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



A Crisis of Faith


by Debby K

Click here to read EPILOGUE



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
A Crisis of Faith
by Debby K

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

Colleen withdrew her stethoscope from listening to Michael's chest. The baby was fascinated with the medical instrument and attempted to remove it from his aunt's ears.

Colleen gently guided his hands away. "How long has he had these symptoms, Emma?"

The young woman calculated. "He was real restless all night. I figure he's just teethin', but I wanted you t' see him."

Colleen reached for the tongue depressor. "Open wide for Aunt Colleen, Michael."

The baby whined instead.

Colleen questioned, "Has he eaten anything today?"

"Not much," Emma replied. "But he's real thirsty."

Next Colleen examined the little boy's gums. "He is teething, but I just want to be certain it's nothing else. Have his bowel movements been normal?"

The young mother considered. "A little loose."

"Does anything else seem out of the ordinary?" Colleen posed the question.

"Not that I can think of," she responded.

Colleen smiled. "I'll give you something to rub on his gums for the teething. If anything changes.... if he develops a fever or runny nose, bring him back."

"I will," Emma pledged. As she dressed her son, she mentioned, "Dr. Mike an' Sully are due home this mornin'. Matthew is meetin' them at the Depot. You must have missed them a lot."

Colleen nodded. "Yes, I have. Not only because they're family, but I miss consulting with Ma."

"You can't consult with the other physicians here?" she questioned.

Colleen sighed, "Sometimes it's a little awkward."

"You an' Andrew still...." Emma paused, unsure of what to say.

Colleen folded her arms. "Still.... His skills as a doctor are impeccable, but when he looks at me in certain ways, I know that he still loves me."

"An' that's not how you feel?" Emma assumed.

Colleen pondered, "It's been a long time since I knew how I felt."

Emma lifted Michael. "I know what that's like. It's why I went off t' help Gilda St. Clair. I needed time away from Matthew t' think about everythin'."

"Well, Andrew and I have been apart, and we've been together," she mentioned. "And I'm still not sure about us."

Emma wondered, "Do ya have trouble makin' up your mind about other things?"

"Never," she answered. "That's what makes this so frustrating. I feel as if I'm stuck in time, and my life cannot move forward until I resolve it."

At that moment, Sister Mary Martha knocked on the frame of the door. "Dr. Cook, your next patient is here."

"Thank you, Sister," she acknowledged. She caressed Michael's black hair. "Take care, Sweetheart."

"Thanks for everythin', Colleen," Emma acknowledged.

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

With Wolf beside him, Matthew stepped to the Depot window where Horace was sifting through some papers. "Train on time?"

Horace smiled. "Yep. Seems like they been gone a long time."

"They have," Matthew remarked. "Poor Annie."

The telegrapher assured, "Last telegram said she was doin' fine."

"I know." Matthew tilted his hat back. "I reckon I just wanna see for myself."

"Nothin' worse than a sick child," Horace remarked, then returned to his work.

Matthew stepped to the rows of benches and sat. Horace's comment reminded him of the rough night Michael had experienced. He hoped Colleen would be able to help his son. Crossing his legs, he leaned back to wait.

"Hey, Matthew." It was Mary Conway's voice.

He stood and removed his hat. "Hey, Mary. How are ya?"

"Fine," she returned. "You?"

"Good," he noted. "I'm just waitin' on Ma's train. Care t' join me?"

"Sure." She sat down.

Matthew positioned himself beside her. "How's everythin' at the school?"

"The children are still on their break," she reminded.

He inquired, "Did the supplies ya ordered come?"

"Yes, the new braille books your mother bought have arrived," Mary informed him. "That will help a lot."

"Good," Matthew smiled.

The young woman scanned the tracks.

Matthew noticed. "I guess you wanna thank Ma for the books."

"Oh.... yes." She cleared her throat uncomfortably.

In the distance, they heard the whistle of the train. Both Matthew and Mary stood, and along with several other people, stepped a little closer to where the passengers would disembark.

When the train lumbered to a stop, Sully was the first off. Instantly, Wolf greeted him. Matthew shook his hand and helped each of the children down. They greeted their oldest brother excitedly. Then came Michaela, who handed Annie to Sully.

Matthew stepped closer. "How's this little girl?"

Annie smiled broadly. "I good."

Matthew kissed her cheek sweetly. "It's good t' see ya, little sister."

Amid the joyful family reunion, no one noticed Mary, who was standing back, hands folded. While Bridget guided the children to the waiting surrey, and Matthew helped Sully with their trunks, Michaela finally spotted the young woman.

"Mary!" Michaela approached. "It's good to see you."

"You, too, Dr. Mike." The young woman smiled. "Thanks so much for the braille books."

"You're more than welcome." Michaela sensed what was on her mind. "Brian asked about you."

Mary's face lit up. "He did?"

Michaela reached into her purse. "He asked me to give this to you."

Mary accepted the letter. "Thank you."

Michaela clasped her hand. "Give him time. He's devoted to his career at the moment, but.... well, I know he has feelings for you."

"I appreciate your kindness, Dr. Mike. You must be tired. Welcome home." She forced a smile, then turned to leave.

Sully approached his wife, his arms full of their mail. "How's Mary?"

"She accepted Brian's letter, but...." She paused as her stomach grew queazy.

Sully noticed. "Botherin' ya again?"

She nodded. "I'm afraid so."

He speculated, "Maybe it'll get better now that we ain't in motion."

"It might be more than the jostling of the train," she theorized. "I think it could be something I ate."

"The whole way across the country?" Sully doubted. "You been feelin' poorly since we left for home."

Michaela noticed Mary rounding the corner by the old Clinic. "I wonder what Brian's letter says?"

He chuckled. "You mean ya didn't open it?"

"Sully!" She tapped his side. "Of course not."

"Speakin' of letters, we got a lot here." He grinned. "We best get home."

"Home." She closed her eyes and sighed. "It will be grand to sleep in our own bed again."

He retorted, "You don't like sleepin' on a train with me?"

She raised an eyebrow flirtatiously. "We've enjoyed other train rides far more, Mr. Sully."

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

Upon their arrival at the homestead, Bridget and Michaela opened all of the windows to relieve the stuffiness of a house that had been unoccupied for a month. Katie and Josef accompanied their father to the barn to take care of the animals that Robert E and Matthew had tended since their departure.

As Josef petted Iggy, he noticed something. "Papa, come here."

Sully joined him. "What is it, Joe?"

Josef pointed, "Look at Iggy's eye."

Sully scrutinized it. "Looks like it's got a white dot in it."

"What ya think it is?" Josef queried.

Sully pursed his lips together. "Maybe your Ma can take a look. It don't seem t' be hurtin' her." Then he waved his hand in front of Iggy's eye. The pet did not react. "I don't think she can see, Joe."

Josef tilted his head. "Ya mean she's blind like the Wreverend?"

"Could be," Sully nodded.

The little boy stood. "I'll go get Mama."

With that, he took off for the homestead. Katie joined her father, and he filled her in on what Josef had discovered.

Sully petted the pig behind the ears. "What's wrong, Iggy?"

As he checked the animal's other eye, Sully looked up and saw Michaela approaching. Josef was holding her hand.

Michaela knelt down and withdrew her opthomoloscope from her medical bag. "Hold her still, please."

Sully and Josef positioned themselves on either side of Iggy as Michaela commenced her assessment.

Michaela remarked, "She doesn't appear to be reacting to light."

Josef's shoulders slumped. "Jus' like the Wreverend."

Sully questioned, "Any idea why, Michaela?"

"It could be any of a variety of reasons from trauma to a tumor," she offered.

"What's that mean, Mama?" Katie queried.

"Trauma means a physical injury, such as running into something," Michaela explained.

Josef asked, "What's a tumor?"

She defined, "It's an abnormal growth of tissue."

Sully noticed his children struggling to understand. "Maybe Iggy's got somethin' behind her eye causin' it."

Josef recommended, "Mama could take it out."

Michaela's brow wrinkled. "I had to dissect a pig in medical school, but.... I.... I don't know about surgery. If she's not in any pain, then perhaps we should simply observe her for any further changes."

Josef pledged, "I'll watch her 'til dark. Then maybe you could do it t'night, Papa."

Sully smiled. "That's not what your Ma means, Joe. Animals let us know when they ain't feelin' good. Iggy seems healthy enough. We'll keep an eye on how she's eatin' an' drinkin' her water."

Josef and Katie were visibly distraught.

Michaela drew them into her arms. "It doesn't mean Iggy will die. She still has a good eye and her other senses. They'll compensate for the blindness."

Josef expressed, "What if she bumps int' somethin' an' huwts her other eye?"

Sully noted, "She knows her way around the pen, Joe. She'll do fine."

Michaela suggested, "I think Miss Bridget is making some cookies. I'm certain she'll give you one if you ask."

Joseph shrugged, "I ain't hungwy."

"Me either," Katie sighed.

Sully suggested, "Why don't ya stay here with Iggy a while, an' let her know that ya still love her. She's real glad you're home."

Katie spoke for both of them. "Okay."

Sully took Michaela's hand and led her into the barn. "What do ya think it is?"

"I'm at a loss to know," she reiterated.

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

While Hope and the twins napped, the family finished unpacking and washing their clothes, then hanging them on the line to dry. Things began to return to a sense of normalcy. Eventually, Bridget, Katie and Josef, exhausted from their chores also retired for a nap, as well.

In their bedroom, Michaela placed each of her necklaces and earrings in their proper place in her jewelry boxes, while downstairs, Sully began to sort through their mail. Most of it was for his wife. But one letter caught his attention. It was to him from Welland Smith. Opening it, he perused the contents.

"Dear Sully, I hope this letter finds you and your family well. I'll come straight to the point of my correspondence. This year has seen many changes for the US Geological Survey, with even more to come. Since Clarence King's resignation and John Wesley Powell's appointment to head the Survey not long ago, the emphasis has shifted from surveying western to eastern states. However, our work in the West does continue, and that is where you come in.

"Henry Yount, our outgoing Gameskeeper at Yellowstone, has suggested that the job of protecting the game in the park from indiscriminate slaughter is too big a job for one man. We are looking, therefore, to employ a team of men who will have the work of creating and enforcing rules for hunting in the park. You immediately came to mind as just the person to head such a team. The pay will be good, and of course, your lovely family is welcome to join you there.

"Please consider the post and reply to me at your earliest convenience.

"Yours truly, Welland Smith"

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

When Sully entered the bedroom, Michaela noticed his reflection in her mirror. "Hello, there."

"Hey," he smiled. "You sure are a popular lady. Ya must have fifty letters."

"Well, I do correspond with many physicians and friends around the country," she pointed out.

"No love letters?" he teased.

She reached for the stack of envelopes in his hands. "I dare say there may be one or two."

Sully retorted, "Should I be jealous?"

She flashed the beguiling smile that he loved. "I should hope so. What about you? Any letters for you in which I should take interest?"

"Just one," he replied. "I'll talk with ya about it later."

"Why not now?" Michaela pivoted in her seat to look at him.

Sully smiled. "'Cause now, I got ya t' myself.... no kids.... no train.... just you an' me."

Immediately, she felt the familiar tingle of excitement foreshadowing where their conversation might lead. "Was there something specific that you wanted to do?"

He knelt before her and leaned in for a kiss. "Maybe a little o' this."

Michaela began to run her fingers through his hair. "Is that all?"

Sully caressed her neck, then guided his palms lightly along the outline of her breasts. "How 'bout some of this?"

Michaela tried to sound calm. "Nothing more?"

Sully lifted her hand and tenderly kissed her knuckles. "Some of this?"


Michaela rose from her seat, gently pulling him up to join her. "I love you so much, Sully. Nothing can ever change that."

"That's how I feel, too." He slid his arms around her waist. "I know I'm the luckiest man in the world."

She rested her hands on his shoulders. "So who was your letter from?"

He tilted his head to kiss her sweetly. "Later. Remember?"

"Sully," she persisted. "Who sent it to you?"

"Sometimes ya talk too much." He lifted her chin for another kiss, this one more intimate.

She felt her cheeks grow warm, but her curiosity was peaked. "Why are you avoiding telling me?"

"'Cause right now, I don't wanna talk." He fumbled for the buttons on the back of her blouse, hoping further kisses would follow.

Michaela reached around to undo her lower buttons, while her husband slid the material off her shoulders. His warm lips prompted goose bumps across her flesh.

"Mmm," Sully paused. "I love touchin' you."

She was melting. "But... I wanted to discuss...."

Reaching around to undo the back of her skirt, his kisses silenced her again.

Michaela's breathing quickened. "Sully."

The resonance of her voice stirred him. Now clad in only her undergarments, she shivered with anticipation. His exploring hands electrified every part of her.

Lifting up on her tiptoes, Michaela kissed his neck. Her hands raked down his chest, opening his shirt with tantalizing touches. Sully closed his eyes and exhaled in blissful contentment. Noting his expression, Michaela became bolder. She undid his buckskins and slid them down his thighs, immediately noticing the effect she had on him.

When Sully lifted her, Michaela wrapped her legs around him. Deliberately, he guided her back onto their bed. Their kisses became hungry.

"Michaela." He softly stroked back the hair from her face while peering into the distinctly dissimilar eyes he adored. "I love you.... everythin' about you."

She could scarcely speak. "You were right. Let's not talk now."

Burning with desire for her, Sully smiled. He cushioned the back of her head with one hand. With his other, he traced the line of her lips. Then his fingers found their way to her breast. Cupping it, he gave a gentle squeeze. She winced subtlety.

Sully noticed her discomfort. "You okay?"

"Yes," she smiled. "Just a little sore."

His eyes narrowed. "Why?"

"I'm certain it was from sleeping on that mattress in our train car," she explained. "It was as hard as a rock. Now, where were we?"

He smiled and resumed his kisses.

Michaela arched back, relishing each soft and loving caress. Her eyes lightened with pleasure when he positioned himself above her. They began their delightful dance of love, each murmuring sweet sounds of satisfaction as they moved. Swift energy flowed between them until, spent by their passion, they collapsed into each other's arms.

Sully kissed her and spoke low:

"My lady is perfect, and transfigureth
All sin and sorrow and death,
Making them fair as her own eyelids be,
Or lips wherein my whole soul's life abides;
Or as her sweet white sides
And bosom carved to kiss.
Now therefore, if her pity further me,
Doubtless for her sake all my days shall be
As righteous as she is."

Michaela ventured a guess of the poet, "Swinburne?"

"Right!" He grinned.

"What are you smiling about?" She stroked his stomach.

He teased, "Ya finally got it right."

She raised an eyebrow playfully. "This isn't the first time I got it right."

Sully enjoyed the double entendre of her reply. "Ya get better every time."

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

Illuminated only by the light of their porch lanterns, Sully sat on the steps, sipping a cup of coffee. Through the upstairs windows, he could hear the lively conversation of his children as Michaela and Bridget prepared them for bed. He smiled in contentment.

Then his thoughts turned to the letter in his pocket. He knew what Michaela would say. And he was uncertain in his own mind if it was something he wanted to do. He already had a job as the forester for Colorado Springs. But.... Smith's job was tempting, and the pay would be handsome. It might be nice to....

At that moment, he discerned a horse approaching. Squinting, Sully recognized his oldest son.

Matthew slowed his horse to a stop. "Sully!"

"Matthew?" He could tell something was wrong from the tone of his son's voice. "What brings you out?"

"We need Ma!" He dismounted. "Michael's real sick, an' I couldn't find Colleen."

Sully rose to his feet, his brow creasing. "What's wrong?"

Matthew replied, "I ain't sure, but Emma an' me are real worried."

"Come on in," Sully invited as he opened the door. "I'll get your Ma."

When they entered the house, Sully bolted up the steps.

Within moments, Michaela rushed down and gathered her medical bag.

Matthew apologized, "I hope ya don't mind, Ma."

"Of course not," she assured.

Sully offered, "I'll saddle Flash for ya."

Matthew shook his head, "Ma can ride my horse. I'll follow on Flash."

Michaela observed the seriousness of her son's expression. "All right."

Sully kissed his wife. "Don't worry 'bout anythin' here. Go take care o' that little boy."

With that, Michaela departed.

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

In the Gold Nugget, Jake set his glass on the bar. "Another."

Hank shook his head. "Ya had enough."

"I only had two," Jake denied.

Hank countered, "Ya had three. Now go home t' your wife. For all you know, she's gone int' labor."

Jake sighed, "She's overdue. I think Dr. Mike miscalculated things."

Loren spoke up. "Maude was late with Abigail. I thought she'd never have that baby."

Jake took a deep breath. "All right, I'll go home. But I know what'll happen."

Hank leaned his elbows on the bar. "Too late for foolin' around. What else could happen?"

"She'll want me t' rub her back," Jake frowned. "Next, she'll want...."

Loren cut him off. "Be grateful she's healthy! They might be annoyin' things t' you, but they mean a lot t' a woman."

Jake swayed slightly. "I gotta think of a name, too."

Hank suggested, "How 'bout namin' him after your Pa?"

He turned up his nose. "Ya gotta be jokin'. One Lucius Slicker in the world was enough."

Loren suggested, "I always been partial t' the name Loren."

Jake snickered, "You would be."

Hank offered, "What about Daniel?"

He rolled his eyes. "After that photographer?"

"Only Daniel I know," Hank chuckled. "He made me an' my girls look real good."

Loren pondered, "You could name him Garfield, in honor o' the President."

That prompted another idea for the father-to-be. "James. James Slicker."

Loren considered, "Not bad. What about a middle name?"

"Jacob," he quickly added. "James Jacob Slicker."

Hank took a puff on his cigar. "Only one thing wrong with that, far as I can tell."

Loren and Jake spoke simultaneously. "What?"

Hank grinned, "What if it's a girl?"

Jake's shoulders slumped. "Leave it t' Teresa t' go an' give me another girl."

Loren scolded, "Ain't nothin' wrong with girls. Right Hank?"

Hank retorted, "I, for one, love 'em."

Loren eyed him. "I'm talkin' about daughters. Ain't nothin' wrong with a daughter."

Hank shrugged. "'Cept ya can't drink or swear around 'em. An' ya gotta be more careful when ya hold 'em."

Jake pointed out. "In case ya forgot, I got a daughter. I already know all that stuff."

Loren put his fingers in his vest pockets. "Well then. What are ya gonna name the baby if it's a girl?"

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

Michaela rushed into the old clinic and called, "Emma?"

"Up here, Dr. Mike," her voice beckoned from above. "Please hurry!"

Michaela ran up the steps and entered the nursery. She observed that Emma had been wiping the baby's face and torso with a wet cloth. The child was crying and his legs were drawn up close to his stomach.

The young mother implored, "Please, Dr. Mike. Ya gotta help him."

Michaela removed her stethoscope from her bag. As she examined the little boy, she noted his bloated abdomen.

Michaela began to question her, "How long has he been this way?"

Emma's voice trembled. "He was restless an' cryin' all day. I had him t' see Colleen earlier. I thought he was just teethin'."

Michaela encouraged, "Has he eaten?"

Emma noted, "I tried feedin' him t' keep up his energy, but it comes right back up. He's been wretchin' even though there's nothin' left in his belly."

Michaela noted the little boy's rapid pulse. His head was feverish, but his extremities were cold. The baby's eyes appeared sunken and his skin pallid.

Michaela queried, "Do you have his most recently soiled diaper?"

The young woman went to the hamper in the corner of the nursery to fetch it. "It's real watery."

As Michaela examined the greenish appearance of his feces, her face paled.

Emma read her expression. "What is it, Dr. Mike?"

"I believe he has cholera infantum," she assessed.

Emma was horrified. "Cholera!"

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

Sully joined the children in Katie's room, where they had gathered for comfort when their mother so hastily departed.

Josef spoke up, "Papa, why'd Mama leave?"

Sully was vague. "She was needed in town, Joe."

Katie reasoned, "I heard Matthew's voice sayin' somethin' about Michael."

Noah questioned, "He sick?"

Sully assured, "Your Ma will take good care of him."

Annie smiled. "Mama make better like me."

Sully lifted the little girl onto his lap. "That's right."

Josef requested, "Ya got a stowy for us, Papa? That might take our minds off things."

Sully tilted his head. "You worried, Joe?"

The boy replied, "I can tell you are."

Sully mused, "How'd you get t' be so smart?"

Josef answered in all seriousness, "You always say from Mama."

Katie added, "Poppy's smart, too."

Sully put his finger to his lips to silence them. "Okay, okay. I'll tell ya a story."

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

Michaela attempted to calm Emma, "Cholera has similar symptoms to the infantum, but this is not contagious. However, we must act quickly. Could you get me a glass of water?"

Emma left the room, while Michaela reached into her bag for the aconite. Within moments, Emma returned. Carefully, Michaela stirred the exact amount of the drug into the water. Too much would be poisonous and fatal.

Then Michaela requested, "Could you hold him? I need to get a teaspoon of the medicine into him."

Emma cradled the baby while Michaela gently placed the spoon to his lips. The little boy moaned, but drank from it.

Holding her son close, Emma's asked, "Dr. Mike? Will he...."

Michaela's tone was gentle. "He's a strong boy."

"Oh, God," the young woman sighed. "I don't know what I'd do if we lost him."

Michaela tenderly stroked her grandson's head. "He needs you to be strong, too."

Emma observed her son. "How could this have happened?"

Michaela explained, "It occurs often during very hot temperatures. We must monitor him very closely for the next twelve hours."

She chose not to tell the young mother about the possible convulsions and seizures that would precede death, should the treatment fail.

Emma posed the question. "Does it matter that he's Cheyenne?"

Michaela knew her meaning. Indian children had no natural immunity to the white man's illnesses.

Before she could answer, they heard Matthew's arrival. He bounded up the steps and rushed into the nursery. Michaela quickly explained the ailment to her son. Matthew closed his eyes, holding back the tears. He knew he must at least put on a brave facade for his wife.

Matthew questioned, "Would he be better off in the hospital, Ma?"

"I'd rather not move him," Michaela answered. "I'll stay here to monitor his condition and administer the medicine."

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

Teresa Slicker awoke, smelling the disgusting odor of stale alcohol. "Jacob."

"Mmm?" he barely stirred.

"Jacob, wake up," she demanded.

Jake opened his eyes a slit. "What is it? Is it the baby?"

"No." She could hardly move. "But I need help."

He painfully sat up. "What with?"

"I must go to the privy," she informed him.

Jake struggled to his feet and went to her side of the bed. He leaned over to support his wife, then lifted her into a standing position. Given her large girth, she was scarcely able to maneuver around the bed.

Teresa accused, "You have been drinking."

"Only had a couple with my friends," he answered. "I'm fine now."

"You are not fine." She walked gingerly. "You smell of whiskey."

He let the remark go and changed the subject. "I really think ya oughta see Dr. Mike. The baby should've been born by now."

"Dr. Quinn miscalculated." Her tone was curt.

Finally, they reached the outhouse. It was a hot evening. Perspiring from helping his wife, Jake leaned against the wooden structure as Teresa went inside.

Then he glanced back at their home. Their second home. The first had burned down thanks to his carelessness. Sully had led the effort to build this one. It was nice enough but nothing like the one he had dreamed for Teresa and himself.

After letting his thoughts wander for a while, he suddenly realized that his wife had been in the privy longer than necessary.

Jake became concerned. "Teresa, you okay?"

There was no reply.

"Teresa?" He opened the door.

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

Sully tucked in each of the children in turn, finally ending up outside of Katie's room. He noticed that her lamp was still lit.

Stepping through the door, he whispered, "You all right, sweet girl?"

She turned her head to look at him. "Yea."

He noticed her demeanor and sat beside her. "You sure?"

"Just thinkin' about Michael," she confided. I wish I could help him."

He caressed her hair. "He's in good hands with your Ma there."

"Do you think...." she paused.

He gently queried, "Think what?"

"Do you think I should pray for him?" She completed her thought.

"I think that would be real good," he approved.

With that, the little girl slipped from her bed and knelt. Sully joined her, tenderly placing his hand on her back.

Katie closed her eyes and folded her hands. "God, please help Mama make Michael better. He's just a little boy. He's got so much t' look forward to. Please, God, let Michael be all right." She paused to collect her thoughts, then looked up at her father. "Do you think I said enough, Poppy?"

He nodded. "Sounded just right."

Katie rose from the floor and embraced her father. "I still don't feel sleepy."

He smiled. "Maybe it would help t' read somethin'."

"May I go get one of Mama's books?" she requested.

"Sure," he consented.

When she left him, Sully lifted up and sat on the edge of her bed. Glancing around, he took time to observe each of the special items that his daughter had collected to decorate her room. There were stuffed animals, dating back to her infancy, the music box, carved animals he had made for her and photographs of their family. In a small frame amid the other pictures was one of Michael and Hope on Michaela's lap.

Katie reentered the bedroom.

He smiled. "Find somethin'?"

"Uh-huh." She climbed into bed again, book in hand.

Sully leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Okay. I know how much ya love t' read, but don't stay up too late."

"I won't," she pledged. "One more thing."

"What's that?" He raised an eyebrow.

She turned up the edge of her lips, reminiscent of her mother's smile. "I love you, Poppy."

His heart filled as he kissed her again. "I love you, too. Good night, sweet girl."

He stood up, then hesitating at the door, he turned to look at her again. What had he done to deserve such a daughter? Such a family?

"You okay, Poppy?" Katie noticed.

He winked. "Just thinkin' about how lucky I am t' have a daughter like you."

Katie noted, "You have lots of daughters."

"That makes me even luckier," he added.

