I won’t keep you waiting for chapter one though!
Twelve Years Later
“Really, Shawn?” Aiden snarled. He wasn’t known to lose his temper in the kitchen, or in life in general. Not unless it was major…and this to him was sort of major. His kitchen and his staff were everything, but he still only curled his lip rather than shouting.
Something had to hit Aiden hard for him to slip up and show even that much emotion, though. Normally his staff knew his passion was mixed in with high expectations and they performed to his level, never wanting to receive anything other than his praise.
Yes, he was cocky, and he didn’t care. He’d worked hard for it. He earned it.
But now, right now, there was no controlling his frustration that someone was letting him down. That someone wasn’t living up to his standards, or at least his requirements.
“I’m sorry, Aiden. I love it here. You know I do.” Shawn held Aiden’s brown-eyed stare. He’d taught them all to look him in the eye. He didn’t care if they were right, wrong, scared, or nervous, eye contact was always the best way to show confidence—forced or not. But even with the eye contact, Shawn was shuffling his feet around.
“You aren’t even giving me any notice,” Aiden said, the heat rising up his neck. Shawn was good. One of his better line cooks. Fast, efficient, and driven to learn as much as he could. He’d had high hopes of moving Shawn from the pub to the restaurant soon. This loss was going to hurt bad, but worse yet were the shifts he had to fill on such short notice.
“I’m giving you three days,” Shawn said, quieter now.
“Again, really? Two weeks minimum is what I’ve always required. You know that.”
Shawn took a deep breath. “I know. I know we make more here than anywhere else and there are requirements and expectations. But I don’t have a choice.”
Aiden sighed and tried to gather himself. He walked forward and shut his office door, even though there wasn’t anyone else around in the kitchen this early, then turned and said, “Have a seat and tell me about this choice you don’t have.”
Shawn sat in the chair opposite Aiden’s desk, where he planted himself after he’d shut the door. A glance at his computer didn’t help his mood any—where he was planning this weekend’s specials and had hoped to get Shawn’s input when he came in. That was out of the question now.
“You know Lauren is home on leave. She has to go back on Sunday.”
Lauren was Shawn’s girlfriend, who served in the Army. A nice girl, from the few times Aiden had seen her around.
“Yeah. I gave you last week off to be with her too. That was a last-minute request I accommodated.”
“And I really appreciated it. Lauren did too. But we were talking…and we don’t want to be away from each other again.” Shawn inhaled a huge breath, looking like his chest was going to explode, then rushed out with, “We’re getting married on Saturday and I’m leaving with her.”
Aiden stopped the roll from escaping his eyes…barely. Love. That’s what this was about? Talk about bat-shit crazy. “How long have you two been dating?”
“A year,” Shawn said. “But I’ve known her a long time. We went to school together.”
“How old are you?” Aiden asked, not thinking Shawn was even close to twenty-five.
“Twenty-two,” Shawn said, lifting his whisker-free face higher.
“You’re a baby,” Aiden said before he could stop himself.
“I’m really sorry, Aiden, but I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to follow my heart. Haven’t you ever just wanted to do that?”
Aiden ground his teeth. “It’s not about me. It’s about you. It’s about Fierce. Look, I’m sorry if I overreacted. I’m sorry if you think I’m not happy for you. It’s sudden, but I get it. I just wish I had more notice.”
“I know, I know. I was afraid to tell you. I look up to you so much and I really didn’t want to let you down. But I need to do this.”
Aiden grudgingly stood up and reached his hand out to Shawn’s. He could see there was no use wasting his breath trying to convince Shawn otherwise. “I wish you luck. I really do. If you need anything, let me know.”
“Do you mean that?” Shawn asked, a little wide-eyed.
“Yeah.” Aiden pulled his business card out of a drawer, then flipped it over and wrote on the back of it. “My cell is on the back. If you need help finding a job, or a reference, let me know where you end up living. I know a lot of people and I’ll do what I can for you.”
Shawn took the card and then pumped Aiden’s hand fast and furious. “Can I have a hug?”
“No,” Aiden said, laughing. “Get out of here before I get angry. And Shawn,” he said when the door was opened, “good luck.”
“I don’t need luck. I’m in love.”
This time Aiden rolled his eyes. Love, yeah right. He’d take luck any day over that.
“What has you looking so grouchy?” his brother Brody asked him when he walked into the upstairs conference room an hour later for their weekly meeting. Aiden had come in early today hoping to get some work done, before Shawn showed up unannounced hours before his shift. Instead, Aiden spent the past thirty minutes looking through old resumes.
“I only want to say it once, so let’s wait until everyone gets here.”
The two of them sat there quietly for ten minutes, Brody grinning at him, like Brody always did when he knew something was bothering one of his brothers and was trying to get under their skin.
Brody, as the oldest—by all of five minutes over Aiden—was looked to as the leader. A title that Aiden was glad someone else in the family inherited. He had his hands full running the restaurant when he’d much rather just be in there cooking and not worrying about the little things…like staffing.
Mason and Ella walked in together, Cade rushing in at exactly ten like he always did. That was actually early for him.
“Now that we’re all here…” Ella started. Ella always started all the meetings. She ran the numbers end of the business, the personnel end from a higher level too…and what Aiden and his brothers always said behind Ella’s back was that she ran them too. “Anything we need to focus on today other than the normal around-the-room reporting?”
No one said anything and Aiden wasn’t going to either. It wasn’t that big of a deal for the group as a whole. His problem was solely his problem and responsibility.
