CHAPTER ONE:

It was a busy Friday night at the bar. People were buzzing with the excitement of the weekend, music was playing, alcohol was flowing, and the atmosphere was high. Nick loved nights like this. When work didn't really feel like *work*. Stood behind the dark mahogany of the bar, he surveyed his territory and smiled. Tonight was going to be a good night, he could feel it.

Winston was sat at on a stool at the end of the bar attempting to speak to a petite blonde who, frankly, was clearly unimpressed by his efforts. But he persisted none-the-less. Nick shook his head and laughed to himself - Winnie needed to get himself some game!

Schmidt walked in, still dressed in his suit and straight from the office.

"Hey, man!" cheered Nick, extending an arm in greeting and setting down a drink ready for him.

"Greetings, Nicholas." he replied, sliding on to his seat "Bottoms up..." and he sank the drink in one before demanding "Another, my good fellow!"

Nick grimaced and sighed "Don't call me that, Schmidt. We're not living in the fifties! Bad day?"

"You could say that. Gina is riding my ass so hard on this new client pitch coming up. I mean, usually I'd like that kinda move" he wiggled his eyebrows and laughed as Nick stuck out his tongue and replied "Bleurgh, Jar!"

"I have to have the pitch completed by the end of the week, on top of the million other projects she's passed off to me in the last month. So, yes. Bad day to the extre..." he stopped mid-sentence as his gaze reached the entrance to see Cece and Jess arrive "...oh, but it is about to get a LOT better Nicholas!" Schmidt grinned as he followed their path to the bar with his eyes.

"You have got to give it up, man! Cece is way out of your league" Nick chuckled "You know it and she knows it!" He laid a playful hand of condolence on his friends shoulder.

"I'll NEVER give up, Nick. Never." Schmidt said with a certainty that Nick didn't doubt, before turning to greet the approaching duo "Oh, hi Jess. What up, Cecelia?"

Nick said his hello's, but not before noticing how nice Jess's hair looked tonight all pinned up in a messy bun with strands flopping down to frame her face. She caught his gaze over her glasses and smiled that big, goofy grin of hers "Hey, Miller!"

He nodded at her, returning the smile "Hi, Day...' then turned to serve the growing swell of customers who had entered the bar. He *was* working after all.

A small group of women caught his eye at the far end of the counter. They'd been here a lot recently and always ended up a little rowdy by the end of the night. Bracing himself, he headed over to take their order.

...

The club was noisy and the thumping bass was starting to give Sarah a headache. This was not her kind of place. She'd agreed to go out with some new work colleagues from the art gallery but was now questioning her judgement. She felt so out of place among the fancy cocktails, glitzy dresses and indoor sunglass wearers. In fact, she'd go as far as to say this was her nightmare. Standing in the throng of people, she tried to find her way back from the ladies room to the other girls.

Danielle and Candace were stood discussing some fancy man or another and Rachel was perched on some kind of arty seating that looked like a torture device. She stood as Sarah approached and offered a small glass with orange liquid inside. Sarah declined and they all yelled at her

"Boooo!"

"Come on, join the fun!"

"Loosen up a little!"

"I'm plenty loose enough!" defended Sarah, tugging her skirt down slightly. She'd borrowed it from Danielle and it was much shorter than she felt comfortable with. "I just can't hear myself think in here, I need some air" the words sounded feeble as she said them and she kicked herself inwardly for looking so uncool. Great job, you fool.

"Ok, so we'll come with you" offered Candace, feeling slightly sorry for their new pal "we'll take a walk down to that old man bar you seem to like opposite your apartment" she chuckled.

"Ahh, but is it the BAR she likes, or the BARTENDER? That's the real question!" Exclaimed Rachel, digging Sarah in the ribs as she did so.

"Ow! What? No, I...I don't..." She tried to protest but their raised eyebrows made her stop, a small smile creeping across her face "Ok, fine. So he's easy on the eye! What's wrong with that?" They all laughed and headed off to the cloakroom before setting off into the cool Spring night.

...

Nick stood in front of the gaggle of women, bar towel resting over his right shoulder.

"What'll it be, ladies?" He asked, rubbing his hands together.

"Pitcher of Sex on the Beach, barkeep!" Shouted Danielle, louder than she intended.

"Make that two!" Rachel clambered over her friend, arms raised before slamming on the counter top.

"No, three!" squealed Candace "THREE BIG, FAT, PITCHERS OF SEX ON THE BEACH!"

Nick winced. First at their very obvious inebriation, secondly at their taste in alcoholic beverages. Then he noticed a fourth member of the party. Smaller than the others, and looking far more sober.

"And for you? The same?" He raised his eyebrows in question.

Before Sarah had a chance to answer, Danielle butted in with an exaggerated eye roll "Oh no, she doesn't DO silly cocktails!"

"So...?" Nick probed

Sarah thought for a second then said "Um...I'll have an Old Fashioned. Please."

Nick paused, and pursed his lips. "Good choice" he said with a tip of his head.

She felt her cheeks pinken slightly as he did so, but desperately hoped no one would notice.

A few moments later, Nick returned with their order and the three drunken friends hurried off ahead with their drinks. He placed the Old Fashioned down in front of Sarah who stayed sat at the bar for a moment.

"If you don't mind me saying, that's a bit of an unusual drink for a lady like you to be ordering"

She looked up at him, brown eyes with lashes longer than he'd ever seen, and she seemed caught off guard by his statement.

"Oh, really?" She said "Er, well, I...I've always like them. My grandfather used to drink them..." Sarah trailed off, suddenly feeling self conscious as she became acutely aware of his gaze on her.

Nick smiled softly "Well, then he must be a man of impeccable taste"

"He was." she replied, slightly sadder than she had intended.

The loss of her grandfather 6 months ago was still painful to think about.

"I should go catch up with...well, with them" she nodded to her friends, laughing wildly in a booth near the jukebox "Thank you" she raised her glass in his direction and he raised his hand back by way of a goodbye.

Nick found himself watching her as she re-joined the group, her dark blonde hair hung loose down to her shoulders, curling at the bottom. She had small features, almost pixie like - but in a cute way, thought Nick, before being called away for another order.