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



A Glimmer of Hope


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
A Glimmer of Hope
by Debby K

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

Michaela settled back onto the bed as best she could. For the past week, she had found it nearly impossible to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. The baby was due soon, and with Sully in Leadville working for the US Geological Survey, she had to rely on her older children and Bridget to help with the simplest of tasks. Sully would be home any day, but two weeks without her husband had seemed an eternity to her, particularly as she readied the new hospital for its grand opening.

Finally, she began to drift off for an afternoon nap. She did not hear the bedroom door open, nor did she waken when her children entered the room.

"Look at that," Josef whispered. "Mama's bigger than I ever seed her."

"No, she's not, Joey," Katie kept her voice low. "She was even bigger with the twins."

"Ya mean that's only one baby in her?" the child was surprised.

Noah looked at his mother and called, "Hey, Mama!"

"Shhh!" Katie quickly covered his mouth.

Michaela awoke with a start, "What...."

"Sorry," Josef sighed.

Michaela yawned, then turned her head to look at them, "What are you doing in here?"

Katie spoke for the group, "We just wanted to see ya."

Michaela tried to roll onto her side, "I'm afraid I'm not much to look at."

"I think you're a lot t' look at," Josef stated.

"Joey," Katie frowned.

Michaela sighed, "I know I'm big. Very big."

"Papa say it makes ya beau'ful," Josef added.

Michaela turned up the corner of her mouth, "Why don't you all come up here and join me?"

"'Kay!" Josef's eyes brightened.

Katie helped the twins up, and soon all four were situated beside their mother.

Then Katie informed her, "We've been helpin' Miss Bridget teach Annie and Noah how t' use the privy."

Josef shook his head, "I don' think Noah's doin' good."

Michaela caressed the cheek of her younger son, "He'll learn."

"Then we gotta teach the new baby," Josef lightly touched his mother's abdomen.

"Mama, are Colleen an' Andrew gonna help ya have the baby?" Katie inquired.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Even though they're divorced?" the little girl speculated.

"That doesn't change their dedication to medicine and to helping people," Michaela pointed out.

"Does the baby have a name yet?" Katie wondered.

"Your father and I haven't decided," she answered.

"I think ya better," Josef contributed. "Colleen says it's comin' pwetty soon."

"Do you have any suggestions?" Michaela remarked.

"Maybe we could name it Hannah," Katie commented.

"Is it a lil' girl?" Josef queried.

"We won't know until it's born," Michaela explained.

"Hmmm," Josef pondered. "Us kids got all the good names."

"We could look in the Bible," Katie suggested. "There's lots o' names in there. The Reverend is always talkin' about folks I don't know."

"Get the Bible then," Michaela gestured to the bottom shelf of her nightstand.

Katie retrieved and opened it.

Reading in the front, the little girl immediately recognized, "Here's our names an' when we were born."

"Your father wrote those in after each of your births," Michaela noted. She began to turn the pages and pronounced possible names, "Joshua.... Ruth.... Samuel.... Ezra.... no, Sully would never permit that."

"He gotta like it, too?" Josef posed the question.

"Of course," Michaela touched his nose. "Esther.... Isaiah.... Jeremiah.... Jonah.... Micah...."

"That sounds like your name," Katie interrupted.

"Somewhat," Michaela nodded. "I recall Mother gave a book of potential names to your Aunt Rebecca to help with her first child."

"Do you remember any?" Katie inquired.

"Let's see...." Michaela thought. "Nathan.... Caleb.... Eli.... Rachel...."

Katie pointed to one of the names she saw atop a page in the Bible, "What about this one.... Daniel?"

"No," Michaela turned up her nose. "I don't care for that name."

"How 'bout Sully?" Josef asked. "Like Papa."

Michaela chuckled, "Then the baby's name would be Sully Sully."

"Poppy's first name is Byron," Katie knew. "What about that?"

Michaela sighed, "I'm afraid your father doesn't like it."

Josef scratched his head, "This is hard."

Annie giggled, prompting a smile from Michaela.

"Do you think the twins know what's happenin'?" Katie observed.

"We've talked with them about it, but they don't fully understand that we're going to have another little one around here," Michaela detailed.

"I don' think I full un'stand it," Josef added. "Everywhere ya look, we got kids."

"Are you gettin' excited, Mama?" Katie was curious.

"Very," she smiled. "But.... I want to prepare you for something."

"What?" Josef tilted his head.

"When the baby is born, I'll have to spend a lot of time with it," she explained. "I want you to understand that it doesn't mean I don't love you or want to be with you, too."

"Won't we see ya?" Josef was concerned.

"Of course you will, Sweetheart," she assured. "But.... well, the baby will need a lot of my attention at first."

"We can help ya like we did with the twins," Katie volunteered.

"That would be wonderful," she agreed.

"Could I ask you somethin' about the baby?" Katie paused.

"Certainly," Michaela consented.

"Can we watch it be born?" the little girl requested.

"No, Katie," Michaela's expression became serious. "That's not something I want you to see."

"Why not?" Josef questioned.

"Because it.... it's just...." she was becoming flustered.

At that moment, Bridget entered the bedroom, "Saints preserve us. There they are. I'm sorry, Dr. Mike. I turned my back for one minute, an' they slipped past me."

"It's all right," Michaela assured. "We've been having a nice chat."

"Come on, you kids," the nanny helped them from the bed. "Let your mother get a nap."

"All right," Josef's shoulders slumped.

"Thank you for checking on me," Michaela offered. "I'll see you in a little while?"

"Okay," Katie nodded.

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

Many townsfolk had gathered for coffee at Grace's.

Jake proclaimed, "This hospital's gonna be the biggest news t' hit Colorado Springs in a long time. Even Senator Teller's comin' for the grand openin'."

"A Senator?" Horace's eyes widened.

Hank scoffed, "That don't impress me."

Jake added, "Preston arranged it."

"Preston?" Loren frowned. "Dr. Mike would go int' labor if she knew that."

Jake shrugged, "With all the folks who'll be here, she'll be too busy t' even think about it."

Grace poured a fresh cup for her husband, "An' guess who's gotta feed all them folks."

"You'll do fine," Robert E assured.

Hank rolled his eyes, "Speak of the devil, look who's comin' this way."

"Afternoon, Preston," Grace greeted him. "Cup o' coffee?"

"Yes, please," the banker situated himself beside Dorothy. "What's the topic of conversation?"

Horace repeated, "Some Senator's comin' t' the hospital openin'."

"Ah, yes," Preston grinned. "I arranged it."

Loren was skeptical, "You wouldn't be smilin' if Dr. Mike knew you were behind it."

"I see no reason for her to object," the banker noted.

Grace frowned, "If you got somethin' t' do with it, I know she'll object. "An' Sully...."

"Now, now," Preston leaned back. "Michaela knows I have only the town's best interests in mind."

Hank chimed in, "Ya got your own best interest in mind. What's in this for you?"

Preston returned, "I have a few ideas for future development that I'm going to propose to him.... discreetly of course, after the grand opening of the hospital."

"Yea?" Hank eyed him suspiciously. "Like what?"

"No need to discuss it before the good Senator arrives," Preston hedged.

Grace shook her head, "I just hope Dr. Mike's baby don't get here before all the hoopla over that hospital is done. She looks like she could have that child any day now."

"I hope Sully gets home in time," Robert E added.

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

"Nice work, Sully," Jack Shannon patted his back. "We've mapped the mineral deposits according to Mr. King's specifications."

"So we're finished?" Sully anticipated.

"In Leadville," he qualified.

"Where else has t' be investigated?" Sully asked.

Shannon gestured toward a map on his desk, "There's the Comstock and Eureka in Nevada. We'll be doing mineral statistics in other western states, as well. We could sure use your help."

"No, thanks," Sully shook his head.

"It pays well," Shannon tempted.

"Not well enough t' keep me from my family," he responded.

"When's that baby due?" Shannon smiled.

"Two weeks," he answered. "But my wife's been early with all our kids."

"Maybe after she has the baby, you could join up with us again," Shannon offered.

"I really appreciate it, but I don't think so," Sully declined.

"Look, Sully," Shannon folded his arms. "You do outstanding work. Your knowledge of the subject and skills are top rate. Name your price."

He sighed, "You make this real temptin', but I can't. My family comes first. I vowed a long time ago, I'd never be separated from them for more than a couple weeks."

"I would think with so many children, you'd welcome the time away," Shannon mused.

Sully had a serious expression, "Kids grow up fast enough. I don't wanna miss anythin' they do."

"You're passing up a golden opportunity," he rubbed his chin. "But....very well. Here's your pay. Good luck."

"Thanks," Sully accepted the envelope and handshake.

Shannon pointed to the cash, "Be careful. That's a lot of money."

Sully patted it in his pocket, "I will."

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

Michaela looked up from the pile of papers on the kitchen table. She stretched her arms and yawned. Then after rubbing her eyes, she returned to reading.

Bridget set a cup of tea before her, "Thought ya could use this, lass."

"Thank you, Bridget," she yawned again.

Gesturing to the papers, the nanny remarked, "Can't that wait 'til mornin'?"

"I'm afraid not," Michaela noted. "All must be in readiness for the hospital's opening the day after tomorrow."

"You keep up this pace, an' you might be the first patient," Bridget scowled.

"Dr. Bernard examined me yesterday," she assured. "The baby and I are fine."

"Ya need your rest, darlin'," Bridget reminded. "Ya been stayin' up late, finishin' all this work, readin', writin'.... it's too much."

"You worry too much," Michaela patted her hand.

"From the look of ya, that babe could come any minute," she declared. "Of course, I'm worried."

Michaela set down her pen, "All right. To bring you peace of mind, I'll stop."

"Good," Bridget smiled.

At that moment, Brian entered the house and absently hung his coat on one of the wall pegs.

"Brian," Michaela greeted. "I'm glad you're finally home."

"Hey, Ma," he acknowledged. "Bridget."

"I saved ya some supper, lad," the nanny informed him.

"No, thanks," he shook his head.

"Did you eat in town?" Michaela wondered.

"Yea," he assured as he turned to go into the living room.

Michaela awkwardly rose from the table and went to join him. As each sat in a wing back chair facing the fireplace, there was an uncomfortable silence.

Then Brian spoke, "I been thinkin'."

"About what?" she anticipated.

"About what I wanna do with my life," he specified.

"I thought you wanted to be a journalist," she remarked.

"I'm not so sure about that now," Brian stared at the flames in the fireplace.

Michaela treaded lightly, "So, what are you thinking of doing then?"

He took a deep breath, "Joinin' the Navy."

"The Navy?" she attempted to maintain a calm voice.

"Or merchant marines," he reasoned. "I could travel around, see the world."

"You can see the world without joining the Navy," she pointed out.

"I need t' do somethin' more than just write down events in a small town," he considered.

"Have you given up the idea of returning to The Boston Globe?" she wondered.

He sighed in frustration, "I guess I really don't know what I want, Ma."

Her heart went out to him, "Give yourself time, Sweetheart. The pain of losing Henriette is still so fresh."

Tears began to well in his eyes, "I never met anyone like her."

She extended her arms to him, "Come here."

The young man rose from his chair and knelt beside his mother. She kissed his forehead and soothed back the hair from his face.

Brian tried to compose himself, "I shouldn't be actin' like this.... not when you got so much else on your mind."

She cupped her hand to his cheek, "You were my first, you know."

"Your first?" he was uncertain.

"My first little boy," she felt a tear on her cheek. "And you'll always be on my mind."

"I just feel so lost, Ma," he finally broke down.

Michaela did her best to embrace and comfort him while his soft cries filled the room.

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

Sully stepped toward the Manitou depot. His train had been experiencing engine trouble, and the railroad decided to not go on to Colorado Springs until it could be fixed in the morning.

"Just four miles from home," Sully sighed as he gazed at the clock on the depot.

The hour was late. Other passengers seemed to disappear, each heading off toward different destinations. Taking a deep breath, he stretched his arms and considered his options. He could spend the night at a local boarding house and head for home in the morning, or he could try to get a horse at the nearby livery and make it by dawn.

He was exhausted, but driven by the desire to see his family. Stepping down from the platform, he took a shortcut toward the livery by way of the alley.

Normally aware of the slightest sound around him, Sully did not notice the man who shadowed his steps. When the stranger approached him from behind and tapped his shoulder, Sully began to turn.

"Could you tell me the time?" the man requested.

Sully started to pivot, "It's goin' on...."

Suddenly, he fell unconscious, hit over the head by the butt of the man's gun. The attacker searched his pockets.

"Will ya look at this?" he said to himself as he discovered Sully's pay. Then he found the watch Michaela had given him. "I'd say I've done a good night's work."

He stuffed the money into his pocket and disappeared into the night.

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

Michaela awoke to a strange sensation. It was not the baby. It was something different, intangible. She sensed something was wrong. Perhaps one of the children needed her.

She sat up in bed and lightly touched Sully's empty pillow. He had not sent her a telegram in several days, but he told her before leaving that there would be times when he would not be near a telegraph line. Still, the gnawing feeling persisted.

Michaela threw back the covers and managed to swing her legs over the edge of the bed. She caressed her abdomen. Any day, she knew. Any day, the baby would come. Reaching for her robe, she donned it and made her way down the hallway to check on the children.

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

At daybreak, a crowd had gathered around the stranger lying unconscious in the alley. Finally a physician showed up and knelt beside him.

"Is he dead?" one of the townsfolk queried.

