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

Chautuaqua


by Debby K


Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Chautauqua
by Debby K

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

"Pa," Brian glanced at his father at the dinner table. The young man gestured toward Michaela, "She's asleep."

Katie whispered, "That's not polite, is it, Bran?"

Sully rose from his position at the head of the table and walked to his wife at the opposite side. He tenderly placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Michaela," he spoke low. "Why don't ya go up t' bed? I'll bring ya somethin' t' eat later."

"Wha...?" she was disoriented. Then, embarrassed, she looked at her family. "What were you saying?"

"Mama," Josef giggled.

"Ya fell asleep, Ma," Matthew quieted Josef.

"Come on," Sully helped her to stand.

"The babies," she paused.

Matthew glanced over at the cradles nearby, "They're sleepin' fine."

"Which is more than I can say for you," Sully put his arm around her waist and guided her toward the steps.

"But they'll be hungry soon," she resisted.

"Then I'll bring them to ya," he continued.

Sully escorted Michaela into their bedroom. She absently sat on the bed, and he knelt to unlace her shoes.

"Ya ain't gettin' enough rest," he lifted her legs up to the mattress.

"I'm so tired," she sighed.

"I know," he brushed back the hair from her face and kissed her forehead. "Maybe it's time t' think about weanin' the babies. They're a couple months old now."

"I don't want to rush it," she positioned herself on her side.

"But we can't help ya feed 'em long as you're nursin' them," he pointed out. "Maybe just a bottle a day t' start out... like we did with Katie an' Josef."

"But Annie and Noah were premature, Sully," she protested. "I believe that I should continue to nurse them for a while longer."

He could see that her nerves were on edge, "Okay. I don't wanna argue with ya."

"A short nap," she closed her eyes. "Then I'll be fine."

At that instant, the babies began to cry.

"I knew it was time," she felt her body respond to their voices.

"I'll go get 'em," he encouraged her to remain in bed.

"We brought 'em, Pa," Matthew arrived at the door with Noah.

Brian soon followed holding Annie. Then the young men departed to give their parents and infant siblings some privacy.

Sully closed the door and assisted Michaela with her clothing as the babies continued to wail. She cradled Noah to her breast, and Sully held Annie, attempting to quiet her.

"I'd better feed her, too," Michaela unbuttoned her blouse further.

"Ya sure?" he questioned.

"This actually saves time," she positioned her daughter to nurse.

The babies made soft sounds of contentment, nestled against their mother. She smiled down at them.

"They're growin' so," Sully rubbed his finger lightly along Noah's hand.

"Considering how often they eat, I'm not surprised," Michaela agreed.

"Hard t' believe ya had them inside ya when I look at them now," he observed.

Noah kicked his feet slightly.

"Look at him," Sully chuckled.

"Now we know which one of these little ones was so active when I was expecting them," Michaela commented.

Sully gently touched his wife's shoulder, "It's amazin' how your body provides for them both."

"My body...." she paused.

"Somethin' wrong?" his brow wrinkled.

"Look at me," she glanced down shyly. "I barely fit into my blouses."

"You're beautiful, Michaela," he spoke softly.

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "All I seem to do is eat and feed the babies, grabbing moments of sleep when possible. I have little time to spend with Katie and Josef or with Brian. And...."

"Don't go worryin' over me," he read her mind. "An' the kids are fine. With Katie an' Brian out o' school for the summer, Joe's got lots o' company."

"But I want to be with them, too," she lamented.

"If I tell ya somethin', will ya believe me?" he prefaced.

"Of course," she glanced at him quizzically. "Why wouldn't I?"

"You're a wonderful mother t' all our kids, Michaela," he began. "Ya teach them, guide them, show them love in all kinds o' ways. Don't ever think that you're shortchangin' them just 'cause you're spendin' more time with Annie an' Noah right now. They need ya more at the moment."

"But...." she began to protest.

Sully placed his finger gently to her lips, "We're doin' fine."

"How dear you are, Sully," she felt a lump in her throat. "I can't imagine my life without you."

"An' t' think ya almost didn't marry me," he teased.

"What?" her eyes widened.

"Here," he reached for Annie. "This little girl's finished eatin'. I think her Pa should have a turn holdin' her."

"Her Papa," Michaela's heart filled.

"Mama?" Katie's voice came from the other side of the door.

Michaela reached for a cloth to conceal her as she continued to nurse Noah, "Come in, Sweetheart."

"I guess ya didn't get t' sleep, huh?" she entered the room.

"No," the mother smiled at her.

Katie leaned against Sully's shoulder to view her little sister, "Annie's sleepin'."

"Your Daddy has a way with his little girls," Michaela smiled.

"Ya still feedin' Noah?" the little girl tilted her head.

"Yes," she acknowledged.

"He must be better now," the child stated.

"He's doin' much better, sweet girl," Sully grinned. "I got an idea."

"What?" the little girl's eyebrows raised.

"How'd ya like t' hold Annie?" he invited.

"Sure!" Katie climbed up on the bed beside her father.

Sully gently placed the baby in her arms, taking care to support the infant. Katie tenderly rocked back and forth.

"I think she likes me," she observed.

"She loves you, Sweetheart," Michaela lifted Noah up to burp him. "Think of the things you can teach her."

"She's too little right now, Mama," Katie curled the baby's finger around her thumb.

"Hard t' believe you were once this small, Kates," Sully touched her blonde curls.

"I think you an' Mama did good," she smiled.

"What do ya mean?" Sully was curious.

"Makin' these babies," Katie glanced at her father. "You made them real good."

"Your Ma did all the work," Sully winked.

"I don't know much 'cause no one will tell me a lot," Katie said. "But I think you helped, Poppy."

"He's helped more than he would ever admit," Michaela held Noah out to watch his face. "I'd like your opinions."

"About what?" Sully questioned.

"What color eyes will these children have?" Michaela replied.

"I'm thinkin' this little one's gonna have one green an' one brown," Sully stroked Annie's tummy.

"Just like you, Mama!" Katie was enthusiastic.

"And your little brother?" she asked.

"Blue like Poppy's," the little girl was certain. "All the boys get blue eyes."

"Hey," Josef came rushing into the room.

"Shhh," Michaela cautioned. "No running in the house, young man."

"I not runnin'," Josef disagreed. "What ya doin'?"

"We were discussing your little brother and sister," Michaela informed him. "Would you like to join us?"

"No, tanks," he shook his head. "I not wanna 'cuss 'em."

"Why not, Joe?" Sully inquired.

"'Cause they not stayin' here," he said matter-of-factly.

"Oh?" Michaela was surprised. "Where are they going?"

"I give 'em away," Josef continued.

"Josef Michael Sully," the mother was shocked.

Sully picked up on it, "I guess it was a good thing we didn't give Joe away, Michaela."

"What?" Katie and Josef spoke simultaneously.

"Well," Sully tried to gauge his son's expression. "Your Ma an' me sorta feel that when we have kids, it's a good idea t' keep 'em, feed 'em, raise 'em, an' most of all love 'em."

"You're not gonna stop doin' that, are ya, Poppy?" Katie was surprised.

"I reckon' Joe wants us to," Sully glanced at his wife impishly.

"No, Poppy!" Katie implored. "Joey, tell them you're jokin'."

He folded his arms defiantly, "I don't want babies."

"Why not?" Michaela asked.

"Mama pway hide an' seek with 'em," he pointed. "Ya don't pway with me no more."

"Joe," Sully explained. "Your Ma's not playin' hide an' seek. She's feedin' the babies with some special milk that her body makes. She fed you an' Katie like that, too. Babies need it t' grow."

"But she does it all time," a tear appeared on his cheek.

Sully touched it with his thumb, "That's 'cause there's two babies. You wouldn't want your Ma t' not feed them, would ya?"

The little boy was silent.

"Josef," Michaela beckoned. "Come up here, please."

Sully assisted the child up onto the bed. He crawled closer to his mother.

"Noah needs you, you know," she told him.

"He need you, not me," Josef averted his glance.

"We all need to love one another, Sweetheart," Michaela lifted his chin. "These little ones will look to you and Katie to show them what to do. Won't you please?"

"I can' recist ya, Mama," the little boy grinned.

"You can't resist me?" she laughed. "Where did you learn to say that?"

"Papa say t' you," he noted. "I hear him."

"He's right, there, Michaela," Sully winked.

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

"I thought you gentlemen might be interested in this," Preston held a poster near the faces of those gathered at the Gold Nugget.

"Chautauqua Circuit," Jake struggled to pronounce the words. "What's that?"

Preston rolled his eyes, "I should have known better than to assume you might have any sort of cultural refinement."

"That's what it means?" Horace was amazed.

"Chautauqua Circuits are traveling lecture programs and entertainments," the banker explained. "They are establishing one in Boulder."

"What kinda entertainment they got?" Hank leaned closer.

"Not THAT kind," Preston rolled his eyes. "Ministers, scientists, writers, politicians give lectures, and there are singers, orchestras, poetry readings."

"Don't sound very entertainin' t' me," Hank stood up straighter.

"These Chautauquas are becoming very popular," the banker detailed. "The first one originated a few years ago in New York."

"So why ya flashin' that poster in front o' us?" Loren questioned.

"Because I have been invited to speak at it," Preston grinned.

"Good for you," Loren sounded unimpressed.

"This could even increase the prestige of my bank, which in turn will help my Chateau and our fair town, gentlemen," Preston announced.

"I figured there'd be somethin' in it for you," Hank poured another round of drinks. "So.... here's t' the Chautauqua."

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

"I finally got 'em settled int' bed," Sully tiptoed into the bedroom. "How 'bout these two?"

"They're ready for their baths," Michaela nodded as she leaned over the babies, lined up on their bed.

Sully gently lifted Noah and raised his eyebrows for his son, "You ready t' get sweet an' clean?"

The infant awkwardly moved his arms and legs. After ensuring the water temperature in the small tub was comfortable, Sully tenderly began to wash the baby. Michaela did likewise with Annie. Soon, the little ones were bathed and dry. Silently, the parents diapered them and drew small cotton shifts over their heads.

"Done," Sully sighed.

Michaela stood staring into space.

"You okay?" he rubbed her back.

"Mmm?" she caught herself daydreaming. "Yes, fine."

"I'll watch them while ya go say good night t' Brian, Katie an' Josef," Sully offered.

"Thank you," she headed for the door.

Sully leaned his elbows on the bed to watch the twins. The little ones seemed very active this evening, an observation that did not bode well for a good night's sleep for their parents. Still, he could not help but marvel at their progress.

Michaela had told him that even though the children were two months old, it would be more accurate to consider that they had reached the stage of one month olds because of their premature births. Annie was a rosy cheeked baby who was very even tempered and rarely cried unless hungry. Noah was always moving. Even when he slept, the little boy's arms and legs seemed to react to something in his dreams.

Sully kissed their bellies, "You gonna let your Ma an' me sleep t'night?"

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

After saying good night to Brian, Michaela made her way down the hall to the children's room. Katie was already asleep. Michaela pulled up her blanket and softly kissed her forehead. Then she turned to Josef.

"Mama," he whispered. "You sweep with me?"

"Sleep with you?" she melted at his expression. "I'm sorry, Sweetheart, but...."

"Pwease," his beautiful blue eyes implored.

She smiled, "Move over."

After Josef repositioned himself, Michaela spooned him against her. The little boy began to play with her long locks, as he had done since he was a baby. Michaela lightly placed her hand on him.

"I'm sorry I haven't been with you very much, my darling," she whispered.

"You with me now, Mama," he smiled.

"Close your eyes," she touched his chin.

Josef obeyed, and his steady deep breathing indicated that he was falling asleep. Suddenly, echoing through the hallway came the cries of one of the twins. Michaela attempted to quietly rise from her son's bed, but he stirred.

"No, Mama," he begged. "Stay."

"One of the babies needs me, Josef," she brushed back his hair. "I'll return as soon as...."

"No," his lower lip began to curl. "I want ya."

"Michaela," Sully called.

"Come on," she lifted her son from the bed.

Carrying Josef with her to her room, she set him down on her bed.

"What's wrong, Joe?" Sully tried to calm Noah.

"I want Mama," he asserted as tears streamed down his cheeks.

Michaela went to the rocking chair and began to unbutton her blouse, "Hand him here."

Sully placed Noah in her arms and returned to Josef.

"Come here, big boy," he drew his son into his arms. Sully tenderly kissed the top of his head. "I think maybe you're tired."

"Don' Mama love me no more?" his voice sounded sad.

"'Course she does," Sully touched his tears.

"Josef," Michaela had heard. "I love you with all of my heart, Sweetheart."

"Ya love babies more," he leaned into his father's shoulder.

"Sully?" she sought his opinion.

"Would ya like t' sleep in here t'night, Joe?" Sully rubbed his back.

"'Kay," he nodded slowly.

"Here," Sully set him in the middle of the bed. "Close your eyes."

He tucked Josef beneath the sheet and stroked his head. The child was soon blissfully asleep.

Michaela stood and placed Noah in his cradle. Then she stood helplessly in the middle of the room, tears moistening her cheeks.

"Hey," Sully rushed to her and enfolded her in his arms.

She broke down and began to weep.

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

At dawn, a rooster's crow broke the silence of the morn. Michaela lay next to Josef, and Sully tucked his wife's back against his chest. His hand rested on her hip.

She opened her eyes and kissed the top of Josef's head. Then she attempted to sit up. She had known exhaustion many times as a mother and in her career as a physician, but nothing she had ever experienced prepared her for the fatigue she felt at this moment.

It seemed that every muscle in her body ached. Her head throbbed from lack of rest, and her emotions were hanging by a thread. Still, she mustered the strength to sit up.

Sully felt her movement, "Can't ya stay?"

"You sound like your son," she smiled.

"Come on," he patted the mattress next to him. "Few minutes longer?"

It took little convincing. She lay back down, this time facing him.

"Mornin'," he ran his finger along her lips.

"Good morning," she lifted her head so that he could slip his arm beneath it.

"Babies seemed t' sleep longer last night," he yawned.

"Yes," she agreed.

With his wife so near, her eyes and lips so inviting, he could not resist leaning closer to kiss her. Immediately, his touch triggered her body to react.

Sully was moved to recite to her:

"How delicious is the winning
Of a kiss at Love's beginning,
When two mutual hearts are sighing
For the knot there's no untying!"

"I'll guess Robert Browning," she ventured.

"Thomas Campbell," his lips neared hers.

"Sully," Michaela gulped. "It's too soon."

His forehead creased, "Too soon t' kiss ya?"

"You know what I mean," she resisted.

"I only wanna hold ya, Michaela," he defended. "I'd never ask ya t'...."

"I'm sorry," she closed her eyes and fought her tears anew.

"No," he kissed her forehead. "I'm sorry."

"It's just that I don't feel ready for anything more than that," she explained.

"I understand," he ran his finger along her chin. "You're feelin' okay now... I mean where ya had the stitches?"

"Yes," she averted his glance. "I have healed."

"Good," he swallowed. After an awkward silence, he added, "Mornin's are kinda hard."

"How so?" she did not understand.

"Never mind," he shook his head.

"No, Sully," she touched his arm. "Tell me. I want to know."

"Well..." he hesitated. "After I get some sleep.... I feel more... energized."

"I see," she pulled back slightly.

"But I know ya ain't ready for that yet," he added quickly.

She ran her fingers through his hair, "You're always incredibly patient with me. It seems as if our marriage has been full of so much waiting."

He smiled, "I ain't much for complainin'."

"No, you're not," she toyed with the hair behind his ear.

"But what you're doin' right now ain't helpin' me resist ya," he teased.

She pulled her hand away quickly, "The twins will be up soon."

"Things will work out," Sully lifted her chin. "I love you, Michaela."

"I love you, too," she said, a tear glistening in the corner of her eye.

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

"Afternoon, Dorothy," Sully greeted her at the door of the homestead.

"That's a good sign," the redhead smiled.

"What?" he was puzzled.

"It's quiet," she said. "The babies must be sleepin'."

"No," he lowered his voice. "Michaela was just puttin' 'em down, though."

"I come t' see how she was doin'," Dorothy confessed. "We miss her in town."

He folded his arms and sighed.

"Somethin' wrong?" she picked up on it.

"She's wearin' herself out," he was blunt. "We can't help her much as we'd like 'cause she's still nursin' the babies. All we do is wash diapers, change diapers, wash babies, cook, take care o' Katie' an' Josef. Look around. The house is...."

"I see," she folded her hands.

"What?" he sensed she was not saying everything.

"Can't be easy for you either not havin' any time alone with her," she suspected.

"The babies need her more now," Sully felt guilty for his outburst. "We'll be okay. I just wish she could get more rest, is all."

Sully heard a horse approach the homestead, followed by a knock at the door. He opened it.

"Hey, Sully," Horace removed his hat.

"Horace," he acknowledged his presence.

"Got a letter here for Dr. Mike," he handed it over. "Come all the way from New York."

"New York?" Sully held up the envelope.

"Sully?" Michaela descended the steps. "I thought I heard.... Dorothy! Horace, it's so nice to see you."

The redhead was surprised at her friend's appearance, "Michaela. How ya been?"

The doctor wearily sat at the kitchen table, "I'm fine, I suppose."

"Would you two men let us talk for a spell?" Dorothy turned to them.

"Sure," Horace nodded. "Soon as I give Dr. Mike this letter, I'll be on my way back to town."

"Thank you," Michaela accepted it.

"I'll see ya out, Horace," Sully stepped outside with the telegraph operator.

"Dr. Mike don't look so good," Horace was blunt.

"She's tired," Sully knew.

"I know how a baby can keep ya up nights," Horace placed his hat on his head. "Can't imagine how two would be."

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

Michaela found herself weepy, "I'm sorry, Dorothy. I can't seem to control my emotions."

"You an' me both know what it is, Michaela," the friend patted her hand.

"As soon as the babies are a little older, things will settle down, I believe," she wiped her cheek.

"Maybe ya need some help 'til then," Dorothy suggested.

"Help?" Michaela wondered.

"Nursin' them," she answered. "A wet nurse."

"I'll have no such thing," Michaela snapped.

"Michaela," Dorothy eyed her. "I know ya. You're puttin' all your time an' effort int' these babies."

"And what's wrong with that?" she defended.

"Nothin'," Dorothy assured. "It's the most natural thing in the world."

"Then why would you suggest....." she hesitated when the door opened again.

It was Sully, "I'll go up an' check on the twins."

"Where are Katie and Josef?" the redhead smiled.

"Brian took them swimming," Michaela answered.

"There's nothin' like swimmin' on a hot summer day," Dorothy commented. "Picnics, walks.... all Nature's way o' refreshin' the body."

Sully left them. Several minutes of silence followed.

"Well?" Dorothy searched her friend's face.

"I'm not sure what you want me to say," Michaela felt a headache coming on.

"I want ya t' say whatever ya wanna say," Dorothy countered.

"I... I...." suddenly she lowered her head onto her hands and began to weep uncontrollably.

"Michaela," Dorothy lightly placed her hand on her shoulder.

"What's goin' on?" Sully descended the steps.

"She just started cryin'," the redhead shook her head, "I reckon I've stayed long enough. I best be gettin' back t' town. But if ya need anythin', holler."

"Thank you, Dorothy," Michaela attempted to compose herself.

Sully closed the door behind their friend and returned to his wife.

"Here," Sully took his wife's hand and pulled her into his arms. "You know what you need?"

"What?" she finally began to calm.

"This," he pulled her closer into his embrace.

Nestled in his arms, Michaela did begin to feel better, more relaxed.

"Now," he whispered. "I'm takin' ya upstairs."

"My letter," she pointed toward the table.

"It'll wait," he counseled. "Come on."

"MA!" Brian called from outside.

Sully detected an urgency in his shout and swiftly opened the door. Nearing the front steps, was Brian carrying a listless Josef. Katie trailed behind them.

"What's wrong?" Sully reached for the little boy.

"He went in the deep end of the lake," Brian was out of breath. "I didn't see him at first. He.... swallowed a lot o' water."

"Josef!" Michaela rushed to them. "Bring him in, and put him on the table."

The physician in her took over as she quickly examined her son. Josef whined the entire time, then reached up for his mother. Michaela assessed that other than being frightened, he was all right.

"Here, Sweetheart," she held him close. "Mama's here."

"I scared," he leaned his head against her shoulder.

"Everythin's fine now, big boy," Sully rubbed his son's back.

Katie put her hands on her hips, "I told him not to go into the deep water."

"He wanted t' show us how big he was," Brian swallowed hard. "Kids get away from ya so quick."

"Remember when you were watchin' Katie, an' she ended up under the steps?" Sully chuckled.

"I remember," Brian grinned. "But losin' her in the house wasn't near as scary as losin' him in the water."

"I okay," Josef's demeanor improved.

"I want you to be more careful, young man," Michaela rubbed his cheek. "And do as your brother tells you."

"Katie," he beckoned. "Ya wead t' me?"

"Joey," she shook her head. "I can't read very good."

"You make up good," he smiled.

"Okay," she took his hand and led him into the living room.

"Whew," Brian sighed. "I'm sorry."

"The main thing is, he's all right now," Sully put his hand on his son's shoulder.

"If ya don't mind, I told Miss Dorothy I'd help with the Gazette," Brian informed them. "Then Matthew an' me will be home t' help with the kids."

"We'll see ya later then," Sully acknowledged.

When he turned to check on the children, he spotted Michaela falling asleep in one of the wing back chairs.

"Kids," he whispered. "Come here."

Katie and Josef scampered toward their father.

"I want ya t' be real quiet," he put his finger to his lips. "Your Ma needs t' rest. Can ya do that?"

"Sure, Poppy," Katie agreed.

"I have a pokle, pwease?" Josef requested. "It make me feel better."

"I'll get ya one, Joe," Sully smiled.

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

Sully had fallen asleep in the bedroom rocking chair. His right hand was resting in Annie's cradle, and the baby's small fingers wrapped around her father's index finger. Upon this sight, Michaela entered the room and set the pile of clean clothes at the foot of her bed.

Looking in on both cradles, she smiled. Then she turned toward the bed. How inviting it looked. Glancing back at her husband, she saw a lock of his hair over his eye. She gently pulled it back from his face, then leaned over and kissed him.

Sully awoke instantly, "Wha-?"

"Shhh," she touched her finger to his lips.

He drew her into his lap, and she sat with her palm resting against his chest.

Both parents looked into the cradles.

Michaela smiled, "How beautiful and peaceful their little faces are."

"They got their Ma's good looks," he kissed her temple.

"I haven't lost my eye sight," she disagreed. "I look a mess, Sully."

"Ya look tired, is all," he amended.

Tempted by the nearness of her, Sully raised his hand to cup her cheek, "Where are the kids?"

She informed him, "Brian has started supper, Matthew is playing with the children, and I brought up a batch of clothes to fold."

"Don't seem like it ever ends, does it?" he sighed.

"No," she lamented.

"Michaela," he paused. "I been thinkin' about what Bridget said before she left."

"The nanny Mother sent for?" she clarified.

"Yep," he rubbed her back. "She said if we needed her, she'd be on the first train back here."

Michaela was silent.

"Don't ya even wanna think about it?" he wondered.

"It means I've failed you," she felt a lump in her throat. "I'm so sorry, Sully."

"How can ya think that?" he was surprised.

"I cannot adequately take care of our children or you," her eyes watered.

"It don't mean that at all," he countered. "If we sent for her....."

"Sully," she interrupted. "Do what you want."

She stood up and walked to the bed. He watched her busy herself with folding the clothes.

Rising, he went to her, "Here, let me help."

"I can do it," she insisted.

"Michaela," he clasped her hands to stop her. "Look at me."

"I can't," she averted his glance.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I know you're right," she admitted.

"Right about what?" he requested clarification.

"Our needing help," she drew away.

She walked to the window and glanced out at Katie and Josef playing near the garden. How happy they were, running and teasing one another, then Matthew. For a moment, she was transported from her worries.

"Why don't ya go out with 'em?" Sully was behind her. "There's still some daylight left."

"There's too much to do," she resisted.

"I'll fold the clothes," he offered. "An' I'll call ya if the babies need ya. Go on outside. Get some fresh air."

She pivoted and looked into his eyes. He nodded and smiled. Clasping his hand for a moment, she took his advice and exited the room.

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

"Mama!" Josef rushed to her.

"What game are you playing?" she smiled.

"We're playin' keep the ball from Mattew," Katie giggled.

"An' they're doin' a good job," the oldest son chuckled.

"Your turn, Mama," Katie threw the ball to her.

Quickly, Michaela threw it back and avoided Matthew's outstretched arms. The family laughed and continued the game until they heard Sully's voice.

"Michaela!" he beckoned from the bedroom window.

"Don't go, Mama!" Josef cried.

"Come on, little brother," Matthew distracted him. "Let's chase Wolf."

Swiftly, the child forgot his mother and dashed off to try to catch the family pet. Michaela watched him for a moment, filled with guilt. Then she heard the babies crying from the upper floor of their home. With one last smile for her children, she returned to the house.

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

"What was in your letter, Ma?" Matthew consumed the last morsel on his plate. "Horace said somethin' come for ya from New York."

"Oh, my," she said. "I forgot all about it. Where did I put that letter?"

"I set it on the table there," Brian reached for it. "Here."

"Michaela!" Sully called from upstairs. "We're outa clean diapers."

"Oh, no," her face went pale. "Excuse me."

Watching her run up the stairs, Josef turned to his family, "Those babies are twouble."

"Josef!" Brian scolded. "That's our sister an' brother."

"I not care!" his lip turned under.

Matthew and Brian exchanged looks of concern. From overhead, they could hear the babies crying. Then Josef slipped from his chair and went to front door.

"Where you goin'?" Brian asked.

"Out!" the child answered.

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

"Josef," Matthew stood. "Come here."

"I gotta go," the little boy insisted.

Matthew lifted him, "Let's you an' me go in the livin' room an' talk."

"Come on, Katie," Brian invited. "We'll clean up."

"What's gonna happen t' us, Bran?" she watched her brothers.

"What do ya mean?" he was puzzled.

"Mama an' Poppy are goin' away from us," her lower lip trembled.

"No, they aren't," he put his arm around her. "Why would ya think that?"

"They don't see us no more," she began to cry.

As Brian embraced his little sister, he glanced toward Matthew. The older brother was likewise consoling Josef.

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

"That will do until I can wash some more," Michaela finished with Noah's changing.

The twins cooed and kicked their legs and arms in jerky motions. Sully slipped his arm around her.

"Hard t' believe somethin' that looks an' smells that bad could come outa such cute babies," he quipped.

"Sully!" she tapped his side.

He sighed, "It's only seven o'clock, an' I'm ready t' go t' bed."

"Perhaps we can retire early," she nodded.

