All you need, p.38
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       All You Need, p.38
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         Part #3 of Need You series by Lorelei James

  was great, given the fact that half of my brothers had punched my future husband in the face.

  Peter had stopped me immediately after the on-ice event and congratulated me. He was impressed that Axl and I had pulled off a secret romance. He promised to deal with the press—neither Axl nor I had anything more to say tonight—and he assured me that this time I’d have full control of content.

  We were sitting in the box, drinking a celebratory Grain Belt beer, when Jensen said to me, “So, how soon can Axl be out of his apartment now that you guys are official?”

  Weird question. “I don’t know. Why?”

  “Because I called dibs on it. I’ve already found a new couch I wanna put in the living room.”

  “Whoa.” Ash held up his hand. “Where does Axl live?”

  “Snow Village.”

  “He lives in a snow globe?” Uncle Archer said.

  Brady and Walker both choked on their beer.

  “No, Dad, it’s a—”

  I could tell Nolan wanted to say hippie commune, but he smirked at me and amended it to “It’s a place for athletes.”

  “Then it’d be good for Jens.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “I never liked that drafty loft of yours. Over a million and a half bucks for a one-bedroom without walls? You got snookered, boy.”

  “So I guess you won’t be putting a bid in on it,” Ash said to Nolan.

  Nolan flipped him off.

  “Spread the word: furniture, artwork and everything goes with it,” Jensen said.

  Walker and I exchanged a look. Jensen had been not a total dickhead since his injury, especially since his fate was still up in the air on whether it was a career-ending injury. He hadn’t complained about physical therapy. He hadn’t grown impatient or irritable with his progress or lack of progress, because he never mentioned it. He hadn’t closed himself off from the family, which was what we all expected, sadly. Since Jensen practically lived at Axl’s place, I’d spent more time with him than either Walker or Brady had in recent months. Something had happened after his injury that served as a life reboot of sorts. I didn’t know what it meant or how long it’d last, but I was grateful to have my “old” little brother back.

  Nolan said, “Okay, show of hands: how many of you knew that Annika and Axl were sneaking around?”

  Dallas raised her hand, which wasn’t a surprise to anyone.

  Jensen’s hand was up.

  Nolan said, “How?”

  “I’ve been hanging out at Axl’s place, but I knew before that. Man, he was a freakin’ goner for her the first time I met him. I saw the way he looked at her.”

  I blushed. Jens had a funny way of showing it, oh, by punching Axl in the face.

  “Then when I saw the picture of him with the brunette, I knew it was Annika.”

  “You did?” Brady said skeptically.

  “Yeah. She and Dallas played dress-up like that all the time.”

  “Who else knew?” Nolan asked.

  My dad raised his hand.

  Mom whirled on him. “Ward Lund. You know of this secret love and you don’t tell me?”

  “Yep.” He allowed a smug smile. “Axl called me and swore he’d never disrespect Annika by cheating on her. He said they were together, but they both preferred to keep it private.”

  While everyone chatted about that, Dad pulled me aside. “Just so you know . . . Axl asked for my permission to marry you. Then he said he’d sign a prenup because he doesn’t want your money—he just wants you.” He cleared his throat. “He’s a good man, sweetheart. I’m happy for you.”

  And I thought I was done with tears.

  While my mother took my father aside to “chew his fat,” my aunt Priscilla and aunt Edie approached me with Dallas. Aunt P took my hand. “Annika, we’re meddlers, honey. You know that. So I’ll be up-front. Brady and Walker were the first two Lunds to get married. We adore Lennox and Trinity and are happy to have them in the family. But your brothers denied your mother a chance to host a reception that befits her social standing. We just want to make sure—”

  “Oh, trust me, I want the wedding with all the bells and whistles, the princess dress, the beribboned doves, the moving vans packed with towering floral arrangements and glittery candles, the twenty-seven-layer cake, the dance party that goes on until dawn. However . . . you’ll have to encourage Mom to plan fast because Axl isn’t going to wait long.” And I didn’t want to either.

  “That’s all we needed to know. We will make anything you want to happen . . . happen, in the time frame you want it to happen in.”

  I didn’t doubt that a bit. Those women wielded some serious power.

  After they left, Dallas hugged me. “I feel like my aura is actually tickled pink for you.”

