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

Compromises


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Compromises
by Debby K

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

"Dorothy, I can't tell you how much Sully and I appreciate your coming with us to Denver," Michaela sat with her friend at Grace's Cafe.

"I sort of had an ulterior motive for agreein' to it," Dorothy responded. "I'm happy t' come along t' watch the children for ya, but it's also a chance for me t' cover the meetin's on statehood."

Michaela smiled, "I don't mind your ulterior motive. Brian is looking forward to putting out the Gazette for you, and Matthew will be gone another week in Salt Lake City."

Dorothy patted her hand, "And since their bout with the chicken pox, ya don't want t' leave Katie an' Josef here. I understand."

"You don't think I'm being overly protective?" the doctor felt a bit insecure.

"Good heavens, no!" the redhead replied. "Ya love your children. They're just babies, Michaela. It's natural t' want them with ya."

"I suppose I'm rather sensitive to the topic," Michaela folded her hands.

"Well, who would fault ya?" Dorothy nodded as Grace approached.

"Fault Dr. Mike for what?" the cafe owner sat down beside them.

Michaela smiled faintly, "For wanting to take my children with us to Denver."

Grace chuckled, "Well, you know I'd love t' have my godchildren stay here with me, but as it is, I'm happy 't have Brian t' look after. Can I get ya somethin' t' eat?"

"No, thank you," Michaela shook her head. "My stomach's been rather queasy in anticipation of our trip."

"Does Sully think you're too protective?" Grace addressed Michaela's concern.

"No," she answered.

"Then that's all that matters," Grace patted her hand. "So when are ya leavin'?"

"Tomorrow morning," Michaela said. "I have many preparations. Though we'll only be gone for a week, I'll require a trunk just for the children's belongings."

"If ya need any help gettin' ready, let me know," Dorothy offered.

"Thank you," Michaela stood. "I need to return to the Clinic now to take Katie and Josef home. Sully's there now repairing my examining table."

"I'll see you at the Depot tomorrow at 9," Dorothy nodded.

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

When Michaela entered the Clinic, she saw her husband's legs sticking out from beneath the examining table. Katie was sitting on top of it, and Josef was napping in the anteroom.

"Katie," Michaela lifted her into her arms. "Are you helping your father?"

"Yep," she smiled. "Waitin' for him to hit hammer."

Michaela set her down and leaned over to peek at her husband, "Are you nearly finished?"

He pounded the hammer several times, "Yep."

The sound startled Josef, and he awoke in tears. Michaela rushed to the bassinet and quickly lifted him. Touching his forehead to her lips, she gently swayed with the child in her arms until his crying subsided.

Katie crouched down to look under the table, "Ya scarin' Joey, Poppy."

He slid out from beneath it, "Finished." He walked over to his son and stroked his head, "Sorry, Josef."

The baby looked wide eyed at his father and smiled.

"That's my big boy," Sully stroked his cheek. "We can go home now, Michaela," he put the hammer into his wooden tool kit.

"I dwive horses?" Katie volunteered.

Sully picked her up, "Part o' the way."

Michaela packed up the children's belongings, "I believe that's everything." Surveying the room one last time, she turned and led the way out.

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

At the dinner table, Michaela was going over a checklist with Brian as she gave Josef his bottle, "And don't forget to feed the animals."

"I won't, Ma," he rolled his eyes. "I ain't a kid anymore."

"I know that," she became defensive.

"So, don't worry so much," he grinned.

She shrugged, "I suppose I have difficulty thinking of my children as grown up."

"I not gwown up," Katie asserted.

Michaela smiled, "But you will be, Sweetheart. Then what will I do?"

"Take care o' Poppy," the child innocently responded.

Sully looked up from his meal, "I'm still workin' on growin' up."

Michaela finished feeding the baby and lifted him to her shoulder to pat his back. She noticed the small scar on his throat from the tracheotomy incision of several weeks ago. Kissing his cheek, she offered thanks that he had survived the ordeal.

Sully completed his meal and stood. Clapping his hands, he extended his arms to the baby. The child instantly smiled and reached up to his father.

"Come on, Kates," Sully called as he carried Josef into the living room. "Let's see if we can get your brother t' crawl t' ya."

Michaela lovingly watched her husband take the children and then turned to Brian, "Looks like we're the ones left for cleaning up."

The young man nodded, "I don't mind. I like spendin' time with ya."

When Brian stood, he was taller than his mother by several inches. She shook her head recalling when he was just a little boy who craved a mother.

Michaela looked up at him and commented, "What do you think about Colorado's bid for statehood?" she scraped the leftovers off the dishes and into a bowl for Wolf.

"It's excitin'," his eyes lit up. "Lots o' the kids are interested that my Pa's gonna be helpin' on it."

"We'll be certain to bring back lots of information for you," she set the bowl down for Wolf.

The animal was torn between watching Josef try to crawl and the delicacies that awaited in his bowl. His stomach won out, and he came into the kitchen for his treat.

Michaela pumped water into the sink, then added hot water from the stove.

Rolling up her sleeves, she said to her son, "I'll wash, and you dry?"

"Sure," he replied.

"I'm so proud of you, Brian," she glanced at him.

"Thanks, Ma," he beamed.

"I know that Dorothy has great confidence in your ability to get out this week's Gazette while she's in Denver with us," Michaela acknowledged.

"I just hope nothin' bigger than Mrs. Maloney's pig escapin' from his pen happens," he chuckled.

"I apologize if I sounded too motherly earlier," she handed him a dripping plate.

He opened the dish towel, "That's cause ya are motherly, but I like ya that way."

"Michaela! Brian!" Sully called.

They rushed into the living room. There on the floor, Josef was making an awkward attempt to crawl toward his sister. Using a combination of scooting on his tummy then knees, the little boy had managed to travel about two feet. When he noticed his mother and brother watching, he stopped and sat up.

Michaela knelt down beside him, "What a big boy!"

The baby clutched her fingers, then raised up to a shaky standing position.

"Look at him!" Brian was enthusiastic.

Josef began to bounce up and down, pleased to have the attention of his family.

"Joey good!" Katie exclaimed.

The proud mother pulled him into her arms and kissed him, much to his delight.

"Now Joey gotta walk," Katie informed them.

Sully rubbed his son's back, "Soon, Kates. Real soon."

"Ya tell story now, Poppy?" the little girl requested.

"Story before ya had your bath?" he opened his eyes wide.

"Brian and I are nearly finished with the dishes," Michaela set the baby down again. "Then it's bath time."

"I help give Joey bath," Katie offered.

"Thank you, Sweetheart," the mother stood.

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

When both children were bathed and ready for bed, Sully cuddled Josef in his arms as he sat next to Katie on her bed.

"Don't start story, Poppy," the little girl raised her hand.

"Why not?" he bounced Josef on his lap.

"Mama not here," she explained.

"Your Ma's gotta pack for our trip t'morrow," he told her.

"Where we goin'?" her eyes lit up.

"Denver," he replied. "It's a real big city, Kates."

"Big as Boston?" she vaguely recalled their trip there.

"Nope," he grinned. "But bigger than Colorado Springs." He settled Josef onto his lap. "They got tall buildin's, an' horse-drawn street cars, an' even gas street lights."

"Light sweets?" she did not understand.

"They got lamps in the streets on posts," he detailed. "The streets are lit up at night."

"Oh," she yawned. "How ya know it's night then?"

He chuckled, "Ya look up at the sky. You an' your brother gotta be real good there. Miss Dorothy's gonna watch ya some o' the time, and I expect ya t' listen t' her."

"I listen," her eyelids were growing heavy.

At that instant, Sully marveled at how much she looked like his wife just before sleep claimed her. As if cued by his sister, Josef had fallen asleep.

Sully leaned over and kissed his little girl, "Say your prayers."

She was in the midst of asking for blessings on her family when Michaela arrived at the door. She lifted Josef from Sully's lap and braced his head against her shoulder.

Then she spoke low, "I love you, Katie."

"Love you, Mama," the child answered. "Night."

"Night, sweet girl" Sully lowered her lamp.

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

Michaela settled the baby into his crib, "I believe I have everything packed now."

"That for us?" he noticed the large trunk.

"That's for the children," she stood up. Then pointing to a smaller trunk, she indicated, "That's for us."

He shook his head and sighed, "Good thing we got a suite at the hotel."

"I'm looking forward to the dance tomorrow night," she rubbed the baby's back.

"Just a bunch o' politicians lookin' for an excuse t' spend a lot o' money," Sully removed his shirt.

"Just an opportunity to hold the man I adore in my arms," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

He strolled over to her, "You can do that anytime. Don't have t' go t' Denver."

She ran her hands lightly across his bare, bronzed chest, "Anytime?"

"Yep," he raised an eyebrow flirtatiously.

"Like now?" she kissed his chest.

Sully closed his eyes and let her caresses transport him, "Mmm."

She teasingly pulled back, "I imagine that you want to go to sleep now since we must depart so early tomorrow morning."

As she started to pull away, he guided her back into his arms, "Not so fast."

"Why, Mr. Sully, what are you doing?" she feigned ignorance.

He rotated her around so that her back faced him, "I'm thinkin' 'bout some things that are sort o' weighin' heavy on my mind."

Michaela lifted her hair in the back to allow him access to her buttons, "Something weighing heavy? What?"

"This" he leaned forward and tenderly touched his lips to the softness of her neck.

Michaela felt shivers all over her body, a reaction not lost on her husband. He continued to kiss her as he unbuttoned her blouse, lowering it and the camisole from her shoulders. Then he slid the material forward and lower still. Maneuvering her closer, her bare back pressed against his chest.

Sully's hands tantalized as he lovingly manipulated them across her chest. Michaela felt her heart race. She pivoted in his arms and leaned against him to feel his flesh against hers.

Sully had excited her to the point of madness, and she felt nearly dizzy with desire for him. They took turns removing their remaining clothing and finally stood engulfed in each others arms in the middle of their bedroom.

"Think we oughta practice dancin'?" he mused.

"Not at the moment," she was breathless.

"Wouldn't wanna embarrass ya at that fancy ball," he teased.

"Sully," she touched her finger to his lips. "Sometimes I'm not the only one who talks too much."

He grinned devilishly, "Ya mean ya don't wanna dance, an' ya don't wanna talk?"

Michaela began to slide her hands lightly down his side, "Precisely."

"Um," he felt himself afire. "I think I know what ya got in mind now."

"You do?" she anticipated.

"Yep," he scooped her up and delicately placed her in bed.

Sliding next to her, he began to kiss her neck again. Michaela ran her fingers through his long, sun-streaked locks.

"I love ya, Michaela," he paused to speak the words she never tired of hearing.

"And I love you," she uttered the reply he longed for.

Sully placed light kisses along her form, "You're so beautiful." He paused to rub his hand in circles around her abdomen, "Where ya carried our babies." He continued up to her breasts, "Where ya fed our babies." Finally, he reached her lips, "Where ya tell me ya love me."

She captured his face between her palms, "And I shall always tell you I love you."

Unable to contain her enthusiasm for the physical expression of their love, she slowly pushed him onto his back. Straddling across his body, she felt his need for her, as well. Without further dialogue, they began a rhythmic molding of their bodies as one. In a blinding flurry of energy and excitement, they reached a total fulfillment and satiation of their need.
Panting and perspiring from their interlude, they continued to ply tender kisses to one another. Sully pulled up the sheet, then brushed back a lock of her hair from her face as he recited:

"She was as good as she was fair,
None--none on earth above her!
As pure in thought as angels are:
To know her was to love her."

A smile crossed her lips, "I wonder how pure in thought I am after what just happened, Mr. Shakespeare."

"Samuel Rogers," he kissed her forehead. "An' no need t' think we ain't pure in thought. We're in love, we're married, an' we treasure each other's hearts."

"You have quite a way of clarifying things for me," she touched his cheek. "I suppose it's my Puritan upbringing that considers us a bit wicked at times, but you're so right, Sully. There is nothing purer than the wondrous sharing of our love."

"Now, if ya want wicked...." he tickled her side.

"No, no...." she tried to keep her voice low. "That's quite all right."

He stopped and pulled her closer, "Another adventure for us begins tomorrow."

"And one I greatly anticipate," she closed her eyes.

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

At precisely 9:00 a.m., Michaela, Sully, their children and their traveling trunks arrived at the Depot. The train was on time and ready to board. Horace met them and pulled his pencil from behind his ear.

"You folks plannin' on visitin', or are ya movin' t' Denver?" the telegrapher began to note their possessions.

"Couldn't pay me t' live there," Sully helped his wife down from the buckboard.

"We'll be gone only for a week, Horace," Michaela gathered Josef into her arms.

"I'm sure gonna miss ya," Brian handed Katie to her father.

"We'll miss you, too," Michaela said. "Dorothy is counting on you."

"I know," he jumped from the wagon. "I'll try not t' let her down."

The redhead arrived in time to hear his comment, "You'll do a fine job, Brian."

The young man's face lit up, "Thanks."

Katie broke her silence, "Want Bran t' come."

"Shhh," Sully gently touched her lips. "Don't make your brother feel sad."

Brian went to his sister and lifted her into his arms, "I want ya t' tell me everythin' ya see an' do. Okay?"

"Okay," she hugged him.

Setting her down, he straightened her dress and turned to his baby brother.

The infant smiled broadly when Brian reached for him, "You be good for Ma an' Pa, ya hear?"

Josef kicked his feet excitedly at the sound of Brian's voice.

"Bye, Pa," he turned to Sully.

"See ya, son," Sully patted his back.

Michaela was already teary eyed, "Maybe you should come with us, Brian."

"Don't go cryin' now," he put his arm around her. "I'll be okay. Miss Dorothy's even gonna send me telegraph messages with daily updates on what's bein' discussed at the meetin's."

Horace chimed in, "Sure is gonna keep me busy."

Michaela held her son's face between her hands, "I'm so proud of you."

Brian handed the baby to his mother, "Don't worry, Ma."

"I love you, Brian," she smiled.

"Love you, too," he blushed.

"All aboard!" the conductor announced in a commanding tone.

A flurry of activity followed as Dorothy and the Sullys boarded the train. Soon, they were settled in and on their way. Katie was a fountain of questions as she sat on her father's lap looking out the window. The movement of the train soon lulled Josef to sleep.

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

Upon their arrival in the Colorado Territory's capital, the travel group managed to gather their belongings and find transportation to their hotel. Michaela was impressed with the accommodations. She and Sully had a large suite with three rooms, one of which was a dining and kitchen area.

"All the comforts of home," she smiled.

"Even got a crib for Josef," Sully sat his son on the bed to remove his coat.

"And Dorothy's room is just down the hall," Michaela commented.

Katie began inspecting each nook and cranny of the rooms, "Lots o' places t' hide."

Michaela raised an eyebrow, "Why would you want to hide, Sweetheart?"

"Just t' play," the little girl looked behind the curtains.

"I remember her hidin' from us when we were in Philadelphia," Sully sat on the bed with Josef.

"Katie," Michaela recalled that frightening experience. "Promise that you won't hide from us. This is a strange city and I...."

Sully winked and pulled at his wife's hand, "I reckon we could hide, too, don't ya think, Mama?"

"What?" Michaela did not understand her husband's comment.

"Sure," Sully nodded. "Ya know, make it hard for Katie t' find us."

The little girl ran to the edge of the bed, "Poppy, don't hide from me!"

"But I thought ya liked hidin'," Sully replied.

"No," the little girl was becoming upset. "Please not hide."

Sully lifted her up to his lap and kissed her, "Okay. I promise we won't hide. How 'bout you, sweet girl? You promise your Ma an' me that you won't hide from us?"

"I pwomise," Katie smiled.

"Good," the loving father kissed her again and set her down. "Now, go explore some more."

"Very clever," Michaela understood his tactic.

Sully grinned, "Gotta know how a woman thinks."

"You're an expert?" she teased.

"Yep," he guided her down to sit on the bed, with Josef between them.

She rubbed the baby's tummy, "So what am I thinking right now?"

He leaned over to kiss her, "Thinkin' that ya love your husband."

"You are very perceptive," she closed her eyes and enjoyed the taste of his lips on hers.

Josef chose that moment to express his discontent at being ignored. They simultaneously turned their heads to look at their son. When they did, the baby struggled to roll over and sit up. Sully supported the child's back, while Michaela held out her fingers for him to clutch.

"They grow so quickly," she lamented.

Josef squealed in delight that he had achieved a sitting position.

"So what's on our agenda for this afternoon?" Michaela inquired.

"Thought we oughta take a nap," Sully answered.

"A nap?" she was surprised.

"Yep," he nodded. "We're gonna be up late t'night at that ball, an' I gotta get up early t'morrow for all the meetin's."

"I see," she sounded a bit disappointed.

He noticed, "Were ya wantin' t' do somethin' else?"

"No," she removed her hat.

"Michaela," he knew better.

"I thought maybe it would be nice to take in a few sights," she answered. "Denver has grown quite a bit since our last visit."

"We could do that after our nap," he rubbed her arm.

She turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin, "You seem terribly intent on our taking a nap, Mr. Sully."

"Mmm-humm," his eyes shone.

"Does this have something to do with your wanting a diversion from all of the paperwork that lies ahead?" she suspected.

"Mmm-humm," he picked up Josef.

"And then we can take our tour of the city?" she stood up.

"If ya still feel up t' it," he sounded suggestive.

"I think I know a couple of little ones who really do need naps," she walked in the direction that Katie had headed.

At the doorway to the adjoining children's room, she stopped and whispered, "Sully, come here."

He carried Josef to her side and glanced into the room. There on the bed was Katie asleep.

"Looks like one o' the kids is cooperatin' already," he rubbed his wife's back. Then he held up his son, "How 'bout you, big boy?"

Josef burst into a broad grin, exposing several teeth. Sully carried him quietly to a rocking chair which the hotel had supplied. Sitting down with the baby, he began to rub his back. Later, Michaela joined him with a bottle for the baby.

She held it up, "Fresh milk heated to just the right temperature.

After his feeding, the little boy was soon asleep. Both parents slipped quietly out of the room, having kissed their children.

