It's release day for Urban Renewal, my latest full-length novel, this time from Champagne Books. It's set in my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri - well, for the most part - and it's a work close to my heart. So without ado, here are all the details, the blurb, and three excerpts. It's available (or will be soon) at Champagne Books.com, Amazon.com, All Romance Ebooks, Coffee Time Romance, Bookstrand.com, and Barnes and Noble.com.
Title: Urban Renewal
Author: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Publisher: Champagne Books
Release date: March 4, 2013
Genre: Romance/contemporary romance/second chance at love romance
Length: 203 pages
Movie star Mercedes Montague has it all – the fame, the fortune, and the glittering celebrity lifestyle. But she lost herself somewhere along the way. On a publicity tour for her next movie she realizes she’s just fifty miles from her hometown. Mercedes – real name Marie Dillard – decides to bolt and go home to see if she can find what’s left of herself. Hiding away in her grandparents’ old home in a working class neighborhood she’s haunted by memories and reminders of her first and only love, Joe Shelby.
Marie’s stunned when Joe shows up at her door. Passion kindles between them from the first moment their eyes meet but she won’t let it consume her unless it’s going to include a lasting love. As they renew their relationship, Marie and Joe face many struggles.
Can a movie star return to reality or is love just a distant dream?
As Mercedes Montague she’d locked lips with most of Hollywood’s leading actors, the stars who incited lust in every woman across America from pre-teens to great-grandmas. More than a handful found their way into her bed and onto her expensive silk sheets for intimate encounters yielding physical release but nothing more. Sex turned into a celebrity rodeo as each man tried to prove his talents, to top the others and although maybe Mercedes liked it, Marie loathed it. She hated the lack of any real emotion, any passion beyond the need for another body in the lonely night and the few times she felt a spark with someone always faded fast with morning light.
Joe brought back expectations long forgotten and evoked desire with such depth Marie sank into it as it sucked her down like quicksand. She should fight it but couldn’t and didn’t even want to struggle against it. Her fingers clawed against his plaid flannel shirt as he tightened his grasp on her, his tongue darting into her mouth like an exploring snake. New waves of pleasure brought intense delight and Marie leaned against him so her weak knees wouldn’t dump her onto the floor.
His mouth stirred the ashes of their past and restored dozens of memories, brought back the memory of other kisses just as sweet. Whatever emotions they once claimed, all the old bonds connecting them renewed as power roared to life between them. Marie never knew how long it lasted and she never thought of anything but Joe within the same span. Her world shrunk to this, to his mouth and hers, connected. Driving in St. Joe yesterday she thought she came home but she hadn’t, not until now.
If Joe wanted to take her upstairs, he could and if he decided to have her on the floor between Ma’s living room and dining room, Marie wouldn’t resist. Instead, he pulled back and put her at arm’s length. “See?” he said as a tiny smile flirted with his mouth. “The way I feel about you hasn’t changed, Marie. You still make me crazy.”
“Crazy good or certifiably insane?” she asked, happiness bubbling up from within like a wet weather spring.
Joe chuckled. “Crazy good, I think. Hell, I don’t even know you now and you don’t know me but I’d like to get reacquainted. What do you say?”
His request blindsided her. When she walked away from her celebrity life, she didn’t expect to even see Joe but Marie wanted to spend more time with her first love. “I’d like to, Joe, very much.”
“Good,” Joe said. His blue eyes shimmered now, reminding her of placid lake waters touched with sunshine. “I can’t stay now. Would you like to go out for dinner tonight?”
“Yes,” Marie said. “It may sound like an excuse but I don’t have a thing to wear but I can get something. What time?”
“Is six too early?” Joe asked. “I figure you’re still on California time but by six, the kid’ll have come and gone so he won’t wonder where I’m at, not that he would.”
Her floating happiness threatened to nose dive into despair. “Kid? Are you married?”
Joe shook his head. “I was but she’s dead. The kid’s my step-son. Trust me, he’s a problem child but I’m all he’s got. Six okay?”
Marie made a quick time calculation and sneaked a glance at the clock. “Six thirty would be better,” she said.
“All right,” Joe said. “I’ll pick you up then. Be prepared – I’d like to hear the long version, Marie.”
