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



On the Edge


by Debby K




Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
On the Edge
by Debby K

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

The sun made its way higher into the clear Colorado sky. On this crisp November morning, the embers in the bedroom fireplace were dying.

"Mornin'," Sully spooned himself closer to his wife.

"Good morning," Michaela savored the warmth of his embrace.

"How ya feel?" he inquired.

"No queasiness," she returned.

"That's three mornin's in a row," he noted.

"Perhaps our little one is having some pity on her mother," she mused.

Sully slid his hand to her abdomen, "You're startin' t' show."

"We can't keep my pregnancy a secret any longer," she knew.

"Wanna tell everyone on Thanksgivin' Day, like we did with Katie?" he suggested.

"That's a wonderful idea," she smiled.

"Colleen an' Andrew are comin' over t'day t' discuss what they'd like for their new home," he informed her.

She commended, "It's very generous of you to build it."

"I don't mind doin' things for our family," he stated.

She fell silent. For a moment, Sully thought she had fallen asleep. He lifted up slightly.

"Don't get up yet," she invited.

"Kids will be up soon," he remarked.

She pivoted in his arms to face him, "I love this time in the morning, when it's just you and I like this."

He toyed with a lock of her hair, "You're so beautiful."

"Thank you," her cheeks flushed. "But will you still think that as my figure changes?"

He caressed her cheek, "You already know the answer t' that."

"Dr. Bernard is going to examine me today," she told him.

His heart skipped a beat, "Is somethin' wrong?"

"No, not at all," she assured. "But I want him to check me more frequently with this pregnancy."

"That's a good idea," he was relieved. "When's he gonna see ya? I wanna be there."

"Ten o'clock," she said.

"I'll tell Colleen an' Andrew we'll have t' meet another time," he decided.

"No," she stroked his arm. "That's not necessary. I don't envision anything being wrong."

"Well...." he hesitated. "Next time, I'll be with ya then."

"Oh, Sully, I still can't believe we're going to have another baby," she marveled.

"Me either," his eyes shone with love. "You always find ways t' amaze me, Michaela Quinn."

"Speaking of amazing, the hospital will soon be finished," she remarked.

"Your dream come true," he grinned.

She placed her hand atop his on her abdomen, "This is my dream come true."

"Ours," he amended.

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

In the school house, Isabel finished writing a list of spelling words on the board for students to copy upon their arrival. She heard Teresa Slicker enter the building and went to speak with her.

"Teresa," Isabel entered her colleague's classroom.

"Yes?" she looked up from her desk.

"I've been thinking," she paused. "Does it bother you that our salaries are lower than what a male schoolmaster would earn?"

"I have not given it thought," Teresa replied. "I was so grateful to have a job, my only concern was paying off the mortgage on the house my first husband had purchased."

"You were married before?" she was surprised.

"Guillermo was a fine man," Teresa nodded.

"What happened to him?" Isabel probed.

"He was killed by a mountain lion, only a month after our marriage," her voice trembled.

"I'm sorry," she placed her hand on her shoulder.

"I was left to pay the debts," Teresa explained. "When the town council offered me this job, I took it."

"How long ago was this?" Isabel inquired.

"Eight years ago," she responded.

"When did you marry Jake?" Isabel wondered.

"Over six years ago," she informed her.

Isabel posed the question, "Maybe it's none of my business, but.... has your salary increased since you were hired?"

"No," Teresa stated.

"I think we should speak with the town council about it," Isabel proposed. "The number of students continues to grow, but we work for the same pay."

"I had not thought about this before," Teresa pondered.

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

At the homestead kitchen table, Sully sat before Colleen and Andrew.

With paper and pencil in hand, he smiled, "Okay. What kinda house would ya like?"

"Victorian," Andrew began. "I'd like a gabled roof, shingles, angled bay windows and a tower. And of course, a spacious porch with gingerbread trim, brackets, spindels and spandrels, sawn-wood balusters and fluted columns. Perhaps eventually we could add a gazebo."

Sully paused to absorb his description, "You think you could get me some pictures?

"I'd prefer something rustic, like this," Colleen gestured to their surroundings.

Sully took a deep breath, "Ah.... how many stories were ya thinkin' about?"

"Two," Colleen noted.

"Three," Andrew specified.

"Bedrooms?" Sully questioned.

"Five," Andrew calculated.

"Three," Colleen amended.

Sully leaned forward on his elbows, "Have ya considered where ya want me t' build it?"

"I was hoping you could sell us a plot on the edge of your land, Pa," Colleen requested. "That way, we'd be near you and Ma."

Sully touched Colleen's arm, "I won't sell it, but I'll give it to ya. There's enough land t' divide up among all my kids."

"I would prefer to live in town," Andrew countered.

Sully rubbed his upper lip, "How 'bout we talk about this again when ya have a clearer picture of what you'd like?"

Colleen eyed her husband, "I'm not sure the picture will become any clearer."

"That's a good idea, Sully," Andrew stood up. "Thank you for your time." He extended his hand, "Come on, Colleen."

She reluctantly rose from the table, "See you, Pa."

"Bye," Sully shook his head as he watched them depart.

Taking a deep breath, he stood up. The house was quiet without the children. Michaela had the twins at the Clinic, and Josef had accompanied Bridget into town.

When Sully stepped to the fireplace to sit down, Wolf approached him.

"Hey, boy," he petted the animal.

Wolf closed his eyes, enjoying his master's attention.

"What do you think about another baby in the house, Wolf?" Sully tilted his head.

Wolf wagged his tail.

"Did ya ever think we'd have a family like this, boy?" Sully mused. "Michaela's given us so much."

Wolf lifted his paw to Sully's knee.

"But I'm scared," he confessed. "Scared that they won't be okay."

The animal rested his head on Sully's lap and whimpered.

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

"Good morning, Dr. Bernard," Michaela rose from her desk.

"Good morning," he smiled. "How have you been feeling?"

"The nausea has ceased," she informed him.

"Good," he removed his coat. "Shall we begin?"

"Mama!" Annie called from the anteroom.

"One moment," she raised her finger.

Checking on the twins, she returned to the physician within a few minutes.

"I don't know how you do it," he marveled. "Two still in diapers, one in school, another at home."

"I have plenty of help," she smiled.

"And one on the way," he added.

Michaela prepared herself for the examination. In medical terms, Dr. Bernard described what he observed as went along. When he completed the check up, she attempted to gauge his expression.

"Is the baby all right?" she asked anxiously.

"Dr. Quinn," he looked at her directly. "I know that I've presented many precautionary notes to you about this pregnancy. But, you are a healthy and vibrant woman. Go ahead and maintain your normal routine of daily life, with some sensible limits, of course. Be mindful of your past difficulties with anemia. No heavy lifting...."

"I can't let anything happen to my child," she interrupted.

"Don't worry," he patted her hand. "Everything is going well. In fact, I am beginning to doubt that your last miscarriage was caused by a breach in the uterus from the stabbing."

"It wasn't?" she was surprised.

"To be honest, I don't think you could have become pregnant had that been the case," he rubbed his chin. "I didn't examine you after that, but that's my professional opinion.

She took a deep breath and sighed, "I don't mean to be so apprehensive."

"We'll keep a close eye on you and the baby," he assured. "And you'll have this little one in no time."

She smiled uncomfortably.

He sensed her angst, "I was the youngest of eleven children. My mother was fifty years old when I was born. She was the most energetic woman I ever met."

"Fifty," her eyes widened.

"She's encouraged me to go into obstetrics," he smiled. "She was a marvel and an inspiration to her children and grandchildren. So, you see? It's not unheard of for a woman your age to have a child."

She explained, "I want to be certain there are no complications."

"I understand," he returned.

"Dr. Bernard, what was your mother's name?" she was curious.

He smiled, "Hope."

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

Teresa stepped into the barbershop, "Jacob."

He looked up from sharpening his razor, "What brings ya here in the middle of the school day? Is Maria all right?"

"Yes, she is fine," Teresa came to the point. "I wish for you to call a meeting of the town council."

"The town council?" he was puzzled. "What for?"

"To seek a pay raise for Mrs. Johnson and me," she asserted.

"A pay raise?" he scoffed. "Why?"

"Because we are teaching more students at the same old salary," she explained.

"Look, Teresa," he put his hands on his hips. "I make enough money t' support our family. You don't need a raise."

"Are you saying I do not deserve one?" she interpreted.

"No," he denied. "I ain't sayin' that at all. It's just, you're paid by the town, an' as mayor, I have t' look out for what we spend our money on."

"What is more important than the education of the town's children?" she posed the question.

"Nothin'," he replied. "But there's other things that need money, too. We got more buildin's goin' up. We gotta think about improvin' the roads."

"Are you going to call a meeting of the council or not?" she returned to her request.

"No," he asserted.

"Then we shall find someone who will," she announced.

As she departed, Loren entered the shop, "What's wrong with her?"

"She wants a raise," Jake plopped in his barber chair.

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

Crossing the street, Teresa approached the Clinic. She knocked at the door and entered when she heard Michaela's voice beckon.

"Dr. Quinn," Teresa acknowledged her presence.

"Mrs. Slicker," she maintained the formality. "What can I do for you?"

"I only have a brief time before I must return to the school," Teresa explained. "But I wish to ask you to call for a meeting of the town council."

"Is there a problem?" Michaela questioned.

"Mrs. Johnson and I would like a raise in our salaries," she announced.

Michaela was caught off guard, "A raise.... well.... that is certainly something that merits our attention."

"Gracias," she smiled. "You will ask for this meeting then?"

"Yes," Michaela consented. "I'll see if the other council members can make it this evening."

"Mrs. Johnson and I will be there," Teresa responded.

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

Josef lifted up on tiptoes to look over the counter top at the Mercantile, "Mr. Bway, ya got any pokles?"

"You know I do, lad," he smiled.

"Not until we're done with our shoppin', boyoh," Bridget looked at the child.

"What can I get ya, Bridget?" Loren anticipated.

"With Thanksgivin' comin', there's plenty on the list," she handed him a piece of paper.

As Loren began to put the items in a box, he eyed Josef near a display of glassware, "Careful, lad. They break real easy."

"I like this one," he was fascinated.

"That's a kaleidoscope," Loren smiled. "Brian has one of them."

"He does?" Josef's eyes widened.

"Now don't ya go searchin' your brother's room on your own," Bridget cautioned. "Ask him t' show it t' ya."

"I will," Josef continued to explore the store.

"How ya been?" Loren paused to ask Bridget. "I haven't got t' talk t' ya about your trip t' Boston."

"It was grand, don't ya know," her cheeks flushed. "Busy as can be."

"Did ya miss us?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Sure I did," she returned.

Suddenly a crash of cans tumbling to the floor interrupted their conversation.

"Josef!" Bridget called.

"Don' get mad," he looked up. "It was a axdent."

"I can't take my eye off that one," she took a deep breath.

"Don't worry about it," Loren waved his hand. "I'll clean it up later."

Josef approached them holding his elbow.

"Did ya hurt yourself?" Bridget noticed.

"Uh-huh," he nodded. "I think I got a fwesh wound."

"Sounds like you'd be needin' t' see your mother then," she suspected.

"Uh-huh," Josef agreed.

Bridget glanced at Loren, "I'll take him t' the Clinic an' be right back."

"Take your time," Loren resumed his work.

As they crossed the street, Josef struggled to keep up with the nanny. Soon they reached Michaela's office.

"Well, hello," she acknowledged her son's presence. "I didn't expect to see you here today."

"The lad knocked over some cans at the Mercantile," Bridget informed her. "An' he wanted ya t' take a look at his arm."

Michaela leaned over to lift her son, then stopped herself.

"Can you put him on the examining table for me?" she looked at Bridget.

"Sure," the nanny lifted the little boy. "If ya don't mind, Dr. Mike, I'll go back t' the store t' finish shoppin."

"Go ahead," she returned. "Thank you."

Returning her attention to her son, Michaela asked, "Where does it hurt, Sweetheart?"

He silently pointed to his elbow. She flexed his arm back and forth and felt for any sign of a break.

"Do you want to wear a sling?" she leaned closer.

"Umm," he considered. "No, thank you."

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "Would you like to check on your brother and sister?"

"Yea!" his eyes lit up.

"Hop down, then," she directed.

He obeyed, and she escorted him into the anteroom. Noah and Annie looked up from their play to greet him. Michaela smiled at the scene, then caressed her abdomen.

"I wonder how this little one will fit in with them?" she asked herself.

When she heard the bell, she closed the door to the anteroom and went to see who was there.

"Emma," she smiled. "Come in."

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," the young woman wiped her reddened eyes.

"What's wrong?" Michaela noticed.

"There's not gonna be a weddin'," she announced.

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

"No wedding?" Michaela was stunned. "Why ever not?"

"Matthew wants a large weddin' with lots o' friends an' family," Emma stated.

"What's wrong with that?" she did not understand.

"Dr. Mike," Emma brushed away a tear. "He wants the whole town there." Then she lowered her voice. "Some o' the men he wants t' invite.... well, they were my.... customers."

Michaela became uncomfortable, "Have you spoken with Matthew about your concerns?"

"No," Emma shook her head. "How do ya tell your fiance somethin' like that?"

"Perhaps you could simply say that there are some individuals whom you would rather not invite," Michaela proposed.

"An' he'll wanna know why," she knew. "What do I say then?"

"Well...." she folded her hands. "Tell him you're not.... comfortable having those people at your wedding. He knows what you did for a living. I believe he'll take the hint."

"I hate puttin' Matthew in this position," Emma frowned.

"Don't underestimate him," Michaela noted.

"Don't underestimate how many men I'm talkin' about," Emma replied.

Michaela blushed, "Yes.... well...."

"Dr. Mike, this is more complicated than simply not askin' certain men," Emma explained. "There's men in this town who got lots o' secrets from their wives. Respected men of the community. They don't wanna be questioned by their wives, if they find out they ain't invited."

"I don't understand how such men can look themselves in the mirror," Michaela shook her head. "How could they betray their vows of marriage like that?"

"Lots of reasons," she told her. "Maybe they don't get along with their wives. Or, it could be the wives turn them away from their beds, don't satisfy them, or it's their time of month."

"Let's have no more talk of calling off the wedding," Michaela patted her hand. "Talk to Matthew."

"I hope you're right," Emma sighed.

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

"Brian," Dorothy entered the Gazette office.

"Hey, Miss Dorothy," he looked up from the printing press.

"I was wonderin' if you could come with me t' the Depot," she invited.

"Sure," he consented. "You expectin' a heavy parcel?"

"I'm expecting an apprentice," she clarified.

"Apprentice?" he was uncertain. "I.... I thought I was...."

"No," she sensed his misunderstanding. "You don't need t' worry. It's a girl who's comin' from Laramie. She heard about the Gazette bein' owned by a woman, an' she wants t' learn about runnin' a paper. She wants t' start her own."

"Oh," he was relieved.

"Train's due in about ten minutes," she glanced at the clock on the wall.

Brian removed his apron and put on his suit jacket, "She's from Laramie, huh?"

"Her name's Henriette Pichette," Dorothy revealed.

"Sounds French," he commented.

"Maybe she's related t' one of them Louis kings," Dorothy winked.

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

"Sully?" Michaela was pleased to see her husband arrive at the Clinic. "How did your meeting go with Colleen and Andrew?"

He kissed her cheek, "They can't agree on what kinda house they want. What did Dr. Bernard say?"

She slid her arms around his waist, "Mother and baby are doing well."

"Good," he grinned.

She added, "But I just had a visit from Emma, wanting to call off the wedding."

"Why?" he wondered.

"Papa!" Josef had heard his father's voice.

"Hey, big boy," he waved.

"Wanna play with us?" the child invited.

"Maybe later," Sully spoke. "I'm talkin' t' your Ma right now."

Michaela returned to the topic, "There are men whom Emma does not wish to invite to the wedding because...."

Sully perceived, "'Cause o' her past."

Michaela explained, "She said there are prominent names whom she would prefer not be included. But by not being invited, their wives might be offended and wonder. I told her to talk to Matthew. Perhaps together they can come up with a mutually acceptable guest list."

"Sometimes our past can come back t' haunt us, I reckon," he observed.

"After all they've been through, I would hate to see something like this sidetrack them," she remarked. "They deserve to be happy."

Sully glanced toward the anteroom, "You want me t' take Joe home?"

"No, I'll keep him here," she noted. "He hurt his elbow at the Mercantile while shopping with Bridget."

"He okay?" Sully hoped.

"He has a bruise, but I want to watch for swelling," she assured. "Oh.... I have to come back to town this evening for a town council meeting."

"Why's there a meetin'?" he was curious.

"Teresa Slicker requested it," she remarked. "She and Isabel believe they deserve an increase in pay."

"I can't see the town council votin' in favor o' that," he was skeptical.

"We'll see," there was a gleam in her eye.

He touched her cheek, "You got that look."

"What look?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Like you're determined t' get 'em that raise," he specified. "I'll come back t' town with ya."

"You don't have to if you don't want to, Sully," she assured. "I know how much you dislike politics.

"But I love watchin' you in action," he chuckled.

With that, he strolled into the anteroom and knelt down to speak to the children. As he played with them, giggles filled the room.

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

When the young woman alit down from the train, Dorothy greeted her. Brian was unable to move. Henriette Pichette was the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen. Her eyes were dark and sincere. She was nicely dressed with her dark hair pinned up beneath a stylish hat.

"Brian," Dorothy summoned him.

He snapped to attention.

"This is Henriette," Dorothy introduced. "Henriette, Brian Cooper."

"It's a pleasure t' meet you," he extended his hand.

"You, too," her smile lit up her face.

There was no trace of a French accent.

"Let me take your bag," Brian offered.

As he carried it, he listened intently to the conversation between Henriette and Dorothy.

"Would ya like t' see the Indian school?" Dorothy inquired.

"I'd love to," Henriette smiled. "One of my grandmothers was an Indian. I want to start a newspaper for them."

"What tribe?" Dorothy queried.

"Shoshone," the young woman noted. "Her husband, my grandfather, was a fur trapper."

"That's real interestin'," Brian enthusiastically responded.

Dorothy smiled at his reaction, "Then after supper t'night, we can go t' the town council meetin' t' cover it for the Gazette."

"I'd like that," Henriette smiled.

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

"All right," Jake pounded his gavel. "I'm callin' this here meetin' t' order. Dr. Mike asked us t' consider a motion about givin' our teachers a raise."

"May I speak now?" Michaela raised her hand.

"Go ahead," the mayor nodded.

Michaela stood up, a piece of paper in her hand, "I was approached by Mrs. Slicker today about the possibility of granting an increase in salary for our teachers. I would like to share with you the rules by which they have been functioning since the school was established. These rules were mandated by Mayor Slicker when Louise Chambers was hired to run the school ten years ago."

Clearing her throat, Michaela commenced to read the list aloud:

"1. Each day, the teacher will fill lamps and clean out the stove.

2. The teacher will bring a bucket of water and wood for the stove for the day's session.

3. The teacher will go to church regularly."

"That was the Reverend's idea," Loren interjected.

"I see nothing wrong with it," the minister added.

"May I continue, gentlemen?" Michaela put her hand on her hip.

Sully smiled at her. She resumed:

"4. After ten hours in school, the teacher may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

5. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed."

Reverend Johnson spoke up, "I didn't know you put that in there, Jake."

"I just borrowed if from the way they did things in Manitou," he replied.

Michaela continued:

"6. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

7. Any teacher who smokes or uses liquor in any form will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty."

Hank chuckled, "Who'd wanna go int' teachin' then?"

Michaela cleared her throat, "This next point is worthy of your attention:

8. The teacher who performs labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in pay."

"You wrote that in there?" Loren scowled at Jake.

"Like I said, it came from Manitou," he shrugged.

Hank retorted, "Jake couldn't read when he put them rules int' effect."

"Neither could you," Jake shot back.

"Yea, well, I wasn't makin' the rules," Hank countered.

"It seems t' me that it's clear in the rules," Robert E spoke up. "Mrs. Slicker an' Mrs. Johnson should have a raise."

"Gentlemen.... and Michaela," Preston raised his hand. "Mrs. Johnson has not been employed for five years."

Robert E frowned, "So you think they should be paid different for doin' the same work?"

Preston smiled, "I'm merely pointing out the rule."

Everyone began to speak at once until calmed by the sound of Jake's gavel.

Brian had not taken his eyes off of Henriette since she sat beside him. From the back of the church, Sully observed his son and the beautiful young woman.

Michaela proposed, "I move that we raise the salaries for both of our teachers."

"I second," Robert E asserted.

"All in favor?" Jake looked around.

Only Michaela and Robert E had raised their hands.

"Are you voting against your own wife?" Michaela glared at the mayor.

"I don't think I oughta vote," Jake reasoned. "It's one o' them there conflicts of interest."

"Hank? Loren?" Michaela wondered why they had not voted in the affirmative.

"Aw, Dr. Mike," Loren shook his head. "I gotta think about business. How's the town gonna pay for their raise?"

"We'll find the money," she assured.

"All opposed?" Jake paused.

Loren and Hank raised their hands.

"Hank?" Michaela questioned.

Hank shrugged. "These women already got money with their husbands workin'."

Lexie frowned at him and stood up to leave.

"But the rule states that after five years...." Michaela was cut off.

"That's it then," Jake said "Since we got a tie, the rules stand as they are."

"That's not fair," Michaela began to protest.

"It was a fair vote, Dr. Mike," Jake walked past her.

Michaela glanced at her husband. His expression indicated no surprise.

"I'm sorry, ladies," Michaela approached the teachers. "We seem to have lost this battle, but the war is not over."

"What do you intend to do, Dr. Mike?" Isabel wondered.

"Perhaps Mrs. Slicker could speak to her husband," Michaela suggested. "If we could get him to vote yes...."

"My husband will not change his mind," Teresa knew.

"He has before," Michaela pointed out.

Reverend Johnson neared them, "I wish I could help."

"We're not giving up," Michaela informed him.

Sully stood back and waited for the others to depart.

Then he neared his wife, "Good try."

"I'm not finished with this," she avowed.

"I didn't think ya were," he smiled.

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

"Brian was rather quiet this evening," Michaela sat at her vanity brushing her hair.

"He had his mind on other things," Sully mused.

"What other things?" she was puzzled.

"That young lady sittin' beside him," he untied his shoes. "He couldn't take his eyes off her."

She set down the brush, "Who is she?"

"I don't know," he smiled. "But I got a feelin' we'll be seein' more of her."

"Is he smitten with her?" her eyes widened.

He grinned, "I think ya could say that."

There was a light tap at the door. Sully opened it. There stood Katie, hands on her hips. She gestured for him to join her in the hallway.

"What's on your mind, Kates?" Sully closed the door behind him.

"Joey," she simply replied.

"Is he up?" Sully questioned.

She informed him, "He went int' Brian's room t' look at his kaleidoscope an' dropped it."

Sully headed for Brian's room. There stood Josef with a perplexed expression on his face.

"Josef," Sully's tone was serious.

"I'm sowwy, Papa," his lower lip trembled.

Sully picked up the kaleidoscope and held it toward the hallway light. It was broken.

He sighed and shook his head at his son, "Go t' your room."

The little boy scampered to obey.

"Are ya gonna spank him, Poppy?" Katie wondered.

"You know that ain't the way your Ma an' me do things," he touched her cheek, then turned to speak with his son.

When Sully entered Josef's room, the little boy looked down. Katie stood at the doorway to listen.

"Papa," Josef began. "Mr. Bway said Bran has a killedascope. I wanted t' look at it."

"Joe, you got no right t' go in your brother's room searchin' through his things without askin' him," Sully advised.

"But he's in town," the child excused.

"Then ya should've waited for him t' come home," Sully maintained his composure.

Josef fell silent, regretting his actions.

"First thing you're gonna do when Brian comes home t'morrow is tell him you're sorry," Sully directed.

"I will," he nodded contritely. "I'll pay him back."

"That's up t' Brian," Sully stated. "But as for what you done, you'll have no pickles an' no playin' with your boats for a week."

"A week?" his eyes reddened. "Even on Thanksgivin'?"

"That's right," Sully stated. "Now, lay back an' get t' sleep."

"I don' think I sleep," Josef positioned himself beneath the covers.

"That's 'cause ya did somethin' wrong," the father informed him. "When ya do somethin' wrong, your conscience talks t' ya."

"What's a conscience?" the little boy was intrigued.

Sully secured the blanket, "It's a little voice inside ya that let's ya know what's right an' wrong."

Josef toyed with the edge of his blanket, "Could ya tell me somethin'?"

"Sure," Sully consented.

"What ya do with killedascope?" the little boy queried.

"Ya hold it up t' the light an' turn it," Sully caressed his son's hair. "It has all kinds o' pretty colored shapes that move around."

"Oh," Josef nodded. "Then I want one."

"Josef," Sully disapproved of his tone. "Ya can't always have what ya want."

"Mama will give it t' me," the little boy stated.

"Joey," Katie scolded. "You're gonna get spoiled."

"What's spoiled?" Josef questioned.

Sully defined, "It's thinkin' ya oughta have whatever ya want."

Josef pondered, "What's wrong with that?"

"It can make ya selfish," Sully noted. "An' that can lead ya t' do the wrong thing."

The little boy considered his father's words, "Am I shellfish?"

"Not yet," he replied.

"Oh," Josef settled back onto his pillow.

"'Night," Sully kissed his forehead. "Again."

Sully escorted Katie to her room and tucked her in.

"Poppy," the little girl clasped his hand. "I don't know how ya do it."

"Do what?" he waited.

"I don't know how ya put up with us," she specified.

Sully grinned, "Put up with ya? I don't know what I'd ever do without you kids, Kates."

"Joey keeps ya real busy," she toyed with the edge of her blanket.

"I think we'll keep him anyway," he kissed her again. "'Night, sweet girl. I love you."

"Night, Poppy," she smiled. "I love you, too."

Sully paused at the doorway of the twins' room. Annie was asleep, but Noah was holding up his bunny and humming.

"Hey, No-bo," he entered the small room. "What you doin'?"

"Bun," the child held the stuffed toy up for his father.

"Come here," Sully lifted him. "Feels like ya got a wet diaper."

"Ahn," he pointed to his sister.

"Shh," Sully kissed his finger. "Don't wake her up."

"Up!" Noah pointed to the ceiling.

"Not now," Sully began to change his diaper.

Noah continued to hum and hold his bunny as his father cleaned and diapered him.

"There," Sully kissed the baby's belly. "Now, let's see if we can get ya t' sleep."

He carried the child to the double rocking chair and began a back and forth movement.

"Mama," Noah requested.

"Shh," Sully continued the movements. "Mama's in bed."

Soon the motion had its desired effect, and the child's eyelids became heavy. So did Sully's. Within a brief time, father and son were both asleep in the chair.

Michaela wondered what could be keeping Sully. It did not take long to find him. Quietly, she entered the twins' room. Then she sat down beside Sully in the rocker. She leaned closer to draw back a lock of hair from his eye.

Softly, she kissed his cheek.

"Mmm?" he awoke.

"Are you planning to sleep in here?" Michaela whispered.

Suddenly, he realized where he was, "Sorry. Noah was awake, so I rocked him."

"He's sleeping now," she gestured at the baby against his chest.

"I'll put him in his crib," he lifted the toddler up and gently settled him on the bed.

Sully then followed Michaela into their room. He watched her remove her robe and climb into bed. He began to stir at the sight of her. They had not made love since finding out she was pregnant. He was uncertain if intimacy would be possible with this pregnancy and did not wish to make any overtures in that regard unless she indicated a readiness. Quickly averting his eyes, he knelt down to tend to the fireplace. Abstinence from her had only heightened his desire.

"What did Katie want?" she drew back the blanket invitingly.

"Josef went int' Brian's room an' broke his kaleidoscope," he stood up.

"Can it be repaired?" her brow wrinkled.

"I'll ask Robert E t' take a look at it," Sully told her. "Meantime, I told Josef that he can't have a pickle or play with his boats for a week."

"A week?" she was surprised. "Don't you think that's rather severe? Perhaps if we got him a kaleidoscope of his own, he wouldn't...."

"Michaela," he interrupted. "We can't give him everythin' he wants."

"That's hardly everything," she countered.

"You're gonna spoil him," Sully asserted.

"Why are you raising your voice?" she was puzzled.

"'Cause I think ya buy him too many things," he folded his arms.

"I do nothing of the sort," she denied.

Sully wiped his upper lip and stepped toward the door.

"Where are you going?" she knew he was upset.

"Downstairs," he left her.

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

Sully sat in a wing back chair, staring at the fading embers of the fireplace. He sighed, upset with himself for being curt with his wife. In reality, he was ashamed of the desire he felt for Michaela during this time. He trusted her medical judgment, and if she did not initiate intimacy between them, he knew it was for the good of their unborn child.

He heard footsteps on the stairs. Then he felt his wife's hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry I upset you," she apologized.

"You didn't upset me," he touched her hand.

She sensed something more was weighing on him, "What's wrong, Sully?"

"Nothin'," he looked away.

She guided his chin back to face her, "You know you can tell me. We're best friends. Remember?"

He smiled.

"Let's go to bed," she invited.

Sully stood, and after lowering the lamp, followed her up the steps. She climbed into bed and waited for him. He soon joined her. Sliding closer to him, she caressed the hair on his chest.

His senses were aroused, "You tired?"

"Not particularly," she continued her loving gesture. Michaela ached for him but was uncertain if he wanted her to continue, "Are you tired?"

He did not respond. She felt awkward, wondering if her husband was reluctant to be intimate because of her changing figure.

