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Valentine Valley #4
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A Promise At Bluebell Hill
by Emma Cane
Welcome to Valentine Valley, where romance blooms and love captivates even the most guarded of hearts...
From the moment Secret Service agent Travis Beaumont strides into the town and through the door of Monica Shaw's flower shop, she feels a sizzle of attraction. After years of putting everyone else's needs first, Monica is ready to grab hold of life. If she can just persuade the ultimate protector to let his own walls down for once...
The President's son is getting married in Valentine Valley, and Travis should be avoiding all distractions...not fantasizing about a forthright, sexy-as-hell florist. Especially when she's keeping secrets that could jeopardize his assignment. But just this once, Travis is tempted to put down the rulebook and follow his heart--right to Monica's door.
Roses are red, violets are blue, and in Valentine Valley, love will always find you.
"Charming characters, a solid plot and a fun narrative are the highlights of this story."
RT Book Reviews Magazine
"A feel-good, charming romance."
"I loved the writing and the well-developed characters and I am glad to have found out that such a place as Valentine Valley exists."
Fire and Ice
"The Valentine Valley series is one of the best kept secrets out there."
Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
"This series is a lot of fun and it just keeps getting better."
The Many Faces of Romance
"The story provides laughs, tears and romance. The Widows are a hoot."
Sarah Says Read Romance
"I adored reading this book. She is an amazing writer and I cannot wait to read more."
Night Owl Reviews
(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)
(Story setup: Flower shop owner Monica Shaw watches Travis Beaumont, a handsome stranger new to Valentine Valley, check out her flower shop and other shops on Main Street. She introduces herself, he says he’s only here on business, but she thinks he’s hiding something. He asks her for a place “his men” can hang out, and she suggests Tony’s Tavern.)
Would Travis show up tonight at Tony’s Tavern? Would Monica?
She would. She decided to go to Tony’s hoping that any embarrassment she might end up suffering would have limited exposure.
In her little apartment above the flower shop, she dressed carefully, a white, sleeveless, drape-necked top that showed off her lean arms and hugged in all the right places, above deep pink jeans and high heels. She wore dangly earrings and dangly bracelets, making her feel feminine and sultry, ready to flirt and dance and have a good time. She drove to Tony’s, even though she could have walked the seven blocks—but in heels? She thought not.
The tavern looked like a dive bar from the outside, but the regulars liked that because it kept most of the tourists away. Inside, there were flat screen TVs on the wall between mounted animal heads and neon beer signs. She walked through the front of the tavern, down the long bar, where customer after customer turned his head to look at her as she passed. She knew or recognized most of them. Even Tony De Luca did a double take as he poured a drink behind the bar, eyebrows raised. A single dad, Tony had been a few years ahead of her in school. He hung out with the Thalberg men and still played hockey and baseball on their rec teams, so she knew him pretty well. She gave him a broad smile, lifting her chin and shaking her curls, feeling sassy. It had been too long since she’d put her sexy on.
She didn’t see any strangers, so she kept going into the back room, where a pool table was spotlighted in the center, tables and chairs scattered along the walls, a jukebox shining from one corner.
She saw Travis Beaumont almost at once, standing with a group of men near the pool table. He was wearing the same navy blue polo shirt but had changed into jeans. No sunglasses, either. She could look at those handsome high cheekbones, as sharp as if someone had sculpted them, all night long. She felt a little shiver of desire. It had been a while since a man made her feel that way. He spotted her, and an even more aggressive awareness shot through her, and she felt trapped in his gaze, impassive though it was. What did he keep hidden beneath all that control? She shivered, realizing that she wanted to find out.
Though he didn’t smile, he raised his beer to her in a little salute. She smiled back, then noticed his friends—or should she say “his men”? There were four guys and a woman, all dressed casually, but they, too, wore the same watchful expressions, even when they were smiling at something one of them said. They all eyed her, and it wasn’t sexual in any way. It was like they took her apart with their gazes, then looked away after determining that she was harmless. Maybe they were bodyguards; she’d seen a few of those during her days skiing the hills of Aspen.
Or soldiers—that seemed more precise. They had the same vibe as Adam Desantis, Brooke’s fiancé, who’d just gotten out of the Marines a couple years ago. They appeared like people who’d seen more of the world, dealt with its ugliness, and had it change them. She couldn’t even take offense at the way they studied her because when the next guy came through the door, they did the same thing to him.
