The Fireman Who Loved Me (The Bachelor Firemen Of San Gabriel #1)(51)

By: Jennifer Bernard

Brody didn’t answer directly. “You did really well, Melissa. You kept your head.”

“No, no, I should have thought of a heart attack. I should have called 911. I should have—” She was interrupted by a rough shake from Brody that made her squeak.

“Stop. She had already called the fire station. You did exactly the right thing. If you hadn’t gotten her away from the fire, she might have burned to death.” After one last squeeze, he drew away. “Now come on, hop in. I’ve got a sweater in here somewhere.”

“Hop in?” she said, confused, as he led her by the hand toward his truck.

“We’re going to the hospital. The ambulance is leaving.”

“You’re coming with me?” Why did she feel so stupid, like she was one step behind everything he said?

“Unless you have some objection.”

She shook her head. Did Rebecca know he was here? But that was a stupid question. He was a firefighter. Just doing his job. “Don’t you have to stay and put out the fire?”

“No, they’ve got it under control. It’s not much of a fire,” he said with a slight smile.

She attempted a smile in response, but it felt more like a gruesome twisting of her mouth. “Could have fooled me. Is this what you guys call the growth phase?”

“Very good. Been doing your homework. But don’t worry, it’ll be out before it gets to stage two.” Brody helped her into his truck. Which was a good thing, since her body felt so strange and heavy, as if she were walking through molasses. He draped a man’s crewneck sweater over her shoulders—it smelled like smoke, like everything else in his truck—then slid into the driver’s seat.

“How come I feel so weird, like I can’t move right?” she asked him.

“It’s the aftershock,” he said briskly. “I’ve seen it many times. You’ll feel better in a few minutes. Just rest until we get to the hospital. I have some extra socks in here somewhere too.”

Right. She was still barefoot, and her feet had little bits of wet grass all over them. She leaned her head back against the headrest. A sudden thought jerked her upright again. “Oh! I should call my dad.”

“I already did. He’s meeting us there.”

Brody had taken care of everything. He’d thought of everything. Melissa let her eyes drift shut. It felt like being on a magic carpet. She had absolutely nothing to worry about.

Except Grans.

She spent the rest of the ride praying for her grandmother.

At the hospital, Brody quietly took command. He shepherded her through the reception area, got an update on Nelly’s condition (critical), and settled her into the waiting area with a cup of coffee. Cream, one sugar. How on earth could he remember how she liked her coffee at a moment like this? But she was beyond questioning anything about Brody. If someone had asked her, she would have said he must be a superhero with mystical powers.

After making another call on his cell phone, he eased into the seat next to her with a sigh.

“I just called your father again. He’s about fifteen minutes away.”

“Thanks.” She felt suddenly guilty for taking up so much of his time. “Is this . . . I mean, is there anywhere else you should be?”

“No, nowhere. But . . .” He hesitated before finishing. “Is there anyone else you want me to call?”

She searched her mind. “I can’t think of anyone,” she said with a shake of her head. He gave her a probing look. “Her husband’s long dead, I told you that, right? It’s just me and Haskell. Dad.” This seemed to satisfy him, since he sat back with a little smile. She gave him an offended look. Was he smiling because poor Nelly didn’t have more surviving family members?

Then the light bulb turned on.

Brody had been asking about Everett. He wanted to know if she wanted to call Everett. She nearly laughed out loud. Even when she’d been in love with Everett, she never would have expected him to rush to her side in a crisis. Besides, Nelly hated Everett. “That man is no good for anyone” had been her mantra. Nothing would be more guaranteed to upset her than Everett showing up at her bedside. She could just imagine Nelly bolting upright on her hospital bed, giving Everett a big old roundhouse slap on the cheek, and falling back into unconsciousness while nurses and doctors buzzed around her.

Brody, on the other hand, had earned Nelly’s approval almost right away. Almost. “Remember Nelly’s first words to you?” she asked him.

