The Fireman Who Loved Me (The Bachelor Firemen Of San Gabriel #1)(10)By: Jennifer Bernard
Melissa decided to take the initiative.
“Loudon, I’d like some extra time to work on a new investigation.”
“Extra time? Take all you want.”
“Not my personal time. You know what I mean. I want time off Ella duty.” Part of her job as “special news projects producer” was to create showcase reports for Ella. She would research them, do the interviews, write the pieces, produce them, then drag Ella out for an hour to shoot standups that could then be inserted into the finished story.
“What’s the story? Can we use it for November sweeps?”
“I’m not sure yet. It’s a tip from a kid in foster care, and it’s going to take some time to confirm. It may end up being nothing. Or it could blow up the whole foster care system.”
“Blow up foster care,” said Loudon with deep gloom. He reached for the jumbo-size bottle of pastel antacids he kept at his elbow.
“Ella doesn’t like stories with bad guys.”
“Channel Six is supposed to be the Sunny Side of the News.”
“I know. But this could be a really important story that could save children from abuse.”
He blinked wearily at her. “You’re a pain in my fat arse.”
“I’m really sorry. And you look like you’ve lost a few pounds.”
“Fine. No Ella this week.”
“You’re a champ, boss.” She gave him a glorious smile. What a difference to have an open, easy, work-only relationship with her boss. In Los Angeles, every time she’d stepped into Everett’s office her pulse had raced and her heart had pounded.
“On one condition.”
Of course there would be a catch. “What?”
“Heard you went on a date last night.”
Melissa’s jaw dropped. That was the last thing she’d expected him to say. “What . . . how . . .”
“I have my sources.”
For one wild moment, Melissa imagined their sixty-year-old waitress slipping off to report a hot tip to Loudon, like some kind of secret agent.
“Does this new development in your love life mean you’ll have an in with the Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel?”
“The what?” Maybe all the light waves from the ten TV sets in his office had disrupted his brain function. But Loudon gazed at her expectantly, as if his words made some kind of sense. “What are you talking about?”
“That’s right, you were in LA being a big shot. Our local fire station is famous. Even made the Today show. The whole crew was in People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive issue. It’s the only all-bachelor fire station in the country. Or almost all. And apparently they’re good-looking too. Hell if I know.”
Melissa put a hand to her head. Captain Brody was famous? The whole station was? And she’d spent the evening alternately yelling at him and French-kissing him?
“They had that big media blitz a couple years ago, then nothing. Apparently the captain shut it down. Won’t give interviews anymore. Except about fires, of course.”
Melissa remembered Brody’s scathing comments about the news—in fact, how could she forget them? Except now they made a little more sense. “So why are you telling me all this?”
“You know.” Loudon gave her a half wink that, with his droopy eyes, looked more like a leer.
“I really don’t.”
“Sure would be good for ratings to get those Bachelor Firemen back on the air. Why, with ratings like that, we could afford all kinds of investigations into foster care. Throw in the health department too. FDA, FDIC, whatever you like.”
You’re a twisted, loathsome man. Melissa had to double check to make sure she hadn’t said that out loud. Obviously his sources weren’t all that good, if they thought there was any chance she and Brody would go out again. But she saw no need to explain all that to Loudon, who blinked at her in the flickering blue light.
“I’ll . . . uh . . . do what I can. In between investigating a story that could actually save lives.”
On her way out the door, she paused. “Oh, I almost forgot. Ella accepted an invite to host a party for Absolut Vodka. Since I’m off Ella duty, I guess you’ll have to tell her she can’t.”
Loudon looked alarmed, frantically wiping his bleary eyes. “Oh no, Melissa. You take that one.”
“But you said—”
“After you handle this. Then you’re off Ella duty.”
Melissa groaned. “Fine.”
She’d think of something. In the meantime, she needed to start making some calls on the foster care story. The story that would make Bachelor Fireman Brody grovel at her feet.
Brody, crouched between two studs in the living room of his house-under-construction, dropped his wire strippers for the tenth time and swore.
