“Could you please tell me what’s wrong with me? I swear if anyone else looks at me and snickers, I might go postal.”
Samantha Parker looked up from her computer monitor to see Adrian Cole standing in her cube. Or rather towering over it. At six foot five, the man reminded her of a giraffe when he moved around the office.
Not that she minded. Personally, she adored his height, just as she adored those gorgeous eyes of his. Deep and a dark chocolatey-brown, they made her melt every time he looked at her.
And the sleek, loose-limbed way he walked….
Ooo, just thinking about it was enough to make her burn.
She’d never been particularly fond of blond men, but those dark eyes with his thick mane of tawny curls and lush golden skin just made her ache for a taste.
A nervous jitter went over her like it always did when he stood this close to her, and she could smell the clean, spicy scent of him. The man was simply mouth-wateringly scrumptious, and incredibly brilliant.
“Well?” he prompted.
Sam bit her lip as she raked her gaze over his long, lean frame. “Other than the fact you look like your seeing-eye dog dressed you this morning, nothing,” she teased. “What did you do to make Heather mad this time?”
He cursed under his breath. It was common knowledge that Adrian had a rare type of color-blindness that rendered him completely incapable of seeing any color whatsoever. As a result, he paid his baby sister to do his laundry, and every time Heather got upset at big brother, she took out on his wardrobe.
“What did she do to me now?” he asked warily.
“Well, you’ll be happy to know your red plaid shirt is still red, but the splotchy pink Henley really has to go.”
Adrian held his leg out and pulled his jeans up to show her his socks. “What about them?”
“Unlike your shirt, they actually match your Henley.”
Growling low in his throat, he buttoned his plaid shirt all the way to his neck. “One day, I’m going to kill her.”
Sam laughed at the threat he uttered at least twice a week. She’d met Heather a couple of times during lunch, and though Sam liked her, Heather was a bit self-absorbed.
“So, what did you do?” she asked.
“I refused to let her borrow my Vette. The last time she took it out, she hit a pole and cost me three thousand dollars in damage.”
“Yikes.” Sam cringed for him. Adrian loved his vintage 1969 Stingray. “Was she hurt?”
“Thankfully, no, but my car is still sulking over it.”
Sam laughed again, but then she always did that around him. Adrian had a dry, sharp wit that never missed a beat. “Well, I’m glad you stopped by. My Perforce is acting up again. I can’t get it to integrate my changes.” Which meant, the stupid server had her locked out and every time she tried to update a page on their website, it refused to let her.
She hated Perforce, and it hated her. But they were required to use it so that upper management could keep track of who made what changes to the website, and out of the entire Network Services department, Adrian was the only one who really understood the program.
“What’s it doing?” he asked as he came to stand beside her.
Sam couldn’t breathe as he leaned down to read her screen. His face was so close to hers that all she had to do was move a mere two inches and she would be able to place her lips against that strong, sculpted jaw.
She heard Adrian’s words, but they didn’t register. She was too busy watching the way his incredibly broad shoulders hunched as he leaned with one hand against her desk.
He glanced down at her.
Sam blinked and looked back at the screen. “I’m scrolling,” she said as she reached for her mouse.
“There’s your problem,” he said as he read the gobbly-gook. “You haven’t enabled your baseline merges.”
“And in English that would mean?”
Adrian laughed that rich, deep laugh that made her burn even more. He covered her hand with his on the mouse and showed her how to choose the right options.
He surrounded her with his masculine warmth. Sam swallowed at the disturbing sensation of his hand on hers as fire coursed through her. He had beautiful, strong hands. And those long, lean fingers were tapered and perfect. Worse, every time she looked at them, she couldn’t help wondering what they would feel like on her body, touching her, caressing her.
His cell phone rang. Adrian straightened and pulled the phone from its cradle on his belt. He checked the caller ID, then flipped it open like Captain Kirk. “Yeah, Scott, what’s wrong?”
“Radius is down,” Scott, their Network Security Specialist, said over the speaker phone, “and I can’t get it up and running.”
“Did you reboot?”
Adrian indicated her chair with his head.
Sam got up and watched as he set the phone aside, took a seat in her chair and opened a DOS window on her computer. He tapped swiftly on her keyboard, then picked his phone back up. “It’s not cycling.”
