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

A Fork in the Road


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
A Fork in the Road
by Debby K

***Warning: Chapter 1 contains graphic descriptions of an amputation.***

************
"Our journey had advanced--
Our feet were almost come
To that old Fork in Being's Road--
Eternity--by term."
Emily Dickinson

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

After a hectic evening with the children, Michaela found a few minutes in which to open her mail. One envelope in particular was a curiosity. She did not recognize the name above the return address. Opening it, she began to read:

"Dear Dr. Quinn,

You may not remember me, but I shall never forget you. After the battle of Gettysburg, you amputated my leg and saved my life. I have searched for you all these many years in hopes of thanking you. I was finally put in contact with your mother, who informed me that you reside in Colorado Springs. I have booked passage to travel there and shall arrive on the 20th."

Michaela looked up, "That's tomorrow."

Returning to the letter, she concluded,

"I hope this does not present an inconvenience to you, but I pray you will indulge me in my desire to properly express my gratitude for the kindness you showed to a young and frightened soldier.

With warm regards,

Frank Wellington"

Sully's voice startled her, "Who's it from?"

She glanced over her shoulder, "Someone upon whom I performed surgery."

"They okay now?" he went to the sink to wash his hands.

"Yes," she folded the letter. "He was a soldier, injured at Gettysburg."

"That's a long time ago," he found it curious. "Why's he writin' now?"

"He's coming here to thank me for saving his life," she responded.

"Oh?" he raised an eyebrow.

"He's been looking for me," she rose from the table. "Mother told him where we live."

He slipped his arm around her, "Ready for bed?"

"Yes," she smiled.

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

"Dr. Quinn," a voice boomed. "You have no choice! Amputate! We have more soldiers to attend to."

She raised her head, "But perhaps I can save his leg if you'll just..."

"Do it!" the voice returned.

She bit her lower lip. She had never performed an amputation before. Observed it, yes. Thoroughly read about it, yes. But now laying before her on the make-shift operating table was a human being. A human being who would never be whole again because of her.

Beads of perspiration began to form on her forehead.

"Dr. Quinn!" the voice returned. "I did not want a female physician here to begin with, but your father..."

"I can do it!" her voice was determined.

"There are dozens more awaiting our attention," he pointed out. "You get fifteen minutes per patient."

She opened her instrument case. The local Maryland school had been turned into a hospital to receive the trainload of injured from the battle. Her surgical table was a door, resting on student desks. The new supply of chloroform had not arrived. A rag soaked with the drug lay beside her.

Before anesthetizing the patient, she placed her hand on his arm, "What's your name?"

"Frank, ma'am," his voice trembled.

"I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn," she prayed that her voice would sound calm. "I'm sorry that I have to do this, Frank, but..."

"I know," he closed his eyes as a tear trickled down his cheek.

She wiped it with a clean portion of her apron, "I'm going to help you rest so that you won't feel it."

"Okay," he took a deep breath.

Michaela placed the rag across his mouth and nostrils. Soon the young soldier was unconscious. She cut away the pant leg to clean the wound. Using a probe, she searched for splinters and bullet fragments, only to find that the Minie Ball had shattered his bone, carrying skin and dirt into it. The leg could not be saved. Taking a deep breath, she applied a tourniquet to cut off the blood supply. Then she steeled herself for what she must do.

She lifted her scalpel to make the incision through the skin and muscle to the bone.

"NO!" she bolted up from her bed.

"Michaela?" Sully was there.

"Sully," she clutched his hand.

"Shhh," he stroked her moist hair. "What were ya dreamin' about?"

"The operation," she attempted to focus her thoughts. "On Frank Wellington. All of the memories came flooding back to me."

"Must've been terrible," he sympathized. "Do ya wanna tell me about it?"

"I... I don't know if I can," she felt a lump forming in her throat.

"Then ya don't have to," his voice was soothing.

She was quiet for several minutes. Sully assumed she had drifted off to sleep again, but then Michaela spoke. She began to detail what was in her dream, then stopped.

"Ya all right?" he was concerned.

She swallowed hard, "With my scalpel, I made the incision above and below, leaving a flap of skin on one side. Then I took the bonesaw into my hands..."

Her voice trailed off. Sully's reassuring arms held her.

"I cut through the bone until the leg was severed off," she filled with emotion at the memory. "Before sutchering the skin, I had to scrape the end and edges of the bone smooth, so they would not work their way through."

"God, Michaela," he never realized what the experience was like for her.

"The worst part was disposing of the severed leg," she closed her eyes tightly. "There was a stack of limbs. Scores of them piled high. The incoming wounded could see the pile and hear the screams of those whose chloroform was wearing off. The next day, Father and I returned to Boston. I'll never forget that day. The sounds... the smell... the blood."

"I'm sorry," he pulled her closer. "Maybe ya shouldn't see this fella t'morrow."

"No," she attempted to compose herself. "I... I owe it to him."

"Ya saved a lot o' men that day," he spoke softly.

"I tried," she sighed.

"You always try your best," he lifted her chin. "An' your best is better than anyone I know."

"Thank you," she smiled for the first time.

He kissed her sweetly, "Think ya can get some sleep now?"

"Yes," she was not really certain.

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

As the sun rose, rays of red, yellow and orange began to illuminate the gray sky. The first beams filtered into the bedroom. Michaela had been awake most of the night recalling further details of her day at the temporary hospital in Maryland, set up to receive the injured from Gettysburg.

She turned to look at her husband's handsome face. She loved to watch him sleep. His mouth curled up slightly at the side, almost as in a smile. Her heart filled with love as she lightly touched his chest to feel the up and down movement as he breathed.

At that instant, her mind drifted back to the most terrifying day of her life. The day his chest no longer moved. The day Sully died. She had resuscitated him with her own breath. His poor broken body, lifeless form trying to survive a fall from a cliff. She shuddered.

Sully felt it, "How long ya been awake?"

"Not long," she fibbed.

He yawned and stretched his arms, a motion that filled Michaela with longing. She smiled to herself at her body's reaction to him.

He reached up and cupped her cheek to the palm of his hand, "What ya thinkin' about?"

She paused, then spoke low, "You."

"What about me?" he grinned.

"How much I love you," her gaze penetrated to his soul.

"I love you, too," he touched the tip of her nose.

"I... was remembering how I felt when I almost lost you," she added.

"I'm right here," he stroked her arm.

She sighed.

"Ya sure you're okay, Michaela?" he became more alert.

"Just feeling a bit emotional, I suppose," she dismissed her mood.

"Ya got every right, after your dream last night," he understood.

"You always manage to say just the right thing to me, Mr. Sully," she ran her finger along his jaw.

"Ya sure look beautiful for not havin' much sleep," he whispered.

"How do you know I didn't get much sleep?" she raised an eyebrow.

"I know," he replied. "Just like I know how beautiful ya are."

"I was admiring your handsome looks a moment ago," she felt his hand on her back.

She rolled over to look more fully into his eyes. Lightly, she began to kiss his cheeks, his chin, then his lips.

Sully was delighted at her initiative, "You wantin' the same thing I am?"

"I believe so," her tone stirred him further.

His voice became raspy,

"So let us love, dear love,
Like as we ought."

"Sounds like Chaucer," she identified the poet.

"Right," he felt his pulse begin to race.

"When was the last time I told you how much I need you?" her desire was awakening.

"It's been so long, I can't remember," he teased.

"Sully!" she tapped his side playfully.

"That's more like my Michaela," he relished her expression.

"I do need you, you know," she became serious.

"I know," his eyes filled with the light of her face. "And I need you. More than I could ever tell ya."

"I suppose I'll have to settle for your showing me then," she invited.

"Umm," a dimple appeared on his cheek. "I love showin' ya."

"I seem to recall that," she quipped.

"Where would ya like me t' begin?" he tempted.

She pointed to her earlobe, "Right here."

"Mmm," he nibbled where she directed.

His gesture sparked an immediate reaction in her.

"Guess that's workin'," he could see the effect. "Where next?"

"Here," she pointed to her chin.

Sully's lips caressed her chin, prompting a tingling sensation in them both.

"Where would you like for me to begin?" she asked in a sultry voice.

"Right here," he pointed to his mouth. "I kinda like a direct approach."

They commenced a kiss of a sweet and tender nature. Then Sully began to caress her in the places she craved.

"How's that?" he grinned.

"De... Delightful," she gasped. "And quite direct."

Soon the temptation to go beyond their playful banter was too much to resist. Maneuvering and moving their bodies, they joined together with all the enthusiasm they possessed. With every fiber of their beings, they committed to gratifying each other's need. Loving touches and kisses followed as their breathing calmed.

"Oh, Sully," she sighed in his arms.

He brushed back the hair from her eyes, "I sure do love lovin' ya in the mornin'."

"I was thinking the same thing of you," she smiled.

"Think we got a little while before the kids are...." his sentence was interrupted by a knock at the bedroom door.

"Just a minute," Michaela rushed to straighten her nightgown as Sully pulled on his buckskins.

"It's me," Katie's voice spoke. "Can I come in?"

"Come on in," Sully beckoned.

"Mornin'," the little girl entered and stepped closer to kiss her parents. "You two have a good rest?"

"Good morning, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed her forehead. "Yes, we rested just fine. And you?"

"Well, I gotta talk t' ya about that," her little brow wrinkled.

"What's on your mind, Kates?" Sully settled his daughter beside him.

"Joey," she shook her head.

"Is he awake?" Michaela wondered.

"Yep, he's awake," the child informed them. "An' I want ya t' know he tried t' climb outa his crib. I told him t' wait for me t' get you, an' he said a bad word."

"Josef said a bad word?" Michaela's eyes widened. "What was it?"

"I can't tell ya," Katie folded her hands. "I'm not allowed t' say."

"Maybe he oughta tell us himself," Sully proposed.

"I'll go get him," Michaela rose from the bed and donned her robe.

In a few moments, she returned with the little boy.

"Papa!" his arms reached for his father when they entered the bedroom.

Sully greeted the youngster, "Mornin', Joe."

Michaela joined her family on the bed, "Josef, do you have something you want to tell your father and me?"

"Nope," he seemed unaware that there was a problem.

"Did you say something to your sister this morning?" Michaela prompted.

He tilted his head in a questioning manner, "Mornin'."

Sully came to the point, "Did you use a bad word, son?"

"Don' know," he looked away.

"Joey, ya know ya did," Katie insisted.

"Josef," Michaela explained. "If you did something wrong, it's best to tell us."

"Tell Mama an' Poppy the truth," Katie said.

Josef contritely lowered his head and was barely audible, "Darn."

"Where did you learn that word?" Michaela questioned.

"Don' know," he shrugged.

"He heard if from Billy Wagner," Katie said. "He uses lots o' bad words."

"Billy Wagner?" Michaela was horrified. "He's only four years old. I'll speak with his mother."

"Josef, do ya know it's a bad word?" Sully lifted his son's chin to look him in the eye.

The boy's lower lip began to quiver.

Michaela was upset, "The first thing you're going to do, young man, is apologize for using that word in front of your sister."

"I sowwy," his blue eyes saddened.

"And the second thing you're going to do is tell us why you said it," she continued.

"I mad," he confessed.

"Why were ya mad?" Sully queried.

"Not like bed," he stated.

"There are many instances in our lives when we don't like things, but that does not give us license to use inappropriate language," Michaela avowed.

"Joey, now ya got Mama usin' big words," Katie leaned closer to him.

"No son of mine is going to...." Michaela paused when she saw her husband's expression.

Josef was on the verge of crying.

"I got an idea," Sully attempted to defuse the situation. "How 'bout if we come up with a better way for Josef t' handle things when he gets mad?"

"Good thinkin', Poppy," Katie agreed.

"How 'bout it, Joe?" Sully looked his son in the eye.

"'Kay," he agreed.

"Kates, do you remember what we taught ya t' do when ya get mad?" he touched her cheek.

"Count t' ten," she knew.

"I count," Josef sat up straighter. "One, thoo, thwee...."

"By the time ya get t' four or five, ya won't even remember why you were upset," Sully counseled.

"He'll remember," Katie predicted. "He don't like the railin's on his crib."

"Oh," Michaela understood. "He wants a big bed?"

"Yep," Josef's face lit up.

"Maybe ya could make him one, Poppy," Katie suggested.

"I'll think about it," Sully nodded. "But I gotta be real sure that my big boy's not gonna use bad words anymore."

"'Kay, Papa," Josef pledged.

"I'm gonna take ya at your word, Joe," Sully embraced him. "An' remember, big boy's don't go back on their word."

"I big," he held out his arms.

"I think ya owe your Ma an apology, too," Sully spoke low in his ear. "She wants her son t' behave real good."

Josef crawled into his mother's lap and threw his arms around her neck, "I sowwy, Mama. I good."

Michaela melted, "You're terribly hard to resist, young man."

Katie leaned against her father's shoulder.

"You're a good sister," he kissed the top of her head.

"When's Bran comin' home?" the little girl wondered.

"Later today," Michaela answered. "And I'm certain he'll have all sorts of stories for you about his camping trip. I do wish he would not have insisted on doing this by himself."

"He'll be all right, Michaela," Sully's voice was assuring. "He knows how t' take care of himself."

"I miss Bran," Josef spoke up.

"I bet he missed you, too," Sully winked. "Come on. Let's go get some breakfast."

Michaela shook her head as they departed, "What's the world coming to when children use such language?"

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

Michaela sat at her desk in the Clinic, contentedly gazing out the window at the bustling town of Colorado Springs. She savored the rare quiet of her office. She had no scheduled patients until later in the day, and the children were with Sully.

"Sully," she smiled to herself, still warmed from their dalliance at dawn.

Reliving each touch, each kiss, each electrifying moment, she did not hear the first tentative knock at her door. Then a louder one roused her from her reverie.

"Come in," she called, uncertain if her face was flushed.

The door opened. There stood a tall, well dressed man in his mid thirties. His features were handsome, highlighted by his piercing blue eyes and dark wavy hair.

He removed his hat, "Dr. Quinn!"

She rose from her desk and extended her hand, "Mr. Wellington?"

He shook her hand warmly, "I've looked forward to this moment for such a long time."

"Won't you come in?" she invited.

With a slight limp, he walked into the room.

Michaela noticed, "How are you?"

"I've done very well, thanks to you," he grinned.

"Please, won't you sit down?" she pointed.

At opposite sides of her desk, the former patient and doctor glanced at one another.

Frank could not contain his admiration, "Dr. Quinn, I came here to thank you for saving my life. But now that I'm here in person,... well, my words just don't seem adequate."

Michaela appreciated his sincerity, "I'm very moved that you would seek me out after all of these years. You look well."

"I was an engineering student before the War," he detailed. "When I went home after my amputation, I refused to wallow in self-pity, so I set about to develop an artificial leg."

"May I see?" her curiosity was peaked.

"Of course," he began to pull up his pant leg.

Michaela pointed, "Why don't you sit on my examining table?"

Frank obliged, and soon had gathered the material of his trousers up to explain, "I used a suction socket, polycentric knee, and multiarticulated foot."

"Amazing," she marveled.

"I even started a company to manufacture them for other amputees," he detailed. "The government helps pay for them, thanks to the Great Civil War Benefaction."

"I read about that," she nodded. "But I also understand that it led to extraordinary claims by makers of artificial legs in the name of attracting business and veterans' money. Shysters and charlatans have taken advantage."

"I can assure you that my company and product are sound," he defended.

"I can see that," she was embarrassed. "I meant no offense."

"None taken," he pulled down his pant leg.

A few moments of uncomfortable silence followed.

Frank opened the subject, "Your mother informs me that you're married."

"Yes," Michaela returned to her desk. "With five children."

"Five!" his eyes widened.

"Three are adopted," she qualified.

"Why did you move all the way out here?" he stood.

"A new beginning after my father's death," she simply stated.

Frank glanced down shyly, "Do you think that I might buy lunch for you? I have a proposal I'd like to make to you."

"That would be very nice," she consented.

"Maybe your husband could join us," he added.

"He's spending the day with our children," she noted.

"Where would you like to eat then?" Frank said.

"Grace's Cafe is the best place," she replied.

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

"I'm home!" Brian called when he entered the homestead.

Sully descended the steps, "Hey, Brian. How'd it go?"

"Pa," he was out of breath. "I got a lot t' tell ya. I had the most unbelievable experience. I saw a creature out there."

"Creature?" Sully was puzzled.

"Huge!" the young man extended his arms.

"What did it look like?" Sully poured a cup of coffee.

"Before I describe it, where are the kids?" Brian paused.

"Upstairs nappin'," he responded.

"Good," the son sat down. "What I saw was too scary for them t' hear about."

"What are ya talkin' about, Brian?" Sully sensed his son's fear.

"Part man, part beast," he replied.

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

Dorothy sat at a large table at Grace's Cafe filling in the townsfolk on Brian's adventure.

"Why was he out in the woods by himself?" Loren wondered.

"He was writin' an article for the Gazette about the Colorado wilderness," the redhead replied. "He was hopin' t' help Sully by gettin' some articles published in...."

"Sully and the cute little animals of the wild," Hank interrupted.

"Well, what he saw wasn't so cute or little," Dorothy revealed. "He gave me his notes this mornin', and what he came across will be the biggest news story t' hit Colorado Springs in some time."

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

"Calm down, Brian," Sully put his hand on his son's arm. "Now, tell me what ya saw."

Brian began, "I was campin' out along the other side o' Quail Lake. Around dusk, I heard a noise, like a grunting sound. Then I caught sight o' the creature's eyes through the bushes. I pulled out my rifle."

"Did ya shoot it?" Sully interjected.

"No," Brian shook his head. "It made no effort t' come any closer. Naturally, I didn't fall asleep, an' I kept the fire well stoked all night. I watched it, as it watched me. Sometimes it would stand up, an' when it did, it was at least eight feet tall."

"Ya sure it wasn't a bear?" Sully rubbed his chin.

"No, Pa," the young man was certain. "I've seen bear before. An' there was somethin' even more strange."

"What?" Sully was intrigued.

"The smell," Brian related. "It smelled like a cross between a decaying carcass an' rotten garbage. I'll never forget it."

"Sounds like a real frightenin' experience," Sully sympathized.

"By sun up, it was gone," Brian concluded.

"I wonder...." Sully's expression changed.

"Wonder what?" Brian noticed.

"I wonder if it could've been the one the Indians call Chiye-tanka, The Big Man," Sully stated.

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

"Brian prob'ly saw a bear," Loren dismissed Dorothy's comment.

"No," the newspaper editor countered. "He described it as part man, part beast. Said it smelled real awful."

"Do ya think the town's in any danger?" Jake tilted his head.

"Maybe we best go out an' kill it," Hank recommended.

"Say, look there," Jake pointed to Michaela's arrival at the Cafe with the handsome stranger. "Wonder who that is?"

"None o' our business," Grace pointed out.

Hank raised his eyebrows, "Looks like Michaela's havin' herself some fun."

"Will you stop it?" Dorothy scolded. "She's having lunch with a man."

"We can see that," Loren chuckled. "Question is, who is he?"

Grace left them to greet her friend, "Dr. Mike."

"Hello, Grace," the doctor smiled. "This is Frank Wellington, a former patient."

"Nice t' meet ya," Grace welcomed him. "This table all right?"

"Yes, fine, thank you," Michaela sat as Frank held the chair for her.