"Ma?" Brian knocked softly on the door.

"Come in," Sully beckoned.

"I think one of ya better come downstairs," their son requested.

"What's wrong?" Michaela looked up.

"Katie an' Josef are cryin'," the young man informed them.

"Are they hurt?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

"No," Brian answered. "Not physically anyway."

"I'll go," Sully rose with little Noah in his arms. "Here, Brian."

Handing the baby to his older son, Sully left the room. When he arrived in the living room, Katie and Josef were seated on Matthew's lap crying softly.

"What's goin' on?" Sully neared them.

"Poppy," Katie reached up to him.

Sully took her into his arms, "What's the matter, honey?"

"Joey an' me miss you an' Mama," she spoke through the tears. "It's worse than one o' your trips 'cause you're here, but we don't see ya."

Sully sat down on the stool before Matthew's chair and extended his hand to touch Josef's back. The little boy turned to his father, then quickly went to his arms.

Sully kissed both of them as he held them securely on his lap.

"Everythin's gonna be okay," he spoke softly.

"We see Mama?" Josef implored.

"Sure," he stood up with them. "Let's go."

Matthew shook his head as he watched them depart, "This ain't workin'."

Brian met them in the hall, "They okay?"

"I think so," Sully noted.

He entered the bedroom with the children just as Michaela placed Noah in his cradle.

"I got a couple children here who need some lovin', Michaela," Sully spoke softly.

"They do?" she played along.

Katie and Josef silently nodded. Michaela sat on the bed and patted it for the children to join her.

"Sully," she turned to her husband. "Perhaps we didn't adequately prepare them for their new brother and sister."

"Ya think so?" he sat beside them.

Josef crawled into his father's lap, "I not want babies."

"Joe," Sully held his hands. "Don't ya remember when ya practiced holdin' Katie's doll? Ya seemed really happy that we were havin' a baby then."

"That was one baby, Poppy, not two," Katie clarified. "You an' Mama are always busy with two."

An idea occurred to Sully, "What if you kids help us take care of 'em? Then we'd all be t'gether."

"What could we do t' help?" Katie seemed interested.

Michaela picked up on it, "You could hand us diapers when it's changing time and help us when we bathe them."

"What 'bout feedin' 'em?" Josef wondered.

Michaela was slightly flustered, "Well, that's...."

"Maybe they could help settle the twins after ya feed 'em, Michaela," Sully offered.

Her cheeks flushed slightly, "But..."

He reasoned, "Maybe it wouldn't seem so mysterious to them. It could make 'em feel included."

She acquiesced, "All right."

Sully placed his hand on hers, "What if each o' you kids takes turns bein' the helper of one o' the twins? One help with Annie one day, then Noah the next."

Katie raised her hand quickly, "I'll help Annie t'night."

"Then you help with Noah," Sully tickled his son's side. "Sound good?"

"I guess," the little boy was skeptical.

"Do we gotta wake up in the middle o' the night, too?" Katie pondered.

"I think we can let ya sleep durin' those times," Sully smiled.

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

"Finally," Michaela sighed as she settled into bed beside Sully.

"I'm thinkin' it's even more work t' have Katie an' Joe help us," he joked.

"They were quite good with them actually," she admitted. "Wonderful idea, Mr. Sully."

"Thanks," he reached over to lower his lamp. "Let's try t' get some sleep before the babies' next feedin'."

"My letter," she noticed Brian had set it on her nightstand. "I forgot all about it."

He lifted up slightly, "Who ya know in New York?"

"Several people," she replied.

Michaela read silently for several moments, then refolded the letter and returned it to the table.

"Well?" Sully was curious.

"Something I cannot possibly do," she shook her head.

"What is it?" he asked. "Who's it from?"

"It's from a Mr. James Redpath. He organizes speakers for a traveling Chautauqua group," she explained. "They want me to speak on the liver detoxification tea."

"Like how ya spoke in Boston?" he recalled.

"Yes," she stated simply.

"Where are they havin' these Chautauqua speakers?" he wondered.

"In Boulder," she closed her eyes.

"Michaela," he touched her arm. "Why can't ya speak there?"

She turned slightly to look at him, "The babies, Sully. It's much too soon for me to leave them."

"You don't have t' leave them," he reasoned. "We could bring 'em t' Boulder. It's not that far."

"Think of all that we would have to take with us," she dismissed the notion. "We would have our own entourage. And what if the twins need to be fed while I'm giving my presentation?"

"You could feed 'em before ya start," he figured. "I think ya should do it."

She paused to consider, "You're serious?"

"Sure," he nodded. "Michaela, you're a doctor. Ya have so much t' tell folks about the Cheyenne medicine."

"There's something else you should know before you encourage this," she added.

"What?" he could not imagine.

"The person who recommended me to speak...." she hesitated. "It was William. William Burke."

"Well..." he swallowed hard. "That's okay. It don't change the fact that you got a lot o' valuable information t' share with folks."

"In all likelihood, he will be there, too, Sully," she glanced down. "And he may even bring his wife, if they're still together."

"Catherine?" he sighed.

"Can you handle that?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Handle it?" he questioned.

"Seeing her again," she specified.

"She don't mean anythin' t' me," he avowed. "You know that."

"Yes," she glanced toward the cradles.

"Hey," he used his finger to guide her to look at him. "You do know that."

"I said yes," her tone was not convincing.

"Maybe I oughta be jealous that William's doin' this," he turned it around.

"Don't be absurd," she became defensive.

"We ain't the same people we were back then, Michaela," Sully's voice was soothing. "There's no insecurity or doubt about who we love, is there?"

She took a deep breath, "You've given me ample proof of your love."

He gestured toward the twins teasingly, "Ample. So.... We gonna let William an' Catherine keep us from doin' what we want?"

"You want me to do this?" she was uncertain.

"I want you t' be the woman I love," he stated. "The doctor who cares about showin' the world what the Cheyenne have t' give."

"When will I have time to prepare a lecture, Sully?" she still hedged.

"That brings up the topic I tried t' mention earlier," he said.

"Topic?" she queried.

"Bridget," he answered. "I wonder if we should send for her.... just until the babies are a little bit older."

"I thought you and I agreed that we should be responsible for our children's care," her brow wrinkled.

He smiled, "We wouldn't be givin' up their care."

She tensed, "I.... I don't know."

"Think about it," he encouraged. "We'd have someone t' help with cleanin', cookin' an' washin'. That would give us more free time."

"I doubt that," she was skeptical.

"More time than we got now," he pointed out. "We can't be expectin' Matthew an' Brian t' do so much. They got their own lives. We'd have more time for Katie an' Josef, too."

"And for one another?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Well," he grinned impishly. "Like Joe said, I can't resist ya."

She sighed, "Why do I feel so guilty about even considering such a notion? As if I am shirking my responsibilities."

"The way I see it," he paused. "You an' me got lots o' responsibilities. If we put too much time int' one or two, the others suffer. So, when that happens, we get help an' try t' balance things out."

"But the babies need me so," she turned to look in their direction.

He leaned closer, "An' you'll be here for them. For everyone who needs ya."

She realized his intention, "Including you, Mr. Sully."

"I do need ya," he confessed. "But...."

"But you make no demands on me," she ran her finger along his jaw line.

"Maybe ya wouldn't be so tired," he noted. "A little more sleep can work wonders."

"Energize me?" she gathered his meaning.

He smiled, "Only when you're ready. Just know this, Michaela. Havin' someone help won't change who we are or how much we love our kids."

"Or each other," she toyed with a lock of his hair.

"Every time we've have a baby, we've gone through an adjustment," he told her. "We've always had family an' good friends t' help us through 'til we found our balance again."

"Why are you so wise?" she touched his cheek.

"Umm," he hesitated. "I reckon I was just born that way."

"I adore you with my whole heart, Mr. Sully," she whispered.

Sully kissed her softly, then quoted:

"A heart as soft,
A heart as kind,
As sound and free
As in the whole world thou canst find,
That heart I'll give to thee."

"Was that Herrick?" she guessed.

"Good answer," he kissed her again.

"Sully," she felt her body react.

"I know," he pulled back slightly. "But hold that thought for me."

"I hold all sorts of thoughts for you," she ran her fingers through his hair.

"You'll think about askin' Bridget t' come here for a spell?" he raised an eyebrow.

"I'll sleep on it," she nodded. "For as much as I can sleep."

"Close your eyes, then," he spoke low.

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

Michaela began to dream. She had not dreamed of Sully's fugitive months for a long while, but now, for some reason, she found herself back in that time. They were at the pool where she was massaging his leg.... the leg he had fractured in his fall from the cliff. He was finally well after so many weeks of worrying and wondering. But he was still in hiding. There by the pool, his expression of love began to awaken a longing in her.

Unspoken between them was the fear that he would be caught and taken by the Army for trial. But he was here and safe at this moment. And his skin was so warm. His color had returned. And... his energy.

Without words, his eyes beckoned her to join him as he stepped into the pool. In each others arms, they sank lower and lower into the water. Then they began to kiss. Her heart raced.

Dare she hope that Sully was well enough for.... For that? It had been months since they made love. She did not want him to initiate something that might not.....

"Michaela," he spoke her name low.

"Sully," she hesitated. "Are you certain that you're ready for this?"

"I've missed ya so much," he kissed her chin.

She tilted her head back to allow him access to her neck. His kisses inflamed every part of her. Weeks of worry and heartbreak, healed with each touch of his lips on her flesh.

"I've missed you so much, too," she whispered near his ear.

Boldly, she submerged her hands into the water to reach down and undo his buckskins. Simultaneously, he unbuttoned her blouse and slipped the material from her shoulders.

"What if one of the children comes?" she hesitated.

"We're alone," he kissed her again.

She parted her lips to deepen their contact. Her pulse quickened. Sully's breathing intensified at the scent of her. Wrapping her arms fully around his neck, she allowed him to transport her. He leaned back, floating on the water and drawing her with him.

Reaching the edge of the pool, he positioned his back against a large rock. His hands pulled the material of her skirt higher, past her thighs. Michaela felt his warmth, inviting her closer.

"You seem to be totally recuperated," she teasingly commented.

"Ya got all my parts workin' again," he suggestively returned.

"I love you, Sully," she framed his face in her hands. "I could never live without you."

"You brought me back t' life, Michaela," his heart was full of love. "I don't know how t' thank you."

"You're doing a wonderful job of it right now," she smiled.

"I wanna love you," he spoke softly.

"I want that, too," she stroked his chest.

With that, their conversation ended. He placed his hands on her hips, raised her slightly, then drew her into his passionate longing. She gasped slightly, then closed her eyes to savor the sensations he stirred. Rhythmically, they commenced the movements each had hungered for. Ever increasingly, their motion brought them closer and closer to the desired outcome, until finally, in a blindingly awesome wave of energy, they shared the warmth of their love.

She closed her eyes and tilted her head against his shoulder.

"You okay?" he wondered at her reaction.

"I've missed you so much," she pivoted her face to look at him. "I thought we might never be able to do this again."

"You made me well, Michaela," he kissed her temple. "I'll never leave you again."

Tears welled in her eyes, "Promise me."

"I promise," he stroked her back.

"Are you... all right after...." she hesitated.

"I'm real good, in case ya couldn't tell," he teased.

"Oh, I could tell," she smiled. "But it feels so wonderful to hear you say it."

"I gotta be the luckiest man in the world," he said.

"We're both very fortunate," she felt warm in his embrace. "How I've needed to feel you safe in my arms again."

"It's gonna be hard until we get all this straightened out," he noted. "But we got our love. Our love can help us surmount anythin'. You give me reason t' live.... reason t' go on. An' ya gave me that beautiful little baby girl, too. I wanna be here t' see her grow up."

"I would like to give you more children, Sully," she confided.

"That'd be nice," his face brightened.

"Perhaps a little boy?" she ran her finger along his lips.

"Whatever you want," Sully kissed her finger. "But for now, I think we better get out o' this water."

"One more kiss?" she requested.

"I can't resist ya, Michaela," he obliged.

"Mmmm," she smiled.

"Michaela!" Sully's voice was louder. "Wake up. The babies. They're hungry."

"Wha-?" she awoke.

Instantly, she became aware of the twins' fussing and sat up. Sully rose from the bed and brought Noah to his mother. Then he returned to lift Annie from her cradle.

While Michaela began to nurse their infant son, Sully positioned pillows beside her on which both babies could rest. After placing the twins with their mother, he yawned and stretched his arms. Michaela warmed at the sight of his magnificent torso. Then she quickly returned her thoughts to the babies.

"Ya seemed t' be sleepin' real sound," he commented as he rejoined her in bed.

She blushed slightly.

"What?" he noticed.

"I had a dream," she caressed the babies' heads. "About us."

"Ya did?" he grinned.

"When we made love at the pool... for the first time after your fall," she looked into his eyes. "It was when we conceived our second baby."

He took a breath, then let it out slowly, "I'll never forgive myself for not bein' here for ya when ya lost it, Michaela. An' after I told ya I'd never leave ya again."

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

"You didn't leave me, Sully," Michaela insisted. "You were going to try to stop a war. I knew you would come back to me."

He touched Annie's hair as the baby continued to nurse, "I like t' believe that this is the little girl we might have had."

"And this the little boy," she recalled her second miscarriage.

After filling their bellies, the babies began to drift off to sleep. Michaela handed them to their father, who set them side by side on the bed. Adjusting her nightgown, she repositioned herself to watch her husband and children.

"I sure do love 'em," he could not take his eyes off of the little ones.

"Perhaps it would be a good idea if Bridget were to help us for a while," she placed her hand on his arm.

"Ya mean it?" his eyes widened.

"Yes," she agreed.

"Then I'll send a telegram first thing in the mornin'," he informed her. "Meanwhile, try t' get back t' sleep, an' think about that speech you'll give in Boulder."

"I.... I don't know, Sully," she hesitated.

"It's up t' you," he cupped her cheek in his hand. "But I know you. An' I know it's somethin' you'd love t' do."

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

The usual morning crowd had gathered for coffee at Grace's Cafe. Dorothy jotted down notes about the Chautauqua which Preston provided her, while Horace, Loren, Jake and Hank listened in.

"From what I understand, if this venture is successful, there are individuals interested in establishing a permanent Chautauqua in Boulder," Preston stated. "If I can meet with them, perhaps I can persuade them to locate here in our fair town."

"Who wants that bunch comin' here?" Hank smirked. "We got enough know-it-alls."

"Like you," Horace could not resist. "I wanna learn more about this."

Preston went on, "People come from miles around to enlighten themselves intellectually through the lectures. The Chautauqua circuit brings their own tents, seats and rostrums."

"Tents? Ya mean it's like a camp?" Loren interpreted.

"The outdoor setting is preferred," the banker answered. "Though, in Chautauqua, New York, they have established cottages of a more permanent nature."

"So they sit around lookin' at trees, listenin' t' the birdies chirp, an' some borin' expert lecture 'em, then call it entertainment?" Hank was incredulous.

"There are some farmers, ranchers and miners who actually want to expand their intellectual horizons beyond these provincial boundaries," Preston shot back.

"It all started in New York?" Horace returned to the topic. "Hey. I think Dr. Mike got a letter from there." He pondered it more. "Yea, it was from that there Chautauqua place."

"Perhaps they have invited Michaela to attend," Preston assumed.

"Well, if they're gonna have her talk, they're gonna need stronger entertainment t' keep folks interested," Hank joked. "Maybe I oughta take a few o' my girls up t' help out."

"Take your prostitutes to a Chautauqua meeting?" the banker was aghast.

"Gotta go where the payin' customers are," Hank grinned.

"I'm definitely goin'," Dorothy placed her pencil behind her ear.

"Me, too," Horace raised his hand.

"How 'bout you, Jake?" Loren turned to the barber.

"I'll see if Teresa wants t' go," he put his hands in his pockets. "Might be kinda interestin'. You goin'?"

"Aw, I don' know," Loren hesitated.

"Come on, Loren," Dorothy urged. "It'll be fun. A bunch o' us can take the train up t' Boulder."

"When is it?" he wondered.

"Runs through next week," Dorothy answered.

"Close up the store for a whole week?" the shopkeeper raised his eyebrows.

"Maybe just for the weekend then," Dorothy said.

"I'll think about it," Loren responded.

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

"How are the little ones, my brother?" Cloud Dancing sat on the front porch of the homestead with Sully.

"Growin' more every day," he marveled. "Michaela's worn out, an' I ain't far behind."

"Never forget that it is the village who raises a child," the medicine man counseled.

"What d' ya mean?" Sully tilted his head.

"You have many friends and family to help with the task," Cloud Dancing reminded.

Sully nodded, "We're gonna have a nanny come from Boston for a while t' help out."

"What is this.... nanny?" the friend wondered.

"It's a woman who helps take care o' the children," Sully defined.

"That does not sound like you, my brother," his brow wrinkled.

"Ya don't know what it's been like for us, Cloud Dancin'," Sully sighed. "We don't get much sleep. We're always tired. Cookin', cleanin', washin' the babies' diapers. We got no time for our other kids or each other."

"You say this is for a while?" the medicine man repeated.

"Uh huh," Sully nodded.

"I hope it will be as you wish," Cloud Dancing commented.

"You don't like the idea?" the mountain man interpreted.

"I did not say that," he folded his hands. "You are the father. You must make the decisions for the entire family."

Sully chuckled, "When you're married t' Michaela Quinn, ya don't make decisions on your own."

"So it was with Snowbird," Cloud Dancing smiled.

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

"His diaper smell bad!" Josef held his nose. "Mama, make Noah stop doin' this."

Michaela wiped the baby's bottom, "Sweetheart, he can't help it. That's how babies are."

"I don' like it," Josef asserted.

Katie sat on the bed next to Annie and smiled as the infant gurgled.

"I think she's talkin' t' me," Katie stated.

"She loves her big sister," Michaela set Noah beside her. "Now, they're both sweet smelling and clean."

"'Til next time," Josef knew what would come.

"Why don't you tell the babies a story while I fold these clean diapers?" Michaela pointed to a stack nearby.

"You tell, Katie," Josef lay on his stomach next to the infants.

"Once upon a time," she began. "There was a Mama an' Papa. An' they had a lot o' children."

"Was one of 'em Josef?" her little brother interrupted.

"Shhh, Joey," Katie held her fingers to her lips. "Le' me tell it."

"'Kay," he was contrite.

"They named the children for the Cheyenne Indians, 'cept for one," Katie resumed her tale. "There was Brave Wolf."

"That's me!" Josef pointed to himself.

"An' there was Cheyanne an' Aenohe," she touched the babies.

"What 'bout you?" the little boy interrupted again.

"That's the one who didn't have a Cheyenne name," Katie sighed.

"Would you like an Indian name, Katie?" Michaela asked.

"You an' Poppy got one," the little girl recalled.

"Novava'e," Michaela remembered. "Black Kettle named me Medicine Woman. And Cloud Dancing named Josef Ho'neoxhaaestse... Brave Wolf."

"Poppy told us what his was, too," Katie noted.

Michaela smiled, "Ho'neohtseohtslstse.... Wandering Wolf."

Sully suddenly appeared at the doorway, "Okay if I bring in a visitor?"

"Who?" Michaela was curious.

"Cloud Dancin'," he answered.

"Yea!" Katie slid from the bed, quickly followed by Josef.

The Cheyenne greeted them warmly, then turned to the babies on the bed.

"How are Cheyanne and Aenohe?" he bent over to watch their faces.

"Cloud Dancin'," Katie held his hand. "Could you give me a Cheyenne name?"

"There must be a ceremony for this," he noted.

"The babies didn't get a ceremony," she observed.

"I shall do this for you and for them," the medicine man avowed.

"What name will I get?" the little girl's eyes widened.

"It will be a name you have earned," Cloud Dancing stated.

"Where ya gonna do the ceremony?" Katie was intrigued.

"We may do it in the land of your family," he told her. "Your entire family should attend."

"But the babies have never been outside of the house," Michaela interjected.

"The weather's warm," Sully chimed in. "They'll be okay. The fresh air will do 'em good. Do us all good."

"I suppose," Michaela ran her hand lightly along the tops of their heads.

"Can we do it now?" Katie's eyes widened.

"I'll go fetch Brian an' Matthew," Sully said. "You wanna come with me, Joe?"

"Yep," the little boy joined his father.

"We'll bring Katie and the babies," Michaela offered.

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

"All is ready," Cloud Dancing said.

Michaela and Sully each held one of the babies, and Matthew lifted Josef up to watch. Holding Katie's hand, Brian looked on intently as Cloud Dancing began. The Cheyenne filled a pipe with tobacco and offered to each direction. Then he called out the names of Cheyanne and Aenohe.

Finally, turning to Katie, he pronounced the name Pevanestoohe.

The little girl glanced up at him, "Pevanestoohe. What does it mean, Cloud Dancin'?"

"It means Sings Good," he smiled. "All of Mother Earth's creatures love to hear your voice."

Next, the medicine man called out the children's names to each direction, the east, the south, the west and the north. He chanted to the sky and to the earth, to the plants and to the animals.

"To all the universe, the names of these little ones have been introduced," Cloud Dancing smiled.

"Pevanestoohe," Katie repeated. "I like it."

"She does have the voice of an angel," Michaela touched her daughter's chin.

"We go down t' stweam now?" Josef tapped Matthew's shoulder.

"You wanna go fishin'?" the older brother asked.

"Wanna see fwogs," the little boy said.

"Okay," Matthew set him down. "Who else wants t' come see the frogs?"

"I do, but don't let Joey bring any home," Katie declared.

"I will come, too," Cloud Dancing smiled.

"Wait up," Brian followed.

Sully and Michaela stood watching them depart.

Pointing to the blanket he had laid out on the ground, he spoke, "Wanna sit for a spell?"

"That would be nice," she lowered herself.

With her knees propped up, she leaned Noah against her legs to watch his features. The little boy followed her movements with his eyes.

"He's so alert," she leaned closer to kiss his forehead.

Sully cradled Annie tenderly, "This little girl's about the happiest baby I ever saw."

"We're so blessed, Sully," she glanced at him with love.

"Yep," he agreed.

"Perhaps we don't need Bridget after all," she speculated.

"I already sent the telegram this mornin'," he informed her. "You havin' second thoughts now?"

"I just recall how Bridget came in and took over," she stroked Noah's head softly.

"We'll have a talk with her this time," he agreed. "Explain what we want her t' do."

"Have you thought about how we'll pay her salary? Where she'll stay?" Michaela wondered.

"She can stay in the nursery while the babies are still in our room. I got some work lined up," he nodded. "That'll bring in some extra money."

"Must you leave us already?" she did not contain her disappointment.

He added, "It won't be overnight."

She fell silent.

"You think about the Chautauqua thing anymore?" he broached the subject.

"Yes," she set Noah on the blanket.

Sully did likewise with Annie.

"They seem rather active today," Michaela observed the babies' movements.

"Changin' the subject on me?" he noted.

"I've thought about it," she acknowledged.

"Feelin' down?" he questioned.

She rolled over onto her stomach to watch the babies. Lightly touching their cheeks, she kissed them.

Sully maneuvered closer to her, "Hey. You don't have t' do it."

"I think I want to do it," she felt his hand on her back.

"Got a lot o' mixed feelin's maybe?" he sensed.

"Yes," she felt her eyes welling.

"That happens after ya have a baby," he knew.

"I realize that we must return to our daily lives," she sighed. "But part of me wants to freeze these moments with the babies and never let them go."

"I remember thinkin' that right before Katie's first birthday," Sully recalled. "Now look at her. She's growin' up so fast. Joe, too."

"Sully," she looked up at him. "If I do this Chautauqua lecture, do you think Cloud Dancing might come with us? I would love for him to help with my presentation."

"Ya think folks would listen t' him?" he doubted.

"I.... I don't know," her brow wrinkled. "I would like to believe that if they are open to hearing what I have to say, perhaps they would consider the words of a Cheyenne medicine man, as well."

"I think he'd come if ya ask him," he toyed with a strand of her hair. "I saw Dorothy in town when I sent the telegram. She's plannin' on goin'. So are a lot o' folks from town. An' Preston's speakin', too."

"Preston?" she was incredulous.

"Well, at least Katie will pay attention to him," he joked.

"I must confess something, Byron Sully," she felt the urge to tell.

"What's that?" he queried.

"I adore you with my whole heart," she smiled.

"I adore you, too," he grinned. Glancing down at the twins, he added, "When I think about all ya went through t' give us these little ones, it makes me feel it even stronger."

"They're part of us, Sully," she stroked his face. "The most beautiful part."

He was warmed by her touch. He leaned in slowly, temptingly to kiss her. She received his gesture enthusiastically, and placing her hand at the base of his neck, she invited him even closer. Before they permitted their bodies to react further, each pulled back, breathless.

"Ya haven't lost your touch," he teased.

"Mama! Papa!" Josef came running toward them.

The little boy jumped into his father's arms.

"Did ya see any frogs, Joe?" Sully kissed his cheek.

"Yep," he announced. "I wunned t' tell ya."

"That's good," he winked at Michaela.

Soon the rest of the family returned with Cloud Dancing. While Sully and the children gathered on the blanket around the twins, Michaela approached the medicine man.

"Cloud Dancing," she looked at him with admiration. "I would like to ask you something."

"What is it?" he wondered.

"I have been asked to speak at a gathering of people who wish to broaden their minds," she began. "It's called a Chautauqua lecture circuit. They're meeting in Boulder next week."

"Broaden their minds?" he was curious.

"They come together to hear speakers discuss a wide range of topics," she specified. "I've been asked to make a presentation on the liver detoxification tea."

"This is good," he approved.

"Would you come with us?" she invited. "I would love for people to meet the man who has taught me so much."

His eyes saddened, "I cannot do this."

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

"You can't come with us to Boulder?" Michaela reacted.

Cloud Dancing folded his arms, "It would be better if I am not with you."

She placed her hand on his arm, "I don't want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable."

"It is not that," he shook his head. "They will not listen to me. If I am with you, they may not even listen to you."

"I'll make them listen," she insisted.

"You know you cannot do that," he grinned.

"Then I won't go either," she pronounced.

"You try to use this to persuade me?" he raised an eyebrow.

"I want the world to know... to see... that it is your wisdom which has helped me heal others," she explained. "You have saved my life, and Sully's.... You have helped our children. There are so many whose lives you have touched. I don't want my words about Cheyenne medicine to have some vague connotation. I want there to be a face... your face associated with it."

"You can be very effective with your words," she nodded. "I will do this for you."

"Thank you," she embraced him.

"That mean you'll go?" Sully slipped his arm around his wife's waist.

"We're both going," she smiled.

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

"Whew," Sully snuggled next to his wife in bed. "Let's see. Kids are tucked in. The babies are fed, bathed and asleep. There's a clean stack o' diapers for t'morrow. Am I forgettin' anythin'?"

