Romance author Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

Romance author Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like......Thanksgiving!!

I bet you thought I'd say "Christmas" didn't you? But I'm an old-fashioned purist who likes to keep holidays in their own time and seasons unto their own.  So even though a lot of retail stores had Christmas and holiday merchandise out even before Halloween, I'm focused on Thanksgiving.  But here in the Ozarks, it's still autumn outside my windows.  It looks and feels like November.  I'm planning out the dinner I'll cook a week from Thursday too.

My newest release, due out this Saturday from Rebel Ink Press, includes a family Thanksgiving celebration. In fact, the holiday marks a pivotal moment in the lives of Devlin and Gracie but no spoilers here!  Devlin's Grace is a poignant love story.  I'll share the cover and blurb here in a just a moment but first I thought I'd share a Thanksgiving moment from my 2011 holiday release, Sing We Now of Christmas.


 

When Jessica Martin met Johnny Devereaux that December, holiday magic filled the air but their love was no enchantment….he was, without doubt the love of her life and by summer, they were happy newlyweds with all their life and holidays ahead.

But when he failed to return home from a fishing trip on the Fourth of July, Jessica’s world is rocked to the foundation and when the authorities tell her that her husband is missing, presumed dead, she refuses to believe it.

As the months and seasons pass, no one else holds out hope but Jessica believes.

She knows he’ll be home for Christmas no matter what.  Her family calls her crazy, Johnny’s family tries to help her find closure but Jessica’s heart refuses to surrender hope.

When Christmas comes, the truth will come out to shock them all.

Excerpt:
            She woke Thursday morning to the rattle of sleet against the tin roof of the little cabin and when she looked out, snow covered the ground.  Shivering as soon as she tossed off the covers, Jessica peered out the window at a world turned icy and white.   She dressed in layers to stay warm and turned on the oven to banish some of the chill.   She made coffee, sipped it and savored the heat, then nibbled on a slice of toast.

            Her cell phone chimed and she turned it on, knowing it was Phyllis.

            “Hi!” she sang out, forcing a cheerful note into her voice.

            “Good morning, Jessica,” Phyllis said.  Her muted tone forewarned that this wasn’t happy news. “I don’t think we’ll have dinner today after all.”

            “What happened?”

            “Tad wrecked his truck,” Phyllis said and then erupted into sobs.  “He had an accident last night after he left the casino.  His truck’s totaled.”

            The chill she felt since rising turned to ice in her stomach.  “How’s Tad?”

            “He’s in the hospital.” Her mother-in-law wept, the words hard to distinguish. “He’s mostly okay, though, but he gets out this morning and if I go get him, I can’t make dinner.”

            Relief melted most of the ice. “If that’s all, I can go pick him up, Phyllis, or I can come try to fix the dinner.  Have you called anyone else yet?”

            “No, I started with you.  I didn’t even know until Tad called me a few minutes ago.”

            If he could phone, he wasn’t hurt that bad, Jessica thought with a sigh.  “Don’t cancel dinner, everyone will just be upset if you do.   Tell me what hospital and I’ll go get Tad for you.”

            Phyllis sobbed something she couldn’t understand into the phone and then, cleared her throat.  “Oh, honey, thank you.  It’s the one at Neosho.  Let me give you his room number and all that.”

            Jessica grabbed a pen and wrote it all done.  “Okay.  I’ll head up there in a few minutes.  Now are you okay?”

            Phyllis made a sound that sounded half like a laugh.  “I think so.  I will be when I see my boy and he’s really all right.  I can’t lose another of my kids, Jessica, I just can’t.”

            “You won’t,” Jessica promised.  “I’ll see you after while.”

            “You’re such a blessing.  Thanks honey.”

            Jessica entered the small hospital a bit later and soon located the single floor with patient rooms, then Tad’s.   As she pushed open the door, he shouted, “Go away and leave me alone.”

            Undaunted, Jessica stepped into sight.  “Does that mean me or are you yelling at someone else?”

            Her brother-in-law, half dressed in a pair of worn blue jeans and boots sprawled on the bed.  Bruises darkened his forehead and the left side of his face. His right arm hung in a sling at his side.  He scowled at the sight of her.

            “I thought it was that damn social worker again. What are you doing here?”

            “I came to pick you up so Phyllis could still have dinner,” Jessica answered, keeping her tone mild.  She sat down in the one chair, a wobbly, ugly brown dinosaur.  “What happened?”

            Tad glared from red-rimmed bleary eyes.  “What do you think? I rolled my truck which totaled it.”

            “I know that but why?”

            He used the control to raise the bed higher and she saw that his ribs were taped, too.

            “Why do you think?”

            Her own emotions, tender and volatile, threatened to turn the conversation into a two part confrontation.  That chip on his shoulder and ugly attitude angered her even though on some level she understood, at least a little.  

