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What you need, p.23
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       What You Need, p.23

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  ran six miles in silence.

  Except for the voices in my head that kept replaying the hot interlude with Lennox at the football stadium yesterday afternoon.

  It blew my mind that I affected her that way. It really blew my mind that she’d told me that without artifice. It’d been a long damn time since I’d had that level of honesty from a woman. The more I got to know Lennox, the more I liked her.

  The alarm to the side door buzzed and I stopped stretching to see who had shown up to work out this early. Both my brothers and Nolan and Ash had access to this space. I realized after putting in a state-of-the-art gym that it wasn’t any fun working out by myself. So I invited them to use it whenever it fit their schedules. A couple of times we’d even had private kickboxing instruction and Jens had brought his personal trainers here when he couldn’t get the time he needed with the Vikings trainers.

  I mopped the sweat from my face, surprised to see Jensen strolling toward me. He’d topped out at six foot five his freshman year of college. He’d gone from a beanpole with a four-foot vertical jump, who could also run a twelve-second hundred-yard dash, to a beast that maintained his speed and agility after adding thirty pounds of muscle to his frame.

  To say he was a big guy was putting it mildly.

  But I still saw him as my baby brother. The funny kid in the family, prone to practical jokes. The kindhearted soul who picked up strays—both the four- and two-legged varieties. Even when he’d outgrown any need for my protection, I felt more protective of him than ever. Pro athletes were magnets for scam artists, gold diggers and shyster agents. Pro athletes who looked like Jens—he’d inherited Mom’s model genes, angular Nordic features, glacial blue eyes and wavy blond hair—were an even bigger target.

  “You’re here early,” I said, and he looked up, startled.

  “I didn’t hear the usual shitty music, so I didn’t think you were up.”

  I shrugged. “I couldn’t sleep.”

  “Yeah? Me neither.”

  “Too pumped after the amazing game yesterday?”

  He flashed his crooked smile. “Partially.”

  “Let me guess. In your celebratory mood, you brought a girl back to your place last night, and she’s still in your bed, so you bolted, hoping she’d get the hint and leave.”

  “Inviting her over seemed like a good idea at the time. But when I got up in the night to use the bathroom, I saw she’d brought a suitcase with her.” He scraped his shoulder-length hair into a ponytail. “Fuck, B, I don’t even know her last name. Why would she think it’d be more than just a one-off?”

  “Did you—”

  “Use a condom? Yeah. And when will that stop bein’ the first thing you ask me? Christ. I’m twenty-six, not fifteen.”

  “I’ll stop asking, Jens, when you stop picking up random chicks who think they’ll win your love through blow jobs and kinky sex.”

  Jensen dropped onto the bench. “You’re right. Man, I hate that you’re always right. But it sucks being alone.”

  “Says the guy who’s surrounded twenty-four/seven by teammates and trainers and coaches and the media.”

  “Not the same. I meant to say there’s a difference between being lonely and alone.”

  “So get a dog.”

  “Smart-ass. Maybe I should just sell my apartment and move in with you. A single dude doesn’t need this much space.”

  “I like my space. And you are a slob, bro. Isn’t that why Drew moved out?”

  He scowled. “Drew moved out because he’s pussy-whipped. He bought Brianna an engagement ring and he’s gonna propose on the Jumbotron at halftime during the Green Bay game. Original, huh? Besides, Drew has been off his game all season. If he doesn’t get his shit together—” He stopped. Shook his head. “Enough football talk. I came here to get away from it.” His eyes gleamed. “Let’s spar.”

  “What kind of shape are you in?” Sometimes he was so banged up the day after a game that he spent hours alternating between hot and cold therapy.

  “I’m good.” He lifted his tank top. His ribs were dotted with bruises. “I get hurt worse during practices.”

  “Fine. Get your gear.”

  Jensen could outrun me, outcatch me, outlift me, but he rarely beat me in sparring. Except I wasn’t up to sparring this early, so I’d work with him on technique rather than power.

  Once we were in the ring, Jens held the practice mitts and I started to strike.

  “So you seemed mopey at the after-party last night.”

  “Cover your face,” I warned and threw a left-hand jab.

  “Mom said you brought someone to the game.”

  I struck low and he blocked. “Yeah.”

  “Why didn’t she come with you to the after-party? I would’ve liked to meet her.”

