Monday, June 5, 2017

Week 23: Veiled Gems (Diamond Knot Dreams #1) by Mary Manners

Lila Brooks believes in fairytale endings for everyone but herself. She coaxes her dream of opening a wedding shop into reality when she commissions Morgan Holt to transform a run-down Victorian house into an all-inclusive bridal boutique, Diamond Knot Dreams. Clover Cove’s residents have whispered that the house is filled with spirits, but superstitions have no place in Lila's life.

Morgan Holt spent the better part of his youth transplanted from one foster home to another. Separated from his older brother, Gunnar, at an early age, they’re reunited shortly after Morgan’s arrival to Clover Cove. But the last thing Morgan wants is to trust his heart again to a family—or a woman as beautiful as Lila Brooks. He has plans to finish work on the Victorian and then ride off into the sunset, a move he’s perfected over the years.

Soon Lila and Morgan have a chance at their own Happily Ever After, but will events from the past destroy their future?

1st Chapter:

Lila Brooks shielded her eyes with one hand to peer down the boulevard. Sunlight dappled through graceful branches of weeping cherry trees, turning the pavement to a shimmer of diamonds. Warm, generous rays teased Lila’s eyes and heated her skin through a pressed linen skirt and coral blouse. A gentle breeze carried the musky scent of rich, damp earth and moderated the sultry heat. Hair along the nape of Lila’s neck danced and tickled.
The day was as close to perfection as anyone could wish for. Fresh mown lawns hinted at spring. Yet, the verdant landscape did little to soften Lila’s anxious mood as she paced a length of sidewalk.
            Morgan Haynes, the builder who had come highly recommended by her friend Avery’s father, was late. Lila frowned. Long-awaited renovations for her bridal boutique were poised to begin and she was anxious to get the work underway. She’d spent the better part of a year researching properties and had finally settled on the quaint East Tennessee town of Clover Cove. Her initial visit to the area revealed a flux of growth that would easily support new business, yet the community took pride in maintaining its hometown, neighborly spirit. Subsequent visits, followed by a permanent relocation several months ago, merely served to enhance Lila’s intuition.
She’d planned and labored long months to bring her well-laid designs for the wedding shop to fruition. Now that the property had been purchased and the construction loan signed and sealed, she didn’t want any further delays. An overhaul would transform the majestic three-story Victorian house into a state-of-the-art bridal showplace.
It had been nearly three months since Lila had staked a placard, now slightly yellowed and fading a bit from the effects of inclement weather, in the lawn beside the Victorian’s front stairs. Its message rang simple and to the point:
Coming Soon…
Diamond Knot Dreams: Your One-stop Wedding Shop.
            Coming Soon proved the operative phrase. Lila wanted to complete this project with every attention to detail, but her patience was wearing thin. Excitement took over. She longed to get the boutique up and running. Surely she could find a balance to get everything done well and within a timely fashion.
It was going to take a village to coax the business to fruition, and so far she and Morgan were the only two signed up for the team.
            And as it stood Morgan was AWOL. No phone call, no text, no email.
Where was he?
            Lila felt as if she’d known Morgan for a lifetime, yet she had stumbled upon him merely months ago and quite by accident. After confiding to her former college roommate and lifelong friend, Avery Lakin, her frustration in finding a builder who was both willing and qualified to tackle the boutique project, Avery spurred to action. Less than twenty-four hours later Lila had received a call from Avery’s dad, who supplied Morgan’s information and personally vouched for him as a top-of-the-line builder. Additionally, Morgan specialized in transforming older buildings while maintaining the heart of their original beauty.
Lila snatched the timely lead. A quick phone call to Morgan’s Nashville office set things into motion. Via the countless emails and phone conversations that followed, she found Morgan to be forthright and dependable. Even more importantly, he seemed capable of tackling the project while respecting the confines of her budget. His sense of humor and the ease she found in their ability to communicate proved an added bonus.
