Hot For Fireman

By: Jennifer Bernard
(The Bachelor Firemen Of San Gabriel #2)




Chapter One

Ryan Blake needed a drink. Preferably somewhere no one would recognize him. Finding such a spot in the sun-blasted town of San Gabriel on a summer afternoon didn’t come easy. The town had quaint little crafts shops up the wazoo, but so far he hadn’t spotted a single gritty, anonymous hellhole where he could prepare himself for his meeting with Captain Harry Brody.

Right on cue, he passed Fire Station 1, home of the famous Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel and legendary for the heroics of its captain and crew. Time was, he’d been on the frontlines of those life-saving, death-defying deeds.

He slowed his pickup truck and willed himself to turn into the parking lot, drink or no drink. Lord knew, his Chevy had made the turn so many times it could probably do it without him. But this time, it drove straight past the squat brick building with the cheerful red geraniums planted out front.

Face it, Ryan wasn’t ready for his appointment with Captain Brody yet. Wasn’t ready to beg for his job back. He needed a goddamn drink first.

A green and white Starbucks sign caught his eye. Several cuties in sundresses gathered around the outdoor tables like hummingbirds around a feeder. In olden days he would have strolled right in and spent the rest of the afternoon flirting with one—or all—of them.

But unless Starbucks had started adding tequila to their iced mocha lattes, the girls would have to get along with him.

He scanned the street ahead with its Spanish-style stucco office buildings and parched palm trees. Too bad he’d never been much of a drinker. He had no idea where to find the kind of drink-yourself-stupid-on-a-Wednesday-afternoon, out-of-the-way, loserville place he needed right now.

And then, as if the word “loserville” had conjured it out of his imagination, the sign for the Hair of the Dog appeared on the left side of the street. Towns in the sunny California suburban desert didn’t have dark back alleys. But the Hair of the Dog did its best to inhabit one. Located on a corner, it seemed to cringe away from its only neighbor, a shop called Milt and Myrna’s Dry Cleaner’s, whose name was spelled out on a marquee along with an inspirational saying, “The bigger the dream, the bigger the reward.”

If the Hair of the Dog had a dream, it would probably be to wake up as a medieval tavern. Faced with weathered wood, it had black planks nailed at random angles across its front. Either someone had done a clever job making the Hair of the Dog look decrepit or it was about to collapse. It looked like the kind of place where old geezers spent their Social Security checks, the kind of place frat boys invaded when they felt like slumming, and pretty girls avoided like poison because merely walking in gave them wrinkles. The kind of place guaranteed to be serving alcohol at two in the afternoon.

Perfect.

Ryan pulled over and parked his Chevy as close as legal to a fire hydrant. Silly habit left over from his firefighting days, when he’d always wanted to be close to any potential action.

Time to get blotto.

When he pushed open the door, the dim light stopped him in his tracks. As did the hostile voice addressing him with an unfriendly “What do you want?”

“Tequila,” answered Ryan. “The cheap stuff.”

“I’m not the bartender, moron. I’m the bouncer.”

Ryan’s eyes adjusted enough to make out a slouchy, dark-haired guy about his age who looked too skinny to be a bouncer.

“This place needs a bouncer?” He surveyed the interior of the Hair of the Dog. Just as crappy as the outside promised. Everything was painted in shades of black ranging from soot to shoe polish, except for the booths, which seemed to be a formerly hunter-green color. Just as he’d expected, a motley collection of oldsters slumped on the bar stools. He squinted. Was that an oxygen tank? The old man attached to it gave him a snaggletoothed grin. He nodded back.

Yep, this place was perfect.

“My so-called job is to weed out the jerkwads,” said the bouncer.

“Yeah? What’s your name?”

The friendly question seemed to throw the dude off. “Doug.” He added a menacing frown.

“Hey, Doug, nice to meet you. I’m Ryan.” He shook the bouncer’s hand before the guy knew what was coming. “You’re doing a great job, keep up the good work. How ’bout I buy you a shot when you get off?” He breezed past Doug with the confidence of someone who’d been in too many fights to seek one out with someone who wouldn’t even provide a satisfying brawling experience. If Ryan wanted a fight, he knew how to find one. Right now, he just wanted a drink.

The bouncer seemed to get the message. Ryan heard no more out of him as he made his way into the darkness up ahead.

Was this a bar or a haunted house? Maybe the men on the bar stools were ghosts still hanging around for a last call that never came. A couple of them certainly looked ghoulish enough, although the intensely unflattering light provided by the overhead fluorescents might be misleading. Maybe they were captains of industry enjoying the tail end of a three-martini lunch. Maybe the atmosphere added thirty years and several age-related illnesses.

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