," I admit, admiring the over-elaborate unmatched masterpiece dominating the balcony window. "It's my favourite season." I felt him watching me closely. "Here." Opening the white storage box, I fossicked through, finding the one I'd bought him. "I got you one, too."

Emotionless, Brad accepted the store purchased bauble. "I don't live here."

I don't know why he felt it necessary to explain his living circumstances; however, it's pretty evident with Brad showering, eating and sleeping in the penthouse that he doesn't have a place to call his own. "I didn't want to leave you out."

Brad draped the red ribbon onto a branch, positioning his personalised trinket. "I guess it'll suffice."

The following night, I helped Josh wheel empty spirit bottles to the alleyway behind the club, ready for early morning collection. "Do you think it'll snow?" I tilted my head back and studied the dark sky. "It's cold enough, right?"

"It never snows in London," he said, bumping knuckles with a suited guard. "Plus, I hate that stuff. It messes with my hair."

I raised an open palm, and soft flecks dusted my fingertips. "I think you're wrong."

Josh paused by the fire door, eyes bouncing from me to the sky. "Well, that sucks."

"Yeah." I smiled, feeling snowflakes on my eyelashes. "I suppose."

I had always loved working at Club 11. Lately though, with the Christmas festivities among us, the energetic nightclub enjoyably soared—office parties, ladies' night out, men on tour and seasonal cocktails. As Josh is now the head barman, he impelled me into work early one night to sample the new menu.

Josh gestured for me to become comfortable in the kitchen, ignoring the afternoon chef objurgating his team members in the background. "Right," he said, laying out glasses, pitchers, ice buckets, spirits, juices, sodas and chopped fruit. "The Boss needs a new line-up." He knocked together colourful options, eliminating any that dragged a distasting protest from my mouth. "I thought the Sherry was a goer."

"I am not the best person for this, Josh." I settled the bourbon cocktail. "You'd have better luck with Brad."

Josh relieved me from the kitchen, replacing me with Cherry. As I hadn't seen Liam much tonight, I found myself gallantly roaming to his office. Even though the stoic Suits seldom pass me a glance, I still chewed their ears off as I paced, discerning their stifled amusement.

I lifted a tight fist to knock the boss' door when it flew open. Natalie appeared, blonde hair slightly dishevelled, she looked shaken yet pleased. "Hey, new girl." Shouldering past me with deliberate scorn, she strode down the hallway, tidying her appearance.

Throned behind the mahogany desk, Liam relaxed in his leather chair, fussing over paperwork. "Alexa," he said, eyeing me over the monitors, "what can I do for you?"

A pang of jealousy squelched my chest. "I was just..." Did he sleep with her? Is that why Natalie was in his office? I thought...I don't know what I thought. "Josh's almost finished with the cocktail menu," I lied, and Liam, as inherently attentive, undoubtedly noticed my dishonesty. "Anyway—"

"Wait," he scolds the second I tried to flee. "Come inside. Shut the door."

I am not sleeping with him after witnessing Natalie vacate his office. "Did I do something wrong?"

"You're upset," he said as I closed the door, studying me pensively. "What happened?"

I pressed my back to the closed door, nervously fumbling with my fingers. "Nothing." I hate the thought of him and the others, especially Natalie. "It's been a long night is all."

Liam rose from his seat and rounded his desk, settling his back to the carved edge. "Are you asking for more time off?"

I shook my head. "No."

"Come here," he ordered, and I shook my head again. "Alexa that was an order."

My traitorous heart thudded. I pushed myself away from the door, stopped in front of him. He caught my waistband, tugged me closer.

"Liam," I whispered, settling my hands to his chest. "I am not in the mood."

His eyebrows pinched in confusion, but he continued his advances, hand smoothing over my ass, lips teasing my neck. "Perhaps I can assist," he murmurs, leaving warm kisses to my skin. "Relieve some tension."

"What about you?" I asked, affronted and bitterly angry. "Do you not require a release?" It was a test. I needed him to admit his rendezvous with her.

Liam inched back to look at me. "What's going on?"

No, I will not transcend jealousy induced-pain or growing disenchantment. "Nothing."

"You're lying," he affirmed, snatching my jaw, urging me to meet his cold gaze. "Elaborate. Now."

"I like our arrangement," I said, and he continued to glare. "However, Is it unreasonable to demand some level of respect concerning others?"

Liam seemed puzzled. "What?"

Shut your mouth, Alexa. You hadn't agreed to special treatment. "Josh is probably looking for me—" His hold on me strengthened. "Liam."

"You're pissed over Natalie," he arrogantly states, the corner of his lip twitching. "I never claimed to be a saint."

Oh, he's brazenly admitting to fucking other women while striving to pursue me. "I hope she was worth it," I muttered scornfully, scoffing at his smugness. "You need to release me at once."

He rolled his eyes, gently shoving me away. "What do you want from me?"

I cleaved my tongue to the roof of my mouth. "I don't want you fucking them."

Liam retrieves the half-smoked joint from the ceramic ashtray and lights it. "You assume I am fucking them," he adds cockily, respiring marijuana smoke in my face. "There is more to intimacy than sex, Alexa."