Sully removed his jacket and loosened his tie, "So how long ya think they'll be out?"

"Josef will sleep for some time," she predicted. "Katie? One never knows."

"Humm," he unbuttoned the top of his shirt and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Guess I'll stretch out for a spell."

Michaela stood in the middle of the room, "By yourself?"

He patted the edge of the bed as he lay back, "You're welcome t' join me."

She clasped her hands behind her back, "I appreciate the invitation."

Sully closed his eyes, "You're welcome."

She cleared her throat.

He opened an eye, "Somethin' on your mind?"

"Well," she hesitated. "I only thought..."

"I know what you're thinkin', remember?" he teased.

"I don't believe you know what I'm thinking at this moment," she decided two could play at this game. "I'm not certain that you even know I'm here."

She turned her back to her husband and walked to the window. She neither saw nor heard him stealthily sneak up behind her and wrap his arms around her waist.

Snuggling close to her neck, he spoke low, "I do know what you're thinkin'."

She turned to caress his neck, "Yes, you do."

"An' I sure notice that you're here," he leaned down to kiss her again.

His hands magically found their way around to the buttons of her dress. With his eyes never leaving hers, he quoted:

"I recognize you in all the beauty that surrounds me--in form,
in color, in perfume, in harmonious sound:
all of these mean you to me."

"Was that from Byron?" she surmised.

"Juliette Drouet," he corrected.

"And here I was thinking you only wanted to sleep," her heart filled with love.

"Well, I do wanna sleep," he paused. "With you beside me. Will ya?"

"Will I what?" she pretended to not know.

"Will ya take a nap with me?" he said the words with more than one meaning.

"Yes," she wrapped her arms around his neck.

He guided them to the bed and sat her on the edge. Then he crept over to the door separating them from the children's room. A quick look assured him that they were soundly sleeping. He left the door open a crack and returned to her.

Lifting her hand into his palm, he raised it to his lips. His kisses sent shivers down her spine, and the look in his eye promised quite a bit more before their nap. He positioned himself beside her and began to plant kisses on the exposed skin of her shoulder. Then his hands raised her skirt and petticoat. He loosened her undergarments, all the while continuing to ignite the passions within her.

Soon they were focused only on satisfying their intense desire for one another. As they consummated their love, they continued the tender touches and kisses for one another. After their ardor began to cool, they smoothed down their clothing.

To their shock, a little voice was heard from the doorway.

"Mama?" Katie had her finger in her mouth.

Michaela swallowed hard and sat up quickly, "Yes, Sweetheart."

"What ya doin'?" the child entered the room.

"We're... ah, that is... ah," she stammered.

"What ya doin' up?" Sully sat up.

"I hear noises," Katie reached the edge of the bed.

"Where were the noises comin' from?" Sully lifted the little girl into his arms.

"In here," Katie innocently replied.

Michaela began to turn red, "Sully do you think she...."

He bounced Katie on his lap, "Just your Ma an' me, Kates."

"Ya sleepin'?" their daughter persisted in her questions.

"Ah... not yet," Sully was beginning to feel uncomfortable. "But we were gettin' ready to. Think you can go back t' sleep?"

"I sleep with you?" the little girl requested.

"Sure," he set her down beside Michaela.

She pulled Katie into her arms, "Close your eyes now."

Michaela and Sully were silent as Katie drifted off to sleep. When they were certain that she was out, Sully quietly lifted her and carried her back to her bed in the next room.

After he returned to her side, Michaela whispered, "Sully, do you think she saw us?"

"Nah," he was sure. "She would've asked more about what we were doin' instead o' sayin' she heard noises."

Michaela contemplated, "What if she had come in while we were...."

"Guess we gotta be more careful," he turned on his side to face her.

"How embarrassing," Michaela was still blushing.

"Did ya ever walk in on people when they were makin' love?" he rubbed her arm.

"What?" she raised her eyebrows. "Of course not." Then after pausing, she was curious, "Did you?"

"Yep," he answered simply.

She waited, but he said no more.

"And?" she could contain her curiosity no longer.

He chuckled, "I was about eight years old. It was at our boardin' house, an' I heard strange noises downstairs. I went down t' look, an' when I opened the door, there they were."

"Did you know them?" she asked.

"Nope," he replied.

"What on earth did you think?" she wondered.

"Thought they was wrestlin'," he laughed.

"Wrestling?" she doubted.

"Yep," he pulled her into his arms. "Little did I know how much fun wrestlin' could be."

Michaela looked over his shoulder toward the door, "Well, from now on, I'm going to be on guard for curious little eyes and ears."

He propped his head on his bent arm, "Ya mean every time we make love, you're gonna be thinkin' about somethin' else?"

She ran her finger along his chin, "No. You do have a way of making me forget the rest of the world, you know."

"Good," he grinned satisfactorily. "Think ya can take a nap now?"

She closed her eyes as his warm arms engulfed her, "Yes."

"Then I'll stand guard," he joked.

"We don't have to be on guard when we're sleeping," she opened an eye.

"Oh, okay," he shut his eyes.

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

Michaela awoke, but Sully was not beside her. Then she heard his voice speaking in hushed tones from the children's room. She rose from the bed, rolled her eyes when she noticed her disheveled appearance in the mirror, then followed the sound of her husband's voice. Standing near the opening, she heard his tender counsel to their daughter.

"Kates, we gotta make a new rule," he said.

"Don't like rules," she responded.

"Not many folks do, but when your Ma an' me give ya a rule, it's for a good reason," he advised.

"What is rule?" the little girl sighed.

"The rule is when ya see our door closed or almost closed, ya knock an' wait for us t' tell ya t' come in," he rubbed her arm.

"I not big, Poppy," she reminded him. "Can't weach t' open door."

"Well, you'll grow an' soon be able t' reach," he replied. "Besides, even when the door's open a little, ya gotta wait for us t' tell ya t' come in."

"Why I not come in?" she was curious.

"It's not that ya can't come in, sweet girl," he tried to explain. "It's WHEN ya come in that's important."

"Why?" her long eyelashes melted his heart.

He took a deep breath, "It's called privacy. When a door's closed, it's cause folks want privacy."

"What pwivacy mean?" she was uncertain.

"It means that we're doin' somethin' by ourselves an' don't want others t' come in," he hoped her questions would end.

"Not want me?" her look saddened.

"No, Kates," he pulled her into his arms. "We want ya more than anythin' in the world. But..."

Michaela hoped to rescue him, "Hello, you two."

"Mama," Katie's heart was heavy. "Don't ya want me?"

She reached for the child, who willingly came into her embrace, "Oh, Sweetheart, your father and I love you. We adore having you with us. That's why we brought you here to Denver."

"Not when door shut," she looked down.

Michaela held her hands, "Katie, do you know how sometimes, I put you and Josef into the side room at the Clinic when I have patients to see?"

"Yep," she nodded and reached out for her father's hand.

"Do you remember why I do that?" Michaela held Sully's hand with Katie's atop both.

"Cause ya doctorin', an' I ain't... I am not s'posed t' see," the little girl fidgeted with her parents' clasped hands.

"But you know that at the proper time, I love to have you come in and help me in my office," Michaela added.

"I like helpin'," Katie's eyes lit up.

"And I love having your help, but only at the proper time," she reasoned.

"When ya weady for me," the child nodded.

"Correct," the mother kissed her cheek.

Katie fell silent, and Michaela and Sully began to think they had sufficiently explained the closed door to her.

Then Katie spoke up, "Ya doctorin' Poppy when door closed?"

It took everything they possessed to not burst into laughter, so they did not look at one another.

"Well..." Michaela hesitated.

"You guessed it, Kates," Sully picked it up. "Your Ma's doctorin' an' makin' me feel better."

"Should say that in fiwst place," Katie smiled understandingly.

The parents looked as if they had dodged a bullet. At that moment, Josef began to babble and roll over to his side. Spotting his family on Katie's bed, the little boy attempted to sit up.

"Baa," he gleefully shouted.

"Baa?" Sully and Michaela said in unison.

"Do you think he's saying 'Brian?'" Michaela ventured a guess.

"Or maybe he said 'Pa,'" Sully stood and walked to the crib.

Peering down at his son, he asked, "What ya sayin', big boy?"

"Baa-Baa," Josef's blue eyes widened as he reached his little hand through the bars of the crib.

"Is he saying 'bye-bye?'" Michaela ventured another guess.

"Joey want this," Katie held up her old stuffed bunny.

"Bunny?" Sully lifted the infant. "He's sayin' 'bunny?'"

Sully set the baby on the bed beside them, and Katie handed him the ragged toy. The little boy grasped the arm of the bunny and shook it. Then he handed it to his mother and rolled over onto his stomach. He attempted to crawl into Michaela's lap. She helped him complete the journey and cradled him in her arms.

Sully hugged Katie, then reached over to caress Josef's head, "Did ya ever see two more beautiful babies, Michaela?"

Her emotions were full at that moment, "No, never."

"Thank you for goin' through so much t' bring 'em int' this world," he looked at her with love. "Reminds me why I came here."

"Thank you for being the kind of man who cares so deeply about the world they'll grow up in," she leaned closer to kiss him.

"Now ya doin' it," Katie interrupted.

"Pardon me?" Michaela was not sure of her meaning.

"Ya cwushin' Bunny," she pointed to the toy.

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry," Michaela handed it to her daughter.

"Baa!" Josef pointed.

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

When Dorothy arrived at their suite, Michaela was straightening Sully's tie. Michaela knew that her husband loathed formal attire, but she also felt strongly attracted to him when he was dressed up in this manner. It reminded her of their first kiss.

Dorothy sat down with book in hand to await their final preparations. Sully went to check on the children while Michaela chatted with her friend.

"Could you help me with this?" Michaela indicated her corset.

"'Course," Dorothy began to tighten the contraption. "The things we women go through to fit into fashions."

Michaela held her breath, "I know. This is the latest design, however. Mother sent it to me from Boston. She said it hides the effects of recent childbearing."

"Finished," Dorothy completed her task.

Next she assisted Michaela in hooking up her gown.

"I think every man at the ball's gonna have a hard time not noticin' ya," the redhead grinned.

"There's only one man whose attention I treasure," she walked to the nightstand and picked up a piece of paper.

"Now," Michaela approached her with a list. "The children have been fed and bathed. Katie should sleep through the night, but Josef may awaken before our return. If he's hungry...."

"Michaela," Dorothy raised her hand. "I raised children o' my own, remember?"

"Yes, but if he should be hungry, his bottles have been sterilized and the milk...."

Dorothy looked toward the stove and icebox, "Yes, I see."

"I'm sorry," Michaela's shoulder's slumped. "I am being overly protective, aren't I?"

"Not a bit," the redhead smiled. "Now, you an' Mr. Sully go, and enjoy the ball."

Sully walked in at that instant, "Ain't likely I'll enjoy it."

Michaela took his arm, "We'll find some way to help you enjoy it."

He grinned at her innuendo. After one last look at their children, Sully and Michaela departed.

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

In their carriage ride to the dance hall, Michaela snuggled close to him.

"How ya gonna help me enjoy the ball?" he grinned.

"Why, by dancing with you," she replied.

"Oh," he sounded slightly disappointed.

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

After two hours of endless introductions and small talk with the elite of Denver, Michaela and Sully stole away to a private spot on the balcony off the ballroom. The cool night air brought goose bumps to her skin. Sully removed his jacket and draped it around her shoulders.

"Governor Routt certainly knows how to throw a party," Michaela observed.

"Bein' around a lot o' stuffed shirt politicians don't seem like much of a party t' me," he sighed.

"Well, we could make the party a bit livelier," she raised an eyebrow.

"What ya got in mind?" his heart beat just a little quicker.

"I'd love to dance with you alone out here," she placed her hand in his.

"Sounds good," he began to lead her in dance to the distant strands of the orchestra's "Beautiful Dreamer."

"We can go back t' the hotel, if ya want," he spoke near her ear.

She glanced up at the night sky, "Look at the stars, Sully. It's certainly beautiful out here."

"Jewels whose luster dulls next to the light from your eyes," he expertly guided her around their imaginary dance floor.

"Is that you speaking?" she wondered.

"'Course," he smiled in satisfaction.

A man in his mid forties approached the couple, so lost in the atmosphere of their dance.

The man cleared his throat, "Are you Byron Sully?"

"I am," Sully stopped their dance.

"I understand you're here to work on preventing the development of mining and industry in our new state," the man eyed him skeptically.

"I ain't against those things as long as they don't hurt the land or folks' well bein'," Sully defended.

"I see," the man almost sounded sarcastic. "Who is this lovely lady?"

"This is my wife, Dr. Michaela Quinn," Sully proudly introduced his wife.

"Doctor?" the man sounded condescending.

"Yes," Michaela did not like his manner.

"If she is your wife, sir, why is her last name Quinn?" the man further antagonized Sully.

"'Cause she's a doctor, an' she carries on the name o' her Pa," Sully's voice was becoming increasingly angry. "I don't care for your tone."

"Shouldn't she carry on your name?" the man continued to provoke.

"I didn't catch your name," Sully folded his arms.

"Ezra Carr," the man replied.

"Ezra?" Sully wanted to laugh.

"Yes," the man was close enough now for them to smell the liquor on his breath.

"Sully," Michaela did not wish to see her husband get into an argument.

"Well.... Ezra," Sully spoke sarcastically. "If you'll excuse us, Dr. Quinn and I will be goin' now."

The man stepped back, slightly tipsy, "Be my guest. I'm certain we'll see each other again during the committee meetings."

"No doubt," Sully held out his arm for his wife.

Before they reached the doorway, Carr spoke in a boisterous voice, "Doctor indeed. Probably a degree from some school of quackery. Women should not even have a right to vote, let alone go around posing as physicians."

The couple stopped in their tracks.

"Michaela," Sully felt her body tense.

"Excuse me," she pivoted and walked toward the man. "Sir, I suggest that you go home to sleep off your obvious over consumption of alcohol."

"If you were a real doctor, perhaps I might take your suggestion," the man continued to insult.

Sully stepped closer.

"A man of your age...." she paused and looked him up and down. "And condition... should be more mindful of his limits."

Carr glanced at Sully, "I think that perhaps you and your wife should trade outfits. It appears she wears the pants in your family."

Sully quickly reached for the man's lapels, "Now I reckon ya owe my wife an apology."

The man's face was reddening from the position that Sully held him in.

"I can't hear ya," Sully tightened his grip.

"Sully," Michaela did not wish things to escalate.

"Still can't hear ya," the mountain man was impatient.

"I'm sorry," Carr was barely audible.

"I don't think Dr. Quinn heard ya," Sully squeezed harder still.

"I'm sorry," the man spoke louder.

"You're sorry, who?" Sully wanted to hear the words.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Quinn," the man finally came out with it.

Sully released him and straightened his lapels, "Looks like your jacket's a might wrinkled. Ya might wanna get it pressed."

Sully turned and extended his arm. Michaela took it, and they reentered the ballroom.

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

Arriving back at their hotel before midnight, they thanked Dorothy for staying with the children. Quietly, the parents checked on Katie and Josef. Both were sound asleep.

"Dorothy said they didn't waken," she leaned against her husband.

"They're pretty tired from the trip here," he surmised.

"Come," she took his hand and led him to their room.

Sully closed the door between the rooms, "Just in case."

A smile passed her lips, "Don't you trust your daughter?"

"Sure," he grinned.

Michaela turned her back for him to unhook her dress. She began loosening her hair. When Sully completed his task with the gown, he ran his fingers through her tresses, then inhaled their scent.

Helping her slip out of her gown, Sully placed his hands on his hips and sighed.

"Something wrong?" Michaela inquired.

He pointed to her corset, "I s'pose I gotta help ya outa this thing, too."

She smiled, "I could go ask Dorothy."

"No," he removed his jacket and loosened his tie.

"I built houses, I surveyed the Colorado Territory, an' I survived a mine cave-in," he rolled up his sleeves. "I reckon I can figure out how t' get ya outa this."

As he began to fumble with the laces, he became increasingly frustrated.

Michaela peered over her shoulder, "Sully, what's wrong? You've undone my corsets before."

"Not this kind," he pulled back the hair from his eyes. "I think I might need a can opener."

She laughed, "Surely it's not that bad."

"Why ya gotta wear this anyway?" he fumbled further.

"To shape my figure. Your children have taken their toll on my body," she answered. "It's quite different from the one I had as a bride."

"How much the wife is dearer than the bride," he placed his lips tenderly on her neck.

"Shakespeare?" she wondered.

"Lord Lyttleton," he put his hands on his hips in frustration. "Michaela, ya got a beautiful figure. This thing's more like a chastity belt."

"Specifically, what is the problem?" she walked to the mirror to assess things.

He went to her, "Specifically, the laces are all knotted, an' I can't get 'em loose without breakin' them."

"I suppose I could sleep in it," she breathed in as deeply as she could, then let out a cough.

"I don't think it's very healthy," he shook his head. "An' what if...." He stopped.

"What if?" she turned to face him.

He ran his hands along her shoulders, "What if ya get some urges durin' the night?"

"I get urges, or you get urges?" she teased.

"Hey," he touched her nose. "I never act on my urges without your cooperation."

"I know," she caressed his cheek. Suddenly, her eyes lit up, "Can opener! You said it yourself."

"Huh?" he did not understand.

"You can cut me out," she reached for her medical bag.

"Michaela, I don't wanna hurt ya," he observed her sifting through her bag.

"Here," she handed him a pair of bandage scissors.

"But ain't this rig expensive?" he was reluctant.

"The laces can be replaced," she turned her back to him.

Sully began to cut each overlap of lacing, being careful to not damage the corset itself. With each snip, he paused to kiss her neck.

Then he handed her back the instrument, "Operation complete, Dr. Quinn."

"Thank you," she could breathe again.

"Hope ya don't have t' wear this thing again," he removed it from her torso.

"I'm certain I shall," she rubbed her stomach. "I'm afraid my figure isn't what it was before Josef."

Sully wrapped his arms around her and began to massage her sides. Michaela closed her eyes, savoring each magic caress.

