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



Fire Water


by Debby K

Click here to read Chapter 12



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Fire Water
by Debby K

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

Sully smoothed out the Yellowstone map on the dining room table. His children gazed at it in awe, not quite sure what to make of all of the lines. Katie and Josef had learned about maps in school, but to Noah and Annie, this was an adventure.

Sully smiled. "Now, before we go, I wanna make sure you kids know all the places, both good an' dangerous, in Yellowstone."

Katie suggested, "You should color the dangerous places, Poppy."

Josef agreed, "Yea, make 'em yeller like Yellerstone."

Sully assessed, "That's not a bad idea, kids, but for now, I just wanna teach ya the names."

Josef tilted his head, "Are ya gonna give us a test?"

"Maybe, Joe," Sully winked.

The little boy wondered, "Why we gotta learn all this now, Papa? Are we goin' t' Yellerstone soon?"

The father explained, "It's gonna take us some time t' get everythin' ready. I figure we'll head out when the Spring thaw starts."

Noah's eyes widened. "We go on twain?"

"That's possible," Sully smiled. "For part of the way."

Annie spoke up, "We wide wagon?"

Sully chuckled, "That's possible, too, darlin'."

Josef looked up from studying the map. "Can Wolf come with us?"

"Yep," he nodded. "Everyone's goin'."

Katie inquired, "Miss Bridget, too?"

"Her, too," Sully answered. "Now, let's start with the southern area of the park, so pay close attention."

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

Andrew looked up from his desk at the hospital. "Colleen! What a nice surprise. I didn't think you were coming in until the end of the week."

She entered the office and sat down opposite him. "I'm not here to work. I came to speak with you, if you have some time."

"Of course," he set down his pen. "How was your Holiday?"

"Wonderful." Her face was radiant. "We had the entire family together."

"That's good." He studied her expression. "You look well rested."

"I appreciate your extra hours here so that I could enjoy visiting with family," she acknowledged.

"How is Brian?" Andrew inquired.

She glanced down at her folded hands. "He's planning to go to Europe."

"Europe?" His eyes widened. "I hope his trip will include London. Remember when we were there and met Queen Victoria? I have many fond memories of England."

"Yes," she nodded. "I remember our trip."

The thought occurred to him, "You said you wanted to speak with me."

"I do," she paused awkwardly. "I wanted to tell you something.... so that.... well, I feel I owe it to you."

He was puzzled. "Owe it to me?"

"Given our past." She composed her thoughts. "I.... I owe you an explanation of what I plan to do."

He smiled, "Are you going to Europe with Brian?"

"No, nothing like that," she answered. "I've met someone, Andrew."

His expression changed. "The man at Grace's Christmas social?"

"Yes," she nodded uncomfortably. "His name is Dell Pearson. He's a physician."

Andrew folded his arms tightly across his chest. "I see."

"The last thing I want to do is hurt you," she sighed.

He came to the point. "I saw how you two looked at one another at the social. You've only just met."

"I know." She grew more uncomfortable. "This is so hard, Andrew."

He probed, "Are you in love with him?"

"There's something between us," she admitted. "Something powerful, a connection that I can't explain."

He gazed into her eyes, "So, am I to assume that he wants to court you?"

She hesitated, then uttered, "Yes."

Andrew's jaw tensed. "I assume, since he's a physician, he'll be working with you here at the hospital."

"At least part of the time," she informed him. "Most of the time, he'll be at the Indian School."

"The Indian School?" He was puzzled. "Why?"

Colleen explained, "Cloud Dancing will be traveling to Yellowstone with Ma and Pa, and he wants to work with the children."

He was surprised. "Why are they going to Yellowstone?"

"Sully received an offer last May, but when Ma lost the baby....." she paused. "He turned it down at the time, but now they're going. The children and Bridget are accompanying them. Welland Smith wants Sully to start a corps of men to prevent a depletion of the animals there."

"That sounds like ideal work for Sully," Andrew admitted. "With your mother away, I suppose Dr. Pearson's expertise will be useful here. If you'll excuse me, I have files to...."

She cut in, "I know this is going to be awkward, Andrew."

"Awkward?" He was terse. "The woman I love and married is going to be courted right under my nose. What's awkward about that?"

She shook her head, "I value your friendship and...."

He interrupted, "Friendship? That's all we are, isn't it? Friends."

"I hope so," she nodded. "I certainly don't want us to be enemies. I admire you tremendously. I think you're a wonderful man, but...."

"But you don't love me anymore," he completed her thought.

Colleen reminded, "Not in a romantic way. You've known that for a long time. It doesn't mean I don't care about you, and I certainly don't relish the thought of hurting your feelings."

He eyed her. "Perhaps I should leave, go back to Boston."

"I don't want you to go," she implored.

He posed the question, "How can I possibly stay, Colleen?

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

Michaela arrived home to find the children sitting at the table, quietly enthralled by a story their father was telling them. After a quick greeting from the little ones, she stepped closer to Sully.

He kissed his wife sweetly, "How was Mrs. Tarlton?"

"She had a beautiful baby boy," Michaela sat down beside her husband.

Josef was curious, "Wha'd she name him?"

"Thomas," Michaela answered.

The little boy frowned. "We already got two Thomases at school."

She patted his hand. "It will be a while before Tommy is ready for school."

Katie giggled, "Tommy Tarlton. That's a funny name."

Michaela frowned, "Katie, you know it's not nice to make fun. I hope that children won't be tempted to laugh at him because of that."

Josef assessed, "That's why Papa don't like Byron. I bet kids made fun of it."

Michaela eyed her husband. "I happen to adore the name."

Sully grinned, "I reckon we're done with our geography lesson."


She smiled, "How did they do?"

Katie pointed, "There's Yellowstone Lake...."

Josef interrupted, "It's got fingers, Mama!"

"I see," she smiled.

Katie continued, "An' there's Brimstone Basin', Mount Stevenson, Shoshone Lake. There's a geyser near..."

Josef cut in again, "Papa's gonna color the bad places yeller."

Noah placed his finger randomly on the map, "I go there!"

Katie gave closer inspection to the place to which her brother had pointed. "Noah, ya can't go there. It's one o' them hot springs that smells bad."

The child frowned. "What it smell like?"

Annie blurted out, "Hopie diaper?"

Michaela shook her head, "Let me see if I have some sulfur in my medical bag. You can smell that."

Sully interjected, "No need. You kids remember when we had a couple eggs go bad last week?"

Josef held his nose. "I remember."

Noah imitated his brother and held his nose. "Bad."

Sully explained, "That's what some o' the places will smell like. When ya smell that, don't go near."

Michaela reminded, "And always be with one of us when you venture out."

Katie questioned, "Out from what, Mama? Are we stayin' in a hotel or a house?"

Sully glanced at his wife. "Uh, we don't know yet, kids. We might have t' camp outside at first."

"Yeah!" Josef exclaimed. "We can make a lodge like Cloud Dancin' has."

Sully said. "We'll see."

Bridget clapped her hands together. "All right, all of ya, that's enough time at my table. I need to set it for supper. Go get washed up now."

Josef inquired, "Is Dell comin'?"

Michaela answered, "No, Sweetheart. Colleen and Dell are dining at the Chateau tonight."

He suggested, "Can we.... may we go see him after we eat?"

Sully retorted, "I doubt if he'll want us around, Joe."

The little boy's shoulders slumped. "He tells good stories. Not as good as Papa's but still good ones 'bout when he was little."

Katie was curious, "Why wouldn't he want us around?"

Sully winked at his wife. "A man don't want company when he's courtin'."

"Courtin'?" Annie asked.

Michaela volunteered, "He is very fond of your sister, and 'courting' means he thinks he might like to marry her."

Josef was puzzled, "Ain't Colleen married t' Andrew?"

Sully said, "Not anymore."

"But...." Katie hesitated.

Michaela encouraged, "But what, Sweetheart?"

"We learned in the Bible that marriage is forever," she stated.

Michaela tensed, not knowing how to answer.

Sully cleared his throat. "Uh, we can talk about that another time, kids. Ya heard Miss Bridget now."

When the little ones departed, Michaela turned to her husband. "I don't know how to answer Katie's question, Sully. Do you?"

"The Cheyenne believe if a woman divorces her husband an' runs off with another, the husband must be compensated," he knew.

She suggested, "Perhaps, I should speak to the Reverend about how to answer since Katie's was a biblical question."

He nodded in agreement. "I reckon so."

She continued, "I mean, the Bible is very clear about opposing divorce except in the case of infidelity, and neither Colleen nor Andrew was unfaithful."

Sully counseled, "It's hard t' explain rules when people we love are the ones breakin' 'em. Look at me. I been in jail, been wanted by the police an' the Army. I disobeyed laws."

"They were unjust laws, Sully," she reminded. "You were true to your convictions."

He drew her closer. "The point is, if the Bible is against divorce, it's breakin' the rules in the minds o' Christians."

She sighed in frustration.

Sully kissed her forehead. "We don't have t' know all the answers. The Bible also says t' forgive, don't it?"

"Of course," she acknowledged. "So if Colleen broke a Commandment, God will forgive her."

Michaela looked up at her husband with admiration. "I didn't realize that I married a biblical scholar."

He chuckled, "There ain't much about me that's scholarly. That's why I married you."

She raised an eyebrow flirtatiously. "The only reason?"

"Nope." He leaned closer and whispered something suggestive into her ear.

"Sully!" She reacted with embarrassment.

He grinned. "Come on. We best wash up before Bridget yells at us."

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

Colleen and Dell sat at a corner table in the Chateau's restaurant. Having finished their meal, they sipped coffee and quietly relished being in the presence of one another.

She broke the silence. "I spoke with Andrew today.... about us."

His eyes narrowed in concern. "How did he react?"

"He's hurting," she replied simply.

Dell extended his hand to her. "That's understandable."

She sighed, "He truly is a good man. I don't want to cause him pain."

"Are you having second thoughts about us?" he wondered.

She assured, "No. The truth is, I was too young when I married Andrew. My acceptance into medical school in the East prompted us to make a hasty decision to marry. We really didn't have the time to court and get to know one another better."

Dell nodded. "I wish I knew a way to make this easier on him. I can see what this is doing to you, and I don't want to see you hurting either."

She smiled. "I appreciate your concern."

Preston approached the couple. "I hope you found your meal to be satisfactory."

Colleen looked up. "Yes, Preston. It was delicious."

The banker turned to Dell. "I don't believe we've formally met. Preston A. Lodge III. I recall seeing you at the Christmas social."

Dell stood and extended his hand. "Dell Pearson."

Preston grinned widely. "A pleasure, Mr. Pearson."

Colleen corrected, "It's Dr. Pearson."

"Of course," Preston noted. "I should have known. You must be here for a medical consultation. Where are you from, DOCTOR Pearson?"

Dell quickly assessed the man's lack of sincerity. "I've lived in many places. However, I've decided this is where I want to settle down."

"Splendid!" he exclaimed. "Just what our fair town needs.... another physician. I suppose you'll be working at Michaela's hospital ."

"I'll be helping out while she's away," he responded.

Preston was curious. "Away? Where is she going?"

From Colleen's expression, Dell realized he must have said something wrong.

His mind raced. "Oh, you know, when she makes house calls and such."

"Of course," Preston said skeptically. "House calls."

Colleen added, "And medical conferences in Denver."

The banker nodded. "Yes. I see. Well, I'll let you finish your coffee. It was nice meeting you, Dr. Pearson. Colleen, it's always a pleasure."

With that, he departed.

Dell watched him walk away. "Not a man I would trust."

She sighed, "He is a snake."

Dell chuckled. "A snake?"

"He's done terrible things to my parents," she divulged.

His expression became serious. "So that's why you reacted to my saying your mother would be away."

"Honestly, the man is so unscrupulous, he would do anything to get what he wants," Colleen frowned.

"And what does he want?" Dell posed the question.

"He wants my mother," she replied.

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

Sully opened the front door to let Wolf in for the night. Suddenly, he caught sight of a horse approaching. As the figure neared, he made out who it was. Grabbing his coat, he closed the door and descended the steps.

The horse slowed to a stop in front of the house.

"Andrew?" Sully took the horse's reins. "What brings you out here? Somethin' wrong at the hospital?"

"No," he answered as he dismounted the animal. "I wondered if I might talk with you. In private."

"Sure," Sully allowed. "What's on your mind?"

"Colleen," he stated.

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

Sully invited his former son-in-law into the homestead. "Come on inside an' get warm. Michaela an' Bridget are upstairs gettin' the kids ready for bed."

"Thank you," Andrew acknowledged.

Soon the two settled in the wing back chairs in front of the living room fireplace. Sully waited patiently for Andrew to speak. Overhead, the sound of children's laughter could be heard. Andrew glanced up, a tear trickling down his cheek.

Finally, he uttered, "I've lost her, Sully."

Sully sympathized, "I know what this is doin' t' you."

"You can't possibly know how I feel," Andrew's jaw tensed. "I know I wasn't the best husband. I had expectations that she didn't share. I just wish I could have a second chance."

He stopped, choking back tears.

Knowing there was nothing he could say that would comfort the young man, Sully reached over and touched his shoulder.

Andrew went on, "You know, looking back, I see so many mistakes that I made. And even though we've been divorced for a couple of years, I still felt that perhaps I might be able to win Colleen back. But now, it's too late. She has Dell. Oh, God, Sully. I feel like my heart has been ripped out of me."

He looked at Andrew with compassion. "It ain't easy, but... if ya love her, ya gotta let her go."

Andrew's brow creased, "What do you mean?"

"Ya gotta let her know that you'll back her," Sully explained. "If ya truly love her, ya have t' let her be free t' choose who's gonna make her happy."

His shoulders slumped, "I know I'm being selfish."

"What you're feelin' is natural," he counseled.

"But you have the love of your life," Andrew observed.

Sully revealed to him, "There was a time when Michaela had t' make a choice. The fiancee she thought was dead had come back int' her life just after I asked her t' marry me."

Andrew was interested. "That must have been terrible."

"I thought, just like you, that my heart was bein' ripped out," Sully sympathized. "She was torn between us. After a lot o' thought, I realized that if bein' with David would make her happy, I had t' be willin' t' let her go. More than anythin' else, I wanted her t' be happy."

Andrew nodded. "That was very noble of you, Sully."

He shrugged. "Nothin' noble about it. It was just lovin' her more than anythin' in the world."

Andrew stood up. "Thank you for listening. You've given me a lot to think about."

Sully rose from the chair and patted him on the back. "You're welcome here any time. An' if ya wanna talk more, I'll listen."

Andrew pulled on his coat. "I appreciate it."

Sully showed him to the door, locked it, then turned to douse the lamp.

"Good advice, Mr. Sully," Michaela stepped from the kitchen.

"You been eavesdroppin'?" he retorted.

She explained, "I didn't want to interrupt. Poor Andrew."

Sully nodded.

She smiled, "Telling him about how you gave me the time and space to choose between David and you was wonderful advice."

"It worked on you," he teased.

She embraced him. "I wish we could do something for him."

"No interferin'," he cautioned.

She began, "But if we...."

"No, Michaela," he asserted. "We gotta let them work through this on their own, just bein' here t' listen if they need us."

She sighed, "I know."

Sully clasped her hand and started for the steps. "Kids asleep yet?"

"They're waiting for their Papa," she smiled.

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

Andrew entered the lobby of the Chateau.

Preston spotted him and approached. "My, you were working late at the hospital tonight."

He removed his coat and draped it over his arm. "I wasn't at the hospital."

"Have you eaten yet?" Preston inquired.

He sighed. "I'm not hungry."

"No wonder," Preston nodded. "What with Colleen and that other doctor."

Andrew frowned. "You know about them?"

"They ate here tonight," he revealed. "In fact, Dr. Pearson is still in the dining room."

"He is?" Andrew was surprised. "Maybe I'll have a talk with him."

With that, he entered the room and headed for Dell's table.

Dell looked up from his coffee. "Yes? May I help you?"

"I doubt if you'd want to help me," Andrew spoke sarcastically.

Dell rose from his chair. "Dr. Cook?"

"The ex-husband," he returned.

Dell offered, "Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee?"

Andrew sat down. "Sure."

Dell poured him a cup from the pot on the table. The two sat in silence for several uncomfortable moments.

Dell opened, "I know this is awkward, Dr.... May I call you Andrew?"

"Go ahead," he replied.

"Andrew," Dell paused. "I know that you're a fine man and a wonderful physician."

"Is that what Colleen said?" he queried.

Dell nodded.

"And you two are suddenly in love." Andrew was blunt. "Just like that?"

"I can't explain how this has happened so quickly," Dell confessed. "But I give you my word, I would never pursue the feelings I have for her if she were still married to you."

"So her being a divorcée doesn't bother you?" Andrew challenged.

"What bothers me is how much this upsets you," he confessed. "I don't like hurting people."

Andrew assessed his sincerity. "If you break her heart...."

He interrupted, "Never. It's too dear to me."

"It's dear to me, too," Andrew asserted. He sighed, "When I came over here to meet you, I was determined to hate you."

Dell swallowed hard. "I understand."

He eyed him. "But I don't. You seem sincere."

Dell smiled slightly. "So do you."

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

Sully entered the bedroom and glanced toward Michaela. She was gently stroking Hope's back while the little one began to fall asleep.

He approached her and whispered. "I took Joe t' the privy. Kids said their prayers. I think they're down for the night. Hope asleep?"

"Just now." She stepped to the bed and took a sip of her tea.

Sully went to the crib and gazed down at his youngest child, sweetly slumbering. He leaned over and kissed her, then turned toward his wife.

"Would it keep ya awake if I read some before goin' t' bed?" he asked.

Michaela draped her robe across the bottom of the bed and pulled back the covers. "Of course, not. What are you reading?"

"Some reports from Harry Yount about Yellowstone," he answered.

She settled herself against her pillows. "Perhaps I'll study my newest medical journal."

"Good." He pulled his shirt over his head and went to the water basin.

After lathering his hands, he began to wash himself. Next he dipped his hands into the cool liquid and rinsed off the soap. With eyes closed, he reached for a towel. It wasn't where he thought it would be.

"Michaela?" he beckoned. "Where's the towel?"

She rose from the bed, "I'll get you one. Bridget might not have brought them upstairs."

"No, don't get up," he said after clearing his vision. "I'll just sit in front of the fire t' dry off. Light's better down here for readin' anyway."

"All right," she replied as she lifted her journal.

He lowered himself to the rug and began to peruse the report. He concentrated on the recommendation of the park's gamekeeper's call for "a small reliable police force as the most practical way of seeing that the game is protected from wanton slaughter, the forests from careless use of fire, and the enforcement of the other all laws, rules, and regulations for the protection and improvement of the park."

Michaela's eyes wandered toward her husband, his damp torso glistening in the firelight. She felt her heart flutter at his strikingly handsome features. She smiled and attempted to compose her surging emotions.

Exhaling loudly, she returned to her journal and read. "'The Influence of Meteorological Conditions upon the Causation of Croupous Pneumonia.' It is a well-established fact that weather, or, to speak more definitely, certain states in the meteorological condition of the atmosphere, have a marked influence upon some of the organic functions of the human body."

Sully stood. "Whew. Too warm down here. I need t' cool off. Would it bother ya if I opened the window for a little bit?"

"Be careful of the sudden change in temperatures," she cautioned. "You could catch something."

"Just for a minute." He went to the window to cool his body.

Again, his muscular frame captured Michaela's attention. She felt her cheeks warm only to be quickly cooled by the gust of chilled air from outside.

Setting aside her reading, she beckoned, "Sully. Please. I don't want you to get sick."

He shut the window, then walked toward his nightstand and set down the reports. As he removed his buckskins, Michaela pulled back the covers for him. He smiled and enfolded her in his arms.

Sweet kisses followed.

Sully slowly pulled back and tenderly spoke to her:

"All the world's glories can never equal two souls in one kiss.
Love, and ever love wholly; love in all time and all space."

She snuggled closer. "Was that Matthew Arnold?"

"James Thomson," he returned, as he trailed his hand along her form.

She did not contain her eager enjoyment of his overtures. "Sully...."

"Mmm?" He kissed the sensitive skin below her ear.

With his fingers combing through her auburn locks, Michaela luxuriated in his attentiveness. She touched her palm to his chest, then slid it down to his waist and hip. Sully reacted with a soft growl, indicating his pleasure.

She smiled, "I love these intimate times with my husband."

He retorted, "I never would have guessed."

She expressed softly, "I love you."

"Good thing," he whispered. "Otherwise, ya might not let me get away with this."

She tapped his side in amusement. "I'm trying to be serious."

"That comes later," he mused before returning to kissing her.

Eyeing his wife intensely, Sully drew her hand to his lips and kissed its palm. Then he turned her hand over to kiss her wedding and engagement rings.

Michaela relished his tempting touches, and her body reacted with heightened sensations. "Oh, Sully...."

He smiled, sensing their time was right. He positioned himself to be more intimate, gently stroking back her hair. "I love you, too."

She slid her arms around his waist, guiding him ever closer. Pulses raced. Breathing escalated, as kisses flamed their passion. Their bodies finally melded together, exquisitely and completely. With boundless pleasure, they maintained their connection in a blinding exchange of energy.

