Nic Moretti cupped her hands on the frosted window of Fierce’s big wooden door, then peeked inside. The lights were on, but the door was locked tighter than the gates of heaven trying to keep out the devil.
She tapped on the glass and waited, not wanting to be late for the interview. As it was, she was shocked she’d been called in for one. She hadn’t even known about the opening at Fierce, and probably never would have if a regular hadn’t come into the cafe she worked at and asked to speak with the person who’d made her lunch.
Seemed that regular was the mother of the owners of Fierce. Jolene Fierce had introduced herself last week after Nic was asked by the owner to go talk with a customer. Here Nic was all nervous something was wrong, only to be praised left and right. “I’ve been coming to this cafe for years, and I’ve never tasted bread and pasta as wonderful as the past few months. I just had to see who the master was behind it.”
Jolene had seemed sweet and made Nic’s day, but once her boss walked away, Jolene pulled out her card and said, “I hope you don’t think I’m too forward, but I’d like to see if you’re interested in applying to work at my son’s restaurant.”
Nic had looked around quickly, hoping no one was listening to their conversation. She’d only been working at the cafe for about six months, and even then, moved from pastries to some specialty dishes. As much as it wasn’t the life she envisioned, she really couldn’t blow this job. “I don’t know. I like it here and I haven’t been employed that long.”
“Please,” Jolene had said, and slid the card forward. “Just think about it.”
Nic nodded her head, picked the card up, and walked away before looking at it. Once she did, she knew she had no choice but to at least submit her resume.
Fierce was the hottest place around. Not just the brewery, but the pub and restaurant as well. Two different types of fare out of the main building. The pub had more casual, laid-back everyday food with a flare of the unexpected, with the Fierce brew making its way into most dishes.
The restaurant in the back had the same options available as the pub, but a broader menu. A more elaborate one. Not even a set menu, but one that changed weekly with only a few items that remained constant.
Nic had never realized that before, but one day she heard another coworker talking about the meal they’d eaten at the restaurant and how it was completely different than the last time they’d been there. She’d asked what was different and was told, “They change the menu each week. You can get the pub menu back there if you want, or you can get a meal as if you were traveling to a different part of the world.”
“Meaning they have different cuisines?” she asked, not really following. It wasn’t like she had an abundance of time or money to go out to eat often.
“Yeah. I guess. But they change their menu. No reservations, either. You go and maybe you get an all-Italian supplemental menu to choose from that night, or maybe French, Indian, or German. It could be anything.”
“And people like that?” Nic had asked.
“Are you kidding me? That’s the best part of it. It keeps people going back all the time, trying to land on their favorite. There’s no rhyme or reason to it either. Well, they post the style of cuisine on all their social media outlets on Sunday for the following week, but that’s it. No other notice than that.”
Nic had shrugged and thought that was nuts, but since Fierce was so popular, it had to work. During her research for this interview, she found that Aiden Fierce was the recipient of a James Beard Award at just twenty-five years old. He obviously knew what he was doing.
That Jolene Fierce thought she was worthy of an interview was kind of laughable.
Aiden had attended the Culinary Institute of America. He’d interned at the Food Network, then spent a few years traveling all over the world honing his skill. She’d worked beside her grandmother and aunts, cooking and baking since she was a child. Now she worked in a cafe making a little over minimum wage. It just didn’t seem like this was possible.
“I’m so sorry,” an employee said as she opened the door quickly. “I completely forgot that Aiden had an interview scheduled and didn’t unlock the front door. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.”
“No. Just a minute or so,” Nic said, looking at the mass of wild black curly hair that was pulled back from the employee’s face.
“I’m Aimee, by the way.” She held her hand out and Nic shook it quickly. “I’m the day manager at the bar. Come on in and have a seat. You’re a little early. I think Aiden is out back, but he’ll pop his head in when he’s ready.”
Nic looked at her watch. She still had ten minutes to spare. “Thanks.” She pulled a chair out and sat at a table out of the way.
“You don’t have to sit way over there,” Aimee said. “Come on over and sit at the bar. Normally interviewees do and then start peppering me with questions.”
Nic stood up and moved closer, not wanting to be rude. “Is it okay to do that?”
“What, ask me questions? Sure, go right ahead.”
“I read there is a new supplemental menu for the restaurant weekly. Are there sous chefs for each specialty for the week? Chefs with their own recipes?”
“That’s a really good question,” Aimee said, smiling. “Most of the time I’m asked what Aiden is like. If he is really strict, words of advice to say, or anything that could give them an edge during the interview.”
