Computer programmer Alaina Howard has a new office mate, and she couldn’t be happier that he’s handsome and unattached. Although initially uncertain of his position in the company, she quickly realizes that he’s good at his job and a valuable asset. If only she knew why the seemingly non-disabled man needed a service dog, things would be perfect.
Army veteran Jordan Blake is thrilled to get a job that allows him to pursue his dream of learning web development. The position is even sweeter thanks to the beautiful woman he shares an office with. The only drawback is that she seems suspicious of his need for a service dog to assist with an invisible disability.
Will Alaina’s suspicion and Jordan’s reluctance to talk about his disability keep them from developing the relationship they both desire?
Alaina Howard walked into her office and froze. The previously unoccupied desk opposite hers now housed a new computer, a phone, and a rather handsome blond man in his late twenties.
He glanced up from his monitor, a smile lighting his face. “Good morning. Are you my office mate?”
She blinked away her surprise and continued on to her desk by the windows. “Yes, I’m Alaina Howard. And you are?”
“Jordan Blake,” he said as she turned to face him. “The new IT specialist.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” Alaina returned Jordan’s smile. Since when did her uncle need an IT specialist? At least this guy had a pleasant voice. The woman who had used that desk before had a nasal voice and a laugh like fingernails on a chalkboard. “Do you know if Russ Porter has come in yet?”
“As far as I know, he’s around here somewhere. He came in early to show me around.” Jordan leaned back in his chair, appearing completely at ease. “Russ seems like a good guy.”
“Yes, he’s a good man and a fair employer.” Which was why his decision to hire Jordan didn’t make much sense. She placed her purse in the bottom drawer of her desk. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to speak with him for a moment.”
“Of course. See you later.” Jordan shifted his attention back to his computer.
Alaina left the room and hurried down the hall to her uncle’s office. Through the open door, she could see him sitting at his desk, reading a newspaper. He looked up as she stepped inside and closed the door.
“Morning, Alaina. Have you been to your office yet?”
“I just came from there.” She dropped into the chair in front of the desk and studied him. “Uncle Russ, why did you hire an IT specialist? We’re all programmers around here. We can fix our own computer issues.”
Russ laid the paper aside, leaned back, and grinned. “I see you met Jordan.”
“Yes, but I don’t understand why he’s here. It’s not like you to hire someone for a pointless position. You have more business sense than that.”
“You’re right. I didn’t hire him because I need an IT guy. I hired him because a representative from a veteran’s organization asked me to, and Jordan is eager to learn.”
“Jordan got hooked up with an organization that came to me hoping I’d be willing to give him a chance.” Russ leaned forward, causing the leather chair to creak. “I hired him because he has the bare minimum of qualifications to be an IT specialist, but he has an interest in working with computers, especially web development.”
“You mean to tell me you hired him because he’s interested working with computers, but he doesn’t know how to do much of anything?” She would wonder if her uncle’d had a nervous breakdown, but he appeared as well-balanced and sane as ever. “Is that a good idea for the company?”
“Yes, because he has the potential to become what we need. So, although his official title is IT Specialist, his current work involves learning our CMS software and everything he can about the company and our products. I’ve also made him a moderator on our game forums because he’s a gamer. Sometime in the next six months or so, I’m hoping to make him our webmaster, which will allow the rest of us to concentrate on our official jobs rather than worry about website issues.”
Alaina leaned against the back of her chair as she absorbed everything her uncle had said. His reasoning had merit, but he’d left out one essential detail. “Who’s going to teach him web programming and everything else he needs to know, to keep the website dynamic and fresh?”
Russ rapped his knuckles against the top of his desk and sat back. “You’re my most talented web developer. I figure with the books I gave him to read and you supervising him, he should pick up on everything pretty quickly.”
“You want me to supervise him? What about the app I’m working on?”
“I’m making your deadline more flexible on that, so there’s no worry there.” Russ stood and walked around his desk, bracing his hip on the front edge. “Look, Alaina, I know teaching the new guy web development isn’t in your job description, but this kid’s smart and he needs a break. He’s had a rough time of it. By hiring him on, even though he doesn’t yet have the skills to be our webmaster — which is what we really need around here — I’m showing confidence in his ability to learn the job and excel at it. Knowing I believe in him will encourage him to do his best to live up to my expectations for his future in the company.”