“You know, Cap, most guys do things like buy a new sports car or date a sorority girl after a breakup.” Ryan Blake, holding a large bag from Subway, loomed over him.
“Yeah, well, I’m building myself a new house. Better than therapy.” Brody strained to reach the wire strippers. He knew his crew thought he was nuts. They were probably right, especially when it came to wiring. Home-run wires, three-way light switches, designated circuits. Why the hell didn’t he just give in and call a damn professional? He had a healthy respect for good electricians; he’d put out his share of fires caused by the bad ones.
And why did he keep dropping his tools? He never dropped his tools.
He knew why. Melissa McGuire.
“What are you doing here?” he growled at Ryan.
“Thought I’d come by and help you out today.”
The San Gabriel firefighters had gotten in the habit of dropping by to help with his one-man construction project. They’d watched him go through hell, and they’d been ready at any moment to spackle walls, hoist two-by-fours, badmouth Rebecca, set him up with random strippers, or come over and hang out over beers and football.
But the guys didn’t know the whole story. They didn’t know about the baby.
“I brought lunch too. I thought you might need some refreshment,” Ryan added.
Brody gave up on the wire strippers and extracted himself from between the studs. He stood up, wiping the sweat from his eyes. “After my hard night’s work?” he asked dryly.
He took the offered bag and rummaged through it for a drink. After gulping down most of a Snapple, he fished out a turkey sub and handed the bag back to Ryan. He sat down on an overturned bucket and pulled another over for Ryan.
Ryan wore a guilty look on his movie-star face. “I really owe you big, Cap. Was it . . . okay?”
“Did she make you play bingo or anything?” Ryan unwrapped a ham and cheese sandwich and bit into it.
“Nope. She was very intelligent, very charming. When she wasn’t yelling at me.”
“Yelling at you?”
“For being a football-watching, car-driving blockhead.”
Ryan frowned, confused. “What are we supposed to drive?”
“Good question. Too bad you weren’t there to ask it.”
“Geez, I’m sorry, Captain, I never thought it’d be like that. I thought she’d be all over you.”
“Well, at the end . . .” Brody smiled reminiscently, and Ryan nearly choked on his ham and cheese.
“You didn’t . . . you didn’t . . . make out with her?”
“A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell, you know that, Hoagie,” said Brody reprovingly. Ryan carefully put down his sandwich, clearly trying to process this new development.
“You mean, you dug her?”
“What’s not to like about a beautiful, passionate, articulate woman?”
“Is this another one of your lessons?” Ryan sounded worried. “I’m supposed to . . . um . . . see past appearances? To the soul within, or some shit?” Brody watched the gears click with great amusement, then decided to give the kid a break.
“Well, yes, that’s always wise strategy. But actually, Nelly McGuire was indisposed, and her granddaughter took her place. That seems to have been Mrs. McGuire’s intention all along.”
The clouds instantly cleared from Ryan’s face. “Was the granddaughter hot?”
Unbelievably hot. Molten lava hot. Kept-him-up-all-night hot.
“Probably not your usual type,” came his eventual answer. For some reason, the thought of Ryan with Melissa didn’t sit right. Would she fall for the pretty face, as so many others had? And what difference did it make if she did? She clearly didn’t think much of him, especially after he’d lost it and insulted her whole profession.
Then again, if she really hated him, would she have responded with such fire and eagerness at the end? He’d been all over her, and she hadn’t seemed to mind. In fact, if Nelly hadn’t opened the door . . .
He swallowed the rest of his Snapple to drown the memory.
“I bet she was smokin’. You got that look in your eye.”
“I have no look.”
“Yeah you do. You haven’t looked like that since . . . you know.”
“You know” was code for “Rebecca.”
He chewed the turkey, which tasted like sandpaper. When Rebecca left, he’d realized the truth. He’d been born to command, born to save lives, risk his neck, guide his crew, school his rookies. None of that led to a happy personal life. It hadn’t helped his marriage to Rebecca, and why should it be different with any other woman?