REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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CHAPTER SIX

Alexa

The warm, comforting smell of coffee drifts over my sleeping form, rousing me from dreamless slumber. Groaning groggily, I splintered one eye, head buried on the pillow, spotting a relaxed Chloe perched on the bed edge, steaming mug in her hand. "Please say that's for me," I grumble, rubbing my tired eyes.

"Clearly," she sings, eyebrows dancing. "Here you go."

"Why are you in such a good mood this morning?" I sit up, accepting the coffee. "Oh, God. I feel hungover without alcohol privilege consumption."

"I'm always in a good mood." She dragged the fleece blanket across her legs. "Now, come on. Tell me everything that happened last night. All the juicy details. I've been dying to wake you up for, like, three hours."

"Nu-uh." My brow arched. "You first."

"Fine." She folded her arms, preparing herself for a speech. "I visited my father last night."

"What?" I stayed aloof but knowing she visited the man she loathes had floored me. "And that makes you happy? Sorry, that was disrespectful."

"No, I understand. I don't have the best relationship with my father, so naturally, you're confused."

Chloe doesn't have a relationship with her father—period. "What happened?"

"As expected, I still hate him. And his wife isn't the easiest to get along with, either." She snickered, curling a lock of blonde hair around her finger.

"So, what made you visit?"

"He left me a voicemail yesterday morning. He'd organised a fundraiser and wanted me to show face. I don't know what made me attend; It's not as if I need a relationship with him. I'm glad I went, though." Heat crept to her cheeks. "I met someone."

I did a double-take. "You're with someone?"

"No, not like that. There was a guy there, Harold Stone. He works for my father. Let's say that he made dinner service a bearable experience. We spent the entire evening together. Alexa." She gave me a dreamy eye-roll. "He's insanely gorgeous, beautiful manners and exceptionally charming. I had a hard time concentrating because I was too busy gawking."

Laughter bubbled out of me. "Will you be seeing him again?"

Her teeth sank into her bottom lip. "He asked to take me on a date."

If anybody deserves happiness, it's her. "And?"

"And, I told him I'd let him know." She lifted a shoulder. "Anyway, tell me what happened at work last night."

"Well, I arrived early, changed into my underwear, gave someone a lap dance." My brows dipped into a frown. "Sort of."

"You danced on someone's lap," she shrieked, eyes protruding. "Alexa, I thought we'd discussed this."

When Chloe and I first conducted "The Warren Exploration," we'd agreed, in the event, I was lucky enough to land a job at Club 11, I'd only dance in the main room. Private showdowns were strictly prohibited.

I pulled open the bedside drawer, grabbed the notes from Brad and arranged them on the mattress between us. "I got paid to do it."

"Alexa," Chloe sighed, her disappointed huff blowing three fivers over my outstretched legs. "I thought we decided no private dances."

"It all happened too quickly." It was a rash decision, but thanks to Cherry, it wasn't as though I had a choice in the matter. "Besides, I won't be doing it again."

Not a lie. I'm glad Liam crossed "pleasing punters" from my job description. I hardly stomached sitting on that man's lap last night. It's not something I could often participate in.

"There's a lot of money here." She counted the notes, her eyes twinkling. "Shall we do a food shop?"

"You should get some groceries in." I couldn't hide my excitement. It's not often we buy good food, only the basics. "Some good beer and Cornish ice-cream."

Chloe giggles." Value ice cream is no longer good enough?"

I ignored that. "Anyway, back to last night."

"Yes, go ahead."

"So, before I had a chance to hit the cages, Brad comes in and says—"

"Who's Brad?" She rested back on her elbows, waiting.

"I told you—back to the point. Brad escorted me to the office, and when I walked in, Liam was behind his desk, made no effort to even look at me and said." I parodied Liam's voice, "you're not dancing. You're at the bar. I was so—"

"Why are you not dancing?"

"Because Liam said—"

"What did he say?"

This girl does not stop interrupting. "Well, I was going to say, I'm not entirely sure. I'm guessing he doesn't think I'm as attractive as his other girls." I wave it off like it's no big deal. "So, he sends me down with Natalie and—"

"Um, firstly, that's bullshit, Hon. You are engaging enough to be in those cages. If anything, you're too attractive to be dancing next to them. Secondly," she wiggles her fingers, "Who is Natalie?"

