All you need, p.14
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       All You Need, p.14
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         Part #3 of Need You series by Lorelei James

  “Omigod. You are not seriously blaming this on me! Jaxson told me you didn’t speak English, you asshat,” she hissed, “and why wouldn’t I believe him? That’s far more plausible than that you would lie to your coaches, your team’s organization, your teammates and the media! Who does that?”

  “Are you going to allow me a chance to explain?”

  “Not tonight. And if I really was your girlfriend and not part of your PR team?” Her smile—half evil/half crazy and downright mean—had me tempted to cover my balls. “I would tear off this jersey and light it on fire.”

  The dig about being part of my PR team burned my ass worse than the threat to torch my shirt. We’d moved beyond a fake relationship with that kiss and she knew it.

  “Anyway. Here’s what’s going to happen now. I’ll walk over, hug you, trying really, really hard not to gut-punch you, while you whisper sorry in my ear. Then we’ll act as if we’re reluctantly parting ways.”

  “Annika—”

  “No deviations.” She plastered on a smile and swung her hips as she headed toward me.

  I enfolded her in my arms and pressed my lips to the top of her head. “I’m sorry.”

  Annika stayed in place for about five seconds before she retreated. Then she turned and walked away without another word or a backward glance.

  • • •

  I returned to the locker room to find it empty. Plopping down on the bench, I let my head fall back against the metal locker. I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts any more than I wanted to be alone.

  “Well, you screwed the pooch on that one. I suspected you understood more than you were letting on,” Kazakov continued. “But not like this.”

  “So in addition to my girlfriend being pissed off at me, you’re mad at me too.”

  “Not just me, Axl. The entire team is livid. No one likes looking like a dumb-ass.”

  “But no one had a problem treating me like a dumb-ass when they assumed I couldn’t understand the shit they were saying. Swedish chef? Meatball boy?”

  Kaz sighed. “All right. There is that. Not cool.”

  “If they wanted to communicate with me, they could’ve asked Jakob, the translator the team assigned me to understand the plays, to hang out after practice. Communication could’ve gone both ways. Maybe it makes me a dick, but until they’ve been in a situation where they’re in a foreign country on a work visa, deciphering different dialects, accents and slang in a language that is not their native tongue . . . they have no right to judge me on how I chose to deal with it.”

  “The thing is, I don’t disagree with you. My question is, how you gonna fix this with the team?”

  “Use stilted English around them and act like I’m not really that fluent? Let them feel as if they’re helping me and over the course of the season my command of the language gets better and better?” I offered.

  He rolled his eyes. “If you thought that would fly maybe you shouldn’t have been so flawless at the press conference.”

  I tapped my fingers on the bench as I created and discarded scenarios. “How about this? Anyone who wants to take a free shot at me on the ice during practice tomorrow is welcome to.”

  “Don’t make the offer if you think Coach will step in,” he warned. “He’ll probably suit up and take a whack at you himself.”

  “I’ll take their hits and won’t be a whiny-ass fucking pussy about it.”

  Kazakov pushed himself off the wall. “Lemme talk to McClellan about your options. He’s more reasonable than Flitte.”

  “No kidding.”

  He started texting.

  While I waited for that fate, I debated on ways to fix things with Annika.

  Flowers . . . already did that.

  Candy . . . only if I made an effigy of myself that she could whack like a piñata.

  Jewelry . . . more lame than candy because then it really would seem like I was trying to buy her off.

  So what could I give her that no one else could?

  Multiple orgasms until she can’t think straight and then she’ll forget why she was even mad at you.

  I was all over that idea. I’d like nothing better than to be all over her after that knockout good-luck kiss.

  “McClellan told me they’d consider it and they want to talk to you in person,” Kazakov said, interrupting my progressively dirtier thoughts about Annika. “They’re all at The Whistling Pig. Let’s go.”

  • • •

  My team’s first punishment? The massive hangover the next morning.

  The second punishment? I’d paid for the entire bar bill last night.

  So having every teammate knock me on my ass during practice twice the next day had actually been the least painful punishment.

  By the time practice ended, I’d mustered up the guts to leave Annika four voice mails—not that she’d acknowledged even one of them—before I crawled in bed and crashed.

  I woke up hours later when I heard Grand Theft Auto blaring from my living room. I scrubbed the sleep from my face as I wandered down the hallway.

  Martin and Boris were parked on my couch, controllers in hand, beer bottles on the coffee table.

  “How long have you guys been here?” I asked.

