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What you need, p.10
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       What You Need, p.10

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  “No promises,” he said as he hefted the bin and headed toward the picnic table.

  Kiley pointed to the case of water and the cooler. “Let’s load the water on top of the cooler and each take a handle.”

  After we dropped the cooler off, I noticed two more kids had shown up. A short Hispanic girl and a rail-thin redhead who stood at least six feet tall.

  “Hey, Kiki,” the redhead said. “I brought my basketball.”

  “Great. I see that you talked fiery Maria into coming today.” Kiley addressed her in Spanish and the girl responded, adding a flurry of hand gestures.

  “I don’t wanna play ball with girls,” DeMarius complained.

  “You might not have a choice if it’s just the five of us.”

  Whoa. I had not signed on to participate in some athletic contest. I was not the sporty kind. At all.

  “Check out your girl Lennox’s face,” DeMarius said with a laugh.

  Kiley looked at me. “What?”

  “I’m fine shaking up spray cans and such, but you are not getting me on that court, K.”

  “DeMan is such a ball hog you wouldn’t get to play much anyway,” the redhead said.

  “Red. You’re just pissed ’cause you’re tall and you oughta be good at playing ball but you suck it up bad on the court.”

  I was seriously screwed if these kids all had nicknames as well as real names. Three was about my limit to keep straight.

  “We’ll see if your moves are better, DeMan, because I stuffed you last time.” Another kid had joined us, except he didn’t look like a kid. He had a full beard and was built like he spent his time in a gym, not in high school.

  “Juice,” Kiley said with a smile. “Glad you’re here.”

  “Well, if this is all who shows up, I ain’t staying long.”

  Kiley shrugged. “Suit yourself. It’s not a requirement for you to be here.”

  “I thought Jonesie would drag his sorry ass along with you, since he’s livin’ with you and shit,” DeMan said.

  “My old man is a dickhead. He said Jonesie had to pay rent if stayed there. So Jonesie’s been crashing somewhere else.”

  That caught Kiley’s attention. “Did he go home?”

  “I doubt it. His stepdad getting outta jail is what made him crash with me.”

  Even as I was trying to place the ages of these kids, four more showed up: a chubby white boy, a lanky black boy with a younger black girl who looked to be his sister, and another man/boy with dreadlocks who I guessed to be part Native American.

  “Seems you got your wish, DeMan. There are enough people to play three on three.”

  The kids all started talking at once and their level of energy hit me. It had been a lifetime for me since I’d been around teens—I’d preferred the company of adults even when I’d been a teen myself.

  Kiley clapped her hands. “Before we do anything, this is Lennox. She’s my roommate and she’s here to help out.”

  “Roommate?” Dreadlocks said with a snicker and elbowed Juice.

  “Or is she your girlfriend?” Juice asked. “Because I’m gonna be pissed if I’ve been usin’ my best moves on you, Kiki, and you play for the other team.”

  The group laughed.

  Before Kiley—I had to remember to call her Kiki—answered, the group’s attention zoomed in on something behind me. Kiki and I turned at the same time.

  Her “Holy shit” summed it up perfectly.

  Brady Lund stood fifty feet away.

  Chapter Nine

  Lennox

  ‡

  No freaking way.

  “Isn’t that . . . the guy who got ditched at the sushi joint?” Kiley asked.

  “Yes.”

  “And he’s your boss?”

  “Technically . . . no.”

  “Then why is he here if he’s not tracking your ass down to finish some paperwork or some damn thing?” she demanded.

  Good question. Why was he here? A thought occurred to me. “What’s the name of the organization sending a volunteer?” I asked Kiley.

  “LCCO. Why?”

  I groaned. I’d seen that name on inner-office memos. “That stands for Lund Cares Community Outreach. That’s Brady Lund. CFO of Lund Industries.”

  “You’re kidding me, right? Why is a CFO wasting time doing community service?” She paused. “Not that it’s a waste of time, but damn, Lennox. We never get the bigwigs to help out. It’s usually the bigwigs’ wives or lackeys or employees on probation.”

  I knew that. So I was equally confused. “Did you list my name as a volunteer?”

  “No.”

  So there was no way Brady knew I’d be here. This was just one of those weird coincidences.

  Wasn’t it?

  Or fate, some ridiculously romantic voice trilled inside my head.

  I mentally snarled at it to piss off.

