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

A Gilded Age


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
A Gilded Age
by Debby K

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

Jake came down heavily with his gavel to quiet the audience. The town meeting had been going on for several hours without resolve.

"Look," Loren stood up. "We need a sheriff, an' that's all there is to it."

"I agree," Preston raised his hand. "With the increase in gold shipments in the area, law enforcement is certainly necessary to our local commerce."

Jake pounded his gavel again, "Ain't no one who disagrees with all that. Now that we changed the law that chose a sheriff by election, it's up t' us to hire someone. Problem is how are we gonna afford a sheriff? The town's been hard hit by the bank panic."

Michaela rose to speak, "Perhaps each of the businesses in town could contribute to a fund."

"All right, then. All in favor o' advertisin' for a sheriff an' payin' him out o' a fund o' money from all local businesses, raise your hand," Jake pushed his hat back on his head.

All members of the council voted in the affirmative.

Jake hammered again, "It's settled then. Finally. Now, if there's no more business, can we go home?"

Michaela rose again, "Shouldn't we establish an amount for the contributions and calculate the sheriff's salary accordingly?"

"It's late, Dr. Mike," Loren leaned back in his chair. "Let's put an ad in the area papers first, an' see who shows up."

"Meetin' adjourned!" Jake pounded.

Hank grabbed the gavel, "Why ya gotta pound this at all the meetin's?"

"'Cause that's how the mayor's supposed t' run things," Jake took it back.

"Ya don't gotta hammer the table all the time. You're givin' me a headache," Hank turned to leave.

The rest of the town folk departed until only Michaela and Sully remained. He had been quietly observing the goings on from a bench in the back of the church.

"Ready to go home?" he approached his wife and put his arm around her.

"I guess so," she sounded tired.

"Somethin' botherin' ya?" Sully perceived.

"Besides Jake and his gavel?" she tried some levity.

"My guess is that ain't why you're frettin'," he put both of his hands on her waist.

"What makes you think I'm fretting?" she rested her hands on his arms.

"Ain't hard t' figure," he grinned. "Ya kinda wear your emotions on your sleeve." Pulling her closer, he raised a finger to her temple, "An' a little vein pops out right here." Next, he placed his thumb between her eyes, "An' ya get a crease in your forehead right here." Gently, he slid his finger down to her lips, "An' ya sort o' turn up your mouth at the corner here."

She began to relax at his touch. "Right here?" she pointed to her lips.

"Mmm," he leaned closer to kiss the spot.

"I don't think I'm fretting anymore," she sighed.

"Good," he grinned. "Let's go home."

"I had such a busy day at the Clinic, I haven't seen Katie or the boys since breakfast," she put on her coat.

Sully assisted her, "Brian helped Dorothy with the Gazette t'day, an' Matthew went t' Denver. He's spendin' the night."

"I gathered that from our breakfast conversation," she put on her hat.

"An' Katie got a history lesson," he chuckled. "I took her t' the old reservation. Cloud Dancin' went with us. We talked t' her about what went on there."

"How did she handle it?" she mounted her horse.

"Fine," Sully took the reins of his horse. "Cloud Dancin's teachin' her some Cheyenne words, too."

"That's nice," she seemed distant again.

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

When they arrived home, they discovered that Brian had put his little sister to bed, and he, too, had retired for the evening. Michaela and Sully tiptoed into Katie's nursery. Michaela pulled the cover up to ensure her daughter's warmth. Then she leaned over and kissed her fine blonde hair.

"Good night, little one," she whispered. "Pleasant dreams."

Sully rested his hand on his wife's shoulder, "Ya tired?"

She sighed, "Somewhat."

"Real tired?" his voice was warm against her neck.

"Not too tired for you," she moved into his embrace.

"Good," he leaned his head against hers. "I been missin' ya lately."

"I'm sorry, Sully," her voice cracked. "It's unbelievable how many people have come down with ailments in the past two weeks. It's the change in the weather, I suppose. I spend 10 hours a day at the clinic anymore, and I've been very remiss in my duties to you and the children."

He walked her the few steps down the hall to their bedroom, "We're fine, but ya gotta get rest so you don't come down with somethin', too."

"That doesn't excuse me from my duty to you," she repeated.

"Duty?" he raised an eyebrow. "What duty ya got t' me?"

"I have many duties to you," she patted the bed for him to sit.

"Such as?" he obliged.

Michaela began to unbutton his shirt and run her hand across his chest, "This." She leaned over to kiss him.

He was pleased at her attention, "Ya think this is a duty?"

"Mmm," she pulled his shirt over his head and pushed him back onto their bed. "Of course."

"Michaela!" he was surprised. "Are ya serious? Makin' love's a duty for ya?"

She lowered her hands to unbutton his buckskins, planting kisses on his chest as she moved, "Uh-huh."

Sully took her hands in his to stop her, "But I don't want ya t' think ya have t' do this."

She pulled her hands away and lightly touched his skin, "Sully, I want to do this. Loving you is a duty of the heart. You once told me that your heart is mine, and I cherish that gift."

"Well," he smiled. "That's different."

Michaela's movements were arousing every inch of his body, and his breathing began to quicken. Sully reached for her buttons and quickly undid them. He slid her blouse and camisole off. Gazing at her body stirred him even further. Michaela stood and with an alluring grin, began to remove her remaining clothing.

Next she climbed into the bed beside her husband. Sully turned to her and sensuously kissed her neck and shoulders.

"I been missin' ya a lot," he confessed.

"And I you," she slid into his arms. "I'm sorry I've neglected you."

"I love how you're payin' attention t' me now," he stroked the soft skin of her back.

"As I love paying attention to you," she ran her hand across the hair on his chest. "And I promise not to spend so much time at the Clinic."

He softly kissed her neck, "Ya can't help it. Folks need ya."

"I need you," she confessed. "I need to feel your arms around me. I need to feel safe and loved. You always make me feel that way, Sully."

"Mind if we don't talk for awhile?" he was having difficulty controlling his desire.

He turned her onto her back and gently lifted himself atop of her.

"I... don't mind," she caught her breath.

All conversation was set aside. The pleasure that they shared transcended their ability to comprehend or reason. In three years of marriage, their ardor only grew stronger. Such opposites were they in many ways, but one truth endured. Their love. The passion that they felt for one another heightened each time they consummated their physical needs. This night of love was no exception, as the gratification of their desire for one another was reached.

A breathless Sully clung to his wife as if she were his very soul. Then he started to roll off of her.

"No, wait," she held him dearly, not wanting the feeling to end.

"Michaela," he kissed her neck. "I love you."

The words captured her again, "And I you, with all my heart."

He held her head between his hands and studied every feature of her face.

"Love is then our duty."

She closed her eyes and felt the love his words and movements brought.

"Aren't ya gonna ask who wrote that?" he kissed her neck.

"Not at the moment," she could think of nothing but him.

"It was John Gay," he moved his kisses to her lips.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, then rolled him over to his back. Holding fast to her husband, she was now on top of him. Michaela lay her head against his chest, letting the pulsation of his heart beat against her.

Then she boldly lowered her hand. Sully took a deep breath and gulped.

"Ya sure know how t' make up for lost time," he teased.

"I don't always tell you how precious you are to me, Sully," it was she who cupped his face in her hands this time. "Your eyes," Michaela kissed his eyelids. "Your nose," she kissed the tip of his nose. "Your mouth," her lips found his. Pulling back, she asked, "Do you think there's something wrong with us?"

"Not at the moment," his anticipation of loving her again was growing.

"Do you think..." she was interrupted by him.

"Not at the moment," he kissed her more deeply.

The outside world no longer existed to them as they guided their longing to its blissful conclusion. Michaela reached up to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. Sully drew her nearer.

"Why would ya ask if somethin's wrong with us?" he enjoyed her loving movements.

"Because of how much we enjoy being together like this," she confessed. "Myra once told me it would become like brushing one's teeth."

He chuckled, "For us? Never."

"It's so astonishing to me that we found one another," Michaela ran her fingers through his hair.

"I had t' marry ya after I saw ya plop face first in the mud," he grinned. "I figured a woman who could wear mud an' still look that beautiful was meant for me."

"I was so embarrassed," she patted his side.

"An' I loved your spirit of independence," he pulled her hand to his lips.

"I don't believe I'm that independent anymore," Michaela sighed.

"Sure ya are," he affirmed.

"No," she shook her head. "I can't think of myself as independent when I need you so much."

"That's different," he told her. "Independent means ya can do things for yourself. An' you can. Needin' an' lovin' me don't take away from that."

"What if we agree that my heart is not independent?" she rubbed his arm.

"Okay," he grinned.

Michaela changed the subject, "What do you think about the town's hiring a sheriff?"

"I think we need one," he replied. "With all the gold they found in that new mine, it'll bring a lot o' unsavory types."

"Gold," she snuggled closer to him. "It brings out the worst in people."

They closed their eyes, and soon sleep claimed them.

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

Another two weeks passed before things became more manageable for Michaela at the Clinic. Sully's support and help were invaluable to her, and she began to think of a special way to thank him.

It was afternoon when he came by the Clinic with Katie.

"Mama," the little girl ran to her mother.

Michaela lifted her into her arms, and Katie hugged her tightly.

"What have you and Papa been doing today?" she kissed her daughter's cheek and sat down at her desk.

"Learnin' colors," the child responded.

"Colors?" Michaela looked at Sully. "But you already know colors."

"Cloud Dancin's teachin' her Cheyenne words," he replied. Bending down to look at Katie's face, he asked, "What color's the sky, Kates?"

"Eotatavo," she jumped up and down on her mother's lap.

"Very good, Sweetheart," Michaela smiled. "I think," she uttered to herself, not knowing if the word was correct.

"An' what color's the grass?" Sully beamed.

Katie pondered for a moment, "I forget, Papa."

He touched the tip of her nose, "That's okay. It's sorta hard. We'll practice it some more."

Michaela pulled Katie closer, "I missed you today. Did you and Papa have fun?"

"Fun," Katie nodded. "More fun when Mama come, too."

"I agree," Sully kissed his wife's cheek.

"I believe that things are finally settling down here," Michaela held Katie close. "I'm sorry I haven't spent much time with you two lately."

