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What you need, p.29
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       What You Need, p.29

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  work. By the second month I just had that continual gnawing in my gut because I knew that my grandfather was right. I was stupid, lazy and unfocused. Ugly, too. I’d probably die a virgin. And I’d end up just like—” He shuddered.

  I rolled until my cheek was pressed against his chest and wrapped my arms around him. “Like who, Brady?”

  “Like my dad. Not only had Grandpa picked me apart until I was nothing but a shell, he went after my dad. Telling me every day that he was embarrassed that his son had no drive, no brain for business. He went on to brag that the only reason my father even had a position at LI was because he’d allowed it. My dad was a pitiful example of a man who slid by with the minimum amount of work. Then he’d demand, ‘Is that what you’re striving for? Is that your big life plan—to be like your old man?’ So by the third month, I’d gotten mad. I swore I’d prove Jackson Lund wrong. I’d never be like my father. The fun guy. He set up corporate parties. He smoothed things over with clients. He wasn’t out acquiring and making the big money. I made myself a promise that I’d be running the goddamned company before I turned thirty-five, making me the youngest corporate executive in LI history. When I went off to college, I took every business and finance class they offered.”

  “And you exceeded even your own expectations.”

  “Yeah. I guess. Even after my grandfather died, I didn’t slow down. And that mean bastard didn’t live long enough to see my success. Part of me is glad, because I know nothing I ever accomplished would’ve been good enough.”

  I kissed his chest over his heart, my own heart heavy with sadness. He’d been as much a victim as I had. Economic disparities didn’t matter; harsh cruel words bounced off a solid surface regardless of whether it was in a mansion or a trailer. “Does anyone in your family know how cruel he was to you?”

  Brady shook his head. “I was too embarrassed to tell anyone because I was afraid they’d start to look at me differently. It would’ve killed me to have them see me like he saw me.”

  “I’m sorry you went through all that.”

  “Know what I’m the most sorry about? The skewed perceptive I had of my dad. He’s a great man. Way more complex than what Grandpa claimed. Way more loving and kind.”

  I held on to him tightly.

  “About an hour after I’d finished talking to Walker last night, my dad approached me. In his supportive, kind way he told me he was so proud of me and hated to see me struggling. And if there was anything he could do . . . his door was always open to me.” Brady swallowed hard. “That’s the kind of man I want to be, Lennox. And it has nothing to do with my position in the corporation.”

  “It sounds like you finally had the kind of moment of clarity that your brother and cousins were trying to force on you.”

  “Yeah.”

  “So you’re all right?”

  He tipped my head back and kissed me with the sweet surety that made my belly flip, my heart swell and my eyes sting. “I’m much better now. Because this time I’m positive this isn’t a temporary fix for me.”

  “Good.”

  Chapter Twenty

  Brady

  ‡

  Lennox and I had decided she’d show up with Kiley and her charges, so no one would suspect it was actually my place. She’d be seeing it at the same time as everyone else. That made me more nervous than having a dozen teenagers roaming around. I hadn’t been in a relationship before, so having my girlfriend stay over hadn’t come up.

  The outer buzzer sounded and I shut off the alarm system to this floor before I opened the door.

  Excited teens poured in, eagerly zipping past me to check out the space. I smiled and made noncommittal noises, my eyes searching for her.

  And there she was. My beautiful wild thing.

  She moved into me first, wrapping her arms around me tightly and nestling her cheek into my chest. She didn’t tell me she missed me; she didn’t need to, because her actions spoke loud enough.

  Although I couldn’t kiss her the way I needed to, I couldn’t not touch my lips to hers. She gave me a cheeky smile when I saw she’d worn her lip ring.

  I held her hand as we joined the group.

  “This place is beyond awesome—it’s like a dream, man,” DeMarius declared. “Who owns it?”

  “And how do you know them?” Tonto asked.

  “And why’d they let you use it?” Juice said.

  They were all looking at me suspiciously. “I saved the guy who owns this place a lot of money in taxes. He lets me use it once in a while.”

  “The guy is an athlete, isn’t he? With that half court I bet he’s a Timberwolves player.”

  Juice shoved DeMarius. “Dude. A pro player would have a full court. I bet the guy plays for the Vikings.”

  “Nah. The place doesn’t smell like broken dreams,” Tonto said.

  I had to laugh at that one. The rest of the kids hung back, letting the three guys lead.

