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

Friends and Enemies


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Friends and Enemies
by Debby K

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

"Michaela," Preston removed his hat as he entered the Clinic.

"Mr. Lodge," she acknowledged his presence. "Are you ill?"

"No," he retorted. "My visit is strictly professional."

"I don't know what business you could have with me," she always felt an uneasiness around him.

"May I?" he motioned to a chair.

"Yes, please be seated," she eyed him skeptically.

"I am in the process of organizing a statehood celebration for our fair town, and was wondering if you might sit on a planning committee for it," he came to the point.

She wondered if there were a catch, "What would be the planning committee's responsibilities?"

"Why... planning, of course," he found himself quite amusing.

Michaela did not see any humor, "How often would there be meetings? Who else would be on the committee? How much say would the committee have in the actual celebration?"

"So many questions," he squirmed. "I would think one or two meetings per week. It will include the town's most distinguished citizens, and... what was the third question?"

She repeated. "How much actual say would the committee have in the celebration?"

"Well, that's something for us to discuss," his smile indicated he had ulterior motives.

"I'm not certain about my ability to...." she stopped when Loren burst through the door.

"Dr. Mike," the store keeper interrupted. "Come quick. It's Teresa Slicker. She's hurt real bad!"

"The children...." Michaela hesitated.

"I'll watch them," Preston offered reluctantly.

"I'll be back as soon as I can," Michaela grabbed her bag and ran out with Loren.

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

"Think ya can help me now, Robert E?" Sully dismounted his horse.

"Sure," the blacksmith approached him.

"Somethin's wrong with my horse," he patted the animal's neck. "He's favorin' his right front leg."

"Let's take a look," he leaned over. "I'll get the shoe off an' see what I can find."

Sully leaned back against the fence and removed his gloves. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw people running.

"Wonder what's goin' on?" he commented.

"Huh?" Robert E did not hear.

"Michaela!" Sully noticed his wife rushing toward the barbershop.

Hurrying to her side, he elbowed his way to the doorway. There on the floor unconscious was Teresa Slicker. Michaela was quickly on her knees attending to the woman.

"Where's Jake?" Sully feared they had been robbed.

"Back here," Loren spotted the man's legs on the floor of the storage room.

Sully checked on him.

Loren turned up his nose, "Whew. Smell his breath. He's been on a real bender."

Sully lifted the bottle from Jake's side and shook his head in disgust. Then he returned to the front room where Teresa Slicker lay, slowly regaining consciousness.

"Mrs. Slicker," Michaela spoke gently. "I need to examine you to determine the cause of your...."

The school teacher interrupted her, "I hit my head."

Michaela's brow wrinkled. "You struck your head on something?"

The woman was silent.

"Can you tell me where it hurts?" the physician inched her fingers along the scalp, searching for a bump.

"Here," Teresa indicated the right side of her head above her ear.

Lightly, Michaela felt the area. There was a slight bump. Then she discovered dried blood and a small cut.

Michaela inquired, "Do you know how long you were unconscious?"

"I...." she winced at the pain as she tried to sit up. "It happened shortly after I returned home from school."

"Where's Jake?" Michaela glanced toward her husband.

"Back room," Sully pointed.

"Why isn't he in here?" she was curious.

Loren chimed in, "'Cause he's drunk, is why!"

"Drunk?" Michaela began to suspect. "Mrs. Slicker, you said your injury was from being hit. Did someone strike you?"

Teresa did not respond.

Michaela glanced at the many faces who had gathered in the small shop, "Perhaps it would be best if I concluded my examination at my Clinic."

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

"Why ya here, Mr. Lodge?" Katie strolled in from the anteroom off her mother's office. "Ya sick?"

"No," the banker immediately felt uncomfortable. "I am here to insure that you and your brother do not get into trouble."

"Where's my Mama?" the child queried him.

Preston did not fail to notice the little girl's resemblance to her mother, "She had an emergency. I'm certain that she'll return in no time."

Katie's eyes widened, "Wanna play Pin the Tail on the Donkey?"

"No, thank you," he squirmed.

A cry came from the anteroom.

"Uh oh," Katie put her hands on her hips. "Now Joey's up."

Preston became flustered, "Well, don't just stand there. Do something."

"What can I do?" Katie raised her hands.

"Whh... whatever you're supposed to do to stop a crying child," he declared.

"Mama an' Poppy pick us up when we cry," the child advised.

"So.... go pick him up," Preston felt sure in his answer.

"Joey too heavy for me," Katie countered.

"You, young lady, are just as contrary as your mother," Preston stood up, towering over the little girl.

Josef's wails were becoming louder.

"Ya gonna pick him up?" Katie was not intimidated by his height.

"And you have your father's disregard for superiors," Preston went to the anteroom.

Lifting the little boy into his arms, Preston bounced him up and down, but Josef continued to cry, his little face red and contorted.

"Maybe if ya tell him a story, he quit," Katie spoke over the volume of her brother's crying.

"A story?" Preston frowned. "What sort of story?"

"Poppy tell us stories 'bout all kinds o' stuff he knows," the little girl pleasantly noted.

"I would imagine those would be rather short stories," Preston stated sardonically.

"What you know 'bout, Mr. Lodge?" Katie pointed to the rocking chair for him.

"Banking," Preston sat down and began to rock the little boy.

Josef calmed, finding this curious stranger a fascinating creature.

"Tell Joey an' me a story 'bout banking," she neared him.

"Well," he raised an eyebrow. "People from all over the territory, or should I say soon-to-be state, deposit their money into my bank."

Katie tapped his arm, "Ya gotta start, 'Once upon a time...'"

"I beg your pardon?" Preston did not understand.

To his surprise, the little girl climbed up in his lap opposite her brother.

"Ya gotta start stories, 'Once upon a time,'" she repeated.

"It's my story," he refused to change. "I'll start it any way I please."

"Ya want Joey t' cry again?" she made a face.

Preston paused to look at the baby, then conceded, "Once upon a time...."

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

"Michaela," Sully asked as he helped Teresa across the street. "Who's watchin' the kids?"

She speeded her pace to keep up with him, "Preston was already at the Clinic when Loren told me I was needed at the barbershop."

"Ya let Preston watch our children?" he was surprised.

"He offered, and besides, it was only going to be until I could ascertain Mrs. Slicker's condition," she assured him. "Surely, he is capable of overseeing children for...."

They reached the doorway to her office, and she led the way in. As Sully helped Teresa onto the examining table, Michaela walked to the anteroom.

"Sully," she motioned quietly for him to join her. "Look."

There sitting on Preston's lap were Josef, playing with the banker's watch, and Katie who was responding to his questions.

"And what do you call the money that a debtor must pay in excess of the principal amount borrowed?" Preston continued to rock.

"Interest," Katie affirmed.

Michaela cleared her throat.

"Mama! Poppy!" the little girl slipped from Preston's lap. "Mr. Lodge tell story 'bout bankin'."

"So, I see, Sweetheart," she hugged her daughter.

"Pokle?" Josef asked his baby-sitter.

"I am informed by your sister that you eat entirely too many pickles, young man," Preston uncomfortably stood up and deposited the baby into his father's arms. "If you'll excuse me, I believe that I need to speak to Mrs. Madison about cleaning my suit jacket."

"Thanks for watchin' us, Mr. Lodge," Katie called after him. Then to her mother, the little girl added, "He like Joey an' me."

"That's understandable," Sully winked. "Come on, kids, let's let Mama look at her patient."

Sully closed the door so that Michaela could privately examine Teresa.

"Mrs. Slicker," she folded her hands. "Would you like to tell me what happened to you?"

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

"Michaela," Sully spoke low after settling their children into the anteroom. "Where's Miss Teresa?"

"I put her upstairs in a recovery room," she straightened up her desk.

"Did ya find out what happened?" he observed her busy work.

She folded her arms uncomfortably, "Jake was drunk and struck her."

"I figured as much," he shook his head in disgust.

"What are we going to do, Sully?" she sat down.

He sighed, "I ain't sure."

"She would not tell me very much," Michaela placed her folded hands on the desk.

"One thing's for sure," Sully's jaw tightened. "Jake ain't gettin' near her again."

"What if she refuses to stay away from him?" Michaela hypothesized. "She may feel differently when he sobers up."

"Dr. Quinn," Teresa's faint voice came from the stairway.

"Mrs. Slicker," Michaela rushed to her. "You really should not be out of bed."

"I must go home to my husband," she replied.

"He's sleepin' it off at the shop," Sully told her.

"He will need me when he wakes up," the woman straightened her hair.

"I really must advise you to spend the night here," Michaela counseled. "I'll stay here with you if...."

"My place is with my husband," she asserted.

"Miss Teresa," Sully stepped closer. "I don't think it's safe for ya t' be with him when he's been drinkin'."

"I know him," she said with resolve. "I can help him."

"Who's going to help you, Mrs. Slicker?" Michaela pointed out.

"How much do I owe you, Dr. Quinn?" Teresa's tone changed.

"We can discuss that when you're feeling better," Michaela worried.

"Thank you," she made her way to the door.

"Let me see ya home," Sully volunteered.

"No, thank you," she opened the door. "Good evening."

Michaela glanced at her husband with worry.

"I know," he pulled her into his arms. "You go ahead an' get the kids ready t' go. I gotta see Robert E about my horse."

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

"He's okay now, Sully," the blacksmith assured him. "I put a new shod on each o' his hooves."

"How much is that gonna run me?" Sully inquired.

"It's my way o' thankin' ya for helpin' me with them repairs last week," Robert E smiled broadly.

"Thanks," Sully patted his back.

"I hear Jake went on a bender," his friend noted.

"You an' Grace might wanna keep an eye on Miss Teresa," Sully took his horse's reins.

"What's wrong?" Robert E queried.

"Jake's been drinkin'," Sully confided. "He might not be treatin' her right."

"I'll keep a watch," the blacksmith stated. "'Sides, I got other reasons t' look out for trouble."

"What do ya mean?" he was curious.

"I been havin' a funny feelin' someone's watchin' me," Robert E shook his head.

Sully's brow creased, "Have ya seen anyone?"

"No, but there's someone there," he stood up straighter.

"Anythin' I can do?" Sully eyed him.

"Don't say nothin' t' anyone," Robert E picked up his hammer. "Not even Dr. Mike. No need worryin' 'em."

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

"Sully," Hank called from across the street as the mountain man neared the Clinic.

"What?" Sully stopped.

"How's Teresa?" the barkeeper appeared concerned.

"Who sold Jake the liquor?" Sully did not contain his disdain.

"You know who did," Hank stated. "Ain't no law against sellin' whiskey, or I'd go outa business."

"When ya sell it t' an alcoholic, there oughta be a law," Sully put his hands on his hips. "It's like givin' a match t' an arsonist."

"Sully, you an' me both know Jake drinks, but he's my friend," Hank asserted. "I ain't gonna stop sellin' him whiskey."

"I gotta wonder if he's your friend or your enemy," Sully tried to calm his voice.

"Nothin' t wonder about," Hank asserted. "He's my friend."

"Even if he hits his wife?" Sully's eyes turned cold.

"Jake wouldn't do that," Hank dismissed his comment.

"What if he did?" Sully pointed at him. "You wanna be responsible for that?"

"I ain't responsible for what he does when he's drinkin'," the bartender raised his voice.

Sully eyed him straight on, "If Jake lays another hand on his wife, I'll make ya responsible."

Before Hank could respond, Sully turned and entered the Clinic.

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

"Poppy," Katie folded her hands. "We borrow money?"

"What?" Sully helped his daughter into her nightgown. "What makes ya ask that?"

"Mr. Lodge say lots o' people borrow money from his bank," Katie's arm was stuck in the sleeve.

"Kates," Sully assisted her. "Let me put it this way. I don't like borrowin' money or anythin' else."

"Mr. Lodge bad?" she swayed her leg back and forth.

"I ain't sayin' that," he touched her nose. "I'm just sayin' that ya have a lot less trouble in life if ya don't borrow."

"You borrow Robert E's saw," she pointed out.

"Katherine Elizabeth Sully," Michaela entered the nursery in time to save her husband.

"What, Mama?" Katie suspected from her tone that her mother was angry.

Holding up her hairbrush, the mother cast a disapproving glance her way, "Do you have any idea why my brush is ruined?"

"I can esplain," the little girl said.

"I'm listening," Michaela put her hands on her hips.

"Wolf got tangles in his tail," the child informed her.

"You used my good hairbrush on Wolf?" Michaela's voice rose.

"No more tangles," Katie smiled.

"This is quite unacceptable," her temper rose. "I've had this brush since I was a little girl. My father gave it to me."

"I'm sorry, Mama," the child now perceived the gravity of what she had done.

"And this..." Michaela pulled Katie's doll from behind her back. "Do you know where I found it?"

"No," Katie bordered on crying.

"On the hallway floor," she set Annie on the bed. "It's important that you not leave your things lying in the middle of the floor. What if Josef were to trip over it?"

"I'm sorry, Mama," the child turned to hide her face.

Sully glanced at his wife, knowing without words she would understand that Katie was contrite.

"Come here," Michaela opened her arms.

Katie rushed to her mother's embrace, tears streaming down her cheeks, "Please don't be mad at me, Mama."

"I'm not angry, Katie," she softened. "I merely want you to think before you use things in the house. Think before you leave things on the floor. Can you do that for me?"

Katie nodded in agreement, "I love you, Mama."

"I love you, too, my darling," Michaela held her close until she had calmed. "Are you ready for bed now?"

"I gonna tell Annie an' Swirl a story t'night," Katie slid under her covers.

"Ya don't want me t' tell ya one?" Sully pretended to be hurt.

"Not t'night, Poppy," Katie patted his hand. "This is just for my girls."

Sully and Michaela stifled a laugh.

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

"Sorry 'bout your brush," Sully followed Michaela into the bedroom.

She sighed, and looked at the now-useless object. Then she turned to him.

"You can tell me a story, Mr. Sully," Michaela cast her husband a sultry gaze.

Pulling her into his strong arms, he spoke low, "Anythin' in particular you'd like t' hear?"

Inching him toward their bed, she spoke low," Something very romantic."

"I don't know if I can come up with somethin' romantic," he looked at the ceiling, playing hard to get.

She sighed, "Well, if you're not up to it...."

"Could I show ya somethin' romantic instead?" he proposed.

"Well...." Michaela loosened the tie on her robe. "I suppose that would suffice."

"Mmm," he kissed her neck. "I love sufficin'."

"You are rather good at it," she lovingly toyed with the hair beside his temples.

Lifting her into his arms, Sully began to kiss her as she continued to run her fingers through his hair. Then he began to spin around and around.

"Sully!" she tried to keep her voice down. "You'll make us dizzy, not to mention wake the baby."

"Ya already make me dizzy," he stopped.

"You are so much in my heart," she pulled closer.

Sully set her on the bed and hovering over her, removed his shirt. Extending his hand, he began to lightly run his palm across her body. Instantly, her physical reaction was evident.

In the voice she adored, he spoke:

"You were made perfectly to be loved."

She had trouble speaking, "B... Byron?"

"Elizabeth," he kissed her left breast.

"Barrett," he kissed her right.

"Browning," he reached her lips.

"Sully," her voice invited his further ministrations.

"I gotta be the luckiest man alive," he pulled back the hair from her face.

Then he lovingly traced her cheekbones, moving down the line of her jaw. Her passion was intensifying.

"Sully," she placed her hand over his heart. "Tell me again."

Knowing instantly what she desired, he kissed the tender skin of her neck, then whispered, "I love you, Michaela."

The way he said her name sent shivers down her spine, "You make me so happy."

His heart filled with love, "That's what I wanna do every day o' my life."

Repositioning their bodies to fulfill their desires, each touch kindled their powerful appetites. Six years of marriage had not dampened their ardor. In fact, it was their complete familiarity with one another that only heightened the satisfaction they derived from their intimacy.

Eager to consummate their union, they passionately sought to express their unwavering love. With their fevered bodies stirred further by caressing hands, they reached the ultimate fruition of their profoundly heartfelt yearning. Breathless and spent from their encounter, they fell silent.... warm, loved, complete.

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

A marriage encounter of a different nature was occurring in Colorado Springs. Jake Slicker, his mouth dry and his head aching from a hangover, rose from his chair. The room spun as he tried to steady himself.

"A drink," he thought. "Gotta get a drink t' steady my nerves."

"Jacob," Teresa heard him stumbling about.

His foggy mind struggled to speak, "What?"

"I wish to talk with you," she rose from their bed.

"I can't talk right now," he closed his eyes. "I... need t' go see Hank."

"I do not want you to leave," her voice was demanding.

"I don't care what ya want," he pushed past her and staggered toward the door.

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

It was dawn, and Jake Slicker had not returned home. Teresa had slept little, her head throbbed and her mind raced with worry. She was nauseous and a bit disoriented, but she determined to find her husband.

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

Across the street at the Gold Nugget, Hank completed dressing for the day and entered the saloon. There, passed out, his head on the table, was Jake.

Hank kicked his chair, "Wake up!"

"Mmmm?" Jake's vision was blurred.

"I let ya spend the night t' sleep it off, but ya gotta leave now," the bartender commanded.

"I need a drink first," Jake could hardly hold up his head.

Hank carefully eye him and pondered Sully's words, "Go home t' your wife."

"She don't understand me," the barber's head began to throb.

"I understand you quite well," Teresa Slicker stood at the doorway.

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

Michaela awoke snugly in her husband's embrace. Before the rest of the household arose, she turned to admire his handsome face. Through the years, she had memorized every inch of him, thinking there could not be a human being on earth whose features were more perfect. The fact that he loved her, was her soul mate, made her life complete, filled her with joy.

As she wrapped a strand of his hair around her finger, she found herself saying his name, "Sully."

"Mmm?" he opened an eye.

"Sorry," she blushed. "I didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep."

"When the most beautiful woman in the world is this close an' sayin' my name, how can I go back t' sleep?" he smiled.

She knew where to tickle him for an instant reaction, "I love you, Mr. Sully."

"MA!" Brian shouted from downstairs.

"I'm gonna have a talk with that boy 'bout his timin'," Sully frowned.

"Let me see what he wants, and I'll be right back," she pulled on her robe.

"Brian," she went to the top of the stairs. "Why are you shouting? You'll wake your brother and sister."

"Sorry," he was embarrassed. "I need my good white shirt for school t'day."

"It's in your cupboard," she informed him. "Is there something special at school?"

"We're havin' a guest speaker from Denver," he ran up the steps. "Miss Teresa wants us all t' dress in our best clothes."

Michaela's mind turned to Mrs. Slicker, "Brian, I want you to keep an eye on her today."

"Miss Teresa?" he did not understand. "Why?"

"She.... hurt her head yesterday," Michaela stated. "She may experience a headache or blurred vision. Let this information be our secret, but if you notice anything, send for me at once."

"Okay, Ma," he smiled. "I gotta get dressed now."

"We'll be down shortly," she kissed him.

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

"Where were we?" Michaela positioned herself next to her husband beneath the blanket.

"Um... I think ya just told me ya love me," his wayward hand began to excite her.

"OH!" she reacted to his touch in a sensitive area.

"Shh!" he winked. "We don't wanna wake up the...."

"Mama!" Katie knocked on their door.

"Children," Sully completed his sentence.

She kissed him, "Hold that thought."

"Ya got a busy mornin' at the Clinic?" Sully asked.

"Not that I anticipate," she climbed out of bed again.

As he pulled on his buckskins, Michaela glanced longingly at him for a moment. Then when he was dressed, she opened the door.

"Good morning, Sweetheart," she knelt down.

"I go with Bran t' school?" the little girl implored.

"No, Katie," Michaela lifted her up and set her on the bed. "You're too young."

"I'm five!" she asserted.

"Kates," Sully pulled her into his arms. "When you're six, you'll start t' school, an' ya know what?"

"What? she ran her hand across his rough face.

"You'll keep on goin' t' school for a lot more years," he told her. "Next, you'll wanna go t' college. Then...."

He stopped, realizing how fleeting the years were.

"Then what, Poppy?" she patted his shoulder.

"What I'm tryin' t' tell ya is, don't rush things," he touched her nose.

"Mama! Up!" Josef called from his crib.

"Coming," she went to her son. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yep," he grinned. "Ka-tee."

"Mornin', Joey," she sounded despondent.

"Sad?" Josef sensed her mood.

Katie tickled his foot, "No, let's go play."

Michaela covered his feet, then set her son down to join his sister.

Sully's voice stopped the little boy cold, "Mornin', Josef."

"Papa!" the toddler rushed to him. "Lif up!"

The proud father hoisted the child up to nearly touch the ceiling.

"Careful, Sully," the move always made Michaela nervous.

"Don't worry, Mama," Katie reassured her. "Poppy good at it."

"Your father is good at most things," Michaela turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Yep," the little girl agreed. "Come on, Joey."

Off the children went to play in Katie's room.

"Michaela," he pulled his wife into his arms.

"I have to fix breakf...." her lips were met by his.

He pulled back, "I know. I just wanted your attention."

"You certainly have it," her face was flushed.