  “Come on.” Kiley nudged me with her shoulder. “Follow my lead, even if it doesn’t make any sense.”

  Right. Last time she said that? I ended up hungover and could barely say the word “kamikaze” without barfing.

  As we approached him, Brady wore that sexy smile and never took his eyes off me.

  My stomach had no reason to turn somersaults.

  “Mr. Lund,” my roommate said when we were ten feet away. “I need you to give Lennox a big hug like you haven’t seen her in weeks. I’ll explain afterward.”

  Brady didn’t miss a beat. He actually closed the last few feet between us and gathered me into his arms. “Good morning, dancing queen.”

  His hard chest was warm and solid against my cheek. And did he have to smell so good? I wrapped my arms around his waist.

  “Here’s the breakdown, Mr. Lund. I’m Kiley Kinslie and I work in the Hennepin County Outreach program. I had no idea the LCCO would send their best and brightest to volunteer. While I’m grateful for it, there are two things we need to address ASAP.”

  “Go on.”

  “First, since you and Lennox know each other, and I don’t need my boys drooling over her, let’s go with the story that you two are in a relationship and that’s why you’re here volunteering. Second, if these kids find out you’re Richie Rich, it’ll be twice as hard to get them to accept you.”

  “Sounds logical and that works for me. How do you know Lennox?”

  “We’re roommates,” I said. I tipped my head back to look at him, but couldn’t quite make my arms release him. “And I don’t see how this will work.”

  “What part?”

  “Any of it. You’re . . .” All that and a bag of supersized chips, baby. “You. You scream da man.”

  “Seriously? As in da man keeping them down?”

  I blushed. Back to insulting him at every turn. Way to go.

  “I’m not a total dumbass, Lennox. I didn’t drive my 7-series BMW here and I’m hardly dressed like a corporate executive.”

  True. He wore loose nylon athletic shorts, a T-shirt and a warm-up jacket. His jaw was covered in dark scruff. In my mind he still managed to look powerful. But I couldn’t admit that, so I went with the other issue. “These kids are street-smart, Mr. Lund. None of them will believe we’re involved.”

  “By all means, Miss Greene. Let’s test that theory.”

  The next thing I knew, his hands were on my hips and he lowered his face to my neck. He settled his warm lips on the pulse point of my throat and then glided his mouth up and down before he eased back to look at me.

  I swayed against him, my fingers digging into his biceps.

  Kiley laughed. “Yeah, they’ll believe it. Let’s get back. Remember, no last names. Also remember they’re kids, so giving us—and each other—shit is their way. Roll with it but always err on the side of less is more. If you find yourselves in a situation out of your comfort zone, let me know.”

  No way would I admit that I was already out of my comfort zone.

  Without waiting for our response, Kiley walked off.

  Brady kept his hand in th
e small of my back as we followed her. He put his mouth on my ear. “Don’t mess up and call me Mr. Lund, Lennox.”

  “Why are you here? Office gossip indicates that you work six—sometimes seven—days a week.”

  “I’m here because volunteering for causes is what Lunds do, according to my mother. And it was either this or humiliate myself at a bachelor auction.”

  “Why would you humiliate yourself? You’d probably raise thousands of dollars.”

  He chuckled. “You flatter me. I’m the nerdy bean counter, too analytical for most women’s taste, and I’m also a workaholic, so, statistically speaking, I wouldn’t be the top draw.”

  I stopped, forcing him to stop too. “Are you serious or is this some self-deprecating attempt to get me to say something else complimentary about you?”

  “I’m serious.” In a nervous, fidgety movement, he adjusted the Vikings baseball cap on his head. “I prefer to work behind the scenes rather than in the spotlight.”

  That didn’t surprise me. His family name was synonymous with power in the Twin Cities, and he maintained a lower profile than any of his siblings and cousins. But this show of uncertainty did surprise me. The man defined confident.

  Didn’t he?

  Brady curled his hand around the side of my face, his gaze firmly on the left side of my mouth. Then his thumb slid over to stroke my bottom lip. “This lip ring . . . Christ, do you have any idea how much I want to suck on it?”

  The sexy way he growled that sent slow, delicious heat unfurling in my belly.

  “Before the end of the day, Lennox, I’ll know what that metal feels like on my tongue.”

  A tingle shot from his gentle stroking motion on my mouth straight between my thighs.

