Aimee Reed walked into Fierce on Monday at ten. She was here to meet Ella Fierce, one of the three Fierce siblings who’d interviewed her last week. At the time, she didn’t know they were quintuplets, but after some research on her new employers she’d found a backstory on their business.
Fierce, started by Gavin and Jolene Fierce thirty-five years ago, had grown from a small pub-style restaurant to one of the hottest spots in Charlotte.
Brody ran the bar and ran it well. It was named one of the top five hot spots for two years running.
Aiden, the head chef, had culinary skills straight from abroad that made people’s mouths salivate when they walked in the door.
Mason, the chemist, ran the brewery that popped up four years ago around the corner from the pub.
Cade handled all the marketing and branding for the company that’d grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years.
And Ella ran everything and everyone else, it seemed.
Their parents—well, it was said that when the kids turned twenty-five, they handed the keys over and decided to enjoy their retirement. Good for them.
“Aimee,” Ella said, extending her hand out. “It’s good to see you again. Let’s get your paperwork started and I’ll walk you around. For the next two days, I’m going to have you shadow Mason in the brewery, studying the brews and what their makeup is, then spend a day with Aiden in the kitchen. It’s best to know the menu well so you can make suggestions for those at the bar during the day.”
“I noticed that most of the menu I saw online had your beer in it.”
“It does. Aiden is a whiz in the kitchen. Every time I blink, he has a new special featuring Mason’s latest experiment. The two of them have gotten extremely close in the last few years and their work complements each other well.”
“Ratings are very high for Fierce.”
Aimee was still stunned she got the job. Waitresses, bartenders, and sous chefs battled for a spot here. Yet she got offered the job and wasn’t sure why. Not a great way to exhibit confidence, she mentally scolded herself. But sometimes who you knew was better than what you knew…and there was no way she was going to blow this.
“They are,” Ella said, nodding, sending Aimee a glance that clearly stated she should feel lucky to have gotten the job. The Fierce Five, as they were referred to in everything Aimee had read, were a cocky group of five siblings running the show in downtown Charlotte. They didn’t just set the bar for their competitors, they blew it up with dynamite.
Aimee followed Ella through the closed bar, past the formal seating of the restaurant, into the kitchen where prep work was underway for the lunch shift, and up a set of stairs to the offices. Several offices, mainly looking empty at the moment.
She took a seat at the conference table where she’d interviewed just a short five days ago. In front of her were a laptop and a few sheets of paper.
“Let’s get started on the boring part, and then we can move on to the fun stuff. Mason knows we’re coming.”
“When will I start working with Brody?”
Aimee thought it was odd that the person who was going to be her immediate supervisor not only wasn’t there to meet her, but his name hadn’t been mentioned.
Ella laughed lightly, a sound that didn’t match the look in her eyes. “We’re going to try to push that off until Wednesday. Maybe Thursday, if we’re lucky.”
Ella reached a hand over and patted hers, then grinned. “You see. He doesn’t know about you yet.”
“You did what when I was gone?” Brody shouted at his siblings Wednesday morning during their weekly meeting.
“You should have filled that position six months ago when Felix left and you know it,” Ella said.
Brody looked around the room at everyone. No one was making eye contact with him right now and that just burned his ass even more.
“I had it covered,” he argued. “We don’t need another manager at the bar. I run the bar.” He turned to Aiden. “You run the restaurant, so you hire your own staff, right?”
“Yeah,” Aiden mumbled.
Next, Brody turned to Mason. “Do you hire your own staff in the brewery?”
Mason looked at Ella, then back to him. “Of course.”
“I won’t bother to ask you, Cade. It’s just you and your assistant. But we know you hire for yourself. So the question is, why wasn’t I given the same courtesy?”
“Take it up with Mom,” Ella said boldly, then crossed her arms, smirking the way Brody hated. The same smirk she sent him and his brothers when they were younger and they knew they’d never win. The same smirk he and his brothers learned to master—a trait of their mom’s.
“Shit,” he mumbled.
“That’s right,” Cade said, regaining his voice. “It was Mom’s idea.”
“Do you want a matching shiner?” Brody snarled.
Ella stood up. “Enough. Do you both need another timeout?”
“We aren’t five, Ella,” Cade said, snapping back. Good. Someone else was losing their temper, Brody thought.
“Then don’t act it,” she said.
“How many barf bags did you fill on Dad’s boat?” Brody asked Cade.
