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What you need, p.6
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       What You Need, p.6

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James
 

  Looking at me with a sexy smile and a twinkle in his eyes. My heart rate sped up so fast I felt the throbbing pulse in my eyeballs.

  Mr. Lund sauntered forward, his gait loose and measured. His hands were tucked into his pants pockets. “Is everything all right, Lennox?”

  How was it fair that he seemed hotter looking every time I saw him? And why were my reactions to him either tongue-tied or snappish? I could do this. Be normal around the smartest, sexiest man in the company.

  “Everything is fine except for the fact you tend to sneak up on me and scare the crap out of me every time we cross paths.”

  He seemed to be measuring me in the resulting silence.

  Drop your pen and hide under the desk, you idiot. I rather loudly stacked a pile of papers. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lund. Did you need Jenna? She went to track down missing covers.”

  “No. I don’t need her for anything specific. I was just wandering, trying to clear my head, and noticed the door was open.” He sat on the edge of the conference table, close enough that I caught the scent of his cologne. He angled his head toward the stack of reports. “I’ll bet you’re wondering why we don’t outsource a project like this to a printing shop.”

  I moved in closer to him as I assembled the second-to-last row. “Actually, I’m not wondering that, because if Lund started outsourcing projects such as this one, I’d likely be out of a job I happen to really like.” I blushed. Add “gushing like an idiot about his family’s company” to my list of reactions around the superfine CFO.

  “It always makes me happy to hear employees like working at LI.”

  LI—company lingo for Lund Industries—sounded weird coming from Lund himself.

  He gestured to the stack of finished reports. “The reason LI doesn’t outsource these types of projects is due to the sensitive nature of the financial information. We trust our own people more than outsiders.”

  “And if the information is leaked, you have a paper trail to follow.”

  “Exactly.”

  I looked up at him. We were less than a foot apart. His eyes were a blue deep enough to drown in. It took me a moment to regain my train of thought, but what came out wasn’t what I’d intended to ask. “Did you request me to be assigned to this project?”

  His gaze briefly dipped to my mouth before he refocused on my eyes. “And if I say yes?”

  “I would say thank you for the opportunity to prove my loyalty.”

  “That’s why Jenna requested you. You’ve already proved it.”

  I frowned. “When?”

  “Last week. She thought it was hilarious that you wouldn’t give me the erroneous report for Marcus because it would’ve broken company protocol.”

  My cheeks burned. “You told her about that?”

  He grinned. “Yes. It’s not often I’m told no.”

  “I imagine it is a rarity for a man like you, especially coming from someone like me, who’s beneath you.” I could’ve kicked myself for my stupid phrasing. “I mean under you.” Dammit. That wasn’t any better.

  “I don’t purposely surround myself with yes-men and -women, but it certainly turns out that way. So your honesty and honest reactions are refreshing.”

  Yep. He knew the right thing to say too. “Is it hard knowing who to trust?”

  He shrugged. “Does it make me sound like a controlling dick if I admit I test people from time to time?”

  It seemed he wanted to talk, so I supposed I could oblige him. Oh, who the hell was I kidding? We were having an actual conversation for once where I wasn’t making an idiot out of myself. “For example?”

  “I mentioned a few months ago that it’d be beneficial to add aquatics to our employee fitness center.”

  “Like adding a swimming pool?”

  “Yes. I touted the health benefits of swimming versus high-impact exercise.”

  “I hope they told you that you were crazy.”

  He cocked his head. “Why?”

  “Why?” I snorted. “Because, first of all, the fitness center isn’t on the ground floor. I imagine the price of putting in a pool—even a lap pool—would be cost prohibitive because of the added structural support systems needed to hold that much water. Plus, there would be maintenance issues, as well as chemical storage issues. Not to mention insurance issues. And I can’t believe a fitness pool would get that much use in a business environment. I mean, can you imagine seeing your supervisor in a skimpy polka-dot bikini or a Speedo? Employees would avoid it for that reason alone. Or what if Bob from Accounting whistled at Susie from PR? Would that qualify as sexual harassment if it happened over the lunch hour?”

  A startled look crossed his face.

  Crap. I’d become a babbling idiot again.

  Then he smiled at me as if I’d passed some kind of test. “Those were my thoughts exactly.”

  Whew. “So what did the members of your team say when you brought it up?”

  “At first, no one said a word. Then, let’s say . . . Bob”—he smirked—“agreed it was a damn fine idea and he’d take the lead on getting the project under way.”

