Thursday, August 16, 2012

Heart of the Ozarks: A Review

Title: Heart of the Ozark
Author: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Publisher: Rebel Ink Press
Length: 75,000 words
Genre(s): Romance
Sub-Genre(s) Contemporary
Sub-Categories: Second Chance at Love
Heat Level: Steamy (Hot sex scenes/language, but not explicit)

(Buy links will be forwarded when available.)

After St. Louis TV weathercaster Cole Celinksi loses his almost estranged wife and three children in a car crash, his boss orders him to take a leave of absence.  Against his will, Cole leaves the city in late May to find the rest and relaxation everyone else thinks he needs. Without anywhere else to go, Cole heads for Lake Dreams, a resort on the quiet side of Lake Taneycomo in the Ozarks he visited each summer as a child with his grandparents.  Some of his best memories were made in the lakeside vacation haven with his summer friend, Maggie.

Upon his arrival, Cole learns Maggie now runs the place.  Twenty years have passed but from the minute he returns, they reconnect and soon their mutual attraction ignites.  He fishes in the lake, takes Maggie to visit some of the places he remembers and begins to find out who he truly is. Before he can heal, he must learn to deal with his loss and to see if he can create a new family with Maggie and her children. It’s a task he’s not sure he can handle but if he wants to be with Maggie, he must. A near tragedy brings them all together into a close knit unit and afterward, Cole may be able to make his dreams reality.

Maggie took three steps forward until she stood in front of him and put one hand on his chest.  She stared at him for a moment stretching out long and then stood on tip-toe to kiss his mouth, very gentle and soft.  It wasn’t a lover’s kiss, not quite, but intimate and Cole’s reaction surged through his body with a rush.  Her mouth’s brief caress whispered affection and familiarity.

“Go get changed,” she said, “We’re not fancy at Dove Chapel but shorts won’t do.  I’ll come pick you up in a half hour, okay?”

“Sure,” Cole said, “I’ll be ready.”

When she rolled to a stop beneath the cabin’s porch, he hurried down, wearing the single pair of Dockers he’d brought along with a button-down shirt. Maggie smiled, dressed now in an attractive navy blue and white print dress, hose, and dark blue heels. She’d also put on more make-up than he’d seen her wear yet and tamed her hair into a bun on the back of her head, held in place with a plastic clip.

“You look lovely,” Cole said, his eyes drinking in her beauty.

“Thanks,” she laughed, “Don’t turn my head or I’ll get nervous.”

She drove around the winding curves along the back roads to the old church, handling the car with skill. They didn’t talk much but she sometimes broke into song, practicing he guessed.  Cole realized he’d never ridden with Maggie at the wheel before. He recalled during the last summer he spent here driving Pop’s Impala with Maggie riding shotgun to Dove Chapel.

When the church came into view Cole’s chest tightened with sudden anxiety.  Too late to turn back, now he wasn’t sure he should have come. He offered up his first prayer in a very long time and begged God no one be present from St. Louis.

“Will people ask who I am?” he said as they climbed out of the car.

“Probably,” Maggie replied, “And everyone will stare at you and be nosy.”

His heart slowed and his stomach clenched.  “Tell me you’re kidding.”

She grinned, “I’m not, really but it’ll be fine, Cole.  Trust me, okay?”

If he hadn’t wanted to hear her sing and watch, he’d gone back to the car but he sighed instead. “All right, I’ll try to be on my best behavior.”

They settled into a pew midway down the right side of the aisle.  As Cole looked around the once familiar church, he could almost believe he’d been transported back to Mayberry or to a sound stage somewhere. The humble country church appeared to date to the early 19th century and he figured it probably did.  Before he could analyze his thoughts further, a couple in their sixties appeared and greeted Maggie.

“Oh, you look so pretty, honey,” the woman said, “Who’s your friend?”

Cole cringed and restrained from ducking his head like a bashful child as Maggie rested one hand on his knee and said, “This is Cole Celinksi, an old friend.  He used to spend his summers at the resort when we were kids.  Cole, this is Irene Matthews and her husband, Tom.  They used to own a little motel over on the other side of Taneycomo, where Branson Landing is now.”

“Hi,” Cole said, extending his hand in greeting. “It’s nice to meet you.”

He repeated the phrase for the next ten minutes until the service began and everyone settled into place for worship.  Maggie remained in the pew through the opening song but then she headed up front. Cole watched, awestruck, as she stood in front of the upright piano and clasped her hands.  From the rear of the church, someone struck up guitar chords for the melody and she sang in a clear, full voice.  The sound of it filled the little old church and resounded around the room.  For Cole, it seemed as if she sang to him alone. Her eyes never left his face as she trilled out the lively song and as the message tucked within the music penetrated his heart, tears trailed down his cheeks, slow and steady.

Until then, he’d never realized how angry he’d been with a god who allowed his kids to die or how high a wall he’d erected around his faith to hide it. Listening to Maggie’s pure voice, he realized God sent joy to his people, a joy to dance about even when the devil’s on your back. He’d shut himself off from joy and wallowed in sorrow.  In her voice, he heard echoes of his children’s laughter and Cole moved his lips, singing along with Maggie without sound. As soon as she finished, she came to the pew and slid in beside him.

Cole reached out and squeezed her hand, speechless with emotion.  As the pastor took the pulpit and began to preach, Maggie handed him a tissue from her purse and whispered, “Are you okay?”

He nodded, mopping away his tears. “I’m good, Maggie.  Your song touched me.”

Maggie slipped her arm through his and leaned against him.  Her whisper came like a breath of wind, for his ears only, “I’m glad.”

Although the sermon lasted a full thirty minutes and the volume increased, Cole didn’t hear a word of it.  His mind reflected on the song but his awareness of Maggie beside him increased until he thought of nothing else but her and where their friendship might go from this point.

Her soft perfume permeated his nose and beneath it he could smell her lavender shampoo.  Each breath she drew he felt and when the congregation joined in song, her voice matched his.  Since he came to Branson, Cole’d known several quiet moments with Maggie but this one eased his inner turmoil in a different, more powerful way.

The thought struck him he belonged with Maggie and maybe he’d find his way home with her help.

He liked it almost enough to forget the idea scared the hell out of him.

Cole’d almost forgotten how pleasant kissing a woman he cared about could be until he kissed Maggie.

Her lips yielded to his unexpected kiss, warm and silky beneath his mouth.  Something sparked between them, old and familiar but new too.  The kiss kindled desire, his want surging strong and rich through Cole’s body and with it, he felt renewed.  Fiery electricity danced through his nervous system, tingling and reviving him.  When Maggie touched him and placed her hands on his body she stirred the embers almost faded in the ashes of his soul.  His living force within soared, catching fire with a whoosh rocketing from his feet to his head.

Cole didn’t think, just experienced.  He inhaled the essence of her shampoo, caught a whiff of her perfume, and tasted lingering coffee on her lips.  Her slender body shifted so she stood so close a thin sheet of paper couldn’t pass between them and warmth filled the space. His years, the months of tragic induced agony, the maturity of his third decade, more than halfway to his fourth melted like candy in the rain until Cole felt the wild, heady intoxication of youth.  A carnal yearning rose in him like a wild animal’s need to mate and yet something else tempered, a caring sense of connection.  He wanted to ravish her and yet nurture her, all at once.  He ached to use her like a whore and own her but deeper, Cole longed to become one with her, to twine not just bodies but merge souls.

He deepened the kiss until his tongue worked into her mouth and Maggie moved the rest of the way until her breasts rubbed his chest.  She made a soft little mew of pleasure and he knew he could have her, take her there on the living room couch, her body supported against the pillows she’d chosen at Wal-Mart or JC Penney’s. He didn’t doubt it and because he knew, he didn’t.  Cole let the kiss wind down, slow and easy.  He allowed one of his hands to crawl from her back to fondle her full breasts with a gentle caress.  He almost lost control again when she arched her back like a satisfied kitten but he eased back to normal, his breath a little quick and grinned at her.  Maggie smiled back with an unfocused gaze.  She looked the way he felt when he came out of a movie he’d really gotten involved with, dreamy until he walked into the sunlight and a jolt of reality.

“Oh, Cole,” she breathed, her tone filled with appreciation and what he thought might be affection.

“I guess you liked it,” he said, without planning. “I’m glad. I thought you might slap my face for that.”

Maggie laughed with a musical quality so sweet it ramped up his blood pressure a few notches. “I wouldn’t,” she told him, “But, oh, Cole.”


She shook her head and her hair floated around her shoulders in a cloud. “I’ve been ready for you to kiss me again for twenty years but I don’t know if you are.”

His scarred heart skipped a beat.  Hell, he wasn’t sure either but he wanted to be and just that alone equaled a miracle.  “If you’d asked me a week ago,” he said, “I’d have said no way.  Yesterday I’d thought maybe in a distant future.”

“What about now?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “But I want to find out.”

She’d always been mercurial, a creature of many moods and faces so he wasn’t surprised when she put her hands against his chest and said, eyes smoldering, “Kiss me again and see what happens.”

Cole almost did but rational thought stayed him. “If I do,” he told her, without any bullshit, “I won’t be able to stop this time at just a kiss.”

Maggie’s eyes met his and hers were filled with the naked yearning of a hungry bird and the innocent trust of a pet bunny rabbit. “I don’t care, Cole.  I want you.”

Everything he longed for in this moment she offered but he shook his head. “I want you, Maggie, in every way a man can want a woman but it’s not the right time.  If we do this now, it’ll end up bad.  You’re vulnerable and the last thing I want to do is hurt you, honey.”

“You won’t.”

“I might without meaning to do it,” he said, his voice husky with emotion. “We’ve brought something to life so let’s don’t ruin it before it has time to grow.  We’ll be together when its right, I promise.”

Tears shimmered in her eyes and he thought she’d cry but Maggie didn’t.  She nodded and put her fingers against his cheek. “You’re being sensible, I guess, Cole.  Just tell me it’ll be soon.”

“God, yes,” he said with feeling, enough she laughed.

With total open honesty Cole said, “I hope not because I want to be around you for a long time, Maggie, maybe forever.”

“Then start with tonight,” she breathed, an invitation if he’d ever heard one.

He took three steps and enveloped her in his arms, very aware of just how little she wore.  Cole leaned down and connected his mouth to hers.  Her lips molded to his, warm and sweet and her arms wrapped about his neck to draw him even closer.  Desire, as electric as lightning, flared between them and although he ached to hurry, Cole decided to go slow and savor the experience.

So he kissed her with precision, with lingering anticipation and evoked a response he liked.  Cole craved more so he lowered his lips from her mouth to throat where he nibbled with delicate little bites. By the way she moaned and moved, he thought she liked what he did.  Cole enjoyed it too.  Each little taste propelled shivers through him, each one like a shuddering chill but with a physical pleasure rocking him hard. The flavor of her night sweat tasted salty against his tongue but he savored the she-woman aroma he inhaled even more.

Cole lowered the straps of her nighty so he could kiss her shoulder and brush the freckles there with his mouth.  Maggie shivered and without knowing quite how, he stripped the gown from her body.  The thin cotton fell to the kitchen floor as he cupped her full, lovely breasts in both hands.  “Beautiful,” he whispered as he put his mouth over one nipple and suckled just enough to make it bloom, hard and tight.  Maggie whimpered as he did and the sound of her pleasure intensified his.  His fingers caressed the flat smoothness of her abdomen, the slight curve of her lower belly.  Against his rough fingertips her skin’s softness seemed as fragile as cobwebs but beneath the veneer her body heat burned. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she had a fever but this heat wasn’t from illness.  This fire came from internal combustion.

He fingered the soft curly hair above her cunt with the same reverence he would show for something precious but it wasn’t until her fingers jerked at the zipper of his jeans Cole remembered he still wore clothing. He wanted them off now and yearned to be skin to skin with Maggie so after she unzipped his pants he kicked them off with one swift motion.  When she hooked the edge of his briefs with one hand his heartbeat increased until the beats made a staccato rhythm in his chest.  Maggie pulled them down and he stepped out of them, sure she’d hear the wild drumming of his heart.

Cole’s already hard cock stiffened more when Maggie grasped it with one hand and squeezed with just the right amount of pressure.  At the rush of sheer physical rapture she caused he thought he’d fall down on the floor with the wave of response but instead he managed to pull off his khaki shirt, tearing away at least two of the buttons in the process.  He heard them ping against the kitchen floor but he didn’t care.  He owned other shirts and if necessary, Cole figured he might be able to sew them back on anyway. 

Maggie pressed against him, hand still cupping his cock and he almost ejaculated too soon at the sensation of her skin against his, even more erotic than he’d imagined.  She raked her nails down his back at the same time and Cole groaned aloud.

“Like that?” Maggie said, a grin emerging from the look of rapture on her face.

“Love it,” he managed to spit out.  Need roared within until he decided the hell with going slow.  He’d savored all he could stand now he’d feast.  Cole backed Maggie up against the kitchen table, lifted her ass enough to make her cunt accessible and entered her with a sudden, sharp thrust.  He plunged in deep and cried aloud wordlessly as her tight box fit around him.  The first of the spirals began, circles of carnal delight radiating out from where they joined to consume him with intense pleasure.  Maggie clung to him as if he were a life preserver out on a turbulent lake and made small sounds he found gratifying.  She gasped and then shrieked like a banshee.  Her outcry brought him over the edge and into the starburst of passion, the ultimate come experience. 

Afterward if he hadn’t caught her, she’d sagged down the floor and he probably would’ve followed if they didn’t hang onto each other. Cole brushed his hand over her wild and free hair streaming down her back and over her shoulders, gentle and tender.  He wanted to say so much but when his breathing eased back to normal, all he could manage was, “That was wonderful.”


Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is a full-time romance author.  A native of the old historic city of St. Joseph, Missouri, one time home to both Jesse James and the Pony Express, she now lives and writes in the beautiful Missouri Ozark region.  Her romance novels include Love Never Fails, Witness Protection Program, Sing We Now of Christmas, A Patient Heart, In Love’s Own Time, Miss Good Samaritan, In The Shadow of War, Guy’s Angel,  and Heart of the Ozarks, all from Rebel Ink Press.  She also has six other novels and several novellas available. Her work also appears in more than twenty anthologies and she has multiple short story/non-fiction credits.

She is a member of RWA, Missouri Writers Guild, EPIC, and the Ozarks Writers League. Her work also appears in multiple anthologies. She earned a BA degree in both English and History from Missouri Southern State University as well as an AA Degree in Journalism from Crowder College.  She worked in broadcast media for a decade and also has a background in education.  Her weekly column “Hindsight” appears each week in the Neosho Daily News.

She is married to Roy W. Murphy and the couple has three children, Emily, Megan, and Patrick Murphy.

If Lee Ann – or Lee as many of her writing friends know her – isn’t writing, she’s reading or spending time outdoors.

In Neosho, Missouri, the small town she now calls home, she serves on the local library board, is active in the annual Relay For Life fight against cancer, has worked with the local Arts Council, and is active in her parish.

Rebel Writer - Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy:
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My Review: 5 Stars

After the loss of his whole family in a tragic accident Cole Celinksi was on a path of self destruction. His manager insisted he need to take a 3 month vacation to get to grips with the loss and grief for his wife and 3 children. He booked a place where he knew he found peace, a resort next to Lake Taneycomo in the Ozarks where he spend every summer holiday with his grand parents.
  He met  Maggie and her two teenagers, now running the run down resort that used to belong to her parents. After they realized that the old feelings were still lingering Maggie and her kids helped him to adjust to the new live without his kids who meant the world to him. He had to admit to Maggie that his wife was unhappy in the marriage and requested a divorce a month before the accident. He knew his marriage was over and he did not cry much about his estranged wife but his kids was a whole different matter. Every where they go in the small town and confronted with kids he zoned out and Maggie struggled to get him back. Her calm influence on him was good since he did not run to the bottle to curb the anxiety but found peace in her arms. her children accepting him as part of the family and soon he helped out on the resort doing maintenance work Maggie could not managed.
The mundane things keeping him grounded and brought him back to what were important in his life. He had to made decisions about his future. Go back to the city life or stay at her side. An old city friend at the end helped him to make that decision being confronted with old scorns that he detested. He knew he could not return to that life again. His troubled indigestion problems gave him a hard time and almost cost him his life. Why he never went to a doctor is beyond me. Maggie's premonitions also gave the story a bit of a edge although I thought it was dragged out to long. 
The plot of the story was very mellow and at times had a dragging edge with all the small stuff inserted but at the end the author managed to kept my interest peeked. A few spelling mistakes, the kind that you mistakenly punched the wrong key(smile) and a few cups of coffee later I enjoyed the story as the main character evolved in a man that faced his loss, cope with it the best he could [since it would not really be all over] and reached out for help in the form of a loving woman.  The steamy scenes was also more mild than steamy but enough to keep the momentum going.
 To start over is never easy but when you have understanding people around you that is willing to help you, you can make it. It is possible and this came out strongly in the story line.
Overall a good story.
At first I wanted to give it 4 Stars but the Trailer changed my mind. I have watched the book trailer on Youtube. The music and images all working together so that you could get the mellow feeling of the country and the new life Cole has chosen. The setting is adventurous and welcoming to a hurting soul.
Well Done

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