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



First Impressions


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
First Impressions
by Debby K

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

Michaela and Sully strolled in the meadow near their homestead, watching Josef as he attempted to catch a bug. Having captured the creature, the little boy rushed to show his parents.

Sully identified, "It's a ladybug, Joe."

"How can ya tell it's a girl?" Josef held it closer.

Michaela clarified, "Coccinellidae is the species, Sweetheart. It's nicknamed lady beetle or ladybug."

"Why?" Josef was ever curious.

Michaela detailed, "I believe they got their name in Europe, during the Middle Ages. Insects were destroying the crops, so the Catholic farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. Soon the lady bugs came, ate the plant-destroying pests and saved the crops. The farmers began calling them 'The Beetles of Our Lady,' and they eventually became known as 'lady beetles.' The name doesn't differentiate between males and females."

Josef listened in awe, "I wish I knowed what you're talkin' 'bout, Mama."

Sully pointed out, "What your Ma means is there's boys an' girls, but they're both called lady bugs."

"Oh," Josef considered. "Why didn' ya say so?"

Michaela shook her head, "I suppose I prefer detail when simplicity is best."

Sully winked, "Sometimes detail is real good."

Josef released the insect and turned his attention elsewhere, "I can rrrun t' that twrree an' back."

"Sounds good," Sully encouraged. "Let's see, Joe."

The boy bolted away from them, but they kept a watchful eye on their son.

Michaela remarked, "He doesn't seem nervous about tomorrow."

Sully commented, "He don't show it, but he is."

Josef returned, out of breath.

Sully applauded, "That was the fastest I ever saw ya run."

The child's smile broadened, "Thanks."

Michaela sat down and patted her lap, "Won't you join me?"

Josef rushed to her and positioned himself on his mother's lap, "What we do next?"

"Well, as you know, yesterday was Katie's special day before starting to school," she paused. "And today is just for you. What would you like to do?"

He pondered, "Eat all the pokles I want?"

She rubbed his belly, "I'm surprised you haven't turned into a pokle, Josef Michael Sully."

"Uh-oh," his eyes widened.

"What's wrong, Joe?" Sully noticed.

"Mama called me all my names," he returned. "That means I did somethin' bad."

"No," she mused. "At least not that I know of. So.... have you thought of something.... besides eating pickles?"

"Hmm," he scratched his chin. "I think I like t' wrride a horse."

Sully tensed, "You're too young."

Michaela gently stroked her son's back, "How about going swimming? You love that."

He raised his eyebrows, "All of us?"

"Just the three of us," she nodded.

"What about the kids?" he tilted his head.

She explained, "It's your special day."

"I want the kids, too," he implored.

Sully grinned, "I'll go get 'em. Be back shortly."

Josef interjected, "Hope can't swim, Papa. Ya better jus' hold her."

Sully spoke, "Meet ya at the swimmin' hole."

With that, he headed for the house.

Michaela straightened her son's hair, "I should have had Mr. Slicker trim this before you begin school."

"I wanna look like Papa," Josef protested.

"You already look like your father," she smiled. "Besides, Mr. Slicker won't cut it all off."

He sighed in resignation.

"You're very thoughtful, Joseph," she kissed his temple.

"I am?" he was surprised.

She explained, "Yes, for wanting to include your brother and sisters today."

"It's more fun swimmin' with all the kids," he informed her.

"Nonetheless," she paused. "It was considerate of you."

They began to walk hand-in-hand toward the creek as Wolf followed.

Josef took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "Mama, will the teacher yell at me if I do somethin' bad?"

"Well," she considered. "How might you avoid that?"

He reasoned, "Not do anythin' bad?"

"Good answer," she noted.

He shook his head, "But you know me. Twrrouble finds me."

She cautioned, "If I were you, I'd simply think twice before acting, particularly where Wendell is concerned."

"Katie says Wendell gets yelled at a lot," he knew.

"Perhaps following your sister's example would be wise," she advised.

They reached the creek. Michaela helped her son undress and watched as he waded into the water.

"You comin' in?" he invited.

"I'll wait for the others," she answered.

Josef splashed the cool water, "Come on, Wolf."

The animal followed him into the stream. At that moment, Sully arrived with the children.

"Hey, Joey," Katie called. "Wait for me!"

Michaela helped her undress, then reached up to cradle Hope.

She smiled at her husband, "That was quick."

"Didn't take long when they found out we were swimmin'," he chuckled.

Next, Michaela prepared the twins to go in, cautioning, "Not too deep."

Sully assured, "The water's shallow here."

Giggles and screams of glee began to rise from the water and echo across the landscape. Michaela held Hope up so that the baby could watch her siblings. The little girl began to babble.

Sully leaned closer, "I think Hope said, 'Papa.'"

Michaela rolled her eyes, "I think she's cooing."

"No," he remained serious. "I heard 'Papa.'"

She kissed the top of the baby's soft dark hair, "I know you've been working on her."

"Could be," he grinned as he removed his shirt.

Next he took off his buckskins. Michaela felt her cheeks flush seeing him clad only in his drawstring cotton drawers. Soon Sully was frolicking in the creek with the children, lifting them and dipping them into the water.

"Come on in, Mama!" Josef invited.

"No, thank you," she called back.

Sully returned to her side, "Let me have Hope."

"Sully," she hesitated. "The water might be too cold for her."

"It's good for her," he stated.

Reluctantly, she handed the baby to her father. Sully kissed his daughter's cheek and removed her shift. Then he returned to the water. All of the children gathered around to watch Hope take her first dip in the creek. Michaela stepped closer to observe, as well.

At first, the baby's eyes widened when she felt the cool liquid on her feet. Then she began to kick her legs and smile.

"She likes it," Sully grinned. "Now, come on in, Michaela. Ya got no excuse t' stay out."

She sighed, "All right."

Michaela removed her outer clothing and tentatively stepped into the creek. Immediately, her children began to splash water on her. She gave up trying to keep her hair dry and turned the tables by splashing them back.

One by one, the children tired, with Josef being the last holdout. As if she instinctively knew, Bridget arrived with a large quilt and towels.

"How did you find us?" Michaela smiled.

"I just followed the noise," the nanny chuckled. "Do ya need anythin' else, darlin'?"

"No, thank you," Michaela spread the quilt on the ground. "I think we'll stay here with the children while they dry off."

"I'll start supper then," Bridget nodded.

Josef called to her, "Wanna swim, Miss Bwidget?"

She put her hands on her hips and frowned, "No, thank ya, lad. I might melt."

With that, she departed.

Josef stepped toward Michaela, who began to towel off the excess water from his shoulders.

"Mama," his brow wrinkled. "You think Miss Bwidget would melt?"

She had a gleam in her eye, "That's just an expression, Sweetheart."

"What's an expwession?" he was curious.

She explained, "It means.... that is.... she merely...."

Sully helped, "It means she don't wanna go in the water, Joe."

Michaela glanced at her husband with relief.

When his mother finally finished drying and arranging his hair, Josef looked down on the quilt.

"There's no wrroom for me," the little boy observed.

Katie slid closer to Annie and patted a space beside them, "Here, Joey."

"Thanks," he joined them and stretched out.

Michaela and Sully sat beside their children. She leaned back comfortably against his chest.

He kissed her wet shoulder, "This is one o' them moments."

"Moments?" she was uncertain.

He gestured toward the children, "One o' them moments when I wish time would stand still."

She relished the warmth of his breath on her skin, "I know what you mean."

He reached for a towel, "Want me t' dry ya off?"

She felt her body tingle, "I.... suppose that might be nice."

Reminded of a stolen moment between them on the cattle drive many years ago, Sully touched Michaela's back with the cloth, "You still have the most beautiful brown hair I ever saw."

"Thank you," she smiled.

He caressed the curve of her neck and whispered:

"Hither she comes; she comes to me; she lingers,
Deepens her brown eyebrows, while in new surprise
High rise the lashes in wonder of a stranger;
Yet am I the light and living of her eyes."

"Sully," she felt herself quiver as she spoke his name with love. "The children might hear."

He grinned at the effect his words had on her, "I'm only dryin' ya off."

"What if they...." she stopped herself.

He kissed the lobe of her ear, "What if they see their Pa kissin' their Ma?"

She noted with a gleam in her eye, "You're doing much more than that, Mr. Sully, and you know it. Was that Donne?"

"George Meredith," he identified the poet.

"Mama," Josef's voice broke the mood.

"Yes, Sweetheart," she turned her attention to him.

"What ya doin'?" he sat up.

"We...." Michaela was caught off guard. "That is.... your father and I were just...."

Sully answered, "I was just helpin' your Ma dry off, Joe."

The thought occurred to Michaela, "Is everything all right?"

"Yea," the child nodded. "'Cept Noah jus' twied t' bite my arm."

"Bite your arm?" Michaela was alarmed. "Let me see."

"He missed me," Josef noted.

"Sully," Michaela looked to her husband.

"I'll get him," Sully shifted his position and lifted their youngest son.

Michaela frowned at the child as his father held him close.

"Noah, were you trying to bite your brother?" she accused.

Noah's blue eyes looked toward the ground and he pointed, "Bug."

Sully lifted the little boy's chin, "Your Ma asked a question."

Noah hesitated.

"Biting someone is dangerous, Noah," Michaela explained. "And it's wrong. We don't want you to do it anymore. Do you understand?"

"Uh-huh," his lower lip curled under.

Michaela could never resist her son when he made that expression, "Come here."

Sully handed the child over to his mother's arms. A contrite Noah tilted his head against her shoulder.

She observed, "I think we have a tired little boy, Papa."

He added, "I think we have five tired kids. Let's head home."

"Sully," she touched his arm.

"Yea?" he turned.

She smiled flirtatiously, "Thank you for drying me."

He returned, "You're welcome."

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

Jake watched his wife as she prepared dinner. He took a deep breath and approached her, placing his hand on her shoulder.

"You wanted something, Mr. Slicker?" her tone was cool.

"Yea," he swallowed hard. "I wanted t' invite ya out t' dinner."

She did not look up, "I am already preparing dinner. Besides, I have much to do for the start of school tomorrow."

He stated, "It don't have t' be t'night. How about t'morrow night? I'll take ya t' the Chateau."

She lifted an eyebrow, "You want to take me out to dinner at the Chateau?"

"That's right," he nodded. "What do ya say?"

"I say...." she hesitated. "I accept your invitation."

"Good," he grinned in relief.

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

Hank strapped on his holster as he stood up from the kitchen table, "I gotta go now."

Lexie smiled, "Be careful."

"I'm only goin' t' the Saloon," he pointed out as he kissed her cheek.

"Hank," she beckoned. "I love you."

He became uncomfortable, "You, too."

With that, he left the house. Lexie removed the plates from the table, then looked out the window as Hank mounted his horse. She watched his form fade in the distance.

Rubbing her abdomen, Lexie determined to see Dr. Mike this week. Although she felt well enough, her size was beginning to concern her. For being only a little more than four months pregnant, she seemed quite large.

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

Bridget greeted the Sully family when they arrived home, "How was the swimmin'?"

Michaela smiled, "More splashing than swimming."

"Supper will be another hour or so," the nanny informed them.

"Perhaps we shouldn't let them nap," Michaela assessed.

Sully agreed, "They wouldn't sleep t'night then. I'll go check on the animals. The sky looks kinda strange."

"Rain?" Michaela assumed.

He headed for the door, "More like snow."

"Snow?" Michaela and Bridget spoke in unison.

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

Sully finished his chores in the barn and stood near the door looking at the horizon. As he watched dusk approach, he felt a chill in the air. He returned to the barn to pitch added hay for the animals. Suddenly, he sensed another presence.

"Poppy," Katie beckoned. "Miss Bridget says supper's ready."

"Thanks, Kates," he set aside the pitchfork. "You hungry?"

"Not really," she offered her hand.

Sully clasped it and led her toward the house, "Somethin' on your mind?"

The little girl confessed, "I'm kinda nervous about tomorrow."

"Why?" he paused. "You love school."

"I don't know," she shrugged. "Just a feelin'."

He grinned, "You feelin' pressure t' keep an eye on your brother?"

She chuckled, "No. I.... I'm gonna miss you an' Mama."

"We'll be there if ya need us, just like always, sweet girl," he assured.

"I know," she smiled. "But I'll still miss you."

Sully knelt down, "Think about all you'll be learnin' this year. An' every day, you can come home an' tell your Ma an' me."

"Do you know how t' multiply?" she asked.

"Yea," he replied.

"I don't know if I can learn all of the tables," she voiced her concern.

He smiled, "Ya just take it one step at a time. Don't get ahead o' yourself."

"All right," she swallowed hard.

"Think you can eat now?" he winked.

"Uh-huh," she nodded.

When they entered the house, the rest of the family had assembled at the table.

"Where's Bran?" Josef questioned.

"In town," Michaela noted. "He informed me this morning that he'd be home late."

Josef sighed.

"Is there something we could help you with, Sweetheart?" Michaela offered.

"No," he declined. "This is jus' for Bran an' me."

Michaela raised an eyebrow curiously.

"Man stuff, Mama," Josef added.

Michaela said grace. Then the adults began helping the children with their portions of food.

Sully lifted Hope from Michaela's lap, "How about I feed this little girl while you eat?"

Michaela mused, "Just another excuse to hold her?"

Josef looked on, "I'll miss Hope."

Michaela touched his hand, "You'll see her everyday before and after school."

"I gotta work now, Mama," he stated.

She countered, "Not every waking moment, Josef. When Katie was in first grade, she finished her work in school."

The little boy voiced his concern, "It takes me longer."

Sully chimed in, "Everyone learns at different paces, Joe. The main thing is learnin', not how long it takes ya."

The child leaned his elbows on the table, "I don' know if I can learn at all."

Michaela assured, "You already know the alphabet, your numbers and can even read some words. In addition, you can spell and write your name. That's more than most children your age."

Sully assessed, "Are ya worried ya won't be able t' learn, Joe?"

"I guess," he confessed.

Bridget spoke up, "Saints preserve us. Josef, ya learn quick as a blink. Ya got a good head on your shoulders, lad. Why don't ya just relax and have fun with school?"

His eyes widened, "Have fun? I'll get in twrrouble for sure."

Sully chuckled, "She don't mean that kinda fun. She means ya gotta look at school as an adventure, like goin' fishin'."

"Fish!" Noah burst forth.

"Not now, my darling," Michaela calmed the toddler.

Sully stood up and handed the baby to Michaela, "Come with me, Joe."

"Where?" Josef paused.

"Just come with me," Sully extended his hand.

"Sully," Michaela was puzzled. "What about dinner?"

"We'll be right back," he said.

Josef followed his father out the door and down to the wood pile.

Sully lifted several logs, "How many have I got here?"

With his index finger, Josef counted, "Five."

"Good," Sully nodded. "Now, pick up two more, an' lets take 'em inside."

"You gonna start a fire?" the little boy obeyed.

"I wanna have enough for the night," Sully explained. "Temperature's droppin'."

"Good thinkin'," Josef agreed.

Sully paused, "How many logs we got combined, Joe?"

"Seven," he did not hesitate. "Five for you, two for me."

Sully knelt down to look at him, "Ya know what ya just did?"

"Pick up logs?" Josef answered.

"Besides that," Sully grinned. "What ya just did is called addition, Joe."

He tilted his head, "It is?"

"Yep," Sully nodded. "How'd ya figure it out?"

"I counted," he replied.

Sully pledged, "You're gonna do real good in school. Just believe in yourself, like your Ma an' me believe in you."

The little boy's eyes widened, "You believe in me?"

Sully's brow wrinkled, "Don't ya know that, Josef?"

He shrugged, "I know ya love me."

Sully set the logs on the ground. Then he lifted the wood from Josef and set them on the stack.

He drew his son into his arms and firmly embraced him, "I love ya, AND I believe in you. You can do anythin' ya set your mind to."

Josef felt as if a weight had been lifted, "Does Mama think that, too?"

"Go fetch her," Sully gestured.

The little boy bolted up the steps and into the house. Within a minute, Michaela joined them.

"Josef said you needed me," she rushed to her husband. "Is something wrong?"

"No," he led her to the steps and sat. "Come here, Joe." Sully embraced their son, "I was just tellin' him that we love him an' believe in him."

"Of course we do," she smiled.

Josef reached for his mother, "I wanna make ya proud like Katie does."

"Oh, Sweetheart," she cupped her hand to the back of his head. "I am very proud of you. You know that."

Sully interjected, "I reckon we oughta remind him."

Michaela felt a pang of guilt, "I'm sorry you didn't know that, Josef. But, never, ever doubt that we're very proud of you."

He leaned against her shoulder.

Michaela kissed his temple, "You're going to have a wonderful day tomorrow, full of many adventures. Soon you'll forget that you were ever nervous about it."

Sully rubbed his back, "Let's go eat now."

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

Andrew knocked on Colleen's office door at the hospital.

"Come in," she looked up from her paperwork.

"I saw the light under your door," he stepped into the room.

"I'm trying to finish these patient files for Ma," she explained. "She's coming back to work tomorrow."

He offered, "Anything I can do to help?"

She glanced at the stack of folders, "I'm afraid not. These were patients I treated."

He folded his arms tightly against his chest, "Colleen.... I.... I've been thinking about my usefulness here."

"You've been very useful," she commended. "I know Ma appreciates it."

"With your mother's return, I won't be needed as much," Andrew mentioned. "I was thinking about going back to Boston."

She responded, "The clinic there is running well, according to my last letter from Aunt Rebecca."

He sighed, "To tell you the truth, with things as they are between us, I don't think I should stay in Colorado Springs any longer. I promised your mother I would help with the hospital while she cared for the baby, but things are well in hand now. She won't need me.... You don't need me either."

Colleen searched his eyes, "Andrew, you know how fond I am of you."

"Fond," he smiled uncomfortably. "We were married. All I merit is fond?"

"All right," she admitted. "There is a part of me that will always love you."

He knew, "But it's not enough. Is it?"

She was silent.

"What about Lewis?" his jaw tensed. "What are your intentions toward him?"

"Lewis and I are childhood friends," she explained. "He's a perfect gentleman."

His brow wrinkled, "And I'm not?"

"I didn't say that," she defended. "I mean that his intentions are strictly honorable."

He sighed in frustration, "I'll leave you to your paperwork."

"Andrew...." she called as he exited the office.

Colleen stood and walked to the window. She watched Andrew mount his horse and depart. Wiping a tear from her cheek, she returned to the desk. Soon, she finished the last patient file. Then she sensed someone at the door.

"Colleen?" it was Lewis. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she fibbed.

He stepped closer, "Would you like to go to dinner with me?"

"No, thank you, Lewis," she forced a smile. "I'm trying to get things ready for Ma's return tomorrow."

"I see," he nodded. "Well, if you need to talk, you know where I'll be."

"Thanks," she acknowledged.

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

Brian stepped into Josef's bedroom, "Hey there. Sorry I missed supper."

"Bran," the little boy sat up.

"Ma said ya wanted to talk, man to man," he smiled.

"Yep," Josef toyed with the edge of his blanket. "I wanna talk 'bout Mrs. Slicker."

"What about her?" Brian waited.

"Is she mean?" Josef queried.

"No," he assured. "But she's strict. She'll tell you what she expects, and that's what you have to do."

"What if ya don' do it?" Josef tilted his head.

Brian explained, "Then she'll tell you again. But the second time, she'll look real serious."

"Like Mama when I do somethin' bad?" he was curious.

"Yea," Brian smiled. "I know you're nervous about tomorrow, Josef. But school is a good place. Just remember that you can't get up and walk around when you want."

"Can I go t' the pwivy?" his eyes widened.

"Sure, you can," he chuckled. "You just have to ask Mrs. Slicker first."

"Oh," he sighed. "Can I eat when I want?"

"There's a special time for lunch," Brian explained. "That's when all the kids eat. Ma or Miss Bridget will fix a lunch to take with you for that."

"I hope Miss Bwidget will fix it," the little boy pondered. "Can I eat a pokle?"

Brian grinned, "Yep. Any other questions?"

Josef sighed, "I reck'n there's no time t' play."

He replied, "Sure there is. That's called recess. A couple times a day, the kids can go outside. There's swings, and a seesaw...."

Josef considered, "This sounds better an' better."

Brian chuckled, "Mrs. Slicker likes it when you ask questions, too."

"I got lots o' questions," the child nodded.

"Good," Brian patted his hand. "Now, it's time for you t' get some rest, so you can learn lots of new things. Okay?"

"'Kay," Josef slid down in his bed. "Would you ask Mama t' come in here?"

"Sure," Brian leaned forward to kiss his forehead. "Good night."

Within moments, Michaela entered the bedroom.

She anticipated, "Are you all right, Sweetheart?"

"Don' wowwy, Mama," Josef assured.

She smiled, "I take it you had a good talk with Brian?"

"Wrreal good," he smiled. "But I want ya t' do somethin' for me."

Michaela anticipated, "Anything, my darling."

Josef requested, "Let Miss Bwidget fix my lunch."

She laughed, "Agreed."

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

The homestead was finally quiet. Sully and the children slept, but Michaela could not. Her mind raced, anticipating what lay ahead. Not only was Josef starting to school, but she would be returning to work.

Silently rising from the bed, she went to Hope's cradle and softly stroked the baby's fine hair. Suddenly, she felt a terrible sense of guilt. Though she planned to take the baby with her to the hospital, she knew that the special times they often shared would be fewer. And Josef. It seemed like only yesterday that he was sleeping in this very cradle, lovingly handcrafted by Sully. How could her son think she wasn't proud of him? Had she said or done something? Had she not done enough?

Michaela approached the fireplace and sat in the rocking chair. Tears began to stream down her cheeks. Sully had said it earlier in the day. She wished that time could stand still.... that the children wouldn't grow up.... that she didn't have to leave them....

"Michaela?" it was Sully's voice. "You okay?"

"Fine," she quickly wiped the moisture from beneath her eyes. "Go back to sleep."

He rose from the bed and neared her.

Kneeling before her, he looked up into the eyes he adored, "Tell me what's wrong."

She placed her hands on his shoulders, "Nothing, Sully...."

Suddenly, her tears began to flow freely.

"Hey," he raised up to enfold her in his arms.

He gently stroked her back until the tears began to ebb. Then he cupped his hand to her cheek.

He sensed, "You feelin' bad 'cause of all the changes?"

She nodded in the affirmative, "I guess I'm not as certain of things as I pretend."

He smiled slightly, "You're sure. But, it's just sinkin' in a little more t'night that our Katie an' Josef will be at school, an' you won't be home as much."

"Do you mind?" she felt uncertain.

"Mind?" he was puzzled.

"That I'll be spending time at the hospital?" she clarified.

"'Course not, Michaela," he assured. "You're a doctor. It's where ya need t' be."

She sighed, "I need to be here, too."

He grinned, "You will be."

She felt a lump in her throat, "When I was in medical school and first began to practice medicine with Father, I could never understand why Mother and my sisters thought I was foolish. They chided me for not wanting a home and family."

He caressed her arm as she spoke, "They're proud o' you, Michaela."

"What they didn't realize was that I did want a home and family," she revealed. "I wanted it all, a family and a career."

"An' that's what you have," he reminded.

She lovingly touched his cheek, "Thanks to you, Sully. I don't know what I'd do without you and the children. None of my work means anything without you."

Sully sat on the rug, and drew her down into his arms, "I think you're havin' one of them spells you get after havin' a baby. You know ya get real emotional an' fret."

Enfolded in her husband's arms, Michaela felt herself begin to relax. Sully sensed it.

"Better?" he kissed her temple.

"Somewhat," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Now," he knew her penchant for organization. "Here's what we'll do t'morrow. We'll take Katie and Josef t' school. Then, I'll drop you an' Hope off at the hospital."

"What about you?" she wondered.

"I got things t' do," he grinned impishly.

"What?" she tapped his side.

"I got a meetin' with someone about your opera house," he smiled.

She leaned her head against his, "Thank you, Sully."

"Think you can get some sleep now?" he invited. "We got a busy day."

"I believe so," she nodded.

He leaned forward to sweetly kiss her, "I love you."

"I love you, too," she ran her fingers through his hair. "More and more with each day. Thank you for understanding me."

"Who said I understand ya?" he teased.

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

The next morning, Michaela and Bridget fed and dressed the children, while Sully and Brian finished readying the horses and surrey. The temperature had dropped at least fifty degrees over night. Both men reentered the house to warm up.

Sully cautioned, "Better bundle the kids up. It's real cold out."

Michaela considered, "Perhaps I should leave Hope at home."

"It's okay t' take her," Sully affirmed. "Just wrap her good."

When the parents were ready to depart, a sudden realization hit.

"Josef?" Michaela called. "Where are you?"

"Joe!" Sully beckoned.

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

Beneath his mother's desk, Josef felt safe and protected. He wiped the tears that had been trickling down his cheeks.

"Gwanpa, it's me," he whispered.

Josef Quinn's voice came to him, "What's the matter?"

"I gotta go t' school," he kept his voice low.

"Your mother loved school," he proclaimed. "She did very well, you know, particularly in reading. Miss Finch was her favorite teacher."

He mentioned, "Katie likes wrreadin', too."

"Katherine takes after her mother in that regard," the grandfather noted.

The little boy tilted his head curiously, "Who I take after?"

"That's up to you," he informed him.

"How?" Josef persisted.

The grandfather counseled, "Do you want to take after your mother?"

"I'm not sure," Josef pondered. "I don' know what it means."

"It means to follow in one's footsteps," he explained.

"I don' got big 'nough feet," the child interpreted.

There came a soft chuckle, "What I'm trying to say is that you can be like whomever you want. You can be inquisitive and studious like your mother if you put your mind to it."

Josef wondered, "Can I be like Papa, too?"

"Your father?" the voice paused. "Of course you can. Your mother had the best of Elizabeth and of me. Michaela had her mother's determination and stick-to-itiveness. She acquired my love of science and medicine. The best of both of us. Do you understand?"

"I can have best of Mama an' Papa," Josef nodded.

"That's exactly right," he assured. "Simply go out there and absorb as much as you can. Be a good student. Learn from books, as your mother did. Learn from life, as your father."

"Hmm," Josef rubbed his chin. "Thanks, Gwanpa."

"You're welcome," the voice trailed off.

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

Michaela said to her husband, "I'll check my office."

When she stepped into the room, she saw her son's boots sticking out from beneath the desk.

"Josef," she sat in her chair. "We're ready to leave."

His voice came from beneath the desk, "I was jus' talkin' t' Gran'pa."

"Oh?" she raised an eyebrow.

"He says I be a good student like you," the little boy scooted out and stood up.

She straightened his tie, "You'll do your very best, and know that we're very proud of you."

He stated, "I learn from books like you, an' I learn from life like Papa."

Michaela eyed him curiously, "Uh... yes, that's the idea."

"I hope Mrs. Slicker's a good teacher like Miss Finch," he informed her.

Her eyes widened, "How did you know about Miss Finch?"

"Gran'pa told me," he extended his hand to her. "Let's go."

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

Hank paced at the Depot.

Approaching Horace, he snapped, "Where the hell's the train?"

"Watch your language," the telegrapher cautioned. "It's runnin' late."

"I can see that," Hank sighed.

At that moment, the train whistle was heard.

"'Bout time," Hank bounded down the steps toward the track.

As the locomotive lumbered to a stop, Hank anticipated the arrival of his new girl. She was the first one off the train.

His eyes widened as he extended his hand to help her down the steps. Unlike the young prostitute he had employed earlier, this one was definitely a woman.... a beautiful Oriental woman. Her dark hair and eyes were in stark contrast to her ivory skin. She noticed his gawking at her.

"You are Hank?" she assumed.

"Good," he was pleased. "You speak English. I asked for a woman who did."

"Yes," she had no accent. "I was born in San Francisco."

"I'll get your bag," Hank gestured.

"It's a trunk," she clarified.

"What's your name?" he inquired.

"May," she eyed him flirtatiously.

Hank chuckled, "That your real name?"

She smiled, "You could not pronounce my real name."

"Okay, May," he lifted the trunk she pointed to. "I'll take ya t' the Gold Nugget."

"I will require my own room," she specified.

"But...." he began to protest.

She interrupted, "I can assure you, it will not be empty."

"You sound pretty confident of your talents," he grinned.

"I am," she affirmed.

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

Josef clutched his mother's hand tightly as they entered the schoolhouse. Katie quickly greeted Samantha, who informed her that they would both have Mrs. Slicker this year.

Wendell approached the Sullys, "Josef can sit with me, Dr. Mike."

"Uh," she hedged. "Thank you, Wendell. That's very thoughtful of you, but I believe Mrs. Slicker will assign his seat."

Katie brought several classmates to meet her brother and to show them how much Hope had grown over the summer.

Michaela could feel her son's grip begin to relax as more children gathered.

Sully's eyes met hers, and she smiled.

"He'll be fine," he whispered.

Teresa Slicker came to them, "Good morning, Josef. Welcome."

"Thanks," he acknowledged.

"If you come with me, I shall show you to your seat," she offered.

Michaela knelt down and took her son's shoulders, "Papa and I will be back at three o'clock to take you home. All right?"

He swallowed hard, fighting his tears, "'Kay."

Cradling Hope in one arm, Sully patted his son's back, "See ya later, Joe."

"'Bye, Papa," the little boy struggled to remain calm.

As other parents began to depart, Sully and Michaela kissed their children and stepped outside.

Josef watched them until Teresa closed the door.

The teacher cleared her throat, then spoke, "All right, class. Take your seats."

Quickly the children assumed their proper positions. Josef was seated beside another little boy, whom he did not know.

"I'm Josef Sully," he introduced himself.

"I'm Matthew Tanner," the other child replied.

"I got a bwother named Matthew," Josef smiled.

"Children," Teresa spoke to the class to settle them. "It is time to be quiet."

Josef took a deep breath and steeled himself to face the unknown.

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

Michaela paused at the edge of the meadow, "Sully...."

"He's fine," Sully anticipated.

She felt her heart ache, "Did you see his eyes, his expression?"

"I saw," he admitted.

He helped her into the surrey.

"Here," he handed Hope to her. "Don't worry. He'll do okay."

"Perhaps I could stop by during lunch, just to check," she offered.

He grinned, "If it would make ya feel better."

With a click of the reins, he directed the carriage toward the hospital.

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

At the Gold Nugget, Hank looked up from wiping off a glass. At that moment, Andrew entered the bar.

"Kinda early for you, ain't it, Doc?" Hank joked.

"Michaela's returning to work today," he explained. "I'm not needed anymore."

Hank nodded, "I don't blame ya for wantin' out then."

Andrew sighed and gestured toward a bottle, "I'd like a drink."

Hank poured and set it before the young doctor, "You want the whole bottle?"

"Yes," Andrew's jaw tensed.

Hank sensed, "Maybe you could use some companionship, too. Someone t' make ya feel special."

Andrew frowned, "I used to have that. I used to have everything."

"Cheer up, doc," Hank advised. "I know just the woman."

Andrew became nervous, "Not one of your girls."

"Why not?" he raised an eyebrow. "You're single again."

Andrew resisted, "I.... I don't think so."

"Suit yourself," Hank shrugged. "But if ya change your mind, her name's May. She's real special."

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

When Michaela entered the hospital, she was greeted by Colleen, Lewis, Drs. Bernard and Cassidy, Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Mary Martha. Fresh flowers adorned her office and a crib had been set up in the room next to it for Hope. Sully set the baby in the crib and stroked her hair, while Michaela caught up on patients.

Finally, Sully approached his wife, "I gotta go now. Hope's asleep."

Michaela drew him aside, "Sully.... I don't know how to thank you for everything."

He grinned impishly, "You always think of ways. Now, Dr. Quinn, you got a waitin' room full of patients. I'll be back t' get ya at quarter 'til three. Then we'll get Katie an' Josef."

She lifted up to kiss him softly, "I will think of a way to thank you. Good luck with your meeting."

He smiled, then departed.

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

Josef's attention wandered to what was happening outside of his school room.

Suddenly, Teresa's voice interrupted his reverie, "Josef, do you know the answer to my question?"

"Uh...." his eyes widened. "I was lookin' outside. Could ya ask again?"

The teacher's brow wrinkled, "Why were you looking outside?"

"Oh, I can answer that," he smiled. "I was watchin' a bird."

"No," Teresa frowned. "That was not my question."

Josef struggled to understand, "But...."

Teresa interrupted, "Students, it is time for your recess. Be sure to put on your coats and hats."

Josef began to rise from the desk.

Teresa stopped him, "Not you, Josef Sully."

The little boy looked at her curiously.

"You are not going out for recess," her tone was stern. "You were daydreaming instead of paying attention."

"Sowwy," he lowered his eyes.

Katie approached, "Mrs. Slicker, could I talk t' my brother for a minute?"

Teresa sat at her desk, "That might be a good idea."

Katie positioned herself beside him and put her hand on his shoulder, "Joey, ya gotta listen t' Mrs. Slicker all the time when she's speakin' t' the class."

"All the time?" he was amazed. "But the bird...."

Katie smiled, "Try real hard t' pay attention. Okay?"

"Kay," his shoulders slumped.

At that moment, Sully entered the school, his arms cradling several logs.

"I brought ya some wood, Miss Teresa," he stated.

"Papa!" Josef rushed to his father. "I can't go outside for wrrecess."

"Why not, Joe?" Sully questioned.

"I didn' pay the teacher," he answered.

Katie amended, "He didn't pay attention, Poppy. He was lookin' out the window."

Sully assured, "I reckon it's hard t' get used t' sittin' at a desk instead o' bein' outside, huh, Joe?"

"Uh-huh," he nodded.

"Well, that's the first thing ya learned in school, then," Sully informed him. "There's things t' watch when you're inside here, an' there's things t' watch when you're outside. Understand?"

"Yep," Josef returned. "Thanks, Papa."

"You're welcome, big boy," he smiled. "I'll see ya later."

"Thank you for the wood, Mr. Sully," Teresa offered.

He nodded, then escorted Katie outside.

Pleased at his father's visit, Josef felt more relaxed. He could hear the sounds of other children playing outside.

He glanced at his teacher, then stepped to her desk, "Mrs. Slicker."

She looked up, "Yes?"

"I gotta go t' the pwivy," he requested.

"Privy," she corrected his pronunciation.

"Prrivy," he attempted.

Teresa explained, "Then you must say, 'May I go to the privy?'"

Josef's brow creased, "I did say it."

Teresa took offense, "No, you may not go to the privy."

Josef swallowed hard, then returned to his desk. He positioned himself on the bench, frustrated that his feet did not touch the floor. Leaning his elbows on the desk, he began to look around the room. He noticed some photographs. He thought they might be important people. Crossing his legs, he hoped the need to use the privy would stop. But it became worse.

"Mrs. Slicker," his voice was urgent. "Could I use...."

"I said you may not," she interrupted.

Josef sighed, then felt a trickle down his leg. He gazed down to see a puddle forming on the floor. Embarrassment overcame the child. Without another word, he rushed out of the school.

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

Grace approached the table where Sully sat, "Well, hello there. Big day, ain't it?"

"Sure is," Sully smiled. "Josef started school, an' Michaela went back t' work."

She put her hand on her hip, "So, are you feelin' sorry for yourself an' thought you'd treat yourself t' some o' my pecan pie?"

He raised an eyebrow, "That sounds temptin', but I'll wait. I'm meetin' an architect named Blake about buildin' an opera house."

Her eyes widened, "An opera house? Here in Colorado Springs?"

"Yep," Sully's grin widened.

"I wonder...." she paused.

"About what?" he was curious.

Grace sat beside him, "Seems t' me if there's gonna be an opera house, folks will need a fancy restaurant nearby where they can dine in a refined atmosphere."

Sully perceived, "Know anyone who might wanna put a restaurant beside it?"

She teased, "No, d' you?"

He offered, "Maybe you could sit in on the meetin'."

Before she could reply, Teresa Slicker arrived at the Cafe.

"Mr. Sully," she was out of breath. "I am glad I found you."

He jumped to his feet, "What's wrong?"

"Josef has run off," she informed him. "He ran out the back door toward the woods...."

Before she could say another word, Sully took off, Wolf at his side.

Grace shouted after him, "I'll tell the opera man you'll contact him later."

"Thanks," Sully called over his shoulder.

Teresa looked at Grace, "That child lacks the self discipline for school."

Grace frowned, "He's a child, not a soldier."

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

Sully reached the playground, "Katie, come here."

"Oh, Poppy," she rushed to him. "Mrs. Slicker said Joey ran off!"

