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



Casualties of War


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Casualties of War
by Debby K

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

February 13, 1881

Since Colorado's cold spell had broken, Colleen's curiosity about Andrew had heightened. Why had he not written since before Christmas? She contemplated going to Evergreen to find out for herself. She was studying a map of its location when Lewis entered her office at the hospital.

"I think I'll call it a day," he remarked wearily. "Are you staying much longer?"

"A little while." She did not look up.

He glanced over her shoulder. "What are you reading?"

"A map." She lifted her head. "I'm thinking of going to Evergreen to see Andrew."

A look of concern crossed his face. "That's a difficult journey, especially this time of year."

She replied determinedly, "I can do it. Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean...."

He interrupted. "I know you're capable of it. I just mean it's difficult for anyone alone. So.... I'll come with you."

Colleen replied, "That's very nice of you, but I couldn't ask you to leave your research."

He insisted, "I don't mind. Besides, getting out of the laboratory would do me some good."

She was half relieved. "Are you sure?"

"Positive." He nodded. "When do we leave?"

She informed him, "As soon as the snow in the pass melts."

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

Michaela applauded her daughter's efforts as Katie sat in the saddle atop Ajax. Sully led the horse by its bridle, while the little girl held the reins. Both parents were amazed at how quickly she was taking to riding.

"You're doin' real good, Kates," Sully commended.

"Thanks." The child smiled. "I don't think you need to hold on t' him anymore, Poppy."

Sully grinned. "I ain't ready t' let go just yet."

Michaela cautioned her, "Watch your posture in the saddle, Sweetheart. Remember how I told you to sit."

Heeding her mother's instructions, Katie adjusted her position and continued to ride.

Sully eyed the horizon. "It's gonna be dark soon. We best get Ajax in the barn."

"I'll help ya brush her," Katie offered.

Smiling at the little girl's strong sense of responsibility, Michaela turned toward the house. At that moment, she noticed three small noses pressed against the window.

"Sully." Michaela gestured toward their homestead. "Look."

He glanced in the direction of their living room window. "Looks like ya got an audience, Kates."

Katie waved to Josef, Annie and Noah. Their little hands appeared above the window ledge to acknowledge her wave.

When Michaela ascended the steps and entered her home, the children rushed to greet her at the door.

Josef enthusiastically spoke first. "Katie wode good."

"Yes, she certainly did." Michaela removed her hat and coat.

As the twins hugged their mother, Michaela knelt to kiss their cheeks.

Then she suggested, "Let's wash our hands for dinner."

Josef led them into the kitchen, and one by one, Michaela lifted them to lather their hands. Since Noah especially liked to see how many bubbles he could make, he was last to wash up.

When all were clean, Michaela inspected them. "Very good."

While Bridget helped them into their seats, Josef noticed, "Ain't Hope eatin' with us?"

"Isn't Hope eating with us?" Michaela corrected.

The little boy tilted his head curiously. "That's what I said."

"You said 'ain't,'" Michaela reminded. "That isn't proper English."

"Papa says 'ain't' all the time," Josef reminded.

"Papa isn't my son." She touched the tip of his nose.

Josef's shoulders slumped. "Bein' a son is harder talkin' than bein' a husband."

Michaela teased, "Perhaps I could find you a more suitable mother."

The little boy's eyes widened. "No, Mama!"

She put her arm around him. "All right then. You'll just have to settle for me."

He detected the gleam in her eye. "You was just kiddin'. Wight?"

"Of course." Michaela's expression grew serious. "I would never leave you, Josef. You know that."

"Sure, I do," he smiled.

At that moment, Katie and Sully entered the house. The little girl was breathless from the exhilaration of riding.

Bridget grinned, "Well, here's the lass of the hour. Ready for the Kentucky Derby?"

Katie was uncertain. "What's that?"

Michaela explained, "It's a horse race they started five years ago."


Sully washed his hands. "I ever tell you kids about the race your Ma won?"

Josef nodded, "On Flash. Yep. She was too stubborn t' listen t' ya."

Michaela quickly turned to her husband. "You told them that?"

The little boy continued, "Papa told ya t' go awound that twrree, but ya jus' had t' jump it. An' ya dwessed like a man, too."

Katie smiled at her mother. "I can't imagine you lookin' like a man."

Sully kissed his wife's cheek and teased. "She was real handsome."

"Sully!" Michaela's cheeks flushed.

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

Michaela held Hope close as she sat in her bedroom rocking chair. The baby had been experiencing a slight fever, and Michaela could tell she was cutting another tooth.

Holding his wife's medical bag, Sully entered the room. "I brought your medicine. Anythin' else ya need?"

She requested, "Some ice chips."

Sully nodded and exited the room to head for the ice house. The baby whimpered slightly.

Michaela gently touched her lips to the child's forehead. "Poor darling. Mama and Papa will make everything better."

"Pa." Hope lifted her finger and pointed toward the door.

Katie knocked softly at the entrance.

When Michaela turned, her brow creased. "What are you still doing up, young lady?"

Katie approached her mother. "I couldn't sleep."

She smiled. "Still excited over your riding lesson today, no doubt."

The child agreed, "I never had so much fun."

Michaela slid over and patted the seat of the rocking chair beside her. "Come join us then. Your sister can't sleep either."

"Ka-," Hope attempted to say when the child sat beside them.

"Is her mouth sore again?" Katie surmised.

"I'm afraid so," Michaela sighed.

Katie was curious. "Did I cry a lot when I was a baby?"

Michaela thought back. "You had your moments.... I recall one occasion when you had colic. Your father and I took you out to one of the hot springs to help you fall asleep. You liked to ride, even as a little one."

"Did I ride good.... I mean well today, Mama?" She gazed at her mother hopefully.

Michaela's eyes shone with love. "You were wonderful. I'm very proud of you, Katie."

"Thanks." Her heart filled with pride.

"You followed everything your father and I told you to do," Michaela detailed. "I'd say you have a natural ability."

The little girl recalled, "I've been watchin' you an' Poppy ride since I can remember, so ya don't need t' worry about me gettin' hurt."

"You must always be careful," Michaela cautioned. "Remember when you fell off Flash? Serious injuries can occur even to the best of riders. I had a patient once, Mr. Reeve.... so tragic."

The child queried, "What happened t' him?"

Michaela's eyes saddened. "He fell from his horse. It damaged his spine, and he never walked again."

Katie felt her back. "My spine's nice an' strong."

"Your spine is very delicate," she explained. "No matter how strong a person is. Why, your father even...."

The little girl wondered why her mother had stopped. "What about Poppy?"

Michaela thought back to Sully's injuries at the hands of the railroad man, Rankin.

"Mama." Katie was disturbed at her expression. "Are you okay?"


"I was just remembering something, a long time ago." She paused. "Your father was hurt by a bad man, and I feared he would never walk again."

Katie was surprised. "I don't remember that."

"We weren't married yet," she explained. "In fact, we had not even admitted any sort of feelings for one another until...."

Katie did not understand her mother's reluctance. "Is this upsettin' you?"

Michaela composed herself. "Your father wanted the man who hurt him to be punished. I didn't want Sully to go after him. Stubbornly, he didn't listen to me."

Katie wondered, "This was after Poppy could walk again?"

"Barely," she qualified. "He was far too weak to go, but Sully worried that the man would hurt him again."

"You must've been scared." The little girl sympathized.

Michaela gazed down at Hope as she confessed, "I nearly lost him."

Katie remained curious. "So, did Poppy find the man?"

"Yes," she replied simply.

The little girl anticipated. "Did he get hurt again?"

"No," Michaela sighed. "Thank God."

Kate probed further. "What happened t' the bad man?"

"He died." Michaela wished she could change the subject.

At that moment, Sully returned with a small cup of chipped ice and a cloth. Silently, he handed it to his wife, who began to treat Hope's gums.

Then Sully addressed Katie, "How 'bout some warm milk, sweet girl?"

"That would be good," she smiled. "May I make it myself."

"Sure." He winked.

Michaela reacted, "Sully!"

He added to the child. "I'll watch ya."

"Thanks." Katie lifted her arms.

Sully scooped her up and carried her out of the room. When they descended the steps, Katie leaned her head against his shoulder. For a moment, Sully was transported back to his daughter's infancy and how she used to tuck her head next to his neck. It made him feel as if he would burst with love for her.

When they reached the bottom step, he gently set her down. "Okay, what d' ya do first?"

Katie silently began to prepare the stove and pan for warming the milk. She had seen her parents and Miss Bridget do it a million times, it seemed. Though Sully supervised, the little girl handled the task with ease. Soon she settled at the table, cup in hand.

Katie offered, "You want some?"

"No, thanks." He glanced up toward the beamed ceiling. "Sounds like Hope might be quietin' down finally."

"Poor baby." Katie took a sip of the milk.

Sully smiled at the instant white mustache above her lip. He sat beside her and drew her onto his lap to stroke her blonde tresses.

"Mama was tellin' me about the time when ya couldn't walk," she mentioned. "Ya hurt your spine. Did ya know how delicate that is?"

Sully grinned at how she sounded like her mother.

"Yea," he answered simply.

"Mama was scared, ya know," the child added.

"I know." He kissed her temple. "Why'd she tell ya about that?"

"She was warnin' me t' be careful ridin' Ajax," Katie explained. "I could fall an' hurt my spine."

He nodded, then agreed, "Your Ma's right."

Katie's thoughts drifted to a new topic. "Are you two doin' somethin' special for Valentine's Day?"

"Got any ideas?" He tilted his head.

Katie took another sip of milk as she pondered.

Then she offered, "You could get her some herbs for her hospital."

He rubbed his chin. "I was thinkin' of somethin' a little more personal."

"Hmm." Katie leaned her elbows on the table. "How 'bout a new dress?"

"She's got plenty o' clothes." Sully knew.

The idea occurred to her. "A necklace?"

He considered it. "Maybe."

Katie warned, "Poppy, Valentine's Day is t'morrow. Ya better think of somethin' quick."

"I'll work on it." He kissed the top of her head as she yawned. "Ready for bed now?"

"Uh-huh." She finished the milk.

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

When Sully returned to his bedroom, he found Hope in her crib and Michaela asleep. Removing the beads from around his neck, he carefully placed them on the bedpost. Then he stepped closer to the crib. He lowered his index finger and stroked Hope's cheek. The baby did not react.

His thoughts turned to Valentine's Day. He did have a gift for Michaela, but he had not wanted the children to know about it yet. He had made arrangements for a trip to Denver, where Michaela and he could celebrate the day, along with their birthdays, in their honeymoon hotel. He removed his shirt and went to the basin to wash his face.

Michaela heard his movements and opened her eyes. "Is the baby sleeping?"

He whispered his reply, "She's fine."

"Good." Michaela stifled a yawn.

Sully dabbed on some cologne, and grinned. "You tired?"

"Rather." She settled her head on the pillow. "Why? Was there something you wanted to discuss?"

He kicked off his shoes and undid his buckskins. Michaela felt her cheeks warm slightly when he lowered the lamp and came closer.

He slid beneath the covers and drew her into his arms. "Discuss somethin'? Nope."

She inhaled his scent. "You smell good."

"Thanks," he smiled. "You do, too."

"Sully," she paused. "I.... I've been thinking."

He kissed her shoulder. "'Bout what?"

Goose bumps appeared on her flesh, and she felt herself melting.

She nearly forgot what she wanted to say. "About.... uh.... well.... Valentine's Day."

"What about it?" His hand began to wander.

Michaela could scarcely find her voice. "I.... was wondering.... if there might be something special you'd like to do."

"Hmm." He kissed her upper lip, then lower. "Nope."

She tried to conceal her disappointment. "Oh."

He teased, "You're prob'ly gonna be busy at the hospital."

"No, actually," she noted.

He leisurely undid the top buttons of her gown. "I reckon the children will need your attention here then."

"I suppose so." Michaela felt his hand slide beneath the material of her gown. "With the baby's teething, we shouldn't venture too far." Then she amended, "But.... Bridget could be with her, and I'm certain that Colleen would stay here if we asked. Matthew would look in on the children, as well.... if we weren't here, that is."

He stopped his movements. "You sayin' you wanna go away someplace on Valentine's Day?"

"If that's what you want." She turned up the edge of her lips.

He teased, "I wouldn't have t' kidnap ya?"

"Not at all." She continued to savor his warm hand.

Sully stopped his movements. "Well, that just plain takes all the fun out of it."

She was puzzled. "Fun out of what?"

He shook his head. "Here I was thinkin' I'd have t' woo ya all over again."

She smiled adoringly, "Feel free to woo away, Mr. Sully."

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

At the Chateau, Preston stood at the front desk, anticipating a late arrival. Responding to his initiative, a Georgia lawman had welcomed his invitation of a warm meal and fancy accommodations.

When the Sheriff entered the lobby, his presence commanded attention. Preston cleared his throat. Rarely did he meet a man taller than himself. The man's hair hinted of gray, but his neatly trimmed mustache did not conceal his youthful appearance. Preston guessed him to be in his late thirties.

The lawman glanced around the room, then approached him. "You Mr. Lodge?"

"That's right." Preston extended his hand in welcome. "I hope you'll enjoy your stay in Colorado Springs."

The Southern drawl was distinctive. "I ain't stayin' long. Just long enough t' arrest this man.... if he's who ya say he is."

Preston slid the guest book closer for his signature. "This man certainly meets the description."

"If he's who I been lookin' for, my trip is worth the while," the lawman said as he nodded.

Preston's grin widened. "I have no doubt."

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

When Michaela wakened, she touched Sully's side of the bed. It was empty. She lifted up slightly, then noticed he was cradling Hope in the rocking chair.

Michaela whispered, "Is she all right?"

"Yea." He lightly brushed his lips across his daughter's cheek. "I fed her, an' she fell right back t' sleep. I just wanted t' hold her."

Michaela reached for her gown as she sat up.

"Wait." Sully held out his hand to her.

"Why?" Michaela paused. "Are you coming back to bed?"

"Come here," he beckoned.

Curious, Michaela walked to him, shivering from leaving the warmth of their bed. When she reached Sully, he stood and set the baby in her crib. Then he drew his wife into his arms. He kissed her sweetly, savoring the contours of her body next to his.

Then he whispered, "Happy Valentine's Day."

"Thank you, and the same to you," she paused. "May I get dressed now?"

"Not yet." He stepped back. "I wanna look at ya."

Suddenly, she felt embarrassed. "Why?"

"'Cause I love lookin' at ya." His hand caressed her breasts. "You're the most beautiful woman I ever saw. I wanna remember you an' me just like this."

"Sully." She felt awkward, as when they were newlyweds. "We.... I.... can't just stand here with nothing on."

He ran his hands up and down her sides. "Why not?"

"Well for one thing, it's cold." She trembled, more from his hands than from the temperature.

He kissed the soft skin where her neck curved into her shoulder. Michaela felt a wave of warmth shoot through her. Her husband's hands lightly glided across her silky skin, prompting every pore of her body to heat.

Wrapping her arms around him, her heart fluttered. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too," he whispered. "You still cold?"

"Not anymore." She relished sensations his tender ministrations evoked. "It's getting much warmer."

"Good." He scooped her into his arms and carried her back to their bed. "I got a surprise for ya."

She raised an eyebrow. "A surprise?"

He lifted his index finger and grinned. "Wait right here."

She watched as he went to his chest of drawers. From the top, he lifted an envelope and returned to her side.

"Here," he said as he handed it to her.

"What is it?" Michaela smiled alluringly.

"Somethin' for my Valentine." He kissed her hand.

"Sully." She was moved. "Thank you."

"You ain't opened it yet," he pointed out.

A tear trickled down her cheek. "I know I'll love it."

Sliding her finger beneath the flap and opening the envelope, she withdrew two train tickets.

After reading the destination, her smile broadened. "Denver?"

"You heard of it?" He teased as he repositioned himself beside her.

"I have some fond memories of the place." She rolled onto her side and caressed his cheek. "So you ARE going to whisk me away?"

"That's the plan," he replied. "It's all arranged with Bridget, Matthew an' Colleen."

She set the tickets on the night stand and slid closer to him.

After kissing him sweetly, she questioned, "And what shall we do when we arrive in Denver, Mr. Sully?"

His feather light touch trailed between her breasts and down to her abdomen. He followed every few inches with a tender kiss to her skin.

"Maybe rekindle some o' them fond memories." He paused. "Then.... I'll let you decide how far we.... go from there."

Her body tingled. "Sully, you make me so happy, I sometimes wonder if it's too good to be true."


"Oh, it's true." His hand found a particularly sensitive spot. "An' it's real good."

Michaela felt the heat of his body.

Sully lifted up and whispered near the lobe of her ear:

"Her bosom is love's paradise,
There is no heav'n but in her eyes;
She's chaster than the turtle-dove,
And fairer than the queen of love:
Yet all perfections do combine
To beautify my Valentine."

Lovingly, she ran her fingers through his hair. "Was that Donne?"

"Nope." He was pleased to have stumped her. "Richard Lovelace."

"An appropriate name," she smiled. "Now, are you ready for your gift?"

"Sure," he grinned.

Michaela rose from the bed and went to her armoire. Opening a door, she reached into the back and retrieved a wrapped package.

She mused, "You have no idea how difficult it was to keep this from the prying eyes of our children."

"They get in there?" he chuckled.

"The boys often hide inside," she informed him.

Sully accepted the gift as Michaela joined him again. He shook it.

"Buck saw?" he grinned.

She tapped his side playfully. "Open it."

Sully undid the paper and beheld a framed edition of The Colorado Springs Gazette.

He was surprised. "A newspaper?"

"Read it," she invited.

Sully began to peruse the headlines. Each story held a particular significance to their relationship. There was one on the engagement ring he gave her during the performance of "Romeo and Juliet." Another detailed their wedding in the meadow. Other articles summarized the births of Katie in the wild, Josef during the blizzard, Annie and Noah's unique names and even Hope's arrival on the day the new hospital opened. In addition, there were items on Colleen's graduation from Harvard, Matthew's momentous court case involving Cloud Dancing and Brian's first article in The Boston Globe.

"Michaela!" Sully was in awe. "How'd you get this?"

"It so happens I have some connections at the paper." She delighted in his expression. "I wrote the stories, and Dorothy set them up for me. She printed only one copy. I had it framed for our bedroom wall."

He marveled, "This is amazin'. It's our whole life t'gether."

She pointed to the bottom of each column. "Well, there is some room for additions."

He was unsure. "Additions?"

"Yes," she nodded. "There is still much to be written for us."

He cupped her cheek in his hand. "Thank you, Michaela. I love it."

She kissed his palm. "Perhaps we can add another column after our stay in Denver."

At that moment, there was a light knock at their door.

Annie's little voice beckoned, "Up, Mama! Papa!"

Sully sat up. "I reckon we best get started on that unwritten part."

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

Sheriff Tague ate his breakfast in the Chateau dining room. As he digested his meal, he read The Gazette. Then he noticed the banker approaching.

"Mr. Lodge," he acknowledged.

Preston smirked, "I imagine you want to get started on your investigation."

"Have a seat." Tague gestured toward the chair beside him.

Preston complied. "Is there something I can do for you? Something you need?"

"No, thanks. You've given me quite a lot already." The man eyed him sternly. "I just wanna make sure nothin' goes wrong."

"Wrong?" Preston questioned. "But I can assure you, I would not have had you come all this way if I weren't certain of the killer's identity."

"How'd you hear about it way out here in Colorado?" Tague tilted his head.

"That's a long story, Sheriff," he paused. "In brief, I have been investigating the somewhat sordid background of this man for some time. Recently, I came across some information about his service, or should I say desertion, during the War. When I contacted an investigator in Atlanta to pursue what I had learned, he noticed the similarities in the description of the murderer to the man I was investigating. The suspect was in that area on the date of the killing. I simply put two and two together."

"I see." He rubbed his chin. "So we got a man here who looks like the murderer, an' he was near Atlanta at the time Charles LeBlanc was killed. What about a motive?"

"Motive?" Preston frowned. "What more motive do you need than this man was a deserter from the Union Army? The murder victim obviously found him and was going to turn him in to the Confederate government."

Tague nodded. "Sounds like the man."

Preston persisted. "Sheriff, this man was a Union sniper. He was dangerous to the Confederate cause. He had already murdered a Southern businessman."

Tague assessed, "If he got a good lawyer, he might argue that LeBlanc was simply a casualty of war."

"Ah-hah." Preston raised an eyebrow. "Does that argument hold true for a deserter? How can he claim to be in the service of his country? Does he not forfeit any immunity?"

The lawman reasoned, "Ya got a point."

Preston continued, "Since his return to Colorado, he has continued his violent ways. Here are some additional papers regarding his criminal activities." He handed Tague a folder. "Read for yourself.... attempting to blow up a dam, inciting an Indian rebellion and much more. "

Tague perused the contents of the folder. "Very convincing."

Preston leaned closer. "I assume there were witnesses who could identify the killer."

"One," Tague nodded. "The man's wife. She was raped by the murderer. Got her pregnant, too."

"Raped?" Preston was taken aback. "I.... I didn't know that. The investigator said nothing."

"That was never made public, for the sake of Mrs. LeBlanc," he confided. "You still convinced this is the man?"

"I.... ah...." Preston hedged.

He was puzzled. "What's wrong, Mr. Lodge?"

Preston composed himself. "I am at your disposal in bringing this murderer to justice."

Tague questioned, "What's in this for you? Money?"

"Believe me, there is far greater gain for me than money can measure," he returned. "Of course, we are assuming that your courts will convict him."

The Sheriff's eyes narrowed. "We have no use for Yankee murderers. Since those damned Union troops left, our Southern justice is gettin' back t' the way it should be."

Preston smiled, "Excellent."

The banker stood and left the Sheriff alone. Tague held up the papers Preston had given him.

In a cold tone, he spoke quietly to himself, "I already know about this man, Mr. Lodge. I got a special place already waitin' for him. You just made what I'm gonna do look a lot less suspicious."

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

Josef frowned at his father. "Why ya gotta go 'way, Papa?"

"Joe." Sully drew his son onto his lap. "Sometimes your Ma an' me like t' go off by ourselves t'.... do grown up things. Things you kids wouldn't be interested in."

The little boy's lower lip turned under. "Like what?"

"Well...." Sully grew uncomfortable. "Things kinda romantic.... like kissin'."

"Kissin'?" Josef was surprised. "On Val'tine's Day?"

"One o' the best days for it." Sully nodded. "An' we like holdin' hands, sayin' sweet things t' each other, too."

"You do that here," Josef pointed out.

Sully chuckled softly, "Yea, but here, there's ten little eyes watchin' us."

"I won' watch," the little boy pledged. "I won' let the kids watch neither."

Sully kissed the top of his son's head. "I reckon I ain't explainin' this very good."

Josef's eyes widened. "Ya better not say 'ain't.' Mama won' let me, an' she might stop you, too."

Sully ruffled his son's hair. "Thanks for the warnin'."

The child's shoulders slumped. "I guess ya gotta go."

"We'll be back in a few days," he assured.

Josef suddenly thought, "Papa, what about your birthday? An' Mama's. You won' be here for 'em."

"We'll celebrate with ya when we get home," Sully promised. "Miss Bridget can make a cake, an' we'll have a real good time."

Josef fell silent.

Sully embraced him. "I'm countin' on you t' take care o' your sisters, big boy. An' keep Noah outa your Ma's armoire."

"What's that?" the little boy wondered.

"That's the cupboard she keeps her nice dresses in," Sully identified.

"Oh, the stagecoach," Josef smiled.

"Stagecoach?" Sully asked.

"Noah an' me play stagecoach in it," he replied.

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

Michaela held Hope on the bed to examine the baby's gums. A new tooth was finally breaking through.

Katie entered the bedroom in time to watch. "How's she feelin'?"

"She appears to be doing much better," Michaela observed.

"Good." Katie climbed up to join them. "Poppy's havin' a talk with Joey about you leavin' t'day."

Michaela studied her daughter's expression. "How is he handling it?"

She shrugged. "Okay."

Michaela perceived disappointment in her tone.

"Katie." She clasped her hand. "How are you handling it?"

The child's lower lip quivered. "I.... I was hopin' we could have a birthday party for you an' Poppy, but now you'll be gone."

"We can still have a celebration, Sweetheart." Michaela embraced her. "Right after we come home."

Katie's tears began to flow freely. "I don't have a good feelin' about this, Mama."

"What?" Michaela was surprised at her reaction.

The little girl confessed, "I wish you an' Poppy wouldn't go."

Michaela was uncertain. "But why?"

"I'm scared somethin' will happen t' you." Katie hugged her.

Michaela felt an ache in her heart. "Then.... we won't leave you."

Katie softly cried in her mother's arms.

"Shhh," Michaela assured. "Everything will be all right, my darling. We would never do anything to upset you, Katie. You children mean everything to your father and me. So.... if you want us to stay, we shall."

Finally calming, Katie felt a pang of guilt. "Were ya lookin' forward t' this trip a lot?"

"Well, certainly, but...." She was interrupted.

"I'm sorry Mama," the child said. "I'm bein' selfish."

"No, you're not." Michaela touched the moisture beneath her daughter's eyes. "You're very unselfish."

At that moment, Katie noticed The Gazette gift. "What's this?"

"My Valentine's gift to your father." She held it closer.

Katie scanned the articles. "Was all this in the paper?"

"No," Michaela smiled. "I had a special edition printed."

Katie paused to admire it. "Does Poppy like it?"

"Yes," she smiled.

The child gazed at her mother. "You love Poppy a lot, don't ya?"

"Yes, very much." She stroked the little girl's hair.

Katie hesitated, then mentioned, "I reckon this trip is special t' ya."

She nodded. "It's your father's Valentine's gift to me."

The child's eyes widened. "Is he takin' ya t' Denver 'cause that's where ya went on your honeymoon.... t' be romantic?"

Michaela's cheeks flushed. "What do you know about romance, young lady?"

She attempted to sound grown up. "I know there's kissin' an' holdin'."

Michaela smiled, "Yes, there's that."

"You gonna spend time in bed?" Katie asked matter-of-factly.

Michaela became more uncomfortable. "Well.... I suppose.... we shall need to rest."

"I guess Poppy would be disappointed if ya didn't use his gift," Katie reasoned.

Michaela lifted the her daughter's chin and peered into her eyes. "Katherine Sully, what are you trying to say?"

"I.... I want ya t' go on the trip." Katie came out with it.

"You're certain?" Michaela asked.

"Uh-huh," Katie affirmed.

"And you won't mind if we celebrate our birthdays later?" she added.

"I don't mind, Mama," the child stated.

"Ma," Hope shouted enthusiastically.

Michaela rose from the bed. "I'd better have a talk with the twins to make sure it's all right with them. Would you watch Hope for me?"

"Sure." Katie lifted the baby onto her lap.

"Ka-," Hope cooed as they watched their mother leave.

Katie embraced her little sister. "Hope, I wish I didn't feel this way. Maybe I just worry too much."

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

Hank glanced out the window of the Sheriff's office and noticed Preston approaching with another man. From the looks of the badge, the stranger was a lawman.

"Damn," he uttered to himself. "What's Preston want now?"

The door opened, and Preston escorted Tague into the small office.

Hank stood and eyed the man. "Tell me you're here t' arrest the banker. I'll be happy t' lock him up for ya."

"No." The Sheriff smiled as he removed his hat. "My name's Jack Tague. I'm a Deputy Sheriff from Fulton County, Georgia."

"Good t' meet ya." Hank shook his hand. "What brings ya all this way?"

"A murder suspect." Tague was brief.

"I see." Hank rubbed his chin. "You got reason t' believe he's in Colorado Springs?"

Preston excused himself. "I'll let you gentlemen talk. I have a bank to run."

Hank watched suspiciously as Preston exited.

Then he turned to Tague. "What's Preston Lodge got t' do with this?"

The lawman replied, "I'm stayin' at his Chateau. He offered t' introduce me to ya."

Hank gestured toward a chair. "Have a seat. Tell me about this murder."

Tague sat down. "The crime happened sixteen years ago."

Hank was surprised. "Sixteen years?"

"That's right." He went on. "We just received information that the suspect might be in these parts."

Hank nodded. "I'll do what I can t' help ya. You got a description of the man?"

Tague detailed, "About five feet ten inches tall. Blue eyes. Brown hair."

Hank chuckled, "That describes a lot o' men."

Tague's eyes grew cold. "Maybe we can narrow it down. He was a Yankee sniper in the War. He deserted after he shot a Confederate businessman near Atlanta."

Hank maintained a calm expression. He remembered hearing that Sully had deserted in the War, then was pardoned after saving President Grant's life.

Hank casually leaned back in his chair. "That so?"

Tague detected a subtle reaction. "You know anyone who fits that description?"

Hank shook his head. "Can't say I do, but I'll ask around."

Tague came to the point. "I understand there's a War veteran here by the name of Byron Sully."

Hank swallowed hard. "Yea."

"You know where he lives?" Tague questioned.

"Just outside o' town, with his wife an' kids." Hank added for emphasis.

Tague queried further, "He ever do anythin' t' break the law?"

Hank was vague. "Nothin' big."

Tague withdrew some papers from his jacket pocket. "Oh, I don't know. Startin' an Indian insurrection sounds kinda big t' me. I understand he was on the run from the Army for several months. Wanted for treason."

"He got a pardon for that," Hank stated. "Seems like you already know a lot about Sully without askin' me."

The lawman smiled, "I just wondered if he's done anythin' lately."

"Pillar of the community." Hank smirked.

Tague rose from his chair. "I won't take any more of your time, Sheriff."

"No trouble at all." Hank remained seated.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Michaela's surrey pass by. "So, you're stayin' at the Chateau. I bet it ain't half as entertainin' as my place."

Tague was intrigued. "Your place? What kinda entertainment are ya talkin' about?"

Hank spoke with a gleam in his eye, "Ladies."

He smiled. "Maybe I'll pay a visit after I talk with Mr. Sully. Thanks for your time."

Tague opened the door and stepped outside. Hank watched through the window as Preston met him in the street. Then he noticed the banker gesturing toward the surrey at the Depot.

"Damn," Hank sighed.

Tague nodded and began walking toward the train station. Hank donned his hat and jacket to follow. Something about this lawman did not sit right with him, and if Preston was involved, he knew it could not be good.

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

Sully helped Michaela from the surrey, lingering with his hands on her waist for a few moments to gaze into her eyes.

Then he smiled, "Robert E will take care o' the surrey 'til we get home."

Sully lifted their bag from the back and set it on the platform. Just as he turned to his wife again, he spotted a man approaching them.

The Sheriff tipped his hat. "Mornin' folks. Where ya headed?"

Sully thought the question odd from a stranger. "There a reason you're askin'?"

Tague pointed toward his badge. "I got a few questions for ya."

Michaela smiled and offered, "Of course. What can we do for you?"

"I'm lookin' for a man who committed a murder sixteen years ago," he said.

Sully folded his arms. "What makes ya think we'd know anythin' about that?"

Tague eyed him sternly. "The killin' took place near Atlanta durin' the War."

"So?" Sully was becoming impatient.

Tague came to the point. "The murderer was a deserter from the Union Army."

Michaela cast a quick glance at her husband. "Sheriff, my husband and I know of no one who would have been near Atlanta."

Tague glared at Sully. "Your husband would know someone, wouldn't he?"

Sully was blunt. "Who are you anyway?"

"My name's Jack Tague, Deputy Sheriff of Fulton County, Georgia." He paused. "I been lookin' for you."

Sully pointed to himself. "Me? Why?"

Tague frowned. "Because you killed Charles LeBlanc."

Michaela was aghast. "That's ludicrous."

Sully was quiet, prompting Michaela to turn to her husband.

At that moment, Tague grabbed the front of Sully's buckskin jacket. In a swift maneuver, Sully had him on the ground. Tague was stunned and reached toward his holstered gun. Again, Sully moved quickly to disarm him.

Then Sully leaned closer and grabbed him by the throat. "You comin' here was a waste o' time. I ain't the man."

The Sheriff tried to regain his breath. "What you just did.... proves ... I found the killer. You could kill a man with your bare hands, couldn't ya?"

Michaela touched her husband's back. "Sully."

By now, several townsfolk and travelers had surrounded them. Hank stepped through the circle. "Okay, break it up. What are you doin' Tague?"

Michaela eyed him suspiciously, "You know him, Hank?"

"Just met," Hank returned.

Sully released Tague and stood up. "He's makin' accusations that ain't true."

Hank helped Tague to his feet. "Look, Sheriff, I think it's time ya headed back home."

Tague dusted himself off and pulled a paper from his jacket. "I got a warrant here for the arrest of Byron Sully. It's all legal."

Michaela grabbed the paper from him. "Let me see that."

At that moment, Matthew pushed his way through the crowd. "Horace said.... Dr. Mike? Sully? What's goin' on?"

Tague reached for his handcuffs. "I'm arrestin' this man."

Matthew spoke up, "You can't do that!"

"The warrant's legal," Tague asserted.

Hank interjected, "Just hold your horses. If anyone's gonna make an arrest, it's me."

Tague put his hands on his hips. "Well? Arrest him then. I got the extradition papers, too."

Hank questioned, "Extra-what?"

Matthew reached for the documents. "As Sully's lawyer, I got a right t' see the papers."

Tague handed them over. Matthew scanned them, pausing periodically to read aloud, "Warrant of arrest... complaint having been issued... to the Governor of Georgia for a requisition upon the Governor of Colorado, in which State the accused now resides, for the arrest of Byron Sully and his delivery to the agent of Georgia, to be conveyed... and there dealt with in accordance with law. The Governor of Georgia... charging that Sully was in that State at the time Charles LeBlanc was murdered and was a fugitive from its justice. A requisition by the Governor of Georgia is accordingly issued and is duly honored by the Governor of Colorado, who issues this warrant commanding the arrest of Byron Sully and his delivery to the authorized agent of Georgia to be conveyed to the latter State."

Horace had been listening along with everyone else. "What's all that mean?"

Tague answered, "It means I'm arrestin' this man for the murder of Charles LeBlanc."

Hank raised his hand. "Hold it. Nobody's bein' arrested."

Tague affirmed, "This is all legal. Are you tryin' to obstruct justice?"

Michaela implored, "You cannot arrest my husband for something he didn't do. This is absurd. Tell him, Matthew."

"Dr. Mike." The young man paused. "This looks legal t' me."

Tague grinned. "I told ya."

Matthew countered, "But Sully's entitled t' a hearin' before he's extradited."

"Fine," Tague replied. "In the meantime, I want him held in the jail."

Michaela protested, "Why?"

Suddenly, Preston's voice could be heard. "He's a risk to flee the state."

Sully's eyes narrowed. "You got somethin' t' do with this, Lodge?"

"Me?" Preston feigned ignorance. "Certainly not. I'm not the one accused of murder."

"I didn't kill this man," Sully proclaimed.

Tague turned to Hank, "You gonna lock him up?"

"No," Hank stated.

"Then I'll handcuff him t' a tree," Tague avowed.

Dorothy stepped through the crowd. "What's all this about?"

Michaela pointed to Tague. "This Sheriff thinks Sully killed someone in Georgia. He's here to arrest him."

With handcuffs ready, Tague approached Sully, but the mountain man quickly grabbed the deputy's arm and twisted it behind his back.

Hank put his hand on Sully's shoulder, "Hold it. Ya ain't winnin' any support this way."

When Sully released Tague, Michaela announced, "My husband is entitled to have bail set if you are arresting him."

Hank rolled his eyes. "I said nobody's bein' arrested."

Preston protested, "This is a travesty of justice. How can you let a murderer walk among us?"

Hank became sarcastic. "Same way we let a lyin' banker walk among us."

Matthew attempted to calm things. "Look, Sully's entitled t' a hearin' before he can be extradited t' Georgia. In the meantime, if he's not under arrest, ya can't hold him."

Tague cut him off. "Lodge is right. He's a risk t' flee. He's done it before."

"A judge can decide," Matthew responded. "We can arrange for a circuit judge t' be here later this week from Denver."

Michaela offered, "My husband and I are on our way to Denver. We can speak with the governor directly to settle all of this confusion."

"There's no confusion," Tague said. "But I'll accompany you t' Denver."

Sully clasped his wife's arms. "Michaela, we gotta talk."

Her face paled at his expression. "What's wrong?"

Sully turned to the lawman. "The train ain't leavin' for another ten minutes. I want a word with my wife an' lawyer in private."

Tague glared. "I'm watchin' you like a hawk."

Sully refrained from saying what he wanted to say. Instead, he took Michaela's hand and gestured for Matthew to follow. They stepped toward the rows of benches for passengers.

Sully drew Michaela's hand to his lips and kissed it. She feared that he was going to ask her to not come to Denver.

Then Sully turned toward Matthew. "Is there any way outa this?"

The young man nodded. "We'll fight the extradition."

Michaela agreed. "Of course, we shall. This is utter nonsense. You've never even been to ...."

Sully interjected, "Yes, I have, Michaela."

Her heart sank. "What?"

"That man I killed in the War when I was a sniper.... that was near Atlanta," he reminded.

"But his name was Hall," she pointed out. "Tague said the murdered man was named...."

Again Sully interrupted. "I know the name. LeBlanc."

She swallowed hard. "You knew him?"

"No," he replied.

"Then...." Michaela stopped herself. "What aren't you telling me?"

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I knew his wife."

"His wife?" Michaela questioned. "How did you know her?"

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

Sully kept his voice low. "I met Belle LeBlanc when I deserted the Army. She hid me in her barn after I shot Hall, that Confederate Major who was really just a businessman. Later, Belle got me some civilian clothes an' helped me escape."


Michaela was stunned. "You never told me this before."

"There was no reason to," Sully said.

Michaela probed further. "How well did you know her?"

Matthew interrupted, "We can talk about his later. Tague's comin' this way."

"Time's up," the Sheriff stated. "The train's about t' leave."

Matthew affirmed, "I'm goin' with ya, but I gotta tell Emma where I'll be."

Horace announced, "I'll hold the train a few minutes."

Tague watched Matthew run toward town. "We ain't holdin' the train for him."

They heard the train conductor's voice, "All aboard!"

Horace glared, "The train don't leave 'less I say so."

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

Michaela and Sully sat side by side. She watched the passing landscape. He folded his hands and looked down.

Michaela turned to her husband and touched his shoulder. "It will be all right, Sully."

He forced a smile but said nothing.

She gestured across the aisle toward their oldest son. "Matthew will prevent this extradition."

Sully's eyes reflected his sadness. "Seems like what I did in the War just never lets go o' me."

She assured, "We'll clear all of this up. They obviously have you confused with another man."

He leaned closer and kissed her sweetly. "Thanks for believin' in me."

She spoke softly, "I'll always believe in you."

He sighed, "It's not exactly the way I pictured us spendin' our time in Denver."

"Once we see the governor, we can set the matter straight and enjoy our trip," she replied.

"Governor Pitkin's got no fondness for me," Sully noted.

"Are you giving up?" she queried.

He looked into the eyes he adored, then cupped his hand to her cheek. "Never."

At that moment, the conductor called, "Next stop Denver."

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

Hank stepped across the street and entered the bank. He saw Myra at the teller's window, but Preston was notably absent.

Myra looked up from her ledger. "Hey, Hank."

"Myra." He acknowledged. "Where's your boss?"

"He said he was goin' back t' the Chateau," she revealed. "Said somethin' about celebratin'."

"Celebratin' what?" he asked.

She shrugged. "I don't know. He's been actin' real peculiar lately."

He noted sarcastically. "More peculiar than usual, ya mean?"

Her expression was serious. "If I tell ya somethin', do ya promise not t' say anythin' t' him about it?"

"Sure," he pledged.

She leaned forward, placing her elbows on the counter. "A week or so ago, he got some news that put him in a real good mood."

"What kinda news?" Hank was curious.

Myra described, "Preston said he couldn't discuss it, but when the time came, the information he had would shock this town. Then he told me it would ruin the reputation of one of Colorado Springs' leadin' citizens. Now, Horace tells me Sully might be arrested for murder. You think that's who Preston was talkin' about?"

Hank rubbed his chin. "Could be."

She considered. "I think it is. At the time, Preston seemed happy about this news. He claimed this person's not who everyone seems t' think he is. Why else would Preston be celebratin'? Everyone knows he hates Sully."

Hank nodded, "Ya got a point."

Her lips pursed. "If he's behind this business, I don't wanna work for him anymore. Trouble is, I don't have anyplace else t' go."

Hank tilted his head. "You didn't have any trouble walkin' away from workin' for me."

She frowned. "That was different."

"A job's a job," he said. "But if ya wanna quit Preston, you could always come back an' work for me."

"I couldn't do that again!" she exclaimed. "You know that, Hank. I never wanna go back t' that life...."

He raised his hand to silence her. "I didn't mean that kinda work. You could clean up The Gold Nugget."

"What about keepin' your books?" she proposed. "I kinda like workin' with money."

He pondered. "I'll think about it."

She reminded, "Please don't let on t' Preston that we talked."

"I won't," he agreed. "But I'm gonna go talk t' him t' find out what he knows about the deputy who came for Sully."

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

While Michaela and Sully waited with Tague in the corridor, Matthew went into the Governor's office. It seemed like an eternity before the young man came out. Everyone stood, awaiting his news.

Matthew smiled. "The governor can see us."

"Good," Michaela replied.

"T'morrow." Matthew added.

Tague's jaw tensed. "T'morrow? Why so long?"

Matthew explained, "He's in Leadville. Won't be back until late t'night."

Michaela insisted, "Then we'll see someone else. What about the Lieutenant Governor?"

Matthew offered, "I know a couple of folks I can talk to. I'll see what I can do."

Sully stated, "Let's meet back at the hotel later."

Tague raised his hand toward Sully. "Hold on. You ain't goin' anyplace."

Matthew reminded, "Sheriff, Sully's not under arrest. He can come an' go as he pleases."

"He is under arrest," the lawman noted.

Matthew countered, "He's not runnin' anyplace. He brought his wife here as a Valentine's present."

"How sweet," the Sheriff was sarcastic. "But he's not goin' anyplace without me."

Michaela frowned at the man. "This is a free country, Sheriff."

"Too free for some folks," he sneered.

Sully turned to his wife. "Let's go then."

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

Preston sat at his desk and leaned back in his leather chair. Closing his eyes, he smiled in satisfaction. Everything he had planned was unfolding beautifully. Sully was about to be revealed for the fraud he is. Michaela and the town would soon realize what kind of man he is. Yes, things were working to perfection.

A voice suddenly disturbed his reverie.

It was Hank. "You look pleased with yourself."

Preston sat up. "What do you want?"

Hank joked, "You dreamin' about dollar signs?"

"As a matter of fact, I was thinking about how justice always wins in the end," Preston said.

"Yea," Hank agreed. "'Specially when there's a weasel diggin' around t' find all the dirt on folks."

Preston raised an eyebrow. "Quaintly put, Sheriff. Now, is there a reason why you're here?"

Hank came to the point. "You have anythin' t' do with that Sheriff Tague showin' up t' arrest Sully?"

"Why would you think that?" Preston asked.

Hank shrugged. "It was all nice an' convenient, him showin' up like he did, an' you bein' so helpful t' him."

"As I said earlier, I want to see justice served." Preston tapped the desktop nervously with his fingertips. "If Sully is the man he's looking for, then he should face the strongest possible penalty."

"Death?" Hank posed the question. "Is that what you're talkin' about?"

Preston became uncomfortable in his seat.

"That's right." Hank put his hands on the desktop. "A husband an' father t' them little kids might be put t' death on account o' you. That make ya feel better, banker?"

"Don't try to make me feel guilty." Preston stiffened. "I'm not a murderer."

Hank scoffed. "You really think Sully did that?"

"He's killed before," Preston pointed out.

"So have you," Hank shot back.

"I didn't kill an innocent man," he returned.

Hank's eyes narrowed. "Neither did Sully."

Preston accused. "I remember a time when you were ready to hang him. Have you forgotten the Indian insurrection he incited? Have you forgotten what this town went through? Why are you defending him now?"

"'Cause I know he wouldn't do this," Hank replied simply. "Sully's even saved your life."

"And I have saved his." He rose to his feet. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a business to run."

Hank pointed his finger at the banker. "You think this is gonna make Michaela take notice of ya, don't ya?"

"Don't be preposterous." Preston rolled his eyes.

"That's it," Hank continued. "You think with Sully finally outa the way, she's gonna turn t' you for comfort. Well, she didn't do it all them months when he was hidin', an' she ain't gonna do it now. When are ya gonna get it through your thick skull that ya can't have her?"

"Neither can you," Preston slipped.

"Me?" Hank chuckled. "I already got a headstrong, opinionated woman. What d' you have?"

His volume rose. "Get out!"

"Michaela will hate ya for this, Preston." Hank turned to leave. "Mark my words."

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

Sully closed the hotel door and turned to his wife and son. "What next?"

Matthew sighed, "I can't believe there's no one in this city who can help us."