One of Travis’s colleagues gave her a closer look, a black guy with a shaved head and biceps that bulged beneath a tight Henley. He smiled at her, and she smiled back, even as he said something to Travis. She didn’t know what Travis said, but the man gave a slightly disappointed nod and turned back to watch the pool match.
Had Travis dissuaded his interest? That was unexpected.
As the man himself came toward her, she settled her hip on a stool next to a long shelf built into the wall at bar height. Bowls of popcorn were scattered down the length, along with empty glasses and bottles of beer.
Raising her voice to be heard over the country music, she said, “Nice seeing you again, Travis.”
“Same to you, Miss Shaw.”
“You can call me Monica, you know. I won’t bite.”
He didn’t crack a smile although she thought the corner of his mouth might have twitched. Ah, there was someone human under there.
“Monica, may I order you a drink?”
“That’s better. I’ll take whatever beer you’re having.”
He arched a brow, then caught the eye of Nicole, the waitress in tight jean shorts and a low-cut top, passing through with a newly empty tray. After he raised his bottle of beer, she gave him a big smile, nodded, and moved back into the main barroom.
“Those must be your ‘men,’” she said, gesturing with her chin toward the pool table. “It’s very obvious they all work with you—for you?”
“Ah, so you’re the boss. Actually, you feel like the captain. I think you were in the military. You all act like a platoon or something.”
He nodded again. “I was a Marine.”
She felt like she’d scored a point in an imaginary game. “One of my best friends is engaged to a former Marine. You don’t exactly remind me of him because he’s always been a lot more easygoing, but there’s…something about the two of you.”
He didn’t say anything, so she chattered on.
“Are all the rest ex-military?”
As Nicole brought her a beer, she gave Monica a smile and an arched eyebrow that was the same as a thumbs-up.
Hiding her grin, Monica took a sip and studied Travis. “You’re making me treat you like a surprise gift, one I have to unwrap to see what the truth is.”
He arched a brow, then she felt herself blushing.
“Damn, that came out wrong,” she admitted. “You’re a mystery, Travis Beaumont, and that’s hard to resist in this small town.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure. I’d appreciate being distracted from my embarrassment.”
He didn’t smile, but she thought those incredible eyes might actually have twinkled.
“I saw signs in various windows today. There’s an archaeological dig nearby? One they’re threatening to close down and build over?”
“Yeah. Did you hear about the big archaeological find outside Snowmass Village a couple years ago? Dozens of mastodons? They’re calling it Snowmastodon.” She quirked a brow. “Get it?”
He nodded, and, again, she was hoping for a smile, but she was disappointed. Maybe his smile would be too powerfully handsome for her, a mere mortal, to bear. But all kidding aside, everyone should smile more, even if only to make themselves feel better. She smiled a lot while she worked, but then again, she was dealing with beautiful flowers and customers who were happy to give them as gifts or decorate their homes. She wondered what Travis really dealt with on the job. Maybe he didn’t have much of a reason to smile, and that was sad.
“Anyway,” she continued, “they were bulldozing an expansion of the reservoir in Snowmass Village and unearthed thousands of mammoth bones: mastodons, an Ice Age bison, and lots of others, the biggest mastodon find in the world. The museum in Denver will be doing years of preservation and research. But they had to close the site up after seven weeks of searching, and it’s all capped with clay and back underwater. Well, a few months ago, we found our own little archaeological site when the Renaissance Spa, south of the Silver Creek Ranch, started working on its expansion. The spa is saying they have to start building again, so their indoor pool can be done before winter. The scientists are claiming they’re not being given enough time to investigate. The public is on mammoth overload—some people are even asking why they should bother digging here for one little mammoth after the huge find in Snowmass? But it’s our history, you know?”
“Sounds like you’re on the side of science,” he said, reaching past her to grab some popcorn.
She could smell his citrusy aftershave, and it made her a little dizzy. She briefly closed her eyes, both amused and exasperated with herself. “Yeah, these mountains have always needed protection. They’re dotted with old silver-mining holes. Think of all the forests that have been cut down, and now the government is leasing way too much protected wilderness for natural-gas exploration.” She leaned closer. “Shh, you didn’t hear me say that. My dad is an engineer for a natural-gas company.”
“My lips are sealed.”
