REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Alexa

I barely slept after finishing work last night due to excitement and uncontrollable nerves. Today is a special day—It's Christmas. Although everyone around me isn't celebrating the conventional way, I am not in control of tireless exhilaration. I am having fun, with or without those suited scrooges.

In actuality, Brad's the only Suit looking forward to planned festivities. He mightn't admit such excitement while Liam's present, but the man has sought me out endlessly at work, adding many favoured items to our dinner party.

Modelling a red satin dress, I collect the trash bag and amble past security line up near the elevator. "I made a gateau," I lied, and the Suit peered at me over his black aviators. "Well, technically I purchased it from the supermarket, but I still made an effort, right?" The elevator pinged, doors slipping open. "I'll save you some."

Taking the lift downstairs, I stepped out, feeling rather ostentatious in my six-inch heels and glittered attire, opened the building doors and carefully trekked over thinly blanketed snow. Light flakes fall from the skies of London, and it's beautiful.

I tossed the trash into the communal bin, uprooted my phone and sent Josh a selfie with my wintry ambience.

Josh: Hot damn.

Me: I meant the snow background.

Josh: Fuck the snow. Are you wearing a bra?

I rolled my eyes, put my phone away and walked back to the apartment building. Before opening the door, I noticed a parked Mercedes across the road. Its blackout windows made nosing a challenge, but its emergence had unsettled me. On the passenger side, the window cracked slightly, but again, I couldn't see the driver or friend—

"Ma'am," one of Liam's men drawled, seizing my elbow, "you need to come back inside."

The Mercedes shrieked on acceleration, thick smog lingering on departure. I watched it swerve around the corner, unease attached to my skin. "Do you know them?"

"Who?" The Suit asked, glancing over my head.

I brushed the chill from my arms. "Nothing."

Back inside the warm penthouse, I turned the music up a notch, speakers bellowing Christmas music while I oversee the stove. Even though I became accustomed to fending for myself over the years, my cooking is shockingly appalling. I mean, Kathy wasn't an aspiring cook, so we lived on mostly takeout or convenient meals. When Chloe moved in with me, I thought she'd at least put me to shame, but her culinary skills aren't much better than mine.

Leading up to Christmas day, I studied YouTube videos, practised dishes, burnt the majority, and repeated the process. The magnitude of today's preparations I purchased and unpackaged, and I am sure Chloe will take great pleasure telling the Suits what a fraudulent chef I am.

I arrange napkins and champagne glasses onto the long stretched dining table alongside extra placemats for Brad and Nate. It's almost two in the afternoon and, although Liam has avoided me like the plague, he had confirmed over text messages that he and the men would attend.

"Oh, mother of God. It smells fantastic." Chloe, barefoot yet dressed in a beautiful mini skirt and chiffon blouse, runs to the counters, stealing a roast potato. "I. Am. Famished."

"Hey!" I slapped her advancing hand from the goods. "No food or you'll fill up and not eat your dinner."

"For crying out loud, Alexa. What am I twelve?" she mumbled over a mouthful of food. "I'm a grown woman. I could pick this food and still eat whatever goes on my plate without so much as a fart."

"Well," I said with a frown, wrinkling my nose, "I want to wait for Liam to arrive."

"You have it bad for that guy, don't you?" Hand to her hip, she cocked her head to the side, eyeing up the Yorkshire puddings. "Not that I blame you. If you weren't letting him fuck you at night," she hands me a wine glass to fill, "I sure as hell would be."

I opened a champagne bottle, poured our drinks. "Chloe," I whispered, ignoring the stuffing balls she secretly stuffed in her mouth, "I let myself do something stupid."

Back rested to the countertop, she sucked seasoning from her thumb. "Oh, no."

I nodded, cheeks dusting pink. "I know, Chloe. I am stupid—"

"You're not stupid, Alexa." She accepted the wine glass, sipped. "How much are we talking?"

I synchronised her stance. "I am obsessively in love with him. And I know it's love because I can't think straight or even contemplate anyone else. It's just him. All of him. The good and the bad..." The ache in my chest constricted. "Is it idiotic to believe I could someday be all that for him?"

