Debby K's Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Fan Fiction

A Bad Dream


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
A Bad Dream
by Debby K

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Chapter 1
************

With the children upstairs asleep, Michaela and Sully sat in adjoining wing back chairs in front of the fireplace, with their feet propped up for warmth. Michaela was deep in thought reading from her medical journal. Sully smiled at her.

He sighed loud enough for her to hear. No response. He cleared his throat. Again no reaction from his wife. Deciding that more enticing measures were needed to get her attention, he slid onto the floor and took one of her feet in his hands. After removing her shoe, he began to massage her foot.

Michaela lowered the journal to look at him.

"That feels good," she smiled that upturned grin he loved so well.

Then she raised the journal and returned to her reading. Sully sighed again. Smiling to himself, he assumed she was going to play a bit harder to get tonight. Maybe she was too tired for his romantic overtures. He sympathized at her exhausting day at the Clinic. With the help of the children, he had prepared dinner in advance of her late arrival home.

He tried her other foot. Michaela began to relax at his touch. She had delivered two babies today, both at the Clinic, and both quite difficult pregnancies. Her husband's tender touches began to affect her powers of concentration on medical topics. Finally, she set aside the journal.

Sully did not notice that she had stopped reading. Michaela leaned forward and lifted his chin with her hand. The piercing blue of his eyes spoke of his love for her.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"For what?" he continued his massage.

"For this," Michaela took his hand.

She slid onto the floor beside him.

"I figured ya needed a little extra care tonight," he grinned.

Repositioning himself next to her, he tucked her under his arm.

"Two babies born at the same time!" she chuckled. "I've never had that happen before."

"Always somethin' challengin' for ya," he kissed her temple.

Her eyes glistened, "And two fathers who nearly fainted," she smiled.

"I know how they felt," Sully laughed.

She elbowed his rib, "You helped deliver Katie. You didn't pass out."

He cleared his throat, "Wanted to, though. It was the scariest thing I ever went through."

"I'm glad you were with me. Glad that you participated," a tear formed in the corner of her eye.

"Hey, I was there for the start. Only right I should be there for the finish," he grinned.

"Sully!" Michaela was surprised at his suggestiveness.

"Sorry," he pretended to be embarrassed. "Didn't mean to offend your Boston upbringin'."

"Well...," she stood up. "I think I might enjoy it when you challenge my proper New England ways."

She extended her hand to him, and he stood up beside her.

He wrapped his arms around her waist, "Wasn't always that way, though."

Michaela slid her hands slowly up his arms and caressed his neck. "I take it you like me better this way?"

Sully leaned down to kiss her neck, "Um-hum."

She closed her eyes, "I think I like me better this way, too."

"Maybe we should stop," he interrupted his kisses.

"Why?" she was disappointed.

"'Cause you must be tired," he slowly backed away from her.

She stepped closer to him, "I'm not exactly tired at the moment."

Sully began to walk around to each lamp on every table, one by one extinguishing them. Michaela followed him each step of the way, attempting to distract him from his work with a kiss.

"But you had such a busy day at the Clinic," he pretended to be absorbed in his work.

She continued to pursue him, "Not so busy that I am uninterested in..."

Suddenly, he turned to her, swept her off her feet and into his arms, "Uninterested in...?"

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.

Pausing briefly, she completed her train of thought, "In this."

She returned to their kiss.

Sully gently pulled back, "Well, if you're sure..."

She nodded. With that, he carried her up the steps. When they reached the second floor, he set her down. Hand in hand, the parents crept into their daughter's room and over to her crib.

"She looks like an angel," Sully whispered, rubbing Katie's back.

Michaela adjusted the little girl's blanket to make certain that she would be warm.

"I'm glad you didn't faint," Michaela looked up at him.

"I wouldn't have missed her birth for anythin' in the world," he winked.

At that moment, Katie twitched and opened her eyes. "Mama? Papa?"

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela smiled. "We're here."

Sully put his hand gently on his daughter's head, "We thought you were asleep."

"I scared," Katie sat up.

"What are you scared of?" Sully reached down for her.

Lifting the little girl into his arms, he patted her back.

"Bad dweam," Katie rubbed her eyes.

"Perhaps if you tell us about your dream, it won't seem so bad," Michaela assured her.

"I dweam Mama and Papa go 'way," the child clutched her father's shirt.

"Where did we go, Kates?" Sully stroked her hair.

"Don't know," she replied.

Katie yawned. Michaela reached for her, and Sully handed the little girl to her mother.

"Papa and I are right here, Sweetheart," Michaela assured her. "We're not going away, and there's no need for you to be afraid."

Within moments, Katie had fallen back to sleep. Michaela laid her back down in the crib, and Sully covered her with the blanket. Just as quietly as they had entered the child's room, they departed.

************

Alone in their bedroom, Michaela sat at her dressing table while Sully added logs to the fireplace.

"We received a letter from Colleen today," she brushed her long tresses. "I left it on the dining room table for you to read. Andrew and she are settling in nicely in Philadelphia. Everything is wonderful for them."

"That right?" Sully smiled. Then he cleared his throat, "Michaela, you never said, but I sort o' wondered somethin' 'bout Colleen and Andrew."

"Wondered something?" she turned to face him.

Sully sat on the edge of the bed to remove his shoes, "I wondered if you an' Colleen had a chance t' talk about... ya know... gettin' married, bein' a wife...."

A smile crossed her lips, "Well, we did have some chats."

"What did ya tell her?" Sully began to unbutton his shirt.

Michaela rose and crossed to the bed.

Sitting down beside him, she helped with his buttons, "Now, that's mother-daughter confidentiality. Why do you ask?"

He grinned, enjoying her assistance, "Well, Colleen sort o' asked me about what a husband expected, an' I wondered what you told her."

His shirt was now off.

"I guess it would be all right to tell her father," she ran her hands lightly across his bare chest. He began to plant kisses on her face as she spoke, "I told her of the great joy that awaits her with the physical expression of her love for her husband."

This was becoming highly enjoyable, but distracting, to Michaela.

She continued to try to speak amid his kisses, "I told her that I was sure that Andrew would be gentle and patient with her. Of course, she already knows about the anatomical differences between a man and a woman, but..."

"The anatomical differences?" he grinned. He began to unbutton her blouse, "Oh, yes, that..." Sliding her camisole straps from her shoulders and kissing her, Sully whispered, "Go on, I'm listenin'."

"Well..." her voice cracked a bit, "Colleen had a few questions of a rather intimate nature which I tried to...."

Her powers of concentration were weakening with each movement of his hands.

Clearing her throat, Michaela pulled back, "What did YOU tell Colleen?"

Sully gently urged his wife to stand, so that he could unbutton her skirt. Sliding it down her thighs, he let his hands linger there, "Let's see if I can remember..." He slowly pushed her back onto the bed and positioned himself beside her. "I told her that all they have to do is love each other... trust each other.... an' just let nature..."

Michaela had begun to kiss his neck, and now it was he who found it difficult to concentrate.

"Just let nature?" Michaela ran her finger around his ear.

Sully's voice became raspy, "Nature..."

"Was that all?" Michaela smiled.

"Uh, I forget the rest of what I said," he pulled her closer. "'Sides, maybe we done enough talkin' for now."

"I agree," she could no longer resist him.

With their desire fulfilled, they lay in each others arms. Sully whispered, "Now I remember."

She raised her head, "Remember what?"

"What else I told Colleen," he grinned.

"What else did you tell her?" Michaela's curiosity was aroused.

"I told her t' let nature take its course, an' they'd figure out what t' do as they went along," Sully spoke low.

"How will she figure that out?" she kissed his chest.

"Like we did. Takin' it slow... easy... careful... learnin' t' please each other..." he ran his finger up and down her back.

"I was so shy, Sully," she looked down.

He raised her chin and smiled, "But you're a real quick learner." Pausing, he added, "Know what scares me more than helpin' Katie be born?"

"What?" she wondered.

"Havin' t' have that same talk with her someday," he said.

They laughed and then fell silent. He knew what she was thinking.

"Sully?" she whispered.

"I'll go check on Katie," he kissed her forehead and got out of bed.

Pulling on his buckskins, Sully exited. When he returned moments later, Michaela had fallen asleep. He quietly slid into bed beside her, then quickly fell asleep, too.

Sully awoke with a start at the sound of loud banging at their front door. Michaela heard it, as well.

"Maybe there's something wrong with one of the babies at the Clinic!" she sat up.

