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What you need, p.34
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       What You Need, p.34

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  My eyes took on a glint I didn’t bother to hide. “That’s the point I’m trying to make. You wouldn’t know that because you keep an emotional distance from me—and not because I’m an owner in the company you work for. Do you know how deep that slices me, Lennox? Hearing that you were hurting and you didn’t think I was important enough to share that with?”

  Those beautiful eyes widened, as if that was the first time she’d considered it. “I’m sorry.”

  “So am I.”

  Her phone buzzed and she pulled it out to check the time. “My lunch break is over.”

  “I don’t give a damn. Take the afternoon off. We’re not done here.”

  Her tone was as snappish as her eyes. “I may be changing departments, but that doesn’t change how I work. And if you don’t know that about me—”

  I smashed my mouth to hers and hauled her close, my fingers circling the smooth skin of her strong biceps. I kissed her with hunger and finesse, with possession. My body reminding hers how well I knew it. Reminding her how good it was between us.

  Lennox melted into me. Giving me the sweet fire she always did. Making me want to get on my knees and thank the universe for bringing her into my life. Making me want to stand on the top of the tallest structure and proclaim my devotion to her. How could she imagine that there’d ever be anyone else for me?

  Show her, dumbass. Don’t tell her.

  I released her mouth with just as much confidence as I’d taken it. “You’re right. Let’s not do this here. Come over tonight.”

  “When?”

  “Seven. Unless you want to come upstairs when you’re done and ride home with me.”

  “I’ll drive over. I need to talk to Kiley first.”

  “About you not getting fired?”

  She looked away. “I wasn’t eager to tell the woman who counts on rent from me that I was about to be out of a job.”

  I tipped her chin back toward me. “Hopefully she’ll figure out you’re headed to my place for hot makeup sex as you’re racing out the door with an overnight bag.”

  “Brady. Don’t push.”

  “I’m the pushy type, baby. You know that about me, so you’ve got to expect I’m not going to sit back and wait when it’s been days since we’ve been alone together.” I brushed my mouth across hers. “Days since I kissed you.” Another teasing kiss. “Days since I touched you.”

  Her eyes heated.

  Good.

  “I said I’d come over. But first I need to relay information to Kiley from your mom.”

  “My mom?” That was scary.

  Lennox smirked. “It worries you, what your mom and I talked about?”

  “No,” I lied.

  Her phone beeped again. “I’ve gotta go.”

  I kissed her again. “See you at seven.”

  *

  I wasn’t surprised that my uncle Monte, my dad, Ash, Nolan and I were called into Uncle Archer’s private conference room. I was surprised to be the last one to arrive, however.

  “Brady. Have a seat.”

  “Thanks.”

  “What the hell happened in the Personnel department today?” Uncle Archer zeroed in on me with his I don’t have time for bullshit CEO stare.

  “Bluntly? Anita Mohr has had way too much power for too long. Blatant disregard of company protocols. Leveling verbal threats at other employees. Misdirection. Extreme nepotism.” I felt both Ash and Nolan studying me. “This time she’s beyond your protection, sir.”

  “My protection?” He truly seemed shocked. “Why would you say that?”

  “Anita has made no bones about telling anyone who disagrees with her that she has the ear of the CEO and isn’t afraid to use it.”

  “Who’d believe that?”

  “Everyone, sir. She makes them believe it. And maybe it’s a scare tactic, but it works.”

  “For example?”

  I filled him in on the HR complaints, the missing performance reviews and the bogus investigation after discrepancies were discovered. I didn’t mention Lennox or Nolan’s admin or Ash’s admin’s part. After the morning meeting they’d assured me they’d deal with the fallout. Ash had slipped into quiet anger mode and I could tell he hadn’t slipped back out of it yet several hours later.

  Archer nodded. “Thank you. How did all of this come to your attention? I’ve never heard of you getting mixed up in personnel matters, Brady.”

  “After I became CFO, Anita was my admin for a few weeks until Jenna got up to speed. She’s used that to her advantage too. She overstepped her bounds, claiming she had the power to fire two of my junior staff members from Finance if they refused to run oversight in her investigation. Now she’s trying to permanently move them from their respective departments. I wouldn’t have heard anything about this, including the audit, except for the fact I’m dating Lennox Greene and, as you know, she works in the temp department that was under investigation.”

