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What you need, p.27
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       What You Need, p.27

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  “I had hard copies with all my notes on my desk. I’d scanned most of it and had cataloged it on a thumb drive—which I also left there.”

  “Again, how’d you forget everything?”

  Well, see, I had Lennox bent over my desk, and in the moment I was slamming into her, spreadsheets, thumb drives and P&Ls were the last thing on my mind.

  His mouth tightened at my silence. “You’ve got to be kidding me. She distracted you that much? You blew off preparing for a major presentation because you were too busy getting blown by her?”

  Not exactly, but the end result was the same.

  “I’m all for you having a life outside of work, but this is inexcusable. You are supposed to separate work and pleasure, not bring pleasure into your damn work space. The office is not a place to fool around—it makes a fool of you. And now it’s made a fool of me.”

  I resisted asking him whether he followed the no-fooling-around rule with his admin, since rumor was that she had excellent dictation skills. But this wasn’t about him messing up; it was about me allowing myself to be distracted by Lennox and screwing up at work. “I know. It won’t happen again.”

  Ash scowled. “See that it doesn’t. I assume since you hadn’t finished scanning everything that you didn’t download any of it to the server?”

  “No.” What the hell had I been thinking? I’d just walked straight out of my office with Lennox that night after we’d had sex on my desk, in my bed and in my shower without any thought to my responsibilities?

  “Then you’d better call your admin and have her download the data on the thumb drive to our secure server so you can at least access that.”

  Oh, this just kept getting better and better. “Jenna is on leave this week and next week, since I planned to be out of the office.”

  “Of course she is. And I suppose next you’ll tell me why Jenna’s secretary can’t download the drive from there? Is she on vacation too?”

  “No, but the thumb drive is locked up in my desk drawer and Jenna and I are the only ones with the key.” A lie to save face. I’d left everything strewn across my office like a damn yard sale. That’s how I dealt with sensitive financial information when I was getting laid? I just let it lie about? What the hell had happened to my brain? If this was what it meant to get a life, then I’d pass. I couldn’t stand to lose part of myself that was worth something.

  But it’s not the only thing about you that’s worth something, remember?

  Ash picked up the phone to talk to the limo driver. “Change of plans. Take us to Midway.” He paused. “No, I’ll be going back to the hotel alone.” Ash pointed at me after he hung up. “It’s a damn good thing the LI plane was already here to take us back to the Cities.”

  My stomach churned and I thought I might be sick. “You’re sending me home?”

  “Just to get what you need for your portion of the presentation tomorrow. And I don’t give a damn if you’re up all freakin’ night getting it done. You will be back on the top of your game tomorrow, Brady, if I have to pump your body full of caffeine and prop you up on the conference chair myself. Got it?”

  “Yes.”

  *

  I’d had a plan in place by the time the plane landed at the Minneapolis airport. The flight crew stuck around and filed a return flight plan while I hopped in a cab and headed to the office.

  Now that I’d been given a second chance, I would comb through every bit of data and have the most complete findings in the history of the world to make up for my epic fuckup.

  I hustled across the lobby, my mind on other things, when I heard my name. Any other time I’d be thrilled to run into Lennox since it happened so rarely, so of course we crossed paths the one time I didn’t need to see her.

  Her enormous grin spread across her beautiful face, her joy at seeing me evident. “Hey. I didn’t think you were getting back until later tonight.”

  I glanced at the ornate clock in the lobby. It was just after six p.m. Good. That gave me plenty of time to get my shit together.

  “Brady?”

  “Look, I don’t have much time. The cab is waiting for me.”

  She frowned. “Cab? I can give you a ride home.”

  “That’s the thing. I’m not going home. I have to go back to Chicago.”

  “Tonight? Why?”

  “Because I left all my presentation materials here. In my office. I just discovered it this morning and we had to postpone the meeting until tomorrow.”

  Her eyes were clouded with confusion. “How’d that happen?”

  So maybe I acted harsher than I needed to, to get my point across. “Tuesday night? In my office? When I shoved everything off my desk so I could fuck you over it? Then we fucked in my shower and in my dressing room? And then I walked you out and locked the door behind me, forgetting about all the materials I had to take with me to Chicago the next damn day? Because I was too sex-addled to function like a CFO?”

  Lennox gaped at me. “You’re blaming me?”

  “Yes.” I blew out a breath. “That’s not—”

  “My goddamned fault, Mr. Lund, that you’re so disorganized that you can’t function like a CFO when you don’t have Jenna or Patrice packing your briefcase for a business trip!”

  I probably deserved that.

  “And you sure as hell weren’t complaining about being sex-addled after the first time, since we did it two more times.”

