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A PORTRAIT OF DAWN by Samantha St. Claire

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

Beauty, hope, and a stunning setting await you in A PORTRAIT OF DAWN, the newest installment in the Sawtooth Range series by Samantha St. Claire.

Let us travel together to the Sawtooth Range in Idaho, a mere decade before the turn of the century. What do you think people did back then with their days? How did they live, love, and dream? Dawn and Luke are eager to tell us, so let us take this journey together.

A Portrait of Dawn

Dawn's future looms before her like a blank canvas, and only through the artist's eyes will she see her true self and find the courage to paint the first stroke.

It’s 1890 and Idaho Territory is celebrating statehood. The event will draw two individuals who, like the new state, must redefine and prove themselves. While the artist, Luke Brennan, is captivated by Dawn Fairburn’s bewitching, jade-green eyes and brilliant mind, the world characterizes her as less than an acceptable model of womanly perfection. Both are lacking in society’s estimation, he for his Irish heritage and she for her deformed leg, but together they may prove them all wrong. Like the new state, their combined strengths will give them the courage to step into the wilderness of their uncertain future.

"The greatest thing a human being ever does in this world is to see something . . . to see clearly is poetry, prophecy, a religion all in one." —John Ruskin

Behind the Book

Quote from John Ruskin who was an art critic and prolific writer and contemporary of Charles Dickens who wrote about social responsibilities at a time when the upper class turned a blind eye to the suffering of the poor. I learned about him after a visit to the Jackson Wyoming National Museum of Wildlife Art. He inspired many artists to draw from the natural world. Those who did, like John James Audubon, made sacrifices for the sake of their passion. Luke Brennan is my fictional character, whose life is modeled after the historical figures of Charles Russell and Carl Rungius.

Dawn Fairburn is a character I’ve been creating for a few years. I wanted to bring to the romance genre a protagonist whose greatest attraction was not in her bodily perfection but in her character. Initially, she was to have lost an arm in a childhood accident. Later, I decided on a birth defect that made one leg shorter than the other. She would be able to disguise it, but in time it would always be revealed. Not until she meets the artist, Luke Brennan, will she be accepted for who she is, a brilliant and perceptive young woman, strong in character and perseverance.

Their relationship begins at a time when Idaho becomes a state, when new beginnings bring possibilities and hope like the start of a new day. Luke’s portrait of Dawn, as he sees her, gives her the courage to step into an uncertain future.

This is the fifth novel in The Sawtooth Range Series and launches the Hartmann Guest Ranch. Evan and Lena Hartmann’s saga continues as they welcome guests into their home. Lena’s dream of reaching out to others and turning strangers into friends will carry the series into the next century as their legacy grows. Births and weddings are just ahead, as well as trials and triumphs of the Hartmann extended family, Jessie, Bart and Ely.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“The greatest thing a human being ever does in this world is to see something . . . to see clearly is poetry, prophecy, a religion all in one.” John Ruskin

June 24, 1890

For a future yet to be written, an unbridled imagination is a dangerous thing. Although Dawn held to such philosophical convictions, as she turned to her slumbering father sitting beside her, she allowed herself to travel that treacherous path leading her thoughts to notions of what might be.

Even in sleep, with his chin nodding gently against his chest in easy rhythm to the rocking motion of the train, he looked dignified and even . . . presidential. Dawn smiled to herself, pleased by the notion. She considered her father’s pleasing features, his strong, square jaw, the touches of gray giving him that suggestion of experience and wisdom that could build confidence in his constituents. She pressed her lips together and lifted one eyebrow a slight degree higher than the other. Why not? Her skin prickled at the image. If he could go from legal counsel to the next U.S. Senator for New York, why not President? And she would be the one to help put him there.

Dawn shifted in her seat, frowning. Mr. Pullman’s train cars were a definite improvement from those wooden seats of early years when she and her father traveled from New York to Washington. But comfortable, they were not. She envied his ability to fall asleep so effortlessly—the benefits of a man with a clean conscience.

She reached down to retrieve her father’s brochure from the floor, the one he’d read to her with such enthusiasm moments before he’d fallen asleep. Now, with the campaign before him, why did he insist on this trip into Idaho Territory? They needed to be planning, not traipsing off to the frontier for . . . Reading the advertisement again, she felt a scowl pinch her brow.

Come to the Hartmann Ranch where you can experience the frontier ranching life.

As the train rounded a bend, the view from her window shifted to the east, the direction from which they’d been traveling since yesterday morning. Streaks of palest yellow heralded the break of day. It should have cheered her as it usually did, but unlike her usual day of ordered routine, this one held too many uncertainties. She looked down at the twisted brochure still gripped in her hands. The word adventure peeked between her fingers. It wasn’t a word that often appeared in her vocabulary. Adventure conjured up images of safari hunters in wild, foreign lands.

Dawn lowered her head to her father’s shoulder, breathing in the familiar scent of his pipe tobacco and starched collar. How could she ever remain impatient with him? With a skill she’d honed since earliest childhood, she focused her thoughts on this moment. In this moment, she was blissfully content. Tomorrow was yet to be. With luck, she would see the adventures only from the windows of a rolling train.

