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“What’s he doing in our department?”
I glanced up from my computer, knowing even before I saw the suit at the end of the hallway who garnered the reverent tone from my coworker Sydney. I had the same reverence for the man; however, I did a much better job at masking it.
“Oh hell, here he comes. How do I look?” she whispered.
“You know the only thing that matters to him is if you look busy.”
Sydney smoothed her hair. “Lennox, lighten up. And ignore me while I busily and silently compose sonnets to that man’s everything, because he is the total package.”
I laughed—longer than I usually did. “Go for it, Syd. I’ll just be over here, you know, doing my job while you’re waxing poetic about him.” I returned my focus to spell-checking my notes from this morning’s meeting. I knew I had a misspelled or misused word, but I couldn’t find the damn thing.
“Wait. He’s stopping to talk to Penny,” Sydney informed me.
I felt a slight sneer form on my lips. Of course he’s stopping to talk to Perky Penny—she hadn’t earned that nickname from her disposition. Even I couldn’t keep my eyes off her pert parts—which she kept properly covered in deference to the dress code at Lund Industries. But I knew that given the chance, she’d proudly display them as if she worked at Hooters.
Nope. Been there, done that.
Sydney muttered and I ignored her, hell-bent on finding the mistake. I leaned closer to the computer monitor, as if that would help. Ah, there it is. I highlighted the word in question. Had he meant to say disperse? Or disburse? And was there enough difference in the definitions to warrant a call for clarification?
Without checking the dictionary app on my computer, I said, “Sydney. You were an English major. What’s the difference between disperse and disburse?”
“Disburse means to pay out money. Disperse means to go in different directions,” a deep male voice answered.
I lifted my gaze to see none other than Brady Lund himself, the CFO of Lund Industries, looming over my desk.
Outwardly I maintained my cool even as I felt my neck heating beneath the lace blouse I wore. I picked up a pen and ignored the urge to give the man a once-over, because I already knew what I’d find: Mr. Freakin’ Perfect. Brady Lund was always impeccably dressed, showcasing his long, lean body in an insanely expensive suit. He was always immaculately coifed—his angular face smoothly shaven, his thick, dark hair artfully tousled, giving the appearance of boyish charm.
As if a shark could be charming.
My coworkers and I had speculated endlessly about whether the CFO plucked his dark eyebrows to give his piercing blue eyes a more visceral punch. And whether he practiced raising his left eyebrow so mockingly. For that reason alone I avoided meeting his gaze.
Okay, that was not the only reason. I didn’t make eye contact because the man defined hot, smart and sexy.
But he also defined smug—half the time. I wanted to ask if he job-shared with an evil twin, but I doubted he’d laugh since he had no sense of humor, from what I’d heard.
Aware that he awaited my response, I said, “Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Lund.”
“I shouldn’t have to clarify that since you’ve worked here for—what, ten months? Financial terms should be familiar to you by now.”
He was chastising me? First thing? My mouth opened before my brain screamed, STOP. “I’ve been employed here for almost a year, actually. And, sir, I’ll remind you that just because the office temps department is located on the sixth floor—one of the five floors that are the providence of the financial department—we floaters don’t specifically work only for the Finance department at Lund Industries. We also float between Human Resources, Marketing, Development and Acquisitions, as well as Legal.”
“Explain what you mean by floaters.”
“You had absolutely no idea that our small department exists, let alone what we do, do you?” I said tartly.
I heard Sydney suck in a sharp breath next to me. “What she means is that since as CFO you have an executive assistant and don’t normally personally utilize the services of the office temps—also known as floaters—you wouldn’t personally be aware of the breadth of our responsibilities,” Sydney inserted diplomatically. “Our department is supervised by Personnel.”
“Indeed. Then, please, enlighten me on which department you’re transcribing that document for?”
“Mind if I take a look?” Then he sidestepped my desk and sidled in behind me.
My body went rigid as he literally looked over my shoulder. I wasn’t as disturbed by the thought he might see something I had done wrong as I was by his close proximity. His very close proximity, since I could feel the heat of his body and was treated to a whiff of his subtle cologne.
He put his hand over mine on the mouse and murmured, “Pardon,” as he completely invaded my space. I didn’t move because it’d be my luck if I shifted my arm and elbowed the CFO in the groin.
