The Fireman Who Loved Me (The Bachelor Firemen Of San Gabriel #1)(12)

By: Jennifer Bernard

The only downside was that Ella would now meet Brody. Would Brody fall at her feet the way most men did? Not that Melissa cared, of course.

Chapter Seven

Melissa ripped the little black dress off her body and glared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. What were you supposed to wear to dinner at a fire station with a man who’d nearly torn your shirt off? She didn’t want to wear something that said, Hey, big guy, come rip this off my body. On the other hand, she didn’t want something that said, Don’t even think about it. Besides, Ella Joy would set the bar so high that anything less than a G-string would barely register with the guys. She had to reach a minimum level of hotness. The little black dress just didn’t cut it. And tonight she had no intention of wearing her glasses.

She chose a slinky, silvery sweater that clung tightly to her curves and made her eyes glow like emeralds. A forest-green suede skirt and knee-high boots completed the outfit, which she hoped said, I wouldn’t say no if you treat me right, and maybe apologize for insulting my profession. She’d worn this same combo to a fund-raiser for journalists imprisoned overseas, and a radical environmentalist had hit on her. So it had a proven track record, though in a very different crowd.

“Grans? You ready?”

“Ready as rain,” answered Nelly. Downstairs, Melissa saw her grandmother was sporting her very favorite sweater, which Nelly’s sister, now deceased, had knitted for her seventieth birthday. It was made from a Guatemalan design, and Nelly loved to wear various buttons attached to it: “Respect Mother Earth.” “Promote Whirled Peas.” Melissa thought she looked like an elderly bomb-throwing revolutionary. Or at least a troublemaker.

“You look shocking, Grans.”

“Thank you.”

“We’d better go. We have to make a stop on the way.”

“Stop? Where?”

Melissa had deliberately left this until the last moment. “We have to pick up Ella Joy.”

“What? That tramp is coming? Who invited her?”

“I did. And please don’t call the anchor of the Sunny Side of the News a tramp.”

“More like the Slutty Side, with that one.”

“Language, Grans!” Did everyone’s grandmother’s talk like this?

“Melissa, you don’t have the sense God gave a peanut. You want to lose Brody to her?”

“Oh, come on, he’s going to ignore both of us and make a beeline toward you!” Melissa gave her grandmother a little hug and shuffled her out the door.

But Nelly would not be distracted. “It’s not that you aren’t a hundred times prettier than Miss Fancy Schmancy, but she’s got that killer instinct. If she sees a man interested in you, she’ll go for his jugular. Remember Alice May? How she nearly stole Leon out from under my nose?”

“A, he’s not interested in me. And B, Ella’s not some jungle cat. There will be plenty of men to go around. Maybe Ryan will be there.”

Nelly brightened. “That’s right! Whichever one Ella likes, you go for the other one.”

Melissa pretended to consider that approach as she helped her grandmother into the car. “I suppose I could, but that would interfere with my plan to eat dinner and mind my own business.” She closed the car door before Nelly could answer, and took her time walking to the driver’s side. Once inside, she added, “And be nice to Ella. Don’t forget she’s worth two ratings points, and two ratings points could get me fired.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. That place would fall apart without you.” The rest of the drive was taken up with a litany of complaints about how little Channel Six appreciated her Melissa, and it was only when Ella Joy slid in the backseat that Nelly was finally rendered speechless. And no wonder.

Ella was dressed in a red vinyl pantsuit the exact color of a fire engine. It looked like a slick, shiny coat of all-body nail polish. Dazed, Melissa wondered if Ella had already had such an item in her closet, or if she had bought it just for this occasion. Either option seemed absurd. Ella’s honey locks were curled and piled on her head, and her smoky eye shadow made her eyes look huge and luminescent. Melissa shifted uncomfortably in her sweater, which in the last two seconds had gone from slinky to deadly dull.

Maybe Grans had been right, after all. If she wanted any chance with Brody, she should never have invited Ella. Not that she was after Brody, not at all. They had nothing in common. Except that she couldn’t get that crazy kissing incident out of her mind.