With that, he left her. When he reached the top of the steps, he heard someone enter the house. Maybe Michaela had returned.

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

Colleen entered the homestead, anxious to see everyone. She had missed their homecoming dinner because of an emergency call to a patient's home, but she had hoped to work in a brief visit before the family went to bed.

Standing in the living room, she wondered where everyone was. Then she heard footsteps descending the stairs. Sully came into sight.

Colleen embraced him. "Pa, I'm so glad you're back from Maine. Sorry I missed dinner."

He smiled. "It's real good t' see ya."

"Is Ma upstairs with the children?" she wondered.

His expression was somber. "No."

"Is something wrong?" She noticed.

His eyes saddened. "It's Michael. He's real sick. Your Ma's with him."

Her face paled. "Oh, my God. Pa, I just saw him at the hospital this morning. I gave Emma something to help his teething."

Sully informed her, "Your Ma left here a couple hours ago. Far as I know, she's still at Matthew's."

Colleen nodded. "I'll go over right away."

She quickly exited to head for town.

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

Since Michaela had left, Sully had experienced a growing foreboding that she needed him. He went to the fireplace mantel and touched a photograph of Matthew, Emma and Michael. Swallowing hard, he turned. Closing his eyes, he felt Michaela's presence penetrating his soul. Her heart was heavy.

Bridget's voice interrupted, "Lad? You okay?"

His brow creased. "I need t' go t' Michaela."

"You got one o' them feelin's?" she reasoned.

"Yea," he nodded.

She encouraged, "Don't worry about the babes. I'll take care of 'em. Go t' her."

"Thanks," Sully replied.

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

Jake burst into the Gold Nugget. "Hank, come quick!"

He took a sip of his whiskey. "Come quick? What now?"

"It's Teresa," Jake uttered, somewhat out of breath. "She's fainted."

"Fainted? An' ya want my help?" he frowned. "Get her t' Michaela's hospital."

Jake shouted. "I can't carry her by myself. Besides, I can't get her outa the privy."

Hank put his hands on his hips. "She's in the privy?"

"Would ya stop repeatin' what I say, an' help me?" Desperation filled his voice.

"All right." Hank gestured for one of his girls. "Take care o' things for me."

With that, he donned his hat and exited with Jake. As they departed, they noticed the horses in front of the old clinic.

Hank questioned, "Wonder what's goin' on at Matthew's? One o' them horses looks like Michaela's."

"We don't have time t' ask." Jake quickened his pace.

Hank recommended, "Maybe we oughta get Robert E."

"My wife's havin' a baby." Jake rolled his eyes. "Why the hell would I need a blacksmith?"

Hank retorted, "Well, why the hell ya need the sheriff?"

"I just need help," he responded. "Can't ya help a friend?"

"Yea, but Robert E could hitch up a buckboard," Hank pointed out. "We can get her t' the hospital a lot easier."

Finally reaching the house, they approached the privy.

Jake shouted, "Teresa?"

The structure was empty.

Hank put his hands on his hips. "This some kinda joke?"

"No!" Jake tilted his hat back on his head. "She was here not ten minutes ago."

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

Matthew and Emma sat on either side of their son's crib, each holding one of the little boy's hands. The room was dimly lit.

From the doorway, Michaela watched the parents agonize over their whimpering little boy. She wiped a tear that trickled down her cheek.

"Ma?" It was Colleen's voice from the hallway.

Michaela stepped back and embraced her daughter.

Colleen kept her voice low. "Pa said Michael's sick. I saw him earlier today. I... I thought it was his teething. What's wrong?"

Michaela found it difficult to speak. "Cholera Infantum."

"Oh, God." Colleen felt a rush of anxiety. "How.... how is he doing?"

Michaela did not reply, but her reddened eyes spoke volumes.

Colleen choked back her tears. "Ma, when Emma brought him to the hospital this morning, I.... I didn't see this coming."

Michaela knew where her daughter's thoughts were headed. "Don't blame yourself."

Her voice trembled. "Could I see him?"

"Of course," Michaela nodded.

The young woman quietly entered the bedroom. Matthew noticed his sister and went to her. Silently, they embraced. Then Colleen put her hand on Emma's back. The concerned mother looked up, struggling to maintain her composure.


Michaela remained in the hallway. Leaning against the wall, she closed her eyes and sighed. How she wished Sully were here.

Suddenly, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. Opening her eyes, she observed the compassionate face of her husband.

He drew her into his embrace and kissed the top of her head.

"I need you." She melted into his arms.

He spoke low, "I know."

She took his hand and led him farther from the bedroom.

Keeping her volume soft, she confided what she could not say to her son. "Sully, I don't think he's going to make it."

"What's wrong with him?" he inquired.

"Cholera infantum," she informed him.

He felt a surge of concern. "Ain't that what killed the little boy whose Pa sued ya for malpractice?"

"Yes. Oh, Sully, Michael's so little and...." She was unable to go on.

Again, he embraced his wife. "How are Matthew an' Emma holdin' up?"

She noted, "They're trying to be brave for each other, but they're frightened. I don't know how to prepare them for...."

He sympathized as her voice trailed off. "There's nothin' you can say t' prepare them for it. Isn't there any hope at all?"

"Perhaps a slight chance," she told him. "I won't give up, but if the medicine doesn't work.... It's a horrible death."

"Maybe Matthew an' Emma would like the Reverend," he offered.

"Yes," she agreed. "I think that would be a good idea."

He kissed her. "I'll be right back."

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

Katie had chosen one of her mother's books because its title sounded interesting. My Town. She was excited to see Miss Dorothy's name as the author.

As the little girl read, there were some things that she did not understand. Mrs. Bing had been a prostitute? She wondered what that word meant.

The book said Myra had worked for Mr. Lawson. Katie knew that he owned The Gold Nugget, and her parents had told her to stay far from that place. She had seen the ladies standing outside the saloon with their painted faces. Were they prostitutes? Mrs. Bing used to dress like them?

Katie paused to further consider what she had read. Then a thought occurred to her. She had read references to Mr. Bray, Miss Grace and the Reverend. Maybe Mama and Poppy were in the book, too. With that thought in mind, she began to scan for their names.

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

Sully guided the Reverend into the room where little Michael lay clinging to life. The minister gently extended his hand downward until he felt the baby's forehead. Bowing his head, the clergyman began to pray.

Matthew and Emma embraced, tears streaming down their faces. Michaela noticed Colleen with her back turned from them.

She went to her daughter, whispering. "You couldn't have seen this coming."

Colleen shook her head, speaking low in return. "Ma, I'm so sorry."

"I know, Sweetheart." Michaela rubbed her back.

Sully went to them and enfolded them in his arms. "Why don't we step outside? Breath of fresh air might make ya both feel better."

Michaela insisted, "Michael's due for his medicine shortly."

Colleen encouraged, "I'll give it to him, Ma. You must be exhausted from your trip. Do what Pa says."

"One teaspoon," Michaela specified. "And please call me if there's any change."

"We'll be on the porch downstairs," Sully added.

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

Jake and Hank burst into the Slicker house, finding Teresa sitting on a chair in the kitchen.

She frowned when she spotted the duo. "You have been drinking again?"

Jake insisted, "No. I went t' get Hank 'cause ya passed out."

"Well, as you can see, I am awake now," she gestured. "And my water has broken."

"Oh, no." Jake felt faint.

Hank took over. "I'll go get Michaela."

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

Sully clasped Michaela's hand as they sat on the bench in front of the Clinic.

He reminisced, "I spent a lot o' time on this spot."

"Waiting for me to complete a surgery or mend a broken limb?" she mentioned.

"Yea." He raised her hand to his lips.

She sighed, "I hate waiting."

He smiled. "That's 'cause ya ain't patient."

She feigned surprise. "I'm most patient."

He slid his arm around her, then kissed her temple. "Okay, you win."

Her thoughts turned to the baby upstairs. "It's so hard to watch a child suffer."

"Seems like he's fightin' t' live," Sully observed.

She agreed, "Yes, he has a very strong constitution."

Then Sully asked, "You said this ain't like cholera. What causes somethin' like this, Michaela?"

"Truthfully, it's more apt to happen in cities where the air isn't as pure," she related. "It's most common in late summer and early fall when temperatures reach at least 70 degrees."

"It's been real hot an' humid this summer," he noted.

"Physicians believe that diet also has something to do with it," Michaela added. "Michael wasn't breast-fed after his mother's death. Babies who are nourished by their mother's milk are less likely to get the disease."

"What'll happen if.... if it gets worse?" He posed the question.

Her eyes reddened as tears began to well. "He's already showing advanced signs. His belly is distended.... eyes sunken.... his skin is pale and extremities cold. His crying will cease when...."

"He dies?" Sully spoke the words she could not.

She added, "He'll go into convulsions and a coma first."

Sully's heart grew heavy. "Matthew's been through so much loss in his life."

"I fear how he'll react," she uttered. "When Ingrid died, he was such a lost soul."

"He's got Emma now," Sully reminded.

Michaela knew, "Marriages often fall apart after the death of a child."

He fell silent, absorbing her words.

At that moment, Hank rounded the corner and reached the old clinic. "Michaela, ya gotta come quick!"

"Hank?" She stood up. "What's wrong?"

"Teresa's gone int' labor," he announced. "Her water broke."

Michaela glanced at Sully.

"Go on," he encouraged. "Colleen can handle things here."

"What things?" Hank put his hands on his hips.

Michaela went to fetch her bag as Sully answered, "Matthew's boy's real sick."

"That Injun kid?" he questioned.

Sully kept his temper. "Our grandson."

Michaela returned to them, bag in hand. Sully helped her mount Flash. Within seconds, she was off to the Slicker home.

Hank turned to Sully. "Is the boy that bad?"

He nodded in the affirmative, then opened the door to inform his family where Michaela had gone.

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

Teresa screamed in agony. Jake headed for the kitchen and found one of his hidden bottles of liquor. He took a quick swig, then noticed Maria watching.

Jake's face reddened. "Papa's just.... uh, fortifyin' his nerves. Dr. Mike's on her way."

Teresa's voice beckoned from the bedroom. "JACOB!"

He glanced down at Maria. "You stay here, honey. When Dr. Mike comes, let her in. Can ya do that?"

Maria shyly put her finger in her mouth, then nodded.

Jake bolted up the steps to the bedroom. "Uh... what should I do?"

Teresa panted. "I need help. Can you not help me?"

"Sure." He wiped his sweaty palms down the sides of his trousers. "Uh.... Where should I start?"

"The pain!" she cried out. "Make it stop."

Jake stammered, "I.... I c.... c.... can't. I d.... don't know w.... what t' do."

Before she could say another word, Michaela, followed by Hank, burst into the room. "Mrs. Slicker...."

Teresa yelled, "It is about time you arrived. Help me!"

Michaela glanced toward Jake and Hank. "I need all of the clean cloths and towels you have."

Hank offered, "Need me t' boil some water?"

Michaela answered, "Yes, that would be helpful."

Teresa cut loose with another scream.

Jake put his hands over his ears. "Make her stop, will ya, Dr. Mike? Give her somethin'."

Michaela examined the extent of Teresa's dilation while the men left to take care of the chores they had been given. Jake frantically rushed through every room searching for cloths.

Having put the kettle on the stovetop to boil water, Hank sat down. It was then that he noticed Maria.

He patted the seat next to his. "Your Pa forget about ya?"

Maria remained stoic.

Hank tried again. "Cat got your tongue?"

"No," Maria replied softly.

He sensed, "Ya don't have t' be scared, ya know."

The little girl relaxed a little and pulled herself up to the chair beside him. "Mama is crying."

"Yea," he nodded. "All women do that when they're havin' a baby."

"Mama's having a baby?" The child was surprised.

Hank chuckled, "They didn't tell ya?"

Maria shook her head. "No."

"Figures," he scoffed. "Well, ya best be prepared for a lot o' sleepless nights."

"I don't sleep anyhow," Maria informed him.

He studied her expression. "How old are ya?"

"Almost five," she returned.

Hank's tone softened. "Why don't ya sleep?"

"Mama and Papa fight," she noted sadly.

He assured, "Yea, well, that don't mean anythin'. I fight with my wife sometimes."

"Do you hit her?" the little girl queried.

His eyes widened. "Hit her? No. Ya mean Jake.... your Pa hits your Ma?"

She was beginning to trust Mr. Lawson. "One time. He was drunk."

"Drinkin' makes a man do things he shouldn't," Hank knew. "Well, it don't mean anythin' either. If it was just once, it was a mistake."

Maria flinched when she heard another scream overhead.

Hank offered, "Wanna sit on my lap?"

"May I?" Maria's eyes implored.

"Sure," Hank agreed. "Might make ya feel better."

When the child had settled on his lap, she questioned, "Mr. Lawson, will the baby be a boy or a girl?"

"Your Pa's hopin' for...." He stopped himself.

She pressed, "For a boy?"

Hank smiled. "For a healthy baby. That's most important."

"Do you have a baby?" Maria wondered.

"Yea," he uttered. "A little girl."

The child probed, "Did you want a boy?"

"Kinda," he admitted. "But since my little girl's here, I like her okay."

Another cry came from overhead.

Maria trembled. "I don't want my Mama to die."

"Don't go thinkin' that," Hank advised. "She'll be fine. I promise."

The little girl cast her eyes downward.

Hank lifted her chin. "Hey, don't be sad."

"I want to believe you, but I cannot," the child confessed.

He frowned. "Why not?"

"'Cause Papa never keeps his promises," she replied sadly.

Hank's jaw tensed. "Well, you can trust me when I tell ya your Ma will be fine."

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

Katie yawned. She had found many references to her parents in Miss Dorothy's book, but they puzzled her. She knew that her Mama and Poppy loved each other, and the book affirmed that in her mind. But she could not understand why Mama had been afraid to get married.

The book had mentioned that her mother feared being with a man. Mama was always around men, but it never seemed to scare her. The book mentioned that Poppy had been married before to Abigail, and that Mama lacked experience. What kind of experience?

Closing the book, the little girl fluffed her pillow and situated herself to further ponder the questions that perplexed her. Then her thoughts turned to Michael. Matthew and Emma must be worried, but she could think of no better person to help her nephew than Mama. She would make everything right.

Yawning again, Katie reached for her lamp and lowered it. Then closing her eyes, she let sleep claim her.

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

As Emma and Colleen watched the baby intently, Sully cast a glance at Matthew. The young man's face was ashen. Sully had seen that look on his son before.... when Ingrid died.

Going to Matthew, Sully patted his back. "How 'bout you an' me step outside?"

Matthew nodded absently. The two strode down the stairs and out into the night. When they reached the bench beside the old clinic door, Matthew turned to the only man he considered his father.

His face contorted in sorrow. "Sully.... what if...."

Sully counseled, "What if's ain't real."

Matthew's shoulders slumped. "I can't.... I can't lose my baby. I don't wanna live if...." His voice trailed off.

Sully assured his son, "You're strong. Ya got folks who love ya. Ya gotta...."

Matthew cut him off, "The medicine ain't workin', Sully. I can't bear t' see what's happenin' t' my son. It ain't fair. It ain't right."

Sully remained silent, having felt these exact sentiments in his life.

Suddenly, from overhead, they heard Colleen's voice. "Matthew!"

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

Jake could hardly see over the stack of cloths and towels he had gathered in his arms. He set them on the table beside the bed. Then he turned to his wife.

Michaela was in the midst of examining Teresa again. Suddenly, Jake felt his knees buckle. He hit the floor with a thud.

"Jake!" Michaela yelled.

Hank heard her frantic call and rushed to the bedroom. "What's...." He stopped, having spotted Jake unconscious on the floor.

Michaela implored, "Hank, I need your help."

"Me?" His face paled. "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no babies. In case ya forgot, I fainted when Ilsa was born."

Michaela explained, "Theresa's baby is in a breech position. I'm going to try to turn it."

"Turn it?" he was uncertain. "How?"

Another scream by Teresa interrupted them.

Michaela's voice become more urgent. "If this doesn't work, I might need to do a Caesarian procedure."

"Well, go ahead," he stated.

Michaela requested, "I'll need you to help with the anesthetic."

Hank's jaw dropped. "Michaela, I ain't the one t' help ya with this. Why don't I go get one o' them nuns from your hospital?"

"There's no time," she replied tersely.

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

Matthew and Sully rushed into Michael's nursery, then paused at the edge of the crib.

"Is he...." Matthew could not finish the sentence.

Colleen uttered, "His respiration is irregular. I don't think he has much longer."

Emma turned to her husband and began to cry. Matthew was too numb to react.

With a lump in his throat, Sully drew Colleen aside. "There's no hope?"

She choked back tears. "I don't think so. The medicine doesn't appear to be having an effect."

Sully's jaw tensed. There was only one thing left to try.

Turning toward his son, he stated, "Matthew, let me take the baby t' Cloud Dancin'."

"Cloud Dancin'?" He paused to consider.

Sully clarified, "He might have another medicine that could help."

Matthew nodded. "Then I'll come with ya."

Emma spoke up. "Me, too."

Colleen added, "We'll all go. But... what about Ma?"

Sully stated, "We'll leave her a note."

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

While Michaela attempted to turn the baby, Teresa was growing weaker, and Jake was still unconscious on the floor.

Michaela suddenly thought. "Maria. The poor dear must be scared out of her wits."

Hank assured, "She's okay. I talked t' her for a while."

Michaela took a deep breath to clear her thoughts. Suddenly, she felt a wave of nausea. She clasped the side of the bed to steady her stomach.

Hank observed her. "You okay?"

"Yes," she assured weakly.

Hank pulled a nearby chair closer. "Here. Sit down a spell."

"No," she shook her head. "I can't. We have to act quickly."

He insisted, "You can't help Teresa if you pass out, too."

She agreed, "Perhaps.... just a moment."

Michaela sat down and took deep breaths, exhaling through pursed lips.

Her rest did not last long. Another scream from Teresa brought Michaela to her feet.

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

Sully gently set the limp body of his grandson before Cloud Dancing and explained the little boy's symptoms. The medicine man carefully touched the child, then handed Sully a pouch from his nearby medicines.

Cloud Dancing commanded, "Make this into a tea."

Without question, Sully took it and set about to boil the water.

Matthew wondered, "What is that, Cloud Dancin'?"

He replied, "Cranesbill."

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

Uncertain as to why she was feeling so poorly, Michaela struggled to stay focused. Perhaps it was the aftereffects of a week of train travel. Or maybe she was coming down with something. At any rate, she could not stop to assess her own condition while the life of Teresa and her baby depended on her.

Finally successful in righting the baby's position, Michaela directed, "Teresa, I need you to push now."

"I.... I can't." The woman was exhausted.

"Yes, you can," Michaela was terse. "Push!"

The woman bore down with all of her might. Suddenly, the baby was delivered into Michaela's waiting hands.

Hank watched intently. "Why ain't it cryin'?"

Michaela worked rapidly to clear the mucus from the baby's nostrils and mouth. Soon, the little one let forth a cry.

Hank grinned. "That's more like it. So what is it?"

Michaela noted, "It's a boy."

Hank marveled, "I never saw such a big baby!"

Michaela placed the child on his mother's chest.

With his boot, Hank nudged Jake. "Wake up! Your kid's here."

Jake stirred slightly. "Huh? Wha...?"

Hank nudged him again. "Ya missed the hard part."

Michaela felt another wave of nausea hit.

Jake struggled to his feet. "The baby's here?"

Hank retorted, "Big as a horse, too."

Michaela swallowed hard, but kept her composure. "Congratulations, Jake."

She poured clean warm water into the nearby basin to bathe the baby.

Jake took one look at the newborn and again fell to the floor in a faint.

Hank shook his head.

Then he noticed Michaela. "You sure you're all right?"

"Hank," she paused. "Could you... take over bathing the baby?"

"Sure." He stepped over and cradled the infant, gently rubbing water across his form.

Teresa weakly beckoned, "I want to hold him."

Hank finished washing the baby. After swaddling him in a towel, he set the little one in his mother's arms.

Then he cast a glance at Michaela, questioning, "Am I the only one around here who feels okay?"

Michaela leaned over to position her head between her knees.

Hank went to her. "Michaela?"

"I.... I'll be fine," she assured.

Hank recalled, "Ya passed out when Lexie went int' labor. Maybe ya ain't cut out for this anymore."

"No," she denied.

"Then ya better figure out what's causin' this," Hank asserted.

Michaela did not verbalize what she was thinking. The change. She had reached the age when most women were going through the change of life. As a physician, she knew it would not be easy. Flashes of heat. Drying skin. Mood swings....

Hank's voice brought her back to reality. "Ya think we oughta wake up Jake?"

She reached into her bag and withdrew a peppermint leaf. Placing it in her mouth, her upset stomach began to calm.

Hank observed, "So, when'd ya start chewin'?"

Michaela rolled her eyes. "It's not tobacco. It's peppermint.... for my stomach."

At that moment they heard a low moan from the floor.

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

Sully watched his family as they agonized over Michael's condition. The baby was no worse. Maybe that was a good sign, he thought. Suddenly, Michaela entered his mind. He wondered if she had delivered Teresa's baby yet. He also knew that his wife would be worried about Michael.

He touched Matthew's arm. "I'm gonna ride back int' town t' check on your Ma. Will you be okay?"

Matthew nodded. "Yea. Go on."

Sully bid farewell to Emma and Cloud Dancing, then gestured for Colleen to join him outside of the lodge.

He kept his voice low. "What do ya think?"

"I'm not sure, Pa." She was frank. "The diarrhea has stopped. If we can get some fluids in him, he has a chance."

"I'm gonna go check on your Ma," he informed her. "If everythin's okay with Teresa, I know she'll wanna be here."

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

Hank helped Jake to his feet.

The new father reached to undo the blanket around the baby. "We got another g.... A BOY! We got a boy?"

"Damn, you're good," Hank retorted.

Michaela raised up slowly. "If Mrs. Slicker is up to it, I believe she should nurse the baby."

Jake cleared his throat, "Yea.... uh, that's a good idea."

Hank pointed toward the door. "I reckon I'll go tell Maria she's got a brother."

He stepped into the hallway and saw the little girl standing nearby.

She spoke up, "Is my Mama hurt?"

Hank knelt down to the level of her eyes. "She's gonna be okay. Dr. Mike took care of her."

"Did she have the baby?" Maria queried.

"Yea." Hank stopped himself from reaching for a cigar.

Maria probed further, "Is it a boy?"

"Uh huh," he answered.

She folded her hands and nodded.

It was on this scene, that Michaela approached. "Did Mr. Lawson tell you that you have a little brother?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Maria replied respectfully.

Michaela touched her dark curls. "Would you like to go in and see him?"

Maria's face lit up. "May I?"

Hank clasped the child's hand. "I'll take care o' her, Michaela. Why don't ya go back t' the clinic t' check on your grandson?"

Her expression was serious. "Yes, I would like to...."

Suddenly, her eyes rolled back, and she sank toward the floor.

Hank reached for her just in time to prevent her from hitting hard. "Michaela!"

He patted her face.

Maria was horrified, "What is wrong with Dr. Quinn?"

Jake heard the commotion and stepped from the bedroom. "What's goin' on? Dr. Mike?"

"She's passed out," Hank noted. "I think I oughta take her t' the hospital. She damned near fainted when she was deliverin' your kid."

Hank scooped Michaela into his arms and headed out the door.

Before departing, he cast a glance at Jake. "Maybe ya oughta take care o' you little girl, too."

Jake turned to his daughter. "I guess they told ya about the baby."

"Yes," Maria nodded.

He smiled. "Ya wanna see him?"

"Yes, Papa." She reached for his hand and followed.

They reached the bedroom. Tentatively, the little girl lifted up on tiptoes to see her brother. Jake hoisted her up to sit beside her mother.

Teresa smiled, "This is your baby brother."

Maria leaned over to kiss the little one, whispering, "Now I will not be alone."

Jake overheard, "You ain't alone, honey."

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

When Sully neared the Slicker house, he saw Hank carrying a woman from.... It was Michaela!

He shouted out, "Hank! What's wrong?"

"Your wife's been feelin' real poorly," Hank explained. "She fainted a minute ago. She oughta go t' the hospital."

Sully stopped his horse. "Lift her up here. I'll take her."

Hank noted, "She chewed on some kinda leaf.... said it was peppermint for her stomach."

"Her stomach was botherin' her?" Sully cradled his unconscious wife in his arms.

Hank put his hands on his hips. "Yea. Le' me fetch her bag for ya."

Sully felt Michaela begin to stir in his arms.

She tensed, "Where.... Sully?"

"Shhh...." He brushed back a stray lock of her hair. "Hank said ya fainted. I'm takin' ya t' the hospital."

She suddenly thought, "What about Michael? Is he...."

He interrupted, "We took him t' Cloud Dancin'. He gave the baby Cranesbill. He's holdin' his own now."

"Thank God." A sense of relief washed over her.

Hank came out of the house with her medical bag and handed it up to Sully. "Well, I see she's awake."

Sully mentioned, "I reckon Teresa had the baby."

Hank grinned. "A boy. I never saw Jake so happy."

Sully smiled. "That's real good."

Michaela started to dismount. "I'm perfectly fine to ride Flash, Sully. Let me down."

Hank reached for the reins of her horse and handed them to Sully. "Do as your husband says for a change."

Michaela retorted, "He didn't say anything."

Sully attached the bag to his saddle horn, then urged his horse onward.

Michaela debated whether to confide in Sully about her suspicions. He would worry. But.... she owed it to him to let him know, especially as her symptoms would already concern him.

