All you need, p.9
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       All You Need, p.9
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         Part #3 of Need You series by Lorelei James

  both faced Peter. “Speak freely in front of me. There are no secrets between my girlfriend and me now.”

  Peter laughed. “Be careful what you wish for, eh? Anyway, you drive a hard deal, Miss Lund. I commend you. After seeing your confidence in your role at Lund Industries, I will make the recommendation and the introduction to R Haversman on your behalf. There are two stipulations, though. First, that you cannot tell anyone about this. Any preparation you do must be done with the utmost discretion. And two, you have to trust that I will know the best time to approach him. So not only will you have to be patient, but you will have to be ready at a moment’s notice. Can you agree to those terms?”

  “Absolutely.”

  “Good. Then we’re square.” Peter looked at Axl. “Right, Axl?”

  “If she’s happy and it’s more than she was getting from this deal before, that’s all that matters.”

  “I’ll deal with the media blitz that’ll be coming your way tomorrow after tonight’s events. But I very likely won’t know which way to spin it until I see the paper in the morning.”

  Axl looked at Peter. “Why are you dealing with it? Isn’t PR Annika’s job?”

  Good question.

  “No. Annika’s job is to be your girlfriend. Any PR coming from her about your relationship is suspect. I’ll consult with her when I need to, but the truth is . . . this is what she’s supposed to be doing.”

  Don’t fume. You signed on for this. You expected this.

  Peter sighed. “Jensen is going to take you home, Annika.”

  “Okay.” I stepped away from Axl. “Keep icing that.”

  “I will.”

  “We’re still on for dinner tomorrow night?”

  “Dinner? Yes. That’s a great follow-up to tonight. I’ll set up the reservations and make sure the media knows,” Peter said.

  I took another step back and said, “See you.”

  Axl didn’t say anything, but I felt his gaze on me until I disappeared down the stairs.

  Eight

  ___

  ANNIKA

  So Peter’s press machine had done its job; we’d made the paper.

  ROMANTIC NIGHT OUT TURNS INTO FAMILY FEUD

  Mississippi River

  A sunset cruise turned into a brawl last night on the privately chartered miniyacht operated by Windstar Corporation. According to reports, approximately seventy-five guests were aboard the boat for a cocktail party hosted by athletic agent Peter Skaarn. The cruise, set to sail at six, was delayed thirty minutes until the last guests arrived, pro hockey player Axl Hammerquist and Lund Industries executive Annika Lund.

  There is truth to the rumors of a romantic relationship between the bad-boy Swedish hockey player and the Lund heiress. Photos obtained during the cruise show the couple holding hands and enjoying intimate conversation below deck. It was when they surfaced above deck that the first signs of trouble appeared. A meeting with an East Coast beverage company earned a smackdown from the businesswoman nicknamed the Iron Princess, while “The Hammer” stood beside her in silent support.

  Afterward on the top deck, the blond couple once again distanced themselves from other guests for alone time. But they weren’t able to escape the notice of Jensen “The Rocket” Lund, Vikings tight end and Annika’s younger brother. A heated exchange of words was quickly followed by the footballer and the hockey player coming to blows.

  No one at the party can confirm the details of the conversation that led to the fight. Jensen was escorted below deck by the event host while Annika and Axl remained on the upper level. Soon after, the couple was forced to separate and Miss Lund, who arrived with Mr. Hammerquist, left the party with her brother, leading to further speculation.

  Directly below the article were four pictures. One of Axl whispering in my ear when we were drinking champagne. One of Jensen’s arms in full swing with his fist heading toward Axl’s face. One of me holding a can to Axl’s mouth as I stared into his eyes. The last one of Axl, leaning over the deck railing, watching me leave with Jensen.

  God. This was . . .

  What you signed on for. This is just the beginning.

  I closed my eyes. Inhaled. Exhaled. Took myself out of the image and approached this from a PR standpoint.

  From the pictures, it did look as if Axl and I were a couple. Goal achieved.

  The Axl and Jens fight . . . win-win for everyone actually. Axl cares enough about me to get into fisticuffs with my brother. My little brother lets Axl know he can put him in his place if he crosses a line when it comes to me. I’m clearly torn between family and my new man. Not to mention that the sports fans would line up in defense of their player. So they’d build up the rivalry, which is more press for Axl and Jens, and not necessarily bad press because it’s easily managed.

  The bit about me being a hard-ass businesswoman? Perfect. I would take that description over the years the media cared more about my fashion sense than my business sense.