************
Chapter 2
************

Sully opened the front door. There stood Hank Lawson.

"Hank?" Sully was surprised. "What are you doin' out here at this hour? What's wrong?"

"It's Loren," the tall, long-haired owner of the Gold Nugget was nearly out of breath.

Michaela had reached the bottom of the steps, "What's wrong with Loren?"

"He's missin'," Hank came into the house. "Some men robbed the mercantile a few hours ago an' dragged Loren out. The Rev thinks there was three of 'em."

"Why would they drag Loren out after robbin' him?" Sully wondered.

"I ain't sure. Jake wanted me t' come get ya," Hank looked at Sully. "We're gettin' up a search party."

"Sure, I'll help ya," Sully began to put on his belt.

"Michaela," Hank looked concerned. "We need you, too. Loren might be hurt bad. Rev says they beat him."

"I'll saddle the horses," Sully spoke up. "Michaela..."

She nodded, "Hank, I have to speak with the children first, but I'll be ready as soon as possible."

************

Michaela dressed quickly, then went to waken Matthew and Brian.

"Boys," she explained. "Mr. Bray has been robbed and abducted. He's been hurt, too. Sully and I are going to help look for him."

Matthew started to get up, "I'll go, too, Dr. Mike."

"I appreciate that," she put her hand on his shoulder, "but it's even more important for you to stay here with Katie."

"I can watch Katie, Ma," Brian offered.

"I know you can," Michaela smiled, "but she had a bad dream earlier tonight. She's afraid that Sully and I will leave her."

"I understand, Dr. Mike," Matthew smiled. "We'll both stay here and take care of our little sister."

"Thank you," she kissed them. "I'm going in to talk with her right now to explain that we're going to help Mr. Bray. I don't want her to wake up and find us gone."

Sully reached the doorway of the boys' room just as Michaela finished her conversation.

"Everythin's ready," he said.

"Don't worry, Pa," Brian spoke up. "We'll watch over Katie real good."

Sully tussled his hair, "I know ya will, Brian. We appreciate it." Turning to Michaela, he sighed, "Are ya ready to tell her?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," she joined him.

************

They quietly entered Katie's room, and Sully lit a lamp. He began to rub his daughter's back and whispered, "Kates."

The child remained blissfully asleep.

Michaela stroked Katie's cheek, "Sweetheart, wake up."

Katie stirred. Opening her eyes slowly, she rolled over to see her parents.

"We get up?" Katie struggled to focus her eyes.

"Just for a little while," Michaela lifted her. "Mama and Papa want to tell you something."

Sully put his arms around both of them, "We gotta go help Mr. Bray, Kates. He's in trouble. We'll be home real soon, but we don't want ya t' worry 'cause Brian an' Matthew will be right here with you."

Michaela could feel the child's breathing quicken, "That's right, Sweetheart. Both of your brothers are going to take very good care of you. We'll be back before you know it."

Katie began to shake, "Don't go..."

Her tears started to flow.

Michaela and Sully looked at one another as they felt their hearts begin to break.

"Where's your music box?" Sully's eyes widened as he wiped away the little girl's tears.

Katie pointed to the chest of drawers, her eyes red. Sully picked up the music box, and held it before Katie.

"Lift the lid, Kates," he told her.

The little girl obeyed, and the familiar strains of "Home, Sweet Home" began to emanate from the box. A slight grin passed Katie's lips.

"That's our song, right?" Sully held out his arms to her.

Katie reached for her father and hugged him.

"I sing?" Katie began to forget her fear.

"Please do," Michaela smiled and kissed the child's cheek.

Katie began to sing the lyrics to the song as Matthew and Brian entered the room. By the last line, all five of them were joyfully singing, "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."

Katie clapped. Brian extended his hands to his sister, and she leaned forward to accept his invitation to hold her.

"That's real good, Katie," Brian grinned.

Matthew stroked the back of his sister's head.

Michaela sighed, "Mama and Papa must go now, little one. We love you."

She kissed Katie.

Sully took his daughter's hand in his, "You just play that song and sing for your brothers. 'Fore ya know it, we'll be home."

Katie raised her eyebrows and pointed to them, repeating a phrase she had often heard them say, "You be careful."

Her serious expression was priceless to her family. They all laughed. Then Michaela and Sully turned to leave. Pausing just outside of Katie's room, Michaela had second thoughts. Sully put his hand on her shoulder. With that assurance, she continued down the steps to join Hank.

Hank was standing by the dining room table, hands on his hips, "You folks always have a concert this time o' night?"

"As a matter of fact, Hank..." Michaela began to explain.

Hank raised his hand to stop her, "Never mind. Let's get goin'."

Soon they were on their way into Colorado Springs with Wolf following close behind them.

************
Chapter 3
************

The Nielsen Brothers---Mel, Les and Mike, had a battered and bleeding Loren tied to a tree stump near their campsite.

Mel, the oldest and bossiest growled at his younger brothers, "Give the ol' man a little bit o' water, Les. Just enough t' keep him alive so's we kin find that silver mine. After that, he kin drop dead, fer all I care. He's just an ol' man, and there ain't nothin' worse than an ol' man.... 'cept fer an ol' WOMAN!"

Les, the denser of the brothers piped in, "Sounds like a good idea, Mel. You always think o' the right thang for us."

"Shut up, an' give him the water," Mel spit out some tobacco juice into the campfire. "I reckon his friends'll try t' save him, but they're doomed t' fail."

Mike, the quiet brother, laughed. Mel shot him a glance that would melt iron, and he stopped.

Then Mike spoke, "What if the ol' man's tellin' us the truth? What if he don't know where that thar mine is?"

Mel squinted, "Les! Wasn't you the one who overheard the ol' man braggin' 'bout that silver mine when ya went into his store last week?"

Les nodded, "That's right Mel, I did. He was talkin' bout it plain as day t' his friends in the store."

Mel looked at Mike, "So, we git him t' talk, tell us where the mine is, an' then..."

Mike raised his eyebrows, "Then?"

Mel spit out some more tobacco juice, this time hitting Les in the arm, "Then we treat him like we do anyone who ain't no use t' us anymore."

Les wiped off the juice from his sleeve, "Kin I be the one t' ax the ol' guy, Mel? I'll be real nice t' him, tell him I'm takin' him t' a nice welcome home an' then... Bye, bye."

The brothers laughed. Loren was conscious enough to be aware of their conversation. How could they have mistaken his discussion of a miner's tale from long ago for current information? Well, he had embellished it a bit, inserting his own colorful details. And yes, he had added himself to the story.

However, these brothers had to be the dumbest trio Loren had ever came across. But they were dangerous, and at the moment, had the power of life and death over him. He would have to think of a wild goose chase to lead them on until the townsfolk could rescue him.

************

Michaela, Sully and Hank arrived in town as dawn cast its first light upon Colorado Springs. Michaela headed directly to the Clinic to pick up medical supplies and check on the newborns. Sully and Hank entered the Mercantile, where Jake, Robert E, Horace, Preston and Reverend Johnson were gathered. Jake had a map set before them on the counter, and a strategy session was in progress.

"Sully, glad ya could help," Jake looked up.

"Where's Dr. Mike?" Horace asked.

"She's checkin' on the newborn babies at the Clinic," Sully explained. "Tell me what ya know 'bout these men and Loren."

The Reverend began his tale, "Long after Loren had locked up for the night, we heard a commotion in the store. He went to check on things. Then I heard voices downstairs. There were three men. I could tell that much."

"Were they armed?" Sully said.

"Yes," the minister went on. "I could hear the sounds of their guns cocking. And one of them said to Loren, 'Show us the money, ol' man, or we'll shoot.' I could tell Loren was getting the cash box for them, but he didn't have very many receipts for today. In fact, one of them commented, 'We don't make any money with these storekeepers who're over 55, 'specially out in the countryside.'"

Robert E spoke up, "Sounds like they ain't too smart."

"Oh, I agree," Reverend Johnson elaborated. "There was one, sounding like he had a big wad of tobacco in his jaw, who kept saying to another, 'Keep a look out, Les. There's lots of conspiracies out there."

"Conspiracies?" Horace scratched his head. "Like them that shot President Lincoln?"

Hank pushed his hat back, "Keep talkin' Rev. Time's wastin'."

The Reverend nodded, "Well, by this time, I had crept closer to the top of the steps."

"Plannin' on rushin' 'em, were ya?" Hank smirked.

Jake glared at Hank, "Do you mind?"