As the weeks passed, Lila found herself looking forward to Morgan’s calls for more than the business aspect. His deep, southern accent proved intriguing and Lila knew from his website photos that he had the looks to match. He’d seemed as eager as she to finally meet in person and get this project started.
Until today. Where was he?
Lila gazed down the boulevard once again. A mockingbird in the tree across the way warbled through its repertoire of calls. The branches of a weeping cherry quaked as the bird swooped to a lower limb to continue his lonesome serenade. He seemed to be calling to her—or perhaps calling for Morgan. But his cry did no good at all. Traffic along the road proved light this time of mid-afternoon. Not so much as a motorcycle or even a bicycle crossed her path as she waited there. Lila hoped to enhance the traffic pattern with a clever marketing campaign. She planned to welcome a healthy flow of vehicles as soon as the boutique opened its doors.
Lila nibbled a fingernail as she envisioned Morgan snarled in a traffic jam. She’d learned the hard way that the I-40 corridor between downtown Nashville and Clover Cove could be daunting as rush-hour approached.
Or perhaps he’d changed his mind about coming…
She dismissed the thought as she turned her attention back to the house. The Victorian, with its drooping sleepy-eyed shutters, languished like a neglected woman just waiting for her soulmate to come along so they might embark together on the adventure of a lifetime. A wide, graveled area at the front entrance would, with some serious TLC, serve as an ample parking lot. The weed-infested area led to a broad staircase that opened onto a sweeping wrap-around porch just made for sweet tea and sunshine. The flooring and rails would benefit from a pressure-washing and fresh coat of paint. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine a cluster of rocking chairs accented by the colorful spill of potted wave petunias.
Lila’s plan to offer a down-home southern flair, along with impeccable customer service, was sure to draw clients to the bridal boutique like honey draws flies.
Ample, panoramic windows at the front of the wood-framed structure offered a wash of natural light along the interior. Original hardwood flooring would be stripped and polished to a high sheen meant to complement the many displays she planned to showcase.
Lila’s pulse thrummed with anticipation. There were so many things to love about the building; she found it hard to believe this property had sat vacant for several years. But the structure’s crowning detail proved to be a pair of stout, regal turrets. One perched along the east side of the front and a second adorned the back. Both drew the eye in an enchanting architectural display.
The house proved a beautiful, intriguing poem whose architectural lines pleased even the most discerning eye. The structure lacked for nothing—except a thorough overhaul of its inner workings. She and Morgan had agreed that updated wiring and plumbing would be a good place to start. In addition, Lila had requested the removal of a few non-weight-bearing walls. The renovation would open the first floor into a spacious showroom.
Morgan had assured Lila during their many phone conferences and emails that the list of repairs would be easy enough to complete before spring eased to summer. But Lila still felt more than a bit uneasy when she thought of the copious notes and details they’d sifted through. There were just so many things to consider.
Elephants danced a jig through her belly. She splayed a hand to calm the nerves. Had she thought things out well enough? Had she considered every possible detail? There were a million things that could go wrong with this project and any delay could easily cripple her financially. She’d tossed every last penny of her savings into the mix and had gambled on a small business loan, as well, to chase this dream to the finish line.
Even so, the house’s peeling paint and weather-warped deck boards did nothing to dispel Lila’s excitement. She saw beyond the Victorian’s dust and fractured plaster to the beauty locked inside. The house sat like a princess on her throne and Lila vowed to add a bushel of crowning touches.
            But the work couldn’t begin until the tardy Mr. Morgan Haynes showed himself. And if that didn’t happen soon, Lila would surely lose her mind. She reached into her purse for her cellphone and checked the screen for a voicemail, a text. At this point she’d even settle for a flimsy smoke signal.
Any sign of life.
