What You Need, p.28Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
but when it came right down to it, he wouldn’t. I didn’t have the ego to believe the few steps he’d taken toward cutting loose had scared him because he’d liked it so much. No, I could accept I wasn’t like the women he usually dated. He’d gotten a taste and it’d been satisfying enough he didn’t need to go back for seconds.
“What are you having?” Kiley prompted me.
It was our usual Friday night at Sake Palace. Kiley had tried to back out, but I told her it was my treat since I didn’t want to dwell on the misery I’d felt last week by sitting home alone on Friday night. “Is it boring if I say I’m having the usual?”
“A little. But you know what you like and there’s no reason to change that if you’re happy with it.”
I peered over the menu. “You seem very Zen tonight, K. What gives?”
She laughed. “I’m just happy things work out the way they’re supposed to sometimes. It gives me hope.”
I splurged and ordered the rainbow roll for each of us, and my usual spider rolls, spicy tuna rolls and tempura rolls.
The food came fast and we ate in silence. I could hear the restaurant filling up behind us and the activity at the chef’s station increased as the flurry of Japanese between the waitstaff got louder and faster.
Once our plates were cleared, we ordered green tea and let our meal settle.
My roommate seemed preoccupied. “You all right?”
“Fine. Just thinking.”
“So tomorrow. You’ve got a solid plan for the group since it’s supposed to be snowy and cold?”
Kiley stirred sugar into her hot tea. “Yes.”
That’s all she said. I leaned across the table. “You gonna share those plans with your number one volunteer?”
A smile curled her lips. “Nope. It’s a surprise.”
“I hate surprises.”
She mumbled something like, “You’re really gonna hate this,” but I could’ve misunderstood since she’d spoken under her breath.
Kiley snagged her purse. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
I waited for her to say something smart like, “Don’t worry; I’ll come back,” since the last time we’d eaten there Brady’s date had ditched him. But she’d avoided any mention of his name all week. She patted me on the shoulder as she passed by.
I set my elbows on the table and rested my head in my hands, closing my eyes.
A few minutes later, clothing rustled as Kiley brushed past me and slid into her seat.
I said, “Took you long enough,” and lifted my head to look at her.
But it wasn’t Kiley sitting across from me. It was Brady.
“It did take me seven very long days to figure out a way to apologize.”
He looked . . . sort of crappy, which made me feel marginally better. “Where’s Kiley?”
“She agreed to take off after dinner so you and I could talk.” His hungry gaze encompassed my face. “You look beautiful as ever, Lennox.”
I snorted. “I don’t need your flattery, nor do I want it. Say whatever you’ve come to say, so I can accept your apology and we can both move on.”
Brady took my hands in his. “I don’t want to move on. I want to go back to the way things were.”
Fat chance, bud.
“I’m here to apologize for how I acted. I’m sorry I was a condescending ass. I’m sorry I accused you of things that weren’t your fault. I’m sorry you haven’t heard from me in the last week—it’s taken me this long to figure out how to apologize after my colossal fuckup. And I realized this was something I needed to do in person.”
I waited as he spoke. Didn’t petulantly jerk my hands away, but neither did I go all starry-eyed and blurt out my immediate and unconditional forgiveness. I guessed that’s what I was waiting for. For Brady to slap on excuses for what he’d said.
But he didn’t. He sat there gazing at me so longingly that I had to look away. He shifted his stance too and I caught a whiff of that druglike scent of his skin—warm musk and his cologne.
So I did. I removed my hands from his and grabbed my teacup. That’s when I noticed his knuckles were skinned up and scabbed over. “What happened to your hands?”
He shrugged. “I had a bad week, so I punched things.”
“Did punching things make your week better?”
I hadn’t granted my forgiveness. It wasn’t a power thing that held me back, but Brady’s implication that we could just pick up where we’d left off.
“I didn’t know you liked sushi,” he said. Then he sighed. “Dammit. That sounded lame, didn’t it?”
“I’m not a huge fan of sushi myself, so it’s strange that I’ve been in this place twice in the past six weeks.”
Here was my moment of truth.
My mouth made the decision before my head or heart weighed in. “I know.”
Those blue eyes narrowed.
“See, I was here that night you came in with that jailbait-looking waif.”