  I groaned. “Did you dress him down in front of everyone for being an ass-kisser?”

  His eyes narrowed. “My reputation is that bad?”

  “Mr. Lund. Surely you’re aware of the terror you invoke merely by walking into a department,” I said dryly.

  “Didn’t appear to hold true for you, Lennox.” That sexy smile danced on his lips and I found it impossible to look away from his mouth.

  “Wrong. You can’t tell I’m quaking in my stilettos?”

  He blinked as if he didn’t believe me.

  I held out my hand, showing him how badly it shook. “See?”

  He took my hand and squeezed it. “You must be a helluva poker player, because I never would’ve guessed. You’re always so . . . I can’t place my finger on it, which is probably why I keep finding reasons to talk to you and try to figure it out.”

  The way he was looking at me—not like a CFO passing the time with a secretarial worker, but a man wanting to spend time with a woman he was attracted to—utterly addled my brain.

  Jenna hustled into the room. “There you are,” she said in an exasperated tone.

  Feeling guilty, I immediately dropped his hand and spun around to face her.

  But she wasn’t talking to me. “You cannot hide in here.” She handed Mr. Lund a file folder. “They’re waiting for you in Mr. Nolan’s office. He told me to make sure you brought that.”

  His mouth flattened into a grim line. Then he looked up at me. The frown bloomed into a charmingly sheepish smile.

  My belly jumped.

  “Thanks for the enlightening conversation, Lennox. I hope we can do it again sometime”—he shot Jenna a dark look—“without interruptions.”

  “Me too, Mr. Lund.” One hank of his dark hair fell over his eye as he studied the paperwork in the folder, and I had the urge to smooth the hair back into place. After he disappeared through the door, I glanced up and realized I’d just been ogling Jenna’s boss—right in front of her.

  She didn’t wear a look of censure, just a knowing smirk. “Yes, he always looks that good. It’s annoying really. Just once I’d like for him to show up at work in stained sweatpants with his hair uncombed and facial scruff.”

  “Even then I bet he’d look amazing.”

  Jenna chuckled. “Good point. Luckily, Mr. Lund is somewhat . . . unaware of his attributes. That makes him a little more human.”

  “After talking to him a few times, I see that he isn’t nearly the big bad I thought he was.” At least not in the same way I had before.

  “Big bad. You kids and your weird phrases. I never understand half of them.” She pointed to the stacks of paper. “Let’s wrap this up so you can finish the day in your own department. I’m sure you’ve got big plans for the weekend.”

  “Not really.”

  Jenna studied me. “Seriously? You’re—what, twenty-five?”

 
“Twenty-eight, actually.”

  “I’m just surprised you won’t be out hitting the clubs and partaking of the Twin Cities nightlife.”

  “I lived it up plenty in my misspent youth,” I admitted. “My idea of a perfect weekend is staying in.”

  “You sound just like him.”

  I didn’t have to ask who “him” was, but it intrigued me that the CFO of one of the Twin Cities’ richest families wasn’t out at charity events every weekend. I imagined him soaking in a bubble bath, a lowball glass of Scotch in his hand. Then, when he unfolded himself from the deep water—because I knew he wasn’t the type who could sit idle for very long—the bubbles slipped down his gleaming naked torso, revealing—

  “Lennox?” Jenna prompted. “Are you okay?”

  Not really. Just ignore me while I have explicit sexual fantasies about your boss. “Yes, you just got me to thinking about the weekend.”

  “Well, whatever put that dreamy look on your face, I hope it figures into your plans.”

  Not in a million years. But I smiled and said, “One can hope.”

  Chapter Five

  Brady

  ‡

  “I look like I’m trying too hard to be cool and hip,” I complained to Nolan Friday night as I entered my living room, wearing dark jeans and a black shirt with the cuffs rolled back. I wasn’t ready to go with the unshaven look—I’d scraped the scuff off my face after work—but following my shower I went with the current “I don’t give a damn about my hair” trend and did nothing, letting it dry naturally.

  Nolan gave me a head-to-loafer inspection. “Damn, cuz. You are one ugly fucker. You’ll probably sit in the corner as me ’n’ Walker and Ash score.”

  “Asshole. Who’s driving?”

  “Car service.”

  “Smart.” Tempting to ask where we were going, but I decided to just go with it, since I was basically being railroaded into this night out. “You want something to drink before we leave?”

  “Whatcha got that’s new?”

  “A small-batch whiskey distilled in Wisconsin.”

  “I’ll take that.” Nolan parked on one of the barstools as I ducked behind the bar.