"I know," he knelt down. "Did any o' you kids see where he went?"

Katie answered, "Mrs. Slicker said he went out the door by the woods. He was too fast for her to catch."

Sully embraced his daughter, "You stay here, honey. I'll find him."

Sully entered the school and found Josef's coat. Offering it for Wolf to pick up the scent, he followed as the animal took off to find the little boy.

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

Sully heard Wolf barking, followed by the soft sounds of a child crying.

"Josef!" he called.

The crying stopped.

"It's Papa," Sully called again. "I.... I brought your coat."

The little boy stood up, "Over here, Papa."

When Sully reached him, Josef was embracing Wolf. Lifting his son into his arms, Sully kissed him then set him down to put on his coat.

"Papa," Josef wiped his tears. "I had ac'dent."

"Are ya hurt?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"No," Josef pointed to his damp pants. "Mrs. Slicker say I couldn't use pw...prrivy."

"She wouldn't let ya?" Sully was surprised.

"I twied not t' go," the child began to cry again.

"Come here, Joe," Sully embraced him. "It's okay."

"I do ev'thin' wwong," Josef leaned his head against his father's shoulder.

"You didn't do anythin' wrong," Sully assured. "Like ya said. It was an accident."

"I don' wanna go back, Papa," he implored. "Please, don' make me."

"Shhh," Sully comforted. "You don't have to. We'll go tell Katie an' Mrs. Slicker you're okay, then I'll take ya home."

"I'm sowwy, Papa," his voice quivered. "Mama will be dis'pointed."

"No, she won't, Joe," Sully lifted him up.

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

Michaela had experienced a busy morning, but the ailments of her patients were minor. She was able to check on Hope frequently, and the baby had already gained the attention of the doting nuns.

Then the calm of the day was shattered when young Charlie Alden, a teenager who, without the knowledge of his father, had decided to explore the use of dynamite. Charlie had a broken leg and arm and had tiny pieces of rock embedded in his face and chest.

Dr. Cassidy was first to see the lad. He sadly announced to the mother that Charlie's leg would have to be amputated.

Michaela heard the screams of Charlie's mother Edna and swiftly entered the room. She examined the boy and pronounced that she thought she could save the leg.

After asking Edna to leave the room, Cassidy turned to Michaela, "How dare you give that woman false hope!"

"How dare you not notice that with proper cleaning, there is every chance the leg can be saved," she went to work.

Cassidy left in a huff, muttering under his breath about women doctors. Soon, Colleen joined her mother, and the two began to meticulously clean and stitch Charlie's wounds.

In the waiting room, Edna Alden paced.

Finally, Michaela entered the room, wiping her hands on a towel, "Please, sit down, Edna."

"Dr. Mike?" her voice was frantic. "Is he all right? Did you save his leg?"

"I believe so," she replied. "It's very important that we prevent infection. I'd like to keep Charlie here for a few days to keep an eye on him."

"We can't pay ya much, Dr. Mike," Edna glanced down.

Michaela took her hand, "We won't think about that now. Let's concentrate on Charlie."

The concerned mother sighed, "That boy! I thought he was at school 'til I heard the explosion from the barn. His Pa had been usin' dynamite t' clear away tree stumps. See what he gets for playin' hooky."

Michaela smiled, "My son started to school today. I hope...."

"Dr. Quinn," Sister Mary Margaret approached her. "Mr. Sully is here to see you in your office."

Michaela looked up, "Thank you, Sister. Edna, Colleen will let you know when you can see Charlie."

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," she shook Michaela's hand.

When she entered her office, Michaela smiled, "Checking up on me, Mr. Sully, or were you missing your baby daughter?"

"Both," he kissed her.

Michaela's cheeks blushed as stepped back, "Hope's in the next room. I'll take you to her"

They walked into the adjoining room. Sully lifted the wide-eyed baby and kissed her cheek.

"This is a nice surprise," Michaela stroked Hope's back. "Is your meeting over?"

Sully swayed with the baby in his arms, "Michaela, there's another reason I came."

"What?" she was curious.

"It's Josef," he stated. "I took him home from school."

"Why?" she was puzzled.

Sully explained, "Seems he was havin' a real bad time. He had t' stay in for recess 'cause he was daydreamin'. While the other kids were outside, he asked Teresa if he could use the privy. She wouldn't let him, an' he had an accident."

"An accident?" she was uncertain.

Sully revealed, "He wet in his pants."

"Oh, no," she sighed. "The poor darling must be terribly embarrassed."

"He is," Sully agreed. "It made him bolt out o' school an' int' the woods."

"What?" Michaela's eyes widened.

"Teresa got me, an' Wolf found him right away," Sully calmed her. "I took him home."

"I'm going home then," she started toward her office.

Sully touched her arm, "Michaela.... Josef thinks you're gonna be disappointed in him."

"Then he needs to know that I'm not," she felt tears welling in her eyes. "Colleen and the others can handle things here. There is one place I'd like for us to stop before we go home, however."

"Where?" Sully paused.

"The school," she asserted.

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

Josef sat at the kitchen table watching Bridget stirring batter, "You makin' cookies?"

"Aye," she glanced at him. "Would ya like t' help?"

"No, thanks," he leaned his elbows on the table top.

Bridget stopped and sat beside him, "Wanna talk about what's botherin' ya, lad?"

His shoulders slumped, "I let Mama an' Papa down, Miss Bwidget."

She placed her hand lightly on his back, "Would ya believe me if I told ya the truth?"

"Sure," he nodded.

"You didn't let them down, darlin'," her voice was calming. "Don't ya know how much your folks think of ya?"

"They do?" he tilted his head.

Bridget rose from the table to fetch him a pickle, "Ya know they love ya, don't ya?"

He smiled when she handed him his favorite food, "Uh-huh."

"I never did see two parents more lovin' t' their children, or t' each other for that matter," she positioned herself beside him again. "They'd do anythin' for ya, darlin'. An' they think the world of ya."

He pondered, "What should I do, Miss Bwidget?"

"About what, lad?" she asked.

"Mama an' Papa want me t' twrry school for a week," he considered. "But I don' wanna go back. Papa say I don't gotta."

"Well, your Pa's a man of his word," the nanny noted.

"What's that mean?" he wondered.

"It means when he says he'll do somethin', he does it, even if he don't like it," she described. "He keeps his promises."

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

"Dr. Quinn," Teresa noted the doctor's arrival at the school. "I am in the middle of a lesson."

"This won't take long," Michaela's voice was controlled. "May I speak with you outside?"

The teacher gave the class an assignment and stepped outside, "I assume this is about Josef. I believe that your son should...."

Michaela interrupted, "No child should be denied the opportunity to use the privy, Mrs. Slicker. My son was highly embarrassed by what happened today."

Teresa defended, "If I let every child go to the privy who asked, I would get very little accomplished. Besides, it is my opinion that Josef lacks the self-discipline and maturity required to be in school. His.... accident bears that out. He is much too young."

Michaela could no longer control her temper, "After what he went through today, I am not certain that he will ever want to come back to school again, regardless of his age."

"Perhaps you have coddled him too much," Teresa suggested.

Before Michaela could say another word, Sully stepped forward and eyed the teacher sternly, "Come on, Michaela. Let's go home."

"I wasn't finished," Michaela protested.

Sully frowned, "You're wastin' your breath. This ain't accomplishin' anythin'."

Reluctantly, Michaela held her counsel.

Teresa watched as they departed. Then shaking her head, she reentered the school.

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

Michaela entered the homestead holding Hope. Bridget met her at the door and took the baby from her.

"Where is Josef?" Michaela removed her hat and coat.

"In your office," the nanny gestured. "The twins are with him."

Michaela went to the door of her office and observed for a moment.

Josef was pointing to various books on her shelves and telling the little ones what they were. Michaela was amazed at her son's capacity to recall not only their titles, but what they were about. It was as if he had absorbed everything she had ever told him.

The little boy cautioned his siblings, "Now, ya better not do anythin' t' Mama's books. She says books are special. They open new worlds t' us."

"That's true," Michaela's voice surprised him.

"Mama!" the twins rushed to her.

She knelt down to embrace them, "I think Miss Bridget might have something for you."

"What?" Annie wondered.

"A cookie," she smiled. "But only one cookie each."

The toddlers exited just as Sully arrived in the office.

"I guess ya know what happen," Josef did not look at his mother.

"Yes," she placed her hand on his shoulder.

Josef sighed, "Sowwy, Mama."

"You don't need to apologize for anything, Sweetheart," she assured.

Josef burst into tears. Sitting on her chair, Michaela drew him into her embrace. Then, she lifted him onto her lap and kissed his cheek.

When the little boy looked at her with his father's eyes, she melted.

Michaela framed his face in her hands and wiped his tears with her thumbs, "I'm the one who should apologize. I wanted you to try this before you were ready."

Sully went to them, "Sometimes when we start things off on the wrong foot, we think it'll never get any better."

"I start on wrrong foot?" Josef was puzzled.

Michaela clarified, "Your father means things did not begin as you hoped they would."

"That's twrrue," Josef agreed. "What should I do now?"

"Papa says you don't want to go back," Michaela noted. "And you don't have to, Josef."

The little boy posed the question, "Ya think it gets better?"

Sully grinned, "You remember me tellin' ya about the first time I saw your Ma?"

Josef smiled, "In the mud?"

"Right," Sully touched his nose. "Now, what d' ya think would have happened if, after seein' that, I'd have thought, 'who'd wanna get t' know a clumsy woman like that?'"

"I wasn't clumsy," Michaela protested. "I was.... distracted."

Sully continued, "An' what d' ya think would have happened after the first time your Ma saw me throwin' my tomahawk int' Mr. Bray's bulletin board, if she would've said, 'who'd wanna get t' know a man who does somethin' like that?'"

Josef answered, "I guess ya wouldn't get married."

"Then we wouldn't have you," Michaela hugged him. "Oh, Josef, we could not imagine our lives without you."

Sully advised, "So, sometimes first impressions ain't always how things end up bein', Joe."

The little boy perceived, "School's not how I thinked it is?"

Sully offered, "Could be."

"I think Mrs. Slicker's mean," Josef frowned.

Sully queried, "Or is that your first impression?"

Michaela noted, "You know Mrs. Slicker as Maria's mother, too. Do you think she's mean with her?"

Josef did not address her question, but cited, "Mrs. Slicker don' like me."

Michaela knew that Teresa had always come across that way toward her, as well.

She counseled, "The most important thing is that you know we are not disappointed in you, Josef."

The little boy spoke, "How 'bout I have a cookie?"

Michaela smiled, "I think that's a wonderful idea."

Josef paused to look at his mother, "I love your smile, Mama."

"Thank you," she kissed him. "Papa and I love you very much. Now, go ask Miss Bridget for your cookie."

"Thanks," he slid from her lap and raced toward the kitchen.

Sully took a deep breath and sighed in relief, "Seems like he's okay now."

Michaela felt a lump in her throat, "Oh, Sully. How could I have pressured him into going to school when clearly, he wasn't ready?"

He assured, "You didn't pressure him. We let him make up his own mind. An' I ain't so sure he's not ready."

"But after his embarrassment...." she rose from the chair.

He reminded, "We all do things that embarrass us sometimes. Remember when you...."

She touched his lips with her fingertips, "I'd rather not be reminded."

Sully kissed her fingers, then the palm of her hand, "Want me to take ya back to the hospital?"

"No, thank you," she declined. She turned toward the door, "I want to make certain he's all right. What do you think we should do next?"

"Wait," he counseled. "He'll tell us what he wants t' do."

"Oh, I nearly forgot," she remembered. "How was your meeting about the opera house?"

"I never got t' it," he shrugged. "Teresa told me Josef had run off before I even met the man. I need t' contact him again."

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

"Robert E," Grace poured her husband a cup of coffee. "I been thinkin'."

"Then I'm in for trouble," he teased.

"Hear me out," she sat down. "Sully's gonna meet with a Mr. Blake about buildin' an opera house here in Colorado Springs. He's an architect. He had t' delay the meetin'."

"So?" he waited.

Grace went on, "So I was thinkin' it might be nice t' have a fancy restaurant near the opera house, ya know, one that folks can go to before an' after a show."

He assessed, "An' you was thinkin' you'd like t' run this restaurant?"

"Well," she put her hands on her hips. "What do you think?"

"Woman," he paused. "I think it's about time ya had an indoor eatin' place."

She embraced her husband.

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

Jake escorted Teresa to a table in the dining room of the Chateau.

Preston noticed them, "Well, well, if it isn't Mayor Slicker and his lovely wife. To what do I owe the honor of your presence?"

"It ain't t' honor you," Jake shot back. "I'm takin' my wife out t' dinner."

"A special occasion?" he speculated. "Perhaps your anniversary."

"No special occasion," Jake held Teresa's chair as she sat. "Just a nice dinner."

Preston gestured for a waiter, "Albert, our best wine for Mr. and Mrs. Slicker."

Teresa declined, "I do not drink, Mr. Lodge."

Jake rubbed his upper lip, "None for me either. Just water."

"Water it is," Preston smiled and left them alone.

Jake reached out for Teresa's hand. Reluctantly, she clasped it.

"So," he smiled. "Ain't this nice?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Very nice, Mr. Slicker."

He cleared his throat nervously, "I want ya t' order whatever ya want on the menu t'night."

"May I ask what your motive is?" she was reluctant.

"Motive?" Jake pointed to himself. "Why would ya ask that?"

Teresa eyed him suspiciously, "After seven years of marriage, I know when you are up to something, Mr. Slicker."

He denied, "I ain't up t' anything except havin' a nice dinner with my wife."

"Good," she smiled slightly. "I shall keep that in mind later."

"Later?" he was puzzled.

"Later when you come to my bed," she kept her voice low.

Jake's cheeks flushed, "Ya mean I won't be welcome?"

"We'll see," she was noncommittal.

He sighed, "Look, Teresa, things ain't been right between us for a long time. I know it's my fault, an' I wanna make amends. I'd like for us t' make up.... an'.... maybe even.... have another kid."

"Another child?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Yea," he felt a lump in his throat. "What do ya think?"

She replied, "As I said before, we'll see."

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

Michaela and Sully entered Josef's bedroom to tuck him in for the night. Surprisingly, the little boy's things were neatly put away instead of sprawled across the floor. The parents sat on either side of their son's bed.

Michaela drew back a stray lock of hair from the child's eyes, "Good night, my darling. I love you."

"I love you, too, Mama," Josef returned.

Sully rubbed his tummy, "Everythin' okay?"

"Uh-huh," Josef nodded. "'Night, Papa."

"Good night, big boy," he kissed his son.

Josef fell silent and closed his eyes. Michaela and Sully looked at each other, then rose from the bed and exited the room.

In the hallway, Michaela turned to her husband and whispered, "Do you truly think that he's all right?"

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

Sully folded his arms, "He seems okay."

Michaela started back toward her son's room, "I should speak with him...."

"Hey," Sully touched her arm to stop her. "Let him sleep on it. He'll tell us in the mornin' what he wants t' do."

Michaela glanced back into the room, "My heart aches for him, Sully."

"Mine, too," he concurred. "But he's gotta make his own decision. It's part o' growin' up."

She recalled Teresa's comment at school, "Do you think I've coddled him?"

He grinned, "No more than our other kids."

Her brow wrinkled, "So you DO think I...."

He interrupted her with a kiss, "You love our kids, an' they love you. That ain't the same as coddlin'."

She fell silent.

Sully studied her expression, "Ya didn't get much sleep last night. I think the best doctor in Colorado better get some rest."

She tilted her head against his shoulder, "All of those books I have downstairs and at the hospital...."

"What about 'em?" he was curious.

"Not one of them can tell me how to prevent my children from being hurt," she sighed.

He kissed her temple, "Sorta like when you an' me first confessed we loved each other. Remember that Thanksgivin'? We were unsure about settin' out on an unknown course."

"I remember," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"I told ya there's no maps," he recalled. "I figure it's the same for bein' a parent."

She mused, "A signpost or two would be nice."

He chuckled, "With Joe, we'd need an atlas."

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

Jake opened the front door and let his wife enter their home first.

Emma looked up from her sewing, "Maria's in bed. She was good as gold."

"Gracias, Mrs. Cooper," Teresa smiled. "Did she eat all of her supper?"

"Yep," Emma gathered her things. "I best be gettin' home t' Matthew."

"I'll walk ya back," Jake offered.

"No, thanks," Emma sensed a new easiness between the Slickers. "I'll enjoy the fresh air."

When the young woman departed, Jake closed the door.

Loosening his tie, he stepped closer to his wife, "Well?"

"Well what?" she edged back from him.

"Well, I guess it's time t' turn in," he placed his hands on her shoulders.

Tenderly, they kissed.

"Sure feels good t' do that again," he smiled.

She nodded stiffly, "Yes, it is good."

"Hey," he broached the subject. "I was thinkin' we oughta do this more often.... ya know, just the two of us spendin' some special time t'gether."

"That.... would be nice," she felt herself melting.

He cast a glance toward the bedroom, "I guess ya better turn in. Have t' get up early for school."

"Yes, I must get to bed," she did not move.

Jake kissed her again, "Think maybe I could...."

"Yes," she lifted up to kiss him. "I think I would like your company, Jacob."

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

When Hope began fussing in her cradle, Michaela slipped from Sully's side and went to the baby.

Lifting the little one, the mother kissed her forehead, "Are you hungry?"

Hope kicked her legs in response to her mother's voice. With the child in her arms, Michaela quietly exited the room. When they reached the kitchen, Michaela began to prepare a bottle, all the while talking to a cooing Hope. Finally, she sat and began to feed her.

Michaela hummed to the baby, and soon the child fell back to sleep. Michaela carried her up the steps and tenderly placed her back in the cradle.

Now wide awake, Michaela knelt to place another log on the fire. Suddenly, she was overwhelmed by a need to check on the other children. Pausing at Brian's door, she nearly opened it, but respect for his privacy stopped her. He was a man now, and even though he would always be that little boy who had first called her "Ma," she knew she could no longer treat him as a child.

Crossing the hallway to the twins' room, she lovingly gazed down upon them. Annie had not experienced a screaming spell for several nights, and both toddlers were soundly asleep. After pulling up their blankets to keep them warm, she left them.

Next, Michaela went to Katie's room. The little girl was likewise asleep. She checked her blanket, softly stroked her blonde tresses, then turned toward Josef's bedroom. When she reached his door and peered inside, she noticed his small figure, quiet and peaceful. She stepped across the threshold and knelt at his bed. Clasping his hand, she tenderly kissed it.

Just as she was about to exit, she heard his soft voice, "Can't ya sleep, Mama?"

Michaela stopped, "Just checking on you."

"Oh," his voice had a slight quiver.

She sensed, "Are you feeling a little lost?"

"No," he interpreted. "I know where I am.... in bed."

She remarked, "I thought you'd be asleep."

He sat up, "I been thinkin' 'bout firs' 'pwessions."

"First impressions?" she clarified.

"Papa say it's not always what ya think," he noted. "I don' know what I do if you an' Papa didn' get mawwied. Ya didn' have good firs' imprrressions."

She caressed his cheek, "You'll never have to worry about that, Josef. We did get married, and we'll always stay that way."

He took a deep breath, "So maybe I won' stay 'fraid o' school."

She encouraged, "I think you're a brave young man."

"Nah," he sighed. "But I gotta see a secon' imprression."

"Does that mean you'll give school another try?" she wondered.

"Yea," he embraced her.

"Are you certain about this, Sweetheart?" she questioned.

"Uh-huh," he nodded. "I never got t' eat the lunch Miss Bwidget made."

She smiled, "Do you think you can sleep now?"

"Uh-huh," he slid back under the covers.

She kissed her son, then returned to her own room.

Turning toward the crackling fire, she was mesmerized by the flickers of light. What magic nights she and Sully had shared by that hearth. At that moment, her mind flashed back to another evening there.

Sully had been in hiding from the Army, and she had recently nursed him back to health. What agony it had been to leave him at the cave.

That night, alone in their room, her heart had longed for him. Suddenly, the lamp had flickered out, and she had found herself in Sully's arms. He had snuck past the Army guards outside and into their house, into their bedroom. He had pledged to do whatever it took for them to be together.

Throughout that glorious night, they had made love.... on the bed, then beside the fireplace. The joy of their passion had filled her heart, a heart that had been breaking from being without him in their home for so long.

Before dawn, she had wakened to find him holding Katie. He had choked back the emotions he felt about leaving his family and returning to that abominable cave. At that instant, Michaela had determined that she would do whatever it took to bring him home to her for good.

And she had vowed something else that she had never revealed to her husband. In her capacity as a physician, she had often counseled women who were repulsed by marital relations. They had confessed to her that they loathed their "marital duties" and sought her advice as to how to cope. While she had sympathized with these women, she could never understand their predicament. Clearly, things had been different with Sully. Making love to him had never been a burden or responsibility. And that morning, as she had bid her husband a heartbreaking farewell, she vowed to herself that she would never take for granted the physical pleasure that they brought to one another.

The memory faded as she turned to the bed. There was Sully, blissfully sleeping, no longer a fugitive, no longer having to steal moments with her. His chiseled features and magnificent, tanned body tantalized her. She removed her robe and climbed into bed.

When she snuggled closer to her husband, he awoke with a start, "Your feet are cold."

She invited, "Would you warm them for me?"

He became more alert, "Sure."

Sitting up, he lowered the blankets and lifted her left foot into his hands. Massaging her heel, arch and toes sensuously, he felt them begin to warm.

"How's Joe?" he sensed where she had been.

She felt herself melt at his ministrations, "He's decided to go back to school tomorrow."

"I figured he would," Sully smiled and began to work on her other foot.

"You did?" she was surprised.

"Yep," he let his hands begin to wander higher, past the hem of her gown. "He's got his Ma's determination."

"Sully...." her heart raced.

"Mmm?" he knew the effect he was having.

"It's quite late," she gulped.

He stopped, "You too tired?"

She sat up and caressed his cheek, "I suddenly find myself rather energized."

Slipping his hand beneath the opening in the front of her gown, he murmured, "Me, too."

He caressed the soft skin he was exposing, while his kisses ignited her passions more quickly than her mind could fathom.

She ran her fingers through the hair at his temple, "Your son is glad we got past our first impressions."

Sully chuckled, "He is?"

"I am, too," she ran her palm across his torso. "Very glad."

"There was one first impression that was right," his kisses heightened her senses.

Michaela felt her pulse race, "What was that?"

"You're still the most beautiful woman I ever saw," he touched a particularly sensitive spot.

Michaela was breathless, "Oh, Sully, I love you so much."

"When we're t'gether like this...." he paused. "I think I'm the luckiest man alive."

She maneuvered herself to invite his more intimate contact.

Sully paused to frame her face in his hands. Then he recited:

"The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips."

Her heart fluttered at the timbre of his voice, "Was that Swinburne?"

"John Boyle O'Reilly," he softly kissed her neck.

Temptingly, he began to run his finger along the line of her jaw, up to her lips, then down to her chin and neck.

"Sully...." her voice was more urgent.

He smiled at her impatience, "Nice an' easy. Remember?"

"You're teasing me," she placed her hands behind his neck to pull him closer.

"Me?" he grinned. "Tease you? Never."

"Two can play at this game, Mr. Sully," she lowered her hand to his waist.

Sully gulped as her fingers roamed, "Michaela...."

"Mmm?" she knew she had him.

"You win," his voice sounded different.

"I do?" she continued her movements to the point he felt he would burst.

Sully kissed the sides of her mouth, "I love you, too."

She smiled and lifted up to return the kiss. The game had ended. Now there was only the love. Their bodies entwined, satisfying the cravings that had been building. When at last their desires had been satiated, Sully enfolded his wife in his arms and drifted off to sleep.

Momentarily, Michaela slid from the bed and went to her vanity. There, she opened the container of wild carrot seeds and measured out a rounded teaspoon. Chewing the seeds, she went to the pitcher and poured a glass of water. As she drank it, she glanced back at Sully in their bed. She smiled, still warm from their encounter.

"Michaela," Sully opened his eyes and spotted her across the room. "You okay?"

"Yes," she slid back into bed beside him. "I was just eating some carrot seeds."

He caressed her side, and tucked his chin near her neck, "I'm glad ya remembered."

"I nearly forgot, Mr. Sully," she spooned herself closer to him. "I was quite distracted."

"Me, too," he kissed the lobe of her ear.

"Sully," she paused. "I want to tell you something."

"What?" he anticipated.

She turned in his arms to face him, "I'll never take what we have for granted."

"I know ya won't," he thought her comment strange. "What made ya say that?"

She thought back to that special night in which he had risked all to be with her, "I just wanted you to know how much I'll always need and want you."

He was moved by her sentiments, "I feel the same way."

Michaela shifted her position to kiss him more intensely. Sully was again aroused by her movements.

He reluctantly concluded their kiss, "We better stop, Michaela."

"Why?" she was uncertain.

He grinned, "'Cause we might not get any sleep at all t'night if we keep this up."

"Would that be so bad?" she linked her fingers in his.

He studied her expression, "You sure?"

She was overcome by a need to share her love anew, "I am, but I do have one request."

He raised an eyebrow, "What?"

She slipped from the bed and extended her hand to him, "By the fire."

With a grin, Sully grabbed their pillows and followed her to the rug beside the hearth. Again, they made love, prolonging each pleasurable sensation. Finally, fulfilled by their most intimate contact, they fell asleep.

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

"Matthew," Emma shifted onto her side, as she lay in bed.

"Mmm?" he yawned.

"I've been thinkin'," she paused.

He yawned and sighed, "At this hour?"

"I couldn't sleep," she revealed.

"What's wrong?" he grew concerned.

"I'd like us t' have a baby," she announced.

His eyes widened, "What?"

"A baby," she repeated.

He studied her expression, "Emma.... ya know we can't have a baby. After your surgery, Ma told ya that."

"We could adopt one," she stated.

He rubbed his eyes, "What brought this on?"

She sighed, "Watchin' little Maria Slicker t'night.... plus, seein' how happy your folks are with their little ones. I'd like for us t' have a child, too. Wouldn't you like one?"

He slid his arm beneath her shoulders, "Sure, but.... Let me look int' it."

"Thank you, Matthew," she kissed him.

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

Hank announced to the few patrons remaining in the Gold Nugget, "Closin' time, gentlemen."

Andrew could hardly hold up his head, "One more."

"You've had enough, Doc," Hank replied. "Ya gotta have a steady hand t'morrow."

Andrew exhaled loudly and slurred, "It doesn't matter. I'm going back to Boston."

"Are ya now?" Hank raised an eyebrow.

Andrew frowned, "Back to the clinic Colleen's grandmother bequeathed."

Hank leaned on his elbows, "What about the hospital here?"

"It's too hard working beside my ex-wife," Andrew frowned.

"She makin' life miserable for ya?" he sympathized.

"No, she's quite pleasant," Andrew slid his empty glass closer to Hank.

Hank filled it, "So why don't ya stay here?"

"Colleen doesn't want me anymore," Andrew's shoulders slumped. "You have no idea what it's like to love someone and know that they don't love you in return."

"Maybe I do," Hank spoke pensively.

"Then perhaps you can understand why I feel I don't belong," Andrew swallowed hard.

"So you're lonely," he concluded.

"Wouldn't you be if your wife divorced you?" Andrew posed the question.

Hank shrugged, "I figure there's plenty o' fish in the sea. Fact is, there's plenty upstairs, ready t' satisfy what men ain't gettin' at home."

"Prostitutes?" Andrew turned up his nose. "I could never do that."

"Why not?" Hank smirked. "I got a new one.... real exotic. She's Chinese."

"Chinese?" Andrew was intrigued.

"Yep," Hank winked. "She speaks English, too, but even if she didn't, some things are better without talkin'."

Andrew felt embarrassed, "Hank, I'm not that kind of man."

"Suit yourself," he shrugged. "But if ya can't be with the woman ya want, there's ways of forgettin' about her."

Andrew's jaw tensed, "I don't want to forget about her."

"Then why ya comin' in here gettin' drunk?" Hank returned.

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

Sully opened his eyes, his back stiff from sleeping on the floor. Nestled beside him, Michaela continued to sleep. He kissed the soft skin of her shoulder. She stirred slightly.

"'Mornin'," he smiled.

"How's your back?" she knew it would ache.

He rolled onto his stomach, "Maybe you could use some o' that healin' power in your hands. After all, it's your fault."

"My fault?" she began to massage his shoulders, kneading away the knots in his muscles.

His aching back began to soothe, "Ya lured me down here."

She leaned forward to kiss his back, "Lured you?"

Sully rolled over and drew her form closer to his, "With those beautiful eyes, an' the corner of your mouth turned up right here. Ya know I can't resist."

She ran her fingers through the hair on his chest, "I'm sorry."

"I forgive ya," he sighed. "I wish we could stay in here all day."

She lifted up slightly to peer into his eyes, "That's quite tempting but not very practical I'm afraid."

At that moment, they heard Hope.

"I'll get her," Sully rose to his feet, pulled on his buckskins and went to the child.

"'Mornin', darlin'," he kissed her.

Returning to Michaela, he lay back and raised the baby playfully over his head. Hope cooed and reached for her father's mouth.

After kissing the baby, Michaela stood up and donned her robe, "Will you meet with the architect today?"

"Yep," Sully sat up to hold the baby near. "Say 'Pa."

Hope eyed him intently but said nothing.

"Keep working on her," Michaela mused.

At that moment, there was a knock at the door. When Michaela opened it, there stood Josef dressed but with his shirt buttons out of alignment.

Michaela greeted him, "Good morning, Sweetheart. Did you dress yourself?"

"Yep," he nodded proudly. "I help Papa with chores."

Sully positioned the baby to face her brother. The little one cooed and kicked her legs.

"'Mornin', Hope," Josef kissed her cheek. "Come on, Papa. We got work t' do."

"All right," Sully handed the baby to Michaela. "You're a hard taskmaster, Joe."

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

Andrew awoke in his Chateau room, his head aching from the effects of alcohol. He rubbed his eyes and turned to look at the portrait of Colleen he kept beside his bed. He determined that today would be the day he made arrangements to return to Boston.

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

Teresa Slicker smiled as she greeted her students. Then she saw the Sullys approaching, not only with Katie but with Josef.

She took a deep breath, "Dr. Quinn, I thought...."

Michaela did not let her finish, "Our son has decided to give school another try, Mrs. Slicker. I'm certain that you appreciate his desire to learn."

Teresa glanced down at the young man, "Did you dress yourself?"

"Yep," Josef nodded. "Why's ever'one ask me that?"

"Your buttons," Teresa knelt down. "Let me fix them for you."

Josef stood still as the teacher aligned them properly.

"Thanks," Josef smiled. "Can I go t' my seat?"

"May I go," Teresa amended. "Yes."

Michaela and Sully watched as the little boy took his place in the front row.

"He seems different," Teresa observed to the parents.

Sully spoke softly, "He believes in givin' things a second chance."

Teresa felt a lump in her throat, "That is a good thing."

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

Colleen could not find the reference book she was looking for. Sighing in frustration, she looked up. There it was, on the top shelf of the bookcase in her mother's office. She slid a chair closer to it, then stepped up. With the book firmly in hand, she pivoted to come down. Suddenly, her foot slipped, and she crashed to the floor.

"Sister Mary Margaret!" she beckoned.

There was no answer.

"Dr. Bernard!" she shouted.

The physician rushed into the room, "Dr. Cook. What.... are you hurt?"

"My ankle," she clutched it in pain. "I think I broke it."

He knelt beside her, "Let's have a look."

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

Matthew finished his morning cup of coffee at Grace's Cafe and started toward his office. In the alley by The Gazette Office, he came upon Dorothy.

"Hey, Miss Dorothy," he tipped his hat. "How are you doin' this mornin'?"

"Fine," she looked up from her note pad.

"You workin' on an editorial?" he surmised.

She put her pencil behind her ear, "Matter of fact, I am. An orphaned Indian baby just arrived at the school, an' I'm makin' a plea for a home until the child is old enough t' attend the school."

"An orphaned baby?" he was interested. "What tribe?"

"Cheyenne," she identified. "Why?"

Matthew rubbed his chin, "I might know a couple who'd be interested."

Her eyes widened hopefully, "Who?"

He hedged, "Let me talk t' them first. Then I'll let ya know."

"Suit yourself," she continued on her way.

Matthew bounded up the steps at the old Clinic and into his wife's sewing room, "Emma. I think I found us a baby."

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

Michaela examined her daughter's ankle, "Fortunately it's a sprain. You'll have to stay off it for a while. You were lucky it didn't break."

She sighed, "That's what Dr. Bernard said. It was such a stupid accident, Ma."

"Most accidents are," Michaela smiled. "I'll give you something for the pain."

"What about Charlie Alden?" she mentioned. "You're supposed to see him this morning to assess the condition of his leg.

Michaela stirred the medicine into a glass of water, "That's where I'm headed after you drink this."

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

Preston entered the hospital and waited for someone to notice his presence.

A nun approached him, "May I help you?"

He straightened his tie, "Apparently, you don't recognize me, Sister. You stayed at my Chateau before the dedication of the hospital. Preston A. Lodge III."

She remained unmoved, "I recognize you, Mr. Lodge. Are you ill?"

"No," he replied. "I'm here to see Dr. Quinn."

"She's with a patient at the moment. You can wait in here," she gestured.

"Thank you," he went to a seat in the waiting room.

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

Michaela finished inspecting Charlie Alden's leg, "It looks good. No signs of infection."

"So you think I'm gonna keep my leg, Dr. Mike?" his face brightened.

"As long as we keep the area clean, the chances are quite good," she smiled.

After writing a few notes on his chart, she remarked, "Your mother will be here to see you shortly. In the meantime, I'd like for you to rest... and stay away from dynamite."

"Dr. Mike," Charlie said.

She paused.

"Thank you," there were tears in his eyes.

She went to his side and touched his hand, "You're welcome, Charlie. I'll be back to see you later."

As she exited the room, Sister Mary Margaret caught her attention.

"Dr. Quinn, Mr. Lodge is here," the nun informed her.

"Mr. Lodge?" Michaela's brow creased. "Is he hurt?"

"No," she shook her head. "He said he wants to see you."

Michaela uttered to herself, "Now what?" Then to the sister, she directed, "Would you please show him to my office?"

"Yes, Doctor," the nun left.

Michaela entered Hope's room and tended to the baby, then stepped into her office.

Preston stood, "Good morning, Michaela. I hope I'm not taking you from anything important."

Michaela removed the stethoscope from her neck and sat down, "What is it that you wanted to see me about, Mr. Lodge?"

"I have a job offer for you," he grinned.

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

Emma considered Matthew's news, "An Indian baby? That's not exactly what I had in mind."

He clasped her hands, "This baby needs a home. It's gotta be some kinda sign that I'd find out about it from Miss Dorothy the mornin' after you told me you want us t' adopt a baby. Don't ya see?"

She noted the enthusiasm in her husband's voice, "I.... I'd like t' meet the baby before we decide."

He extended his hand, "Let's ride out t' the Indian School then."

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

At Grace's Cafe, Sully shook Aaron Blake's hand, "I'm sorry about yesterday. I appreciate you meetin' with me t'day."

"That's all right," Blake smiled. "I hope your little boy is okay."

Sully nodded, "He's fine."

Blake settled down to business, "So, you want an opera house here in Colorado Springs."

"That's right," Sully unscrolled some drawings. "I sketched what my wife is lookin' for."

The architect admired the artwork, "You're quite talented, Mr. Sully. This is reminiscent of the Taber Opera House in Denver."

"Not that grand," Sully amended. "But close. First time I saw an opera house was in Boston. I want this one t' be just as special."

"From the looks of your drawing, it will be," he agreed. "Where is this to be located?"

Sully answered, "My wife's got some land near her hospital. I'll survey it for ya."

Blake was surprised, "Your wife owns the land?"

"Yea," he nodded. "An' she wants t' use it for public purpose."

"She sounds like a special woman," Blake grinned.

"She is," Sully gestured for Grace. "Speakin' o' special women...."

"Can I get you gentlemen somethin'?" she reached their table.

Sully replied, "Why don't ya tell Mr. Blake here about the restaurant, Grace?"

"Restaurant?" the architect raised an eyebrow.

Sully returned, "A fine opera house deserves the best place t' eat, too."

Grace sat down beside them, "Well, I don't have a fancy drawin' like Sully, but I know what I want."

"Then tell me, and I'll see what I can do," Blake suggested.

