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What you need, p.8
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       What You Need, p.8

         Part #1 of Need You series by Lorelei James

  My cousins and brother all wore the same look of distaste after their empty shot glasses hit the table.

  “All right, man. Now you can start the list. Tell us one thing you aren’t gonna do anymore.”

  First one was easy. “No more eighty- or ninety-hour workweeks.”

  They looked at each other and nodded. Then Ash jotted it down.

  “Next thing?” Nolan prompted.

  This one was trickier. I studied my empty shot glass. “I’ll do something new, daring and out of the norm every week.” My cheeks burned with embarrassment, because I should not have had to make a fucking pact with them about changing my life and then announce it to the free world.

  Nolan shook his head. “Specifics, man. With something that vague, you could claim that ordering orange sesame chicken instead of orange sesame beef qualifies as daring.”

  Walker and Ash nodded agreement. My brother said, “This is us, B. you know we’ve got your back unless you decide your ‘new’ thing is torturing small animals.”

  “Or if your ‘daring’ thing is taking up professional ice dancing,” Ash said.

  “Or if your ‘out of the norm’ thing is donning fetish wear on casual Fridays,” Nolan tossed in.

  Bunch of freakin’ comedians. But I knew they were trying to find that balance point between sappy and helpful. So in turn I tried to find the halfway point between the full truth and a partial lie. “It won’t come as a surprise to any of you that I fear failure”—no way was I confessing why I feared failure—“but I’m tired of using that as an excuse. From here on out, I’ll take steps to actually have a personal life outside of work and family. I’ll really put myself out there. And any failure just means I actually tried to make a change.”

  Ash wrote that down on the second piece of paper.

  And I felt good about what I’d said—even if I’d spoken somewhat disingenuously. I puffed on the cigar. “Now what?”

  “Now it’s time for the ritual.”

  “I thought that was the ritual.”

  Walker shook his head.


  I got a little worried when Walker put his palms together in prayer position, his unlit stogie dangling from the corner of his mouth. “Dearly beloved. We are gathered here today—”

  “What the fuck does a Prince song have to do with the damn ritual?” I snapped.

  “Nothing. We’re just fucking with you to see if we could get you to dance on the bar singing ‘Let’s Go Crazy.’”

  “Bunch of jackasses,” I muttered.

  Nolan passed out the next shot. He raised his shot glass and paused while we all did the same.

  “To having the balls to admit your life needs a change and taking that first step. Skål.”

  We repeated, “Skål,” touched glasses and knocked back the drink.

  Somehow I managed not to choke on the cinnamon-flavored whiskey.

  Nolan grinned. “From vanilla to fire. Variety is the spice of life.”

  Ash held up the two pieces of paper. He slid the one in his right hand across the table. “This is the one you look at every day as a reminder.”

  “And the other one?”

  “This one you never want to see again. Crumple it up and torch it.”

  Moving my cigar to my left hand, I crushed the paper in my fist. Then I dropped it in the big metal ashtray and held the smoldering end of the cigar to the corner of the list. It caught fire immediately.

  I watched the flames consume the paper, turning it into black flakes of nothing.

  “Last thing,” Nolan said. “You gotta pay this forward like Ash did. Time’s gonna come when Walker, Jensen or I ask for redirection.”

  I noticed he didn’t say “if,” but “when.” I raised my glass in agreement.

  The conversation tapered off from the serious topics to other things. Football and hockey, mostly. The music had gotten louder. More people had shown up at the bar. I looked around and wondered what had drawn my brother to this place. Normally he preferred sports bars.

  You sure? In the two years since you took the CFO position, how many times have you gone out and hit the bars with Walker?

  Not once.

  Walker and Nolan were debating the outcome of Sunday’s Vikings game. I looked at Ash. He had his phone out and was typing furiously, his brow furrowed.

  Ash had taken over as COO of Lund Industries two years before I’d been offered the CFO position. Although my bachelor’s degrees in accounting and economics, plus my dual master’s degrees in finance and business administration, played a huge part in getting the CFO position, I also knew that Ash had gone to bat for me. Especially when the two dissenters on the board of directors had gotten pissy, claiming I was too young for such responsibility—despite the fact I’d been working in the family business since age eighteen.

  Ash glanced up at me, flashed a sheepish grin and set his phone down. “Not providing you with a very good example of how to leave work at the office, am I?”