The doctor felt his pulse, "No. Let's get him to my office."

Several men stepped forward to lift the mountain man and take him away.

The sheriff put his hands on his hips, "Anyone know who he is?"

A man spoke up, "I saw him late last night at the train depot."

Another mentioned, "I seen him a time or two in town."

"Hmm," the sheriff rubbed his chin. "If anyone else saw anythin', let me know."

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

Sully opened his eyes. He was groggy and had a throbbing pain in his head. He reasoned it was still dark, but he was on a bed. He started to sit up.

"Hold on there, son," a man's voice spoke calmly.

Instinctively, Sully reached for his tomahawk. It was gone. He squinted for any sign of light.

"Who are you?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"I'm Doc Ford, and you're in my office," the physician explained. "We found you in an alley near the train station."

"Why don't ya put on a light?" Sully asked.

"Light?" he sounded surprised. "Why, it's.... Can't you see, son?"

Sully felt a rush of anxiety, "No."

The physician retrieved several of his instruments and lit a candle. He began to examine Sully's eyes, asking questions as he proceeded.

"Doc," Sully swallowed hard. "What's wrong?"

"You had a bad blow to your head," Ford explained. "It must be causing pressure on your brain, and it's affected your vision."

Sully swallowed hard, "How long before I can see again?"

The doctor hedged, "I've seen men who've been hit worse than you recover right away."

"And?" Sully anticipated.

"And sometimes, they never see again," Ford divulged.

Memories of Brian's brain injury flashed through Sully's mind. First the child had gone blind, then slipped into a coma. It was only Michaela's desperate surgery that saved their son's life.

Sully heard a door open and close, then footsteps approaching.

"How's he doin', Doc?" the stranger spoke.

"Can't see," the physician shook his head.

"That's too bad," the man returned. "I came t' find out what happened."

"Go ahead," Ford nodded.

Sully heard the man clear his throat.

"I'm Sheriff Ben Nash," he introduced. "Mind if I ask ya a few questions?"

"I don't mind," Sully consented.

"We found ya lyin' in an alley," Nash began. "What happened t' ya last night?"

Sully detailed, "The train for Colorado Springs stopped here for the night, an' I was walkin' t' the livery for a horse. It was real dark. A man came up t' me t' ask the time. That's all I remember."

"You didn't see him?" Nash wondered.

Sully struggled, "Just for a couple seconds. He was a little taller than me. Wore a hat.... Wait.... My money."

"Money?" the sheriff tilted his head.

"I had an envelope of money on me," Sully informed him. "It was in my jacket."

"I didn't see anything in his pockets," the doctor spoke up.

"What about my watch?" Sully asked.

"I didn't see that either," Ford replied.

"So, he robbed ya," Nash determined. "That's the third time this month one of the passengers at the depot's been robbed."

Sully's jaw tensed.

"Easy now," Sheriff Nash noticed. "What's your name?"

"Sully," he returned.

"Where ya from?" Nash was curious.

"Colorado Springs," he answered. "I.... gotta get home."

"I don't want you going anywhere for at least a day," the physician ordered.

"My wife will be worried," Sully knew. "Her new hospital's openin'."

"Are you married to Dr. Quinn?" Ford realized.

"Yea," Sully said.

"I was reading about that hospital in the newspaper," Ford smiled. "I hear tell it's one of the finest in the state. Lots of folks are attending the opening tomorrow."

Sully insisted, "I gotta get home."

Sheriff Nash assured, "I'll send your wife a telegram an' let her know what happened."

Sully became agitated, "Wait. I don't want her worryin'. She's expectin' a baby."

"You got someone who can come get ya?" Doc Ford queried.

"Matthew Cooper," Sully identified. "Wire him. Tell him.... tell him I'm in Manitou an'.... I need some legal advice. Have him tell my wife I'll be home t'morrow."

"I know Matthew," Nash nodded. "He used t' be sheriff in Colorado Springs."

Sully felt a pain and rubbed his head.

"You need to rest now, son," Dr. Ford touched his shoulder.

"Take it easy, Mr. Sully," Nash assured. "I'll contact Matthew."

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

Horace was sorting mail at the depot when the telegraph line came alive. He placed the letters on his counter and began to take down the message. Then he folded the paper, finished sorting the mail and headed for Matthew's office.

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

Matthew looked up from his desk as Emma modeled her new dress.

"Like it?" she twirled to show the fullness of her skirt.

"Like it," he smiled. "You'll be the most beautiful woman at the hospital openin'."

"You don't think it's too much?" she wondered.

"Too much?" he was puzzled.

"Too formal," she clarified.

"Nope," he said. "It's just right."

"Your Ma's dress hardly fits her now," Emma chuckled. "I took the measurements a month ago, an' even though I allowed for the baby, it's kinda tight."

"Can't ya let it out some?" he pondered.

Before she could reply, Horace entered the office.

"Hey, folks," he tipped his hat. "Got a telegram for ya, Matthew."

Matthew stood up to accept it, "It's probably about that case I was workin' on."

"No," Horace knew. "It's from the Sheriff in Manitou."

"Thanks, Horace," the young man unfolded the note.

"Dress looks real nice, Emma," the telegraph operator complimented.

"Thanks," she returned.

"Wonder what legal advice Sully needs?" Matthew finished reading.

"Strange the wire would come from the sheriff an' not Sully," Horace added.

"I hope he's not in jail," Matthew frowned. "I'm gonna ride out t' the homestead," Matthew reached for his hat. "I'll tell Ma Sully will be home t'morrow, then head over t' Manitou."

After kissing his wife, the young man departed.

"You think Sully really could be in jail?" Horace asked Emma.

"No," she dismissed the notion.

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

Michaela's brow wrinkled, "Why would Sully need legal advice?"

"I won't know until I get there," Matthew shrugged.

"Something's not right," she stated. "I've sensed it since I woke up."

"You just got a lot on your mind, Ma," he kissed her cheek.

"Let me see the telegram," she requested.

He took it from his pocket and handed it to her.

"Why didn't Sully contact you?" she queried. "Why did it come from the sheriff, unless...."

"Unless what?" Matthew anticipated.

"Unless he couldn't wire me," she became anxious. "What if something has happened to him? He may be hurt, and he didn't want to worry me."

"Ma," he touched her back. "We got no reason t' think anythin's wrong. Besides, the telegram said t' tell you Sully would be home t'morrow. If he was hurt, he couldn't come home."

She considered, "I suppose you're right."

"I'll be back later t'night," he kissed her cheek. "You need anythin'?"

"No," she sighed. "I believe all is in readiness."

"Good," he smiled. "Then get some rest."

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

Preston smiled at the four nuns who stood before him in the lobby of the Chateau.

"I trust the sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration will find the accommodations to their liking," he grinned.

The oldest in the group spoke, "It's only for one night, Mr. Lodge. We'll be staying at the hospital after it opens. We thank you for your hospitality."

"It's no trouble at all," he bowed his head.

Preston gestured for a bellman to escort them to their rooms. He continued to greet the guests who were arriving for the hospital opening. Finally, he spotted the man he had been waiting for.

"Ah, Senator Teller," his grin broadened as he extended his hand. "Preston A. Lodge III here. It's an honor to meet you, sir."

"Mr. Lodge," Teller shook his hand firmly. "Thank you. Harriet and I are exhausted from our trip. We returned to Denver only last night."

"I'll see that you have our finest room," Preston pledged. "Perhaps we can chat during dinner this evening? It's on the house, of course."

"Thank you, sir," the Senator tipped his hat.

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

Matthew alit from his horse at the Sheriff's office.

Then he heard the voice of Ben Nash, "Matthew!"

"Hey, Ben," he smiled and shook his hand.

"I'm glad you could come so soon," the sheriff remarked. "I'll take ya to Sully."

"Is he in some kinda trouble with the law?" the young man queried.

"No," Nash replied. "But I think I should prepare ya for what happened."

Matthew's brow wrinkled, "What?"

"He was robbed last night," Nash revealed. "He got hit in the head, an' now he's blind."

"Blind!" Matthew gulped. "Where is he?"

"Over at Doc Ford's office," he gestured. "I'll fill ya in on what happened on the way."

Within minutes, they reached the physician's office. After being shown to Sully's room, Matthew removed his hat and entered.

"Is that you, Doc?" Sully tilted his head.

"It's me, Sully," Matthew spoke softly. "How ya feelin'?"

"I been better," he replied. "Thanks for comin'."

"Sheriff Nash told me what happened," Matthew pulled a chair closer and sat down.

"Michaela.... is she okay?" he worried.

"She's fine," he assured. "She thought somethin' might be wrong with you. Had a strange feelin' this mornin'."

Sully sighed, "The doctor doesn't know if this is temporary."

"I'm sure it is," Matthew encouraged.

"I was rememberin' what happened t' Brian," he swallowed hard. "What if my sight don't come back, Matthew?"

"Don't go thinkin' that," the young man touched his shoulder. "Let's take things one step at a time."

"Are the kids okay?" he changed the subject.

Matthew grinned, "Oh, yea. They're excited about the hospital."

"Has your Ma been takin' it easy?" he hoped.

"As easy as she can," he returned. "Dr. Bernard says everythin's fine."

Sully fell silent and closed his eyes. Matthew watched him, wondering if he had drifted off to sleep. Then he noticed a tear trickle down Sully's cheek.

"It's gonna be okay, Sully," Matthew told him.

"I was just thinkin'," he felt a lump in his throat.

"About what?" Matthew questioned.

"I might never see you kids and Michaela again," he voiced his fear. "Or.... my new baby."

Dr. Ford entered the room, "How are you feeling, Mr. Sully?"

"My head still hurts some," he replied.

"I'll give you something for that," he nodded.

"When can I take him home?" Matthew spoke up.

"I think it will improve his chances of regaining his sight if he stays immobile for at least today," Ford returned. "We'll reassess his condition in the morning."

"I gotta be back for that hospital openin'," Sully insisted.

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

As the Sully household gathered for dinner, the children wondered why their father and Matthew could not join them.

"What did Matthew's telegram say, Ma?" Brian queried.

"It said they would be home in the morning," she maintained a facade of calm.

"Will they be here in time t' see the hospital open?" Katie wondered.

Michaela smiled, "Of course, they will, Sweetheart."

Brian detected his mother's angst, "I bet it has somethin' t' do with Pa's work for the Geological Survey."

"Yes," Michaela hardly touched her meal. "I'm certain that's it."

Brian changed the subject, "Everyone in town is talkin' about the hospital openin'. Senator Teller's comin'."

"Senator Teller?" Michaela was surprised.

"Preston arranged it," he nodded.

"I knew Preston was inviting what he termed an 'honored guest,'" she paused. "But a United States Senator?"

"It's a big deal, Ma," Brian acknowledged. "This hospital's gonna put Colorado Springs on the map."

"It's already on the map, Brian," Katie pointed out.

He chuckled, "That's just an expression, Katie. It means it will make our town even more important."

Bridget noticed that Michaela was not eating, "Come on, lass. I made your favorite."

"I'm sorry, Bridget," she sighed. "I.... I'm not very hungry. I think I'll step outside for some fresh air."

"Don' we got fw...fresh air in here?" Josef questioned.

"I'll come with ya, Mama," Katie began to slide from her seat.

"No, Sweetheart," Michaela stopped her. "I won't be out long. You finish your supper."

Brian helped his mother from her seat, then watched as she silently exited the house.

Michaela stood on the porch, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by all that was happening. A new hospital. A new baby. She missed Sully terribly. He would know just what to say to allay her fears.

Taking a deep breath, she stepped toward one of the posts beside the steps. She ran her hand along the smooth wood, hand hewn by her husband over ten years ago.

She recalled fondly the night they sat up late after announcing their engagement to Matthew, Colleen and Brian. It was on the porch of the the old homestead. Her mind drifted to that conversation.

"So, how many rooms do ya want for our new house?" Sully put his arm around her.

"Let's see...." she pondered. "A big living room and dining room."

"Sounds good," Sully joked. "That won't take long t' build."

"I wasn't finished," she tapped his side playfully.

"Go on then," he loved her expression.

"A kitchen.... with an indoor water pump," she specified.

"Indoor pump?" he sighed. "You're makin' this harder."

She resumed, "Colleen and Brian should have their own rooms."

"Done," he nodded. "That it?"

"I think so," she snuggled closer.

He kissed her temple, "What about a room for us?"

"Us?" her cheeks flushed.

"Unless you want us sleepin' in that big livin' room," he teased.

"No," she tensed. "We.... we'll need.... privacy."

"Michaela," he detected her nervousness. "It's perfectly natural."

"What is?" she feigned ignorance.

"A husband an' wife havin' their own room," he spoke low.

"I know that," she remained uncomfortable.

"You nervous about it?" he sensed.

"No, I...." she knew he could see through her. "Yes."

"You're gonna make a wonderful wife," he lifted her chin.

"What if...." she hesitated.

"No 'ifs,'" he kissed her sweetly. "I know."

"How could you know?" Michaela averted her eyes.

"I know 'cause of how we kiss," his lips met hers again.

Breathlessly, they parted.

"See?" he grinned. "That's just a preview."

She caressed his cheek, "What do you want for our new home?"

"Same things you want," he whispered. "Plus, a big porch. We can sit outside.... watch the stars.... maybe even do some sparkin'."

"Sparking?" she smiled.

"Um-hum," he raised an eyebrow. "Just like now."

They kissed again.

Michaela smiled at the memory. Drawing her shawl around her more snugly, she looked up at the stars.

