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I was finally in a really happy place in my life. I was progressively moving up the ladder in my career and because of the combined efforts of Darren and me in the kitchen, the restaurant’s rating improved to four stars.

It was all because of that amazing review that was published on that blog. We had no idea that a food critic secretly visited the restaurant but thank goodness everyone was on their A-game that night, otherwise, we would all be in trouble.

More customers were coming to the restaurant which meant we had to work longer hours since the opening hours changed to accommodate all the reservations we were getting. Some nights we had a full dining room with a line of people waiting for a table. Darren and I celebrated. Even though the longer hours meant we were more tired at the end of the day and lacking in a social life, we knew that this was a good thing for our careers.

It’s good that Michael and I work together otherwise we wouldn’t have the chance to see each other as often with my new schedule. His shift was extended by an hour but he didn’t get a bump in salary like I did. I think he was bummed out about that but he was so happy for me anyway. I was so happy to have a guy like him who didn’t feel threatened by my success.

One of the perks of dating your co-worker is that we get to take our breaks at the same time and we definitely make the most of those fifteen minutes.

Things in my life seemed to be falling into place. Everything was great and I had no complaints. Naturally, that meant something bad had to come along to tip the balance.

That something came in the form of a change in management.

“Are you serious? Francois really sold the business?” I asked Darren who told us about the conversation he had with the owner that afternoon.

“I wanted to tell you earlier Maia but I didn’t get the chance,” Darren said.

“I don’t understand why he would do that,” I said. “I mean, the restaurant’s more successful now than it’s ever been. Why would he give it away?”

“He wants to retire and his nephew has experience in the restaurant business so he passed on the reigns to him. Don’t worry, Francois assured me that all of our jobs will be safe. We just have to answer to someone else now. New blood. Nothing wrong with that. You and I both agree that some of Francois’ business decisions are little outdated. I mean, if not for that great review I don’t know how much longer the restaurant would have remained open.”

“Was the restaurant in that much trouble?” Michael asked.

“You know the old man. He would never let any of us know that but I’ve seen some of the figures. That’s also why I think he passed on the business to his nephew. The kid just completed an MBA from business school and he has culinary training. He might be good for this place.”

“Well, if the new boss isn’t as cheap as Francois and wants to give me a pay increase then I’m all for this change!” Michael said with enthusiasm.

He and Darren seemed confident that a change in management would be a good thing but I was a little worried for some reason. It sure sounded nice to have someone younger managing the business who could bring in new ideas but I had this nagging feeling that something was off about this whole deal.

And I was right!

Francois’ nephew turned out to be Chad Munch, the spawn of Satan himself who tried to sabotage me during the Cooking Wars competition.

I hoped he wasn’t still holding a grudge because I beat him in the competition or because of whatever drama that took place between our parents all those years ago. “Sloane, good to see you actually got a job working in a kitchen.”

I ignored the condescension in his tone. “I’ve worked really hard to get here. I’m sure you worked just as hard to get where you’re standing.” Okay, so I didn’t ignore it. “Look, we have a…not so good history. That competition was ages ago. I think we should just put it behind us so we can be professional and focus on the restaurant.”

“Seriously Sloane? I have no intention of sabotaging the business my uncle spent his whole life building just because you beat me in a competition when we were practically kids. I’m a bottom line kind of man. Grudges have no place in business.”

I was relieved for a moment thinking I was wrong about him and that perhaps he had matured since the last time I saw him.

“However, now that I’m in charge there’s going to be some changes around here.”

“What kind of changes?”

“I looked over the books. It seems that my uncle wasn’t too good with accounting. This restaurant isn’t nearly as profitable as it could be and I didn’t take over just to watch it go bankrupt. Some changes are in order starting with that raise you recently received.”

“Excuse me? You can’t do that…”

“The business is struggling and I don’t know what my uncle was thinking when he decided to give you and that other chef a bump in salary but the truth is we can’t afford it so you’re back to your normal wages for now until I start to see a steady increase in sales. I mean, if not from you two then I’ll have to take it from somewhere which means someone else will need to take a pay cut. Care to explain to the hostess or the waiters why they must take a pay decrease just so you can keep your raise?”

“Well, no…” I suppose it wasn’t an unreasonable decision since the business was struggling. I certainly didn’t want anyone else to have to take a pay cut. They had bills to pay and households to take care of and money wasn’t really an issue for me. “I understand.”

“Good. Then that’s settled. Next order of business is that I want to slash the number of menu items in half. Let’s focus on keeping the most popular dishes.”

“All of our dishes are popular,” I stated firmly. “Some of our regulars can attest to that. They appreciate the variety. We have people who come here and never order the same thing twice.”

He shook his head. “We have almost ten entrée options so I want to cut that down to the top five bestsellers. We don’t need to spend extra money on ingredients for meals that aren’t profitable.”