  “You will meet her. I believe she’d had enough of the Lund family after the cool reception she got from most of them yesterday.”

  “I don’t know why you expected something different.” He turned the mitt to block a forearm strike. “You never date anyone and the first woman you bring to a family deal is a coworker?”

  I stopped and propped my gloves against my hips. “She’s not a coworker.”

  “So you don’t work on any projects with her at all?”

  “It’s one project.”

  Jensen grinned. “Then you are coworkers, bro.”

  I released a flurry of combinations that tired me out before I tired of pounding on my little brother.

  He made the time-out sign.

  I tore off my gloves and climbed out of the ring in search of my water bottle.

  Jens sat beside me. “Tell me about her.”

  “Lennox is . . .” I chugged a mouthful of water. “She’s smart. Got a bit of an attitude, which is how I initially noticed her. And she’s hot. She’s got this curvy body that’s . . . amazing. We’ve been out a few times and she’s funny. She’s blunt. She’s sexy as hell. She’s lived on the wild side, but she’s settled down since then.” I liked her wild side, even though it killed me to hear why she became that way.

  “Is she that wild between the sheets?”

  “I imagine she will be.” I felt Jens looking at me.

  “What do you mean, you imagine. Are you saying you haven’t hit that yet?”

  “Nope.”

  “Is that by mutual decision? Or is she one of those ‘number of dates’ chicks?”

  Confused by his phrasing, I looked at him. “‘Number of dates’?”

  “You know. The women who have set a minimum number of dates—three, five or even ten—before they’ll consider getting naked with you.”

  I shook my head. “It’s not that.”

  “Then what?”

  “If anyone is holding back, it’s me.”

  “Why?”

  “I don’t know.” I let my head fall back against the wall. “Actually, I do know. Sex screws things up. I don’t want to fuck this up, Jens. I really like her.”

  “Sounds like it.”

  When he didn’t razz me or start offering lewd advice, I knew he was holding back. “Just spit out whatever you’re thinking.”

  “Don’t get pissed.”

  “Nothing good ever starts that way.”

  “I know. Look, both Nolan and Ash cornered me at the party yesterday. They think this Lennox chick might be playing you.”

  That floored me. “Why the hell would they say that? They don’t know her.”

  “Evidently she’s ambitious.”

  “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

  “It is, if her ambition is to hook up with one of the big bosses.” Jensen fiddled with the cap on his water bottle. “Did Ash tell you that he’s worked with her?”

  “With Lennox? No.”

  Why hadn’t Lennox mentioned it? And why hadn’t she mentioned her time in Annika’s department?

  “What happened?”

  “Ash didn’t go into all the details beyond saying his admin complained to Personnel and L
ennox’s supervisor about her overstepping boundaries in her role as a clerical worker. Basically Nolan said the same thing.” Jensen sighed. “I hate being the one to tell you this stuff. I don’t even work at LI, so to me it all sounds like interdepartmental politics.”

  “Nolan’s worked with her too? Then why did they both act like it was the first time they’d met?”

  “Not Nolan personally, but Nolan’s—”

  “Let me guess—Nolan’s admin has had run-ins with Lennox.”

  “Yeah. More than one time. She complained to Anita. Anyway, Anita suggested to Archer that the office temp concept had run its course.”

  And as per company protocol, Archer had requested an internal audit before making his recommendation.

  Dammit. This was not what I needed to hear. Not because I believed Lennox had done anything wrong—but she had stirred up a hornet’s nest. Rather than the queen bee going after Lennox, she targeted the entire temp staff. “Did Nolan and Ash ask you to talk to me?”

  Jensen shook his head. “They specifically asked me not to talk to you. But it felt like that reverse psychology crap. Afterward, I decided it’s much easier to get knocked on my ass all day long than to deal with the corporate bullshit.”

  At least I could laugh at that.

  *

  Two knocks sounded on my outer door, and then Jenna strolled in. “So I hear you came out to your family this weekend.”

  I looked up from my computer. “Did you get to yell at your husband first thing this morning? Is that why you’re in such a good mood on a Monday morning?”

  “And you’re in a lousy mood considering you took Miss Greene to the Lund family shrine yesterday.”

  “How’d you already know that? It’s barely nine in the morning. And we haven’t told anyone besides my family.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized how stupid that statement was. “I assume Maggie is the culprit.”

  “No, sir, your mother is the culprit. Maggie is just the air horn that your mother chose to make the announcement.”

