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A Second Chance in Valentine Valley
a Valentine Valley Novella
by Emma Cane


Steph Brissette is inching back to life after losing her high school sweetheart husband in a tragic accident. Between her family, her work at the Sugar and Spice Bakery, and helping the Valentine Valley widows save an historic schoolhouse, her days are full. It's only in her dreams that she revisits the accident - one that she can't quite convince herself was not her fault.

That is, until Jeremy Chen comes back to town.

Jeremy left Valentine for medical school and has now returned to take his place as the town's new doctor. He first knew Steph as the bratty little sister of his best friend. Then, in one heartbreaking moment, she became the woman he saved - and the widow of the man he couldn't help. Still searching for his new place in town, Jeremy now sees Steph as a desirable woman. But can she ever look at him without seeing everything she lost? The only certainty is that in a town called Valentine, love is always worth a second chance.



"I'm so glad I was able to visit Valentine Valley again!"
"Romancing the Reader"

“A sweet and whimsical story”
a Bookbub reader

“This was such a sweet, small-town romance read,
just the right amount of angst and conflicted feelings.”

an Amazon reader



(The following is the property of the author and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)

Chapter 1

Stephanie Brissette parked on the small side street in front of the doctor’s office, a converted old home with gingerbread trim and a wraparound porch. She got out of her SUV and breathed in the crisp, January air of Valentine Valley, Colorado. Looming above the town, the Elk Mountains were capped with snow, reminding her that she hadn’t skied since—

Okay, no need to dwell. She was about to see the new town doctor, Jeremy Chen, who’d saved her life a year and a half ago, but hadn’t been able to save her husband. She would get through this.

It was just a physical, after all. So what if Jeremy had been friends with her older brothers, and she’d had a crush on him when she was eleven. So what if he’d been a god to her back then, as he’d led the high school ski team to a state championship. Now he was going to be her general practitioner. It wasn’t like he was her gynecologist. Ew. It would be fine. She’d think of him as Dr. Chen.

She’d seen him around town since his return, but always from a distance. His smiles had been warm and friendly, but she hadn’t approached him. Last week, she’d avoided a conversation with him when they’d both attended a get-together at her brother Daniel’s house. She hadn’t known how to feel now that he was back, and had ended up leaving early before talking to him. It was cowardly, she knew. He'd always been kind to her. She had to prove to herself that she could take this next step.

She marched up the stairs, through the vestibule and into the waiting room, which had obviously been the front parlor decades ago and was still decorated with overstuffed chairs, quaint old-fashioned frames of the Colorado countryside, and vases full of fresh flowers scattered on tables. Steph knew the flowers were the inspiration of Janet Shaw, Doc’s receptionist, who sat behind an antique carved wooden desk. She was the mom of Steph’s friend Monica, and she wore her hair in a close-cropped Afro that set off the same stunning cheek bones her daughter had.

Mrs. Shaw looked up from her computer and gave an awkward smile. “Oh, hi, Stephanie.”

Steph tilted her head in confusion. “Is something wrong?”

“I made a mistake scheduling your appointment without consulting Dr. Chen. He says he’ll explain it to you. Go on down the hall to his office.”

Steph followed her directions, then opened the door and found Dr. Chen, who rose to his feet behind the desk nestled between bookshelves.

“Hello, Steph,” he said.


He smiled at her, his hair black and short on the sides but with a longer sweep across the crown. His dark eyes were warm. He wore a long-sleeved green Henley that hugged his torso in all the right places, leading down to a pair of jeans. She quickly realized what she was doing and brought her gaze back to his face. Where had that come from?

Steph swallowed and asked, “Dr. Chen, what’s going on? Mrs. Shaw says a mistake was made regarding my appointment?”

He winced. “Dr. Chen? Please, you always used to call me Jeremy. And I didn’t realize she’d made an appointment for you until I saw it on the schedule this morning. I’m sorry, but I can’t be your doctor.”

She blinked. “Why not?”