"I been thinkin'," he rubbed his hands up and down her sides.

"Yes?" she tingled.

"Been thinkin' maybe it's time for us t' move Josef's crib int' another room," he broached the subject.

"But why?" she was apprehensive. "He's only 18 months old."

"'Bout how old Katie was when we moved her int' the nursery," he reminded her.

"But...." she stopped.

"Let's think on it," he kissed her again and walked to the basin to shave.

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

"Go home!" Jake did not turn around to face his wife.

She entered the saloon, "Soon there will be people coming and going in the street. Do you want them to see you like this?"

"They seen me like this before," he pulled the cork from the bottle of whiskey.

"Please do not do this, Jacob," she came around to face him.

He looked away, "Don't ya gotta go t' school soon?"

"Yes," she sighed.

Lowering her head, Teresa turned and left.

"Why ya doin' this when ya got a fine woman t' go home to?" Hank sat down.

"'Cause she ain't got a fine husband," Jake gulped down the glass of liquor.

"She thought enough o' you t' marry ya," the bartender countered.

"That was then," Jake was vague.

"So, what's changed?" Hank leaned back.

"I can't keep promises I made t' her," the barber's eyes began to redden.

Hank folded his arms, "Maybe she'd understand if ya give her a chance."

"She shouldn't have t' understand," Jake countered.

"Did you hit her yesterday?" Hank was direct.

"No," he could not look him in the eye.

"Jake," Hank doubted.

"It was an accident," he poured another drink.

"She walk int' your fist?" the bartender was sarcastic.

"I don't wanna talk about it anymore," Jake attempted to stand. "I gotta get t' the shop."

"Think anyone's gonna want ya t' shave 'em this mornin'?" Hank pointed to the alcoholic's trembling hands.

"Very funny," he picked up the bottle.

"Maybe ya oughta leave that here," Hank motioned toward the liquor.

"Ya sayin' I ain't good for it?" Jake became belligerent.

"Never mind," he did not want to start a fight.

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

"Mornin' Dr. Mike," Loren greeted the town physician as she entered his store.

"Mmm?" she seemed distracted.

"I said, 'mornin'," he repeated.

"Oh," she shifted Josef to her other hip. "Good morning, Loren."

"Mr. Bw... Bray," Katie lifted up on tip toes to see above the counter. "I here, too."

"Katie, girl!" he beamed. "Ya helpin' your Ma shop?"

"No," she smiled. "I come t' see your candy."

"Did ya, now?" he chuckled. "Well, step over here, an' let's see what I got."

"Katie," Michaela set Josef down. "One piece."

"Hey," Josef toddled to the shopkeeper.

Loren leaned over, "Well, well, who's this fine lad? Can ya say your name?"

"Jos," he grinned, then put his finger in his mouth.

"An' how old are ya?" the old man quizzed.

Josef pulled his finger from his mouth and held it up.

"Can ya say how old that is?" Loren teased.

"One," the little boy stated clearly.

"Well, that's a first," Michaela smiled. "We've been working on his saying his age, but this is the first time it worked."

"Sometimes it just takes someone outside the family t' get kids t' do things," Loren held his back as he stood up.

Michaela placed her basket of goods on the counter, "We don't consider you outside of the family."

Loren changed the subject, "Did ya find what ya want there, Katie?"

"Can't 'side," she folded her arms.

Josef tugged at her dress and pointed.

"No, Joey," she shook her head. "Too 'spensive."

"The child has a good eye for money," Loren noted.

"I didn't know that she understood the value of money," Michaela stated. "I wonder if her father has been teaching her."

"Don't seem like somethin' Sully would do," Loren began adding up her order. "More likely he'd take her out int' the woods t' chase a deer an' eat tree bark."

Katie called, "Here, Mr. Bray. This one."

"That ain't your usual lemon drops," the store owner went to her and opened the jar.

"I try this," she sounded certain.

"Okay," he agreed. "Let's add things up now."

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

"See anythin' suspicious last night?" Sully asked Robert E

"I sat out on the porch 'til real late," he responded. "Jake left home an' spent the night at the Gold Nugget."

"With a woman?" Sully feared.

"Don't know," Robert E answered. "Miss Teresa went over there early this mornin', an' he came staggerin' out a few minutes later."

"Drunk?" he rubbed his hand across his upper lip.

"I'd say he was gettin' there," the blacksmith surmised.

"Did ya get that feelin' that someone's watchin' ya again last night?" Sully asked.

"I got it, all right," Robert E looked around uncomfortably.

"Maybe I oughta spend the night in town an' scout for ya," Sully offered.

"Ain't necessary just 'cause I got a feelin'," his friend smiled.

"I don't mind, Robert E," Sully patted his back. "Ain't like ya t' be worried over nothin'."

"Come on," the blacksmith removed his protective apron. "I'll buy ya a cup a coffee. I know a good cafe."

The two men headed for Grace's unaware that they were being followed.

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

"Ma!" Brian burst through the Clinic door out of breath. "It's Miss Teresa. Ya gotta come quick."

She reached for her medical bag, "Stay here with the children, Brian. Is she at school?"

"Yes," he informed her.

As she raced for the little red structure, Sully observed his wife.

"Robert E," he bolted up. "Somethin's wrong at the school."

Both men caught up to Michaela as she neared the building. In front of the classroom on the floor was Teresa Slicker, unconscious near her desk. Some of the children were crying. The guest speaker, a museum curator, was clearly flustered.

"Kids," Sully spoke up. "Let's all go outside. Mrs. Slicker won't mind if ya go home a little early t'day. Dr. Mike's gonna take good care o' her."

"I'll go get Jake," Robert E escorted the children out.

"Not if he's been drinkin'," Sully counseled.

By the time the children were removed from the classroom, Michaela had managed to bring Teresa back to consciousness. Sully knelt down beside them.

"Mrs. Slicker, I really must insist that I give you a more thorough examination at my clinic," Michaela asserted.

"No," she waved her off. "That is not possible."

"Passin' out ain't somethin' t' be ignored," Sully supported his wife. "Let me help ya over."

Teresa tried to stand on her own, "No, no thank you. I have not eaten today. It has nothing to do with my head."

Sully helped her to her chair, "My wife's the best doctor in the territory, Miss Teresa. Please."

"Let me look at your eyes," Michaela opened her bag and removed her scope.

The woman pulled away, "No, Dr. Quinn!"

Michaela decided to be direct, "Mrs. Slicker! Please let me check your eyes."

"All right," she sighed.

Michaela found the woman's pupils to be slow to react to change in light, "Have you experienced any drowsiness?"

"Some," she said.

"Nausea?" the doctor continued.

Teresa did not respond.

"Mrs. Slicker?" Michaela probed.

"Enough of your examination and questions," she rose quickly.

Suddenly, she fell back. Sully scooped her into his arms.

"Let's go," he headed for the door.

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

As Robert E passed the Cafe to return to the school, he noticed a man sitting in the far back table at his wife's establishment. He motioned to Grace.

"What ya want, Robert E?" Grace reached him.

"That man over there," he subtly gestured. "He been here before?"

She put her hand on her hip, "First time I ever saw him. Why?"

"Just wondered," he felt uneasy.

"Look," she pointed. "Sully's carryin' Miss Teresa."

Robert E rushed to his friend and helped to carry the woman inside the Clinic. They gently placed her on the examining table, then stepped back to let Michaela work. Opening the door to the anteroom, Brian was upset at the sight of his beloved teacher on the table.

"Ma?" he tentatively spoke.

"Not now, Brian," she pulled out her stethoscope.

"Pa," his voice shook.

Sully stepped forward and put his arm around the young man, "Come on. Let's take the kids over t' the Cafe."

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

"Pa," Brian said. "I'm gonna go back t' the school t' get my books. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Okay," Sully nodded.

"Sully," Robert E sat beside his friend. "'Fore I came t' help ya with Miss Teresa, I noticed a fella over there.

"Poppy," Katie patted her father's knee. "I go talk t' Mr. Lodge?"

"What, Kates?" Sully could not fathom her request.

"Over there by himself," she pointed. "I go see him?"

"All right," he caressed her cheek. "But only for a couple o' minutes."

"Am I seein' things?" Robert E grinned. "Preston talkin' t' your little girl?"

"An' she's been asking questions about bankin' t' her Ma an' me," Sully chuckled. Then as he cradled Josef, his expression turned serious, "Tell me 'bout this fella ya saw. Ya think he's the one been followin' ya?"

"Papa," Josef squirmed. "Ka-tee."

"Okay," Sully set him down and watched his son toddle to his sister.

While keeping a close watch on his children, Sully listened to his friend.

"It's only a feelin'," the blacksmith confided. "But I think that's the man."

"Any idea where he went?" he asked.

"No," Robert E told him. "By the time I got back from the school, he was gone."

"What about Jake?" Sully recalled. "Ya went t' get him at the shop."

"Door was locked up tight, an' he didn't answer when I pounded," he explained.

"He's probably passed out again," Sully noticed that both of his children were now seated on Preston's lap.

Hank turned the corner and approached their table, "Understand there was some excitement at school."

"Miss Teresa fainted," Robert E looked up.

Hank tucked his thumbs into his gun belt and motioned toward Preston, "Ya pretty desperate for baby-sitters now, Sully?"

"Think ya might like t' give it a try next?" Sully eyed him.

"Very funny," Hank returned to the more serious topic. "Jake know his wife's unconscious?"

"He's most likely in the same condition," Sully stood up. "I'll be back in a minute, Robert E. Wanna check on the kids."

"I went t' the barbershop," Robert E informed Hank. "He didn't answer the door."

"I'll go check on him then," the bartender departed.

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

"What is it, Dr. Quinn?" Teresa sat up.

"You have a concussion," the physician explained. "You're going to have to rest for a few days."

"I cannot miss school," the woman insisted. "It is our last week."

"Mrs. Slicker, if you don't take care of yourself...." she stopped when she saw the woman become teary eyed. Michaela poured her a glass of water, "Here, drink this." The physician placed her hand on Teresa's back, "May I ask you something?"

"What?" she stiffened.

Michaela folded her hands, "Since our first meeting, you have for some reason felt an anger towards me. You are kind to my children, cordial to my husband, but to me, you show nothing but resentment. I fail to understand why. Do you blame me for Mr. Morales' death?"

Teresa thought back to that terrible day when her first husband was mauled by a mountain lion.

Surprised at the doctor's bluntness, she replied, "I know that you did what you could for Guillermo."

"Then what is it?" Michaela probed. "Why do you dislike me so much?"

"I... I do not dislike you," the teacher softened her tone.

"You resist my professional recommendations," Michaela continued. "You refuse to acknowledge that I want to help you."

"I appreciate your intentions, Doctor, but this is not your business," she set down the glass. "I really must return to my husband now."

"I'm a doctor, and your health and well being are my business," Michaela stepped closer. "Jake is my friend. I would like for you to be, as well."

"You cannot be all things to all people," Teresa stated.

"What does that mean?" Michaela stood up straighter.

"Are you a doctor, or are you a wife and mother?" the woman retorted.

"I consider myself to be all of those," she was puzzled.

"It is impossible to serve two masters with your whole heart," Teresa noted.

"I hardly think of my husband as a master," Michaela took her statement literally.

"Then perhaps you should think again," Teresa stood to leave.

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

"Jake," Hank tapped the side of his face. "Wake up."

"Mmmm?" he tried to focus through blurred vision.

"I said wake up!" Hank stood him up. "Teresa fainted at school t'day."

"What?" Jake tried to steady himself. "Where is she? Is she all right?"

"She's at the Clinic," the bartender informed him. "I think ya oughta go over an' be with her."

"I'll go, soon as I get a drink," the barber glanced around the room for his bottle.

"Be better if ya went t' her sober," Hank observed.

"How'd ya get in here anyway?" Jake splashed some cold water on his face. "The door was locked."

"I got my ways," Hank grinned. "Come on. Get yourself over there now."

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

There was a tentative knock at the door, "Michaela?"

It was Sully.

"Mrs. Slicker, I would prefer that you go up to one of my recovery rooms and rest until dinner," the doctor requested.

"Your husband is in need of your attention," Teresa pointed to the door.

"He knows that I'm with you at the moment," she assured her.

"I cannot understand how you disregard the needs of your husband and children," Teresa shook her head.

"What makes you say that?" Michaela became defensive.

"He is out there waiting for you," the woman motioned. "You ignore his beckon."

"Sully understands that when I'm with a patient...." Michaela did not get the opportunity to finish.

"My husband will want his dinner soon," Teresa slid from the table, a bit queasy.

Michaela noticed, but before she could comment, the sound of men arguing could be heard outside on the sidewalk. Rushing to open the door, Michaela saw Sully attempting to dissuade Jake from entering the Clinic. Swiftly, she lifted Josef from her husband's arms and escorted the children into the anteroom.

"I demand t' see my wife!" Jake was held back by Hank.

"I am here, Jacob," Teresa made her way to the door.

Attempting to steady himself, he looked at her, "Are ya all right?"

"No," Michaela returned in time. "She is far from all right."

"What's wrong with her?" Jake pulled away from Hank's grasp.

"Come, we will go home," Teresa stepped closer.

"Mrs. Slicker, please," Michaela begged.

She pivoted to face the physician, "I am going home with my husband."

"One second," Sully raised his hand and pulled Jake aside. In a low and controlled voice, he warned, "Listen, an' listen good. If I find out you laid a hand on her again...."

"It was an accident, Sully," Jake excused his behavior.

Sully grasped the front of his shirt tightly, "You don't EVER touch a woman like that! Ya got that?"

Jake felt a rush of fear, "Yes."

Hank neared, "Jake, no more booze from the Gold Nugget either."

The barber looked both of the men in the eye, then took his wife's arm. Together, they crossed the street to return to the shop. Brian arrived in time to see them depart.

"Miss Teresa okay, Ma?" he was concerned.

"Apparently, she thinks she is," Michaela sighed.

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

Sully entered the bedroom, having locked up the house for the night. Michaela was reading her medical journal so intently, she did not react to his arrival. After undressing and washing up, he pulled up the sheet and climbed into bed.

"Thought any more 'bout what I suggested this mornin'?" he rested his chin on her shoulder.

"What's that?" she glanced up from her reading.

"'Bout movin' Josef outa our room," Sully touched her thigh.

"Sully!" she tingled.

"Mmm?" he grinned.

"It's a big step," she set her reading on the end table.

"Michaela," he rubbed her arm. "Josef's gettin' old enough t'.... hear us an' wonder what we do sometimes."

"We've never wakened him when we...." she hesitated to complete the thought.

"Yet," he smiled.

"But he's still a baby," she reasoned.

"He's walkin', talkin', an'...." he stopped. "I can see ya ain't ready t' discuss this."

He turned onto his side away from her and lowered his lamp.

"Are you upset with me?" she touched his arm.

"No," he mumbled.

"Yes, you are," she felt uncomfortable.

There was silence.

"I thought you did a wonderful thing today," she rubbed his back.

"What's that?" he did not look at her.

"The way you stood up for Mrs. Slicker and told Jake not to lay a hand on her," she said with admiration.

"I'd do it for anyone," he did not react to her compliment.

"Are you pouting, Mr. Sully?" she spoke near his neck.

There was no response. Then the harsh words that Teresa Slicker had spoken to her earlier came back to her.

"Sully," her tone was different. "Do you think I pay enough attention to you and the children?"

"What?" he could tell she was sincere. "Why would ya ask such a thing?"

"Something Mrs. Slicker said to me," her voice choked slightly.

He turned over and pulled her into his arms, "Michaela, you know what we got. Don't let what she says upset ya."

"I'm concerned about her," a tear appeared at the corner of her eye. "She needs to stay in bed for several days, but.... she won't listen to me."

"That what's botherin' ya?" he touched her teardrop. "Ya think she don't respect ya as a doctor?"

"She doesn't even respect me as a woman," Michaela let him know. "She says I cannot serve two masters... my family and my career."

The scent of her, the nearness of her, the timbre of her voice instantly stirred him, but he resisted responding.

"Ya sure serve me," he grinned.

"When you say things like that, it makes me feel very warm inside," she was tempting.

He found her impossible to resist, "What kind o' warm inside?"

"The kind that makes me want to...." she stopped speaking to kiss him.

He cupped her chin in his hand,

"My whole heart rises up to bless
Your name in pride and thankfulness."

She smiled, "Shakespeare?"

"Robert Browning," he returned her kiss.

"Another Browning?" she teased.

"Well, if you'd prefer I quote someone else...." his voice trailed off.

She caressed his face, "I love you so much, Sully."

"I know that," he raised her hand to his lips. "An' I love you, more with every second we're t'gether. Don't let anyone else's words make ya doubt what we feel."

"You are an incredible man," she traced his lips with her finger.

He kissed her again. Their yearnings began to rise quickly. The outside world no longer existed when they visited this magical world only they two knew. Suddenly, as their passions intensified, they heard a voice.

"Mama," it was Josef standing in his crib.

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

"What is it, Sweetheart?" Michaela went to her son's crib.

"Pokle," the little boy requested.

"No, Josef," she lifted him. "You can't have a pickle right now."

"Papa?" he pointed to his father.

Sully smiled, "Come here, big boy."

A beautiful smile crossed the child's face, filling with joy the hearts of his parents. Josef reached out to his father, and Michaela handed him to Sully.

"Now, listen up, Joe," his expression was very serious. "Ya got real bad timin', son."

"Sully!" Michaela tapped his arm.

"Well, he does," Sully lifted the baby above his head. "Ya gotta go back t' sleep. Okay?"

"'Kay," Josef had no idea what he was agreeing to.

Sully kissed his fair skin as the baby yawned.

"Mama," he requested.

"Now, my darling," she cradled him. "Let's go sit in the chair and see if that helps you go back to sleep."

She took him to the rocking chair and began the rhythmic motion back and forth. In one hand, the little boy clasped his mother's long hair, and in the other, he curved his little fingers around her thumb. She hummed softly to him.

Sully watched them with a lump in his throat, "Too bad Teresa Slicker can't see ya now."

"Pardon me?" she glanced up.

"What a sight it is, watchin' you with our children," he smiled.

Soon the baby was peacefully sleeping, and Michaela placed him in his crib.

Returning to her husband, she snuggled closer, "I suppose I'd better consider more seriously about Josef's sleeping in another room."

Sully stroked her arm, "Not if you or he ain't ready. I was bein' selfish, Michaela."

"No," she lovingly touched her palm to his cheek. "One thing you are definitely NOT, Mr. Sully, is selfish."

He warmed at her touch, "What am I then?"

"Loving," she kissed his cheek. "Caring," she kissed his other cheek. "Compassionate," she kissed the tip of his nose.

"How 'bout here?" he pointed to his lips.

"Passionate," she leaned forward to claim his lips.

Their kiss deepened, and pulses began to race. Soon, both became breathless. Their bodies reacted to these overtures of intimacy, and an aching urgency arose in them. Michaela ran her fingers across his broad chest, her feathery touches causing his pulse to race. Sully's mouth moved down her neck as she leaned back to allow him freer access. His hands masterfully awakened every pore in her being.

The anticipation of their union created unbelievable longings in them until finally, they gave themselves totally to one another. Their bodies shuddered at the crest of their passion. Then, tenderly, gently, their caresses affirmed their love. Soon, cocooned in one another's arms, they fell asleep.

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

Robert E was awakened by a creak of the floorboard from his front porch. He turned to Grace. She was still asleep. Given his uneasiness of the past few days and the events at the Slicker household, he felt compelled to investigate. Rising from the bed, he pulled on his pants and raised his suspenders. He opened the front door of his house and suddenly felt an explosive blow to his head.

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

"Sully!" Matthew's voice called from downstairs.

Michaela shook her husband to rouse him, "Sully, Matthew's calling."

Swiftly he pulled on his buckskins and rushed downstairs, "What's wrong?"

"Miss Grace sent me t' get ya," he was out of breath.

"What is it, Matthew?" Michaela had pulled on her robe.

"It's Robert E," the young man wiped his brow. "He's gone. Miss Grace found blood on the front porch, an' the front door was left open."

"I'll be right there," Sully bounded up the steps.

As he finished dressing, Michaela entered the bedroom.

"What could have happened?" she handed him his beads and medicine pouch.

"He's had a feelin' lately someone's been watchin' him," Sully wrapped his belt around his waist.

"Why?" she wondered. "Who would do this?"

"Don't know," he was ready to leave.

"Grace must be frantic," she chilled at the thought.

"I'll find him," he kissed her on the cheek.

"Sully," she beckoned him back.

"I know," he returned to her arms. "I'll be careful."

A more passionate kiss preceded his departure. Michaela began to dress, knowing that Grace would need the support of her friends.

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

Matthew rang the town bell, and a crowd began to assemble. Meanwhile, Sully scanned the area around Robert E's house, determining that there had been only one man who had abducted his friend, but two horses were used in the kidnapping. They had headed east out of town.

Matthew announced to the throng, "Robert E's been abducted, an' we need t' organize a search party t' go look for him. Who's willin' t' go?"