"Oh, Sully," she closed her eyes, hoping to sense his spirit. "Please come home soon."

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

"So, you see, Senator," Preston paused for dramatic effect. "With this new hospital, Colorado Springs will attract more professional people. No longer shall we be known only for our mining and hot springs."

"And Pike's Peak," he added.

"Of course," Preston smiled.

"Why are you telling me this, Mr. Lodge?" the Senator challenged. "In my profession, I always look for motive."

"Motive?" Preston raised an eyebrow. "There is no motive beyond helping this town achieve its potential."

"And there is nothing that you're asking of me?" Teller doubted.

"Well...." Preston paused. "Perhaps one little thing."

"What is it?" the Senator leaned back in his chair.

"I have been attempting for the past two years to obtain a national charter for my bank," he finally got to the point. "A good word on your part can cut through the bureaucratic problems that seem to be holding things up."

"I don't think that's an unreasonable request.... to look into it, that is," he nodded. "It could be that your request found itself on the bottom of a stack of papers of some bureaucrat's desk."

"Thank you, Senator," Preston grinned. "I knew I could count on you."

Teller put his hand on his wife's and smiled, "You must be tired, Harriet. Why don't you retire, and I'll join you shortly?"

"Very well," she rose from the table. "If I know you, 'shortly' will turn into at least an hour."

He smiled and kissed her hand, "Good night, my dear."

"Good night," she returned. "Thank you for dinner, Mr. Lodge."

He stood and with a grin, shook her hand, "My pleasure."

They watched her depart.

Then Preston turned to the Senator, "Was there something else you wanted to discuss?"

Teller mentioned, "I am interested in knowing the itinerary for tomorrow."

"Of course," Preston withdrew a folded paper from his pocket.

"Michaela.... that is, Dr. Quinn, has agreed to let me present a special guest. She has no idea it will be you."

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

"Why don't ya try t' get some sleep, Sully?" Matthew touched his arm.

He restlessly turned away from his son.

"Hey," Matthew hoped to bolster his spirits. "The doctor says this could just be temporary."

Sully did not reply.

"I understand if ya don't wanna talk," the young man rose from the chair by the bed.

"Matthew," Sully was barely audible. "Thanks for comin'."

"Sure," he acknowledged. "I'll be nearby if ya need me."

Sully heard the door close behind him. He touched the tender area of his head which had been struck by his attacker. Wincing, he quickly attempted to focus on something else.

Michaela. His mind always turned to her. He knew she would be worried. And it was the last thing in the world he wanted, especially as the baby was due so soon. The night before he left, they had quarreled over his taking this job so near her due date. He had not told her why he wanted the extra money, hoping to surprise her with something special for their anniversary. His heart saddened as he recalled their last night.

"Sully," Michaela watched him pack. "Please reconsider taking this job."

"Michaela," he turned. "I'll be home before the hospital openin'. You know I wouldn't miss that."

"What if...." her voice trailed off.

"What if what?" he paused.

"Nothing," she went to the bed and climbed up.

Her breathing was labored as she struggled to make herself comfortable. Sully returned to his packing until he heard her softly crying.

He pivoted to look at her in the low lamplight. Then he went to her side. Kneeling beside the bed, he stroked back the hair from her face.

"You won't even miss me," he spoke low. "You got all that work gettin' the hospital ready."

"You know that's not true," she protested.

"You don't have a lot of work t' do?" he raised an eyebrow teasing.

"No," she swallowed hard. "You know I'll miss you."

"Hey," he clasped her hand. "Trust me, that I gotta do this."

"I trust you," she returned. "But I don't understand why it can't wait."

"The job won't wait for me," he offered.

She was quiet as another tear trickled down her cheek.

Sully leaned closer and softly kissed it, "I love you, Michaela."

"I love you, too," she did not look at him.

He touched her cheek, to turn her face toward him, "Let me see those beautiful eyes."

"It's too dark to look at me," she half protested.

"I never wanna stop lookin' at you," he kissed her sweetly. "You're my life, Michaela."

"Then please, stay home," she requested.

He sighed and stood up, returning to his packing.

The memory haunted him now. He might never again see her beautiful face or those of his children. So often in his experience, he had been reminded of how fragile life could be. At least he was still alive, he told himself.

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

"Dr. Ford," Matthew studied the physician. "What are Sully's chances of regaining his sight?"

He stroked his chin, "About fifty-fifty."

Matthew's jaw tensed, "This ain't fair."

"Course it ain't," the physician agreed.

"If it does start t' return...." Matthew pondered. "How long might it be?"

"I'd say if it doesn't start to return in about two weeks, then the damage is permanent," he assessed.

"Sully's been through so much," Matthew shook his head. "I couldn't even tell ya how many times he's nearly died."

The doctor noted, "When I put him into that nightshirt, I saw a lot of scars."

"I don't know how Ma will react," the young man sighed.

"She's a physician," Ford replied. "She's seen this sort of thing before, I'm sure."

"It's different when it's family," Matthew knew.

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

"Mama," Katie entered her mother's bedroom and lifted the blind to view the sunrise. "Miss Bridget said you wanted to be wakened at seven, and that's what time it is."

Michaela opened her eyes and stretched her arms. Even that was an effort.

"How's the baby this mornin'?" the little girl touched her mother's abdomen.

"Active," she attempted to sit up.

"Let me help you," Katie tugged at her mother's arm.

Michaela yawned, "Are your brothers and sister up?"

"Joey's been up since sunrise," she recounted. "Annie an' Noah are still sleepin'."

"Why has Josef been up so long?" she was curious.

"He said he doesn't wanna miss anythin'," Katie smiled. "Poppy will be home this mornin', won't he?"

"Yes," Michaela assured.

"Good," Katie went to the door. Turning, she added, "Nothin' feels quite right when Poppy's not here."

With that, the child departed, closing the door behind her.

Michaela took a deep breath and threw back the covers in order to swing her legs around to the floor. Her ankles were slightly swollen, and she knew she would be on her feet most of the day. She also knew, she would have to rest at every opportunity.

There came a light tap at the door.

"Come in," Michaela reached for her robe.

"Hey, Mama," Josef strolled into the room. "How ya feelin'?"

She put on a brave facade, "Very well, thank you. Your sister tells me you've been up since sunrise."

"Yea," he shrugged.

"Have you had breakfast?" she drew back a stray lock of his hair.

"Nope," he smiled. "I wait for you."

"I'll be down shortly," she assured. "Go on ahead."

"'Kay," he left her alone.

Michaela rose from the bed and put on her slippers. Then she exited her bedroom to check on the twins.

"Mama," Annie saw her first. "Mor."

"Good morning to you," she caressed the little girl's rosy cheek.

Noah heard their conversation, "Papa?"

She kissed him, "We'll see him today."

"Good boy," he pointed to himself.

"A very good boy," she tickled his belly.

"Big," Annie stretched her arms.

"And that's your Mama," Michaela gazed at her own stomach. "I don't think it will be long, my darlings. Your little brother or sister is going to make an appearance very soon."

"Soon," Annie repeated.

"I baby," Noah spoke up.

"Not for long," Michaela yawned. "Mama and Papa are going to be very tired with all of you to handle."

Annie lifted up, "Kat-ie."

"She's eating breakfast," Michaela explained. "I'll go tell Miss Bridget you're up."

As she turned to leave them, she heard Annie's voice, "Luv, Mama."

Smiling, Michaela returned, "I love you, too, Sweetheart."

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

Sully opened his eyes. There was nothing but darkness. He heard the sounds of people and horses outside, a certain indication that it was daylight. Then he heard a knock at his door.

"Come in," he sighed.

"'Mornin', Sully," it was Matthew's voice. "I come t' help ya get dressed."

"What time is it?" he queried.

"Little after seven," Matthew answered. "We can get goin' soon as you're ready."

"I.... I don't know if I can do this," Sully hedged.

"What do ya mean?" he was puzzled.

"Go home.... like this," Sully felt a rush of anxiety.

Matthew pointed out, "Ma's expectin' ya, Sully. Ya gotta go home."

He knew his son was right. Silently, he sat up. His head throbbed, and he rubbed it.

"Dr. Ford is gonna give ya somethin' for the pain," Matthew assured.

"I don't want anythin'," he protested. "It just makes me sleepy. I'm gonna have trouble enough ridin' a horse."

Matthew put his hand on Sully's shoulder, "Things are gonna be okay. Ya gotta believe."

Sully felt a lump in his throat, "You believe there's a glimmer of hope?"

"Sure," he nodded.

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

Michaela finished dressing, but was not feeling well. She had been to the privy several times already this morning, and a dull ache in her lower back had been present since she got up.

She closed her eyes, "Dear God, please not yet. I'm not ready for the baby yet."

Suddenly, she was hit by a wave of nausea. She went to the basin on her vanity. After expelling the contents of her stomach, she wiped her face with a damp cloth. A pain gripped her in the lower abdomen. She bent over and clasped the post of the bed.

"Bridget!" she called.

The nanny rushed into the room, "Saints preserve us, lass. Is it time?"

"I...." Michaela attempted to calm her breathing. "I think it's a contraction."

"I'll get Dr. Colleen," she offered.

Michaela felt the pain lessen, "No. It's all right now."

"Darlin', the babe is comin'," Bridget pointed out.

"Not yet," she shook her head. "It could be several hours yet."

"That means ya can't be goin' t' that hospital openin'," the nanny reasoned.

"I must," Michaela asserted.

"Dr. Mike...." she was cut off.

"Are the children ready?" Michaela questioned.

"Aye," she nodded.

"Good," Michaela steeled herself. "Let's go."

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

"You're doin' fine, Sully," Matthew held the reins of his horse.

The mountain man slumped in the saddle, his head throbbing, "I think I gotta stop for a little bit."

"But we're almost there," he encouraged.

"Please," Sully implored.

Matthew stopped the horses, "Okay. I'll get ya some water."

"Thanks," Sully rubbed his eyes, hoping it might help his vision return.

"Anythin'?" Matthew noticed.

"No," he replied simply.

Matthew took the lid off of Sully's canteen and guided him to drink. Awkwardly, Sully wiped his upper lip after consuming some of the cool liquid.

"What time is it?" Sully queried.

"Goin' on eleven," Matthew looked at his pocket watch. "Ma's probably pacin' the floor."

"God," Sully lowered his head. "I ain't any good t' her like this."

"Don't go sayin' that," Matthew insisted.

Sully frowned, "Let's go then."

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

"Ma?" Colleen helped her mother from the surrey. "Are you okay?"

"I felt a contraction this morning," she mentioned.

"Dr. Bernard's here if you want him to check you," Colleen gestured.

"Perhaps he should," Michaela consented. "Bridget...."

"We'll take care of the wee ones, lass," she assured.

Colleen escorted her mother into the Clinic.

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

"Everythin' looks ready," Jake sized up the banners in front of the new hospital.


There was a platform on which the distinguished guests would stand and a podium where they would deliver their good wishes. Most of the townsfolk had already gathered for a good position.

Horace looked at his watch, "Preston will be here with Senator Teller any minute."

"So where's Sully?" Hank pulled a flask from his vest pocket.

"I bet he don't show," Jake stated.

"He'll be here," Loren assured. "He wouldn't miss Dr. Mike's big day."

"I hear tell he's in jail over at Manitou," Jake added.

Dorothy scolded, "Don't go makin' assumptions."

Horace pointed, "Here comes Preston's carriage with the Senator."

"An' a bunch o' nuns," Hank took a swig from his flask.

"Nuns?" Horace wondered.

Dorothy explained, "They're gonna work in the hospital."

"Great," Hank said sarcastically. "'Least they won't be watchin' what goes on at the Gold Nugget. I'm gonna miss havin' Michaela across the street."

"She'll still have an office in the old Clinic," Dorothy added.

"She won't be bringin' the nuns over, will she?" Hank's brow wrinkled. "Bad for business."

"Here comes, Michaela's carriage," Dorothy pointed.

"Looks like she brung her brats, too," Hank added.

"What's wrong with you t'day?" Loren frowned at him.

Hank took another drink and swayed slightly, "Nothin' you can fix, ol' man."

A round of applause greeted Senator Teller as he mounted the steps of the platform. A louder greeting met Michaela when her surrey drew up beside the steps.

"No sign o' Sully," Hank surveyed the horizon.

Dr. Bernard helped Michaela from the carriage, "Are you sure about this?"

"It will only be for a few minutes," she pledged. "Then I promise I'll get off of my feet."

"Good," he nodded.

Michaela and her children were introduced to Senator Teller. They exchanged pleasantries. Michaela nervously looked around for any sign of Sully. Surely, he would not miss one of the most important days of her life.

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

"Looks like they've already started the ceremony," Matthew spotted the crowd before the hospital.

"Is Michaela talkin' yet?" Sully anticipated.

"She's steppin' toward the podium," he focused.

"Give me my horse's reins, an' tell me when we get near the platform," Sully directed.

Michaela cleared her throat and cast a glance down the street. There, on horseback, came Sully and Matthew. She smiled, relaxing now that they had finally arrived.

"Poppy!" Katie saw him.

"Shh, darlin'," Bridget tapped her knee. "Your Mama sees him."

"Is the hopital open yet?" Josef anticipated.

Michaela paused until Sully neared the platform.

Matthew spoke low, "Stop the horse now, Sully."

He did so and climbed down from the saddle.

Matthew stood beside him, and whispered, "It's about four paces straight ahead t' the steps."