He sighed and briefly looked down at his desk before meeting her gaze. “Partly, I was worried it would make you too uncomfortable. I know I’ve disappointed you—”

“Jeremy, stop.” Everything seemed to settle inside her. Of course she knew how to talk to him—this was Jeremy, always ready with a smile and a gentle flirtation that made her feel special. And here he was, still hurting, too. “You did not disappoint me. You saved my life. You did the best you could, and I’ll be forever grateful.”

“Then why did you avoid me last week?”

She sighed. “It wasn’t you—it was all the memories. I was just taken by surprise at seeing you. I’ve been doing better, really.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” He hesitated. “Because there’s another reason I can’t be your doctor, and maybe it’s too soon to say it, but we’ve always been honest with each other.” He came around the desk to perch on the edge.  

And then she realized he wasn’t looking at her with the air of a man looking at his buddy’s little sister. Everyone in their small town knew what she’d been through—no man had wanted to be the first to look at her with interest, as if she was supposed to give off an unseen signal that she was ready to date again.

Without waiting for a signal, Jeremy was giving her a look of admiration, of awareness.

And she wasn’t immediately bothered by it.

“We’ve always been friends, Steph,” he began slowly, “but every time I see you lately, it doesn’t feel like just friends.”

To her surprise the room suddenly felt charged with a different kind of energy. Breathless with the realization that she’d moved into a new area of recovery, she didn’t know how to deal with it except to ignore it.

“Wow you really don’t want to be my doctor, do you?” she asked with faint sarcasm, one eyebrow arched.

He put up both hands in a placating gesture. “You don’t have to do or say anything. I just wanted you to know.”

How had he known his feelings had changed? She’d barely given him the time of day since his return. She certainly hadn’t sensed a change between them, not until she’d walked into the room, and he’d just…been there, hunky and gorgeous, full of life. And that last thought made her realize how resistant to life she’d been the last year and a half.

“I’m not speaking as a doctor, Steph, but how are you, really?”

“Fine,” she said automatically. He didn’t look like he believed her, and she felt herself bristling as she added, “I’m not sure how well you’re going to do as a doctor when you pick and choose which patients to see.”

“Some people are worth being picky about.”

“Are you flirting with me?”

“I always flirt with you. But okay. How’s your family doing?”

He didn’t miss a beat, didn’t probe too deeply.

“Doesn’t Daniel keep you in the loop?” she asked.

“I’m lucky your brother remembers to eventually answer my texts, what with four kids.”

Steph relaxed into a reluctant smile. “Yeah, but he loves being a family man. I still remember when his next tattoo was all he cared about, and I worried he’d be a loner forever.”

They shared a moment of companionable silence at the memory. Jeremy knew everything about her family—he knew everything about her. Why did it suddenly seem so different to be with him, especially after what they’d been through together a year and a half ago?

“You’re ducking the spirit of my question,” he gently chided her.

“I answered your question. The family’s fine—I’m fine.” She wanted to wince as defensiveness crept into her voice.

“I hear you’re working a lot of hours at the bakery.”

“I’m a co-owner. That is what one does.”

“Officially a co-owner? That’s great. You and your sister work so well together.”

Steph nodded, distracted from her defensiveness by remembering how hard her sixteen-year-old self had taken it when she found out she had a sudden older sister no one in the family knew anything about. And now Emily was her dearest friend as well as her sister, and had insisted she accept a share in the business that Emily herself had built from scratch.

“Do you mind working so much?” Jeremy said.

“That’s why I went to culinary school—I love what I do. Listen, if you don’t want to be my doctor, you don’t need to be my therapist either.”

“Not trying to be. I’ve just thought about you a lot the last couple years, and I hoped you were doing okay. Are you still competing? I have memories of you racing your horse around the barrels so fearlessly.”

“Yeah, well, being fearless led to the worst day of my life, didn’t it?”

Why had she said that? They both froze in an awkward, sad tableau of not knowing what to say, how to bring up death and despair.

“Besides,” she said gruffly, “I don’t have a lot of time to barrel-race. Maybe this summer.”

“I hope so. You always loved it.”

Doc Ericson ducked his head through the doorway. “Everything okay in here?” he asked. Though Doc was white-haired and retired, his habitual winter goggle tan was still in evidence. “I can come out of retirement for a special patient.”

