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What you need, p.2
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       What You Need, p.2

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  “Huh-uh, boss. You’re on your own with the craziness that is the Lund Board of Directors. Buzz me if you need anything else.”

  I glanced at my watch. Even for a Friday, it was too early to start drinking.

  *

  Maggie, who’d been my father’s secretary for the past twenty years, was in deep conversation with my mother when I entered the anteroom to the boardroom. They both looked up and looked guilty as hell.

  My eyes narrowed. “Who’s in your crosshairs now?”

  “It should be you,” my mother cooed. “You are, as they say here, treading on thin water.”

  I knew better than to roll my eyes. My mother defined over-the-top, but any show of disrespect resulted in threats yelled in Swedish. Selka Jensen had come to the United States from Sweden over three and a half decades ago to work as a fashion model. She met my dad, fell in love and abandoned the land of lingonberries and Ikea. So it made zero sense that she still spoke with an accent that sounded like Zsa Zsa Gabor doing an impersonation of Natasha from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. And she mixed up idioms—on purpose, I suspected—so she could remind people she wasn’t from around here. But she was a fiercely loving mother, a tireless supporter of community causes and devoted to my father above all else. It was a little freaky anytime I caught them making out like horny teenagers—thirty-five years of marriage hadn’t cooled their ardor. They’d provided the blueprint for what a marriage should be, which was a blessing and a curse. A curse mostly because Mom constantly reminded me of my single status.

  “You mean skating on thin ice?” I corrected.

  “Yah.” She bussed my cheek and then playfully tapped it. “My smart, handsome, successful son. Why is there no woman coming around to put smile on this gorgeous face, mmm? What good is all of this”—she gestured to the front of my body—“if you have no one to share it with?”

  “I asked myself that exact same question.”

  “And?”

  “And I came up with a reason. Eighty of them, actually.”

  She frowned. “You joke.”

  “No, I work eighty-plus hours a week.”

  “Mom, stop harassing him,” my brother Walker said from the doorway. “Uncle M wants to get the meeting started.”

  “Fine. But I haven’t forgotten where we are in this discussion,” she said as she sauntered past me.

  I focused on Maggie. “Tell me about this opportunity my father is going to present to me.”

  Maggie laughed. “I like me job, boy-o. I’ve no desire to get on the boss’s bad side.”

  Hearing my mother’s accent always brought out Miss Maggie’s brogue. I wasn’t opposed to playing dirty to learn the truth of the “opportunity” about to be heaped upon me.

  She wagged her finger in my face. “Save whatever charmin’ words be spillin’ from that silver tongue of yours, lad. I’ve been immune to the Lund charm for nigh on two decades.”

  I set my palms flat on her desk and leaned in. “I’ve not got the charm gene, Miss Maggie, and you damn well know it. As a businessman I prefer to use incentives instead of flattery.”

  “And what kind of incentive would you be flatterin’ me with, Mr. Lund?”

  “A bottle of Midleton whiskey, distilled in County Cork. A rare bottle, lass. One wee nip and you’ll swear Saint Peter himself came down and poured the heavenly spirit into your soul.”

  Maggie whapped me on the arm. “No charm, my arse, Brady Lund. Although your attempt at a puttin’ an Irish lilt in that Yankee voice is laughable, I’ll admit you’ve piqued my interest.”

  I grinned.

  “But offer me something else. Your da gave me a bottle of Midleton for my birthday, so you’ll have to do better on the bribery.”

  “A ticket to the Super Bowl when the Vikings finally make it in this century.”

  She snorted. “Oh, that’s a pie-in-the-sky dream, with the lousy way those lads have been playin’. That’s one favor I’d never be collectin’ on, yeah?”

  “Point for Miss Maggie.” I threw a look at the conference room door. “What’ll it take?”

  “I don’t need you to buy me anything, Brady Lund.” She cocked her head. “But you could do be doin’ me a wee favor. Tit for tat, eh?”

  “Name it.”

  “My young niece Siobhan is visitin’ from Ireland. It’d be lovely if you could take her to dinner and a nightclub. Give her the true American experience. She’s been stuck with me all week.”

  Shah-von. That had a sexy ring to it. “When?”

  “Tomorrow night, since she’s leavin’ for California on Monday.”

  “Deal. Now what’s the opportunity?”

  Maggie leaned across the desk. “The boss man’s given in to your ma’s badgering about you getting out in the community more to represent the Lund name and he’s givin’ you the first choice of one of her pet projects. ‘Choice’ bein’ the operative word, because you don’t got one, but you—as the oldest—do get to choose first.”

  Great. “What are they?”

  “First, an entire weekend helping her with the annual art sale, fund-raiser and ball for the Minnesota Arts Foundation. Seems that’d be the easy one, yeah? Not so, lad. She’s plannin’ on holdin’ a bachelor auction as a fund-raiser, and she means to put you or your brothers or your cousins up on the podium for sale!”

  “I’ll pass on that one. What are my other options?”

  “Being a runway model for a charity fashion show put on by Dayton’s and the Minneapolis Art Institute.”