  I laughed.

  “You’ll let me help you with some of the wedding planning, right?”

  “A lot of the planning. That’s what a maid of honor does.”

  Dallas leaned back and whispered, “For reals? You want me to be your maid of honor?”

  “For reals. You’ve been through the designing-doll-gowns-out-of-tissues-and-lace years, and the dress-up-and-pretend-we’re-getting-married years. As far as I’m concerned, you have years of experience.” I glanced over my shoulder. “And to be honest? I’m sort of afraid I’ll turn into Bridezilla, so you’ll have to be my reality check.”

  “There’s your reality check,” she whispered.

  I turned around to see Axl—my gorgeous, sweet, loving, perfect dream man—paused in the doorway.

  His cheeks flushed when my family cheered at his arrival. He beckoned to me. “We have one thing to do and then we’ll celebrate.”

  When I reached him, he clasped my hand in his and towed me down the short, deserted hallway. Then he pulled me into an alcove and hauled me against him, fastening his mouth to mine for a kiss that went on and on and just . . . undid me completely.

  Apparently I wasn’t done bawling.

  He wiped away my tears. “Why are you crying?”

  “Because I’m happy and overwhelmed. Thank you for . . .” I couldn’t finish. I got choked up just thinking about him putting himself on display for me.

  “You’re okay with that excessive PDA?”

  “It was beautiful and perfect and so unexpected.” I grinned. “Totally epic!”

  He laughed. “And you haven’t even seen the ring yet.”

  I said, “Where is it?” fully expecting he’d hedge and say he wanted that part of our engagement to be private.

  “It’s in my top drawer in the bedroom. I planned on filling the tub up with bubbles and drinking a bottle of champagne with you. Then, when we hit the sheets, I was going to spring the ring on you and spend the rest of the night proving how much I love my fiancée.”

  I whapped him on the chest. “Ax-hell, you’re not supposed to tell me that! It ruins the surprise!”

  “You’ve had enough surprises for one day, yah?” He kissed me again. “Besides, I didn’t spoil the surprise of what the ring looks like, and that’s all you care about anyway. Are you worried I picked something you’ll hate?”

  “No. You know me better than anyone and this is important, so I know it will be perfect.”

  “Good answer, Attila.”

  “Can we go home now so you can slip that ring on my finger and make it official?”

  “Won’t your family be upset we’re leaving?”

  I kissed him. “I’m pretty sure they think we already left.”

  “Then let’s go.” Axl took my hand and we walked to the elevator together.

  “Are you happy with how your first season with the Wild played out?”

  “I wish we would’ve made the playoffs, but there’s always next year.” He pressed a kiss to my temple. “Besides, I’m more proud that I won you—my love of a lifetime—than something as trivial as the Stanley Cup.”

  I stopped and faced him. “Did you really just call the Stanley Cup trivial?”

  “Everything is tr
ivial compared to the way I feel about you, Princess.”

  “Oh, good answer.”

  We walked out through the front doors, hand in hand . . . just because we could.

  ____________

  DON’T MISS TRINITY AND WALKER’S ROMANCE!

  Just What I Needed

  AVAILABLE NOW.

  ____________

  He gave me a slow, sexy blink and then he smiled.

  Heaven help me. His dimples were deep enough his beard couldn’t mask them. His perfect teeth gleamed in a stunning smile. His lips retained that full, pouty look even with his wide grin.

  He brushed his mouth across mine and whispered, “Guess it’s my lucky day.”

  My lips parted to say, “Mine too,” but no sound came out.

  “How about we have a drink and you can tell me the real reason you used your tongue to introduce yourself instead of a handshake?”

  That broke the spell. I lowered my arms and stepped back. “I’m sitting over here.” I turned and headed to the table.

  Perky Waitress showed up immediately after we took our seats. “What can I get you?” she asked him.

  “Grain Belt, if you’ve got it on tap.”

  “Coming right up.”

  As soon as she was gone, he set his elbows on the table and invaded my space. “As much as I’d like to call you Hot Lips”—he grinned—“what’s your name?”

  Just then Vance and Tommy walked by—each with an arm draped over one of the women from the back room. Vance said, “See ya ’round, Amelia.”

