All you need, p.6
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       All You Need, p.6
Download  in MP3 audio

         Part #3 of Need You series by Lorelei James

  “I graduated from Minneapolis Art Institute. I worked at Smithco until I had Mimi. I didn’t work aside from being a mom during her first two years. Then things went . . . south with Jaxson and I had to find a job. I did some freelance stuff that still allowed me to be home full-time. Then the market became flooded with freelancers, so I diversified. I took a few beading and welding classes and started my own handmade jewelry company.”

  I glanced up from thumbing through her portfolio. “I had no idea. What kind of jewelry?”

  Lucy flipped to the back of the book. “Inexpensive bohemian stuff. Some folk art, some pieces using recycled materials. At one time I had an entire line of rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and anklets. I had so much fun just creating that I ended up with hundreds of pieces. When my friends convinced me to sell my jewelry at summer fairs and fall festivals, it did pretty well for a while.”

  “What happened?”

  She laughed. “Etsy.”

  I laughed too. “I can see where that’d be an issue.”

  “I opened a storefront. In fact, I still have one. But it’s not the same. I can spend days creating something unique and upload a picture of it. Within hours it’s on a Pinterest board and some other jewelry maker has learned to copycat it and sell it for less. So I ended up going back to work as a graphic artist. Thankfully the print shop that hired me worked around Mimi’s preschool schedule.”

  “You must really enjoy working. Because I know Jaxson pays child support.”

  Evidently my neutral tone hadn’t come across that way, because Lucy got snippy. “I wondered when we’d get to this part of the interview, so fine. Let’s just go there and get it out of the way.”

  I took a drink of my soda.

  “Yes, Jaxson pays child support, which I’m sure he complains about at every opportunity to his family, because he complains about it to me and my attorney. And yes, every year after our breakup, I had to take him to court to force him to support his own child.”

  I’d known about the court appearances, but not the particulars.

  “I didn’t ask Jaxson to support me. Just Mimi. Not in any lavish fashion either. I wanted him to pay for her health insurance, her food, her clothing and our housing. Since I wasn’t working, he didn’t have to ‘shell out’ for day care. He fought me over every dime. We spent more money on lawyers that second year than he did on all the support payments. It was such a waste, but he had it in his head that I was somehow trying to screw him over. Yeah. I was living it up on the five thousand dollars a month that he grudgingly paid me.”

  My stomach roiled. That was all Jaxson had been paying her? He earned millions a year as a hockey player. And that income didn’t come close to what his trust funds paid out as a Lund heir.

  She closed her eyes. “It was an ugly situation. Jaxson never wanted to see Mimi during the hockey season. But as soon as it ended, he expected unrestricted rights to her. She was only a baby—she didn’t know him because he wasn’t around and I was just supposed to hand her over to him? Especially when I knew the first month of his off-season consisted of a twenty-four-hour buffet of sex and booze?”

  “Is that why you left him?”

  “The truth? He left me two weeks after Mimi was born. He just dragged out the actual breakup for another eight months.” She looked at me. “After I had Mimi we decided I’d stay in Minneapolis and he’d keep a place in Chicago. He’d fly here when he could, but he never did. I had a six-month-old I’d been raising by myself and I hadn’t seen him in two months. The season ended and he was supposed to fly to Minneapolis to see us, but he didn’t. Five days passed and I hadn’t heard a word from him. It seemed overly dramatic to worry his parents and his brother about his lack of communication, so I bundled up the baby and hopped on a plane to Chicago. I basically walked in on an orgy. A drunken orgy. I came home. Then he showed up in Minneapolis late the next day like everything was great. He didn’t even remember I’d come to Chicago or that we’d had a huge fight the day before. I told him we were done.”

  “Lucy. I—”

  “I hate that he’s made me out to be some kind of evil hag with an agenda. I know he calls me Lucifer—a name that I had to hear from my daughter.” Her chin wobbled. “Yes, I’ve denied him contact with Mimi and the court system agreed with me after I walked in to find him banging some chick while his daughter had screamed herself hoarse in the next room.”

  I couldn’t even speak.

  “I knew Jaxson’s reputation when we were together. Hockey players are the worst when it comes to screwing around. I never expected fidelity, nor did I believe his promises that he’d be faithful. But when he broke promises about the care he’d give his child when I entrusted her life with him? That’s where I drew the line. If I had to support Mimi one hundred percent by myself to guarantee she’d be safe and happy? I’d do it in a fucking heartbeat and I didn’t care who it pissed off. That snapped Jaxson out of it a little. He’s slowly building a relationship with his daughter. But it’s not there yet.”