"Mmm?" Michaela was barely conscious.

"Never mind," he sighed as he lowered his lamp. "'Night."

"Good night," she mumbled.

Suddenly Michaela became more alert. What was Sully doing? It felt as if his fingers were massaging her toes, then stroking her calf muscles.

"Sully?" she sat up slightly.

"Mmm?" now it was he who was hardly awake.

"What are you doing?" she placed her hand on his chest.

"Goin' t' sleep," he yawned. "Why? The babies need somethin'?"

"This is no time to joke," she scolded.

"I ain't jokin'," he sat up, as well. "Why would ya think that?"

"Because of your.... maneuvering," she accused.

"What are ya talkin' about, Michaela?" he denied.

"You said you would be patient... and wait until I'm ready," she stated.

"Wait until you're ready?" he rubbed his eyes.

"You know," she lowered her voice. "But if you're going to start maneuvering your hand like that...."

"Michaela," he was more alert. "I ain't maneuverin' my hand. I was goin' t' sleep."

She found herself strangely attracted to this game he was playing.

"I do rather enjoy it," she confessed.

"Enjoy what?" he was totally puzzled.

"Your touching me there," she whispered.

"Ya do?" his eyes widened.

Wondering what he had done to prompt this energetic response in her, he pulled her closer.

"You mean ya don't wanna wait any longer?" he grinned.

"Not after what you were doing to my toes," her heartbeat quickened.

"Michaela," he spoke her name in the tone she loved.

She ran her fingers through his hair, "I'm ready, Sully."

"God, how I've missed you," he felt his body become warm at her nearness.

"And I, you," she planted light kisses on his chest.

Then she felt the sensation again at her feet.

"How do you do that?" she was more aroused.

"Kiss ya?" he thought the question odd.

"No," she closed her eyes. "What you're doing to my feet."

"I ain't doin' anythin' t' your feet," he pulled back, curious.

"But...." Michaela had a sudden realization. "If you're not doing that, then... what....?"

Sully drew back the sheet and blanket. Suddenly two frogs hopped from the bed onto the floor. Michaela screamed. The twins awoke with a start and began to cry. Brian, Katie and Josef rushed to the bedroom, only to find their father scurrying around attempting to catch the creatures.

Michaela hurried to the cradles, "Josef Michael Sully! Is this your doing?"

"What, Mama?" he asked innocently.

"Frogs in our bed!" she lifted Annie.

Brian attempted to console a sobbing Noah.

"Poppy," Katie giggled. "What ya doin' under the bed?"

"Lookin' for these," he crawled out holding the frogs.

"Uh oh," Josef's head went down.

"Did you put these in the bed, Joe?" Sully stepped closer.

"Uh..." the little boy hedged.

"Josef," Sully's voice was more commanding.

"I... did, Papa," he confessed. "I hide 'em."

"You know you're not allowed to bring animals into the house," Michaela cupped the back of Annie's head.

"Come with me, Josef," Sully's voice remained stern.

The little boy scampered after his father as Sully left with the frogs. Finally, the twins began to settle, and Brian and Katie returned to their rooms. After several minutes, Sully and Josef had still not returned. Michaela become concerned. Where could they be?

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

"Where we go, Papa?" Josef attempted to keep up with his father.

"Back t' the stream," he did not slow down.

"Ya gonna punish me?" the little boy assumed.

"You think I should?" Sully reduced his pace slightly.

"I weckon," Josef felt a tear run down his cheek.

"Why's that?" Sully asked as they reached the flowing water.

"I not 'lowed t' bwing cwitters in house," the child's lower lip curled under.

Sully handed Josef a frog, "Put him in his home."

"I don' know where he live, Papa," Josef knelt down.

"He'll find his way from here," he counseled.

Josef obeyed and released the frog.

Sully handed him the other, "Now this one."

The little boy let it go, as well. Then he sat on the bank of the creek and lowered his head between his legs.

Sully tenderly placed his hand on his son's back.

Josef looked up, "I sowwy, Papa."

"Come here, big boy," his heart melted.

Josef embraced his father. Sully felt a lump in his throat as he lifted him into his strong embrace.

"Why'd ya do somethin' ya know ya ain't allowed t' do, Joe?" he wiped the child's tears.

"I was gonna put 'em back," Josef's voice quivered.

"Ya scared your Ma, the babies an' everyone else," Sully added.

"I know," the little boy nodded slowly.

"An' ya scared the frogs, too," Sully pointed.

"They home now?" he struggled to see in the dim light.

"Most likely," Sully stood. "We better get home, too. Your Ma will be worried."

"No, she not," he spoke sadly.

"How can ya say that, Joe?" Sully's forehead creased. "Your Ma loves ya."

"She got babies t' love," the little boy leaned against his shoulder.

Sully took a deep breath, then released it slowly.

"You love 'em, too, Papa," he verged on tears again.

The father stroked his son's back, "'Course we love 'em, but we love you, too, Josef. The babies don't change how we feel about you. You know that, son."

"I not your baby no more," he confessed.

"Is that what's been botherin' ya?" Sully stopped walking.

Josef's lower lip quivered until he finally broke down and began to cry. Sully tenderly rubbed his back and kissed his forehead.

"Everythin's gonna be all right," Sully whispered. "An' don't ever, ever think that we don't love you. Your Ma an' me would do anythin' for ya."

"You send babies away?" he looked up.

"Should we send Katie away, too?" Sully posed the question. "And Matthew, Colleen an' Brian?"

"No!" Josef was horrified at the thought.

"Why not?" Sully began heading home with him again.

"They fam'ly," the little boy reasoned.

"So are Annie an' Noah," he stated. "They're your little sister an' brother. I hope they never find out that their big brother wanted us t' get rid of 'em."

Josef became quiet.

"You not tell 'em, Papa," he finally spoke.

"What's that?" Sully asked.

"Not tell babies I say give 'em away," he specified.

"I won't tell 'em," Sully responded. "But I'm gonna tell you somethin', an' I want ya t' remember it."

"What?" Josef was intrigued.

"I had a brother once," he began. "He was older than me. I loved him a lot. Even wanted t' be just like him when I got bigger."

"Did ya?" the little boy's eyes lit up.

"I didn't get to," Sully's voice choked. "He died. I never got t' play with him anymore. I never got t' do all the things little brothers do with their big brothers an' sisters."

"That sad, Papa," Josef patted his shoulder.

"Now you're a big brother, Joe," the father drew back a lock of his hair. "You get t' do all the things my brother never did with me."

"Babies want me to?" he tilted his head.

"As they grow, I think they'll watch everythin' you do," Sully imagined. "They'll follow ya around, walk just like you, talk just like you. Wanna play with you."

"They will?" the little boy had not considered that.

"I know they will," Sully affirmed. "But... since you don't want 'em...."

"Wait, Papa," Josef had second thoughts. "I want 'em."

"But you said...." Sully paused.

"I bein' shelfish," he thought about it. "An' Mama upset if they go away."

"So you'll be their big brother then?" the father smiled.

"I do it for you an' Mama," Josef acquiesced.

"Good," Sully kissed him. "Can I give ya a little advice?"

"Sure," he allowed.

"Once ya let those little ones int' your heart, you'll be so happy," the father rubbed his belly.

"I will?" his eyes widened.

"Yep," Sully grinned. "Now, I think ya better get t' bed."

"I see Mama 'fore I do?" he requested.

"Only if she's still up," Sully cautioned.

"She up," the little boy stated.

"How ya know?" he asked.

"She wowwied," Josef recalled.

Quietly, Sully carried him into the bedroom. Michaela sat in the rocking chair and rose quickly when she heard them at the door.

"Where have you been?" she questioned.

"We taked fwogs home," Josef answered.

"Why did you put them in the bed?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

"I sowwy," he gulped uncomfortably. "I bad, Mama. But I twy t' do better."

"Come here," she extended her arms to him.

Josef quickly circled his arms around her neck. Glancing toward her husband, she noted his slight smile.

"I love you, Josef," Michaela stroked the back of his head.

"I love you, Mama," he kissed her cheek. "Go bed, now."

"Come on, Joe," Sully lifted him from her arms. "I'll tuck ya in again."

When they exited, Michaela sighed and walked to the open window by the bed. Soon she felt Sully behind her, spooning his chest to her back.

"I can't believe he did that," she could not help but smile.

"I can't believe it got ya in the mood t' make love," he teased.

"Byron Sully," she turned quickly.

Then they both laughed.

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

Over the next few days, the Sullys prepared for the Chautauqua trip and for the arrival of Bridget. They prepared as best they could, that is. All life in the homestead revolved around the babies... feeding them, bathing them, washing diapers, and attempting to include Katie and Josef in the process.

Katie began to adjust to the twins much easier than Josef, but true to his promise, the little boy made every effort to accept their presence.

On the day that Bridget's train was due to arrive, Michaela and Sully found Josef sitting by the napping babies' cradles. He was gently rocking them. The proud parents stood at the doorway and eavesdropped.

"He's humming to them, Sully," Michaela whispered.

"I hear," he grinned.

Josef finished his lullaby and folded his arms. Looking first in one cradle, then the other, he spoke quietly.

"You babies sweep good," he lowered his voice. "An' stop makin' diapers smell."

Michaela and Sully tried to contain their laughter, but Josef heard them.

"They sweepin'," he whispered. "Shhh."

"You wanna go t' the Depot with me, Joe?" Sully offered.

"I stay t' help Mama with babies," he glanced at the twins.

"Okay," Sully kissed his wife's cheek. "Katie's comin' with me. We'll see ya in a little bit."

"Good bye," Michaela smiled and went to the bed to fold another endless stack of clean clothes.

"Mama," Josef joined her. "Miss Bwidget gonna take care o' us?"

"She will help us," Michaela felt a twinge of guilt. "And I want you to behave yourself for her."

"I not see ya now?" he speculated.

"Of course, you'll see me," she lifted him into her arms.

He looked down and put his hand in hers.

"Tell me what's troubling you," she sensed.

"Why things change?" he lamented. "Why ya have babies?"

"Your Daddy and I wanted children, Josef," she attempted to explain. "We love one another so much, and we hoped to share our love with a family."

He sighed, "I twy t' love 'em."

"And... have you started to?" she hoped.

"Yea," he admitted. "I like when they sweep."

"Yes, they are rather quiet then," she smiled. "I like it when they look at you and Katie."

"They do?" his eyes widened.

"Of course," she nodded. "They watch you to see what you'll do."

"Papa say they would!" he was amazed.

"Do you know what else I love?" she caressed his cheek.

"What?" he felt secure in her arms.

"I love that you want to be a good big brother," she said.

"Papa's big bwother die," Josef's eyes saddened.

"When did he tell you about that?" she wondered.

"When we taked fwogs back," he informed her. "He say I big bwother for babies."

"Oh, Josef," she tilted his head against her shoulder. "I love you so much."

"I love you, Mama," he grinned.

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

Sully held Katie's hand as they watched each passenger disembark from the train.

"There she is!" Katie pointed.

"Miss Katie, darlin'," the portly redhead reached the last step. "Mr. Sully."

He took her bag, "It was real nice of ya t' come."

"Well, I told ya you'd be needin' me," her Irish brogue intrigued Katie. "But I must tell ya, I can't stay long."

"I understand," he answered.

"How'd ya know we'd need ya?" Katie asked.

"I took care o' twins once, lassie," Bridget grinned. "The poor parents were like t' go crazy."

"Is that gonna happen t' you an Mama?" the child looked to her father.

"No, Kates," he smiled. "Come on. The buckboard's over here."

"How is that little Josef lad?" Bridget inquired.

"Joey missed ya," Katie announced.

"Oh, I bet he did," she chuckled.

"He's okay," Sully said. "We're gettin' ready t' head for Boulder in a few days. I think half the town is goin'."

"Boulder?" the woman asked.

"'Bout 35 miles from Denver," Sully specified. "They're havin' a Chautauqua group meet there. My wife's been invited t' speak."

"Chautauqua," her eyes lit up. "I went t' one in New York. Oh, it will be a grand time."

"Is Miss Bridget comin', too?" Katie asked Sully.

"Sure," he nodded. "She's gonna have her hands full."

"And I'll enjoy every second of it, laddie," she beamed.

"Why's she callin' you laddie, Poppy?" Katie was curious.

Bridget explained, "A laddie is a young man. A lassie is a young girl."

"Poppy's not young!" Katie exclaimed.

"Oh, darlin'," she winked. "He's young an' good lookin', your Papa."

Katie giggled, "That's what Mama says."

Sully helped them into the wagon, "Let's get home."

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

"Bridget," Michaela greeted her at the door.

"Miss Bwidget!" Josef rushed to her.

"Well, there's the leprechaun himself," she hugged the little boy. "What new mischief have ya gotten yourself into?"

"Nothin'," he was not sure what she meant.

"We've prepared a room for you upstairs," Michaela indicated. "It's not very large but...."

"It's only for sleepin' now, Dr. Mike," Bridget headed for the steps. "I'll unpack my things and be down t' start supper."

"Do you think we might discuss your responsibilities first?" Michaela paused.

"You'll be wantin' me t' watch the babies, Katie an' Josef, do the cookin' and cleanin', wash the clothes...." she paused. "Am I forgettin' anythin'?"

"No, I guess not," Michaela was amazed.

"Are ya still nursin' the twins?" she inquired.

"Yes," Michaela responded.

"Then we best be gettin' them on a schedule," she reasoned. "You'll get more sleep that way."

"Schedule?" Michaela was uncertain. "I've been feeding them when they're hungry. Since they were premature...."

"It won't hurt t' let them cry until their feedin' time now, would it?" she set her suitcase on the bed in the nursery.

"But they're still very small," Michaela objected.

"You'll see, Dr. Mike," Bridget ignored her protest.

As if on cue, one of the twins awoke and began to fuss. They entered Michaela's bedroom.

"I'll see t' the wee one," Bridget went to the cradle.

It was Annie. The nanny lifted the infant and swayed back and forth with her. The baby soon settled.

"See now?" Bridget smiled. "Not every cry means they're hungry."

"I know that," Michaela became defensive.

"Mr. Sully tells me that you're speakin' at a Chautauqua lecture," the nanny smiled. "I attended a meetin' in New York a few years back."

"Oh?" Michaela was interested. "What was it like?"

"A grand time," Bridget's eyes sparkled. "There were speakers, opera singers, and even a magician."

"Were any of the speakers women?" she was curious.

"No," the nanny recalled. "But some of the opera singers were."

"I see," Michaela nodded.

"Are ya nervous, dearie?" Bridget sensed.

"A bit," she admitted. "It's been a while since I presented this information to a large assembly, and the topic is rather controversial."

"You'll do fine, Dr. Mike," Bridget was certain. "Ya got a way with words."

Michaela smiled, then noticed her infant daughter had fallen asleep.

"And you have a way with my children," she acknowledged.

"I was thinkin' about little Josef on the way here," the nanny put the baby in her cradle. "He craves a lot of attention, that one."

"I believe there is a reason for that, beyond the normal jealousy of having new babies in the house," Michaela explained. "A year ago, our daughter was kidnapped, and Josef was left in the care of my mother for several weeks. Since then, he has often suffered great anxiety when my husband or I are separated from him."

"Poor laddie," she shook her head. "And Miss Katie. She recovered from the ordeal?"

"Our Katie," Michaela smiled. "After some initial bad dreams, she's been fine. She's our independent one. Loving, concerned for her family, and mature beyond her seven years."

"She seems t' have her father wrapped around her finger," Bridget chuckled.

"I often comment on that myself," Michaela smiled.

"Your husband's different from other fathers I've observed," the nanny noted.

"Sully's different from any man I've ever met," Michaela spoke lovingly. "He has taken an active role in raising our children."

"I can see that," Bridget commented.

"About your salary," Michaela paused.

"That has been arranged by your mother," the nanny informed her.

"No," Michaela insisted. "My husband and I will be paying you."

"Your mother told me you'd say that," her eyes glistened. "She said this is her gift to you and the little ones."

Sully had overheard their exchange from the door, "We'll pay ya, Bridget."

"Well, I'll not be wantin' t' argue with you," she shrugged. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll start on your dinner."

"No peeling potatoes for...." Michaela was interrupted.

"Don't worry," the woman raised her hand. "I learned my lesson on that."

As she left, Sully slipped his arm around Michaela's waist.

"Well?" he paused.

She sighed, "We'll see. I think I should work on my speech while there's a quiet moment. I must bear in mind that there will be people in the audience who do not necessarily understand medical jargon."

"I'll head int' town with that list ya gave me then," he walked toward the cradles. "But first, a kiss for these two."

"They'll be hungry soon," her body indicated.

Sully noticed her expression, "I'm so proud of you, Michaela. For what you're doin'."

Her heart filled, "Thank you for your encouragement, Sully."

He grinned impishly, "I can't imagine not encouragin' you." Drawing her closer into his embrace, he kissed her sweetly. "You're a wonderful doctor." Another kiss. "Wife." Again a kiss. Then his voice lowered provocatively. "Woman."

She felt her heart skip a beat from the warmth of his breath. Running her fingers through his hair, she massaged his temples.

"Mmm, that feels good," he closed his eyes.

She invited him closer and kissed his eyelids, "I love you."

"Love you, too," he murmured.

Then he let his fingers roam, "Ya sure got your figure back quick."

She laughed, "You must be joking. Sully, I'm...."

He interrupted with a kiss, then pulled back, raised his finger to her lips and recited:

"He who has followed the path of love's initiation in the proper order will, on arriving at the end, suddenly perceive a marvelous beauty, the source of all our efforts."

"Was that Confucius?" she thought.

"Plato," he revealed.

She glanced toward the cradles, "The source of all our efforts?"

He smiled, "That's some of 'em. I'll go check on the kids, bring your trunk up from the barn, then head for town. I reckon you'll have a lot t' pack."

"I'm not certain what I can fit into anymore," she sighed.

As he left, Michaela lifted her file on the liver detoxification tea. She began to write in the margins.

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

"Well, well, if it isn't Sully," Preston sneered at him as he neared the mercantile. "I'm surprised to see you out and about."

"Why's that?" Sully did not really care to hear.

Preston followed him into the store, "I didn't think Michaela would permit you to stray too far from home."

Sully ignored him, and placed a list on the counter for Loren.

"How's them babies?" Loren smiled.

"Doin' good," he responded. "Michaela asked me t' pick up these things."

"I'm trying to imagine your changing diapers, doing the washing," Preston provoked. "It certainly detracts from your mountain man image."

Sully folded his arms and attempted to ignore him. It was on this scene that Hank entered Bray's Mercantile.

"Well, there's the new Pa," he grinned. "Michaela have ya broken in yet."

"Aw, leave him be," Loren looked up.

"All them kids runnin' around the house gotta make ya feel closed in," Hank persisted.

"Michaela even has him doing her shopping, I see," Preston contributed.

"Next thing ya know, you'll be knittin', Sully," the Sheriff teased.

"Leave him be, I tell ya," Loren grew impatient.

"I can handle 'em," Sully's jaw tensed.

"Never thought I'd see the day when you'd be sittin' around in a house, settled in one place with kids runnin' all over ya," Hank leaned against the counter.

"Yes, Michaela has certainly tamed the savage," Preston noted sardonically.

"They're just jealous, Sully" Loren observed. "How's that little Noah doin'?"

"He's okay," Sully replied.

"I dare say Michaela is anxious to get back to her career and away from the drudgery of playing homemaker," Preston did not let up.

Sully took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. Hank realized that the joking was wearing thin.

"Okay, Sully," Hank winked. "I reckon ya got enough on your mind without us havin' a little fun with ya."

Sully did not respond.

"Ya do know we was only kiddin', don't ya?" the Sheriff grinned.

"I'd think you'd have more sense after what Dr. Mike went through t' have them babies," Loren scolded.

Preston snapped, "Yes, she could have died. Then what would you have done, Sully?"

The mountain man had had enough, "How much do I owe ya for this, Loren?"

"Leaving so soon?" Preston barbed. "I guess Michaela keeps a tight leash on you."

"Seems t' me you're the one who needs a leash," Sully glared at the banker. "Or, better yet, a muzzle."

"Oooh, I see the savage still has some bite," Preston stared back. "A woman like Michaela needs...."

Sully grabbed him by the throat, "No one cares what you think, Preston. I suggest ya drop it, and stop offerin' an opinion about what my wife needs."

"Hey," Hank tapped Sully's arm. "Just ignore him like ya always do, Sully."

"I ignore him when he talks about me," Sully released his grip. "When he talks about my wife, I stop it."

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

"Dinner's ready!" Bridget called loud enough for the entire household to hear.

Matthew and Brian placed Josef and Katie at the table, then seated themselves.

Michaela carried the twins down the steps.

"Aw, let me help with the darlin's," Bridget went to her.

"We'll go get the cradles for ya, Ma," Brian jumped. "Come on, Matthew."

As the two young men scurried toward the steps, Bridget asked, "Where's Mr. Sully?"

"He should have been home from town by now," Michaela's brow wrinkled.

Josef slipped from his chair, "I go find him, Mama."

"Thank you, Sweetheart, but I'm sure he won't be much longer," she assured.

As if on cue, Sully opened the front door and stepped into the house. With clinched jaw he took the basket of grocery items into the kitchen and set it down.

"Sully?" Michaela called.

He did not respond. Matthew and Brian returned with the cradles, and Michaela set Annie in one. Bridget did likewise with Noah.

"Why's Poppy bein' so quiet?" Katie was curious.

"Sometimes a man just needs t' think, Miss Katie," Bridget informed her. "Now, let's eat before this gets cold."

Michaela cast a glance toward the nanny, who nodded in understanding. After situating the children in their seats, Michaela stepped into the kitchen.

"Sully?" she repeated softly.

He turned to face her, his jaw still tensely set.

"What's wrong?" she questioned.

"Nothin'," he was curt.

"Then what's bothering you?" she placed her hand on his arm.

Her touch completely dispelled his anger and frustration. He pulled her closer.

"I'm sorry," he regretted his mood. "I let Preston get t' me in town."

"What did he do?" she wondered.

"It's.... never mind," he forced a smile.

"Tell me," she rubbed his arms.

"I'm hungry," he changed the subject. "Let's eat."

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

"That woman's amazin'," Sully slipped into bed beside his wife. "Fixin' dinner, washin' clothes, bathin' the kids, all on her first day here."

"And I was able to complete the notes for my speech," Michaela added. "But there is one thing that troubles me."

"What's that?" he rubbed his chin.

"She insists that the babies be fed according to a schedule," she described. "I believe that I should nurse them when they're hungry. They're still so young, Sully."

"Then do what you think is right," he counseled.

"I told her we'd try it her way," she responded. "But when the twins cry, I...."

"Hey," he could sense her anxiety. "You're their Ma, Michaela."

"I'm hoping the babies sleep a while longer, at least until after Bridget goes to bed," she confessed.

"Why's that?" he wondered.

"She said they should be awakened to be fed at eleven, then they'll sleep through the night," she replied. "If she goes to bed and forgets, then...."

"You plottin' t' get around her already?" he chuckled.

"Don't laugh," she tapped his side. Then she broached the subject of his earlier mood. "What happened with Preston in town?"

"He just likes t' goad me," was his reply.

"About what?" she persisted.

"Ain't important," he sighed.

"Sully," she hated to see him become sullen. "Was it about me?"

He smiled slightly, "You're my favorite subject."

"I'm flattered," she rested her hand on his chest.

Sully's pulse immediately raced, but he resisted his need. As Michaela toyed with the hair on his chest, their eyes met. He discerned the same need in her. Tentatively, he leaned closer to kiss her. She lay back and drew him near.

"You tired?" he paused.

"Not at the moment," her voice was enticing.

"But I thought you said ya ain't ready t'...." he felt her finger on his lips.

"I changed my mind," she whispered near his ear. "I want for us to be together, Mr. Sully. I've kept you waiting long enough."

"Not just for me, Michaela," he caressed her cheek. "If it's what you want, too."

"I do," her body tingled with yearning. "More than anything."

He positioned himself, "I don't wanna hurt ya."

Suddenly the bedroom door opened, and Bridget marched in, "Time for the wee ones t' nurse, Dr. Mike."

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

Sully quickly pulled back from his wife as Michaela drew the sheet higher.

"Bridget," Michaela gulped. "I... I think it advisable that you knock before entering our bedroom."

"Oh, I thought Mr. Sully might be sleepin' so I just came on in," she lifted Noah from the cradle.

"I... I can do that, Bridget," Sully said, his voice not quite normal. "Why don't you go t' bed?"

"No trouble," she handed the infant to his mother.

Noah began to stir. His eyes opened and his mouth formed a yawn. Sully smiled and clasped his son's tiny fingers.

"Annie, too," Michaela motioned.

"Both babies at the same time?" the nanny questioned.

"It saves time," Michaela explained.

"I think it would be better for each baby to receive individual care, Dr. Mike," Bridget noted.

Sully knew that his body had not calmed from his encounter with Michaela.

Remaining in bed, he requested, "Could ya bring Annie here, then? I'll hold her."

"Sure," the nanny smiled. "You're an unusual man for wantin' t' hold these little ones so much, Mr. Sully."

"Can't imagine a Pa not wantin' t' hold his babies," Sully glanced at his daughter adoringly. "We can take care of 'em from here, Bridget. Why don't ya go on t' bed now? Busy day t'morrow."

"Now that ya mention it, I am a wee bit tired from my trip," she confessed. "Good night t' you both."

"Good night," Michaela smiled. "And.... next time, please knock?"

"Aye," Bridget agreed. "From the blush on your cheeks, I know I best do that from now on."

She closed the door behind her.

Michaela quickly turned to her husband, "Is there a blush on my cheeks?"

"Here," he helped her prepare to nurse both babies. "Let's take care o' these two before she changes her mind and comes back."

Michaela lowered her gown to nurse the infants.

"You didn't answer me," she looked at Sully.

"Just a little blush," he smiled. "Ain't nothin' like what my body was doin'."

"Sully!" she was shocked.

"Now you're blushin'," he grinned.

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

Sully and Brian rose and began completing chores at dawn. Michaela, who had been up much of the night with a colicky Noah, continued to sleep. She did not hear the soft knock at her door. Bridget slowly turned the knob and tiptoed into the bedroom to check the cradles. Both infants were sleeping, but the nanny lifted Annie and softly spoke to rouse the child.

Strolling to Michaela, she spoke, "Time t' feed the babies, Dr. Mike."

"Mmm?" Michaela could barely lift her head from fatigue.

"Annie," Bridget indicated.

"Oh," she raised herself slowly and reached out for her daughter. Smiling, she kissed the baby's forehead, "Good morning, Sweetheart."

Annie moved her arms and gurgled.