“Sure,” she said. And I want to hear the story of your life, she thought but didn’t dare speak it aloud, everything you’ve done, about your wife, and why you’re not in the Army. “I’ll be ready.”
Shifting shadows cast by the streetlights and passing vehicles danced on the wall of Marie’s bedroom as Joe undressed her with slow hands. He took his time, unhurried, and his fingers lingered to caress her skin. Her skin became ultra-sensitive, responsive to the slightest stroke. Anticipation rippled across her flesh with delicious delight and a wild sense of intoxication swept over her. Marie hadn’t had anything to drink but she experienced the same high rush, drunk on Joe’s physical presence.
She raked her fingers across his bare back and adored the sound he made, not quite a grunt or a moan. He retaliated by caressing her breasts and burying his face against them. She had known his body once and although a few years of wear showed, it hadn’t changed much as Marie explored it. Her hands followed the curve of his hip, the cleft between his legs as if she were blind.
Joe traced the outline of her ribs with one finger, tantalizing and ticklish. “You’re too damn skinny,” he said as his fingers touched bone just below the skin. “But you’re sexy as hell anyway.”
“Shut up and kiss me,” Marie replied, the line an old one from their past. In their earliest attraction period, Joe teased her unmercifully and she would often snap at him, “Shut up,” but she never wanted him to quit. He hadn’t.
“Your wish is my command, movie star princess,” Joe told her, laughter in his voice.
From the moment his mouth touched hers, she burned with fire. His hot lips melted her body into pliant wax, his to do whatever he wished. Joe kissed her with the same slow nonchalance, no hurry, and his indolence drove her wild. The more she ached for release, the harder Marie coveted wildness, the slower Joe became and the more deliberate.
Every sense came to attention as high voltage desire increased through Marie, her body arcing with want and need. Marie’s desire amplified each noise; his soft grunts and the sound of their flesh against naked skin. With her head against Joe’s chest to nibble, to offer what they used to call a hickey, Marie heard the steady sound of his heartbeat. Despite the dimness in the room she saw Joe’s nude body with perfect clarity, his pale skin silhouetted against the dark as if illuminated. She supposed he could see her just as well. His taste lingered on her tongue and his masculine aroma, three parts just Joe and one part men’s cologne, filled her nose, heady as a love charm. Marie marveled at the sensation beneath her fingertips whether she touched the smooth skin of his back or the tight curly hair surrounding his balls.
Her love marks bruised his chest but not where it would show and as he fondled her, Joe talked. She didn’t always listen but Marie enjoyed the sound of his voice in her ears, loving and familiar. He paused on her lower right side and his fingers traced the scar there.
“You had your appendix out after you left here, didn’t you?” he asked as if it mattered. It didn’t, though, nothing counted but this moment and the love between them.
“Uh-huh,” she answered, distracted. “It was a long time ago. Forget about it.”
Joe said something but she didn’t hear it as sensations claimed her. He knelt on the floor and his hand caressed her mound, his fingers straying into her inner sanctum. Joe’s touch delivered pleasure but it increased her need. “Ohhh!” she cried, arching her back as the spirals of pleasure scalded her body. “Joe, do it!”
In an odd little voice, part of a game they used to play, he said, “All in good time, my pretty, all in good time.”
Until he backed her up against the bed where she’d slept since childhood Marie thought she might die of want. Sexual tension built between them, as potent and volatile as a brewing storm. She didn’t remember lying down or know if she toppled onto the bed or what but once she knew she had a mattress beneath her, she writhed into position. Her legs scissored around his torso and locked tight as he lowered himself onto her.
“Do you want me, Marie?” Joe asked, the first man to use her real name during sex in decades, maybe the only one who ever did.
“Yes, yes, yes!”
As her hands reached upward to grasp his shoulders, Joe grabbed them and held them as he entered her in one swift, strong motion. He filled her and as her body quivered with impact Marie clenched her inner walls to tighten around him, to stroke. His wordless outcry of pure joy encouraged her to do it again and then again. In his reaction Joe let loose her hands and she grabbed him, holding on tight. Their bodies bucked against one another in a harsh battle, a sweet dance, and a tender expression of love all in one.
In the last moments her nails clawed his back and she screeched, guttural and hoarse. Joe kissed her, this time with the savagery she craved and when they came together, bodies in unison, both mouths and genitals were locked together. Wonderful physical bliss suffused Marie and at the final moment, her vision exploded crimson.