He spoke close to her cheek, "I saw that fiery side o' you again t'night."

"Oh, my," she smiled.

"Know what that means?" he lightly ran the tops of his hands down the front of her camisole.

"It sparked some latent passion in you?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"That mean I wanna make love t' ya?" he pretended to not understand.

"Yes," she began to quiver from his ministrations.

"Then, yep. It sparked some latent passion in me," he repeated.

"Come here, Mr. Sully," she took his hand and led him to the bed.

She pulled his shirttail from his trousers and slid her hands under the material to caress his chest. Sully quickly unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. Michaela lowered her hands to unhook his trousers, then slid them down his hips, letting her hands linger along his waist.

"I don't think my passion's latent anymore," he gulped.

"Good," she let him lift her camisole over her head.

Sully pulled back the covers and having removed the remainder of her undergarments, helped her under the sheets. Then he carefully positioned his body to share their love. Her kisses stirred every fiber of his being, and soon he could not contain his physical urges.

"Now?" his eyes searched hers.

"Now," she invited.

In a flood of desire, they were transported into an intensely powerful joining of bodies and souls.

"Hold me, Sully," she encouraged. "Don't let me go."

He willingly complied with her wish as they hoped to prolong their coupling, "Never." He kissed her temple, "I'll never let ya go."

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

In a room at the same hotel, Ezra Carr lay on his bed in an even more inebriated state.

"Who the hell does Byron Sully think he is," he slurred to no one. "He'll get no help with his committee if I have anythin' t'...." The man passed out.

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

A knock at the door wakened Sully and Michaela. As she reached to put on her robe, he pulled on his trousers and went to the door. Opening it, he peered out, but no one was there. He stuck his head into the hallway and looked one way, then the other. There was no one to be seen.

Then came the knocking again. Finally, Sully realized it was coming from the children's room.

"I'm comin', Kates," he chuckled and opened the door.

"Mama done doctorin' ya?" she had her hands on her hips.

"Yep," he hoisted her into his arms and kissed her. "Ya sure look beautiful this mornin'."

"Scwatchy, Poppy," she rubbed her hand along his stubbled face.

Michaela rose, "Good morning, little one."

Sully held Katie so her mother could kiss her.

"Mornin', Mama," she smiled. She made Sully hold her close to her mother's ear to whisper, "Ya make Poppy feel better?"

Michaela blushed slightly, "Well, for now, yes, but your father needs constant doctoring."

"Consant?" the child tried to repeat.

"Constant," Michaela suddenly felt a wave of nausea.

"Joey not up," the little girl observed.

"He'll be up soon," Sully predicted. "Never fails, when he hears us talkin'."

Sully noticed his wife's pale appearance.

"Michaela," he asked. "Are ya okay?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Fine."

"I go wake Joey," Katie squirmed to get down.

"Shhh," Sully gently pulled her back. "Give him time. He'll be up soon enough."

"Sully, what time is your... meeting?" Michaela fought another wave of nausea.

"10:00 at Odd Fellow Hall," he responded. "I'm on a subcommittee that's havin' hearin's today an' t'morrow on disposition of public waters and land. But we're waitin' t' hear from Colorado Territory's representative t' the House in Washington, D.C. His name's Jerome Chaffe, an' he introduced the bill int' Congress requestin' statehood."

"Then what happens?" she was beginning to feel better.

"This fall, Colorado will have an election for delegates to a constitutional convention," he detailed. "When they get the constitution written, it's gotta be approved by Congress an' President Grant. Then it's done."

"How long do you think the process will take?" Michaela wondered.

"Don't know," Sully shrugged. "I don't see the constitutional convention meetin' before December. These politician's got two speeds. Slow an' stop."

She speculated, "I suppose they don't want to make a mistake."

"I s'pose they gotta count votes," he retorted. "Anyway, my guess would be that Colorado becomes a state somewhere in the summer o' 1876."

"A year from now. The centennial year," she noted.

"Maybe we should be called the centennial state," he raised an eyebrow.

"You should suggest that, Sully," she encouraged.

"It would be just like the politicians t' listen t' me on that, but not on the land issues," he was certain.

She wrapped her arms around his waist, "I think they'll listen to you on quite a number of things."

"What are you an' the children gonna do t'day?" he enjoyed the closeness of her.

"I thought we might take in a few of the sights," she said.

"Not much for children t' do," he noted.

"We'll find something, I'm certain," she kissed him.

"Baa!!" came a call from the next room.

"Joey up!" Katie announced.

"I'm startin' t' think our boy's a sheep," Sully joked.

"Sully!" Michaela did not see the humor.

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

Sully entered the crowded lobby of Odd Fellow Hall. He recognized some of the men whom he had met the night before.

"Good morning, Mr. Sully," William Byers approached.

"You here t' cover things for the Rocky Mountain News?" Sully assumed.

"Yes," the distinguished looking man in his mid-forties replied. "Just because I founded the newspaper doesn't mean I turn it over to others to run."

Sully scanned the room, "Don't look like these men are ready t' get started yet."

"It's a slow process," Byers nodded. "When I was president of the constitutional convention that created the Jefferson Territory, it was even slower."

"That's what the Colorado Territory used t' be called," Sully recalled.

"Yes," Byers said. "And the next logical step is statehood."

"Slow as folks are movin' t'day, it might be the twentieth century before that happens," Sully was skeptical.

Byers laughed, "No, it will be next year."

"My wife told me t' suggest we call Colorado the centennial state," Sully smiled.

The newspaper man's eyes lit up, "1876! Yes, a splendid idea. I like it. If you'll excuse me, I want to find a good seat in the hall."

"Sure," Sully replied.

A young man in his late twenties approached, "Good morning, señor."

"Mornin'. Mr. Barela, isn't it?" Sully remembered.

"Si," he replied. "But please call me Casimiro."

"Okay," Sully smiled. "You're from Las Animas County, right?"

"Si," Barela answered. "You have a good memory."

"Not as good as I'd like," Sully was humble. "Lots o' work t' be done here. I wish we'd get started."

"I am used to the slowness of government," Barela commented. "But I do not mind the slow pace, as long as things are done fairly. I am here to see that all of the laws in our new state will be printed in Spanish as well as English, so that the people of my county understand what is happening."

"I agree," Sully answered. "That's real important."

"I shall see you inside," the young man tipped his hat.

"Sully!" Dorothy's voice called.

"Mornin', Miss Dorothy," Sully greeted her.

"Did I miss much?" the Gazette editor pulled a pencil from behind her ear.

"Just a bunch o' men standin' around," he sighed.

"That's where a reporter can learn the most," she smiled.

"Michaela an' the kids okay?" he felt bad for leaving them at the hotel.

"Fine as can be," she nodded. "They're goin' for a walk this mornin'. Miss Katie will love the explorin'."

"Don't know how Michaela's gonna keep track o' both o' them," he worried.

"She found out that the hotel has a perambulator," Dorothy informed him.

"That'll be okay for Josef," he grinned. "But our little girl will be a handful."

"I'm sure Michaela will manage," she recognized William Byers at the doorway into the meeting hall. "Excuse, me." She quickly departed.

Sully folded his arms and glanced around the lobby. Maybe the crowd had thinned out some, he thought. He made up his mind to go into the hall himself, when he turned and bumped into a black man.

Graying and middle aged, the man tipped his hat, "Sorry."

"No," Sully apologized. "My fault."

"You here for the meetings?" the man asked.

"Yep," he acknowledged. "How 'bout you?"

"My purpose, too," he extended his hand. "My name's Barney Ford."

"I heard o' ya," Sully nodded. "You own the hotel me an' my family's stayin' at."

"The Inter-Ocean Hotel?" Ford's eyes lit up. "I have one of them in Cheyenne, too."

"Fanciest hotels in the West, I hear," Sully said.

"President Grant even stayed once," Ford smiled.

"So what's a hotel owner doin' here?" the mountain man queried.

"First and foremost, I am interested in the cause of the colored man," Ford informed him. "I was once a slave."

"Now you're a successful businessman," Sully felt an admiration. "I reckon you're interested in guarantees for colored folks in the new state."

"I went to Washington to lobby against statehood for Colorado before," the older man responded. "And they listened to me."

"Why'd ya oppose it back then?" Sully was interested.

"I feared that statehood would lead to loss of citizenship for colored man," he answered.

"Fifteenth Amendment gave ya that protection," Sully knew the law.

"And I'm here to see that there are no loopholes in the new state constitution," Ford informed him.

"Looks like they'll be startin' up soon," Sully could see few remaining in the lobby.

"Shall we then?" Ford indicated where they should enter the meeting room.

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

As they strolled along, Katie stopped and pointed, "Sweet lamp, Mama."

"Pardon me?" Michaela was confused.

"Sweet lamp," the child enunciated.

Michaela finally understood, "Street lamp, Sweetheart."

"We come back t'night t' look?" Katie hoped.

"It will be past your bedtime when these are on," Michaela shook her head.

They continued their stroll, but Katie insisted on stopping at each light.

"Please, Mama?" her little eyes requested.

"Katie," Michaela was becoming impatient, and her head was throbbing.

"One time?" the child implored.

"We'll see," the mother finally compromised.

Katie's face brightened, "What house Poppy in?"

"I'm not certain which building is Odd Fellow Hall," Michaela confessed.

A policeman nearby heard their conversation, "You're a couple o' blocks from there, Ma'am."

"We go see Poppy?" Katie hoped.

"No, Katie," Michaela answered. "Your father will be in meetings this morning, but we'll see him later this afternoon."

Katie put her head down, and began to kick a pebble as they walked.

"You'll scuff your pretty shoes," Michaela corrected her.

"Gotta do somethin'," the little girl was becoming bored.

"We need to head back to the hotel," Michaela turned the baby carriage. "Josef will soon be hungry. Would you help me push?"

"You go on," Katie instructed. "I meet ya back there."

"What?" Michaela was surprised at her daughter's boldness.

"I come back soon," Katie looked up at another street lamp.

"Katherine Elizabeth Sully," Michaela's tone was stern. "I will not leave my little girl alone in the middle of a street in Denver."

"She 'lone," Katie pointed to a child squatting at the corner of a nearby building.

The little girl was dirty and dressed in ragged clothing. Her hair might have been blonde had it been washed lately. In her outstretched hand, she held a small hat in which she collected money from passersby.

"What mother would allow her child to do that?" Michaela thought out loud.

"Maybe she don't got a mama," Katie perceived.

Michaela realized, "Perhaps you're right, Sweetheart."

With her children in tow, Michaela approached the little girl, "Hello."

"Good mornin', Ma'am," the child replied. "Can ya spare some money?"

"How old are you?" the physician looked at her more closely.

"Ten," the little girl answered. "Gonna be eleven next week."

"Where are your parents?" Michaela softened her tone.

The ragamuffin peered into the carriage, "Cute baby." Then she turned her attention to Katie.

Nervously, the youngster placed her finger in her mouth.

"Don't be scared," the child of the street encouraged. "What's your name?"

Katie did not respond.

"How about if you tell us your name, we'll tell you ours?" Michaela smiled.

"You ain't from some orphanage, are ya?" the little girl began to back away.

"No," Michaela raised her gloved hand. "We're visiting from Colorado Springs."

"Okay, my name's Marjorie," the child responded.

"Marjorie," Michaela felt a chill. "That's a beautiful name."

"So, who are you?" Marjorie inquired.

"I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn, but you can call me Dr. Mike," she responded.

"Doctor?" the youngster was surprised.

"Yes," Michaela nodded. "This is my daughter Katie, and my son Josef."

"Nice t' meet ya," Marjorie curtsied.

"Where do you live?" Michaela felt sorry for the child.

"Here," the child raised her arms to indicate all around her.

"On the street?" the physician was shocked.

"I find places t' sleep," the girl's brown eyes sparkled. "I even stay warm."

"But surely your mother would not allow...." Michaela stopped herself from entering a preaching mode.

"Ya live under sweet lamps?" Katie removed her finger from her mouth.

"Yea," Marjorie grinned. "It's fun."

Michaela began to glance up and down the street, trying to pick out the child's parents.

"What ya lookin' for?" Marjorie noticed.

"I... I'm simply trying to get my bearings," Michaela did not want to alarm the child.

"Well, I best be movin' on," Marjorie shrugged. "Don't want the policeman to shoo me outa here."

"Wait," Michaela could not bear to let the little girl go.

The child had disappeared into a crowd before Michaela knew what happened.

"Where she go, Mama?" Katie was amazed.

"I don't know, Sweetheart," she answered. Then she spotted a policeman, "Officer."

"Yes, Ma'am," he approached. It was the same officer who had spoken to her earlier. "Ya lost?"

"No," she smiled. "I... I was just wondering about a little girl I saw here in the street."

"That little...." he stopped himself. "Was she begging for money? She makes a nuisance of herself around these parts."

"Where are her parents?" Michaela's voice grew concerned.

"I never saw her with any adults," he shook his head.

"Isn't there something that can be done?" she squeezed Katie's hand. "Is there no one who looks out for children like her?"

"We got orphanages," he slipped his cap back on his head. "I'm not so sure that one would sit still in an orphanage."

Josef began to fuss and squirm about in the perambulator.

Katie tugged at her mother's skirt, "Mama, Joey's hungry."

"I know, Sweetheart," she responded. "Thank you, officer. Good day."

Michaela turned and began to navigate her children back toward their hotel. She felt oddly tired and irritable.

"Where we go now, Mama?" Katie observed.

"I have a stop to make before returning to the hotel," she informed her. "Then, I believe we could use a little nap."

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

Sully sat at the table and listened to the questioning of several mine and smelting operators. Nathaniel P. Hill, a chemist who had plans to build a large mine smelter, was testifying.

"What guarantees can you offer that your activities won't pollute the water?" Sully eyed him.

Hill chose his words carefully, "I have several competent men to oversee my operations."

"An' you're sure they care about the environment?" Sully was skeptical.

"Mr. Ezra Carr has a long history of working on such projects," Hill retorted.

"Ezra Carr?" Sully's jaw tightened.

"Yes," Hill pointed over his shoulder to the back row of the meeting hall.

Carr stood up, "That's right, Mr. Sully. I have a lot of experience with mining smelters."

"He's in charge o' runnin' your smelter?" Sully was surprised.

"That's correct," Nathaniel Hill answered.

"You're a chemist, right, Mr. Hill?" Sully took a new approach.

"Yes," he replied.

"So ya know the long lastin' results that pollutin' the water an' air can have," Sully pursued his line of questions.

"Of course, sir," Hill was becoming defensive.

"An' if ya found out someone who was workin' for ya wasn't interested in protectin' things, then what would ya do?" Sully tapped his pencil.

"I.... I would speak with him about it," Hill responded.

"I think it's real important, Mr. Governor," Sully turned to John Routt, "that our new state does everythin' it can t' see that businesses live up t' their promises."

"I concur, Mr. Sully," Routt looked at the clock on the wall. "Gentlemen, it's going on 4 p.m. I believe that we should recess until tomorrow morning, 10 a.m. again." He looked around the room, "Without objection." He pounded his gavel.

Dorothy caught up to Sully.

"What a waste of time that was," he rubbed his hand across his mouth.

"What do you know about Mr. Carr, Sully?" she lowered her voice.

"Enough t' know I don't like him or trust him," Sully watched Carr in conversation with Hill.

"I'll see what I can learn about him," she volunteered.

"Thanks, Miss Dorothy," he patted her arm. "I'm gonna head back t' the hotel."

"I'll catch up with Michaela an' you later," Dorothy was off.

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

"Mama," Katie watched her mother feed Josef his bottle. "Where ya think Mawjoy live?"

"I'm not certain, Katie," she stroked her son's head.

"When we see Poppy?" the child inquired as she pretended to feed her doll.

At that instant, Sully opened the door to their hotel suite and entered the room.

"Poppy!" Katie ran to his arms.

Sully lifted her high in the air and kissed her cheek, "Hello, beautiful. What did ya do t'day?"

"Walked," the little girl informed him as she circled her arms around his neck.

"Ya did?" Sully winked at Michaela and stepped closer to kiss her cheek.

"Yep," Katie nodded. "An' we meet Mawjoy."

"Marjorie?" Sully was puzzled.

"Oh, Sully," Michaela lifted Josef to pat his back. "She was a little girl living on the street."

"On the street?" his brow wrinkled.

"I tried to find out more about her, about her family, but she disappeared," Michaela explained.

"We see pleaseman," Katie chimed in.

"A policeman," Michaela caressed Josef's soft hair and touched his head to her lips. "He said she lives on the streets begging for money."

"No place for a little girl," he held Katie protectively.

"Sully," her eyes reflected concern. "We have to do something."

He touched her shoulder, "First thing is t' find out if she's got any family." He set Katie down and leaned over to observe his son, "How's our boy doin'?"

"Wonderfully," she repositioned the baby to see his father.

A broad grin of recognition crossed Josef's face, and he reached out for Sully.

"Baa!" the baby exclaimed.

Sully brought the child's cheek to his lips, "That's Pa, son. Pa."

"Baa!" Josef repeated.

Sully sighed.

"What happened at the meetings?" Michaela began to brush Katie's hair.

"Found out that Ezra Carr works for the owner of the largest proposed mine smelter in the territory," he lifted the baby above his head and lowered him slowly toward his face.

Josef squealed in delight and reached for his father's hair.

"Oh, no," Sully gently pulled his little hands away. "Not the hair, Josef."

Michaela returned to the subject, "Is Mr. Carr attempting to block your efforts on the committee?"

"Not, yet," Sully replied. "But give him time."

"What will you do?" she tied a ribbon in her daughter's hair.

"Don't know yet," he kissed the baby's belly. "Dorothy's gonna see what she can find out about him."

"Poppy," Katie tugged at her father's leg. "Watch sweet lamps?"

"What?" he had forgotten.

"Street lamps," Michaela amended. "She's utterly fascinated with them."

"Ya take me t' see?" the child innocently requested to her father.

"Sure," he could never refuse those adorable eyes.