"Okay, sorry," Hank raised his hands.

The man of the cloth continued, "The one called Les shouted at Loren to tell them where they could find the entrance to some silver mine. Loren didn't know what they meant. Then Les said he'd heard Loren talking about it last week. When he told them it was an old story, they hit him. They must have knocked him out because I heard a thud, and Loren didn't talk again. That's when I started down the steps. The bossy one said, 'Come on, someone's upstairs!' By the time I got here, they were gone."

Preston folded his arms, "A silver mine? Maybe it really exists. Are you so sure that Loren was simply telling a story here, gentlemen?"

Jake put his hands on his hips, "You don't know Loren like we do, Preston. Yes, he was just tellin' a story. All right. Here's what we know. There's three of 'em. One chews, one's named Les...

Horace added, "They got guns, they took Loren..."

"And his money..." Preston interjected.

Robert E contributed, "Loren's hurt, they hate old folks..."

Hank grinned, "They think there's conspiracies around 'em..."

Back to Jake, "An' they ain't too bright."

Sully entered the conversation, "Don't underestimate 'em. I'm goin' outside t' check their tracks. Reverend, could you find one o' Loren's jackets or shirts for me?"

Hank grinned, "Thinkin' of givin' up the buckskin look, Sully?"

Jake slapped Hank across the arm, "It's for trackin' Hank."

"I know that," Hank rubbed his arm. "Jest tryin' t' add a little levity t' the situation's all."

************

Michaela saw her husband outside the Mercantile surveying the dirt. She joined him and grasped his hand.

"How are the babies?" Sully warmed at her touch.

"They're doing just fine," she smiled. "Grace and Dorothy are going to look in on them and our children while we search for Loren. Do you have any idea who these men are or why they took him?"

"They think he knows somethin' 'bout a silver mine, and they'll go t' any lengths t' find it," he looked quite serious.

"How badly is he hurt?" she asked.

"He was hit by 'em. Most likely by one of their guns," Sully reasoned. "An' he hit the floor with a thud."

"At best, we can assume a concussion," she shook her head.

"At worst?" Sully hated to ask.

"Well," Michaela patted his arm, "I don't think they would have abducted him if he were dead. Did you notice any blood on the floor from where he fell?"

"I saw a little bit," Sully answered.

The other members of the search party joined them in the street. Jake handed Sully one of Loren's shirts. He held it for Wolf to sniff.

Sully offered his opinion, "They headed east. Got about a 3-4 hour head start on us. But they got four horses. Must've brung one for Loren."

"So they planned on takin' him from the start," Hank pulled a cigar from his pocket.

"Looks that way," Sully agreed. "We best get goin'."

Sully helped his wife onto her horse and mounted his own, as Jake, Hank, Horace, Robert E, and Preston did likewise.

Hank adjusted his holster and pulled out his gun, "We'll see how brave the three of them are when they meet up with this."

Michaela warned, "Hank! When we find them, our main concern is to help Loren. If you go in there shooting, he could be hit."

"I got a better aim than that, Michaela," he put the gun back in its holster.

Jake motioned for them to begin the journey, "We ain't gonna use force unless we have to."

Sully agreed, "You can get a lot further with your wits."

Hank shook his head, "Not when you're dealin' with nitwits!"

The search party reached the outskirts of town, and with Wolf in the lead, began their journey.

************
Chapter 4
************

Loren felt someone shake him. He opened his eyes. It was the oldest Nielsen brother.

"Git up, ol' man," Mel said. "I untied yer hands. We gotta git movin'."

Through blurred vision, Loren could see that it was morning. The pain in his head had not lessened from last night, and his throat was parched.

The one named Les came over to him and whispered, "Hey, ol' man, ya don't need t' worry none 'bout me hurtin' ya. It's Mel who's got the temper. Me? You kin trust me like... well... like ya would your Ma."

"That's good to know," Loren doubted him. "I reckon I could tell you where that silver mine is an' you'd let me go, eh?"

Les' eyes widened, "Why, sure!"

Loren looked around t' see if any of the brothers were near, "We need t' be headin' north."

"North?" Les' stood up. "I knew it!"

Loren watched as Les ran to his brothers. They completed saddling their horses and put Loren atop another. Soon they were headed north.

************

The search party came across the Nielsen's deserted camp. Wolf sniffed the ground and began to whine. Sully quickly checked the area.

"They left within the past 2-3 hours," he determined.

"Can you tell if Loren is still with them?" Michaela asked.

"Yep," Sully examined the site carefully. "There's four sets o' tracks. They headed north."

"Right," Jake ordered. "Let's get goin'."

************

Loren was riding beside Mike, the quiet Nielsen brother. He leaned over to his abductor, "Ya know, we're goin' the wrong way, don't ya?"

Mike quickly looked at Loren, "Wha' do ya mean? I thought ya told Les that we needed t' go north?"

"Oh, I did," Loren nodded. "But ya know us old folk. We get kind o' confused sometimes. What I meant t' say is west. We need t' be goin' west."

Without verbally responding to Loren's words, Mike quickened his horse's gait to catch up to Mel. Loren smiled to himself as he saw the brothers stop the convoy. Soon they were headed west.

************

Wolf began to bark. Sully stopped the search party with a motion of his hand.

"What's wrong?" Hank spoke up.

"They changed direction here," Sully noticed.

"Where're they headed now then?" Jake pushed his hat back.

"West," Sully answered.

"Do you suppose that they might be leading us on a wild goose chase?" Preston suggested.

"Maybe they're lost," Horace contributed.

"I got a different idea 'bout it," Sully said.

"A different idea?" Michaela asked.

"Looks t' me like Loren might be tellin' em different directions t' give us time t' catch up."

"Sounds like Loren," Hank grinned.

"Funny thing is, they ain't made no effort t' cover their tracks," Robert E added. "They ARE dumb."

"Like I said before," Sully shook his head. "Don't underestimate 'em."

************

The Nielsens and their captive stopped at a creek to water their horses. Loren was sitting on a fallen tree, when Mel brought him some water.

"Ya know," Loren whispered. "We're headin' the wrong way."

Mel began to fill his own canteen, "What're ya babblin' about, ol' man? Ya told Les that we needed t' be goin' west."

Loren leaned closer, "That's NOT what I told him at all. I told him south."

"But he told us west," Mel seemed confused.

"Look, Mel," Loren sounded sincere. "Les made a deal with me. I'd tell him where the silver mine is, an' we'd split it 50-50. He said he'd get you two goin' in the wrong direction, then the two of us would give ya the slip an' go the right way."

Mel spit some tobacco juice near Loren, "Ya tellin' me my own brother would double cross me?"

Loren nodded silently. Mel's face reddened.

"What ya gonna do?" Loren raised his eyebrows.

"How do I know yer tellin' me the truth, ol' man?" Mel put his hands on his hips.

"Cause I had a brother who double crossed me one time," Loren fibbed. "I got no use fer folks who cheat on their own kin."

Mel nodded, "Me neither." He helped Loren stand and ordered his brothers, "Come on, boys. We rested long enough."

************

It was nearing dusk by the time the search party came upon the creek where the Nielsens had rested.

"Fog's comin' in," Sully observed. "We ain't gonna be able t' see much more tonight. We best make camp."

"But we gotta be gettin' closer to 'em," Jake wanted to continue.

"We are," Sully nodded. "But we can't see good enough t' follow their tracks. The way they've been changin' directions, we might miss 'em."

"Sully's right," Hank dismounted. "We'll catch 'em tomorrow."

Soon they made camp. After their meal, Hank pulled out a bottle of his "best" whiskey. Passing it around, Preston and Horace partook. Robert E, Jake, Sully and Michaela declined, opting for the tea that Michaela had brewed. One by one, they each secured their own sleeping areas and turned in for the night.

************

Michaela and Sully snuggled close together, her back against his chest. Somewhat apart from the rest of the search party, they were quite warm and comfortable. Wolf was nearby, ever on the alert.

"Sully?" Michaela whispered.

"Katie'll be fine," he knew what she was thinking.

Pulling their blanket higher, he nibbled at her ear.

Michaela tingled.

She turned to look over her shoulder at him, "Excuse me, but in case you haven't noticed, we're not alone."

Sully softly kissed her neck just below her ear, "Wolf? He don't mind."

"I'm not referring to Wolf," she giggled.

"Everyone's asleep," he slid his hand beneath the blanket.

Michaela sighed quietly, "I don't think we should be doing this in front of our friends."

