In 1918, Sawyer Samuels is injured in The Great War and given a medical discharge. He’s sent back to his hometown of Dawson, Montana, but it’s a bittersweet homecoming. There is more to his discharge than he can tell most people. Shortly after coming home, Sawyer runs into Devon Dwyer, the woman who rejected his marriage proposal before he enlisted in the army. His feelings for her are as strong as ever, but after their painful parting, there’s no going back.
Seeing Sawyer again drives home the point to Devon that her heart still belongs to him even though she’s tried to move on. However, she knows the situation is hopeless. There’s still too much anger and pain between them to reconcile—or is there?
Enter a group of their wily friends who have some tricks up their sleeves to push Sawyer and Devon to attempt to repair their broken relationship. As the Christmas season begins, chaos and mayhem ensue. Meanwhile, tensions in Dawson rise as suspicions rise and threaten the peace and wellbeing of their town. Can Sawyer and Devon recapture the love they once shared? Can the citizens of Dawson rise to the challenges and dangers that arise? Join the adventure and find out.
He was going to die. As the Chevrolet Royal Mail Roadster careened around a sharp curve on the way from Wolf Point, Montana, to his hometown of Dawson, Sawyer Samuels was convinced that his demise was imminent. He kept his brown eyes shut as he clung tightly to his armrest in the back of the vehicle that his best buddy, Skip Keller, drove.
“Open your eyes, Sawyer. I’m not gonna crash,” Skip said, his almost-black eyes gleaming with amusement as he downshifted, calling on more speed from the motor.
“Why did he come with you?” Sawyer said, cracking an eye open, relieved to see that they’d straightened out again.
“He just wanted to go for a drive,” Skip said. “Besides he’s as excited to see you as me.”
“I know, but I hate it when you guys race. It scares the crap out of me. You’re not exactly the most reliable driver,” Sawyer said.
“Aw, c’mon. I haven’t crashed since before you left. Stop holding that against me. Dang it! This car is just no match for that Renault Grand Prix of his. What person in their right mind buys a racing car for their seventeen-year-old boy?” Skip ground out from behind clenched teeth as he gave the car more gas.
Sawyer laughed. “Well, Mr. Dwyer is just like him. Both of them like speed. Besides, he picked it up at an estate sale, so it wasn’t too expensive. And it’s older, so it can’t be that fast …”
His sentence trailed off as Joe Dwyer Jr.’s baby-blue Grand Prix blew by them. Joey’s laughter floated back to them on the chilly mid-September breeze.
Skip turned around to give Sawyer a sardonic look. “You were saying?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just watch the road!” Sawyer said. “I’d like to arrive home in one piece after surviving the war and the flu, if you don’t mind.”
Skip laughed. “Don’t worry, soldier boy. I’ll make sure you’re around to see 1919. I’ll be eighteen in January, but they won’t take me because of my ‘mental defect.’”
“It’s not glamorous, Skip. Everyone should do their duty, but it’s not some big adventure. War is hard, scary, and bloody. Did you look at the pictures I sent home?” he asked.
Skip nodded. “Yeah. I haven’t shown them to anyone, just like you asked. I know you’re right, but it’s hard when you’re different. I’d sooner not be able to go because I had a deformed foot or something.”
Sawyer laughed. “You’d rather have a deformed foot than a mental defect?”
“You know what I mean,” Skip said. “Now what’s he doing?”
Joey had slowed down and pulled over on the other side of the road so Skip could draw alongside of him.
“Nice of you to show me up, Dwyer,” Skip said, grinning.
Joey laughed, his hazel eyes shining. “Now, don’t get mad,” he said, keeping an eye out in case another auto or a horse-drawn vehicle came from the opposite side of the road. “Hey, Sawyer, you wanna drive? Is your shoulder up for it?”
Sawyer grinned. “Yeah, sure. I can drive for a little while.”
“Pull over, Skip.”
Skip decreased his speed and brought the car to a stop.
Joey pulled over in front of them and cut the engine. Hopping out, he waited for Sawyer to get in so he could explain the gear shift and other features to him since the foreign automobile didn’t work quite like other cars.
“Got it?” he asked.
Sawyer said, “Yeah. I’m not stupid, Joey. Where do you want me to pull over at?”
“Just take it on over to your folks’ place. We’ll follow. Just remember to use the clutch right. Don’t kill my transmission. Daddy’ll have a conniption fit,” Joey said, clapping Sawyer on his good shoulder. He walked over to Skip’s car. “Get in the back. I’m drivin’.”