"What brings ya t' Colorado Springs, Mr. Wellington?" Grace set coffee cups before them.

"I'm here to thank Dr. Quinn," he looked admiringly at the physician. "For saving my life."

"Most folks around here could make the same claim," Grace poured the coffee. "So, what can I get ya?"

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

Nearby, the gossip continued.

"Will ya look at that?" Hank chuckled. "He's got manners, too. Held the chair for her."

"See how he's lookin' at her?" Jake smirked. "Don't seem proper."

"Wonder if Sully knows?" Loren questioned.

"Just stop it!" Dorothy shook her head.

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

"The Big Man?" Brian's eyes widened.

Sully detailed, "There's different legends about him. Some believe he's the husband of Unk-ksa, the Earth. Others believe he's a kinda reptile from ancient times who can take a big hairy form. He's both spirit an' real being.

"He's real, all right," Brian swallowed hard.

"By some accounts, he can appear when he wants to," Sully added. "He comes in times o' trouble t' help communities return t' a balance with Mother Earth."

"Do the Indians believe he has some kinda powers?" Brian inquired.

"Accordin' t' the elders, he does," Sully rubbed his upper lip. "That's how he's been able t' avoid capture all this time.

"Is that what you believe, Pa?" the young man asked.

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "I ain't sure."

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

"I'm delighted to see that you have been so successful in your career, Mr. Wellington," Michaela dabbed the side of her mouth with a napkin. "Have you someone special with whom to share it?"

He glanced down shyly, "A wife? No. I'm afraid I've let my career become my family."

She advised, "Perhaps the right woman has not come along."

"To tell you the truth," he paused. "I... I have always thought that my appearance would frighten a woman."

"The right woman would see beyond your physical circumstance," she commented. "I don't mean to pry. You mentioned at my office that there was something you wanted to propose to me."

Frank's eyes lit up. "In corresponding with your mother, she informed me that your medical facilities here in Colorado Springs are more primitive than one would find in a larger city."

"That's true, but..." she stopped when he raised his hand.

"And that gave me the idea of how I could repay you," he went on. "I intend to furnish your Clinic with whatever medical equipment and supplies you need and want. I shall spare no expense."

"Your offer is very generous," she was moved. "But I can't possibly accept."

"Dr. Quinn," he began to explain. "I have no wife, no children. All I have is money, and what good is it if I can't do something constructive with it?"

"But..." she tried again.

He interjected, "I'm not denying myself anything by spending the money in this manner. And it will enable you to improve the facility you have."

Michaela could think of no objections to his generous offer. As they continued to converse, she found Frank Wellington to be a well educated and charming man. He entertained her with stories of his travels, and soon, she lost track of time.

Matthew spotted his mother and the stranger, "Ma!"

"Matthew," she smiled.

"Ya got a patient waitin' for ya at the Clinic," he informed her.

"Oh, my," she rose quickly. "Mr. Wellington, this is my eldest son, Matthew."

"Pleased t' meet ya," Matthew shook his hand. "Sorry if I interrupted."

"No," Michaela patted his arm. "I must be going now." Then she paused, "Mr. Wellington, why don't you join us for dinner this evening? We can further discuss your offer."

"It would be my pleasure," he rose to his feet and took her hand. "Thank you, Dr. Quinn."

"Matthew?" Michaela hoped her son would come, too.

"Wouldn't miss it," he grinned.

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

"And Mr. Wellington's business is doing quite well," Michaela stated to her family at the dinner table.

"I owe it all to Dr. Quinn," Frank praised.

"Ma's the best doctor in the state," Brian asserted.

"I challenge anyone to dispute that," Frank smiled.

"I wanna be a doctor, too," Katie contributed.

Frank grinned, "A noble goal."

"Yesterday, she was going to be an artist," Michaela beamed at her daughter. "It seems to change daily."

"A woman's prerogative," he winked at Katie.

"Mr. Wellington has offered to finance improvements at the Clinic," Michaela told her family.

"What kind o' financing?" Sully wondered.

"A gift of money for her to purchase whatever she wants or needs," he vowed. "It's my way of repaying her for what she did for me. I would not have survived the War and lived to make the money at all, if it had not been for her skill."

Sully grew quiet, assessing the man who was making such a benevolent offer. Then he felt an uneasiness at Michaela's attentiveness to him. Sully had seen it before. A man might misinterpret her nature.... mistake it for something else. He became uncomfortable at the presence of Frank Wellington. And he suddenly felt like an outsider.

"Up," Josef was tired of his family's attention going to the stranger.

"What do you say, Sweetheart?" Michaela reminded her son of his manners.

"'Cuse me, pwease," he restlessly tapped the tray.

Sully lifted his son into his arms and raised him up high toward the ceiling.

"Sully!" Michaela feared the little hands would leave a mark.

"We'll go wash up," he headed for the kitchen.

"May I be excused, too?" Katie requested.

"Certainly," Michaela smiled.

Katie rushed into the kitchen. Scooting a chair over to the sink, she stood so that she could wash her hands beside her father and brother.

"Poppy," she whispered. "Mr. Wellin'ton's nice, don't ya think?"

"Um hum," he lathered Josef's hands.

"Mama likes him," the child observed.

"Yep," Sully answered.

They could hear the conversation continue into the living room. Then Matthew entered the kitchen.

"I'll say good night now," he put on his hat. "Got a busy day t'morrow. Brian's in there tellin' Mr. Wellington about that monster he...."

Suddenly, he realized his comment might not be suitable for his sister's ears.

"What monster?" Katie had heard.

"Uh," Matthew hesitated. "Somethin' Brian's writin'. Ya know, a story. Night."

"Night, Matthew," Sully nodded.

"Poppy?" the little girl looked up.

"Mmm?" he finished drying the children's hands.

"Did Bran see a monster?" she asked.

"Nothin' t' worry about," he kissed her cheek. "Go in with your Ma, now."

She dropped the subject and skipped into the living room.

"Katie!" Josef called.

Sully set the little boy down so that he could follow his sister. Then he began to clear away the dishes from the table to wash them. When he was nearly finished, he heard Michaela's voice.

"You didn't have to do those," she reached for some clean cups.

"No problem," he rinsed the last dish.

"Ready to join us for some coffee?" she invited.

"I'll join ya, but no coffee, thanks," he smiled uncomfortably.

Sully did not want Michaela to suspect his feelings, so he accompanied her into the living room. Katie and Josef both climbed into their father's lap, and lulled by the voices of their mother and Mr. Wellington, soon fell asleep.

Resting his chin lightly on the top of Katie's head, Sully stared into the fireplace. The conversation became merely background noise as he sorted through his thoughts. Then he began to feel guilty. Wellington was offering money to do something grand and noble. Why did that make Sully feel uncomfortable?

"Don't you think so, Sully?" Michaela's voice brought him back to reality.

"Mmm?" he lifted his head. "Sorry. I was thinkin' about somethin' else."

"I said that Mr. Wellington could stay with us this evening," she said.

"Uh," he hesitated. "Sure. He's more than welcome t' stay. We got a spare room."

"No," Frank protested. "I really can't. I have a room at the Chateau. But I appreciate your hospitality. If it's all right, I'll meet with you tomorrow at your Clinic, Dr. Quinn, to discuss the details of my offer. Would eleven o'clock be okay?"

"Yes," she agreed. "I'll see you then."

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

"An' I say we oughta go out an' find this beast," Hank spoke to a gathering of regular customers in the Gold Nugget.

"I agree," Jake nodded. "Sooner or later, it could end up in town or attack someone out there."

"My business is already droppin' off," Loren commented. "Folks are afraid t' travel."

"We only heard about it this mornin'," Jake rolled his eyes. "I can't see folks not...."

"Leave it to you gentlemen to not see the opportunity in this," Preston made his presence known.

"What opportunity?" Jake tipped his hat back.

"Money," Preston grinned. "You want to go out there, guns blazing, to kill the poor creature, when by capturing it, we could become rich."

"How ya figure?" Horace finally spoke.

"Think of the people who would travel here to see such an oddity of nature," Preston detailed. "We could charge admission."

"Like in a circus?" Jake compared.

"We could build it a special cage," Preston envisioned.

"I... I don't know if it's such a good idea," Horace balked at the idea. "Could be dangerous."

"Which is why we put it in a cage," Preston was sarcastic.

"I hate t' admit it, but Preston here might have somethin'," Hank pondered it.

"Why don't we go out t'morrow t' check things out?" Jake suggested.

"Good idea," Loren nodded. "I'll talk t' Brian in the mornin' t' get a better idea where t' look."

"Agreed?" Jake searched each face.

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

Sully pensively brushed Michaela's hair, relishing the scent of her tresses.

"You're rather quiet," she noticed his reflection in her mirror.

"Not much t' say, I guess," he replied, setting down the brush and climbing into bed.

Michaela removed her robe and slippers, "Who could have imagined that Mr. Wellington would come here today with such a wonderful gift?"

"I know," he pulled back the covers for her.

She climbed into bed and snuggled close, "He was fascinated by Brian's tale, too. But what a dangerous predicament for him."

"Katie wondered about the monster," he informed her.

"Oh, my," her brow wrinkled. "What did you tell her?"

"I just said Brian was writin' a story," Sully rubbed her arm.

She yawned, "I can't wait until tomorrow. There are so many things I want to order for the Clinic."

"Michaela," he hesitated.

"Mmm?" she lay her hand against his shoulder.

"Never mind," he did not want to dampen her spirits.

"What did you want to tell me, Sully?" she rubbed his chest.

"How much I love ya," he smiled.

"I love you, too," she turned to gaze at his face. "Good night."

"'Night," he sweetly kissed her.

Soon, he determined Michaela was asleep. Stroking her back, he kissed the top of her head. Why was he feeling this way, he wondered. It was not jealousy, but... what? A gut instinct that this grant for her Clinic would bring trouble.

And, he admitted to himself, he worried that Frank Wellington might misread his wife's accommodating nature. He noticed the way the man had looked at his wife, as others had in the past. Michaela did not realize the power she held over men. Her beauty was part of it, but there was more to it. It was her giving and open compassion, her receptiveness to men who appreciated her talents that could be perceived as flirtatious.

Sully sighed. He knew that Michaela's heart was his, and no one but he knew the woman beneath the facade of bravado. Taking a deep breath, he enfolded her protectively in his arms. Then his jaw tensed slightly. This Mr. Wellington seemed nice enough, but if he ever did anything to hurt, Michaela... He stopped himself.

"I ain't jealous," he spoke low.

"Mmm?" Michaela raised her head.

"Thought you were asleep," he ran his palm down her arm.

"Not yet," she stirred slightly. "I thought I heard you say something."

"Nothin' important," he answered.

"Can't you sleep?" she wondered.

"I will soon enough," he assured her.

"Sully," her voice filled with excitement. "Do you realize that now I can turn my Clinic into one of the finest hospitals in the state? Colleen and Andrew might even be interested in practicing here."

"That would make ya real happy, wouldn't it?" he smiled.

"Of course," she thought the answer obvious. "But..."

"But what?" he noted her change of expression.

"Are you troubled by this?" she posed the question.

He thought carefully on how to word his response, "I... I reckon I'm just a little leery about gettin' money so easy."

"Leery?" she tilted her head. "Why?"

"Nothin' specific," he was vague. "But the most important thing t' me is t' see you happy."

"Improving my medical facilities would be professionally and personally rewarding," she acknowledged.

"That mean it'd make ya happy?" he teased.

"I'm happy because you believe in me, Sully," she stated.

"Always have," he kissed her lightly. "Always will."

"But you question Mr. Wellington's motives?" she wondered.

"He seems like a real fine man," he admitted. "I got no reason t' question his motives."

She sought his assurance, "You're certain?"

"Yep," he nodded.

"Good," she lay her head against his chest.

His uneasy feeling persisted. Was it the fact that another man was giving Michaela something that he could not? Money. Was Frank Wellington's motivation merely gratitude? What if...

"Mr. Sully," her voice halted his thoughts.

"Mmm?" he glanced down to see her beautiful eyes peering up at him.

"Shall we get some sleep?" she rubbed his chest.

"You keep lookin' at me like that, an' I don't think I'll be interested much in sleepin'," he cupped her cheek in his hand.

Her heartbeat speeded, "Perhaps you'd rather celebrate?"

"Celebrate?" he was puzzled.

"My good fortune," she reminded him.

"How 'bout in the morning?" he said.

"I shall look forward to that," she yawned.

This time, Sully was sure she was asleep. At that moment he vowed to keep a close watch on Frank Wellington. His instincts were rarely wrong.

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

Sully was awakened by a sensation on his cheek. He opened an eye. It was Michaela kissing him.

"Good morning," she ran her finger along his chin.

"'Mornin'," he stretched his arm and embraced her.

"It's late," she whispered. "Brian's already up and gone. Katie and Josef are still asleep."

"Guess I was tired," he commented.

"I thought as much last night, when you did not respond to my invitation," she smiled.

"Invitation?" he tried to focus.

"For this," she slid up to kiss him more fully.

"I didn't respond t' that?" he joked. "I must need a doctor."

"It just so happens, I'm available," she teased.

Her wayward hand began to stir him. He gulped at his body's sudden reaction to her overtures.

"I'm so happy, Sully," her face was radiant.

"I can see that," he rolled her over onto her back.

Lovingly, he trailed kisses across her throat and shoulders. Her soft moan communicated her pleasure.

"Celebrate with me?" she invited.

"Love to," his pulse raced.

Their passions ignited. Magically, their bodies were united in a wondrous wave of warmth. Something was different in her husband, Michaela noticed. Subtle, but there.... an intensity that reached into her soul and strove to claim it. Willingly, she gave it. Clinging to one another, they prolonged their pleasure as long as was physically possible.

"I love you so much," her heart was full.

He recited,

"We have seen thee, O Love
Thou art fair;
Thou art goodly,
O Love."

"Humm," she contemplated the poet. "Browning?"

"Algernon Swinburne," he identified. "Michaela..."

"Yes?" she anticipated a question.

"Ya know I'd give ya the world if I could, don't ya?" he stroked her hair.

"You've already given me the world, Sully," she avowed, "Is something bothering you?"

"No," he was less than truthful.

His mood seemed different, Michaela perceived. Not brooding or sullen. But... more insecure. He was still clinging to her.

"Are you free today to join me at the Clinic?" she requested.

"When ya meet with Wellington?" he clarified.

"Yes," Michaela sat up. "But there are a few repairs I'd like for you to make, as well."

"Sure," he rubbed her arm as if to invite her back to him.

She turned to look at him, "Sully, the children will be up soon."

"I know," he gently pulled her into his arms again. "But I don't wanna let ya go yet."

"Are you certain that you're all right?" she wondered.

"Uh...." he hesitated. "I think I'm sick."

"Sick?" she felt his forehead.

"Yep," he replied faintly.

"What are your symptoms?" she asked.

"I got an ache right here," he gestured toward his heart.

"I'll get my stethoscope," she started to rise from the bed.

"No," Sully pulled her back. "It ain't that kinda ache."

"What kind of ache is it?" she was taking him seriously.

"The kinda ache that makes me long for ya," he was becoming melodramatic.

Finally, Michaela caught on to his act, "Oh, that kind of ache."

Smiling, she rejoined him. Laying beside him, she caressed his chest, then lightly kissed it. With a sultry gaze, she playfully guided her hand to arouse him.

Sully gulped.

"How's your heartache now?" she continued to tantalize him.

"I think ya got the blood flowin' again," he quipped.

"Good," she felt his palm against her back, bidding her to move even closer.

"They teach you this in medical school?" he joked.

"As a matter of fact..." she found a particularly sensitive area. "My husband taught me what the books could not."

"He seems like a lucky fella, your husband," Sully spoke of himself in the third person.

"Oh, he is," she nodded. "But lately, he seems to have an unquenchable appetite."

"Unquenchable?" his voice had a rasp. "Do you mind?"

"No," she smiled. "But if he had his way, I would never get any work done."

"If he had his way?" he repeated in a low voice. "Is he forward with ya?"

"Quite," she smiled. "But I love him, nonetheless."

"How much do ya love him?" he grinned.

She became the one to quote poetry,

"I wonder, by my troth,
What thou and I did
'Til we loved."

"Mmm," he kissed her neck.

"Aren't you going to guess the poet?" she tapped his shoulder.

"Not right now," he tilted her head toward his.

She felt herself melting in his arms, "Donne."

"No," he caressed her. "I'm just beginnin'."

She laughed, "No, Sully. John Donne was the poet."

"Oh," he grinned impishly. "Where was I?"

Before their banter could continue, they heard Katie call.

"Mama! Poppy! Rise an' shine," the little girl stood in the hallway.

"Now I'm done," Sully sighed.

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

"Brian, lad!" Loren called to the young man as he passed the mercantile.

"Hey, Loren," he paused.

"Come here," the shopkeeper beckoned. "Wanna talk to ya for a spell."

"How are ya?" Brian greeted him.

"Well, now," he grinned. "I'm doin' just fine."

"What did ya wanna talk about?" the young man wondered.

"That creature ya saw," he responded.

"I never saw anythin' like it before," Brian's eyes widened.

"Come on in, an' tell me all about it," Loren invited.

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

Sully set his tool box on the floor of the Clinic examining room, "Okay, what do ya need fixed?"

Michaela lifted the list from her desk, "The first recovery room bed has loose slats, the book shelf in the children's room rattles, the door hinges all need oil, and the window in the hallway sticks."

Sully took the list from her hands, "I'll start upstairs. You kids be good for your Ma."

"Can we watch ya, Poppy?" Katie implored.

Michaela interjected, "It will take your father twice as long to fix it if you two are with him."

"We'll be good," the little girl pledged.

"I know you will," she touched her daughter's nose. "It's your Daddy who will want to play."

Sully winked and headed out. Michaela settled the children into the anteroom, then began to inventory her medical supplies. Periodically, she could hear Sully's hammering upstairs. She smiled to herself, warming at the thought that he was a man of so many talents... carpenter, translator, negotiator...

There was a knock at the door.

Michaela opened it, "Mr. Wellington. You're early."

"I wanted to show you some plans I've drawn up," he removed his hat. "Is this an inconvenient time?"

"No," she brushed back a stray lock of hair. "Please, come in. What plans do you have?"

"Plans for an expanded Clinic," his voice filled with enthusiasm.

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

"So ya didn't see this creature close up?" Loren concluded as Brian finished his tale.

"I was closer than I ever wanna be again," he shook his head.

"Some o' us were thinkin' about goin' after it," the storekeeper replied.

"T' kill it?" the young man was horrified.

"No," Loren asserted. "T' bring it back."

"Why?" Brian did not understand.

"So's folks can look at it," he put his fingers in his vest pocket and leaned back. "We're gonna put it in a cage an' have folks pay t' see it."

"That sounds cruel," Brian's brow wrinkled.

"Wouldn't be cruel," Loren countered. "We'd take care of it. It wouldn't have t' scavenge for food anymore."

"What if it has a mate an' young ones?" Brian considered.

"If we find 'em, we'll bring 'em back, too," he reasoned.

"I don't think Pa's gonna like this," Brian pondered it.

"Who says he has t' know?" Loren shrugged.

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

Frank could not contain his enthusiasm, "Early this morning, I came here to take some measurements of your building. This is merely a rough drawing, but I think that it will be to your liking."

