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What you need, p.31
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       What You Need, p.31

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  I hung up. I stood. I paced. I cursed. Tears threatened but I choked them back as I always did.

  Maybe it’d been karma that, of all the days my mother had decided to visit, I’d be right there on the main floor, ready to greet her.

  She didn’t show up until three.

  At first, I didn’t recognize her, because I expected to see a strung-out junkie. But she looked better than the last time I’d seen her. Although her overly bright eyes and the way she continually sniffed let me know she was still high.

  I hung back and watched her interact with the security guard.

  “May I help you, ma’am?” he asked.

  “I’m here to see my daughter.”

  “Does she work in this building?”

  “Yes, would I be here if she didn’t?” she snapped.

  “Did she arrange for a guest pass?”

  “No. This is a surprise visit. Just call her. She’s secretary to the president of the company or something.”

  “Mom?”

  She whirled around. Her eyes narrowed. “Lennox? What are you doing down here?”

  “Working.”

  A couple of seconds passed and then she laughed. “What a little liar you are, telling everyone you’ve got some impressive job and you answer phones at the security desk.” She sneered. “God. To think I ever was the smallest bit proud of you.”

  Frank, the security guard, looked at me with pity. It would take one word from me and she’d be escorted from the building. I gave him a slight head shake. I’d handle this the same way I always did when it came to my mother: the hard way.

  “So it’s just another lie that you’re fucking one of the big money bosses?”

  My face flamed. “Are you trying to embarrass me?”

  “Well, you tried to embarrass me, by making me ask for a person that doesn’t even exist—my successful daughter.”

  “Hey, hey, now. I’ma ask you to refrain from such language or I’ll escort you out.”

  “Frank, I’m taking a break. I’ll be back in ten.”

  “Take your time.”

  I started to steer her toward the big windows by the front door.

  “Or maybe he’s the big boss you’re fu—”

  I stopped and got in her face. “Shut your mouth or I will have him call the cops. Because you are quite obviously high.” I glanced at her big purse. “Wonder what they’d find if they searched you.”

  “You’d love to do that, wouldn’t you?”

  I didn’t answer. I just stormed over to the corner and waited for her to follow. “Why are you here?”

  “I told you I was coming to visit.”

  “Why? You don’t even like me.”

  She notched her chin up. “You’re my daughter. I don’t have to like you to love you.”

  “Did you pick up that gem on one of those crappy daytime TV shows you’re addicted to?”

  “So? It’s true.”

  “If Maxie hadn’t told you that I was doing some rich guy, you wouldn’t have shown up here today. You thought if you tried to embarrass me, I’d give you money to go away, didn’t you?”

  And there was the nasty glare. “You’re a pretty girl, but I can see you haven’t learned to curb that nasty tongue. No wonder you haven’t got a man to marry you.”

  “Because having a man is your definition of success?”

  “Better that than pretending answering phones is some kind of glamorous ‘career,’” she said with a sneer. “I don’t understand you, Lennox.”

  I forced myself to loosen my fists. “You’ve never understood me. So why don’t you just go. Don’t pretend you came here to see me. You fled to Minnesota to make Billy Ray jealous. I’m sure you’ve already called him and bragged about Maxie begging to hire you, and how much money you’re making in tips because you’re still so hot. Telling him how many guys hit on you. It’s some kind of test for him to see if he hauls ass up to Minnesota to get his woman back. In the meantime, you’re partying your ass off like it’s 1985.”

  “You think you’re so smart. I shoulda listened to Adam and smacked—”

  “Ladies. Is there a problem here?”

  Brady. God. I needed to hear his voice, but I didn’t want him here for this. I didn’t want my mom to know that I’d fallen for this sweet, sexy, warm, funny and loving man. The fact he had money didn’t matter to me, but all my mother would ever see when she looked at him was dollar signs. Let her think I was too bitchy to “catch” a man. Let her think I had delusions of grandeur about my job. It’d always been easier for her to believe a lie than see the truth.

  “Miss Greene?”

  “No, Mr. Lund, there’s no problem. I was just giving her directions and she’s about to leave.”