Having reached their ultimate peak of exquisite harmony, Sully shared gentle kisses with his wife before falling back onto his pillow. Michaela shifted to her side in order to face him.
Resting her hand atop his chest, she lifted up to share one more kiss. "There is no woman alive who is luckier than I."

He smiled and caressed her cheek. "An' no man lucky as me."

Energized by their encounter, she asked, "I don't imagine we'll have opportunities for moments like this in Yellowstone."

Sully grinned. "I'll make opportunities."

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

During the night, Sully began to toss and turn. As he roused from his sleep, he could not breathe. His throat felt like razors had cut through it. Weakly, he attempted to rise.

His movements woke Michaela. "Is something wrong?"

His voice was hoarse. "I feel like I'm comin' down with somethin'."

She raised up to feel his forehead. "You're warm. I'll get my bag."

He stopped her. "No, I'll go downstairs and make some tea. You get your rest."

She insisted, "It's all right. Let me pamper you."

He could not resist and was grateful for her offer. "Thanks."

Suddenly, he let forth a loud sneeze.

"Bless you!" Michaela offered.

She went to his chest of drawers and withdrew some handkerchiefs and one of his cotton nightshirts.

Returning to her husband, she stroked back his hair and unfolded the shirt. "Let's get this on you."

Listlessly, Sully sat up and donned the garment. "My head hurts, Michaela."

"I'll brew some willow bark tea," she suggested. "In the meantime, see if you can go back to sleep."

"Thanks," he uttered as he closed his eyes.

Michaela went to Hope's crib and lifted her sleeping toddler. The baby did not stir. Michaela left the door slightly ajar as she stepped into the hallway.

When she reached Katie's room, the child opened the door. "Mama, what's wrong?"

Michaela whispered, "Your father is sick, Sweetheart. I'm going to put Hope in with you. I'd like for you children to stay away from him until he's better."

"May I speak to him from the door?" Katie wondered.

Michaela smiled. "Of course, but not now. He needs to rest.... and so do you, young lady. Papa will be fine. I'll take good care of him."

Katie hugged her. "I know you will. You're the best doctor. An' I'll take good care of Hope."

"Thank you," Michaela smiled.

They entered Katie's room, and Michaela tucked them both into bed.

Katie reached up to kiss her mother. 'Night, Mama."

"Good night, my darling." She hugged her.

Michaela exited and continued down the hallway to the steps.

When she reached the kitchen, she noticed a figure sitting near the fireplace. "Brian?"

"Hey, Ma," he looked up.

She questioned, "What are you doing up?"

"Couldn't sleep," he shrugged. "How about you?"

She stepped to the stove and put on a kettle of water. "Sully's coming down with a catarrh. I'm making some tea for him."

"Poor, Pa." He shook his head.

She sat at the kitchen table to wait for the water to heat. "Why can't you sleep?"

He was vague. "Just thinking about a lot of things."

She gestured to the chair beside her. "I'm a good listener."

"I know you are," he grinned as he sat. "But it's nothing specific. Just life."

She probed gently, "Your life or someone else's?"

"Mine." He gazed toward the flames of the fire.

Michaela noted, "You have much to look forward to with your trip to Europe."

"Yea," he agreed.

"You don't sound as enthusiastic about it as when we spoke at Christmas," she perceived. "Are you having doubts about going?"

"Maybe.... some," he sighed.

She drew back a stray lock of his hair. "Sweetheart, whatever it is, you can talk to me.... or Sully, if you'd rather discuss it with a man."

He looked at his mother with admiration. "I truly appreciate your concern, Ma. It's just.... I can't really put my finger on it. There's so much I want to see and do, but I don't want to miss out on things here either."

Michaela was uncertain. "Things here?"

"I can't believe how the kids have grown, how funny and lively they are," he smiled. "I've missed seeing Matthew, Colleen, Pa and you."

"Rather like being torn between two worlds?" she surmised.

"Kind of," he nodded. "My past and my future."

She revealed, "That's somewhat how I felt when I moved to Colorado Springs. I didn't know anyone. I was from a very different world."

Sound from the boiling water in the kettle interrupted their conversation.

Brian mentioned, "I went to see Mary."

Michaela rose to brew the tea. "Oh? How was your visit?"

"She refused to see me," he informed her.

Michaela was surprised. "Why?"

He shrugged, "She didn't say, but I assume it's because I've been away so much."

Michaela offered, "You could write her a nice note and invite her over for a family dinner."

He grinned. "Thanks, Ma. She might accept if she knew it wouldn't be just the two of us alone."

Michaela lifted the tea. "Let me know what she says. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to tend to my patient."

Brian mentioned, "Tell Pa, I hope he feels better soon."

"Good night, Sweetheart," she kissed his cheek. "Try to get some sleep before the little ones get up."

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

Michaela entered the bedroom with a cup of willow bark tea for her husband. "Sully? Can you sit up?"

"Mmm," he rolled over and squinted against the light.

She quickly assessed his demeanor and set the tea on her nightstand. "Oh, no, Sully. A megrim?"

His tone was raspy. "Not sure."

She lowered the lamp so that the room was only illuminated by the fireplace flames.

Then she caressed his hair. His forehead was dotted with beads of perspiration.

His voice sounded like a little boy,"Hold me?"

Michaela positioned herself beside him and lifted his head onto her lap. "Of course."

He guided her hand closer and kissed it. "Better...."

She spoke tenderly,"Do you think you could drink some of the tea?"

"Try." He rose slightly.

She held the tea up and he consumed the entire cup.

She smiled,"Good. Now, close your eyes and try to rest."

He swallowed against the pain in his throat. "Can't. Not yet. Stay?"

She stroked his hair. "I'm not going anyplace."

Just when she thought he was calming, Sully erupted into a coughing spell.

Michaela held him until it began to subside. Finally, he was able to relax.

Then she explained,"Your cough is terrible. I'm going to make something for your congestion. Will you be all right for a few minutes?"

"Don't go," he implored weakly.

She started to rise. "I have to make it downstairs. I promise I'll be right back."

He closed his eyes and nodded as she departed.

When Michaela returned to the kitchen, she found Brian still awake.

He glanced at her. "Pa sounds worse."

She replied,"I'm going to make a mustard poultice for him.

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

Sully rolled onto his side, unable to find a position in which he was not in agony. His breathing was labored, his head throbbed and his entire body ached.

"Micha...." he could not finish beckoning his wife.

Finally, she entered the room with a tray on which were linens, the poultice, a medicine bottle, some utensils and a glass of water.

Setting the tray on his night table, she touched her husband's shoulder. "Sully can you roll onto your back for me?" When he did not respond, she offered,"I'll help you. Come on."

Weakly, he struggled to roll onto his back. "Michaela.... I think I'm dyin'...."

She smiled,"No, you're not dying."

"Please...." He swallowed hard. "Tell the kids.... I love 'em. An' you, Micha.... I'm sorry.... I wish...."

"Shhh." She tenderly caressed his cheek. "You're going to get better. I'm going to put something on your chest to help."

Michaela unbuttoned her husband's nightshirt and opened it as wide as it would go. Then she draped a piece of clean cotton across his chest. Next she took the poultice and spread a thick layer evenly atop the cotton. She glanced at the clock to make a mental note of the time. She had to be certain that the substance did not stay on too long. Finally, she covered the paste with another piece of cotton and closed his shirt over it.

Sully opened his eyes slightly.

She smiled. "See? You're still with me." Detecting a subtle nod, she lifted his head slightly. "Can you drink some water for me?"

He was able to sip a bit of the liquid before tilting his head back onto the pillows again.

She watched closely as beads of perspiration multiplied across his forehead. "Tell me if it becomes too hot."

Sully drew her hand to his lips to silently express his gratitude.

Michaela asked softly,"Do you think you can take a little bit of cough medicine for me?"

He nodded in the affirmative. Michaela poured a spoonful of the medicine for him, and Sully swallowed obediently. She offered more water, and he sipped it.

"Good," she offered as she pulled up the quilt around him. "I'd like to leave the poultice on you for about 20 minutes if you can tolerate it. As I said, let me know if it's too uncomfortable."

"Micha...." he faded. "Thanks."

She stroked back his hair from his forehead. "You're welcome. Now, I'm going to keep the medicine here on your nightstand. If I'm not here and you begin to cough, you can take some, but don't...."

He cut her off. "Please... don't go."

"I promise I won't leave you." She went around to her side of the bed and climbed in beside Sully.

As he fell asleep, Michaela could not help but muse that her husband could survive jumping off of a cliff, yet whine like one of the children when he caught a catarrh. Men could so quickly become little boys. No matter. Given all of the times they had been apart in their marriage, it was nice to cuddle up and pamper him.

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

Preston rose from his bed, unable to sleep. He reached for some reading material that his staff had placed on his desk. The Gazette lay on top, so he lifted it and read the headline.

His face paled. "Local Businessman Helps to Capture Robbers." As he scanned the article, he became livid. It was the fictional story that Hank and Dorothy had invented about his finding a stolen buffalo hide, when in truth, Michaela and Sully had been beneath it doing heaven knows what.

Preston crumpled the newspaper and threw it into the wastebasket. "Rubbish. Pure rubbish!"

He sat down at the desk and ran his fingers through his hair. His jaw tightened as he contemplated how, once again, Byron Sully remained a sainted figure in Colorado Springs.

Through the years, Preston's attempts to uncover the mountain man's true character had failed. With each failure, Preston had become more determined to show Sully for what he was, and in the process, to gain Michaela's admiration.... even affection.

"What does it take, Michaela?" He shook his head in frustration. "He's a deserter, a criminal.... a traitor to his country! He has soiled your reputation, and yet you stay with him?"

Preston folded his arms. "Think, man. Think! There must be a way to get him. He's not unfaithful. He.... Wait a minute. What was it that Dell Pearson said? 'I'll be helping out while she's away'?"

Preston leaned forward to rest his elbows on the desk. "So you're going away, Michaela. I'll find out where and for how long. And this Dell Pearson.... How strange that the man showed up and suddenly ingratiated himself with Colleen Cooper Cook. I must learn more about him." Then he grinned. "This might present delicious opportunities for me."

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

It was daylight when Sully awakened with a coughing spell. He reached for Michaela, but she was gone. Rolling onto his side, he spotted the cough medicine and lifted it. Weakly, he forced off the cork stopper and swallowed the liquid.

It was then that he noticed the poultice was gone from his chest. He must have been asleep when Michaela removed it and washed him. As his mind cleared, he could hear the chatter and laughter of his family downstairs. He coughed again and gulped some more of the medicine. Finally, he was able to lean back against the pillows and fall asleep.

Some time later, Michaela crept into the room, hoping to not disturb her husband. He heard her and opened his eyes.

She approached. "How are you feeling?"

He felt a little dizzy. "'Kkkay."

She felt his forehead. "Your fever has broken."

Sully tried to sit up. "I gggottt choresss t' dddooo."

She was puzzled at his slur. "I don't think you're quite ready to go outside just yet."

"SSSSSure I ammm," he responded. "I feeeel lotssss better."

She was shocked at his manner of speech. "Sully, what...."

At that moment, she noticed the empty cough medicine bottle on his nightstand. She glanced around to see if it had spilled. There was no evidence to support that conclusion.

She questioned,"Did you drink all of this?"

He squinted. "Allll o' wwwwwhaaa?"

"Oh, my goodness." She was shocked. "Sully, there's alcohol in this medicine. If you've consumed the entire bottle, you're...."

He lowered his head and gradually pulled himself up. "I'mmm whaa'?

"You're intoxicated!" she concluded.

He laughed. "Mich.... ya know I don'...."

The room began to spin for him. He clasped her hand to steady himself.

She gently pressed against his shoulder. "You'd better sleep it off."

"Noope," he insisted. "I'mmmm finnne."

"No, you're not," she countered. "Please, Sully."

He laughed. "See? I can stannn...."

His attempt to stand up led to his sprawling flat onto the floor.

"Sully!" She knelt down beside him. "Are you all right?"

He touched her cheek. "I eveeeer telll ya how beau'fullll ya are?"

"Yes, you have, thank you." She tugged at his arm. "Come on. Back to bed."

He grinned impishly. "You tellin' me ssssomethin', Drrrr. QQQuinnn?"

"I'm telling you that you need to rest, Mr. Sully," she countered.

With his wife's help, he was able to stand, but soon he fell face-first into the bed.

Michaela thought about enlisting Brian's assistance, but finally angled Sully so that he was lying down on the bed.

He grinned impishly. "I lovvve yaa, ssssso mush, M'chala. I'm ssssoo luccky."

"So am I," she assured. "Though I can't say I approve of your condition at the moment."

"I ggott a cconndishionnn?" he said, attempting to focus.

At that moment, Josef appeared at the door. "Can... May I come in?"

Michaela, still frazzled, spoke up,"Uh, no, Sweetheart. Papa's still...."

Sully cut her off. "SS'at my boy?"

Josef leaned in slightly. "Mornin' Papa. Mama says you're sick."

Sully patted the edge of the bed. "CCCoooomme 'eere, JJooe."

Josef giggled,"Woah! Papa's talkin' funny."

Michaela went to her son and positioned herself so that she screened Sully from the little boy's view. "Papa had some medicine that makes his speech sound a bit...."

Josef completed her thought. "Drunk?"

She frowned. "What do you know about being drunk, young man?"

"I've seen Mr. Slicker," he pointed out. "An' those men who come outa the Gold Nugget, too."

"Your father is not drunk," she fibbed. "He's... over medicated."

Josef persisted,"How'd he get over-mated?"

"Never you mind." She turned the boy about face. "Now, please go help Miss Bridget and Brian with your brother and sisters."

He resisted as Sully stuck out his tongue and tried to look at it. "Can't I watch Papa some more. He's funny."

"No, you may not," she answered.

With that, she closed the door.

Then leaning against it, she sighed,"Oh, Sully."

When she turned to look at her husband, he was tangled up in the sheets.

Rolling her eyes, she stepped closer, hoping to undo the linens from him. "Come on. Let's get you out."

He gazed up at her. "I been wwrrresslin' with a sssnake, Michaela. Ya bessst ssstay back."

"It's not a snake, Sully." She unwrapped his head. "It's the sheets."

"Oh," he burped. "'Cusssse me. No wwwonder it wasssss winnnnin'."

"Do you think you could go to sleep for me?" she implored.

Now freed, his arms began to flail wildly. "I like ssswimmmin' with you."

"We're not swimming," she corrected. "You're in bed."

He was puzzled. "Bed? Whennn did I get in bbbeddd?"

She straightened the sheets. "Last night. Do you remember? You were sick."

He ran his hand along her form. "Noooppe. I ffffeeel fffinnne. You ffffeeel fffinnne, tooooo."

She clasped his roaming hand. "Thank you. But you really should get some rest."

He frowned. "Dddonn' ya wanna join mmmmee?

"Perhaps another time," she smiled. "When you're more... up to it."

He lifted up, somewhat wobbly. "I'mm aalllwaysss uppp for you, Mmmichaaelaa. I lllloovvvve it whhhen you annn' me make...."

She gently touched his lips to silence him. "I love that, too, but I much prefer that my husband actually be aware of it."

His head fell back on the pillow defeated. "Ya ddon' love mmmeee."

"Of course, I love you," she avowed. "And when you.... feel better, we'll have that special time we so enjoy."

"Ppprrrrromissse?" he asked sweetly.

"I promise," she pledged. "Now close your eyes for me."

"'Kay," He obeyed. "BButt le' me knnnow ifff that sssnake cccomes back."

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

Brian stepped into Grace's indoor cafe and scanned the tables for Matthew.

Matthew spotted him and beckoned,"Over here, little brother!"

Brian smiled and walked toward his table. "I'm glad we could meet for breakfast."

He chuckled,"Yea, without all of the kids around. Mind you, I love 'em dearly, but sometimes, it's hard t' think."

"I know," Brian nodded. "Do you think I was that way when I was little?"

Matthew leaned back and laughed. "I KNOW you were that way. Always had a million questions, gettin' int' things, interruptin'...."

Brian cut him off. "Okay. Okay."

Grace approached them. "Mornin', boys? What can I get ya?"

Brian greeted,"Morning, Miss Grace. I'd like a slice of your pecan pie and some coffee."

Matthew nodded,"That sounds good for me, too, Grace. Thanks."

When she left, Brian informed his brother,"Sully's real sick with a cough. Ma had to make some kind of mustard thing for his chest."

His brow creased. "Anything I can do?"

Brian shook his head. "He seemed a little better this morning. At least, I didn't hear him coughing."

Brian fell silent and fidgeted with his napkin.

Matthew eyed his brother. "Somethin' else on your mind?"

"Sort of." he hedged. "How can you tell?"

Matthew smiled,"Look, we might not see each other for long stretches of time, but I can tell when somethin's botherin' ya. So, what is it?"

He sighed,"Women."

Matthew retorted,"Is that all?"

"Well, one woman in particular," Brian clarified.

He assumed,"Mary?"

"Yea," Brian conceded. "She refused to see me again this morning. I was going to invite her to a family dinner."

Matthew advised,"Sounds like she's mad at ya."

"I figure it's because I've been away so much," he shrugged.

Matthew questioned,"Do ya write to her?"

"Not very often, I'm afraid," Brian confessed.

He continued,"What did ya say in your last letter?"

"I said I hoped we could be good friends," Brian stated.

Grace returned with their pie. "You gotta say more than that t' a woman if ya want her t' wait for ya."

Brian blushed. "You know Mary Conway?"

"'Course I do," she frowned.

He suspected,"Is she.... seeing someone?"

Grace was frank. "Ya mean is anyone courtin' her?"

Brian replied shyly,"I guess that's what I mean."

Grace put her hands on her hips. "Don't ya know anythin' about women?"

His cheeks grew redder.

Grace grinned. "Oh, I'll tell ya, an' put ya outa your misery. Anytime I've ever seen the poor child, she's been pourin' over books and writin' in a journal."

He probed,"So she sits by herself?"

"Not always," Grace answered. "I've seen your Ma with her a time or two. Dorothy, Teresa."

Brian concluded,"So it's been with ladies then."

Grace grew impatient. "If you wanna court the girl, you better get crackin'."

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

Finally asleep from the consumption of cough medicine, Sully began to dream about Michaela's first visit back to Boston since moving to Colorado Springs. It was to see her ailing mother.

Sully stared in disbelief as Michaela bolted from his railway cabin. He had followed her to Boston because he had worried after her long absence, she would never want to return. His mind flashed back to his conversation with Cloud Dancing.

The medicine man asked,"What troubles you, Sully?"

"Dreams," he replied simply.

"Dreams are the Spirits telling us of the past.... or of the future," Cloud Dancing counseled.

Sully revealed,"Dreamin' that I'm in Boston."

"Where Dr. Mike is," he knew.

Sully uttered wistfully,"Yea."

"You have never been there?" the friend inquired.

Sully turned to look at him. "Never."

After consideration, Cloud Dancing concluded,"You must dream of the future."

With that, Sully made up his mind to follow after Michaela. But once there, he was like a fish out of water in the cosmopolitan environment of Boston. None of that mattered to him as long as he could be near her. He changed the way he dressed and acted. Tutored by the children, he learned to dance and eat with proper etiquette. And Michaela responded positively to the new Byron Sully.

However, it all come to a halt when he overheard William Burke propose to Michaela. Sully felt as if his heart were being ripped from his chest when he heard William's declarations of love for her following her speech at a medical meeting.

William's eyes were intense. "Do you love me?"

Michaela was stunned. "There were moments when I thought it. Moments when I was sure of it. And moments when I wasn't sure of anything at all.... such as this one."

William offered,"Well, take all the time that you need to be sure. My proposal stands. My vow is forever."

Sully could not believe he was hearing this. His worst fears were coming true. Michaela was in love with William. Sully's efforts to woo her had been too little and too late. Now he would never be able to tell her the words that William had said. "I love you."

Sully exited the meeting hall listlessly, knowing that his cause was hopeless.... unless.... He decided to ask her face to face.

He spotted Michaela leaving the lecture hall with William. Approaching her, Sully took her arm to direct her attention away from William. "Excuse us."


Michaela followed him several paces from William.

Sully turned to face her, his voice nearly faltering. "Are you gonna marry him?"

Michaela found his demanding manner intrusive. "I beg your pardon?"

"No beggin' necessary," he glanced toward William. "Just the truth."

She countered,"You've obviously been eavesdropping."

He grew more impatient and repeated with a raised voice,"Just the truth!"

Her jaw tensed. "Well.... it's none of your business."

Sully felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. "Oh. Is that right?"

She glared at him. "That's right."

He wanted to say more, but what was left? There it was. After years of being alone, he had finally let himself fall in love again and now had lost her. There was no more reason to stay in Boston. He had enough of the dandy clothes and high class snobs. It was time to go home.... wherever that was.

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

Andrew sat despondently by himself at a table in Grace's Restaurant. His lunch remained uneaten on the table. Sighing, he looked up. At a table across the room sat Mary Conway. She, too, was by herself, and her food merely sat on the table. Andrew stood, straightened his tie and cleared his throat.

When he reached her table, she looked up.

Andrew smiled. "It's Mary, isn't it? Mary Conway, from the school for deaf and blind children?"

