Sullivan's Crossing Book # 3
April 17, 2018
The Family Gathering
The Family Gathering is the highly anticipated new novel in #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr’s Sullivan’s Crossing series. Readers have fallen in love with Sullivan’s Crossing and the characters who live there and will be delighted to spend time with their favorite people again. The rustic campground at the crossroads of the Colorado and Continental Divide trails welcomes everyone—whether you are looking for a relaxing escape or a whole new lease on life.
An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.
Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.
Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.
When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.
DAKOTA JONES PULLED RIGHT UP TO THE BARN THAT was now a house, and parked beside his brother’s truck. He left his duffel in the Jeep SUV and went to the door. He stood in indecision for a moment—they had a six-month-old baby. He knocked rather than ring the bell, just in case the child was sleeping. A few moments later, he knocked again. And a third time. Finally the door opened.
“Dakota!” Cal said with a grin. “What are you doing here?”
“I came by way of Australia. It’s a long story—”
“I can’t wait to hear what that’s about,” Cal said. “Want to come in or stand out there awhile longer?”
“I don’t want to wake the baby,” Dakota said.
“The baby is in Denver with Maggie. They’ll be back tonight.”
“That sounds like an interesting arrangement,” Dakota said.
“Like a tug-of-war, my friend. Something to drink?” Cal offered. “Food?”
“A cold beer would be nice.” He looked around. The place was beautiful, but that came as no surprise. Cal’s house with his first wife had been a showplace. Given the way the Jones siblings had grown up, something like a good, solid house that a person was proud to come home to would fill a need that had been neglected when they were kids. Cal put a beer in Dakota’s hand. “The place looks great,” Dakota said.
But Cal didn’t respond to that. Instead, he said, “What were you doing in Australia?”
“I’d never been there,” he said. “I wanted to walkabout. That’s when—”
Cal cut him off with a laugh. “I know what a walkabout is.” He tilted his beer toward Dakota in a toast. “I’ve never seen you with that much hair. On your face and everything.”
Dakota stroked his beard. “I could probably use a trim.” “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on before Maggie and
Elizabeth get home.”
“Well, in Australia I visited one of the Rangers I served with years ago and together we checked in on another one. Then, with some input from them, I hit out on the trail for about a month, seeing some of the country, camping, fishing, practicing the identification and avoidance of snakes and crocodiles—”
“I meant, the Army! You’re out? I knew you weren’t happy there anymore. You said we’d talk about it someday.”
“I wasn’t sure where I’d end up but I was sure I’d get out here for a visit. With you and Sierra here and a new baby—I wanted to at least drop by.”
Cal sighed. “Dakota. The Army.”
“Well, I’m a little surprised I was in as long as I was. I never intended to make it a career. I wanted their offer of free travel and education.”
Cal just lifted one brow. Free travel? To a variety of war zones? Dakota grinned. “I had a small disagreement with a colonel. We didn’t see things the same way. Apparently I was insubordinate. It was time to think about doing something new.”
“Were you honorably discharged?” Cal asked, pushing him.
Dakota shook his head. “But I wasn’t dishonorably discharged.”
He was simply discharged, but that said something. You had to screw up pretty bad to not get an honorable discharge.
“What’d you do?” Cal asked.
“I disagreed with his forward action and told him it would get people killed. Rangers—it could get Rangers killed. I had ten or a hundred times the experience he had but he was in competition with me or something because he was hell-bent to drive five of our best Rangers right into the known hotbed of ISIS training and it was going to get people dead. I think they plucked that idiot out of the motor pool and put him in charge of a unit. I overrode his orders and he threatened me with jail. I thought that it was probably time for a career change.”
“They sent you home?” Cal asked. “You must have done something even worse than disagree for them to send you home!”
Dakota squirmed. “I was acting in the best interest of my men.”
“What’d you do?” Dakota didn’t answer. “You hit him or something?”
“No, my guys wouldn’t let me do that,” he said. Then he hung his head briefly. “I let the air out of the tires until I could get in touch with another colonel I know who could try to intercede with the orders that would put us directly in harm’s way.”
“Jeeps?” Cal asked. “No. MRAPs.”
“Mine resistant assault protective vehicles. The big ones.”
“Those big mammoth desert beasts with tires taller than I am?” Cal asked. “How the hell do you let the air out of those?”
“With a .45,” he said softly. “Or M16.”
“You shot out the tires? How is it you’re not in jail?”
“I was. Good behavior,” he said. “And it was determined the colonel was incompetent and had done even worse things before. Cal, he was crazy. Homicidal. He had no idea what he was doing. He wasn’t a Ranger—he had very little combat experience. He was a joke. I wasn’t going to let him get any more people killed.”
They sat in heavy silence for a little while, each tilting their beer bottle a couple of times. Finally Dakota broke the silence.