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

Michaela glared at Preston, "I already have a job."

He raised his hand, "And a fine job it is. No, I don't mean to take away from your pioneering work in this hospital. What I am proposing could actually help the hospital."

"How so?" she was curious.

He detailed, "I have a lumber mill over near Evergreen along Bear Creek. The men who work there are sorely lacking in medical treatment and facilities. Even more importantly, some of them have wives and children who also lack such care. Why, two of the women are nearing their due dates for babies."

"And you want me to provide their care?" she assumed. "Well, of course, if you bring them here, I'll treat them."

He folded his arms, "Ah, therein lies the problem. You see, the nature of the business is such that the men must work from sunup to sundown, with only Sundays off. Due to the remote location of their camp, it is impossible to bring them here and have them return in only one day. So, what I am proposing is that you care for them on the premises."

"At the lumber camp?" she was incredulous. "That's impossible."

He sighed, "Then, I suppose they'll have to go without the needed care."

"I would think you could find another physician," she suggested. "Perhaps if you placed an ad...."

"Oh, rest assured I have placed an ad, but to date, no one has replied," he stated. "In the interim, I am concerned about their health."

She was skeptical, "Mr. Lodge, I have just returned to work. I have a baby to care for. Surely, you could find...."

He interrupted, "Another doctor? Dr. Cassidy? Dr. Bernard? I think not. I suppose I could speak with Colleen."

"I'm afraid she has a sprained ankle," she revealed. "What about Andrew?" she mentioned.

"Andrew," he frowned. "I guess you haven't heard."

"Heard what?" Michaela was uncertain.

Preston leaned closer and kept his voice down, "His drinking. Frankly, I don't think it wise for him to practice medicine when he's been imbibing so freely."

"Andrew?" she was shocked. "I don't believe it."

He shrugged, "He frequents the Gold Nugget most of the time."

Michaela was incredulous, "That's preposterous. Andrew would never do something like that."

"I've seen it myself," Preston returned. "However, if you don't believe me, ask Hank. Well.... I guess I'll have to tell those poor women that their babies will have to be born without...."

"Wait," Michaela interrupted. "I suppose I could think about it. I might be able to spare the time every few weeks until you have a reply to your ad."

"Splendid," Preston grinned. "I'll arrange for someone to accompany you...."

She reminded, "I said I would think about it."

"Of course," he stood. "I'm sure you'll want to get Sully's permission."

"I don't need my husband's permission," she countered. "But I do value his opinion."

"Yes, that's what I meant," he remarked.

There was a knock at the door, and Sister Mary Margaret entered the room, "Dr. Quinn, Mrs. Lawson is here to see you."

"Thank you, Sister," she smiled. "Would you show her into Examining Room One?"

"Yes, Doctor," she exited.

Michaela rose to her feet, "If you'll excuse me, Mr. Lodge."

"Certainly," he grinned as he watched her depart. Then he clapped his hands together, "Ah, Michaela, I knew you couldn't refuse helping others."

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

Josef concentrated with all of his might on Teresa's reading lesson. He listened attentively while the older children read sentences. As he followed along in the book, he could only make out a few words here and there.

Teresa noticed the look of frustration on his face and went to his side, "I do not expect you to know all of the words yet, Josef."

He looked up with his big blue eyes, "'Kay."

Josef felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Maybe school wasn't so bad. Maybe Mrs. Slicker wasn't so mean. And maybe she didn't hate him. He smiled. She smiled back.

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

"Lexie," Michaela completed her examination. "Would you mind if I asked Dr. Bernard to look at you?"

"Is something wrong?" Lexie became anxious.

"No," Michaela assured. "I simply want him to confirm something that I suspect."

Lexie's brow wrinkled, "What do you suspect?"

Michaela touched her hand, "I suspect my initial calculation of your due date may be in error."

"What do you mean?" she questioned.

"Let me get Dr. Bernard," she went to the door. "Then I'll explain."

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

"Cloud Dancing," Matthew greeted the medicine man.

"It is good to see you," he grinned. "And you, too, Emma."

"Thanks," she smiled.

Matthew came to the point, "I saw Miss Dorothy in town, an' she mentioned that ya have a Cheyenne baby."

"Yes," his eyes saddened. "His parents were killed by the Army. The baby was discovered beneath his mother's body, and one of the soldiers took pity on him. He brought the child here."

"So, it's a boy," Matthew looked at his wife.

Emma spoke up, "Could we see him?"

Cloud Dancing agreed, "Of course. I will take you to him."

They entered one of the lodges, where an older Cheyenne girl was tending to the infant.

Cloud Dancing introduced, "This is Little Crow. She has been caring for the child. Little Crow, this is Matthew and Emma Cooper."

The young woman acknowledged in perfect English, "It is nice to meet you."

Emma smiled, "You, too. Do you think I might hold the baby?"

Cloud Dancing nodded.

Little Crow handed him to Emma, "He is very well behaved.... doesn't cry at all."

Matthew remarked, "He's not very old."

Cloud Dancing observed Emma with the baby, "The little one likes you."

Her face beamed, "I like him, too."

Matthew stroked the baby's hair, "Does that mean what I think?"

Emma turned to face Cloud Dancing, "Do you think that Matthew an' I could take him in?"

The medicine man pondered, "You would raise the child to know his people?"

"We'd respect the ways of the Cheyenne," Matthew pledged. "We'd see that he's educated here at your school."

A broad grin appeared on Cloud Dancing's face, "The Spirits have guided you to this child. His name is Me'o' stse, Appears From Afar."

Matthew felt a lump in his throat, "Could I hold him?"

Emma tenderly set the baby in his arms, "Me'o' stse. It's a good name."

Cloud Dancing assessed, "You will be good parents for the little one."

Matthew's eyes met Emma's, "We'll take good care of him. Thank you, Cloud Dancin'."

************
Chapter 7
************

Dr. Bernard completed his examination of Lexie, "Well, Dr. Quinn, I think you're correct in your assessment."

Lexie was becoming more anxious, "Correct about what?"

He washed his hands, "If you ladies will excuse me, I'll let Dr. Quinn explain."

Michaela smiled, "Lexie, we had been under the assumption that your pregnancy was a result of the rape."

Her brow wrinkled, "That's the only time it could have occurred."

Michaela raised an eyebrow, "When was the last time you and Hank were together prior to the rape?"

Lexie's eyes widened, "What? "

Michaela clarified, "When was the last time you and Hank were intimate before the rape?"

She thought back, "It was right before I got sick in February."

Michaela remembered, "That's right. You had the measles."

Lexie posed the question, "What are you saying?"

She revealed, "This baby is more fully developed than an April conception. It belongs to Hank."

Lexie was shocked, "My God."

Michaela remarked, "That certainly explains your weight gain."

"Hank's baby," she touched her abdomen. "I.... I can't believe it."

Michaela cautioned, "I want you to take it easy for the rest of this pregnancy."

She looked up, "Did you find something wrong?"

"No," Michaela assured. "However, you've been through quite a lot since conceiving this child. There was your illness, then the rape. It's a precaution."

Lexie pondered, "I heard of a woman who lost her baby when she got the measles."

Michaela nodded, "There can be complications, which is why I want you to curtail your activities. No more work at the ranch."

"But Hank doesn't know how to run things, and he doesn't have the time if he did," she noted.

"Talk it over with him," Michaela advised. "Perhaps you could hire someone."

Lexie wondered, "Dr. Mike, what about.... making love?"

She replied, "I don't think it wise until after the child is born."

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

Andrew entered the hospital and checked the doctor's log.

"Dr. Cook," Sister Mary Margaret approached. "We haven't seen you since Dr. Quinn returned."

"Uh...." he fumbled for an excuse. "I've been busy, Sister."

She smiled, "Well, it's nice to have you back."

"I see that Dr. Quinn is still here," Andrew mentioned. "Is she with a patient?"

"Yes," she noted. "You've heard about Dr. Colleen Cook?"

"No," he tilted his head. "What about her?"

"She sprained her ankle," the Sister informed him.

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

Sully unpacked his surveying equipment. The parcel of land that Michaela had selected for the opera house seemed perfect for the plan Blake had in mind, but Sully wanted to survey it to be certain. Likewise, the land beside it appeared ideal for the restaurant Grace hoped to build. Sully rubbed his hands together for warmth. The weather looked threatening. Taking a deep breath, he began his task.

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

"Colleen?" Andrew entered the office. "I just heard. Are you all right?"

She pointed to the bandage around her ankle, "It's put a damper on my dancing."

He grinned at her joke, "As I recall, that was never one of our strong points."

She chuckled, "Remember Grandma's birthday party in Boston? We were both two left feet."

"I wasn't looking at our feet," he recalled nostalgically.

Her eyes moistened, "That seems like a lifetime ago."

"Nearly two years," he pointed out. "What does your mother say about your ankle?"

"Stay off it as much as possible," she repeated. "But I have patients to see."

Michaela entered the office at that moment.

"Andrew," Michaela embraced him. "I'm so glad to see you."

He smiled, "It's good to see you back where you belong."

"It's where you belong, as well," she added.

He glanced toward Colleen, "I'm not so certain about that. I.... I'm thinking about going back to Boston."

Michaela studied his expression, "What about...."

Colleen began to feel uncomfortable, "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to lie down. Thanks for your concern, Andrew."

He offered, "If you need anything, let me know."

When she had left them, Andrew's shoulders slumped.

"Andrew," Michaela paused. "If you go.... what about Colleen?"

"Colleen?" he contained his emotions. "She seems perfectly content with Lewis."

Michaela stated, "From what I have observed, they're merely good friends."

He replied, "Can you understand what it's like, Michaela? She's the woman I love, the woman I married. We had hopes and dreams of building a life together. Part of that was working side by side in medicine, but now...."

His voice trailed off.

"I know this is terribly difficult for you," she touched his arm. "I wish I could do something."

"I do, too," he sighed.

She looked into his eyes, "Andrew, you're very special to me. You came here at a time when I needed help, and you saved my life. I've seen you grow as a person and as a physician. I do wish you would reconsider."

"I wish I could stay, Michaela," he choked back. "I really do. But.... it's so hard."

She counseled, "Perhaps a little while longer. We could arrange a schedule whereby you wouldn't have to work when Colleen is here...."

"If only it were that simple," his eyes saddened. "But.... I owe you a lot, too, and the last thing I want is to disappoint you."

"You're not disappointing me," she assured. "Perhaps I'm being selfish in wanting you to stay."

For the first time, he smiled, "If there's one thing you're not, it's selfish."

She stepped forward to embrace him, "If you ever need someone to talk to, Andrew, I hope you know that I...."

He interrupted, "I appreciate it, Michaela. I.... I suppose I could stay for a while longer, particularly since Colleen sprained her ankle."

They were interrupted by Sister Mary Margaret, "Dr. Quinn, Mr. and Mrs. Cooper are here to see you.... with a child."

"A child?" Michaela was surprised. "Please, send them in."

Andrew bid his goodbye, "I'll speak with you later about that work schedule."

"All right," she consented.

Andrew greeted Matthew and Emma at the door, then left them.

Michaela saw the baby in Emma's arms, "Well, hello. Who's this little one?"

Matthew informed her, "His name's Me'o' stse. We're gonna call him Michael."

She looked at him in amazement, "You're going to call him.... what are you saying?"

Emma announced as she placed the baby in Michaela's arms., "He's ours, Dr. Mike. His folks were killed by the Army, an' he was taken t' Cloud Dancin'. He's too young t' be at the Indian school yet, an' Cloud Dancin' was lookin' for a couple t' raise him. So we're adoptin' him."

Michaela cradled the child, "Michael Cooper. He's beautiful."

"We brought him here first for a couple o' reasons," Matthew informed her. "First, we wanted him t' meet his namesake an' grandma."

Michaela suddenly realized, "Grandmother?"

He grinned, "Don't worry, Ma. Ya don't look like a grandmother. The second reason is that we wanted ya t' check him over. Make sure he's healthy. See if he needs anythin'."

Michaela raised an eyebrow, "Do you have any idea what you're getting into?"

Matthew chuckled, "I think so. We've been at the homestead enough times."

At that moment, Colleen entered, "Sister Mary Margaret said you were here with a baby."

Michaela positioned the child to look at her daughter, "Michael, meet your Aunt Colleen."

"Aunt Colleen?" her eyes widened. "Matthew, this is your baby?"

"Yep," he smiled.

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

Lexie neared the Sheriff's office, her emotions a mixture of joy and fear. The joy she felt about Hank's being the father of her baby was tempered with the fear that her pregnancy could be complicated by what she had been through after conceiving the child.

"Hey," Hank grinned when he saw his wife enter the office. "What brings you here?"

She burst into tears.

He jumped to his feet to embrace her, "What's wrong?"

"Hank...." she began to regain control. "I have to tell you something about the baby."

He felt his heart sink, "Is somethin' wrong?"

She swallowed hard, "I.... I think you'd better sit down."

He tilted his head quizzically, "Just tell me."

"The baby...." she paused. "It's not due in January, like I first thought."

He stated, "So? When's it due?"

"November," she informed him.

"That's only a couple o' months...." he stopped short. "Lexie, how's that possible?"

She peered into his blue eyes, "You're the father."

"Me?" he was shocked. "But I thought.... what about the rape?"

"Dr. Mike and Dr. Bernard both examined me," she noted. "The baby wasn't conceived then. That explains why I'm so big. The child is due in a little over two months."

Hank tried to absorb what she was saying, "I'm the Pa? The kid's mine?"

She smiled at his expression, "Yes."

He embraced her, "Damn! Ain't that good news!"

She warmed, "I think so."

His brow creased, "But why were ya so upset when ya came in?"

She decided to withhold the other news about the risks of her pregnancy, "I.... I'm just happy."

"This calls for a celebration," he kissed her. "How 'bout I take ya out t' dinner t'night?"

"That sounds wonderful," she consented.

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

Michaela was standing on the front steps of the hospital with Hope when Sully pulled up in the surrey.

"Hey," he jumped down to meet her. Kissing Hope, he grinned, "How'd my girls do t'day?"

Michaela handed the baby to him, "It was quite an eventful day."

He helped her into the surrey, then placed the baby in her lap, "Eventful, huh. Let's hope Josef's day wasn't."

She mused, "Well, we didn't hear anything from the school. I suppose that's good."

Sully flicked the reins, "So, what made things so eventful."

She said matter-of-factly, "Well, to begin with, you're a grandfather."

He was surprised, "A grandfather?"

"You'll be very proud of our oldest son," she smiled. "He and Emma have adopted an orphaned Cheyenne baby."

"They did?" he was amazed.

"He was left at the Indian school," she informed him. "His name is Me'o' stse."

Sully interpreted, "Appears from Afar."

"They're calling him Michael," she noted.

He teased, "After anyone we know?"

"They're bringing the baby to supper later and want to surprise the children," she stated. "Oh, Sully, he's a beautiful little one, so wide-eyed and alert."

He caressed Hope's cheek, "An' now he's got a good home."

Sully stopped the carriage at the school as Teresa was dismissing the students. Katie and Josef spotted the surrey right away and rushed toward it. The parents greeted their children and helped them into the back seat.

"How did your day go?" Michaela was anxious.

Katie spoke first, "Mama, Joey was real good today."

"Yep," the little boy's face beamed. "I didn' whisper or talk without p'mission. Wendell had t' stand in the corner."

"He did?" Michaela's eyes widened.

Katie explained, "He laughed real loud when Everett Manley tripped an' fell."

"I didn' laugh," Josef added. "But it was funny."

Michaela concealed a smile, "I think it was wise of you to not laugh."

Josef continued as they rode home, "Miss Bwidget made a good lunch. I ate two pokles."

Michaela chuckled, "Did you learn any new subjects?"

Josef announced, "I learn thwrree RRR's."

"Oh?" she mused.

"But I thinked there's only one R," he stated. "Right after Q."

Michaela explained, "The three R's refer to Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmatic."

He continued, "Mama, you ever hear of JohnAnnJane?"

"John and Jane?" Michaela pondered. "Are they your classmates?"

Josef enthusiastically reported, "No, we rrread about 'em. Ann got a new book, an' she has t' keep it clean. John better not tear the book. I learn all that fwom my Mcpuffy book."

Sully and Michaela looked at one another quizzically.

Katie corrected, "He means McGuffey Primer."

Sully shook his head, "I reckon we're gonna hear a lot more about what he learned before supper."

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

Andrew strolled into the Gold Nugget and stepped toward the bar.

Hank grinned, "First drink's on the house."

"Oh?" he tilted his head. "What's the occasion?"

"I'm gonna be a Pa," Hank proclaimed.

Andrew was puzzled, "You've known that for some time."

Hank poured the drink, "I mean I'm really gonna be the Pa. It belongs t' me."

"That's nice," Andrew politely replied as he raised his glass. "Here's to wedded bliss."

Hank joked, "You don't sound real sincere."

"Should I be?" Andrew became sarcastic.

Hank leaned closer, "You thought anymore about that new gal I got?"

"The Chinese girl?" he eyed him.

"Yea," Hank pulled a cigar from his shirt pocket. "Could be just what ya need."

Andrew became suspicious, "Would you do that?"

Hank grew uncomfortable, "Do what?"

Andrew gestured upstairs, "Would you be unfaithful to your wife?"

Hank shrugged, "The whore is just business. Besides, you ain't married no more."

"Business," Andrew shook his head. "You do seem to be doing quite well at that."

"Thanks t' May," Hank winked. "How 'bout I introduce ya t' her? Ya don't have t' do anythin' but talk with her. She speaks English."

Andrew hedged, "I'd like another drink."

************
Chapter 8
************

"How was your day?" Jake greeted his wife and daughter.

"Maria was very good for Mrs. Statler," Teresa reported. "And I had a good day at school, as well."

" Jake grinned as he took Maria into his arms, "Are my two girls ready for supper?"

"I am!" Maria rubbed her belly.

"How 'bout I take ya t' Grace's?" he offered.

"Yea!" Maria replied enthusiastically.

"I do not have to cook again?" Teresa was surprised. "Mr. Slicker, are you feeling all right?"

"Sure am," he smiled, then kissed his daughter's cheek. "Let's go."

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

Michaela inspected her children's hands for cleanliness before the arrival of Matthew and Emma.

Katie spoke up, "What's Matthew's big news, Mama?"

She answered, "He'll tell you when they get here."

Brian anticipated, "Is it about a legal case?"

"No," Michaela smiled.

Bridget entered the living room, "Dinner's ready, Dr. Mike. Should I hold it?"

"No," Michaela paced. "The children should eat."

Katie peered out the window, "Here comes Matthew an' Emma in a carriage."

Michaela directed, "All right, children, settle down. You're about to find out the big news."

Matthew entered the homestead first, then stepped aside to invite Emma in with the baby, "Folks, I'd like ya t' meet Michael Cooper."

Katie's eyes widened, "It's your baby?"

"Yep," he grinned.

Sully shook his hand, then turned to watch the children gather around Emma when she sat in one of the wing back chairs.

Sully joked, "You'd think they never saw a baby."

Matthew chuckled as he entered the living room, "Ma says he's around six months old."

Josef quietly approached his father and tugged at his hand, "Papa."

"What is it, Joe?" Sully leaned down.

"The baby looks diffwent," he said.

"That's 'cause he's Cheyenne," Sully explained.

"Did Emma have a Cheyenne baby?" the little boy wondered.

"No," Sully answered. "Matthew an' Emma are adoptin' him."

Josef considered, "Like you an' Mama adopt Mattew, Colleen an' Bran?"

"Yep," Sully grinned. "You know what that makes you?"

"What?" he anticipated.

"Uncle Joe," Sully tussled his hair.

He pointed to himself, "Uncle Joe? I don' know how t' be uncle."

"It's not much different from bein' a big brother," Sully explained. "An' you're real good at that."

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

Hank and Lexie dined at Grace's Cafe.

She smiled at his demeanor, "You look very happy, Sheriff."

"You seem sorta different," Hank leaned closer. "Somethin' on your mind?"

She did not want to ruin their evening, "No, I'm just a little tired."

"We can go home early," he offered.

"Thank you," she smiled. "I think that's a good idea."

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

Jake held Teresa's hand, "I know ya gotta get up early t'morrow, but I was wonderin'...."

"Wondering what, Jacob?" she paused.

"I.... I was wonderin' if you'd like t' take a ride out t' Macon's Bluff an' watch the sunset," he invited.

"It will be very chilly," she pointed out.

"We can take a blanket," he offered.

She smiled, "That would be.... very nice."

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

Andrew stopped at the top of the steps in the Gold Nugget. Sounds of laughter and other more amorous activities emanated from the rooms. The bartender had told him he could find May's room at the end of the hallway.

He paused, uncertain of whether to proceed. Hank had told him he could merely talk with the woman if he wanted. A woman.... if only it were Colleen. He could just converse with May. That was more than Colleen wanted to do. In nearly seven years of marriage, he had remained faithful to his wife. Talking with a prostitute could not possibly be construed as being unfaithful. Besides, he was no longer a married man.

"I'll only talk with her," he staggered past the rooms.

When he reached May's room, a strange odor, somewhat like ground nuts, permeated the air. Escaping from beneath the door, smoke was rising and creating a haze in the hallway.

Andrew knocked. The door opened a slit. He could see that May was wearing an Oriental robe, open just enough to reveal that she had nothing on beneath it.

"I...." he hesitated as he felt his ears warm. "I just wanted to see if you were all right."

She chuckled, "Why wouldn't I be all right?"

"Uh...." he fumbled. "I'm a doctor."

"That's good to know," she revealed a bit more of her flesh. "I think you can see I'm perfectly healthy."

Andrew averted his eyes, "Hank said you were.... I'm sorry, I can't do this."

"Do what?" she questioned.

"Speak with you," he turned.

May touched his shoulder, "Wait. Don't go. Why did you really come here?"

He pivoted and gazed into her eyes, "Would you believe it was just to talk?"

She paused, "Yes, I'd believe it. Come on inside. No use talking in the hallway."

"May," he hesitated. "I.... still love my ex-wife."

"So?" she smiled. "Tell me your name."

He stepped into the room, "Andrew."

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

Michaela and Emma knelt before a bureau in the upstairs hallway of the homestead.

Michaela pulled out a drawer, "We have lots of diapers and clothes from the twins."

Emma nodded, "It's real kind of you t' offer them, Dr. Mike."

"Sully will help Matthew get the bassinet into your carriage," she added.

"When we saw Michael, we knew he was the baby we wanted," Emma explained. "I guess we didn't think about the realities of everythin' else we'd need."

Holding one of the baby shifts to her bosom, Michaela spoke wistfully, "Then you turn around, and they've outgrown things."

Emma wondered, "Any advice for me?"

"You've watched my children on numerous occasions," she pointed out. "You know what to expect as far as having him on a schedule for feeding. Fortunately, Michael is weaned, so I don't think there will be too many problems. Perhaps, he'll have some difficulty adjusting to a new environment."

Emma was curious, "Do you think we acted too quickly?"

Michaela studied her expression, "Do you think you have?"

"The moment I saw him, my heart melted," Emma's eyes watered. "That first impression made me wanna hold him and love him. But then I think.... this has all happened so quick. We didn't have time t' get used t' the idea."

"I know that feeling," Michaela touched her hand, "Inheriting a family overnight is a frightening prospect. But you said it yourself. Your heart melted the moment you saw him. I believe that means you were meant to be his mother. I'll never forget how I felt the first time Brian called me 'Ma.' I thought my heart would melt, as well."

Emma stood with her arms full of clothing, "Well, we best be gettin' home."

"If you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask," she invited.

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," Emma smiled.

"Come," Michaela beckoned. "I'll show you how to prepare the bottle for him."

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

Sully secured the rope holding the bassinet, "That oughta hold it, Matthew."

"I really appreciate your help," the young man grinned. "It don't seem possible, just like that, becomin' a Pa."

Sully patted his back, "Sometimes, that's the way it happens. You're in for some adventures."

"Any advice?" Matthew sought.

Sully paused and glanced toward the homestead, "Just love him with all your heart. The rest'll take care of itself."

"I reckon I won't have all of Emma's attention anymore," he mused.

Sully grinned, "You'll both give a lot of attention t' the baby. You know how t' change a diaper, don't ya?"

"Sure," he nodded. "I helped Ma when Brian was a baby."

Sully remarked, "That's good. Help Emma as much as ya can."

"Not like my real Pa," his jaw tightened. "He said carin' for babies is women's work."

Sully rubbed his upper lip, "Ethan never did have much sense."

Matthew frowned, "I never want Michael t' think o' me the way I think of Ethan."

Sully assured, "Don't worry. You're nothin' like him. You'll be a real good Pa."

The young man grinned, "I hope I can be as good as you, Sully."

Brian opened the door, "Need some help?"

"You're too late, little brother," Matthew smiled.

Brian told them, "The kids are all excited about another baby. Josef thinks he's gonna speak Cheyenne when he starts t' talk."

"Cloud Dancin' will teach him in the ways of his people," Sully noted.

They heard Emma and Michaela exiting the house.

"One more thing," Sully mentioned. "Don't plan on gettin' much sleep for a while.... until the baby gets int' a routine."

"Thanks," Matthew commented as he rushed to help his wife with the clothing.

"You sure that's enough, Michaela?" Sully teased.

"Very funny," she remarked.

"Think we can pry the baby away from Bridget?" Matthew mused.

Michaela slid her arm around her husband's waist for warmth, "If you need anything, anything at all, please don't hesitate to ask."

"We will," Matthew nodded. "I'll go get Michael."

Sully helped Emma into the carriage, "Good luck."

"We appreciate everythin'," she acknowledged.

Matthew returned with the baby and handed him to Emma. As he came around to the driver's side of the carriage, he glanced up at the homestead.

Gesturing, he spoke, "Ma, Sully, look."

They turned to see their children, noses pressed to the window to watch their departure.

Sully chuckled, "We best get them t' bed."

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

Hank settled Lexie into bed, "How ya feel now?"

"Better," she smiled at his attention. "Are you going back to the Saloon?"

He offered, "I can stay here a while if ya need me."

"No," she encouraged. "I'll be fine. I just need to sleep."

"How 'bout when I get home?" he smirked. "Think ya might be up for some...."

"Hank," she interrupted. "I can't...."

He wondered why she stopped, "Can't what?"

"Nothing," she lost her nerve to tell him of Dr. Mike's caution.

He leaned down to kiss her forehead, "Get some rest. I'll be back later."

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

Sully finished shaving and turned to look at Michaela. She sat in the rocking chair humming softly to a sleeping Hope. After tapping some cologne onto his cheeks, Sully came to her side.

"How's this little girl?" he gently wrapped Hope's fingers around his thumb.

Michaela kissed the baby's forehead, "Fed and ready for bed."

Sully watched as Michaela rose and took the child to her crib. After ensuring that her daughter was calm, she strolled to the bed and removed her robe.

Sully observed, "Somethin' on your mind?"

"Mmm?" she seemed lost in thought.

"You're kinda quiet," he stood up. "Is somethin' botherin' ya?"

"No," she dismissed. "I'm rather tired."

Sully joked, "Joe will have us up bright an' early ready for school."

She made no reaction to his humor.

His brow wrinkled, "Michaela, tell me what's wrong."

"It's nothing, Sully," she insisted. "I just have a lot to think about."

"Somethin' happen at the hospital?" he considered.

She revealed, "I had a visit from Preston."

"What?" his jaw tightened. "Did he upset ya?"

"No," she assured. "But he asked me to do something, and I believe I should do it."

He insisted, "You don't have t' do anythin' he wants ya to."

"I wouldn't be doing it for him," she explained. "It's for some logging camp people who need medical attention. And there are some wives there who are due to have babies."

Sully inquired, "Where is this camp?"

"Evergreen," she specified.

His eyes widened, "Evergreen! Michaela, that's at least a day outa Denver, through rough terrain."

"They need me, Sully," she insisted. "Preston said he's been unable to find a physician to go there."

He was skeptical, "So he had t' ask you, a woman just now goin' back t' work after havin' a baby."

"I told him I'd consider it," she climbed into bed.

Sully watched her, "You're serious."

Fluffing her pillows, she replied, "Of course, I'm serious. I'm a doctor."

"You're a mother, too," he pointed out. "Hope's too young t' go with us."

"Us?" she tilted her head.

"You don't think I'd let ya go by yourself," he returned.

"I think it's more important that you stay here," Michaela reasoned. "With Josef starting to school, he might need one of us. Besides, I'm not going by myself. Preston will arrange for me to be accompanied there."

Sully folded his arms and approached the mantel. Staring into the flames, he sighed. He knew Michaela. He knew she would insist on going, and there was nothing he could do to stop her.

At that moment, he felt her hand on his shoulder. When he pivoted, she slid her arms around his waist.

"You know I have to do this," she leaned her head against his chest.

He felt a lump in his throat, "I know, but I don't want ya goin' by yourself."

She offered, "Perhaps Brian would go with me."

"When are you plannin' t' leave?" he rested his hands lightly on her shoulders.

"I thought perhaps the day after tomorrow," she assessed.

The thought occurred to him, "What about Andrew? Maybe he could...."

"I don't think so," she interrupted. "He's having a very difficult time of it. I talked with him about staying in Colorado Springs a while longer, but I'm not so certain about that now."

"He wantin' t' go back t' Boston?" he assumed.

"Yes," she nodded. "But there's more to it than that. He's been seen frequenting the Gold Nugget and drinking heavily."

"Andrew?" he found it hard to believe.

She detailed, "He's so lost without Colleen, and my heart breaks for him. I think it's even more difficult for him because she seems to have adjusted to life without him."

Sully shook his head, "How can ya adjust t' life without...."

When his voice trailed off, she caressed his cheek, "Without the person you love most in the world?"

"I reckon you an' me have both been through that," he knew.

She assessed, "I believe our circumstances were somewhat different. We didn't have the person we loved still alive and around us."

Sully pondered, "A man can do desperate things when he loses someone like that."

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

Hank was surprised when he spotted Andrew coming down the steps of the Saloon, "I thought you'd gone home."

"I took your advice," Andrew's speech was slurred. "I visited May."

Hank's grin widened, "And?"

"And, you were right," he held the edge of the bar to steady himself. "It helped to talk."

Hank chuckled, "You sure that's all you did?"

Andrew attempted to focus his vision, "Well.... I did do something else."

************
Chapter 9
************

Hank raised an eyebrow and stared at Andrew, "What else did May do for ya?"

Andrew attempted to place a hat on his head, "Made me feel important."

Hank stepped from behind the bar, "Let me help ya with that."

Andrew avoided him, "No, thank you. I'm perfectly capable of putting on my own hat."

"That ain't your hat," Hank gestured. "So what exactly did you an May.... talk about?"

"Women," he swayed, unsteady on his feet. "She understands me, Hank."

"Sure, she does," Hank nodded. "Is that all?"

"'Course that's all," he frowned. "I was a perfect gentleman."

Hank studied him, "You need some help gettin' home?"

"Home?" Andrew's shoulders slumped. "I have no home."

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

"Mama," Josef knocked on the bedroom door. "May I come in?"

Michaela sat up in bed, "Yes, Sweetheart."

The little boy opened the door and approached her, "You sleepin'?"

"Not yet," she caressed his hair.

Sully raised up to look over his wife's shoulder, "Can't ya sleep, big boy?"

"I been thinkin'," he paused.

Michaela lifted him up and stroked his back, "About what?"

"That new baby Michael," he specified.

"What about him, Joe?" Sully questioned.

"Well, ya know I'm his uncle," the little boy began. "I think I should get him somethin'."

Sully grinned, "Like what?"

"Maybe a horse," Josef mentioned. "An' we could both learn t' ride."

"Josef," Michaela concealed a smile. "The baby's too young to ride."

"Katie an' me could start first," he stated. "Then when the kids are older, we teached 'em."

"That's real thoughtful, Joe," Sully chuckled.

Michaela smiled, "Perhaps a different gift would be appropriate for now."

Josef reached up and touched the corner of his mother's lips, "Know what?"

"What?" she anticipated.

"Mrs. Slicker smiled at me t'day," he informed her.

"Did she?" Michaela raised an eyebrow.

"Uh-huh," Josef nodded. "But she don' smile pretty like you, Mama."

Her heart surged with love, "Thank you."

Sully rubbed his son's back, "I agree."

Michaela kissed the little boy's cheek, "Would you like for me to tuck you in again?"

"No thanks," he slid down from her lap. "You an' Papa are busy."

Her cheeks flushed, "Never too busy for you."

"'Night," the little boy stepped toward the door and closed it behind him.

Michaela sighed, "He's incredible."

"Yep," Sully grinned.

She mused, "And wasn't it thoughtful of him to want a horse for Michael?"

"I reckon Katie's been workin' on him, too," Sully settled back onto his pillow.

Michaela snuggled closer to him, "You know that one day, we will have to teach the children to ride."

He countered, "I don't wanna think about it."

She lifted up to peer into his eyes, seeing the sadness which always appeared when they discussed teaching their children to ride a horse.

"Tell me about your brother," she encouraged.

"Michaela...." he fought his emotions.

She explained, "It might help if you discuss him.... discuss your fears."

"There's nothin' t' discuss," he was blunt. "You know he was dragged t' death by a horse."

"What was your brother's name?" she was curious. "You've never told me."

"His name...." he took a deep breath and sighed. "His name was Percy."

"Percy?" she was interested.

"After the poet Shelly," he noted. "Ma didn't much care what kinda trouble her boys would have with names like Percy an' Byron."

She caressed his cheek, "I love the name Byron."

He melted at her touch, "Never does sound bad when you say it."

"That's because I say it with love," she noted.

"I looked up t' Perce so much, wanted t' do everythin' he did," Sully reminisced.

She smiled, "Rather like Noah and Josef look up to Brian."

He ran his finger lightly along her lips, "Josef's right about your smile. There's nothin' as pretty in this world."

She eyed him intently, "Thank you for sharing your brother's name with me. He must have been a special little boy."

His heart ached, "It's real hard t' talk about him. Sometimes I wonder what kinda man he might've become.... but then, it don't do any good t' think about what if...."

She reasoned, "It's human nature to wonder such things."

"I'd rather think about the future, not things we can't change in the past," he drew her closer.

She rested her head upon his shoulder, "I wonder what Matthew and Emma are doing right now?"

He stroked her back, "I figure they're watchin' little Michael sleep, thinkin' about how their lives will never be the same again."

"Is that what you thought about with Katie?" she queried.

He was silent.

"Sully?" she lifted up to look at him.

He swallowed hard, "I was never so scared in my life as when you had her, Michaela. I look back on how much I wanted us t' have a baby. Then when I saw her, held her, I couldn't imagine what I did t' deserve somethin' that sweet an' beautiful."

"I was frightened, too," she recalled. "I was afraid I'd never be able to care for her."

He smiled, "You took t' carin' for her right away, just like I knew ya would."

"You made me think I could do anything," Michaela spoke softly. "You still do."

He asked, "Does that include goin' t' Preston's lumber camp?"

She assured, "I'll be home within a week."

"You can't predict that, an' you know it," he stated.

She studied his expression, "You don't want me to go?"

"Not by yourself," he answered. "An' I don't trust Preston wantin' ya t' do this."

"Even the devil can quote scripture," she joked.

He remained serious, "I mean it, Michaela. Be careful about trustin' him."

She stroked his chest, "You need not be jealous, Mr. Sully. You know that."

"This ain't jealousy," he contended. "It's caution."

Michaela lifted up to kiss him, "I'll be fine."

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

Matthew yawned as he sat up in bed, "Emma? What are ya doin'?"

She sat by the bassinet, "Watching Michael. He's asleep."

"From what I know about babies, we best be gettin' as much sleep as we can while he's calm," Matthew retorted.

"I can't believe he's ours," she gently stroked the baby's back. "Last night, I asked you for a baby. Tonight, he's sleeping in our room."

"I think Cloud Dancin' was right," he rose from the bed and went to her. "We were meant t' raise him."

"Oh, Matthew," her eyes moistened. "When I think about how far we traveled to find each other again.... and now this makes everything complete."

He smiled, "I know what ya mean. Come on now. Let the baby rest, an' let's get some sleep while we can."

She stood up and clasped his hand, "I love you."

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

Her heart leapt, "Papa."

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

"Mornin', Ma," Brian kissed his mother's cheek. "Pa said ya wanted t' see me."

"Yes," she wiped their breakfast from the twins' hands. "I was wondering if you might come with me to Evergreen. There's a lumber camp there, and the men, along with their families, are in need of medical attention."