  “I was on some kind of sex high, Lennox, because I never act like that.”

  “Wasn’t that the whole point? You needed to change your life and wanted to take a walk on the wild side? You did it—what, one time and now you can cross it off your ‘wannabe wild man’ list and move on?” She glared at me. “Because that’s what this feels like.”

  “Because of my negligence, I have no idea whether LI would be making a huge mistake acquiring this company. And it is my job—and my job alone—to know that. Except I didn’t do my due diligence last weekend because we were together at the cabin. And what I did accomplish, I left in a pile on the floor after we were together in my office.”

  Lennox took a step back and dammit if I didn’t let her.

  “So I’m going back to Chicago as soon as I have everything I forgot to try to salvage this mess tomorrow.”

  “Wait. Tomorrow Kiley and her kids are supposed to be coming to your place, remember?”

  I’d forgotten completely about that. “Well, obviously we’ll have to reschedule.”

  “Reschedule? This isn’t a board meeting, Brady. These kids have no other place to go on a Saturday. You offered your space to them. Kiley was really counting on this. So were the kids.” She released a bitter laugh. “I should’ve known you’d back out.”

  “That’s not fair. It’s one freakin’ time, Lennox. That’s it.”

  “No, it’s the first time of what I expect would be many times and many disappointments.”

  When she backed away from me, I wanted so badly to grab on to her and make her understand. This was my real life. Not weekends at a cabin. Not weeknights at the gun range or getting a tattoo. I had to fly off at a moment’s notice because five thousand people depended on me to make the right decisions. She couldn’t possibly know what a huge load that was to bear.

  “Don’t worry—although I’m sure you won’t; out of sight, out of mind, right? I’ll tell Kiley that tomorrow is off.”

  “Tell her I’m sorry. Tell her I’ll make it up to her next weekend.” I paused. “But that won’t work because I’m in Charlotte all next week.”

  “How about if we just forget it. All of it.” Lennox turned and walked away.

  Stop her.

  A big part of me longed to run after her, but the louder voice in my head urged, Let her go. This is for the best. Don’t dwell on it. Get back to where you need to be.

  But as I returned to Chicago—and sat in my hotel room alone—I remembered that where I thought I needed to be was always so damn lonely.

  *

 
; “You were full of shit, weren’t you?”

  I faced my brother Walker and bit back a snarl. It’d been a grueling eight days on the road. Dealing with meeting after meeting until they all blurred together. One thing I did know: I’d been absolutely on top of my game.

  Another thing I knew? I was completely unhappy, and for once it had nothing to do with my job performance.

  “You ignoring me, asshole?”

  I blinked at Walker. “No,” I said evenly. “Just trying to figure out why you’re hammering me today, and what I might’ve done.”

  “You’ve done nothing. You’ve learned nothing. You’ve changed nothing. That’s why I’m pissed off.”

  “You’re talking about—”

  “The ritual. Yeah, we know you thought it was stupid, but you don’t get it.” The anger in his face softened to disappointment and that was ten times worse. “See, that night wasn’t about doing shots and torching a piece of paper of your bad habits in the hopes you’d overcome them. It was about Ash, Nolan and me opening up about how worried we are about you, Brady.”

  I said nothing because I didn’t know what to say. But I couldn’t look away from the distress on my brother’s face, even in the guise of watching the football game. The whole family had come to Charlotte to watch the Vikings play the Panthers for the Thursday night game. Hard to believe it’d been only a week ago that I’d suffered through the Bears game, not knowing how much my life would implode the following day.

  It’d seemed like a lifetime ago.

  A chorus of boos from my family rang out behind us. I’d paid little attention to the game since the Vikings offense had taken to the field for a total of five minutes in the first two quarters. But I knew that even if Jensen had been killing it out there, I’d still have felt . . . listless. I’d finished my last seminar and I just wanted to go home. But I was expected to stick around another day, since the Blackhawks were playing the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh the next night.

  “Jesus, are you even listening to me?”

  “Yeah, Walker, I’m listening.”

  “Look, I’ll cut to the chase. Nolan, Jensen and I aren’t firstborn Lund sons. We each do our own things and we don’t feel the pressure of the Lund legacy. But we are aware of the pressure on you and Ash and even Jax—when he’s done with the NHL—to run the company. We just didn’t know who’d put it there. Because it sure as hell doesn’t come from Dad, Uncle Monte or Uncle Archer. So I suspect with you it’s entirely self-driven.”

  Some of it was, but not all. My gut churned when I was thrown back to the summer after I’d graduated from high school and first worked at LI. Everyone had thought it was so cool and generous of Grandpa Jackson Lund to step out of retirement to mentor me. It’d been the worst months of my life—yet he’d instilled in me the drive I needed to prove myself worthy of the Lund name and eventual leadership in the company, community and family.