"What will be to her liking?" Sully stood at the doorway.

"Sully!" Frank smiled. "I was showing Dr. Quinn the plans I've drawn up to expand her Clinic."

"Isn't it wonderful, Sully?" she pointed to the sketch.

He stepped closer to assess the rendering, "I thought you were only gonna buy medical equipment an' supplies. Now you're plannin' on addin' floors t' the buildin'?"

"Yes," Frank responded. "Three more. And an elevator connecting them."

"An elevator!" Michaela's eyes widened.

"This buildin' can't support...." Sully was interrupted.

"This building will be scrapped," Frank interjected. "We'll use steel beams for the framing and supports."

"I... I didn't realize you intended to destroy the existing structure," Michaela hesitated.

"You're making a trade off for a much better facility," Frank pointed out.

Sully folded his arms. Silently, he watched Wellington sell his wife on his ideas. The man had unlimited resources to provide the best for her. Swallowing hard, Sully turned and went to the anteroom. Opening the door, he observed his sleeping children.

"Sully?" Michaela's voice was heard behind him.

He paused but did not turn around to face her.

She approached and spoke low, "What do you think?"

"If it's what ya want..." his voice trailed off.

"This would be finer than any hospital in Denver," she said.

He forced a smile, "Wouldn't need t' have me repairin' old worn out things."

"It would be the largest building in Colorado Springs," she added.

Frank asked, "Is it all right if I begin organizing the construction crews and materials?"

Sully felt awkward, "Could we think on it?"

"Of course," he answered. "In the meantime, I'll bring some catalogs for Dr. Quinn to look at for equipment."

"Thank you so much, Mr. Wellington," she extended her hand.

He shook it, and in Sully's mind, clasped it a little too long, "Won't you please call me Frank?"

"Frank," she nodded.

"May I call you Michaela?" he requested.

"Certainly," she consented.

Frank departed.

As the door closed behind him, Michaela turned to her husband, "I feel like Cinderella at the ball."

"You're prettier than Cinderella," he put his arm around her waist.

"And I already have my Prince Charming," she kissed him lightly.

"So this'll be your happily ever after," he nodded.

"Does my Prince Charming has his doubts?" she gazed into his eyes.

"Seems like it's all happenin' too fast," he stated. "With a bigger buildin' will come bigger bills. Maintainin' somethin like this will be expensive."

"I'll discuss that with Frank," she returned to her desk.

Sully changed the subject, "I got a few more things t' do upstairs."

At that moment, Brian entered the Clinic, "Pa, could I talk with ya?"

"Sure, Brian. Come on up with me," Sully motioned. "I got work t' do."

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

In front of the mercantile, a group of riders had assembled to go in search of the creature.

"Brian said he saw it over near Quail Lake," Loren revealed.

"He comin' with us?" Jake wondered.

"He went t' talk t' Sully," the shopkeeper replied. "Said he'd be right back."

"That won't do," Preston shook his head. "Sully will want to leave the little furry thing out in the woods."

Loren cautioned, "It may be furry, but it sure ain't little."

"Sully'll prob'ly try t' talk us outa this," Hank speculated.

"Well, if we leave now, he won't have the chance," Jake urged.

"If we leave without Brian, we might not find it," Hank countered. "He knows exactly where t' look."

"So what d' we do then?" Horace chimed in.

"I guess we wait," Jake frowned.

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

"An' they want me t' show 'em where I found it," Brian concluded. "What should I do, Pa?"

"Looks like you've come t' one o' those forks in the road life sometimes puts before ya," Sully smiled.

"Well, you're real good at readin' maps," Brian grinned. "What would you do?"

"What do ya think you should do?" Sully folded his arms.

"I'm not sure. I guess I could lead them t' where I saw it an' hope we don't find it," the young man pondered.

"Maybe you could make sure they don't," Sully raised an eyebrow. "Take 'em on a wild goose chase."

"What?" Brian tilted his head.

"Just take 'em out there, but not t' the exact place where ya saw the creature," Sully explained. "Once they get their fill o' wanderin' around for a spell, they'll lose interest an' come home."

Brian chuckled, "That sounds good. I could do that."

"Did ya want me t' come with ya?" he offered.

"No, thanks," the young man replied. "You got your hands full with all the things Mr. Wellington wants t' do."

"What do ya mean?" Sully wondered.

"I mean he seems t' be takin' over things," Brian was blunt.

Sully was relieved he was not the only one who felt that way, "You could be right."

"He might be talkin' Ma int' things she don't really want," Brian added. "I better be goin'. They're waitin' for me."

"Be careful, son," Sully patted his shoulder.

"I will," he left.

Sully looked around the recovery room with its wooden walls and floors. There were cracks and creaks. It was here that Michaela had helped so many people, and here that she had lost some patients, as well. Maybe with a new facility, she could help even more. But....

"Why don't this sit right?" he sighed to himself.

"Are you finished?" Michaela's voice startled him.

"Ah... not yet," he lifted his hammer.

"What did Brian want to discuss with you?" she was curious. "He said goodbye and that he'd be home tomorrow."

"He's goin' with some o' the men from town t' look for the creature," he detailed.

"Sully..." she became concerned.

"Don't worry," he smiled. "Brian's gonna lead 'em around 'til they get tired o' lookin'."

"Why do they want to find it?" she asked.

"T' capture it an' make it int' a tourist attraction or somethin'," he glanced out the window and saw Brian join the group.

She rested her hand on his shoulder, "I suppose I have to learn to not worry over him so."

"He's a man now, Michaela," he turned back to her.

"It seems like only yesterday, I was rocking him to sleep," her eyes reddened.

"Things change," he noticed. "Time passes."

"Soon, it will only be the two of us," she thought about her children growing up.

"We still got Katie an' Josef for a while longer," he embraced her.

She leaned her head against his chest and closed her eyes.

"You okay?" he rubbed her back.

"I just thought I could use some holding," she said.

"Any time," he smiled.

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

As Michaela and Sully prepared dinner, there as a knock at the homestead door. When Sully opened it, there stood Frank Wellington.

"Good evening, Sully," he removed his hat. "Have I come at a bad time?"

Before Sully could answer, Michaela greeted him, "Frank, won't you come in? We're about to have dinner. Please, join us."

"I'd love to," he stepped into the living room.

"Hello, Mr. Wellin'ton," Katie approached.

"I brought you and your brother something," he leaned over. "A sketch pad for your drawing."

Josef quickly appeared, "Pwesent?"

"Yes," Frank grinned. "I brought you a whistle."

The little boy took the device in his hand and examined it.

"You blow into it," Frank pointed.

Josef put it to his mouth, but it emitted no sound.

"Other end," Frank smiled.

Suddenly, the quiet of the home was shattered by the piercingly shrill sound. Wolf began to whine.

"Perhaps, this wasn't such a good idea for a toy, but it was all I could find at the Mercantile," Frank commented.

Josef let forth another burst from the whistle.

"Here, Joe," Sully held out his hand. "Let's give that a rest for a while. If ya blow int' it too much, it makes folks upset."

"No, Papa," the little boy began to run toward the steps.

"Josef," Sully's voice was suddenly firm.

The child stopped in his tracks and turned contritely toward his father.

"Bring me the whistle," Sully beckoned in a serious tone.

Josef scampered to his father and quickly placed it in his hand.

"Thank you," Sully lightly patted his son's behind.

"I apologize," Frank was embarrassed. "I'm afraid I don't have much experience with children."

"What brings ya here?" Sully put the whistle in his pocket.

"Catalogs," Frank replied. "I brought them for Michaela to look at. Then I thought we might discuss details of the new Clinic."

"Thank you," Michaela took the books from his hands. "Please come in and make yourself comfortable. Dinner is almost ready.

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

"Good dinner," Jake complimented Brian.

"Thanks," the young man smiled. "It's snake meat."

Suddenly the contents of Jake's mouth sprayed forth, "Snake?"

"Ain't ya never eaten snake?" Hank chuckled.

"No," the barber wiped his mouth. "An' I don't intend t' start."

"Did you hear somethin'?" Horace's eyes grew larger.

"Yea," Jake said. "That's my stomach growlin' 'cause it's empty."

"Stop complaining," Preston rolled his eyes. "What did you hear, Horace?"

"Listen," the telegraph operator cautioned.

The camp grew still. In the distance, they could hear coyotes yelping. Then came the sound of trees crashing. All of the men raised their weapons. In the light from the full moon, they could see the trees swaying. Something of tremendous size was approaching.

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

Brian, Hank, Jake, Loren, Horace and Preston listened intently as their adrenaline charged every nerve in their bodies. Suddenly, the crashing sound they had heard ceased. Then a shrill cry arose, hushing the yelps of the coyotes.

"Let's get outa here!" Jake shouted.

"Hold it," Hank called. "We came t' find the creature, an' I ain't leavin'."

"Well, I ain't stayin!" Jake headed for his horse.

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

With supper concluded, Frank spread his drawings across the dining room table to show Michaela the meticulous detail he had added to the Clinic sketches since morning.

"It's quite impressive," she studied them.

Sully sat by the fireplace with the children. Katie began to draw on her new sketch pad, while Josef, on his father's lap, attempted unsuccessfully to withdraw his new whistle from Sully's shirt pocket.

"Pwease, Papa," Josef became frustrated.

"Joe," Sully took the child's hands in his and spoke low. "A whistle is not t' play with. It's t' warn folks."

"Warn?" Josef tilted his head.

Sully stroked his son's head, "T' let folks know someone's in trouble, ya blow the whistle, an' help will come."

"Not toy?" the little boy struggled to comprehend.

"Right," Sully kissed his cheek. "Now, ya got lots o' toys in your box there. Why don't ya play with them?"

"I hold wizzle?" the child requested.

"Yep," Sully lifted it from his pocket. "But remember what it's for."

"'Kay," Josef reluctantly slid from his father's lap with the whistle in his hand.

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

Frank concluded by showing Michaela the last room, "And this is a lounge for your staff."

"A lounge?" she was uncertain.

"A room to which they can go to rest, consult one another, even relax with a game of chess, my personal favorite," he chuckled.

"You play chess?" she smiled.

"Indeed," he grinned. "In college, I won many tournaments. Do you play?"

"When I have time," she nodded. "With a medical practice and my two little ones, there's not much of that."

"Do you have time right now?" he invited.

"I..." she hesitated. "I suppose so."

"Good," his eyes lit up. "I challenge you to a game. I may even concede a move or two."

Michaela's back stiffened, "I can assure you, I do not need special treatment."

"I'm only teasing," he laughed.

Michaela went into the living room and began to set up the chess set.

"Playin' checkers, Mama?" Katie stood up.

"Chess," Michaela replied.

"Can I watch?" the little girl requested.

"Can?" the mother reminded.

"May I watch?" Katie amended.

"What time is it?" Michaela continued her task.

Katie glanced at the mantle clock, "Eight thirty. Can... may I stay up a little later, please?"

"You heard your Ma, Kates," Sully stood up. "Come on."

"Okay," her lower lip curled under.

"Frank," Michaela said. "Could you finish setting up the board while I take my children...."

"I'll do it, Michaela," Sully cut in. "You go ahead with your game."

"Thank you, Sully," she smiled. Lifting her daughter, she kissed her forehead, "Good night, Sweetheart. Don't forget your prayers."

"I won't," she pledged. "'Night, Mr. Wellin'ton."

"Good night," he responded.

"What else do you say?" Michaela whispered.

"Thanks for the drawin' tablet," Katie added.

"You're quite welcome," he acknowledged.

After setting Katie down, Michaela corralled Josef, "Good night, young man."

He threw his arms around her neck and planted a wet kiss on her cheek, "'Night, Mama."

"Where is the whistle?" Michaela feared a late night burst.

"Here," he pointed to his pocket. "Papa say 'kay."

"He'll be good with it," Sully lifted the little boy from his wife's arms.

"I love you, my darlings," Michaela spoke.

Sully escorted the children upstairs, and Michaela joined Frank for the challenge of chess.

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

Jake quickly saddled, mounted and spurred his horse, but the animal refused to budge. It's eyes were wide with fear.

Then as a breeze kicked up, Brian smelled it. The stench of the big creature was instantly recognizable.

"It's here," Brian spoke low.

"I don't see anything," Preston nervously toyed with the trigger of his rifle.

"That smell," Brian identified.

"Smells like somethin' dead, not somethin' alive," Horace's voice trembled.

"Keep your guns trained," Hank warned. "Jake, help me get the net ready."

"You think a net is gonna hold somethin' that big?" Jake doubted.

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

As Sully descended the stairs, he heard his wife's voice.

"Checkmate," Michaela spoke with excitement.

"Amazing," Frank shook his head.

"Ya win already?" Sully placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Yes," she smiled.

"Your wife is an incredible woman, Sully," Frank stood up.

Sully agreed, "Ya get no argument from me on that."

"I really should be going now, but I'll leave the catalogs with you, Michaela," Frank donned his hat. "Would it be all right if I stop by the Clinic tomorrow to discuss your order?"

Imperceptibly, Sully sighed.

Michaela nodded, "Late afternoon would be best. I have another commitment earlier in the day."

"Tomorrow afternoon, it is," he walked to the door.

Sully opened it for him, and after their goodbyes, Frank departed. Michaela walked to the hearth and pensively stared into the flames.

"What ya thinkin' about?" Sully went to her.

"Nothing in particular," she felt his hands slip around her waist.

"What other commitment ya got early t'morrow?" he spoke low in her ear.

"I have a consultation with another physician who will be in town," she said.

"Oh," he began to lower the lamps. "Ready for bed?"

"Let me get the catalogs," she lifted them from the table.

"I'll carry them for ya," he took them from her hands. "Plan on lookin' through these t'night?"

"I thought I might, yes," she followed him up the stairs.

Quietly, they stopped at the nursery to check on their sleeping children, then resumed their walk down the hallway to their bedroom. Without speaking, they began to change for bed. Each perceived that something was on the other's mind, yet they did not verbalize it.

While Michaela crawled into bed and began to leaf through the catalogs, Sully added a large log to the fire and stoked it. Then he joined her.

"How many rooms is the new Clinic gonna have?" Sully looked over her shoulder.

She answered, "Ten recovery rooms, two surgical rooms, three offices...."

"That all?" he joked.

"Several storage rooms, a room for the engine to power the elevator..." she continued.

"An' you're plannin' on stayin' awake until ya pick out enough for each room?" he was concerned.

She smiled at him, "You don't need to stay up with me if you're tired."

"'Night then," he kissed her cheek.

"Good night," she stroked his hair. "I love you."

"Love you, too," he rolled onto his side away from her.

He could hear her turning pages and making notes. Soon his thoughts drifted, and he fell asleep.

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

"No sign of any creature now," Hank put his hands on his hips. "Looks like we missed our chance."

"We could track him," Preston concluded. "Something that big would leave monstrous footprints. In the full moon, we might be able to follow."

Loren's voice quaked, "I ain't so sure I wanna follow it."

"Me either," Horace chimed in.

"I think we should wait 'til mornin'," Jake stated.

"By then, it could be miles away," Preston countered.

"Then you go ahead an' track it," Jake folded his arms.

"I'll come with ya," Hank volunteered.

"Be careful," Jake warned.

The two men set off to find the mysterious animal.

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

"Frank?" Michaela opened the homestead door.

"Michaela," he stepped inside. "I came back because I forgot to leave one of the catalogs with you."

"It could have waited until tomorrow," she pulled her robe tighter.

"Is Sully asleep?" he noted his absence.

"Yes," she informed him. "I came down for a cup of tea. Would you like to join me?"

"I'd love to," he removed his hat. "I'm still smarting from my chess loss this evening. Where did you learn to play so well?"

"My father taught me," she pumped water into the kettle and placed it on the stove.

"Do you play much?" he wondered.

"Sully and I play on occasion," she noted.

"Do you beat him, too?" he grinned.

"Sometimes," she set the cups on the table.

"He's a very lucky man," Frank spoke wistfully.

"And I'm a very lucky woman," she turned it around. "We've had our share of misfortune, but because of our love, we came through it."

"I've known feelings of misfortune," he glanced down. "I wish I would have had a woman's love to help me."

Michaela encouraged, "Love may find you, yet."

"I know one thing," he paused. "If I ever do find the woman for me, I'll never let her go."

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

Sully rolled over and noticed that Michaela's side of the bed was vacant. He placed his hand where she had once lain. The sheets were cold. He pulled himself up and thought he could discern voices downstairs. Who could be here at this hour, he thought. Rising from the bed, he pulled on his buckskins and headed for the door.

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

"Find anythin'?" Jake caught sight of Preston and Hank returning.

"Nothing," the banker was disappointed. "The tree growth was too thick and blocked the moonlight."

"Told ya we oughta wait 'til mornin'," Jake reminded.

"Got no choice now," Hank sat down and poured a cup of coffee. "I'll tell ya one thing. I ain't goin' home without it."

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

"Sully," Michaela heard her husband descend the steps. "Did we waken you?"

"No," he rubbed his hand across his stubbled face. "What are you doin' here, Frank?"

"I got all the way to the Chateau and realized I forgot to give Michaela this catalog," he indicated. "I knew she would be busy in the morning, so I took the chance you would still be up and brought it over."

"I see," Sully eyed him skeptically.

"Would you like some tea, Sully?" Michaela poured the water.

"No, thanks," he kept his eye on Frank.

The man perceived Sully's glare, "On second thought, Michaela, I think I'd better leave now. Thanks again for dinner earlier."

"You're welcome," she wondered why he was abruptly departing.

"I'll stop by the Clinic in the afternoon," he walked toward the door.

Sully opened it for him, "Good night, Frank."

He paused to look at the mountain man, then left.

Returning to his wife, Sully placed his hand on her back, "Comin' up now?"

"Yes," she lifted the catalog in one hand and her tea in the other.

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

A rooster's crow wakened Sully. He yawned and rolled over. To his surprise, Michaela was not there. Rising and dressing, he made his way down the hallway. The children were still sleeping. He continued down the steps. There was Michaela, dressed and pouring over the catalogs.

He spoke, "Still lookin' at those?"

"Yes," she sighed. "And I have an appointment in an hour."

"Michaela," he came around to face her. "Is this what ya really want?"

"Of course," she found his question odd. "Why do you ask?"

He debated whether to speak what was truly on his mind.

"Please tell me what's bothering you," she noted his expression. "You can tell me anything. You know that."

He took a deep breath, "I... I think that it's all too much."

"Too much?" she queried.

"Everythin' Frank is doin'," he revealed his feelings. "This new Clinic, all the stuff he's buyin' for ya, an'..."

"And what?" she probed.

"An' I don't like the way he looks at ya," he added.

"How he looks at me?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

"Like he's lookin' for more than friendship," Sully said.

"That's ridiculous," she became defensive. "He merely considers me a friend."

"Michaela," Sully placed his hand atop hers. "I know what it means when a man looks at a woman the way he looks at you."

"I believe that you're misinterpreting...." she was cut off.

"No," his voice rose slightly. "I don't want ya alone with him anymore."

"What do you mean?" she pulled her hand from under his.

"I mean just what I said," he met her gaze. "He's fallin' in love with ya, Michaela."

"That's impossible," she shook her head. "I've done nothing to encourage such a thing."

He paused, hoping to defuse the growing tension, "You're a beautiful woman, caring, kind..."

"Sully, I resent your accusation," she interrupted.