"How ya know he didn't leave on his own?" Loren spoke up.

Sully answered, "There's blood on the porch, fairly fresh. We need t' move fast. I figure they got about 3 or 4 hours head start."

Horace stepped forward, "I'll go!"

"I reckon I ain't got anythin' better t' do," Hank lit a cigar.

"Anyone else?" Matthew glanced around.

"I'll help," it was Jake's voice from the back of the crowd.

"Sure ya feel up t' it?" Loren was skeptical.

"Yes, I feel up to it," Jake made a face.

"Get your horses an' meet back here in 15 minutes," Sully commanded.

Dorothy held Grace near, "Don't worry, now. They'll find him."

Sully approached them, "Grace, is there anythin' else ya can tell me that might help?"

"I can't think o' anythin'," she shook her head.

"Can ya bring me some o' his clothing for Wolf t' use t' pick up his scent?" he requested.

When Grace turned to go into the house, Dorothy asked, "Who could've done this, Sully?"

"I don't know," he glanced down at the blood again.

Grace returned and handed him a shirt, "Anythin' else?"

"One thing," Sully said. "Do ya remember yesterday at the Cafe seein' a stranger?"

"Yes," she clasped her hands together tightly. "Robert E asked if I'd seen him before."

"Can ya tell me what he looked like?" the mountain man inquired.

"Real respectable lookin' man," Grace recalled. "Maybe 'bout 35 years old. Dark hair an' eyes. He was wearin' a black broadcloth jacket. Had a shotgun restin' against his table. He looked sorta like a preacher."

"That's real good, Grace," Sully touched her arm. "We'll find him."

Assembling the search party , Sully described the man who might have abducted Robert E. Soon they were on their way in search of the town blacksmith.

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

Michaela, Grace and Dorothy sat at the Cafe, the Sully children playing nearby. Teresa Slicker approached.

"Miss Grace," she folded her hands. "I am sorry to hear that your husband is missing."

"Thanks, Miss Teresa," Grace stood. "Can I get ya some coffee?"

"No, thank you," she replied. "Although it is Saturday, I have school work to attend to."

"Please sit down for a spell," Dorothy encouraged.

The woman looked toward Michaela.

"Perhaps my being here makes you uncomfortable," the doctor commented. "I'll leave you."

"No, Dr. Quinn," Teresa raised her hand. "That won't be necessary."

"How have you been feeling?" Michaela queried.

"Better," the woman was not truthful.

Michaela could tell from her pale appearance that she was lying, "When your symptoms frighten you sufficiently, perhaps you'll find my services helpful."

The physician stepped away from them to check on her children. The little ones giggled and hugged her when she knelt down to them. Teresa watched with interest.

"She's an amazin' woman," Grace noticed the teacher's attention. "Don't know how she does it."

"What is that?" Teresa eyed her.

Grace instinctively knew what was on her mind, "How she takes care o' so many folks who need her, all the while tendin' t' her husband an' children."

"I admire her," Dorothy smiled.

"When a woman has a family, all else must come second," Teresa spoke.

"I agree," Dorothy nodded. "But that don't mean ya have t' give up all other things, like a career. Michaela has a gift. The gift o' healin'. I can't imagine this town without her sharin' that gift with us."

"Me either," Grace concurred. "She's had t' overcome a lot o' prejudices t' practice medicine here. Still, some folks don't accept her."

"Just like when you became our teacher, Teresa" Dorothy added. "Ya know what prejudice feels like, comin' from a different culture. An' no one asked ya t' quit teachin' when ya married Jake. In most places, that wouldn't be allowed."

"I am aware of this," Teresa began to ponder their words.

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

Brian approached his mother, "Hey, Ma. Any word on Robert E yet?"

"No," she stood up and kissed him. "Nothing."

"What are we gonna do 'bout our trip t' Philadelphia?" he lifted Josef. "Matthew an' me are supposed t' leave on Monday. What if he ain't back yet?"

"Bran," Katie tugged at his leg. "Don't use 'ain't.'"

"Sorry," he grinned.

Then the young man spotted his teacher. He took his brother and sister to greet her, but Michaela stayed back.

"Miss Teresa," he smiled. "How ya feelin'?"

Her face brightened, "I am much better, Brian." Taking the baby's hand, she said, "What is your name, little one?"

"Jos," he bounced up and down.

"And this is Katie, I remember," she touched the little girl's cheek.

"I come t' school?" Katie was enthralled at the notion.

"How old are you?" Teresa inquired.

"Five," the child answered.

"Next year, then," the teacher informed her.

"That what Mama an' Poppy say," she looked down.

Michaela approached them, "Grace, I'm going over to the Clinic now. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"No, thank ya, Dr. Mike," she responded. "I figure keepin' busy here will help me some."

"I'll check back with you later then," Michaela glanced at her family. "Let's go, children."

Katie skipped along behind her mother and brothers as they departed.

Teresa Slicker stood up to go, but suddenly went limp and fell to the ground unconscious.

"Michaela!" Dorothy screamed.

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

The search party forged on in their quest to rescue Robert E. Sully estimated that they were about an hour behind the abductor, and with a brief rest of the horses, they could catch up by evening. Thus, they stopped to water the animals.

"Ya know," Horace commented. "That man Grace described sounds familiar. I think I read about a bounty hunter who dresses like a preacher."

Sully was interested, "A bounty hunter?"

"Why would a bounty hunter want Robert E?" Matthew wondered.

"Maybe someone from his past has caught up with him," Sully speculated.

"We don't know much about his past," Hank interjected.

Sully noticed that Jake had strayed off from the group and trailed after him. Beneath his jacket, the barber pulled out a small flask of liquor and opened it.

Sully spoke up, "Think that's gonna make your headache go away?"

Jake quickly hid the container, "Don't know what you're talkin' about."

"Look at me, Jake," Sully urged him.

"What?" he turned around to face him, hands trembling.

"Your shakes will go away after ya stop drinkin'," Sully began. "But what's happened between you an' Miss Teresa...."

"Ain't none o' your business," he interrupted.

"Seems like you're pilin' one problem on top o' another," Sully told him.

"Don't know what ya mean," Jake stated.

"I think ya do," Sully said. "Ya claim ya hit your wife by accident. I don't know exactly how that is, but I gotta wonder if ya ever laid a hand on her when ya was sober."

"'Course not," Jake denied.

"So I reckon drinkin' affects your judgment," he reasoned.

"Look, Sully," the barber put his hands on his hips. "I take a drink now an' then t' steady my nerves. Nothin' wrong with that."

"You think I really believe that?" Sully doubted.

Jake stiffened, "Don't matter if ya believe me. It's the truth."

"No, it ain't," Hank found them.

Sully backed away and left them to speak in private.

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

Michaela spoke softly to Teresa, "Mrs. Slicker...."

"Wha.... What happened?" she was disoriented.

"You fainted again," Michaela removed her stethoscope from her ears.

The woman glanced around the Clinic examining room, "What is wrong with me, Doctor?"

Michaela smiled, "Nothing that some bed rest and proper diet won't help."

"Why do you think this is something to smile about?" Teresa noticed her expression.

"Because you're going to have a baby," Michaela touched her arm.

"I am with child?" she felt flush.

"You are," Michaela confirmed. "After you told me you had been hit, I concentrated on a cranial injury, but today I did a more thorough examination based on some of your other symptoms."

Teresa sat up, "Did you tell anyone else?"

"No," Michaela replied.

"This is good news," she touched her abdomen.

"Yes," the doctor agreed. "But there are some precautions that I want you to observe. I would say that you are a little over two months along, and you are still suffering the effects of a concussion. I'll make a list of things that you should follow."

"Dr. Quinn," Teresa stopped her. "I am sorry for how I have acted."

Michaela softened, "Let's discuss your condition and what you need to do."

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

A beautiful raven haired woman stepped from the train at the Depot. Preston could not help but be taken by her stunning looks. He approached her.

"Good afternoon," he flashed a broad grin. "Welcome to Colorado Springs."

"Thank you," she smiled. "I'm looking for Mr. Horace Bing."

"Horace?" the banker was surprised. "He's not here right now, but perhaps I can be of assistance. Preston A. Lodge, III."

"Mr. Lodge" she shook his hand. "I'm afraid I must see Mr. Bing."

"Oh?" he raised an eyebrow. "May I inquire why?"

"I am to marry him," she announced.

"Marry Horace?" Preston chuckled. "Why has he said nothing?"

"He ordered me," she stated.

"Ordered you, Madam?" he was curious.

"I'm a mail order bride," she clarified.

"Well, leave it to Horace to keep you a secret from us," he tried to sound charming. "Certainly, you'll need a place to stay.... until your nuptials, of course. May I offer my Chateau? It has the finest accommodations in the area."

She nodded politely, "That would be most kind of you, Mr. Lodge. My trunk is over there."

"Let me have one of my men get it for you," he showed her to his carriage. "I shall personally escort you to the hotel. Uh, I didn't catch your name."

"Eleanor Waldron," she smiled.

"And you're going to marry Horace?" he shook his head.

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

Robert E awoke to find himself draped over a horse as it trotted along. His head throbbed, his stomach was empty and his lungs were full of dust. He tried to look around, but his hands and feet were bound and his movements limited.

"You're awake, are ya?" a voice spoke to him as the horses stopped.

Robert E remained silent. He saw a man's black boots approach him. Suddenly, the stranger yanked up his head.

"When I speak, ya answer, boy," a Southern accent was discernible.

"I.... I'm awake," Robert E replied.

"That's better," the man loosened his hands.

He pulled him up so that the blacksmith fell back off of the horse. With his feet still tied, he could not move, and with a shotgun aimed at him, he dare not try anyway.

"Who are you?" Robert E rubbed his wrists.

"My name's Frazer," he offered a canteen of water to his captive. "Patrick Frazer. Folks call me Reverend Pat."

"You're a reverend?" Robert E found it incredulous.

"Don't I look like one?" the man sounded offended.

"Never knew a minister t' kidnap folks for his congregation," Robert E was sarcastic.

Frazer cocked his gun, "Can't say I care for your sense o' humor, boy."

"Sorry," Robert E tried to keep his calm. "Mind if I ask where you're takin' me an' why?"

The man lowered his weapon, "Takin' ya back t' your master's family."

A chill went through Robert E's body, "My master? Don't know what ya mean."

"Ya killed him," Frazer pointed out. "They want ya back for trial."

"Where might this be?" the blacksmith tried to assess his chances for escape.

"Virginia," the man answered.

"What makes ya think I killed a man?" Robert E stalled.

"They been lookin' for ya for a long time," Frazer circled around him. "At first they didn't know what happened t' old Giddings, but they finally got the truth outa your nephew."

"My nephew?" Robert E's heart stopped.

"You an' your brother, along with his boy was escapin'," the man reminded him. "Ya reached the swamps. Giddings shot your brother, was gonna drown the boy, but ya stopped him, then broke his neck."

"I... I think you're mistaken, Mr. Frazer," Robert E's stomach tightened. "Ya got the wrong man."

"No," he smiled. "I ain't mistaken."

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

Hank eyed his friend, "Pour it out, Jake."

"You're a hypocrite t' stand there an' tell me somethin' like that," Jake opened the flask.

"I said pour it out!" Hank's voice rose.

Jake hesitated.

"Do ya love your wife?" Hank said.

"'Course I do," the barber replied.

"Then stop doin' this t' yourself... and t' her," Hank asserted. "You're an alcoholic. Ya can't drink. I don't know what makes some men that way, but I know that it'll ruin your life if ya don't stop."

"My life's ruined anyway," he looked down.

"How can ya think that?" the bartender grew impatient.

"I can't give her what she deserves," Jake was near tears.

"Ya keep sayin' that," he answered. "Why?"

"'Cause I promised t' build her a house years ago," he came out with it. "But, I can't afford to."

Hank chuckled, "An' ya think that means ya ain't worthy of her?"

"A woman expects her husband t' provide for her," he sighed.

"Jake! Hank! Come on," Sully's voice beckoned.

"We'll finish this later," Hank turned to leave.

Jake stared at his flask of whiskey. Then, taking a deep breath, he poured out its contents.

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

With Mrs. Slicker home and no patients remaining, Michaela took some time to play with her children. Sitting in the anteroom rocking chair, she was particularly watchful over Josef since Sully had mentioned moving him from their room. He was so alert and curious. How the little boy adored his sister, listened so intently to her every word, laughed when she made a joke or a face at him.

And how they reminded her of their father. She thought about how competitive she had been with her sisters, particularly Marjorie. They could never play together peacefully. She wondered about why Katie and Josef were so sharing and noncompetitive with each other. Perhaps it was the fact that they were different sexes or over three years different in age.

No, she smiled, it was because of Sully. He took such an active interest in their children... from his bedtime stories to his excursions with them, they knew they never had to compete for the attention of their father.

Katie noticed her mother's faraway look, and crawled into her lap, "What ya doin', Mama?"

"Thinking," Michaela pulled her into her arms.

"'Bout Poppy?" the child guessed.

Michaela smiled, "In a way."

"Where he go?" she toyed with a strand of her mother's hair.

"He went to look for Robert E," she replied.

"Don't worry," she kissed her mother's cheek. "Poppy good at findin'."

"Yes, he is," she agreed.

"Ka-tee," Josef tapped his sister's knee. "Play."

"Sweetheart, what would you think if we put Josef's crib in the nursery with you when your Daddy comes home?" Michaela broached the subject.

"Joey sleep in my room?" her eyes lit up.

"Yes," Michaela smiled. "But it would become his room, too."

"Good thinkin', Mama," Katie beamed. "We have fun."

"I would hope that there would be some sleep, as well," she chuckled. "We'll discuss it further when your father returns."

************
Chapter 7
************

It was nearing sundown when the search party came upon the site where Robert E had been removed from the horse. Sully discerned two sets of footprints and determined that the men had stopped here within the hour. Wolf was much more animated in picking up the scent now.

"We're close," Sully advised the others. "Gotta be real careful from here on. This man's dangerous. He carries a shotgun, an' if he's a bounty hunter, he more 'n likely knows how t' use it real good."

With their senses heightened, the men continued their journey.

"Been thinkin' 'bout your problem," Hank spoke low to Jake.

"What problem?" his head throbbed.

"Buildin' a house for Teresa," he reminded him.

"What about it?" Jake asked.

"I could loan ya the money for it," the bartender offered.

"Ain't a good idea to borrow money from friends," the barber stated.

"There's always Preston," Hank joked.

"Even worse borrowin' from enemies," he retorted.

Sully could not help but overhear, "Ya need someone t' build ya a house?"

"Maybe," Jake was evasive.

"I could do it," Sully volunteered.

"Why are ya offerin'?" the barber was skeptical.

"'Cause ya need help," Sully simply replied. "I got the time."

"I can't afford t' pay ya much," Jake noted.

"Pay me as ya can," the mountain man said.

"I'll think about it," he replied.

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

"Grace," Michaela approached her friend while the children waited in the wagon. "Why don't you spend the night with us at the homestead?"

"No, thank ya, Dr. Mike," she smiled nervously. "Dorothy's gonna stay with me. I'll be okay."

"You'll send word to me the moment you hear anything?" Michaela embraced her.

"I will," Grace nodded. "I have faith. They'll find him."

"I know they will," she smiled.

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

With Brian's assistance, Michaela bathed the children. Water was everywhere since the two little ones turned the experience into a splashing battle.

Finally, the sweet smelling duo was ready for bed. Josef fell asleep quickly, and Michaela took him to his crib, but Katie, as usual, was the challenge.

Brian attempted to deal with her delays while Michaela settled the baby into her room.

"Bran, I got a question," the little girl said. "When Poppy comin' home? He didn't say 'bye."

"He had t' leave real quick t' go help Robert E," Brian smiled. "He'll be back soon."

After some reflection, she spoke what was on her mind, "Why Poppy dress different from other folks?"

"Ya mean wearin' buckskins?" he clarified.

"Yep," she nodded.

"Pa used t' live with the Cheyenne," Brian informed her. "They taught him how t' make clothes from deer hide, an' livin' outdoors for so many years, it was a good protection for him."

"Poppy's clothes made from deer?" she was horrified.

"Uh oh," he had forgotten her disdain for hunting. "Well.... the deer didn't mind."

"No, Bran," her voice quivered. "I don't want Poppy t' wear deer."

Michaela entered the room, "What's wrong?"

"Sorry, Ma," Brian stood up. "Katie asked why Pa wore different clothes, an' now she's upset 'bout him usin' deer hide."

Michaela sat down and took her daughter's hands in hers, "Katie, the animals of nature provide us with many things that we need in life."

"But not kill aminals," she fretted.

"Do you remember how your father is always telling you how important it is to give back to nature the things that are given to us?" she counseled.

"Uh huh," there were tears in the little girl's eyes.

"Well, part of what nature gives to us... the deer... provide your Daddy his clothing," Michaela wiped away the moisture on her cheek. "The buckskin keeps him dry when it rains or snows. It keeps him warm when it's cold outside, and that means he won't become ill. He comes home to us safe and sound."

"What Poppy give back t' nature?" she started to feel better.

"Your father works very hard to protect the land and the animals," Michaela's heart filled with pride. "He wants to make certain that Brian, Josef and you will be able to enjoy the beauty of the earth and it's creatures when you grow up."

"I love Poppy," Katie smiled.

"He loves you, too, Sweetheart," she caressed her cheek. "Now, say your prayers."

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

"Was your dinner satisfactory?" Preston approached Eleanor's table at the Chateau.

"Mmm," she dabbed her napkin at the corners of her mouth. "Yes, Mr. Lodge."

"May I join you for a moment?" he pointed to the chair beside her.

"Please do," she consented.

"Tell me more about yourself," Preston sat. "What made you decide to... come to Colorado Springs?"

"I'm originally from a small town in Vermont," she revealed. "I saw an ad in my local newspaper about opportunities for brides in the West and answered it."

"And just like that, you're engaged to Horace?" he found it incredulous.

"Well, we have to meet first," she smiled shyly.

"Why is it that such a beautiful woman as you did not find a man in your own hometown?" he asked. "Surely there was no shortage of men at your doorstep."

"I was engaged, but...." she stopped.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to become personal," he apologized.

"No," she brushed back a tear. "My fiance left me at the altar. I was so ashamed... the object of much ridicule in my community. I decided to move as far away from there as possible."

"Did Horace know you were coming?" Preston wondered.

"No," she noted.

"Well, until he returns," he paused. "I do hope you will let me show you our fair town. Why, as we speak, we are preparing for a celebration of the imminent statehood of our territory. You have chosen an opportune time to come here."

"I would be most grateful, Mr. Lodge," her blue eyes gleamed.

"Please, call me Preston," he touched her hand.

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

Darkness made visibility difficult, but the scent of a campfire clued Sully that they had reached their goal. He raised his hand to indicate silence. The search party stopped and dismounted. From Wolf's activities, they could tell Robert E was near. Sully gathered the group into a tight circle.

"They're in that clearin' just beyond the trees," Sully pointed. "First thing is we gotta separate the bounty hunter from Robert E. Then we can take him."

"I say we surround the clearin', then let this do the talkin'," Hank pulled out his gun.

"An' that could get Robert E killed, too," Sully shook his head.

"How we gonna lure him away from Robert E?" Horace asked.

"I figure he's got him tied up, so he's gonna feel safe about leavin' t' investigate some kind o' strange noise," the mountain man reasoned.

"Jake here can make lots o' strange noises," Hank joked.

"I can make a sound like a mountain lion," Horace volunteered.

"Ya can?" Matthew smiled.

"It ain't somethin' I do very often," the telegrapher stated. "Sorta scares folks."

"Where'd ya learn t' do that?" Jake was amazed.

"Just practice," he shrugged.

"Don't seem like a mountain lion's cry would make him leave his camp," Hank rolled his eyes.

"How 'bout a singin' drunk?" Horace offered.

All four comrades in unison responded, "A singin' drunk?"

"Sure," he responded. "One o' us could pretend like they come on his camp by accident, a drunk just lost an' singin'."

Jake felt paranoid, "I s'pose ya think I should be the one t'...."

Sully cut him off, "I'll do it."

Hank stifled a laugh, "Ain't never seen ya drunk, Sully."

"I don't gotta be drunk t' know how one acts," he stated. "Jake, give me that flask."

The barber was embarrassed, "What flask?"

"Don't got time for that," Sully removed his jacket and belt.

Jake handed him the flask. Sully opened it and was surprised to find the contents empty. There were a few drops that he eked from it, and he sprinkled them on the front of his shirt.

"Okay," Sully drew a map in the dirt with his finger. "Here's where I want each o' you t' position yourself. I'm gonna try t' get him away from Robert E an' disarm him. Then we'll free Robert E. No guns. Everybody understand?"

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

"I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair..." a slightly off key vocal rendition echoed through the clearing.

"What the hell is that?" Frazer reached for his shotgun.

"Sounds like someone singin'," Robert E stated the obvious.

"That's a matter of opinion," the abductor stood up.

"Borne like a vapor on the summer air...." the voice became louder.

