The Ozark region is known as a vacation destination but few of those who flock into these old hills see the real Ozarks. Although Branson, Missouri offers a variety of fun for all ages, live music in countless theaters, theme parks, water fun, two lakes, and more, the Ozarks have much more depth and history. Shows like The Beverly Hillbillies served to enhance rather than debunk old stereotypes and I’ve learned it’s often difficult to communicate where I live to those outside the area. No one’s ever sure if the Ozarks are in the Midwest, the South or the Southwest. People on both coasts have been known to call it – and a large chunk of the middle United States – “the fly-over zone”. Although portions of the Ozark are located in southern Missouri, all of the Show-Me State isn’t part of the Ozarks. Like a relationship, it’s complicated. And, although I’ve spent my share of time playing in Branson, even set some of my books in or around the town, the Ozarks I prefer is the one outside the tourist areas, what I like to think of as the real Ozarks.
I’m not native to these old hills and hollows but I began coming here at an early age. Pop, one of my grandfathers, began vacationing in the Ozarks with a lot of other city folks (including Al Capone but that’s another story) in the 1920’s. Long before I moved to the opposite end of my home state, I’d visited Branson and the Ozarks many times. I’m more than a little bit hillbilly though, thanks to my complex family tree. Most of my ancestors either hailed from Europe a few generations ago (I’m third generation American on my dad’s side), the others all managed to put down some deep roots in parts of Appalachia. One difference, though, between the two regions is that the Appalachian mountains are far taller but the Ozarks are older.
If I can quote from one of my favorite John Denver songs, Country Roads, Take Me Home, “life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowing in the breeze.” And I like to believe anything’s possible. A few years back, a certain species of woodpecker thought extinct for decades was found alive and well in the Arkansas Ozarks. If it can exist, I believe other possibilities abound and among those, I decided there could be a sin eater still practicing his ancient rites in the modern Ozarks. That’s how my latest Rebel Ink Press title, The Sin Eater’s Redemption sprang from my imagination and came to life. Here are all the details, blurb, excerpt, and more!
The Sin Eater’s Redemption
Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Rebel Ink Press
Word count: 72, 825
Death brings singer Tessa Owens home from Nashville to her native Ozarks. But she’s not planning to stay. Tessa turned her back on the old ways of life for the modern world long ago. She didn’t expect to meet her first love, Lucas Rowlands, at the visitation. Seven years wasn’t long enough to forget him and sparks ignite when they meet again. Even worse, Tessa learns Lucas isn’t the simple country farmer she left behind but the sin eater, an ancient position handed down to him from his grandfather. As she struggles to understand Lucas’ life and role as a sin eater Tessa admits she loves him and there’s no doubt what he feels for her. The devil wants Lucas’ sin-heavy soul and if they don’t come up with something, Lucas is hell bound on an express ticket. If there’s any chance at a future, it’s up to Tessa.
This is from my latest release, The Sin Eater’s Redemption…..it’s a contemporary/paranormal/second chance at love tale set in the Ozark Mountains.
Lucas Rowlands grinned, a naughty smile she remembered very well. He looked the same with overlong brown hair lit with blonde highlights, dark blue eyes and a lean build. “I hear you’ve been living up to Nashville all this long time,” he said.
“I have,” Tessa replied. “I live there now.”
His eyes locked on her face and she couldn’t look away, mesmerized by his steady gaze.
“Guess you ain’t famous just yet.”
Face to face, toe to toe, she remembered more than she wanted. His presence, his physical proximity exuded power, so much the fine hairs on her arms came to attention. “No,” she said, her voice husky. “I’m not. What are you doing these days, Lucas?”
“I do as little as possible,” he said, with a sassy grin. “I raise cattle and more than a little hell on my granddad’s old place. I live in the old house, there, and mostly do what I want.”
That sounded like Lucas, she thought. “Are you married?”