  “Was that work related?”

  “Actually . . . no. Dallas is bitching via text because the players have private rooms and the cheerleaders have to share.”

  “I forgot to look at the schedule this week. Who is U of M playing?”

  “Hawkeyes.” He shook his head. “Sometimes my little sister forgets that she’s lucky the cheerleaders get to travel with the team during the regular season, and not just cheer at home like most collegiate cheerleaders.” Ash took a drink of his beer. “But you don’t care about Dallas’s cheer dramas. What’s up? You’re looking at me like you’ve got a specific question.”

  I’d planned to ask about a wrinkle we were having with the rising costs of raw material for the packaged-food division, but I found myself blurting out, “How’d you learn to do it?”

  “What? Feel like I’m giving my all to the company and still manage to have a life?”

  I nodded.

  He studied me for a moment. “It’s a weird story. Remember Max Miner?”

  “The snowboarder? X Games world champ, Olympic medalist? Ended up paralyzed?”

  “Yeah. Him. Right around the time you moved up to CFO, and I broke it off with Veronica, I went to hear him speak. The program started out listing all of Max’s accomplishments, video clips of him from the time he was a young kid. His obsession with snowboarding. His wins. Then it talked about his accident. The challenges he faced during his recovery. I was waiting for the ‘You can do anything even in a wheelchair’ motivational portion to start, but it turned out that wasn’t the focus.” Ash fiddled with the bar napkin beneath his beer mug. “When he rolled out in his wheelchair, he said, ‘Name two things in your life’—besides your job and your family, which counted as one thing—‘that are important to you.’ Then his assistant started walking through the audience, randomly picking people to stand up and share what gave them joy. What motivated, inspired and fulfilled them.”

  “No pressure.”

  “No kidding. So I sat there, panicked I’d be put on the spot, because I realized I had nothing.”

  I would’ve had that same panicked feeling—because I had nothing but those two things in my life either.

  “It hit home for me, especially when Max said if we couldn’t name two things, then we were emotionally crippled.” Ash looked at me. “I realized he was right. While I still define myself by what I do as COO, I also have found other things that matter to me.”

  “Such as?”

  Ash shook his head. “Tell you what. When you come up with your two things, I’ll tell you mine.”

  “Fair enough.”

  Nolan leaned over. “Finish your beers. We’re heading out.”

  I pushed away from the table. “I gotta hit the can first.” I wound my way to the front and noticed a crowd had gathered around the bar. Chants of “Do it, do it!” erupted into applause and whistles when two women jumped up on the bar. The brunette was familiar because she was our waitress. So it didn’t make sense why the blond woman seem
ed familiar too. She spun around in a sexy move that would’ve done any stripper proud.

  When she looked over her shoulder—her tattooed shoulder—my jaw nearly hit the floor.

  The hot-bodied blonde with the skimpy clothes, body art and killer dancing skills was none other than Lennox Greene.

  I about swallowed my tongue.

  The music started. I skirted the crowd and moved to the end of the bar. Now I had a better view of those long legs encased in leather, her halter top that billowed out in the front, providing a teasing glimpse of the curve of her breast.

  So much for my idea that she was too buttoned up.

  When she raised her arms above her head, her shirt rode up, revealing the piercing in her belly button. Jesus. I wanted to wrap my lips around that hoop and tug on it with my teeth.

  Lennox appeared to be as mesmerized by the music as I was mesmerized by her.

  No way was I leaving now.

  As far as signs went? This was a damn good one.

  Chapter Seven



  I was having a great time.

  Maybe too good a time, I realized when I looked down and saw dollar bills littering the bar top I was dancing on.

  Shasta bent at the waist and wiggled her ass as she scooped up the bills.

  I let her have them all. For me, dancing on the bar wasn’t about shaking my ass for a little cash, but a reminder I didn’t have to. This was fun. I didn’t have to worry about scoring extra tips so I could make my rent this month.

  There was considerable freedom in that.

  The musical selections on the jukebox weren’t the bump-and-grind sexy tunes played in nightclubs—no Timberlake or Timbaland—so we had to make do with “Mustang Sally” or “American Woman.” When “Sweet Emotion” started, Shasta and I looked at each other and grinned. At one time we’d had an actual routine worked up for this song. Just for kicks, I tried to remember the moves as the regulars shouted, “Do it, do it!”

