The Night Belongs To Fireman

By: Jennifer Bernard

(The Bachelor Firemen Of San Gabriel #6)

Chapter 1

No woman could help but notice the two men who strode into the City Lights Grill just after midnight. Not with that amount of pure, knockout maleness walking through the door. One had the broken-nose look of a boxer, the other a more fresh-faced appeal, along with a slight limp. Both moved as if they knew exactly what to do with their bodies at all times.

The two, who happened to be off-duty firefighters, didn’t register the influx of feminine attention, maybe because they were used to it. Or maybe because the rougher of the two firemen was too busy lecturing the other.

“The problem with you, Fred,” said Mulligan, “is that you’re too—”

“If you say ‘nice,’ you’ll be on your ass in two seconds.” Fred Breen was at the tail end of a rough night. “And you know I can do it.”

“Yeah, now I know, since you finally let me in on your big secret. But check it out.” He reached for the trophy Fred dangled from one finger, as if he didn’t even care about it. “Second place, it says here. You know who second place is for? Nice guys. Guys who don’t have the killer instinct. Guys who give kittens CPR—”

“Don’t start with the kittens again. They lived, didn’t they?” Fred flung himself into a chair at a table in the corner, then winced. He’d just spent the evening getting the crap beat out of him at the Southern California Muay Thai Championships. Every bone in his body ached, and his muscles had gone into some sort of traumatic shock. “And did you happen to notice the guy who took first? Jet Li couldn’t have beaten that guy. He’s like a sixth-generation master.”

“Excuses, excuses. My point is, I’ve noticed a theme in your life, Freddie-boy. Take Courtney—”

“Don’t finish that sentence, Mulligan.”

Even Mulligan, instigator that he was, backed off from the feral glare Fred aimed at him. “Pitcher?” he asked innocently.

“Yeah, sure.” Beer or a full-body transplant, either would do.

Mulligan headed for the bar while Fred, nearly comatose, slumped further into his chair. He knew that no one at the firehouse liked his ex-girlfriend Courtney, which was exactly why he hadn’t told anyone they’d broken up. He was tired of everyone’s opinions on his life. Including Courtney’s. She insisted on calling their current breakup a “trial separation.” Getting beat up by Muay Thai masters was easier than ending things with Courtney.

He flexed his left elbow gingerly. It seemed to still function, and apart from the bruises on his rib cage, he’d gotten off pretty easily. His face showed nothing worse than exhaustion. He didn’t ever notice the pain during a bout. But afterward … that was a different story. That was why he trained only during his four days off from his firefighting duties. It took time to recover.

Why, he asked himself for the thousandth time, did he insist on throwing himself into that ring? What did he get out of it besides bruises and stiffness? Well, and the secret knowledge that he could disable every guy in the San Gabriel Fire Department. After all his training, he could probably even beat his brothers, who were all in various branches of the military.

He planted the trophy, a brass-plated karate figure mounted on a square base, in the middle of the table and glared at it. Second place. Never mind that second place was the highest he’d ever ranked. Never mind that Namsaknoi Yudthagarngam was essentially unbeatable. Never mind that his brothers wouldn’t take him seriously even if he had won. Was Mulligan right, and he was doomed to second place because of his—

His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden whisking away of the trophy. He looked up to see a girl in a bridal veil brandishing it in the air. Under the veil she had masses of wild dark hair and looked like big trouble.

“Cindy Barstow is hereby awarded the title of Most Bodacious Bride!” She mimicked a trumpet call to the women crowding around her, one of whom, a curvy blonde, raised her arms in a victory gesture and made a “gimme” gesture at the trophy. The dark-haired girl in the veil then bent to whisper in Fred’s ear. “Sorry, it was a dare. You can’t deny a bride during her bachelorette party.”

Temporarily stunned by the sudden onslaught of femininity—and the clean, rosewater fragrance of the girl’s hair—Fred warily surveyed the women surrounding him. Four of them, all dressed in skimpy party dresses and sparkly tiaras. All seemed seriously buzzed.

With perfect timing, Mulligan reappeared with a foaming pitcher of beer. “Ladies,” he said in greeting. “If you’re here to celebrate, welcome aboard.”