All you need, p.31
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       All You Need, p.31
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         Part #3 of Need You series by Lorelei James

  he was starting the peak of his career. Jax seemed happy with her. Mom and Dad were too, mostly because they hoped she’d settle him down.”

  “Did they know about his lifestyle?”

  Nolan looked at me. “Yeah. At that time they had a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality because Jax didn’t have responsibilities. That changed when Lucy got pregnant. But I think the more they hounded him to do the right thing, the more Jax resisted. The first time I caught him cheating on Lucy, she was six months pregnant. He gave me some sob story about her cutting him off from sex and him having needs . . .” Nolan briefly closed his eyes. “And I bought it.”

  “He’s your brother. I can understand that you wanted to believe he had a valid reason for doing something so wrong.”

  “But I had no right to excuse it every time I caught him after that. So after Mimi was born I showed up to help Lucy out whenever I could because it was obvious Jax wasn’t stepping up . . . I think Lucy believed that once hockey season ended, Jax would come home and they’d be a family. But it just got worse. We tried—”

  “Wait. Who’s we?”

  “Me. Mom and Dad.”

  My surprise must’ve shown.

  “You really think we’d let Mimi live in squalor? We could give her a better environment.”

  Now I was getting a clearer picture. My aunt, uncle and cousin tried to get custody of Mimi—no wonder Lucy fought so hard. I would’ve too. But it wasn’t an indictment of her as a parent; it was their guilt for their son’s failings. “Nolan, why wasn’t anyone in the Lund family aware you guys were going through this?”

  A blockade went up in his eyes. “Because you all are the perfect Lunds—my dad and mom were embarrassed that Jaxson could be that way to his own child. Jaxson was furious we interfered. No one knows he and I didn’t speak for a year.”

  “And none of us noticed?”

  He shook his head. “It was easy to lie when Jax lived in Chicago. Eventually we started talking. He and Lucy worked together so he could get to know Mimi. This isn’t something Jax has announced publicly, but he went through alcohol treatment.”

  “Omigod. When?”

  “Last summer.”

  My eyes filled with tears. “Nolan, you should have told me all this sooner.”

  “Hey, now, brat. None of that. I didn’t tell you to make you feel like a shitty cousin. I only told you because I trust you.” His eyes turned as hard as stones. “This is not my news or life issue to tell. It’s Jax’s. He thought about saying something at the confrontation we had with Walker, but that was Walker’s deal, and Jax didn’t want to make it about him. It’s a huge change for all of us. We’re still trying to find our way.”

  “I imagine.”

  “Anyway, Lucy getting a job here when all this shit is going down with Jax . . . seemed suspicious to us.”

  “So you drew the short straw to deal with Annika the softhearted, who falls for every sob story that comes down the pike?”

  Nolan laughed. “Need I remind you your nickname is the ‘Iron Princess’?”

  “In the media and in the halls of LI, but not with my family, Nolan.”

  “I’ll remember that if you stop calling me ‘The Prince.’”


  “I’m also here to tell you I’m glad you’re done with that Axl asshole.”

  But I’m not done. I might never be done with him. “Why?”

  “After everything I just told you about Jax, you need more reasons not to get involved with a hockey player?”

  Now Nolan’s overly jerkish behavior at the family barbecue when he heard Dallas was dating Igor made more sense. But my situation with Axl wasn’t part of this conversation and I saw right through his deflection. “Back to the matter at hand. You need to talk to Lucy. Obviously what you decide to tell her isn’t my business and I’ll never break your trust, but Jax’s sobriety affects Mimi just as much as his alcoholism did. If nothing else maybe you could be a bridge for Jax and Lucy to have an honest conversation about it.”

  Nolan stood. “You’re right. God, it actually causes me physical pain to say that.”

  “I’ll show you physical pain.” I came around the desk and pretended to punch him in the gut.

  He hugged me. “Thanks. And when you’re ready to jump back in the dating pool, I know a guy who wants your number.”

  “How about you worry about your dating life, and I’ll worry about mine?”

  • • •

  Axl was as stealthy as a bear. Crashing through the forest. At night.

  My heart raced, and I couldn’t help smiling at his intrusion. I shouldn’t have even pretended to be asleep. I could’ve enjoyed the show of him unbuttoning his shirt and tossing it aside, then pulling his T-shirt over his head, revealing his bare, muscled chest. Next he’d unbuckle his belt. Unbutton and unzip his pants and shove them down his legs. He’d leave his socks on, as his feet were perpetually cold. His underwear . . . they would stay on if he intended to sleep. But they’d be the last thing he’d remove if he planned on giving me a wicked wake-up call.

  I heard the rustle of his clothes as he removed them and then the mattress dipped. Axl scooted in behind me, and his boxer briefs brushed the backs of my thighs.