"Mama helpin' sick people," the child began reaching for patient files on the desk.

"You're a very understanding little girl," Michaela smiled at her. Then she looked adoringly at her husband, "And you have a very understanding Papa."

"Yep," Katie agreed. "Papa funny."

"Oh?" she wondered. "What did he do that was so funny?"

"Pupwet," the toddler clapped.

"What?" Michaela did not understand.

"I made a couple o' puppets outa my socks," he grinned. "Just had 'em talk t' her."

"I laugh an' laugh," Katie swung her feet back and forth.

Michaela raised an eyebrow, "Would Papa like to show me?"

"Maybe," he winked.

There was a knock at the Clinic door.

"Oh, my," Michaela set Katie down. "Just when I was beginning to think things were calmer."

Sully opened the door. Hank walked in.

"Afternoon, folks," he removed his hat.

"You sick, too?" Sully inquired.

"Nah," the barkeeper saw Katie and winked. "Just wanted t' tell Michaela we got a reply t' our ad for a new sheriff."

"Who?" she wondered.

"Fella named Brett Kirkham," Hank informed her. "He an' his wife are comin' t'morrow for an interview."

"I see," Michaela replied. "What time are we meeting with him?"

"Noon," Hank turned to leave. "At the church."

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

Planning a romantic evening, Michaela arranged for Brian and Katie to stay with Matthew at the Clinic for the night. When Sully arrived to take her home, she climbed onto the buckboard and told him she had something special planned for them. At dusk, they pulled up to the barn, and Sully helped her down.

"I'll unhitch the horses an' take care o' the animals for the night," he began his chores.

"I'll help," Michaela volunteered.

Together, they accomplished the work quickly. Sully pitched some fresh hay into the stalls. Leaning on the pitchfork, he smiled at his wife while she finished brushing Flash.

"All done," he put away the pitchfork.

"Me, too," she set down the brush.

"So why'd ya have the kids stay in town t'night?" he approached her.

"I wanted us to have some time alone," she smiled demurely.

"Well, we're alone," he placed his hands on her hips.

"I know," she lifted her hands to the base of his neck.

"What now?" he pulled her closer.

"Let's dance," she surprised him.

"Dance?" he chuckled. "In the barn?"

"Why not?" she pulled his hand around her waist.

"No music, for one thing," he gazed into her eyes.

"I'll hum something," she smiled.

"Was this what ya had in mind for our time alone?" Sully looked around.

"No, but I'm trying to be spontaneous," Michaela spoke low into his ear.

"You? Spontaneous?" he teased.

She began to hum a waltz. Playing along, Sully stepped back to remove his coat. Then he helped her remove hers and bowed to her. Taking her in his arms, he began to lead her around the floor of the barn in a waltz.

He pulled his wife closer, "Okay, we're dancin'."

Pausing in her humming, but continuing to move about, Michaela replied, "It's not exactly where I envisioned, but it's definitely with whom."

They lost track of where their dance steps were carrying them, and suddenly found themselves tripping over a milk pail. Their fall was cushioned by landing in a pile of fresh hay. Laughing, Sully pulled straw from Michaela's long tresses. Then he laid back in the soft substance and sighed.

"Something wrong?" she leaned back beside him.

"Nothin'," he rolled onto his side to look at her.

"Why did you sigh then?" she caressed his cheek.

"That was a sigh o' contentment," he grinned.

"Oh," she slid her hand down to his neck. "You're content?"

"Yep," he placed his hand on hers and pulled it to his lips.

Sully kissed each of her fingers . Then he lifted her ring finger to his lips.

"Here's gold that don't represent greed," he kissed her wedding band.

"What brought that on?" she touched his cheek.

"I was out surveyin' t'day an' saw a stagecoach pass by, loaded with gold," he answered. "Made me think about all the greed that goes with it. But when I see your ring shinin' so right on your finger, it don't seem so bad."

"That's because my ring was given out of love," she ran her finger across his lips.

"Sure was," he smiled.

"Sometimes I wish...." she hesitated.

"What?" he lifted her chin to look at him.

"Sometimes I wish that you would have worn a ring," she said.

He was quiet for a moment. Michaela regretted saying it, fearing that she had opened an old wound.

"I'm sorry, Sully," she touched his cheek. "I didn't mean to upset you."

"I wore a ring when I was married t' Abigail," he confessed.

"You did?" she was caught off guard.

"I buried it with her," he spoke low.

"I shouldn't have mentioned it," she felt guilty.

"No," he pulled her ringed finger back and looked at it. "Wearin' a weddin' ring don't mean the same t' me as it does t' you."

"How so?" she clinched his hand tighter.

"T' a woman, it shows the world that she belongs t' her husband," he explained. "But I was afraid if I wore one, it'd remind me o' Abigail. It symbolized my past, an' I didn't wanna think about that anymore. Only my present and future with you."

"I'm glad you finally told me this," Michaela lifted his left hand.

"Do ya understand?" he was concerned.

"Of course," she kissed his ringless finger. "Our arguing over it before the wedding was so foolish."

"We were just feelin' a lot o' pressure," he smiled. "I don't gotta wear a ring to show I belong t' you. It ain't the outward signs that mean the most. It's what we got in here," he touched her heart.

Sully moved closer and began to kiss her. Sweetly, at first, then more urgently. His hand slid down to her thigh, and he started to pull up her dress and petticoat.

"Mr. Sully!" Michaela pretended to be shocked.

"Mmm?" he slowly massaged her leg.

As her blood raced through her veins, she reached over to unbutton his shirt.

"This seems rather foolish when we have a bed in the house," she continued to undress him.

"What happened t' bein' spontaneous?" he lifted her skirt.

His movements stirred her desire. They continued to remove articles of clothing, arousing deep passion in the other. Their kisses deepened, and their bodies responded. Finally, their ardent appetite for one another was satiated, and they lay in one another's' arms, spent by the intensity of the experience.

This time Michaela sighed.

"What's wrong?" Sully stroked her arm.

"I was just thinking about spontaneity," she smiled. "This isn't exactly how I envisioned we'd start off our romantic evening."

"So maybe we oughta get washed up an' start again," he reached for their clothes.

"You mean a bath?" she began to dress.

"Race ya t' the house," he speeded up his efforts to dress.

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

Sully let Michaela win the race to the front door. When they entered their home, it seemed strange to have it all to themselves. Michaela went to the kitchen and began to make supper while Sully made sure the fire places were well stocked with logs.

As Michaela stood at the stove overseeing the meal, her husband snuck up behind her and put his arms around her waist. Leaning his cheek close to her ear, he whispered, "Think we oughta get cleaned up before or after we eat?"

"After, I think," she was melting at the nearness of him. "I'll hurry."

"Okay," he pulled away and winked.

Sully picked up a carrot and bit into it. There was something in the way that he did it that stirred Michaela. What was it about this man? He could do something so simple as chew a carrot, and arouse such passion in her. Michaela tried to focus on dinner, fearing they might never eat supper if she let her emotions guide her.

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

Dinner was calmer than usual since they did not have to continuously coax their daughter to eat. There was little conversation between Michaela and Sully, but there were plenty of longing looks exchanged. When the meal was complete, Sully helped his wife with the dishes, and put on a large pan of water to boil.

"What's that for?" Michaela wondered.

"You'll see," he raised his eyebrows.

The water reached a boil just as they were ready to go up to bed. Sully poured the steaming liquid into a bucket, then added some cold water from the pump to make its temperature more tepid.

Michaela lit the lamps in their bedroom and began to brush her hair. Straw came out and fell to the floor. As she removed her blouse, Sully approached with a soapy cloth. Her skin tingled when he began to wash her arms.

"That feels good," she closed her eyes.

"Pull your hair back," he softly ordered. Then he rubbed the lather across her back. "I remember doin' this on the cattle drive, an' bein' interrupted by Matthew."

"I recall that moment very well," she smiled.

As he completed the washing, he rinsed off her skin with another cloth. Next, Michaela turned her attention to Sully. She helped him off with his shirt and began to wash him. The slow and sensual movements of this procedure soon heightened every sensation in their bodies. Both were now clean. Both were now desirous of moving to another level of pleasure.

Sully lifted his wife and carried her to their bed. Gently setting her atop the quilt, he lightly touched and kissed her. The stimulating results caused a shiver to run down Michaela's spine. Sully rolled her over onto her stomach. Then he climbed into bed beside her. His hands and lips continued to arouse Michaela in unimaginable ways. She maneuvered herself to face him.

"Sully," she invited him.

He could not imagine a more beautiful sight than this woman who held such sway over his heart, now reaching for him, calling for him, wanting him.

He lovingly touched her cheek, "You're so beautiful, Michaela. I fall in love with ya every time I look at ya."

She raised her hand to run her fingers through his hair, "Sometimes I think I must surely be dreaming to have found you, Sully. But it's a dream from which I hope to never awaken."

Her arms pulled him nearer. Sully felt as if his body would explode from the longing he felt for her. Michaela knew that she would never tire of this cherished physical expression of their love. With no more words exchanged, they submitted to their unrestrained passion.

When at last they returned to calmer pulses and breathing, Sully tenderly kissed her cheek and recited:

"There's in you all that we believe of heaven-
Amazing brightness, purity, and truth,
Eternal joy and everlasting love."

"Oh, my," she sighed. "I think I'll guess Marlowe."

"Thomas Otway," he whispered the correct poet.

"I'm glad that we had this lovely evening together," she confessed.

"Me, too," he admitted. "Even if ya do have straw in your hair."

"Still?" she reached up to feel.

"Let me get it," he pulled a piece of hay from her tresses.

"I guess I should have washed my hair tonight," she kissed his arm.

"I'm glad ya didn't," he smiled. "Left more time for us."

"Sully, may I tell you something?" she gazed into his eyes.

"'Course," he wondered what it would be.

"Sometimes what we have frightens me," Michaela confided.

"Frightens ya?" he pulled her closer. "How?"

"I think about how we are when we're together," she began shyly. "How I feel when we're apart, and how close I came to losing you last year, and it all frightens me."