"Doin' what?" Sully lowered his hand to her thigh.

Michaela's heart leapt at his touch, "Sully!"

"Okay," he teased. "If ya ain't up for a little adventure in the woods..."

"I suppose we could go for a little walk," she whispered.

Sully immediately helped her to her feet and grabbed their blanket. Taking his wife by the hand, he led her away from the camp.

************

Loren and his kidnappers had made camp, as well. He noticed that the brothers were now acting quite suspicious of one another, and it made him smile. Tomorrow he would really throw them off, he thought to himself.

************
Chapter 5
************

His hand clasping hers, Sully led Michaela along the banks of the stream. Then spotting a terrace above it, he guided her to a clearing among some trees. The summer night was cool but not uncomfortable. The fog created a dreamlike quality to the surroundings. Sully spread the blanket on the leaf-covered ground and helped his wife to sit upon it.

Resting beside her, he gazed into at her with a look that claimed her very spirit. He pulled her closer for a lingering kiss. Then, in a seductive voice, he spoke,

"Eternity was in our lips and eyes;
Bliss in our brows bent."

"That was lovely," she ran her fingers through his hair. "Emerson?"

"Shakespeare," he whispered in her ear.

"Would you like to know what it does to me when you recite poetry?" she whispered back.

"Um," he looked up, pretending to ponder her question. Then he smartly replied, "Yep."

"It makes me feel I'm the most special woman in the world, as if the words were written just for me," she felt a lump in her throat. "It makes me believe that our love is eternal."

Sully lifted her hand to his heart, "That's exactly how I want ya t' feel."

She leaned in to kiss him, and he slowly guided her back onto the blanket. He gently swept some stray tresses from her face. Without speaking, he could not take his eyes off of her.

"What are you looking at?" she warmed at the intensity of his gaze.

"My soul," he closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

She cupped his face in her hands and slowly guided his lips to hers. The sweet softness of their kiss began to intensify. Their breathing began to quicken, as each began to feel the heat building in their bodies. Locked in each others arms and barely coming up for air, their desire was ardently consummated. They could not move; they could not breathe; they could not imagine a more ecstatic feeling.

Suddenly, Michaela felt a strange sensation, "Sully, what are you doing?"

"Just lovin' ya," he answered her unusual question.

"I'm serious," she began to squirm under him.

He sat up, "Am I hurtin' ya, Michaela?"

She jumped up and began to slap at herself, "Sully! It's ants! We're on an anthill!"

He stifled a laugh as he helped her up and began to brush off the crawling insects from his wife.

"I don't believe this!" she spoke loudly, finally beginning to feel free of the bugs.

"Shhh," Sully put his index finger to his lips. "The others might wake up."

Soon they were calmer. The couple moved away from the site of the ants' habitat. Meandering toward a large tree that overlooked the stream, Sully leaned against it and pulled Michaela into his arms.

"Well," he softly said, "that was our adventure in the woods." Then he laughed, "I couldn't imagine what ya were doin'."

"It's not funny," she poked his rib.

"Kind o' put a damper on our romance, I guess," he grinned.

"Nothing can put a damper on that," she lifted up to kiss him.

"I s'pose we better be gettin' back t' camp," he took her hand.

Sully led Michaela back to the campsite, where all in the search party remained unaware of the recently completed adventure. Or so the lovers thought.

************

The morning sun quickly burned off the fog from the night before. Loren awoke first, his headache somewhat better than yesterday. He figured that a search party must be looking for him, but he wondered what was taking them so long.

Mel stirred, causing Loren looked at this man who held his fate in his hands. Loren wondered what would possess a man to have such a low regard for older folks. Then he shook his head. Obviously the Nielsens didn't raise their boys right.

Mel rose up and spit out the wad of stale tobacco that had remained in his mouth overnight. Loren sickened at the sight. Then Mel put a fresh wad in his mouth.

Noticing that the captive was awake, Mel snuck over to him, "Listen, ol' man, I'm gonna make a deal with ya."

Loren tried to sound sincere, "I'm listenin'."

Mel looked over his shoulders to ensure that his brothers were still sleeping, "I'm gonna send my brothers off in different directions, so's you an' me kin go t' that thar mine. But ya gotta tell me truthful where we really need t' be headin'."

Loren whispered, "An' what will ya do with me, if I do this for you?"

"Well, I reckon I'd let ya go," Mel spit juice on Loren's shoe.

"Will I still be alive when ya let me go?" Loren tried not to look as disgusted as he felt.

"Sure," Mel nodded. "I'm a man o' my word. But, we'll jest keep this unofficial, 'tween you an' me."

Loren agreed to the deal. Mel then woke his brothers, and pulled them out of earshot from their captive.

Les whispered, "What're we gonna do, Mel?"

Mel replied, "We're gonna have t' split up."

Mike was confused, "Why?"

"'Cause, th' ol' man's given us three different stories o' where the silver mine is. T' save time, I want each of us t' check out a different place." He proceeded to give each brother a set of directions that would lead them off and away from Loren and him.

When he finished with his orders, Mel looked over at Loren, "I'll be takin' th' ol' man with me."

Les objected, "But ya promised me that I could be th' one t' .... you know welcome him home."

Mel shook his head, "There's been a change in plans 'cause th' ol' man's so unpredictable. I gotta be th' one t' keep an EYE on him an' make sure he don't try nothin' tricky."

The brothers agreed. Quickly they broke camp and headed off in three different directions.

************

At the search party's camp, the smell of coffee being brewed by Jake soon had everyone awake.

Hank came over to sit beside Sully and smirked, "You an' the misses wander away from camp last night, eh Sully?"

Sully was a bit surprised, "We took a little walk."

Hank winked, "Yea, a walk. That's just what it sounded like to me."

Michaela heard the barkeeper's remarks to her husband, "If you must know... we discovered an ant hill under our blanket."

"An ant hill?" Hank laughed.

Michaela was becoming exasperated. Sully knew the look and touched her arm to calm her.

Turning to Hank, Sully made his position quite clear, "Ya really don't need t' concern yourself 'bout where my wife an' me go or what we do, Hank."

The barkeeper recognized that Sully was serious, and he grinned, "Okay, okay. If you say there was an ant hill, there was an ant hill. Ain't nothin' to me."

Sully sensed Michaela's embarrassment ease, and they enjoyed their breakfast in peace. With Wolf's help, Sully scanned the area and ascertained the direction in which the group should head. In short order, they were ready to go.

"Assumin' nothin' goes wrong, we oughta catch up with 'em by noon," Sully told them.

Horace spoke up, "Yea, but every time we get our hopes up, somethin' happens t' set us back with this bunch."

Sully smiled, "Ya never give up hope, Horace. Ya never give up tryin'. The stakes are too high, and someone we care about needs our help."

Jake pointed, "Come on, let's get movin'."

The search party rode away from the camp determined that today, soon, they would find their friend.

************
Chapter 6
************

The search party arrived at the Nielsens' deserted camp by noon. Sully dismounted first and began to carefully examine the tracks. Then he shook his head.

"What's wrong?" Michaela was concerned.

"We missed 'em by about an hour. They've split up into three groups, an' gone off in three different directions," he answered.

"Maybe they ain't as dumb as we thought," Hank observed.

Robert E nodded, "Now we're gonna have t' split up, too."

"Who's in charge here, Robert E?" Jake asked.

"No one," replied the blacksmith.

"I am," Jake ignored his answer.

"I think Sully's in charge," said Horace. "He's the one who's kept us on the trail."

"As mayor..." Jake began.

"Point of order, Mr. Mayor," Preston raised his hand.

"This ain't some Congress, Preston," Hank spoke sarcastically to the banker.

Jake smiled at Preston, "Ya got somethin' t' say?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," Preston sat up straighter on his horse. "I believe that the person in charge should be the one who commands the most respect and influence... the person who can communicate most eloquently and who has an eye for detail and organization."

Horace nodded, "That'd be Dr. Mike."

"No, me!" Jake pointed to himself.

"Ya can't be thinkin' it's YOU, Preston," Hank grinned, and lit a cigar. "Ya lost everybody's money in the bank panic."

"A temporary setback, I can assure you," Preston looked uncomfortable.

"Excuse me," Michaela coldly interrupted them.

They fell silent.

She turned to face them, "If you gentlemen could stop this petty bickering long enough to come up with a plan of action, we might be able to find Loren before nightfall."

"Just what I was gonna do, Dr. Mike," Jake nodded.