"I was up throughout the night with Noah," Michaela prepared to nurse her daughter. "Colic."

"I must have slept right through it," the Nanny changed the bedding in Annie's cradle.

Michaela became lost in tending to her daughter as the infant wrapped her fingers around her mother's thumb.

"Mr. Sully and Brian have been busy most of the mornin'," Bridget gathered the dirty diapers. "Katie an' Josef are eatin' their breakfast."

"Thank you, Bridget," Michaela expressed her gratitude.

"I'll help ya do the packin' today," the nanny smiled.

"I'm not certain now if we'll be able to go," she responded. "With Noah's colic, I hate to travel with him."

"It might simply be adjustin' t' his new routine," Bridget offered.

Annie seemed full, and Michaela rubbed her back, "This little one has quite a pleasant disposition."

"I can see she loves her Ma," the nanny beamed. "Shall we try Noah?"

Michaela took a deep breath and steeled herself, "All right."

Noah's eyes opened a bit wider as he responded to his mother's touch. Switching positions, she began to nurse the little boy.

Bridget noticed her expression, "He's doin' fine, don't ya know."

"For the moment," she nodded slightly. "But another night like last, and I shall have to cancel my speaking engagement."

"What's your speech about?" Bridget inquired.

"A liver detoxification tea which I learned from a Cheyenne Medicine man," she noted.

"Cheyenne?" the nanny was surprised. "Ya put a lot o' stock in Indian medicine, do ya?"

"Yes, I do," Michaela asserted.

"Whatever works, I say," she swayed with Annie in her arms.

"Mama!" Josef's voice could be heard in the hallway.

The little boy skidded to a halt when he reached the bedroom door.

"I come in, pwease?" he remembered his manners.

"Yes," Michaela draped a cloth across her shoulder.

"I go help Papa an' Bran?" he requested.

"Where's your sister?" Michaela asked.

"Dwawin' a picture for ya," he revealed.

Michaela lifted Noah to rub his back, "Did you want to help with your little brother and sister today?"

"I only got two hands, Mama," he raised them.

She chuckled, "Then go help your father."

As Josef scurried from the room, Bridget laughed, "Could ya tell me somethin', Dr. Mike?"

"What's that?" Michaela wondered.

"What's a pokle?" the nanny placed her hands on her hips.

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

"Sure is a lot o' people goin' t' Boulder," Horace looked at his list as he sipped some of Grace's coffee.

"Who?" the Cafe owner glanced over his shoulder.

"Me, Dorothy an' Cloud Dancin', the Reverend an' Isabel, Jake an' Miss Teresa with Maria, Preston, Dr. Mike an' Sully, with Brian an' their kids an' that new nanny they got," the telegraph operator said.

"Nanny?" Preston overheard. "How quaint."

"Don't you go startin' on Dr. Mike," Grace scolded.

"I'm not starting anything," Preston folded his arms.

"I heard about what ya said t' Sully," Grace's brow wrinkled. "Ya got no right sayin' things like that."

"I have a right to voice an opinion about Michaela's choice of husbands," the banker defended.

"Ain't your business," Grace glared. "An' ya better not say anythin' on the train ride either."

Preston cast a condescending glance at her, "I do not have to answer to you."

"No," she smiled. "But you'll have t' answer t' Sully."

"I hardly find that a frightening prospect," he shot back.

Horace could hold his tongue no longer, "I wouldn't get on Sully's bad side, if I was you."

Preston chuckled, "Please spare me these defenses of such a worthless character. The man has not done a day's work in his life. He even turned down my request to make repairs at the Chateau. And for good pay. He is unreliable, shiftless and...."

Robert E had been listening, "You got no idea, do ya, Preston?"

"No idea about what?" the banker asked.

"No idea what the real measure of a man is," the blacksmith's jaw clenched. "You think it's how much money ya got."

"Of course, it's how much money one has," Preston replied.

"This couldn't be 'cause you're jealous, could it?" Grace perceived.

"Jealous?" Preston's mouth dropped. "Of what?"

"Jealous that Dr. Mike loves Sully," the Cafe owner specified.

"Just because I find her attraction to him unfathomable, does not mean I'm jealous," the banker defended. "I think their entire relationship is ludicrous. Michaela is a woman of breeding, education and refinement. He, on the other hand, is a rustic mountain man who...."

"You really don't understand, do you?" Grace was incredulous. "Well, it don't matter if ya don't. What does matter is that ya leave 'em alone."

"It's a free country," Preston dismissed her comments.

"You can only push Sully so far," Robert E warned. "Ya better not cross that line."

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

As Sully approached the bedroom, he heard Michaela softly crying. Speeding his pace, he reached the doorway. From there, he saw her laying on the bed, several of her dresses strewn on the floor nearby.

He stepped into the room and closed the door. Softly, he sat beside her and touched her shoulder.

"Michaela?" he whispered.

She swallowed hard, attempting to compose herself.

"What's wrong?" he was concerned.

Her tears flowed more freely. Sully gently slid his arm beneath her and lifted her into his embrace.

"You can tell me," he stroked her temple.

"Nothing fits me," she gestured toward the dresses. "I can't possibly speak at the Chautauqua."

"Nothin' fits?" he was uncertain.

"My dresses," she clarified. "I.... I'm too big."

He ran his finger along her chin, "Then we'll buy ya new dresses."

"No, Sully," her voice was filled with emotion. "You know we can't afford that."

"Well...." he pondered. "What about Flossie Manley? She's a real good seamstress."

"You don't understand," she turned her head away.

"Then tell me," he implored. "I wanna understand. Can't the material be let out?" he wondered.

"Not that much," she shook her head.

Sully kissed her temple, "We'll figure out somethin'."

"We leave the day after tomorrow," she said. "There's no time."

He smiled, "I remember you an' your bridesmaids did some last minute stitchin' on our weddin' day."

"That was different," she dismissed his remark. "It wasn't because of my size."

"I think your size is perfect," he assured.

"No, it's not, Sully," she countered.

"Don't my opinion matter?" he attempted some levity.

"Of course, it matters," she looked him in the eye. "Why would you ask such a thing?"

"Because," he clasped her hand. "My opinion is that ya look just right."

She pulled away and lay down with her back to him. He massaged her shoulder, then rose from the bed. Walking toward the cradles, he observed that both babies were awake.

"Got a couple o' children here all bright eyed," he grinned.

"I must have wakened them," she felt guilty.

"They don't seem t' mind," he lifted Annie and sweetly kissed her hand.

Sully carried their daughter to the bed and set her beside Michaela. Then he returned for Noah. Soon, both children lay on the bed next to their mother. Sully walked around to the opposite side of the bed and positioned himself so that the twins were between their parents.

The children circled their arms as if reaching out for their mother.

"This here's why ya seem just right t' me," Sully caressed the babies' bellies.

"What do you mean?" Michaela asked.

"These two are why your body's been through so many changes," he explained. "It's been t' carry an' feed them. It makes ya even more beautiful in my eyes."

She reached out an circled Noah's fingers around her thumb, "We have been incredibly blessed, Sully."

"I know," he smiled. "The way I see it, though, you're the one who's had t' bear it all. I can't help ya much."

"You're a tremendous help," she insisted.

"All I can do is hold 'em, help with bathin' and changin' diapers," he shrugged. "You're the one they need the most."

"They need their Papa, too," she pointed out.

"When they're older," he acknowledged.

"No," she was adamant. "They need you now, too."

"Everythin' in its own time, Michaela," he sat up and lifted Annie into his lap.

"I think you have quite a way with your girls, Mr. Sully," she smiled for the first time.

"All my girls?" he winked.

"Most definitely all," she touched Annie's arm.

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

Sully brought the last of the dinner plates into the kitchen, where Bridget had already begun to wash them. He smiled at the tune she was cheerily humming.

"Don't recognize that song," he commented.

"I've long forgotten the name of it myself," she said. "I only remember my mother used to sing it to me."

"How long ya lived in the United States?" he wondered.

"I was a girl of twenty when I came t' this country," she recalled. "That was back in '47, durin' the potato famine. Went t' work right away as a seamstress for a Boston couple. Then when they had children, I became a nanny."

"What about your own family?" Sully dried the plates as she handed them to him.

"They died," her tone saddened. "The famine hit my village hard. The potatoes rotted. Then cholera and typhus came. We couldn't even afford a casket t' bury my mother in. Father O'Reilly said our town needed the money for food."

Michaela quietly entered the kitchen to see what was keeping Sully. He extended his hand toward her, and she slipped her arm around his waist.

Bridget continued her story to them both, "My father went t' a workhouse. The British landlord of our village paid for my way t' this country. Then, not long after I arrived, I got a letter from a friend of my father's, tellin' me he'd died."

"How terrible," Michaela shook her head.

"So many perished," her voice choked slightly.

Michaela stated, "I remember reading that the population of Ireland fell from eight million to five million after the famine."

"It was long ago," the redhead wiped a tear from her cheek. "America's my home now."

Michaela's heart went out to her, "And we're the luckier for it."

"Now," Bridget switched topics. "I best be gettin' those wee ones ready for bed. It's my understandin' from young Josef that you tell sometimes tell them a story, Mr. Sully."

"He does," Michaela smiled. "And they're beautiful."

Bridget paused and glanced at them, "You're a special family. I wish I could stay longer."

"We're grateful for the time you're here," Michaela acknowledged.

"I would like to hear one of your stories, Mr. Sully," she added.

"Please, call me Sully," he requested. "Just Sully."

"But you're my employer," Bridget noted.

"Don't mean we can't be friends," he smiled.

"All right then," she returned his smile. "Sully."

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

Sully sat on the edge of Katie's bed, holding Josef in his arms. Resting his lips on top of the little boy's head for a moment, he savored the smell of his freshly bathed children.

"Now," he spoke low. "Ya said good night t' your Ma. Ya been t' the privy, an' ya said your prayers."

"Could ya tell us a story, Poppy?" Katie fidgeted with the edge of her blanket.

"You up for one, Joe?" he turned his face to look at his son.

"Yep," the little boy rested his hands on his father's.

"Once upon a time, there was a mother an' father who had four children," he began.

"This about us?" Josef interrupted.

"Joey," Katie rolled her eyes. "Let Poppy tell it."

"Thanks," Sully smiled. "They had an older daughter and son, an' two little babies."

"It IS about us," Josef stopped him again.

"I reckon I don't need t' finish then," Sully began to carry the little boy to his bed.

"No, wait, Papa!" Josef tapped his hand. "You can tell it."

Sully returned to their previous position. Bridget, having left Michaela nursing the babies, neared the door and listened in.

"The mother an' father knew that their time on earth was nearly over, an' they began t' worry about the younger children," he resumed. "They feared no one would take care o' the babies."

"You're not old, Poppy!" Katie interjected. "Miss Bridget said so."

"I'm talkin' about the Pa in the story, Kates," he assured. "One day, the father called in his older children and said, 'I know that I will leave you soon. Your mother will join me in the pleasant land of the Spirits.'"

"Did he die, Papa?" Josef's tone changed.

"Not yet, Joe," Sully stroked his arm. "He told his children, 'You have just begun life. But you'll be tempted by many evils ahead. Don't give int' them. Promise me that you'll love each other. Promise me that you'll always take care of your little brother an' sister.'"

"This is a sad story," Katie's lip turned under.

Sully clasped her hand, "The children promised their father that they'd always look after the little ones. Not long after that, the father an' mother went t' live with the Great Spirit."

"Don' wanna hear no more, Papa," Josef turned his head into his father's chest.

Sully tenderly kissed the top of his son's head, "But there's more t' the story, Joe."

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

"Not wanna hear," Josef repeated.

"Tell me, Poppy," Katie requested.

"Time passed, an' the children forgot their promise t' always watch after the little ones," Sully noticed Josef still being attentive. "One day, the older girl went to a nearby village, an' she never came home. She met a strong brave an' married him."

"What about the older boy?" Katie wondered.

"He went huntin' one day," Sully revealed. "An' he never came home either."

"But what about the babies?" Josef lifted his head.

"With no one t' feed them or love them, the animals took pity on the little ones," Sully said. "A pack o' wolves started bringin' food t' them. Pretty soon, the babies depended totally on the animals. As the years, passed, the older girl an' boy returned home, feelin' guilty that they'd deserted their baby brother an' sister."

"Did they find them?" Katie was enthralled.

"No," he shook his head sadly. "But every once in a while, they could hear voices far off in the mountains."

"Voices?" Josef inquired.

"Soundin' like a song," Sully nodded.

"What did the voices say?" Katie was curious.

"They sang, 'Oh, my brother, my sister, we are turnin' int' wolves,'" Sully made his voice sound distant.

Josef's eyes widened, "The babies turn int' Wolf?"

"Sorta half-wolf, half-children," the father nodded.

"What did the older ones do then?" Katie's grew concerned.

"They prayed t' their grandfathers t' make their brother an' sister children again," Sully told them. "They tried t' touch the children, but the closer they got, the faster they turned int' wolves."

"Oh no," Josef gulped.

"Couldn't they do anythin' t' stop it, Poppy?" Katie asked.

"They were filled with guilt over causin' this t' happen t' the babies," Sully's eyes saddened. "They wept many tears, an' never saw their little brother or sister again."

Both Josef and Katie fell silent.

"Good thing it was just a story, huh?" Sully searched for a reaction.

"It not weally happen, wight?" Josef attempted to assure himself.

"I reckon it could happen," Sully rubbed his chin. "If we don't take care o' folks we love, we might lose 'em."

"Our babies become wolf?" Josef questioned.

"No, Joey," Katie tapped his hand. "Poppy said it was just a story."

"It was, Kates," Sully smiled. "But stories are supposed t' make ya think about things.... teach ya what's important."

"Our family's important," Katie perceived.

"Babies, too," Josef concurred.

"Why's that, Joe?" Sully hoped he had learned.

"'Cause we alweady got Wolf," the little boy responded. "Don't need no more."

Sully sighed.

Katie noticed, "Joey knows why, Poppy. He's just teasin'."

Sully tickled his son's side, "Are you teasin' me, big boy?"

Josef laughed, and hugged his father, "Yep."

"Could we go say g'night t' the babies?" Katie requested.

"I reckon that would be all right," Sully grinned.

Bridget moved away before the little ones exited the room. She went to her small bedroom and knelt down to offer a prayer for the family who had captured her heart.

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

Michaela set Annie on the bed next to her brother. Both babies were alert and content. Suddenly, into the room, rushed Katie and Josef.

"I thought you two were in bed," Michaela's eyes widened.

"We came t' say good night t' the babies," Katie leaned her elbows on the bed.

Josef reached up to his mother, "I don' want 'em t' be wolf, Mama."

"I take it your father told you a story," she chuckled.

Katie nodded, "About babies that turned int' wolves 'cause their brother an' sister didn't take care of 'em."

"Oh my," Michaela feigned surprise.

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

"Bridget," Sully softly knocked at her door.

Abruptly, she rose and went to answer.

"Somethin' wrong, Mr.... I mean, Sully?" she squinted.

"You said earlier t'night that you were once a seamstress," he said.

"That I did," she recalled.

"I was wonderin' if I could ask a favor," he whispered.

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

"You what?" Preston stood before Sully at the crack of dawn. "You've come here at an ungodly hour seeking work?"

"Ya said ya got some things that need repaired quick," Sully stated. "Told me you'd pay well for it, too."

"And you want to do this now?" Preston rubbed his eyes.

"Now's the only time I got," the mountain man nodded. "If ya don't need anythin' fixed, then...."

"Very well," the banker donned his robe. "Come with me."

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

Michaela turned onto her side and instantly became aware that Sully was not in bed. Raising up slightly, she glanced toward the cradles. He was not with the babies either. It was barely dawn, and she could not keep her eyes open. Fatigue claimed her, and she fell back to sleep.

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

"What in tarnation are ya doin' here so early, Sully?" Loren opened the door to his mercantile.

"Michaela's had her eye on that blue dress for some time," he pointed. "I got enough money here t' buy it for her."

"An' ya have t' buy it at this instant?" Loren yawned.

"Yep," he grinned. "Thanks, Loren."

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

When Sully entered the homestead, package under his arm, he was greeted by Brian. "Pa, where ya been?"

"Worked at the Chateau for a spell, then went int' town," he set the package down.

"What's that?" Brian pointed to it.

"Present for your Ma," he removed his belt. "Where is everyone?"

"They're upstairs," the young man poured his father a cup of coffee. "Why'd ya get Ma a present? It's not your anniversary or her birthday."

Sully grinned, "Thought she could use a new dress for her Chautauqua presentation. I bought her the one she liked at Loren's."

"That one?" his eyes widened. "Pa, that's awful expensive. It came from New York. Loren only got it 'cause he thought one o' the Chateau customers might buy it."

"I figure your Ma's worth it," Sully reached for a warm biscuit. "Think you could keep Katie an' Josef busy for a spell while I give it to her?"

Brian smiled slightly, "Sure."

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

"All right," Michaela's voice was cool. "You've chased everyone out, and we're alone. Would you like to tell me where you've been all morning? And I have so much to do to get ready for this trip."

Sully quietly set the package on their bed.

"What's that?" she indicated.

"Somethin' for you," he replied.

Her tone softened, "For me?"

"Yep," he affirmed. "Thought you could use it on your trip."

"Sully," she warmed at his expression.

"We didn't get t' celebrate our anniversary proper, an' well... with all that's been goin' on in our lives, I just wanted ya t' know how much I love ya," he spoke tenderly.

"Thank you," she embraced him.

"Ya don't even know what it is yet," he grinned.

"But it's from you, and I know I'll love it," she lifted up slightly to kiss him.

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

"What they doin' up there?" Josef placed his hands on his hips.

"Prob'ly kissin' by now," Katie returned.

"Katie!" Brian was surprised.

"Ya know they do that a lot, Bran," she said matter-of-factly.

"'Tis a strong love your Mama an' Papa have, Katie, my darlin'," Bridget declared. "You're a lucky little girl t' have such parents."

"I'm not complainin'," the child responded. "But if they start makin' any more babies, I don't know where we're gonna put 'em."

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

Michaela loosened the paper from the package and lifted the lid.

Her face brightened, "Sully! The dress!"

"Yep," he beamed. "I figure it'll look perfect on ya. Bridget can fix it so it fits ya right. She worked on the other dresses ya wanted t' take, too."

"She did?" Michaela was amazed. "When?"

"Last night," he slipped his hands around her waist.

"Thank you, Sully," she rested her hands on his shoulders. "But.... how can we afford...."

"Don't worry about it," he smiled. "Try it on for me?"

She blushed slightly, "Certainly."

Sully sat on the edge of the bed, watching her unbutton her blouse and skirt. Somewhat embarrassed at her figure, she turned her back to him as she removed them. Knowing his gaze was on her, her cheeks reddened.

As she began to slip into the new dress, her fingers clumsily could not do its hooks.

"Let me help," he rose and went to her.

"Thank you," her voice quivered slightly.

"Hey," he took her hands in his. "It's only me. An'... ya know how beautiful you are t' me."

With his help, she finished dressing.

"Perfect," he declared. "It fits ya perfect."

She looked at herself in the mirror, "It does, Sully. I love it."

He leaned closer to kiss her. Warmed by his proximity, she parted her lips slightly to welcome his further attention. Breathlessly, he pulled back and stroked her chin. The intensity of his gaze warmed her anew.

Then Sully recited as his eyes peered deep into her soul:

"I see thy beauty gradually unfold,
Daily and hourly, more and more.
I muse, as in a trance, the while
Slowly, as from a cloud of gold,
Comes out thy deep ambrosial smile.
I muse, as in a trance, when'er
The languors of thy love-deep eyes
Float on to me. I would I were
So tranced, so rapt in ecstasies,
To stand apart, and to adore,
Gazing on thee for evermore...."

"Oh, Sully," her voiced filled with emotion. "How I love you."

"I love you, too," he kissed the sides of her mouth. "Aren't ya gonna guess the poet?"

"Um..." she drew him closer for another kiss.

"Mmm..." he felt his control slipping away. "Michaela. We better stop."

She swallowed hard, then took a deep breath, "Was it Byron?"

"Huh?" he was momentarily lost in her eyes.

"The poet?" she clarified.

"Oh," he grinned. "Tennyson."

"Tennyson," she repeated softly.

"I guess we better finish packin'," he stepped back slowly. "It's gonna be kinda hectic t'morrow."

"With our brood in tow," she still clung to his hands.

"I thank you everyday for our brood," he smiled.

"And I, you," she replied.

"Ma," Brian knocked softly on the door.

"Come in, Brian," she beckoned.

"Gosh!" he saw her in the new apparel. "You look.... beautiful."

"Thank you," she smiled. "Are the children getting into things?"

"No," he shook his head. "Horace just brought a telegram for ya."

He handed it to her. Michaela began to read.

"Well?" Sully anticipated.

"It's from Mr. Redpath," she said. "With details about when and where I'll be speaking and...."

Her abrupt stop caused Sully to look over her shoulder, "They're payin' ya that much?"

"Oh, Sully," her heart leapt. "Think what we can do with a fee like this!"

He glanced down, "More than I could earn in a year."

"We can pay Bridget's salary," her mind raced. "And it will cover Brian's tuition, new furniture and clothes for the children, updated equipment for the Clinic...."

She stopped when she noticed her husband's expression.

"Brian, would you excuse us for a few moments, please?" she requested.

"Sure," he perceived all was not well.

As the young man closed the door behind him, Michaela clasped her husband's hand, "Sully.... how did you pay for this dress?"

"Don't matter," he forced a smile.

"Please, tell me," she implored.

He sighed, "I did some repair work this mornin'."

"For whom?" she suspected.

He did not respond.

"For Preston?" she concluded.

"I said it don't matter, Michaela," he tensed.

"Yes, it does," she answered. "Particularly after your run-in with him."

"I did the repairs he wanted, and he paid me good," he rubbed his upper lip.

"And with that money, you bought this," she ran her hands along the material of the dress. "It makes me love it all the more."

He smiled slightly.

She asked, "What should we do?"

"About what?" he was uncertain.

"The speaker's fee," she clarified.

He was silent.

She sat on the edge of the bed, "I'll give it to a charity."

"You don't have t' do that," he positioned himself beside her. "You're right. There's lots we could use it for."

"I don't want this to cause a rift between us," she rested her hand on his thigh. "I remember before our marriage our arguing over money."

"I'm just bein' stubborn," he turned away.

"No," she cupped the side of his face. "This is hurting you."

"We both provide for our family, Michaela," he reminded. "That's what we agreed on."

"But we've never had this much money come to one of us," she said.

"I'll take the kids for a walk," he rose. "So you can pack."

"Sully," she held out her hand to him.

Without stopping, he exited the room.

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

"Where are we goin', Poppy?" Katie attempted to keep pace with her father.

"Just for a walk," he held Josef on his shoulders. "Figured we should get outa your Ma's hair while she packs."

"I love Mama's hair," Josef clapped his hands.

"I just mean keepin' outa her way," Sully stopped and set the little boy down.

"Why don't we pick some flowers for her?" Katie motioned toward a nearby field.

"Good thinkin'," Josef set out to find some.

"You okay, Poppy?" the little girl wondered.

"Yep," he smiled. "Go help Josef."

The little girl skipped away and began to gather a variety of wild flowers.

"It is a beautiful day, my brother," Cloud Dancing sat beside the mountain man.

"I didn't hear ya come up," Sully turned with a start.

"Your mind was elsewhere," the medicine man noted.

"Guess so," Sully leaned back to keep an eye on his children.

"There is something troubling you?" Cloud Dancing assumed.

"Sort of," he was vague.

"If you say what it is, it may begin to leave you," the Cheyenne counseled.

"Michaela's gettin' paid t' talk at the Chautauqua," Sully revealed.

"Is this unusual.... for their speakers to be paid?" Cloud Dancing queried.

"No," Sully picked a blade of grass. "But it's way more money than I could ever earn for us."

"I see," the medicine man grinned slightly. "You are jealous."

"Jealous?" Sully's brow wrinkled. "What makes ya think that?"

"What other reason could there be for your feeling?" the Cheyenne assumed. "You are jealous that Michaela will earn this money."

"No," Sully shook his head. "She deserves it. She's worked hard. An' she'll give a real good speech."

"Then I do not understand," Cloud Dancing responded.

Sully took a deep breath and let it out slowly, "I feel like I'm lettin' my family down."

"And you are," his Cheyenne brother retorted.

"Huh?" Sully found his reaction strange.

"Your family thinks that it does not bother you to have a medicine woman for a wife," Cloud Dancing stated.

"What are ya talkin' about?" Sully's brow wrinkled. "I'm real proud t' have Michaela as my wife."

"But only if she does not get paid for her work?" he rejoined.

"You're turnin' this all around," Sully was becoming frustrated.

"No, my brother," Cloud Dancing smiled. "It is you who turn things around. You love Michaela for who she is. In your world, doctors are paid.... sometimes with much of your money. You know that the money is not why she does this, but it will help your family, will it not?"

"Yes," Sully agreed. "We can use it."

"Then what is wrong with Dr. Mike accepting it?" the Cheyenne asked. "It is only money."

"I guess you're right," Sully sighed. "But I don't have a good feelin' about it."

"There is something else bothering you?" Cloud Dancing perceived.

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

"William Burke might be at this Chautauqua thing," Sully disclosed to his friend.

"Who is he?" Cloud Dancing asked.

"He's the man I thought Michaela fell for in Boston.... when I was havin' those dreams about her before I told her I loved her," Sully detailed.

"Oh," the medicine man nodded. "And you think Michaela will fall for him now?"

"'Course not," Sully affirmed.

"Then, again I must ask why you are troubled," he told him.

"I guess it is jealousy," Sully recognized. "Last time we saw him was in Boston a few years back. You'll never guess who he married."

"Who?" Cloud Dancing played along.

"Catherine," the mountain man responded.

"The white woman who had lived with the Indians?" he recalled.

"Yep," Sully said.

"Maybe it is Michaela who will be jealous," Cloud Dancing raised an eyebrow.

"Got no reason t' be," he folded his arms uncomfortably.

"This William Burke does trouble you, though," the medicine man realized.

"He made advances on Michaela in Boston," Sully's jaw clenched. "If he so much as looks at her this time, I'll...."

"My brother," Cloud Dancing touched his arm. "Be careful."

"I will," Sully noticed his children had finished their task.

"Cloud Dancin'!" Katie spotted him first.

"Hello, Pevanestoohe," he greeted her. "The flowers are for your mother?"

"Yep," she smiled. "Wanna come with us t' give 'em t' her?"

"No, thank you," he replied. "But I know she will like them."

"These, too?" Josef held up his batch.

"Oh, no, Joe," Sully reacted. "Ya got poison ivy in there. I better get ya back to your Ma."