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

Dorothy joined them for dinner. Afterward, Sully and Katie departed to stroll the streets of Denver so that the child could experience the effects of gas lit street lamps. Dusk was descending on the somewhat quieter city.

"Look like lamps at home," Katie felt comfortable in her father's arms.

"Yep," Sully held her close.

"Sky gettin' dark," she pointed up.

"But the streets are gonna stay bright all night," he told her.

"Aminals know when t' sleep?" the little girl wondered.

"I reckon they do," he grinned. "Not many live in town, though."

Katie yawned, "Thanks for bwingin' me, Poppy."

"You're welcome, honey," he stroked her hair. "Ya gettin' tired?"

"Uh-huh," she nodded. "Busy day."

Sully suppressed a laugh, "It must be hard takin' care o' your Ma an' brother."

"They wear me out," she sounded serious.

Sully reversed their course to head toward the hotel, "I know they love it when ya take care of 'em."

"They good t' me," she admitted. "Like you."

He kissed her cheek, "You're the most special little girl in the whole world, Katie."

"I your only little giwl," she grinned. "Do ya wish Joey was giwl, too?"

He chuckled, "I really thought he was gonna be a girl. But now that he's here, I kinda like him just the way he is. I like you just the way ya are, too."

"Ya know, I ain't...," she stopped herself. "I... am not pewfect, Poppy."

Sully again stifled a laugh, "Me either, Kates, but your Ma puts up with me."

"I gotta tell ya," Katie loved her time alone with her father. "Mama likes ya a lot."

He opened his eyes wide, "She does? What makes ya say that?"

"Way she look at ya," Katie confided. "Yep, she loves ya, Poppy."

His heart melted, "I'll let ya in on somethin'. I love her, too."

"I know that," she patted his shoulder as they entered the hotel lobby. "I glad ya love Mama. I let you tell her."

"Thanks, sweet girl," he set her down. "Let's go see what your Ma an' brother are doin'."

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

When they entered the hotel suite, Michaela was gently rocking Josef. The sound of the door diverted the baby's attention, and he began to bounce excitedly at the sight of his sister and father.

"Baa-baa," he pointed to them.

Sully's eyes brightened as he slowly approached his son, "Pa. Pa."

Josef giggled and reached up for his father. As Sully lifted the infant into his arms, Michaela gathered Katie onto her lap.

"Did you and your father have a nice walk?" she began to prepare Katie for bed. "Did you see the lamps?"

"Yep!" Katie smiled. "Pwetty."

Katie leaned against her mother's shoulder.

"Are you sleepy?" Michaela hugged her.

"Nope," the child yawned.

"Katie," Michaela's voice doubted.

"Yep," Katie giggled. Then she noticed Sully playing with Josef on the bed, "Poppy, be careful!"

"What?" he looked up.

"Gotta be gentle with baby," Katie advised. "Like this."

She climbed up beside her brother and softly kissed his head. She ran her hand along his tummy, and the infant smiled.

"Joey need bunny," she quickly slid down off the bed and went into the other room to retrieve the somewhat ragged stuffed toy.

Returning in a flash, she climbed up onto the bed again and placed the bunny beside Josef. The baby clutched it in both hands and held it in front of his face. Then he began to chew on one of the ears.

"No, Joey," Katie tenderly pulled it out. "Not t' eat."

Josef's eyes intently watched her, and he did not attempt to place it in his mouth again.

Michaela and Sully glanced at one another and smiled.

"Bed time," Sully lifted one child into each arm.

"Story time," Katie requested.

"Okay," Sully galloped into their room with the children in his arms.

Michaela followed and sat down on Katie's bed. She pulled back the sheets and secured them around her daughter when she crawled under them. Sully then handed Josef to his wife. She positioned the baby to watch his father.

"Baa!" Josef pointed.

"Shhh, Joey," Katie put her finger to her lips. "Poppy tellin' story."

Sully began, "Once upon a time, there was a man who always lost things."

"What he lose?" Katie began her litany of questions.

"Everythin'," Sully looked solemn. "He lost his hat, his shoes, even his horse."

"He ever find 'em?" the little girl was enthralled.

"Eventually," he nodded. "But he sure had t' spend a lot o' time lookin'. It was time he coulda been spendin' doin' other things. Anyway, one day he was out in the woods choppin' a tree, when he suddenly stopped. He looked around an' realized he had lost his way."

"Lost his way?" Katie was uncertain.

"Didn't know where he was," Sully defined.

"He in woods," the little girl thought it obvious.

Josef snuggled in Michaela's lap and began to doze off.

"Sure he was in the woods," Sully agreed. "But he didn't know how t' get out."

"It get dawk, Poppy," the child realized. "No sweet lamps in woods."

"That's true," Sully said.

"What he do?" Katie yawned.

"He sat down an' thought real hard about things," he replied. "An' ya know what happened?"

"He wemember?" the little girl guessed.

"Yep," Sully smiled. "He remembered how he got int' the woods. From that time on, he decided he was gonna pay lots o' attention t' things around him."

"Then he stop losin' stuff?" Katie figured.

"Yep," the father touched her nose. "When ya look around real careful at things, they stay with ya, an' ya remember."

"Good idea," Katie folded her hands.

Soon, the child was reciting her prayers and asking blessings on her family.

Just as Michaela and Sully were about to kiss her, she added another request in her prayers, "God, please help me t' not lose stuff."

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

Spooned against one another in bed, Sully rested his arm across his wife's side. She looped his fingers through hers.

"Ya thinkin' about that little girl on the street," Sully read her mind.

"Yes," she turned to face him.

Sully lifted his hand to stroke her cheek, "Ya can't save the world, ya know."

"Nor can you," she reciprocated by rubbing his cheek softly.

"But we don't stop tryin'," he realized.

"How can two so different be so much alike?" she traced the outline of his chin.

"Hard t' say," he grinned. "But I ain't complainin'."

"What are you going to do about Ezra Carr?" she asked. "Dorothy learned nothing about the man."

"I'll see what I can find out about him t'morrow," he answered. "How 'bout you? Ya gonna look for Marjorie again?"

"Yes," she smiled. "But I don't know what to do when I find her."

"Maybe ya oughta contact the police," he offered.

"I think that might frighten her away," she acknowledged. "What would you think if I...."

"If ya what?" he raised his eyebrows.

"If I brought her back to the hotel with us," she came out with it.

He was silent.

"Sully?" she searched his face.

"Depends on what ya wanna do after ya bring her back," he replied.

"I suppose I thought we could think it through together," she defined.

He pulled her closer, "Always seems like we run headlong int' things."

"But we'll keep our eyes wide open," she smiled.

He pulled her palm to his lips, "Ya sleepy?"

"Somewhat," she tingled at his overtures. "Why?"

"Just wonderin' how tired ya are," he slid his hand down her side.

"Well, I did have a nap today," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

He felt his heart grow full, and said:

"More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoyed,
For ever panting, and for ever young."

She smiled, "Isn't That 'Ode on a Grecian Urn?'"

"Yep," he winked. "Keats."

She slid her body's contours to fit his, "I love you."

He welcomed her movements, "I love you, too. More each day than the one before."

"Warts and all?" she teased.

"Warts?" he pretended to be surprised. "Ya got warts?"

"Blemishes," she amended.

"Where?" he began to slide her nightgown from her shoulders. "I better check."

"Sully!" she squirmed.

"What?" he stopped.

"I meant blemishes to my personality," her passion stirred from his touch.

"Let's see," he began to count on his fingers. "You're stubborn, uncompromisin', strong willed, an'....."

She interrupted, "Uncompromising?"

"When ya think you're right," he nodded.

"Well, I certainly don't think that I'm...." she was interrupted by his lips on hers.

"So ya agree that you're stubborn an' strong willed?" the blue of his eyes melted her.

"I suppose to some extent...." she again was interrupted by his kiss.

"Then all that's left t' agree on is that you're uncompromisin'," he ran his hand lightly down her arm.

"If I agree that I'm uncompromising, doesn't that make me compromising?" she reasoned.

"Nope," he softly played with a lock of her hair.

"Sully," her voice cracked from the physical reaction she was having at the nearness of him.

"Mmm?" he gently pulled up the hem of her gown, sliding it across her thighs.

"Nothing," she was now totally lost to his movements.

His kisses inflamed each pore of her body, and with racing pulses, they maneuvered to exchange their love. Their rhythmic motion reached a dizzying pitch until finally, at its electrifying peak, their exchange was complete.

"I was thinking," she spoke after their pulses calmed.

"'Bout what?" he held her close.

"About how far we've come," she noted.

"We have come a long way. Ya ain't scared o' makin' love," he pulled up the covers to insure her warmth. "An' I ain't afraid o' lovin' ya."

"True," she ran her hand across his chest. "But it's more than that, I think. The first two years of our marriage were so full of turmoil and interruptions. But I think that now...."

"Now that we're an old married couple," he joked.

She laughed, "After five years of marriage, I believe that we are more familiar with one another. More comfortable."

"I don't know," a gleam came to his eyes. "I'm always findin' out new things about ya."

"But you know me better that anyone," she explained. "That's what I mean by familiar."

"The more I know about ya, the more I wanna know," he spoke low. "It's like I can't know enough. Ya always leave me wantin' more."

"I do?" she was intrigued.

"Yep," he inhaled her scent. "Ya never bore me."

"Well, that's certainly good to know," she grinned. "You never bore me either. In fact...."

"Why ya stoppin'?" he waited.

"In fact, I find you terribly exciting," she confessed. "I never realized it would be this way after so long."

"Then we ain't so familiar with each other," he turned it around. "We got a lot o' unexplored territory left."

"I suppose you're right," she nodded.

"There," he smiled. "Ya compromised."

"No," she tapped his arm. "I changed my mind."

He sighed heavily.

"Sully," she made his name sound magical.

"Mmm?" he kissed her temple.

"Do you ever think about our having another child?" she confessed.

"What?" he pulled back to look in her eyes.

"It's possible," she answered.

"I know it's possible," he agreed. "But we just had Josef."

"In case you didn't know it, that doesn't prevent another," she chuckled.

He tried to clear the thoughts that swirled through his head, "Ya mean ya wanna have another baby?"

"I.... I've been having some symptoms," she replied. "It could already be a reality."

He swallowed hard, trying to absorb the notion, "Michaela, I... I don't know what t' say."

"Say you want it," she searched his eyes.

"'Course I want it," he assured her. "I just didn't think about it, with Josef bein' so young."

"I know I've had false alarms before," she acknowledged. "But I wanted to prepare you just in case my symptoms are verified."

He took a deep breath, "Another baby. Are ya gonna see a doctor while we're in Denver?"

"Yes," she responded. "I have an appointment with Dr. Bernard."

"Another baby," he said it again in disbelief.

"You wouldn't be upset?" she feared.

"'Course not, Michaela," he pulled her into his arms. He felt her tension ease, and he stroked her hair, "If it's true, it'll be wonderful."

She closed her eyes and began to drift off to sleep, secure in his arms. Sully struggled to put his thoughts in order. He felt a nagging fear strangely grip him. Michaela was 42 years old. Though healthy and strong, her age and the dangers of childbearing were a reality.

He tenderly stroked her hair and noticed from her breathing that she was asleep. "Oh, Michaela," his mind leapt. "I don't wanna put you in danger." Then he slid his hand to her abdomen. Here she had carried three of their babies, he thought as he lovingly caressed her. He swallowed hard, remembering the one they had lost. Might there be another one there? What if....
It was so much to absorb and right out of the blue. Anticipation mixed with trepidation. The dread of endangering his wife merged with the joy that they might have another little one to love. As his wife blissfully rested, Sully's mind raced. He knew he would be wide awake all night long. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, they would know.

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

Morning brightened their room, and noises from he street below wakened Michaela. She turned onto her side to look at Sully. He was staring at the ceiling.

"How long have you been awake?" she kissed his cheek.

"Not long," he was less than truthful.

"You look rather far off," she smiled.

"Just thinkin'," he grinned.

"You're not concerned, are you?" she sensed.

"Little bit," he could not lie to her.

"About me?" she hoped not.

Sully pulled her closer, "How ya feel?"

"I feel fine," she enjoyed the nearness of him. "A bit tired, but otherwise fine."

"No nausea?" he wondered.

"Some yesterday," she said. "But not now."

"I'm comin' with ya t' see the doctor," he asserted.

"Sully, that's not necessary," she assured him. "You have meetings to attend."

"They can get along fine without me," he replied. "All three times before when ya found out you were pregnant, I wasn't there. This time, I wanna be with ya."

"That's very sweet," she brushed back the hair from his eyes. "But...."

He took her hand, "But I'm gonna be with ya."

"If you insist," she agreed.

"I do," he nodded.

Sully rolled over on his side and began to rub her abdomen. Michaela placed her hand atop his.

"We sure didn't plan on another one, did we?" he gazed into her eyes.

"No," she admitted. "Does that disturb you?"

"Disturb me?" he was surprised. "No, Michaela. We'll love any who come along, whenever they come along."

"That's what I hoped you'd say," she felt a tear. "I love you, so much, Sully."

"I love you, too," he kissed her.

A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. Sully looked first toward the door to the hall, then toward the door to the children's room.

When a second knock came, he rose and pulled on his trousers, "It's Katie."

He opened the door and wiped his eyes, "Good mornin', beautiful."

"Mornin', Poppy," she held her doll close. "Mama up?"

"She's awake," he stepped back to allow the child to pass.

As Katie entered the bedroom and climbed up into bed beside her mother, Sully walked to Josef's crib to check on him.

"How did you sleep, Sweetheart?" Michaela kissed her daughter.

"Okay," she held her doll tenderly. "Swirl not sleep good, though."

"Oh?" Michaela looked at the doll. "Why is that?"

"Upset tummy," the little girl replied.

"Oh, my," Michaela reached for her medical bag. "Shall I examine her?"

"Maybe ya better," Katie agreed. "She fuss all night."

"Did she, now?" the mother could not help but smile. "How about your brother? Did he sleep all right?"

"Yep," the child stated. "Not wake up, not cwy."

"Good," Michaela placed her stethoscope to her ears. "Her heartbeat is strong." Continuing to feel the doll, poke and prod, the physician concluded, "She seems perfectly healthy to me. Perhaps she simply needs a hug."

"Ya think?" Katie sounded relieved.

"I believe so," Michaela acknowledged. "May I?" she cradled the doll and embraced it. "Is that better?"

Katie brought the doll back into her arms and hugged it.

Then she held it close to her ear, "She better, Mama."

"Good," Michaela returned the stethoscope to her bag.

"How much I owe ya?" Katie asked.

"Owe me?" Michaela noticed Sully standing at the door smiling. "How about a hug for your mother? That should settle things."

"Sure," a wide grin crossed Katie's face and she crawled into her mother's lap. "Thanks, Mama."

"You're welcome, my darling," Michaela rocked her in her arms.

Sully cleared his throat, "Everythin' okay in here?"

"Poppy!" Katie slid down and ran to him. "I forget t' kiss ya 'mornin'."

"So you did," he lifted her high into the air, lovingly accepting her sweet kiss. "That's my girl."

Michaela looked toward the clock on the wall, "My appointment with Dr. Bernard is at 9. We had better get the children ready."

"I'll go ask Miss Dorothy if she can watch 'em," Sully pulled on a shirt. "Might be easier if it's just the two of us."

"Thank you," she responded.

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

Dr. Bernard frowned at Michaela's request, "This is most out of the ordinary, Dr. Quinn."

"I would like for my husband to be present," she repeated.

"I don't know how you do things in Colorado Springs, but here in Denver...." he stopped when he saw Michaela's disapproving glance.

"My husband has delivered both of our children, so please do not be offended by the unconventionality of my request," she stated firmly.

"If you insist," he indicated a screen. "Change into the examining gown behind that.

Michaela went to the waiting room door and opened it. She motioned for Sully to step into the room with her. He quietly did so as patients in the room glared in his direction.

"Thanks," Sully closed the door and extended his hand to Dr. Bernard. "I appreciate it."

"Most out of the ordinary," the doctor shook his head. "You may sit over there, Mr. Sully."

Sully silently took a seat and nervously waited as Michaela changed her clothes. When she stepped from behind the screen in the white cotton gown, she sat up on the examining table. Then she looked toward her husband. Her face spoke volumes to Sully. He rose from the chair and walked to her. Taking her hand in his, he smiled.

She lay back, and Dr. Bernard began his examination. Michaela's expressions indicated her discomfort, but she spoke not a word. Sully clasped her hand and only watched her eyes throughout the procedure.

Then Bernard stepped back, "You're very healthy, Dr. Quinn."

"I'm glad to hear that, Dr. Bernard, but am I pregnant?" she anxiously asked.

"No," he shook his head.

Michaela squeezed her husband's hand. He sensed her disappointment.

"I see," she looked down.

"There's no reason to think that you won't conceive again," the physician informed her.

"I see," Michaela sat up slowly. "Doctor, would you mind if I spoke to my husband alone for a moment?"

"Why not?" he sounded sarcastic. "I've gone this far in allowing him in here."

He opened the door to his office and left them alone.

"I'm sorry, Sully," her eyes began to well with tears.

"Michaela," his voice cracked. "It's okay."

He pulled her into his arms.

"I was just getting used to the idea of another baby," she leaned against his shoulder.

"Ya heard what the doctor said," he rubbed her back. "We can have more. It's just the time ain't right yet."

"I didn't realize how much I wanted this again until now," she shook in his arms.

"I didn't either," he pulled back to hold her face between his hands. "Everythin's gonna be fine."

"I know," she tried to smile. "When my monthly was late, and when I was feeling nauseous, I thought perhaps...."

"Do ya think somethin' else might be wrong with ya?" he worried.

"Perhaps just the trip and the change in diet," she speculated. Then she began to compose herself, "I'm keeping you from your meetings. Let me get dressed, and you can be on your way."

"Michaela," he looked intently at her. "Nothin's more important t' me than you an' the children, and nothin' can keep me from bein' with you ever again."

"Thank you," she leaned in to kiss him.

