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Mountain Darkness (Wild Mountain Men 1) Vanessa Vale 2022/7/22 14:36:56

One was taking an order and the other filling drinks at the soda machine.

“Not like that,” Dolly scolded. “Wendy’s sister got engaged over the weekend and she wants you to plan a party for her.”

“You are an event planner, aren’t you?” she quizzed.

“Not anymore,” I replied.

The ding from the bell went off. Silverware clattered, patrons chatted.

“You still are,” she told me. “You didn’t lose your skills with Erin.”

But who would want to have a murder suspect plan your baby shower?

Wendy came over, a very hopeful look on her pretty face. “Please say you’ll do it.” She’d been four years behind me in school, but she’d been working at Dolly’s for a few years and we’d been friendly.

“You’re not worried?”

She frowned. “Have you met my mother? She wants to play hostess on her back patio with streamers and her crock-pot full of barbecue mini hot dogs beside a seven-layer bean dip with the football game on the TV in the background.”

I didn’t want to cringe and insult her mother, but yikes. “I can probably top that,” I said.

She beamed. “You’ve saved my life. And my mother’s because my sister would have probably killed her. I’ll catch up with you about the details and a time to meet my sister.”

A patron at one of her tables waved her down and she left.

“One event at a time, hon, and your company will take off. Just wait and see.”

Dolly patted my arm and got back to work.

My section for the shift was the lunch counter. Those who came in alone usually took a spot. I walked down the line handing out their bills and checking on beverage refills.

Working my way back, I spotted Lucas Mills settling into a spot.

I hadn’t seen him in a long time, well before I left to go to Billings. We’d dated after high school. He’d been sweet. Kind. The first guy to actually like me. At nineteen, we’d been each other’s firsts. I’d been surprised when he’d told me he’d never been with anyone. He had those boy-next-door good looks with his fair hair and killer smile, and I’d expected him to have gotten lucky well before me.

But he hadn’t and while it had been sweet… yup, that word again, it had been awkward. And it had hurt. I had no doubt he’d worked on his technique since that long-ago night. He was even more handsome than ever, and I didn’t doubt if he had a girlfriend.

I’d loved him once. Or thought I had. Maybe it had been a first love kind of thing, more surprise and giddiness, fizzy desire and breathy need. But it hadn’t been deep. I could see that now.

Nix and Donovan had showed me not only what real sex was like, but what real love felt like, too. It was wonderful. And awful.

Lucas saw me and offered a smile. I made my way to him, realizing there was so much more than the counter between us. His sister had been murdered. I was one of the last people to see her alive. And I was a suspect. What was he doing here during such a terrible time for his family?

“Lucas. It’s… I’m, god, I’m so sorry about Erin.”

He gave me a sad smile. He and Erin looked so much alike. Fair, blue eyed. The same face shape even. Erin had been tall, but nowhere near the six-two of Lucas. He’d gone into the military—the reason why we didn’t stay together—and that had bulked him up. He’d been back in town for a few years, but he hadn’t lost a bit of the muscle.

“Yeah, I know. She was excited for you to come back and work together.”