Three clicks and two huffed breaths later, he retreated. “I apologize. I understand your confusion. Marcus in Marketing misused the word. It should be disburse. Nice catch.”
“That’s my job.”
“Since it’s a formal request, Marcus will have to correct it before you can pass it on to Legal. If you’ll give me the original paperwork, I’d be happy to drop it off in Marcus’s office on my way to my meeting.”
“Thank you, sir, for the offer. But company protocol requires me to deliver the paperwork directly to Marcus—Mr. Benito.”
His shoes were so silent I didn’t hear him move. One second he was behind me; the next he stood in front of me. “A real stickler for the rules, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir.” I finally met his gaze. “With all due respect, how do I know this isn’t some sort of performance review pretest?”
His lack of a smile indicated he wasn’t amused.
But I didn’t back down; I needed this job. It was the first job I’d ever had where I wasn’t slinging drinks or scrubbing toilets. Besides, the CFO—of all people—should be aware of the rules.
“Bravo, Miss Greene—sorry, that’s an assumption on my part. Or is it Mrs. Greene?”
“No, sir. Ms. Greene is fine. But I prefer to be called Lennox.”
Then Mr. Freakishly Perfect bestowed the mother lode of smiles; his lush lips curved up, his dimples popped out and the lines by his eyes crinkled. “Well, Lennox, please see that Marcus—Mr. Benito—is aware of his error before day’s end, because I will follow up on this.”
He nodded and started down the hallway.
I clenched my teeth to keep my jaw from dropping. Not just from the weird interlude, but because the man looked as good from the back as he did from the front.
“Holy shit.” Sydney breathed after she was sure he’d gone. “What was that?”
“Lennox. He knows your name.”
“Of course he knows my name. It’s right here on my desk.” Working as a floater meant my nameplate went everywhere with me, but on the days I was at my desk I usually didn’t bother putting it out.
Aren’t you glad you bothered today?
“Come on. He was fishing for information on whether you were single.”
I groaned, hating that Sydney wouldn’t let this go. “So, now he knows . . .”
“Maybe he’ll ask you out,” she said with a drawn-out sigh.
“Maybe you should put some of that creative thinking into your report,” I retorted, and got back to work.
“Jenna. Could you come in when you have a free moment?”
I didn’t wait for my admin to answer. I just poked the intercom button off and spun around in my chair. Not even the forty-fourth-floor view of downtown Minneapolis held my interest.
Restlessness had dogged me the past several months. I kept waiting for it to abate, for something to occur that required my full focus. But nothing had happened either professionally or personally. I just continued to drift along, waiting for . . . what, exactly?
Your life to begin?
Jenna knocked twice and walked in. Why she bothered to knock escaped me; there was no pause between the knock and her entrance. One time when I asked her why she knocked first, she said her Midwestern upbringing was too ingrained to just barge in. I warned her that someday she might barge in and find me in a delicate situation. She’d retorted that if I actually took the time to do something bad, raunchy or out of character, she deserved to be the first person to witness it.
“You rang, sir?”
Sir. Jenna refused to call me Brady. It was “sir,” or “boss” or “Mr. Lund.” She’d been my admin for two years and I spent more time with her than anyone else in my life. When I was newly minted in my position as CFO, I’d equated her using my first name as a sign of our professional intimacy, whereas she saw using it as a sign of disrespect since she had fifteen years on me age-wise.
“Yes. Forgive my ignorance, but how closely do you work with the office temps—the floaters?”
She sat in the high-back leather chair across from my desk. “Not often. If you’ve got a large presentation that requires assembling reams of paperwork, I’ll ask for assistance. But they’re usually spread so thin down there it’s just easier to get Patrice to help out.”
Patrice. She was my admin’s secretary, which gave Patrice the false impression that she was somehow my undersecretary. And Patrice had made no bones about how much she’d like to be under me.
“Why do you ask?”
Because there’s this prim blonde I’m hot for who intrigues the hell out of me. “I ended up down on the sixth floor and publicly showed my ignorance about what the term floater means as well as what the office temp job entails.”
Jenna’s eyes widened. “I imagine that went over well with their department.”
“Not so much.”
“What were you doing down by Personnel? Are you looking for a new secretary, boss?”
“I’ll get you any secretary you want if you’ll send Patrice packing,” I said dryly.
