Sydney straightened her tie, checking in the mirror to make sure that her ponytail was neat and her lipstick wasn't smudged. Dinner service would begin shortly and The Agency was booked solid. This was to be expected considering that they were now the trendy restaurant on the block. Trendy, upscale, and yet wouldn't bankrupt the average guest. The menu items were delicious and inventive, but not off-putting. Sydney liked to think that she'd had a hand in some of their recent success.
Several months before, Syd had been working at a rival restaurant called SD6, which was owned by a rich cretin named Arvin Sloane. She'd utterly despised the man, and was somewhat delighted when the restaurant had closed indefinitely while Arvin was put through a major audit. There was talk of some criminal investigation going on as well. Luckily, Sydney wasn't out of a job for long. Michael Vaughn, the general manager of The Agency, had been offering her a job for months, and after the closure of SD6 she'd had no reason not to accept. Yet she had conditions: jobs for her friends Dixon and Marshall as well. Michael was perfectly amenable to this; Dixon was a fantastic bartender and Marshall was one of the most talented and imaginative chefs in all of Los Angeles. Vaughn had been making some staff changes within The Agency, so this could not have happened at a better time.
Yes, everything seemed to be working out nicely. Syd was lead server, always in high demand because of her adaptability and near-encyclopedic knowledge of wine. She was hoping that soon she'd have enough money to pursue her dream of becoming a sommelier. Sydney knew that Michael had talked often about hiring one; he was getting some pressure from The Agency's owner, who wanted the restaurant to cater to a more upscale clientele. She hoped that he would hold off for just a little while longer.
She smiled at her reflection, mentally preparing herself. In truth, though, Sydney didn't really feel like smiling tonight. It was because of her boss. She and Vaughn had developed a weird chemistry over the past few months; it had begun almost the moment they'd met. Sydney was sure that he had feeling for her, he'd all but admitted as much, yet he also had a policy forbidding managers from dating staff. He was so confusing, so hot and cold, she could never be certain where they really stood with each other, and it was making her miserable. She hadn't been laid in almost a year and if she didn't get some soon she was going to punch a hole through the wall.
Taking a slow, deep breath Sydney double-checked her apron, making sure she had her lighter and wine key, and then headed into the kitchen for the pre-shift 'pit stop'. All the staff gathered and took notes while Marshall stammered through the menu highlights for the evening, and Sydney hid a smile as he went off a strange tangent about molecular gastronomy when all they needed to know was how to describe the filet with bearnaise sauce. As she jotted down a few notes she couldn't help but notice a new face among them, standing beside Vaughn. He was young, Sydney noticed, his face almost disarmingly boyish. He had tousled blond hair and enormous blue eyes. Cute, she admitted to herself. Her eyes roved over the well-tailored, impeccable suit that he wore. Probably a rich brat though. His demeanor and the impassive look on his face practically screamed money. At that moment, he looked over and caught her eye. Sydney quickly looked away.
"Thank you, Marshall," Vaughn spoke up loudly, cutting him off. "Now just one more thing, everyone. As of tonight we have a new member of the team. I'd like to introduce The Agency's sommelier, Mr. Julian Sark."
Sydney felt punched in the stomach. Her gaze immediately flew to Vaughn, who shifted uncomfortably under the accusatory look and then turned the other way and began speaking to one of the other servers about something. Oh, they were going to have words later!
Thankfully, the moment she stepped onto the busy floor Sydney felt herself falling easily into the flow of the restaurant. The four tables in her section were all full. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. Most of her tables were drinking mixed cocktails or IPAs. Her latest table, a five-top, was her least favorite. The party consisted of three women and two men, all middle aged, and they had that stuffy, superior nature that set her teeth on edge. After she'd introduced herself and inquired about beverage orders, of course they'd wanted a bottle of wine. "A red from the Southern Rhone Valley, I think," the man was saying. Sydney nodded. "We have a very nice selection of--"
"Dear, I think you'd better fetch the sommelier for us," one of the women cut her off. She'd had so much work done that Sydney was amazed that she could move her mouth at all. Desperately wanting to say something but also desperately wanting money, Sydney bit her tongue, remembering the cardinal rule of serving: the answer is always yes. She plastered a smile on her face. "Of course ma'am. Right away."
Face burning, Sydney stalked over to the bar. "What's the matter, Sunshine?" Dixon asked. "Later," she mumbled, spotting the somm at the other end, examining a bottle of Cabernet. What was his name--Stark or something?
"Stark, call," she said dispassionately. He looked over at her, then set the bottle down and approached with aggravating slowness. "It's Sark," he corrected, and she noticed that he spoke with an accent. "But call me Julian."
"Sark's fine. Listen, table forty-three, the Dower party, they want a red from the Southern Rhone Valley."
He stared at her for a moment that seemed too-long for Sydney's liking, then nodded at her. "I'll see to it," he said.
Gritting her teeth, she walked back to the kitchen in time to hear the sous chef call for service. After delivering the entrees to one of her other, more pleasant tables, she then lingered in the alcove and watched the brat recommend wine to the snotty five top. Sydney had to grudgingly admit that he knew what he was doing. He was elegant, and also good at reading the table. The ladies were eyeing him up like he was candy. He shot them a dazzling grin and walked back to the bar. She wanted to wait and see what he would return with, but she needed to get back to work.
Finally, the evening wore down and only a few tables remained, finishing their drinks. The five-top at least had the decency to tip her well. They seemed to really enjoy the wine that Sark had brought for them, a Grenache noir from the Chateaneuf du Pape region. This selection both surprised and irritated Sydney, mainly because it was almost exactly what she would have recommended, right down to the vintage. Now that she was less busy, all of her earlier hurt returned with a vengeance. Why would Vaughn hire a somm without even telling her? Especially since he knew about her goals. Even if he was under pressure from the owner, he could have at least talked to her about it face to face, not let her find out during pit stop. She thought that they were closer than that.
She finished her side work and then checked out for the night. Normally she hung out and waited for Dixon and Marshall to finish up and then the three went out for a beer, but now she just felt like going home.
After collecting her purse from her locker, Sydney made her way to the back door, trying to make a quick exit. Just as she pushed it open, she heard a voice behind her. "Leaving so soon?" She recognized the cool accent. Fighting a sigh, she turned around and saw Sark standing there.
What's it to you? She wanted to snap, but she attempted at civility. "Yeah," she said through a tight smile. "It's been a long night, I'm beat."
"It's Sydney, right?" he asked. She nodded.
"Michael Vaughn told me that you have an interest in wine, that you're very knowledgeable."
"Well, not knowledgeable enough, apparently," she said, a sharp edge creeping into her voice. So much for being civil.
Sark merely blinked at her and stared in that unnerving way, his mouth curved upwards in a half-smile. "Sydney, I hope that you don't have any ill-feelings towards me because of my position. I'd like for us to work together. I think that we can be of value to one another."
"Uh, thanks," she said, feeling a bit thrown. He seemed genuine, not condescending at all, and somehow this irritated her even more. Plus...he really was cute. She nodded at him and then turned back to the door. "Have a pleasant night, Sydney," he said softly as she departed.