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Mountain Darkness (Wild Mountain Men 1) Vanessa Vale 2022/7/22 14:36:53

“You’re the hardest worker I know,” she commented. “Still taking care of your momma?”

I nodded. Nothing more to be said on that one. “I’m sorry I haven’t come to say hi.”

I was ashamed of myself. I’d hoped to get beyond waitressing, making a career out of event planning. The job at the hotel in Billings was my start toward that, but it was definitely over now. Murder took care of that. But Dolly had been more of a mother than my own, and I should have at least stopped in to visit. I’d started working for her in tenth grade, first bussing tables then waitressing. I’d had the job until last year when I went to Billings. I hadn’t given her notice, but I had called her, let her know where I’d gone.

Now I was eating humble pie and hoping she’d take me back. I’d always complained about the rich snobs in Cutthroat, but I realized, in this, I wasn’t any better.

She looked over her shoulder at me, her dark eyebrow raised.

Seeing the mess she was making of the sugar packets, I sighed. “Here, let me do that.” I stood beside her, grabbed the holders and rearranged the packets so they were tidy.

“You never liked things out of place,” she commented.

“I can’t imagine how the customers survived without me the past year,” I replied sarcastically.

She chuckled. “We’ve muddled through as best we can. Especially since Melinda’s out on maternity leave and one of the new night waitresses—Sally Jennings, I think you babysat for her younger sister back in the day—isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.”

The bell that indicated an order was ready rang and Dolly went over to the pass-through window to grab the plates. She walked past me, the scent of greasy fries and burgers followed.

I bit back a smile. Things around here didn’t change.

The bell rang again and Dolly called to me. “Get that, will you?”

I abandoned the sugar packets and went to the window. A cook I didn’t know looked surprised to see me picking up a ticket. “What table?” I asked him.

I nodded and stacked the plates up my left arm in a way that was second nature. “Got it.”

Going to table twelve, I handed out the meals, ensured no one needed anything else and went back to the sugar packets. I needed something to keep my hands occupied, and Dolly would make a mess of them if she didn’t let me finish them.

“I’m a disaster,” I admitted when she returned. “My friend was murdered. I no longer have a job. A place to live. I need money to cover my bills and my mom’s. Dolly, I’m a suspect in Erin’s murder.”

She set her hand over mine, stilling it. “What?”

I shrugged. “She was killed while I was sleeping just down the hall. I don’t have an alibi.”

“The truth will come out. It’s awful about Erin. She was a handful, but she didn’t deserve to have an end like that.” She shuddered, then looked to me. “We could use someone who knows her way around the menu and can do more than basic math with her fingers,” she said as she came to stand beside me again.

My hands stilled and I looked to her. “You’d take me back, after what I did?”

“All you did was leave town with a broken heart.”

She waved her hand as I stared at her, my mouth open.

“I know heartbreak when I see it.” Her keen eyes looked me over. “And I know when that’s over.”

I blushed and made sure my shirt was in place—as if Donovan or Nix had been around to tug it up to cop a feel. I couldn’t help it because, well, this was Dolly. She didn’t have ESP or anything, but she could read people better than they wanted. Like right now.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Mmmhmm,” she murmured.

“What? Do I have a sign on me or s

omething?” God, I hoped not because it would say Double Fucked. I had a hickey on my right boob, but I refused to lift my hand to my neck, worried there was on there I hadn’t seen. Total giveaway.