  “Lucy. It’s okay. Take a drink. Take a breath.”

  She nodded.

  As she got herself together, my thoughts went from my cousin to Axl.

  Hockey players are the worst when it comes to screwing around.

  And I’d agreed to fake a relationship with that kind of man?

  At least it’s not real. At least you’re going in with your eyes wide-open.

  But what if Lucy was manipulating me? Her story sounded plausible—more plausible than Jaxson’s claims that Lucy was a horrible mother and an awful person. Mimi was a sweet, thoughtful, loving, smart little girl. Those traits were learned behavior. Since Lucy had full custody of Mimi, logic dictated she’d learned that behavior from her mother. It’d always been obvious too that Mimi adored her mom. A kid with a crappy home life wouldn’t be so eager to leave the luxurious surroundings the Lunds offered.

  “I’m sorry,” Lucy said softly.

  “Don’t be. I asked you some questions and you answered them.”

  “Have I totally blown this chance at this job?”

  “No.” I closed her portfolio. “But I’d like some time to think it over. Does Edie know you’ve applied here?”

  She shook her head.

  “There’s no question you’re qualified, Lucy. It appears you’d work well with Lennox. I have autonomy over this department, so technically I don’t have to ask Brady, Ash and Nolan for permission to hire you.”

  “But?”

  “But I’m weighing the potential repercussions if I don’t discuss it with them.”

  “I understand.”

  I smiled at her and stood. “I promise I won’t keep you waiting long.”

  We walked to the door.

  “Thank you, Annika, for listening to me with an open mind.”

  “Thank Lennox. I know I’ll be thanking her for forcing me to see beyond what I thought I knew.”

  With all the things pinging around in my brain, it’d be pointless to try to refocus on work.

  Since family therapy wasn’t an option, a dose of retail therapy would have to do.

  Six

  ___

  AXL

  Practice ran late, so I skipped taking a shower in the locker room.

  As I stood under the spray of scalding-hot water in my bathroom, waiting for my overtaxed muscles to stop twitching, my thoughts scrolled back to the surprise of seeing Peter sitting with the coaches in the arena this morning. I hadn’t known what to expect when he beckoned me over. I’d foolishly hoped for an attaboy! for keeping my focus entirely on training and staying out of trouble the past ten days.

  But Peter reamed me, in the seething, quiet way that men in power did so well, about my lack of contact and public appearances with Annika. Apparently no press was worse than bad press in Peter’s PR world.

  So he was shoving us into the spotlight tonight. He’d given me explicit instructions on the time and place where I needed to show up, in addition to what to
wear and how to act. I didn’t appreciate a sixty-year-old grandfather telling me about dating protocol.

  I’d just slipped on a white dress shirt when I heard, “Skål, brosky!” shouted from my living room.

  It was an accepted practice in my apartment complex that everyone left their doors unlocked. I’d been living in Snow Village, a gated community composed of three interconnected buildings, since I relocated to the Twin Cities at the end of last season. I’d lived here before during the year I played in the AHL with the Wild’s farm team.

  Snow Village had earned the name because pro and semipro athletes from around the globe in winter sports like hockey, snowboarding, skiing, skating, curling and biathlon rented or sublet apartments here. Martin, the lone American in the compound, lived with Verily, Sweden’s reigning snowboarding champion, directly across the hallway from me.

  As I finished buttoning my shirt, I caught Martin’s reflection next to mine in the mirror as he casually leaned in the doorway behind me.

  He whistled. “Donning the monkey suit. What’s the occasion?”

  “A cocktail party my agent is requiring me to attend.”

  “That sucks. I wanted to kick your ass at Resident Evil.”

  I shook my head at him. “Dream on.”

  “It’s gonna be boring around here tonight.”

  “Where’s Verily?”

  “She left for Canada for a week. Shooting a season’s worth of ads for Burton and she’s got a line on a heli drop.”

  “That woman has bigger balls than me,” I muttered.

  “Me too.” Martin tipped up a bottle of Old Style beer and drank. “You going solo tonight?”

  “No.” I grabbed a tie off the dresser. My throat closed up at the thought of putting it on.

  Martin pointed with the beer bottle. “With that shirt it’ll look better if you skip the tie.”

  I lifted my eyebrow as my gaze moved over his dreads, hanging past the shoulders of his DayGlo orange Under Armour T-shirt and the tie-dyed yoga pants I’d bet belonged to Verily.

