Shadow of Sin

By: Jami Alden

Chapter 1


Erin Flannery forced her shoulders to relax as she continued to work on the grilled brie- and-pear sandwich, cheeseburger, and pasta carbonara she was currently preparing on the flat top. Whatever commotion was going on outside in the dining room of Mary’s Café would no doubt be handled by her more than capable wait staff.

“Erin, I think you need to come out here.”

Or maybe not. She sighed as she recognized Katy Jensen’s voice. It wasn’t so much the request but the harried tone in Katy’s voice that made Erin wipe her hands on her chef’s coat as she motioned for Bryan, her prep chef, to take over for her on the grill.

Katy was never harried. At thirty-six, she was mellow and carefree, living the ski bum life as she followed the snow year round. And like a lot of ski bums, Katy indulged in her fair share of weed. Even if she was never stoned at work—Erin had strict rules for her staff—she carried that easy going, “hey man” stoner attitude into her work with the customers of Erin’s restaurant. For the past two seasons, Erin had hired Katy to pick up shifts.

It was a win-win. Katy earned good money to support her ski habit on a flexible schedule, and Erin had another capable, friendly person to help her in the dining room during Sandpoint Idaho’s crazy ski season. Only the summer, when tourists visited in droves to enjoy the pleasures of Lake Pend D’Oreille and the surrounding mountains, was busier than the ski season.

Between today, January twelfth and the beginning of April, her little town of seventy-five hundred would see that number nearly double as skiers and snow boarders passed through as they reveled in the world-class slopes at nearby Schweitzer Mountain.

As was typical this time of year, the dining room was packed for dinner. In addition to the dozen orders she and Bryan were currently working on, there were another dozen tickets waiting for her to attend to. The last thing she needed was a dining room catastrophe so huge it ruffled even Katy’s feathers.

As she strode into the dining room, it was easy to identify the problem. All of the other customers, no doubt startled by the sound of the tray crashing, craned their necks to watch the scene unfold. Tracking their gazes, Erin saw Ben Kortlang, whom she’d hired on as a bus boy after her cousin Jordan had moved to Montana to live with his Uncle Brady, standing next to a table of two couples in their thirties. One of the men was standing, his arms gesticulating wildly as he ripped poor Ben a new one.

Shards of china monogrammed with the Mary’s Café logo littered the floor and piles of pasta, a sandwich, a puddle of cream of mushroom soup, and the better part of a kale, beet and goat cheese salad littered the floor around Ben’s feet.

God damnit. That was the third loaded tray Ben had dropped this week. He was sweet as pie and well intentioned, but seemingly unable to control his seventeen-year-old, six-foot-plus body that was mostly made up of arms and legs.

“You clumsy fucking ape!”

Erin cringed as the man’s voice echoed through the dining room.

As she got closer, Erin saw that much of the food also decorated the front of the irate customer’s shirt. Bracing herself, she slipped between the customer and Ben. “What seems to be the problem?”

The man turned his ire on her as Katy gently took Ben’s arm and guided him toward the kitchen.

“What’s the problem? What’s the fucking problem?” He yelled, gesturing at his shirt. “The problem is that stupid oaf spilled our entire tray of food all over us!”

“I’m so sorry,” Erin, said holding her hands up. “It was an accident. Ben is new and still getting his bearings—”

“I don’t give a fuck that he’s new! I care that my sweater is ruined. This is cashmere,” he said, plucking at the fabric. “Do you have any idea how much it cost?”

“And he spilled soup all over my new Louis Vuitton!” A blonde woman seated at the table piped up as she held up the bag. Her voice was the only indicator of her wrath, as her face had that stiff, super shiny look of a woman who’d had one too many encounters with a Botox needle.

Erin pressed her lips together and braced herself for a rough ride. Even under the best of circumstances, with the most forgiving customers, this would be an unpleasant situation.

But her years in the restaurant business she knew these were the kind of customers who would take a bad situation like this and make it infinitely worse. The men with their cashmere sweaters and perfectly coiffed hair, accompanied by their bottle-blonde companions whose designer jeans would cover two of Erin’s car payments. Los Angelenos, if she had to guess, who’d decided to forego Aspen this year after pictures of celebrities frolicking at Schweitzer Mountain had appeared in People and Us Weekly.