"Must be drunk," Robert E did not yet recognize who it was.

"I'm gonna go check," Frazer cocked his rifle. "Don't you go tryin' anythin', boy."

"Not me," Robert E assured him.

The singing continued, "I see her tripping where the bright streams play...."

Nearby, Hank turned to Jake and whispered, "Don't know which is worse on my nerves."

"Huh?" Jake glanced at him.

"Sully's singin' or havin' Horace with us," the bartender cracked.

"Think I would've preferred that mountain lion," Jake added.

The vocalist went on with his song, "Happy as the daisies that dance on their way..."

Frazer spotted a man on the ground, leaning against a rock, "You there. What ya think you're doin'?"

Sully held up the flask, and slurred his words, "I'm singin'. What ya think I'm doin'?"

"Well, stop it," Frazer lowered his gun.

Sully ignored him and continued his singing, "Many were the wild notes her merry voice would pour...."

Frazer spoke over him, "I told ya t' cut it out!"

"Many were the blithe birds that warbled them o'er...." he did not relent.

Frazer set down his weapon and leaned down to Sully just as he held a lengthy note....

"OH....." with that, Sully kicked Frazer with both feet in his abdomen.

On cue, the others rushed forward to rescue Robert E just as Frazer pulled a knife on Sully and lunged for him.

************
Chapter 8
************

Wolf leapt to his master's aid, knocking Frazer onto his back. The animal's snarling teeth bit into the attacker's arm, but Frazer was able to thrust his knife into Wolf's side. The wounded animal fell onto the ground, lifeless.

Sully jumped on his attacker and landed a blow to his temple, rendering the man unconscious. Swiftly, the mountain man knelt beside his injured pet.

"Sully," Hank ran forward. "We got Robert E."

Sully leaned over Wolf's still body, "Is.... is he okay?"

"Yea," Hank replied as the others circled around.

"Wolf!" Matthew got down on his knees beside them.

"We tied him up," Hank pointed to Frazer.

Sully tried to stop the blood from oozing through Wolf's fur.

Robert E knelt nearby, "He gonna be okay, Sully?"

"I don't know," the mountain man replied, his eyes filling with tears. He clasped his friend's hand, "I'm glad t' see ya. Ya sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine," Robert E smiled faintly. "Thanks t' all you."

Hank began to search through the kidnapper's pockets, "He is a bounty hunter. Name's Patrick Frazer."

"Reverend Pat," Robert E informed them. "'Cause o' how he dresses."

Noticing the concern over Wolf, Jake approached, "Maybe I can stitch him up, Sully, 'til we get him home."

"I'll make a litter t' carry him," Sully stood as Jake began to treat the wound.

"I'll help ya," Robert E volunteered.

Hank pointed to the bounty hunter, "Anybody wonderin' what we oughta do with Frazer?"

Horace answered, "I do."

"Anyone else?" Hank put his hands on his hips.

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

Michaela tried to read. She tried to sleep. She tried to think positive thoughts, but concern over her husband and friends caused her to remain wide awake. She rose from the bed and walked to the window. Looking out across the darkened landscape, she saw no sign of Sully's return.

She sighed, then noticed their family photo album sitting on her nightstand. Katie must have had it out looking through it. It was one of her favorite pastimes. She sat on the bed and opened it.

"Mama," Josef beckoned from his crib.

"What are you doing up, Sweetheart?" she went to him.

"Play?" he asked.

"No," she brushed back the dark hair from his eyes. "It's time for sleep, not play."

He saw the photo album on the bed and pointed, "Look?"

"We'll look for a little while," she kissed his finger. "Then you need to go to sleep."

She sat down with the little boy on her lap. Josef pointed to the pictures, requesting that his mother identify who was in each portrait. The curious little boy seemed particularly interested in people he had never met.

"Who?" he touched the image.

"That's my father," Michaela kissed the soft hair on top of his head. "His name was Josef."

"Me?" he was confused.

"No, my darling," she smiled. "But you were named after him."

"Who?" Josef pointed to another portrait.

"That was my sister, your Aunt Marjorie," she felt a pang of sadness.

"Maroy," he tried to say the name, then moved to the next photograph. "Who?"

"That was Ingrid," she ran her hand across the image of the lovely young woman. "She was going to marry Matthew."

"Matt?" he recognized his brother's name.

"Where is Matthew?" Michaela turned it around.

Josef scanned the album. Pointing to a family portrait, he singled out his older brother. Then he continued to identify in the portrait, "Ban, Col, Ka-tee, PAPA!"

"Very good, Josef," she beamed.

"Papa?" he looked up with his father's blue eyes.

"He'll be home soon," she lifted him into her arms. "All done with the pictures now. Time for you to go back to sleep."

Soon the child was resting. Michaela stroked his long locks. A haircut, she thought. I wonder how Sully would feel about cutting Josef's hair? It was often in his eyes now and.... She stopped herself.

"Oh, Sully," she spoke low. "What's happening? When will you be home? And how Grace must be worried sick."

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

Jake was able to stop Wolf's bleeding, "Never stitched up an animal before."

"I appreciate it," Sully spoke from his heart.

"Ain't anyone wonderin' why a bounty hunter came lookin' for Robert E?" Hank brought them back to the situation.

"My former master's family hired him," Robert E confessed.

"Why?" Horace inquired.

"Let's just say they been lookin' for me since I ran away before the War," the blacksmith added. "Frazer was takin' me back t' Virginia."

"Why?" Jake did not understand. "Ain't no more slaves now."

"I did somethin' back there that.... made 'em wanna bring me back for trial," he responded.

"Whatever ya did ain't important now," Sully interjected. "Problem is, we don't know if Frazer told 'em he found ya."

"If he did, then they'll send someone else for me," Robert E wiped his brow.

Horace spoke up, "What if we send 'em a wire pretendin' t' be Frazer and sayin' he ain't found Robert E?"

"We better think on it," Sully advised. "Meanwhile, we got a few hours 'til dawn. I wanna get Wolf back right away, but if you men wanna wait 'til daybreak...."

"We might as well go home, too," Hank went over to Frazer. "We can lock him up in the jail."

Securing the kidnapper on his horse, they departed for home.

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

Just after dawn, the search party rode into town.

"Jacob!" Teresa Slicker rushed to her husband when the men dismounted.

Grace and Dorothy hurried from the Cafe.

"Robert E!" Grace threw her arms around her husband.

"I'll take Frazer t' jail," Hank pulled the now conscious man from his horse.

"Matthew," Sully turned to his son. "I'm gonna take Wolf t' the Clinic. Would ya ride out t' the homestead an' fetch your Ma?"

"You got it, Sully," he nodded. "I'll stay with the kids, too."

"Thanks," Sully leaned over to check Wolf's condition.

"Someone wanna tell us what happened?" Dorothy asked as more townsfolk joined them.

Loren pointed, "Who is that fella, an' why'd he take Robert E?"

"I think we should let the families have their reunions first," Reverend Johnson said. "We have added cause to give thanks to the Almighty at service later."

"Amen!" Grace exclaimed as she joyfully led her husband toward their home.

Teresa pulled Jake aside, "I have something to discuss with you."

"I got somethin' t' tell you, too," he put his arm around her.

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

"Ma!" Matthew called the moment he entered the house.

Having not slept during the night, Michaela pulled on her robe and quickly rushed for the door of her bedroom. Her mind raced. It was Matthew, but where was Sully? What if he had been hurt?

"Matthew!" she ran to him. "Thank God you're safe. Where's Sully? Is Robert E...."

He raised his hand, "They're both fine, but Sully needs ya in town right now."

"Why?" she searched his face. "Was someone hurt?"

"Wolf," he swallowed hard. "He got stabbed savin' Sully."

"Oh, no," she went pale. "I... I don't know much about animal anatomy."

"Jake stitched up his wound, but he ain't come to since he got hurt," Matthew removed his hat. "I'll stay here with the kids, but Sully wants ya right away."

"Yes, of course," she turned to go up the steps, then stopped. "Matthew, could you and Brian bring the children in later? Sully is going to need all of us with him."

"Sure, Ma," he nodded.

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

Preston concluded the walking tour of Colorado Springs with Eleanor Waldron.

Ending up at his bank, he noted, "As one of the town's leading citizens, I consider it my civic duty to continue to fund many economic endeavors here."

"Very impressive, Mr. Lodge," she folded her hands.

"Preston," he reminded her.

"Preston," she smiled. "Do you think that Mr. Bing might have returned?"

"I would be happy to escort you to the Depot to inquire," he extended his arm.

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

Teresa fixed breakfast for her husband, as he described the rescue of Robert E.

"You were very brave to go with the search party," she sat down and placed her hand on his.

"'Bout the only thing I ended up doin' was stitchin' up Wolf," he wiped his mouth. "But I wanna talk t' ya about somethin'."

"I have something I wish to tell you, too," she looked down shyly. "Jacob, what would you think if we had a baby?"

"A baby?" his face became pale. "I... I don't know. I'd like it, I think. Why?"

"We are going to have one," she broke the news.

Jake was speechless.

"You are happy, are you not?" Teresa tried to interpret his expression.

He gulped, "Sure, I'm happy. I... I just wasn't expectin' this news. Do ya feel okay?"

"Dr. Quinn says I must rest," she informed him. "She says I also had a concussion from...."

"My God," Jake took her hand. "I'm so sorry, Teresa. Can ya ever forgive me?"

"I know that it was an accident," she patted his hand. "But now we have so much to look forward to, yes?"

"Yes," he stood up and pulled her into his arms. "I reckon I gotta get started on that house o' ours."

She leaned her head against his chest, "All I want is for us to be happy. The place does not matter."

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

"Robert E," Grace stroked her husband's head after he told her of his ordeal. "What they gonna do with that Frazer man?"

"We gotta figure that out," he pulled her into his embrace. "Don't know if he told the family he found me. If he's been in touch with them...."

"We might have t' move," she knew.

He took a deep breath, "I don't want us t' have t' keep lookin' over our shoulders all the time. Maybe I should go back there an' try t' clear my name."

"Do ya really think you could get a fair trial?" she asked.

"Things've been different in the South since Reconstruction started," he told her.

"From what I hear, the old politicians are gettin' back in power," Grace shook her head. "There's one kind o' justice for the white man, an' another for us."

"Grace," he took her hands in his. "We'll figure somethin' out. Right now, it's just good t' be home."

She smiled and threw her arms around his neck.

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

"Sully!" Michaela rushed into the Clinic. "Matthew said...."

"Here," he sat beside Wolf on the floor.

"Can you put him on the examining table?" she rolled up her sleeves.

Sully lifted the animal up and gently set him where she directed.

"What happened?" she washed her hands.

"The man who took Robert E was a bounty hunter," he began. "When we caught up with him, I lured him away from Robert E an' tried t' disarm him. He pulled a knife on me, but Wolf jumped him. The man stabbed him."

"These stitches are...." she pulled back the fur.

"Jake tried t' patch him up," he explained.

Diligently, she began to examine the creature.

"How is he?" Sully watched her work.

"From what I can tell..." she hesitated. "I believe he has a collapsed lung."

"What can ya do?" he swallowed hard. "Will he be okay?"

************
Chapter 9
************

"Sully," Michaela went to her medicine cabinet. "Would you go over to the livery and get me some tar?"

"Tar?" he was surprised. "What for?"

"I'm going to need it to help reinflate Wolf's lung," she replied. "It must be soft and pliable."

Without further question, he ran out the door. Michaela leaned down and ran her fingers tenderly over Wolf's fur.

"I need your help, boy," she spoke softly.

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

"So, tell me, Frazer," Hank leaned back in a chair near the jail cell. "Why'd ya kidnap Robert E?"

"Pretty fair bounty on his head," the man replied. "I'd be willin' t share it with someone who helped me escape."

"That so?" Hank lit a cigar. "How much?"

"$1000. Split 50-50, it's a nice amount," Frazer stated.

"I reckon," Hank nodded. "Who wants him so bad?"

"Family's name is Giddings," he informed him. "Back in Suffolk, Virginia."

"They got money, do they?" Hank rubbed his beard.

"Plenty," the man answered.

"They know ya caught up t' Robert E?" the bartender continued.

"Not yet," he revealed. "So, what do ya say? Willin' t' help me?"

"I'll think about it," Hank blew a smoke ring into the air.

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

"Horace, my good man!" Preston called out as they neared the Depot. "I see you've returned."

"Yep," the telegraph operator nodded. "We brung back Robert E an' the man who kidnapped him, too."

"That certainly is good news," Preston's grin nearly blinded him.

"Somethin' I can do for ya?" Horace inquired. "Ain't had a chance t' sort through the mail yet this mornin'. I'm headin' for church in a minute."

Preston placed his hand on Eleanor's back and encouraged her to step forward, "I believe you might be interested in meeting this young lady."

"Pleased t' meet ya, Ma'am," he nodded.

"Mr. Bing," she extended her hand. "I'm Eleanor Waldron."

"Ya know me?" he realized she had spoken his name.

"In a way," she smiled demurely. "I'm here to marry you."

Horace's eyes widened, "Marry me?"

"Yes," she acknowledged. "I'm here in response to your mail inquiry for a wife."

"You're one o' them mail order brides?" he gulped.

"You did place an ad, did you not?" she was surprised at his reaction.

"Yea, but..." he paused. "I... I didn't really expect a reply."

Preston enjoyed his discomfort.

"Do I disappoint you?" she sounded hurt.

"Oh, no Ma'am," he slicked back his hair. "Ya seem real nice. Would ya like t' accompany me t' church?"

"I'd be delighted," she straightened her dress.

As the telegraph operator donned his coat, Preston's mouth drop at Eleanor's attention to Horace.

She looked over her shoulder, "Are you coming, too, Preston?"

"Wouldn't miss one of the Reverend's inspirational messages," he caught up to them.

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

"Robert E!" Sully shouted as he neared the livery. "Robert E!"

The blacksmith heard him call as he neared his establishment, "What's wrong, Sully?"

"Michaela sent me t' fetch some tar," he was out of breath.

"Tar?" Robert E put on his apron. "What for?"

"She's gonna use it on Wolf," he said. "Can ya get it quick?"

"Sure," he patted his friend's back.

Hank approached the two men, "Well, I got a bit o' news for ya."

"What's that?" Sully turned to face him.

"Seems the family that posted the bounty for Robert E don't know he found him," the bartender revealed.

"That's a relief," Robert E sighed.

"Means we could send 'em a telegram from him sayin' he ain't found ya," Hank offered.

"Or not say anythin'," Sully contemplated.

"Only problem now is what t' do with Frazer," Hank rubbed his chin. "He's still around t' tell where Robert E is."

Robert E handed Sully the container of tar, "Here ya go."

"Thanks," the mountain man darted for the Clinic.

"Sully in a rush t' fix his roof?" Hank joked.

"Hank," Robert E spoke sincerely. "I wanna thank ya for helpin' t' find me."

"That's okay," the saloon owner hated sentimentality. "It's hard t' come by blacksmiths."

"Seems my problems would be over if Frazer wasn't around," Robert E said.

"Doubt if we could try him for kidnappin'," Hank pointed out. "'Specially 'cause...."

"'Cause o' my color," Robert E knew.

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

Sully hurriedly returned to the Clinic, "Here, Michaela."

"Thank you," she looked up from her work.

Sully noticed that she had inserted a rubber tube into the side of Wolf. Michaela took the tar and began to apply it around the tube where it entered his skin. She placed the other end of the tube in a bottle which had water in the bottom.

"It's very important for us to keep him calm until his lung reinflates," she finished her work.

Sully took a deep breath, "What are his chances?"

"He's been otherwise healthy prior to this," she considered. "As long as we can keep him still, I think his chances are good."

"Whew," he sat down.

Michaela went to him and caressed his cheek, "Are you all right?"

"Thanks t' Wolf," he pulled her onto his lap.

"I missed you," she smiled. "Couldn't sleep without you."

"Missed you, too," he kissed her.

She ran her fingers through his hair, "What's going to happen to the bounty hunter?"

"Hank found out he ain't contacted the family that put up the bounty," he explained.

"Why did they want him, Sully?" she queried.

He took a deep breath, "Robert E told me somethin' in confidence a long time ago."

"Then you mustn't break that confidence," she nodded.

"We gotta make sure they don't send no one else after him," he rubbed her back.

"How can we do that?" she wondered.

"Don't know yet," he changed the subject. "How are the kids?"

She chuckled, "Katie is ready for her little brother to share the nursery with her."

"She is?" he grinned. "That mean it's okay with their Ma?"

"It's okay," she kissed him. "Between you and me, I found out more about Teresa Slicker's condition."

"Oh?" he linked her fingers in his.

"She's pregnant," Michaela stated.

"Pregnant?" his eyes opened wide. "I reckon that's gonna make Jake want that house even sooner. I offered to build it for him."

"I thought you were going to see Cloud Dancing soon," she recalled.

"I still plan to," he kissed her again. "Figure I'll be gone a couple weeks. Then I'll start on the house."

She was quiet, and Sully knew that her fears and concerns about his trip were the reason. Before he could address her care, the children arrived.

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

"Would ya like t' join me at Grace's Cafe?" Horace asked Eleanor.

"I'd love to," she consented.

"May I join you, as well?" Preston had not left their side all through the service.

"I was kinda hopin' this would be private," Horace glared at him.

"Just think of me as a chaperone," Preston tipped his hat.

"I'm thinkin' you're somethin' else," the telegrapher did not contain his disdain.

"Gentlemen," Eleanor opened her parasol. "Let's enjoy the beautiful day, shall we?"

"If you say so," Horace frowned.

Grace saw them near, "Well now, who do we have here?"

"This here's Miss Eleanor Waldron, Grace," Horace introduced her.

"Pleased t' meet ya," Grace set down her coffee pot. "Have a seat right here. I got meatloaf an' pot roast for dinner t'day."

"A charming menu," Preston was sarcastic.

"I know it can't compare t' the fancy cuisine at the Chateau, but folks still manage t' survive on what I cook," Grace stared him down.

After taking their orders, Grace departed.

"Would ya like t' maybe take a walk t'morrow, Eleanor?" Horace requested shyly.

"That would be nice," she accepted.

"Perhaps we could have breakfast together at the Chateau tomorrow morning," Preston offered.

"I'd like that, too," she turned to him.

"Just whose bride is she supposed t' be?" Horace was becoming upset.

"You're not married to her yet," Preston countered. "And the lady certainly has a free will. Surely you would not deny her freedom of choice."

"No," Horace frowned. "I learned the hard way, a woman's gotta mind o' her own."

"Thank you for that," she tried to remain pleasant. "Horace, tell me more about this kidnapping and how you helped to rescue the man."

"Our town blacksmith, Robert E was abducted by some bounty hunter," he began.

"Bounty hunter?" she was fascinated. "Good gracious."

"Yea," Horace continued. "He dressed up like a preacher, too. Name's Patrick Frazer. Anyway, we caught up t' him an' Robert E. Then Sully pretended t' be drunk an'...."

"Sully? Drunk?" Preston laughed. "Come now, Horace."

"I said he was pretendin'," he was more annoyed. "Sully's Wolf ended up savin' his life, an' now Dr. Mike's treatin' him."

"Sully or Wolf?" Preston requested clarification.

"Wolf," Horace rolled his eyes.

"What happened to the bounty hunter?" Eleanor wondered.

"We got him in jail 'til we figure out what t' do with him," the telegrapher answered.

"My, what a story," the woman exclaimed. "How brave you are, Horace."

Horace put on a smug look expression for Preston.

"I'm fascinated by your work," Eleanor cast an admiring glance toward the telegraph operator. "I'd love for you to show me your office."

"It'd be my pleasure," he touched her hand.

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

"We gonna stay at Clinic t'night, Poppy?" Katie sat on her father's lap.

"I am, Kates," he caressed her hair. "I need t' keep an eye on Wolf. Not sure if your Ma's gonna want you an' your brother t' stay."

"I ask her nice," the little girl said sweetly. "Is Wolf gonna be okay?"

"I hope so," Sully glanced toward the unconscious animal. "He's been a good friend t' me."

"Me, too," she nodded.

"Woh," Josef toddled over toward the pet, pointing.

"No, Josef," Sully cautioned. "We gotta leave him be 'til he's better."

"No?" the child's eyes saddened.

"Come here, Joe," Sully clapped his hands.

Josef quickly obeyed and went to his father. Sully lifted him up to share his lap with Katie.

He hugged both of his children, "Sure did miss you two while I was gone."

"Ya find Robert E?" Katie remembered his mission.

"Yep," the father grinned.

"Poppy," Katie rubbed his jacket. "I know why ya wear buckskin."

"Ya do?" he chuckled.

"T' keep warm an' dry," she noted. "Ya take from nature an' ya give back."

Michaela entered the Clinic to view the loving scene, "Well, I see that your children found their favorite place to sit."

Katie slipped down and walked to her mother, "Mama, we stay here with Poppy t' night?"

"I think that's a wonderful idea," she agreed. "And I know that Wolf will appreciate having his family here, as well."

"Good," Katie nodded.