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

When Sully arrived at Odd Fellow Hall, the committee hearings were already in progress.

"Figures they'd be on time for everythin' this mornin'," he said to himself.

Taking his place at the table, he looked around the room. Neither Hill nor Carr was there.

Barney Ford passed him a note, and Sully opened it to read:

"Mr. Sully, you just missed the show put on by Mr. Hill. Meet me in the lobby near the east entrance during the lunch break."

Sully glanced up at the large wall clock. He reasoned that they would break for lunch soon. What could Mr. Ford have meant? The show put on by Mr. Hill?

Finally, Governor Routt dismissed the meeting for lunch. Sully made his way past the crowd and waited for Barney Ford. He spotted Dorothy, who smiled and continued her conversation with Casimiro Barela.

"Mr. Sully," Ford tapped his back. "Why weren't you here this morning? Maybe you could have prevented it."

"Prevented what?" the mountain man's brow wrinkled.

"Nathaniel Hill came forward and presented a plan to the committee on Public Waters and Land," Ford informed him. "He had all sorts of grand schemes and ideas, very impressive to the committee. But something in it just doesn't sound right to me."

"Did the committee vote on it?" Sully asked.

"Yes," Ford said.

"Where can I find the plan?" Sully wondered.

"Mr. Reigart has it," the business man stated. "He's the Governor's secretary."

"Thanks," Sully started back into the room. "I'll see if I can find out what they're up to."

Reigart permitted Sully to read the proposal. He unrolled the terrain maps and began to scan them, looking for any indication of trouble. It did not take him long to find it. The water source for Hill's future smelter emptied into a stream that passed right through Colorado Springs. How could anyone accept this proposal, he thought to himself. "What's happenin' here?"

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

Michaela walked with her children again in the neighborhood where she had encountered Marjorie the day before.

"Why we here?" Katie tugged her mother's hand.

"I'd like to find Marjorie," Michaela was truthful.

"I go look for her," the child offered.

"No, Katie," the mother's voice was firm. "You stay right here beside me."

"Okay," Katie looked down, hurt by the tone of her mother's voice.

"I'm sorry," Michaela knelt down to her. "It's just that Denver is a very big city, and I don't want to lose you."

"I unstand," her daughter smiled.

"Dr. Mike!" it was Marjorie's voice.

Michaela stood quickly, "Well, we meet again."

"Ya lookin' for me?" Marjorie sensed.

"As a matter of fact, I was," Michaela confessed. "I was concerned about you."

"Don't need t' be," the girl answered. "I can take care o' myself."

"But you shouldn't have to, Marjorie," Michaela shook her head. "There are places where you can live."

"I don't wanna live in some orphanage," Marjorie asserted.

"What orphage?" Katie looked up at her mother.

"It's a home where children who have lost their parents live," Michaela explained. "Do you have any other family?"

"No one," Marjorie responded. "I don't need anyone."

"I have an idea," Michaela offered. "Why don't you come back to the hotel with us?"

"Come with you?" the little girl was surprised. "Why?"

"I'd like for you to meet my husband," Michaela said. "His name is Sully."

"He my Poppy," Katie's eyes brightened.

"I don't know," Marjorie was cautious.

"I'll bring you back here afterwards, if that's what you want," the doctor volunteered.

"I show ya my doll," Katie raised her little eyebrows.

"I guess it couldn't hurt none," Marjorie was persuaded.

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

"Governor," Sully approached the territorial leader. "Could I speak with ya for a minute."

"Certainly, Mr. Sully," he glanced up from the mountain of papers before him. "I was just looking over a plan by Otto Mears for construction of our new capitol." He held up the drawing, "Look. It will have a gold leaf covered dome."

"That's real fine," Sully nodded. "I wanted t' talk to ya about Mr. Hill's plan for his new smelter."

"Oh, yes," the Governor nodded. "The committee approved its use of former territorial land today."

"Would the committee approve if it was gonna mean the water supply for Colorado Springs would be tainted?" Sully put his hands on his hips.

"Certainly not," Routt's eyes widened.

"Look here," Sully unrolled the terrain map. "He's got it real well hidden, but if ya follow his plan an' look where the water empties, what do ya see?"

"Why, it appears to empty into Fountain Creek," the Governor sat up straighter.

"Right," Sully nodded. "That flows right through Colorado Springs. This can't be allowed t' happen."

"I concur," Governor Routt stood. "I'm going to speak with Mr. Hill at once."

"Good," Sully smiled. "I'll return these t' Mr. Reigart."

"Thank you, Mr. Sully," the Governor extended his hand.

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

Michaela responded to the knock at the hotel room door. It was Dorothy.

"Michaela!" she spoke quickly. "Ya should've seen Sully t'day."

"What happened?" she asked.

"He caught Mr. Hill an' Mr. Carr tryin' t sneak somethin' past the committee, an' he saved the water supply of Colorado Springs," the Gazette writer read from her notes.

"They opened the afternoon session with a lecture from the governor on how those two tried t' pull somethin' fast an' how Sully brought it t' his attention that it would pollute the water with their smelter," Dorothy continued.

Michaela's heart filled with pride at her husband's actions. Then Dorothy noticed the sounds of laughter from the next room.

"Who's in there with Katie an' Josef?" Dorothy wondered.

"A little girl named Marjorie," Michaela replied. "I met her on the street yesterday and found her again today. She's orphaned."

"Orphaned an' livin' on the street?" the redhead was aghast.

"Yes," Michaela said. "I couldn't bear to think of a child in that situation, so I brought her back here."

"What are ya gonna do with her?" Dorothy queried.

"I'm not certain," she answered. "I'm going to speak with Sully about her."

"Ya ain't thinkin' of takin' her in yourself, are ya?" Dorothy speculated.

They did not hear the door open and Sully walk in.

"Takin' who in?" he overheard.

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

"I'll let you two alone," Dorothy retreated to the door.

Sully removed his jacket and smiled, "No need t' hurry off, Miss Dorothy."

"I have things t' do," she pushed her pencil behind her ear. "I wanna wire Brian with the latest on the meetin's."

"Speaking of which," Michaela slid her arm around her husband. "Dorothy tells me you were quite spectacular today."

"I was just tryin' t' keep some men from pullin' the wool over our eyes," he remained modest.

"It was a lot more than that, Sully," Dorothy turned the door knob. "I'll see ya later."

She closed the door behind her.

Sully pulled Michaela into his arms, "How ya feelin'?"

"Very well, thank you," she lifted up on her toes to kiss him.

"Kids okay?" he tilted his head toward their room.

"Yes," she hesitated. "Sully, do you remember what we discussed about the little girl I found living on the street?"

"Umm-humm," he tenderly toyed with a lock of her hair.

"She's in the other room with Katie and Josef," Michaela came out with it.

"Ya brought her back t' the hotel?" he released her.

"I couldn't bear to think of her out there alone, begging for money," her eyes implored.

"Sure," he rubbed his hand across his mouth and went to the door. Opening it, he poked his head in.

"Poppy!" Katie jumped off the bed and rushed to his arms.

"Kates," his grin was wide.

Katie pointed to the girl, "This Mawjoy."

"Pleased t' meet ya, Marjorie," he smiled.

"You, too, Mr. Sully," the child extended her hand. "I was just playin' with Katie an' Joey."

"So I see," he set his daughter down and lifted the baby from the crib. "How's my big boy?"

Josef's arms and legs waved in delight at the sight of his father.

"Baa," the baby shouted.

Sully positioned the infant so that their blue eyes met, "Pa, Josef. Say Pa."

"Baa," the baby exclaimed.

"Are you gonna keep me, Mr. Sully?" Marjorie spoke frankly.

"Keep ya?" he was surprised.

"Have me come live with you an' Dr. Mike," she was blunt.

"Uh," he set the baby back in the crib. "We gotta talk about some things, but you're welcome t' stay with us in Denver."

"Thanks," she pointed to her ragged clothes. "I don't really fit in with Katie in clothes like this, I'm afraid."

Michaela came to the door with a box, "I had this delivered for you."

She handed the package to Marjorie, who opened it. Her eyes sparkled as she beheld the beautiful dress inside.

"For me?" the child was astounded.

"After a good hot bath," Michaela nodded.

"I reckon a good hot meal would be in order, too," Sully's heart melted at the reaction of the cheery young girl.

"I don't know how t' thank you," Marjorie ran to Michaela and embraced her.

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

Nathaniel Hill cut into his medium rare steak, "Ah, just the way I like it."

The waiter nodded and departed.

"What are we going to do now?" Ezra Carr leaned on his elbows.

"About Mr. Sully?" Hill chewed his meat. "I leave that in your capable hands, sir."

"Why did he have to show up and ruin everything?" Carr was upset.

"That's all part of business and government," Hill replied. "You just have to come up with a better plan. Obviously, the one presented today was flawed."

"Flawed?" he could not believe it. "It's exactly what you told me you wanted."

Carr stopped a waiter and ordered a large whiskey.

"You drink too much, Ezra," Hill wiped his mouth.

"Let me worry about that," Carr discounted his concern.

"You best worry about Mr. Sully, too," Hill's eyes became cold. "I don't want another failure like I saw today, or you can find yourself other employment. Is that clear?"

"Yes," Carr gulped down his drink.

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

"Have you noticed, Sully?" Michaela looked at her husband across the dinner table.

"Noticed what?" he drank his water.

"Dorothy and Marjorie," she said. "How well they're getting along."

Sully became more attentive to what his wife had said. Sure enough, Dorothy and Marjorie were chatting away. Dorothy was enthralled by the child, and she took special care to encourage the little girl's comments. For her part, Marjorie's eyes reflected her admiration for the newspaper woman. A special bond was growing between the two, and it was obvious to the Sullys.

"My mother an' father were killed in a train accident last year," Marjorie told them. "We were movin' here from St. Louis."

"You have no family back there?" Dorothy's eyes saddened.

"No," Marjorie maintained. "My Ma was the most wonderful woman in the world. She was a hard worker, too. Took in laundry for folks. Pa was...."

"Was what?" Dorothy encouraged the little girl.

"He drank too much," Marjorie's voice choked. "He used t'.... t' beat us."

"Your Pa beat ya?" Sully became upset.

"Only when he drank," the child amended.

"That's no excuse for hurtin' ya, Marjorie," he patted her hand. "No Pa's got the right t' do that t' his children."

"Or t' his wife," Dorothy stated from experience.

"Miss Dorothy," Marjorie spoke up as they concluded their meal. "Do ya think I might stay with you tonight? If it's all right with Dr. Mike?

"Why, of course, child," Dorothy was thrilled to have the company. "Isn't it all right, Michaela?"

"Yes," the physician agreed. "I think it's a lovely idea."

"Don't ya wanna stay with me?" Katie was hurt.

"I like playin' with ya, Katie," Marjorie smiled. "But Miss Dorothy reminds me o'...."

Everyone waited for her next word.

"Of my Ma," the child concluded.

"Oh, my," Dorothy's cheeks blushed. "I remind ya of your Ma?"

"Yes," the child's brown eyes watered. "'Specially your hair."

"My Mama got pwetty hair," Katie observed.

"Thank you, Sweetheart," Michaela held her sleeping son in her lap.

"Looks like ya made a special friend, Miss Dorothy," Sully smiled.

"She is a special friend," Dorothy acknowledged.

"So I can come with ya?" Marjorie lit up.

"It's agreed," Dorothy concurred.

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

As they rose from the table, Sully spotted Ezra Carr coming toward them.

"Michaela," he indicated the man's approach.

"Not him," she hugged Josef closer to her bosom.

"Well, if it isn't the good doctor and her husband," Carr stank of booze.

"Wait for me in the lobby," Sully whispered to his wife.

"And who might these other fine people be?" Carr's speech slurred.

"I suggest ya be on your way," Sully glared at Carr.

"Oohh," he pretended to be frightened. "Is that a threat?"

"No," Sully lowered his voice. "Just some friendly advice."

"I don't need your advice," Carr spoke louder. "And I don't need you interfering in my business plans either."

Sully realized this was neither the time nor the place to argue with the drunk, "Good night."

Carr grabbed his arm and stopped him. Sully poised to strike him with his fist when he heard his daughter's voice.

"Poppy?" Katie called.

He relaxed, "I'm comin', Kates."

"Again, a woman tells you what to do," Carr attempted to provoke him.

Silently, Sully turned and walked toward his daughter. He leaned down, scooped her into his arms, and they departed.

"Seems like your family means a lot to you," Carr said as he held a chair to steady himself.

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

Laying next to Michaela, Sully was quiet. He thought she was asleep, but when he turned on his side to face her, their eyes met.

"Still awake?" he spoke low.

"Yes," she ran her finger along the outline of his chin.

"What ya thinkin' about?" he held her finger still and kissed it.

She sighed, "Many things."

"Marjorie?" he surmised.

She smiled, "I believe that Dorothy might consider taking her back to Colorado Springs."

"Did ya check t' see if her story 'bout her folks is true?" he asked.

She was surprised, "Do you think she made it up?"

"I don't know," he answered. "Just seems like we oughta look int' it before we think about takin' her back with us."

"You're right, of course," she agreed. "I should have thought to do that."

"Ya had other things on your mind," he grinned. "So what else ya thinkin' about?"

"You," she admitted.

"Me?" he raised his eyebrows. "Why?"

"Apart from the fact that I always find myself thinking about you," she ran her hand across his bare chest. "I was thinking about Ezra Carr's actions. Be careful where he's concerned, Sully."

"I can take care of him," he felt his anger build.

"He has some powerful friends," she warned.

"Don't go worryin', Michaela," he assured her. "Now, let's go back t' somethin' else ya said."

"What's that?" she wondered.

"How ya always find yourself thinkin' about me," he smiled.

"It's true," she acknowledged. "You're a very distracting influence on my life."

"Why's that?" he enjoyed their banter.

"As if you don't know," she poked his side.

"Maybe I like t' hear ya say it," he took her hand in his.

"All right, you asked for it," she raised up to look at him fully in the face. "Ever since the day I met you, I have thought about you. At first, my thoughts were confusing and frightening. Then when you told me you loved me, I was even more perplexed. When you left Boston, and I thought I might never see you again, I knew I had to face my true feelings."

"So ya came back t' Colorado Springs an' told me ya love me, too," he fondly recalled.

"Yes, but still, a part of me was apprehensive," she confessed. "I had never met a man like you before. Nor had I ever known such powerful feelings could exist between a man and a woman."

"Michaela," he sensed she was becoming emotional.

"Let me finish," she placed her finger on his lips. "Through our engagement, our wedding and these five years of our life together as husband and wife, such unimaginable feelings have awakened in me, Sully."

"Me, too," his was raspy.

"Sometimes I think that I don't know where my heart ends and yours begins," she tried to explain. "I'm so inexplicably connected to you."

"I feel incomplete when you're not beside me," he related.

"So you understand," she turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin. "I am jealous when another woman looks at you. I am angry when someone threatens you, and I long for you so much when we're apart."

He was silent.

"Now it's my turn to ask," she searched his face. "What are you thinking about?"

"How lucky I am," he spoke softly. "You put int' real eloquent words what I feel, too."

"I know that I have not always told you or shown you how I feel, Sully," she gazed into his sky blue eyes. "But I...."

He leaned in to kiss her.

"Yes, you have," he pulled back slowly. "In more ways than I can count. With a look, a touch, with those beautiful children in there."

"You hold my heart, you know," she felt a tear.

"An' I treasure it as my most precious gift," he vowed.

"Speaking of gifts, I have something for you," she reached to open a drawer on the nightstand. "I had hoped to give it to you for our anniversary several weeks ago, but it had not yet arrived. It came just before we departed for Denver. I was searching for the right moment to give it to you. Somehow it seems most appropriate tonight."

"What is it?" he sat up.

She handed him the wrapped box. When he opened it, his eyes widened. Inside was a solid silver bracelet.

"Michaela, it's beautiful," he was in awe.

She lifted the bracelet from the box, "I know that you prefer to not wear a wedding ring, but I thought perhaps I might persuade you to wear this."

"It's the biggest weddin' ring I ever saw," he joked.

"Read the inscription inside," she requested.

"To Byron Sully, beloved husband and father. Forever my love, Michaela," he felt a lump in his throat.

Snugly sliding it over his right wrist, he held it up for her to see.

She placed her hand on it, "With this ring, I thee wed."

He looped his fingers through hers, "Again? You're marryin' me again?"

"I would marry you every minute of every day for the rest of my life," she pledged.

"I love it, Michaela," he positioned it comfortably on his wrist. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," she was pleased.

He pulled her into his embrace and spoke softly:

"O woman! in our hours of ease
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade
By the light quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!"

"You think I'm hard to please?" she rubbed his side.

"Just the words o' Walter Scott," he grinned.

Before she could respond, crying erupted from the children's room.

Sully rose quickly and donned his buckskins, "What the...."

He returned a moment later, his daughter enfolded in his arms.

"Katie," Michaela sat up and shifted over to make room for the child on the bed. "What's wrong, Sweetheart?"

"I lone, Mama," the little girl tearfully spoke.

"What do you mean alone?" Michaela caressed her forehead. "We're here."

"Not got sister," Katie's voice quivered.

"You have Colleen," Michaela reminded her.

"She go 'way, an' Mawjoy go 'way," the child's lower lip turned under.

Soon, another wailing sound came from the next room. It was Josef, wakened and frightened by his sister's cries. Sully returned shortly with the little boy tucked in his arms. Both children now fed on each other's emotional outbursts.

Sully lifted the baby to his shoulder and kissed the side of his head, "Shhh, Joe. It's okay."

Katie buried her head in Michaela's lap. Both parents shared a frustrated glance. Then their daughter raised her head and reached for her little brother. Josef responded to his sister's touch and began to settle down. Before their eyes, Michaela and Sully witnessed their children comforting one another, and soon both were calm and still.

"We sleep with you, Mama?" Katie let Josef curl his fingers around her hand.

"Certainly," Michaela smiled.

She slid down in the bed and positioned Katie beside her. Sully placed the baby next to Katie and stretched out on his side. With their children sandwiched between them, the loving parents stayed awake until assured that the children were sound asleep.