"Point me toward where she's standin'," Sully requested.

Matthew did so in a manner that was undetectable. Sully smiled and waved to his wife. Then he gestured for Michaela to begin her speech.

She nodded.

Again, clearing her throat, her brow suddenly wrinkled.

"Ma?" Colleen noticed.

"Dr. Bernard," Michaela urgently turned to him.

"Let's get her inside the hospital immediately," the physician directed.

"What's goin' on?" Sully heard the commotion.

"It's Ma," Matthew tugged at his sleeve. "She's lyin' down, an' they're gatherin' around her."

"Sully!" Michaela called to him.

"Take me t' her," he implored.

With Matthew's guidance, Sully managed to reach his wife.

"Sully," she clasped his jacket. "The baby's coming."

"I.... I know," he spoke toward her voice. "Everythin's gonna be okay."

She cringed as another contraction gripped her. Her scream frightened the children.

"Come on, darlin's," Bridget directed them away from their mother.

With the assistance of Brian and Emma, the nanny soon had the little ones at the surrey.

"I wanna stay with Mama," Josef insisted. "That baby's hurtin' her."

"She'll be all right," Brian attempted to calm a crying Noah.

Josef broke free from Bridget and rushed to his mother's side.

Sully felt the presence of his son, "Joe, I need ya t' take care o' your brother an' sisters for me."

"But Mama's hurt, Papa," his eyes widened.

"The doctors are gonna take care o' her," Sully assured.

"Josef," Michaela caught her breath. "Go with Miss Bridget. Right now, Sweetheart."

"Please, Mama," his voice filled with emotion. "I wanna help ya."

"You can help me.... by doing what your father said," she insisted.

The little boy stood up and hurried to the nanny's waiting arms.

"Sully," Michaela reached up to caress her husband's cheek. "If.... anything happens to me...."

He quickly interrupted, "Don't talk like that, Michaela."

"Look at me," she implored.

He hoped he was directing his gaze at her.

"I love you," she whispered. "Never forget how much I love you."

He gulped, "I love you, too."

Andrew knelt beside them, "The operating room is ready."

"Operatin' room?" Sully raised up.

"Just in case," Bernard stated. "Let's get her inside now."

As they carried Michaela into the hospital, Sully reached for Matthew, who guided him toward the building.

"Will ya look at Sully?" Hank quipped. "He's drunker than me."

"That's impossible," Loren asserted. "He don't even drink."

"He acts like he can't see," Jake observed.

"He's probably just upset about Michaela," Dorothy excused.

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

Unsettled by the screams from his wife, Sully sat in a chair near the door to the operating room.

Colleen approached, "Pa, I convinced Dr. Bernard to let you come in as soon as they get her ready."

"Thanks," he did not look up.

"Matthew?" she glanced curiously at her older brother.

He nodded his head for her to join him in the hallway.

"Is something wrong with Pa?" she sensed.

"He's blind," Matthew informed her.

"What!" she stood in disbelief. "What happened?"

"Got hit on the head night before last, over in Manitou," he detailed. "The doctor there said it might only be temporary."

"My God," Colleen's heart grew heavy.

"Sully!" Michaela's voice echoed through the hallway.

Sully stood up, disoriented.

"We'll help ya," Matthew swiftly joined him.

With Colleen on one side, and Matthew on the other, Sully entered the operating room. The odor of disinfectant filled the air.

"Sully!" Michaela screamed again.

"I'm here," his voice choked slightly.

"Thank God," she weathered another contraction. "The children.... are they...."

"They're fine, Ma," Colleen assured. "I'm gonna make Pa sit over here to the side, but he'll be close enough to hold your hand."

"Thank you," her panting ebbed.

Sully felt the familiar warmth of his wife's hand in his. He raised it to his lips and kissed it.

Then he heard Dr. Bernard's voice, "Dr. Quinn, when you feel the next contraction, I want you to push."

Michaela looked to her husband, "This baby.... something feels different from the others, Sully."

"What d' ya mean different?" he was concerned.

Andrew's voice was heard, "Her blood pressure is falling."

Michaela's breathing grew more rapid, "I.... don't think I can do this."

"Yes, ya can," Sully tried to sound calm. "The baby's gonna be here before ya know it."

"No," she began to feel faint.

With that, she closed her eyes.

Sully felt her hand go limp in his, "Dr. Bernard?"

Bernard spoke up, "She's bleeding heavily."

"God, no!" Sully clasped her hand more tightly. "Michaela!"

"Mr. Sully, I think it would be best now if you...." he was interrupted.

"I ain't leavin' her," Sully cut him off.

"Pa," Colleen leaned closer. "You need to wait in the other room. This is going to be....."

"No, Colleen," Sully insisted.

Andrew attempted, "Sully, I understand your wanting to be here, but...."

Sully's jaw tensed, "I said I ain't leavin'."

"Pa," Colleen tried again. "We have to work quickly. Both their lives could be in danger."

That finally convinced Sully, and his shoulder's slumped.

"I'll take you," Colleen touched his hand.

Sully stood up and let her guide him into the waiting room, where Matthew stood.

"What's goin' on?" the young man questioned.

"I have to get back to Ma," Colleen pivoted and left them.

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

Most of the townsfolk had remained outside the hospital, waiting either near the platform or on the porch of the building.

Preston put his hands on his hips, "Well, Senator, why don't I take you back to the Chateau? We can chat a bit more about that request of mine."

The Congressman looked at his watch, "I don't have much time, Mr. Lodge. I'm worried about Dr. Quinn. My wife and I would like to wait to see if she's going to be all right."

"I can have someone send us word," Preston replied.

"Very well," Teller consented.

Loren paced, "I'm gonna go see how things are goin'."

"Maybe someone should," Dorothy agreed.

The older man stepped inside the doorway where a nun sat at a desk.

He cleared his throat, "I came t' check on Dr. Mike."

"I can't tell you anything," she replied.

"Then I'll go check for myself, he started down the corridor.

"Sir, I'm sorry, but you can't," she rose from her chair.

"I'm a family friend, sister," he explained. "Could ya at least go tell Matthew Cooper I'm here?"

"Yes," she agreed.

When she left and walked down a hallway, Loren scanned the area. It was surely as nice a building as he had ever seen. There was wood paneling, cushioned chairs, mahogany desks. And even though he recognized some of Sully's work, the decorations had Dr. Mike's touch.

The nun quickly returned, "Mr. Cooper said it's all right for you to join them in the waiting room. Right this way."

Soon they reached the waiting area. Matthew stepped forward to shake his hand and gestured for them to step into the hallway.

"How's Dr. Mike?" the older man queried.

"Not good," his expression was somber.

"Did she.... lose the baby?" he swallowed hard.

"No, but Sully said she's hemorrhaging," Matthew felt a lump in his throat.

"Just like my Abigail," Loren's eyes saddened.

He noticed Sully, standing with his arms tightly folded across his chest.

"What about Sully?" he was concerned. "How's he doin'?"

"There's somethin' ya oughta know, Loren," Matthew paused. "He was robbed over in Manitou night before last. He got hit over the head, an' now he's.... he's blind."

"Blind!" Loren spoke louder than he intended to.

"Makes it even harder on him," Matthew knew. "Ma don't know yet."

"Le' me talk t' him," Loren offered.

"I'll go get us some coffee," he patted his back.

Loren entered the room and studied Sully. Suddenly, he was reminded of the Reverend and how devastating his blindness had been. Loren went to Sully and put his hand on his shoulder.

"She'll be okay, lad," he spoke softly.

Sully did not reply.

"I think waitin' is the worst thing," Loren sighed.

"No, it ain't," Sully lowered his head.

"Well then, just think, she's in the best place for deliverin'...." Loren was cut off.

"There's somethin' wrong, Loren," Sully interjected. "They wouldn't let me stay with her. Said the baby might not...."

He could not finish his sentence.

"Ya gotta look on the bright side o' things," Loren advised.

Sully swallowed hard, "Bright?"

"Sure," he returned. "She's got three fine doctors in there takin' care o' her. Plus, them nuns. Not t' mention, a town full of folks who's prayin' for her."

Sully's lower lip quivered slightly, "I can't lose her, Loren. I can't."

"You won't," he assured. "Come on. Let's sit down."

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

Bridget entered Michaela's office and bent over to look under the desk. There sat Josef, cross-legged and clutching the stuffed elephant his parents had brought him from Philadelphia.

"Hey, boy-oh," she sat in the chair. "Why don't ya come out an' help me with them twins."

"Katie can help ya," he declined.

"Come on up here then," she tapped her lap.

Without hesitation, he scooted out from his hiding place and waited for the nanny to lift him.

"Now," Bridget rearranged his hair. "Why don't ya tell me what you're thinkin'."

He hedged, then revealed, "I'm thinkin' Mama's not gonna be okay."

She touched his nose, "Wanna know what I think?"

"What?" he tilted his head.

"I think she needs for us t' have good thoughts," she told him.

"I can't help what I think, Miss Bwidget," his eyes welled.

"I know ya can't, darlin'," she tilted his head against her shoulder.

Josef's tears flowed freely. He did not notice that his older sister had come to the door. Silently, she approached them and began to stroke Josef's back.

Bridget smiled lovingly at her and drew a handkerchief from her pocket.

She kissed the little boy's temple, "Look who's here t' see ya."

He pulled back slightly and reached out for his sister. Katie clasped his hand and began to weep with him. Feeling tears fill her own eyes, Bridget embraced them both.

Then the nanny took a deep breath, "We gotta be strong for your folks, darlin's."

"I don' wanna be stwong," Josef's lower lip curled under. "If this baby huwts Mama, I'm gonna...."

"Josef," Bridget gently touched his lips to stop him. "This babe needs our prayers. It's made from love, just like you."

"Jo-jo," a little voice was heard at the door.

Bridget wiped the moisture from Josef's cheeks, "Now, look who's here t' see how ya are."

He nodded, "Noah."

"Come," the toddler curled his fingers.

"I don' feel like playin', Noah," Josef leaned against Bridget's shoulder again.

"Pweace," Noah implored.

Brian tapped lightly on the door frame, "Mind if I come in?"

"Up, Bran," Noah reached for him.

"Where's that little Annie?" Bridget peered at the door.

"She'll be here any...." Brian heard the child's giggles.

"No-ah," Annie arrived.

Emma, too, joined them, "Who'd like to help me play with the blocks?"

"Me!" Annie raised her hands.

"Me!" Noah imitated.

"Let's go, then," Emma took each of the twins by the hand and led them into the living room.

"Come on, Katie," Brian invited. "How 'bout we play some checkers?"

"I guess," she consented.

Soon Bridget and Josef were alone again.

"You feelin' any better?" the nanny rocked him slightly.

"I feel better when ya hold me, Miss Bwidget," he nodded. "Ya might have t' hold me a long time."

"I'll hold ya as long as ya want," she stroked his hair.

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

Loren chatted idly with Sully, carefully avoiding the topic of his blindness. Suddenly, they felt another presence. It was Colleen. She stepped toward Sully and placed her hand atop his.

"Pa," she paused.

"Colleen...." Sully felt an ache in his heart. "Is Michaela...."

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

Colleen informed Sully and Loren, "Dr. Bernard and Andrew have started a Caesarean procedure on Ma."

"You ain't helpin' them?" Sully lifted up.

"They felt it best that I stay with you," she noted.

"I'll leave ya be, then," Loren started to rise.

"No," Sully swiftly invited. "Please stay."

Loren sat down beside him again.

"I need to explain what's going on, Pa," Colleen broached the subject. "Ma has a condition called placenta previa. It occurs when the placenta implants over the inner opening of the uterus. When Ma's cervix began to dilate during labor, the location of the placenta caused heavy bleeding and prevented the baby from traveling through the birth canal."

Matthew entered the room with the coffee in time to hear the end of his sister's explanation.

"So they'll take the baby out with that Caesarean procedure 'cause it can't come out the normal way?" Sully interpreted her terminology.

"That's right," Colleen acknowledged. "They must work quickly. Fortunately, the baby is nearly at full term. We should know any second what...."

They heard Andrew clear his throat at the door.

Colleen stood up, "Andrew?"

He smiled and stepped closer to Sully, "Congratulations. You have a beautiful little girl."

"A girl?" Sully felt a lump in his throat. "Is she okay? Is Michaela?"

Andrew's expression changed, "The baby appears to be fine. We got her out in time. Sister Mary Martha is caring for her as we speak."

Sully returned, "What about Michaela?"

"I'm going back in to assist Dr. Bernard," Andrew informed him.

"Assist him with what?" Sully was anxious.

"I'll explain," Colleen nodded to Andrew.

He departed.

"Pa," Colleen resumed. "What Dr. Bernard is doing right now is suturing where he took the baby out. We'll need to watch Ma very carefully."

"Watch for what?" he anticipated.

Colleen cautioned, "Bleeding, shock, infection. She might need a hysterectomy. And if the blood loss is severe enough...."

"Take my blood," Sully offered.

"Let's hope it won't be necessary," she touched his arm.

"Another little girl, eh?" Loren smiled.

"Would you like to see...." Colleen stopped herself. "To hold your daughter?"

"I.... I might drop her...." Sully felt uncomfortable.

"Go on, lad," Loren encouraged. "I'll watch over ya."

"I'll go get her," Colleen rose.

"Congratulations, Sully," Matthew patted his back.

