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What you need, p.3
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       What You Need, p.3

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  My life had gone from tolerable to horrible. I’d always been a straight-A student, but the change to the new school sent my grades spiraling. I started hanging out with the tough crowd—kids like me with a shitty home life. I clicked with a girl my age named Taylar, whose older brother Travis was in a band. The siblings were on their own after a bad family situation, which was why they let me crash with them most nights. I wasn’t a leech, so on Friday and Saturday nights when the band had a gig at one of the local bars, Taylar and I did grunt work—hauling trash out, hauling ice in for the bartenders, cleaning bathrooms—and we were paid cash under the table.

  I was in heaven.

  I was also only fifteen.

  During that time, I rarely thought about my mom. So I hadn’t realized I hadn’t been to Adam’s place in over three months, until the day my mother showed up at school looking for me.

  The instant I saw the mean glint in her eye, I knew I’d have to lie about my whereabouts; she’d go after Taylar and Travis just as she’d gone after Rick. And luckily, a few times when my friends had been out of town, I’d stayed at a homeless shelter for runaway teens, so they had me on record.

  So, on one hand, I was happy that the principal chewed my mom’s ass for waiting so long to find out where I’d been. On the other hand, the obvious disconnect between me and my mom meant we were assigned a social worker. My schoolwork wasn’t an issue. Neither was truancy. Since we qualified as low income, I got two free meals a day at school, so I didn’t miss a day, because it was the only time I ate. I also didn’t skip class, because the last thing I wanted was the school calling my mother and asking where I was.

  The social worker warned us she’d make surprise checks, leaving me no choice but to be where my mom was—at least during the school week. I hated every second of being trapped in the cramped tin shoe box known as Adam’s trailer.

  But the worst part of living there was the creepy way Adam watched me. If I knew my mother wasn’t there, I wouldn’t go inside by myself. As soon as six o’clock Friday night rolled around, I lit out. Back to working in whatever bar Travis’s band had scored a gig in. Back to crashing with Taylar and Travis.

  That went on for the rest of the school year. When summer vacation rolled around, my social worker was reassigned and I was freed. Taylar and I found part-time jobs in the janitorial department at a nursing home. Since we worked only Monday through Thursday, we could still travel with the band on the weekends.

  On the night of my sixteenth birthday I crossed three milestones. Travis popped my cherry. I got a tattoo. And I smoked pot for the first time.

  It was the best summer of my life.

  A talent management company had taken notice of Travis’s band and had booked them on a six-month cross-country tour. Taylar’s boyfriend was the band’s drummer; she decided to drop out of school to travel with the band. They asked me to come along, but I had it in my head I needed to finish high school. Since Travis and Taylar weren’t re-upping the lease on their apartment, I had only one place to go: back to the crappy reality I’d tried to avoid.

  So it was no surprise that when I showed up at Adam’s trailer two days prior to the start of my junior year, my mother was livid. Not because I’d been gone for three months, but because I’d come back.

  Adam, the asshole, had actually acted decent for a change. I wouldn’t say I’d misjudged him, but I wasn’t afraid to be alone around him.

  Mistake number one.

  I’d been back only three weeks when Adam made a move on me. I told him when my mother found out she’d leave his sorry ass for good, and he attacked me. I got away with a split lip and bruises on my arms from where he’d tried to hold me down. I’d kneed him in the balls. When he howled in pain and released me, I ran out of the trailer. I hopped a bus to where my mom worked.

  But the transit system was slower than Adam’s car and he’d gotten there first. He told her I came on to him—and it hadn’t been the first time. He claimed to be tired of me always taunting him about having a young piece of ass like mine instead of an old wrinkled one like hers. Of me trying to hurt my mother by using him to make her jealous. So when I kissed him, he grabbed me by the upper arms to push me away, and in a desperate move I grabbed his balls.

  I watched my mother sweep her hand down Adam’s arm in a show of support as she glared at me. Then she launched into a verbal attack so vicious I lost the ability to breathe. I’d never been so mortified as I was in that moment hearing what my mother really thought of me—in front of a bar full of people. Her parting shot was she’d beat the hell out of me if I didn’t get out of her sight for good.