Before she could mention it, Sully asked, "You wanna tell me what's goin' on?"

"What do you mean?" she hedged.

He came to the point. "Your stomach, then faintin'."

"I don't want to go to the hospital," she stated.

He returned, "I figured you'd wanna see Michael first. Then, I'm takin' ya."

She offered, "I don't want you to worry."

He thought the remark odd. "'Course I'm worried, Michaela. Maybe it's just fatigue, but it could be somethin' more serious."

She was more interested in their grandson. "Tell me more about Michael's condition."

He described what Cloud Dancing had given the boy and how Michael had responded.

Michaela nodded. "Yes, that does sound promising."

He kissed the top of her head.

She smiled. "What's that for?"

He spoke softly, "Just t' let ya know that I'm here. There's more than Michael on your mind."

She leaned against him and closed her eyes. Before long, they arrived at the Indian school. Upon entering the medicine man's lodge, Michaela noted the expressions on her children's faces.

Colleen greeted her with a smile. "Ma, Michael's improving."

Michaela knelt beside the sleeping boy. She felt his forehead and pulse.

Then she turned to Cloud Dancing. "The Cranesbill is working. Thank you."

As the medicine man smiled, Michaela started to feel nauseated again. She held her stomach.

Sully noticed. "Michaela?"

Suddenly, she shut her eyes and fainted.

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

When Michaela opened her eyes, her family had gathered around her. Sully was holding her hand.

Quickly, she tried to assure them. "I'm all right."

Sully insisted, "People don't faint when they're all right."

Colleen leaned over with her stethoscope. "Ma, let me check...."

Michaela cut her off. "No, I'm fine. Really."

Sully asserted, "Will ya let Colleen check ya?"

Michaela resisted, "I simply need to rest."

He countered, "Then I'm takin' ya home. Ya need t' sleep in your own bed."

"But...." Michaela began to protest.

Matthew chimed in, "Ma, we'll let ya know if anything changes. Colleen an' Cloud Dancin' will take good care o' Michael. Please, let Sully take ya home."

Her shoulders slumped. "I suppose I'm outvoted."

Sully helped her up. "Come on."

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

When Michaela and Sully stepped through the front door of the homestead, they were met by a concerned Bridget.

The nanny quickly inquired, "How's the wee one?"

Michaela replied, "He's showing some signs of improvement."

"Saints be praised," she sighed.

Sully gestured, "Go on, Michaela. Up t' bed."

Bridget observed, "Ya look exhausted, Dr. Mike."

Michaela changed the subject. "How are the children?"

"Fast asleep," she answered. "I imagine they'll sleep late tomorrow."

Sully asserted, "So will Dr. Mike."

Before Michaela could disagree, Sully swept her into his arms and headed for the steps.

Michaela protested, "Sully! Put me down. You'll hurt your back."

He countered, "An' you'll wake the children. Hush up now."

Bridget shook her head. "I'll turn down the lamps. Good night, you two."

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

Sully finished washing his face and turned toward his wife. She appeared to be asleep. He lowered the lamp beside her, then went around to his side of the bed. When he sat down to remove his boots, he felt Michaela's hand on his bare back.

He uttered, "Why ain't you sleepin'?"

"I was waiting for you," she whispered.

Positioning himself beside her, he drew her into his arms. "Better?"

"Much," She leaned into him.

Sully softly stroked her arm and touched his lips to her temple. "I love you."

"I love you, too," she replied.

Her mind turned to her symptoms. If it was more than simply fatigue.... If it were the change, would Sully find her less desirable? Less of a woman?

Sully spoke low. "What'cha thinkin'?"

She toyed with the hair on his chest. "I was.... just thinking about us."

"Good topic." he grinned.

Michaela sighed. "We've been through so much this year."

He mentioned, "But.... ain't you always the one who says we gotta stay positive about the outcome of things?

"I suppose so." She sounded less than convincing.

He lifted her chin for a sweet kiss. "Why don't we talk about this t'morrow? Get some rest."

She stifled a yawn. Then, closing her eyes, let sleep claim her.

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

"Mike?" Josef Quinn's voice wakened Michaela.

She sat up in bed. "Father?"

"Shhh." He gestured toward Sully. "Let him sleep."

She rubbed her eyes, uncertain if she were dreaming or awake.

Josef whispered, "You're not well."

"I'll be all right, Father," she allowed. "I believe after I get some rest, I'll...."

His voice interrupted, "It's not the change, Mike."

She was amazed. "What? How did you know I was even thinking about that?"

"Because I know you," he smiled.

"All right," she mused. "If you know me, then how do you explain my symptoms? I'm forty-eight years old."

Josef touched her cheek. "Oh, Mike, you rarely could see what was often right there under your nose."

She was puzzled. "What are you talking about?"

"Review your symptoms," he encouraged.

She inhaled deeply, then began to recite, "Fatigue.... cessation of menstruation.... irritability.... bloating...."

He added, "Tenderness.... nausea.... fainting...."

"I attribute that to the long train ride," she excused.

Josef raised an eyebrow. "You can think of no other circumstances under which those symptoms would all go together?"

She concentrated for a moment. "No. Am I missing something?"

"Michaela Anne Quinn." He put his hands on his hips. "Think, my dear. Think hard."

His image began to fade. "Father? Wait! Don't go."

She settled back onto her pillow, then lightly placed her hand atop Sully's. Her mind raced. What could her father have....

Suddenly, it occurred to her. "No.... It's impossible."

She did not notice that Sully had wakened. "Michaela? You all right?"

She snuggled closer. "I'm sorry. Did I bother you?"

He slid his arm beneath her shoulders. "'Course not, but ya need your rest. Now, close your eyes."

She obeyed, but she did not rest. The reality of what her father had intimated hit her. Could she be.... expecting a baby?

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

Michaela arose before her family. Going downstairs, she tiptoed into her office and retrieved a clean vial from her medical cabinet. Then she headed for the privy. Soon, she had a urine sample. Entering her office, she returned the vial to the cabinet and stepped to her desk. There, she sat and closed her eyes.

"Michaela?" Sully's voice wakened her.

For a moment, she was disoriented. Then, yawning, she expressed, "Good morning."

"Ya didn't sleep long," he observed. "Why don't ya come back t' bed?"

"I want to go check on Michael," she stated.

"You feel well enough?" he hesitated.

She assured, "Yes. I think I just...."

He wondered why she stopped. "Just what?"

She hoped to allay his concerns. "I think I just have the most wonderful husband in the world."

Sully went to her and enfolded his arms around her. "I wish you'd let Colleen look at ya."

She proposed, "I'll tell you what. If Michael continues to improve, I promise I'll come straight home and go to bed. Agreed?"

"Agreed." He smiled. "But I'm comin' with ya."

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

Colleen greeted her mother and father at the entrance to Cloud Dancing's lodge. "Michael had a good night."

A sense of relief washed over Michaela. "That's wonderful news."

When she entered the lodge, Matthew smiled broadly. "Ma! Look at him."

Michaela began to examine her grandson and was amazed at his progress. His color had improved, and though he was weak, the gleam in his eyes had returned.

Emma noted, "It's a miracle. He even ate some broth."

Michaela cast an admiring glance at Cloud Dancing. "Thank you."

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

Jake awoke beside his wife. She was softly humming a tune she had often sung to Maria, "Duérmete Mi Niño." The new mother tenderly caressed her son's dark hair, "Go to sleep my baby. Go to sleep my sunshine. You will always be in this heart of mine."

Jake uttered, "'Mornin'."

"Good morning, Jacob," Teresa greeted him with a smile.

Jake reached his finger toward the baby's hand. "How's he doin' this mornin'?"

"Well," she acknowledged. "He has eaten, and now, as you can see, I have bored him with my song."

"It was real pretty," he complimented.

Teresa mentioned, "I have thought of a name for him."

"Me, too," Jake spoke up.

She frowned. "What do you want to call him?"

"I sorta thought James might be nice," he informed her. "James Jacob Slicker."

"I was hoping we could name him Carlos, after my cousin," she revealed.

His eyes narrowed, "Ya wanna name him after a priest?"

"Sí," she replied.

Jake folded his arms, "Carlos. Don't that mean Charles in English?"

"Yes," she affirmed.

He mulled the idea over. "James Charles Slicker. Not bad."

Teresa amended, "Carlos Jacob Slicker."

Jake tilted his head toward her. "Kids will make fun of him if he's got a Spanish name. How 'bout we name him Charles, an' you can call him Carlos in private."

"I suppose that will work," she compromised.

Jake took her hand. "Teresa, I know I ain't been the husband you deserve, but.... well, I promise that's gonna change from now on. I'll be a better man for you an' for our kids."

She clasped his hand hopefully. "That would be very nice."

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

Sully settled Michaela into bed. "Now, I got work t' do in town, but Bridget will keep the kids quiet. Promise me you'll rest."

She showed little resistance. "Yes, sir, but while you're in town, could you stop by the hospital and ask Dr. Bernard to check on Teresa and the baby?"

He leaned down and kissed her forehead, "Will do. Now, close your eyes."

Michaela complied, and Sully stepped into the hallway.

Katie met him at the door. "Poppy, may I talk t' you?"

He whispered, "Sure, honey. What's on your mind?"

She held up My Town. "This book I read last night. I have a question."

Sully gulped. "That's the book you chose from your Ma's shelf?"

Katie hedged, "Uh-huh. Miss Dorothy wrote it."

Suddenly, Sully realized what might have prompted his daughter's question. "Uh.... so, there's somethin' ya wanna know about Colorado Springs?"

"About Mama an' you," Katie specified.

Sully grew more uncomfortable. "What about us, Kates?"

Katie went to her bed and sat on the edge. "The book says that Mama didn't have experience with a man, and she was afraid of...." The child paused and opened the book, searching for the word. "She was afraid of 'intimacy.' What's that mean?"

Sully cleared his throat. "Well.... it.... ah, it means.... maybe ya oughta talk t' your Ma about it."

"But I thought I could talk with you about anythin'," the little girl reminded.

"Sure, ya can, but...." he stammered. "But your Ma is better than me at explainin' some things."

Katie persisted, "What kinda things?"

"Uh.... things about men an' women," he returned.

The little girl pointed out, "But Mama uses big words. You make it simple."

He smiled, "Things about men an' women ain't always simple."

Katie insisted, "I don't wanna bother Mama about this. You said we should let her rest."

Sully acquiesced, "All right, I'll tell ya." Sitting beside his daughter, he took a deep breath. "When a man an' a woman get married, they.... well, they.... uh, they do special things t' show their feelin's."

Katie questioned, "Special things?"

Sully knew his cheeks must be red. "Uh.... yea."

The child encouraged her father to continue. "Like kissin'?"

"Yea, kissin's part of it." He looked away from her.

Katie recalled the word in the book. "Things like intimacy?"

"Yep." He nodded. "So now ya know."

The little girl was perplexed. "But.... if intimacy is somethin' special a husband an' wife do, why was Mama afraid?"

At this moment, Sully wished Michaela were here. "Ah.... I reckon folks are afraid o' things that are new t' them. Remember how ya felt before you were gonna start first grade?"

"Uh-huh." She smiled. "I was scared."

He put his arm around her shoulders. "That's right. You were scared, but.... at the same time, you were lookin' forward to it."

"That's what the book means about Mama bein' afraid?" Katie returned to the subject.

"Yep," he replied. "An' once ya got used t' goin' t' school, you were real good at it, even looked forward to it."

"So, Mama was afraid o' intimacy, but now she likes it?" Katie concluded.

Sully nearly coughed. "Uh.... yea."

Katie smiled. "That explains a lot, Poppy. I didn't think you'd let her be afraid of somethin'. Thanks."

Relieved, he kissed her temple. "You're welcome, sweet girl." After a beat, he added, "Kates, I don't think I'd discuss the book with your brothers an' sisters."

"Oh, I won't," she pledged. "It's got some big words they wouldn't understand."

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

In the Gold Nugget, Loren sipped his beer slowly. He had heard the news about the birth of Jake's son. He was happy for the family, but he knew Jake's ways. Oh, well, it wasn't his problem. Finishing the brew, he turned and walked through the doors to exit the saloon.

Then he noticed Dorothy near The Gazette office.

Crossing to her, he spoke up, "Hey, there. Ya hear the news about Jake's baby?"

Dorothy pivoted, adjusting her parasol to keep the sun from her face. "Yes. Ain't it grand?"

"I guess." He sounded less than enthusiastic.

Dorothy frowned. "Loren? Is somethin' wrong?"

He shrugged. "You know how Jake is. He'll be good for a while, then...."

She suggested, "Maybe havin' a son will make him realize what his drinkin' does t' his family."

He pointed out, "Did that work for Marcus?"

Dorothy's shoulders slumped at the mention of her former husband. "Not all alcoholics are like Marcus. Now, Loren Bray, can't ya be happy about a new baby?"

He shrugged. "I reckon."

Dorothy remarked, "Speakin' of babies, did ya hear about little Michael Cooper?"

"Matthew's Injun baby?" he scowled. "Hank told me he was real sick."

The redhead informed him, "They took him t' Cloud Dancin'."

"Is he.... did he die?" Loren suddenly regretted his gruff tone.

She replied with a smile, "No, he's doin' better."

"That's good." He gestured toward the Café. "Wanna get some ice tea at Grace's?"

"You treatin'?" She smiled.

"Yea, my treat," he returned.

As they strolled toward the Café, he mentioned, "Hank was there for the baby's delivery. He said somethin' was wrong with Dr. Mike."

"Well, it's no wonder," Dorothy explained. "She had t' be frettin' about Michael."

"Not just that," Loren related. "He said she got real sick at her stomach an' fainted."

Dorothy stopped walking. "Fainted? She's delivered hundreds of babies. She oughta be used t' it by now."

"I know," he agreed.

The redhead commented, "Sully's workin' over near the Opera House. Maybe I'll stop by t' see if Michaela's feelin' better today."

"After our tea." He took her arm and guided her once more toward the Café.

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

Josef opened Michaela's bedroom door as quietly as he could. Tiptoeing closer, he smiled. There was no prettier woman in the world than his mother, and she looked even more beautiful when she was asleep. The little boy gently touched her cheek.

Michaela stirred slightly, but kept her eyes shut.

"Mama," he whispered. "I don' wanna bother ya."

She yawned and squinted. "Josef?"

"You been sleepin' a long time," he noted.

She lifted up slightly and rested on her elbow. "Did you need something, Sweetheart?"

"I was thinkin' 'bout Iggy," he confessed.

Michaela caressed her son's hair. "Is she eating?"

"Uh-huh," he responded.

"Then I think she's all right," Michaela assured.

"But what if her other eye gets blind?" he worried.

Michaela tapped the edge of the bed, inviting her son to join her. Snuggling close to his mother, he felt better.

"Iggy will be fine, Josef." Her tone was soothing.

His blue eyes reflected his concern. "Pwomise?"

She smiled. "As much as I can. Where are your sisters and brother?"

"Miss Bwidget's got 'em busy helpin' fix lunch," he said. "Papa told us Mrs. Slicker had her baby."

"That's right," she verified. "A little boy."

"That's good," Josef reacted. "This town's got too many girls."

Michaela chuckled. "I thought you like girls."

"I do," he admitted. "But ya can't play with 'em like boys. Ya gotta be gentle. It's hard for them t' keep up."

"Katie can keep up with the boys, and she's a girl," she pointed out.

Josef clasped his mother's hand. "Wendell says Katie's a tomboy."

"A tomboy?" Michaela was surprised.

"Uh-huh." He looked at her intently. "'Cept I don' know if that's good or bad."

Michaela pondered. "Well, I think it's good. My sisters said the same of me when I was Katie's age."

"What's it mean?" he queried.

"It means she's a spirited girl who can do things as well as a boy," Michaela defined.

"Oh." He fell silent.

"Is something else on your mind?" Michaela sensed.

"No." He rested his hand on hers.

At that moment, Michaela felt a wave of nausea. She swallowed, hoping the feeling would pass.

Josef observed his mother's expression. "Mama? You okay?"

She composed herself. "Yes, fine. I.... uh, I think perhaps my stomach is still a bit upset from the train ride."

He sat up. "Want me t' get ya somethin'?"

She did not want to alarm him. "No, thank you. I'll be fine. Your being here makes me feel much better."

"It does?" He smiled.

She playfully touched his nose. "It does." Then, after a beat, she became serious. "Josef, I don't tell you enough how very proud I am of you and how much I love you."

"Yes, ya do, Mama," he assured. "Ya tell me all the time."

Michaela gazed into his eyes. "I want you to always remember it, no matter what happens."

He tilted his head quizzically. "What's gonna happen?"

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

Katie stood at the doorway of her mother's bedroom. "Joey, what are you doin' in here? We're supposed t' let Mama rest."

Michaela interceded, "It's all right, Sweetheart."

Josef turned to his sister, "Katie, I don' think Mama feels good."

The little girl drew nearer. "What's wrong?"

Michaela denied, "Nothing."

Katie turned to her brother. "Joey, come on. Let Mama go back to sleep."

"Mama said Iggy's gonna be fine." Josef attempted to change the subject.

Michaela tapped the edge of the bed. "Would you like to join us Miss Sully?"

Josef slid from his mother's side. "I'm gonna go tell Iggy what ya said, Mama."

When the little boy had departed, Katie broached the subject on her mind. "I started readin' one o' your books last night. There were some things that I didn't understand, but Poppy explained 'em t' me."

"What book were you reading?" Michaela was curious.

Katie informed her, "My Town.... the one Miss Dorothy wrote."

Michaela's eyes widened, "And there were some things you didn't understand?"

"Things about intimacy," Katie said matter-of-factly.

Michaela nearly choked. "In.... intimacy?"

"The book said ya were afraid of it." Katie nodded. "Poppy told me it was like me bein' afraid of goin' t' first grade. Then once I did it, I enjoyed it. He said you enjoy intimacy now."

Michaela's face felt warm. "Your father told you that?"

"Yea." Katie began to straighten the edge of her mother's bedspread.

Michaela cleared her throat. "Uh, Katie.... I don't suppose you have any other questions.... about the book, that is."

"Nope," the child replied. "I'll let you rest now, Mama. I hope ya feel better."

"Thank you," Michaela acknowledged as she leaned back onto her bed.

As her daughter left the room, Michaela smiled at what Sully must have thought when Katie brought up the subject of intimacy.

Then she reached over to touch her husband's pillow, thinking to herself, "I do enjoy it, Sully. But.... I wonder if it has led to another baby."

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

"Hey, Miss Dorothy," Sully spoke as he wiped his brow.

She observed the work that had been accomplished. "I do declare, Sully, you're makin' this town more beautiful by the minute. I'd have never thought t' turn this old area int' a park."

"Thanks." He shielded his eyes against the sun.

She came to the point, "I hear Michaela's under the weather."

"She says she's just tired, is all," he assured. "Now that Michael's doin' better, she can rest up from our trip."

"I heard she delivered the Slicker baby last night, too," Dorothy stated.

"Uh-huh." Sully took a swig of water from his canteen.

"How's Annie?" Dorothy queried.

He chuckled, "It's hard t' tell anythin' was wrong with her."

"That's good t' hear," the red head remarked. "Well, I won't keep ya from your work. I just wanted t' make sure Michaela was doin' all right."

"Thanks, Dorothy," Sully acknowledged.

Before she departed, she requested, "Oh, I was hopin' I might interview ya for an article in The Gazette."

"Me?" Sully gestured toward himself. "What for?"

"'Cause you were there when the President was shot," Dorothy pointed out. "Poor man's still clingin' t' life. I thought readers might find it interestin' that one of our distinguished residents was there."

"I'll think on it." He avoided a direct answer.

Dorothy added, "I'll see you an' Michaela at the party."

"What party?" He was unsure.

"Oh, my gosh," Dorothy suddenly realized. "Ya couldn't have known 'cause ya been away. Grace is havin' a party for Robert E's birthday. I know you're invited."

Sully rubbed his upper lip. "When is it?"

"Tomorrow night at seven at Grace's new restaurant," she revealed. "An' don't say anythin' t' Robert E. It's a surprise."

The redhead turned and walked away.

Sully paused for a moment, recalling the surprise party Grace had helped him throw for Michaela's birthday several years ago.... the night Katie was kidnapped. They had thought the human remains they later found were their daughter's. He shuddered at the recollection. Not only had Michaela and he thought they had lost their daughter, but the strain on their marriage was terrible.

Then he remembered his wife's recent words to him. Marriages often fall apart after the death of a child. But they had endured three miscarriages. They had weathered many storms and had come out stronger in the end.

He gazed toward the sun. Rubbing his aching back, Sully called to his men. "That's enough for t'day, fellas. I'll see ya t'morrow."

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

When Sully arrived home, he was greeted by Katie and Josef, ready to help him with his horse.

They spoke rapidly about the day they had experienced, the antics of the younger children and how their mother had slept late.

"That's what your Ma needed, kids," Sully explained.

Katie informed him, "Joey woke her up once."

"Joe?" Sully's tone was stern.

The little boy put his hands in his pockets. "I was jus' tellin' her about Iggy. Besides, Katie talked with Mama, too."

Sully frowned. "Kates?"

"She was already awake from Joey bein' in her room," the little girl excused. "I just talked with her about the book I read."

"Miss Dorothy's book?" Sully clarified.

"Uh-huh," Katie nodded. "I told her how you explained some of it t' me."

He grew uncomfortable. "Ya did?"

"That intimacy thing," Katie smiled.

Josef was curious. "What infamy thing?"

Sully changed the subject. "Where is your Ma?"

Josef answered, "In bed.... again."

Sully instructed his children, "Okay, you two go help the twins get ready for supper."

Katie paused, "Should we get Mama up?"

"No," Sully returned. "I'll check on her."

"Has she been eatin', Papa?" Josef was curious.

"Your Ma?" Sully's brow creased. "Far as I know. Why?"

Josef observed, "Then she's okay.... long as she's eatin'."

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

Michaela heard the door creak slightly when Sully entered.

She rolled over to face him. "Sully? What time is it?"

"Goin' on six o'clock," he noted. "Ya been asleep all this time?"

"Nearly." She yawned and sat up. "I should go check on Michael."

Sully came to the edge of the bed and sat. "I stopped by the Indian school. Colleen said he's well enough t' go home."

Michaela sighed in relief, "Thank God."

Leaning in, he gave her a soft kiss and brushed a stray strand of hair from her cheek. "How ya feel?"

"Much better," she assured.

Sully smiled. "Good. Ya hungry?"

"Ravenous." She drew him closer for another kiss.

"I meant for food." He grinned impishly.

"So did I." She kissed him again.

Michaela stood and went to the basin. Pouring some water into the bowl, she splashed her face. Then she glanced at her image in the mirror.

Sully watched her curiously while he, too, began to clean up. "You look beautiful."

"No, I don't," she denied. "I still look tired."

He approached her from behind and wrapped his arms around her waist, repeating, "Ya look beautiful even when you're tired."

She placed her hands atop his and leaned back against his chest. "Sully, what would you think if...."

He wondered why she stopped. "If what?"

She guided his hands down to her abdomen.

Assuming her movements were an invitation for romance, he kissed the side of her neck and whispered, "What about supper?"

She closed her eyes, and a single tear escaped to trickle down her cheek.

Sully noticed. "Hey, what's this?"

"It's been an emotional twenty-four hours," she explained.

He noted, "But everythin's fine now. Michael's doin' better. Teresa had her baby. We're home safe an' sound. Things can get back t' normal."

"Yes, normal," she reiterated wistfully.

Sully teased, "You got a problem with normal?"

She forced a smile. "I suppose I'm so accustomed to things being wrong, I feel like the next calamity is just around the corner."

He enfolded her in his arms and kissed the top of her head. "We'll handle any calamities."

She warmed in his embrace, then drew back. "Some things are out of our control."

"I think you need somethin' t' take your mind off of expectin' trouble," he grinned.

"What did you have in mind?" She ran her hands up and down his sides.

"A party," he answered.

She raised an eyebrow. "A party?"

"Grace is havin' a surprise birthday party for Robert E t'morrow night," Sully informed her.

"Are you inviting me to go with you, Mr. Sully?" she teased.

He grinned, "If you'll have me."

She lifted up to kiss him. "I'm afraid I'm stuck with you."

At that moment, they heard Josef's voice at the door. "Mama, Papa, dinner's wready."

Sully turned to look at the boy. "Thanks. We'll be right there, Joe."

"You gonna kiss some more?" he queried.

Michaela asked her son, "What makes you think we were kissing?"

Joseph attempted to wink. "I know a thing or two."

With that, the little boy left them.

Sully retorted, "He gets it after you."

"Me?" Michaela pointed to herself in disbelief.

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

Assured by Colleen, who had joined them for dinner, that Michael was improving, Michaela sat at her home office desk, hoping to tackle the mountain of mail that had accumulated during her absence.

Try as she did to concentrate on the correspondence, her mind kept drifting back to her health. Sighing, she went to the medical cabinet and checked the urine sample. So far, there was no evidence of the film of fat that can indicate pregnancy. Then again, it was too soon for it to materialize. Sully was right. She was not very patient.

Returning the vial to its place, she sat at her desk and began to open the mail. A knock at the door interrupted.

Katie's voice called through the closed door, "Mama, we're done with the dishes. We're gonna sit out on the porch. Do you wanna come outside, too?"

She smiled, "In a minute, Sweetheart."

When she stood, her hands slid for a moment to her abdomen. It did feel rounder, she thought. She had been through this enough times to recognize that change in her appearance. Then again menopause was a more likely diagnosis at her age. A queasiness crept into her stomach.