Instead she found nothing but a blank screen. Lila caught her lower lip between her teeth and grimaced as she dropped the phone back into her purse. Pacing the length of the sidewalk did no good to calm the rising tide that turned her stomach. Worry set in. It was so out of character for Morgan to miss an appointment time that Lila feared he might be snarled in a ghastly pile-up along the interstate.
The thought tangled her nerves. She feared she might never meet Morgan face-to-face. The project aside, something more drew her to him…something she couldn’t begin to explain. Could she possibly have feelings for a man she hadn’t even met? One she’d merely conversed with?
Often. Daily. Sometimes several times a day.
She sighed and paused to gather her bearings. The sidewalk swam beneath her feet as she imagined him in harm’s way. Astonished, she realized her eyes had flooded with tears.
The humidity must be getting to her. She drew a deep breath and willed her pulse to steady. As her senses knitted back together, a thought came—perhaps she’d do better to pray instead of fretting over something that was beyond her control.
            She dipped her head and was about to close her eyes and surrender herself when a flash of red swooped around the corner. It took a moment to register the flashy sports car that gleamed like a ripe habanero pepper as sunlight bounced from the waxed paint. The ragtop fanned open. Music blared over the muffled, steady rumble of a high-powered engine.
Lila pressed one hand to her ribcage and drew a huge breath of relief.
Morgan—he’s OK. He’s arrived safely.
She headed that way as the car approached with the saucy swagger of a confident driver at the wheel. She lifted her sunglasses from the bridge of her nose and propped them atop her head. Sunlight stung her eyes, causing tears to gather again. She swiped away the moisture and blinked hard to clear her vision. She wanted a good look at the man to whom she had entrusted her life savings—and her future in Clover Cove.
His dark hair danced in the breeze. Though his voice lost its battle with the thrum of music, his moving lips told her he sang right along with the melody. His eyes were shielded by reflective wire-frame sunglasses, but the kelly-green polo shirt showcased sinewy forearms as well as a broad and well-defined terrain of shoulders. The guy obviously knew his way around heavy equipment.
Lila planted her hands on her hips as the car skidded to a stop alongside the curb. She waited, tapping polished fingernails along the top of her thighs, for Morgan to lower the radio’s volume. Unaffected by her piercing gaze, he belted out the final verse of the song.
Now she heard him. Oh, yes indeed. She narrowed her gaze and made a point to tap the face of her watch.
No matter. He actually had the nerve to wink at her as the last note resonated.
Flashing a magnetic smile as if he didn’t have a care in the world, he switched off the ignition. The music faded, but he continued the tune with a totally original verse.
“Are you finished yet? Are you done belting out your ridiculous rendition of that song?” Lila felt her blood pressure soar to a dangerous level. “Because, if I didn’t know better I’d think you hoped to be discovered by a talent scout.”
“Wow…” Morgan twirled his key ring on one finger. “So you think I’m ready for the big stage?”
“I wouldn’t go that far.” Though her nerves still fired with the thought of waiting on him, Lila felt the tickle of a smile along the corners of her lips. She had to admit that although Morgan would probably never win a talent show for his singing—much less an award for being on time today—he possessed a healthy dose of charisma that she found endearing. “Saying you’re ready for crooning in the shower would be a stretch, and that’s only if no one is listening.”
“Ouch.” The smile went flat as he opened the driver’s door and unfolded himself from the seat. His legs were long, lean, and the rest of him followed suit. “You don’t mince words, do you?”
“Not when it comes to my business…or my money.”
“I’ll file that memo for future reference.” He tapped his left temple. “By the way, I’m Morgan Haynes.”
He offered his hand. Huge, warm, callused. The guy was no stranger to physical labor. Yet she sensed a gentleness as his fingers melded with hers.
For a long moment, neither one of them let go.
“Morgan…I assumed as much.” With a tinge of regret, Lila drew her hand back. “I recognize you from the photo posted on your website. I’m pleased to finally meet you. And, as you’ve most likely suspected, I’m Lila Brooks.”
