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What you need, p.33
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       What You Need, p.33

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  levels.

  But it worked. I fell asleep and I didn’t dream.

  *

  The next morning I woke up to the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” anthem by Twisted Sister.

  It was exactly the kick in the ass I needed.

  Furious, I got dressed, drove to work and stormed into Lund Industries with all the swagger I could muster. I took off my coat and turned around.

  Sydney, Penny, Belinda and Margie gaped at me.

  “What? You’ve never seen tattoos?”

  “Uh, we’ve never seen them on you, Lennox.”

  “Yeah, well, I got tired of wearing itchy sweaters all the time to cover them up.”

  “The lip ring is cool,” Penny said. Then she confessed, “I’ve been debating on getting my nipples pierced.”

  With the tight shirts she wore . . . that was not a good plan.

  I said, “I had mine done and let them close up. It was more annoying than I thought it’d be.”

  “Good to know. Thanks.”

  I glanced over at Lola’s closed door. “Is she in there?”

  “She was. I got a peek at it before she ran out. Her office looked like someone ransacked it.” Penny wrinkled her nose. “She’d better not expect one of us to file all of it.”

  It’s not like filing office documents is rocket science.

  I hated hearing that sentiment echoing in my head, especially when that was so unlike the Brady I knew and loved.

  Sydney poked the tattoo on my arm. “I’m happy you’re not hiding these anymore. They’re much more mainstream.” She cocked her head at me. “I heard that Brady got a tattoo. Rumor is he got a shark bursting out of where his heart would be. Is there any truth to that?”

  “I’ll never tell.”

  “I know you’re working on the main floor today, but please come upstairs and have lunch with me.”

  “You’ve got it.”

  And I held my head high as I went to the reception area to answer the damn phones.

  *

  I’d taken one bite of my soup when she walked in wearing a gorgeous fur coat that brushed her ankles. Her gaze swept the room in that haughty demeanor few women could pull off—but of course she did.

  Then Selka Lund looked right at me. And started toward me.

  I sat up straighter. I wasn’t a bootlicker and she could just deal with that.

  She stopped just short of the table. “Lennox. A moment of your time, please.”

  “I was just having lunch with my friend—”

  “It’s fine,” Sydney said. “Go ahead. I’ll catch up with you later.”

  Pushing my chair back, I grabbed my lunch combo and headed to the back of the room.

  She followed and sat across from me. “I haven’t been in here for ages.”

  I wasn’t in the mood for small talk. “Mrs. Lund. Why are you here?”

  “I was too hasty in judgment of you.”

  Not the same thing as an apology. “Okay. And . . . ?”

  “And two things I’d like to talk about today. First thing. I hear your roommate, this Kiley, is very special social worker, yah?”

  “Yes. She’s a wonderful person. She is appreciative of the caliber of the volunteers LCCO sends to help out.”

  “Of course she is. We strive for best.” She leaned in and her long hair, almost the same color as mine, brushed the table. “Brady said their regular meeting place had been changed?”

  “Closed down completely. So Kiley has been getting creative in finding places for them to go on Saturdays. But she’s afraid the kids will stop coming, especially now since it’s the start of winter and she’s running out of options. Why do you ask?”

  “Why didn’t she ask LCCO for help?”

  “She did. LCCO sent Brady as a volunteer.”

  “No. Help in finding a permanent space. We have many buildings at our disposal. Tell Kiley to call this number.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out a business card. “We will get her fixed up in a place at no charge.”

  I barely kept my jaw from dropping—or from whipping out my phone and texting Kiley right then. “She’ll be thrilled. Thank you so much, Mrs. Lund.”

  “Second thing. You and my son.”

  I bristled automatically.

  “You like him.”

  “Yes.” Very much but I’m pretty sure that’s a moot point.

  “When we first meet, I thought you were like Loki—the trickster. Telling me what a mother wants to hear about her child.” At my blank look, she said, “You talked about Brady being so kind. That is not how he is viewed. It surprised me equally that you saw it in him as it did that he showed that part of himself to you.”

  How was I supposed to respond to that?

  “Annika spoke to me about you.” She sighed. “She and I are what you call . . . Polaroid opposites.”

