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Valentine Valley novella #4
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Secrets in Valentine Valley
a Valentine Valley Novella
by Emma Cane
Welcome back to Valentine Valley, where love can overcome
Sweet thought he’d found the woman of his dreams—
(Secrets in Valentine Valley is available ONLY at online bookstores)
"Valentine Valley is a great series featuring a
diverse cast of characters and the atmosphere of small town charm. “Secrets” was a charming addition."
"If you haven't yet read anything by Emma Cane you don't know what you are missing. She writes wonderful, heartwarming funny stories."
Romancing the Readers
Daniel Sweet crossed the front porch of his small ranch house in Valentine Valley, Colorado, heading for the mailbox. Above, the sun had already gone behind the Elk Mountains, leaving the sky clear blue, but the street shadowed. As he jogged down the front steps he saw an unfamiliar car parked out front and sudden movement inside, a head lowering as if the person didn’t want to be seen. Curious, he looked through the window—and came to a dead stop.
His ex-girlfriend Kristin Butler sat behind the wheel, as scrunched down as possible, staring up at him with wide, shocked eyes, the same purple color as the lilacs that surrounded his house. Eighteen months ago, she’d cleared out her apartment and vanished without a word.
Disbelief and anger warred inside him, along with the visceral shimmer of awareness she could still make him feel, damn her. She’d never had movie-star looks, but there was something arresting about her heart-shaped face, with its pointed chin and high cheekbones. Her eyes had been unusual, her mouth generous and smiling, and he’d been totally taken in, assuming those smiles were real. What an idiot he’d been.
When he rapped on the window, she flinched and turned the key so she could roll it down.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded.
Her face had gone ghost pale beneath her short, dark curls. He had an odd realization that she’d cut her long hair.
“I—I—” And then she just gazed at him helplessly.
He looked up and down the street, and although no one was near, there were joggers approaching, and a woman coming the other way pushing a stroller. “We can’t talk here. Get out of the car.”
“You can’t be serious,” he said between clenched teeth. “You show up to spy on me after dropping out of sight without a word, and now you ‘shouldn’t’?”
“You’re right,” she murmured, then picked up her purse and opened the car door.
She stood too close, and he caught the elusive citrusy scent of her perfume. That hadn’t changed—nor had its effect on him. She wore a short little trench coat over jeans, hardly the sexiest outfit. But she could wear a feedbag and he’d think she was hot. He’d fallen hard for her the moment their eyes had met across the tomato display at the grocery store.
After they went up the porch stairs, he swung the heavy door inward. The house was old-fashioned, with a lot of wood trim in the front hall and up the stairs leading to the second floor. She took the first arched entrance on the right into the living room, where he turned on a lamp to see her better in the twilight shadows.
Hugging herself, she murmured, “The house hasn’t changed much.”
“Well, I have. I’m not as trusting as I used to be. Why are you here?”
She met his gaze, her striking eyes luminous and pained. “I—I had to see how you were.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “A year and a half later? Now you care about how I’m doing?”
“I’ve always cared,” she whispered, lifting her chin, though her lips trembled.
“Then tell me what happened to make you think running out on me without a word was okay.”
“I never thought that, but…it’s complicated.” She took a deep breath. “I went into Denver that weekend—”
“And I couldn’t go because we had a job deadline. Finish the building or forfeit a huge fine. Obviously that worked for you,” he added bitterly. Then he closed his mouth and ran a hand through his hair. He didn’t want to be this way, had thought he was over her.
“I had hoped to see my father, but when I arrived…” Her voice got smaller; her whole body seemed to shrink. “He was murdered right in front of me.”
Daniel froze, staring at her, waiting for her to betray a lie. A tear slid down her face, and she hurriedly brushed it away. The blow of shock and confusion felt like a punch to his stomach.
“Murdered?” He softened his voice. “And you couldn’t tell me this?”
“I—I found out a lot of things about my father that weekend,” she said tiredly. “And I wasn’t allowed to talk to you about any of them.”
Not allowed? He was more curious than he wanted to be, since she’d proven she hadn’t needed his comfort. He should forget about the mystery of her, but he couldn’t. She’d affected everything in his life—his belief in himself, the way he thought he read people, everything.
And she was still trembling, ever so slightly.
He sighed. “Let me make you some coffee. I need explanations, and you’re going to give them to me. There’s some reason you’re here after all this time. I want to know that, too.”
He led the way into the kitchen and pointed to the table with a built-in bench along one side and chairs along the other. “Go ahead and sit down.”
After setting her purse on the bench, she slid in while he turned on the light to combat the gloom of approaching night. At the counter, he started a four-cup pot of coffee. They said nothing while he retrieved the half-and-half he remembered she liked and put the sugar bowl on the table.
A few minutes later, he put two mugs of coffee on the table and sat down. “Drink something. You look like you’re going to faint.”
Those eyes went cool. “I’m not going to faint. I’m stronger than that—and I’ve proven it.”
“Okay.” This conversation wasn’t going to be easy. “I know your father was your only close relative still living. It must have been terrible to see him murdered in front of you. I assume the cops wouldn’t let you talk about it?”
She nodded as she took a sip, then said with a trace of bitterness, “My dad was an accountant, but apparently he knew his clients were a street gang that had moved into organized crime. I’m not even supposed to be telling you this, but—”
Suddenly, all the lights in the house went out.
Daniel sighed and spoke into the darkness. “I hope a transformer didn’t blow.” Through the window, he could see the houses on the next street, and they were all lit normally. “That’s strange.”
He caught the wide sheen of her eyes just before she clutched his wrist, sliding out of the booth and onto the floor, dragging him.
“Kristin, what the hell—”
But she yanked even yarder, and he was forced to drop to a squat beside her.
“Since when did you become afraid of the dark?” he asked.
“In my world, there’s now a lot more to be afraid of,” she whispered fiercely. “I’m under witness protection, Daniel. I wasn’t supposed to come back here. What if they’ve found me?”
|Copyright © Emma Cane|