"Oh, God, Chloe. Natalie is a proper bitch. She gave me such a hard time last night. I knew my first shift wasn't going to be easy—being new and all. I had prepared myself for animosity, namely Liam and his men, but Natalie grilled me all night." I lifted the mug to my lips and sipped. It's cooled down now, perfect. "And Cherry was no better."

Chloe's jaw shifted forward. "Why were they mean to you?"

I asked myself that question all night. Perhaps I did something that aggravated her. Yes, you breathed the wrong way, Alexa. "I have no idea."

***

After a long afternoon gossiping with Chloe, I left early for work, wanting to be there beforehand, so that Liam doesn't scold me for tardiness—one step ahead, boss. I had also styled my hair before my shift, not giving Natalie an excuse to ridicule me.

I smiled nervously at the Suits guarding Liam's floor and rapt my knuckles on his office door.

A silent minute passed. "Come in."

Opening the door, I poked my head into his room, finding him sitting behind the desk, eyes cast downward, the scratching of his pen continued. "Just letting you know I've arrived, Mr Warren."

"Don't bother," he said, not meeting my gaze.

Frowning, I asked, "Sorry, what was that?"

"Don't bother." He lifted his head, and those cold eyes did something to my chest. "You're fired."

"I'm fired," I repeated, the colour draining from my face. "Why am I fired? I haven't done anything wrong."

"You left early last night—without my permission. I will not tolerate idleness, Miss Haines." He tossed his pen onto the desk and lit a cigarette. "I don't need you to work for me. You and I both know that I took a risk when hiring you." He exhales a ribbon of smoke. "See yourself out."

Natalie is the most manipulative woman I have ever met.

Why would she do this to me? I'm starting to wonder if I pissed her off in a previous life.

If Liam hadn't made the order last night, why did she lie? Is this what she wanted? For me to lose my job. "No, you can't fire me. You haven't even given me the chance to prove I'm worth hiring and you're already tossing me out the door." My anger and frustration escalated to a feverish pace. I need to keep this job. "Anyway, I was ordered to leave. Natalie—"

"Did the order come directly from me?" He angles his head to the side, assessing me. "From my mouth?"

"No," I said, my shoulders sagging in defeat. "Not personally. But one of your employees did."

"This argument is ineffective, Miss Haines." Spitting out a curse, he pinched the bridge of his nose. "You've been here for one shift, and you're already giving me a fucking headache."

"Mr Warren, please," I ask again, my voice quiet, desperate. "Please give me another chance."

We didn't break eye contact, both pensive. "Alexa, I am struggling to understand why you'd even want to work here. You're undoubtedly out of your comfort zone. Why don't you find a regular job? Go to college—"

"I like working here," I interject mid-sentence, stepping closer. "I like working with you."

Liam holds my sad eyes with his penetrating ones and sighed, "I'll give you one more chance. And you have to stay an extra hour to make up for last night."

Oh, thank God. "I promise not to let you down."

He leans back in his chair, bringing a phone to his ear, eyes narrowing, sending me daggers across the room. We're both having what appears to be an intense staring competition when he said, "Miss Haines?"

I jerked. "Yes, sir?"

"Get the fuck out of my office."

I nodded, rushing out. In the hallway, I closed the office door behind me and rested against it. Working for Liam Warren is never going to work. I see the way he watches me; I can hear the irritation in his voice when speaking to me. I'm getting under his skin. If nothing else, I at least wanted him to like me as a friend. Judging by his patience tolerance that man cannot wait to see the back of me. I'm supposed to be having the opposite effect on him; otherwise, I'm never going to get the answers I'm looking for.

Blowing out my cheeks, I reluctantly forced myself toward the bar.


Liam

I load the monitor and surveillance footage, watch Alexa lingering outside my office, slumped against the door, thoroughly discouraged, ashen-looking. Desperate persistence, borderline concerning, Immaterial to the number of times I've admonished her, she's come back and fights for a position at the club. Why was she so keen to get a job here, anyway? She claimed tight funds and didn't want to settle for regular paid employment. I can see she has money problems by merely looking at those cheap clothes and tattered black heels she roams around in. Financial insistence doesn't wash with me, though. I pride myself on perspicacity and discernment; I know deceitfulness when I see it. She's withholding something from me; however, I have yet to call her out on the bullshit poverty façade.