  “Polar opposites?”

  “Yes, that. Anyway, my daughter and I fight. Hard. But it’s never mean. And it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other fiercely, like tigers.”

  I held my breath, afraid where this was going.

  “Annika . . . told me about your mother and all the horrible things she said.” Then I watched as Selka Lund’s eyes filled with tears. “I am broken up for you. I don’t understand how love for a child could ever be soured. It’s been bitter for you, yes?”

  “Yes.”

  “And yet, you’re not bitter person.”

  I shook my head. “Some days I am. Annika caught me on one of those days.”

  Selka reached for my hand. “What you said to my daughter had her calling me in tears. She thanked me for loving her and for not being cruel to her. She shouldn’t have to thank me because that is a mother’s job. To love without conditioners.”

  “Conditions,” I corrected.

  She waved aside my correction. “And after hearing that, I realized why kindness is important to you. Why you picked that word above all others to describe Brady. Because you haven’t had much kindness in your life, have you?”

  My eyes welled up because I’d wanted this from her, and I was getting it only now that things were over between me and Brady.

  “My son, he will be good for you. And I see that you are good for him. He opens his home and his heart to you.”

  “Mrs. Lund, as much as I want that, I’m afraid that Brady and I are done.” At her blank look, I said, “We’re over. Finished.”

  “Why in the hell would you think that, Lennox?” Brady said behind me.

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Brady

  ‡

  Lennox stared at me as if she was seeing a ghost. “Brady? What are you doing here?”

  “I work here.” I glanced over at my mother. “The better question is what are you doing here, Mom?”

  “Visiting my daughter and I ran over Lennox.”

  “Ran into,” I corrected.

  “Yah, whatever,” she waved her hand. “We were—”

  “Finished,” I said, running my hand down Lennox’s bare arm. Why’d she pick today to let her tats show? And she’d worn her lip piercing. I made a low noise. For some reason I felt possessive of that damn piercing and didn’t want anyone—especially other men—to see how sexy she looked with it. “Lennox, I need to speak with you privately.”

  Panic flashed on her face.

  Why on earth was she scared of me? I reached for her hand.

  She stood, but she tugged her hand free. “I’m a big girl. I don’t need hand-holding for this.”

  That was a strange thing for her to say and so I stuck close behind her as we left the break room. But instead of heading for the bank of elevators, she cut down a side hallway and walked through the open door of a conference room. “What are we doing in here?”

  Lennox spun around and took two steps back from me. “I don’t particularly want to do the walk of shame through your suite of offices, in front of your admin and her secretary, and then have to do it again on my own floor. Just get it out of the
way so I can get my shit packed up and get out of here.”

  I moved in close enough to smell her breath.

  “Omigod you’ve got to be kidding me! You think I’ve been drinking?”

  “You are acting irrationally.”

  “Under the circumstances, who would blame me? Maybe it would’ve been easier if you’d done this over the phone.”

  “Done what?”

  She tossed up her hands. “Fired me!”

  “Why would I fire you?” I searched her eyes for some answers to her behavior. “I’m not your boss.”

  Confusion darkened her gaze. “But . . . I heard you. Yesterday afternoon. I came up to talk to you and you were ranting in your office about me and how I was misleading and ambitious and you planned to fire me yourself.”

  “Why would you assume I was talking about you?”

  “Because Lola was in your office, Brady. She is my boss. And since I gave her my notice yesterday—”

  “Whoa. What do you mean, you gave her your notice yesterday? You’re quitting LI?”

  Lennox appeared even more confused. “Lola didn’t tell you?”

  “Lola was in my office pertaining to another matter. I purposely asked her to keep you out of the things she and I discussed, unless it was relevant to our fact-finding mission. Now tell me why’re quitting LI?”

  She paced forward. Stopped. Turned around. “I’m not quitting LI. I’m resigning my position in the temp department because Annika offered me a better position in PR.”

  Although I wish I’d heard the news under better circumstances, I couldn’t help but smile. “Lennox, that is awesome. Congratulations. You will thrive there.”

  “Thanks. So I’m not fired?”