  “Lennox spoke to you about a departmental audit?” Uncle Monte asked me with an edge.

  “No, sir. Her coworker mentioned it to me. And that’s a moot point, because knowing that a department is undergoing an audit is not a confidential matter. Normally I see only the end recommendation as far as the potential financial impact. I kept an eye on the process this time, initially because I was ignorant about the duties of that subdepartment. After Lennox and I became involved, I continued to get updates—but not from Lennox. I was blindsided by Anita’s recommendation to eliminate that department entirely. I conducted my own investigation and found contrary evidence.”

  “So these incidents have nothing to do with you protecting your relationship with Lennox?”

  “My relationship with Lennox has not affected my decision in any way and that will continue since Lennox will be working for Annika in PR starting next week.”

  Ash and Nolan exchanged a look that wasn’t lost on me.

  Archer sighed. “I hate this shit. Hate it. We place qualified people in these positions so we don’t have to deal with this inconsequential crap that has no bearing on what we do in running the company. Fire Anita. Immediately.”

  I was about to open my mouth to argue, but my father beat me to it.

  “I hate to disagree with you, Archer, but if Anita buried evidence of her wrongdoing within the company, what’s to keep her from wreaking havoc with our competitors? If we fire her, she’ll go to them and we’ll have lost any ability for damage control.”

  Smart man, my father.

  Archer looked at me, then Ash, because this was Ash’s area of expertise. “Ash?”

  His voice was so low and so deadly we all strained to hear him. “I’ve thought about this. I’ve thought about little else since this came to light. If we fire Anita, I expect she’ll take us to court even though she knows she’ll lose. But she has nothing to lose because of union rules. She will continue to collect a paycheck during litigation, no matter how long it drags out. We won’t dick around with her pension because we’ve never been that kind of a company. But we obviously cannot fire her or leave her in her present position.” He smiled nastily. “That leaves us no choice but to reassign her to the Duluth office.”

  Silence.

  Nolan laughed first. “Absolutely brilliant. If I remember correctly, the last contract we came to terms with the union provided for mobility within the company with no penalties—the employee’s position change could be management led or employee requested. But if the employee refused the managerial decision and resigned their position, they give up any right to future litigation, and they’re prevented from working for a competitor for a year.”

  “She can put whatever spin she likes on it. She’s only—what, two years from retirement? If she quits and has to sit out a year, no company will hire her. Sad fact of life.”

  “You’re certain she’ll take the job?” Archer said to Ash.

  “Relatively. If she does, she won’t have autonomy. She’ll answer to Zosia.”

  A collective groan sound
ed.

  Our cousin Zosia Lund defined hard-ass—and she wasn’t even thirty. She and her brother Zeke had come to us a decade ago when their father had put their fishing and shipping company in Duluth close to bankruptcy. We’d bailed them out and brought them under the Lund Industries banner. They’d rebuilt the business and were back up to one hundred employees. I wished I could see the look on Anita’s face when she took in all five foot nothing of our Ojibwe and Norwegian cousin. Answering to a woman three decades her junior, and dealing with personnel in what amounted to a glorified fishing shack, would be the worst sort of punishment for Anita.

  “Well, I, for one, am happy to see how well all of you have handled this matter,” Archer said. “Any other issues I—we—should be aware of?”

  Nolan, Ash and I each answered, “No.”

  “Good. We’re adjourned.”

  No reason to stick around. I’d made it past the first set of doors when I heard, “Brady. Hold up.”

  I faced my father. “Hey.”

  “Got a moment?”

  “Sure. What’s up?”

  He leaned against the hallway wall. “Is it serious between you and Lennox?”

  Dad excelled in throwing me off balance. “What did Mom tell you?”

  He laughed. “She told me to ask you that, and if you hedged, then I had my answer.”

  I shoved my hands in my suit pockets. “Is this where you tell me to take a step back? Because Lennox and I haven’t been together long, so I can’t know if we’ll go the distance?”

  “No, son, this is where I tell you that there is no standard operating procedure where love is concerned. There’s no timetable. No charts and graphs to help you navigate.”