"I ain't accusin' you of anythin'," he replied. "A lonely man might misunderstand your friendly ways."

"But you believe that I am encouraging some sort of feelings on his part?" she was horrified.

He knew the argument was going nowhere, "I'm goin' out t' milk the cow."

"But...." she stopped when the door slammed.

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

"I think we better get more supplies if we're gonna stay out here lookin' for the creature," Hank informed the group.

"I believe it would be more advantageous to send a couple of men back to town, while the rest of us resume the tracking," Preston contributed.

"Brian an' me can go," Loren replied.

"I can tell Ma I'll be gone for more than a day," Brian reasoned.

"We'll keep this as our base camp," Jake stated. "When ya get back with the provisions, bring 'em here."

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

"Dr. Bernard," Michaela opened the Clinic door and greeted the physician. "I appreciate your coming from Denver."

"I don't mind a bit, Dr. Quinn," he smiled. "Your daughter and son-in-law send their regards. They are developing quite a reputation in our capital."

Michaela's heart filled with pride, "I'm glad to hear that."

The sound of Katie and Josef playing emanated from behind the anteroom door.

"How are your young ones?" he smiled.

"Active as always," she noted.

"What can I do for you?" he removed his hat.

"There are several patients I would like to discuss with you," she bid him to sit.

"Pregnancy cases?" he assumed.

"Yes," she answered as she opened the top file on her desk.

Suddenly, she could not contain her tears.

Dr. Bernard was surprised, "Dr. Quinn?"

"I.... I'm sorry," she wiped away the moistness.

"Is there something particularly troubling about this first patient?" he surmised.

"No..." she stood and went to the window to look out. "I... I must apologize for asking you here under these circumstances."

"Why?" he was puzzled. "We often consult on cases."

"But in this instance, I didn't really ask you here because of that," she revealed.

"Then why did you invite me?" he tilted his head.

"I wanted you to see me," she came out with it. "I'm the patient."

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

"You're the patient?" the older physician wondered. "Have you been ill?"

Michaela folded her hands, "No. But..."

He could tell that she was struggling with something, "Please, sit down, and tell me what's wrong."

She returned to her desk and sat, "My husband and I have been trying to have another baby. Since we lost the child a year and a half ago, I have been unable to conceive."

"I see," his tone was sympathetic. "Why don't I examine you to see if there is any physical reason for it?"

"I would appreciate it," she acknowledged. "I realize at my age, another pregnancy might not be possible."

"And you are aware of the risks," he interjected. "Another pregnancy would mean that you should greatly curtail your activities and your medical practice."

Suddenly, Michaela considered the repercussions of the new and expanded Clinic. She wanted another baby more than anything in the world, and yet.... if it were to happen, all of her professional plans would be impossible.

"Dr. Quinn?" he noticed her distracted demeanor.

She came back to reality, "Ah, yes. I know the risks."

"Let's begin your examination," he removed his coat.

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

Sully looked over his sketch of a new bed for his son. Two beds would be a tight squeeze in the nursery. Then he sighed. It might be better to move Katie into a room of her own. With Matthew no longer living there, they had the space.

He stood up and walked to the kitchen window. Glancing out, he spotted the tree they had planted over the buried memorial box for their lost child. His heart filled with sadness as he recalled the terrifying day that Michaela miscarried the baby. After their ordeal, his wife had not wanted to think about more children. But since Katie's kidnapping and Josef's trauma this year, they had contemplated another baby more earnestly.

He folded his arms. She would not want another child now, not with a new Clinic. He knew that Michaela would throw herself so totally into the project, she would never have time. She would barely find moments for the children or him, once.... He crumpled the sketch up and tossed it aside.

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

"Well?" Michaela sat up.

Dr. Bernard told her, "Everything appears to be quite normal."

"That is good news," she was relieved. "But it doesn't provide a physical explanation for my failure to become pregnant again."

"I'm sure you are aware that there may be other factors preventing it, besides your age," he advised. "Tell me about your monthly cycle."

"It has always been irregular," she sighed.

"How often are you and your husband intimate?" he inquired.

She blushed slightly, "When he's home, rather often, but sometimes he is away for a week or two at a time."

"Healthy body, healthy relations with your husband," he paused. "You went through quite a trauma this year when your daughter was kidnapped. That could be a factor. Perhaps a reduction in your workload here at the Clinic would help. Avoid stress. Spend more time with Mr. Sully."

"I see," she considered. "I'll take that under consideration. I appreciate your coming here, Doctor."

"What about those other patients?" he turned his attention to the folders on her desk.

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

Sully swung the ax to split a log. His mind wandered to Michaela again. Then a thought occurred to him. He was being selfish.... thinking only of what he wanted and not what Michaela might need. She had been so happy about the idea of expanding the Clinic. And he put a damper on it.

Maybe he was reading too much into the attention Frank Wellington was paying to her. He knew Michaela would never consciously encourage such feelings. It was foolish of him to concern her with his unfounded suspicions.

"Selfish and foolish," he became frustrated with himself as he split another log with a hack of the ax.

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

Michaela sat at her desk. The children had gone to the Cafe. They loved visiting with their godmother, who pampered their appetites and permitted them to help with her cooking.

Glancing toward the clock, she knew that Frank Wellington would soon arrive. The dilemma she now faced filled her mind. How to divide her time. Since her marriage and birth of her children, she had somehow managed to achieve a balance between the needs of her family and her career.

But now, the balance no longer seemed possible. In the euphoria of contemplating a new Clinic, it had not occurred to her how it would affect her family. She had permitted Frank's take-charge attitude and the lure of a new Clinic to obscure her responsibilities to her husband and children.

Sliding her hands down to her abdomen, she sighed. She wanted both another baby and a facility in which she could treat patients much more effectively, but it appeared that having one would be at the expense of the other.

Then it occurred to her, "I'm being selfish.... thinking about what I want and not what Sully wants.... And foolish. I'm foolish to think that I could have it all and selfish to even want it."

Suddenly, she longed to be in her husband's arms.... seeking his counsel.... receiving his strength and encouragement. She regretted their argument from this morning. But it was completely unfounded. How could Sully think that Frank Wellington was interested in her? She had given him absolutely no....

A knock at the door brought her thoughts to a halt.

"Michaela," Frank's eyes lit up when she opened the door. "Are you free now?"

"Yes," she stepped back to invite him in.

"Do you have all of the Clinic orders ready?" he queried.

"I... I wrote down what I think I'll need," she sat at her desk.

"Is there a problem?" he picked up on her hesitation.

She deliberated on how to tell him, "Frank, I appreciate all that you have offered."

"I told you why I'm doing it," he related. "To thank you. You're not having second thoughts, are you?"

"I... I believe I need more time to think about all of this," she came out with it. "It's so overwhelming in its scope, and it will have a tremendous impact on my family."

His eyes softened, "I understand. I guess I'm just so accustomed to working with deadlines and being assertive in my company, I forgot that this is not business. It will greatly impact your life."

"Thank you for understanding," she smiled.

"Of course," he nodded. "There is no need for urgency, particularly since I've initiated some steps to relocate here."

"You're moving to Colorado Springs?" she was surprised. "What about your business?"

"I have people to run it for me," he indicated. "I don't have to be in Chicago all of the time."

Michaela had a passing thought that Sully's suspicions might be true, but she quickly dismissed it, "Why would you want to move here, Frank?"

"I am impressed with the climate, the unspoiled wilderness, and... the friendly people," he responded.

Their conversation was interrupted by a loud knock at the door.

"Come in," Michaela beckoned.

"Ma!" Brian rushed into her office. "Oh, hi, Mr. Wellington."

"Hello, Brian," he grinned. "You look as if you've seen a ghost."

"Somethin' just as scary," the young man stated. "We had an encounter with the creature out there last night."

"I thought Sully said you were going to avoid it," Michaela stood.

"I was," he was still out of breath. "But we came across it anyway. Loren an' me came back for supplies. Now they wanna stay out there 'til they catch it."

"Brian," Michaela cast a disapproving glance. "I don't want you..."

He interjected, "I'll be all right, Ma. An' I'm not alone this time."

"I'm aware of that, but I'd feel much better if you did not do this," she added.

"Don't worry," he kissed her cheek. "Don't know when I'll be home, but I'll fill ya in on everythin' when I get back."

"Be careful," she called after him as he left the Clinic.

Her shoulders slumped. Frank stood up and went to her.

Placing his hand on her arm, he counseled, "He'll be fine, Michaela. You've raised him to be an independent man."

She sighed and returned to her desk, "Sully taught him that. I'm afraid if I had my way, he'd never leave home."

Frank chuckled, "Spoken like a caring mother. I must leave now. I have a meeting about purchasing some land. I hope to build a home here."

"I see," she said.

"When you have decided what you want, you'll let me know?" he walked to the door.

"Yes," she agreed.

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

At dinner that evening, Michaela and Sully made small talk while Katie prattled on about Miss Grace and the Cafe.

"Sully," Michaela's tone turned serious. "I'm concerned about Brian. He's out there with those men looking for... that thing. I believe it's entirely too dangerous."

"We can't tell him what t' do anymore, Michaela," he reminded. "All we can do is hope that we raised him t' make wise choices on his own."

"Well, I don't believe this is wise," she amended.

"He'll be okay," he attempted to allay her fears. "Hank knows enough t' keep him safe."

She became silent. Sully assumed she was still upset with him from this morning.

"How'd your appointment go?" he opened the topic.

She hedged giving a direct answer, "Fine."

"Anythin' interestin'?" he probed further.

"Joey an' me made meatloaf," Katie contributed.

"Joey and I," Michaela smiled.

"No, Mama," Katie shook her head. "It was when we were at Miss Grace's. You weren't there."

Sighing in frustration, Michaela dropped the attempt to correct her daughter's grammar.

"Josef," she noted that he was not eating. "Aren't you hungry, Sweetheart?"

"Not feel good, Mama," he seemed listless.

She reached to feel his forehead, "He's a little warm."

Lifting him into her arms, she kissed his cheek.

"Did ya talk t' Mrs. Wagner about the bad words Billy uses, Mama?" Katie asked.

"No, I'm afraid I haven't had time," she carried Josef to the rocking chair.

Tenderly, she held her son and began the back and forth motion that had so often comforted her children.

"Come on, Kates," Sully stood. "Let's clean up."

"I like helpin' ya, Poppy," she was eager.

"An' I like havin' ya," he grinned.

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

"Josef okay?" Sully looked up from the wing back chair when Michaela descended the steps.

"I believe it's a slight cold," she ascertained.

"Poor fella," he sympathized.

Michaela sat in the chair opposite him and folded her hands. She wanted to tell her husband all that had happened today, and yet, for reasons she did not understand herself, she hesitated doing so.

Sully assumed their morning argument was on her mind, "Michaela...."

"What?" she turned her attention to him.

"About this mornin'," he broached the subject. "I didn't mean t' upset ya about the new Clinic. If it's what ya truly want, it ain't my right t' discourage ya."

She closed her eyes, her heart filling with love for this man who always put her needs and wants first. A tear trickled down her cheek.

Sully saw it and quickly knelt at her feet, "Please, don't cry."

She brought her hand to his face, "I love you, Sully."

"I love you, too," he pulled her hand to his heart. "An' I'd do anythin' t' make ya happy."

"You do make me happy," she brushed back a lock of his hair.

"Then what's on your mind?" he wondered.

"I spoke with Frank this afternoon," she informed him. "I told him that I need more time to think about expanding the Clinic."

"But ya stayed up most o' the night lookin' at them catalogs," he was puzzled. "I thought ya wanted him t' move on things right away."

"I was not considering all of the ramifications," she told him.

"What ramifications?" he wanted clarification.

"You," she smiled. "The children."

"We'll be behind ya whatever ya wanna do," he spoke sincerely.

"I can't tell you how grateful I am to you, Sully," her eyes filled with moisture.

"How'd Frank take the news?" he questioned.

"He is moving to Colorado Springs," she divulged.

"Movin' here?" Sully was stunned. "Leavin' his business?"

Suddenly, he filled with anxiety. With Wellington living here, offering his support and money to Michaela, where might it lead?

Sensing his mood, she pulled his hand into her lap, "There's something else I need to discuss with you, Sully."

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

"We found footprints," Jake's eyes were wide as he described the day to Loren and Brian. "Human like an' barefoot, this big," he held his hands 18 inches apart.

"There's lots o' elk around here," Hank observed. "I figure that's what it eats. We found a couple o' carcasses."

"I don't much like goin' after a meat eater," Horace voiced his fear.

"It's time we get some shuteye," Jake ordered. "Hank, you an' Preston keep watch."

"I don't think I'll get any sleep," Horace stretched out.

"I'll make that little tap, tap, tap sound like your telegraph for ya," Hank quipped. "It'll put ya right out."

"No, thanks," Horace did not appreciate his humor.

Suddenly, a loud noise echoed across the terrain.

The sound resembled the call of a man rising from a low pitch to a higher pitch before ending, "Uuuuhhhhaaaa - Uuuuhhhhaaaa!"

"What the hell..." Hank cocked his rifle.

The horses became restless and reared up on their hind legs in fear.

The terrifying sound echoed again, "Ahhhh - uuuhhhh" -- a diminutive, rhythmic, and almost conversational form of the vocalization they heard earlier. This call was repeated several times and was followed by a pair of low, sharp clicks as if two hard objects or rocks were being struck together.

The men in camp were paralyzed with fear.

"What should we do?" Loren held onto Brian's arm.

"Nothin' right now," Hank advised.

"Keep your guns ready," Jake added. "Sounds like he's mad."

"Sounds like he's hungry," Horace interpreted.

"It just occurred to me how we can catch it," Preston revealed.

"You still wanna catch that thing?" Horace doubted.

"Think of how many people would pay to hear that melodious tone," the banker grinned.

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

"What else did ya wanna discuss with me, Michaela?" Sully wondered.

She paused, reflecting on her thoughts from earlier in the day. He squeezed her hand for support.

"It's about something we've wanted for some time," she began.

"Mama!" Josef's little voice called from above.

Instinctively, Michaela rose and headed for the steps. Sully quickly followed.

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

Josef was standing, clutching the railing of his crib when Michaela reached the nursery. Standing beside him was Katie.

"He woke up, cryin', Mama," the little girl said as Sully arrived.

Michaela lifted her feverish son into her arms, "It's all right, Sweetheart. We're here."

"Ya gonna give him Willow Bark tea?" Katie speculated.

"A little bit," Michaela replied.

"Come on, Kates," Sully placed his hand on his daughter's back. "We'll heat the water, while your Ma tends t' Josef."

"Papa," Josef reached his hand toward his father.

Sully paused and went to him. Embracing both his wife and son, he kissed Josef's head.

"We're gonna make ya feel better, Joe," he smiled. "Be right back."

Michaela sat down in the rocking chair with the little boy, as Sully and Katie departed.

"Can you tell me where you hurt?" Michaela encouraged.

"Here," he pointed to his stomach.

"Your tummy?" she rubbed it.

Josef turned his head against his mother's bosom and nodded.

"I'll give you some medicine to make it better," she rubbed his back.

"I love ya, Mama," his voice melted her heart.

"I love you, too, my darling," she hugged him. "You're going to be fine."

As Michaela rocked her son, she thought back to the many traumas the little boy had suffered. Even before he was born, her pregnancy was endangered by the madman who tried to poison her in Washington. Then there was the tracheotomy when he developed chicken pox, his coma after the fall from a cliff, and more recently, the turmoil he experienced when he was separated from his parents as they searched for Katie.

Cradling him in her arms, she began to softly hum to her precious son. She tilted his face up to look at him more closely. His beautiful blue eyes were the image of Sully's. With his playful manner and a smile that charmed everyone, he was the delight of his family.

"You've been through so much," she spoke low. "I wish I could protect you from ever being hurt or sick again, Josef."

He turned up the corner of his mouth in a smile.

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

"Poppy," Katie sat at the table. "Is Joey gonna be okay?"

"Sure he is," he nodded. "He's just got a cold."

"I don't like it when he's sick," she leaned on her elbows.

"You love your little brother a lot, don't ya, Kates," he grinned.

"Uh huh," she agreed. "He makes me laugh."

"He's got a way about him," Sully concurred.

"I don't know what he's gonna do when I start t' school," the little girl pondered.

"What do ya mean?" he asked.

"Well," she sounded so grown up. "He'll be lonesome. Joey don't like bein' by himself."

"Don't worry, Kates," he advised. "We'll see that he doesn't get lonely."

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

"What's your plan for catchin' this thing?" Jake looked at Preston skeptically.

"We bait him," the banker stated matter-of-factly.

"Usin' what?" Horace gulped.

"We kill an elk and put the body on the ground in the middle of our net," Preston described. "When the creature comes in range, we snare him."

"Seems simple enough," Jake nodded.

"First light, then," Hank tilted back his hat. "We kill ourselves an elk."

Brian watched the men intently as they finalized their plans. His heart grew heavy that the idea of leading them on a wild goose chase did not work. It was too late now. They had heard the creature. Smelled it, too. What would Sully do if he were in this situation? What would he advise?

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

With Katie following closely, Sully carried the tea into the nursery. Michaela indicated that their son was asleep in her lap. Setting the cup on the nightstand, he lifted Katie and placed her in bed. He kissed her forehead and stroked her hair. Then he turned to his wife and son.

"I'm going to sleep in here tonight," Michaela whispered. "He may waken again during the night."

"I sure will miss ya," Sully spoke low.

Michaela beckoned him to lean closer, then kissed him tenderly.

"Good night," she let her palm linger at his cheek.

"'Night," he moved closer for another, deeper kiss.

Finally, they pulled apart, breathlessly.

"I guess what you were gonna tell me can wait 'til mornin'," he recalled.

"Yes," she leaned her head against Josef's. "It can wait."

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

As dawn broke across the landscape of the Rockies, Jake focused on an approaching figure on horseback.

"Wake up!" he called to the men.

Horace grabbed his rifle, "What is it?"

"Someone's comin'," he pointed.

"It's Cloud Dancin'," Brian recognized.

"What the hell's he doin' here?" Hank wondered.

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

Sully yawned and instinctively reached for his wife. The empty space beside him in bed reminded him of last night. Pulling on his clothing, he went to check on his son.

Katie and Michaela were still sleeping in the little girl's bed, but Josef was wide awake, playing quietly in his crib with one of his stuffed animals.

"Papa," the little boy whispered.

"How ya feelin'?" Sully lifted him.

"Good," he smiled.

Sully felt his forehead. The fever was gone. The recuperative powers of children never failed to amaze him.

"Ya hungry?" he kissed Josef's cheek.

"Yep," the child nodded.

"Let's go fix breakfast then," Sully grinned. "The girls will be up soon."

"They cute," Josef pointed.

Sully chuckled softly, "They sure are."

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

"What are you doin' here?" Jake asked the Cheyenne Medicine man.

"I could ask you the same," Cloud Dancing responded.

"We're lookin' for a giant creature that roams these parts," Horace stated.

Cloud Dancing wondered, "Chiye-tanka?"

"Huh?" Jake folded his arms.

"The Big Man," Brian translated. "Pa told me about the legend."

"We already come close t' seein' him a couple o' times," Loren said. "Close enough t' smell him."

"You will not see him unless he wants you to see him," the medicine man declared. "Do not underestimate his powers."