“I know, and I can’t fix it.”
“All right,” Adrian said with saintly patience. “I’ll be up there in a few minutes.”
He clicked off his phone, but before he could move, his phone rang at the same time his pager went off and the overhead paging system called his name. Adrian answered his cell phone again and checked his pager.
“Did you get the hacker alert?” Scott asked.
“Hang on,” Adrian said, then he reached for her desk phone to answer his page.
“Hi, Randy,” he said as he tucked the phone between his shoulder and cheek and started typing on her keyboard. “I’m in the process of switching the main databases over to My SQL. We should be ready to fly by five.” He paused as he listened and switched her computer from the Windows over to Linux.
Sam watched in awe as he flawlessly entered line after line of stuff she couldn’t even begin to follow or understand.
“No,” Adrian said to Randy, “our customers won’t notice at all, except the searches will take less time.” He entered more lines as he listened to their Senior Director, Randy Jacobs, on the phone.
Another page went off for him.
Adrian nodded as he listened to Randy. “Yeah, I’ll get to it. Would you mind holding for just a second?”
He picked up his cell phone. “Scott, it’s not a hacker. It’s an invalid SID. Someone is using a bookmark with an old Session ID attached to it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. I’m looking at it right now.”
Adrian gave her a sheepish smile as he clicked off his cell phone and picked up the other line on her desk phone.
Biting her lips to keep from smiling at the chaos, Sam felt for him. At twenty-six, Adrian was known to everyone in the company as the boy genius. He had taken a billion dollar corporation from the 1980’s mainframe mentality into the twenty-first century web-based e-commerce. He had single-handedly built the entire programming side of their million dollar business retail site, and put together a web design team that was second to none.
Unfortunately though, everyone in the company turned to him every time something went wrong with the site. Which meant he was always on-call and always rushing from one department to the next, putting out fires and trying his best to explain extremely complicated things to people who had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
Adrian came into the office every morning by five thirty, and seldom went home before eight at night.
The stress on him had to be excruciating, and yet he was the most easy-going boss she’d ever known. She couldn’t count the number of times a day someone was complaining, if not shouting, about something, or begging him to help them, and yet he never let the strain of it show.
“Scott,” Adrian said at his cell phone, “go get a cup of coffee. I’m headed upstairs as soon as I finish with Randy.” He returned to her phone. “I’m back, Randy.” He listened for a few minutes more, then nodded. “All right,” he said, pulling the Palm Pilot off his belt. “I’ll put it on my schedule.”
Sam watched as he added yet another meeting to his already booked calendar.
“Okay,” he said to Randy. “I’m on it. See you later.”
Adrian left her chair, then hesitated at the opening of her cube as she resumed her seat. In a rare show of uneasiness, he picked up her wooden medieval knight her brother had given her. “This is new.”
She nodded. “Teddy got it Thanksgiving when he went to Germany.”
“It’s neat,” he said, putting it back on the shelf with the rest of the knights she had been collecting for years. She figured they were as close as she’d ever come to having a real knight in shining armor.
He glanced around her cube at the large Santa and snowmen cut-outs she had pinned up, the small Christmas tree she had next to her monitor and the stack of Holiday catalogues by her keyboard. “You really love Christmas, don’t you?”
Sam glanced down at her Santa and reindeer sweater and smiled. “My favorite time of year. Don’t you like it?”
He shrugged. “It’s a day off, I guess.”
Still Adrian hesitated, fiddling with her nameplate.
How odd. It was so unlike him to be fidgety. This was a man who made million dollar decisions and held meetings with the stars of the Fortune 500 without even a minor qualm.
What on earth could he be nervous about?
“Would you mind if I asked a giant favor?”
Her heart pounded. Oh, baby, ask me anything!
He dropped his gaze down to her nameplate as he slid it back and forth in its holder. “Since Heather has totally screwed up my clothes, again, I was wondering if you’d mind going shopping with me after work? I’d take Randir, but even I can tell his clothes don’t match.”
“I heard that!” Randir said laughingly from the next cube.
Sam smiled. The guys in her department teased each other mercilessly, and it was what she loved most about her job.