Summer Reading Suggestion: Sing We Now of Christmas!
From the desk of Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy……
It’s official now – summer is here! It’s the season for sunshine, family reunions, swimming, a trip to the lake. Here in the US it’s almost time to celebrate the Fourth of July. With a wardrobe of shorts, swimsuits, and sandals, a Christmas-themed romance may seem like the last thing you’d want to read but maybe not. I actually enjoy reading something with a holiday story in the heat of the summer but my first Christmas release from 2011, Sing We Now of Christmas fills in a year, from one Christmas to another. The story begins on the Fourth of July when Johnny heads off to the lake fishing. Apparent tragedy destroys Jessica’s world but she clings to hope anyway. Here’s the blurb, the entire first chapter, plus buy links and my links!
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.
The Fourth of July
“Hey, are you comin’ with me?”
Johnny’s whisper sliced through layers of sleep and she stirred, uncertain whether or not it was morning or midnight. She felt the bed sink as he sat down beside her. “What?”
“I’m going fishin’, remember? It’s the Fourth of July and everyone’s coming down to the cabin later. Are you comin’ with me now or going down later?”
Jessica 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.”
He laughed with that rich, full sound that she adored. “You can. I just didn’t want to leave without telling you and giving you once 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 coming 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 coming too and so is Tad.”
His sister Amy had been a bridesmaid in their May wedding and Tad served as Johnny’s best man. His 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 and circled his neck with her arms. He kissed her, a full and potent kiss that promised more to come later. Jessica considered heating things up, knowing that 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 out on the water that he wanted.
“I’ll see you this afternoon,” he 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.”
“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 thing, 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.”
“Good,” she said, meaning to tell him good-bye but he put one finger across her lips.
“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.”
He liked that and he touched his mouth to hers once more, brief and fleeting. “Later, darlin’.”
In the thin-walled apartment building, one of six in the complex, she could hear his boots thump each stair on his way down and the downstairs door slam when he exited. She imagined him going out through the soft summer darkness, the still before dawn and putting his fishing gear behind the seat of his old vintage Chevy truck. He would be pulling the boat and trailer behind all the way to Grand Lake. Without any warning she shivered, felt a cold breath of something she could not define and she sat up straight. Maybe I should go with him after all, maybe if I go after him, he can wait for me. I know he will.
From that first night, she’d been connected to him in a way she never had been before, not with anyone. She could sense his presence with her mind, feel it in her soul. She almost always knew when he headed home from work, timing his arrival almost to the minute. If he got off early, she knew that too and in the moments they spent apart she sometimes could hone in on his location like radar. Johnny felt something similar and because of it, their connection ran deeper than most couples. She didn’t understand it but whatever was there h ad been between them since the first moment he touched her.
Jessica swung her feet over the side of the bed and reached for her robe. Then the moment faded and she felt silly. They could be apart for a few short hours; she wasn’t that insecure or needy. Besides, she didn’t want to ride all the way down to the lake, half-asleep, and go out over the still dark waters, not even with Johnny, not when she could curl up and go back to sleep. She heard him start the truck, the familiar growl of the engine unmistakable and relaxed. He could go have his fun and she’d be down later. With that thought in mind, she drifted back to sleep.
The low bass rumble of distant thunder awakened her hours later and by the time that she was up to pour her first cup of coffee, jagged lightning sliced the sky like an illuminated knife. As she peered out the window at the ominous sky, heavy with dark clouds, she remembered that Johnny was out on Grand Lake in the boat. In the same motion she flipped open her cell phone to hit speed dial with one hand and with the other turned on the television. Jessica listened to the phone ring but he didn’t pick up which meant nothing. Reception out on the lake could be spotty at best and if a storm was overhead there might be none.
She didn’t really worry until she watched one of the area weather forecasters highlight a monster storm that approached the region. The huge red blob covered a large area and Jessica listened with increasing anxiety as he talked about the dangerous storm, the potential for large hail, damaging winds, deadly lightning and heavy rain. When he ended with the suggestion that all the viewers should sit tight and stay put until the weather passed, she dialed Johnny’s cell again but all she reached was his voicemail, again.
When the storm hit Neosho, it struck with full force. Jessica sipped coffee, too nervous to eat any breakfast, and watched as harsh winds bowed trees over to sweep the ground with branches. Thunder roared above, strong enough that she could feel the vibration rattle the windows and lightning flared with such brilliance that she shut her eyes, momentarily blinded. Rain streamed down and she could no long see but she heard the hail embedded within it. On television, the morning news passed along warning after warning with dire hints about the severity of the storm.
“It’s a mess out there this morning,” one news anchor said with a pasted on smile to the other who nodded agreement. “It’s best just to stay inside and away from windows until this moves east of the area.”
“We’re getting reports that the worst of the storm struck in northeast Oklahoma. Damage reports are coming in from law enforcement agencies and we’re hearing about some major power outages.”