"Liam is..." She pondered, polishing off the rest of her drink. "I don't know, Alexa. I see the way he looks at you. I have witnessed his affections first-hand, but he's complicated. His lifestyle is complicated." Her temples creased. "Is this why he hasn't been home lately? Are you two having a spat?"

"Something like that," I groaned, topping up our glasses. "I told him how I felt, and he flaked out." I blew out an exasperated sigh. "I wish I could read his thoughts."

"I think every woman wishes they had that ability, Hon. I certainly do. If I could, I'd be reading Brad's every time he entered a room."

Since when did Chloe set eyes on Brad?

"What? Hold up." I faced her, eyes slicing. "What am I missing here?"

"Oh, come on, Alexa. Have you seen that fine piece of ass? Honestly," she saunters off, taking the champagne bottle with her, "I'd be his whore any day of the week."

"Yes, Brad is cute, but since when did you find him irresistible." I sink onto the leather sofa opposite her. "You haven't mentioned this before."

"I don't know, Alexa." She placed her glass onto the coffee table. "It started as a little crush, and now I please myself daily with his face and mouth in mind." Fanning herself, she shot me a teasing wink. "He's so chivalrous. And quirky. And fun. And he has this aura about him. He's fun—"

"You said fun already."

Sucking her top teeth, she curbed a tickled smile. "He's insanely good looking. That hair? That fucking smirk and knicker-dropping flirtatiousness." Falling against the sofa rear, she feigned a pleasurable moan. "Yeah, I need him to fuck me, like, yesterday."

My smile slowly turned into a frown. "Is this lust or...?"

"It's lust and fawning, I think." She nibbled her bottom lip. "Oh, shit. We're foolish together, right?"

I lift a shoulder.

"We shared moments," she continued, and my interest piqued. "Sometimes Brad lingers by my bedroom door, making conversation, oscillating between leaving or joining me. What do you think his indecisiveness means?"

I daren't tell Chloe that Brad is just being Brad. The amount of times I have found him either getting his dick sucked by one of the dancers, or some club chick riding him in the staffroom is no one's business. However, my friend seems quite taken by him, so I don't want to burst her bubble.

"Maybe you should see what happens," I said, delivering the worst guidance. "I think."

Chloe scoffed. "That has got to be the shittiest advice you've ever given me."

I burst out laughing.

How do I tell her Brad is a whore that flirts with anyone that possesses a vagina?

"I'm sorry," I said, opening another champagne bottle. "So, what other moments have you guys shared?"

"I don't know." She seems doubtful now. "The night we partied at Club 11, Brad complimented me."

"Really?" That had stunned me a touch. Brad's misleadingly friendly but too self-assured and narcissistic for flattery. "What did he say?"

"He called me gorgeous—said he liked what I was wearing."

Chloe had looked gorgeous that night, as she always does, I suppose. She'd curled her hair and wore a fitted pink dress. "What else did he say?"

"Nothing much after that." She sipped her drink, "And since living here, he's gone out of his way to hold a conversation with me. Even when I'm flushing and acting awkward." She grimaces. "I think he knows I like him."

Brad usually treats women as though they're beneath him. I'm genuinely astonished he's able to get laid. The rumours about his cock must work in his favour. "Please be careful, Chloe. Brad is..." I paused, not knowing how to say he's a bastard whore that fucks women for sport. "Just don't invest any emotions with that man." My innocuous speech was contradicting. "I'll kill him if he hurts you."

Her eyes narrowed slightly, "Anyway, it's almost three." Glimpsing at her wristwatch, she asked, "When will they be here?"

I unlocked my phone and sent a text message to Liam.

Me: How long will you be?"

The phone jerked in my hand.

Liam: I won't be there.

Chloe eyes the phone. "So, what does it say?"

"Something happened at the club," I lied. "So, they're going to eat later."

"What? But it's Christmas," she gestured to the kitchen counters, "and you've worked so hard cooking for everyone!"

"Honestly, Chloe, it's no bother. Besides, we got three more bottles of wine to get through and more girl-talk." I deflect quickly, so she doesn't see the disappointment plastered over my face. "Let's drink."

