What A Girl Wants
Friendship is overrated, if you ask her. She's always just been one of the guys...until she falls in love with one of the guys. Except Bailey Sheppard has carried a torch for fire-fighter Ethan Bishop since high school. And now that his long-term girlfriend has left him broken hearted, she's free to go after what she's always wanted. Not that Ethan sees Bailey as anything but a friend. A best friend maybe, but still not a woman he'd be interested in. Pining for his ex has made him blind to the possibility of happiness with anyone else...But can Ethan resist a woman who knows what she wants?
FEW SIGHTS IN Brookhollow, New Jersey, were as jaw-dropping as the scene taking place in front of fire station number five: fire truck washing day. Watching five of the twelve firefighters, shirtless and a little sweaty, soaping up and hosing off the big red engines was by far the highlight of any summer’s day in the small town.
Cutting the engine of her cherry-red Kawasaki Ninja, Bailey Sheppard removed her helmet, letting her dark hair cascade over her shoulders. She swung her leg over the bike and, tucking the helmet under her arm, unlatched her tool kit from the back of the motorcycle. Squinting in the bright, earlymorning sunlight, she weighed her options. Should she attempt to enter through the open bay doors or go around to the side entrance?
Knowing she’d never make it through the front bay doors where the men were working without getting drenched with the freezing water, she jogged unnoticed around the big brick building. The dousing would be refreshing, but her dark blue coveralls with her name embroidered on the left front pocket would take forever to dry, even in the blazing August heat.
A long line of women waited at the door and Bailey hid a smile as she approached. It was almost nine o’clock on the first Friday of the month, the day the fire hall provided free blood pressure and cholesterol screening. The Bishop brothers, Jim and Ethan, had set up the free program after their grandfather had experienced a series of strokes the year before. Like many seniors in the community, he’d neglected to visit the local medical clinic regularly, and his high blood pressure had gone undetected. The fire hall’s staff was continually looking for ways to give back to the community. While there were always a few women, young and old, waiting to be checked at the free screening, today there was quite a lineup.
Bailey suspected some of the blood pressure results were going to be a little higher than usual. Brookhollow’s local heroes were as handsome as they were brave. Having grown up with them in the small New Jersey town of less than ten thousand residents, she’d dated most of them at one time or another throughout their junior high and high school years, all except Ethan Bishop —the one she wanted.
Pushing through the west door to the fire hall, she entered the main office where the fire chief, Ken Clarke, sat behind his desk. An open box of doughnuts was within arm’s reach and white confectioners’ sugar covered his top lip. Quite a contrast to the image of his twentysomething self still hanging on the wall with the rest of the staff photos. New shots of the twelve-member crew were taken yearly. Well, everyone except Ken, who preferred the image of his younger self.
He stood as she approached. “Hey, Bailey, you here to get your heart racing—” he pointed to the shirtless men washing trucks outside “—or checked?” With a grin, he nodded toward the fully uniformed men running the free clinic. With two of the fire trucks outside, they’d transformed the big open bays into a makeshift medical facility. Derek Johnson, the newest recruit, handed out the prescreening questionnaire and waiver to a group of sitting women who were waiting the required five minutes to allow their heart rate to settle before testing. Mark Adams took blood pressure readings in the fire hall’s dining area several feet away. He waved at her. “Neither,” Bailey said, smiling as she leaned her hip against the desk. “Why aren’t you outside
Ken shook his head. “My days of six-pack abs and bulging biceps are over, I’m afraid. No one wants to see this out there.” Rubbing his large stomach, he shuddered.
“That’s the truth,” Mark called from his post, where he secured the blood pressure cuff around Mrs. Norris’s arm. The older woman, the owner of Ginger Snaps, the bakery on Main Street, shot Chief Clarke a look that suggested he was past his prime, though Bailey suspected Ginger Norris was at least ten years his senior.
“You looking to get assigned nightshift duty, Adams?” Ken warned.
“You can’t. I’ve had nights for three weeks now. Tonight is my first one off and the beginning of a rotation of days.” Mark removed the cuff and recorded the reading on a wallet card for Ginger. He handed it to her and accepted her hug, before gathering her purse and jacket for her.
“Are you sure about that?” Ken asked, checking the rotation schedule on the pegboard behind him, which was covered with pictures of his grandchildren. To say he was a proud grandfather would be an understatement.
“Darn,” Ken muttered. “Well, that doesn’t prevent me from putting you on bathroom duties.”
“You already put Craig on bathroom duty for pouring salt in the sugar dish in the lunchroom last week, remember?”
Bailey watched the scene with unconcealed amusement. The men were always pulling pranks on each other at the fire hall and Ken was often on the receiving end. It was all in good fun and the guys knew they’d pay for it with extra shifts or unwanted responsibilities. Injecting some fun into their routine helped to break up the monotony of quiet days and ease tension whenever there was a real emergency.
“Anyway, I’m not here to check out the guys,” Bailey said, though it was an added bonus. “I’m here to check on truck number two.” The ladder engine was rarely used, causing the hydraulic fluid lines to clog and making it untrustworthy in the event of an emergency. While most buildings in Brookhollow were no more than two stories high, some of the newer structures in the downtown business sector were four stories or more.
“Great timing. The hydraulic motor didn’t work last week during a routine test.” He motioned behind her. “There’s Ethan. Get him to show you the problem with the rotating gear on the motor.”
Bailey held her breath as she turned to face her best friend. He was in full uniform, on clinic duty. She wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or disappointed. Relieved, she decided, yet...