Michaela pointed out, "We haven't seen the governor yet."

Sully shook his head. "I'm sorry t' put ya through this."

Michaela removed her gloves. "It's not your fault. They obviously suspect the wrong man, but I don't understand why Tague would think you had anything to do with it."

"Someone obviously led Tague t' me," Sully reasoned. "Preston most likely."

Matthew pondered. "How could Preston know anythin' about this?"

Sully frowned. "He's got his ways."

Michaela considered. "Tell me about this Belle LeBlanc."

Matthew agreed. "Exactly how did she help you?"


Sully sat on the edge of the bed and thought back, "After I shot Hall, I threw down my gun, an' I ran. The Rebels were chasin' after me. They got dogs on my trail. I finally threw 'em off, came t' a barn an' went inside t' wait until dark."

Michaela sat beside him and clasped his hand. "Go on."

He continued. "At sunrise, I woke up, an' there was this woman standin' over me."

Matthew remarked, "If you still had on your uniform, she must've known you were a Union soldier."

"She knew." Sully nodded. "Later, she said she'd help me get through t' the Union forces left in Savannah. The main army was headed up toward South Carolina by then. But I told her I didn't wanna go back t' the Army."

Michaela was curious. "Didn't she wonder why?"

Sully swallowed hard. "I started tellin' her about what I went through before joinin' the Army.... how I lost my wife an' baby."

Matthew commented, "So she knew nothin' about you shootin' Hall?"

He shook his head. "No. I was scared. I was hungry. I decided t' trust her, an' she decided t' trust me."

Michaela asked, "What about her husband, the man whom Tague said you murdered?"

Sully replied, "Belle told me he was an invalid, who couldn't leave the house. Every night, she'd bring me somethin' t' eat. She didn't have much, but she kept me hidden in the barn for nearly a week until she thought it was safe for me t' get past any Rebel soldiers. Finally, one night she brought me her husband's clothes. She told me a safe route t' follow, an' I left."

Michaela repeated. "And you never met her husband?"

Sully shook his head. "No. Never even saw him."

Matthew sighed. "None o' this makes sense.

Sully paused to think. "If the murder happened sixteen years ago.... That's when I was there."

A thought occurred to Matthew. "Is it possible Belle told Tague about you?"

Sully considered the idea. "Why would she save my life, then accuse me o' murder all this time later? Why not just turn me in from the start?"

Michaela was curious. "Can you think of anything else? Anything about her husband?"

Sully rubbed his temples, feeling the early pangs of a headache. "Not much." He struggled to recall. "Their farm was spared when Sherman's Army had been through the previous November. Atlanta was back in Confederate hands by Christmas, a while before I even got there. She said the only reason her house was left standin' is that the Union troops were called t' fight some Confederate resistance in Stockbridge. She had a slave who'd run off as the Union Army got closer. She was havin' t' do most o' the work herself."

Michaela noticed the strain on her husband's face. "I know it's difficult to remember someone you met so long ago, but every little bit may help Matthew stop this extradition, Sully."

Matthew concealed his concern. "I'll sure do everythin' I can."

Sully expressed his appreciation, "I know ya will. Thanks."

Matthew gestured toward the door. "Maybe you two oughta eat in here.... if ya wanna be alone. Tague's sittin' out there in the hall."

Sully smiled slightly at Michaela. "Some romantic getaway."

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

Dorothy sat at her desk at The Gazette staring at the printing press. Crumpling the paper on which she had been writing, she sighed in frustration. She stood and walked to the window. A light snow was falling. So much for an early spring, she mused. Her thoughts turned to Michaela and Sully. She had watched the reaction of the town to the argument between Sully and that Sheriff Tague. The idea that Sully could have murdered this man seemed....

"Wait a minute," she said aloud. "While everyone else was surprised, Preston.... he was eggin' Tague on.... encouragin' him t' arrest Sully."

She lifted her pencil and began to write an editorial. She titled it "The Devil Among Us."

"In the history of our town, there have been few men who embody more of what we look for in a neighbor and friend than Byron Sully. He is a gentleman and a gentle man. He is passionate about his family and the land he loves. He would do anything for a friend.

"Is there someone who might be jealous of the respect which Sully commands in our town? Is there a devil among us who would jump at the slightest chance to discredit him? I suggest that there is.

"Many of our citizens saw the commotion on Monday at the Depot when a Sheriff from Georgia attempted to arrest Sully. Everyone for miles around knows Dr. Mike and Sully, and we all know the charge against him is spurious. All but one that is.

"Who would love to see the downfall of our friend? Who craves the attention and esteem of our town and perhaps even the eye of our most respected citizen, Dr. Michaela Quinn? How can such a man even look at himself in the mirror? I won't name him here, but the next time you consider doing business with him, think about when he might turn on you, too."

Dorothy set down the pencil, satisfied with her work. "That oughta get a rise outa folks."

Then she rose to her feet and prepared to put out a special edition of the paper.

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

Colleen joined her young siblings for dinner. Bridget attempted to keep the conversation light and cheerful, while Katie stared absently at her dinner, unable to eat or concentrate.

Bridget noticed the little girl's subdued demeanor. "Eat up, darlin'."

"I will." She sounded less than sincere.

The nanny touched her hand. "You missin' your Ma an' Pa?"

"Yes," she replied.

Josef was not his usual chatty self either. "May I be 'cused, please?"

"You, too?" Bridget frowned.

Katie requested, "May I go brush Ajax?"

Josef said, "An' may I check on Iggy?"

Colleen glanced at Bridget, wondering if the children had heard something at school about events at the Depot. "May I help? I haven't met Ajax yet."

"Sure," Katie nodded as she looked to Bridget for approval.

"Aye, off with ya," the nanny winked.

Colleen helped Katie and Josef with their coats, and they headed out the door. When they reached the barn, the children set about doing their chores.

Colleen broached the subject. "How was school t'day?"

Katie stroked the brush across Ajax, "Okay."

Josef climbed higher on the stall. "Wendell says Papa's goin' t' jail."

"Joey!" Katie scolded.

"It's okay t' tell Colleen." The little boy trusted. "Ain't.... I mean, isn't it?"

"Sure." Colleen sat on a bale of hay.

Katie decided to confide. "Kids were talkin' about some Sheriff arrestin' Poppy. Is it true?"

Colleen attempted to buffer things. "There was a Sheriff who came to town. He.... uh.... he has Pa mixed up with someone else, and Matthew's going to get it all straightened out. That's why they went to Denver.

Josef jumped from the stall and went to her. "I thought they went 'cause o' Val'tine's Day."

Katie sighed, "I bet they're scared."

Colleen reached for the little boy. "They'll get it all worked out just fine."

Josef rested his hand on her shoulder. "Are you gonna stay with us while they're away?"

"Yes," Colleen replied. "If that's okay."

Josef quickly responded, "Sure."

Katie had become quiet.

Colleen stood and went to her. Placing her arm around the little girl's shoulders, "Everything's going to be all right, Katie."

She looked up with reddened eyes. "I hope you're right."

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

After dining with her husband in near silence, Michaela gazed out the balcony window of the hotel room, the very hotel room in which Sully and she had spent their honeymoon. Unlike then, gas streetlights now illuminated the passing people below. She folded her arms across her chest, suddenly feeling a chill. Her mind drifted to thoughts of what could happen if Sully were extradited to Georgia. If Belle LeBlanc, were truly the one who reported Sully, it would be his word against hers, and he had no alibi. What if.... Suddenly, Michaela felt the warm arms of Sully enfolding her from behind. She leaned against his chest.

He kissed the top of her head. "I'm sorry, Michaela."


She pivoted in his arms and cupped his cheek in her palm. "You've done nothing to be sorry for."

He leaned down to sweetly kiss her. "You didn't eat much."

"Nor did you," she indicated.

He drew back and noted the tears forming in her eyes. It broke his heart. Lifting her hand to his lips, he gently kissed her fingertips.

She smiled.

Then Sully grinned. "Someone's got a birthday t'morrow. Wonder if she'll get any interestin' gifts."

Michaela assured, "You're the only gift I want."

"No fair," he frowned. "You already got me.... for better or worse. Remember?"

"I remember." She took a breath, then looked down. "Sully, what if Tague...." She stopped herself.

He lifted her chin with his finger. "You said it yourself. Matthew's gonna take care o' things. This is just a big misunderstandin'."

She knew that her husband had been the victim of misunderstandings before but held her counsel.

Sully peered into her distinctly dissimilar eyes. "You believe I'm innocent, don't ya?"

"Of course, I do," she quickly assured. "With all my heart and soul."

He pledged, "I ain't gonna leave you an' the kids again, Michaela."

She voiced her fear. "What if you have no choice?"

"We always got a choice," he countered.

"No, I mean what if the governor agrees to the extradition?" she asked.

"Then...." He paused to consider his answer. "Then, I'll go t' Georgia an' prove I didn't do it."

"I'll come with you," she quickly added.

He gently rested his hands on her shoulders. "I think it would be better for ya t' stay at home. The kids need ya. The hospital needs ya. Your patients need ya, too."

She swallowed hard, fighting back the fear of being separated from him again.

Sully embraced her. "It wouldn't be for long.... just long enough t' get it all straightened out."

"That could take weeks or even months," she replied. "I should be there to...."

He tersely cut her off. "Michaela, you ain't makin' that trip, if it comes down t' it."

She countered, "You cannot forbid me to go, Byron Sully."

He exhaled in frustration. "You're the most stubborn woman I ever met."

She reminded, "It's that stubbornness that made me a doctor and brought me west."

He raised his volume. "It's got ya int' trouble, too. Now, why can't ya listen t' some sense an'...."

She became defensive. "Are you implying that I do not have any sense?"

"I didn't say that." He suddenly felt the need to escape.

Reaching for his jacket, he quickly put it on and stepped toward the door.

She shook her head. "That's it. Leave. It's your solution when you can't win an argument, isn't it?"

His jaw tensed. "I'm gonna get some fresh air."

Michaela suddenly regretted her words. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...."

Her apology was too late. He had already exited the room with a slam of the door.

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

Sully breezed past Tague in the hotel hallway. The Sheriff quickly rose from his chair and followed.

Two blocks from the hotel, the lawman finally caught up with him. "Where ya think you're goin'?"

"T' get some fresh air," Sully informed him.

Tague doubted. "Yea, well, I don't trust ya."

Sully glared at the man. "Look, I don't know what makes ya think I'm the man who murdered LeBlanc, but...."

He cut in, "You fit the description. Ya had motive an' opportunity."

"What motive?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"LeBlanc caught ya with his wife." The lawman answered.

Sully denied, "I never met the man. He was an invalid."

Tague scoffed, "He was not. He was outa town. He came home an' found ya with his wife."

"That ain't true," Sully denied.

Tague glared. "I got a witness."

"What witness?" He was puzzled.

"Sully!" Matthew rushed forward.

Tague turned to the young man. "I think ya better give your client better advice, son. He was tryin' t' escape."

Sully denied, "I wasn't tryin' t' escape."

Matthew intervened, "Dr. Mike said ya weren't feelin' well.... needed some fresh air. I came t' check on ya."

Sully shrugged. "That's just what I told the Sheriff."

Tague rested his hand on his gun. "Next time, I won't be so understandin'. Let's go back t' the hotel."

Matthew and Sully walked side by side and kept their voices low.

The young man asked, "What did ya tell him?"

"I didn't tell him anythin' except I didn't do it," he replied. "He claims I got motive an' that there's a witness."

"Witness?" Matthew's eyes widened. "Who?"

"He didn't say," Sully informed him. "Look, we gotta start thinkin' about what's gonna happen t'morrow. What if I get extradited?"

Matthew pledged, "Then I'll come with ya. I won't let them get away with this."

Sully pointed out, "Matthew, you can't leave Emma an' Michael. Who's gonna look after them? I been away from my wife an' kids too many times t' let you...."

Matthew interrupted him. "I told Emma before I left that I'd do whatever it takes t' secure your release. I ain't gonna let them do anythin' t' you, Sully."

Sully stopped and turned to his son. "You don't have t' do this."

"I owe you, an' I'll do everythin' in my power t' help ya," Matthew affirmed.

When they resumed their walking, Sully voiced his concern. "How we gonna keep your Ma from comin', if I have t' go t' Georgia?"

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

Nervously, Michaela paced, hoping that Matthew would find Sully quickly. If Tague suspected he were trying to run away, he could....

The door opened. Sully stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind him.

Michaela rushed to him and threw her arms around her husband. "Sully, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for us to quarrel."

"Me neither." He enfolded her in his arms.

"I sent Matthew to look for you," she noted. "I was afraid Tague might think you were trying to flee."

He released her and removed his jacket, throwing it on a nearby chair. Without a word, he walked to the fireplace and held out his hands to warm them. Then he folded his arms tightly against his chest.

Michaela approached and touched his back. "Are you angry with me?"

"No." He did not look at her.

She queried further, "Did Matthew find you?"

"Yes." His reply was terse.

She knew better than to probe any further. He was still upset, more likely at the situation than with her, but it hurt nonetheless. She backed away and went to the balcony window. Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced at her husband. She knew he was brooding. So often in their marriage, he would fall silent, not sharing his thoughts with her. Eventually, he would come around to confiding in her, but the wait was exasperating to her. Why couldn't he just say what was bothering him? A direct approach was always best. But.... it was his way. Her heart ached to tell him how much she loved him.

She sighed and closed her eyes, recalling how much this room, this hotel meant to her. It was where she had let go of all inhibitions about giving herself fully to Sully. They had pledged their hearts in their wedding ceremony. They had pledged their bodies and souls in this room.

A fear began to rise in her. What if Sully had to go with Sheriff Tague? How could she prevent it? How could she help him?

Sully watched his wife, feeling guilty for how things were turning out. He studied her features. There had not been a day in their marriage that he did not pause to think of her.... where she was when they were apart.... what she was thinking.... how much he loved her. Somehow, they had overcome all of the obstacles and misunderstandings in their journey together. But how could they overcome this?

Sully rubbed his upper lip. "Michaela, we gotta talk."

She pivoted and waited.

He took a deep breath. "I don't think Matthew's gonna be able t' stop this extradition. Tague claims he has a witness t' me killin' LeBlanc."

"A witness?" She was taken aback.

Sully continued, "When.... if I have t' go t' Atlanta, I want ya t' promise me you'll stay in Colorado with the children."

"I can't possibly promise that." Her eyes began to redden. "I won't let them do this to you."

His tone was gentle. "Michaela. Please. I couldn't bear for our kids t' worry about both of us."

Her heart sank. He was right.

Then he assured her, "Matthew will come with me."

"You spoke with him about this?" She was surprised.

Sully nodded. "He offered."

She rushed to his arms. "Oh, Sully. This can't be happening."

He held her near. "It don't seem right. But we'll figure out what really happened."

As tears welled in her eyes, she framed his face in her hands. "I can't let you go.... not again."

He lifted his hand to stroke the soft skin of her neck. "Let's not think about it right now. I just wanna hold ya."

They clung to one another for several minutes. The warmth and security of their embrace had a calming effect. Then Sully slowly pulled back and toyed with a lock of her hair.

He whispered near her ear, "Someone's comin'."

She tilted her head quizzically. "Matthew?"

"Nope." He grinned impishly.

At that moment, there was a knock at the door.

Sully instructed his wife, "Close your eyes."

She questioned, "Why?"

"Just do it." He touched her hand.

When he was certain that she could not see, he stepped to the door and opened it. There stood Tague.

Sully frowned. "What d' you want?"

The lawman eyed him sternly. "There's a fella says he's got a package for ya. It's heavy."

"So?" Sully leaned over to view the young bellman standing a few feet away. "Let him bring it on in."

Michaela's back stiffened when she saw Tague. "You are accusing an innocent man. My husband would never...."

Tague interrupted her. "Either you don't know who you married, or ya don't care. Either way, you're gonna find out about southern justice real soon." Stepping toward the door, he stopped and looked at her again. "Enjoy your last night."

Sully prepared to throw Tague out, but the man left on his own.

After tipping the bellboy, Sully turned to his wife. "This ain't exactly how I wanted t' give ya your birthday present."

"My birthday present?" She was overcome. " But it's not until...."

He interrupted her with a kiss. "I couldn't wait. Besides, it's about time ya got this."

She leaned closer to the box. "What is it?"

He lifted the hinged wooden top. "You remember your first birthday in Colorado Springs?"

Her cheeks blushed. "I certainly do. You kissed me."

"A few days before that." He began to remove the straw at the top of the box.

Michaela contemplated, "Before that? Well, I recall that the children wanted to find a suitor for me so that I wouldn't end up an old maid."

He gave her a clue. "Elizabeth sent ya somethin'."

She had a flash of memory. "The china. It was all broken when it arrived. Matthew, Colleen and Brian glued it back together for me."

Sully finished removing the straw and gestured for her to look in the box. "Seems like ya been waitin' a long time for this."

Michaela glanced at the top plate in the box. "Sully. It's Wedgwood china."

"Uh huh," he smiled. "The same pattern Elizabeth sent ya."

She lifted a cup as a tear trickled down her cheek. "It's beautiful."

He was pleased. "Just like you."

"Mother knew it was my favorite," she remarked.

"There's a settin' for sixteen," he noted. "I had 'em send this one for ya t' see. The rest are on the way t' Colorado Springs."

She was surprised. "Sixteen!"

"I figure when the kids are old enough, they'll eat off it. Plus, there'll be the grandchildren...." His voice trailed off.

"Grandchildren!" She raised her palms to her cheeks.

"Well, we already got Michael," he smiled.

"Thank you, Sully," she lifted up to kiss him. "I love my gift."

"You're welcome." He was pleased with her reaction.

She raised an eyebrow. "Can you wait another day for your gift?"

He knew he might not have that day with her. "Michaela...."


She sensed his hesitation, then went to her purse and withdrew a small box.

"Happy birthday," she said as she handed him the gift.

He accepted with a grin. "Hmm. Wonder what it is."

He unwrapped the paper and opened the lid. Inside was a small sliver medallion trimmed with a gold frame. On one side, was the embossed image of two wolves. On the other, were engraved the words: "As wolves mate for life, our bond is eternal. Your adoring wife, Michaela."

When Sully looked at her, his eyes shone with love. A lump in his throat made speech difficult. "Thank you, Michaela."

"One of the students at the Indian School made it." She stepped forward to secure the thin leather strap that held the medallion around his neck. "Let me help you."

When she finished, Sully drew her into his embrace. They kissed, sweetly and softly. Their initial overtures began to ignite a flame within them. He ran his hands lightly down her arms and circled her waist. Next, he lightly trailed his palms up to her breasts. Through the material of her dress, he felt her body's response.

"Mmmm." He spoke near her ear. "Haven't lost my touch."

She closed her eyes, recalling their honeymoon. "The first time you did this, I was so nervous."

He pretended to be surprised. "You still remember? It was a long time ago."

"There are some things a woman never forgets," she uttered. "Even at my age."

He whispered, "You're aged t' perfection."

As his movements continued, she felt herself transported. "Oh, Sully. I remember how we...." She stopped as her body began to respond to his overtures.

He stepped behind her and started to undo the buttons along the back of her dress. His hands slid beneath the material, again making their way to her chest.

His tender tone murmured:

"This hot hard flame with which our bodies burn
Will make some meadow blaze with daffodil,
Ay! and those argent breasts of thine will turn
To water-lilies; the brown fields men till
Will be more fruitful for our love tonight,
Nothing is lost in nature...."

Michaela's voice quivered, "Was that.... Swinburne?"

Before turning her in his arms to kiss her deeply, he identified, "Oscar Wilde."


A warmth began to build in her. She closed her eyes, enflamed by the sensations he was arousing in her. Thoughts of Tague outside of their room disappeared. Sully guided her to the floor near the balcony.

He kissed her neck. "This bring back any more memories?"

Her memories were rekindled. "Yes.... I never imagined what we could do on this floor."

Tempting, teasing with mere touches, he was bringing her to a near peak of passion. It was just as their honeymoon had been. No, Michaela thought. This was better. She knew what came next.

With every ounce of her being, she implored, "Sully, I need you."

"I need you, too." He was pleased at her reaction.

"No." She linked her fingers in his and squeezed slightly. "I need you.... now."

Her emphasis prompted him to smile. "Ya can't wait?"

"Of course, I...." Her body told her otherwise. "No, I can't."

He undid his trousers and slid them past his thighs. His continued maneuvers enticed her to moan softly.

"I'll always love you, Michaela," he whispered.

She enthusiastically embraced him, feeling his aroused body against hers. "And I'll always love you."

He grinned. "No more teasin'?"

Her breath was warm against his cheek. "No more teasing."

He could no longer resist her. His body, too, felt the overpowering desire to share his love with her. As they came together, the outside world disappeared, and only they knew what paradise felt like. In waves of pulsating heat, their souls merged. Their bodies drove them to crescendo after crescendo of ecstasy. Finally, they began to settle, united, bound for eternity, burned into one another's hearts.

Overcome by her emotions, Michaela's eyes welled. She reached for her medical bag to retrieve the wild carrot seeds.

Sully's noticed her tears. "Hey.... what's this?"

She did not reply.

"Michaela.... what's wrong?" he asked. "Did I hurt you?"

"No," she quickly assured.

He lifted up slightly, gently touching the tears. "Then tell me why you're cryin'."

She verbalized her fear, "You think this could be our last time together. Don't you?"

"No," he assured. "I don't think that at all."

She rested her head on his chest while Sully softly stroked her back. "It's gonna be okay, Michaela."

Sully lifted her and carried her to the comfort of the bed. After gently setting her atop the mattress, he secured a blanket over her and positioned himself beside her. Lulled by the beat of his heart against her cheek, she drifted off. Sully rose quietly and went to the desk. From the drawer, he withdrew paper and a pen, then began to write:

"Dear Michaela...."

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

Michaela opened her eyes. Near the bed, the lamp was low, casting just enough light to illuminate Sully's face beside hers. Feeling a rush of love fill her heart, she softly caressed her husband's cheek. He had brought her to this special place once again to renew his love for her. In so many ways, he did that every day. Never in her deepest dreams had she envisioned so many years ago on their honeymoon, what profound completeness she would feel in her marriage. Back then, she had only begun to explore the complexities of her heart. Sully had encouraged her to open it to the possibilities. His wisdom and tender guidance had given her the confidence to venture beyond what books and lectures could impart. He was her teacher, her guide, her compass.


Suddenly, the reality of what could happen to him tomorrow crept into her thoughts. What if Sully were taken from her again? What if Matthew would be unable to prevent the extradition? Memories of Sully's time in hiding years ago prompted tears to form in her eyes. God, how could she go through that again? Being parted from him, wondering if he was safe, not knowing if they could ever be together again.

Instantly, she felt awash with guilt for thinking only of herself. What about Sully? The anguish of separation from his family could spark a more severe bout of melancholia. If he had to go to Atlanta, she was compelled to go with him, but his reminder that she should stay with the children took priority.

Why was this happening to Sully? He was such a good and honorable man. The injustice of this.... At that moment, her thoughts took a different turn. Even if Belle LeBlanc had told the authorities that Sully had shot her husband, how did Tague know to come to Colorado Springs to find him? Had Sully even told her his name or where he was from? It all seemed so....

Sully stirred and repositioned himself. Michaela held still, hoping he would not waken. She snuggled closer, warm and safe in his arms. She would ask him in the morning.

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

A slit of light filtered through an opening in the hotel window curtain and shone in Sully's eyes. He yawned and turned to look at his wife. She was not beside him. He lifted up slightly and saw her standing at the balcony window.

He stretched his arms, then spoke, "'Mornin'."

She pivoted. "Good morning."

He glanced at the clock on the night stand. "What are you doin' up so early?"

"I'm afraid I couldn't sleep," she returned.

He reached for his trousers. "Are ya hungry? I can get us somethin'."

"No, thank you." She looked at him with an anxious expression.

Without words, each knew what the other was thinking. Neither wanted to address their concern over what the governor might rule today. Sully walked to her and embraced her.

Gently kissing her temple, he whispered, "Wanna go for a walk?"

"What about Tague?" she questioned.

Sully teased, "He can be our chaperone."

She turned up the edge of her lips in a half-smile. Then she tilted her head against his chest. Sully softly stroked her long tresses.

Then he spoke, "So? What about that walk with me?"

She gazed into the piercing blue of his eyes. "I'd love to. Where did you want to go?"

He grinned impishly. "Just the park."

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

Katie sat up in bed. The day was dawning, but she had not slept. Thoughts of her father had haunted her dreams throughout the night. She had seen him in a jail. He had reached out to her, calling her his "Kates." Poppy was the only person who called her that. It had been his special name for her since she could remember. And he was her "Poppy." She was the only one who called him that.

She could not imagine her life without her father. Only vaguely did she recall his long absence from home when he had hidden from the Army. During that time, when he had secretly visited, he had made the time so special. She took a deep breath and let out a quivering sigh.

Colleen awoke beside her. "Are you all right, honey?"

Katie nodded. "Yes."

Colleen sensed the contrary. "Everything's going to be okay."

The little girl revealed, "I dreamed about Poppy last night."

Colleen drew her into an embrace. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

Katie's eyes watered. "He was in jail. He called out for me to help him, but I couldn't reach him."

Colleen assured, "I know you're frightened, Katie, but I truly believe that Matthew will get all of this settled, and Pa will be home soon."

Katie felt her heart grow heavy. "I know I gotta be strong for the other kids, but I'm so scared, Colleen. I don't wanna lose Poppy."

"You won't lose him," the older sister comforted. "He always comes home to us."

Katie wiped the moisture beneath her eyes as she stammered slightly. "I.... know Mama's scared, too. I gotta be strong for her."

"It's not so hard to be strong when you have faith," Colleen remarked.

Katie wondered about her meaning. "Faith?"

She clarified the word. "Belief that things will work out for the best."

Katie looked for her assurance. "Do you really think Poppy's gonna come home t' us?"

Colleen tried to sound sure. "Yes."

"Faith...." Katie pondered. "Are ya s'posed t' believe somethin' your heart doesn't feel will happen?"

Colleen smiled and drew back a lock of the child's hair. "The head and the heart are often at odds. The head never wants to have faith, and the heart always wants to. I guess I'm saying they should both have faith."

The child heard voices in the hallway. "It sounds like Joey an' the twins are up."

Colleen offered, "Let's get you ready for school."

Katie hesitated. "Do you think it would be okay if I stay home today?"

"I have a better idea." Colleen paused and took her hand. "Why don't you come to the hospital and help me?"

The little girl's eyes lit up. "May I?"

Colleen smiled, "Of course."

Katie paused as another thought occurred to her. "What about Joey? He's never been t' school without me before."

Colleen suggested, "Why don't we ask him what he wants to do?"

"Okay," Katie nodded.

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

Michaela finished dressing and paused to pin up her hair. She noticed two strands of gray. Shaking her head, she considered her age. Forty-eight years old today. Then she turned to observe her husband. Sitting in a stuffed chair in the corner, he seemed lost in serious thought.


She approached him. "I'm ready for our walk, Mr. Sully."

He smiled and extended his hand. She linked her fingers in his. As she did so, he guided her onto his lap.

He whispered, "You're beautiful."

She informed him, "I found two more gray hairs."

He tilted his head and tried to sound light. "Only two? Seems like ya oughta have more than that just on account o' Noah an' Josef."

Though he attempted levity, she did not miss his look of melancholy. "Sully, we don't have to go, if you're not up to it."

He confessed, "I was just thinkin' about the first time we came here on our honeymoon."

She recalled, "It was quite memorable."

He kissed her hand. "Let's go for that walk."

As they rose, they lingered in one another's arms for a moment. Then Sully stepped toward the door and opened it, only to see the Sheriff sitting nearby.

"Tague," Sully addressed him.

The lawman was awake. "What do you want?"

Sully kept his voice down. "I wanna take my wife for a walk."

He wondered, "Where to?"

"Just a park," Sully replied.

Tague patted the revolver on his hip. "I'm comin' along."

"I figured ya would," Sully shook his head.

He helped Michaela put on her coat, donned his buckskin jacket and escorted his wife down the hallway to Matthew's door. Tague followed. After informing their son where they were going, they headed for the stairway.

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

Sully paused at a park bench and guided Michaela to sit. He gazed over his shoulder to see that Tague had paused, as well.

Michaela was curious. "Sully?"

He sat beside her. "I got somethin' for ya."

"You've already given me my gift," she reminded.

He withdrew some notes from his pocket. "These are from the kids."

Michaela accepted the packet from him and opened each letter. Katie's was well written and from the heart. Josef's was partially scribbled with mixed upper and lower case letters, but the little boy had a way with words. Annie and Noah combined theirs. Michaela could discern only the word "Mama" and knew that the older children had helped them with it.

Her eyes were moist, "They're lovely. Thank you."

He explained, "Katie organized 'em."

Michaela smiled, "She's quite the big sister."

Sully's heart filled with pride. "Yep."

Michaela opened her purse and retrieved another packet of letters. "Your daughter organized this group for you."

Sully smiled and opened them.

His grin widened as he finished. "We're lucky, Michaela. Our children got a lot o' love in 'em."

She nodded. "I believe that's a reflection of us. Don't you think?"

He agreed, "Uh-huh. Except, we spell better."

She smiled at his humor.

As each tucked their letters away, they fell silent.

Michaela decided to broach the subject that had disturbed her sleep. "Sully, did you ever tell Belle LeBlanc your name or where you were from?"

He thought back. "No. Why?"

Michaela noted, "How did Tague know your name or to look here for you?"

Sully considered, "I.... I don't know."

She eyed the Sheriff. "It seems rather suspicious to me."

Sully rubbed his upper lip. "You're right. Findin' me was kinda like lookin' for a needle in a haystack. Unless...."

She wondered why he stopped. "Unless what?"

"Maybe he checked my records at the War Department," he suggested.

"Perhaps," Michaela said. "However, one would think after sixteen years, that would be a lot of trouble to go to."

"We can mention it t' Matthew when we get back t' the hotel," Sully recommended.

Standing, they strolled on a bit farther.

Michaela inhaled the fresh air. "It's a beautiful day."

Sully paused and drew her into his embrace. "We gotta appreciate every day we have t'gether."

His comment sent a chill through her. "We do," she replied.

He toyed with a lock of her hair. "Sometimes we get so busy, we don't stop t' think about things. It's so good t' be alive."

She rested her hands on his arms. "Are you all right?"

"Michaela.... I...." He stopped.

She sensed his torment. "You don't have to be brave for me."

He could no longer maintain his facade, as his voice choked slightly, "I'm so sorry t' put you through this."

She held back her tears to utter, "Sully, you can't give up. Matthew will find a way."

His reddened eyes filled with anguish. "I don't wanna give up. But.... I don't wanna put you an' the kids through somethin' like this.... havin' t' defend my name an' reputation."

"You haven't done anything wrong," she reminded.

He sighed, "That don't seem t' matter."

Her voice was firm. "Sully, we'll get through this, just as we always have. We're a team. Remember?"

He swallowed hard, resolving to be strong for his wife.

He kissed the palm of her hand. "I've put ya through so much in our marriage.... worried ya somethin' awful."

She affirmed, "I would not trade one second of our life together."

He thought back. "That man I was sixteen years ago.... he don't exist anymore. I was nothin' 'til I met you."

"Yes, you were," she insisted. "You were, and still are, a good and decent man.... the most honorable man I've ever known. You didn't commit this crime, and Matthew will see that the truth comes out."

He took a deep breath. "It's gonna be hard."

She lifted the medallion resting against his chest and kissed it. "This is my pledge to you. No matter what happens, no matter how long it takes to clear this up, I'll be with you."

"I don't know what I did t' deserve you." Sully enfolded her in his arms.

She smiled, "I often ask that very question about you. What did I ever do to deserve such a wonderful husband?"

The heaviness in his heart began to lift. "I don't know how ya do it, Michaela."

"Do what?" She tilted her head.

He gazed at her adoringly. "Make me feel better."

She peered into his eyes. "We're so very blessed, Sully. We have an incredible love that defies description. We have a family who completes that love. That's what we must focus on.... all that we have."

"I know." He nodded. "An' I'll do anythin' t' keep from losin' it."

She touched her hand to his heart. "You'll never lose us."

Michaela noticed Tague edging closer. "Come, let's return to the hotel."

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

Preston sat at his bank desk, perusing Dorothy's editorial in The Gazette. How dare the woman suggest that he....

"Humph." He slammed the paper onto his desk.

Myra approached him. "Somethin' wrong?"

He remarked, "Dorothy has a lot of nerve."

She was puzzled. "What are ya talkin' about?"

"This." He pointed his finger at the editorial page of The Gazette.

Myra lifted it and scanned the writing. "Sounds like the truth t' me."

"Truth?" His mouth was agape.

"Jealousy's a powerful thing," she responded.

Preston stood up and began to pace. "She makes it sound like Sully is being framed. The man committed murder. How can anyone defend that?"

Myra frowned. "It don't sound like she's defendin' a murderer. She's defendin' Sully."

"It's one and the same, my dear." He folded his arms. "I don't understand the allure of this man."

"Allure?" Myra was uncertain.

Preston clarified, "What is his appeal? He is uncivilized, unrefined, and uncouth."

Myra returned, "That sounds like most o' the men I met in my life. Believe me, Sully ain't like them. He shows respect t' everyone, treats 'em equal, too."

Preston raised an eyebrow. "Et tu, Brute?"

"Huh?" Myra tilted her head.

"Never mind," Preston sighed.

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

As Michaela sat beside the fireplace in their hotel suite, she inquired, "I wonder where Matthew could be."

Sully speculated, "Maybe he went for a bite t' eat."

At that moment, there was a knock at the door. Michaela stood.

"No." Sully stepped to block her. "It might be Tague. I don't want him talkin' t' you."

She put her hands on her hips. "Why not?"

"Because I don't like how he speaks to ya," Sully answered. "He don't show ya proper respect."

Michaela stood aside and watched Sully near the door. He paused to take a deep breath, then opened it.

There stood Matthew. "Mornin', Sully. How ya doin'?"

"Okay," he patted the young man's shoulder.

Matthew asked, "Is Ma up?"

"Yea." Sully gestured. "Come on in."

Matthew entered the room. "Hey, Ma. How are you this mornin'?"

She acknowledged. "Fine, thank you."

Matthew withdrew a small package from his pocket. "Happy birthday."

Her cheeks flushed. "Matthew, you didn't have to...."

He cut her off. "We wanted to. It's from Emma an' Michael, too."

She undid the wrapping and opened it. Inside was a handkerchief, embroidered with the word "Grandma."

Michaela's eyes instantly watered.

Matthew joked, "Hey, you ain't supposed t' use it this soon."

She embraced him. "It's lovely, Matthew. Thank you.... and Emma and Michael."

The young man quickly got down to business. "We have a couple hours before our appointment with the governor. I wanted t' go over some contingencies with ya before we leave."

Sully was uncertain. "Contingencies?"

Matthew clarified, "Things that might happen an' how we could respond if they do."

Michaela interjected, "Matthew, have you considered how Tague knew Sully's name or where to look for him?"

The young man's brow wrinkled. "No."

Michaela quickly responded. "Sully never told Belle his name or where he was from. How is it that he became the suspect in this crime?"

Matthew pondered, "That's a good question."

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

When Matthew concluded his address to the governor, the executive sat back in his brown leather chair and stroked his bearded chin.

Then he spoke, "Your argument is very compelling, Mr. Cooper, but I'm afraid the document is legal. I gave my consent to the governor of Georgia for the extradition to take place, and so it will. Mr. Sully can have his day in court in Atlanta."

Matthew began to protest, "But, sir, I don't think...."

The governor rose to his feet, "That's all. Mr. Sully is remanded into the custody of Sheriff Tague."

Michaela shouted, "No!"

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


Outside the governor's office, Michaela and Sully sat side by side on a bench in the corridor. Matthew and Sheriff Tague stood down the hallway in animated debate.

Sully attempted to gauge his wife's reaction. "You okay?"

Michaela clasped her husband's hands. "Sully, I'll get you out of this."

He maintained a calm facade for her. "Listen. I want ya t' send a telegram t' Brian, an' let him know what's goin' on. Maybe with his newspaper connections, he can dig up somethin' t' help."

"Of course." She nodded. "Perhaps he can."

Matthew approached them. "Tague said we're takin' the two o'clock train, Sully. I'm sorry I couldn't delay things any further."

"You did your best," Sully assured him.

Matthew turned to his mother, "Ma, could you contact your sisters in Boston? See if any o' their high class lawyers can help."

"Yes." She took a deep breath, then exhaled through pursed lips.

Sully noted her expression. "Michaela, what're you thinkin'?"

"I'm thinking that there must be something else that can be done to prevent this extradition," she replied.

Matthew folded his arms. "If there is, it's beyond me."

"What about the state supreme court?" she wondered.

Matthew shook his head, "That could take a long time."

Michaela gazed at her husband with a pained expression. "I can't let this happen."

Sully placed his hand atop hers. "Michaela, the only way t' get out of goin' is t' run, an' I won't do that again."

Michaela sighed in frustration. "We're missing something. I know we are. Who gave Tague the information that led him to Colorado?"

Matthew encouraged her. "See what you can find out. Miss Dorothy might be able t' help. Hank, too. Tague might've said somethin'."

"That's true," Michaela acknowledged.

Matthew requested of his mother, "Could you look in on Emma an' Michael for me?"

Michaela embraced him. "Of course. Oh, Matthew, I appreciate what you're doing."

A clerk stepped from the governor's office. "Mr. Sully and Sheriff Tague. There is some paperwork you must sign."

Tague gruffly grabbed Sully's arm to shove him inside the room. Sully began to resist, but Matthew interceded.

The young man counseled. "It's okay, Sully. Go ahead."

Sully's jaw tensed as he departed with Tague.

Michaela reached into her purse, removing all of the cash that she had. "Take this, Matthew. It will pay for your expenses until I can send more. Let me know where you are staying as soon as you get there."

"Ma...." He hesitated. "This is too much."

"No." She closed his hand on the money. "Use it on whatever it takes to secure Sully's release."

The young man reluctantly accepted. "Okay. I'll wire you every day t' let ya know what's happenin'."

"Take care of him." She embraced him. "And take care of yourself."

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

In their hotel room, Michaela watched in silence as Sully separated his clothes from hers. Then he placed his belongings in a bag which Tague had provided.

When finished, Sully pivoted to face her. "I guess that's all."

She choked back her tears. "I can't believe this is happening."

He removed the medallion from his neck. "I think you better keep this. They'll likely take it from me in jail."

"No," she spoke softly. "It's to remind you."

Sully placed it in her palm, then gently drew her hand against his heart. "I don't need remindin'. I got ya right here."

She closed her eyes, unable to prevent her tears from falling more freely. "Oh, Sully."

"Shh." He cupped his hand to her head as it rested against his chest. "I'll be home soon as I can. It's just gonna take a while longer than we thought."

She drew in a deep breath to steel herself for their parting. "We only have an hour."

He nodded as he tenderly kissed her forehead. "An hour can be a lifetime."

She looked at him. "Please, let me come with you."

"No." His tone was gentle. "You know that wouldn't be good for the children. Promise me ya won't come."

"I won't let them convict you," she pledged. "I'll do whatever it takes to bring you back to me."

He held up his finger near her lips. "Promise me. I don't wanna have t' worry about you an' the kids."

She hesitated, then agreed. "I promise."


He leaned in to kiss her. Michaela framed the sides of his face with her hands and deepened their contact. A swell of electricity engulfed them. They desperately sought to communicate their profound love.

Warmed by their contact, Michaela undid several buttons on his shirt and kissed his chest. Sully shut his eyes to savor her tantalizing lips on his flesh. He wanted to remember this moment forever.

He ran his finger along the line of her jaw. "I'll always love you, Michaela."

Before she could say another word, she felt his hands gathering up the material of her dress. A surge of heat enflamed her body. His hand found her undergarments and began to separate them.

Suddenly, he stopped. "No, I can't do this t' you. Not like this."

Her racing heart skipped a beat. "What?"

He stepped back, ashamed of his movements. "This ain't right. I'm actin' like some kinda animal. I wanted our time here t' be romantic an'...."

Michaela interrupted him with a kiss. "You are the most romantic husband a woman could ever wish for."

He looked away. "I just needed ya.... needed t' feel close one more time. I'm sorry, Michaela."

With her index finger, she guided his chin to face her. "You have nothing to be sorry for. I need to feel close to you, as well."

As he gazed at her, his longing shone through his eyes. "You're as beautiful now as the day I first saw ya."

Michaela took his hand and kissed the tips of his fingers. Then she guided his hand back to where it had been exploring a few moments earlier. She closed her eyes, moaning softly as he found her most sensitive spot. Sully began to kiss her again. Michaela ran her fingers through his long locks.

She whispered near the lobe of his ear, "I'll always love you, too."

Sully urgently backed her against the wall, both nearly panting for air. He kissed her lips, her chin, her neck. Then with both hands he began to undo the front of her dress. His fingers fumbled over the buttons. Michaela reached down to help him. Finally free of the stiff material, her body craved his kisses. Sully caressed her breasts, then his lips aroused them further.

Michaela's hands found the front of his trousers. She undid each button, pausing to catch her breath. After the last, she tugged at the pants and they fell, revealing the full measure of his desire. Her cheeks flushed when she felt him touch her.

One more gaze into the other's hungry eyes sealed their invitation to the other. As Sully pressed against her, Michaela arched her back to open her body to his. A wet warmth reached into her, building in heated intensity until they both found their raptured release. They clung to one another, prolonging their connection. Then both felt the salty taste of tears on their cheeks.

Sully tenderly kissed the moisture beneath her eyes. "Never forget me, Michaela."

She softly touched his tears. "Never, Sully. You'll always be part of me."

He started to step back.

"No." Michaela circled his waist to hold him close. "Please, not yet."

Sully tenderly kissed her again. "I wish we had more time.... I don't wanna say goodbye."

"This isn't goodbye." Her reddened eyes spoke of her profound love.

With a heavy heart, Sully was moved to recite:

"When we are parted, keep for me
The sacred stillness of the night;
That hour, sweet Love, is mine by right;
Let others claim the day of thee!
The cold world sleeping at our feet,
My spirit shall discourse with thine;--
When stars upon thy pillow shine,
At thy heart's door I stand and beat,
Though we are parted."

Michaela peered into his eyes lovingly. "I'm afraid I can't think very clearly at the moment to guess who that was."

"Hamilton Aïdé." Sully identified the poet. Then he stepped back slowly. "I don't want you t' go with me t' the train depot."

She was incredulous. "What? Why not?"

He caressed her cheek. "Please, Michaela. This is hard enough. I want you t' stay here until it's time t' catch your train back t' Colorado Springs."

She nodded silently, not wanting to debate him.

Sully dressed quickly and lifted his travel bag. "Tell the children I love 'em." He struggled hard to find the words to say to her. "Michaela.... I love you more than life itself."

After one last kiss, he exited the room.

With the closing of the door, Michaela leaned her head back against the wall. She covered her eyes, hoping that his leaving was a bad dream. But she knew it was all too real. She began to button up her dress and straighten out her skirt. Then she noticed the wild carrot seeds sitting on the table beside her medical bag. She extended her hand to take them but stopped. With Sully's warmth still engulfing her, she fell onto the bed and began to weep.

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

Sully watched the passing landscape, feeling more alone than he had since the War. He struggled to think why this was happening. Why had the Spirits separated him from his family again? Or was it the Spirits?

Matthew's voice interrupted his thoughts. "You okay, Sully?"

"Yea," he replied simply.

Matthew cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I'm sorry I couldn't prevent...."

Sully interjected, "Don't blame yourself, son. You did your best."

"I did some readin' up on Atlanta before we caught the train," he revealed. "They've rebuilt a lot since the War."

As his son continued to detail the information, Sully's thoughts drifted back to that day when Belle LeBlanc had found him in her barn.

He recalled that she had come in to gather eggs when she found him asleep in the hay. Her gasp wakened him. Sully instantly noticed her beautiful appearance, with long blonde hair cascading down her back nearly to her waist. Her blue eyes did not conceal her terror.

Belle's voice trembled when she asked, "What are you doin' here? We don't have anythin'."

Sully raised his hands. "I'm unarmed. Don't be scared."

"An unarmed Yankee soldier?" She was skeptical. "Where are the others.... your comrades?"

Sully frowned. "I don't have any comrades. I'm alone."

"Are you a spy?" She tilted her head curiously.

He folded his arms tightly across his chest. "I ain't a soldier anymore. I ain't nothin'."

She gestured. "You're wearin' a uniform."

Sully glanced at his clothing with disgust. "Only 'til I can find somethin' else t' wear."

Belle set down her basket. "You're runnin', aren't you?"

"I'm goin' home," he amended.

She inquired, "Where's home?"

Sully paused. "Come t' think of it, I ain't got a home."

She was baffled, "Are you crazy?"

He shook his head. "It might be easier if I was."