"Sure," he consented. "When did ya wanna go?"

"Tomorrow?" she was hopeful.

Noah shouted, "'Morrow!"'

"Shh," Michaela kissed her son's cheek.

"Tomorrow would be good," Brian nodded.

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

Preston entered the bank, "Good morning, Myra."

"Good morning," she watched him hang his overcoat on the stand.

"I wanted to let you know I'm going to be away for a few days, maybe a week," he lifted the mail on his desk.

"Oh?" she was curious. "Where ya goin'?"

He hedged, "I have some business to attend to outside of Denver. You'll be all right running things here, won't you?"

"Sure," she avowed. "I done it before."

"Well, if you have any problems, you can contact my associate, Mr. Biddle in Denver," he mentioned.

When he sat down, he spotted Michaela entering the bank. Quickly, he stood.

"Mornin', Dr. Mike," Myra greeted.

"Good morning," she smiled. "How are you?"

"Fine," she returned. "I hear Josef's started t' school. Samantha said he's doin' real good."

"So far," Michaela added. "One never knows with my son."

"That's little boys for ya," Myra chuckled.

Preston approached, "Michaela, how delightful to see you this morning. Are you here in response to my.... request."

She tensed at his smarmy smile, "Yes. I've decided to do it."

"Splendid," his smile broadened. "When will you be able to go?"

"Would tomorrow be too soon?" she asked. "I think I should check on the women who are expecting babies as soon as possible."

His expression became serious, "Absolutely essential. Tomorrow would be quite all right."

"What time should we be at the Depot?" she questioned.

He noted, "Ten should be plenty of time. Uh, you said we?"

"Brian is coming with me," she explained. "What about the guide? Can he be ready by tomorrow?"

Preston informed her, "I'll accompany you to Denver to meet him. I know the men and women of the camp will be deeply in your debt, Michaela."

With that, she turned and departed.

Myra leaned on her elbows, "What are you up to, Preston?"

"Me?" he pointed to himself. "Merely helping some people in need."

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

Emma held her son for Loren to see, "And we've named him Michael."

Loren rubbed his chin, "An Injun baby, huh? Ya couldn't find a white child?"

She frowned, "There's nothin' wrong with this child. He needed us."

Dorothy spoke up, "I think it's grand, you an' Matthew takin' him in."

Loren lifted his broom and began to sweep the floor, "Next thing ya know, we'll be havin' Injun children tryin' t' go t' our school."

Dorothy countered, "He'll go to Cloud Dancing's school."

Loren announced, "Speakin' of schools, I hear tell the Reverend found a teacher for the children at his school."

"Someone to teach the deaf children?" Dorothy was pleased. "That is good news. I'll have to find out more about it. After that last man he hired...."

Loren's jaw tensed, "That wasn't a man. It was a monster."

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

Hank rolled over in bed and opened his eyes a slit. There lay Lexie beside him. He smiled and rubbed her belly. Then his hand wandered up to her breast. He began to unbutton her nightgown and caress it.

Lexie felt herself begin to stir, and she awakened, "Hank...."

"Mmm?" he leaned closer to kiss her.

"I.... I don't think...." she hesitated.

"I think you're just what I need," Hank repositioned her.

She knew she had to tell him, "Hank, I can't. Dr. Mike said it could hurt the baby."

"What?" he lifted up.

"We can't make love," she came out with it. "It's too risky."

He attempted to calm his pulse, "Why didn't ya tell me before?"

She felt tears welling, "I didn't.... I didn't know how. I didn't want to disappoint you."

He eyed her curiously, "You could've told me, Lex. Why's it risky?"

She steeled herself for his reaction, "Because of what I've been through since we conceived the baby. The rape.... measles."

"Does Michaela think the baby's okay?" he voiced his concern.

Lexie responded, "She thinks there's some risk."

"What kinda risk?" he was uncertain.

She lowered her moist eyes.

Hank lifted her chin with his finger, "Tell me."

"Lots of things could go wrong," Lexie warned. "I could even lose the baby."

The thought was a kick to his gut, "Lose it?"

"Yes," she gauged his reaction. "So, we have to be careful not to do anything that might jeopardize the pregnancy."

He sat up, "I see."

"Hank," she placed her hand on his back. "I'm sorry. I know how much you.... we both enjoy making love."

"Well, we gotta do what's best for the kid," he stated. "So, it's settled."

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

Preston entered the Gazette office, "Ah, Brian, my good man. There you are."

Brian looked up from the printing press and wiped his brow, "Preston, what can I do for you? Did you wanna place an ad?"

"An ad?" he cleared his throat. "Uh, no. I was thinking it is I who can do something for you."

"What?" Brian dried his hands.

Preston removed his hat, "Well, I have news that could prove to be quite a coup for the paper. But I'm afraid it needs further investigation."

"What kinda news?" Brian was intrigued.

Preston informed him, "It seems a certain Senator is going to announce his position on Indian policy regarding land allotment, something in which I know your father takes great interest."

"What Senator is that?" Brian inquired.

"Our very own Senator Teller," Preston replied. "I have it only through hearsay, mind you. But if you were to go to Denver, speak with the Senator yourself, then perhaps...."

"I'm going with Ma to Evergreen tomorrow, so it will have to wait until...." he was interrupted.

"I'm afraid the Senator leaves for Washington the day after tomorrow," Preston interjected. "You'll miss your opportunity to discuss it with him."

Brian pondered, "I need to talk with my Ma about it."

"Of course," the banker nodded. "Oh, and Brian, please keep this between the two of us. If I were to be revealed as a source of this information.... well, you can understand my position."

"I don't reveal my sources," he spoke as a good journalist.

Preston tipped his hat, "Good day, then."

************
Chapter 10
************

Brian entered his mother's office at the hospital to find Colleen seated at her side of the desk.

"Hey," he kissed her cheek. "How's the ankle?"

She shrugged, "It's all right. The swelling has gone down some, but I need to keep it elevated as much as possible. What brings you here?"

He sat down, "Well, I told Ma I'd go with her to that lumber camp, but now I have an opportunity to investigate a story, and...."

Colleen assumed, "And that would mean you can't go with her."

"Yea," he sighed.

She smiled, "I'm sure Ma will understand. I wish I could go with her, but with my ankle...."

"What about Andrew?" he mentioned.

Her expression changed, "I don't think that would be a good idea."

"Why?" he was puzzled.

Colleen explained, "I'm afraid he's somewhat of a lost soul right now, Brian. He's even been spending lots of time at the Gold Nugget."

He reasoned, "Then this might be good for him. He could get away from things."

She lowered her eyes, "I know a lot of this is my fault."

"How?" he questioned.

"I believe he thinks that I've moved on without him," she revealed. "But.... I really haven't. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep over all that's happened."

"Do you still love him?" he posed the question.

"Part of me does," she confessed. "But I don't think it's enough."

Brian was blunt, "Do you love Lewis?"

"Lewis?" her eyes widened. "Of course not. Not like that, anyway. He's a friend. A good friend, and he's very easy to talk to."

"I wonder...." he considered.

"Wonder what?" she anticipated.

He posed the question, "I wonder if a vision quest might help Andrew."

She dismissed the idea, "A vision quest is for folks who believe in its powers. But.... well, Andrew barely accepts the notion of using Cheyenne medicine."

"Do you think he'll stay in Colorado Springs?" the young man asked.

She told him, "To be honest, I'm surprised he's stayed this long."

"How would you feel about it if he went back to Boston?" Brian questioned.

"I'd feel...." she hesitated. "I'd feel sad, I guess."

He folded his arms, "It sounds to me like neither one of you knows what you want."

She mused, "We're quite a pair." She stood up and reached for her crutches, "Well, I need to see a couple of patients."

"Be careful," he worried.

"I won't be up for long," she responded. "Thanks, Brian. Good luck on your story."

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

Michaela finished examining her patient's leg, "Well, Charlie, I think you can go home today."

"That's great news, Dr. Mike," he grinned.

She cautioned, "But I have a long list of things I want you to do in order to prevent infection."

Edna Alden put her hands on her hips, "I can guarantee he'll do everythin' on that list, Dr. Mike."

"Good," Michaela smiled.

Sister Mary Margaret entered the room, "Your son, Brian, is here to see you, Dr. Quinn. He's in your office."

Michaela responded, "Here's that list, Edna. I'll be back to discuss it with you shortly. If you'll excuse me...."

She left the room and headed to her office, "Brain? I didn't expect to see you here. Is everything all right?"

"Ma," Brian stood. "I have an opportunity to get a news story in Denver, but I have to act quickly on it. Would you mind if I don't go with you to Evergreen?"

"What kind of news story?" she was curious.

He returned, "I'm not at liberty to say, but if it pans out, it could be quite a scoop."

She encouraged, "Then by all means, pursue it."

"Could you find someone else to go with you?" he felt guilty.

"Don't worry about me," she patted his arm. "When must you leave?"

"Soon as I can," he replied.

She embraced him, "Then good luck."

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

Sully deposited the last batch of wood he had cut near the hearth.

Bridget entered the living room, "You think that's enough, lad?"

He wiped his brow, "It's goin' below freezin' t'night."

"This is the coldest I can ever remember it gettin' this early in the year since I came t' Colorado," she recalled.

Sully grinned, "Ya ain't been here that long. Believe me, I've seen worse."

She folded her arms, "Dr. Mike said she's goin' t' some loggin' camp."

There was a subtle change in Sully's demeanor, "Yea."

Bridget noticed, "You worried about it?"

"I wish I could go with her," he stated. "But we both agree one of us needs t' be here with Josef just startin' t' school."

"Aye," she agreed. "But it sure is quiet without him around, runnin' under my feet."

Sully joked, "That's 'cause the twins are takin' a nap. Just wait 'til they're up. They'll do plenty o' runnin'."

She observed, "Josef seems t' like his teacher right well."

He knew, "Still, somethin' could happen t' change things. It's only his third day."

"How long will Dr. Mike be gone?" the nanny questioned.

"I reckon a week or so," he assessed.

"Good thing Hope is weaned," she noted.

"I know," he nodded. "A trip like this is hard enough without a baby."

Bridget remarked, "We'll miss Dr. Mike."

He felt a lump in his throat, "Yea, we will."

She grinned impishly, "Maybe you could do somthin' special t'night."

He returned the smile, "I was thinkin' the same thing."

"I'll see that the leprechauns don't disturb ya," there was a gleam in her eyes.

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

Michaela glanced at the clock, knowing it was nearing the end of her workday. She went to the medical cabinet and began to withdraw supplies which she would need for the lumber camp.

Colleen entered the office, "Ma, are you sure you want to make this trip?"

She paused, "I'm certain. These people need a doctor and soon. I'm particularly concerned about the women who are about to give birth."

The young woman sighed, "Of all times for me to sprain my ankle."

Michaela turned up the corner of her mouth, "I'll be fine."

They heard a knock at the door and turned.

Colleen smiled, "Lewis?"

He entered, "I just saw Brian in town, and he said Dr. Mike was leaving tomorrow to go to Evergreen."

"That's right," Michaela acknowledged.

Lewis went on, "He said he couldn't go with you and was concerned about your traveling alone."

"I was just telling Colleen I'll be fine," Michaela noted. "There's no reason to be concerned."

He offered, "I could go with you, Dr. Mike."

"That's very sweet of you," she commented. "But you're in the midst of your research and...."

"It's not something that can't wait," he informed her. "I'd be happy to accompany you. It's the least I can do to repay you for letting me do my research here at the hospital."

Michaela closed her medical bag, "No, thank you, Lewis, but I truly appreciate your offer."

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

Andrew leaned against the bar, sipping a shot glass of whiskey. The burning sensation from the taste began to fade. At that moment, he felt a hand on his back.

It was May, "Hey, there."

"Hello," he smiled uncomfortably.

"Bad day?" she assumed.

"I managed to avoid seeing my wife.... ex-wife at the hospital," he gulped the remaining contents of his glass.

She stroked his arm, "I think I might have something to help you."

He tensed, "I.... I don't feel right about that, May. It's not that you're unattractive. I mean, you're very beautiful, but...."

"That's not what I mean," she smiled alluringly. "I have something else that might help."

"What?" he was puzzled.

"Come with me," she took his hand and led him to the steps.

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

Michaela supervised Katie in the back seat of the surrey. The little girl insisted on holding Hope on the ride home, and Michaela wanted to insure that the baby was safely tucked in her sister's arms. Josef climbed into the front seat hoping that his father would allow him to hold the reins.

"How was your day?" Michaela looked at her son.

"Weal good," he had a wide grin.

Katie contributed, "Mama, Joey always raises his hand now."

Michaela was pleased, "That's wonderful."

"No," Katie shook her head. "He even raises it when he doesn't know the answer."

"Josef?" Michaela was puzzled.

The little boy turned to look at his mother over his shoulder, "All the kids put hands up, Mama."

"Yes, Sweetheart," she advised. "But that's because they would like to answer the question."

"I wanna answer," he insisted.

Michaela explained, "But if you don't know the answer...."

"Know what?" Josef interrupted. "When I don' know the answer, Mrs. Slicker tells me. Ain't that good?"

"Isn't...." Michaela corrected. "Isn't that good?"

Sully chuckled softly and tapped his son's leg, "Here, Joe. You can hold the reins."

"Thanks, Papa!" the child quickly pivoted to take charge.

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

Hank entered the Gold Nugget in time to see Andrew ascending the steps with May. He grinned to himself, thinking at least someone would be enjoying the company of a woman tonight. There would be no more making love to Lexie until after the baby. He sighed in frustration. Casting a glance toward one of his girls in the corner, he felt his body stir.

"No," he told himself.

Loren entered the Saloon, "You talkin' t' yourself?"

"What d' you want, old man?" Hank stepped to the bar and poured himself a shot glass.

"Beer," Loren placed a coin on the counter. "What's got you in such a good mood?"

"That," Hank gestured to the prostitute in the corner of the bar.

"What about her?" Loren cast a glance.

"Forbidden fruit," Hank sighed.

Loren chuckled, "It must be that time."

"What time?" Hank's brow wrinkled.

Loren took a sip of beer, "The time when ya gotta stay away from your wife."

"How you know?" Hank was curious.

"'Cause I been married," Loren stated. "An' I know that there comes a time when she's gonna have a baby that ya gotta stop.... well, ya know."

Hank elaborated, "It's more than that, Loren. Dr. Mike thinks the kid might.... it could be dangerous."

Loren became serious, "Ya mean lose the baby?"

Hank nodded, "Yea."

"I'm real sorry t' hear that," he sympathized.

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

Michaela, Sully and Bridget finished bathing the children and preparing them for bed. They all gathered in Katie's room, in the hopes of hearing a story from their father.

Sully smiled as he glanced at Michaela. Holding Hope in her arms, she seemed to be studying each of her children's faces, knowing she would not see them again for several days.

"Where's Bran?" Josef wondered.

"He had to go to Denver on business," Michaela replied.

Sully looked at her curiously, "Is he gonna meet ya there before ya leave for Evergreen?"

Not wanting to upset the children, she interrupted, "Let's discuss this later."

Sully began the story for the children.

When he finished, Michaela cleared her throat, "Children, I have something I want to tell you."

"You gonna have another baby?" Josef spoke up.

"What?" Michaela was taken aback. "No, Sweetheart. Why would you ask that?"

Josef shrugged, "Ya jus' look like it's somethin' important."

She resumed, "What I want to tell you is that I must go away for a few days. There are some people living far away from a clinic who need a doctor."

"Can't they get another doctor?" Katie frowned. "Why do you have to go, Mama?"

Sully interceded, "Your Ma's the best doctor in the state, Kates. If you were sick, wouldn't ya want the best?"

Josef's lower lip curled under, "They better not be sick very long. I want Mama here."

Michaela tried to explain, "I'll be home before you know it. In the meanwhile, you'll have Papa and Miss Bridget. Colleen and Brian will be around, too. I'll bet Matthew and Emma will bring little Michael over. So you'll have lots of company."

Katie sighed, "If I was sick, I'd want you t' make me better, Mama."

Annie crawled toward her mother, "I come, Mama."

"No, my darling," Michaela leaned closer to kiss her.

Josef asked, "When are ya leavin'?"

"Tomorrow," she answered. "Right after you go to school."

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

May held up a small stone bowl, no larger than a thimble.

"What's this?" Andrew wondered.

She replied, "It's what will make you feel better."

He watched as she attached the stone bowl to a bamboo stem, fashioning a pipe.

"Now, hold this," she handed the device to him.

"May," he was puzzled. "What...."

"Shh," she quieted him as she lifted a paste from the table near her lamp.

Holding the waxy ball on the end of a wire, she positioned it over the flame of the lamp. When it melted, she worked it down into the pipe.

"Now, inhale," she directed him.

"I...." he was reluctant. "It smells like chocolate caramel."

"Go on," she encouraged. "You'll see what good medicine I have."

Andrew drew the smoke deeply into his lungs and exhaled the white smoke through his nostrils.

"Take another breath of it," May told him. "Soon, you will feel no more pain."

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

With the children in bed, Michaela entered her bedroom, followed by Sully. She stopped just inside the door. There, near the fireplace, was the bathtub, filled with steamy, bubbly water. The covers had been pulled down on the bed and a scrapbook lay atop it.

"What's all this?" she paused.

Sully placed his hands on her shoulders, then slid her long hair to the side to kiss her neck.

"I thought you could use some pamperin' before your trip," he spoke softly.

"Sully," she pivoted to look into his eyes. "About my trip."

He waited, "You said we'd discuss it later."

"I know, but..." she stopped when he kissed her.

He drew back, "I don't want the water t' cool down. It's time for your bath."

She tingled in anticipation, "My bath?"

"Yep," he came around behind her to unbutton her blouse and slide the material from her shoulders. "It'll be a while before ya can have one again."

She gulped at the sensations he was stirring, "Yes, I suppose it will."

Soon he had also removed her skirt. Gently lifting her to sit on the bed, he unlaced one shoe, then the other. His hands slid up the length of her stockings before he rolled each one down her leg. He paused every few inches in the process to kiss her flesh.

"Sully," she closed her eyes and leaned back to savor the tantalizing effect he was having.

She thought to herself, this must be heaven.

Then he went to her vanity and returned with a spoon and the wild carrot seeds.

Setting it on the nightstand beside their bed, he whispered, "In case we need this later, we won't forget."

Michaela turned up the corner of her lips in an enticing smile.

Sully lightly ran his fingertips along the line of her jaw and recited:

"I love thee - I love thee!
'Tis all that I can say;
It is my vision in the night,
My dreaming in the day;
The very echo of my heart,
The blessing when I pray:
I love thee - I love thee!
Is all that I can say."

Her heart filled, "Was that Milton?"

"Thomas Hood," he noted.

"It was lovely," she smiled.

He grinned, "Ready for your bath?"

************
Chapter 11
************

Lying back on May's bed, Andrew felt a delicious lightness, as if he were floating. He closed his eyes and rose higher and higher, through the roof into the starry night. Circling overhead, he could see everything more clearly than he had in months. The wind blew, and he floated along with it. He did not want the sensation to end.

Before he knew it, he had crossed the Rockies, the Mississippi River and Appalachian Mountains. He was over Boston. There was the Charles, the harbor. It was as if he were in a balloon. He directed himself to the house in which he and Colleen had dwelled.... into their bedroom.

"Colleen," he called.

The sound echoed in his ears. Suddenly, he lost control of the direction of his voyage. The light breeze had become a tornado, and he began to spin wildly. He headed downward toward the Atlantic Ocean, certain to crash.

He lifted his hands to cover his eyes, but he could not reach them. With arms flailing, he screamed and crashed.

Slowly opening his eyes, Andrew found himself on the hard wooden floor of May's room. He opened his eyes, struggling to focus.

Next, he attempted to stand, but was too dizzy, "What.... what happened?"

May knelt beside him, "You're all right."

His stomach was queasy, "I don't think so."

"Here," May helped him up. "Let's get you back in bed."

"No," he dusted off his pants. "I.... should go home. What.... what was in that pipe?"

"Opium," she informed him.

"Opium?" he was shocked. "I smoked.... a narcotic?"

She pointed out, "I'm sure you've given narcotics to many of your patients, Doctor."

"But...." he paused.

"How did you feel at first?" she questioned.

"At first?" he struggled to remember. "I felt.... like I was floating. It was wonderful."

"It will be like that again," she smiled knowingly.

"I can't," he reached for his jacket. "I can't do this again."

With that, he left her.

May spoke to herself, "You'll be back."

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

Michaela closed her eyes and relaxed in the steamy water. Sully lathered a cloth and began to wash one of her arms, then the other.

As he did so, he paused to kiss her, "These arms hold me an' always welcome me home."

Next he worked on her legs and feet, "These ran t' me in the street bringin' you home t' me from Boston."

He massaged her abdomen, softly whispering, "This is where ya carried our sweet babies." Working his way up to her breasts, he caressed them, "An' fed them."

Michaela felt as if she were floating. His lips inflamed every pore of her being.

Finally, he touched her mouth, "These are the lips that first told me ya loved me."

She drew his finger into her mouth and guided her tongue around it to arouse his ardor.

He leaned closer for a kiss, "Tell me again."

"I love you," she smiled. "With all of my heart and soul."

"Good," he grinned. "I think you're clean enough."

"What about you?" she challenged. "Now that I'm so clean, I think it only proper that you should bathe."

"In your lilac water?" he joked.

She stood up and wrapped a towel around herself, "Perhaps I could reciprocate in another way."

"Another way?" he was puzzled.

She took his hand, "Come here."

She guided him to the basin of water near her vanity. Then she slid her hands up his chest to unbutton his shirt. With each button, she leaned in to kiss and caress his chest.

"Michaela," he closed his eyes.

She dipped a cloth into the basin and lathered it. Then she began to stroke the sudsy material across his chest. Sully removed his shirt and pulled her closer. Then he loosened the towel from around her.

He felt her quiver against his torso. She undid his buckskins and knelt to pull them down his muscular frame. Resuming the loving washing of his body, she trailed the cloth with her kisses. She noted his body's immediate reaction to her gesture.

"I think I'm clean enough now," his voice was different.

"Yes, it appears so," she mused.

He teased, "You're pretty proud of yourself, huh?"

"For what?" she lifted up.

"For havin' that effect on me," he enfolded her in his arms.

She denied, "I wouldn't say that I'm proud. It's more...."

He noted the flush in her cheeks, "More what?"

"Flattered," she described. "I'm flattered that I.... that we have the effect on one another that we do."

"Like you said, we'll never take it for granted," he lightly ran his hands up and down her sides.

They commenced a leisurely and fulfilling kiss. Each could feel the intensity of it growing as their bodies awakened further to the other. Sully drew back and grinned.

It was the smile she knew so well, inviting and full of anticipation of what lay ahead. He led her to their bed. Lifting her up, he soon positioned himself beside her and opened the scrapbook.

She was surprised, "We're going to.... look at photographs?"

"Sure," he sounded serious. "Don't ya like t' look at 'em?"

"Of course," she remarked. "But I thought.... that is, I assumed that we...."

He grinned, "First things first, Dr. Quinn."

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

Hank stepped into the ranch house and noticed that Lexie was in the bedroom. He lit a lamp, then went to check on her.

"Hey," he smiled. "How ya feelin'?"

She looked up, "I didn't expect to see you home so early."

"Not much happenin' at the Saloon t'night," he shrugged. "So, ya didn't answer my question. How ya feel?"

"I feel all right," she sat up. "I'll fix you something to eat."

"Nah," he gently touched her shoulder. "I ain't hungry."

She rubbed his stubbled face, "Something you want to talk about?"

He eyed her intently, "No. How 'bout you?"

She broached the subject, "I think we should discuss the ranch. I don't know how we're going to maintain it now."

"You wantin' t' sell it?" he assumed.

"It's too much for us, Hank," she reasoned. "We might as well get what we can for it and the cattle."

He hesitated, "You sure?"

"Yes," she nodded.

He guided her back and changed the subject, "You need t' rest. It won't be long now until the baby comes."

She smiled, "It's hard to believe, isn't it?"

"Yep," he stroked her hair.

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

With his wife near, Sully opened the scrapbook.

"Remember when we overheard Katie describin' these pictures t' Josef?" he recalled.

"I remember," she smiled. "We've added quite a few photographs since then."

"This picture here," he pointed to their wedding. "I thought the day that was taken was the happiest of my life."

"Thought?" she noted the past tense.

"Yep," he turned the page to a photograph of Katie. "Then we had this little girl."

She smiled, "So the day she was born became the happiest?"

"Yep," he continued. "Then I stopped thinkin' about it 'cause everythin' ya did made me happier than the day before."

She paused to look at the photographs from their last trip to Boston.

"Mother," she ran her finger along the edge of the photograph.

Sully noticed the change in her demeanor and wiped the single tear that trickled down her cheek.

He kissed her shoulder, "I didn't mean t' upset ya."

She smiled, "You're my strength, Sully. You helped me through my darkest hours."

"We helped each other," he amended.

He jumped ahead several pages, "I wanted ya t' see this one. I just put it in."

The picture was of the entire family at Hope's baptism.

Michaela admired, "Oh, Sully, it's wonderful. I didn't know it had arrived."

"You've been kinda busy," he grinned as he gestured toward a small envelope tucked in the page. "This is for ya t' take on your trip."

She opened it and found a smaller version of their family portrait.

They fell quiet for the moment, enjoying the warmth of lying beside one another. Then Sully set aside the book and lowered the lamp to let the flickers from the fireplace illuminate the room.

"You remember the first time we slept in this room?" he uttered near her ear.

"I'll never forget it," she turned to look at him more fully. "You made everything in our home so special. Every detail was crafted with incredible love."

He caressed her cheek, then lifted her hair to inhale its scent. Letting it fall though his fingers he gazed into her eyes.

Michaela stirred at the intensity of his look.

She whispered, "I don't think we should let those carrot seeds go to waste. Do you?"

He smiled, "I thought you'd never ask."

"You wanted me to ask?" she raised an eyebrow.

"If ya don't mind," he studied her expression.

"Mind?" she framed his face in her hands. "There's nothing I want more than for us to be together tonight."

He slid his arm around her waist and kissed her forehead. Then they paused, simply gazing at each other with unbridled love. No longer capable of containing his longing, Sully positioned himself above his wife. His eyes searched hers, waiting breathlessly for her unspoken invitation.

He discerned the approving gleam in her eyes. Then she slid her hands around his back. Gently, he brought himself to her, ever mindful of the delicacy of her body since having Hope.

He spoke low and longingly, "You're so beautiful, Michaela."

"Love me, Sully," she whispered.

She felt the heat of his body begin to penetrate to her core. A slight moan escaped her lips as she reacted to his overtures. Slowly at first, they commenced their union. Then in perfect unison, they reached the apex of their love. Locked in an embrace, they hoped to sustain their intoxicating contact as long as possible. Trembling bodies began to calm at last.

Sully rested his head near hers and pulled up the sheet to cover them both.

He softly kissed her, "Think that'll help ya remember me while you're gone?"

Her heartbeat matched his, "I may need another reminder when I return."

He chuckled, "It'll be my pleasure."

"Sully," she paused.

"Mmm?" he was beginning to feel sleepy.

She requested, "Would you do something for me while I'm away."

"Sure," he was curious. "What?"

"Keep an eye on Hank," she mentioned.

His brow wrinkled, "Why?"

"You know how he is," she was vague.

He lifted up slightly, "What's goin' on, Michaela?"

"It's Lexie," she paused. "I examined her the other day."

"Is she okay?" he was concerned.

"I hope so," she swallowed hard. "But her baby is much further along than we originally thought."

He was unsure, "Much further along? Ya mean she's gonna have it soon?"

"November," she specified.

He calculated, "So the baby don't belong t' the rapist?"

"It's Hank's," she revealed.

Sully smiled, "Well.... that's a good thing, ain't it?"

"I'm worried about the fact that she had the measles after the baby was conceived, rather than before," she noted.

He swallowed hard, "I heard stories of children bein' deaf or worse from their Ma havin' measles when they're expectin'."

"Yes," she stroked his arm. "There could be complications. That's why I advised Lexie to not be intimate with Hank for the duration of this pregnancy. And it's why I want you to keep an eye on him."

Sully was puzzled, "Keep an eye on him for what?"

"To see that he remains faithful to his wife," she stated.

He sighed, "Michaela, that ain't our business."

"It's important that Lexie not become upset at this time," she explained. "If Hank were to.... seek affection elsewhere, it could have devastating effects."

"But I can't stop Hank from doin' somethin' like that," Sully resisted.

She pondered, "Perhaps you could speak with him. He values your opinion."

Sully was doubtful, "I don't know about that."

She mused, "You can be very persuasive, Mr. Sully."

He touched a particularly sensitive spot on her body, "Only one person I wanna be persuasive with."

She savored his attention, "And she appreciates it immeasurably."

They kissed anew.

Finally, Sully drew back and glanced at the clock, "We best get some sleep."

She hesitated, "I told you earlier that Brian went to Denver."

"An' you're meetin' him there before goin' on t' Evergreen?" he anticipated.

She took a deep breath to steel herself for his reaction, "Brian can't go with me to Evergreen. He had the opportunity to investigate an important story, and it may take several days."

He tensed, "I don't want ya goin' by yourself, Michaela."

She assured, "Preston is introducing me to a guide in Denver. I won't be by myself."

His brow wrinkled, "Preston's goin' with ya?"

"Yes," she spoke calmly. "Don't worry."

"What kinda guide has he hired?" he questioned.

She reasoned, "I assume someone who knows the terrain. Really, Sully, I'll be fine."

He was reluctant, "What if...."

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

With that, she snuggled closer to him and closed her eyes. Sully soon felt the rhythmic breathing of her sleep. He lifted up to be certain, and she did not move. Now he was wide awake, uneasy at the thought of Michaela's traveling with Preston. He trusted his wife with his life, but the banker was another story. Yet, he did not want to object to her going to do the work she was born to do.

Rising from the bed, he donned his drawers and strolled to the cradle.

Hope's eyes were alertly open.

"Hey, little girl," he smiled.

Hope cooed and moved her legs vigorously. Sully could not resist holding her.

"Okay," he lifted her into his arms and kissed the soft dark hair of his youngest child. "What're you still doin' awake? Mmm?"

She smiled. Sully felt as if his heart would melt.

Michaela opened her eyes at the gentle murmurs of his voice. She watched her husband with their daughter and smiled at his questions.

Sully carried the baby to the rocking chair, "What am I gonna do when you show that smile to a young man one day? You an' Katie an' Annie. What am I gonna do when my girls find some man other than me t' love?"

Michaela closed her eyes again, lulled by the tender tones of Sully and the sweet coos of Hope.

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

Andrew entered the hospital and nodded to the nun who sat at her reception desk.

"You're up awfully late, Dr. Cook," Sister Mary Martha observed. "Is something wrong?"

"No," he assured. "I just.... that is.... I thought perhaps...."

"Dr. Colleen Cook is on duty," she perceived. "She's in her mother's office."

"It's her office, as well," he knew from the partner's desk. "Thank you, Sister."

He stepped down the hallway, trembling slightly from his earlier ordeal.

"Colleen?" he paused at the door.

"Andrew!" she was surprised. "What are you doing here?"

"I.... came to see if you needed any help," he lied.

She assured, "Things are pretty quiet tonight."

"Oh," he sounded disappointed.

She noticed his appearance. His eyes had dark circles beneath them, and for the first time, she noted that he appeared to be losing weight.

Colleen queried, "Are you all right? You look.... pale."

"Me?" he folded his arms tightly against his chest. "I'm quite fine, thanks."

"How about a cup of coffee?" she offered.

"No," he felt his hands tremble.

Suddenly, his world went black, and he collapsed onto the floor.

************
Chapter 12
************

Hope began to fuss in Sully's arms. Instantly, Michaela wakened.

"I think she's hungry," he set the baby beside his wife. "I'll go fix her bottle."

Michaela sat up and cradled the child in her arms. Hope began to settle, then tried to latch on to her mother's breast. The little one was adjusting well to the bottle, but the instinct to nurse was still strong for both of them. Michaela could not deny her daughter, and soon the baby was contentedly feeding.

When Sully returned, he paused at the door to watch, "I reckon I took too long."

Michaela stroked her daughter's fine hair, "I'm afraid I couldn't refuse her."

"'Course ya couldn't refuse her," he sat down beside them.

Michaela sighed, "I've never weaned our children at this young an age, Sully. I wonder if...."

He lightly rubbed her back, "It's okay. It's only natural for both of ya t' wanna keep doin' it."

Michaela voiced her concern, "But what if she needs it while I'm gone?"

He returned, "She'll do fine. She was okay when we went t' Denver for Cloud Dancin's court hearin'."

She felt tears welling in her eyes, "I don't know if I can leave her for this long."

He pointed out, "It's too hard a trip for her t' come with ya."

"I know," she wiped the moisture.

"Shhh," Sully kissed her temple. "Everythin' will work out. Look. She's sleepin' now."

Michaela tilted her head against her husband's.

"Here," he lifted the baby and took her to the cradle. Gently setting Hope down, he rocked her for a moment, then returned to Michaela.

When he crawled back into bed beside her, Michaela suddenly sat up.

"What's wrong?" he was puzzled.

"The carrot seeds," she reached for them. "I nearly forgot. It's a good thing I fed Hope before eating them."

He watched her chew them thoroughly, then drew her into his arms again.

She stroked his hand, "Thank you, Sully."

"For what?" he savored the warmth of her body next to him.

"For my bath," she smiled. "For loving me.... and for all the other things you do for me."

He teased, "That's a lot."

She closed her eyes, "It's everything."

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

Colleen waved smelling salts beneath Andrew's nostrils.

"Wha...." he opened his eyes. "What happened?"

"You fainted," Colleen examined his pupils. "When was the last time you ate?"

He struggled to remember, "Breakfast.... I think."

"Breakfast!" she was astounded. "No wonder you fainted."

He denied, "I.... I must have just slipped on the floor."

"Andrew, you were unconscious," she insisted. "I'm going to get you something to eat."

"It's after midnight, Colleen," he rose to his feet.

"And you're not well," she gestured. "Now, sit down and let me help you."

He sighed, "I don't want to bother you. Your ankle...."

She eyed him compassionately, "It's no bother."

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

Michaela awoke before dawn, her mind swirling at all she needed to do in preparation for her trip. Sully was still asleep, his back to her. She sat up and yawned. Shivering from the cold, she reached for her nightgown and robe. Then she slid from her husband's side to fetch her travel bag.

She knew she would have to pack light. After tossing two logs onto the fire, she opened a drawer and began to place some folded clothing into her bag.

A soft murmur came from Hope's cradle. Michaela ceased her packing to lift the baby.

Whispering low, she swayed slightly, "Good morning, my darling. Mama's going to miss you."

Hope's eyes widened. It almost seemed to Michaela that her daughter was trying to speak. Only a grunt came out.

Michaela smiled, "Is that 'good morning?'"

"Ahhh," the baby moved her arms.

"Shhh," she smiled. "We don't want to waken Papa."

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

Andrew awoke. He could only discern a dim light coming through the window. Where was he? The hospital?

"You're awake," Colleen's voice roused him further.

"I.... How did I get in here?" he was uncertain.

"Sister Mary Martha helped me bring you in last night," she informed him. "You don't remember eating?"

"Vaguely," he was thirsty. "Do you think I could have a glass of water?"

"Sure," Colleen poured a glass from a pitcher on his night stand and held it near his lips. "Just sip it."

"Thanks," he lifted up to drink.

His head felt as if it would split open, and his face cringed.

"I'll get you something for that," she offered.

"For what?" he denied.

"Your headache," Colleen stirred some powder into his glass of water. "Why don't you tell me what's going on?"

He frowned, "Nothing's going on."

"Suit yourself," she started for the door.

"No," he reached out. "Don't go. Please."

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

Preston approached the Depot, "Ah, Horace my good man, is the morning train to Denver on time?"

"Last I heard it was," he nodded. "You need a ticket?"

"Two tickets," he held up his fingers.

Horace tilted his head, "Who's goin' with ya?"

"Michaela," Preston answered.

His eyes widened, "Dr. Mike's goin' with you t' Denver?"

"Don't look so shocked," the banker frowned. "She's going to treat some patients at my logging camp. It's all perfectly proper."

"Hmph," the telegrapher stamped some papers. "Here's your tickets."

Preston set some cash on the counter top, "Keep the change."

Horace was amazed at his generosity, "Thanks!"