“That’s actually a very apt description of her.”
“I thought you were on a date with her.”
His posture stiffened, as if to say, Please leave it at that. Don’t pry for more information.
“But it didn’t appear as if you were having a good time.”
Brady shook his head. “It was bloody awful,” he said with a hint of a brogue.
“Her accent was hard to place.”
“Wait. You talked to her? When?”
Why couldn’t I be a smooth liar? And now that I’d opened the door, I had to go all the way through it. “In the bathroom. Look. The truth is, I saw you and planned to stop at your table and say hello, if for no other reason than to see if you felt guilty for dating jailbait”—he snorted—“but I chickened out at the last second and went to the bathroom. That’s where she—” I paused.
He got right in my face. “No editorializing. Tell me. All of it.”
By the time I finished, Brady had dropped his forehead to the table as if contemplating beating his head into it.
I laughed softly.
He looked up at me. “It’s not funny. But damn, do I love to hear you laugh. I missed it . . . So the woman I’d been crushing on from the moment I saw her witnessed my humiliation that night and heard some choice bits, right from the horse’s mouth, about what an uptight ice-cold wanker I am.”
I’d sort of tuned out after his admission that he’d been crushing on me.
“That’s great, Lennox. I’m actually blushing just thinking about it.”
He was. His face was flushed and there was a look I’d seen in his eyes only once before: vulnerability.
Almost without thinking, I reached out and placed my hands on his cheeks.
He put his hands over mine and we locked eyes.
“Why did you agree to go out with me when you saw firsthand what a clumsy, clueless oaf I am when it comes to dating?”
“Because that’s not what I saw.”
He groaned. “It’s worse, isn’t it? You thought I was pathetic and you agreed to a date out of pity.”
I leaned in closer. “Brady. Shut up. If you stop trying to analyze me, I’ll tell you why I went out with you.”
“Please. I’m dying here.”
“First of all, you demanded the date. But if I hadn’t wanted to go, nothing would’ve gotten me in that car with you.” I stroked my thumbs over his cheekbones. “So what if you suck at dating? You aren’t a one-dimensional man. You excel at everything else. Do you really think I would’ve preferred if you were some asshole player? And you’ve never acted like an entitled dickhead around me. Well, except for last Friday.”
Brady watched me with eyes filled with hope and that just did me in.
I was crazy about all the different sides of this man. He’d come here with an honest-to-god apology from the heart, no excuses. What more did I expect him to do? I closed the distance between us and pressed a soft kiss
He rested his forehead to mine. “Thank you.”
We stayed like that for a few moments longer before we broke apart.
“I want to spend the night with you.”
I raised an eyebrow.
That earned me a glorious grin. “Not like that, although I’ve heard makeup sex is hot.” He picked up my hand and kissed my palm. “We can watch TV or something. Hell, I’d even watch paint dry as long as I get to do it with you.”
There was that sliver of sweetness that made me go all gooey inside. “Okay. But my roommate will be home and she’s probably still pissed enough at you to let fly. So fair warning.”
“Kiley forgave me when I promised my place to her and the kids tomorrow with no chance of me backing out.”
The little sneak. No wonder she’d hedged and claimed tomorrow’s location was a surprise.
“And I reimbursed her for last weekend. Plus I gifted her three more Saturdays at the Walker, so if she runs into this problem again, she’s covered.”
“You are so forgiven.”
“I missed that laugh too, Brady.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
“I have to pay the check.”
“Already taken care of.”
I opted not to argue.
Outside in the chilly night, I started to wrap my scarf around my neck when Brady grabbed the end and tugged me against his body.
“My lovely Lennox.” His mouth came down on mine. Not tenderly, not with gratitude or reverence, but with the hunger that quickened my blood and my heartbeat.
I’d missed kissing him like this. A little desperate. A little sloppy. A little impatient to sate the passion that flared between us.
“Come on,” he whispered against my mouth after he broke the kiss. “Let’s go to your place.”
Later, as we were lying in my bed, after we’d watched a movie—The Blind Side, not my first choice, because, hello? sports movie—I finally asked him the question I’d been dying to.
“So everything turned out all right in Chicago? After you retrieved your missing materials?”