  He snaked his fingers beneath the hem of my nightshirt, and his hand drifted up, over the bare skin of my belly, over my rib cage until he could palm my breast. He sighed deeply. Then he nosed aside my hair until he found the spot behind my ear that he could kiss, nuzzle and reclaim as his.

  When I started to turn toward him, he gave me a warning growl.

  Well, okay, then.

  “Annika, give me this first.”

  I didn’t ask for an explanation, because that would force him to put it into words. I knew what he needed, a reminder that this physical reconnection wasn’t just about sex. It was about a familiar body, a familiar scent, warmth and softness. A welcome touch. A welcome home.

  I felt a little cocky that he’d never wanted that or even needed that until he met me. I knew it’d make him happy beyond words to come home to his place and find me in his bed.

  Axl sighed again and tangled our legs together. Then he reached for my right hand, clasped it in his and stretched our arms above our heads, tucking his biceps under the pillow.

  I loved this position with him. It felt lazy and protective and yet sexy as hell.

  He brushed another kiss below my ear. “I missed you.”

  “I missed you too.”

  “I’m glad you’re here waiting for me, but I am so tired.”

  “I know. Go to sleep.”

  “But I also want to pound you into the mattress until you can’t walk,” he murmured sleepily.


  • • •

  Sweaty and sated, I slumped across Axl’s chest and muttered, “Uncle.”

  He merely grunted.

  We’d hardly left his bed the past twenty-four hours after he’d returned from seven grueling days on the road.

  We were five weeks into our “secret” relationship and so far, so good. When Axl and I were together, we were one hundred percent focused on each other. It wasn’t just mind-blowingly intense sex—although it was all that—but shutting out the world allowed us to get to know each other on a deeper level. We had to figure out how to deal with each other’s mood swings, career disappointments and triumphs. Set boundaries for individual alone time, as well as admit to jealousy when I took an afternoon away from him to spend with my family and he needed a break just to chill out with his buddies at Snow Village and play video games. We fought less than we ever had because we figured out it was a waste of energy. With limited time together, it was easier to set priorities.

  I loved being with him, whether we were watching TV or cooking or bouncing the bed frame or just talking. I’d never been with a man who showered me with so much uninhibited affection and who was so eager to receive it in return.

  The only downside, ironically, was part of the ups
ide—being confined to my place or his place as our relationship blossomed. I know it frustrated him that I couldn’t attend home games and give him a good-luck kiss at the arena before he hit the ice. It frustrated me that I couldn’t bring him to Lund family gatherings. It frustrated both of us that our outside time was literally spent bundled up, walking through the snow in full winter gear so no one could see our faces. I’d even gotten so desperate for a change of scenery that I’d agreed to hike with him at a nature preserve an hour outside the Cities.

  I’d called Peter every couple of weeks just to see if he’d heard anything about the Haversman pitch, but I was still in a holding pattern. He assured me nothing would be scheduled over the holidays, so he’d touch base with me after the first of the year. As much as I’d wanted to know how he’d managed to keep Axl’s media impact so high—yes, I was a PR numbers and data geek and Axl was my boyfriend, so I had a vested interest—I couldn’t ask without arousing his suspicions. For the first two weeks after our breakup, Axl’s hockey jersey had been the number-one seller for the Wild and for all of the NHL’s Central Division. He’d also managed to land endorsements for thermal T-shirts, long underwear and aftershave. That ad made me laugh because it looked as if the female model was slapping him across the face as she “applied” the aftershave. Both ads were slated to run on TV through the holidays.

  We hadn’t discussed the upcoming holidays. The Wild had a home game the Friday night after Thanksgiving. The past two years the Lund family had traveled to Texas to watch the Vikings play the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Then we had a catered meal in my parents’ hotel suite when Jens could join us. But this year Brady and Lennox had called dibs on the Lund family cabin in the North Woods for the weekend. Walker and Trinity were staying home because Trinity had three big commissions to finish before Christmas. So if I didn’t go to New York with my parents to Jensen’s game, they’d be alone, since Jensen usually “dropped in” for dinner and then bailed quickly afterward to hang out with his teammates.

  But I didn’t want to leave Axl to fend for himself either. What credible excuse could I come up with for staying home alone on a holiday?

  Nothing plausible had popped up so far. Maybe I should ask Dallas if she had any ideas . . .

  No! Bad idea. You and Dallas wreak havoc when you’re together and trying to misdirect people from what you’re really doing.

  But I needed to figure this out. Axl would be home for four days. Four days when I didn’t have to work. Four days when we could decorate for Christmas, snuggle up by the fire, watch TV in the glow of the Christmas tree lights and get our naked sexy times on.