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

Michaela finished inspecting Katie's dress, then wiped Josef's face with a clean cloth, attached a ribbon to Annie's hair and tied Noah's shoes. When she began to look over Katie's homework, she heard Hope crying.

"I'll fetch her, Dr. Mike," Bridget ascended the steps.

Sully entered the homestead, "Surrey's all hitched."

Michaela felt a moment of hesitation as she caressed the faces of her children, "Now, promise me that you'll be good for Papa and Miss Bridget."

Josef put his hands on his hips, "I don' s'pose I can talk ya outa goin'."

"I'll be home as soon as I can, Sweetheart," she assured.

"No, Mama," Noah implored with tears in his eyes.

"Please don't cry, my darling," she knelt down to him. "You'll have lots to do."

"Come here, No-bo," Sully lifted his youngest son to the ceiling.

"No, Papa," his lower lip curled under. "Down."

Sully lowered him to the floor and gently patted his behind.

Michaela embraced the children. It was upon this scene that Bridget arrived with the baby.

Once in her mother's arms, Hope calmed quickly.

"I'll be back," Josef bolted for his mother's office.

"Josef!" Michaela called to him. "It's almost time to go."

Sully counseled, "Give him a minute."

Guiding his wife into the kitchen, Sully embraced her with Hope in between them.

He advised, "It's gonna be colder up there, an' most likely they'll get snow if they ain't had it already. Don't take any chances. Let folks come t' you. Don't go off by yourself."

"Yes, sir," she smiled slightly.

His blue eyes pierced to her very soul, "Michaela, things can happen real quick up there. A tree could fall the wrong way or...."

She lightly touched his lips, "I'll be careful. As you always tell me, I have much to come home to."

Then she kissed Hope's forehead.

Sully reached into his pocket, "I got somethin' for ya."

"A letter?" she recognized.

"Might help keep ya warm," he winked.

She extended her free hand to caress the hair at the base of his neck, "Thoughts of you always do."

He noticed the flush of her cheeks, "I love you."

"I love you, too," she lifted up to kiss him.

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

Beneath the desk in his mother's room, Josef sighed, "Gran'pa, we gotta talk."

"What's wrong?" the older man's voice questioned.

Josef fought back his emotions, "I want Mama here, but she's goin' 'way."

"When she was your age, she would cry when I had to be away at the hospital," he recalled.

"She missed ya?" he reasoned.

"Yes," he returned. "Of course, that made it very difficult for me to leave. I felt guilty. There was nothing that melted my heart more than seeing my little girl cry."

"Mama was a little girl?" the thought had never crossed Josef's mind.

"A beautiful little girl," the voice softened.

"That must be why she's beau'ful now," Josef figured. "Did she have them eyes when she was little?"

The older man chuckled softly, "Oh, yes."

"Annie has 'em, too," the little boy noted.

The voice replied, "Yes, she does. Now, about your Mother's trip.... you must understand that she's a doctor in a part of the country where many people have never seen one, my boy. The ill are in need of her services, but.... I suppose you need her more."

"Well...." Josef hedged. "I'm not sick or nothin'."

The grandfather continued, "Then, I must assume that you want your mother to feel guilty about leaving."

"No," the child's brow wrinkled. "Mama didn' do anythin' wwrrong."

"Then what is it?" he probed.

"I.... I miss her," Josef admitted.

"What if...." he stopped. "No, I don't suppose you would do that."

"Do what?" Josef tilted his head.

The voice offered, "What if you were to encourage your mother to go... with your best wishes.... then she wouldn't feel guilty, and she would know how much you support what she is doing?"

The little boy folded his arms, "Ya use big words like Mama."

"Then I'll put it simply," he proposed.

"Good thinkin'," Josef smiled.

The grandfather counseled, "Say to her, 'I love you, Mama. I know you'll come home as soon as you can.'"

Josef pondered.

The grandfather waited, "Well?"

"I guess ya know what you're talkin' 'bout," Josef admitted.

"I know my Mike," he added. "And I know she loves you with all her heart."

The child's eyes widened, "How ya know that?"

"She told me," he stated.

"Mama talks to ya, too?" Josef was amazed.

"Oh, yes," he replied. "The day you were born.... and I might add it was quite a day.... your mother and father told me you were a cherished reminder of me. That's why they named you after me."

"After Mama, too," Josef amended. "I'm Josef Michael."

"Michael would have been my son if...." he spoke wistfully. "Well.... I got your mother instead."

"Know what?" Josef smiled. "Maybe I could be that son ya never got."

"You are, little one," the voice began to fade. "You are."

Michaela entered the room, "Josef? Sweetheart, I...."

"I know, Mama," he interrupted. "I know ya gotta go."

She knelt down, "I'm sorry."

He slid out from under the desk and embraced her, "I love ya, an' I know you'll come home soon as ya can."

"You do?" she was surprised.

"Yep," he nodded. "Gran'pa told me."

"Josef," she stroked his back. "You know that Grandpa is not really here, don't you?"

He eyed her skeptically, "I ain't talkin' t' myself."

She chuckled, "I love you, too. Shall we go now?"

He took a deep breath, "'Kay."

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

Colleen handed Andrew the medicine, "Here, swallow this."

He consumed the liquid, "Thank you."

"This reminds me...." she paused.

"Reminds you of what?" he questioned.

Colleen sat down and elevated her ankle, "It reminds me of when you were so sick at the Clinic, and I took care of you."

He smiled slightly, "Yes, I remember that."

An uncomfortable silence followed.

Andrew cleared his throat, "Did you get any sleep last night?"

"About as much as you," she studied his features. "Let me get you some breakfast."

"No," he slowly sat up. "Thank you. I.... I'll eat at Grace's."

"Andrew," she broached the subject. "Have you been drinking?"

His jaw tensed.

She added, "I don't mean to pry, but.... from a medical perspective.... you know."

He sighed, "I.... I drink as any normal man would. What makes you think...."

She interrupted, "I've heard that you frequent the Gold Nugget."

Andrew stood up and reached for his coat, "That's none of your business."

She helped him with his jacket, "I'm worried about you."

He paused to look at her, unable to control the hurt in his eyes, "Don't be."

"Will you be on call while Ma is in Evergreen?" she wondered.

"Your mother is going out of town?" he was surprised.

Colleen nodded, "Yes."

"Certainly, I'll be here," he pledged.

"Good," she smiled. "How about tonight?"

"Yes, of course," he put on his hat. "I'll see you later."

Colleen watched him depart, uncertain of what was wrong with her ex-husband but determined to find out.

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

After bidding goodbye to Katie and Josef at school, Michaela and Sully headed for the Depot.

He put his arm around her for reassurance, "They'll be fine."

She forced a smile, "I know."

He stopped the surrey at the Depot.

Horace ventured from his office to greet her, "Mornin', Dr. Mike. Sully."

Sully fetched his wife's bag, "Mornin'."

Michaela reached into her purse, "I need a ticket to...."

"Already taken care of," Horace cut her off. "Preston paid for your ticket."

Sully's jaw tensed.

Michaela noticed and gently guided her husband to the benches, "Shall we wait over here?"

"Sure," he was barely audible.

They sat, side by side, wanting to speak what was in their hearts.

"Michaela," "Sully," they spoke simultaneously.

He smiled, "You first."

She took a deep breath, "I don't want you to worry about me. I'll be fine. And don't let Preston upset you."

He linked his fingers in hers and raised them to his lips, "'Fraid ya can't make me stop worryin' about ya."

She turned up the corner of her mouth and caressed the hair at his temple, "Think about when I come home to you and the children. That's what I'll be doing."

"Don't sound like you'll have much time for thinkin' about us with all the folks who need a doctor up there," he knew.

She sighed as her eyes welled.

"Hey," he pulled her closer. "I was just kiddin'."

"I know," she felt a lump in her throat. "But this is terribly hard, saying goodbye, first to the children.... now to you."

He kissed her sweetly, "Read my letter whenever ya feel lonely."

His words and proximity warmed her, "I shall."

At that moment, they heard the train whistle.

Sully gazed into her eyes, willing her to draw the strength she needed from him. A single teardrop trickled down her cheek.

Sully leaned closer to kiss it, "I love you, Michaela. I'll see ya soon."

"I love you, too," she cupped his cheek in her palm. "Take care."

************
Chapter 13
************

When Sully spotted Preston's approach, he stood up.

The banker smiled broadly, "Well, well, come to see the little woman off, have we?"

"She ain't a little woman," Sully eyed him sternly. "An' if you try somethin', I swear I'll...."

Michaela interjected, "Gentlemen, I believe the train is departing shortly. Mr. Lodge, if you'll excuse us, I'd like to say goodbye to my husband."

"Of course," Preston tipped his hat and retreated.

Michaela looked at Sully, "Take a deep breath."

"Huh?" he was puzzled.

"So you'll calm down," she explained.

"That man...." he stopped himself.

Michaela slid her hands around his waist, "That man means nothing to me. You're my world, Sully. You know that."

He cautioned, "Don't turn your back on him, Michaela."

She rose up to kiss him, "Good bye."

"'Bye," he kissed her deeply.

Her breathing quickened, "Mr. Sully, we're in public."

"Just makin' sure the public knows who's wife ya are," he grinned.

She rested her palms on his chest, "The public or Preston?"

"Both," he kissed her again.

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

Andrew stepped into the Gold Nugget.

"We ain't open yet," Hank spoke before seeing who was there. Then he noticed, "Andrew? What the hell are you doin' here so early? Why ain't ya at the hospital?"

"I just came from there, actually," the physician removed his hat. "I'd like a whiskey."

"At ten o'clock in the mornin'?" Hank's eyes widened.

Andrew ignored the question, "Is May here?"

"Upstairs," Hank gestured.

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

Before heading home, Sully decided to visit Cloud Dancing. When he arrived at the Indian School, he noticed that the soldiers had vacated the position that they had occupied since the facility opened.

Nearing Cloud Dancing's lodge, Sully called to his friend.

"My brother," the medicine man caught sight of him. "It is good to see you."

"You, too," Sully shook his hand.

His friend queried, "How is Josef doing in his school?"

"It was rough for him at first," Sully noted. "But he warmed up t' his teacher, an' now he loves it."

"Good," the Cheyenne medicine man smiled. "A child who likes his teacher learns well."

"I guess," he nodded.

"Dr. Mike is not with you?" Cloud Dancing wondered.

Sully rubbed his upper lip, "Michaela's goin' up t' Evergreen t' help some folks."

"That is where the Ute and Arapaho once hunted," he recognized the name.

Sully noted, "She's headed for Denver first, then on t' a lumber camp."

Cloud Dancing studied the sky, "It will snow soon."

Sully tilted his head, "I was thinkin' the same thing. You got everythin' ya need here?"

"I believe so," he nodded.

"The Army's gone now?" Sully recalled the entrance to the school.

"They left not long after I returned from Denver," Cloud Dancing stated.

Sully assessed, "Seems like a good thing they're gone. They can't harass ya anymore."

"I do not know if they will be back," he returned.

Sully fell silent.

"You are worried about Dr. Mike," Cloud Dancing sensed.

Sully picked up a small twig at his feet and toyed with the edge, "Not worried exactly. Preston took her t' Denver t' meet some guide."

"Preston," Cloud Dancing spoke the name with disdain.

"The man's nothin' but trouble," Sully stated. "I don't have a good feelin' about this, but I got no right t' ask Michaela not t' go. These folks need a doctor."

Cloud Dancing affirmed, "You must trust that Dr. Mike will do all that she can."

"I do trust that," Sully assured. "But I don't trust Preston."

The medicine man asked, "You believe he will trick Dr. Mike?"

Sully sighed in frustration, "I don't know what he'll do. All I know is that ever since he first laid eyes on her, he's done everythin' he can t' make her take notice of him."

Cloud Dancing smiled, "As I recall, Preston did not make a good first impression on her."

Sully's jaw tensed, "He frightened her, lurkin' around the homestead. I swear if he does anythin' t'...."

The friend mentioned, "She is a woman who can take care of herself."

"I know," Sully felt his heart warm. He treasured his friend's wisdom and extended his hand, "Thanks, Cloud Dancin'. I best be goin'."

The medicine man smiled, "The little ones will keep you busy while Dr. Mike is away."

Sully grinned, "Busy ain't the word."

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

Preston helped Michaela from the train at the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Depot. As she waited on the platform, the banker looked around.

"Do you see the guide?" she was curious.

He withdrew his pocket watch, "No, and he's late."

She sighed, "How reliable is he?"

Preston acknowledged, "About as reliable as anyone else in Denver."

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

Hank glanced at the wall clock in the sheriff's office. Lunch time. He missed Lexie's bringing a meal for him. He missed.... other things, too. Standing, he decided to head for Grace's for a bite to eat. Before he reached the door, it opened.

"Sully?" Hank was surprised to see him.

"You busy?" he queried.

The sheriff put his hands on his hips, "Just goin' t' Grace's for somethin' t' eat."

"Mind if I join ya?" Sully said.

"Suit yourself," Hank shrugged. "Somethin' on your mind?"

He hedged, "Nothin' in particular."

Hank quipped, "I hear Michaela left town with Preston."

Sully maintained his temper, "Very funny."

"I don't trust the man," Hank stated. "Neither should you."

"You don't need t' tell me that," Sully agreed. "I ain't seen eye t' eye with Preston since I met him."

"I remember when we went lookin' for that Senator's son with him," Hank recalled. "Preston don't think normal."

"An' you do?" Sully joked.

"I don't goad a man int' fightin' me like he did you," Hank was serious. "Ya damn near killed him, then turned around an' saved his life. Maybe you're the one who don't think normal."

They reached the Cafe and sat down. Grace brought them coffee, then took their menu orders.

"So what's really on your mind?" Hank wondered.

"I.... uh, just stopped by t' see how Lexie's doin'," Sully revealed.

"She's okay," he looked down.

Sully counseled, "This is a real rough time for a pregnant lady, Hank. Be patient with her."

"I am," he became defensive.

"No offense," Sully remarked. "I just mean, ya gotta be careful not t' upset her. She'll be real sensitive. Somethin' little can become real big for her."

"I reckon you speak from experience," Hank smirked.

"Ya learn a lot when your wife has five kids," Sully leaned back.

Hank swallowed hard, "Michaela told Lexie somethin' could go wrong."

Sully advised, "Another reason t' make things easy for her."

Hank folded his arms and exhaled, "I don't know if I'm cut out t' be a husband or father."

"You love her?" Sully posed the question.

"Sure," Hank replied.

"Then you'll figure a way," he noted.

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

Andrew began to exit May's room, "Thank you for the talk. I appreciate...."

She interrupted, "Don't go yet."

"I promised Colleen I'd help at the hospital later," he added.

May held up the opium pipe, "If you're going to see her, this might help ease the pain."

He was tempted, "I.... I don't know, May. The last time I smoked it...."

She suggested, "It will be better this time."

She prepared the device for him. Andrew sat on her bed.

"Loosen your tie," May suggested.

Soon, she had readied the pipe for him. He gave in to the temptation."

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

Michaela sat on a bench at the Denver Depot and glared at Preston, "Are you certain that we were to meet the guide here? Without a guide, I can't reach Evergreen."

He was clearly flustered, "These people are depending on you, Michaela. There's only one thing I can think of to do."

"What?" she tilted her head.

Preston declared, "I'll have to take you myself."

"You?" she was surprised. "What do you know about...."

He interrupted, "I can assure you that I have had a great deal of experience making this trek. After all, I own the lumber mill. However, it will be difficult in places. Wait here, and I'll get some horses."

She watched him leave, uncertain if the guide was truly missing or if this was just a ruse by Preston to get her away from Sully. No, even he would not be that dastardly.

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

Sully gathered the children by the living room fireplace as Bridget prepared supper.

Josef tapped his father's knee, "Where's Mama now, Papa?"

"Now," he paused. "She's on her way t' a little place called Evergreen."

"I never heard of it," Katie said. "Where is it?"

Sully responded, "Outside o' Denver. Once the Ute an' Arapaho hunted there. Then folks started passin' through on their way t' the gold mines. It began as a stage coach stop, but then some folks settled there."

"I wanna wwrride a stage coach," Josef expressed.

"Me, too," Noah pointed to himself.

Sully tickled his young son, "You do?"

"Yep," Noah nodded.

"We see Mama?" Annie hoped.

Katie stroked her little sister's hair, "Not yet, honey."

Sully continued with his story, "Back before the lumber mills came, they used t' say Evergreen's trees were so close t'gether, ya couldn't even walk a horse between 'em."

Josef's eyes widened, "That's close!"

Sully went on, "They cut 'em down t' construct a lot o' homes an' buildin's in Denver."

Josef grew concerned, "How's Mama gonna get there if she can't go thwough the twrrees?"

"That ain't the only thing hard about gettin' there," Sully revealed. "The mountain road is rough. It takes a full day just t' get t' Evergreen from Denver."

Katie calculated, "You mean Mama won't get there 'til tomorrow?"

"Right," Sully caressed her cheek. "So, we gotta be real patient an' know that your Ma will be gone for a while."

Bridget entered the room, "Dinner's ready."

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

Preston glanced at Michaela, then slowed his horse.

She challenged, "Why are we stopping? Are you lost?"

"No," he dismounted the animal. "But it will be dark soon. I suggest we make camp."

Michaela sighed in frustration and alit from her horse.

"I'll gather some wood for a fire," Preston offered.

Michaela folded her arms against her chest, then rubbed them for warmth. Her heart longed to be with Sully and the children, but she knew her medical talents were needed elsewhere. She closed her eyes, for the moment, envisioning her family at dinner.

"Dinner," she opened her eyes.

Preston returned, "Once I start the fire, I'll heat some water for tea. Then I can cook the rations I brought."

"You seem well prepared," Michaela watched.

"Always be prepared," he grinned. "One of the first rules of business."

She felt uneasy at his smile and looked away.

"Don't worry, Michaela," he knelt down to tend the fire. "I'll have your tea ready in no time."

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

Andrew closed his eyes, lost in a drug-enduced fog. He had no concept of time or day. His body, mind, and awareness were no longer under his control. The anxiety he had felt was gone. He could think of no more blissful state. In fact, he could think of nothing at all.

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

Loren entered the hospital and stepped to the desk, "Uh.... excuse me, sister. I was wonderin' if Dr. Colleen Cook is here."

Sister Mary Margaret looked up, "Yes, Mr. Bray. Are you ill?"

"No," he removed his hat. "I just wanna talk t' her."

"I'll see if she's available," the nun excused herself.

Loren looked around the sterile room. Dr. Mike had come a long way since her days in the dusty old Clinic. He smiled at the thought of the proper Boston lady adapting to the rough ways of Colorado and frontier living, then turning it around and bringing Boston to the frontier.

His thoughts were interrupted by the return of the nun.

"Dr. Cook will see you," she announced. "Right this way."

Loren followed her down the hallway and into the beautifully decorated office.

"Mr. Bray?" Colleen looked up.

He noticed her elevated taped ankle, "What happened to you?"

"A silly sprain," she sighed. "What about you? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he gestured. "Mind if I sit?"

"Please do," Colleen invited. "What brings you here?"

"Andrew," he said.

"He sent you?" she was uncertain.

"No," Loren squirmed slightly in his seat. "I.... I'm worried about him, an' I thought you oughta know what's goin' on."

She took a deep breath, "I know he's been drinking heavily."

"There's more to it than that," Loren added. "He's taken up with one o' Hank's whores."

Colleen felt as if she had been punched in the stomach, "Andrew? I.... I don't believe it."

Loren lowered his voice, "I been hearin' things."

"What kind of things?" she ventured.

"One of Hank's girls, May.... the new one from San Francisco," he paused. "I been hearin' that she's got somethin' in her room that makes a man more like a mouse."

"What are you talking about?" she probed.

"Opium," he whispered. "I hear she gives men opium."

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

Preston and Michaela finished the meal he had prepared.

"Thank you," she smiled. "It was delicious."

He took her empty plate, "As good as the vittles your mountain man prepares?"

She ignored the dig, "So, when do you think we'll be in Evergreen?"

He assessed, "Well, if we depart at dawn, I would think perhaps by early afternoon. The trip would be quicker if the road weren't in such condition. One day, I hope to have a rail line connecting the town with Denver."

"I see," she nodded.

He stood, "I think I'll get some more wood for the fire. I want to keep it going while we sleep."

She felt a twinge in her stomach at the notion that she was in the wilderness.... alone.... with Preston. But so far, he had been a perfect gentleman, and tomorrow, she would be around other people.

"I'll be right back," he turned.

Michaela positioned herself against her saddle. Then she covered herself with two blankets and withdrew her family photograph and Sully's letter from her coat pocket. After insuring that she was alone, she began to read.

************
Chapter 14
************

Colleen's brow wrinkled, "Opium. You're joking, aren't you?"

Loren's look was serious, "I wish I was. You know what that stuff does t' folks, Colleen. Why.... remember Dorothy's son, Tom. He got addicted t' that morphine an'...."

"I remember," a chill shot through her at the recollection of Tom Jennings' breaking into the old homestead. "But.... Andrew's a physician. He knows the dangers of using narcotics."

"Maybe he don't care," Loren offered. "Or.... maybe he thinks it won't happen t' him."

She assessed the wisdom of his words, "Thank you for coming to tell me."

"You gonna do somethin'?" he questioned.

"Yes," she determined. "Is he at the Gold Nugget?"

"My guess is yes," he nodded.

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

Michaela read her husband's words:

"Dear Michaela,

I figure right about now, you've made camp and are getting ready to sleep. I wish I was lying there next to you, holding you. As I write this, I am already missing you something terrible. I'll miss kissing you good night. I'll miss waking up to your beautiful kisses. I'll miss watching you with our sweet children.

Remember the last time we were together. As with each time we have renewed our love, my heart is yours. You taught me how to live again, then made me want to spend the rest of my life learning even more from you.

When I think about the words of our wedding vows, their meaning does not do justice to what's in my heart. Love. Cherish. They're too simple for what I feel. To love you, my soul has opened to you. To cherish you, I behold five little hearts that beat with ours. Is my heart big enough to hold all that you've created for me?"

Michaela stopped reading when she heard Preston return. Carefully, she folded the letter and returned it with the picture to her pocket.

The banker knelt beside the fire, "Something interesting?"

"Pardon me?" she looked up.

"What you were reading," he indicated. "Was it something interesting?"

"Yes," she felt a lump in her throat. "Very interesting."

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

Hank frowned when he saw Colleen Cook enter the Gold Nugget. The set of her jaw and determination in her somewhat limping step reminded him of Michaela on a mission. Loose strands of her blonde hair fell onto her face when she stopped at the bar. All eyes turned to listen and to watch her.

Hank lifted a glass of whiskey, "So, what can I get ya, Doc?"

"Hank," her brown eyes glared. "Is Andrew here?"

"Look around," he motioned. "You see him?"

She frowned, "I mean is he upstairs?"

"Well, now," he grinned. "That's a private matter."

"Do you employ a girl named May?" she probed further.

"Yep," he poured a shot glass for himself.

"I want to speak with her," she demanded.

He smirked, "I protect my employees from.... jealous wives."

"I'm not jealous, and I'm not a wife anymore!" she insisted. "But if she has an opium den operating in this saloon, I'll...."

"You'll what?" he raised an eyebrow. "Call the law?"

"It's a narcotic, Hank," she stated firmly. "It's addictive and destructive."

"Sorta like some o' that medicine you an' your Ma give out?" he shot back. "Like laudanum an' morphine?"

"We prescribe medicines for specific ailments and conditions," she qualified. "What's going on here is irresponsible and illegal."

He countered, "An' any man who goes up them steps is an adult who goes of his own free will."

Colleen's back straightened, "What would the Town Council think of an opium den in their midst? Or what would the Reverend have to say if...."

"Hold your horses," he raised his hand. "I ain't sayin' what you're accusin' is true. But even if it was, there's no law against it in Colorado any more than there's a law against drinkin'. You can get opium in just about any town in Colorado. You ever hear of Hop Alley in Denver? It's full of prostitutes an' opium dens. From what I hear, even your Ma's Boston has opium joints. So don't come in here preachin'."

Wincing from the pain in her ankle, Colleen pivoted and exited.

"This round's on the house, gentlemen," Hank hoped to break the silence in the room.

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

"Papa," Annie's voice beckoned from the next room.

Sully rose from the chair and set aside the book of poetry he had been reading.

Entering the twins' room, he leaned over his daughter's crib, "What's wrong, darlin'?"

"Tummy," she rubbed her stomach.

He lifted her, "You not feelin' good?"

"No," she tilted her head against his shoulder.

"Maybe a drink o' water would help," he offered as he carried her from the room.

With the little girl in his arms, he descended the steps into the kitchen. The fading embers of the fireplace cast enough light to see his way to the water pump. With his free hand, Sully retrieved a glass and set it atop the counter. Then he began to pump fresh water.

Annie took a sip of the cool liquid, but her stomach was still unsettled.

"Sick, Papa," she was overcome.

With that, the toddler wretched up her dinner. Sully soon cleaned her face and hands. Then he held a clean cool cloth on her head.

"Ear," she tugged at her lobe.

Sully examined the area and saw nothing wrong. Touching her forehead with his lips, he detected a fever. That convinced him that he should take the little one to the hospital. Colleen could....

The door to the homestead opened, and Colleen stepped in.

"Colleen," he was relieved. "Ya must've read my mind. I was just gonna bring Annie to see ya."

"What's wrong?" the young woman removed her coat.

"Annie just threw up," he detailed. "She's got a fever an' earache."

"Poor darling," she stroked her sister's forehead. "Would you let me hold you, Annie?"

"No," the girl clung more tightly to her father. "Papa hold."

Sully encouraged, "It's all right, honey. You know your sister's a doctor just like Mama."

"Mama," tears began to flow down Annie's cheeks. "I want Mama."

Colleen examined Annie's ear, "It's otitis media. I'll give her something."

Sully gently swayed with his daughter, "Hear that, Annie? Colleen's gonna make ya better."

"Better," she nodded slowly, then returned her head to rest on his shoulder.

The little girl cooperated as Colleen administered the medicine. Soon settled, the child fell asleep on her father's lap. Colleen watched her father and sister for several minutes in silence.

"Somethin' troublin' ya?" Sully spoke low.

"Yes," Colleen swallowed hard. "Andrew. He was supposed to be on call tonight at the hospital, but I had to get Dr. Cassidy instead."

Sully waited for her to continue.

Colleen took a deep breath, "Late last night, Andrew came to the hospital, dehydrated and pale. He hadn't eaten, and he collapsed."

"Collapsed?" Sully was surprised.

"Pa," she came out with it. "I found out he's been smoking opium at the Gold Nugget."

"Opium!" his eyes widened.

She detailed, "Apparently, Hank's new girl is supplying him."

Sully's eyes reflected his concern, "I know miners who came back from San Francisco with tales about opium dens. The stuff renders a man useless."

She added, "I confronted Hank about it but got nowhere."

"Have ya talked t' Andrew about it?" he was curious.

"Not yet," she replied. "But I will."

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

Preston returned with the added wood for the fire. He sat opposite Michaela, the crackling fire between them.

"That should do nicely," he watched the flames shoot higher. "Are you warm enough?"

"Yes, thank you," she returned. "But I am getting rather tired."

"Of course," he nodded. "It's been a long day for you."

"And for you," she added politely.

As Preston studied her features, he was struck anew by her beauty.

His tone seemed different, "Do you remember when we first met?"

"Yes," she began to feel uncomfortable. "At the Depot when Sully and I returned from our honeymoon."

"That's right," he smiled. "Ten years ago."

She wondered, "Why did you ask?"

He paused, then mentioned, "I was thinking of the first impression I had of you."

Michaela was curious, "Oh, and what was that?"

"I was awe struck," he answered. "You were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. And...."

"Mr. Lodge," she interrupted. "I don't feel comfortable discussing such things."

"I mean no offense," he fidgeted. "You asked about my first impression. I thought your husband was the luckiest man in the world. Mind you, I have never understood what you see in him."

"Why do you persist in this?" she challenged.

"In what?" he was uncertain.

She clarified, "Why do you persist in berating my husband? Sully has never done anything to you. He even saved your life."

"And I have saved his," Preston noted. "We're even."

She sighed, "It's not a matter of keeping score. It's a matter of accepting what you cannot change, or for that matter, accepting what you cannot understand."

"I truly do want to understand, Michaela," he stated. "Can't you explain to me what you see in him?"

"It's none of your business," she asserted.

He offered, "I know that you find me abrasive and feel uncomfortable around me."

With his frank admission, she let down the constant guard she kept around him.

"You want to know why I married Sully...." she paused.

"Yes," he leaned forward with interest.

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

Awaking with a start in the rocking chair in his bedroom, Sully felt Annie's sleeping limp body against his chest. He checked her forehead. It seemed cooler. That was a relief. He was glad that Colleen had decided to spend the night. It would help her to be among family, and he felt better having a doctor in the house.

Poor Colleen. He remembered the role he had played in prompting Andrew to ask for her hand in marriage. Sully had always shied away from matchmaking or interfering, but it was different with the young couple. Colleen and Andrew had seemed well suited.

"Seemed," he sighed. Caressing Annie's golden curls, he whispered, "See what happens when folks meddle?"

"Mmm, Mama," Annie opened her eyes slightly.

"You're all right, darlin'," he comforted.

Annie fell back to sleep. Sully assessed that his daughter could now be placed in her own bed. He carried her down the hallway and gently set her in her crib. As he paused to caress her cheek, he realized that soon she would need a larger bed, as would Noah. He had been thinking of just the right designs for them. He had crafted Katie's bed in the same pattern as Michaela's in Boston. But, he wanted something different for his middle daughter.

"I'll think on it, Annie," he whispered.

After covering her with a blanket and kissing her forehead, he checked on Noah, then returned to his own room. He stopped at the door to glance at his empty bed. For a moment, he reflected on what Michaela must have gone through each night that he was a fugitive, climbing into their empty bed in a room filled with reminders of their life and love.

But he had the luxury of knowing Michaela would be back. Back then, she had no such assurances that he would come home to her. There had been many nights during his time of exile during which he wondered if it could ever be possible for him to return. He had even worked out a plan to turn himself in, just to give Michaela peace of mind that he was safe. But she never gave up trying to free him. She never gave up on anything. It was one of the many things he adored about her.

Strolling to Hope's cradle, he knelt down and softly rubbed the sleeping baby's belly. Then, he went to the bed and settled on the mattress. Closing his eyes, he hoped to dream of Michaela.

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

Michaela stared into the embers of the fire, her cheeks flushing at the visual reminder of her last evening with Sully.

She smiled wistfully then spoke as if Preston were not there, "I married him because I fell in love."

"That's it?" Preston was disappointed.

"Love is a powerful thing," she recalled her husband's frequent remark.

"But why did you fall in love with him?" he persisted. "He had nothing to offer you."

"You couldn't be further from the truth," she toyed with her wedding ring.

Preston reasoned, "I suppose you had a certain curiosity about his primitive backwoods behavior."

"You underestimate my husband," her eyes narrowed. "Sully is the most inspiring human being I have ever met. He has honesty and integrity. He...."

The banker raised his hand, "But what could he offer you?"

"You speak as if he has given me nothing," she assessed. "I have a beautiful home and family, but most of all, I have love."

"Beautiful home?" he scoffed. "That.... log cabin?"

She pointed out, "You once asked him to build a home for you."

"I thought the appearance of my living in a rustic house might attract more business," he allowed. "If people thought I were one of them...."

She shook her head, "You still don't understand."

He commented, "I understand that you gave up a cultured and refined life in Boston to come here, then settled for a man who...."

"A man who makes me happy," she completed his sentence.

"But why, Michaela?" he struggled to comprehend.

She fell silent, studying the face of this man who had been a nemesis to Sully these many years. Would it do any good to explain why she loved her husband.... To put into words something that was so incredibly special, she sometimes found herself incapable of communicating it? But Michaela had always been able to use the power of words as well as the power of medicine.

Preston spoke, breaking the silence, "I suppose I've offended you.... again."

"I think you're past offending me," she had reached the limit of her patience. Then the thought occurred to her, "What about you? Haven't you ever been in love?"

He concealed the hurt in her question. Did she not realize that he loved her?

"Me?" Preston pointed to himself. "I was starting to fall in love with Isabelle Maynard, but...."

"But she had leprosy," Michaela knew. "What about before you came to Colorado?"

He did not like being the one who was questioned, "That's personal."

Her curiosity was piqued, "So, it's all right for you to pry into my personal life, but not the other way around."

"I think life out here has changed you," he veered from the subject.

"How could it not change me?" she reacted. "Haven't you changed?"

"Not in what I consider to be important," he defended.

"And you think that has changed for me?" she felt her temper rising. "You know nothing about how I feel or what I consider to be important. My private life is none of your concern, and from now on, I'll thank you to keep your nose out of it."

With that, she positioned herself against the saddle with her back to him.

Preston sighed and thought to himself, "You certainly are a challenge, Michaela."

At that moment, she sat up and glared at him, "And one more thing. I have never, ever given you permission to address me by my first name."

Then she repositioned herself on her side and pulled out Sully's letter.

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

Sully opened his eyes, restlessly. He sat up and caressed Michaela's pillow. Then he rose from the bed to go check on Annie. She was resting peacefully.

Returning to his room, he knelt down to reach for a book at the bottom of a stack beside the bed. When he pulled it out, several books on top tipped over. One of them was Michaela's Bible. It opened, and a piece of paper fell out. He lifted it and immediately recognized his wife's writing.

"Probably one of her lists," he chuckled.

But upon closer inspection, he realized it was not a list. It was a note she had written.... to him.

************
Chapter 15
************

Sully turned up the lamp and held Michaela's note close.

"Oh, Sully, if you only knew how my heart aches for you. I cannot tell you about my worst fears, so I write them here to preserve my sanity. If I am able to win your freedom, I shall destroy these words without ever letting you see them, but for now, I must put down on paper my innermost thoughts, or I don't know what I shall do."

Sully looked up, hesitant to go on reading her most intimate feelings.... ones that she never meant for him to see.

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

Michaela continued to read Sully's letter to her:

"I want you to think back, Michaela. Think back on all the people you've healed over the years. I never tell you enough how proud I am of what you do. Being married to a woman like you is indescribable. You're a force of nature, and yet the gentlest soul I ever met.

When someone needs your help, you get a fire in your beautiful eyes. It's the same eyes that look at me and reach right into my soul. Your smile sets a fire that glows bright enough to light up the world. When you touch me with your healing hands, it makes my heart feel like it will overflow.

When we were courting, I wanted to make sure you never tried to change me. You seemed pretty set on the same thing, that I wouldn't try to change you. I don't think either of us knew what we were in for. If I knew then what I know now, I would invite you to change me in a heartbeat."

Michaela smiled at his observation. She knew exactly what he meant. She felt the same way. Returning to his letter, she continued.

"Sometimes I think I know you better than I know myself. Then you turn around and surprise me. Please, never stop surprising me, loving me, wanting me.

I imagine you are reading this just before going to sleep. I want you to look up at the sky, and find the brightest star. Then read these words of Goethe:

'Stars, you are unfortunate, I pity you,
Beautiful as you are, shining in your glory,
Who guide seafaring men through stress and peril
And have no recompense from gods or mortals,
Love you do not, nor do you know what love is.
Hours that are aeons urgently conducting
Your figures in a dance through the vast heaven,
What journey have you ended in this moment,
Since lingering in the arms of my beloved
I lost all memory of you and midnight.'"

Never forget the power of our love, Michaela.

I am, forever your devoted husband,

Sully."

Michaela felt her body tingle at his sentiments. Drawing the blanket higher, she imagined his arms around her. Soon she drifted off to sleep.

Preston had not taken his eyes off her since she turned away from him. He regretted upsetting her, but the woman was so damned stubborn and impossible. Perhaps that is why he found her so alluring.

He noticed the piece of paper fall to her side. A puff of wind blew it closer to him. He reached down to look at it, then began to read.

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

Sully stopped himself. He could not read the words Michaela never intended him to see. It would be like invading her diary. Intense as his curiosity was, he could never read something that his wife never wanted him to see. He decided to return the paper to the Bible and not think about it again.

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

Preston finished reading the love letter Sully had composed to his wife. The banker granted that the mountain man was more literate than he gave him credit, but the sentiments were somewhat boyish. Certainly, Michaela would not find such prose to be of her liking. However, it did confirm something he had long suspected. Michaela was just as passionate in her private life as in her public.