  I could just see them giving me nothing but a strategically placed canvas to wear. “Pass. Next?”

  “Participating in activities for at-risk youth for the Lund Cares Community Outreach program. That one will give you more leeway, but since the commitment is for Saturdays when you’re always buried in work, no one will ever be expectin’ you to pick it.”

  My eyes narrowed. “This isn’t some reverse psychology thing you and Mom cooked up?”

  “So suspicious, but I can’t say as I blame ya. God love yer ma, but she’s got some barmy ideas.”

  I kissed her cheek. “Thank you. You’re the best. What time should I pick up Siobhan?”

  Her eyes danced. “Can ya send a car service for her? She’d get a right kick outta that.”

  That actually worked better for me, not having to make small talk at the door. And not letting Maggie witness firsthand how little charm I actually possessed when it came to chatting up women I didn’t know. “Absolutely. Say . . . seven?”

  “Perfect.” Maggie gave me a push. “Get in there. Good luck.”

  Chapter Two

  Lennox

  ‡

  Friday night I slipped on my pajamas, made myself a mug of Lemon Zinger tea and cracked open my bookkeeping program on my laptop. I downloaded two weeks worth of banking transactions—expenses and income—getting a giddy sense of satisfaction at seeing my once meager bank account growing, as well as my retirement fund. The fact I even had a retirement fund was still something to celebrate as proof that I had a real job with benefits and everything.

  One more year and I would have enough money for a down payment for my own place. But for now I had a pretty sweet gig, living in a house instead of a cramped apartment.

  Since my roommate, Kiley, had warned me she wouldn’t be home tonight, I curled up on the couch in the living room and watched TV. After living on the road for almost a decade and then spending the next two years in school, I finally had time to catch up on all the TV shows I’d heard people talking about. Lately I’d been obsessed with Dexter, mostly because I’d met a lot of psychopaths, but none of them had that slightly warped moral compass—they’d all been just plain crazy.

  My phone rang and I glanced at the caller ID. A number I didn’t recognize showed on the screen. I was too curious to ignore it. “Hello?”

  “Lenni, baby girl, how are you?”

  I tensed up at hearing her fake cooing tone. I was twenty-eight—not eight. Not that sh
e’d been much of a mother to me at that age either. “I’m fine. This is another new number.”

  “I was getting pissed that I hadn’t heard from you in so long and I realized I’d forgotten to give you my new number.”

  We both knew I wouldn’t have called her even if I’d had the number. But I could feign interest in her screwed-up existence for five minutes. “So what’s up?”

  “Me’n’ Billy Ray moved again.”

  Meaning: They faced eviction by skipping town in the middle of the night. “Where’d you end up?”

  “Billy Ray’s cousin promised him a job in Saint Augustine. That didn’t pan out ’cause his cousin is a drunk. He got a lead on a job in Boca, so that’s where we are now.”

  Last time I talked to her—eight or nine months ago—they were in Houston. I thought maybe she’d found a place to settle, but I should’ve known better. In the thirteen years since I’d left home, she’d flitted from man to man. Billy Ray had lasted the longest, at two years.

  “It’s expensive to live in Florida. Things have been really tight.”

  Was she seriously hitting me up for money? “Moving as often as you guys do costs a ton of money. Have you been able to find a job?”

  “Billy Ray don’t want me workin’—you know that. He says it’s his job to take care of me. I told him I could get hired at Hooters—god knows I’ve still got the kind of rack that’d earn me some big tips, and I’m still hot, for a forty-six-year-old broad.”

  My mother had been stunningly gorgeous in her younger years and refused to acknowledge that time hadn’t been kind. In her head, and when she looked in the mirror, she saw what she wanted to. But that had always been the case with her. “Billy Ray wouldn’t have a problem with your boobs being the focus of all that attention?”

  “Nah. I know he’d be proud that his woman could still flaunt it.” She paused and sighed heavily. “But it’s hard. All this moving and him starting at the bottom every place he gets a job. And we’ve been living where there’s such godforsaken humidity that I’ve actually missed the snow and the cold.”

  Please. No. This couldn’t possibly be a hint she wanted to return to Minnesota.

  Then she leveled the boom. “So since I don’t got a job, Billy Ray couldn’t really complain if I packed up my car and went home to visit my baby girl. You have a couch your old mom could crash on, don’t you?”

  “Actually, no, I don’t. The woman I’m renting from was very explicit about overnight guests—regardless if it’s a boyfriend or a relative.”

  A harsh laugh exploded in my ear. “You just couldn’t wait to say that, could you? Tell me that I’m not welcome to stay with you. Are you afraid that your bigwig friends at the bigwig job you bragged about will think less of you since your poor backwards mama ain’t ed-ju-cated?”

  Here we go. “First of all, you didn’t ask to sleep at my desk. You asked to crash at my place, which is not the same thing. Secondly, trouble follows you. I don’t need you making trouble for me at the first decent place I’ve lived since you were married to Rick. And trust me, I’ve rented some real shitholes over the years and you sure didn’t ask to stay with me then.”

