One Fine Fireman

By: Jennifer Bernard

(The Bachelor Firemen Of San Gabriel #0)


Chapter One



* * *



“HERE THEY COME! Do we haf enough coffee?” Mrs. Gund called to Maribel from the Lazy Daisy grill, where she was managing twenty breakfast orders with the logistical skill of an air traffic controller.

“I’m on it!” Maribel shot a glance at the gleaming red fire engine that had just pulled up to the curb. She ran to the coffeepot and quickly filled a new filter. She ignored Mrs. Gund’s grumbles, which no doubt went along familiar lines. The Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel often showed up at this time of day, they always wanted lots of coffee, and shouldn’t Maribel know all this by now?

“Order is up!”

Maribel left the coffeemaker and hurried to the opening between the grill and the counter.

“Two Lazy Morning Specials for table six.” Mrs. Gund, whose tight gray curls were tucked into a hairnet, did a double take. “Maribel, vat is that you are vearing today?”

Maribel looked down at her denim overalls. They were cute, right? In a retro kind of way? “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

“We have da most attractive fellows in California about to valk in our door—hero firemen—and you dress like a farmer.”

“I’m engaged, Mrs. Gund. It doesn’t matter what I wear.”

“Do not talk to me about engaged. Vat is this engaged, ven your man never even visits?” Mrs. Gund’s stern face grew pink, as it always did when she warmed up to her second favorite topic, after Maribel’s occasional lack of focus.

“Duncan visits, Mrs. Gund. You know he does.” Maribel took hold of the two plates of Lazy Morning Specials, but her boss seemed reluctant to let them go. “And he wants to talk tonight. About something important. I’m sure it’s about setting the date.”

Of course, she wasn’t entirely sure; she was even less sure about how she felt about that prospect.

“I tell you, he’s not the man for you. How long have you vorked here, elskling?”

“Please. The eggs are getting cold.”

“How long?”

“Six years,” Maribel muttered, not liking to admit how long she’d been laboring at what wasn’t even close to her dream job.

“Six years I know you. Six years dat man keep you vaiting. Meanwhile, every day these vonderful men come in here and look at you with such puppy-dog eyes, it makes me want to cry.”

“You’re such a softy,” said Maribel, hiding a smile. Mrs. Gund, Norwegian to the core, didn’t believe in giving in to her emotions, even though she had the biggest heart in the world. “I’d better take these to table six. They keep looking at their watches.”

“Did you hear vat I said about the puppy-dog eyes?”

“I heard, but really, Mrs. Gund, I’ve never noticed anything like that. They just come in for their coffee like all the other customers.”

“You don’t notice? Of course you don’t notice! That man has stolen your brain! He’s—” Maribel yanked the plates from her grip and fled. Mrs. Gund was so silly on the topic of Duncan and her love life. The firemen didn’t give her any particular looks. They smiled at everyone. They were polite and friendly and sexy and gorgeous and . . .

The door opened and three firemen walked in. Maribel nearly dropped the Lazy Morning Specials in table xix’s laps. My goodness, they were like hand grenades of testosterone rolling in the door, sucking all the air out of the room. They wore dark blue T-shirts under their yellow firemen’s pants, thick suspenders holding up the trousers. They walked with rolling strides, probably because of their big boots. Individually they were handsome, but collectively they were devastating.

Maribel knew most of the San Gabriel firemen by name. The brown-haired one with eyes the color of a summer day was Ryan Blake. The big, bulky guy with the intimidating muscles was called Vader. She had no idea what his real name was, but apparently the nickname Vader came from the way he loved to make spooky voices with his breathing apparatus. The third one trailed behind the others, and she couldn’t make out his identity. Then Ryan took a step forward, revealing the man behind him. She sucked in a breath.

Kirk was back. For months she’d been wondering where he was and been too shy to ask. She’d worried that he’d transferred to another town or decided to chuck it all and sail around the world. She’d been half-afraid she’d never see him again. But here he was, in the flesh, just as mouthwatering as ever. Her face heated as she darted glance after glance at him, like a starving person just presented with prime rib. It was wrong, so wrong; she was engaged. But she couldn’t help it. She had to see if everything about him was as she remembered.

His silvery gray-green eyes, the exact color of the sagebrush that grew in the hills around San Gabriel, hadn’t changed, though he looked more tired than she remembered. His blond hair, which he’d cut drastically since she’d last seen him, picked up glints of sunshine through the plate glass wall. His face looked thinner, maybe older, a little pale. But his mouth still had that secret humorous quirk. The rest of his face usually held a serious expression, but his mouth told a different story. It was as if he hid behind a quiet mask, but his mouth had chosen to rebel. Not especially tall, he had a powerful, quiet presence and a spectacular physique under his firefighter gear. She noticed that, unlike the others, he wore a long-sleeved shirt.

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