"Michaela, is that what's been botherin' ya?" he pulled back a lock of her hair from her face and caressed her cheek. "We're safe now in each other's arms. Ya know we live in dangerous times. Things happen that can change lives in the beat of a heart." He lifted her chin to look into her eyes, "But we'll always be t'gether. I promise ya."

"How can you promise that, Sully?" she felt her eyes fill with tears. "We have no way of knowing."

"We got somethin' that most folks'll never know, let alone understand," his voice was reassuring. "In my heart, I know we'll always be united, no matter what happens t' our physical bodies."

"I never would have imagined something like this," she shook her head. "I always had to be so practical, so logical. Everything had an explanation. Until I met you."

He smiled, "Ya sayin' I'm hard t' explain?"

"Impossible to explain," she teased. "No, I'm saying that we're so different, and yet we have such a powerful connection to each other. I think about all of the 'ifs' in our lives. If I had never come to Colorado Springs, if I had not thought David dead in the War, if Abigail and Hannah had not passed away."

"All that made us who we are, Michaela," Sully explained.

"But we've been through such pain and sadness," she still wondered.

"I know," he stroked her arm. "Maybe that's why we're not all that different. We both felt the loss of folks we loved. We both have the same notion o' what's right an' wrong. We love our children, our home, our community."

"But you love solitude and independence," she pointed out. "Now your life is full of demands on your time."

"My life is full, all right," he smiled. "Full o' you an' the kids. I love bein' with ya every second o' the day. An' when I can't be with ya, I love thinkin' about ya."

"That's how I feel," she admitted.

"So, we ain't so different," he said. "Don't be frightened, Michaela. Just live each day, and love the time we have."

"You've done it again," Michaela smiled.

"What's that?" he pulled her closer.

"Made me feel better," she felt the warmth of his love.

Sully kissed her forehead, "I guess I gotta do that every once in awhile."

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

The next morning, they went to town early to see their children. In spite of the time they relished alone, they missed the children who brought such joy and fulfillment to their lives.

Matthew and Brian had to leave for their various commitments, but Katie was full of a million questions for her parents. She hugged Michaela, "Mama, I miss ya."

"I missed you too, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed her cheek.

"Why I stay here?" Katie probed.

Sully answered, "Mama an' Papa had somethin' we had t' do, Kates."

That was no answer to their daughter, "What?"

Michaela raised her eyebrow and looked at her husband. Sully lifted Katie into his arms and whispered into the little girl's ear.

"Oh," Katie said matter-of-factly.

Sully set her down, and the child went to the corner of the Clinic to her play area.

"What did you tell her?" Michaela was curious.

He winked, "Told her we were playin'."

"Sully!" she could not believe his reply.

He pulled his wife into his arms and spoke low, "Didn't tell her what kind o' playin'."

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

The town council convened at the church. At noon on the dot, Brett Kirkham arrived, accompanied by his wife Jane. Brett was a handsome man in his late thirties. He had brown hair with flecks of blonde and wore a full beard. His brown eyes showed a certain compassion, something rare for a hardened man of the law.

Jane was about the same age as her husband. Her black hair was pulled up in a bun. In a plain plaid dress, Mrs. Kirkham appeared to be a confident match for her husband.

Michaela and Sully introduced themselves to the new arrivals.

"Pleasure t' meet ya," Brett shook hands with the Sullys.

"A female doctor?" Jane smiled. "I admire that."

"Thank you," Michaela smiled. "We look forward to hearing about Mr. Kirkham's qualifications."

"Let's get started then," Jake pounded his gavel, prompting Hank to jump.

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

After a question and answer session, the town council voted unanimously to hire Brett as the new lawman of Colorado Springs.

Preston came forward to offer, "I have a nice little house for rent if you and Mrs. Kirkham would care to see it."

Jane spoke up, "We'd love to, Mr....?"

"Lodge," Preston flashed his grin. "Preston A. Lodge, III."

"Mr. Lodge," Jane smiled.

"How much ya asking?" Brett studied the banker.

"I'm sure we can come to an agreement," Preston replied. "I'll call for you in, say, one hour?"

"Thank you, Mr. Lodge," Jane nodded.

Sully observed the exchange, "Don't let him talk ya int' anything ya don't really want."

"We won't, Mr. Sully," Mrs. Kirkham smiled. "My husband and I have a small savings that enables us to live comfortably."

"I wonder about that," Brett shook his head.

"Come now, dear," Jane tugged at his arm. "Let's go see what your office looks like."

Brett shrugged and went with his wife.

Michaela stepped forward and looped her arm through Sully's as she watched the new sheriff and his wife depart.

"Ready to go?" she smiled.

"I reckon so," he patted her hand.

"Something wrong?" Michaela perceived a problem.

"Nope," Sully helped her put on her coat. "I gotta head out t' survey some land north o' town. Be home late."

"I'll wait up," she whispered.

Sully leaned down to kiss her, "I'll look forward t' my welcome home then."

Michaela blushed and looked around to see if anyone had overheard their exchange.

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

It was after dinner, and Michaela was bathing Katie when Sully arrived home. After removing his coat, he kissed his wife and splashed some water on Katie.

"Papa make mess!" Katie scolded.

"Where are the boys?" Sully inquired.

"In town," Michaela responded. "Matthew is taking Brian with him to Denver to observe a new case, and they're catching the early train."

"I see," Sully looked on the stove to see what was left over.

Michaela dried her hands, "Here, let me fix you something."

"That's okay," he rolled up his sleeves. "I'll help ya finish givin' Katie her bath."

Sully was able to grab a bite to eat while helping to bathe their child. Katie enjoyed the attention. When they finished, Sully lifted the little girl into his arms.

"Sully!" Michaela cautioned. "You'll be drenched."

"Too late," he grinned at his soaked shirt.

Michaela unfolded a towel and draped it over Katie. They finished drying her and soon had her into her nightgown. Then they took her up to the nursery.

"Story, Papa," Katie commanded.

Michaela held her, "First let Papa get out of that wet shirt."

Sully pulled off his shirt and sat down in the rocker. Michaela placed the sleepy girl in his arms. Sully held Katie against his chest and inhaled her baby scent. He closed his eyes to think. Then he began his story.

"Once upon a time..." he rocked back and forth. "there was a man who lived alone."

"By self?" Katie raised her eyebrows.

"Yep," Sully went on. "He lived out in the woods and hardly ever saw or spoke t' anyone."

"Not talk?" Katie was amazed.

"Yep," Sully nodded. "He thought he liked bein' alone, too. He liked bein' outside with all the animals, but deep down, he was real sad."

"Why, Papa?" the little girl queried.

"Well, 'cause he'd lost everyone who mattered t' him," Sully explained. "He thought if he hid away from folks, then he wouldn't be sad again."

"He need love," his daughter patted his arm.

"But he didn't know that, Kates," Sully spoke low.

"What he do?" Katie was curious.

"He met a lady," he told her. "She was beautiful, with long hair an' the prettiest smile he'd ever seen."

"He love her?" the child wanted to know.

"From the first moment he saw her," Sully looked at Michaela.

"She love him?" Katie raised her eyebrows.

Michaela answered, "From the first moment she saw him."

Katie turned quickly to her mother, "Mama know story?"

Michaela grinned, "I do."

"What happen next?" Katie touched Sully's nose.

"Next?" he smiled. "Next thing ya know, they got married an' lived happily ever after."

"Have childwen?" their daughter wondered.

"Yep," Sully nodded.

"Good story, Papa," she reached up her little arms to hug him.

"I think it's time for our little one to go to sleep," Michaela caressed the child's hair.

Katie reached up for her mother's arms, "Ya gonna play now?"

Michaela nearly gasped, "Wh... why would you ask that, Katie?"

Sully stifled a laugh.

The child innocently looked at her father, "What funny, Papa?"

"Nothin', Kates," he tickled her side.

Katie's smile lit up the room, "Show Mama pupwets."

He embraced both of them, "You best get t' sleep now."

Katie kissed them, and Michaela placed her in the crib. They pulled up the covers, lowered the lamp and left the nursery.

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

When they reached their bedroom, Sully pulled his wife into his arms. They burst into laughter at Katie's comments.

"See what you've started?" Michaela halfheartedly scolded.

He laughed, "I reckon I better show ya those puppets."

"Sully!" Michaela tried to be serious. "What is Katie going to think?"

"Humm," he pretended to contemplate. "That we love each other?" He rubbed his hands up and down her back and pulled her closer, "That we love t' play?" He kissed her neck, "That we...."

Michaela interrupted him by raising her finger to his lips, "When do I get to see those puppets?"

"How 'bout now?" he walked to the bureau and opened a drawer.

Removing a pair of socks, Sully pulled them onto his arms and tucked in the material around his fingers to create the puppets.

"And this entertained our daughter?" she teased.

"Yep," he nodded.

"Do they talk?" she sat down on the bed.

"Sure," he replied. He indicated each one's name, "This here's Lefty, and this is Mr. Wright."

Michaela chuckled, "And what do they say?"

"Lefty is always up t' no-good," Sully raised his hand. "Mr. Wright's always gotta fix things."

"And are they going to... entertain me tonight?" she enjoyed this moment of fancy.

"Well," Sully sat down beside her on the bed. "Lefty would like to, but Mr. Wright's tellin' him t' be a gentleman."

"What does Lefty have in mind?" she touched the sock.

"Why don't ya ask him," Sully placed his sock-covered left hand on her thigh.

Michaela lifted his left hand and slowly rolled the sock off of it. Then she pulled his hand to her lips and began to kiss each finger.

"Mr. Wright doesn't seem to be responding to this," Michaela looked at his right hand.

"I ain't lettin' him watch," Sully put his right hand behind his back.

"But he's the gentleman," she moved his left hand to her neck. "Shouldn't he be protecting my honor?"

"Umm," he hesitated. "Do ya want me t' tell him what you an' Lefty are doin'?"

Michaela pushed Sully back onto the bed and lifted his right hand to remove the sock, "I think not."

She began to kiss and caress his neck and chest.

"I can't do my puppet show now," he sighed. "This is too distractin'."

Michaela climbed into the bed beside him, "I think I like distracting you."

"I'm surprised at you, Michaela," Sully feigned shock.