  “Please get me the bottle of Laphroaig out of the cabinet. I’ll need something stronger than coffee to get me through the morning.”

  Jenna took the seat in front of my desk. “Skip the booze, unless you want ‘drunk’ added to the phrase ‘in love’ that’s floating around about you now.” She snickered.

  “You have to pick more obscure pop culture references to slip into conversation, Jenna. Queen Bae was too easy.”

  “Shoot. Anyway, at least I got first crack at the melded name.”

  I lifted an eyebrow. “Maybe you’ve already hit the Laphroaig this morning, because you’re not making any sense.”

  “Melded name. A new moniker. Like Brangelina. Or Kimye. I’ve dubbed you and Lennox . . . Brannox.”

  “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

  Jenna grinned. “Nope.”

  “Maybe I should work from home today.”

  “In all seriousness, I’m happy for you, Mr. Lund. I never would’ve put you and Lennox together, but you’re a good fit.”

  “I hope she can withstand the scrutiny.”

  “She’s no shrinking violet. She’ll do fine.”

  And there was my opening. “Someone mentioned Lennox isn’t well liked around here.”

  Jenna snorted. “You know I can’t dig for dirt if you don’t point me toward the right pile. Someone who?”

  I told her everything Jensen had told me and it did feel like junior high gossip. But it bothered me and if there was something—or nothing—to it, then Jenna would suss out every detail.

  Her light mood had turned somber. “This stays strictly between us, boss. Nolan’s admin, Toni, is a snake. That’s why I hope Archer doesn’t retire too soon, because if Nolan takes over as CEO, Toni will have an immense amount of power. Ash’s admin, Olivia, is loyal to Ash and only Ash. There’s something hinky going on there but it’s not against corporate rules. I’ll see what I can find out.”

  “Thank you.”

  She stood. “In the meantime, I e-mailed the month-end reports you requested. You have meetings at two, three and four—I set the reminders on your daily calendar. The details for the separate agendas are in the zip files coded for each department. Since you’ll forget to eat and work right up until your first meeting, I’ll send for lunch.”

  “You are a goddess among admins, Jenna. Thank you. No interruptions this morning, at all, for any reason.” I had hundreds of pages of financial documents to dissect and diagram. It required my full focus. “On second thought—”

  “Reschedule your meetings.”

  Sometimes it scared me how quickly she anticipated my needs.

  *

  Lennox

  Lola pulled me into her office first thing Monday morning.

  That was a little frightening.

  “Lennox. Are you involved in a personal relationship with Brady Lund?”

  This was really not how I wanted to start my week. “Yes, I am. Why?”

  She smiled. “Cracked the Ice Man. Bravo. I’ll bet he’s hot as fire under that stuffed shirt. But watch your step. LI is a different place for you now.”

  “Is it a different place for Brady?”

  “No, honey, it’s not. But he’s at the top of the food chain and you are chum. The sharks will swim in closer and eat you alive.”

  I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. How long had Lola had this shark analogy speech prepared? Because she looked pretty excited that she got to use it.

  Hey, how about you focus on the real meaning behind her words?

  “If your relationship with him inhibits your ability to do your job, you come to me right away.”

  “Lola. My relationship with Brady won’t affect how I do my job.”

  “I believe that. But it may affect how other employees interact with you while you’re doing your job.”

  I wanted to point out that there were fifteen hundred LI employees in this building. I doubted anyone would know what was going on with the CFO and the lowly temp—to say nothing of caring enough to gossip about it.

  “Lennox?”

  I looked up at my boss. “Thanks for the warning.”

  “You’re welcome. Today I’m sending you to main reception on the first floor. You’re manning the call center.”

  Hooray, my least favorite job. “Thank you for calling Lund Industries. How may I direct your call?” Ninety-five percent of callers had no problems navigating the automated phone system. The other five percent, callers who wanted “to talk to a real, live human and not a damn machine” . . . those were the calls I’d get to deal with. All day.

  My day was fully complete when I looked over and saw Renee sitting in the reception area monitoring me.

  The situation felt like punishment.

  *

  I didn’t think it was a coincidence I didn’t see Brady all day.

  The skies were gray, the streets were gray, my mood was black.

  I wanted to slip into my pajamas, crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head, and hope tomorrow was better.

  Kiley had counseling sessions on Monday nights, so I had the house to myself.

 
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