“Lila, yes.”  He stepped onto the sidewalk as his gaze drank her in. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too.”
“Thank you.” She nodded curtly. “For the record, you’re late.”
“Actually, I’m two minutes early.” Morgan smoothed the pad of his thumb over the face of his wristwatch to prove his point. “Two and a half minutes, to be exact.” He ran a hand through his hair, coaxing the dark, windblown waves back into place. A shadow of stubble grazed his jawline, connecting at a deep cleft near the center of his chin. When he removed his sunglasses, smoky-blue eyes tagged hers and held tight. “But if you’d like me to get back in my car and drive away, then return in a few minutes so you can be right on the point, I’m more than happy to oblige.”
“No, that’s certainly not necessary.” Lila gathered her hair as it danced in the breeze to veil her eyes and tease her cheeks. She wished she had thought to secure it with an elastic band, as was her habit, before heading out that morning. “It’s just that in my universe if you’re not at least ten minutes early, you’re late.”
“Well, I obviously don’t reside in your universe, so one of us is going to have to consider a change of zip code.” Morgan turned back toward the car. “And, since we’re filing mental notes, just for the record you need to know that I don’t do well taking orders from high maintenance control-freaks.”
“High maintenance…control freaks?” Lila stuttered. “Who’s a control freak?”
“Take a look.” Morgan grinned as he tapped the car’s side-view mirror. Lila was horrified to find her image gazing back. “If the reflection fits…”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m not high maintenance. ” Lila shook her head to reinforce the fact and pressed a hand to his forearm. It only took a moment for her to regret the touch as sinewy muscles screamed back at her. The guy had obviously spent substantial time wielding construction tools. “At least not usually. My current attitude is merely a reflection of my frazzled nerves, and I suppose I can concede that’s really not your fault at all.”
“You’ve got that right.”
“OK, I’m sorry.” Lila broached a weary smile. “This project has me on edge. So, cut me a little slack.”
“I can do that.” Morgan’s gaze slid to her hand still resting along his arm. “And though the jury’s still out on the high maintenance issue, I completely understand the nerves. This is a huge undertaking.” His gaze shifted to the Victorian. “But she’s a beauty in the rough, that’s for sure. We’re going to accomplish great things together…a total transformation.”
“You think so?”
“I do, or I wouldn’t be here.”
“Right. I’m sorry for starting off on the wrong foot and for being so snippity with you.”
“Snippity? Is that a real word?”
“It is now.” Lila removed her hand from his arm and stepped back. “Like I said, I’m just…a little on edge and anxious to get going.”
“Then, let’s get to it.” He started toward the house.
“Yes, let’s.”
Lila fell in step beside him. His stride was long, and she struggled to keep pace. She hadn’t made it half-a-dozen steps when the heel of her navy pump caught in a sidewalk crack. She stumbled—right into Morgan.
“Whoa, there.” Without missing a beat, he caught her against his chest. For a moment she found herself in a tilt-a-whirl of sensations. “I’ve got you.”
A terrain of muscles…the clean scent of soap…a hint of cotton.
She steadied herself and blew a wisp of bangs from her eyes as she slanted a gaze upwards to find Morgan staring at her. “Well, that’s just peachy…nothing seems to be going as planned today.”
“Why don’t you take a breath? We’ll slow the pace a little.” He set her firmly on her feet and took a step back. “Better?”
“Yes. Thanks.”
He offered her a hand as his lips curved into a lopsided smile. Again, Lila found evidence of a strong work ethic along the surface of his palm; calluses lined his fingers.  “You don’t have to go it alone anymore—I’m here now. You’ve got a load on your plate and that’s a lot to handle, so let me share the burden. It’s wise to remember that restoring a century-old house takes a tender, patient touch—not a bulldozer.”
“Of course you’re right. That’s why you’re the expert.” Lila straightened and smoothed a wrinkle from her pencil skirt. She wished she’d thought to wear more sensible shoes along with the hairband she’d also forgotten. The breeze caused her hair to tumble over her shoulders and into her eyes. She brushed it back with her fingers. “I’m pleased to finally meet you, Mr. Haynes.”