"What now?" Michaela whispered.

"I reckon we sleep, too," he grinned.

"I love you," she reached across their offspring to touch his hand.

"I love you, too," he kissed her palm.
Then they rested their arms protectively over their children.

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

Ezra Carr walked across the lobby of the Inter-Ocean Hotel. Checking on the room number for the Sullys, he headed for the staircase.

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

"Sully?" Michaela was startled.

"Mmm?" he was half asleep.

"I heard something," she whispered.

Sully quickly and quietly rose from the bed and listened intently. Then he spotted a shadow silhouetted outside their balcony window. Placing his finger to his lips, he indicated for Michaela to remain still. He reached for his tomahawk.

Sully saw the shadow cross their balcony and head toward the children's room. Leaving the lamps dim, he followed into the next room. Then he saw the figure reach for the knob of the balcony door. After some jiggling at the latch, the door began to open. Then he saw the gleam of a gun extend through the opening.

Lightning fast, Sully reacted. He grabbed the hand of the man who had opened the door. With a side swipe of his fists, he felled him. Then he leaned down to turn him over. It was Ezra Carr!

Sully reached for Carr's revolver, but instantly found himself in a trap. Carr had pulled another gun from his boot, and he was aiming it at Sully.

"Stand up," Carr commanded, as he, too, rose to his feet.

Sully slowly raised his hands, "What do ya want?"

"I want to pay you back for nearly costing me my job," his voice filled with anger.

"Pay me back by breakin' int' my hotel room?" Sully searched for a way to disarm the man.

"You had to interfere, didn't you?" Carr snapped. "You had to go and poke your nose where it doesn't belong, but I'm going to see that it doesn't happen again."

Sully began to inch his way toward the door, "Look, I'll do anythin' ya want. Let's go down t' the lobby an' talk things out. This was all one big misunderstandin'."

"I don't think so," the man pulled back the trigger of his gun.

Michaela's voice startled Carr, "Put down the gun."

Carr felt the barrel of a pistol in his back, "Don't shoot me. Please, don't shoot me."

Michaela mustered all of her strength to speak more firmly, "Then put down your gun."

The moment Carr began to lower his weapon, Sully pounced and confiscated it from the man.

Carr turned to look at Michaela. Then he saw. She had used the handle of her hairbrush to trick him into thinking she held a gun.

"Very clever," he was sarcastic. "I should have known a woman wouldn't be capable of shooting someone, especially a woman who claims to be a physician."

"Where my family is concerned, you might be surprised at my capabilities," her voice was strong.

"Come on," Sully shoved him toward the door. "I'll take him down t' the lobby an' have them fetch the police."

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

Michaela returned to their bed. There, sleeping peacefully were her children. Her statement to Carr rang in her head. What might she be capable of where her children were concerned? She felt a shudder. Then she secured the covers around Katie and Josef and prepared to wait for Sully's return.

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

"I'm sendin' you an' the children home this mornin'," Sully kept his voice low to not waken Katie and Josef.

"Sully," Michaela argued. "Now that Mr. Carr is locked up...."

"Who knows what these men are capable of, Michaela?" he paced. "I don't wanna put you or the kids in any danger."

"Sully, these are civilized and educated men," she countered. "Mr. Carr was an exception. He is a drunkard, and his thinking was twisted by the alcohol. Besides, I want to check on Marjorie's story. You said yourself that I should do that."

"An' you said yourself that Carr has powerful friends," he realized he was becoming louder.

He took her hand and guided her into the empty children's bedroom next to theirs. Pulling her into his arms, he embraced her silently.

"I can't take the chance o' losin' ya," he caressed the back of her head.

"You're not going to lose me, Sully," she touched his cheek. "I would not insist on staying if I believed...."

"Michaela," he felt his emotions becoming more powerful. "I thought ya were dead in Yankee Hill. I thought I lost ya again when that man abducted ya in Washington last year when ya were expectin' Josef. Please, do this for me."

"Sully," she cupped his face between her hands.

"Please?" his eyes implored.

"All right," she sighed.

"Just like that? No more argument?" he was surprised.

"None," she shook her head. "I don't want you to be concerned about us when you have so many other things on your mind."

"Thank you," he began to kiss her.

As she returned his ardor, their passion began to intensify. Sully reached to close the door, then slid his wife's nightgown off her shoulders.

"Sully," she held his head. "Here?"

"If ya don't wanna, just say...." his sentence was interrupted by her kiss.

At that moment, neither one of them cared about anything else in the world.

Michaela reached to undo his buckskins, and her caresses stirred his desire further. Pressing her back against the wall, Sully's kisses set her senses aflame. Rhythmically, their bodies sought to quench their intense need for one another. In a powerful surge of energy, their love and want were fulfilled.

Breathlessly, they stayed, still joined as one, still needing to feel the connection. Sully tried to calm his breathing, but the scent of his wife filled his senses, and he could not slow his heartbeat. Michaela locked her arms around him, plying tender kisses to his temple, his forehead, his lips.

"That was sort o' sudden," he caught his breath.

"Yes," she was amazed. "I didn't expect us to... get carried away like that."

"I love you," he spoke next to her ear. "I love you an' need you so much."

"I feel the same way," she ran her fingers through his damp hair.

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

At the train depot, Sully found it difficult to say good-bye.

"Kates," he held his daughter close. "I want ya t' be good for your Ma. Help her with Josef on the train, an' I'll see ya in a couple o' days."

"Oh, Poppy," she felt a lump in her throat. "Do we have t' go?"

"Yes, my sweet girl," he kissed her cheek.

"Is couple o' days long time?" the child wondered.

"When I'm away from ya, it is," his eyes reddened. "I love ya."

"Love you," Katie hugged him.

Sully set her down and lifted Josef from Michaela's arms.

"Pa," Sully said as he held the infant up. "Work on sayin' 'Pa,' Josef."

Josef curled up his legs and smiled broadly. Sully kissed him, then pulled Michaela closer with his free arm. He kissed her tenderly.

"I'll miss ya," he grinned.

"Dorothy said she would check on Marjorie's story," she informed him. "We'll expect you home by Saturday."

"Sooner, if I can," he rested his head against hers. "I love you."

"And I love you," she claimed his lips one last time.

Sully watched them board the train, then waved as he saw them get seated in a car near him. He stayed until the train pulled out of the station, then turned to depart for Odd Fellow Hall. The last day of meetings had arrived, and Sully was anxious for the process to end.

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

"Mr. Sully," Nathaniel Hill approached him. "I heard about what happened last night at your hotel."

Sully's jaw tightened, "Ya oughta be more careful who ya hire."

"I understand your anger," Hill nodded. "Trust me, I never knew Carr was capable of such actions."

"I don't trust mine owners," Sully was blunt.

"Perhaps you and I could meet later," he responded. "Maybe we can reach a compromise on my smelter."

"I'll meet with ya," Sully stated. "Long as ya don't try anythin'."

"I give you my word, sir," Hill extended his hand.

Sully nodded and walked away.

"Mr. Sully," William Byers called to him as he was about to enter the meeting room.

"Mr. Byers," Sully acknowledged.

"I heard what happened with Ezra Carr," the newspaperman said. "Care to issue a statement or comment?"

"Nope," Sully was brief.

"But the man tried to harm you and your family," Byers encouraged a remark.

"I got nothin' t' say t' a newspaper about it," Sully affirmed.

"I see," Byers was disappointed. "What about your conversation with Nathaniel Hill just now? Carr worked for him."

"If ya wanna talk t' Mr. Hill, go ahead," Sully was evasive.

"You know, Mr. Sully," Byers commented. "You may be able to keep an eye on Mr. Hill here, and perhaps you can even block any effort on his part to be less than honest in his business dealings, but when you return home...."

"When I return home, I'll expect you journalists t' watch out for men like him," Sully raised his eyebrow.

Then, with a turn, he entered the meeting hall.

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

Michaela arrived back in Colorado Springs by late afternoon. After sending word to Brian that they were home and wiring Sully with the same news, she settled in at the Clinic.

Brian stopped by to show her the article he had completed, based on telegrams that Dorothy had sent.

"These are wonderful, Brian," she read at her desk as the children napped in the anteroom of the Clinic.

"Thanks, Ma," he felt a swell of pride. "My first edition of the Gazette comes out t'morrow. If it's all right with you, I wanna stay in town t'night so I can get it out early."

"Certainly," she smiled. "I'm going to stay here and catch up on some paperwork, but I'll take the children home before dark."

"Okay," the young man picked up his article. "I'll stop by t' see ya before ya leave."

By the time he was out the door, Michaela placed her elbows on her desk and soon was deep in thought. She contemplated Sully's situation. It always seemed as if he had to react to what the government did. It was so difficult to prevent problems from arising in the first place.

"If only you could be the one controlling things, Sully," she spoke to herself. "If only you...."

Suddenly, an idea crossed her mind. As soon as the children were awake and she could ask Grace to watch them, she would speak with Jake Slicker. As mayor of the town, perhaps he could be persuaded to agree to her plan.

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

"Where'd ya come up with a harebrained idea like that?" Jake trimmed Loren's hair.

"Jake," Michaela was adamant. "We live in a town that was built on mining. Don't you think it's about time that we took control of what those mining companies do to our environment?"

"Oh, now there ya go, Dr. Mike," Loren tried to get up from the chair. "We do just fine by the mines in this area."

Jake pushed Loren back into his chair, "Yea, an' long as we're doin' all right, why d' we need t' go stirrin' up trouble?"

"It's not stirring up trouble," Michaela insisted. "It's looking out for our children's future. We're going to become a state next year. We have an opportunity to make a statement to people who want to come and live in our community that we care about the air, the land, and the water."

Hank strolled in, puffing his cigar, "What's Michaela on her soapbox about now?"

"I am not on a soap box," she placed her hands on her hips in frustration. "For your information...."

"Anytime, ya say 'for your information,' you're on a soapbox," Hank sat down and propped his boots on a chair. "So what's it about this time?"

"The mines," Jake wiped the lather from Loren's face. "She wants us t' have a town committee or commission that supervises.... what'd ya call it, Dr. Mike?"

"A commission that determines how our natural resources will be used and preserved," she stated. "Companies who want to do business here would have to petition us first, and the commission would grant or deny them permission to operate here."

"An' who ya fixin' t' put on that commission?" Hank leaned back. "Let's see, maybe Dorothy, Grace, an'... oh, yea, an' Sully?"

"I'm certain, that if such a commission were created," she folded her hands. "Our mayor would name the members."

"Yea," Jake nodded. "That's how it should be."

"And I'm certain that our mayor would want to place people on the commission who have expertise in the area," she stepped closer to Jake.

"Yea," the mayor removed the cloth from Loren's neck. "I'd pick people with export... what'd ya call it, Dr. Mike?"

"Expertise," Michaela sensed she was making progress. "It means knowledge in a particular area or field."

"So the only person 'round here with knowledge about minin' an' the environment would be your husband," Hank lowered his feet to the wooden planks. "Ain't that sweet."

"I like the idea, Dr. Mike," Jake was convinced.

"Me, too," Loren chimed in.

"Hank?" Michaela noticed his hesitation.

He raised his hands, "Fine. Might keep Sully closer t' home so he can keep ya off your soapbox."

"Good," Michaela smiled in satisfaction.

"Assumin' he'd even be willin' t' do this," Hank was skeptical.

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

Sully dined with Dorothy and Marjorie that evening. The girl was quiet through their meal.

"Somethin' on your mind, Marjorie?" Sully noticed.

"I was hopin' t' go back t' Colorado Springs," the child answered.

"And?" Sully wiped his mouth.

"And there's a problem," Dorothy said.

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

"What kinda problem?" Sully asked.

"It seems that Marjorie has an uncle who is on his way t' Denver," Dorothy explained.

"How'd ya find that out?" he was taken back.

"He made inquiries after the death of his sister and brother-in-law last year, but no one knew where Marjorie was until we went to the courthouse today," Dorothy said.

"Now my uncle's gonna take me back t' St. Louis," the child did not touch her food.

"But don't ya wanna be with your kinfolk?" Sully tried to understand.

"I guess so," her voice shook. "It's just that I don't know him. He was my Ma's brother, an' he was in the army."

"I reckon it's kinda scary meetin' a new relative," he smiled. "But then it could be nice, too."

"Did you ever meet a new relative, Sully?" she asked.

"Nope," he shook his head. "My family all died."

"'Cept for Dr. Mike, Katie, an' Josef," she reminded.

"An' our adopted kids," he added. "They had no one left in the world other than a Pa who didn't want 'em. You're lucky. This uncle must want ya awful bad."

"What if I don't like him?" she feared.

"Won't know 'til ya give him a chance," Sully counseled. "I sure am happy my children gave me a chance."

"I never thought about that," Marjorie said.

"I'm gonna stay here in Denver 'til after she meets up with him," Dorothy informed Sully. "I'll make sure Marjorie's okay."

"That's good," his thoughts turned to his wife. "We'll be glad that Marjorie finds a good home." Then he added, "No matter where it is."

The child remained silent.

Dorothy noticed, "Ya know, I've always wanted t' visit St. Louis."

"Ya have?" the little girl's eyes lit up.

"Oh, yes," Dorothy nodded. "I wonder if I could come see ya there sometime."

"I'd love that, Miss Dorothy," Marjorie's spirits lifted.

"Good, then," she patted the child's hand. "Now eat up."

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

"Katie," Michaela implored as she bathed both of the children. "Do not get soap in your brother's eyes."

"I washin' Joey's face, Mama," the little girl tried to be helpful.

"I appreciate that, Sweetheart," Michaela pulled back her hair. "But you're getting it very close to...."

Suddenly, Josef began to wail. The little boy's eyes were burning. Michaela quickly lifted him and took him to the sink. She began to rinse his eyes with fresh water.

Katie attempted to climb out of the tub, "I help ya, Mama."

"Wait right there, young lady," Michaela ordered sternly.

Josef was finally beginning to settle in Michaela's arms. Then she managed to get Katie from the tub to dry her.

"I sowwy, Mama," she fought back a tear.

Michaela draped a dry towel around her daughter, "Come on. Let's take Josef upstairs."

Slowly, they made their way to Michaela's bedroom. She set her son on the bed and turned to Katie.

"Here," she grabbed her brush. "Let me get some of those tangles out of your pretty hair."

"Mama!" Katie pointed to her brother. "Joey leakin'!"

Michaela rushed to cover her son as he relieved himself.

"How he do that?" Katie's eyes were wide.

"Never you mind," Michaela blushed.

She gathered a cloth for the boy and after drying him off, pinned a fresh diaper around him.

"Make that good an' tight, Mama," Katie was concerned.

Josef shouted, "Baa-baa."

Katie slipped from her mother's hold and ran to get her bunny rabbit. Then she handed the stuffed toy to her brother. Josef's grin broadened. He closed his eyes and rubbed the soft material of it against his cheek.

"You're rather amazing," Michaela rested her elbows on her knees to watch.

"Me?" Katie pointed to herself in much the same manner as Michaela had seen Sully do.

"Yes, you," she touched her daughter's nose.

"What mean 'mazin'?" Katie pondered it.

"It means that you surprise me and fill my heart with love," Michaela knelt down beside her.

With a struggle, Josef attempted to roll over to look at them. Finally, he accomplished the maneuver. Then he began to bounce on his hands and knees.

"Joey want t' dance," Katie guessed.

Michaela looked directly into her son's blue eyes, "Say Papa, Josef. Papa."

The baby puckered his lips but his sound did not resemble the desired word.

"All right, you two," Michaela slipped a nightgown over Katie's head. "Time for bed."

"Have t' go, Mama?" Katie sounded disappointed. "Gotta wait for Poppy."

"You know that your father won't be home tonight," Michaela lifted Josef. "Come on, now, into your room."

"I sleep in here?" the child paused at the door.

"All right," Michaela acquiesced as she put Josef into his crib.

Katie mustered all of her strength and climbed into the large bed. Michaela sat down beside her. Soon, both children were asleep.

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

In the living room, Wolf was alerted by a sound from outside. He began to growl. Michaela heard him, and descended the steps.

"What's wrong, boy?" she was not alarmed. "Are you hungry?"

Wolf poked his nose down along the front doorstop and continued to growl.

"Do you want out?" she went to him.

Turning the knob of the door, Michaela opened it. Wolf's growl became a full fledged bark the instant he ran outside.

"Must be a wild animal," Michaela said under her breath as she began to close the door.

Before she could secure it, something blocked it from closing all the way. Glancing down, she saw a man's boot. Her heart jumped in fear. Then the man forced the door open. Michaela fell back onto the kitchen floor. In rushed the assailant. Michaela struggled to her feet, but stopped when she saw his gun aimed at her head.

Michaela gasped in terror when she recognized him.

"You scared?" Ezra Carr mocked. "A big, strong doctor like you, afraid of me?"

"What are you doing here?" her mind worked to think of a way to disarm him.

"Is that any way to greet someone who broke out of jail just to visit?" he sat down.

"You broke out of jail?" she noticed beads of perspiration on his forehead.

"It really wasn't that difficult," he held his side. "Only trouble is, I got shot in the process."

"Shot?" she was surprised.

"Just a flesh wound," he tried not to show any weakness.

"It could become infected," she inched closer. "Perhaps I should take a look at it."

"Oh, wouldn't that be nice," he steadied the gun toward her. "No, thank you. I prefer to wait."

"Wait?" she could tell he was in pain. "Wait for what?"

"Wait for Mr. Sully," Carr replied. "I'm surprised you allowed him to stay in Denver with that redhead."

"Are you in pain?" she detected. "I can give you something."

"Ha!" he clinched his teeth. "Not unless you have some whiskey."

"No," she folded her hands. "No whiskey. Perhaps some tea."

"What a quaint homemaker you are," he was sarcastic. "Yes, the perfect little wife, but still too good to be MRS. Sully."

"I AM Mrs. Sully," she asserted.

"To whom?" he eyed her.

"To everyone who knows me," she wondered how to reach this disturbed man.