She acted like a stray cat the first time we'd met, jumpy and on edge, skittish. In the juxtaposition of her nervous breakdown and laughing men, I never veered my gaze from her. Darren roughed her up some—nobody prepared for those legs to give way. I barely had a chance to catch her. She checked out, not physically, mentally, and when she came back, I wanted to hang around, ask why she'd freaked out. I didn't, though. I walked away, shoved that random encounter to the back of my mind, told myself I'd never see her again.

And then Alexa found Club 11. The sheer sight of her beauty fucked with my head. Truthfully, the little firecracker intrigued me. She was young—too young for a man like me, but that didn't stop me from admiring and appreciating.

She danced with a young lad, and I didn't hate it—didn't like it, either. Their short-lived closeness ended when she left him on the dance floor to search for someone. I marked her movements as I strolled around the balcony. She slipped into the corridor, female bathroom.

I figured it was a good idea to catch her off guard, haul her shrieking, thrashing body into the first available space, which was a cleaning cupboard, and backed her up against the wall.

While looking into those round hazel-coloured eyes that infuriatingly hypnotised me, I mulled over multiple theories, concluded between an undercover agent and a girl crush—both were plausible—neither stopped, rationalised or prevented my wandering hands or seeking lips, though. It was just the two of us, and she felt my touch, dropped her guard, allowing me in. It was fleeting, but it was our unbearable moment until I flaked—told her to leave.

Again, I should have stayed away after our encounter, but I ordered my men to park around the corner, walked into that goddamn coffee shop every Friday, hoping for a glimpse of the girl who'd ghosted me week-on-week. And then, while exiting the male bathroom, there she was, stumbling to the counter, flustered and windswept, bag strap hanging from her shoulder. She conversed with the barista and ordered a coffee with gentle graciousness. "Enjoy, Alexa," he'd said. I rested my shoulder to the wall, shrouded by dark, uneven alcoves.

Alexa sat at the back, near the window, dropped her bag on the floor, alternated between drinking, surveying the street, checking the time and ordering more coffee.

Call me arrogant; I knew she was looking for me. That was the time to leave, forget about her, but when she lowered her head to the table, helpless, vulnerable, demoralised, I wanted to understand why.

Alexa came across fierce and unaffected when facing me head-on, but I saw the fear in her unblinking eyes, heard the slight hitch in her voice each time I spoke.

During our short conversation, I remained demure, nonchalant. It was a struggle, though. With minimal effort, Alexa secretly enthralled me with her quirkiness and infectious smile. She was beautiful yet unassuming, absently challenged me in ways most wouldn't dare; I liked that about her.

Engrossed, I'd forgotten her age until the word "boobs" rolled off her tongue. It was a sharp, harsh reminder that I'd actually sat there and entertained such nonsense.

She'd followed me outside, preaching and ranting. I swept my eyes over her, cataloguing her beauty—memorising features. Even under the oversized T-shirt and messy dark hair, she was pretty fucking perfect: heart-shaped face, cute button nose, full pink lips. And those eyes. Fuck. That's what drew me in—gained all my attention. Captivating hazel hues, mostly green, speckles of gold, accentuated by thick, fluttering eyelashes.

Last night happened. I contemplated whether to approach Alexa. My fascination with her bothered me, primarily because this small, seemingly innocent girl had managed to enter my club again, ignoring my warning to stay away. A guy had joined her, and they were both laughing, bodies too close for my liking. He's renowned for date raping—I banned him from the club on umpteen occasions, so that was motive to threaten the sleazy motherfucker for eyeing up a young girl with nefarious intentions. If someone's idiotic enough to challenge me, I order my men to haul them downstairs, deep into the cellar, let them unleash and spill blood until I intervene. However, yesterday, on that particular occasion, I didn't join them.

Now, thanks to my gracious men that rapist doesn't get to prowl on young women anymore. Nate had fun. Brad blew off some pent-up aggression. The dead guy rots in an unmarked grave.