Belle stepped closer, daring to trust this lost soul. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes, ma'am," Sully replied.

"I'll get you something to eat," she offered.

Sully gazed up with gratitude. "You ain't gonna turn me in?"

"Not so long as you behave yourself, Yankee." She lifted her basket and rushed from the barn.

Sully felt the jostle of the train as it rounded a bend. He sighed. He missed Michaela and the children already. Each clack of the rails beneath him took him farther and farther from his family. His wrists ached from the cuffs Tague had insisted that he wear. What would he find when he reached Atlanta? A fair trial with an impartial jury? Not likely. Tague seemed certain that he would be convicted.

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

Michaela rested her elbow on the cushioned armrest of the train seat. For the entire trip home, she had clutched Sully's medallion tightly in the palm of her hand. As a tear trickled down her cheek, she dug deeply into her purse to retrieve a handkerchief. It was then that she discovered a letter.

Withdrawing it, she opened the paper and began to read:

"Dear Michaela,

"If you are reading this, it means that Matthew wasn't able to stop the extradition. Before Tague takes me away, I might not get the chance to tell you all that is in my heart. I don't know why the Spirits have chosen this path for us, but I want you to know as you read this, that your love will sustain me until we meet again.

"I can't stand being parted from you. It seems like we're always saying goodbye. It will be agony to not see the children brighten each new day for me. I'll miss watching Katie with her hair blowing in the wind while she rides Ajax. She reminds me of you, with that big grin on your face when you and Flash race across the meadow.

"I'll miss Josef as he asks us to explain why things fall down instead of up or how a mountain lion makes a loud cry. I'll miss Annie as she holds her doll for you to mend a pretend cut and how you hold her so tender when she wakes up crying. I'll miss Noah getting that twinkle in his eye after finally doing something we were trying to teach him, knowing that he could do it all along.

"And I reckon I won't get to see our little Hope when she takes her first steps. At least I got to hear her say "Pa." What a miracle she is.

"I know there will be some part of me, deep down, that will hear their prayers when you tuck them in each night. I'll be comforted with the thought that their lips will utter my name for God to bless. What they don't know is that He's already blessed me.

"Matthew will be with me, and I know he'll do everything he can. Colleen will stay with you to help with the children. I'm so proud of what our Cooper kids have done with their lives. Bridget will keep all of you under her protective eye.

"Michaela, my love for you will cross the thousands of miles that will separate us. The distance can't sever our hearts. It can't deprive me of my dreams of holding you, kissing you, loving you. The memories of the moments I have spent with you will find me in my darkest time and lift my soul to mingle with yours.

"I'll do everything that's humanly possible to come back to you, Michaela.... to watch our children grow up.... to grow old by your side, loving and being loved. But if, and only if, that can't come to pass, never forget how much I love you. My last breath will whisper your name.

"I'm sorry for all the worry I've given you. I apologize for my stubbornness and for the arguments we've had. I regret the times I've hurt you by things I did and things I didn't do. Though I carry many scars on my body, nothing pains me more than that.

"I guess for a man of few words, I've said plenty. If I could, I'd kiss away the tears that you shed on this paper as you read. Know this, Michaela: when you feel alone, look at the sunset. I'll be there. When you watch the rising sun, I'll be there. And when you hear the faintest sound, it's me saying that I love you.

"I'll remain your faithful and devoted husband. Sully"

Her tears did indeed fall upon the page. Just then, the train whistle blew. With reddened eyes, Michaela looked up in time to notice the familiar landmarks of Colorado Springs. She folded the letter and lifted it to inhale the scent of her husband. Then she touched it to her heart and returned it to her purse.

She swallowed hard, wondering what to tell the children. First, she would do as Matthew requested and contact Brian and her sisters. Perhaps one of them would know of a lawyer in Atlanta, or at the very least would have had business dealings there. Maureen's husband owned several textile mills. He might know someone.

When the train stopped, she waited for others to deboard. Opening her hand, she noticed that the medallion had made a crease across her palm. She lifted its leather strap and tied it around her neck, vowing to herself to not remove it until Sully came home. She closed her eyes and uttered a silent prayer for his safety. Then she turned to exit the train.

"Ma!" Colleen's voice greeted her.

Beside her stood Katie and Josef. The children immediately rushed to their mother, who knelt to embrace them.

Josef frowned, "Mama, you're squeezin' me."

"I'm sorry," she apologized. "I'm just happy to see you. How did you know I'd be on this train?"

Colleen answered, "Matthew sent me a telegram. He.... said you might need some help explaining things. Oh, Ma, I'm so sorry."

Katie spoke up, "Colleen said Poppy had t' go t' Atlanta. Is it very far away?"

Michaela explained, "It's about as far as Boston, Sweetheart. Your father wanted me to tell you that he loves you very much, and he'll be home as soon as he can."

Josef's lower lip curled under. "Is he goin' t' jail?"

Michaela's back stiffened. "Matthew has gone with him to help clear up everything."

Josef's shoulders slumped. "Papa's gotta go t' jail for his birthday."

Michaela turned her attention toward the telegraph office. "I need to send some wires. Would you like to come with me?"

Colleen suggested, "Why don't we wait at Miss Grace's? I think some pecan pie might taste real good."

Michaela kissed the children. "I'll join you shortly, my darlings. All right?"

Katie nodded. "Okay."

Josef clung to the skirt of his mother's dress. "I'll come with ya, Mama."

She clasped his hand and smiled at her daughters. "We'll see you soon then."

Michaela led her son to speak with Horace, while Colleen and Katie crossed the tracks toward Grace's.

Preston spotted Michaela as she approached the Depot.

The banker tipped his hat. "Michaela, I'm surprised to see you back from Denver so soon. I thought you and Sully had gone to.... Where is Sully?"

Josef frowned. "It's none o' your business."

"Josef!" Michaela was shocked at her son's rude comment. "That's no way to speak to Mr. Lodge."

The little boy retreated behind his mother.

Michaela addressed the banker. "If you'll excuse me, I have some telegrams to send."

He smiled politely. "Of course." Then he noticed the necklace she was wearing. "That must be a gift from Sully. It's kind of you to wear it, but I believe diamonds would be more appropriate for a woman of your...."

Michaela's eyes filled with fiery rage. "How dare you. My son was right. It is none of your business."

Preston silently retreated.

Josef looked at his mother with a curious expression.

She noticed, "I suppose I don't always practice what I preach."

The little boy smiled, "I never heard ya preach, but I like listenin' t' you more than the Rev'rend."

Michaela smiled at his humor.

The child gestured toward the necklace. "Did Papa give ya that?"

"I gave it to Papa," she explained. "But he asked me to keep it for him until he comes home."

Horace stood at the Depot window. "Hey, Dr. Mike. Sorry t' hear about Sully."

She lifted a pencil and began to write. "Thank you, Horace. I need to send these messages right away."

"Sure thing." He tapped on the telegraph to prepare the line.

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

Sully leaned back in his train seat and closed his eyes. His mind drifted back again to that week in 1865. He remembered being uneasy at trusting this beautiful woman with his life, but he had no choice. Both armies would have been happy to see him executed, the Confederates for assassinating one of their own and the Union for desertion. At that moment, he did not care if he lived or died. Why not just let this woman turn him in and be done with it?

"Yank, you there?" Belle whispered in the darkness.

"Over here," he replied from a corner of the barn.

She stepped closer with a low lit lamp. "I brought ya some cornbread. It's all I could spare."

He sounded defeated. "I don't want you t' go t' any trouble. If you an' your family need it...."

She cut him off. "I said I could spare it. Go ahead an' eat."

He gobbled down the bread in a few bites.

Belle cautioned. "Now, don't go makin' yourself sick."

"Why are you helpin' me?" Sully was curious.

She smiled. "I guess I got a weakness for helpless creatures. My husband, Charles.... He's.... an invalid. I tend the farm by myself."

Sully was interested. "By yourself?"

"Well, uh.... our slave ran off when the Union Army came through," she detailed. "I gotta do most o' the work myself."

The thought occurred to him. "Sherman spared your farm?"

She explained, "His troops were within a couple miles, but they got called t' fight over around Stockbridge."

"You were lucky," Sully knew.

She did not conceal her disdain. "Damn Yankees didn't spare much."

"I hate war," Sully sighed. "The politicians oughta be the ones t' fight it."

"Don't say that." She frowned. "We're fightin' for a glorious cause.... preservin' our way of life."

He did not want to debate her, particularly since she had fed him. "Your husband.... was he hurt in the War?"

She changed the subject. "Listen, Yank, he'll be wonderin' where I am. I better get back in the house. Now, you stay hidden, an' I'll see what I can do t' get you outa here."

He sighed. "I got nothin'.... no one anymore. I lost my wife an' baby girl. Nothin' matters."

She sympathized, "Well, someplace deep inside, you got a will t' live, or else you wouldn't be hidin' here. Maybe one day you can make yourself a new home."

"Home," Sully uttered.

Matthew heard him. "You say somethin'?"

Quickly, Sully was brought back to reality. "I was just thinkin' about home. There was a time, I didn't care about such things. Now, it's all I think about. Katie didn't want us t' leave. She thought somethin' bad would happen."

Matthew sympathized, "I didn't care about things after Ingrid died.... I felt helpless an' hopeless. But family got me through the bad times, an' family will sustain you, too, Sully. This time, ya got a lot t' go home to."

"I know," he replied.

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

March 15, 1881

The Ides of March. A month had passed since Sully had been taken to Atlanta for trial. Matthew was true to his word and wired Michaela every day. And every day, the story was the same. Sully was waiting in the prison for his trial. Matthew had gotten in to see him only once, and that was shortly after he was locked up. Michaela's sisters were out of the country and not due back for another month. She had wired every lawyer with whom her father ever had dealings, but most were elderly now and not able to help. Brian had sent word that he would go to Atlanta, and he was due to arrive there any day.


After a busy day at the hospital, Michaela lay in bed and closed her eyes. She had spent each morning of his absence reading Sully's farewell letter, then telling the children that their father was fine. However, she could see in their expressions that they were doubting her words. She doubted, too. Why was Sully being denied a lawyer? Why was there no trial?

Townsfolk stopped by the hospital regularly with minor ailments. Michaela knew that, in reality, they were there to inquire about Sully. Dorothy had shown her the editorial upon her return. The redhead suspected Preston was behind Sully's arrest, but she had only her hunch to go on. The banker had avoided Michaela since their encounter at the Depot.

Michaela thought to herself, "I have all of this money, and I cannot find a way to.... Wait a moment. Why didn't I think of this before?"

She raised the lamp, reached for a tablet and began to jot down some notes. She would have Horace wire the Pinkerton Agency first thing in the morning. She would employ their services to find out who was behind this. Then she lowered the lamp again.

Suddenly, Hope began to whine softly, "Ma-mam."

Michaela rose from the bed and went to her. "Right here, my darling."

"Wa," the baby babbled.

"Water?" Michaela guessed.

"Ut." Hope reached her arms toward her mother.

Michaela lifted her and carried her to the table. After pouring a small amount of water in a cup, she offered it to her daughter. Hope sipped it, then puckered her lips.

Michaela could not help but smile. "You want to kiss me?"

The baby leaned closer and planted a wet kiss on her mother's cheek.

Michaela's face beamed. "Thank you."

Hope's smile revealed several teeth. The little girl pointed toward the bed, then returned her gaze to her mother. A puzzled expression crossed her face. "Pa?"

Michaela sighed, "He'll be home soon."

The words rang hollow to Michaela. Would he be home soon.... or even at all? He was missing Hope's new words and expressions. He was missing.... everything.

"Sully." Michaela's heart grew heavy.

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

Sully gripped the iron bars that restrained him in the small dark cell. His food rations were meager, and his body ached from the labor they had him doing daily.


They had stripped everything from him. His medicine bag and beads were taken. They had even commandeered the bracelet Michaela had given to him years ago. He had forgotten to give it to her for safe keeping before he left Denver. He figured by now it had been sold. His clothes were replaced with virtual rags.

He had not been permitted to bathe or shave since arriving. He had tried unsuccessfully to contact Matthew. He was not even permitted paper to write to his family. The guards answered none of his questions about a trial.

He closed his eyes, trying to remember what his life was like just a month earlier. An adoring wife.... precious children.... a home....

He sat down on the straw that was supposed to be his bed. Leaning his head back against the cold, brick wall, he felt an overwhelming sense of loss. Everything that gave his life meaning was gone.

He slid down to rest his head on the straw. "Michaela."

Suddenly her voice came to him. "I'm here."

He bolted up. Nothing. He exhaled slowly and positioned himself on the straw again. Maybe he could dream about her.

His voice beckoned anew. "Michaela."

Then he heard her again. "I'm here."

This time he did not lift up or even open his eyes. He did not want the essence of her to depart.

He felt her tender fingertips on his temple as she spoke. "I'll get you out of here, Sully."

"Ya can't." He knew better.

She replied, "You've made the mistake of underestimating me before."

He smiled. "That's true. But.... you don't even know where I am."

She countered, "If I didn't know where you were, I would not be with you now."

"You're here 'cause I'm dreamin' about ya," Sully said.

Michaela fell silent. At first, Sully thought he had wakened, but then she spoke again.

"Open your eyes," she bid him.

"No." He swallowed hard. "I don't wanna lose ya."

"You'll never lose me," she reminded. "Open them."

Tentatively, he did as she requested. When he opened his eyes, there she stood.

Slowly, he sat up. "You're so beautiful."

She extended her hand. "Join me."

"Join ya?" He was uncertain of her meaning."

"Come to me," she whispered.

A powerful longing engulfed him. "I.... I can't.... not like this."

"Like what?" she asked.

He looked down at his clothing. "I'm dirty."

"No, you're not," she shook her head. "Let's go for a walk."

"A walk?" he was incredulous. "Michaela, they won't let me out t'...."

She raised her finger to her lips. "Shhh. Trust me."

Sully lifted up to clasp her hand. When he rose to his feet, she linked her arm in his and guided him to the cell door. With the lightest of touches, she opened it.

He was astounded. "How'd you do that?"

She turned up the corner of her mouth. "I have my ways."

They stepped from the cell, down a corridor and into the bright sunlit day. As they strolled from the building and along the street, no one reacted to their passing.

Sully glanced around in awe. "Michaela, they don't notice me."

"I notice you," she smiled flirtatiously.

"Where are we goin'?" he wondered.

She tilted her head. "I've never seen Atlanta. Perhaps they have a museum we could visit."

He chuckled, "Ya got me outa jail so we could visit a museum?"

She paused to lightly touch his cheek, "Where would you rather go, Mr. Sully?"

He drew her into his arms. "Anyplace you wanna go is fine with me."


Before he knew it, they were in a field full of beautiful wildflowers. From a distance, he spotted something. As they neared it, he realized it was a large blanket. Atop it were a picnic basket, place settings of the Wedgwood china he had given her and lit candles.

"What's all this?" He was amazed.

She explained, "We never got to properly celebrate your birthday. I thought a romantic picnic was in order."

He smiled and gazed lovingly into her eyes. "I ain't exactly presentable."

She touched her hand to his chest. "Look again."

Suddenly, Sully found himself clean-shaven and bathed. Tenderly, he embraced his wife and claimed her lips.

Slowly, he drew back, "If I'm dreamin', I don't ever wanna wake up."

At that moment, the voice of a guard disturbed his dream and brought him back to the stark reality of his jail cell. "You're gettin' a change o' scenery, Yank."

"What?" Sully was uncertain of his meaning.

The guard explained, "We're movin' ya."

Sully stepped back from the cell door. "Movin' me where?"

The man was evasive. "Someplace where that son o' yours won't be so nosy."

"My son...." Sully's voiced choked slightly. "Why can't I see him? He's my lawyer."

"You won't need a lawyer where you're goin', boy," he sneered.

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

Matthew looked at the clock on the mantel of his boarding room. It was after midnight. He had been poring over volumes of books, specific to Georgia law. Sitting up straighter, he rubbed his aching temples. His thoughts turned to Emma and Michael. He imagined that they were in bed blissfully asleep. Michael would be fussing until he had his stuffed toys around him.

All of a sudden, there was a knock at the door.

He stood up, mumbling to himself, "Wonder who that could be at this hour?"

When he opened the door, there stood Brian.

Immediately embracing him, Matthew grinned. "Hey, little brother, it's good t' see ya."

"Good to see you, too," Brian replied.

Matthew stepped back. "Look at ya. You're taller than me now."

The younger brother smiled shyly. "Not much."

Matthew's expression became serious. "I'm glad you're here."

"Ma's telegram said they won't let ya see Sully," he noted.

Matthew sighed, "I got no idea how they're treatin' him. For all I know, they could be torturin' him...."

"Torture?" Brian's eyes widened. "Why would they do that?"

He shrugged. "Who knows? No one tells me anytin'. I ain't seen Sheriff Tague since we arrived. They act like Sully don't even exist. Every time I go down t' the county building, they send me around in circles."

Brian rubbed his chin. "Hmmm. Maybe it's time a reporter started snooping around."

Matthew smiled. "That's what I hoped you'd say."

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

Michaela finally settled Hope into the baby's crib. She turned to get into her own bed, yet knew sleep would not come easily. In the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of the framed edition of The Gazette which she had given Sully for Valentine's Day. Lifting it, she lightly ran her hand across the page. Tears formed in her eyes. Then she heard a light tapping at her door.

"Mama, may I come in?" Katie's voice was a whisper.

Michaela wiped the moisture from beneath her eyes and opened the door. "What's wrong, Sweetheart?"

"I heard you up," the little girl replied as she noticed her mother's reddened eyes. "Can't ya sleep?"

Michaela answered, "I was just up with Hope, but she's in bed now. You should be, too, young lady."

Katie's shoulders slumped. "Yes, ma'am."

Michaela regretted the tone she had used with her daughter. "Wait. I'm sorry. If you can't sleep.... perhaps some warm milk would help."

Katie's face brightened. "Sure would." Extending her hand to her mother, she invited, "Let's go downstairs."

Michaela clasped her hand and tiptoed down the hallway, then descended the steps. Once in the kitchen, Michaela stoked the stove.

Then she noticed Katie's expression and offered, "Why don't you make it for both of us?"

Katie smiled. "Are you sure?"

Michaela touched her daughter's nose. "Yes."

The little girl took over and efficiently prepared two cups. Soon she poured in the warm milk. Both of them sat in silence, lost in their own thoughts of Sully.

Then Katie extended her arm and touched the top of her mother's hand. "Mama, I been thinkin'."

"I know how much you miss your father, Sweetheart," Michaela said.

Katie nodded. "I know you do, too. That's what I was thinkin' about. Maybe you oughta go t' him. I think Poppy needs ya."

Michaela stated, "Your father and I discussed the possibility of my going with him when we were in Denver, Katie. We didn't want to upset you children even more by having both of us away."

Katie pointed out, "But if you went, I know you'd bring Poppy home t' us."

Michaela hesitated. "You know how Josef gets when one of us leaves."

The child rolled her eyes. "Joey's already actin' strange enough. The twins cry a lot, an' Poppy's missin' everythin' Hope is doin'."

Michaela knew her daughter was right. "I'm sorry, Katie. I try my best to...."

"No, Mama." The little girl sensed her mother misunderstood. "It's not your fault. You got a lot on your mind. Ya don't see everythin'."

Michaela was struck by the sudden realization that Katie sounded much like Sully telling her to mind what was right under her nose.

She caressed her daughter's cheek. "You're a lot like your father, you know."

Katie gestured. "You better finish your milk."

Michaela took a sip, then gazed at her oldest child with love. "What about you, Katie? What am I missing in you?"

"Nothin'." She looked away.

Michaela touched her chin to direct Katie's attention back to her. "I may not notice everything right away, but I do notice them."

Katie's lower lip trembled slightly. "I try t' be strong for the kids, Mama. But.... I'm scared Poppy won't come back."

Michaela's heart sank. "Come here, my darling."

The little girl rushed to her mother's embrace. Lifting the child onto her lap, Michaela stroked her hair.

Then Michaela kissed her daughter's temple. "Katherine Elizabeth Sully, you are an incredible little girl. And, it's all right for you to not be strong sometimes. You can always come to me.... always tell me what's on your mind, as you have this evening."

She hedged. "I don't wanna worry you more."

"Katie...." Michaela paused to clasp her hands. "You mean the world to your father and me. You can always come to us with whatever troubles you." Then she smiled. "Even when we're the ones who trouble you."

Katie took a deep breath. As she exhaled, Michaela could feel her body tremble.

The mother whispered. "Sometimes crying helps."

Her eyes began to well. "I don't like t' cry."

"But it helps to release all of the fear and anxiety we feel." Michaela sounded more like a doctor.

Katie leaned her head into her mother's shoulder to let her tears fall freely. Michaela embraced her more fully. As the little girl's body shuddered, Michaela felt her own emotions swell. She wished she could protect her children from this ordeal but knew it was no longer possible. This was all she could do for them. Comfort them.

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

Sully had struggled to stay awake, hoping to discern any landmarks that might give away where he was being taken. However, he had been shackled, put in an enclosed police wagon and blindfolded for the last part of the journey. When he felt the vehicle stop, he listened carefully for any sound.

Two voices spoke in muffled tones. Suddenly, he was pulled out of the wagon. His body bruised as it tumbled to the ground.

He recognized the voice of the guard when he said, "He's all yours."

A woman's voice returned. "Here's your money."

Sully was certain he had heard her voice before.... but where?

He felt someone lift him to his feet.

Then the woman spoke, "Well, Mr. Sully, we meet again."

Sully felt a chill down his spine as he realized who it was.

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

Sully's voice quaked slightly, "Julia Hall?"

She pulled the blindfold from his face. "My, you have a good memory."

"It's hard t' forget the woman who tried t' kill my daughter." Sully struggled to see her face in the darkness. "I thought you an' your brother were in jail."

"Well, thanks to a good friend, I'm free, as you can see," she smiled.

Sully was puzzled. "What good friend?"

"Me." Tague stepped from behind him.

"Tague?" Sully was surprised. "What's goin' on?"

Julia shook her head, "I suppose his harsh treatment in your jail has impaired his ability to figure things out, Jack."

Sully struggled to remain steady on his feet. "Are you really a lawman, Tague?"

"'Course, I am," he defended. "An' I'm helpin' t' bring you t' justice."

Julia frowned, "I don't think Lieutenant Sully understands."

Sully tilted his head, "How d' you two know each other?"

She explained, "Jack and I knew each other well before my incarceration. When I did not return home after so long, he finally tracked me down in Denver and saw to it that I was freed."

Sully probed further. "What about your brother Lyman?"

Julia waved her hand to silence him. "Enough of your questions."

Sully turned to Tague, "Don't you know who this woman is? What she's done?"

Tague grew impatient, "I know who she is, an' I know who you are. Ya murdered Julia's father."

Sully sighed, "That was a long time ago, an' I was set up.... just like...." He suddenly realized. "Just like now, with the murder of Charles LeBlanc."

Julia frowned. "Belle LeBlanc is my cousin, Lieutenant Sully."

"What?" He found the coincidence incredulous.

"That's right," Julia nodded. "Our mothers were sisters, but they had a falling out when we were young, and I hadn't seen Belle for many years. When Jack brought me home to Atlanta, Belle and I renewed our close ties. In the course of telling her what had happened to me, we noted the similar descriptions of that Yankee soldier who had killed my father and the one who murdered her husband Charles. By chance, a Pinkerton detective was also investigating your background, and he confirmed the connection."

Sully was suspicious. "Why was a Pinkerton agent investigatin' me?"

Tague retorted, "Just shows what a wanted man you are. We got ya for two murders."

Sully indicated, "Back in Denver, Tague said ya had a witness t' the murder of Belle's husband. Did ya make that up?"

Julia's eyes filled with disdain. "The witness is the same woman you raped, Belle LeBlanc."

Sully countered, "I didn't rape anyone. I got a right t'...."

Suddenly, Julia slapped him hard across the face. "Shut up. Don't you dare tell me what rights you have."

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

Michaela rolled onto her side and touched Sully's empty pillow. She shut her eyes again, longing to feel the warmth of his arms around her.


Her mind drifted back to the day he had proposed to her. It was in the sweat lodge where she had been tending to his megrim. She had been sitting outside heating rocks on the fire when she heard Sully call her name from within the lodge.

When she had rushed in and knelt before him, he had clasped her hands and uttered the words she would never forget. "I want to be with you. I need to be with you. I will love you all my days. Will you marry me?"

The intensity of his gaze had reached the very core of her soul. When she had given her reply, she was hardly been able to find her voice. "Yes."

The kiss that followed had been the most intense she had ever shared with him. When they had slowly parted, she felt his hand caressing her neck, just below her ear.

Michaela could remember their dialogue as if it were only moments ago.

"Sully...." She struggled to control her racing heart.

His face beamed. "You speechless for a change?"

She touched his cheek. "No. It's just...."

He sat back, taking her hands in his again. "What's wrong?"

Her face reflected concern. "I'm afraid."

"Afraid?" He stroked her arm. "Why? Ain't ya sure about us?"

"Your headache.... the herbs...." She paused. "I simply wanted to be certain that you know what you just asked me."

He grinned, "I asked you t' marry me, Michaela Quinn, an' you said 'yes.'"

She smiled broadly. "So it's not some sort of delirium talking?"

He raised her left hand to his lips. "My mind's never been clearer or focused my whole life. An' one day soon, I'll put a ring on this finger."

"How soon?" She tingled at the timbre of his voice.

He peered into her eyes. "Soon as you're ready."

"Ready...." She began to consider the implications. "We'll have to tell the children."

He agreed, "'Course we will. I'll ask 'em for permission t' marry their Ma."

"Are you certain you want the responsibility of being a father?" she questioned. "I know you've said before that you like coming and going as you please without...."

He leaned closer to silence her with a kiss. "I know what I'm gettin' into, if that's what ya mean. As for bein' a father.... I already feel like they're my kids."

Michaela cast her eyes downward shyly. She had often allowed herself to imagine a life with him ever since Sully had first told her he loved her. Yet, after so many months, she had begun to doubt that he would let down his reserve to propose marriage."

"Hey...." He swallowed hard. "You changin' your mind?"

Her mind raced. Was she ready to live with him, give herself to him so completely?

Sully drew her into his arms. Her reserve began to melt as his lips met hers. They deepened their contact until both felt as if their hearts would pound out of their chests. Sully knew where they might quickly end up if he did not control his body's longing. Much as he did not want to stop, he slowly concluded their kiss.

Michaela felt her head spinning. She swallowed hard, never before feeling the surge of emotions which were engulfing her.

Sully spoke low. "What we got, Michaela.... it's incredible. An' it will get better every day."

She never felt more alive. "I.... I believe you, Sully. And I want you to know something."

He grinned, "What's that?"

She opened her heart to him. "I will love you forever."

Sully caressed her flushed cheek. "I know ya been hurt before.... even by me, but I make this vow t' you. I'll never leave you. I'll never stop lovin' you. I'll never let ya down."

She felt a swell of adoration for him. "I know that with my whole heart."

His eyes peered into her soul. "Your heart means the world t' me, Michaela."

At that moment, a voice interrupted Michaela. "Mama."

It was Josef. She raised the lamp to illuminate the room.

The little boy persisted. "May I come in?"

"Certainly," she whispered as she sat up.

Josef opened the door and sauntered to the crib. "Hope's still sleepin'."

"She was somewhat restless earlier." Michaela began to draw on her robe.

Josef climbed up beside his mother on the bed. "You look beau'ful."

Michaela knew otherwise. She was tired, lonely for her husband and concerned for his safety.

Yet, she smiled at the compliment. "Thank you, Sweetheart."

Josef leaned against her, prompting Michaela to embrace him.

He gazed up with his father's eyes. "Were ya dwreamin' about Papa?"

"Yes." Her voice quaked.

He nodded. "Me, too."

Michaela stroked back the hair from his eyes. "Would you like to tell me about your dream?"

Josef related, "Papa an' me was wrridin' horses. When we got home, he told me I could go huntin' with him. Then he lifted me up t' touch the sky. You think Papa dwreams about us, too?"

"Yes, I do." She struggled to maintain her composure.

The child added, "You think he likes bein' our Papa?"

Her brow wrinkled. "Why would you ask that, Josef?"

The little boy sighed. "I don' know. I guess I jus' don't want him t' forget us."

Michaela ran her hand up and down his back. "Papa will never forget us, Sweetheart. He'll never leave us, stop loving us or let us down. You must always believe that."

"'Kay," he replied simply.

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

Sully felt the warmth of blood on his lip. He decided to not say anything else to further inflame Julia's temper. He would wait, learn their plans for him, then make a move to escape.

As Julia and Tague stepped away from him, Sully listened intently.

Tague folded his arms. "It's all arranged."

Sully was puzzled. What was arranged?

Julia smiled. "Good. Very good. Now, take care of him."

Tague approached Sully. "If you're a prayin' man, you better say a few words. You're goin' on.... a long journey."

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

Michaela stepped up to the window at the Depot, where Horace was busy sorting mail.

She greeted the telegrapher. "Good morning."

"Hey, Dr. Mike." His expression was serious as he stepped closer. "How ya doin'?"

"I'm holding up, thank you," she replied. "I'd like to send a telegram to the Pinkerton Agency."

"Funny...." He paused to rub his chin. "You're the second person in the past few months who wanted t' contact them."

Her brow creased. "Who was the other?"

He stuttered, "Uh.... well.... You know I took an oath. I can't...."

She interrupted, "Horace, your oath is to not reveal the content of telegrams. Correct?"

"Uh-huh," he nodded.

"Well, you aren't breaking the oath if you merely tell me who sent the wire," she explained.

Horace tilted his head to ponder her logic. "I reckon you're right. It was Preston."

"Preston?" Her eyes widened.

He nodded. "Yep."

She probed further. "Do you recall the person whom Preston contacted?"

He considered. "I guess it wouldn't be breakin' my oath t' tell ya who it was."

Michaela encouraged him. "That's right."

Horace stepped to his log book and scanned the contents. "Here it is. H.B. Pierce."

"Thank you, Horace." She unfolded a piece of paper. "I would like to send Mr. Pierce this telegram."

Horace removed a pencil from behind his ear. "You wanna send him one, too? Must be a real popular fella."

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

Preston perused The Gazette. Things had settled down since Dorothy's scathing editorial, and while he was not named in it, townsfolk did seem to treat him differently after it was initially published.

As he took a sip of coffee, he heard the door to the bank open.

He smiled at the visitor. "Michaela. How nice to see you. I do hope you and the children are...."

"Spare me." She raised her gloved hand to silence him. "I understand you recently conducted some business with Mr. H.B. Pierce of the Atlanta Office of the Pinkerton Detective Agency."

Suddenly his shirt collar felt too tight. "Pierce.... uh.... I may have. I often have dealings with Pinkerton agents. Why?"

Michaela leaned closer. "I'm certain that you wouldn't mind sharing with me your reasons for contacting him."

He began to perspire. "I'm afraid that is confidential information."

"Confidential?" She raised an eyebrow. "Could it be that Mr. Pierce supplied you with false evidence about my husband?"

"False evidence?" He suddenly felt thirsty. "That's preposterous. The Pinkertons do not fabricate facts. They are highly reputable. If Mr. Pierce had information, I'm certain that it was true and that he would have been obligated to share it with the proper authorities. Now, if you'll excuse me, Michaela, I have a bank to run."

She placed her palms on his desk and leaned closer. "Do you have any idea what you have done to my family?"

He denied, "I've done nothing. If Sully is in trouble, I can assure you that I am not the reason for it. His past has finally caught up with him."

"His past?" She eyed him sternly. "What would you know about his past?"

"I know what I read in the paper," he replied.

Michaela aimed her index finger at him. "The paper also suggested your complicity, Mr. Lodge."

He countered, "I'm not the one on trial for murder."

"Neither is Sully!" Her frustration caused her eyes to water.

Preston was surprised. "What do you mean?"

"He's had no trial." She wiped the tears from her cheeks, hoping Preston had not seen her moment of weakness.

The banker did notice, and his tone softened. "Well, I'm sure it will be soon, and when he is convicted, you'll finally be able to move on with your life."

"Move on with my life?" She was incredulous. "Sully IS my life."

"Now, Michaela," he paused. "I know you're upset. But if Sully is truly guilty, is he the kind of man you want raising your children?"

Her eyes burned with rage. "He's their father! He's not a murderer! He's kind and loving and...."

Preston sighed, "You think you see that side of him. However, you must admit there have been times when Sully's rage has gotten the better of him. He seems to lack the ability to control it."

Michaela felt her emotions rising. "I can see that I made a mistake in coming here."

"Why did you come here anyway?" Preston questioned.

Her back stiffened. "I came here to look you in the eye and tell you that if you are behind what has happened to Sully, you will pay dearly."

"Really, Michaela." He sounded condescending. "Threats are very unbecoming of you."

"I am not threatening," she avowed. "I am making a promise."

He queried, "And just how would you make me pay?"

"I shall sue you for everything you own," she avowed. "Every penny. I shall see that your bank, your chateau, all of your assets will be sold."

He grinned. "Ah, the taste of being rich has increased your appetite for more."

Her look was stern. "Oh, and when I win, I don't want your money. I'll give every cent to charity."

"Charity?" he chuckled. "What charity?"

She smiled, "I'll let my husband choose."

With that, she turned and exited.

Preston folded his arms and shook his head with amusement. "Oh, Michaela. You are a fiery one. I give Sully credit for one thing. He has excellent taste in women."

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

As Brian finished his breakfast, Matthew withdrew some money to pay the waitress. Suddenly, he spotted Sheriff Tague entering the restaurant.

Matthew whispered to his brother, "Pretend like ya don't know me."

"What?" Brian was surprised. "Why?"

"That man at the door...." Matthew gestured. "That's Tague."

"The man who brought Pa here?" The young man recognized the name.

"Right," Matthew replied. "I don't want him t' know who you are."

When the lawman stopped at their table, he removed his hat.

Brian stood, "It was nice meeting you, Mr. Cooper. Thanks for letting me share your table."

"It was good meetin' ya." Matthew nodded and watched his brother depart. Then he turned to the Sheriff and spoke tersely, "Where have you been all these weeks, an' why haven't I been able t' see Sully?"

Tague cleared his throat nervously. "Uh.... I got somethin' t' tell ya."

"You got a lot t' tell me." Matthew frowned.

Tague interrupted solemnly, "I got some bad news."

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

Matthew eyed the lawman suspiciously. "What bad news?"

Tague hesitated. "Sully escaped."

"What?" Matthew was incredulous. "I don't believe ya. He'd have come t' me if...."

Tague cut him off. "There's more."

Matthew stared at him in anticipation. "What?"

The Sheriff came out with it. "He's dead."

Matthew doubted. "You're lyin'."

"I got the body down at the morgue for ya t' claim." Tague stated.

The young man was stunned. "How'd this happen?"

Tague detailed. "After your visit t' the jail a few weeks ago, Sully started actin' real strange. Wouldn't eat. Acted sick. When a guard took him t' the infirmary, he bolted. I've been tryin' t' track him ever since."

Matthew sat down. "Why didn't you tell me this when it happened?"

Tague stated, "We suspected you might be in on it. I've had men watchin' you. I thought Sully might rendezvous with you, an' the two of ya would take off."

"I can't believe this." Matthew's thoughts raced. He paused to absorb the news. With a sickened stomach, he asked, "How'd he die? Did you have somethin' t' do with it?"

Tague asserted, "I didn't kill him. I found evidence he's been hidin' out in a warehouse near the freight yard. T'day one of the workman reported a man had been run over by a train. When I got there, I recognized Sully, lyin' by the track."

"My God." Matthew shook his head in disbelief.

Brian had been watching from the other side of the room. He debated whether or not to approach his brother. Matthew looked pale and shaken. What could Tague be telling him? He held back when he saw the lawman begin to speak again.

Tague said to Matthew, "You can come with me t' the morgue.... but.... well.... It ain't pretty."

Matthew followed the Sheriff. When they passed Brian, the older brother shook his head for the young man not to let on who he was.

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

At the hospital, Colleen heard a knock at the office door. She looked up, expecting to see Lewis, but to her surprise, it was not he.

"May I come in?" It was Andrew.

She jumped to her feet. "Andrew! Of course. It's so good to see you. I've been worried about you. How are you?"

He spoke softly, "I'm all right. I read about Sully and thought perhaps Michaela might need some help."

The young woman embraced him. "It's been very hard for Ma and the kids."

He relished the warmth of her. "And for you, I would think."

"I'm so worried, Andrew," she confided. "Matthew went with Sully to Atlanta but hasn't been allowed to see him for weeks."

"The paper said Sully was extradited to stand trial for murder," he related.

Colleen shook her head. "There's been no trial."

He was puzzled. "Why not?"

"We don't know." Colleen replied. "We can sure use your help. Thank you for coming."

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

Hank leaned back in his chair, hoping to catch a nap. Ilse had been teething and crying constantly to the point that the only place he could find some peace and quiet was at the jail.

Just has he shut his eyes and found a comfortable position, the door opened. At first, he saw no one. Then, a little head appeared.

Hank wondered, "What the...."

"Mr. Lawson," the young voice spoke. "Can I talk t' ya?"

Hank stood and put his hands on his hips. "Seems like I can't escape kids, even in jail. Ain't you Josef Sully?"

"Yes, sir." He gazed up at the tall lawman.

Hank slid a stool toward the child. "Have a seat. What did ya wanna talk about?"

"My Papa," Josef answered as he climbed up to sit atop it.

Hank pulled out his pocket watch and noted the time. "Ain't you supposed t' be in school?"

Josef raised his index finger to his lips. "Shhh. Please don' tell Mama, but I'm playin' hooky."

Hank sighed. "Great."

Josef explained, "I didn' go back after weecess."

"Mrs. Morales will be lookin' for ya." Hank pointed out.

"She's not there t'day," he revealed.

"Ya know, as the Sheriff, I gotta take ya back." Hank attempted to sound stern.

The little boy's shoulders slumped. "Could I talk t' ya first?"

"Go ahead," Hank began to feel sorry for the boy. "What's on your mind?"

Josef came to the point. "Can you get my Papa outa jail?"

"Who says he's in jail?" Hank wondered how much the child knew.

"Wendell said so," Josef identified.

Hank rolled his eyes. "You gonna take the word o' some kid?"

The little boy tilted his head. "I'm a kid."

"Yea, but you tell the truth," Hank chuckled. "Now, why don't I take ya back t' school?"

Josef's eyes saddened. "Ya can't help my Papa?"

"Sorry." Hank shook his head. "Now, let's get ya back t' school before your Ma finds out where ya are."

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

Brian followed Tague and Matthew from a distance. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the sign above the building which the pair entered. County Morgue. He waited outside, unsure of what was happening.

Inside, Matthew felt queasy from the smell of decaying bodies and the fumes of embalming fluid.

Tague led him to a door. "In here."

Matthew hesitated. Suddenly, he did not think he could do it.

The Sheriff recognized the look on the young man's face. "If ya want, I can arrange for the body t' be buried. I already identified him. The death certificate's all filled out an' signed."

Matthew felt a wave of nausea. "No, I wanna see. Just give me a second."

Tague folded his arms and waited.

Finally, Matthew resolved. "Okay."

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

In her bedroom, Michaela held the sleeping twins in her arms as she rocked them back and forth. Their weight made it difficult, but the little ones sought her attention.

She thought back to her own childhood, when she used to crave the attention of her mother. Elizabeth was always too busy with household matters and planning social engagements involving her older daughters to pay much attention to her youngest. It was Josef Quinn who held a special place in his heart for Michaela.

"Oh, Father," she closed her eyes.

Hearing his mother's voice, Noah reached up and touched her cheek. "Papa?"

Michaela whispered, "I was just thinking about my Papa, Sweetheart."

The little boy closed his eyes again. Michaela kissed his temple. She felt the tingling of her arm as it began to fall asleep.

At that moment, Bridget appeared at the door. "Are these two asleep yet?"

"Yes," Michaela answered. "If you can lift Annie, we can put them on my bed."

Bridget helped her position the twins on the large bed.

"Thank you, Bridget." Michaela stroked the children's hair.

The nanny acknowledged, "You're welcome, darlin'. Can I get ya anythin'?"

"No," Michaela shook her head. "I'm glad I stayed home with them today. Oh, if Horace comes with a telegram while I'm up here, please get me."

"All right, lass." Bridget exited and closed the door.

Michaela made certain that her children were snug on the bed, then after ensuring that Hope, too, was warm enough, she stepped to Sully's dresser.

She opened a drawer and removed one of his shirts. Enfolding it in her arms, she inhaled his scent. Her heart ached. Soon, she thought. She would see him soon. The Pinkerton Agency would investigate, and all would be well again.

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

Tague pulled back the bloody sheet that covered the body on a table before him. Matthew took a deep breath. The face of the man was unidentifiable. The young man felt sick to his stomach as Tague finished revealing the victim.

Matthew recognized Sully's buckskins, medicine pouch, and.... on his wrist was the bracelet his mother had given him on one of their anniversaries. Upon closer inspection, Matthew could see the arms and legs were badly bruised, and the hands were mangled.

Tague spoke up, "Well?"

Matthew nodded. "I've seen enough."

The Sheriff covered the body again, "I made arrangements for him t' be embalmed. They'll bury him in...."

"No," Matthew interrupted. "I'm takin' him home."

He shrugged. "It don't matter t' me."

Enraged by the man's callous attitude, Matthew grabbed him by his shirt. "You son of a...."

"Easy, boy." The Sheriff warned. "No use gettin' yourself int' trouble."

Matthew released him and stormed from the room.

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

Bridget tapped lightly on Michaela's bedroom door and whispered, "Lass, the Sheriff's here."

"Sheriff?" She suddenly thought of Tague as she came to the door.

The nanny clarified, "Sheriff Lawson. He wants t' talk with ya."

Michaela returned Sully's shirt to the drawer and left the room. When she descended the steps, she saw Hank standing in the living room.

"Hank?" Her brow wrinkled. "What's wrong?"

"Nothin'," he noted. "I just wanted t' check on ya."

She folded her hands. "As you can see, I'm fine."

He pointed toward a chair. "Have a seat."

Bridget offered, "Can I get ya somethin' t' drink, Sheriff?"

He retorted, "I doubt if Michaela keeps anythin' I drink in her house."

Michaela sat and looked at him curiously. "How are Lexie and the baby?"

"The kid cries all the time," he responded. "Keeps me up all hours. How 'bout your kids? They cryin' much?"

At that moment, she realized that in his own way, he was checking on them.

"They miss their father, if that's what you mean." She studied his expression.

"Yea, I know," he noted. "I had a visit from your boy t'day."

"Josef?" She sat up straighter.

Hank nodded, "That's the one. Wanted t' see if I could get his Pa outa jail."

"Oh, no." Michaela's shoulders slumped. "Wait a moment. When did Josef come to see you? He was in school."

Hank folded his arms, "You ain't supposed t' know he played hooky."

"Hooky?" She was aghast.

"Go easy on him," Hank recommended. "I took him back. Teresa wasn't there an' I explained t' Isabel what happened. He ain't in trouble."

Michaela felt her eyes welling. "Oh, Hank. I don't know what I'll do if Sully doesn't ...."

He became uncomfortable at the emotions she was showing. "Hold your horses. Everythin's gonna be okay. You know how it is when lawyers get involved. They got two speeds. Slow an' stop."

She composed herself. "I appreciate your concern for my children."

"An' you," he added. "Ya need t' take care o' yourself. Ya don't look so good."

Hank was always painfully blunt.

She sighed, "Yes, I'll take care of myself."

He stood up and rubbed his upper lip. "Well, I best be gettin' back t' town. Let me know if ya need anythin'."

"Thank you, Hank." She saw him to the door.

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

As he exited the morgue, Matthew spotted his brother across the street.

Brian approached him. "What's going on?"

The older brother felt tears forming in his eyes. "Not here. Let's go back to the boarding house."

Brian persisted as they walked. "Matthew, tell me now."

"Not yet." He increased his pace.

Finally, they entered the room where Matthew had spent the past month. He saw the law books resting on a table. Suddenly gripped by rage, he screamed and swept them onto the floor.

"Matthew!" The younger brother was shocked.

He swallowed hard, containing his tears. "Brian.... it's Sully."

Brian's eyes widened. "What about him?" Instantly, he realized. "Wait.... he's .... in the morgue?"

Matthew nodded.

"I gotta see." Brian started toward the door.

"No." Matthew blocked his path. "It's real bad."

Brian felt his cheeks moisten with tears. "He can't be gone. I won't believe it until I see him."

"Ya gotta take my word for it." Matthew hoped to protect him. "Ya can't look at him like that."

Brian wiped his tears with his sleeve. "What happened?"

Matthew detailed what Tague had told him.

Brian became more upset. "What are we going to do?"

Matthew explained, "I told Tague I'd take the body home t' Colorado."

"Are you going to wire Ma?" he inquired.