"What do you think we oughta do, Sully?" Horace disregarded Jake's remark.

Sully stood up from examining the tracks.

Then he pointed to one set of tracks heading north, "Hank and Jake, you follow this one." Indicating an easterly direction, he said, "Horace, Preston and Robert E, you follow this one. Michaela an' me'll go west after the double set of tracks. That's the one with Loren."

"And why do you two get to go after Loren?" Preston seemed offended.

"Because he's injured, and I'm a doctor," Michaela replied.

"Good enough reason," Jake agreed. "Okay, then. Let's rendezvous back here after we apprehend the criminals."

"Rendezvous?" Horace seemed baffled.

Jake shook his head, "Let's MEET back here after we catch the bad guys."

************

Loren could tell that Mel was losing patience with him. He seemed terse and unwilling to listen to anything but talk of the silver mine. Any other topic simply earned a nod and an "Uh-huh" from Mel. So much for small talk, Loren thought.

Loren finally asked, "Can we stop here an' rest a spell?"

"Why?" Mel was suspicious. "We ain't traveled very far."

Loren acted in pain, "It's my head, where ya hit me. It's throbbin' in pain. Ya sure do know how to create headaches. Plus, as ya always say, I'm just an ol' man, an' ol' men need t' rest more often."

"Oh, all right," Mel conceded.

They dismounted their horses. Loren sat on the ground and feigned dizziness.

"I ain't feelin' so good, Mel," Loren lied. "I think I'm gonna pass out."

Mel ran to him, "Ya can't. I ain't done with ya, ol' man."

Loren fell over pretending to be unconscious.

************

Michaela looked at her husband as they rode along, "Sully, I'm concerned that these men are much more dangerous than everyone thinks."

"I know they are, Michaela," Sully agreed. "When we get closer, I want ya t' stay back 'til I can disarm him."

"Please promise me that you'll be careful," she worried.

"You know I will," he held out his hand to her.

She held it briefly. Then, with Wolf leading the way, they continued on.

************

Hank and Jake spotted one of the Nielsen brothers up ahead. It was Les. He had stopped at a stream to water his horse.

Jake whispered, "Hank, you go 'round t' that side, an' when I give the signal, we'll jump him."

Hank smirked, "What signal?"

"I don't know, maybe I'll do one of them bird calls like Sully does," Jake was becoming impatient.

"What kind o' bird call?" Hank persisted.

"How 'bout an owl," Jake pushed his hat back.

"I'd like a crow better," Hank smiled.

"All right, I'll make a crow sound," Jake answered.

"Okay," Hank agreed. "But make sure it's loud enough for me t' hear."

They dismounted their horses and prepared to catch their prey.

************

Robert E, Preston and Horace spotted Mike Nielsen. He seemed to be looking for something at the side of a hill. Then they saw. It was a cave entrance. Dismounting their horses, they quietly huddled together.

"The way I see it, gentlemen," Preston explained, "we should charge him in order to catch him off guard."

"Charge an armed man?" Robert E disagreed.

"What do you suggest then?" Preston condescended.

"I suggest that we lure him into a trap," the blacksmith suggested.

"What kind o' trap?" Horace was interested.

"One of us pretends t' be hurt, we call out for help," Robert E said. "Then when he comes over..."

Preston finished his thought, "We jump him! I like it. It's just what I was going to suggest."

Horace disagreed, "Ya were not, Preston."

"It don't matter," Robert E stopped the potential argument. "Which one of us wants t' play hurt?"

"I will," Horace raised his hand.

"Okay," Robert E nodded. "Now, give us time t' hide, then start moanin' and groanin' like you're real bad off."

************

Wolf stopped in his tracks and began to growl. Sully held up his hand for Michaela to stop. Then he stealthily slid from his horse. Michaela followed his lead. Sully motioned for his wife to take cover. Her eyes spoke of concern. He touched his lips to indicate that he loved her. She obeyed and hid behind a nearby rock. Sully and Wolf carefully proceeded toward the clearing, where he saw Mel hovering over a fallen Loren.

************
Chapter 7
************

"Come on, Katie," Brian urged. "Eat your lunch."

"No, Bran," the little girl protested as she sat in her high chair.

"But Ma an' Pa would want ya t' eat," he implored.

"I scared for Mama an' Papa," Katie was agitated.

"They're fine," Brian assured her.

"No, Bran," Katie insisted. "Bad men twry t' hurt 'em."

Brian picked lifted his sister into his arms, "They'll be all right, Katie."

He silently wondered if the little girl could sense some real danger to their parents.

************

With Hank in position, Jake knew the time was right to catch Les Nielsen. He puckered his lips and hooted like an owl. Les looked around, alarmed at the noise. Hank did nothing. Jake hooted again. Still no reaction from Hank. Les became more suspicious at the sound and pulled his revolver. Then Jake remembered that he was supposed to caw like a crow. Too late, Les had discovered him hiding behind a bush.

With his gun cocked, Les aimed at Jake's head, "What the hell do ya think yer doin'?"

"I, ah, I..." Jake stammered for an excuse. "I lost my pet owl an' I was tryin' t' call him."

Les rolled his eyes, "I find that hard t' believe."

Suddenly Les felt the cold sensation of a revolver barrel touching the back of his head.

"Would ya believe this?" Hank referred to his gun aimed at Les' head.

Les was cool, "Let's see. Ya shoot me, I shoot your friend. Sounds fair."

Jake gulped, "Hank, now ain't such a good time t' make threats. Put your gun down."

Hank did not want to risk Les' gun going off accidentally, so he lowered his own revolver. Les quickly took it. He pointed for Hank to sit down beside Jake and confiscated all of their weapons.

"What're you two doin' out here in th' woods?" Les ran his hand across his chin. "Ya wouldn't be lookin' fer that ol' man, would ya?"

"What ol' man?" Jake pretended.

"The ol' man who's makin' me an' my brothers darn near crazy," Les replied.

Hank whispered under his breath, "That'd be the ol' man."

************

Horace lay on the ground clutching his ankle.

"OHHH!!!!" he began to moan.

Mike turned toward the sound and touched his gun.

Horace continued, "OHHH!!!!"

Mike drew his gun and carefully approached the noise. Out of the corner of his eye, Horace could see him near. He rolled over onto his side with his back to the outlaw. Just as Mike bent down to touch Horace's shoulder, Preston jumped him. The move was premature. Robert E was not ready. Quickly, Mike disarmed the banker and held him down with his pistol pointed at Preston's head. Robert E remained hidden, but both of his comrades were now in the clutches of the Nielsen brother.

************

Sully crept up behind Mel. With lightning speed, the mountain man jumped on the outlaw. A struggle quickly ensued, with Sully's kicking the Nielsen brother in the stomach. Before Mel could pull his gun, Sully had a knife at his throat. Then Sully pulled Mel's revolver from its holster and put it in his coat pocket.

"Who are ya," Mel tried to get loose. "Some kind o' Injun?"

"Put your hands behind your back," Sully controlled his anger.

Mel complied, and within moments, Sully had tied him up.

"Michaela, check on Loren," Sully called to his wife. Pointing to the Nielsen brother, he commanded Wolf, "Keep an eye on him."

Michaela knelt beside Loren and touched his bruised temple.

"Doctor Mike!" Loren sat up. "I ain't never been s' glad t' see anyone in my life as you an' Sully right now!"

"Doctor!" Mel was shocked. "Women can't be doctors!"

Wolf growled. Mel cowered back in fear.

"She is a doctor, an' a mighty fine one," Loren asserted. "Sully, that was just plain dandy how ya jumped Mel here, and tied him up," Loren could not contain his excitement at being rescued. "I loved how ya kind o' kicked him, usin' yer feet like a fists on a boxer!"

Michaela felt around his temple, "Loren, does this hurt?"

"I feel fine, Dr. Mike," Loren assured her. "Just a little tired an' thirsty."

Michaela handed him her canteen. Then she began to tend to his wound. Soon he was bandaged.

"Loren, if ya feel like travelin', we best be gettin' back t' camp," Sully helped him stand. "The rest o' the search party'll be coming back with the other brothers."

************

They arrived back at the camp, but no other members of the search party had returned.

Michaela was concerned, "Where could they be?"

Then they heard the sound of a horse.

"That must be them now," she turned to look.

************
Chapter 8
************

Brian could not find Katie. He had been working in the kitchen, thinking she was at the table drawing, but when he turned, she was gone. He concluded a search of the downstairs and ran up the steps to the second floor. Walking into his parents' room, he saw her. She was lying on their bed, clutching her stuffed bunny.