She moved closer to his ear and whispered, "Is Mr. Wright taking over?"

He raised his eyebrows, "Nope."

Sully ran his hand down the length of her body. Michaela closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensations that he aroused in her. They removed one another's clothing, tossing them on the floor near the fireplace. The rhythmic reactions of their bodies swept them away in a tide of desire. Soon they were completely and unrestrainedly giving themselves to one another.

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

Meanwhile in the rented home that the Kirkhams had let, the married couple silently lay in bed, side by side.

"Brett," Jane touched her husband's arm. "I'd really like for us to have a baby."

"I... I would, too," he turned to look at her. "But we tried so many times, an' I don't think I can take seein' ya hurt again."

"But maybe this time, I won't lose the baby," she reached for him. "Please, Brett."

"All right," he slid closer and, as if it were an obligation, began to make love to his wife.

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

Michaela wakened before Sully. She slipped quietly from the covers, making certain that she did not disturb her husband. Not seeing her robe nearby, she pulled on Sully's shirt and went to the window to watch the gold and orange rays of sun rise above the mountains. She loved the quiet of this time of day.

Turning, she looked to see if Sully were still asleep. The sight of the up and down movement of his chest as he inhaled and exhaled caused her heart to skip a beat. Then he rolled over, resting his arm where she had lain moments earlier.

His voice beckoned, "Michaela?"

"I'm here," she answered from the window.

"What're ya doin' up so early?" he stretched his arms. "Somethin' wrong?"

"No," she smiled. "I merely wanted to watch the sunrise."

He started to get up and realized that it was too cold without his buckskins. Seeing them on the floor across the room, he decided to pull the quilt around his waist and approached his wife.

"New wardrobe?" he noticed his shirt on her.

"I didn't think you'd mind," she grinned shyly. "My things were a bit out of reach."

"I don't mind," he opened the quilt for her to join him.

Michaela stepped into his arms, and he pulled the quilt around them both. Sully felt the warmth of her body against his as they gazed at the dawn sky.

"You feel good," he spoke low.

She put her arms on his waist, then around to his back.

Stroking his sides, she gazed into the steel blue of his eyes, "You feel good, too. I think I could use some holding."

He pulled her closer until their bodies molded perfectly to one another, "Better?"

"Mmm," she placed her head against his chest.

With his arms and the quilt draped around her, Sully began to move back and forth.

"Are we dancing again?" she looked up at him.

"Nope," he continued the movement. "Just swayin'."

"Why?" she smiled.

"Just feels right, don't it?" he pulled her head back against his chest.

"As a matter of fact," she felt such comfort in his arms. "It does. Do you know what it reminds me of?"

"What?" he kissed the top of her head.

"Our honeymoon train," she smiled.

"But you weren't wearin' my clothes then," Sully lowered his hand to the hemline of his shirt.

"Sully!" she slapped his hand.

"What?" he sounded so innocent.

"It's cold," she pulled him close again.

"You're the one wearin' a shirt. I'm not, an' I ain't so cold," he returned to their swaying motion.

Then Michaela felt a sensation that made her tingle, "Sully!"

"Mmm?" he knew he was getting to her.

"You..." she was breathless, enjoying what was happening. "You certainly know how to start the day."

"Thought you might like this," he grinned. "Wanna sway over t' the bed?"

"I believe that is... a most agreeable notion," she was having difficulty speaking. "I..."

Locked in each others arms and cocooned in the quilt, they fell onto the bed. He lightly touched his lips to her neck. Michaela lifted up the shirt to allow freer access to her husband. He moved his hands lower, caressing her in appreciation for her enthusiasm. Their bodies continued the swaying movement initiated by Sully earlier.

He softly whispered into her ear, "I love ya, Michaela. I want ya so much."

"Oh, Sully," she was losing herself to him. "I love you, too. I need you."

At last they submitted to their deepest instincts and joined as one.

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

"Brett?" Jane sat up in bed. "Where are you off to?"
"Wanted to get an early start," he tucked in his shirt. "I'm going into town and introduce myself to folks. Then I'm gonna check on the next gold shipment. It's due near Colorado Springs around noon."

She patted the bed, "Can't you stay just a while longer?"

He leaned over and kissed her cheek, "No, I gotta get moving."

"At least let me fix you some breakfast," she started to rise from the bed.

"How about I join ya at Grace's in about an hour?" Brett put on his hat. "I'll see ya then."

He closed the door behind him. Jane lay back in bed, uncertain if she wished to get up or not.

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

"Mama! Mama!" Katie called.

Michaela jumped from the comfort of Sully's arms. She rose from the bed to fetch her robe, "Coming, Sweetheart!"

Sully swung out of bed and quickly retrieved his buckskins. He pulled them up and went to the door to meet his wife and daughter when they returned.

Katie rubbed her eyes, then spotted her father, "Papa!"

"Mornin', sweet girl," he lifted the child from his wife's arms. "You sure look beautiful this mornin'."

The little girl smiled, "I beauful?"

"Yep," Sully kissed her cheek.

Michaela began to straighten up the bedroom, picking up their clothing and last, the socks that had been discarded onto the floor last night.

"Pupwets!" Katie noticed the socks. "Papa, make pupwets talk!"

He winked at Michaela and she handed them to him. Sully sat down on the bed with his daughter and pulled the socks onto his arms.

"Mornin', Miss Katie," he spoke in a deep voice and moved his right hand to create a speaking character.

"Mornin'," Katie touched it.

"I'm thinkin' about ticklin' this girl here," he changed his vocal inflection and moved his left hand.

"Ya can't do that, Lefty," Sully flexed his right hand.

"Why not?" the left hand moved.

"Cause it wouldn't be 'right'," Sully's right hand replied.

Michaela rolled her eyes and moaned, "Oh, my, Katie. Papa's full of puns today."

"I know," Katie giggled. "He punny."

Sully burst into laughter.

"Like father, like daughter," Michaela shook her head.

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

Michaela concluded a calm morning at the Clinic and headed for Grace's Cafe, where she and Katie had planned to meet Sully for lunch. He was running late, but Michaela enjoyed the company of her daughter and the fountain of questions which seemed to be the little girl's greatest hobby.

"Mama play with Papa last night?" the child began.

Michaela cleared her throat and lowered her voice, "Shhh! Sweetheart."

"Why?" Katie raised her eyebrows.

Michaela felt uncomfortable. "Would you like a cup of milk?"

"No," the child replied. "Ya play?" she brought up the topic again.

"Katie," her mother tried to be gentle. "That's not something we talk about in public."

"What public?" the toddler pursued it.

"We don't speak about what your father and I do in front of people," Michaela tried to distract her. "It's... it's secret."

Katie saw her godmother approach. "Miss Gwace!"

Grace stopped at their table and placed her hand on Katie's head, "What's this child up to today, Dr. Mike?"

"She's a never-ending flood of questions," Michaela smiled.

"Mama an' Papa play," Katie informed her.

"Katie!" Michaela blushed.

Grace understood, "They do? Well, I'm sure they're real good at that, child. Now would you like a piece of my apple pie?"

"Yep," Katie nodded.

"Is that all you say?" Michaela prompted.

"Please?" Katie responded as she tried to stand up on her chair.

"How 'bout you, Dr. Mike?" Grace turned to her.

"No, thank you. I'll wait for Sully," Michaela gently pulled Katie down into her seat.

When Grace left, Michaela turned to her daughter, "What am I going to do with you, young lady?"

"Feed me?" Katie grinned her father's smile.

Michaela shook her head and laughed.

Suddenly Horace came running up to their table, "Dr. Mike! Dr. Mike! Sheriff Kirkham just found out the stage has been robbed! One o' the drivers was killed. They're bringin' the other one t' the Clinic."

"I'll be right there, Horace," she stood.

Grace came over to her, "I'll watch this little one for ya, Dr. Mike. You go ahead."

"Thank you, Grace," Michaela kissed Katie's cheek. "Be good, Sweetheart."

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

When Michaela arrived at the Clinic, she caught sight of Sully helping to carry the injured stagecoach driver. Her husband's arm was bleeding.

"Sully!" she ran to him.

"I'm all right," he told her. "This man's hurt pretty bad."

"What happened to your arm?" she guided him into the examining room.

Sully set the man on the table, "I saw the robbery on my way back t' town. When I got closer, the robber took a shot at me."

"Let me see," she rolled up his sleeve. "Thank God, it just grazed you." She went to her medicine cabinet, "Put this on it, and wipe it clean."

She quickly turned her attention to the man who lay unconscious before her. Michaela took a deep breath when she saw the bullet hole in the man's chest.

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

Brett knocked on the Clinic door, and Sully opened it.

"Afternoon, Sully," the sheriff removed his hat.

"Brett," Sully acknowledged his presence.

"Can I ask ya a few questions?" Brett spoke low, noticing the unconscious stage driver on the table.

"Sure," Sully nodded toward the door. "Let's step outside."

A crowd had gathered.

"How many robbers did ya see?" the sheriff queried.

"Just one," Sully held his sore arm. "Took a shot at me when I approached the stagecoach."

"Can ya give me a description?" he asked.

"Seemed like a real young fella," Sully thought about it. "He was wearnin' a black hood over his face an' a hat. He had on a black coat, an' blue pants."

"I see," Brett put his hands on his hips. "Anything else?"

"That's all I can think of," the mountain man replied.

Brett added, "If ya think of anything else, stop by the office, will ya?"

"Sure," Sully nodded.

Michaela opened the door, her face pale.

"He's gone," Michaela spoke softly.

"Two dead now," Brett shook his head. "Did he wake up before he died, Dr. Mike?"

"No," she needed the warmth of her husband's arms.

"Ya did all ya could, Michaela," Sully stroked her long hair and took her back inside.

Hank, Jake and Loren were among the townsfolk gathered in front of the Clinic.

"We gotta keep an eye out for any suspicious characters," Jake advised.

"That include Preston?" Hank smirked.

"Ya heard Sully's description," Loren spoke up. "We gotta be on the look out for any young strangers comin' int' town."

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

Brian and Matthew returned from Denver by evening and were excited to learn details of the stagecoach robbery. Dinner conversation centered on the big event.