“All right then,” Ella continued on. “Revenue is nice and steady in the bar, restaurant, and brewery. Here are the reports.” She passed them around the room. He’d look his over in more depth later today. Ella was always thorough and he wished he had an ounce of that trait outside of his culinary skills. “Cade, here is your budget for the upcoming events on the docket. Let me know if it’s too much or too little, and we’ll negotiate.”
Cade picked it up and looked it over, never batting an eye. At one point in time they all argued over whether Ella had the right to give them budgets, but then realized, she really did. She was the only one with her finger on every pulse and they trusted her judgment. Aiden knew he sure the hell didn’t want to deal with that, either.
“That’s all I’ve got for the moment. Who wants to go next?”
“I think Aiden should go next,” Brody said. “He’s sitting over there percolating like leftover chili on an already upset stomach.”
Aiden flipped a single digit at his brother, which only resulted in a laugh. After the year Brody had, Aiden was hard pressed to be annoyed over Brody’s little digs. He was just glad Brody was back to the brother he’d always known and loved.
“Fine,” Aiden said. “I didn’t have anything to report until Shawn showed up early this morning. He gave me his notice.”
“Ouch,” Mason said. Mason and he were the closest to each other in the group, and he knew he’d get sympathy from that end. “Now we know why your eye is twitching and you’re fidgeting in your chair. You know, if you ever let off a little steam then you wouldn’t look like you’re having a stroke when you’re annoyed.” So much for Mason always being in his corner.
“I’ll be happy to help place ads and sort through resumes for you, Aiden,” Ella said, obviously trying not to laugh.
“I’d appreciate that,” he said, ignoring them as a whole.
“You’ve got two weeks to find someone. People are knocking down the door to work with you,” Cade said. “Shouldn’t be too hard.”
Aiden snorted. “Nope. He’s done on Friday.”
“Why?” Ella said. “Two weeks—that’s what we expect.”
“Expecting and getting are two different things,” Brody said. “In this business, Aiden and I know what it’s like. It’s not the same as working in an office, Ella.”
Brody was the last person he’d expected to back him up. “Thanks.”
“No thanks needed, but now I know to keep away from you. If I thought you looked pissy before, it’s only going to get worse. Remember the last time he had to interview?” Brody asked everyone else in the room.
“I hid for those two weeks,” Cade said, “and relied on feedback. I think you all exaggerated, but I didn’t want to be around to find out if it was true.”
“Come on, guys,” Mason said. “He’s not that bad. He just has high expectations.”
“We all do,” Brody said, “but we don’t all snarl during the process. Of course, I appreciated all the food he was mass producing to work off steam.”
“Speak for yourself,” Ella said. “Last time he decided to work on his dessert creations. I’m still trying to lose those three pounds.”
Ella was skinny as a rail, and just teasing, but he’d done it on purpose knowing she had that weakness. His form of revenge on her back then for some reason or another that was eluding his memory.
“So says the guy who needed us to hire his new manager because he wouldn’t do it himself,” Aiden said back.
Brody went six months with an open day manager position until their mother stepped in and told the rest of them to get it taken care of while Brody and Cade were sent to their respective corners to lick their wounds after another fight.
“You don’t hear me complaining,” Brody said. “Best thing you guys did was find Aimee for me.”
Cade snorted. “You didn’t think so back then. I remember a day or so of ranting.”
“And some jealousy over her success in the bar,” Aiden pointed out.
“All a thing of the past,” Brody said, still sporting a big grin. Guess there was no getting under Brody’s skin today.
“He’s in love, guys,” Ella said. “Aimee was the best thing to happen to him. I’m just glad he finally realized he’s not the know-it-all he always thought he was.”
“Cute, Ella,” Brody said. “But since Aimee likes you so much, I’ll let it pass.”
Aiden watched the interaction between his siblings around the table. They always bickered and laughed, smiled and yelled. Emotions could run hot and cold between them all, but they always stood together and always would.
“Yeah, well,” Aiden said, “love is what got me in this mess with Shawn.”
“Is he leaving with Lauren?” Ella asked.
Aiden turned sharply. “How did you guess?”
“Because I pay attention to the staff in the building more than you. Lauren has been around often since she’s been on leave. Shawn talks about her all the time. I’m not really surprised by it and I’m shocked you are.”
“I don’t have time to think about my staff’s personal lives. I’ve got a restaurant to run.”
Brody and Ella laughed, Cade snorted, and Mason just looked at him sympathetically.
No one knew why he felt the way he did about love and couples and personal relationships. All they knew was that he couldn’t be bothered. There was no place for it in his restaurant and no time for it in his life. Not that he’d have it in him to even try at this point.
“Anything else to report?” Ella asked him. “If not, we’ll move on before you get even testier with your personal views of people having a life outside of work.”
He wasn’t testy and didn’t know why she said that, but if he argued it’d be more fuel, so he bit his tongue no matter how much he wanted to defend himself.
He had a life outside of work. Well, he could have one if he wanted to. But he didn’t and he was fine with that.
Another fifteen minutes went by while Mason talked about his new fall brews in the works and Cade talked about future promotions which Aiden was only half listening at best.
It was wrong, he knew; he should pay more attention. The five of them ran everything at Fierce now and had for the past five years. They’d turned their parents’ pub into a company that had its branding recognized all over the United States, thanks to Mason’s brewery that popped up six years ago, and Cade’s and Ella’s skills setting up distribution.
His parents retained ownership long enough for the brewery to get up and running, and the restaurant in back to be expanded, then overhauled. Brody ran the bar, just like he had after high school—the only one of them not to go on to college. Ella became a CPA, Cade, a lawyer, and then they were well on their way to making Fierce what they’d dreamed of.
His life was exactly where he’d always thought it’d be.
He wasn’t testy. Not at all.