"Did you ever see him, Cloud Dancin'?" Brian asked.

"I have heard him," he noted. "I was bow hunting many seasons ago with my son. A horrible gravelly scream or yell of almost unbelievable volume came from just inside the forest at about 150 to 200 yards distance."

"That's like the scream we heard last night," Brian's eyes widened.

Cloud Dancing continued, "I am familiar with all manner of big game, and the sound was definitely not an elk or bear. I noticed that a light breeze was blowing from us toward the source of the sound. If the creature had a good sense of smell, it was probably smelling us. Bow hunting experience has taught me that an elk would smell us under the same conditions. The sound had a threatening essence to it, louder than a man could possibly make. Whatever made the two tone scream must have one big set of lungs and a very large mouth."

"Did you see his footprints?" Preston was curious.

"At the time, I thought so," the medicine man related. "I found some very old large tracks in soft dirt on a flat area They were about 16 inches by 8 inches in size but too old to discern any toes or other detail."

"Do you know anyone who actually saw the creature?" Preston pursued.

"The elders told of his appearance," Cloud Dancing remembered. "Black and furry, standing erect like a man."

"Could you stay with us, Cloud Dancing?" Brian requested.

"I will stay with my brother's son," he placed his hand on the young man's shoulder.

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

"Not goin' int' the Clinic t'day?" Sully noticed his wife, still in her robe, sitting by the living room fireplace in the late morning.

"No, I was up rather late with Josef," she replied. "Did you check on him?"

He glanced up, "Yep. He's playin' in the nursery with Katie. That reminds me, I wanted t' talk with ya about Josef's crib."

"Were you thinking of making him a new bed?" she assumed.

"Not much room in the nursery for another bed," he pointed out. "I was thinkin' that maybe we oughta put Katie in Matthew's old room. There'd be more room in the nursery for Josef."

"I suppose that would work," she did not seem focused on his words.

"But then Katie told me somethin' that got me thinkin'," he added.

"What?" she wondered.

"She said Josef don't like t' be alone," he said. "I know he still has dreams sometimes, an'... well, I guess we oughta keep the kids in the same room for a little while longer."

"If you think that's best," she nodded absently.

Sully walked to the stool at her feet and sat down, "You not feelin' good?"

"Just tired," she sighed.

"Why don't ya go back t' bed then?" he recommended. "I'll try t' keep the kids quiet."

Michaela stared at him intently, "Sully, there's something I'd like to discuss with you."

"Sure," he hoped she would talk about what was troubling her.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the front door.

He took a deep breath, "Looks like there's always somethin' t' interrupt us."

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

Brian and Cloud Dancing stayed at camp when the others set out in search of an elk to use as bait for capturing the great creature. The young man was relieved to have his father's best friend there.

"You wish to tell me something," the medicine man perceived.

"I don't want 'em t' catch this animal," Brian told him. "They wanna put it in a cage an' sell tickets for folks t' look at."

"I assumed there would be money in their scheme," Cloud Dancing nodded.

"I wanted t' lead 'em on a wild goose chase 'til they got tired an' wanted t' go home," Brian folded his arms.

"But instead, you came across Chiye-tanka," he completed his thought.

"Nothin's gonna stop 'em now 'til they catch it," Brian became frustrated.

"Unless, when they catch him, he is not what they thought," the medicine man smiled.

"What do ya mean?" Brian lifted his head.

"I have an idea, but I need your help," Cloud Dancing requested.

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

"Frank?" Sully opened the front door.

"Hello, Sully," Wellington smiled. "I noticed that Michaela was not at the Clinic this morning and thought perhaps something was wrong."

Sully did not invite him in, "She was up late last night with our boy. She's just tired, is all."

"Would you please give her my regards?" Frank asked.

"Sure," Sully answered.

Wellington departed. Michaela had heard the exchange from her seat in the living room. When Sully approached her, he gently touched her shoulder.

"Frank sends his regards," he hid the disdain he felt.

"That was nice of him," she commented.

"Now, before one o' the children needs ya or there's a knock at the door again, ya wanna tell me what it is ya been tryin' t' tell me?" he returned to the stool.

She looked him in the eye, "I... feel as if I've come to a fork in the road."

"Funny," he smiled. "The other day, I told Brian that life has a way o' puttin' those in front o' us."

"I don't know what to do, which way to go" she hedged. "I'm torn."

He extended his hand, and she clasped it.

"Is it one o' those dilemmas where your heart tells ya one thing, an' your head tells ya another?" Sully queried.

"Not exactly," she shook her head. "It's one in which my heart is involved no matter which path I take."

"Maybe ya oughta stop an' sit a spell then," he spoke softly.

"I am sitting," she took his statement literally.

He smiled, "I mean, don't take either road yet. Just wait a while until ya work things through."

"But by waiting, opportunity could be lost," she added.

"I'm assumin' your dilemma has somethin' t' do with me since ya said yesterday it was about somethin' we both want," he became more specific. "What is it we both want?"

She peered into his eyes, and spoke almost in a whisper, "Another child."

He stroked her abdomen, "Anythin' happen yet?"

"No," she rested her hand on his. "That was the reason for my morning appointment yesterday. Dr. Bernard was in town."

His forehead creased, "You okay?"

"Yes," she replied. "I'm fine, but I haven't conceived yet."

"I don't want ya worryin' about that, Michaela," he captured her heart with his eyes. "If it happens, it'll be wonderful, but...."

"But you're going to tell me that you won't be disappointed if we have no more children," she interrupted. "An' I know otherwise."

"Ya shouldn't go tryin' t' read my mind," he grinned. "It's a dangerous thing."

"I want for us to have another baby, Sully," her voice choked slightly. "But my time is running out. If you had married a younger woman...."

"Michaela," he was firm. "Don't say that. You're who I wanted t' marry. You know that."

She raised his hand to her cheek. He softly caressed it.

"If that's one o' the roads in the fork that's worryin' ya, what's the other?" he probed.

"The new Clinic," she was relieved to finally express her feelings to him.

"I see," he swallowed hard.

She toyed with the hair above his ear, "If I concentrate on one possibility, I may lose the opportunity for the other."

"I know the Clinic means an awful lot t' ya," he linked his fingers in hers.

"But not more than our family," she qualified. "It's just that Dr. Bernard advised if I hope to conceive, I should avoid stress... work fewer hours... spend more time with you."

"I like how he thinks," there was a gleam in Sully's eye. "But that would mean no new Clinic."

"Right," she sat back.

He rubbed her leg, "This is somethin' ya gotta decide for yourself, Michaela."

"I already know what you think I should do," she noted.

"It's your body," he counseled. "An' it's your time. Ya gotta think about what you're capable of doin' an' what ya want in the end."

"Thank you for giving me the freedom to choose," she smiled.

He winked, "I learned a long time ago that Michaela Quinn's a pretty powerful force t' reckon with. Whatever ya decide, I'll support ya, an' I'll take that road with ya."

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

Katie found her father sitting on the front porch swing, "What ya doin', Poppy?"

"I was just thinkin' that I need another person on this swing with me," he hoisted her into his lap and kissed her cheek.

"Good thing I found ya, then," she giggled.

"You sure look beautiful t'day," he touched one of her curls.

"Thanks," she glanced down shyly with an expression that immediately reminded him of Michaela. "Could ya answer a question for me?"

"I'll try," he determined.

"I'm havin' trouble decidin' what I wanna be when I grow up," she sounded serious. "What do you think?"

He grinned, "Kates, you're only six years old. Seems like you're always in a hurry t' grow up."

"But I gotta think about it, Poppy," she folded her hands on her lap. "I'm not gettin' any younger. What did you wanna be when ya grew up?"

"I wanted t' be a longshoreman," he responded.

"What's that?" her eyes grew wide.

"It's someone who loads an' unloads cargo on ships," Sully informed her.

"That's all?" she contemplated it.

"Yep," he nodded.

"We don't got any ships around here," she thought about it. "But they do in Boston."

"When I was your age, I lived in New York City," he explained. "Do ya remember when we took ya there on the grand tour?"

"Not a lot," she thought about it.

"It's a port city like Boston with lots o' ships comin' an' goin'," he detailed.

"You must be sad," she leaned against his shoulder.

"Why would ya think that?" he stroked her hair.

"'Cause ya didn't get t' be a long short man when ya grew up," she glanced up at him.

"Don't bother me at all," he kissed the top of her head. "I got the best job in the world now."

"Ya do?" she was amazed.

"Yep," he tickled her side, "Bein' your Pa."

"That's not a job, Poppy!" she declared.

"It sure is," he made a face.

"I think bein' Joey's Pa must be your hardest job then," she placed her hand on his shoulder.

"Well, you help me a lot," he expressed.

"I do?" she tilted her head. "How?"

"By bein' such a good example for your brother t' follow," he hugged her. "But I want ya t' do somethin' for me."

"What?" she raised her eyebrows.

He advised, "Don't worry too much right now about what ya wanna do when ya grow up. Sometimes the best things come along an' make ya forget what ya planned when ya were little."

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

"Where's Cloud Dancin'?" Jake asked when the men returned with the elk they had shot.

"He had t' leave," Brian was evasive.

"Come on, an' help us get this trap set," Jake requested.

All afternoon, the men labored to prepare the net and bait for the creature. Knowing that it would most likely come at night, they wanted to be ready by sunset.

When all was in readiness, they began their vigil. Time passed with neither a sound nor a sighting.

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

Sully pulled his wife into his arms when she climbed into bed beside him. As he stroked her hair and kissed her forehead, he felt her muscles relax.

"I got an idea, Michaela," he whispered.

"What?" she glanced up.

"I think ya oughta get away by yourself for a day or two," he advised. "Go somewhere t' think about things without any distractions."

"Sully," she discounted his suggestion. "I can't do that. I have too many things to do."

"I know ya got responsibilities here an' at the Clinic, but nothin' that can't wait," he persisted. "You're not gonna be happy 'til ya sort out your feelings, an' it's hard t' do with us around."

"But I don't want to be away from the children or you," she responded.

"Think about it," he encouraged.

Stroking his chest, she made lazy circles on his hair with her finger. He felt his pulse quicken, but he held back. She lifted up to kiss him. Again he fought his feelings.

"Mr. Sully," her voice was tantalizing. "Are you tired?"

He pulled back slightly, "Michaela..."

"Mmm?" she continued her enticing touches.

"I don't think this is such a good idea right now," he felt his body temperature rise.

"Why not?" she plied kisses to his neck.

"It might make things harder for ya t' decide," he swallowed hard.

"Sully," she uttered close to his ear. "I need you."

"I... I need you, too," his senses were filling with longing for her. "But I don't wanna complicate things."

"How could sharing our love complicate things?" she fit her body snugly against his.

He was finding it more difficult to resist her overtures, "'Cause we oughta not risk makin' a baby until ya can think things through."

She stopped, "I.... I didn't consider that. I simply wanted us to be together."

"I want that, too," he traced her jaw with his finger. "But only when your path is certain."

"If I were to get away for a while, where should I go?" she began to reconsider.

"How 'bout the old shack at the eastern edge of our property?" he suggested. "It's not too far. It'll give ya privacy, but you'd be close by if we need ya or you need us."

"I suppose that would do," she pondered.

"I truly believe this will be good for ya, Michaela," he urged.

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

A monstrous scream shattered the quiet of camp. The men bolted up from their bedrolls. Each one grabbed his rifle and rushed to the net to wait for the creature to take the bait.

************
Chapter 7
************

"Look!" Jake shouted. "Over there!"

The men trained their guns on the movement of some bushes. The scream came again.

"It's comin' for the elk," Loren pointed.

"Sounds more like it's comin' for us!" Horace trembled.

By the light of the moon, they made out a creature slowly nearing the trap. When it stepped toward the net, they swiftly raised the ropes and captured it.

"We caught it!" Jake yelled.

Carefully, the men approached the creature caught in their net. It made no movement. Within a few yards, they were stunned when the creature pealed back its black fur. It was Cloud Dancing.

"What the hell are you doin' in there?" Hank lowered his weapon.

The medicine man spoke, "If you lower me, I will tell you."

"What's this?" Brian lifted a large gourd. "Looks like it's been hollowed out."

"That is part of the ritual," Cloud Dancing dusted himself off as he was released.

"What ritual?" Preston put his hands on his hips.

"The ritual... of the... uh, Bear Hunt," Cloud Dancing came up with an answer.

"Never heard o' it," Jake was skeptical. "Must be some kind o' Injun Mumbo Jumbo."

"No, the Ritual of the Mumbo Jumbo is entirely different," Cloud Dancing maintained a deadpan expression.

"Why ya all dressed up like that?" Loren demanded.

"I did not want to reveal to you my true reason for being here, but it is to perform a sacred ceremony to help in the hunt for bear," Cloud Dancing said.

"What do ya do in this ceremony?" Hank queried.

"I wear the skin of the bear, asking his spirit for forgiveness," the medicine man stated. "And I chant the sacred words."

"That was you screamin'?" Jake wondered.

"Using this?" Brian held up the gourd.

"Yes," the Cheyenne nodded. "I thought I could frighten you into leaving, but now you have caught me."

"Cloud Dancin' must be who we heard before, too," Brian contributed.

"That don't explain the smell," Hank countered.

The Cheyenne pulled a pouch from his garb. Opening it, he held it before the men.

"Is this the smell of which you speak?" he knew how they would react.

All of them stepped back at the repugnant odor which came from the pouch.

"That's it all right," Jake held his nose. "What's that for?"

"The bear find this odor to be attractive," Cloud Dancing replied. "The scent of a mate."

"No accountin' for taste," Horace frowned.

"It still don't explain the footprints we saw," Hank persisted.

"They were most likely bear tracks distorted and enlarged by rains and time," the medicine man offered.

"Why did you tell us those stories about Chiye-tanka?" Preston searched for an explanation.

"I told you the bear hunt ceremony is sacred," Cloud Dancing sounded serious. "I hoped to frighten you off if you thought this... monster was real."

"So, we've been out here wastin' our time," Jake concluded.

"Not t' mention scarin' ourselves t' death," Horace clutched his shirt.

"I am sorry," Cloud Dancing apologized.

"Let's get some sleep," Jake rolled his eyes. "We're headin' home t'morrow."

As the men returned to their bedrolls at the campsite, Cloud Dancing lingered with Brian.

"Thanks," the young man smiled.

"They are gullible, these white men," the medicine man grinned.

"And greedy," Brian acknowledged.

"I must go now," Cloud Dancing patted his back. "But before I depart, I leave you this. You are to give it to your mother."

"What is it?" Brian accepted the packet.

"It is medicine," he described. "Squawvine, cramp bark, motherwort, and raspberry."

"For one o' her patients?" Brian was curious.

"No," Cloud Dancing smiled. "It is for her own use. Tell her it will help with her decision. Goodbye, my friend."

"Goodbye," Brian embraced him. "Thanks again."

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

Michaela sat at the breakfast table with her children. Sully had gone out to the barn to tend to the animals.

"Katie, Josef," she folded her hands. "There's something I want to tell you."

"I better, Mama," Josef clapped his little hands.

"I know that, Sweetheart," she smiled. "What I wanted to tell you is that I'm going away for a day or two."

"Where ya goin'?" Katie felt a twinge of anxiety.

"Not very far," she took her daughter's hand. "I'm going to stay in the old cabin down by the stream."

"Why?" the little girl was curious. "Are ya goin' fishin'?"

"No," Michaela assured her. "I just need to go off by myself for a little while. But if you need me, I can be here quickly."

"I don't understand, Mama," Katie's voice quivered. "Don't ya wanna be with us?"

"Of course I do. I love being with you," Michaela leaned forward to kiss her. "Do you know how sometimes you like to go to your room by yourself to draw, with no distractions?"

"But I know you an' Poppy are still close," she argued.

Michaela took a deep breath and sighed, "And I'll be close, as well."

Sully entered with a pitcher of fresh milk.

"Poppy," Katie rushed to him. "Mama's goin' away."

He lifted her into his arms, "It'll be good for your Ma."

"It will?" she struggled to understand.

"Yep," he nodded. "I know when I go away, I always look forward t' comin' home, 'cause o' how much I missed ya."

"Is this t' make Mama love us more?" the child reasoned.

"I already love you more than anything in the world, Katie," Michaela was beginning to have second thoughts.

Sully spoke low in his daughter's ear, "Kates, while your Ma's gone, I was sorta hopin' you'd help take care o' me."

"Ya did?" she whispered back.

"Yep," he smiled. "With your Ma gone, I'd be real lonesome without ya."

"Okay," she acquiesced.

Josef had been very quiet through this exchange, not fully comprehending what was happening.

"Are you all right, Joe?" Sully noticed.

"I go with Mama," he blurted out.

"Joey, ya can't go with Mama if she has t' be by herself," Katie informed her brother.

"I have an idea," Michaela suggested. "Why don't you come with me to the cabin and see that I'm settled in? Then Papa can bring you home."

"That sounds good," Sully grinned.

"I'll help ya pack," Katie offered.

"That would be wonderful," Michaela agreed.

"Mama," Josef reached for her.

Michaela felt a tear as she enfolded her son in her arms, "Shhh, everything will be fine. We'll go to the Clinic this morning, and then you can help me prepare for my stay in the cabin."

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

The dejected search party arrived back in town by midday. Brian went straight to the Clinic to see his mother.

She embraced him, "Are you all right? Did you find the creature?"

"I'm okay," he nodded. "Just tired an' dirty. Cloud Dancin' met up with us out there. He helped me trick the men int' thinkin' he was the creature they were lookin' for, so they finally gave up."

"Trick them?" she wondered.

"We set a trap t' catch it, an' Cloud Dancin' stepped int' it," he chuckled. "T' tell ya the truth, Ma, there really is somethin' out there, but at least now, they won't be lookin' for it."

"Well, that's somewhat of a relief then," she rubbed his arm. "It's good to have you home."

"How are Pa an' the kids?" he looked around.

"The children are napping in the anteroom," she gestured. "Sully is preparing the old shack by the stream."

"Why?" he inquired.

"I'm going to spend a little time to myself there," she was vague. "It's much easier than climbing Pikes Peak."

"You an' Pa gettin' along okay?" he questioned.

"Yes," she sat down at her desk. "I merely want to ponder all of the things that have been weighing heavily on me."

"Oh, before I forget," he reached into his pocket. "Cloud Dancin' told me t' give this to ya. Said it's squawvine, cramp bark, motherwort, and raspberry."

Michaela accepted the pouch and smiled in recollection. The Cheyenne medicine man had given these to her once before, when she hoped to conceive her first child.

"He said it would help ya decide somethin'," the young man added.

"Thank you," she set aside some of the herbs to give to Grace.

Then she placed the remainder in her medical bag.

"Could you watch the children for a few minutes?" she requested. "I need to see Grace."

"Sure," he kissed her. "It's good 't be home, Ma."

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

Grace poured coffee for the men who had returned from their great adventure. Dorothy listened intently as they relayed all that they had seen and heard. When they revealed that it was all staged by Cloud Dancing, she was skeptical, but said nothing of her suspicions to them.

"Serves ya right," Grace stated.

"What makes ya say that?" Horace queried.

"Serves ya right that you were duped, since that's what ya planned on doin' t' unsuspecting folks around here," the cafe owner retorted.

"We weren't gonna dupe anyone," Loren defended. "We was gonna give 'em their money's worth t' see that thing."