“Good grief, call me Morgan. We’re going to be working together from this point on, elbow to elbow, so let’s just shelve the formalities.” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “I’m glad we’re finally here together. Those phone conversations and the tedious exchange of emails was getting old fast.” Morgan scanned the length of her, pausing at the area just below her knees, where the hem of the skirt skimmed her skin, before rising up to tag her gaze once again. “You look different than I expected.”
“How so?”
“Just…” He shrugged and tucked the sunglasses into the collar of his polo shirt. “…softer. From your tone during our conversations I expected more of the drill-sergeant type—short hair, loafers, no nail polish or make-up. The no-nonsense type.”
“Loafers?” Lila chuckled. “Well, despite my more feminine attire and the fact that I prefer to wear my hair long and my nails groomed, I am certainly no-nonsense when it comes to business decisions.”
“Yes, that is one footnote that has rung through loud and clear.”
“I suppose your round-about sort of compliment warrants a thank you, so…thank you.” Lila tossed her length of hair back over one shoulder and checked the buttons on her blouse. Morgan regarded her as if he could see right through her. What had he expected—that she’d sport three heads, each with a cyclops eye? “Well, I’m ready to get this project started if you are.”
“Oh, I’m beyond ready. But wait just one more minute. I almost forgot something important.” He turned and jogged a few steps back toward the car. He leaned into the open ragtop and lifted a bulky package from the passenger seat. “Here you go.”
“Flowers…you brought me flowers?” Lila pressed the generous cluster of wildflower blooms to her nose and inhaled the sweet promise of spring. “They’re absolutely lovely, and wildflowers are my favorite.”
“I figured a girl like you would prefer roses, but I’m glad these will do. I thought they were pretty.”
“They are beautiful. And they’re absolutely perfect. Wildflowers top my list. But why did you do this? I didn’t expect—”
“I know you didn’t. That’s what makes it extra special. And I suppose I should warn you that I’m full of surprises. This has been a huge project…the dream, the vision, the plans. I thought you should have something to commemorate the beginning of the final stage—construction.”
“Thank you, Morgan. That’s so sweet.” Lila gently stroked the blooms. “You’re really sweet.”
“Well, I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but never sweet. So, you’re welcome.” He bowed elegantly and then rose again to turn once more toward the car. He grabbed a ball cap from the seat and tugged it low on his head to shield his eyes from the sun. “Now, lead the way if you can manage in those non-loafer shoes. Which, I might add, I find highly appealing.”
“No worries.” Lila hid a grimace as her toes pinched in the pumps. She warmed at the thought that he found her appealing, yet chastised herself for her poor wardrobe choice. What was she thinking this morning to don footwear so unsuitable for the day’s tasks? Maybe Morgan’s suggestion of loafers wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Her entire outfit was more appropriate for a day spent behind a desk—not roaming the grounds of the winding, spacious Victorian. She adjusted her purse strap over her shoulder and turned once more toward the narrow walkway that led to the house.
The breeze suddenly kicked up, causing fallen leaves to skitter along the curb. As Lila gazed skyward through the weathered glass of the Victorian’s front turret, she was sure a shadow crossed the window. Her pulse shuddered at the thought of an intruder in the house.
“Did you see that?” She motioned toward the window.
“What?” Morgan followed her gaze.
“Up there…in the window.” She squinted and shielded her eyes against the sun for a better look. “I saw something.”
“Probably just a shadow, a reflection of a tree limb.”
“Maybe.” She strained her gaze, but the scrutiny found no further sign of movement.
She shrugged off the idea of an unwelcome visitor lurking along the property. No one with the exception of she and the realtor had been in the house during the past year. Morgan had yet to step inside. His work had all been done through research using the architectural plans and a computer program. He had yet to see the guts of the structure firsthand.
Lila brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. This sunlight has my eyes playing tricks on me. Morgan’s right, I must have seen a tree limb dancing in the breeze.
