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Mountain Darkness (Wild Mountain Men 1) Vanessa Vale 2022/7/22 14:36:55

Maybe she takes after her crazy mother.

The buzz in the restaurant wasn’t from the caffeine in the coffee. It was about me. The other waitresses weren’t thrilled I’d been back a day and everyone wanted to sit in my section.

Not because I was an exceptional server, but they wanted to look me over. Ask me outright, then leave shitty tips.

“Who do you think killed Erin Mills?” a long-haul trucker asked me.

I topped off his coffee and pasted on a big smile. “I’m just your waitress, not the police.”

A group of women who appeared to have just left a church Bible study, looked down their noses at me, even though they were sitting down. An older lady in the group took it upon herself to be their spokesperson. “Young lady, someone like you shouldn’t be reaching.” She glanced around to see her friends nodding and continued. “God gives us what we can handle, and it seems working here is all you can handle.”

I didn’t refill their iced teas or carry off their finished plates. I just spun on my sneakered heel and stopped by Dolly. “Table six is all yours.”

She glanced that way, made a humph sound, then nodded.

All the customers were doing was validating my weaknesses. Maybe it was because I was tired, not from being kept up late into the night by two men with strong sexual appetites, but from the two nightmares I’d had later on. They were the same thing: seeing Erin, feeling the blood, smelling the scent of it. I couldn’t escape it, not in my dreams or in reality.

I had been a waitress since high school to make ends meet. I still was. There was nothing wrong with it

. Nothing. But while Dolly had been the mother I barely had and the diner was like a second home, I’d wanted to branch out. I wanted to be an event planner. Had for a long time. The idea of organizing a party or something fun and special… something meaningful made me feel good. Perhaps it was because I’d grown up in a house that was a complete disaster. I’d never had birthday parties or anything like that, but wanted to see others have pretty invitations and party favors and cute finger foods.

I’d even put that bee in Erin’s bonnet back in the day, that it would be fun… and pay the bills. She’d had the money to back the idea, and since she liked to party, it was a good fit for her.

And now, with Erin gone, her business along with her, I didn’t have the capital to start a company of my own. With having to support my mom, it was even harder to get ahead. But extra shifts at the diner would help. I’d get the cash I needed to get back on my feet.

That was a goal that seemed pretty damned hard to obtain. That wasn’t what my problem was. Something bigger, something worse, because there was no happy ending. The flare of hope I’d had for the past two days was being snuffed out. All the whispering and comments reinforced every doubt I had about being with Nix and Donovan. Oh, they told me, showed me, and even spanked me to let me know that they wanted it all with me. They’d even mentioned marriage, which was insane.

I really wanted that.

But they were thinking with their dicks. Good sex made brain cells fry. I could relate. Perhaps that was why I’d stayed with them for two nights. Listened to their vows of a long-term relationship.

It wasn’t going to work out. It couldn’t. I would only bring them down. How could I not? Nix was a detective on the fucking case. If anyone found out he was sleeping with a suspect…

And Donovan, when the killer was found, the entire case could be blown because of either witness tampering or conflict of interest. I wasn’t a lawyer, but even I knew it wasn’t right.

They’d both lose their jobs. Their careers. Cutthroat was a small town in the middle of Montana. They weren’t going to find another police department for at least fifty miles or more. And the nearest DA’s office was probably in Helena.

I considered all of that as I worked, as I listened to the gossip, deflected the most piercing of questions. My heart ached, because I’d almost gotten over the idea of Nix and Donovan being in love with each other. When that had been cleared up, I’d had hope that it could actually work between us.

Hope. Fuck, that could destroy anyone. And all that I had for the three of us to be together was crumbling.

I loved them. I loved them enough to let them go because I only wanted what was best for them. Obviously, it wasn’t me.

The lunch rush had tapered off when the mayor came in, took the corner booth in my section. I knew him because it was a small town and he was involved in the community, but also because he was Donovan’s dad. We’d just never been face-to-face before. Until now.

I set the menu on the table in front of him. “Hi there. Can I get you a drink while you look over the menu?”

Anthony Nash looked up at me and gave me his signature smile. He and Donovan looked so alike that it was easy to picture what he would look like in thirty years. When Donovan smiled at me, I felt it clear to my toes. It was genuine. Warm. Hot.

The mayor’s smile was fake, pasted on because it was what he did. He needed to be friends with everyone in town who could vote. He was good, I’d give him that, but perhaps it was because I had the real deal from his son that I could spot the difference.

“I’ll have a slice of Dolly’s coconut cream pie and a cup of coffee.”

I picked the menu back up and nodded. “You got it.”

I returned with both a few minutes later.