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What you need, p.4
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       What You Need, p.4

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  in the PR division of Lund, his brother Walker does something in construction, and his other brother, Jensen, plays for the Vikings.”

  Kiley’s eyes widened. “No shit? Jens ‘The Rocket’ Lund is his brother?”

  “I didn’t know you were a football fan.”

  “I wasn’t until he started playing. Man. Have you seen The Rocket’s ass in his football pants? It really emphasizes his Tight End position. He shoulda got the Heisman for that alone.”

  I barely resisted smacking myself in the forehead. But then I saw Jailbait lean back in her chair, with her arms crossed over her chest. Mr. CFO ran his hand through his hair. Neither of them looked like they were having a good time.

  Why that caused a spark of happiness made no sense.

  Jailbait stood, grabbed her beer and headed to the sushi station.

  “Hello?” Kiley snapped her finger in front of my face.

  “Sorry.” I refocused on my friend. “Before I got distracted by the orgasm generator”—I grinned at her—“you were telling me about your newest project.”

  “I was telling you about it because I need your help.” Kiley set down her chopsticks, serious face in place. “One of the centers my kids attend got closed down because of drug activity. While I’m glad the cops are following through with their promise to get rid of the troublemakers, it feels like these kids are being punished. So if they’ve got nowhere to go on Saturday, and nothing productive to do, what do you think will happen to them?”

  My roommate was passionate about “her” kids and the work she does with them. That was part of the reason I adored her, since it took a special person to see the potential in kids who couldn’t count on family to raise them. “They become even more at risk.”

  “Exactly. A couple of them have already been in juvenile more than once.”

  “How can I help?”

  “Once we nail down a place to have an activity outside of their neighborhood, I’d love it if you’d hang out with them. If they give you shit, you can share your success story.”

  Success story. Oh, it was a helluva story, all right. I was still working on the success part. “You let me know when and where.”

  Kiley squeezed my hand. “You’re such an awesome person, Lennox. I’m so glad you answered my Craigslist ad.”

  “Me too.” My last year of school my roommate had flaked out on me and decided spontaneously to move to Iowa with her boyfriend. Since the apartment was in her name and the lease was up, I’d been pretty much screwed. Even though the place had been a total dive, it’d still cost more money each month than I could swing alone. And I would’ve had to go through an entire approval process to take over the lease, in addition to forking over first and last month’s rent. So I’d had no choice but to look for a new living arrangement.

  I’d always gotten a kick out of reading the City Pages ads for roommates, but those “Must love craft beer and quinoa” roommate ads were less funny when I needed a place to stay. On a whim I checked Craigslist and saw Kiley’s ad for a roommate to share a house. The private bathroom and second-floor sitting area trumped the requirement for snow shoveling and summer yard maintenance. I’d shown up in the area known as Dinkytown and fallen in love with the older house.

  The first month Kiley and I were respectful of each other’s spaces. She’d bought the house after her sister assured her that she’d pay half the mortgage—then she’d left her high and dry. Making the mortgage payment on her own had proven difficult since she was just starting out as a social worker. But our polite distance around each other changed the night she’d come home from work a complete mess after one of the kids in her program had been killed in a drug deal gone bad. Problem was, the kid wasn’t buying or selling drugs; he’d been walking his little sister home from the playground because they lived in a dangerous area, and he ended up with a bullet to the chest when a gun accidentally went off.

  That night she and I downed a bottle of wine, swapped life stories and then started hanging out regularly. What I loved most about Kiley was that she didn’t need a man to validate her. So many women my age felt like failures if they didn’t have a boyfriend, whereas Kiley and I were open to a relationship if the right guy came along, but we were both focused on our careers. I loved that we were beyond the pressure of heading out to the meat market bars every weekend in hopes of a hookup.

  “What’s the hottie CFO up to now?” Kiley prompted, pulling me out of my ruminations.

  I glanced over at the sushi bar. Lund and his date were chowing down on sushi as if they had somewhere else to be. They weren’t talking—at all. “Looks like they’re ignoring each other.”

  “I think you should go over and say hello.”

  My pulse jumped. “What? Why would I do that?”

  “Because it’d be fun to see if he’s embarrassed about the age of his date.”

  “You’re evil.”

  She shrugged. “Maybe he’ll try and explain her.”

  “Maybe I don’t care.”

  “Uh-huh. You don’t care and that’s why your gaze keeps darting over there every five seconds.”

  When she phrased it that way, I felt a little pathetic.

  “Think of it this way: You’re approaching him first, so the control of the situation is yours. If he admits he saw you in here but didn’t acknowledge you in any way, then you know he’s a tool. If he genuinely seems surprised—”

  “Then he’ll think I want something from him, when I don’t.”

  Kiley sighed. “You are using skewed logic. But whatever. You’re too chicken to do it anyway.”