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

Sully and Michaela settled the children into the anteroom for the night, while Brian retired upstairs to sleep in a recovery room. In a corner of the examining room on the floor, Michaela checked to see that the water level in the bottle connected to Wolf's lung was adequate. The animal peacefully rested on the bed of blankets that Sully had laid there for him.

Placing his own bedroll near Wolf, the mountain man prepared his sleeping area.

"I only see room for one there," Michaela noticed.

"I figured you'd wanna sleep upstairs in a bed," he replied.

"You figured wrong," she frowned. "I want to attend to my patient... and to my husband tonight."

"I'll get another bedroll then," he stepped over to his belongings. Laying another roll out beside his, he pointed, "Ain't gonna be very comfortable."

"I'm even less comfortable when you're not beside me," she went to lower the blinds.

"Why ya doin' that?" he watched her.

"I should think that you of all people would understand why blinds are lowered, Mr. Sully," she alluded to their honeymoon train.

He helped her with the remaining window, then checked that the locks on the doors were secure. He held her hand as he guided her down onto her bedroll. Then he joined her. Stretching out on the material, he pulled her into his embrace.

"Comfortable?" he joked.

"In some ways," her voice was suggestive.

Sully rested his cheek on the top of her head, while holding her hand over his heart. He took a deep breath and recited:

"The heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close,
As the sunflower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turned when he rose."

"You've been quoting the Brownings of late," she recalled.

"Thomas Moore," he touched her nose.

"I love you, Sully," she cuddled close.

"I love you, too," he closed his eyes, allowing the scent of her to fill his senses.

************
At the jail, Hank stopped by to check on the prisoner. When he opened the door, his stomach sank. There, sprawled on the floor, a knife protruding from his chest was Patrick Frazer.

************
Chapter 10
************

"Sully," Michaela spoke her husband's name low.

"Mmm?" he stroked her arm.

"Are you sleepy?" she draped her leg over his.

"Not now," he grinned. "My back's a little sore, though."

"Roll over onto your stomach, and I'll see if I can help," she offered.

He sat up and removed his shirt. Then he rolled into a prone position to let her fingers work their magic on his back. Her touch electrified him and drained every ache from his body. Michaela then began to kiss his skin lightly, heightening his senses even further.

"I love your back," she ran her hands across his broad shoulders.

"Hard t' see ya from this position," he repositioned himself to glance at her.

"I love your front, too," she turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin.

"Come here," he tenderly pulled her closer.

Sully's warm lips covered hers. A thrill ran through Michaela as her husband's body tempted her. His hand traced her jaw line, then slid down her throat and toward the top button of her blouse. While skillfully continuing to kiss her, he began to loosen the material of her top. His fingers then found their way beneath the blouse, where they set her emotions on fire.

He drew her fingers to his mouth and began to kiss each one. As their physical urges started to overtake them, there was a sudden pounding at the door.

"Who could that be?" Michaela jumped to button her blouse.

Sully pulled on his shirt and fumbled to light the lamp, "Don't know."

Within seconds, he went to the door and opened it.

"Sully! Michaela!" Hank burst in. "It's Frazer. He's dead."

"What?" Sully could not fathom the news. "How? Where?"

"I went t' the jail t' check on him," the bartender responded. "Found him in his cell, stabbed."

"You're certain he's dead?" Michaela reached for her bag.

"He ain't movin' or breathin'," Hank ran his hand across his mouth. "I'd say that's dead."

"I'll go wake Brian t' come down here with the children," Sully touched his wife's arm. "Meet ya there."

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

Hank followed Michaela into the jail. On the wooden floor lay Frazer, face up, eyes in a vacant stare, and a knife jutting from his chest.

Hank searched the desk drawer, "His money's gone. I put it an' his identification papers in here. Looks like the killer was robbin' him. Maybe stabbed him so's he couldn't call for help."

She opened his shirt, "There's very little blood."

"Meanin'?" Hank knelt down beside her.

"Meaning the knife did not kill him," she stated. "He was already dead before he was stabbed."

Sully and Matthew arrived at this final statement.

The mountain man picked up on it, "Any idea what killed him then?"

"I'll need to do an autopsy to be certain," she said as she searched the sides of Frazer's face and neck. "But my preliminary suspicion is poisoning."

"Poison?" Hank stood up. "Why would a robber poison, then stab him?"

Matthew speculated, "Maybe the poison wasn't workin' fast enough."

Sully scanned the jail for any evidence or clues of who might have done the deed, "Ya sure the jail was locked when ya left him here for the night?"

"Yea," Hank put his hands on his hips.

"I turned in my key a along time ago," Matthew noted. "Who else has one?"

"Jake does," Hank revealed. "An' Horace."

"They certainly wouldn't have poisoned the man," Michaela raised up.

"That knife," Sully pointed. "It's the one he pulled on me."

"I put it in the desk drawer, too, when I brought him in," Hank pondered. "Poisoned.... stabbed with his own knife... robbed."

Michaela concluded her preliminary examination, "Would you carry him to the Clinic? I'll perform the autopsy tonight."

"It can wait 'til mornin', Michaela," Sully knew she was tired.

"The sooner, the better," she started for the door.

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

By midmorning, the entire town was aware of the mysterious death at the jail. While Michaela labored over her gruesome work, Brian occupied the children upstairs.

Outside the Clinic, speculation raged among the townsfolk as to who could have committed the crime.

"Where were you last night 'round midnight, Robert E?" Hank felt he had the strongest motive.

"Home asleep," the blacksmith resented the question.

"Got any witnesses?" Hank countered.

"I'm a witness," Grace spoke up.

"I don't believe Robert E would do it," Horace interjected. "Only three of us got a key t' the jail."

"Yea?" Hank pulled his from his vest pocket. "Here's mine. How 'bout yours?"

Jake held up a ring of keys, "Mine's here."

"I keep mine at the Depot," Horace responded.

"Where anyone could take it," Jake said sarcastically.

"Ain't nobody who goes in my office 'cept me," Horace defended.

"Excuse me," Preston interrupted. "I believe you gave Miss Waldron a tour yesterday."

"An' ya think she took my key , strolled int' the jail an' killed the bounty hunter?" Horace put his hands on his hips.

"Certainly not," Preston debated. "I merely wanted to point out that you are not as watchful as you let on regarding the contents of the telegraph office."

"Let's not argue here," the Reverend raised his hand. "Until we know the cause of death, we...."

The Clinic door opened. An exhausted Michaela stepped forward. Sully placed a supporting hand on her back.

"I believe that Mr. Frazer died from a drug overdose," she asserted. "I found a pinpoint needle mark in his neck."

"Someone gave him a shot?" Jake tried to understand.

"Yes," Michaela folded her hands. "Most likely an overdose of Morphine."

"Are you missin' any needles, Michaela?" Hank speculated.

"I thought of that," she answered. "No, I'm not missing anything."

"So whoever done it maybe has some kind o' medical knowledge," Loren leaned back on his heels.

"I reckon we oughta call in someone from Denver t' investigate this," Matthew considered.

"No," Sully raised his hand. "Bringin' in an outsider right now might raise more questions than we want, 'specially about Robert E. Let's try findin' out what happened ourselves first."

"Trail o' the killer could grow real cold, the longer we wait," Hank disagreed.

"Hank," Robert E became uncomfortable. "I got reason t' hope we can prevent people from knowin' Frazer was here. It don't mean I killed him, but it means the fewer folks know he was here, the safer Grace an' me are."

"What about his next of kin?" the Reverend noted. "Shouldn't they be notified?"

"He ain't got any," Hank responded. "T' learn more, I let him think I might help him escape an' share the bounty for Robert E with him. While we was talkin', I found out he's a loner."

"Forty-eight hours," Sully calculated. "Let's give it two days an' see if we can find the killer ourselves."

"Okay," Hank begrudgingly replied.

"Maybe we oughta appoint our own investigator since we don't have a sheriff," Matthew recommended. "I'd feel better if we did things within the legal system."

"Okay, then. I nominate Matthew Cooper t' be the investigator," Loren said.

"I can't," the young man stated. "Brian an' me are leavin' for Philadelphia later t'day."

"I'll do it," Hank straightened up.

"As Mayor, I name Hank," Jake swiftly affirmed.

"Jake," Michaela motioned. "Would you see to it that Mr. Frazer's body is taken care of. I need to help my sons prepare for their trip."

"Sure, Dr. Mike," he nodded.

She went back into the building. In the corner, now awake but weak, was Wolf. Michaela knelt down to check on him.

"How are you?" she stroked the animal's whiskers.

Wolf weakly attempted to wag his tail.

"I want to thank you," she ran her finger up and down his nose. "You saved Sully's life."

He whimpered.

"He'll be in to see you shortly," she poured more water into the bottle. "Meanwhile, you have to take it easy. No running about. No barking."

He whined and tried to move his paw.

"Enjoy the rest," she smiled. "There are some children who will be very happy to wear you out soon enough."

The door opened, and in walked Jake and several other men to remove the cadaver. No words were exchanged as the remains of Patrick Frazer were taken to be buried. Michaela, fatigue blurring her vision, sat at her desk to complete her autopsy notes.

Matthew arrived just as she began to nod off, "Ma?"

"Mmm?" she became more alert.

"Ya need some sleep," he said. "I... I was thinkin' maybe Brian an' me should delay our trip for a few days."

"Why, Matthew?" she stood up. "You've been looking forward to this for some time. Colleen will be so disappointed."

"I ain't sayin' we should cancel it," he toyed with his hat. "Just sayin' maybe ya need us around here for a few days."

"Have you spoken with Brian about it?" she pondered his suggestion.

"Not yet," he raised his chin. "I was gonna go up now an' talk t' him."

"What about Sully?" she wondered. "What does he say?"

"Said it's up t' us," Matthew smiled.

"That's true," Michaela touched his arm.

"I'd just feel better bein' here while we sort out this murder," he stated. "I got a real uneasy feelin' about things."

************
Chapter 11
************

"Brian," Matthew entered the recovery room.

"Mattew!" Katie ran to her brother, Josef following quickly on her heels.

Each time the little ones greeted him, Matthew's heart filled with love.

Brian looked a little relieved to have some older company, "We don't got much time t' pack."

"I wanted t' talk with ya about that," Matthew stated his purpose.

"What?" the younger Cooper brother was uncertain.

"I been thinkin', with all that's happened, maybe we oughta delay leavin' 'til the end o' the week," Matthew broached the subject.

"Matthew!" Brian did not contain his disappointment.

"We'll still go," he assured him. "It's just a few days."

Katie contributed to the conversation, "Please stay."

"What about Colleen?" Brian ignored his little sister's remark. "She's expectin' us."

"Brian," Matthew noted. "We're still gonna see her."

"I don't wanna wait!" the young man stormed out of the room.

Matthew sighed.

Katie glanced at him, upset at the tone of her brother's departure, "Bran not wanna stay with us?"

"It's not that, Katie," Matthew knelt down. "He's been lookin' forward t' seein' Colleen, an' I'm askin' him t' wait."

"Ban?" Josef pointed, innocently.

"Is something wrong?" Michaela entered the room. "Brian just went storming down the steps."

"Mama," Katie rushed to her. "Bran not wanna stay here."

She lifted her daughter and brushed away her tear, "Sweetheart, he loves his sisters, and he rarely gets to see Colleen. It's not that he doesn't want to be with you."

"I guess I'll go home an' start packin'," Matthew did not wish to pursue the issue.

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

"Eleanor," Horace's face lit up as the young woman approached the Depot.

"I heard the most dreadful news about that man who was in jail," she said.

"I don't want ya t' think that sorta thing happens here a lot," he feared her reaction.

"I've read stories about the West," she stepped closer. "Cowboys and Indians.... gunfights and hangings...."

"Makes good readin', but things ain't nearly that excitin' around here," he downplayed it.

"And I discovered that your town does not even have a sheriff," Eleanor told him.

"Hank sorta takes care o' things now," Horace tried to explain. "We got a mayor an' town council, though. We ain't uncivilized."

"I've seen precious little evidence of civilization," she stated. "You have only one bank, an inadequate library and medical facilities...."

"Dr. Mike's the best doctor around," he defended. "The library's got books all the way from Boston. An' Preston's bank might not be big, but most folks got their life's savin' in it."

"Life's savings?" she suddenly sounded condescending. "I cannot imagine that would be much."

"I got plenty o' money in it," he resented the criticism. "Since the railroad come t' town, folks have been doin' better. The bank recovered from the problems of a couple years ago."

"I'm sorry, Horace," she saw that her words were harsh. "I think I'm just upset over hearing about that terrible crime."

He softened, "That's okay. I understand."

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

Jake entered the bank and approached Preston, "Wanna talk with ya."

"With me?" Preston stood up. "What about?"

"Business," Jake removed his hat.

"Well, well," a wide grin crossed the banker's face. "Won't you sit down?"

"Thanks," the barber was immediately uncomfortable.

"Now," Preston sat in his swivel chair. "What can I do for you?"

"I want a loan," Jake lowered his voice.

"Splendid," the banker's eyes lit up. "For what purpose?"

"T' build a house," he answered.

"Let's see," Preston pulled some papers from his desk.

Before he could continue, he heard a little voice from the doorway, "Mr. Lodge?"

His brow wrinkled, "It's Katie Sully."

"Katie Sully?" Jake turned to look.

"Uh," Preston leaned across his desk. "Excuse me one moment while I speak with the child." He made his way to the little girl and looked around expecting to see her mother. "Are you here by yourself?"

"Yep," she nodded. "Mama's at Mr. Bray's."

"For what purpose have you come here?" he towered over her.

Katie gestured with her index finger for him to lean closer.

Then she stated quite clearly, "I need money, Mr. Lodge."

"You're joking," he raised an eyebrow. "Child, I think you'd better run along."

She put her hands on her hips, "But you say ya give people money."

"Not give," he disagreed. "Loan. Remember? Principal... interest...?"

She noticed Jake, "Mr. Slicker gettin' money?"

"That's confidential information," he replied.

"What cofidenal?" Katie's eyes saddened.

"Confidential," Preston enunciated. "Look, how much do you need?

"I don't know," she told him.

He was incredulous, "I do not have time for this."

"I wanna buy somethin' for Mama," Katie revealed.

"This is all very... charming," he tried to keep a pleasant facade. "But run along, and please do not interrupt me when I'm at work."

"Why ya bein' so mean?" her eyes saddened.

"I'm not being.... mean," he clarified. "This involves grownups. It's business. It's not for little girls."

Katie's shoulders slumped, and she turned to leave.

"Now," Preston put on his best smile again and returned to Jake. "Where were we?"

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

Katie meandered back toward Bray's store and entered just as her mother was concluding her business.

"Did you have a nice visit with Mr. Lodge?" Michaela smiled.

"No," her lower lip curled under.

"Why's she associatin' with him?" Loren probed.

"I'm not certain I understand that myself, but she's taken an interest in banking," Michaela saw that her daughter was upset. "What's wrong, Sweetheart?"

"Nothin'," Katie was embarrassed to say.

Michaela leaned closer, "You can tell Mama. Why are you upset?"

"Mr. Lodge say I can't borrow money," her voice quivered.

Loren chuckled, "Prob'ly didn't have enough dolls for collateral."

Michaela cast him a glance of disapproval for laughing, then turned back to Katie, "Why did you want to borrow money, Katie?"

The little girl did not want to say.

"Katie," Michaela took her hand. "You need to tell me what you were doing there."

"I tell Mr. Bray?" she looked up at him.

"Come here, Katie girl," he stepped out from behind the counter and lifted her into his arms. After distancing themselves from Michaela, he whispered in the child's ear, "Now, what did ya wanna borrow money from Preston for?"

She spoke in her softest voice, "T' buy somethin' for Mama."

"I see," he nodded. "What did ya wanna buy her?"

"A new brush," Katie informed him.

"Did ya ask your Pa?" Loren saw Michaela's discomfort out of the corner of his eye.

"No," she replied. "Wanna surprise Mama."

"Well," Loren contemplated her dilemma. "I think the best thing for ya t' do is tell your Pa what ya wanna do. I know he'll help ya."

"Ya think Poppy not tell Mama?" she hoped.

"He won't tell her if ya don't want him to," he assured her. "Come on now, let me handle your Ma."

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

Sully and Josef sat near Wolf, attempting to keep the animal still.

"Woh," the little boy placed his nose near the animal's face.

At that moment, the door to the Clinic opened and Brian entered.

"Ban!" Josef called to him.

The young man did not respond.

Sully spoke up, "Somethin' on your mind?"

Brian did not react but sat down near them.

"Ban," Josef tapped his leg. "Play?"

"No," Brian took a deep breath.

"Matthew was here a minute ago," Sully lifted Josef and kissed the top of his head. "He said he'd leave with ya t'day as planned. Your Ma's pickin' up some things at the store for ya."

"He doesn't have to," Brian folded his arms across his knees.

Sully put his hand on his back, "Been a long time since ya saw Colleen. It's hard t' wait when ya been lookin' forward t' it for a while."

Brian's eyes watered, "Am I bein' selfish, Pa?"

"Do ya think ya are?" Sully hoped the young man would ponder it.

"I don't know," he looked down. "Does Matthew have t' be here while Hank's investigatin' the murder?"

"Folks in town have come t' respect your brother's legal judgment on things," Sully noted. "I guess he figured he could help solve the case."

"Do you think they'll find who did it?" Brian was curious.

"I think with Matthew here, there's a better chance we'll find out," Sully responded.

"Then, I guess we oughta delay our trip," he stood up.

"Matthew's at Miss Grace's," Sully smiled.

"Thanks, Pa," he departed.

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

"His recovery is much faster than I anticipated," Michaela smiled. "We can take Wolf home this evening in the wagon."

"That's a relief," Sully slid his arms around her.

"Has Katie said anything to you?" she ran her hands up and down his arms.

"'Bout what?" he teasingly played with a button on her blouse.

"About wanting to borrow money from Preston," she specified.

"What?" he chuckled.

"I take it she has not spoken to you, then," Michaela shook her head. "She said something to Loren, but refused to tell me."

"I'll see what I can find out," he could no longer resist the nearness of her.

He sweetly brushed his lips across hers, instantly igniting her desire for him.

"Sully," her face flushed.

"Mmm," he was lost in her.

"We can't do this now," she did not really want to stop.

"I know," he continued to trail kisses across her chin to the soft flesh of her neck. "Can't help myself, though. Can't wait t' get ya home, either. Ya didn't get much rest last couple o' nights, an'...."

A knock at the Clinic door disturbed their tender moment. Sully composed himself as Michaela straightened her blouse.

Then she called, "Come in."

It was a distraught Teresa Slicker, "Dr. Quinn?"

"Mrs. Slicker," Michaela went to her. "Are you all right?"

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

At Grace's Cafe, Hank, Loren and Jake sat at a table watching Horace with the new woman in town.

"Who ya think she is?" Hank eyed her.

"Preston was paradin' her all around town earlier," Loren snickered. "Some choice for a husband a woman's gotta make... Preston or Horace."

"They're courtin'?" Jake found it hard to believe.

"Maybe she needs t' meet a real man," Hank stood and straightened his vest. "Be right back."

The tall bartender strolled over to Horace's table.

"Hank," Horace rolled his eyes.

"Ain't ya gonna introduce me?" Hank's blue eyes beamed.

"No," the telegraph operator was in no mood.

"Horace!" Eleanor touched his hand.

"Name's Hank Lawson," the saloon keeper tipped his hat. "You're new in town, ain't ya."

"Yes," she smiled. "My name is Eleanor Waldron."

"She's thinkin' about gettin' married, if ya have t' know," Horace blurted out.

"Marry?" Hank was shocked. "Who ya gonna.... No! Horace here?"

"If he'll have me," she squeezed Horace's hand.

Horace gulped at the realization, "I... we... uh... I gotta.... excuse me!"

He bolted from the table and disappeared around the corner.

"Seems like it's news t' him," Hank sat down beside her. "When did you two meet?"

"Only this week," she informed him.

"An' already you're wantin' t' get married?" he laughed. "Ya ain't from around here, are ya?"

"No," she answered. "I'm from Vermont."

"Vermont?" he teased. "That a state?"

"Yes," she giggled.

"So, what really brought ya out here?" he leaned back.

She paused, then finding him to be disarming, she replied, "I came to find a husband."

"Just like that?" he scratched his beard. "Gotta be more to it."

"Just like that," she smiled.

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

Horace nearly knocked Sully over as he rounded the corner of the street.

"Where ya goin' in such a hurry? the mountain man stopped him.

"She wants t' marry me, Sully," he was out of breath.

"Who?" his eyes widened.

"Eleanor," Horace could not calm himself. "Eleanor Waldron."

"Who's Eleanor Waldron?" Sully was still clueless.

"Mail order bride I sent for," the telegraph operator specified.

"Well...." Sully was at a loss for words. "That's good then, ain't it?"

"I.... I don't know," Horace shook his head. "I never thought things would happen this fast."

"Do ya wanna marry her?" Sully came to the point.

"Uh... sure," he did not sound convincing.

