Andrew was the last to head for the back hallway, leaving Rachel alone in the kitchen to survey her domain. Once again, it gleamed with stainless-steel sterility, silent without the drone of vents and whoosh of burners. It should probably bother her more that she had no one to go home to, no one waiting on the other side of the door. But Rachel had known what she was giving up when she set off down this career path, knew the choice was even starker for female chefs who had to decide between running their own kitchens and having a family. Most days, it was more than a fair trade. She'd promised herself long ago she wouldn't let any man stand between her and her dreams.
Camille, Paisley's front-of-house manager, slipped into the kitchen quietly, somehow looking as fresh and put together as she had at the beginning of the night. "Ana's waiting for you at the bar. I'm going to go now unless you need me."
"No, go ahead. Good work as always."
"Thanks, Chef. See you tomorrow."
Rachel pretended not to notice Camille slip out with Andrew, their arms going around each other the minute they hit the back door. The food service industry was incestuous, as it must be—civilians didn't tend to put up with the long hours, late nights, and always- on mentality. There had been plenty of hookups in her kitchen among wait staff and cooks in various and constantly changing combinations, but they never involved Rachel. On some points at least, she was still a traditionalist—one-night stands and casual affairs held no appeal. Besides, she was an owner and the chef, the big boss. Getting involved with anyone on her staff would be the quickest way to compromise her authority.
Rachel pushed around the post to the dining room and crossed the empty space to the bar. A pretty Filipina sat there, nursing a drink and chatting with the bartender, Luis.
"Ana! What are you doing here? Did Dan call you?"
Ana greeted Rachel with a one-armed hug. "I worked late and thought I'd drop by to say hi. Luis said it was a good night."
"Very good night: 215."
Ana's eyebrows lifted. "That's great, Rachel. Way to go. I'm not going to say I told you so, but..."
"Yeah, yeah, you told me so." Rachel grinned at her longtime friend. Analyn Sanchez had been one of her staunchest supporters when she'd decided to open a restaurant with two Denver industry veterans, even though it meant leaving the lucrative, high-profile executive chef job that had won her a coveted James Beard Award. And she had to give part of the credit to the woman next to her, who had agreed to take on Paisley as a client of the publicity firm for which she worked, even though the restaurant was small potatoes compared to her usual clients.
Luis wiped down an already-clean bar top for the third time. "You want anything, Chef?"
"No, thank you. You can go. I'll see you on Tuesday."
"Thank you, Chef."
Luis put away his rag, grabbed his cell phone from beneath the bar, and quickly slipped out from behind his station. Not before one last surreptitious look at Ana, Rachel noticed.
"Do I need to tell him to stop hitting on you?"
"Nah, he's harmless. So, Rachel..."
Once more that gut instinct fired away, flooding her with dread. "You're not here for a social visit."
Ana shook her head. "Have you seen the article yet?"
"The Carlton Espy review? Who hasn't? Can you believe the guy had the nerve to come in here tonight and say,You're welcome? As if he'd done me some huge favor?"
Ana's expression flickered a degree before settling back into an unreadable mask.
"What is it? You're not talking about the review, are you?" Ana reached into her leather tote and pulled out a tablet, then switched it on before passing it to Rachel.
Rachel blinked, confused by the header on the web page. "TheNew Yorker? What does this have to do with me?" The title of the piece, an essay by a man named Alexander Kanin, was "The Uncivil War."
"Just read it."
She began to skim the article, the growing knot in her stomach preventing her from enjoying what was actually a very well-written piece. The writer talked about how social media had destroyed civility and social graces, not only online but in person; how marketing and publicity had given an always-available impression of public figures, as if their mere existence gave consumers the right to full access to their lives. Essentially, nothing was sacred or private or off limits. He started by citing the cruel remarks made on CNN about the mentally disabled child of an actress-activist, and then the story of a novelist who had committed suicide after being bullied relentlessly on Twitter. And then she got to the part that nearly made her heart stop.