She thought before she spoke and after several long minutes of silence, she said, “I think you were upset about yesterday.  I know you’re frustrated because you think you lost your brother and you can’t get closure.  You want to believe that I’m right but you’re afraid to hope in case it’s not true.  You hit that guy and then you felt ashamed of doing it.  Plus it’s a holiday and right now the whole family is gun shy on holidays.  Having Thanksgiving without your brother is hard.  All of that put you in the worst mood I’ve ever seen you in and so you went out last night, drank too much at the casino, and drove too fast on the way home.  Am I right?”

            Jessica spewed the words out, fast and hard, watching his face as each point hit home.  As she ranted, his face softened and lost some of the arrogance present earlier.  As his bravado faded, she saw the sorrow in his eyes and the physical pain that carved lines into his face.   Tad nodded, unable to speak, and then he began to weep.    She waited, unsure if he would accept comfort from her but then, when she couldn’t bear to watch his pain without trying, Jessica walked over to the bed and put her arms around him.   She moved with gentleness, so she wouldn’t hurt him any further and Tad cried in her arms.

            Although she held him, there was no passion, nothing but the same feeling she would have succoring a child.   She hugged him the way she wanted to be comforted in her own miserable moments and when he calmed, he raised his head from her now wet shoulder.

            “Bet you think I’m the biggest wuss you ever saw,” he said as he attempted a grin.

            “Nope,” Jessica said. “You’re just hurting and you screwed up.  You’re going to have to get a grip, though, before I take you to your mother’s house.   She’s cooking dinner and everyone’s still coming over.  Phyllis sounded very upset when she called me, Tad, and she almost cancelled Thanksgiving dinner.  I think you’d better get dressed and we’ll get out of here.”

            “Shit,” he said, in a very quiet voice.  “I’ll try.  They dismissed me already, all the paperwork is done.  Give me a few minutes, okay?”

            She nodded.  “Sure.  I’m going downstairs, buy a soft drink or something, then I’ll come back. Just be ready.”

            Jessica walked out and didn’t look back.  Her tough love speech must have worked because when she returned Tad sat on the bed fully dressed and humbled.   When a nurse arrived to push him to the entrance in a wheelchair, he thanked her instead of debating it.  Once Jessica had him in the front seat of her car, she got in and started the engine.   Tad winced as she pulled away from the curb.

            “Sore?” Jessica asked.

            “Yeah, hurts like a bitch.”

            “It’s going to hurt even more”.”

            He blew out air in a gust.  “I know but they gave me some pain pills.”

            “Good.”

            Tad kept quiet until they reached the four way stop and headed west.   He cleared his throat. “Hey Jessica?”

            “What is it?”

            She strained to hear him over the engine, the sleet that had begun to fall again, and the CD in the stereo. She turned down the volume so she could.

            “Thanks for coming to get me.”

            “You’re welcome, it’s no problem.”

            His voice sounded even softer as he added, “Thanks, too, for understanding.  I know I’ve been an asshole sometimes since July and I’m sorry.”

            “Don’t worry about it,” she replied, moved by his apology.  “Just don’t tell me I’m crazy anymore.”

            He did grin, a full-fledged high wattage smile at that.  “Okay.  Besides, I have moments when I almost hope that you’re right.”

            “Wow.”

            Tad laughed and then winced.  “Just remember I said almost.   I want to, Jessica, but I just can’t.  I’d like nothing better than to see my brother walk through the door at mom’s today just in time for turkey.”

            Jessica’s eyes misted.  “Me, too.”

            By the time they pulled into the yard at Phyllis’ old but well-kept bungalow six other vehicles were parked out front.   She jumped out of the car and went around offering a helping hand.  With stiff, slow motions, Tad walked toward the porch but before he reached it, Phyllis flew out of the house.   She halted when she saw the bruises and the rigid way he walked.

            “Hey, Mom, I’m a lot better than I look.  You can hug me – just go easy.”

            Inside, Jessica watched as he settled into an old armchair and listened as he named off his minor injuries for the assembled family members.  Bruises, contusions, a few cuts, a cracked rib, a sprained arm, and sore muscles which were painful but not serious.  She made polite chitchat and then excused herself to help Phyllis in the kitchen.   Two of the aunts were already there bustling around, and in the corner, seated at the kitchen table, Grandmammy supervised.  

            “There you are, honey,” the ancient woman said.  “Come give me a hug.”

            “I’m glad to see you,” Jessica said, near tears with pleasure.

            Grandmammy nodded.  “I hear you went up and got Tad out of the hospital this morning.”

            She nodded. “I did.”

            “I heard too that you was running around Grove with him yesterday, sitting up at the Honey Creek State Park with Pepsi colas and looking out at the lake.”

             Jessica cocked her head.  “That’s true but it wasn’t the way that sounds.”

            “That’s what I told Henrietta,” Grandmammy said with a nod.  “I figured there was more to it than just that.  Before you come with Tad, there’s some was saying maybe you two should get together.  That way they get to keep you in the family. Now I know better than that and I told them so.”

            Outrage hit her like a bolt of lightning. “That’s just wrong.  Johnny will be home soon.”