  I watched as Jailbait got up and headed to the ladies’ room. She’d just given me a chance to casually swing by and say hello. I pushed my chair back and stood.

  “Thatta girl!” Kiley said. “Go get ’im, tiger.”

  Lund was the tiger. He’d probably eat me alive.

  So in a total chickenshit move, when I was within four feet of him, I cut around the side of the sushi bar and headed for the bathroom.

  I swore I heard Kiley clucking behind me.

  I used the facilities, and when I stepped out of the stall, I froze.

  Jailbait stood in front of the mirror, affixing piercings to her face. She now sported a nose piercing, two nose rings, as well as snakebite piercings in her lip. I continued to watch as she shed her skirt, revealing skintight leggings. Beneath the blouse was a Sex Pistols T-shirt, strategically ripped and then held together with a row of safety pins.

  At that point, I was helpless to look away. I washed my hands, trying to discreetly watch her apply thick black eyeliner to her eyelids and then outline her lips.

  “What’re you lookin’ at, eh?”

  She had an accent I couldn’t place. British? Irish? Scottish? And because the “What’re you lookin’ at?” question annoyed me, I didn’t temper my answer. “Your outfit. Wondering if you’re going to an eighties costume party? Or if I somehow missed the fashion update that punk style from that era was back in style.”

  For a moment anger sparked in her eyes. Then she grinned. “Ballsy one, ain’t ya?”

  I shrugged.

  “Punk never went out of style where I’m from.”

  “Where’s that?”

  “Great Britain—specifically I was born in Ireland and went to uni in London.”

  “Ah.”

  She pulled a long studded belt out of her bag and wrapped it around her hips and waist. Then she attached studded bracelets to each wrist. “Look, you seem like an okay lass, so could I get you to do me a wee favor?”

  “What?” I said cautiously.

  “There’s a man sitting out there. Can’t miss him, right stodgy as hell. If you look closely enough, you might see a stick up his arse.”

  “What about him?”

  “Tell him I left, yeah?”

  “Wait. Is he your date?”

  “Hard to believe, ain’t it? Him ’n me on a bloody date.”

  Hard to believe indeed. “
Why are you ditching him?”

  She snorted. “Because I don’t like old dudes.”

  My eyes narrowed at her. “How old are you?”

  “Twenty-one. Can you believe the arsehole asked to see me ID? After the bloody waitress didn’t card me? What kind of bastard does that?”

  A smart one. “Why’d you agree to go out with him if you think he’s too old for you?”

  “My auntie set up the date—though now I know why she was very careful not to call it a date, eh? But I can see why he agreed to go out with me. I bet the poor bugger never gets his pole waxed. I might’ve given him a ride because he is right nice to look at, but he’s such a cold wanker.”

  Wow. Harsh assessment of Brady Lund. But how could she have come to such a fast judgment about him when they’d spent less than an hour together?

  “Anyway. Tell him I bailed, yeah? And I’ll find me own way back to Auntie’s.” With that, she sailed out of the bathroom.

  I followed her and watched her yell at the kitchen workers before she bolted out the back door.

  Freakin’ awesome.

  But there was no way I could tell the CFO of a multibillion-dollar company that his blind date had dumped him.

  I carefully kept out of his line of sight as I returned to the table. When I told Kiley what’d happened in the bathroom, she had no problem switching seats with me. So I didn’t see when he’d left. I only know he was gone when I turned around.

  *

  Brady

  Sunday afternoon I got that familiar buzz of excitement when I entered the stadium. Vikings home games had always been fun, even before Jensen started playing pro ball. I was damn proud of my youngest brother for getting to live his dream.

  I swiped my access pass in the key card machine in the elevator and slumped against the wall with my eyes closed.

  Last night’s events pushed to the forefront of my mind no matter how hard I’d tried to forget them.

  After Siobhan had slammed her first two beers, she hadn’t turned into a sweet and charming Irish lass. She proceeded to tell me everything that was wrong with me.

  I had a superior air that made me a wanker.

  My clothing style made me a wanker.

  Even my hairstyle made me a wanker.

  All the time she was lecturing me about the evils of money and my sense of entitlement, she ordered the five most expensive sushi pieces on the menu.

  Then she ditched me.

  Her ditching me didn’t affect me as much as her assumptions. After I’d demanded proof of her age, she’d guessed mine to be a full decade older than my thirty-two years. I’d looked at her at one point and wondered what I’d done to piss Maggie off so badly that she’d sic this horrible creature on me.

  At first, I hadn’t noticed she’d left. I had another beer, ate more sushi and checked e-mail on my phone. So when I looked at my watch, it surprised me to see thirty minutes had passed by.

