The Fireman Who Loved Me (The Bachelor Firemen Of San Gabriel #1)(5)By: Jennifer Bernard
“That’s probably him.” With surprising agility, Nelly scuttled toward the door leading to her downstairs bedroom. “You’d better answer that.”
“Grans, so help me . . .” But her grandmother was gone.
From the safety of her bedroom, Nelly called, “No swearing, you don’t want to create a bad first impression.” She did a little dance as she closed the door halfway, so she could still see everything. Just wait until Melissa caught a glimpse of Ryan the dreamboat. Maybe he’d wear his uniform, the irresistible cherry on top of his natural-born gorgeousness. Melissa would thank her from the bottom of her heart; she’d kneel down and kiss her hand. And oh, the babies they’d have . . .
Nelly watched her granddaughter hesitate and mutter to herself. Melissa headed toward the front door, only to stop at the mirror in the entryway. Nelly quietly cackled with delight. If Melissa felt the urge to check her appearance, anything was possible. Melissa was wearing her casual clothes—black Capri pants and a paisley-patterned sleeveless top. It wouldn’t have been Nelly’s first choice, but everything looked good on her sweet Melissa.
Then Nelly’s heart sank. Melissa was picking up her glasses. Why’d that girl have to be so darn stubborn? She refused to get contacts. Nelly swore she wore her glasses to distract her coworkers from her camera-worthy looks. “Put those down,” hissed Nelly.
But Melissa set her jaw and jammed the glasses onto her face. What was she doing now, messing up her hair? Nelly didn’t protest that move. She thought Melissa looked more appealing, less buttoned-up, when her thick chocolate hair danced and curved around her head. All in all, outfit and glasses aside, she wasn’t ashamed to call Melissa her granddaughter. But would she be enough to catch the eye of someone as flat-out gorgeous as Ryan from Fire Station 1?
Nelly wiggled with glee as Melissa made her way toward the front door.
At Mrs. Nelly McGuire’s front door, Brody checked his watch and looked longingly back toward his robin’s-egg-blue ’69 Dodge. Maybe the old lady had already gone to bed. He could hop right back in his car and cruise back to his house (aka the construction zone), where he’d left behind a long list of unfinished tasks.
A date. For Chrissakes. The only saving grace was that his date was an elderly woman who didn’t deserve to be stood up. For that reason, he’d dug out khaki pants and a nice white shirt, and hauled his father’s old Dodge from under the tarp behind his garage. It would give them an icebreaker, right?
A date. Jesus. Not that he didn’t enjoy women and make damn sure they enjoyed their time with him. But dating . . . no. Not for him. Unless it was with an eighty-something woman who couldn’t possibly disturb his peace of mind.
One more knock on Mrs. McGuire’s door, and then he’d go home and work on the wiring in his kitchen.
His attention was already back on the car when he felt his hand rap against soft flesh instead of hard oak. “Oh shit . . . I mean, so sorry, ma’am, are you hurt?” He reached out to keep his victim from losing her balance and felt the unexpected thrill of a slender arm and warm skin under his fingers. All he could see was a blur of hands protecting a dark head, fumbling for the glasses he’d knocked off her face. A face, he realized as his appalled vision cleared, that was most definitely not old. In fact, it was riveting. Maybe not beautiful, precisely, but arresting. And—familiar.
It was the girl from the bachelor auction, with the same skin like vanilla cream, stubborn jaw, vulnerable mouth, and eyes glaring a deep green at him. He realized he was staring and looked away, dropping his hands, just as the girl firmly set a pair of horn-rimmed glasses back onto her nose.
“You?” She didn’t look all that happy about it.
“Are you all right? I’m so sorry. I was starting to think no one was here.”
“Your eyes aren’t blue.”
It seemed like a non sequitur, until he remembered she was expecting Ryan. “I am aware of that, and I do apologize. Ryan, the one you bid for, was . . . indisposed. I told him I’d take his place, if that is acceptable to you . . . that is . . . to Nelly McGuire. You can’t be . . . You’re not Mrs. Nelly McGuire, are you?” Of course she wasn’t. He knew all about his date. But still, his thoughts went wild. Maybe he’d gotten the name wrong. Maybe Ryan had seen the glasses and assumed she was old. Maybe her dark brown hair had looked white in the bright lights of the auction.