            “He will, I figure, ‘bout Christmas,” Grandmammy said. “Don’t get riled up, honey.  I just thought I’d tell you before someone else did.”

            On impulse, she cradled the old woman’s work worn hand in her own.  “I appreciate that.”

            Jessica joined the other women cooking and by the time they brought the feast to the dining room table, the number present had expanded so that once they asked a blessing and served the food, kinfolk spread out with plates into the kitchen, the living room and she thought even out onto the sun porch in back.    

            By then Tad had rooted into the comfortable armchair so she fixed a plate for him and carried it into the living, self-conscious now because of what Grandmammy told her.  Jessica went back to fill her own plate and ate hers in the kitchen, elbow to elbow with the elder women, the ones who made Phyllis feel young.  The cozy feeling of the kitchen, the home cooked food and the camaraderie combined to fill her with a warm sense of comfort and she enjoyed the day in spite of the fact that Johnny wasn’t there with them.

            The easy sounds of the women talking lulled her almost to sleep.   She’d just closed her eyes when a commotion out in the living room brought her back fully aware, a babble of voices that sounded both excited and upset.  Before she could ask what the matter might be, one of the teenage cousins rushed into the room, eyes wild and pointed at her.

            “Tad said to go get you, to come quick,” she said.

            “What happened?” Jessica said, rising from the table and easing her way through the crowded room.

            “I don’t know but something upset him.  I think he’s crying.”

            At first she couldn’t get through the knot of people who surrounded him, some curious, some caring but Jessica pushed and worked until she stood beside the armchair where Tad sat.  Although his eyes glistened bright with unshed tears, he wasn’t weeping but did look distressed.  She knelt down so she could speak in a soft voice to him.

            “What’s the matter?”

            He turned to her and grabbed her hand.  “I think I felt it, what you told me about.”

            For a second, sated and drowsy, she had no clue what he meant.  “What?”

            “It felt like a tug on a fishing line,” he said in a hoarse voice. “But I felt it and then I could sense him.  It felt like him, Jessica, but I can’t say why.”

            Awe and a rising excitement made her alert.  “That’s it, that’s how it feels.  I sometimes get it stronger but when I do, I know.”

            Despite the murmur of voices around them, Tad spoke to her alone.  “Just for that short moment, I could feel him, Jessica.”

            “I know, I know,” Jessica soothed.  Although he’d been through a lot in the last day or two, she suspected he also had taken some of his pain meds and that they lowered his emotional threshold.  “Tad, did you take some of the pain pills?”

            He nodded.  “I did, two just before I ate.  You’re not telling me I’m just stoned, are you?”

            She laughed.  “No, I’m not.  I believe you.”

            Phyllis appeared, her hair mussed on one side, face working with worry.  “Tad, honey, what’s wrong?  Jessica, what is it?”

            She turned to her mother-in-law.  “He’s fine, nothing’s wrong.  He’s just worn-out and he’s hurting so he took some pain meds.  Now they’re making him a little bit woozy.   Can he go upstairs and lie down for a few minutes?”

            Phyllis nodded.  “Well, sure, or he can just come in my bedroom, right through here.  Can you help him, Jessica?”

            Once inside Phyllis’ quiet bedroom, an oasis away from the noise and fuss of the gathered family, Tad settled down as he stretched out, cringing as one part of his body or another hurt with movement. 

            “Thanks,” he said and Jessica nodded.

            “It’s no problem.  So you felt Johnny?”

            “Yeah, I did.  I don’t understand it.  Hell, I don’t know if I even believe it’s possible, but it did happen.”

            “I know it did,” Jessica said and then she laughed just a little. “You gave them all something to talk about, that’s for sure.”

            “I don’t care.  What does it mean, feeling him like that?”

            She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know for sure.  Maybe you could tune into him because you got hurt or because the pain medication lowered some barrier.  Or maybe it means he’s coming home soon.”

            Tad stared at her, his eyes bright.  “It doesn’t mean he’s a ghost or anything, does it?”
            “Of course not.” She hesitated just a second too long because his question raised a tiny scrap of doubt in her mind.   What if she’d been wrong all these months, believing he was alive and it was his spirit?  Jessica paused and thought about it but her heart rejected the possibility. “He’s not a ghost.  You look exhausted.  Now that you made it in here, you might as well rest awhile."



When he rides out of the fog on his motorcycle, Gracie Alloway almost mistook him for a demon rising from the smoke and steam of hell. Except she's attracted to him from the first moment. Devlin's everything she's not - wild and a little wicked. But opposites attract because good girl, college student Gracie wants more of this bad boy.


Devlin dreamed up a fantasy woman back in Iraq a lot like Gracie and she evokes a side he hasn't shown anyone in years. She also dares to enter his personal space and take liberties no other woman's dared. Although he struggles with PTSD and other issues, Gracie won’t run and she refuses to abandon Devlin.

If she can just tame him and help him battle his demons. If he can teach her how to live a little bit more, they might just have a chance at a future together.

Dust Bowl Dreams also has a Thanksgiving scene but I'll save it for another post!!
 

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