"Yes," she paused. "And you're Dr. Cook."

"Call me Andrew," he amended. "I couldn't help but notice that you're alone. Are you anticipating someone else's arrival?"

She sighed,"No."

"Then join me for lunch," he suggested. "Please?"

"I.... I don't know, Dr..... Andrew," she hesitated.

He suggested,"I could use the company of a pretty lady."

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

Still engulfed in his dream, Sully's subconscious turned to the moment he had told Michaela his true feelings.

Once again donning his more comfortable clothing, Sully boarded the train at the Boston station, stashed his gear and plopped on the cushion. He lowered the window shade and drew up his feet.

He felt numb. Nothing had turned out as he had hoped. If only he had said the words, "I love you," to her. If only....

At that moment, Michaela entered his train compartment and demanded, "What are you doing?"

She was so beautiful. He had thought he'd never see her again, and now here she was. "That's pretty clear."

She stared at him in disbelief. "You're just leaving?"

Sully had not expected her attitude. "There's nothin' t' stay for."

Michaela challenged, "Without even saying goodbye?"

"Goodbye," he said without emotion.

Her volume rose. "Why did you even come here?"

He looked away. "I told you."

"Well, what's the real reason?" she demanded.

He felt his hurt turning to anger. "What d' you care?"

Her eyes widened. "I care!"


That was the last straw for Sully. He stood up and faced her. "Well, ya sure didn't look like it back there at that meetin'!"

She tried to calm herself. "I'm asking you a question."

He stepped closer. "Why did I come?"

She glared. "Yes, why?"

Sully was unable to bring himself to say it. "Because...."

"Because?" she probed further.

He knew it was now or never. "Because I love you."


Suddenly the train lurched, throwing Michaela into his arms. He held her for an instant, uncertain of what reaction she would have. He slid his hand up to her shoulder. What would she say, now that he had declared himself? Just the feel of her so close....

At that moment, without another word to him, Michaela turned with a sigh and rushed down the corridor to get off the train.

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

Andrew's sincere blue eyes melted Mary's reserve.

"All right," she smiled. "I'll join you for lunch."

With that, Andrew lifted her plate and glass. Mary carried her napkin and silverware to his table. He held the chair for her to sit, then sat opposite her.

Andrew opened their conversation. "How are things going at the school?"

She replied, "The children are not due back from their holiday break for another week. They're visiting their families."

"I see," he nodded.

She returned, "And how are things at the hospital?"

"Not very busy at the moment," he answered. "Which, I suppose, is a good thing."

"Yes," she responded.

Andrew paused to think of further conversation topics. As he watched Mary, he was struck by her beauty. Mary had a warm smile and sincere eyes. She was well educated and obviously compassionate.

Mary spoke, "Is something wrong?"

He was puzzled. "Wrong? Uh, no. Why do you ask?"

"You were staring," she explained.

His cheeks flushed. "I'm sorry. It's just.... Well.... You're a very pretty woman."

Now it was her cheeks that reddened. "Thank you."

He reached out to touch her hand. "I didn't mean to embarrass you. It's just.... I never took the time to notice before."

"And you're a very handsome man," Mary declared.

Feeling slightly uncomfortable, Andrew stuck his finger between his collar and neck. "Thank you."

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

Sully's dream continued.

He stared blankly at the passing landscape while the train lumbered westward. What would he do when he returned to Colorado Springs? There was no one to return to except for Cloud Dancing and the Cheyenne. Even that offered no consolation to him.
Had the Spirits guided him to Boston, only to have his heart broken again? First his father, then brother and mother had died. A new beginning in Colorado Springs with Abigail had ended just as tragically. Never again, he thought. Never again would he let his heart be broken, he vowed.

But then he had met Michaela. She was unlike anyone he had ever known. So beautiful. So compassionate. She had a fire in her that....

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. The look on Michaela's face when she came to the train haunted him. She was angry. But why? Because he was leaving? Because he had come to Boston in the first place? None of her words or actions had made sense to him.

But what did it matter? Her swift exit had spoken volumes to him. She didn't love him. She didn't want him. She was staying in Boston to marry William.

Sully lowered his head. Whatever had made him think that a woman of Michaela's upbringing would love someone like him in the first place?

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

Josef approached his mother as she sipped a cup of tea at the kitchen table. "Mama, can I talk with ya?"

"Certainly, Sweetheart." She lifted him onto her lap. "What did you want to say?"

He toyed with a strand of her hair. "Papa's been sleepin' a long time. Do ya think he's sober now?"

Michaela's eyes widened. "Josef, I want you to understand that Papa is not like Mr. Slicker or the men whom you've seen stagger from the Gold Nugget drunk."

"Oh, I know that," the little boy acknowledged. "Papa can't hold his liquor."

"Josef!" she blurted.

He was contrite. "Did I say somethin' wrong?"

"The expressions you're using are inappropriate, young man," she admonished.

He was uncertain. "What did I say?"

"Saying that your father can't hold his liquor," she repeated.

He asked innocently, "Ya mean he can hold it?"

Michaela was becoming flustered. "No, that's not what I mean. I am referring to your apparent knowledge about drinking and liquor."

"Don't forget beer, too," he added.

She was aghast. "Where are you learning about these things?"

"Ya learn a lot at recess when ya listen t' the big kids," he informed her.

"Well, from now on, you are forbidden to go near the older boys at recess," she stated.

"But the younger kids talk about stuff I ain't interested in," he pointed out.

"You AREN'T interested," she corrected.

"Yea, that's right," he nodded.

She took a deep breath to steady her nerves. "What has happened to my sweet, innocent little boy?"

Josef's lower lip curled under. "Are ya mad at me?"

Her tone softened. "No. But.... I just wish you weren't growing up so quickly."

"You could stop feedin' me," he offered.

She was puzzled. "Stop feeding you?"

The little boy explained, "You always tell me t' eat well so I'll grow up t' be big an' strong."

Michaela embraced him and kissed the top of his head. "I suppose that soon you won't want to sit on my lap or let me kiss you."

He reasoned, "When I get big, I don't think I better sit on ya, Mama. I might hurt ya. But.... you can still kiss me."

She chuckled. "Yes, well, thank you for that."

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

On his trip back to Colorado Springs, Sully had nearly disembarked from the train at each stop. But something inside had prevented him from leaving and losing himself in a new town.

He had stopped eating, though the porter had brought him meals regularly.


The night before they were due into Denver, the young black man in his crisp white jacket had brought Sully a tray once more, in the hope that the silent mountain man would eat. "Sir, I brought your dinner."

"No, thanks," Sully uttered, barely audible.

He set the tray down. "Could I ask ya somethin'?"

Sully looked up from his vigil of staring out the window. "What?"

He frowned. "Is there somethin' wrong with our food?"

"No." Sully shook his head. "I'm sure it's good."

He was frank. "Then why don't ya eat it?"

"I ain't hungry," Sully replied.

The porter put his hands on his hips. "Sir, you're gonna starve."

Sully turned his head toward the window again. "It don't matter."

"It matters to me," he quipped. "I don't like findin' dead passengers."

Sully frowned, "I got no one who'd even care if I lived or died."

"You a Union veteran by chance?" he queried.

"Yea," Sully returned.

He expressed, "Then I care if ya live or die."

Sully stared at him. "Why?"

"I'm a free man on account of you," he explained. "I don't want ya t' starve. I owe ya my life."

"You don't owe me anythin'," he noted.

The porter probed, "What's got ya so sad? I never saw a man so down as you."

Sully did not know why, but he found himself wanting to tell this stranger what had happened. "I lost the woman I love."

"My condolences," he sympathized. "How long ago did she die?"

"She ain't dead," Sully amended. "I finally worked up the courage t' tell her I love her, an' she left me."

"Left just like that?" he was puzzled. "Without sayin' anythin'?"

"That's right," Sully nodded.

The porter scratched his head, then folded his arms across his chest. "Somethin' don't sound right about all this. When a man tells a woman he loves her, she's gotta say somethin', anythin'. What kind of look did she have?"

"Look?" Sully thought the question strange.

"Yea," he said. "What kind of expression did she have on her face?"

"She looked angry," Sully recalled. "Her eyes were red an' teary. Her forehead was creased. She yelled at me an' asked why I came t' Boston. Then, when I blurted it out that I love her, she bolted."

"Hmmm," he paused. "Sounds like she was scared."

Sully defended. "Scared o' what? Me? We've known each other for a couple years. I went t' Boston t' court her. I put on a suit, dined at a fancy restaurant, danced, even took her t' an opera."

"Whew," he assessed. "You ARE in love. A man does all that for a woman, then she just runs? She's scared, all right."

Sully did not understood. "But why?"

He replied, "Maybe she's scared ya don't mean it."

"I wouldn't've traveled 2,000 miles if I didn't mean it," Sully noted.

He offered, "Then there's another reason."

"That reason's another man," Sully lamented. "She's a doctor. He's a doctor. They got a lot more in common than her an' me."

"Ah, another man," he paused. "Still, why didn't she just tell ya she loves him instead o' you?"

"She told me by runnin'.... runnin' back to him!" Sully knew.

The porter observed, "If she's a doctor, that means she's got a good education. I imagine she knows a lot o' words."

"Yea, she likes t' use 'em, too," Sully added. "She's always talkin'...."

"But she couldn't say anythin' when ya said ya love her," he pointed out.

Sully sighed. "It don't matter anymore. She's made her choice."

"Well, if ya ask me, she's no kind of lady t' act that way to you," he generalized.

The mountain man straightened up. "Don't say that. Michaela's always a lady. She beautiful, smart, carin', considerate, kind...."

"But she didn't act that way t' you," he commented.

Sully fell silent.

The porter slid the tray closer. "I gotta be goin'. If ya change your mind, your dinner will be here."

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

Michaela approached her bedroom to check on Sully. When she neared the door, she observed Noah and Annie sitting on the floor just outside.

She knelt down. "What are you two doing?"

"Wait for Papa," Annie stated.

She caressed her daughter's head. "Sweetheart, Papa is still sick. He's sleeping, which is just what he needs right now to get better."

"We wait," Noah echoed his sister.

Michaela remarked, "Would you like to go downstairs and have me read to you?"

Annie stated, "Papa tell us stowy."

She returned, "Yes, when he feels better, I know he will."

"We wait," Annie smiled.

Michaela shook her head. "I don't know where you get your stubbornness."

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

Sully continued to dream about his lonely train ride back to Colorado Springs after he had told Michaela that he loved her.

Within an hour of his arrival, he went to speak with Cloud Dancing.

The medicine man built a fire, and they sat before it, just as they had done before Sully's departure.

Cloud Dancing gazed intently at his friend. "You have grown thin."

"Can't eat," Sully shrugged. "Or sleep."

"You appear to be more upset now than before you left," he stated.

"I did everythin' I could t' let her know how I felt," Sully's voice choked. "In the end, she chose a doctor fella she met in Boston."

He challenged, "You are giving up, just like that?"

Sully frowned. "She's the one who gave up on us. She made it real clear."

He was silent.

"Well?" Sully anticipated. "What do the Spirits say about that?"

"I do not need the Spirits to tell me that you are hurt and angry," he counseled. "Just as you were before."

Sully was uncertain. "Before?"

"When Abigail died," he clarified.

Sully countered, "That was different. Abigail didn't go out of her way t' hurt me. She died given birth t' my baby girl."

Cloud Dancing wondered, "Do you think that Dr. Mike went out of her way to hurt you?"

Sully nodded. "Yea, I do. She practically threw herself at William. She went places with him, had him t' her Ma's house...."

"And she did not do these things with you?" he questioned.

"Well, yea, she did," he paused. "But I'm the one who had t' change. Her Ma told me that if I wanted t' win her over, I should act like I belonged there. Wear the clothes. Have the manners an' etiquette. Ya know, so I wouldn't embarrass her."

The medicine man stared into the fire. "It sounds like the way Dr. Mike had to change when she moved here."

Sully could not help but smile. "I remember the first time I saw her, fallin' face first int' the mud in that fancy get-up."

He grinned. "Women."

"Yea, women," Sully spat out bitterly.

He added, "You are better off without her. She would only try to change you. Make you wear the suits, sleep in a bed, not come and go as you please."

Sully assessed, "That's right. I AM better off."

"So is Dr. Mike," he mentioned. "She has everything she could ever want in Boston. Acceptance as a doctor. Patients who need her."

Sully pondered. "She didn't have them things a couple years ago. That's why she came out west."

"Yes, I recall," Cloud Dancing remembered. "But what kind of life could she have here?"

Sully felt tears welling in his eyes. "She'd just have me an' the kids, I reckon. But even in Boston, she'll still have them."

"You will miss the children, too," his friend recognized.

He swallowed hard. "Yea. I was real attached. Funny thing is, I talked t' a porter about my situation on the train ride back, an' he said somethin' that's hard t' believe."

Cloud Dancing raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yea," Sully related. "He said maybe Dr. Mike was scared. Can ya believe that? Scared o' me."

"I doubt that she is scared of you," the medicine man challenged. "I mean, she has never shown any fear for you."

"Well, maybe a time or two when we first met," Sully mentioned. "But I've always been respectful, friendly, helped her any way I could. She's got no reason t' fear me."

"Unless...." Cloud Dancing stopped.

Sully's brow creased. "Unless what?"

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

Cloud Dancing offered his friend, "More tea?"

"No, thanks," Sully declined. "What were ya gonna say?"

He resumed, "I was going to say that maybe it is not you whom she fears."

Sully was puzzled. "So you think she's afraid, too?"

"It is possible," he accepted.

The mountain man considered carefully. "But what would she be afraid of? I've seen Michaela stand up t' stop an entire army."

"You must be right," Cloud Dancing agreed. "She is not afraid of anything."

Sully recalled, "No, there are some things that frighten her. Right before she left for Boston, Michaela was cryin' about her Ma bein' sick an' fearin' she might die. When she met William, he accepted her treatment of Elizabeth with Cheyenne medicine. Maybe that's why she fell in love with him. An' if she was afraid of anythin', I reckon it was just bein' afraid t' come back t' Colorado Springs an' leave the man who believed in her."

Cloud Dancing pointed out, "But you believe in her, too."

"Me believin' is different 'cause I ain't a doctor," Sully pondered.

"So, what will you do now?" his friend queried.

Sully sighed. "I don't know. Maybe go on a vision quest."

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

Katie sat on the footstool in front of her mother while Michaela cradled Hope. "Is she asleep?"

"Yes," Michaela whispered.

Katie mentioned, "Hope was restless last night."

Michaela concluded, "I suspect it was because she was not in her crib."

She informed her, "The twins are still waitin' for Poppy upstairs."

Michaela smiled, "I hope they don't plan on camping there for the night."

"Poppy's been sleepin' for a long time," Katie observed. "I know you've been checkin' on him, but since you're busy with Hope, maybe I could just go up an' see if he's okay."

"Sweetheart, your father would not want you to catch what he has," Michaela counseled. "The sleep is doing him good, helping his body to heal."

The little girl sighed. "But you've been going in the room, Mama. Aren't you afraid you'll catch what Poppy has?"

"That's what doctors do," she explained. "And what wives and mothers do to help those whom they love."

Katie offered, "Well, if you catch it, I'll take care of you."

Michaela smiled, "Thank you, my darling."

At that moment, Brian entered the house. After removing his coat, he kissed his mother and went to warm up by the fireplace.

Bridget called from the kitchen, "Supper's ready!"

Michaela requested, "Katie, would you round up the twins and tell them Papa will still be inside when they finish eating?"

Katie sighed, "I'll try, but they might not believe me."

As the little girl exited, Brian smiled, "Mind if I hold Hope through dinner? I'm not really hungry."

Michaela gently handed the sleeping toddler to her big brother. "Why not?"

He tenderly kissed Hope's forehead, then sighed. "Mary wouldn't talk to me again this morning. I had breakfast with Matthew over at Grace's new indoor place. She overheard my discussing Mary and told me that if I was going to court her, I'd better get cracking."

Michaela touched his cheek. "I'm sorry, Sweetheart."

He shook his head. "I think I should propose to her, but that's impossible if she won't even see me."

"You THINK you should propose?" Michaela queried. "Shouldn't it be that you WANT to propose?"

He remarked. "I'm new to navigating around a woman's feelings. Any advice would be appreciated."

Suddenly, the children bounded down the steps, noisily heading for the dining room table.

Michaela glanced at her son. "We'll talk more when we can have some privacy?"

"Sure," he agreed.

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

Sully reached the peak of his special mountain. He had never shown it to anyone, not even Abigail. It was where he always came to think.... to find his way.

He had not felt this lost since Abigail had died.

He fell to his knees and let his emotions sweep across him like a hot wind. He lowered his head and let his tears flow freely.

"Why?" He pounded his fist on the ground. "Why did I let myself love again?"

He was finally able to release all of the pent up pain. He had permitted his heart to open up to a woman. But Michaela was too high up for one such as he.

He admired everything about her, even her stubbornness. And her beauty.... it took his breath away.

He railed at himself for feeling this way. The truth is, if he truly loved her, he would want her to find happiness with William. He was being selfish, plain and simple.

Suddenly, he felt moisture on his ear. Wolf had found him and licked his master sympathetically. Sully sat on the cold ground and petted the animal.

"It's just you an' me now, boy," he uttered as he fought off another wave of tears.

Wolf edged up against him and lay down. Gradually, Sully began to calm, and he closed his eyes. He sat up straight, praying to the Sprits to let him see Michaela one last time. He truly felt that if he could see her even for a moment, he could make peace with what had happened. Softly, he began to chant.

Soon her image came to him. She was wearing the dress that he had last seen her in, but this time she was not at the train station. She was in her mother's parlor in Boston.

Elizabeth had her back turned away from Michaela, who looked sad.

The older woman spoke, "William's a good man, Michaela."

She came around to sit opposite her mother. "Yes, he is."


Elizabeth added, "And he respects you, both as a woman and as a professional."

Michaela cast her eyes down. "Yes, he does."

Sully's heart ached. This was not the way he wanted his vision of her to end, but he had to accept what the Spirits provided.

Elizabeth challenged, "What other man can you say that about?"

Lifting her head, the daughter spoke softly, "Sully."

Elizabeth dismissed the remark with a wave of her hand, declaring, "He can't give you a complete life."


She exhaled in frustration. "What do you mean by complete?"

Her mother grew impatient. "You know exactly what I'm talking about. I mean a life.... here in Boston. You could be a doctor and you could...."

Michaela interrupted, "There are plenty of doctors in Boston, Mother."

She wasn't finished. "AND, you can raise your children properly."

Michaela defended, "Well, that depends on how you wish to define 'properly.'"

Elizabeth became condescending, "Michaela, I have nothing against your little town, your patients.... your Indian friends, but...."

Michaela struggled to control her tears, "I don't love William, Mother!"

Sully tilted his head. Had he heard her words correctly?

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Love? Well, that never used to be an issue. When it came to making such important decisions as...."

"Who I spend the rest of my life with?" she cut in.

Her mother commented, "Well, you may think that sounds callous. I was taught that a good match was more enduring than love."

Michaela was incredulous. "Didn't you love father?"

Her eyes narrowed, "Of course, I loved your father." She added uncomfortably, "But I had to choose from a small selection of men at a... very specific time in my life. And it was Beacon Hill to Back Bay, not Colorado. I was 20 years old."

They fell silent, Michaela gazing into the fire.

Elizabeth referred to her daughter, sensing she had lost the battle, "Not a mature woman, who knows her own mind."

A peaceful expression crossed Michaela's face.


Her mother understood what it meant, and she resigned herself to her daughter's decision. "Will you visit again? Soon?"

Michaela looked at her mother with love and admiration. "Yes. Soon."

The vision began to fade from Sully's mind, and he opened his eyes. Wolf whimpered.

The mountain man smiled at his faithful companion. "She's comin' home, boy. She's comin' home t' me."

Another thought occurred to Sully at that moment. "Cloud Dancin' says dreams might tell of somethin' that already happened. If that's so, Michaela could already be on her way back!"

Then he considered what she was wearing in his vision. It was the same dress she had worn when he had told her he loved her on the train. She must have gone directly home from the depot to tell her mother she was leaving.

That meant.... He closed his eyes and offered a prayer of thanks. "She'll be home t'morrow."

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

Sully awoke with a start. "Michaela?"

His lips were parched. Struggling, he sat up and reached for a glass of water on the nightstand.

It was on this scene that Michaela entered the room. "Let me help you."

She scurried around to his side of the bed and helped him with the water.

Sully drank some, then rested his head on his pillows. "What time is it?"

She noted, "You missed dinner."

"Dinner time?" He was surprised. "I don't even remember wakin' up this mornin'."

"Uh, Sully, about this morning," she paused.

He studied her expression. "What about it?"

"Do you recall taking some cough medicine?" she questioned.

He thought for a moment. "I.... I think so. You weren't here, so.... I took what was on my nightstand."

She informed him, "You drank the entire bottle."

Sully was surprised. "I did?"

"Yes, and.... it affected your behavior," she noted.

He touched her arm. "Yea, it knocked me out."

"Before that," she clarified. "It made you inebriated."

"Inebriated?" he scoffed. "That's impossible."