Closing her eyes, she willed herself to calm.

"Mama," Katie's voice was louder.

"Katie," Michaela beckoned. "Would you ask your father to come here, please?"

The little girl perceived something different in her mother's voice. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," Michaela assured. "You go ahead with your brothers and sisters. I just need to speak with your father for a few minutes."

Within moments, Sully joined her.

Closing the door behind him, he went to Michaela, "Katie said ya needed me. What's wrong?"

"I'd like to discuss something with you," Michaela requested.

His forehead wrinkled. "Michaela? What is it?"

"Please, sit down." She gestured toward her leather chair.

Sully complied with her wishes but clasped her hands.

Michaela looked at the ceiling and inhaled deeply. "This is so difficult."

"What is?" Sully grew concerned.

She squeezed his hands slightly. "If I.... That is, I might.... what if we.... What would you think if...."

He struggled to understand her reluctance. "Just come out with it, Michaela. If there's somethin' on your mind, you can tell me."

She knelt down before him and placed her hands on his knees. "Sully, I've been thinking about my symptoms."

"Mama!" It was Josef's voice. "Come quick!"

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

Michaela and Sully arrived at the front porch. Their children had gathered around Hope, as the little girl sat on Bridget's lap.

Sully put his hands on his hips. "What's goin' on, kids?"

Katie pointed to the baby. "Hope stuck a button up her nose."

"A button?" Michaela lifted her daughter.

The baby giggled. "Good."

Michaela frowned. "No, it's not good. How big was the button?"

Bridget described, "It was off the front of her dress, Dr. Mike. Not very big at all."

Michaela headed for the kitchen. Sully lit all of the lamps to brighten the room while the family gathered to watch.

Michaela withdrew a handkerchief from her pocket and held it under Hope's nose. "Blow."

Hope blew through her mouth, causing the kerchief to move.

Michaela clarified, "Sweetheart, I want you to take in a big breath through your mouth, then blow out through your nose, like this."

After Michaela demonstrated, Hope took a deep breath and followed her mother's directions. Then Michaela removed her otoscope from the medical bag.

"Sully, would you lift her up so that I can get a good view?" Michaela requested.

Sully kissed his daughter's cheek and hoisted her up. Bridget held a lamp close to provide adequate illumination. Hope attempted to clasp the otoscope while her mother began the examination. Sully gently held the little girl's hand to prevent further movement.

"I don't see anything," Michaela observed. "Her breathing seems unimpaired."

Katie recalled a procedure used by her mother once when a boy had a bean stuck up his nose. "Why don't ya use pepper, Mama?"

Michaela smiled. "Thank you, Dr. Sully."

Katie retrieved the pepper shaker and handed it to her mother. Michaela sprinkled a small amount into the palm of her hand, then blew it toward Hope. The baby sneezed. Still, nothing came out.

Sully suggested, "Maybe ya could try tweezers."

Michaela declined, "No, it might push the button farther up her nostril."

Josef recommended, "How 'bout a fishin' hook?"

Michaela rubbed his back. "That might cause more damage."

Then Bridget chimed in, "What about a crochet hook?"

Again, Michaela declined. "Too large."

Josef sighed, "I reckon she'll jus' have t' live with a button up her nose."

Gently, Michaela felt along the sides of her daughter's nose. "I can't detect anything."

Annie contributed, "Look in hankie?"

Sully grinned, "That's good thinkin', honey." He lifted Michaela's handkerchief and began to open its folds.

Suddenly, the sound of a small object hitting the floor was heard.

Noah pounced on it. "Here the button!"

Michaela closed her eyes in relief. "Thank goodness. Now, I want you children to learn a lesson from this."

Josef interpreted, "Look in the last place first?"

Sully patted his son's head. "I think your Ma means t' not put things up your nose."

Bridget shook her head. "Aye, or your nose might grow too big for your face."

Josef's eyes widened. "Ya think so?"

The nanny winked at Sully and Michaela. "Then ya couldn't see your feet. I knew a lad from County Mayo who constantly fell over on account of his big nose, don't ya know."

Katie chuckled, but the younger children took her seriously.

Bridget clapped her hands. "All right then. That's enough excitement for one day. Let's get you leprechauns upstairs an' ready for bed."

Katie turned to her mother, "May I stay up to read the book some more, Mama?"

"Yes, Sweetheart," she consented.

Sully interjected, "You know what book she's been readin', Michaela?"

She nodded in the affirmative. "Katie told me. You may read until 9:00. We'll be up to tuck you in shortly, children."

Josef's shoulders slumped. "I wished I could wread big books."

Sully encouraged. "You will one day, son. Now, do what Miss Bridget says."

Soon, their children had departed, and Michaela was alone with Sully.

He smiled. "You ever think our daughter would be readin' Dorothy's book?"

"No, I'd forgotten all about it," Michaela confided. "From what she told me, you handled Katie's questions with great sensitivity, Mr. Sully."

"That's me." His grin widened. "Now, what was it you wanted t' tell me?"

At that moment, she had second thoughts. There was no use in worrying him with speculation of a pregnancy until she could verify it. She was overreacting to what was most likely the change of life.

She forced a smile. "I believe it was you who wanted to tell me something."

"Me?" He challenged. "But in your office, you...."

She cut in, "What about the letter you received? You said you'd tell me about it later."

He hedged, "Maybe now ain't a good time. We best go put the kids to bed."

"After we tuck in the children, I want to go into town to check on Michael and Teresa," Michaela interjected.

"It's late, Michaela," he pointed out.

She countered, "A doctor must be on call at all hours."

Sully offered, "Then I'll go saddle Flash for ya."

Mindful of her possible condition, she suggested, "I'd rather take the surrey."

"The surrey?" He was puzzled. "Why? Flash is faster."

"Uh...." she fumbled for an answer. "There are some clothes I want to take to Emma for alteration."

He was puzzled. "Ya can't take clothes on Flash?"

"It would be easier with the surrey," she returned.

Sully shrugged. "Okay. I'll hitch it up for ya."

She lifted up and kissed him. "Thank you."

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

On the ride home from town, Michaela observed the stars gleaming in the ebony sky as if they were pinpoints of light guiding her way.

When the homestead came within sight, she slowed the horse to a halt. Closing her eyes, she offered thanks for the improved condition of her grandson and the healthy delivery of little Charles Slicker. Jake and Teresa seemed truly happy. Given Jake's bouts with the bottle, Michaela wondered how long their euphoria would last.

Then she heard a voice.

"Everythin' go all right?" It was Sully, who had seen her stop before reaching the homestead.

Her heartbeat calmed. "You startled me."

He climbed up beside her on the surrey. "Sorry. I thought ya saw me comin'."

"I must have been day dreaming," she assumed.

"Night dreamin'," he amended playfully.

She smiled. "Yes, everything went well. Michael is improving, and Charles seems to have a delightful temperament."

"Charles?" Sully was uncertain.

"That's what the Slickers have named their son, though Teresa prefers to call him Carlos," Michaela noted.

"Carlos," Sully pondered. "That was her cousin's name.... Remember? The priest?"

"Yes, I believe you're right," she agreed. "The name reminds me of something else, too."

"What?" he queried.

"It's what we named the second baby we lost," she recalled sadly.

Sully put his arm around her. "I remember."

"It's a beautiful night," she observed.

He questioned, "We gonna sit here, or should I pull up t' the house?"

"Let's sit a little while," she requested.

He inhaled the scent of her as he lifted her hand to his lips. "You smell good."

She gazed up at the sky. "I love watching the stars with you."

He lightly stroked her arm and recited:

"When stars are in the quiet skies,
Then most I pine for thee;
Bend on me then thy tender eyes,
As stars look on the sea!
For thoughts, like waves that glide by night,
Are stillest when they shine;
Mine earthly love lies hush'd in light
Beneath the heaven of thine."

Michaela melted at the resonance of his tone. "Was that Herrick?"

"Edward Bulwer-Lytton," he revealed.

They were both quiet for a moment. Sully suspected she might be upset that he had not yet revealed the content of his letter. Now that their grandson's medical crisis was over, he decided to tell her.

Sully spoke, "That letter I got was from Welland Smith."

"Oh?" She looked at him. "What did he have to say?"

Sully answered, "He made me a job offer."

A flash of anxiety shot through Michaela, but she kept her voice calm. "What kind of job?"

"At Yellowstone," he answered. "He wants me t' start a corps of men t' keep hunters from depletin' the game population in the park. I'd like us t' consider it."

"Us?" she questioned.

Sully nodded, "I wouldn't go anywhere without you an' the children."

"I see." She fell silent.

Michaela knew well how much the land and its conservation meant to her husband. He had even considered a job there when Katie was still a baby.

Sully feared the prospect of moving had unsettled her.

She was curious. "How long would it take?"

"Several months maybe," he estimated.

She inhaled deeply. "You said you want us to think about it. This must mean quite a lot to you."

"Worthwhile work means a lot t' me, same as it does t' you," he clarified. "But nothin' means more t' me than you an' the kids, Michaela."

She squeezed his hand lightly. "And I never want to be apart from you again."

"We don't have t' make any decisions right now," he assured. "We can think on it."

"I want you to be happy in your work, Sully," she affirmed. "I thought this forestry job in town was rewarding."

"It is," he avowed. "But.... well, it's somethin' I can always come back to."

Subtly, Michaela lowered her hand to her abdomen. "We'd be far from towns and medical facilities."

"Seems like we had this debate before," he recalled.

She pointed out, "Think about the year we've had, Sully. First you, then Annie. One never knows."

"We can't live our lives in fear," he stated.

She countered tersely, "I.... I'd rather we not go."

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

Sully had been in the barn for an hour, contemplating his conversation with Michaela. After taking care of the animals, he had bathed and shaved. He feared that the discussion with Michaela about going to Yellowstone had upset her.

He also pondered her mood. She hadn't been herself since their return to Colorado Springs. He could only excuse it as fatigue for so long. The truth was, he was worried. His intuition told him she was keeping something from him, and he determined to find out what it was.

After lowering the lamps, he shut the barn door and headed for the house. Looking up, he noticed that their bedroom lights were out.

Sully stopped and put his hands on his hips, then spoke to himself, "Looks like we ain't discussin' it t'night."

Noiselessly, he entered the house. Only the rhythmic ticking of the mantel clock disturbed the quiet. He lowered the lamp in the kitchen, then made his way up the steps. After pausing at each doorway to observe his children, he reached his own room.

The door creaked slightly when he opened it, but Michaela did not stir. Sully crept to Hope's crib. He touched his sleeping daughter's dark curls, then leaned down to kiss her cheek.

Softly he whispered, "No more buttons for you, nâhtona."

While stroking the baby's back, he heard Michaela's voice.

"You were outside a long time," she whispered as she sat up.

He stood straighter to lift his shirt over his head. "Just takin' care o' the animals, then I took a bath."

"Sully," she hesitated. "I'm sorry about earlier, but what you're asking.... to consider uprooting our family.... I just...."

Tears prevented her from going on.

"Hey...." Sully sat on the edge of the bed. "What's got ya like this, Michaela? What's botherin' ya?"

"I just told you," she sniffled. "I don't want us to uproot the children."

He tenderly touched her tears. "Then we won't go. I'll tell him no."

She threw her arms around his neck. "Oh, Sully, that's not fair to you."

He kissed her forehead. "It's okay. The most important thing is for us t' be t'gether. You know that."

"But.... you sounded like you had your heart set on this." Her angst began to calm.

He lightly pressed his palm to her chest. "My heart's set right here."

Michaela lifted his hand to her lips. "I love you so much."

"Funny, that's the same way I feel about you," he grinned. "Now, I want ya t' lay back an' close your eyes. You need t' sleep."

"So do you," she knew.

Sully stood up and went to his side of the bed. He slid out of his buckskins and soon spooned himself along her form. His hand settled on her waist, but Michaela subtly guided it down to her abdomen. He kissed the soft skin at the nape of her neck, inhaling the sweet scent of her.

She whispered, "Good night."

"'Night," his voice trailed off.

Within minutes, she could hear the steady breathing of her husband. He was asleep.

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

In the morning, Bridget and Sully fed and dressed the children while Michaela slept. Sully took the older ones into town with him when he went to work. Katie and Josef were going to spend the day helping Loren with inventories at the Mercantile. Dorothy had offered to keep the twins occupied.

It was nearly noon when Michaela arose. When she glanced at her clock, she was incredulous that she had slept so long. Quickly, she dressed and descended the stairs, marveling at how quiet the house was.

Upon reaching the kitchen, she paused. The dishes were washed, and there was no sign of her family. Then she heard Bridget's voice outside. Going to the window, Michaela noticed the nanny rocking Hope on the porch swing. She smiled and opened the door.

"Mama!" Hope reached for her.

Michaela lifted her daughter. "Good morning, my darling."

Bridget amended, "Afternoon, Dr. Mike. Ya slept half the day away, darlin'."

"I'm sorry Bridget," Michaela apologized.

She waved her hand. "T'wernt your fault, lass. Ya needed the rest. How do ya feel?"

Michaela sat beside her. "I feel fine at the moment."

"At the moment?" Bridget questioned.

Michaela kissed the top of Hope's head. "Well, I've been battling an upset stomach for a few days. It comes and goes."

"Sully said ya fainted the other night," she noted. "Maybe ya should have Miss Colleen check ya. Could be ya caught somethin' on the train ride home."

Michaela was silent.

"Dr. Mike?" Bridget touched her hand. "Is there somethin' else on your mind, lass? Ya seem preoccupied."

Michaela forced a smile. "I just have some things to check on in my office. Then I really should go to the hospital. Did Sully take the children to town?"

"Aye," she replied. "Katie and Josef are with Loren. The twins are with Dorothy. Pity that one. She'll be run ragged before the day is done, then won't have any energy for Robert E's party."

"Would you like for me to take Hope to the hospital with me today?" Michaela offered. "You could use a little peace and quiet to rest up, as well."

"Are ya sure you're up t' it?" Bridget hesitated.

Michaela assured, "Of course I am. We'll be fine. Won't we, Hope?"

The little girl smiled and clapped her hands.

Bridget remarked, "She's got your smile, Dr. Mike."

Michaela noted, "And her father's beautiful blue eyes."

The nanny mused, "I'll hand it t' you an' Sully. Ya make beautiful babies."

Michaela rose and handed Hope to Bridget. "If you could get her ready, I'll just be in my office for a little while, then we'll go."

"Sure," she returned.

Michaela smiled. "Thank you for everything, Bridget. I don't say that nearly enough to you."

"You're welcome, darlin'." She felt a tear welling in her eye. "Now, off with ya."

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

Michaela slipped into her office and closed the door behind her. Taking a deep breath, she stepped toward her desk and sat. Eyeing a stack of medical charts that Colleen had left to update her on patients, Michaela opened the first.

It took an hour, but when Michaela finished, she marveled at how detailed and competent Colleen's notes had been. A rush of pride filled her at her daughter's capabilities.

Suddenly, Michaela felt her father's presence again. Closing her eyes, she leaned back in the chair to let his essence fill her thoughts.

Josef Quinn avowed, "That's how I felt about you, Mike.... Proud of my daughter, the physician."

The corners of her lips turned up.

He added, "And that nanny was right. Hope does have your smile."

"Thank you, Father," she conveyed.

He inquired, "For what?"

"For believing in me," she answered.

Josef added, "As you believe in Colleen."

"She's had such a difficult time, Father," Michaela communicated. "She's a successful physician, but with the end of her marriage, I'm afraid she's lost her way. Sully believes she should go somewhere to think about things."

"That might not be a bad idea," Josef pointed out. "Perhaps she should go back to Boston."

Michaela countered, "Sully has more of a vision quest in mind for her."

"Speaking of Sully," he paused. "You didn't tell him, did you?"

"No." She sighed. "I.... I want to be certain first. If I'm pregnant, the urine sample will most likely show signs tomorrow. The film of fat forms most often on the third day."

"You don't need to tell me, Dr. Quinn," Josef chuckled. "I'll leave you for now, Mike. But.... well, if I were Sully, I'd want you to tell me even before you were certain. When your mother suspected she was pregnant with you, she didn't tell me for three months."

"Why ever not?" Michaela was surprised.

He mused, "Later she told me that she didn't want me to be disappointed if it wasn't true."

"Because you wanted a boy?" Michaela assumed.

He whispered, "Because I wanted you."

"Mama!" Hope's voice roused Michaela from her reverie .

"Coming, Sweetheart." Michaela lifted up from her chair.

Then she paused to glance toward the medical cabinet. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I'll know."

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

Grace nervously finished the final touches of the table settings. It had been a challenge to keep this party a secret from Robert E, but Preston had kept him busy at the Chateau all day.

Grace clapped her hands together. "Now all I have t' do is get that husband o' mine cleaned up and over here."

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

Sully finished buttoning the back of Michaela's dress.

Unable to resist, he leaned closer and kissed his wife's shoulder. "You sure look beautiful t'night. Kinda like you're glowin'. That sleep must've done a lot o' good."

"I believe you're right," she acknowledged. "I do feel much better."

His hands began to roam along her form.

Michaela raised an eyebrow. "You had better finish getting ready, Mr. Sully."

"I am ready," he smirked.

"I mean for the party," she amended.

He grinned. "All I gotta do is put on my tie."

"How were the children today?" she queried as she made the final touches to her hair.

Sully lifted his shirt collar and slid his tie around his neck. "Loren said Katie an' Josef were good as gold. Lots o' help t' him."

She tilted her head. "And the twins?"

"Well, Dorothy said she'd need a week t' recover," he retorted.

A knock at the door interrupted them.

"Come in," Michaela beckoned.

Katie opened the door and entered her parents' room. "Mama, you look real pretty."

Michaela smiled. "Thank you, Sweetheart."

Sully finished the bow on his tie. "Did ya need somethin', Kates?"

"Can.... may I go to the party?" she requested.

Sully noted, "'Fraid it's just for grownups, sweet girl."

Katie sighed, "When will I be a grown up?"

Michaela mused, "Sooner than I would prefer, young lady."

Josef entered the room. "What we doin'?"

Michaela commended, "I understand that you two were quite a help to Mr. Bray today."

Josef shrugged, "If ya like countin' cans. Ya know I can't count wreal high, Mama."

Sully teased, "Did ya run outa numbers, Joe?"

"No," he replied. "But I only got t' count cans, not candy."

Sully winked. "Maybe Mr. Bray didn't wanna lose any."

Josef's eyes widened, "Papa, I wouldn't lose candy!"

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

Robert E was surprised beyond measure, thinking when he arrived that the event must be for someone else. Before dinner, Grace and Robert E circulated among their friends to thank them for attending the party.

The blacksmith smiled at his wife, "I have t' admit I'm enjoyin' this, but I don't even know when my birthday was, woman."

She masked her wide grin with her hand. "That's another part of the surprise. I just picked the date out of a hat."

Sully patted his friend's back. "So what's your birthday wish, Robert E?"

The blacksmith put his arm around Grace's shoulders. "I already got mine."

Hank spoke up. "Then let's eat. I been thinkin' about Grace's meatloaf all day."

Grace put her hands on her hips. "I didn't make meatloaf. We're havin' Trout Meuniere Amandine."

Robert E raised an eyebrow. "Where'd ya get the trout?"

"I had some help," she replied vaguely.

Hank frowned, "It better not be spicy hot like that there Cajun stuff ya make."

Lexie gently poked her elbow into her husband's rib. "Hank!"

Michaela chimed in, "I'm certain that it will be delicious. I've never had Trout Meuniere Amandine."

Loren frowned. "I don't know 'bout eatin' any foreign food."

Sully teased, "You ever drink champagne?"

"That's different," Loren countered.

Grace clarified, "Well, it's Creole, and I made it. "Laissez les bon temps rouler."

Loren turned up his nose. "What's wrong with meatloaf?"

Sully spoke up, "Nothin', but if Grace made this, it'll be delicious."

With that, Sully held his chair for his wife, then joined her. The other townsfolk followed. At Grace's request, the Reverend offered a prayer. The minister and his wife then sat at a large center table with the Sullys. Hank, Dorothy, Loren, Horace, Myra and Lexie joined them.

Isabel inquired, "I noticed Matthew and Emma aren't here tonight. How is Michael?"

Michaela assured, "He's doing much better, thank you. We nearly lost him, but thanks to Cloud Dancing's medicine, he's on the mend."

Reverend Johnson contributed, "Thanks be to God. I understand that Teresa is doing well, too."

"Yes," Michaela nodded.

Lexie admired, "You look radiant, Dr. Mike. That trip East must have agreed with you."

Michaela shook her head. "To the contrary. We witnessed the shooting of the President. Then our little Annie was shot."

Hank retorted, "An' folks think the West is violent."

Michaela continued, "Annie's shooting was an accident, but she's recovered nicely."

Dorothy remarked, "I told Sully I wanna interview him about the President's shooting for The Gazette. You, too, Michaela."

Michaela spoke admiringly of her husband, "Sully was among the first to reach Mr. Garfield."

Sully added, "I don't see how the man survived the night with all the pokin' and proddin' they did. Michaela tried t' warn the physicians about infection, but they wouldn't listen t' a woman doctor."

At that moment, Colleen joined them. "Sorry I'm late. I was checking on Michael."

Michaela queried, "Is everything all right?"

Colleen replied, "Yes. Everything's fine."

Sully questioned, "Did ya come by yourself?"

Colleen chuckled, "I assumed Andrew would already be here."

He gestured over his shoulder. "He is. Sittin' with Preston."

Hank joked, "Someone has to."

Michaela studied her daughter's expression. "No Louis?"

"He's busy," she answered.

Loren folded his arms. "So when are we gonna eat?"

Grace overheard, "Right now."

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

Sully slowed the surrey to a stop beside the homestead steps.

Michaela turned to her daughter. "Colleen, I'm so glad you decided to spend the night with us. I know Katie will be delighted to share her bedroom with her big sister."

"Thanks, Ma," she smiled.

Sully added, "My guess is she stayed up t' find out about the party."

Colleen took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "It feels so right, being here with all of you."

Michaela invited, "You know you're welcome anytime. In fact, we wouldn't mind if you moved home."

Sully alighted to help them from the surrey. "Your Ma's right, Colleen. We'd love havin' ya back."

Colleen glanced at the homestead. "It's nice to know I can always come home, but.... I think I'm better off on my own."

Michaela and Sully cast a quick glance at one another, sensing what the other was thinking.

Michaela broached the subject. "Sweetheart.... you've seemed so lost since your marriage ended. Perhaps you need...."

Colleen wondered why her mother had stopped. "Need what?"

Sully picked up, "Maybe ya need t' get away for a spell t' think things through."

Michaela commented, "You've worked so hard to make the hospital a success. Harder than I."

"That's not true, Ma," Colleen interjected. "You're the heart and soul of the hospital."

Michaela recalled, "If you remember, I went into labor with Hope the day it opened. It was quite awhile before I started to work there. But you've been there at all hours, vigilantly keeping it going."

"So have Andrew and Dr. Bernard," Colleen pointed out. "Even Dr. Cassidy has come through on occasion."

Sully explained, "What your Ma's gettin' at is that maybe ya need a rest."

The young woman retorted, "You don't want me anymore?"

"Quite the opposite," Michaela responded. "I've come to depend on you. Perhaps too much so. We want you to have a life, too. I recall giving similar advice to Brian in Washington."

Colleen was uncertain. "What advice?"

"You need to have a balance between your family and your career," she counseled.

Colleen sighed and brushed aside a tear that had trickled down her cheek. "I don't know, Ma. Sometimes I wish I had a life outside of medicine. At other times, I prefer to throw myself into my work and forget about everything else."

Sully nodded. "That's called runnin'. I done my share o' that."

Colleen added, "Please don't misunderstand. I don't regret my time at the hospital. I know that the children have needed Ma to be home with them."

An idea occurred to Michaela. "Colleen, you don't have to do this alone. What if you and I went away, somewhere that I could help you?"

She questioned, "Where?"

Michaela considered, "I never did finish climbing Pike's Peak. Perhaps one day, you and I...."

Sully began to protest, "Wait a minute. I ain't gonna let you two climb up there by yourselves."

Michaela raised her eyebrows. "And just how do you intend to stop us, Mr. Sully?"

Colleen sensed the rising tensions. "No, thanks, Ma. I don't think getting away will make my thinking any clearer."

Michaela took her daughter's arm. "Then let's start with a cup of tea, and we'll come up with another way."

Sully shook his head as he watched them climb the front steps. "Women."

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

When Michaela entered the bedroom, Sully was asleep with Hope slumbering atop his chest.

She smiled at the scene and felt a tinge of regret that she had spoken to him so brusquely when he protested her idea of climbing Pike's Peak with Colleen. Approaching her husband, she brushed back an errant strand of his hair, then caressed his cheek.

Sully stirred slightly. "Michaela?"

She teased, "Who else would touch you like that?"

He yawned. "I tried t' stay awake for ya. Colleen an' you have a good talk?"

Gently, Michaela lifted the baby. "She's holding so much pain inside, Sully. I don't know how to help her."

Sully watched her lay their youngest child in her crib. Then he took a deep breath and sat up. Noticing that his wife was struggling to undo the buttons on the back of her dress, he went to her.

He whispered, "Let me help ya."

As he unbuttoned her top, he began to ply her with tantalizing kisses along the back of her neck. But there was no response from Michaela.

He massaged her shoulders. "I must be losin' my touch, or.... Are you still mad at me?"

Turning to face him, she was puzzled. "Mad at you?"