"I'm glad we didn't catch anythin'," Horace contributed.

"Why's that?" Jake turned to him.

"Who'd wanna pay money t' smell somethin' that bad?" he replied.

"Another lucrative opportunity lost by our fair town," Preston sighed.

"Maybe we could still have folks pay us t' take them out there an' have Cloud Dancin' scare the tar out of 'em like he did us," Loren imagined.

"Can't see him doin' that," Hank leaned back.

"Maybe one o' us could pretend t' be the creature," Jake raised his eyebrows.

"That would be cheatin'," Horace reminded them.

"People expect a little of that for entertainment purposes," Preston claimed. "Look at P.T. Barnum. He said 'there's a sucker born every minute,' and he's made a fortune off of them."

"You think you're gonna attract folks t' Colorado Springs t' see some big, hairy creature that don't really exist?" Hank was sarcastic.

"Why not?" Preston shrugged. "They already flock here for the recuperative powers of hot water that bubbles out of the ground."

"Always lookin' t' make money, ain't ya," Grace folded her arms. "Well, so am I, an' I make mine by feedin' folks. So, are ya gonna order lunch or sit here an' take up space?"

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

As Michaela rounded the corner on her way to the Cafe, she encountered Frank Wellington.

"Good afternoon," he tipped his hat. "You seem in quite a hurry."

"I have an errand before I leave," she informed him.

"Leave?" he was surprised. "Where are you going?"

She hoped to conclude their discussion quickly, "Not far."

"If it's not being forward of me to ask, have you given any more thought to the new Clinic?" he probed.

"That's part of why I'm getting away," she answered. "I want to think about it. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

"Certainly," he stepped back. "Good luck."

"Thank you," she replied over her shoulder.

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

Sully, Brian and the children accompanied Michaela to the small framed structure. She could tell that her husband had swept it, brought in firewood and aired it out. He had even placed fresh cut flowers around the room and brought provisions for her stay.

"It looks...." she paused, searching for the right word.

"Old," Katie finished her sentence.

"I used t' spend some time here in the winters before we got married," Sully set down his wife's bag. "It's quiet an' outa the way from the road."

"Thank you for readying it for my visit," Michaela smiled.

He noticed her medical bag in her hand, "Ya brought that, too?"

"I'd feel somewhat naked without it," she shrugged.

Sully set a canteen on the table, "Here's fresh water. An' if ya need anythin' else...."

Michaela interrupted, "I know. Sully, you're practically within shouting distance."

He handed her a book, "Brought ya this, too."

"Henry David Thoreau," she turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin.

"Thought he might help," Sully winked. "Okay, kids, say goodbye to your Ma."

He stepped over to light a fire on the hearth.

Michaela knelt down to be eye level with her daughter, "I'll see you soon, Sweetheart. I love you."

Katie embraced her, "I love you, too, Mama. I'll take care o' Poppy while ya think."

"Thank you," she kissed her.

Josef approached his mother, his finger shyly in his mouth. The little boy had great difficulty with "goodbyes" and was bordering on crying. Michaela reached for him, and he rushed to her arms.

"No bad words," she felt her eyes welling with tears. "No throwing food, and...."

"I be good, Mama," he pledged. "Pwease, I stay with ya?"

She felt a lump in her throat, "I think Papa, Katie and Brian might need your help. Could you take care of them while I'm here?"

He thought about it, "'Kay."

"I love you, my darling," she rubbed his back.

"Love you, Mama," he kissed her.

When she stood up, Brian came to her.

She hugged him and brushed back a lock of his hair, "I'll see you soon."

"Don't worry about the kids, Ma," he smiled.

"Thank you, Brian," her eyes shone with love.

"Come on, Katie, Josef," the young man beckoned. "I'll take ya int' town t' the church meadow t' play. Race ya back t' the house first."

Josef bolted out the door before Brian could say, "Ready, set, go!"

Sully lingered with his wife as the children departed. He surveyed the room to make certain that he had not neglected anything.

"Want Wolf t' stay here with ya?" he completed his check.

"No, thank you," she placed her hand on his arm.

Sully drew her closer for a kiss. The moment their lips met, there was a surge of energy through their bodies. Breathlessly, they pulled apart.

"Think that'll hold ya?" he teased.

"Perhaps one more would," she placed her hand at the base of his neck and pulled him closer.

When the kiss ended, they rested their foreheads against one another.

"I love you, Michaela," he spoke earnestly.

"I love you, as well," she cupped her hand to his cheek. "Better go now, before I lose my nerve."

He backed toward the door, then closed it. Michaela stepped toward the small window to watch him run to catch up with their family.

She picked up the book he had left, "'Walden.' I haven't read this in a long time."

Scanning the text, a sentence caught her attention:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

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

"Why didn't Poppy come with us t' the meadow?" Katie asked her older brother.

"He's workin' on somethin' in the barn," Brian gently tossed a baseball to her.

He applauded when Katie caught it.

"Trow me, Katie!" Josef called.

She lightly lobbed the ball to the little boy. He was too slow in closing his hands, and it bounced off his chest. He giggled and picked it up.

"Can I play?" it was Billy Wagner.

"Sure, Billy," Brian knelt down. "Stand over there near Katie. Throw them the ball, Josef."

Josef wound up his arm and hurled the ball between Katie and the little boy. Both children attempted to catch it, and in the process toppled to the ground. Katie reached it first, but Billy started hitting her to wrestle it from her.

Running to his sister's defense, Josef jumped on Billy. Though nearly half the Wagner boy's age and a good deal shorter, Josef was unintimidated. With both fists flailing, he struck Katie's attacker.

************
Chapter 8
************

"Don't huwt my sister!" Josef screamed at the little boy atop Katie.

Billy began to cry, just as Brian reached them. Pulling Josef up, he checked to see if the children were all right. It appeared that they were.

"I'm gonna tell my Mama!" Billy dusted himself off.

"Josef," Brian urged. "Tell him you're sorry."

"He hit Katie," Josef did not budge.

"Come on, then," Brian lifted his brother. "We're goin' home. Billy, I'll take ya t' your Ma, too."

"She's in church," he pointed.

Brian escorted the children to the church. Explaining to Mrs. Wagner what had transpired, Brian apologized for the fracas.

She took her son by the arm, "Knowing him, he started it. You're gonna get a whippin' when you get home!"

"We'll be goin' now, ma'am," Brian started for the door with his siblings.

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

Michaela closed the book. Each passage reminded her of the beloved Massachusetts of her youth, visiting Walden Pond with her father, contemplating the ideas of the Transcendentalists.

"Oh, Father," she sighed aloud. "Those were such grand times for us, escaping the frantic tempo of the hospital. Just you and I communing with nature, debating the merits of Transcendental thought.... but it was so fleeting. If only I had that time back..."

It occurred to her at that moment that she held her destiny in the palms of her hands. She could choose the hectic pace of a hospital, as her Clinic would surely become, or the slower tempo of a private practice.

She thought about the things that her father had missed in her formative years because of his dedication to his profession. He once told her later in life how he regretted not devoting more time to his family, "Mike, I never did read a headstone that said, 'I wish I would have spent more time at work.'"

Yet still tugging at her was the notion that she could do more good for a greater number of people if she had an expanded and modernized Clinic.

She settled back and noted the quiet. No children playing, no Sully and Brian discussing their day.... Only the sounds of nature.

Opening the knapsack of food that her husband had prepared, she found a note from him.

"O love, what hours were thine and mine..."

"Tennyson," she folded it and held it against her heart.

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

Brian finished explaining to Sully what had happened in town, as Josef stood quietly near the kitchen table.

"You okay, honey?" Sully placed his hand on Katie's head.

"Yep," she nodded.

"Where did Billy hit ya?" he asked.

"Here," Katie pointed to her arm.

Sully examined it and saw the darkened area of a bruise. He tenderly rubbed it and kissed her forehead.

"Brian," Sully requested. "Would you take her up an' get her ready for bed?"

"Sure, Pa," he nodded. "Come on, Katie."

When the two had ascended the steps, Sully turned to his young son, "Come here, Joe."

"I get whippin'?" he feared.

"Why would ya ask that?" Sully was puzzled.

"Billy get whippin'," he repeated what the boy's mother had said.

Sully lifted Josef. The child was dirty from rolling on the ground in his scuffle.

"We gotta have a talk," Sully sighed.

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

Loren was closing his shop for the day. As he went to the back door to lock up, he caught sight of a large figure in the shadows. Quickly, he retrieved his revolver from the drawer where he kept it. Then slowly, he opened the door.

"Uuuuhhhhaaaa - Uuuuhhhhaaaa!" a loud scream came from the shadows.

The shopkeeper panicked and fired his gun.

"Loren!" Jake's voice called. "Don't shoot! It's me!"

"What?" the older man felt as if his heart were beating in his ears.

Jake stepped forward, at first unrecognizable under a bearskin, "It's me! I was seein' if I could scare ya."

"Well, I reckon ya seen good then," he clutched his chest.

Quickly, Hank and Preston were on the scene.

"What happened?" Hank had drawn his revolver.

"Jake here's gone crazy," Loren shook his head.

"I was just seein' if I could be convincin' as the big creature," Jake raised his eyebrows.

"An' if Loren had a better aim, we could mention that in your eulogy," Hank was sarcastic.

"Marvelous!" Preston applauded.

"Huh?" Hank turned to the banker.

"If Jake is convincing to Loren, imagine what he could do to unsuspecting tourists whom we take out there," Preston folded his arms.

"You're serious, ain't ya?" Hank tilted his hat back.

"Indeed I am," Preston grinned. "Why don't I have some fliers printed up about the mysterious creature? We can lead weekly expeditions out to see him."

"I don't know if I wanna wear this getup every week," Jake was perspiring.

"Then we can take turns," Preston replied. "But we must agree to keep this only among the four of us."

They all nodded.

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

Michaela lit the lamp on the table, then walked to the fire to stoke it. A memory crossed her mind of another single room cabin to which Sully had taken her when she suffered a blow to her head. She felt her cheeks flush, recalling how they had made love beside the fireplace when it was certain that she was past the danger of a concussion.

Folding her arms, her mind turned to the children. Sully and Brian would be preparing them for bed right about now, she thought. Katie will want a story, and Josef... She smiled, Josef will be asleep before his father finishes.

She felt a pang of guilt at being absent from them. Katie was becoming so self-reliant and independent but still in need of her parent's assuring embraces. Josef was.... hopelessly mischievous, playful, daring, yet could turn instantly into the insecure little boy who clung to his mother and father.

With Katie starting to school in the fall, what would Josef do without his big sister to humor him, play games with him, teach him?

It occurred to Michaela that most of her meditation thus far during this time of reflection, had centered around her children. Hardly once had she thought about the Clinic.

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

"Bran," Katie played with the edge of her blanket. "Do ya think Poppy's mad at Joey?"

"Not mad," he placed his hand atop hers.

"Is he gonna punish Joey?" the little girl voiced her concern.

"I think he's gonna talk t' him about other ways t' handle bein' upset," the older brother counseled.

"Like countin' t' ten?" she wondered.

"Sort o' like that," he smiled.

"Do ya think Poppy'll come up an' tell me a story?" she hoped.

"I know he'll be up t' kiss ya good night, but I'm not sure he'll be in the mood t' tell a story," Brian advised.

"Would you tell me one then?" her brown eyes implored.

"Sure," he grinned.

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

As Sully prepared a bath for Josef, the child sat quietly observing his father. When it was ready, Sully undressed his son and placed him in the tub. Normally playful during a bath, both were subdued. Finally, Sully lifted him into a towel and dried him off. Then he took him into the living room by the fireplace.

"We talk, Papa?" Josef was uncertain about his father's mood.

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "Joe, hittin' people don't solve things."

He agreed, "Billy hit Katie."

"An' that was wrong o' him," Sully replied. "It's good that ya wanted t' protect your sister," he rubbed Josef's back. "But...."

"But what?" Josef waited.

"I wish your Ma was here t' help me with this," Sully sighed.

"Mama give me whippin'?" his lip curled under.

He chuckled, "Ya got your Ma wrapped around your little finger."

"No, Papa," Josef held up his hands before his father's face. "No Mama."

"I reckon I'll take ya up t' bed now," Sully stood.

"Done talkin'?" the little boy queried.

"For now," Sully said. "We'll talk about this more when your Ma gets home."

Josef tilted his head against his father's shoulder and hugged him.

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

Frank Wellington had much to consider. Though darkness was approaching, he strolled along the property which the bank had mentioned was for sale. It bordered the Sully homestead, a consideration that Frank found appealing.

His leg began to bother him from the trek, and he wanted to rest before returning to the Chateau. Ahead, along a steam, he saw a small framed structure with smoke emanating from its chimney.

Wondering who might inhabit the tiny shack, he headed for it.

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

Sully finished preparing Josef for bed. As he was about to lift him into the crib, Katie spoke up.

"Could Joey sleep with me t'night?" she asked.

"I reckon that would be okay," Sully carried him to the bed. "Let him sleep next t' the wall, Kates."

"I will," she pulled back the covers. Then she whispered to her father, "I'll have a little chat with him."

Sully maintained a serious expression, "Ya will?"

"Uh huh," she spoke low. "Don't worry, Poppy."

"What would I ever do without my sweet girl?" he grinned.

"I don't know," she shrugged.

"Say your prayers now," Sully encouraged. "You, too, Joe."

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

Michaela was startled by a knock at the door.

Then she relaxed, "Perhaps it's Sully checking on me."

Her cheeks flushed at the notion.

When she opened the door, she was surprised to see Frank Wellington.

"Michaela!" he was shocked. "I didn't expect to find you here."

"Nor I to find you," she stated. "Are you lost?"

"No," he rubbed his thigh. "I was examining the property next to yours, and my leg began to ache."

The doctor in her took over, "Come in. Let me check it."

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

"Brian," Sully knocked on his son's bedroom door.

"Come in," the young man beckoned.

"I'm goin' out t' the barn t' work on Josef's bed," Sully informed him. "Could ya keep an ear open for the kids?"

"Sure, Pa," he nodded.

"Thanks," Sully departed.

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

"Katie," Josef spoke.

"Shhh," she brought her finger to her lips. "Don't talk loud, Joey."

"Papa not whip me," he revealed.

"Bran didn't think he would," Katie acknowledged.

"Mama might," the little boy feared.

"Why do ya think that?" she inquired.

"Papa wait for Mama," he said. "What mean whippin'?" the little boy finally asked what was on his mind.

"That's when they take somethin' hard like a stick an' hit ya on your behind," she recalled. "One time I saw Billy's mother whip him after church."

"That huwt!" Josef assumed.

"He was screamin' an' cryin' all the way home," Katie agreed. "I just thought o' somethin', Joey."

"What?" he pulled himself up into a sitting position.

"If Billy's mother an' father whip him 'cause he hits kids, then...." she pondered.

"Mama an' Papa whip me!" he began to tear up.

"Maybe we can stop 'em," she held his hand. "Why don't we go see Mama an' talk t' her? Tell her you're real sorry."

His eyes widened, "Good thinkin'."

"I'll help ya get dressed," she slid from the bed. "But we gotta be quiet."

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

"There is some chaffing," Michaela concluded her examination of Frank's leg. "I have some salve in by bag that should help."

"Thank you," he smiled. "It will be nice to have a doctor for a neighbor."

"Neighbor?" Michaela looked up.

"I am considering buying the adjacent property," he responded.

"I see," she closed her bag.

"Is something wrong?" he noted her reaction.

"No," she answered. "I'll make you some tea for your pain."

"Thank you, Michaela," his eyes were tender. Then he noticed what she had been reading, "Thoreau?"

"Yes," she set a pan of water on the fire.

"Our life is frittered away by detail...." he quoted.

"You've read 'Walden?'" she was amazed.

"Certainly," he grinned. "And, like Thoreau, you've come to think in a secluded cabin?"

"Yes," she prepared the tea.

"Any decision about the new Clinic?" he anticipated.

"Not yet," she poured the hot water into the cup.

"After I finish my tea, I'll leave you then," he offered. "I wouldn't want to hinder the thinking processes."

She handed him the cup, and he sipped.

"Curious flavor," he commented. "What is this?"

"Willow bark," she replied. "I learned of its curative powers from the Indians."

"Indians?" he was surprised.

"I have found that the Cheyenne utilize herbs and remedies that our trained physicians discount much too readily," she articulated.

"Do you intend to use their medicine in your new Clinic?" he sounded doubtful.

"Of course," she eyed him skeptically.

"I...." he set his cup on the table. "I appreciate your hospitality, as always, but I'd better return to the Chateau now. Thank you again."

"You're welcome," she opened the door for him. "Goodbye."

Frank hastily exited, and Michaela began to wonder about his reaction toward the type of medicine she practiced.

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

There was sufficient moonlight for Katie and Josef to begin their journey to their mother's locale. They had managed to slip past Brian. Not even Wolf, who was in the barn with Sully, followed them.

Katie held her brother's hand, as she could tell he was nervous. She, too, found herself frightened at the prospect of retracing the route to Michaela, especially in the dark, but she was determined to speak with her mother.

"Katie," Josef kept pace with her fast gait.

"What?" she responded.

"Mama be mad?" he began to have second doubts.

"'Course not," she assured him. "First thing we gotta do is find the stream. Mama's right beside it."

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

Michaela returned to the book, but she could no longer concentrate on its contents. Her mind was full of thoughts of her family. Sully's warm embrace and tender kisses, Brian's quest for knowledge and love of learning, Katie's loving heart, and Josef's captivating smile. Her grown children came to her mind, as well. How proud she was of their careers. How full of love her life was.

She pulled out Sully's note from her pocket and read its contents aloud, "O love, what hours were thine and mine."

Suddenly, all that was murky became clear to her. She opened her medical bag again. There was the pouch of herbs from Cloud Dancing. Taking the still hot water, she added the mix. She sat down and began to drink the brew.

The flavors triggered a recollection of what Cloud Dancing had told her seven years go about the herbs, "They will help you conceive a child."

"Oh, Sully," she said to herself as she drank. "For our love, for our family, with all of my heart, I pray that it works. I never want to regret that I didn't spend enough time with you. I have a fulfilling medical practice as it is, but... I'll let nothing come before you and our life together."

Sipping the brew, she began to feel warm. It was a strange sensation, not from the temperature of the drink, but from the feelings she permitted herself to experience out here alone. No one was with her, and yet, she was filled with the presence of her husband and children.

Glancing down, she placed her hand on her abdomen. She closed her eyes and imagined what it would be like again. To carry another baby. Sully's baby. To nurture it and love it. Keeping her hand in that same spot, she lay down on the makeshift bed and allowed herself to fall asleep.

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

"Almost there, Joey," Katie spotted the stream. "We can walk along the water an' follow it t' Mama."

"'Kay," he responded.

Suddenly, Katie slipped and toppled into the rushing current of water. As she tried to climb out, her foot lodged between two rocks, and her ankle twisted. The cold water surged over her as she struggled to keep her head above it.

Josef immediately began to wade into the water.

"No, Joey!" she shouted. "It's too deep for ya."

"Katie!" he cried.

"Go get Poppy!" she implored.

"I lost," he was distraught.

Katie made another attempt to release her foot, but she slipped under the water. This time, she did not come up.

************
Chapter 9
************

"Katie!" Josef repeatedly called for his sister.