"I told ya not t' pick that, Joey," Katie said.

"But it's pwetty leaves," the little boy said.

"Come on," Sully lifted him.

"I will see you tomorrow at the Depot," Cloud Dancing acknowledged.

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

"Children under age seven rarely get the rash," Michaela examined Josef's hands and arms. "But we'll wash you and keep a close watch."

"Am I gonna die, Mama?" Josef's blue eyes saddened.

"No, my darling," she kissed his forehead. "But if you do have a reaction to touching the leaves, you're going to be very uncomfortable."

"You make me better?" he implored.

"I'll try to make you comfortable," she kissed his cheek.

"Are ya finished packin', Mama?" Katie wondered.

"Yes," she glanced uncomfortably toward Sully.

"Did you pack my pink dress?" the little girl hoped.

"Yes," Michaela touched her nose. "I know it's your favorite."

"Dr. Mike!" Bridget called from upstairs. "Time t' feed the babies."

"Do ya have to?" Josef resisted.

"Joey, remember the wolves," Katie cautioned.

"Okay," he conceded.

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

Sully entered the bedroom as Michaela nursed a contented Annie. He smiled down at the baby and caressed her soft hair. Then he peeked into Noah's cradle. The baby boy was sleeping.

"How's his colic?" he asked.

"He's doing much better," she answered. "Did you have a nice walk?"

"Yea," he folded his arms. "Cloud Dancin' joined us for a while."

"He's still planning to come to Boulder, isn't he?" she feared.

"Yes," Sully walked toward the window.

Michaela lifted Annie to rub her back. Tenderly, she rested the baby's cheek against her own. Sully pivoted and saw his wife and daughter. It took his breath away.

"God, you're so beautiful," his voice was barely audible.

"Sully," she extended her hand toward him.

He could not resist her gesture and went to her side. Kneeling down beside her, he clasped her hand and raised it to his lips. Then he held it against his cheek.

"Would you like to hold your daughter while I feed Noah?" she invited.

"Sure," he smiled and cradled the infant in his arms.

Michaela picked up their son, and rubbed his belly. Soon, he was alert and nursing.

"Could we talk about what happened earlier?" Michaela opened tentatively.

"Earlier?" he hesitated.

"Our discussion about the fee they're paying me," she clarified.

"Cloud Dancin' told me I'm bein' jealous," he repeated.

"Jealous?" she was surprised.

"Of the money," he nodded. "'Cause I can't earn that much."

"I don't agree with him, Sully," she began. "I believe that...."

"It's stubborn pride," he confessed.

"I've been known to exhibit that myself," she turned up the edge of her mouth.

"I know that you're always gonna earn more money than I do," he touched Annie's chin.

"But...." she stopped when he held up his finger.

"I ain't complainin' about it, Michaela," he resumed. "But I can't say I've ever been comfortable with it either."

"Have I done something to make you uncomfortable?" she wondered.

"No," he shook his head. "It ain't that. I just believe that a man should be the one t' provide for his family."

"But you do provide for us," she insisted. "You built our home, you made most of our furniture, you supply us with food...."

"That's not what I mean," he stated.

"Sully," she searched for the right words. "If this is going to stir up old wounds, I'll cancel my presentation."

He insisted, "No, Michaela. It's real important for ya t' do this."

"Then I don't know what to do," she lifted Noah to stroke his back. "It appears that we're at an impasse."

"We're not at an impasse," he set Annie in her cradle. "We're goin' t' Boulder, and you're gonna give your speech."

"But the money," she was puzzled.

"You earned it," he responded. "Keep it."

Her brow wrinkled, "Is there something more to this? Something you're not telling me?"

"No," he was not fully honest.

"Mr. Redpath's message indicated that his agency has reserved rooms for us at a Boulder hotel," she changed the subject.

"I thought folks were supposed t' be outdoors appreciatin' nature," he questioned.

"The speakers and their entourage are pampered, I assume," she noted.

"Pampered," he smirked.

"What's that look?" she smiled.

"It's one o' my favorite pastimes.... pamperin' you," he grinned.

"I must confess I rather enjoy your pastime," there was a gleam in her eye.

He lifted up slightly to kiss her. Then he kissed Noah's head.

"There are things more important than money that you've given me, Mr. Sully," her tone was low.

"What's that?" he enjoyed the timber of her voice.

"Love," she leaned over to kiss him. "Trust, encouragement, consideration...."

"That all?" he teased.

"And our little ones," she kissed him again. "Oh, Sully, my heart is so full of love for you and for them, I can scarcely believe it's all real."

"I know how ya feel," he agreed. "Just a few years back, we wondered if we'd ever have more kids. Then...."

"Then, you gave them to me," she whispered.

"We gave them t' each other," he stroked Noah's back. "An' this little fella... God, when I think about how we almost lost him....."

"You have provided for us, Sully," she returned to the subject. "In ways that transcend anything money could purchase."

"You're pretty convincin', Michaela Quinn," he toyed with a lock of her hair.

"Does that mean I've won the argument?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Nope," he stated simply.

"Why not?" she frowned.

"'Cause it wasn't an argument," he kissed her again, then rose to his feet.

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

"Wanna have some fun with the banker?" Hank smirked as he glanced at Loren, Jake and Horace.

"What d' we have t' do?" Loren grinned.

"Play along with me when he comes int' the Gold Nugget," the sheriff rubbed his chin.

"Here he comes now," Jake motioned.

Hank cleared his throat, then pretended he was in the middle of a conversation with the trio.

"So I figured I'd take Laura, Jacqueline an' Fannie," Hank leaned on the bar.

"That many?" Loren picked up on it.

"Three o' my girls can handle whatever them Chautauqua nature boys got," he chuckled. "Especially Laura. Why, that woman can...."

"What on earth are you talking about?" Preston's jaw dropped.

"Ain't your business," Hank shot back.

"When you mention Chautauqua and.... your 'girls,' I assume that....." Preston's face paled.

"You're a man o' business," Jake interjected. "Nothin' wrong in goin' where the business is. Ain't that why you came t' Colorado Springs?"

"Yes, but...." Preston was clearly flustered. "This sort of activity is not.... should not be part of a Chautauqua meeting."

"Why not?" Hank grinned. "All part o' nature and folks 'enlightenin' themselves, as ya said."

Preston grew more appalled, "You're going to take prostitutes to a family gathering?"

"I'll make sure they just entertain the men," Hank placed a cigar in his mouth. "You boys got any objection?"

Before Horace could speak up, Jake and Loren glared at him.

"See ya in Boulder," Hank patted Preston on the back.

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

Michaela pulled her shawl around her shoulders as she surveyed her list. Sully entered the bedroom and walked to the fireplace. Stoking the fire, he turned to face his wife.

"Everythin' on your list done?" he opened the conversation.

"I believe so," she set it on the nightstand.

"Almost time t' feed the babies," he glanced toward the cradles.

"They seem to be adapting to Bridget's schedule more quickly than I could have imagined," she nodded.

Sully watched her rise and step toward the rocking chair.

When she sat down and drew the shawl even closer, he questioned, "You cold?"

"A little," she answered.

"Not usually this chilly in July," he determined. "Think the babies are warm enough?"

She leaned over to look at them, "They seem to be."

"Maybe I oughta go check on the others," he folded his arms.

"If you want," she stared at him. Unable to keep her curiosity at bay, she inquired, "Sully, have you thought about what we'll say or do when we.... if we see William and Catherine."

"Thought about it some," he swallowed hard, wondering how much consideration she had given it.

"I... I'm not certain that I know what to say to him," she confessed. "Our parting in Boston was less than cordial."

"Less than cordial?" his forehead creased. "I could've killed him for what he almost did t' ya."

She immediately reacted, "He didn't actually do anything, Sully."

"But he might have if I wouldn't've arrived when I did," his jaw clenched.

"Will you be able to hold your temper in Boulder?" she became anxious.

"Long as he don't try anythin'," he rubbed his upper lip. "But he's got no right t' touch you."

"Agreed," she acknowledged. Hesitating for a moment, she was curious. "What about Catherine?"

"What about her?" he tensed.

"Do you think they've reconciled?" she queried.

"Don't matter t' me," he dismissed the thought.

Michaela felt tears welling in her eyes.

"Hey," Sully noticed and swiftly knelt before her. "What's wrong?"

She reached out to cup his face in her palm, "I'm not certain."

"One o' them moods?" he recognized.

"What moods?" she brushed the moisture from her cheeks.

"I don't know the medical reasons, but I know that after ya have a baby, ya kinda have strange moods," he placed his hands on her thighs. "Little things make ya cry."

"I'll be fine," she gulped as the feel of his palms on her legs began to affect her.

He rose to his feet, "Seems t' me, the most important thing for ya t' think about t'night is all the folks who're gonna hear the beautiful lady doctor from Colorado Springs give a talk."

"I'm apprehensive about it, Sully," she confessed.

"Why?" he did not understand. "Ya got your speech written."

"What if they don't listen?" she feared.

"Even if only one person listens, that's still real important," he glanced at her through admiring eyes. "You're the most inspirin' person I ever met, Michaela. Think about what that one person might become on account o' you."

"Thank you for believing in me," she held out her hand to him.

"Always have, always will," he raised her palm to his lips.

One of the babies began to stir in the cradle.

"I reckon they're hungry," he smiled.

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

"Looks like Michaela an' Sully's gonna need a whole train car just for their family," Loren chuckled as the wagon pulled up to the Depot.

Matthew greeted his family and helped Katie and Josef from the wagon. Michaela and Bridget cradled the babies, as Sully helped each one down with their precious cargo. Then, with Matthew and Brian's help, they began to unload their trunks.

"Need some help?" Hank offered.

"No, thanks," Sully replied, setting the last one on the wooden planks.

"How long ya plannin' on stayin'?" the sheriff retorted.

"Just a couple days," Sully wiped his brow. "You goin', too?"

"Yep," Hank grinned.

"Plannin' on improvin' your brain?" Sully joked.

"Nope, plannin' on doin' some business," he motioned toward his girls.

"What?" Sully was incredulous.

"Wasn't serious until I realized it'd give Preston apoplexy," Hank laughed.

Sully shook his head in disbelief. One of Hank's girls, the brunette named Laura, sauntered closer to Sully and glanced flirtatiously at him. He uncomfortably turned away and resumed unloading the buckboard.

"Who's mindin' the telegraph if you're comin', Horace?" Loren questioned.

"Got a colleague from Manitou who's doin' it for me," he responded.

"Michaela!" Dorothy called as she reached the Depot.

"Dorothy," she smiled. "I'd like you to meet Bridget, our nanny."

"Pleased t' be meetin' ya," Bridget acknowledged.

"And you," Dorothy smiled. "Michaela, have ya seen Cloud Dancin'?"

"No, not yet," she answered.

"I'm worried," the redhead fidgeted with her purse.

"Why?" Michaela noted her look of concern.

"He was supposed to stop by last night to see me, but he never came," she explained.

"Somethin' the matter?" Sully overheard.

"Cloud Dancing is missing," Michaela informed him.

"What d' ya mean he's missin'?" Sully questioned.

"We were gonna have dinner last night, but he didn't show up," Dorothy detailed.

"I better go find....," he was interrupted.

"No, please, Sully," Michaela implored. "You might miss the train."

"I'll go," Matthew volunteered. "I can catch a later train with him. They got lots runnin' with the Chautauqua goin' on."

"Thank you, Matthew," Michaela was relieved. Then she nervously glanced at her husband, "You don't think anything is wrong, do you?"

Sully replied, "Ain't like Cloud Dancin' t' forget somethin' like this. 'Specially since he knows how much it means to ya."

"I'll come with you, Matthew," Dorothy offered.

"All aboard!" the train conductor called.

The townsfolk began to board the train. Aside from the Sullys, Jake and Teresa with little Maria, Preston, Horace, Loren, the Reverend and Isabel, along with Hank and his girls stepped forward.

"Who's gonna run the town?" Jake quipped.

"Looks like Robert E an' Grace will have to," Brian responded.

"No," Michaela pointed. "Look. Here they come!"

Sully grinned at his friend, "Grace talk ya int' this?"

"No other reason I'd be goin'," Robert E tugged uncomfortably at his collar.

As each was seated, the train lurched forward with a sudden movement.

"Mama!" Josef pointed at the passing town. "We comin' back?"

"In a few days, Sweetheart," she smiled.

Sully watched uncomfortably as Matthew and Dorothy rode off in the distance in search of their Cheyenne friend.

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

Like Colorado Springs, Boulder grew as a stop off point for mining prospectors. The town had become a gateway to the mineral rich mines to the west. From Pearl Street, a view of the stunning mountains was clearly visible. There were the Flatirons, rock slabs that seemed to hang on the edge of the mountain like old fashioned irons.

Sully held Katie and Josef on his lap, pointing to each geological phenomena as they came into view. He was pleased at their wide-eyed excitement when he described Flagstaff Mountain, with its pinkish gray rock exposed in rugged cliffs and boulders.

Horace smiled and contributed, "Boulder's got a university, hospital, post office, bank an' even water system, too."

"Why don't we live here, Poppy?" Katie asked innocently.

"'Cause Colorado Springs needs our help more, sweet girl," he kissed the top of her head.

"Sure is beauful," Josef said, his nose pressed to the glass of the train window. "There's lots o' frowers, Papa."

"An' poison ivy," Sully tickled his side.

"It's like dyin' an' goin' t' heaven, it is," Bridget added. "I can see why ya choose t' stay out here, Dr. Mike."

"Might we make a frontier woman of you yet, Bridget?" Michaela teased.

"I wouldn't be jumpin' t' that conclusion," the nanny smiled.

"We oughta be pullin' int' the depot soon," Sully detected the slowing of the engine. "Nearly time t' feed the babies, too."

"I know," Michaela recognized the signals of her body.

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

As the townsfolk disembarked from the train and began to head for the hotel, Sully and Brian lugged the heavy trunks toward the inn.

"I think your Ma packed enough for a month," Sully grunted.

"More like a year," Brian agreed. "Why'd she rush t' the hotel ahead o' us?"

"Needs t' nurse the babies," Sully explained. "Bridget's got 'em on a schedule now, an' when it's time, it's time."

"Katie an' Josef went with her, right?" the young man was unsure.

"No, they went with Robert E an' Miss Grace t' see the town," Sully chuckled. "They got their godparents wrapped around their little fingers."

"Speakin' of godparents, have you an' Ma thought about a baptism for the twins?"

"We ain't discussed it yet," he set the trunk down in the hotel lobby. "Michaela," he pulled his wife aside.

"Will you be okay settlin' in the kids while I go t' the telegraph office?" he requested. "I wanna see if there's any word from Matthew."

"Yes," she encouraged. "Go ahead."

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

Sully entered the hotel room just as Michaela completed buttoning her blouse.

"Any word?" she looked up quickly.

"None," he sighed. "Next train's due in a couple hours. If they found him, maybe they'll just come on straight here."

"Perhaps," she nodded.

"Are Katie an' Josef back?" he lifted Noah from his wife.

"No," she answered.

"I see the hotel brought up bassinets for the twins," he noticed.

"Yes," Michaela rose and set their daughter in one.

"Is he sleeping yet?" she peeked around his shoulder.

"No," Sully raised his infant son to kiss him.

"They'll find him, Sully," she assured.

"I should've gone," he filled with guilt.

"We don't know if anything is wrong," she countered. "I suppose I'm being selfish for wanting you with me."

"No," he did not wish to upset her. "You ain't selfish."

A soft knock at the door interrupted their conversation, "Beggin' your pardon, Dr. Mike." Bridget smiled. "I can take the babies now, if ya like."

"We'll keep 'em with us a little longer," Sully cradled Noah closer.

"As ya like," the nanny smiled. "Oh, an' Katie an' Josef just came back. They're goin' through their trunk."

"By themselves?" Michaela's eyes widened. "Oh, no. I'd better go check on them. Please come with me, Bridget."

Michaela was out the door before the nanny realized it.

Glancing toward Sully, she perceived, "She's nervous, isn't she?"

"Very," he nodded. "Better go."

Bridget quickly closed the door behind her. Sully set Noah on the bed, then lifted Annie from her bassinet. Setting the infants side by side, Sully lay down beside them.

He tenderly rubbed the tops of his children's heads, then softly kissed them. A smile crossed his face as he rubbed their tummies.

"You two sleepy?" he whispered. "Mmm?"

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

As Michaela reentered the hallway to return to her room, she heard a voice behind her, "Michaela."

Without turning, she recognized Burke's voice, "William. It's.... it's nice to see you."

"A magnanimous sentiment considering how abominably I acted at our last meeting," he removed his hat. "I'm so pleased that you accepted the offer to speak here."

"Thank you," she felt uncomfortable.

"I... assume that Mr. Sully has accompanied you," he moved closer.

"Yes," she instinctively stepped back. "He's with our babies."

"Babies?" he smiled uncomfortably. "When I last saw you, there was only a daughter, Katie."

"We've had three more since then," she folded her hands. "A three and a half year old son, Josef, and twins just two months old."

"Well, congratulations," he swallowed. "I suppose that they must occupy a great deal of your time."

"Yes," she nodded. "This is my first return to medicine since I had them."

"And how fortunate we are all for it," he complimented.

"Is... Catherine with you?" she posed the question.

"Yes," he glanced down at the floor. "She's in our room."

"I'm happy that you two... reconciled," Michaela commented.

"I wouldn't exactly call it a reconciliation," he frowned. "More like a truce."

"If you'll excuse me," she suddenly felt more awkward. "Sully is waiting for me."

"Yes, of course," he bowed his head slightly. "We'll speak later?"

"Perhaps," she swiftly pivoted and entered her room.

Sully looked up, "Everythin' okay?"

"Yes," her voice sounded different.

"Ya sure?" his forehead creased.

"I.... I just saw William in the hallway," she revealed.

"William?" he sat up. "Did he try anythin'?"

"No, no," she calmed herself. "It was a pleasant enough conversation."

He rose from the bed and went to her. Swiftly, she slipped her arms around his waist and leaned her head against his chest. Sully enfolded her in his embrace and kissed the top of her head.

"You sure you're okay?" he lifted her chin.

"Yes," she seemed more relaxed. "It's strange. While I was speaking to him, I had an overwhelming desire to be in your arms."

"Don't sound strange t' me," he grinned. "My heart is your home. We always feel safest at home."

"That's beautiful, Sully," she smiled. Turning toward the bed, she asked, "How are our little ones?"

"Sleepin'," he spoke low. "Their Pa just has a knack, I guess."

"That's true," she lifted up to kiss him. "You do have a knack."

He leaned closer to pull back the hair from her neck, then with the tenderest intentions, he kissed her.

"Oh, Sully," she felt her pulse quicken.

He drew back, "I know. Ya ain't ready."

"Soon," she swallowed hard. "Very soon."

"Waitin's hard," he stroked her back. "But.... I will."

"I asked William about Catherine," she watched for his reaction.

"And?" he remained placid.

"She's here, too," Michaela drew back. "When I asked if they had reconciled, William said it was more like a truce."

"That's good, I guess," he still clasped her hand.

"Is it?" she was uncertain.

"If they're still t'gether, there's hope for their happiness," he reasoned. "Oh, before I forget, they delivered an itinerary for ya."

She began to peruse the set of papers, "The main Chautauqua events tomorrow, July 4, will begin with the Honorable Henry Watterson, billed as the silver-tongued orator of Kentucky. There are lots of activities for the children. I... I'm to speak tomorrow at noon."

"You'll do great," he assured.

"Thank you," she smiled.

"Did ya notice who's speakin' t'morrow night?" he asked.

She read further, "Sully! Ralph Waldo Emerson!"

"Yep," he grinned. "You're in good company."

"Oh, I would love to hear him again," she sighed. "I'll never forget hearing him read from his book 'Essays, First Series....'"

"I just wish we had some news about Cloud Dancin'," he strode toward the window. "I hate waitin'. I feel like I...."

She noticed his pause, "Like you should be searching for him? Sully... perhaps you should."

"But you said ya needed me here," he was puzzled.

"I was being selfish," she folded her hands. "He may need you more."

"But I don't wanna leave ya here alone," he returned to her.

"I'm not alone," she said. "Half of the town is here. If it's what you want, go to him."

"No, Michaela," he resisted.

"Please," she slipped her hands up his arms. "I think you should."

He walked toward the bed and sat beside the twins. Lowering his head, he kissed them sweetly.

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

Matthew and Dorothy approached an Army patrol resting their horses near a brook. There were a dozen or so cavalry and one officer, a scruffy looking young man with disheveled hair beneath his military cap.

"Afternoon, folks," the officer saluted. "What brings ya out this way?"

"We were just wonderin' the same thing about you," Matthew replied. "Somethin' wrong?"

"No, just routine patrol," he pulled up his canteen and took a swig.

"Patrol for what?" Matthew persisted.

Dorothy suddenly spotted Cloud Dancing amid their group, "There!"

The officer turned, "Indian, Ma'am. Don't worry. We got him under control."

"That Indian is a friend of ours, sir," Matthew's voice was stern.

"Well, your 'friend' is off his reservation," the man responded. "By a long way."

Matthew asserted, "He's under special protection of the town of Colorado Springs. He has permission t'...."

"He's off the reservation!" the officer's tone became louder.

"Look," Matthew hoped to reason. "He.... this man represents no harm, no threat."

"I'm only followin' orders," he answered.

"Where are you takin' him?" Matthew questioned.

"Colorado Springs has the closest jail an' telegraph," the officer wiped his upper lip. "That's where we'll take him."

"Then we'll come with ya," Dorothy nodded.

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

Michaela felt tears welling in her eyes. She and Sully had not been apart since before the birth of their twins. She realized it was inevitable that his work would take him from her, but.... Parting was never easy, particularly since he was heading off into a potentially dangerous situation.

"I asked Bridget to give us a moment before bringing the children over," she attempted to contain her emotions.

"Michaela," he spoke her name in the timbre she loved. "I'll be back 'fore ya know it. An' I'll bring Matthew, Cloud Dancin', Dorothy...."

"Oh, how I love you, Sully," the tears flowed freely as she threw her arms around his neck.

Breathlessly, they began to kiss. Sully lifted her slightly off the ground and held her tightly.

Then he gently set her back on solid ground, "I love you, too."

"Please be careful," she cautioned.

"I will," he pledged.

The twins began to stir. Sully went to them and smiled down on the little lives who held his heart.

"You two go easy on your Ma, ya hear?" he caressed their heads.

Suddenly, into the room burst Katie, Josef and Brian.

Bridget trailed along behind, "I held them back as long as I could, Dr. Mike."

"Bwidget say Papa go 'way," Josef's lower lip curled under.

"Joe," Sully lifted his son and sat on the edge of the bed. "I'll be back right away. Gotta go bring Cloud Dancin' here. You understand, don't ya?"

"I un'stand," he nodded sadly.

"You'll help Brian watch over your Ma, an' the kids won't ya?" Sully whispered.

"An' Miss Bwidget," the child put on a brave face.

"That's my big boy," Sully smiled.

Katie stepped forward, "Is somethin' wrong with Cloud Dancin', Poppy?"

"I don't know, sweet girl," he embraced her. "I'm gonna find out."

"Want me t' come with ya?" she offered.

"I appreciate it, but I think your Ma could use some help with the babies," he stroked her blonde tresses. "You will help her, won't ya?"

"Sure," she wiped away a tear, then hugged her father.

Sully glanced up at Brian, who silently nodded.

"Bridget," Sully smiled.

"I never met this Cloud Dancin'," she folded her arms. "But he must be a very special man."

"Like Poppy," Katie asserted.

"He is a very special man," Michaela clasped her husband's hand.

Sully framed her face between his hands, "I'll be back in time t' hear your speech."

"I don't expect you to...." she was interrupted with his lips on hers.

"I promise," he sounded certain.

As he opened the door to leave, William stood poised to knock.

"Mr. Sully," Burke smiled. "Have I come at a bad moment?"

"I never did like your timin'," Sully was curt.

"You're leaving?" William assumed.

"I'll be back," Sully kissed his wife once again, then walked toward the staircase.

"I... I was simply stopping by to offer an invitation to dinner for you and Mr. Sully, Michaela," William noticed her expression. "Catherine and I would.... Is something wrong?"

"No," she insisted. "I... appreciate your thoughtfulness, but we're busy."

"I see," he stepped back humbly. "Well, then.... I'll see you tomorrow at your presentation."

"Good bye, William," she closed the door on him.

"You know that gentleman, Dr. Mike?" Bridget observed.

"Several years ago in Boston," Michaela folded her arms. "He was once a... suitor."

"Oh, I see," her blue eyes gleamed. "So there's a bit of jealousy there."

"Jealousy?" Michaela was taken aback.

"Ma," Brian stepped forward. "There's a magician performin' in a little while at one o' the Chautauqua tents. Why don't I take Katie an' Josef?"

"That would be wonderful, Brian," she nodded.

"I'm gonna ask Loren, too," he grinned. "Might take us back t' our circus days."

"I'm sure he'll enjoy it," she wiped a speck of dirt from Josef's face. "Be good for your brother."

"We will," Katie took Brian's hand.

"I stay with ya, Mama?" Josef offered sweetly.

"I'll be fine," she straightened a lock of his hair. "Go ahead, and enjoy the show."

"'Kay," the little boy followed Brian and Katie.

"Josef," Michaela knelt down. "You're all right about Papa's leaving, aren't you?"

"Yep," he nodded. "Papa pwomise he come back. I b'lieve him."

"I do, too," she touched his nose.

She closed the door after the children, then turned back into the room to face Bridget.

"If ya don't mind me sayin' so, I think ya oughta go t' dinner with the nice man, Dr. Mike," the nanny offered. "It might keep your mind off...."

"No," Michaela was more adamant. Then realizing her volume, she lowered her voice. "I don't want to be alone with William."

"Who's Catherine?" Bridget inquired.

"William's wife," she became even more uncomfortable.

"Ah, so he's married," she nodded. "Sounds like the invitation is innocent enough, an' ya wouldn't be alone with him."

"There's more to it than that, Bridget," Michaela turned away. "Much more."

"I'm a good listener, if ya need t' talk, dearie," the nanny assured.

************
Chapter 11
************

Sully alit from the train and headed for town to pick up a horse. As he reached the livery, he saw Matthew and Dorothy pull up to the Sheriff's office.

"Sully!" Matthew was surprised.

"Any luck findin' Cloud Dancin'?" he queried.

"We found him, all right," Dorothy sounded distraught. "The Army has him."

"What?" Sully was upset. "Where?"

Before they could respond, the Army patrol pulled up to the Sheriff's office, prisoner in tow.

Sully's jaw clenched, "Why are you holdin' this man?"

"This Indian is off his reservation," the commander answered. "He's gonna spend some time in jail, 'til we can transport him back."