“No deal. She’s still afraid of me. Once she loses that fear, she’ll slack off and I’ll replace her.”
“So that’s how it works with you and your minion. I wondered.”
“Back to the floaters. Did you find them lazing about or something?”
“No. And can’t someone come up with a better term for their department than floaters?”
“If you want to be technical, sir, in the past that group of employees used to be called the ‘secretarial pool.’ They’re permanent office workers who temporarily float to any department where additional help is needed, hence the term floaters.”
“I still don’t like it. Anyway . . . am I really that out of touch with this company that I didn’t know about the existence of an entire group of employees?”
“First of all, boss, the number of employees working for Lund Industries in the Twin Cities is over five thousand—fifteen hundred employees work in this building alone. You don’t know the minutiae of the dockworkers’ jobs any more than you do the floaters in the office temp department. That doesn’t make you out of touch. It makes the managers in those departments effective, because they’re not coming to you with personnel problems.”
“You should’ve gone into diplomacy.”
“It’s my job to remind you of yours—you cannot do it all and know it all, sir, though you are determined to try.” She smirked. “There are some people in this company who claim the floating crew of office workers concept is outdated and they’re proposing Lund do away with that department altogether and outsource temporary help when needed.”
“From your tone, I take it you don’t agree?”
Jenna pointed at my computer. “We have an IT department. They go to whatever department they’re needed in. I don’t see how the office temps are any different. Like with IT, it’s important to keep hiring new secretarial workers because they’re trained with the most recent technology.”
“You’ve given this more than just a passing thought.”
She shrugged. “My executive assistant title means ‘secretary with more responsibilities at a higher wage,’ so the office workers, floaters, secretaries—whatever you prefer to call them—are my sisters in arms. I get defensive when their abilities or importance is questioned.”
Usually Jenna was so even-keeled. Her brittle attitude alarmed me, so I needed to keep a closer eye on the situation with her sisters in arms, regardless of whether it was my job. “Where’d you hear these rumors about disbanding the temp workers?” I held up my hand. “Forget I asked. I know you won’t reveal your source. But I would ask, if you do hear anything else, to let me know so I can make sure Personnel handles it fairly.” I disliked Anita Mohr, the head of Personnel. Human Resources fielded more issues involving her than all other employees in this building. But she was my uncle Archer’s pet, so she had a weird immunity.
“Will do.” Jenna stood. “That was all you needed to talk to me about, sir?”
“Then I’ll remind you there’s a meeting at three in the boardroom.” She paused after opening the door. “And Maggie seemed really excited that your father has some kind of big opportunity for you.”
I gave Jenna an arch look. “As my admin, the least you could do—”
“Huh-uh, boss. You’re on your own with the craziness that is the Lund Board of Directors. Buzz me if you need anything else.”
I glanced at my watch. Even for a Friday, it was too early to start drinking.
Maggie, who’d been my father’s secretary for the past twenty years, was in deep conversation with my mother when I entered the anteroom to the boardroom. They both looked up and looked guilty as hell.
My eyes narrowed. “Who’s in your crosshairs now?”
“It should be you,” my mother cooed. “You are, as they say here, treading on thin water.”
I knew better than to roll my eyes. My mother defined over-the-top, but any show of disrespect resulted in threats yelled in Swedish. Selka Jensen had come to the United States from Sweden over three and a half decades ago to work as a fashion model. She met my dad, fell in love and abandoned the land of lingonberries and Ikea. So it made zero sense that she still spoke with an accent that sounded like Zsa Zsa Gabor doing an impersonation of Natasha from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. And she mixed up idioms—on purpose, I suspected—so she could remind people she wasn’t from around here. But she was a fiercely loving mother, a tireless supporter of community causes and devoted to my father above all else. It was a little freaky anytime I caught them making out like horny teenagers—thirty-five years of marriage hadn’t cooled their ardor. They’d provided the blueprint for what a marriage should be, which was a blessing and a curse. A curse mostly because Mom constantly reminded me of my single status.
“You mean skating on thin ice?” I corrected.
“Yah.” She bussed my cheek and then playfully tapped it. “My smart, handsome, successful son. Why is there no woman coming around to put smile on this gorgeous face, mmm? What good is all of this”—she gestured to the front of my body—“if you have no one to share it with?”
“I asked myself that exact same question.”
“And I came up with a reason. Eighty of them, actually.”
She frowned. “You joke.”
“No, I work eighty-plus hours a week.”
“Mom, stop harassing him,” my brother Walker said from the doorway. “Uncle M wants to get the meeting started.”
“Fine. But I haven’t forgotten where we are in this discussion,” she said as she sauntered past me.
I focused on Maggie. “Tell me about this opportunity my father is going to present to me.”
Maggie laughed. “I like me job, boy-o. I’ve no desire to get on the boss’s bad side.”
Hearing my mother’s accent always brought out Miss Maggie’s brogue. I wasn’t opposed to playing dirty to learn the truth of the “opportunity” about to be heaped upon me.
She wagged her finger in my face. “Save whatever charmin’ words be spillin’ from that silver tongue of yours, lad. I’ve been immune to the Lund charm for nigh on two decades.”
I set my palms flat on her desk and leaned in. “I’ve not got the charm gene, Miss Maggie, and you damn well know it. As a businessman I prefer to use incentives instead of flattery.”
“And what kind of incentive would you be flatterin’ me with, Mr. Lund?”
“A bottle of Midleton whiskey, distilled in County Cork. A rare bottle, lass. One wee nip and you’ll swear Saint Peter himself came down and poured the heavenly spirit into your soul.”
Maggie whapped me on the arm. “No charm, my arse, Brady Lund. Although your attempt at a puttin’ an Irish lilt in that Yankee voice is laughable, I’ll admit you’ve piqued my interest.”
“But offer me something else. Your da gave me a bottle of Midleton for my birthday, so you’ll have to do better on the bribery.”
“A ticket to the Super Bowl when the Vikings finally make it in this century.”
She snorted. “Oh, that’s a pie-in-the-sky dream, with the lousy way those lads have been playin’. That’s one favor I’d never be collectin’ on, yeah?”
“Point for Miss Maggie.” I threw a look at the conference room door. “What’ll it take?”
“I don’t need you to buy me anything, Brady Lund.” She cocked her head. “But you could do be doin’ me a wee favor. Tit for tat, eh?”
“My young niece Siobhan is visitin’ from Ireland. It’d be lovely if you could take her to dinner and a nightclub. Give her the true American experience. She’s been stuck with me all week.”
Shah-von. That had a sexy ring to it. “When?”
“Tomorrow night, since she’s leavin’ for California on Monday.”
“Deal. Now what’s the opportunity?”
Maggie leaned across the desk. “The boss man’s given in to your ma’s badgering about you getting out in the community more to represent the Lund name and he’s givin’ you the first choice of one of her pet projects. ‘Choice’ bein’ the operative word, because you don’t got one, but you—as the oldest—do get to choose first.”
Great. “What are they?”
“First, an entire weekend helping her with the annual art sale, fund-raiser and ball for the Minnesota Arts Foundation. Seems that’d be the easy one, yeah? Not so, lad. She’s plannin’ on holdin’ a bachelor auction as a fund-raiser, and she means to put you or your brothers or your cousins up on the podium for sale!”
“I’ll pass on that one. What are my other options?”
“Being a runway model for a charity fashion show put on by Dayton’s and the Minneapolis Art Institute.”
I could just see them giving me nothing but a strategically placed canvas to wear. “Pass. Next?”
“Participating in activities for at-risk youth for the Lund Cares Community Outreach program. That one will give you more leeway, but since the commitment is for Saturdays when you’re always buried in work, no one will ever be expectin’ you to pick it.”
My eyes narrowed. “This isn’t some reverse psychology thing you and Mom cooked up?”
“So suspicious, but I can’t say as I blame ya. God love yer ma, but she’s got some barmy ideas.”
I kissed her cheek. “Thank you. You’re the best. What time should I pick up Siobhan?”
Her eyes danced. “Can ya send a car service for her? She’d get a right kick outta that.”
That actually worked better for me, not having to make small talk at the door. And not letting Maggie witness firsthand how little charm I actually possessed when it came to chatting up women I didn’t know. “Absolutely. Say . . . seven?”
“Perfect.” Maggie gave me a push. “Get in there. Good luck.”
Excerpted from "What You Need"
Copyright © 2016 Lorelei James.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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