When he saw her head emerge from the water, the little boy was frozen with fear.

"Help!" Katie gasped for air.

Josef suddenly recalled what his father had taught him about the whistle from Mr. Wellington. He dug into his pocket, and amid the knickknacks, found it.

Taking a deep breath, Josef began to blow into it as hard as he could.

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

Suddenly Wolf's ears perked up, and he whined.

"What's wrong, boy?" Sully stopped sanding the wood.

With a yelp, Wolf bolted for the door. Sully instinctively concluded that the animal was trying to warn him of something.

"Michaela!" he feared.

When Wolf ran out the barn door, Sully followed.

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

Michaela was roused from her sleep by the shrill, high-pitched sound.

"What on earth?" she sat up. "That sounds like Josef's whistle. But.... it's coming from outside!"

She rushed to the door and exited the shack.

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

"Joey!" Katie's voice was sounding faint.

Continuing to blow the whistle, he fell to his knees in exhaustion.

"Josef!" Michaela arrived on the scene.

"Mama!" he pointed into the water. "Katie!"

"What?" she strained to make out the figure. "My God!"

She waded into the stream just as Wolf neared. Sully followed quickly.

"Josef!" he lifted his son.

Then he saw Michaela.

"What's wrong?" he called to her.

"It's Katie," her voice trembled. "Her foot is stuck."

Sully set Josef on the ground, "Don't move!"

Jumping into the stream, he hurried to his wife and daughter. Katie's head was just above the water level as Michaela supported her.

Sully submerged himself and pulled with all of his might on the rocks that trapped his daughter. Finally, the little girl's foot was free, and Michaela lifted her into her arms.

"Mama!" Katie hugged her.

"Oh, Katie," she held her tightly.

"Come on," Sully urged. "Let's get her t' the cabin."

Picking up Josef, Sully guided them back to the small structure.

"Katie, Papa," Josef pointed to his sister, tears still streaming down his cheeks.

"She's gonna be okay, Joe," Sully rubbed his back. "Ya did real good by blowin' the whistle t' warn us."

They soon reached the shack.

"Clear the table so I can examine her," Michaela directed her husband.

After wrapping Josef in a blanket, Sully removed the lamp from the table. Then he lifted the cups of partially consumed tea while Michaela laid Katie on the table.

"Where does it hurt, Sweetheart?" she began to feel her leg.

"All over," the little girl fought her tears.

Sully came to her side, "Is it broken?"

"I don't believe so," Michaela concluded. "A sprain."

She removed a bandage from her medical bag and began to wrap her daughter's ankle.

"What were you children doing out at this hour?" Michaela asked.

"We wanted t' talk t' ya, Mama," Katie responded.

"Talk to me?" she glanced at her husband.

"I put 'em t' bed," Sully stated. "I was in the barn, but Brian was listenin' for 'em."

"We snuck out," Katie spoke anxiously. "We wanted t' tell Mama what happened so she wouldn't whip Joey."

"Whip Josef?" Michaela was taken aback. "What on earth happened?"

Sully explained, "Josef got int' a fight t'day."

"A fight!" she pivoted to look at her son.

"He hit Billy Wagner," Katie clarified.

"Josef!" Michaela was mortified. "Why would you do that?"

The little boy finally spoke up, "He huwt Katie. No whip me, Mama."

Michaela was overwhelmed at what she was hearing, "I don't understand."

Sully explained, "Earlier t'day, Brian had the kids at the meadow in town playin' with a ball. Billy showed up, an' wanted t' play, too. When Brian threw the ball, both Katie an' Billy tried t' catch it."

Katie interjected, "An' when I got it, Billy started hittin' me."

"Hitting you!" Michaela's eyes widened. "Where? Where did he hit you?"

Katie showed her mother the bruise, "I'm okay."

Michaela satisfied herself that her daughter was not seriously hurt, then turned her attention to Josef, "And you hit Billy?"

He looked down sadly, "Uh huh."

"Billy always gets a whippin' when he's bad," Katie continued. "We wanted t' talk t' Mama so ya don't whip Joey."

"I would never whip you, Josef," Michaela assured.

"Gotta wait for ya," his lower lip curled under.

"I told him we'd wait 'til you got home t' talk with him about what he did," Sully shook his head. "He must've thought we'd whip him."

"'Cause when Billy hits, that's what his mother an' father do," Katie nodded.

"Josef," Michaela lifted Katie into her arms and carried her to sit beside her son. "Papa meant that we would discuss the proper way of behaving. We would never hurt you, Sweetheart."

"No?" his eyes widened.

"Of course not," she kissed the top of his head. She began to rub his back, "And I want to thank you for something."

"Tank me?" he was curious.

"For saving Katie's life tonight," Michaela pulled back a stray strand of his hair.

"I thank ya, too, Joey," Katie contributed.

"Ya used the whistle just like I said to," Sully smiled, then realized the late hour. "I'll get the kids back t' the house now, Michaela. You can get back t' your thinkin'."

"Sully," she paused.

"Mmm?" he set the lamp back onto the table.

"I have something to tell you," she began.

As he returned the cups, he joked, "Can't decide which tea ya like?"

"Pardon me?" she did not understand.

"Two cups," he indicated.

"Oh," she smiled. "I had a visitor."

"Who?" he was curious.

"Frank," Michaela identified. "He might be...."

"Frank was here with ya?" he interrupted.

"Yes," she replied. "His leg was...."

"He's got no business bein' out here alone with ya," his temper flared.

"Sully," she stood. "Please lower your voice in front of the children."

He controlled his tone, "I don't like it that he came here t' try t' sway ya t' do what he wants. I know I don't have enough money t' offer ya the kinda...."

"You're jumping to conclusions," she interjected.

He would not listen, "I wanna get the children back t' bed."

Her back stiffened, "If you would have kept a closer watch on them, this wouldn't have happened."

He was stung, "Brian was upstairs close by in his room."

"Obviously, that was not enough," she countered, lashing back for his accusatory tone.

He took a deep breath, "Here, Kates. I'll carry ya."

"I believe it would be better for the children to remain here tonight," Michaela was curt.

"What?" he put his hands on his hips.

"Josef is still recuperating from his cold, and I can monitor Katie's condition better," she elaborated.

"Fine," he blurted out.

He kissed the children and abruptly left the cabin.

"Mama," Katie was startled by the slamming door. "Is Poppy mad at us?"

"No," she forced a smile as her heart was breaking. "Not at you."

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

Sully stewed as he headed back to the homestead, Wolf following along with his head down. The mountain man decided to finish working on Josef's bed, so he entered the barn. There were his tools on the ground, just as he left them when he ran out on his rescue mission earlier.

Frustrated at himself for his reaction, he was even more upset with Michaela for inviting Frank Wellington into the cabin. He could picture her offering him a cup of tea, and he could visualize the wealthy man turning her head with his offers to finance whatever her heart desired.

"I can't give her any o' that, boy," Sully glanced down at his pet.

Wolf whimpered and came to his master. Sully ran his hand across the animal's fur, then sat down on a bale of hay. Folding his arms, he closed his eyes and exhaled heavily. He could still feel his heart beating rapidly, charged from fear for his children's safety and anger over his argument with his wife.

Then it occurred to Sully, "Who am I really mad at?"

Wolf tilted his head as if to wonder what Sully meant.

"It's me," Sully determined. "I'm upset with myself 'cause I can't give her those things."

Wolf rested his paw on Sully's thigh.

"What she must think o' me," he thought aloud. "I wouldn't blame her if she wanted t' build a new Clinic an' move int' it."

Feeling defeated and alone, he stepped through the barn door, secured it and walked toward the house.

"I'll talk t' her in the mornin'," he vowed. "I doubt if she'll be in the mood t' listen t' me t'night."

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

Michaela tucked her children under the blanket and ran her fingers through their hair. She placed their wet clothing near the hearth to dry, then glanced toward the table with its telltale cups.

She picked up the one containing the herbs from Cloud Dancing. The liquid was cool, but she consumed the remainder of it. Then she spread her coat on the floor beside the children and laid down.

Tears began to overflow from her eyes and trail down her cheeks. Why was Sully behaving this way? It was as if he did not trust her, or... no, she thought. Surely he doesn't think I would invite Frank Wellington's attention!

"Oh, Sully," she sighed quietly.

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

"Pa!" Brian urgently knocked on his father's bedroom door just after dawn.

"Come in," he sat up, still fully clothed.

"Katie an' Josef aren't in the nursery!" Brian's voice had an air of panic.

"It's okay," Sully raised his hand to calm him. "They're with your Ma."

"Why?" the young man was puzzled.

"Last night when I was in the barn, they wanted t' see her so they up an' took off," he related.

"How'd they leave without me hearin' 'em?" Brian wondered.

"I don't know," Sully continued. "Sometime after they snuck out, I heard Josef blowin' his whistle. Turned out Katie fell int' the stream an' got her foot stuck between some rocks."

"I slept through all that?" Brian was amazed.

"Yep," Sully smiled slightly. "Anyway, Michaela an' me reached 'em at about the same time. They're okay, but your Ma wanted 'em t' spend the rest o' the night with her."

"I see," he shook his head. "Pa, did this have somethin' t' do with Josef's fight?"

"In a way," Sully nodded. "They went t' her 'cause they thought we were gonna whip Josef."

"I'm real sorry for what happened," Brian's shoulders slumped.

"Wasn't your fault," Sully replied. "Every boy's gotta go through his first fight, I guess."

"Remember when you an' Ma found out I'd punched Wendell Davenport?" Brian smiled.

"I remember," Sully grinned. "But you were a lot older than Josef."

"Josef was intent on protectin' his sister," Brian stated.

"As I recall, that's why ya hit Wendell," he thought back. "He called Colleen a name."

"Yep," Brian answered. "An' I remember my punishment."

"Ya had t' be in your room every night by six, up at five for added chores," Sully listed.

"An' I wasn't allowed t' ride Taffy for a week," Brian added.

"Josef's only two an' a half," Sully sighed. "I reckon that punishment won't work on him."

"He's so funny, Pa," Brian chuckled. "Always makes me laugh."

"Which makes it even harder t' punish him," Sully agreed.

"You're not really gonna do anythin' t' him, are ya?" Brian queried.

Sully chuckled, "I think he's punished himself more than we ever could just by worryin' he'll be whipped. I best go down t' the cabin an' fetch the kids. They'll be hungry."

"I'll see ya later," Brian paused at the door. "After breakfast, I'm goin' in t' work on the Gazette most o' the day."

Sully patted him on the back, "Don't work too hard."

Brian raised his eyebrow, "I got good practice thanks t' Wendell."

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

"Mama," Josef stared down at his mother on the floor. "I wake up."

"Mmm?" she reached for her stiff back. "Well, good morning, my darling."

"Mornin'," he smiled. "I hungwy."

"We'll have to go home for breakfast then," she sat up. "I'm afraid I don't have enough food here for all of us."

He playfully climbed down from the makeshift bed and plopped into his mother's lap. Michaela pulled him closer and kissed the top of his head.

"What am I going to do with you?" she held him up to look in his eyes.

"I bad, Mama," he was remorseful.

"You're not bad," she embraced him. "You were defending your sister because you feared for her safety. But...."

He covered her mouth with his soft little hands, "Not hit."

"Right," she held his fingers to her cheek. "Hitting is only a last resort."

"What last rizzort?" he fidgeted.

"It means that there is no other way to stop something bad from happening to someone," she replied. "You thought that Katie needed help immediately, and you acted. Do you believe now that there might have been another way to help her without hitting Billy?"

He pondered her question, then suggested, "Ask Bran?"

"That's true," she was relieved at his perceptiveness. "I'm proud of you, Josef. Proud that you love your family. Proud that you're such a caring little boy, and I love you for it."

"I love you, Mama," he hugged her.

"You understand that you should try other means before resorting to hitting?" she reviewed.

"I un'stand," he pledged.

"Good," she smiled. "I believe it would be a good idea for your Daddy and me to speak with Billy's parents later, but for now, let's wake your sister, and go eat."

Just as she stood up, there was a knock at the door.

"Oh, no," she sighed. "I hope that's not Fr...."

She stopped herself when she looked out the window and saw Sully. Opening the door, she did not speak to him.

"Papa!" Josef rushed to his father's arms.

Katie began to stir, and Michaela sat down beside her to examine her injury.

"How does your ankle feel, Sweetheart?" Michaela examined it.

"Better," she yawned.

"I figured the kids would be hungry," Sully said. "I came t' get 'em."

"I'll take them back to the house," Michaela was brusque. "Would you bring my things?"

"Sure," he felt awkward at her tone.

She finished dressing the children, then lifted Katie, "Come on Josef. Let's go home."

Sully kissed the little ones, and she left with them. He folded his arms and looked about the cabin. Then he began to pack Michaela's belongings. He became lost in thought, when a knock came at the door.

He turned the handle, "Did ya forget someth..."

It was Frank Wellington, "Sully! What are you doing here?"

"In case ya don't know it, this here's my property," the mountain man was in no mood for pleasantries.

"Of course," he regretted his question. "I meant that I thought Michaela was staying here."

"Is that why you're here?" Sully rubbed his upper lip. "Come t' see my wife?"

"I came to discuss the Clinic with her, yes," he admitted.

"Why don't ya leave her be 'til she decides what she wants t' do?" Sully demanded.

"Because the circumstances have changed," Frank explained.

"What're ya talkin' about?" Sully questioned.

"Last night, Michaela gave me some Willow Bark tea for the pain in my leg and told me that she often uses medicine from the Indians," he stated.

"So?" Sully was growing impatient.

"So," Frank debated how to word his comments. "I... I am not certain that I want to support a medical practice or facility that utilizes such untested and even primitive methods."

Sully's jaw tensed, "You questionin' the way my wife doctors?"

"Not exactly," Frank hedged. "It's just that...."

"Seems t' me she saved your life under pretty 'primitive' circumstances," Sully declared. "Ya didn't have any uncertainty then."

"That was during wartime," he reasoned. "Medicine has advanced tremendously since then."

"Medicine's medicine," the mountain man asserted. "If it heals ya, why does it matter where it came from?"

"It matters," Frank was becoming agitated.

Sully approached him and glared, "I didn't like how ya got my wife's hopes up with your grand promises an' plans. I like it even less that you're pullin' out now. It's breakin' your word."

"I'm sorry," the businessman lowered his gaze. "I don't want to hurt Michaela."

"I think you'd best leave," Sully told him.

Frank stepped back, "Yes, well... Goodbye, Sully."

"Goodbye," he slammed the door.

Sully sighed, "How am I gonna tell Michaela this news? It'll break her heart."

Rounding up the remainder of his wife's belongings, he set out for the walk home.

************
Chapter 10
************

"Well?" Preston grinned. "What do you think of it?"

Jake held up the flier, "Tours to See the Mysterious Monster of the Rockies?"

"At ten dollars for an overnight trip, it will be quite profitable," the banker placed his hands on his hips. "And I've already had three inquiries at the Chateau this morning. I told them I would take them out today."

"T'day?" Jake was surprised.

"When there's money to be made, carpe diem," Preston asserted.

"Carpe diem?" Jake was baffled. "We goin' fishin'?"

"Carpe, not carp!" Preston was becoming annoyed. "Carpe diem is Latin. It means 'seize the day.'"

"Then why didn't ya say so?" the barber eyed him.

"Back to the subject," Preston glanced around slyly. "I'll lead our three.... clients... to the campsite. Tonight, you don your monster getup and...."

"An' we make sure they get their money's worth!" Jake liked it.

"Good," Preston agreed.

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

"Where's your Ma an' the kids?" Sully saw Brian at the kitchen table when he entered the homestead.

"She took 'em int' Miss Grace's for breakfast," the young man answered. "Ya just missed 'em."

"Think I'll go finish up Josef's bed," Sully stated. "You leavin' soon?"

"Uh huh," Brian stood.

"Could ya do me a favor, an' ask Matthew if he can stop by this afternoon?" Sully requested. "I could use his help movin' some furniture."

"Sure," he put on his hat. "See ya later.

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

"Michaela," Dorothy spotted her friend at the Cafe.

The children greeted her as she sat down.

"Mama, may we help Miss Grace?" Katie sought permission.

"I don't want you moving around with your ankle still tender," the concerned mother responded.

"I won't move around," the little girl smiled.

"All right," Michaela consented. "But behave yourselves."

"We will," the child stood. "Come on, Joey."

"My land, Michaela," Dorothy noted her appearance. "Ya look exhausted."

"I had a terrible night," she declared.

"What happened?" the redhead queried.

Michaela described the events that led up to her fight with Sully. When she finished, her eyes had become reddened.

Dorothy placed her hand on her friend's, "Sully don't think ya did anythin' wrong, Michaela. Sounds like it's just a little male pride gettin' in the way o' seein' the truth."

"Male pride?" she wondered.

"I don't believe Sully's jealous o' Frank in the way ya think," Dorothy speculated.

"What do you mean?" Michaela was puzzled.

"I think it might be that your husband's upset that he can't offer ya the things that Frank can... money-wise, that is," Dorothy conjectured.

"But that's ridiculous," Michaela dismissed the notion. "I'm perfectly happy with...."

"Michaela," Dorothy stopped her. "Talk t' Sully."

"I shall," she knew her friend was right. "Oh, Brian saw Cloud Dancing the other day. He's well."

"I heard," the editor nodded. "The menfolk said he led 'em t' believe he was that creature."

Michaela glanced at her hands, "He sent me something, too."

"What?" Dorothy was curious.

"I want to have another baby, Dorothy," Michaela's cheeks blushed. "Cloud Dancing sent some herbs that build up the female reproductive system, particularly for women who have irregular menstruation and difficulty conceiving."

Dorothy smiled, "Sounds like ya made up your mind about the Clinic then."

"Yes," she nodded shyly. "I don't know if I have many child bearing years remaining. Even if I were to become pregnant now, I would be 45 years old when I have the baby."

"Ya know the dangers, too," Dorothy searched her face.

"Yes," Michaela felt a lump in her throat. "But, I want this."

"Then I wish ya all the best," Dorothy felt a tear.

"It may not happen," Michaela sighed. "But I would always regret it if I chose to concentrate on expanding the Clinic rather than pursuing what Sully and I want."

"I just thought o' somethin'," Dorothy chuckled.

"What?" Michaela noted the gleam in her eye.

"Colleen an' Andrew might be thinkin' about startin' a family soon, too," she contemplated. "Be funny if ya both had babies at the same time."

"I once had a dream about that," Michaela smiled. "But I'm not prepared to be a grandmother quite yet."

"I don't think that's in your hands," Dorothy raised an eyebrow. Then she spotted a man approaching their table, "Looks like your friend's comin' this way."

"I'll tell him of my decision then," Michaela revealed.

"Good morning, Michaela," he tipped his hat.

"Frank," she pointed. "This is Dorothy Jennings, editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette."

"Pleased to meet you," he extended his hand.

Dorothy rose, "Nice t' meet you, too. If you'll excuse me, I have a newspaper t' print. Goodbye, Michaela."

"Goodbye," she smiled. "And thank you."

"May I join you?" Frank requested.

"Certainly," Michaela said. "How is your leg?"

"It's fine, thanks," he indicated. "I stopped by the cabin this morning to see you, but Sully was there instead."

"You spoke with Sully?" she could only imagine what the conversation was like.