“Screw you,” Cade said, standing up.
“That’s enough,” Aiden said, in the same voice that controlled his kitchen—like a nun holding a ruler above your knuckles just waiting for a chance to snap it down. “The order came from Mom. That’s the end of it, Brody. The same order that decided you got a solo timeout and Cade got to go fishing.”
Brody snorted. His mother knew everyone’s weakness and she played it well. Brody hated being alone, hated any type of solitude. That was why he did so well managing the bar. He could talk to strangers day in and day out. The louder the better. Cade had the weakest stomach of them all and could never stand the smell of fish, let alone being on their father’s boat deep-sea fishing.
“So you all knew about this?” Brody asked, looking around.
His eyes landed on Aiden, then Mason, seeing the guilt and the looks that the two of them were sending each other. There was a time his brothers didn’t keep secrets from him. A time they banded together against any foe.
“I found out on Monday when I got back,” Cade said. “So don’t get pissy with me. It was done when I was gone.”
That didn’t make him feel any better since that was two days ago. “So when does he start?”
“She,” Ella said. “Her name is Aimee Reed and she started on Monday.”
From bad to worse. The person was already working and he’d never seen her. Where the hell was she?
“How is that possible?” Was he really losing his mind and his focus like his family thought?
Ella took her seat again. “Aimee and I met early Monday before you came in and we did her paperwork. She spent Monday with Mason in the brewery. Yesterday, she spent the day with Aiden in the kitchen.”
“And today?” he asked. “Am I going to get to meet this person that you thought should be my day manager? Or do I need to get permission from Mom first?”
“Cut the sarcasm,” Aiden said. “And don’t be a jerk to Aimee. She knows her stuff and you need the help.”
He didn’t need his siblings telling him how to run his end of the business. “I’ll determine what she knows and doesn’t know.”
“What bug crawled up your butt?” Mason asked.
Of his brothers, Mason was the quietest, Aiden the most talented, Cade the most outgoing, and he was the loudest. That Cade was keeping his lips sealed meant he was trying not to get on anyone’s bad side.
“I don’t know,” Brody said. “Maybe it’s the fact you’ve all been on my case for months. I took my punishment like Cade, but came back to find that you all thought I couldn’t do my job. That you all think I need some kind of a babysitter.”
“No one needs a babysitter,” Ella said softly.
“That’s funny coming from the person who seems to be making all the decisions right now.”
Ella laughed. “I’ve always been the one to make the final decisions. You guys all have your branches and you just run with it and never worry about the messes you create or the work it takes to make things happen behind the scenes. That has always fallen on me.”
“You love it,” Cade said.
“Believe what you want,” Ella said calmly. “But in this case, I’m cleaning up the mess you’ve made, Brody.”
“There’s no mess. The bar’s revenue has increased steadily at ten percent for the last six months. Explain that mess to me.”
Ella sighed. “Yes, the bar is profitable. Yes, Cade is bringing in more attractions and live music to help that. Yes, Mason is making more brews to help sell at the bar. And yes, Aiden’s food is sought after, also helping the bar. See, you all need to work together to make it work the best. The problem is, you aren’t working with anyone, Brody.”
It hurt to hear Ella say that. That he wasn’t being a team player. He’d always been the leader of the group and now he was being told he couldn’t lead anymore. That part of his identity was being stripped away.
He wanted to shout at Ella, at everyone, but he didn’t. The last time he started shouting, fists went flying and he found himself spending a week in a hotel room alone. This time he tried to find some restraint, the one thing he had the least of among all his siblings. Being a hothead went hand in hand with being the loudest and the biggest.
“So you think hiring me a new day manager is going to allow me to play nice with everyone?”
Aiden laughed. “You’ve never played nice with us, so we don’t expect it now. We just want to get back to working as a team.”
He wanted to grind his teeth. “I’ve always worked as part of the team.”
“Brody,” Mason said. “You haven’t been the same for a good year now and you know it. The last six months, you’ve been downright ornery. More than normal.”
Again, they weren’t telling him anything he hadn’t known or felt deep inside.
Cade stood up and walked toward him, then stopped and seemed to hesitate. Very unlike Cade to hesitate over anything. “We’ve given you time to get over what happened a year ago. Rather than get better, you’re getting worse. What can we do to help?”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “There’s nothing to do. It’s in the past and it’s over with. I’ve moved on. Everyone else should, too.”
“If this is moving on,” Aiden said, “then we’re in trouble.”