"Sully, don't you find me...." she could not say the words.

"You know I adore you," he linked his fingers in hers. "But...."

"I need you," her eyes implored.

"I need you, too," he swallowed hard.

She caressed his cheek and neck, "It's been a while since we've been together."

"I know," he could not look her in the eye. "I don't wanna do anythin' if...."

His voice trailed off.

Michaela was uncertain of his feelings.

Sitting up, she rose from their bed and walked to the window. Sully stood up and went to her. Enfolding her in his arms, his senses filled with the scent of her. He was losing himself. She pivoted in his arms and looked into his eyes with yearning.

He softly stroked her hair and recited:

"Look out upon the stars, my love,
And shame them with thine eyes,
On which, than on the lights above,
There hang more destinies."

"That was beautiful," she smiled. "Was it Wordsworth?"

"Edward Coate Pinkney," he identified.

She pressed herself closer to him, instantly triggering a stronger physical reaction in him.

Michaela sensed his need, "It's all right for us to...."

He needed no further invitation. Feeling as if his heart would pound out of his chest, he lifted the sides of her gown. Soon he had the garment over her head and onto the floor. He caressed the curves of her, trailing his kisses after his touches. Her slight mound of a belly and fullness of breasts further aroused his longings.

Michaela closed her eyes and caught her breath. She guided him to the places that she found most pleasing, then turned her attention to pleasing him. She helped him remove his shirt and buckskins. Every pore in his being awakened.

"Michaela," he gulped. "Are you sure?"

"I love you so much," she whispered. "I'm sure."

It was his undoing. With passion that never wavered, he took her into his arms and carried her to their bed. A sense of urgency overwhelmed him, but he controlled his movements. He kissed her, caressed her, tantalized her with tenderness.

"You're the most beautiful woman in the world, Michaela," he spoke low.

Their mutual arousal was powerful as he ran his hand along her hip. Warm waves of desire began to engulf them. Michaela's arms encircled his neck as he positioned her for love. Finally, he came to her fully. Bursts of pleasure coursed through them as their union was complete.

"I've missed you," she ran her fingers through his moist hair.

Sully could scarcely control his breathing.

"Are you all right?" she felt the tremble of his body.

He started to draw back from her.

"No, not yet," she beckoned him to hold their position. "Stay with me."

Sully softly caressed the sides of her face as she closed her eyes.

He kissed her eyelids, "I need your sweet love so much, Michaela."

He stroked her hair until he sensed from her rhythmic breathing that she had fallen asleep, her form warm against him.

Enfolding her in his arms, Sully protectively held her near. Finally, he joined her in slumber.

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

"Andrew," Colleen wakened her husband.

"Mmm?" he yawned and squinted against the morning light.

"Why don't we compromise about the house?" she proposed.

"Compromise?" he waited.

"A Victorian house with some elements of a log cabin," she proposed.

"Colleen, that would look ridiculous," he dismissed it.

"No," she insisted. "Maybe Pa could make it look the way you want in the front and the way I want in the back."

"I cannot imagine anything more preposterous," he disapproved.

Colleen sighed in frustration.

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

Michaela awoke to find Sully gazing out the window at the sunrise. She reached for her robe and joined him.

She slid her hand around his waist. He drew her closer and kissed her temple.

"It's a beautiful sight, isn't it?" she nodded toward the horizon.

"Sure is," he agreed.

"Since it's Saturday, what would you think of taking the children for a walk?" she proposed. "We could go to that thicket where you saw the deer, and it would give Bridget an opportunity to do some baking for Thanksgiving."

"I guess that would be okay," he consented.

"If you'd rather not...." she thought his response tepid.

"No," he assured. "You know how much I love bein' with you an' the kids."

"Good," she smiled.

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

"Hey, Henriette," Brian smiled when he spotted her entering the Gazette. "You're here nice an' early."

"The news doesn't wait," she remarked. "Dorothy isn't here yet?"

"No," he rose from the desk and offered. "Have a seat."

"Thanks," she obliged. "This is a nice printing press."

"Yep," he wiped his brow. "I'd be happy t' show you how it works."

"I'd like that," she consented.

As he began to describe each part of the device and its function, Henriette could not stop watching Brian's eyes. They were the most sincere she had ever seen.

"Wanna see the article I wrote about the council meetin' last night?" he asked.

"Yes, please," she nodded.

As she scanned the paper, she marveled, "This is wonderful, Brian."

He shrugged modestly, "There's been a lot more interestin' meetin's over the years. But knowin' Ma, we haven't heard the end of this issue. Folks listen t' her."

"Your mother is Dr. Mike?" she recalled the woman at the meeting.

"Well... she's my adopted mother, but I've called her Ma since she took in my brother, sister an' me," he explained.

"What happened to your parents?" she queried.

Brian explained the circumstances of his upbringing. Again, she was drawn to his eyes.

"How did you develop an interest in writing?" Henriette wondered.

"Ma's office bein' next t' the Gazette, I reckon," he noted. "Miss Dorothy an' Ma have always encouraged my writing. How 'bout you?"

She detailed, "I was sent to a mission school and, like you, learned a love of writing."

"Wanna see some things I've written sometime?" he hoped.

"Oh, yes," her dark eyes lit up.

Brian swallowed hard, captivated by her gaze.

She spoke again, "You said you have a brother and sister?"

"Matthew, he's a lawyer," Brian commented. "My sister Colleen is a doctor."

"Like your mother," she smiled.

"Yep," he grinned. "Ma married Sully back in '70. They have four kids of their own. I think of them as my brothers an' sisters, too."

"Quite a large family," she added.

"Do you have any siblings?" he posed the question.

"Yes," she returned. "A brother. He lives on the Shoshone reservation, trying to improve the lot of our people. Since the Arapaho were forced there too, there is often trouble between the tribes."

"They don't get along?" he surmised.

"Not at all," she shook her head. "I miss my brother."

"Hey, how'd ya like t' spend Thanksgivin' with us?" he invited.

"That would be nice," she smiled broadly.

"Good," he heard the door open. "'Mornin', Miss Dorothy."

"'Mornin', you two," she removed her shawl. "Ready t' get started on your first lesson, Henriette?"

"Yes, Ma'am," the young woman replied.

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

"Matthew," Emma entered his office. "Could I talk to ya?"

"Sure," he went to her.

They kissed sweetly.

"What did ya wanna talk about?" he inquired.

"The invitation list," she held up a paper.

"What about it?" he wondered.

"I.... I think it's kinda long," she broached the subject.

"Let me look at it again," he perused it.

"Who did ya wanna cut?" he questioned.

She began to point to several names.

"Emma," he spoke up. "They're all from the group I wanna invite. Why do ya wanna exclude them?"

She looked away.

"Hey," he touched her arm. "Tell me."

She took a deep breath, "Because they're my former customers."

Matthew swallowed hard, "All of 'em?"

She nodded in the affirmative.

"I see," he gulped.

"I'm sorry, Matthew," she sensed his disappointment. "I know they're important men.... from Colorado Springs an' Denver."

"An' Manitou," he added. "These are men who I've worked with."

Emma felt a tear welling in her eye.

Matthew noticed, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be goin' on like this. If you don't wanna ask 'em, we won't invite 'em."

She embraced him and ran her fingers through his hair, "Dr. Mike was right."

"About what?" he warmed at her ministrations.

"You," she smiled.

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

Bridget opened the door to find Loren holding a bag.

"I got that extra flour ya wanted," he smiled.

"Thank you," she stepped back. "Won't ya come in?"

"Thanks," he entered the homestead and looked around. "Where is everyone?"

"They went for a walk," she guided him into the kitchen. "Can I get ya a cup o' coffee?"

"I'd like that," he removed his hat. "I don't know how ya do it."

"Do what?" she tilted her head.

"Take care o' this family," he shook his head. "With Dr. Mike pokin' her nose int' everyone's business an' Sully off frolickin' with the Indians, you're left t' handle their children."

Bridget's cheeks flushed, and she put her hands on her hips, "I'll thank you not t' talk about 'em like that."

"Sorry," his shoulders slumped at the rebuke. "I meant it as a compliment."

"Compliment?" she chuckled.

"Four children t' watch over," he stated. "I admire ya."

"I don't do it alone," she pointed out. "I work with a family, not for a family."

He changed the subject, "What d' you think about Dr. Mike tryin' t' get us t' pay the teachers more?"

"This is the first I've heard of it," she pondered. "Sounds like a good idea t' me."

"We'd have t' raise taxes t' pay 'em," he countered.

"You just told me you admire me for takin' care o' four children, Loren Bray," she debated. "What d' ya think it's like for one o' them teachers, lookin' out for thirty or forty children?"

"I ain't sayin' it's an easy job for 'em," he told her. "But they're also married. They got their husbands' incomes."

Bridget felt her anger build, "I thank ya for bringin' the flour."

He became uncomfortable, "Sure.... I guess.... you'll be havin' everyone here for Thanksgivin', huh?"

She picked up on his hint, "You're welcome t' join us."

"Aw, ya prob'ly got a lot o' folks comin' already," he hesitated.

"It's no problem settin' another place," she stated. "But just see that ya don't talk about the teachers."

Loren smiled, "It's a deal."

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

Josef took Noah by the hand, "This is how Cheyenne walk."

The toddler attempted to keep up with his older brother.

"Not too far," Michaela called to them.

Katie sat on a blanket next to her parents and drew a picture. Sully leaned back and lifted Annie over his head, then lowered her close to his face. The baby's laughter echoed through the thicket.

Michaela smiled, "I don't think the deer will approach with such laughter."

Sully set Annie beside her sister, "They'll come once we settle down."

Keeping an eye on the children, Michaela linked her arm in his, "Thank you for bringing us here."

"I love it here," he looked around.

"It is beautiful," she agreed.

He mentioned, "You been thinkin' anymore about how you're gonna get a raise for the school teachers?"

"Yes," she admitted. "But the town is not going to like it."

"What are you plannin'?" he looked at her.

"A strike," she suggested.

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

Lexie froze when she opened the ranch house door and saw the man, "What do you want?"

His dark eyes held a sinister intention, "I been lookin' for you. I got word in Denver you'd moved here an' settled down."

"I said, what do you want?" she repeated.

He touched her neck, "Besides you?"

Lexie pulled back, repulsed by him.

"Your brother owed me money," he frowned. "I'm here t' collect."

"My brother's dead," she stepped back.

"I heard that, too," the man edged closer again. "But now the debt's on you."

"I.... I'll see what I can do," she folded her arms. "Now, I want you to leave."

"For now," he ran his finger along her cheek. "But I ain't goin' anywhere 'til I'm paid the $1000 in full."

"I can't get that much right away," her heart pounded.

"If ya don't.... well, I'd hate for anythin' t' happen t' that sheriff friend of yours," he smirked.

"How do you know about...." she stopped herself.

"I got ways of knowin' anythin' I need," he wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "Get the money."

When he turned and exited, Lexie slammed the door shut. Leaning against it, her mind raced. There was only one way for her to raise the money.

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

"A teacher's strike?" Sully was surprised.

"Yes," Michaela nodded. "If they close the school, the town must consider their grievances."

"You saw what happened last time this town had a strike," he recalled the miners. "Besides, what's t' keep the council from hirin' new teachers?"

"That would take time," she stated.

"Be careful, Michaela," he cautioned. "Things can get real intense when there's a strike."

"Josef, bring your brother back this way," she called. Turning her attention back to Sully's remark, she added, "I seriously doubt that there would be any sort of violence over it."

"People can surprise ya," he knew.

"What's in the package?" she gestured to the box near him.

"A surprise," he grinned.

Lifting it, he removed the lid.

"A kite?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Yep," he put the pieces together.

At that moment, Josef and Noah ran toward their father and fell onto his lap. Sully moved the kite just in time to avoid its being crushed.

Josef spotted it, "You gonna fly it, Papa?"

"I think I need maybe.... four children t' help me," he had a serious expression.

Josef counted his brother and sisters, "We only got thwee."

"Hmm," Sully rubbed his chin. "Then I guess I can't...."

"Wait!" the little boy figured. "I forget t' count me."

"Whew," Sully nodded. "Then let's get this thing up in the air."

When the children gathered around him, Katie paused.

"What about Mama?" the little girl wanted to include her.

Sully winked, "Your Ma ain't much for flyin' kites."

"I think I'll make an exception," Michaela stood up. "Let's go."

In a few minutes, Sully had the kite airborne. He let each child take a turn flying it, though he held Noah and Annie when their turns came. Last, he handed the string to Michaela. With a broad grin on her face, she guided the kite over their heads.

"You're pretty good at this," Sully commended.

"It's not very complica...." at that moment, the string broke, and the kite nose dived into a tree.

"Oh, no," Josef's shoulders slumped.

"Sorry," Michaela sighed.

"You got somethin' against kites?" Sully teased.

"Apparently, they have something against me," she shrugged.

When the kite-flying adventure was over, the family converged on their mother's blanket. At Katie's request, Michaela began to read to the children. All four listened, though Noah's attention waned when he spotted a nearby bird.

"Bih," he pointed.

"Quiet, No-bo," Sully spoke gently. "Listen t' your Ma."

The lilting voice of Michaela, as she read to their children, filled Sully's heart with love. He stretched out on his side, bending his elbow to rest his head on his hand. Annie crawled over to her father and leaned back on his chest. While stroking her golden hair softly, he smiled and thought life could not get any better.

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

Lexie passed by the Livery on her way from the Depot. Hank spotted her and approached.

"Hey," he rubbed his upper lip.

"Hank," she coolly acknowledged his presence.

He inquired, "How ya been doin'?"

"Fine," she looked away.

"Would ya like t' get a cup o' coffee at Grace's?" he offered.

Her first instinct was to say no, but she reconsidered.

"My treat?" he grinned.

That smile. Her heart skipped a beat. No matter what he had done to her emotions, there was no denying the intensity of her physical attraction for this man.

"I.... I suppose I could spare a moment for a cup," she returned.

He gestured for her to lead the way, then followed.

Grace was surprised to see them approach, "Well, well, look who's here."

"Two cups o' coffee," Hank said as he held Lexie's chair.

"Ain't you the gentleman," Grace noticed.

Hank leaned his elbows on the table, "So... how's the ranch?"

"Busy," she replied. "I've hired a hand t' help me part time."

He did not disguise his disappointment, "Who?"

"Alan Davis," she identified.

"He's just a kid," Hank frowned.

"He's fifteen, and he's been working very hard," she stated. "I don't need your approval to hire...."

"I'm sorry," he raised his hand. "I know ya don't need my permission. I.... I guess this ain't goin' as well as I hoped."

"How did you expect this to go?" she glared at him.

"Lexie," his tone softened. "I got no right t' expect you t' forgive me, but I sure do wish ya could one day."

"I don't know," she lowered her eyes.

"I won't give up hopin'," he touched her hand.

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

Bridget opened the door for the Sully's return. Noah and Annie were asleep against their father's chest.

"Hello, Bridget," Michaela smiled. "We'll take these two upstairs, then I'll help you start dinner."

"It's already on, Dr. Mike," the nanny smiled. "I'll get Katie an' Josef washed up."

"Miss Bwidget," Josef looked up with wide eyes. "We flied a kite an' saw sixty deer."

"Six, Sweetheart," Michaela amended.

"They were pretty," Katie added as the nanny pumped water to wash their hands.

Michaela followed Sully and the twins upstairs. In the babies' room, she dampened a cloth to wipe their faces and hands. Sully changed their diapers, all the while not waking the little ones. Finally, he placed the children in their cribs.

"They sure are tired," he whispered.

"And so adorable," she kissed Annie's forehead tenderly.

"You got a habit of makin' beautiful babies," he smiled.

"With your wonderful contributions, Mr. Sully," her eyes shone with love. "Running around trying to catch the kite wore these little ones out."

"About that kite...." he slid his hand around her waist.

"Sorry, I broke another one," she touched his chin. "I suppose it's just not my talent."

"That's okay," he smiled. "You got other talents."

She leaned closer to kiss him. Sully gently placed his hand to her neck and sweetly returned the gesture.

Sully pulled back, "I was thinkin' of goin' huntin' for the turkey t'morrow. I wanna take Joe. Ya know he's been wantin' to go huntin' again."

"I'm sure that will make him happy," she observed.

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

"Is it all right that I invited Henriette to supper?" Brian said to his mother.

"We'd love to meet her," she smiled.

"Good," Brian kissed her cheek and hummed as he bounded up the steps.

"My guess is he's in love," Bridget observed.

"In love?" Michaela was stunned. "He just met her."

"When a lad hums like that, he's in love," the nanny chuckled.

"Sully and Josef will be going turkey hunting in the morning," Michaela informed her.

"I was wonderin' when we might be gettin' around t' acquirin' the fine bird," she mused. "I hope ya don't mind, but I invited Loren Bray t' share Thanksgivin' with us."

"Of course I don't mind," Michaela smiled broadly. She picked up a list from the table, "Let's see. Besides us, there will be Colleen and Andrew, Matthew and Emma, Dorothy, Cloud Dancing and Loren."

"An' Brian's new lass," the nanny added.

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

Brian reached his room and loosened his tie. He heard a light tap at the door frame.

"Bran," it was Josef's voice.

"Hey," he smiled. "What ya doin'?"

"I gotta tell ya somethin'," Josef approached him.

Brian ruffled the little boy's hair, "What?"

"I...." Josef struggled for the words. "I bweaked your killedascope."

Brian turned quickly to glance toward the shelf on which he kept it. It was gone.

"Josef," his brow wrinkled.

"I'm sowwy, Bran," tears welled in his eyes.

Brian's heart melted, "Maybe Robert E can fix it."

The little boy informed him, "I don' get pokles for a week. But I pay ya for it."

Brian noted his sorrowful expression, "I think the week without pickles is enough payment."

"It is?" he glanced into the eyes of his brother.

"Plus, I want ya t' promise me somethin'," Brian added.

"What?" he was curious.

"Never touch my things without askin'," Brian asserted.

"I pwomise," Josef hugged him.

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

Throughout dinner, Michaela and Sully cast glances at one another, amused at Brian's behavior toward Henriette. The girl was not only beautiful and charming, but she was intelligent and a great conversationalist.

"How long are you staying in Colorado Springs?" Michaela inquired.

"At least until Spring," she announced.

"Then ya have t' spend Thanksgivin' with us," Brian spoke up.

"Yes, please do," Michaela added.

"If it's no imposition," Henriette responded.

Sully grinned, "You can help us try out the new dinin' room."

"And help me cover Matthew's weddin' for the Gazette," Brian chimed in.

"I was thinking of taking some classes at the college, as well," Henriette remarked.

"I'm learnin' art there," Katie told her.

"Brian said you're quite an artist," Henriette smiled. "I'd love to see some of your work."

Katie started to rise from the table.

Michaela placed her hand on her daughter's, "After dinner, Sweetheart."

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

"What did you think of Henriette?" Michaela climbed into bed beside her husband.

"I like her," he commented.

"It appears Brian does, as well," she knew.

"You been hopin' he'd find someone," Sully grinned. "Maybe this is the girl for him."

"We don't know anything about her family," she sounded a note of caution.

"I'm sure she'll tell us more as time passes," he presumed.

Michaela snuggled closer, "You'll be careful tomorrow?"

"'Course, I will," he assured. "We might not be gone overnight, but don't get worried if we are."

"I always worry when you're away," she teased.

Sully mentioned, "Bridget said ya got a letter t'day from back East."

"Yes," she replied.

"Who from?" he was curious.

"The medical school I attended," she specified. "My graduating class is having a twentieth reunion after the first of the year. Would you...."

"'Course, we'll go," he read her thoughts. "I'd love t' see where ya went t' school."

"Thank you, Sully," she drew back a lock of his hair. "I wonder if Miriam will attend.

"Maybe," he kissed her sweetly.

He lowered the lamp and drew her into his embrace, "Night, Michaela. I love you."

"I love you, too," she closed her eyes, feeling his hand resting gently on her abdomen.

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

"Good mornin', Colleen," Emma approached her at the Clinic door. "I didn't expect anyone t' be here this early on Sunday, but I'm glad you are. Could I talk t' ya?"

"Sure," Colleen smiled and escorted her into the office. "I bet you're excited about the wedding."

"Well, that's what I wanted t' talk with ya about," the young woman explained. "I was hopin' you'd consider bein' my matron of honor."

Her eyes widened, "I'd love to!"

"Good," Emma smiled.

"How's Matthew holding up?" she queried.

"He's calm as can be," Emma returned. "I'm the one who's nervous."

"Why?" Colleen was curious.

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

"This ain't easy t' talk about," Emma's cheeks flushed.

Colleen stated, "The most important thing is for you and Matthew to be happy in your love for each other."

"Like you an' Andrew are," she assumed. "It's gotta be easier for you. Ya got so much in common."

"Not as much as you would think," Colleen lowered her eyes.

"You're both doctors," Emma pointed out.

She shook her head, "Our tastes are completely different."

Emma perceived that all was not well, "You haven't changed your mind about stayin', have ya?"

"No," Colleen noted. "But where we live has become a source of contention now."

"Matthew an' me are just gonna stay at his office in the back room 'til we can build a house of our own on the old homestead property," she revealed. "It'll be crowded in the office, what with me havin' my sewin' shop there, too. You've got the Chateau t' live in."

"If.... when we start a family, I don't want my children living in a health spa," Colleen changed the subject. "But let's talk about your wedding. Who are you going to ask to give you away?"

"I was thinkin' of askin' Loren," Emma told her.

"A perfect choice," Colleen smiled.

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

Lexie glanced through the front window of her ranch house. She saw a rider approaching. It looked like.... it was Hank. She felt her heart skip a beat. She missed him terribly but was uncertain if she could ever forgive him for sleeping with one of his girls. She took a deep breath and opened the door as he dismounted his horse.

"'Mornin'," he removed his hat.

"Good morning," she nodded. "What brings you here?"

"Ya got a telegram," he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. "I told Horace I'd bring it out t' ya."

"Telegram?" she tensed.

As she read it, her face went pale.

"What's wrong?" Hank noticed.

"Nothing," she denied.

"Folks don't get telegrams about nothin'," he pointed out.

She crumpled the paper, "The deal I made to sell my cattle fell through."

"Why're ya gonna sell your cattle?" his brow wrinkled.

"I need the money," she folded her arms.

"Lexie," he placed his hand on her shoulder. "Tell me what's goin' on."

She quivered at his touch, "I have some debts."

"But if ya sell your cattle, how are ya gonna make a livin'?" he posed the question.

"Oh, that's right," she became sarcastic. "I don't have a husband's income to support me like the teachers do."

"This ain't about the teachers," he returned to the subject. "Ranchin' is what ya love."

"I don't know what I love anymore," she swallowed hard.

Hank saw the tears welling in her eyes, "I'll help ya with your debts."

"I don't want your money," she asserted.

He sighed in frustration, "Look. This would just be business. No strings attached. You could pay me back when ya can.... a little at a time. An' no interest like Preston would charge ya."

"No, thank you," her tone softened.

"How much do ya owe?" he queried.

"It's not your concern," she turned from him.

"I know I don't deserve your trust, but...." he stopped when he saw the set of her jaw. "Lexie, I still love you."

Her shoulders slumped, but she said nothing.

He caressed her cheek, "If ya change your mind about the money, let me know."

He turned to leave.

"Hank," her voice stopped him.

He pivoted, hopeful.

"Thank you," she offered.

"Any time," he smiled.

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

Michaela awoke to the sound of laughter emanating from downstairs. She glanced toward the clock. She had overslept. Reaching down, she caressed her abdomen.

She sat up and yawned, thankful that her nausea had abated. As she began to don her her robe, Sully entered the room, a tray in his hands.

"'Mornin'," he smiled.

"Good morning," she returned.

"I brought ya some breakfast," he set the food on her nightstand.

"Thank you," she acknowledged. "What a pleasant surprise."

"Get back int' bed so I can pamper ya," he grinned.

"Sully, I should...." after noting his expression, she reluctantly obeyed.

When Michaela settled back on several pillows, he leaned closer to kiss her.

"Mmm," she spoke low. "Is that part of my pampering?"

He caressed her abdomen, "Yep. How's our little one this mornin'?"

"Behaving herself," she answered.

"Good," he set the tray on her lap. "Joe an' me are leavin' t' go huntin' soon."

Michaela began to eat while he packed a travel pouch.

"Where are you going to hunt?" she queried.

"We'll just follow Monument Creek, maybe a mile or two from town," he informed her. "Not far."

Suddenly, they heard the sounds of children's giggles in the hallway. Then Annie and Noah toddled into the bedroom.

"How'd you two get upstairs?" Sully put his hands on his hips.

Katie and Josef burst into the room behind them.

Katie smiled, "They climbed the steps all by themselves."

"By themselves?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

"We helped," Josef added.

"I should hope you supervised them," she relaxed. "But now they'll most certainly try to climb by themselves."

"Not with the gates up," Sully stated.

"Annie helped Noah over the gate," Katie revealed.

"What?" Michaela was aghast.

"Looks like I better make a higher gate," Sully shook his head.

"Mama," Noah reached up to her.

Katie lifted the little boy onto his mother's bed. He crawled toward her and reached for a portion of her biscuit.

"Why ya eatin' in bed?" Josef tilted his head. "Ya sick?"

Sully ruffled his son's hair, "I'm spoilin' your Ma, Joe."

"But spoilin's bad," the little boy observed.

Bridget's urgent voice was heard at the door, "Saints preserve us! There they are. How'd these twins get up here?"

"They climbed the steps," Katie proudly announced.

The nanny's cheeks reddened, "I'm sorry, Dr. Mike.... Sully. I was in the privy for two minutes.... an'...."

"Where'd Annie go?" Sully glanced around the room.

Not seeing the little girl, he rushed out the door and toward the staircase.

"Sully?" Michaela felt a rush of fear. "Did you find her?"

He entered the bedroom carrying Annie, "She was near the steps."

Michaela shook her head, "We're going to have to watch the twins more carefully than ever."

"I'll watch 'em," Josef pledged.

"Who's gonna watch you?" Sully teased as he set Annie on the bed beside Noah.

"We goin' huntin' now?" Josef urged.

"I reckon," Sully nodded. Clasping Michaela's hand, he whispered, "You gonna be okay with this brood?"

Michaela smiled at Annie and Noah, "I believe their big sister will help me."

"Sure," Katie agreed.

"Bye," Sully kissed his wife. "I love you."

"You, too," she caressed his hair.

"Bye, Mama," Josef stepped closer.

"Goodbye, my darling," she kissed his cheek. "Take care of Papa."

After saying their farewells to the other children, Sully and Josef departed.

"Was Joey right, Mama?" Katie inquired.

"About what?" she wondered.

"Are ya sick?" the little girl's face reflected concern.

Michaela caressed her cheek, "No, I feel wonderful."

"Good," Katie smiled. "Ya seem real happy.... more than I've seen ya for a long time."

Michaela clasped her daughter's hand, "I'm sorry, Sweetheart."

"I know you've been sad about losin' the baby last Spring," the child noted.

"Baby," Noah pointed to himself.

Katie chuckled at her little brother and tickled his side, "Noah."

Michaela smiled, "You believe in miracles, don't you, Katie?"

"Sure," she smiled. "You an' Poppy taught me to."

"Yes, we did," Michaela studied her daughter's expression.

"Why'd ya ask?" the little girl was curious.

Michaela glanced at the twins, now occupied at playing with their feet. "I'm just constantly reminded of them."

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

Matthew and Emma neared the church and spotted Brian ahead of them with a young lady on his arm.

"Hey, little brother," Matthew approached.

"Hey," Brian smiled. "I'd like ya t' meet Henriette Pichette. She's here from Laramie t' learn about runnin' a newspaper. This here's my brother Matthew an' his fiancee Emma."

Matthew tipped his hat, "Nice t' meet ya."

"And you," she smiled. "When is your wedding?"

"Right after Thanksgivin'," Emma answered.

"Oh, Henriette's joinin' us for Thanksgivin' dinner," Brian added.

Matthew acknowledged, "That's real nice." Then he looked around, "Where's Ma an' Sully?"

"Sully took Josef huntin' for the turkey," Brian informed him. "Ma slept in."

"Maybe after the service, we'll take a ride out t' the homestead for a visit," Matthew offered.

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

Sully spotted a turkey and raised his finger to his lips to signal silence from his son. Josef froze in his tracks, barely breathing.

Sully drew an arrow and raised it to his bow. As he positioned himself to shoot, he stepped on a twig and broke it. The turkey moved just as the arrow let loose. It missed.

"Too bad, Papa," Josef's brow wrinkled. "Ya maked a noise."

"We'll find another turkey, Joe," he nodded. "Come on."

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

"Matthew," Michaela was pleased to see her oldest son. "Hello, Emma."

"Hey, Dr. Mike," she smiled. "We missed you at church."

"Will ya be joinin' us for dinner, lad?" Bridget approached.

Matthew smiled, "I wouldn't miss your good cookin'."

Bridget's cheeks flushed, "Sure, ya got some o' the blarney in ya."

"Are ya okay, Ma?" Matthew returned his attention to his mother. "It ain't like ya t' miss church. Brian said ya slept in."

"I'm fine," she informed him.

"We met Brian's friend, Henriette," he noted. "She seems real nice."

"Yes," her expression changed. "He seems rather smitten with her."

"You say it like ya don't approve, Dr. Mike," Emma perceived.

Michaela remarked, "She seems like quite a nice young lady."

"But...." Matthew anticipated.

"But nothing," Michaela dismissed his suspicion. "I simply don't want him to rush into anything."

