Tanner Merrill returns home from Afghanistan bearing scars, both inside and out. If only the people of Lone Creek, who hail him as a hometown hero, knew his secret... Baylee Cameron harbors heartache of her own, which Tanner's sudden return forces her to face. She longs to share, but can she trust Tanner with her heart? Will the Legend of Lone Creek, which captured Tanner's three older brothers, claim Tanner and Baylee, as well?
Awards & Other Kudos
Praise: 4 1/2 Stars from Romantic Times Book Reviews for TENDER MERCIES, 4 Stars for MENDED HEART, and 4 Stars for LIGHT THE FIRE
Comments: This is one story worthy of a 5 cupcake review! (Donna Basinow on Grace's Gold)
Short and sweet and just like real chocolate, leaves you wanting more. (Clare Revell on Kate's Kisses)
There was so much to love about this story. (Novel
Editions on Mended Heart)
Tender Mercies is a wonderful story about the temptations fame brings...secondary characters add depth to this touching story of learning from mistakes and taking the opportunity offered by second chances. (Romantic Times Book Reviews on Tender Mercies)
I highly recommend this book to anyone. I cried, I laughed. Ms. Mary Manners has delivered a great book once again! (Brenda Talley, The Romance Studio, on Buried Treasures)
Starfire is a beautiful sweet romance. (Orchid, Long and Short Reviews, on Starfire)
Five Stars. Uplifting! Don't miss this one. (Schwitze, Amazon.com, on Brenna's Choice
Frigid air burned Tanner Merrill’s lungs as he galloped through the paddock and over the North pasture toward the creek. Sleep eluded him, and the pre-dawn chill coaxed blood through his heart that pumped like a piston. His thighs screamed from holding tight to the racing stallion. Months—nearly two years—had passed since Tanner’s last ride, yet the curve of Black Gold’s saddle felt familiar beneath his backside.
Everything else felt foreign—from the falling snowflakes tickling his beard-stubbled cheeks to the down-lined leather jacket wrapped around him. It had been months since he’d worn anything but army fatigues or a hospital gown.
Christmas lights along the Main House gave the air a festive feel, yet Tanner’s heart felt as numb as his chilled fingers. It would take some getting used to—being home again in Lone Creek.
The air was crisp, the wind a whisper over the subtle glow of a waking horizon. Clouds began to clear, chasing snowflakes away. Sounds seemed magnified—every hoof beat, the swish of denim against Black Gold’s flanks, a brush of leather reins over the stallion’s midnight mane.
A lone cardinal flitted over the pasture, taking refuge in a snow-kissed pine, its crimson feathers a splash of color over new-fallen snow.
Tanner paused as the cold air nipped his lungs. Drifting snow seemed almost magical—clean, new, beautiful, and pure. This was his favorite time of all—the first snow of winter, when a layer of white lay in tufts over the sleeping ground.
The rush of the creek beckoned, and Tanner gently tapped Black Gold’s flank with the heel of his boot. Together they headed toward the shore. He was glad for the alone time. During his deployment to Afghanistan, the ranch had morphed from a quiet refuge to a bustling metropolis complete with a dozen guest cabins and a full slate of winter programs due to resume after the holidays.
His older brothers—Carson, Dalton, and Nick—meant well, but they were smothering him. In the few days he’d been home, they’d plied him with coffee and non-stop conversation as well as a smorgasbord of food prepared by their wives—Jessica, Emilee, and Sawyer.
Tanner pressed a finger to his temple, massaging away a gnawing ache as he tried to make sense of things. He had sisters-in-law and two nephews, with a third and fourth on the way. Jessica was due to give birth in the spring, and Alex, officially adopted by Nick and Sawyer last fall, was on the brink of earning his driving permit and about to become a big brother. Emilee and Dalton’s little one, Colt, scampered into all kinds of mischief.
Imagine that. Each of his brothers—once self-confirmed bachelors—happily married and dads, to boot. They all belonged to someone special, their lives neatly woven together here at the ranch. Tanner, on the other hand, felt like a guest who had arrived late for the party. Life at Lone Creek had passed him by, and he was still struggling to catch up.
Each brother had come home—Dalton from the rodeo, Nick from smoke-jumping, and Carson…well, he’d finally escaped the ghosts of his past—and ended up snagged by a woman. Tanner wouldn’t fall victim to the Lone Creek curse…that was for sure. Besides, since his up-close-and-personal encounter with an explosive while running recon in Afghanistan, who would want him now, anyway?
Tanner paused at the creek edge. Icicles clung to rhododendrons along the shore, and the clean scent of pine filled his lungs. He’d lost the Thanksgiving holiday to a stint in the army hospital, and Christmas loomed less than three weeks away. He thought of the sparkling Christmas lights that illuminated the entrance to Lone Creek and tried to conjure a little holiday cheer.
It was no use.
He slipped from the stallion and stomped through the snow a short length along the creek. His throat was dry as sandpaper. Tugging gloves from his hands, he hunched down and leaned forward. His dog tags slipped free, jangling together as he scooped a few handfuls of frigid water.
The bite shocked his system as it rushed to his belly. The cold felt invigorating on his face, though. Sometimes flashbacks of the explosion stabbed with phantom pain, causing his heart to hammer while his skin turned clammy.
Behind him, the sun made its ascent, catching his reflection along the water. Tanner gaped, transfixed for a moment by the image shifting along the surface. His eyes were familiar, as was the sharp angle of his jaw. But the flesh along his left cheek was marred, his beard a patch of lawn mangled by a runaway tractor.
He gasped and quickly turned away, but the mottled impression was burned into his mind. A ridge of jagged skin gaped along his hairline. He lifted a hand to touch the exposed flesh. Gone were the good looks that had, through high school and college, made him like honey to a flock of girls. Now, when women looked at him, he sensed a measure of pity. He’d heard their furtive whispers.
That’s Tanner Merrill…the soldier who nearly died in Afghanistan. Did you see his face?
Tanner groaned, remembering scars like jagged puzzle pieces along both forearms, as well. Doc said they would fade some over time, but never completely.
He’d carry the damage the rest of his life.
Question 1: Love in Lone Creek is based on Job 23:10: He knows the way I take. When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. How do you think this applies to Tanner? To Baylee?
Question 2: How are Baylee and Tanner the same in terms of the scars they carry? How are they different?
Question 3: How do the strong Merrill family ties help Tanner to overcome his anxiety about being wounded? How do they help Baylee overcome her loss, as well?
Question 4: Tanner has a strong faith, and yet he admits he has faltered in his beliefs. Have you ever faltered, or felt weak in your beliefs? How did you overcome this?
Question 5: What do you think was Baylee's true purpose in writing a letter to Tanner? How did this change the course of their relationship?
Question 6: Why is it so difficult for Tanner and Baylee to trust their feelings for one another? Is it possible to truly love without complete trust? Why or why not?
Question 7: Tanner is the youngest Merrill brother. How do you think this affects the way he reacts to the trials he's faced? Why?
Question 8: Do you believe in the Legend of Lone Creek? Do you believe God has a hand in bringing people like Tanner and Baylee together? Have you ever personally witnessed a situation such as theirs? If so, share it.
Question 9: What role do Tanner's brothers (and their wives) play in bringing Baylee and Tanner together?
Question 10: What do you think the future holds for Tanner and Baylee?