  Without looking away from the TV, Martin said, “An hour. You were out. Like comatose out.”

  Still groggy, I stumbled into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge. When I turned around, Martin was just shuffling in.

  He froze. “Dude! You’re naked!”

  Cracking the seal on the bottle, I said, “So?”

  “So put on some clothes.”

  “You Americans have issues with nudity.”

  “I have an issue getting an eyeful of your junk.”

  I shrugged. “It’s my place. If you don’t like it, go home.”

  Martin debated. Then he walked past me to the refrigerator. He kept the door open for a long time, as if something besides beer, bottled water, sports drinks and tubes of caviar would magically appear. When he finally shut the door, he seemed surprised I’d remained in the kitchen.

  “Cheezus,” he said on a near shout. “I thought you’d left!”

  Martin was a never-ending source of amusement for me. From his insistence on learning—butchering, really—the Swedish language so he could converse with his “ladylove,” Verily, in her native tongue, to his philosophical connections between snowboarding and a Zen state, to his daily admission about being high on more than just life, to his refusal to take the name of any religious figure in vain—Cheezus for Jesus and Bubba for Buddha were the funniest ones. I appreciated how he distracted me from brooding by filling dead air with chatter; silence was anathema to him.

  “Okay. So, good for you, buddy, that you’re a ‘show-er’ and not a ‘grow-er,’ but seriously, can you put on some underwear before you sit next to us on the couch?”

  “Sure. But you’ve got it wrong: I’m a show-er and a grow-er,” I said as I walked past him.

  “Not something I need to see!” Martin shouted.

  After another hour or so, more people from the apartment complex showed up. My place had become the gathering spot on weekends. I gave Martin credit for that. He thought the world should be one big happy family.

  Made me feel like an idiot when I checked my messages every ten minutes because I still hadn’t heard from Annika. She could at least acknowledge the fact that I’d tried to get in touch with her.

  At one point Martin asked when he’d meet Annika. I hedged. Then Martin answered my internal question about why I hadn’t heard from her, reminding me that the Vikings were playing in Tampa Bay on Sunday. I’d bet the entire Lund family had gone there for the game.

  That was how I reconciled the lack of communication.

  Twelve

  ___

  ANNIKA

  After I returned home from the game, I changed into my workout clothes and hit the gym in my building. No surprise I was the only one using it at eleven o’cloc
k on a Friday night. I ran four miles on the treadmill and did yoga moves as my post stretch and cooldown.

  I rinsed off in the shower and opted for a bubble bath. While the tub filled with the hottest water I could stand and my favorite Lush bath bomb, I rummaged for finger foods that would complement the large bottle of peach cider I’d taken from the wine fridge. I needed something sweet to counteract the sour taste the night’s final events had left in my mouth.

  Then I cranked up Pink, because I needed loud girl anthems to blank my mind. I slipped into heaven—who needs a hot man when you have a hot bath?—indulged in a delicious assortment of cheeses, crackers, preserves and fruit and drank the entire bottle of cider. So when I crawled into bed, my brain was happy to shut down and let me sleep.

  The next morning I slept in. I had a few hours to kill before Walker and Trinity’s end-of-summer party started. Although we’d had a warm September, now that we’d reached the end of it, it seemed as if summer had ended long ago.

  I decided to work on the Haversman idea on my home PC and set the alarm on my phone. I tended to lose track of time when I worked at home, because I didn’t have a million interruptions like at the office.

  I avoided all media—hey, take that, Ax-hole; I can drop you like a bad habit anytime I want—and accomplished way more than I’d expected by the time the timer went off.

  I changed into my favorite sundress, a bright yellow one covered in tiny white daisies and black-eyed Susans, and my black flip-flops decorated with yellow daisies. I’d probably overdressed—my family expected to see me slink in wearing yoga pants and a T-shirt because they all knew if I didn’t have an official event to attend on the weekend, I reverted to college casual clothing. But I needed to bolster my mood, and a dress the color of sunshine worked for me.

  I stopped at Byerly’s and picked up the appetizer tray I’d ordered as well as some fun mini-coconut cakes in purple and white. Jensen’s game tomorrow was in Tampa Bay and I hadn’t heard whether Mom and Dad were hosting game day, which probably meant they were flying to Florida after Walker’s shindig.

  It was weird to see so many cars parked around Walker’s house. It was really weird to see a Bobcat on a trailer parked in his front yard.

  My mom must’ve been lying in wait for me, because she met me at the front door. “You look lovely. How are you today?”

  “Fine.” I handed her the tray of cakes. “How are you?”

