All you need, p.2
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       All You Need, p.2
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         Part #3 of Need You series by Lorelei James

  Repeat.

  I was still silently chanting when the elevator doors opened.

  Peter Skaarn smiled and held out his hand. “Annika. Thank you so much for coming. Sorry for making you wait in the lobby. Floors eight and nine are being remodeled and we can’t chance people accidentally wandering around.” He kissed both my cheeks. “You look as beautiful as ever.”

  Flattery isn’t going to help your cause, pal. “Thank you.”

  “Your mother is well?”

  “Yes, she is, as you well know, since she was here yesterday, allowing you to try to convince her that I needed to give you another chance. Since clearly you mistakenly believe that your client’s reputation is somehow redeemable. Which I now know—firsthand—it is not.”

  Peter ushered me into the conference room, decorated in the usual Minnesota masculine style I tended to call “North Woods office chic,” a hunter green and navy blue color scheme, with hunting and fishing themes, minus actual taxidermy and muskie heads mounted on the wood-paneled walls.

  “I understand the situation was distressing. That’s why my client would like a chance to apologize and explain.”

  Just then the enormous leather chair at the head of the conference table slowly spun around, revealing not Adam Levine as I’d hoped, but the blond bruiser and utter bane of my existence the past three weeks.

  Aka—the pucktard.

  Aka—the Swedish meathead.

  Aka—Ax-hole, Ax-hell and half a dozen other names I was too pissed off to think of right then.

  The best I could come up with was “You.”

  And did he act contrite at all? No. He aimed that smarmy grin at me and said, “Attila.”

  “Axl,” Peter warned.

  “I was joking,” Axl said in Swedish. Then he stood and crossed the room.

  I’d spent my life around Minnesota farm boys, born of Scandinavian and German immigrants that generations later were still producing tall, broad, good-sized men. But at six feet five inches and two hundred and some odd pounds of solid muscle, Axl dwarfed most of them. I wasn’t a shrimp at five feet eight inches, but even wearing three-inch heels I had to tip my head back to meet his gaze.

  “Annika, it is lovely to see you again,” he said in that deceptively smooth baritone.

  “Shall we sit in the lounge area and keep this meeting informal?” Peter inserted.

  As far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter where we sat; this would be a short conversation. “Fine.”

  “Would you care for a drink?” Peter asked me.

  “No, thank you.” Then I chose the only single seat, leaving them to sit together on the sofa.

  After they were situated, Peter said, “Axl has something to say to you.”

  Axl stretched his arm out across the back of the couch. It spanned the entire length and I couldn’t help noticing how the position put his honed biceps on display.

  Do not ogle him—that is his MO—he tries to dazzle women with his fantastic physique.

  “I am sorry for the distress you had last weekend at the club.”

  Wow. That could’ve been just a little less sincere.

  Not.

  “Remind me again . . . why was I distressed?”

  Those eyes, the Siberian blue of a husky, narrowed. “I apologized. Is that not enough?”

  And . . . the Iron Princess within me sprang to life, ready to do battle. “That wasn’t an apology. Not only did you blatantly ignore my list of instructions, but when I saw you in the club, you became belligerent, like I was the problem. And then not only were you grinding on two chicks at one time on the dance floor, but after I pulled you off there with a warning and told you to go home, you defied me yet again. Half an hour later I found you with two different women as their cleavage became your personal vodka shot dispensers! By then you’d drawn a crowd, and phones were already out recording everything. When I attempted to intervene, one of your drunken vodka babes took a swing at me and ended up on the floor. And let’s not forget you suggested I could take her place in your threesome.”

  He gave me a cool smile. “I am sorry you had a hard time grasping our . . . cultural differences.”

  “Are you freakin’ kidding me right now?” I gaped at Peter, who didn’t look happy with his client. I shot to my feet. “I’m done.”

  “Wait. Please.” Peter stood too. “I promise I wouldn’t have asked you to come here if he was just a drunken discipline problem.”

  “I don’t need this extra headache in my life. Axl’s PR problems are best handled by the hockey team’s PR department, or a shrink, not someone from the outside.”

  “So that’s it? I didn’t think you were the type to give up,” Axl mock-chastised me.

  “I’m tenacious when I have something worth my time to accomplish. But you’ve proved time and again that’s not the case with you.” Leaning in until I had Axl’s full attention on my face—not my chest—I patted his massive shoulder. “I can’t fix stupid. But here’s some free advice. Save your aggression for the ice. Keep your eye on the puck. Keep your dick in your pants. And keep reaching for the stars.”