Within a few minutes, Colleen returned with the infant. When Sully heard her reenter the room, he held his arms to cradle his new daughter. Then he felt the warmth of the little one in his hands. He lifted her closer to inhale the scent of the newly cleaned baby. Softly, his lips touched her cheek.

"She feels real good," he half smiled.

As Loren looked closer, he began to describe, "She's got thick dark hair. More than any o' your other kids had as babies, Sully. An' she's got a cute little nose. She reminds me of...."

Sully wondered why he stopped, "Of who? Michaela?"

Matthew contributed, "She does looks a lot like Ma, only with darker hair."

Sully felt a tear trickle down his cheek. His heart filled with love as he kissed the baby again. Closing his eyes, he thanked the Spirits for this new life. Awkwardly, he ran his fingers along her arms and legs."

"There's ten toes an' ten fingers," Loren guessed what he was doing. "What ya gonna name her?"

"Michaela an' me didn't come up with a name yet," he answered.

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

"Dr. Quinn?" Bernard leaned closer to her face. "Can you hear me?"

"Mmm?" she attempted to focus. "Wha.... I...."

"You're in the hospital," he helped.

Her brow creased, "I went into labor.... my baby!"

"She's fine," he smiled.

"She?" Michaela realized. "A girl? Where is she?"

"Your husband is with her," he informed her.

She became aware of the pain in her abdomen, "A Caesarean?"

"Yes," he nodded solemnly. "Placenta previa."

Michaela lightly touched her abdomen, "Is the baby all right?"

"Perfectly," he assured.

Michaela sighed in relief. She felt terribly weak.

He offered, "Would you like to see that new daughter of yours?"

"Yes," she nodded slowly. "Would you ask Sully to bring her in?"

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

"I'm gonna go tell that crowd of people outside that we got another little girl t' pamper," Loren joked.

"Loren," Sully reached out for him.

"Yea?" he paused.

"Don't tell them about me," he requested.

"I won't," he patted his back. "You take care."

"Thanks," Sully said. "For everythin'."

With that, Loren left them.

In Matthew's arms, the baby began to fuss, "I think she's gettin' hungry."

"Ma should be waking soon," Colleen stated.

Sully took a deep breath and sighed.

"You okay?" Matthew detected.

"I gotta tell Michaela now about my blindness," he knew.

"Do you want me to?" Colleen offered.

"No," Sully shook his head. "Just take me t' her."

"Maybe she should see the baby first," Colleen explained. "Ma can feed her, then you can come in, Pa."

"If ya think that's best," he agreed.

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

Colleen walked into her mother's room quietly, "Hello there. I brought a visitor."

Michaela opened her eyes, "Colleen?"

"I'd like you to meet the newest member of the Sully family," she held the baby close to her mother.

"Oh, my," Michaela's eyes watered as she reached for her. "Look at her. She's so beautiful."

"Let me help you, Ma," she cautioned. "Be careful of your abdomen."

"Where's Sully?" Michaela could not take her eyes off of the infant.

"He'll be in shortly," she smiled. "I thought maybe you could feed the baby first."

"Sully should be here," Michaela began to loosen her gown.

With Colleen's assistance, she was able to position the baby to nurse.

"How much does she weigh?" Michaela caressed the tiny head.

"Six pounds, four ounces," Colleen detailed. "Would you look at that hair?"

"I think it must account for at least one of her pounds," Michaela retorted.

"How are you feeling, Ma?" Colleen queried.

"Very tired.... but.... I don't know how to describe it.... fulfilled is a good word," she smiled. "I don't understand why Sully isn't here."

"I.... I'll go get him for you," Colleen turned.

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

"Matthew, what am I gonna say t' her?" Sully felt anxious.

"Just tell her the truth," he advised. "She's a doctor. She'll understand."

"But she's my wife, too," Sully countered. "She'll wanna take care o' me.... maybe for the rest o' my life. I couldn't bear that."

"Sully," Matthew spoke up. "That ain't gonna happen. You're gonna see again."

"What if I don't?" he tilted his head.

Colleen stepped into the room, "Pa? Ma wants to see you. I need to caution you, she's very weak. She lost a lot of blood, but she's stable and was able to nurse the baby. I'll take you to her now."

Steeling himself for what was to come, Sully rose from the chair and went with Colleen.

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

"Hello, my darling," Michaela tenderly uttered to her newborn daughter. "Welcome to our family. You're going to love your big brothers and sisters, and they're going to adore you."

"Ma?" Colleen lightly tapped the door frame. "Pa's here."

"Sully," Michaela's voice was faint. "Oh, Sully, look at her."

As Colleen guided Sully, Michaela's brow wrinkled. Immediately, she surmised that he could not see.

"Sully?" she watched his awkward entrance.

He held out his hand to her, "Michaela."

"What's happened?" her voice trembled.

Colleen pulled a chair closer for him to sit, "I'll take the baby and leave you two...."

"No," Michaela interrupted. "Don't take her."

"All right," Colleen retreated and exited the room.

Michaela touched her husband's hand, "Tell me."

Sully lowered his head and explained the origin of his condition.

"Where were you hit?" she inquired.

"Here," he pointed on his head.

She assessed, "The blindness.... it.... it might be temporary."

"That's what the doctor in Manitou said," he returned. "I'm so sorry this happened, Michaela."

"It's not your fault," she comforted. "We'll do everything we can. I'll bring in specialists if need be."

"I don't want you worryin' about me," he tensed. "Just concentrate on our little girl an' gettin' well."

Michaela guided his hand to lightly touch the baby's chin, "She's beautiful."

He felt her soft skin, "I wish...."

"You will see her," she asserted.

He continued to lightly touch the baby, "She's so soft."

"She really doesn't resemble our others," Michaela assessed. "At least not as a newborn."

He worried about her incision, "Do ya hurt much?"

"Not when I look at her," Michaela smiled. "But we'd better give her a name, Mr. Sully."

"Whatever you wanna call her is fine with me," he assured.

She linked her fingers in his, "How about Hope?"

"Hope Sully," he spoke the name lovingly. "I like it. What made ya think of it?"

"You," she raised his hand to her lips. "You've always given me hope. Not long ago, when Dr. Bernard was examining me, he mentioned it was his mother's name. That must have stuck with me. With all that's happened to us in the past year, it seems appropriate. This little one is our hope, Sully."

"Hope it is," he nodded. "I think I got an idea for her middle name."

"What?" she waited.

"Lauren," he responded.

"For Loren Bray?" she assumed.

"I wanna do somethin' for him," Sully explained. "He's been like a grandpa t' our kids."

"It's perfect," she consented. "Hope Lauren Sully."

Sully paused, unsure of what to do or say next.

The baby began to fidget.

"I think she might be hungry again," Michaela determined.

She undid her gown and positioned the baby to nurse.

Michaela noticed Sully's sullen expression, "Give me your hand."

He reached out, uncertain. Michaela cupped his hand to the back of the baby's head. Lightly, he stroked it, thinking there was no greater feeling on earth.

"Michaela," he spoke low. "I'm sorry we argued before I left."

"Me, too," she agreed. "But I understand that you needed to go."

He regretted, "The money I earned is gone now, along with the watch ya gave me for our anniversary. I was gonna do somethin' special for this anniversary."

"I love you," she whispered as a tear glistened in her eye.

"I love you, too," he leaned over, hoping to come near her lips.

She smiled, and guided him. They kissed sweetly.

Sully kept his hand on the baby's head, "You were right."

"About what?" Michaela wondered.

"Thinkin' it was a little girl," he smiled. "Thank you, Michaela, for givin' me Hope."

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

Matthew helped Sully up the top step in front of the homestead.

"Want me t' go in first an' tell the kids about your vision?" Matthew offered.

"No," Sully took a deep breath. "I should be the one. But could ya take 'em upstairs int' Katie's room for me?"

"Okay," he nodded.

"Matthew," Sully reached for him.

"I got ya, Sully," Matthew thought he needed his arm.

"I wanna thank you for everythin'," Sully said.

"No need t' thank me," he smiled. "We're family."

Matthew preceded him into the house, leaving the door ajar. As Sully waited on the porch, he felt the cold nose of Wolf against his hand.

"Hey, boy," Sully knelt to pet him.

Wolf licked his face, sensing that his master was troubled.

"I'm gonna need your help," Sully spoke softly to the animal.

Wolf wagged his tail and licked Sully's cheek.

"I'm takin' the kids upstairs now," Matthew returned. "They don't know you're home yet."

"Pa?" Brian stood at the doorway. "Matthew said...."

"Help me inside, please," he requested.

Brian guided him into the living room where Bridget and Emma waited.

"Sweet mother of Jesus," Bridget saw him. "Lad, what happened?"

Sully felt his way to one of the wing back chairs, "Before I tell ya, I want ya t' know that Michaela had the baby."

"That's good news," Emma smiled.

"What'd she have, Pa?" Brian's eyes widened.

"A little girl," Sully grinned. "We named her Hope."

"'Tis a fine name," Bridget approved. "Is Dr. Mike okay?"

"Real tired," Sully informed them. "They had t' take out the baby usin' a Caesarean procedure. She ain't outa the woods yet, but so far, everythin's all right."

Brian voiced what they all were thinking, "What about you, Pa?"

As Sully explained his condition, the family listened intently.

"You'll see again, won't ya?" Brian asked.

"There's a chance," Sully did not want to express his fears.

"I.... I'll help ya with whatever ya need," the young man offered.

"We all will," Emma spoke up.

"Aye," Bridget touched his shoulder.

"I appreciate it," Sully controlled his emotions. "I.... I reckon I better go tell the kids now."

Bridget chuckled, "They've been real anxious for news."

"I'll help ya up the steps, Pa," Brian offered.

"I can make it up the steps," Sully returned. "But I'd appreciate if you could guide me down the hallway t' Katie's room."

"Sure," Brian took him by the arm.

When they reached Katie's room, Sully thanked his son and entered. Matthew stood back to watch.

"Poppy!" Katie jumped. "Is Mama okay? Did she have the baby?"

Discreetly, Brian guided him to the bed.

Sully nervously cleared his throat, "Ya got a little sister."

"A sister?" Katie was delighted. "How big is she?"

Matthew spoke up and held his hands apart, "About this size."

"Does she look like me?" Josef wondered.

"She looks like...." Sully paused. "Beautiful."

"Like Mama?" Josef added.

"Yep," Sully smiled.

"Is Mama all right?" Katie was concerned.

"She's okay," Sully noted. "But real tired. She won't be able t' come home for a couple weeks."

"Can we go see her an' the baby?" Josef requested.

"Maybe," Sully nodded.

Katie took note of her father's strange demeanor, "Are you okay, Poppy?"

"I wanna talk t' you kids about somethin'," he prefaced.

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

Sully continued to speak to his children, "I had.... an accident."

"So'd Noah, but Miss Bwidget cleaned it up," Josef contributed.

Katie frowned, "He doesn't mean that kind of accident, Joey. Were ya hurt, Poppy?"

"I got hit on the head, Kates," Sully rubbed the spot. "I.... I'm havin' some trouble seein' right now."

"Like the Reverend?" Katie compared.

"Yea," Sully responded.

"You're blind then," Katie feared.

"You can hold my hand, Papa," Josef linked his fingers in his father's. "I'll take ya places."

"Thanks," Sully smiled. "But I don't want you kids worryin' about me. Let's just think about that little sister of yours."

"Did ya name her?" Katie questioned.

"Yep," Sully grinned. "Hope Sully."

"Hope?" Josef turned up his nose. "That's not in the Bible."

"Why'd ya call her that?" Katie wondered.

"Your Ma an' me think it's a good name," he explained.

"Papa, you can't see the baby, can ya?" Josef realized.

"No," his voice cracked slightly.

"How ya know she's beau'ful?" the little boy queried.

"I just know," Sully affirmed.

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

Colleen entered Michaela's room. Both mother and baby were asleep. As quietly as she could, Colleen peeled back the bandage on her mother's abdomen.

Michaela stirred, "Colleen...."

"Sorry I woke you," she apologized.

"That's all right," Michaela yawned. "Is Sully back yet?"

"No," Colleen finished examining her. "The incision looks good. Is there anything I can get you, Ma?"

"No, thank you," she noticed the light fading in her room.

Colleen smiled, "Do you realize that you and little Miss Hope are the first patients in St. Francis Clinic?"

"I didn't think of that," Michaela seemed preoccupied.

Colleen placed her hand atop her mother's, "Pa's going to see again, Ma."

Michaela turned her head to look at the baby, "I've always believed that things happen for a reason, Colleen, even if we don't understand at the time what those reasons are. But.... for the life of me, I can't comprehend why this would happen to Sully."

"I remember we thought that about the Reverend, too," the young woman agreed.

"It was Sully who convinced me that we had to help the Reverend accept his condition," she recalled. "But.... I don't think I can do that with my husband. He's a man of the outdoors, always working with his hands."

"I guess there has to be a balance between hoping he'll see again and preparing in case he doesn't," Colleen determined.

The baby began to whine. Soon it escalated into crying.

"She has a healthy set of lungs," Colleen went to the crib. "I think this is going to be the most pampered little girl I know."

"She certainly will have enough people to dote over her," Michaela smiled.

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

"So who's she look like?" Jake questioned Loren at the Cafe, where many townsfolk had gathered for dinner.

"Looks like a baby," Loren retorted.

"Was Sully disappointed in another girl?" Jake joked.

"'Course not," Loren scolded. "He ain't even seen...."

He stopped himself.

"Ain't even seen what?" Horace anticipated.

"Uh.... er...." Loren stumbled. "He ain't seen.... a baby any prettier."