"Yes," he replied. "I told him what I'm about to tell you. Michaela, I... I'm afraid I must withdraw my offer to build a new Clinic."

"Withdraw?" she questioned. Then it occurred to her, "It's because of my use of Indian medicine, isn't it?"

He became uncomfortable, "I just don't think it's appropriate to promote the use of...."

She interrupted him, "I have witnessed first hand the effectiveness of Cheyenne medicine."

"I know that you believe in its powers," he respected. "But, as I told your husband, I cannot abide with supporting it."

"What was my husband's response?" she questioned.

"I could tell that he was angry with me," he looked down awkwardly. "He believes I've gotten your hopes up, only to disappoint you."

Her heart softened, "My husband believes in honoring commitments."

"So do I," Frank avowed. "Which is why I am making an alternative offer."

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

Sully completed his work on Josef's bed. Possessing the same meticulous craftsmanship illustrated in the beds for Michaela and Katie, the furniture was a work of art. He glanced down at his calloused hands, then started for the door to quench his thirst at the well.

Matthew appeared, "Hey, Sully. Brian said ya needed some help."

"Good t' see ya," he patted his back. "I just finished Josef's new bed."

"Looks good," Matthew noted.

"I was thinkin' o' puttin' the children in your old room now," Sully stated. "The nursery's too small t' hold both their beds."

"Where ya gonna put my old bed?" Matthew inquired.

"We can store it in here," he glanced around the barn.

"How 'bout I take it int' town?" the young man offered. "Brian always has t' sleep on the floor when he stays with me. He'd be more comfortable with a bed."

"Sounds good," Sully agreed. "Let's get started."

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

"There is no need for you to make an alternative offer," Michaela told Frank.

"I believe that there is," he countered. "What I would like to do is establish a scholarship for women who want to become physicians."

"A scholarship?" she warmed to the idea.

"An encouragement for females to pursue a career in medicine," Frank explained. "And I'd like to name it after you."

She considered his proposal, "I think a scholarship is a wonderful idea, but may I ask that a different name be given?"

"Certainly," he was interested.

"I would like to request that it be named after my father, Josef Quinn," she suggested. "He's the reason I became a doctor."

"He must have been quite a man," Frank spoke with admiration.

"He was," she felt a lump in her throat.

"I hope this doesn't make you think less of me, Michaela," he expressed.

"I must be honest with you," she conceded. "I made up my mind about the Clinic when I was at the cabin."

"And you decided to not accept my plan," he surmised.

"How did you know?" she was surprised.

"I've gotten to know you well enough to realize that running such a facility would take away time from your beautiful family," Frank smiled. "I can see how much they mean to you."

"They do," she looked toward her children.

He rose up, "I'm catching the afternoon train to Denver. From there, I'll head back to Chicago. I'll send you the information about your father's scholarship when I have everything set up."

She smiled, "Thank you, Frank. It's a most generous and thoughtful thing to do."

"Goodbye, Michaela," he shook her hand. "It was nice seeing you."

"Good luck," she watched him depart.

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

Sully helped Matthew set up the old bed in the back room of his son's law office. Then he headed toward the Clinic. He paused when he noticed some wild flowers growing on a patch of land near the livery. After picking several fragrant blooms, he continued on his way.

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

"We goin' home now, Mama?" Katie fidgeted.

"Very soon, Sweetheart," she looked up from her desk. "I just have one more file to update, then...."

There was a knock at the door. Before she could rise, the door opened slightly and a hand holding a bouquet of flowers slid through.

"Mama!" Katie exclaimed. "Lookie!"

Michaela knew it was her husband, "I wonder who that could be?"

"Looks like Poppy's jacket," the little girl pointed.

To satisfy his curiosity, Josef walked to the door and peered through the opening.

Sully spotted his son's eyes glancing back at him, and whispered, "Joe, ask your Ma if I can come in."

Josef turned toward Michaela, "Papa come in?"

"Tell him 'yes,'" she tried not to smile.

Josef spoke low to his father, "Yep."

Sully slowly opened the door and held the flowers up for his wife, "Thought these might look nice on your desk."

Without saying anything, she accepted the flowers and poured water into a vase for them.

"We go home?" Josef looked up at his parents.

"First, we're paying a visit to the Wagners," Michaela said.

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

As Sully knocked on the door of the Wagner home, they could faintly hear a little boy's cries. Soon Sada Wagner pulled back a curtain to see who was there, then opened it.

As she wiped her hands on her apron, she welcomed them, "Dr. Mike, Sully? What can I do for ya?"

"We came t' discuss what happened with our children yesterday," Sully announced.

"Don't worry 'bout that," Sada indicated. "Billy's been punished for strikin' your little girl."

"Mrs. Wagner, we don't believe in corporal punishment," Michaela gave her opinion. "Nor do my husband and I believe that our son acted in the best manner he could."

"Spare the rod, spoil the child," Sada countered. "You raise your young'ns your way. I'll raise mine the way I believe."

"I also wanted to relay to you that Billy has been using inappropriate language in front of our son," Michaela added.

"What kinda inappropriate language?" Sada questioned.

Michaela lowered her voice, "Darn."

The woman chuckled, "He's used worse than that, Dr. Mike. Took us a month t' get him t' stop usin' the word that sounds close t' that."

"At any rate," Michaela continued. "Josef has been instructed that there are better ways to handle a situation than to use force, and we simply wanted to tell you that we do not condone what he did."

"Ya rode out here t' tell me that?" Sada was amazed.

"Yes," Michaela answered.

"Okay, then," Sada shrugged. "See ya in church."

As the woman shut the door, Michaela turned to her husband, "What do you think?"

"I think you'll be talkin' a lot more t' her," he responded.

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

Preston had his staff set up camp for the excited tourists at the same spot where he had searched for the creature earlier with the townsmen. He had brought several servants and amenities to make their stay comfortable. Once settled in, he began to tell the wide-eyed seekers about the Indian legend of Chiye-tanka, embellishing as he went.

Looking at his watch, he pronounced, "Gentlemen, I recommend that you turn in early. When the creature starts to prowl later, you'll not get much sleep."

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

"Jacob," Teresa noticed her husband heading for the door. "Where are you going?"

"Uh..." he stumbled. "I was just gonna go talk t' Hank."

"Have you forgotten?" she placed her hands on her hips.

"Forgotten what?" he gulped.

"Forgotten that you promised to watch Maria," she shook her head. "I have to tutor some children at the school this evening."

"But it's summer vacation," he pointed out.

"School will begin soon, and these young ones are in need of some preparation," she began to pin her hat on. "Besides, a teacher's work does not end in June."

"But.... there's somethin' real important I gotta do," he became nervous.

"More important than your daughter?" she chastised.

"Uh... no, but...." he was running out of ideas.

"Good," she smiled. "Have a nice evening. I'll be home by eight."

"Eight o'clock?" he knew he would never be able to reach Preston's campsite by the designated time.

"Yes," she looked at him with a curious expression. "You seem nervous. Is there something you are not telling me?"

"Me?" he raised his eyebrows. "No... nothin' at all."

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

"Dinner was real good, Ma," Brian noticed that his parents were unusually quiet.

They had avoided the topics of Frank Wellington, the new Clinic and their argument at the shack last night, though each knew they would eventually have to discuss it in private.

"Thank you," she began to clear the dishes.

"Why don't ya let me do that?" the young man offered. "I think Pa has somethin' he wants t' show you an' the kids."

"Oh?" she glanced at her husband.

"I finished that project I was workin' on," Sully was vague. "I was wonderin' if I could get two little children t' help me test it."

"I'm a little children," Katie pointed to herself. "Could I test it?"

"That gives me one," Sully teased. "I still need another."

"Joey," Katie turned to her brother. "Tell Poppy you'll help him."

"I help," Josef got a serious expression on his face.

"Good," Sully lifted them into his arms. "Now, if your Ma will come with us..."

"Mama," Katie encouraged.

"All right," she smiled.

"Where we goin'?" Katie was curious.

"Upstairs," Sully informed them.

With that, they climbed the stairs to the second floor, past the darkened nursery and down the hall.

"We goin' t' Matthew's room?" Katie figured.

"Not his room anymore," Sully told them. Setting them down, he opened the door, "It's yours now."

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

Pacing nervously, Jake looked at his pocket watch, "Eight thirty, an' Teresa ain't home. What am I gonna do?"

His mind raced nervously. If only Loren or Hank would stop by. He could tell them to go to the campsite in his place. Otherwise, with no creature to show the tourists, Preston would be mad as a hornet.

Stepping to the window, he looked out, "Oh, great. Now it's startin' t' rain."

************
Chapter 11
************

"Poppy!" Katie marveled at the illuminated room. "Ya put my bed in here now?"

"Yep," he patted Josef's behind. "There's somethin' in there for you, too."

Katie took her brother by the hand, and into the newly decorated room they stepped.

"Sully!" Michaela was impressed. "It's beautiful."

"Do ya see what's over there, Joe?" he pointed.

Josef went to the new bed, "For me?"

"Yep," he grinned. "All your own."

The child's eyes widened. On the headboard was an intricately carved relief of a wolf.

Sully lifted him up and set him on the mattress, "Gives ya room t' grow."

"What do you say to your father?" Michaela felt a tear.

"Tanks, Papa," Josef was overwhelmed.

"Ya like it then?" Sully teased.

"Yep!" the little boy nodded enthusiastically.

"Where's Matthew's old bed?" Michaela asked.

"Took it int' town," he noted.

They heard Brian's footsteps, "Will ya look at this!"

"Bran," Katie rushed to him. "It's a big room for Joey an' me!"

He picked her up and kissed her cheek, "I'd say we got the best Ma an' Pa in the world."

"Yep," Katie smiled.

"Yep," Josef imitated.

"What ya gonna do with the nursery?" Brian glanced at his parents.

"I thought maybe your Ma might like t' use it as an office," Sully offered. "I'll take the crib out t' the barn."

"I..." she hesitated. "I'll have to discuss that with your father."

"Time for bed," Katie began to remove her shoes.

"Am I hearin' right?" Sully joked.

"Gota try out the new bedroom," Katie explained. "Come on, let's get ready."

Michaela, Sully and Brian prepared the youngsters, and soon, they were each tucked into their beds.

Sully put the footstool he made for Katie's first big bed at the side of Josef's new one, "This'll help ya get in an' out easier."

"I twy," Josef used it to climb down, then up again. "Good, Papa."

"Glad ya like it," he pulled up the covers.

The children recited their prayers. Then, after kisses from their parents and brother, they closed their eyes. Sully and Michaela lowered the lamps and left them.

"Think they'll fall asleep right away?" Brian whispered in the hall.

"Not a chance," Sully quipped.

Sure enough, they could hear the little ones whispering enthusiastically.

"Well," Brian sighed. "It's been a long day. Think I'll go t' bed, too."

"Good night," Michaela kissed him.

"'Night," he smiled.

"Don't let the whisperin' next door keep ya awake," Sully joked.

As Brian left them, an awkward silence fell upon Sully and Michaela. Each wanted to express their regret to the other, but neither knew quite how to broach the subject.

"The bed is beautiful, Sully," she repeated her earlier compliment.

"Thanks," he replied.

Again, there was uncomfortable quiet.

"Guess, I'll go lock up downstairs," he finally spoke.

"I'll help you," Michaela followed.

Sully lowered the lamps in the living room as Michaela did the same in the kitchen. The only light came from the main fireplace, whose flickers danced about the room. Pausing to watch the flames, Sully's contemplated.

"How do I tell her about the Clinic?" he thought to himself. "How can I crush her dream?"

Michaela stood and watched him from a few feet away. His broad shoulders and handsome physique made her long to run into his embrace, but she averted her glance when he turned and walked toward the front door.

"I'll do it," she reached for the lock.

He extended his hand to turn the key at the same instant as she. Their hands met. Rather than pull back, they continued their contact. He could feel her trembling.

"Michaela/Sully," they spoke at the same moment.

He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the palm. She raised her free hand and ran her fingers through his hair. Their pulses and breathing quickened.

"I..." again they both spoke simultaneously.

The longing they felt for one another, the need to forgive and to be forgiven, overpowered them. Michaela slid her hand beneath the material of his shirt and rested it over his heart.

Sully swallowed hard, trying to control what his body wanted to do. Then he read it in her eyes. She wanted the same thing. They had communicated, as so often they did, with a look, a breath, an upturn of the lips.

With a subtle movement, he invited her into his arms, and she rushed there willingly. They began to kiss, triggering a powerfully surging hunger in them both. Abandoning all hesitation, they clung to one another and continued to kiss with all of the passion they possessed. He began to gather up the material of her skirt while she started to undo his buckskins.

Suddenly, Sully pulled back, "Wait, Michaela."

"Why?" her voice was eager.

"'Cause we shouldn't," his words were contrary to his wants.

Again she questioned, as she relished the feel of his body against hers, "Why?"

"We need t' make up with our hearts before we make up with our bodies," he held her shoulders. Then he gulped to control his need, "An'... we gotta think o' the possible consequences if we..."

"I'm terribly sorry for what I said," her eyes searched his. "It was cruel and unfounded."

"Me, too," he declared. "Ya didn't do anythin' t' encourage Frank. I was feelin' insecure on account o' all his money.... But there's somethin' else I have t' tell ya.... about Frank. I talked t' him at the cabin this mornin'."

"I know," she said. "I saw him at the Cafe. He told me that he's withdrawn the offer for a new Clinic."

"I'm real sorry, Michaela," he stroked her hair. "I know how much it meant t' ya."

"Sully," she confessed. "I had already made up my mind about it before he told me."

"Ya did?" he wondered.

"Yes," she smiled. "That's what I was trying to tell you last night before our disagreement. I was going to turn him down."

He rubbed her back, "I don't like his reason for withdrawin' the offer."

"Nor do I," she revealed. "But another opportunity came from it."

"Oh?" he was curious.

"I believe that after his conversation with you, Frank felt guilty," she explained. "So he's putting the money into a scholarship for women who intend to go to medical school."

"That's real good," he assumed she would like the idea.

"And he's agreed to name it after Father," she added.

He nodded, "So Frank's thankin' you, an' you're thankin' your Pa."

"And," she mentioned. "I'm thanking my husband."

"Me?" he pointed to himself. "Why?"

"For so many reasons," she paused. "For believing in me. For supporting me and giving me time when I needed to think. For being my best friend. For loving me and being the father of my children."

"Most o' that ain't even work," he grinned.

"Which part is work?" she ran her hands up and down his side.

"Bein' the father o' your children," he joked.

"Oh, Sully," she leaned her head against his chest. "When I see you with them...."

Her voice trailed off.

With his finger he lifted her chin to gaze at her countenance, "Mind if I ask ya somethin'?"

"What?" she was intrigued.

"What made ya decide t' turn down the offer for a new Clinic?" he posed the question.

"Why don't we go upstairs, and I'll explain?" she invited.

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

Preston was becoming more and more uncomfortable. His clients were restless and unable to sleep. Their questions about the creature and whether it would be visible in the deluge of rain made matters worse.

Then it came. The sound. The blood-curdling cry.

"Uuuuhhhhaaaa - Uuuuhhhhaaaa!"

"Ah," Preston's eyes lit up. "The sound of money."

The men cowered. Then came the repugnant odor. Suddenly, the tent began to shake as if the creature were standing outside and grabbing the canvas.

Preston thought to himself, "My, Jake is certainly adding a creative touch. How unlike him. I'll have to congratulate him tomorrow."

"Mr. Lodge!" one of the clients screamed. "What are we going to do?"

"Well," he grinned. "I suppose we could go outside to catch a glimpse."

"No!" they all shouted in unison.

"Then we'll just have to wait it out," Preston visualized the word of mouth that this would stir.

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

"I am sorry to be late," Teresa attempted to dry herself. "But in the rain, the road became more difficult to travel."

"That's okay," Jake sounded depressed.

"What is the matter?" Teresa became concerned. "Is Maria all right?"

"She's fine," he sighed.

"Is there something that you are not telling me, Jacob?" she assumed.

"Nah," he shrugged. "But if I turn up dead in t'morrow, consider Preston t' be the prime suspect."

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

Michaela took Sully's hand and led him upstairs. When they reached the nursery, she paused.

"I'll get the crib outa there t'morrow," he informed her. "Brian an' me can bring up your desk an' books."

"But what if another little someone comes along?" she whispered.

"Like who?" he did not understand.

"Like a little brother or sister for our children," she speculated.

His heart leapt, "Is that the path you're thinkin' about takin'?"

"I've thought of little else, of late," she touched his cheek. "But in order for it to happen, my doctor has instructed me to spend more time with my husband when he's home. Timing is of utmost importance."

"I just happen t' have some free time in my schedule," he winked.

"Do you have time for me?" she raised an eyebrow temptingly.

He scooped her into his arms, carried her to their room, and gently set her on the bed.

"I assume that's a 'yes,'" she smirked.

He sat on the edge of the bed and leaned closer, "Definitely a 'yes.'"

Sully made no further overtures, but simply drank in the beauty of his wife.

She finally asked, "What are you looking at?"

He kissed her sweetly, "I'm lookin' at the most beautiful woman in the world."

"Sully," she slid her hands up his arms. "You know it might not happen. But..."

He gently stopped her by placing his finger to her lips, "But it might. We've had lots o' forks in the road, Michaela. An' I haven't been afraid o' any of 'em, even without a map, 'cause you've been right there with me."

"I'm not afraid either," she felt secure in his embrace. "Our children are the seeds of eternity."

"An' you're the best gardener I know," he suggested.

She maintained the analogy, "Perhaps we could plant some additional seeds?"

"Humm," he looked up. "Wonder how we should go about doin' that?"

"Mr. Sully," she smiled. "Why don't we begin right here?"

She pointed to her lips, prompting him to kiss her.

Then he whispered in her ear:

"Here, will I dwell,
For heaven be in these lips."

She guessed, "Was that Shakespeare?"

"Christopher Marlowe," he cited the poet.

She toyed with the hair at the base of his neck, "I adore you."

"Just what I was thinkin' about you," he smiled.

As his wayward hand began to work its magic across her chest, Michaela could feel the heat of his body through their clothing. His intense gaze fueled her ardor even further.

"Perhaps it will happen this time," she spoke low.

"Maybe," he lowered his kisses to her neck. "Or we might just have t' keep practicin' that plantin' 'til we get it right again."

"You enjoy practicing, don't you?" she framed his face between her hands.

"Only with you," he caressed her cheek.

Words ended, and their journey commenced down the path they had chosen at the fork in the road.

THE END

EPILOGUE

A number of artificial limb companies came into existence following the Civil War. Most were started by amputee veterans who had made limbs for themselves or improved on the limbs provided to them. Some of these veterans found themselves in the business when asked to make similar limbs for other amputees.

One of the more famous of these was the J. E. Hanger Company. Mr. Hanger, an engineering student serving in the Confederate Army, lost his leg to a rifle ball shortly after the war started. Unhappy with the appliance provided him to replace his amputated leg, he determined to improve the function of his artificial leg. The leg he developed was such an improvement over what was available, in 1861, he was able to found a company, which bears his name today. He secured an exclusive contract to provide limbs to Confederate amputee veterans.

The stories of encounters with Bigfoot (a name not used until the 1950's) were from accounts of people who experienced sightings in the Colorado Springs area. Native American legends about the creature extend back centuries throughout this continent.



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