  Kiley stepped in. “You know the drill. I’m trying to get you to see that you get to choose the way you live. You see yourself living in a place like this? You gotta work for it. You aren’t gonna earn it as a two-bit go-between for some crackhead dealer. You aren’t gonna earn it picking fights and ending up in juvie. You aren’t gonna earn it chopping cars, stealing cars or driving the getaway car. You guys feel me?”

  The guys had their arms crossed over their chests, heads back, looking down on Kiley as if by listening to her they were doing her a big favor. I didn’t know how she dealt with this shit day in and day out. If even one of these kids got out of their home life situation and went to college . . . Would one in twelve be considered a success rate? Or a failure rate?

  “Education is the key to earning your own way. College, vocational training, the military—all ways you can step up and be more than you ever thought you could be, and that’ll quiet down your friends and family who are telling you everything you can’t do.”

  “Shee-it. My mama told me I got thug blood,” DeMarius said. “She just don’t say if it’s from her side or the sperm donor’s side. So I tell her, hell no, she ain’t putting that on me.”

  “Good for you, DeMan!” Kiley said. “Anyone else wanna talk about family stuff that might’ve gone down since we last met?”

  “Jonesie got arrested,” Juice said.

  “Yeah, I heard that. What’d he do?” Tonto asked.

  “He got high and went to his mom’s place to confront his stepdad. Took a swing at him and when his mom tried to stop him, she ended up in the line of fire. Jonesie hit her hard enough to break her jaw. The cops took him to juvie in St. Paul.” Kiley sighed. “I talked to him. He doesn’t remember anything. So yeah—so much for drugs taking the edge off. He’s gonna do a long stint for this last stunt.”

  “It’s not fair,” the quiet blond boy said. “His stepdad should’ve been locked up. He’s been beating on Jonesie forever.”

  “The court never takes the side of kids,” Quay said, dropping his arm over his little sister’s shoulder. “We gotta protect them the best we can.”

  “Sometimes your best ain’t good enough,” Juice said.

  These kids had been through hell. They were still going through it. Rather than putting up with it, Lennox had left. I knew it had been a gutsy move, but I didn’t know just how gutsy until now.

  “Anyone else have anything to add?” Kiley asked.

  Silence.

  “All right, then. Let’s move on. Since Brady is a numbers guy, and some of you have problems with math, he has generously offered to do some tutoring.”

  Lennox squeezed my hand.

  A couple of the kids hung back and looked around as if they’d entered an alien world and were about to be probed.

  “And since I know not everyone likes sports, there’s a table set up on the other side of the boxing ring with games like chess and checkers. Next to that we’ve thrown out some canvasses, and there are paints, markers and other supplies.”

  The Hispanic girl raised
her hand.

  “Yes, Maria?” Kiley asked.

  “Where is the bathroom?”

  “Back by the weight room. The only place that’s off-limits is the boxing ring, so no boxing or MMA-type sparring, okay?” I said.

  “What’s upstairs?” Willa the tall redhead asked me.

  “I have no idea.”

  “There’s plenty to keep you all occupied down here, so don’t go looking for trouble,” Kiley warned.

  I rubbed my hands together. “Who’s ready to solve some equations?”

  Two guys actually ran for the basketball court.

  I laughed and pointed at Juice. “Did you bring your book and assignments?”

  He looked embarrassed. “Yeah.”

  “How’d the last couple of weeks go?”

  “Fail, fail and fail.”

  “Well, even the slightest improvement will be a forward step. Grab your stuff.”

  I slid my duffel bag over to the table I’d set up and reached inside for my glasses case. I tossed out a pad of graph paper, several mechanical pencils, erasers and two calculators—a basic one and a scientific model with graphing capabilities.

  Juice yanked the chair out across from me. “What’s all this shit? Man, I don’t got the kinda money for that fancy-ass calculator. If that’s what I need to pass the class, I’m screwed.”

  “I wasn’t sure if you were in trigonometry or algebra.”

  “Algebra.” He shoved his assignment at me. “I only did the first problem.”

  I recopied it and within four steps solved it. Then I put our papers side by side. “Tell me the difference.”

  “Yours is right and mine is wrong.”

  “Besides that.”

  Juice looked from paper to paper. “I don’t know.”

  “Yes, you do. Follow each step. You have to show your work, Juice. I know teachers harp on that, but there’s a reason they do. If you show your work and you don’t get the right answer at the end, then you can go back through each step and see where you missed something.” I tapped on the paper. “Next problem. Show your work this time. Remember, this isn’t a race. There’s no buzzer to beat. It’s more about finesse than speed.”

  A startled look crossed his face, as if he hadn’t expected that. “Okay.”

