So, instead of letting the Bradford boys take over, I told them they had to behave in She's the One (which they *kind of* do), and in exchange I would write a short story to share with readers so everyone would understand how they're all connected and that the Bradfords are still, very much around :)
So, here's Just Count On Me... the introductory story that bridges the Bradfords and Counting On Love!
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
Mac Gordon came up short in the break room at St. Anthony’s hospital. He and the rest of his paramedic crew were just coming on shift. And right in the middle of the sofa in the break room was a gigantic stuffed dog with a big pink bow tied around its neck.
Without reading any kind of tag, he knew exactly who it was for. And who it was from.
“I’m going to kill him.”
Sam Bradford chuckled and slapped him on the shoulder. “You say that at least twice a week.”
Kevin Campbell crossed to the dog and read the big heart shaped tag. “I’m happy to follow you around like a puppy. Happy Birthday. Love, Conner.”
Mac stomped forward, “Oh, he did not sign it love.”
Kevin laughed and stepped back out of the way. “No. He didn’t sign it at all, actually.”
Mac re-read the card. “This is over the top.”
Dooley Miller was grinning like a dumbass. “You had to be expecting it. There’s no way Conner would let Sara’s birthday go by without doing something stupid.”
Mac stared into the dog’s eyes. Dooley was right. He had been expecting Conner Dixon to do something to commemorate Mac’s wife’s birthday. Conner claimed he was madly in love with Sara and would never find another woman to compare. Mac knew that seventy-five percent of that was simply a convenient way for Conner to fuck with Mac’s head. But there was that other twenty-five percent that he knew was true. Conner had met Sara without knowing she was married to Mac and had immediately hit on her. But, even after finding out she belonged to Mac, he kept up his flirtation. “People break up every day” was his favorite saying when Mac was around.
And there were his jabs about how much older Mac was. And how Conner was exactly the right age for her. And his crazy statistic that seventy percent of married women cheat. And his endless supply of compliments and come-ons that had made Sara blush more than once.
Still, Mac hadn’t killed Conner yet. Hadn’t even hurt him. Because the kid was actually pretty cool.
He was a phenomenal paramedic, for one. On calls, Mac knew that Conner would make the right decision, would make it quickly, and would give a one-hundred-and-ten percent effort every time. That got him a lot of forgiveness. Then there was his off-duty side. He was funny, he could take as much shit as he gave, and he was a good friend and leader to his crew. He was also the big brother to four dynamic younger sisters. The Dixon Divas were something. They were gorgeous, out-going, bright and flirtatious. Mac had to admit that he felt a little sorry for Conner. At least some of the time. He was protective of his sisters and he was always there for them, no matter what trouble they got into. Mac admired his ability to keep his cool and do the right thing even while clearly wanting to lock them all in a convent permanently.
“He shouldn’t have delivered the damn thing here,” Mac said, still staring at the dog. Sara was going to love it. Sure, she’d end up giving it to Elijah, their three-year-old son—Mac loved calling Eli their son since the adoption had been made official last month. Still, she would think Conner was sweet for getting her something for her birthday.
“He had to deliver it here. That’s the only way to be sure we saw it and could give you crap about it,” Dooley said, plopping onto the couch next to the dog that was bigger than he was, and looping his arm around its neck.
“Look at it this way,” Kevin said to Mac. “He’s got great taste in women and he idolizes you as the man who got Sara Bradford to fall for him.”
Mac had heard that argument before. It was a good point. It still didn’t mean that the guy should be giving gifts to another man’s wife.
“Maybe I’ll give Conner some ideas about where he should shove this dog,” Mac grumbled.
“Hey, I wonder where those guys are,” Sam commented, twisting the cap off a bottle of water. “It’s really quiet in here and I’d expect to see Conner’s smug face by now.”
“I’ll go check on him,” Mac said. “I can’t wait to see him.”
Mac headed for the front of the ER to get the news about Conner’s crew from the front desk staff.
When the rigs went out on calls, the girls up front kept track, knowing that the ambulances would often be returning with patients for the ER staff.
“Hey, Lisa,” Mac greeted as he came to the reception desk. “Where’s Dixon’s crew?”
“Hi, Mac.” Lisa gave him a smile. “Just heading back. Code blue at one of the nursing homes.”
“'Kay, if you see him before I do, tell him I want to talk to him.”
She grinned. “He told me that you might leave that message.”
Mac shook his head. This kid was something.
“So you saw the dog?”
“Yeah. He carried it through the main doors so everyone would see it.”
“Okay, be honest—is it sweet? Sara will like it?” He already knew the answer. Sara would be flattered by Conner’s attention but would take it as nothing more than a compliment. Mac wasn’t worried. But he had a theory going and he wanted to test it with Lisa.
“Of course it’s sweet,” Lisa said. “Any woman would love to have a guy try so hard to win her over.”
“Even if she’s already with another guy?”
“Even better,” Lisa assured him. “Having two great guys crazy about you is a fantastic fantasy.”
Uh, huh. So far his theory was working out.
“So tell me, what’s wrong with him?” Mac asked. “Why can’t he get a girl of his own? A single girl?”
Lisa laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with him. Conner’s got it all. He’s hot, sexy, heroic, funny—and obviously romantic.”
Yep. That was part of the theory. Conner was showing his charming, romantic side to all the women by being supposedly ga-ga over Sara. Sara—a woman who wouldn’t expect any kind of actual commitment or a promise or a diamond ring. He was winning all the women over and not making one single can’t-get-out-of-it-later promise. He was essentially seducing them all without any expectations of next day phone calls.
“Do all the women hate Sara?” he asked. The women in his life—his friends’ wives and sisters—weren’t the jealous types but he worked around enough women in the hospital to know all about female jealousy.
“No,” Lisa assured him. “Everyone loves Sara. Because she’s never going to actually have Conner.”
“But I will say, he’s set the bar high. Sara’s also got it all. The next girl he actually asks out should feel pretty good about herself.”
Mac groaned inwardly. And Conner was setting it up so all the women he did finally pay attention to would be totally flattered.
“Plus, watching a guy flirt with another girl calls attention to him—and how cute and sexy he is. It makes you automatically judge whether or not you would say yes to him.”
“How does Dixon do most of the time?”
Lisa gave him an I-know-you-already-know-the-answer-to-this look. “He could have any single woman in this hospital.”
Exactly as Mac suspected. Conner was setting himself up to be able to just snap his fingers and have woman all over him.
It was actually quite brilliant.
“Okay, I want to see him the minute he gets back.”
Lisa gave Mac a wink. “I’ll tell him”
“Mac!” Kevin shouted from the doorway. “Let’s go. Got a call.”
“See ya’,” he called to Lisa as he broke into a jog. “Where we goin’?” he asked as he hit the break room.
No one said anything. They were all looking at Sam. Sam looked like he was about to be sick.
Mac was instantly concerned. “What the fuck, Bradford?”
Sam swallowed, with obvious effort. “It’s a fire.”
“Where?” Dooley demanded.
Mac felt his gut clench before Sam said the words.
“Fifteen seventeen Washington.”
Everyone stopped breathing for just a moment. They knew that address. Very well. It was the address for the Bradford Youth Center.
Stop back tomorrow for Part Two!!