Matthew posed the question, "Is that how you think she should find out about Sully?"

"But she expects a telegram from you every day, doesn't she?" Brian recalled.

"Well, the train stops every day." He figured. "I'll wire her each time."

"But what will you say?" Brian probed further.

"Look, I don't want her to find out about Sully in a telegram." Matthew reasoned. "It's gotta be done this way."

Brian shook his head. "This can't be happening." He felt another wave of tears. "Ma will be devastated."

Matthew affirmed. "We'll be there t' help her, little brother. We won't let her be alone."

Brian determined, "I wanna stay here."

"Why?" The older brother was surprised.

Brian related, "I want to find out how this happened."

"I told ya how it happened," Matthew pointed out.

Brian explained, "I don't understand why Pa stayed in a warehouse instead of contacting you."

"He probably saw that I was bein' watched," Matthew speculated. "He didn't wanna get me involved in his escape."

Brian still felt uneasy. "Something doesn't seem right."

"Don't ya think Ma will want us both home with her?" Matthew offered.

Brian felt a pang of guilt. "You're right. I better come with ya."

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

Michaela looked up from her dinner to see that the children were not eating. She was not hungry either. She was about to stop Josef from feeding his meal to Wolf, when the front door opened.

Colleen entered the house with Andrew. The children rushed to him. He was warmed by their welcome. Bridget set two more places at the table, and the children flooded Andrew with questions about his life in Evergreen.

Seeing their faces so animated, Michaela smiled for the first time in weeks. Then the emptiness of missing her husband returned. Sully loved to describe his tales of travel to the children, often as he tucked them into bed. Her stomach churned, and she excused herself from the table.

Colleen followed her into the kitchen. "Ma? Are you all right?"

"Yes, Sweetheart. Just a little dyspepsia." She poured some water into a glass. "I'll be fine. Go on back with the children."

"Okay." Colleen departed.

Michaela rested her hands on the table to steady herself. She had been experiencing strange sensations since before dinner. Her instincts.... her connection to her husband.... told her that something was terribly wrong with Sully. She could not shake the feeling.

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

Julia spotted Tague approaching on horseback. She opened the door to her white columned house and met him at the front steps.

"Well?" she anticipated.

"It's done," he nodded. "Oh, I also got a tip from that Pinkerton agent that Sully's wife is askin' questions."

"It doesn't matter." She smiled with satisfaction. "Now I have my revenge."

************
Chapter 11
************

Sitting at her desk in the homestead office, Michaela gazed absently at the calendar. Another week had passed without Sully, another morning of not waking up in his arms. Matthew had continued to send her updates, but there was something different about the messages. They lacked detail and the sense of frustration his earlier wires had contained. He made no mention of what Brian and he were doing.

Feeling queazy, she sat back in the leather chair. She could neither sleep nor eat well anymore. And it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to maintain any sort of routine with the children or at the hospital. Thank God Andrew had arrived. Michaela could not concentrate when she was at work, and he was able to pick up most of her patient load.

Glancing around, she thought about all of the time and effort Sully had put into crafting this room for her. He was so proud of her abilities as a doctor, but Michaela was beginning to feel as if none of that mattered anymore. Without Sully, nothing she did mattered.

She had not heard from the Pinkerton Agency either. That seemed particularly odd. She wondered if Preston had somehow interfered. That man was exasperating. Her feelings of bitterness toward him were growing.

She closed her eyes, overcome by fatigue.

Then a soft, familiar voice came to her. "Mike."


"Father?" She was surprised.

"You're troubled," the voice returned.

"Yes," she admitted. "It's Sully."

"That young man has worried you a great deal over the years." He sounded scolding.

Michaela defended. "It's not his fault, Father. He's a good man."

"I don't dispute that," he stated. "But I hate to see you so forlorn. Tell me what's really bothering you, Mike?"

Suddenly, she felt warm in the calm, secure presence of her father.

"I'm torn," she confessed. "The children need me. The hospital needs me."

The voice spoke with sympathy, "And you need him."

She added, "It's more than that. I have an overwhelming feeling that Sully is in trouble."

"Then go to him," he urged.

She sighed, "He made me promise to stay home."

He noted, "Look at yourself. Where's the Michaela Quinn I know? Where's that woman of determination and gumption? When you believe in something, you'll move heaven and earth to get it."

Michaela knew that she had changed a great deal over the years. "I don't know if I'm that person anymore, Father."

"Then you don't know yourself as well as I know you," he assured. "Don't you remember that child who watched me deliver babies.... who snuck into my office past her bedtime asking me to read a medical journal to her? That same young lady stood up to the medical board and passed her exams with perfect scores."

Michaela turned up the edge of her lips.

"Why are you smiling?" he questioned.

"You sound just like Sully," she returned.

He commented, "Sometimes we have to renege on a promise for a greater purpose. You know that."

A new feeling of determination began to stir in her. "Thank you, Father."

He asked, "For what?"

"For giving me your counsel," she replied. "I think with all of the emotional turmoil I've been through, I had lost sight of what I can do when I put my mind to it."

"You know your heart, Mike," he said. "Follow it."

At that moment, there was a knock at her door. She opened her eyes, disoriented and startled by the sound.

She quickly regrouped and beckoned, "Come in."

When the door opened, there stood Cloud Dancing. Immediately, he was struck by her haggard appearance.

"Dr. Mike?" He hesitated.

She invited, "Please come in. I've been wanting to speak with you."

"I know it has been a long time since Sully was taken," he sympathized.

Michaela replied, "Yes, and there has been no trial. Oh, Cloud Dancing, Sully made me promise that I would stay here with the children." Her voice began to crack. "But I know that he needs me, and I've made up my mind to go there."

The medicine man considered his words carefully. "Do you feel well enough to travel?"

A crease appeared on her brow. "What do you mean?"

He advised, "The Spirits tell me that you are not well, Dr. Mike."

She admitted, "I haven't slept much, and my appetite is nil."

"Will that improve in Atlanta?" he questioned.

"It will improve when I get my husband out of jail," she asserted.

He supported, "If you believe that he needs you, then you must go to him."

"Do your Spirits tell you that?" she wondered.

"They tell me that you and Sully need each other," he replied.

Michaela stood up. "I'm going to speak with the children, then be on the next train to Denver."

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

Brian knew they were nearing Colorado Springs. He looked toward Matthew. The older brother had been quiet most of the morning.

Brian broached the subject that was on both of their minds. "How are we going to tell Ma?"

Matthew's jaw tensed. "I been thinkin' about that."

"And?" Brian anticipated.

Matthew pointed out. "We can't tell her in front of the kids."

Brian exhaled slowly, then nodded in agreement. "Colleen will help us. Bridget will be there. Maybe Miss Dorothy could help, too."

Matthew folded his arms. "No matter who's there, nothin's gonna cushion the blow. Remember when Sully fell off that cliff? Ma wouldn't believe he was dead."

"That was different," Brian said. "We couldn't find his body."

A long pause ensued between them as each considered how to convey the tragedy to their mother.

"I never had t' do anything so hard in my life," Brian sighed.

Matthew pondered further. "What if I go out t' the homestead an' tell her Sully's in town? Then I bring her in, and we tell her. That way the kids won't have t'...."

Brian frowned. "So, we let her think he's alive 'til she sees his body?"

Matthew gave further thought. "The Reverend. He might know how t' help us. We can ask him when we get int' town."

The younger brother noted, "What if Ma is in town and sees us?"

Matthew decided. "We'll have t' take that chance. There isn't an easy way t' do this."

As he concluded his sentence, they felt the train beginning to slow.

Brian gazed out the window. "I remember when I was a kid, I was looking forward to the train's arrival, but Sully said it would bring nothing but trouble. Now, a train's killed him, and another one is bringing his body home."

Matthew observed, "I never thought it would end like this."

"The children are going to grow up without a Pa," Brian stated. "Just like we did."

The older brother countered, "We had a Pa. Sully was ten times the man Ethan Cooper was."

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

When Josef entered her bedroom, Michaela instructed him to sit with his brother and sisters on her bed.

The little boy was anxious, "Miss Bwidget said t' come up here, Mama. What we doin'?"

Michaela lifted Hope and sat beside them. "I wanted to tell you something, children."

Katie immediately concluded. "You're goin' t' see Papa."

Michaela was honest with them. "Yes, Sweetheart. But I don't want you to worry. He'll be home just as soon as possible."

Josef wondered, "Will they put you in jail, too, Mama?"

"No," she assured.

The little boy remarked, "It must be easy t' get in jail."

Katie queried, "When are you leavin'?"

"As soon as possible," Michaela answered.

"When ya be back?" Josef wanted to know.

Noah sensed that his mother was upset. "I come."

Michaela patted his hand. "Not this time, Noah. I need you children to stay home and be good for Miss Bridget."

Katie voiced her approval. "I think you're doin' the right thing, Mama. We'll be good."

Michaela's eyes watered, but she maintained a calm facade. "I know you will."

Annie reached up to touch her mother's tear. "Don' cwy. I make bettah."

Michaela kissed her young daughter's hand. "Yes, Sweetheart, you make it better."

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

Matthew and Brian rose from their seats and slowly made their way to the train's exit. As they stepped down, they saw several men unloading the iron casket from the luggage car. Then they saw Horace approach it with a notepad.

"Oh, no," Matthew realized. "Horace is gonna want t' know whose body it is."

Brian rushed toward the telegrapher to distract him. "Hey, Horace."

"Brian!" he grinned. "It's good t' see ya. Ya been away a long time. Your Ma said you was in Atlanta, but...."

Horace stopped when he noticed Matthew. "Did you boys get Sully free?"

Matthew changed the subject. "Uh, Horace, could you do us a favor?"

"Sure." He readily agreed.

Matthew requested, "Could you go ask the Reverend and Miss Dorothy t' meet us at Jake's?"

Horace nodded. "'Course I will, soon as I take care o' the luggage an' this here casket."

Brian added with urgency, "It's real important that we see 'em now."

The telegrapher tilted his head. "Why?"

Matthew lowered his voice. "Somethin' confidential. We'll let ya know soon as we can."

Horace was reluctant.

Brian stepped closer and gestured toward the baggage car. "I can take down the information for you, Horace."

The telegrapher gave in. "All right, but it's only 'cause it's confidential."

Brian took the paper and pencil from him. They watched Horace cross the tracks and head toward Dorothy's. Quickly, they gathered some nearby men and asked them to carry the casket to Jake's. Brian ran ahead to alert the mayor of their arrival.

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

At the barbershop, Jake was discussing the latest political gossip with Loren when Brian burst in.

Jake frowned without looking up, "Can't ya see I'm busy here?"

Loren's eyes lit up, "Brian! It's good t' see ya, lad. When did ya get home?"

"Few minutes ago," he replied, catching his breath.

Loren noticed. "What'd ya do? Run all the way from Atlanta?"

The young man's expression was somber. "Jake, they're bringin' a casket over from the train."

Jake shrugged, "Ya ran here t' tell me that? Well, okay. Tell 'em t' put it in my back room. I'll take care of it later."

Brian was adamant, "Jake, there's not much time."

Loren noticed the young man's disturbed appearance. "What's wrong? Whose body is it anyway?"

Brian paused, then spoke with trembling voice, "Sully's."

Loren's jaw dropped. "What?"

Jake was shocked. "Sully's dead?"

Brian swallowed hard. "Yes, and Ma don't know it yet."

Loren was stunned. "Good God."

Suddenly, they noticed through the window that Matthew was leading the procession of men carrying the casket.

Loren felt tears welling in his eyes. "How'd this happened?"

Brian related, "The Sheriff in Atlanta said Sully broke out of jail and hid in a warehouse. Then when he tried to jump a train, he fell under the wheels and...."

The young man could not go further.

Loren stood up and patted his back, "I'm real sorry, Brian."

Jake noticed the men were at the door. He wiped his sleeve across his nose and guided them toward the back room with their heavy cargo.

At that moment, Dorothy arrived. "What in tarnation has happened? Horace said there's somethin' confidential goin' on."

Matthew's jaw tensed. "Miss Dorothy.... it's...." He was too overcome with emotion to continue.

She glanced at the casket, then noted the look on the faces of Brian and Matthew. "My, God. It's Sully?"

All nodded in silent agreement.

She sat down, stunned.

It was upon this scene that Horace guided the Reverend to enter Jake's barbershop.

The minister held out his cane to determine when he had reached a clear spot in which to stand.

Horace released his arm, then looked around the room at the glum expressions. "What's goin' on?"

Jake informed him. "It's Sully. He's dead. The boys brung his body back from Atlanta."

"Dear Lord." Reverend Johnson folded his hands in prayer.

Loren recalled, "You said Dr. Mike don't know yet."

Dorothy could hardly speak, "Poor Michaela."

Matthew broached the subject. "Reverend, we were hopin' you might be able t' think of a way we could break this news t' Ma."

"Yes...." He hesitated, still stunned from the revelation. "I.... I think she needs to be told that he's in heaven now. He would want her to be strong for the children."

Brian doubted, "I don't think tellin' her Pa's in heaven is gonna make a difference right now."

Loren agreed. "The fact is, when ya lose your spouse, there's no words that can comfort ya. Ya just have t' tell Dr. Mike you'll be there an' that ya love her."

Dorothy spoke up. "Loren's right. Tell her we'll all be there for her."

Matthew felt a lump in his throat. "I wanna go see Emma an' let her know what's happened. Then, Brian an' me will fetch Colleen an' ride out t' the homestead."

Dorothy volunteered, "I'll come with ya."

The Reverend offered, "As shall I."

Loren added, "I'll come, too."

"Much obliged," Matthew nodded. "But I think it would be best if ya all came by the homestead later in the day." He turned to Jake. "In the meantime, if you could...."

Jake knowingly interjected, "I'll take care of the body."

Matthew added, "I gotta warn ya, he looks pretty bad."

Jake understood. "I can handle it. I'll fix him up real good for Dr. Mike."

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

Michaela finished packing her suitcase. She scanned the room, insuring that she had forgotten nothing.... uncertain of what she would find when she arrived in Atlanta. The sight of the newspaper gift to Sully renewed her courage. This was simply a temporary stumbling block, she told herself. All would be well as soon as she saw him again.

Josef watched her from the doorway. "Mama, can.... may I come in?"

"Yes, of course." She knelt down to greet him.

The child rushed to her arms and embraced her.

She softly stroked his cheek as her voice quivered. "Please be strong for me, Josef."

"I will," he affirmed. "But I want ya t' take someone with ya t' A'lanta."

"Who?" She was puzzled.

"Wolf," he replied.

She held up the medallion on the strap around her neck. "I keep it with me always. See?"

"No." He clarified, "I mean our Wolf."

She hoped to dissuade him. "Our Wolf? Sweetheart, I don't know if they'll permit him on the train. Besides, it's a long trip."

Josef insisted, "He'll help ya."

She sighed, "Josef, I can't take him."

"Please, Mama," he implored. "I feel better if ya do."

Standing, she did not want to argue, "I'll see what I can do. Now, Colleen will be staying with you children, and I want you to..."

His eyes widened, "Is Andwew stayin', too?"

She indicated, "I'm certain that he'll visit."

"Lewis, too?" the child questioned.

Michaela put her hands on her hips. "Why do you ask?"

Josef raised his eyebrows. "That could be twouble."

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

Matthew and Brian waited for Colleen in the office she shared with their mother. The brothers quietly glanced around the room at the photographs. There were pictures of Michaela's medical school class and one with her sisters and parents when they were younger. A photograph that Daniel Watson had taken of her with the Coopers rested on her desk, along with her wedding photo and pictures of the children.

Brian took a deep breath. "This is going to be real hard."

"I know," Matthew returned.

Colleen entered the room. "Sister Mary Margaret said you were here!" She embraced them. "Why didn't you tell us you were coming home? Is Pa at the homestead?"

Their somber expressions soon caught her attention. "What's the matter?"

Matthew spoke first. "It's Sully. He.... he's gone."

"Gone?" Colleen was uncertain. "Where?"

Brian saw his brother falter. "He tried to escape, and.... well, he didn't make it."

"What are you talking about?" Her brow wrinkled.

Matthew came out with it. "He's dead, Colleen. Sully's dead."

She sat down, stunned to her core. "Oh, no."

As Matthew detailed what had happened and how they had decided to bring Sully's body home rather than let the family know in a telegram, tears streamed down Colleen's cheeks.

She shook her head in disbelief. "Poor Ma. She'll be devastated."

Andrew appeared at the door. "Colleen, what's the matter? Matthew? Brian?"

Colleen struggled to speak.

Andrew knelt beside her and embraced her. "What is it? What's happened?"

Matthew replied simply, "Sully's dead."

"What?" Andrew's face paled.

************
Chapter 12
************

With a heavy heart, Michaela gathered the children in her bedroom for a final goodbye. She consoled herself with the knowledge that she would be seeing Sully and bringing him home to them.

"Now," Michaela said as she cradled Hope on her lap. "I want you to be good for Miss Bridget and Colleen."

Katie pledged, "We will."

Josef added, "Or else."

Michaela tilted her head quizzically. "Or else what?"

The little boy shrugged. "I don' know. I jus' heard folks say that."

Noah frowned. "I wanna go. I good."

Katie explained, "We're stayin' here so Mama can find Papa."

Annie wondered, "He hide an' seek?"

"No," Katie patted her sister's hand.

Michaela lifted a list from her night stand. "Now, here are the things that I want you to do daily." She handed the paper to Katie.

Josef peered over his sister's shoulder. "Anythin' there about pokles?"

Michaela smiled. "It's chores and instructions, Sweetheart."

"Oh," Josef nodded.

Michaela looked intently at her children, as if to memorize their features. It could be a long time before she saw them again. Then from downstairs, she heard the front door.

She felt a lump in her throat, "That's probably Colleen. I want you to stay here while I go downstairs to tell her that I'm going to Atlanta. Would you watch the baby for me?"

"Sure," Katie lifted Hope from her lap.

Josef snuggled closer to tickle the baby's side, prompting a giggle from her.

Noah slid down from the bed, and clasped his mother's hand. "Don' go."

Michaela assured, "I'm not leaving yet, Sweetheart."

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

Bridget looked up from clearing the breakfast table to see the Coopers enter the house.

She smiled, "Saints preserve us. I didn't know you boys was comin' home. Dr. Mike was just gettin' ready t' come t' Atlanta." Suddenly, she stopped. "Where's Sully?"

Matthew touched her arm. "Bridget, we got some bad news."

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

From downstairs, Michaela thought she discerned the sound of crying. Perhaps it was Wolf, whimpering to be let outside. She was about to enter the hallway when Bridget appeared.

The nanny wiped the tears from her eyes, and clasped Michaela's hand.

Michaela instantly worried. "What's wrong, Bridget?"

"Dr. Mike...." She choked back her tears.

Josef stepped into the hallway. "Why ya cryin', Miss Bwidget?"

The nanny gestured toward the bedroom. "Inside with ya, Boy-oh. I'll be in shortly."

Even more concerned, Josef reluctantly obeyed.

Bridget calmed herself enough to utter, "Dr. Mike, ya best go downstairs."

"Is it a patient?" She suddenly thought.

Bridget took a deep breath. "Go on, Lass."

Michaela could not imagine what had upset her, but she complied and went down the steps. There, she saw Matthew and Brian standing with Colleen.

Her eyes lit up as she rushed to her sons. "Matthew! Brian!"

They embraced her.

Then Michaela drew back, uncertain of what to think. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming home?"

Matthew pulled a chair out from the table. "Ma, maybe you better sit down."

"Sit down?" She was surprised. "Why? Where's...."

She stopped when she more closely noted their expressions.

Matthew repeated. "Ya best sit down."

She looked beyond his shoulder. "Where's Sully?"

"He's.... in town." The young man hesitated.

She was puzzled. "In town? Why?"

Matthew's tone was hushed. "We came t' take ya to him."

Michaela tilted her head. "Matthew, why didn't he come with you? And what did you say to upset Bridget?"

Colleen stepped closer to her. "Ma...."

Determined to find out why her children were behaving strangely, Michaela reached for her coat. "I don't know why Sully wouldn't come here first, but.... Wait.... is he ill? Is he at the hospital?"

Brian helped her with her coat, "We'll talk on the way."

The four exited into the cool air. Brian and Colleen looked to Matthew, unsure of how he would tell her what had happened.

Matthew paused at the bottom step. "Ma, maybe we could take a walk first."

Michaela was becoming exasperated. "A walk? Not if Sully's in town. The children and I haven't seen him since...." She paused, hoping that they would tell her why they were being so mysterious. "Does he want to surprise me?"

Matthew avoided looking at her directly. She touched his chin to encourage him.

Then she saw the sadness in his eyes. "Matthew?"

His voice faltered. "I'm so sorry, Ma."

She pivoted in time to see Colleen wiping the tears from her cheeks and Brian embracing his sister.

Michaela quickly searched their faces, hoping to catch some glimmer of encouragement. Suddenly, she felt faint. Without words, her children had told her the news she could never imagine.

Her eyes reflected alarm. "He's.... dead?"

Matthew's eyes filled with tears as he nodded. "Yes."

She held his arm and sank to her knees, "No.... no, this can't be true. I would have felt it. I would have known...."

She instantly realized that she had indeed felt it. She had sensed something was wrong. The impact of the revelation was like a blow to her chest. Trying to catch her breath, she fell forward, supported only by her gloved hands on the dirt.

"Ma." Matthew gently tried to lift her.

The world was spinning, and she could only steady herself on the cold ground. She sobbed, incapable of believing that it was real, yet knowing that it was.

Matthew informed her, "He's at Jake's."

"Oh, God." Michaela uttered.

Suddenly, everything went black, and she fainted. Matthew and Brian lifted her, and with Colleen's help, took her back into the homestead. They carried her to one of the wing back chairs. Colleen went to fetch her mother's bag.

Slowly, Michaela began to regain consciousness. Her stomach churned and for a passing moment, she thought she had been dreaming. The concerned expressions on her children's faces quickly brought her back to reality.

"Ma...." Colleen felt her pulse. "Are you all right?"

Michaela closed her eyes, reacting to the sting of her tears. "I want to see him."

She started to rise.

Brian gently guided her back. "Not just yet, Ma. Jake needs some time."

As she absorbed the news, Michaela thought to ask, "How did it happen? Was he ill.... did he...."

Matthew began to explain as delicately as he could. Michaela clutched the wolf pendant around her neck as he spoke. The young man attempted to cushion the blow in his description of the final minutes of Sully's life.

At that moment, a young voice was heard from the top of the steps. "Mama?"

Michaela caught her breath. "Josef, please go back in with Miss Bridget."

The little boy came halfway down the steps. "She's cwyin'. I thinks she needs ya."

The little boy spotted his older brothers. "Matthew! Bran! Why didn' ya tell me you was home?"

Brian went to him and hoisted him into his arms. "Hey, let's go upstairs, an' I'll tell ya all about my trip."

"'Kay," Josef smiled. Then he glance at Matthew. "Then you can tell me 'bout yours."

Matthew forced a smile. "Sure thing, little brother."

Josef patted Brian's shoulder as they climbed the steps. "Did ya see Papa?"

Michaela did not hear Brian's response.

She demanded, "I want to see Sully now."

Matthew clasped her hand. "Ma, it'll take some time for Jake t' work on him."

Michaela shut her eyes tightly, imagining the inconceivable. Life without Sully. Here she sat while someone prepared his body. She should be the one to tenderly minister to him.

Tears streamed down her cheeks. "Oh, God. This can't be happening."

Matthew and Colleen enfolded her in their arms, and they wept together.

Then slowly, Michaela pulled back. "I have to tell the children, but.... I'm not sure how."

Colleen suggested, "It doesn't have to be just now, Ma. You've only found out yourself."

Michaela knew, "They're expecting me to go get their father shortly. I.... I must tell them now."

Matthew nodded. "We'll be right there with ya."

They turned and mounted the steps. When they neared the bedroom, they could hear the hushed tones of Brian talking about the street cars of New York.

Michaela paused at the entrance. Her eyes met Bridget's. The nanny stood and came to her. They embraced.

Then the nanny cupped her cheek. "I'm so sorry, Lass."

Michaela cast a glance toward the children. "Would you stay while I tell them?"

"Aye," the nanny replied.

Brian concluded his tale and stood up from the bed. Then Michaela sat down beside her children.

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

Jake was relieved to find that Sully's body had been embalmed. A couple of years ago, he had read Dr. Auguste Renouard's Undertaker's Manual on embalming. Jake could tell that the mortician who worked on Sully had used the increasingly popular arsenic chemical technique.

Still, he uncomfortably contemplated his macabre work. He had seen casualties of war.... victims of mining cave ins.... men who had been mauled by wild animals. But he had never seen anyone as badly mangled as Sully. His face was not even recognizable. Only the long hair hinted at his identity. The hands and torso were severely damaged, as well.

Matthew was right about Sully's appearance. More than once, Jake had to stop in order to relieve his stomach.

"Poor Dr. Mike." He shook his head. "I can't let her look at Sully like this."

As he dressed and arranged the body in the casket, he decided to drape a dark veil over the upper part to conceal the face. That would spare Dr. Mike from seeing the extent of his grizzly appearance. But what could he do about the hands?

Then it came to him. "Gloves."

The right hand glove slid on easily, but the left was more challenging. Then he saw why. A bracelet.

Jake mumbled to himself, "Just treasure for some grave robber. I best get this off him and give it to Dr. Mike. She'll wanna keep it."

When he had nearly finished his work, there was a knock at the door.

"Go 'way," Jake called. "I'm busy."

Hank ignored the remark. "Dorothy told me about Sully. Can I come in?"

Jake sighed. "You don't wanna see him. It's all I can do t' look myself."

Hank ignored him and entered the back room of the barbershop. "It ain't nothin' I can't...." He stopped when he saw the veil, "What the hell's this for?"

When he lifted the material, the sight immediately sickened him.

Jake was sarcastic. "Now ya know why I covered him."

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

Katie instantly perceived her mother's angst. "What's wrong, Mama?"

Michaela held Katie's hand and took a deep breath. "Children, I have something to tell you. It's about...."

As she looked into their eyes, her strength faltered. She leaned forward on the bed and began to weep.

The children were shocked. They had never seen their mother like this.

"Mama!" Josef placed his hand on her back. "Are ya huwt?"

Hope began to cry. The sound of her baby prompted Michaela to slowly sit up and reach for her.

Katie's heart ached. "Mama, is it Poppy?"

With Hope cradled in her arms, Michaela could only nod in the affirmative.

Josef was puzzled. "Is he comin' home?"

Michaela gently cupped her hand to his cheek. "No, Sweetheart. Papa can't come home."

The little boy queried, "He's gotta stay in A'lanta?"

Katie grasped the reality. "Poppy's dead?"

Michaela embraced the children.

Josef jumped down from the bed and ran from the room. Brian went after him. Hope's crying intensified, and Bridget stepped forward to lift the baby. Katie sat back against the headboard.

Michaela turned her attention to the twins. Noah and Annie were puzzled by everyone's behavior. Michaela lifted them onto her lap and kissed their cheeks.

"I sad," Noah whispered.

"Me, too," Annie agreed.

Katie quietly slipped from their side and went to the window. She drew back the curtain and peered out, daring to hope that this was all a bad dream. Poppy would be riding home any moment.

Michaela glanced at Colleen and Matthew. They nodded to acknowledge that they would sit with the twins while Michaela spoke with Katie.

When Michaela knelt beside her daughter, the child turned to her.

Katie placed her hand on her mother's shoulder. "Where is he, Mama?"

"He's in heaven," Michaela replied.

"I mean his body," Katie clarified.

Michaela answered, "In town."

"With Mr. Slicker?" she reasoned.

"Yes," Michaela responded.

Katie leaned her head against Michaela and began to cry. Once calmer, the little girl climbed atop the bed to embrace the twins. Michaela steadied herself to take leave of them and check on Josef. When she descended the steps, she heard the little boy speaking with Brian in her office.

Josef was scanning the books on his mother's shelves. "There's gotta be somethin' here, Bran."

Brian was uncertain. "Something about what?"

"T' bwing Papa back t' life," Josef noted.

Michaela stepped into the room. Brian's heart ached at the sight of her.

She touched his arm. "I'll speak with him. Could you check on the others?"

"Sure." He kissed her cheek.

Josef pivoted to see his mother. "Mama, I'm glad ya here. I gotta find a book."

"Josef." She paused, searching for the right words.

His brow wrinkled. "I'll make ya stop cryin'. I'll help."

"Sweetheart, there's nothing you or I can do to help." She embraced him.

He countered. "I thinked I heard 'bout someone dyin' an' comin' back. It was in a big black book."

"That was in the Bible." She recognized from his description. "The Resurrection of Jesus."

"The Bible." He nodded. "Can we look in it?"

She gazed into his blue eyes.... Sully's eyes, she thought. "Josef, Papa can't come back to us. He's with God now."

"Then can we go see him?" the little boy wondered.

"I wish...." She stopped herself from speaking what was truly on her mind.

As the reality of her husband's death began to sink in, she wanted nothing more than to die and be with him. Then she realized there was something she wanted more. To help her children in their grief.

Michaela drew back a stray lock of her son's hair from his face. "I'm sorry, my darling, but you can't see him just yet."

Josef touched her temple. "Papa loves your eyes."

Tears again began to well. "I know. I know."

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

Word of Sully's death spread quickly though Colorado Springs. Jake had enlisted Horace, Jake and Robert E to take the casket to the church in a wagon. Hank, Andrew and Lewis joined the men as they lifted it and gingerly carried it toward the church door.

The Reverend instructed, "Put it in the front of the altar. It will be ready for when Dr. Mike gets here."

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

With Colleen beside her, Michaela rummaged through her armoire for the black apparel she had worn when her mother had died.


A white dress caught her attention. "This is what I wore when we arrived home from Boston. Do you remember? After Sully had told me he loved me on the train? I didn't tell him how I felt then. I let him come back here, thinking I didn't reciprocate his feelings."

Colleen recalled the romantic moment, when, after descending from the stagecoach, her mother had rushed to Sully's arms to tell him she loved him, too.

The young woman consoled. "You did tell him, Ma."

Michaela thought back. "I was afraid he would be gone."

"He would have waited for you forever," Colleen remarked.

Michaela stood stoically. "Forever doesn't seem very long now."

************
Chapter 13
************

After hearing of Sully's death, Teresa and Isabel decided to cancel school for the remainder of the day. In fact, most business in town closed. The Reverend opened the church to accept food from the throngs of people who wanted to help Dr. Mike and her family.

A crowd gathered at Grace's Cafe. So stunned was everyone at the news, that they spoke in hushed tones.

Hank folded his arms pensively.

Loren noticed, "What're you thinkin' about?"

The Sheriff reached for a cigar, "I'm thinkin' somethin' don't seem right."

"What do ya mean?" The older man was puzzled.

He voiced his concern, "The way they said Sully died. It ain't logical."

Horace scowled, "What d' you know about logic?"

Hank shot back, "I know enough not t' drive a surrey int' a ditch first time I have it out."

Horace's eyes widened. "Yea, well, ya don't know how t' stay away from skunks."

Dorothy interceded, "Gentlemen. Please. That's enough arguin'. I wanna hear more about what Hank's thinkin'."

Hank explained, "It don't make sense that Sully would break outa jail."

Myra was puzzled, "Why not? Wouldn't he wanna come home t' Dr. Mike an' the children?"

Hank rubbed his chin. "He done enough runnin' an' hidin' from the law. I think he'd wanna do things legal this time. Besides, if he escaped a month ago, why'd he hang around a warehouse all that time? Why wouldn't he find Matthew? Come back here? It just seems strange."

Dorothy tilted her head. "Why would Sheriff Tague lie?"

Hank replied, "Maybe he killed Sully, an' made up this story."

Dorothy questioned, "Why? What would be his motive?"

At that moment, Preston approached. "Motive?"

Hank retorted, "Speakin' of motive...."

Preston looked around. "Why all the glum expressions? What's happened?"

Loren was surprised. "You ain't heard?"

"About what?" Preston grew impatient.

Horace chimed in, "About Sully. He's dead."

Preston's face paled. "What?"

Hank stood up and eyed him. "You have somethin' t' do with it?"

The banker was insulted. "That's preposterous."

Hank observed, "You oughta be happy now, Preston."

Preston responded. "Look, I was certainly no friend to Sully, but I didn't wish this on him.... or Michaela. Where is she?"

Loren felt a lump in his throat. "Right about now, she's gettin' ready t' come int' town t' see her husband."

Preston queried, "How did it happen?"

When Loren finished with the explanation, Preston did not react.

Hank noted his demeanor. "You ain't surprised?"

Preston shrugged, "On more than one occasion, Sully has proven himself irresponsible when it comes to adhering to the law. No, I'm not surprised. However, I am saddened for Michaela."

Loren looked at his pocket watch. "We best get over t' the church. Dr. Mike will be comin' soon.

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

Colleen slowed the surrey to a stop near the church. Several townsfolk approached and helped them from their seats. Michaela nodded somberly to each person as she passed. She did not hear their words of comfort and offers of support. She was only focused on the door. Inside would be her husband.


Her mind flashed back 11 years earlier, when Sully and she had met the Reverend for weekly counseling sessions prior to their wedding. Sully had opposed the idea, believing that they already knew each other well enough. However, the minister had insisted. The more they had talked, the more they realized that there were differences which needed to be resolved. But it all seemed so trivial now.

More than once on Michaela's walk toward the church steps, her legs almost failed her. She reached the railing and took hold. In the doorway, stood Dorothy and Cloud Dancing. Michaela approached them, and for several moments embraced her dearest friends.

Dorothy spoke softly, "Oh, Michaela, I'm so sorry. This is just terrible."

"It doesn't seem real," Michaela replied.

The redhead mentioned, "Jake wouldn't let anyone see Sully until you got here. If ya want, I'll go in with you an' Colleen."

"Thank you," Michaela answered.

Reverend Johnson added, "Dr. Mike, you have my deepest sympathy. I've been praying for you and for the children ever since I heard."

"I appreciate it, Reverend," she returned.

He said, "When you're ready, we can talk about the arrangements for his funeral service."

She shuddered slightly. "Yes, I'll let you know."

Cloud Dancing quietly uttered, "Dr. Mike...."

He could not speak another word.

Michaela looked into his eyes, seeing the same sense of loss that she felt. "You were his brother. He loved you dearly."

Then she took a deep breath. The time had come to see Sully. She felt weak. Colleen linked her arm in her mother's.

They rounded the partition that separated the doorway from the congregation pews. Before the altar, Michaela spotted the casket. Jake stood near the head. His lower lip quivered when he saw her.

Colleen held her mother steady as they walked. When they reached the casket, Michaela collapsed to her knees in tears.

Jake quickly set a chair nearby and helped Dorothy and Colleen lift her to sit on it. Michaela's hands covered her face. While Dorothy offered words of comfort, Colleen approached the casket. She rested her hand atop Sully's gloved left hand.

When she looked at Jake quizzically, he shook his head, indicating that the hands were too badly damaged to leave uncovered. Tears streamed down the young lady's face.

Michaela finally composed herself enough to lift her head. She could see only the edge of the casket, but if she stood, she knew she would have a full view of her husband. She could not bear the thought of it. As long as she did not see him, it would not be real.

But this moment was not going to go away. And so, she forced herself to rise. Now, just a few feet from him, his form came into view.

"The veil...." She glanced at Jake.

He spoke, "I wanted t' protect ya, Dr. Mike. It's pretty bad."

Then she edged closer. Sully seemed so much thinner. She touched the sleeve of his suit, wondering if Loren had supplied it. She ran her hand down to the wrist.

"Gloves?" she asked Jake.

He nodded. "I thought it would be best."

Jake reached into his pocket and withdrew the silver bracelet. "I had a hard time gettin' it off there, but I knew you'd want it."

Her eyes watered. "Yes, thank you." Then she turned to the others. "Do you think I could be alone with him?"

"Ma...." Colleen began to protest.

Dorothy interjected, "If that's what ya want, Michaela. We'll be just outside if ya need us."

They slowly retreated to leave her with the body.

Random thoughts and questions came to her as she tried to absorb the reality of her husband's death.

"Sully, why? Why did this have to happen to you? I.... I don't think I can go on without you."

She reached beneath the veil to stroke a lock of his long tresses. "Your beautiful hair."

Next, she lightly rested her palm atop his chest. "I wanted to come with you. Why didn't you let me? Oh, Sully. You're so cold. So still."

Again, she was overcome by tears. She leaned over his body and wept uncontrollably.

Outside, Colleen heard her mother and started to reenter the church.

Dorothy gently guided her back. "Not yet. Give her time."

She disagreed. "She needs someone in there with her."

"Soon," Dorothy nodded.

In the church, Michaela finally calmed. Then she forced herself to look at Sully more intently.

"We never talked about.... where we wanted to be buried.... I suppose you would have wanted to be beside Abigail and Hannah.... The Reverend will want to know."

Her heart felt as if it would break in two.

"I have so many questions, Sully. I don't know why you escaped from the jail. Was it unbearable? Was it to come home to the children and me? I would have come to Atlanta. I would have brought them to see you."

At that moment, another reality hit her. How would the children react to seeing their father like this?

She lightly touched the veil. She was curious to raise it, but did she want to see what Matthew, Brian and Jake tried to protect her from seeing? She had to look.

With a trembling hand, she drew back the material. His face was swollen, cut and hardly recognizable. Her stomach churned, and she turned away. She could not let his children see him this way. She wanted them to remember him as the most handsome man she had ever met.

She closed her eyes, praying for his soul. Her soul.

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

Brian kissed the top of Josef's head as the child sat on his lap. The little boy had said very little since their mother left with Colleen.

Finally, Josef spoke, "Bran, when can I see Papa?"

"When Ma thinks it's okay," he answered.

Josef glanced up at a picture of his parents on the living room mantel. "Is Mama gonna die now?"

Brian attempted to comfort. "No. She's fine."

"If Mama dies...." The little boy stopped.

"Shhh." Brian assured calmly. "Ma's okay."

"I never heared her cwy like that before." His voice quivered slightly.

The older brother returned, "That's because she's real sad. We gotta help her get through this."

"Get through?" Josef tilted his head.

Brian endeavored to explain. "When someone you love dies, you have to go through a hard time getting used to the idea that they won't be around anymore."

Josef shook his head. "I won' get used t' that."

"That's how I thought when my real Ma died." Brian informed him.

"Miss Charlotte?" Josef recalled visiting her grave.

"Uh-huh," Brian said. "Dr. Mike helped me get through that time. And I'll be here to help you, Josef. I promise. I'll teach you all the things Pa taught me. I'll even take you fishing and hunting."

Josef's brow wrinkled. "I don' wanna do that without Papa."

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

In the kitchen, Katie helped Bridget finish drying the last plate. The little girl had spoken little during the chores.

Finally, Bridget sat and drew the child onto her lap. "Tell me what you're thinkin', Katie girl."

She lowered her head. "I didn't want Poppy t' go. I should've tried t' stop him."

"This wasn't your fault, Darlin'." the nanny assured.

Katie looked up. "I wanna help Mama. I never saw her cry like that before."

"Aye," Bridget nodded. "It's natural t' cry when someone we love dies."

The child thought back. "Mama didn't cry like than even when she lost her babies."

"I have an idea," Bridget suggested. "Why don't we light a candle an' say a prayer for your Papa."

"You think he can hear us?" Katie asked.

"That I do, Darlin'," she affirmed.

Katie questioned, "Is he gonna be with Mother Earth?"

Bridget felt tears welling in her eyes. "He is. Maybe when we finish prayin', you can write him a letter an' give it t' him."

"If he's dead, how can I give it t' him?" She was curious.

"We'll leave it for him," Bridget replied. "If ever a Pa could listen t' his children, it's your father, Lass."

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

Matthew looked at his wife as they tended to the twins. "Emma, I'm glad you came out t' the homestead."

She put her arm around his waist. "I feel so bad about Sully."

"You should've seen Dr. Mike." His heart ached.

Noah looked up. "Papa home?"

Matthew lifted him. "He would if he could, Noah. But he loves you an' he'll always be with you inside."

"I wanna see." Noah touched his chest.

"Me, too," Annie reached up.

Emma drew the little girl into her arms. "You can talk to him, any time you want."

Annie questioned. "In heav'n?"

A tear trickled down Emma's cheek. "That's right, honey. He's lookin' down on you, feelin' so proud of how good Noah an' you are."

Annie looked toward the mantel and pointed at her father's photograph. Then she waved. "Hey, Papa. Lookie. Good giwl."

Emma was overcome. "Oh, Matthew...."

He put his arm around her shoulder. "I know."

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

Colleen approached her mother. "Ma?"

Michaela opened her eyes from prayer. "Yes?"

"Do you want to go home now?" she offered.

"No." Michaela glanced at the casket. "I have to make arrangements with the Reverend."

"You can do it later if you're not up to it." Colleen touched her arm.

She inhaled deeply. "I want to do it now."

"The children...." Colleen paused. "Should I get them?"

Michaela's pained expression spoke volumes. "I think Katie and Josef will want to come. The others are too young."

"Loren offered to get them." Colleen said.

She nodded. "Thank him for me."

Colleen added, "There are a lot of folks outside who have come to pay their respects."

Michaela trembled slightly. "Yes. I'll see them now."

For the next agonizing hour, Michaela stood near the casket accepting the condolences of the townsfolk. All shared with her a story of how Sully had touched their lives in some way. She had always known what a kind and generous man he was, but she never realized the extent to which he had gone for others and had never told her.

At one point, she looked toward the back of the church and spotted Matthew. Removing his hat, he came forward and kissed her cheek.

"How ya holdin' up, Ma?" he spoke softly.

"I'm all right," she replied. "What about the children?"

He informed her. "Katie an' Josef are here. Emma an' Loren stayed home with the twins an' Hope. Bridget came with Brian an' me."

She clasped his hand. "I'll need to prepare the children."

"I'll be here for ya, Ma," he pledged. Then he spoke up to the townsfolk. "We appreciate all of you bein' here, an' Dr. Mike will talk with all of ya before she leaves t'night, but for now, she'd like t' have some time with the kids."

Dorothy took the cue and began escorting people out. Michaela strolled to the back of the church and sat alone in a pew while Matthew fetched the children. Colleen joined her. Finally, they entered the church, with Bridget holding Katie's hand, and Brian clasping Josef's.

When the little ones saw their mother, they immediately rushed to her. Michaela embraced them and kissed their cheeks.

Josef touched a tear beneath his mother's eye. "You been cryin', Mama?"

"Yes," she answered as she straightened his hair. "How are you doing, my darlings?"

Katie answered, "We're okay. Can we see Poppy now?"

Michaela delayed. "I want to prepare you first."

"I pwerpared alweady," Josef noted. "I got a suit on."

Bridget rubbed his back. "That's not what your Mama means, Boy-oh."

Josef tilted his head quizzically. "What do ya mean?"

Michaela sighed softly. "Papa.... well, he doesn't look like we remember him. He was hurt very badly, and.... part of his body is covered up."

Josef quickly glanced toward the casket. "Is that him in the box?"

"Yes." Michaela's voice faltered.

Katie forced herself to look. "Can't we see all of him?"

"No," Michaela shook her head. "But we'll always remember what he looked like. We.... we have pictures."

With that, she lowered her head and struggled to control her tears. Josef patted his mother's back in an effort to comfort her. Katie began to cry, as well. Hearing the soft sobs of her children, Michaela composed herself and enfolded them in her arms.

"Come." Michaela stood and took their hands. "I'll take you over to him now."

Josef pulled back. "I don' wanna see, Mama."

Michaela knelt down. "You don't have to if you don't want to, Josef."

"Will Papa be mad?" he wondered.

"No," Michaela assured. "He loves you, Sweetheart."

Katie took a deep breath. "I.... I wanna see Poppy."

Accompanied by her older sons, Michaela clasped Katie's hand and slowly escorted her to the casket.

************
Chapter 14
************

Katie rested her hands on the edge of her father's casket. "May I touch him?"

"Yes," Michaela replied.

Katie extended her hand and placed it on Sully's. "He looks like he's sleepin'."

Michaela nodded silently.

Katie stared at the veil. "I can't see his face."

Michaela stroked her arm. "Mr. Slicker thought it would be best."

The child understood her meaning. "It looks bad, doesn't it?"

Josef lifted his head from Bridget's lap. "Should I go see Papa?"

"Only if ya want to, Lad," she answered.

Colleen volunteered, "We'll come with you, Josef."

He stood up straighter, then rushed forward to his mother. Michaela placed her hand on his back.

Josef finally worked up the courage to lift up and peer at his father's remains. "I can't see."

Matthew hoisted him higher to get a better view.

The little boy remarked, "I don' like his bed. Papa needs more wroom."

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

Finally after the children had fallen asleep, Michaela was alone in her bedroom. Thank goodness her older children had decided to spend the evening at the homestead. They were asleep, too. Only the crackling of the fire could be heard. Sully and she used to relish this time of evening, spooned against one another, reviewing each other's day, sharing the intimacy of night.

