REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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I hadn't heard a peep from Josh since our eventful lunch date this afternoon. He's head barman but rarely upholds his position with us conquering ladies. The man has mastered looking busy at doing sod all, patrolling the club floor, collecting empty glasses, using his chivalrousness and magnetism to achieve the digits women furtively slip into his trouser pockets.

"I love redheads," Josh tells me, waving a white napkin with three lip stains. "They give the best head."

Thanks for that knowledge, Josh. I wouldn't have slept tonight without it.

I don't dislike working on the bar. I quite enjoy interacting with customers while they voluntarily spew absurd, drunken tales. However, with great reluctance, I give credence that the bar is predominantly Natalie's territory. Keeping me in the same proximity as my apparent nemesis often formulates an unbearable workplace. If I have to listen to the witch call me a "lousy worker" or "new girl" one more time, there is a likelihood her head will end up in the ice generator.

Her bitterness is exhausting. If she had valid reasons for hating me, I'd tolerate her behaviour. Her unwarranted and unexplainable degree of schadenfreude just for self-gratification goes beyond callousness. You cannot abominate, target or revile and make someone's workplace unbearable based on groundless and irrational speculations.

I pondered discussing this matter with Liam. Natalie's malevolent conduct and name-calling is a form of bullying. Although, tattling to the big boss might be unwise. We're all adults around here; I need to learn how to handle tricky quandaries.

Moreover, as much as it pains me to admit, Liam and Natalie are close—not in the literal sense. Since she's one of Liam's many conquests, she frequently joins him in the office, returning thirty minutes later, flustered and spent. It's highly unlikely he'll placate and cosset me, anyway. Not at the cost of upsetting her.

"There's someone on the phone for you, new girl," Natalie quips, intentionally ramming her shoulder into me as she saunters past. "So, get gone."

Ignoring the slight acrimony in her voice, I went into the back of the bar, parked my backside on the glasswasher and put the multi-line phone to my ear. "Brad, if you're about to send me on another wild goose chase, know I'm going to defy you," I warned, battling the need to laugh. "The last job you gave me was too far." When Brad's bored, I become his targeted pastime. "I am still traumatised by that bathroom job." He'd ordered me to clean the accessible toilets knowing a frenzied couple occupied it. "Comprende?"

"Miss Haines," Liam said sharply, and I all but fainted. "My office. Now."

The phone line went flat in tandem with my heart rate.

"What did he want?" Natalie lingers in the doorway, expressionless.

"He summoned me to his office." I placed the handheld down, released a shaken breath.

"He never calls you to the office." Natalie squared her shoulders. "Did he say why?"

"No." Her anxiousness was hilarious. I opened the door, and roaring music fell into the room. "I'll be back in a moment."

"If you touch him..." She snatched my elbow, an unmistakable threat gleaming in her eyes. "I'll make your life hell."

"Go ahead." I slapped her hand away. "I'm tired of your shit, Natalie. I am not here to take orders from you."

Her nostrils flare. "Liam is mine."

"This is insane. I refuse to participate in your juvenile nonsense any longer." Before our disagreement could escalate, I slid into the dance room, fought my way through the unruly customers and headed for Liam's office.

I take a moment to collect myself, venturing down the hallway, past unapproachable, positioned Suits. Liam doesn't request me to his office—ever. I mull over the last few weeks to be sure I hadn't done anything questionable. My lunch date with Josh came down on me like a killer tsunami.

What if Josh informed Liam about my snooping?

"Oh, shit," I whispered, massaging my sudden throbbing temples.

Dropping my arms to my sides, I jerk my hands, generating blood flow, and grudgingly knock on Liam's door. Eight Suits guard the boss' floor and, although they're reserved and poised, I feel their curious eyes drilling into me. "It's cold, right?" I asked the tall one, rubbing my arms.

He wordlessly side-eyed me, unmoving, unblinking, devoid of any emotion.

"Come in," Liam calls, his hoarse voice sprouting my skin with goose pimples.

Pulling a deep breath, I opened the door and poked my head inside. "You wanted to see me."

Liam stands behind his desk, eyes on the monitors, fingers working the keyboard. "Sit down," he orders.

I don't think I even felt the floor under my heels. I became seated opposite his desk, my heart beating violently in my chest, breathing more unsteadily than I'd like.

Liam's yet to look at me. I warily watch him stride across the room to fix himself a drink. He returns with two glasses, head tipping toward the leather seating accommodation. "Sofa."