At first, I hadn't understood Liam's evasiveness, and then it occurred to me, I never go down on him. Is that why he's unsatisfied? Is that why he's playing with them? "I am not feeling this anymore," I said angrily, fuming with myself for giving a shit. "The whole casual sex is uncharacteristic, and I most definitely didn't agree with sharing."

His blank expression was mind-bending. "Again, what do you want from me?"

I wanted him to choose me, only me. I wanted to be the one satisfying his urges and cravings. "Absolutely nothing."

Liam hadn't dropped me home that night or the night after. Once more, he distanced himself from me in work and hadn't crawled into my bed to seek sexual gratification.

I shed tears onetime before mentally admonishing myself to get a backbone and forget his acrimony. And I successfully succeeded, feigning jubilance while working, being my usual self with Josh and the Suits.

Tonight, I cooped up on the sofa with Chloe, watching old movies, ingesting wine and vanilla ice cream. Past midnight, she kissed me goodnight and barricaded herself in her temporary bedroom.

I cleaned the living quarters, and continuously banked on snow, took a quick shower and crawled into bed. I had no concept of time when the bedroom door clicked open but sensed sunrise was among our horizon.

Liam lingered by my bed, removing his clothes.

I closed my eyes, pretending to be asleep.

He lifted the coverlets and slipped in beside me, curling a strong arm around my waist. "Alexa," he whispers, and I smelt whiskey on his warm breath. "Give me your eyes."

I resisted stubbornly, burying my head in the pillow.

"Alexa," he groans in my ear, hand creeping under my oversized T-shirt, cupping my breast. "I don't like it when you're mad at me."

The vulnerable concern in his voice had my eyes snapping open. I rolled onto my back and looked at him, my erratic heartbeat painful in my chest. "Likewise."

His full lips curved into a smirk, eyes blood-shot and heavy-lidded from the drugs and alcohol he's imbibed before coming to me. "You didn't need a ride home."

"You didn't offer," I countered, and his jaw sharpened. "I don't like sharing you, Liam."

"You're not sharing me, Alexa." He averted his gaze to the window. "I didn't touch her."

I wanted to believe him. "Natalie's always in your office."

"I am not interested in Natalie." His words, clipped and short, every so infuriating. "Or anyone else."

There was no prevarication in his tone. I matched his posture, propped onto one elbow, draping a leg across his waist. "You promise."

"I don't make promises," he whispered, his lips teasing the corner of my mouth. "Kiss me."

I missed him.

I yearned for him.

And somewhere along the way, I foolishly fell in love with him.

Curling a hand around his neck, I held him tightly, leaning in for a kiss, tasting a night of whiskey on his tongue.

He skilfully eliminated my T-shirt, pulling me above him, hands on either side of my head, mouth taking mine. His arousal rested between my thighs. I rubbed my soaking cleft against him, stealing myself a satisfied moan. "Ride me," he breathes into my mouth, arm locking around my waist.

My lips parted for him, accommodating. I sank onto his length, feeling him everywhere. "Oh, shit—"

He fused our tongues, drawing my closer, hands residing at my hips. I rolled against him, trapping his bottom lip between my teeth. "Fuck," he groans, embossing me in the thrall of his arms, meeting my slow movements. "That's it, baby."

Our closeness felt oddly passionate, all-consuming and immersing. My heart swelled, and I knew the second those words dangled on my tongue that I'd regret them. "I think I'm in love with you," I rasp in his ear, fisting his hair with tight fists.

Beneath me, Liam tensed all over, hand stilling on my lower back.

I waited for acrimonious contemptuousness or for him to toss me aside. He never uttered a word as he rolled me beneath him, abruptly flipping me onto my stomach and entrenching into me from behind.

I wanted to rage and scream at him for his brutal harshness, but I persisted demure, clinging to the coverlets while he pummelled into me.

Liam mightn't have expressed disapproval; he most certainly punished me for speaking undesired nonsense.

"Liam," I cried into the silk sheet, arching my spine without protest, letting him use my body. "Shit."

His fingers painstakingly bruised my hips, cock forcing in and out of my soaking pussy, gruelling yet spine-tingling. Palm sharply clipping my ass cheek, he growled humiliating expletives, tersely pulled back and spurted semen all over my back.

I laid motionless, tears brimming my eyes, nowhere near close to orgasm.

"Fuck," he barked, stumbling off the bed, his semi-hard cock hanging heavily between his muscular thighs. "Alexa."

Why did I open my wayward mouth?

"No," he said to himself, spearing a frustrated hand through his hair. "You're in the wrong lane. You are in," he unexpectedly smashed his fist into the wall, "the wrong fucking lane!"

I covered my face behind two hands, demeaned, hiding from his escalating abhorrence. "I can't help the way I feel—"

"I fucking knew this was a mistake." Snagging his discarded boxer briefs from the floor, he pulled them up, blindly searching for his phone. "It's fucking senseless." He stormed out the room, slamming the door behind him.

I yanked the duvet over my head, wishing I could take it back.

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