"For sayin' I wouldn't let you two climb Pike's Peak by yourselves," he reminded.

She pivoted and clasped his hands. "I apologize for my reaction, Sully. I know you were only trying to protect us."

"I reckon I could've said it better," he shrugged.

Her eyes watered, "I.... Oh, Sully. Sometimes I make such a mess of things."

His eyes narrowed, "No, ya don't, Michaela. You just reminded me that ya got a mind of your own. I ain't your boss."

"But you're my husband." Tears continued to build in her eyes. "My, dearest, dearest husband."

Sully enfolded her in his arms, surprised by her emotional reaction. "Ya just wanna help Colleen any way ya can. She'll get through this. We'll help her."

Michaela continued to feel a swell of guilt. "And I dismissed your desire to go to Yellowstone, too. I'm being terribly selfish. You deserve my serious consideration at the very least."

He framed her face in his hands. "Michaela, don't do this t' yourself. You're the most considerate person I know. You're lovin' an' kind...."

She stepped back from him. "No, I'm not."

He reached out. "You wanna tell me what's goin' on here?"

"I thought I was telling you." She looked down.

Sully lifted her chin and peered into her reddened eyes. "This ain't about Yellowstone or even Colleen. What's got ya so worked up?"

Instantly, her mind told her what was happening. In the past, she had always become overly emotional when she was pregnant, but at the same time, such swings in mood could be attributed to the change of life.

Michaela stepped toward her dressing table and lifted a handkerchief. Wiping her eyes and nose, she paused to look at him.

His eyes held an imploring gaze, but he waited for her to speak.

The way he looked at her, she could not resist rushing to him and wrapping her arms around his waist. "Hold me, Sully. Please, hold me."

He obliged, murmuring, "I got ya."

His reassuring tone soon calmed her.

She felt embarrassed. "You must think I'm.... I don't know what."

He kissed the top of her head. "I think you're beautiful. Everyone at the party noticed ya t'night. An' they're right. Ya got a radiance that reminds me of...."

She was curious. "Of what?"

He chuckled. "Never mind. It couldn't be why you're glowin'."

She encouraged, "Tell me."

He stepped back, holding her hands in his. "It kinda reminds me of how ya look when you're pregnant. But, we know that can't happen. Right?"

Here was her opportunity. Sully himself had broached the subject. But she hesitated, unable to find her voice.

"Michaela?" He waited. "It can't happen. Right?"

Reluctantly, she replied, "Right."

He noticed her response. "Does that bother ya?"

She drew back and began to undress. "Really, Sully, must we talk about something that can't happen?"

Her shift in temperament caught him off guard. He frowned and went toward the door.

Michaela asked, "Where are you going?"

"Outside," he answered in frustration.

Her lips pursed. "That's it. Just as you told Colleen. You've done your share of running."

"I ain't runnin'," he denied. "An' why are we fightin' anyway? I tell ya how beautiful ya are, an' ya nearly bite my head off."

Her volume rose, "I'm not biting your head off. I'm.... I'm merely...."

Her shoulders slumped and she sat on the bed. Again, tears streamed down her cheeks.

Swiftly, Sully went to her side and put his arm around her. "I'm sorry, Michaela. Please tell me what's botherin' ya. I wanna help ya."

She took a deep breath, overcome by the incredible love she felt for her husband. She cupped her hand to the side of his face. His blue eyes penetrated to her soul, beckoning for her to speak what was in her heart.

She whispered, "I love you so much."

"I love you, too," he turned her palm to his lips.

She leaned in to kiss him.

He slowly pulled back and uttered, "Whatever this is that's botherin' ya, it ain't so big that you an' me can't handle it t'gether."

Here was another opportunity to tell him, she thought.

Her jaw tensed, "Sully, I.... I think I might be...."

He encouraged, "Go ahead. Ya might be what?"

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

Michaela hesitated, "I think I might be ready for bed now."

He knew there was something more on her mind but resisted pressing her to tell him. "Sure."

She detected disappointment in his voice. "Are you upset with me?"

He shrugged. "'Course not." He felt her stiffen as he embraced her. "You sure you can sleep?"

She stood and went to the chest of drawers. "Yes."

Sully watched in silence as she removed her clothes to slip into her cotton shift. Her beautiful form never failed to arouse him, but he quickly averted his eyes, knowing tonight his longings would not be fulfilled. Tonight, he would hold her, comfort her, make her feel secure enough to maybe tell him whatever was on her mind.

Michaela sat at her vanity to brush her hair. Through the mirror, she watched her husband undress. His handsome physique never failed to stir her. When she thought he might be looking at her reflection, she speeded up the strokes of the brush through her long tresses. As much as she longed to share her love with him, it would not be tonight. Tonight, she wanted him to hold her, comfort her and make her feel secure in his arms.

Sully folded the quilt that covered the bed. Setting it aside, he pulled down the sheet and climbed into bed.

Michaela took a deep breath, checked on Hope one last time, then joined her husband. She lowered the lamp, then after a brief kiss, turned on her side and placed her hand atop his chest.

Sully slid his arm beneath her shoulders and drew her closer. Softly stroking her back, he closed his eyes.

Michaela watched him, regretting that she had again passed up the opportunity to confide in him. "Sully?"

"Mmm?" He opened his eyes.

"Good night," she spoke low.

"'Night." He closed his eyes again.

The sounds of night drifted into their quiet home. Michaela suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of remorse for not disclosing her possible condition to her husband. She should tell Sully. But he would worry.

She stopped, thinking to herself, "I don't even know if I am expecting a baby for certain. Why should I burden Sully?"

When she glanced at him, his eyes were open. He was watching her.

His voice was tender, "I thought you were sleepy."

"I am." She sounded unconvincing.

He posed the question, "Then why ain't ya asleep?"

"I just need to relax," she allowed. "I was thinking.... about the party."

He smiled, "Robert E told me nobody ever did somethin' that nice for him."

"I'm glad that Grace came up with the idea," she noted. "We can't show the people we love how we feel often enough."

"You do," he avowed.

"So do you." She turned up the corner of her lips.

Running his index finger along the line of her jaw, he was tempted to ask again what was troubling her. Instead, an idea came to him. He rose from the bed and pulled his shirt over his head.

Michaela was surprised, "What are you doing?"

He pulled on his buckskins, then extended his hand. "Get dressed an' come with me."

"Sully...." she hesitated. "What are you doing?"

He repeated, "Come with me."

"Where?" she queried.

He smiled as he linked his fingers in hers. "Ya ask too many questions."

Reluctantly, she rose from the bed and quickly dressed. Then Sully guided her outside onto their front porch, now joined by Wolf.

Michaela stopped. "Will you please tell me where we're going?"

"Right here." He directed her to sit on the porch swing.

Michaela put her hands on her hips. "That's it?"

He grinned. "You were expectin' something big?"

She sat on the swing and waited. "Now what?"

He folded his muscular arms and asked, "So, what were ya thinkin' about while I led ya out here?"

"What was I thinking?" she reiterated. "I was thinking about where we might be going."

"Good." He sat beside her. "Now that we're here, ya can relax."

She resisted, "Sully, really. I don't know what you're thinking, but...."

He gestured toward the sky. "I was thinkin' I'd like you an' me t' enjoy this moment. The kids are asleep. No one needs us. So, we can just look up at the stars and feel fine."

She sighed, "I wish things were that simple."

He placed his hand atop hers. "You look like you could use some holdin'."

She smiled at the recollection of the first time he ever said that to her. She slid closer and tilted her head against his shoulder.

"Sully...." She began.

He cut her off. "Shhh. Just listen."

They sat for several minutes, silently discerning the various nocturnal calls of the wildlife.

Sully kissed her temple. "Sometimes things are that simple."

More than anything she could imagine at that moment, Michaela wanted to share with him her most profound fears.

He sensed it. "You remember when we met up in that Atlanta hotel after I escaped from Tague?"

The mention of the diabolical name sent shivers down her spine. "I remember."

"It ain't been that long ago that you an' me thought we'd never see each other again," he explained. "I figure, whatever it is that's botherin' ya.... it can't be worse than that."

She took a deep breath. "You're right. Nothing could be worse."

"Maybe things won't seem so bad if ya talk about it," he offered.

Michaela knew he was right. "I suppose I'm only thinking of myself."

"No, ya ain't," he assured. "You're thinkin' about somethin' that's real serious t' ya." Gently, he whispered, "I'm here, Michaela."

The memory of what Tague had done to her husband flashed across her mind. Sully was here. He would understand.

She put her hand on his chest above his heart. "Sully.... there's a possibility, though remote, that I.... I think I might be pregnant."

He gulped. "What?"

"I should know more tomorrow," she detailed. "I'll see the results of a test."

"But...." He paused to grasp what she had said. "But I thought ya couldn't...."

"So did I." She nodded seriously.

His mind raced. "There's been other times when ya thought ya might be pregnant an' weren't. Even down in Atlanta, ya mentioned...."

Tears formed in her eyes. "Sully.... If I am...."

"Shh." He held her. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

Her shoulders slumped. "I shouldn't have stopped taking the wild carrot seeds."

"Ya think this could be why ya fainted.... why ya been sick at your stomach?" he assumed.

"Yes." She nodded slowly. "Oh, Sully...."

His mind raced. "This is my fault, Michaela. I shouldn't have...."

She interrupted, "Your fault? No, it's not."

He frowned, "I been thinkin' only o' myself. Makin' love so often."

"In case you didn't notice, I've been a very willing participant," she reminded.

He studied her expression. "If ya are gonna have a baby.... well, that's okay. Ain't it?"

She quivered, but did not answer.

He quickly asserted, "I'll take care o' you. The kids will help. You can stay in bed an'...."

She interjected, "Oh, Sully, I'm too old for this again."

Another fear gripped him. "Ya said the possibility you're pregnant was remote. What else could be causin' ya t' feel like this?"

She replied, "It could be the change of life. They use the term menopause now."

He slid his arm around her shoulder. "We gotta have faith that everythin's gonna be okay."

A sense of relief came over her. The burden of hiding her fears from Sully had been lifted. He had a way of making her feel that any obstacle could be overcome.

He kissed her cheek. "Feel better?"

"Yes," she replied.

He smiled. "I'm glad ya told me what's been on your mind."

She nodded. "I am, too."

He held her close and stroked her abdomen. "Remember the first time we found out you were pregnant? We were so happy."

She gazed into his eyes. "If I am expecting, we can still be happy. We'll love this baby just as much as the others."

"Sure will," he agreed.

Then she mentioned. "Perhaps our discussion is academic. The greater likelihood is that it's menopause."

At that moment, Wolf approached them. Sensing her angst, the animal rested his head on Michaela's knee. She reached down to run her hand along his fur.

Sully spoke low. "Come on. Let's go t' bed."

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

Jake awoke to the sound of an infant's cries. For a moment, he was disoriented, but then he soon focused on the needs of his son.

Rolling toward his wife, he yawned. "Teresa?"

She did not respond.

He touched her arm. "Hey, Teresa. The baby's hungry."

She made no movement, but the sound of her loud breathing assured him that she was all right. Or so he thought.

Jake sat up and again attempted to waken her. "Teresa!"

Still no response. Something was terribly wrong.

With his nerves frayed from the baby's crying, Jake rose from the bed and rushed from the room.

Within moments, he had reached the barn. Quickly saddling his horse, he mounted the animal and headed for Michaela's.

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

When Michaela awoke just after dawn, Sully was not beside her. She sat up and noticed that the house was silent. The children were obviously still asleep. Where could her husband be?

After donning her robe and slippers, she quietly made her way out of the room and down the steps. Nearing her office, she could see Sully's form reclining in her leather chair. He was asleep with a book resting in his lap.

Michaela approached him and lifted the volume. It was one of her medical texts, opened to a chapter on menopause. Sully had been trying to familiarize himself with her potential condition.

Glancing toward the cabinet where her urine sample sat in the vial, she took a deep breath and stepped closer to it.

Sully's voice came from behind her. "You ain't gonna look at the test results all by yourself."

Michaela pivoted to see him rising from the chair.

He closed the distance between them. "Let's check it t'gether."

She nodded silently. Then she reached for the case. Slowly lowering it, she set it on her desk.

Suddenly, they heard a frantic call from the front of the house, followed by pounding on the homestead door. "Dr. Mike! Dr. Mike! Ya gotta come quick! It's Teresa!"

Michaela's recognized the voice. "It's Jake."

Sully went to the door while Michaela drew her robe fully around her form.

When Sully opened the door, Jake grabbed his arms. "Where's Dr. Mike?"

She neared them. "Right here, Jake. What's wrong?"

"I can't wake Teresa up!" he gulped as his face paled. "The baby's hungry, but she ain't respondin'."

"I'll get dressed." She started for the stairs.

"No time!" Jake implored. "Ya gotta come now. You can ride with me."

Mindful of her possible condition, Sully insisted. "Won't take me but a few minutes t' hitch the surrey."

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

After his wife had departed, Sully entered Michaela's office. There sat the cabinet containing their future. He was tempted to open it and look at the vial, but he was not certain what he would be seeing if he did. Quickly remembering his wife's needs, he headed upstairs to fetch her clothes.

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

Michaela quickly assessed Teresa's condition. Her pulse was rapid, and she was clammy. Leaning closer, Michaela opened the woman's mouth. There was no fruity smell to her breath.

Jake stood in the doorway holding his now-quiet newborn son. "What's wrong, Dr. Mike?"

"Describe to me what Teresa was like before she became unconscious," she requested.

He pondered, "Well.... before she went t' sleep, she was real nervous, sweatin' a lot. I just figured it was from how hot it's been. Then she started talkin' kinda funny."

"What do you mean?" Michaela questioned.

Jake answered, "She asked me where she was."

Instantly, Michaela recognized the symptoms of diabetes. "Please, get me some table sugar."

"Sugar?" He was puzzled.

She directed, "Quickly, Jake."

He set the baby in his cradle, and wIthin minutes, returned with the sugar bowl. Michaela sprinkled some onto a spoon and placed it under Teresa's tongue. Within minutes, the woman began to regain consciousness.

Teresa glanced up, uncertain of what had happened. "Dr. Quinn? Why are you here? Where is my baby?"

Jake assured, "Take it easy. You was unconscious. Dr. Mike helped ya."

"Unconscious?" she challenged. "Don't be ridiculous. I was sleeping."

Jake countered, "No ya weren't. I couldn't wake ya up."

"Where is Carlos?" A sudden fear gripped her.

Jake lifted the baby from the cradle, "He's here."

"I must feed him!" Teresa commanded.

After setting the infant in his mother's arms, Jake gestured for Michaela to step out of the room with him.

"What's wrong, Dr. Mike?" he inquired. "You gave her sugar. You think she's got diabetes?"

"I believe so," Michaela assessed. "It's possible that it's gestational diabetes.... brought on by her pregnancy."

His eyes widened. "I've seen what that disease does t' folks."

"Don't panic." Michaela hoped to allay his fears. "Now that she's delivered the baby, the symptoms will most likely disappear, though they may return later in her life."

"Oh, God." He wiped his hand across his forehead.

"Jake, she must eat a hearty breakfast," Michaela instructed. "I want her to eat well as long as she is nursing the baby."

He was not focused on what she was saying.

Michaela placed her hand on his arm. "Did you hear me? She needs to eat."

"Uh, yea." He nodded. "I'll go over t' Grace's t' get her somethin'."

"Why don't I fix it for her.... for all of you?" she offered.

Another voice came from behind them. "I'll make breakfast."

"Sully!" Michaela was relieved to see her husband.

He handed her clothing to her. "You get dressed. I'll fix everyone breakfast."

Jake realized, "I don't have much in the house. With all that's happened, I didn't have time t' get fixin's."

Sully nodded. "I'll go over t' Loren's. Be back shortly."

Jake soon found himself alone in the kitchen. He sat down hoping to calm himself. His palms perspired. He closed his eyes and felt his body begin to tremble. He lowered his head, hoping the desire for alcohol would pass.

"Papa," Maria noticed. "You are shaking."

Nervously, Jake smiled. "I'm okay, honey. Just a little tired is all."

"May I see Mama?" she requested.

"Sure," he allowed. "Go on an' see her an' the baby."

As soon as his daughter departed, Jake walked to the cupboard where he hid his liquor. With an unsteady hand, he reached for the knob. Then he hesitated. He shouldn't. Teresa would smell alcohol. He did not want to upset her. Diabetes. The diabetics he had known were in bad shape. Opening the cupboard, he lifted the bottle.

Michaela's voice came from behind him. "Don't, Jake."

Quickly, he put the bottle back and acted as if he were looking for something. "Can't find that little stash o' money Teresa keeps in the house. Ya know, t' pay Sully."

Her tone was firm. "I know exactly what you were doing."

Defensively, he folded his arms. "I told ya what I was doin'."

"You were going to take a drink," she accused. "Which would lead to another.... and another."

"So what if I was?" he frowned. "Don't a man deserve t' celebrate the birth of his son?"

"Not if that man is an alcoholic," Michaela countered. "Hasn't your history with liquor taught you anything?"

"It's taught me that meddlin' women oughta mind their own business," he fired back. "Nag. Nag. Nag. It's no wonder a man drinks."

It was on this scene that Sully returned, groceries in hand. "What's goin' on?"

Jake's eyes narrowed. "Ya oughta teach your wife t' mind her own business."

Sully's jaw tensed. "Takin' care of folks IS my wife's business. Seems like you oughta respect that."

Jake was growing more belligerent. "An' she oughta respect that this is my house. I'll do what I damn well please in it."

Michaela grew more angry. "Not if doing what you please endangers the lives of your wife and children."

Jake pointed. "Get out! The both of ya. Get out!"

As Michaela reached for her medical bag, she felt her legs buckle. She sank to the floor in a faint.

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

When Michaela awoke, she saw the eyes of Sully and Jake peering back at her.

With her husband's help, she was able to sit up.

Embarrassed, Michaela admitted, "I guess I should follow my own advice. I haven't eaten."

"I'm sorry, Dr. Mike," Jake quickly apologized. "I.... I didn't mean t' upset ya."

Sully stated, "Jake, I'll leave the food for ya. I'm takin' her to the hospital right now."

"Sully, no," Michaela protested. "I'll be fine. I.... I'd like for us to go home and check on that test I was telling you about."

Jake offered, "Let me pay ya before ya go."

Sully intervened, "You can settle up later."

"I wanna apologize t' you, too, Sully," Jake acknowledged. "I know you was only tryin' t' help."

"That's all right," he nodded. "We best be goin'."

With that, Sully escorted his wife out of the house.

Jake pivoted and walked to the cupboard again. Taking a deep breath, he sighed. Then he turned toward the groceries Sully had left. He lifted a skillet and prepared to cook breakfast.

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

Sully did not say a word on their way to the homestead.

With their house in sight, Michaela broke the silence. "Please don't be angry with me."

Sully's volume rose, "I ain't angry. I'm worried. Ya need t' see Dr. Bernard."

"Please try to understand," she implored.

"I am tryin'," he insisted.

Michaela covered her face, trying to contain her tears. "I'm frightened, Sully."

Quickly, he stopped the surrey and embraced her. "I know."

"I want for us to see the test results," she explained. "I want you and I to be the first to know. Then if, necessary, I'll see Dr. Bernard."

He sighed, "All right."

When they entered the house, the children surrounded them with questions. After explanations had satisfied their curiosity, Bridget soon had the little ones back to the breakfast table.

Michaela wondered, "Where's Colleen?"

"Still sleepin'," Bridget informed them.

"Michaela." Sully clasped her hand. "Sounds like she needs a good rest. How 'bout you an' me step int' your office?"

"Yes," Michaela agreed.

Josef tilted his head. "Ya gonna talk t' Gran'pa?"

"Gran'pa's dead, Joey," Katie reminded. "We never knew him."

Josef smiled, "That's what you think."

Bridget stated, "All right, dearies, eat up."

Michaela remarked, "We'll be back shortly, Bridget. I can't wait to taste your pancakes."

The children returned to their meal, and their parents headed for the office. Sully closed the door behind them.

For a moment, Michaela stood motionless, afraid to find out, yet afraid to not know.

Sully cleared his throat.

Michaela steeled herself and walked to the cabinet. With the sample in hand, she studied the liquid. There it was, the telltale film across the top of the urine.

She bit her lower lip.

Sully was uncertain, "Michaela? Are ya pregnant?"

"It appears so," she noted as she set down the vial.

Conflicting emotions overcame her. She lowered her head and began to cry.

Sully embraced her. "Michaela."

She filled with guilt for her reaction. "Sully.... I want to be happy about this. I want to love this child."

He enfolded her in his arms. "There's no way we could feel anythin' but love. It's only natural."

She wiped the moisture on her cheeks. "I do love it, just as I love all of our children."

"An' I'm gonna make sure everythin's all right," he added. "I'll keep you an' the baby safe."

She smiled and touched his cheek. "I know I must see Dr. Bernard now."

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

Matthew rubbed his back stiffly. Sleeping on a cot next to his son's bed had taken a toll on his back, but seeing the little boy slumber peacefully was a relief beyond measure.

Emma heard her husband stir. "Is he all right?"

"Fine," Matthew nodded with a grin. "Sure is somethin' how children bounce back so quick."

"Yea, it is," she concurred.

He inhaled deeply. "I wonder how Ma's doin'. I'm worried about her."

"Seems like she has time for all her patients, but maybe she needs t' take care of herself, too," Emma reasoned.

"If I know Sully, he's gonna insist that she see a doctor," the young man remarked.

"Speaking of doctors, I guess Colleen's still torn over Andrew," Emma commented.

He was uncertain. "Torn?"

"She told me she feels like her life is stuck, an' she can't move forward," Emma recalled.

"I remember when she first told us she was gonna marry Andrew, Ma was real upset about it," Matthew related.

"Upset?" Emma was surprised. "Why?"

He explained, "She thought Colleen was too young.... wanted her t' finish school before thinkin' about marriage."

"Maybe your Ma was right," Emma observed.

He added, "I think Colleen was afraid she'd lose Andrew if she went off t' school without him."

"But they were happy in the beginning," Emma remembered.

Matthew put his arms around his wife. "I reckon the true test of a marriage ain't how ya feel when times are good. It's how ya handle the difficult times."

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

Dr. Bernard asked, "You say the Kiestein test was positive?"

"Yes," Michaela nodded.

Sully sat beside her, grateful that she had explained the medical terminology to him earlier.

Bernard took some notes. "Have you been spotting?"

She hesitated, then glanced at her husband. "Yes."

Sully was visibly shaken. "Why didn't ya tell me?"

She looked down. "At first, I thought it was my monthly, but.... then it would stop and start again."

The doctor questioned, "When was the first day of your last monthly?"

Michaela had checked her diary before they came to the hospital. "It was May 6."

Bernard queried, "Any pain?"

"Lower back," she indicated.

He inquired, "Mrs. Slicker told me you fainted the night you delivered her baby."

Michaela noted, "It's happened a few times."

Bernard finished writing on her chart, then requested, "I'll step outside so that you can prepare for the examination."

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

Josef finished his chores in the barn. Then he made his way to Iggy's pen. The pig nuzzled his hand for a treat. Josef giggled, and petted her. Glancing at the sun, the little boy sensed the hot spell would continue. Papa had told him to make sure Iggy had food water and some shade.

As Josef pumped water into the trough, Katie joined him. "Hey, Joey. Wanna play some checkers?"

"When I'm done," he agreed.

Katie glanced toward the road to their home.

Josef noticed, "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"

"What?" the little girl wondered.

"I'm worried 'bout Mama," he confided. "She sleeps a lot. She's been actin' diffwent, too."

"Maybe she's just tired from our trip," Katie speculated.

The boy was doubtful. "Mama's gettin' old."

Katie scolded, "Joey, don't say that."

"She's forty-eight," he pointed out. "That's older than anyone I know."

"Mr. Bray's older," Katie mentioned. "So's Miss Dorothy, Cloud Dancin'.... all our aunts...."

"Well, if it ain't her age, it could be she's worried 'bout somethin'," he offered.

Katie withheld her fears. Mama could be seriously ill.

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

With Sully's fingers linked in hers, Michaela lay back on the examining table.

Bernard's voice was soothing. "Try to relax, Dr. Quinn."

Her voice trembled, "I'm afraid that's impossible."

He encouraged, "As you know, this will be much more tolerable if you can."

Sully bent closer to her ear and whispered, "Close your eyes, an' I'll tell ya a story."

She turned up the corner of her mouth and spoke low in return, "What kind of a story?"

"Hmm," he contemplated. "Once upon a time, there was a brave warrior...."

She cut in, "This sounds like one of the tales you tell the children."

"An' you sound like they do, interruptin' me," he joked. "Anyway, there was this warrior who, more than anythin' in the world, wanted t' find someone t' love."

She shifted uncomfortably as Dr. Bernard began his examination.

Sully maintained a low volume, speaking near his wife's ear. "The warrior didn't wanna be loved for his good looks...."

Michaela smiled. "It's definitely about you."

Sully gently touched her lips with his finger. "Shhh. Let me tell the story."

"Sorry," she mused. "Go ahead."

Sully resumed, "He didn't wanna be loved for his looks or even his abilities. He just wanted t' be loved for his heart."

Michaela winced slightly at Dr. Bernard's movements.

Sully again distracted her. "The warrior prayed t' the Great Spirit t' help him find his true love. So, the Great Spirit turned him into a bear. This upset him 'cause he feared he'd done somethin' wrong."

Michaela clasped his hand tightly. "It's not wrong to pray for love."