  I purposely took longer than usual to solve the equation. While I waited for Juice to finish the problem, I glanced over at Lennox and saw her watching me with heated eyes. She bit her lip—right over the damn lip ring she’d worn to taunt me. So I deliberately adjusted my glasses, knowing it’d make her crazy.

  Her sexy sigh echoed to me across the vast concrete space.

  I’d always taken pains to hide the fact I wore glasses. But Lennox being so hot for me when she saw me wearing them, and then seducing the hell out of me, had put a new spin on it. She had no idea how deeply her acceptance about everything about me had affected me. Being away from her these last few days had driven home the point I didn’t ever want to be away from her. And what I felt for her was probably that elusive love thing.

  “Brady.”

  I tore my gaze away from Lennox and focused on Juice. I passed my paper to him. “Check your answer against mine.”

  A pause, then, “Hey! I got it right.”

  “Why do you think that is?”

  “Because I showed my work.”

  “Exactly. Keep going.”

  When I took my paper back and jotted down the next problem, I found Juice staring at me. “What?”

  “You’re not gonna go play ball or play grab-ass with Lennox?”

  I raised an eyebrow at him. “You don’t want me here doing homework with you?”

  He blushed. “It’s not that. It’s just . . . teachers usually sit through one problem, then say I’m on my own.”

  “That doesn’t make sense to me. If I help you with the first problem, that’s no guarantee you’ll grasp the concept for the second problem. I’m not going to do the work for you, but I won’t abandon you either until you’ve got a better handle on it.”

  “Thanks.”

  The noise level increased as the kids relaxed enough to have fun. When Juice stayed with it, Tonto, Quay and DeMarius came over to see what he was doing. They returned to the court, but Quay got out his notebook and stayed. He did the same set of problems as Juice, and I had to withhold a chuckle when Juice reminded Quay to show his work.

  Kiley provided food, and after lunch I played a game of horse with Willa and Needra. I tried not to obsessively track Lennox’s movements, because I knew I’d have her moving under me soon enough.

  The kids had exhausted all sources of entertainment by three o’clock, so Kiley started rounding them up. She’d managed to score transportation from the Outreach Center and the kids razzed each other about being stuck on the “short bus.” They were so busy checking their phones—Kiley had enforced a no-phones rule during their activity time—that they didn’t notice that Lennox hadn’t gotten back on the bus with them.

  I waited until the bus pulled away before I shut the door. I set the alarm system. I didn’t want any interruptions.

  Then I faced her.

  “Brady.”

  “Lennox.”

  “What now?” she said breathlessly.

  “I’ve been obsessed with how this would play out when we were alone at my place.”

  She inched backward. “What did you come up with?”

  “Taking you across the hood of the Maybach.”

  “I don’t see any cars in here.”

  I stalked her. “I moved them out.”

  “What are your other ideas?”

  “Boxing ring or the weight bench.”

  “Why?”

  “Because they’re the closest horizontal surfaces. Or maybe because they’ll be softer on your back.” I paused. “Or on your knees.”

  She swallowed hard. “Are those my only options?”

  “Unless you’ve got other ideas.”

  “I do.” She stopped moving.

  “Name it.”

  Her chest rose and fell and the pulse jumped in her throat. “Your bed. I know you want to prove you’re a wild man and I can’t think of any place I’d rather be when you let loose.”

  Of course she said the perfect thing. I offered her my hand. When she sauntered closer, I held my other hand up to stop her. “This is as much skin-to-skin contact as I can deal with right now.”

  “So if I did this”—she fisted her hand in my shirt and pulled me toward her until we were mouth-to-mouth—“and then this”—she rubbed her hips against mine—“would that speed things up?”

  I fastened my mouth to hers, plunging my tongue between her lips, cranking up the need to a near combustible level. When she turned her head to take a breath, I played with that lip ring with my teeth and tongue until she whimpered.

  “No, baby,” I whispered. “That just slowed things way down.”

  Clasping her hand, I led her up the steel stairs to the outer door. I punched in the code for my residence and, once inside, took her up the stairs instead of using the elevator.

  I could feel her wide-eyed gaze on my back as I entered the code required to exit the stairwell and enter my loft. We stepped into a dark hallway and I turned right. I’d give her the full tour later—the only place she’d see right now was my bedroom.

  I hadn’t made my bed. My suitcase was open on the floor. The blinds were still drawn. Letting go of her hand, I picked up the bag from the drugstore with the box of condoms and tossed it on the nightstand. Then I saw her standing in the doorway.

 
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