Jack Wood has traveled from San Francisco to a monastery and retreat house in the small town of Rock Creek, Wyoming. The distance, however, cannot erase his grief over the death two years ago of his eight-year-old son Josh or heal the subsequent break up of his marriage. Sunk in despair, Jack can’t even tell anyone why he’s come to Rock Creek, and he’s not especially friendly toward the town veterinarian, Tracey, who comes to care for the monastery’s sheep.
Meanwhile, Kate Hackett is still adjusting to life in Rock Creek after arriving from San Francisco two years ago. As the photographer for the town newspaper, she spots a good shot of a man at the retreat house, but discovering that man is Jack shatters the secure isolation she seeks. Jack isn’t aware of it, but Kate saw his son’s last moments as well as the sorrow shrouding Jack at the hospital. She moved to Rock Creek to escape both from her guilt over instinctively taking photos of the dead boy and from any possibility of experiencing the kind of pain Jack suffered. She, too, won’t tell anyone why she’s come to this small town, not even her boss and best friend, newspaper editor Jim Stratford.
Jack begins doing chores for the nuns at the retreat house under the direction of Gertrude, an irascible, elderly nun. He remains unfriendly toward Tracey, even though she brings him groceries every week. On Christmas Eve, the second anniversary of Josh’s death, both Jack and Kate try to avoid any semblance of celebration. They see each other at the town cemetery, and while Jack tells Kate of his son’s death, Kate doesn’t reveal that she found Josh’s body or saw Jack at the hospital.
Kate goes to her landlord’s for Christmas dinner, where she learns that she must accept the “invitation” from cemetery owner and local mortician Oliver Black to plow the snow from the cemetery’s roads for the rest of winter; her status as an outsider does not exempt her from local laws and customs. When Tracey, also a guest at the dinner, asks Kate if she saw anyone at the cemetery besides Oliver, Kate lies and says she didn’t, but Tracey, who has a growing interest in Jack, is suspicious. On her next visit to the retreat house, Tracey tells Jack she isn’t visiting solely to check on the nuns’ sheep, but Jack rebuffs her gentle advances.
Taking pictures at a horse auction, Kate sees a cowboy injured by a wild horse and flashes back to Josh’s death; later, when a child appears to be badly hurt at the town’s winter carnival, Kate can’t bring herself to take any photos of the event. Jim is furious, but Kate, still unwilling to discuss her past, won’t explain the situation to her boss, which jeopardizes their friendship.
As Jack does more work for Gertrude and the other nuns, he realizes Gertrude is nearing death, and the two start to form a genuine and deep bond. He also spends more time with Tracey, and the two come close to admitting their mutual attraction. Kate, meanwhile, comes to appreciate Oliver Black—whom she had initially disliked—and his sensitive yet simultaneously practical attitude toward death and dying.
Gertrude asks Jack to take her to the doctor and insists that he bring Tracey some supplies. At Tracey’s office, Jack finally finds the courage to kiss her, and a romance begins. Gertrude then tells Jack she’ll forego further cancer treatments and accept, even with fear, her upcoming death.
Kate sees Jim at the cemetery and learns that he had a daughter who died quite young. Seeing his grief allows her to tell him, finally, about finding Josh’s body and taking pictures of it, and this admission restores their friendship.
Kate feels compelled to see Jack, tell him how their lives are intertwined, and offer him the photos of Josh. Tracey, who considers Kate’s interest in Jack a romantic one, arrives at the same time. In a confrontation the photos spill to the ground and Jack sees them.
As Tracey and Kate argue, Jack stumbles away to the retreat house’s chapel. After a period of intense, nearly hallucinogenic mourning, he runs out of the chapel into a raging blizzard. The nuns realize Jack will die in the storm, and the locals start to search for him. Tracey finds Jack and brings him to Kate’s nearby cabin, where the two women nurse the injured man back to health. They come to an understanding and friendship, and when Jack recovers, he consciously chooses to step back into life even though it means confronting Josh’s absence. Kate and Jack decide to remain in Rock Creek.
If you are interested, please download chapter 1.