  I didn’t cry. I didn’t react at all besides getting out of the bar. I figured I was safe for a few hours—likely they’d be celebrating about what a stand-up guy Adam was for spurning the advances of a horny sixteen-year-old girl—so I took a bus back to the trailer. I packed the few things I owned, called Taylar and hit the ATM for some traveling money. Then I hopped a Greyhound bound for Kansas City and joined the band. I stayed with Travis for only two years and spent the next seven years . . . wandering.

  The neighbor’s dog started barking, pulling me out of the memories I tried so hard to keep buried.

  I owed my mother nothing, especially not a place to sleep, and definitely not a second thought. I drained my beer and turned on the TV.

  Chapter Three

  Brady

  ‡

  Saturday night I waited outside the restaurant to meet Siobhan.

  I’d worked all day. One of the perks of being CFO was my executive office had a private bathroom as well as a dressing room where I kept several changes of clothes. I’d never voluntarily admit how many nights I’ve spent sleeping there after working until close to dawn the next day. Most people didn’t know I’d been there all night; they just assumed I’d gotten in early.

  I forced myself not to pace as I waited. I’d worn a blazer, not in an effort to impress but because October in Minnesota meant the weather could change from balmy to frigid in as little as an hour. What I had on wasn’t club wear by any stretch, but I’d never grasped the need for a different look when hitting the bars.

  My cousin Nolan constantly harassed me about dressing like a stuffy old man. The pushy jackass had even brought his personal shopper into my office to stage an intervention. The guy seemed nice enough, if more enthusiastic about men’s fashion and grooming than I was accustomed to. Plus, his personal clothing choices set off my warning bells. No fucking way was I ever wearing skinny jeans. Or a neon yellow shirt that would stop traffic on Hennepin Avenue. Or a fedora.

  Nolan had given up on me. He’d sworn I’d have to beg him for help when I finally came to my senses.

  As if that’d happen.

  The black Lincoln Town Car pulled up to the curb and I pasted a smile on my face. The driver came around the back to open the door and a redhead stepped out.

  A young redhead. Christ, the girl—and yes, I mean girl—looked barely legal. Then it occurred to me I’d never clarified why Maggie’s niece was here. A horrid thought crossed my mind. What if this girl was a high school foreign exchange student?

  Upon closer examination, I decided Siobhan was college aged. But it made no sense why Maggie had chosen me to be her niece’s companion. I was easily a dozen years older than this girl. I had two younger brothers who were better suited.

  You agreed to do this because you just had to know what opportunity your dad was springing on you. Maybe if you weren’t such a control freak, you’d just go with the flow once in a while. Then you wouldn’t be in the situation of having to card your fucking date.

  I offered my hand. “Siobhan? I’m Brady Lund.”

  She sized me up. “Well, Mags din’t tell me to expect an older gent.”

  Great.

  “But I’m happy to meet you, Brady Lund, if for no other reason than to get out of me aunt’s flat.”

  “Shall we go in?”

  Siobhan glanced up at the marquee.
Fancy place, eh?”

  “No, just a good steakhouse.”

  “Mags didn’t tell you I’m vegetarian?”

  I froze. “No, she didn’t.”

  “No offense, but you’d better be comin’ up with another place to chow down. Meat is murder and all that.”

  “Of course.”

  “I’ll get the car back here.” She let loose a piercing whistle that rivaled an air horn for loudness. When that didn’t work, she stepped into the street and started waving her arms. She’d dressed like a street urchin in a skirt over leggings, heeled boots, a ruffled blouse and a long cardigan. I felt as if I’d stepped into a Dickens novel.

  Right then, I should’ve gone with my gut instinct and called off the evening. Instead, I pulled her out of the street and said, “I have the car service number, so there’s no need for that.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

  I took out my phone and typed “vegetarian restaurants Uptown Minneapolis” into the search engine. “There are five places around here. Would you like to choose?”

  “Are any of them within walkin’ distance to Steel Balls, the club I wanna hit after?”

  Steel Balls? “I have no idea. And what makes you think that going to that club is on the agenda tonight?”

  “Agenda? Dude. You are uptight. This club is right hard to get into, but I thought a guy with your connections—”

  “My connections?”

  “Business bigwig, flush with a lot o’ the green.”

  “Well, you thought wrong.” I scrolled through the restaurant list. “There’s sushi or Indian a block either way.”

  “Sushi.”

  I hit the walk option on the map and spent our short stroll staring at the cursor blinking on the map image, half hoping I’d trip off the curb. Surely an ambulance call was a valid reason for ending a date.