  Silence.

  For a fraction of a second I felt guilty. But then she opened her mouth. “So you’re turning your back on me, you bratty little bitch?”

  Aw. I love you too.

  “You’re gonna throw Rick in my face at every turn? It’s been thirteen years. You need to get over it.”

  “You need to understand I’ll never get over it. You can’t change the past and I won’t ever forget it.” My chest was heaving and I patted my back pockets for my pack of cigarettes, even though I’d quit smoking four years ago. That’s what one five-minute phone call with her did.

  “How many times have I said I was sorry?” She practically wailed.

  “That’s the thing. You’ve never said it. You’ve said everything from you’re not perfect to you had regrets, but not once have you said you were sorry for upending my life. Not once.”

  “You’re just another person who doesn’t listen to me, Lennox. I’ve said it before.” She sniffled. “You just didn’t hear me.”

  Maybe she thought she’d said it in one of her drugged-up or drunk states, but I wouldn’t forget something like that. Especially since she’d been more prone to shouting at me.

  “That’s why I left Rick. Because he didn’t listen to me either. He didn’t see me. I was just part of the furniture. Adam made me feel beautiful and worthy.”

  Just the mention of Adam’s name caused me to shudder.

  “You’ll see,” she said sharply. “It’s hard for beautiful women like us, used to having every man look at us and want us, to have those men start looking elsewhere. After you cross into your thirties, the need for male approval consumes you to the point you don’t act rationally.”

  That’s you, not me—and it’ll never be me. I couldn’t even take the fact she’d called me beautiful as a compliment, because she said things like that only when she wanted something. “I doubt it. But whatever. Look, I brought work home with me”—such a lie—“and I need to get back to it. Take care.” I hung up.

  Then I got up and snagged a beer out of the fridge. I twisted off the cap and took a sip as I stared out the kitchen window that looked into the backyard.

  I don’t know what I expected to see, since it was completely dark outside. After the conversation with my mother I felt the darkness pulling me in.

  What sucked about my family situation was that it hadn’t always sucked. At age eighteen my mom and her best friend, Maxie got jobs, traveling with one of the big rock bands of the day, selling T-shirts and other stuff at the merchandise stand during the concerts. Mom began sleeping with a roadie—not the members of the band, as she’d planned. When the tour ended, she found out she was pregnant. My father took off. Six months later she gave birth to me.

  Yeah, I understood she’d been just nineteen years old and a single mother. In a show of solidarity, Maxie stayed in the Twin Cities with her. They lived together—not that I remember any of that—until Mom married Rick when I was three.

  Rick was a rock-solid, dependable guy and a decent provider. We lived in Burnsville, in a tiny house Rick had inherited from his grandmother. I’d had a lonely childhood—even being her only child hadn’t made me interesting to my mother. She did her own thing and that usually didn’t include me. After a while, her activities didn’t include Rick either. The year I turned thirteen, my mom—who’d asked me to start calling her Lisa—scored a job as a cocktail waitress at a bar twenty miles from where we lived. Since Rick was a deliveryman for a grocery supply company, he was gone by five a.m. Some nights she didn’t roll in until he’d left for work.

  That was when everything fell apart. Mom and Rick started fighting. He accused her of sleeping around. She accused him of trying to turn her into a boring old woman. I still remember the nasty stuff they shouted at each other as I cowered in my single bed in the room next to theirs. Rick pleaded for her to go to counseling so they could save their marriage, but Mom refused. She was done with him.

  One day I came home from school to find she’d packed all of our things in the back of her minivan. I remembered thinking it was sad, how few possessions she wanted to keep. She said we were going to stay with a friend until she’d sorted a few things out.

  We lived with Maxie for a month. By month two, Mom informed me she’d fallen in love with Adam, a regular at the bar where she worked, and we moved into Adam’s shitty trailer.

  For the first six months, Mom sent me to stay with Rick on the weekends because she wanted to act like an unencumbered single woman. Although I’d lived with Rick most of my life, I’d never been allowed to call him Dad. He’d never really acted like my father; like my mom, he mostly ignored me, but at least he wasn’t mean.

  Adam defined low-class redneck trailer trash. He lived in filth, half the time without electricity, and he kept my mother drunk or high so she coul
d sexually service him whenever he demanded it. When I’d had enough, I informed Mom I was going to live with Rick permanently. So in my first rebellious move, I took the bus over to our old house, figuring there was little she could do.

  Wrong.

  She called Rick and threatened him with child abduction charges, which she could’ve made stick. Rick took me back to Adam’s run-down trailer and I was devastated when he admitted that he legally had no claim on me because my mother had refused to let him adopt me. He was done with her and now he was done with me too.

  What sliced me the deepest was my mother’s childish reasoning about why she kept me from him; she was afraid I’d love Rick more than her. She hadn’t been far off, because my resentment grew into hatred. She didn’t give a shit about me and she couldn’t stand to think that someone else did.

 
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