Snapped out of their strained conversation, Steph straightened and turned to Doc. “I’ll come set up a new appointment with Mrs. Shaw. I don’t want to make Dr. Chen late for his next appointment.”

She heard Jeremy chuckle and something inside her eased.


Jeremy stared thoughtfully at the closed door a long time after Steph left. Barrel racing? Why the hell had he brought up such an inane topic? She’d been dismissive, defensive, and awkward during their brief talk, but the tension had gradually eased, leaving him a little encouraged that maybe she had felt something that could be more than friendship between them.

He was probably setting himself up for disappointment. Steph was a widow, a cute, blond, athletic, twenty-five-year-old widow. He’d long thought of her as the younger sister of his best friend, and he fondly remembered her bright, inquisitive eyes beneath the ball caps through which her ponytails used to bob. Now, she wore her hair in blond waves dipping below her chin—that she probably still pulled into a ponytail all day as she crafted beautiful wedding cakes, cheesecakes, and cookies. He’d been to Sugar and Spice when he came home from Denver to visit his family, but always seemed to miss her. He hadn’t thought anything of it until a year and a half ago, when he’d seen her under the worst circumstance of her life.

A timer went off in the lab across the hall, and the sound sent him back in time, to when the avalanche beacon ringing through the air had meant life and death.

It had been early in the ski season, and he’d been subbing on ski patrol at the East Vail Chutes. He was a volunteer with Mountain Rescue completing a training op on the hill, paying it forward because someone had saved his brother’s life in an accident that had cost him his leg. Not that that had stopped Eric’s ski career, Jeremy thought proudly.

He’d been surprised to see Steph and her husband Tyler at the ski lodge a couple hours from home. The two of them had been so wrapped up in each other, so in love, that Jeremy had found himself a little envious.

That afternoon, Jeremy was skiing along the boundary of the resort when he saw a plume of snow rising up behind the white, pine-dotted mountain, framed in a sky the color of a robin’s egg. Feeling uneasy, he looked for fresh ski tracks going into the back country and found some. His heart started to pound. He realized with shock that if an avalanche was roaring down the back side of the mountain, someone might be caught in its path.

And then his training kicked in. He radioed his position to the rest of the ski patrol, turned his avalanche beacon to search mode, then launched himself farther through the trees, poling the snow hard to propel himself faster. Almost immediately his beacon was beeping out its distress, and as he approached, it got louder and faster.

The scene that greeted him when he broke through the tree line was the crown of the avalanche, which had fallen away below him. Keeping to the trees, he began to make his way down the edge of the avalanche, careful not to trigger another. At the bottom, he found the debris field, a wide sloping field of chunky ice cubes the size of cars intermixed with real boulders—boulders that could kill. The beeping was stronger now, frantic. He skied forward across the snow that had hardened like concrete—and then the beeping got fainter. He skied back again, and when the beeping picked up speed, he pulled off his backpack, then yanked out the probe and his folded shovel.  

After taking off his skis, he extended the telescoping probe and began to pierce the solid snow. After the third time, with the beacon beeping crazily at his waist, he hit something that wasn’t snow and wasn’t a boulder. He unfolded his shovel and began to dig until he found a foot sticking out of the snow. Moving faster, he uncovered the prone victim’s bright blue snow-pant-covered thigh. They kicked feebly. Was the person suffocating to death because Jeremy couldn’t get through the solid ice fast enough? He dug out the upper body even more frantically, heart pumping with fear and focus, that feeling he felt on rotation in the hospital ER.

To his relief, when he reached the head, chunks of snow tumbled down in front of person’s face where their arms were cupped protectively. They’d remembered to fall covering their mouth, keeping open an air pocket to raise their chances of survival.

He pulled the victim up onto their knees as they gasped and sobbed.


Oh God, she wouldn’t have been alone.

“Tyler!” she shrieked.

She fumbled at her waist and switched her avalanche beacon to search mode. Immediately, a new faint beeping began on Jeremy’s transceiver. He realized there’d been two signals all along, but only one of him.