She stated, "There is a considerable amount of alcohol in that cough medicine. It is supposed to be taken in moderation."

He absorbed what she was telling him. "Then I passed out?"

She smiled. "No. First, you amused Josef."

"Amused how?" he wondered.

Michaela tilted her head. "You truly don't remember anything?"

He tensed. "No. Oh, no. I can't believe this."

She patted his arm. "Your speech was slurred. You tipped over onto the floor, then fell into the bed when I helped you up."

Sully ran his fingers through his hair. "I'm real sorry, Michaela. I must've embarrassed ya in front of Joe."

She felt his forehead. "I explained it to him, but we'll have to have a talk with him later about drunk people."

Sully's eyes widened, "He knows I was drunk?"

"I told him that you had swallowed too much medicine," she comforted. "But it appears that your son knows a bit more than he should about how intoxicated people behave from observing Jake and the men coming out of the Gold Nugget."

"Long as he don't imitate them, I don't think we need t' worry," Sully assured. "But seein' his Pa act that way is real bad."

She changed the subject. "Do you realize that your fever and cough are gone?"

He became more aware. "Hey, you're right." He tried to inhale deeply. "I can breathe a lot better."

"Perhaps all of that cough medicine did you a world of good after all," she quipped. "You got much needed rest."

He clasped her hand. "An' tender, lovin' care. Sorry I acted bad."

She leaned forward and kissed his forehead. "Do you think you could eat some soup?"

"A little bit," he assessed.

There was a soft knock at the door, and Brian stepped into the room. "Hey, Pa. How are you feeling?"

Sully smiled. "Better, thanks to your Ma."

Michaela cleared her throat. "Why don't you two have a chat, and I'll get Sully some soup?"

Sully turned to Brian. "You look like ya lost your last friend, son."

Brian sighed. "I could use your advice, Pa." He pulled a chair closer to Sully, then broached the subject. "I've been thinking that I should court Mary."

"Should court her?" he wondered. "Ya sound like it's an obligation."

"I didn't mean it like that," Brian stated.

Sully nodded. "Well, if ya love her an' wanna spend the rest of your life with her, that's a good idea. The sooner the better."

Brian considered his feelings before admitting "I'm very fond of her."

"Fond?" Sully considered. "That ain't the same thing as love."

"I'm sure it will grow into love," he determined.

Sully studied his son's expression. "Have ya asked Mary if you could court her?"

"Um.... well...." he hedged. "That's what makes this more difficult. She won't talk to me. Ma suggested I ask her over for a family dinner, but I can't if she's ignoring me."

"I see," Sully nodded. "Any idea why she don't wanna talk t' you?"

Brian pondered. "That's why I need your advice. I don't know for certain. She won't see me. She won't speak to me. Obviously, she's upset with me, and the only reason I can figure out why is that she wants me to make some kind of commitment."

"Are you still plannin' on goin' t' Europe?" he asked.

"Yes," Brian nodded.

Sully counseled, "It's hard t' court a woman if you're thousands of miles away."

"I still have a couple of weeks at home to make the suggestion to her," he paused. "Then, maybe before I leave for Europe, I could ask her to marry me and give her a ring. That way, she'd know I'm serious about my intentions."

Sully advised, "Makin' that kind of commitment, gettin' engaged, is a big step, Brian. Ya gotta be real sure. A woman's heart is one of the most precious things a man can ever hold."

Unseen by the two, Michaela had returned with Sully's soup. She hesitated from entering the room while they were talking, but she couldn't help but overhear their conversation. At Sully's last remark, her heart swelled with love for her husband.

Brian nodded in agreement. "When did ya know that you wanted to make that commitment to Ma?"

He smiled. "When she took you kids to Boston to be with her Ma. I mean, I knew that I had feelin's for her before that. But while she was away, I felt empty an' lost. I started to wonder if she'd ever come back. An' I realized that I couldn't live without her."

Brian smiled. "So you came to Boston to court her."

"Strange, I was just dreamin' about that whole experience while I slept the day away," he mused. "I was like a fish outa water around all those high society folks. But it was worth every second when she came back to me. Seein' all of you get off that stagecoach was one o' the happiest days of my life."

Brian recalled, "Same for us. That's what I want, Pa. I want to come home and have Mary run into my arms, just like Ma did t' you."

Sully advised. "It sounds like you have your mind made up then."

He retorted, "First, I have to get her to speak to me. What do you do when Ma's mad at you?"

"I've given her plenty o' reasons t' be mad at me," Sully joked. "But, well, maybe you could send Mary some flowers with a note."

His eyes lit up. "Or, I could take them in person. Thanks for the talk, Pa."

"Any time," Sully smiled.

As Brian stood to leave, Michaela entered the room. "Did you two have a nice conversation?"

The young man kissed his mother's cheek. "Real good."

He exited.

Michaela placed the tray on the bed near Sully. "Would you like for me to feed you?"

Sully grinned. "That would be nice. Then I need to wash up. If my nose was workin' better, I reckon I wouldn't smell real good."

"I don't think you're ready for the tub, but I'll give you a sponge bath after you eat," she offered.

He winked. "You sure take good care of me."

"I have to keep a close eye on you so that you don't over medicate," she teased.

His expression became serious, as he recalled his dreams of the day. "Michaela, I don't tell ya nearly enough how much I love you."

"Yes, you do, Sully," she smiled. "And I love you, too."

He lifted her hand and kissed it. "I remember the first time ya told me that in the street right by the livery."

"I remember, too." Her eyes shone with love.

Sully shook his head. "When ya sat there in your Ma's parlor tellin' Elizabeth that ya loved me, an' not William...."

She was surprised. "What?"

He clarified, "When ya told your Ma that you were comin' home to Colorado Springs, ya looked ...."

Michaela was puzzled. "Sully, I've never told you about the conversation that I had with Mother before returning here."

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

Having learned that Mary had gone to Grace's, Brian headed there to speak with her. The hour was getting late, and he hoped that she would still be there. He had already talked Loren into selling him some silk flowers and a small box of chocolates.

Endeavoring to organize what he wanted to say and how to say it, Brian's mind raced. He would begin with an apology for his shortcomings. He knew from observing Sully and Ma that asking for forgiveness would be foremost in reconciling differences.

Deciding to practice, he uttered, "Mary, I'm terribly sorry for upsetting you with my long absences and infrequent communications.... Uh...."

"Women don't want excuses," came a voice nearby.

Brian stopped abruptly and turned to see "Robert E!"

"Hey, Brian," the blacksmith smiled. "Where ya goin' in such a hurry?"

He swallowed hard. "Uh... to see Mary Conway over at Grace's."

"Don't mean t' meddle," Robert E added. "But I couldn't help overhearin' ya. So happens, I'm headed there myself. Mind if I walk with ya?"

"I'd like that," the young man smiled. They started toward the restaurant. "The truth is, Mary has refused to see me since I got home. I want to apologize for upsetting her."

"Flowers are a good start," he observed. "Sounds like you're sweet on her."

Brian declared, "Knowing that I've upset her has made me realize how fond I am of her. I want to court her."

"Good luck then," he offered.

Brian inquired, "Could I ask you something, Robert E?"

"Sure," he accepted.

"Well, I figure the reason Mary is upset is that I've been away so long working on my journalism," he began. "I still have to travel, and I want to convince her to wait for me. If I tell her I'd like to court her, she'll be more inclined to be patient about my absences. Don't you think?"

Robert E eyed him. "So, you're gonna apologize for bein' away, tell her you're interested in marriage, then leave again?"

Brian stopped. "I guess that doesn't make sense."

He shrugged. "It ain't my business, Brian."

"No, I'd like to hear your perspective," the young man stated.

He went on, "See, women don't think like men. We can just say what we think, an' it sounds nice an' logical. But a woman will take what ya say, think about what ya really mean, look at your eyes an' question if you're tellin' the truth, get upset that ya don't know what she's thinkin'.... then expect ya t' apologize before ya even know ya did anythin' wrong."

Brian's eyes widened. "So, you're saying that Mary will take what I say in a way that I don't intend?"

"I'm sayin' you don't know how she'll react," he returned. "You're thinkin' this through. You're practicin' how you wanna apologize. Before ya finally tell her? Well, ya gotta stop an' ask yourself, 'How can I get int' trouble for what I'm about t' say?'"

Brian's brow creased. "How can I get into trouble? I'm already in trouble in her eyes."

"See?" Robert E nodded. "An' ya didn't even do anythin' wrong. How much worse it could be if ya apologize! That means you admit ya did somethin' wrong."

Brian took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. "Then.... I don't know what to say or do."

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

Sully admitted to his wife, "I never told ya before what I did when I got home from Boston after admittin' t' you that I love you on the train. I went to the mountain t' think."

"Our mountain?" she clarified.

He reminded, "I hadn't shown it t' ya yet. When I got there, I prayed t' the Sprits t' let me see you one last time."

She apologized, "I'm sorry for what I put you through, Sully."

"Shhh," he comforted. "It turned out good in the end. Right?"

"Indeed," she smiled. "But how did you know what Mother and I said to one another?"

He replied, "I closed my eyes an' had a vision. I saw ya talkin' t' your Ma. I heard ya tell her that ya didn't love William."

"There was a time when I would have found this difficult to fathom," she confessed. "But after all that we've been through, I know that it's true. You truly did see Mother and me."

"I figured out that you'd had your talk just after I left, an' you'd be comin' home the next day," he smiled.

She reasoned, "And that's why you were in town waiting for the stage."

"Yep," he grinned. "No sweeter sight than seein' you an' the kids get off that stagecoach."

She clasped his hand. "Speaking of children, there are some little ones who have been missing their Papa."

He smiled. "I miss them, too. I guess I'm contagious."

"Truthfully, I've never seen anyone recuperate as quickly as you," she remarked. "Last night, you were convinced you were dying. Now look at you."

"Like I always say, I got a good doctor," he mused.

She offered, "I think it would be all right for them to stand at the door to say goodnight. I'll help Bridget get them ready for bed, then bring them to see you."

"Then my sponge bath?" he reminded.

"Yes," she smiled.

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

Before entering Grace's Restaurant, Brian straightened his tie, cleared his throat and took a deep breath.

Robert E grinned. "Ya look like a man ready t' do battle."

Brian chuckled. "It's a big step."
"Yea, but worth the takin'," the blacksmith added.

Robert E opened the door for him, and Brian entered the room. His eyes scanned the tables until he found....

"Mary?" he spoke out loud, surprised that she was not alone.

Robert E patted his back. "Looks like she's havin' supper with Andrew."

Brian subdued the pang of jealousy he was feeling. "Yea. Maybe that will make it more difficult for her to throw me out."

He offered, "Good luck."

"Thanks," Brain replied.

Tentatively, the young man approached the table, keeping the bouquet of silk flowers behind his back.

When Brian reached them, Andrew acknowledged, "Brian! What a pleasant surprise. Mary and I were just sharing a meal. Would you like to join us?"

He swallowed hard. "If it's all right with Mary."

The young woman was obliged to consent, "I don't mind."

Brian pulled the flowers around to offer them. "These are for you, Mary. Sort of a peace offering?"

She was polite. "They're very nice."

Andrew smiled, "What's this about a peace offering?"

Brian sat down. "It's sort of personal."

Andrew began to feel uncomfortable. "I.... I see. If you two would prefer to be alone, I can...."

Mary stopped him. "Not at all, Andrew. I'm enjoying your company."

Brian set the chocolates on the tablecloth. "These are for you, too, Mary."

She accepted, "Thank you."

When the duo fell silent, Andrew looked at Mary, then Brian. "Uh.... so, Brian, have you enjoyed being home?"

He did not take his eyes off Mary. "Sure. It's always good to be around people you care about."

Andrew smiled uncomfortably. "Yes, well, I'm sure Michaela and Sully missed you."

He replied pleasantly. "And the kids. I can't believe how much they've grown."

Andrew chuckled, "Yes, children have a way of doing that."

Mary observed with a hint of sarcasm. "You should come home more often, Brian. Then their growth won't seem so dramatic."

He looked down shyly, "It's the nature of my work, I'm afraid."

Andrew noted, "Your mother has shown me some of your articles in Harpers. Your research is extensive, and your writing highly descriptive."

"Thank you," he accepted.

Andrew turned to Mary. "Have you read any of his work?"

"Just an occasional letter," she responded.

Andrew used his napkin to dab the sides of his mouth, then set it on the tabletop. "If you'll excuse me, I noticed a patient of mine at another table. I'd like to say hello. I'm sure you two can find something to talk about in my absence."

When he departed, Mary glared at Brian. "I thought I made it clear that I don't want to see you or speak to you."

"I mean no disrespect," he apologized. "But, I've been home for three weeks, Mary. I had hoped that you and I could...."

She cut him off, "Could what, Brian? Be friends? Yes, all right. We're friends. No, better yet, we're acquaintances."

He remained calm. "I'd like for us to be more. I'm very fond of you. With your permission, I'd.... I'd like to court you."

Her eyes widened. "Court me?"

"Uh huh," he nodded, reaching for her hand. "While I'm home, maybe we could go to a concert at the opera house, take a ride over to Manitou.... anything you'd like, as long as we do it together."

"While you're home," she noticed. "How long will that be?"

"Another couple of weeks," he answered.

She sighed and drew back her hand. "You want to court me for two weeks?"

"You know, to see if we're compatible," he paused. "If we like the same things, have similar opinions.... common ground."

She took a deep breath to calm herself. "I don't mean to be rude. I just don't understand how you can consider that a courtship. Two weeks? Then what?"

He suddenly felt beads of perspiration multiplying on his forehead. "Uh.... well.... maybe we can take things to the next step."

She came to the point. "Become engaged?"

Brian remembered Robert E's words. "I.... This isn't going the way I had hoped."

Mary shook her head. "I'm fond of you, as well, Brian. I really am. But if things between us are going to go any further, you need to be here. Compatibility is not something that can be measured in two weeks time."

"But I can't be here full time," he countered. "My work takes me all over the place. I'll be going to Europe soon. Once we're married, you can come with me."

"Married?" she repeated. "What about my work with the children here in Colorado?"

"You can always come back to it, once we settle down," he reasoned.

Mary was becoming increasingly irritated with his line of thinking. "So, I give up what's important to me and the deaf and blind children, in order to travel the world with you."

He peered into her eyes. "I know your work is important. But so are feelings."

She was blunt. "Why did you come here this evening?"

He hedged, "Because...."

"Because?" she challenged.

Brian confessed, "Because I love you."

She stood up abruptly and threw down her napkin on the table. Then, she turned and left him.

He exhaled in frustration.

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

Sully propped his head up so that he could see his children as they stood within the door frame of his bedroom. Bridget supervised the scene so that the little ones did not tire their father.

Josef spoke up, "Papa, you look a lot better than when I saw ya this mornin'."

He smiled, "Thanks, Joe. I feel a lot better, too."

Annie started toward her father, but Bridget gently guided her back. "Not so fast, darlin'."

Noah requested, "Stowy, Papa?"

Josef added, "Somethin' about that Yellerstone."

Bridget intervened, "Not now, darlin's. This was only supposed t' be a good night, not a long visit."

Annie implored, "Pwease, Papa!"

Sully's heart warmed at the sight of the children. "It's okay, Bridget. I don't mind."

She relented, "If you say so, lad."

"Have a seat, kids," Sully instructed as he gestured toward the rug by the fireplace.

They obeyed. Bridget sat in the rocking chair with Hope.

Katie spoke up, "Maybe we should wait for Mama."

Bridget informed her, "She's gettin' things ready for your Papa's sponge bath."

Josef tilted his head curiously. "Why's Papa gonna bathe a sponge?"

Sully chuckled, "She's gonna use the sponge on me, Joe. I can't take a full bath yet."

"Oh," the little boy was satisfied. "Go ahead with the story then."

Sully introduced, "I'm gonna tell ya an old Cheyenne story about the Yellowstone Valley flood."

Josef's eyes lit up. "We're gonna go where there's a flood?"

"It happened a long time ago, Joe," Sully clarified. "The Cheyenne believe that the Great Spirit loved that land when he made it. It had beautiful mountains and plains, forests and grasslands. There were lots of different animals and tribes of Indians."

Katie wondered, "What kind of animals, Poppy?"

"Every kind ya can think of," he answered.

Josef offered, "Buffalo?"

"Lots of buffalo," Sully nodded. "So, the Great Spirit let the tribes know that the animals were their brothers, t' share the land with them. They would provide food and clothing. The Great Spirit told them to live with the animals an' protect them."

Katie added, "They used every part of the buffalo, didn't they, Poppy?"

He was pleased that she remembered. "Yep. In fact, the Great Sprit told them to pay careful attention t' protectin' the buffalo, since it provides food an' shelter."

Josef frowned, "I jus' can't see a house made outa buffalo."

Katie rolled her eyes. "That's not what he means, Joey. He means they can use the hide for warmth. RIght, Poppy?"

"That's right, Kates," he grinned. "The hide of the buffalo protects 'em from the cold, the heat, an' the rain. As long as they have the buffalo, they'd be fine."

Noah inquired, "We see buff'lo, Papa?"

"I hope so, No-bo," Sully smiled wistfully. "But, there were folks who didn't think o' the animals as brothers. They killed when they didn't need food, just shootin' the buffalo as a sport. They killed the fish an' other animals, too. They burned and cut the forests, an' more animals died."

Annie contributed, "Make Gate Spiwit mad."

Sully agreed, "Mad an' sad, honey. So, he kept the smoke in the valleys, causin' these people to cough an' choke. An' ya know what? They still kept on burnin' an' killin'."

Josef reasoned, "Someone better put out that fire."

"Someone did, Joe," Sully acknowledged.

Noah answered enthusiastically, "Gate Spiwit?"

"Uh-huh," Sully responded. "He sent rains to put out the fires and to destroy the people. The rains fell, an' the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded valleys to the higher land. Finally, a medicine man got his people t'gether, an' reminded what the Great Spirit had told 'em. 'Long as they had the buffalo, they'd be safe from heat and cold and rain. But the buffalo were gone. They knew they had t' find some an' live in balance with nature, or they'd all die."

Katie questioned, "Did they find any?"

"After a long search, they did," he noted. "But there were only three left: a cow, a calf, an' a white bull. They followed after, but the white buffalo drowned. They brought his hide t' the medicine man."

Annie was inquisitive, "What he did with it?"

"The medicine man told the people that it would protect them," Sully explained. "They started stretchin' an' stretchin' it 'til it covered the whole Yellowstone Valley. That protected them from the rains. They started makin' friends with the animals again."

Josef gave his opinion. "Good story, Papa. So we're gonna go help protect the animals, too?"

"That's right," he smiled.

It was on this scene that Michaela entered with a pitcher of warm water and some fresh linens.

Katie jumped up. "Mama, you missed a good story. Poppy told us about the buffalo an' flood at Yellowstone."

She raised an eyebrow, "Did he now? Well, perhaps Papa will tell me about it after you little ones are asleep."

Noah protested, "We stay here."

Sully eyed him, "I need you kids t' get a good night's sleep, so ya can help me better when we go t' Yellowstone. Okay?"

They reluctantly agreed, and one by one, said their goodnight wishes to their father.

Once they were alone, Michaela closed the bedroom door. "Ready for your bath?"

When she turned to look at her husband, he had fallen asleep.

************
Chapter 7
************

Brian stepped into the smokey barroom of the Gold Nugget. Never in his life had he sought solace in a saloon, but.... never had he told a woman that he loved her, only to have her run from his presence.

Now, not only did his heart ache, but he was flat out embarrassed. How could he have been so stupid as to think that Mary would feel the same way as he felt about her?

Hank noticed the young man enter and approached. "You lost, Brian?"

He lowered his eyes. "You could say that."

The sheriff patted his back. "Ya look like ya could use a drink. Ya ever have one before?"

"Sure," Brian lied. "Plenty of times."

Jake observed the conversation.

Tipping his hat back, he joked, "You sure you can hold your liquor?"

Hank countered, "Better than you can, Mayor Slicker."

Jake frowned, "That ain't funny."

Brian ordered, "I'd like a whiskey."

"What kind o' whiskey?" Hank queried.

Brain took a deep breath. "The strongest you have."

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

Michaela poured the warm water in a basin and sat beside Sully on the bed. He did not move. Carefully, she undid his shirt buttons and slid the material away from his chest. After dipping a clean sponge into the water, she lathered it with a bar of soap.

Then she began to rub it across his form. The hair on his chest caused the soap to bubble. Smiling, she lifted a damp cloth and removed the lather. Then she dried him off with a towel. Sully remained asleep while she continued her tender sponge bath.

Soon his face, torso and arms were clean. Since he had not wakened, she assumed that she could finish her task with no interruptions. Undoing the drawstring of his drawers, she lowered the material to clean below his waistline.

The water had cooled some by this time, and the moment the sponge touched his flesh, Sully's eyes flew open. "Micha.... la!"

Her cheeks flushed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

He gulped, "I'd have t' be in a coma t' not wake up when ya touch me there."

She withdrew the sponge. "I.... I'm sorry."

He clasped her wrist to keep her still. "Don't be sorry."

"But.... You need to rest. I was only trying to...." Her voice trailed off.