Jessica moved away from her window post and turned off the television. She’d heard more than enough.
Too tense to go back to sleep, she showered instead, drank more coffee, and began gathering up things to take down to the lake cabin. When she tried, she could sense him, faint but there so she made a conscious effort not to worry. Their suitcases were packed to stay for a couple of nights but she gathered up all the extras she thought would be necessary, sunscreen, her favorite frying pan, a blanket, camera, and more. Last of all she loaded up the chocolate cake she’d made the day before, the potato salad, and hamburger buns. She tucked the deli sandwiches she’d bought for their picnic lunch into a cooler and checked her list.
His Devereaux kin should bring everything else and if they didn’t, she and Johnny could run into Grove for supplies. By the time she had it all packed into her car, a Ford Escort, it was almost nine so she’d be hours early. That meant that she could shed the low level worry that simmered somewhere at the back of her brain sooner so she headed out, west on Highway 60 under a sunny sky. All the storm clouds had blown eastward.
Traffic on the two lane highway was heavy on the holiday since the road led to both several area casinos and lakes. Despite that, she zoomed along until everything slowed to a crawl just west of the Seneca turn-off. Cars, pickups and big tractor trailer rigs backed up for miles in either direction and she sat, fuming, fingers drumming a nervous beat against the steering wheel, unable to go anywhere. Somewhere down the road there must have been an accident but she couldn’t see past all the waiting vehicles. She tried Johnny’s cell again, four or five times but voice mail. Frustrated, more than a little anxious, Jessica fumed but she didn’t believe anything would have happened to her husband. Some deep faith within supported her belief that God wouldn’t lead her to the love of her life and then take him away, especially not less than six weeks after their wedding, not quite seven months after they met. That was impossible. Besides, if she could get a sense of him – which she did – Jessica could hang onto that anchor.
Afraid that her car might overheat during the lengthy wait, she rolled down the window and shut off the engine. After the storm that passed, the air felt sticky and hot. That heat made her almost sleepy and to stay awake, she reminisced about the night last December that she first met Johnny, at Rusty’s Nail in Joplin.
She got up to leave, unhappy because her friend, Susan, spent all her time with the lead singer of the band, and backed into someone. In her haste she almost lost her balance. Strong arms caught her and held her upright as a voice said, audible above the music but not loud,
“Whoa, there honey, take it easy.”
Jessica whirled, embarrassed, to mumble an apology. All her words faded away when she gazed into his eyes, dark brown and richer than sweet chocolate. He looked back with interest and she felt a strong sense of attraction. He wasn’t the kind of guy she would give a second glance under any other circumstance but tonight she couldn’t look anywhere else. Everything about him was opposite of what she liked in a man – she liked tailored, Brooks Brothers business charm and he radiated country cowboy.
He fit into his faded Wranglers as if they’d been made just for his long legs and his pearl snap button blue patterned Western shirt suited him. He towered above her, taller by several inches even without the worn cowboy boots he wore. She inhaled his scent, a potent mixture of musky cologne, tobacco smoke, and beneath it all, Irish Spring soap. His hands, still holding her arms, were warm against her bare skin and she was glad, now, that she’d worn the black silk halter top despite the cold instead of the red sweater she’d worn to school. Jessica made her voice work with effort, “Thank you.”
“No problem,” he said and she drank in his voice, strong and comforting with just enough Oklahoma twang to make it interesting. “Would you care to dance?”
“I’d love it,” Jessica said as he released his grip on her arms to grab her hand instead. “My name’s Jessica Martin.”
“I’m Johnny,” he said and she committed the name to memory, “Johnny Devereaux.”
He led her onto the tiny dance floor just as Mark began to sing the softer, sweeter vintage country song, Lookin’ For Love. The old Johnny Lee song she remembered from that movie, Urban Cowboy, now felt like a theme song. She recalled watching it one late night in college, hating the boot scooting dance moves and the mechanical bull riding but loving the scene where Debra Winger danced to this same music with John Travolta. Such a coincidence she mused, Johnny Lee, John Travolta, and Johnny Devereaux.
Johnny put his arms around her and she cuddled close against him for the slow dance. They swayed together, their easy motions in time with the music, and she felt safe. Jessica’s head fell short of his shoulder and so as they danced, she could hear the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. Above them, the stationary silver ball that must have once spun reflected the colorful Christmas lights strung above the bar and Jessica felt the strangest sense of coming home in his arms. She wanted to stay there forever, wrapped in that magic cocoon of his embrace, and hold this moment close to her heart.
Jessica savored that memory, just as sweet now as it had been on that incredible night. Sometimes she couldn’t believe it had just been not quite seven months ago, that until that December evening her world didn’t include Johnny Devereaux. Until then, she never believed in love at first sight but after that dance, they were together and in love. They never doubted the reality of it and by the time they married, down at the lake over Memorial Day weekend, neither did any of their family or friends. They were meant to be together, Jessica and Johnny like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, Fred and Wilma Flintstone, Beauty and her Beast, even Johnny and June Cash.
Comparing them to other couples made her smile and some of her tension drained away. Everything would be fine as soon as she got down to the lake. She could unpack the stuff at the cabin, change into shorts, and sit outside on the deck waiting for Johnny to come home with his stringer full of bass. If they got lucky, he’d be back long before any of his family members started to show up and they could enjoy what Johnny liked to call ‘a little afternoon delight’ after some old mid-1970’s song he liked.
Traffic crept forward, one slow car length at a time and as she inched ahead, Jessica daydreamed about their very first time together, that night they became intimate. She’d come home late from her teaching job and found Johnny there, asleep on her couch. When she went to change clothes, she found that he’d transformed her ordinary bedroom into a lovely bower, a romantic place where anything could happen – and did.
A vase of white, red, and pink roses stood on her dresser, the fragrance of the flowers heavy and sweet in the room. Jar candles sat near the posies on the table beside her bed, even on the headboard. As they flickered, she caught their scent, a rich gardenia smell she liked, one that reminded her of the classic White Shoulders perfume. A brand new comforter, soft and fluffy, covered her bed replacing the worn out old discount store navy blue bedspread. Jessica stroked her hand across the surface, admiring the white comforter where big pink and crimson roses bloomed. Music flowed from her CD boom box, not rock, not country but the pleasant sounds of Mannheim Steamroller. Impressed by the effort he’d made to create a romantic scene, she smiled.
If he could create this mood, then she could follow his lead. Jessica opened a dresser drawer and searched. She rejected the full-length flannel nightgown, the faded and well-worn nightshirt, the silky shorts she often slept in and pulled out the one piece of sexy lingerie she owned with triumph. The satin baby doll still had the store tags from when she bought it at clearance after Valentine’s Day last year, unable to resist the pretty crimson garment. She’d wondered who she might wear it for or if she’d ever have the nerve but tonight, inspired by his preparation, she changed into it. She sprayed on a little Obsession and brushed her hair until it hung smooth past her shoulders. Inside, she trembled from a volatile combination of nerves and desire but she walked into the living room with a siren’s strut only to find Johnny still asleep.
She knelt down, noticing the way that his long eyelashes brushed his cheek and how a slight smile teased his lips. Judging by his even breath he was deep into sleep country but Jessica bent down to kiss his mouth, slow and serious. He responded before he awoke, his lips sculpting to fit hers and when he opened his eyes, he grinned.
“Hey, Johnny,” she said in the huskiest whisper she could summon. “It’s bedtime.”
He blinked, still smiling. “Is it?”
“Then come here, honey,” he said, “let me rock you to sleep.”
He sat up and then snagged her with his arms. He cuddled her on his lap and began to kiss her with gusto. Johnny tasted her with the same eager zeal she thought he would have for a good steak, the perfect hamburger or maybe a fine wine. Her appetite equaled his and she returned his kisses. Her arms locked around his neck to hold tight as his hands roamed, caressing her with both ardor and appreciation.
When he gathered her up and carried her into the bedroom Jessica thought she would swoon with delight. She loved it, adored being mastered and loved with such intensity. He put her on the bed as her senses embraced all the sensual triggers around her, the rich aroma of gardenias, the delightful music that evoked emotion, the candlelit ambiance, and his touch against her skin. Jessica gloried in it and surrendered.
Any lingering restraint, old fears from previous relationships that went sour vanished in the total power of Johnny’s lovemaking. As they fondled and caressed, kissed and touched, Jessica crossed the last boundary to the total certainty that this man was the love of her life, her significant other, forever.
When they came together like a force of nature, on a grand scale like a cold and warm front intersecting, everything was right. Their timing brought them home together on a slow, full rush of delight, a pleasure that enveloped and encompassed them both. In those moments, that eternity that could never last long enough, they became one, united in a way that transcended any words, any laws, any binding. Nothing could be more full or complete that this and with wonder, with joy, they both knew it well.
After, as they unwound with sweet lethargy they whispered together, words of love and promises that didn’t have to be spoken to be valid. By the time that the shadows cast by the candles grew tall on the walls, they knew they would have to move but neither had energy or inclination.
“Oh, Johnny,” she sighed, as a breath of warm air caressed her cheek. Now she couldn’t wait to get to the lake cabin, not to relieve her fears but to make love with her man. Even the shattered glass, the broken red plastic from taillights, the crushed vehicles and the remaining ambulance at the crash scene failed to darken her mood. Jessica using that memory, searched and found her anchor and she held it tight, secure that everything would be wonderful as soon as she reached the lake.
It was their special place, their safe haven from the world.
A Page In The Life
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