As townsfolk returned to their meals and conversations, Dorothy pulled him aside, "What's goin' on, Loren Bray?"

"What d' ya mean?" he grew uncomfortable.

"I saw how Sully was actin' when he got t' the hospital, an' now you're actin' just as peculiar," she detailed. "I wanna know why."

He lowered his head, "I.... can't say."

"Is there somethin' wrong with him?" she tilted her head. "Or is there.... wait! You started t' say he ain't even seen the baby. Why not?"

Loren could not keep from revealing, "He's blind, Dorothy."

"What?" her hands rose to cover her cheeks.

"He got hit on the head, an' now he can't see," Loren kept his voice low. "He asked me not t' say anythin'."

She touched his hand, "That's all right. I won't tell anyone."

"What if Sully ends up like the Reverend?" he posed the question.

"What if he does?" she stated. "It don't change who he is."

"I can't imagine how life's gonna be for Sully," he shook his head mournfully.

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

Matthew entered his mother's hospital room. Michaela was dozing but roused when she heard his footsteps.

"Matthew?" she yawned.

"Hey, Ma," he stepped closer. "How ya feelin'?"

"All right," she assured. "Isn't Sully with you?"

"Brian's bringin' him any minute," he softly touched the infant's back. "He'll spend the night with you an' the baby."

"Matthew," she looked up at him. "Did you speak with the doctor in Manitou?"

"Yea," he acknowledged. "He made Sully stay that extra night so he wouldn't be movin' around a lot. He told me that his chances of seein' again are about fifty-fifty, but if he don't regain his vision within two weeks...."

"I want to examine his injury," she determined.

"Ma," he shook his head. "You ain't in any condition. Colleen says you gotta stay in bed."

"It won't be any strain to check it," she assured.

"Check what?" Sully's voice was heard at the door.

"Your injury," Michaela answered.

"Hey, Ma," Brian stepped forward to help Sully into the room.

"Brian," she smiled. "Come see your new sister."

After he had guided Sully to a chair, the young man leaned over the crib and lifted the baby into his arms, "Pa was right. She is beautiful."

Michaela cast a loving glance at her husband. For several minutes, Matthew and Brian doted over the newborn.

Then Matthew turned to his mother, "Emma an' me are gonna stay at the homestead t'night t' help with the kids. I best be goin' now."

"I'll put her back in her crib an' come with ya," Brian began to return the baby to her bed.

"Wait," Michaela's voice stopped him. "I think her Papa would like to hold her."

"I.... don't know," Sully grew uncomfortable.

"Here, Pa," Brian settled the baby into her father's embrace.

Sully again relished the scent and feel of his child. He raised her to his lips for a kiss.

Brian placed his hand on his father's shoulder, "She knows ya already, Pa. I think she's smilin'."

Tenderly, Sully stroked the baby's hair.

"We'll be gettin' home now," Brian kissed his mother's cheek. "You think we could bring the kids in t'morrow? They been askin'."

"Much as I would love to see them, we should wait another day or two," Michaela cautioned. "But give them my love."

"Okay," Brian consented. "Be seein' ya then."

"Good bye, Brian," she smiled. "Thank you. And you, Matthew."

After her sons kissed her, they bid farewell to Sully and Hope, then departed. With his back to his wife, Sully huddled over the infant. Michaela was able to discern the poetry he spoke to the little girl:

"Even as tender parents lovingly
Send a dear child in some true servant's care
Forth in the street, for larger light and air,
Feeling the sun her guardian will be,
And dreaming with a blushful pride that she
Will earn sweet smiles and glances every-where,
From loving faces; and that passers fair
Will bend, and bless, and kiss her, when they see,
And ask her name, and if her home is near,
And think, 'O gentle child, how blessed are they
Whose twofold love bears up a single flower!'
And so with softer musing move away,--
We send thee forth, O Book, thy little hour--
The world may pardon us to hold thee dear."

"Sully," Michaela wiped a tear. "That was lovely. Who was the poet?"

"John James Piatt," he turned.

"It appears that Hope has captured her Papa's heart already," she smiled.

"She's a good baby," he remarked. "She don't cry."

"You weren't here earlier," she mused.

"I wanna be here for you.... an' for her," his tone was serious.

Colleen peeked into the room, "I'm going to the Chateau now, Ma. I'll see you in the morning. If you need anything, Sister Mary Martha will be here."

"Thank you, Sweetheart," she returned. "We'll be fine."

"'Night then," she waved.

"I don't like you not havin' a doctor nearby," Sully commented to his wife.

"Dr. Bernard is staying at Stewart's Boarding House," Michaela noted. "Is that nearby enough for you?"

Sully lowered his head as if scolded.

"I'm sorry," Michaela realized her tone had offended.

"No," he swallowed hard. "It's okay. It's just, if ya need anythin', I can't get help."

"Stand up," she requested.

"What?" he was surprised.

"I said stand up," she repeated.

"Michaela, I'm holdin' the baby," he reminded.

"I know you are," she affirmed.

"But if I stand up.... I might fall over or knock up against somethin'," he hesitated.

"I'll guide you," she told him.

Sully rose to his feet, securely holding the baby.

"Now turn to your left," Michaela directed.

Sully complied.

"Take three steps forward," she continued.

Tentatively, he did so. He felt the side of the bed against his thighs.

"Now," Michaela paused. "Hold out the baby in front of you and set her down."

Sully's hands trembled slightly as he followed her commands.

"She's right beside me," Michaela assured.

He relaxed, then sighed.

"Now you," she added.

"Me?" he pointed to himself.

"Join us," she invited.

"Is the bed big enough?" he hedged.

"I'll make room," she repositioned herself.

Sully heard the movement of the mattress, "You ain't supposed t' be strainin' yourself."

"I'm not," she pledged. "So, would you please join us?"

Sully awkwardly sat on the edge of the bed. Then he felt Michaela's hand on his arm. It was all he could bear. He leaned forward until his head reached his wife's shoulder. She protectively situated their sleeping daughter, then reached around to stroke her husband's back.

"Michaela," his voice choked back tears.

"It's all right," she kissed his temple. "Let it out, Sully."

His tears flowed freely. After several minutes, he began to compose himself.

"I'm sorry," he wiped his sleeve across his eyes.

"I promise, you will see again," she vowed.

"You can't make promises like that," he knew.

She gently moved her fingers around the bump on his head, "Does it hurt very much?"

"No," he fibbed.

"Sully," she sensed otherwise.

"It.... it only hurts sometimes," he admitted.

"I can ask Sister Mary Martha to bring you something for it," she reached for the bell by her bed.

"No," he interjected. "I don't want anythin'.... just bein' here with you an' Hope helps."

"Speaking of our children," she drew back a lock of his hair. "How did our little ones take the news of their new sister."

Sully's face brightened when he related their reactions. She chuckled, as for just a few moments, he was his old self. Then the somber atmosphere returned.

"I.... I'm afraid I'm getting sleepy," Michaela's fatigue returned. "Could you put the baby in the crib?"

He tensed, "All right, but ya gotta tell me where t' go."

This time with more confidence, Sully listened to Michaela's directions and carried the baby to her crib. He stroked Hope's back until he felt the rhythmic breathing of her slumber.

Then he paused, waiting for his wife to tell him what to do next, "Michaela?"

There was no reaction.

"Michaela," his volume was louder.

"Mmm?" she focused. "I'm sorry, Sully. I drifted off."

"Could ya help me back t' the chair?" he requested.

When Michaela gave her directions, he ended up beside the bed.

"Did I take a wrong turn?" his brow wrinkled.

"No," she tugged at his hand. "Would you stay here with me?"

He did not react.

"Please?" she implored.

"All right," he sat on the edge of the bed.

Then cautiously, he curled up beside her, hoping to not touch her abdomen or jar her in the bed.

"That's better," she sighed. "You smell good."

"Brian helped me take a bath before I came over," he spoke softly. "I figured Hope would like it better if her Pa was cleaned up."

"She loves you, no matter what," Michaela assured. "As does her mother."

He slowly raised his fingertips to where he thought her lips would be. Michaela guided them closer and kissed them. Then he continued to touch her features with feather-light caresses.

"I memorized your face ever since we met," he spoke low. "That way, when we were apart, I'd close my eyes an' still see you."

"Sully...." she was moved by his words.

"So many things are gonna be different, Michaela," he lamented.

"Don't talk like that," her brow creased. "Nothing has changed between us. Nothing ever will."

"Everythin' will be different," he sensed.

"No, it won't," she insisted. "Nothing can alter our feelings."

"You'll start t' have pity for me," Sully swallowed hard.

She tilted her head and commenced a leisurely kiss. Fearful of being aroused by the nearness of her after weeks of celibacy, he drew back.

She cupped her hand to his cheek, "It's not pity that I feel for you, Byron Sully."

Then she felt him slide his arm beneath her shoulders.

"Now, I can sleep peacefully," she warmed in his embrace.

"Me, too," he whispered.

She started to drift off but was awakened by his voice again.

"I guess I lost my sight in more ways than one, huh?" he uttered.

"What?" she was curious.

"I lost sight of how important t'day was," he kissed the top of her head. "We got another baby t' love."

"You haven't lost sight of that," she knew.

"I don't know what kind of Pa I can be for her," his glum feelings began to return.

"You'll mean everything to her," Michaela whispered. "You already do. I can tell when you hold her."

"What do ya mean?" he questioned.

"The way she relaxes in your arms," she kissed his temple. "There's no safer place, Mr. Sully."

He wondered to himself just how safe he could ever make his family again. He had worried Michaela enough. She should only feel joy on this day.... and every day. He vowed to conceal his feelings of inadequacy from her.

"Hope will need to be fed in an hour or so," Michaela's words diverted his attention.

"Then I'll get her for ya," Sully offered.

"Thank you," she stroked his arm and began to drift off.

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

"Dr. Quinn!" Sister Mary Martha's voice startled Michaela and Sully.

Sully bolted up and nearly fell from the bed.

"Sister," Michaela felt a rush of anxiety. "What's wrong? Is it the baby?"

"I came in to check on you," she gestured toward Sully. "And what do I find?"

Michaela protested, "Sister, please...."

"This is quite improper," she lifted a whimpering Hope from the crib. "And you didn't even hear your child."

"Please bring her to me, and I'll nurse her," Michaela requested.

"Mr. Sully," the sister turned to him. "You may wait outside."

"No," Michaela was firm. "He's staying."

The nun shook her head as she departed, "This won't do."

Michaela grunted as she tried to hold the baby.

Sully discerned her discomfort, "Tell me what t' do, an' I'll hold her."

"I'm afraid I'm still rather weak," her voice was faint.

Eventually, they were able to work together in holding and feeding their daughter.

Sully sighed, "Well, now we got Sister Mary Martha mad at us."

Michaela could not help but chuckle, "The look on her face was...."

She stopped herself, realizing that Sully could not see her.

"It's okay," he shrugged. "I could tell in her voice. What time is it anyway?"

"Midnight," Michaela caressed Hope's head. "I believe your daughter has your hair, Mr. Sully."

He did not reply.

"Sully," she spoke again.

"What if I never see again, Michaela?" he posed the question.

"Then I'll be your eyes," she leaned toward him and kissed his eyelids.

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

Hank stared out the door of the Gold Nugget. It was strange to think that Michaela was not going to be at the Clinic as much. Things were changing in town. Did that include him? Ever since Lexie had proposed the idea of marriage to him, Hank had increased his intake of alcohol. And he had avoided seeing her.

"I ain't gonna let myself be tied down by some woman," he loosened the cork atop his bottle and took a swig.

"Who you tryin' t' convince?" it was Loren's voice.

"Don't go sneakin' up on me, ol' man," Hank pivoted to see the shopkeeper at his side.

"Awe, Hank," Lauren paused. "Why don't ya just admit t' yourself ya love the woman?"

"'Cause that would change me," he insisted.

"Change ain't always bad," Loren countered.

"What makes you the expert on women?" Hank frowned. "You don't have the guts t' see that nanny friend o' yours more than once a month."

Loren put his hands in his pockets and sighed, "I guess I don't have guts."

"Well, then," Hank scoffed. "Don't go tellin' me what t' do."

"Don't ya know how rare an' wonderful love is?" Loren posed the question.

"Rare an' wonderful?" he swayed slightly. "All I ever seen it do is cause trouble. Once a woman gets her claws in ya, your freedom's gone. Look at Sully. There was a time he came an' went as he pleased.... lived a life most men would envy. See what love's done for him?"

Loren shot back, "Don't go talkin' about Sully."

Hank was surprised by his tone, "What's got int' you?"

"Sully...." he hesitated. "Love's done a lot for him."

"Michaela's got him wrapped around her finger," Hank accused. "He jumps when she....."

"I said stop talkin' about him!" Loren demanded.

Then he shook his head and crossed the street toward the mercantile.

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

Lexie rolled over, unable to sleep. She lifted up and sighed loudly. Suddenly, she heard a loud thump against the side of her house. What could it be? Had Hank shown up drunk, she wondered. Reaching for her robe, she lit the lamp on her nightstand and stepped toward the front door.

She opened the door, but saw nothing. When she began to shut it, she was overcome by a stranger who burst into the house. He pinned one of her arms around her back and held a knife to her throat.

"Please.... please don't kill me," she begged. "Take what you want. I don't have much money, but...."

"First things first," his wretched breath smelled of stale liquor.

"I.... I'm expecting my husband home any minute," she struggled.

