King's Gambit (Road To Redemption #1) - Aiden Bates
Even through the soundproofed walls and the one-way mirror in front of me, the bass from the DJ’s speakers throbbed loud enough to vibrate through my fine leather shoes and into my bones. I swirled my whiskey in the highball glass I was holding, savoring the familiar clink of the ice inside.
Below me, the dance floor was writhing with people. It was a typical Saturday night at my club, King’s Gambit, and every week it seemed like we got busier. My office was on the second floor, with a huge panel of one-way glass that overlooked the dance floor so I could see the activity in the club, without any of the patrons seeing me. From my perch in my office, the bar gleamed, pristinely clean despite the number of staff and patrons bustling around.
Strobing lights reflected off the shiny black bar, and happy, drunken people filled the booths along the smoke-mirrored walls and the chessboard patterned dance floor. I watched as a server in a tight red shirt slunk into one of the private rooms dotting the back walls, with a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket and four glasses dangling expertly from his fingers. All the private rooms were filled for the evening—that’d be a nice boost to the night’s numbers.
It was a busy, bustling club. And it was mine. Even as I stood here in my own private office, in a tailored suit that hid the biggest of my tattoos, I sometimes couldn’t believe it. It hadn’t been easy building this club up from scratch. It still wasn’t easy keeping things functioning, profitable—and, most importantly, clean of drug or weapons dealers.
But somehow it was working.
The DJ said something I couldn’t quite understand, the music pounded, and the clubgoers shouted in delight as more thick fog poured across the floor. Pride swelled in my chest, and I couldn’t bite back a small smile as I raised my glass in an unseen toast.
My tattooed hand invaded my field of vision—brass knuckles etched in fading dark ink across my own knuckles—and the pride I’d felt seconds ago faded just as quickly as it’d risen. Funny how that happened. You’d think I’d be used to the sight of the tattoo by now, and usually it didn’t bother me much, but sometimes it was an unhappy reminder of who I used to be.
I’d come a long way, sure, but it didn’t make up for all the things I’d done on the streets for so many years.
A knock on the door startled me out of my thoughts, and it opened before I could give a response.
“Hey, boss,” Rhys called cheerfully as he stepped inside my office. He grinned and carded a hand through his dirty blond hair, artfully tousled with product. As general manager of King’s Gambit, he usually wore a collared shirt to separate him from the fitted t-shirts of the regular staff. Today it was a rich navy, bringing out his blue eyes. “Pretty busy tonight. Did you see all the private rooms are full?”
I nodded. “Good work. All of them getting table service?”
“You know it,” Rhys said with another broad grin.
Rhys was a hell of a charmer, an expert at upselling services to customers who rented private rooms. The club wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it was without his ideas. Technically, he was my best friend, but in reality, he was more like a brother—he’d followed me out of the gang we’d grown up with and agreed to join me on the boneheaded adventure that was starting this club.
“I’ve got one table ordering champagne by the bottle alongside the top-shelf cocktails, so look forward to seeing that transaction in the closing report.”
“Excellent,” I said with a grin. I peered over at the private rooms again, watching as the same server returned with another bottle of champagne.
At my side, where we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, Rhys suddenly stiffened. Automatically, I stiffened as well—his instincts were nearly as good as mine, and if something caught his eye, I knew something was going down. I followed his line of sight to the bar.
A big guy, obviously drunk from the way he wavered on his feet, slapped both hands against the bar top and leaned forward threateningly. Obviously, from the office I couldn’t hear what he was shouting, but it clearly wasn’t anything nice. And of course, it was directed at—
“Fuck,” I muttered, and took another sip of whiskey.
Behind the bar, Rory tilted his head to the side, one hand on his hip as