“Sure. Something along the lines of ‘Who the hell are you, and how come you’re dating my granddaughter and not that handsome blue-eyed hunk I paid for?’ ”

Melissa winced. “I guess that’s about right.”

“We never took her money, you know.”

“What do you mean? What about the widows and orphans?” She eyed him, sitting so comfortably next to her, as if there were no place he’d rather be than in this fluorescent-lit, disinfectant-scented waiting room.

“Don’t worry, they got their donation. I took care of it.”

Melissa’s face flamed with embarrassment. Had Brody refused to take Nelly’s money because they’d slept together? Or had he made the donation out of guilt, after he’d ditched Melissa for his ex? The whole thing was humiliating.

Two white-coated doctors with grim expressions came through the door of the treatment room. Melissa and Brody both jumped to their feet. She grabbed Brody’s hand. As the doctors approached, he hugged an arm around her shoulder.

“You must be Melissa,” said one of the doctors, shaking her free hand. “I’m Dr. Daughtry. I’ve been treating your grandmother for some time now. This is Dr. Swenson, the emergency room doctor.”

“This is Harry Brody, my . . . fire captain.” God, she sounded like an idiot. The two doctors were a blur. She hoped she wouldn’t have to identify them in a lineup later. “Is Grans okay? Is she going to be all right?”

“Your grandmother is awake and wants to see you, but she wanted me to tell you the full extent of her situation first.”

“Situation?” She didn’t like the sound of that.

“How much do you know about your grandmother’s condition?” he asked.

“You mean the heart attack?”

“No, the stomach cancer.”

“Cancer?” The word sent a cold shock through her. Brody’s arm tightened around her.

“Your grandmother has terminal stomach cancer. Her heart attack was the result of pain and extreme stress. She’s known for some time that she’s in her final months, and has refused radical life-saving measures.” The doctor adjusted his glasses and looked down at his clipboard.

“Say it so we can understand,” said Brody, in that commanding voice no one ever disobeyed.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t expect her to survive the night.”

No. No. The words sank into Melissa’s numb brain. Feisty, ornery, bossy Nelly, not expected to survive the night? Life-saving measures. What had the doctor said about life-saving measures? “Let me talk to her. I’ll convince her. You can do something to save her, right?”

“Honestly, very little, even if she accepted treatment. The cancer is quite advanced. She’s been living in nearly constant pain for the last few weeks.”

“Why didn’t she . . . why didn’t she . . . ?” Tell me, she wanted to say, but couldn’t get the words out. The waiting room spun around her, and she heard Brody say quietly, “Give us a moment, please,” and then the doctors left, she buried her head in Brody’s chest, and his arms closed tight around her as shuddering sobs shook her body. She fought to get control of herself, but the grief had a life of its own. She gave herself over to it. After some time, when the sobs had subsided into hiccups, and she lay trembling in Brody’s arms, she came back to herself enough to hear him whispering in her ear.

“Nelly needs you now, Melissa. She wants to see you. Can you do it?”

She nodded, and pulled back to wipe her face. Her hands were shaking too much to have any effect, and Brody gently drew them away to take over the job himself. With the sleeve of his soft flannel shirt, he patted the wetness from her cheeks. “The bathroom’s right over there. Go in and wash your face. It’ll upset Nelly to see you like this.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Melissa took a deep, shaky breath. “She’s probably going to be cracking jokes and bossing me around.”

“This is her time. Let her do as she likes.”

She clung to the calm command in those dark gray eyes, to the strength in the hand that still held her shoulder. “Will you go in there and tell Grans I’m coming? And tell her Dad is on his way too.”

“Of course I will. Don’t take too long though.”

She didn’t have to be told why. Melissa hurried into the bathroom.

Brody followed the doctors into Nelly’s room. Nelly certainly didn’t look like the end was near. She sat bolt upright, a scowl on her face, a rubber electrode clutched in her fist, a nurse flailing helplessly by her bed.

“Oh, it’s you.” She greeted Brody. “What’s this crap they’ve got all over me?”

“The usual. They’re trying to keep you alive for a few more hours.”