"Shut up," he brought the blade closer.

"Please," she shut her eyes. "Don't do this."

"When I'm done with ya, your husband ain't gonna have anythin' t' do with ya," he flung her to the floor. "Then he'll know what it feels like."

Struggling with every ounce of strength she possessed, Lexie fought him. But he was too strong, and the knife was too close to her throat to struggle any more.

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

Hank stood straight and inhaled deeply. No amount of fresh air could clear his troubled thoughts. He was not a marrying man. He could never see himself settling for one woman. Then why was this bothering him? Because.... he could only think of one woman, no matter how much he drowned himself in liquor. When he held one of his girls, it was Lexie's face he saw. When he breathed the scent of their perfume, it was her neck he longed to kiss.

"Lexie," he sighed. "Damn you, woman."

He tossed his cigar into the water trough in front of the saloon. Then he headed into the night, toward the Livery to get his horse.

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

Lexie lay on the floor, unable to move. Her attacker had finally departed. Amid her trauma, she had managed to reach into the man's pocket and take his watch, which she still grasped tightly. Garnering all of her strength, she pulled herself up. Her body ached from the ordeal she had been through. Then she heard an approaching horse. In fear for her life, she crawled to her bedroom and lifted her revolver.

"Lexie?" Hank found it strange her door was open.

"In here," she recognized his voice.

Hank rushed into her bedroom.

He was stunned at her bruised and battered appearance, "What happened?"

She closed her eyes and began to cry.

"Lexie," he fell to his knees and cradled her. "Who did this to ya?"

"I don't know who it was," her voice trembled. Holding up the watch, she added, "I took this from him."

He placed it in his pocket, then lifted her into his arms, "I'm gettin' ya t' the hospital. Then I'm goin' after him."

"No," she clutched his shirt tightly. "Don't leave me, Hank."

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

Sully sat up, hearing the voices of people in the corridor. It must be an emergency, he thought. Tentatively, he extended his hand toward his wife.

"Sully?" Michaela stirred.

"I hear somethin'," he informed her. "I'm gonna go check."

"Be careful," she cautioned.

Remembering the direction and pacing from the bed to the door, he stood up and walked toward it. He felt for the door knob and turned it. Stepping into the hall, he froze.

"Sister Mary Martha?" he beckoned.

"Mr. Sully," she came to him. "Is it Dr. Quinn or the baby?"

"No," he shook his head. "I heard voices out here. Thought somethin' might be wrong."

"Yes," she kept her voice low. "Sheriff Lawson brought in a woman. Someone named Lexie. We fetched Dr. Bernard. He's with her now."

"Lexie," he felt a rush of anxiety. "What happened t' her?"

"She was attacked," the sister revealed.

"Where's Hank now?" Sully inquired.

"In the waiting room," she motioned.

"Could you take me there?" he requested.

"Mr. Sully?" she suddenly realized. "You can't see?"

"That's right," he admitted.

She took his arm, "Come with me."

She led him down the corridor to the waiting area.

Hank spotted him, "Sully, you hear anythin' about.... what in hell happened t' you?"

Sister Mary Martha scolded, "We'll have none of that language in here, sir."

"Sorry, Sister," Hank continued to stare at Sully. "Can't ya see?"

"Got hit on the head a few days ago when I was robbed over in Manitou," Sully reached out.

"Here," Hank guided him to a chair.

As the nun left them, Sully queried, "What happened t' Lexie?"

Hank's jaw tensed, "She was raped. I'm goin' after him, soon as I find out if she's okay."

"Raped?" Sully swallowed hard. "You got any idea who it was?"

"I need t' ask her more about him," Hank explained. "I'll find him. Ain't no place he can hide. Lexie took his watch. I got that t' go on."

"Took his watch?" Sully was curious. "What's it look like?"

Hank reached into his pocket and examined it, "Let's see. My God. Sully, was your watch stolen when you was robbed?"

"Uh huh," he nodded.

"This must be yours," Hank assumed. "It says, 'T' my husband-Byron Sully. My love for all time. Michaela.'"

Sully extended his hand. Hank placed it in his palm.

"The man who robbed me raped Lexie?" Sully concluded.

"Looks that way," Hank nodded. "You get a glimpse o' him before ya got hit?"

"Not much," Sully exhaled in frustration. "It was dark."

He asserted, "I'll get him."

"You plannin' on goin' after him by yourself?" Sully asked.

"I sure as hell can't take you," he quipped.

Sully lowered his head.

Hank immediately regretted his remark, "Sorry. How's Michaela an' the baby?"

"The baby's fine," he answered. "Michaela's still weak. She lost a lot of blood."

"Mr. Lawson?" Dr. Bernard entered the room.

"How's Lexie, Doc?" Hank stood.

"She has a broken rib," he noted. "And I've stitched the cut on her face."

"What about...." Hank did not finish.

Bernard returned, "We're going to have to watch out for pregnancy."

"That bastard," Hank rubbed his upper lip. "Could I see her?"

"Yes," the physician nodded. "I'll have Sister Mary Martha escort you to her room."

The nun appeared at the door, and Hank left with her.

"How are you doing, Sully?" Bernard turned to the mountain man.

"I'm okay," he answered.

"I'm sorry about your vision," Dr. Bernard touched his shoulder. "Not being able to see your baby must be agonizing."

Sully remarked, "Long as she's healthy, that's the most important thing. How soon before we know if Michaela's gonna be okay?"

"Another twenty-four hours if there is no bleeding will be promising," he calculated. "I must warn you, she may require a hysterectomy. And we'll have to be careful to guard against infection of her incision."

"I know," he nodded solemnly. "Colleen told me."

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

"Hey, beautiful," Hank clasped Lexie's hand. "How ya feel?"

"Not very beautiful," she opened her eyes.

"The doc says you're gonna be okay," he assured.

"I'll have a scar on my cheek," a tear trickled down her cheek.

Hank touched her chin, "It'll give ya character."

"I'm glad you can see humor in this," she frowned.

"No," his expression turned serious. "Ain't nothin' humorous about what happened. I know this is hard, but I want ya t' tell me everythin' ya can about who did this."

She took a deep breath and sighed, "He.... was about six inches taller than me.... dark hair.... a beard.... he wore a buckskin jacket with some fringe missing on the left sleeve."

"Good," he considered.

"Hank," she turned to look at him. "He's dangerous. He held a knife to me the whole time, or I never would have...."

She could not continue.

"You don't have t' explain anythin', Lexie," he affirmed. "Ya didn't do anythin' wrong."

She began to weep.

Hank drew closer and embraced her, "I promise I'll find him."

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

The next morning, Dr. Bernard completed his examination of Michaela, "Your incision is healing nicely."

"That's good to hear," Michaela placed her hand atop Sully's.

Bernard walked to the crib.

Lifting the baby, he smiled, "She's healthy. Any problems nursing her?"

"I have difficulty supporting her, but Sully helps me," Michaela replied.

"Your strength will return, as you know," Bernard nodded. "Eat well and don't strain yourself. I think another day in bed is in order. Then we'll gradually get you up and walking."

"That's what I figured, too," Michaela concurred. "Do you think my children might be able to visit tomorrow?"

He smiled, "They must be anxious to see their little sister."

"Very much so," Michaela knew.

"I think it would be all right for a brief time," Bernard consented.

"Good," her face lit up.

"Well, I'll go check on Lexie now," the physician brought the baby to Michaela's bed.

"How's she doin'?" Sully queried.

"She's been through quite an ordeal," he assessed. "Physically, she'll recuperate."

"I hope Hank catches the monster who did this," Michaela asserted.

"The sheriff is forming a posse to go in search of the man," Bernard informed them. "Now, if you'll excuse me, Andrew will be taking over shortly."

"Before you go," Michaela beckoned. "Sully and I have something we want to tell you."

"What's that?" he turned.

"We've come up with a name for our daughter," Michaela smiled. "We're calling her Hope."

"Hope?" the doctor's widened. "After my mother?"

"Yes," Michaela said.

"I.... I'm honored," he felt a lump in his throat. "She was a wonderful woman, and this is a special baby."

"We think so, too," Michaela agreed.

"Thank you both," Bernard remarked.

Sully extended his hand, "Thank you for savin' my wife an' baby girl."

"You're a lucky man," he shook Sully's hand.

With that, the doctor left them.

Michaela caressed her newborn's hair, "I think she's grown."

"Almost a day old," Sully calculated. "An' already, I can't imagine our life without her."

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

"Loren Bray," Bridget opened the front door. "What brings you out this way?"

"Just stopped by t' see how things are goin'," he held a box of candy. "I brought this, too."

The nanny smiled, "The wee ones will be pleased as...."

"The candy's for you," Loren removed his hat.

"For me?" Bridget tilted her head. "It's not even my birthday."

"It's just t'...." he hesitated. "T' tell ya how much ya mean t' me."

Her cheeks flushed, "Well, thank you."

Josef bounded down the steps, "Mr. Bway, Mr. Bway! I thinked I hear your voice."

"Hey, there," Loren lifted him. "What mischief have you been up to?"

"I didn' do anythin'," Josef pointed to himself. "Did ya hear we got a new sister?"

"I heard," Loren smiled. "I even saw her."

Katie came down the steps in time to hear, "You saw Hope?"

"I did," Loren nodded.

"Who's she look like?" Josef queried.

"She looks like...." he pondered. "Like a sweet little baby I once saw."

"When was that, Mr. Bray?" Katie was curious.

"It's been a long time now," his voice trailed off.

Bridget sensed something deeper in his tone, "Come on, you two. Go check on the twins for me. Ya can't leave Brian up there alone with 'em, don't ya know."

"All right," Katie sighed. "Come on, Joey."

"Hey, where'd ya get candy?" the little boy spotted it on the table.

"That's for Miss Bridget," Loren warned. "An' I don't wanna hear that you was int' it uninvited."

"'Kay," Josef frowned.

As the children departed, Bridget turned to him, "Tell me, Loren."

"Tell ya what?" he straightened his vest.

"The babe," she peered into his eyes. "She looks like your Hannah?"

"Yes," he marveled at her perceptiveness.

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

Jake, Robert E and Matthew pulled their horses up to the Gold Nugget and waited for Hank to come out. When he emerged from the saloon, he had a rifle in each hand. After securing them to his saddle, he mounted his horse.

"Where we headin' first?" Jake asked.

"Out t' Lexie's," Hank stated. "We oughta be able t' track him from there. Let's go."

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

Bridget, Brian and Loren steered Katie and Josef down the corridor toward their mother's room. Josef was fascinated by the echo which their voices made. He made bird calls to see how they would sound.

"That's enough, laddie," Bridget clasped his hand.

"You think Mama will 'member us?" he looked up at her.

"Aye," the nanny chuckled. "You're a hard one t' forget."

"Why don' we bring the twins?" he was curious.

"They're too young, Joey," Katie explained.

"Here's the room," Brian stopped. "Now, remember, Ma can't lift ya or get out o' bed."

"I'll twy not t' need liftin'," Josef assured.

Brian knocked at the door.

"Come in," Michaela beckoned.

Brian escorted the children into the room.

"Mama!" they rushed to her bedside.

Then they spotted their father holding little Hope up.

"Look at her!" Katie was delighted. "Oh, Mama, she's beautiful."

"I think so, too," she smiled.

Brian lifted Josef up for a closer look.

"What's she wearin' on her head?" Josef queried.

"That's her hair, Joey," Katie observed.

"Can ya see her yet, Papa?" Josef looked at his father.

"No," Sully swallowed hard.

Loren stared at the baby with a loving glance.

Michaela noticed, "Bridget, would you take the baby and hold her for the children?"

"I was hopin' you'd ask me, darlin'," she gently lifted the baby from her father's arms. "Look at this wee lassie. She's a darlin', she is."

The children followed Bridget to the chair to get a closer look at the baby.

"Loren," Michaela spoke up. "Sully and I have something we want to tell you."

"What's that?" he was curious.

"Sully," Michaela squeezed her husband's hand for him to make the announcement.

Sully spoke from his heart, "Michaela an' me.... we gave the baby a middle name. We're callin' her Hope Lauren Sully."

"Lauren?" he swallowed hard. "After me?"

"You been like a gran'pa t' our kids," Sully nodded. "An' well.... we wanted t' thank you for all ya done."

He glanced in the direction of the baby, "I.... I don't how t' thank you."

"We're the ones who owe you, Loren," she replied.

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

Nearly two weeks had passed since the baby's birth. Michaela and Hope were finally able to come home, a joyful day in the household. However, there were no signs of Sully's vision returning.

They held a small belated birthday gathering for the twins since Michaela had still been in the hospital on the second anniversary of their birth. It was kept low key, with only family members attending.

Hank continued his quest to find the rapist, periodically returning to town to check on Lexie's condition. Sometimes, men from town would go with him in the search, but no one truly believed the fiend would be apprehended after so much time had passed without a trace.

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

As Sully sat on the front porch of the homestead, he heard an approaching wagon. Wolf did not bark, so he knew it was a familiar face.

"Sully," Isabel Johnson spoke up. "Timothy and I have come for a visit."

Sully stood up, "Michaela's inside with the kids. I'm sure she'll be glad t' see ya."

"I must confess I'm anxious to meet the baby," Isabel noted.

"Is Wendell with ya?" Sully wondered.

"No," the Reverend chuckled. "We didn't think Dr. Mike would be ready for that."

Sully sat down on the swing, "Go on ahead inside."

