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What you need, p.19
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       What You Need, p.19

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  “Unbutton your blouse, Lennox, and let me at you.” My heart hammered as I waited for her to play along or retreat.

  Then her fingers were between us and she undid the buttons. One quick twist and the front clasp of her bra popped open. Watching my eyes, she pulled the fabric back on both sides, revealing her bare torso.

  A low growl rumbled free and I had the overwhelming urge to sink my teeth into that abundant flesh and mark her as mine. She was beautifully feminine, all soft white curves and pale pink nipples. I opened my mouth over her right breast and sucked hard, feeling that sweet tip harden beneath my stroking tongue.

  She made the sexiest noise and I wanted to keep doing that over and over to see how many more times she’d sigh and moan with bliss.

  But I backed off and looked up at her.

  Lennox met my gaze. “I’ve never been able to resist a dare.”

  I grinned. “Good to know.” I refastened her bra and redid her buttons, starting at the bottom. I placed a kiss below her belly button and worked my way up. I pulled her down until her mouth was level with mine. I said, “You are one sexy woman, Lennox Greene,” before I swept a fleeting kiss across her mouth. “Now let’s see what there is to eat.”

  Mary had left us a veritable feast: a pork roast with a side of sage and apple stuffing, a veggie medley of diced squash, corn and green beans, and homemade wheat rolls. We heated the food in unison as if we’d done it several times before, and afterward we cleaned the kitchen up. The domesticity wasn’t familiar. The women I’d dated more than a few times had never cooked for me, or I for them.

  Lennox’s arms circled my waist and she rested the side of her face on my shoulder blade. “What’re you thinking about so hard?”

  “That this should feel awkward, but it doesn’t.”

  “I was thinking the same thing. Oh, and how much I’d love to have a personal chef preparing my meals.”

  “Me too.”

  “But you could have that. Not to point out the obvious, but it’s not like money is an issue for you.”

  The way she’d said that wasn’t snarky or judgy, just matter-of-fact. I faced her and she immediately stepped in, nestling her face against my chest. Lennox was a lot more openly affectionate than I’d ever imagined. “True. It’s a multitude of issues.”

  “Such as?”

  “Such as . . . do I let the chef plan every bite that goes into my mouth? Will it always be healthy? Will it always be good? If I’m paying a lot of money for food and it isn’t what I’m in the mood for, isn’t it a waste to throw it away? How am I supposed to know what I’m hungry for a week ahead of time?”

  She smiled against my pec. “I can see you’ve thought this through.”

  “Not to mention my issue with having people in my place when I’m not there. Pawing through my kitchen and making a mess. Who wants to come home at ten at night to the lingering odor of cooked fish?”

  “First of all, there wouldn’t be an odor if you hired a good chef. Second of all, how many nights a week do you work until ten o’clock?”

  “Too many.”

  Lennox looked up at me. “Has that changed with this quest you’re on to change your life?”

  “Let’s see, last night this hot blonde dragged me out of my office right at five. But the nights before that . . . I think the earliest I made it home was nine.”

  “I imagine it’s a gradual process. One hour earlier this week, maybe an hour and a half earlier next week. Within a few months you might get done in time to make yourself dinner in your kitchen.”

  I scowled. “I have no desire to learn how to cook.”

  “If you say because it’s women’s work, I’m punching you in the stomach.”

  “Such a violent streak.” I kissed her scrunched-up nose. “But you’d have to beat my mother to the punch—ha ha—because she believed in gender equality when we were growing up. Annika had to learn how to run the lawn mower and where to put oil in her car, whereas Walker, Jens and I knew how to use a vacuum and we were well versed in scrubbing toilets.”

  “The Lund children, heirs to a billion-dollar fortune, had . . . chores?”

  “As my mother pointed out, only half of our DNA came from privilege. The other half came from hardworking blue-collar Swedes. That’s not to say Mom scrubbed her own toilets after she married Dad.”

  “I’m all pro at all kinds of cleaning. Heck, I surpassed amateur status at an early age. You might say I was a cleaning savant.”

  I laughed. She had such a way with words.

  “So now that the kitchen is cleaned up, what are we doing tonight?”

  “A hike up to the summit. I haven’t done it since I was a kid. There are no snow clouds and no moon, so we’ll really be able to see the stars.”