  “Come on, you two—let’s get a jump on this,” Kiley shouted.

  One of the kids said something and they all laughed.

  Brady smiled. “Let’s do this thang.”

  That phrase sounded all sorts of wrong coming from him, but it charmed me.

  We stopped outside the half circle where Kiley held court.

  “Intros. Everyone, this is Brady. He’s a volunteer. He’s also attached to Lennox, so they’re both off-limits.”

  A chorus of boos broke out.

  Kiley pointed to each kid and introduced them. DeMarius “DeMan,” Willa aka Red, Feisty Maria, Juice. The chubby white kid’s name was Owen, dreadlocks had the un-PC name Tonto, the skinny black kid’s name was Quay, his sister was Needra.

  “Who’s doin’ what?” Tonto demanded. “I came to play ball and we ain’t got enough for one team.”

  “Who all wants to play ball?” Kiley asked.

  Tonto, Juice, DeMan, Quay, Red and Brady’s hands all shot up.

  “Six total. Play three on three,” Kiki suggested.

  “She’s a damn girl,” DeMan complained about Red.

  “A girl who can outshoot you,” she shot back.

  “Prove it.”

  Kiley signaled for time-out. She looked at Brady. “You’re team captain one.” Then she looked at DeMan. “You’re team captain two. You were here first, so you pick first.”

  “Juice.”

  They high-fived.

  Brady pointed at Red. “You.”

  She seemed surprised, but pleased.

  DeMan picked Tonto, which left Quay on Brady’s team.

  “We’ll leave you to it. When you’re done, come over to the wall.”

  The rest of us followed Kiley to the picnic table. She pointed at the brick building. “While dirty words have their place, it’s not on the side of a building. We’re gonna fix that today. So I see two options. One, we paint over the entire side, or we redo the words and incorporate them into some kind of design.

  “The last option,” Owen said. “It won’t be hard to turn the C into an O. Then we can fill it in with whatever we want.”

  “Everyone in agreement?” Kiki asked the others.

  “Owen should be in charge. He’s a great artist,” Maria said.

  Owen blushed.

  Since I was about as artistic as I am athletic, I volunteered to shake up the paint cans and act as the all-around gofer. Which also meant I could watch the basketball game.

  After Brady took off his jacket, revealing muscled arms and a broad chest with pectorals so defined I could actually see the outline of them through his cotton T-shirt, I wished he’d been playing on the skins team.

  And he played with a balance of aggressiveness and teamwork. I’d wondered if he’d be overly competitive, not only because these kids were younger than him, but also because his brother was a professional athlete. So I had to admit his sense of fair play intrigued me.

  One time he caught me watching him and he stole the ball and sank a jump shot. The way he moved that lean body was almost as compelling as the cocky grin he aimed in my direction.

  “You’ve been holding out on me, roomie,” Kiley said behind me.

  “I haven’t. I ran into him last night at Maxie’s, which was almost as bizarre as him being the corporate volunteer. I’ve worked at Lund for almost a year and before last week I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen him. Now it’s like he’s everywhere.”

  “The universe is telling you something.”

  I turned to face her. “Telling me what?”

  She shrugged. “Don’t know yet. But there is a reason you two keep ending up at the same places—outside of work.”

  A shout brought us back to the wall to help out.

  The next time I happened to glance over at the game, the players had switched it up and Brady was playing for the skins team.

  And I froze in place, seeing the musculature rippling in his back as he jumped to block, but Red shot over him and the ball dropped neatly through the hoop.

  That must’ve been the game ender. Both teams high- and low-fived as they walked off the court toward the picnic table.

  After Brady plucked his shirt off the ground and used it to mop his face and neck, his gaze connected with mine.

  It took every ounce of willpower I had not to let my focus drop to the dark hair covering his chest, or fall lower to what I assumed were killer abs, or become mesmerized by the way his biceps flexed as he walked closer, holding his T-shirt.

  Eyes on his face, eyes on his face—crap, my eyes did their own thing and dipped down to his neck and across those wide shoulders and down over his furred chest to the little pillows of flesh that comprised his abs. I forced my traitorous eyes to zoom back up to his and not drop, even for a second, to what he had going on below the waistband of his athletic shorts.

  He stopped a foot away from me, a grin playing at the corners of his mouth. “I thought my girlfriend would have a bottle of water
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