  He didn’t drive you. The nasty old man browbeat you, berated you, convinced you that you’d never be good enough or smart enough to amount to anything. That the only reason you’d even have a job at LI was because of your last name. That, as evidenced by your mediocre grades, you didn’t have the mental capability of running a company the size of LI. That you’d be just like your father—sliding by with charm instead of brains.

  How had I forgotten that? Christ, how deep had I buried that shit? It hit me like a brick wall that I hadn’t even been aware that proving my grandfather wrong had been my sole focus since I turned eighteen. A man who’d been dead for thirteen years.

  “Brady?”

  I glanced up at my brother.

  Something on my face had him switching tactics. “Talk to me, bro. Honestly. What happened to you in the last week?”

  As tempted as I was to lie to save face, I wanted to be beyond that. And it was obvious I was too far in denial about my ability to change things to do it by myself. So I didn’t hold back.

  After I finished unburdening myself, Walker got up and grabbed us each a beer. Then he said, “You screwed up.”

  “That’s why I’ve thrown myself into this seminar.”

  Walker shook his head. “Was there ever any doubt in your mind you’d get back on track workwise?”

  “Maybe at first.”

  “Dude. Be real. You jumped back in and focused on it until you fixed it.”

  “Yeah.”

  “You need to do the same thing with Lennox.” He pointed his beer bottle at me. “But you don’t have the first friggin’ clue how to fix things with her, do you?”

  I jammed my hand through my hair. Then I tossed a look over my shoulder, surprised that we hadn’t been interrupted. “No. And why would she want anything to do with me after how I acted anyway? I was a dick to her. I blamed her, I let her and her roommate down, and I made it sound like I regretted being intimate with her, when it was the most outstanding sex I’ve ever had. She’s different from any woman I’ve ever been with before.”

  When Walker studied me, I figured I’d given him too much information. I prepared myself to take a rash of shit, but that wasn’t what he gave me.

  “That day you brought Lennox to the game, I watched her very closely.” He smirked when I growled at him. “Back off, beast. She is damn fine to look at, but what struck me, watching her, was that she kept watching you. As she did, she had such a starstruck look on her face. It might sound sappy as shit, but she just . . . lit up around you. And, bro, you were the same exact way around her. Everyone noticed it. You know why everyone noticed it?” He swigged his beer. “Because for the first time in a long time you looked really frickin’ happy. It was a beautiful thing to see, man. I’m sure part of it was the rockin’ hot sex—”

  “Wrong. Lennox and I hadn’t slept together yet.” I corrected his assumption.

  Walker’s jaw dropped. “So she acted all love-struck and shit just because she just likes you that much?”

  “I guess.”

  “You guess.” He set his elbows on the table. “You have a woman like that? Who’s beautiful, smart and sexy, who gets you and likes you anyway—when you’re not being an overthinking workaholic dickhead—you go after her with everything you have. Everything. You do not waste another day waiting around wondering if she’ll forgive you. You do whatever it takes to make that happen. You get me?”

  For the first time in a week, I actually had hope that I could fix this. “I get you. But since you’ve got way more experience groveling than I do, then you’ll have to help me out.”

  “I thought you’d never ask.”

  Chapter Nineteen

  Lennox

  ‡

  At first, I’d thought I had weathered the Brady storm pretty well.

  Okay, the man had rolled over me like a hurricane and swamped me with emotions I hadn’t been aware I was capable of feeling. I’d always been the one to end things. So to have him call it quits on our relationship and accuse me of distracting him from doing his job because I was too . . . wild?

  I’d never experienced anger on that level.

  Or hurt.

  I let anger rule me the first few days. That’s what I needed because Kiley had been so upset about disappointing her kids again. And since she has an outer shell of armor and a soft, squishy inner core, she used money from her personal account to take the kids to the Walker Art Center. She bought the deluxe art lover’s package for the entire group, which included a personalized tour of every section of the gallery, lunch and a private art class where all the kids got to paint a small canvas.

  So I’d made it twenty-four hours without crying. But I broke down completely when all twelve of Kiley’s kids had handed over their paintings to her as a thank you. They knew what it had cost her not to disappoint them again.

  That’s when I lost it. Three hundred bucks was a drop in the bucket of Brady Lund’s financial world. But that money would put a huge dent in Kiley’s monthly budget.

  In a fit of anger I’d texted her Brady’s number so s
he could send him the bill. Of course she wouldn’t do that. Then she let me cry on her shoulder, allowing me to pretend I was upset only on her behalf, not because the superfine CFO had proven himself to be exactly what I’d feared: a man who pays lip service to changing,
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