Matthew teased, "There's no pleasin' you, Ma. When your kids are lonely, ya want 'em t' meet someone. When they meet someone, they're rushin' into somethin'."

She denied, "That's not true at all. Now, how are your wedding plans coming along?"

"Colleen's agreed t' be my matron of honor," Emma revealed. "An' Loren's gonna give me away."

Katie descended the steps, "Hey, Matthew, Emma."

Matthew kissed his sister, "Seems t' me we're gonna need a flower girl."

"Me?" Katie pointed to herself.

"Well, ya did it for Colleen's weddin'," Matthew grinned. "I think I deserve the same attention."

"You were so adorable at Colleen's wedding," Michaela recalled fondly. "Only two years old, but there you were holding the basket."

"With Brian's help," Matthew added. "So, will ya, Katie?"

"Sure!" the little girl could not contain her excitement. "An' I won't need Brian's help this time. I hope that won't upset him."

"Brian'll have plenty t' do as my best man," Matthew stated.

"Is there somethin' Joey can do at the weddin'?" Katie wondered.

"Oh, my," Michaela held the sides of her face. "I'm certain he'll need enough supervision as it is."

"Katie's right, Ma," Matthew reasoned. "If he has a job t' do, maybe he won't get int' any mischief."

"Maybe he could help me with the flowers," Katie offered.

"What about the ring bearer?" Emma suggested.

"That's a good idea," Matthew nodded. "What could go wrong with somethin' that simple?"

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

Sully eyed another turkey carefully. Again, he motioned to his son to be still. Josef obeyed, and Sully poised to shoot his arrow. Wolf froze his position. Just as he let loose the arrow, Sully tripped and fell to the ground. The bird got away.

"Papa," Josef stood over him. "I don' think you're doin' this wright."

Sully pulled his son onto his chest and began to tickle his side, "I'm not?"

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

"Will Sully an' the leprechaun be home for dinner, Dr. Mike?" Bridget inquired.

Michaela glanced out the window at the setting sun, "I don't think so. They must not have had luck today. I'm certain they'll get that turkey tomorrow."

"I'll be settin' the table then," the nanny nodded.

"I'll help," Katie offered.

Michaela turned to watch Matthew and Emma playing with the twins on the floor of the living room. Placing her hand on her belly, she felt a pang of sadness for her son. He and Emma would never have children of their own. But, she was certain that they would adopt and make wonderful parents.

Matthew looked up at his mother and smiled, "Lot o' folks were talkin' after church about the teachers' wantin' more money."

"Oh?" Michaela was interested. "What was the consensus?"

"Most are against it," Emma told her.

"But that won't stop Ma," Matthew laughed.

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

A stranger entered the Gold Nugget and sauntered over to the bar. His unshaven face and unkempt appearance hinted that he had been riding for some time.

Eying Hank, he demanded, "Bottle o' whiskey."

"Sure," Hank set it atop the bar with a glass. "You lookin' for some entertainment t' go with that?"

Ignoring the question, he wiped his sleeve across his mouth. "Where's the livery?"

"'Round the corner," Hank gestured. "I can see that you horse is takin' care of."

"No one takes my horse anywhere, but me," his voice grew cold.

Hank raised his hands to calm the man, "No offense. Just tryin' t' make my customers happy."

"You wanna make me happy?" the stranger paused. "Drop dead."

Hank controlled his temper, "That ain't exactly what I had in mind."

"Oh, yea?" he leaned closer. "Well, if ya don't mind your own business, you might find yourself wishin' you was dead."

"Look," Hank had had enough. "Take your bottle an' get out o' here."

The man glared at him, "Do you know who I am?"

"No, an' I don't wanna," Hank returned.

"I'm Bart Mason," the man touched his revolver.

Hank drew back his jacket to reveal his sheriff's badge, "An' I'm Hank Lawson. You got any questions about the fastest route outa here?"

Mason scoffed, "You really don't know who I am?"

"Nope," Hank waited.

"Any lawman worth a lick would find out," his eyes narrowed.

The man lifted the bottle and departed.

After watching the exchange, Jake approached him, "You better watch your back."

"What are you talkin' about?" Hank snapped.

"Bart Mason?" Jake gestured toward the door. "He's a gunfighter."

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

Hank considered the name again, "Bart Mason? He the one who killed five men in Deadwood a while back?"

"Right," Jake nodded. "I heard tell all five fell before they could draw their guns. Shot right through the heart, every one."

"Just lucky I guess," Hank took a drink.

"You know why he killed 'em?" Jake queried.

"No, but I reckon you're gonna tell me," he waited.

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

Josef helped his father ready their sleeping area. Sully had built a fire, prepared a meal for his son and told him to wait with Wolf while he went to get some fresh water for his canteen. When Sully returned, the boy was already beneath a blanket.

"You tired, Joe?" Sully sat beside him.

"Kinda," the child answered.

"I reckon not gettin' a turkey is pretty exhaustin'," Sully joked.

"Don' worry," Josef assured. "We get one t'morrow."

Sully took a drink from his canteen.

"We see a bear, Papa?" the boy looked up.

"No," Sully touched his son's hair. "They're hibernatin'."

"What means hibernatin'?" the child was curious.

"It means they hide an' get lots o' rest for Spring," Sully said.

"Maybe I hibernate," he returned.

Sully pointed out, "You got a birthday comin' up soon. Have ya thought about what you'd like?"

"Uh-huh," Josef did not hesitate. "I want a killedascope t' give Bran."

"Not for yourself?" he wondered.

"No," the little boy shook his head. "I gotta do the www....right thing."

Sully was proud of his son's consideration.

Josef looked up at his father, "How'd you learn t' be a good Papa?"

He chuckled, "Who says I'm a good Pa?"

"I say," Josef pointed to himself. "Did ya learn from your Papa?"

"No," Sully's tone changed. "I didn't learn anythin' from him."

"Why?" the little boy's brow wrinkled.

"Joe," Sully swallowed hard. "I didn't know him very well."

"Why?" the child persisted.

"He died when I was about your age," Sully noted.

"How he die?" the little boy wondered.

"He was a farmer," Sully grew more uncomfortable. "The land broke him."

"How can land break ya?" Josef inquired. "I think land is good."

Sully's heart filled at his innocent remark, "Sometimes folks get tired o' workin' it."

"What was his name?" the child queried.

Sully paused, finding it too difficult to discuss.

"You forget, Papa?" Josef interpreted.

He took a deep breath and sighed, "I'd rather talk about the family I got now."

Josef's blue eyes saddened, "Your Papa an' Mama die. An' Miss Ab'gail an' baby Hannah. I'm sowwy."

"Me, too," he looked down.

"Was Miss Ab'gail like Mama?" Josef was curious.

Sully gave his son an affectionate gaze, "Abigail was real shy around folks, but she had a big heart."

"Mama's not shy," Josef observed.

"Your Ma's got strong opinions, an' she stands up for what she believes," he noted.

"Ya love her when she falled in mud," Josef recalled hearing the story.

"But I didn't let on," Sully grinned.

"An' ya live hap everly after," he smiled.

Sully touched the corner of his son's mouth, "You got her smile. Reminds me of all your Ma's given me."

"What all she give ya?" his eyes widened.

"She gave me our family," Sully told him. "You believe in miracles, don't ya, Joe?"

"Yep," Josef nodded. "You an' Mama teached me to. Why?"

"I'm reminded of them every time I look you kids," Sully spoke softly.

"I wanna marry a girl who falls in mud," Josef said.

"That sounds good," he winked.

"An' I'm glad I know you, Papa," the little boy yawned.

"I'm glad I know you, too," Sully kissed his forehead. "Good night, big boy. I love you."

"Love you, Papa," Josef closed his eyes.

Sully leaned on his elbow and watched his son until he was certain the child was asleep. Then he gazed up at the sky.

"Same stars you see, Michaela," the thought often came to him when he was away from his wife.

Suddenly, he felt a wave of nausea. Rising to his knees, Sully crawled away from the campsite. It took every ounce of strength he possessed just to go a few feet. Overcome by the sickness in his stomach, he expelled its contents. Another wave quickly overwhelmed him with the same result.

Wolf came to his side and began to whimper.

Sully managed to take off his jacket before a third round of vomiting hit. Not much was left in his stomach.

"Wolf," his breathing was fast. "Go get help, boy."

The animal took off as Sully rolled onto his side, feeling as if his stomach was turning inside out.

Josef awoke with a start and was concerned that he did not see his father, "Papa?"

Sully was too weak to speak.

"Papa!" the little boy's voice was more urgent.

Mustering all of the strength he possessed, Sully called, "Over here, Joe."

The child rushed to his side, "What's wrong?"

"I.... I'm sick," his volume was hardly above a whisper.

"I go get Mama," Josef rose.

"No," Sully swallowed hard. "Wolf...."

Josef looked around, "Wolf's gone."

"He went.... t' get help," Sully closed his eyes.

"Don' die, Papa," the little boy's voice trembled.

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

Hank stepped onto the front porch of the Gold Nugget. He took a deep breath then pulled his jacket closer to ward off the chilly night air. Suddenly, he heard the click of a trigger.

Slowly, Hank began to lower his hand to his pistol. Before he reached it, he heard a voice.

"I'll meet you at noon over in the meadow," a man's voice spoke.

Hank turned slightly, "Mason?"

"That's right," he sounded sinister.

"Why don't we talk about this?" Hank swallowed hard. "You got no reason t' challenge me."

"I got reason enough," the man returned.

"What reason?" Hank questioned.

"Lexie," the gunfighter stated.

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

From her position in a wing back chair, Michaela heard the sound of her family's laughter emanating from the kitchen.

"Can I get ya anythin', Dr. Mike?" Bridget approached her.

"Perhaps a glass of milk," Michaela replied, looking up from her book.

"What ya readin', lass?" the nanny noticed.

"King Arthur," Michaela smiled.

"Hmmff," Bridget pivoted. "Damn Englishman."

Brian came to his mother, "Matthew an' me are gonna take Emma and Henriette back t' town, Ma."

"All right," she smiled up at him. "Are you spending the night in town?"

"No, I'll be...." he stopped, hearing Wolf's bark at the door.

"Didn't Wolf go huntin' with Sully?" Matthew perceived the sound, as well.

Michaela rushed to the door. When she opened it, there stood Wolf, whimpering.

Kneeling down, she petted the animal, "Is something wrong, boy?"

Wolf barked urgently.

"I'll saddle the horses, Ma," Brian started out the door.

"No," she stopped him. "The wagon."

"But it's faster by horse," Brian reminded.

"If Sully and Josef are hurt, it will be easier to transport them in the wagon," she pointed out.

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

Sully had the dry heaves. A distraught Josef did not know what to do.

"Papa," he began to cry.

Sully composed himself long enough to touch his son's hand, "Joe..."

"I get ya water," the idea occurred to the child.

"No!" Sully clasped his arm. "Don't.... don'...."

He closed his eyes, unable to communicate any further. Josef went to the canteen and pulled off the lid.

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

"What about Lexie?" Hank felt a rush of anxiety at the gunfighter's words.

"She's a woman worth havin'," Mason asserted.

"What're you talkin' about?" he tensed.

Mason wiped his upper lip. "She'll do what I want if she knows you're in danger."

"You touch her, an' I'll kill you," Hank threatened.

"If you wanna see Lexie again, you meet me at noon in the meadow," Mason was undaunted.

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

"Wolf stopped over there," Brian slowed the wagon. "We're gonna have t' walk the rest o' the way."

Matthew helped his mother from the buckboard, and they began to follow Wolf on foot.

"Sully!" Michaela called. "Josef!"

Josef heard his mother's voice and returned, "Mama!"

"Over there," Matthew pointed toward the sound.

Soon they spotted the campfire.

"Josef!" Michaela was relieved to see her son.

"Mama!" he rushed to her from the edge of the camp.

She knelt down, "Are you all right?"

"Uh-huh," he gestured. "But Papa's sick."

"Where is he?" she queried.

"Here, Ma," Brian had found his father.

Michaela hurried to her husband. She saw and smelled the contents of his stomach, though Sully had managed to cover some of it before he became too weak. Opening her medical bag, she began to minister to him.

Brian drew a frightened Josef into his arms, "He'll be okay. Ma will take care of him."

"I'm scared, Bran," the child's voice choked.

"Don't worry," he hoped to assure his little brother.

Michaela dampened a cloth and stroked it across her husband's forehead.

"Michaela," he could hardly talk. "Canteen...."

She saw it lying on the ground, its contents emptied.

"Did you drink from it?" she assumed.

"Yea," he was barely audible. "Joe...."

"Josef!" Michaela called to her son. "Did you drink water from Papa's canteen?"

He hurried to her side, "No. He yell, so I pour it out."

"Good," she returned her attention to Sully.

"You okay, Papa?" the child stood nearby.

Sully respond with a slight nod of his head.

Michaela drew a small, empty bottle from her medical bag and filled it with water from her canteen, "Matthew help me, please."

Next, she mixed in some powdered charcoal and shook the bottle. Matthew lifted Sully's head and shoulders for her. With great effort, they got Sully to consume the contents of the bottle.

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

Suddenly, Hank heard a wagon approaching at rapid speed. In the moment he turned to watch its arrival, Mason disappeared. When the wagon pulled up to the Clinic, Hank crossed the street.

"Michaela?" he was concerned.

"Help us, please," her voice was urgent.

Hank assisted Matthew in carrying Sully into the Clinic.

Brian helped his mother alight from the wagon, "You want me t' take Josef home?"

"No!" Josef insisted. "I stay with Papa."

Michaela clasped her son's hands, "Sweetheart, I'm going to take care of Papa, but it would be better if you...."

"Please, Mama," the little boy interjected. "He need me."

"Of course he needs you," she soothed. "But...."

"He losed his Papa when he my age," Josef hoped to explain.

"We're not going to lose him," she assured.

"Pwomise?" the child hoped.

"I promise," she assured. "Now, will you go with Brian?"

Josef looked down, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Michaela's heart melted, "All right. You can stay."

"I'll keep him out here 'til ya figure out what's wrong with Pa," Brian lifted his brother and wiped his tears.

"He must be exhausted," she stroked her young son's hair. "Could you put him in one of the recovery rooms?"

Matthew stood at the doorway, "We got Sully upstairs, Ma."

"Thank you," she replied.

"Someone wanna tell me what happened?" Hank put his hands on his hips.

"I'll fill ya in, Hank," Matthew volunteered.

Michaela turned to her sons, "Thank you for all of your help."

With that, she headed inside and up the steps of the Clinic.

When she reached Sully's room, she quietly approached him and sat on the edge of the bed. Opening her medical bag, she removed the stethoscope and checked her husband's heartbeat.

"Michaela," his voice was weak.

"I'm here," she clasped his hand.

"Josef..." he paused.

"He's fine," she assured. "He didn't drink the water."

"Good," Sully closed his eyes.

After assessing his vital signs, Michaela went to the basin and filled it with water.

Brian stepped into the room. "Josef fell right t' sleep. How's Pa?"

"Could you help me undress him?" she requested. "I want to clean him."

"Sure," he approached the bed.

Together, they completed the task and put a nightshirt on Sully.

"I guess he's gonna sleep for a while, huh?" Brian observed.

"He's quite weak," she spoke low. "Sleep is what he most needs."

"You do, too, Ma," he noticed. "You look tired."

"I'll rest soon," she felt Sully's pulse.

"Matthew rode out t' the homestead t' fill them in on what's happened," he stated. "An' he's gonna fetch Colleen."

"There's no need to worry her," she returned.

He assured, "She'd wanna be here with ya."

"What about Katie and school in the morning?" she thought.

"We'll take care of things," he placed his hand on her shoulder.

She put her hand atop his, "Thank you, Sweetheart."

"I'll go stay with Josef," he kissed her cheek.

When Brian left, Michaela returned her attention to Sully. She drew back a lock of his hair.

"Can you hear me?" she leaned closer.

"Mmm," he opened his eyes. "Sweetest voice.... I ever heard."

"I think you must be feeling better," she smiled at this compliment.

"Gotta find out...." he swallowed, too weak to go on.

"Find out what's in the water?" she assumed.

"Yea," he attempted to sit up.

She placed her hands on his shoulders to settle him back, "Not tonight, Mr. Sully."

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

Hank crossed back to the Gold Nugget, wondering what could have caused Sully's sudden illness. Then his mind returned to Bart Mason. The man was expecting a gunfight in the meadow at noon. Hank knew he could not win in a fair fight. Not if Mason was half as good as his reputation.

How did Lexie know him? He vowed to find out. He headed toward the Livery to get his horse. He would ride out to her ranch and get to the bottom of this.

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

"Hank?" Lexie was surprised. "What are you doing here at this hour?"

"You know a man named Bart Mason?" he was direct.

Her face paled.

Hank noticed, "That answers my question."

"What's he done?" she became anxious.

"Nothin'.... yet," he told her.

She clasped his arms, "Hank, promise me you won't...."

"Look, Lexie," he interrupted. "I want the truth. Is he the one ya need the money for?"

She pivoted and walked away from him, "Trent owed him money. He showed up here expecting me to pay it."

"Does he mean more than that to ya?" he wanted to know.

She turned to face him, tears welling in her eyes, "No one has ever, or will ever, mean as much as you do to me."

Hank felt a lump in his throat. He went to her and swiftly drew her into his embrace. With great fervor, he kissed her. She did not pull away. She was losing herself to him. All of the weeks of not being with him melted away.

He drew back slightly, "I missed you."

"I.... I've missed you, too," she could not control herself.

He kissed her again. Hank felt as if his heart would pound out of his chest.

Their breathing became rapid, and neither wanted to stop. Encouraged by her reaction, Hank scooped her into his arms and carried her toward her bedroom.

When he gently set her on the bed, he paused. Her arms opened to invite him. That was all he needed. Soon, with passions ignited, they consummated their longings.

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

"Ma," Colleen's voice wakened Michaela as she sat in a chair at Sully's bedside.

"Mmm?" Michaela was disoriented. "Colleen? What time is it?"

"A little after midnight," the young woman whispered. "Why don't you go to bed? I'll watch Pa."

"He's dehydrated," she reached for a glass of water.

"Ma," the young woman insisted. "I'll take care of him. Get some rest."

"I don't want to leave him just now, Colleen," Michaela replied. "But I'll call if I need you."

"I'll be in one of the recovery rooms then," she acquiesced.

When her daughter departed, Michaela caressed Sully's cheek, then lifted his hand to her lips. Finally, leaning her head upon the mattress, she succumbed to sleep again.

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

"Hank," Lexie stroked the hair on his chest. "Promise me you'll stay away from Bart."

"You leave him t' me," he kissed the top of her head.

Lexie lifted up slightly, "Please. He's a very dangerous man."

"I heard," he lifted her chin for a kiss.

She felt her body stir again, "Let me handle him. I'll give him the money, and he'll go away."

"How much does he want?" he was curious.

"A thousand dollars," she informed him.

Hank shook his head, "You don't have that much money. Neither do I."

"Preston will loan it to me if I use my ranch as...." she was interrupted.

"No way in hell you're gonna borrow from him!" his volume rose.

"Hank," she implored. "If I don't get the money...."

"I'll think o' somethin'," he assured. "I don't want you worryin' about it."

She lay her head on his shoulder and felt his hand gently stroking her back.

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

Michaela awoke to the touch of Sully's hand on her back.

"Sully," she raised up. "How do you feel?"

"Thirsty," his throat was dry.

She reached for a glass of water and held it while he consumed several sips.

"Your color is starting to return," she felt his pulse.

Glancing toward the window, he observed, "Sun's comin' up. I didn't get us a turkey."

"You still have a few days," she calculated.

"You sleep in that chair all night?" he realized.

"Yes," she rubbed her back and yawned.

"Here," he patted the bed. "Let me help ya."

When Michaela sat beside him, Sully pulled himself up and began to massage her shoulders. He felt her tense muscles relax beneath his fingers.

"That feels marvelous," she closed her eyes.

Then she felt his hand caressing her abdomen.

Placing her hand atop his, she smiled, "Your daughter says it feels marvelous, too."

Sully stopped, fatigued by the expenditure of energy.

"Do you think you can tolerate some soup?" she turned to face him again.

"Broth maybe," he mentioned.

"I'll go over to the Cafe to get some," she started to rise.

"Michaela," he clasped her hand. "You gotta be tired."

"It's not terribly exhausting to go to the Cafe," she retorted. "And after I bring back your broth, I'll take a nap. How does that sound?"

"Sounds good," he grinned.

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

Hank tied his horse to the post in front of the Gold Nugget. Noticing Matthew on the bench in front of the Clinic, he crossed to inquire about Sully.

"He's doin' better," the young man informed him. "Even ate a little."

"What say you an' me go out t' where he drank the water?" Hank posed the question. "We oughta find out why he got sick."

"I was just thinkin' the same thing," he returned.

Matthew noticed Hank's expression, "You okay?"

"Sure," he wiped his sleeve across his mouth nervously.

"Ya look kinda pale," Matthew observed.

"You comin', or not?" he became terse.

Matthew stood up, "I'll get my horse."

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

Josef awoke in bed next to his mother. Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes. It took a moment for him to realize he was at the Clinic.

"Mama?" he touched her arm.

"It's all right, Sweetheart," she drew him closer. "Go back to sleep."

"I'll go see Papa," he asserted.

"Papa's resting," she informed him.

"Be wight back," he slid from the bed before she could stop him.

"Stay upstairs, then," she cautioned as she drifted back to sleep.

Josef entered his father's room, surprised to see him getting dressed.

"You all better, Papa?" the child climbed atop the bed.

"Better than I was," Sully put on his belt.

"You gonna hunt again?" the little boy surmised.

"In a way," Sully sat for a moment to regain his strength.

"Can I come?" Josef requested.

"Not this time, big boy," Sully touched his nose.

"Mama's still sleepin'," he informed his father.

"Good," Sully nodded. "I want ya t' take care o' her while I'm gone."

"Won't be hard," Josef shrugged. "She's a good girl."

"Go back in with her then," Sully kissed the top of his head.

Escorting his son to Michaela's room, Sully approached his wife.

Michaela awoke with a start, "Sully, what are you doing out of bed?"

"I gotta go check that water, Michaela," he asserted.

"You're much too weak," she sat up. "Others can go."

"I'm okay," he was less than truthful. "But I want you t' stay in bed."

"Sully, no," she insisted. "If you're going, I'm coming with you."

"You'll only slow me down worryin' about ya," he countered.

"Don' fight," Josef spoke up.

"We ain't fightin', Joe," Sully assured him.

Michaela pulled on her shoes.

"What are you doin'?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"I said I'm coming with you," she spoke up.

"Ma?" Colleen stood at the doorway. "Pa, what are you doing out of bed?"

Michaela answered, "He insists on finding the source of the tainted water."

Sully returned, "An' she insists on comin' with me."

Josef added, "An' they ain't fightin'."

"Aren't fighting," Michaela corrected.

"Papa say 'ain't,'" Josef noted.

Colleen thought it best to retreat, "Josef, why don't you come downstairs with me? You can play in the anteroom."

"I wanna go with 'em," he countered.

"Go with your sister, Joe," Sully's tone was serious.

The little boy sighed and followed Colleen out of the room.

Michaela stood up, "Would you mind if we wait for Katie to come into town for school? I want her to be assured that you're all right."

"Michaela," he clasped her shoulders. "You sure you're up t' this?"

"Yes," she affirmed. "You're in no condition to go out there by yourself. Besides, I can do the tests to determine what's in the water."

He shook his head, "You are the most stubborn, willful....."

She interrupted, "But you love me."

He could not help but smile.

"Don't you?" she stepped closer and slid her arms around his waist.

"You know I do," he cupped her cheeks in his hands. "Beyond all measure of words."

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

"Good morning, Jake," Preston entered the barber shop.

"What d' you want?" he frowned.

The banker pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, "I have a way for you to pay the teachers."

"We don't need a way, 'cause we ain't payin' them more," Jake asserted.

"You don't even want to hear my proposal?" Preston tilted his head.

"No," he lifted a broom and began to sweep the floor.

"But this can also help the town pay for other things," Preston insisted.

"Look," Jake paused. "I don't wanna talk about it anymore.... especially with you."

Preston shook his head in disgust and headed out the door. As he crossed the street, he spotted Michaela and Sully bound for the Livery.

"Well, look who's up and about," the banker put on a phony smile. "I heard you were ill, Sully, but you seem to have made a miraculous recovery."

Sully ignored his remark.

Preston tipped his hat, "Michaela, might I have a word with you?"

"Perhaps later," she kept walking. "Sully and I have...."

"It's about the teachers," Preston interrupted.

She stopped and looked at her husband.

"I'll go get the wagon," Sully knew she would be interested in what Preston had to say.

"What about the teachers?" she looked at Preston skeptically.

"I have a way in which the town can pay them without raising taxes," he informed her.

"How?" she was intrigued.

"Government bonds," he stated.

"Bonds?" she was uncertain.

"Think of it, Michaela," he gestured with a sweep of his arm. "Not only paying for the teachers' salaries, but.... adding on to the school, new roads, street lamps like they have in Denver. A plethora of improvements, much too extensive for Jake's tiny mind to comprehend, but you.... You can envision it, can't you?"

She pondered, "Yes.... I can."

"Splendid," he grinned. "Then I can count on your support when I introduce the idea to the town council?"

"You can count on my thinking about it," she began to leave. "If you'll excuse me."

"Of course," he tipped his hat and watched her pass.

Preston eyed her with admiration, "Magnificent, Michaela. You are magnificent."

When she reached the wagon at the Livery, Sully helped her up.

"What'd he want?" Sully was curious.

"He had some ideas on raising money for town improvements," she noted.

"Which means he's got ideas for how t' raise money for himself," Sully shook his head.

"Sully, do you know anything about government bonds?" she posed the question.

He lifted the reins, "I know they helped pay for buildin' the railroads an' padded the pockets of a few men. When that Jay Cooke banker went under, it caused the Panic o' '73."

"I'm going to wire Rebecca when we get back," she told him. "Her husband's an investment banker with.... what was it? Oh, yes, Paine, Webber and Company."

"Never heard of 'em," Sully shrugged.

"It's a new firm," she explained. "They were formed earlier this year in Boston."

"Michaela, be careful," he cautioned. "Preston ain't in this t' help the town."

"Not everything he does is for ulterior motives," she smiled.

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

When Lexie opened her ranch house door to go into town, Bart Mason stepped forward.

"What are you doing here?" she contained her fear.

"Just thought you'd like t' know I had a little chat with your sheriff friend last night," he slid his arm around her waist.

Lexie pulled away, "I can assure you he means nothing to...."

"I'm meetin' him at noon in the meadow by the church," he interrupted.

Lexie felt faint, "Don't fight him, Bart. Please. I promise, I'll do anything, give you anything...."

"Anythin'?" he smirked.

"I'll get the money," she asserted. "Just give me another day."

"Noon," he stated. "Otherwise, after I take care of him, I might have t' take you up on your promise."

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

Michaela watched her husband carefully as they rode along, "How are you feeling? Has the jostling of the wagon upset your stomach?"

"No," he lied. "I feel fine."

She opened her medical bag and pulled out a bottle, "Here. Take a sip of this."

He obliged.

"Better?" she sensed.

"Uh-huh," he admitted.

She smiled and linked her arm through his.

"Maybe I can get us a turkey while we're out here," he considered.

"Why didn't you get one yesterday?" she was curious.

"It's a long story," he chuckled.

"Sully," she paused. "I've been thinking about the Clinic."

"What about it?" he wondered.

"What to do with it after the hospital opens," she clarified.

"What made ya think about that?" he posed the question.

She hedged, "Treating you in the Clinic last night.... it just...."

"You wanna keep it?" he sensed.

"Yes," she admitted. "There is a lot of sentimentality attached to it."

"Then keep it," he advised.

"But for what purpose should I use it?" she hedged.

"We'll think of somethin'," he ran his hand up and down her back.

She sighed.

"You okay?" his brow wrinkled.

"Yes," she shifted uncomfortably in the seat beside him.

"Baby botherin' ya?" he anticipated.

She rubbed her abdomen, "No."

"What is it then?" he persisted.

"There," she pointed. "There's where we stopped the wagon last night."

He reined in the horse, "You wanna rest first?"

"Perhaps just a few minutes," she admitted as he helped her down.

"Why don't I go t' the creek?" he suggested. "I'll bring you some water samples."

She acknowledged, "Yes, that's a good idea."

He kissed her temple, then left her.

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

Hank sighed and tossed a pebble into the water, "Nothin'. No sign of anythin' leakin' int' the creek."

"Maybe it was a one-time thing," Matthew reasoned.

"What?" Hank was puzzled.

"What if someone dumped somethin' in the creek just once?" Matthew pointed out.

Hank suddenly tensed, "You hear somethin'?"

"No," he glanced around.

"There," Hank nodded as he drew his gun.

"It's probably an animal," Matthew figured. "What're you so jumpy about?"

Hank panicked as he heard the sound of someone approaching.

"Wait!" Matthew recognized. "It's Sully."

The identification came too late. Instinctively, Hank aimed and fired.

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

Michaela heard the sound of a gun firing, "Sully!"

Swiftly, she rose to her feet, grabbed her medical bag and headed toward the sound.

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

"Sully!" Matthew called.

"I.... I didn't know it was him," Hank secured his gun in his holster.

Matthew ran toward the area where Sully had fallen to the ground and knelt beside him.

Sully's eyes were shut, and he was moaning.

"There's blood on his arm," Matthew drew a kerchief from his pocket to apply pressure.

