The Fireman Who Loved Me (The Bachelor Firemen Of San Gabriel #1)(7)By: Jennifer Bernard
The waitress arrived and plunked a bottle of wine on their table, then filled two glasses in the no-nonsense manner of a nurse doling out medication. Melissa took her medicine gladly, a long sip of cool white wine. Maybe it would relax her. Brody definitely put her on edge.
“But you have other ideas?”
“Is that so bad? I just haven’t had the best luck in the romance department. I’m better off sticking to my career.” Not that things were going any better in that area. But if she thought about her life too much right now she’d get depressed. “What about you? Do you like being a firefighter?”
“Sure. What is your career?”
“I’m a news producer at Channel Six. What do you like about being a firefighter?”
“News producer.” Most people were fascinated to hear she worked in the news. Not this man. His dark eyebrows drew together. “Channel Six? Ella Joy?”
Melissa made a little face, which she quickly hid with another sip of wine. It would never do to show anything less than wholehearted support for the most demanding and aggravating anchor she’d ever worked with. “Yes, Ella Joy. We work together quite a bit.”
“My guys all love her. Every night at eleven, no matter what’s going on, the TV gets turned to Channel Six.”
“She’ll be happy to hear that,” said Melissa politely. “So how long does it take to become a fire captain?”
“You must be good at your job. You’re a good interviewer.”
Not good enough, thought Melissa. She was getting nowhere with him. Which was frustrating, since she really wanted to know more about him. “You don’t talk about your work?”
“Not really, no.”
Brody shrugged. “I don’t want to bore you.”
She blinked at him indignantly. This, she reminded herself, was why she never went out with this kind of man—a man’s man, who probably saw women as pretty, empty-headed decorations. Pointedly, she adjusted the glasses on her nose. “So that’s the way you think. That I can’t handle it.”
“Handle it?” He looked startled. “Oh. You mean . . . No, of course that’s not it. Please, look at you. You’re obviously very smart.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I would say the glasses, but then you’d think I was an idiot who assumed every girl with glasses is smart. No, it’s the way you challenge the things I say.”
Melissa felt her face heat. How had this man, this stranger, this macho man, put his finger on her worst fault? “It’s a bad habit. Career hazard.”
“No,” he said thoughtfully. “It’s not because of your career. But I’m sure it helps you. You don’t have to apologize for it, I like it.”
“Sure. Same reason I like racquetball. Keeps me on my toes.”
After a pause, Melissa gave a gurgle of laughter. “Likewise. Every time I think I have a handle on you, you throw me a curve.”
He cocked his head at her. “You have a lovely laugh.”
And there went another curve.
The fire captain was truly unpredictable. Melissa never would have guessed they’d find so many things to talk about. Through their delicious, if bland, meal of baked salmon and boiled potatoes, they discussed all sorts of things, from their hometowns (San Gabriel for her, Phoenix, Arizona, for him), to their favorite movie (Casablanca for her, Ben-Hur for him), to their first loves (Betty in second grade for him, Keanu Reeves for her). Brody seemed to actually listen to her, rather than waiting for her to finish so he could describe his latest screenplay. As she talked, he watched her closely with those deep charcoal eyes. Somewhere in the middle of the second bottle of Chardonnay, while digging into her chocolate soufflé, she decided his eyes were the most beautiful she’d ever seen.
After dinner they drove to the Oasis Club and danced to the Les Barrett band, which hadn’t changed their play list since about 1960. Melissa watched with awe the older couples who swirled around them on the polished dance floor. No matter how stiff in the joints, how gnarled and bent their limbs, they still moved in perfect harmony with each other. She wished she’d paid more attention when Nelly had tried to teach her ballroom dancing.
“Everything okay?” asked Brody, as they executed a slow spin.
“Great. But my Grans wouldn’t be stepping on your toes like this.”
“She’d probably be boxing my ears instead. That’s what they did in her generation, boxed people’s ears. I’m not even sure what it means.”