"Matthew," Sully turned to his oldest son. "Where's that document givin' Cloud Dancin' protected status?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "Might be in my office. I reckon there would be a record of it in the minutes of the town council meetin', too."

"Where d' they keep that?" Sully persisted.

"Maybe at Jake's," he replied.

"Where's the Sheriff?" the officer noticed the prison was empty.

"He's in Boulder," Sully glanced toward his friend. "You all right?"

"Yes," the medicine man nodded.

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

Michaela sat at the desk reading and rereading her speech, polishing to the point that she felt she could add nothing more. Lifting her head, she glanced out the window and saw the Chautauqua tents in the distant meadow. It had been difficult to keep her mind on the speech with Cloud Dancing gone and Sully searching for him.

Brian would return shortly with the children, then, again, the babies would need her attention. She set down her pen. When Sully was away, all thoughts returned to him.

Then there was William, making an effort to be cordial, but still having the ability to make her uncomfortable. How different it had been with him when they first met in Boston. He was kind, supportive of her medical capabilities, and attentive to her in every way. But the one element which was missing for her was love. Without admitting it yet, she had already given her heart to Sully. Outwardly, William had appeared to understand her decision to return to Colorado Springs.

Then came their meeting in Boston several years later. By that time, she and Sully were married and the parents of Katie. William had met and married Catherine, the same woman whom Michaela had once suspected was the object of Sully's attention. The irony of the match still amazed her. But, upon her return to Boston, William was different. Suspecting that she was unhappy with Sully, he had made unwanted advances toward her.

She shivered at the recollection, "Oh, Sully."

"You say somethin', lass?" Bridget looked up from her sewing.

"Nothing," Michaela denied.

"Your children should be home soon," the nanny rubbed her eyes. "I'd keep an eye on that Josef. He'll be wantin' to do some o' that magic himself once he sees it."

Michaela could not help but smile, "He is our entertainer."

"You're missin' him, aren't ya now?" Bridget approached her.

"Josef?" she assumed.

"Mr. Sully," she touched her shoulder.

Folding her arms, Michaela confessed, "Yes."

"There's a spark between you two," she observed. "'Tis a rare thing, don't ya know?"

"I know," Michaela smiled slightly.

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

With his girls keeping a few steps behind him and glancing flirtatiously at every man they passed, Hank entered the Flatirons Saloon. Decorated much more elaborately than his own establishment, he grinned.

"That you, Hank Lawson?" a voice called from behind the bar.

"Travis!" Hank recognized. "What the hell you doin' here, ya ol' fool?"

"I own the place," the gray haired man grinned. "Won it in a poker game."

"Well, I'll be," Hank leaned his elbows on the bar. "Give me a whiskey, how 'bout it?"

"Sure," Travis pulled the cork from the bottle. "An' this here's good stuff... not watered down like that rotgut you sell."

"So, this here's your place, eh?" Hank rubbed his stubbled face.

"Yep," Travis began to polish a shot glass. "What brings ya here?"

"Came up on business," he gestured toward his prostitutes.

"I like your business," Travis grinned. "But we got our own girls workin' the rooms."

"Got anyone workin' the tents?" Hank chuckled.

"No," he pondered. "No! Ya mean...."

"Gotta go where the business takes me," Hank raised his eyebrows. "I figure after sundown, things'll pick up."

"Leave it to you, Hank," Travis shook his head.

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

"This man is a prisoner of the United States government," the commander directed his comments to Sully. "We're holdin' him in the jail, until we can arrange transport t' his reservation."

"Sully, the train!" Dorothy pointed as the locomotive began to leave the depot.

Swiftly, the mountain man ran toward the vehicle to stop it, but he was too late. With its departure, their only opportunity to reach Boulder by nightfall had gone.

"We'll have t' catch the mornin' train," Sully's shoulders sagged. Then pledging anew, he spoke as if she could hear, "I'll be there, Michaela. I'll be there." Returning to his friends, he informed them, "I'll send Michaela a wire. Let her know what happened."

"What are we going to do?" Dorothy folded her arms. "How we gonna get Cloud Dancin' out?"

Matthew removed his hat and toyed with its rim, "I'll see if I can find that document for his protected status. We might need it in Boulder, too."

Sully directed, "Dorothy, why don't ya check back issues o' the Gazette for the article ya did on it. I'll help Matthew."

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

"Timothy, wasn't that a delightful presentation?" Isabel linked her arm in his.

"Very inspirational," he nodded. "I haven't heard a minister preach like that in years. I could learn a thing or two."

"You do a wonderful job," she complimented.

"Thank you," he smiled.

"Oh, my," she stopped.

"What is it?" he wondered.

"Hank," she replied. "He and his girls are leaving the saloon.

He shook his head, "I had hoped that he was only joking when he said he would bring them."

"Isn't there some sort of law...." she paused.

"The 'profession' dates back to biblical times," Reverend Johnson noted. "As long as there are men willing to pay...."

"I'm surprised at your attitude," she tilted her head. "I would think you would more actively resist the practice in Colorado Springs."

"My approach has always been to preach the message of living a good life, in the hopes that men would turn away from sin," he replied. "If you outlaw the practice, they will still find... ladies to dally with. My job is to teach them not to turn to that way of life in the first place.

"I think laws would be much more effective," Isabel offered.

"And if such a law were introduced in Colorado Springs, look who would be enforcing it," he chuckled.

"Hank," she sighed. "Well, I'll not give up on the idea. I'm sure there are other women who find the existence of prostitution as upsetting as I. Dr. Mike, Dorothy, Grace, Teresa...."

"I detect the stirrings of a cause, my dear," he smiled.

"You detect right," she nodded. "Mr. Lawson has not heard the last of me."

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

"An' he maked it dis'pear, Mama," Josef had not stopped talking about the magician.

"Did he, now?" she was amused at his enthusiasm.

"He pulled wabbit fwom hat, too," the little boy continued.

"That's amazing," Michaela adored his expression.

"I not sleep t'night," Josef commented.

"Mama, we had so much fun," Katie embraced her. "I wish ya could've been there, too."

Michaela changed the subject, "Are you hungry? I think it might be time for your dinner."

"We eat with you?" Josef requested.

"I would love that," the mother smiled.

"Dr. Mike," Horace's voice came from the other side of their door.

"Horace?" she rushed to answer.

"I stopped by the telegraph office t' send a wire t' my friend in Colorado Springs," he began, somewhat out of breath. "An' while I was there, a telegram arrived from Sully. I thought he was with you, so I told him there was some mistake, but.....

"Where is the telegram, Horace?" she interrupted.

"I brung it, just in case," he pulled the paper from his pocket.

She quickly opened it and began to read, "The Army is holding Cloud Dancing in the Colorado Springs jail. We are searching for his protected status document or the minutes of our town council meeting to prove he has it."

"I got the minutes at the Depot," Horace spoke up. "Want me t' let 'em know?"

"Would you please, Horace?" Michaela requested.

"Sure thing, Dr. Mike," he departed.

"We eat now, Mama?" Josef tugged at her skirt.

"Yes," she caressed his head.

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

"And so, Mayor Ellison, I was chosen to speak because of the financial turnaround my bank made after the Panic in '73," Preston rested his fingers in his vest pockets.

"Only reason your bank turned around was on account o' Dr. Mike an' Sully," Jake contributed to the conversation.

"It appears the temporary mayor of our fair town does not understand the inner workings of the banking system," Preston glared.

"Who you callin' temporary?" Jake glared back.

"Gentlemen," Teresa touched her husband's arm. "The important thing is that the bank is back on track, yes?"

"I guess so," Jake's lower lip turned down.

"Papa," Maria reached for him.

"Come on, darlin'," Jake lifted his daughter. "Let's go get some ice cream."

"Yea," she clapped her little hands.

"You comin', Teresa?" he paused.

"No, thank you, Mr. Slicker," she remained seated with Preston and the mayor of Boulder.

"We'll be right back," Jake departed.

Loren approached, "Mind if I join ya?"

"Yes, we mind," Preston shot back.

"Good," Loren sat beside the mayor. "Loren Bray from Colorado Springs."

"This is Mayor Ellison," Teresa introduced.

"A pleasure, sir," the mayor extended his hand.

"Mayor, huh?" Loren shook it. "Where'd ya get all the money t' do this?"

"Believe it or not, from the University of Texas," Ellison replied. "They were interested in a retreat to which their faculty could come to upgrade their professional skills while enjoying our scenic view of the Rockies."

"We got just as nice a view," Loren countered defensively.

"But not money from Austin," the mayor answered back. "They're purchasing the seventy-five acre Batchelder property to use for future gatherings."

"They intended to make it an annual event?" Teresa was intrigued.

"That's right," Ellison nodded. "And I foresee further land purchases."

"Oh, really?" Preston smirked.

"Will ya look at that?" Loren pointed to a group nearing them.

"Hank?" Preston's jaw dropped.

"With his girls," Loren laughed.

Jake returned to the table, "We can take Maria up t' the room if ya want."

"Yes," Teresa glanced toward the prostitutes. "It does not seem to be a place for our daughter now."

As the Slickers left, Preston became more uncomfortable.

"You know that man?" Mayor Ellison pointed to Hank.

"Yea," Loren acknowledged. "He's our sheriff."

"Correct me if I'm wrong," the mayor paused. "But isn't a sheriff supposed to uphold the law?"

"Mr. Lawson seems to do so when it suits him," Preston interjected.

"Prostitution is inappropriate on the Chautauqua grounds," Ellison rose.

"Good luck tellin' Hank that," Loren advised.

"Excuse me, sir," the mayor approached Hank. "This sort of activity is prohibited here."

"What sort o' activity ya talkin' about?" he responded.

Ellison cleared his throat uncomfortably as Hank's girl Jacqueline draped a boa around his neck. "Entertaining men with...."

"I thought this place was supposed t' stimulate folks' minds," Hank interrupted.

"Why.... it is," he began to enjoy the attention of the girl.

"The mind is part o' the body, right?" Hank reasoned.

"I suppose so, but...." again the mayor was melting.

"My girls help t' stimulate the body so's the mind can function better," Hank blew a ring of smoke from his cigar. "Ain't nothin' wrong with that, is there?"

"No," Ellison gulped. "If.... if you'll excuse me, I have business to attend to."

The man quickly left Hank and his trio.

"Okay, girls," he raised his eyebrows up and down. "Mingle."

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

"Here it is!" Matthew shouted to Sully as they sifted through the files.

Lifting the document from his hands, Sully smiled, "Good work, Matthew. Now, let's go show the Army."

The two men exited Matthew's small office and headed for the jail. When they neared the structure, one of the soldiers raised his weapon.

"Halt!" he nervously commanded.

"We ain't armed," Sully raised his hands. "Where's your commander?"

"Over at the Gold Nugget," he pointed.

"Come on, Matthew," Sully tapped his son's back.

"Mr. Sully!" a figure approached them from the Depot. "I got a reply here t' that telegram ya sent your wife."

"Good," he opened it swiftly.

"What's it say?" Matthew tried to read over his shoulder in the dim light.

"Says the minutes t' town council meetin's are kept by Horace at the Depot office," he refolded the note.

"Don't need it now," Matthew smiled. "Let's go show that Army officer."

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

"William," Catherine noticed his sullen mood. "Did you see Michaela?"

"Yes," he nodded.

"And did you invite Sully, too?" she probed.

"He's not here," William returned. "And Michaela refused my invitation."

"Oh," she did not conceal her disappointment. "I thought you told me that Sully accompanied her to Boulder."

"He did, but left rather abruptly, from what I can gather," he folded his arms.

"Why?" she was curious.

"I don't know," he replied.

"Do you think they had a fight?" Catherine wondered.

"Would you like it if they had?" he sarcastically retorted.

"Why must everything become an argument between us, William?" Catherine sighed.

Several moments of uncomfortable silence followed.

Then William spoke again, "Michaela and Sully have four children of their own now."

"Four!" her eyes widened.

"Most recently a set of twins," he nodded.

"I see," she spoke quietly. "Maybe she would have made a more suitable wife for you."

"Catherine," he shook his head. "That's not why I mentioned it."

"Oh?" she snapped back. "You didn't want to draw attention to the fact that I have given you no children?"

"Well...." he hesitated. "A man and woman must engage in certain.... activities if a child is to be born."

"And tell me why we should engage in that... activity, William," her volume rose.

He retorted, "I'm simply pointing out the obvious. Ever since our.... reunion, there has been no contact of that sort between us."

"I can't," she felt tears welling in her eyes. "I'm sorry."

"I didn't mean to upset you," he became more uncomfortable.

"If you'll excuse me, I'd like to be alone right now," she turned from him.

"Of course," he went to the door. "I'm going to take a walk."

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

The Army officer attempted to focus his vision on the document Matthew held before him. It quickly became obvious to Sully that he was drunk.

"Piece o' paper don't matter," the officer slurred.

"It's a legal document," Matthew declared. "It means that Cloud Dancin' don't have t'...."

"See me in the mornin'," the man waved his hand. "I'm busy."

Sully grabbed him by the front of his uniform and pulled him to eye level, "There's an innocent man sittin' in that jail 'cause you can't see straight."

"Sully!" Matthew pulled him away. "Let it be for now."

"I could have you arrested for what you just did," the soldier straightened his jacket.

"The train for Boulder leaves at nine o'clock," Sully stared at him. "You better have a change o' heart by then."

"Or what?" the officer was not intimidated.

"There ain't no 'or what,'" Sully turned and departed, his son on his heels.

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

"Did you say your prayers?" Michaela kissed Josef's head.

"Yep," he smiled.

Katie could not contain herself, "Did ya hear from Poppy?"

"I did earlier," she stroked her daughter's hair. "He's fine, and he found Cloud Dancing."

"That's good," the little girl responded. "So, he'll be here t'morrow?"

"Well...." Michaela did not want to get their hopes up. "I believe he will make every effort."

"That mean maybe?" Josef interpreted.

"What do you think your Daddy will do?" she turned it around.

"I think he'll be here," Katie asserted.

"Me, too," Josef agreed.

From the next room, Michaela heard one of the twins begin to wail.

"Uh oh," Josef shook his head. "Time t' feed 'em."

"Ma," Brian pulled his mother aside. "Do ya really think they'll be here?"

She sighed, "The Army is holding Cloud Dancing at the jail, Brian. I.... I don't know if they'll make it here in time for my speech, but the important thing is that he's all right."

"I wish there was somethin' I could do," his shoulders slumped.

"I know how you feel," she rubbed his arm.

The crying sounds from the next room grew louder.

"You better go t' the babies," he encouraged. "I'll finish tuckin' in the kids for the night."

As Michaela stepped into the hallway, there stood William.

************
Chapter 12
************

"Michaela," Burke smiled slightly. "I was just going for a walk. Would you care to...."

"No, thank you," she interrupted. "My babies need me."

"I hope nothing's wrong," he expressed concern.

"They're hungry," she assumed.

"I see," he nodded. "Well, if there is something wrong, please don't hesitate to summon me."

"I don't believe that will be necessary," she turned. "But.... thank you nonetheless.

Upon entering the room, she saw Bridget swaying with little Noah.

She began to unbutton her blouse as she sat in the chair, "I'm sorry I'm a bit late."

"I think it might be his colic again," the nanny handed the infant to his mother.

Noah refused to nurse, but continued to cry. Michaela raised him up and leaning him against her chest, began to rub his back.

"There, there, now Sweetheart," she spoke tenderly. "Mama's here. Don't cry."

The baby was inconsolable. In frustration, Michaela gently set him on the bed and began to feel for any obstructions.

"Oh, no," her face paled.

"What's wrong?" Bridget noted her expression.

"Bridget," she instructed. "I just saw Dr. Burke in the hallway."

"The man who used t' be your suitor?" she was not sure.

"Yes," Michaela's tone changed. "He said he was going to take a walk. Perhaps he has not left yet. Would you see if you can find him?"

"Something seriously wrong with the wee one?" she feared.

"I'm not certain," Michaela gulped.

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

William raised up after examining the baby, "I concur, Michaela. I believe it's an umbilical hernia."

"Not uncommon for premature male babies," she lifted Noah again.

Calmer now, the baby's lips moved signaling his desire to nurse.

"So, you agree that surgery is not indicated?" she softly rested her cheek on the infant's head.

"Not unless vomiting or constipation are present," he explained. "Normally, the hernia will close spontaneously by the time he's around three years old."

"I'd prefer not to strap or enclose the area," she nodded.

"I'm not certain that helps anyway," he responded. "It appears to be quite small, and... I think just observation is the way to go at this point."

"I see," she rubbed the baby's back. "Thank you, William. I appreciate your coming."

"Anytime, Michaela," he reached for his hat. "If there is anything else I can do...."

"You've been most helpful," she smiled. "Good night."

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

Michaela stood nervously before hundreds of people to deliver her speech. When she was introduced, a few began to boo and call out that a female should not attempt to act like a physician.

Then William stepped forward to defend her. He eloquently explained her qualifications and accomplishments. By the time he finished, the crowd fell into a respectful silence for this lady doctor. Michaela began her presentation again, and this time, not a sound was heard. At the conclusion, the audience rose to its feet in applause.

William pulled Michaela aside and hugged her, "Magnificent! You were utterly magnificent."

"Thank you, William," she smiled. "Without your comments, they never would have listened."

"I merely spoke from the heart, Michaela," he held her chin. "My heart...."

"Please, no," she recognized his expression.

"My heart is still yours," he spoke low. "It always will be."

"I.... I'm sorry, but...." she stopped when his lips met hers.

"NO!" Sully woke up with a start.

He was dreaming. It had all been a dream. His hand moved to rest on Michaela's side of their bed. Brushing back the moist hair from his face, Sully exhaled with relief.

"God, Michaela," he attempted to calm his breathing. "I can't let that happen."

Dawn was breaking over his homestead. Their homestead. He ached for his family. How empty the house was without them.... Katie with her loving inquisitiveness, Josef with his impish curiosity, Brian with his heartfelt concern for all, the babies and Michaela.

He felt a lump in his throat when he thought about her. His wife. His life. She had given him everything. Everything he never thought he would have.

"I can't let ya down, Michaela," he sat up.

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

Michaela rolled onto her side. She reached out instinctively for her husband. But he was not there. Knowing he would make every effort to be with her and to bring their Cheyenne friend, her heart filled with love for him.

In the low light, she glanced toward the bassinets. Noah slept soundly through the night. The timing of their feeding schedule allowed that she would be able to give her speech today uninterrupted by their need to nurse. But it would be close. The speech.... she felt her heart flutter. The notion of presenting information on the Cheyenne detoxification tea excited her, invigorating her love of medicine. But the possibility of having Sully and Cloud Dancing there seemed to be waning.

Again, her mind turned to Sully. She perceived that he was awakening at this moment, as well. Closing her eyes, she allowed her senses to fill with thoughts of him. And it engulfed her with an incredible warmth. She owed him so much. Her life, the lives of their children. What joys they had shared.

Suddenly, she felt her body crave him. With few exceptions in the past weeks, she had not allowed herself to react to Sully in that way. Fatigue had a way of dissipating desires of the flesh, but... now, with his being away from her, and having gained more rest thanks to Bridget's arrival, she did think about it.

Would it hurt? Her body had healed after the ordeal of giving birth to twins, but.... there remained the anxiety about how it would feel. She realized, too, that because she was still nursing the babies, there would be an impact on her comfort during love making. She knew Sully would be most gentle and never insist that they resume their marital relations before she was ready. But now, her body was telling her that she was ready. More than ready. She wanted to give herself to him anew, to share in their most intimate ways the love they held for one another.

She wanted it to be special, something incredibly romantic. Sitting up, she began to formulate a plan. She would make their time together the most special yet.

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

Matthew finished his speech to the Army commander, "An' this here document gives Cloud Dancin' protected status by the town o' Colorado Springs."

"Any town officials around that can verify that this is legitimate?" he rubbed his jaw.

"It appears that half the town is in Boulder, sir," one of the soldiers informed his commander.

Sully chimed in, "Cloud Dancin's expected in Boulder, too. He's helpin' with a presentation at the Chautauqua meetin' there."

"I heard about that meetin', sir," another soldier spoke up.

"He part o' the entertainment?" the officer chuckled.

Dorothy seized the opportunity, "Yes, as a matter of fact, he is. And the entire act will be unable to perform if he's not there."

"Why didn't ya say so?" the officer grinned. "I love watchin' them Wild West shows. What's he do? One o' them sun dances? Throw tomahawks?"

"Uh, yea," Sully nodded. "He's the star o' the show. We gotta get him t' Boulder right away."

"Train's about t' leave," one of the soldiers noticed the train boarding.

"So, you'll let him go?" Dorothy anticipated.

"I wanna see him throw a tomahawk t' prove he's in the show first," the officer made a condition.

"Untie him," Sully removed his tomahawk from his belt.

Soon, Cloud Dancing was standing beside him. Sully handed him the weapon.

"You," the officer pointed to Sully. "Put this cigar in your mouth. I wanna see him knock it out."

Without hesitation, Sully placed it in in his mouth and walked several paces away. Turning sideways so that only his profile was visible, he calmly waited for Cloud Dancing to throw the tomahawk.

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

"Dr. Mike," Bridget softly knocked on the door. "I'm sorry t' bother you, but...."

"It's all right," Michaela stepped back from the doorway. "Is something wrong with Katie or Josef?"

"Well...." she hesitated.

"What is it?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

"It's my corset," the woman's cheeks flushed.

"Your corset?" she was surprised.

"It's missin', an' I suspect young Mr. Josef might be the culprit," Bridget revealed.

"How so?" she did not understand.

"I think with that magic still in his head, he's made it... disappear," the nanny explained.

"Will you watch the twins?" Michaela pulled her robe on. "I'll get to the bottom of this."

"Yes, Ma'am," Bridget agreed.

Michaela stepped into the hallway and entered the adjoining room.

Katie was finishing tying her shoes, but Josef was not visible.

"Good morning, Sweetheart," the mother greeted.

"'Mornin'," Katie rushed to kiss her.

"Where's your brother?" Michaela rubbed the child's back.

Katie silently pointed under the bed. Michaela nodded and sat down.

"Shall I tie ribbons in your hair?" she smiled.

"I'd like that," Katie nodded. "I'll get them."

Michaela folded her hands, "It's a shame Josef will miss all of the activities today."

"I not miss 'em," his voice was heard from under the bed.

"Oh, yes, you will," Michaela's voice was stern.

"No, Mama," he slid on his stomach until he reached the opening.

"Josef Michael Sully," she looked at him. "It's very wrong to take things that don't belong to you. No one will trust you."

"I not take nothin'," he defended.

"Then where is Miss Bridget's.... undergarment?" Michaela posed the question.

After some quiet consideration, Josef answered, "I do magic twick."

"Josef," Michaela did not accept his answer. "Where is it?"

"It dis'peared," he raised his hands.

"Joey," Katie turned to him. "Ya better tell Mama."

"Perhaps he needs to be taught a lesson," Michaela reasoned. "What if some of his belongings were taken?"

"What?" the little boy had not considered that.

"Your favorite toys," Michaela pointed. "Or...."

"No, Mama!" he frowned.

"But that's what you've done," Michaela said. "You've taken something that doesn't belong to you without permission. Papa will be so disappointed in his big boy."

The child's head lowered, then he walked to the bed. Reaching beneath the mattress, he pulled out the corset.

"That's better," Michaela smiled slightly. "Now, I think you owe Miss Bridget an apology."

"I sowwy," he gulped.

"That's what you need to tell her," Michaela said.

"I not wanna dis'point Papa.... or you," he verged on tears. "I havin' fun."

Michaela lifted him onto her lap and kissed his temple, "It's very important for you to show respect for people and their belongings. You should never have fun at the expense of someone's feelings."

"I tell Miss Bwidget," he looked up at her with his father's eyes.

"Good," she smiled.

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

Sully did not flinch. Expertly, Cloud Dancing hurled the rotating tomahawk toward his best friend. Cleanly, the cigar was knocked from Sully's lips without harming him. It lodged in a post near the barbershop.

"Very impressive," the Army officer applauded.

"So?" Matthew anticipated as Sully retrieved his weapon.

"I guess I was mistaken," the officer admitted. Turning to one of his men, he commanded, "Let him go."

Before the Army could change its mind, Sully, Dorothy and Matthew had Cloud Dancing and were boarding the train.

"Glad you ain't lost your touch," Sully patted the Cheyenne's back.

"I have not thrown a tomahawk in a long time," he confessed. "You are lucky I did not miss, my friend."

"I trust you with my life," Sully grinned.

"You are still lucky," Cloud Dancing repeated.

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

Bridget finished preparing the children for the day's activities.

As she tied Josef's shoes, he tapped her shoulder, "I sowwy."

"Sorry?" she looked up.

"Sowwy I taked un'gawment," he explained.

"Oh," she raised up. "Well, I hope we won't have a repeat of that, laddie. Ya got no idea what I'd look like without that on!"

"Ya wear it?" he was astounded.

"Never you mind," she tickled his side.

"Bridget," Michaela handed her a piece of paper. "This is their schedule for the morning."

The nanny perused it, "There's a lot here, Dr. Mike."

"I believe that the educational opportunities for the children are invaluable," she assessed.

Bridget changed the subject, "It was nice of Dr. Burke to help ya last night."

"Dr. Burke?" Brian overheard. "How'd he help ya?"

"Noah," Michaela answered. "He has an umbilical hernia. Dr. Burke merely came to confirm my diagnoses."

"You gonna tell Pa about it?" Brian questioned.

"Of course," she was puzzled. "Why wouldn't I tell him about the baby's condition?"

"I mean, ya gonna tell him Dr. Burke helped?" he defined.

************
Chapter 13
************

"No need tellin' Mr. Sully about Dr. Burke, if it would cause trouble," Bridget offered.

Michaela knew that it might upset her husband, "We don't even know when or if Sully will be here."

"What's a hernia?" Katie was eavesdropping.

"It's a protrusion where his navel is, Katie," Michaela specified.

"Is Noah sick?" Josef interpreted.

"Not exactly sick," Michaela noted. "But we must keep a close watch to see that it doesn't become worse."

"I don' want him sick, Mama," the little boy's lower lip turned under.

She patted his hand, "Just keep thinking good thoughts about your little brother, then."

"Annie, too," Katie added. "We don't want her t' get sick either."

"Then think good thoughts for both of them," Michaela smiled. "Now, Brian and Bridget are going to take you to some of the Chautauqua activities this morning, and I want you to behave yourselves."

"We will," Katie pledged.

"I not hide nothin'," Josef added.

Bridget chuckled, "I should hope not!"

"What about you, Mama?" Katie turned to her. "Can't you come with us?"

"I'm going to stay here to tend to the babies," she smiled. "And prepare my speech."