Hank swallowed hard, "We best get him back t' town. What the hell was he doin' out here anyway?

"Matthew!" Michaela spotted her son.

"Ma!" he acknowledged. "Come quick. Sully's been shot."

"Oh no!" she reached them.

She lifted the bloody kerchief and assessed his condition.

"Thank God," her breathing calmed. "The bullet merely grazed his arm."

Hank walked away from them.

Assured that his father was all right, Matthew headed toward Hank, "You wanna tell me what's goin' on?"

"Nothin'," he folded his arms uncomfortably.

"You could've killed Sully back there, Hank," Matthew gestured. "There IS somethin' goin' on."

"Ain't your business," Hank dismissed. "Now, go help your Ma."

Matthew shook his head and returned to Michaela's side.

Sully was able to sit up to remove his jacket and shirt.

"How ya feel?" Matthew supported him.

"I been better," Sully made light of it.

"What are you two doin' out here?" the young man questioned.

"Sully insisted on searching for the origin of the tainted water," Michaela explained as she disinfected the wound.

"That's why Hank an' me came, too," he returned. "We didn't see anythin'."

"Did Hank fire the gun?" Michaela presumed.

"Yea," Matthew glanced toward the sheriff. "He's real nervous about somethin' but won't say what it is."

Michaela began to stitch her husband's arm, "This could have been a lot more serious."

"Hank knows that," Matthew nodded. "I'll help ya get Sully back t' town."

"No," Sully rejected. "I wanna find out what's wrong with the water. It could make a lot o' people sick."

"I'll finish with your arm and take some samples," Michaela pledged.

"I'll help," Matthew offered.

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

At the Clinic, Colleen was overwhelmed by townsfolk showing up with the same symptoms Sully had experienced. She sent word to Andrew at the Chateau that urgent help was needed.

When he arrived, he rushed to his wife, "Colleen, what's happened?"

"They've been drinking the water from Monument Creek," she administered medicine to another patient.

He rolled up his sleeves, "Someone should post signs to warn people."

"Brian is printing them up now," she stated. "But there aren't enough beds here to handle the sick."

"Where's Michaela?" he was curious.

"She and Sully went out to find the source of the tainted water," Colleen explained.

"He went, too?" he was surprised. "I thought he was ill."

At that moment, Jake arrived at the Clinic, "I just talked t' Brian. We're gonna get those signs posted around town and along the creek. You need anythin' else?"

"Go warn the school," Colleen advised. "And we need more room for the sick."

"What about the church?" the notion occurred to Andrew.

Colleen's eyes lit up, "That's a good idea."

"I'll take care of it," Jake headed out the door.

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

Michaela looked up from the tests she had been running on the water samples, "It contains traces of copper, arsenic, lead."

"Webster's Smeltin' Company," Sully suddenly thought. "It's only a few miles upstream."

"But they got a tailings pond," Matthew knew.

"It could be leakin' int' the creek," Sully reasoned.

Hank looked at his pocket watch, "I gotta go."

"Aren't ya gonna go check on the tailings pond?" Sully was puzzled.

"Later," Hank shook his head as he mounted his horse and left.

"I'll help get Sully back t' town, then go out t' Webster's," Matthew told them.

"No," Sully eyed his son seriously. "I'll be okay. Go now, before any more folks get sick."

Matthew turned to his mother, who nodded in the affirmative.

"All right," he untied his horse from a tree. "I'll meet ya in town later."

When he had left them, Michaela spoke, "Now, Mr. Sully, I want you back in bed."

"Okay," he stood up.

She helped to support him as they walked toward the wagon.

"Another adventure in the woods," she mused.

He kissed her temple, "Not as much fun as some."

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

Jake entered the Clinic out of breath, "We shut the school an' sent the kids home with flyers about the creek. An' Loren's roundin' up all the cots an' blankets he's got at the Mercantile. We'll get 'em over t' the church."

"Good," Colleen wiped her brow.

"Colleen?" Michaela entered the Clinic. "What's going on here?"

"They're sick from the creek water," the young woman informed her. "Did you find the source of the problem?"

"We think so," Michaela replied. "Matthew went to check."

Katie arrived on the scene and spotted her father, "Poppy! What happened t' your arm?"

"Just a scratch, Kates," he kissed the top of her head. "How about you an' me go outside, an' let the doctors do their work?"

"Okay," she agreed.

Sully turned to his wife, "I know ya got a lot t' do, but...."

"I'll be fine," she assured.

Sully and Katie went to the Cafe as the only customers.

Grace approached them, "You feelin' better?"

"Yea," Sully answered.

"What can I get ya?" Grace offered.

"Cup o' soup for me," Sully said.

"I'd like some, too, please," Katie requested.

"Be right back," Grace smiled.

"Poppy, they told us at school that people are gettin' sick, just like you," Katie detailed. "An' we don't have t' go back t' school until after Thanksgivin'."

"It's from the water at Monument Creek," he explained.

"Are the sick people gonna be okay?" she worried.

"I think so," he patted her hand. "Your Ma, Colleen an' Andrew will do all they can."

"Mama looks real tired," she noted.

"Soon as they get things under control, we'll take her home," Sully counseled.

Grace returned, "Here's your soup."

"Thanks," Sully smiled.

As they began to eat, Grace looked around, "That water's got folks stayin' home."

"Michaela says there's copper an' other chemicals in the water," Sully informed her. "Matthew went t' Webster t' talk t' him."

"Why don't Hank go?" Grace was curious.

"He said he had t' go somewhere else," Sully remarked.

"Prob'ly out at Lexie's ranch," she said. "I think he's made up with her."

"The soup's real good, Miss Grace," Katie wiped her mouth.

"Thanks," the Cafe owner grinned. "I'll go tell Robert E about Webster's Company. He's done some work for them. Maybe he could ride out there and check on things."

When Grace departed, Katie looked up at her father, "Just you an' me, huh?"

Sully smiled, "Yep. You got anythin' you'd like t' do?"

She pondered, "We could go over t' the meadow."

"Sounds good," he winked. "I'll carry your books."

"Poppy," she smiled. "That's what boys do when they're sweet on a girl."

"I been sweet on ya since the moment I saw ya," Sully retorted.

Katie giggled and took her father's hand.

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

Jake entered the Gold Nugget and spotted Hank gulping down a glass of liquor.

"Where ya been?" the mayor questioned. "We've been havin' a crisis here with that tainted water."

Hank poured another glass, "Matthew's takin' care o' things."

"Matthew ain't the sheriff anymore," Jake reminded.

Hank's hands trembled.

"What's wrong with you?" Jake's brow wrinkled.

"That gunfighter.... Bart Mason," he lowered his voice.

"What about him?" Jake queried.

"He challenged me," Hank swallowed hard.

"You?" Jake was surprised. "Why?"

"It has t' do with Lexie," Hank was vague. "I gotta meet him in the meadow at noon."

Jake looked at his watch, "Ya got an hour."

Bypassing the glass, Hank took a swig directly from the bottle, "He'll kill me."

"Not if ya have help," he reasoned.

"Ain't no one can help," Hank shook his head. "Remember Deadwood?"

"Then don't show up," Jake advised.

"I have to," Hank wiped his upper lip with his sleeve. "Unless...."

"Unless what?" Jake tilted his head.

"How much money you got?" he inquired.

"What?" Jake was taken aback.

"Money," Hank grabbed the lapels of his jacket. "How much can ya get a hold of?"

"I don't know," Jake stepped free. "Maybe a couple hundred."

"Maybe Loren could help," he considered.

"I doubt if he has much more than that," Jake calculated. "Is that why Mason challenged ya? For money?"

"I need a thousand dollars," Hank folded his arms.

"A thousand!" Jake's eyes widened. "Only one with that kind o' money is Preston."

"No, it ain't," the idea occurred to him. "Michaela's rich."

"You gonna ask her for money?" Jake was amazed.

Without another word, Hank brushed past him and headed for the Clinic. Entering the examining room, he searched for Michaela. He spotted her in the corner, ministering to a patient.

"Michaela," he took her by the elbow. "I need t' talk t' ya."

"Hank, I'm in the middle of...." she observed his panicked expression. "What's wrong?"

Pulling her aside, he spoke low, "I need money."

"Money?" she could not believe he would interrupt her for that. "Why?"

"I can't say," his eyes implored. "But ya gotta believe me. It's important."

"Hank, if this is some gambling debut, I...." she was interrupted.

"It ain't," he interjected.

She assessed his sincerity, "How much do you need?"

"A thousand dollars," his voice was urgent.

"A thousand dollars?" she was taken aback.

"Please, Michaela," he urged. "I know ya got that much."

"I suppose I could have it for you by tomorrow," she pledged.

"I need it now," his volume grew louder.

"Ma?" Colleen approached her. "Is everything okay?"

"Yes," Michaela assured. "Fine."

Colleen turned to help another patient.

"Hank, I'd like to help you, but...." Michaela stopped. "Wait. I have money to pay for the delivery of bricks for the hospital tomorrow. It's in Preston's safe."

"I swear I'll pay ya back, Michaela," he raised his hand.

Knowing that she had done all she could for the moment at the Clinic, she nodded.

"Colleen," Michaela removed her apron. "I need to go to the bank, but I'll return shortly."

"Okay, Ma," she acknowledged.

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

Lexie entered the Gold Nugget. She spotted Jake at the bar and approached him.

"Have you seen Hank?" she inquired.

"Went t' the Clinic," he pointed.

"Is he sick?" her brow wrinkled.

"He's scared t' death," Jake was frank. "Says he's gotta get a thousand dollars."

"Oh, no," her expression changed.

"What's this all about, Lexie?" Jake challenged. "An' what's it got t' do with that gunfighter? He challenged Hank."

"What?" she turned pale.

"At noon in the meadow," he stated.

"I've got to stop this," she departed quickly.

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

"Well, well, Michaela," Preston grinned. "Have you given further consideration to those bonds?"

"No, I've come for my money," she sounded urgent.

"Hank," the banker noticed his presence. "I see no reason for the sheriff to be here. The cash is perfectly...."

"Shut up, an' get the money," Hank was impatient.

"I thought you didn't need it until tomorrow," Preston's brow wrinkled.

"I've changed my mind," Michaela stated. "I need it now."

"Very well," Preston stepped to his safe.

In quick order, he handed her an envelope. Michaela turned to Hank, who was nervously eying the clock.

"Here," she handed the money to him.

"Michaela...." he felt a lump in his throat. "Thank you. I swear I'll pay ya back."

"I believe you," she nodded.

Hank left the bank in a rush.

"Michaela, what are you doing?" Preston stood in disbelief.

"Good day, Mr. Lodge," he did not answer his question.

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

"Poppy, can I ask ya somethin'?" Katie sat by her father in the meadow near the Church.

"Sure," he waited.

"Right after you an' Joey left t' go huntin', Mama said somethin' about believin' in miracles," she mentioned. "Do you know why?"

"I think so," he smiled.

"Can ya tell me?" the little girl inquired.

He touched her nose, "You'll find out on Thanksgivin'."

"Thanksgivin'?" she frowned.

"Be patient," he stroked her golden curls. "It'll be worth the wait."

She smiled, "You look better than ya did this mornin'."

"I'm feelin' better, too," he acknowledged. "When your Ma takes care of me, I mend real fast."

"There's Mr. Lawson," she noticed his walking across the meadow. "Wonder who that man is he's goin' to."

"I don't recognize him," Sully watched.

From afar, they observed Hank pull an envelope from his vest pocket. He offered it to the stranger, but the man argued with him, then drew a gun.

"Katie!" Sully grabbed his daughter and shielded her body.

"What's wrong, Poppy?" she felt a rush of fear.

"Shh," he whispered.

Suddenly they heard the sound of a gun firing. Then another.

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

"Poppy!" Katie grew more frightened.

Sully enfolded her in his arms and kissed her temple, "I want ya t' go over by the cemetery an' wait until I come for ya."

"But...." she began to object.

"Now," his tone was serious.

Katie obeyed but peeked out from behind the tree to watch her father rush toward Hank. Both the sheriff and the stranger were lying on the ground. Sully knelt down to assess Hank's condition.

"Hank!" Lexie rushed forward, a revolver in her hand.

"He's still breathin'," Sully determined. "Go t' the Clinic an' get Michaela."

The gun fell from Lexie's hand, and she hastened toward town. As Sully applied pressure to the wound to Hank's chest, he looked at the man lying beside him. His chest was not moving.

"Sully!" Michaela arrived.

Lexie and Colleen were right behind her.

"What happened?" Michaela questioned.

"Hank an' this man have been shot," he answered. "I think the other's dead."

"He is," Colleen had checked his vital signs.

Lexie swallowed hard, "What about Hank?"

"He's alive," Michaela determined. "But we need to get him to the Clinic. The bullet wound is perilously close to his heart."

As Andrew and other townsfolk began to arrive, Sully noticed the envelope of money on the ground.

"This must be what they was arguin' about," he picked it up.

"That's mine," Michaela took it.

"Yours?" Sully was puzzled. "How'd it get here?"

"I'll explain later," she stood up. "Where's Katie?"

"Over at the cemetery," Sully pointed.

As Hank and the stranger were carried away, Michaela clasped her husband's hand, "Why don't you take Katie home? I know I'm going to be at the Clinic for the rest of the day."

"You sure you feel up to it?" he was concerned.

"Yes," she assured. "But I know you need to rest."

After a kiss, Michaela turned and headed for the Clinic.

Jake approached Sully, "You see what happened?"

"Yea," he nodded as he gestured for Katie to join him.

The little girl ran to her father, who lifted her into his embrace.

"Is Mr. Lawson okay?" she inquired.

"Your Ma's gonna take care of him," Sully told her.

"I reckon Hank an' Mason shot each other," Jake reasoned.

"You know him?" Sully was surprised.

"He challenged Hank t' a gunfight," Jake explained. "I guess Mason ain't as good as his reputation."

"Maybe," Sully noticed the gun that Lexie had dropped.

Jake left them.

"Let's go home, Kates," he said, feeling more fatigue than he had let on.

"Aren't we gonna wait for Mama?" the little girl wondered.

"She's gotta help Mr. Lawson," he explained. "You go on ahead t' the wagon. I'll be right there."

When she departed, Sully knelt down and lifted the gun Lexie had been holding. Inspecting it, he determined that it was recently fired. He carried it across the meadow to the Clinic, where Lexie waited on the porch.

Drawing her aside, Sully handed her the gun, "I found this in the meadow."

She swallowed hard, "You saw what happened."

"Yea," Sully nodded slightly. "You might wanna talk t' Matthew about it."

"Comin', Poppy?" Katie called down from the buckboard.

"Yep," he turned and climbed aboard.

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

"Can you see the bullet?" Colleen asked her mother.

"Not yet," Michaela shook her head. "There's a possibility we might have to leave it in Hank. It's so close to his heart."

"I don't know, Michaela," Andrew doubted. "I think that would be even riskier."

Colleen dabbed the perspiration on her mother's brow with a cloth.

"There," Michaela suddenly saw the bullet. "There it is."

"Can you get to it?" Colleen questioned.

Michaela probed, "I think.... yes, there."

She meticulously removed, then held up the bullet, "No more bleeders. Colleen, could you close for me?"

Sure," she traded places with her mother.

Michaela rubbed her lower back.

"Are you all right?" Andrew observed her.

"Yes," Michaela sighed.

"Here," Andrew pulled a chair closer. "Sit down."

Michaela obliged. When Colleen and Andrew finished their work on Hank, they turned to her. Michaela had fallen asleep in the chair.

"Andrew," Colleen requested. "Things have settled down here, and the Reverend is tending to the sick at the church. Could you take Ma home?"

"Of course," he nodded. He touched his mother-in-law's arm, "Michaela."

"Mmm?" she awoke. "I'm sorry. Is Hank...."

"Colleen finished," Andrew informed her. "And I'm going to take you home."

She stood up, "No, really, I should stay here with Hank until he's stable."

"You have two very qualified physicians to take care of things here," Andrew reminded. "You're obviously in need of rest. You were up most of the night with Sully."

Michaela stepped toward Hank and placed her stethoscope on his chest.

She nodded, "All right. But please, send someone for me if there's any change."

When she opened the door, she was met by an anxious Lexie, along with Jake, Loren and many of Hank's girls.

Michaela announced, "He survived the surgery, but he's still unconscious. His condition is very serious."

"Could I see him?" Lexie requested.

"Soon," Michaela told her.

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

"Now, you kids have gotta be quiet," Bridget cautioned. "Your Pa's upstairs sleepin'. Heaven knows, the poor man needs his rest."

"I'll help keep the kids quiet, Miss Bridget," Katie volunteered.

"You're a wonder if ya can, child," the nanny smiled. "Where might your brother be?"

"Joey's outside feedin' Iggy the table scraps," she informed her.

At that moment, a crash was heard in the living room.

"The twins!" Bridget and Katie spoke in unison.

Rushing in, they saw that Noah had managed to climb up to the dining room table. By tugging at a doily, the little boy had caused Bridget's sewing box to tumble to the floor.

"Jesus, Mary an' Joseph," the nanny shook her head. "I don't have enough eyes t' watch this brood."

"I'll help," Katie began to pick up the pieces.

"Ma," Noah bashfully put his finger in his mouth.

Bridget lifted the toddler, "I thought your brother was a handful, but you'll put him t' shame, ya will."

"Bwa," he hugged her.

"Now, don't be tryin' t' get on my good side," she feigned anger.

Annie tugged on her skirt, "Up."

"You'd be wantin' t' do what your brother does, would ya?" she sat down and lifted the little girl, as well.

"It's all picked up," Katie set the box on the table again.

The front door opened, and Josef walked in, "What we doin'?"

"We're tryin' t' decide who's gonna give me apoplexy first," Bridget noted, her cheeks flushed.

"I give it t' ya, Miss Bwidget," Josef offered. "Where is it?"

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

"This isn't the way back to town," Henriette noticed.

"I wanna stop by the Indian school," Brian commented. "I'd like ya t' meet Cloud Dancin', an' I wanna tell him about the water."

"He is a chief?" she wondered.

"No, he's a medicine man," Brian detailed. "He taught Ma all about Cheyenne medicine. Ma built this school, an' Cloud Dancin' runs it with Miss Dorothy's help."

She spotted the Army tents ahead, "And what do they do?"

"Mostly try t' intimidate the Indians," Brian slowed his horse.

"Hey," Brian spoke to Private McIntosh. "We're here t' visit."

"Okay," he nodded.

Brian cautioned the soldier, "They're havin' trouble in town with tainted water. Tell the troops not t' drink any water from Monument Creek."

"I'll pass that along to Sergeant Dirksen," the private acknowledged.

"See ya," Brian led Henriette onward.

"That's all?" she was surprised. "They didn't try to stop us?"

"No," Brian returned. "Ma's let it be known that the Indians are on her private property."

"She's quite a woman your mother," she spoke in admiration.

"Cloud Dancing!" Brian saw him.

"Brian," the medicine man grinned. "Ga'ôhtama."

"This is Henriette," Brian helped her from the horse. "She's a friend."

"It is nice to meet a friend of Brian's," he greeted. "What brings you here?"

"We came t' warn ya about the water in Monument Creek," Brian described. "It made Pa real sick. Now, there's a lot o' townsfolk gettin' ill, too."

"Thank you for this warning," he acknowledged. "Do they know the source?"

"They think it's a company upstream," Brian informed him. "Matthew rode out t' talk t' them."

"I see," he said.

"Think we could show Henriette around?" the young man requested.

Cloud Dancing nodded, "I am about to talk to the young ones about the Corn Dance."

"Could we listen?" Brian requested.

"Yes," the medicine man gestured.

Brian and Henriette sat near the children, who had gathered in a circle to hear Cloud Dancing recite the story:

"There was a time when some of the Cheyenne kept the sacred ear of corn. It came from the original seed, obtained by two young men who went into the spring and obtained it from the old woman within the hill. This ear would make the corn grow plentifully. When my people stopped growing corn, this ear was kept as a sacred object.

The Corn Dance was done by the young girls and women, who moved about in a circle. Men sang and shook a gourd rattle which they called 'ma oh.' One woman carried the sacred ear on a stick."

Cloud Dancing began to demonstrate the movements of the dance, and the children imitated his steps. Finally, he dismissed them for their next lesson with some of the students from the college.

"Henriette is part Indian," Brian informed the medicine man.

"What tribe?" he queried.

She specified, "Shoshone."

"The Shoshonis and Cheyenne were enemies," Cloud Dancing recalled. "Your people scouted for the army. I remember the battle at Big Horn.... the one before Custer."

"I have heard the story of the Cheyenne Yellow Haired Woman," Henriette related.

"Yes," Cloud Dancing replied. "She was the daughter of Stands in The Timber."

Brian was interested, "What happened at the battle?"

Henriette detailed, "It was over ten years ago, near the Big Horn Mountains. Over sixty Shoshonis were killed in the fighting. It lasted four days."

Cloud Dancing interjected, "Earlier, some Shoshonis had come to a small Cheyenne camp and taken all of the horses back to their people. They then set out to attack the small camp of Cheyenne. They did not know that the camp had moved and joined up with a large group. When the Shoshonis returned to attack, some of the Cheyenne delayed them with talk while braves went out to surround the Shoshonis. The Shoshonis became suspicious and ran into the timbers, then a ravine. During the fighting which ensued, Yellow Haired Woman killed two Shoshone."

Henriette added, "My grandmother told me that one of them was a young man who was being questioned. Yellow Haired Woman stepped forward and offered to question him. But instead she stabbed the young man in the armpit and took half of his scalp. In the end, only one Shoshone escaped alive."

There was tense silence.

Cloud Dancing grinned, "There is no war here. Come, I will show you the school."

"I'd like that," Henriette smiled.

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

When Michaela entered her bedroom, she could hardly keep her eyes open. Sully did not waken as she undressed. Too tired to put on her gown, she climbed into bed wearing her undergarments.

Sully felt the movement of the mattress, "Hank okay?"

"I removed the bullet," she snuggled closer. "But it's very serious."

"What time is it?" Sully yawned.

"After eight," she told him.

"Mornin' or night?" he was disoriented.

"Night," she sighed. "The children have been fed, I read King Arthur to them, and Bridget is settling them into bed."

"Did Matthew come back?" Sully worried.

"Not yet," she answered.

Sully kissed her temple, then sat up. His stomach was feeling better, but he was still weak.

"Where are you going?" she touched his arm.

"I'm gonna go find Matthew," he stated.

"Do you think something might have happened to him?" she became more alert.

"No," he assured. "He's prob'ly in town. I just wanna see what he found out."

She began to rise.

"No, Michaela," he gently guided her back. "I'll let ya know if anythin's wrong. But please, ya gotta rest."

"But what if something happened to Matthew?" her voice quivered slightly.

Sully kissed her, "Don't worry."

She leaned back into her pillow, "Promise you'll come for me if anything's wrong."

"I promise," he caressed her abdomen. "You take care of yourself an' the baby."

"I will," she pledged.

When he left the room, he stopped in each bedroom to kiss his children good night.

"Papa," Josef wanted to talk. "I wanna be a knight."

"You'd be a good one, Joe," Sully smiled.

"I feel bad for King Artor," the little boy toyed with the edge of his blanket. "He losed his king'om."

"But he stood for good things," Sully stroked his hair. "An' that survived."

"I guess," the little boy yawned.

"'Night, Sir Josef," Sully kissed his forehead.

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

Lexie sat by Hank's bedside, holding his hand.

Leaning forward, she kissed his temple, "You hang on, Hank Lawson."

There was no reaction.

"Hank," she swallowed hard. "I love you. Please.... know that."

Colleen tapped lightly on the door frame and entered the room, "I came to check on him."

Lexie silently stood back to allow her freer access. Colleen monitored his vital signs.

"When will he wake up?" Lexie wondered.

"That's difficult to say," Colleen informed her. "His body sustained a severe shock. It needs time to heal."

"But he will heal," she needed the reassurance.

"Hank has a strong will to live," Colleen noted. "And it will be even stronger when he hears your words."

"How are the people who drank the water?" Lexie asked.

"Most have turned the corner," she stated. "I'm concerned about the older folks, though."

"Can I do anything?" Lexie offered.

Colleen touched her shoulder, "Keep talking to Hank."

"Would you do something for me?" Lexie paused.

"If I can," Colleen consented.

"Would you tell me when your brother returns?" Lexie requested.

"I'm worried about Matthew," Colleen confessed. "He should have been home by now."

Suddenly, she became aware of a presence at the door.

It was Emma, "He should never have gone out there by himself."

Colleen went to her, "Let's go talk to Jake."

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

When Sully arrived at the Clinic, concern over Matthew's whereabouts had already heightened. However, it was dark, and they decided to head out to search for him in the morning.

Emma looked at Sully, a worried expression on her face.

"Others can wait; I'm goin' now," Sully asserted.

"Me, too," Brian interjected.

"We'd never find him in the dark," Jake cautioned. "It's better to wait 'til mornin'."

"Come on, Brian," Sully mounted his horse.

The two departed.

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

Sully and Brian arrived at Webster's. There was a lone light on in the company's headquarters, more of a shack. Sully knocked on the door, but no one responded. Brian went to the closest window and saw a man sitting at a desk, smoking a cigar and pouring over some papers. Brian tapped on the window pane.

The man looked up and went to the door, "What d' you two want?"

He said, "My name's Sully. This here's my son. We're lookin' for my oldest boy."

"Nobody's here but me," the man shrugged.

"My son came out this way earlier t'day," Sully explained. "He was checkin' on your tailings pond."

"What about it?" his brow wrinkled.

"We think it's leakin' int' Monument Creek," Sully divulged. "There's a lot o' sick folks in town."

"I can't help ya," the man seemed unconcerned.

"You mind if we look around?" Brian queried.

"Look," he became terse. "There's nothin' wrong with the tailings pond, an' it's dark out. What d' ya expect t' see?"

"We won't know 'til we see it," Sully was becoming more suspicious.

"Suit yourself," he shook his head. "I'll take ya out there."

The man grabbed lamps for them to carry.

When they stepped outside, the man spotted Wolf, "That belong t' you?"

"Yea," Sully said.

"Keep him away from me," he led them onward.

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

Michaela began to dream. She was in medieval England, in a castle. Surrounded by rich tapestry and furniture, she was being waited on by servants.

"You must be quite excited about your wedding to Sir David, my lady," one of the maidens smiled.

"Is there anything else we can get for you, Ma'am?" an older lady-in-waiting asked.

"No, thank you," she replied.

"One of your uncle's knights is here to see you," the woman announced.

"Who?" Michaela was curious.

"Sir Byron," she replied.

"Ask him to come in," Michaela consented, having heard the name before.

The ladies departed, and the knight entered the room. Michaela gazed at him, her heart skipping a beat at his magnificent physique.

"Lady Michaela," he bowed his head and knelt before her.

"Rise, Sir Byron," she commanded. "Why have you come here?"

"To save your life," he seemed to peer into her soul with his blue eyes. "The kingdom is under attack. The King has commanded that I protect you."

"I can protect myself," she asserted.

"I was told you are a spirited woman," he smiled.

"Is my uncle all right?" she was concerned.

"Yes, my lady, and he wants the peace of mind of knowing you are safe," Sir Byron noted. He extended his hand to her, "Come, I am to take you to....."

Before he could finish his sentence, the door burst open. Knights clad in dark armor stormed into the room. While four of them held back Sir Byron, the others abducted Michaela. The dark knights bound Byron's hands and legs, then left him. He could hear Michaela's screams as they dragged her from the room.

"I'll find you!" he called as her voice grew more distant.

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

Wolf led Sully, Brian and the worker to the edge of Monument Creek. Then the animal began to whimper.

Sully knelt to inspect the area, "Look. The tailings pond is leakin' int' the creek here."

"So, it is," the man leaned over and spotted the seepage. "I'll get a crew on that in the mornin'."

Sully's volume rose, "Not in the mornin'. Ya gotta do it now!"

"Calm down," he advised. "I don't have anyone here tonight to help."

"Have you been here all day?" Brian queried.

"Yea," the man returned. "Why?"

"An' you haven't seen my son?" Sully persisted.

"No," he shrugged.

Sully grabbed the lapels of the man's jacket, "You need t' get your crew, an' get 'em now. This is endangerin' people's health. An' get Webster here."

"Mr. Webster's in Denver," the man broke free. "I'll send for a crew. I can probably have 'em workin' by sun up. Can't see t' work before then."

"He's right, Pa," Brian reasoned. "Let's go find Matthew."

Sully agreed, "All right."

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

Michaela's dream continued. She found herself a prisoner of a villainous lord named Mellypreston.

Mellypreston sneered, "Well, Lady Michaela. I now have everything.... or soon will, when we are married."

Michaela glared at him, "I will never marry you."

"There is no one to prevent it, my lady," he sneered. "Your father and his poor excuse for an army are in retreat."

"There is one who will find me," she hoped more than she knew.

"I presume you speak of Sir Byron of Sully," Mellypreston scoffed. "My men put him in a pool of quicksand."

"Quicksand!" she was horrified.

"I could arrange for his rescue.... once you agree to be my bride," he taunted.

"Very well," she saw no other choice. "I'll marry you."

"Send for the priest, at once," he commanded one of his subordinates. "And send one of my men to pull Sir Byron from the quicksand."

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

Sully splashed some water from his canteen onto his face, hoping to clear his head. His stomach was queasy, and his head throbbed. But he had to press on. Matthew's life could depend on it.

"You okay, Pa?" Brian noticed.

"Yea," he wiped the moisture with his sleeve.