  Crap. Of course karma, that vicious bitch, had ensured that I had to start this conversation with my new hot crush with the fact that I’d lied to those guys about my name. That’d go over well. Then he’d wonder what else I lied about and this would be over before it began.

  “So . . . Amelia,” he said, sounding pleased he’d overheard my name.

  Surely at some point I could explain and we’d have a great laugh about it, right? So I went with it. “Yes?”

  “What’s your last name?”

  “Carlson. And you are . . . ?”

  “Walker Lund.” His gaze roamed over my face. “Seems we’re both of Scandinavian descent.”

  “You seem surprised. Because I’m not a six-foot-tall, rail-thin blonde with cheekbones that could cut glass and piercing blue eyes?”

  He lifted a brow. “You got something against tall blondes with blue eyes?”

  Then I realized how snappish my retort had come across. “Sorry. No. I find tall, blue-eyed blondes incredibly attractive.” I flashed him a quick smile. “Especially the bearded variety. I’ve been overlooked and occasionally dumped because I’m not a blond temptress, so it’s a knee-jerk reaction.”

  “You’re plenty tempting, trust me. And don’t pretend you aren’t aware that any guy in this bar would change places with me in a heartbeat.”

  “Because I marched up to you and kissed you like it was my right?”

  “I ain’t gonna lie—that was one hot ‘Hello, baby. I wanna eat you alive’ kind of kiss. It’s especially sexy when you’ve got wide-eyed innocence. Yet that mouth of yours . . .” His gaze dropped to my lips. “It’s the stuff fantasies are made of. Plus, you’ve got great hair and a fantastic ass.”

  “When were you looking at my ass?”

  “As soon as your back was turned. I really wished your table had been farther away.”

  Oddly flattering.

  “So, sweetheart, why don’t you come clean about why you really kissed me?”

  “You want the long version?”

  He shook his head. “I don’t care, just as long as it’s the no-bullshit version.”

  The words tumbled out of me in a rush. “My friend dragged me here and within an hour she’d hooked the interest of a really hot rugby player and left with him. As I lamented my crappy day and the sad state of my life lately, my ex-boyfriend showed up with his new girlfriend. And through a very awkward conversation, I learned that he’d been with her before we broke up. So in trying to not look pathetic because I was sitting alone, I lied and said I was waiting for a date.”

  Walker assessed me with scary detachment for several long moments before he spoke. “So that knockout kiss was all for show to make your dickhead ex jealous?”

  “No.” I glanced down at my hands. “I mean, yes, I had a plan of sorts, but when you walked in—”

  “When I walked in . . . what?” he said testily.

  “My plan vanished. I wasn’t thinking about my jerk of an ex at all because I was entirely focused on you.” As embarrassing as that was to admit, I met his gaze again.

  “Is your ex still here, watching us now?”

  “I have no idea.”

  He frowned as if he didn’t believe me.

  “Look. I didn’t come up with the date idea to make him jealous. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to make sure he knew that I’d moved on. I moved on the day I found out he was cheating on me. And to hear that he’d been cheating on me longer than I’d been aware of? I considered kneeing him in the nuts and using her fake boobs as speed punching bags. But then I figured even a dive bar like this would frown on that behavior. And the person I’d call to bail me out of jail was on a date with a rugby player.” Somehow I managed to stop the blast of words and took a breath.

  Walker let loose a robust laugh that was as charming as it was sexy.

  The waitress returned with his beer.

  He tried to pay but I waved him off and sent our server on her way. He held his mug up for a toast. “To giving in to overwhelming urges. You made this crap day a hundred times better.”

  “Back atcha.” I touched my half-empty glass to his and drank.

  After he set his beer down, he leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “So tell me what you do when you’re not randomly kissing strangers in a bar.”

  I played coy. “Why don’t you guess how I make my living?”

  “What do I win if I guess right?”

  Ah. So he was the “What’s in it for me?” type. “What do you want?”

  “Your phone number.”

  “Okay.”

  He pulled out his phone and looked at me.

  “Oh. You want it now?” I rattled off the number without thought, watching his thick fingers type the digits in, wondering what he did for a living to earn calluses like that.

  After he slipped his phone into his front pocket, he studied my face before his gaze dipped to the lace camisole stretched across my cleavage. “You’re a teacher cutting loose during summer
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