"We watch ya talk?" Josef requested.

"'Course we will," Bridget's eyes widened. "Wouldn't miss Dr. Mike givin' a speech."

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

"Mr. Lodge!" Katie spotted the banker as they strolled along the meadow between tents.

"Katie," he tipped his hat. "Where is your mother? I would have thought she would be out here enjoying the Chautauqua experience."

"She's takin' care o' the babies," the little girl answered. "Noah got a hernia, an' Dr. Burke helped take care o' him."

"Dr. Burke?" Preston wondered.

"Dr. Mike knew him in Boston," Bridget specified.

Preston acknowledged, "I don't believe we've been formally introduced, Madame. Preston A. Lodge III."

"Just call me Bridget," she introduced. "I'm the children's nanny for a spell."

"We got a schedule," Katie informed him.

"Tell me more about this Dr. Burke your mother puts so much faith in," he leaned down. "How did she know him in Boston?"

"Don't know anythin'," Katie shrugged. "Bran knows him."

"He's a very nice man," Brian was vague.

"If you'll excuse us," Bridget smiled. "We do have that schedule, as Miss Katie pointed out."

"Yes," Preston bowed slightly. "Good day."

Rubbing his chin, he began to wonder. Then, turning, he headed for the hotel.

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

"Where are you going?" William spotted his wife in the lobby.

"I'm going back home," she pointed to her trunk.

"But why?" he was uncertain.

"Because you went to her last night," Catherine did not conceal her anger.

"I went to Michaela's room to consult her on her baby son's condition," he explained.

"And how long did that take?" she grew more upset.

"About thirty minutes," he replied.

"What about the rest of the night, William?" she accused. "Where were you then?"

"I went out," he noted. "I lost track of time."

"How convenient that when Sully left, you took advantage of....." she was interrupted.

"Catherine!" he interjected. "Nothing of the sort happened. If you must know, I went to the Flatirons Saloon."

"You spent the night in a saloon?" she was horrified.

"I had too much to drink and went upstairs to sleep it off," he explained. "Besides, I would not have been welcomed back by you, reeking of alcohol. In fact, I would not have been welcome in your bed regardless of my condition."

"I've had enough," she turned toward the bellman. "Have my trunk delivered to the depot."

"But the train doesn't leave for a several hours," William protested. "What do you intend to do in the interim?"

As she stormed out, Preston approached, "You're Dr. Burke?"

"I am, sir," William responded.

"Preston A. Lodge III of Colorado Springs," he shook his hand.

"Oh?" William smiled. "Do you know a Dr. Michaela Quinn?"

"I do indeed," Preston grinned. "We are quite good friends."

"A marvelous woman," he spoke admiringly.

"How do you know Michaela?" Preston probed.

"We met several years ago in Boston," he specified.

"Another coincidence," the banker's face lit up. "I'm from there myself."

"It was a pleasure meeting you, sir," William prepared to depart.

"If I might have a moment of your time," Preston put his hand on his shoulder. "Why don't you and I discuss our mutual friend, Michaela Quinn?"

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

"Robert E," Grace tapped his shoulder. "You're supposed t' stay awake durin' the singin'," Grace chided her husband.

"Sorry," he rubbed his neck. "Didn't get much sleep last night, havin' t' stay in one o' them tents."

"Some kind o' enlightened folk they got here, not lettin' us stay at the hotel," she frowned.

"I don't know 'bout you, but I've had enough o' this Chautauqua," he folded his arms.

"We gotta hear Dr. Mike speak, don't we?" she tapped his side.

"Yea, but then, that's it for me," he shook his head. "I'd rather be workin' than...."

"Thank you for comin' with me," she smiled.

"You're worth it, woman," he returned the smile.

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

Michaela paced back and forth, wringing her hands.

"You're gonna be fine, Dr. Mike," Bridget assured.

"I just wish Sully were here," she spoke.

"He is here," the nanny pointed toward Michaela's heart. "He's right there, givin' ya the support ya need."

Michaela smiled slightly, "Thank you, Bridget."

"Now," the woman reminded. "Babies are fed, Brian took Katie an' Josef t' the tent t' wait for us. Anythin' else?"

"No," she took a deep breath. "Let's go."

"Right," Bridget lifted Annie from the bassinet.

As Michaela took Noah into her arms, she stopped, "I did forget something."

"What's that?" the nanny questioned.

"My speech!" Michaela set the baby down and retrieved it.

"You really are nervous, aren't ya now?" Bridget remarked.

"Terribly," Michaela fidgeted with the papers.

"Ya sure look fine in that dress," she observed.

Michaela ran her hands across the material, "Thanks to my husband."

"You'll make him proud t'day," the nanny beamed. "I just know it."

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

Once in Boulder, Sully helped Dorothy from the train and glanced at the depot clock.

"Not much time before Michaela speaks," he worried. "She's probably already at the tent. You three go on ahead. I got somethin' I need t' do first."

"Ya sure?" Matthew questioned.

"Wanna buy your Ma some flowers," Sully winked.

"Oh," Matthew grinned.

As the trio left him, Sully reached into his pocket to retrieve the coins. After purchasing a small bouquet, he started to depart.

"Sully," it was Catherine's voice.

He turned, "Hello." Then he noticed her trunk. "You leavin'?"

"Yes," she tensed. "I can no longer stay with William. Not after.... never mind."

"I see," he nodded.

"William said you had left," she mentioned.

"I had t' go back t' Colorado Springs for a friend," he indicated.

"It's been a long time," she reached out her hand to him.

He did not respond.

"I understand your baby was ill last night," she informed him.

"One o' the children ill?" his brow wrinkled. "I better go...."

"William said he went to Michaela's room to help with the baby boy," she revealed.

"Noah?" Sully tensed further. "If you'll excuse me...."

"Of course," she nodded. "I hope everything is all right. William didn't return all evening."

Sully was gone in a flash.

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

Beneath the large tent, on wooden benches, gathered a sizable crowd, including the contingent from Colorado Springs.

"Describe it for me, Isabel," the Reverend requested.

She glanced around, "The tent appears to be about 125 by 175 feet in dimension," she began. "There's a platform, on which there stands a podium for the speaker. This must hold hundreds of people."

"I heard they reserve the front few rows for older people an' the hard o' hearin'," Brian contributed.

"Huh?" Loren chuckled.

"Anyone here goin' t' Preston's presentation later?" Jake laughed.

"I might in case I have trouble gettin' sleepy," Loren joked.

"Oh, no," Isabel glanced toward one of the openings of the tent.

"What is it?" Reverend Johnson asked.

"Hank just arrived with his girls," she said.

"Little early for them t' be out, ain't it?" Loren laughed.

"Where's Robert E an' Miss Grace?" Brian wondered.

"They gotta stand in the back," Jake pointed.

"Why, Bran?" Katie turned to her brother.

"'Cause the colored folk are bein' discriminated against," Brian shook his head.

"What's decrimonated?" she was curious.

"It means they aren't treated like other folks," he sighed.

"I go stand with 'em," she rose from her seat.

"Here, Katie girl," Loren reached for her. "Your Ma will wanna see ya when she comes out t' speak."

"I'll stay for Mama," she agreed. "But it's not right for Robert E an' Miss Grace."

"When are these Swedish bell ringers gonna be finished?" Jake pointed. "It's time for Dr. Mike."

"I kinda like 'em," Horace noted.

"You would," Jake rolled his eyes.

"Hank's coming this way with his girls," Isabel tensed.

"Scoot over," the sheriff tapped Loren's shoulder.

"What are you doin' here?" the older man questioned.

"Come t' hear Michaela," he grinned. "An' t' do some business."

"Here?" Loren motioned.

"Good as anyplace," he nodded to the prostitutes.

As the women departed, Hank glanced at the stage.

"Anyone payin' attention t' them bells?" he was curious.

"I am," Horace frowned.

"Anyone who matters?" Hank lit a cigar.

"Must you smoke?" Isabel turned up her nose.

"If I gotta listen t' them metal bangers, I need it," he retorted. Pulling a flask from his jacket, he took a swig. "This here will help, too."

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

"Michaela," William approached her. "I'm to introduce you today."

"I see," she fidgeted with her papers.

"There's a grand crowd for your presentation," he glanced through an opening in the canvas.

"But will they stay to listen?" she wondered.

"If I have anything to say about it, they will," he sounded sure.

"Did you notice if Sully was out there?" she asked.

"No," he quietly responded. Then he heard his name, "Ah, they're introducing me."

She felt her knees weaken.

"You'll do well," he smiled. "Believe in yourself as I believe."

With that, he stepped onto the platform. William cleared his throat, then began:

"Many years ago, when the Europeans first came to this continent, there existed a culture which had already known much about medicine. The white man has a great deal to learn from the Indians, if minds will only be open. It is believed that one of the factors contributing to the Union victory in the Civil War was the possession by the North of the medicine quinine. Today we use it as a treatment for malaria, but were you aware that the drug actually came from a bark used by the Inca Indians for centuries?"

His statement caused the crowd to buzz with comments. Waiting for them to quiet again, William resumed:

"Indians have had for hundreds of years employed treatments for everything from headaches to toothaches. And yet, because these medicines were used by people considered primitive by the Europeans, valuable information has been ignored and disregarded. Until now.

There is a physician in Colorado Springs who has studied and learned from the Cheyenne Indians. This doctor is very unique in many ways. Not only treating patients with accepted medical procedures, this healer has also utilized Indian medicine. That in itself is pioneering, but add to that the fact that this physician is a woman, and you have that uniqueness which I mentioned."

Again the crowd stirred with conversation.

Behind the canvas, Michaela closed her eyes attempting to visualize Sully beside her.

Katie spotted familiar faces arrive, "Bran, it's Matthew... and Miss Dorothy! Lookie!"

Waving to them, Brian gestured at the empty seats beside him. Soon they joined them.

"Where's Papa?" Josef stood up.

"He'll be here soon," Matthew lifted him onto his lap. "I see William's introducin' Ma."

"He's doin' a nice job of it, too," Brian nodded. "Did ya bring Cloud Dancin'?"

"Yea," Matthew pointed. "He's waitin' outside for Sully."

They turned their attention back to the speaker:

"And so, ladies and gentleman, I give you a woman who has brought our two worlds together. A woman who has saved lives with her unique blend of medical procedures, Dr. Michaela Quinn."

Polite applause followed as several men attempted to leave. Women sitting nearby, grabbed them back into their seats.

Michaela stepped to the podium and steeled herself for the response as she began:

"Thank you, Dr. Burke. Several years ago, I learned that my mother in Boston was suffering from what was believed to be a fatal illness. I rushed home only to learn that the physicians who were treating her had misdiagnosed her ailment. I began a radical treatment in the hopes of saving her life. The treatment I employed to save my mother's life involved medicine that had been used for centuries by the Cheyenne Indians.

Illness and disease often present different problems in treatment when practicing far from a hospital setting. In my efforts to help my patients, I have been forced to search for new ways to heal. Therefore, I have observed the local Indians, and they have taught me the curative properties of various natural remedies.

This is neither quackery, nor homeopathy. I have merely added some long-tested remedies to those standardly taught in medical schools. For example, willow bark tea dates back to the ancient Greeks, who used it for its pain and fever reducing properties.

With an open mind, physicians can learn much from the Indians."

Suddenly, Noah erupted into crying. Recognizing her son's voice, Michaela nervously stopped her presentation.

Bridget raised the infant to her shoulder and rocked him slowly. Still the wailing continued.

Michaela resisted her instincts to drop everything and go to him. Resuming her speech, she said:

Returning to my earlier comments about my mother's illness, I determined that she was actually suffering from Hepatitis. The treatment I employed? Dandelion root tea. With a...."

Noah's wailing became louder. Michaela felt an overwhelming desire to go to her baby at that moment. She glanced off toward William. He nodded for her to continue.

"My baby seems to be determined that his mother not complete her presentation," she anxiously joked to the crowd.

Several women in the audience smiled sympathetically.

A man on the aisle near the rear of the tent stood up and called out, "Maybe ya oughta stick t' doin' what nature intended... takin' care o' your baby."

************
Chapter 14
************

From the back of the audience stepped a figure, clad in buckskins. He tapped the heckler on the shoulder, and spoke something indiscernible. Contritely, the rude audience member quickly sat. Then, with a confident air, the mountain man strode forward, followed by an Indian. The crowd began to mumble as the two neared the platform.

Then, the mountain man and his companion sat down amid the Colorado Springs contingent.

"Poppy!" Katie rushed to her father and embraced him.

"Hey, sweet girl," Sully kissed her cheek.

"I know you come," Josef similarly greeted his father.

Sully smiled and extended his arms toward Bridget. She handed a crying Noah to him. Almost instantly, in his father's care, the infant stilled. Sully raised the baby to his lips and tenderly kissed his cheek.

At the podium, Michaela sighed in relief. Smiling toward Sully, she continued her presentation:

"Sometimes, it is within the realm of nature that a baby's father can quiet his son's tears."

The audience laughed, disarmed by Michaela's combination of confidence and vulnerability. With new found vigor, she stood straighter and carried on with her speech. After mesmerizing the gathering for a good thirty minutes, she concluded:

"The efficacy on these blood purifying properties function best when administered at a rate of one pint every two hours, usually producing marked improvement within forty-eight hours and often a complete cure with in fourteen days.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce the man who taught me about this and other medicines, the man who inspires me with his respect for Mother Earth, his regard for all living things and his wisdom in seeing the balance in Nature.... Cloud Dancing of the Cheyenne people."

With the audience abuzz, the medicine man rose to his feet and stepped forward to Michaela. Before the assembly, she embraced him and encouraged him to speak. The crowd grew silent.

Cloud Dancing cleared his throat and began to utter several words in his native tongue. Then he translated:

"Our people have known little peace or joy since the white man came to our land. The graves of the Cheyenne are many. Battles, illness and sadness have marked our days. Where, amid so much tragedy and death, can one see love and compassion? Black Kettle, the great Cheyenne chief and man of peace, once met a lady doctor who later saved his life with the white man's medicine. He honored her with the name Medicine Woman. In her face, I have seen love and compassion. In her hands, I have trusted the medicine of my grandfathers. Listen to her words today, for in her heart, is kept alive the hope of peace and brotherhood. I am proud to call Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and a friend."

He stepped back from the podium. The audience rose to its feet in thunderous applause. Smiling with pride, Sully turned Noah to watch his mother.

Then he spoke to his children, "Kids, I want ya t' always remember this moment."

"Mama did great!" Katie beamed.

"Yep," Josef had not understood a word she said.

Michaela was quickly surrounded by her family and friends as each congratulated her on the triumphant speech. Sully stood back, still cradling Noah in his arms and beaming at the accolades bestowed on his wife.

William approached him, "I'm glad to see the baby is doing better."

"I reckon I oughta thank you for helpin' him last night," Sully swallowed hard.

"I would do anything for Michaela," his expression saddened. "I hope you know how lucky you are, Sully."

"I know," the mountain man nodded. "I know."

"Take care of her," William backed away.

"I will," Sully watched him depart.

Bridget approached, "Shall I take the wee one?"

"Thanks," he handed the infant into her care.

Finally, freeing herself from the well wishers, Michaela approached her husband.

"Well, Mr. Sully?" she stood before him.

"Well," he looked serious. "I reckon it was an okay speech."

"Okay?" she sounded disappointed.

His face lit up as he lifted her into his embrace, "Okay, a great speech!"

Framing his face between her hands, she kissed him.

He drew back, "Michaela.... in public?"

"I want the whole world to see how much I love my husband!" she kissed him again.

"Scandalous behavior for a lady doctor," he swung her around.

"Oh, Sully," she spoke with enthusiasm. "How can I ever thank you for encouraging me to do this? It was so invigorating... so...."

"You already thanked me," he set her down. "Just seein' how happy it's made ya."

"How were you able to procure Cloud Dancing's release?" she inquired. "Did you find the document?"

"Yea, but that's not what worked," he smiled. "We convinced the Army that he was in a Wild West show in Boulder."

"What?" her eyes widened. "How?"

"Don't matter," he rubbed her sides. "We made it here. That's the important thing."

"I thought I saw William speaking to you," she looked around. "I wanted to thank him."

"He left," Sully informed her.

"I should check on the babies now," she drew back. "They'll be hungry shortly."

"Is Noah okay?" he clasped her hand. "I heard he was ill."

"It's an umbilical hernia," she stated. "We must watch it carefully, but, yes, I believe he will be fine."

"Good," he waited to see if she would say more.

"I consulted William about it last night," she revealed.

"Why?" he wondered. "You're a doctor."

"I'm also a mother," she caressed his cheek. "I wanted to have a confirmation of my diagnosis, unencumbered by any emotions I may have felt."

"And he agrees?" Sully wanted to be certain.

"Yes," she smiled. "How did you hear about the baby? Did William tell you?"

"No, Catherine told me," he confessed.

"You saw Catherine?" she tensed.

"At the depot," he added. "She was leavin' William."

"Is that why you were late?" she questioned.

"No," he shook his head. "I stopped t' buy ya some flowers. Looks like they got lost in the shuffle when Noah started cryin'."

"It's the thought that counts," she smiled.

"Guess what mine are," he spoke low into her ear.

"Mr. Sully," she tapped his chest. "Hold those thoughts for later."

"Ya mean it?" he raised his eyebrows.

"I mean it," she cast him a coy glance.

"I was thinkin', seein' how beautiful ya look in that dress...." he paused. "Would you like t' accompany me t' Mr. Emerson's speech t'night?"

"What time?" she asked.

"Eight," he recalled.

"I believe the twins will permit me to join their Daddy for that," she slipped her arms around his waist. "Then later, I have something else planned."

"Oh?" he grinned.

"A surprise," she did not reveal. "Shall we return to the hotel?"

"My pleasure," he offered his arm.

"Dr. Quinn!" a voice called out. "You almost forgot!"

"Pardon me?" she did not recognize the man.

"I'm Charles F. Horner," he introduced himself. "I'm in charge of the Western Redpath Chautauqua circuit. You forgot your fee."

He offered the envelope to her. Michaela paused and looked to Sully.

"Go on," Sully encouraged. "You earned it."

She accepted the money and handed it to her husband, "We earned it."

Horner spoke again, "I have never seen a physician so captivate an audience, Dr. Quinn. Is there any way that you would consider joining our circuit and accompanying us on the remainder of our tour?"

She smiled, "I'm flattered, Mr. Horner, but I have other obligations that keep me in Colorado Springs."

"Well, if you ever change your mind, you can contact my office in Kansas City," he detailed. "We'd love to employ you."

He turned and left them.

"Wanna stay t' watch Preston?" Sully teased.

"You must be joking," she shook her head.

"Speak o' the devil, here he comes," Sully pointed.

"Michaela," the banker grinned. "A fine speech today, though a bit melodramatic with the arrival of your husband and his Indian friend. I assume you'll be staying for my presentation."

"You assume wrong," Sully was curt.

Preston eyed him, "Where's your friend Dr. Burke?"

"I don't know," Michaela tensed.

"An interesting man," Preston folded his arms. "With many fascinating stories to tell of his days in Boston with you. I believe he courted you?"

Sully's jaw clenched, "Not everythin' from Boston's appeals t' my wife."

"Indeed," Preston stood straighter. "I dare say, it's much more fun to frolic in the wilderness and commune with nature... for a time anyway. But we all eventually return to our roots. And I'm certain that there is still within Michaela a desire for a more civilized man. I know that William still harbors a hope that...."

Sully interrupted, "It would be a shame t' get your suit all wrinkled before your big speech."

"My suit is not wrinkled," Preston glanced at the material.

"Yet...." Sully's meaning was clear.

"Ah, yes, the last word of the mountain man, use his fists rather than...." Preston stopped when he felt Sully clutch his lapels.

"Sully," Michaela hoped to calm her husband. "The babies."

Sully released his grasp of the indignant banker. Then, in silence, he took his wife's arm and escorted her away.

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

"Poppy," Katie toyed with the edge of her blanket. "Why'd they decrimonate against Miss Grace an' Robert E?"

"When was that, Kates?" he pulled back a lock of her hair.

"T'day at the big tent," she specified. "They had t' stand in the back when Mama was talkin'."

Sully took in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly, "It's the same for the Indians, the immigrants an' anyone else who's different. Some folks think that bein' different is bad."

"But it's not, Poppy," Katie's forehead creased. "We gotta do somethin'."

"We'll keep tryin', honey," he leaned forward to kiss her cheek.

"Papa," Josef spoke up from beside his sister. "I sweep with you an' Mama?"

"I thought ya wanted t' sleep with Katie, t'night," he tickled his son's side.

"I do," Josef said. "We all t'gether. Miss Bwidget, too."

"I don't think we got a bed big enough for all o' us," Sully grinned.

"All wight," his lower lip curled under.

"When she tucked us in, Mama said you're goin' t' hear Mr. Emerson t'night," Katie sounded excited.

"Yep," Sully smiled. "An' I best be takin' her now, so we're not late."

"Have fun," Josef wished.

"We will," Sully winked.

"I'm glad we got t' hear Mama talk t'day, Poppy," Katie added.

"I'm glad, too, sweet girl," he touched her nose. "I'm real proud o' her."

"Me, too," she agreed.

"Dr. Mike's ready," Bridget entered the room.

"We'll try t' sit near an entrance if ya need us, Bridget," Sully advised. "You can send one o' the boys t' fetch us."

"That would be Matthew," she nodded. "Brian's goin' t' hear Mr. Emerson, too."

"Okay," Sully rose from the bed. "Be good, you two."

"We will," Katie pledged.

"I not take un'gawment again," Josef contributed.

"What?" Sully was uncertain.

"He took my corset, don't ya know," Bridget's cheeks flushed.

"Joe!" Sully was horrified.

"It dis'peared," he held up his hands innocently.

"See that it don't happen again," Sully's voice was serious.

"'Kay," the little boy noted his father's tone.

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

"My, you look handsome, Mr. Sully," Michaela straightened his tie.

"Just tryin' t' look presentable when I'm with such a beautiful woman," he pulled her closer.

"Are the children asleep?" she rested her palms against his chest.

"Almost," he nodded. "I guess Joe caused some commotion t'day."

"The corset incident?" Michaela shook her head. "What are we going to do with him, Sully?"

"Love him," he smiled.

"He's so full of mischief," she sighed.

"Keeps us on our toes," he rubbed her back. "Wouldn't be half as challengin' if they was all as good as Katie an' Brian."

"What about these two?" she looked toward the bassinets.

"We'll have t' see," he beamed. "I got a feelin' they'll keep us on our toes, too."

"As long as they behave themselves this evening," she hoped.

"So, what's the surprise?" he wondered.

"All in due time," she caressed his cheek. "Shall we go?"

"Yep," he draped her shawl around her shoulders.

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

"Why'd ya drag me t' this?" Robert E gruffly sat down.

"It's Ralph Waldo Emerson, that's why," Grace explained. "He's real famous."

"Miss Grace?" Brian approached.

"Hey, Brian," she acknowledged.

"Could you come with me?" he extended his hand.

"Why?" she was curious. "Somethin' wrong?"

"Not anymore," he led her toward the front of the tent.

"We ain't allowed up here, Brian," Robert E followed.

"When I told Ma what happened t'day at her speech, she talked t' the folks who run the Chautauqua," he explained.

"An' they changed their policy?" Robert E was surprised.

"Yep," he smiled. "Ma can be pretty persuasive. I want ya t' sit up with me. I'm coverin' Mr. Emerson's talk for The Gazette."

"Thank you, Brian," Grace held her head up proudly.

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

"This okay?" Sully pointed to a bench near an exit about halfway back under the tent.

"Fine," Michaela kept her fingers linked in his. "I wonder if Grace and Robert E are here yet? Brian was going to ask them to sit near the front with him."

"You excuse me for a minute?" he requested.

"You're leaving me?" she pretended to be disappointed.

"Be right back," he pointed. "I'll go look for Robert E an' Grace."

"Good," she nodded as he left her.

"Ain't you that lady doctor who spoke t'day?" a man tapped Michaela on the shoulder.

She turned, "Yes."

"Good talk," he nodded. "Got any cure for gout?"

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

"Hey," Sully stepped up to his son and friends. "Good t' see ya here."

"Where's Ma?" Brian inquired.

"We're about 25 rows back from ya," he pointed. "Sat by an openin' in the tent in case Bridget needs Michaela."

"I sure hope she can watch in peace," Brian smiled. "I know how much she admires Mr. Emerson."

"Yep," Sully agreed. "Well, I'll see ya later."

Brian noticed the direction he was walking, "Aren't ya goin' back t' Ma?"

"In a few minutes," he winked. "Got somethin' else t' do first."

"Bye, Sully," Grace waved. "Now, what d' ya suppose that man's up to?"

"Prob'ly somethin' for Ma," Brian figured.

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

A rousing standing ovation greeted Emerson at the conclusion of his recitation. Michaela wiped tears from her eyes.

"You okay?" Sully put his arm around her.

"Yes," she choked back her emotions. "It's just that the last time I heard him speak, I was with Father."

"He's a real good speaker," Sully nodded.

"Yes," Michaela concurred.

"I got a surprise for ya," his face lit up.

"What?" she was curious.

"Come with me," he took her by the hand and led her through the maze of people as they exited the tent.

************
Chapter 15
************

"Sully," Michaela attempted to keep up with him. "Where are we going?"

They arrived at the area behind the podium.

"Mr. Sully!" Emerson recognized. "This must be your dear wife."

"Yep," he encouraged her to step forward.

Michaela, with great surprise, extended her hand, "It's an honor to meet you, sir."

"The honor is mine," Emerson shook her gloved hand. "I heard your presentation today. Remarkable."

"Thank you," she glanced down demurely.

"Mr. Sully informed me that you heard me speak before, in Boston," he recalled.

"Yes," she smiled. "My father took me. You read excerpts from your book, 'Essays, First Series.'"

"Ah, yes," he recognized. "I wonder.... would it be presumptuous of me to offer you a copy?"

"What?" Michaela's eyes widened. "A copy of your book?"

"Yes," he picked it up from a nearby table and handed it to her. "I took the liberty of personalizing it for you with my signature."

"Mr. Emerson," her voice trembled. "I.... Thank you. Thank you very much."

"If you'll excuse me, I must be going now," he smiled. "It was a pleasure meeting you."

"The feeling is mutual," she clasped the book to her bosom.

Sully offered his hand, "Thank you."

"Mr. Sully," he smiled and departed.

"Sully," she turned, tears freshly trailing down her cheeks.

"What's this?" he touched them tenderly.

"You arranged this," a lump formed in her throat. "I'm so moved."

"This one o' them moods?" he teased.

"I love you," she whispered.

"I love you, too," he sweetly kissed her. "Come on. They got some fireworks comin' up soon."