  “And you’re telling me this . . . why?”

  “Because this is one time when your smarts won’t help you.” He reached out and poked my chest. “Listen to what this is telling you. Your heart isn’t as fickle as your dick. Your heart won’t let logic dictate like your brain will. So trust in this. How you feel about her. How you feel when you’re with her. But most importantly how you’d feel if you didn’t have her in your life every day.”

  He was right. Part of me hated that he was right, because I now was at a loss for what to do next. Blow off our plans, run down to her office and declare myself?

  “Son?”

  “Your advice isn’t helping me, Dad.”

  “It’s not advice.”

  “Then what is it?”

  “A warning. I know you. You overthink things. I see the wheels spinning and you’re already wondering if the next step you plan to take is the right one. Be smart, be quick, but don’t be hasty.” He clapped me on the shoulder. “Keep your mother in the loop and she won’t be forced to meddle.”

  I laughed.

  My father grinned at me. “God, I couldn’t even say that with a straight face. Good luck.”

  *

  I discovered I couldn’t just sit in my loft and wait for her.

  Since she defined punctual, I assumed she’d leave twenty-five minutes early, so I parked the SUV at the curb in front of her place and got out, resting against the passenger door.

  My exhales created clouds of white in the cold night air. I shivered in my long coat. I hadn’t bothered to go home to change. I’d just shown up.

  I was so antsy I was about to crawl out of my fucking skin.

  The door opened and my beautiful Lennox stepped onto the concrete stoop.

  I was happy to see the duffel bag slung over her shoulder. She hadn’t noticed me as she was intent on finding solid footing on the icy sidewalk. I must’ve made a noise, because she looked up at me.

  “Brady? What—?”

  I met her in the middle of the sidewalk. “I couldn’t wait.”

  “For what? Dinner? If you’re that hungry, why don’t we stop somewhere—”

  I framed her face in my hands, which were cold enough on her warm skin to make her gasp. “This isn’t about food.”

  We stared at each other.

  “Truth or dare, Lennox Greene.”

  “Truth.”

  “I’m falling in love with you.” I kissed her and absorbed the warmth of her mouth with mine.

  “And if I would’ve said dare?” she whispered against my lips.

  “I would’ve dared you to tell me how you feel about me.” I kissed her. Breathed her in. “About this.” Another press of my mouth to hers. “About us.” I looked into her eyes and saw everything I needed. But I wanted the words too. “Your turn.”

  “Truth or dare, Brady Lund.”

  “Truth.”

  “I’ve been half in love with you since the first time I realized your outer sharkskin protects a kind heart and your adaptability is as impressive as your sexy suits.”

  Such sweet honesty. “I liked the glimpses of the wild you, Lennox. But that’s not all I see when I look at you.”

  “What do you see?”

  “Beauty. Loyalty. A sharp mind. An honest heart. You’re exactly what I need.”

  We smiled at each other for a long moment.

  “Let’s go before we freeze to death or before this gets too sappy.”

  “Agreed. You are feeding me, right?”

  I slipped the duffel bag from her shoulder, and as I was straightening back up, Lennox scooped up a handful of snow and shoved it down my shirt.

  “Act of war, baby. Remember, you asked for this.”

  I tackled her. Pinned her in the snow. Kissed her. Tried to make a double snow angel with me on top of her.

  Things got a little out of hand before I buried my cold face into the crook of her neck.

  “Brady! Stop! That’s cold.”

  “Mmm. I’ve got some killer ideas on how we can warm up.”

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Lennox

  ‡

  Four months later . . .

  “Don’t take too long in there,” Brady yelled to me from the bedroom. “I’m anxious to see the surprise you’ve got planned for me. I’m hoping it involves sexy lingerie and whipped cream.”

  I rolled my eyes and shut the bathroom door. After I stripped, I started to worry that my surprise was lame and would be a serious letdown for him. And that would suck because our weekend had been perfect so far.

  Perfect.

  Brady Lund, Mr. Freakin’ Perfect, turned out to be the most perfect boyfriend ever.

  I don’t know why that surprised me. The man excelled at everything.

  In the months we’d been dating, he’d put as much effort into our relationship as he did into his career.

  It was humbling.

 
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