REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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"Mummy!" I cried into the darkened bedroom, snatching the duvet over my head, hiding. "Please, mummy."

"Alexa?" My bedroom door flies open before the room illuminates. My mother rushed to my side, drawing me in for a comforting hug. "Why are you crying, sweetie?"

I sniffled into her chest, fists clinging to her negligee. "Mummy, I'm scared of the monsters. I saw one hiding under my bed."

"What monsters, Alexa?" Her thumbs swept tears from my cheeks. "And why are you looking under the bed and not sleeping?"

I thought about her question. "I heard it."

"Alexa," she sighed, eyes softening. "Monsters aren't real."

"I see them all the time," I whined, wishing she'd believe me. "When I close my eyes and try to sleep!"

"Are you still having bad dreams, sweetie?" she asked, I nodded. "Well, alright. Follow me, Alexa." She climbs off the bed, urging me to follow. "I got something to show you."

Snatching Teddy from the floor, feet sinking into the plush pink carpet, I shadowed mummy, meeting her in the other bedroom.

She flicked on the lamp, hand spearing through untamed hair, eyes searching.

I eyed the strewn bedspread. "Where's daddy?"

Mummy smiled. It was sad and did not reach her eyes. "He's working late tonight," she explained, though, sounded unsure. "Now, where did I put it?" Opening the wardrobe, she rummages through, moves to the dresser. "I know I put it in here somewhere. Oh," she finds what she's looking for, "here it is." Draped from her slender fingers, a beautiful contrivance, wreathed with delicate white feathers and beads. "I made it for you."

My mouth slowly opened, spellbound. "What is it, mummy?"

"It's a dreamcatcher, sweetie," she clarified, admiring her craft. "What do you think?"

I watch the feathers slowly dance. "It's pretty."

"You can hang this above your bed," she said, kneeling before me. "It'll protect you."

Curious, I pouted. "How, so?"

"Well, you see this web," she points, indicating to the stitched beads, "it steals the bad stuff that visits when you sleep, stopping them from frightening you."

I was amazed. "Does it really work?"

"Would I lie to you?"

"You promise?"

"I promise. Now," she stood, opening the bedroom door. "Shall we try it out?"

"Okay," I said eagerly. "Can we take it to Kathy?"

"Alright, then." She left the room, ventured to Kathy's. "I think she's asleep."

When the door creaked open, Kathy sat up, rubbing her tired eyes. "What's wrong, mum?"

"Alexa had a nightmare," she replied, a hand rested atop my head. "Can she sleep with you?"

"Please, Kathy," I complained, dashing and jumping onto her bed. "Mummy made us a monster catcher!"

Kathy shared an amused look with our mother. "Sure." Pulling the coverlet back, she waited for me to snuggle under.

My mother secured the dreamcatcher onto the middle of the curtain pole. "Now, go to sleep, young lady." Leaning down, she kissed my forehead, and then Kathy's cheek. "Goodnight, girls."

Kathy waits until the room darkens. "Why do I have feathers in my window?"

"It'll protect us," I explained, rolling onto my side, facing her, "from the monsters."

Her eyes searched mine. "Monsters aren't real, Alexa."

"Yes, they are, Kathy," I retort, wishing they'd believe me. "I see them in my dreams!" I churlishly put my back to her, exaggeratedly puffing out a breath. "It doesn't matter. Mummy said the web protects me."

"Nothing can protect you from me," she said, her harsh voice warm against the nape of my neck. "My sweet Lexi."

Why is Kathy trying to frighten me?

Why did her voice change?

I focused on the drifting feathers, tonight's calm wind blowing through the window. "I don't like your voice, Kathy."

"So naïve, little Lexi," she breathed, hand creeping under my nightgown. "Always my favourite."

I watched her scarred, dirty hand smooth across my leg. "What are you doing?" My heart lunged from my chest. "Stop," I groaned, head thrashing to the side. "Please, stop—"

"Alexa." Liam's voice startled me, ripping me back to the present. "Baby, wake up."

On a sharp inhale, I bolted upright, sheets dropping to my waist. Liam stands beside my bed, shirtless, unbuckling his belt. "Liam," I whispered, fear and confusion burgeoning by the second. "What are you doing here?" I grabbed my phone from the bedside table, checked the time. "It's four o'clock in the morning."