She sat in the rocking chair, holding the silver bracelet which she had given him for their fifth wedding anniversary. She remembered the night she gave it to him. Running her finger lightly across the inscription, she softly read it to herself. "To Byron Sully, beloved husband and father. Forever my love, Michaela." Their hopes were so high back then. Now, he was gone. It was impossible to absorb.

Michaela thought she heard something. She paused. It was only an owl. She gazed down at her wedding band and engagement ring. Turning it nervously, she rose and went to her vanity to set Sully's bracelet atop her jewelry box.

She made several strokes though her hair, then set down the brush. Again she stood. No matter where she looked, her thoughts turned to Sully. She could not grasp the finality of things. She would never see him again. Never hear his voice. Never feel his arms around her. The ache in her heart was infinite. There was nothing she could do to bring him back.

Perhaps if she had been there with him.... Her mind returned over and over to the "what ifs." Each one brought increasing pain.

At that moment, she heard a soft knock at the door, followed by her daughter's voice. "Mama?"

"Come in, Katie," she invited.

The little girl approached her mother and embraced her tightly. Michaela tenderly stroked her hair and kissed her temple.

Katie choked back tears. "I had a dream about Poppy."

"What did you dream, Sweetheart?" she questioned.

Katie's voice trembled. "I.... I dreamed he came home, but he didn't have a face. Mama, I know you didn't want me to look under the veil, but I did when you were talkin' t' folks."

"Oh, Katie," she sympathized as she held her close.

"His face was gone," Katie cried.

Michaela lifted her up and settled her on her lap. "Sweetheart, that's not how we'll remember him."

"But it's what he looks like now," she pointed out.

"Your father is not in that body anymore," Michaela related. "His spirit is elsewhere."

"Where's that?" Katie calmed slightly.

"It's.... it's in heaven, and it's with us," she answered.

The child tilted her head. "How can it be two places?"

"Because it doesn't have to worry about a body anymore," Michaela said. "He's with Abigail and Hannah. He's with his parents and Snow Bird. He's with the babies we lost. All of the people he loved."

"And he's with us, too?" she was puzzled.

Michaela set her down. "Would you get my photograph album from the night stand?"

Katie returned quickly with it.

Michaela opened it and began to point to the pictures of Sully. "See? Look how handsome he was. That's the way we shall hold him in our hearts."

"And if he's in our hearts, he'll always be with us?" Katie surmised.

Michaela nodded. "That's right."

The child felt a little better. "When I get married, I'm gonna name my baby after Poppy, like you named Joey after your father."

Michaela smiled slightly. "I know he would be honored."

"Do you think you'll be okay alone tonight, Mama?" Katie wondered.

"Yes," she assured. "How about you?"

Katie set the album on her mother's vanity. "I'm not alone. Colleen's with me. Remember? I think I'll go to bed now."

"Good night, my darling." She kissed her cheek.


Katie departed, and Michaela turned toward the album again. Scanning each page, she came to a picture taken of Josef and Noah. Such precious little boys. Though they had protested their haircuts, they had sat so still for the portrait.

Her heart sank as she contemplated that their sons and daughters would grow up without Sully's tender guidance. She continued to the end of the book, touching the last picture taken of her husband. Katie's words echoed through her mind. "Do you think you'll be okay alone tonight?"

Michaela trembled and folded her arms tightly across her chest. "I'll never be okay without Sully."

Finally, she allowed herself to lie down on the bed. Then she touched Sully's pillow. Fresh tears came. The agonizing reality of emptiness began to fill her, but exhaustion ultimately claimed her. She fell asleep.


"Michaela...." It was Sully's voice.

She bolted up and looked around the room. "Sully?"

His face was inches away. "I don't have much time."

She extended her arms to him and welcomed his warm body in her embrace. "I thought I'd lost you forever."

"Never." He kissed the palm of her hand. "Never give up on me. Look for me. You'll know it when you see it."

"I'll know wha...." His kiss stopped her.

Slowly, he drew back. "I love you."

"I love you, too," she uttered.

"I'll hold on 'til I see you again," he pledged.

A crease crossed her brow. "When, Sully? When will I see you again? How?"

He placed his hand over her heart. "Promise me you won't give up on me."

"I promise." She kissed him more fully.

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

Morning dawned over Colorado Springs. Michaela opened her eyes, uncertain of the time. She rolled over, expecting to see her husband. The cold sheet wakened her to reality. Sully was gone. Forever. The now-familiar pain shot through her. Sully was gone. He was not hunting or fishing. He was not at a reservation or with Cloud Dancing. He was dead.

Her voice trembled. "Dead. God, it can't be."

The embers in the fireplace were faint. She sat up, and glanced toward Hope's crib. The crib Sully had made first for Katie. The thought of her children growing up without their father filled her with sadness anew.

She focused on the mantel clock. It was going on seven o'clock in the morning. There was much to do, but she lacked motivation to do anything. She wanted to stay in bed.... no, she wanted to....

Suddenly, the dream she had experienced last night crept into her consciousness. What had Sully said to her? "Never give up on me. Look for me. You'll know it when you see it."

"See what?" She rubbed her eyes.

Michaela reached for her robe and stood up to find her slippers. She went to the hearth and stoked what little fire remained. She turned and glanced around the room. Everywhere she looked, from the furniture he had fashioned, to the bed, she was reminded of Sully.

She touched the edge of the headboard. "Oh, Sully. I remember when I found this."

Her thoughts drifted back. It was before Washita. She had brought Snowbird's gift to the new homestead when she had discovered the bed Sully was crafting.

"S'posed t' be a surprise." Sully grinned. "It's your weddin' present."

"Sully, it's so beautiful." Her cheeks flushed at the intensity of his gaze.

He stepped closer, feeling the heat of their proximity. "Will be when it's finished. I figure, we're gonna need a bed."

Feeling herself melting in his presence, she changed the subject. "May I watch you work?"

He smiled at her evasion. "Sure."

After spreading a blanket on the floor for her, he returned to the intricate carving on the wood.

She watched him admiringly. "I was thinking about how lucky we are, to have this house. I can't imagine having to suddenly pack up everything and leave ... It's only been a week, and it feels as if they've been gone a year."

He quickly grasped her meaning. "I miss em, too."

Michaela spoke of her fear. "Do you think they're all right?"

He paused to assure her. "Should be safe at Fort Cobb by now ... Once Custer gets his fill of chasin' Dog Soldiers, he'll move on. Maybe they'll be back."

She avoided eye contact for a moment. "Sometimes I can't help but wonder.... if you wish you'd gone with them."

He moved toward her, sensing the return of her old insecurities about their relationship.

She spoke again, not wanting to be misunderstood. "I mean, they've been your family for so long, and...."

He quickly affirmed, "Cheyenne are my family. Always will be. So are you."


He reached to cup her cheek in his hand as his body quickly filled with longing. "When are ya gonna understand.... my heart's yours now?"

The words triggered a rush of love for him. He tenderly kissed her. Michaela felt her pulse race as something new and exciting awakened in her. Here they were, alone in their new house. There were no distractions or concerns at that moment. The only thing she could think of was him.

Sully knew his body was beginning to react to the scent of her. He nearly pulled back when, suddenly, he became aware that her kiss was just as ardent as his. He had never kissed her this way. She had never responded this way.

Both knew where they were headed, and neither wanted to stop. The heat of their contact was growing, fueled by the intensity of their kiss. Sully felt a long-dormant part of himself awaken. He guided her back onto the blanket-covered floorboards, gently holding the back of her head to cushion her position beneath him.

Their kiss deepened. He could feel her breasts against his chest. He began to breath more rapidly. He knew he would not be able to stop himself if....

Michaela raised her finger to his lips to stop where they were headed and spoke breathlessly, "You'd better get back to work.... or we'll never have a bed."

Completely enraptured by her smile, he dipped his head to her shoulder and groaned. He knew she was right. They had waited this long. They would wait until their wedding night. The taste of what had nearly happened only made them long for that moment even more fervently.

He looked at her again, peering into the eyes he had come to adore. "You're so beautiful."

Her heart skipped a beat. "I never believed I could be this happy ... I love you so much."

Reality quickly returned with a chill, causing Michaela to shudder. She would never say those words of love to him again. She would never again warm in his arms as he recited poetry to her.

"Oh, Sully, I don't want to live without you."

At that moment, she felt faint. Suddenly, as she steadied herself, she filled with guilt. What about the children? They needed her. They needed someone to help them through their loss.

A soft knock at the bedroom door interrupted her thoughts.

She composed herself. "Come in."

The knock came again. She stepped toward the door and opened it. There, hand in hand, stood Annie and Noah.

Overwhelmed by the sight of the twins, she knelt down and embraced them.

"Mama." Annie pulled back and touched the stream of tears beneath her mother's eyes. "Don' cwy."

"I'm sorry, Sweetheart." Michaela's heart ached. "Are you hungry? Do you want breakfast?"

Noah placed his finger in his mouth, a gesture reminiscent of Josef at that age. Gently, Michaela drew it out and kissed it.

Noah tilted his head. "We sad."

"I know, and I'm so sorry," Michaela told them. "I wish I knew how to make this better."

Annie assured, "Don' give up. Papa make betta."

"Oh, God." Michaela sank to the floor, then fainted.

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

Tague stood in the yard, staring at the remnants of its fifteen foot pine walls . He put his hands on his hips as he recalled his youth, spent in this hell hole. Camp Sumter, it had been called. The twenty-six acres would house the prisoners of war temporarily, until the transfer could be made.

The site was considered ideal for the facility. Located in south-central Georgia, far from the Yankee forces, the Georgia Southwestern Railway was nearby. Water was plentifully available from the Sweetwater Creek since it flowed directly through the site. The nearby pine forest provided timber for building the stockade, barracks and hospital, while supplying wood for warmth and cooking, too. Ideal. It was an ideal location, close to Andersonville, a town of just twenty citizens.

Then the prisoners began to arrive. Suddenly, temporarily became permanently. There were no more exchanges. Grant had stopped them. The flow of Yankees into the camp swelled to four times its capacity to hold them.

Tague shook his head and began to walk, remembering the sight of starving men. A quarter of them died. Not all who died were prisoners. Some of them were guards like himself. Young boys and old men. They ate the same food.... drank the same water.... got scurvy.... starved. They sat in sentry boxes to keep watch over this purgatory.

When they came and built the wall around the cemetery a few years ago, the deceased guards were left out. He still felt the bitterness about it and for what the Yankees did to Captain Wirtz. "It wasn't his fault Stanton an' Grant stopped the prisoner exchange, but damn them for hangin' him."

He stopped when he reached the stockade. "You still alive, Yank?"

There was no sound within. Tague banged on the wooden door, then reached for the key to unlock it. When the light filtered in, he caught a glimpse of the man inside. The stench of the squalor nearly knocked him over.

"Just like it was back in '65," Tague said as he tossed in a couple of potatoes and placed a bucket of water from the creek inside.

The prisoner weakly reached for the food and consumed it ravenously.

Tague watched him with amusement. "That's how they used t' eat, too. I'll never forget how grateful they were.... for simple things like an apple or a potato."

The prisoner spoke hoarsely, "You won't get away with this, Tague."

"I already have," he chuckled.

"My family.... my wife...." He struggled to continue. "They'll come for me."

He laughed heartily. "She thinks you're dead. She's probably buried you by now."

The man tried to stand up. "Why are you doin' this? If ya think I committed a crime, why didn't I get a trial?"

"You did get a trial," he pointed out. "An' she found ya guilty."

"Julia Hall ain't an impartial jury," the prisoner responded.

"Boy, you don't understand southern justice." Tague shook his head.

"Look...." he questioned. "At least tell me where I am."

"You're where we put all the Yankee prisoners of war around here," Tague noted. "Andersonville."

He slammed the door and secured the lock.

Sully fell to his knees, again shrouded by darkness in the windowless prison. "NO!!! Michaela! Don't give up on me. Please don't give up."

************
Chapter 15
************

Michaela finished buttoning her black blouse. It was the same one she had worn eight years earlier when she had pretended that Sully was dead. This time, it was no subterfuge. She lifted the wolf pendant and awkwardly tried to place it around her neck. Sully always had a knack of helping her with such things, in a manner that not only achieved the goal, but elicited a tender warmth, as well.

"Ma," Colleen spoke softly as she entered the bedroom. "Are you feeling any better?"

"Yes, thank you." She attempted to sound sincere.

Colleen slipped her fingertips to her mother's wrist and checked her pulse.

"Really, Colleen, I'm fine," Michaela insisted.

"No, you're not," the young physician countered. "I really think we should delay the funeral another day. Everyone would understand."

"Another day would not change how I feel," Michaela admitted. "I owe this to Sully.... to the children.... He deserves a proper funeral and burial."

Colleen stated, "He'll have both. But they can be done tomorrow or even the next day."

Michaela sat on her bed in frustration, then buried her head in her hands.

Colleen positioned herself beside her mother, placing her arm around the grieving woman's shoulders. "I'm sorry, Ma. I wish I could say or do something.... anything that would help you."

"No one can help me," Michaela cried. "I'm a terrible mother. I don't even know how to help my own children."

"You're not a terrible mother," she comforted. "The children are downstairs, and they're fine. Matthew and Bridget are with them. So's Loren."

"He's here?" She was surprised. "I didn't know."

"Trust me, the kids are all right," she avowed.

"Where's Brian?" Michaela questioned.

Colleen informed her, "He's at the church. He knows you didn't want Sully to be alone. Grace and Dorothy are there, as well."

Michaela spoke softly, "I'm afraid I frightened the twins when I fainted."

"They thought you just fell asleep," she noted. "Noah covered you with his blanket."

"Oh, dear," Michaela felt ashamed.

"I want you to rest for a little bit," Colleen insisted.

Michaela started to stand. "I told you I need to go to Sully."

"Ma," Colleen paused. "You need to help yourself right now. You have to rest."

Her shoulders slumped. "Colleen, this can't be happening."

Colleen drew back the bedspread. "Here. Lie back, and close your eyes. I'll see that you're not disturbed for a while."

Michaela complied, and Colleen left. Alone in the bed, Michaela closed her eyes and let her fatigue claim her.

"Michaela...." Sully's voice uttered near her ear.


"Mmm?" She smiled as she always did when he beckoned her so close.

He kissed the lobe of her ear. "I need you."

"I need you, too." She felt herself warming at the timbre of his voice.

She felt the edge of the bed depress from his weight when he sat beside her.

She queried, "What took you so long to come home?"

"I got caught up in a blizzard," he answered. "But soon as I could get through, I hurried home."

She reached up to caress his stubbled cheek. "No time to shave?"

"Nope." He grinned impishly. "Didn't get a bath either. I thought maybe you could help me."

She found herself excited by the thought, but suppressed it to ask, "Have you seen the children yet?"

"Yep." He stood up and removed his medicine pouch. "I tucked 'em in.... heard their prayers."

"They've missed you," she remarked.

He unbuttoned his shirt. "They the only ones?"

She turned up the edge of her lips. "What do you mean?"

"How 'bout their beautiful Ma?" He tossed his wrinkled shirt onto the floor. "Did she miss me?"

Michaela motioned with her index finger for him to step closer. "She missed you most of all."

He leaned in for a kiss. "Good."

"Sully...." She hesitated.

"Mmm?" He stepped toward the basin and filled it with water.

She eyed him intently. "Do you think you could stay home for a while?"

"Sure." He began to wash. "I made enough money on this trip t' last us through winter. Why? Is there some special reason?"

She stood and went to him. Lifting up slightly, she rested her hands on his bare shoulders, then kissed him passionately.

Sully savored her gesture. "I'd say that's a mighty good reason."

Michaela kissed him again, pulling back only to breathe. "I love you so much. I needed you to hear that."

"I love t' hear it." His smile broadened.

She raised his hand to her lips, then noticed something missing from his wrist. "You're not wearing it."

"My bracelet?" He assumed. "You know I take it off when I'm away from home. Don't wanna get it scratched or lost."

She kissed his wrist. "It means so much to me when you wear it."

"Like a weddin' ring?" He teased.

She was not amused. "Outward symbols of marriage are important, Sully."

He touched his heart. "It's what's in here that's important. You already own this. No other woman on this earth's got a claim on me. Only you."

She questioned, "If outward symbols aren't important, why did you give me an engagement ring? A wedding ring?"

He stated, "'Cause you wanted 'em."

"You didn't want to give them to me?" She was offended.

He sighed in frustration. "What happened t' you bein' glad t' see me?"

"I am glad to see you." Her tone softened.

He drew her into his arms, then lifted his hand to her neck. A momentary caress was followed by a lingering kiss.

He grinned. "That's more like it."

"I like to let you win an argument now and again," she murmured.

"Michaela...." He framed her face in his hands. "Outward symbols are good, an' I love givin' them t' ya, but.... it's what we feel for each other when we exchange gifts that matters most."

"I know." She nodded. "But...."

"But what?" He wondered why she stopped.

She came out with it. "Do you really like the bracelet?"

"I love it." He pulled back and stepped to his chest of drawers. Withdrawing the silver band from the top, he struggled slightly to slip it over his wrist. Then he returned to her. "Happy now?"

She replied, "Only if you are."

He scooped her into his arms. "I'm the happiest man in the world."

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

Hank sat at the breakfast table, reading the account of Sully's death in the Gazette.

Lexie offered, "More coffee?"

"No, thanks." He did not look up.

She sat down, "Dr. Mike looked awful yesterday at the church."

"I know." He continued to read.

"Hank, how can you read that?" she sighed. "It's so sad."

"I keep readin' it because it don't make sense," he answered, looking up at her. "Sully wouldn't do this."

"Do what?" She was uncertain.

"He wouldn't escape from jail without lettin' his family know." Hank returned.

"Maybe he didn't want to implicate them," she reasoned.

He shook his head. "Nah. He'd have let them know he was okay. Tague wouldn't even let Matthew in t' see Sully. That don't add up either."

"What can you do about it?" Lexie questioned. "He's dead now."

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

Grace and Dorothy sat in the front pew of the church, praying.

The redhead looked at her friend. "Michaela oughta be here soon."

"I can't imagine what she's goin' through right now." Grace shook her head.

"She's lost the love of her life," Dorothy noted. "An' she'll never be the same Michaela we know again."

Grace lifted her handkerchief to dab the tears beneath her eyes. "Them poor little ones without a Pa now. My heart breaks for them."

"I know," Dorothy nodded as she looked toward the cross near the stained glass window. "Makes ya wonder what God has in mind. All the things those two have been through, only t' have it end like this."

Grace affirmed, "It's not our place t' question what God has in mind."

"You mean you never asked?" she wondered.

"Asked why God does what He does?" she clarified. "'Course I do. When I lost Anthony, I was mad at God. I didn't know if I could keep on believin'."

"What got you through it?" Dorothy questioned.

She folded her hands. "I still ain't through it. I look at little Abraham, and I wonder if he'll be like Anthony."

"You still grieve after all these years?" Dorothy was amazed.

Grace eyed her. "There ain't no clock on grief. Dr. Mike has always had a treatment or a cure for what ails folks. But she's got nothin' for this."

Dorothy suggested, "She should keep herself busy.... get right back to work at the hospital."

"I don't know...." Grace doubted. "Everythin's gonna remind her of Sully."

She pondered, "Maybe a trip t' Boston t' visit her sisters. A change of scenery might help."

Grace glanced toward the casket. "Nothin' helps a broken heart."

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

Tague sat back in his chair and folded his hands across his lap. How long should he keep it up, he wondered. Julia thought he had taken Sully out to execute him. But he had resisted that action, preferring to make at least one Yankee pay for what had been done to Captain Wirtz. He would show Lieutenant Sully how the prisoners were treated when they misbehaved.

"Julia," he whispered the name he adored.

Her raven hair and blue eyes had captured his attention many years ago. At 36, she was just as beautiful today as when he first met her. It was at the cotillion right before the War. That was when life was full of grace and nobility. Everything was in order. Everything.... everyone had his place in society.

Then the South's world was turned upside down. Thank God those damn Reconstruction troops were gone. How he hated Yankees, especially the one who shattered Julia's world by killing her father in cold blood.

"Byron Sully." He spoke with loathing. "You took my Julia's father. Now your children can feel that same pain."

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

Belle LeBlanc glanced at her cousin. "Julia, I've been thinkin'."

"About what?" She looked up from her needlework.

Belle broached the subject. "About that Yankee soldier, the deserter who killed your father.... You said his name is Sully."

"What about him?" Her tone became serious.

"I don't feel right about.... what happened t' him," Belle confessed. "You said that his arrest for murderin' Charles was only t' get...."

Julia cut her off. "He deserved to die, and now it's done. Relax and enjoy the sweetness of revenge. I only thank goodness you and I became reacquainted so that I could help you bring him to justice. To think what he did to our family...."

Belle lowered her head and sighed. "It still doesn't solve my...."

Julia interrupted again, "You have nothing to feel guilty for. The man was a wretch. In a matter of a few days, he destroyed our world. He shot my father right before my eyes. He killed your husband and raped you, leavin' you pregnant. How on God's green earth can you have one ounce of sympathy for him?"

Belle thought about what had unfolded since Julia came back into her life. Sixteen years ago, it was easy to say an unnamed man whom no one would ever see again had killed her husband. The lie would not hurt anyone. But now.... There was someone who had been hurt.... killed in fact, for a crime he didn't commit.

Belle worked up the courage to confess. "Sully.... he didn't kill Charles or rape me."

"What?" Julia's eyes widened.

She repeated her confession.

Julia was puzzled. "Why did you tell the police that he did?"

"Because I was so ashamed of the truth," Belle admitted. "I didn't know his name. I didn't think anyone would ever find him."

Julia dismissed it. "He still deserved to die for what he did to Father."

"No, Julia," Belle insisted. "He wasn't a murderer. He stayed in my barn for a week. He was a kind and gentle man."

"Then maybe we're not talking about the same man after all," Julia replied tersely. "The man who shot my father was certainly not kind or gentle."

"You know he's the same man," Belle returned. "And he didn't deserve to die."

Julia's eyes narrowed. "Just what did happen to Charles?"

Belle's cheeks flushed.

"Tell me," Julia raised her voice.

Belle looked at her. "What do you know about Sully's family?"

Julia shook her head. "Don't change the subject."

"I'll tell you what happened to Charles, if you tell me what you know about him." Belle was adamant.

Julia was curious. "Why do you want to know?"

Belle paused, then spoke softly. "Sully told me why he joined the Army.... what had happened t' his wife and baby daughter.... how they died.... how alone he was. I never met someone so heartsick and lost. He wanted to die."

Julia smiled. "Good. He finally got his wish."

Belle returned to her question. "I'd like t' know about his life after he went home."

Julia sighed, then decided to accommodate her. "Very well. I'll tell you. When Lyman and I went to Colorado, we.... looked him up. He had married a doctor.... a female physician. They adopted some children, then had a little girl, and...."

Belle interrupted, "So he finally got a little girl."

Julia frowned. "How dare you! He didn't deserve to be happy. He didn't deserve to have progeny."

"Yes, he did," Belle replied.

Julia gazed at her intently. "What really happened to Charles?"

Belle stood and went to the window, knowing she had to tell the truth.

Drawing back the drape, she felt awash with shame. "I have disgraced our family, Julia. If you only knew all that I've done."

"What?" She probed further.

"Do you remember Frederick?" Belle posed the question.

Her brow wrinkled. "Frederick? That worthless slave of yours who ran off?"

"Yes," Belle nodded. "Except he didn't run off. He's the one who did it."

Julia's face paled as she realized. "Frederick killed Charles?"

"It was an accident," Belle interjected.

"My God," Julia was horrified. "You've protected a slave all of these years?"

"There's more to the story," Belle stopped her. "Frederick was more than my slave. He was.... my lover."

Julia raised a hand. "Stop it! Stop this nonsense at once!"

"You wanted to know the truth," Belle noted. "The night after Sully left, Frederick and I were goin' t' run away. We knew we couldn't stay in Atlanta. Later that night, Charles came home from his trip. He found us together an' pulled out his revolver. Just as he was about to shoot, Frederick lunged for the gun, an' it went off."

Julia was aghast. "This is unbelievable."

"It's the truth," she sighed. "I insisted that Frederick leave so that I could cover the truth. I would report it t' the law tellin' them the Yankee deserter did it. Then I'd go t' Philadelphia, where I could be reunited with Frederick."

"You've never been to Philadelphia," Julia assumed.

Tears welled in her eyes. "Frederick was killed by a Confederate soldier the next day. When I found out, I was devastated. I had no one t' turn to, nowhere t' go."

"Wait a minute." Julia's expression changed. "Were you really pregnant?"

"No, an' t' cover for my lie later, I told people I had a miscarriage," Belle informed her. "I.... I suppose I wanted sympathy. You must understand how alone I was."

Julia considered. "It doesn't matter now. Things still worked out for the best."

"I'm responsible for the death of an innocent man!" Belle exclaimed. "He has a family."

"So do we, and we must protect our name." Julia countered. "Jack Tague will see to it that no one learns what happened to Sully."

"He loves you, you know," Belle said. "He always has."

"Jack?" She chuckled. "Yes, he does. How do you think I was able to get him to free me from that Denver jail and to kill Sully? Men will do anything for love, my dear."

Belle was puzzled. "You never told me why you were imprisoned."

"That brother of mine," Julia paused. "He had some sort of scheme to buy a silver mine in Colorado, and.... well, let's just say, it didn't pan out."

"Why didn't Lyman return with you?" Belle queried.

Julia chuckled, "Because Tague didn't love him. Now, I want you to forget this silly guilt you've been carrying."

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

Sully leaned his head back against the wooden stockade. His body ached from trying to pry back any piece of wood that he could loosen. Nothing. Any weak spots had been reinforced. He had explored his cell from top to bottom. He could find no way out.


He had lost so much weight, the Union uniform Tague had given him hung loosely. Obviously, the man was mad. So was Julia, but he had known that many years ago when she tried to poison Katie.

"Katie...." He closed his eyes and felt the salty taste of a tear. "My sweet, sweet girl. What you must be thinkin' right now. An' Joe, my big boy." He felt a lump in his throat at the mention of his son's name. "You must be tryin' t' be strong for your Ma."

His thoughts turned to Annie. "My little nurse." He smiled at the memory of the last time he had a splinter. The little girl had watched him remove it, then kissed it to make it better. Next he pictured Noah sitting by Wolf. "No-bo, I miss you." Then Hope's image came to his mind. "My baby girl. I wish I could hold ya. I wish I could hold all of ya. When I get home, I...."

The reality of the world in which he found himself came flooding back to him, as he desperately cried, "Michaela!"

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

Michaela sat up with a start. She thought she had heard something. Her brow wrinkled as she attempted to focus. She had heard someone calling her name.

"Sully?" She looked around the room.


The heartache of knowing he was dead hit her anew. Absently, she rose to make the bed. Their bed. She could not stand the idea of sleeping in it one more night without him. His bed would be a box in the cold ground.

Leaning down, she drew her arms across her stomach. The tears she shed seemed without end. "God, no. I can't live without him."

She needed to see him, hold him just one more time. Finally, she composed herself enough to rise and walk to her husband's chest of drawers. She withdrew his blue striped shirt. It was her favorite, bringing out the blue of his eyes. Holding it close, she inhaled his scent. She sighed and set it on the bed.

She felt numb as she went to her vanity. Sitting down, she noticed the photograph album, still open from last night. Then she spotted Sully's bracelet.

Lifting it, she held it against her heart. "Outward symbols are all I have now, Sully."

She ran her finger along the edge of his photograph in the album. He was the most handsome man she had ever known. She had instantly felt an attraction the moment she had first seen him. The intensity of his gaze had penetrated to her core. Back then, she had resisted the sensations he stirred in her, fearing to lose herself to another man. She had still been in mourning for David. And Sully was still in mourning for Abigail.

"Abigail," she whispered. "You finally have him back."

She positioned his bracelet next to his photo. Suddenly, she noticed something. She had to see Jake immediately.

************
Chapter 16
************

Katie held Hope on her lap and rocked back and forth, softly humming a lullaby that their mother often sang.

Loren knocked lightly on the door. "Can I come in, Katie girl?"

"Sure, Mr. Bray," she acknowledged.

Loren headed for the chair and sat beside them. He gently placed his finger in Hope's palm, prompting the baby to squeeze it.

He smiled. "Sure is a pretty little girl. Can I hold her?"

"Sure," she nodded. When the baby settled in his arms, Katie questioned, "Mr. Bray, did Mama go t' the church t' see Poppy?"

"Yes," he tenderly stroked Hope's cheek.

Katie continued, "Are they gonna bury him today?"

He slid his arm around her shoulder. "I don't know. Maybe. Your mother will let ya know."

"She seemed in a hurry," Katie observed.

Loren suggested, "She's got a lot on her mind right now."

The child nodded pensively. "I know. I told her somethin' that upset her."

"What?" He was curious.

"I told her I looked at Poppy's face under that veil," Katie confessed.

His tone was understanding. "I reckon it's natural t' be curious. But there's a reason why some things is covered up. Ya shouldn't go lookin' where it's forbidden."

She sighed, "There is sure a lot t' remember when ya try t' be a good person."

"Ain't many in this world who make that effort ," he noted.

She looked up, quizzically. "You do, don't ya?"

He caressed Hope's cheek. "Not as often as I should. But when ya have children, ya try harder."

"I think Poppy was good before he had us kids," she avowed.

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

Dorothy and Grace sat silently in the church still keeping a vigil for Sully. Suddenly, Michaela burst in and headed straight for the casket. Matthew, Brian and Hank followed.

Matthew was puzzled. "All right, Ma. Ya wanna tell us what's goin' on?"

"When Colleen and Jake get here," she returned.

"Michaela?" Dorothy was surprised at her demeanor. "Are you all right?"

Michaela set her medical bag on a pew and opened it. "Yes, I'm fine."

Grace offered. "Can we get ya anythin'?"

Jake rushed in, followed by Colleen.

He was out of breath. "Colleen said ya needed me. What can I do, Dr. Mike?"

Michaela turned to him. "Jake, from which wrist did you remove Sully's bracelet?"

"What?" He was surprised. "Why?"

"Answer her," Hank insisted.

"Uh.... it was the left," Jake replied.

Michaela closed her eyes and swallowed hard, overcome by the disclosure. She steadied herself on the back of a pew. Then, lowering her head into her hands, she began to cry.

"Ma!" Brian embraced her. "Please, let me take you home."

"No." She clasped his arm.

A smile crossed her face, yet tears still streamed down her cheeks.

Matthew was puzzled. "Ma, I think it would be best if...."

She cut him off. "You don't understand."

"Yes, I do," he replied. "I know what it's like t' lose the person ya love."

"No, Matthew." Her expression changed. "I haven't lost him."

Dorothy tried. "Michaela, let's go over t'...."

Michaela interrupted. "I'm not going anywhere until I prove it to all of you."

Jake was still lost. "Prove what?"

Michaela took a deep breath. "This isn't Sully."

Jake sympathized. "Dr. Mike, I know it's hard t' accept, but...."

Michaela insisted, "Sully wore the bracelet on his right wrist."

"He could've switched it while he was away," Jake stated.

"No." Michaela turned to remove the gloves from the corpse. "Look at how this man's hands and wrists were mangled, yet the bracelet didn't even have a scratch on it."

"Michaela!" Dorothy stepped forward. "Ya gotta get control of yourself."

"I am getting control of myself," she insisted as she drew back the veil, then began to unbutton the jacket and shirt of the deceased. "Matthew, take these surgical scissors and cut the trouser legs."

Jake protested. "Hey, that's a new suit!"

Michaela cast a stern glance at him. "Do it."

Jake put his hands on his hips and looked at Colleen. "You wanna give her somethin' t' calm her?"

Colleen shook her head. "Ma knows what she's doing."

Hank grinned. "I knew somethin' about this just didn't sit right."

Michaela began to examine the body with a physician's precision, looking for any other definitive discrepancies. Though the corpse had many broken bones, she concentrated on his back and legs. Next she studied the area beside his right eye. Finally, she sat on a pew and closed her eyes.

"Ma?" Brian went to her. "Did you find somethin'?"

She did not reply.

"We'll take ya home if you want." Brian offered.

Michaela embraced him. "Oh, Brian. Sully had a compound fracture after falling off the cliff. He had scars from the fall and from being shot. This man has no signs of any such injuries. This isn't Sully. He must still be alive."

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

When Michaela entered the homestead, there was a smile on her face. She removed her wrap, and rushed to Bridget.

Embracing the nanny, she beamed. "Bridget, I have the best news."

The older woman was surprised. "Dr. Mike? Whatever could it be?"

"It's Sully," Michaela felt her eyes welling again. "He isn't dead."

Bridget's heart went out to her. "Oh, Darlin', ya can't go sayin' that, much as you want it t' be true. Ya have to...."

"No," Michaela insisted. "The body in the casket isn't Sully. I checked."

Her eyes widened. "Saints preserve us. It's really true?"

Michaela could not contain her joy. "I'm going to tell the children."

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

Matthew, Brian and Colleen followed Hank to the Sheriff's office.

Hank sat back in his chair. "I knew Tague was a lyin' son of a bitch."

Matthew pointed out, "The question is, what are we going to do now? We have the advantage of knowing it's not Sully. Tague doesn't know we know yet."

Colleen chimed in, "I'm worried about Ma. She has her hopes up that Pa's still alive. What if he isn't?"

Brian folded his arms. "He must be alive. If Tague wanted him dead, why not just send Pa's corpse home? Why give us somebody else's body?"

Colleen shook her head. "That poor man. Do you think Tague killed him, or was he the victim of a terrible accident?"

Hank rubbed his chin. "Lots o' unanswered questions."

Matthew affirmed, "I know Ma's gonna wanna be on the first train t' Atlanta."

Hank speculated, "If Sully's still in Atlanta."

Brian was curious. "You don't think he is?"

"I don't know," Hank replied.

Matthew observed, "Another unanswered question."

Hank stood up. "Well, I know someone who might be able t' tell us more."

Brian queried, "Who?"

Hank gestured across the street. "Preston."

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

Michaela rushed up the steps. "Children, come here."

With an overwhelming feeling of relief, she breathlessly entered her bedroom and lifted Hope. Within seconds the children entered her room.

Katie spoke for all. "What is it, Mama?"

Michaela knelt down, "I have some tremendous news. It's about your father."

Josef was puzzled as he noted the smile on his mother's face. "Somethin' happy?"

Michaela's grin widened. "Something very happy indeed. Papa isn't dead."

Katie's eyes widened. "Not dead?"

Josef questioned, "Ya mean he came back like Jesus?"

"No, my darling," she smiled. "The man in the casket isn't Papa."

Noah asked, "Papa come home?"

"I'm going to bring him home," Michaela affirmed. "I promise you, my darlings."

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

Preston looked up from his ledger book when he heard the bank door open. He remained seated as Hank approached him.

The banker grinned. "Well, Sheriff, what brings you here?"

Hank returned, "I got a few questions for ya."

"Questions?" Preston was intrigued. "About interest rates? Another loan perhaps?"

"I had enough o' your loans," he sneered. "No, I got questions about Jack Tague."

Preston pretended to not recall. "Jack Tague?"

"Don't act like ya never heard o' him," he shot back. "You know damn well who I'm talkin' about."

"I'm afraid I don't...." He raised an eyebrow. "Oh, wait. The deputy sheriff from Atlanta."

Hank eyed him. "Yea, that's the man. How long have ya known him?"

"Known him?" Preston again feigned ignorance. "I only met him the day he arrested Sully."

"That's a lie," Hank frowned.

Preston denied. "No, it's not. Now, unless you have some business to conduct here...."

Hank pulled some handcuffs from his belt. "Oh, I got business. I'm placin' you under arrest."

"Arrest?" His brow wrinkled. "For what?"

Hank grabbed Preston's lapels and forced him to stand. "Let's see. How about conspiracy to kidnap? Accomplice to murder?"

Preston began to stammer. "KK.... Kidnap.... mmmmur.... der? Are you mad?"

Hank finished securing his wrists behind his back. "You an' your pal Jack had it all planned out."

Preston squirmed. "Listen here. I've done no such thing."

Hank pulled him toward the door. Myra looked on from her teller window. A crowd gathered outside to see the Sheriff drag the banker across the street to the jail. Matthew and Brian waited for his arrival. When Hank entered with his prisoner, he shoved the banker into the cell and slammed the door.

Preston was frantic. "Matthew! Brian! Do something! This is ridiculous. How could anyone believe I would have anything to do with Sully's death?"

Hank grinned. "Who said anythin' about Sully?"

Preston swallowed hard. "But you asked if I knew Tague. You mentioned kidnapping.... and murder."

"I didn't say it was Sully," Hank shrugged.

"I demand to see my attorney!" Preston shouted.

Hank gestured toward the window. "Looks like a lot o' folks saw me drag you in here under arrest. Sure is bad for your reputation, banker."

"Hank." Beads of perspiration began to appear on Preston's forehead. "I don't know what you're trying to do, but I will not be subjected to this."

Matthew elbowed his brother, "Come on, Brian. We got a train t' catch."

Preston clutched the jail bars, "I demand to know what's going on here."

Hank stepped toward the door, as well. "I best tell Lexie, too."

"Tell Lexie what?" Preston was becoming more frantic. "Where are you going?"

"Out o' town," Hank answered. "Come on, boys. We're waistin' our time on him."

"What about me?" Preston demanded.

Hank shrugged. "What about you?"

He replied, "You can't just put me in jail and leave town."

Hank grinned, "Watch me."

With that, he slammed the door. Alone in the cell, Preston began to pace.

Then he spoke to himself, "This is absurd. He won't leave me here. What a notion. How dare he arrest me on such charges? Sully deserved.... Wait a minute. Sully. Why weren't they at the church for his funeral? Why wasn't the town?"

Preston stopped to glance through the window, where the townsfolk were still milling around.

He called out. "Someone help me! Get me out of here!"

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

Michaela was met at the Depot by Matthew, Colleen and Brian. As they purchased their tickets, Hank approached.

Pulling some cash from his pocket, he told Horace, "One for me, too."

Michaela raised an eyebrow, "You're coming with us?"

Hank smirked, "Someone's gotta keep ya outa trouble. Besides, I got nothin' better t' do."

Brian pointed toward the jail. "Who's going to watch Preston?"

He chuckled. "Jake will look in on him now an' then."

"Hank," Michaela paused as tears formed in her eyes. "I appreciate this."

"Don't mention it." He shrugged.

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

Sully leaned back against the wall of his cell. He closed his eyes, concentrating with all of his might. He had been in worse jams before. He had been physically worse off before, as well. He would come through it. He would survive. He had to.

"Michaela," he whispered.

"Yes?" her voice came to him.

"I miss you an' the kids," he confessed.

"We miss you, too," she replied. "But I'll be there soon."

He sighed, "It's too dangerous. Soon as I figure out how t' escape, I'll be home. Just don't give up on me."

Suddenly, Sully felt her presence filling his soul.

Michaela uttered, "I'll never give up on you."

He felt a lump in his throat. "I know I worried ya again. Seems like that's all I do. I just wish I could see ya."

She encouraged him. "Open your eyes. I'm right here."

Sully hesitated, not wanting to lose her. Then he acquiesced. There she was, standing before him. Her long hair hung loose, the way he loved it.

His heart skipped a beat. "Ya shouldn't've come. It's terrible here. Filthy. I don't want ya t' get dirty.... or sick."

"I'm not going anyplace," she asserted. "I'm staying right here with you tonight."

"Ya can't," he insisted.

"Don't you remember when you were hiding from the Army?" She sat beside him. "You took the risk of coming home so that we could spend the night together?"

He smiled and nodded. "I remember."

She gently stroked his temple. "It's like you said then. All I want is for us to be together.... And I'll do whatever it takes to make that happen."

He closed his eyes again. "If only this was real."

Her kiss prompted him to open his eyes again. "It's very real."

"God, Michaela." He felt longings begin to stir. "I want ya so much."

"Sully, our love transcends time and space." She ran her fingers through his hair. "We can be together whenever we want."

His heart melted at the tone of her voice. "You an' the children are what's kept me goin'. You know that?"

"I know." She smiled. "And the thought of your coming home has kept us going."

He placed his hand on her neck and leaned closer to inhale the scent of her. Then, finding themselves in a field, they knelt down. Sully guided her back.

She tingled at his touch. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too." He kissed her sweetly.

Their lips parted, and the contact deepened. The effect was intoxicating. Their bodies awoke to the sensations that their hearts were stirring.

Sully unbuttoned her blouse and ran his finger along the opening. Her silky skin instantly flushed. She pressed against him. Sully felt that his heart would pound out of his chest. His desire for her was heightened further when he felt her breasts harden against him. He kissed her anew, teasing and tasting her.

Michaela unbuttoned his shirt and slid the material from his chest.


She paused, surprised at how thin he had become. "Sully...."

He lifted her chin to capture her lips again.

Then drawing back, he spoke in a provocative tone, "I know I lost some weight, but.... well.... I figure I can still love ya."

As her pulse raced, she framed his face in her hands. "Sully, I can't live without you."

He gazed intently into her eyes. "Michaela, all I wanted was t' give ya the world. Instead, I've given ya grief."

"Shhh...." She stroked the side of his face. "You have given me the world."

"I never imagined a woman like you could love someone like me," he glanced away. "Look at this place. This is no place for us t' make love."

"You look," she whispered. "We're not in that place now. Besides, it's not the place that matters. Wherever we are is special."

He rolled her into his embrace and positioned himself to share his love more fully. Softly, he whispered to her:

"Behold, my Venus, my soul's body, lies
With my love laid upon her garment-wise,
Feeling my love in all her limbs and hair
And shed between her eyelids through her eyes."

She became more aroused at his words. "Was that Herrick?"

"Swinburne." He kissed her lower lip, then upper.

He was transported by her tender care. She kissed each ache and pain that he was feeling, as if instinctively she knew how to heal his broken and bruised body. Soon, with her eyes, she invited more.

Insecurity suddenly engulfed him. What if he couldn't love her as he had in the past? What if....

At that moment, a noise startled Sully and roused him from his dream. He sat up. Was it day or night? He could not tell, but someone had come. He vowed that this time, he would seize the opportunity to escape.

************
Chapter 17
************

Sully listened quietly. Discerning the rustling of someone walking, he tilted his head. It was not the heavy footsteps of Tague. It was....

"Who's in there?" A young voice spoke.

Sully held his breath. It sounded like a little girl. Was that possible?

"I know someone's in there." The voice spoke again. "Come out, or I'll get my Pa."

Sully weighed his options. It was a child speaking. Would her father be friend or foe? It could not get worse, he reasoned. He had to risk it.

Sully spoke in a weak voice, "Go ahead an' get him."

The child's footsteps raced off.

"Oh, God," Sully sighed to himself.

Had he scared the child away? Or maybe.... just maybe she would get her father.

Then his shoulders slumped. What if Tague was her father?

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

Colleen, Matthew and Hank slept as the train traversed Kansas. Michaela, however, was wide awake. Brian sat beside his mother. Smiling, he placed his hand atop hers.

"How are you doing, Ma?" he asked.

She fibbed, "I'm fine."

In truth, she had been battling nausea since the train left Colorado Springs. The back and forth motion of the car was taking its toll on her.

"You sure?" he doubted. "You look kind of pale."

She gestured, "Would you hand me my bag?"

He did so. "Stomach bothering you?"

"How did you know?" She raised an eyebrow.

He responded. "A good reporter notices things others might not see. Besides, I've seen you like this a time or two before."

"You have?" She opened the bag and retrieved some bicarbonate of soda. "When?"

He turned more fully to face her. "When you were expecting a baby."

She changed the subject. "Do you think you could get me a glass of water?"

He stood. "I'll be right back."

As he left, she glanced out the window. Her thoughts turned to what he had said. Expecting a baby? Well, she had missed her monthly.... but....no. She was certain that she was not pregnant. She knew her stomach ailment was more a matter of stress. She hadn't eaten or slept well since Sully was taken away.

Soon, Brian returned with her water. Stirring in the soda, she took a deep breath and downed the liquid.

Brian broached the subject again. "Ma, why'd you do that?"

"Do what?" She secured her medical bag and placed it on the floor.

He mentioned. "You changed the subject when I mentioned a baby."

Michaela avoided looking at him. "I changed the subject because my stomach is upset. It's been upset for some time. It has nothing to do with a baby."

He backed off. "Okay. I just wondered."

She touched his arm. "I appreciate your concern. Trust me. I would know if I were pregnant."

He chuckled. "You didn't always know."

"Sully has been gone for well over a month." She reminded. "It's impossible."

Brian folded his arms. "No, it's not. Don't you remember teaching me about the birds and the bees?"

"As I recall, Sully and Loren taught you," she mused. "I merely bored you."