After they quit shuddering and their breath returned to an even pace Marie curled up in the circle of his arms. As teenaged lovers she dreamed of such a moment but they never had a chance. Ma wouldn’t have stood for it in her house and so their intimacy remained within the confines of Joe’s car or a blanket spread beneath a tree in a hidden nook at the park. They breathed together as if they remained one body, minds in sync.
St. Joe excerpt:
Fueled with black coffee she roared north up I-29, foot pressed hard to the accelerator. She fiddled with the radio dials until she tuned in a retro rock station and let the harsh sounds of AC/DC fill the car with music. With every mile driven, Mercedes receded into the past and Marie emerged. As her sense of self returned in slow stages, Marie relied on instinct more than anything else. For too long, Mercedes, Max’s creation, had ruled and everything she did sprang out of a different mindset, one belonging to someone else. In the earliest days of her career, once she assumed the name Mercedes Montague--based on her favorite make of car and Romeo’s last name--Marie stood outside looking in as she determined what Mercedes would do and think, and how she would act. After a while, she learned to react as Mercedes until she assumed the identity.
Driving over the speed limit as the old Buick shimmied over the road, Marie shed the layers of artifice and struggled to regain her own skin as daylight crept over the rolling hills and farmland. By the time she reached the six exits for St. Joseph and took the exit ramp onto Frederick Avenue, she was more Marie than Mercedes. Like someone awakening from a long coma, Marie grew aware of both self and surroundings. As she waited for the light to change so she could turn onto Frederick, she noticed the old Holiday Inn, where her uncle once worked as a cook, was now Day’s Inn. It proved to be the first of many changes she noted as she drove away from the interstate and deeper into her hometown. The old Dunkin’ Donuts now housed a tuxedo rental shop and some of the familiar businesses were absent.
As she passed East Hills, the local shopping mall on her left, Marie thought it appeared larger somehow but a few blocks later she traveled across the major commercial artery locals called “The Belt” highway, the former State Hospital loomed up. Marie decided it seemed much smaller. Closed in favor of the newer psychiatric rehabilitation center across the street, State Hospital #2 now housed a museum, if she read the sign correctly.
Frederick Avenue entered an area of lavish old homes, one housing an art gallery, and as she passed the remnants of the old Wyeth Estate, subdivided into newer homes, Marie laughed aloud. Once, the Wyeth estate represented all she knew of wealth and privilege but as a movie star, she earned far more than most of St. Joe’s native sons or daughters ever imagined. A few blocks later, the street narrowed as it traveled through another area of shops, these older by decades than the ones out near the highway. Marie debated whether she should continue down Frederick Avenue west through the older district or just go home.
Although memories lined the busy street, Marie opted to merge into the narrow residential area. On Highley, she could count eight blocks from home. She traveled past her former elementary school, Webster, and mourned that it was no longer a neighborhood school. As Highley narrowed further, she traveled beside the high wall of Mount Mora cemetery, the final resting place for both Ma and Pop. Past the graveyard, the homes became increasingly shabby and even the old brick house she always thought must be haunted lacked the shine it once exhibited. Time failed to freeze during her long absence and she wished with regret it had.
She turned the corner onto Lincoln and headed uphill one block to turn right onto Tenth Street. Marie stared at the wide green lot where the former Sisters Hospital, where she’d been born, had stood. Although it vanished decades earlier, she missed the landmark. Despite the general air of decline, however, her home street hadn’t changed as much as she feared. The aged frame houses, most of them two-story, still lined the narrow pavement like weary soldiers. Most of the huge old trees she recalled remained but a few gaps yawned where houses were gone. Although it was just April, the trees were in full leaf and brilliant green.
Midway down the block, the street jogged and she was almost home. Her stomach clenched tight and threatened to reject the sausage biscuit. Marie’s heart pounded and she didn’t breathe as the home where she grew up appeared on the right. She never remembered until she arrived that the old black-on-gray siding of her childhood was gone, removed long ago because of asbestos. The white aluminum siding she paid to replace the original seemed odd, foreign at first, but the lines of the old house hadn’t changed. She parked in front of the short front steps and dug into the pocketbook for her keys. She picked up her minimal luggage from the back seat as she stepped from the car.