Melissa laughed, and caught the answering flare in his eyes. Suddenly she wondered what it would be like to kiss him. If she pressed her lips to that firm mouth, would he lose that calm control of his? Bend her backward right here on the dance floor? Flushing, she dragged her gaze away from his mouth.
She’d had way too much Chardonnay. There would be no kiss. It wasn’t a real date, after all. He was just doing his duty for the Widows and Orphans Fund. So why did she keep having these ridiculous little fantasies and random tinglings of various body parts?
She took a deep breath, inhaling his scent. He smelled like clean leather, like the seats in his car. Mixed with some kind of light aftershave with a woodsy aroma. She breathed in again for another dose. It wasn’t enough—she wanted to push aside his white collar and bury her face in his chest. Maybe lick his skin to pin down that elusive essence of male.
What was wrong with her?
This was all her grandmother’s fault. Nelly was always going on about testosterone and red-blooded men. It was ridiculous. Melissa liked a completely different type, sensitive and artsy. One of her writer boyfriends had put her in a short story. A fireman couldn’t do that, could he? Of course, it had hardly been a flattering portrait. She’d come off as a money-grubbing sellout for working at a TV station. But still—it was art. Not bad for the daughter of an electrician.
She should be spending the evening with a goateed artist, not this iron-armed, enigma-eyed man twirling her around the dance floor. She should be at an art gallery or a poetry reading, or in a loft sharing a bottle of red wine and a deep philosophical discussion with someone who didn’t make her pulse skip so many beats. She had to get a grip.
She stiffened her arms to put more distance between them. “So . . .” She stuck her chin out. “Isn’t that a little archaic, the Widows and Orphans Fund? It sounds like something out of Oliver Twist.”
“It more or less assumes that when a firefighter dies, he’ll be leaving a wife behind. What if the firefighter is a woman? Or gay?”
“I could check the bylaws, but I’m sure exceptions can be made.”
“Exceptions! That’s exactly the problem. It shouldn’t be an exception. It should be normal.” She glared up at him.
Brody, taken aback, played for time with a quick spinning move. What had set her off? She’d turned stiff as a board in his arms, and her eyes were throwing emerald sparks at him. She really was quite beautiful. He suddenly wanted to see more of those sparks.
“Speaking generally, your typical firefighter is a married man with kids.” The San Gabriel station was a glaring exception, but he saw no need to mention that.
“Then you’re not a typical firefighter. At least in that way.”
“But in other ways?” He arched an eyebrow. This should be interesting.
“Probably. Do you like football?”
“Cars? Something tells me that blue time machine is not your only car.”
“I’ve also got a truck and a Toyota. And a motorcycle.”
“Of course you do. You listen to country music?”
“Something wrong with country music?”
Her agitation had quickened her steps, and he found himself traveling double-time around the dance floor to keep her from spinning off by herself. He twirled them toward a quiet corner. The other dancers, moving at one third their pace, kept a wise distance.
“You probably hang out in bars playing darts and waiting for the next wet T-shirt contest. You spend your weekends tinkering with your car, or watching the Pimp My Ride marathon. If you were married, you’d leave your wife home to do the dishes while you go hunting with your buddies. God forbid you should ever have to change a diaper or vacuum a floor. And the worst part is, you have willing young girls falling all over themselves, bidding hundreds of dollars to be the next Mrs. Fire Captain and have little fire babies.” She paused for a breath, then turned beet-red as her words echoed between them.
“At least they’d be taken care of if I died,” pointed out Brody. He ought to be offended. But he was too busy watching the way her hair tumbled around her head. He wondered if it felt as silky as it looked.
“I apologize if I was rude,” she said, nose in the air.
“Not at all.”
“So you don’t deny I’m right?”
“Why should I, when you seem so convinced that you are?”
Now those emerald sparks were firing again. “You could at least try to defend yourself.”
“Are we in a battle? I thought this was a date.”
“You . . .” She gave a squeak of pure frustration. “Don’t you ever get rattled?”