His expression became serious. "Ma, you know this could be dangerous. I'm only saying that if.... well, if there's a chance that you are going to have a baby, you need to step back and let us find Pa."

She caressed his cheek. "I love you for that beautiful sentiment, Sweetheart, but there is nothing on this earth that can keep me from finding him."

He studied her expression. Her eyes had that solid resolve that he had so often seen in his mother. There truly was nothing that would prevent her from finding Sully.... and nothing would keep him from protecting her as she did so.

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

Sully awoke to the sound of birds chirping. The little girl had not returned. Maybe the her father did not believe her. Or maybe he had imagined the whole thing, just as he had dreamed of Michaela. His body ached as his mind drifted back to the mine cave-in so many years earlier. For twenty-one days, he had endured the dark and dank underground hell. And what about the fall from the cliff? He had survived that. He would hold on this time. He would live to escape this prison. He would....

"Hello?" A man's voice stopped his thoughts.

Sully risked speaking. "Please, help me."

"My girl said somebody was in there." The man's voice grew closer. "Who is it?"

"My name's Sully," he shouted back. "Can ya help me get out?"

After rattling the lock, the voice returned. "I'll have t' shoot this off. How'd ya get in there anyway?"

He lied, "I was huntin' and stepped in here for shelter. Someone came along an' locked the door on me."

Suddenly, a shot shattered the quiet morning. The door opened. There stood a black man, holding a rifle. He surpassed six feet in height. Beads of perspiration dotted his ebony face.

Sully raised his hand to protect his eyes from the bright light. "I.... I don't know if I can stand up."

The man reached down for him and easily lifted him. "I'll help ya."

Sully stumbled to his feet. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he smiled broadly. "You look like you could use a meal." Then he frowned. "An' a bath."

Sully leaned on him. "I gotta get word t' my family where I am." He surveyed the remnants of the stockade walls for the first time from the outside. "Where am I anyway?"

The man was surprised. "You don't know?"

Sully hesitated, then replied, "I'm kinda disoriented after bein' in there so long."

He looked the prisoner up and down skeptically. "Why ya wearin' an old Union uniform?"

Sully fabricated, "I.... uh, I found them in the cell."

The man informed him, "Well, you're in Andersonville."

"Andersonville...." Sully suddenly remembered Tague had told him.

He tried to focus. What else had he forgotten? What further toll had this place taken on him?

The man was curious, "Were you really huntin'?"

Sully decided to confess. "The truth is, no. I was brought here from Colorado Springs."

"Colorado Springs?" He was surprised. "You're sure a long way from home, Mr. Sully. You wanna tell me the truth now?"

He sighed and looked the man straight in the eye. He seemed honest and trustworthy.

Sully revealed, "I was locked up in there by a man named Tague. He thinks I committed a crime, but I...."

The man suddenly stopped. "Jack Tague?"

Sully tensed. Had he said too much? "Uh.... You know him?"

"Since I was a boy." He frowned. "I'm was raised around here, an' I remember Tague used t' be a guard at the prisoner of war camp. Not much older than a boy himself at the time. I heard tell he became a sheriff up near Atlanta. That's where I live now. I been down here a couple weeks helpin' some family, but I'm headin' home t' Atlanta t'morrow. I got a lot o' good carpentry work there with the Cotton Exposition comin'."

Sully queried, "Is there any way I could get t' a telegraph?"

"In town," he responded.

Sully asked, "What's your name?"

"William," the man informed him. "William Parks."

"Mr. Parks, I owe ya my life," Sully shook his hand.

The man shrugged. "You owe my daughter. I got a lot o' children. You're lucky she's the one who came along. She's the curious one." As they walked, William steadied him. "I thought my girl was tellin' tales when she said she heard someone in that stockade. She thought it was a ghost. Come on. I'll take ya t' where we're stayin'. It ain't much, but we can feed ya an' get ya cleaned up. I think we'd better do that before ya go int' town t' the telegraph office."

"Much obliged." Sully nodded.

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

Horace was reading the Gazette when he heard the familiar tapping of the telegraph. Quickly, he resumed his official role and jotted down the message. As he contemplated the words, his eyes widened.

"My gosh!" he exclaimed.

It was from Sully. He was safe. But.... who should he tell? Dr. Mike, Hank, Matthew, Colleen and Brian were on their way to Atlanta. He'd better wire back right away to let Sully know.

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

Sully took the soap, towel and change of clothing that William had provided and followed directions to the creek. Just the smell of clean air and the feel of sunshine on his face lifted his spirits. He was a free man, and soon, he would be reunited with his family. He dipped into the chilly water and immersed himself. Then he lathered his hands and began to wash off weeks of filth from his body. The meal William had prepared was delicious, but he had learned long ago not to overdo eating after going for so long without much.

No sooner had he dried off and put on the change of clothing, than he heard someone approaching.

"Are ya decent?" It was William's daughter.

"Yea," Sully called back.

The little girl stepped closer. "You sure was dirty."

Sully extended his hand. "I wanna thank you for savin' my life."

The child shyly replied. "All I did was tell my Pa."

"It was a brave thing t' do," Sully commended. "What's your name?"

"Jennie Celeste Parks," she answered.

"Jennie," Sully repeated. "That's a real pretty name. How old are ya?"

"I'll be eight in April," the child replied.

Sully sat down. "I got a daughter just a little older than you. Thanks t' you, I'm gonna get t' go home t' her."

"Does she like readin'?" Jennie queried.

He smiled. "Sure does. An' she knows her arithmetic, too."

"I used t' go t' school," Jennie noted sadly. "But they closed it t' us."

"Closed the school to ya?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"Yes, sir." She lifted a pebble and skipped it across the water. "It's only for white children. Pa said it was on account o' President Hayes pullin' out the Yankee soldiers. I'm lucky, though. My friend's Ma knows how t' read, an' she teaches me."

"That's real good," Sully commented. "Jennie, I was wonderin' if you could tell me where I could get a good horse."

"A good horse?" The child was puzzled. "You wanna race?"

He smiled. "No, but I am in a hurry. I need t' get t' Atlanta. Then, I can...."

Jennie was surprised. "Atlanta's a whole day or two by horse. How fast do ya need t' get there?"

"As fast as I can," Sully answered.

"Ya best go by train then," the little girl informed him. "Pa an' me are gonna ride it home t' Atlanta."

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

Accompanied by William and Jennie, Sully made his way to the railroad station in Andersonville. William generously loaned him the money for a ticket. Sully thought about how giving they had been.

As he waited, he contemplated how many Union soldiers had been transported to this place, arriving at this very station. Michaela's fiancé David had been one of them. Sully had a new respect for what the man must have gone through. Still, that did not excuse his coming to Colorado Springs and concealing his identity from them.

What a heart wrenching time that had been. Michaela torn between the two of them. Sully had been convinced he had lost her forever.

Jenny noticed his demeanor. "You okay, Mr. Sully?"

He smiled. "Sure am."

Thoughts of David disappeared. Sully was going to Atlanta and.... His mind raced. What was he going to do? Look up Tague? That could land him back in jail or worse. Should he try to contact a judge or federal official to tell them about his crazed lawman? First things first. He would send Michaela another telegram to tell her he was going to Atlanta.

As he contemplated his dilemma, a man approached. Sully recognized him from the telegraph office.

The man tipped his hat. "You the fella who sent that telegram t' Colorado Springs?"

"Yea," Sully anticipated.

Handing him an envelope, the man offered. "This here reply came for ya."

Sully opened it and read.

William watched him. "Good news?"

"My family's on their way t' Atlanta t' find me," Sully replied.

"That's good news," Jennie observed.

Sully doubted. "It could be dangerous."

William eyed him. "I ain't asked anythin' about what you're doin' here or why Tague locked you up, Sully. But...."

Sully raised a hand. "I ain't a criminal if that's what you're wonderin'."

William offered, "I believe ya. I was just gonna say, if ya need any help...."

Sully interrupted, "You've done more than I can ever repay. This is my battle now."

Jennie was curious. "How will ya know where t' look for your family? Atlanta's a big city."

Sully pointed to the telegram. "They're gonna stay at the Markham House Hotel."

William nodded. "That's near the railroad station. Real nice place. They have over 100 rooms an' central heat. President Hayes spoke there a few years ago."

At that moment, the conductor on the train called out, "All aboard!"

William stood. "We'll meet up again in Atlanta then. We can't sit with ya on the train."

Sully was puzzled. "Why not?"

He returned, "Whites an' blacks aren't allowed t' sit t'gether on the train."

Sully frowned. "I thought we fought a war t' end that."

William shrugged. "Some things are hard t' end, I guess."

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

Tague's eyes narrowed. Someone had shot off the lock on the stockade door. Sully was gone, but he could not have gotten too far. Not in his condition. He would hunt him down soon enough. He headed into town and approached the departure window at the Andersonville Depot.

The attendant noticed his badge, "Can I help you, sir?"

Tague withdrew a photograph of Sully from his pocket. "You seen this man?"

"Yes, sir," he nodded. "He got on the train for Atlanta yesterday."

Tague's brow creased. "You sure?"

"Yes, sir," he replied.

Tague uttered, "Damn."

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

Michaela sat pensively looking out the train window. She thought to herself, "Soon, Sully. I'll be there. I'll bring you home."

Matthew turned to Hank, "I been thinkin' how we oughta approach things when we get t' Atlanta."

Hank rubbed his chin. "And?"

Matthew stated, "I think we should go directly t' a district judge. We gotta make sure Tague is stopped."

Brian chimed in, "I think we should go t' the newspaper, The Atlanta Constitution. There's a man named Henry Grady, whose been gaining a lot of attention with his editorials about the 'New South.'"

Matthew recalled, "I remember hearin' about him. He's tryin' t' organize a Cotton Exposition for later this year."

Brian continued, "Mr. Grady might be interested in investigating a corrupt sheriff."

Colleen suggested, "I think we should locate this Belle LeBlanc."

Hank offered, "First things first, folks. Let's find Sully."

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

Thanks to William, Sully was able to find carpentry work, and in two days, earned the money to repay him for the train ticket. On the day Michaela was due to arrive, Sully stopped by the Markham Hotel to see if Michaela had checked in. Not yet.

When he stepped through the front door of the lobby onto the sidewalk, he spotted a familiar face across the street at the depot. It was Jack Tague.

Sully ducked back and watched the sheriff through the window. Did Tague know he had escaped? Did he know that Michaela was on her way to Atlanta? He would have to be more careful. He would have to meet up with his family in secret.

************
Chapter 18
************

Evening fell upon Atlanta. The city still bustled with activity as passersby strolled beneath the street lamps. At the front desk of The Markham House, the clerk completed the room assignments for Michaela, her family and Hank.


Then he turned to Michaela and handed her a telegram. "This came for you a few days ago, Dr. Quinn."

"Thank you." She tipped him and supervised the transportation of their luggage to the rooms.

When all were settled in, she had a moment to open the wire.

Colleen watched her mother. "Who's it from?"

"Horace," Michaela read on. Then her face brightened. "Sully sent a telegram to Colorado Springs saying he's alive and well. He's in...."

Colleen wondered why she stopped. "Where, Ma?"

"Andersonville." Michaela's heart skipped a beat. "That's where the prisoner of war camp was during the War. David was there."

"I remember," she acknowledged. "But what's Pa doing at Andersonville?"

"He didn't say," Michaela said. "I'm going to arrange transportation there, then...."

Colleen raised her hand. "Wait a minute. Let's not be hasty. What if Pa is already on his way home?"

Michaela had not considered that. "Then we might have passed him on our way here."

"Let me go tell the boys about the telegram," Colleen headed for the door. "I'll bring them back here to discuss what we should do next."

As Colleen left her, Michaela vacillated. Perhaps she should send a telegram to Andersonville. Stepping toward the door, she heard a knock. When she opened it, she froze.

It was Jack Tague. "Welcome t' Atlanta, Dr. Quinn."

She frowned. "What do you want?"

"I was about t' ask you the same question." He remarked.

"Where is my husband?" she questioned with disdain. "The body you sent home was an impostor."

"I learned there was a mistake at the coroner's office," he lied. "Your son had already left town by the time I discovered it. It appears your husband is still on the loose."

Michaela scowled. "On the loose? He's an innocent man."

His tone was cold. "He better turn himself in. He's put you through enough."

She cut him off, "He's not the one who has put us through this ordeal. You have."

"I'll get to the point," he began. "I know that your husband sent a telegram t' Colorado Springs, and I know he took a train t' Atlanta."

"Atlanta?" She felt relieved.

He pointed out, "He was in Andersonville, but now he's here."

Michaela's eyes narrowed. "Why was he in Andersonville?"

"I sent him there 'cause he was a risk t' flee," Tague stated. "Now he's escaped from there."

She shot back, "He was denied a lawyer and a trial. Why did you try to make us think he was dead?"

He shrugged. "I can't help it if the coroner made a mistake."

"Don't insult my intelligence." She gestured toward the door. "You need to leave."

Tague took a deep breath. "I'm gonna be watchin' this place. If he shows up, we'll catch him. Good evenin', Dr. Quinn."

Michaela slammed the door. She inhaled deeply to calm herself. At least Sully is alive. And here in Atlanta. She would find a way to....


She heard something at the window. A bird? Wait. It sounded like.... Sully's call. Rushing to the window, she lifted the sash. Suddenly, she heard her husband's voice.

"Michaela, lock the door an' lower the lamp." He whispered. "Don't say anythin'."

Swiftly, she complied. Within seconds, in the darkened room, she was in his arms.

"Oh, Sully!" She kissed him repeatedly. "I.... I can't believe it's really you. I thought you were...."

His lips on hers interrupted her. Finally reunited, they held each other close.

His voice choked with emotion. "I thought I'd never see ya again. Tague had me locked up."

She ran her fingers through his hair. "I just received Horace's telegram saying you were at Andersonville."

"Tague's crazy, Michaela," he informed her. "He took me all that way just t' lock me up at the prisoner of war camp. He tried t' starve me. An' you'll never guess who he's in cahoots with."

"Who?" she wondered.

"Julia Hall," he noted.

"Julia? I thought she was in jail in Denver." Michaela stated.

He detailed, "Tague got her out. An' there's more. It turns out Julia is Belle LeBlanc's cousin. They're all in this t'gether."

"Sully." Her tears flowed freely. "Tague made Matthew believe you had been killed by a train. He and Brian brought your badly mangled body home."

"How'd ya find out it wasn't me?" He was curious.

She stepped to close the curtains, then raised a lamp.

Retrieving her purse, she withdrew his silver bracelet. "This. It was on the wrong wrist."

Sully's eyes widened. "I never thought I'd see that again. Tague took it from me, Michaela. He took everythin' from me except my dreams."

She caressed his cheek. "I dreamed about you. You told me to not give up on you."

He framed her face in his hands. "I said that every night before I fell asleep."

She lifted up and kissed him again.

His thoughts turned to their family. "How are the children?"

"They're fine," she assured. "I told them I would bring their Papa home."

"I can't leave yet," he stated.

"Tague was here," she cautioned. "He said he would be watching the hotel."

"I got a telegram from home sayin' the boys came with ya," he mentioned.

"Yes, along with Colleen and Hank," she identified.

"Hank?" He was surprised.

She mused, "He was concerned about you."

Sully relished the feel of her in his arms, then noticed the wolf medallion around her neck. "You're still wearin' it."

She began to untie it. "I was only protecting it until you could wear it again."

"Hold on t' it a little while longer," he said. "Then I'll wear it an' the bracelet.

She lifted his hand and kissed his palm. "So you don't mind wearing outward symbols of our marriage?"

"I love outward symbols," he teased. "Maybe I'll even get a tattoo."

"You already have enough scars, Mr. Sully." She gently chided. "It's how I verified that the body in the casket wasn't yours."

"You looked at his body?" He pretended to be shocked.

"Well, I am a physician." She reminded. "I have seen a man's body before."

"Should I be jealous?" He ran his finger along the line of her jaw.

Her eyes shone with love. "I rather like it when you are."

His expression became serious. "Michaela, I love you."

"I love you, too." She lifted up to kiss him again. Suddenly, she wondered, "If Tague had you locked in Andersonville, how on earth were you able to escape?"

"A little girl discovered me," he revealed.

She was surprised. "A little girl?"

"Her name's Jennie Parks," he detailed. "She was out explorin' when she heard me. She fetched her Pa, an' he shot off the lock. Michaela, I owe them my life. They helped me get t' the telegraph office an' paid for my ticket here."

"Then I owe them, as well," she spoke softly.

"Jennie kinda reminds me of Katie," he observed. "Real curious. Only thing is, as a colored child, she ain't allowed t' go t' the white school. They closed her school. Now she's got nothin'."

"What?" Michaela was surprised. "What about the Freedmen Schools?"

"Ever since Hayes was president, the freedmen's rights have been reversed," he noted. "That poor child. I wish there was somethin' I could do."

At that moment, there was a knock at the door. "Ma?"

Michaela kept her voice low. "It's Colleen."

Sully swiftly positioned himself behind the door, poised to strike if Tague was with their daughter. Michaela opened the door. There stood Hank and her children.

"Come in," Michaela whispered.

Hank was puzzled. "Why ya whisperin'?"

When all had entered, she closed the door. There stood Sully. Matthew, Colleen and Brian rushed to embrace him.

Hank observed, "I gotta give ya credit, Michaela. You're fast."

"He found me." She smiled.

Sully quickly filled them in on what he had been through.

Then he said, "Julia expected Tague t' kill me an' ship my body home. But he took me t' Andersonville an' locked me up. He kept callin' me Yank an' talkin' about the prisoner of war camp there. I figure that's why he had t' send a body home.... so Julia would think I was dead, an' you'd give up on me."

Hank spoke up. "The way I see it, we gotta get you outa town as soon as possible. No tellin' what Tague will do if he finds ya again."

"No," Sully protested. "I gotta stop these people. They'll keep comin' after me. It's too risky for Michaela an' the children."

Brian spoke for them, "We're not afraid, Pa."

Sully gently conveyed, "I am. Who knows that they'll do next? They're real desperate. Michaela, first thing in the mornin', I want you an' the kids t'...."

She interrupted him. "I'm not leaving you."

Brian looked at his mother. "Ma, you ain't up t' this."

Sully's brow wrinkled. "What do ya mean?"

Michaela quickly excused, "I've been having some stomach difficulties. It's nothing serious."

Sully's forehead creased. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yes," she assured. "And I am not leaving your side again."

Colleen added. "Neither are we. So, let's come up with a plan."

Hank reasoned, "Kinda hard t' do when you're dealin' with folks who ain't right in the head. Who knows how many people they might have with 'em?"

Sully suddenly recalled. "Wait a minute. The Pinkerton agent. Julia said somethin' about a Pinkerton agent connectin' me t' the murders of Hall and LeBlanc."

Michaela remembered, "And I found out Preston sent a telegram to a Pinkerton agent in Atlanta named H.B. Pierce. I tried sending him a wire but never got a reply."

Sully frowned. "Figures Preston would have a hand in this."

Hank chuckled, "I tossed him in jail."

Sully's eyes widened. "Ya did?"

Hank folded his arms, "Yea. I told Jake t' keep him there 'til he hears from me."

Matthew rubbed his chin. "If Pierce is right here in Atlanta, I'll pay a visit t' him in the mornin'. See what I can find out."

Brian suggested, "And I'll see if I can meet with Mr. Grady at the newspaper."

Colleen recommended. "I could look up Belle LeBlanc. Maybe I can see why she made up this story about Pa."

Sully cautioned. "That's too dangerous. What if Julia's there?"

Colleen reminded, "I never met Julia. I was in Philadelphia when she tried to kill Katie."

Hank pointed out, "I better come with ya in case Tague's there."

Michaela asserted, "I want to accompany you. I want to meet this Belle LeBlanc."

Hank smirked. "Jealous?"

Michaela was taken aback. "What?"

His grin widened. "Well, Sully did spend some time hidin' in her barn."

Her cheeks flushed. "I am not jealous."

Sully gently squeezed her hand. "Why don't you wait here, Michaela?"

Matthew nodded. "Good advice, Ma."

Then another thought crossed Michaela's mind. "If Tague is having us watched, won't he be suspicious if I stay in here all day?"

Matthew considered, "Not necessarily. He might think you're tired from the trip."

"Michaela's right." Sully changed his mind. "She oughta go out. Maybe go t' the telegraph office, send a wire back home."

"Where will you be, Sully?" Michaela became anxious. "Tague is certain to have people watching the room regardless of where I am."

"I'll be safe." He assured.

Colleen glanced at the clock on the mantel. "It's getting late. We have a busy day tomorrow. We should all get some rest."

Michaela looked at Sully awkwardly, remembering that she was sharing a room with their daughter.

Colleen picked up on it. "I think I'll stay with Matthew and Brian. It's been a long time since we shared a room."

Matthew nodded. "Brian an' me can take one bed, an' you can have the other."

Hank stretched. "Maybe I'll head down t' the bar."

Michaela warned. "You shouldn't imbibe, Hank. We need you to be clear headed tomorrow."

He raised an eyebrow. "A little drink never hurt me."

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

Tague spoke low to the hotel manager. "An' this Byron Sully is real dangerous. He's wanted for the murder of two men. Have your staff keep their eyes open. He could try anythin' t' sneak in t' see his wife."

The manager assured. "Of course, Sheriff. We'll do everything to help you apprehend him."

"Good," Tague slipped him some money.

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

Alone in the hotel room, Michaela went to Sully. "I'll order something for us to eat."

"Might look too suspicious if ya order for more than one person," he pointed out.

"I'm not hungry anyway," she returned.

His expression grew serious. "Michaela, about what Brian said.... what kinda stomach difficulties have you been havin'?"

She cupped her hand to his cheek. "My stomach will be just fine, now that we're together."

"You sure?" he worried.

"I'm the doctor, remember?" She smiled.

He persisted, "If there's somethin' you ain't tellin' me...."


She stepped closer and slid her arms around his waist.

Tilting her head against his chest, she closed her eyes. "I was so worried. And when I thought you were dead, I...."

"Shhh." He kissed the top of her head. "I'm fine now."

She observed, "You've lost so much weight."

He took her hand and led her to the bed. They sat on the edge.

Speaking softly, he invited, "I wanna hear all about the kids."

She tenderly caressed the hair at his temple. "Katie's doing quite well on Ajax. She's acting so grown up now, Sully. She holds Hope and sings to her."

Tears formed in his eyes as he pictured their oldest and youngest daughters.

Michaela mused, "The baby cut another tooth, and Josef lost one. He thinks that Hope took it."

Sully chuckled. "How 'bout the twins?"

"Noah hurt his finger a few days after I came home from Denver," she related. "He insisted that I bandage it."

"Is he okay?" Sully worried.

"Yes, he's fine," she assured. "But when Annie saw the bandage, she wanted one, too. They're so close, they're starting to finish each other's sentences."

A look of melancholy crossed his face.

It was not lost on Michaela. "You'll be with them soon."

"It's happenin' again." He lowered his head.

She was uncertain. "What?"

He felt a lump in his throat. "I'm missin' my children growin'."

"No, Sully," she insisted. "It's not like before. It's...."

"Yes, it is," he interrupted.

He rose from the bed and stepped to the mantel. Placing his hands on it, he lowered his head.

Michaela went to him and rested her palm against his back. "You'll be with them soon. I promise."

He turned to look at her, then drew her into his arms. "At least they've had you there."

She lamented, "I've been so lost without you."

Another pang of guilt filled him. "I'm sorry I ain't been there."

"No," she realized. "I didn't mean it like that. I meant that...."

He touched her lips with his index finger. "I know what ya meant."

As they embraced, Sully studied her features. Her allure never failed to take his breath away.

Lovingly, he caressed her cheek. "You're so beautiful."

Her cheeks flushed. "Thank you."

"Michaela...." He paused. "I.... I wanna love ya."

"I want that, too," she invited.

"But...." He hesitated.

"But what?" she questioned.

Sully felt awkward. "I.... I don't know if I can."

"I don't think Tague will return tonight," she assured. "We should be undisturbed."

"No." He stepped back, still holding her hands.

She was puzzled. "Sully, what is it?"

************
Chapter 19
************

Sully peered into Michaela's eyes. "When I was locked up at Andersonville, I dreamed about us. You came t' me."

She gently squeezed his hands. "I wish I could have."

He resumed, "We were about t' make love. But.... I couldn't."

She perceived his concern. "If you don't think.... that is.... if you believe there might be a physical impediment, perhaps I should examine you. I'd feel better if I did anyway, given the conditions under which you've been living."

She reached for her medical bag.

Sully began to feel uneasy, "I don't know 'bout this, Michaela."

She turned. "You trust me, don't you?"

"'Course I do." He nodded. "But.... well.... what if ya find somethin' wrong?"

She returned with her bag. "Then I'll make you better. Now, get on the bed."


Michaela rolled up her sleeves and began to unbutton his shirt. She attempted to put aside her physical attraction to him as she looked at his physique. When she had stripped him down completely, she handed him a towel.

"What's this for?" he queried.

"To cover your.... private area," she explained. "That's how I examine patients."

He followed her directions. With the stethoscope, she assessed his heartbeat and listened to his lungs. Then gently, with her hands beneath the towel, she poked and prodded his stomach and abdomen."

"Your hands are cold," Sully remarked.

"Sorry," she apologized as she continued. "Now, I want you to roll over onto your stomach."

"Why?" he asked.

"So I can check your back," she explained.

He complied. Michaela felt along his spine and kidneys. Then she stepped away to place her stethoscope in the bag.

When she turned back to him, Sully had closed his eyes. She leaned closer. He was asleep.

Smiling, she reached for a blanket and covered him. After slipping into her nightgown, she lowered the lamp and crawled beneath the covers with him.

She spooned herself next to her husband, then kissed his cheek, thinking, "Dear God, thank you for bringing us together again."

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

In the bar, Hank had consumed a couple of shots of whiskey. He noticed a pretty woman walking toward him. Her blonde wavy hair hung loose, nearly to her waist. The low cut dress she wore made it clear that she was there to entertain the male customers. She was high class, but there was no mistaking her profession. He subdued his attraction to her as she sat beside him.

Leaning closer, she smiled. "Are you alone?"

"Not anymore." He raised an eyebrow. "Can I buy ya a drink?"

"That would be nice," she replied.

"What'll ya have?" he inquired.

"Whatever you're havin'," she placed her hand atop his.

Hank felt his body temperature rising as he stood to get their drinks.

When he returned, he began to converse with the woman. "So, what's your name?"

She revealed, "Charity."

He grinned, "I thought charity begins at home."

"Oh, I think it should extend everywhere," she returned.

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

Sully was engulfed in total darkness. He tensed as he reached out to touch the thick wood of the stockade wall.

"No!" he raged. "Get me outa here."

"Sully." It was Michaela's voice. "Shhh. You're not in Andersonville."

Beads of perspiration dotted his forehead. "Michaela, I can't get out. I can't. Please, don't give up on me. I'm tryin'."

"Sully, wake up," Michaela implored.

He opened his eyes with a start. "Michaela?"

"I'm here," she kept her voice low. "You're not in Andersonville anymore. You're with me."

He was still disoriented. "I ain't dreamin'?"

"No." She could feel his body trembling. "You're safe."

Finally, his respiration calmed.

He clasped her hand. "You're real?"

"Yes." She whispered in a soothing tone. "We're together."

He asked, "What time is it?"

"A little past midnight," she replied. "You weren't asleep very long."

He remembered. "You were givin' me a checkup."

"That's right," she acknowledged. "And everything appears to be fine."

"Everythin'?" he questioned. "Even...."

"Well...." she hedged. "You have lost some weight. But I discerned no impediments to your.... resuming normal activities, other than perhaps some anxiety."

"Anxiety," he sighed.

She pointed out, "You've been under tremendous strain."

"So have you," he added. "You said that's what was botherin' your stomach."

"My stomach has been fine since I've seen you," she admitted.

His voice choked slightly. "Michaela.... I wish I could be with ya."

She sensed further angst. "Sully, we don't have to do anything beyond just holding one another. As I lay next to you tonight, I cannot describe the incredible relief I felt. All I want is for you to be safe."

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

Hank was warming up to Charity. In fact, he was feeling too warm, and he knew he had to stop the flirtation soon, or he might not be able to control himself.

She sensed his hesitation. "Is there somethin' wrong?"

"Nah." He downed another shot of whiskey. "I just got a busy day t'morrow."

"You said you're from Colorado." She paused. "I hear there's a lot of gold an' silver out that way."

"I hear there's a lot o' cotton in Georgia," he retorted.

Charity leaned close enough to kiss him. "And peaches."

He felt his breathing quicken. "Yea? But some fruit's forbidden."

"That's the apple," she teased. "So, what are you doin' tomorrow that will keep you so busy?"

He avoided answering. "Uh.... just seein' the sights."

"Maybe you'd like a guide," she offered. "I know everythin' there is t' know about Atlanta."

"Everythin'?" He was intrigued.

"And everyone," she added.

Hank posed the question. "You know much about the lawmen?"

She pulled back as a quizzical expression crossed her face. "That's a strange question."

He clarified. "Well, I deal in some things that lawmen don't like."

"So do I." She queried further. "What kinda things do ya deal in?"

"I got a saloon back in Colorado," he said. "Sometimes, I do things that ain't so legal. I was thinkin' about openin' a saloon down here. I got some ladies who entertain men in ways that.... well, ain't so legal. So, I just wondered how that kinda thing sits with lawmen around here."

She mentioned, "Well, we have some officers who go by the book an' some who don't."

He decided to be direct. "You ever hear o' Jack Tague."

She stiffened. "Tague. Why?"

He noticed the change in her. "I take it ya don't like him."

"How do you know him?" Her brow wrinkled.

Hank raised an eyebrow. "I met him back in Colorado. How d' you know him?"

She hesitated. "I.... uh, I just do."

"Let me buy ya another drink," he offered.

"I thought you have a busy day tomorrow," she reminded.

"I do." He grinned. "But, it ain't t'morrow yet."

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

As dawn neared, Sully rose from his wife's side. He reached for the clothes William had supplied him.

Michaela heard him stir. "Sully? What are you doing?"

"Gettin' dressed," he answered. "I gotta leave before daylight."

"But there's plenty of time." She was puzzled.

He spoke low. "I gotta go."

"Wait," she implored. "I brought your clothes from home."

"Ya did?" He was surprised.

She rose from the bed. "I thought you would need them."

He considered, "Only thing is, it might draw more attention t' me if I wear the kinda clothes I do back home."

She gestured at the shirt and pants he was holding. "But these are virtual rags."

Sully mentioned, "Should've seen what Tague had me wear." He finished dressing and stepped closer to her. "I'll be back later."

"Please be careful," she cautioned.

He embraced her. "I will."

They shared a sweet kiss.

He drew back slowly. "Thanks for not givin' up on me."

Michaela's eyes began to redden. "I love you, Sully."

"I love you, too," he uttered as he went to the window and exited.

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

Hank had plied Charity with enough whiskey to down a horse. The woman could hold her liquor. That was for sure. They were the only two people in the bar who had not passed out.

Hank pulled out a five dollar gold piece. "This is for you, Charity."

"You got a room at the hotel, or should I...." She was interrupted.

Hank smirked. "Much as I'd like to, the money ain't for that."

"What's it for then?" She was confused.

He kept his voice low. "Information."

She questioned, "About what?"

"Jack Tague," he whispered.

"I don't want to talk about him," she protested.

Hank explained. "This is real important. A man's life depends on it. I need to know everythin' I can find out about Tague."

She shook her head no. Then, leaving the coin on the table, she departed.

"Damn," Hank sighed. "All that good whiskey for nothin'."

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

After breakfast, Matthew headed for Atlanta's Pinkerton Agency office. He asked to meet with Agent H.B. Pierce but was told the man was out of town.

"When will he be back?" Matthew queried.

The receptionist answered, "The superintendent should return any day, sir."

Matthew exhaled loudly in frustration, "Well, is there someone else I could talk to?"

"Certainly," the receptionist offered. "A. S. Cowerdin is his supervisor. He's available."

"Thanks," Matthew tipped his hat.

Within a few minutes, Matthew was in Cowerdin's office.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Cooper?" Cowerdin queried.

Matthew explained, "I'm a lawyer from Colorado Springs. I got reason t' believe that my client was blamed for a crime he didn't commit here in Atlanta."

Cowerdin looked at him skeptically, "As his lawyer, you would no doubt think he was innocent."

Matthew remained calm. "I know he was innocent. At any rate, I believe one of our residents of Colorado Springs paid a Pinkerton Agent here t' investigate my client's background. Is there a way that you could verify that for me?"

Cowerdin shook his head. "Our clients' names are confidential."

Matthew tried a different approach. "Is the location of your client confidential, too?"

"Yes," he returned. "I'm afraid I can't help you."

Matthew started to rise, then turned to ask, "You know a lawman around here by the name of Jack Tague?"

"I've heard of him." He nodded.

Matthew withdrew a role of money from his pocket. "Then I'd like t' hire you t' investigate him."

Cowerdin's eyes widened at the amount. "What would you like to know?"

"Everythin'.... his background, his friends, enemies, lovers, which side o' the bed he gets up on...." Matthew detailed.

"It appears that you have sufficient funds to employ our services." Cowerdin nodded.

Matthew added, "There's a bonus if you can get it t' me by supper."

The agent extended his hand. "We'll get right on it."

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

Brian entered the office of The Atlanta Constitution and requested a meeting with Henry Grady.

The young man at the front desk looked him up and down. "And what makes you think Mr. Grady would wanna meet with ya'll?"

Brian calmly explained, "I have evidence that there is a corrupt sheriff in this county."

The man chuckled. "That ain't news."

Brian frowned, "Maybe I'll take it to my editor at Harper's Weekly then."

He stopped laughing. "You write for Harpers?"

"Yes," Brian folded his arms. "Do you think Mr. Grady might be willing to see me now?"

"Wait right here," he replied. Within moments, he returned. "Mr. Grady will see you."

When Brian stepped into the office of Editor Grady, he was surprised at his youthful appearance. The man could not have been more than 30 years old.

"Good morning," Brian extended his hand. "I'm Brian Cooper from Colorado Springs."

"A pleasure, sir." Grady greeted him. "Our receptionist tells me that you write for Harper's Weekly."

"Yes," he acknowledged.

"I just finished an essay for their sister journal, Harper's Monthly, titled 'Cotton and Its Kingdom,'" Grady informed him. "They tell me it will be published this fall."

"I look forward to reading it," Brian commented.

"So, what can I do for you?" Grady came to the point.

He began, "I know you write a column called 'Man About Town' on political and civic themes."

"Among other things." Grady anticipated more.

Brian stated, "Would you consider a corrupt Fulton County deputy sheriff to be of interest?"

His eyes widened. "Great interest indeed." He pulled out a paper and pen. "Tell me more, Mr. Cooper."

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

Michaela entered the telegraph office and approached the first available telegrapher.

He smiled as he stood with his pencil and tablet poised to write. "Where to, Ma'am?"

"Colorado Springs, Colorado," she answered.

"Go ahead." He waited for the message.

Michaela dictated: "Bridget, we are in Atlanta. Stop. Have not learned of Sully's whereabouts yet. Stop. Tell the children not to worry and give them my love. Stop. We shall find him. Stop."

"That's it, Ma'am?" He began to count the words.

Michaela withdrew a gold piece from her purse and set it on the counter.

He began to protest. "It won't be that much."

She explained, "This is payment for not sending it."

His brow wrinkled. "Beg your pardon?"

She pulled a piece of paper from her purse. "This is the telegram I want you to send."

He tilted his head. "I don't understand. What about the one ya just dictated t' me?"

"If anyone inquires about the telegram I sent, give them the one I dictated," she said.

He asserted, "I ain't allowed t' give anyone your telegram, no matter which one it is, Ma'am."

"What about an officer of the law?" she questioned.

"Why would an officer be interested?" He was puzzled.

Michaela set another gold piece on the counter. "This is for following my directions."

He looked at the folded paper she had handed him. "Send this one. But if a lawman asks, tell him about the other?"

"That's right." She nodded.

He pocketed the coins, "Yes, Ma'am."

When she left the depot, she spotted some black children on the corner. She lamented the fact that they were not in school. Then her thoughts turned to the little girl of whom Sully had spoken.

"Jennie," she recalled. "Sully wanted to do something for you. Perhaps I can help."

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

Colleen and Hank peered from their carriage as it slowed before the white-columned mansion.

The black driver turned to inform them, "This here's the house."

"You sure?" Hank questioned.

The driver frowned. "I was raised 'round here, sir. I know where Miss Belle lives."

Colleen requested as she stepped down, "Please wait for us."

He tipped his hat. "Yes, Ma'am."

Hank escorted Colleen to the door and knocked. A plump dark woman opened it.

Colleen spoke in a southern accent, "Good mornin'. We're here to see Belle LeBlanc."

The woman put her hand on her hip. "What's your name?"

"Colleen Cook," she replied. "And this is my.... husband.... Beauregard."

Hank smirked, but played along.

Imitating a drawl, he removed his hat. "This here's the house I was tellin' ya about, darlin'. I hope Mrs. LeBlanc will consider sellin' it t' us."

The woman raised her hand. "Wait right here. I'll go get Miss Belle."

Alone now, Hank turned to Colleen. "Beauregard?"

She remained serious. "I'll call you Beau."

He mumbled, "Good thing our last name ain't Peep."

They heard someone approaching. Hank stepped back to toss his cigar away.

The lady of the house spoke to Colleen, "My maid Letty said you were interested in my house, but I'm afraid it's not for sale."

When Hank pivoted toward the voice, he froze.

************
Chapter 20
************

Hank's jaw dropped. "Charity?"

Belle's face paled. "I believe you have me mistaken for someone else, sir."

Hank rubbed his chin and eyed her more closely. "There's some things a man don't forget."

Colleen tilted her head quizzically, "Mrs. LeBlanc, my husband and I are...."

Belle interrupted and gestured toward Hank. "He's your husband?"

Hank rolled his eyes. "Anybody around here know how t' tell the truth?"

Belle spoke nervously to them, "I think it would be best if you leave."

Hank stood firm. "I ain't goin' anywhere until I get some answers."

Colleen wondered why he had dropped the subterfuge. "Uh.... Beau, why don't you take a walk while Mrs. LeBlanc and I converse?"

Hank put his hands on his hips. "Look, Charity, or Belle or whatever the hell your name is, I want some answers."

Colleen spoke low, "Hank, what are you doing?"

He persisted as he leaned closer to Belle. "You made some accusations about a man killin' your husband that ain't true. Your lies got him arrested and thrown int' the old prisoner of war camp at Andersonville."

"Andersonville?" Belle was genuinely surprised. "I don't know what you're talkin' about."

Colleen implored. "Look, Mrs. LeBlanc, the truth is we're talking about my father, Byron Sully. We've been worried sick about him. Please, can't you tell us what really happened to your husband so that we can clear his name?"

Belle folded her hands nervously.

Hank added, "Maybe there's a few folks around here who'd be interested in how you spend your evenin's."

Belle's eyes widened. "Please, no. Don't tell anyone."

He asserted, "Then tell us the truth."

Belle stepped back to permit their entrance.

She sat down as tears welled in her eyes. "Your father didn't kill my husband, but I let on all these years that he did. When Julia got out of the prison in Denver and returned to Atlanta, we ended our estrangement. I told her about my hidin' the Union deserter who an' that he'd killed Charles durin' the War. He matched the description of the Yankee sniper who had killed her father not far from here. At first, I thought it was just a coincidence, but there was a Pinkerton agent investigatin' the actions of the deserter, too. He led us t' believe it was the same man."

Hank persisted, "Why'd you let folks think the deserter killed your husband if you knew he didn't do it?"

She hedged. "Uh.... well, because I was afraid. If folks found out that Charles was shot durin' a struggle between my husband an' my lover.... it would ruin my family's reputation."

Hank scoffed, "From what I've seen, their reputation is pretty bad already."

Belle reiterated, "I thought I'd never see or hear o' that Yankee again, so I let on that he killed Charles."

Hank told her, "If you're willin' t' testify t' this, then I won't tell anyone where you been spendin' your evenin's."

Belle announced, "That's blackmail."

Hank countered, "It's justice."

"Justice," Belle sighed. "That's all Julia an' Jack have talked about. I never meant for any of this to happen. I didn't mean for your father or anyone else to die. If only I could undo the wrong I've done."

Colleen raised an eyebrow. Belle did not realize that Sully was still alive? She glanced at Hank. She could discern from his expression that he was thinking the same thing. Should they let the woman think he was dead? No, Colleen thought. Maybe she would be willing to make amends.

"Mrs. LeBlanc...." Colleen looked at Hank again.

He nodded for her to go ahead.

Colleen stated. "Sully is still alive."

"What?" Her face brightened. "But I thought.... Julia told me that Tague had taken care of him."

Hank returned. "Oh, he took care of him, all right. Damned near killed him. But if you meant what ya said, here's your chance t' undo the wrong ya did. Help us clear his name."

Belle hedged. "And you promise not to mention what I...."

Hank shrugged. "What you do in your private life is your business."

Colleen was puzzled by their exchange but said nothing.

Belle nodded her ascent. "All right. I'll help you."

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


Not far from the Markham House, construction was underway on the new Fulton County Courthouse. Sully was able to find quick carpentry work and could watch the comings and goings of many Atlantans, including those entering the old courthouse.

As he took a break for lunch, he struck up a conversation with one of the other workmen. The man was in his late forties, clean shaven and muscular. He seemed knowledgeable about the project.

Sully remarked, "When ya think this buildin' will be finished?"

"Next year, they say," he replied. "It's costin' $100,000." He wiped his hand on his shirt, then extended it. "Name's George Howard."

"My name's Sully," he shook his hand.

"You ain't from around here," George discerned. "You a Yankee?"

"I'm from Colorado," Sully answered.

He took a bite of bread. "You're far from home. What brings ya here?"

"Work," Sully answered simply.

George rubbed his chin. "They don't have work in Colorado?"

At that moment, Sully noticed Jack Tague across the street. He tensed and lowered his head.

George noticed. "You know him?"

"Who?" Sully pretended.

"Jack Tague," he returned.

Sully watched Tague continue down the street and turned the question around. "Do you know him?"

George rolled his eyes. "All too well."

He was curious. "Yea?"

"He's a son of a bitch," George said with disgust. "We best get back t' work."

Sully paused. "George, I need t' find out everythin' I can about Tague."

"Why?" he was curious.

"Let's just say, my life could depend on it." Sully lifted his hammer. "What do ya know about him?"

As the two men returned to work, George spoke. "Tague killed my brother two years ago. It was in a bar. Billy had too much t' drink. Tague pulled a knife from his boot an' stabbed him. Later he told Judge Davis that my brother was the one who had pulled the knife, but that wasn't what happened."

"Didn't anyone else see it?" Sully posed the question.

George shrugged. "Wouldn't've mattered if they did. Tague has a way of gettin' rid o' folks who know what really happened."

Sully pondered his words.

George studied his expression. "You said your life could depend on it? You ain't thinkin' of goin' up against him. Are ya?"

Sully considered, "Everybody's got a weakness. I wonder what his is?"

"Julia Hall," George stated.

Sully's jaw tensed at the name. "What about her?"

"She's Tague's weakness," he returned.

"How d' you know?" Sully probed.

He explained. "I make it a point t' know all I can about Jack Tague. Word is, he got her outa some kinda trouble out West."

"What kinda trouble?" Sully wondered how much he knew.

George replied. "I don't know that, but I do know her brother never came back with her."

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

Judge Alexander Davis was a thin man, with gray hair and a mustache that curled up at the ends. His blue eyes were kind, but criminals in Fulton County knew better than to mistake his expression for weakness. Davis was an expert on Georgia Constitutional law. Though he was against secession, he had fought for the Confederacy during the War. He loathed slavery, but he loved his home state. He had been a lawyer for twenty years before the War. Since becoming a judge after the great conflict had ended, never had a hint of scandal or impropriety been linked to him.

On this sunny afternoon, while other judges went to their various clubs to dine in style, Davis sat at his desk eating a sandwich. He poured over his law books searching for a precedent in the case he was hearing.

Hearing voices approaching his open door, he glanced up from his desk. To his surprise, there stood two blonde women on either side of a tall, long-haired man.

The judge cleared his throat. "There's no trials at the moment, folks."

Hank said, "You a judge?"

"I am," Davis confirmed. "But you'll have to make an appointment if you wish to speak to me."

From down the hall, Jack Tague overheard the judge's voice and walked toward his office.

Davis spotted Tague. "Deputy, would you please escort these people out of here?"

Tague scowled when he saw them. "What the hell are you doin' here?"

Hank pointed to himself. "Me? Just passin' through."

Davis suddenly became interested. "You know this man, Deputy?"

Tague nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. He's the sheriff of Colorado Springs."

"Well, Sheriff, what brings you all the way to Atlanta?" the judge queried.

Tague looked nervously at Belle. "It appears to me that he's harassin' this lady."