Suddenly, Wolf began to whimper.

"What is it, boy?" Sully focused.

The animal took off into a wooded area off of the road. Sully and Brian swiftly followed.

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

As Michaela dreamed on, the priest was concluding the wedding ceremony. Suddenly, one of Mellypreston's knights burst into the room.

"Sir," he spoke up.

"Don't interrupt!" Mellypreston frowned.

He persisted, "It's Sir Byron."

"What about him?" Michaela became anxious.

"He's escaped," the knight informed them. "He's been seen in the village."

Michaela's heart leapt. At that very moment, Sir Sully appeared at the doorway, sword drawn.

The dark knights surrounded him.

Michaela grabbed Mellypreston's dagger and pointed it toward her heart, "Don't harm him! If you do, I'll kill myself."

Mellypreston raised his hand, "Release Sir Byron at once."

They complied.

Byron announced, "Your reign of terror is over Mellypreston. The king's army is coming. They arrive at dawn."

Michaela demanded, "I want you to guarantee safe passage to Sir Byron and me in the morning."

Not wishing to harm the woman of his desire, Mellypreston nodded, "It shall be as you wish, my lady."

"Now, leave us," Michaela demanded.

Mellypreston and his dark knights withdrew. When they had departed, Byron slammed and barred the doors.

When he turned to face Michaela, she saw blood oozing through his armor, "You're hurt."

"One of Mellypreston's archers hit me through a chink in my armor," he stumbled toward the bed.

Michaela guided him back and began to remove the protective metal, "How were you able to make it here on your own?"

"It wasn't easy," he smiled. "But I promised your father I would take care of you until he could arrive."

Michaela saw the point of entry of the arrow, "The armor seems to have deflected it, but I don't see the arrow tip."

"I pulled it out," Byron felt weak. "Please.... hold my hand."

She clasped it tightly, "Hold on."

"I.... I'm trying," his voice was faint.

"I won't let you die," she pledged as she raised his hand to her heart.

When Byron fainted, Michaela tore off a portion of her undergarment to apply pressure to the wound in his upper arm. Soon, the bleeding stopped.

"Sleep," she ran her fingers through his long hair. "It is I who will watch over you tonight."

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

"Matthew!" Brian called frantically. "Can ya hear me?"

Sully stopped, suddenly aware of the presence of his son near a tree.

"Matthew!" Brian felt a rush of fear.

Sully felt his oldest son's chest, "He's breathin'."

Lightly tapping his brother's cheek, Brian hoped, "Matthew, can ya hear me?"

"Wha...." Matthew began to become more alert. "Brian? Sully?"

"What happened to ya?" Brian was puzzled.

"I.... I was robbed," Matthew felt for his gun.

The holster was empty.

Matthew rubbed his head, "They hit me, then took off." Suddenly he sat up. "I didn't get t' talk t' Webster."

"We found the leak," Sully assured him. "They're gonna fix it."

"Thank goodness," Matthew was relieved.

"Can ya stand?" Sully asked.

"I think so," he responded.

"It'll be mornin' soon," Sully noted. "Emma an' your Ma will be relieved t' have ya home."

"I'll be relieved t' be there, too," he smiled.

"Ya missed all the excitement in town," Brian informed him as they headed for the horses. "Besides more people gettin' sick from the water, Hank was shot in a gunfight."

"What?" Matthew was surprised. "Is he okay?"

"Ma removed the bullet," Brian detailed. "But he killed the other man."

"Brian can tell ya all about it on the ride home," Sully patted his back. "You boys go on ahead. I'm gonna go back t' make sure they fix that leak."

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

In Michaela's dream, Sir Byron awoke in her arms.

He suddenly sat up, embarrassed, "I'm sorry, my lady. A gentleman should never...."

She touched his lips with her fingertips to silence him, "Shh. You're still a gentleman. But you've been hurt, and I had to stop the bleeding."

"If I may be so bold to speak...." he gazed at her with an alluring intensity. "You are the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

She smiled demurely, "Thank you, sir."

"Byron," he suggested. "Please, when we're alone, call me Byron."

"Byron," she liltingly said his name.

He felt his heart beat faster, "It's nearly sunup. Your father will be here soon. Then you'll return to Camelot to marry Sir David."

"No," she shook her head and caressed his cheek. "I must marry the man whom I love."

"Me?" he awkwardly pointed to himself.

"If you'll have me," she smiled.

Slowly, they drew closer. Their lips met in a sweet kiss.

"I will love you all my days," he placed his hand lightly on her neck.

Again, they kissed. This time, as their pulses raced, the contact deepened.

"My lady," Byron pulled back. "If we.... continue this.... I can't answer for my conduct."

"My gentle knight," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

He tenderly touched the edge of her lips, "I'd die for that smile."

"I much prefer you live for it," she responded.

The distant sound of shouting could be heard outside. It was coming closer.

Byron rose from the bed and hurried to the window, "It's your uncle's army. They're attacking. Mellypreston's men are holding them off."

"We must help King Arthur," Michaela tensed.

"I shall help him," he clasped her hand. "You must stay here and bar the door after I leave."

"But your wound," she pointed out. "You can't go out there alone."

"I shall do better by myself," he insisted.

"I'm a good archer," she claimed. "I'll fend them off."

"You are also the most stubborn, willful...." he stopped when she stepped closer to kiss him.

"I thought you said that you will love me all your days," she reminded.

"I shall," he pledged as he drew the palm of her hand atop his heart.

"Mama," Katie lightly knocked on her mother's bedroom door.

Michaela awoke disoriented, "Come in."

"It's mornin'," the little girl climbed up on the bed. "Where's Poppy?"

She did not wish to alarm her daughter, "He's checking on things."

"Brian didn't come home last night," Katie noted.

"What we doin'?" Josef entered the bedroom.

"Don't worry," Michaela forced a smile. "Are the twins awake?"

"They're babblin'," Katie remarked.

"What's babblin'?" Josef tilted his head.

"It's baby talk," his sister defined.

"They seem to have a special language just for one another," Michaela reached for her robe.

"Ya didn't sleep in your nightgown?" Katie observed.

"I was so tired, I forgot to change," Michaela caressed her hair. "Let's go help Miss Bridget fix breakfast. All right?"

"Race ya," Josef challenged his sister.

As they bolted out the door, Michaela called, "Not in the house, you two."

As she walked into the twins' room, she could not shake her concern for Matthew. And where was Brian?

"Mama!" Noah spotted his mother first.

"Mama!" Annie soon chimed in.

"Good morning, my darlings," she kissed their cheeks.

"Up!" Noah demanded.

"Mama can't lift you, Sweetheart," she stroked his hair.

Bridget entered the room, "I'm sorry, Dr. Mike. I told the wee ones not t' waken ya."

"That's all right," Michaela smiled.

"Will ya be wantin' breakfast soon?" the nanny asked.

"I'm afraid not," she explained. "I'm going into town to see about Matthew. Sully went to look for him last night. And now I find that Brian didn't come home either."

"I'll prepare somethin' for ya t' eat on the way t' town," Bridget touched her arm. "Katie an' I will hitch the wagon for ya."

"How did you know I'd need the wagon?" Michaela was curious.

Bridget smiled, "I know."

"You know?" Michaela was uncertain.

The nanny nodded, "I'm not blind, lass. Not liftin' the little ones, ridin' the wagon, glowin' like a star. Ya got a baby growin' in ya, don't ya?"

Michaela's cheeks blushed, "We were going to tell everyone on Thanksgiving."

"I didn't think it was possible for ya, darlin'," she embraced her. "God has smiled upon ya."

"He has, Bridget," she smiled. "It's truly a miracle."

"Now," the nanny stated. "You don't worry about the leprechauns. Miss Katie an' me will take care of 'em. You go on ahead int' town."

"Thank you, Bridget," Michaela hugged her again. "You're a dear friend."

"An' you're makin' my job more difficult with another mouth t' feed," she wiped the tear in her eye. "Now off with ya."

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

Matthew and Brian pulled up at the Clinic. Matthew was soon met by Emma.

Dorothy and Henriette stepped from the Gazette.

"Brian!" Henriette hurried to him. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he smiled. "Just tired."

"How's Hank?" Matthew wondered.

"Colleen said he's still unconscious when I checked a little bit ago," Dorothy related. "Did ya find the source of the tainted water?"

"Yea," Brian returned. "Pa stayed t' help them work on fixin' it. Did Ma come int' the Clinic yet?"

"No," Dorothy replied.

Matthew smiled, "I think I better get cleaned up. A night in the woods ain't my idea of fun."

Brian stated, "I wanna write all this up for the Gazette."

"The story comes first for a journalist," Dorothy smiled.

"Little brother," Matthew touched Brian's arm. "Thanks."

"Any time," he grinned.

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

Michaela descended the stairs to board the wagon. Suddenly, feeling light headed, she sat down on the steps.

"Mama?" Katie wondered. "Why are ya sittin'?"

"Sweetheart," she swallowed hard. "Go get Miss Bridget. Quickly."

************
Chapter 11
************

Before Katie could react, she noticed an approaching rider, "It's Poppy. He's home."

"Sully," Michaela closed her eyes in relief.

He stopped his horse in front of the steps and jumped to her side, "Michaela? What's wrong?"

"Katie," Michaela urged. "Would you go inside and get me a glass of water, please?"

"Go ahead, Kates," Sully cupped his hand to his wife's cheek.

The child swiftly entered the house.

"Are you okay?" Sully studied Michaela's expression.

"Better," she nodded as her breathing calmed. "I was light-headed."

"Maybe I should get Colleen," he was anxious.

"No," she assured. "I didn't eat an adequate breakfast. That's all. I was coming to town to check on things. Did you find Matthew?"

"He's fine," Sully stroked her back. "Brian went with me."

"Where was Matthew?" she questioned.

"Along the road," he began to lift her. "He was robbed."

"Robbed!" she was horrified.

"He just got a bump on the head. Let's get you inside, an' I'll tell ya all about it."

"I can walk," she assured.

Katie opened the door and stepped out with the glass of water.

Bridget followed, "Dr. Mike, Katie said you're sick."

"I'm fine now, thank you," she accepted the water and sipped from the glass.

"Lass," Bridget touched her arm.

"Truly," she told her. "I'm all right."

"See what happens when ya don't eat?" the nanny scolded. "Now, come inside, an' have a proper breakfast."

"Where are Josef and the twins?" Michaela wondered.

"He's keepin' an eye on them in the livin' room," Bridget remarked.

"Or they're keepin' an eye on him," Sully retorted as he escorted his wife inside.

By the time Michaela sat at the kitchen table, the color had returned to her face.

"I'm gonna go get Colleen," Sully said.

Frightened for the safety of her unborn baby, Michaela did not object.

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

Colleen opened the Clinic door to find two well dressed men standing before her.

"Dr. Cassidy?" Colleen was surprised. "Dr. Bernard."

Dr. Bernard spoke up, "I heard about your problem here and took the morning train from Denver. Dr. Cassidy offered to come along."

"That's very nice of you," Colleen smiled. "But most folks have gone home."

"You found the source of the problem, then?" Dr. Cassidy reasoned.

"Yes," she nodded. "Webster's Company has a tailings pond that was leaking into the creek."

"Where is your mother?" Cassidy inquired.

"She's at home," Colleen divulged.

"Well, I suppose our services are not needed then," Cassidy stroked his chin. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go over to the Gold Nugget until the next train is due."

When he departed, Bernard turned to Colleen, "You look like you could use some rest, Doctor."

"I am tired," she confessed. "My husband and I have had very little sleep."

Bernard touched her arm, "I'll keep an eye on things for you. Do you have a spare bed to rest in?"

"In the anteroom," Colleen gestured. "Thank you, Dr. Bernard. I really appreciate it. You should know, we have a patient upstairs, Hank Lawson, who was severely injured by a gunshot yesterday."

"I'll keep watch over him," he smiled.

No sooner had she closed the door to the anteroom, than Sully burst into the Clinic.

"Dr. Bernard?" he was surprised.

"Mr. Sully," he acknowledged. "How's your wife?"

"That's why I came," Sully was out of breath. "She was feelin' lightheaded. I came t' fetch Colleen, but since you're here, would ya mind comin' out t' the homestead?"

"Let me get Dr. Cassidy to keep an eye on the Clinic first," he agreed.

"Dr. Cassidy?" Sully frowned.

"He came with me to offer our services when we heard of the outbreak here," Bernard detailed.

"Where is he?" Sully asked.

"Across the street," the doctor gestured.

"At the Gold Nugget?" Sully was surprised.

"Yes," he grabbed his hat and medical bag.

"Where's Colleen?" Sully wondered.

"Getting some much-needed sleep," he answered. "Let's go."

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

"Hank?" Lexie thought she felt his hand move.

"Mmm," he was groggy. "Wha... Where am I?"

"You're at the Clinic," she smiled. "And you're alive."

"Last thing I remember...." he paused. "I don't remember."

"Mason shot you," she squeezed his hand lightly.

"Where is he?" he wondered.

"He's.... dead," Lexie told him.

"How?" he questioned.

"He was shot," she explained.

"By who?" he struggled to understand.

She patted the top of his hand, "I'm going to fetch Colleen."

"Where's Michaela?" he questioned.

"She took the bullet out," Lexie informed him. "But she had to go home."

"All right," he released his grip. As she started for the door, he summoned her again. "Lexie, thanks for bein' here."

She smiled, "You're welcome."

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

Michaela settled back against her pillow. Josef climbed up in bed beside her.

"Want me t' read t' ya?" he volunteered.

"All right," she smiled.

"I tell ya 'bout King Artor," he opened the book.

As the little boy recounted the story of Camelot, Michaela drifted off to sleep.

She began to dream about her rescue by Sir Byron of Sully.

Michaela and Sir Byron had made it across a parapet to a tower of the castle.

"We should be safe here with the door barricaded," he gathered as many arrows as he could find. "From here, we shall see anyone who tries to approach."

"And we can shoot at our foes," she agreed.

He grinned, "Are you as good an archer as you say?"

"One of the finest," she bragged. "I was taught by King Arthur's best."

"I shall remember to not make you angry with me," he teased.

She cupped her hand to his cheek, "You could never make me angry."

He drew her into his embrace and kissed her.

When she pulled back, she mused, "It is as wonderful as I imagined."

"What is?" he tilted his head.

"Kissing you," she repeated the close contact.

He smiled, "You have imagined us together?"

"I have observed you for some time, Sir Byron," she touched his chin. "At the jousting tournaments and fairs."

"I must confess, I have observed you, as well," he revealed. "At the festivals and when you go maying."

She began to feel warm at his touch, "How.... how is your shoulder?"

"Sore," he touched the area lightly.

She placed her hand on his, "I wish there were no pain."

"Suddenly, I don't feel it," he smiled.

The sound of arrows hitting the side of the tower's stones was heard.

Byron hastened to the window, "Mellypreston's men are firing. Quickly, place as many objects as you can in front of the door."

"Then, I shall help you," she obliged.

"You are a stubborn one," he shook his head.

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

"Who are you?" Lexie saw the stranger in the hallway of the Clinic.

"I'm Dr. Cassidy, Madame," he introduced. "Can I help you?"

"It's Hank Lawson.... the sheriff," she gestured toward his room. "He's conscious now."

"Ah, yes," he nodded. "I'll check on him."

Lexie observed him skeptically, "Dr. Mike operated on him."

"No doubt she has been administering that Indian medicine," he was sarcastic.

"Where's Dr. Mike and Colleen?" she did not like him.

"Dr. Cook is asleep, and Dr. Quinn.... well, I'm not sure where she is," he stated. "But I am perfectly capable of ministering to the Sheriff."

When he entered the room, Hank looked up, "What the hell are you doin' here?"

"I'm taking care of Dr. Quinn's patients," he placed his stethoscope to his hears. "Now, be quiet while I check you."

Hank squirmed, "I gotta get outa here."

"In due time, my good man," Cassidy frowned. "Now be still."

"But...." Hank refused.

"Hank!" Lexie raised her volume. "Let him check."

Cassidy drew back the bandage and inspected his wound, "It looks good."

"Then I'm gettin' outa here," he started to rise.

Suddenly, a severe pain gripped him. Instantly, he lay back in bed.

"You're in no condition to go anywhere," Cassidy assessed. "If I were you, I'd sit back and enjoy the attention of this beautiful lady."

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

After greeting his siblings, Brian reached the top landing of the homestead. He heard the soft voice of his little brother coming from his mother's room. Tiptoeing to the door, he smiled. Josef held open the King Arthur book and pretended to read aloud. But Michaela was asleep.

Brian cleared his throat and motioned to his little brother.

"Hey, Bran," Josef slid from the bed and rushed to him.

Brian took his hand, "Let's let Ma sleep."

"I was gettin' t' the good part," the child protested.

"Save it for later," he stroked Josef's hair. "Come on."

As they spoke, they heard the footsteps of men ascending the staircase.

"Papa!" Josef recognized his father.

"Dr. Bernard?" Brian was surprised.

"He came t' help with the folks at the Clinic," Sully described. "I brought him out t' check on your Ma."

"I'll take Josef downstairs an' keep the kids quiet," Brian lifted his little brother.

"Thank's, Brian," Sully patted his back.

"Pa," his brow wrinkled. "Ma's okay, isn't she?"

"Just a precaution," he hoped to allay his concern.

Brian and Josef left them. Sully gestured to Bernard to enter the room.

"It would be better if you waited outside," the physician suggested. "This sort of examination is rather....."

"No," Sully spoke firmly. "I'm stayin'."

"Very well," he knew better than to protest.

"Michaela," Sully touched her arm. "I brought Dr. Bernard."

She opened her eyes, surprised to see the physician, "What? How did he...."

"I was in town anyway," Bernard smiled. "Your husband said you were feeling faint. Let's check on your condition."

The physician began his examination, detailing to Michaela all that he observed. Sully felt her hand relaxing in his.

When Bernard concluded his assessment, he smiled, "Everything is fine. I think this was nothing more than an empty stomach. However, you must watch your diet. You're eating for two now. Remember?"

"I know," Michaela lightly touched her abdomen. "I'm afraid I was in a hurry this morning to find out about my sons."

"She ate a good breakfast after her spell," Sully noted.

"Good," the physician washed his hands. "I'd like you to stay home today, Dr. Quinn. Take it easy. Dr. Cassidy and I will help your daughter and son-in-law at the Clinic."

"Dr. Cassidy?" her brow wrinkled at the memory of him.

"He came with me from Denver to help at your Clinic," Bernard detailed. "On the train ride, I mentioned to him that I'm going to be on the staff of your new hospital, and he expressed some interest, as well."

"Dr. Cassidy?" she doubted. "He wants to be on staff at the hospital?"

"That's what he said," Bernard responded. "You'll have to discuss it with him. I can see myself out. I'll stay at the Clinic until tomorrow."

"How's Hank Lawson?" she was curious.

"I'm afraid I left before assessing his condition," he admitted. "But your daughter did not indicate a concern."

"Thank you, Dr. Bernard," she extended her hand.

"You're quite welcome," he shook it. "Good day."

When the physician left them, Sully sat beside his wife, "You heard the doctor."

"Yes," she folded her hands across the blanket. "However I believe it's important to take some water samples today to insure that the creek is safe again."

"I'll bring ya some later," he offered. "But when I left Webster's, they had things under control. Seems they had started usin' some kinda steam pump t' get more water outa the mine. They dumped the excess water in the pond, an' that caused the water level t' overflow int' the creek. They're gonna cut back 'til they can build another pond."

"You're certain Matthew is all right?" she questioned. "Perhaps I should take a look at his head."

"I'm sure he's okay," Sully verified.

Michaela's voice had a lilt, "What about you?"

"What about me?" he pointed to himself.

"Your stomach," she clarified. "How is it?"

"I'm on the mend," he expressed.

She started to rise, "I have something in my bag to help...."

"Michaela," he stroked her arm. "It's time for you now."

She sighed, "I guess I'm not very good at staying still."

Sully glanced at the King Arthur book on the nightstand, "Want me t' read t' ya?"

"I've been dreaming about that," she pointed.

"Dreamin' about me readin' t' ya?" he joked.

"No, I dreamed we were in a medieval castle, and you saved me from the evil Mellypreston," she related.

"Mellypreston?" he chuckled. "Was he a banker?"

"He was an evil lord who kidnapped me," she described.

Sully positioned himself beside her, "Tell me more."

As she described her dreams, Sully's smile widened, "You're a real romantic, Michaela Quinn."

"I need to sleep again so I can find out how it ends," she mused.

"Who says romance has t' end?" he teased.

"Well, at least until the happily ever after part," she qualified.

"Things have been on the edge lately, but we got the kids all safe an' sound now," he caressed her cheek. "An' Hank's in good hands. No reason why ya can't go back t' sleep."

"Will you stay with me?" she requested.

"Sure," he kissed her. "I wanna find out how Princess Michaela an' Sir Byron get t'gether, too."

"I'm not the only romantic in the family," she retorted.

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

"Emma," Matthew kissed his fiancee. "You've doted on me enough. I'm fine."

"I still think ya oughta let Dr. Mike or Colleen check your head," she insisted.

"I got too much t' do," he resisted.

"Such as?" she folded her arms.

"I want Horace t' wire the neighboring towns with a description of the men who robbed me," he opened his desk drawer to withdraw another gun. "Then I'm goin' out t' Webster's Smeltin' Company t' see how they're progressin'."

"I don't see why you have to carry that," she noticed the weapon.

He placed the gun in his holster, "I only wear it when I might be facin' danger."

"Some good it did ya out there," she countered.

"Look," he slid his hands around her waist. "I don't wanna fight.... 'specially with our weddin' just a few days away."

"I'm not sure if it will go on as planned now," she stepped back.

"Why not?" he worried.

************
Chapter 12
************

Matthew tensed, "Why can't our weddin' take place as planned?"

Emma pointed out, "Because the church still has sick folks."

"I don't think they'll be there much longer," he assured. "Don't worry."

She remained concerned.

He studied her expression, "You do wanna go through with this, don't ya?"

"'Course I do," she returned.

"Maybe you got some pre-weddin' nervousness," he smiled.

"I want everythin' t' be perfect," she leaned her head against his chest.

Matthew kissed the top of her head, "It will be. I promise."

At that moment, the door to his office opened.

Lexie realized the awkwardness of her timing, "Sorry to interrupt. I can come back later."

"No," Matthew cleared his throat. "Come on in. How's Hank?"

"He's conscious and wanting to go home," Lexie noted.

"That's real good," Matthew smiled.

"Do you think I could talk with you?" she looked at him anxiously.

Emma took the hint, "I.... have things to do. I'll see you later, Matthew."

"Bye," he gave her a quick kiss. Turning to Lexie, he gestured. "Have a seat. What did ya wanna talk about?"

"Hank's shooting," she specified.

"What about it?" he questioned.

"The man who shot him.... he was a gunfighter by the name of Bart Mason," she identified. "Mason showed up at my ranch, claiming I owed him a thousand dollars. Then he challenged Hank to a gunfight if I didn't come up with the cash. Desperate to help me, Hank borrowed the money from Dr. Mike and was taking it to Mason so he would leave town."

Matthew wondered, "Did you owe him money?"

"No," she shook her head. "My brother did, but Mason held me responsible. When I found out Hank was going to meet him, I went to the meadow to stop him."

"Lexie," he stopped her. "This ain't your fault. Don't go blamin'...."

She interjected, "I shot Mason."

"What?" he was stunned.

"I saw him pull his gun on Hank, and I fired," she related. "I.... I'm a murderer."

"No, you're not," he allayed her fears. "Mason pulled a gun on Hank, and you saved his life."

"But I fired first," she added. "Hitting Mason caused his gun to discharge. I'm responsible for Hank's being shot, too."

"Hold on," he said. "You're jumpin' t' conclusions. I'm sure it all happened too fast t' be sure who fired first."

"Ask Sully," she spoke up.

"What's he got t' do with it?" he was puzzled.

"He saw the whole thing," Lexie felt a tear trickle down her cheek. "I killed a man, Matthew."

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

Warm in Sully's arms, Michaela returned to her medieval dream.

Lady Michaela approached Sir Byron, "How is your shoulder?"

"It is impairing my accuracy with the bow," he grew apprehensive. "Mellypreston's men are advancing. One man is not enough to stop armored men."

She lifted a bow and arrow, "Stand aside."

He complied, somewhat doubtful. With accuracy he had never before witnessed, she began releasing arrows at the enemy. Several soldiers were hit in the chinks between their armored plates. The dark knights' advance stopped, and they retreated from the tower.

"You are amazing," he stood in awe.

"I told you I was an excellent archer," her face beamed.

"I am in your debt," he grinned.

"You do not feel.... threatened?" she wondered.

"Threatened by such talent?" he did not understand.

"Most men would not wish their lady to show such abilities in a man's domain," she explained. "Does it make me seem less of a woman to you?"

He slid his hand around her waist and drew her closer for a kiss.

"Good answer," she smiled.

"Perhaps I possess some talents you do not," he raised an eyebrow.

"I look forward to discovering your talents," she spoke provocatively.

They were interrupted by a thunderous banging on the door.

"Michaela!" a familiar voice called.

"Uncle!" she hurried to the door.

With Byron's help, she cleared the barricade and opened it. She embraced her uncle.

"Are you all right, child?" he felt a lump in his throat.

"Yes," she kissed his cheek.

"Sir Byron," the king recognized. "You have taken good care of my niece."

"It was the other way around, Your Majesty," Byron bowed his head.

"Uncle, I have something to tell you," Michaela paused to gauge his reaction.

"What is it, my dear?" he waited.

At that instant, Mellypreston burst into the chamber, and with dagger in hand, lunged at the King.

Sir Byron blocked the villain's blow at the King. The blade grazed the arm of Byron, who with a swift kick knocked the knife aside. The King's men pounced on the fiendish Mellypreston and quickly subdued him.

As they dragged him away, he shouted, "You haven't heard the last of me."

"Byron," Michaela rushed to him. "Your arm."

"I shall mend," he smiled. "Especially under your tender care."

"Her tender care?" the King heard.

"Your Majesty," Byron clasped Michaela's hand. "If it pleases you, I would like to ask for your niece's hand in marriage."

"But what about Sir...." he stopped. "What say you, niece? Do you wish to marry this man instead of Sir David?"

"I do, Uncle," she smiled.

"Then it will be so," he affirmed. "It will be a good match."

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

"Katie," Josef approached his sister as she drew a picture. "Do you think Mama's okay?"

"Yes," she did not look up.

"Maybe she needs a glass o' water," he pondered.

"No, Joey," she doubted. "She just needs t' rest."

The little boy left her and stepped into the kitchen. He noticed a jar of pickles beside the sink.

Bridget turned her attention to him, "Would ya be wantin' one, lad?"

"Uh-huh," he looked up longingly.

"Well, I'll open it for ya then," she reached for the jar.

"No," Josef spoke up. "I.... I can't eat 'em."

"Why not?" she queried. "They're your favorite."

"I ain't 'lowed," he frowned.

"Why not?" she folded her arms.

"I.... I do somethin' wong, an' Papa say I can't have pokles for a week," he confessed.

She sat down and drew him onto her lap, "You're a good boy, Josef."

"I don' feel like a good boy," he leaned against her shoulder.

"Well, ya are," she touched his nose. "An' your Papa would be proud."

"Why?" he queried.

"Because you was honest in tellin' me," Bridget remarked.

"Could I ask ya somethin'?" he paused.

"Sure," she encouraged.

"How long is a week?" he was uncertain.

"A week is seven days," she recounted.

He sighed, "That's what I thought."

Josef was silent for a moment, then spoke from his heart.

"Do ya think Mama's okay?" he voiced his concern.

"I do indeed," she smiled. "An' there's lots o' changes gonna be happenin' around here."

"I don' like changes," he stated.

"Why not?" the nanny inquired.

"They scare me," he confessed.

Bridget drew him closer, "These changes won't be scarin' ya, lad. Don't you worry."

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

Sully slipped from the bed. Quietly, he kissed Michaela's forehead and exited the room to descend the steps.

"How's Mama?" Josef rushed to him.

"Sleepin'," Sully touched his index finger to his lips. "I'm gonna go get some water samples for her an' maybe get us a turkey."

"Oh, Papa, can I come with ya?" Josef begged. "Please?"

"Sure," he smiled.

"Well, I'm happy t' hear you're finally gonna get us that bird," Bridget put her hands on her hips.

Sully leaned down to the twins, "No climbin' the steps, you two."

"No," Noah shook his head.

"Papa," Annie reached up to her father.

Never able to resist her, Sully lifted the little girl and kissed her cheek, "Can you say 'bye?'"

"Bah," the toddler repeated.

"Say, 'I love Papa,'" Sully invited.

Annie paused, then attempted, "I low Papa."

"Close enough," he kissed her again.

Setting down the little girl, he patted Noah's behind, "Bye, No-bo."

"Bah," Noah's brow wrinkled.

"They know what 'bye' means, Poppy," Katie informed him.

Sully kissed Noah, then his older daughter, "I'll be back soon, Kates."

"Don't drink the water," Katie cautioned.

"I won't," he winked.

As he prepared to depart, there was a knock at the door.

Sully opened it, surprised to see his oldest son, "Hey, Matthew. How ya feelin'?"

"I got a good size bump back there," he rubbed his head. "But I'll be okay."

"We go get a tuhkey," Josef tugged his brother's sleeve. "Wanna come?"

"I need t' talk t' Sully first," Matthew said.

"Let's go outside," Sully guided him. Closing the door behind them, he questioned. "What did ya wanna talk t' me about?"