He smiled. "It's okay. Go ahead. It just caught me by surprise."

She bit lightly on her lower lip to concentrate as she resumed her work. Sully closed his eyes, trying not to let her touch affect him. But it was impossible. By the time, she began to rinse him off, he gulped and quickly pulled the waist of his drawers up.

"Sully?" Michaela indicated. "I wasn't finished."

His voice sounded different. "It's real hard for me right now, Michaela."

Her brow creased. "Hard?"

"Uh... difficult," he amended quickly.

She tilted her head. "I don't understand."

"You touchin' me.... there...." he hesitated. "You really got no idea what it's doin' t' me?"

From the piercing intensity of his blue eyes, she finally perceived his meaning. "Oh.... I.... uh... that is.... I didn't mean to...."

He lightly touched his finger to her lips. "Shhh. I just didn't want ya t' start somethin' we can't finish."

She smiled. "I must say, it is rather difficult for me, too."

"You sayin' what I think you're sayin'?" he raised an eyebrow.

Michaela whispered, "I'm not certain that you're well enough for.... us."

"You can't tell?" he grinned impishly.

Michaela tugged at the drawers, which fell open to reveal that her husband found her desirable. Her cheeks flushed.

Sully cupped his hand to her cheek. "I love you so much."

"And I, you," she bent down to kiss his lips.

When she drew back, he uttered, "You ain't afraid I'm contagious?"

"At this point, I'll risk it," she replied. "For I find you completely irresistible. And.... after all, I did promise."

"Promise?" he gulped.

She smiled. "When you were.... not yourself, I promised that when you were up to it, we would have some special time."

"Oh," he accepted, not recalling what he had said when he was affected by the cough medicine.

When she started to kiss his chest, Sully closed his eyes and permitted his body to fully react to the sensations she was stirring.

He moaned softly, guiding her head toward his most sensitive and pleasing places.

She looked up at him, her eyes reflecting pure love and desire for him. "You smell good."

He laughed. "I wonder why?"

Sully slipped his hand beneath the opening in her nightgown and caressed her. Michaela closed her eyes, transported by his magical touch. His lips teased her flesh.

He invited her closer. "I love your sweet softness."

The timbre of his voice was like a jolt of electricity through her. When he started to raise the hem of her nightgown, she completed the task by lifting it over her head. Next, she helped him to slide his drawers down his hips and thighs. His clothing joined her gown on the floor.

Now flesh upon flesh, they tempted and tasted one another. Heated and breathless passion began to overwhelm them. Finally, their desires were sated in a wondrous harmony of bodies and souls. Tender kisses followed their dance of love.

Michaela ran her finger along the line of her husband's jaw. "I believe my patient has fully recovered."

He smiled, "You're everythin' I want an' need."

She toyed with the hair at his temple. "I never want to let you down."

"You never could," he assured.

They rolled onto their sides, still enraptured in the afterglow of their union. Sully enfolded her in his arms, stroking her back lightly with his fingertips.

She relaxed at his ministrations. "You make me feel so loved."

He whispered, "You make me feel the same way."

She teased, "Even when I'm stubborn and opinionated?"

"Especially then." He lifted her chin and gazed intensely into her eyes. "Know why?"

She felt as if he were peering into her soul and breathlessly queried, "Why?"

"Because I love you," he grinned, hoping she would recall his first declaration to her.

The tone of his voice, the nuance of his expression brought the memory back to her in a heartbeat. "I'm not bolting this time. Never again."

He shifted closer to her to recite:

"There are little traits that keep me bound...
I think of nothing else save the bright face of my lady-
Ah me! Her swan-white throat, her strong chin,
Her fresh laughing mouth which daily seems to say,
'Come kiss me, love, kiss me once again!'"

She never tired of his poetry. "Was that Keats?"

"Nope," he smiled. "It's just a bit of verse from the 13th century. No one knows who wrote it."

"No fair," she frowned.

"All's fair in love an' war," he noted.

She raised an eyebrow. "Are we at war, Mr. Sully?"

"Nope," he winked. "I surrendered a long time ago."

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

Hank turned his back on Brian and began to pour a shot of his weakest whiskey.

Pivoting around to face the young man, he set it before Brian. "First time I ever served ya drink. Don't tell Michaela on me. Most of the time ya been in here was t' sweep my floor."

Brian sighed, but said nothing. Taking a deep breath, he swallowed the contents of the glass with one gulp.

Hank, Loren and Jake stared, waiting for his reaction. Brian's face began to turn scarlet red. Then he suddenly erupted into a coughing fit.

Loren patted his back. "There, lad. Go easy. Ya need t' sip, not gulp. Savor the effects of the liquor as it makes its way down your gullet.

Finally in control of his breathing, Brian spoke in a somewhat raspy voice. "I'd like another, please."

Loren discouraged him. "Aw, now, ya don't wanna go havin' too much your first time."

Jake grinned. "Does Dr. Mike know you're here?"

"No, and I see no reason to tell her," Brian replied brusquely.

Loren studied the young man's expression. "This ain't like you. Tell me what's got ya so upset that ya wanna drink?"

Brian did not hesitate. "Women."

The men chuckled.

Hank set another shot in front of him. "You ever been with one?"

Brian's cheeks flushed again. "That's none of your business."

Hank retorted, "That means 'no.' Well, it so happens, I got a few gals who can help ya sort out your feelin's about women."

Loren frowned, "Can't ya see he's hurtin', Hank? He needs the advice an' encouragement of some experienced men."

Jake offered, "So happens he's come t' the right place for that, too."

As Brian downed another drink, Loren queried, "Is this about Mary Conway?"

Brian nearly spewed his drink, but he held steady and swallowed. The liquid burned all the way down to his stomach.

He turned up his nose and glared at Hank. "How do people drink this stuff?"

Hank shrugged. "Ya get used t' it."

Jake reminded, "So, is Loren right? Is it Miss Conway that's got ya all fired up?"

Brian shook his head. "To think I wanted to court her."

Loren counseled, "She's a fine young lady. Nothin' wrong with that."

Brian set his glass on the bar hard. "Another."

While Hank poured, Jake probed, "Come on. We're here t' help."

Brian confessed, "How could I be so stupid?"

Hank laughed, "Ya done a lot more stupid things than thinkin' about courtin' a woman."

Loren eyed Hank sternly. "You ain't helpin' the lad."

Hank laughed. "Let's see, there was the time he jumped outa a tree 'cause he thought he could fly...."

Jake added, "How 'bout when he vanquished ghosts by dressin' up like a knight?"

Loren frowned. "You got a lot a nerve, Jake. What about how you an' me dressed up like women once? Even got you kidnapped by a love struck robber."

Hank continued, "Then there was the time Brian ran away on account of bein' afraid of puberty."

Loren spoke up, "I said cut it out!"

Hank was relentless, "What about usin' licorice as bait for dinosaurs?"

Jake's sides began to ache from laughing.

Brian squared around to face them. Then suddenly, his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell to the floor unconscious.

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

Sully kissed his sleeping wife's shoulder. Every time they made love, their bond was renewed. Her total commitment to pleasing invigorated him.

Michaela had spent the better part of the last 24 hours attending to his ailments. And though she must have been exhausted, she took the time this evening to share her love with him anew. He was glad that she slept now. She deserved to rest.

His rapid recovery was nothing short of miraculous, thanks to her. He lifted up his head to face Michaela. His mind drifted back to the first time he had ever studied her like this. It was on their honeymoon train.

They had stood waving to their friends and family while the locomotive pulled out of the depot. When he closed the door behind them, finally alone in their private car, Michaela had folded her hands modestly. Sully knew she was nervous, and he hoped to make each of his actions romantic.

Would she find him too bold and pull away? Just a soft kiss while they stood facing each other at the door could test the waters. Leaning in, he softly brushed her lips with his.

She touched his chest, prompting him to circle her waist. They still held the kiss. Sully was pleased. It was a good start.

But his body was quickly taking over with pent up desire for her, and his mind focused on making love to her. Oh, how he had waited for this moment. "Slow down," he told himself. Savor each second of what this means to him and to her. He would be taking something precious from her, and he knew how much that frightened her. But he also wanted to communicate how much he treasured it.

Michaela was deepening the kiss. Encouraged, he scooped her up in his arms. She giggled breathlessly, a reaction better than he could have imagined. He carried her to the bed and gently kissed her as he set her down.

Sully decided to try something a bit bolder. He kissed her chin and the edge of her mouth, while his hand caressed her neck. She leaned into his shoulder so close, he could feel her breathing quicken. Was she ready for the next step? Her hot breath against his cheek provided the answer.

Sully wrapped his arms around her and began to unlace the back of her gown.

She panted a faint protest. "Sully! It isn't even dark yet."


He pulled back, uncertain if she meant it. One look into her eyes convinced him that she was teasing. He grinned, stood up and backed away from her. She wants to tease? "I can tease, too," he thought to himself.

Reaching to lower one of the window shades, he uttered, "But it's gettin' darker."

Michaela laughed. She was enjoying it. Sully gazed at her, so beautiful, so tempting. Her smile radiated her desire for him.

He lowered another shade. "An' darker."

She looked down, the smile of anticipation still on her face.

By the time he pulled down the third shade, "An' darker," she looked up at him again, still with that beguiling smile.

Finally, he approached her. Three years of adoring her platonically had finally come down to these incredible moments. He no longer had to hold back what his body ached to do. He drank in her beauty. Oh, how the wait was worth it!

She did not seem to know where to look next. Inevitably, she was drawn to peer into the dearest blue eyes she could ever imagine.


Sully found her gaze to be inviting. He leaned closer and lifted her chin for a deeper kiss. Arching her head back, she invited more. Her lips parted, hot, full of passion. He slipped his hands down her back to lower the gown more. The room seemed warmer. But... maybe a little more tempting was needed.

Forcing himself to back away again, he ran his index finger along the edge of her gown just above her breast.

Turning to another window, he tugged at the next shade until the room was nearly devoid of light.

His husky voice was already starting to make love to her. "An' darker."

Believing his wife was now fully ready for their union, he approached her.


His heart was nearly pounding out of his chest. She cast him a glance ripe with yearning. Her mesmerizing mismatched eyes enticed him. The upturned edge of her mouth was his undoing. He ran his fingers along her neck and chest. Heated kisses against her flesh ignited his body. How much longer would he even have the ability to think clearly?

But.... wait. She was pulling away? Had he gone to far too fast?

No. This time, it was she who went to the last window to pull down the shade. "And darker."

Michaela's voice was different. He had never heard her utter words in such a tone of desire. Was this the shy Boston doctor who had been so prim and proper? Had her nervousness dissolved so quickly?


She returned to him. Kneeling on the bed, she faced him and touched his cheek as if she wanted to trace each detail with feather-light tenderness.


Sully thought he must be dreaming. Michaela was taking the initiative with him. She lifted his chin to kiss him. She leaned in, ever closer, ever more dangerously. He would never be able to slow down now.

As she pressed against him, he supported her with his palm and let their momentum carry them back onto the bed. Her gown was nearly open, exposing more of her to him.

Sully kissed her more deeply than he had ever dared before. Their mouths opened to taste the tempting sweetness of one another. He paused for a second, hovering just above her. She smiled.


He slid his hand up to her neck, caressing it as his tongue explored her. He tugged at the shoulder of her wedding gown. More of her flesh was revealed to him.

No more tempting. No more teasing. Their time had come.

An hour later, Sully paused in his recollection to glance at his sleeping new wife again. He recalled how concerned she had been about pleasing him. She had surpassed his wildest imagination in that regard.

However, he knew that for Michaela, their first time was not yet what he envisioned their relationship would become. She was so bent on pleasing him, she could not relax and completely unlock the passions she possessed. He was not worried about it. It would come with some encouragement from him.

He had recalled back in his mining days, the men would often talk about their relations with women. Most of the men wanted to satisfy only themselves, not their women. Sully had always been silent on the topic, but their sometimes-coarse conversations occasionally interested him. He had hoped that one day he would find a woman to share his life, and he certainly wanted his future wife to fully enjoy that aspect of marriage.

When he had married Abigail, their conjugal relations were pleasing and fulfilling, but never passionate. Their marriage had been sweet. He had loved her deeply, but he had never possessed the profound feelings or ardor for Abigail that he had for Michaela. His first time with Michaela had confirmed that. He vowed to himself that he would do everything possible in their next encounter to ensure that she, too, felt the same fervor.

"Sully?" It was Michaela, awakening in his arms.

He smiled lifted her chin for a kiss. "Hey, beautiful. I thought you were gonna sleep through our honeymoon."

She raised her eyebrows. "What time is it?"

He assured, "Still time for us t' get dressed. But I don't wanna let ya go just yet."

She warmed. "So it's not just a dream? We truly are married?"

He nodded. "Truly. You're stuck with me now, for better or worse."

She rose up to kiss him. "Definitely for better."

A loud pounding at the homestead door roused Sully from his honeymoon reverie and jolted him back to the present. Michaela remained asleep. He took a deep breath and sat up slowly. No dizziness, aching or cough.

The pounding continued. Sully quickly donned his buckskins and shirt before heading downstairs.

************
Chapter 8
************

The waiter in the Chateau dining room approached the only two remaining patrons, Colleen and Dell. "More coffee?"

Dell took his eyes off Colleen for a moment. "No, thanks. I'll take the bill now."

The waiter nodded and began to write on a tablet.

Dell placed his hand atop Colleen's. "I know it's late, and you're on call at the hospital tomorrow, but I was wondering if I could ask you a professional question."

"Professional?" Colleen was surprised. "Sure."

He smiled. "How do you think your mother would feel about my treating special patients at her hospital?"

She looked at him quizzically. "Special?"

He nodded. "Patients who have.... mental disorders."

She was taken aback. "I.... I'm not sure what you mean."

Dell clarified, "I mean setting aside some rooms to treat them in a humane way. I'm sure you're familiar with the work of Dorthea Dix. She exposed the plight of these poor people, who end up in prison, when it would be far more useful to employ the most current psychiatric approaches with them."

"Yes, I've read about her," Colleen paused. "But we have the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo. It's only been open for a couple of years."

He informed her, "I inquired with their superintendent, Dr. Thomb, and he's already concerned about insufficient funding for it."

"You're serious about this?" she was curious.

Dell nodded. "Yes. I gained experience in this when I worked with the criminally insane in Massachusetts."

"I see," she pondered. "Well, you can ask Ma what she thinks."

He perceived, "You have some doubts about it?"

She noted, "I'll try to keep an open mind."

He explained, "I thought about approaching Dr. Thomb to apply for a position in Pueblo, but.... well, it's not close enough to you."

She smiled, then mentioned, "I thought you wanted to work with the Cheyenne."

He assured, "I can still do that. Let's face it, other than your mother's school, there are not many Indians around here."

"I appreciate your wanting to be near me," she spoke in a hushed voice.

Dell lifted her hand and kissed it. "Then it's settled. I'll ask Dr. Quinn."

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

Sully arrived at the homestead's front door and spotted Wolf anticipating his opening it. He reached for the knob, turned it, but was not prepared for the sight before him when he opened the door.

There stood Loren, supporting Brian. The young man could hardly stand because of his inebriated state.

Sully quickly lent his support, as well, and helped Brian to sit at the kitchen table. "What happened?"

Smelling heavily of alcohol, Brian slurred, "Heyyy, Pa. Shhhh. Don' tellll Ma."

With that, the young man's head leaned forward and hit the tabletop with a thud.

Sully turned to Loren, his eyes questioning his son's condition.

The older man stated, "You want the long or short version of what happened?"

Sully frowned, "Just the truth. How'd my son get drunk?"

Loren mentioned, "You might wanna make some coffee first. I'll help ya sober him up."

Sully nodded and put a pot of coffee on the stove, then dampened a towel to wipe Brian's face.

Loren sat next to the boy. "Brian came int' the Gold Nugget all upset about Mary Conway."

He feared, "He's been tryin' t' see her, but she refused."

"The lad didn't take the rejection well," Loren pointed out.

Sully frowned, "Why'd Hank serve him?"

"He's of age," Loren stated.

"I see the result of him bein' of age," he cringed.

Loren wondered, "Ya gonna get Dr. Mike t' help?"

"I don't think Brian would want her t' see him like this," Sully reasoned. "I'll get some coffee in him an' sober him up. Thanks for your help."

Loren wiped his finger beneath his nose. "Well, ya know how I think o' your kids. I hate seein' Brian like this, Sully. It ain't the first time his heart's been broken by a woman."

"He might see things different in the mornin'," the concerned father stated.

Loren retorted, "I don't know if he'll see much of anythin'."

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

Preston frowned at the knocking at his door. What on earth could be going on that would require his attention at this ungodly hour?

"Just a moment," he called as he reached for his robe.

When he opened the door, there stood one of his waiters. "Mason? This had better be important."

"Yes, sir," Mason replied as he pulled a tablet from his inside pocket. "You asked me to keep an eye on Dr. Cook and Dr. Pearson."

Preston waited. "And?"

He divulged, "And, I found out something which might be of interest to you."

The banker grew impatient. "Well, what is it, man?"

Mason smiled, "Dr. Pearson asked her if Dr. Quinn might consider treating insane patients at her hospital."

Preston's eyes widened, "Insane patients? What a ridiculous notion! The town council would never support something like that."

"Sir, it's a private hospital," the man pointed out. "She's even treated Indians there."

Preston's mind began to clear. "Yes, yes. Good, Mason. Very good."

He pulled out a coin and handed it to his employee.

"Thank you sir," Mason smiled.

"Keep up the good work," he replied before closing his door.

"Well, well, well," Preston pondered. "I've been hoping for something that might make this town see the truth about Mr. and Mrs. Sully, and now I believe I have what I need."

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

Sully wiped Brian's face with a cool, damp cloth. The young man had spent the better part of the past hour in the privy, heaving the contents of his stomach. When his son could tolerate it, Sully walked him around the bottom floor of the house and plied him with more coffee.

Neither of them heard Josef descend the steps and approach them. "What we doin'?"

Sully turned to the youngster. "Josef, what are you doin' up?"

"Oh, Papa," he paused for dramatic effect. "I been hearin' terrible noises. I think some animal might be dyin'."

Sully sighed. "It ain't a dyin' animal, Joe. Everythin's fine. Go on back t' bed."

The boy had slipped around to view his older brother. "What's wrong, Brian?"

All Brian could do was utter, "Ughhh."

With that, he quickly rushed toward the privy.

Josef lifted up onto his father's lap. "Did Brian get your sickness, Papa?"

Sully rubbed the boy's back. "No. He just overdid somethin'."

"Overdid what?" he persisted.

Sully could feel the tiring effects of recovering from his own illness. "Joe, I think you best get up t' bed now. Brian's gonna be okay."

"Want me t' wake up Mama?" he offered.

Suddenly, the retching sound of Brian startled them.

Josef's voice quivered. "That's the noise that waked me up, Papa."

"Brian's sick to his stomach," he explained.

The little boy slid from his father's lap. "I'll get Mama."

Sully gently drew him back. "Joe, let your Ma sleep. I'll take care of him."

"But you been sick, too, an' look how fast ya got better when Mama helped ya," the child noted.

Brian, his face ashen, stumbled into the room and fell into a chair.

Josef felt his forehead, "No temp'ture." Then the little boy took a closer look. "Brian! Ya been drinkin'!"

Brian slurred, "Shhhh. Don' ttelll, Ma."

Josef folded his arms and frowned. "She's not gonna like this one bit. First Papa, now you."

Sully decided to be honest with his son. "Joe, with me, it was an accident from takin' too much medicine. With Brian, it was bad judgment 'cause he was upset. You know I don't approve of gettin' drunk. As for your Ma, it's up t' Brian t' tell her when the time's right."

He was curious. "When's the time right?"

"Not t'night," Sully counseled. "So, I want you t' get up t' bed. I'm gonna help Brian int' your Ma's office t' sleep this off. Then I'll be up. Okay?"

Josef pondered. "Won't it be lyin' if we don't tell Mama?"

"No," Sully assured. "She'll find out, but it's important that Brian be the one t' let her know. Can ya understand?"

Josef rubbed his chin. "I guess so."

With that, the little boy turned and bounded up the steps.

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

Preston was in a particularly good mood when he arose just after dawn. He shaved, dressed and headed down the steps with a merry grin on his face. In the dining room, he spotted Andrew sipping a cup of coffee and perusing the latest edition of The Gazette.

"Ah, good morning, Dr. Cook," he grinned. "Beautiful morning, isn't it?"

Andrew stared at him skeptically. "I don't know. I haven't been outside."

Preston gestured to the chair opposite the doctor. "May I join you?"

Andrew nodded. "What's put you in such a pleasant mood?"

He sat down and poured a cup of coffee for himself. "Ideas, my good man. Ideas."

"What ideas?" Andrew wondered.

His grin widened. "Ideas about how to get what I want."

The younger man leaned his elbows on the table. "What is it that you want, exactly?"

"I wouldn't want to bore you with the details," Preston dismissed.

Andrew persisted. "I know you, Preston. You are obsessed with two things. Money and Michaela Quinn."

Preston's grin disappeared. "Nonsense."

Andrew noted, "I know of which I speak. I also know what it's like to want something I can't have."