He continued, "The Great Spirit sent a deer t' explain his actions. The deer told him that in the form of a bear, he would not be loved for his looks or his skills. But the warrior said no woman would wanna marry a bear. An' now he couldn't go home, 'cause other warriors would kill him."

Dr. Bernard directed, "Turn slightly to your left, Dr. Quinn."

She complied, then urged her husband, "Go on, Sully."

He grinned. "But it's just one o' the tales I tell the kids."

"I don't care," she retorted. "I want to know what happens."

Sully returned, "The deer advised him that he would not be killed, but told him he couldn't go home. The warrior was puzzled, not knowin' how he'd ever find love now."

Michaela interjected, "Did the deer become his love?"

Sully winked. "You talk too much, Muffet."

"You said it yourself. I'm not patient," she reminded.

He lovingly stroked her cheek. "I'm tryin' t' make this story last."

"All right," she sighed.

Sully proceeded, "The deer led him far from his home to a cave, instructin' the warrior to stay put. Each week, the Great Spirit would send a young maiden t' meet him. If she was unworthy, she'd be sent home. But if she saw him for who he really was, she would be worthy."

"So the maiden had to see past his appearance as a bear," she reasoned.

"Right," Sully nodded. "Week after week for more than a year, maidens were brought before him, an' each time, the women were repulsed by his appearance. An' each week, he lost hope. Then, one day, a girl came who asked if he was the bear's keeper. He was surprised an' asked, 'Don't you see the bear in me?' The maiden told him she only saw him, then asked if the bear was in the cave."

"Ah," Michaela smiled. "She must be the one."

Dr. Bernard spoke up. "Is that tender?"

Michaela flinched. "Yes, Doctor."

Sully kissed her knuckles. "You okay?"

She closed her eyes. "Go on with your story."

Sully ran his hand lightly along her auburn locks. "The moment the maiden saw him for who he was, he changed back int' the handsome warrior. He told her the story of how he had been transformed int' a bear. She was so touched by his desire to be loved for who he was, they instantly fell in love and went back t' his village to be married. Long after that, they were known for showin' everyone the power of true love."

"Just like us." Her eyes glistened.

He sweetly kissed her. "'Cept I didn't have t' be a bear. But in the end, I won over that beautiful maiden."

Dr. Bernard stood, and solemnly informed her, "All finished, Dr. Quinn. I'll step out of the room and give you time to dress."

Michaela queried, "Did you verify my pregnancy?"

The physician stopped at the door before exiting. "I'll be back shortly."

Michaela nodded. With Sully's help, she sat up from the table. He fetched her stockings, petticoat, skirt and shoes. Once dressed, she went to the window.

Sully followed and rested his hands on her shoulders. "What ya thinkin'?"

She pensively replied, "The baby. I can imagine him, playing with his siblings, growing up to be strong and handsome like his father."

He mused, "I kinda see her bein' smart an' beautiful like her Ma."

The door opened, and Dr. Bernard entered, glum faced. "Why don't you and Sully have a seat, Dr. Quinn?"

Linking their fingers, Michaela and Sully sat side by side.

Bernard paced for a moment, pondering how to inform the couple. "You are indeed expecting a baby."

Her heart skipped a beat. "Is everything all right?"

He rubbed his chin. "There's no easy way to put this."

Michaela felt her heart sink. "Just be direct with us."

"There are complications," the physician broached the subject.

Sully took a deep breath. "What kinda complications?"

The physician looked down at his chart. "I've examined you quite thoroughly, and I am of the belief that it's an ectopic pregnancy."

"Oh, God," Michaela gasped.

Sully struggled to understand. "What's that mean?"

Bernard explained, "It means the fertilized egg has implanted outside of the uterus. It's in her right fallopian tube near the ovary. I estimate that the fetus is about 13 weeks along."

Michaela's eyes welled with tears.

Sully embraced her. "If the baby's not in the uterus...."

Bernard shook his head. "I'm sorry, but.... it cannot survive. Dr. Quinn's life is in grave danger if we don't act immediately."

Sully fought his own tears. "What do ya have t' do?"

Bernard hesitated. "Perhaps it would be better if I left you two alone for awhile. This is a lot to absorb."

The physician rose from his chair and left the room.

The moment he departed, Michaela covered her eyes, stunned by the news. Sully tenderly held her, softly rocking her back and forth for several minutes. With broken hearts, they clung to one another.

Finally, Sully uttered, "Michaela, he said your life...."

Her voice was strained, but she made an effort to explain. "He has to.... remove the baby.... so that I have a chance to live."

He swallowed hard. "A chance? What's that mean?"

The tears began to well again. "If we wait, the fallopian tube could rupture. The internal bleeding would, in all likelihood, kill me."

Sully struggled to understand. "But at 13 weeks, the baby...."

She peered into his eyes, "It won't survive, Sully."

Tears began to overcome her.

He embraced her. "We gotta save you."

She was scarcely able to speak, "Dr. Bernard will have to do an ovariotomy. He'll have to remove the ovary and...."

"Michaela," he sympathized. "If that's what he's gotta do t' save your life, then...."

"He'll have to take our baby, Sully," she cried anew.

He clasped her hand and raised it to his lips. "I'm sorry."

"I knew a pregnancy would be a risk, but I never imagined my baby would have to die in order for me to live." She shook her head in stunned disbelief. "Oh, God. Why?"

Sully attempted to comfort her. "I wish I knew, Michaela. Maybe.... maybe there's somethin' we can do.... go t' Denver t' see another doctor.... or...."

"No, Sully." She knew better.

It was on this scene that Dr. Bernard reentered the room. "Are you all right, Dr. Quinn?"

She wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. "You said I'm 13 weeks along...."

He replied, "Yes."

"Michaela," Sully choked.

"Our baby...." She looked at her husband, determined to continue her comment. "He.... is about the size of a peach. His eyes have started to develop. He can even make a fist with his tiny...."

Sully beseeched, "Please, Michaela...."

Bernard spoke up. "I know this is terribly difficult."

"Difficult?" Michaela's jaw tensed.

Sully tried to calm her. "This ain't Dr. Bernard's fault. It ain't anyone's fault, Michaela. Let him take care of ya."

Shaking her head, she stood. "I can't. I can't go through this."

With that, she rushed from the room.

************
Chapter 11
************

Before Sully could follow his wife, Bernard spoke up, "I must tell you how serious this is. She could die. It could happen so quickly, there would be no time to even start an operation."

Sully's expression was one of agony. "She knows that, Doctor. Just.... just give us some time t' think on it.... get ourselves ready for what has to be done."

Again, Bernard insisted, "There is no time. The instant the fallopian tube ruptures, her chances of survival plummet."

Sully nodded, then hurried to find his wife. She was nearly out the front door of the hospital.

"Michaela!" he followed.

She hesitated, uncertain of which way to go. Pausing, her shoulders slumped, and she was once again overcome by tears. Sully reached her and quickly cradled her in his arms.

She began to sink to the floor.

Sister Mary Margaret approached, "Dr. Quinn. What's wrong?"

Sully scooped his wife into his arms. "Sister, could you open the door t' her office?"

"Certainly," the nun quickly led the way.

When they reached the office, the Sister closed the door to give them privacy.

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

Sister Mary Margaret quickly made her way to Dr. Bernard's office. Though the door was open, she paused for his approval to speak.

He looked up from his desk, a grim expression on his face. "Yes, Sister?"

"It's Dr. Quinn, sir." She spoke softly.

He nodded. "Yes, I know. We need to prepare the operating room for her."

"Dr. Bernard, I don't think she's capable of performing surgery right now," the nun informed him.

"Dr. Quinn will be the patient," he indicated.

Colleen had just arrived at the hospital and was passing by when she heard his words.

She stopped. "What's wrong with my mother?"

Bernard replied, "I think it might be best if you spoke with her, Dr. Cook."

Colleen's brow furrowed. "I know she hasn't been feeling well."

Sister Mary Margaret gestured, "She's in her office with Mr. Sully, Doctor."

With that, Colleen pivoted and headed toward the office she shared with her mother.

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

Michaela sat at her desk, weakly supporting her head with her hands. "Why, Sully? Why would God do this?"

He had no answer. He had asked the same heart wrenching questions himself when his first wife and baby daughter had died 16 years earlier.

Sully knelt before her. "Dr. Bernard says we don't have time."

She took his hand and guided it to her abdomen. "But.... but right now, for this moment, the baby's alive. Can't we just have this moment with him while he's safe?"

"It ain't safe for you, Michaela," Sully reasoned. "Any minute...."

She prevented the completion of his sentence. "I know. But.... please let me think about him.... perhaps.... give him a name."

Sully's heart ached as he drew them into a standing position. "Come here."

Michaela warmed in his arms. "We conceived him 13 weeks ago, Sully. Do you remember?"

He calculated, "Late May.... our anniversary?"

"Yes, that must have been when." Michaela peered into his eyes. "I think.... I would like to name him Cole."

He nodded wistfully. "It's a good name. Kid Cole was a good friend."

She wondered, "What would he look like, Sully?"

"Michaela...." He hesitated. "This is hard enough."

"Don't you see?" She pulled back. "Can't you understand that we're losing part of us? I only want a few moments to think about what might have been."

Sully painfully acquiesced to his wife. "Cole.... He's got auburn hair, just like yours. He'd be...."

Sully's voice choked. He could not continue.

She lamented, "This will be the fourth baby we've lost...."

He lifted her chin and softly kissed her. "I wish there was some other way."

Michaela raised her hand to stroke his cheek. "You must be so disappointed in me. I'm sorry."

He kissed the palm of her hand. "I've never been disappointed in you."

"But, if I were younger, perhaps...." Her sentence was cut off.

"Don't say that!" His volume was louder than he intended. "I told you before, I married exactly who I wanted t' marry. This ain't your fault. It just happened, an' I ain't gonna lose ya."

"Ma?" Colleen's voice interrupted them from the other side of the door.

Michaela tried to compose herself. "Just a minute, Colleen."

Sully cast his wife a compassionate glance. "I'm sorry, Michaela."

She wiped the tear that began to trickle down his cheek. "I suppose our time with him is up."

He nodded solemnly.

Then she beckoned her daughter, "Come in, Colleen."

The young woman entered the office. "Ma, what's wrong? Dr. Bernard said I should speak to you."

Michaela felt herself waver. "Oh, Colleen. Sully and I have just heard the most devastating news. I have an ectopic pregnancy."

Her eyes opened wide. "What?"

"It's true," Michaela commented.

"I'm so sorry, Ma," Colleen sympathized.

She detailed, "Dr. Bernard will perform the ovariotomy today. There's not much time."

"Would you like for me to assist?" the daughter offered.

"Yes," Michaela answered. "And I'd like something else."

"Whatever you want, Ma," she offered.

Michaela directed, "I want Dr. Bernard to take my other ovary, too."

"But...." Colleen paused. "You know what that will mean."

Sully interceded. "What's it mean?"

Colleen explained, "It will mean she will go through the change and...."

"I don't care," Michaela avowed.

"But, Ma...." the young woman began to protest.

She interjected, "I don't want to ever run the risk of this happening again."

"All right," Colleen nodded. "I'll prepare everything."

Michaela embraced her daughter, then the young woman left them.

Michaela took her husband's hands. "We need to discuss the risks, Sully. There is a very real possibility that.... I won't survive this."

His heart sank. "No, don't say that."

She explained, "The risk of infection is high."

"You ain't gonna die, Michaela," he uttered.

Her voice became unsteady, "I love you."

Swiftly, he drew her into his arms. "I love you, too."

A thought came to her. "Do you remember when we were caught in the mine cave-in and thought we might die?"

"I remember," he responded.

Tears began to stream down her cheeks. "We wrote letters to the children thinking we might never see them again. I have them in a box on my vanity. Though it was written for Katie and Josef, the sentiment still applies to all of our children. Please give my letter to them if I ...."

She could not go on.

Sully held her tightly and kissed the top of her head.

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

Sully paced back and forth in the waiting room of the hospital. His mind flooded back to another occasion when he had been in this room filled with apprehension.... the day Michaela had delivered Hope. But this time, they would never get to see or hold their child.

Dorothy entered the hospital, hoping to catch Michaela during a lull in her day.

She was surprised to see Sully. "Hey there."

"Dorothy." His voice cracked slightly.

She gazed at him intently. "Sully? Ya look like ya just lost your best friend. Did somethin' happen 't one of your workers?"

He quickly informed her, "It's Michaela."

"When I talked with ya earlier, ya said she was real tired," the redhead recalled.

Sully folded his arms tightly against his chest. "It's more serious than that."

Dorothy placed her hand on his shoulder. "What is it?"

His face contorted slightly as he struggled to be strong. "She.... she might die, Dorothy."

"Die?" She stood in disbelief. "What's happened? What's wrong?"

"She's pregnant," he revealed.

Dorothy's face paled. "Pregnant? Well.... women have given birth at Michaela's age before. If she takes real good care of herself an'...."

Before she could finish her sentence, Sully interrupted. "They're removin' the baby."

"What?" She was shocked. "Michaela's havin'.... an abortion?"

The word shocked Sully. He had not considered this to be an abortion.

"No," he explained. "There's some kinda problem where the baby can't survive, an' Michaela might die if they don't take it right now. Ectopic pregnancy, they called it."

"Oh, Sully." Her heart went out to him. "I'm so sorry. Is there anythin' I can do?"

He requested, "Could ya ride out t' the homestead, an' tell Bridget that we won't be home t'night?"

"'Course, I can," she consented.

Sully added, "Don't let the kids know what's goin' on. I should be the one t' tell 'em."

"All right." She patted his arm. "Do ya want me t' tell Cloud Dancin', too?"

"Yea," he agreed.

Dorothy embraced him, then left. Sully closed his eyes, incredulous at what had happened to Michaela since they wakened this morning. She lay on an operating table, possibly to never awaken. Before her surgery was complete, they would lose another child.

Sully wiped a tear that had begun to journey down his cheek. He didn't know how they could endure another baby's death. Then he shook his head. He felt awash in guilt and selfishness, permitting his physical desire for his wife to endanger her life.

As he stood deep in his thoughts, Colleen entered the waiting room. "Pa?"

He pivoted quickly. "Is she all right?"

"She's.... resting quietly." Colleen stated. "She came through the surgery all right."

"Could I see her?" he requested.

"Of course, but don't expect her to be very lucid," Colleen remarked. "She's had a lot of medication for the pain. There's something else you need to know."

Sully gulped fearfully. "What?"

"Ma's going to have a lot of trouble with this," she began.

He acknowledged, "We've lost babies before. We know how hard it is."

Colleen counseled, "She might see this one differently than the others, Pa."

Sully followed his daughter to the private room into which Michaela had been transferred. When he entered, the shades had been drawn and the window was shut.

He approached his wife slowly. She looked ashen.

He observed beads of perspiration on Michaela's forehead and requested of his daughter, "Could I open the window? Maybe get some fresh air in here t' cool her off?"

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt," she replied. "I'll leave you alone with her. Let me know if she has any pain."

"Okay," he nodded as he lifted the window sash slightly.

The curtains moved in reaction to the light breeze. Sully took a deep breath and approached the bed. Ever so gently, he brushed back a stray strand of hair from Michaela's face.

Sensing his presence, she opened her eyes a slit. "Sully?"

He leaned closer and clasped her hand. "I'm here."

Her speech was slurred, "Am I.... is it over?"

He whispered, "It's over."

She winced.

"Pain?" he noticed.

She tried to stay awake. "No."

He spoke low, "Is there anythin' ya need?"

"Our baby." Her speech was labored. "We didn't talk about him."

Sully assumed the medicine was affecting her mind. "Yes, we did. You named him Cole."

She opened her eyes wider. "No.... we didn't.... talk about what we would do with...."

Her voice trailed off, and she closed her eyes.

Gently, he raised her hand to his lips, thinking she was asleep.

To his surprise, she squeezed his hand. "Sully, ask them, please. You need to...."

"Need to what?" He stroked her hair.

"To bury him properly," she clarified. "Please take care of him.... tell him.... tell him how much I loved him."

Spent from the strain of speaking, she closed her eyes and fell back to sleep.

Sully stood up straighter, determined to honor her request. A sudden thought sickened him. What if.... what if they had disposed of the fetus? He had to find out.

Sully left the room and walked down the hallway to find Colleen.

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

Dorothy comforted Bridget, "Sully said he doesn't want the children t' know until he can tell 'em."

The nanny wiped her tearful eyes. "Aye, I understand. It's for the best. Poor Dr. Mike."

Katie overheard from the steps. "What's for the best, Miss.... Hey, Miss Dorothy."

"Well, hello t' you, Miss Katie Sully," Dorothy smiled. "I do believe you've grown a whole foot taller since I last saw ya."

"Maybe an inch," Katie amended. "I wanted t' tell ya, I read your book."

Dorothy was surprised. "You did? Uh.... did your Ma an' Pa let ya?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Katie nodded.

The redhead inquired, "An' what did ya think of it?"

"It was real interestin'," Katie stated. "It's nice t' know what happened in our town before I was born."

Dorothy smiled. "I'm glad ya liked it."

"There were a few things I didn't understand," the little girl admitted. "But I asked Papa. I wonder when Mama an' he will be back from town?"

Dorothy patted her back. "That's why I came out here. They wanted me t' let ya know they're stayin' in town t'night."

Katie looked perplexed. "Why?"

Bridget interceded, "You know how runnin' that hospital can be, keepin' 'em busy 'til all hours. Now, I'm gonna need your help with the young ones. Can ya do that for your folks?"

"'Course, I can, but I don't understand," Katie frowned. "Is somethin' wrong?"

Dorothy remarked, "I'm sure your Pa will tell ya all about it when he comes home."

The child persisted, "When will he be home?"

She noted, "He didn't say, but I know it will be as soon as he can."

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

Sully caught up with Colleen. "Michaela woke up."

"Is she in pain?" Colleen assumed.

"I don't think so," he expressed. "But.... she wants me t' make sure the baby gets a proper burial."

Colleen's voice choked. "Oh, Pa. We were so busy during the surgery, I didn't notice what the Sister did with the baby."

"Could we check?" Sully implored.

"Sister Mary Margaret is cleaning up the operating room." she knew.

Within a few moments, they found the nun scrubbing down the operating table.

Colleen spoke first. "Sister, what did you do with the fetus?"

She gestured toward a towel. "It's there."

Sully froze for a moment, his heart nearly breaking in two. It was so cold, so unfeeling to leave the baby in a metal dish beneath a towel. Tentatively, he approached the small metal table where his unborn child lay. Feelings of incredible sadness and loss engulfed him.

Colleen put her hand on his back. "Pa, I don't think this is good for you or for Ma."

He willed himself to speak. "Could.... Could I hold it?"

Colleen requested, "Sister, if you could give us a few moments...."

With a disapproving scowl, the nun left them.

Sully tenderly placed his hand on top of the towel where the blood was darkest.

Beneath his palm, he felt the small outline of something. "Your Ma was right. It.... He's.... about the size of a peach."

Colleen fought back tears. "Pa, please don't do this. I know it's not easy...."

"You got no idea, Colleen," his voice trembled.

Then Sully gently secured the towel around the fetus and lifted it into the palms of his hands. Tears streamed down his cheeks. Softly, he began to chant a Cheyenne prayer.

Sister Mary Margaret reentered the room. "See here, Mr. Sully, there will be none of that pagan ritual in this hospital."

Colleen assured, "It's all right, Sister."

"It most certainly is not," she insisted. "I had no idea that the surgery on Dr. Quinn would be to remove an unborn child. It goes against Church teaching to have terminated this pregnancy. It is murder."

Sully's jaw tensed. "You sayin' Dr. Bernard should've let Michaela die?"

The nun announced, "Twelve years ago, Pope Pius IX decreed that the soul enters the fetus upon conception. Furthermore, because the fetus has a soul, it must be baptized in order to remove original sin. Not only has this child been murdered, but its soul has been condemned to Hell."

Sully raised his voice, "My baby ain't goin' t' Hell."

Dr. Bernard entered the room. "What's going on here?"

Sully's eyes burned with anger. Still cradling his unborn child, he spoke through clenched teeth. "I'm gonna bury my baby."

With that, he left them.

************
Chapter 12
************

Robert E set down his hammer when he saw Sully's approach. Earlier, he had heard Dorothy and Grace talking about Dr. Mike's surgery.

Sully slowed his wagon and carefully set something beside him on the buckboard's seat. Then he jumped down to meet his friend.

"Robert E," he acknowledged.

The blacksmith met his friend's eyes. "Dorothy told us about Dr. Mike. Is the surgery over?"

The mountain man rubbed his upper lip. "Yea. She came through it okay, but the medicine's real strong."

Robert E paused to wipe his brow. "If there's anythin' Grace an' me can do...."

Sully struggled to remain calm. "There is. I need ya t' make somethin' for me."

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

Matthew lightly touched his mother's hand. "Hey, Ma."

Michaela opened her eyes. "Matthew...."

"Shhh," he uttered. "Don't try t' talk. I just heard what happened, an' Colleen said it would be okay for me t' see ya."

Tears trickled down her cheeks. "My baby...."

Having nearly lost his own son, Matthew sympathized, "I'm so sorry, Ma."

"I don't know.... why, Matthew...." She stopped.

His tone was tender. "I don't either. You did so much t' help Michael.... I wish I knew a way t' help you."

She was lucid enough to ask, "How is your baby?"

Matthew replied tenderly, "He's doin' real good now."

Tears poured down her cheeks. "I'm.... glad."

Her voice faded, and she closed her eyes again.

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

It was going on dinnertime when Sully reached the homestead. He could smell dinner cooking and hear the sound of his children's laughter. He stopped the buckboard and headed into the barn.

Gently, he set the small wooden box containing his unborn child on a bale of hay.

It was then that he heard a voice at the door. "I am sorry, my brother."

He turned. "Cloud Dancin'."

"Dorothy told me," the medicine man informed him. "I came to offer prayers for the little one."

Sully's heart ached. "I.... I'm gettin' ready t' bury him."

"I will help you," the friend offered.

Unable to maintain a facade of calm any longer, Sully sank to his knees. His calloused hand gently touched the top of the small coffin. Overcome by tears, he broke down.

For several minutes, Cloud Dancing stood beside him, softly chanting the prayers of his ancestors.

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

Katie and Josef approached the barn, surprised to see the buckboard.

Katie raised her hand to stop her brother. "That looks like Poppy's wagon."

They stopped to listen carefully.

Josef speculated, "It sounds like a hurted animal."

"No," Katie shook her head. "It's Cheyenne.... a prayer, I think."

He was puzzled. "Why would a Cheyenne pway in the barn?"

"You stay here," she commanded. "I'll go see."

"No, I wanna come with ya," he insisted.

Together, they tentatively stepped to the doorway of the barn. Their eyes widened at the sight of their father crying, while above him, Cloud Dancing sang a song of mourning.

Fearing that her father was hurt, Katie rushed to him. "Poppy! Poppy, what's wrong?"

Sully swiftly embraced her. Josef quickly joined them.

Katie filled with fear. "Did somethin' happen t' Mama?"

He wiped the tears from his reddened eyes. "She's gonna be okay."

"Gonna be?" the little girl noticed. "Did she get hurt?"

Sully swallowed hard, trying to compose himself. "She.... she was gonna have a baby. But.... it couldn't be born, so...."

Cloud Dancing continued for his distraught friend, "The little one is with his grandfathers now."

Josef was puzzled. "Our gwranfathers are dead."

Katie realized, "The baby died?"

Sully nodded silently.

Katie threw her arms around her father's neck. "I'm sorry, Poppy."

"Me, too, sweet girl," he replied with a lump in his throat.

Josef noticed the wooden box. "Is the baby inside there, Papa?"

Sully could only nod in the affirmative.

The little boy offered, "I can bury it for ya."

Katie knew, "Mama should be here, too."

Sully told them, "Your Ma's gonna be in the hospital a while. She wanted me t' take care of the baby."

Katie stated, "Not by yourself, Poppy. We'll help ya."

Josef added, "Then can we go see Mama? She'll be sad."

Sully caressed their hair. "Your Ma's got a lot o' medicine in her right now. She sleeps most of the time."

Josef pledged, "We won't make no noise. She can sleep."

Sully embraced them again. "Right now, we gotta bury your brother."

Katie laid her hand on the tiny case. "The baby was a boy?"

"Your Ma thought so," Sully acknowledged. "She named him Cole."

Josef spoke, "Cole Sully. Did he have a middle name?"

"No," he returned.

The little boy offered, "We could pick one for him."

Katie suggested, "I think his middle name should be Byron."

"Yea," Josef agreed.

Sully turned up his nose. "You know I don't like my name."

The little girl noted, "None of us kids was named after you, Poppy. I think this baby should be."

Josef concurred, "Me, too. He's Cole Byron Sully."

Sully allowed, "Okay."

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

When Sully entered her room, he found Michaela still sleeping. In the faint light from a nearby lamp, he pulled a chair closer to her bed and sat.

Colleen joined him. "I gave her some morphine a little while ago. She's had considerable pain. Would you like for me to have a cot brought in?"

"That's okay," he nodded. "I'll just sit here."

She broached the subject. "Did you... take care of the baby?"

"Yea," he replied solemnly.

Colleen offered, "Can I get anything for you?"

He tenderly placed his hand on Michaela's. "No, thanks."

"Andrew's on call this evening, Pa," she informed him. "If Ma or you need anything, you know he'll do anything he can. Or if you'd like for me to stay...."

