Tuesday, November 18, 2014

RELEASE DAY: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy "Tidings of Comfort and Joy"


They met during the holiday season and married in May.  Jessica savored every moment of happiness with her beloved husband Johnny but their newlywed bliss is shattered when he’s caught in a storm on the lake on the Fourth of July.  First missing, then presumed dead, Johnny Devereaux appears to be gone and everyone mourns him except his wife.  Jessica refuses to believe he could be dead and she steadfastly refuses to give up hope that he is alive and will return.

As the months pass, each holiday is another reminder of his absence and it becomes harder to believe but she refuses to yield to despair.  As his family, especially his brother Tad, struggles to accept Johnny’s death, only his great-grandmother and bride hang onto their hope.  Jessica comes to believe he’ll return to her at Christmas so the holiday takes on new significance as she waits for tidings of comfort and joy.




Growing up in historic St. Joseph, Missouri, Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy scribbled her stories from an early age.  Her first publication – a poem on the children’s page of the local newspaper – seems to have set her fate.  As a full time author, she has more than twenty full length novels published along with assorted novellas and short fiction.  A contributor to more than two dozen anthologies, her credits include Chicken Soup For The Soul among many collections of short fiction.  She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Missouri Writers Guild, and the Ozark Writers League.  Lee Ann earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Missouri Southern State University as well as an Associate Degree from Crowder College.  She has worked in broadcasting, retail, and other fields including education.  She is currently a substitute school teacher.  As a wife and mother of three, she spends her days penning stories, cooking, reading, and other daily duties.  She currently makes her home in the Missouri Ozarks, living in what passes for suburbs in a small town.



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Christmas one year earlier

She loved Christmas. Every detail from the scent of fresh-cut evergreens, to the bright, glowing beauty of holiday lights, to the quiet moments curled up listening to her favorite vintage holiday music. Jessica could never wait for Thanksgiving to end so that the Christmas season could start.

That year, the year she fell in love — really in love — for the first and what she felt sure would be the only time in her life, the holiday season provided the perfect setting. Snow began the week after Thanksgiving and continued so the ground remained white through December. Even though most people griped and groused about the weather, Jessica adored it because it made a winter wonderland for her holiday romance. The songs, from her favorite Sing We Now of Christmas to the soulful, lovely refrain from God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, echoed through her mind and she trilled a few lines of the refrain in her alto voice, “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…”

The night she first met him was magical...


Chapter One

The Fourth of July

"Hey, are you comin' with me?" Johnny's whisper sliced through layers of sleep, and Jessica stirred, uncertain whether it was morning or midnight.

The bed sagged as he sat down beside Jessica. "What?"

"I'm going fishin', remember? It's the Fourth of July, and everyone's comin' down to the cabin later. Are you comin' with me now or going down later?"

She stirred, sat up, and scrubbed her face with both hands. "What time is it?"

"It's almost four."

She moaned. "It won't be daylight for almost two hours. I want to sleep."

Johnny laughed with that rich, full sound she adored. "You can. I just didn't want to leave without telling you and giving you one last chance to come with me."

"Do you have to go so early?" She loved going out on the lake with him, but she hated rising before the sun.

He grinned, facing her from where he sat on the edge of their bed. "I do if I want to catch anything. I like to hit the lake before daylight. What time are you comin' down?"

Jessica struggled to make her mind work through the remnants of sleep-fog. "I guess noon or a little after. When's your mom going to be there?"

"I think she said by four. Amy's comin', too, and so is Tad."

Johnny's sister Amy had been a bridesmaid in their May wedding, and Tad served as Johnny's best man. Tad's girlfriend Isobel helped to cut the cake at the reception. "Is Isobel going to come, too?"

"I think so. Honey, I need to go if I'm going."

"Okay," she said with a yawn.

She sat all the way up, circled his neck with her arms, and he delivered a potent kiss that promised more to come later. Jessica considered heating things up, knowing if she did, she could get him to stay later but she didn't. He loved fishing, and she wanted him to have that solitary time he wanted out on the water.

"I'll see you this afternoon," Johnny told her. "You be careful driving down, and watch the holiday traffic, okay?"

"I will," she promised. "Have fun, and catch lots of fish."

"I'll do my best. See you, honey."

With another quick kiss, he was off the bed and out the door before she could say anything more. He never said good-bye — it was their personal tradition something he taught her on the very first night that they met. She remembered that moment as she laid her head on the pillow.

"I'll call you."

"If you don't, I'll call you."

He grinned. "You won't have to, Jessica. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Promise," she said, and he traced a cross over his chest.

"Cross my heart," he said. "See you."

She opened her mouth to tell him good-bye but he held up one hand.

"There are no good-byes but one, and that one is final," Johnny said. "So don't ever say it."

Jessica smiled and touched his face with her hand. "Then I'll say' later.'"

"Later, darlin'."

Then, she hadn’t understood the reason. Later, when he explained how devastated his family had been by his dad’s unexpected death and told her how one of his cousins said ‘good-bye’ before heading home to die in a house fire, Jessica understood his reasons. And it became their custom, their habit.

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