As quietly as he could, Preston placed the letter beside her, then returned to his place by the fire. Studying her breathtakingly beautiful features, he closed his eyes to sleep.

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

Andrew opened his eyes, uncertain of where he was. His sense of smell told him. He was in May's room. He attempted to sit up and focus. There were two other men passed out in the room. May was sitting beside a third, offering him a pipe.

"Stop," Andrew attempted.

Suddenly, he realized that his speech was slurred. He shook his head to clear it.

May approached him, "Well, hello."

"What... what time is it?" he questioned.

"It's nearly dawn," she returned. "You can sleep some more."

"No," he staggered to his feet. "I have to go."

"Let me help you," she held his coat. "I'll see you this evening."

"Not if I can help it," he rushed from the room.

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

Dorothy entered the Mercantile, "Mornin', Loren."

"You're here awful early," he observed gruffly.

"I have a few things to get for the Gazette," she glanced at her list. "What's wrong with you? You get up on the wrong side of bed?"

"No," his tone softened. "But I'm upset about what Hank's doin'."

The redhead raised an eyebrow, "What's he doin'?"

Loren lowered his voice, "He's lettin' that new whore run an opium den, is what he's doin'."

"Opium den!" her blue eyes widened.

"That's what I hear," he nodded.

Dorothy asserted, "We need t' do somethin' t' stop it."

"Nothin' we can do," he reasoned. "It ain't illegal."

She countered, "Then we should make it illegal."

He sighed, "I don't know...."

"Loren," she was certain. "You know what addiction can do to a person. Look at my Tommy. Sweetest of all my children, an' I ain't heard from him since...."

She could not go on. Loren came out from behind the counter and embraced her.

"Shhh," he comforted. "I know."

"Does Michaela know about this?" she wondered.

"She's outa town," he informed her. "But I told Colleen."

"Good," she nodded. "She can let Michaela know when she gets back."

"There's another reason I told her," Loren revealed.

"What?" she was curious.

He hesitated, then came out with it, "Andrew is one o' the men that's been seen at the opium den."

"My God," Dorothy's cheeks reddened.

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

At the breakfast table, Josef requested, "Papa, can we get the sleigh out o' the barn?"

Bridget's eyes widened, "Sleigh?"

The little boy nodded, "Papa says it's gonna snow."

"Maybe later, Joe," Sully watched Annie. "Meanwhile you can help me with the mornin' chores. Then I gotta go int' town for some supplies."

"I'll help with the chores, too," Katie offered.

"Me, too," Noah pointed to himself.

Katie turned to her older sister, "How about you, Colleen?"

"Sorry," she finished her coffee. "I need to get to the hospital."

Sully observed, "Seems like ya need t' give that ankle a rest."

"I'll be fine," she assured as she donned her coat. "Take care. Keep Annie out of the cold today."

Sully followed her out onto the porch, "You sure you're okay?"

Colleen took a deep breath, "I'll be fine, Pa. I just wish...."

"Wish what?" he wondered why she stopped.

"I wish I knew a way to prevent Andrew from doing this to himself."

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

After stopping at the Chateau to clean up and shave, Andrew reached the hospital.

Sister Mary Martha eyed him sternly, "Dr. Cook said you would be on call last night."

"I...." he fumbled for an excuse. "I wasn't feeling well, Sister. I'm very sorry. Is Colleen.... Dr. Cook in her office?"

"She's with a patient," she returned to her paperwork.

Dr. Cassidy spotted him, "Dr. Cook, how are you?"

Andrew noticed the nun was still listening, "I'm feeling better, thank you."

Cassidy pulled him aside, "It never hurts for a man to.... refresh himself at a bordello now and then. After all...."

Andrew cut him off, "It's not like that."

Cassidy grinned, "You don't have to explain to me, my good man."

Andrew noticed Colleen's approach. She passed by without a word and entered her office. Andrew followed.

"Colleen," he spoke with a heavy heart. "I apologize for not being here last night."

She pivoted and put her hands on her hips, "How can you do this, Andrew?"

"Do what?" he feigned ignorance.

"How can you do something so self-destructive?" she accused. "You'll ruin your life."

He put his head down, "Sometimes I think...."

"Think what?" her tone remained stern.

"Sometimes I think it's already ruined," he spoke quietly.

"That's ridiculous," she raised her voice. "You're a wonderful man, a gifted physician. You have the capacity to save lives, not destroy them."

He looked at her, "I'll be leaving for Boston tomorrow."

"Fine," she folded her arms. "I'm sure the opium is much more plentiful there."

"How did you...." he stopped.

"How did I know?" she completed his thought. "I found out what's going on at the Gold Nugget. Hank won't stop it. God knows how many unfortunate souls will become addicted because of that whore."

"May's not a bad person," he defended.

Colleen shot back, "Oh, I don't know. I think that someone who lures others into a life of addiction and misery is a very bad person."

"She listens," he countered. "She understands."

"She says what you want to hear so that you'll think she's sympathetic," Colleen stated. "Then, she plies you with that wicked substance."

Andrew was stung by her accusations.

She continued, "Look at yourself, Andrew. Look in a mirror. It's already taking a toll on you."

He stood straighter, "I just haven't been myself."

She pointed at him, "You'll never be yourself, you'll never be the man I once loved if you continue this."

"The man you once loved...." his voice trailed off.

She stepped closer, "I still care about you. I don't want you to do this to yourself."

"But you don't care about me the way you did," he lowered his head.

Colleen placed her hand on his arm, "I don't know what went wrong between us, but I do know that you'll always be in my heart."

He searched her eyes for the love he once saw. He saw only sympathy.

"I'll be going now," he stepped back.

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

As they rode into the Bear Creek Canyon town of Evergreen, Michaela was surprised at what she witnessed. Expecting to see merely a few shacks amid the majestic pines, she noticed instead shops for a blacksmith, a barber, a carpenter, two hotels, a Methodist church and two general stores.

Preston mentioned, "This is all to service the six sawmills in neighboring valleys."

She observed, "Why are there so many teams of horses at that store?"

"It's Saturday," Preston answered. "People meet to swap, as well as shop for goods. You can set up your medical practice at this hotel. They know me."

"This is a lot bigger than I imagined," she said.

"About 100 residents," Preston noted as he slowed his horse in front of the hotel.

When he dismounted, he was met by a stout Swedish woman who came rushing from the mercantile, "Mr. Lodge, did ya bring doctor?"

"Yes, Sara," he replied. "This is Dr. Michaela Quinn, from Colorado Springs."

Michaela extended her hand, "How do you do."

The woman meekly shook it, then looked at Preston, "A woman doctor?"

"I can assure you, Dr. Quinn is a fine physician," he nodded.

"Well, you're too late for one of our women," Sara stated.

"Too late?" Michaela felt a rush of anxiety.

"Else had her baby," she specified. "Two days ago."

Michaela queried, "Where are they?"

Sara gestured, "Up at the mill, in a cabin."

"I should check on them," Michaela asserted.

Preston mounted his horse again, "Come on then. I'll take you there."

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

Dorothy finished printing the last newspaper through the press. The headline read, "Colorado Springs' Fiendish Den."

"That should do it," she nodded. "If this don't get folks stirred up, nothin' will."

She took the stack of papers outside and placed them on the news stand. Several passersby picked up a copy. Soon a crowd gathered and began to discuss the article. Dorothy watched through the window as they crossed the street to the Gold Nugget. Voices began to raise in anger. Suddenly, a rock was thrown through the window of the saloon.

Hank raced from the Sheriff's office toward them, "What's goin' on?"

"This!" a woman held up the newspaper.

Hank glanced at it, "There's nothin' illegal about this. It ain't hurtin' any o' you, so just get on home."

"Hank Lawson, if you wanna remain sheriff, ya better do somethin' t' stop it!" an angry man shouted.

"It's no different from havin' prostitution," Hank shrugged. "Them that want it, can have it. Them that don't want it, can walk on by."

Another woman spoke up, "If it ain't illegal, we'll make it illegal. Then you'll have to enforce the law!"

Matthew heard the commotion and descended the steps of the old Clinic, "Hank?"

"Tell 'em, Matthew," the Sheriff gestured. "Tell 'em there's nothin' illegal goin' on in my place."

Dorothy came out of the Gazette office, "Just because the law don't say it's wrong don't mean it's right, Hank."

Matthew saw the news headline and read the first paragraph, "Opium?"

Hank raised his hands, "All right everyone, go on about your business."

Another woman shouted, "We're makin' this our business, Hank Lawson."

The crowd began to disburse, but Matthew remained, "Is this true, Miss Dorothy?"

"Every word," she nodded.

Hank glared, "You don't know know what you're talkin' about."

At that moment, Sully rode up and stopped at the old Clinic.

"What's the commotion?" he dismounted.

Dorothy pointed at Hank, "We're declarin' war on his little opium den."

"T' hell with all of ya," Hank brushed past them and entered the Gold Nugget.

Dorothy smiled, "Well, I think that went well."

With that, she pivoted and returned to the Gazette office.

Sully folded his arms, "Your sister's real upset about all this."

"Colleen?" Matthew's brow wrinkled. "What's she got t' do with it?"

"Andrew's been visitin' the opium den that one of Hank's girl's is runnin'," Sully stated. "That's why I came t' town. I wanna talk t' Hank."

"Then I'm comin' with ya," Matthew asserted.

Sully smiled, "You get enough sleep last night?"

Matthew chuckled, "Michael's got a good set o' lungs."

"It'll get better," Sully patted his back. "Come on."

They entered the Gold Nugget.

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

Michaela entered the tiny cabin and went straight to the new mother. The woman's blonde hair fell loose upon her pillow. At her side was an infant, small and frail.

Michaela looked around the room for a stove, then spoke to Sara, "Could you boil some water?"

"Yah," Sara's Swedish accent was more pronounced.

Michaela quickly removed her coat and knelt beside the woman, "I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn. Patients call me Dr. Mike."

"My baby," the woman's voice was weak.

Michaela delicately unwrapped the child and began to examine him, "What's his name?"

"Sven," her voice was faint.

"And your name?" Michaela asked.

"Anna," she sounded American.

Michaela caressed the baby's blonde hair, "Anna, have you been able to nurse Sven?"

"Only a little," she sighed, a single tear trickling down her cheek. "He won't suckle."

Michaela withdrew the stethoscope from her bag. She warmed it, then placed it on the baby's chest.

"His lungs are filling with fluid," she determined.

Sara approached, "It was hard to birth the baby."

Michaela continued to check the vital signs.

"What can you do, Dr. Mike?" Anna looked up with gray eyes.

"I'll do all that's within my power," she patted the woman's hand.

That was what she told the mother, but privately, Michaela was worried.... very worried that this newborn would not last the night.

************
Chapter 16
************

It took a moment for Sully's eyes to adjust to the darkness of the Gold Nugget. Then he spotted Hank in the corner. Tapping Matthew's arm, he gestured for him to follow.

Both men sat down beside the sheriff.

Hank took a drink directly from the whiskey bottle in front of him, "I ain't in the mood t' listen t' you two."

Sully leaned his elbows on the table, "Hank, you gotta stop this woman."

"What woman?" he denied.

Matthew spoke up, "You ever see someone addicted t' opium?"

"It relaxes the customers," Hank denied. "That's all."

"Hank," Sully's volume increased. "You know this is wrong."

"It's business," he took another swig from the bottle.

Sully related, "When I was at the minin' camp, I knew Chinamen who smoked the stuff. Anyone else who tried it got addicted, just like that. Pretty soon, they were bringin' in new workers 'cause those men either were too far gone t' work or dead. No one wanted them t' be a powder man."

"Good story," Hank leaned back.

Sully's brow creased, "It ain't a story. It's real. I saw men lose their jobs, their families, everythin' on account o' that poison."

Matthew added, "I think I'll pay a visit t' Denver t' see what can be done t' outlaw it."

"Hah!" Hank could not contain himself. "Denver's got it a lot worse."

Sully tried a new tact, "You know, real soon, you're gonna be a Pa. One thing bein' a father does is make ya wanna be the best man you can be."

"Sounds like double talk t' me," Hank was feeling the effects of the liquor.

Sully continued, "I done a lot o' things I ain't proud of, Hank. But one thing I never wanna do is make my kids ashamed o' me."

"Let's see...." Hank rubbed his chin. "Committin' treason might be one of them things. Right?"

Matthew contributed, "Listen t' Sully, Hank. You can stop all this. You can prevent lots o' people from ruinin' their lives."

Hank fell silent. Sully sighed, then stood up. Without another word, he left the Gold Nugget.

Matthew put on his hat and followed.

Hank swallowed more of the booze, "You don't understand business. I owe Preston too much money t' let this income slip through my fingers."

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

Anna's husband Elof had joined them in the cabin. He held his wife's weak hand.

Utilizing all of her expertise to save the baby, Michaela worked for several hours. However, the little one's breathing had become even more labored. She knew the child had not much time to live.

As Michaela's eyes glistened with moisture, she turned to the parents, "I... I have something I need to tell you...."

"No, Dr. Mike," Anna sensed the worst. "Don't say the words. We know. Would it be all right if we held him until the time?"

Michaela felt her heart ache, "Of course."

Ever so gently, Michaela placed the baby in his mother's arms, "I'll leave you alone."

Elof spoke in his best English, "We thank you, Dr. Mike, for all you try to do."

Michaela nodded and drew on her coat. When she stepped through the door, the cold air hit her abruptly.

Preston was waiting, "Is there anything I can do?"

"You can give these people better conditions in which to live and raise their families," she sounded bitter. "They need fresh vegetables. They need a goat to provide milk for the children. They need...."

Too overcome to speak further, she began to weep. Preston stepped forward and put his hand on her shoulder.

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

Colleen stood outside of Andrew's room at the Chateau. She could hear his pacing inside. Hesitating at first, she knocked.

Andrew opened the door, "Colleen?"

"I.... I came to say good bye," she broached the subject.

He glanced toward his trunk, "I was just packing."

"I see," she noticed. "Andrew...."

"Yes?" he waited.

Colleen bit her lower lip, then stated, "I... was thinking maybe you and I should reconsider our divorce."

"What?" his eyes widened.

"You heard me," she asserted. "I think we made a mistake."

"A mistake in getting a divorce?" he was incredulous.

"Yes," she folded her hands. "Working side by side again has reminded me of what we once had."

"Colleen...." he lifted her chin to look into his eyes. "Why are you saying this? Is it to get me to stay?"

"Of course not," she fibbed. "It's just.... I think we make a good team."

"So you want us to marry again to be a team?" he restated.

"Yes," she affirmed.

He paused, uncertain of her sincerity, "Do you still love me?"

She forced herself to say the words, "Yes, I love you."

Andrew recalled the first time she had ever said that to him. This time, her words were hollow.

"You don't have to do this," his eyes saddened.

Colleen placed her hand on his arm, "I can't sit back while you destroy yourself. If our divorce is what's led you to this, then I need to help you."

"You have no idea how much I've longed to hear you say that you love me and want us to be together again," he sighed. "But.... it can't be like this."

Her heart ached, "I'm sorry, Andrew. I'm so sorry."

Tears began to stream down her cheeks.

Stepping forward, he pulled her into his embrace, "Colleen, what happened to us?"

"I.... I don't know," she melted into his arms.

"Stay here tonight," he whispered.

She looked up into his eyes. She saw love and longing.

"It wouldn't be right," she hesitated.

Andrew regretted his request, "I'm sorry."

"I'd better go," she stepped back.

He watched her exit the room. Then he sat down in a chair beside the bed. Lowering his head into his hands, he closed his eyes. With a heavy heart for what he had lost, he began to weep.

Outside of his room, Colleen leaned against the door. Tears filled her eyes. She felt an overpowering sense of loss. She shut her eyes and let the tears fall freely down her cheeks.

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

Michaela flinched at Preston's touch. Straightening, she composed herself and stepped back.

"You said I could set up at the hotel?" she asked.

"Yes," he answered.

"That seems rather far from the camp," she assessed. "I believe it would be better to pitch a tent here, and let them come to me."

Preston explained, "I thought you'd be more comfortable...."

"I'm not here for my comfort, Mr. Lodge," she stated. "I want to get started as soon as possible. The other woman who is expecting a baby.... I'd like to see her first. Then the children. I want to vaccinate all of them for smallpox."

"I'll see to it," he left her.

Michaela turned to cast a painful glance at the cabin. She knew that inside, the parents who had brought that precious life into the world, were now saying their good-byes. Pausing, she withdrew the photograph of her own family from her pocket and ran her finger along each small face.

"What would I do if it were you, my darlings?" she felt a lump in her throat. "How could I say good-bye?"

She took a deep breath, hoping to compose herself. Her thoughts drifted back to the first baby who died in her care after she herself had become a mother. It had all been because of the inferior design of a baby bottle. The grieving father had sued her for malpractice, forcing her to cope not only with the loss of the child but with the possible loss of her license.

Suddenly, she heard cries emanate from inside the cabin. It was over. The little one was gone. Her tears came again.

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

Matthew stepped into the homestead and removed his hat. Sully greeted him, and the two men went into the living room.

Matthew apologized, "Sorry t' come so late, but I was helpin' Emma with the baby."

"How is he?" Sully sat.

Matthew's face beamed, "Real good. Emma's been sewin' clothes for him, even though he's too little t' wear 'em yet."

Sully leaned back, "You hear anything from Denver?"

"Not yet," the young man returned. "Hank was right about one thing. Denver's got big problems with opium."

"We can't sit by an' let this go on," Sully's jaw tensed.

"We gotta get the state legislature t' act on it," Matthew determined. "California tried t' outlaw opium eight years ago."

"Tried?" he noted the past tense.

Matthew explained, "People still use it. Connecticut was the first state t' declare narcotic addicts incompetent t' conduct their own personal affairs. They can be committed t' a state insane asylum for medical care and treatment until they're cured of the addiction."

"If they're cured," Sully amended.

Matthew continued, "Just three years ago, Nevada made it illegal t' smoke opium, an' they don't allow opium dens. Ya gotta have a physician's prescription t' even dispense it."

"Seems like there oughta be tougher laws," Sully assessed. "Maybe on a federal level."

Matthew sighed, "Near as I can tell, it's a free marketplace. The government views it as a state matter an' sees no need t' limit narcotic use."

Sully sat pensively.

Matthew added, "Brian will be home t'morrow. He did that story on the governor an' state legislature not long ago. Maybe he could get 'em t' listen."

Sully noted, "That won't fix what's goin' on at the Gold Nugget here an' now."

"I know," the young man sighed.

"Papa," Josef's voice interrupted from the top of the steps. "I hear someone."

"Come on down," Sully smiled. "It's Matthew."

Josef bounded down the steps and into the lap of his oldest brother, "How's my nephew?"

Matthew toussled the boy's hair, "Michael's walkin' and talkin' already."

Josef's eyes widened, "He is?"

A gleam appeared in the older brother's eyes, "No, but it won't be long. Seems like only yesterday, you were a baby. Now look at ya, goin' t' school an' everythin'."

"I like school," Josef proclaimed. "Mrs. Slicker likes me, too."

"That's good," Matthew mused. "What have ya been learnin'?"

"We learn 'bout George Washin'ton," the child informed him. "Ya ever hear of him?"

"Sure," Matthew nodded. "He was our first president."

"I don' know what a pres'dent is," Josef shrugged. "But I know he was first."

Josef climbed down from his brother's lap and stepped toward his father.

Sully lifted him, "You need t' use the privy, Joe?"

"No," his lower lip curled under. "I miss Mama."

Sully shared the sentiment, "I know she misses you, too, big boy."

Josef pointed to his heart, "It feels funny here, Papa."

Sully gently placed his hand over his son's, "That's your Ma lettin' ya know she's right here with ya."

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

Michaela settled back on the bed at the Evergreen hotel. The room was small, but the mattress was comfortable. After the day she had experienced, her body did not care about the size of the room.

She had tended to countless patients, mostly Swedish immigrants. Their maladies had ranged from splinters and broken fingers to more serious cases of scurvy and malnutrition. Of greatest concern had been the expectant mother, who was due to deliver any moment.

She had lectured Preston about the abhorrent conditions at the camp and low pay. He had lectured her in return about free enterprise capitalism. There was no limit to the man's capacity to separate his profit margin from any sense of compassion he might possess.

She thought about his attempt to comfort her earlier in the day. Was there tenderness and humanity to the man after all, or was it for show?

She sighed and turned onto her side. On the night stand was Sully's letter. She reached for it and began to read anew. Then she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

"Michaela," Sully's voice was a whisper.

She opened her eyes and sat up, "Sully?"

"Right here," he appeared from the shadows.

"What...." her heart leapt at the sight of him. "How did you get here?"

"I'd go anywhere t' be with you," he sat on the edge of the bed and drew her hand to his lips.

"But.... what about the children?" she was puzzled.

"They're fine," he assured.

Michaela felt tears welling, "Sully, one of my patients lost her baby today."

"I know," he caressed the side of her face. "That's why I came."

"All I could think about was holding that little life in my hands, knowing he wouldn't make it," her tears flowed freely.

"Ya did all ya could," he comforted.

She tilted her head against his shoulder, "I felt so helpless. I couldn't help but wonder 'what if it were one of our children?'"

He tenderly stroked her back, "Goin' through somethin' like ya did t'day is bound t' make ya stop an' think about your own kids."

"These people need so much," she sighed. "And Preston...."

"Let's not talk about him," he interrupted.

Michaela caressed his cheek, "I'm so fortunate to have you. When I deal with men like Preston, I gain an even greater appreciation for the man I married."

Sully drew back her hair and kissed her neck, "I'm the lucky one."

She tried to speak as he continued to kiss her most sensitive places, "There's another immigrant.... about to have a child.... she's frightened.... I tried...."

"Shhh," he lifted up and removed his shirt. "I gotta go by mornin'."

"Don't leave me," she reached up.

"We got t'night," he whispered.

It was the very thing he used to say to her when they had only stolen moments during his time of hiding from the Army. Tonight. How many tonights would they have until the Army caught him?

"I'm so worried about you," her voice choked. "What if they find you?"

"I'm okay right now," he assured. "Thanks t' you."

Her body was awakening to his loving gestures. Sully slowly removed her clothing, then sensuously showered her body with kisses and caresses.

He paused, "I love you, Michaela. I always will."

"I love you," she ran her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck. "So very much."

He stroked the side of her face as he recited:

"Somewhere there waiteth in this world of ours
For one lone soul another lonely soul
Each choosing each through all the weary hours
And meeting strangely at one sudden goal.
Then blend they, like green leaves with golden flowers,
Into one beautiful and perfect whole;
And life's long night is ended, and the way
Lies open onward to eternal day."

Michaela felt her heart skip a beat, "Was that Dickinson?"

"Edwin Arnold," he identified with a gleam in his eye.

When Michaela ran her hand up his thigh, the physical reaction in Sully was immediate. He lightly smoothed his hand along her form, while continuing to ignite her passions with his kisses.

"Are you really here?" she paused. "Or am I dreaming?"

"What does your heart tell you?" his eyes shone with love.

"My heart...." she paused to absorb what was happening. "My heart beats with yours."

"Then I reckon I'm here," his tone had a rasp.

With that, they began to share the love which had grown more powerful over the past decade. With bodies intertwined, they intensified their movements, seeking to unite to their fullest capacity. When that magic moment was finally reached, complete satisfaction washed over them.

Michaela felt his powerful arms around her, holding and comforting. The renewal of their physical love never failed to fill her with unimagined pleasure and completeness.

"Thank you for coming to me," she linked her fingers in his.

"I'll be with you any time you need me," his voice faded.

She closed her eyes and let sleep claim her.

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

Sully checked one last time on the children before heading to bed. For the past half hour, as the little ones slept, he had sensed Michaela's presence with him. After ten years of marriage, he had ceased to question the feeling. Often when they were apart, they both had experienced sensations of the other's presence.

He recalled the first time. Before they were married, Michaela had been abducted by Cheyenne Dog Soldiers. He had exhausted himself trying to track them down. Then, one day, as he had been meditating and praying for any hint of her presence, her voice had come to him. Later that night, he had rescued her.

She had been unable to walk, her feet wracked with scratches and bruises. Sully had feared that the Dog Soldiers had violated her. Cushioning the floor of a cave with pine needles, he had gently placed her down. All evening, he had alternated between watching her sleep and watching for the renegades.

The next morning, he had gently tended to her badly cut feet.

He had been unable to look at her when he asked the question which had plagued him all night, "Did they.... hurt you?"

She knew instantly what he had meant and had replied softly, "No."

Sully had turned to look at her, "You better try an' eat somethin'."

The bond which they had forged at that moment had never wavered. If tonight, he felt her presence, it meant she was reaching out to him.

Kneeling by the fireplace, Sully stoked the logs, then turned toward the bed. For a moment, he saw Michaela there reaching out invitingly to him. In that instant, he knew why he had felt her presence. He sensed she had endured a long day at the logging camp, maybe even lost a patient. She was falling asleep.... and she needed him to hold her, to love her. He willed her to know that he was there and that they would soon be reunited.

Then he positioned himself on their bed and opened a book of poetry. Settling back, he began to read a creation of Edwin Arnold:

"Somewhere there waiteth in this world of ours
For one lone soul another lonely soul...."

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

Michaela awoke to the loud pounding on her hotel door.

Preston's voice came from the other side, "Michaela! Michaela, wake up! They need you at the camp. The woman has gone into labor."

Rising, she prepared to dress, but quickly realized she was already fully clothed. Donning her coat, she grabbed her medical bag and raced for the door.

************
Chapter 17
************

Rushing into the dimly lit cabin, Michaela saw Frida Johansson's face contorted with pain as she sat on her bed. Michaela had heard the screams long before reaching the humble abode.

Her husband Nils rushed to the door, "Dr. Mike, come you just in time."

"Nils, I need you to light all of the lamps and find me as many clean cloths as you can," she removed her coat. "Mr. Lodge, go outside and bring in fresh water. Then heat it."

Both men set about their tasks quickly. Michaela rolled up her sleeves and washed her hands.

"Frida, how often are the pains coming?" the doctor asked.

The frightened woman spoke, "They come quick, Dr. Mike. Just the time they stop, they start again."

Michaela directed, "I need for you to lie back so that I can see how much you are dilated."

"Dilated?" Frida's eyes widened.

"To see if the baby has room to come out," Michaela simplified.

Nils approached, his arms full of folded material, "Is this good, Dr. Mike?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Now, I need you to help me spread some of them beneath Frida. The baby will be here very soon."

"Soon?" the young man swallowed hard.

"Soon," Michaela repeated. "Her water just broke."

Nils was shocked, "She breaked no water. Mr. Lodge go to get it."

"No," Michaela struggled to explain. "It means the fluid that.... never, mind Nils. It's perfectly natural."

Preston entered the cabin with a pail of water and poured it into the largest pan he could find. He stoked the fire and set the water on it to heat.

Michaela began to sterilize her clamps and scissors. She looked up to see Nils, his face pale.

Hoping to engage him in conversation, Michaela asked, "Have you thought of a name for the baby?"

Nils nodded, "It will be a boy. We call him Christian."

Michaela dabbed a cool cloth on Frida's forehead, "And what if it's a girl?"

"Nils wants a son, Dr. Mike," Frida said.

"I'm afraid that's out if his hands," Michaela smiled. "You should be prepared in case it's a girl."

Frida wondered, "Do you have children?"

"Yes, eight," Michaela replied.

"Eight!" Frida exclaimed.

"Three adopted," Michaela qualified. "And five by my husband."

Preston fidgeted uncomfortably.

Frida felt another contraction, "I don't know how you go through this so many times."

Michaela comforted, "Once you hold your little one, you'll know."

Nils added, "We want many children."

Michaela noticed the look on Frida's face, "I don't think now is a good time to discuss that. I nearly tore off my husband's face with our first."

"How you do that?" Nils questioned.

Michaela recalled, "I was touching his cheeks when...."

"AHHH!" Frida was gripped by a horrible pain.

Michaela indicated, "When I had a contraction."

"Dr. Mike" Frida screamed. "Help me!"

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

Andrew awoke in the chair. The lamp was barely glowing. He stood up and went to the basin to douse his face with cold water. Glancing into the mirror, he hardly recognized himself. His cheeks were sunken. His eyes had dark circles beneath them.

"If only...." his voice trailed off.

If only there were someone to whom he could seek counsel and comfort. Not May. He could no longer let himself take that path. But who? Who could offer him advice.

"Sully," he realized.

Withdrawing his watch from his pocket, he recognized that the hour was late. But he knew that Sully would not mind. Quickly donning his coat, he headed out the door.

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

Sully stepped into the twins' room. He thought he had heard Annie calling, but the child was asleep. It must have been his imagination. He crept out of the room and descended the stairs. He poured a glass of milk and drank it.

Then he heard Wolf growl.

"What is it, boy?" Sully's senses grew more alert.

Wolf rose from his place by the kitchen hearth and stood at the front door.

Sully stepped closer and opened it, "Andrew?"

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

"Push!" Michaela encouraged Frida Johansson.

Preston began to feel faint. Not wanting to pass out in front of the group, he quietly exited the house. From outside he heard the screams of the pregnant woman.

"How could anyone endure such an ordeal?" he spoke to himself. "Michaela went through this for her children?"

He had never witnessed the birth of a child. He knew that Sully had. Perhaps that was one of the reasons Michaela loved her husband. He had held her hand during that terrible time. Michaela admired sensitivity in a man.

"Hmph," he shook his head. "A man must prove his worth in other ways."

Preston paced as he pondered it. A husband must provide for his wife materially, affording a manner of living at least as good as that which she enjoyed in her father's home. Certainly, Sully had fallen short in that regard. Preston knew the section of Beacon Hill in which Michaela had been raised. She was a far cry from that neighborhood now.

"Yet.... she's happy," Preston shook his head in disbelief.

How could she be happy with a man who had no regular work, who would never be able to provide for her in the manner to which she had become accustomed? Of course, Michaela had money enough to be independent of her husband. And yet, she rejected using it for her own personal lifestyle. Instead she used it to help others.

He folded his arms. Philanthropy is all well and good if it can serve to enhance one's reputation and image. But Michaela sought neither personal gain nor fame for her efforts. What an odd couple they were. Such opposites.

He raged at the fact that for ten years, Sully had thwarted his efforts to befriend Michaela and to be viewed as a man of impeccable reputation. Preston lamented that it had been the same with his own brothers. As the youngest son, his four older siblings had always endeavored to thwart his efforts to win their father's approval.

Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted with the cries of a baby. He smiled, no doubt the son Nils wanted. Another lumberjack for his mill one day.

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

Andrew apologized, "Sorry to bother you so late, Sully."

He stepped back, "That's no problem. Come on in."

Andrew's hands were shaking, "I.... I didn't know where else to go."

Sully's brow creased in concern, "You're always welcome here. Why don't ya sit down near the fire t' get warm?"

"Thank you," Andrew's voice was weak.

Sully set a pot of coffee on the stove and stoked the embers, "What's on your mind?"

"Colleen," he did not hesitate. "She's all that's on my mind, night and day."

Sully pulled up a chair to listen.

Andrew went on, "I've made such a mess of my life, of my marriage. I took things for granted. I.... I didn't see what was happening."

"Have ya talked t' Colleen about how ya feel?" Sully prompted.

Andrew wiped a tear that had formed on his cheek, "She came to the Chateau today.... yesterday.... I'm afraid I've lost track of time."

"That's okay," Sully wondered if the young man had been at the Gold Nugget this evening.

Andrew continued, "She offered to get married again."

Sully raised an eyebrow, "She did?"

"Yes," he nodded. "But I know it was out of pity."

"How ya know that?" Sully prompted. "Colleen don't take marriage lightly."

Andrew explained, "She didn't want me to continue to go to the Gold Nugget.... to see May.... to find comfort in op...."

Sully reached out to place his hand on Andrew's shoulder, "It's okay."

"She was so young when we got married," Andrew sighed. "Maybe.... maybe she wasn't ready."

Sully listened.

Andrew's shoulders slumped, "I don't know what to do. I feel...."

Sully filled the silence, "Ya feel like ya lost your way."

Andrew looked at him, "Yes, exactly. When the woman you love no longer loves you.... it makes you wonder. I'm sorry, Sully. I shouldn't burden you with this. Colleen is your daughter, and of course, you wouldn't want to say anything to me."

"You're my friend, Andrew," Sully comforted. "I know what this is doin' t' ya. I feel kinda responsible. I'm the one who told ya t' act before Colleen went off t' medical school."

"But we wanted to marry," he insisted. "It wasn't your fault. You just gave a little push to what I wanted to do anyway. Colleen and I were very happy.... for a while."

Sully sympathized, "All marriages go through rough times."

"You and Dr. Mike?" he was curious.

"When I was in hidin' from the Army," Sully nodded. "We lived apart for nearly seven months. That's a terrible strain on a marriage."

"But you never fell out of love," he pointed out. "Colleen did."

"Maybe her love changed," Sully offered.

"Changed?" he was curious.

"When ya first fall in love," Sully paused as he thought about Michaela. "She's all ya can think about. There's somethin' about her.... a look, the way she tilts her head or smiles that makes your whole world light up."

"Yes," Andrew smiled. "That's it exactly."

Sully resumed, "In a way, you're kinda blinded by it. Ya don't see things that might be there just under the surface."

He was curious, "What do you mean?"

"Ya knew ya were attracted t' Colleen," Sully explained. "An' for a time that was enough. But you two never really went through a courtship. Ya never got t' know each other beyond what was.... physical."

"We couldn't," he noted. "She was going to go off to medical school."

"Right," Sully agreed. "Ya had no time t' get t' know other things about each other. As time went on, an' ya got t' know more about each other, things changed. Ya started seein' each other through different eyes."

"But I never stopped loving her," Andrew affirmed. "We made vows to each other. I took them quite seriously."

"'Course ya did," Sully acknowledged. "An' so did Colleen. Don't ya see? This wasn't anyone's fault."

"I'm afraid that doesn't help how I feel," he swallowed hard. "It means that when Colleen began to look below the surface, she didn't love the man I truly am."

Sully sympathized, "That don't mean there's anythin' wrong with who ya are, Andrew. It just means Colleen wasn't ready for what came next."

"What came next?" he queried.

Sully mentioned, "Gettin' t' really know the other person."

He sighed, "You and Michaela.... you're so lucky.... so blessed."

"No denyin' that," Sully knew.

Andrew took a deep breath, "Well, I've disturbed you long enough."

He stated, "You ain't disturbin' me. Could I make a suggestion?"

"Of course," Andrew consented.

"How 'bout t'morrow, you an' me go talk t' Cloud Dancin'?" he offered. "Whenever I lose my way, his wisdom guides me back."

The young man hesitated, "I... I can't. I intend to take the train to Denver tomorrow. Then head back to Boston."

"One day wouldn't hurt, would it?" Sully coaxed.

Andrew knew that Sully rarely asked anything of him, "Very well."

"Meanwhile," Sully offered. "Why don't ya spend the night here?"

"What little there is left of it," Andrew noticed the lateness of the hour.

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

"It's a girl," Michaela supported the newly born baby as she clamped the umbilical cord.

"A girl?" Nils sounded disappointed.

"Come look," Michaela knew the effect that would have.

The tall blonde-headed man approached and beheld his daughter, "She.... she's beautiful."

"Yes, she is," Michaela cleaned the baby.

As she set the child on her mother's belly, Nils cautioned, "Be careful, Dr. Mike. Don't hurt her."

She smiled, "Don't worry, Papa. She appears to be quite healthy."

Preston entered the cabin.

Nils rushed to him, "Look, Mr. Lodge. I got a baby girl."

"Not a boy?" the banker was surprised.

"Next one will be a boy," Nils affirmed. "But Frida wants to wait."

"Good idea," Michaela mused.

Frida spoke up, "I think of a good name, Nils."

"What?" he wondered.

The woman gently stroked the soft hair of her child, "We call her Mikaela."

Preston remarked, "Well, well, another baby named after you, Dr. Quinn."

Michaela smiled, "I'm honored."

Nils consented, "It is good Swedish name, ya?"

Michaela explained, "Not in my case. My father thought I would be a boy. He wanted Michael. He got Michaela."

Nils grinned, "So did I. But your Papa was pleased like me?"

"I believe he was," she smiled again.

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

At the breakfast table, Sully informed Bridget, "Andrew an' me are takin' the kids out t' the Indian School t'day."

"The baby, too?" she wondered.

"Sure," Sully nodded. "Be good for her t' get the fresh air."