"No, thanks," Sully assured. "You need t' rest. Ya had a long day."

Quietly, Colleen retreated from the room.

At that moment, Michaela seemed to sense his presence and opened her eyes. "Sully...."

His voice was hoarse. "Right here."

She attempted to focus. "Time....?"

"Goin' on eleven o'clock," he replied.

Her brow wrinkled. "Did you...." Her face contorted.

"You havin' pain?" he questioned.

"Not very much," she assured. "But.... it's difficult to stay awake."

He touched her hand. "Then sleep."

She struggled to sit up.

"No," he gently guided her back. "Don't move, Michaela."

Another wave of tears overcame her. "Oh, Sully.... I.... I'm so sorry."

"Shhh." He tenderly stroked her hair as his own eyes watered.

"Did you.... lay the baby to rest?" she questioned.

"Uh-huh," he assured. "Katie, Josef, Bridget an' Cloud Dancin' were there. The children gave him a middle name."

She was surprised. "They did?"

"Byron," he informed her.

She clasped his hand weakly. "I love that name."

He retorted, "It's a name only a mother could love."

She tried to remain conscious, but the medicine soon drew her to sleep again.

Sully leaned forward to rest his head upon the edge of his wife's bed. He was exhausted, but he knew he had to be strong for Michaela. He wished that somehow, someway he could take away her pain.

Then the words of Sister Mary Margaret entered his mind. How could anyone think that it was murder to save the life of his wife? Without the procedure, both she and the baby would have died. What did that Pope know? Had he ever held a dying wife? Had he ever had to make such an agonizing decision?

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

Michaela's moaning wakened Sully from his awkward position in the chair beside her bed.

"Oh, God," she cringed. "It hurts."

Sully stood. "I'll get Andrew."

He bolted for the door. It was not long before Andrew responded and stuck the syringe into Michaela's arm to numb the pain.

Sully frowned, "How long is she gonna have t' have morphine?"

"Maybe another day or two," Andrew suggested as he checked Michaela's pulse.

Sully cast a glance toward the window. "It'll be light soon."

Andrew remarked, "Dr. Bernard will be in to check her incisions at 8:00. Then Sister Mary Margaret will...."

Before he could finish her sentence, Sully interrupted, "I don't want her touchin' Michaela."

"She's an excellent nurse," Andrew pointed out.

Sully insisted, "I don't care. I don't want her in the same room with Michaela. Not after what she said."

Andrew was cut off, "But...."

Sully did not budge. "No! I don't want her!"

Andrew backed down. "All right. I'll arrange for someone else to change the dressing."

"Thanks," he expressed his appreciation.

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

After two weeks in the hospital, Michaela was finally able to come home. With his wife prone in the back, Sully slowly guided the buckboard toward their homestead. Matthew followed on horseback.

Anxiously, the children waited for their mother on the porch. Their anticipation mounted, since they had been forbidden to see her in the hospital.

Sully worried when he spotted the children. Michaela had been very despondent, and he was concerned how she might react. He had tried to prepare them that their mother wasn't herself, but he knew that they would want to lavish her with affection.

"Whoa!" Sully pulled the reins toward his chest. Turning, he looked at Michaela. "You all right?"

"Yes," she replied softly.

"Mama!" the children shouted in unison.

Bridget exclaimed, "Saints preserve us, Lass. 'Tis good t' have ya home."

Sully jumped down as Matthew dismounted his horse. Together, they unlatched the back of the buckboard and gingerly supported Michaela as she disembarked the wagon.

Josef reached his mother first and threw his arms around her waist. Katie and the twins followed. Michaela's face showed no reaction, but she did place her arms around them as best she could.

Sully reached for Hope and held the little girl close for her mother to see.

Hope implored, "Kiss, Mama."

Michaela lightly touched her lips to her daughter's cheek.

Katie spoke for all of them. "It's so good t' have you home, Mama. We cleaned our rooms and helped Miss Bridget make lunch."

Michaela forced a slight smile. "I'm afraid I'm not very hungry at the moment."

Sully explained, "It was hard for your Ma t' ride, kids. Maybe after she rests a spell, she'll eat."

Bridget observed her gaunt appearance. "Looks t' me like ya could use a good, homemade meal."

Matthew suggested. "How 'bout we go inside an' set the table?"

Josef folded his arms. "We alweady did that."

Sensing that his parents needed to be alone, Matthew tried again. "Then, let's start eatin'."

Annie hesitated, "We want Mama."

Sully touched his daughter's cheek. "We'll be in real soon."

Bridget took the baby from Sully as Matthew guided the children into the homestead.

Sully noticed Michaela staring toward the hillside. "Colleen will be here in a little bit."

Michaela made no reply.

Sully clasped her hand. "You wanna see his grave?"

Without words, she nodded in the affirmative.

Sully supported her as they slowly walked up the embankment to the small mound of earth. Tears streamed down Michaela's cheeks when she observed the headstone that her husband had carved. The weathered one for their unborn baby Charles was a stark contrast to the new one for Cole Byron Sully.

Sully felt her begin to sink. "I got'cha."

"Oh, Sully." Her body trembled. "I don't think I can go on."

"I'll carry ya inside." He scooped her into his arms. "It was too much walkin' for ya."

She leaned her head into his shoulder and closed her eyes.

************
Chapter 13
************

In the hospital, Colleen looked up from her desk to see Andrew at the door.

He requested, "May I come in?"

"Of course," she gestured. "Have a seat."

"Thanks," he sighed. "I was just thinking about your mother."

"I've never seen her so sad and lost," the young woman remarked.

"Nor have I," Andrew observed. "But she'll come through it. She's a strong person."

"The strongest I know," Colleen agreed. "But, as I told Pa, this may be more difficult than her other miscarriages."

He tilted his head. "How so?"

She explained, "Because the baby was taken from her through a surgical procedure."

"But she would have died without that procedure," he noted.

Colleen frowned. "Tell that to Sister Mary Margaret."

He was curious, "What do you mean?"

Colleen leaned her elbows on the desk. "The Sister said some terrible things to Pa about Ma's having to abort the baby. She based it on the teachings of the Church."

"I'm familiar with the Church's position," he nodded. "So that's why Sully didn't want her near your mother."

"I don't know how Ma is going to come back to work with her here," Colleen sighed.

"Does your mother know about her comments to Sully?" he questioned.

"Not that I know of," she replied.

"I'll have a word with Sister Mary Margaret to ensure that she says nothing to Michaela," he offered.

"You'd do that?" She raised an eyebrow.

"Certainly," Andrew answered. "Michaela has enough to deal with. She certainly doesn't need to be made to feel guilty."

With that, the young physician rose from his chair and headed down the corridor to the reception desk.

Seated there was sister Mary Margaret.

Andrew approached her. "Sister, may I have a word with you?"

"Of course, Dr. Cook," she smiled. "What do you need?"

"Well, it's, uh, not exactly something I need," he said. "It's something we need to do."

"What's that?" she inquired.

"Uh.... well, you know that when patients enter a hospital for surgery, it can be a very upsetting experience," he began.

"Yes, Doctor." She anticipated more.

Andrew continued, "And.... uh, not only is surgery a physically traumatic experience, but one's emotions can also affect the recovery."

"Yes, Sir," she nodded.

Andrew folded his arms uncomfortably. "Sister, as a Catholic, I certainly respect the teachings of the Church."

Sister Mary Margaret eyed him warily. "Is this about Dr. Quinn?"

He fidgeted with his tie. "Yes."

"What she did was...." She stopped speaking when Andrew raised his hand.

"Sister, I'm not here to debate Church doctrine," he cut her off. "But as medical practitioners, it is our duty to dedicate ourselves to the complete healing of our patients.... Body and mind. We would not want to be responsible for Dr. Quinn's relapse, physical or otherwise. Would we?"

She tensed. "No, Sir."

"Please know that I mean no disrespect," he added. "But I must insist that if.... when Dr. Quinn returns to this hospital, she be treated with the utmost courtesy and sensitivity."

She was terse, "Yes, Sir."

"I'm glad we understand each other," he smiled. "Thank you."

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

A month after her surgery, Michaela was mending physically, but her emotions were another story. With each passing day, she became more reclusive. Sully and the children made every effort to engage her in conversation and activities, but she rarely left her room.

One day, Katie attempted to draw her mother out.

The little girl sat on the edge of her mother's bed holding out a spoonful of broth. "Just one more sip, Mama?"

Michaela stared at the bowl. "I can't, Katie. Thank you for bringing it up to me."

"Colleen says ya gotta walk more," the little girl encouraged.

Michaela sighed. "I'm rather tired. Perhaps later."

Katie lifted the tray from her mother's bed and set it on the night stand. "Maybe a walk would make ya feel better."

"I'd rather sleep," she returned. "Could you take the tray back downstairs for me?"

The child could not contain her worried expression. "Sure."

With that, Katie lifted the tray and left her mother. In the hallway, she met Josef, book in hand.

The little boy whispered. "Think Mama will wread me a stowy?"

Katie sighed, "She wants t' sleep."

"Sleep?" He scratched his head. "That's all she does anymore."

"I know," she replied as she continued down the hall.

Josef peered into his mother's room and quietly crept to her bedside. Michaela noticed him but did not speak.

He smoothed her sheet. "Need me for anythin', Mama?"

Her voice was monotone. "No, thank you, Josef."

"I fed Iggy an'...." He was cut off.

"I'd like to rest now," Michaela interrupted. "Could you close the door for me?"

Josef lowered his head. "Okay."

As her son departed, Michaela rolled onto her side. She did not want to be around her children or anyone else at the moment. Colleen had come by daily to check her incisions for infection. Matthew and Emma, the Reverend, Dorothy all paid their respects, but she did not want to be around people.

Increasingly, she felt as if something inside of her had died. Her ability to care.... to experience emotion had diminished with each passing day.

As she closed her eyes, she heard the door open again. "Josef, I said..."

Sully spoke, "It's me. The kids said you didn't eat much."

She did not turn to look at him. "I'm not hungry."

He knelt beside the bed and slid his arm up her abdomen to her waist. "Michaela...."

"Please, Sully," she interjected. "I'd rather not talk."

"I think ya need t' talk," he insisted.

She declined, "No, I need to sleep."

He caressed her cheek.

She had no reaction.

He clasped her hand and raised it to his lips. "I love you."

"I know you do," she replied blandly.

He gazed up at the framed newspaper headlines of their life together. "I know this is hard."

Her jaw tensed. "I don't want to discuss it."

"Michaela," he gently broached the subject. "You ain't alone."

"You don't understand," she denied. "You can't possibly understand what this is like."

"Then tell me," he implored.

She shook her head. "No."

"I ain't gonna leave ya alone," he pledged.

She closed her eyes and remained silent.

Sully sighed, "I'll put Hope in with Bridget t'night."

Michaela did not reply.

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

Sully spooned against his wife, his hand resting on her hip. He feared she was slipping further and further away from him. This was worse than any of her other miscarriages.... worse than Washita. She was losing her faith in everything.... her marriage, her family, herself.

He knew that her physical scars were healing, but the emotional toll this had taken was beyond her ability to cope.

"Sully?" Her voice roused him from his thoughts.

He immediately focused on her. "You need somethin'?"

She trembled. "I need you."

"I'm here." He drew her into his embrace.

She was soaking wet. "I can't stop perspiring."

He felt her forehead. "Do ya have a fever?"

"No," she assessed. "But I'm burning up."

He offered, "Want me t' get ya some water?"

"I don't think it would help," she declined. "I need a bath."

He stood up and drew on his buckskins. "I'll fix it for ya."

"In the barn, please," she added. "It will be cooler outside."

Helping her up, he led her out of the bedroom, down the steps and toward the barn.

After filling the tub with cool water from their well, Sully stepped back.

Michaela hesitated.

He wondered, "Somethin' wrong?"

"Could you turn around?" she requested.

"Turn around?" He was puzzled. "Why?"

"I'd rather you didn't watch me," she requested shyly.

He remarked, "I've seen ya without your clothes on."

"Please, turn around," she insisted.

"All right." He complied and folded his arms.

He heard splashing as she settled herself into the water.

Without looking, he asked, "Feel better?"

"Somewhat," she agreed. "Could you get my back?"

"Sure." He pivoted and went to kneel behind her.

Tenderly, he dipped the cloth into the cool liquid and raised it along her shoulders. Just the nearness of her, letting him touch her, was comforting to Sully.

She closed her eyes. "That feels good."

Did he detect a change in her tone? A softness, even a caring that had not been there in some time?

He smiled. "Good."

"I'm sorry, Sully," she offered. "I know I haven't been the wife and mother you and the children deserve."

He began to massage her shoulders. "You don't have anythin' t' apologize for. You been through a lot."

She turned her head to glance at him. "I appreciate your understanding."

Her eyes were his undoing. Slowly, he leaned in to kiss her.

She quickly pulled away. "Don't."

Now it was he who apologized. "I'm sorry."

She cleared her throat. "I think I'm cooled off now."

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

Michaela sat on the side of the front porch near her garden, staring absently at nothing in particular. Then her eyes turned to the small mound of dirt beneath which lay her unborn child.

Suddenly, she felt a burning sensation as her body began to have another wave of heat. She knew what it was. The symptoms all pointed to the menopause. She was drying up, no longer a vibrant woman.

Grateful that Colleen and Bridget had taken the children on a picnic, she could at least have peace and quiet. That was what she preferred now. Not even work interested her. Her heart was a shell. She had stopped attending church services, the quilting circle and anything else that brought her in contact with her friends.

They would ask how she was, how she felt after losing the baby. Her jaw tensed. She didn't lose it. She let them take it from her.

Sully approached from the barn.

When he reached the top step, he greeted her. "Hey."

She turned her head and forced herself to remark, "Hello."

He noticed the beads of perspiration on her forehead. "You want some ice water?"

"No." She shook her head, then added, "Thank you."

He took a deep breath. "Sure is quiet without the kids here."

"Yes," her tone suggested no emotion.

He folded his arms. "I was wonderin' if ya could take a look at Iggy."

She queried, "Why?"

"She don't seem herself," he explained. "Hasn't eaten or drunk anythin'."

"It's probably just the heat," she suggested.

Sully bid her again. "Still, could ya take a look?"

She forced herself to rise from the wooden rocker. "All right."

"I'll get your bag," he offered.

She started down the steps and headed for Iggy's pen. The animal was on its side panting. Suddenly, Iggy began to shake.

Michaela got down on her knees and touched the pig's side. The seizure lasted about two minutes. By the time Sully arrived, it had stopped.

Michaela examined Iggy's good eye, which had begun to cloud over.

"What's wrong?" Sully knelt beside his wife.

She informed him, "Iggy just had a seizure. Her breathing is labored, and I believe she's going blind in her other eye."

He frowned. "What could be causin' it?"

"I'm afraid I don't know," she assessed. "Perhaps a brain tumor."

Sully ran his hand along the pig's form. "Is she sufferin'?"

Michaela paused to consider. "I.... I'm not certain."

Sully noted her demeanor. "Maybe I should ride over t' Fred Ziffle's. He knows a lot about pigs."

She nodded solemnly. "Yes, that might be for the best."

Quickly, Sully entered the barn, saddled his horse and took off for the nearby farm. Michaela stared at the dying animal. Her intellect told her that there was nothing she could do. Her heart.... her heart told her nothing. The animal would die, and her children would be distraught.

A suppressed part of her knew that their emotions should matter, but nothing mattered anymore. What was a pig next to the life of a child?

Sighing, she lifted up and walked toward the house.

She did not hear the approaching surrey, but Josef's call caused her to pause.

The little boy rushed from the surrey with a bouquet of wild flowers in hand. "Here, Mama. These are for you."

Without a smile, she accepted them. "Thank you."

He was puzzled. "Don't ya like 'em?"

She felt obliged to say, "Yes, they're lovely."

Colleen approached, "The children thought they might lift your spirits."

Michaela drew her oldest daughter aside. "Colleen, Iggy's dying. I.... I don't know what to do. Sully went to get Mr. Ziffle."

The young woman suggested, "I could take a look at him. Why don't you take the children in the house?"

It was too late.

Katie had spotted the prone animal. "Mama! Come quick! Look at Iggy."

Michaela informed her, "Your father is getting help."

Noah tilted his head up to look at his mother. "You help, Mama?"

Michaela lowered her head. "I'm afraid not."

Colleen directed, "You children go inside with Ma. I'll take a look."

Katie offered, "I'll help."

Bridget studied Colleen's serious expression. "Come on, all of ya. We'll get supper started while Miss Colleen looks after your animal."

Katie stared at her mother. "But.... I don't understand why you won't help, Mama."

Michaela sighed. "I can't, Katie. I'm of no help."

Then, she turned and headed into the house.

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

Sully silently entered the darkened bedroom. He found Michaela, fully dressed, lying on her side with her back to the door.

He quietly raised the lamp to brighten the room. Walking to the basin, he poured some fresh water and began to remove his shirt.

Michaela sat up. "Was Mr. Ziffle able to help Iggy?"

Sully did not turn but continued to wash his face and torso.

Michaela thought her husband had not heard her. "I said, did...."

He interrupted, "I heard what ya said."

"Then why didn't you answer me?" she was curious.

With his jaw firmly set, he pivoted. "Does it matter t' ya?"

She was caught off guard by his curt question. "Certainly. The children are very fond of...."

Again he cut her off. "I been tryin' t' console the children for the past two hours."

She tilted her head. "Console them?"

He took a deep breath, then slowly let out a cleansing exhale to calm himself. "Iggy died."

************
Chapter 14
************

Michaela nodded slowly. "I thought she might die."

"Yea, well, ya thought right," he snapped.

She was taken aback. "Are you angry with me?"

He stepped closer and put his hands on his hips. "Angry at ya? No, Michaela, I ain't angry. I don't know what I am anymore. I feel like...."

She wondered why he stopped. "Like what?"

"Nothin'," he replied as he turned back to towel off his face and pull on his shirt again.

She slid from the bed and stood up. "I suppose I should speak with the children."

"You suppose?" His volume rose. "Ya act like they're some kinda burden. They're your children. Don't that mean anythin' t' you anymore?"

She defended, "Of course, it does."

"If ya can't feel anythin' for me, can't ya at least feel somethin' for our kids?" he accused.

She cleared her throat. "They.... they need more than I can give them."

"All they need is love," he asserted. "Is that too much t' give?"

She defended, "No. But.... but...."

Her knees buckled and she began to drop to the floor. Sully rushed to hold her up.

He implored, "Talk t' me, Michaela. Don't shut me out. Don't shut out the children."

"I can't help it," she uttered. "It hurts too much to...."

He completed her thought, "T' feel? T' love?"

She lowered her head. "Yes."

He embraced her. "I love you. Ya can't shut your heart off from that. What we got is too strong."

"Loving you has...." she stopped.

He pulled back, still holding her shoulders. "Has what?"

"Nothing," she hedged. "Just leave me alone. Please."

He held her tight. "Not until you an' me talk. Ya can't run from what happened anymore."

"Run?" Her brow creased. "Don't you see? There's nowhere for me to run. Everywhere I look, everywhere I turn, I see reminders."

He was curious, "Reminders of what?"

She began to tremble.

Sully softened. "Tell me. Reminders of what?"

She finally blurted it out. "The baby, Sully. Every time I look at our children, I see reminders of what I did."

"You didn't do anythin'," he assured. "The baby had no chance t' live."

"Four babies," she reminded. "I've killed four babies."

He countered, "What are ya talkin' about? Ya had miscarriages, Michaela. It wasn't your fault."

"Perhaps I didn't eat the right food or take proper care of myself with the first two." Her mind raced. "And I didn't protect the third baby. I.... I was stabbed. But.... the last one. The last child, I chose to abort."

Sully shook his head. "There was nothin' you could've done for the baby. Ya didn't have a choice. The baby couldn't have survived."

Her shoulders slumped. "Then neither should I."

He was horrified. "What? What're you sayin'?"

"I should have died with my baby," she uttered softly.

He was incredulous. "Michaela, no!"

She averted her eyes. "It's true."

He lifted her chin. "Look at me. Look at me! Ya gotta stop thinkin' like this. Ya gotta believe it wasn't your fault."

She pulled back. "I don't deserve to live."

Sully tried again. "I won't let ya talk that way. I gotta make ya see...."

A knock at the door interrupted them, followed by Colleen's voice. "Pa? Is Ma all right?"

He released his wife and went to the door. Opening it, he stepped into the hallway.

He kept his voice low. "She's real bad right now. Are the kids okay?"

"They're all asleep except for Hope and Josef," she whispered. "He blames himself for Iggy. He thinks if he would have stayed home, this wouldn't have happened."

Sully sighed, "I'll talk with him."

"Is there anything I can do for Ma?" she offered.

Sully voiced his concern, "She's talkin' about not wantin' t' live."

Colleen feared, "She's talking about suicide?"

He amended, "No, but she thinks she should've died with the baby."

The young woman counseled, "We need to keep a close watch on her."

"Maybe you could sit with her while I check on Josef," Sully decided.

He headed toward his son's room. When he reached Josef's doorway, he stood for a moment to watch him.

The little boy looked up with tear stained cheeks. "Papa."

Sully sat on the edge of his bed and embraced him. "Hey, big boy."

Josef leaned his head against his father's shoulder. "I'm sad."

"I know ya are." Sully stroked his hair. "We're always sad when we lose somethin' we love."

He began to hiccup. "I.... I wish Mama could help me."

Sully's heart ached. "She'll be here when she can, son. She's tryin' t' deal with her sadness, too."

"I'm sowwy," he regretted. "I forgetted about the baby."

Sully comforted, "It's okay."

Josef said, "Maybe I could help Mama."

"I don't think now's a good time, Joe," he reasoned.

At that moment, Sully heard Hope cry out. "I best check on your sister."

He exited the room, leaving Josef to ponder. Then the little boy made up his mind that his mother's grief must certainly be worse than his own. He scooted down from his bed and headed for Michaela's room.

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

Sully cradled Hope and kissed her small finger. "Is that better?"

"Uh-huh," the child grinned broadly.

Sully smiled. "What were you doin', tryin' t' climb up the stairs?"

Bridget offered, "I think she was tryin' t' see her Mama. That's all the little one says. 'Mama, Mama.'"

Hope chimed in. "Mama."

Sully felt a lump in his throat. "We gotta give Mama time, Hope. Time t' heal."

Bridget shook her head. "The poor darlin'."

At that moment, they were joined by Colleen. "I heard the baby crying. Is she all right?"

Sully nodded, "She's fine. I wish I could say the same for her Ma."

Colleen observed, "She didn't want to talk.... not even about the most mundane topics."

"She's gettin' worse," Sully informed them. "Colleen, ya told me this one would be worse than the other miscarriages, but.... I've never seen Michaela like this."

Bridget recalled, "I once knew a lass back in Boston. The doctors had t' take her babe in an operation, just like Dr. Mike. The poor dear nearly died. She lost her faith in everythin', she did."

Sully was interested, "What did her husband do t' help her?"

Bridget frowned. "He left her."

Sully avowed, "Well, that ain't gonna happen with me."

"'Tis a crisis of faith, Lad," Bridget reasoned. "With all the books in Dr. Mike's office, haven't ya seen the one that talks about that?"

He caressed Hope's dark hair. "I don't need a book t' tell me how it feels. I've lived it. It's how I felt when I lost Abigail an' Hannah."

Bridget identified, "In Memoriam. That's the work, by Tennyson. The lass I knew back in Boston read it."

He remarked, "I don't remember seein' it on any o' Michaela's bookshelves."

"Check in her Pa's desk," the nanny suggested. "Here, I'll take the babe. Off with ya."

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

Josef turned the knob and slowly opened the door to his mother's room. There he spotted her on the floor, with her head nearly touching the wooden planks.

"Mama?" his young voice roused her.

She raised up slowly. "Josef? What...."

"I jus' comed t' say how sowwy I am 'bout your baby," he spoke low.

His tender words touched her. "Josef, I.... I'm sorry about Iggy."

He sat beside her. "I weckon we're both sad."

She slid her arm around his shoulders, "Yes, we are."

Josef noted, "Papa's sad, too. When he bringed the baby home, Katie an' me found him cwryin' in the barn."

Michaela envisioned the heartbreaking scene. "Thank you for helping your Papa. He needs you so much."

The little boy glanced at her with imploring eyes. "He needs you, too, Mama."

Her voice trembled. "I wish I could...." She trailed off.

Josef touched her shoulder. "Think you're gonna stay in here forever?"

She replied softly, "I don't really want to talk about it. Can you understand?"

He shrugged. "Not wreally. When I'm sad, you're the fiwrst one I wanna talk to. Ya make me feel better."

"I.... I wish I could make you feel better," she lamented.

"Me, too," he returned. "I 'member somethin' ya taught me."

She asked, "What?"

"When ya feel bad, do somethin' for someone else." He paused. "So, I wanna do somethin' for you."

"I'm afraid there's nothing you can do, Josef," she stated.

He studied her forlorn expression, then reminded her, "You still got us, Mama."

She changed the subject. "If you don't mind, I'd like to be alone now."

At that moment, Sully appeared at the door. "Joe. I think ya best go t' bed."

"All wrright." He kissed his mother's cheek and paused.

Sully leaned down to kiss him, then watched the boy walk slowly down the hallway toward his own room.

Turning to his wife, he informed her, "Josef blames himself for what happened t' Iggy."

"That's ridiculous," she reacted.

Sully explained, "He thinks that if he would've been here, he could've helped."

"There was nothing he could have done," she knew.