  “You all right, beautiful?” Axl murmured in that husky postsex voice. “I can almost hear the gears grinding in that busy head of yours.”

  “Says the engineer.” I lifted myself up and glanced down into his face. God, he was even more gorgeous with his hair all sex-mussed and that satisfied gleam in his eyes.

  “Stop looking at me like that unless you want to end up on your back again,” he warned.

  “But you’re so pretty to look at,” I cooed, pressing a smacking kiss to his mouth when he immediately scowled.

  “I’m not that easily distracted by your flattery. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

  “Thanksgiving. Namely how I’m going to spend it with you without my family becoming suspicious.”

  Axl twined a loose piece of my hair around his finger. “I’m a selfish asshole, but I don’t want to cause problems with your family, Annika.”

  “And I don’t want my man to be alone.”

  “I’m used to being alone over the holidays, so it wouldn’t be anything new for me.”

  “That’s why I’m struggling with this, Axl. I want it to be something new for you—for both of us. A chance for us to start our own Thanksgiving traditions.”

  A look I hadn’t seen before darkened his eyes. “Starting a tradition suggests—”

  “Starting a tradition means,” I corrected, slightly annoyed, “that it’s the beginning of something that happens more than one time.”

  “You see us spending Thanksgiving together next year?”

  “I see us spending every Thanksgiving together from here on out. Don’t you?”

  We stared at each other. It didn’t escape my notice he hadn’t answered me.

  “What?” I said softly when that peculiar look flitted through his eyes again.

  “I’d love that.”

  Axl might as well have said, “I love you.” Right then I didn’t give a damn what my family thought. I was an adult. If I wanted to make other plans, I could and I didn’t owe them an explanation.

  Then I found myself on my back with two-hundred-odd pounds of hockey player plastered to my front.

  Before he spoke, the outer apartment door banged open. Then someone was beating on the bedroom door.

  “Hammer-time. Get your lazy ass out here and play Assassin’s Creed with me. Martin has kicked my butt, so I need to reclaim my manhood and destroy you.”

  I froze. What the hell was Jensen doing here?

  “Be right out,” Axl said over his shoulder. Then he kissed me and pushed himself up to his knees. “How do you want me to play this? Tell him I’m sick and that’s why I’m in bed at six o’clock at night?”

  “Or you could tell him that you have a chick in your room,” I retorted.

  Axl dropped his hands beside my head and we were nose to nose. “Only if I can tell him that chick is you.”


  “So you’ll what . . . hide out in here in the closet? Or under the bed?”

  “No. I don’t understand why my brother is here.”

  “Jens and Martin hit it off. The three of us hang out. Or he and I hang out sometimes.”

  I couldn’t believe my boyfriend and my youngest brother were pals and Axl hadn’t thought to mention it before now. “How long has this been going on?”

  He shrugged. “Since the coat drive. Footballer and I have a lot in common. He’s a good guy. And I think he’s lonely.”

  I frowned. “But he has us.”

  “Us as in . . . your two older brothers who are newly married and spend all their free time with their wives, and you, who spends all her free time with me?”

  My mouth snapped shut because he had a point. When was the last time I’d called Jensen just to see how he was doing? Or to ask him to come over or go out for food or drinks? Turned out, I couldn’t remember the last time. So much for the caring and involved big sister that I’d considered myself to be.

  “He stopped hanging out with his teammates as much,” Axl continued, “outside of practice and game time. He shows up here or at Martin’s place and I like having him around, okay? He’s funny. And we can talk about career stuff that other people don’t understand.”

  I let my fingers trace the hard set to his jaw. “I never realized until right now that you’ve quietly made it your mission to pick up strays. Igor. Martin. Boris. Relf. Jorgen. Kaz. And now Jensen. While I hate that my brother is considered a stray in need of a pack, I see I was right about you, Ax-hell.”

  “How so?”

  “You have a big heart. Then again, you have room for it in this massive chest of yours. Can I just say I’m as crazy about this big heart of yours as I am about your big c—”

  Axl shut me up with a kiss. Then he murmured, “So, what’ll it be? Are you hiding under the covers in here or what?”

  It occurred to me that my baby bro would not be buddy-buddy with any guy who put me through the wringer like Axl had. Jens would’ve killed him. So that meant—

  “You can come out too, Annika,” Jensen said through the door. “I know you’re in there.”

  I let the shock settle in before I whapped Axl on the butt. “You told him!”

  “Of course I did.”


  “A, I didn’t want him beating the fuck out of me. B, I didn’t want him thinking I was a low-life cheater. C, I didn’t want to be checkin
g over my shoulder for the next six months, because I know Jensen is tenacious about bringing the pain when he believes someone has hurt his family. D, he didn’t need to question your judgment on top of everything else.”

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