Matthew specified, "Lexie came t' see me."

Sully nodded.

"She said you saw the shootin'," Matthew began.

"Yea," he rubbed his upper lip.

"She thinks she's a murderer, Sully," Matthew confided. "Is she?"

"She was only defendin' Hank," he answered.

"Did she fire first?" Matthew raised the question.

"If she wouldn't have, Hank would be dead," he affirmed.

"She blames herself for Hank gettin' shot," Matthew confided. "It's just.... I can't see any need t' charge her with a crime."

"Me either," Sully agreed. "But she might need some assurance from you. I got a feelin' she's carryin' a lot o' guilt."

"You're right," he agreed. "Seems the man she shot, Bart Mason, was a gunfighter who was tryin' t' get money out o' her. Hank borrowed the money from Ma t' pay him, but Mason drew a gun instead of takin' the cash."

"So that's what the money was doin' on the ground," Sully understood.

"I'm gonna ride out t' Webster's t' check on things, then I'll talk t' Lexie again," he stated.

"Why don't I come with ya?" Sully offered.

"No, thanks," Matthew smiled. "I'll try t' keep from bein' robbed this time."

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

"Colleen," Andrew touched her shoulder.

She awoke with a start, "Wha--?"

"We've sent most of the patients home," he noted. "Hank is awake, and Doctors Bernard and Cassidy are watching the Clinic."

She yawned and sat up, "Why don't you go back to the Chateau? I'll stay here a while longer."

"There is no need for you to stay," he countered. "Besides, we could use some time to ourselves."

"Andrew," she countered. "With Ma not here, I feel responsible. I'm sorry."

He was disappointed, "All right."

When he departed, Colleen glanced at the children's toys. The entire room was skillfully crafted by Sully for his little ones.

"Children," she sighed. "We can't even agree on a house, let alone a family, Andrew."

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

After observing his father fill little bottles with water from the creek, Josef became bored. He began to pretend that he was drawing back his bow to shoot an arrow.

"When are we huntin', Papa?" the child wondered.

"One more bottle, Joe," he returned.

Josef mentioned, "Miss Bwidget say we're gonna get changes. You know 'bout that?"

"Changes?" Sully rubbed his lip. "There's always changes."

"She say it won't be bad," the child added.

"That's the last bottle," Sully lifted up from the creek. "Now, let's go get our Thanksgivin' dinner."

"Good," his face lit up.

The instant Sully turned, he slipped and fell face first into the mud at the edge of the creek.

"Oh, no!" Josef was horrified. "Are ya okay?"

"Fine," Sully wiped the moist dirt from his eyes.

"We best go home," Josef's shoulders slumped.

Sully opened the case, "The bottles broke. We gotta go back t' the Clinic t' get some more."

"Papa, I don' think you get better yet," Josef noted.

"Why ya say that?" he was curious.

"Ya can't hunt," the little boy put his hands on his hips.

"Josef," Sully's pride was hurt. "I been gettin' us a turkey for Thanksgivin' since before you was born. I just had some bad luck. We still got a couple days left."

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

Sully stood at the bedroom mirror checking for any more dirt. After washing off the final spot, he dried himself. As he began to lather his face for a shave, he felt the warm hand of his wife on his back.

"Did ya dream about your princess an' knight?" he teased.

Michaela caressed, then kissed his muscular shoulders, "They're getting married."

"Happily ever after, just like ya wanted," he started to shave.

"Let me," Michaela took the razor from him and directed him to sit on the bed.

"The doctor told you to take it easy," he resisted slightly.

"I am taking it easy," she stroked the blade across his cheek. "I slept most of the afternoon and feel quite rested."

"Mmmicha...." he stopped when she applied the razor again.

"Yes, Mr. Sully?" she whispered near his ear.

"You know what this does t' me," his voice sounded different.

"Yes, I know," she smiled beguilingly.

"I took water samples from the creek t' Colleen," he closed his eyes to enjoy her ministrations. "She.... tested 'em."

"And?" she continued her enticing movements.

He struggled to maintain his calm, "There's still some traces of the poison but not as bad as it was. While we were out there, Joe an' me were gonna hunt turkey, but...."

"But what?" she paused.

"I fell in the mud," he confessed.

She smiled, "So that's why you were washing up."

"I'll get the turkey t'morrow," he assured. "I think Joe believes I'll never get one."

"He believes in you," she noted.

"He's startin' t' be a big help when I go huntin'," Sully commended.

She wiped the remaining lather from his face.

"There," she smiled. "All finished."

"Fastest shave I ever had," he joked.

Michaela walked to the bedroom door and secured it. Sully's pulse quickened as she neared him.

"What about....." he was interrupted by her lips on his.

"I love you, Sully," she whispered softly. "I was so worried when you were sick."

He stroked back her auburn tresses, "I'm okay. An' near as I can tell, so are you."

He saw the love in her eyes and was moved to recite:

"If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever."

"That was lovely," she smiled. "Shakespeare?"

"Tennyson," he guided her to his side.

"I wonder about myself, Sully," she toyed with the hair at the base of his neck.

"Why?" his brow wrinkled. "Don't ya feel okay?"

************
Chapter 13
************

"Oh, yes," Michaela assured. "I feel perfectly fine."

"Then why do ya wonder about yourself?" Sully queried.

She felt awkward, "I wonder if I'm.... normal."

Sully embraced her warmly, "Why would ya wonder that?"

"Because of how I much I still need you.... still want you, after all of these years," her cheeks blushed.

"Seems normal t' me," he grinned. "What makes ya wonder about it?"

"I suppose I've listened to the idle gossip of women.... at the Clinic, at the quilting circle," she confessed. "They speak of marriage as a burden, having children as a terrible pressure and being intimate with their husbands as a curse."

He smoothed back the hair at her temple, "Michaela, what we got... there's no couple in the world like us. So what if it ain't normal t' other folks? We know what we feel, an' we wouldn't trade places with anyone else."

"You're right, of course," she admitted.

"So," he placed his hand in a provocatively pleasing place. "The way I see it, whatever we feel, after all these years, is normal for us."

"I think too much," she suspected his thoughts.

"I love how ya think," he teased. "Even when you're wrong."

She eyed the door, "Do you think we might.... that is perhaps.... I wonder if...."

"Never knew you t' be short on words," he joked. "What are ya gettin' at?"

"You have to ask?" Michaela turned up the corner of her mouth.

Sully smiled, "That nap gave ya a burst of energy, did it?"

She mused, "Perhaps my dream did."

"Whatever it was, I like it," he drew her closer.

Michaela lightly ran her palms along his chest, pausing above his heart, "Or perhaps it was the thought of you in the mud."

Sully framed her face in his hands, "Ya know, I fell in love with you when ya plopped int' that puddle of mud."

"It was a dress well wasted then," she kissed his chest.

Sully closed his eyes and tried to control his breathing, "You're doin' it again, Michaela."

"Doing what?" she continued her gestures.

"You're makin' my heart feel like it's gonna pound right outa my chest," he pressed his form to hers.

She pretended to be concerned, "Should I retrieve my stethoscope?"

"Not at this moment," he slid his hand along her neck.

As they began to kiss, their bodies warmed, and shivers ran down their spines. The unspoken communication of desire electrified their caresses. Gazing into the blue of her husband's eyes stirred Michaela's passions to greater heights.

"I love you," he whispered softly.

"And I, you," she ran her fingers through his moist locks. "You make me so happy."

"That's what I wanna keep on doin'," he smiled as he lightly touched her lips.

Turning over his hand, she kissed his palm. As Sully gently repositioned her on the bed, Michaela's anticipation grew. Soon they had set aside their clothing in order to savor every part of one another.

"You sure?" he hesitated before continuing.

"Very," she toyed with the hair around his ears.

Michaela felt her body come alive with the slow and rhythmic movements which compelled her to give herself anew to him. Sully closed his eyes, unable to hold back any longer. Their motions intensified until finally, they fully enjoyed the intimate satisfaction of touching the very core of one another.

When they began to calm from the encounter, Sully cradled her in his arms and plied soft kisses to her neck, chin and mouth.

He whispered, "I sure love havin' an abnormal wife."

She smiled faintly, "What a life we have, Sully, full of so many blessings."

"Thanks t' you," he kissed her temple.

She guided his hand to her abdomen, "What do you think she'll look like?"

He grinned, "You sure it's a girl?"

"I have a strong feeling, but would you prefer a boy?" she was curious.

"I prefer...." he paused. "A healthy little one who looks like its Ma."

"Healthy," she repeated. "Yes, that's most important."

"Has she been botherin' ya t'day?" he posed the question.

"She?" Michaela smiled.

"Well, I trust your instincts," he mused.

Michaela informed him, "She's being very well behaved."

"Good," his smile widened.

She caressed his cheek, "I think it's your turn to sleep, after your difficult day of falling in the mud. I'm going to go help Bridget with the children. And don't worry. I'm not going to do anything strenuous. I'm merely going to talk to them."

"I wanna ask ya somethin' before ya go," he said. "When you loaned Hank that money, did ya know why he wanted it?"

"How did you know I loaned him the money?" she queried.

"Matthew said Lexie told him," he explained.

"No, I didn't know why he wanted it," she detailed. "But he was desperate. I've never seen Hank like that. What else did Matthew say?"

He added, "Turns out, Hank wanted t' pay off the gunfighter who shot him. The fella, man by the name of Mason, was pressin' Lexie for payment of a debt owed by her brother."

"Why did Mason shoot Hank if he was paying him then?" Michaela wondered.

"I don't know, but when Lexie saw him draw his gun, she shot him first," Sully noted. "That caused Mason's gun t' go off an' shoot Hank."

Michaela absorbed it all in silence.

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

"How are you feeling, Hank?" Lexie queried.

"Like I been hit by a load o' bricks," he quipped.

"You had me worried," she clasped his hand.

He struggled to recall, "You wanna tell me what happened out there?"

Lexie looked down.

"Hey," he squeezed her hand slightly. "I wanna know."

"This is all my fault," her eyes welled.

"No, it ain't," he insisted.

She took a deep breath to steady her nerves, "Why did Bart pull his gun on you when you offered him the money?"

Hank cleared his thoughts, "He said.... he could have both the money an' you if I was dead. Then he shot me. Strange thing is, I pulled my gun when he did, but I don't remember firin'."

"You didn't," she averted her gaze. "I shot him."

"You?" he was shocked.

"I saw him draw his weapon.... and I shot," her lower lip trembled. "That caused his gun to go off. Hank, I'm responsible for your shooting."

"No, ya ain't," he insisted. "He was gonna shoot me anyway."

"I never meant for you to be hurt," tears streamed down her cheeks.

"Don't cry, Lexie," he soothed. "I'm gonna be okay."

"Thank God," she lowered her head to rest on his hand. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost you."

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

"Mama!" Josef rushed to his mother when she descended the steps.

"Hello," she smiled. "Have you been good for Miss Bridget?"

"Aye," the nanny chimed in. "Good as gold."

"Wonderful," Michaela leaned over to kiss her son's cheek.

Next, she strolled into the living room where Katie was entertaining the twins on the rug. When Michaela sat in a wing back chair, the little ones surrounded her.

"I drew this for you," Katie handed her mother a paper.

"Thank you," Michaela commended. "This is outstanding work. Your perspective continues to improve."

"The twins drew this for ya," she gave her mother another piece of paper.

On it were scribbles of different colors.

"This is wonderful, you two," Michaela touched their noses.

Josef stood silently nearby, feeling left out. Michaela noticed her son's quiet.

She reached for his hand, "Papa said you've been a big help to him."

His blue eyes lit up, "I twy, but we don' have a tuhkey yet."

"We shall," Michaela sounded certain.

Noah began to climb up onto his mother's lap.

"Careful," Michaela guided him.

"Could ya read us 'bout King Artor again?" Josef requested.

"I'm afraid the book is upstairs in my room," she noted.

"I'll go get it," Katie volunteered.

"Not right now, Sweetheart," Michaela advised. "Papa's sleeping."

"Don' anyone sleep at night no more?" Josef frowned.

Michaela smiled, "What about a different story?"

Annie tapped her mother's knee, "Hol', Mama."

"Here," Michaela directed Katie to sit on the stool next to her chair. "Now, can you sit on your sister's lap?"

"Yea," Annie agreed.

"I'll get another book," Josef went to a collection near the children's toy box. "This one."

He selected "Tom Sawyer." Josef settled on the floor beside Wolf as Michaela began to read aloud. Her clear tones, hinting of her Boston accent, mesmerized them.

In the kitchen, Bridget could not help but pause to listen, as well. Peeking around the corner of the fireplace, she smiled at the sight of the doctor reading to her children.

Bridget returned to preparing dinner and pondered this family whom she had come to love. They were so different, Dr. Mike and Sully. And yet, they seemed the perfect match. Dr. Mike was so opinionated, compassionate and involved in things. Sully was reserved, just as compassionate but lacking any desire to put himself into the middle of the fray as his wife did.

"Aye," Bridget spoke low to herself. "They're a strange match.... but a good one."

A knock at the door interrupted Bridget's thoughts.

When she opened the door, there stood Matthew.

"Hey," he smiled and removed his hat.

The children rushed to greet him.

He stepped into the living room and kissed his mother, "Hey, Ma."

The doctor in her took over, "Let me look at your head."

"No need t' worry," he dismissed.

"I insist," she gestured. "Now you sit here."

Matthew complied with her wishes. As she examined his head, he spoke of his findings at Webster's.

"Sully said the poison levels in the creek are subsiding," Michaela concluded her examination. "And that bump on your head is not."

He chuckled, "Good thing I got a hard head."

"I remember when Sully once said the same of his head, too," she mused. "Won't you join us for supper?"

"No, thanks," he stood up. "Emma wants t' go over some last minute plans t'night. I'll see ya t'morrow."

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

Early the next morning found Michaela at the Clinic. After assurances from Dr. Bernard that her pregnancy was going well, she prepared to begin the day's work. The only patient remaining now was Hank. She climbed the steps to check on his progress.

Hank awoke, disoriented. He struggled to raise his head.

"Settle back," Michaela directed him.

"Michaela?" he focused his eyes.

"Are you in pain?" she queried.

"Not too bad," his expression suggested otherwise. "Where's Lexie?"

"She's sleeping in the next room," Michaela felt his pulse.

"What day is it?" he asked.

Michaela looked up from her watch, "It's Wednesday morning."

Hank eyed her preparing an injection, "What's that?"

"Something for your pain," she identified.

"I told ya it ain't bad," he resisted.

"And I know it is," she countered.

After she withdrew the needle from his arm, Hank felt a rush of euphoria, "I could get used t' that stuff."

"I won't let you," she smiled. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some patient files to update."

"Wait," Hank spoke up. "I wanna tell ya somethin'."

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

Josef sat in front of his father as the horse ambled along. The little boy was thrilled to be turkey hunting again, especially since Brian had accompanied them.

The child leaned back against Sully's chest, "Mama say I helpin' ya."

"You sure are," he kissed the top of his son's head.

A wide grin appeared on Josef's face, "I think we get that tuhkey t'day."

"I know we will," Sully asserted.

"Pa," Brian broached the subject. "What do ya think of Henriette?"

"I like her," Sully remarked. "Seems real nice."

"I like her, too, Bran," Josef added.

"You gettin' kinda serious?" Sully suspected.

Brian's cheeks flushed, "I.... I don't know."

Sully smiled, "Ya think about her a lot, even though ya try not to?"

"Uh-huh," Brian admitted.

"Sounds serious," Sully winked.

"Are ya gonna get married, Bran?" Josef innocently inquired.

"Josef," Brian's brow wrinkled.

"What?" the little boy wondered at his tone. "If ya find w.... rright woman, ya marry her. W.... right, Papa?"

"Yep," Sully nodded. "But for your Ma's sake, don't go rushin' int' anything."

"I just met her," Brian insisted. "I'm sure not ready for marriage. I just enjoy bein' around her."

Josef questioned, "Did she fall in mud yet?"

Brian was unsure, "Fall in mud?"

Josef nodded, "When she does, then ya love her."

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

"Good morning, Dr. Quinn," Dr. Cassidy removed his hat as he entered the Clinic.

"Good morning," she grew uncomfortable at his presence. "I want to thank you for filling in for me."

"It was no trouble," he glanced around the office. "I took the liberty of cleaning some of your equipment while I supervised your Clinic."

She tensed further, "Thank you, but you really shouldn't have."

He broached the subject, "I wonder if I might offer my services further."

"Further?" she knew where he was headed.

"At your new hospital," he specified. "I was thinking of relocating here."

"What about your Clinic in Denver?" she posed the question.

"To tell you the truth, I've been thinking of turning it over to my younger associate. I want to scale back on my medical practice," he revealed.

"Then why would you want to work at our new hospital here?" she wondered.

"Here, I would be on staff with many physicians," he clarified. "And I would not have to be on call twenty-four hours a day."

"I see," she fidgeted with some papers. "Well.... I think that a part-time position...."

He sensed her hesitation, "I know that you and I have not always seen eye to eye, but I can assure you that I have come to respect your medical expertise."

"My expertise?" she pointed to herself. "A mere woman? You once told me I should find a husband.... have children."

"And you have," he smiled.

She studied the sincerity of his expression, "Would you be willing to work in a hospital where a woman is the chief of staff?"

He cleared his throat, hesitated, then nodded, "Yes."

"All right," she extended her hand. "Welcome."

He returned, "Thank you. We'll talk further, but for now, I must be going. The train to Denver leaves shortly."

With that, he departed. No sooner had he left than Jake appeared at the door of the Clinic.

"Dr. Mike?" he entered the office. "I come t' see Hank. Is it okay if I go on up?"

"He's resting at the moment," she indicated. "But I'm glad you're here. I'd like to speak to you."

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

"Colleen," Andrew's voice wakened her. "It's after eleven."

She yawned and rolled over, "Eleven in the morning?"

"Yes," he answered.

"Why didn't you wake me sooner?" she started to rise.

"Because you didn't get to bed until two a.m.," he responded. "I thought you could use the rest."

She drew on her robe, "Doctors Bernard and Cassidy are leaving for Denver today, and I don't want Ma to be by herself."

"Why not?" he was puzzled. "Hank is the only patient left at the Clinic. She can certainly handle him."

"She was not feeling well yesterday," Colleen noted.

"I was hoping you and I might talk," Andrew requested.

She inquired, "About what?"

"Us," he specified.

************
Chapter 14
************

Andrew took a deep breath, then sighed, "Since we've come to Colorado, we.... seem to have drifted apart."

Colleen studied his expression, "Why do you think that is?"

He folded his arms tightly against his chest, "I.... suspect it's because you're back with your family."

Her back stiffened, "Did it occur to you that it's you who behaves differently when you're around your own family?"

"What do you mean?" he frowned.

"You take on their attitudes," she clarified. "And I don't care for it. You didn't notice, Andrew, but our drifting apart began before we came here. It started after I completed my medical degree."

"I don't want us to fight, Colleen," he countered. "I'm merely trying to communicate with you."

"All right," she nodded. "You say that I'm different around my family. How so?"

"It's difficult to explain," his brow wrinkled. "You just seem.... different. You're more assertive. Less compromising. Like our house, for instance."

"Our house?" she raised her voice. "I'm the one who suggested a compromise. You dismissed it."

"That's because it wasn't a compromise," his volume met hers. "It was absurd."

She could feel her anger escalate, "I think there's another reason for your discomfort here. Ma intimidates you."

"What?" he stood in disbelief. "I admire your mother immensely."

"Admire, maybe," she said. "But you've always been uncomfortable around her. You were just out of medical school when you came to Colorado Springs. The thought of a female physician supervising your actions was very disquieting to you."

"Colleen," he countered. "How can you say that?"

She reacted, "Because it's true."

"I admit that I have often found your mother's techniques to be somewhat.... unorthodox," he paused. "But she is a truly caring physician."

"You've often questioned her methods," she pointed out. "And when you and I practiced in Boston, you took every opportunity to tell me how modern medicine is so much more advanced than the ways Ma uses."

His jaw tensed, "I guess there's no need to continue this discussion any further."

"You're the one who wanted to talk," she folded her arms.

"This isn't talking," he debated. "It's a lesson in futility."

They fell silent. Colleen looked at her husband with disappointment. He no longer seemed the young man with whom she had fallen in love. She thought back to the many times that she had defied her mother as a teen, not wanting to feel manipulated. But was Ma right when she had initial hesitations about her marriage to Andrew?

As the questions ran through her head, she did not notice that her husband had slipped out of the room and left her.

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

Jake pointed to himself, "Why ya wanna speak t' me, Dr. Mike?"

"It's about the teachers," Michaela specified.

He frowned, "Look. That's a dead subject."

"Why?" she persisted.

"'Cause it is," he was vague.

"Here I was thinking you are a progressive man," she flattered. "Look at all of the things you've introduced into our town since you've been mayor. But now that Preston has this bond issue, I think he might try to use it against you."

His brow wrinkled, "Use it against me?"

"You know that he would love to be mayor," Michaela pointed out.

"I still got another year left in my term," he noted.

"That's a year in which Preston can drum up support for his plans," she tapped her desk. "Unless...."

"Unless?" he anticipated.

"Unless you bring it up first," she eyed him seriously.

"You mean, me introduce the idea of gettin' a bond t' pay for the teachers?" he interpreted.

"Not just for the teachers," she stood and walked to him. "There are many improvements which could be initiated. I don't see how Preston could defeat you as mayor if you have a list of accomplishments like that."

Jake grinned slyly, "You're right, Dr. Mike. Since the town council don't meet again until January, I could get a head start on all this right after the Holidays."

"Yes, you could, Mr. Mayor," she smiled.

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

Brian whispered as he pointed, "There, Pa. A turkey."

"Oh, boy," Josef's eyes widened.

"Shh," Sully cautioned. "You two stay real still."

Sully stealthily drew his arrow and set it against the bow. Drawing back, he let loose at the target. The turkey fell with the single shot.

"Is he dead, Papa?" Josef anticipated.

Sully knelt down beside the bird, "Now we got Thanksgivin' dinner."

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

Michaela looked up from her desk when she heard a knock at the Clinic door.

"Come in," she beckoned.

"Ah, Michaela," Preston entered the room and removed his hat. "I'm glad to see things returning to normal around here."

"What can I do for you, Mr. Lodge?" she queried.

"I wanted to check on you," he smiled. "I understand you weren't feeling well. Certainly, you didn't drink the water."

"Thank you for your interest, but I did not drink the water," she waited for him to reveal his true purpose for being there.

"Have you given further consideration to financing the payment of teachers and town improvements through the issuance of a bond?" he inquired.

"As you can imagine, I've been quite busy," she avoided.

"Of course," he withdrew some documents from his satchel. "That's why I took the liberty of drawing up some papers authorizing me to act as the investment banker for...."

"Mr. Lodge," she interrupted. "I am awaiting a response from my brother-in-law in Boston about bonds. He's an investment banker."

"Boston?" he frowned. "Why would you want to use the services of a banker in Boston?"

"Because I trust his advice," she was blunt.

"I hope that you would not let our past.... differences taint your good judgment about this, Michaela," he stated.

She grew impatient, "If you'll excuse me, I have work to catch up on."

"Of course," he returned the papers to his satchel. "Good day then."

When he closed the door behind him, Michaela sighed. Suddenly the door opened again.

Before seeing who it was, Michaela reacted, "If you think that I'm going to...."

"Good afternoon, Ma," it was Colleen.

Michaela was embarrassed, "Colleen, I'm sorry.... I.... I thought it was Preston."

"Preston?" she tilted her head. "Has he been bothering you?"

"Only as Preston can," Michaela embraced her. "I hope you were able to get some rest."

"Yes, I was," she smiled.

"Good," Michaela returned to her desk.

Colleen lifted the patient charts and began to peruse them.

"Will Andrew be joining us today?" Michaela wondered.

"I doubt it," Colleen did not look up.

"So, he'll be at the Chateau?" she assumed.

"I guess," Colleen shrugged.

Michaela touched her arm, "Problems?"

Colleen sighed, "Oh, Ma. I don't know what's going to become of us. We don't see eye to eye on anything anymore. He thinks it's because we came back here to Colorado Springs."

"Is that true?" she queried.

"No," Colleen shook her head. "I think the real reason is that we're so different."

Michaela offered, "Being different from your husband doesn't mean you can't resolve things."

"He can't understand that this is where I want to be," she detailed. "And he's not willing to compromise."

"Are you?" Michaela queried.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Colleen became defensive.

"Only that compromise takes two," she noted.

Colleen folded her arms, "When Pa built the homestead, did he consider your opinion?"

"In some matters," she answered.

"And did you compromise?" the young woman was interested.

Michaela strolled to the window, "We had some obstacles to overcome, but yes, we compromised."

"I'm starting to wonder if my marriage was a mistake," Colleen surprised her. "You yourself had doubts about us when...."

Michaela turned quickly, "No, Colleen. You love Andrew."

"But I'm not so sure I like him," she felt a tear trickle down her cheek.

Michaela went to embrace her, "Perhaps you need some time alone together.... a second honeymoon."

"Andrew would never agree to that," she knew. "Besides, the romance is totally gone from our marriage. We don't even.... you know."

Michaela felt uncomfortable, "I'm sorry, Sweetheart."

"Oh, Ma," Colleen began to cry. "Maybe you were right about us getting married. Maybe I was too young."

"Shh," Michaela stroked her daughter's hair. "Everything will be all right, Colleen."

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

"Does your wound hurt, Hank?" Lexie touched his hand.

"I can handle it," his face winced. "Don't let Michaela give me another one o' them injections. It knocks me out."

"Maybe she could give you something less potent," she suggested.

"Just talk t' me," he requested. "Then I won't think about it."

"If you're in pain, I want her to give you something," she started to leave.

"No," Hank requested. "I'm okay. Just sit here beside me."

"Looks like you'll be spending Thanksgiving in here," she smiled.

"Damn," he pretended to be upset. "That means missin' out on Grace's cookin'."

"I'll bring you something," she volunteered.

Hank squeezed her hand, "You're spendin' Thanksgivin' with me?"

"If you like," she nodded.

"I like," he smiled.

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

Grace surveyed her list, "That's everythin' for the town dinner."

"You sure?" Robert E held little Abraham.

"How many years have I been doin' this?" she frowned. "Of course, I'm sure. I gotta feed 200 people, so I'll be startin' my cookin' at four in the mornin'."

Abraham reached for his father's lips, and Robert E kissed his hand.

"Our first Thanksgivin' with this child," his face beamed.

Grace ran her hand up and down the baby's back, "All the more t' be thankful for."

"I don't know how ya do it, Grace," Robert E commended. "Cookin' all day long, while takin' care o' the baby."

"He's good as can be," she caressed the child's hair. "Besides, I'm thinkin' of turnin' him int' one o' them fancy chefs."

"My son?" he disapproved. "A chef?"

Grace put her hands on her hips, "An' what's wrong with makin' a livin' cookin'?"

He chuckled, "I'm just teasin'. I think Abraham oughta be whatever he puts his mind to."

"Then he'll be a chef," she nodded.

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

"All set t' go home?" Sully stood at the Clinic doorway.

Michaela looked over her list, "Yes. Lexie will be staying here with Hank. The warning signs about the water have sufficiently cautioned people not to drink it, so I don't anticipate any more patients."

"Good," he slid his hand around her waist.

She warmed at his gesture, "Did you and the boys have any luck with a turkey?"

He grinned, "Yep. Bridget's pullin' the feathers as we speak."

"Sully," she rested her hands on his chest. "Do you think you might have a talk with Andrew after dinner tomorrow?"

"Why?" he was curious.

"He and Colleen are still having problems," she divulged.

"They gotta work 'em out for themselves, Michaela," he resisted.

"She believes that the reason for their difficulties is that they are so different," she remarked.

He admitted, "That's not so easy t' solve."

"We've managed," she raised an eyebrow.

"More than managed," he kissed her sweetly. "Let's go."

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

"Well, I guess I'll see ya tomorrow," Brian stood at Henriette's boarding house door.

"Thanks for walking me home," she smiled.

"Want me t' come by t' bring ya out t' the homestead for dinner tomorrow?" he offered.

"No, thank you," she replied. "Dorothy is taking me."

"Okay," he could not take his eyes off of her. "I.... I'll go now."

Henriette smiled, "Good bye."

After she closed the door, Brian stood for several more minutes. Then, crossing the street, he entered Bray's Mercantile.

Loren looked up from the money box, "I'm closin', lad."

"Oh," Brian returned blandly.

"What's the matter, boy?" Loren questioned. "Ya look like ya lost your last friend."

"Nothin's the matter," Brian shrugged.

Loren put his hand on the young man's shoulder, "How 'bout a cup o' coffee."

"Sure," he remained distracted.

Loren spoke as he poured two cups, "I was thinkin' of sellin' everythin' an' movin' t' Alaska."

"That sounds good," Brian glanced out the window.

"Then again, I figure if I just burn down the store, I could collect the insurance on it," he continued.

"You could do that," Brian nodded.

"Whatever you got, you got it bad," Loren chuckled.

"What?" Brian suddenly focused on their conversation.

"What's got you so distracted, lad?" he wondered.

"A girl," Brian's cheeks flushed.

Loren smiled knowingly, "Ah, yes, an' what sweet lass has ya in such a dazed condition?"

"Her name's Henriette," Brian informed him. "She's new in town.... workin' with Dorothy at the Gazette. You'll meet her tomorrow at dinner."

"Henriette, huh?" Loren put his hands on his hips. "She must be quite a gal."