From the train window, the indistinct reflection appraised the serious young woman with green eyes. Dawn had been told often enough they were the same shade that made her mother so attractive. But unlike her mother, Dawn lacked the golden locks. Her brown hair favored her father’s, as did the firm line of her jaw. And like her father, her thoughts rarely strayed from her duty to support and serve.


Luke Brennan sat as rigid as the straight-backed chair, prepared for the worst, as his employer squinted at him through a dense cloud of cigar smoke.

The barrel-chested man behind the desk pursed his lips as he studied Luke’s most recent drawing. “It isn’t the quality of your illustrations, Luke.”

Luke tried to interpret the editor’s tight, expression, uncertain whether the man was commiserating or experiencing another bout of chronic indigestion. He suspected the latter. Empathy was not among Mr. Carrington’s virtues.

The older man leaned back and shoved the cigar between his lips, taking one long draw and puffing another fetid cloud in Luke’s direction. “It’s business, purely business. The St. Louis-Dispatch is foremost designed to make money for our publisher, Mr. Pulitzer.” He waved his hand, and the cigar sent a thin smoky trail, spiraling to the ceiling. Luke imagined how he’d capture smoke with his pen. Of course, he’d need to consider the limitations of the engravers.

Luke followed the ribbon of smoke curling back upon itself and watched it transform in width as it drifted to the ceiling.

“Luke, are you listening to me?” The editor leaned forward, resting his arms on the edge of his desk, a scowl lining his brow.

Luke cleared his throat and brought his gaze back to the man.

Apparently satisfied, the editor continued, “It’s a problem of speed. You submit half as many illustrations as everyone else on my staff.” His lip lifted into a sardonic smile. “Personally, I like your work. You have an eye for humor, like the drawing you made of the governor last month—the one where the woman’s hat is covering his lip.” He demonstrated with his cigar, posing with it close to his upper lip. “Looked like he was wearing the peacock feather right there! Brilliant!”

“Are you giving me notice?”

What? No! You’re good. I just wish you could turn yourself into a photographer. As soon as we can figure out how to print the darn things cheaper and faster, no paper will waste time with illustrations. As much as our noble publisher would like to kick us into the twentieth century, we aren’t ready. But the writing is on the wall, so to speak, or should I say in the typeset? Or should I say, engraving?” He cackled at his own poor attempt at humor.

“Illustrations will soon be passé. We are moving into the modern era of photographic journalism, at least that’s the term they’re using in the windowed offices down the hall.”

Luke had yet to understand fully his tenuous position, and his patience was growing thin. “Are you telling me I’m not covering Idaho’s statehood?”

The editor tapped ash into his coffee cup. He pursed his lips. “Yes, and no.”


“I’m still sending you to Idaho, but not to the capitol. We’ll be assigning someone else for the bigger event. All the political posturing will happen in Boise City or. . .” He glanced at the paper on his desk. “a town called Hailey. I want you to go to Ketchum to capture the—let’s call it, the more prosaic side of the occasion.”

Luke imagined this Ketchum would be less a city and more fitting to a setting for some Western dime novel, filled with saloons and drunken miners. If he was lucky, maybe he’d see his first street shootout. His mood made a radical shift. Perhaps, this wouldn’t be so bad. He’d have a chance to encounter some real wildlife, the bison, the antelope or even the bears he’d only seen in zoos.

“We have some patrons who are investors in the Philadelphia Smelter in Ketchum. They’ll be attending the celebration.” The editor interrupted these positive thoughts with the realities of his assignment. “You might do well to figure them prominently into any illustration you make for the paper.” A cunning smile inched across his face. “I’m certain that our financial department would be appreciative.”

“I see.”

“Good!” The big man waved a hand to the door. “Miss Turner has your train tickets for you. Oh, and I’ve arranged accommodations for you at a place called the Hartmann Guest Ranch. Seems some couple has opened their ranch for people interested in—” He picked up the same paper from his desk. “Experiencing the frontier.” He raised a bushy eyebrow. “Can’t imagine why anyone would want to. But see if you can ferret out a good story without getting scalped.” He let out a loud guffaw, adding, “Although, that would make a topnotch story.”

When the man stuck his cigar back between tight lips and began shuffling through the mess of papers on his desk, Luke assumed he was being dismissed. He left the office feeling more hopeful than he thought he’d be when walking through the door minutes earlier. The wild western frontier, a ranch, and real adventure might be just what he needed. His excitement tempered as he glumly realized that it might also be his last assignment.

End of Excerpt © Samantha St. Claire

A Portrait of Dawn releases April 8, 2020.

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Visit Samantha online at samanthastclaire.com.

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Award-winning author MK McClintock writes historical romantic fiction about courageous and honorable men and strong women who appreciate chivalry, like those in her Montana Gallagher, British Agent, and Crooked Creek series. She enjoys a quiet life in the northern Rocky Mountains. 

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