“Are you OK?” Morgan eased in beside Lila, notepad in hand, and took her by the elbow. “Let me help you. This gravel is tricky. It’s definitely on the to-do list to repave this lot for easier access and parking.
“I’m OK. I just thought…well, I really thought I saw something lurking in the turret window. It looked like a woman dressed in an old-fashioned gown…you know, with a high-buttoned collar.” Lila demonstrated by cupping a hand above her collarbone. “But it couldn’t possibly have been, or you would have seen it too. I simply saw the reflection of a tree branch or a passing cloud.”
“There are no clouds in the sky today.” Morgan motioned toward the rich expanse of blue above them. “Look…nothing but an ocean of sunshine.”
“Right.” Lila hesitated as she gave the window a final curt scan before drawing her attention back to Morgan. “Then it was a shadow of some sort. There are plenty of trees along the front yard.”
“Yes, there are.” Morgan nodded as he rubbed the scruff along his chin. “So, you’re probably right on that count. But I still have to ask…have you seen them yet?”
“Seen who?”
            “The spirits that are said to be found here. I’ve done a little research of my own on this property and rumor has it that the house took so long to sell because people are concerned that something lingers inside…something not of this world.” He motioned toward the second-floor turret where a pane of glass was fractured by a jagged gash. The damage was just one of the many reasons Lila had been able to snatch this building for a song from the realty company. “By all accounts this place is…well, some would assert that it’s haunted.”
“That’s simply an old wife’s tale.” Lila sniffed and the pollen from a cluster of Bradford pear trees along the drive made her sneeze. When she’d caught her breath and thanked Morgan for his God bless you, she continued. “This house is nothing of the sort. Talk like that is just…well, it’s merely superstition. I would prefer to keep such rumors where they belong—out of the limelight.”
“Whatever you say, but I’m not the one who’s seeing shadows.” Morgan tucked his car keys into his pocket. “Anyway, why don’t we shelve the so-called rumors until later and get this party started?”
“Yes, and I saw the reflection of a tree limb.” She nodded stiffly to drive the point home. “You were right; that’s all it was. Nothing more.”
Yet, now she wasn’t so sure.
“Of course you did.” He tucked the notebook beneath one arm. “Are you ready to head inside?”
“Oh…I’m more than ready. I think I may have seen a vase for these flowers in an upstairs room.” The previous owners had left several pieces of furniture and a flurry of belongings—almost as if they’d left in a hurry. “And the water should be running—I called the company last week to have it turned back on.”
“All systems are go, then.”
“Yes, they are.” Suddenly, Lila felt a tiny trill of excitement at what lay in store. Her life-long dream to own her own business was taking flight now—at this very moment. She’d be her own boss, make the boutique exactly what she wanted it to be. Her imagination—and her budget—were the only limits. The very thought was almost surreal. She stepped carefully along the gravel drive, holding her balance as she crossed to the stairs. “And, Mr. American Idol wannabe, I can manage in these shoes just fine.”
“Sure you can.” Morgan covered his mouth with one hand. Lila was sure his light snickers were directed at her. He bowed once more as he swept his free hand across the drive. “After you, princess. Let’s go.”


Thanks for joining in the fun. I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into Veiled Gems (Diamond Knot Dreams #1). Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing. Check back on Monday, June 12, when the winner will be announced and a new book featured.


  1. This sounds like a great story! Thanks for sharing your chapter!
    sallyshupe1 at gmail dot com

  2. I love the cover ( of course purple is my favorite color)
    The first chapter is awesome, can't wait to find out who/ what was in the window
    Thank you for the opportunity to win

    Pam Z


  3. Hi, Pam! Thanks so much for visiting. You are this week's winner. Your book is on its way. Happy Reading!!

  4. Thank you :)
    Looking forward to reading it
    God bless


Thank you for reading this week's 1st chapter! I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave your comment, along with an e-mail address. If you are this week's winner, you'll receive a request for your mailing address, so I can get your book right out to you.

Thanks for taking time to read my books! I appreciate you!