"Somethin' holdin' ya back?" Sully perceived.

"I don't wanna wait too long," his stomach was in a knot. "Too many other men t' compete with."

"Love ain't a competition, Horace," Sully counseled.

Horace took a deep breath and composed himself, "I reckon I should do things right this time."

"What do ya mean?" he noticed the change in his demeanor.

"I mean...." Horace hesitated. "I wanna ask permission from her family, invite 'em t' come out for the weddin'."

"That's nice o' ya," Sully patted his shoulder. "If you're sure it's what ya really want."

"It is," he sounded sure.

"Why not send 'em a telegram then?" he suggested.

"That's a good idea," he turned toward the Depot. "Thanks, Sully."

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

"Dr. Quinn," Teresa looked down. "I have told my husband that we are to have a child."

"And how did he receive the news?" Michaela smiled.

"I am concerned about his reaction," she answered.

"Oh?" the physician wondered. "Why is that?"

************
Chapter 12
************

"I do not know if I should be telling you this," Teresa hesitated.

Michaela did not want to risk the fragile friendship that she had begun to establish, "It may help to talk about things."

Teresa decided to tell the doctor, "Jacob wants to build a house for us. I... I do not think we can afford it. I believe this has troubled him for some time, and now that we are to have a baby, he is again feeling the pressure. I just do not want him to drink, Dr. Quinn."

Michaela could see the anguish in her face, "Mrs. Slicker, men feel a very strong need to provide for their family. That includes a home."

"But, when a man does not have the money...." she hesitated.

"Marriage is a partnership," Michaela revealed her philosophy. "But our society has convinced men that they alone must be the breadwinner."

"Your husband...." Teresa queried her. "He is the breadwinner?"

"My husband, too, believes that he must provide certain things for our family, but most of the time, we share the duties of running our household," she answered. "The most important thing, I believe, when you have differences in opinion over money matters is to talk to one another. Communication is vital if trust is to be maintained."

"Jacob will not listen to my opinion," her shoulders slumped.

"Perhaps you could think of a way to get his attention," Michaela implied.

"I do not wish to argue," she retorted.

"You're carrying his child now," the doctor reminded her. "You have a say in where that new life should live."

"I will try speaking with him again, Doctor," Teresa was convinced.

"There's one more thing about which I need to advise you," Michaela felt compelled to caution her. "Jake has no right to strike you."

"It only happened once," she looked down.

"He has no right under any circumstances," Michaela was firm.

"I understand, Doctor," Teresa nodded.

"Please.... could you call me Michaela?" she touched her arm.

"Michaela," Teresa spoke the name with admiration. "Thank you."

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

"Brian?" Sully found his son on the front porch. "Ya okay?"

"I'm fine, Pa," the young man gazed at the setting sun.

"You were kinda quiet through dinner," Sully patted his shoulder.

He sighed, "Just thinkin'."

Sully felt a tinge of guilt, "Brian, sometimes I don't think I tell ya enough how proud I am o' ya. How much I love ya."

"Sure ya do," he quickly replied.

"Through all that's happened t' our family over the past few years, since I fell off that cliff really, I don't know how we would've made it without you," Sully felt a lump in his throat.

Brian was moved by his words, "Ya know what Ma always says."

"What's that?" Sully grinned.

"We're a family," he repeated. "There's a lot o' love in this house."

Sully chuckled.

"What's funny?" Brian smiled.

"I was just thinkin' 'bout when you were a little boy," he reminisced. "Always followin' me around, askin' questions."

"Sorta like Katie an' Josef now," the young man saw the comparison. "I may be bigger, but one thing hasn't changed."

"Your Ma's cookin'?" Sully joked.

"No," he laughed. "That's changed for the better. What ain't changed is how I feel about you. I'll always admire ya.... love ya... think of ya as my real Pa."

"That means a lot t' me, Brian," Sully hugged him. "Sure am gonna miss ya when ya go t' Philadelphia."

"I'll bring ya back somethin'," Brian promised.

"Thanks," he patted his back. "Come on. I got a project I need your help on."

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

"I wish to speak with you," Teresa brushed her long tresses as her husband settled into bed.

"Can it wait 'til mornin'?" Jake sighed. "I'm real tired."

"No," she rose and went to him. "I want to discuss this house that you feel you must build."

"Let me worry 'bout it," he lowered his lamp.

"Jacob!" she raised her voice.

He sprang up, having never heard his wife yell.

"Now that I have your attention," she sat down calmly. "I said I would like for us to discuss this."

"Look," he took her hand. "Some things a wife don't gotta worry about. The husband will provide, an' the house is one o' those things. I'm gonna build us a house."

"Where will you get the money?" Teresa fretted.

"I got a loan at the bank," he confessed.

"A loan?" she was aghast. "We are in debt to Mr. Lodge?"

"Like I said," he squeezed her hand. "Let me worry about it. You just think about the baby."

"How are you going to build a house and continue to earn money at the barbershop to pay back this loan?" she did not understand.

"I ain't gonna be buildin' it," he raised his eyebrows. "Sully offered."

"Dr. Quinn did not tell me," she found it curious.

"Maybe Dr. Mike don't know," he assured her. "It don't matter. They got a beautiful home. He does good work. We'll have us a fine house. I promise."

"But..." she stopped herself.

"'Night," he rolled over.

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

"Well, I don't know how you did it, but it fits quite nicely," Michaela assessed the position of the crib in the nursery.

Sully smiled, "Brian figured it would look best in the corner."

"Josef and Katie can see one another this way," she was satisfied. "Shall we bring in the children?"

"Okay, Brian," Sully called. "Bring 'em in. Your Ma likes it."

Brian was happy to comply after trying to keep his siblings occupied in his room. The children stopped at the doorway of the nursery.

"Mama! Poppy!" Katie's eyes opened wide. "Joey really gonna sleep in here now?"

"Hope so, Kates," Sully lifted his son. "What ya think, Joe?"

The little boy pointed in curiosity to his bed, then searched his mother's face. Michaela fought the tear that was welling in the corner of her eye.

"Ya okay?" her husband noticed.

"Yes," she said in a subdued voice.

Sully suspected that fatigue was playing a part in her reaction, but he knew that having their baby sleep in a different room was an emotional adjustment for her. It was an acknowledgment that he was no longer an infant in need of her constant care.

"Who wants a bedtime story?" Sully looked around the room.

"Me," Brian raised his hand.

Katie and Josef soon imitated. Sully looked toward Michaela.

"Oh, definitely," she consented.

With Josef in his arms, he helped Katie under the covers and sat on the edge of her bed. Brian knelt down at his feet, and Michaela pulled up the rocking chair. All ears were ready for his story.

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

Horace fell asleep beside his telegraph, having sent out a wire earlier inquiring about Eleanor's family. He hoped for permission to marry her, and anxious for a reply, he remained in his office.

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

"Good night, my darlings," Michaela leaned over to kiss Katie and Brian.

Then lifting Josef from Sully's arms, she brought her lips to the sleeping little boy's forehead. Sully placed his hand on her waist as she lowered their son into his crib. For a few moments, she stood and stroked his tummy. Then she pulled up his blanket.

"I watch Joey, Mama," Katie absorbed what was happening. "Don't worry."

"I know you will, Sweetheart," she wiped her eyes.

"I'm gonna go check Wolf," Brian said. "'Night."

"'Night, Brian," Sully said.

"I'll be down in a minute," Michaela stated as Brian left the room.

Sully embraced her, "You're tired. Go on int' bed, an' I'll be there soon."

"I want to check on Wolf first," she attempted a smile. Then she whispered, "Are you going to have a little talk with our daughter?"

"Yep," he nodded.

"I love you, Katie," she kissed the child.

"I love you, too, Mama," Katie replied.

When Michaela had departed, Sully sat again on the edge of the little girl's bed, "Everythin' okay, Kates?"

"Yep," she toyed with the edge of her blanket.

"Anythin' on your mind?" he tried again.

She held back and said nothing.

"Ya know, sometimes when we don't tell what's botherin' us, it keeps botherin' us even more," he attempted.

Katie looked toward the door to be certain her mother was not near, "Poppy, I wanna buy Mama a new brush."

Sully felt relieved, "That why ya went t' the bank?"

"Mr. Lodge not give me money," she became teary eyed.

"Come here, sweet girl," he pulled her into his strong arms.

Katie felt like there was no better place on earth, "I can't get Mama brush without money."

"Maybe someone could help ya," he suggested.

"Could you?" her brown eyes reminded him of Michaela at that instant.

"Sure," his voice was soothing. "We'll do it t'gether. Okay?"

Her heart felt as if a burden had been lifted, "You were right, Poppy."

"'Bout what?" he stroked her hair.

She confessed, "Better t' tell what's botherin' me."

He kissed her, "Think ya can sleep now?"

"We surprise Mama?" she hoped.

"Best kind o' present," he grinned. "We'll surprise her."

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

"I think another day of rest, and Wolf will be well on the road to recovery," Michaela said to Brian.

"Ya did a good job, Ma," he stroked the animal's head. "Okay if I sleep down here beside him t' night?"

"It's not very comfortable, but I understand your wanting to," she smiled. "If you'll excuse me, I'm very tired."

"Thanks," he kissed her.

As Michaela climbed the steps, her thoughts turned to Josef in the nursery with Katie. She stopped at the doorway to look in on them, then proceeded down the hallway to her room.

Sully was already in bed when she entered. She was so exhausted, she wanted to fall into bed fully clothed, but she mustered the energy to get into her nightgown.

"Did you find out why Katie wanted the money?" she climbed into bed beside her husband.

"Yep," he slid his arms around her.

"Are you going to tell me?" she looked up with those same eyes he adored.

He took a deep breath, "Can I tell ya that you'll find out soon, an' it ain't anythin' t' worry about?"

"Katie doesn't want me to know?" her voice saddened.

"Michaela," he kissed the top of her head. "That little girl adores ya. It's somethin' she needs t' do without ya knowin' yet."

"I suppose I'll have to settle for that," she could no longer fight her fatigue.

"Go t' sleep," he lifted her chin for a kiss. "I love you."

"I love you, too," she snuggled closer.

************
Chapter 13
************

Sully heard the rooster crow from the barn and opened his eyes. There, still tucked against him, was Michaela. He rubbed her back and pulled the covers a bit higher to protect her from the chill of the morning air.

Then he glanced toward the wall where Josef's crib once stood. The morning sun illuminated the spot in an eerie way, as if to highlight the rite of passage that his son had made.

Slipping from his wife's side, he pulled on his buckskins and crept down the hallway to look in on the children. Both were still asleep, sweetly unaware of the effect they had on their parents.

Sully returned to his bedroom and lay back down beside Michaela.

Stirred by his movements, she yawned, "Are they all right?"

"Fine," he whispered. "Go back to sleep."

She pulled his arm across her, "What are your plans today?"

"I'm gonna talk t' Jake about his new house," he said.

"Sully," she contemplated how to put her thoughts into words. "If they can't afford to build a house...."

"Ain't our business, Michaela," he stopped her.

"Mrs. Slicker's health is my business," she challenged him.

"She havin' problems with her pregnancy?" he was concerned.

"She is still recuperating from a concussion," she replied. "But beyond that, she has a dreadful fear that Jake will start drinking again."

"That's what it's like t' live with an alcoholic," his jaw tightened. "When they're sober, ya always feel like it's the calm before a storm."

"You speak as if you have firsthand experience," she noted his expression.

"Knew a lot of miners who couldn't control the bottle," he simply stated. "Miss Teresa's gonna be okay, ain't she?"

"I believe so, but between us, she thinks that Jake's need to build a house may produce further pressure on him." she paused.

"I remember when we argued over this place," he recalled.

"And we learned a lesson," she observed. "We're in a partnership."

"Doubt if Jake sees his marriage that way," Sully knew the man well.

"It further illustrates to me how lucky I am," Michaela smiled.

"T' be in partnership with me?" he grinned.

"You bring wonderful assets to our enterprise," she spoke suggestively.

"I'm pretty impressed with your assets, too," he raised an eyebrow.

She lightly touched the side of his face, "The profits have been quite rewarding."

"Can we go back to those assets?" he slipped his hand to her thigh and began to raise the material of her nightgown.

She tingled, feeling her desire for him instantly rise. He had the most incredible ability to arouse her with a touch, a word, a look from his mesmerizingly beautiful eyes. She framed his face between her hands and began to kiss every aspect of his countenance.

He fixed his gaze upon her as he spoke:

"Give me a kiss, add to that kiss a score;
Then to that twenty, add a hundred more,
A thousand to that hundred, so kiss on,
To make that thousand a million,
Triple that million, and when that is done,
Let's kiss afresh, as when we first begun."

"Millions of kisses?" she mused.

"I can never get enough of 'em," he grinned.

"Was that Keats?" she ventured a guess at the poet.

"Robert Herrick," he informed her.

She reminisced, "Remember when the Reverend had those chats with us before we got married?"

"What made ya think o' that?" he tilted his head.

"Kissing," she said. "You told me how much you enjoyed it when I said I relished conversation."

"I also said ya were good at kissin'," he loved her expression. "Truth is, I never suspected a prim an' proper Boston lady could be so good at it."

"I must confess, I never imagined it would be so agreeable," she confided. "And I never dreamed how much I would enjoy.... certain aspects of marriage. When I'm not with you, I'm incomplete."

"I feel the same way," he smiled.

Her look unlocked his soul, "Love me, Sully."

His touch began to work its magic across her body. Raising her hand to his lips, he kissed the palm, all the while never breaking the hold that his eyes had on her. Desiring to awaken in him the same passions which he had ignited in her, she trailed kisses across his chest.

Soon their bodies and souls were fully prepared for their union, and so in an electrifying and pleasurable motion, they came together. Moving and melding as one, their hearts nearly burst from the expression of their love.

"How you make me feel alive," Michaela tried to calm her breathing.

"I love you," he tenderly kissed her neck, her chin, the sides of her mouth.

She traced the line of his jaw with her finger, then twined the hair at the base of his neck between her fingers, "I love you, too."

"'Specially your assets," he tickled her.

"Sully!" she squirmed.

Suddenly they heard crying from the nursery.

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

The clicking of the telegraph wakened Horace with a start. Yawning, he wiped the sleep from his eyes, then realized that a message was coming through. He picked up his pencil and replied. Then he began to decipher the code.

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

"Josef!" Michaela picked up her sobbing son from the floor of the nursery.

"What happened, Kates?" Sully placed his supporting hand on the baby's back.

"Joey try t' climb out o' crib," she answered.

"Shhh," Michaela cupped her son's head against her cheek. "I don't think anything is broken."

"Did ya try t' stop him?" Sully lifted his daughter.

"No, I try t' help him," she replied.

"Katie!" Michaela stood in disbelief. "You know that only grownups are permitted to lift him from his bed."

"He almost made it," she proudly announced.

"Katie," Sully sat down in the rocking chair as the baby began to calm. "Josef's not allowed out o' the crib unless we take him out. Ya see what can happen when he does it on his own? He could've been hurt."

Her eyes watered, "I see, Poppy. Next time, I tell Joey t' stop."

Michaela finally got the little boy to stop crying, "Or get one of us." Then she held the baby up to her face, "And you, young man, nearly scared us to death."

Josef's smile defused every bit of worry in his mother.

"And so another day begins in the Sully house," Michaela sighed. "Come on, let's get breakfast."

Katie rushed out first, "I go wake up Bran!"

"I got a feelin' he's already awake," Sully chuckled.

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

"Matthew," Horace beckoned the young man from his window at the Depot. "Come here, quick!"

"What's wrong?" Matthew observed his troubled expression.

"Yesterday, I sent a message t' the family of Eleanor Waldron, asking for permission t' marry her," he began.

"Who's Eleanor Waldron?" the lawyer held up his hand to stop him.

"She's the mail order bride I sent for," Horace explained.

"Ya sent for a mail order bride?" Matthew was shocked.

"Matthew," Horace grew impatient. "Look at the telegram I got back in reply."

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

Preston spotted Eleanor dining in the Chateau restaurant, "Good morning."

"Good morning," she glanced up from her meal.

"May I join you?" he requested.

"Certainly," she consented.

"I... I was wondering if I might entice you to go for a buggy ride with me this afternoon," Preston almost felt nervous.

"I'm not sure that would be proper," she replied.

"I can assure you that I am a perfect gentleman," he was offended.

"I have no doubt about that," Eleanor smiled. "But how would it look for me to be out with another man when I'm engaged?"

"You're engaged?" he was disappointed.

"Yes," she responded.

"But...." he was speechless. "When? When did Horace propose?"

"He hasn't exactly proposed yet," she smiled. "But I'm anticipating that he'll make up his mind soon."

"And just like that, you'll agree?" Preston countered. "I had been hoping that our acquaintanceship was growing into fondness on your part."

"Oh, I'm quite fond of you," she touched his hand.

"And I can offer you so much more than... than someone who clicks away at a little machine day and night," he became condescending. "I have several business enterprises, I come from one of Boston's finest families and...."

"Preston," she interrupted. "While I'm fond of you, there is something very special about Horace. A sweetness, an innocence. If I had never met him, perhaps things would be different, but...."

"But you're willing to throw away the promise of an extremely lucrative union, for a drab and dull life as Mrs. Horace Bing," he stood.

"I'm sorry," she saw the pain in his eyes.

"Don't feel sorry for me," he straightened his back. "There are other fish in the sea."

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

"My God, Horace," Matthew finished reading the message. "We... we gotta do somethin'."

"I know," he swallowed hard.

The young man folded the paper, "Don't say nothin' t' anyone yet. Okay?"

"Right," Horace nervously replied.

************
Chapter 14
************

"Sully!" Loren called as he swept the walkway in front of his store.

"Ya wanted t' see me?" he approached.

"Wanted t' know if Katie talked t' ya about borrowin' money," the storekeeper leaned on his broom.

Sully smiled, "She did. Wants t' get her Ma a brush."

"I got a lot o' fancy brushes in my new catalog," Loren indicated.

"That's good t' know," he answered. "Thing is, Michaela's Pa gave her the one that Katie ruined, an' I wanna get it fixed."

"Well, if ya change your mind, let me know," Loren returned to his sweeping.

"Loren," Sully touched his shoulder. "Thanks."

He wiped his nose, "Just bein' a good businessman, is all. Well.... I didn't wanna see that little girl's feelin's hurt either."

"She's got a way o' meltin' your heart, don't she?" Sully grinned.

"That she does," Loren could not help but smile.

Sully crossed the street and headed for the barbershop. The door was already open and Jake was escorting a customer through the entrance.

"Mornin', Jake," Sully greeted him.

"Mornin'," he replied gruffly. "Thinkin' about finally lettin' me cut off them locks o' yours?"

"No," Sully sat down. "I'm thinkin' I'd like t' talk with ya about that house you're wantin' t' build."

Jake came over to him, "I'm gonna be able t' pay ya real good, Sully."

"Oh?" he responded.

"Between you an' me, I took out a loan," the barber revealed. "I wanna give Teresa a proper house. Make it big for the family we'll have."

"Ya took out a loan?" Sully perceived a potential for trouble.

"I'll pay it back," Jake waved his hand. "So, ya interested in seein' the drawin' I made?"

"Sure," he agreed.

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

"Sully," Michaela greeted her husband when he arrived at the Clinic. "Did you speak with Jake?"

"Yep," he kissed her. "I'm gonna get started on his house when I return from Montana."

She sighed.

He rubbed her arms as he changed the subject, "No patients this mornin'?"

"A nosebleed and an ingrown toenail," she smiled.

"Sounds like a challenge," he peeked into the anteroom to observe his napping children. "Prob'ly 'bout as much fun for Brian, stayin' home with Wolf all day."

"I've been thinking," she strolled to her desk and sat down.

"'Bout what?" he followed her and sat on the corner of her desk.

"What would you think if I had Jake trim Josef's hair?" she sought his opinion.

Sully paused.

"You disapprove," she quickly concluded from his silence.

"I didn't say that," he retorted.

"You didn't say anything, and that means you disapprove," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Could mean I'm thinkin' about it," he reached down and touched her chin. "Why ya wanna cut his hair?"

"It's never been cut, Sully," she reasoned. "It falls into his eyes, gets easily tangled. I just think for an active little boy, it would be easier if his hair weren't quite so long."

"Don't ya like long hair?" he teased.

She rose from the chair. Sully parted his legs to invite her to move closer.

Running her fingers through the hair at his temples, she smiled, "You know better than that."

"Just a trim?" he clarified.

"Yes," she nodded. "Simply to keep it out of his eyes."

"I guess I got no objection then," he slid his hands around her waist.

"Thank you," she smiled.

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

"Robert E," Sully greeted his friend as he pulled something from his saddlebag.

"What ya got there?" the blacksmith noticed.

"A brush," he answered.

Robert E chuckled, "Don't look like much of a brush t' me."

"Katie ran it through some knotted fur on Wolf an', now it's no good," Sully held it up. "Think ya can fix it?"

"Fix it?" he took it into his strong hand. "Bristles need replaced."

"Can ya do it?" Sully asked again.