"If you say so," she shrugged.

Katie encouraged, "Miss Bridget, you could go out with Mr. Bray."

Bridget's cheeks flushed, "Well.... I suppose if he wanted to."

Josef spoke up, "He's sweet on ya. Sure, he wants to."

Andrew commended, "I haven't eaten a meal this good in ages, Bridget. My compliments."

"Thanks, lad," she offered him another pancake.

"I'll go hitch up the wagon," Sully rose from the table.

At that moment, the front door opened, and Brian stepped into the house.

"Bran!" the children called in unison as they rushed to him.

Brian knelt down and gave each of them a hug. Then he handed them little packages.

"It's candy," he stepped into the kitchen.

"Welcome home," Sully patted his back.

"Andrew," Brian shook his hand. "It's good to see you."

"You, too," he returned.

Sully queried, "How'd it go in Denver?"

"It was okay," he nodded. "I got to speak with Senator Teller."

"And?" Sully anticipated.

Brian continued, "And.... it was kinda strange. I was led to believe he was going to announce a position on Indian policy and land allotment. He said he had never even thought about it."

"That is strange," Sully remarked. "Maybe your source was wrong."

Brian frowned, "It wouldn't be the first time. Oh, well, I did have a good interview with the Senator, and was able to give him some ideas about how the Indians should be treated."

Sully wondered, "You think he'll listen?"

"I'm not sure," the young man replied. "He asked about Ma an' the baby. He was here when she went into labor at the hospital opening. Remember?"

"I remember," Sully nodded.

Brian was curious, "Have you heard from Ma?"

"No," Sully returned.

Josef tugged his brother's jacket, "We're goin' t' see Cloud Dancin'. Wanna come?"

"If ya don't mind, I'd like to catch up on some sleep," Brian smiled. "But give him my best."

"We'll do that," Sully smiled.

***********

Michaela finished packing her bag and set it on the floor. Looking around the small hotel room, she checked to see that she had not forgotten anything. Earlier, she had ensured that the Johansson baby was doing well, then returned to meet Preston in the hotel lobby.

Preston stood waiting, "Are you ready to go?"

"Yes," she said. "Let's go home."

************
Chapter 18
************

Sully stopped the wagon near Cloud Dancing's lodge. He helped the children down, and quickly they began to run excitedly toward the medicine man's dwelling.

"Cloud Dancin'!" Josef called. "We come t' visit."

The medicine man drew back the flap and stepped outside.

Lifting Josef high into the air, he smiled, "Ho'neoxhaaestse, you have grown."

The child requested, "Can we play with the children?"

"Of course," he set the boy down.

Sully cautioned, "Watch the twins."

"We will, Papa," Katie took their hands and led them away.

Sully cradled Hope and held her up for Cloud Dancing to see.

"This one grows, as well," the Cheyenne father smiled. "We will name her soon."

"I was thinkin' about that," Sully mentioned.

"You have a Cheyenne name for her?" Cloud Dancing raised an eyebrow.

"No, I leave that t' you," he kissed his daughter's forehead.

Cloud Dancing noticed, "Andrew has not been here before. Welcome."

"Thank you," he nodded.

Sully broached the subject, "Andrew's been goin' through a rough time. He could use some of your guidance, my brother."

"The Spirits will guide him," Cloud Dancing spoke with a gleam in his eyes. "But I shall listen. Come, we can speak in my lodge."

Sully patted Andrew on the back, "I'll go keep an eye on the kids."

"But...." Andrew looked at him anxiously.

Sully assured, "I'll be back soon."

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

For several miles, Michaela and Preston rode in silence.

She finally spoke, "You've been awfully quiet. That's quite unlike you, Mr. Lodge."

Preston frowned, "Why do you refuse to call me by my first name? You address everyone else by theirs."

"I suppose I prefer formality with you," she noted. "Particularly since you are so business minded."

He sighed, "I'm not without feelings, Michaela."

She doubted his sincerity, "Oh, I'm certain that you have feelings."

"You sound skeptical," he remarked.

"I have learned to have a healthy skepticism where you're concerned," she was frank.

"That's ridiculous," Preston protested. "I've never given you any reason to...."

Michaela interrupted, "Then answer me this, and be truthful."

"What?" he waited.

"Was there really supposed to be a guide to meet me in Denver?" she posed the question.

"Of course," he insisted. "Would you like for me to supply you with his name and address?"

"No," she detected an overreaction on his part.

He changed the subject, "I suppose you're quite anxious to get home to your family."

"Of course, I am," she was surprised at his question. "I've missed them terribly."

"Yes, I'm not nearly as interesting for company," he was sarcastic.

"Mr. Lodge," she paused. "I went to Evergreen because your workers and their families needed medical treatment. I was happy to be of help, but now I want to be home where I belong. Can you understand that?"

"Certainly," he nodded. "Just as my business and bank await me."

"No," she shook her head. "They're not at all the same, but I don't believe you'll ever see that."

"Michaela...." he sighed. "I thought a lot about you last night, while I was waiting outside for that baby to be born."

She began to feel uncomfortable, "I don't think that...."

"Hear me out," he interrupted. "I thought about why you married Sully. I understand that you love him. He's sensitive to your needs. He fulfills something in you, but...."

She stopped him, "I don't care to hear anymore. My marriage is none of your business, nor is my husband."

Preston's back straightened, "You are indeed a force of nature, Michaela Quinn."

She suddenly felt a chill up her spine, "What did you call me?"

"A force of nature," he repeated.

Michaela had a terrible thought. Those were the very words with which Sully had described her in his love letter. She reached into her pocket and felt the envelope. It was still there. Surely it must be a coincidence that Preston had used that phrase, and yet, her instincts told her otherwise. She eyed him warily.

"Is something wrong?" he felt uneasy.

She glared, "Why did you use that phrase, 'force of nature?'"

Instantly, Preston realized his error, "There's nothing out of the ordinary in using it. Why?"

Her eyes narrowed, "You know perfectly well why. You read my husband's letter."

"Really, Michaela," he scoffed. "I have better things to do than read a boyish love letter from your husband to you."

She countered, "I never said it was a love letter."

He was caught, "Well, I.... that is.... a piece paper blew over to me as you slept. I was merely curious to see if it was mine."

She felt violated, "Have you no sense of honor?"

"I certainly do," he insisted.

"No," she glared. "No, you don't."

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

Cloud Dancing listened as Andrew poured out his heart about his marriage and feelings for Colleen.

The medicine man recalled many suns ago when another young man felt the pain of losing his family, all that was dear to him. Sully did not even wish to go on living.

When Andrew concluded, Cloud Dancing spoke, "There once was a Cheyenne hunter who was very unhappy with the path he walked. He found no game, no birds or herbs. With each passing mile, he grew more and more miserable and discontented. Finally, he came upon a fox. He raised his bow and aimed his arrow. The fox stopped him and begged for his life."

Andrew followed with interest.

The medicine man continued, "The fox said, 'If you let me go, I will help you find happiness.' The man was curious, 'How do you know I am unhappy?' Replied the fox, 'I know from your slumping shoulders. You do not wish to be on this path.' The fox then said, 'I shall lead you to a different path. There, you will find elk and other game.' So, the hunter followed. Soon they reached the place the fox had described."

Andrew was beginning to understand the parable, "I'm on the wrong path?"

"You are not happy on the one you travel now," Cloud Dancing knew.

The young man assumed, "Perhaps my other path is in Boston."

"Perhaps," Cloud Dancing nodded. "Or it could be closer than you think."

"With Colleen?" he sounded hopeful.

Cloud Dancing tried a new approach, "I once knew a man who had lost his wife. He fell into a life of misery and sadness beyond words. Every day, he felt her die again. He saw no reason to go on."

"Yes," Andrew nodded. "That's how I feel. What happened to the man you knew?"

The medicine man told him, "He found a new path. He allowed what he had lost to become a memory in his heart, instead of living it anew each day. It was only then that he could accept the new path before him."

"Did he find happiness?" Andrew wondered.

"Sully is the happiest man I know," Cloud Dancing smiled.

Andrew turned toward the opening of the lodge, "Yes, he is. I knew that he lost his wife and baby. At least Colleen is still alive."

Cloud Dancing suggested, "Maybe it is more difficult for you because Colleen is here to remind you of what you had."

Andrew exhaled slowly, "I don't know what to do."

"Do you find happiness in your medicine?" Cloud Dancing posed the question.

"Happiness?" Andrew was puzzled. "Well, I suppose so. I mean, I never thought of it that way. I see it more as my work."

Cloud Dancing tilted his head, "Should not your work bring you happiness?"

"Of course, but.... it doesn't make up for the happiness of a wife and family," Andrew qualified.

Cloud Dancing counseled, "A medicine man must give part of himself to heal others. The power to heal is a gift from the Great Spirit. It is in the giving of this gift that true happiness is received."

"You don't seem keen on my returning to Boston," Andrew assumed.

"If it will make you happy to go back to the clinic you had with Colleen, then go," Cloud Dancing pointed out.

Andrew became frustrated, "But you said Sully didn't find happiness until he let go of the old path. Then where do I belong? Where is my path?"

"The Spirits will guide you," he counseled. "When you are ready to listen."

They heard the footsteps of the children outside of the lodge.

Katie called, "Cloud Dancing, may we come in?"

"Yes," he smiled. "We are finished with our talk."

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

Michaela and Preston reached Denver by late evening. They checked into a hotel, and Michaela quickly scribbled a note for the concierge to wire to her husband. Then she requested that a bath be brought to her room.

Soon relaxing in the warm water, she nearly fell asleep. It felt marvelous to have a bath and to know that she was only a short train ride away from home.

As she let felt the bubbles on her skin, she thought back to her last evening at home when Sully gave her a bath. She felt her body stir at the memory. She marveled at how merely thinking of him had such a potent effect on her.

Standing, she poured a pitcher of clean water over her hair and shoulders to rinse away the bubbles. After quickly drying herself, she donned a robe and lifted her comb to work on her hair by the fireplace. When the tangles were gone, she reached for Sully's letter. The memory of her conversation with Preston flooded back. How dare that man read her letter.

Michaela lightly touched the lines, "I love you so much Sully. Know that I love you, and I can't wait to be with you."

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

The homestead was quiet. Sully and Bridget had finally gotten the children to sleep. They had delayed going to bed to recount stories from the Indian school to their nanny. As always, Josef was the last to finally succumb to sleep.

Bridget, too, went to bed. Sully descended the steps and decided to read by the fireplace.

At that moment, he heard a knock on the door and Horace Bing's voice beckon, "Sully! I got a telegram from Dr. Mike."

Sully opened the door and invited him in, "A telegram from Michaela?"

"Yep," the telegrapher handed him an envelope.

"Thanks," Sully reached into his pocket for a coin.

"No charge," Horace refused. "Not after all Dr. Mike has done for me."

Sully offered, "Why don't ya sit down a spell, Horace?"

"No, thanks," he said. "Myra's lettin' Samantha stay with me t'night. I gotta make sure she gets t' bed on time so she can be up for school. I hear Josef's doin' good."

"Yep," Sully smiled. "He's taken t' things real good."

"Glad t' hear it," he tipped his hat. "Gotta go."

"Good night," Sully closed the door behind him.

He opened the telegram and read:

"Dear Sully, I am in Denver for tonight. I'll be on the first train to Colorado Springs in the morning. I have missed you and the children. Love, Michaela."

He looked out the window and watched as a heavy snow began to blanket the ground. Then he drew on his buckskin jacket and headed for the barn.

After ensuring that the animals had sufficient food, he scooped some extra logs into his arms and walked toward the house. He set the wood beside the living room and kitchen hearths. Then he stepped outside again to stand on the front porch.

The flakes of snow were enormous and coming down vigorously. In the time he had taken to go to the barn and return, at least three more inches had fallen.

As he stood on the front porch, he was reminded of a winter many years ago. It was Christmas, and he had felt so alone. It was the first Christmas after he had met Michaela. She and the children had planned to go to a party in town, but the heavy snow had prompted them to cancel their plans and stay at the old homestead.

Sully had seen the lights illuminating the house from afar as he listened to Michaela's voice leading them in singing carols. He had brought gifts for them, but he had felt too shy to present them. Working up the courage, he had knocked on the door. He was chilled to the bone, but he had given each one a special gift.

The look Michaela had cast as he shared his gifts was not lost on him. Surely, she was the most beautiful woman had ever seen, and her smile had made his heart nearly pound out of his chest. When she had asked him to join them for dinner, he had felt, just for that moment, an overwhelming sense of being home. He had not allowed himself to experience that warmth since Abigail had died. Without his realizing it, Michaela had already entered his heart.

"A new path," he spoke aloud. "Michaela gave me a new path."

Wolf whimpered in agreement.

Sully looked down at his furry friend, "You, too?"

Leaning against one of the posts that supported the porch roof, he sighed, "Things sure are different from that first winter, aren't they boy?"

Wolf nudged his leg.

Sully petted him, "But one thing ain't changed. She still makes my heart nearly pound outa my chest when she smiles at me."

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

At dawn, Josef awoke and pressed his nose to the window, "Woah, will ya look at that!" The boy bounded out of his bed and rushed to his father's room, "Papa, ever'thin's white!"

"I know," Sully sat up and stretched.

"Will there be school?" the child wondered.

"I don't know," he slid from the bed to check on Hope.

The baby's eyes were open and alert. When she saw her father, she smiled.

Sully grinned as he lifted her, "'Mornin', beautiful."

"Hope's never seen snow, Papa," Josef realized.

"Nope," he smiled. "Hard t' believe just a few days ago, we were swimmin'. Now look at it."

"Should I wake up Katie?" Josef asked.

"Go ahead," Sully agreed.

Bridget opened her bedroom door, "Saints preserve us. It sounds like a chariot race out here."

Josef skidded to a halt when he saw the nanny, "What's a chairet race, Miss Bridget?"

"Never you mind," she shook her head. "Get yourself dressed."

"'Mornin', Bridget," Sully entered the hallway holding the baby.

She caressed Hope's chubby cheek, "How's this wee one this mornin'?"

"Hungry," he noted. "I'll fix her bottle."

"I'll be down t' make breakfast as soon as I dress," she began to shut her door.

"Bridget," Sully whispered. "I got a telegram from Michaela last night. She's in Denver, plannin' t' catch the first train home this mornin'."

"That's good news, lad," she grinned. "But why are we whisperin'?"

"We've had a big snowfall, an' I don't know if her train will be delayed," he explained. "I don't want the kids t' get their hopes up. Let it be a surprise for 'em."

"Aye," she agreed. "That will be a grand surprise."

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

Michaela and Preston stood at the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Depot watching the steadily falling snow.

Preston folded his arms, "It doesn't appear to be letting up."

"Will the train depart on time?" Michaela queried.

He replied, "The porter said yes."

"Then we'll be boarding soon," she estimated.

Preston's brow wrinkled, "I don't know about this."

"Don't know about what?" she questioned.

"Traveling in this blizzard," he expressed his concern.

Michaela remarked, "They wouldn't attempt the journey if they thought it unsafe."

Preston knew otherwise. He knew that timetables and profit drove the railroads to make their runs even when conditions were unsafe.

Reluctantly, he followed Michaela as she climbed the steps onto the railroad car.

************
Chapter 19
************

As the blizzard continued, Sully determined that the accumulation of snowfall was too deep to send the children to school. He worried that they might be stuck there and preferred that they stay at home. Katie and Josef were disappointed, but when Brian offered to take them sled riding, their spirits brightened.

Sully informed the children that he needed to go into town.

Katie questioned, "If the snow's too deep for us to go to school, isn't it too deep for you, too, Poppy?"

He assured, "I won't be gone long, Kates. Be good an' help Miss Bridget with your brothers an' sisters."

"All right," her shoulders slumped.

Sully touched the tip of her nose, "I love you, sweet girl."

"I love you, too," she watched as he exited the homestead with his snow shoes.

Wolf followed.

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

Lexie paced in the kitchen. She had heard nothing from Hank since yesterday morning, and the weather was too inclement to go out and search for him. Damn him! She tried to suppress her anger over his lack of consideration in not sending word to her of his whereabouts.

She caressed her protruding belly and sighed, "I can't risk your health going out to look for your father."

She felt something beneath her palm. A flutter? More like a kick. The baby had kicked her. It was the first time she had ever felt such a sensation.

"Oh, Hank," she felt her eyes welling. "Where are you?"

She heard a horse's neigh and quickly turned her attention to look through the window. It was a woman riding toward the ranch. Dorothy.

Lexie braved the chilling winds to open the door and invite her in, "Dorothy? What are you doing out in this weather?"

"I came to talk with you," she dismounted and rushed into the house.

"Sit down by the fire," Lexie encouraged. "I'll fix you some coffee."

"Thank you," the redhead removed her coat. "It's not fit for man nor beast out there."

Lexie observed, "I've never seen snow come down this hard."

"Me either," she agreed.

"What did you want to talk with me about?" Lexie poured the coffee.

"Your husband," the tone in Dorothy's voice suggested disapproval.

Lexie's brow wrinkled, "Hank? Why? Is something wrong?"

Dorothy's features softened, "Nothin' wrong with him that a good swift kick in the behind wouldn't fix."

Lexie chuckled, "You might have to get in line to give him that."

"He's doin' somethin' that's real bad, Lexie," the redhead's expression became serious.

"What's that?" she tilted her head.

"Did he tell you he hired a new girl for the Gold Nugget, t' replace the one who was murdered?" Dorothy inquired.

"No...." she tensed. "Why?"

"Well," Dorothy folded her arms. "Her name is May. She's Chinese, real pretty from what I hear."

Lexie began to fear that her husband had been unfaithful, "I.... I don't know if I want to hear anymore."

Dorothy broached the subject, "I was hopin' you could talk some sense int' him, Lexie. I've seen what addiction does t' a person."

"Addiction?" she was surprised.

"The new girl," Dorothy paused. "She's runnin' an opium den at the Gold Nugget."

Lexie felt both relief and shock, "Opium!"

"There's men comin' and goin' at all hours int' her room," she explained. "I was hopin' you would speak with Hank an' get him t' make her stop."

Lexie recalled, "You say you've seen first hand what it does?"

"My son, Tommy," her voice choked. "He got addicted t' morphine as a result of a war injury. He stole drugs from Michaela, nearly scared Colleen t' death an' robbed Loren. I.... I haven't seen him since, an' that was more than ten years ago."

"I'm sorry, Dorothy," Lexie's eyes saddened. "I'll talk with Hank.... if I see him."

"If?" Dorothy was puzzled.

"With this storm, I don't know when he'll be home," she clarified.

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

The train lumbered along, slowly passing familiar landmarks. They forged ahead as a snowplow train preceded them down the track. When they were nearing Colorado Springs, however, the blinding snow had made the tracks impassable. They had passed the last snow tunnel and could not have the protection it offered from the weather. Above them, on both sides were rocky slants quickly filling with snow, much as a trough fills with water.

The engineer decided to reverse the train and back up so that the plow could get a running start to try to break through the jam. The grinding sound of the engine disconcerted the passengers. Michaela rubbed the pane of glass beside her with the palm of her hand to look out of the window.

"I can't see anything," she spoke to Preston.

He stood, "I'll see if I can find out where we are."

At that moment, the train again began a reverse movement, knocking him back into his seat.

Michaela estimated, "I think we're near a signal station. Hopefully, they can get word for another plow to come at us from the other side and clear the track."

The conductor raised his hand for quiet among the passengers, "Listen, folks, we're gonna be stuck here for a while. We got enough wood for the stove, so we'll be warm enough. The railroad company is sendin' another plow t' help."

Preston was impressed, "Just as you thought, Michaela."

"I wonder how long a wait we'll have," she looked out the window again. "There seems to be no sign of this letting up."

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

Sully reached the Depot, having used his snow shoes to navigate the deep snow.

"Hey, Horace," he dusted off the snow from his hair. "Any word on' the train from Denver."

The telegrapher noted, "Last I heard, they was stuck in a snow bank about 5 miles outa town."

Sully's brow wrinkled, "Michaela's on that train."

"Well, she ain't goin' anywhere," he returned. "I just heard the railroad's plow is even stuck. No one's goin' anywhere."

"Thanks," Sully turned and headed for the Livery.

Robert E looked up from his forge to greet his friend, "Hey, Sully. What are you doin' out in this weather?"

Sully came to the point, "Robert E, how many sleighs you got?"

"Three," he noted.

"How many people ya figure we could fit on 'em?" Sully questioned.

"If we squeezed 'em on real tight, maybe thirty," the blacksmith assessed.

"Could ya hitch 'em up?" Sully requested.

"Sure," he set down his hammer. "What are ya usin' 'em for?"

"There's a train stuck in the snow about five miles from here," Sully informed him. "I reckon they're gonna need help soon."

"I'll get right t' work," he removed his leather apron. "I'd be glad t' drive one for ya, but we'll need a third man."

"I'll get Matthew," Sully nodded.

"I'll get Grace t' round up some food, too," Robert E mentioned.

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

Sitting at the rear of the train compartment, Michaela was able to watch as passengers began to get restless. Some of the men started to discuss going outside to dig away the snow.

Unable to remain silent, Michaela spoke up, "It's far better to wait inside for the plow. You could develop frostbite out there."

"Look, Ma'am," a man tipped his hat. "With all due respect, I ain't one t' wait. I used t' work for the railroad, an' I know how long it could take. We could get frost bite in here, too, when the wood runs out."

The conductor raised his hand to calm the conversation, "The lady's right. We're better off waitin' inside."

"Look," another man gestured toward the windows on the left side of the train. "The snow's buildin' up t' the ledges. That's gonna push against the train. It could tip us over if we don't get outa this place soon."

Preston cleared his throat and stood, "Gentlemen, I agree that action is needed. However, we could form shifts to work short amounts of time and not expose ourselves to the cold temperatures for long periods of time."

The conductor put his hands on his hips, "What d' ya think you could use for shovels?"

A burly man with wide shoulders added, "We could break up some o' the benches, an' use the boards t' sweep away the snow."

Michaela pointed out, "At the rate the snow is falling, I doubt if you could work fast enough. Besides we might need to use that wood for the stove."

Preston countered, "I vote to act now and start digging us out. Who's with me?"

A dozen men enthusiastically raised their hands, and they began to form work crews.

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

Lexie went to the window and looked out, "Still no sign of this letting up."

Dorothy perceived, "You're worried about Hank."

She tensed, "Partly worried and partly angry. I'm expecting a baby, and I've had no word from my husband in over a day. How would you feel?"

Dorothy queried, "How is the baby?"

Lexie sighed, "I'm afraid that's another reason for my worry."

"Ain't everythin' all right?" Dorothy's brow creased.

She lightly placed her hand on her abdomen, "Dr. Mike told me some things.... some good, some not so good."

Dorothy waited, hopeful the young woman would feel comfortable enough to speak what was on her mind.

Lexie went on, "It turns out that the baby is due sooner than I thought."

"Sooner?" she was puzzled.

"Yes," Lexie nodded. "November."

"That's not so bad," the redhead smiled. "It means less time t' wait."

Lexie continued, "It also means the baby was conceived before I had the measles. There's a chance my illness could have affected it."

Tears began to build in her eyes.

Dorothy went to her and put her arms around her, "Everythin's gonna be all right."

"I wish I could be sure," she admitted.

"Well, I'm sure," Dorothy affirmed. "Now, why don't you have a seat? There's no sense waitin' for Hank t' come home in this. If it's okay, I'll stay with ya."

"Of course, Dorothy," Lexie said. "I appreciate the company."

The redhead smiled, "How about I cheer ya up with the latest news from town."

"I'd like that," she began to relax.

Dorothy touched her chin, "Let's see. Well, the Reverend found a new teacher for his school."

"I remember that horrible man he hired before," Lexie shuddered.

She returned, "This is a young woman, just outa college. She's from St. Louis. I'm sure she's gonna turn the heads of some young men in town. She's real pretty."

Lexie remarked, "What's her name?"

"Mary Conway," she informed her. "She has deaf parents, so she's got a lot of experience even though she just graduated."

Lexie pondered, "It must be very difficult having someone you love be deaf or blind."

"I remember when the Reverend went blind," Dorothy recalled. "Michaela exhausted herself tryin' t' figure out what was wrong. It was around Christmas time. The whole town prayed for a miracle, but it never came."

"Dr. Mike certainly devotes herself to her patients," Lexie observed.

Dorothy smiled, "Which is another reason why I know your baby's gonna be just fine."

Lexie confided, "She told me that Hank and I have to refrain from.... being intimate."

Dorothy considered, "Well, if that's best for the baby, ya gotta do it."

Lexie confessed, "I'm not sure Hank can accept that."

"'Course he does," Dorothy assured. "He loves you an' this baby."

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

Michaela and the other women on board the train watched with interest as the men fought a losing battle trying to clear the snow in the path of their train.

Michaela offered, "Perhaps we should help the men."

A woman's eyes widened, "I'm not going out in that weather."

"Me either," another lady stated.

Michaela noticed the snow was now pressing against the window pane, "We should at least try to clear it away from the glass."

"If we open the windows, we'll let all the cold air in," the first woman pointed out.

Michaela stood and went to the rear door of the train. At that instant, the snow buildup against the glass caused several windows to crack and shatter. Snow streamed into the compartment and hit against the stove. Suddenly, an explosion rocked the car.

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

Because the railroad tracks were not visible, Sully, Matthew and Robert E guided the sleighs along using the telegraph poles as their guides. All at once, a mighty boom shattered the quiet.

"What was that?" Matthew called.

"Some kinda explosion," Sully recognized.

Robert E speculated, "Maybe the railroad's usin' dynamite t' break through the snow."

"No," Sully's heart beat faster. "Come on."

They quickened their pace and soon a plume of smoke was visible through the falling snow.

"Up ahead!" Sully pointed.

When they reached the site of the flaming railroad car, Sully jumped from the sleigh and ran closer to assess the damage. The top of the train engine was still visible, but the passenger car was in flames. Several men staggered toward him.

"What happened?" Sully held the shoulders of one beleaguered man.

"I.... I don't know," he was dazed.

Sully's voice trembled, "Did everyone get outa the passenger car?"

"I don't know," the man wiped his brow. "The women were waiting in there while the men tried to clear away the snow."

Several more men began to stagger toward them as Robert E and Matthew arrived. Sully gathered blankets in his arms and headed toward the flames.

"Sully!" Matthew cautioned. "Be careful!"

Sully looked over his shoulder, "We gotta get this fire out. There's people inside."

The men who were uninjured began to help combat the fire by shoveling snow onto the flames.

As the isolated flames began to die down, Sully found his way to the doorway of the rail car. Wrapping himself with a blanket, he entered the remnants of the car. Several women were on the floor, while others were screaming from their burns. He brought them out, carrying some, helping others to walk. Then he found a body, near the end of the car, burned beyond recognition. Sully felt his stomach turn. He covered the body with his blanket. As he did so, he noticed a ring on her finger. It was not Michaela's.

Describing his wife, Sully asked each survivor if they had seen her. They all replied that the last they saw of her, she was at the doorway of the rail car, far from the dead body.

When the last woman was rescued, Sully staggered out, his face dirtied from the charred remains.

He knelt down to Wolf, "Find Michaela, boy."

The animal barked and rushed from his side.

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

Hank looked out of his sheriff's office window. He could scarcely see across the street. Sighing, he went to the stove and poured himself a cup of coffee. Suddenly, Horace burst in.

"Close the damn door," Hank scolded. "You're lettin' in all the cold air."

"Hank," Horace was out of breath. "There's been a train explosion just outside o' town."

"What?" he was taken aback.

Horace detailed, "They was stuck in a snow bank. I just got word on the telegraph."

"Go let the hospital know," Hank directed. "I'll round up some help."

Horace's face was pale, "Dr. Mike was on that train."

"Michaela?" Hank's face paled.

"Sully, Robert E an' Matthew was takin' sleighs out t' bring the folks int' town," he stated. "I don't know if they got there in time."

"Let's hope they did," Hank swallowed hard.

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

With heavy snowflakes swirling all around, Wolf circled the rail car. There were craters in the snow from where planks of wood and pieces of metal had been thrown by the explosion. Sully did his best to keep up with the animal. Periodically, Wolf barked, thus helping his master keep track of his whereabouts.

"Michaela!" Sully called at the top of his lungs.

A voice spoke from behind him, "She was thrown by the explosion."

Sully turned quickly. It was Preston.

Grabbing the lapels of Preston's coat, Sully shouted, "You saw her?"

"Just before I was knocked out," he was out of breath and his head was bleeding from a cut.

Sully released him, "Which way?"

Preston pointed along the left bank, "That way. I'll help you look."

The two men made their way toward the direction he had indicated. Soon, Matthew and Robert E were at their side.

"Michaela!" Sully beckoned again. "Where are you?"

Wolf's barking evolved into whimpers as he hovered over one location. The men swiftly followed. When they reached the animal, Sully fell to his knees using his hands to scoop large amounts of snow away. Then he spotted something. A woman's gloved hand.

************
Chapter 20
************

Andrew rushed into Colleen's office, "I just heard about the train."

"I thought you went back to Boston," she was surprised.

"No," he stated. "Not in this weather. I came to help you with the victims. I assume they'll be bringing them here."

"We haven't heard anything since the rescue party went out," she noted. "We were told to wait here."

He sprang into action, "I remember the train wreck back in '71. I watched your mother save so many lives."

"You did, too, Andrew," she pointed out.

"Not like Michaela," he spoke with admiration. "I've never seen a finer physician."

"Me either," Colleen smiled.

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

"Michaela!" Sully reached for the hand.

It remained motionless.

Frantically, the men dug down until finally, they were able to retrieve her still body.

"Michaela," Sully cradled her in his arms.

Her lips were blue.

Leaning closer to gauge her breathing, Sully determined, "She's alive."

"Come on," Matthew directed. "We can make a stretcher outa these boards an' get her back t' the sleighs."

Sully gently placed his unconscious wife atop the boards and covered her with his jacket. Then the four men began the trek to the sleigh. Sully protectively cradled her head with the palm of his hand, occasionally leaning closer to whisper to her.

When they reached the sleighs, other passengers made room for her. With the precious cargo aboard, they began their journey to Colorado Springs.

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

Andrew folded his arms tightly against his chest. For some inexplicable reason, he craved a visit to May's. At that very moment, he heard Colleen's voice.

"No word yet," she sighed.

He assured, "I'm sure they'll be bringing the passengers in soon. I just cleared away the snow from the steps. It seems like it's finally letting up a bit."

"We must have had three feet," she assessed.

Then she noticed his shaking hands.

"Andrew?" she paused. "Are you all right?"

"Just cold from shoveling," he rubbed his hands together.

She took his arm and led him to the fireplace, "Here, let me help you."

Covering his hands with hers, she began to massage them. Andrew felt a rush of warmth shoot through his body.

Awkwardly, he stepped away from her, "Uh.... thank you."

Colleen noticed his demeanor, "You sure you're okay?"

"Yes," he answered quickly. "I'm fine."

Sister Mary Margaret rushed into the room, "Doctors, they're here.... the victims of the train explosion."

Quickly, Colleen and Andrew began to assess the conditions of the passengers. Then they spotted Sully carrying Michaela.

"Ma!" Colleen hurried to them.

Sully's eyes reflected his concern, "She's real cold."

"Follow me," Colleen led him to a private room.

There, the young woman began to work feverishly to revive her mother. Sully assisted in cleaning Michaela and preparing the bed for her.

Colleen looked up after checking Michaela's heartbeat, "Her respiration is slow, but she doesn't appear to have any serious injuries."

"I don't know how long she was unconscious, buried in the snow," Sully clasped his wife's hand. "You know what it means when someone falls asleep after they've been exposed like that."

Colleen felt a lump in her throat. It means she might never wake up.

Sister Mary Margaret appeared at the door, "Dr. Cook, if you can get away, we need you."

The young woman looked at Sully.

"Go ahead," he nodded. "I'll stay with her."

Colleen touched her mother's hand, then left them. Sully closed the door behind her, then returned to Michaela's side. She looked so pale. Removing his belt, he climbed up on the bed and positioned himself beside her.

He drew her into his arms to warm her, "Michaela, don't leave me. You're so cold. Take my warmth. Take my strength. Just hold on. Please."

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

Katie stood at the living room window, peering out, "The snow's finally stopped.

Brian came up behind her, "Don't worry. Pa's okay."

She looked up at him, "How'd you know I was thinkin' about him?"

"I know," he kissed the top of her head. "Come on, supper's almost ready."

"Brian," Katie hesitated. "I think something's wrong."

"Wrong?" he tilted his head.

"I think it's Mama," the little girl voiced her concern.

"Ma's in Evergreen, honey," he assured.

Katie looked through the window again, "No. She's with Poppy."

Brian knew that their father had gone to fetch Michaela, "Then they're both okay."

"But, look at all that snow," she pointed. "What if they're in that."

"You know Pa will take care of them," he assured.

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

Preston finished allowing Andrew to bandage his hand, and went into the waiting area.

Spotting Sister Mary Margaret, he approached, "How is Dr. Quinn?"

"She's still unconscious," she informed him.

He requested, "Do you think I could see her?"

"Her husband is with her," the nun noted.

With that, she left him. Preston stepped back and walked down the corridor where he had seen them carry Michaela. He came across one closed door. From beneath it, he saw a light.

He raised his hand to tap lightly. Hearing no response, he slowly opened the door.

There, he saw Michaela, lifeless on the bed. Sully was next to her. Preston watched them for a moment.

Sully looked up and spotted the intruder.

He slipped from his wife's side and went to the door, "What d' you want?"

Preston kept his voice low, "I came to check on Michaela."

"Get out," Sully was terse.

"Look, Sully," Preston did not move. "I mean no disrespect or insult. I was merely concerned. Michaela and I came to a sort of understanding when we were in Evergreen."

"You went with her there?" Sully was stunned.

"Yes," Preston replied. "We got to know one another very well."

Sully clenched his fist, "What's that supposed t' mean?"

"Not what you think," he frowned.

Sully repeated, "I told ya before. I ain't sayin' it again. Get out."

Suddenly, there was a moan from the bed.

"Michaela," Sully hurried to her side.

Stroking her hair, he kissed her forehead.

Preston stepped back, relieved that she was coming to. He backed out of the room and quietly closed the door.

"The baby," Michaela's voice was slurred. "The baby's gone."

"Baby?" Sully questioned.

"I.... couldn't save him," her head throbbed. "The lumber camp conditions.... are deplorable."

"Michaela, you're home now," he linked his fingers in hers.

"Tell Anna and Elof I'm so sorry," Michaela's voice trembled.

"Anna an' Elof?" he was puzzled.

"Their baby died," she closed her eyes again.

"Michaela," he urged her to stay awake. "Don't leave me."

"Leave you?" she struggled to focus. "Who are you?"

"It's me," his brow creased. "Sully."

She became more agitated, "I must do something.... help them. I know what it's like.... losing a child...."

Her voice trailed off. He dared not let her sleep again. Sliding his arm beneath her shoulders, he lifted her into a sitting position.

"Come on, wake up," he urged.

"I.... I just need to rest," she closed her eyes.

"No," Sully clasped her hand. "Ya can't sleep right now."

"I'm cold," she shivered.

"I know," he repositioned himself so that they faced one another. "It's gonna take a little time t' get ya warm again."

"Then I need to see the other woman," she spoke up.

"Other woman?" he tilted his head.

"Her baby is due any moment," Michaela stated. "Preston woke me up."

His brow wrinkled, "Preston woke ya up? Where was he?"

"In my room," she replied.

Sully attempted to keep his imagination in check by telling himself that Michaela was disoriented and not alert. But.... what was Preston doing in her room?

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

Brian helped Bridget with the dishes as Katie and Josef kept the twins occupied following dinner. The family was subdued, unsure of the whereabouts of Sully.

Suddenly, there was pounding on the homestead door. Brian opened it.

"Hey, little brother," Matthew entered and rubbed his arms for warmth.

"Matthew!" the children rushed to him.

"Where's Michael?" Josef queried.

Matthew smiled, "He's home stayin' warm."

Bridget guided him to the fireplace, "What brings ya out on a night like this, lad?"

He hesitated and cast a glance toward the children.

The nanny took the hint, "All right, you leprechauns. All of ya, let's get upstairs."

"But I wanna talk t' Matthew," Josef resisted.

Matthew touched the boy's nose, "Go on an' I'll come upstairs t' tell ya all about Michael in a little bit."

"All right," Josef's shoulders slumped.