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

Quietly, Michaela opened the door to their hotel room. In the dim light, she could see Bridget, asleep in a chair near the bassinets.

Touching the woman's shoulder, Michaela spoke low, "We're back."

"Mmm?" she sat up. "Oh, goodness, what time is it?"

"After eleven," Michaela removed her wrap.

"Did ya enjoy the talk now?" she glanced around.

"It was marvelous!" Michaela was still exuberant. "And look what he gave me."

"A book," the nanny focused. "Signed by the man himself. That's a grand gift, it is."

Michaela drew Sully closer, "My husband has made a habit of smothering me with gifts."

"Only fair," he pointed toward the babies. "She's given me so much."

"I'll be leavin' you two," she read their expressions. "I got a feelin' there'll be some more gift givin' before the night is through."

"What?" Michaela's cheeks reddened.

"Enjoy the rest o' the evenin', dearie," Bridget rose and exited the room.

Sully lifted Noah from his bassinet. The little boy was wide-eyed and moving his legs.

"He's awake?" Michaela was surprised.

"Must be hungry," he set the infant on the large bed. Then turning back to the other bassinet, he spoke tenderly, "Annie, how's my little darlin'?"

His daughter moved her arms in a circular motion as Sully laid her beside her brother. Removing his jacket and loosening his tie, he leaned over to watch the babies.

"Where's his hernia?" Sully glanced at his wife while she prepared to nurse them.

"Right here," she guided his hand to feel the baby's navel.

"Does it hurt him?" his brow wrinkled.

"No," she shook her head. "It's more pronounced when he cries, though." Lifting the baby, she carried him to a chair and began to nurse him, "That's my sweetheart."

Sully lay down next to Annie, holding his finger for her to grip, "I do think she's got your eyes, Michaela."

"It's impossible to be certain what color eyes they'll have yet," she smiled. "I was only teasing when we spoke about it before."

"I'm certain," he leaned closer to kiss the little girl. "One green an' one brown."

"I suppose we should prepare her for endless teasing then," she indicated. "Though Father always tried to comfort me by saying it made me special."

"He was right," Sully agreed. "Can't believe my luck havin' another little girl with your eyes."

"But Katie's are both brown," she pointed out.

"Still looks like her Ma," he smiled.

"You're an incredible man, Byron Sully," her heart filled with love.

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

"Hey, Travis," Hank sipped a whiskey at the bar.

"What d' ya want?" the bartender approached him.

"See the fancy dan at the end o' the room?" Hank pointed. "He was at the Chautauqua t'day. Introduced the lady doctor."

Travis replied, "He was in here last night, too. Spent the evenin' drownin' his sorrows."

"Looks like he could use some female companionship," Hank observed.

"My girls are all busy," he gestured upstairs.

"Mind if I send one o' mine?" Hank requested.

"Go ahead," Travis invited.

"Fannie," Hank snapped his fingers. "Man over there in the blue suit needs some company."

Fannie pulled the front of her dress a little lower to reveal a bit more cleavage. Then she headed for the customer.

"Hey there, handsome," she rubbed up against him. "My name's Fannie. What's yours?"

"William," he slurred. "Dr. William Burke."

"Doctor?" Fannie was impressed. "I know a little about medicine myself."

"You do?" he looked at her through blurred vision.

"Sure," she ran her finger along his chin. "Medicine that helps men feel lots better. An', honey, you look like you could use some strong medicine."

"Maybe I could," William nodded.

Hank watched with satisfaction.

"What about that one?" Travis gestured toward another well dressed man in the corner.

"Ha!" Hank chuckled. "I ain't so sure he's ever been with a woman."

"You know him?" the bartender questioned.

"Preston A. Lodge III," Hank spit out the name. "I think his money belt would stop any normal function o' his body parts."

"That mean your girls can't loosen it?" Travis egged him.

"Laura, Jacqueline," he summoned them. "Which one o' you beauties wants t' have a shot at Preston? Looks like he might be inebriated enough t' respond t'night."

"Not me," Laura turned up her nose. "I'd rather have someone like Sully."

"He's what they call forbidden fruit," Hank chuckled.

"Watch me, and learn, honey," Jacqueline bragged. "They all look the same without their boots on."

She turned and approached the banker. Within seconds, she was seated beside him, tempting him with her wares.

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

Michaela pulled the strap of her camisole up after nursing Annie. Both babies now lay contentedly in their bassinets.

"Think they'll sleep throughout the night?" Sully hoped.

"I believe so," she smiled. "Knowing that their Papa is back should help."

Sully pulled her closer, "Sure am glad t' be back with you. Last night, I felt so lonely without you there beside me."

"I was lonely, too," she confessed. "I had some... thoughts about us."

"What kinda thoughts?" he wondered.

She blushed, "Thoughts of our being together."

He drew her closer and enfolded her in his arms, "Together like this?"

"For a start," she lifted up to kiss him.

"There's more?" he teased.

"Much more that I wish for us this evening," she massaged his temples.

Closing his eyes, he sighed, "That feels so good."

"Sully," she stopped and held his face in her palms. "I... I want us to be together in every way tonight, but...."

"But what?" he queried. Then, seeing her expression, he added, "Michaela, we don't have t' do anythin'."

"No, I want us to," she struggled for how to tell him. "It's just that... I'm a little frightened."

"Frightened o' me?" he feared.

"No," she leaned her cheek against his chest. "Frightened that.... it will hurt. And then I might hold back... unable to... satisfy you."

"Michaela," he lifted her chin. "You could never disappoint me. Never."

"I love you," she peered at him through reddened eyes.

Sully bent down to kiss her anew, "I couldn't bear t' hurt you. How 'bout we just hold each other t'night?"

"But..." she stopped when his index finger touched her lips.

"Hold me," he spoke tenderly. "I love just havin' you lie next t' me."

Lifting her into his arms, Sully gently placed her on the bed. Then, removing his clothing, he lay his form next to hers.

"I'm still dressed," she said.

"It's still a beautiful dress," he joked.

Michaela rose and removed her clothing. Approaching the lamp, she began to lower it.

"Wait," he interrupted. "I wanna see ya."

"Why?" her cheeks flushed. "I'm still so... big."

"You're not big," he clasped her hand. "You're full of love. Love for our babies.... love for me."

"Sully," she wondered how he could feel that way.

"Come on," he tugged lightly at her hand. "Hold me."

Pulling back the blanket for her, he welcomed her to his side. With arms embracing, they softly kissed one another. Then Sully lifted her palm to his cheek and recited:

"Were I as based as is the lowly plain,
And you, my Love, as high as heaven above,
Yet should the thoughts of me your humble swain
Ascend to heaven, in honor of my Love.

Were I as high as heaven above the plain,
And you, my Love, as humble as low
As the deepest bottoms of the main,
Whereso'er you were, with you my love should go.

Were you the earth, dear Love, and I the skies,
My love should shine on you like to the sun,
And look upon you with ten thousand eyes
Till heaven wax'd blind, and till the world were done.

Whereso'er I am, below, or else above you,
Whereso'er you are, my heart shall truly love you."

"Thank you for that beautiful poem," she felt her eyes welling. "Was it Herrick?"

"Sylvester," he cited. "Every day that I know ya, my heart only grows fuller with love, Michaela."

"You're so incredibly romantic," she smiled. "And here I was wanting to make tonight special for you. But you've turned it around and made me feel so blessed with love unimaginable."

Sully gently maneuvered his hand along her form. Instantly, Michaela's body reacted. He noticed and ceased his movements.

"No," she whispered. "Please, don't stop."

"But...." this time, it was he who was interrupted by her finger on his lips.

"I need to feel that way again, Sully," she invited.

He drew back the long tresses from her neck and plied his sweet kisses to her neck, her chin, her lips.

Moaning slightly, she lowered her hand to arouse her husband.

"Michaela," he gulped.

"It's all right," she continued.

"It's been so long," he felt his heart beat faster.

"I've missed us," she breathed more quickly.

"There's no turnin' back?" he positioned her.

"No turning back," she felt his warmth.

Closing her eyes, she welcomed his movements. All thoughts of discomfort were dispelled as her body received his. Magically, rhythmically, they melded together, two parts seeking to become whole again. Certain that she was ready, Sully finally shared himself fully with her. Flooded with powerful surges of electricity, Michaela clung to him, receiving and sharing all that they possessed.

Finally, their bodies stilled. Tender touches and soft kisses affirmed what their very souls had already experienced.

"Are you all right?" he attempted to catch his breath as he pulled back.

"Yes," she whispered, her heart still racing.

He ran his finger along her chin, then kissed her again, "I love you."

"And, I love you, too," she smoothed back his damp hair.

"I ever tell you how much I enjoy havin' you do that?" he grinned.

"Sully!" she was surprised.

"I mean do that with my hair," he chuckled.

"Oh," she smiled.

"Well," he smirked. "That, too."

"I was wondering something," she whispered.

"What?" he pulled her even closer.

"I was wondering if you might read to me some of Mr. Emerson's book?" she requested.

"Sure," he reached for it on the nightstand.

Opening the book to the section entitled "Love," he read aloud to her:

"For it is a fire that, kindling its first embers in the narrow nook of a private bosom, caught from a wandering spark out of another private heart, glows and enlarges until it warms and beams upon multitudes of men and women, upon the universal heart of all, and so lights up the whole world and all nature with its generous flames."

No sooner had he begun to read, than he felt Michaela's steady breathing against his heart. She had fallen asleep. Kissing her temple, he wrapped her in his arms and joined her in restful slumber.

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

It was after dawn that the babies awoke and began to fuss for their mother. Michaela was suddenly aware of not only their voices, but of Sully's arms around her.

She smiled and kissed him, then roused herself sufficiently to walk to the bassinets. Lifting Noah, who quickly calmed, she set him beside Sully. The infant unknowingly reached his tiny fingers toward his father's eye. Sully flinched and attempted to focus.

"Who's this little fella?" he smiled.

Michaela cradled Annie and began to nurse her, "We have only two hours before the train."

"Back t' Colorado Springs," he playfully nibbled on Noah's fingers.

"Home," she sighed.

"You glad?" he wondered.

"It's been an incredible visit," she acknowledged. "I was so pleased with the audience's reaction to Cloud Dancing and the Cheyenne medicine."

"How ya feel after seein' William here?" he posed the question.

"I feel rather sorry for him, Sully," she confessed.

"Me, too," he admitted. "He's real sad."

They heard children's voices in the hallway.

"Sounds like Bridget's got the kids up," he lifted Noah to rest on his chest.

No sooner had he said it than their children rushed into the room.

"Glad t' see you're up," Bridget announced cheerily.

"Bridget," Michaela quickly covered herself. "Remember about knocking?"

"Oh, dearie, I forgot myself," she held her cheeks. "I hope we didn't interrupt anythin'.... important."

"Poppy!" Katie jumped up on the bed.

"Easy," he held his hand for her. "Don't want Noah t' fall off."

"How he feel?" Josef climbed up to join them.

"He's okay," Sully stroked the infant's back.

"Where's his hernia?" Katie tilted her head.

Sully repositioned the baby so that she could observe his navel.

"Look how it sticks out," she lightly touched it.

The baby drew in his legs and kicked them slightly.

"I think ya tickled him, Kates," Sully chuckled.

"I push it?" Josef questioned.

"Not a good idea, Joe," Sully counseled.

"All right, you wee ones," Bridget clapped her hands. "We best be gettin' ya ready. The train won't be waitin' for ya."

Michaela watched in wonder as they departed as quickly as they had arrived.

"Sully," she turned to him. "Have you given any thought to the money?"

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

"Oh, my head," Preston attempted to sip a cup of coffee in the lobby.

"You out on a bender or somethin' last night?" Loren put his hands on his hips.

"If you mean did I consume too much alcohol, the answer would be yes," the banker massaged his temples.

"Ha!" Loren laughed. "Never thought I'd see the day."

"Must you stand there prattling?" Preston leaned his head against the table.

"Pressy," a female voice neared them. "It's me, Jacqueline."

He abruptly raised his head, "Who's that?"

"Someone talkin' t' you, Pressy," Loren grew more amused.

"Don't tell her where I am," he began to crouch down.

Loren gestured to the prostitute, "I think she found ya."

"Oh, no," Preston sighed.

"Have you forgotten last night?" Jacqueline folded her arms.

"As a matter of fact, I have," he cringed. "And must you speak so loudly?"

"You spent the night with one o' Hank's whores?" Loren's eyes widened.

************
Chapter 16
************

"I don't recall where I spent the night," Preston scratched his head.

"Well, I recall," Jacqueline snapped her garter. "He talked all evening about interest rates and dividends."

"Ya mean nothin' happened?" Loren chuckled.

"Let's just say his interest waned as the evenin' wore on," she announced.

"Couldn't sustain things, eh?" Loren raised his eyebrows.

"I came t' collect my money," she held out her hand before him.

"For what?" Preston frowned. "You yourself admitted nothing happened."

"Ya still owe me for my time," she insisted. "Besides, I could tell folks...."

"All right," he reached for his money. "Here. This should cover your.... time."

"Quite nicely," she nodded.

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

"What about the money?" Sully rose from the bed.

"We haven't discussed what to do with it," she specified.

"You can do whatever ya want with it, Michaela," he set Noah in her arms. "It's all yours."

"No," she countered. "It's ours. Everything I have is yours, too."

"Still, I think you oughta decide what t' do with it," he swallowed.

"I mentioned before that I'd like to pay Bridget with part of it," she noted. "And the rest... what if we set it aside for the children's education?"

"All right," he replied quietly.

"You don't want me to?" she questioned.

"Takin' care o' the children's future is good," he began to wash his face.

Michaela watched him, sensing that the topic was one on which they might never agree.

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

Grace clapped her hands together to gain the attention of those gathered at her Cafe. She had set up several tables together and prepared a grand meal.

"You gonna tell us what all this is for?" Loren wondered.

"It's for Dr. Mike," she announced. "T' celebrate her speech at the Chautauqua."

"Is there gonna be libation at this little party?" Hank raised an eyebrow.

"There's punch, if that's what ya mean," Grace put her hands on her hips.

"Where is Dr. Mike?" Horace asked.

"I told Sully t' have her here at noon."

"It IS noon," Jake grew impatient.

"You know how long it takes you t' get ready with one little girl?" Grace scolded. "Imagine what they gotta do."

"Well, they have a nanny," Preston reminded.

"An' she's goin' home t'day," the Cafe owner stated. "So, just be patient, an' they'll be here soon as they can."

"Hank," Loren lowered his voice to his friend. "I hear Preston spent the night with one o' your girls."

He laughed, "Not much happened there, but another o' my girls did good with a rich man from back east. That doctor who introduced Michaela at the Chautauqua."

"Dr. Burke?" Loren's eyes widened. "With one o' your girls?"

Preston overheard, "Well, well. The man who courted Michaela in Boston."

"Huh?" Loren and Hank responded simultaneously.

"That's right, gentlemen," the banker nodded. "Dr. William Burke."

"Ya don't say," Loren's eyes widened.

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

"Pwease don' go, Miss Bwidget," Josef sat on her lap.

"Oh, I have to, laddie," she wiped away his tears. "I have another family waitin' for me back in Boston."

"Joey thinks you're leavin' 'cause he hid your corset," Katie rested her arm on the woman's shoulder.

"Oh, no," she held his chin. "But I must confess, that was one o' the most impish pranks a child has ever played on me."

"Ya know what?" Katie tapped the nanny's hand. "I only got one grandma, 'cause Poppy's Mama died. Can I pretend that you're my other grandma?"

Bridget choked back a tear, "I'd like that very much."

"Will ya write t' us?" the little girl implored.

She felt the moisture on her cheeks, "That I will."

"Pwease, stay," Josef leaned his head against her.

"Come here, Joe," Sully lifted the little boy. "You know what a good job Miss Bridget did for us?"

"Uh huh," he whimpered.

"Well, now another family needs her, too," the father explained. "But maybe we'll see her again sometime."

"I hope so," he turned his face into his father's chest.

"Maybe we can come t' Boston soon," Katie hoped.

Michaela came down the steps carrying one of the twins. Brian followed with the other baby. Michaela tearfully turned to the nanny.

"This is for you," she handed her an envelope with her salary.

"Thank you, Dr. Mike," Bridget now joined her in crying. Finally composing herself, she took a deep breath. "It's been an honor an' a pleasure servin' you."

"You've been more like family," Michaela smiled.

Bridget exclaimed, "You're the nicest family I've ever known."

"Then stay," Josef raised his head.

The nanny drew Michaela close and whispered, "You got a fine man, Dr. Mike. Never let him go."

"I won't," she answered.

"Come on," Sully felt a lump in his throat. "We best be gettin' t' town. Train leaves soon."

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

"I can't wait much longer," Loren complained. "I got a business t' run."

"Here they come!" Horace spotted them.

"What's all this?" Michaela's eyes widened as they neared the Cafe.

"What's it look like?" Hank leaned back. "A party for you. Come on, so's we can eat, already."

"For me?" Michaela was amazed.

Grace lifted her glass of punch and others followed.

"To Dr. Mike," she toasted. "The best doctor in Colorado."

"In the world," Sully amended.

As they sipped their drinks, Horace reached into his pocket.

"'Fore I forget, this came for ya, Dr. Mike," he handed the telegram to her.

"It's from a Mr. Elmer Richardson," she read.

"What's it say?" Sully prompted as she finished reading.

"I'll discuss it with you later," she folded it.

"Why not now?" he was curious.

"Because it's something you and I should talk about.... in private," she indicated.

"Maybe they want Michaela to become surgeon general," the Reverend joked.

"Well, she's operated on most o' us here," Dorothy observed. "Why not?"

"I believe that General Barnes might object," Preston observed. "In addition, the position is held by an army officer. Of course, that should represent no obstacle to....."

"I was joking," the minister interrupted.

"Mama! Poppy!" Katie pointed toward the alley by the Cafe. "Lookie!"

"Miss Bwidget!" Josef jumped from his chair.

The woman neared them, bag in hand. Michaela and Sully rushed to her.

"What happened?" Michaela wondered. "Did the train break down?"

"No," Bridget set her luggage down. "I did. I couldn't go. I couldn't leave you an' those dear young ones."

"You're staying?" Michaela's eyes brightened.

"If you'll have me," the woman smiled. Handing Michaela the envelope she had received earlier, she added, "I don't need this."

"Bridget, we can't expect you to stay with us without compensation," Michaela pointed out.

"There's more t' life than money, Dr. Mike," Bridget answered.

"But...." Michaela was flabbergasted.

"My pay will be the roof over my head an' the chance t' have a real family," she interrupted.

"We're mighty proud t' have ya stay, Bridget," Sully put his arm around her.

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

Their evening responsibilities having concluded, Michaela fell exhausted into bed.

"Thank God Bridget is staying," she sighed.

"Things'll get back t' normal soon enough," Sully drew her hand to his lips.

"Normal?" she reflected. "Our lives will never be the same."

"Ah," he spoke low. "To quote Mr. Browning:

How good is man's life, the mere living!
How fit to employ all the heart and soul and senses,
Forever in joy!"

"We do have joy," she stroked his cheek.

Quietly, they lay quiet in each other's arms.

Then Michaela broke the silence, "I... I think I should begin to wean the twins soon."

"Ya sure they're ready?" he rolled onto his side to look at her.

"I believe so," she nodded. "I'm not certain if I'm ready, however."

"Then don't do it," he advised.

"It will be easier for us when they can be bottle fed," she realized.

"Michaela," he rubbed her arm. "Ya don't have t' decide anythin' t'night."

She closed her eyes and sighed.

"What was the telegram about t'day?" he recalled.

"You won't believe it," she smiled.

"What?" he grinned.

"There is a publisher from New York who wants me to write a book about my use of Cheyenne medicine," she shook her head. "He heard my speech in Boulder."

"Really?" he raised up.

"When on earth would I ever have time to...." she stopped when he spoke.

"I think ya should," he interjected.

"Are you serious?" she studied his face.

"Yep," he liked the idea.

"But, Sully, how can I care for four small children, practice medicine AND write a book?" she pointed out. "Not to mention take care of my husband."

"You take care o' your husband real good," he leaned closer and kissed her forehead. "An' now we got Bridget t' help with the kids."

"It's impossible," she dismissed the notion.

"Well, if ya don't think you can do it...." he baited her.

"I know I can write a book," she defended.

"Then there's nothin' t' stop ya from doin' it," he encouraged.

"You are serious, aren't you?" she commented.

"Sure am," he drew back some tresses from her face.

"Perhaps.... I'll think about it," she mellowed.

"Good," he slowly moved closer to kiss her.

"Mmm," she smiled. "I love how you encourage me. I certainly know to whom I would dedicate my book."

"Preston?" he teased.

"Goodness, no!" she rolled her eyes.

"Speakin' o' Preston," he ran his finger along her chin. "Loren told me some gossip about him."

"Mr. Sully," she raised her eyebrow. "It's not like you to gossip."

"Well, if ya don't wanna hear...." he hesitated.

"Of course, I want to hear," she tapped his side.

"Seems that he spent the night with one o' Hank's girls in Boulder," Sully chuckled.

"What?" she was shocked.

"Loren said all he did was talk about money an' bankin' the whole night," he laughed louder.

Michaela could not help but find it amusing, as well.

Sully's tone turned more serious, "Loren told me somethin' else."

"What?" she toyed with the hair on his chest.

"It's about William," he paused.

"What about him?" she lifted her head slightly.

"I reckon I should tell ya before ya hear it in town," he hedged.

"What is it, Sully?" she could not imagine.

"William spent the night with one o' Hank's girls, too," he watched for her reaction.

"William?" she was surprised. "I don't believe it."

He pondered, "That could be why Catherine was leavin' him. Remember, I saw her at the depot?"

"But...." she could not fathom it. "He's not the type of man who would...."

"Men will do lots o' things when they're hurtin', Michaela," Sully commented. "William... even Preston."

"We're so fortunate," she whispered near his ear.

"'Cause we don't spend our nights talkin' about money an' bankin'?" he joked.

"We... apparently can't discuss money," her eyes saddened.

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"I'm sorry," she felt a twinge of remorse.

"Michaela," he leaned on his elbow. "Why ya feel the need t' keep bringin' this up?"

"I feel the need to... to be certain that it doesn't hurt you.... or us," she responded.

"Ya mean ya don't want me turnin' t' one o' Hank's girls?" he added lightly.

"Sully," her tone changed. "I'm serious."

He said, "Do you remember when the train first came t' Colorado Springs?"

"Of course," she wondered where he was going.

"Remember how I wanted us t' move?" he continued.

"I told you if I saw the changes breaking your heart, that we could go," she recalled.

"But the train came, an' we're still here," he stated.

"Are you telling me you want to move now?" she asked.

"No," he replied. "When I got that job offer at Yellowstone, I realized that this is our home. This is where our children were born, an' this is the land I care most about."

"What does that have to do with our money situation?" she was puzzled.

"Money's like the train," he reasoned. "It comes int' folks' lives and can bring all sorts o' changes.... if they let it."

"But this money won't change us, Sully," she argued. "It will simply enable us to do things we couldn't before."

"Just like the train," he nodded.

"I don't understand," she struggled.

"You wanted the train t' come," he reminded her.

"Until I saw how it disrupted the lives of the Cheyenne," she sadly noted.

"What if the money disrupts our lives?" he posed the question.

"How could it?" she could not imagine.

"I've seen what strikin' it rich in the mines did t' men," he noted.

"This hardly makes us rich," she qualified. "But.... if there is any fear or doubt in your mind about our keeping the money, I'll return it."

He paused, then peered into her eyes, "No. Like I said before, do what ya want with it."

"I thought we agreed to use it for the children's education," she thought back.

"We did," he answered. "So why bring it up again?"

"I need to be certain that you understand," she became frustrated. "And I don't want us to ever argue about it in the future."

He grinned, "But... after we argue, we get t' make up."

"Sully," she was not amused.

"We ain't arguin', Michaela," he clarified. "We're just havin' a discussion."

"I needed to be certain about where you stand," she thought.

"Right now, I'm not standin'," he teased.

She became quiet.

"Know what?" he lifted her chin.

"What?" she averted her glance.

"We just spent the evenin' talkin' about money," he smirked. "I reckon we're no better than Preston."

"The evening isn't over yet," she captured his glance.

"You thinkin' about somethin' else we could discuss?" he played along.

"Not exactly discuss," she snuggled closer to him.

Sully maneuvered her form to contour to his, "So you gonna talk about us in your book?"

"Us?" she questioned.

"Like Dorothy's book," he remembered.

"Would you like for me to tell the world what we do in private, Mr. Sully?" she looked serious.

"Humm," he pretended to ponder it. "I reckon not. I got a hard enough time keepin' men away from ya. If they read about what a...."

"What men?" she relished their banter.

"Every man who looks at ya," he confessed.

"I don't even notice other men," she stroked the hair behind his ears.

"Ah, but they notice you, Michaela Quinn," he cupped the back of her head in his palm.

"I've seen women notice you, too, Byron Sully," she returned.

"Who?" his eyes widened.

"That girl of Hank's," she mentioned. "Laura, I believe is her name."

"Laura?" he feigned curiosity. "Well, maybe I'll have t' pay a visit t' the Gold Nugget t' check...."

"Don't you dare!" she warned.

"Don't worry," he softly ran his hand along her arm. "I gotta stay with ya."

"You do?" she grinned.

"Um hum," he nibbled on her earlobe. "Wife, mother, doctor, speaker, writer.... I gotta stick around t' see what else you can do."

"May I demonstrate what else I can do?" she tempted.

"Demonstrate away," he kissed her.

"One thing first," she smiled. "Could you check under the sheets for frogs?"

"Why?" he teased. "I kinda like the effect they have on ya."

They burst into laughter.

THE END

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

EPILOGUE

The Chautauqua movement actually came to Boulder, Colorado in 1898. Texans were quite attracted to the Chautauqua concept. Well-to-do Dallasites like the Aldredges and Dealeys made annual visits to the original Chautauqua Institute In New York, where they sometimes spent the entire summer. Other Texans sought a cool location closer to home in Colorado. In 1897, George F. Winston, President of the University of Texas, and G. O. Wooten, Chairman of the Board of Regents, visited Boulder seeking a site for a Chautauqua summer school. Officials of Boulder and the University of Colorado were enthusiastic, and the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua Association was formed.

The city of Boulder purchased property at the foot of the Flatirons and built an auditorium and dining hall. The Texas-Chautauqua Association agreed to pay a nominal rent, contributed $5,000 to the venture, and paid all expenses the first year. The Boulder Chautauqua opened on July 4, 1898. Various groups, led by the Houston teachers, built cottages at the site, and the Boulder Chautauqua has since expanded and continued to flourish to this day.



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