  I knew it made me a jerk to feel relieved that she’d left. I was just glad that no one I knew had been around to witness the debacle. I’d lived through public humiliations from various women throughout the years and it never got any easier.

  Still, I wasn’t a total dick. I’d called Maggie to let her know that Siobhan would make it back there on her own steam.

  Maggie had let out a litany of curse words—then she’d apologized profusely. So I’d felt entitled to ask what she’d been thinking, setting us up in the first place. Maggie finally admitted she’d picked me because I was safe, gentlemanly and solid—meaning as bland as oatmeal—and not only would I not take advantage of her niece, chances were slim Siobhan would be attracted to me.

  I’d come away from that conversation feeling worse than before.

  Some men are confident in their attractiveness to the opposite sex. I’ve never been that guy. I was the shy dorky kid in junior high. It was even worse for me in high school. I stayed in that awkward stage—a long-necked beanpole with acne and glasses—until the last month of my junior year, when Jessica Lewis started talking to me. Being a clueless dumbass, I had the foolish hope that Jessica, a girl who was moderately popular and more cute than pretty, had seen beyond my wimpy, skinny, zitty outer shell. And she had seen beyond it all right—she was looking at dollar signs. Jessica wanted to go to prom in style, and who better to take her than a Lund? She insisted on eating dinner that night at the exclusive club my parents belonged to. She insisted on taking a limo to the dance.

  But once we got to the dance, she refused to dance with me. She said the prom was lame and if I wanted to get with her at all, I’d invite her and some of her friends to my big fancy lake house that I’d bragged about. Hormones overcame common sense. We left the dance; she didn’t even hold my hand. The limo dropped us and eight of her closest friends off on the road in front of the lake house—a guesthouse in the Lund Compound—that was still closed against the endless Minnesota winter. But I had a key. No sooner had I opened the place up than two dozen more people appeared. Booze flowed freely after they found the liquor cabinet.

  And the whole time I heard these people, who I’d gone to school with for three years, asking who the house belonged to and the response was always the same: that weird rich kid.

  That weird rich kid who wasn’t even memorable enough to have a name.

  So I was at my first high school party, in my own house, and I was still persona non grata.

  Not cool to cry in front of anyone at age seventeen, so I went outside. But that proved to be an even bigger mistake. Someone had opened the window in the bedroom, presumably thinking blowing pot smoke through the screen would somehow mask it. It didn’t. The pot smoke and their voices drifted to where I sat alone on the back deck.

  “Jessica, stop hogging the joint! You never take that many hits.”

  “I’m fine. It’s a special occasion. It’s prom!”

  “You might not say that when you’re out of it and your boyfriend takes advantage of you and starts feeling you up.”

  “Eww, Carly—he is not my boyfriend and that is too sick to even think about!” Jessica declared.

  “What? That’s probably the only way he’ll get anything. You’d have to be passed out.”

  Jessica laughed. “Or maybe be totally stoned.”

  Everyone laughed.

  I thought my cheeks couldn’t burn any hotter, but they did.

  Someone asked, “So that weird rich kid is your boyfriend?”

  “Hell no.”

  “But you went to prom with him,” Carly pointed out.

  “So? Doesn’t mean I’m gonna do anything else with him. Yuck. I don’t even like him. But I knew since he’d never had a girlfriend and he’s rich that he’d go all out for prom to try and make me think he was cool.”

  “So, are you gonna be his girlfriend now?” some dude said and made kissing noises.

  “Fuck off, Tyler. No. Gross. I can’t imagine rubbing against his zitty face if he kissed me.”

  “Hey, he’s rich. Maybe he can get plastic surgery to fix his face.”

  More laughter.

  I’d had enough. I cut through the grounds and ran the half mile to my house. Once I was in the sanctity of my room, I ditched the tux. Then I dialed 911 and reported a break-in on the Lund property.

  I finished out the last two weeks of school at home. I changed to an all-boys prep school for my senior year.

  So over the years I’d learned to be more cautious, but rejection still had the power to send me spiraling back to that awful night.

  “Mr. Brady!”

  The doors to the box were open and our regular security guy manned the door. “Burt. Are we over capacity in the suite yet?”

  “Not even close. Miss Annika didn’t arrive with her usual entourage today. And I believe Mr. Archer isn’t here because his wife is feeling poorly.”

  I walked into the private box. Game day meant the Lund jerseys came out. No one in the family was exempt from wearing them. Not only were we a supportive bunch, we w
ere suspicious too.

  My mother was the first one to greet me. And by her somber look and long hug, I knew Maggie had filled my parents in on last night’s events. I didn’t blame her; Siobhan hadn’t considered that her actions might put her aunt’s job in jeopardy. Not that it would—my dad wouldn’t survive a day without Maggie running his daily affairs—but it’d been a poor decision on Siobhan’s part,
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