She’d always known her uncle had a soft spot for the underdog, but it had never seemed to apply to his software company. He always hired the best-qualified candidate for the position, but he encouraged each employee to be the best he or she could be. Since he had hired Jordan, Russ must have seen something in him to make up for the lack of qualifications. Otherwise Russ would have turned him down, no matter how much compassion he had for the man.
“Okay,” Alaina said as she rose from her seat. “I’ll work on that app when I can and give Jordan whatever help and supervision he needs. He does know I’m supervising him, right?”
“I told him to talk to you about any questions concerning web development, and to get your approval for any changes he wants to implement in the site. Other than that, I want the two of you to see yourselves as coworkers. I’m counting on you to help him integrate into the laid-back atmosphere around here.”
“I’ll do what I can, but it’s up to him how well he integrates.”
Alaina left her uncle’s office and walked slowly down the hall. Paradigm Computing had always been laid-back about employee hierarchy, with Russ being the only real higher-up in the company. She felt a little disconcerted knowing she had just become a supervisor, but she found comfort in the fact that the job was more mentorship than management.
As she drew closer to her office, her thoughts drifted to the man inside. Why had he needed a veteran’s organization to help him get a job? Why was he learning web development here, instead of at a college like most people? And what did her uncle mean when he said the man had had a rough time?
* * * *
Jordan leaned back in his desk chair and rolled his shoulders to relieve some of the tension. The longer he studied the Paradigm Computing website from both the public side and the back end, it sank in just how big a job he’d taken on. Although his dream of becoming a web developer was one step closer to coming true thanks to Russ Porter, Jordan couldn’t deny the weight of responsibility pressing down on him. Russ trusted him to learn huge amounts of information in a short period of time, and Jordan wanted to give a hundred and ten percent, the same way he always did. He just didn’t know if he could survive the pressure it would undoubtedly create.
Before his stress level could climb any higher, Jordan felt a nudge against his left leg. He released a breath and reached down to scratch his dog’s head. Abe always knew when to interrupt his thoughts. Given how long they’d been at this desk, they could both use a walk.
Jordan grabbed his dog’s leash as he stood, and the large, dark brown mutt followed his example. He caught Alaina watching him and smiled. He couldn’t ask for a prettier office mate than the blonde sitting at the desk across the room.
“I’m going outside for a few,” he said as Abe stretched.
Alaina lifted a shapely eyebrow, and distaste clouded her hazel eyes. “You’re a smoker?”
He laughed and stepped out from behind his desk. “No, I’m just going for a short walk.”
Her eyes widened as Abe stepped into her line of sight. “You brought your dog to work? Does Uncle Russ know?”
His office mate was his boss’s niece? Added stress he didn’t need. He shook off the anxiety before it could threaten him too much.
“Of course. Abe goes everywhere with me.” Jordan glanced down at his canine companion and turned him so Alaina could clearly see Abe’s labeled vest. Maybe it would keep her from asking questions he didn’t want to answer.
She leaned forward, her eyes on Abe. An adorable pink blush crept into her cheeks as she met Jordan’s gaze. “Oh! I should have realized he’s a service dog.”
Well, this was new. He’d never seen anyone surprised to learn Abe was a service dog — a service dog nudging his leg in an attempt to get him moving. Jordan hid his amusement by reaching down to scratch the mutt’s head. “It’s all right. Now, I’d better take him out before he gets any more impatient.”
Jordan didn’t wait for Alaina to respond before leaving the office. As he walked toward the elevator, he exchanged smiles with a few other employees he passed, but inside he wanted to scream. No way could he miss the curiosity on each face, sometimes mixed with sympathy or pity. He wasn’t sure which, but none of it diminished his gratitude for Abe’s presence in his life. The dog’s support enabled him to lead a fairly normal life with little need for medication, but the attention and misunderstanding that tended to go with having a service dog were still hard to deal with sometimes. Especially when he was tired and stressed, such as a day when he had gotten up earlier than usual to start a new job — the first he’d had since his discharge from the Army.
Inside the elevator, Jordan pressed the button for the ground floor, then reached down and petted Abe’s head. “Think I’ll make it, buddy?”
The dog gazed up at him with those adoring brown eyes and licked his hand. Jordan scratched behind Abe’s ears, feeling his tension ease. No matter how irritating people’s reactions could be at times, he wouldn’t trade his service dog for anything.