  He laughed. “Trust me.”

  “Whatever.” I slipped on the jacket.

  “Too bad you shaved. You could’ve left the scruff and pulled your hair back in a man bun. Chris Hemsworth meets James Bond. Totally on trend.”

  “Says the dude wearing flip-flops with socks.”

  Martin laughed again. “Why are you so tense?”

  I slipped my wallet into my interior suit pocket. “I’m not. Terse is my main personality trait.”

  “True. You give mean-eyed Igor run for money in stoic,” he said in a flawless Russian accent.

  “He’d hurt you bad if he heard your impression of him.” I left the bedroom and cut through the kitchen to the dining room, where I’d plugged in my cell phone.

  “Wait. You’re nervous about your date with this chick, aren’t you?”

  I glanced up at him.

  “Axl. Dude. I say this as a one hundred percent hetero man in love with a Nordic goddess, but you are freakin’ hot, man. You’re built like a beast. You’ve developed that arrogant conquering Viking attitude and were blessed with the looks and brains to back it up. So what’s the deal?”

  “Besides the fact that she’s probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen? She’s smart. Like really smart in that clever way that not everyone gets. She pokes every one of my buttons, and that annoys me as much as I like the fact that she’s figured out which buttons to poke.” I ran my hand through my hair. “So that’s the deal.”

  “Anything else?”

  “And she’s rich.”

  “So you’re trying to come up with the best way to propose to her?”

  “Fuck off.”

  Martin laughed. “Kidding. You like her. And you don’t want to like her. That’s the problem.”

  I scowled at him.

  “Okay. I give. If you don’t need dating advice, why’d you text me that you need my help?”

  “I need to borrow your car.”

  “Why?”

  “Igor is borrowing the Audi.”

  He raised both eyebrows. “Repo man come calling for the K-car?”

  “No.”

  “So drive it.”

  “I’d have to leave it in a public lot.”

  “So you want to borrow my piece-of-crap Volvo.”

  “Just for a few hours.”

  He studied me. Then he laughed. “Man. You are whacked. But all right.” He tossed a set of keys in my direction.

  I caught them and smiled. “Thanks. I owe you one.”

  • • •

  I texted Annika my estimated time of arrival and she replied she’d be waiting in the lobby of her apartment building.

  As soon as I pulled into the semicircle in front of the modern brick, steel, stone and glass high-rise building—in the trendiest, most expensive section around Lake Calhoun—a security guard tapped on my window, signaling me to move along.

  I wondered if he would’ve been so quick to send me on my way if I’d been driving something other than a 2002 Volvo with a Thule snowboard rack on the roof.

  He did step back when I opened the car door and climbed out.

  “Sir, this is private property—”

  I managed to skirt the front end of the car before I heard her shout, “It’s fine, Rick. He’s with me.”

  Good thing I hadn’t tried to speak, because one look at her and my mind went blank.

  Annika wore a body-hugging dress that at first appeared to be black, but as she walked closer I could see the fabric shimmering with her movement, revealing the color to be a deep purple with hints of blue. Her long hair had been pinned back on the sides and braided in sections, left in long, flowing curls in the back. She hadn’t gone with overly dramatic makeup; she just looked . . . stunning.

  My eyes met hers. I reached for her hand and pressed my cheek to hers to murmur, “You are breathtaking.”

  She flattened her palm on my chest and tipped her head back to smile at me. “There’s the ultimate boyfriend’s greeting.”

  I escorted her to the passenger side, and the doorman had already opened the door. I waited for her to lift that imperious brow or say with a sneer, “Nice car,” but she said nothing except “Thank you.”

  She didn’t speak until we were on the freeway. “When did you get a personal visit from Peter?”

  “Today at practice. How about you?”

  “At my office.” She paused. “He expects us to spend a lot of time together starting tonight.”

  “You don’t have to sound so thrilled about it,” I said.

  “Maybe we should have stayed in touch. I have no idea what you’ve been doing.”

  My hands tightened on the steering wheel. “There haven’t been reports of me ‘doing’ any random women in bars, have there?”

  “We both know that just because images haven’t been uploaded to the Internet doesn’t mean you haven’t been through a dozen women and that many boxes of condoms in the past ten days,” she snapped. “How am I supposed to just trust you? I don’t even know you. It would be typical of the way things have gone for me today, to show up on that stupid boat—not that I was given a choice but to walk the damn plank—and come face-to-face with some woman you were
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll