Buried Treasures, by Mary Manners has been named Book of the Year by The Wordsmith Journal in the Women's Fiction/Romance category. You can check it out here:
Here's a little peek at why this story won:
When Caroline flees Chicago following the brutal murder of her husband, the last thing she expects--or wants--is to fall for Matt Carlson, a builder with strong roots in the small town of Mountainview, Tennessee. She needs to focus on raising her six-year-old daughter and protecting both their hearts from ever being shattered again. Matt is struggling with issues of his own...guilt over the death of his wife and the responsibility of raising a cynical teenaged nephew who is dropped on his doorstep, abandoned by Matt's alcoholic sister. He doesn't have time to fall in love, yet he can't help being drawn to the woman who is ready to defend her home--and her daughter--with nothing more than a fiesty attitude and a broom handle. Can Matt's help and friendship convince Caroline to trust again...and when Caroline's daughter goes missing, will Matt be able to find the girl before it's too late and he loses everything he loves...again?
Lightning flashed around her like strobes doing battle with the floodlights over the front porch. Thunder roared and rocked the ground, nearly knocking her off her feet. In her arms, Callie whimpered and squirmed through a restless dream. Caroline fumbled in her pocket for her cell phone and realized she’d left it on the front seat of the car along with her purse…and the car keys.
Caroline debated only a moment before grabbing an industrial-sized push-broom propped against a wicker rocker near the front door. The storm closed in.
She cradled Callie in one arm and hoisted the broom handle like a saber in the other as she kicked open the solid-wood front door. The element of surprise was all she had going for her.
The door slammed wide, and the man tumbled backwards from the force of her kick. The hammer flew from his hand. It bounced off the hearth and clattered across the scuffed wood floor behind him.
“What are you doing here?” Adrenaline had Caroline’s heart galloping. Suddenly her senses came to full attention, and the exhaustion from a twelve-hour drive through night-blackness fled.
“What the…” He scrambled to his feet. Wide blue eyes gaped at her from beneath plaster-speckled hair. His face was streaked with grease, and his paint-splattered T-shirt sported a gaping rip at the hem.
“Get away. Move back toward the wall.” She jabbed the broom handle at his mid-section.
He sidestepped and held up both hands. “Careful with that, Caroline.”
The sound of her name eased her fear down a notch. How did he know who she was?
“I said move back.” Caroline managed to hold her voice steady as she jabbed the broom at him again. A rush of adrenaline burned through her. “I mean it.”
“You’ve got this all wrong.” Shock flashed to realization. He shook his head as laughter rose from the pit of his belly, startling her. His broad shoulders shook with each breath. “You’re going to scare the kid, Caroline. Give me that.” He yanked the broom from her with one quick motion and tossed it to the floor behind him. “Good grief. Do you realize the danger in what you just did, barging in on me like that? If you really thought I’d hurt you, you should have gone for help, first.”
Her chin rose in defiance as she cradled Callie against her. “Maybe I have. Maybe when I spotted your truck in the drive I called the police, and they’re on their way right now.” She should have called them, had been foolish not to. The idea caused a wave of terror to crest, but she tamped it down and bowed up to her full height, which brought her only to his shoulder. “I don’t understand what’s going on here. I think you should leave. Now.”
“It’s storming out there, in case you haven’t noticed.” Rain crashed against the bay windows in torrents, and the wind wailed and moaned through the open front door. He motioned to a radio on the coffee table. “Tornado watches have been issued clear across the county, Caroline, and into Knoxville.”
“I’m fully aware of that.” Callie whimpered and squirmed in her arms, and Caroline ached under the weight of her.
The child’s eyes fluttered open. “Mama, is there gonna be a tornado?”
“No, baby.” She smoothed damp hair and kissed a clammy forehead.
“Everything’s fine. Go back to sleep now.” Caroline shot the guy a look. “Nice going.” She stuffed a trembling hand into the pocket of her jeans, as if reaching for her phone. “I’m going to speed-dial the police right now.”
“Fine. You do that.” His voice challenged as his gaze narrowed. “The number’s nine-one-one.” He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “But why don’t you lay the kid on the couch first before you drop her?”
“Because…” Caroline recognized the flowered loveseat near the fireplace as the one she’d spent lazy teenage summer afternoons sprawled across, poring through Aunt Nora’s expansive collection of novels. She sighed and drew her hand, empty, from her pocket. Her voice rose with a simple plea. “Look, I don’t know what you’re doing here, especially at this hour of the night, but you’d better leave. I know the neighbors across the way, and I’ll get them.”
“It’s practically morning now.” He laughed again. “And you’re a week early, Caroline. Did you drive all night? What are you doing out in this weather?” Taller than her by more than a foot, he took a step toward her, and she stumbled back, drawing Callie tight to her chest. His deep blue eyes inched over her as she shivered. The width of his shoulders filled the doorframe. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
The words struck with more force than the clap of thunder that rocked the house. Lightning danced through the open front door, and rain splattered the hardwood floor. Caroline watched him reach for a denim jacket that had been tossed across the fireplace hearth. He smoothed the fabric and draped it over Callie. “The kid’s shivering.”
“How do you know my name…or that I’ve arrived early?” The jacket smelled like hay and damp earth mingled with a hint of clean aftershave. Caroline tucked the edges around Callie’s shoulders. “Who are you, and how did you get in here?” She glanced at the splintered door frame, frowned at the gaping hole in the oak door where a handle and deadbolt should have been. “The lock’s broke. Did you do that?”
“Relax. Take a breath before you hyperventilate.” He kicked the door closed and took the broom from the floor to prop it against the wall. Then he sauntered across the room to pick up his hammer before turning back to face her. “I’m Matt Carlson. I’m your neighbor from across the pasture, and Nora asked me to take care of a few things around here.”
“She did? But she’s been gone…”
“I know how long she’s been gone.” He took a tentative step toward her. “Would you let me help you with the kid—”
Caroline scooted back. “Her name’s Callie.”
“Right.” He took another step forward, his voice low and smooth. “Would you please let me take her? You look like you’re about to collapse.”
Caroline held her ground, but loosened her grip on Callie and nodded slightly. “Just to the couch, OK? And put the hammer down, first.”
Matt nodded slightly, tossed the hammer into the tool box, and gathered Callie into his arms. She nestled her head against his cotton T-shirt. “There you go. That’s better, sweetie.” He laid her on the couch and tucked the jacket around her shoulders.
“Did you say your name is Carlson?” Caroline kept her eyes on him. His touch seemed safe and gentle as he slid a throw pillow beneath Callie’s head, yet she couldn’t be too sure. “But the people across the pasture were…”
“Older. I know.” After readjusting the jacket over Callie, he stood to face her. “My grandparents used to live across the pasture. They retired to Knoxville a few years ago, and now I live in the house. I was a friend of Nora’s. I knew you were coming, but I thought it wasn’t until sometime next week.”
“Change of plans.” Caroline eyed the tool box. “So what’s with the hammer, and why are you intent on beating the door frame?”
He laughed again, and kicked the toolbox closed. Metal clattered as the clasp engaged. “Over the years weather splintered the wood. Nora never bothered to lock her doors, but she figured you might feel differently. So she asked me to take care of it, and a few other things, before she…passed on.” His voice lowered, and a hint of sadness shadowed his eyes.
“How did you know Aunt Nora? She never mentioned you. Why did she ask you to fix the door…and other things? Why—”
“Whoa. One bullet at a time.” He held up a hand. “My grandparents were Nora’s neighbors for years, and I helped her from time to time when I came out to visit. And then when I moved in year before last, Nora and I became friends and I began to help her more.”
“Oh, wait a minute.” Caroline ran a hand through damp hair, pacing. “She did mention you just before…she mentioned you might…” The floor blurred as tears filled her eyes.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Caroline. Nora was a beautiful soul. She’s going to be sorely missed.”
“I-I know. I’m sorry for…blubbering. I’m just very tired.” Caroline’s throat tightened. The sound of her name on his lips unnerved her. “If you don’t mind leaving now—”
From the beginning of the story, Ms. Manners has done it again. She pulled me right into the heart of her characters. The heartache, fear, and anxiety – the courage that Caroline shows as she faces the unknown echoes in the thunder around her. And the true moral fiber of Matt rings out in his determination to keep a promise he made – even though he made it to someone who has passed into the next life.
The beauty of God’s creation is all around them, gloriously displayed in Ms. Manners words. Every scene is so full, it’s as if you’re there. And as hard as Caroline and Matt try to hold themselves back, to keep their emotions at bay, God’s guiding hand continues to lead them toward each other.
This story is full of heartbreaking and heart stopping moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Don’t miss it!
About the author:
Mary Manners is an award-winning author of inspirational romance who lives in the beautiful foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee with her husband and teen-aged daughter. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and Smoky Mountain Romance Writers.
For this and more of her stories you can find her at: