Take a look into those blue eyes and tell me you aren’t intrigued and enchanted. Of all my gorgeous book covers over the past three years, this one ranks on the short list of favorites. Harry Whitney, hero of my upcoming September 3 release from Rebel Ink Press, appears to be ready to step out of the cover and into real life. Some of the comments I’ve gathered so far include “gorgeous man”, “what a hottie”, and I’ve even been asked if he’s real or if it’s a painting. I love the rich colors and how exactly he looks like the character I envisioned, then created. Kudos to Rebel Ink Press cover artist extraordinaire Carl J. Franklin for an amazing, awesome and lovely cover!
So what would you like to know about Harry? He’s loved Maude almost forever, since they first met at the rural Silver Moon School as young teens. He courted her, too, and probably would’ve married her if he hadn’t been beaten within an inch of his life in town. He still carries the scars and his injuries often trouble him. Worst of all, for him, his brother Jamie never treated him the same afterward and he had headed off to Kansas City to learn a trade or find work.
In his absence, Jamie courted Maude and married her. But when he enlisted in the Army after their first anniversary and shipped off to France, Harry came home. He figured the grandparents who’d raised him needed his help on the farm and they did. As Maude’s brother-in-law, he spent time with her and when her son, George was born, Harry was the first to hold the baby.
When news came that Jamie was killed in action, Granpa took it so hard he died. Granny moved to town and Harry moved to the old pioneer cabin, afraid he’d start a scandal if he stayed in the house alone with Maude.
Harry, because of his injuries, was unable to serve in the war. When he brings word of the Armistice, though, Maude invites him to supper. When he learns how she’s missing him, how much she still cares and always did, he moves back into the house no matter what scandal it may be. When she confides that her marriage wasn’t a good one, he wants to resume his courtship of his Maudie.
Harry is hard-working, he’s reliable, and he’s a good hearted man, through and through. He’s great with young George and he provides Maude with all the support he can. He faces more tragedy and family loss with Maude, offering her his strength and love to see them through troubled times. But when he’s accused of a crime he didn’t commit and jailed, his hopes fade faster than the Spanish influenza spreads.
Without Maude, he’ll never make it out of jail and when he does, he soon sickens with the epidemic flu running rampant through the community and nation. Whether he lives or dies, he knows he loves Maude, his heart, the love of his life.
Here’s the blurb and another excerpt:
When the Armistice ends the Great War in November 1918, the end comes too late to save Maude Whitney’s husband, Jamie. But Maude realizes her heart still belongs to Harry, her brother-in-law who courted her first. He’s been her rock in Jamie’s absence while they shared quarters with the grandparents who raised the brothers. But Granpa died and Granny moved to town so when Maude invites him to move back under the same roof, it’s sure to be a scandal in the rural Ozarks.
Before gossiping tongues can spread the news, the Spanish influenza wreaks havoc in the area. It brings death close to home for Maude and Harry. As they fall deeper in love and plan to wed, their troubles are just beginning. Old feuds erupt and the day after Christmas, Harry’s hauled into custody and accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Harry must prove his innocence and survive a serious bout of flu or there’s no happy ending for the star-crossed couple.
It made sense and fit the way the truth usually did but Maude didn’t like it. But now she understood why Jamie turned against his brother, treated him like a hooligan, and all but disowned him. What she couldn’t grasp was why he’d believe Fannie’s fairy tales. She digested the unpleasant information and remained silent, pondering it for so long Harry frowned.
“Maudie, you don’t believe it, do you?”
She raised her head. “No, I don’t believe a smidgen of it, not one bit. And I don’t understand why Jamie did. That’s why you left?”
He nodded, his fingers twining between hers although Maude doubted he was aware. “Yes. I couldn’t bear the way Jamie looked at me and I worried you saw me the same way. I didn’t want to wait until you glared at me the way he did or accused me of taking things around the farm.”
Jamie’d done a lot she didn’t agree with, but accusing his brother of theft went beyond anything she’d expected. “He did?”
“Yeah, he did, once or twice. Granpa chewed on him about it but he didn’t quit accusing me.”
If Harry’d just come to her and talked about it, things would’ve gone different. Maude shook her head. “I wish you’d told me, Harry.”
“I shoulda,” he said. On impulse she scooted down closer to him and sat so their shoulders touched, hands still locked together. After a few moments’s thought, Maude realized she still didn’t know why he’d moved out beyond propriety’s sake. “So why’d you move to the cabin, then? I still don’t understand.”
“Aw, Maudie,” Harry said. “It’s like this, see, Douglas Jones died last spring, in France. Ever since, Dick and Delbert are loaded for bear, looking for trouble. For six months or so now, they devil me every time I go to town. Stupid little things, trying to trip me, stepping in front of me, rude comments behind my back but I’ve been ignoring it. They want to get a rise out of me so they can try to get me in trouble somehow, I know it.”
She hadn’t realized but Maude still failed to grasp his meaning. “And?”
He blew air between his lips like a horse and sighed. “Maude, they say some pretty unkind things ‘bout you and me. It’s the kind of talk can ruin a woman’s reputation. I figured if I stayed here with Granpa and Jamie dead, Granny in town, there’d be gossip so I moved to the cabin.”
“Has it stopped them from flapping their mouths?”
Harry frowned. “No, it ain’t. They’ve been worse than ever, even yesterday with all the talk about the Armistice.”
Maude resisted an urge to lay her head against Harry’s shoulder, the way she had once. Her mind ran faster than the hands on a clock as she pondered everything. It might take awhile to wrap her head around all of it, but she didn’t see why Harry’s self-imposed exile to the cabin was necessary. She thought about the deep woods surrounding the farmhouse, the old trees stretching high above the hills and hollows, and the distance to any neighbors. The solitary nights and absolute blackness after dark, the critters who roamed the rugged hills, and the lonesome winds sweeping over the wilderness reminded her how isolated and alone she lived.
“No one knows where you sleep,” she said after a pause. “And even though you go to the cabin every night, wagging tongues can say otherwise and who would know?”
“I reckon no one, much,” Harry said. “What’re you sayin’?”
A smile teased her lips until she let it out, full and broad. “I’m sayin’ you might as well come home, Harry, here to the house. God knows, it’s lonely with just me and George. He’d like you being here and truth told so would I.”
He said nothing and from his stark profile she thought he’d refuse. To coax him, Maude added, “You’d take meals with us and with winter comin’ on, it’d make things easier for you and for me.”
Emotion cracked his voice when he answered. “I’ll stay tonight and move back, then, Maudie. I can’t help but admit it’s good for a man’s soul to have some company and some warm food to feed my belly. Thanks.”
“There’s no need to thank me,” she said. “It’s your home as much as mine.”
Harry smiled a sweet grin. The expression removed at least five years from his age. “Can’t argue that,” he said. “I’ve lived here since I was five years old, except for the time up in Kansas City. And, Maude?”
“I’ll do right by you,” he said, his voice earnest with feeling. “I won’t take advantage.”
She might like it if he did, but Maude understood. He respected her. “I know,” she replied softly. “I’m glad you’re home, Harry.”
Unseen, unspoken, a powerful emotion surged between them and resonated, almost strong enough to touch. All the affection Maude held for Harry welled up and she struggled to contain it. They’d lived in one household for a long time and managed. Whatever happened now, she wouldn’t force. He released her hand but his fingers paused to stroke her cheek in a brief caress. “Looks like the fire needs feeding,” he said. He rose and stirred the embers, then added another log. The flames danced and their light illuminated Harry as he knelt before the hearth.
I love him, in every way a woman loves a man. She’d never stopped and all she felt surpassed anything she’d felt for Jamie. Maude mourned his passing, but she knew now how much more she’d grieve if it’d been Harry, not his brother who died in France. Some of the strain of recent weeks lifted and a little bubble of happiness expanded within. Harry’s presence tempered the bone numbing loneliness and offered comfort.
Anything else would be welcome and if it came, she’d know joy, deep and abiding.
From Sweet to Heat: The Romance of Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
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Rebel Writer: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Lee-Ann-Sontheimer-Murphy/e/B004JPBM6I