"I assume you're referring to your ex-wife," he stated sarcastically.

Andrew nodded. "May I offer some advice?"

Preston did not respond.

He continued, "There is nothing you can do or say to win the woman you love if she loves someone else."

The banker's eyes narrowed. "Then there are other ways of handling the situation."

Andrew tilted his head. "You can't separate Michaela from Sully. You need to learn to accept that. Look, you're not a bad person. I dare say that much of the reason you are who you are is that you were mistreated by your father...."

"Don't bring him into this," he asserted.

Andrew sympathized. "When one comes from a well-bred Boston family, much is expected. The youngest son is expected to keep pace with the oldest. Our families are of the Brahmin Elite of Boston."

Preston stood up abruptly. "I don't care to listen to any more of this."

Andrew added, "I don't mean to upset you, Preston, but you cannot continue your vendetta toward Sully. It's a waste of your time and energy. Perhaps there is a special woman out there just waiting to meet you, but you'll never see her if your eye is only on Michaela."

He frowned, "You're hardly qualified to offer me advice on unrequited love."

Andrew countered, "You're wrong. I am well qualified when it comes to wanting a woman I cannot have."

"To be precise," Preston paused for effect. "You DID have the woman you loved."

"And I lost her," he confessed. "But because I love her, I also respect her wishes. What is it exactly that you expect to gain? Sully's destruction? Michaela's love or admiration?"

"If you'll excuse me, I have more important matters to attend to." WIth that, Preston pivoted and left. His mind raced with thoughts. How dare Andrew try to dissuade him from his goal. In life, as well as business, one does not simply walk away from a challenge. One goes after the things he wants and ensures that no one or nothing gets in his way.

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

Michaela awoke slowly to the sound of her children downstairs. She lifted her head to glance at the clock. She had slept later than usual. Thankfully, it was Saturday, and there were no patients scheduled.

The even breathing of her husband assured her that his health continued to improve. Quietly, so as to not disturb him, she rose from the bed.

Sully felt her leave his arms and opened his eyes. "Mornin'."

She leaned over to kiss him. "Good morning, Sully. Try to get some more rest."

He tugged gently at her gown to draw her closer. "It's hard t' rest when you ain't beside me."

She smiled and leaned on her elbows to remain near. Sully kissed her more deeply.

With much effort, Michaela pulled herself away. "Your children are up and needing my attention. And.... (she paused for another kiss), your doctor thinks you need more rest."

He teased, "I think kissin' you is the best medicine for me."

She lingered a moment longer to savor his attention.

Then, breathlessly, she touched his lips to stop. "If we keep this up, I might never get anything accomplished today."

"That wouldn't be so bad, would it?" he mused.

"Colleen and Dell will be joining us later, and I want everything to be perfect," she informed him.

"Just another minute?" he implored with a boyish grin.


She sighed in resignation. "I can't refuse you when you look at me with those eyes."

Sully enfolded her in his arms. "Good answer."

She ran her finger lightly along his cheek. "What's put you in such an amorous mood?"

"Thinkin' about us on our honeymoon," he noted.

Her eyes gleamed warmly with the memory. "It was magical."

"Sure was," he recalled. "I was rememberin' our.... first time bein' t'gether as man an' wife.... how much I wanted you."

Her cheeks blushed. "Sully...."

He caressed her neck and kissed her lower lip. "Always will."

His gentle touch and words roused her emotions. She could never resist her husband when he so tenderly enticed her.

A sudden knock at their door interrupted their tryst.

Michaela cleared her throat and reached for her robe. "What is it?"

Josef spoke from the other side of the door. "You two gonna sleep the day away?"

Sully sighed, "One day, when he's married, I'm gonna remind him of moments like this."

Michaela tapped her husband's side and rose from the bed. Opening the door, she observed Josef positioned with his hands on his hips.

She shook her head at his expression. "Are you upset with your father and mother?"

"Nope," he returned. "Just wanna make sure ya talk t' Brian."

She was curious. "Talk to Brian?"

Her son nodded. "That boy needs a good talkin' to."

"Joe," Sully spoke up in a disapproving tone.

The little boy added, "I ain't sayin' why. I jus' think ya should."

Michaela turned to look at her husband. "Sully?"

He suggested, "Joe, you go on downstairs an' eat your breakfast. Your Ma an' me will be there shortly."

Josef pivoted, and Michaela shut the bedroom door.

She asked, "Do you know what he's talking about?"

Without replying, Sully rose from the bed to get dressed.

Her brow creased. "Sully? Is something wrong with Brian?"

"Michaela, it really would be best t' let Brian bring this up on his own," he counseled.

She folded her arms. "Something that Josef and you know? I'm his mother. I should be informed, as well."

"An' you will be," Sully assured.

She queried, "Does this have something to do with Mary?"

"In a way," he nodded.

She sighed in frustration.

Sully embraced her, then kissed her forehead. "Just remember, he ain't our little boy anymore."

"Now you have me more curious than ever," she frowned.

************
Chapter 9
************

Michaela descended the steps ahead of Sully. The children greeted their parents warmly. Hope reached for her mother.

Michaela lifted the baby into her arms. "Good morning, children. Bridget."

"Mornin', lass," the nanny replied. "You're lookin' much better, Sully."

He grinned. "Feelin' better, too."

Michaela questioned, "Is Brian still sleeping?"

Bridget informed her, "He said he was headed over t' see Cloud Dancin'."

Michaela was puzzled. "Cloud Dancing?"

Josef spoke up, "I reckon he wants some advice."

Michaela questioned her son. "Advice about what?"

Sully cleared his throat, and Josef lowered his head.

Bridget asked, "What would ya like for breakfast, Dr. Mike? Sully?"

"A biscuit and tea, please," Michaela replied before turning to her husband. "May I speak with you in my office?"

Sully tussled the hair on top of Josef's head. "Bacon an' eggs for me."

Michaela set Hope back in her highchair, and strolled toward her office. Sully followed. She closed the door behind him.

Michaela took a deep breath to compose herself. "Sully, I am attempting to remain calm about this, but...."

He acknowledged, "An' you're doin' a good job of it."

Her voice raised slightly. "I want you to tell me what is going on with Brian."

He sighed. "Michaela, if he was still a boy, I'd tell ya right away. But he's a man now. He's gotta be the one t'...."

She cut in, "I'm his mother!"

"He went t' see Cloud Dancin'," Sully reasoned. "He's tryin' t' think this through. He'll tell ya when he's ready."

She became more flustered. "Sully, please. You've told me that it concerns Mary in some way. He's spoken to me about her in the past. Why is this a secret, about which Josef and you are the only two to know?"

Sully reached for his wife's hands and raised them to his lips. "Be patient. Let Brian do this in his own time. Trust me on this?"

"Of course, I trust you," she acquiesced. "But...."

Sully bent down to kiss her. "No but's. Let it be, for now."

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

Brian sat cross-legged in Cloud Dancing's lodge.

The medicine man had prepared a tea for him. "Drink it. It will help. You have learned the effects of fire water."

Brian obeyed, and took a sip. "I can't believe what I did, Cloud Dancing. Ma's gonna kill me."

"Your mother values life too much to do that," he quipped.

Brian shook his head. "I really let her down."

He counseled, "Maybe you should begin by forgiving yourself."

"I can't," he returned. "I've been doing nothing but feeling sorry for myself.... then, to do this...."

"Brian." The medicine man paused for effect. "You have done nothing that cannot be forgiven. You have lost your way. You must now search your past to find direction again."

He queried, "My past?"

"You are staying in the place where you grew up," Cloud Dancing noted. "There, you are surrounded by love and memories. Use them to find your path again."

"Cloud Dancing, could I ask you something?" Brian looked up.

"Of course," he replied.

Brian swallowed hard. "Have the Spirits said anything to you about my future?"

The older man smiled. "They have said nothing to me."

"I seem to make a mistake every time I try to open my heart to a woman," he confessed. "I don't know what's wrong with me."

Cloud Dancing assured, "There is nothing wrong with you. Every young man makes mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them. I believe you just need to be patient. The right woman has not yet found you."

"Found me?" he mused. "I thought I was supposed to be the one looking."

"That is what women want us to think," the medicine man grinned.

Brian chuckled.

"It is good to hear your laughter again," his friend remarked. "You will find your way, Brian. And when the time comes, the right woman will find you."

He felt his angst lessen. "Thanks for listening to me. I guess I'd better head home to face my mother."

Cloud Dancing placed his hand on the young man's shoulder. "Remember that the same comb that contains a bee, also contains honey."

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

Katie looked up from the living room floor where she was playing with Josef and the twins. She noticed that Michaela was pacing, pausing only to look out the window.

Rising, the little girl went to her mother. "What are you worried about, Mama?"

"Worried?" Michaela paused and attempted a smile. "Nothing, Sweetheart. Everything is fine."

"No, it's not," Katie noted. "You're pacing. You do that when you're worried."

Michaela sighed and, sitting down, drew Katie into her arms. "I suppose you know me too well."

Katie smiled and touched her mother's forehead. "Ya know, when ya worry, ya get a line right here."

"And I have a line?" Michaela posed the question.

"Uh-huh." Her daughter nodded. "Are ya worried about Brian?"

Michaela wondered, "What makes you think that?"

"Because I also know Joey too well," she explained. "He said Brian needs t' be talked to, an' that he did somethin' bad."

Michaela came to the point. "Did Josef say what Brian had done?"

"No," she shrugged. "But I can't think of anythin' he could do that would make him need a talkin' to."

"Nor can I, Sweetheart," Michaela admitted.

Their conversation was interrupted when Sully entered the house. "Whew! It's cold out there."

Michaela rose. "Sully, you shouldn't be outside. You've only just begun to feel better."

"Chores needed t' be done," he stated. "Besides, fresh air will do me good."

She reminded, "That's how you got sick in the first place, if you recall."

He leaned in to kiss her. "I feel fine. Hey, kids, wanna go for a sleigh ride?"

A unanimous "Yea!" erupted from his offspring.

Sully grinned, "Okay, then. Get bundled up, an' I'll go hitch up the sleigh.

Josef volunteered, "I'll help ya, Papa."

"Me, too," Noah stepped forward.

Michaela helped her sons don their coats, and they quickly dashed out the door with their father.

At that moment, Bridget walked in from the kitchen. "A sleigh ride is it?"

"Yes, Miss Bridget," Katie smiled. "Would you like to come, too?"

"I best stay here with Hope, Darlin'," the nanny excused.

Michaela offered, "I'll stay with her, Bridget. I'm not up for a sleigh ride."

She expressed her concern. "You feelin' all right, lass?"

"Yes," Michaela answered. "Why don't you go with the children?"

"Please!" Annie implored.

Bridget agreed, "Okay. Ya talked me int' it."

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

Michaela held Hope and rocked the baby, singing softly her favorite song. The child had long fallen asleep, but the mother continued to gently kiss her and speak in hushed tones.

As she gazed lovingly at her youngest, Michaela gently soothed back her dark tresses. Hope was the only one of her daughters to have dark hair and blue eyes, the azure irises of her father.

Hope was beginning to develop her own personality, too. Quiet and shy among strangers, the little girl relished being the center of attention within the adoring circle of her family. She loved to run, to kiss her parents and siblings and to pet Wolf.

Michaela marveled at her youngest's curiosity about the world, something which Sully and she encouraged at every opportunity. The baby truly was a blessing, a little one they never imagined would have been conceived.

"Ma?" Brian stood at her bedroom doorway.

"Brian?" she whispered. "I.... Are you hungry?"

"No," he stepped into the room. "I'd like to talk with ya."

She scooted over to share the double rocking chair. "Certainly."

He smiled at his youngest sister. "She sure is getting big."

"I know," Michaela nodded. "Almost before my eyes."

He sat down and paused to collect his thoughts.

"Sweetheart," Michaela said. "Is something on your mind?"

He could not look at her. "I did something I'm ashamed of, Ma. It's hard to tell you about it."

"You can tell me anything," she reminded. "It won't change how I feel about you."

He took a deep breath. "Last night, I went to see Mary. When I found out she was at Grace's restaurant, I headed over and saw her with another man."

"I see." Michaela anticipated more.

"The man she was eating dinner with was Andrew," he revealed.

Michaela gauged his expression. "I suppose you didn't get to speak with her then."

"Oh, I spoke with her," he frowned. "Andrew left us alone. So, I gave her a bouquet of silk flowers and box of chocolates.... told her I wanted to court her.... even.... told her I love her."

Michaela's eyes widened. "And what was her response?"

"She walked out on me," he replied.

The similarity of her son's expression of love to how Sully had told her of his feelings in Boston was not lost on Michaela. "Perhaps.... she was afraid. But that's nothing for you to be ashamed of, Sweetheart. You opened your heart to her."

"It's what I did next that I'm ashamed of, Ma," he noted. "I went to the Gold Nugget. And.... I got drunk."

"What?" she gasped.

"I drank too much whiskey and passed out," he confessed. "Loren brought me home. While Pa tried to sober me up, Josef walked in on us. I'm so sorry."

Michaela's tone was soft, but sympathetic. "Oh, Brian."

He swallowed hard. "Mary was right to reject me. I was foolish. I won't be home long enough to court her. Even if she had said 'yes,' marrying me would mean leaving everything she has here.... her work with the children. I wish I could promise her more, but my work isn't in Colorado Springs."

Michaela placed her hand on his. "And how do you feel now?"

"Like I had a ton of bricks dropped on my head," he mused. "Cloud Dancing gave me something for my stomach and head, but...." He gestured toward his heart. "It doesn't help what I feel here."

"I wish I knew how to help you," she offered.

He smiled, "Well, I learned one thing. There's no comfort in drinking. Cloud Dancing said I need to look to my past to find my path."

"That sounds like good advice," she agreed. "Have you thought about how to do that?"

"Do you still have that trunk of my things in the attic?" he queried.

"Of course," she returned.

He stood up. "Would you mind if I go up and look through it?"

"Not at all," she smiled. "And, Brian?"

"Yea?" he paused.

"I'm not upset with you," she comforted.

He leaned closer and kissed her cheek. "Thanks, Ma."

"But I'd rather you not do something like this again," she added.

He grinned, "Believe me. WIth how I feel right now, I don't even want to look at a liquor bottle again."

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

Sully, Katie and Josef occupied the front seat of the sleigh, while Bridget stayed warm with the twins in the back. Sully let his older children take turns holding the reins as they glided along the beautiful landscape.

When they arrived at the Indian school, Cloud Dancing and many of the children greeted them. While the children played under Bridget's watchful eye, Cloud Dancing pulled Sully aside.

The medicine man informed him, "Brian was here earlier."

"I know," he nodded. "He's beatin' himself up over this."

Cloud Dancing counseled, "He will find his path. He has been brought up well."

Sully folded his arms. "Thanks. I figure he's tellin' his Ma right about now."

He mused, "I do not think he will ever drink again."

"I think you're right," Sully agreed.

The children began a snowball battle, prompting Bridget to approach Sully and Cloud Dancing, "Well, now, do ya want me t' get in the midst of this t' stop it before someone gets hurt?"

Sully chuckled, "I'll take care of it."

With that, he plunged into the midst of the hurling balls of packed snow. "All right, kids, that's enough. Someone could get...."

At that instant, Sully was hit squarely in the mouth by a snowball. He spat out the frozen flakes and scanned the faces of his children, who had instantly and contritely stopped their battle.

"Who threw that at me?" he challenged.

No one said a word.

Serious, Sully demanded again. "I said, who threw it?"

Red-faced, Josef finally stepped forward. "I'm sorry, Papa. I did it."

Sully walked to him, making the boy wonder what his father would do. Suddenly, Sully lifted him high into the air.

The father asked his children, "Okay, kids. What should I do with your brother?"

Noah offered, "Trow soball at him, Papa."

Annie protested, "No! Somebod get hurted."

Katie explained, "He was just havin' fun, Poppy. I don't think Joey should be punished."

Noah suggested, "We trow at Jofef now?"

Annie ran forward to protect her older brother. "No!"

"Joe?" Sully looked at his son.

Josef gazed fearfully at his father.

Sully caressed the back of the boy's head. "I don't like seein' that look in your eyes, Joe."

With a creased brow, the little boy uttered, "I was just playin'."

"I know," Sully grinned. "How 'bout I teach ya how t' have a snowball battle without hurtin' someone?"

"Sounds good t' me," Josef agreed.

Sully raised his eyebrows, then spotted a mound of snow. He lowered his son so that he landed in the soft heap. Quickly, his siblings piled on top, giggling and tickling him.

Sully knelt down beside them. "Okay, here's how t' make the snowball."

Expertly, he lightly packed the snow so that it could fly through the air when thrown, but break into tiny pieces when making contact. The children began to follow his direction.

Then a full battle began. The girls vs. the boys. Annie kept running to hide behind her father after throwing hers not more than a yard. Noah dug a hole in the mound of snow and hid his head when counterattacks ensued. Katie and Josef laughed so hard, their cheeks became bright red.

From the sidelines, Cloud Dancing and Bridget, with Hope in her arms, watched the back and forth exchange.

Bridget observed, "Looks like the boys are winnin'."

"Yes," the medicine man agreed. "Something should be done."

She tilted her head, "Like what?"

Cloud Dancing bent down, packed a snowball and hurled it spot on, hitting Sully in the back. "Like that."

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

In the attic, Brian opened the large wooden chest and began to rummage through the keepsakes from his childhood. There was a baseball shirt from the Colorado Springers, a letter and photo from Ethan Cooper, a Cheyenne medicine bag, a small bow and arrow.... Each reminded him of a different adventure in Colorado Springs.

He dug further, discovering his kaleidoscope, the first place ribbon for baking a pie, a wooden sword wrapped in foil, a clown nose from when Heart's Circus came to town, a book about telescopes from his grandmother, a toy train and Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County." Brian paused to chuckle at his childhood memories.

His mementos were not stupid, as Jake and Hank had teased. These things were a comforting and a special part of his past.

"My past...." He paused to reflect on the words Cloud Dancing had spoken to him about how to find direction again.

He resumed his examination of his keepsakes. There was his essay, "What is Love?", the flute from No Harm and several copies of The Gazette containing articles he had written.

Suddenly, near the bottom, he found an old cap. His heart sank at the poor shape of it. Anthony had told him to take care of it in a special way. Memories of his best friend's mysterious illness and death flooded back. Tears formed in his eyes as he recalled their last conversation on the Clinic balcony.

Anthony had sat in a rocking chair. "Remember how you used to read to me from 'Robinson Crusoe?' You were always wantin' t' go on an adventure. Far off places." He had paused to smile. "Ya even got me t' hop the train with ya. Remember?"

Brian had smiled, "I'll never forget that day. That was a really stupid idea."

Anthony had pensively replied, "Nah. It was fun."

Then after a silent pause, the sick boy had handed Brian his special cap. "I want ya t' have this. But ya gotta promise t' take real good care of it. Don't mess up the bill. Keep it straight. Smooth it down nice an' flat when ya take it off at night."

Brian had pledged, "I will."

Grinning, Anthony had rolled his eyes, "An' don't go lettin' some girl wear it, or it'll smell like perfume."

Brian had acknowledged, "I won't."

Anthony had looked off into the distance, as if he could have seen the future. "Good. I feel better then."

Brian's thoughts turned to the present. "Always wanting to go on an adventure...." He straightened out the bill of the cap, then placed it on his head. "Far off places." Tears trickled down his cheeks. "I know what I want to do now, Anthony. Thank you."

************
Chapter 10
************

While Colleen and Dell helped Bridget warm the children from their snow adventure, Michaela clasped Sully's hand and led him into her office.

Closing the door, she kept her voice low. "Brian told me what he did last night."

"Good," he nodded. "How ya feel about it?"

She stated, "You know, you could have told me."

He noted, "Not when I knew he would. Where is he?"

She responded, "In the attic. He went up to look through his belongings."

"He's hurtin' real bad," Sully assessed.

She nodded in agreement. "I hope that he doesn't do anything rash, thinking that he can run away from the hurt."

"He already did somethin' rash with that whiskey last night," Sully pointed out. "He's learned his lesson."

Michaela stepped closer and circled her husband's waist with her arms. "I love you."

He grinned, "What brought that on?"

Her cheeks blushed. "Knowing how much you love our family."

"Hmmm." He looked up impishly. "Too bad we got a house full of our kids right now."

She laughed. "Speaking of our children, how was the sleigh ride?"

"It turned int' a snowball battle at the Indian School," Sully chuckled.

She warned, "Sully! One of the children could have been hurt."

"Nah," he chuckled. "After Joe hit me in the mouth, I taught 'em how to make the snowballs so they wouldn't hurt."

She tenderly ran her finger along his lips. "I don't see any redness."

Warmed by her motion, his lips kissed her finger. "I'm okay."

Michaela closed her eyes to calm her breathing. "Oh, what you do to me."

He leaned in to kiss her. "Feelin's mutual."

She pulled back slightly and rested her palms on his chest. "The children will be waiting for us."

He sighed. "I know."

They heard Bridget calling. "Supper's ready!"

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

At the dinner table, the Sully-Cooper family gathered to enjoy their supper. Brian seemed more at ease than he had been since his arrival home.