  Shasta was game and jumped right in. We slowly twisted our bodies down to the bar top during the long “sweet” chorus, and then we rolled back up during the equally long “emotion” portion of the chorus, ending with a hair flip, a full spin and a foot stomp when the guitar part started.

  An even bigger crowd gathered, and Shasta and I let their catcalls and wolf whistles pump us up even more.

  By the time we reached the last section of the song, I was sweating and that last shot of tequila hit me. I made it through the shimmy down fine. I made it through the roll up fine. I made it through the hair flip fine. But when I started to spin, I over-rotated and lost my balance. I had a split second to decide whether to save face and fall behind the bar, or take my chances, fall forward and hope someone caught me.

  I hit a warm body with a loud “Uhf.”

  Patrons cheered.

  Even beneath my hair, which had come loose and masked most of my face, I could see male hands patting the back of my savior. I was jostled as we moved through the crowd.

  Then my rescuer, who had an amazingly hard chest and incredibly muscled arms—I guessed that part since he was lugging me around like a sack of grain—lowered me onto a bench seat.

  I brushed my hair from my face and got my first good look at the man who’d caught me.


  No, no, no, no, no. This wasn’t happening to me! “Mr. Lund?”

  “Given the circumstances of my lifesaving heroic action, don’t you think you should call me Brady?”

  I knew my mouth hung open and I probably started drooling because Brady Lund—aka Mr. Perfect—looked even better than usual, dressed down in jeans and a tight black shirt that molded to his upper body. His hair was slightly mussed and I had the urge to sift my fingers through it and mess it up even more.

  That last shot of tequila? Bad idea.

  But Brady—Call him Mr. Lund, dumbass, to keep this professional!—was far too busy looking me over to notice me doing the same thing to him. He reached out and traced the tattoo on my right biceps with one rough fingertip.

  That gentle touch sobered me up faster than a punch to the arm.

  “This is cool, Lennox,” he said huskily, not taking his eyes off my ink. “Why didn’t I know you had a tattoo?”

  “Because I cover all of them up at work.”

  Brady’s gaze snapped to mine. “You have more than one?”

  I nodded.

  “Show me.” He gave me a slow, wicked grin. “Unless they’re on a place on your body that requires you to strip down.”

  “Mr. Lund—”

  “Brady,” he corrected.

  “Fine. Brady. I don’t want to talk about my tattoos—that’s why I keep them hidden beneath my clothes during working hours.”


  “Because three companies declined to hire me prior to getting the job offer at Lund Industries,” I said testily.

  He seemed taken aback by that. “Because of your tattoos? You know this for sure?”

  “Yes, because I’d done the ‘honest’ thing and let my ink show during the interview process. I’m not ashamed of my tattoos. But it’s obviously a red flag for some companies.”

  “That’s a little archaic. Tats are everywhere.”

  “Not a big hiring point for an office worker who’s just starting out in corporate America. You know that LI has a dress code, right?”

  He shrugged. “I never thought about it.”

  “Exactly. You don’t have to. I do.” I touched his forearm and was momentarily sidetracked by the sinewy muscles beneath the skin-warmed cotton. “Please don’t tell my supervisor.” Or, worse, Attila.

  “I wouldn’t do that.” Once again he dragged his fingers over the swirls of ink on my arm. “How you choose to express yourself in your off time . . . has no effect on how well you do your job when you’re on the clock.”

  Relief swept through me. “Thank you.”

  Then his intense blue eyes snared me. “Tell me another place you’re inked.”

  “Even if it’s X-rated?”

  “Especially if it’s X-rated,” he shot back in a husky tone.

  This man was so sexy. Without even trying.

  Or maybe he was trying. Maybe I was just that hard up for a man that I’d consider flirting with my boss.

  Technically, he’s not your boss. He’s “a” boss. And there aren’t “no fraternization” rules at Lund Industries—the company is too big.

  Justification much?


  My belly tightened at the way he murmured my name. I looked away from where those surprisingly rough fingertips stroked my arm, then into his eyes. “What?”

  “You were going to reveal another tattoo?”

  “You’ll have to get closer for this one.”

  Brady’s eyes gleamed and a half smirk kicked up one corner of his mouth. He scooted in and slid his arm along the back of the booth. His hard thigh connected with the outside of my leg. His
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