“Listen, it happens in the military sometimes. They take a guy who just made rank and give him a unit to command and sometimes the fit is bad. A buddy of mine, a doctor, his boss had no experience in the medical corps. He was a pilot. And he was making decisions for a bunch of doctors and a hospital that were dangerous to the patients, but he wouldn’t compromise, he wouldn’t listen to reason, he wouldn’t ask for advice. According to my friend, people were left untreated, in pain, mishandled. A whole fleet of doctors mutinied and the colonel retaliated. That kind of thing doesn’t happen all that often—usually there’s at least one clear head in the game…” He took a breath. “They got my guy from the knitting battalion, I think. Jesus, I’ve worked for a few dipshits, but this one was exceptional.”
“But you got out. With three years to retirement.”
“Yeah, I have plenty of time for my next career move,” he said. Then he grinned. “I’m still a kid.”
“So you went walkabout,” Cal said with a laugh. “Proving you’re just like the rest of us?”
“You did it after Lynne’s death. And it worked. But why? That’s my question. Why do we wander? It was the wandering while we were growing up that I hated the most.”
Dakota’s parents thought of themselves as wanderers. Or hippies. Or new age thinkers, whatever. What they really were was a father who was schizophrenic, often delusional and paranoid, and a mother who was his keeper and protector. They took their four children with them as they roamed the country in a van and then later a school bus converted into an RV. They made regular stops at their grandparents’ farm in Iowa and finally lived there full-time when Dakota was twelve, Cal, the oldest, was sixteen and their two sisters, Sedona and Sierra, were fourteen and ten. Cal was still patient and understanding with their parents, with the father who wouldn’t consider medication that would make him functional, or at least more functional. He was even tender with them. Sedona acted responsibly toward them in a kind but businesslike way, visiting regularly and making sure they weren’t in need or in trouble. Sierra, the baby of the fam- ily, was mostly confused by how they chose to live. But Dakota? He’d spent much of his childhood not going to school, taking his lessons in a bus from his mother. The whole family worked when there was work, mostly harvesting vegetables with other migrant workers. When they did settle in Iowa on his grandparents’ farm, he went to school full-time. He’d taken a lot of bullying in junior high and high school because his parents, Jed and Marissa, were so weird. Dakota was ashamed of them. They made no sense to him. Dakota was decisive and action-oriented and would have gotten old Jed on meds or kicked him out, but instead his mother coddled him, shielded him, let him have his way even though his way was crazy. So Dakota had been a loner. He’d had very few friends.
Dakota left the second he could, right after high school graduation when he was seventeen. He enlisted in the Army and had visited his parents about four times since. Each time he went back to that farm in Iowa they seemed more weird than the time before. He rarely called. They had apparently hardly noticed.
He also protected himself against anyone getting too close while he waited to see if he was going to become mentally ill, as well. At thirty-five, he was now pretty sure he was safe from that. And, after all this time, his independent and aloof behavior was accepted by his brother and sisters.
It was easy to remain unattached in the military. He had friends whose company he enjoyed but there were very few with whom he had really bonded and their bond was one of military brothers. He would join the guys for a few beers, as he was regularly included in social events—parties, outings to the lake, ski trips, whatever his group was doing—and he was called, You know, Dakota, the bachelor.
There were women, of course. Dakota loved women. He just wasn’t the type to make long-term commitments to anyone, especially girlfriends. Even if he was with a certain woman for a while, he wasn’t exactly coupled. Well, there was one, but it had been so brief, and had ended so tragically, it reminded him that it was better not to get too involved. He wasn’t the marrying kind. He was better off on his own. He was never lonely, never bored. The way he played it he didn’t have to explain where he came from, how he grew up, how bizarre his family was. In seventeen years in the Army he had never met a guy who grew up like him—essentially homeless, raised in a bus by a couple of wackos.
But recently, something had changed for him. It was slow. Subtle. Cal lost his wife and then, two years later, remarried. Maggie, a neurosurgeon of all things, was awesome. Now they had a baby, were a family. Cal had never shied from commitment, as if very confident he’d be a better family man than his father was. Their little sister had joined Cal in Timberlake and was also settling down. Sierra had hooked up with a firefighter, a fantastic guy. Connie, short for Conrad, was smart, physical, loyal, the kind of guy he admired. Dakota knew in five minutes that Connie had integrity. And watching the way Sierra was with him almost made Dakota long for something like that. Sedona had been married since right after college, had a couple of kids, was by all accounts living a normal life. So far none of them had decided to live in a bus like their parents had. Little by little it had begun to tease his mind that possibly he could have a normal adult life. Maybe he could actually have friends and family and not have to protect himself from being himself.
But he was damn sure taking it slow.
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