“Nope and I don’t plan to get that way. What about you, darlin’? Do you have a husband and kiddies in a little house over there on the Cumberland River?”
He stood close his heat radiated from his skin and moved over her in waves. Tessa grew too hot, so overheated she thought she might faint. His questions irked her, though she couldn’t say why.
“No,” Tessa said. If she didn’t get some fresh air now, she would pass out on the floor. She stepped forward, prepared to head for the back door. Luke took her hand instead and kept her in place.
“Where are you going? We haven’t had time to catch up yet or talk about old times.”
His voice affected her like cheap strawberry wine with a giddy rush powerful enough to tilt her off balance.
“I need some air,” she whispered. “I’ve got to go outside.”
Lucas put his arm around her. “Let’s go then.”
He pressed through the crowds with a fake grin plastered on his face, exchanging a few nods and howdys. She allowed him to take her through her aunt’s kitchen, aware the women putting out food stared as they passed. In the backyard, Tessa staggered over to a plastic lawn chair and sat. Cool breezes flowed down the hills behind and she inhaled deep. After a few minutes, she sighed.
“Better?” Lucas sprawled in a chair across from hers and watched her with a frown she might’ve once believed came out of concern.
“What the hell happened in there? You didn’t use to be such a wimp.”
“No.” Funny she could sing on any stage, hobnob with some of the remaining greats of country music, talk with today’s chart toppers, handle the meanest drunk in any bar and attend any event and never lose her cool. But come back to the hills, and she lost it in her aunt’s house, among her own folks, thanks to Lucas Rowlands. “I’m okay now, though.”
He offered a hand so she could rise and Tessa accepted it. Before she had time to think, Lucas drew her into his arms like a spider catching a fly and put his mouth down over hers. She struggled, protested until his heat fired her and ignited all her old passions. Tessa kissed him back with the same unholy fire. Sweet little charges of electricity ran over her sensitive skin and when his tongue entered her mouth, she would’ve squealed aloud except she couldn’t – there wasn’t space to make a sound.
Pleasure from his mouth expanded lower and spread heat through her in waves. A dim sense Tessa should protest, should push him away hovered at the edge of her consciousness but everything felt too damn good to stop him. His lips evoked the past, stolen kisses and heady delights she recalled much too well. If someone – she never could be sure who it was – had not thrust their head out of the back door and called,
“Lucas, it’s time.”
Tessa might’ve let him do more than kiss her there, in the backyard, with her kinfolk and most of the rural community steps away. The reality check jarred her back to consciousness as he released her.
“I’ll see you later,” he said, with a playful swat at her rear.
Tessa watched him go, divided between longing for more kisses and anger that she let her guard down so easy. Lucas was the last person she expected to see and before she could ponder why he’d come to Uncle Cal’s private family visitation, the back door swung open.
“There you are! You need to come in now – we’re about to get started.”
Still befuddled and bemused with Lucas’ kisses, Tessa asked, “Start what, Aunt Vernie?”
“Her aunt ducked her head as she said, “I had the sin eater come. You know what a wicked man Calvin could be, how mean he was, and I just hated to think he might spend all eternity in hell so I decided to do the way folks did back a few years. Truth is, they do it more now than you’d think now we got us a sin eater again.”
“You’re joking,” Tess said. This sounded insane. She’d left the real world behind in Tennessee and ended up on the set of The Twilight Zone.
Aunt Verna folded her arms across her chest like fresh laundry. “I’m not, Tessa. You’ve been away too long. That’s why I had them bring Cal back out here from the funeral home. Today’s for the sin eater, the family, and some close friends. It’s visitation too but this is the most important.”
Speechless and more than a little stunned, Tessa asked. “If today is just for family and friends, what’s Lucas Rowlands doing here?”
Aunt Verna turned around, mouth quirked into a frown.
“I can’t believe you don’t know but he’s the sin eater just like his grandpa was. He took over for him after he died.”