Joey just looked at him. “Do you really have to ask?”
Skip scowled at him, but relinquished the wheel of the three-seater car as Sawyer took off. Joey made sure no one else was coming and pulled out.
“How’d he seem to you?” Joey asked.
“I’m sure it was scary over there,” Joey said. “I’d go, but I’m not old enough yet.”
Skip said, “That’s not what I meant. He was scared of my driving.”
Joey laughed. “Smart man. Did he say anything more about his injuries?”
“Nope. We didn’t talk too much since he was cringing so much while we were racing,” Skip said.
“He’s still limping. I didn’t wanna say nothing. And his folks have no idea he’s coming?” Joey asked.
“None. I didn’t say anything. I can keep a secret,” Skip answered.
“I know you can. I’m sure they’ll be glad to see him. I know I am. I really missed him.”
“Me, too,” Skip said.
“Did he say if he’s going back to the front?”
Skip frowned. “Why don’t you ask him all this?”
Joey replied, “Because he’s gonna have to tell a whole bunch of other people. You have the answers I need since I told him to just write to you and that you’d fill me in. He didn’t have time to write to everyone, especially because he has such a big family.”
Skip said, “He said that he’s home indefinitely because he might need surgery, which means he won’t be fit to go back to the front.”
Joey sighed. “That’s gotta sting. I know he liked being a soldier.”
“Yeah. He’ll be all right either way. There’s tons of ways to help support our troops around here. Look at me. I can’t go, but I help with all sorts of stuff.”
Both young men did. Joey’s folks, the first family of Dawson, trained fine horses for the military and as soon as a horse was deemed trained well enough, off it went to the war. It was lucrative, but Joe Sr., the mayor, was more interested in helping their boys overseas by sending only the best bred and trained riding and draft horses. Joey did his fair share of training and ranch work. Many of the younger men in Dawson had taken over the various employment positions left empty by their older male friends and family members who had been drafted.
The flu epidemic had caused the Montana Department of Health to close many schools and other gathering places to cut down on the spread of the deadly illness. Therefore, many of the older school-aged children now worked on farms did other jobs that contributed to the war effort.
Dawson’s town doctors had ordered regular disinfection of all public buildings and people had been hired to clean the town hall, hospital, and post office every day. Their pastor, Matt “Mac” Mackenzie, and his family took care of disinfecting the church and although they still had services, no one shook hands or hugged. Everyone was also required to wash their hands with strong lye soap upon entry to the church.
With all of the precautions that people were taking, Dawson was fortunate to have a much lower illness and mortality rate than many other towns in the area. Wolf Point had also implemented such measures and they, too, were fairly successful in avoiding the flu.
Joey’s older brother, Kyle, who was twenty-four, had been drafted into the marines. Therefore, Joey’s responsibilities had increased. His brother, Tim, hadn’t been called because the military felt he was too important to the horse training operation.
Skip worked on the Samuels ranch on Saturdays and at the Dawson Dialogue, the local newspaper, most afternoons. He was heavily relied upon because he was fast on the telegraph machine housed there, and he was able to keep up with all of the telegraph traffic the two nearby military forts generated.
Joey said, “He doesn’t have anything to feel bad about if he can’t go back. He did his duty and then some.”
Skip agreed with him and then they fell silent as they followed their friend to his home.
Sawyer enjoyed driving Joey’s car. It gave him a chance to relax and to see what had changed about Dawson. He’d enlisted in February of 1917, shortly after the Germans had sunk several of America’s merchant ships. Like many people, Sawyer had felt that the US would eventually get pulled into the fray and he’d decided to join up in case that day arrived.
He’d been hurt in late August of this year, 1918, during a skirmish in France when he had been blasted into the air by the aftershocks of an artillery shell that had hit near him. Fortune had been with him and he’d only suffered lacerations, a dislocated right shoulder, and a broken left ankle. Despite those injuries, he’d killed a couple of German soldiers before the field medics had rescued him.
His shoulder still hurt a lot some days and he sometimes lost sensation in the fingers on that hand. The ankle injury was worse than the shoulder injury because the fracture hadn’t been stabilized properly, causing the bones to knit together incorrectly.
Sawyer was hopeful that Dr. Ben Walker, Dawson’s orthopedic surgeon, could successfully treat it. While he was looking forward to seeing his family and friends, there were reasons that made coming home bittersweet.
Putting that all out of his mind, Sawyer waved at people he knew and admired other cars. Driving into the rural town, he stopped at the square, glad that Skip had warned him that stop signs had been installed.