Sully agreed, "Right. Sometimes there's nothin' anyone can do."

She frowned. "What are you implying? Are you comparing losing a pig to losing a child?"

He stared at her. "'Course not. How could ya say that?"

She was silent.

Sully sighed in frustration. "I brought somethin' for ya t' read."

"I'm not in the mood to read." She curled her legs up closer to her chest.

He persisted. "It belonged t' your Pa. Bridget suggested it. Thought it might help t' read...."

She glanced up. "I said I'm not in the mood."

He set the book beside her. "It's late. I'm goin' t' bed."

He turned to leave the room.

She was curious. "Where are you going?"

"To sleep with Joe," he informed her. "He could use some company t'night."

With that, he left her.

Michaela suddenly felt a pang of guilt for how she had treated Sully.... how she had been treating everyone. Day by day, her guilt was swallowing her. It was just punishment. She deserved it for what she had done to her baby. And it served another purpose. So long as she harbored the burden of blame as the instrument of her child's death, she could momentarily shield her broken heart.

She lifted the book. "In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson."

Opening the cover, she found the first page and began to read:

"Strong son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove...."

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

Sully lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. Josef's bed was not nearly as spacious as his own. The little boy's tears had finally subsided, and he had fallen asleep.... after two visits to the privy, four glasses of water and a story.

Tired as he was, Sully could not fall asleep. He had been short tempered with Michaela, and for that, he felt guilty. He had no right to speak to her in such a way, not after what she had been through.... what she continued to go through.

As quietly as he could, Sully rose from the bed and tiptoed from the room. He paused at the doorways of the other children, then stared at his own bedroom door. Surprisingly, there was light beneath it.

Could his wife still be awake? He quietly approached. Slowly, he turned the knob and opened the door.

Michaela was sitting in the large rocking chair, book in hand, and tears trailing down her cheeks.

He paused, uncertain if she would want the comfort of his arms. The moment she looked at him, the profound sadness in her eyes beckoned.

She was scarcely audible. "Sully."

He rushed to her and enfolded her in his arms. For several minutes, they wept in harmony with one another.

Finally, Michaela composed herself enough to say, "The book.... Tennyson wrote about the loss of his best friend."

Sully did not reply, hoping that his silence might prompt her to unburden her soul.

Michaela wiped another stream of tears from beneath her eyes. "Do you remember when I told you that I'd be your best friend?"

"Right before we got married," he recalled. "An' I said I'd be your family."

She clasped his hand tightly. "You've never let me down, Sully. Never. But.... oh, how you must be so disappointed in me."

He tenderly kissed her temple. "Never. I admire you more than anyone else in the world."

She leaned against his shoulder, savoring the familiar scent of him. "I.... I know I need to be strong, but.... I just don't know where to begin."

He lifted the book from her lap and held it up. "Maybe this is a good place t' start."

She requested, "Do you think you could read to me for a while?"

"Sure," he consented.

She pointed to the stanza where she had left off. "Start here."

Sully waited until she settled comfortably against his shoulder, then read aloud:

"I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'T is better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."

She turned to look at his piercing blue eyes. "Tell me about when you brought the baby home."

Sully dried her cheeks. "Colleen helped me at the hospital. I wrapped the baby in a towel."

She sought assurance, "You held him?"

He sensed what she truly needed to know. "Real careful. He was treated with respect from the moment I cradled him, Michaela."

She found comfort. "And you told him that we loved him?"

"Me an' the kids all did," he avowed.

Her breath was unsteady as she inhaled deeply. "You cried for him in the barn."

He was surprised. "How'd you know?"

"Josef told me." She caressed his cheek. "I've only been thinking of myself.... not what you went through."

His voice choked slightly. "I'm okay."

"Neither of us is okay," she knew.

Sully suggested, "Maybe I could read some more."

"No," she answered. "Just hold me. Please."

He wrapped his arms around her more fully, then softly kissed her cheek. After several minutes, he thought she had fallen asleep.

Her surprising question indicated she had not. "Sully, do you believe in God?"

He paused to ponder how to answer.

Before he replied, she spoke again. "We've never really discussed it. Over the years, you've gone to church with me, married me and had our children baptized there, but...."

He interrupted, "I believe there's a power greater than anythin' on the earth."

She searched his eyes. "A Great Spirit?"

"Uh-huh," he agreed. "The Creator."

She continued, "Why did your Great Spirit take our babies?"

Sully speculated, "He's always been with our babies, Michaela, since the moment they were conceived. Their mortal shell was all we had on this earth."

She confided, "I think he's punishing me."

His eyes narrowed. "For what?"

"I.... I don't know," she trembled slightly. "I wish I knew why."

"Maybe you're the one whose punishin' you," he reasoned. "You ain't done anythin' wrong."

She wondered, "When Abigail and Hannah died, what did you think of the Great Spirit?"

Sully admitted, "I didn't really know much about faith back then. But Cloud Dancin' helped me."

"I'm sorry I've been shutting you out," she confessed.

"I'm sorry I spoke t' you the way I did earlier," he apologized. "I ain't been real patient with ya."

Her eyes widened. "Yes, you have. More than patient."

He soothed back her damp hair. "You hot again?"

"A little," she admitted.

He suggested, "You need a cold bath?"

"No," she replied. "But there is something I'd like to do."

He was curious. "What's that?"

She responded, "I'd like to go see Cloud Dancing."

************ Chapter 15
************

Cloud Dancing greeted Sully, "Haáahe, my brother." Then he turned to Michaela. "I am sorry for your loss, Dr. Mike. The Spirits told me you would come."

Michaela gingerly sat down. "I'm not certain I believe in God or spirits anymore."

The medicine man responded, "You said that after the Washita Massacre, too. We both struggled to understand back then."

Michaela fought to contain her tears. "This is different. I.... I chose to not have my child."

He nodded. "If you had chosen otherwise, I would be consoling only Sully right now."

She tilted her head quizzically, "What do you mean?"

"Both you and the baby would be dead," Cloud Dancing pointed out. "It is hard to imagine that the Spirits would do that twice to a man."

"Your Spirits.... my God.... have taken four children from us," she countered.

"I thought you did not believe in the Spirits or your God," the medicine man reminded.

Michaela clarified, "I said I'm not certain."

Cloud Dancing posed the question, "Do you believe that a child comes from the Creator?"

She answered, "I.... I know the biological reasons for conception."

His tone softened, "And when you have held your babies, watched them take their first steps, say their first words, did you think about biology?"

She suddenly felt apprehensive. "Perhaps it was a mistake to come here."

Cloud Dancing peered into Michaela's eyes. "Then why did you come?"

"I.... I don't know." She began to falter. "I thought you might give me some.... spiritual guidance."

"So we are back to the Spirit," he reasoned.

Michaela looked at Sully. "I want to believe. I don't want to lose my faith."

Cloud Dancing nodded. "Then you have made a good start. You are reaching out for help. This is a journey you should not make alone."

"Cloud Dancing," she paused. "Could the Spirits.... if they exist.... be punishing us? This year has been one calamity after another. I don't know why."

He counseled, "Have you lost the love of your husband or children?"

The question surprised her. "No, of course not."

"That would be a calamity," he stated.

She closed her eyes and sighed, "I don't know what to believe anymore. I'm afraid of losing everything."

The medicine man pointed out, "Loss will either bring you closer to the people you love, or it will break you apart."

Michaela sought, "Which one will it do to me?"

"That is up to you," Cloud Dancing stated. "When we lose someone we care about, it can make us lose sight of the love that is still there."

Michaela glanced at Sully. She saw the adoration in his eyes. Extending her arm to her husband, she clasped his hand.

Cloud Dancing continued, "You must talk about it so that you do not feel so alone."

"But it's painful to talk about it," Michaela admitted. "The sadness overwhelms me, paralyzes me. I don't want to do the familiar things that used to give me joy."

"You are afraid," the medicine man recognized.

She sighed, "How can I overcome it?"

He posed the question, "What do you tell your children to do when they are afraid?"

She paused, realizing the wisdom of his question. "I tell them to talk about it."

Sully gently squeezed her hand. "It's how we got through all our tough times, Michaela."

Cloud Dancing added, "My brother grieves with you. Your souls are one. With him, you will find your way."

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

Sully slowed the surrey to a halt near the familiar waterfall that Michaela and he had often visited.

She was curious. "Why are we stopping. It's late, and...."

He jumped down from the seat and reached up to help her. "I thought ya could use some coolin' off."

"Sully...." She hesitated.

He urged, "Come on. The water will be good for ya. Help ya relax."

She stood motionless.

Tenderly, Sully enfolded her in his arms. "I can't take away your pain, Michaela. But.... if ya let me, I'll make the journey with ya."

She slid her arms around his waist and leaned her head against his chest. "I'm so lost."

"No, ya ain't." He lovingly stroked the back of her head. "I've got ya, an' I won't let go."

Safe in his arms, she wept until she thought there were no more tears to shed. His own sadness compelled him to cry with her.

Finally, he guided her to sit with him on a fallen log near the water's edge. He stood and shed his clothing, then slipped into the cool liquid.

Invitingly, he extended his hand. "Join me."

"I.... I can't," she replied.

"Yes, ya can," he encouraged.

His eyes beckoned, and rarely was she able to resist their charm. Shyly, she turned her back and removed her clothes down to her camisole and bloomers. Then she stopped.

Sully could see her shoulders tremble.

He observed that she had begun to cry again. "Michaela?"

She shook her head. "I can't."

Sully waded to the edge of the water and came to her. He embraced her. "Talk t' me."

"I can't make love, yet, Sully," she whispered. "It's too soon."

He assured, "I didn't intend for us t' make love. I just wanna hold ya, relax ya."

"But.... that's where it leads," she knew.

He smiled and stroked back a stray strand of her auburn hair. "I would never expect that from you after what ya been through."

She looked away. "The truth is.... I don't know if I can ever make love again."

Sully pledged, "Well.... if ya never wanna make love again, I'll respect that. It don't change how I feel about ya."

Michaela peered into his eyes. "You don't think less of me?"

"'Course not," he assured. "I love you."

"I love you, too," she affirmed.

He linked his fingers in hers. "Now, how 'bout just comin' in the water with me? I don't wanna stand here drippin' wet by myself."

Michaela tentatively stuck her toes into the water, then pulled back.

Sully was puzzled. "You goin' in with your underwear on?"

"I don't want to take it off," she asserted.

"Okay." His tone was calming.

Finally, she lowered herself into the water up to her shoulders.

Sully stroked her cheek. "You all right?"

"Yes," she fibbed.

He knew she was tense. "Turn around."

"Why?" She resisted.

"So I can massage your shoulders," he explained.

She obliged. His soothing hands began to knead away the tenseness. She leaned back against his chest and closed her eyes. He softly kissed the top of her head.

"Sully," she paused.

"Mmm?" he anticipated.

"What if...." Again she hedged. "What if I can never make love to you again?"

"Don't go worryin' about that," he affirmed.

She remarked, "But that's always been a vital part of our marriage. You're still a vigorous man."

Sully turned her around to face him. "Tell me what's really botherin' ya?"

"I am trying to tell you," she stated.

He kissed her forehead. "You always jump t' the end of a book before takin' the chapters one at a time."

She felt a pang. "I'm attempting to tell you that.... if you want to.... seek satisfaction elsewhere...."

He did not let her go on. "Michaela! I'd never wanna so much as look at another woman!"

Tears claimed her again. "I don't want to disappoint you, Sully."

"Disappoint me?" He was incredulous. "I didn't bring ya here t' romance ya. I brought ya here to be close t' ya, away from all the distractions at home. I thought it would do us some good."

She felt ashamed. "I.... I'm sorry."

"Come here." He guided her into his arms. "You know me better than that. What we got goes beyond physical attraction."

"I wouldn't blame you if you didn't find me attractive anymore," she confessed.

His eyes widened. "Are you serious?"

She trembled slightly. "My scars are...."

He suddenly realized, "So that's what this is about."

"They're ugly," she noted. "They make me feel.... ugly. They are an ugly reminder of what I did."

Sully took her hand and led her from the water. Then he went to the surrey and retrieved a blanket. After wrapping it around her shoulders, he began to build a fire.

When both were warmed by the flames, Sully took the blanket from her shoulders.

She was uncertain. "What are you doing?"

"Hold still," he instructed as he sat beside her.

"Sully?" She was puzzled.

He touched her shoulder. "Lean back on the blanket."

"Why?" She resisted.

He explained. "You ain't let me look at your scars since the surgery."

"I don't want you to see," she reached for the blanket again.

He shrugged. "Fine. I'll look while you're asleep."

She defied, "You most certainly will not!"

He held her shoulders. "I figured out what you're doin', an' I ain't gonna let ya do it."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she denied.

He countered, "Ya think you're ugly inside on account o' some scars. I ain't gonna let ya get away with thinkin' that."

She did not deny his assertion.

Sully broached the subject gently, "Michaela, my body's covered with scars. Do you think less o' me on account of 'em?"

"Of course, not," she returned.

He gestured toward the massive scar on his leg. "You remember this?"

"Yes." Her mind flashed back to his compound fracture.

He guided her hand to touch it. "Every time I look at it, it reminds me o' what I did, settin' off that revolt on the reservation."

"You did what you thought was best," she avowed. "The Indians were living under deplorable conditions."

"A lot o' people died on account o' me," he remembered. "Me included. You breathed life back in me, then won my freedom."

She shivered at the recollection.

He clasped her hand. "My scar's still there."

"Only on the outside, Sully," she whispered.

He tenderly requested, "Let me see your scars."

She paused, then swallowing hard, leaned back and lowered her bloomers to reveal the pink lines on her abdomen.

Ever so lightly, Sully touched them. "Do they hurt?"

"No," she indicated.

He leaned closer and kissed them.

For the first time, Michaela felt herself stir. She quivered.

He looked up. "You gettin' cold?"

"No," she denied. "it's just...."

"What?" His eyes penetrated to her soul.

She confessed. "I.... I felt something while you were kissing me."

He feared, "Pain?"

"No." Her cheeks flushed. "Something I.... I didn't think I would feel again."

He raised up. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean t'...."

"No." She held his hand. "It's all right."

He positioned himself beside her. "You tired?"

"Not really." She lifted slightly so that he could slide his arm beneath her shoulders.

Sully gestured toward the sky. "Look. A shootin' star. Make a wish."

She felt her emotions swell. "I.... I'd rather not."

He ran his finger along her cheek. "It takes time t' let yourself be happy again without feelin' guilty."

She marveled at his perceptiveness. "Yes, it does."

Then he spoke low. "Your scars don't make ya ugly, Michaela. They make ya more beautiful t' me. They're part o' you, an' I can't help lovin' everythin' about ya."

"Thank you, Sully," she accepted.

He kissed her temple and recited:

"Love is strength, and faith, and hope;
It crowns with bliss our mortal state;
And, glancing far beyond the grave,
Foresees a life of endless date."

She quietly pondered the prose.

He grinned, "Don't ya wanna guess who the poet is?"

"I know who it is," she stated.

He raised an eyebrow. "Who?"

"William Johnson Fox," she replied without hesitation.

He embraced her more fully. "We'll get through this t'gether."

She sighed, "Just for a moment while you were reciting the poetry, I forgot everything that's happened. But.... I don't want to forget our baby, Sully."

"You didn't forget," he comforted. "Ya just let yourself think about somethin' else, too. Goin' on with life. Recognizin' that we still got each other an' five beautiful children. That's nothin' t' feel guilty for."

She sat up and removed her undergarments.

Then she snuggled up to him. "I want to be as close as I can to you tonight."

Sully folded the blanket over both of them. They fell asleep in each other's arms. It was the first restful evening of sleep either of them had had in weeks.

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

Michaela awoke before dawn, steeped in beads of perspiration.

Sully soon felt it, as well. His concern mounted when he saw red blotches across her chest. Quickly, he took a kerchief from her belongings and dipped it into the water. Then he returned to her side, wiping the moisture from her body.

He questioned, "Is this the menopause?"

"Yes." She fanned herself.

He frowned. "Ain't there somethin' we can do for it?"

"Black cohosh," she answered. "The Indians have used it for years."

"Do ya have any?" he inquired.

She nodded. "At the hospital. I'll ask Colleen to bring some to the homestead. I'll be all right soon. It's passing now."

He pointed. "Maybe another dip in the water would help. The sun's comin' up."

She consented, "Yes, perhaps it would help."

He led her into the water and suggested. "Lay back an' float. I'll support ya."

She did as he said. Gently, he scooped water and ran it along her form. As he beheld her, he felt familiar longings. Closing his eyes, he tried to subvert the arousal he knew was coming.

"Sully?" Michaela noted his expression. "Are you all right?"

"Huh?" He became more alert. "Uh, yea. Just.... uh.... thinkin'."

"About what?" she wondered.

He cleared his throat. "Nothin' in particular."

"I'm cooler now." She positioned herself to stand. "I think I'll get dressed now."

"Okay." His voice sounded different.

She paused. "Are you coming?"

"Uh.... I'll join ya shortly," he replied.

She put her hands on her hips. "You're sure you're all right?"

He exhaled loudly. "Yea.... fine."

She waded back into the water and neared him. "You don't look fine. You look...."

She stopped when she reached him. With a closer proximity, she perceived his dilemma.

"Oh, Sully, I'm sorry," she apologized.

He turned away. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't be...."

She touched his back. "Shh.... I'll wait for you in the surrey.... when you're ready."

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

Over the passing weeks, the children noticed a change in their mother's demeanor. Michaela spent as much time with them as she could. She read to them, listened to their stories and most importantly, she began to find peace. In helping them to cope with their loss of Iggy, she began to rediscover strength in herself.

The black cohosh reduced the frequency of her hot flashes. In general, she started to sleep more peacefully and to find more energy.

Not long after Katie and Josef returned to school, news arrived that President Garfield had died on September 18 at the age of 49. Thinking about his poor wife and children, Michaela began to experience a renewed appreciation for her own family.

Sufficient time had passed for Michaela to realize that she had physically healed completely.... enough to resume intimacy with her husband. However, she was uncertain if she were emotionally ready.

Sully had made no overtures to resume that aspect of their marriage. He was still loving and tender, but he never went beyond sweet kisses and embraces. Insecurities began to seep into Michaela's thoughts. Did Sully still find her attractive? Though his words had assured her, Michaela continued to find her scars repugnant.

One evening, as she read a medical text in her home office, her thoughts were interrupted by Bridget. "I think I'll retire for the evenin', Dr. Mike. Did ya need anythin'?"

"No, thank you, Bridget," she smiled. "Is Sully still with the baby?"

"Aye," she replied with a twinkle in her eye. "That little one's becomin' a challenge t' fall asleep."

Michaela nodded. "I should see if he needs some help."

"I can do that before retirin'," Bridget suggested. "You take care, Darlin'."

"Thank you," Michaela accepted.

"I'm glad you're startin' t' mend, Dr. Mike," Bridget noted.

She acknowledged, "I have you to thank for much of that."

"I didn't do anythin'," the nanny denied.

Michaela noted, "Mentioning my father's book to Sully was a start."

Bridget remarked, "The lad would walk through fire for ya. He was just as lost as you were, Darlin'. Sometimes books can help us find our way."

With that, the nanny turned and exited the room.

Michaela contemplated her words. Sully would walk through fire for her. He had repeatedly proven his devotion and fidelity. Michaela's thoughts wandered again to the issue of intimacy. After an ovariotomy, had her desires changed? Would she be able to feel the same enthusiasm she had once enjoyed?

As she contemplated her self-doubts, she noticed Dorothy's book on the corner of her desk. Katie had left it there. Lifting the volume, Michaela skimmed its pages, settling on the section dealing with her inhibitions about married life. Perhaps the book, which had once caused her so much embarrassment, might now provide salve for her aching soul.

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

EPILOGUE
************

One afternoon, Michaela asked Sully to accompany her to the hospital to pick up some more black cohosh.

He was puzzled when his wife diverted the surrey toward the pond they had visited before. "Michaela, this ain't the way t' the hospital."

"I lied," she confessed as she slowed the horse.

He noticed the pond, with shimmering ripples illuminated by the sunlight. "You havin' another hot spell?"

"No." She stepped down from the surrey and reached for several blankets and towels in the back of their carriage. "Here. Could you spread these on the ground?"

Complying with her wishes, Sully remained clueless. "What are ya doin'?"

Michaela edged closer and lightly placed her palms on his chest. She pressed her lips to his. At first, Sully resisted deepening their contact, but Michaela made it clear that she wanted more than a simple kiss.

He gulped. "You sure you're.... ready for this?"

She nodded. "I'm ready to try."

Sully rested his hands on her hips. "You don't have to."

"I know I don't," she ventured. "But if I don't face my fears...."

He was surprised. "Fears?"

"I don't mean it that way," she amended. "I know that my body is different, and.... well, I want to find out how it will affect us."

He stroked her hair. "Us?"

"I love you so much, Sully," she uttered. "And.... I want to please you."

He ran his finger along her jaw. "You do please me."

Her cheeks flushed. "You know what I mean."

"Michaela." He paused to study her expression. "You been through so much...."

She interjected, "So have you. You've shared my feelings of loss."

"But you're the one who's been through the physical pain," he clarified. "I don't want us t' do anythin' that would make ya relive that. I only wanna make sure you're ready before we try this."

She pointed out, "There's only one way for me to find out."

He peered into her eyes. "You're an incredible woman, Michaela Quinn."

She amended his statement, "I'm an incredibly fortunate woman. In my loss and grief, I've had the love and support of my remarkable husband. I can never tell you enough how much you mean to me, Sully."

"Ya tell me every day," he asserted.

She cast the beguiling and inviting look that he had missed. Instantly, Sully grasped her intention.

Slowly, sensuously, they began to undress each other. Sully tenderly plied kisses along her form, pausing at her scars to give extra attention there. Michaela arched her head back, and quivered at his tantalizing touch.

Holding the sides of his head, she guided him to her particularly pleasing places. To her delight, her body began to react in familiar ways.

Standing, Sully clasped her hand and led her into the water. They sank to their knees, holding, caressing, kissing.

Sully lowered his hand into the water, finding her most intimate spot.

She moaned into his ear.

He hesitated. "You all right?"

"Mmm." Her heart beat faster. "Yes."

Then he lifted her up to rest her thighs on his legs. "You ready?"

She trembled. "Yes."

Stroking the side of her face, he kissed her sweetly. "We can stop right now, Michaela, an' it'll still be beautiful."

"I don't want to stop," she returned.

He took her hand and directed it into the water. She understood his intent and slowly guided him. She closed her eyes and prepared for their closer contact.

Sully stroked her back. "You okay?"

She nodded nervously. "Yes."

"Uncomfortable?" he assumed.

"Only a little bit," she admitted.

He offered, "Then let's stop."

"I don't want to stop." She felt her body react further.

She leaned her forehead onto his shoulder and began to maneuver up and down, adapting quickly to this approach to making love. Sully was rapidly reaching the point of no return.

Their pace quickened until unable to refrain any longer, Sully's body trembled with pleasure. Accustomed to pacing herself in unison with him, Michaela had not mirrored his reaction. Had the surgery altered her ability to feel that passion?

As if her husband had read her mind, Sully eyed her intently. His hand slipped beneath the water, where he began to impassion her.

He whispered into her ear. "Let's try again."

She expressed her worry, "What if I can't?"

"Shhh." His intense gaze captured her. "Relax."

His movements continued. Suddenly, Michaela recognized within herself the rush of excitement that accompanied their making love. Building in intensity, they moved in perfect unison, a unity that came only when two bodies, two souls melded in complete harmony. The sweet release of energy engulfed them both.

When their rapid heartbeats began to slow, Sully asked, "You all right?"

"Yes," she assured.

He was doubtful. "Ya sure?"

"Yes." She clung to him.

He questioned, "Did it hurt?"

"No," she replied sincerely.

He grinned. "We best get out before we turn int' prunes."

She laughed.

He stopped and kissed her. "I love your laugh. It's been too long since I heard it."

He set her on the blanket and joined her. They toweled off the moisture from each other.

"Sully...." She clasped his hand. "I was wondering if you would do something for me."

"Anythin'," he affirmed.

She gestured toward the surrey. "I brought Tennyson's book. I'm nearly finished and hoped you might read the final phrases to me."

"Sure." He retrieved the book and joined her. "Where'd ya leave off?"

She pointed to the page. "Right here."

Sully cleared his throat and began to read aloud:

"Whereof the man, that with me trod
This planet, was a noble type
Appearing ere the times were ripe,
That friend of mine who lives in God,
That god, which ever lives and loves,
One god, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves."

Michaela warmed at the timbre of his voice. "Tennyson's journey to understand grief and God offers inspiration. Doesn't it?"

Sully kissed the tips of her fingers, then drew her hand to his heart. "Yea."

She felt tears welling in her eyes. "I was wondering something else."

"What?" he anticipated.

"Could we go to church on Sunday?" she requested.

He put his arm around her. "'Course, we can."

Her voice trembled slightly with emotion. "I still don't understand why God took our baby, but I'm trying to find my way back from the depths of where I've been."

Sully considered his words carefully, then spoke softly, "The way I see it, death is the only way we can return t' the Great Creator. Our baby's with him now. Even though we wish we could've seen our child be born, loved him, watched him grow up with his brothers an' sisters, he's with our other babies now. It's like we got another family waitin' for us when our time comes."

She felt awash in love for her husband. "I never thought of it that way."

He enfolded her in his arms. "We'll all be t'gether one day. I promise ya, Michaela."

"I have faith in you," she avowed.

THE END



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