  I snagged two lowball glasses and filled them halfway with ice. Then I pulled out the small bottle and poured three fingers in each glass. We touched glasses without an official toast and drank.

  After Nolan drank, he picked up the bottle. “Pretty good stuff. Where’d you hear about it?”

  “I’ve got a buddy who’s a pharmaceutical rep and it’s his mission in life to find the best handcrafted small-batch whiskies. His wife isn’t a drinker, so he brings me a bottle and we can discuss all the geeky stuff about notes and hints and aftertaste that few people care about.”

  “Wait. You have friends?”

  “Piss off. I actually manage to get laid too.” Although it’d been a while.

  “Hey, I’m trying to keep you from turning into a hermit that hides in his lair.” Nolan looked around. “Freakin’ sweet lair. I still can’t believe you got the jump on me with this place.”

  It’d taken two years to refurbish the run-down warehouse I’d bought for a song a few years back. Now the top level was my living space. The main floor was the ultimate man cave—half of it was a garage that stored my collection of cars. The other side had a home gym, a half court, a regulation boxing ring, a weight room, and a separate area for cardio. Most of the gyms in the Twin Cities weren’t as big as this. But my schedule was so crazy that I had to create a place that fit my needs.

  We walked through the fitness area and Nolan said, “You still training with Nate?”

  “Only twice a week. His hours are different now that he and his partner have adopted a kid. He goes on about how blissfully happy they are and I ought to try it.”

  “He sounds like my mother,” Nolan said. “Oh, and thank you for passing on the bachelor auction. Dude, you might hate being listed as one of the most eligible bachelors in the Twin Cities, but I eat that shit up.”

  “I know.”

  “Cheer up. Next time the auction rolls around, you’ll be a new man. No more the serious brooding type. Chicks like it when you actually smile at them. I’ve made it my goal in life to perfect my panty-dropping smile.”

  “There’s a goal worth having,” I said dryly. For some reason my thoughts zoomed to the genuine smiles I’d eked out of Lennox Greene this week. In those unguarded moments, when her hazel eyes had shown humor and her lips had curved, she’d gone from pretty to stunning.

  From a distance she seemed like a woman who was confident in herself and was happy enough to smile frequently. But the second she was around me, she defined uptight—I was uptight enough to recognize the signs. I didn’t buy her argument that her standoffish attitude was because I scared her. She’d actually stood up to me when others wouldn’t. But an unpredictable and prickly woman was not my type, no matter how stunning she was. Or how quickly she made me laugh when so few could these days.

  “Brady? Where are you, man? And why do you look so pissed off?”

  I glanced up at my cousin. “Just thinking about this woman I met recently.”

  “No thinking about any specific woman. Tonight all women are on the menu. Tonight you are stepping out of your comfort zone, my friend.”

  I’d never been a player—although after I grew out of my awkward stage, I’d never had a problem finding women to share my bed. Even before I’d become CFO, my work came first. I had no idea why—or how—I was supposed to change that. I doubted one night in a bar and new clothes would do it. This all seemed pointless.

  Nolan got in my face. “Leave your job, your worries, your baggage right here. You are not going to puss out. This is the tough-love part, Brady.”

  “Got it.”

  “Time to get your head in the game.” Then my younger cousin slapped me on the cheeks—like he was my godfather taking me to a whorehouse to lose my virginity—and I half expected him to tack on, Capisce?

  Thankfully he didn’t.

  The car pulled up.

  Here we go.

  *

  Lennox

  Another Friday night and I had the house to myself. I looked forward to my ritual of balancing my accounts and unwinding with bad TV.

  Again.

  I was debating where to order a pizza from when my cell phone rang. I picked it up and saw Maxie on the caller ID.

  It couldn’t be a coincidence that Maxie was calling a week after I’d talked to my mother. I answered with a short “Hello?”

  “Is this the high-and-mighty Lenni Greene who’s forgotten all of her old friends since she’s working in some big fancy office building?”

  I grinned. “You’re hilarious. I thought you’d lost my number.”

  “Oh, sugar, I’ve got your number. I’ve had it for a long damn time. It’s you who seems to have forgotten where you came from.”

  Guilt swamped me. I hadn’t stepped foot in Maxie’s place for almost a year. “I’ve been busy with the new job.”

  “I figured. But you ain’t workin’ right now, are ya?”

  I started to say, “No, but I have a community service thing to do early in the morning,” but, as usual, Maxie beat me to the punch.

  “So there’s no excuse for you not to haul your buns down here.
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