"Katie," Brian was out of breath. "I been lookin' all over for ya. Ya should've told me ya where ya wanted t' go."

The little girl stroked her toy's ears, "Bran, I want Mama an' Papa."

"They'll be home soon," he sat down beside her.

"I have bad dweam they hurt," the child was frightened.

Brian lifted her into his arms, "They can take real good care of themselves, Katie. Don't worry."

************

Robert E pulled up to the camp on his horse.

"Where are the others?" Sully asked.

"Preston an' Horace got captured by one o' the brothers," Robert E answered. "I come back for help."

"What about Hank and Jake?" Michaela wondered.

"Ain't seen 'em," Robert E replied.

Sully took his wife's hands, "Michaela, if I go with Robert E, will you an' Loren be all right t' watch this one?"

"We'll be fine," she pulled him closer.

Commanding Wolf to stay with Michaela, Sully quickly mounted his horse.

Loren aimed a gun at Mel, "Care t' talk about ol' folks an' women now, Mister?"

Michaela shook her head, "Loren, please put the gun away before someone gets hurt."

************

Hank and Jake were tied together with their backs against one another. Les labored nearby digging with a shovel.

Hank shouted to him, "What ya diggin' for?"

Jake whispered, "Hope it ain't our graves."

Les stopped his work, "Shut up. It ain't yer business."

"We could help ya dig," Hank spoke up. "Then you'd be done faster."

Jake was incredulous, "Ya want US t' help him dig our own graves."

Hank whispered, "He ain't diggin' graves. He's lookin' for silver."

Finally it dawned on Jake, and he joined in, "Yeah, we dig real good, even without shovels."

Hank shot him a glare over his shoulder. "We...ah, we could dig with our hands... or, with ah, some sticks."

Les stopped to wipe his brow, "I ain't untyin' ya, so jest shut up."

************

Preston and Horace were lying face down at the mouth of the cave. Their hands and feet were bound, and they could barely move.

"What're we gonna do, Preston?" Horace spoke low.

"I'm thinking, man, I'm thinking," Preston said through clinched teeth. "Robert E is still out there. Certainly he's gone for help by now."

"What if this brother shoots us 'fore he gets back?" Horace wondered.

"We'll just have to think of a way to keep that from happening then," Preston replied. "When he comes out of the cave, follow my lead."

"Where're ya leadin'?" Horace asked.

Hearing Mike approach from inside the cave, Preston, spoke up, "It's a shame that they sent this man on a wild goose chase, Horace."

Pretending that they did not think Mike could hear them, the two captives continued their dialogue.

Horace caught on, "Ah, yeah. Too bad there ain't no silver in there."

Mike Nielsen stopped to eavesdrop.

Preston nodded, "I'd feel highly resentful if my brothers set me up like that. Poor man."

Then Horace took it too far, "Yeah, but we know where the silver really is."

Preston could not undo the damage, "Ah, that's only a rumor, Horace, we really don't know where there's any silver mine."

Mike came out of the cave. Suddenly, Horace could hear the sound of a gun clicking as Nielsen pointed it toward them.

"If'n ya know where there's a silver mine, ya best be tellin' me now," he coldly informed them.

Sully and Robert E approached quietly. Sully removed something from his saddle that raised his friend's curiosity.

"What's that?" Robert E asked.

"A little somethin' that's gonna help us catch 'em," Sully winked.

"He's got a gun pointed at 'em," Robert E whispered.

"I see it," Sully replied. "We gotta act quick. Robert E," Sully pointed, "Go over there, an' when I give ya the sign, make a noise t' distract him. Try t' lead him away from Preston an' Horace int' that clearin' right below the cave."

"Okay," Robert E left his side.

Soon, the blacksmith was in position. Sully circled around and silently climbed above the cave's entrance. When he gave the signal, Robert E began to make his horse neigh.

It worked. Mike stood up and walked toward the sound. Sully threw the mysterious object at him. It was a net. Cast from Sully's hands, it ensnared Nielsen beneath it. Sully then jumped down and forced Mike's gun from his hand. Seeing that his friend had things well in hand, Robert E grabbed the gun and ran to untie Preston and Horace. Within moments, Mike Nielsen was subdued.

As they tied his hands, Mike shouted, "How'd ya catch me with that thar bunch o' ropes?"

"It's called a net," Sully answered.

"I can't believe ya knocked me over with that," Mike was angry.

"I guess ya learned a lesson then," the mountain man glared at Nielsen. "Never underestimate the power of the Net."

They headed back to Michaela and Loren.

************

When they arrived, they saw a campfire and dinner cooking. Michaela ran to Sully and threw her arms around him. Robert E took Mike Nielsen over to his brother, and checked that both prisoners were secure.

"Sully, there's still no sign of Jake and Hank," Michaela told her husband.

He looked at the sky, "An' a storm's movin' in. We best make shelters. We'll go after Jake an' Hank after the rain."

Sully showed Robert E, Preston and Horace how to make lean-tos, and they went about their task with haste. They completed three by the time the sky opened with a downpour. Robert E and Preston took Mike Nielsen under one of them. Loren and Horace held Mel Nielsen under the second, and Michaela, Sully and Wolf took cover under the third.

Michaela snuggled closer to her husband, "Another adventure in the woods."

He smiled and finished chewing on some hardtack, "Ain't exactly romantic though." Looking out from their cover, he observed, "I think this rain'll keep up well into the night."

"I'm concerned about Jake and Hank," she shook her head. "I doubt if they'll have shelter tonight."

************

Jake and Hank were drenched from the downpour. Les had covered himself, but left his two captives in the open to be thoroughly soaked.

"I'll prob'ly catch a cold," Jake told Hank.

"Serves ya right," Hank was unsympathetic. "Maybe it'll help ya sound more like a crow."

Jake could feel Hank maneuvering his hands. Suddenly the barber felt a hand in his pocket.

"What the hell are ya doin'?" Jake squirmed.

"Tryin' t' get my hands loose," Hank replied.

"By puttin' 'em in my pocket?" Jake said

"Very funny," Hank shot back. "I almost got one hand free. I just need t'..."

Les called over to them, "Stop your jabberin'! An' stop squirmin' around over there."

Hank slowly withdrew his hand from Jake's pocket.

"Thank you," Jake reacted.

"I'll wait'll he falls asleep," Hank whispered.

************

Back at the search party campsite, Mel was complaining, "I want some tobacco, an' my hands are tied too tight."

Loren moved closer to him, "Well, too bad. We ain't givin' ya tobacco. I got enough o' yer juice spit on me t' float a boat. An' we ain't loosenin' yer hands. So just shut up."

"Please?" Mel sounded almost childlike.

Horace was unsympathetic, "You kidnapped our friend after hittin' him over the head. Then ya insult him an' people his age, so don't go expectin' any sympathy from us!"

"Well said, Horace," Loren smiled.

************

Under the second lean-to, Mike Nielsen was silent.

Preston surveyed the man, "What could possess someone to lead such a greedy and uncaring line of work?"

Robert E raised his eyebrows, "YOU askin' that question o' him, Preston?"

"Yes," the banker responded. "What makes someone pursue a life of crime and selfishness?"

Robert E rolled his eyes, "Well, you listen real hard t' his answer."

Mike looked at them with anger, "My brothers always pressured me t' do thangs their way. Even if I disagreed, I always stood by 'em."

"Didn't ya stop t' think their way was wrong?" Robert E asked.

"Yea," Mike nodded. "But they'd make fun o' me if'n I didn't do what they said."

"I suppose I can relate to family pressures," Preston said. "But you could have broken away from them and done the right thing."

"You don't know my brothers," Mike shook his head. "When they think they're right, it's gotta be their way. They don't listen t' no one else."

************

Michaela and Sully sat in silence lulled by the pouring rain.

"The children will be worried," she felt a pang of guilt.

"They'll be fine," Sully assured her.

She put her arm through his, "But Katie was..."

"Matthew an' Brian'll help her," Sully put his finger to her lips.

Again, they fell silent and watched the rain.

"I love you, Sully," she whispered.

"I love you, too," he smiled. "What brought that on?"

"Sometimes I don't think I tell you enough," she stroked his hand pensively.

"Michaela," he put his arm around her. "You're always tellin' me an' showin' me that ya love me. What's wrong?"

"I miss the children," she felt a tear run down her cheek. "And I feel terribly guilty about leaving Katie when she was so afraid."