His calmer demeanor did not escape Michaela's notice. "Brian, how was your adventure in the attic?"

He smiled, "It brought back a lot of good memories."

She remarked, "It seems to have helped you."

Josef wiped his mouth, as he had been taught to do before speaking. "I'm not allowed in the attic. Mama says I get int' too much mis-sniff."

Michaela corrected, "That's mischief, Sweetheart."

Katie inquired, "What did ya do up there, Brian?"

He explained, "I went through some things that Ma had saved for me. Things from my childhood."

Josef observed, "I could fill that attic with my stuff."

Brian chuckled, "Well, mine managed to fit into an old wooden chest."

Katie was curious. "Why did you wanna look through those things?"

He noted. "To remind myself where I came from, what was important to me."

Josef frowned, "Ya forgetted where ya came from?"

"No," the older brother replied. "I'll never forget that. I just mean that it reminded me of the people and things that influenced me when I was young."

Colleen wondered, "And did it help?"

"Sure did," he nodded. "It helped me to think more clearly about where I want to go now."

Josef added, "Mama an' Papa tell me where t' go, whether I want 'em to or not."

Michaela broached the subject. "So you've made up your mind then?"

"I'm going to Europe," he announced. "I found the cap Anthony gave me before he died. It made me think about all of the adventures I used to talk about with him. He never got to see those things."

Michaela queried, "What will you tell Mary?"

The young man took a deep breath. "I'm going to tell her the truth. I'm not ready to settle down."

Sully nodded silently in agreement.

Michaela wondered, "When will you leave?"

"I'll wait until after your birthday," he smiled. "If you can stand me for a while longer around here."

"Thank you, Sweetheart," she acknowledged. "And, I love having you home with us."

Brian changed the subject, "Have you all heard about the new opera that's playing in town?"

Michaela asked, "'Brittle Silver?' Yes, I read about it."

Brian described, "It's the first opera to be originally produced in Colorado. Miss Dorothy says it was written by W. F. Hunt and Stanley Wood."

Sully recognized the name. "Stanley Wood? Ain't that the newspaper man who jumped minin' claims?"

Brian returned, "Yes."

Michaela's eyes widened. "We could all use a diversion from this weather. We must attend!"

Sully frowned. "Don't sound like anythin' I'd be interested in seein'."

Michaela turned to him. "Not even for your wife?"

He frowned uncomfortably.

She added, "It's a satirical comedy. I think it would be wonderful if we all went. We could use a good laugh."

"Me, too?" Josef requested.

Michaela clarified, "All of the grownups, Josef. The performance is in the evening, Sweetheart."

"I can laugh in the evenin'," Josef added.

Katie explained, "Joey, that's not what Mama meant. She means it will be too late for us 'cause we gotta go t' bed."

Dell consented, "That sounds wonderful, Michaela. I would love to see it. Colleen?"

Michaela was pleased. "Splendid. I'll reserve our seats."

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

Following dinner, the family retired to the living room for coffee.

Colleen suggested, "Ma, do you think Dell and I might speak with you in your office about a professional matter?"

"Of course," she replied. "Is it about a patient?"

"Not exactly," Colleen returned as they headed to the room.

Closing the door behind them, Michaela gestured for them to sit. "Now, what is it that you wanted to discuss?"

Dell broached the subject. "Are you familiar with the work of Dr. Thombs in Pueblo?"

"Of course," Michaela nodded. "I've referred patients to him. Why?"

Colleen spoke up, "Dell has an interest in treating insane patients in a clinical and humane way."

"I see," she pondered. "Are you thinking of joining Dr. Thombs' staff? I could put in a good word for you."

"There was a time when I would have considered that." Dell clasped Colleen's hand. "But now I've decided to make Colorado Springs my home."

Colleen added, "Ma, what would you think of Dell's treating some of these types of patients in your hospital?"

She was surprised. "My hospital?"

Dell pointed out, "It's becoming crowded at the asylum in Pueblo, and the funding there is running low."

Colleen continued, "We don't usually need all of our rooms at the hospital here. Maybe Dell could start with two or three patients."

Michaela felt uneasy. "You seem to have it all thought out."

Dell perceived her angst. "Michaela, I don't want to make you uncomfortable. Take time to think about it. I would assume total responsibility for their care, and I would keep them completely separate from the other patients."

Colleen encouraged, "And, Dell will still be there when we need him to cover our patient load, too."

"I shall give it consideration," Michaela responded.

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

Michaela entered the bedroom, where Sully had lit some logs in the fireplace. The room was warm. She observed her husband, already in bed with his back turned toward her.

She whispered, "Are you sleeping?"

He stirred slightly as he uttered, "No."

"I finished reading my journal in the office," she mentioned as she began to undress.

He kept his back to her. "That's good."

She leaned over to touch his side. "Sully, are you not feeling well? Perhaps the sleigh ride and dinner guests for dinner were too much. You are still recovering from...."

He rolled over to face her. "No, I feel fine."

When he turned, Michaela was in the process of putting on her night gown. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of her beautiful form.


Folding her clothes, she mentioned, "You were quiet all through dinner. Is something bothering you?"

He reached his hand toward her, and she linked her fingers in his. "This opera."

"I think it will be just the tonic for Brian," she smiled. "And I know we shall all enjoy it."

He kissed the top of her hand. "I don't like that kinda thing."

"Opera?" she was amazed. "But you and I have attended them before."

"Not this kinda opera," he clarified. "There's nothin' funny 'bout silver minin'."

She perceived, "So that's what's bothering you?"

He explained, "Brings back a lot o' bad memories."

She suddenly realized, "Oh, Sully. I'm sorry. I didn't think about... the cave-in."

He interrupted, "I'll stay here with the kids. Take Bridget in my place."

Her lips turned upward in a grin. "Bridget cannot replace my husband."

Sully hoped, "Can ya try t' understand, Michaela?"

She nodded, "Of course."

He uttered low, "Thanks."

Dousing her lamp, Michaela spooned next to him beneath the covers. Sully placed his hand on her abdomen and kissed the lobe of her ear. His gesture sent shivers up her spine. She rolled over and maneuvered even closer to toy with the hair on his chest. He softly kissed her.

No words were exchanged between them, but their tender and tantalizing touches communicated their profound love.

Michaela inhaled the scent of the Caswell-Massey soap she had given him for Christmas. "Mmmm. You smell good."

"Thanks," he whispered. "You sure you don't mind me not goin' t' the opera?"

"Oh, I mind," she spoke softly as she touched his temple. "But only because I don't like being away from you."

"I don't like us bein' apart either," he smiled.

She changed the subject. "Sully, I'd like your opinion on something."

He raised his eyebrow, "On what?"

She nodded. "Dell and Colleen have asked for my permission to let him treat insane patients at the hospital."

He teased, "If you're askin' my opinion, it must mean ya ain't sure it's a good idea."

She smiled, "I'm asking your opinion because I value your judgment."

He kissed the tip of her nose. "Well, can ya think of any reason not to let him do it?"

Michaela assessed, "It might discourage other patients from seeking treatment at the hospital."

"Ya mean scare 'em off?" he noted. "That never stopped ya before. You treated a woman with leprosy. An' ya took care o' me when that mysterious infection was killin' off people. Eventually, folks want a good doctor. They'll come around."

"I'm just not certain," she hedged.

Sully sensed, "Maybe ya don't wanna say no t' Dell, for fear of how Colleen might react."

She sighed, "I don't want to hurt her feelings or for her to think that I have any doubts about Dell."

"Colleen would understand," he assured. "You're the head o' the hospital. Ya gotta make decisions that are based on what's good for the patients. Trust your instincts."

She kissed him. "I don't know how you do it, Sully."

He grinned impishly. "Do what?"

"How you know just the right questions to ask and just the right things to say," she responded.

"You kiddin'?" he chuckled. "How many times have I been in trouble for not doin' or sayin' the right thing with you?"

"Well.... those very few times are happily forgiven," she mused.

He grinned. "Even for the snowball battle I had with the kids t'day?"

She became serious. "I'm afraid I don't know how you can make a snowball that won't hurt when struck by it."

"You ever been in a snowball battle?" he challenged.

She admitted, "No."

Sully shifted out of bed and began to pull on his buckskins.

Michaela was surprised. "What are you doing?"

He replied. "Get dressed."

"What?" she protested. "Why?"

He pointed to her, then himself. "You an' me are gonna have a snowball fight."

"Sully!" She resisted. "Everyone is in bed, and it's freezing outside. I'll take your word for it that you know how to make a.... gentle snowball."

He buttoned his shirt. "Come on. Put on some old trousers. Dress warm."

She did not move. "I can't believe you want to do this."

He put his hands on his hips. "You gonna get dressed, or am I takin' ya outside like that?"

She sighed in frustration. "I think you're about to get into trouble."

He raised an eyebrow. "Want me t' help ya get dressed?"

"No, thank you," she sighed, even louder. "Perhaps Dell's first patient will be my husband."

"That mean you're goin' along with his idea?" he asked, as he pulled on his socks.

"I think I might let him try it on a trial basis," she replied as she fumbled with the buttons of her trousers.

Sully came to her and assisted with the buttons. Then he kissed her neck.

She thwarted his advances. "I'm afraid you've dampened my romantic mood with this ridiculous idea."

He rubbed his nose against hers. "We'll see if ya feel that way later."

Michaela pulled a woolen sweater from her chest of drawers. "I shall probably have frostbite and not be able to feel anything."

He chuckled. "This kinda reminds me of when I got ya t' fly a kite. Ya didn't wanna do that, and it turned out t' be fun."

"I was much younger then," she pointed out.

He complimented, "You're still young.... an' beautiful."

She finished dressing. "Flattery will get you nowhere."

Sully opened the bedroom door for her. "This will be fun. You'll see."

************
Chapter 11
************

Positioned at the bottom of the homestead steps, Michaela stood with her hands on her hips. "Is there some sort of rule book or strategy involved in this?"

Sully reminded, "Not everythin' ya need t' know comes from a book. Some things ya just learn by doin'. Now, come over here toward the pasture where we can get some fresh snow."

Reluctantly, she followed her husband until he stopped. Sully leaned down and scooped up some of the pristine snow with his gloves. He lightly fashioned a ball. Then, he stepped back a few paces and threw it at her.

Hit in her shoulder, Michaela was caught off guard. "Why didn't you warn me?"

He frowned, "Ya don't warn someone when it's comin'. That's why it's a battle. Go ahead an' make one yourself."

"Show me again," she urged.

Sully leaned down again to portion more snow in his palms.

She imitated his procedure. "Like this?"

"That's right," he nodded.

She inquired, "Then one merely throws it at the.... opponent?"

"Yep," he smiled.

Without warning, she pelted him with the frozen projectile.

Sully wiped the fast-melting liquid from his face. "Uh, that was real good, Michaela."

"I would think this game would be more sensible if there were some plan of action," she observed.

"It ain't supposed t' be sensible. It's supposed t' be fun. Can't ya be spontaneous here?" he coaxed.

Michaela's brow creased. "I thought I was. I just hit you with the snowball when you didn't expect it."

He sighed, "Okay. Uh.... now, are ya ready t' start the battle?"

"I believe I need to store up a few of the snowballs first," she knelt down. "Then I won't have to pause to make them during the fight."

"But, I could start hittin' ya right now, while you're vulnerable," he observed.

She glanced up at him. "A gentleman wouldn't do that."

He raised his eyebrows. "Oh, yea?"

Before his wife could react, Sully started forming and tossing snowballs at her. Michaela squealed and screamed in protest. Soon he let up on his barrage to allow his wife to go on the offensive.

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

A scream outside wakened Josef from his sleep. He sat up, uncertain if he had been dreaming. As he rubbed his eyes and yawned, he heard the noise again.

The little boy pushed back his bed covers and crept to his window. With his nose pressed against the glass, he could not believe what he saw. Mama and Papa were having a snowball battle!

It was unlike anything he could ever remember his mother doing. She was even wearing long pants. He had to tell his sister.

Quickly slipping into his robe, he rushed across the hall to her door and knocked.

Hearing nothing from inside, he whispered. "Katie, can I come in?"

Her groggy voice uttered. "What is it, Joey?"

He opened her door and quickly crossed to her bed. "Ya gotta come see this."

She yawned again. "See what?"

"Outside," he gestured. "It's Mama an' Papa."

She groaned. "Joey, everyone's in bed. You must be dreamin'. Now, go back t' sleep."

He persisted. "They're havin' a snowball battle."

She rolled her eyes. "Now I know you're dreamin'."

Josef shook his head. "No, Katie, it's real."

She sighed, "All right. Let them have their snowball battle then."

The little boy was surprised. "But don't ya wanna watch?"

"No, thank you." With that, Katie curled up in bed and closed her eyes.

He frowned. "Well, I'm gonna watch."

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

Michaela paused in her attack when her husband tripped and fell onto his back.

She came to his side. "Sully, are you all right?"

With eyes closed, he didn't move.

Michaela dropped to her knees beside him. Removing her gloves, she felt his reddened cheeks. "Sully?"

Suddenly, he opened his eyes and snatched her in his arms.

She pretended to protest. "This isn't fair. I thought you were hurt."

"The battle's over." He grinned. "I win."

She countered, "You deceived me."

He rolled her onto her back. "That's part o' the battle."

"But it's not part of marriage," she scolded.

Sully gazed at her with love. "Havin' fun is."

Michaela turned away.

"Hey." Sully gently guided her chin back toward his. "Did ya have fun?"

She smirked. "I suppose so.... but only a little."

His smile broadened. "Anythin' I can do t' make it a lot?"

"Warm me up?" she bid.

He lifted up onto his knees and extended his hand. "My pleasure."

Immediately, Michaela rolled away and began to pelt him with additional snowballs.

"Hey!" Sully lifted his hands to shield his face. "No fair!"

She continued the barrage. "It's part of the battle."

Ignoring the stinging hits by the snowballs, Sully chased after her until he caught her. Then, he lifted her, spun around and deposited her in a pile of snow.

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

Josef's eyes widened. His father had dropped his mother into a snow bank. Did she do something bad like he had? Should he run to help her? Wait. "She's laughin'. Mama is laughin' at Papa."

The child shook his head. He would never understand grownups.

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

At that moment, Michaela ceased her laughter, having noticed Josef watching them from his upstairs window.

Sully wondered why she had stopped. "You okay?"

"Yes," she dusted off the flakes from herself. "But, we're being watched."

He turned toward the road. "What? By who?"

She gestured toward the house. "Josef."

Sully directed his attention to the homestead. "Uh-oh. I reckon we'll get some questions."

Michaela extended her hand for her husband to assist her in standing. "Well, I trust that his father will have just the right answers."

He grinned. "I guess it's time I had that father-son talk with him about the birds an' the bees."

"What?" She was astonished.

Sully put his arms around her. "Ya know. Sparkin' an' kissin'."

"That's not the explanation a seven-year old boy needs," she cautioned. "And certainly not why we were having a snowball battle."

"I'm teasin' ya, Michaela," he clarified.

She sighed, "I suppose I'm not very good at this."

He was uncertain. "Not very good at what?"

She lowered her eyes. "Teasing.... having fun."

Sully noted, "Hey, the happiest times I ever had were with you."

"You're merely being kind," she construed.

Sully drew her closer. "Just tellin' the truth. Now, let's get inside t' thaw out. You go ahead int' our room, an' I'll talk t' Joe."

"And no birds and bees?" she questioned.

He smiled, "I'll talk about that with you."

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

Sully entered Josef's room, finding the boy sitting on the edge of his bed.

The father whispered, "Hey, Joe. What ya doin' up so late?"

"I heared noises outside," he replied.

Sully nodded. "Sorry your Ma an' me woke ya up."

"Why'd ya have a snowball battle?" Josef queried.

He sat beside his son. "Just havin' some fun with your Ma since she didn't get t' enjoy playin' with us at the Indian School."

"You two was out there carryin' on like a couple o' children," the boy stated disapprovingly.

Sully nodded. "You don't like us havin' fun?"

"I think you an' Mama are too old for that," he affirmed. "You could've hurt her when ya throwed her in the snow."

Sully rubbed his chin. "You don't think I was bein' careful?"

"Didn't look like it t' me," Josef frowned.

Suddenly, Sully scooped the boy into his arms and hoisted him up toward the ceiling.

Josef was surprised. "Papa, put me down! You could hurt your back."

"But is it fun?" He raised his son higher.

Josef began to giggle. "Yeah!"

With that, the father gently deposited him on the bed. "That's how I treated your Ma."

The child understood. "You was careful."

"'Course I was," Sully nodded. "I wouldn't hurt your Ma or you, big boy. Ya know, you're a lot like her."

Josef tilted his head. "I am? How?"

"Thinkin' ya can't have fun an' be careful at the same time," Sully clarified.

"But I got int' a lot o' trouble when I was little," Josef pointed out. "You an' Mama was always tellin' me t' be careful."

Sully settled his son under the covers. "Joe, I'm proud o' how careful you are now. You watch out for your brother an' sisters real good."

"You an' Mama, too," the child added.

"Us, too," Sully smiled. "But, it's okay t' have fun, as well. Now, everyone's in bed except you an' me. How 'bout we get some rest?"

"Would you tell Mama somethin' for me?" Josef requested.

"Sure," he paused.

Josef put his arms around his father's neck. "Tell Mama I hope she had fun."

"I will," Sully returned, as he tucked the boy into bed.

He delayed his father. "Make sure Mama gets warm. We wouldn't want her catchin' what you had."

Sully assured, "I'll take care of her, Joe. See ya in the mornin'."

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

When Sully entered their bedroom, he found Michaela, clad in her robe and drying her hair with a towel near the hearth.

He removed his shirt and buckskins, then stepped closer. "Let me help."

He took the towel and dabbed at her still-damp auburn locks. He could not resist an occasional kiss of her neck as he worked.

Michaela, stirred by his gentle lips, pivoted to face him. "How is Josef? Should I speak with him and explain what we were doing outside?"

"He's fine," Sully assured. "I told him we were just havin' fun like at the Indian School t'day."

She raised an eyebrow. "And he accepted that?"

"Yep. He said he hoped ya had fun." Sully lifted her chin with his index finger. "Oh, an' he wanted to make sure you get warm. You warmer now?"

She caught her breath. "Quite."

"Good." Sully untied the belt of her robe and moved his hands beneath the material.

To his surprise, she was not wearing her nightgown. Kissing her more deeply, he eased her closer. Instantly, their proximity aroused them. Sully slipped her robe from her shoulders. It dropped to the floor. His hands roamed across her form, eliciting a soft sigh of pleasure.

Sully drew back and smiled.

Cupping his palms to the sides of her jaw, he uttered:

"So one in heart and thought, I trow,
That thou might'st press the strings and I might draw the bow
And both would meet in music sweet,
Thou and I, I trow."

"Hmm," she looked away demurely. After a moment of thought, she gazed at him with love. "Was that Richard Lovelace?"

"Nope." He paused to kiss her left eyelid, then her right. "Sidney Lanier."

"Sully, thank you for our adventure in the snow this evening." She gazed lovingly into his eyes. "And I truly did have fun."

"Joe was worried about me droppin' ya in the snow bank," Sully noted. Sliding his hands around to her backside, he added. "I don't feel any bumps."

Michaela caught her breath. "I.... I believe the snow cushioned me from harm."

He continued to explore her curves. "Good. Wouldn't wanna hurt his Ma."

Michaela tucked a stray lock of his hair behind his ear. "And thank you for being such a good father."

He interrupted his kisses. "You wanna talk about kids while I'm doin' this?"

She reasoned, "It's all connected to our love. I love you as my best friend, the father of my children and my husband."

"Oh," he paused. "In that order?"

She was having trouble concentrating now. "Uh.... I think husband is number one at the moment."

Her heartbeat raced as his kisses became more eager. Finally, with his eyes intently locked on hers, he lifted her and gently set her on their bed.


Michaela raked her fingers down his shoulders and chest, inviting him to join her. He gladly obliged. Resting on his elbows, he hovered just above her, awaiting her invitation to take the next step. It required every ounce of control for him to hold back as her intoxicating scent filled his senses.

She recognized the ardent expression on her husband's face. She could also feel his taut muscles poised to envelop her. She turned up the corner of her mouth in a flirtatious smile.

Sully was ready to burst. "Never tell me you ain't good at teasin' again."

She mused. "Me? Tease?"

Sully glanced down. "I'm about t' lose control here, Michaela."

"We can't have that." She whispered invitingly.

She adjusted her position to welcome his intimacy. Arching back her head as he joined with her, they were transported.

Their movements were slow at first. Then Michaela adjusted her hips. Sully marveled at how far she had come in making love to him. Far from the first time on their honeymoon train, there was no inhibition now. The flex of muscles, the heat of kisses, the tender caresses were reciprocated with unfettered enthusiasm.

Building in intensity, their movements crescendoed to a crest of blinding heat, joining them into one. Sated from their union, they lay back to catch their breaths.

Sully drew her into his arms, softly stroking her damp hair. "I sure do love you."

She kissed his chest. "And I, you."

His fingers explored her roundness. "Still the most beautiful woman I ever met."

"Thank you for thinking that," she replied.

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

Sully awakened with a start when he heard Michaela's cough. Turning up the lamp on his nightstand, he rolled over.

