The Fireman Who Loved Me (The Bachelor Firemen Of San Gabriel #1)(56)By: Jennifer Bernard
“Ella Joy doesn’t run this news department.”
“That would be news to her,” said Melissa dryly. “She may not run it, but if she wants something, I sure wouldn’t bet against her.”
Loudon wiped his weary eyes. “She has a bug up her ass about this story. God help me if I can understand it.”
“Never underestimate the fury of a woman scorned. She’s doing the story, Loudon. Just accept it. Besides, you don’t want Los Angeles horning in on our territory, do you?”
He sighed. “Hardball, huh? So where does this put you? I have to find another title for you?”
“Don’t bother. I found my own title.”
He eyed her warily. “I feel a gastrointestinal attack coming on.”
“Independent producer. Executive producer of any story I bring you. Complete freedom to pursue any investigations, plus complete access to Channel Six’s resources. You get right of first refusal on any story I do. Ella gets to choose which stories she wants to front. If she passes, I will front it myself. You pay me by the story.”
And she named her amount. Loudon couldn’t deny it was fair—respectable, but not greedy. “You can afford that?”
“My Grans left me a little money.” In fact, it was more than a little. Nelly had divided everything equally between Haskell and Melissa, but Haskell had instantly signed it all over to Melissa. Of course she‘d protested, but her father hadn’t budged.
“I don’t need it, and it’s better if I don’t have it. Nothing but trouble in my hands. I’ll leave it all to you when I shove off anyway. You’ll make good use of it, I know.” She’d given him a long hug, her first since the age of ten.
“There’s one catch,” said Loudon.
Melissa waited. Her dream job was so close . . .
“Ella’s leaving the station when her contract’s up in two months.”
“Really?” She vaguely remembered Ella mentioning a plan at Nelly’s memorial service.
“She’s making the jump to Los Angeles.”
“Everett actually hired her?”
“No, no. She’s going to the competition. If she gets them two extra ratings points, they’ll beat FOX News.”
Melissa’s head spun just thinking of the implications. Ella versus Everett in the ratings. Ella with Everett in bed. Everett with Barb in bed. Barb versus Ella in the ratings. Any way you added it up, Everett was screwed. And not in the good way.
Not her problem. “I guess I’ll front my own stories then. I think I proved myself with the City Hall fire.”
“I can live with that, unless whoever replaces Ella wants to front one.”
“And that brings me to my final condition,” continued Melissa.
“Will it never end?” Loudon wiped his gloomy eyes.
“I never got to do that story about the Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel. I did some research and shot some footage. I’d like that story to be my first report.”
“Are you teasing me?”
“You’re stringing me along, aren’t you?” He popped a pale green antacid into his mouth.
“What do you mean?”
“You really want your first story to be about the dismal living conditions of elderly immigrant Hmong who don’t speak English and need to be subtitled.”
Melissa had to laugh. “Maybe that’s next. For now, how about some gorgeous, heroic, single firemen.”
Loudon wiped his eyes. “Melissa, you are, hands down, the best producer I’ve ever worked with.”
Serious or not, she’d take that compliment. Melissa briskly shook his hand, left his office, and let out the breath she’d been holding. It was like a miracle. No more news meetings. No more newsroom politics. No more Ella wrangling. No more hiding in the background. She’d do the stories she wanted to do, when she wanted to do them. Except that it wasn’t a miracle—it was called standing up for herself. Fighting for what she wanted.
She stopped by Ella’s office on her way out. No matter how irritating, egotistical, and shamelessly ambitious Ella was, Melissa owed her a debt of gratitude for . . . well, for being Ella. She wasn’t in yet, so Melissa wrote her a quick note. Chang interrupted. “Some security guard’s gonna get fired. Who let you back in the building?”
“Special invitation. Get used to it, babe.”
He stared. “Seriously, are you back? What’s the haps? Is you in or is you out?”
“Stay tuned for another turn of the Sunny Side of the News.”
“Tell Ella to call me when she gets in.”
“C’mon, Melissa, I got to feed something to the grapevine.”