“I do the ordering myself so I can tell you that food cost is not the problem. All of our dishes share some ingredients with others. It’s an Italian restaurant so everything uses tomato sauce, pasta, cheeses, and the same kinds of spices and herbs and we get them all from the same supplier who gives us a good deal. We actually save a lot of money on food cost.”

“This isn’t a democracy. I didn’t ask for your opinion. I’m telling you what I want done, what I think is best for this restaurant.”

“You know what will be good for this restaurant?  Investing in online advertising to bring in more customers or setting up a social media page. How about implementing specials like happy hour? Those are the things that will make this restaurant more profitable but what you want to do will lower our quality and our ratings with our customers.”

He huffed, circling me like a predator around his prey. “Do you like working here Sloane? Hm?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Because as you probably already know, there aren’t a lot of restaurants here in Oasis Springs so if you didn’t have this job then your options to advance your culinary career would be limited.” He grinned arrogantly.

I was smart enough to know where he was going with this. I overstepped my bounds. “I’m sorry if I was too forward…”

“You should be. I’m very well connected. If I choose to, I can end your career just like that.”

“Look Chad…”

“It’s Mister Munch to you. Don’t forget that I’m your boss now and I can also make things very difficult for you if you don’t treat me with respect.”

“Alright, I get it. You’re in charge. I was only making a suggestion…”

“Well I didn’t ask for your suggestions and I don’t care. So now, you do as I say and we won’t have a problem. My Uncle might have allowed you to talk to him anyway that you like but I won’t. You better keep your tone in check or else I’ll…”

“Is there a problem here?” Chad jumped to deep bass in Michael’s tone as he appeared out of nowhere standing right next to him.

Chad narrowed his eyes at Michael, probably irritated that Michael startled him like that. “Go back to your bar Mitch, this has nothing to do with you.”

“It’s Michael.” He corrected him. “And I’m not going anywhere so long as you take that tone with her.”

“What are you, her bodyguard?” He looked at Michael and then at me before a knowing grin spread across his face. “Ah, I see. You’re banging him. I thought you would have better taste in men.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked, resisting the urge to smack that stupid grin off of his face.

“It’s just that you could do better. I mean, he’s just a bartender and not a good one at that since he’s not at the bar where he should be!”

Michael glared at Chad the whole time but then I noticed he started smiling. “Yes, I am sleeping with her.”

“Michael!” I frowned, feeling annoyed that he shared something so personal with him.

Chad rolled his eyes. “Good for you.”

“Yeah, and I’m just a bartender!” Michael continued, still smiling. “I guess my charisma and confidence had a lot to do with it. The bullying and threatening their careers thing never works. Women don’t like men with a control complex.”

Chad clenched his fists and turned to face Michael. “How dare you talk to me like that?!”

“Oh, I’m just giving you friendly advice man but if the seed falls in your garden, plant it! Know what I mean?”

Chad was fuming. I could tell he wanted to say something else but he was at a loss for words. Or maybe he felt intimidated because Michael was standing so close practically towering over him. He looked at me and then at Michael, “You’re both on thin ice!”

He pushed past me and left the restaurant while I stood there knowing that nothing good was going to come from this.

“Why did you say that to him?” I asked Michael who already went back to the bar and started polishing the glasses.

“He was threatening you. I think I handled him well actually. He’s lucky I didn’t break his nose.”

“I could have handled him on my own Michael!”

“I know you can but…I can’t stand by and watch him disrespect you like that. You’re my girl!”

I truly appreciated the gesture of him trying to come to my rescue but the practical side of me knew what he did was a mistake. “I get it but you just made it worse for me and probably for yourself as well.”

“I don’t care! If he wants to fire me then let him. And how do you know him anyway? What’s his deal?”

I sighed. “It’s a long story…too long to get into right now. All I’ll say is that he has a grudge against me, my whole family for that matter. And now he’s my boss and if I don’t find a way to placate him then he’s gonna fire me.”

“So what, let him!”

“This is my career we’re talking about!”

“And you shouldn’t work for him. You should quit. The guy obviously has a hard-on for you Maia, both figuratively and literally!”

“What? No! Chad Munch hates me!”

“Yeah, but he also wants to screw you. I can tell. I know guys like him. They want what they can’t have. Nobody would be this vindictive solely over some family drama. Plus the way he looked at me and that comment he made, he was jealous!”

Could Michael be right? Was part of Chad’s disdain for me due to the fact that he was attracted to me but felt like he had to dislike me in order to remain loyal to his parents? If that was indeed the case then it would make for an awkward and uncomfortable work environment. Plus he already tried sabotaging me once before.

“I think we should give him some time to adjust. Maybe after a while, doing things his way, he might not be so bad after all?”

Michael shook his head at me and quietly went back to cleaning the counters.

He had a point but I didn’t want to look for another job. I loved this place and I loved working here. I already invested so much time and effort that it would be foolish to leave just because of Chad Munch.