"Papa huwt arm," Katie pointed to her father's bandage.

"How much gold did he take, Pa?" Brian was interested.

"Don't know," Sully offered his daughter some potatoes. "Sheriff Kirkham ain't heard from the stagecoach company yet."

"Does the stage follow that route on a regular schedule?" Matthew asked.

"Yea, but not always with gold. The gold shipments are a closely guarded secret," Sully told him.

"Somehow word on this one leaked out," Matthew reasoned. "Wonder how many people knew about it?"

"The mining company knew. So'd the stagecoach company," Sully answered. "My guess is some o' the sheriffs in the area were notified, too."

"Papa, I see arm?" the little girl reached for her father.

"Gotta keep it covered, Kates," he held her hand. "This could've been a one-time robbery, an' the robber happened t' get the stage with gold by chance. But the company better take extra precautions next time."

Michaela had remained silent through dinner.

"Ya all right, Ma?" Brian put his hand on hers.

"Yes, Brian," she replied.

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

Sully tucked his restless daughter in for the evening, "Wanna play a game, sweet girl?"

"Yep!" Katie's eyes lit up.

"Okay," Sully kissed her cheek. "Ya gotta lie down first."

Katie obeyed.

"Now, say your prayers," he said, not noticing that Michaela was standing in the doorway of the nursery.

Katie finished her litany of names to bless.

"Now game, Papa?" she yawned.

"Yep," he stroked her head.

"Ya gotta close your eyes for this game, though," he smiled.

"I close," she complied.

"Good," he knelt down to her eye level. "Now, I want ya t' think about your most favorite thing in the whole world."

Katie repeated, "Favwite thing."

After a long pause, Sully whispered, "Did ya think o' somethin', Kates?"

There was no reply. The child's steady breathing clued him that she was now asleep.

Michaela spoke softly from the doorway, "I wonder what it was?"

Sully turned, "I'm thinkin' it's singin'."

She leaned over to kiss Katie's forehead, "It's certainly not eating."

"You ready t' turn in?" Sully rubbed her back.

"Yes," she sighed. "It's been an exhausting day."

Arm in arm, they left the nursery and headed for their bedroom.

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

Nestled in her husband's arms, Michaela sighed. He raised her hand to his lips and sweetly kissed the palm.

"What's your favorite thing in all the world?" she recalled his question to Katie.

"Humm," he considered the question. "I think it's holdin' you in my arms, the children nearby. How 'bout you?

After a moment's thought, Michaela replied, "I think that's my favorite thing, too."

They lay in silence for a little longer. He knew his wife never easily accepted the death of a patient.

"I love you, Michaela," Sully spoke the only words he could think to sooth her.

"And I you," she kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Sully."

"For what?" he outlined her chin with his finger.

"For holding me," she gazed into his eyes. "How is your arm?" she lovingly touched the bandaged area.

"Fine," he replied.

"Do you think there will be more robberies?" she worried.

"Seems likely," he answered.

"Are you planning on helping the sheriff?" she felt sure that he would.

"If he asks, I'll do what I can," Sully told her.

"That's what worries me," Michaela moved closer to him.

"Ya worry too much," he smiled.

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

"Brett," Jane prepared for bed. "I heard the stagecoach was robbed today."

"Yea," he nodded as he removed his boots. "Seems we got a young man who's out to make a name for himself."

"A young man?" she climbed into bed.

"That's what Sully said," he joined her. "Killed the drivers. Shot at Sully, too."

"Was he hurt?" she asked.

"Not bad. Dr. Mike said it was just a flesh wound," Brett closed his eyes.

"A young boy robbing stages and killing people," she shook her head. "What's the world coming to? It's such a dangerous place."

Her husband began to snore. Jane glanced in his direction, upset that he did not seem interested in her. Then she turned out the lamp and went to sleep.

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

"Dr. Mike?" Jane Kirkham approached the table at Grace's Cafe, where Michaela sat entertaining her daughter.

"Jane," Michaela smiled. "It's nice to see you."

"And you," the woman smiled at Katie. "May I join you for a moment?"

"Certainly," Michaela pointed to the seat. "Are you settled into the new house?"

"Yes," Jane replied. "And everyone in Colorado Springs has been so helpful." Pausing, she added, "Ah, Dr. Mike, there's something of a rather personal nature that I'd like to discuss with you."

"Of course," Michaela offered Katie a bite of her muffin.

"Could we go to your clinic?" Jane looked around.

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

At the sheriff's office, Brett was looking through the latest wanted posters with Sully.

"Afraid I can't help ya," Sully shook his head. "His face was covered."

"None of these descriptions matches him. It's possible this was his first robbery," Brett leaned back in his chair.

"Could be," Sully speculated. "Or maybe he's new t' these parts."

"I'll wire some more towns further out t' see if there's been any robberies in their area," Brett hastily jotted down a note.

In the Clinic, Jane shyly spoke to Michaela, "Brett and I have been trying to have a baby for ten years, Dr. Mike. And each time I've become pregnant, I've had a miscarriage. Six in all."

For a moment, Michaela's mind flashed to the trauma of her own miscarriage last year. Her heart went out to this woman.

"How far along were you when the miscarriages occurred?" Michaela inquired.

"All before I reached the third month," Jane noted.

"I see," Michaela put on her apron. "I can examine you to see if there is any physical reason for the miscarriages."

"I'd appreciate it, Dr. Mike," the woman smiled nervously.

"How old are you?" Michaela asked.

"Thirty-eight," Jane responded.

Remembering that was her age when she gave birth to Katie, Michaela began her examination.

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

Matthew stopped by the sheriff's office, "Any luck?"

"No," Brett put the posters in his drawer. Then looking at Matthew, he speculated, "I wired the area sheriffs. I guess all we can do now is wait."

"But now he's wanted for murder, not just robbery," Matthew added.

Sully, who had been looking out the window, turned to them, "I've been surveyin' near the road where the stage passes. I'll keep an eye out for him."

"The next gold shipment's being sent out early tomorrow morning," Brett revealed.

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

"I can find no physical reason for your miscarriages," Michaela informed Jane Kirkham.

"We're trying again, Dr. Mike," Jane replied. "I feel like this is my last chance."

Michaela washed her hands. "My advice is try to avoid stress, eat well, get rest, don't wear a corset, and don't ride a horse."

"Do you think that might work?" Jane sounded hopeful.

"I think it will improve your chances," Michaela responded.

"I'll do whatever I have to," the woman stood up from the examining table.

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

Sully stopped by the Clinic after Jane Kirkham had left, "Got any more patients?"

"No. Why?" she looked up from her desk.

Sully pulled her into his arms, "Thought I might take ya for a little ride. Where's Katie?"

"She's with Dorothy," she answered.

"You get ready, an' I'll see if Dorothy can watch her until Brian's done with school," he smiled. "We'll be back by supper."

"Where are we going?" she removed her apron.

"Not far," he was out the door.

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

Sully pulled up near the Red Rocks formation. It had been nearly two years since they visited the beautiful vista. He helped Michaela from the wagon and silently taking her hand, led her to a vantage point from which they could best view the sight. They sat down.

"Why did we come here, Sully?" Michaela sensed he was in a solemn mood.

"Just wanted t' get ya away from the Clinic for a spell," he took her hand. "Ya been workin' hard, an' I know how it upset ya t' lose the stage driver yesterday."

She leaned her head against his shoulder, "It's so peaceful here."

"Yep," he put his arm around her. "Nothin' t' worry about."

She shivered slightly.

"Ya gettin' cold?" he kissed her cheek.

"No," she shook her head. "I just had a strange sensation... as if something terrible were going to happen."

"What?" he pulled her closer.

"I don't know," she cuddled in his arms.

"Nothin' bad's gonna happen, Michaela," he rubbed her back.

"I appreciate your bringing me here, Sully," she gazed into his eyes.

"But ya wanna go home now," he read her thoughts.

"Do you mind?" her voice choked slightly.

"No, I don't mind," he smiled. "I just don't want ya worryin'."

"I'm afraid I can't help it," she stood up. "I can't shake this feeling."

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

Sully locked up the house for the night and went upstairs. The boys were in their rooms, and he found Michaela in the nursery rocking chair beside Katie's crib. The little girl was sound asleep.

He whispered, "What're ya doin' in here?"

"Waiting for you," she got up.

"Why are ya waitin' in here? Katie's been asleep for an hour," he extended his hand to her.

"I know," she took his hand and stood up. "But sometimes I simply like to watch her innocently sleep. She's growing so quickly, I think that if I just look at her at moments like this, I can make time stand still."

"You're in a strange mood," he pulled her in his arms. "How 'bout gettin' ready for bed, an' I'll go make ya some tea."

"That sounds lovely," she hugged him.

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

When Sully came to their room with the tea, he found Michaela in her nightgown, sitting by the fire, a book in her hands.

"What ya readin'?" he set down the cup and knelt beside her.

"One of your books of poetry," she looked up.

"No fair," he grinned.

"Aren't I allowed to recite poetry to you?" she teased.

"Nope," he lifted the book from her hands.

Then he raised her up to stand before him. He pulled her hands up to his neck, and she began to caress him.

"I love when ya do that," he smiled.

She continued her movements as he maneuvered his hands down her side to her hips. The sensations that he created made her shiver. Then his hands began to gather up the material of her gown, slowly sensuously until her gown was raised to her waist.

Michaela reached down to undo his buckskins. She slid them down his hips, and they fell to the floor. Sully stepped out of them and moved closer to his wife. He continued to raise her nightgown over her shoulders and head. Tossing it to the side, it fell on top of his discarded buckskins.

Sully leaned down and began to kiss her neck, while Michaela unbuttoned his shirt. She ran her hands lightly across his chest as he completed the removal of his shirt.

Flesh against flesh, they stood before the fireplace, lost in each others embrace and kisses. Sully ran his hands up and down her back as he began to pull her toward the bed.

Michaela stopped and spoke low, "Not yet."

"Somethin' wrong?" his hands created goose bumps on her.

"No," she ran her fingers through the hair above his ears. "Nothing's wrong. I just want to savor this moment."

He closed his eyes and felt as if every nerve in his body were on fire, "I don't think I can wait much longer, Michaela."

"I adore you, Sully," she lifted up to hug his neck.

He raised her into his arms and carried her to the bed, whispering, "Are ya ready now?"

"Yes," her soft voice mesmerized him.

In the marriage bed which he had so lovingly handcrafted for her, they reaffirmed their commitment to one another. The passionate joining of their bodies shut out everything that worried or concerned them at that moment. Their physical longings finally abated after the pleasurable culmination of their union.

His breathing echoed hers. She reached up to smooth back the hair from his face.

Michaela uttered to him as she stroked his hair:

"If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man
Compare me ye women if you can."

He grinned, "Ya got me."

She ran her hand down his chest, "I know."

He chuckled, "No, I mean I don't know who the poet was."

She smiled, "Anne Bradstreet."

"Think she had a notion 'bout what we got?" he caressed her cheek.

"No one has a notion about what we have, Sully," she asserted.

"I love you," he kissed her sweetly. "You make me so happy, Michaela."

"Funny, that's just what I was thinking," she kissed his ear tenderly.

Suddenly, Michaela had the same sensation that she had experienced at the Red Rocks earlier today, and she pulled back.

"Promise me that you'll be careful, Sully," she spoke with urgency.

"What makes ya say that now?" he lifted her chin.

"I just had that same feeling again," she hugged him. "I could never bear to lose you."

He patted her back, "Ya ain't gonna lose me."

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

Sully left early the next morning to survey the area that he had not completed when the stage robbery occurred the other day. With Wolf by his side, he enjoyed the crisp morning air. He made good progress in his work, but soon was interrupted by the sound of gunshots.

Quickly, Sully mounted his horse and headed toward the sound. It was happening all over again. He saw from a distance the young robber training a gun on the stage drivers. Before Sully could get nearer, the thief pulled the trigger on the men, and they both toppled to the ground.

Sully galloped as fast as he could, hoping that the men might still be alive. The gunman had not yet spotted him, but as he lifted the gold onto his horse, he pivoted and caught sight of Sully. Unarmed, the mountain man lifted his hands, but the gunmen wanted no witnesses. A single shot broke the air, and Sully fell to the ground in a pool of blood.

************
Chapter 9
************

Michaela had taken the day off from the Clinic to spend some time alone with Katie. Standing on a chair at the kitchen table, the little girl had a small bowl and spoon with which she was pretending to mix some batter.

"What are you making?" Michaela supported her back to keep her steady.

"Cookies," Katie replied.

"And what have you put into your batter?" Michaela played along.

"Water... eggs... flowers...." Katie answered.

"Flowers?" Michaela smiled. "Do you mean flour?"

"Nope," the little girl shook her head in all seriousness. "I put in more than one, Mama."

Michaela kept from laughing, "I see. Are you baking the cookies for anyone special?"

Katie leaned over and whispered, "Papa, Mattew an' Bran. It secwet."

"I won't say a word then," Michaela kissed her cheek.

A knock at the door interrupted their activity. Michaela walked to open it.

"Cloud Dancing!" Michaela was pleased to see their friend.

"Dr. Mike," the Cheyenne medicine man smiled. "I have come to see Sully."

"He's out surveying," she informed him. "Please come in."

"Thank you," he entered the house.

Katie climbed down from her chair and ran to him, "Cloud Dancin'!"

He lifted the little girl high into the air, "How is this little one?"

"She's wonderful," Michaela smiled. "May I offer you some tea?"

"That would be appreciated," he sat down at the kitchen table with Katie on his lap.

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

Within an hour of Cloud Dancing's arrival, there was another a knock at the door.

"This is turning into quite a busy morning," Michaela went to open it.

Brett Kirkham stood before her, "Dr. Mike. I got Sully."

"What do you mean?" she felt a chill.

Then Wolf ran into the house whimpering.

"On his horse," Brett pointed. "He's been shot."

"Oh, my God!" Michaela ran down the steps Reaching up to feel his pulse, she shouted, "We've got to get him into the house. Cloud Dancing is inside. Can you two carry him to the dining room table?"

Cloud Dancing and the sheriff gently lifted Sully from the horse while Michaela took Katie into the kitchen.

When Sully was laid out on the dining room table, the doctor kissed her daughter's cheek and handed her to Cloud Dancing. Michaela rushed to her husband and opened his shirt. She began to apply pressure to the wound in his chest.

"Can I help, Dr. Mike?" Kirkham asked.

"Please ride into town and get my sons," she nervously replied.

The sheriff quickly departed. Cloud Dancing tried to calm Katie, who had begun to cry for her mother.

"Is there anything I can do, Dr. Mike?" his calm voice called.

Michaela did not look up from her husband, "Could you take Katie upstairs and try to settle her?"

As he did so, Michaela concentrated to steady her shaking hands. She sterilized her husband's wound and began to probe for the bullet. His breathing remained steady but slow.

She spoke softly, "Stay with me, Sully. I love you."

Michaela had never felt so alone in her life. Her husband's life rested in her hands, and she was the only one who could save him. She had to be strong. She had to steady her hands to remove the bullet. Biting down on her lower lip, she continued to probe and finally found the bullet. Expertly, she removed it and began to stitch up the wound. Sully's breathing remained steady, but he had lost a lot of blood.

Michaela could hear her daughter's cries ebb upstairs. The poor child had cried herself to sleep. Michaela applied a bandage to Sully's wound. Then she went to the water pump and dampened a cloth. Returning to her husband, she lovingly wiped the dirt from his face and body. Then she cleaned the blood from the table and floor.

Her hand cupped his cheek for a moment as she gazed at his pallor. Closing her eyes, Michaela silently uttered a prayer for Sully. A hand touched her shoulder.

Cloud Dancing spoke, "He is all right?"

"He survived the surgery," she felt tears in her eyes. "But, it was dangerously close to his heart."

"My brother has much to live for," the medicine man walked over to stand by Sully.

"Is Katie asleep?" Michaela wiped her hands on a cloth.

"Yes," he nodded. "The little one saw her father on the table as I took her upstairs. She is frightened."

"Will you stay with Sully for a moment while I check on her?" Michaela requested.

"I shall," Cloud Dancing replied.

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

Michaela entered the nursery and saw that Katie was steeped in perspiration from her crying spell. She took a towel and wiped the child's face. Her father's face, Michaela thought. Although the little girl was asleep, Michaela could not resist lifting her into her arms.

Katie's eyes opened, "Mama?"

"I'm here, Sweetheart," Michaela hugged her.

"Papa huwt," Katie's voice trembled.

"He'll be fine, Katie," she assured her. "He'll be fine. Let me dry you off and into a change of clothing so that you'll look nice when Papa wakes up."

"When he wake up?" the child wondered.

"Soon," Michaela hoped. "Very soon."

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

Through the night, Michaela kept a vigil beside Sully's lifeless body. She felt it too risky to move him from the table. Off and on, one of her sons would come down to check on her, but she refused to leave Sully's side. She checked his stitches. She checked his heartbeat and breathing, and all night long she held his cold hand.

The sound of a rooster's crowing awakened her in the morning. She had dozed off, Sully's hand still in hers. She inspected the wound again. His pulse felt a bit stronger, she thought. Then she heard voices upstairs followed by footsteps on the stairs.

Matthew carried Katie, "Okay if we come down, Ma?"

"Yes, Matthew," Michaela stood up. She took Katie into her arms, "Good morning, Sweetheart."

Katie held a finger in her mouth as she looked down on her father.

She buried her head in her mother's neck and quietly asked, "I touch Papa?"

"Ever so carefully, Katie," Michaela sat down in the chair beside her husband.

Katie reached out and softly rubbed her father's forehead. Whispering to him, she said, "Papa, wake up." Then she turned to her mother, "Why Papa sleep here?"

"We can't move him until he wakes up," Michaela embraced her daughter.

Again Katie turned her attention to her father. She leaned very close to his ear, "I make cookies, Papa."

Michaela attempted to remain in control of her emotions.

Katie looked at her mother, "I scared."

Matthew went to them and put his hand on Katie's back, "Don't be scared, little sister."

Michaela handed Katie up to her son and stood up to check Sully's vital signs again. Suddenly, Sully moaned.

"Sully!" she quickly leaned closer to his face.

"Mi...." he tried to say her name.

"I'm here," she squeezed his hand.

Katie squirmed in Matthew's arms, "Papa wake up!"

Sully's parched lips weakly tried to speak again, "Michaela."

She kissed his cheek, "Sully, you're going to be all right."

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

Over the next three weeks, Sully convalesced at home. Katie entertained him with her antics, and he grew stronger. There were three more stagecoach robberies, but no more shootings.

One afternoon, as Sully sat in the living room playing with his daughter, there was a knock at the door. Michaela opened it to find Sheriff Kirkham.

"Afternoon, Dr. Mike," he tipped his hat. "I come to check on Sully."

"Won't you come in?" she motioned. "As you can see, he's much better."

"Glad of that," he smiled.

"I never did thank you for saving my husband's life," her voice choked.

"That's okay," he nodded. "I'm just glad I came by when I did."

Sully stood up and went to them.

Extending his hand, he said, "I wanna thank ya, too. An' I think I come up with an idea o' how t' catch this robber."

"I'm listening," Brett replied.

************
Chapter 10
************

"The robber's somehow gettin' inside information about when the stagecoach will be carryin' gold," Sully sat down and lifted Katie into his lap.

"But only a handful of people know when that's going to be," Brett put his hands on his hips.

"Who exactly knows?" Sully looked up at him.

"Well, besides me, the stagecoach company president and assigned drivers are the only ones," the sheriff replied.

"Ya sure?" Sully stroked his daughter's head.

"I'm not sure if the head of the stagecoach company tells anyone else," Brett acknowledged.

"Can ya find out?" Sully asked.

"Sure," Brett nodded. "I'll wire him today. What's your plan then?"

"I'll tell ya when ya find out who exactly has access to the stage schedule," Sully answered.

"One more thing," Brett confided. "In these past three robberies, the outlaw's been handing the drivers a note demanding the gold."

"Mind if I take a look at the notes?" Sully requested.