It didn’t matter. What chance did regular mortals have next to someone like Ella? She’d have to be content with her original plan. Eat her dinner and mind her own business. The only entertainment would be watching the firemen fall over themselves bowing down to the goddess of Channel Six news.

San Gabriel Fire Station 1 was a square, concrete building smack in the middle of town. Melissa had seen it in news reports, but since she wasn’t on the daily news beat herself, she had never actually been there. The firefighters kept it immaculate and had even planted geraniums in planters out front. A fresh-faced young fireman, who looked about twelve, was busy watering the flowers, and at the sight of Ella exiting the car he dropped the hose. It went snaking across the driveway, spewing a rooster tail of water in front of them. Ella gave a little shriek, and jumped behind Nelly.

Melissa bent down and picked up the hose. She handed it back to the firefighter, but he didn’t budge. He stood, openmouthed, as the water streamed onto the driveway. Finally she stood directly in his line of sight. “Hi,” she said brightly. “We’re here at the invitation of Ryan Blake. This is my grandmother, Nelly McGuire. And this is—”

“Ella Joy.” He said it in a voice of awe. “We . . . we watch you all the time, you’re the bomb.”

Ella must have decided that the receiving of adulation was worth getting her strappy sandals wet. She moved from behind Nelly to greet the fireman. “Aren’t you a doll? We do our humble best, and it’s so nice to know it’s appreciated.” Bestowing her hand on the dazzled young man, she nearly bowled him over with a huge smile. Humble best, thought Melissa. Where on earth had she come up with that?

“And just call me Ella. This is Melissa, my producer.”

“We’re so . . . honored to have you . . . all of you.” Finally he managed to tear his gaze away from Ella, and remembered his manners. “Mrs. McGuire, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Stud . . . I mean, Fred. Stud’s my nickname. Because I’m not, really. A stud, that is. Not compared to the others. Come on in, and I’ll introduce you to the rest of the crew. They’re going to be so stoked!” He dropped the hose again and took Nelly’s arm. “How are you doing, ma’am?”

“Not very well, young man. Frankly, I could use a glass of water.” Nelly did not look pleased with events thus far.

“Right away.” He ushered Ella in front of him, with a kind of formal bow that he could have learned in dancing class. Since he seemed oblivious to the abandoned garden hose still pumping out water, Melissa hung back to turn it off. The faucet was behind a camellia bush, which left a streak of dirt on the sleeve of her silver sweater. Yet another sign that she might as well give up hope of the evening being anything other than the Ella show.

She caught up with the rest of the group as they passed through the garage-type area with four gleaming fire engines of various kinds. Fred was racing through the tour, clearly eager to present his prize guests to the rest of the squad. “That’s Engine 1 and that’s Truck 1. When the engine, truck, and pumper go out together on a call they’re called Task Force 1. Engine 1 takes a four-man crew and carries five hundred gallons. Truck 1’s brand-new, it’s got a state-of-the-art hundred-foot aerial ladder. I can’t go up in it, I’m afraid of heights, but man, you should see the captain. Ryan Blake’s our inside man, plus we have a top man, an AO, Apparatus Operator, and a tillerman, or tiller person I should say, for Truck 1. We have a pumper and an ambulance too. We clean and polish them up every day, we take a lot of pride in our rigs. And our captain’s a stickler. But it pays off, because if you get messy in one area, you might get sloppy in others, and then it’s a safety issue. This station’s a sparkle corps house.”

He paused proudly.

“What’s that?” Melissa asked, when it appeared she was the only one paying attention to his spiel.

“It means every firefighter in California wants to be at this station. Only the best of the best get to come here. We get a lot of action, lot of fires, but we have the best safety record anywhere. And everyone wants to work for our captain. He’s a legend, you know.”

Melissa, too curious to resist, broke the flow of his commentary. “Do you mean Captain Brody?”

His face lit up. “Yeah, that’s him, have you heard of him? He’s saved hundreds of lives in his career, that’s why he’s a legend. There’s nobody like him. That’s why everyone wants to transfer in here.”

“Hundreds of lives,” breathed Ella. “What a hero. We should do a story on him, Melissa.”

“Oh, he’d never let you. He doesn’t like publicity at all. 60 Minutes wanted him on, and he wouldn’t even talk to them.”