He spooned me, with his chin on the top of my head and his fingertips trailing up and down my arm. “Yes. The numbers were solid and we made them a decent offer. It’ll take a few months to transition to our product line, but we aren’t demanding they stop manufacturing for our competitor. Yet.”
“I’m glad you didn’t have any serious setbacks, Brady.”
“After that you went to Charlotte.”
He stilled his hand. “Checking up on me, were you?”
“No. Patrice took great pains the first two days to inform me of your whereabouts in the employee break room. For the rest of the week I ate at my desk.”
“Smart move. I had meetings with a couple of financial institutions in Charlotte and then I led a seminar on family-business practices. Pretty boring, dry stuff, I imagine. Jens had a game last night, and luckily for the Lund family, Jax had a hockey game in Raleigh tonight, so they’re all cheering him on.”
“Why aren’t you there?”
“Because I’m here. Apologizing and working on fixing things with you. Making it right for Kiley and her kids was more important to me than watching a puck flying across the ice.”
“I’m glad you’re here.” I snuggled into him.
I thought he’d fallen asleep, but then he said, “I had to face the music with my family too, not just you.” A long pause followed. “Remember I told you about the intervention my cousins and my brother staged that night at Maxie’s?”
“Yes, I remember. That’s why you wanted to prove you have a wild side.”
“I wanted to get them off my back because it was annoying, humiliating and embarrassing to have them treating me like a child. So as they showed me they cared about me, I blew them off and followed my own agenda.”
“Was I part of that agenda, Brady?”
“God, no. They made me promise to quit working so much. And yes, they encouraged me to find something outside of work that let me enjoy my station in life. I found you.”
I smiled in the darkness.
“Then I had the crisis with the Chicago project.” He inhaled a deep breath. Exhaled against my hair. “I’d done a bang-up job convincing myself I couldn’t have both you and my job.”
He didn’t have to tell me which one won out.
“I figured I’d blown it with you, so I expended all my energy into the job. That was a familiar place for me to retreat. And excel. Because, god knows, that’s all that mattered. That I proved I’m worthy.”
“Worthy of what?”
“It’s more like worthy of who.”
Brady remained quiet for so long that I thought he wouldn’t answer. And when he finally spoke, his voice was so soft I hardly heard him. “My grandfather.”
I wondered if he’d had this helpless feeling as he’d waited for me to talk about my past. I wanted to soothe him before he even said a word, because I suspected he’d need it.
“I’d forgotten about it. Blocked it out, most likely because it—” His body tensed behind me. “If someone had asked me what drove me to earn multiple undergrad business degrees as well as master’s degrees, I’d likely have answered with something pat like I wanted to be an asset to LI. But the truth is, I did it because my grandfather was a nasty, arrogant old bastard who assured me I’d never amount to anything. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism to block something like that from memory, but when Walker cornered me, I had a flashback.”
I couldn’t remain silent. “To when? To what?”
“Grandpa Jack never pretended to be kindly and wise to his grandkids. Despite the fact he lived on the other side of the Lund Compound, we hardly ever saw him. He wasn’t the kind of man to go to football or hockey games. Or dance recitals. So it surprised and—I’ll be honest—excited me when he offered to mentor me at LI the summer before I started college.
“But from the get-go it was awful. He berated me from the time I got there until I left at night. I couldn’t do anything right. I was stupid. Lazy. Ugly. I was lucky I had the last name Lund because I was too much of an idiot to survive outside the hallowed company walls and I’d never make enough money to support myself.”
That feeling of numbness began to unfurl in my belly.
“He was beyond mean and he was crude. At first his favorite taunt was, ‘The only reason a woman will want to get into your pants, Bratty, is to find your wallet.’”
“His nickname for you was Bratty?”
“One of the nicer ones. And maybe it makes me a whiner to say this, but I’d had a rough time of it at my high school and I transferred to an all-boys school my senior year. So he went off on a tangent about me liking dick so much I changed schools.”
I listened. And seethed.
“I was barely eighteen. My entire life I’d heard what a shrewd businessman Jackson Lund was. From the office staff—none of whom had actually worked with my grandfather during his glory days, so they had no clue about the type of verbal vitriol he was capable of. So for the first month I threw up every day before I went to
What You Need by Lorelei James / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes