Kimberly Dean, Copyright 2018
“Okay, this is really where I want to take you,” Luke said as he opened a door to a covered walkway leading out of the main Afire building. “This is the way to our small business accelerator. It’s managed by Afire, but space is rented by entrepreneurs trying to get new tech companies off the ground.”
Spencer followed his boss to the smaller building next door, but stopped when Luke turned with his hand on the door’s push-bar.
“It’s also where the hack came in.”
Okay, now Spencer’s interest was piqued. “One of the entrepreneurs let them in?”
“No, we let them in. We own and manage the facilities and shared equipment. The small companies here just rent space. The hack came in through the Internet of Things, which we should have secured for everyone. The hacker was then able to breach the firewall between Start ’er Up and Afire’s networks. That’s top-secret info that nobody outside of our team needs to know.”
Spencer nodded. That little tidbit hadn’t been in any of the news reports. It also made it more understandable how such an infiltration had occurred.
Luke pushed open the glass door at the end of the walkway, and the hydraulic closer let out a whoosh. Soft chatter filtered through the air.
“Welcome to Start ’er Up,” Luke said.
Spencer looked around the place with interest. The tech world and startups went hand in hand, although he’d always worked in established businesses. Along with being a deep thinker, he was an old soul. The idea of going out on his own was tempting, but he knew the risks involved with that. Perks were one thing, but he wasn’t blinded by them. Company stability, health insurance, and a 401(k) match were more important to him.
Although this could be a cool way to keep tabs on cutting-edge stuff…
“I’m assigning this place to you,” Luke said.
What? Spencer stood a little straighter. Wow. Talk about a shot in the arm. “Okay.”
“I had a consultant go through everything. She assures me that everything is secure now, but I’d like a second opinion. I’d also like to bring the responsibility in house.”
“Yes, sir. I can do that.” Spencer nodded with confidence as he looked around the space. He spotted printers, routers, and even an old fax machine… all potential infiltration points if somebody wanted to get in via the Internet of Things, much less the Wi-Fi that all these companies no doubt shared.
His brain began churning. Damn, he was getting more and more excited about this job, but he didn’t want to come off like a goober.
Luke turned into one of the few offices in the smaller building. “First things first, I’d like to introduce you to Josie. She manages Start ’er Up. You two will be working closely.”
Spencer took one step in the room, and his brain jammed. Crumpled-paper-in-the-bowels-of-a-printer kind of jam. One moment his brain was firing on all cylinders, excited about the new assignment, and the next, it froze and his body went a little haywire. Girl. Beautiful girl. Strawberry blonde. Green eyes. Pretty smile. Pink lips… And a tight body. Oh, hell. Don’t look there.
“Josie, this is Spencer Weiler, our new security hire. He’s the one who’s going to take point on Start ’er Up’s security situation from here on out.”
The girl… woman… gorgeous woman looked at him and blinked those big green eyes. “Oh! Hi there. It’s nice to meet you.”
She looked at him expectantly, but that paper jam was in there good, gunking up any thought processes Spencer might have once had. “Hi-lo,” he said.
Oh, crap. That wasn’t right.
“Hell. I mean hell-o.” One of her eyebrows rose, and he thought he saw a dimple in her cheek deepen. Damn, this should not be that difficult. “Hi,” he said on a rough exhale.
“Hi, Spencer.” Okay, she was smiling at him. Laughing, really. No, not laughing. There was empathy there. “First days are tough, aren’t they?”
He nodded, his tongue feeling twice its size inside his mouth. Yeah, first day. They’d go with that. She did not need to know about the boner that he was suddenly sporting. She didn’t need to know that was why no blood or oxygen was making it to the head atop his neck.
She held out a hand. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Not as glad as he was. Not even close.
He took her hand and shifted the Mac he was still carrying so it hid the front of his jeans. Her skin felt like silk. Warm, smooth silk.
He couldn’t stop staring at her. Honest to God, she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.
“I still feel so bad about the hack,” she said. “I didn’t even know you could hack equipment like that.”
“Josie,” Luke said. “We’ve talked about this.”
“I know,” she said, sighing heavily, “but I’m responsible for this place. I should have done something to stop it from happening.”
Spencer frowned. “You know how to change the password on a R-4200 router?”
“Uh… no,” she said with a blush. Her gaze went quickly to her desk, where he’d seen the piece of equipment. “But I should know that’s something that needs to be done.”
“It’s not even in the owner’s manual.” He shrugged, hoping the gesture showed reassurance.
Was it hot in here? He stuck his hand in his front jeans pocket to keep from fanning himself like a ninny, but winced. Tight. Jeans too tight. He pulled his hand back out quickly and wrapped his fingers around the shield of his Mac.
“Really?” The lines on the angel’s face smoothed. “Oh, that makes me feel better. I’m the program manager around here. There’s a lot to keep track of.”
“The rock star manager of all managers,” another female inserted.
Spencer glanced to the door. Okay, smoking-hot brunette at nine o’clock. Was there something in the water over here? His glance bounced off her right back to Josie.
“This the newb?” the visitor asked.
Luke nodded. “Spencer, this is Kylie Grant. Kylie, this is Spencer Weiler.”
The brunette looked at Luke. “I got this place locked down, you know.”