"Ain't gonna be easy," he responded.

"I know," the mountain man looked down. "Michaela's Pa gave it to her when she was a little girl, an' I know it would mean...."

"I can do it," he did not wish to torment his friend. "I got time this mornin' t' work on it."

"Thanks, Robert E," Sully patted his back.

"I been thinkin' about Frazer," Robert E changed the subject.

"Nobody's gonna find out where ya are," Sully tried to allay his fears.

"I can't be sure another bounty hunter won't come lookin' for me again one day," he replied.

"I guess we all got things in our pasts that could come back t' haunt us," Sully nodded. "But we can't live our lives always lookin' over our shoulders."

"I know," the blacksmith acknowledged. "I reckon I'll just have t' cross that bridge...."

"Sully! Robert E!" Matthew called to them.

"Somethin' wrong?" Sully noted his son's tone.

"Somethin' big," Matthew nodded. "We're meetin' at the Depot. I gotta get Jake an' Hank."

The two immediately headed for the Depot.

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

"What's this all about?" Hank was annoyed at the mystery.

Matthew took over, "Horace sent a telegram t' ask Eleanor Waldron's folks for permission t' marry her."

Simultaneously, Jake and Robert E chimed in, "Who's Eleanor Waldron?"

"She's a mail order bride I sent for from back East," Horace obligingly told them.

"Let me finish," Matthew spoke louder. "The telegraph operator there contacted the authorities before sendin' Horace this reply." Opening the telegram, Matthew read aloud:

"Mr. Bing. Eleanor Waldron is not who she pretends to be. She is wanted in here for murdering two previous husbands and taking off with their inheritances. There is a $3,000 reward for her arrest. William Nance, Sheriff, Bennington, Vermont."

"$3,000!" Jake's eyes widened.

"So, let's turn her in an' split the money," Hank contributed.

"It's Horace's money if she's gonna be turned in," Sully reasoned. "He's the one who found it out."

"So why'd ya call us in on it then?" Hank queried.

Matthew explained, "I'm wonderin' if she might somehow be connected t' the death of Patrick Frazer."

"Don't seem likely," Hank figured. "I doubt if they were married."

"What makes ya think it's possible, Matthew?" Sully had faith in his son's instinct.

"Several reasons," he stated. "She's already capable o' murder, an' she arrived in town around the same time we brought in Frazer."

"We got no other suspects," Sully nodded.

"We can either turn her int' the authorities now," Matthew continued. "Or we can try t' prove she killed Frazer, too. Then turn her in."

"I vote for turnin' her in now," Jake said.

"Me, too," Horace contributed.

"How we gonna prove she did in the bounty hunter?" Hank withheld an opinion.

"Let me wire them again t' see how her husbands died," Matthew offered. "Maybe that'll give us an idea o' what direction t' take."

"Sounds reasonable," Robert E nodded.

"Meanwhile, what am I supposed t' do?" Horace felt anxious.

"Delay," Matthew suggested.

"Delay?" he became even more uncomfortable.

"Keep on courtin' her, but don't be alone with her," Matthew detailed. "Take her to public places, an' don't let her suspect ya know anythin'."

"I... I don't know if I can do this," the telegraph operator took a deep breath.

"Horace," Hank looked him straight in the eye. "If ya don't think ya can do it, maybe I'll ask her t' marry me."

Horace suddenly stiffened his resolve, "I'll do it."

"We gotta keep this a secret just among us," Matthew studied each man's face. "An' we all need t' watch Eleanor Waldron like a hawk."

"Kinda hard with her stayin' at the Chateau," Horace mentioned.

"Maybe ya can get her t' stay in town at the Gold Nugget," Hank recommended. "I'll keep an eye on her."

"Good idea," Jake approved. "We can all keep a better watch that way."

"How am I gonna get her t' move t' town?" Horace folded his arms. "Preston's been treatin' her like royalty at his place."

"Tell her ya wanna get t' know her better... spend more time with her," Robert E volunteered. "Then mention the Gold Nugget."

"Can't hurt t' ask," Jake responded.

"I don't understand why she didn't latch ont' Preston in the first place," Horace said. "He's got more money than anyone else in town."

"Maybe she figures you're a more generous man," Sully smiled.

"Too generous, I reckon," Horace wiped the perspiration from his brow.

"Okay, then," Hank pulled back. "If we're done here, I got a business t' run."

"Should we tell Loren or the Reverend?" Robert E thought.

"No reason t' tell anyone else right now," Matthew concluded. "Seems she's only dangerous once she's married t' the fella. After we hear from the authorities, we'll act."

One by one, they departed, leaving Sully and Matthew with Horace at the Depot.

"I wanna send two wires, Horace," Matthew said.

"Who else?" the telegraph operator put on his sleeve protectors.

"I wanna get a search warrant from a judge in Denver," the young man added.

Sully patted his son's back, "I'll see ya later."

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

"Uh, Eleanor," Horace could not look the woman in the eye. "Grace sure makes good meatloaf, don't she?"

"Yes," she wiped her mouth. "Is something bothering you, Horace?"

"NO!" he suddenly realized his volume was too loud. "Just had a busy mornin' at the Depot."

"Oh?" she sipped her glass of water. "Anything of interest?"

"What makes ya think that?" he became paranoid.

"Well, you said it was busy," Eleanor was puzzled by his demeanor. "I simply wondered if anything interesting occurred."

"No," he shook his head. "Most borin' mornin' I ever saw."

"That's too bad," she concluded her meal.

"Eleanor, I was wonderin'," he broached the subject. "It's kinda far for ya t' be stayin' at the Chateau. Wouldn't ya like t' be closer t' town?"

"That depends," she hesitated.

"On what?" Horace became apprehensive.

"On whether I have a reason to be closer to town," she hinted.

"Well..." he hedged. "Seems like it'd be easier t' court."

"Are you asking me to marry you officially?" her eyes brightened.

"Uh.... not exactly officially...." he swallowed hard. "Unless that would cause ya t' move t' the Gold Nugget."

"Isn't that Mr. Lawson's establishment?" Eleanor recalled.

"Yea," he said.

"Would you like to tell me the real reason for this?" she asked.

************
Chapter 15
************

Hank and Jake sat a few tables from Horace and Eleanor at Grace's Cafe.

"Horace looks like he's gonna explode," Hank shook his head. "I ain't so sure he's gonna be able t' do this."

"Why don't ya happen by their table an' bail him out?" Jake recommended.

"Good idea," the tall bartender sauntered toward them.

"Afternoon, Eleanor," he tipped his hat. "Horace."

"Mr. Lawson," she smiled. " We were just speaking of you."

"Must be fascinatin' courtin' conversation," he said sarcastically. "Ya sure know how t' woo the ladies, Horace."

Horace was grateful for the company, "I was just suggestin' t' Eleanor that if she stayed at the Gold Nugget, I could see more of her."

"That's true," Hank supported the notion. "My place's right in the center o' things... Grace's Cafe, the Gazette, the livery, Bray's Mercantile... the commerce o' our community."

"You're very persuasive, Mr. Lawson," Eleanor stated.

"Truth is, I'd love t' have a beautiful woman like you t' see more of myself," he used a suggestive tone.

Horace became indignant, "Eleanor's my fiancee, Hank."

"Seems like I got a history o' seein' your fiancees," the bartender countered.

Jake could see that the conversation was not going well, and hurried to the table.

"Well, isn't anyone gonna introduce me t' the lovely lady?" he removed his hat.

"Jake," Horace began. "This is my fiancee, Eleanor Waldron. Eleanor, this here's Jake Slicker."

"Please t' meet ya," he put on his best look of astonishment. "Fiancee? Well, what a pleasant surprise."

She turned to Horace, "So, you're making it official?"

"Uh..." he turned pale.

"Horace is kinda shy," Jake interrupted. "He prob'ly wants t' send for a ring before he makes it official."

"Yea," Horace nodded. "I gotta order a ring."

"Why don't I help Eleanor here move her things t' the Gold Nugget?" Hank volunteered. "Don't ya got work at the telegraph office, Horace?"

"No, I...." he realized what Hank was doing. "Uh... yea, I got work."

Eleanor shook her head, "The men in this town are so friendly."

"Only t' pretty ladies like yourself," Jake bowed slightly.

"All right, Mr. Lawson," she stood. "If it's all right with Horace, I'll be grateful for your assistance."

"Oh, it's all right with me," Horace smiled. "Believe me. It's all right."

"Need me t' go with ya, Hank?" Jake grinned.

"Nope," he placed his hand on Eleanor's back. "I can handle things just fine, thanks. We're gonna start with callin' me Hank."

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

"Jake," Michaela called to the barber as he was returning to his shop.

"Dr. Mike," he nodded. "What can I do for ya?"

"I'd like for you to trim my son's hair," she stated.

"They can ask me themselves," he did not understand.

"No, my baby," she indicated the child in her arms. "Josef."

"Oh, Josef!" he raised his eyebrows. "Sully know 'bout this?"

"Yes," she found the question odd. "Why do you ask?"

"I just figured you two were against haircuts," he joked.

"Not a cut," she clarified. "A trim."

"Well, I got time now, if ya wanna bring him over," he pointed.

"Now would be fine, thank you," she speeded up to keep pace with him.

Loren observed their entry into the barbershop and with no customers, decided to step over to investigate.

Michaela set the toddler in the barber chair, but he quickly began to squirm.

"Looks like he's as fond o' haircuts as his Pa," Loren chuckled.

"Maybe a piece o' candy would keep him still," Jake went to a jar he kept on his counter top. Pulling out a small piece of licorice, he offered it to the child.

Josef looked up to his mother. She nodded her approval, and the little boy gleefully accepted it. Jake began to comb through the long wavy locks of the child.

Just as his scissors were about to make their first cut, Michaela interrupted, "That's too much!"

"I ain't cut yet," he defended.

Loren was now deriving a great deal of entertainment from the show.

"Let me do my job, Dr. Mike," Jake asserted.

"Trim," she repeated. "Only a trim."

Jake held up several strands of the child's hair and positioned his scissors. Before cutting, he looked at Michaela. She shook her head no. He raised the scissors to cut a smaller portion. Again she shook her head no.

"Ya sure ya don't wanna leave his hair like it is?" Jake was becoming frustrated.

"No, I told you what I want," she stated.

"Why don't you do it then?" Jake offered her the scissors.

"Perhaps that's a good idea," she swiftly scooped her son into her arms.

"'Fore ya leave, Dr. Mike," the barber stopped her. "There's somethin' I'd like t' talk with ya about."

"Oh?" she turned.

"Privately," he stared at Loren.

"Gotta get back t' the store anyway," he stood. "I just wondered what Jake was gonna charge ya, Dr. Mike."

"'Bye, Loren," he was not amused.

"What was it you wanted to discuss?" Michaela set Josef on the floor.

"Teresa," his tone changed. "I... I wanna make sure she's okay."

"I suggested that she end the school year now rather than simply take off a few days," she informed him. "She needs to rest."

"I'll see t' that," he asserted. "Anythin' else?"

"I'm not certain that you want to hear what I have to say," she hesitated.

"Sure I do," he said. "Is there somethin' ya ain't told me?"

"Your drinking," she was direct. "It must end. Not just the hollow words of a promise, but in reality. It is of great concern to all of us."

"I ain't gonna take another drink," he vowed.

"I've heard you say those words before," Michaela folded her hands.

"I mean it," he was contrite.

Michaela picked up her son again, "Children are the most precious gift we can have in this life, Jake. They need to be able to trust and believe in their parents."

"I know that better than anyone," he thought back to his terrible childhood.

"Listen to your wife," she counseled. "She's your partner in this."

"My partner," he repeated the word. "Never thought o' marriage like that."

"Trust me," she smiled. "It is."

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," he nodded. "I know I got a lot o' work t' do."

"Sully and I will help in any way we can," she cupped her son's head in her hand. "Good day."

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

Matthew stopped at the Depot to speak with Horace, "Any word yet?"

"No," Horace had a dejected expression on his face.

"What's wrong?" Matthew noticed.

"Should've seen how I acted at lunch with Eleanor," his shoulders slumped.

"What do ya mean?" the young man feared.

"All nervous," Horace replied. "Good thing Hank an' Jake came over t' our table."

"Where's Eleanor now?" Matthew was curious.

"Hank took her t' the Chateau t' get her belongin's," he responded. "She's movin' t' the Gold Nugget."

"That's good, then," he nodded.

The telegraph started to click, and both men jumped. Composing himself, Horace began to write down the message.

Speaking as he wrote, he let Matthew know the news, "It's from Judge Wells in Denver. Ya got your search warrant."

"Good," Matthew was relieved. "That means we can search through her things legally. Now, when Eleanor comes back t' town, ya gotta distract her. Get her outa the hotel, an' we'll make the search."

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

"Eleanor!" Preston was delighted to see her. Then he spotted Hank close on her heels. "What brings you here?"

"Come t' help Eleanor move her things," Hank smiled. "She's gonna be stayin' at the Gold Nugget now."

"May I ask why?" he frowned.

"You may not," Hank grinned.

He turned to accompany Eleanor. They climbed the steps and walked past several doors before reaching her room. Hank did not let the ostentatious decor intimidate him. He plopped down in a chair, propped up his boots and watched the young woman fold her belongings. She took her time with each item, meticulously placing everything in it's proper place.

"'Fraid my place ain't this fancy," he winked. "But it's clean an' friendly."

"I'm not at all materialistic," she noted.

"That mean ya don't like fancy things?" Hank asked.

"In a way," she smiled. "I have nice things, but I believe that each person should be judged according to his or her personal traits, not their monetary worth."

"That mean ya don't care 'bout money?" he enjoyed the game.

"In a way," she repeated.

"Ya 'bout done?" he grew impatient.

"Almost," she stopped to glance around the room. "I want to check the drawers first."

"I'll help ya," he began.

"No," she became agitated. "That won't be necessary."

He suddenly stopped, catching sight of a syringe.

"What's this?" he lifted it.

"Why.... I... I don't know," she pretended. "I wonder how that got in here? Perhaps it was left from a previous guest. I have everything now. We can leave."

"Not so fast," he grabbed her wrist.

************
Chapter 16
************

Sully and Katie glanced up expectantly when Michaela arrived back at the Clinic with Josef. Other than a brief hello, she did not speak.

"Come here, big boy," Sully reached for his son. Upon closer inspection of the child's head, he said, "Michaela, how much did Jake charge ya for this haircut?"

"Nothing," she went to her file cabinet.

"That's good," he set the little boy down.

Katie led him to the anteroom to play.

"How much did Jake cut off?" he persisted.

"Nothing," she became teary-eyed. "I couldn't go through with it."

He tried not to laugh, "Why not?"

"He's no longer in our room," she shook her head. "I just couldn't handle another change so soon."

"Michaela," he pulled her into his arms.

"What?" she was half laughing, half crying.

"I love ya," he kissed the tip of her nose.

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

"Let go of me!" Eleanor screamed at Hank.

"Not until ya tell me why ya got this in your room," he raised the syringe to her face.

"I told you it must have been left from a previous guest," she insisted. "Perhaps a physician stayed here."

"Or perhaps ya used it t' kill Patrick Frazer," he countered.

"Who?" she struggled against him.

"The bounty hunter," he continued his suspicions.

"Mr. Lawson," her voice was more demanding. "If you don't let go of me at once, I'll...."

"You'll what?" he squeezed harder. "Call for the police? Well, you're lookin' at the closest thing Colorado Springs has t' a sheriff."

"Why on earth would I kill Patrick Frazer?" she attempted to reason.

"You tell me," he held tight.

Hank did not notice that Eleanor had reached into a pocket of her dress. Before he knew it, she was aiming a derringer directly at his temple.

"Let go of me now!" she commanded in a cold tone.

Hank quickly released her, "Now what're ya gonna do? Poke me with that needle?"

"No," she responded. "How would that look? No, you're going to escort me back to town, but unfortunately, on the way, we will be attacked, and you'll be shot trying to save my life."

"Ya think fast," he remained cool. "I'll give ya that."

"Let's go," she waved the pistol. "Lift my trunk. And remember this will be aimed at you."

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

"Dinner is ready," Teresa called from the back room of the barbershop.

"Kinda early, ain't it?" Jake called.

"I was hungry," she lowered her voice as he entered.

Sitting down to the meal, he took Teresa's hand and kissed it.

"What is that for?" she smiled slightly.

"T' thank you," he grinned.

"The meal is not much," she modestly noted.

"I mean t' thank ya for believin' in me," Jake's eyes reddened. "For stayin' with me. For bein' my.... partner."

"You are welcome," Teresa was moved. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he felt a lump in his throat. "An' I promise that I'm gonna make ya happy."

"You have already done that," she slipped her hand to her abdomen.

"Then I'm gonna make ya happier," he amended.

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

"All set?" Sully asked Robert E.

"Did the best I could," he handed Sully the repaired brush.

"Looks perfect t' me," the mountain man grinned. "How much I owe ya?"

"Let's see," Robert E pretended to calculate. "Ya saved my life... I fixed Dr. Mike's brush. We're even."

"Thanks," Sully winked. "I know a couple gals in my house that are gonna be...."

"Sully! Robert E!" Horace rushed to them. "Either o' you seen Hank?"

"Not since this mornin'," Sully recalled. "Why?"

"He took Eleanor out t' the Chateau t' pick up her belongin's and bring 'em back t' the Gold Nugget," Horace related. "They should've been back by now."

"Hank can take care o' himself," Robert E assured. "No reason t' think anythin's happened."

"I'll ride out an' check on things," Sully handed the brush back to his friend. "Watch this for me."

"Maybe Matthew or me oughta go with ya," Robert E suggested.

"No need," Sully waved them off. "Horace, better get back t' the Depot in case that reply comes in."

"Be careful, Sully," Robert E called after him.

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

Sully arrived at the front desk of the Chateau and immediately asked for Eleanor.

"She's checked out, sir," the clerk informed him.

"Sully?" Preston approached. "What are you doing here?"

"Was Hank here?" he came to the point.

"As a matter of fact, he was," Preston did not contain his disdain. "He took Miss Waldron back to town. I'm going there myself."

"I didn't see 'em on my way here," Sully's brow wrinkled.

"Hank borrowed the Chateau wagon in order to carry her trunk," he explained. "They must have taken the Post Road. It's longer but not as bumpy."

"Thanks," Sully left quickly.

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

"Horace!" Matthew called as the telegraph operator returned from the livery. "A message is comin' through."

Horace speeded up his pace and reached his office. Carefully, he noted each signal, then looked up in horror.

"What is it?" Matthew asked.

"She killed her husbands with a syringe," he replied.

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

"Robert E?" Jake was surprised when he opened his door. "What are you doin' here?"

"Somethin's wrong," he spoke low.

"What?" Jake could not imagine.

"Hank's missin', an' Sully went t' look for him," the blacksmith wiped his brow. "Telegram just came that Eleanor Waldron used a syringe t' kill them men."

"So Matthew was right," he realized. "She did kill Frazer."

"I'm more concerned about Sully an' Hank right now," Robert E grew impatient.

"What should we do?" Jake had no suggestion.

"Figure we oughta go see Matthew," the blacksmith recommended.

"Be right with ya," Jake went to tell his wife he would be leaving.

"Where are you going?" Teresa grew anxious.

"I need t' go check on a couple o' friends," he grabbed his hat and gun.

"Why must you take a weapon?" she watched him strap it on.

"Ya gotta trust me, Teresa," he had no time for explanations.

"If you leave...." she stopped herself.

"What?" he turned to face her.

"Never mind," she sighed.

Jake stepped closer to kiss her, "I promise ya, this is important. I can't say more than that right now."

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

"Mind if I ask ya somethin', since I'm gonna die anyway?" Hank leaned back as he directed the horses pulling the wagon.

"What?" Eleanor sat behind him, all the while training the gun on him.

"Why'd ya kill Frazer?" he was curious.

"It seems there is a bounty out for my arrest," she said. "Mr. Frazer desired to collect that reward and caught up with me in St. Louis a few months ago. I managed to get away. But when I learned that he was here in Colorado Springs, I could not take the chance that he might recognize me. I took the jail key from the Depot and went to the jail to silence him."

"So ya used the needle on him," Hank stated.

"An overdose of morphine is not painful," she felt almost noble.

"Why'd ya stab him then?" he queried.

"To make his death look like a crime of robbery," she explained. "I found the knife in the desk drawer along with his money."

"Real clever," he scanned the landscape for a way to disarm her.

"Stop the wagon here," she commanded.

"Why?" he tried to delay.

"This is a perfect spot for you to die," she said matter-of-factly.

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

Matthew was relieved to see Robert E and Jake arrive at the Depot.

"Sully shouldn't have gone t' find Hank by himself," the young man shook his head.

"An' Hank shouldn't have gone with Eleanor by himself," Robert E added. "But the question is what are we gonna do about it now?"

"One thing's for sure. From this point on," Matthew clarified. "No one does anythin' by himself. Agreed?"

They all nodded.

