Night Falls on the Wicked - By Sharie Kohler Page 0,1

in sheets of white outside.

“Darby, girl,” a logger with raw, wind-chapped cheeks called to her good-naturedly. “When you gonna marry me?”

Darby pasted a smile on her face and gestured widely with a hand that clutched a coffeepot. “And leave all this?”

The logger snorted. “Who said anything about leaving this? I was hoping you’d support me. Always wanted to be a kept man.”

Darby rolled her eyes. “I’m not keeping anyone on the tips you guys leave me.”

His friends laughed. They were good men. Big, burly men who worked hard for a living. She knew many of their names, but nothing else about them. Just as they knew nothing of her. And they never would. She never let anyone close. It wasn’t safe to forge relationships.

“Why don’t you cut out early? You been here since five,” Maggie offered when Darby returned to the counter with their orders.

Darby scanned the narrow diner. At least five tables sat at full occupancy. “Trying to make off with all my tips?” she teased.

Maggie scoffed. They both knew that no one in this town was a big tipper. Not when the majority of residents could barely afford their heating bills.

Maggie waved a thick hand. “You go on. We don’t need three waitresses for this crowd.” She nodded to Corey at the other end of the diner. “Besides, the kids are at their dad’s. Might as well work late. Hate coming home to an empty place.”

Darby’s smile slipped as she refilled a salt shaker and screwed the lid back on. She knew all about coming home to an empty place. It’s all she knew.

“Well, all right then. If you’re sure. I don’t mind clocking out early.” She nodded to a just-vacated table. “I’ll just bus up that one and head out.”

“Invitation for dinner tomorrow is still open. Do you good to do something on our day off besides sit around staring at the walls. And my nephew will be there—”

“The taxidermist?”

“Yep. Nicest guy you’ll—”

Darby winced. Maggie always knew a nice guy. “No, thanks.”

“What?” She sighed, scratching her head with a pencil. “Some reality show marathon on TV?”

An old Alfred Hitchcock movie actually. She always loved the classics—had watched them a lot as a girl with her aunts. Rather than admit this, she shrugged. “Just thought I’d relax, read a book, get in a run—”

“Ugh. Who runs for fun?”

“Lots of people do. It’s good exercise.” And it helped. Helped keep her mind off things. Gave her a release.

Maggie snorted. “If you had a man you’d be getting plenty of exercise.” She laughed at her crude joke.

Darby rolled her eyes. “Trust me, Maggie. You don’t want to set your nephew up with me.”

Maggie sniffed and swiped at her nose. “Why not?” She leaned close and dropped her voice, her eyes wide, hungry as a hound on the scent. “You hiding from the law or something? That would explain a lot about you, you know.”

Darby smiled. Yes. She supposed that would explain a lot, and it would be more plausible than the truth. “No. Nothing like that.” She was running from something far worse than the law.

“Well, a date wouldn’t hurt. Even Corey’s got a date this week.” Maggie jerked a thumb to the other waitress.

Corey had a date? The single mom was about as uninterested in dating as Darby was. Well, uninterested wasn’t an accurate description exactly. Darby was interested. Achingly interested. Some nights she couldn’t sleep for all of her aching interest. Darby was simply unable to date. Big difference.

She watched Corey as she bused a table, her ponytail bouncing as she worked. For some reason the notion of Corey dating made her lonelier than ever. Now Maggie had no one to nag but Darby.

Corey must have seen something on her face. As she passed with a heavily laden tray of drinks, she shook her head at Darby. “Don’t let her start on you, Darby. It’s just a date. Don’t make a big deal out of it, Maggie.”

“It is a big deal,” Maggie flung back. “What’s it been for you, Corey? Three years?”

Darby stiffened. Three years. The same amount of time had passed since she’d felt free to go on a date. Since she left home, her family and friends. Three years that yawned on like forever. She swallowed against the sudden tightness in her throat. God—what was the rest of her life going to be like?

She shook her head. It was better than the alternative. She knew that. Was okay with that. Really.

It wasn’t an issue of wanting