“I am not,” she said firmly. “Strangely enough, my grandmother is also indisposed. Grans! Come out here.”
No one responded. The girl shot him a suspicious look. “Are you in on this too?”
Brody had no idea how to answer that. He had the feeling he’d stepped into some kind of looking-glass world.
“Grans!” the girl called again. A door snapped open, and a white-haired, feisty-looking woman with golden eyes behind thick glasses marched out. So here was Nelly McGuire.
“Who the dickens are you?” She adjusted her glasses. “You’re too old, and your eyes don’t look blue to me.”
No doubt about it, he’d fallen down a rabbit hole. “My name is Captain Brody—”
“Where’s Number Five?”
Brody cast a desperate glance at the girl and was relieved to see she looked just as confused as he was.
“What kind of operation are you people running? You wouldn’t be trying to fool an old lady, would you?” Nelly demanded.
“Not at all.” This situation was infinitely more mortifying than Brody had feared. His whole body stiffened, and when he spoke again his voice sounded painfully formal. “Ryan Blake works under me over at San Gabriel Fire Station 1, and when he informed me he wouldn’t be able to be here tonight, I requested the honor of taking his place.”
“Why can’t he be here?”
“Well . . .” How to put it politely without lying? “An unpleasant fire station situation came up.”
Nelly’s suspicious gaze scanned him, head to toe. “You’re not wearing a fire captain uniform.”
“It didn’t seem appropriate for the occasion. If you’d like to see my identification—”
“No!” the girl broke in. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary. You look like a fire captain to me.”
“Melissa, he could be anyone. Just walking in off the street like that.”
So that was her name. Melissa. It suited her. It would feel like honey on his tongue. Right now that vanilla skin was pink with embarrassment. Brody watched the play of expressions on her mobile face. Outrage, humor, confusion, mortification. He had the sudden thought that he wouldn’t mind standing here for a while, watching her face.
“Really, Grans . . .”
Nelly ignored her. “Are you single?”
“No ma’am.” By this point, the entire scene had reached such a surreal level he found himself smiling.
“How old are you?”
“Isn’t that young for a fire captain?”
“I’m very good.”
Nelly paused in her inquisition, as if to say, she’d be the judge of that. “Have you ever been married?”
The smile drained from his face. The one question he didn’t want to answer. Ramrod-straight, he stared at a spot above Nelly’s head. Rescue came in the form of a slim hand on his elbow.
“Okay, that’s it!” Melissa crooked her arm in his and grabbed her jacket. “Shall we go?”
No three words had ever been so welcome. As he gratefully pressed her arm against his side, he couldn’t help noticing how good she felt. He made a slight bow to the openmouthed Nelly. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Mrs. Nelly McGuire, and I’m very sorry you’re indisposed. I’m sure it would have been an unforgettable evening.”
“Well, I’m sure it would. Be nice to my Melissa. I’ll be waiting up, so no fancy fandangos.”
“I wouldn’t think of it.” Moving his hand to her lower back, he steered Melissa out the door.
The alleged fire captain opened the passenger door of his big blue boat of a car, waited until Melissa was settled in, then slid behind the wheel. Melissa wasn’t used to such old-fashioned courtesy. Like his car, it seemed to come from another era. She had to admit she rather liked it. He didn’t start the Dodge immediately, but instead let out a long breath. There was a moment of strained silence. The scent of jasmine drifted through the open windows. It was just after five in the evening, and the late October sky was a dusky pink.
“I’m so sorry,” said Melissa in a stifled voice. She hated apologizing for her grandmother.
“She’s something else. What’s a fancy fandango?”
Was he making fun of Grans? Melissa looked over at him sharply, and once again felt that annoying tingle. He was a complete stranger, and yet when he’d grabbed her arm (after nearly knocking her over), a shiver had passed through her. And those eyes, the intense gray of charcoal, had looked into hers with such genuine concern. There was a restrained strength in the way he’d held her, the same power she’d felt when he’d plucked her off the Hilton carpet.