All you need, p.1
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       All You Need, p.1

         Part #3 of Need You series by Lorelei James  



  One

  ___

  ANNIKA

  The first time I met professional hockey player Axl Hammerquist, the maître d’ busted him banging our waitress in the coat check room.

  The second time I met Axl Hammerquist, he insulted me before texting me a half-naked picture of himself.

  The third time I met Axl Hammerquist, I caught him doing body shots with two scantily clad blondes.

  I did not have high hopes for this meeting.

  I considered it a bad sign that I’d literally taken a wrong turn in St. Paul. Even as a Twin Cities native I occasionally got lost. I pulled over and tried not to yell instructions at my Bluetooth on who to call.

  My assistant, Deanna, picked up on the second ring. “Annika Lund’s office.”

  “Why hasn’t someone invented GPS that takes oral commands? Where I could channel Uhura and set a course by speaking the address into the com instead of having to stop the car and physically type it in?” I complained.

  “I love it when you show your inner Trekkie geek, boss. Envision me sitting at my desk making the Vulcan sign for ‘live long and prosper.’”

  “Envision me attempting a Vulcan mind meld on you instead of asking you to please text me the address again.”

  “No problem.”

  After I typed it in, I realized I hadn’t been remotely close to where I’d needed to be and the program rerouted me. “Thanks, D.”

  “Good luck. I have Pilates at six, but I’ll be around after that to bail you out of jail.”

  “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. See you tomorrow.”

  Once I’d found the place—in a bit of a sketchy neighborhood—I parked. I passed by the sign that was hammered into the strip of grass in front of the ten-story building and that indicated the structure had been zoned as a multiuse space for offices and residences with “retail space coming soon”—soon being a relative term.

  Inside, the lobby wasn’t anything special. A high ceiling that ate up half of the second story. Three seating areas done in gray and teal. Glossy floors sporadically covered by rugs. Nondescript artwork. A receptionist’s desk was off to the left and a security guard station blocked the bank of elevators on the right side.

  I smiled at the secretary. “Annika Lund here to see Peter Skaarn.”

  “I’m sorry to say Mr. Skaarn has been detained. Please have a seat in the lobby and I’ll let you know when he’s free.”

  I managed a smile and walked to the farthest corner from the desk to brood and look out the windows. Why couldn’t I cool my heels in Peter’s reception area? Maybe I needed this moment to batten down my mental hatches.

  Both times I’d said no to aiding Peter’s client before . . . I’d ended up saying yes.

  Peter would cajole me.

  And the hockey pucker would . . .

  You know what you’d like him to do to you.

  Okay. So maybe I’d been rendered speechless the first time I stood in the shadow of Axl “The Hammer” Hammerquist. The Swedish hockey player redefined hot. His handsome, angular face, his wavy hair, his strength and abilities on the ice.

  Not even his icy attitude diminished his hotness.

  Our first meeting had started out badly. My family had strong-armed me into welcoming Axl and another hockey player to the Twin Cities on behalf of my cousin Jaxson—Axl’s former teammate with the Chicago Blackhawks. I hadn’t known what to expect beyond that I’d been asked to utilize my Swedish translation skills because of Axl’s inability to speak English. I’d even coerced my cousin Dallas into attending the dinner to even up the male-to-female ratio.

  So I’d become a tongue-tied twit when Axl approached me at the restaurant.

  But his arrogance quickly snapped me out of my holy shit silent admiration.

  He wasn’t interested in conversation.

  However, he wasn’t interested in drinking either, which I appreciated.

  When the waitress arrived to take our order, he mooed at her to indicate what he wanted to order, which caused her to laugh.

  He finally asked me a question: could I order him a huge steak dinner and find out if the waitress was single?

  The night had gone downhill from there.

  Dallas and the other hockey player, Igor, had been cozied up, whispering back and forth somehow despite the language barrier. Meanwhile Axl flirted with our waitress, using sexy smiles, smoldering glances and “accidental” touches. I’d decided to take off when Axl’s agent, Peter Skaarn, joined us for coffee and dessert.

  I understood why Dallas and Igor had bailed. But Axl had also disappeared.

  That was when the situation morphed from irritating to bizarre.

  Peter admitted he’d set up the dinner with my mother’s assistance—they were old friends from Sweden—because he needed my help. My brother Jensen—a tight end with the Vikings—had contacted Peter’s prestigious sports agency about representation. And Peter, who already had a full client list, had agreed to rep Jensen as a favor to my mother. So when she’d bragged that I was the genius in charge of Lund Industries’ PR department, Peter suggested that Mom repay the favor by asking (ha! as if she’d given me a choice) me to spearhead a campaign to revamp a client’s image.