"I don't think you know who you are, woman," Carr felt a stabbing pain.

For an instant, he took his eye off of Michaela. She inched toward his firearm.

"Don't try it," Carr nervously fingered the trigger.

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

Sully laid back and rubbed his temples as Michaela sometimes did for him. He would meet with Nathaniel Hill tomorrow. They would hash out an agreement, sign some papers, and then what? He sighed. It's always a battle. Always a struggle to fight for what should be painfully obvious and decent.

He reached over to pour himself a glass of water. Once this battle was over, there would be another. And another. He kicked off his shoes and with a thud, they hit the rug. He took a deep breath. Then his thoughts turned to Michaela and the children.

Right about now, Katie is talking Michaela into letting her sleep in the big bed with her. He chuckled. Josef is probably sound asleep. Brian is most likely reading a book by his bedside. And Matthew and Colleen? Seems like they grew up too soon, he reflected. But it wasn't so long ago that they were asking for his advice, welcoming him into their home, guiding him through the rough spots of courtship with Michaela. They knew we loved each other before we did, he mused.

Then he noticed the silver band on his wrist, the anniversary gift from his wife. He closed his eyes and willed himself to dream about Michaela. His beautiful Michaela. Soon he drifted into the dream he had wished for.

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

Michaela was held at gunpoint throughout the sleepless night. It was obvious that her captor was becoming weaker by the minute. His so-called flesh wound was most certainly more serious. She shuddered at the thought that her children would be wakening soon. How would she be able to protect them?

Ezra Carr winced in pain, "When will your husband be home?"

"He did not plan on returning until tomorrow," she eyed him intently.

"Tomorrow?" his breathing was becoming labored. "I.... I don't know if I can wait until...."

Suddenly, the man slumped over and onto the floor, passed out. Mindful that it could be a trick, Michaela rose slowly and went to him. She took the gun from his hand, then carried the weapon to a cupboard in the kitchen. She opened it and hid it behind some baking pans.

Guardedly, Michaela returned to Carr. She knelt down beside him and felt for a pulse. It was weak. Then she opened his shirt to examine the bullet wound. It was definitely more than a flesh wound. In fact, the bullet was still in him. He had lost a significant amount of blood, and she knew that she must operate on him to save his life.

Save his life? This wretch who was such a threat to her family. Yes, she sighed. As a physician, she knew she must try, much as the thought disgusted her.

Michaela retrieved her medical bag and determined that she had the necessary materials to operate. She administered chloroform to insure Carr's continued state of unconsciousness. Then, she stood up and went to the stairs. Before she began the surgery, she wanted to check on her children.

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

"I don't know why you insisted on meeting so early, Mr. Sully," Nathaniel Hill yawned.

"We don't need t' wait all day t' take care o' business," Sully was blunt. "Besides, I've had my fill o' Denver politics. I'm leavin' t'day."

"Very well," Hill sat down at his desk. Handing Sully a rolled up map, he sighed, "This is the new proposal for my smelter. I think that you'll find everything in order. I believe that this is a reasonable compromise."

"We'll see," Sully took his time perusing the map. Then he asked, "Do you have your plans in writin', too?"

"Yes," Hill handed him additional papers. "Here are the specifications."

Again, Sully methodically poured over the contents.

"Too bad ya couldn't have done this in the first place," the mountain man eyed him.

"I made the mistake of allowing Ezra Carr to do things," the businessman stated. "And he let me down."

"I'm glad ya recognize that," Sully sat up straighter. "Now what?"

"Now it goes to the committee, with your approval," Hill answered.

"Ya got my approval," Sully nodded. "I'll see that Mr. Reigart gets this proposal an' let the governor handle it from there."

Hill stood and extended his hand, "I apologize for the problems this caused, Mr. Sully."

Sully rose to his feet and shook his hand, "Good-bye, Mr. Hill. I got a feelin' we'll be seein' each other again."

Sully gathered the papers and headed out the door. Soon he had disposed of his duties. On his way out of Odd Fellow Hall, he encountered newspaper man William Byers.

"Care to comment on the latest from Mr. Carr?" Byers queried.

"What latest?" Sully rubbed his chin.

"You mean you haven't heard?" Byers' eyes widened. "Ezra Carr broke out of jail yesterday. They think he might have been shot by one of the guards, but his body hasn't been found."

Sully was stunned, "He's loose?"

"Yes," Byers replied. "However, the authorities are uncertain of his condition."

"Thanks for the information," Sully hastily departed.

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

Having satisfied herself that the children were still asleep, Michaela began the task of removing the bullet from Ezra Carr. The conditions were far from ideal. She had to perform the operation while sitting on the floor of her kitchen, as the escapee lay unconscious before her. She located the bullet and removed it with no complications. In spite of his blood loss, Carr survived, and his pulse continued to strengthen.

After administering an additional amount of chloroform to the patient, Michaela prepared breakfast for her children. She knew they would be up soon and that Brian would be on his way home. One last check on Carr, and she took the food upstairs.

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

Sully said his good-byes to Dorothy and Marjorie, then caught the first train to Colorado Springs. His anxiety began to lessen now that Denver was behind him. Denver and Ezra Carr. Soon he would be home again with Michaela and the children. With that pleasant prospect in mind, he sat back and enjoyed the anticipation of seeing his family again.

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

Brian returned to the homestead at noon. He reined in Taffy and climbed the steps to the homestead.

Michaela met him at the door, "Brian, there's an escaped prisoner in here, and I've removed a bullet from him."

"Ma!" his eyes widened. "Who is it?

"His name is Ezra Carr," she replied. "He's from Denver. He's still unconscious, but I must monitor his condition. Go into town at once and bring Robert E, Jake and Hank."

"But..." he hesitated.

"We're fine," she assured him. "The children are napping, and I'm using chloroform on him to keep him unconscious."

"All right," the young man immediately ran down the steps and mounted his horse.

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

"Why we eatin' up here, Mama?" Katie inquired.

"Something special," Michaela smiled as she fed Josef his bottle. "We're going to stay upstairs for a while longer."

"Why?" the little girl was curious.

"There are lots of things for us to do up here," the mother held her son up to her shoulder.

"We play with Joey?" Katie suggested.

"Yes," Michaela kissed the baby's cheek. "We can play with him and teach him to say Pa."

"Okay," Katie skipped over to her mother.

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

Brian headed straight for Jake Slicker's barbershop upon his arrival in town. He alerted Mayor Slicker, who in turn rounded up a group to go to the homestead.

"I'm comin', too," Brian wanted to be included.

"Maybe ya better stay in town," Loren chimed in.

"I wanna make sure Ma an' the kids are okay," his voice choked. "Maybe I should've stayed there."

"Ya did the right thing, Brian," Robert E patted his back.

Hank spoke up, "Okay, I figure we oughta approach the house from the front an' back. Once we establish that Michaela an' the children are all right, we can decide what to do next."

"Ma said she'd keep him unconscious with chloroform," Brian recalled a similar incident several years ago when they were held hostage.

"She most likely took any weapons Carr had when he became unconscious, but we still gotta be careful" Jake reasoned.

"What can I do?" Horace wanted to feel useful.

"Wire Denver an' let the authorities know Carr's here," Jake recommended.

"Better let Sully know, too," Brian added.

"Are we gonna stand here chattin' or get goin'?" Hank checked his revolver.

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

Michaela had rocked her son to sleep, and knew that the chloroform would be wearing off soon. She needed to administer an additional amount to Carr to keep him unconscious.

Placing the baby in the crib, she walked to Katie, who was drawing a picture at Michaela's vanity.

"That's a pretty work of art, Sweetheart," Michaela looked over her shoulder.

"Thanks," Katie continued at her labor.

"Katie," Michaela touched her head. "I need to go downstairs for a few minutes. I want you to stay up here and watch your brother. All right?"

"All wight," the child did not look up.

"You wouldn't be going downstairs to drug me, would you?" Carr's voice startled them from the doorway.

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

Sully arrived in town just after the rescue party had departed. Horace spotted him as he stepped down from the train.

"Sully!" the telegrapher yelled. "Sully, I gotta see ya!"

He stopped to see why his name was being called, "What's wrong, Horace?"

"It's Dr. Mike," Horace was out of breath. "There's a fella named Ezra Carr at your homestead. Some o' the men rode out t' bring him in."

Sully barely heard the final words as he rushed to the livery to secure a horse.

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

Michaela quickly tucked Katie behind her.

"Mr. Carr," she struggled to remain calm. "You must be in a great deal of pain. I... I'm surprised you could climb the steps."

Katie peeked out from behind her mother's skirt, "Who's he, Mama?"

Carr clutched the door frame to remain steady, "What have you done to me?"

"Saved your life," Michaela's fear began to turn to anger. "You were shot, and I removed the bullet."

"You tried to kill me," his voice became threatening.

Michaela observed that he did not have a weapon, and determined that given his condition, he was in no shape to do much. When she started toward him, he pulled out a smaller pistol from his boot.

She had forgotten that he carried a hidden weapon in Denver the night he tried to break into their hotel room. Now he was aiming it at her.

"Why man got gun?" Katie noticed.

"Shhh," Michaela tried to still her.

"Yes, by all means shhh," Carr leered at her. "Now, here's what we're going to do. Very slowly, you are going to come with me. You are going to lock your children in this room and head down the steps."

Michaela felt relieved that he did not want to harm the children.

"Then what?" she rubbed her daughter's back.

"Then we're leaving," he said.

"You're in no condition to travel," she asserted.

"And you're in no position to tell me what I can and cannot do, woman!" he threatened.

Michaela felt Katie jump at his voice. She turned and knelt down before the little girl.

"Sweetheart, Mama has to go with this man, but Brian will be home soon," she looked her daughter directly in the eyes. "It is very important for you to be brave and take care of Josef."

"I be bwave," Katie fought her tears. Then the child stared at Carr, "Don't huwt my Mama."

"Looks like your kid's as bossy as you," he responded.

Michaela pulled her child into her arms, "I love you, Katie."

"I love you, Mama," the little girl caressed her mother's hair.

Michaela walked to the crib and rubbing her son's back, spoke low, "I love you, Josef."

"Come on!" Carr grew impatient.

She went to the nightstand and pulled out a key. Then she closed the door behind them and secured it. She dropped the key to the floor as Carr shoved her toward the stairway.

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

Sully caught up with the rescuers just out of town.

"Sully!" Brian was happy to see him.

"Horace said Ezra Carr's at the homestead," Sully said. "He's dangerous... an' tricky. Let's go!"


************
Chapter 11
************

When they stepped through the kitchen door, Michaela and Carr were met by Wolf. The animal showed his teeth and began to growl. Carr aimed his gun at the family pet.

"Wait!" Michaela shouted. "I... I'll see that he stays here. Please don't harm him."

"Put him inside then," Carr motioned with his hand.

She quickly complied and opened the door. She commanded Wolf to go in, and he reluctantly obeyed.

Michaela led Carr into the wooded grove behind the homestead. She knew the man was too weak to travel, and she deliberately led him uphill as much as she could. He would not be able to keep pace much longer. Then when he had to sit, she would disarm him.

"Hold it!" Carr called to her.

Michaela paused and turned to look at him, "I would not advise continuing in your condition. Why don't you let me get you to my Clinic in town?"

He was out of breath, "So you can turn me over to the authorities? No."

"So that I can help you recover, Mr. Carr," she became bold. "You've just had surgery, you're quite weak, and you need to set aside this prejudice toward a female doctor if you wish to survive."

"You women are all alike," he waved the gun at her. "You're just like my wife. Always had to be right. Always had to get in the last word."

"You have a wife?" she attempted small talk.

"Had a wife," he clarified. "She divorced me."

"I see," she commented.

"You see?" his eyes darkened. "She didn't want my name. She didn't want to give me children. And she ran off to pursue a career. What kind of a wife does that? Oh, I forgot, you're that kind of wife."

She debated the merits of arguing with the man, "Not all women are alike, Mr. Carr."

"No, but women like you are all alike," his words were biting. "You think you are equal to your husband. You want it both ways. Play the submissive little woman when it's to your advantage, but manipulate your husband the whole time."

She observed beads of perspiration building on his skin.

"Yes, I know women like you," Carr tried to concentrate as he felt weaker.

"I'm sorry that your marriage was unhappy," she pretended sympathy.

"I just bet you are," he winced in pain.

She started for him, but he raised the gun and she jumped back.

"Just as I said," he reacted. "Try to make me think you feel bad for me, then try to disarm me."

"I wasn't going to...." she stopped when he waved the pistol at her.

"Shut up!" he shouted. "Just shut up!"

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

As they reached the edge of his property line, Sully gathered the band of rescuers close, "I'm goin' in first. Stay back until I can determine what's happenin' in there."

"Be careful, Pa," Brian advised.

"I will," the mountain man left them.

Sully approached the homestead from the east. He quickly made his way onto the front porch and peeked into the kitchen window. No one was visible. Then he skirted to the living room window. No one there either.

Pulling his tomahawk, he tried the front door. It was unlocked. Silently, Sully made his way into the house. Wolf greeted him, then immediately began whimpering and sniffing the blood stains on the kitchen floor. Sully's heart sank at the sight.

He heard a soft voice, vaguely audible from overhead. Quietly moving toward he steps, he ascended to the second floor. The voice was coming from his bedroom. He spotted the key on the floor. Picking it up, he leaned his ear against the bedroom door. He heard Katie speaking in hushed tones to someone, but he discerned no one replying to her. Was she alone in there?

Very faintly, Sully made the distant sound of a bird.

"Poppy!" Katie recognized his distinctive call. "Poppy, open door!"

With great effort, Sully made not a sound as he positioned the key in the bedroom door's lock. Taking a deep breath, he turned the key and opened the door a crack. He saw Katie standing by Josef's crib. He determined that his children were alone in the room.

"Kates," he beckoned.

"Poppy!" she ran to him. "M... man take Mama!"

"Where to, sweet girl?" he lifted her into his arms and caressed her hair.

"I listen an' watch like ya tell me," she recalled his bed time story of observing all around her.

"That's good, honey," he smiled. "Now, tell me where Mama went."

"Went out kitchen door," she informed him. "Walkin', not widin' horse. Man got gun, Poppy."

Sully kissed her cheek and went to the crib. He lifted his son with his free arm and kissed him.

"I'll find your Ma," he held both of his children close.

"I tell him not t' huwt Mama," the little girl wrapped her arm around his neck.

Sully carried them to the living room and set Katie down.

"Poppy, lookie," she pointed to the blood.

"Looks like someone spilled somethin'," he tried to downplay the spot.

"Maybe paint," she started for it. "I clean it."

"NO!" he found himself shouting. "Don't touch it now, Kates. We'll clean it when your Ma gets home."

He opened the door and whistled. From beyond the barn, Brian recognized Sully's call.

"It's okay t' go t' the homestead," the young man informed Robert E, Hank and Jake.

"What makes ya say that?" Jake pushed back his hat.

"It's that damn whistle thing Sully does," Hank shook his head. "Sounds like an Injun."

"Sounds like a bird," Jake countered.

"Let's go," Robert E mounted his horse.

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

Carr struggled to his feet and pushed Michaela, "Let's get going."

"Where?" she hesitated.

"Just move!" he insisted. "Further into the woods."

Michaela deliberately stepped in soft soil, and brushed against branches as she began to move. She wanted to leave an easy trail for her husband to follow. They had not moved more than 50 yards when Carr tripped on a risen root. As his arm hit the ground, his gun went off.

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

"Bran!" Katie hugged her brother. "Glad t' see ya!"

"I'm glad to see you, too," he lifted her into his arms.

"He's taken Michaela," Sully spoke quickly. "I'm goin' after...."

A gunshot interrupted him mid-sentence.

"Stay here!" Sully directed as he dashed out the kitchen door.

"Wait for us," Hank called.

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

Sully and Wolf easily followed the path taken by Michaela and her abductor. He ran swiftly into the wooded area behind their house.

"Please let her be safe," his eyes began to sting.

He stopped suddenly when he saw Carr huddled over a body. Michaela's body.

"NO!!!" Sully lunged at the man and thrust his fist into Carr's jaw.

With the raging power of that one punch, Sully knocked the escapee unconscious. He quickly joined Michaela. Tenderly, he lifted her limp body into his lap.

"Michaela," he brushed her long tresses from her face.

Gently rocking her back and forth, he kissed her temple, "No, Michaela."

Hank was first on the scene, "Sully?"

Jake and Robert E raced to Carr's body, where Wolf stood guard. They saw that he was still alive and searched him for weapons.

Hank crept closer, "Sully, is she...?"

Sully's pained expression said it all.

"She can't be dead," Hank removed his hat.

Sully continued to rock his wife as he leaned across her motionless body. Then, he felt something. It was her hand on his arm.

"Michaela?" he pulled back to look at her face.

"Sully?" she attempted to open her eyes.

"You're alive!" Sully kissed her feverishly.

"Yes," she struggled to clear her head. "I... I must have fainted."

Sully felt her sides, "Ya ain't shot?"

"No," she sat up slowly. "Sully, the children...."

"Brian's with 'em," he rubbed her back. "They're fine."

"Where's Carr?" she suddenly remembered.

"We got him over here, Dr. Mike," Robert E's voice reassured her.

"He has a gun," she cautioned.

"Found it," Jake held it up.

"He might have another," Sully warned.

"I took one of his weapons and hid it in a kitchen cupboard," Michaela began to rise to her feet.

"Ya sure ya feel okay?" Sully supported her.

"Yes," she dusted off her clothing.

"Who is this fella anyway?" Jake pointed to the unconscious man.

"Name's Ezra Carr," Sully explained. "He worked for a mine smelting company. He tried t' pull some shady dealin's in Denver that would have polluted the water here in Colorado Springs, and when I caught him, he attempted t' break int' our hotel room. The police locked him up in jail."

Michaela knelt beside Carr, "His stitches held."

"Stitches?" Hank wondered.

"He was shot during his escape from the Denver jail," Michaela detailed. "Somehow, he managed to come here. I operated on him early this morning and removed the bullet. I'm surprised he was capable of even walking, let alone bringing me out here."