After a couple of bad collisions at the square, Joe had decided to put them in when he’d heard that they’d worked in Detroit. Joe’s first concern was always the safety of his townspeople. Since they’d been implemented a couple of months ago, there hadn’t been any accidents and the signs helped pedestrians cross the street, too. The sheriff’s department tried to make sure everyone adhered to the new town ordinance of stopping at the intersection.
Turning right, Sawyer drove past what used to be the Dawson Medical Clinic. There were now a couple of different businesses in the building. A small hospital had been built in a different location since the town now needed a larger medical facility due to its growing population. From there, he passed Bradbury’s General Store, which everyone just called Elliot’s, after the owner. Sawyer waved at more people he knew before speeding up again and leaving the town behind.
Dean Samuels and his brother, Seth, walked across the drive from their first barn. Dean watched Seth limp along with concern. “You gonna make it?”
Seth sighed. “Why do you ask me that every day?”
“Well, it’s getting colder and I know how that leg of yours gets,” Dean said, then coughed.
Seth raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you gonna make it?”
“Shut up,” Dean said.
“How do you like it?” Seth asked. “Now, if I had your leg and you had my lungs, we’d be in good shape.”
Dean laughed. “No, we wouldn’t. I’d only have one leg and you’d die because you didn’t have any lungs.”
The two older men laughed together as a car turned down their lane. It was still strange to see cars coming along the road or to drive one, but neither man could deny that they made things more convenient.
Seeing the blue car, Dean chuckled. “Looks like Jr.’s coming over. Most likely he’s after Dino. Hey, that doesn’t look like Jr. driving. Who is that?”
Seth squinted as the car came closer. “What the heck? Is that Sawyer?”
“I’ll be danged! It is!” Dean said, grinning. “He’s pulled a surprise on us!”
Sawyer waved at them and pulled the car up to his house, cutting the engine. He grinned as he got out of the car and limped towards them.
“Grandpa! Uncle Seth!”
“My God, Sawyer!” Dean said with disbelief. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?”
Sawyer hugged him, wincing at the pain his grandfather’s hearty embrace caused him. It was worth it, though. “It’s good to see you, Grandpa. I missed you.”
“I missed you, too. It doesn’t look like that ankle’s doing too good,” Dean said, his vivid blue eyes filled with concern. “We’ve been worried sick since we heard you were wounded.”
“At least I’m alive and I didn’t run into any mustard gas or anything like that. The docs over there are good, but they’re overrun with injured people and don’t have a whole lot of time to do surgery. I’m hopin’ that Dr. Walker can fix me up,” Sawyer responded.
Seth noticed that he also favored his right shoulder so he lightly embraced him. “You got banged up good over there, huh?”
“Yeah. I doubt I’ll be going back,” Sawyer said.
At the sound of the screen door off the kitchen opening, Sawyer turned to see his mother, Frankie, running for him.
“Sawyer? Sawyer!” she cried, her arms open wide.
“Mama!” He hugged her.
Frankie kissed him, pulled back to look up at him with her shining, dark eyes, and then hugged him again. “I can’t believe it. I thought I was seeing things. Why didn’t you tell us you were coming home? Oh, it’s so good to see my boy. Come and we’ll get you settled.”
“I wanted to surprise you. Joey and Skip will be along with my luggage. I don’t have much. Are the other kids home?” he asked, walking with her.
She noticed his limp. “Is your ankle still not healed? Is that why you’re home?”
Sawyer nodded. “I’ll fill everyone in at the same time.”
“All right. Dino and Lyla are home, but Sandy’s working. Your pa is still out on a story, but I’m expecting him to come home before too long,” she said.
Sawyer walked into the house where four generations of Samuels had resided and felt its familiar, warm energy wrap around him. Entering the kitchen, he smiled as he looked at the scarred table where so many past generations had eaten and where the current inhabitants ate. How many meals had been placed on it? Too many to count.
Cupping his hands around his mouth, he let out a loud screech owl call. Frankie held back laughter as Sawyer repeated the call. Suddenly hurried footsteps sounded overhead.
“Hurry, Dino! Move!” said Sawyer’s younger sister, Lyla.
“I am!” his sixteen-year-old little brother responded before rounding the corner from the foyer into the kitchen. “It is him!” His correct name was Dean R. Samuels III, but they’d chosen the nickname to avoid confusion with his grandfather.
Sawyer held up a hand to hold him off. “Take it easy on me, ok? I’m still sore and all.”