  I held the door open for her.

  “Now this is more like it.”

  The restaurant had a small sushi bar in the middle of the room and tables scattered throughout.

  The hostess appeared. “Two for dinner?”

  “Yeah, and put us close to the bar, will ya?” Siobhan said.

  She stated that as if it would be a drunken free-for-all.

  Like hell.

  After we were seated, I said, “No bullshit, Siobhan. How old are you?”

  “Twenty-one. Why?”

  She was lying; I was sure of it. “Because if you order a drink, they will card you. America isn’t like Ireland.”

  “Hey. What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “Like you don’t know Irish bars don’t really give a damn if you’re only fifteen. As long as you have money and don’t act like a pain in the arse, they’ll serve you.”

  “Been to Ireland, have ya?”

  “Twice.”

  That surprised her.

  The waitress came by to take our drink orders. I opted for a Leinenkugel Red Lager.

  “That’s sounds good. I’ll have the same—but bring me two. Bein’ from Ireland, one gets tired of drinkin’ Guinness. Although you Yanks serve it way too cold.” She winked at the waitress.

  The Asian waitress smiled. “Yes, these Yanks try and improve on everything, don’t they?”

  Then the two of them launched into a discussion about all the foreign things Americans had gotten wrong.

  When I took out my phone, the waitress got the hint to skedaddle and fill our drink order.

  “That was rude,” Siobhan said.

  I tucked my phone in my pocket. “Not as rude as your comment about Americans and their misuse of the word football.”

  She smirked. “Got your back up, eh?”

  “Since my brother plays for the Vikings? Yes.”

  “One of the more hapless teams in American football, I’ve heard.”

  Enough. “How about you don’t malign a true sport that you don’t understand and I won’t have a hard go at your beloved footie, eh?”

  Her eyes flared with anger. “You’re more than a bit of a puss face.”

  “I don’t know what that means. But I can’t imagine it was a compliment.”

  “’Twasn’t. Least you aren’t completely daft. Ah, perfect timing,” she said to the waitress as she dropped off the beers.

  Siobhan gulped her first beer and leaned back in her chair, daring me to say anything.

  I clamped my teeth together. The little brat wasn’t getting the best of me.

  I hoped the service was fast, because I couldn’t wait for this to be over.

  She probably feels the same. Story of your dating life, isn’t it?

  *

  Lennox

  Of all the sushi joints in town . . . Brady Lund had wandered into mine.

  Well, not mine as in I owned it, but mine as in my roommate Kiley and I splurged every other week and had a girls’ night out at the Sake Palace. Since we’d been coming here so long we were considered regulars—and I didn’t like that he was on my turf.

  With a date.

  I checked out the redhead sitting across from him at his cozy table for two. Not at all the type of woman I imagined Brady Lund would go for.

  Woman? She’s like twelve. Maybe he’s babysitting.

  I snorted. That’d be the day.

  Kiley glanced up. “What’s so funny?”

  “Nothing.”

  “Then why the self-amused snort?”

  I hated that she knew my tells. I leaned in. “Don’t look—” I put my hand on her shoulder to keep her from whipping her head around. “Seriously, don’t look, but the CFO of Lund Industries is here with a date.”

  “Where?”

  “Back and to your right.”

  Kiley shrugged her shoulder to dislodge my hand. “I hate it when you do that. I can be discreet.”

  I bit back another snort.

  “This is the clueless dude who didn’t know about the temp department?”

  “Yes.”

  “The one who is so freakin’ gorgeous that you could orgasm just from looking at him?”

  “Kiley! Shut up! I never said that.”

  She poked her chopsticks at me. “But you’ve thought about it and it’s all over your face whenever you talk about him.”

  I snatched up a piece of pickled ginger and popped it into my mouth.

  “So, since I can’t look, give me a play-by-play on what’s going on.”

  “They just got their drinks. I can’t believe Jailbait is old enough to drink.”

  Kiley choked on her sake. “Jailbait?”

  “She looks really young.”

  “Maybe it’s his niece.”

  I shook my head. “Neither of his brothers nor his sister is married.”

  “Scary that you know how many siblings he has, Lennox.”

  “I work for Lund Industries, so I know about the entire family because that’s part of my job,” I retorted. “His sister, Annika, is
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