"I think so," the young man took a sip of coffee.

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

"Papa," Josef requested as they finished supper. "Tell us a story."

Sully wiped his mouth with the napkin, "First we gotta help with the dishes."

"Bridget, Brian and I can wash them," Michaela encouraged. "Go ahead, Papa."

"All right," Sully scooped a twin into each arm and headed for the living room.

Gently, he placed them beside Wolf. Sitting down on the rug, Sully was joined by Katie and Josef.

Sully pondered, "What kinda story do ya wanna hear?"

"Tell us why ya put dweam catchers 'bove our beds," Josef asked.

Sully drew the twins onto his lap and kissed their soft hair, "Well, a long time ago, the spiritual leader of the tribe went up t' a mountain top. There, he had a vision. A spider appeared t' him."

"Pidah," Noah repeated.

Sully smiled, "The spider took the leader's hoop. It had feathers, horse hair an' beads on it. While he talked t' the leader, the spider began t' weave a web inside the hoop."

"Did the leader notice?" Katie wondered.

"Sure did," Sully answered. "All the while he was weavin', the spider talked about how life is a circle. We start out as little babies, then children, then grownups."

"That's twue," Josef nodded.

Sully resumed, "Finally, we grow old an' must be taken care of like the babies.... so the circle completes."

"When do we take care o' you an' Mama?" Josef's brow wrinkled.

"Shh, Joey," Katie looked at him.

Sully continued, "Now, the whole time this spider talked, he kept on weavin' that web. He went on about all the things that influence us in life.... good influences an' bad. Sometimes we listen t' the good; other times the bad."

"I done that," Josef recognize. "It gets me in twouble."

"That's true, Joe," Sully grinned. "But it happens t' everyone. The bad also interferes with Nature an' the Great Spirit."

"Did the spider finish his web?" Katie posed the question.

Sully related, "He worked from the outside o' the hoop inward. An' when he reached the point where all that was left was a hole in the middle, he handed the hoop back t' the leader. He told him that it was like the circle of life. If you believe in the Great Spirit, then the web will catch your good dreams an' make 'em come true. The bad ones will go through the hole an' leave ya alone. That's why your Ma an' me put a dream catcher, made just like that hoop, above your beds."

"I think I catch a few bad dweams," Josef sighed.

"You catch mostly the good ones, big boy," Sully winked.

"That was a good story, Poppy," Katie commended.

Suddenly, there was an urgent knock at the door. Brian reached to open it.

"Hey, Colleen," he smiled.

She stepped into the kitchen and went to her mother in tears. Michaela embraced her.

"I've left Andrew," Colleen spoke between sobs.

************
Chapter 15
************

Michaela guided Colleen up the steps to speak with her daughter in private. When they reached her bedroom, Michaela directed the young woman to sit on the bed, then handed her a handkerchief.

Positioning herself beside Colleen, she stroked her back, waiting for her to reveal the details.

Colleen wiped her reddened eyes, "He said the most terrible things."

"When couples fight, they say things they don't mean," Michaela knew.

"He's leaving for Boston Friday morning," she added.

"Perhaps he'll change his mind when he calms down," Michaela offered.

Colleen's jaw tensed, "I'm not going to take living like this anymore. I'm not going to let him dictate to me."

"Dictate?" Michaela raised an eyebrow.

"He wants to make all the decisions," she explained. "Where we live, how we live, what we do. He treats me like a servant."

"Andrew respects your...." Michaela was cut off.

"No, Ma, that's just it," she interrupted. "He doesn't respect what I want. I worked so hard for my medical degree. At the same time, I was expected to run his household and act pleasant around his family. All the while, I knew they disapproved of what I was doing."

"But Andrew supported your dream of becoming a doctor," Michaela knew.

"Until it came true," she felt another wave of tears. "Then he became someone I didn't recognize. He felt that he had done his part, and now it was time for me to do mine. At least I had Grandma to talk to, but after she died, it became unbearable for me."

"Oh, Colleen," her eyes saddened. "I never knew."

"I asked Grandma not to tell you," the young woman revealed.

"What did Mother say?" Michaela was curious.

"She said that was typical of the Cooks," she noted. "You got a glimpse of it, when Grandma was in the hospital. They're stubborn, uncompromising.... and that's how Andrew started to behave. I thought coming back here, getting him away from them, might make it better."

"This is so hard to believe," Michaela attempted to absorb.

"Could I stay here tonight?" Colleen requested.

"Of course," Michaela hugged her.

"Thanks," Colleen began to calm. "Promise me something, Ma."

"What?" Michaela anticipated.

"Don't try to talk with Andrew about this," she stated.

"But perhaps...." Michaela was interrupted.

"No," Colleen was certain. "It will only bring more trouble."

"But if he does return to Boston, what will you do?" she posed the question.

"I'm staying in Colorado Springs," Colleen avowed.

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

Bridget motioned for Sully to speak to her alone, "Lad, I wanted t' tell ya somethin'."

"What?" Sully wondered.

"About Josef," she paused.

"What's he done now?" he anticipated.

"He was lookin' at the pickles," she began.

"Don't tell me he ate one," Sully sighed.

"No," she smiled. "I offered t' get it for him, don't ya know. But the lad said he wasn't allowed t' have any until after Thanksgivin'."

A grin appeared on Sully's face, "Thanks for tellin' me."

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

As Thanksgiving dawned over Colorado Springs, the town bustled in anticipation of the feast to come. Grace and several women from shantytown moved rapidly around the large tables, setting plates and utensils. Robert E held the baby up to watch his mother at work.

At the church, Isabel finished the knot in Wendell's tie while the Reverend rehearsed a hymn for tomorrow's wedding.

At the boarding house, Henriette arose and excitedly dressed for the day at the Sully homestead.

Down the hall, Horace entered Myra's room and watched her arrange the curls in Samantha's air.

In the back room of Matthew's law office, he inspected the new suit he had purchased for his wedding.

At the Mercantile, Loren finished shaving and donning his best suit.

At the Slicker home, Jake awoke in the spare bedroom to be greeted by his daughter. The child kissed his cheek. Then Teresa scolded him for not being up and dressed.

At the Clinic, Lexie administered a dose of the medicine Dr. Mike had left for Hank. He smiled and clasped her hand.

At the Indian School, Cloud Dancing gathered the young ones to talk about the first Thanksgiving and what it had meant to their people.

At the Sully homestead, the aroma of Bridget's cooking filtered upstairs and wakened Michaela. She felt Sully's hand resting on her belly.

"Good morning," she turned to kiss him.

"'Mornin'," he grinned.

She ran her fingers lightly through his hair, "How did you sleep?"

"Good," he drew her closer. "How 'bout you?"

"I'm afraid I was rather restless, thinking about Colleen," she confessed. "She said Andrew is returning to Boston tomorrow morning."

"Maybe bein' apart will be good for 'em," Sully speculated.

"I recall your coming all the way to Boston to make certain I'd return to Colorado Springs," she remembered.

His gaze intensified, "I was scared ya wouldn't."

"You needn't have worried," she felt herself melting at his proximity. "I love you."

Sully slid his hand beneath the material of her gown, "I'll never forget you tellin' me that in the street when ya came home."

She felt her passions stir but resisted, "Sully.... we can't."

He stopped and suddenly withdrew his hand, "I'm sorry, Michaela. If it's the baby...."

She noticed his expression, "It's not the baby. It's the time. Our guests will be arriving soon. And I need to help Bridget."

"Okay," he sounded less than sincere.

"Tonight," she pledged. "We'll make tonight special."

He smiled, "Every night's special with you."

They sat up and began to make the bed.

"We're telling everyone about this little one today," she rested her hand on her abdomen.

He went to her and enfolded her in his arms, "Are ya kinda sad about that?"

"In a way," she gazed into his eyes. "How did you know?"

"I feel the same way," he noted. "Bein' the only ones t' know is special."

She reasoned, "But I'm showing more. It wouldn't be a secret for long, even if we told no one."

"True," he mused.

"Bridget knows," she revealed.

"You told her?" he was surprised.

"No, she figured it out on her own," Michaela explained. "She's an amazing woman."

"Yes, she is," he agreed.

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

Sully lifted the lid of one of the pot lids on the stove to taste its contents.

Bridget caught him, "Outa there."

He grinned impishly, "Tastes real good."

"You'll leave nothin' for dinner," she scolded.

He informed her, "I gotta go do somethin'. Be back shortly."

"Oh, sure, you'd be leavin' when there's serious work t' be done," she frowned.

"What needs t' be done?" he questioned.

"Logs for the fireplaces," she gestured.

"I'll get 'em," he pulled on his buckskin jacket.

Bridget returned to her work as Sully fetched the logs. Just after he departed, Michaela descended the steps.

"How ya feelin', lass?" the nanny looked up from her work.

"I'm well," Michaela smiled. "The children are still asleep."

"Gives us time t' think," Bridget joked.

"Have you seen Sully?" she inquired.

"Aye," she nodded toward the door. "Said he had somethin' t' do."

"Oh," Michaela wondered what it might be.

"I reckon it's good that Colleen's still sleepin'," Bridget mentioned.

"Katie was delighted to have the company," she smiled.

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

Sully slowed his horse at the Chateau. He spotted the young man sitting alone on one of the benches near the hot springs.

"Andrew," Sully approached him.

He responded, "If Colleen sent you...."

"She don't know I'm here," Sully sat beside him.

Andrew leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, "Don't try to change my mind. I'm going back to Boston."

Sully nodded, "I won't try. I know it ain't easy livin' with a strong woman."

The young man looked at him, "You and Michaela have had problems?"

"'Course we have," Sully noted. "But we never gave up on each other."

"Colleen has given up," Andrew stated.

"What about you?" Sully posed the question.

"I'm tired of fighting," he sighed.

"So you're givin' up, too," Sully observed.

"You make it sound so simple," Andrew sat up and folded his arms tightly against his chest.

"Nothin's simple about marriage," he countered. "But when ya think about your wife.... imaginin' life without her, it makes ya wanna try harder."

"That's just it," Andrew's jaw tensed. "I'm starting to imagine my life without her."

"This don't sound like you," Sully's brow wrinkled.

"She's not the same person I married," Andrew informed him.

"You're forgettin' something," Sully explained. "You married a girl, not even eighteen. Now she's a woman."

"How can there be such a dramatic difference?" he challenged.

"'Cause people grow up," Sully shrugged. "Their priorities change. Marriage changes us."

"Did it change you?" Andrew posed the question.

Sully admitted, "Much as I didn't want Michaela t' change me, she did."

"You let her?" Andrew questioned.

"It's not so much lettin' her," Sully thought about it. "It just happened. I never wanted t' feel the pain I felt when my first wife an' baby died, an' that meant not lettin' another woman in my heart. But meetin' Michaela made me see that closin' off the hurt only shut my heart t' love. Once that door opened, it changed me.... changed my life."

"I'm glad for you," he lamented.

"Andrew," Sully cautioned. "If you go back t' Boston, there might not be any comin' back."

"I know," he swallowed hard.

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

"I brought your dinner," Lexie set a tray on the edge of Hank's bed.

"Smells good," he sat up slightly.

Lexie arranged the pillows so that he could have access to the meal.

"Thanks," he expressed his appreciation.

"You're welcome," she tucked a napkin under his chin.

"I think I could get used t' this," Hank quipped.

Lexie cut a small piece of turkey and offered it to him. Hank accepted with a smile.

"Best Thanksgivin' I can ever remember," he quipped. "Even when Preston's Chateau got hit with a tornado."

"A tornado?" she was surprised.

"Yep," he chuckled. "Couldn't have happened t' a nicer person."

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

Family and friends began to gather at the Sully homestead. Brian glowed at the presence of Henriette.

The young man smiled, "Henriette, I'd like ya t' meet my my sister, Colleen."

"Nice to meet you," she shook hands.

Josef tugged at Brian's leg, "What 'bout us?"

"She already met you kids when she came for dinner before," he grinned. "Remember?"

When Henriette knelt down to greet them, Noah attempted to chew on her finger.

"Noah!" Brian was embarrassed.

The little boy's lower lip curled under until Katie handed him his stuffed bunny.

"They're adorable," Henriette remarked.

Loren stepped forward, "The name's Loren Bray. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"And you," she nodded. "Dorothy and Brian have spoken very highly of you."

"And they're not exaggeratin'," he joked.

"Dinner's ready," Bridget announced.

When all had assembled in the newly completed dining room, Sully stood at the head of the table and cleared his throat. Then he asked Cloud Dancing to bless their feast.

The medicine man spoke softly in Cheyenne, then translated into English:

"We thank the Great Spirit for Mother Earth. For the animals and the air. For the trees and the rivers. For the children and the wise ones. We ask that we may have wisdom to see the balance of all your creation and live with only love in our hearts."

Sully took Michaela's hand and guided her to stand beside him.

He smiled, then spoke, "Michaela an' me have somethin' we'd like t' tell everyone before we eat."

His look encouraged Michaela to proceed, "We have the most incredible news. It truly is a miracle, and we could think of no more appropriate time to announce it than at Thanksgiving."

"Land's sake, Michaela," Dorothy wondered. "What could it be?"

Michaela's face radiated her joy, "We're going to have a baby."

"A baby!" voices exclaimed in unison.

Everyone immediately surrounded them to offer congratulations. For several minutes, there was an outpouring of good wishes and embraces.

Finally, as all began to settle, there were questions.

Josef said what all were thinking, "I didn' know ya can have more babies."

"We thought that, too, Joe," Sully rubbed his son's back.

Colleen inquired, "When are you due?"

"May," Michaela answered.

"May?" Katie's eyes widened. "Like the twins and me."

"August must be a real active month around here," Loren retorted.

"This is the best news!" Dorothy exclaimed.

"So this is the miracle you were talkin' about," Katie realized.

Conversation continued as Sully carved the turkey, and the plates of food were passed around the table.

"Turkey's real good, Mama," Katie commended.

"You can thank Bridget for that," Michaela amended.

"The dressin's right tasty, too," Loren smiled at the nanny.

"You can thank Dr. Mike for that," the nanny grinned. "It's that Boston recipe of hers."

"It was Mother's," Michaela qualified. "The one cooking lesson to which I paid attention."

"Joe," Sully sought his son's attention.

"What?" the little boy looked up.

"Here," Sully offered him a pickle.

"But, Papa, ya say I can't have 'em," the child reminded.

"Punishment's over," Sully smiled.

Josef enthusiastically accepted the pickle. Michaela cut small pieces of meat and vegetables for the twins, though Noah ate only the dressing.

"Don't ya make 'em eat everythin'?" Emma questioned.

"I've learned that if you force them, they'll resist," Michaela explained. Then gesturing to Katie and Josef, she commented, "They eat just fine eventually."

Colleen's plate was untouched as she gazed at the empty chair opposite her.

"Where's Andrew?" Loren noticed.

"He...." Colleen could not bring herself to finish.

Michaela intervened, "He's been detained at the Chateau."

Colleen did not want to deceive them, "He chose not to come."

"Why?" Matthew's brow wrinkled.

"He's going back to Boston," she informed them.

"Boston?" Matthew was surprised. "What's goin' on?"

"Let's change the subject, shall we?" Michaela saw tears in her daughter's eyes.

"I'm lookin' forward t' the weddin'," Katie smiled.

"Me, too," Josef chimed in. "I carry the ww....ring."

"Just make sure you're careful, Josef," Matthew cautioned.

"I will," the little boy pledged.

As the wedding discussion continued, Sully noticed that Michaela had quietly slipped away from the table. He went to check on her. After first surveying the kitchen and living room, he could not find her.

Then he grew more concerned, "Michaela? Where are ya?"

************
Chapter 16
************

"Michaela?" Sully repeated.

"In here," her voice emanated from her office.

Sully entered the room and found her gazing out the window.

"You okay?" he went to her.

She turned to face him, a tear streaming down each cheek.

"What's wrong?" he lightly touched the moisture.

"I feel so terrible about Colleen," her voice choked slightly. "The least Andrew could have done is to be with her on Thanksgiving."

Sully embraced her, "I went t' talk with him this mornin'."

"You did?" she was surprised. "What did he say?"

"He's set on goin' back t' Boston," Sully remarked. "They're both pretty stubborn."

She shook her head in disbelief, "I never thought it would come to this. I wish I knew a way to help them."

"Like I told ya before, maybe the time apart would be good for 'em," he noted. "Make 'em realize what they mean t' each other."

"It must be difficult for her to be around all of us at this time," she pondered. "And with our happy news, it will surely remind her of how she and Andrew planned to have a child."

He embraced her, "Bein' around us is just what she needs. I was thinkin' about how we told the whole town you were pregnant on our first Thanksgivin' t'gether as a family."

"I remember," she smiled wistfully.

"Remember what happened after we ate that dinner?" Sully caressed her cheek.

"You took me to the mountain," she nodded.

"Yep," he kissed her. "I told ya that you'd made me the happiest man alive."

"And I told you that you'd made me the happiest woman," she returned.

He leaned closer to her ear, "Do ya remember that night?"

Her cheeks flushed, "I'll never forget it."

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

"Henwette," Josef sought her attention. "Bran's sweet on ya."

"Josef!" a disconcerted Brian exclaimed.

The young woman smiled, "I'm very flattered."

Loren winked, "He's a good catch, ya know."

Matthew sensed his brother's embarrassment, "Who's ready for dessert?"

"Well, ya got your choice," Bridget recited. "There's pies.... pumpkin, pecan an' apple. There's cookies, cake an' I made ice cream."

"I'll help ya get 'em," Katie offered.

Michaela entered the dining room at that moment, carrying a pie, "Sully and I will do it for you, Bridget. You've spent the week preparing for this feast. Let us wait on you."

"I won't say no," the nanny chuckled.

After dinner, they began to break into smaller groups. The children gathered around Cloud Dancing to listen to a story. Michaela, Dorothy and Emma went into the office to finalize wedding plans. Sully, Loren and Matthew offered to help Bridget with the cleanup, while Brian and Henriette decided to take a walk.

When Sully noticed Colleen, sitting alone at the dining room table, he nodded to Matthew to go to her.

Matthew approached her, "Anythin' I can do t' help?"

"No, thanks," Colleen forced a smile. "You need to concentrate on your special day tomorrow."

"Want me t' talk with Andrew?" he volunteered. "I can beat him up if ya like."

She chuckled, "I'm afraid he's not much of a fighter."

"Maybe that's the problem," he reasoned. "He don't wanna fight for your marriage."

She sipped from her cup of tea, then shook her head, "I'm not going to put all of the blame on him. And I'm not going to feel sorry for myself. We made a mistake, and now it's time to try to move on."

"What mistake did ya make?" Matthew wondered.

"Getting married," she replied. "I was infatuated with him, and I wanted t' rebel because Ma opposed our marriage. It made me want to marry him all the more. You know, when I think about it, nearly every boy I was ever sweet on was never right in Ma's eyes."

"Are you blamin' her?" he perceived.

"No," she shook her head. "I admire her ability to judge human nature. She was usually right."

"Colleen," he paused. "You were young an' in love with Andrew. There's nothin' wrong with that."

She amended, "Don't get me wrong. Andrew is a wonderful person. He was so encouraging to me in the beginning."

Matthew pointed out, "And he courted ya."

"I'm going to focus on my career now," she determined. "There will be plenty of work for me at the Clinic and then at the new hospital, even more with Ma's pregnancy."

He smiled, "I still can't believe she's expectin'. She was so heartsick when she lost the baby earlier this year. An' now...."

He stopped when he observed the look of melancholy on his sister's face.

"I guess we never know how things will turn out," she felt a lump in her throat.

"Could I ask ya somethin'?" he hesitated.

"Sure," she looked him straight in the eye.

"What would ya do if Andrew decided t' stay here in Colorado Springs?" he posed the question.

"I don't know," Colleen considered.

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

"You have a nice family, Brian," Henriette commended as they strolled along the dirt road. "You're very lucky."

"I know," he smiled. "But can't believe how Josef spoke out."

"He's just a little boy," she excused.

"But what he said...." he paused. "He was right."

"About what?" she wondered.

"I.... I do like ya," he confessed.

"I like you, too," her cheeks flushed.

"Do ya think it would be okay if.... I kissed ya?" he requested.

"Yes," she smiled.

Their lips met. Then they backed away.

"That was nice," she lowered her eyes.

"Real nice," he grinned.

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

Lexie observed Hank as he slept. He had eaten well, and his color was good. She lightly touched his stubbled cheek.

She sighed, uncertain of what to think anymore. She had given him her heart, only to have it broken. But in spite of his infidelity, she was certain deep down that he loved her. Is that what it would be like to love him? Could she continue a relationship with a man who could not be faithful? As she struggled with her doubts, she did not notice that Hank had awakened.

"Hey, beautiful," his voice was low.

"Hello," she quickly put on a smile. "How do you feel?"

"Just peachy," he was sarcastic.

"Can I get you anything?" she posed the question.

"I think you're the one who needs sleep," he remarked. "An' what about your ranch?"

"Alan's been taking care of things for me," she responded.

"I don't know how t' thank ya," he smiled.

"You can thank me by getting well," she clasped his hand.

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

"Good night, Emma," Matthew stood at her door.

"Good night," she kissed him tenderly.

"Seems like a dream," he embraced her warmly.

"Our dream come true," she smiled.

After another kiss, he departed from the boarding house. As he approached his horse, he heard a voice call from the Gold Nugget.

"Got a few fellas in here who wanna toast your last night o' freedom," spoke an inebriated Jake.

"No thanks," Matthew untied his horse.

"Aw, come on," Jake motioned. "Won't hurt."

"Why aren't you home on Thanksgivin' night?" Matthew posed the question.

Jake tried to steady himself, "I'll go home when Teresa's asleep."

Matthew shook his head regretfully, then mounted his horse and departed.

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

Sully spooned himself next to Michaela, who had already fallen asleep. Or so he thought.

She apologized, "I'm sorry I didn't help wash the dishes. I became so tired."

"That's okay," he offered. "We got it done. Kids are all tucked in for the night, too."

She started to rise, "I haven't checked your arm today."

"I'm fine," he assured. "What about you? Are you okay now?"

"Yes, I slept some," she answered.

"Good," he replied.

"I can't believe Matthew's getting married tomorrow," she pondered.

He kissed her temple, "Yep."

"I think he'll be happy with Emma," she affirmed.

"He deserves it," Sully added. "They both do."

"So does Colleen," she pondered.

Sully soothed, "Some things are outa our control."

She sighed, "I know."

"You wanna make the whole world right, don't ya," he grinned.

"Well, that's certainly out of my control," she mused. "But I do want to make things right for our children."

He linked his fingers in hers, then raised them to kiss, "We can't always keep 'em from bein' hurt. They gotta make their own choices, then live with 'em."

"Perhaps I could try to speak with Andrew, before his train leaves," she thought aloud.

"That's up t' you," he counseled.

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "Are you nervous?"

"About what?" he was curious.

"About tomorrow," she specified.

"No," he grinned. "Why?"

"As the father of the groom," she clarified.

"I'd be a lot more nervous if it was one of our girls," he chuckled.

"I remember when you walked Colleen down the aisle," her thoughts returned to their oldest daughter. "You looked so proud."

"I'm still proud of her," he said. "What's happenin' between her an' Andrew don't change that."

"I agree," she stroked his arm softly, then rose from the bed.

"Where ya goin'?" Sully was curious.

Without replying, she began to light some candles around the room. The soft illumination prompted Sully to observe his wife closely. He smiled at how her gown fit a bit more snugly where the baby was growing. When she finished, she stood beside the bed and smiled beguilingly at him. Then she lifted her nightgown over her head. Pausing, she gauged his reaction.

"Michaela," his tone enticed her.

He drew back the bed covers for her to join him. She climbed into bed and slid closer to him. Then, lightly stroking the side of his face, she leaned closer for a kiss.

"Mmm," he smiled. "You tryin' t' create a mood here?"

"I promised you we'd do something special tonight," she lovingly traced his lips with the tip of her finger.

He smiled, "But.... not if ya don't feel like it."

"I feel like it," she assured.

He cupped his hand to her cheek, "Even though you're pregnant?"

She chuckled softly, "Amazing, isn't it?"

He looked at her longingly, "You're amazin' all right."

As she toyed with the hair at his temple, she took the initiative to quote for him:

"In that book which is
My memory . . .
On the first page
That is the chapter when
I first met you
Appear the words . . .
Here begins a new life."

He ventured, "Was that Herrick?"

"Dante Alighieri," she was pleased to have stumped him.

Sully kissed her more passionately. She arched her neck to allow him freer access. His wandering hand began to warm her. Michaela's pulse raced in anticipation of what awaited. She returned his kiss with inviting ardor. Then she felt his hand on her thigh, awakening even greater passions in her.

"I love you, Sully," she whispered. "And I cherish every moment we're together."

His eyes locked on hers, "I need ya so much. I always will."

The intensity of his gaze filled her with desire. With all of the tenderness he possessed, Sully positioned her body to receive his love. She welcomed his overtures. Together, they moved and maneuvered to fulfill their passions. Finally, in a blindingly powerful burst of energy, two souls joined as one. Michaela felt his warmth fill her. Sustaining their union as long as possible, their bodies eventually returned to a more normal pace.

"You make me feel so alive," she plied tender kisses to his temple.

"We got it all, Michaela," he enfolded her in his arms.

"And I never want it to end," she kissed him again.

When her husband fell asleep, Michaela returned to her Medieval dream.

Princess Michaela and Sir Byron had concluded their marriage ceremony. After feasting in the castle's dining hall, they retired to her bed chamber. Byron scooped her into his arms and carried her across the threshold. Still in her new husband's arms, she kissed him.

"I have an enthusiastic wife," he was pleased.

When he set her down, she stood shyly watching him. He embraced her and kissed her again. Impatient to consummate their marriage, he began to loosen the bodice of her gown.

"Byron," she resisted. "I.... I have never done this before."

"Then we shall take it ever so slowly," he smiled. "Do not be afraid."

"I.... I am not afraid," the tremble in her voice suggested otherwise.

"Are you cold?" he observed. "I can put another log on the fire."

"Do you think we could sit by the fire for a while?" she suggested.

"Of course," he took her hand and guided her to the hearth.

He sat on the rug and, extending his hand, bid her to join him. She knelt down, then slid closer to him. He drew her back so that she leaned against his chest. For several minutes, they stared at the flames.

Byron felt her relax in his arms. In his desire for her, he had forgotten that she was inexperienced. She would need his assurance and guidance. The thought of her innocence filled his heart with greater love.

"What are you thinking?" she lifted up to look at him.

"About my good fortune," he smiled. "Falling in love with someone who loves me in return."

"It is fortunate for me, as well," she smiled.

Falling silent, he began to softly kiss her neck.

New sensations awakened in Michaela, "That feels...."

"What?" he hesitated.

Her body tingled, "It feels good."

He smiled, "It gets even better."

She felt her shyness lessen, "Would you tell me what to do?"

"Simply follow your heart," he drew her hand to his heart. "My heart beats for you, Michaela."

She leaned closer to kiss him. As he embraced her, he circled his hands around her to loosen her bodice. This time she did not resist. Emboldened, Michaela reached to undo his shirt. Byron pulled back and lifted it over his head. She studied his taut physique, so tan and muscular. It made her peculiarly warm.

"Touch me," he invited.

When she reached out to caress his chest, he slowly pulled at the bodice of her gown to reveal her beauty.

Her cheeks flushed, "Byron... I...."

"Shh," he kissed her. "You're beautiful."

Suddenly, she did not mind that this man whom she adored was looking at her, admiring her. His touches were electric.

"Are you ready for what comes next?" he smiled.

"Yes," she was breathless.

His hands began to explore her. Michaela closed her eyes, tensing at first. But as he continued, she melted. She was transported by the magic of his tender ministrations. His kisses and caresses across her silken skin made her tremble. He loosened her long, auburn locks and ran his fingers through the tresses.

"Always remember that I love you," he spoke low.

"And I love you," she pledged.

He guided her back upon the carpet.

Running his finger along the line of her jaw, he uttered, "When I gaze upon you, I think of Swinburne's words:

I love you with my lips,
My eyes and heart,
Your love is in my blood,
I shall die merely if you hold to me."

"I would not want to live if you should die," she returned.

"You must go on if anything happens to me," his voice sounded ominous.

Her brow wrinkled, "No, Byron. Do not speak like that."

He smiled, "We shall think not of death tonight, but of life. Our new life.... the new life that we shall create."

She searched his expression, the blue of his eyes, and found only a profound adoration. Without another thought of trepidation, she welcomed his touches. Ever so gently, he brought himself to her. The flame which ignited in her body stirred her beyond imagination. At last united, the throbbing warmth each felt seemed limitless. Finally, quenching the flame which burned within them, their union was consummated.

"Are you all right?" he stroked the moist hair from her cheek.

"I'm filled with overwhelming love," she smiled.

"Now we shall always be one," he affirmed. "Not even death can part us."

"You said we would not think of death," she reminded.

At that moment, the door to their chamber burst open. Byron protectively placed himself between the intruders and Michaela.

Seeing only silhouettes, he reached for his sword, "Who are you?"

One figure stepped forward and spoke in a cold voice, "Now you will be mine, Michaela."

************
Chapter 17
************

Byron jumped to his feet, "Mellypreston!"

"Stand aside or die," the villain proclaimed.

"Michaela," Byron looked at her momentarily. "Run... hurry or...."

In that instant, Mellypreston lunged forward and thrust his sword into Byron's chest."

"No!" Michaela awoke with a start.