Dino’s blue eyes looked him over, noting that his big brother looked a little thinner than before. He gently embraced him. “I thought we were hearing things at first.”
Sawyer ruffled his hair. “Nope. I’m really here. You got taller.”
Seventeen-year-old Lyla nudged Dino out of the way and hugged Sawyer. “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming home? We’d have come to get you. We’ve all been so worried since you were hurt.”
Sawyer heard her sniff. “Hey, I’m ok. Dr. Walker will fix me up. Don’t cry, Lyla.”
“I can’t help it,” she said, looking at him with her big, dark eyes.
With their black hair and slightly olive-toned skin, Lyla and Dino looked more alike than Sawyer and his half-siblings. His father, D.J., had been involved with Jackie Benson, a young woman in Dawson, when they were both kids and she’d gotten pregnant with Sawyer. She’d died giving birth to him and D.J. had raised him on his own until Sawyer had been almost three.
Then D.J. had met Frankie, who was of Italian descent, and she’d become Sawyer’s mother. He loved her as though she were his biological mother. Except for his brown eyes, Sawyer greatly resembled D.J. with his sandy-brown hair and the shape of his strong jaw.
His other sister, Sandy, a brown-eyed blonde, worked at their Uncle Jack’s restaurant, The Grady House.
“It’s gonna be fine, Lyla. Dry those tears,” Sawyer said.
Skip and Joey arrived, jumping out of Skip’s car. They entered the kitchen, greeting everyone, Skip carrying Sawyer’s duffle bag. They were followed by Dean and Seth.
“Mrs. Samuels, you get more ravishing every time I see you,” Joey said, giving her a rakish smile.
“You just saw me yesterday,” she said, chuckling.
Dean put his hand over Joey’s mouth. “He’s a Dwyer so he can’t help himself.”
Joey laughed and moved away from Dean. “Yep. It’s Daddy’s fault.”
Seth stood behind Skip, eyeing his messy, dark hair. “Skip, they make these things called combs.”
Skip laughed. “It’s the wind from the drive. I had it looking good, but there’s not much you can do about the wind, is there? Maybe I should get mine cut like Sawyer’s.” He reached out, running a hand over Sawyer’s crewcut that was growing out now. “Then it’ll stay neat no matter how much the wind blows.”
Sawyer knocked his hand away. “Stop petting me.”
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Joey exclaimed.
Dean loved to torment him and he playfully pulled Joey’s longish hair. “Maybe you should get yours cut that way, too, Jr. Then no one could do that to you.”
Joey laughed and twisted out of Dean’s grasp as he rubbed his head. “You sound like Daddy. He snuck in my room one night last week while I was sleeping and put a pair of scissors and a note on my pillow. It said, ‘Get your hair cut or I’ll cut it for you.’”
They laughed because it was easy seeing the mayor doing something like that since he was such a clotheshorse and kept his hair neatly cut. It drove Joe nuts that Joey didn’t worry about his appearance as much as he did.
“And you’re being defiant since you still haven’t had it cut,” Dean said.
“I was gonna get it cut, but—”
A Model T drove up and honked its horn. Sawyer crouched down a little to look out the window and saw that it was his father. “Shh!” he said and limped into the foyer to hide.
To cover the suddenly awkward silence, Skip said, “I’m glad you liked my report on squirrels last week, Mrs. Samuels.”
At first the teacher looked at him blankly before realizing what he was doing. “Oh, yes. It was very informative. I learned more about squirrels than I ever really wanted to.”
They all laughed as Dean’s son, D.J., flung the screen door open, shouting, “Where is he?”
Skip was so startled that he immediately pointed towards the foyer. Seth promptly smacked the back of his head for giving Sawyer away. Knowing there was no sense hiding, Sawyer stepped into the kitchen and D.J. broke into a huge grin at the sight of his son.
Lyla said, “Pa, be gentle.”
D.J. looked quizzically at her and then back at Sawyer. He saw the way he walked and that he carried his right shoulder a little lower than the left. His father’s instincts made him want to pick Sawyer up and soothe his pain the way he had when Sawyer had been little. Although not quite exuberant as it would have been, D.J.’s greeting was no less heartfelt. “I couldn’t believe it when Elliot said he’d seen you go by in Joey’s car. I couldn’t get home fast enough.”
Skip nudged Joey. “Let’s go. If Elliot saw Sawyer, then it’s a sure bet other people did, too. They’ll have a whole houseful soon.”
Joey nodded. “Yeah. Best to leave them to their visiting.”
The boys said their goodbyes and left the family to celebrate the return of their loved one.