"No, I don't mind. I'll go into town now," Brett put on his hat. "I'll wire the stage company and next time I see ya, I'll show ya the notes. Take care, folks. I'll see myself out."

Michaela sat down on a stool at Sully's feet, "You're not planning on going out to catch this man, are you?"

"I wanna help," Sully reached out his hand to her.

She raised it to her cheek, "Please don't go, Sully. "

He leaned toward her, while clutching Katie to his chest, "It'll be okay, Michaela."

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

That evening, as they prepared for bed, Michaela was silent. Sully knew she was concerned about his wanting to help catch the robber. She climbed into bed and began reading a medical journal. Sully slid into bed beside her and grunted slightly as he made himself comfortable.

Michaela coolly asked, "Is your wound bothering you? I can get you something."

"No," he pulled up the covers. "I'm fine."

She returned to her reading. Sully turned on his side to face her and touched her in a provocative way.

"Sully!" she was caught off guard.

He slid closer and brushed his lips across her ear, "It's been a while. I missed ya."

"I missed you, too," she tried to concentrate on her reading.

"Are ya mad at me?" he maneuvered his hand lower.

"Certainly not," she gulped. "Why would you think that?"

"'Cause you're actin' sort o' cold," he brought his hand up to her lips and ran his finger across them.

"I... I just don't want to do anything you're not ready for," she continued to look at the journal.

"Michaela," he spoke softly.

She closed her eyes and sighed. Then she placed the journal on the night stand and turned her full attention to her husband.

"If I ask you to do something, will you do it?" she bluntly said.

"Ya sound so serious," he teased.

"I am serious," she cupped his face in her hands. "I love you more than life itself, Sully. I cannot let you go out there again and endanger your life, not when I came so close to losing you."

"Michaela," his voice was sincere. "I promise I won't endanger myself again. I promise I won't do anythin' foolish. But when I believe in somethin', I gotta follow it through."

She pulled her hands down and leaned back on her pillow, "Please, Sully."

He reached out and wiped a tear that trickled down her cheek, "Michaela, ya know I gotta do somethin'. I wanna make things safer for you an' the children. I can't just sit back."

"Why can't someone else be the one to put his life in danger?" her tears flowed more freely. "Why must it always be you?"

He swallowed hard at the sight of her moist eyes. Then he spoke tenderly:

"We have lived and loved together
Through many changing years
We have shared each other's gladness,
And wept each other's tears."

She turned to him and touched his cheek, "It's who you are, isn't it?"

"Yes," he nodded. "But I can't bear t' see ya cry, Michaela. An' if this is gonna upset ya so, I won't do anythin'."

"Who was that poet?" her eyes shone with love.

"Charles Jefferys," he smiled.

"I know I must not ask this of you," her voice shook with emotion.

"Do ya know how much you an' the children mean t' me?" he brushed back a strand of hair from her face.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Then ya know that I'll come back t' ya," he smiled. "I'll always come back t' ya."

"The last time you came back to me, it was draped over a horse, half dead," she felt another round of tears coming on.

"But I got the best doctor in the world," he grinned. "She patched me up in no time."

"I'd rather not have to patch you up in the first place," she turned to face him.

"I heard ya talkin' t' me when I was unconscious," he confessed. "Katie, too."

"You did?" she was amazed.

"Yep," he replied. "My girls give me the will t' live an' always come back."

"Oh, Sully," she could no longer resist holding him.

She began to smother him with tender kisses. He closed his eyes, enjoying the passion that he had unleashed in her. She lowered her kisses to his wound and shyly looked up into his eyes for approval.

Sully nodded, and she positioned herself. Their bodies began to move in perfect synchronization. Pulses raced. The hunger that she had felt for him over the past few weeks merged with her fear of losing him, a combination that made their lovemaking even more intense. Michaela clung to her husband as if she would never see him again.

When at last they calmed from the frantic pace of their intimacy, her tears returned. Sully felt the dampness of her cheek on his chest.

"Here, now," he stroked her face. "Are ya all right?"

"I never want us to be parted, Sully," she sniffled. "You are so much a part of me, I...."

He interrupted her with a kiss. Then he stroked her arm, "We won't be parted. Never."

She closed her eyes. In his embrace, the words seemed so true.

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

"Brett," Jane slid closer to her husband in bed. "If we try tonight, maybe...."

"I'm tired," Brett ignored his wife's invitation. "I got a lot on my mind."

"About the robber?" she touched his arm.

"Yea," he pulled away.

"Good night then," she felt a tear well in her eye.

************
Chapter 11
************

At breakfast the next morning, Brian had his head buried in a book.

"What ya readin'?" Sully patted his son's shoulder.

"It's a new book called 'The Gilded Age,'" Brian looked up. "It's by Mark Twain an' Charles Dudley Warner."

"You seem quite engrossed in it," Michaela observed. "It must be very interesting."

"It is," Brian nodded. "What's gilded mean?"

"It means coated with a thin layer of gold," Michaela defined it.

"They don't mention gold in the story. It's about all kinds o' corruption--in politics an' society."

"Is it appropriate for you to be reading something like that?" Michaela worried.

"Miss Teresa said I could read it, Ma," the young man argued. "It's gettin' real good. They're about t' have a trial for this woman named Laura Hawkins. She's sort o' a victim o' circumstances, an' she shoots this man who betrayed her."

"Goodness!" Michaela exclaimed.

Katie looked at her brother, "You wead story t' me, Bran?"

Sully laughed, "I don't think this is the kind o' story you oughta be hearin', Kates. Sounds like they're describin' the world we're livin' in. A gilded age? Looks nice on the outside, but underneath, things ain't what they seem."

Matthew reached for a biscuit, "Anythin' new with the stagecoach robberies?"

"The sheriff's tryin' t' narrow down who has advance knowledge o' the gold shipment schedule," Sully told him. "Hopefully, he'll find that out t'day."

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

Brett approached the Depot office and was greeted by Horace.

"Mornin', Sheriff," the telegraph operator nodded.

"Morning, Horace," Brett replied. "Any messages for me?"

"This one just arrived," Horace handed it to him.

The sheriff turned and read as he walked away. As he reached his office, Jane smiled.

"'Morning, dear," she greeted him.

He looked up from reading the telegram, "Oh, 'morning, Jane."

"You left so early, I decided to bring you some breakfast," she indicated a basket.

"Thanks," he opened the office door.

"Is that something about the robberies?" she nodded to the wire he had been reading.

"Yea," he sat down.

"Brett, I'm very concerned about you," she poured him a cup of coffee. "You've been spending every waking hour on this case."

"I know, but we gotta find this man," he took a sip. "It's important to protect these gold shipments and protect the town's interests."

"I realize that, but I'd like a little bit of your time, too," she complained.

"When this case is solved," he patted her hand. "I promise."

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

Sully sat on the front porch of the homestead polishing a stick of wood that he had just whittled. Katie was running back and forth the length of the porch, and each time she reached the end, she jumped into his lap.

"Easy, Kates," he grinned. "You're gonna fall."

"I not fall, Papa," she gleefully continued her game.

Michaela opened the door and joined them, "What are you two up to?"

"I wunnin' an' Papa catch me," Katie was out of breath.

Michaela sat down beside her husband, "What are you making?"

"A flute for Katie," he smiled. "I figure she don't make enough noise."

"I see," Michaela laughed. "Given her love of music, I know she'll enjoy it."

"I was rememberin' the night you were out real late treatin' a patient, and Katie was wantin' ya t' feed her, Brian kept her entertained with his flute," Sully recalled.

The sound of Katie's crying interrupted their conversation. The child had fallen and was now holding her knee. Michaela quickly went to her and picked her up. Carrying her to the chair beside Sully, she sat down.

"Let me see it, Katie," Michaela pried the little fingers from the injury.

"Mama! Mama! It huwt," she cried.

Sully pulled her into his lap while Michaela went in to get her medical bag, "Here, Kates, look what I made."

The child quickly stopped her tears, "What is, Papa?"

"It's called a flute," he held it up. "Ya put your fingers over the holes and blow int' the end right here. Listen."

He held the small wooden piece to his lips and played it for her.

Katie's eyes lit up, "Music!"

"Yep," he handed it to her. "Now you try."

Primitive sounds emanating from it greeted Michaela when she returned to treat her daughter's injury.

"Very pretty," Michaela cleaned the scratched knee.

"Thank you, Papa," Katie hugged him.

"You're welcome," he kissed her cheek. "Now, let your Ma patch up your knee, an' I'll teach ya a song."

A distant rider approached the homestead. It was Brett Kirkham. Sully handed their daughter to Michaela.

"Could ya take Katie inside?" Sully said to his wife.

"Sully...." she wanted to remain.

"Please, Michaela," his voice was adamant.

Michaela lifted Katie into her arms and went inside. Soon the sound of the flute could be heard.

Brett climbed the steps and tipped his hat, "I got a reply to my telegram."

"And?" Sully wondered.

"And the stagecoach president hasn't told anyone about the time o' the gold shipments," the sheriff told him. "So what's your plan?"

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

Michaela arrived at the Clinic with Katie. There was a letter stuck in the door. Michaela went inside and began to read the its contents.

"Dr. Mike, I must speak with you. Please come to my house at noon. Jane Kirkham."

Michaela thought the request odd, but she knew that the sheriff's wife was distraught and certainly in need of her counsel.

Sully opened the door, "Michaela, I gotta tell ya somethin'."

She stood up and went to him, "You're going after him today, aren't you?"

"Yes," he searched her eyes for understanding. "I don't want ya t' worry. I'll be all right."

"Is the sheriff going to be with you?" she felt a tear on her cheek.

"Uh-huh," Sully caressed her cheek. "We're settin' up a fake gold shipment t' try t' trap the robber."

"What do you mean?" she pulled back.

"The schedule says there'll be another shipment today. We're makin' it look like there's really gold on the coach, but there won't be. Brett an' me will be waitin' on him near Rocky Bend where the robber's been stoppin' the stages," he told her the plan.

"Oh," she tried to be brave.

"Don't say a word t' anyone about this," he cautioned.

"I won't," Michaela answered.

"Brett gave me these t' look over, too," Sully opened some papers.