"I wanted to see you," he said, tossing his trousers onto the cuddle chair. "Are you okay?"

I stood, glanced at my reflection in the mirror. I was puffy-eyed and lachrymose, a foreboding feeling twisting in my stomach. "I'm fine," I lied, and he resigned with a tight-lipped smile. "Sorry, I'm half asleep. Why are you here? You never visit me."

"Do I need a reason for wanting to see my girl?" He asked, and there was a touch of light persiflage in his rough voice. "I missed you."

I regarded him suspiciously. "Is this about dinner with the guys earlier?" Silence hangs in the air. "Liam?" When his accusing eyes landed on the bed, impossible rage clawed out of me. "Are you serious? What, you thought I had a guy here? Is that what this is about?"

His vainglorious smirk failed to pacify me. "I am not threatened by boys, Alexa."

"Really?" I tilted my chin with defiant assurance. "If you're unthreatened by other men," I emphasised, ignoring his derisive chuckle, "why did you swing by tonight, expecting to catch me in the act?"

"You're letting that senseless mind get ahead of itself."

A farcical laugh rattled from me. "No, I think I'm pretty spot-on, asshole." I shouldered past him, but he caught my wrist in a tight grip, impeding my departure. "Liam..."

"You're wrong," he said decisively, fingers pinching my skin. "I didn't think you were with someone, but I want to know which guy made inappropriate comments about you this evening."

Jace's sad expression flashed in my mind. "Why?" I thought about my co-worker's admittance. "I need to ask you something."

"You still haven't answered my question."

"His name is Jace," I verified, pleasing him. "And Jace is gay."

An element of surprise etched his stoic expression. "Gay?"

I nodded, snatching my arm back. I wanted to know if it was true—if Liam had murdered Jace's parents. I should know, right? I am working alongside that man daily. "How many people have you killed?" I didn't trust Liam enough to mention Jace's story, though. I believe he'd act on impulse, consider Jace a threat. "Liam?"

Minutes passed before he spoke. "Why?"

"I'm curious," I whispered, resting my back to the wall. "Ten? Twenty? Thirty?"

Liam squared his muscular shoulders, musing his dark hair. "It doesn't matter."

I laughed to mask discomposure. "Surely it's no more than fifty?" When he didn't respond, my eyes protruded. "Jesus, Liam."

"Why are we arguing?" He grits his teeth, popping his jaw muscles. "When did I preach prestigiousness? Righteousness? Honourability? When did I mislead you, Alexa? You know what I'm about, and you climbed into my bed regardless. What, are you backing out now? You having second thoughts about us?"

"Don't do that," I argued valiantly. "You're putting words in my mouth, Liam. I never once claimed that I didn't want to be with you. I do, however, need some answers."

"Why?" He stepped up to me, his voice thick, raw. "You're usually incurious about business. Why do you suddenly require knowledge and assurance?"

He's right, of course, consciousness is unnecessary, but I need to know if Jace is going to be problematic. "Do you harm women?" I asked in a soft, quiet voice. "Married couples? Undeserving victims?"

"You witnessed Kathy's death," he reminded me, hands positioning on the wall, either side of my head. "Is that enough validation for you? Or is it names, you necessitate? Perhaps illustrative killings: blood, screams, pleas, weaponry, torture methods."

Shaking my head, I put my hand to his chest. "Stop—"

"We're not doing this." He dragged himself away from me, rubbing a hand across the scruff of his jaw. "Business is business. I shouldn't have to justify myself to you, Alexa." Cursing under his breath, he snatched his trousers, ready to pull them on. "Fuck this."

"What? You're leaving?" I asked in disbelief, and he disregarded me. "Liam don't storm off when we're in the middle of a conversation. Why bother coming here?"

"I haven't seen you in over a week," he fired back, unzipped trousers hanging low on his hips. "At this point, I don't even know why this animosity festered or why the fuck we're arguing. I had a long night, Alexa. I wanted a few hours with my girl—fuck you back to sleep. I don't need this headache, though."

I stumbled toward the door, slamming it shut. "You're not leaving on an argument." Halfheartedly dressed, he powered toward me, seized my elbow, forcefully shoved me aside. "No." I wiggled against him, mustering the strength to impede him. "Liam, please. I'm sorry," I whimpered, clinging to his shirt collar. "I'm so sorry. I am picking a fight..." Why did I challenge him? I chose him—all of him. I can't second-guess his lifestyle because Jace decided to sprout undesired information. "Please, I'm sorry."