And that, of course, made her look at his lips, and she had the strangest momentary sensation that he was looking at hers. Then he glanced back at his friends—to get himself under control? Remind himself of his position? She didn’t think he needed to be reminded of that too often. He seemed to take whatever he did very seriously. She was dying to ask about his job again, but he’d already rebuffed her today. She’d play it cool.
Clearing her throat, she said, “So there’s a local group of environmentalists trying to keep people interested in the dig, and if enough are interested, maybe the spa will delay its new pool a couple more weeks.”
“I hope it turns out for the best.”
She sighed, already knowing that her dear friends, the widows, were involved. Three old ladies, activists all, lived at the Widows’ Boardinghouse. They worked part-time for Emily while actively directing the Valentine Valley Preservation Fund, which offered grants for new and renovating businesses. They used their committee to make sure they were in on all the happenings in Valentine—and they created their own “happenings,” too. They’d already started work on their plans to highlight the plight of Valentine’s mammoth.
He sipped his beer and looked around the growing crowd in the poolroom. His friend, he of the bulging muscles, seemed to take that as permission to approach.
“Travis, we’re goin’ to play some darts,” the man said, a Southern drawl making his deep voice musical. “You and your friend up for it?” He turned and flashed her a gleaming white grin.
She held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Monica Shaw.”
His hand encompassed hers in a warm grip. “Royce Ames. Good to meet you.”
“I’m up for darts,” she said. “I’ve never played a real game, just shot at the board. You guys can show me, right?”
Nodding, Royce pulled her toward the dartboard in the corner. She glanced over her shoulder at Travis and tossed her head toward the corner, welcoming him to join them. He shook his head, and she gave a little shrug as she turned back to Royce. That was too bad because she thought Travis needed to find something fun to focus on instead of examining the room as if for enemy combatants. It seemed he wanted his “team” to relax but not so much himself.
Royce and two of his friends taught her a game, and they were much more easygoing than their “leader.” Royce had a naughty sense of humor, and it was obvious he was interested in her. But there was something about Travis, the way he stood alone, shoulders back, in command, that captured her attention and concern. The Royces of the world didn’t need help to let off steam, but the Travises sure did.
“Would you like to dance?” Royce asked after a second game of darts was over.
He’d put aside his beer unfinished, as if he weren’t allowed to touch it anymore. Stranger and stranger.
But it was an up-tempo song that she was already tapping her toes to. “Sure.”
She moved her hips to the music, and though she made a show of having a good time with Royce, she could feel Travis watching her. It made her feel overheated, sexily self-conscious, and even more curious about her mysterious ex-Marine.
After a second dance, Royce looked over head, then grimaced. “Time to go. Have to work in the mornin’.”
He must have gotten some kind of signal from Travis.
“What do you do?” she asked innocently, as the song ended.
He grinned. “Can’t say right now. I’m under orders.”
“You’re all making me too curious.”
Royce shrugged good-naturedly. Why couldn’t she like someone this easygoing? But no, she had to be drawn to the mysterious, intense loner whose idea of fun seemed to be watching others having it. But she knew herself well—his behavior was the very reason she was interested and curious. It was obvious he needed to let loose once in a while.
Travis approached. “Are you staying, Monica?”
Royce waved good-bye to her and returned to his coworkers.
She smiled up at Travis. “I have to work in the morning, too, so I’ll head home.”
“Let me walk you to your car.”
“Because Valentine Valley is such a scary place after dark?”
“Because I’m a polite kind of guy.”
She could feel her smile fade as she briefly studied him. Usually, this was when even a polite guy tried to kiss her, but she didn’t worry that was going to happen with Travis. She nodded, grabbed the sweater she’d left on her stool, and preceded him through the bar, leaving his friends behind to put on their jackets and settle up their bills.
Outside, the May evening was already brisk, into the fifties and dropping steadily, so she slid her arms into her sweater.
“I parked around back—even more reason for a big man to escort me,” she teased.
Again, he gave her that faint lip quirk that might have been the very beginnings of a smile. Why did he hide himself behind impassivity?Overhead, the sky was pitch-black, and brilliant stars were scattered like glitter tossed by schoolkids. Beyond the parking lot, she could see the lights of the only apartment complex in Valentine. But she didn’t see any people, and besides the muted sound of music from inside Tony’s, she and Travis seemed totally alone.
|Copyright © Emma Cane|