I grab the extra bottles, snubbing the uneasiness in my stomach.

I need to get drunk

***

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this." I apply red lipstick, checking my reflection in the compact mirror.

The taxi is five minutes away from the club. I'm nervous. Liam cancelled dinner, so I'm not sure if turning up unannounced is a good idea.

"Hon, it'll be totally fucking worth it. More to the point? I am drunk. My pussy needs dick, and I've had enough wine to demand me some dick." She burped, very ladylike. "Well, not some dick. One I cannot stop fantasising about. What do you say, Drive? Do I look good enough for some dick tonight?"

"Jesus Christ. I am sorry, Drive. She doesn't get out much." I bury my head in my hands with a chuckle. Our poor taxi driver's horrified.

"What? Speak for yourself, Hon," she slurs. "I get out plenty."

Hysterical laughter bubbled in my chest. I love this girl so much; she never fails to cheer me up.

We pay for the taxi and head straight to the front doors. I work here, so the bouncers let me inside, overlooking payment. I run my sweaty palms down my red dress. I went all out for tonight, I'm wearing heels I can hardly walk in, but they finish my outfit flawlessly, and I've straightened my hair rather than the loose curls I usually model.

Descending the stairway into the nightlife, Chloe clung to my hand, yelling over the music, "Shall we grab drinks first?"

"Yes, but none of that green shit." I can't stomach those shots ever again.

She mischievously grinned as she dragged my reluctant ass to the bar.

"Hey, Josh." I jump onto the stool. "You okay?"

"Alexa." He smiles, folding his arms, leaning onto the bar top. "What happened to, 'I'm staying home and getting fat' this Christmas?" His tone is gratuitously high pitched and condescending. "I swear," he flung a sidelong glance at Chloe, "Alexa's secretly in love with me."

"I changed my mind." I waved off his ridiculous statement. "Can we get some of those festive cocktails, please?"

Josh wanders off to prepare our drinks, and I use the time to glance around. It's unusually quiet in here tonight, barely any customers, the music tranquilising and soft. It's refreshing. Typically, this place is jammed like a sardine can, so It's nice to be able to come here and relax, instead of driving through the hustle and bustle all evening.

"Here you go, ladies." Josh sets down four cocktails. "This one has gin," he points to the green then motions to the red, "vodka." I'm about to hand Josh a payment when he gripped my wrist. "Boss would kill me if he found out I was charging you."

In mute acquiescence, I accepted generosity with a fond smile. Since moving into Liam's penthouse, he's repudiated any cash exchanges from me.

"This is gross," Chloe mutters, setting the green cocktail.

Taking a sip of mine, I nod in agreement. "Yes. It's safe to say that I'm not a lover of gin..."

Nate forced himself into our huddled conversation. "Alexa?"

"Hey, Nate," I said, marking his worried expression. "What's up?"

He visibly swallows, eyes darting between us ladies. "Does the boss know that you're here?"

His panicked voice indicated something is wrong, but I stayed calm and collected. "Not yet. I'll give him a text in five," I lied with a bogus grin. "Can I get back to my drink?"

"Yeah," he peered over his shoulder, "I'll be right back."

Chloe hiked a brow. "What—"

I don't wait for her to finish that sentence. I follow after Nate unobtrusively to uncover the coldness in his behaviour.

Chloe grabs my hand as I push through the small crowds. "What's going on?"

Flinging the bouncer a half-hearted wave, I dragged my friend into the corridor, ascended the stairs and beelined Liam's office, pausing when catching male laughter and female moans.

Chloe must hear it, too. Her grip intensifies around my hand, preventing me from walking any farther. "I don't think we should go in there anymore, Hon."

Nate's perturbed countenance gave it away. He might like me as a friend, but his loyalties lie with Liam and, when he sneaks into the boss' room, I know he's preparing that asshole for my arrival.

I release Chloe's hand, adopt bravery and shoved open the door. Naked women, inebriated Suits, cigar smoke and loud music, the coffee table, covered in firearms, half-smoked joints and empty spirit bottles.