"Good thing Dr. Mike came up with a new job for ya so ya can prevent people like Carr from takin' advantage of towns like ours," Jake stuck his fingers in his vest pockets.

"New job for me?" Sully was puzzled.

"Yea," Hank rolled his eyes. "Michaela wants ya t' head a town commission t' check on businesses that wanna use our resources."

"She came up with the idea, an' as mayor, I'll appoint the commissioners," Jake bragged. "I'm gonna name you, Sully."

"What if I don't wanna be a commissioner?" Sully was curt.

"Well, ya don't have t' be one if ya don't want," Jake was taken back.

"Michaela just thought that...." Hank started to explain.

Sully walked away from them, Wolf at his side.

"Sully!" Michaela called after him. "Sully, come back!"

Michaela attempted to keep up with him. He speeded up his pace, and it became obvious to her that she would not catch her husband. Dejectedly, she returned to the others.

"What's wrong with him?" Hank lit a cigar.

"Would you take care of Mr. Carr?" Michaela requested.

"We'll handle it, Dr. Mike," Robert E nodded understandingly. "Don't worry about him."

"Thank you," she lifted the hem of her skirt and walked briskly back to toward the homestead.

"What got int' Sully?" Jake was clueless. "You'd think he'd want t' be a commissioner."

"Maybe he's upset that the little woman got him the job," Hank perceived.

"I'd be the one givin' him the job," Jake pointed to himself.

"Come on," Robert E leaned over Carr. "Let's get him back t' town."

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

"Mama!" Katie's face lit up when her mother walked in.

Katie and Brian, with Josef in tow, rushed to her side and hugged her.

"Where's Pa?" Brian inquired.

"He's... he'll be home shortly," Michaela lifted her sleeping son from Brian's arms.

Holding him against her shoulder, she knelt down beside her daughter, "Are you all right, Sweetheart?"

"I fine," she rubbed Josef's back. "I teach Joey somethin'."

"You did?" Michaela's heart warmed. "What?"

"How 'bout you, Ma?" Brian asked. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," she assured him.

"Did they catch Carr?" the young man wondered.

"Yes," she replied. "They're taking him into town."

Brian noticed his mother's appearance, "Ya sure you're all right, Ma? He didn't do anythin' to ya?"

She sighed, "He didn't harm me, but I am rather tired. I was up all night."

"Why don't ya take a nap?" he offered. "I'll watch Katie."

"I'd rather wait for Sully," she wanted to speak with him.

"I'll wake ya when he gets home," Brian stated. "I think ya oughta rest."

"Would you like to lie down, too, Sweetheart?" Michaela glanced at Katie.

"Nope," she shook her head.

"Very well. I'll take this little one with me," she touched her son's soft hair.

"Sleep tight, Mama," Katie counseled.

"Thank you," she kissed the little girl.

Slowly, Michaela made her way upstairs. Placing Josef in his crib, she rubbed his back for several minutes, thinking about the ordeal that had just ended. But it hadn't ended. Sully was upset, and she did not understand why.

She unlaced her shoes and sat on the edge of the bed. Her head throbbed, and her body ached from fatigue. Laying back, she was unable to stay awake any longer.

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

Sully kicked a small rock and watched it tumble down an embankment. He had stopped walking shortly after he realized Michaela was no longer following him.

He sat down, and spoke to Wolf, "How could she go behind my back and do somethin' like this? Arrange a job for me? What does that make me? A man who has t' live off of his wife."

He exhaled slowly and tried to sort out his emotions. Michaela had told everyone but him about this town commissioner idea. What could she be thinking? How could she do this?

Wolf sat beside his master and nudged his arm.

"What's wrong, boy?" Sully petted him.

Wolf gently gripped the sleeve of Sully's buckskin jacket between his teeth and tugged.

"Stop it, Wolf," Sully commanded.

The animal persisted and continued to whine.

"Ya wantin' me t' go somewhere?" Sully sensed.

Wolf wagged his tail. Sully ignored him and returned to his thoughts.

Michaela was always trying t'.... Sully stopped himself. Suddenly he was filled with remorse for his thoughts and actions.

He looked at his faithful pet, "Just an hour ago, I cradled her in my arms thinkin' she was dead. Just this week, I held her hand 'cause we weren't expectin' another baby. How could I be so selfish? Michaela knows my frustration over government bureaucracy. She was only tryin' to help, and what did I do? I walked... no, I ran away from her."

He rose to his feet, "Come on, Wolf. Let's go home."

************
Chapter 12
************

"Poppy!" Katie ran to her father the instant he walked through the door.

"Hello, beautiful," he swept her into his arms. "What ya doin'?"

"Just playin' with Bran," she pointed her little finger toward the young man.

"Where's your Ma?" he set her down and tapped her behind.

"Takin' nap with Joey," the little girl informed him.

"Ma wanted t' wait up for ya, but she looked awful tired," Brian spoke.

"Think I'll join her," he removed his jacket. "It's been a rough day. Brian, would ya look after Katie?"

"Sure," he tickled her side.

"See ya in a little bit," Sully climbed the steps.

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

Michaela did not waken when Sully crept into the bedroom and closed the door. He removed his belt and shoes, then lifted the covers to slide into bed beside his wife. In a curled position, she did not stir. Sully tenderly repositioned her so that she was tucked against him. He felt her steady breathing and let the scent of her hair transport him.

"I love you, Michaela," he whispered.

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

"Pa," a little voice called from the crib.

Michaela stirred at the sound of her son.

"Pa!" the voice was more adamant.

When she opened her eyes, Michaela was startled to find Sully beside her, his arm draped across her waist. Had she imagined Josef's voice? She glanced toward the child. The baby was sitting up clutching the rungs of his crib.

"Sully?" she turned to face him.

"Mmm?" he opened his eyes slowly.

"Are you all right?" she did not know what else to say.

He pulled himself up. "Michaela, I'm sorry."

"No," she patted his hand. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have taken an initiative like that without speaking with you first."

He touched her hair, "Please forgive me for...."

"Pa!" Josef called.

Both parents sat up with a start.

"Did he say 'Pa?'" Sully exclaimed.

They rose from the bed and went to the crib. Sully tenderly picked up the little boy.

"Josef?" Sully pointed to himself. "Who am I?"

The baby was silent.

Michaela tried, "Say 'Pa,' Sweetheart."

Again no response from their son.

"I could have sworn he said it, Michaela," Sully was certain.

She agreed, "I thought I heard him, too."

Now Josef would not speak. Sully lifted his son's little cotton shift and kissed his belly. Then the aroma from the baby's diaper became apparent.

"I'll change him," Michaela offered.

"No, I'll do it," Sully said. "You get back t' bed."

"I would like for us to talk about things first, Sully," she returned to the topic of their disagreement.

"I was wrong t' walk away from ya," Sully began to clean the baby.

"I only wanted to help," she sat on the edge of the bed.

"I was upset that ya went behind my back t' arrange a job for me," he fetched a clean diaper.

"I didn't go behind your back, Sully," she countered. "You weren't here."

"Ya could've waited for me t' get home before talkin' t' Jake an' the others," he finished diapering the baby.

"I merely wanted to determine the feasibility of the idea before speaking with you," she responded.

"Feasibility?" his voice was becoming louder. "My wife has t' determine if somethin's feasible for me?"

"No," she was becoming frustrated. "You're misunderstanding all of this. My intentions were only to help you, Sully."

"I can help myself!" he set the baby in his crib.

"Don't turn things around like this!" she put her hands on her hips. "Why must you be so stubborn?"

"I'm stubborn?" he raised his eyebrows. "You take the cake for bein' stubborn!" he yelled.

At this, Josef burst into tears.

"Now see what you've done!" Michaela rushed to the baby.

"I ain't the only one raisin' his voice," he folded his arms.

Kissing the baby's head, Michaela spoke more softly, "You don't need to be shouting in front of your son."

Sully headed for the door. Just as he turned the knob, there was a knock. He opened it, and there stood Katie, her lower lip quivering.

Sully knelt down, "What's the matter, Kates?"

"I don't think Mama's doctorin' ya in here," her reddened eyes were sad.

Sully's heart melted as he lifted her into his arms, "Come here, sweet girl."

"Why ya mad?" the child wrapped her arm around his neck.

Michaela sat in the rocking chair with her wailing son, "We're not mad. We're having a disagreement."

"Why ya havin' disgweement?" Katie persisted.

Sully and Michaela glanced at one another, unsure of what to say, and uncertain of why they were truly arguing.

"Put me down, Poppy," Katie tapped his shoulder.

The little girl then walked to her brother and rubbed his back. Josef turned his head toward her and began to calm.

Suddenly, Michaela burst into tears, "Oh, Sully, I was so frightened when I had to lock them in here. Our children by themselves and...."

He rushed to her and knelt down. Enfolding his wife and children into his arms, he leaned his head against Michaela's. Then he pulled back and kissed her.

"It's okay now," he reassured. "We're all okay."

Brian appeared at the doorway, moved by the sight of his family. He stepped into the room and went to them.

"Brian," Michaela extended her hand to him.

He clasped it and smiled.

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

That evening on the front porch, Michaela and Sully sat enjoying the warm breeze with their children.

"Poppy," Katie sat on his lap. "We get sweet lamp?"

"Why would ya want one, Kates?" he kissed the top of her head.

"So it not get dawk," she reasoned.

"Does the darkness frighten you?" Michaela asked, as she held Josef near.

"Sometime," the child responded. "Sweet lamps make it light all time."

"If it was light all the time, ya couldn't see the stars," Sully pointed up.

"Ya can't?" she was surprised.

"Nope," he told her. "See that big star right there?"

Katie snuggled closer to his chest, "Yep."

"That's the North Star," he said.

"Polaris," Michaela stated.

"North Star," Sully came back.

"The proper name is Polaris," she did not yield.

Katie watched her parents debate back and forth.

"I call it Big Star," Katie announced.

Brian laughed, "Why, Katie?"

"So Mama an' Poppy not fight," she answered.

"That's called a compromise," Brian chuckled.

"I copwomise," the little girl smiled. Then after reflection, she queried, "What that mean?"

"Compromise is when two different sides stop fightin' cause they come up with somethin' they can both agree on," Brian leaned back against a post.

"Sounds good," the child nodded. "What Mama an' Poppy agwee on?"

"We agree on many things," Michaela turned her son around to see them. "We agree that we love our children very, very much."

"We agree on what's right an' wrong," Sully held Katie's hand.

"That's good," Katie was satisfied. "Mama an' Poppy 'maze me."

"What?" Sully did not understand the word.

"Amaze," Michaela clarified.

"We do?" Sully grinned. "Why do ya say that, Kates?"

The child raised her arms, "Ya sapwise me an' fill my heart with love."

Sully hugged her just a little tighter.

"What happened with you an' Mr. Hill, Pa?" Brian inquired.

"I reckon we compromised, too," he took Katie's hand. "He came up with a plan we could both live with. He gets his smelter, an' the town water supply is protected."

"Did Dorothy return with Marjorie?" Michaela turned to her husband.

"Who's Marjorie?" Brian rested his elbows on his knees.

"Mawjoy little giwl," Katie answered.

"We found her living on the street with no family," Michaela told her son.

"When Dorothy went t' the courthouse t' find out if Marjorie had any kin, she found out there's an uncle in St. Louis," Sully explained. "She's stayin' in Denver with Marjorie until they meet him."

"I'm glad that she has family to care for her," Michaela said. "But I had the feeling Dorothy was becoming quite attached to the little girl."

Katie slipped from her father's lap and went to her brother.

"Joey," she curled his fingers around her hand.

The little boy smiled.

"Joey," Katie repeated. "Say it. Say what I teach ya."

Josef bounced on his mother's lap, but did not speak.

"Say it," Katie encouraged.

When the boy did not respond, Katie returned to her father, disappointed that her work had been for naught. The family sat quietly for several moments.

Then Josef broke the silence in a barely discernible voice, "Pa."

Michaela held him up and smiled broadly.

"Good Joey!" Katie clapped.

"Pa," he said it again loud and clear.

Michaela kissed her son's cheek. Then Sully rose and stepped closer. He lifted his son and smiled.

"Thank you, Josef," he caressed his head.

Then Sully bent down and scooped Katie into his arms, "An' thank you, Kates."

"Next, I gonna teach him Mama," the child beamed.

"That will be nice," Michaela said wistfully.

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

The children were tucked in for the night, and the house was quiet. Sully and Michaela lay silently in their bed. Their earlier tension had abated, but there was still an unspoken discomfort between them.

Michaela sighed, and Sully turned to her, searching for an opening to talk about their mood.

"Ya feelin' okay?" he asked.

"Yes," she turned away and rested on her side.

He started to touch her arm, but pulled back.

"Michaela?" he spoke low.

"What?" she wanted to look at him but did not.

"Ya think maybe we could compromise?" he started.

"Compromise?" she glanced over her shoulder.

"I don't want us t' be like this," he rubbed her arm. "I was wrong t' take off like I did, but I was angry that you'd do somethin' without consultin' me first."

"I don't want us to be like this either," she turned over to face him. "Sully, I merely acted on something that I thought would help you."

"I know," he nodded. "So how 'bout we compromise?"

"How?" she asked.

"I'll try not t' go stormin' off, if you'll try t' talk t' me before doin' somethin' that affects my work," he answered.

"I suppose that would be all right," she acquiesced.

"Suppose?" he touched her nose.

"I agree that it would be all right," she amended.

"Good," he slid his arm beneath her shoulders.

"Would you read some poetry to me?" she stroked his chest.

He reached for a book on his nightstand and opened it, "This is from William Cowper:

There is in souls a sympathy with sounds;
And as the mind is pitched the ear is pleased
With melting airs or martial, brisk or grave;
Some chord in unison with what we hear
Is touched within us, and the heart replies.
How soft the music of those village bells
Falling at intervals upon the ear
In cadence sweet!"

"A chord in unison," she pondered it. "That was lovely. Thank you."

They lay silently in each others arms for several minutes.

"You asleep?" Sully wondered.

"No," she answered.

"You're quiet," he stroked her back as he pulled her closer.

"I'm just very tired," she responded.

"Ya sure that's all?" he thought otherwise.

"Yes," she responded.

"Michaela," he leaned toward her ear. "I know I hurt your feelin's, and I'm real sorry."

She felt her eyes water, "I'm sorry I upset you."

He sensed her pain, "Shhh. It's all over now. We're in each others arms."

"I hate it when we argue," she felt a tear run down her cheek.

"But somethin' good can come from it," he raised an eyebrow.

"What?" she glanced into his eyes.

"We get t' make up," he grinned.

"That's true," she felt her heart lighten.

Sully lifted her chin and tenderly brought his lips to hers. She repositioned herself to respond more fully to his overtures. Framing his face between her hands, she lightly kissed the sides of his mouth, then deepened their kiss.

Sully felt his heart skip a beat as his wife aroused his passion. He lowered his hand to slide the material of her nightgown up across her thigh.

"Ya ain't too tired?" he wanted to be certain.

"No," she smiled.

Michaela's pulse raced at the excitement her husband was stirring in her. Her movements invited his further advances, and soon they came together, filled with the rapture of their love. His kisses afterward filled her with warmth.

"I love you, Sully," she regained her breath.

"I love you, too," he clung to her.

Again there was silence between them.

"Know what I'm gonna do t'morrow?" he made lazy circles on her arm.

"What?" she tingled.

"I'm gonna talk t' Jake about that town commissioner job," he ran his hand up to her cheek.

"Sully," she opened her eyes wide. "You don't have to...."

"I know I don't have to," he cut her off. "But I reckon when my wife has a good idea, I shouldn't disregard it 'cause o' pride."

"I think you'll be a wonderful commissioner," she beamed.

"I figure I oughta compromise with ya more often," he smiled.

"You do?" she wondered what he had in mind.

"Yep," he pulled the sheet higher on the bed. "Never know when I might need a good doctor."

"You're a wonderful man," her heart filled with love.

"Ya think?" he teased.

"Your children certainly think so," she ran her fingers through his hair. "The first word each of them said was 'Pa.'"

"Should've been 'Ma,'" he pulled her hand to his lips.

"Perhaps Josef was saying 'Baa' as a compromise between the two," she mused.

"I had some help with Katie coachin' him," Sully noted.

"Actually, I think it is quite appropriate that they both said 'Pa' as their first word," she stated.

"Ya do?" he was surprised.

"Umm," she spoke low. "I've shared many firsts with their Papa myself."

"Let's get some sleep," he smiled. "'Night."

"Good night," she rested her head against his shoulder.

THE END

EPILOGUE

The only fictional character mentioned with regard to the meetings in Denver was Ezra Carr. Casimiro Barela went on to be a member of the Constitutional Convention in December 1875. He represented Las Animas County and was instrumental in ensuring that Colorado legislation was printed in Spanish so that it could be understood by the Spanish speaking of his county.

William Byers was the founder of the "Rocky Mountain News." He had served as president of the Constitutional Convention for the Jefferson Territory and was active in the final achievement of statehood.

Barney Ford was a former runaway slave who became a successful businessman. He ensured equal voting rights for all citizens in the new state constitution and supported civil rights legislation in early Colorado history. He was the first black to serve on a Colorado grand jury, and in 1882, he and his wife were the first blacks to be invited to a Colorado Association of Pioneers dinner. And he once employed Willie Kennard (see "Yankee Hill").

Nathaniel Hill was a chemist who built the first large mining smelter in Colorado. He initiated the era of hard rock mining.

Otto Mears was chairman of the Capitol Managers and oversaw construction of the state capitol, designing the gold leaf covered dome.

John L. Routt was the last territorial and first state governor of Colorado. His secretary was John N. Reigart.

The Constitutional Convention held its first meeting in December 1875 at Odd Fellow Hall with 39 delegates present. They spent 87 days preparing a constitution. In March of 1876, the first draft was completed and signed. In July 1876, Congress acted upon it, and on August 1, 1876, President Grant issued the proclamation declaring Colorado a state. Thus, the "Centennial State" entered the Union.



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