Exhaustion weighing down his body, he lumbered in his ski boots farther downhill until the beeping picked up speed again. He probed repeatedly, but he was impeded by rocks as large as basketballs that had been flung to the side of the avalanche. When he thought he hit something that gave a bit, he dug as fast he could. How much time had passed? His stomach seized with growing fear. He was used to submerging his emotions while on duty, but Steph sobbed beside him, trembling weakly as she tried to dig with her hands. Her face was shadowed with bruises, her lip swollen and bleeding. She could barely use one arm, she had no shovel, but she kept digging.

“We’re coming!” Jeremey shouted, not knowing if Tyler could hear him.

Every second that ticked by seemed to ring in Jeremy’s head as if synchronized with the avalanche beacon. He dug until his arms and shoulders felt on fire. As if from a distance, he realized others had arrived, that someone drew Steph away so that more people could help dig with shovels. Her crying and pleas to God echoed in his ears, along with the words in his mind, Too late, too late.

Jeremy was the one who uncovered Tyler’s limp torso, his blue face compacted in the snow. Jeremy slipped his fingers beneath Tyler’s buff and found no pulse. Others helped dig him free, even as Jeremy started CPR, rhythmically pumping his chest, praying for a miracle.

When at last he had to stop, Steph gave another terrible cry and pulled Tyler’s into her arms, rocking his body and sobbing. It had been a sight that haunted Jeremy for months afterward. Much as Jeremy could have done nothing different, he felt like he should have been able to save them both.

Had Steph thought the same thing?

Jeremy realized he’d been staring out the window at the distant view of the Elk Mountains, their snow-covered peaks a reminder of beauty and danger. He shook himself out of his memories and went back to his desk to check out the day’s schedule on the computer. His first appointment wasn’t until 10, so he read through lab results, trying to put Steph from his thoughts, until someone knocked on the door.

Doc Ericson leaned partway through the door. “Steph is finishing up some routine bloodwork. You should be able to leave your office soon.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “I’m not hiding from her.”

“Of course not.” Chuckling, Doc sat down across the desk and looked around. “Not used to the view from this side.”

“Me neither.” Jeremy walked around the desk and took the seat next to him.

Doc eyed him speculatively. “How’s it going?”

“Your practice runs like clockwork, so I have nothing to complain about.”

The old man cocked his head. “You seem…different. Is the reality of small-town practice making you regret the choice?”

“No,” Jeremy said without hesitation. “This was always the plan.” Yet Doc had seen through to his unease. It wasn’t as if Jeremy hadn’t known what to expect as a doctor in Valentine Valley. He’d interned with Doc for many summers in college. But now his laid-back schedule seemed so…permanent.

This strange restless feeling was new to him. Posts online by his Denver friends made him feel wistful for big city life. He told himself it was all going to take some getting used to.

“Plans change,” Doc said. “If you want, I could unretire for a year.”

Jeremy leaned over and put his hand on the other man’s arm. “Doc, you’ve been good to me my entire life. I want you to enjoy your retirement. Surely there are some mountains in Colorado you haven’t skied yet.”

“Not many, but I do have a list…” He grinned. “I have some time if you need me—like today. I was happy to help. Any other young ladies you don’t want to treat?”

“That just sounds weird. There’s not a bunch of women I’m looking to date.” He remembered catching a glimpse of Steph through the window of her bakery right after he’d moved home. He’d come to a complete stop and practically gaped as she waited on a customer, her gorgeous smile making him realize something had shifted inside him where she was concerned.

Doc cocked his head. “You’re only young once…”

As the old man sauntered out of the room, it took Jeremy a moment to remember that they’d been talking about his move back to Valentine. He silently berated himself. If close friends like Doc were noticing his restlessness, then he was doing a poor job of controlling his emotions. He’d made his career decision, and he would make it a success.

It didn’t help that while he was waiting for his new house to close, he was living with his parents. He was grateful, but it made him feel like he’d gone back to childhood, sleeping in a room full of sports trophies. Besides, he could hardly have disappointed his mom, who relished taking care of him again. He didn’t need to be taken care of anymore, but if he wasn’t careful, she’d soon be peeling his oranges.

Copyright © Emma Cane