On the sofa, legs parted, shirt unbuttoned, Brad relaxes with an arm thrown behind one of the dancers. He spots me. Toothpick settled between his lips, pupils dilated.

With his back to me, Nate looms before the desk, blocking my view; however, sensing my proximity, he turns, scratching his jaw.

My eyes land on Liam who sits shamelessly behind cocaine mounds, a self-satisfied Cherry perched on his knee. While holding my eyes, she leans into our boss, whispering something in his ear.

Unfazed, Liam reached for the Macallan and swigged straight from the bottle, gaze finally lifting, pinning me into further paralysation.

I tilted my chin defiantly, refusing to show emotion or shed one more tear for that uncaring asshole.

On the sofa, another Suit receiving head from a bodacious blonde, his satisfied groans, stomach-wrenching and repulsive.

"Alexa," Liam said throatily, letting Cherry tease his earlobe with those red-painted lips, "I didn't know you were into voyeurism. Feel free to come and join us."

My heart breaks into a thousand pieces. I shoved the chortling Suit out of my way, snagged the soundbar from the shelving compartment and lunged it at the wall, killing the infuriating music and pornographic moans.

Brad rose from the sofa to intervene. I hold up my hand, stopping his advances. I felt a familiar tightening around my chest, strangling my windpipe, clawing my insides. "Stop," I whispered, closing my eyes, begging my subconscious mind to relent, not to drag me back. "I said, stop!"

"Out," Liam ordered and, at first, I thought he meant me. "Now." Everyone groaned in protest, vacating the office as their boss clambered off his chair. "Alexa, you need to breathe."

I turned away from him, inhaling deep breaths, body aquiver, tears pooling my eyes. Pressing my palms to the wall, I lowered my head, lost in immobilising heartbreak. "I hate you." His hand touched my back, and I whacked away his unwanted sentiments. "Do not touch me."

Liam gave me a wolfish smirk, capturing my throat, striving to haul me close.

"Get off me!" I wiggled in his hold, but the man overpowered me, backing me up against the wall. "You disgust me, Liam. I fucking hate you."

His mouth slanted over mine, and I saw red. Teeth sinking into his lower lip, I drew blood, his growl rattling my bones. "Alexa," he admonished, thrusting a hand to my chest, licking blood from his lips. "You came to me—"

"To surprise you," I fired back, humiliated and numb. "I didn't expect to see you drugged up and pursuing Cherry, Liam. I am hardly going to want your disgusting mouth on me after it's been God knows where. You and the guys promised to be at dinner. You lied to me—"

"I didn't lie," he retorts, snagging a bottle from the minibar. "One thing you should know about me, Alexa, is that I never lie. I don't need to," he adds smugly, shrugging a dismissive shoulder. "I am a man of my word. I say how it is—no fuck's given."

His coldness rendered me thunderstruck.

"I warned you," he continues, pointing at me with the bottle clenched in his fist, "I told you I'd be a disappointment. I told you not to bank on me, yet you did it anyway. That's on you. Own your mistakes and quit blaming other people for your despondent bullshit."

I hugged myself, blinking back tears. "I hoped..." What had I hoped? That he'd change his mind? That he'd see me—only me. "I was wrong about you."

He backed into his desk, swigging from the bottle, brown liquid trickling down his chin.

"Why?" I asked, and he stared me down. "Why are you behaving like this?"

Liam held my devastated eyes with his cold ones. "It's over," he said hoarsely, face twisting in disgust. "Whatever we had is over."

"And it took this performance for you to tell me," I whimpered, pressing a palm to my mouth. "What, the infamous Warren didn't have the balls to come home and spare me this embarrassment?" I cried. I cried ugly tears, and I hated myself for being so weak.

Liam straightened, spitting out a curse, ready to intervene.

"Don't," I warned, my voice hitched but threatening, "touch me."

He relinquished, rubbing a hand down his weary features. "You need to leave."

And this right here is the real Liam Warren. The merciless, unempathetic asshole that I was foolish enough to fall in love with.

"Oh, don't worry," seizing the door handle, I flung it open, "I am gone."

I never want to see that son of a bitch again.

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