His breathing was heavy but controlled. "You infuriate me," he said throatily, hand claiming my throat, crushing. "Yet I fucking idolise you." His words were soul-consuming. It mightn't be an affirmation of undying love, but I enamour him. "Worship the ground you walk on." His unyielding grip on my neck, tourniquets my blood flow. "I should demand an explanation."

I curled my fingers around his wrist, silently asking him to alleviate pressure. His hand softens, mouth touching mine, lips tasting like a night of whiskey. "I'm sorry," I repeated, slipping the shirt from his shoulders, bearing him to me. "Let me fix it, Liam."

He released his hold on me, palmed the door beside my head, waiting. I held his eyes while descending to my knees, gingerly lowering his trousers and boxer briefs. He assists, kicking both aside, grasping his growing shaft, giving it a tight stroke. "You got something better to do with those pretty lips, baby?"

I smoothed my hands up his thighs, feeling his muscles bunch together, tongue peeking out, licking salty pre-cum from his crown.

He hissed through parted lips, fisted my hair, pulling me in. "I can't handle this view," he rasps, working on a painful-looking swallow. "Take me in your mouth, Alexa."

I obliged, replacing his hand with mine, upstroke, downstroke, teasing. He largens gloriously in my palm, groaning his approval, head dipping to watch me. I licked his glistening head, twirled my tongue, sucked him into my mouth, tasted.

"Fuck," he moans, fingers tearing my roots. "That's it, baby." I sensed he was holding back, knew not to push me too far. I ravished him greedily, head moving, bopping to his command, lapping up his arousal until he unexpectedly eased back, urging me to stand. "I need to be inside you." He snapped my thong, eliminated my oversized T-shirt, untied my hair, watching it fall across my shoulder somewhat fascinated. "I love your hair," he whispered, and my heart reacted, thudding from the intensity of his penetrating blue eyes. "Hold me."

I enveloped my arms around his shoulders. He gathered me into his powerful arms and lifted. My legs followed, wrapping around his waist, crossed at the ankles.

"I came here because I was jealous," he admits, shoving into me with one sharp thrust. "Not because I thought you'd wrong me."

I inhaled a deep breath, held it, adjusted to our angle—his size. I'll never get used to his length, thickness. Liam's big, too big, but he's worth the desirable ache.

"There's only one man for me," I breathed, turning my head, facing him. "You."

For the first time since knowing Liam, I witnessed insecure vulnerability in his questioning eyes. "It's my birthday next week," he tells me, hips easing back, thrusting forward. "I'll be thirty."

His indirect approach registered. I twisted the back of his chain in my hand, and our lips melded, his tongue tenderly dancing with mine. He pushed into me, restrained, taking his time, bracing his hands on the door, cock buried deep inside me.

Liam needs reassurance—needs me to promise that our age difference wouldn't affect us in the future—but he's too stubborn to converse his apprehensions. Instead, the man claims me with unhurried yet harsh thrusts, leaving open mouth caresses along my neck, sucking, branding, seeking my mouth and devouring me with voracious kisses. "Tell me," he relents, smashing his hips against mine, pinning me to the door. "I need to hear it."

"I am not going anywhere," I cried out, fingers threading through his hair. "Liam."

He pulled us away from the door and abruptly chucked me onto the bed. I turned onto my stomach before his orders, positioned on my knees and forearms, the mattress dipping under his weight. He settled behind me, fingers separating my soaked cleft, stroking my aching core. "Fuck," he groaned, tasting my arousal from his fingertips. "I love this ass." His sharp blow to my cheek ripped an aroused moan from me, his cock wedging between us, sinking to its full potential.

I grappled the sheet with knuckle-white urgency. His hands fasted to my waist as he shoved into me with force, the sound of our bodies slapping together imitating around the bedroom. I'm completely at his mercy. He traps me beneath him, chest residing to my back, lips ravishing my neck. "You're fucking beautiful," he groans in my ear, brushing my hair aside, lifting my arms above my head. "It fucks with my head, Alexa." Rough fingers laced with mine, fusing our hands.

Liam quickened the pace, though, it was hardly punishing nor unmerciful. He'd never admit his behaviour aloud, but he was making love to me, chin nestled on my shoulder, hand tugging my hair, mouth insatiably welded on mine. His bruising kiss attenuated me, not quite easing my all-consuming sentimentalism.