Nic flushed. It never occurred to her to ask that, and was glad she didn’t by the look on Aimee’s face. “I guess I’m just focused on the food.”
Aimee smiled and patted her hand, in reassurance, she hoped. “As far as I know, all the recipes ultimately come from Aiden. He takes his employees’ input for sure, but he is the one who puts it all together. There are some chefs back there that specialize in a specific cuisine, but everyone has to be well rounded too.”
That was good to know and something to store away if it came up. Best not to talk too much about her Italian roots.
“Aimee.” She turned to see someone walking in the room. “Oh sorry, I didn’t know you were with someone.”
“Hey, Ella. This is Aiden’s first interview today. I’m so sorry, I didn’t even ask your name. So rude of me. I have to say I was just so excited to see a woman that everything flew out of my head.”
“Nic Moretti. No worries. There are no other women in the restaurant?” What was she getting herself into? Yes, it was a male-dominated field, but normally there were a few women around.
“Of course there are. I’m Ella Fierce.” She stuck her hand out. “Sorry about Aimee. She’s surrounded by the Fierce men and still isn’t used to being part of the family now, so she gets giddy when she sees another woman. She forgets I’m right upstairs too. But then again, I’m used to this.”
Nic’s head was bouncing back and forth as she tried to figure out the inside joke the two of them were smiling about, but was afraid to ask.
Aimee grinned. “I’m newly engaged to Brody. Brody Fierce. He runs the bar.”
“How many siblings are there?” Nic asked. Maybe she should have studied more about the business as a whole.
Ella laughed at her. “Do you know anything about our business?”
“The restaurant. I mean, I know about the brewery too,” Nic stumbled, wishing she hadn’t said anything. Her face was turning red; she knew it was. “I researched the restaurant and Aiden. That’s the position I’m applying for and felt it was best to focus on that for now.”
“She’s already asking actual questions about the menu,” Aimee said. “Not personal ones about Aiden.”
“Nice,” Ella said. “Keep thinking that way and you’ll do fine. Don’t let him intimidate you either.”
“Are you two trying to make me more nervous than I already am?” Nic asked. Seriously! She already didn’t think she had a shot after reading his intimidating biography posted on their website.
“Not at all. Just giving you some advice. Aiden is pretty harmless. Don’t believe everything you hear about him,” Aimee said.
“He’s very passionate about his food and the restaurant,” Ella said. “Nothing more than that. Moretti? I remember my mother used to bring me to this little Italian-owned shop as a kid. Best cannoli I’ve ever had, with chocolate shavings rather than chips in the filling. They had all these homemade pastas there and fresh bread daily that was to die for.”
“That was my grandparents’ shop.” She felt the same tinge of guilt at those words today that she did a year ago.
“Was?” Ella asked.
“It burned down over a year ago.” Nic would never forgive herself for it. Her grandparents—her whole family—entrusted the legacy of Moretti’s in her hands. And she’d failed them.
“They didn’t rebuild?” Ella asked. “What a shame.”
“Not enough insurance money for it,” Nic said simply.
There was no reason to say how money was tight and how her grandparents had taken several loans out to keep the business afloat. Or that they’d never increased the coverage on the policy in over twenty years. Once all debt had been paid, there was barely enough for her grandparents to live out the rest of their lives without scraping by with their social security alone now.
Before either of them could ask her another question, Aiden Fierce appeared in the doorway between the bar and what she assumed was the restaurant. The picture of him on their website didn’t do him justice. “Sorry to interrupt, but I’ve got an interview scheduled right now, if you want to let me know when he gets here.”
Ella and Aimee both burst out laughing. “She’s right here,” Ella said.
“Sorry,” Aiden said, grinning at her, not looking the least bit embarrassed over his faux pas. “I just assumed a guy by the name, my mistake. I’m Aiden Fierce.”
He walked forward and held his hand out to her. His overly large hand that definitely held more than a pen in his lifetime, attached to an equally tall, spectacular body. Strong and toned, and not one of a man that made his living around food, or at least consuming huge amounts of it. If she felt a spark when their hands touched, she wasn’t admitting it.
“Nic Moretti. Nicolette Moretti, but only my grandmother is allowed to call me that,” she said. When he grinned at her, she wished she’d kept her mouth quiet on that last part. She always babbled when she was nervous, and hoped she could find some control now. But darn it all, she didn’t think he’d be even more handsome in person.