Nodding vigorously, I clambered off the chair and relocated to the sofa, thanking him for the whiskey.

He joins me, though, there's a safe distance between us. His rigid posture was concerning, but he relaxed into the leather, casually parting his thighs, getting comfortable.

It's eerily quiet. I downed my drink in one, placed the empty glass onto the coffee table, interlaced my fingers together, stopping my inconvenient shakes.

"Do you know why I've called you here?" He knocks his drink back, almost relishing in that burn travelling down his throat. "Alexa?"

Masquerading my trepidations, I pouted, hollowing my cheeks. "No."

His eyes on me, he draped an arm on the sofa rear. "You went for lunch today."

Josh sold me out.

Why did he betray our trust? Especially after I'd helped him with that stupid waitress.

"I did," I said unconfidently, blood rushing to my cheeks. "I ate lunch."

"Miss Haines, I don't care that you went for lunch. You're permitted to eat." His calm voice fails to mollify me. "Our fraternisation policy outlines guidelines on employees forming personal relationships with each other. Now, I don't want the club to undue restrictions regarding dating as I acknowledge that freedom of choosing one's partner is an individual's right. However, colleagues who date often result in messy breakups, leaving me to pick up the pieces."

My jaw hit the floor.

I am too dumbfounded to respond.

"Your relationship with Josh needs to end, or I'll have no choice but to dismiss one of you." He lifted his eyes to mine, saying, "As Josh has worked for me the longest, it'll likely be you."

I'm pleased Josh hadn't rushed to Liam telling tales and, although he doesn't know I was mentally scolding him, I'm inclined to leave the office and apologise.

On the other hand, I'm royally pissed at my boss.

How dare he chuck a non-existent dating policy in my face?

It's ludicrous. The Suits fondle with the dancers. Liam pursues anybody who sports a vagina. "I'm not dating Josh. We're friends—friends who were both hungry, so they ate lunch together." I popped a brow, unable to curb my scorn. "Besides, I wasn't aware there were policies, given the fact that everybody seems to sleep with each other—you included." You walking contradiction, I inwardly muttered.

Those blue eyes held my furious ones, the muscle in his sharp jaw ticking. "Who I choose to fuck, Miss Haines, frankly, is none of your goddamn business. Last I checked, this was my building. My staff. My club. I can do and say whatever the fuck I want."

He makes a significant point, so I decided not to grace him with a comeback.

"Listen, as long your relationship with Josh is strictly platonic, I have no further reservations...Brad mentioned you covered a double shift." He respired a veil of smoke, and I nodded. "It's quieting down now, so I'm happy for you to finish early." He soared to his feet, collected my glass and returned to the minibar. "Would you care for another drink?"

"Yes, please." I kicked off my heels, crossed my legs, becoming comfortable. "Thank you." His behaviour is both nerve-wracking and exciting. I never spend time with my boss. And I seldom unwind in his office—not like the others.

Liam passed me a drink. His finger grazed mine, and a sharp shot of electricity rippled between us, though, he seemingly didn't notice.

He sits closer this time, his thigh-grazing mine. The innocuous contact had my spine straightening. I often wonder if those innocent body brushes are conscious acts. It's not the first time he's made subtle touches. Each occasion, he gains the same response from me, flushed cheeks, awkward posture, occasionally breathless.

When I first met Liam, I couldn't fathom how handsome he was, but never in a million years did I think I'd become this attracted to him.

I really like him.

And that admittance petrifies me.

I am forever seeking him out while I'm supposed to be working, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Sometimes, I find him watching me, and those smouldering blues scatter butterflies across my chest. Moments later, one of the dancers enters his office, resulting in a hellacious hailstorm dampening my spirit.

It's a painful reminder that Liam Warren is, not only a corrupt and successful tycoon but a serial philanderer. The man loves women, so these intense, overbearing feelings I have towards him is a predictable broken heart.

"How do you like working for me?" His arm revisited the back of the sofa. "Does the extra money exceed expectations?"

"I love it here," I admit, omitting Natalie and Cherry. "The guys are great. I've learnt the names of most regulars, and Brad is starting to grow on me."

When I first met Brad Jones, I thought he was an arrogant, cocky prick. Honestly, he isn't that bad. He's the wrong kind of confident, egotistical and beautiful. I don't like the way he treats and discards women, though, I intend to keep my nose out from where it doesn't belong and concentrate on building a platonic relationship with him.

"And the money?"

"It's made life easier." I've barely touched this month's wages, accustomed to frugal spending.