"You're a mother... an' a wife... an' a doctor," he brushed her hair from her face. "Ya balance all those things better 'n any woman could. Don't ever think that you're shortchangin' the others just cause one o' those things is more demandin' o' your time at the moment. Ya were most needed t' help Loren."

"Now that I know he's all right, I feel I should be home," she leaned against him.

He hugged her, "First thing in the mornin', you an' Loren head back home. Soon as we find Jake and Hank, I'll join you."

She looked into his eyes, "What if one of them needs medical attention?"

Sully sighed, "Then let's sleep on it. See how ya feel in the mornin'."

"I just feel so torn about this," she agonized.

"Michaela," Sully repeated. "Let's sleep on it."

She nodded, and they snuggled together. They had not been asleep long, when Michaela awoke with a start. She sat up and looked around. The rain still poured. Sully gently pulled her back down and put his arm around her.

"What's wrong?" he whispered.

She shivered, "I had a dream that you were falling off the cliff again."

"Just a bad dream, Michaela," he assured her. "Let's go back t' sleep."

But this time, she could not fall asleep. She no longer felt torn. With the dream of Sully still fresh in her mind, she knew that she must stay. Closing her eyes, Michaela sensed that tomorrow would be a very dangerous day for her husband.

************
Chapter 9
************

Sully awoke just before dawn. The rain had stopped, but the thick, humid smell of the morning air was palpable. His arm was still around Michaela. Then he saw that her eyes were open.

"Didn't ya get any sleep?" he whispered.

She turned to face him, "Not really. I was thinking."

"'Bout the children?" he nuzzled her neck.

She leaned her head back to enjoy his tenderness, "No, about you."

He raised his hand to caress her face, "'Cause o' your dream?"

She nodded. Sully turned her face to kiss her, tender kisses on her lips, her eyes, her neck.

Michaela grinned, "You're too good to me, Mr. Sully."

He agreed, "Um-hum."

She turned and reciprocated the kisses to him.

Sully sighed, "An' you're too good t' me, Mrs. Sully."

She grinned, "Um-hum."

They could hear the others start to converse from their lean-tos and knew that their morning entertainment must stop here. Under their blanket, Sully gave his wife one last caress.

"Maybe we could continue this a little later?" he spoke low.

"Hold that thought," she smiled and kissed him again.

************

Sully instructed Loren and Michaela to remain at camp to watch over the two prisoners while the rest of the search party went after Les Nielsen, Hank and Jake. Wolf was commanded to remain behind at the camp with them. One last check that the two captives were securely tied, and Sully's group departed.

"You two rascals are gonna be reunited with your renegade brother today," Loren bitterly told them. "Then ya can enjoy a nice reunion in jail!"

Mel shook his head, "We'll turn up again, ol' man. You ain't seen the last o' us."

"Men like you always turn up again," Michaela observed.

************

In spite of the previous night's rain, Sully was able to track the route taken by Hank and Jake. As they rode along, he informed the group, "We gotta be careful. This last brother is armed like the rest, but he's also been lookin' for the mine the longest. He'll be real frustrated."

Preston put his hand on his revolver, "You may trust that I have an accurate aim."

Sully controlled his temper, "Preston, no guns unless we absolutely have to."

Robert E added, "Sully was able t' disarm the others without guns."

"Hope we'll be as lucky this time," Horace shook his head.

************

The smell of a campfire indicated that they had neared the last Nielsen brother's camp. Sully signaled for the group to dismount their horses. He led them to a spot out of earshot from the camp. They could see Jake and Hank, soaked through and through in a clearing. Jake was sneezing, and Les Nielsen was digging.

Sully pointed for Robert E and Horace to circle around to the right side of the clearing. Then he indicated to Preston to go to the left. When all were in position, Sully made a bird call.

Jake looked up, "That's Sully."

Hank turned to the noise, "No, it ain't. It's a bird."

Jake reiterated, "It's Sully. They're here."

Hank rolled his eyes, "If you say so. Least he does a good bird call."

Robert E saw Sully nod. The blacksmith then threw a rock behind Les Nielsen. The distraction caused the abductor to stop his digging. Dropping his shovel, he turned to investigate. At that instant, Sully jumped him and knocked him to the ground.

On cue, Preston, Horace and Robert E rushed forward, but Nielsen was able to grab his gun while wrestling with Sully. Horace untied Jake and Hank. With Les holding his gun, Sully grabbed the man's arm and slammed it against a rock. The gun remained in Les' hand. Back and forth, they rolled on the ground, each trying to gain the advantage.

Preston pulled his revolver and aimed at the outlaw.

Robert E stopped him, "Ya might hit Sully!"

Nielsen managed to pull his gun around and aim it squarely at the mountain man. The rest of the Colorado Springs group aimed their own weapons, as Sully struggled to push the gun away from his head.

Hank yelled out, "Nielsen, we all got guns on ya! Drop yours!"

************

Michaela sat, silently watching the campfire.

Putting his hand on her arm, Loren was concerned, "Ya all right, Dr. Mike?"

"Fine, Loren," she smiled. "How is your head feeling this morning?"

"A little sore, but I'll mend," he assured her. "I'll mend." Sensing something was wrong, he asked, "What ya thinkin' about?"

"Sully and the children," she sipped her tea.

Loren nodded, "Ya got a handful t' think about there. That Katie's a real charmer."

Michaela looked down modestly, "She is, and she's got her father wrapped around her little finger."

"A daughter will do that with her Pa," Loren remembered. "The boys an' Colleen turned out real fine, Dr. Mike."

"Thank you, Loren," Michaela was moved by his compliment.

The storekeeper smiled, "I never told ya this before, but... I admire ya."

She looked up in pleasant surprise, "You do?"

"Mmm-humm," he nodded. "Ya come out here by yourself, faced a town not real acceptin' of a lady doctor... 'Course, I accepted ya right away."

"Oh, yes," she grinned.

Loren continued, "Ya took on raisin' Charlotte's children, ya brought Sully back t' civilization, had a baby o' your own, and won your husband's freedom after nursin' him back from the dead. That's a lot t' admire, Dr. Mike."

"That means so much to me, coming from you, Loren," she patted his hand. "And I want to tell you how much you mean to my children, to Sully, and to me."

"I'd do anythin' for ya," he fought back his emotions.

"I know you would," she smiled.

Suddenly, Michaela stood up in terror, "Did you hear that?"

Loren looked up at her, "Hear what? Just a bird callin'."

"No," she felt a chill. "A gunshot. I heard a gunshot."

************
Chapter 10
************

"It ain't nothin', Dr. Mike," Loren stood up beside a distraught Michaela. "I didn't hear a gunshot."

Mel and Mike stared at them.

"What's wrong with the doc?" Mel grumbled.

"None o' yer business," Loren glared at him.

Michaela turned to Loren, "Can you watch these two on your own, Loren? Sully needs me."

"'Course I can," he nodded. "You go check on him."

"Wolf," she called and grabbing her medical bag, commanded. "Find Sully."

Mounting her horse, she took off following the animal at a gallop.

************

"Sully!" Robert E shouted as Les Nielsen's gun went off.

Hank, pistol in hand, ran forward to help. Sully lay motionless in the grass.

Aiming at Les' head, Hank shouted, "Put down yer gun!"

Les got up slowly and raised his hands, "It went off accidental!"

"Shut up, an' step away from him," Hank's voice cracked in anger.

As the Nielsen brother obeyed, Robert E and Jake ran to Sully.

Kneeling beside him, Jake turned Sully over and saw blood, "He's shot in the head!"

Preston and Horace finished tying up Les and joined the others around Sully. Hank held his gun close to Les' head, "If he's dead, you'll have worse t' worry 'bout than finding some silver mine!"

"I'll ride back for Michaela," Preston volunteered.

He quickly ran to his horse and took off.

"Gotta get the bleedin' stopped," Jake spoke up.

He tore off part of his shirt and applied it to Sully's head.

"Hank," Jake called, "you still got that bottle o' whiskey?"

"Now ain't the time t' start drinkin', Jake," the bartender replied.

"Not for me! For Sully!" Jake rolled his eyes. "It's the closest we got t' sterilizin' the wound."

"In my saddle bag," he pointed.

Horace ran to get it.

Robert E leaned in closer to his best friend, "Come on, Sully. You're gonna make it."

"Is he really gonna be all right?" Horace's eyes widened.

"I don't know," the barber answered. "I wish Dr. Mike was here."