  Silence.

  “Are you for fucking real?” Axl demanded.

  I added, “Oh. And ‘Go Wild!’ but not literally. Figuratively speaking.”

  He glared at Peter. “That is exactly why I don’t want anyone thinking she’s my girlfriend.”

  “I’m sorry—your what?”

  Axl aimed that steely-eyed stare at me. “My girlfriend. Another stupid thing I did Saturday night that I don’t remember? I muttered about you being a jealous girlfriend.”

  My jaw nearly hit the floor. “What is wrong with you? Why would you even say that?”

  He shot to his feet and loomed over me. “Because you were acting like a jealous girlfriend, yanking me off the dance floor and chewing my ass about dancing with other women.”

  “As your PR consultant, I saw you making poor choices, and it was my job to call you out on them!”

  “But I couldn’t exactly tell people that, could I?”

  “Unless they spoke Swedish you couldn’t tell them anything,” I retorted. “So what mysterious ‘people’ are you talking about?” I paused. “Your little ‘honeys’ buzzing around and getting buzzed with you?”

  Axl’s face had gone red.

  “Oh, this ought to be pure hockey gold. How’d you drop the puck this time?”

  “A woman I . . . met at the club the previous week was there Saturday night.”

  Damn him. Did I have to point out he’d violated the rules last weekend too?

  “She was one of the ones I was dancing with when you pulled us apart and . . . she became angry when she thought that I hadn’t told her I had a girlfriend when I . . . met her. She followed us and recorded you yelling at me after one of the blondes took a swing at you—”

  “Because I’m the buzzkill for breaking up your tequila tasting when your agent hired me to improve your image.”

  God. Could this get any worse? Dallas’s warning—never taunt the universe with that challenge—popped into my head two seconds before Axl said, “Then she uploaded the videos to YouTube. If you had left me alone and let me do my own thing, none of this would have happened. Which makes it just as much your stupid mistake to fix as it is mine.”

  “Omigod, you did not just say that. This is entirely your fault. And you’re right. No one would believe we’re together, because I’d never date a serial manwhore.”

  “Enough.” Peter literally stepped between us. “Obviously we have a lot to talk about.”

  “You know what, Peter? I changed my mind. I will take that drink after all.”

  Two

  ___

  AXL

  I watched as my “girlfriend” downed a dirty martini in two gulps and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

  Classy.

  “Let’s conduct this portion of the conversation at the conference table,” Peter said.

  I returned to the c
hair at the head of the table I’d sat in earlier.

  She muttered in English, assuming I didn’t understand her.

  Except I did understand her. In fact, I spoke nearly flawless English. It was hard not to react to some of the crazy stuff that came out of her mouth. Like now, hearing her mutter about finding a crowbar to forcibly remove my ass from the chair.

  Go ahead, Princess. I’d like to see you try.

  But having her here, skirting me, her sexy ass accentuated by her formfitting skirt, I felt the surreal situation sinking in. What had I gotten myself into? I’d screwed up Saturday night. I should’ve stayed in and gotten shit-faced with my buddies Martin and Boris, who lived in my apartment building, instead of heading to the same club I’d overheard Annika saying she planned to visit. After hearing so much about her PR superpowers, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see if she could keep me from getting lit up the one night of the year I pushed my limits of how high I’d blow.

  “So here’s the situation,” Peter said. “Those videos are our golden ticket.”

  “How do you figure?”

  “Because the lovers’ spat caught on tape is a precursor for the two of you convincing the world you’re a couple. And Axl falling for you means Axl is focused on two things: his hockey career with his new team and his new woman—in that order. It’s the feel-good story of the year just waiting to happen.”

  Even I snorted at that pronouncement.

  Annika demanded, “I get why Ax-hell would need to shore up his reputation, but what do I get out of it? Besides my reputation being questioned by my family, friends and everyone else I associate with? Because he is nothing like the men I usually date. Nothing.”

  I imagined the type of men she dated had soft hands and soft heads but a solid bank account.

  “It’s a three-prong plan, Annika. First, you agreed to do PR because your mother asked you to as a favor to me for taking your brother on as a client. She’s on board with this new direction.”

  “Funny, she did not mention this new direction to me, the person it affects the most. She just assumed I’d go along with it like a dutiful daughter?”

  I frowned. Her mother hadn’t even asked her? That hardly seemed fair. Or professional for Peter to just expect her to comply with his plan.