Katie approached her oldest brother, "Matthew, is there somethin' wrong with Mama an' Poppy?"

He was surprised at her perceptiveness, "They're fine, Katie. Just fine."

Her eyes widened, "Did ya see 'em?"

"Uh...." he hedged. "Well...."

Bridget interceded again, "Come on, now. Let your brothers talk. They'll come up an' see ya when they're done."

"Okay," she turned slowly and ascended the steps behind her siblings.

When the children were gone, Brian looked at Matthew, "Are they fine?"

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

Hank finished securing his horse in the barn. It had taken well over an hour to make the trip home to the ranch. Before stepping into the house, he dusted off as much snow as he could. The blizzard had finally subsided. Contrasted against the dark blue sky, the white landscape was sure a pretty sight.

Hank rarely allowed himself to notice such things, but he had time to think on his trip home. He thought about many things. Lexie. The baby. The Gold Nugget. The ranch. And that damned Preston Lodge.

"Hank!" Lexie opened the door for him. "I didn't expect you home."

"Why not, woman?" he quipped. "I live here."

He embraced her and passionately kissed her as he backed her into the house.

"Hank," she pulled back breathlessly. "We have company."

"Company?" he kissed her again.

Again, she drew back, "Dorothy's here."

He frowned when he noticed the redhead, "You! You're the one who's got the whole town fired up against me!"

"You're lettin' that woman run an opium den," Dorothy reminded. "That's why they're fired up."

"Hank," Lexie attempted to speak.

He held up his hand to silence his wife, "I don't wanna hear it. I've had a long day with that train explosion, an' I don't need any harpin' about my business."

He headed for the liquor on his shelf.

Dorothy and Lexie spoke in unison, "Train explosion?"

"That's right," he took a swig directly from the bottle. "It was stuck in a snow bank. Then the passenger car blew up. Killed a woman, hurt a bunch more. We got 'em t' the hospital."

"Thank God," Dorothy sighed.

"Michaela was one of 'em," he added.

"One of those hurt?" Lexie asked.

"Yea," he nodded. "That's why I came home instead o' stayin' in town t'night. Seein' her hurt like that, an' Sully all upset.... well, it reminded me about takin' care o' people we love."

Lexie touched his hand, "Is Dr. Mike going to be all right?"

"I don't know," he responded. "They found her in the snow. She was unconscious the whole way back t' town."

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

Matthew kept his voice low as he spoke to Brian, "Ma's train was stuck in a snow bank. There was an explosion an' fire in the passenger car. She was thrown clear, but she's unconscious. She's at the hospital. Sully's with her."

Brian attempted to absorb it all, "Is she gonna be okay?"

"Colleen said it ain't good that she's been sleepin' so long," Matthew related. "But you know Ma, little brother. She's strong. She'll pull through."

Brian looked up, "What'll we tell the kids?"

"We can just say Ma an' Pa are spendin' the night in town 'cause o' the snow," Matthew offered.

"But they'll wonder why you came out here if they had t' stay in town," Brian pointed out.

"Hmm," Matthew rubbed his chin. "Maybe I could say that Ma was real tired from the train ride."

Brian shook his head, "They know she'd wanna see them right away."

Matthew sighed, "Then I don't know what t' say. I can't tell 'em the truth."

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

Michaela continued to speak in a disjointed manner, "The baby... I held it.... so tiny.... there was nothing I could do...."

"I'm sorry," Sully caressed her cheek.

"I need to see her," Michaela started to rise from the bed.

He gently held his wife back, "See who?"

"Hope," she looked around the room. "Where am I?"

"You're in the hospital," he informed her.

She was confused, "Hospital? There's no hospital in Evergreen."

He embraced her, "You ain't in Evergreen, Michaela. You're in Colorado Springs, in your hospital."

She was more confused, "No, I.... I was on the train.... we were stuck in a snowbank."

"That's right," he encouraged.

"The men were trying to dig us out," she was becoming more focused.

He smiled, "Good."

Suddenly, her eyes shone with terror, "It blew up! The train blew up! I.... I couldn't see anything.... I was sinking."

He held her close, "You're not sinkin' anymore."

She had a revelation, "Sully? You're really here?"

"Yes," he kissed her temple. "I got ya."

She savored the warmth of his arms, then lifted up to frame his face in her hands. She kissed him. Sully's heart beat faster.

"That's my Michaela," he whispered. "You're home with me now."

"The others," the thought occurred to her. "What about the others on the train? How many were hurt?"

He assured, "Colleen an' Andrew are takin' good care of 'em."

"Preston," she mentioned.

He tensed, "He's okay."

"That man," she frowned. "He's loathsome."

Sully looked at her intently, "Did he do something to you, Michaela?"

"He certainly did," she felt her anger build. "I felt so.... violated."

With that, Sully stood and drew on his tomahawk belt.

"Where are you going?" she questioned.

Sully's jaw set, "T' take care o' him, once an' for all."

************
Chapter 21
************

"Sully, no!" Michaela reached out to him.

It was too late. Sully had stormed out of the room. When he reached the waiting area, he noticed Preston speaking with one of the men. Grabbing the banker, Sully dragged him outside toward the street.

"What are you doing?" Preston challenged. "Have you gone mad?"

"You're scum!" Sully threw a punch that landed on the banker's jaw.

Preston rubbed the area and tasted blood, "If you don't stop this...."

Again, Sully punched him. Preston doubled over, already weakened by his ordeal.

"Sully!" Andrew attempted to hold him back. "What are you doing?"

The mountain man pointed, "If he don't get outa this town, I'm gonna kill him!"

"Kill me?" Preston frowned. "Good grief, Michaela is...."

With the mention of his wife's name, Sully freed himself from Andrew's grasp and jumped Preston to the ground.

"Pa!" Colleen called to him. "Stop it! Ma needs you!"

Sully stopped with his fist mid-air, "Michaela? What's wrong?"

Colleen urged him, "She needs you right now."

Sully jumped to his feet, leaving the bleeding and bruised banker in the snow. Colleen escorted her father inside, looking over her shoulder to Andrew.

He got the message, "Uh, Preston, if you're all right, perhaps it would be a good idea for you to spend the evening in town?"

Preston held his jaw, "Yes, where I can file charges against that madman."

"Don't be too hard on Sully," Andrew leaned over to help him up. "He's not thinking clearly right now."

Preston could not resist, "Something about which you have experience."

"Pardon me?" Andrew questioned.

"Not thinking clearly," Preston repeated. "What with your opium use."

Andrew released him, and let him fall back into the snow, "If you'll excuse me. I have patients to see."

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

Matthew reached the top landing of the homestead and quietly crept to the twins' room. They were asleep.

Brian followed and gestured toward Katie's room, "In there."

Matthew turned toward his sister's room and took a deep breath.

Forcing a smile, he entered the room, "Hey."

Josef noticed his older brothers, "We been waitin'."

"I see," Matthew sat on the edge of the bed.

Brian mentioned, "The snow's stopped. Looks real pretty out there."

Katie came to the point, "Tell us about Mama an' Poppy."

"Right," Matthew looked down. "Just what I was gonna do."

"I bet they're kissin'," Josef folded his arms.

"Huh?" Brian was surprised.

"They like kissin'," Josef explained. "I bet that's why they're not home."

Matthew grinned, "Well, I don't know about that."

"Please tell us, Matthew," Katie implored.

Matthew spoke softly, "I think.... Ma an' Pa would want you t' get a good night's sleep, an' they can tell ya all about her trip t'morrow."

"I can't sleep if I don't know how they are," Katie stated.

"Me neither," Josef added. "First there's no school. Now this."

Brian hoped to allay their fears, "Think about what Ma an' Pa would want ya t' do."

Josef folded his arms, reminiscent of Sully, "I thinked they want us t' stay up 'til they come home."

Matthew said, "The truth is, they won't be home t'night, so ya might as well sleep."

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

"Michaela!" Sully burst into her room. "What...."

She was sitting up, alert in bed.

He was confused, "I thought.... Colleen said you needed me."

"I do need you," she extended her hand. "When you rushed out of here, I became worried that you might have the wrong idea."

He sat on the edge of the bed and drew her hand to his lips, "I'll protect your honor t' the death, Michaela."

"My honor is in tact," she assured.

"But...." he paused. "You said ya felt so violated."

"Would you hand me my coat?" she gestured.

Without question, he brought it to her. She put her hand inside the pocket and withdrew his letter.

He smiled, "You read it."

"Over and over again," she ran her hand along the envelope.

He leaned closer to sweetly kiss her, "Good."

She caressed the hair at the base of his neck, "Unfortunately, so did Preston."

"What?" his back stiffened.

"He read your letter," she clarified. "He claimed that it blew over toward him when we slept outside on the way to Evergreen."

Sully exhaled slowly, "I didn't know he was goin' with ya."

"I didn't either," she revealed. "But the guide never showed up in Denver."

"You believe that?" Sully asked.

"I don't know," she replied. "But when Preston later called me a force of nature, I knew he had read your letter. It was the very words you used."

"Maybe it ain't so bad," Sully considered.

"How can you say that?" she challenged. "He read something that was intended only for me."

Sully smiled, "Maybe he'll finally get the idea that he can't separate us."

"I reinforced that notion over and over," she touched the corner of his lips. "Oh, Sully, I missed you so much."

"I missed you, too," he kissed her tenderly.

"Would you take me home?" she requested.

"Right now?" he was surprised.

"Yes," she nodded. "I want to see the children. I've missed them. I've missed our home."

"What about your condition?" he hesitated.

"Would you hand me my chart?" she pointed toward the file at the foot of her bed.

"Sure," he reached for it and placed it in her hands.

Michaela studied it for a few moments, "I believe I'm past the danger."

"If Colleen says it's okay, I'll take ya," he assured.

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

Hank and Lexie lay in their bed.

He turned onto his side and whispered, "Why'd ya have t' ask Dorothy t' spend the night?"

She toyed with the edge of her blanket, "You know why. How can she travel back to town under these conditions? Besides, she kept me company."

He sat up, "Company? She just got ya all riled up. It ain't good for the baby."

"Hank," she struggled to pull herself up, too. "This woman.... May. How can you let her give opium to people?"

He blurted out, "It pays the bills."

"Bills?" she was uncertain.

There was no turning back for him, "I got bills up t' here, Lexie. Preston's demandin' payment. If I can't pay, we'll lose the ranch."

"Lose the ranch?" she swallowed hard.

"So don't go thinkin' there's no good reason t' have May at the Gold Nugget," he stated. "She's helpin' us keep this place."

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

Sully carried Michaela up the front steps of the homestead and set her on the porch.

"I could have walked, Mr. Sully," she told him.

Sully joked, "I like t' spoil ya every now an' again."

When he opened the door, Wolf rushed past them and headed for the hearth.

Michaela mused, "I owe him a debt of gratitude for finding me in the snow."

Sully joked, "Wolf's got his thanks just bein' by the fireplace again."

"Ma?" Brian whispered from the darkened living room. "What are you doing home?"

"Brian," she embraced him. "I'm fine. I wanted to be here with you children."

He informed her, "We were real worried."

"I hope the little ones don't mind my waking them up, but I simply had to see all of you," she removed her coat and hat.

Brian smiled, "They won't mind a bit. Josef's in with Katie. Matthew and I just got them to sleep a little bit ago, then he went home."

Sully mentioned, "We passed him on the way. He was relieved to see your Ma's okay."

"I am, too," the young man embraced her again.

Michaela and Sully climbed the steps and tiptoed into Katie's room. Their daughter and son were cuddled close.

"Oh, Sully," her eyes moistened. "Look at them."

He rested his hand on her shoulders, "Go on in. I'll get the twins."

Michaela went to Katie's bed and caressed their hair, "Hello, my darlings."

Josef opened his eyes, "Mama!"

Katie immediately awoke, "Mama!"

They embraced her just as Sully brought in the twins. He set them on the bed, where they, too, greeted their mother. Sully raised the lamp so they could see more clearly.

Bridget heard the voices and stepped into the room, "Saints preserve us! Dr. Mike, it's good t' see ya, darlin'. Welcome home."

"Thank you, Bridget," she smiled.

Sully observed, "There's one more missing."

"Hope," Michaela spoke the name with love.

"I'll get her, lass," Bridget offered. "She's been in with me."

Within moments, the nanny returned with the sleeping baby. Michaela's heart filled when she beheld her youngest child. Tenderly cradling the baby, she kissed Hope's forehead.

"I've dreamed of this moment," Michaela's voice quivered. "When I could be home with all of you again."

"I dweamed about it, too, Mama," Josef mentioned. "Only not with this many people."

"I love this many people," Michaela smiled.

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

Colleen and Andrew finally had a moment of quiet at the hospital.

He looked at the clock, "It's going to be dawn soon."

She sat down and rubbed her ankle, "I know. Thank God we were able to accommodate all of those poor people. This hospital proved its worth tonight."

"Yes," he concurred. "Having proper medical facilities can make a real difference."

She said, "When I was helping Ma get ready to go home, she was telling me how bad it is at Evergreen. One of the women lost her baby because of inadequate medical treatment. They don't even have a part-time doctor."

"Where is Evergreen?" he was curious.

"North of here, outside of Denver," she noted. "They have lumber camps where mostly Swedish immigrants work six days a week. Some have families, and none can afford to go to a town where there's a doctor."

"I see," he nodded. "That's a shame."

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

"I'll take ya back t' town," Hank offered to Dorothy at the breakfast table.

"It was mighty hospitable of ya t' let me stay here," she acknowledged.

"Lexie wouldn't let me leave ya outside in the barn," he quipped.

Lexie tapped her husband's arm, "Dorothy, you're welcome anytime."

"Hank," the redhead eyed him seriously. "I ain't gonna let this business with the opium die down. When Michaela hears about it...."

He interrupted, "I'll never hear the end of it."

"It's a terrible evil," Dorothy insisted.

"So's poverty," he shot back.

"What's that got to do with it?" Dorothy questioned.

"Never mind," he stood up. "Let's go."

Dorothy donned her coat and hat, then stepped onto the front porch.

Hank turned to his wife, "I'll see ya later."

She kissed him as she spoke low, "Listen to what Dorothy's saying. We'll find another way to keep the ranch."

Without another word, he closed the door.

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

The children stood outside of Michaela and Sully's door.

Katie whispered, "Let 'em sleep."

"But it's mornin'," Josef insisted. "We gotta go t' school."

"Joey, I don't think we'll go this mornin'," Katie explained. "The snow's too deep."

"I want Mama," Noah demanded.

"Shhh," Katie raised her finger to her lips.

"Mama!" Annie knocked on the door.

They heard the floorboards creaking, and slowly the door opened. It was Sully.

He knelt down, "What are you kids doin' up so early?"

"Mama," Noah pointed into the room.

"Mama needs t' sleep some more," Sully kept his voice low.

Josef questioned, "Papa, are we goin' t' school?"

"Not today, Joe," Sully returned. "Your Ma wants t' spend the day with ya, an' the snow's still makin' it hard t' go places. It's driftin' across the roads."

Josef frowned, "Mrs. Slicker's gonna miss me."

"I'm sure she will," Sully smiled. "Tell ya what. Let's get dressed an' go outside. We can make a snow cabin an' go sled ridin'."

The boy's eyes widened, "Good thinkin'."

"Go get dressed now," he patted his son's behind.

"I'll help the twins," Katie offered as she led them away.

Sully smiled and stood up. Closing the door, he turned to Michaela. She was still sleeping peacefully. He went to the basin and splashed some water on his face. Then he dressed and went to prepare the children for a morning of fun.

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

Hank entered the ranch house to find Lexie putting on her coat.

"Where are you goin'?" he was surprised.

"We're going to see Dr. Mike," she said.

"Hold on," he countered. "You can't ride a horse, an' the wagon sure as hell won't go in this snow."

"I want to find out how she's doing," Lexie insisted.

"Then I'll go check on her," he stated. "You stay here."

"Please give her my best," she offered.

"I will," he nodded.

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

Michaela awoke to the sounds of her children's laughter. Rising from the bed, she felt rested.... more rested than she had been in a long time. She put on her slippers and went to the cradle to check on Hope. The baby was still sleeping.

Michaela strolled to the window and rubbed her palm against the cold pane to clear away the fog. Smiling, she saw Sully and Brian engaged in a snowball battle with the children. Noah and Annie were barely visible above the snow line, but they were helping their older siblings nonetheless.

She closed her eyes, warding off the memory of being stuck in the blizzard yesterday. She was alive and home at last. Stepping toward her nightstand, she lifted her Bible. She opened to her favorite passage in Psalms:

"Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast."

Suddenly, it occurred to her that the paper she always kept between the pages was missing. It was a note she had written many years ago when Sully was a fugitive. She searched between other pages of the book until she found it. But why wasn't it in its usual place? Perhaps one of the children had gotten into it. Or.... could Sully have read it?"

At that moment, she heard him enter the room.

"Hey," he kissed her. "What are you doin' outa bed?"

"I heard the children," she returned stiffly. "What brings you back inside?"

"Checkin' on you," he smiled, then noticed her demeanor. "Somethin' wrong?"

"Sully," she held up her Bible. "There was a piece of paper I kept between these pages...."

"Oh," he hesitated. "It fell out, but I put it back in."

"Did you read it?" she posed the question.

"I.... started to," he was truthful. "But it didn't seem right for me t' see it, so I stopped."

She softened, "I wrote it when you were hiding from the Army, and I didn't know if you'd ever be able to come home again."

He stepped toward the fire and placed a log atop the burning pile.

She came to him, holding the paper, "Thank you for respecting my privacy."

"Sure," he smiled.

"I'd like for you to read it now," she offered. "Now that you're home."

"You sure you want me to?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Yes," she handed him the note.

************
Chapter 22
************

Sully read:

"Oh, Sully, if you only knew how my heart aches for you. I cannot tell you about my worst fears, so I write them here to preserve my sanity. If I am able to win your freedom, I shall destroy these words without ever letting you see them, but for now, I must put down on paper my innermost thoughts, or I don't know what I shall do."

He looked up at his wife.

There were tears in her eyes, "Go on."

He continued the note:

"When I could not find you, I had such moments of despair, there were times when I did not know if I could go on or if I even wanted to go on without you. In my darkest moment, I held Katie, and felt a part of you in my arms. I closed my eyes and saw your face, heard your voice telling me to not give up. When we found you in that hollowed out tree trunk, barely clinging to life, I feared that all was lost and felt you dying in my arms. But you did hang on, and you did come back to me."

Sully touched his wife's cheek, then resumed reading:

"Last night, you came to me, defying all of the danger and security the Army had put between us. You told me that you would love me forever. But I saw fear in your eyes. You held me as if each moment would be our last. We clung together, words unspoken, hearts and souls united. Please know this. If it was our last moments together, I pledge to you we shall meet again, for I know beyond all measure of words that our love is eternal."

Sully looked up and peered into his wife's eyes.

He stepped closer and enfolded her in his arms.

He uttered her name softly, "Michaela."

She felt so safe, so loved at the timbre of his voice.

He framed her face in his hands, "You didn't destroy the note?"

She touched his cheek, "Even after you came home, I chose to keep it as a reminder of how close we came to losing each other. It is a reminder that no matter what trials we might experience, our love will endure."

He stroked her hair, "We came close again yesterday."

"I know," her voice was hushed.

He kissed the top of her head, relishing the feel of her next to him.

Then he slowly drew back, "Okay, back in bed."

"I'm fine," she assured. "Really."

He patted the mattress, "Colleen only let ya come home on the condition that you'd stay in bed t'day."

She reluctantly complied with his command. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Sully stroked her arm.

Then he smiled, "I better go help Brian thaw out the kids."

"All right," she agreed. "Perhaps they could come in to see me when they've thawed out?"

"Sure," he nodded.

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

"Andrew, would you like to come with me to check on my mother?" Colleen approached him. "Doctors Bernard and Cassidy are here to cover the hospital."

"I'd like that very much," he agreed.

"Jake just stopped by to say the roads are more passable now," she informed him.

"Good," he nodded. "Let's go."

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

The children gathered on Michaela's bed to fill her in on all she had missed in her absence.

"Mama," Katie noticed her Bible on the table. "May I look at this?"

"Of course," Michaela consented.

Katie opened to the first page and noticed the drawing of a tree with many names on the right side of it.

The little girl looked up, "What's all this?"

"That's our family tree," Michaela pointed. "Here are you children, your father and me, my parents, grand parents, great grandparents."

"Why don't it have Poppy's family?" she was curious. "It just has his mother, Katherine."

"That's all your father wants there, Sweetheart," Michaela explained.

Katie lifted the book and left the room. When she reached Sully in the living room, she set the Bible on his lap.

"Did ya want me t' read t' ya, Kates?" he assumed.

"No," she clasped his hand. "I wanna know why your family tree is empty. All that's there is Grandma Katherine."

Sully looked at the page more closely, "That's all we need."

"No, Poppy," the little girl protested. "We should put your whole family in it."

Sully caressed her cheek, "I don't know much about my family beyond my folks."

"Why not?" she attempted to understand. "What about your Pa an' your brother?"

He informed her, "I don't like t' talk about them, an' I never knew my grandparents."

Katie sighed, "Isn't there anyone you could ask?"

"No," he shook his head.

Katie closed the Bible and set it on the stool at his feet. Then she climbed atop her father's lap.

Sully embraced her and kissed her forehead, "Don't worry about who goes on the family tree before me, Kates. Think about who'll come next."

"Who'll come next?" she was uncertain.

"Yep," he smiled. "One day, you'll get married an' have kids. We'll put their names on the tree. It don't matter how far back you can take the tree. It matters how far it goes from now on."

She considered his words, "Do you have a picture of your Mama?"

Sully was surprised by her question, "Uh.... not exactly."

"Not exactly?" she was puzzled.

"Katie," he became more uncomfortable. "Why do ya keep pushin' this?"

She hoped to explain, "Because Mr. Bray once told me that the mother is the soul of a family. You lost your Mama when you were just a little boy. You must've been real sad when you were so young."

He admired her sensitivity, "Know what?"

"What?" she anticipated.

"I love you," he enfolded her in his arms. "An' Mr. Bray's right about how important a mother is t' the family."

He paused to think about how close they came to losing Michaela yesterday.

Sully assured his daughter, "We got a real good Ma in our family. Don't we?"

"My Mama?" she interpreted.

"Yep," he grinned.

"She's the best Mama in the world," Katie asserted.

"So, I'm not sad anymore," he explained. "I got your Ma an' you kids. That fills my heart.... an' my family tree."

Katie placed her hand atop her father's chest, "I'm glad."

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

Andrew and Colleen arrived at the homestead and quickly found themselves surrounded by the children. Soon they were joined by Michaela, who ventured out of her bedroom for the first time since coming home.

Colleen smiled, "You're looking a lot better than the last time I saw you."

Michaela returned, "I have quite a contingent of good nurses."

Colleen slipped into her doctor mode and checked Michaela's vital signs, "I think the nurses have done a good job."

Annie toddled closer.

"How's your ear, honey?" Colleen lifted her little sister.

"Her ear?" Michaela was puzzled.

Colleen explained, "She had a bout with otitis media."

"Sully?" Michaela glanced at him. "Why didn't you tell me?"

He explained, "She was feelin' better, an' I was more worried about you."

"Still," Michaela reached for her daughter. "I would have liked to have known."

Colleen described what she had done to treat the ailment. After examining Annie's ears, Michaela was satisfied with her improvement.

Andrew spoke up, "Uh, Sully, do you think I could get a drink of water?"

"Sure," Sully rose from his chair.

Andrew followed him into the kitchen, "Sully, I think I may have found that new path Cloud Dancing told me about."

"Where?" he wondered.

"Evergreen," Andrew stated. "I understand they need a physician."

"They do," Sully patted his back.

When they reentered the living room, Andrew began to ask Michaela about the patients she had treated in Evergreen.

Colleen listened with interest, "Why are you so curious about it?"

"Something Cloud Dancing said to me," he stood and walked to the fireplace.

"When did you speak with Cloud Dancing?" Colleen queried.

"A few days ago," he folded his arms tightly against his chest. "He advised me to find a new path."

"That sounds like good advice," Colleen observed.

He pivoted to look at her, "Perhaps my new path is in Evergreen."

"You'd go there to work, without any modern conveniences?" she wondered.

"Rather like Michaela when she first came to Colorado Springs," he mentioned.

Michaela commended, "I think you'd do a wonderful job there, Andrew."

"I don't suppose...." Andrew stopped himself as he looked at Colleen.

She knew what he was thinking, "I think I could come to visit you."

He grinned, "Thank you."

"For what?" she was uncertain.

Andrew stepped closer and touched her shoulder, "Thank you for still believing in me."

"I never stopped," she smiled.

A knock at the door interrupted the conversation.

"Who could that be?" Michaela wondered.

Sully opened the door, "Hank?"

"Ain't ya gonna invite me in?" he rubbed his hands together for warmth.

"Come on in," Sully stepped back and shut the door after him.

Hank noted Michaela's appearance, "Well, ya don't look so bad."

Colleen frowned, "She's doing much better."

Hank strode past the young woman and eyed Andrew, "Didn't expect t' see you here."

Colleen again snapped at him, "Where would you expect to see him?"

"Colleen?" Michaela was surprised at her tone.

The young woman looked at the children, "Who would like to come with me for some hot cocoa?"

"Me!" all of them raised their hands.

Bridget took the hint, "I'll take care of 'em, Dr. Colleen. You visit with your folks."

"Thank you, Bridget," she was relieved.

When the little ones had departed, Colleen went directly to Hank to confront him, "I can't believe you would show your face here."

"I came t' see how Michaela's doin'," he defended. "Now that I've seen, I'll go."

"Wait, Hank," Michaela did not understand. "Colleen, what's wrong?"

Colleen stated, "Ask Hank."

Michaela looked at the sheriff, "Hank?"

He put his hands on his hips, "Your daughter's a lot like you, Michaela."

Colleen accused, "Why don't you tell my mother about your opium den, Hank?"

"What?" Michaela was aghast.

"That's right," Colleen continued. "One of his girls is running an opium den at the Gold Nugget."

Andrew interceded, "Maybe this isn't a good time to discuss...."

Colleen cut him off, "Go ahead, Hank. Defend what you're doing."

He grew more uncomfortable, "Damn it, it's none o' your business."

Michaela turned to Hank, "Why? Why would you do something like this? Do you have any idea the harm that...."

"I've had enough," Hank raised his hand. "I got bills t' pay an' a baby on the way. I don't need anyone t' tell me how t' run my business or my life, especially you two."

With that, he turned and departed, slamming the door behind him.

Josef rushed into the room, "I guess Misser Lawson don' want hot cocoa."

Michaela's brow wrinkled, "How long has this been going on?"

Colleen informed her, "I just found out about it when Andrew...."

Michaela wondered why she stopped, "Andrew?"

"I'm afraid, I.... I tried using it, Michaela," he confessed.

"What?" she was stunned.

Sully went to his wife's side and placed his hand on her shoulder, "Sometimes a man does desperate things, Michaela. He's found a different way t' handle things now."

Her husband's conciliatory tone was not lost on her, "Yes.... I think that's admirable, Andrew. I just cannot fathom what kind of bills Hank would have that could prompt him to do this."

Andrew suggested, "I've heard him complain about Preston's loaning him money and using his ranch as collateral."

"That man," Michaela did not conceal her disgust for the banker.

Sully tensed, "Sounds like Hank's got about as much respect for him as I do."

Andrew glanced at Michaela, "I think we've taken up enough of your time. You need more rest."

"Yes," Colleen agreed. "We'll be getting back to the hospital."

"Thank you for coming to see me," Michaela acknowledged.

"You take care, Ma," the young woman embraced her.

Andrew gave a hug, as well, "I'll be speaking with you soon about those patients in Evergreen."

"Yes," Michaela smiled.

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

Hank slammed the door of the ranch house and went directly to his stash of liquor.

Lexie came out of the bedroom, "Well, how's Dr. Mike?"

"Same damn way she's always been," he uncorked the lid of a bottle of whiskey.

Lexie studied his demeanor, "I take it she upset you?"

"It's all on account o' that opium den," he sighed. "Why can't you women just leave me alone about it?"

Lexie went to him and ventured to sit on his lap.

Hank was instantly aroused by the scent and feel of her next to him, "I don't think this is such a good idea."

She kissed his temple, "Hank, give me your hand."

"Uh.... why?" he hesitated.

She took his hand and guided it to her abdomen.

"Lex," he started to pull back. "Michaela said we ain't supposed t'...."

"Shhh," she whispered. "Hold still."

Hank fell silent. Suddenly, beneath his palm, he felt something.

Swiftly, he drew back his hand, "What the hell's that?"

"The baby," she whispered.

"God," he swallowed hard. "That's our kid movin'?"

"Yes," Lexie replied.

Hank kept his hand on her belly until he felt the baby again, "Does it hurt?"

"No," she smiled. "Don't be so hard on us women about wanting a better world for our children."

He absorbed her words. He did want a better world for his kid. One with money and respect, and he was willing to do anything to achieve that. He decided not to tell Lexie just now. Instead, he smiled and continued to savor the sensation of the life growing inside of her.

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

Sully joined his wife in their room, "Kids are finally asleep."

"After the day they've had, I'm not surprised," she smiled.

"How about you?" he leaned closer. "How are you feelin'?"

"Very well rested," she replied. "It's not very hard work to stay in bed most of the day."

"Things should be back t' normal soon," he went to the basin to wash up.

Michaela watched him remove his shirt. As she observed him, her heart beat a little faster.

"Sully," she averted her eyes. "This business with Hank...."

"Matthew's gonna see what he can do legally t' close the opium den," he anticipated her concern. "An' Dorothy got folks riled up to with an editorial in the Gazette."

"What would you think...." she hesitated.

Sully stopped drying himself and turned to her, "What would I think about what?"

"Well...." she broached the subject. "What would you think if I offered to loan Hank the money to pay back Preston?"

He returned to her side, "I think it's your money t' do with as ya want."

"That doesn't answer my question," she noted. "I wouldn't charge him interest. If he has a debt that is prompting him to go to these extremes, perhaps lessening his burden would make him get rid of the opium. And.... it would be better for Lexie to not be concerned about it, as well."

Sully offered, "I think Hank might not accept a loan from ya."

"So you wouldn't disapprove?" she searched his eyes.

"'Course not," he said. "Like I said, it's your money."

She turned up the corner of her lips, "Hank is a stubborn man."

"Just like me?" Sully grinned.

"I love your stubborn streak," she smiled.

"Feelin's mutual," he winked. "But I ain't so sure you're gonna love what I did t' Preston."

Her brow creased, "What did you do?"

He took a deep breath, "I punched him.... the night you were brought int' the hospital."

She touched his hand, "Sully...."

"I know," he looked down. "But when I thought he took advantage of ya.... I...."

Michaela stroked his arm, "Preston is incorrigible, and as much as I loathe violence, I know how diabolical he is. At first, I thought it was just business, but now I realize it's personal. He goads you."

Sully listened in silence, knowing that it would not be the last time he had to deal with Preston.

She cupped his cheek in her hand, "I don't blame you."

He peered into her eyes and saw forgiveness, "Thanks, but I don't feel like I'm settin' a good example for the kids when I do somethin' like this."

She assured, "There is no one on this earth whom I would rather our children admire and emulate than their father."

He touched her shoulder, "I think you better settle back in bed now."

"Not until you join me," she patted his side.

"If you insist," he removed his buckskins and settled beside her.

She cuddled closer, warmed by his embrace.

After several minutes, he thought she had drifted off to sleep.

"Sully," she stirred.

"Mmm?" he lightly stroked her arm.

"When I was in the hospital, I.... there was some time when I.... didn't know who you were," she confessed.

"You knew," he assured her. "Ya just weren't thinkin' clear."

"I've been in two train wrecks this year," she realized. "And both times, I forgot...."

"No," he interrupted. "Ya didn't forget. Remember what your note said? Our love's eternal. So there was a moment ya might not have known my name. Ya still knew what was in here."

He lightly placed his hand above her heart. Michaela's body instantly tingled at his touch.

He noticed the flush of her cheeks, "I missed you, too."

"I had a dream about us," she revealed. "It was the night when I couldn't save the newborn baby. I was alone in my hotel room and...."

"I know," he caressed her cheek.

"How?" she was curious.

He softly kissed her temple, "I felt ya."

She blushed further, "My dream was of that night you snuck home while on the run from the Army. You had gotten past the soldiers and into our room."

He grinned at the recollection, "That was a real good night."

"Do you think it's normal?" she paused. "That is.... to dream about us being together like that?"

"'Course it is," he assessed. "Only one thing I can think of that's more normal."

"What's that?" she tilted her head.

"Actually bein' t'gether," he teased.

"I'm so grateful to you, Sully," she lightly ran her finger along the line of his jaw. "You saved my life.... again."

"We're even," he whispered.

Now locked in each other's gaze, their feelings began to intensify. Sully paused, sure of the meaning of her look, but uncertain about whether she was physically ready to go further.

She read his mind, "I'm feeling.... much better."

He smiled and spoke low, "Michaela."

The way he uttered her name sent shivers down her spine. His soft voice reached into her soul.

He kissed the lobe of her ear, then whispered:

"What greater thing is there for two human souls
than to feel that they are joined...
to strengthen each other...
to be at one with each other in silent unspeakable memories."

She caught her breath, attempting to find her voice, "Was that.... Herrick?"

"George Eliot," he grinned, pleased to have stumped her.

She melted further at the smile she adored, "Oh, Sully. I love you."

"I love you, too," he kissed the curve of her neck.

She trembled slightly.

He stopped his tender ministrations, "You okay?"

"Oh, yes," she gulped, anxious to kiss him again.

Her lips pressed against his, then parted to deepen their contact. Sully felt his heartbeat quicken at her initiative. His wife's enthusiastic reaction to his overtures pleased him. But then, she always pleased him, ever since she got over her initial awkwardness about a wife's "duty." Michaela was a passionate woman who threw herself wholeheartedly into things she loved. Her marriage and pleasing her husband were no different. What surprised her most was the degree to which it pleased her, as well.

He drew back to look into her eyes, "I think you oughta go away more often."

"What?" she raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

He grinned, "'Cause I love welcomin' you home."

She smiled at his humor, "You missed me, did you?"

"Mmm," he kissed her anew.

Michaela moved closer, "Not as much as I missed you."

Her hand slid across his muscular torso. Sully's pulse quickened further. Tentatively, he reached down to the hem of her gown, brushing his hand along her thigh as he moved.

Aroused further by his electrifying touch, she moaned softly. She slid even closer, inviting and enticing his love. Soon their bodies intertwined. With mounting anticipation, their passions crested. Safe in the harbor of their bed, their pulses began to calm. With the renewal of their love now affirmed, they began to doze off to sleep.

A knock at the door roused them.

"I'll check," Sully reluctantly left her side and donned his buckskins.

When he opened the door, there stood Josef.

"Papa," the little boy rubbed his eyes. "Is Mama okay?"

"She's fine, Joe," he assured. "Can't ya sleep?"

"No," he sighed. "I wanna check on her."

Sully stepped back to invite his son into the room.

Michaela reached out her hand, "What's wrong, Sweetheart?"

"I wanted t' tell ya that I learned 'bout George Wash'ton in school while ya were gone," he stated.

"You did?" she smiled. "That's wonderful."

Josef warmed at his mother's approval, "Yep. I'll go t' bed now."

"Come here," she beckoned.

Josef smiled when she kissed him, "I'll let ya know when I learn new things. Okay, Mama?"

"I shall look forward to it," she nodded.

When the child departed, Sully closed the door.

He found it difficult to contain his amusement, "I reckon he's over his bad first impression of school. I got a feelin' we're gonna hear a lot more from that boy."

"I wouldn't have it any other way, Mr. Sully," she mused. Then the thought occurred to her, "Would you bring me the wild carrot seeds?"

"Sure," Sully got them from her vanity.

Carefully, he measured out the proper amount and held it before her. Michaela accepted the dosage and chewed. Sully caressed her arm as he watched. Then he poured a glass of water for her.

"Thank you," she acknowledged.

He climbed back into bed beside her, "You warm enough?"

"Quite," she nestled closer. She was silent for a few minutes, then sighed, "First impressions."

"What?" Sully was uncertain.

"They're not always accurate," she gazed into his eyes. "Like your throwing that tomahawk past me."

"An' you fallin' in the mud," he retorted.

"My falling in.... love," she kissed him softly.

THE END




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