************

Preston came upon Michaela within minutes, "Michaela, you're needed up ahead. It's Sully. He's been...."

"Shot! I knew it!" she cried. "Preston, would you go back to help Loren, please? I'll find Sully."

************

She rode on and soon came upon the group huddled around her husband. The sight of his still body sent terror through her. Grabbing her medical bag from her saddle, she jumped from Flash and ran to him. Wolf began to whimper.

"Sully!" she shouted.

The men stood up and made room for her. She knelt beside him and examined his wound.

"Thank God, the bullet didn't penetrate his skull!" her voice quivered.

Jake saw her hands trembling.

Getting on his knees on the other side of Sully, he offered, "Ya need any help, Dr. Mike?"

The two of them worked to stop the bleeding. Once it was under control, it became a matter of waiting for Sully to regain consciousness.

************

Hank, Horace, and Robert E took Les back to the other camp. There, they rounded up the remaining two Nielsen Brothers. Then, with Loren and Preston, they returned to Colorado Springs. Jake remained behind in case Michaela needed help.

For several hours, she tended to her husband. With his head resting on her lap, she stroked his hair. She thought back to a similar time when she had nursed him following his fall from the cliff. Jake gave them privacy and built a campfire, but Wolf remained at his master's side.

"Sully," she gently caressed his face. "I'm here. Please. Please come back to me."

He stirred slightly.

"Jake!" Michaela called out, "he's moving."

The barber ran to her and leaned down, "Is he gonna be all right, Dr. Mike?"

Sully opened his eyes and tried to speak, "Micha..."

"Shhh," she stroked his hair.

He tried to sit up, "Where... am I?"

"We're at the camp where you were shot," she supported his back.

"My head hurts," he cringed.

"Drink this," she reached for some tea. "The wound is not too serious," she kissed his forehead. "But I was concerned about a concussion."

"Did they catch the last Nielsen brother?" Sully looked around.

"Yes," she held up more tea for him. "They've taken all three of them to jail. Jake stayed with us until you were awake."

Sully noticed him, "Thanks."

"No problem," Jake tipped his hat.

"When you feel up to it, we can go home," she caressed his head.

"I feel up to it now," his voice sounded stronger. "Let's go home." Wolf wagged his tail.

************

It was just after dusk when they arrived at the homestead. Sully was feeling much better and, other than the bandage on his head, showed no signs of having recently been shot. Michaela marveled at her husband's powers of recuperation. She had seen it many times before.

The moment they opened the door, Katie screamed in delight, "Mama! Papa!" she ran to them. Matthew and Brian smiled and greeted them, as well.

Michaela picked Katie up and lavished her with kisses, "How are you, Sweetheart?"

The child noticed her father's head, "Papa hurt?" Her voice began to quiver.

Sully reached for her and took her into his protective arms, "I was hurt, but Mama fixed me up."

The little girl gently touched the bandage on his head, "I see?"

"Maybe tomorrow when she changes the bandage," he grinned. "Were you a good girl for your brothers?"

"I good," she smiled. "You careful?"

"I tried t' be," he touched her nose. "But good thing your Ma's a doctor."

"What happened, Sully?" Matthew asked.

"I'll tell ya 'bout it durin' dinner," Sully smiled. "I'm starvin', an' somethin' sure smells good."

Brian boasted, "I fixed a big dinner."

"You cooked, young man?" Michaela took off her coat.

"Matthew helped," Brian conceded.

************

After dinner, the boys retired to bed. While Michaela finished washing the dishes, Sully sat with Katie by the fireplace.

In her father's lap, the little girl wanted him to tell one of her favorite stories, the one about how her parents fell in love. Sully laughed in amusement at her curiosity, while Michaela eavesdropped on the conversation.

He concluded the story, "An' when I woke up in the sweat lodge, I asked your Ma to marry me, an' she said 'yes.'"

"Why?" Katie was absorbed in every word.

Sully answered, "'cause I wanted t' spend the rest o' my life with her."

"Why?" Katie patted his hand.

"'Cause I love her so much," Sully grinned.

"Why?" she enjoyed the sound of his voice.

"Why do I love her?" Sully enjoyed the sound of her voice. "'Cause she's beautiful, an' smart, an' carin', an' cause she loves me."

"I marry you, Papa?" Katie was serious.

He chuckled, "No, Kates, ya can't marry your Pa. But someday, a LONG time from now, you'll find someone who's just right for you."

Michaela approached them and cleared her throat, "May I join you two?"

Katie turned to her mother, "Mama, why you love Papa?"

Michaela pretended to think hard as she sat down beside them.

"Don't take too long t' answer," Sully teased.

"I love your Papa because..." she smiled, "he's handsome, and strong, and brave, and romantic, and..."

Katie put her hand on her mother's lips, "What's Romtanic?"

"Now you've done it," Sully grinned.

"Romantic?" Michaela felt slightly uncomfortable. "Romantic means... that... Papa finds the BEST ways to show and tell me that he loves me."

"Like pwesents?" Katie guessed.

"Yes," Michaela held her daughter's hand. "Presents are part of it."

"What is bestest pwesent Papa give you?" Katie wondered.

"That's easy," Michaela smiled. "The best present was YOU!"

The child's eyes opened wide, "Papa give ME to you?"

Michaela nodded and held her arms out. Katie crawled into her mother's lap.

The little girl rubbed her eyes and hugged Michaela, "Papa?"

"What, sweet girl?" Sully took her hand.

"What is bestest pwesent Mama give you?" Katie yawned.

"She gave me YOU," he smiled.

Katie was confused. "I pwesent t' both?"

"Yep," Sully tried to explain. "We both wanted ya SO much, we decided t' share."

"I like that," the little girl smiled. "I not share you."

"You already do, Sweetheart," Michaela stroked her blonde locks. "You share us with Brian, Matthew and Colleen."

"That's all," the toddler sounded serious.

"Ya never know, Kates," Sully winked. "Someday ya might get a little brother or sister."

"More pwesents?" Katie was surprised.

Michaela laughed, "Katherine Elizabeth Sully, you'll be the first to know if we get another present!"

"'Fore Papa?" Katie smiled.

"Ah, maybe the second person then," Michaela agreed.

"I sleep now," the child was finally tired.

************

Snuggled next to her husband in bed, Michaela stroked his head gently.

"Does it still hurt?" she asked. "I can get you something for it."

"I'm okay," he hugged her.

"Another scar for you," she pointed to his wound.

Sully grinned, "Adds t' my character." Then after a pause, he whispered, "Michaela?"

"Umm?" she felt such contentment next to him.

"Brian told me that Katie kept havin' a bad feelin' that somethin' was wrong with us, all the time we were gone," Sully told her.

"Just like the feeling I had when you were shot," she observed. "It's an inexplicable bond that we have."

"Do ya think Katie has that bond, too?" he asked.

"It wouldn't surprise me," she smiled. "Some things transcend the explanations of science and must be accepted on faith alone. The idea that our daughter feels the same bond toward us that we feel toward each other is entirely possible."

He chuckled, "She was so funny with all her questions tonight."

"I know," Michaela laughed. "I think her favorite word is 'why?'"

"Sure is," he smiled. "We're lucky t' have such a precious little girl. Part o' me doesn't want her to grow up."

"I know," she added. "With each day, she brings us such joy, and she's growing so quickly."

"But then another part o' me can't wait t' see her all grown up as beautiful as her Ma," Sully kissed his wife's forehead. "I wish I could keep her from havin' bad dreams."

"Fortunately, bad dreams are usually just that...dreams," she closed her eyes at his touch. "And with the morning, they're gone."

Thinking about Michaela's definition to Katie, he changed the subject, "So romantic means givin' ya presents, huh?"

"Well," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "That's part of it."

"Just part?" he teased. "What else is there t' romance?"

"You tell me," she teased back.

"Humm," he gazed up to think. "Poetry?"

She nodded.

"Flowers," he suggested.

She nodded again.

"Candle lit dinners," he added.

She put her finger to his lips, "Adventures in the woods."

"Ants are optional," he grinned.

"Thank you for all of those gifts," Michaela whispered.

Sully kissed her and recited:

"God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame."

She gazed into the steel blue of her husband's eyes, "Elizabeth Barrett Browning?"

"Right!" he laughed. Then becoming serious, he whispered, "You are my gift, Michaela, an' I'll do anythin' to keep our dream alive."

They closed their eyes and fell asleep, secure in each others arms.

THE END



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