"What are they?" she took them.

"Notes that the robber handed t' the stage drivers over the past three weeks," he rubbed his chin. "We might be able t' use 'em as evidence when we catch him."

"I see," she scanned the papers.

"I best be goin'. I got some errands before we leave," Sully took her in his arms. "I love you, Michaela."

She held his face in her hands and kissed him. Then Sully lifted Katie up and kissed her goodbye.

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

At noon, Michaela pulled up to the Kirkham house. She knocked on the door. Jane opened it, and invited her in.

"Your note said you wanted to speak with me," Michaela walked in.

"Yes, Dr. Mike," the woman's voice was faint. "I want you to examine me again."

"Are you not feeling well?" Michaela removed her coat.

"I... I want you to check to see if I'm pregnant," the woman requested.

"Have you had any symptoms?" Michaela opened her medical bag.

"Some," Jane replied. "I must be pregnant, Dr. Mike. I MUST."

************
Chapter 12
************

Michaela concluded her examination, "I'm afraid you're not pregnant."

"I'm not?" Jane's voice was faint.

"I'm sorry," Michaela touched her shoulder. "Perhaps if you and your husband could get away for a few days, just the two of you..."

"We're not like that, Dr. Mike," she shook her head. "Brett's so busy with the robberies right now, he barely gives me a notice. He always pays more attention to criminals than to me."

"I wish I could help you," Michaela offered.

Brett Kirkham entered the house, "Dr. Mike. Didn't expect to see you here."

"I was just leaving, Sheriff," she put on her coat. "Good day to you both."

Brett shut the door after the doctor departed, "What was she doing here?"

"Just visiting," Jane lied. "What are you doing back from town?"

"I came home to check the time schedule for the gold shipment," he told her. "Do ya know where I put it?"

"On the table," she pointed. "Please be careful, Brett," she put her arms around him.

"I will," he read the schedule and was quickly out the door.

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

Sully and Brett staked out a hiding place in the rocky terrain near the road where the robberies had occurred. The schedule indicated that a gold shipment would be on the stagecoach today, but this time the robber would find no gilded treasure. The drivers were heavily armed, as was Brett Kirkham. Sully sat silently beside the sheriff as they waited for the coach..

"What ya thinking about, Sully?" Brett noticed his quiet.

"My wife an' kids," he said somberly.

"You're a lucky man," Brett folded his hands on his lap. "Jane and me haven't been able to have children. She always miscarries."

"Sorry t' hear that," Sully recalled the pain of Michaela's miscarriage last year.

"Ya know, ya didn't have to come along today," Brett said.

"Yes, I did," Sully confided. "I wanna make sure this man is stopped."

Brett looked at his pocket watch, "Almost time for the stage."

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

As Michaela sat at her desk at the Clinic, the robber's notes caught her attention. She began to scrutinize them more carefully. Suddenly, she was struck by the familiarity of the hand writing.

"My, God," she stood up. "I've got to warn Sully!"

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

Brett spotted the approaching stage, "There it is, Sully."

The stagecoach slowed.

"Keep a look out in the rocks," Brett pointed. "That's where he's usually lurking."

"There!" Sully pointed. "It's him!"

In a cloud of dust, a horse descended the rocky terrain beside the road, and neared the stagecoach. Brett leaned forward and carefully aimed his gun.

The robber saw the gleam of the gun barrel from one of the stage drivers and shot at him. The driver was hit in the arm, and the other attempted to stop the vehicle.

Then Brett fired his rifle. The robber fell to the ground and writhing in pain. When the stage lurched to a stop, Brett and Sully ran to the fallen criminal.

Another horse approached, and Brett swiftly aimed his gun.

"Wait!" Sully pushed the weapon down. "It's Michaela!"

"Sully!" she quickly dismounted and ran to her husband. "I know who the robber is!"

Then she saw the moaning body on the ground. Brett kicked away the outlaw's gun and knelt down. Pulling off the hood, he gasped.

"NO!" he screamed.

"I'm so sorry," Michaela felt helpless.

"Dr. Mike, can ya do anythin'?" he saw the blood oozing from the outlaw's chest.

Michaela knelt down and saw the extent of the injury. She tried to stop the bleeding, but the irregular breathing and gasps for air indicated the cause was hopeless.

She stood up and shook her head no.

Brett pulled the body into his arms, "Jane! Why? Why'd ya do this?"

The pale hand of his wife raised up to his cheek, and she spoke her last words, "You... you finally noticed me."

"Michaela," Sully pulled his wife into his arms, "How'd ya know she was the robber?"

"The notes," she answered. "Jane left me a letter this morning, and when I saw the notes that the robber had left, I recognized the writing."

"She couldn't have been in her right mind," Sully shook his head.

"You're right," Michaela agreed.

Brett placed his wife's lifeless body gently back on the ground, "I'm gonna bury her here. I don't wanna take her into town like this."

"I'll help ya," Sully offered.

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

Sully and Michaela tucked Katie in for the night. She wanted both her bunny and her flute beside her.

"Papa," Katie looked up at him. "Why I sleep in here?"

"'Cause this is your room," he stroked her blonde hair.

"I wanna sleep with you an' Mama," she fidgeted.

"Are you frightened, Sweetheart?" Michaela asked.

"Nope," the child pulled the stuffed rabbit's ears. "I by self"

"You're not by yourself, Kates," Sully explained. "Ya got your bunny, an' your flute, an' your music box, an' the stars in the sky."

"I got stars?" Katie turned to look through her window.

"Yep," her father nodded. "An' there's more stars than ya can count."

"I count 'em," the little girl softly began to say her numbers.

"Good night, little one," Michaela kissed her daughter's cheek. "I love you."

"Night, Mama," Katie paused. "Night, Papa. Love you."

"Sweet dreams," he kissed her.

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

Soon wrapped in her husband's arms, Michaela's thoughts turned to the day's events.

"I think she must have led a very lonely life," she said.

"Jane Kirkham?" Sully stroked her arm.

"Yes," Michaela replied. "She lost her babies, and her husband did not seem very attentive to her."

"He was more interested in his job," Sully observed. "I reckon she didn't rob so much for the gold as for the attention."

"Yes," she agreed. "It's all so terribly sad. What do you think she did with the gold?"

"Brett told me that he thinks it's buried at their house," he explained. "She told him she'd been diggin' a garden." Rubbing her back, he added, "Do me a favor."

"What?" she looked up at his eyes.

"If ya ever think I ain't payin' enough attention to ya," he grinned. "Just say somethin'. No need t' become a felon."

"I'll keep that in mind," she lifted the corner of her mouth in a smile. "Truthfully, Sully, I have never once in our marriage felt that you didn't pay enough attention to me."

"That's good," he raised her chin for a kiss. "I wouldn't wanna create a criminal."

"We shouldn't joke about it," Michaela remained serious.

"I know," he lowered his hand to caress her. "But when I'm with ya like this, I don't wanna think about how unhappy others are. I only wanna think about how happy we are."

His kisses began with her neck, then lower he went. Pausing, he spoke to her:

"She's adorned
Amply that in her husband's eye looks lovely,--
The truest mirror that an honest wife
Can see her beauty in."

Michaela raised his face between her palms, "Your honest wife adores you, you know."

Sully wrapped his arms fully around her and pulled her so close, their bodies felt the slightest nuance of the other's movement.

"Was that Shakespeare?" she wondered.

"Nope," he was pleased to have stumped her. "John Tobin."

"Oh," she sighed. "John..." she kissed the side of his mouth. "Tobin," she kissed the other side of his mouth.

"Do ya think ya might be overdressed for this occasion?" he ran his hand lightly down the length of her nightgown.

"For what occasion?" she outlined his chin with her finger.

"The occasion of me payin' attention t' ya so ya don't become a felon," he grinned.

"I'm not even tempted to become a felon," she poked his side.

"Are ya tempted t' do anythin' else?" he suggestively whispered.

Michaela pulled back the quilt that covered them and lifted her nightgown over her shoulders. Tossing it onto the floor, she slid back down beside her husband.

"Now, are you tempted to do anything?" she suggestively whispered back.

"I'm tempted t' go down t' the kitchen an' get a bite t' eat," he grinned.

"Sully!" she pretended to be offended.

"Humm," he looked up. "Am I tempted t' do anythin' else? Ya mean with you?"

"Yes, with me!" her hands reached down to caress him. "And I'm becoming rather impatient waiting for you."

"Oh!" his eyes widened at the response his body had to her touches. "I don't think ya gotta wait much longer."

She continued her movements and positioned herself to enjoy his reaction. Sully soon engulfed Michaela in a wondrous outburst of desire. They each conveyed their mutual attraction and satisfied their most profound appetites. Giving and receiving of each other's love brought pleasure beyond their ability to express in words.

Sully caught his breath, "Ya sure got a way o' seein' to it that I never ignore ya."

"Then I'll not turn to a life of crime," she kissed his forehead. "If someone ever tried to write down on paper and describe what we have, what we feel for each other, no one would possibly believe it."

"That's why I quote so many different poets," he pulled her closer. "No single one of 'em describes all that I feel for ya."

Their bliss was interrupted by the faint sound of a flute playing. They grinned and held each other close as the strains of the primitive tune faded.

THE END

EPILOGUE

This story is based in fact. Gold shipments were occasionally shipped from Leadville, CO on the old stagecoach trail between Leadville and Buena Vista. For obvious reasons, the scheduling of these shipments was a well guarded secret. In spite of this security, robberies were occurring much too often. It was a mystery how anyone would know when gold would be on the stage.

A "sting" operation was devised to catch the culprit. The plan was a success. The robber hid in some rocks, which lie beside the old stage road just outside of present-day Balltown. But when the robber jumped out, the law was waiting, and the robber was shot to death. The real surprise came when the robber's hood was removed, and one of the law officers discovered that the robber was his wife.

Shocked and ashamed, the officer couldn't bear the thought of bringing the body back to town, and so he buried the robber, his wife, beside the trail where she was killed. The gravestone, which is still easily seen from Highway 24, reads, "My Wife-Jane Kirkham-Died March 7, 1879-Aged 38 years, 3 months, 7 days"



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