Her heart was racing, her skin clammy. She attempted to focus on what was real. Reaching down, she felt Sully's arm draped across her.

"A dream," she said to herself. "It was only a dream."

She raised her husband's hand to her lips and kissed it. Then she sat up. Assured that Sully was fine, she was overcome with a need to see her children. Donning her slippers and robe, she left her bedroom.

Stopping first at the twins' room, she entered and went to their cribs. Their soft breathing calmed her. Lovingly, she stroked their backs.

Noah awoke and rolled over. Yawning, he sat up and wiped his eyes.

"Mama," he reached up.

"I'm sorry I can't lift you, my darling," she leaned closer. "Settle back now."

He sleepily obeyed.

"Close your eyes," she whispered. "Mama loves you."

Within a few minutes, the toddler had drifted back to sleep.

Next, Michaela paused at Brian's door and touched its wood. There was a time when she could open it to check on him, but he was a man now. To do so would be an intrusion upon his privacy. She smiled, warmed by his new found affection for Henriette.

She approached Josef's room. Making her way past his toys, she neared his bed. Perhaps Sully was right.... she did want to give him everything. In a few days, he would turn five, and she had already purchased a new kaleidoscope for him. She sensed her husband would not mind. Smoothing back the hair from his forehead, she kissed her son.

"I love you, Josef," she uttered.

The corner of his mouth turned up slightly.

Departing, Michaela finally stepped into Katie's room. The little girl was tucked next to Colleen in the bed. She approached them to pull up the blanket.

"Mama," Katie startled her.

"What are you doing awake?" she was surprised.

"I can't sleep," she whispered.

"Let's go downstairs for some warm milk," Michaela extended her hand.

The child slipped from her bed and put on her robe and slippers. Taking her mother's hand, they descended the steps. Michaela put a small pan of milk on the stove to heat, then sat beside Katie.

"Is there a particular reason why can't you sleep?" the mother posed the question.

Katie was silent for a moment, then sighed.

"Sweetheart," Michaela encouraged. "You can tell me."

"It's about this new baby," the little girl confessed.

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

Jake stumbled into his house and made his way up the steps. Teresa awoke from the noise. She rose from the bed and went to his room.

Jake had removed his jacket and fallen onto his mattress.

She shook her head and turned to leave.

Jake slurred, "Don't go."

"You are drunk," she pointed out.

"Yep," he frowned.

"I pray your daughter does not see you like this," she told him.

"'Least she loves me," he accused. "That's more than I can say for you."

"I am your wife," she noted.

"In name only," he sighed. "I been tryin', Teresa. I ain't been with another woman since.... you know."

"But you continue to drink," she controlled her temper.

"One or two don't hurt," he deluded himself.

"How can you expect me to believe that?" she challenged.

"You don't understand," he tried to sit up. "It relaxes me. I get real tense when I don't have a little drink. You can ask Dr. Mike. She tried t' get me t' stop."

"We have been married for six years, Mr. Slicker," she remarked. "And in that time, how many days have you spent sober?"

"Most of 'em," he fibbed.

"You dishonor me, you dishonor your daughter, and you dishonor your position as mayor," she informed him.

"If I'm so bad, why do ya stay?" he questioned.

"Because it is my duty," Teresa lowered her eyes.

"Seems t' me there's other duties a wife has t' her husband," Jake accused. "Like...."

"You do not need to say it," she interrupted. "You imply that if I were a wife to you in that sense, you would no longer drink."

"Maybe I wouldn't," he spoke defiantly.

"If you can stay sober for a month," she paused. "Maybe I would consider being such a wife to you."

"You mean it?" his eyebrows raised.

"Yes, I mean it," she nodded. "But it does not matter, for in the morning, you will have forgotten this conversation."

His eyelids grew heavy, "I'll remember.... an' in a month, maybe I'll think about that raise for the teachers."

She watched him as he passed out. Then she approached him, opened a quilt and spread it across him.

"You are wrong, Jacob," she fought back a tear. "I do love you."

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

"What about the baby?" Michaela was curious.

Katie took a deep breath, "Mama, I remember how hard it was for ya t' have the twins. I'm worried."

Michaela assured, "I'm perfectly fine, Katie. Dr. Bernard is checking me often."

Katie clasped her hand more tightly, "Promise me, you'll be all right."

"I promise," Michaela leaned closer to kiss her cheek. "Especially with all of the wonderful people I have to take care of me."

"Will Poppy have t' build more rooms?" the child queried.

"Not for a while," she smiled.

Michaela rose and poured the warm milk into a cup for her daughter.

"Thanks," Katie began to sip it. "Can ya still hold me?"

"Come here," she opened her arms. Embracing her daughter, she caressed her blonde locks, "I love you, Katie, and I shall always be able to hold you in my arms."

"Even when ya come out 't here," Katie imitated an expanded girth.

"Even then," she laughed.

"If the day comes when ya can't hold me, I'll hold you, Mama," Katie innocently spoke. "That's why the dreamcatcher is in a circle.... for the circle of life."

"Your father told you that?" Michaela's heart filled with love.

"Yep," Katie finished her milk.

Michaela touched her daughter's nose, "Now, your big brother is getting married tomorrow, and you have a very important job in the ceremony. Finish your milk, and let's get you back to bed."

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

Sully stirred when he felt the mattress move, "You okay?"

"Yes," Michaela snuggled closer. "I was checking on the children."

"They all right?" he yawned.

"They're fine," she kissed him.

"Mmm," he smiled. "I sure do love wakin' up t' that."

She leaned her head on his shoulder, "Good night, Sully."

He embraced her, "'Night."

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

Lexie awoke at the sound of the recovery room door opening, "Hank? What are you doing out of bed?"

He clasped the door frame, "It's mornin', an' I needed t' move around. I got a business t' run. An' you got a ranch."

"But you haven't recuperated from the shooting," she stated.

"I'm well enough t' go across the street," he asserted.

"No, Hank, please," she implored.

"What's going on here?" it was Michaela's voice in the hall.

"I was just tellin' Lexie she needs t' go home," Hank answered.

"And I was just telling Hank that he needs to get back in bed," Lexie returned.

"Lexie's right," Michaela touched his back. "I want to check on you."

"Ain't Emma an' Matthew gettin' married t'day?" he recalled.

"This afternoon, yes," Michaela led him down the hall.

"Well, since Emma used t' work for me, I better be okay," he sat on the edge of the bed. "Wouldn't wanna miss it."

"Hank," Lexie followed. "You're in no condition to go to the wedding."

"Granted, I need a bath an' a shave," he noted.

Michaela lifted the bandage and inspected the wound, "It's healing nicely."

"So, I can go home," he assumed.

"You can return to the Gold Nugget, as long as you stay in bed for a few more days," Michaela stipulated.

"Good," he stood up.

"Lexie," Michaela smiled. "You've been an excellent nurse."

"There's not much difference between taking care of Hank and tending to my cattle," she shrugged. "They're both stubborn."

He winked, "Bet they don't kiss as good as me."

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

"These children look good as gold," Bridget admired their new outfits.

Sully finished tying Josef's tie, "Remember, Joe, ya put the ring on this pillow t' carry it down the aisle. An' when the Reverend asks for it, ya take it off an' hand it t' him."

"Can I pwactice with a ww....real ww.... ring?" he requested.

Colleen removed her wedding ring and handed it to him, "Here. Use this."

Josef put the gold band atop the cushion, then took it off. As Sully helped Bridget with the twins, Josef continued to rehearse his one task.

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

At the Depot, Andrew spotted Michaela's approach and tensed for a lecture.

"Michaela," he acknowledged her presence.

"Do you think I might have a word with you before you depart?" she hoped.

Horace overheard, "Train's gonna be a little late in departin'. Oh, congratulations, Dr. Mike. I heard the good news from Dorothy."

"Good news?" Andrew was puzzled.

"I'm pregnant," she revealed.

His eyes widened, "That is good news, Michaela. I'm happy for Sully and you."

"Thank you," her face radiated joy. "And thanking you is why I came here."

"To thank me?" he was surprised. "For what?"

"For so many things, beginning with your coming out to Colorado Springs eight years ago to deliver my baby," she began.

"Sully delivered Katie," he pointed out.

"But it would have been you, if things had worked out as Mother planned," she pointed out. "I also want to express my gratitude for your help when I had to burn the contents of the Clinic after that mysterious infection."

"Michaela," he stopped her. "You don't have to thank me for these things."

"Yes, I do," she affirmed. "I don't think I've adequately conveyed to you what you've meant to me over the years."

He fell silent, moved by her confession.

She resumed, "I want to thank you for loving my daughter and for giving her the encouragement to pursue her medical degree."

"I did it because I loved her," he felt a lump in his throat.

"And most of all," she clasped his hand. "I want to thank you for saving my life when I was shot."

"I was so afraid we'd lose you," he looked down shyly.

"You did exactly the right thing," she assured.

"Good luck with your new hospital," he offered.

"I'm afraid I won't be able to spend as much time there as I had planned," she sighed. "At least not until after the baby."

"You'll have plenty of doctors on staff to help," he assured.

"I have to get ready for Matthew's wedding now," she embraced him. "I'll miss you, Andrew."

"I.... I'll miss you, too," he swallowed hard.

She pivoted and headed back toward the Clinic. He watched her turn the corner, then sat back on the bench. Watching her walk away, he pondered what a remarkable woman she was.

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

Reverend Johnson summoned his son, "Wendell."

"What?" the little boy approached.

He instructed, "I need you to look out on the pews and tell me if they're full."

Wendell peeked around the corner, "Yep. Must be a million people here."

"Everyone except the Coopers and Sullys," he sighed. "Where's your mother?"

"She's helpin' Miss Emma get ready."

"All right," he took a deep breath. "Let me know the minute the groom's family arrives."

Suddenly the child pointed, "Here they come."

Sully carried the twins, and Michaela clasped Katie and Josef's hands. They stopped at the organ to greet Grace. Isabel approached them to provide last minute instructions for the children. After settling Annie and Noah with Bridget, Sully stepped to the rear of the church to speak with Matthew.

Sully shook his son's hand, "Happiest day of your life."

"Got any advice?" Matthew grinned.

Sully eyed Michaela, "Just love her."

"I do," Matthew avowed.

"That's the only two words ya gotta say t'day," Sully joked.

Brian did not take his eyes off of Henriette when she entered the church with Dorothy and Cloud Dancing.

Sully waved his hand in front of the young man to break the trance, "You nervous?"

"No," Brian fidgeted with his collar.

Josef neared them, "Where's the ww....ring?"

"Right here," Matthew drew it from his pocket.

Josef held up the pillow, "Put it on here."

Matthew complied, then stood taller, "Okay, let's go."

Sully extended his arm to his wife and escorted her down the aisle, while Matthew and Brian took their places at the altar. Then Grace began the wedding music. Colleen strolled down the aisle, followed by Katie. The little girl held her basket of flower petals and sprinkled them on the floor as she walked.

Next was Josef. Suddenly, he froze with fear.

"What's he doing?" Michaela watched in horror.

"Looks like he's scared," Sully observed.

Michaela smiled and subtly gestured for her son to step forward. He did not respond.

"What should we do?" Michaela grew more embarrassed.

Isabel touched the little boy's back, "Go on, Josef. Walk up toward your parents."

"I.... I can't," he closed his eyes. "Not with all them folks lookin'."

The music stopped. Michaela swiftly made her way to the back of the church and knelt down to the level of her son's eyes.

Taking his hand, she spoke, "Sweetheart, open your eyes."

He obeyed.

"Now," she smiled nervously. "I want you to look at the front of the church and tell me what you see."

"All them people," he swallowed hard.

"Past the people," she motioned. "Whom do you see?"

"Mattew an' Bran," he answered.

"Just look at them," she encouraged. "Focus on walking to them, and ignore everything else. All right?"

"'Kay," he nodded.

"That's my brave boy," she touched his cheek.

Nodding to Grace to resume the music, Michaela returned to Sully's side.

"He okay now?" Sully asked.

"I hope so," she nervously replied.

The music began anew. Josef took one step.... then another. Looking straight ahead, he concentrated on his big brothers. He was so focused on them, he did not see that he was veering toward the side of the aisle. Suddenly colliding with a pew, he tripped. As he tumbled downward, the ring fell from the pillow. It rolled through a knothole in one of the floorboards and disappeared from sight.

"Oh, no!" the little boy burst into tears. "It's gone!"

************
Chapter 18
************

"Josef!" Michaela and Sully rushed to their son.

"Are you all right?" Michaela noticed the scratch on his forehead.

The child wiped the tears from his cheeks, "I losed it, Mama. The ww....ring fell down there."

Matthew nervously neared them, "What's goin' on?"

"The ring fell through the floorboards," Sully informed him.

"Oh, no," Matthew's shoulders slumped.

Sully stepped toward the Reverend, "How big is the space under the church?"

"In some places, about six feet," he answered.

"Good," Sully began to head for the exit. "I'll go look for the ring."

The minister stopped him, "In other places, it's only about a foot, Sully."

Matthew sighed, "Look, let's have the weddin', then search for the ring. It could be like lookin' for a needle in a haystack."

Michaela had heard, "What will you use?"

Loren volunteered, "I sold the ring t' Matthew. I got another just like it in the Mercantile. I'll be right back."

As the shop keeper departed, he breezed past Emma, who was now bordering on tears.

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

Lexie checked the water temperature in the tub which Hank's girls had prepared in his room at the Gold Nugget.

"I think it's warm enough," she assessed. "Be sure you don't get the bandage wet."

"I think I'm gonna need some help," Hank slowly unbuttoned his shirt.

Her cheeks flushed.

He chuckled, "Why are you embarrassed? You've seen me naked before."

"I'm not embarrassed," she denied.

Stepping toward the window, she glanced out.

"Why's Loren rushing to the store?" she noticed. "I thought he's in the wedding."

"Maybe he had t' use the privy," Hank retorted. "You gonna help me?"

She returned to his side. She steadied him as he stepped into the steaming tub. Lowering himself into the water, Hank leaned back.

"Your bandage," she cautioned.

"There's the soap," he gestured. "Could ya get it for me?"

Lexie retrieved it and held it out for him. His expression invited her to wash him. Taking the hint, she rolled up her sleeves and lowered her hands into the water to moisten the bar of soap. After dampening a wash cloth, she lathered it. Slowly, tenderly, she ran the cloth across his arm.

"Feels good," he closed his eyes.

She continued to bathe his shoulders, being careful to avoid his bandage. She smiled and lowered her hands into the water again. Boldly, she began to caress his body beneath the level of the water. Quickly, he became aroused.

Hank gulped and opened his eyes wide, "I reckon bein' shot hasn't hurt that."

"No, it seems to be in working order," she mused.

"You keep doin' that, an' I might have t' pull you in here with me," he warned.

She stopped her movements and began to rinse him. When she had finished, she held a towel for him. Hank slowly rose from the water. He stepped from the tub and wrapped the cloth around his waist.

Gently, she used another towel to dry his hair and chest.

"Feel better?" she hoped.

He drew her into his arms, "Much better."

"Hank," she protested. "You're not ready for that."

"I'm always ready for that," he retorted.

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

"It's all right, Emma," Isabel comforted her. "Loren will be right back with a ring."

"I can't believe this is happenin'," she sighed.

At that moment, Annie began to cry. Before it escalated further, Sully scooped her into his arms and headed out the side door of the Church.

"Shh," he kissed her soft blonde hair. "Ya can't be hungry yet."

The little girl rubbed her eyes and leaned into his shoulder.

"It's all right, honey," he began to walk around with her.

Soon, Annie settled and began to point. That was Sully's cue to tell her the word for what she was pointing to. He played along until he saw Loren making his way across the bridge.

"Let's go inside now, Annie," Sully bolted up the steps and into the church.

Michaela was consoling Josef, assuring him that all would be fine.

"Is she all right?" Michaela spotted Sully with their little girl.

"Just restless," he sat beside her.

"Papa," Josef's eyes saddened. "I'm sowwy."

"Everythin' will be okay, Joe," he smiled. "Go on back now. Mr. Bray has another ring."

Soon, the congregation calmed, and the music began again. This time, Josef's walk was perfect.

Then all eyes turned toward Emma, who was radiant in her gown. Her skill as a seamstress shone through. The bone laced bodice complimented the full satin skirt and train flowing from the hips.

Matthew's smile could not have been any wider as he watched his bride approach the altar. No sooner had her walk begun than another figure appeared at the back of the church. It was Andrew. Colleen spotted him, but did not react. Michaela touched Sully's arm to draw his attention.

"Looks like your talk worked," he whispered.

"At least for now," she knew much work remained for the couple.

When Loren and Emma reached the altar, the older man turned to her, "Be happy, lass."

She kissed his cheek, "Thank you, Loren."

Matthew extended his hand, and she clasped it.

"Sully," Michaela reached for her handkerchief.

He put his arm around his wife and smiled, "They make a good couple."

As the ceremony progressed, Josef began to toy with the pillow.

"Joe," Sully kept his voice low. "Hold still."

Mercifully, the Reverend soon asked for the ring, and Josef's job was over. Michaela could breathe again.

At last, the vows were concluded, and the newly married couple walked toward the back of the church to the good wishes of all present.

"Can we eat now?" Josef tugged at his father's jacket.

"Soon," Sully replied.

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

The invited guests dined on Grace's finest, and soon the dancing began.

Sully approached his wife, "May I have this dance?"

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "I'd be delighted."

Soon, he held her in his arms and began to twirl around the floor.

Michaela felt slightly light headed and paused.

"Too much?" he guessed.

"I'm afraid so," she steadied herself.

"We'll wait for a slow song," he led her back to their table.

"Why'd ya stop dancin'?" Katie wondered.

"Maybe my daughter would do me the honor," Sully held out his hand to Katie.

"Me?" the little girls eyes widened.

"Yep," Sully smiled.

"Go on, Sweetheart," Michaela encouraged. "Dance with your father."

Sully lifted her into his arms to dance. Suddenly, Michaela became aware that Josef was not at their table. She took a quick peek beneath the table cloth and surveyed the surrounding tables. There was no sign of the little boy.

Rising , she began to ask the guests if they had seen her son.

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

Beneath the Church, Josef and Wendell were in the midst of a discussion.

"Come on, Josef," Wendell urged. "We'll find the ring back this way."

"You sure?" he was uncertain.

"I been under here plenty o' times," Wendell stated.

"I can't see," Josef squinted.

"You wait here," the older boy gestured. "I'll get a lamp."

"I don' wanna stay by myself," Josef frowned.

"Don't be a baby," Wendell accused. "Now, stay here an' I'll be right back."

Josef could see only a small ray of light ahead. It was coming down from the church. He felt his fear rising, but he did not cry. He did not want Wendell to call him a baby.

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

"Sully," Michaela tapped his arm. "Josef's missing."

"What?" his brow wrinkled.

"I've searched everywhere," she noted.

"I saw him headin' for the Church with Wendell a while ago," Katie informed them.

"I'll go check," he set his daughter down.

By the time he reached the bridge, Sully spotted Wendell, carrying a lamp.

"Wendell!" he called. "Where's Josef?"

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

Josef could no longer contain the tears streaming down his cheeks. Taking a deep breath, he began to crawl toward that single ray of light ahead, tiny as it was. His hands were cut and his head bruised, but he dared not stop. Suddenly, he realized that he could no longer move. He was stuck in the small space. Feeling overwhelmed, he began sobbing for his mother and father.

"Back there," Wendell pointed through the hatch toward the small crawl space. "I was goin' t' get us a lamp."

"Josef!" Sully called to his son.

"Papa!" the child shouted between sobs.

Sully prepared to enter the crawl space with the lamp just as Michaela arrived.

"Did you find him?" she wondered.

"Back under the Church," Sully began his journey.

Making his way toward the sound of his crying little boy, his heart pounded. Soon, he could venture no further because of the cramped space. He turned back.

When he emerged, Michaela anticipated seeing their son, "Where is he, Sully?"

"I can't reach him," he dusted himself off. "I'm gonna try from above?"

"Above?" she grew more concerned.

"From inside the Church," Sully clarified.

Swiftly, they made their way into the Church and began listening carefully for the sound of their son's crying.

"Here," Michaela stood above the knothole.

"Talk t' him," Sully advised. "See if you can calm him down. I'm gonna get some tools from Robert E."

"All right," she nodded as she held the lamp close to the knothole. "Josef, it's Mama, Sweetheart."

The cries subsided, "Mama, help me."

"Papa is getting some tools," she assured. "He'll get you out very soon. Can you be brave for a little longer?"

Josef suddenly spotted something on the ground gleaming, illuminated from the light peeking through the knothole. It was the ring.

He picked it up, "I finded the ww....ring."

"Is that why you under there?" she shook her head.

"I feel bad I dwopped it," he explained.

Michaela sighed, "Oh, Josef."

She continued to speak in a calm tone, and soon Sully returned. Robert E and Cloud Dancing had joined him.

Sully positioned himself on the floor and spoke to his son, "Joe, I want ya t' back as far away from the hole as ya can."

"But it's dark, Papa," he hesitated.

"You can do it," Sully asserted. "Next thing ya know, I'll have ya out."

Sully inserted a metal bar into the knothole and, with Robert E's help, pushed down. Small pieces of splintered wood flew up.

"Careful," Michaela cautioned.

The three men then began to grab the boards and pry them away. Finally, a hole large enough for Josef to climb through had been achieved.

Reaching down for him, Sully instructed, "Can ya move this way?"

He felt the soft touch of his son's hand. Gently pulling, he drew Josef into his arms and lifted him to freedom.

Michaela immediately embraced the child and began to tend to his scratches.

"Thanks," an out-of-breath Sully shook his friends' hands.

"Weddin's in your family are never dull," Robert E joked.

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

Andrew sat next to Colleen. There had been an uncomfortable silence between them since they walked to the Cafe from the Church.

"Matthew and Emma certainly look happy," he remarked.

"Yes," she agreed. "I wonder if they need help in getting Josef out."

"I'm sure they'll return if they do," he noted.

"So," she decided to broach the subject. "How long are you staying in Colorado Springs?"

"Quite frankly, Colleen, I expected a different reaction from you when I came to the Church," he stated.

"What reaction did you expect?" she was curious.

"I guess.... I thought you'd be glad to see me," he studied her expression.

"I am glad to see you," she sounded less than enthusiastic.

He took a deep breath and sighed, "In answer to your question, I intend to stay until your mother has the baby."

"Why until then?" she posed the question.

"I owe her that," he explained. "She won't be able to be on staff full time once the hospital is completed. And I did give her my word earlier."

"Yes, giving your word is important," her remark held a greater meaning.

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

Lexie smoothed back Hank's hair as she lay next to him. He had fallen asleep an hour earlier, and she stayed to make sure he was all right.

Sitting up, she gazed down upon this man who was such an enigma to her. She looked around the room, suddenly uncomfortable with the knowledge that this was where he had betrayed her with one of his prostitutes.

Sighing, she went to the chair and lifted her coat. Then, after kissing Hank on the forehead, she departed.

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

Matthew carried Emma across the threshold of their room at the Chateau. Setting her down, he kissed her sweetly.

"Hello, Mrs. Cooper," he smiled.

She toyed with the hair at his temple, "Hello, Mr. Cooper."

"Sure was a nice weddin'," he noted. "Even with Josef's antics."

"Poor little fella," she sympathized. "But now I have two weddin' rings."

"What do ya wanna do with 'em?" he tilted his head.

"Could I keep them?" she requested.

"Why?" he was curious.

"For luck," she smiled.

"Then we'll keep 'em," he kissed her. "Welcome to our happy life."

"It will be happy," she eyed the bed.

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" he raised an eyebrow.

"I suspect I am," she nodded.

"Let me help ya outa this thing," he began to undo her buttons.

"Matthew," she stopped him. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he caressed her cheek. "An' I always will."

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

"What a day," Sully sighed as he undid his tie.

Michaela unbuttoned her dress, "Josef certainly made it even more memorable."

"I hope he don't have bad dreams because of bein' stuck under the Church," he mentioned.

"Speaking of bad dreams...." she felt his hands massaging her shoulders.

He kissed the nape of her neck, "Mmm?"

"My dream of the medieval couple turned into a nightmare last night," she informed him.

"Not happily ever after?" he asked.

"On their wedding night, Sir Byron was murdered by Mellypreston," she revealed.

"Michaela, what was in that Boston dressin' you made?" he teased.

"It caused me to wake up," she folded her arms, suddenly feeling a chill.

Sully embraced her, "It's just a dream."

"It seemed so real," she pondered. "And strangely familiar."

"Familiar?" he was surprised.

"I feel as if I've heard their story before," she continued to undress.

Sully climbed atop the mattress and drew back the covers, "Come on t' bed."

"I can't find my nightgown," she suddenly realized.

"I'll keep ya warm," he grinned invitingly.

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "You will?"

"Uh-huh," he patted her side of the bed. "An' I promise ya won't have any bad dreams."

"That's it!" she knelt down to sift through the bottom drawer of her dresser.

"What are ya doin'?" he was curious.

"The couple in my story," she withdrew a book and climbed into bed beside him.

"What's that?" he pointed.

"It's a family history, compiled by my Uncle Teddy many years ago," she opened it. "It traces the Quinn lineage."

Sully listened with interest as she read:

"The family name was originally O'Cuinn in County Tyrone. The O'Cuinn family descended from Cuinn, a grandson of Fergus, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. The family served as quartermasters to the king and were responsible for arms and provisions in both war and peace."

"So they worked for the King's army," he interpreted.

"Here's the part," she read on. "It was Niall O'Quinn who wed a niece of the King's. Her name was Siobhán. On the night of their wedding, he was murdered, but having begotten their child, Siobhán gave birth to a son, whom she named Mícheál O'Quinn."

"Maybe you're named after him," he mused.

"I remember reading this as a teenager and thinking it was so tragic," she closed the book.

"Not so tragic," he stroked her arm. "It produced you."

She set the book on her nightstand and settled back against his shoulder.

He sensed she was in deep thought, "What're ya thinkin' about?"

"Colleen and Andrew," she answered. "What do you think will happen with them?"

"You done your part in seein' that they're at least in the same town," he kissed her temple. "It's up t' them t' decide where they wanna go from here."

"And did Jake seem different today?" she questioned.

"Yea, he stayed sober," Sully retorted.

"I think he may consider that bond for the town," she commented. "It would mean we could pay the teachers more."

"I hope he ain't gonna deal with Preston," he cautioned.

Michaela replied, "I would never vote for that."

"Good," he was relieved.

"Sully.... I bought the kaleidoscope at the Mercantile for Josef," she looked at him to gauge his reaction.

He smiled, "I knew ya would. Josef even told me he wanted one for his birthday."

"He did?" she raised an eyebrow.

"But not for himself," he detailed. "He wants t' give it t' Brian as a replacement for the one he broke. Robert E thinks he can fix that one."

"Brian and Henriette...." she paused.

"Doin' some matchmakin'?" he grinned.

"He doesn't seem to need my help," she smiled. "They only had eyes for each other today."

"So your family's doin' okay then?" Sully turned to face her.

"Very okay," she caressed his cheek.

He lowered his hand to her belly, "Even this one?"

"Especially this one," she warmed at his touch.

"I was thinkin' about the Clinic," he said. "Remember ya told me ya didn't wanna leave it."

"Yes?" she anticipated.

"I figure we could turn it int' some offices," he related. "You could stay downstairs, an' maybe upstairs Colleen, Andrew, Matthew an' Emma could all have rooms t' see patients, clients an' customers in."

"Sully!" her eyes lit up with love. "That's a wonderful idea."

"Glad ya like it," he was happy to have pleased her.

Sully began to caress the silky skin between her breasts. She caught her breath as he touched her sensitive places.

He grinned, "Ya like that?"

"Yes," she could barely speak.

"Then I got your attention," his voice was low.

The timbre of his voice sent shivers down her spine. She closed her eyes to relish his kisses across her skin. Next she felt his hand, exploring, exciting her every pore.

Michaela guided him onto his back to return the pleasure he was generating in her.

"That feels...." he gulped.

"Yes?" she smiled.

"Real good," he finished his sentence.

Flesh against flesh, their bodies reacted with heightened sensitivity. Slowly, sensuously, they awakened to the pulse of one another. Already joined in their hearts, they commenced their dance of love. When they joined their forms to one another, the magical movements toward fruition of their desire continued.

"I love you, Sully," she held him tightly.

"I love you, too," he whispered.

Tender kisses followed their breathless encounter until Michaela could feel the rhythmic beat of his heart synchronized with her own.

He spoke low:

"And in Life's noisiest hour,
There whispers still the ceaseless Love of Thee,
The heart's Self-solace and soliloquy.
You mould my Hopes, you fashion me within;
And to the leading Love-throb in the Heart
Thro' all my Being, thro' my pulse's beat;
You lie in all my many Thoughts, like Light,
Like the fair light of Dawn, or summer Eve
On rippling Stream, or cloud-reflecting Lake.
And looking to the Heaven, that bends above you,
How oft! I bless the Lot that made me love you."

"And I, you," she pledged.

"That was Coleridge, in case ya wanted t' know," he grinned.

They fell silent, warm in each other's arms. Before long, Sully was asleep, but Michaela was still energized by the strength of their passion.

Reaching for the Quinn family history, she leaned back against her husband's shoulder to reread the story of Niall and Siobhán. Her dreams of them had been a story of lovers constantly on the edge of danger. In many respects, her life with Sully had been like that. But as often as they had found themselves on the edge.... even of a cliff.... they had weathered it.

"And we always will, Sully," she tenderly kissed his hand.

THE END



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