Rather than allowing Alexa to leave after the altercation, I'd chased behind her, didn't consider my actions, pulled her close, snaked my arms around her slender waist, picked up where we left off.

I taunted her; I fought against her leaving; I ordered her to follow me. The walk to my room was eerie quiet, and it's safe to imply, both were nervous. I could hear her breathing softly behind me, feel her emitting apprehensions. I didn't know what the fuck I was doing, but I wanted her to stay.

We entered my office; I requested a demonstration. Had I expected her little coat surprise? No. Alexa stood in lace lingerie floored me. I'd stopped breathing. She's the polar opposite of what I typically look for in a woman. I like thick thighs, ample breasts, an ass that jiggles when those hips sway.

Alexa Haines is slender, a bit too thin, breasts merely a handful, prominent hips and collar bones, rusty, awkward. She was stiff and uncomfortable, but the tanned complexion and mile-long legs were enough—the scant, thin lace concealing her breasts and cunt had my cock hard. I envisioned her bent over my desk, waiting for me to take her.

I told her to come closer, played with fire—fuck repercussions. I touched her and witnessed goosebumps on her skin. She retracted from me, blowing hot and cold. She made the right call, though. Overlooking the fact she's questionably untrustworthy, I am almost ten years older than the alluring forbidden fruit.

My eyes return to the screen. Brad rounds the corner, stopping to have a short conversation with Alexa. He must humour her because she throws her head back, laughing hysterically. I cranked up the volume, eavesdropping. "You know you love it," Brad teased, shooting her a wink.

"No," she said, still breathless from giggles. "Your perception of me is wrong, Brad."

"I'm sharp-witted, actually." I recognised that twinkling charm in his eyes. "Anytime—"

"Goodbye, Brad!" She walks off before he can continue.

Brad waited until she left before entering my office. "Bossman," he chimes, perching onto my desk. "What do you need?"

"You and Alexa." I clicked my head to the side, releasing the tension. "What's the joke?"

"Alexa looked flustered." He pulled a face, jerked a shoulder. "I asked if she needed any assistance."

I harrumphed. "And did she?"

"No," he snorts, "she smacked me instead. You still haven't told me why you hired her."

I don't know the answer. "Let's just say I was feeling generous."

Brad scratched his jaw, deep in thought.

Rolling a pen between my fingers, I asked, "What do you think of her?"

"I think..." A wicked smile danced across his lips. "That I wouldn't mind fucking that ass."

"Not sexually, Brad." He's a handsome man. It wouldn't take much grafting for him to get Alexa in bed. It's not happening, though. Not on my watch. "On the whole, is what I meant."

"What are you saying?" He removed the toothpick from his mouth, flung it in the bin. "You need to break it down for me, Bossman."

"Something feels off about her." I adjusted the monitor, lowering the volume. "I don't trust her."

Brad traced his bottom lip with his thumb. "You don't trust anybody."

"I want eyes on her at all times." How threatening can a nineteen-year-old girl be? Call it a fucking hunch.

"Want me to call Reginald?"

"No," I said, grabbing a bottle of Macallan. "Don't involve him yet."

Brad nods, short and sharp. "Are you looking for anything in particular?"

Another question I cannot answer. "No fucking idea."

"Meanwhile," he said, deviousness dances in his eyes. "Is she up for debate?"

I paused with the bottle to my lips. "Meaning?"

"Am I authorised to pursue her?"

The son of a bitch is testing me. "Whatever."

"I'll let Alexa adjust first." He soared to his feet, scratching the back of his neck. "Then I'll break her in."

I stayed tight-lipped—I didn't want the men knowing I developed a soft spot for the new girl. "She's off-limits." Even acknowledging my interest pissed me off, but I won't let those wolves sniff her out. She's a pup compared to them. She couldn't handle the way shit operates, not around here, not with my men.

"Sorry, Boss." Brad hesitated with a knowing smirk, hand behind his ear, goading me, "What was that?"

My jaw ached from grounding down on my teeth. "You heard me."

"Off-limits."

The asshole grinned, saluting me as he vacated my office. "Right."

I rubbed a hand over my features.

What the fuck am I doing?

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