  “Frank said—”

  “I’m sorry I left my post. I’m going back there right now.”

  My mother gave me a disgusted once-over, wiped her nose on the sleeve of her coat and said, “You’re pathetic.” Then she walked away.

  Breathe.

  “Lennox.”

  “Give me a moment.”

  He moved in behind me, there if I needed him.

  But I could control this. I’d been doing it for years.

  I watched her until she got into a cab.

  Please be gone, out of my life for good.

  I flinched when Brady put his hands on my arms.

  That didn’t deter him. “Who was that?”

  “No one.”

  “Lennox, who—?”

  “I told you. She’s no one to me.”

  He sighed into my hair.

  Despite my emotional state, I loved these little pockets of sweetness he gave me. I didn’t even mind that we were in the lobby, where any of my coworkers could see us together.

  “Come upstairs with me.”

  “I can’t. I’m on phone duty for another hour and a half.”

  “Someone else can take over.”

  I faced him and tried to put myself back together. “While I’m happy you want to be my loving, protective man, right now I need to keep up a false front. I can’t afford to fall apart.”

  “And it’s too much to ask me to hold you together? That’s what I’m supposed to do, dammit. That’s what I want to do.”

  “Later. Okay?”

  He retreated and ran his hand through his hair. “Okay. But you’d better be on your way up to my office at five oh one.”

  *

  I got a text from Brady fifteen minutes before five saying that he’d be on an overseas conference call that would last a while and I shouldn’t wait around for him.

  He didn’t mention me going to his place to wait, so I was at loose ends. I’d been prepared to lean on him, tell him why my mother had shown up today, but now he was occupied. I could ask Sydney if she wanted to grab a drink . . . but then I remembered she’d said earlier that she had a date tonight.

  I’d decided to go home when I saw Brady’s sister, Annika, leaving the building. I called out her name.

  She turned around, her eyes searching the crowd until she saw me. She smiled. I hadn’t noticed before that she and Brady had the same smile. “Hey. What are you doing down here?”

  “Subbing for the desk clerk.”

  She whistled. “Who’d you piss off to score that crap job?”

  “No idea. Are you done for the day?”

  “Yep. I was debating on whether to head for the gym or the bar.”

  “I could use a drink or twenty, if you don’t mind me tagging along with you to the bar.”

  “Thank god. I always feel pathetic drinking alone.”

  “People act like you’re just sitting there, waiting for guys to hit on you.”

  Annika nodded. “Let’s avoid the usual places around here. There’s a piano bar six blocks over, if you don’t mind walking.”

  “I could use the fresh air.”

  “Cool.”

  We didn’t talk while we walked, but it wasn’t weird.

  Or it wasn’t u
ntil we were seated in a corner with our two-for-one drinks, away from the hipster happy hour crowd, and I caught Annika studying me.

  I’d never played the shrinking violet very well. It occurred to me that maybe Annika didn’t know that. I’d been quiet and efficient when I was assigned to her department. At the Lund family thing, I’d been more watchful than talkative. So she probably didn’t know what to think of me and maybe that put us on even ground.

  “Let’s get the personal stuff out of the way first.”

  “Shoot.”

  Annika leaned in. “I like you. I like you with my brother. He’s been all business for so long I’m happy to see he’s having a life. You get him, don’t you?”

  “You mean, do I call him on his shit? Yes. I see the man beneath the power suits and the haughty attitude and the math brain. But it’s only because he’s chosen to show me the sweet, sexy and kinky sides. I appreciate how rare that is for him.”

  Her eyes widened. “Kinky? Umm, TMI, Lennox. He’s my brother.”

  I grinned. “Just seeing if you’re paying attention.”

  “Jerk.”

  “I’m glad you like me. Your mother . . . not so much.”

  “She’s playing a part. She’ll get tired of it, trust me.” Annika slurped down her drink. Then I watched a change come over her. The same kind of Let’s get to business expression Brady had.

  Uh. Oh.

  “You’ve been in the office temp department for almost a year. Is that where you’re the happiest? Because it’s something different every day?”