  I closed my laptop and finished getting ready for work. I took the stairs down to the parking garage and exited into the rush-hour traffic. I hadn’t bothered checking to see if reporters lurked around my apartment building, because this was Minneapolis. Yes, we had a newspaper devoted entirely to gossip about city residents that no one outside the city would give a rip about—similar to Page Six in the New York Post—but our reporters were hardly the taunting, invasive paparazzi types. For one thing, Minnesotans were by and large too polite to act that way. For another, most of the year it was freakin’ cold outside and no reporters wanted to freeze their ass off for a picture where the subject would be unrecognizable bundled up against the elements. In the warmer months, stories about the great outdoor activities the Twin Cities had to offer took precedence, since summer was so fleeting.

  I parked in my usual spot in the private section of the underground parking garage and sprinted up the stairs. There was a private elevator—another perk of being an LI executive, bypassing the lobby and the public access elevators—but I never used it.

  Deanna was on the phone when I reached the reception desk, but I saw she’d left a cup of coffee on the corner of her desk . . . next to the print edition of the article. I mouthed, Thank you, as I sailed past into my office. She’d be in to grill me about it sooner rather than later.

  I just hadn’t expected my brother to beat her to the punch.

  Brady strolled in—without knocking—looking every inch the corporate CFO in his custom-tailored suit, not a dark hair on his head out of place. For years my girlfriends had begged me to set them up with my nerdy-hot-but-doesn’t-know-it brother, but I’d always refused. Although he was older, I’d felt more protective of him than of Jensen or even Walker. So it thrilled me that he’d finally come out of his workaholic shell and found Lennox, a woman truly worthy of the kind of love and devotion Brady had to give.

  “Morning, bro. I assume you’re here as the family rep and not the boss?”

  “You would be correct in that assumption.”

  “Dude, if this is an informal meeting, the least you could’ve done is brought breakfast. Bagels, croissants, donuts, muffins . . . something.”

  Brady raised an eyebrow. “You do have an assistant for fetching you those types of things.”

  I sipped my coffee as I waited to see if Brady would sit down or if he’d pace while he lectured me.

  He lowered himself into the chair opposite my desk. “So . . . you’re dating a hockey player.”

  “Yes.”

  “Which apparently surprised Jensen.”

  I shrugged. “Jens is in his own little world during football season, Brady. To be honest, he’s been in his own little world the last couple of years.”

  “That is beside the point, Annika. I didn’t know you and this Axl guy were a couple.”

  “Wash, rinse, repeat the comment about you being in your own little happily-ever-after world with your wife.”

  “My wife didn’t know and she works in your office.”

>   “Deanna knew, so I’m happy to hear she’s not gossiping about my personal life.” I took another swig of coffee. “In fact, this started after I agreed to meet Axl at Jaxson’s request and then Mom got involved.”

  His gaze turned shrewd. “More details please.”

  So I filled him in, leaving a few key things out, adding others in.

  Brady didn’t look convinced. Or happy.

  “What?”

  “This guy was so smitten with you that he went to the trouble of pretending to want to hire you in order to get you to go out on a date with him?”

  I sighed. “It’s romantic, isn’t it?”

  “Romantic? Jens said this Axl guy is an asshole.”

  Of course Brady had talked to Jensen first. “I can’t really argue with that.”

  Not the answer my brother expected. Then he veered in the direction I had expected. “Annika. It goes beyond him being an asshole. He gets in fights on and off the ice. Not to mention he’s a major player with a reputation—”

  “That doesn’t even come close to the reputation our cousin ‘Action Jaxson’ has built over the years,” I inserted coolly. “Years in which I thought it was so unfair that Lucy kept Mimi from him. So not only was Jaxson the worst kind of player, but he freakin’ lied about what was really going on.”

  Brady said nothing, but the muscle in his jaw jumped.

  “Since Lucy applied for a job here, Lennox probably filled you in, but I doubt Lucy told her all the ugly truths that she told me.” I paused. “Brady. Be honest. Did you know any of this?”

  “I was aware of Jaxson’s reputation and that he went through women like water. All I know about the Mimi situation is what Jaxson told us about Lucy denying him access. If Lucy is telling the truth . . . Jax hid it from us because he knows we would’ve done something about it. No one in the family would stand for that. Then or now.”

  Major shit was about to hit the fan, because I intended to hire Lucy.

  “The point I’m trying to make, sis, is that Axl and Jaxson are exactly alike.”