He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. The guy’s forearms bulged like Popeye’s, and the woman took notice. Spencer caught the reaction and quickly let his gaze skim over Josie. She wasn’t eyeing his manly boss, so much as fighting a smile watching the other two people in the room squabble.
“Security over here is Afire’s responsibility,” Luke said.
“Uh huh.” Kylie pushed her hair over her shoulder and cocked her head.
“Now,” Luke said in resignation. “We’re watching it more closely now, and Spencer is in charge of that.”
Spencer felt the brunette’s gaze rake over him. Her brow furrowed when she noticed the way he was clutching his Mac. He forced his fingers to relax, but he didn’t move it. No way, no how.
“Where did you work before this?” she asked.
“Nice.” She drummed her fingers against her thigh. “What do you think of facial-recognition authentication?”
“Not dependable enough.”
He shook his head. “Better than alphanumeric, but still a pain. Fingerprints are the way to go for top-level security and ease of use.”
“Hm,” she muttered. She swung her hand out, gesturing like Vanna White. “What do you think of the place? From a developer’s point of view?”
“Good space, a little loud.” He squinted at the sunlight bouncing off Elliott Bay through the front windows. That was something to mark on the calendar. The sun was out in Seattle, and he’d met the most beautiful girl in the world. Whom he’d like to get back to… if he could communicate with her… Hell, why was his brain connecting to his mouth with this brunette bombshell but not the redhead?
“It’s nice, although a bit bright,” he said.
Kylie straightened as if he’d jabbed her with a stick. “He’ll do.”
“Nice to have your approval,” Luke said dryly.
She lifted an eyebrow. “You know you want it.”
Josie cleared her throat. “They date,” she said.
Good. That meant one less guy Spencer had to be concerned about. A scary thought hit him, and his gaze snapped to her desk. He was relieved when he didn’t see photographs of a husband or boyfriend.
“Are we still going to Ivar’s for dinner tonight?” Kylie asked.
“Yeah,” Luke said. “How late are you going to be?”
“I can go anytime. Just pick me up when you’re ready.”
Was that a gleam in his boss’s steely gaze? Spencer watched for hints, pointers even. The guy obviously had game, and he could use some help in that area. Like, pronto.
Spencer shot another glance at Josie. He knew he was staring, but he couldn’t help it. That paper jam in his head just wasn’t letting loose. Did he even have a shot? She seemed so normal—no, so outstanding—and he was a computer geek. His kind didn’t have the best track records with women. What was his next step? Was he going to make a play? How did one do that?
He didn’t even know what a play was, not with someone like her.
“Anyway,” Luke said. “Now that we have approval from the boss, I’d like you two to work together to map out a plan. Spencer, you know the security piece. Josie, you know how Start ’er Up works. We can’t lock it down too tightly, because we have a lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs using this place. We’re here to help them, not shut them out.”
Spencer nodded. “Got it.”
“Josie can introduce you around and get you situated.”
Spencer nodded again. It was the one form of communication he had that seemed to be working. His brain was now stuck on the fact that he’d be spending a lot of time with her. It thrilled him and terrified him all at once.
“Any questions?” Luke said.
So, so many. Spencer shook his head.
Josie walked to her desk and opened a day planner the size of War and Peace. “When would you like to start, Spencer?”
Oh, God. He was even turned on by the way she said his name.
“Nuuhhhh.” He cleared his throat. “Now?”
She blinked. “Uh, okay.”
She moved some papers aside on her desk, but Luke stepped forward. “Whoa, boy. Slow ’er down.”
Josie giggled, and Spencer nearly died.
“I thought we were supposed to Start ’er Up,” she teased.
Spencer snorted. Literally, the most ungraceful sound in the world came out of his mouth, and Josie laughed harder.
Luke looked back and forth between the two of them. “Geek humor. Great.”
He tilted his head toward the door. “We’re not finished with his onboarding,” he said. “Put something on his calendar for tomorrow or later. Whatever works for you.”
“Okay.” Josie trailed her finger down the open page. “If you don’t need me now, I guess I’ll head down to the gym.”
Heat washed through Spencer when she turned toward him and laced her fingers together. “See you tomorrow.”
He nodded roughly. “Tmrro.”
“All right. Sounds like a plan.” Luke started out the door. “Let’s go back to my office.”
Spencer somehow managed to put one foot in front of the other to follow him. Looking over his shoulder, he caught Josie’s green gaze one last time. “Buh.”
Oh, hell and tarnation.
“Bye,” she said with a little wave that made his erection nearly burst right through the zipper of his jeans.
Spencer hoped to God he wasn’t walking funny as he followed Luke back through the walkway into Afire. Once the door closed behind them, some of his brain function returned. It was a proximity affliction, apparently.
This was a problem.
The woman put his brain on the fritz. He liked her. One step inside that door, and he’d wanted her. At the very least, he had to work with her, but she wasn’t a typical tech female. Luke’s girlfriend, Kylie, wasn’t either, but he could talk to her. But Josie?
Spencer narrowed his eyes on Luke as he sank down into the chair behind his desk. Wait a minute. Luke had somehow made the crossover from normal guy to geek girl—although Kylie was unlike any geek girl Spencer had ever met. Surely, he could take hints from their relationship and reverse-engineer it.
His brain started to whir; he was onto something here. He could hack this.