Colleen interceded, "Your honor, we need to speak with you about a matter of utmost urgency. We've come all the way from Colorado."

Davis questioned, "Can your matter of utmost urgency be summarized in fifteen minutes?"

She agreed, "Yes, sir."

Tague attempted to head them off. "Why are you folks botherin' the judge here? I can help ya. Let's let Judge Davis eat in peace."

Hank resisted, "That's nice of ya, Jack, but I think the judge is gonna be real interested in what Mrs. LeBlanc here, has t' say."

Davis leaned forward. "LeBlanc? Belle LeBlanc?"

She was barely audible. "Yes, sir."

The judge recalled. "I remember that name. There was a murder...."

"That was my husband," Belle acknowledged. "Back in 1865."

Tague tried again. "I'm sure it's much too upsettin' for this poor widow t' talk about the death of her husband. Have a heart, Sheriff Lawson."

Hank smirked. "Like you?"

The judge directed, "All right, Deputy. I'll hear what they have to say. You may go."

"But, your honor," Tague attempted.

"Give me fifteen minutes with them," he smiled.

Tague stepped out of the room and closed the door. In the hallway, his hands began to perspire.

"Damn," he said to himself. "I gotta do somethin' t' stop 'em."

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

Michaela paced in her hotel room. She went to the window, wondering where Sully might be. She worried that she should have gone with him. What if....

There was a knock at the door.

Thinking it might be one of her children or Hank, she rushed to answer it. There, stood a waiter, his head down and hair concealed beneath a white hat. He began to roll a cart of food into the room.

Michaela protested, "There must be a mistake. I didn't order anything."

He ignored her and rolled it forward. Once in the room, the man closed the door. Then he raised up and embraced Michaela.

She began to protest. "Wha--?"

The man smiled, "It's me, Michaela."

"Sully," she threw her arms around him.

"Told ya I'd be back," he kissed her.

She looked at his garb. "How did you get this?"

"Borrowed it." He kissed her again.

Michaela could not help but smile. "You make a very handsome chef, Mr. Sully."

"Thanks." He lifted the lid from the plates. "I brought ya some lunch."

"Are you certain no one was watching you?" She worried.

"I'm sure," he assured. "I think things are gonna change real soon for us, Michaela."

"How?" She was curious.

"I saw someone goin' int' the old courthouse with Hank an' Colleen," he noted.

"Who?" She was curious.

He revealed, "Belle LeBlanc."

Her eyes lit up. "Oh, Sully. They must have convinced her to tell the truth."

"That's what I was thinkin'." He smiled. "Only thing is, Tague was in there, too."

She grew concerned. "Did he see you?"

"No," he assured. "I was workin' across the street on a carpentry job where the new courthouse is goin' up. That's where I met a fella named George Howard. When we saw the good deputy, he started tellin' me about what Tague did."

"Mr. Howard knew Tague?" She was surprised.

"Yep." Sully nodded. "George told me Tague killed his brother a couple years ago an' intimidated witnesses int' not talkin'."

She considered, "So Deputy Tague's actions have not always been motivated by Julia Hall."

He agreed, "Julia was locked up in Denver then."

"That reminds me." She paused to take a bite of biscuit. "I sent a telegram to Dorothy asking her to inquire about Lyman Hall."

He tilted his head. "Lyman?"

"It's curious to me that Tague would free Julia and not her brother," she explained.

His brow wrinkled. "What if Tague finds out ya sent that telegram?"

"Then the telegrapher will tell him that I merely sent a wire to let Bridget know that I haven't found you yet," she replied.

Sully was puzzled. "But ya just said ya sent a telegram t' Dorothy askin' about Julia's brother."

She reached over and fed him a bit of cheese. "Don't worry. The telegrapher was quite clear about my instructions."

At that moment, they were interrupted by a knock at the door.

Swiftly, Sully stepped behind the door as Michaela opened it.

"Brian." She was relieved.

"Hey, Ma." He kissed her cheek. When he entered the room, he saw Sully. "Pa, I didn't expect to see you here, but I'm glad you are. I got good news. Mr. Grady has agreed to investigate Deputy Tague."

Michaela noted, "That is good news, but it might not be necessary."

"Oh?" Brian was surprised. "Why not?"

Sully detailed what he had seen earlier. As he concluded, there came another tapping at the door. With caution, Michaela opened it. There stood Matthew. He informed them that he had hired the services of a Pinkerton agent to research Tague's background. Sully filled him in on what he had observed, as well.

Matthew was hopeful. "I'll go over t' the courthouse in case Colleen an' Hank need some help."

"I'll come, too." Brian offered.

Michaela said, "I want you both to be very careful."

After embracing her, they departed.

Now alone with her husband, Michaela suggested. "Shall we finish our meal?"

She lifted a slice of cheese from the table and offered it to him. When Sully took it into his mouth, his lips lingered around her fingers. She turned up the corner of her mouth with an alluring smile. He returned the favor with a piece of chicken. This time, her lips lingered around his fingers.

Michaela peered into his eyes. "I can't believe you're really here with me again."

He smiled. "We ain't dreamin' this time."

Sully enfolded her in his arms and kissed her forehead. Then closing his eyes, he inhaled the scent of her. Michaela tilted her head against his chest, feeling the beat of his heart against her cheek. They stood like this for several minutes.

He pulled back. "I don't feel right about this."

"About what?" She was uncertain.

He clarified,"I don't feel right about Colleen an' the boys goin' up against Tague."

His concern heightened hers. "You don't think Hank can help them?"

"I need t' go check on 'em." He stepped to the table and donned his serving clothes.

"Sully," she cautioned. "Be careful."

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

Belle LeBlanc had finished telling her story to Judge Davis when Matthew and Brian arrived. The judge was already issuing a warrant for the arrest of Jack Tague and Julia Hall.

Matthew spoke up. "Your honor, I'm Matthew Cooper, Dr. Cook's brother. I'm a lawyer. If I could offer some advice, sir...."

Davis nodded. "Go ahead."

Matthew resumed, "Given that Deputy Tague is a county law officer, do you think you can trust the men in his department to arrest him?"

Davis pondered. "I believe that the vast majority of our officers are above reproach."

Hank volunteered. "I can arrest him."

The judge reminded, "You have no jurisdiction here."

Hank smirked. "Couldn't you give it t' me?"

Davis considered for a moment, then agreed. "I'll do so. You may arrest them."

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

Michaela felt on edge again. A wave of nausea hit her. Each time Sully left her side, the fear of his never returning hit her anew. She knew he would be careful, but Tague's ability to turn up at inopportune moments unsettled her further.

At that moment, there was a knock at the door. Still feeling uneasy, she opened it a crack. There stood the telegrapher she had contacted earlier in the day.

"I got a reply t' your telegram, Dr. Quinn." He handed her an envelope.

"Thank you," she acknowledged. "Did anyone inquire about my wire this morning?"

"No, Ma'am," he replied.

She tipped him, and as he departed, she turned to read it. She felt her stomach churn.

Dropping the paper to the floor, she uttered, "My God."

A voice spoke from the hallway. "Something wrong, Dr. Quinn?"

Quickly, she pivoted. "What.... what do you want?"

************
Chapter 21
************

Jack Tague eyed Michaela with hatred. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

She attempted to close the door, but he blocked it with his boot.

Michaela tried to sound calm. "I want you to leave."

He sighed. "Yes, I have no choice but to leave.... but not without you."

"Me?" She stepped back. "Why?"

He stepped closer. "You an' your family have hurt the woman I love. I took pity on your husband once, but it won't happen again."

"Took pity on him?" She was stunned. "You made me think he was dead."

Tague pulled his gun. "You'd have been better off thinkin' he was dead an' buried. Now, he's only gonna have t' bury you."

Michaela's eyes darted about, looking for any way to stop him. "Perhaps we can settle this before anyone else gets hurt, Deputy. I'll give you some money. You and Julia can take it.... start a new life."

He chuckled. "That's a good idea."

Michaela wondered why he so readily accepted her offer. "Then, I'll arrange for...."

He interrupted, "You're my insurance that we'll get that money."

"What do you mean?" she questioned.

"You're comin' with me." He grabbed her arm.

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


Sully found a doorway in an alley near the courthouse. It was not long before he spotted his children and Hank exiting the building. They were laughing and smiling as they neared his position.

When they reached him, Sully stepped out and motioned for them to join him.

"Pa!" Brian exclaimed.

Sully raised his finger to his lips. "Shhh! I saw ya comin' in here an' told your Ma I was gettin' worried that Tague might try somethin'."

Brian announced, "You don't have to hide anymore. You're a free man."

Sully's eyes widened. "I am?"

Hank retorted. "Well, you're still married t' Michaela, which ain't exactly free."

Matthew explained, "Belle told Judge Davis everythin'. He ordered the arrest of Tague an' Julia. Hank's been deputized t' do it."

Sully queried, "What about Belle?"

A woman spoke from behind them. "What about me?"

Belle LeBlanc came closer. Suddenly, Sully was face to face with the woman who had once saved his life, then nearly destroyed it. "Belle?"

"Mr. Sully." She gazed at him. "I want t' apologize for what you've been through. I'm truly sorry."

Brian added, "She told the Judge Davis she lied about you killin' her husband. Matthew got him to go easy on her."

Matthew pointed out, "I reminded him that it was durin' the War, an' feelin's against the Yankees were high."

Belle lowered her head. "I need to tell you all something."

Hank wondered if she had changed her mind. "What?"

"I need t' tell you why I did this." She took a deep breath, then began. "The death of my husband left me with a tremendous debt, and I was nearly penniless. Over the years, I've had t' resort t' some.... desperate measures t' pay it off. I had already lied t' everyone about how Charles had been killed. I told the lie so many times when folks would ask, I nearly believed it myself. Then Julia came back int' my life. This time, when I told the lie about my husband's death an' the Yankee deserter, Julia quickly figured out that it was the same man who had killed her father. I was trapped in my lies. I was too ashamed t' tell the truth.... that my lover had killed Charles."

Hank retorted, "This sounds like one o' them dime novel plots."

Belle went on. "I confessed t' my cousin that I was experiencin' money problems. So, Julia said she would help me. At first, I thought she meant that she would give me the money. But instead, she concocted a plan with Tague t' have Sully extradited t' Georgia for murdering my husband. Then we would get money from Mrs. Sully t' get him released. No one would be hurt. Please understand how desperate I was for the money. Somewhere along the way, they changed the plan on me."

Hank joked. "Hard t' believe someone like Julia or Tague would do that."

Belle shook her head. "I had no idea that they planned t' kill Sully. As it is, I'm still in debt, an' now I must face the serious charges related t' my perjury."

Sully stepped closer. "We'll help ya."

She was puzzled. "After all we've done t' you.... after all I've done?"

He nodded. "You saved my life sixteen years ago. Ya helped me at a time when I didn't know what t' do. I went home an' eventually found happiness. You deserve that, too."

She marveled at his generous spirit. "I.... I don't know how t' thank you."

Hank spoke up. "Well, I'd love t' chat, but I think it's time t' arrest Julia an' Tague."

Belle made a surprising offer. "Wait. Let me help."

Hank tilted his head. "You?"

She insisted, "I've made a mess of Sully's life an' mine. I'd like t' make amends."

Sully shook his head. "It's too dangerous."

Hank pointed out, "Look. We're wastin' time arguin'. I'm goin' t' arrest them."

Sully wondered, "You think they're t'gether?"

Brian suggested, "The judge made Tague leave his office. He might've caught up with Julia."

Belle informed them, "Julia still thinks Sully is dead. Tague told her that he had taken care of him. I doubt if Jack would go back t' let her know what's happened."

Sully stated, "That means Tague's on the loose. Hank, you take care o' Julia. I'm gonna find him."

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

Tague took Michaela down a back stairway at the Markham House. He held his gun to her side, threatening to shoot if she made a sound. She tried to slow her pace and prayed that someone would see them.

Tague squeezed her arm. "Faster."

When they reached the back alley, Michaela looked for a way to make a break. Tague had a police wagon waiting. As he stood behind her to gag her, she was able to break the strap of the wolf medallion and let it fall to the ground. Then he tied her hands and shoved her into the back of the wagon. After slamming and locking the door, they took off.

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

Belle entered Julia's home. Hank and Matthew waited outside, having sent Colleen and Brian to the hotel to tell Michaela the good news about the charges against Sully.

"Belle?" Julia was surprised. "What are you doing here?"

She sounded upset. "Oh, Julia, I heard something in Atlanta today, and I just had to tell you."

"What?" Julia stood.

"It's about Mr. Sully," she informed her.

Julia rolled her eyes. "What could you have possibly heard?"

"He's not dead!" Belle revealed.

Julia dismissed the notion with a wave of her hand. "That's nonsense. Jack killed him."

Belle continued, "There's more. Jack's been arrested. Julia, I don't think we should stay here any longer."

Julia began to pace. "This can't be. Jack told me it was taken care of. There must be some mistake."

Belle stepped closer. "If it's true, we need to leave at once."

"Yes," Julia agreed. "I'll tell Jeb to saddle my horse."

"What about me?" Belle sounded frantic.

Julia assured, "I'll have him saddle one for you, as well. Let me just go out to the barn and alert him."

With that, Julia headed for the door. The moment she left the house, Hank grabbed her.

He spoke as he put handcuffs on her, "Goin' somewhere?"

She was taken aback. "What are you doing here?"

Hank retorted, "I been upset with you since ya broke outa our jail in Colorado Springs."

"Why are you handcuffing me?" Julia demanded.

Matthew came out from behind a column on the porch. "Maybe 'cause ya belong in jail. Ya see, things were all backwards. Sully was in jail, an' you weren't. Now he's free, an' you'll be behind bars."

Julia's eyes widened in horror. "Then, it's true. Sully isn't...."

"Dead?" Matthew cut her off.

Hank shrugged. "Looks like there's been another resurrection. In the meantime, Julia, you're under arrest."

At that moment, Belle exited the house.

Julia nodded toward her. "Then you should arrest her, as well. This was all her doing. She's the one who made the accusations against Sully."

Hank pulled her toward the horses. "Loyalty don't run in your family. Does it?"

Matthew eyed Julia with contempt. "I'm gonna make sure you never see another day of freedom for what you've done t' my family."

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

Michaela leaned back and closed her eyes. She wondered if this were the wagon Tague had used to take Sully to Andersonville.

"Andersonville." Her heart skipped a beat. "Is that where he's taking me? Oh, Sully."

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

Colleen and Brian paused at the door of their mother's room to knock. There was no answer. Colleen sifted through her purse and found the key. When they entered, Michaela was nowhere to be seen.

Then Colleen noticed. "Her medical bag is still here. Ma rarely goes anywhere without it."

Brian put his hands on his hips. "Maybe she went downstairs for a newspaper."

Then Colleen spotted the telegram on the floor. "Look."

Brian bent down to retrieve it. He held it so they could both read.

Colleen was surprised. "It's from Dorothy."

Brian pointed to a line in the message. "Colleen.... it says...."

"I see what it says," she noted with alarm.

His brow creased in concern. "Obviously Ma read it, too. Maybe she's trying to find us to let us know about it."

"Could be," Colleen replied.

He recalled, "Pa said he told Ma he was coming to the courthouse to check on us. Maybe that's where she went."

Colleen touched his arm. "Let's go."

"Wait." He hesitated, then placed the telegram in his pocket. "You stay here in case Pa comes back. I'll go look for Ma."

She cautioned. "Be careful, Brian. I don't have a good feeling about this."

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

Hank slammed the jail cell on Julia Hall. "One down. One to go."

She clasped the iron bars. "Jack will get me out again."

Matthew affirmed. "Not this time." Turning to Hank, he stated, "I'll go back t' the Markham House an' tell them we got her."

A Sheriff's Deputy approached. "Judge Davis sent me."

Hank eyed him suspiciously. "That mean we can trust ya?"

"Yes, sir," the man replied.

Matthew was skeptical. "You know Tague?"

"'Course I do," he answered. "That don't mean I like him. The truth is, he's walked over a lot o' men here t' get where he is. He don't have that many friends."

Matthew pointed out, "He's got at least one in the governor's office."

The officer shook his head. "Judge Davis is lookin' int' that."

Matthew tilted his head, "Ya said he sent you."

The deputy nodded. "The judge said t' tell ya your brother is at the courthouse. He needs t' see you right away."

Hank motioned. "Go ahead. I'll keep an eye on things here."

Matthew departed and soon made his way to the courthouse.

He spotted Brian in the lobby. "Hey, little brother."

Brian's expression indicated his upset. "Matthew, Ma's gone."

"Gone where?" He was puzzled.

"I don't know." Brian swallowed hard. "But she got a telegram from Miss Dorothy."

"So?" Matthew was curious.

Brian took the paper from his pocket. "So, I think you better read it."

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

At the new courthouse, Sully found George Howard and wasted no time in asking him, "You see Tague lately?"

"Yea," he returned. "Where ya been?"

Sully's eyes implored. "I gotta find him. Which way did he go?"

George gestured toward the railroad depot. "That way."

Sully had gotten to know the streets of Atlanta fairly well. The direction George had pointed could also be the Markham House.

The thought stunned Sully. "The hotel."

George questioned, "You comin' back t' work?"

"No." Sully bolted off.

In a matter of minutes, he arrived at the Markham House. He rushed up the steps and raced down the hallway to Michaela's room. There, he found a distraught Colleen.

"Pa." She sounded frantic. "We don't know where Ma is."

He felt as if his heart would pound out of his chest. "I think Tague might have her."

"What?" She was horrified.

Sully rubbed his hand across his lip. "Maybe she left somethin' behind as a clue."

"There was a telegram from Dorothy on the floor," she noted.

"What did it say?" he asked.

At that moment, Matthew and Brian burst into the room.

Brian spoke up. "Any sign of Ma?"

"No," Sully sighed.

Matthew enlightened him. "We got Julia locked up."

Sully acknowledged, "That's good, but Tague's still loose, an' now your Ma's missin'."

Brian's eyes widened. "You think he's got her?"

"Yes," Sully headed for the door. "I'm goin' out t' look. Long as she's all right, she would've left somethin' behind t' let me know."

As he departed, Colleen called, "But Pa.... the telegram."

Matthew chased after Sully. "I'll tell him."

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

Michaela suddenly felt the wagon become even shakier. She knew enough to discern that the rim of a wheel had come off. Tague would be stopping. She determined to escape if he opened the door.

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

Matthew located Sully in the alley behind the hotel. "Find anythin'?"

Sully knelt down, "Looks like a wagon was here recently."

The young man touched his shoulder. "Sully, there's somethin' you need t' know."

He rose up. "What?"

Matthew told him. "Dorothy sent Ma a telegram. She found out that Lyman Hall, Julia's brother, is dead."

"What?" Sully was surprised. "How? When?"

"Around the time Tague showed up t' get Julia out." He stated. "They found him hangin' in his cell."

"Suicide?" Sully doubted.

"That's how it looked," Matthew responded.

Sully's jaw tensed. "Or murder."

The young man remarked, "At any rate, Tague got Julia out an' got you extradited all with the help o' someone in Governor Colquitt's office."

Sully returned to the more pressing matter. "We can worry about that later. Right now, I need t' find Michaela. If Tague's got her...."

He stopped, spotting something glistening on the ground. Rushing to pick it up, his heart stopped.

Matthew noticed. "What is it?"

"It's the medallion your Ma gave me for my birthday." Sully felt a chill go down his spine. He examined the ground more closely. "Reminds me of...."

He wondered why he stopped. "Of what?"

"The police wagon Tague used t' take me t' Andersonville," Sully answered. "The wagon track looked like the wheel rim was damaged, just like this one. See, here in the track?"

Sully began to run in the direction of the main street.

"Sully!" Matthew called after him. "Where are you goin'?"

Sully called over his shoulder, "To get a horse. Tague has your Ma. I don't think they could've got too far."

Matthew rushed after him. "But where would he take her?"

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


Michaela leaned against the inside of the wagon. It had abrubtly lurch to one side and stopped. Her body ached from the severe jostling of the ride and sudden stop. Her stomach was churning, as well. She could hear Tague swearing. Suddenly, she discerned a horse approaching.

************
Chapter 22
************

Michaela listened as Tague spoke to someone.

"Hey, Sheriff," the man said. "Need a ride?"

"No," Tague replied. "But I'd appreciate it if ya could fetch a blacksmith from over at Hopeville. The damned rim's broke."

"Sure, I'll fetch him," he agreed. "It might take a little time."

Tague sighed, "Tell him it's official business."

"Yes, sir," the man replied as he galloped off.

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

As dusk approached, Sully and Matthew knew they would not be able to travel too much farther. In the distance, Sully spotted something. He motioned to slow the horses.

"What is it?" Matthew questioned.

"Up ahead." Sully nodded. "A police wagon."

Matthew squinted to focus on it. "You're right. But I don't see anyone with it."

Sully dismounted. "You stay here."

"Wait," Matthew urged.

Sully asserted. "Stay back here."

The young man held the rein of his horse as Sully darted into the brush beside the road.

Using the bushes near the road for cover, Sully stealthily made his way toward the wagon. He noticed Tague, leaning against the wagon, sipping from a canteen. Nearby was the broken rim from the wheel. The door on the wagon was shut and bolted.

Sully heard the snapping of a twig and quickly turned his head to see Matthew. Raising his index finger to his lips, he indicated silence. Then Sully motioned that he was going down the road to cross it and approach the wagon from the other side. With gun drawn, Matthew nodded.

When Sully had disappeared, Matthew clasped his revolver, determined that if Tague made a move to harm his mother or Sully, he would shoot. It was not long before he caught sight of Sully making his way beneath the wagon. The horses snorted restlessly. Matthew aimed his gun at Tague.

Sully froze, and the animals settled. Then, before Matthew could even blink, Sully swung his feet around and knocked Tague over. Within seconds, the deputy was disarmed and immobilized with his face down and arms behind his back. Matthew rushed forward, training his gun on the deputy.

Sully rushed for the door of the wagon.

"Michaela!" he called out.

Her face appeared in the window. Swiftly, Sully slid open the bolt and lifted his wife down.

He untied her hands and the gag around her mouth. "Are you okay?"

She wrapped her arms around him. "I am now."

As they embraced, Matthew forced Tague to stand.

Sully turned to the deputy. "Your days as a lawman are over Tague. Julia's in jail, an' you're next."

Desperately, Tague leaned down, but a shot rang out. Tague fell forward and slumped onto the ground with a bullet in his back.

"Matthew!" Michaela thought he had fired.

The young man had a puzzled expression on his face as he still clung to his gun. "It wasn't me, Ma."

A man stepped from the bushes as he holstered his revolver. "I did."

Matthew tilted his head. "Cowerdin?"

The Pinkerton Agent replied, "It appears I got here just in time."

Michaela knelt down to assess Tague's injury. "He's dead."

Sully looked at Cowerdin, "Just in time for what?"

"To keep him from killing you," the man answered.

Matthew pointed out, "He was unarmed."

"I beg to differ." Cowerdin leaned over and pulled a partially- drawn knife from Tague's boot.

Sully turned to the agent. "I owe ya. Thanks for savin' my life."

Cowerdin put his hands on his hips. "Since Mr. Cooper employed my services this morning, I've learned quite a bit about Tague and the way he operates. I have also discovered that our agent Pierce has been extremely unethical in his dealings. Apparently, he has cooperated with Tague in manipulating and falsifying information."

Matthew was surprised. "Ya sure figured things out fast."

"That's what you paid me to do," he noted.

Sully probed, "Do ya know who hired Pierce t' investigate me?"

Cowerdin hesitated, then said, "I'm afraid I cannot divulge the names of our clients."

Matthew changed the subject. "We oughta return t' the hotel before dark. Brian an' Colleen will be worried."

Cowerdin offered, "I shall make arrangements for Tague's body to be returned to Atlanta."

Sully turned to Michaela. From his pocket, he withdrew the wolf medallion.

Her eyes lit up. "You found it!"

Pulling her into his embrace, he smiled. "Good clue, Dr. Quinn."

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

Reunited with their family and Hank, Michaela and Sully filled them in on all that had transpired since her kidnapping by Tague.

"Julia told me Tague killed her brother," Hank mentioned. "Made it look like a suicide."

Sully doubted. "You believe her?"

Hank shrugged. "The main thing is she's locked up now."

Michaela looked at her husband. "Somehow I don't think that's much consolation. She seems to be like the Phoenix."

Hank queried, "What the hell's this got t' do with Arizona?"

She clarified, "No, I was referring to the Phoenix of mythology. It rose from the ashes."

Hank leaned back in his chair as he looked at Sully. "How d' you put up with this?"

Sully placed his hand on Michaela's. "I reckon she gets asked the same thing about me."

Michaela smiled at her husband, then turned to Hank. "I am curious about one thing."

"Only one thing?" Hank retorted.

She ignored his remark. "Sully and I are very grateful that you came to Atlanta, Hank. Your help was invaluable."

"So, what are ya curious about?" Hank interjected.

She posed the question. "What really prompted you to come to Atlanta?"

Hank stroked his stubbled chin. "I was asked t' get someone's Pa outa jail."

She remembered, "Josef."

Hank grinned. "He was real persuasive."

Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door. Matthew opened it. There stood a waiter with a cart of covered dishes.

Colleen smiled. "I took the liberty of ordering dinner for Ma and Pa."

Sully was surprised. "What about all of you?"

Matthew grinned. "Don't worry. We'll get somethin' t' eat, too."

Michaela's cheeks flushed. "I don't know how to thank all of you."

Sully nodded. "I appreciate it more than words can say."

Colleen stood. "Come on, boys. Let's let them have some time alone."

Hank smirked.

Matthew elbowed his side. "Don't say anythin'."

Michaela and Sully were soon alone. She went to him and slid her arms around his waist. Sully embraced her fully.

She looked up at him. "You must be famished."

"You, too," he replied. "Let's eat."

As they dined, few words were spoken. They were exhausted and relieved. Then came another knock at the door.

Michaela mentioned, "Perhaps they forgot something."

"I'll get it," Sully offered as he stood.

When he opened the door, there were several hotel staff with two tubs and pots of piping hot water.

One of the maids spoke, "We were told you an' your husband would be wanting baths, Mrs. Sully."

"I didn't...." She stopped and upon second thought requested, "Uh, yes, please come in."

The staff wasted no time in placing the tubs in the center of the room, pouring in the hot water and setting a partition between them.

The maid curtsied. "Will there be anything else, Ma'am?"

"No, thank you," Michaela smiled as she tipped them.

They departed.

Michaela turned to Sully. "It appears that they've thought of everything."

Sully nodded silently.

She went to him, and kneeling before him, clasped his hand. "Are you all right?"

He paused before speaking. "I'm just tired."

She cupped his cheek with the palm of her hand. "Then why don't we take our baths and go to bed?"

"You go ahead." He gestured.

Michaela had hoped that he would join her, but she realized he was still not himself. She left his side and went behind the partition to undress.

Sully could see her outline as she removed her clothes. He heard her slide into the tub and sigh. He wanted to go to her, massage her shoulders, tell her he loved her, but he held back.

Her soft voice beckoned, "Sully."

"Mmm?" He did not move.

She hesitated. She did not want to push him. "Nothing."

He was curious. "What is it, Michaela?"

She did not speak. He worried that she might be too warm or not warm enough. Rising from his chair, he went to her.

He stopped as he gazed at her in the tub. His heart leapt at her beauty. Even after all that she had been through, she still took his breath away.

Michaela noticed his expression. "Are you sure you're all right?"

He swallowed hard. "Yea. What did ya want?"

She gestured toward the scented oil that the hotel staff had left. "I.... I was wondering if you might rub some of this on my back."

"Sure." He bent down and poured some into his palms.

Then he rubbed his hands together. Slowly, he began to apply the liquid across her shoulders. Michaela leaned forward so that he could spread it along her back. She closed her eyes to savor his touch. His hands were magic.

Sully felt himself begin to unwind as he continued his movements. He thought about all that he had been through in the past weeks. His mind drifted to the darkness of the stockade, where his only companionship had been his dreams of Michaela.

"Sully?" Her voice brought him back to reality. "Thank you."

He rinsed off his hands and dried them on the towel. "You're welcome."

Then he returned to the table. Michaela rose from the water and dried herself. With the towel wrapped around her, she went to the closet to pick out her nightgown. She glanced over her shoulder. Sully still seemed lost in his thoughts.

After donning her robe, she went to him. "Your turn."

He acknowledged, "I guess I oughta clean up."

She assured, "Only if you want to."


He knew that he was covered in the day's dirt. Walking to the tub, he removed his soiled clothing and lowered himself into the now-tepid bath water. It felt good.

Michaela stayed back, waiting, hoping he might begin to relax around her. He made no sound. After several minutes, she grew concerned and stepped around the partition. She leaned down to brush a stray lock of hair from his face. He had fallen asleep.

"Sully," she spoke gently. "Wake up."

"Wha--?" He was disoriented.

"You fell asleep," she explained.

He rubbed his face and yawned. "I reckon I did."

"Here." She offered him a towel.

He hesitated in standing. It was not modesty. It was.... He did not know why he did not want her to see him.

She understood. "I'll give you some privacy."

With that, she left him behind the partition.

Sully stood up and dried himself. Without looking, Michaela reached around to hand him a cotton nightshirt. He accepted it and put it on.

When Sully came from behind the screen, Michaela was already in bed. He busied himself with lowering the lamps in the room. Then he went to the window.

Michaela watched him. "Would you leave the curtains open? I like the moonlight."

"Sure." He turned to face her.

Michaela extended her hand. Tentatively, he reached out to clasp it. Slowly, she drew him closer to the edge of the bed. Then she patted it for him to sit. He did so.

She stroked his arm for a moment, then spoke, "There's no pressure, Sully. I.... I just wondered if...."

Tears began to form in her eyes. Sully tenderly caressed the side of her face. He hated to see her cry.

"I'm sorry, Michaela." His heart went out to her. "I.... I don't know if I can...."

"Can what?" She was uncertain.

He vacillated. "I don't know if I can be a husband to ya yet."

She caressed his cheek. "Sully, you are a husband to me."

"You know what I mean." He lowered his eyes.

Gently, she lifted his chin. "I thought I'd lost you. I've never been so heartbroken in my life. I wanted to...."

He wondered why she had stopped. "To what?"

She confessed, "I wanted to die, too."

"Michaela...." His brow wrinkled.

She assured, "I knew I had to go on for the children's sake. I prayed. I prayed so hard, Sully. I asked God, if only I could see you again, I would never want anything else in my life."

Sully's eyes reddened. "I wanted t' come home t' you.... I wanted t' tell you how much I love you an' the children."

"My prayers were answered." Her voice choked with emotion. "Don't you understand that I want nothing more than for us to hold one another? Just to tell you that I love you?"

She paused.


Then she uttered the words that filled her thoughts. "Hold me.... please?"

Sully leaned closer and kissed her. Then, gradually, he positioned himself beneath the covers along side of her. They kissed sweetly as he wrapped her in his arms.

Michaela could finally relax. The warmth of his body next to hers, the subtle beat of his heart in harmony with hers.... this is what she had so fervently desired. She closed her eyes and offered a silent prayer of gratitude.

Sully kissed her temple. "I love you with all my heart, Michaela."

"I'll never stop loving you," she whispered back.

Now, unburdened by their many weeks of anguish, they could fall asleep. Tomorrow, they would plan to return home. Right now, for this moment, they had all that they could possibly want.

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

In her jail cell, Julia Hall paced. Her hatred for Byron Sully consumed her. She plotted. She would get out of this place. She would.... Someone was coming. She heard the footsteps getting closer.

Then she saw the jailer appear out of the darkened corridor. "You have a visitor."

"At this hour?" She was puzzled. "Who?"

A figure stepped from the shadows behind him. "Me."

************
Chapter 23
************

Julia frowned at her cousin, "Why are you here? Come to gloat?"

Belle glanced at the jailer, "Mind if I speak with her alone?"

"Go ahead." He agreed.

Belle lowered her voice. "We don't have much time."

She clutched the bars of the cell, "As you can see, I have nothing but time."

Belle confessed, "I do feel terrible about this, Julia."

She glared. "Then why did you betray me?"

Belle sighed. "Because Sully's an innocent man. He didn't kill Charles."

She shot back, "He's not innocent. He murdered my father, a fact which you seem to have conveniently forgotten."

"I haven't forgotten what happened." She wavered. "But.... well, the truth is your father was a casualty of war."

Julia raised her voice, "He was murdered in cold blood!"

Belle added, "I believe Sully was a casualty of war, too."

Julia's eyes widened. "You must be mad. The man was a coward. He lay in waiting to shoot my father, and he hid himself in your barn when he deserted from the Yankee Army."

"I think I know why he deserted," Belle countered.

"I just told you why," she replied. "He's a coward."

"No, Julia." She attempted to reason. "I believe he ran because of the guilt he felt over what he had done t' your father."

"That proves my point." Julia smirked. "Why would he have felt guilty if he did nothing wrong?"

Belle sighed. "I guess I shouldn't have come here."

Julia observed tersely, "My mother was right about your side of the family. When Aunt Lucille had my mother institutionalized, I ...."

"Your mother was a drunkard," Belle interrupted.

"And your mother was a whore." Julia accused.

"I'm not proud of what happened to her," Belle countered.

"Like mother, like daughter, Charity?" Julia raised an eyebrow.

Belle was stunned. "What?"

"That's right, Belle." She smirked. "I know exactly who.... or should I say what you have become."

"How?" Her brow creased.

"Jack told me," she answered.

Belle's face reddened. "When?"

"When I told him that you had lied about the death of Charles," she detailed. "I couldn't believe that you would engage in such licentious behavior with a slave. That's when he informed me about your.... nightly activities. He's known about it for some time, but wanted to spare me."

"I needed the money," Belle explained. "You know that. I've tried to be discreet."

"You have disgraced our good name." Julia eyed her with contempt.

Belle was incredulous. "I have? What about you?"

"Everything I did was for our family," Julia defended.

Belle countered, "Do you think bein' in jail is goin' t' salvage our family's name?"

"Oh, I won't be by myself," Julia smugly replied.

"What do you mean?" She was puzzled.

"I'm taking you down with me, dear cousin," Julia threatened. "I'm going to tell the jury what you have done, as well."

Belle pointed out, "I already told Judge Davis that I lied about Sully."

"Did you tell him everything?" Julia challenged. "Did you tell him that your slave lover shot Charles? Do you think anyone is going to believe you when they learn that you're nothing but a common whore.... Charity?"

Belle felt her knees weaken. "What do you want, Julia?"

"I want out of here," she returned.

Belle considered. "If I help you, do you promise to leave Sully alone?"

Julia put on her most sincere look. "Yes, I promise."

Belle nodded. "Then I'll see what I can do to secure your release."

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

Michaela wakened to see a blue sky dawning through the window. Sully's hand gently rested against her abdomen. Her heart was alive again. Then she felt it again. Her stomach.

Rising from the bed, she went to her medical bag to retrieve some bicarbonate of soda. She stirred it into a glass of water and drank. Then she stepped toward the window and contemplated the trip home. Sully would be with her now, a free man.

At that moment, she heard his voice. "You okay?"

She paused.


She returned to his side in bed. "Yes, fine. It's still early if you want to sleep some more."

Sully sensed all was not well. "Michaela, I'm sorry about last night."

Clasping his hand, she drew it to her lips and kissed it. "It was wonderful. You held me all night long."

"What're you doin' up so early?" He rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

She did not answer right away.

He persisted. "Michaela, is it your stomach?"

She confessed, "I have some nausea."

He advised, "Maybe ya oughta have Colleen check things out."

She began to protest. "Sully, there's...."

He cut her off. "We're gonna be on a train for a long time. All that ridin' might make things worse. Promise me you'll let Colleen check t' see that it ain't nothin' serious."

She lowered her eyes. "You're right."

"Hey...." He lifted her chin with his finger and peered into her eyes. "Is there somethin' you ain't tellin' me?"

"Well...." She hedged.

"Go on," he encouraged.

"Brian mentioned something that made me think.... that is, there is an outside chance that...." She stopped.

"That what?" He prompted.

She came out with it. "That I could be pregnant."

His eyes widened. "Pregnant?"

"I know it is a remote possibility," she mentioned.

He ran his hand along her arm. "Then ya gotta let Colleen check ya."

"What if I am expecting a baby, Sully?" Her voice quaked. "It's doubtful that I could carry it to term. After what I went through with Hope, I...."

She began to cry. Sully drew her into his arms and kissed her forehead. "It's gonna be okay."

"But I'm too old for this." Her tears flowed more freely.

Sully stroked her back. "Ya ain't too old. Hope ain't even a year yet."

"I should have been more careful." She regretted.

He posed the question, "What about the wild carrot seeds? Weren't they supposed t'....."

"I didn't always eat them," she replied. "Especially after our last...."

He suddenly remembered their last encounter in the hotel in Denver. It had been right before he left with Tague.

Sully's voice was soothing. "Look, we're kinda gettin' ahead of ourselves here. First, we gotta find out if you're expectin'."

"But what if I am?" she questioned.

He did not reply right away. The thought of Michaela's life in danger because of him was devastating. He could see the fear in her eyes.

He whispered, "Things will work out, Michaela. Please don't cry."

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

Julia paced in her cell. Her plans, her world had come crashing in, once again because of Byron Sully. The hatred she felt toward him was even more powerful than before. Silently, she vowed to do whatever it took to exact her revenge.

Suddenly, she heard the door at the end of the corridor open. The jailer from last night approached.

He started to unlock her door. "You're bein' released."

"I am?" She was shocked.

"Yep." He nodded. "That lady who was here last night is waitin' upstairs for ya."

"Belle." She smiled.

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

Sully insisted on being in the room as Colleen examined Michaela. Using the ballottement technique, the young physician could detect nothing. Auscultation using her stethoscope yielded no results either.

Michaela recommended, "Jacquemin's test."

Sully held her hand, "Does it hurt?"

"No," Michaela assured.

A million thoughts swirled through Sully's head as he watched his wife. He knew she was frightened, but if she was pregnant.... He could not imagine what could happen.

Sully's heart sank as he silently prayed, "Please let Michaela be all right. Please...."

Michaela's voice redirected his attention. "Colleen? Am I pregnant?"

The young woman stepped back and glanced at her mother. "No."

A tear trickled down Michaela's cheek.

Sully gently squeezed her hand for reassurance and queried, "Then what's causin' her stomach problems?"

Colleen reasoned, "Why don't we let Ma get dressed first?"

Michaela sat up and proceeded to put on her clothing. Then she sat beside Sully.

Colleen gave her assessment. "I don't think Ma will be able to conceive a baby again."

As Colleen stated the reasons for her conclusion, Michaela nodded in agreement.

Then Colleen returned to Sully's question. "Ma, as for your stomach, I believe that you may have developed an ulcer."

Michaela was perplexed. "I should have thought of that."

Sully excused, "You had a lot on your mind lately."

Colleen agreed, "The stress on you both has been horrible."

Michaela sighed. "I'll have to watch what I eat to see if that improves the situation."

"Agreed." Colleen smiled. "Now, I believe we have a train to catch this afternoon."

Sully looked at his wife. "There's somewhere I wanna take ya first."

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

Julia approached her cousin. "Belle, darling, I don't know how to thank you for getting me out."

"Yes, you do," she reminded. "You promised you would leave Sully alone."

"I did say that." Julia nodded contritely.

Belle doubted her sincerity. "Julia, please."

She smiled. "I don't know how you accomplished this, but I am very grateful."

Belle was blunt. "I paid your bail."

"I thought you have no money." Julia tilted her head.

Belle informed her, "I.... I took out a loan."

"You know that Sully is not going to let us get away with this," Julia remarked.

"What do you mean?" She was puzzled.

"That son of his.... Matthew Cooper is a lawyer," Julia reminded. "He intends to see that I spend the rest of my life in jail."

Belle frowned. "You're entitled to a trial. I'll tell them you were under duress."

"And Sully's wife has money, as you know," Julia added. "She will see to it that...."

Belle interrupted, "What are you gettin' at?"

Julia shrugged, "I'm merely being realistic. I can see no way for me to remain free unless...."

She wondered, "Unless what?"

Julia said, "Maybe if I were to talk with Sully.... tell him how sorry I am for all that I've done, the judge might go easier on me, as he has with you."

"You would do that?" Belle was surprised. "But you hate him."

She smiled. "Now, dear cousin, you know that we ladies often get what we want with a little charm. Now, If you'll excuse me, I'm going home. I want to wash away the filth of this place."

Belle questioned, "When will you apologize to Sully?"

"They're staying at the Markham House," Julia remembered. "I'll go there after I clean up."

Belle watched her as she turned and exited. She exhaled in frustration. Had she done the right thing?

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

Sully clasped Michaela's hand as he knocked on the door of the humble home. "This is where they live."

Michaela smiled. "I can't wait to meet them."

A child opened the door. "Sully!"

"Hey, Jennie." He smiled as he lifted her.

She smiled back. "You sure look better than last time I saw ya."

He set her down and introduced. "I'd like ya t' meet my wife, Dr. Michaela Quinn."

Jennie extended her hand, "Pleased t' meet ya, Dr. Quinn."

"Please, call me Dr. Mike," she replied. "So you're the young lady to whom I owe so much."

"You don't owe me anythin'," Jennie observed.

She paused.

"You saved my husband's life." Michaela framed the child's face in her hands. "I owe you a tremendous debt."

Sully wondered, "Is your Pa here?"

"Out back workin'." She gestured. "I'll go fetch him."

The child took off. Within moments, William Parks appeared.

"Sully!" He was pleased to see him. "Jennie said you was here with your wife."

Michaela shook hands with him. "Mr. Parks, I want to thank you for saving my husband's life."

He returned, "I only did what any Christian would've."

Michaela knelt down to Jennie. "There's something that I would like to do for you."

"What?" Jennie anticipated.

Michaela explained, "Sully mentioned to me that you are being denied an education."

The little girl was puzzled. "I am?"

Realizing the child did not understand Michaela's big words, Sully simplified it. "She knows ya ain't allowed t' go t' school."

"Oh." She nodded. "That's right, Ma'am."

Michaela continued. "I am going to see to it that there will be a school for you, Jennie. I've contacted two women who are very interested in starting a school for Negro women. Their names are Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles. Their pastor at the Friendship Baptist Church, Reverend Frank Quarles, has agreed to let them meet in the basement until a proper building can be constructed. I have given them some money to begin this project."

Sully gazed at his wife with admiration and love.

"There's gonna be a colored school?" Jennie's eyes widened.

"That's right." Michaela nodded.

Jennie rushed to her and embraced her. "I don't know how t' thank you."

"Me either," William added.

Michaela's eyes reddened. "It is I who owe you."

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

Julia Hall perused the train schedules at the depot. Then she approached one of the ticket sellers.


With her most charming expression, she spoke, "Excuse me, I'm quite embarrassed to ask this."

The young man smiled. "No need t' be embarrassed, Ma'am. What did ya wanna know?"

She smiled flirtatiously. "Well, my husband would simply kill me if he knew I had forgotten. I am supposed to meet him here so that we can go home to Colorado Springs. And...."

"You forgot what time the train leaves?" he assumed.

"Yes." She lowered her eyes. "What you must think of me."

"No trouble t' let you know, Ma'am." He pulled out a schedule. "Let's see, you'll be goin' t' Chattanooga first, an' that train departs in 90 minutes over at track two. It's that way."

"I'm much obliged," she commented.

Julia pivoted and began to scan the area for a suitable place from which she could stalk Sully. Rather ironic, she thought. She would end his life the same way he had ended that of her father.... and in front of his family. All the more fitting.

************
Chapter 24
************

Alone in their room, Sully watched Michaela finish packing her things. "That was a real generous of ya, helpin' Jennie an' other little girls like her."

She answered, "It was the very least I could do."


He noticed her subdued demeanor. "You all right?"

"Yes," she assured.

"Is your stomach botherin' ya?" he queried.

Michaela assured, "Not at the moment."

He went to her and drew her into his embrace. "You disappointed?"

"What?" She rested her hands on his shoulders.

"I saw how ya looked when Colleen said you prob'ly couldn't get pregnant again," he stated.

She touched his cheek. "You understand?"

"I think so." He embraced her more fully.

"What about you, Sully?" She posed the question. "Are you disappointed?"

"Only 'cause you are," he explained. "Bein' away from you an' the children.... missin' so much of our lives t'gether.... well, it reminded me that it's more important t' concentrate on what we got than what we don't."

"That's very true," she acknowledged. "And we have quite a lot."

Michaela smoothed back the hair at the sides of his face to look at him more intently. Then she lifted up to kiss him.

Drawing back slowly, she shared her innermost feelings. "It's strange. When I thought I might be expecting again, I was frightened. Now that I know I'm not, and in all likelihood never will bear another child, I can't help but be sad. That part of my life is over."

He stroked her back sympathetically. "Kind of like finishin' a good book. You're glad ya read it, but sorry t' see it end."