  I shook my head. “Axl owns up to the fact that he screwed up in the past. He’s trying to change. He wants to change, and that’s half the battle.”

  “That’s the kind of man you want to date?” Brady demanded. “A player, with a mean streak, who attacked your brother the first time they met? A guy even you admit is an asshole?”

  Three raps sounded on my door before it opened. Deanna walked in, carrying a vase filled with white roses. A deliveryman behind her held a vase with red roses in one hand and a vase with peach roses in the other hand. The deliveryman behind him carried in a vase of yellow roses and a vase of orange roses. Yet another delivery guy behind him carried in a vase of fuchsia roses and a vase of dark pink roses. The deliveryman following him brought in a vase of cream roses, the petals tipped in red, and a vase of ivory roses, the petals tipped in tangerine. And Brick, the security guy from the main floor, carried in a vase of pale lavender roses and a vase of blush roses.

  Brick grinned at me. “There were so many that they ran out of delivery guys.”

  “Thanks, Brick. And thank you to the rest of you.”

  Deanna crossed over to the desk with the bouquet of white roses and handed me a sealed envelope. “This came with it.”

  Heart racing, I ripped the envelope open.

  Before I read the actual words on the card, I noticed they’d been written in Swedish, so I knew this wasn’t a PR stunt Peter had cooked up; the flowers had actually come from Axl.

  Attila~

  I didn’t know your favorite color so I covered all my bases. Looking forward to dinner tonight.

  A~

  Grinning, I let my gaze drift over the beautiful array of blooms filling my office before I met my brother’s eyes. “Yes, Brady. He’s exactly the kind of man I want to date.”

  Nine

  ___

  AXL

  Training wasn’t any different the day before an exhibition game than if we were preparing for a regular season game.

  After I left the ice, swimming in sweat, sore, out of breath, I just wanted to go home and crash for a few hours before my date with Annika.

  But the beady-eyed guy whose name I never remembered, with no real power but obviously eager to make a name for himself in the organization, stopped me before I reached the locker room. As far as he knew, I didn’t understand English, so his one-sided diatribe made no sense.

  “You. They’re waiting for you in the conference room.” He pointed at my feet. “Take off the skates fast for a change. I ain’t got all damn day.”

  I glared at him with my gloved hands on my hips. Mostly because I was still trying to breathe normally.

  “God. I hate when you assholes come to our country and don’t learn the language.”

  I know what you mean, buddy. Few visitors to Sweden bother to learn even the most basic Swedish words.

  Kaz stopped behind me. We both spoke Russian—not a fact that we broadcast. Quietly he said, “Bosses want you. Media room. Ditch the gear.”

  “Thanks.” I stripped down. Usually I’d shower first, but since they’d commanded an audience they could deal with my stench.

  Six guys were in the room. Seven counting my agent.

  He intercepted me before I reached the conference table. For once he didn’t look mad. “This is a fishing expedition. More good will come from last night’s events than harm. I’ll admit on your behalf you’re in a relationship with Annika. You exchanged words with Jensen. Things are fine now. I’ll assure them you’re not reverting to previous behavior. Got it?”

  I nodded.

  “Last thing. You need to start speaking English. Figure out a way to admit you’ve improved your language skills. You will be asked to speak at press conferences and it’ll go easier all around if you don’t need a translator.” He smiled. “Although I’ll admit Annika showed talent in sugarcoating your response last night.”

  “Maybe she should be my official translator.”

  “Maybe she’s the first one you should come clean with. You heard her put those blowhards in their places last night. I’ve heard her knock you down a peg or ten. This deception will bring out her snarling beast and she’ll paint vivid images of what you can do with your deception. All suggestions will be anatomically impossible, so you’d better have a plan on how to calm her down.”

  I’d been thinking nonstop about the very explicit ways to keep her mouth occupied.

  Peter got right in my face. “Keep those thoughts PG, son.”

  When I imagined her, XXX thoughts were the rule.

  “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”

  • • •

  The meeting lasted less than ten minutes.

  The team’s PR department saw more benefits in the tussle with Jensen Lund than drawbacks. I’d expected looks of envy when my personal involvement with Annika became public. I hadn’t expected to see expressions of outright shock, and that annoyed the fuck out of me. Because a brawling hockey player like me was supposed to end up with the bar wenches and not the princess? I’d left feeling more insulted than warranted, probably.

  None of the guys had cleared out of the locker room as I’d hoped.

  A gangly kid I’d never seen before stood beside Flitte, shuffling his feet.

 
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