Liam absently rotates his gold thumb ring. "What about me?"

"Yeah." I deviated my eyes to the hardwood floor. "I mean, I don't see you much, but I like you." I cursed under my breath, pinching my lips tight. "Shit. I like working with you."

Seriously, Alexa? You docile woman.

Why not proclaim your undying obsession while you're on the subject?

Setting his glass onto the coffee table, he folded his arms, and I could smell the masculine scent of his cologne. His amused yet pleased smirk was genuine, the gravitational chemistry with this man steals my breath away. "You're unassuming," he said so quietly I almost missed oit. "How are you getting on with the ladies?"

Now would be an excellent opportunity to discuss my predicament with Natalie. "They seem nice," I lied, deciding to power through for a little while longer. "I get on better with the men, though."

"I bet," he muttered, his eyebrows curling into a frown. "And you are happy with the job?"

Truthfully, although I'm still nervous about the unknown, I love working for Liam. It all started because I was looking for my sister, but the longer I stay here, the more comfortably I adapted to routine.

Before I guaranteed a spot at Club 11, my life was relatively mundane. Sure, I have a stable relationship with Chloe and Kathy, but I wasn't going anywhere. I hadn't gone to college and barely had a good enough reason to roll out of bed in the morning. I overate ice cream—still do, for that matter. Watched too much brain dampening television, drank my weight in cheap beer and vodka, cleaned the flat so many times that I'm confident bleach fumes impeded my senses.

Basically, I relied on my sister. Now she's gone; her absence coerced me to leave my protective shell, to stop being a wallflower.

I haven't worked here long, yet I've already adjusted and grown. If I had to leave, I'd be devastated and heartbroken. For the first time in my worthless life, I have a reason to open my eyes in the morning.

"Where did you go?" He asked in a rough voice, lowering his head to look at me. "Why do you do that?"

"I get lost in my thoughts." I'm surprised he noticed. "To answer your original question: I love working you—for you." Holy shit, Alexa. You illiterate muppet. "I like working with you."

He laughed throatily, scratching an itch above his brow. "Alexa, relax. I'm glad you like working for me."

I think that's the first time he's acknowledged me as Alexa rather than Miss Haines. I smiled. I prefer friendly, relaxed Liam.

His laughter diminished, evasive expression resurfacing. "You're a nice girl. I'm glad I hired you."

An awkward muteness filtered between us, neither breaking eye contact. I should look away—should probably leave. I don't, though. I hold his penetrating glare, feel the intensity in my core.

A part of me wonders if this is why he called me in here. He uses his spare time with women. Perhaps, as we've never stepped over the line, he's interested.

The sheer notion had my head shaking. Liam's not into me. There have been a few occasions over the weeks where he's stood close, accidentally brushed my arms with his knuckles, or when he's spoken, I've felt his warm breath on my cheek. And, of course, there was my strange interview and him threatening me in the cleaning cupboard; however, nothing escalates between us, irrelevant to how much I craved him touching me again, or desired to feel his lips on mine.

I dared to look at him, and my lips parted.

Did I move closer or did he?

Liam's heavy-lidded eyes captivated mine, the pads of his cold fingers cautiously traced my shoulder, searing my flesh, a cold chill ascending down my spine. His movements stopped, a goading challenge in his eyes. At least, I think he's challenging me, but I can't be sure.

I dropped my eyes to his full lips as he pulled the bottom one between his teeth. Everything inside me screams to be brazen, place a hand on his chest, initiate something, prompt him to come closer, tempt him to kiss me—a real kiss. Not a stolen one that makes you vomit, or destroy your dreams. A kiss that seizes the air from your lungs, like the ones in the movies, a breath-snatching moment.

You're not special, Alexa, my subconscious mind reminds me, he was with Natalie a few hours ago.

Discerning my insecurities and doubts, he lifted his hand, curled it around the back of the sofa, knuckles turning white.

"I should go," I whispered, staggering to my feet, slipping on my heels.

I combed my fingers through my hair, looked down and found him shamelessly checking me out. He examines me from the polished red varnish on my toes, glittering body shimmer on my legs, lingering on my non-existent breasts before reaching my eyes—all while he sips his whiskey, without a care in the world, cool as a cucumber.

He curled an eyebrow, daring me to admonish him. As an alternative, I burst out laughing. My eyes watered with amused tears, easing the nervous turbulence in my stomach.

"Why are you laughing?"

"I actually have no idea," I lied, too unconfident to tell him what I truly want.

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