  “We’ll get back to that,” Peter assured her. “Second, if Axl’s season goes the way we think it’ll go, he’ll be in high demand socially, and you’ll look smart to be half of the ‘it’ couple in the Twin Cities.”

  “There’s an incentive,” she muttered in English.

  I had to fight a smile. I sort of hated that she amused the hell out of me.

  “Third, he will work tirelessly on any of your LCCO projects. Anytime, anyplace.”

  My head snapped up at that. “What?”

  Peter’s eyes flashed a warning at me. “I told you the Lund family is heavily involved in charitable causes. It goes without saying that you’d support Annika, since she will be supporting you.”

  “Just as long as it doesn’t interfere with my hockey schedule. The only reason I considered doing any of this is to clear up some misperceptions about who I am off the ice.”

  Annika’s eyes narrowed. “Misperceptions? The first time I met you ‘off the ice,’ you banged our waitress between the entrée and the dessert course.”

  Okay. She had me there. But the woman had smelled like cookies and my sweet tooth had started throbbing.

  “You admitted tonight that you hooked up with the amateur videographer you ‘met’ at the club last week. I did my homework on you. According to what I read and saw online, you haven’t been seen with the same woman twice. So, maybe the only person with the skewed perception about you . . . is you.”

  “You told me yourself everything could be spun, Miss PR. I did my homework on you too.” From the moment I’d seen the beautiful blonde, I’d imagined her naked and in my arms while I swallowed her cries of pleasure. So I’d purposely presented myself as aloof because I couldn’t act on my attraction to her. I’d known Peter planned to show up before the dessert course to ask for her PR help—I just hadn’t been looped in on the particulars.

  After we’d gotten ejected from the restaurant and Peter had torn into me about my self-destructive behavior, I decided to familiarize myself with the smart, sexy, sassy bombshell. As much as I hated doing an online search for personal information, it was the fastest means to gather data even if it wasn’t the most accurate. After poring over pictures captioned by the media as the “Iron Princess” as she was seen with a parade of men over the years, I had proof she had no room to judge me. “Are you involved with every suit who escorts you to the excessive number of charity events you attend? What do you think is the public’s perception when your picture is in the newspaper with a different guy week after week?”

  That observation took her aback.

  Good.

  “Here’s the difference between us. I don’t give a damn how many of those dates you’ve slept with, because it doesn’t matter; I wouldn’t call you a slut. Yet you feel entitled to toss out the term ‘manwhore’ at me. If I’d slept with as many women as I’ve been accused of, I’d be too damn tired to hold a hockey stick, to say nothing of sustaining the stamina to practice every day and play over eighty games each season. So there are misperceptions about me I’d like to change. That’s the whole reason I need your help.”

  A flush crept up her neck. She dipped her chin and her gaze fell to the table, immediately drawing my attention to the long sweep of her eyelashes resting above the razor-sharp edges of her cheekbones.

  Contrite wasn’t a look I’d expected to see on her, yet there it was.

  But was it an act?

  Peter cleared his throat. “We’ve gotten off track.”

  Annika slowly raised her head. She locked her gaze to mine. Her fiery gaze.

  Shit. I’d awakened the beast.

  “Actually Axl brought up some things I’d want to discuss with him if I was considering taking him on as a client. I’d still like to go through my questions before I make a final decision.”

  “Excellent idea,” Peter said. “We’ll just—”

  “Alone,” Annika said to him, maintaining eye contact with me.

  I envisioned my entrails painting the walls the moment Peter left us alone.

  “There’s no need to worry about client privilege in this case, Annika, since Axl is my client.”

  “With all due respect, Peter, if Axl and I are going to convince the world we’re in a relationship, we need to be able to speak freely to each other without you running interference.”

  She had some balls. I’d give her that. I said, “I agree.”

  “If you’d rather we had this conversation elsewhere . . .”

  “No, that’s fine. I’ll leave you to it. I always have paperwork to catch up on.” Peter glanced at his watch. “Axl and I have dinner plans with a sponsor. So no bloodshed.” He stood and strode out, closing the door behind him.

  Annika reached into her bag and pulled out several file folders before she looked at me. “Maybe this seems—”

  I held up my hand. “Before I answer any questions, I want to explain about last weekend, because as Peter said, it is not normal behavior for me.”

  “Make it snappy. As you can see”—she gestured to the folders—“there’s a lot of ground to cover.”

  “What, exactly, is all that?”

 
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