“Tell them I may be looking for some freelance help, production and editorial, so if anyone needs extra cash, they should get in touch with me.”
After she’d finished editing the bachelor story, she went down to the studio and taped her intro and wrap-up.
When she’d finished taping, she went home and waited.
An electrical fire at an old walnut farm outside town kept most of San Gabriel Fire Station 1 busy that night. Brody, Ryan, and Double D were the only firefighters in the lounge when the Eleven O’Clock News started. When he heard the familiar theme song begin, Brody went to lift weights. The last few days, everything associated with Melissa had become painful and tender, like a fresh bruise.
His plan to wait wasn’t working at all. For one thing, he thought about her all the time. At the memorial service, he’d seen the lost, dazed look in her eyes and longed to take her in his arms and soothe away her pain. When she’d blanked out at the lectern, it had taken all his strength not to rush up there and whisk her away. How long was he supposed to wait? A week? A month? A year? What if Melissa forgot about him while he was patiently waiting?
The newscast was halfway over when Brody heard a shout from the TV room.
“Captain, get back in here!” called Ryan. Grumbling, sweaty, Brody stalked back to the TV room and stopped at the sight of Melissa’s face filling the screen. At the bottom of the screen was a banner that read, “The Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel.”
For a moment, Brody was so riveted by the sight of Melissa the way he remembered her, he didn’t notice what she was saying. The old Melissa was back. Her eyes glowed forest-green, her full lips smiled. Even with her horn-rimmed glasses, her beauty seemed to leap off the screen. Why did she wear glasses, when it didn’t matter one way or the other? With them or without them, she was beautiful and brilliant.
Finally he tuned in to her words.
“. . . my research into the history of San Gabriel Fire Station 1 does raise a few questions about the supposed curse. Parts of the legend are true. San Gabriel does have an unusual number of unmarried firemen. Oddly, that’s been true since the turn of the last century. Whether or not San Gabriel’s firefighters are more or less good-looking than average, I’ll leave it to you viewers to decide.”
The camera panned over a group of firemen stripped to their T-shirts, hosing down Engine 1.
“In this reporter’s very biased opinion, you’d have to search a long time to find firefighters as attractive as ours. Of course, looks aren’t everything. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with the San Gabriel firemen, and I can personally vouch for their above-average skill, courage, daring, team spirit, and thoughtfulness.”
A close-up of Ryan clapping Vader on the shoulder came next.
“So you might well wonder, why are so many of these outstanding men still single? Is there truth to the curse after all? The results of my investigation are inconclusive, but I have formed a working theory. Unlike the original Bachelor Fireman, Virgil Rush, San Gabriel firemen don’t remain bachelors all their lives. They do fall in love and marry. But just like Virgil, their path to true love seems to be rockier than the norm. So, ladies, I hope you’ll follow my example. If you fall for one of these men, fasten your seat belts because you’re in for a bumpy ride. But take it from me, they’re worth it.” She winked. “Melissa McGuire, reporting for the Sunny Side of the News.”
Brody couldn’t move. He couldn’t stop staring at the TV screen, which now showed a commercial for some cleaning product. Ryan and Double D whooped. “She’s talking about you, Captain!” yelled Ryan.
“Ain’t no doubt,” agreed Double D. “Didn’t know Hollywood had it in her.”
“What are you going to do?”
What was he going to do? Getting his body to move would be the first step. He mumbled something to his firefighters about paging him in an emergency, and ran to his turnout.
His turnout? He didn’t question it. He pulled on his pants and coat, and thrust his feet into his boots. Feeling like the Michelin Man, he squeezed behind the wheel of his truck. As he drove, he thought about how brave Melissa was to go on TV and bare her heart the way she had. She’d always said she didn’t want to be on the air. But she’d been perfect. She’d almost sounded like . . . well, like Nelly. Maybe Nelly had left behind a little of her own fearlessness. Or maybe Melissa had it all along.
Just before midnight, he knocked on her door. For a long moment, no one answered and he waited alone in the cool, jasmine-scented moonlight. Then the door opened and Melissa appeared. He had a blurred impression of dark hair pouring over bare shoulders and green eyes blinking at him in surprise.