  “A night hike. Uphill. In the dark. With snow on the ground. And temperatures in the low single digits?” She studied me as if that was the worst torture she could imagine.

  “What? I know what you’re thinking. But you’re wrong. This suggestion does not border on serial killer behavior.”

  “No, but it definitely borders on sadism.”

  *

  Lennox

  Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep.

  I should’ve been exhausted from the hike. It was hard for me to admit I’d had fun. Mostly it was fun to see Brady so relaxed. To see him smile. To hear him laugh. To watch his very fine denim-clad ass just a few feet away, bunching and flexing with each step he took.

  To see the lust burning in his eyes every time he touched me.

  When we returned to the cabin, I’d given him a hug and a quick kiss good night.

  In the Rose Room, I stripped and crawled between the covers. The room was colder than I was used to, so I slipped on my flannel pajamas.

  I stared at the ceiling for a while. Then the walls. I don’t remember at what point that night I realized that the rose wallpaper looked like big splotches of blood.

  Once my thoughts jumped on that train, there was no getting off. I spooked myself. Big time. I swore I heard animals scratching at the window. When the hot water heater kicked on with a clank-clank-clank that sounded exactly like a ghost’s chains rattling, I threw back the covers and tore down the hallway to Brady’s room.

  Why were we on opposite ends of the hallway? To keep me out of the range of temptation?

  I opened the door slightly and peeked in.

  Of course he was snoring.

  If he was that sound asleep, maybe he wouldn’t notice until morning that I’d crawled in with him. I took a step closer and a floorboard beneath me creaked.

  The snoring stopped. He sat up. The light shining through the crack in the bathroom door cast a sliver of light across his bare torso. “Lennox? What’s wrong?”

  “I think there’s a bear trying to get into my room.”

  “A bear,” he repeated.

  “Yes, a bear. You told me there were bears up here, so you can’t expect me not to”—obsess—“think about it.”

  “Since we’re on the second floor, I’m pretty sure we’re safe from bears,” he said dryly. “Besides, I told you the bears were hibernating this time of year, so we wouldn’t see any.”

  I guessed I missed that part of the conversation. “Oh.”

  “What’s this really about?”

  He said that . . . accusingly. As if I was pretending to be scared just so I could get into his bed.

  Screw that. I was scared. I’d never slept in a cabin in the woods before, but god knows I’d seen my fair share of slasher movies detailing the horrible things that happened to people staying in a cabin in the woods—especially for the first time. My fear was not misplaced; however, my pride was much stronger than fear and I’d cower in my bed alone.

  I spun around and booked it down the hallway. I heard a noise behind me and my flight response kicked in. I screamed but I didn’t stop running until two bare muscular arms immobilized me.

  “Christ, Lennox, it’s just me.”

 
; My heart pounded so hard and so loud that it distorted his voice.

  “You scream loud enough to wake the damn dead.”

  “Leave me alone.” I hustled into the bedroom and slammed the door shut behind me. I dove onto the bed and scrambled beneath the covers.

  The door opened. The bed dipped. A warm, hard body moved in behind me. “Baby, you’re shaking like crazy.” He paused. “You weren’t pulling a prank. You really are scared.”

  Nice of you to notice and make fun. “Yes.” I scooted closer to the edge of the bed.

  “Come here.”

  “I’m fine. Go away.”

  He snaked his arm below my shoulder blades and hauled me against him.

  Immediately my shudders lessened. I relaxed into him even more when he pressed his lips into the back of my head and murmured something nonsensical and soothing.

  After I’d calmed completely, he said, “Talk to me, Lennox.”

  “I don’t know what to say. I’m not the outdoorsy type. Stuff in nature freaks me out.”

  “You don’t like camping?”

  “I’ve never been camping.”

  “Seriously?”

  “I’ve never stayed in a cabin in the woods either—although this is several steps above the rustic cabins in horror movies. But still . . . it’s unnerving to be in this big house out in the middle of nowhere.”

  “You grew up in Minnesota, right?”

  “I grew up in the Twin Cities suburbs. On the weekends my mom’s husband stayed inside and watched TV. So all the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ and outdoor life that most Minnesotans love? I never experienced any of it.”

  “That makes me sad for you. During my growing-up years I spent more time outside than inside.”