  The client in question? Axl. Who apparently had a reputation as a ladies’ man, a bad-boy brawler and a party animal. Last year his vices had affected his career—hence getting traded from the Blackhawks to the Minnesota Wild. Axl needed an image overhaul: from being a playa to being a hockey player focused one hundred percent on proving he was an asset to his new team.

  Before I could point out my PR experience was in building brands, Axl had sauntered back to the table. His disheveled appearance suggested he’d been either attacked or fucked.

  Like any guy would be dumb enough to attack a Nordic giant like “The Hammer.”

  Our waitress, who’d also been suspiciously absent during that time, had returned equally unkempt and handed Axl the coat check ticket he’d “forgotten”—in her cleavage apparently.

  Then the maître d’ approached our table and asked us to leave, pointedly telling Axl the coat check room was a place to hook up coats, not hook up.

  Too bad the smug Swede hadn’t understood English, because that classy admonishment was the best I’d ever heard.

  At that point I’d declined Peter’s proposal.

  Of course, my mother’s machinations and guilt trips knew no bounds.

  After her repeated pleas with me to consider my brother’s future, the emotional manipulation succeeded and I’d ended up meeting with Peter and Axl in the stands at the Parade Ice Garden, the Wild’s alternative practice rink.

  And despite mentally preparing myself not to respond to his powerful physical presence, once again lust bombarded me upon seeing Axl in action on the ice. His big, muscled body looked built for speed and aggression, his intensity obvious even in the back row of the arena. The man was mesmerizing.

  My attraction to him—completely unwanted—wasn’t the norm for me. I went for intellectual guys or arty hipster types. My brothers claimed I chose beta men because as the alpha, I could boss them around. There was some truth to that. They also pointed out a skinny dude would be easier for them to snap like a twig if he wronged me.

  Instead of trooping off to the locker room after practice ended, Axl removed his helmet and gloves and scanned the bleachers.

  Why did he have to look so damn good soaked in sweat?

  Peter hadn’t arrived yet and I had felt the weight of Axl’s gaze on me. But his handsome face remained stoic, so I couldn’t read him.

  He towel-dried his hair, right there on the rink—do not imagine he’s wet and naked after exiting the shower—and tossed the towel aside.

  Then he left the ice.

  Fifteen minutes later he and Peter walked into the arena.

  Peter waved to me—or waved me down.

  But Axl snagged a water bottle and scaled the four-plus flights of stairs up to me as if he hadn’t just practiced for three hours.

  Impressive stamina.

  Peter clapped Axl on the back before he sat next to me. “Looking good out there, Axl. I’ve been here a little while, watching the coaches watching you.”

  “Thanks.” He squirted a stream of water in his mouth. A few droplets spilled out and trickled down to mingle with the beads of sweat dotting his neck.

  Stop crushing on him like a teenage girl. Focus. Be the PR professional you are. Besides, he’s a jerk. “I’m sorry, Peter. What did you say?”

  “That you’ve agreed to spearhead Axl’s PR.”

  I faced him. “I said I’d look at the packet of media mentions that the Wild PR team provided to see if there’s a workable angle.”

  “Let’s get started.”

  “Right here, right now?” Axl said, glaring at the file folder on Peter’s lap. “Can’t it wait?”

  “I agree with Ax-hell. I haven’t had time to look through it and make notes. I can’t create a campaign on the fly. This will take planning.”

  Axl leaned forward. “What’s in this for you?”

  “My brother gets a top-notch agent.”

  That surprised him.

  I cocked my head. “Speaking of media mentions . . . there was one about your superior stick-handling skills on Twitter this morning. The waitress from the other night gave you high ‘service’ marks.”

  “I don’t read anything on Twitter.”

  I shrugged. “Ignoring the things you’re caught doing doesn’t negate the fact that you did them.”

  “How would you spin that, Miss PR?”

  “I wouldn’t try. I believe the whole point of this”—exercise in futility—“is to stop you from doing stupid things like banging a waitress in a coat closet.”

  “I don’t need a fucking babysitter, Attila.”

  “Annika . . . Attila . . . I get it. Funny, puck-head.” I addressed Peter in English. “Is that folder filled with incidents like that?”

  He sighed. “I honestly don’t know.”

  “Don’t you employ a social media person who tracks your clients’ online presence?”