"Okay, I think two of us oughta ride out t' the Chateau t' find out what happened," Matthew directed. "The other two should stay here in town t' arrest Eleanor if she shows up. We got all the evidence we need t' lock her up."

"Who goes t' the Chateau?" Jake wondered.

"I think you an' Robert E should go," Matthew responded.

"I think I oughta stay here," Jake believed.

"Okay, then. Horace, you go with Robert E," the young man amended it.

"I should stay here in case any more telegrams come," he mentioned.

"Then Robert E an' me will go," Matthew rolled his eyes. "Is it settled?

Again, all men nodded.

"Good," Matthew felt anxious. "Let's go."

Before another word was spoken, the Chateau wagon pulled up with a hysterical Eleanor holding the reins. Horace ran to her and helped her down.

"What happened?" Jake saw no sign of his friend.

"It's Hank," tears streamed down her face.

"What about him?" Horace's eyes widened.

"He's been shot," she sobbed. "He's dead!"

************
Chapter 17
************

"Dr. Quinn," Teresa Slicker entered the Clinic. "May I speak with you?"

"I thought you were going to call me Michaela," the doctor frowned.

"Have you been talking to my husband?" the woman looked upset.

"I spoke with him, yes," Michaela did not deny it. "Why?"

"Something he said before he took off," Teresa folded her hands. "He called me his partner."

Michaela contained her smile, "Well, you are his partner."

"He seems different," she observed. "But then later, he would not tell me where he was going. He said it was to help a couple of friends, but did not say whom. And he took his gun."

"That's odd," Michaela's brow wrinkled.

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

Matthew stepped toward the woman, "Eleanor Waldron, I'm placin' ya under arrest."

"What?" she acted incredulous. "I just told you that Hank is dead, and you're arresting me?"

"We know about your husbands in Vermont," Robert E calmly stated. "An' we know ya killed the bounty hunter at the jail."

She quickly pulled out her gun and placed it against the blacksmith's ribs, "Then you may assume that I'm not afraid to use this."

Matthew, Jake and Horace slowly raised their hands.

"Ya ain't got enough bullets in a gun like that t' take all o' us," Jake bravely stated.

"Are you saying that this man is dispensable?" Eleanor's eyes widened. "Isn't he who you went off to rescue from the bounty hunter?"

"Take it easy," Matthew attempted to diffuse the situation. "What is it ya want, Eleanor?"

I want a horse," she kept the gun on Robert E.

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

"Hank!" Sully jumped from his horse when he saw the bartender lying on the ground face down.

The mountain man turned him over and noticed the blood oozing from his chest. Feeling for a pulse, Sully sighed in relief. Faint but there. Knowing he must act quickly, he ripped open Hank's shirt and saw a single bullet hole. As he applied pressure, the bartender slowly opened his eyes.

"Sully," he could barely speak.

"You're gonna be okay, Hank," Sully was uncertain of the accuracy of his words.

"Gotta get int' town," his breathing was labored. "Stop her."

"I gotta get you t' Michaela," the mountain man asserted.

"Don't know if I can ride," Hank was a little more coherent.

"I think I got the bleedin' stopped," Sully assured him. "Maybe I could make a litter t' carry ya."

"No time," he shook his head. "Get int' town."

"Come on," Sully helped him onto his horse. "I ain't leavin' ya here."

They took off for Colorado Springs, with Sully struggling to hold Hank on the horse with him.

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

"I am worried," Teresa sighed.

"Jake wasn't drinking when he left, was he?" Michaela grew anxious.

"No," she replied. "We were eating an early dinner."

"I... I'm certain it's nothing to worry about," the doctor tried to calm her. "I need to stop by the store to see Loren before I go home. I'll walk with you part of the way."

"That would be nice," Teresa smiled.

"Katie, Josef!" Michaela called to her children. "We're going home now."

The children raced to her, giggling all the way. Katie gathered some papers she wanted to take with her.

"Settle down now," the mother smiled.

"Mrs. Slicker!" Katie's face lit up. "Ya come t' teach me somethin'?"

"What would you like to learn?" the instructor asked.

"Anythin'," the little girl requested.

"Your name is Katherine, yes?" Teresa asked.

"Uh huh," the child knew her parents sometimes called her that.

"Did you know that Catherine has been the name of royalty in Spain, Russia, France, England and Portugal?" Teresa touched her hair.

"It has?" Katie was amazed. "What's royalty?"

"It means a ruler... someone who runs a country," the teacher replied.

"I not allowed t' run that far," Katie misinterpreted her meaning.

Teresa glanced down at the little boy at her feet, "May I carry Josef for you?"

"If you'd like," Michaela smiled.

She picked up the child and smiled, "Jose."

"Why ya call him that?" Katie raised her eyebrows.

"That is his name in Spanish," the teacher translated.

"Ya teach me lots!" Katie beamed. "But I call him Joey."

"We can go now," Michaela opened the door.

As they crossed the street, they were unaware of the events transpiring at the Depot.

"Mama," Katie held her mother's hand. "I go see Mr. Lodge?"

"Why, Sweetheart?" Michaela was concerned. "After your last visit there...."

"I wanna tell him somethin'," the little girl responded.

"I don't know, Katie," she had qualms.

"Please?" the little eyes implored.

"Just for a few minutes," she acquiesced.

As Michaela concluded her conversation in front of the barbershop with Teresa, Katie skipped along to the bank and entered.

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

"What do you want?" Preston sat alone at his desk.

"Wanted t' tell ya I don't need a loan now," Katie rested her elbows on his desk.

"My, isn't that good news," he sneered.

Katie giggled, "That's a funny face, Mr. Lodge."

"Does your mother know you're here?" he searched for a way to get rid of the child.

"Yep," she answered. "She say I can only stay a few minutes."

"Well," he pulled out his pocket watch. "I'd say that's how long you've been here."

"Why ya so grumpy?" Katie queried.

"I am not.... grumpy," he felt his nerves tensing.

"Know what?" the little girl smiled.

"What?" he pretended to be interested.

"My Poppy says it's good t' give people things," she came around to the side of his chair. "So, I draw ya this picture."

Preston glanced at it from one angle, then another, trying to discern the image, "What is it?"

"Your bank," she beamed. "Here's the clock, an' the bricks, an...."

"Yes," he nodded. "Well... ah, thank you."

"You're welcome," she stepped back. "'Bye, Mr. Lodge."

"Good-bye," he set the drawing on his desk. Just as she reached the door, Preston called to her, "Katie."

The child stopped and turned to face him. Preston walked to her, towering as he reached her.

He knelt down, "Why did you give that to me?"

"I wanted ya t' know how it feels t' get a gift," she leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

Preston was speechless. He could only manage to touch his cheek in disbelief.

As she turned again to depart, he called again, "Would you like a piece of candy from Mr. Bray's?"

"If Mama says it's okay," she nodded.

"May I walk you there?" he held out his hand.

"Thanks," Katie took it.

Stepping onto the walkway, Katie glanced toward the circle of men at the Depot.

"Hi, Mattew!" she called to her brother.

He did not respond.

She stopped walking, "Can we go see Mattew, Mr. Lodge?"

"May we..." he corrected. "I don't know if your mother would...."

"It's okay t' see Mattew," she reasoned. "He's my brother."

"I suppose then," he shrugged.

As they neared the group, Preston saw Eleanor amid the crowd of men.

"It figures she would be in the midst of them," he noted.

"Who?" Katie struggled to keep up with his gait.

"Miss Waldron," he replied.

"Mattew!" Katie called again.

The young man felt a wave of panic as he saw his little sister approach, "No, Katie! I... I can't talk t' ya right now."

She reached the steps, "Why not?"

"My, my, gentlemen," Preston grinned. "What brings us all here together at the Depot with Miss Waldron?"

She revealed her gun, "I believe they are rather interested in this."

Preston tried to remain calm, "Uh.... what's going on here?"

Matthew swiftly pulled Katie behind him.

"Why I gotta stand back here?" her muffled voice could hardly be heard.

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

"Michaela!" Sully pulled up to the Clinic and helped Hank from the horse. "Michaela!"

From the barbershop, the doctor saw her husband, "Sully!"

Realizing Michaela was hesitating because of her children, Teresa assured her, "I'll watch Josef and get Katie for you."

"Thank you!" Michaela ran for the Clinic. She quickly unlocked the door and helped her husband settle Hank on the examining table. "What happened?"

"He was shot in the chest," Sully was out of breath. "I got him here soon as I could."

Michaela quickly assessed his condition, "I'm going to have to operate."

"Where are the kids?" he looked around. "Mrs. Slicker has Josef, and she went to get Katie at the bank."

"He gonna be okay?" Sully looked down at the saloon keeper.

"Don't talk about me like I ain't here," Hank managed to speak.

"I must remove the bullet," she took the chloroform from her medicine cabinet.

"What if I don't wake up?" he watched her swift movements.

"Then you won't mind if I make a mistake," she attempted some levity.

"If ya don't need me, I gotta go," Sully touched her arm.

"Sully, how did this happen?" she poured the liquid onto a cloth and held it near Hank's nose. "Who shot him?"

"I'll tell ya later," he rushed out.

************
Chapter 18
************

"Miss Teresa," Sully found her with his son on the walkway near the bank. "Where's Katie?"

"She said she was going to visit Mr. Lodge, but no one is in the bank," Teresa sounded concerned.

"Papa!" Josef reached for his father.

"Please do me a favor," he spotted the Chateau wagon at the Depot. "Take my son t' the barbershop an' stay inside. Lock the door."

"But why, Mr. Sully?" she felt a rush of fear.

"Somethin' dangerous is goin' on at the Depot," he cautioned. "Hank's already been shot, an' I don't wanna see anyone else get hurt."

"I will do as you ask," she held Josef close.

The little boy began to cry. Sully caressed his head and took off down an alley to circle around to the Depot.

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

"This is much too large a crowd," Eleanor shook her head. "Let's go. I want that horse."

"Easy now," Matthew wanted to keep everyone calm.

"Move," she motioned for Robert E to lead the way for the livery.

With her hostage, Eleanor slowly began to make her way down the street. No townsfolk seemed to take notice as she followed him and turned the corner toward the livery. When they were out of sight, the men remaining at the Depot knew they must act quickly.

"Katie!" Matthew lifted his sister. "Are ya okay?"

"Yep," she hugged him. "What's everybody doin', Mattew?"

"Yes," Preston was aghast. "What is going on here?"

"We gotta help Robert E," Horace reminded them.

"Maybe we oughta let her get away, then go after her once she's out o' town," Jake recommended.

"She might shoot Robert E before she leaves," Matthew countered.

"Poppy!" Katie saw her father running toward them.

"Katie!" he pulled her into his arms. "Matthew, ya all right?"

"Sully!" Horace was relieved. "Eleanor shot Hank!"

"I know," he nodded, out of breath. "I found him. He ain't dead. Michaela's operatin' on him now."

"Eleanor's got Robert E at the livery," Matthew informed him. "She wants a horse t' escape."

"Matthew," Sully sprang into action. "Take Katie t' the barbershop t' stay with Miss Teresa."

"I can take her," Preston volunteered.

Sully sized up his sincerity, "Okay. Thanks. Stay there with them, if ya would."

"Certainly," Preston was uncharacteristically obliging.

Sully kissed his daughter's cheek, "Be good, sweet girl. I love you."

"Love you, Poppy," she hugged him, then went with Preston.

"What are we gonna do, Sully?" Horace knew they needed a plan.

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

"Michaela," Dorothy knocked at the door of the Clinic.

"Come in!" Michaela called. "I'm glad you're here. I could use your help."

"What on earth has happened?" the redhead saw Hank on the table.

"He's been shot," Michaela's hands were drenched in blood. "Can you administer some more chloroform? He's starting to regain consciousness, and I'm not finished."

"I think I remember how," Dorothy picked up the cloth. "Who shot him?"

"Sully didn't say," she steadied her hands as she pulled the bullet from Hank's chest. "He simply said he had to go, then rushed out."

"Loren said somethin' strange is goin' on over at the Depot," she contributed. "Folks been runnin' around there all afternoon."

"Do you think it has anything to do with the murder of that bounty hunter?" Michaela surmised.

"I don't know," Dorothy shook her head. "But I got a feelin' I'm gonna have a lot t' report in the Gazette next week."

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

"Afternoon, Robert E," Sully nonchalantly walked up to his friend.

"Uh.... Sully," the blacksmith's eyes tried to signal danger.

"I came back for that brush ya fixed," Sully signaled him with a nod.

"If you don't mind, sir," Eleanor kept her hidden gun aimed at Robert E. "He was helping to secure a horse for me first."

"Oh, sorry," Sully stepped back. "I'll wait then."

"This might take a while," she looked agitated. "Perhaps you should come back later."

"I don't mind waitin'," Sully circled around to the side of her.

Before she could react, the mountain man bumped into Eleanor and knocked her off balance. Robert E then grabbed her wrist and dislodged the pistol. She started to run, but the alleyway was blocked by Matthew. She turned in another direction, only to see Horace and Jake.

Sully picked up the gun from the ground and looked her in the eye, "Your days o' husband huntin' are over."

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

Outside the Clinic, the townsfolk gathered to await news of Hank. Sully stopped by the barbershop to pick up his children. They chattered away as he led them to the Clinic to keep vigil for Hank. Preston followed a few paces back.

"Poppy," Katie was happy to see him. "Ya know we can buy stocks?"

"We ain't buyin' any stock, Kates," he sat down outside the Clinic and pulled her into his lap. "Got somethin' here." He pulled the brush from his pocket.

"Mama's brush is all fixed!" she beamed.

"Thanks t' Robert E," Sully caressed her cheek.

Grace lifted Josef, "I wonder if these children could use a hot meal?"

"I'd be much obliged, Grace," Sully smiled.

"Come with me, you two," she led the children away.

"So," Loren put his index fingers in his vest pockets. "Jake said there's a reward for catchin' Eleanor Waldron. Who's gonna get it?"

"Who's Eleanor Waldron?" the Reverend spoke up.

"She's the one who killed the bounty hunter an' shot Hank," Loren explained. "How much did ya say the reward is?"

"$3000," Horace noted.

"Since Horace discovered who she is, he should get it," Matthew recommended.

The telegraph operator pondered it, "Then I'm gonna divide it six ways."

"Huh?" Loren made a face. "Are you crazy?"

"I'm gonna split it with my friends," he nodded. "They helped me, an' Robert E, an'...."

"Who are the five others that you'll share the reward with?" the Reverend smiled at his generosity.

Horace counted them on his fingers, "Matthew, Jake, Robert E an' Sully."

"That's only four," Loren noticed.

Horace rolled his eyes, "An' Hank."

"I'm takin' Eleanor t' Denver t'morrow mornin'," Matthew stated. "I'm sure the authorities in Vermont will be happy t' have her locked up."

Jake pulled his wife into his arms, "Thanks, Horace. $500 will be used up pretty quick by me."

"Ya gonna go on another binge?" Loren could not resist.

"No," Jake rolled his eyes. "Teresa an' me are gonna have a baby, an' Sully's gonna build us a house."

Everyone began to congratulate them as the door to the Clinic opened.

Michaela stepped forward, "Hank's going to be all right. The bullet did not damage any organs."

"Thank the Lord," the Reverend lowered his head.

"I wanna thank my friends, too," Robert E felt a lump in his throat.

Sully slipped his hand around his wife's waist, "Good job, Dr. Quinn."

"Will you please tell me what this was about?" she remained puzzled.

"I'll tell ya all about it later," he kissed her.

"Friends," Preston shook his head. "I don't understand this sentimental hogwash."

Michaela overheard him, "Emerson wrote:

The only way to have a friend is to be one."

"Splitting up a reward of $3000 when it could be invested is insanity, not friendship," the banker walked away.

"I suppose some people never learn," Michaela watched him go.

"I don't know," Sully pulled her closer. "Some folks just don't wanna admit when they learn somethin'."

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

Michaela tensed on the ride home, while Sully quietly described the horrific events of the day. He knew that she was upset.... upset at the danger their family had been in.... upset that he had not told her sooner. And he knew that she would express her concern when they were alone that night.

Gathered with his family in the living room, Brian was riveted to every detail of the story about Eleanor Waldron as his older brother related it. Katie listened intently, but understood very little of what had transpired. Josef had fallen asleep on his father's lap, and Michaela completed her examination of Wolf.

"I believe his lung is fully inflated now," she pulled her stethoscope from her ears.

"That mean Wolf can play now, Mama?" Katie asked.

"I think he may resume some of his less energetic activities," she smiled.

"Time for these two t' be in bed," Sully stood up.

"Matthew an' me are gonna leave for Philadelphia day after t'morrow," Brian was pleased.

"It seems you won't be missing any school after all, Brian," Michaela pointed out. "Mrs. Slicker has canceled the remaining days."

"Why?" he was curious.

"She and Jake are expectin' a baby," Sully knew that the information was now public knowledge.

"Is she still gonna be our teacher in the fall?" the young man queried.

"We'll have to wait and see," Michaela replied.

"That when I start school?" Katie chimed in.

"No," Michaela and Sully answered simultaneously.

Sully leaned down and whispered something in his daughter's ear. Her eyes widened, and she left the room.

"Where is she going?" Michaela noticed.

"Mama," Katie returned, hands behind her back. "We got somethin' for ya."

"What is it, Sweetheart?" she smiled.

"This," Katie pulled the brush from behind her back and handed it to her mother. "Robert E fixed it."

"It... It's just like new!" her face brightened. "Thank you."

"You welcome," Katie hugged her.

She glanced at Sully, "The reason for the loan?"

He winked.

Wolf began to whimper.

"No, Wolf," Katie turned to the animal. "I not gonna use it on you!"

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

With the children in bed, Sully and Michaela stood at their bedroom window looking up at the stars.

"I wish you and Matthew would have told me what was happening with Eleanor Waldron," she voiced her disapproval.

"Everythin' happened kinda fast," he rested his arms on the sill, on either side of her.

"It was much too dangerous. And Katie was right there at the Depot when she was holding the gun on Robert E. What if...." she stopped when he put his finger to her lips.

"We're okay, Michaela," he nodded toward the sky, "Look out there at all them stars, an' make a wish."

His voice, his touch, the nearness of him defused her anxiety. She knew he would tell her to not fret over what didn't happen. She closed her eyes to meditate. He kissed the tender skin behind her ear, and she leaned her head to one side in response.

"What'd ya wish?" he whispered.

"I'm not supposed to say," she melted.

"You can tell me," he nibbled her ear lobe.

"Let's just say, my wish is coming true," she turned to face him.

Michaela rested her hands on his shoulders, then began to caress the sides of his neck. Lifting up on the tips of her toes, she kissed his neck and chin.

"Sully," her voice invited.

"Mmm," she ran his hands up and down the sides of her nightgown.

"Would you recite some poetry to me?" every cell in her body was aroused at the nearness of him.

He cupped her face in his hands and spoke:

"Thou art my life, my love, my heart;
The very eyes of me:
And hast command of every part;
To live and die for thee."

"Was that Mr. Herrick again?" she wondered.

"Very good," he let the backs of his hands slip lightly down the front of her nightgown.

She delighted in his gesture, "Shall we go to bed?"

"An' miss these stars?" he looked over her shoulder at the sky.

"What about making my wish come true?" she intimated.

"Oh?" he teased. "Your dream is t' go t' bed?"

"My dream is to recline in the bed," she placed her hands against his chest.

"Recline," he nodded. "Well, I reckon we can do that."

Sully closed the window and took his wife's hand.

Leading her to the bed, he guided her back, "Is this reclined enough?"

"It's a beginning," she took his hand and raised it to her lips.

"Ya wantin' some reclinin' company?" he leaned over.

"Indeed," she pulled him down atop her.

Sully caught himself so as to not let his full weight rest on her, "Okay, your wish has come true."

She rolled him over onto his side and began to unbutton his shirt, "Not quite."

He wrapped his arms around her, and a delicious shiver shot through her. Wrapping a lock of her hair around his fingers, he raised it to inhale its scent. His kisses began to unlock her innermost passions.

Michaela caressed and kissed him in ways that charged his desire to a fever pitch. Soon, they gave in to their tempting appetites. In repeated waves of ecstasy, they completed their happy joining.

"Now," she sighed as he stroked her back.

"Now?" he was confused.

"Now my wish has come true," she kissed him.

Without words, he continued to lovingly rub his hand up and down her back..

She lifted her head to search his eyes, "Sully?"

"Mmm?" he seemed far away.

"What are you thinking about?" she perceived the distance.

"I was thinkin' about you," he smiled. "How much I love us bein' t'gether like this."

"When will you leave?" she assumed his thoughts had drifted to Cloud Dancing.

He enfolded her in his arms and kissed her temple, "Sunday after next."

"Sunday, June 25, 1876," she suddenly felt a strange anxiety. "I pray that you will find our friend well."

"Me, too," he felt her body tense against his side. "Don't worry, Michaela."

"I'm afraid it's in my nature," she sighed.

"I reckon I love ya, nature and all," he lifted her chin for a kiss.

"Good night, Sully," she could feel his heart beat against her cheek. "I love you."

THE END



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