She smiled at his analogy. "I suppose there are new books to read."

"With our kids, I figure we got a whole library," he joked.

There was a knock at the door. "Mr. an' Mrs. Sully, I'm here t' take your trunk t' the train station."

Sully gazed into her eyes with love. "Let's go home."

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

Belle stopped her carriage in front of Julia's house. When she reached the door, she knocked and waited for Letty to answer it. Then she spotted Jeb by the door.

"Hey, Miss Belle," he waved. "If you're lookin' for Miss Julia, she ain't here."

Belle became concerned. "Do you know where she is?"

"I took her t' the railroad depot," he answered.

"Railroad depot?" She wondered. "Did she have any baggage?"

"No, Ma'am," Jeb wiped his brow.

Belle felt a rush of anxiety, "How long ago was this?"

He calculated, "'Bout a half hour ago, I reckon."

She quickly climbed into her carriage and said to herself. "Dear God, what have I done?"

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

Sully escorted Michaela and Colleen to the depot. He tipped the porter who took their trunks. Matthew, Brian and Hank followed right behind them.


Sully went to the ticket agent. "I'd like six tickets t' Colorado Springs, Colorado."

The agent smiled. "Oh, I thought you already had your tickets."

"Sorry?" Sully did not understand.

He chuckled. "Don't be mad at your wife, but she forgot what time the train leaves."

Again Sully was puzzled. "My wife?"

"She didn't want ya t' know," he whispered. "She was here 'bout an hour ago wonderin' what time the train t' Colorado Springs leaves. Well, it's really takin' ya t' Chattanooga first, but...."

Sully interrupted, "What did this woman look like?"

The young man was taken aback. "Ya don't know what your wife looks like?"

At that moment, Michaela approached. "Is something wrong, Sully?"

Sully pointed, "This is my wife."

The agent suddenly became embarrassed. "Oh, my. The lady that asked about the train had black hair. I guess I made a mistake."

"Black hair?" Sully tensed.

Michaela looked at her husband. "Sully, what is it?"

He took her arm and motioned for his family and Hank.

Hank stepped up. "What's the matter? They still wanna be paid in Confederate money?"

Sully kept his voice low. "I don't know how, but I think Julia's here."

Hank was surprised. "What?"

Sully pointed toward the ticket agent. "He said a woman was in here askin' what time the train leaves for Colorado Springs. He said she had black hair."

Matthew pointed out. "Lots of women have black hair."

Brian noticed his father's expression. "I'll go over to the jail, Pa. I'll find out if she's still locked up."

"Thanks, Brian," he acknowledged. "Meanwhile, Matthew, I want ya t' take Colleen an' your Ma back t' the hotel."

Michaela began to protest, "No, Sully. We should let the authorities handle this."

Hank patted the holstered gun at his hip. "I think I'll take a look around."

Sully clasped his wife's arms. "Michaela, please don't fight me on this. I want you safe."

She countered. "And I want you safe. I don't want to...."

Sully touched her lips to silence her. "Why you gotta be so stubborn?"

"There are times when my stubbornness has saved our lives," she replied.

Colleen contributed, "I don't want to leave either."

Sully sighed in frustration and pointed toward the ticket window. "All right. Then, I want ya both t' wait over there. Matthew?"

"I'll keep 'em back," he agreed.

Michaela linked her fingers in Sully's. "Be careful."

"I will," he returned.

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

Julia hid in a small storage room near the passenger benches in the depot. With a knife, she had bored a small hole in the door so that she could watch the comings and goings. Her jaw tensed as she thought the hole rather like the rifle sight which Sully had used to stalk her father.

She saw him arrive with his family. But something was wrong. They were separating from each other. No matter. She had only one target. Now she could get a clearer shot.

She opened the door slightly and continued to monitor his movements. If only he would move closer.

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

Belle rushed into the Depot, searching frantically for Julia. Suddenly, she spotted Sully.

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

Julia aimed her revolver. "Ah, just a little more to the left, Lieutenant Sully.... That's it. Right there."

Her finger was ready against the trigger.

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

Belle shouted. "Sully!"

He turned. "Belle? What're you doin' here?"

"It's Julia." Belle was out of breath when she reached him. "She's out of jail."

"I knew it," he remarked.

Belle added, "She's here at the depot."

Sully quickly scanned the area. There was no sign of Julia, but Michaela was approaching.

He raised his voice to his wife, "I told ya t' stay back there."

Michaela eyed the woman. "I heard you call Belle's name. I wondered why she was here."

He pointed toward Matthew and Colleen. "Both of ya, stay over there."

As they complied, Belle looked at her, "You're Mrs. Sully?"

"That's right," Michaela replied. "You're the one who hid my husband during the War."

"Yes," Belle admitted. "I.... I'm sorry for all that you've been through."

Michaela stated, "Apparently, we're still going through it with your cousin on the loose."

"That's my fault, as well," Belle confessed.

Michaela was puzzled. "What do you mean?"

Belle noted, "I paid her bail."

"You what?" Michaela was incredulous.

She exhaled in frustration. "I came to warn Sully that she's here."

"My God." Michaela felt a rush of fear. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"

"I know Julia is obsessed with harming Sully," she responded. "But she promised me that she would never try anything again."

Michaela accused, "And you believed her? Don't you know what she's done? Not just to my husband, but to our daughter? She tried to poison her. The woman is mad."

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

Sully sensed he was being watched. He positioned himself beside a pillar, hoping that wherever Julia was lurking, he might be protected. His mind raced. Where would he hide in a similar situation? Suddenly, he realized he had been in a similar situation.... during the War. He had waited for a clear shot to kill Julia's father.

As his eyes surveyed the room, he noticed a partially open door. A round shiny object appeared in the opening.... it looked like.... It was.... the barrel of a revolver.

He gestured to Michaela to stay back. Her eyes filled with fear with the realization that he had spotted Julia.

She silently formed with her lips a warning for him to be careful. He nodded. Then he darted toward another pillar.

Belle watched. "Does he see Julia?"

Matthew spoke up, "It looks like it. I want you ladies t' get down."

Michaela worried, "What about the other people in here?"

Belle stood up. "I should try t' talk with Julia. She might listen t' me."

Before Matthew could stop her, Belle headed toward Sully.

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

Julia took her aim carefully, uttering to herself, "That's right Lieutenant. One more step."

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

Michaela caught sight of the barrel of a revolver protruding from a partially open door and screamed. "A gun! Sully, look out!"

Just as a shot rang out, Belle reached Sully. Suddenly, both sank to the floor. Michaela saw her husband slump and started toward him.

The room erupted into screaming and panic as bystanders hurried to exit the building.

When Michaela reached Sully, she noticed that he was cradling Belle's head.

Then she saw the blood on his hands. "Are you all right?"

He looked at her. "I thought I told ya t' stay back."

"Are you hurt?" She feared.

"It's Belle," he said, pointing to the blood streaming from her stomach. "She took the bullet."

Another shot was heard.

Sully cautioned his wife. "Stay down."

Then he darted from them.

Michaela began to apply pressure to Belle's wound, but she soon concluded that it was mortal.

Belle clutched her hand. "I'm sorry.... sorry for all I did...."

Michaela spoke in a soothing tone, "I'm very grateful that you saved my husband's life."

Belle's breathing became labored. "I lost the only man I ever loved."

"Your husband?" Michaela assumed.

A tear streamed down the side of her cheek. "No. His name was Frederick. We were going to be so happy. But then, he was killed."

Michaela listened as Belle drifted in and out of reality. In spite of all that had transpired, Michaela felt sorry for her.

Hank reached them.

Belle looked up and smiled faintly. "You won't tell my secret, will you?"

With that, she passed away.

Michaela turned to him. "What secret?"

"Stay here." Hank warned, then quickly left her.

Michaela lifted up slightly to look for Sully. Just then, a third shot was fired, barely missing her head. She crouched even lower.

Sully wove around to the wall beside the storage room door. With his full force, he kicked at the door, causing it to fling open. Julia fell back against some old benches.

Quickly recovering, she aimed her gun at Sully again and pulled back the trigger. "Well, this isn't quite the way you killed my father since you can see me, but it will have to do."

Before Sully could react, another shot rang out. Julia dropped to the floor. Sully swiftly grabbed the gun from her, then pivoted toward the door to see Hank standing with his pistol. With the stench of gunpowder filling the tiny room, Sully knelt down to check on Julia. She was dead.

"Sully!" Michaela reached the room. Then she glanced at woman on the floor. "Julia's dead?"

"Yes," he replied.

Michaela broke the news. "So is Belle."

Sully realized, "She saved my life again."

He walked toward Belle's body. Colleen and Matthew were beside it. Sully lowered himself to the floor and touched Belle's arm. Then he felt Michaela's hand on his shoulder.

He stood up to embrace his wife.

Out of breath, Brian rushed to his parents. "Ma, Pa, are you all right?"

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela assured.

He noticed Belle in a pool of blood on the floor. "Oh, no." Then he asked, "What about Julia?"

Sully informed him, "She's dead, too."

The young man shook his head. "I found out Belle bailed her out."

Michaela turned to Hank. "What did she mean about keeping her secret?"

He wiped his upper lip. "It don't matter now."

She probed further. "Is it something about Sully?"

"Nah," Hank answered. "Truth is, I don't think either one o' them women was right in the head."

Sully caressed Michaela's cheek. "It's finally over."

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

On the train, everyone settled into their seats for the ride to Chattanooga. Matthew, Hank, Brian and Colleen sat in seats opposite each other, while Michaela and Sully occupied a seat on the other side of the aisle.

They sat pensively for several miles.

Then Michaela touched his arm. "A penny for your thoughts."

He gazed out the window at the setting sun. "Just thinkin' about home."

"The children will be thrilled," she noted. "Before we left Atlanta, I sent a telegram to Bridget, informing her that we were departing."

He nodded in silence.

Michaela spoke softly. "When we undergo an emotional trauma, it takes time before we feel safe again."

"Like when you were shot," he recalled.

"Somewhat," she agreed. "But emotional scars can be just as lasting as physical."

He assured, "I'm all right."

"Are you?" she wondered.

He began to tense. "I said I am."

"I'm sorry," she apologized. "If you'd rather not speak about it...."

He became agitated at himself. "It's just.... well, ya know sometimes I don't like t' talk."

"Yes, I know." She reacted to a pang in her stomach.

He noticed. "You feelin' okay?"

"The motion of the train is affecting me a bit." She leaned over to retrieve her bag from beneath her seat.

"Maybe Colleen should check ya," he suggested.

She was defensive. "If it is indeed an ulcer, I know how to treat it."

Sully questioned. "How can ya tell if it is?"

"I have to consider my symptoms and how long they have persisted," she informed him.

"What other symptoms have ya had, other than nausea?" he wondered.

"Well...." She paused to consider. "Poor appetite.... weight loss.... and I have some pain a few hours after I eat."

"Is there somethin' you can ya take for it?" he asked.

Michaela mentioned, "I can try Calendula."

"Calen.... what?" he queried.

"A type of marigold," she replied.

He nodded. "Good. I hope it works."

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

After dinner, passengers on board the train made their way to the sleeping car. Everyone except Sully. Michaela waited for him in their private berth, uncertain as to why he had not shown up.


Just as she was about to go look for him, she heard the door open. Despite the low lighting, she could tell from his deportment that he was upset.

She sat up. "Are you all right?"

"Yea." He removed his jacket.

Michaela asked, "Are you coming to bed?"

He reached up to pull down the upper berth. "I'll sleep up here so I don't bother ya."

"Bother me?" She was surprised. "You won't bother me."

"I might toss an' turn a lot," he reasoned.

She watched as he put on his nightshirt, lowered the lamp and climbed up to sleep above her.

She lay back against her pillow, then spoke to him. "I love you.

"I love you, too," he answered.

Exhausted from the day's events, both soon fell asleep.

Sully began to dream. He was in Andersonville.... in the stockade. He had no water, no food. He knew he was dying. Then he heard Tague approaching.

The deputy opened the door and kicked Sully back against the wall, shouting, "You'll never see your family again. You'll never get outa here."

"No!" Sully sat up with a start.

Michaela wakened. She could hear Sully trying to catch his breath. Throwing back the covers, she climbed up to him.

He clasped her upper arms. "Michaela, ya gotta get outa here. He'll get you, too."

"Shh," she affirmed. "Everything's all right. You're safe."

"You don't understand." His eyes were full of fear. "I can't help ya here. I can't protect ya."

She positioned herself to wrap her arms around him. "Sully, we're going home. Tague is gone. Julia's gone. They can never harm us again."

His mind tried to absorb her words. He looked around. They weren't in Andersonville. They were on a train.

"Michaela...." He anxiously looked at her.

"Oh, Sully." Her heart went out to him.

He held her hand firmly. "Stay with me."

"Of course, I will." She guided him back.

Then, she spooned herself against him. "It's going to be all right."

He turned to look into her sympathetic eyes.

She spoke soothingly, "I know it's hard to trust in anything right now. Your world has been turned upside down."

He expressed his fear. "I.... I don't know if I can feel safe again."

She lovingly stroked his arm. "Do you remember what you told me after I was shot?"

He struggled to think back. "Not exactly."

"You told me that I was strong," she recalled. "You said I was the same woman who stood in front of a charging army.... who jumped off a cliff with you.... who left my home to come out to the middle of nowhere to become a doctor."

It came back to him. "An' you said you weren't that same woman anymore."

She reminded, "You helped me find myself, Sully. And I'll help you find your strength. I won't give up. I promise."

Tears formed in his eyes. "God, Michaela. I'm so sorry."

"You have nothing to be sorry about." Her eyes reddened.

He felt a lump in his throat. "I just don't know if I can ever be like I was."

************
Chapter 25
************

While Bridget finished tying bows in Katie's and Annie's hair, Josef entered the living room with Noah. Both boys were dressed in their Sunday finest clothes.

Josef put his hands on his hips. "Miss Bwidget, why we gotta get so clean?"

The nanny responded. "Because I want ya t' look your best when your parents get home."

The little boy countered, "Ya know, Papa likes me a little bit dirty."

She chuckled. "That's true, Boy-oh, but today is special."

Katie was excited. "I can't wait to see them."

Josef remarked. "I think I gwowed while they was gone."

Noah chimed in, "Me, too."

"Hopie clean?" Annie wondered.

"Aye." Bridget touched her nose. "Now, if that train's on time, they'll be home within the hour."

Katie worried, "How are we gonna tell Poppy about Wolf?"

Josef figured, "Maybe Wolf will come home when Papa does."

Bridget contemplated, "Aye. I'll wager he was out lookin' for your Pa."

Josef rushed to the window. "I'll wait for 'em."

"Me, too." Noah joined him.

Josef turned to his little brother. "Why ya always say 'me, too?'"

Katie reminded, "We have t' give Poppy a birthday party when he gets home."

Bridget nodded. "That we will."

Katie wondered, "Miss Bridget, do you think he'll be different?"

"Different?" She was uncertain.

"He's been away so long," she lamented. "Maybe he'll be different."

Bridget advised, "If he seems that way, give him time, darlin'. One thing that hasn't changed is how much he loves ya."

With the window sill barely at the level of his eyes, Noah was the first to notice the approaching surrey. "Mama! Papa!"

Josef added, "Matthew, Colleen an' Bran are with 'em."

With her doll in hand, Annie rushed to the door to be the first to greet them.

Outside, Sully jumped from the carriage and bounded up the steps. He rushed into the house and knelt down to embrace his children. Michaela followed, her eyes moist from the overwhelming joy of their reunion. She leaned over to encircle them in her arms. Then came Matthew, Brian and Colleen. Each had a turn at being warmly welcomed by the little ones.

Tears streamed down Bridget's cheeks when she spoke, "It's good t' have ya home."

Sully lifted up and hugged the nanny. "It's good t' be home."

Then she frowned. "Look at ya. You're all skin an' bones. I'll fatten ya up in no time."

Sully's brow wrinkled. "Where's Wolf?"

The nanny kept her voice down. "He took off right after Dr. Mike left t' fetch ya."

He frowned. "Prob'ly lookin' for us."

The children tugged at their father, once again craving his attention. He smiled and listened to each story of school, scraped knees, town gossip and how good they had been. At one point, he gazed at Michaela. She knew at once what he was thinking.

"I'll get her," Michaela headed for the steps.

Entering their bedroom, she felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted. The familiar surroundings, the family mementoes and the sight of the baby's crib created a warm and loving atmosphere. She tiptoed to her daughter and gently lifted the sleeping child.

"Hello, my darling." She kissed her cheek.

Hope turned up her nose briefly, then opened her eyes in wonder. "Mam."

"That's right," she whispered. "Papa and I are home."

Hope smiled.

"What a beautiful little girl you are." She kissed her again.

"Just like her Ma." Sully's voice spoke from behind them. He stepped forward. "I couldn't wait t' hold her."

Michaela spoke for the baby as she handed Hope to her father. "Welcome home, Papa."

He lovingly cradled her in his arms. "Hey, Hope."

"Pa." The child bounced enthusiastically.

Sully gazed at the little one. "I never saw a more beautiful sight."

He rested his lips on Hope's soft hair, then closed his eyes to savor the sweet scent of his daughter.

Michaela assured, "Everything will be fine again, Sully."

His heart filled with love. "I know bein' here will help. I just wish I felt...."

His voice faded.

Michaela whispered, "One step at a time."

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

Hank entered his ranch to find Lexie asleep in the rocking chair of their bedroom. Ilse was curled against her mother's breast.

Hank cleared his throat. "Is this any way t' greet your husband?"

"Hank!" Lexie opened her eyes.

She rose up and went to him. He embraced her and the baby.

"Welcome home!" Lexie smiled.

He smirked. "You can welcome me proper a little later."

She smiled. "Tell me all about your trip. Your telegram said you were bringing Sully home."

"Yep." He lifted Ilse from her. "How's this little girl?"

She rubbed the baby's back. "Growing, as you can see. So, tell me all about the trip. What happened?"

Hank explained what had transpired in Atlanta, then concluded, "Sully's gonna have a long road back. He went through a lot."

"I'm sure that being home with Dr. Mike and the children will help," she assumed.

Hank related, "He was real quiet on the trip home. I know he don't say much t' begin with, but.... oh, well.... I reckon Michaela does enough talkin' for both of 'em."

"Are you hungry?" she asked.

He raised an eyebrow. "Sure am."

She patted his side playfully. "I didn't mean that kind of hungry."

He set the baby in her crib, then drew Lexie into his arms. "First things first."

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

After a day of visits by their friends and family, the Sully family sat down to dinner using the new china. Sully, however, ate little and spent most of the meal deep in thought.

Katie's voice brought him back. "Poppy, we wanna have a birthday party for you an' Mama since ya missed yours."

"That's nice of ya, Kates." His smile was faint. "But.... I don't feel much like a party."

Michaela endeavored to explain. "Let your father rest for a day or two, children. Then we can plan something."

Their faces reflected the disappointment they felt.

Brian changed the subject. "I had a letter from Harper's Weekly when I got home."

Colleen was interested. "A new assignment?"

He detailed. "I left Washington just after Garfield's inauguration, so they want me back t' cover his first month in office."

Josef tilted his head. "Is his office like Mama's?"

Brian chuckled, "I think it's bigger."

The little boy wondered, "Where'd Matthew go?"

Michaela explained, "He wanted to spend time with Emma and Michael."

Sully rose from his chair. "Excuse me, everyone. I think I'll take a walk."

Josef offered, "I can come with ya, Papa."

Noah chimed in, "Me, too."

"Not this time, boys," Sully touched the tops of their heads. "I'll be back in a little while."

As he left the dining room, Katie turned to her mother. "Mama?"

Michaela placed her hand atop her daughter's. "It's all right. Your father simply needs to get used to being back home."

Katie revealed, "I thought he might forget us."

Michaela affirmed, "He could never forget you. You're what kept him going. He loves you all so dearly."

Katie's shoulders slumped. "I wish I knew how t' help him."

Colleen endeavored to cheer up the children, "Who wants to play a game of Checkers?"

All raised their hands.

Colleen figured, "I think we'll need three boards then."

Josef started to rise. "I can get 'em."

Michaela interrupted, "What do you say first?"

The little boy remembered. "May I be 'cused?"

"Yes," Michaela agreed.

Within a few moments, Katie, Annie and Noah left the table to join Colleen and Josef.

Brian lingered to speak with his mother. "Anything I can do for you, Ma?"

Michaela raised her eyes to gaze at him. "I'll be fine, Sweetheart."

"Want me to talk to Pa?" he offered.

"Thank you, Brian, but...." With rising emotions, her voice trailed off.

He gently touched her shoulder. "I wish I could help."

Michaela composed herself. "I'm so proud of you, Brian. This assignment in Washington is quite an honor."

He sympathized, "I'll turn them down if you want me to stay, Ma."

"You should go if it's what you truly want, Sweetheart." She commented. "Writing is your love. This is a tremendous opportunity."

"Love," he sighed.

Michaela perceived, "Does Mary know about this?"

"Yea," he answered softly.

Josef's voice interrupted from the door, "'Cuse me. Bran, I could use some help with these girls."

Brian chuckled. "Are they beating you?"

"Like a dead fish," the child returned.

Michaela raised an eyebrow, "A dead fish?"

Brian speculated, "Do you mean 'beat like a dead horse?'"

Josef reasoned, "That would be harder than a fish."

Brian lifted the little boy, "Come on. Let's go."

When the two had exited the room, Bridget folded her arms and looked at Michaela. "Why don't ya go t' Sully, Darlin'?"

"I'm afraid he wants to be left alone," she replied.

Bridget counseled, "If it's one thing the lad don't need, it's t' be left alone. That's what's got him in such a state.... bein' alone so long."

Michaela shook her head. "I spent the entire train ride back here trying to get him to open up to me about his experience. Oh, Bridget, I know it was horrific. He was in solitary confinement in a stockade at Andersonville. He was starved and God-knows what else."

The nanny absorbed the news. "Sweet Jesus, it's a wonder he survived. But if I know him, it was thinkin' about you an' the wee ones that got him through it. Go t' him, Lass. He's home now. He needs ya."

"And I need him." Tears filled Michaela's eyes.

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

Sully looked up at the stars, then closed his eyes. He was finally home, finally with his family.... but he felt as if he were sinking. He wanted to scream. He wanted to cry. He wanted to....

His thoughts turned to Belle LeBlanc. What a puzzle she was. One minute she was helping Julia try to destroy his life, the next she was taking a bullet meant for him. Maybe she was as crazy as Julia, he contemplated. He reckoned Belle had a conscience, though. Julia certainly did not.

Sighing, he scanned the moonlit horizon and worried about Wolf. He wondered where his faithful friend was. The connection he felt to the animal had never wavered in the many years they had been together.

"Ho'neohtseohtslstse." Sully uttered his own Cheyenne name. "Wandering Wolf."

In the distance, he heard the howl of a wolf, He thought about the Cheyenne belief that the wolf is a warrior and a trusted protector.

Sully lowered his head, "I ain't any o' those things anymore."

A figure appeared from the shadows. "Yes, you are."

"Cloud Dancin'." Sully recognized his friend's voice.

The medicine man handed him a folded blanket. "I meant to give you this earlier today. The Spirits told me you would need it."

Sully opened it. There were designs of many colors woven into the fabric.

"Thanks," he acknowledged.

"It is more than a gift," Cloud Dancing mentioned. "It will show you the path."

Sully realized, "A medicine blanket."

His Cheyenne friend detailed, "The blanket contains your colors. When you find a quiet time to reflect on them, your spirit will come to you, though at first you may not recognize its form."

"How will I know?" Sully was uncertain.

"It could be an animal, or it could be human." He counseled, "You will know when it comes. Now, I must go. I am thinking of you, my friend."

Sully embraced him, then watched him depart.

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

Michaela stepped toward the door and donned her jacket. Quietly, she slipped from the house and went to find Sully. It did not take long. He had ventured only to the barn when she caught sight of him.

"Sully." She approached. "Any sign of Wolf?"

He pivoted to look at her. "No."


She touched his arm. "It's chilly out here. You should wear...."

He assured, "I'm okay, Michaela. Just tryin' t' clear my head."

She noticed the blanket in his hand. "Where did this come from?"

"Cloud Dancin'," Sully informed her. "He was just here."

She struggled for the right words. "I need to tell you something."

"What?" he anticipated.

She looked down, then uttered, "I.... I need to tell you that...."

She could not go on. Tears began to stream down her cheeks.

He immediately put his arm around her. "I know what ya need t' tell me. An' I love you, too."

Michaela cupped his cheek in her hand. "When your heart aches, so does mine. I don't want you to drift away. It makes me feel like I'm losing you all over again."

He inhaled deeply, then sighed. "I'm hopin' bein' back here, smellin' this clean air, holdin' our sweet children will bring me back."

"They adore you," she emphasized.

He heard their faint laughter from the homestead. "What're they doin'?"

"Playing Checkers," she answered.

He stepped back and folded his arms tightly against his chest. "Part o' me wants t' run inside an' just hold 'em. Another part o' me wants t' run as fast as I can toward.... I don't know what."

"Which part will win?" She nervously posed the question.

He sighed, "I wish I knew."

She shared, "I've always believed in the power of love to help us find our way. You have raised me from the abyss many times."

Sully confided, "It's gettin' harder an' harder for me t' trust anythin' anymore, Michaela. Seems like every time I let myself be happy, somethin' happens."

She avowed, "You and I are happy. Nothing has changed that. It's very real. You can trust that."

He reached for her hand and raised it to his lips. "How many times have we come close t' losin' it all?"

Michaela stated, "But we're still here. Oh, Sully, I've learned so much from nearly losing you again. Our time together is incredibly precious. We must never take each other or what we have for granted. We mustn't waste a single second."

"I know," he agreed.

"We'll take each day and each moment as they come," she pledged. "Together."

He nodded silently.

Then she mentioned, "I want to thank you for the beautiful letter you wrote to me."

He remembered, "I wanted ya t' know how I felt in case...."

"I read it so many times, I memorized it," she revealed.

"Ya did?" he was surprised.

She quoted, "My love for you will cross the thousands of miles that will separate us. The distance can't sever our hearts. It can't deprive me of my dreams of holding you, kissing you, loving you. The memories of the moments I have spent with you will find me in my darkest time and lift my soul to mingle with yours."

Sully spoke pensively, "All I did was think about you an' the kids. When I thought I would go mad, or thought I was gonna die, I'd close my eyes, an' you'd come t' me."

"Our souls did mingle," she concurred. "The same thing happened to me, even when they told me you had died."

He leaned down to softly kiss her. "Thank you, Michaela."

She drew back slowly. "Why don't we go inside?"

"I gotta go do somethin' first," he returned.

She was puzzled. "What?"

"I gotta make sure one problem never bothers us again," he stated.

She felt uneasy. "What problem?"

He kissed her again. "The problem of how t' protect my family."

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

Preston finished auditing the bank books. He smiled in satisfaction. The bank had turned a respectable profit for the month. He had been thinking about expanding its operations, and now might be a good time.

He ensured that the safe was locked, then turned to exit the bank. Mounting his horse, he headed for the Chateau. In the distance, he spotted a rider coming toward him.

As the man came closer, he recognized who it was. "Sully."

Slowing his horse, Sully gestured for Preston to stop.

The banker spoke up, "Well, well, I see you have returned safe and sound."


Sully slid from his horse and reached up to grab Preston. Soon the mountain man had pulled him from the mount.

Clutching his lapels, Sully pointed his finger into the banker's face. "I know what I went through was all your doin'."

"That's preposterous," Preston replied.

Sully spoke though clenched teeth. "Don't deny it. I know about the Pinkerton agent."

Preston attempted to back off. "Look, I didn't do anything illegal."

"Neither did I," Sully shouted. "An' I've had it up t' here with you an' your plottin' t' get rid of me. I figure if ya don't have it through your head by now that Michaela is my wife an' that she loves me, then maybe I oughta beat it int' ya."

"Yes, that's your way, isn't it?" Preston goaded. "Use your fists."

"An' your way is t' scheme t' hurt folks who never did anythin' t' you," Sully accused. "You almost cost me my life, an' it ain't gonna happen again."

Preston frowned. "Just what do you think you can do to me?"

"Only one thing I can think of," he stated.

With that, Sully thrust his right fist into Preston's stomach. Then with his left fist, he hit the banker squarely on his jaw. Blood appeared on Preston's lip. Before he could fight back, Sully landed several more punches. Then the mountain man silently mounted his horse and left Preston reeling on the ground in pain.

After several minutes, Preston wiped his lip and held his side. "This isn't over, Sully. Not by a long shot."

************
Chapter 26
************

Mindful that the children were concerned about their father, Michaela gathered them on her bed. They were bathed and in their night clothes.

Josef queried, "Is Papa gone again?"

Michaela suggested, "Perhaps he went to look for Wolf."

Katie lamented, "I hope he finds him."

Michaela began awkwardly. "Children.... I want you to know something about your father. We need to be very understanding. He's had a.... well, we need to give him time to adjust to doing things with us again."

"Like goin' fishin'?" Josef mentioned.

Michaela attempted to clarify, "Sometimes, he might want to be alone. If that happens, it doesn't mean he doesn't love us."

Katie probed, "What did happen t' him, Mama?"

Michaela became uncomfortable. "He.... he was treated very badly, and it may be rather difficult, at first, for him to become accustomed to being home."

Katie sensed, "Is he scared?"

Josef spoke up, "Papa's not scared. He's bwave."

Michaela agreed. "He is very brave, but sometimes even brave men have moments when things they cannot control threaten them."

The little boy persisted, "What's thweat'nin' him?"

Michaela tried to put it into words. "You know when you have a bad dream? When you wake up, you're still frightened.... even though you're safe in your home. There's still that lingering feeling of trepidation."

Josef assumed, "So he's dweamin'?"

Michaela folded her hands. "I'm afraid I'm not very good at explaining this."

A voice spoke from the doorway. "Maybe I could try."

"Poppy!" Katie rushed to him.

Josef hugged him. "Don't be afwaid, Papa. I'll pwotect ya."

Sully set the medicine blanket on the bed, then embraced his children. "That makes me feel a lot better, kids."

"Mama said ya might have some trouble bein' home again," Katie summarized.

Sully took a deep breath. "I'm real glad I'm home again. I just need a little time t' feel okay on the inside. Do ya understand?"

Josef reasoned, "If ya don' feel okay inside, why don' ya go outside?"

Sully smiled, "That's where I was, Joe."

The little boy raised his eyebrows. "Feel better now?"

Sully nodded. "Yea, I do."

Katie mentioned, "Did ya find Wolf?"

He shook his head. "No."

Josef requested, "Feel like tellin' us a stowy?"

Michaela interceded, "Children, it's time for you to be in bed. And we need to let your father...."

Sully touched her hand to silence her. "It's all right."

Michaela noticed his bruised knuckles. His appearance was disheveled, as well. Where had he been, she wondered.

Sully sat on the edge of the bed and positioned the children closer.

Then he began, "Once there was a Cheyenne hunter, who had a beautiful wife and five little ones who filled their lodge with love. After huntin' all day for food t' feed his family, the hunter had t' paddle his canoe across a lake t' get home.

"On his journey, he thought about how eager he was t' see them. If he paddled all night, he knew he could be there t' greet them when they wakened. But durin' the night, he fell asleep. His canoe began t' drift. When he woke up, he was in a part o' the lake that he didn't know."

Josef interrupted, "So he couldn't come home?"

"Shhh," Michaela gently corrected. "Let Papa tell the story."

Sully resumed, "He glanced up through the trees, hopin' that he could get his bearin's from the stars. But it was too dark for him t' see any. Suddenly, he heard his name called out. He paddled on, lettin' the sound of the voice direct where he should go. A light breeze caressed his cheek, tellin' him that he was headin' home.

"He continued like that all night long. Each time he felt lost, he'd hear his name. It kept him goin' until, just as the sun came up, he recognized the shoreline near his lodge. His children ran out t' meet him, an' his wife guided him back int' their home."

Katie smiled. "Good story, Poppy. I knew Mama would bring ya home."

Josef frowned. "That stowy wasn't about Papa. It was 'bout a Cheyenne hunter."

Sully rested his hand on his son's shoulder. "It was about whoever ya want it t' be."

Annie and Noah were nearly asleep, and Katie and Josef showed signs of fading, as well. Sully caressed each of their cheeks.

Katie's eyes met those of her father.

She sensed what he was doing. "We're real glad you're home, Poppy. Take as much time as ya need t' get used t' us again."

He felt as if his heart would burst with love.

A tear trickled down his cheek. "I love you, my sweet girl."

"I love you, too." Katie leaned forward and threw her arms around his neck.

With Katie in one arm, Sully drew Josef into the other. Then he kissed the top of their heads. "I'll be okay. I promise."

As tears streamed down her cheeks, Michaela watched her husband and children.

Sully turned to his wife and whispered, "Think we can keep 'em in here with us t'night?"

Before Michaela could answer, Katie spoke up. "We'll be all right in our rooms, Poppy. Maybe you'll feel better at home once you an' Mama settle things."

Michaela was uncertain. "Settle things?"

Katie nodded. "When things are right with you two, then everythin' else will be okay."

Michaela was in awe of her daughter's wisdom.

Sully kissed the little girl's cheek, "Thanks, Kates."

Then, taking a deep breath, he scooped up the twins and carried them to their beds. Michaela escorted Katie and Josef to their rooms. After hearing their prayers and kissing them goodnight, the parents returned to their bedroom.


Michaela waited for Sully to tell her where he had been and what problem he had been solving. Instead, he sat beside Hope's crib and tenderly rubbed the baby's arm. He smiled when the little girl curled toward his hand.

Michaela decided to broach the subject. "Your knuckles are bruised."

"I know," he answered simply.

She tried again. "Did you hurt yourself?"

"No." He was brief.

She gave up and tried a different approach. "That was a beautiful story you told the children."

"Thanks," he accepted.


Michaela went to him and ran her hand across his shoulders. "Sully...."

He looked up with the piercing blue eyes she loved.

Seeing her look of worry, he decided to tell her. "I saw Preston."

She immediately concluded, "You hit him?"

He nodded. "It felt good."

"Sully," she sounded disappointed.

He defended his actions. "Michaela, I'm tired o' what he's done t' us. He don't listen t' reason. He don't listen t' threats. I talked t' him the only way he seems t' understand."

She countered, "He won't understand violence."

Sully questioned, "You got a better way?"

"I.... I think I might," she returned.

He was curious. "How?"

"Well, my first thought was to sue him, and when I suspected he had a hand in your arrest, I told him as much." She noted. "But now, I believe it would be better to beat him at his own game."

"His own game?" Sully was intrigued.

"Business," she stated.

He stood up. "Business?"

"Yes," she began to explain. "Competition. His has been the only bank in town for many years. Perhaps Colorado Springs needs another one."

He noted her expression. "You gonna start one?"

"Why not?" She challenged. "Don't you think I can?"

"'Course, I do." He knew her determination. "But ya already got a hospital t' run."

"I'll provide the initial investment," she calculated. "Matthew can charter it for me. And I think I know just the person to run it."

"Who?" He was curious.

"Myra," Michaela informed him.

He was surprised. "Myra?"

"Yes," Michaela reasoned. "She has worked for Preston for years, and she's the one whom most people trust."

"You think she'd quit workin' for him?" Sully queried.

Michaela assessed. "I had a conversation with Hank on the train ride to Atlanta. He said Myra is not happy working for Preston."

"Who would be?" Sully retorted.

"So, I shall ask her to run it." Michaela determined.

At that moment, they heard the howl of a wolf outside.

Sully went to the window and peered out. "He's home."

Rushing from the room, they hurried down the steps. Sully opened the door. Wolf lifted his front paws and leaned against Sully, nearly knocking him down. With a wagging tail, the animal licked his master's cheek.

As she petted Wolf, Michaela turned up her nose. "Goodness, he smells ghastly."

Sully ruffled the creature's fur. "I reckon I should give him a bath."

"It's getting late." Michaela glanced at the clock.

"I ain't sleepy anyway," Sully remarked. "I'll clean him up."

"Then I'll help you," she offered. "I'll heat some water. Could you get the tub?"

With Wolf at his side, Sully headed for the barn to fetch the laundry tub. When they returned, Sully positioned himself beside his pet on the front porch.


They sat in silence, content in each other's company.

Sully contemplated the day's events. He was home again, surrounded by love and familiarity. Throughout his ordeal in Atlanta, he had dreamed about this moment. Now that he could truly feel free and happy, he was burdened by a sense of foreboding. It could happen again.... in a heartbeat, his world could be shattered.

Closing his eyes, Sully tried to will himself to think only pleasant thoughts. He wasn't sure what was real anymore. In Atlanta, his dreams of Michaela and home had seemed real. Now that he was home, his thoughts kept returning to what he had been through in Atlanta.

He shuddered. Wolf lifted his head, sensing his master's angst.

Sully petted him and whispered. "I gotta get over this feelin', boy."

At that moment, Michaela opened the door. "The water's ready."

Sully entered the house to retrieve the water and, after carrying it out to the porch, poured it into the tub. Next, he commanded Wolf to hop into the water. Michaela handed her husband a bar of soap and knelt down. Soon they were hard at work, lathering the animal. After rinsing him, Michaela reached for a towel. Before she could wrap the animal, Wolf began to shake from head to toe, attempting to rid himself of the moisture.

Sully looked at his wife. Her clothes were soaking wet.

"We best get in by the fire t' dry off," he suggested.

Michaela led the way up the steps to their bedroom, with Sully and Wolf following. After closing the door, she paused to watch her husband sit with Wolf beside the hearth.

Sully looked up at her. "Wanna join us?"

"If you want me to." She hesitated.

He avowed, "'Course I do."


She lowered herself to the rug and gazed at Sully. The only sounds came from the crackling fire and from Wolf meticulously licking the water from his paw.

Then Sully spoke, "You serious about startin' this bank?"

"Yes," she affirmed. "Do you disapprove?"

He avoided looking at her. "It could come back t' haunt ya."

Michaela could feel him becoming distant. She quivered from the damp clothing she was wearing. Unbuttoning her blouse, she laid it out beside the fire.

Sully watched her stand up to undo her skirt. Stepping out of it, she placed it beside the blouse. Then she turned her back to him and removed her undergarments. He could see that she was shivering.

"Here." He held out his arms to her. "Hand me the blanket. I'll warm ya up."

He spread his legs apart so that Michaela could sit down between them. When she leaned back to snuggle against his chest, he wrapped the medicine blanket around both of them.

Suddenly, she sat up straight. "You're drenched, as well. Take off your shirt."

He unbuttoned it and placed it beside her drying clothes. Michaela rested against him again. Tentatively, he circled the blanket around them. Flesh against flesh, they soon began to warm. It was the first time they had experienced such contact since they had left Denver.

They made no movement to be more intimate. Michaela could feel his warm breath against her ear. She closed her eyes, imagining for just that moment that none of this nightmare had happened to them.

Sully closed his eyes, too. He began to sense a presence. Like a fog, it had no form, but it was there.... surrounding him.... filling him. Though the form did not speak, it communicated to him. The colors of the blanket swirled in his mind.

Red would give him confidence. Orange would impart balance. Yellow would provide vision. Green would furnish faith. And blue.... blue would bring healing.

At this revelation, the form suddenly became clearer to him. It was.... Michaela.

Her whisper roused him from his vision. "Are you asleep?"

"No," he replied.

She doubted his answer. "Do you want to go to bed?"

He stroked her arm. "No. It feels good just like this."

Michaela felt herself start to waken. In the recesses of her body, the longing for her husband began to smolder. Lifting up slightly, she looked invitingly into his eyes.

His gaze was warm and loving. He sweetly kissed her.

"Sully...." The way she said his name spoke of her desire.

He swallowed hard. Was the time right? Was he ready? What if...."

Sensing his hesitation, she spoke low, "I think I'll go to bed now. Can I get you anything?"

He hesitated. "No, thanks."

She rose from his arms. Her beautiful figure took his breath away. How could a woman who had borne five children have such a shape, he wondered. Then he felt it. He was coming alive again. Her touch, the scent and sight of her, was evoking powerful desires in him.

Sully stood up and removed his buckskins. From their bed, Michaela watched him. She noticed his physique as he neared her. The vision of him roused her further with sweet anticipation of what might follow.

When her husband slid closer beneath the sheets, goose bumps appeared on her skin. Sully kissed her shoulder softly. Michaela rolled over and framed his face in her hands. Then she guided his lips to hers. Instantly, their heartbeats quickened. Their lips separated to enhance the pleasure. Sully could feel his body respond more fully to her proximity.

Reclining against the pillows, Michaela drew him closer to her. Familiar yearnings began to envelop them.

As he positioned himself atop her, Sully smoothed back her hair. Michaela slid her hands around his waist to guide him ever closer. When her legs parted, he hesitated.

She kissed him softly. "I love you."

Her voice, the tenderness of her utterance, filled him with incredible love. He could feel the blood rushing through his veins as she gently ran her hands along his back. He kissed her neck, her chin, her lips. Their extraordinary connection was drawing them nearer and nearer.

When he eased himself to join with her, Michaela closed her eyes and paused to bask in the fullness of his love. She adjusted her position to accommodate him.

In blissfully rhythmic motions, they renewed their love. Their speed accelerated until he conveyed the full measure of his essence into her. Lost in their passion, Michaela arched her head back. Sully leaned his head against her shoulder and trembled from the release.

With their forms united, Michaela placed her hand around his neck and kissed him fully.

Drawing back, she expressed, "Oh, Sully.... how I've missed you."

As his breathing calmed, he peered into her eyes and gently recited:

"Let me for once look on thee
As though nought else existed:
We alone.
And as creation crumbles,
My soul's spark expands,
'Til I can say, 'Even from myself,
I need thee, and I feel thee,
And I love thee.'"

She ventured, "Was that Emerson?"

"Robert Browning," he identified.


She ran her fingers through his damp hair. "You're so incredibly dear to me."

He kissed her again. "I never did thank you for bringin' me home.... for not givin' up on me."

"I had no choice." She smiled.

"Ya didn't?" He grinned.

She rose from the bed and went to her dresser.

Then, returning to her husband's side, she held out his wolf medallion and silver bracelet. "I had to return these to their proper place."

Sully kissed her. "I know it's gonna take me some time t' feel right again, but havin' you beside me will make the journey possible."

She caressed his cheek. "Sometimes I see a little boy who was lost and alone in the world. He wanted love, but had been hurt so many times, he was frightened to open his heart. That little boy grew into a man who has such a magnificent capacity to love, I want to fill his heart with everything he desires."

Sully teased. "Do I know him?"

She rubbed his side. "I want to spend my life making you happy, Sully.... making you forget all of the hurt and pain."

He felt a lump in his throat. "I don't know what I did t' deserve you."

"You love me." Her eyes reddened. "You give me the strength to live my dreams. And you give it all unselfishly."

He kissed her again. "When I thought I was gonna die, all I could see was you an' the children callin' me back."

Michaela embraced him. "I wish I could undo what happened to you."

"I know I gotta concentrate on the good...." He paused. "But I'm afraid t' close my eyes. In the darkness, I feel like I'm back in that stockade."

She comforted, "Then we shall leave the light on."

"But you won't be able t' sleep," he knew.

She lowered the lamp. Instantly, he trembled. Tenderly, Michaela embraced him and plied tender kisses until she could feel him calm.

Then she spoke low, "Now when you are in the darkness, I want you to feel safe. These are not the wooden planks of the stockade. They're my arms, loving you."

Sully closed his eyes, feeling as if he could finally rest in peace. His revelation tonight had been profound. The title of "Medicine Woman," which Black Kettle had given to Michaela many years ago, had taken on a new meaning for Sully. His vision by the fireplace had shown him that Michaela's medicine was more than the herbs and bottles in her bag. She was his own spiritual medicine woman. It explained the remarkable connection which they had. She was his compass, his harbor, his healer. In his wife's loving arms, Sully knew he could take one step at a time back to the life that he loved.

THE END

EPILOGUE

Jennie Celeste Parks Williams was the maternal grandmother of Martin Luther King, Jr. She was born in Atlanta in April 1873. Her father, William Parks, supported his 13 children by working as a carpenter. At the age of fifteen, Jennie began taking classes at Spelman Seminary. She left Spelman in 1892 before completing her degree.

Spelman Seminary was founded in 1881 in Atlanta as a school for African American women. Originally known as Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, its founders, Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles, opened the school on April 11, 1881 in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church where Reverend Frank Quarles was pastor. The following year, two more teachers were hired by the Woman's American Baptist Home Mission Society to join Packard and Giles in the "basement school." Also in 1882, Packard and Giles were introduced to John D. Rockefeller who donated $250 to the school. Two years later, the name was changed to Spelman Seminary in honor of Mrs. Laura Spelman Rockefeller and her parents Harvey Buel and Lucy Henry Spelman, longtime activists in the antislavery movement.



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