  “Yes. Some things slipped through. Our newest employee is backtracking and tagging everything and updating files. But that isn’t the point.” He focused on Axl. “The team’s PR person was in touch with me first thing this morning about the tweet, asking if there’d be pictures forthcoming.”

  “No.” Axl squirted another stream of water into his mouth. Then he said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m here, practicing my ass off. That’s all they need to know.”

  “Good. The next time you’re tempted and think it doesn’t matter? Think again. It does. Walk away,” Peter said.

  “A concept we can all agree on, right?”

  Axl’s gaze started at my knees and roved up my body, lingering on my chest and my mouth. When our eyes met, his were as smoldering hot as a blue flame, even when his clipped “Stay out of my sex life” was frigid.

  I laughed. “That’ll be easy, because you won’t have one.”

  “Wanna take bets on that?”

  “Enough, Axl. She’s here to help you, so you must cooperate with her.”

  “Sounds to me like she’s all about helping her brother.”

  That was when Peter took Axl aside.

  I snagged the media reports and scanned them. You lead a big life, Axl Hammerquist, which is why you’re in big trouble.

  I tried to wrap my head around two items on the list that had to be a joke. He’d gotten tossed out of the zoo for trying to climb into the bear cage. And he’d broken his collarbone wresting an alligator.

  Before I could read further, Peter interrupted me. “I hate to cut this short, but we have a meeting with a potential sponsor.”

  “No problem.”

  “You two should exchange phone numbers,” Peter said.

  I whipped my phone out and added him as AX-HOLE HAMMERTIME—in all caps—and punched in the number Peter recited. I resisted the urge to send him half a dozen middle finger emojis when I fired off a text.

  His text to me? A picture of a bare-chested man who apparently lived in the freakin’ gym because he had the buffest chest I’d ever seen. Super-defined pecs. Even the hard nipples were muscled. His bulky biceps and triceps were works of art. I tracked the pic from the washboard abs at the bottom to the sexy grin at the top. No other part of Axl’s face was visible, just the angular jawline and lips stretched wide into an “I’m sexy and I’d rock your world” grin.

  My gaze snapped to Axl’s face and he aimed a smile at me, an identical replica of the one on my phone screen.

  He’d sent me a tit pic? God, he was arrogant. But at least he hadn’t sent a dick pic.

  “You two all squared away with each other?” Peter had asked.

  More like we’d squared off against each other. “Yes, I compiled a list of rules for Axl to follow until we meet again.”

  Peter said, “Hit us with them.”

  “No nightclubs, no day clubs, no dance clubs. No bars—including titty bars, piano bars, coffee bars and monkey bars. No hookers, no escorts, no meter maids, no waitresses, no baristas. No fucking in public—including coat closets and bathrooms, a town fountain and the ninth hole on the golf course. No fighting, no spitting, no vodka-shooters contest, no public urination. Last, no drag racing, no wrestling—bears or alligators.” I paused to take a breath. “That covers all your bad behavior from the last year. Or have I missed something?”

  Ooh, Mr. Drool Over My Hot Chest wasn’t smiling now.

  I looked at Peter. He didn’t know what was in the report? My ass. He knew exactly what kind of troublemaker his client was. I handed him the folder. “If Ax-wipe can follow those rules? He’s back to being golden. Consider that my official PR recommendation.”

  And until Saturday night I hadn’t needed to see Axl. I’d heard from him via text. So the pucktard should’ve heeded my warning instead of openly defying me and putting on a drunken show—

  “Miss Lund?”

  I blinked. Whoa. I hadn’t meant to drift that far when battening down the hatches. “Yes?”

  “Mr. Skaarn is ready for you now.”

  “Thank you.”

  At the elevator, the guard didn’t stop me. I frowned at him. “Don’t you require ID?”

  “For anyone else? Yes. But I recognize you from the media. Plus, your mother was here yesterday, and you are the spitting image of her.”

  Don’t remind me. She’s the reason I’m in this mess. “Thank you.” I turned and walked down the short hallway to the door marked STAIRS.

  “Miss Lund? The elevators are right here.”

  I avoided elevators whenever possible. This did not look to be one of those times. “Sorry. My mind was elsewhere.” I poked the up button and the elevator doors opened. Thankfully the car wasn’t super small. I hit the button for the tenth floor and started my tried-and-true mental chant before the doors slid shut.

  The space is not closing in on you.

  The lights will not go out.

  The doors will not get stuck.

  You will not be trapped.

  There is plenty of oxygen in here.

 
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