  “But you had playmates in your brothers, sister and cousins. I had no one to play with. So I stayed in my room and read.”

  “I did that late at night when I was supposed to be sleeping.”

  “See? You’ve got a rebellious wild side.”

  “I doubt that a twelve-year-old secretly poring over Fortune magazines under the bedcovers with a flashlight counts as adventurous,” he said dryly.

  I smiled. I could just see him, owl-eyed, hair sticking up everywhere, the financial magazines a different form of porn for a brainiac kid like him.

  “So you didn’t play sports?”

  “No. We didn’t go to church either. Sometimes I got to go over to a friend’s house, but it had to be a special occasion. My mom’s husband didn’t have any family around. Neither did my mom. I know I missed out on a lot. But when I was old enough to make my own choices, I didn’t choose to do anything outside or sports related because I didn’t like it.”

  “How could you know if you liked it if you never tried it?”

  “I had real-life stuff to keep me occupied, Brady. By then I didn’t have time for extracurricular activities because I had to get a job.”

  Let it go. Just let me stay warm and safe with you in the present and ignore my past.

  “How old were you when you started working?”

  “Fifteen. I wasn’t pulling fries in a fast-food restaurant. And I didn’t work for fun money to blow on nail polish, trashy magazines and candy.”

  Brady shifted and nestled his face in the curve of my neck. “Tell me all of it, Lennox. Even the things you don’t think I’ll understand.”

  So I spilled my guts to him—telling him every dark thing I’d left out before.

  He was quiet for a long time after I’d finished speaking.

  Of course he is. What did you expect? He’s heir to a billion-dollar corporation. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and he still eats with it. Your situation is a foreign concept to him. When will you ever learn that honesty isn’t always the best policy?

  I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath until he whispered, “Breathe,” and spread his hand open over my chest to make sure I did.

  I didn’t feel as if a great weight had been lifted. I didn’t feel a deeper connection to Brady. I just felt drained.

  When he finally spoke, it wasn’t what I’d expected. “We’ll see if you have an affinity for the great outdoors tomorrow.”

  “More hiking?”

  “No. With the fresh snow it’ll be a perfect time to go cross-country skiing. And don’t worry about equipment. The Lund cabin is fully equipped.”

  “Cross-country skiing . . . Is that the thing where we shoot guns too?”

  He chuckled into my hair. “No. That’s a biathlon.”

  “Sounds like more fun if we’re armed.” I tried to imagine myself on a pair of skis. I pictured myself falling over. A lot.

  “You tensed up again. Why?”

  “I’m just thinking that maybe you could go cross-country skiing and I could have a cup of hot chocolate waiting for you when you got back. I’m thinking maybe I’m more the ‘hang out at the cabin and tend the fire’ kind of a chick.”

  “No. I want you with me.”

  “Because I’ll be so loud and clumsy that I’ll scare off any wildlife that might attack us?”

  Brady sighed.

  I suspected he was trying not to laugh.

  “Go to sleep, Lennox. We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

  “You’re sleeping here?”

  “Yeah. I’m too comfy to move.”

  Such a lie. But it was sweet that he knew I didn’t want to be alone. “Thank you.”

  “My pleasure.”

  I wasn’t used to sharing a bed with someone. I worried I’d lie there for hours with no sleep in sight. But the rhythmic sound of Brady’s exhales soon sent me floating off into slumber.

  Chapter Fourteen

  Brady

  ‡

  I woke up alone.

  In Lennox’s room.

  I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling, letting the sleep clear from my brain, thinking about last night.

  Lennox’s story had haunted me.

  My childhood had been relatively normal. I fought and played with and defended my siblings and cousins. None of us were raised by nannies, although my mom did have her sister Britta live with us for a year after Jensen was born to help out. What I hadn’t known at the time was that my father had largely been absent that year, due to the dissolution of various divisions of Lund and Sons as it was rebuilt into Lund Industries. After the grain wars, the government had stepped in and forced us, and our largest competitor, to divide our assets so there was no possibility of a merger between our companies so we could create a monopoly.

  It’d been a stressful time in my parents’ lives. Four children under the age of six, plus an uncertain financial future. What had been a life-changing time for them hadn’t even been a blip on my radar. Kids are oblivious. Kids of wealthy parents even more so.

 
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