  “Not that I’m aware of.”

  “Then who is? Because when I heard, ‘I don’t care who signed off on her. She doesn’t get to move to a different department without answering to me,’ it sure sounded like it could’ve been me. And then you went on to indicate that she wouldn’t get immunity or sympathy because we’re—” She frowned. “You didn’t actually finish that train of thought. Then you mentioned, ‘She’s been to Lund family functions,’ which I also took to mean me because I went to the football game.”

  Where had my admin been while Lennox was listening at the door?

  She answered my question next as if she’d read my mind. “Then Jenna showed up and told me I shouldn’t be there. So I left and spent all night and this morning waiting for the summons to get the ax.”

  “First off, even if I was your boss and there was an issue with your job performance, is my reputation as a ruthless bastard so cemented that even after being intimately involved with me, you believe I wouldn’t have given you a chance to tell your side of the story?”

  “I . . . don’t know.”

  “That’s bullshit, Lennox. You do too know.”

  “You were so angry, Brady. I’ve never heard you speak like that. It scared me. It made me think that I didn’t know you like I thought I did.”

  “Wrong. You know me better than anyone has in a long time. And after I’ve continually reassured you throughout our relationship that nothing that happens between us personally will affect your job, you still doubt me.”

  She closed her eyes. “I doubt me. And once those doubts creep in, or they’re pointed out, I cannot get them out of my head.”

  “So that’s why you’re showing off your ink today? Because you figured you didn’t have anything else to lose since you thought you were getting fired?”

  Her eyes flew open. “I hate that you read me so well.”

  “You’re the only one I can do that with.” I slowly erased the distance between us. “I’m sorry you had a rough night.” I kissed the top of her head. “I know it’s not a good excuse, but I had a very tight deadline. We worked until two a.m. and then I sent Jenna and Lola home. I had phone conferences this morning and a meeting at—”

  She briefly put her fingers over my mouth. “You don’t have to explain or justify your schedule to me, CFO Lund. You are a very busy, very important man to LI.”

  “Just to LI?”

  “No.” She looked me square in the eyes so I could see everything in hers. “You’re very important to me.”

  I pressed my forehead to hers. “Lennox. Please tell me you know that we’re not finished. That you understand there wasn’t even a chance of us being over.”

  “I’d hoped. But things don’t usually go the way I want. I tried to prepare myself.”

  “For what?” Please don’t say the worst.

  “For what came next.” She disentangled from me and stepped away. “I’ve had two days of pure crap, thinking I’d lost my job, and probably my boyfriend, plus the added bonus of dealing with my mother.”

  Her mother? Then it clicked. “Wait. The woman I saw you with that day downstairs—?”

  “Yes, that was her.”

  “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know, or I would have—”

  “I didn’t want you to know, Brady—that’s why I acted like you were my boss, not my—”

  Anger flared through me at her inability to say the word, but I forced it down. “If I had known, then I would have had the right to be there for you as your boyfriend. But instead you didn’t tell me a damn thing.”

  “You texted me that you were busy. I’ve never been the type to unburden myself where I’m not wanted.”

  “That’s what you think? That I don’t want you?”

  Lennox briefly closed her eyes. “Can we please not do this here?”

  “Tell me why your mother came to see you.”

  “She showed up for a multitude of reasons.” Her jaw tightened. “The only one regarding me was that she’d ‘heard’ I was involved with a man who was well-off and she wanted to see for herself.” Her eyes narrowed on mine. “You want to know how she ‘heard’ that? Your brother Walker got chatty with Maxie at the bar. He filled Maxie in—Maxie, who is my mother’s best friend—and she reported to my mother the good fortune that I’d landed myself a guy with cash to spare.”

  What the hell was wrong with Walker that he talked about private family stuff to a stranger in a random bar? That’s beside the point, isn’t it? Get back to her. “What else did your mother say to you?”

  “It doesn’t matter. I talked to Annika about it and that helped.”

  “Annika? You could talk to her about it but not me?”

  “I tried to talk to you, but you were busy.”

  “Bullshit. I would’ve dropped everything to be there for you.”

  “How was I supposed to know that?”

 
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