  “Are you really fine?”

  She’d blocked the door so I couldn’t avoid this conversation. I shouldn’t be surprised she’d seen the press conference where Axl’s English fluency became apparent. “I’m pissed off at him. He lied to me and everyone else and I have a right to my anger. I’ll deal with it. Just not today.” I offered her a sunny smile that rivaled the color of my dress.

  “I do not trust that alligator smile. But it is better than alligator tears, yah?”

  “It’s crocodile, Mom.”

  “Yah, whatever.”

  I stopped in the foyer of Walker’s house. Plastic tarps and drop cloths and dust everywhere. Walker hadn’t been kidding about starting the remodeling right away. I followed Mom outside to the tent where the food had been set up.

  Walker’s girlfriend, Trinity, was behind the banquet table, rearranging the paper plates and then the spoons in the chafing dishes.

  “Everything looks great, Trinity.”

  She looked up at me. “You think so? I mean, I know Walker and I probably should’ve actually grilled our own meat, since this is a barbecue, but I don’t think either of us is ready to take on that kind of cooking responsibility. So we had it catered. But now I’m wondering if I should’ve gone with steak instead of barbecued chicken, and does anyone really even like three-bean salad? It’s kind of gross when you think about it. Dumping canned beans in a bowl and then adding vinegar. But my other choice was pea salad, and that’s worse. Canned peas and chunks of cheese swimming in mayonnaise? My grandma’s sister Erma used to make it, and I always had to eat one bite to be polite . . .”

  She kept babbling, which I secretly snickered at because she was hilarious whenever she went off on a tear. Walker wasn’t ever too far away from her, especially at family things, since their couplehood was still pretty new. So my smile grew wider on my seeing Walker move in behind Trinity. She hadn’t noticed; she’d just kept on rambling. He very calmly cupped his hands around her face and kissed the living hell out of her.

  When he released her and said, “Better?” she nodded. And she’d stopped fiddling with everything in sight.

  I probably should’ve given them some privacy, but I was so happy for my brother. Trinity, with her sweet, quirky ways, was exactly the type of woman Walker needed.

  Walker kissed her temple and slid his hand around her waist before he faced me. “Hey, sis.”

  “Hey yourself. Nice spread. Good thing the weather is holding up and we can be outside. You’ve got some major destruction going on in there.”

  “Oh, you noticed?” Trinity said dryly.

  “This is actually the last week we’ll be living here. We’ll be at Trinity’s place until the house is completely remodeled and her new studio is built.”

  “How long will that take?”

  “All winter. Most of the spring. We’re tentatively planning to return the first of June.”

  I blinked. “That’s major remodeling, bro.”

  He shrugged. “It needs it. We’re doing some of the work ourselves. Trinity is designing stained glass windows for the second floor. I’m redoing the staircase. Grandpa said he’d help me make a traditional hand-carved balustrade. So we’re adding personal elements to the house.”

  “That’s exciting. I can’t wait to see it all take shape.”

  “Us either. I’ve compiled pages and pages of drawings already.”

  Walker looked around. “Where’s this new asshole boyfriend I’ve heard about?”

  Trinity elbowed him. “I can see why she wouldn’t want to bring him. Sheesh.”

  “He’s in his last week of training before the regular season starts.” I smiled. “So, where are you hiding the beer?”

  “Cooler by the pool.”

  And the first person I ran into was my dad.

  “There’s my knockout girl.”

  I hugged him before he could hug me. Sometimes a girl just needed a big daddy hug.

  As usual, he held on as long as I needed him to. Then he let me go with a kiss on my forehead. “Grab a beer, sweetheart. We’re going on walkabout.”

  Crap. That meant Mom had told him the truth about Axl. I forced a smile. “Sure.” But I grabbed a double-sized Lime-A-Rita instead.

  We wandered to the other side of the pool. I waved at Brady and Lennox, sitting with my cousins Ash and Dallas. Double crap. I wasn’t expecting Dallas to be here.

  When she made the “I’ve got my eyes on you” gesture, I congratulated myself on grabbing a can with twice the amount of booze in it—I’d need it.

  “Talk to me about this bullshit relationship.” My dad sipped his Old Style beer. “There’s no need to put a PR spin on this situation for me.”

  “I figured.”

  “Your mother is the love of my life, but when she told me that not only had she signed off on this con game, but she’d initiated it? I could’ve strangled her.”

  Oh yeah. Wishing for a triple right about now. Dad never said anything against his beloved.

 
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