"Michaela?" He felt her forehead.

She spoke with a rasp. "Sully, I'm sick."

He pulled up her covers. "I see that. What can I get ya?"

"Perhaps some willow bark tea for my fever," she suggested.

Swiftly, he drew on his buckskins and shirt. He added another log to the fire, then left her to fetch the brew.

Michaela felt as if every bone in her body ached. She closed her eyes, praying that her husband would return soon.

It was not long before he entered the room, holding a cup of the willow bark tea in one hand and her medical bag in the other. Suddenly, another coughing fit enveloped her. Sully set down the tea and bag so that he could elevate her head. Finally, the coughing subsided.

He brushed back her hair from her face. "Think ya can drink the tea now?"

She nodded. "I'll try."

Still holding her, Sully reached for the tea and held the cup for her to sip. Finally, she was able to down the liquid.

Gently, he settled her back onto the pillow and pulled up the covers again. Thoughtfully, he went to her bureau to fetch a nightgown for her. He unbuttoned it and paused to hold it near the hearth to warm it.

Returning to her side, he said, "Let me help ya int' this gown."

When Sully drew back the sheet and quilt, he could see that his wife was shivering. Quickly, he put it over her head and secured the buttons. Then he pulled up the bed covers again. He kissed her temple and wondered what more he could do.

Michaela clasped his hand weakly. "Thank you, Sully."

"You warmin' up any?" he questioned.

She did not reply, but he could still feel the bed's vibrations from her trembling. When Michaela's breathing finally evened out, he walked to his side of the bed and spooned himself up against her to cocoon her in his warmth. Then he tenderly stroked her hair, hoping she would not have to endure what he had been through.

************
Chapter 12
************

Just before dawn, Michaela's coughing wakened Sully. Each harsh expulsion from her lungs felt like a dagger in his heart. He rose from the bed and searched through her medicine bag for cough medicine. Finding it, he came to her side and began to pour some onto a spoon.

"Here, Michaela," he urged. "This will help."

She struggled to lift up. After downing the medicine, she collapsed weakly into the bed.

He lightly stroked her hair. "I'll go make ya some more willow bark tea."

She lacked the energy to respond.

Sully quietly left her and descended the steps, where he discovered Bridget was already up and preparing to make breakfast.

The nanny faced him. "I heard the lass coughin', so I put water on the stove for that tea she makes with bark. It'll be ready soon.'"

Sully nodded, "Thanks, Bridget. Maybe I should make a mustard poultice for her, too."

Wiping her hands on a towel, she offered, "I'll get ya the supplies."

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

Katie stood at Michaela's bedroom door, worriedly listening to her mother's hacking cough. She had heard Poppy and Bridget speaking downstairs and decided to check on her mother herself.

She softly opened the door. "Mama?"

Unaware of her daughter's presence, Michaela did not respond.

Katie felt her mother's forehead. It was very warm. Turning, the little girl spotted cough medicine on the nightstand. Lifting it, she poured out a spoonful.

"Here, Mama." Katie carefully steadied her hand and guided the spoon toward her mother's lips.

Faintly, Michaela accepted the medicine and gulped it down.

Katie smiled and smoothed out the bed covers. "You go ahead and try to get some sleep."

The little girl backed toward the door and quietly slipped out to return to her own room.

The moment her door closed, Josef opened his. He had heard Papa go downstairs, and his mother's coughing disturbed him. Instinctively, he knew that she had caught what Papa had. He approached her door and wondered if he should enter. Then he heard Michaela cough again.

It broke his heart to know she was feeling so poorly. Mama was always the one who took care of them when they were sick. He determined that he would be her caretaker now.

Josef opened the door and peeked his head through the opening. "Mama?"

Michaela had lifted her head slightly to cough anew. The little boy stepped into the room and patted her arm.

"I'll help ya, Mama," he assured sweetly. He lifted the cough medicine bottle and added, "This will do the trick. Not too much now. I don't want ya gettin' over-mated like Papa."

Knowing he would not be able to measure out the liquid onto the spoon, Josef held the bottle up to her lips.

"Just a sip now," he encouraged.

Her head wobbling, Michaela gulped down several swigs of the preparation. Satisfied that she had consumed enough, Josef took the bottle from her.

"There ya go," he smiled. "Try t' sleep now."

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

Sully entered the bedroom with the mustard poultice preparations on a tray. He smiled down at his wife, pleased that her coughing had ceased for the moment. He decided not to waken her to explain what he was doing. He would simply place the substance on her chest as she had done for him.


Leaning over, he kissed his wife's cheek. Still hot. He would give her the willow bark tea after the mustard poultice.

Sully drew back the covers, then unbuttoned his wife's nightgown down to her waist. He gathered the material and pulled it toward her sides. Then he took a cotton cloth and draped it across her chest.

Michaela moved. "Mmmm."

He paused to see if another coughing spell was imminent. She stilled.

Next Sully began to spread the thick substance atop the cloth.

Again, Michaela murmured. "Bbbbyyrrroonnn...."

He whispered, "It's Sully, Michaela. I'm puttin' one o' them poultices on ya. Try t' hold still."

He continued his work, only to be interrupted by her hands atop his. "Wwwonnddderrfffullll, Bbbyyyrrrooonnn."

He chuckled. "I ain't doin' this t' be romantic. I'm tryin' t' help ya."

With eyes closed, she began to smile. "'Kkkkaaayyy."

He hesitated. How could she possibly be enjoying this? She had a fever and was scarcely conscious. Maybe she was delirious. He finished applying the poultice, placed another cloth on it and closed her gown. When finished, he pulled up the sheet and quilt, then stepped toward the basin to thoroughly wash his hands.

When he turned back to look at his wife, he was surprised. Michaela had managed to kick off the covers and was trying to get out of bed.

Sully rushed to her side. "Hey! What are ya doin'?"

The poultice was starting to come loose, and he struggled to keep it in place as he encouraged his wife to lie back.

"Michaela," he urged. "Come on."

She slurred, "Wwwhheerree?"

His brow creased. "Where? In bed. You're sick."

Her head swayed. "Nnnnoooo. I nnneed tttoo gggett uppp."

"Do ya have t' use the privy?" he wondered.

"Nooo." She went limp in his arms. "I llloovvee yyoouuu, Bbbyyyrrrooonnn."

He finally settled her back. "I love you, too, but...."

She had passed out. What on earth had happened to her? As he pivoted to put another log on the fire, Sully noticed the cork lid was not in the bottle of cough medicine.

Lifting it, he discovered it was nearly empty. "Oh, no. Michaela, I only gave ya a little bit o' this."

Suddenly, she was waking. "Mmmoorre."

He stepped closer. "Did you take this on your own?"

She reached out her hand. "Nnnneeeddd moorree."

He knelt down to the level of her eye. "I think you've had plenty."

Michaela touched the tip of his nose. "Yyyoouuu lllooovvvee mmee?"

"'Course I do," he replied.

She pursed her lips. "Wwwaaannnttt mmmoorrreee."

He asserted, "Well, this time, I'm the doctor, an' I say ya can't have any for a while."

She tilted her head. "Yyyoouuu ddocccttorr?"

She tensed and became agitated at his phrase. Instantly, he remembered those had been the haunting words of the man who had shot her.

Sully stroked her hair. "Hey, you okay?"

"Dddonn' ssaaayy tthhaaatt, Bbbyyyroonn," she slurred.

He shook his head. "Michaela, why'd you drink that medicine, knowin' what it did t' me?"

She reached up to caress his face. "Ssssiinnggg tttooo mmmeee."

"You want me t' sing t' you?" he chuckled.

She smiled broadly, "MMmmmm. Mmmyyy Bbbyyyroonn."

He clasped her hand. "Your Byron, huh?"

"Pppllleeaaassseee?" She struggled to speak coherently.

He cleared his throat. "Let's hope this don't wake the kids:

Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world heard in the day,
Lull'd by the moonlight have all pass'd away!"

Michaela began to sway to the rhythm of his voice.

Outside of their door, Josef listened intently. Hearing the musical tones of his father, he rushed to Katie's door and knocked briskly.

The little girl yawned and opened it. "What is it now, Joey?"

He caught his breath. "Papa's singin'."

A crinkle appeared on her forehead. "What?"

Josef clarified, "Papa's singin' t' Mama."

She sighed. "Joey, go back t' bed."

"Don't ya wanna hear?" he questioned.

She shrugged, "I guess so."

The two headed for their parents' bedroom, and listened while Sully continued the tune.

Feeling more amorous by her husband's voice, Michaela reached over and touched a particularly sensitive area. Sully's pitch suddenly raised nearly an octave:

"Beautiful dreamer, out on the sea,
Mermaids are chaunting the wild lorelie;
Over the streamlet vapors are borne,
Waiting to fade at the bright coming morn."

Josef turned to his sister, "Papa can sure sing high. I wonder why he's doin' it?"

Katie put her hands on her hips. "Maybe it's a lullaby t' put Mama t' sleep."

The little boy reasoned, "Then why's he's singin' 'Wakin' t' me?"

"I don't know," she acknowledged. "Oh, well, let's let 'em be. Mama's not feelin' well."

Josef agreed, "I know. I heared her coughin' an' gave her some medicine when Papa was downstairs."

"What?" Katie was surprised. "I gave her medicine!"

Josef's blue eyes widened, "Oh, no. She might be...."

"Sleepin', Joey," she interrupted. "Mama's sleepin'. Come on. Let's get dressed. Papa's gonna need our help today."

Hesitantly, he followed, "I don't think she's gonna sleep much."

Inside the bedroom, Sully sang on, in the hope that it would placate his wife and help her to rest. She seemed to be calming.

"Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart,
E'en as the morn on the streamlet and sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!"

As he finished the melody, he gazed at his sleeping wife. It was as if Stephen Foster had composed the song specifically with her in mind. Her countenance never failed to fill his heart.

He gently touched a few tendrils of her hair. "You're so beautiful, Michaela. I'm real sorry ya caught this from me. Please get better soon."

Her face suddenly frowned. "Mmmmm...."

Sully touched her shoulder. "Shhh. Just sleep."

Her arms flailed, then she clumsily attempted to unbutton her gown. "Bbbbuurrrnnnss."

Sully feared, "Burns? It's burnin' ya?"

She sat up and grabbed her gown, nearly ripping off the buttons. "Hhhhoootttt."

Sully rushed to bring the pitcher of clean water to her. Swiftly, he lifted the gown, causing the poultice to fall to the floor. Michaela nearly fell over, but Sully steadied her and poured the cold water down her chest.

Michaela screamed.

"Shhh...." Sully urged. "I'm tryin' t' clean it off of ya, but I need t' get more water. Stay here."

He dashed out of the bedroom, securing the door behind him. He bounded down the steps and into the kitchen. Hastily, he began to pump water into the pitcher.

Bridget watched in shock. "Lad, what's wrong? I heard Dr. Mike scr...."

He interrupted, "The poultice was too hot on her. Oh, Bridget, I must've left it on too long."

"Easy now," she spoke calmly. "She'll be fine. I'll get some towels for ya."

At that moment, Katie and Josef rushed down the steps.

Josef exclaimed, "Mama's cryin'!"

"I'll take care of her, Joe," Sully replied as he breezed past them on his way up the steps with fresh water and towels.

Katie turned to Bridget. "Should we help?"

"Ya can help by settin' down t' eat your breakfast," she said.

Josef informed the nanny, "Ya know, Mama's sick."

"Aye," Bridget acknowledged. "But your Pa will take good care of her. I know somethin' you two can do t' help."

Katie's eyes brightened. "What?"

She returned, "Yas two can help me make a nice pot of soup. That'll cure what ails anyone."

Josef resisted, "I think I better take care o' the kids, Miss Bridget. They'll be gettin' int' everythin'."

"Okay," Bridget eyed Katie. "An' you?"

The little girl smiled. "I'll help ya, Miss Bridget."

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

Sully was finally able to clean the poultice from Michaela's chest, help her into a clean gown and settle her back into bed.

He lay down beside her, cradling her in his arms and kissing the top of her head. "I'm so sorry for burnin' ya, Michaela."

"SSS'kkaayy," she slurred. "Ttteelll meee ssllloorryy."

"Slory?" He wondered. "Ya mean a story?"

"Mmmm," she sighed as she closed her eyes.

"All right," he pondered. "I don't think I ever told ya about...."

Michaela's snoring caused him to pause. He smiled and kissed the top of her head again. "Sleep now."

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

It was evening when Michaela finally awoke. She yawned and stretched her arms. Then she sat up. She was uncertain of what day it was and how long she had been asleep.

As she attempted to focus, her door slowly opened, and the twins entered the room.

Noah placed his hands on the edge of the bed and looked up at his mother. "Mama bettah?"

"Better?" she wondered.

Annie reached for her hand "Sick?"

Michaela gently pulled back, now recalling her fever and cough. "I don't want you to catch what Mama has, my darlings."

Noah frowned. "We miss ya."

"I miss you, too, Sweetheart," she assured. "But.... where is everyone?"

Annie recounted, "Bran wead, Hopie sweep, Katie an' Jowee help Miss Bwid."

Michaela smiled, "And what about Papa?"

Sully's voice originated from the doorway. "Papa's right here, an' what are you two doin' in your Ma's room?"

Noah put his hands on his hips. "Nothin'."

Michaela mused, "They were just checking on me."

Sully knelt down and embraced the duo. "I'll take good care o' her. You go on downstairs for supper now."

Annie requested, "Mama kiss?"

Michaela's heart broke, "I promise I'll give you a very big kiss when I'm better. All right?"

Noah queried, "That be t'morrow?"

"We'll see," she hedged.

Sully gently tapped their behinds. "Off ya go now."

The children reluctantly obeyed.

Sully stood up and touched Michaela's forehead with his lips. "Fever's broke."

She toyed with the edge of the quilt. "Sully, I.... I don't remember very much about being sick. It's quite strange."

He nodded. "Seems I wasn't the only one t' give ya cough medicine. Katie an' Joe had a hand in it, too."

"I had too much?" she assumed.

He did not reply.

Her cheeks reddened, "Oh, dear. What.... How did I behave?"

"Don't worry," he assured.

"No, please tell me," she implored. "I've never consumed that much alcohol in my life."

He clasped her hand. "You just talked a little funny. Had me singin' to ya."

Michaela lifted her hand to caress his cheek. "You sang to me?"

He identified, "Beautiful Dreamer."

She mused, "I wish I remembered it."

"Maybe I'll do it again sometime," he teased. "I am concerned about the poultice I made burnin' ya though."

He requested as he touched the buttons of her gown. "You mind if I check?"

She nodded her consent.

Sully undid her buttons and inspected her skin. "Looks okay. No signs of redness."

She clasped his hand. "Thank you for taking such good care of me."

"You can pay me later." He winked as he redid her buttons.

She averted her eyes. "The Indians call it fire water, don't they?"

"Alcohol?" he clarified. "Yea."

Michaela expressed her opinion. "I'm not certain that I should use any more medicines that contain it."

"You an' me just over did it," he pointed out. "Think of how many folks are helped by your medicines."

"But I don't remember anything while I was under its influence," she stated.

"Reckon that's why a lot o' people drink," he suggested. "They try t' forget. But you an' me wanna experience every moment of life."

She smiled. "Indeed we do."

A soft knock at the door interrupted their conversation.

Sully rose from her side. "That'll be Brian. He'd like t' talk with ya, if you're up to it."

"I'm up to it," she agreed. "Thank you, Sully."

He joked before opening the door, "Just call me Bbbyyyroonn."

Michaela shook her head, realizing she must have called him that when she was overmedicated.

When Sully opened the door, there stood Josef.

"Hey, Joe," Sully greeted.

The little boy breezed past his father. "We need t' talk."

Sully's brow creased. "What?"

Josef folded his arms. "I'm real worried 'bout the drinkin' that's goin' on in this family."

Sully was surprised. "Joe, we're not drinkin'."

Michaela focused on her son. "And I am concerned about your knowledge of drinking, young man. What exactly have you observed?"

"Mama, I told ya before. Your Clinic was right 'cross from the saloon," he indicated. "I saw plenty o' men comin' outa there drunk. I heard 'em talkin', too. They said bad words an' treat women folk mean."

Sully realized, "Is that what worries ya, Joe? You think we're gonna use bad words an' treat each other mean."

Josef's lower lip trembled. "I see how Maria Slicker is. She's jus' a little kid, but.... She's scared 'cause when her Papa drinks, he gets real mean."

Sully embraced his son. "I promise that your Ma an' me aren't gonna be like that."

Michaela added, "And I promise that you're not going to be exposed to that type of behavior anymore."

Josef added, "What about Maria? What can ya promise her?"

Michaela and Sully glanced at one another for a beat, then Sully added. "I'll have a talk with her Pa."

Michaela added, "And if she ever needs a place to come when she's frightened, we shall welcome her here. We're proud of you for thinking of her, Josef, and we're sorry we worried you."

The child struggled to keep from crying. "Did you ever use bad words?"

Michaela assured, "Never. I was taught that it demeans the person who uses it."

"Demean?" Josef wondered.

She clarified, "It makes people lose respect for us."

He turned to his father. "Papa, you ever use bad words?"

Sully swallowed hard. "I won't lie to ya, Joe. I did once. An' I'm sorry I did it."

The little boy nodded. "We all make mistakes. I forgive ya."

Sully ruffled his hair. "Thanks, big boy. I promise I won't do it again."

He questioned, "You didn't do it 'cause you were drinkin', did ya Papa?"

Sully explained, "No. I was angry at someone, an'.... well, that don't make what I did right."

Josef worried, "Was you angry at Mama?"

"No," he quickly affirmed.

The child perceived, "I bet it was Mr. Lodge. He makes ya mad."

Sully stated, "Joe, I always wanna set a good example for my children. So, even when I get mad, I won't get drunk, I won't cuss an' I'll never hurt your Ma or you kids."

Michaela's heart went out to him. "Sweetheart, there is an important difference between the men who drink at the Gold Nugget and us."

Josef asked, "What?"

She explained, "Your father and I did not intend to consume so much medicine, and that's what it was, Josef. It was medicine. It wasn't whiskey or beer from a bar. We love being who we are, without the influence of alcohol. And most of all, we love our family. Can you understand that this was all an accident?"

He looked at her with reddened eyes. "I don't think Brian drinkin' was a accident."

Sully kissed the top of his head. "No, it wasn't."

Michaela added, "He's very sorry for his actions."

Josef recalled, "Why do folks drink when it makes 'em sick like Brian?"

Sully answered, "I reckon it was his body's way of tellin' him he shouldn't do it."

Josef queried, "Papa, why was ya singin t' Mama?"

He grinned. "Sometimes a man has t' do things for the woman he loves that he wouldn't normally do."

The little boy suggested, "Like wear a suit?"

"Right," Sully smiled. "An' sing."

The child added, "You can sing real high, too."

Realizing that his son had heard Sully's voice change when Michaela reached out to him, Sully explained. "I.... I ain't used t' singing, an' my voice sorta went off on its own."

Josef glanced at his mother. "I think I'll do anythin' for the woman I love."

Michaela nodded, "I know you will, but I'm not quite ready for you to find that special young lady yet."

"Me either," he assured.

Presently, Brian entered the room.

Sully took the cue and lifted Josef. "Come on. Let's let Brian an' your Ma visit."

When they left, Brian spoke, "Hey, Ma. Are you feeling better?"

"Somewhat," she replied. "Sully said you wanted to speak to me."

He began, "I want to thank you for all you've done for me. I haven't been the easiest person to be around lately, and.... well, Pa and you have been so patient. I appreciate it."

She patted his arm. "We just want you to be happy."

"You'd be proud of me," he smiled. "I stopped by the opera house to buy tickets, and you'll never guess who I ran into?"

She was curious. "Who?"

"Andrew and Mary," Brian identified. "They were purchasing tickets, too."

Michaela studied his expression. "You don't seem to be upset."

He was honest. "We chatted pleasantly. It really didn't upset me."

"You're certain?" she probed.

"Certain," he smiled. "Now I'll let you get some rest. I better help with the kids and supper."

She felt tears welling. "Thank you."

Not long after his exit, Sully entered with a tray of soup. "You up for some nourishment?"

Michaela pulled herself into a sitting position. "I believe so."

"Bridget claims it'll cure whatever ails ya," he retorted as he set the tray on her lap.

"Will you join me?" she requested.

"I was plannin' on it," he consented, as he drew a chair close and sat down.

Michaela sipped on the soup. "Delicious."

Sully smiled as he watched her eat.

She wondered about his expression. "Is something wrong?"

"Nope," he grinned even wider.

She was curious. "Why are you looking at me like that? Is there something you're not telling me?"

He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the side of the bed. "I was just thinkin' about how lucky I am."

Michaela gazed into the eyes she adored. "It is I who am the lucky one."

"Yea," he agreed. "You sing a lot better than me."

She tapped his arm playfully. "We'll see how lucky you feel in a few months when we venture to Yellowstone, a mountain man and his entourage of a physician wife, five children, a nanny, a journalist and a Cheyenne medicine man."

He kissed her hand. "Wouldn't have it any other way. We just gotta remember t' stay away from the fire water."

THE END





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