  “That’s part of the appeal. Why?”

  “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

  Why did people in positions of power ask this question? Was it supposed to prove loyalty? “I see myself on a houseboat in the Philippines cooking empanadas and fried plantains.”

  Annika laughed. “Points for creativity. Maybe you should be applying to Marketing instead of PR.”

  “Applying?” My heart jumped into my throat. “This is a job interview?”

  “I told you I wanted you on my team, Lennox. You’ve had almost eight months of floating to other departments. And tell me, did you feel overqualified to sit at a desk in reception and answer phones? Did you feel like your potential was being wasted?”

  I squirmed.

  “Truth.”

  “Yes.”

  “Good. That’s what I want to hear. Look, I have no doubt that you could run the clerical support program when Lola decides to retire. The money would be good. It wouldn’t be a huge challenge. There’s nothing wrong with wanting that type of job.”

  “But?”

  “But PR is faster paced. We have more autonomy. That’s not to say we don’t have rules—we do; it’s just no one knows them.”

  I laughed.

  “Let’s cut to the chase. There will be an opening in PR in three weeks. Are you interested?”

  “You want honesty? Here it is. I’m not interested in the creative side. I like order. I like lists. I like checking things off my list. I like checking to see if others have checked things off their lists. I like to work with other employees, not clients. I can’t sell anything to save my life.”

  Annika stared at me and I thought I’d blown it.

  Until she said, “I have a crazy girl crush on you right now, Lennox Greene.” She laughed. “You are exactly what my department needs. That’s why I was vague on the details of what the job entails, because I wondered if you wanted to be on the creative side. Now that I know you are more the math brain type like Brady, I want you to come to work for me. You’ll be challenged—you’ll be the queen of lists in Post-it note creative chaos. And the money is rockin’.”

  She gave me a starting salary amount that dropped my jaw.

  “Now your turn for truth, Annika Lund. Is that number because I’m involved with your brother?”

  “That’s industry standard salary for one year’s experience.” She sipped her second drink. “Look it up.”

  “I will.”

  “I understand you’ll probably want time to think it over, but don’t take too long, because the job gets listed on Tuesday. And before you ask, yes, I have full hiring and firing authority, and it is not a requirement for me to post the job opening. I can hire and promote at will.” She grinned. “It’s good to be me.”

  I drained my drink. “You know what? I don’t need time to think about this. I’d be delighted to work for you, Annika.”

  She clapped her hands. “You won’t regret this. And you know you’ll fit right in.”

  I’d loved working in PR, and I would’ve snapped that job up except for the fact I’d wanted more experience and a more solid employment record. Now that I had that . . . look out. I glanced up at her. “Will it bother you if people in the company assume that I got the job because I’m involved with Brady?”

  “Nope.”

  “What if things go south between me and your brother?”

  Annika rolled her eyes. “I’m hiring you, not him. I wouldn’t put it past him to do some dumbass thing to test your commitment to him, because he is a man, but it won’t be intentional. Just do me a favor—don’t tell him I hired you until you officially give notice.”

  “Sure. Should I give notice tomorrow?”

  “Yes.” Annika held up her glass. “To you making my work life easier.”

  I touched my glass to hers. “Sounds like a plan.”

  “Now. Tell me every little thing about you, Lennox.”

  That’s when I burst into tears.

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Brady

  ‡

  I didn’t have time for this bullshit personnel meeting. I had fifty other irons in the fire, and trying to get everything done in forty hours—okay, maybe fifty hours—a week instead of eighty hours had proved to be a serious challenge. Jenna had picked up some of the slack and had delegated her basic secretarial duties to Patrice. When Patrice heard I had a girlfriend, she’d stopped being moon-eyed over me and actually began to do her job.

  Before I walked into the sixteenth-floor conference room, Jenna took me aside. “I just heard about this.”

  “What? This meeting? Join the club.”

  “No, the topic of this meeting. There haven’t been any whispers about it from my usual sources, which should’ve set off my alarm bells.”

  “Whatever. I need to get this over with.”

 
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