"Liam..." I reached my peak, combusted beneath him, agonising pleasure tearing through my body. "Oh, shit."

Our fingers tightened together, his cock full, hard, entrenched inside me. "Fucking hell," he groaned, biting my shoulder, shaft jerking, emptying. "Fuck."

My body was on fire. "I love you," I said breathlessly, listening to his strained breathing. "I am so in love with you, Liam."

I'd expected a lambasting, ridiculing embarrassment or a deriding argument. Again, Liam puzzled me with his unusual calmness and adoration, gently extracting his shaft, dropping a chaste kiss to my backside. He collapsed onto the bed beside me, body misted in sweat, chest heaving, hand sweeping slicked hair back. "You had a nightmare."

I nod, cheek pressed to the sheet.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

I considered lying. "Sometimes," I said, and his eyes fixated to mine, "I see my mother. I think they're happy memories—realistic moments we must've shared."

He repositioned onto his side, genuinely curious. "You're unsure?"

"I don't know if they're a figment of my imagination," I admit, fixing his ravelled chain. "I never got answers, Liam. I don't know how she died or if it hurt...If she knew what was to transpire for Kathy and me. I like to think her death was sudden, painless. In my dreams, she's happy, smiling, singing or consoling me, and then darkness creeps in like clambering shadows and..."

"Don't," he warned, settling his thumb on my wobbling lips. "It's not real, Alexa. Harrowing yourself with guilt isn't the answer, either." Slipping his arm under my neck, he drew me close, kissed the crease between my cinched brows. "You didn't finish reading your case file."

No, I skimmed the majority, too distraught by Kathy's betrayal.

"I can tell you," he said, and I craned my neck to look at him. "About your mother."

"I found her, Liam. I remember seeing her on the kitchen floor, surrounded by blood and they'd torn her clothes."

"Bullet wound to the back of her head," he filled in the blanks, fingers absently stroking my shoulder. "It was a quick death. No signs of violation." He studied the ceiling, considering his words. "Buried in Newquay."

I nuzzled into his chest. "Thank you, Liam." I knew he was lying, felt it. But I appreciate his need to protect my memory. "Maybe I'll visit her someday." I steered subjects, balancing my chin on a flatted hand. "Anyway, It's your birthday next week." I shot him a wicked smile. "Are we celebrating?"

He looked disgusted. "Have a fucking day off."

I bit back a laugh. "We can't just do nothing, Liam—"

"That's exactly what we're doing," he said resolutely, tucking hair behind my head. "You and me in bed all night. If you're lucky?" His wolfish smirk warranted a slap. "I'll feed you." I ignored his sexual innuendo, pondering how to corner Brad and plan a surprise birthday gathering. "Then again," he husked, tugging my forearm, "I think it's your turn."

I arched my brow. "What's my turn?"

"Sit on my face," he ordered, and I blushed. "And let me eat you."

"Liam," I scold, but the intolerable man forced me to straddle him. "You're too crass—oh," I whimpered, spine arching, palms hitting the wall. "Oh, fuck."

Hands fastening around my thighs, he swept his tongue between my folds, suckling me into his mouth. "No meddling, Alexa," he cautioned, and I nodded, lying with intent. "I don't want any fucking presents or social gatherings, got it?"

"Loud and clear," I moaned, fingers tangling in his hair, hips shamelessly rocking, riding his face. "Oh, God."

"Good girl." He shoved two fingers inside me, searched for my G-spot, found it. He circled and plunged with determination, head buried between my thighs, feasting, tongue mercilessly lashing against my needy sex. "Fuck."

My head falls back, eyes closing as I chase my orgasm, body aquiver, humming back to life.

He flatted his tongue to my clit, sucked my lips, scissoring his fingers. I was dripping wet, but now wasn't the time for modesty. I rode him with intense desire, tensed above him, his name falling from my lips.

Liam didn't give me a chance to recover. I was on my back, arms idly rested beside my head, watching him crawl above me through hooded eyes. He smeared my lips with his fingertips, and I sucked them clean, tasting myself. "I hope you're not tired," he said, the head of his cock nudging my entrance, coercing me to accommodate him. "I am nowhere near finished with you."

As if I could say no to Liam Warren.

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