"Aren't you coming?" Isabel was curious.

"No," Sully swayed back and forth.

"I'll stay out here, too," the minister said. "Tell Dr. Mike I'll be in shortly."

"All right," Isabel knocked, then entered the house.

The Reverend leaned on his cane, "How are you doing, Sully?"

"I reckon ya mean how do I feel about bein' blind?" he returned. "Nothin' I can do about it, so I'm handlin' it."

The minister mentioned, "You know, I've been thinking I'd like to start a school for deaf and blind children."

"That would be real good," Sully approved. "I'm sure Michaela would support it, too."

"I'd like your advice on building it," the Reverend said.

"Me?" Sully was surprised. "I couldn't help ya build it now, Reverend."

"You could tell me your ideas," he encouraged.

Sully felt uncomfortable, "I guess you're anxious t' talk t' Michaela an' hold the baby. If you'll excuse me, I gotta go down t' the barn."

"Certainly," the minister tapped his cane and went toward the door. Then, pausing, he spoke again, "I'll pray for you, Sully."

"Thanks," he swallowed hard. When Sully heard him enter the house, he spoke to Wolf, "Take me t' the barn, boy."

Wolf rose from his position at his master's feet. Sully touched the animal's neck and followed as Wolf guided him to the barn. Sully stood in the structure attempting to get his bearings. As he paced, Wolf growled if he neared a post or object that might be in his way. Soon Sully began to feel more comfortable navigating his way around.

Then he heard voices outside. The Reverend and Isabel were leaving. He sighed, ashamed that he had retreated from their visit. But being around people made him uncomfortable. Then he heard the barn door squeak.

"Brian?" he tilted his head.

"No," Michaela replied.

"What are you doin' out here?" he was surprised.

"I wanted to speak with you," her voice came closer.

"What about?" he tensed.

She placed her hand on his arm, "Come, let's sit down."

She guided him to a bale of hay.

Michaela took a deep breath, "Sully, I want to examine your head more thoroughly."

"Just a waste of time gettin' our hopes up, Michaela," he stood up again.

"There might be something I could do," she reasoned. "Please?"

"Suit yourself," he acquiesced.

She directed him to sit at her feet. Carefully, she concentrated on the area of his injury to assess the extent of it.

"The swelling has gone down," she determined.

"An' I still can't see," he sighed.

She rested her hands on his shoulders, "It doesn't mean your sight won't return."

"What use am I if I can't see?" he raised up to sit beside her again.

"Do you remember what you told the Reverend when he lost his vision?" she posed the question.

"That was different," he countered. "He didn't have a wife an' kids t' support."

"The most important thing is that you're alive," her voice choked slightly. "That blow to your head could have just as easily killed you."

He fell silent.

"Please," she urged. "Talk to me."

"I... I gotta go away for a spell," he felt a lump in his throat.

"Go away?" her brow wrinkled. "Where?"

"I don't know," he answered. "Cloud Dancin's goin' with me."

"Sully, I need you here," she implored.

"I can't be the man you married right now, Michaela," he lowered his head.

"What are you talking about?" she lifted his chin.

"I'm like havin' another child around," he knew. "I can't do the simplest chores. I break dishes, knock over furniture. Who knows what I'd do if I tried t' chop wood."

"But you're just learning your way around," she noted. "It takes time."

"I gotta do this," he stated.

"Sully...." she sighed, knowing it was futile trying to dissuade him.

"I'm leavin' in the mornin'," he pronounced.

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

"Hank," Lexie noticed that he was staring out of her kitchen window. "Maybe you should give up."

"Give up?" he was incredulous. "You want this son of a bitch goin' free?"

"Of course not," she said. "But the trail is cold. You followed the tracks to Manitou. He could be living there, or he might have hopped a train and taken off to God-knows-where."

"I wired every sheriff an' marshal in' the state," he lit a cigar. "I'll get him."

She continued, "I don't want to seem ungrateful, but you're spending all of your time on him. What about your duties as sheriff here?"

He ignored her question, "I wanna get an early start after sunup."

"Where are you going tomorrow?" her brow wrinkled.

"Denver," he noted. "You gonna be okay here alone?"

"I have my gun beside the bed, and I'm not opening the door for anyone," she vowed.

"Not even me?" he grinned.

"You're the reason I opened it when...." she stopped herself.

"What?" he suddenly realized. "You thought it was me who came here that night?"

Lexie did not reply.

"Tell me, damn it," he raised his voice.

She jumped.

"I.... I'm sorry," he realized his tone had frightened her. "Lexie, tell me the truth. You opened the door because ya thought I was there?"

"Yes," she burst into tears.

The revelation ripped into his heart. He embraced her and vowed to himself that when he found the man who had done this to her, he would kill him.

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

Michaela entered her bedroom. By the low light of a lamp, she spotted Sully sitting in the rocking chair with Hope in his arms.

She cleared her throat, "The children would like for you to tell them a story."

"Maybe Brian could instead," he softly stroked the baby's hair.

"Sully," she stepped closer and sat beside him. "I know this is terribly upsetting to you...."

"You got no idea, Michaela," he swallowed hard.

"Please don't go," she implored. "The children and I need you."

"You needed who I was," Sully countered. "Not who I am now."

"But you're still the same man," she assured.

"No, I ain't," he tenderly kissed the head of his daughter.

"When will you be back?" she felt him pulling away from her.

He avoided answering, "Hope's asleep."

He rose and took her to her cradle. Michaela watched, amazed at his skill in knowing exactly where everything was.

"I was so looking forward to bringing her home," she remarked.

He reached for her, "Michaela, ya know how much I love you."

She went to him.

Linking her fingers in his, she drew his hand to her heart, "Then don't go."

He agonized, "I have to."

"Then.... I'm coming with you," she asserted.

"You know ya can't do that," he lifted his hand to touch her cheek.

Michaela felt as if her heart would break. She withdrew from him and walked to the window. Soon she felt his arms around her waist.

"You're not coming back," she feared.

"Yes, I am," he pledged. "I'd never leave you or the kids. You know that."

"You're already leaving us," she turned in his arms.

"Michaela," he swallowed hard. "Can't ya try t' understand? If I was one o' your patients, you'd look at their point of view. I need t' go with Cloud Dancin' t' make peace with this."

She regretted, "I guess I've been selfish, wanting you here when you need to find your way through this darkness."

"You ain't selfish," his fingertips traced the features of her face.

Hope began to whimper. When Michaela sat down in the rocker, Sully lifted the baby and put her in her mother's arms.

"You go ahead an' feed her," Sully motioned. "I'll go tell the kids a bedtime story."

"Sully," she paused. "You're very wrong about something."

"What's that?" he was curious.

"You are still the man I married," she assured.

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

"Bran, I think Papa's spendin' too much time with Hope," Josef noted.

Katie reminded her brother, "Mama told us she'd spend more time with the baby for a while. I think she meant Poppy, too."

"Mama," Annie smiled at the mention of their mother. "I go."

"Hold on," Brian lifted the toddler into his arms.

"I go," Annie squirmed, then began to cry.

Sully stepped into the room, "What's wrong?"

"She wanted t' go get Ma," Brian explained.

Sully knelt down and opened his arms. Annie stopped her sobbing and went to him. Kissing her cheek, Sully lifted the little girl. Brian guided him toward Katie's bed.

"Are you gonna tell us a story now, Poppy?" Katie hoped.

"Yep," he set Annie on the bed. "Where's Noah?"

"I Noah," the little boy giggled beside his father.

"Come closer, No-bo," Sully felt for him.

Finally, after his children were situated, Sully began his story.

"Once upon a time, there was a Pa who had five sweet little children an' three grown up kids," he said.

Josef counted on his fingers, "I bet that's us."

Sully smiled, "The Pa loved his children, an' he loved doin' things with 'em. One day, he found he couldn't do the things he had done before. He couldn't run with 'em or take 'em places. He couldn't feed 'em or ride with 'em on his horse. This made the Pa feel real sad. So, he decided t' seek the wisdom of his grandfathers."

"Are you gonna go see your grandfather, Poppy?" Katie's brow creased.

"Shhh," Brain touched his sister's hand.

Sully continued, "Only by findin' the wisdom of his grandfathers could the Pa come t' understand why these things had happened t' him. When he left his children...."

"The Papa missed his childwen," Josef completed his thought.

"Right," Sully smiled slightly. "But when he came home t' them again, he had gained wisdom."

"Are you leavin' tomorrow?" Katie assumed.

"Yes," Sully nodded. "But I'll come home soon as I can, Kates."

"I hope you find wisnom, Papa," Josef studied his father's expression. "Maybe you can give some t' me?"

Sully smiled, "You're wiser than ya know, Joe."

Katie embraced her father, "We'll watch over Mama an' the baby."

"I know ya will, sweet girl," he hugged her.

Soon, the other children were enfolded in their father's arms. With Brian's help, Sully tucked each into bed, heard their prayers and kissed them good night.

Finally, alone with Sully in the hallway, Brian offered, "Could I go with ya, Pa?"

Sully detected a sadness in his son's voice, "I reckon you might need the help of your grandfathers, too."

"That's what I was thinkin'," he nodded.

"Maybe Matthew an' Emma could stay here then," Sully speculated.

"I'll ride int' town first thing in the mornin' t' ask," he informed his father.

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

Sully entered the bedroom and spoke low, "Michaela."

"In the rocking chair with the baby," she directed.

He found his way to her and sat down. Extending his hand, he felt Hope's head and caressed her soft hair.

Michaela leaned toward his shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around her.

"You told the children you're leaving?" she assumed.

"Yes," he answered. "Brian's comin' with me. He's checkin' t' see if Matthew an' Emma can stay here t' help you."

She fell silent. Lifting the baby to her shoulder, she rubbed the little one's back. Sully raised his palm to their daughter's back, as well.

"I know you can't rush these things," Michaela felt a tear welling. "But, please hurry home to us."

Sully recited to her:

"A boat at midnight sent alone
To drift upon the moonless sea.
A lute, whose leading chord is gone,
A wounded bird, that hath but one
Imperfect wing to soar upon,
Are like what I am, without thee."

"And I without you," she watched him intently. "Was that Herrick?"

"Thomas Moore," he identified.

"You'll need help packing," she started to rise.

"It'll wait 'til mornin'," he drew her back into his arms. "Right now, I just wanna hold you an' Hope."

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

Hank sat on a log staring at the nearby creek where he had stopped to water his horse. Lifting a pebble, he tossed it into the stream. Then he took the flask of whiskey from his jacket pocket and drank a swig. It burned on the way down, but at least it helped to numb the pain he felt.

What had happened to Lexie was his fault. He swallowed another gulp of the liquor. She opened the door, thinking he had come to her. Another drink.

Soon, the alcohol had its desired effect, and he passed out.

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

Sully sat on a log listening to the water rush along the rocks of the nearby creek. He heard a hawk calling to its mate, then Cloud Dancing softly conversing with Brian.

His Cheyenne friend had counseled Brian since they left home two days earlier. The young man still grieved over his lost love, and the medicine man had decided to help him through a sweat lodge.

Sully had not spoken of his lost sight, preferring to have Brian find healing first.

"It is ready, my brother," Cloud Dancing called to Sully.

He helped the mountain man to his feet and guided him toward the lodge. The three entered and began the healing ceremony.

Cloud Dancing handed Sully some berries, "Eat these."

"What are they?" he queried.

The medicine man identified, "Bilberry. It will help your eyes."

"My blindness was caused by the blow t' my head," Sully mentioned.

"It could not hurt," Cloud Dancing determined.

As steam filled the lodge, they chanted the ancient words to call upon their grandfathers. Prayers for healing, both of the heart and body, were spoken. When the ceremony concluded, they dressed, and Brian prepared a meal.

Sitting near the fire, Sully ran his fingers through Wolf's fur and spoke fondly of his pet, "He's a big help t' me. Takes me where I need t' go.... let's me know if danger's ahead."

Cloud Dancing compared, "The Great Spirit takes many forms."

"I guess so," Sully ate some more of the berries.

"Pa, what would you think if I joined the Merchant Marines?" Brian posed the question.

Sully considered carefully, "If that's what ya wanna do, then I'll back ya."

"I hate t' leave you an' Ma right now, though," he wavered.

"You can't live your life for us, Brian," he advised. "Ya gotta go an' do what will make you happy. But you know ya always got a place t' come home to."

"What do the Spirits say, Cloud Dancing?" Brian turned to the medicine man.

"They say you will take a journey," their Cheyenne Friend replied. "But they do not say where."

"Will they grant me wisdom?" the young man queried.

Cloud Dancing returned, "Wisdom must come from within. Others can tell you the stories of what they have learned, but if you do not hear, what good are they? The deaths of those we love.... that is part of our journey. It causes great pain to our hearts, and from the heart must come the healing. If your heart tells you to join these Merchant Marines, then that is what you must do to heal it."

"But my heart tells me Ma an' Pa need me, too," he expressed.

"So the path is not yet clear," the medicine man nodded.

"What do I do then?" Brian sighed.

"You must go beyond your heart and heed the sounds around you," he counseled. "The Great Spirit speaks to us in many ways. It could be in the laughter of children, the rain on your lodge or even the cry of a mountain lion."

"Sometimes my heart feels real angry, an' I don't wanna listen," Brian confessed. "It's like I have two dogs fightin' inside me. One remembers the love; the other cries out for vengeance. I don't know which one will win."

Cloud Dancing informed him, "The one you feed will win."

Brian looked at his father, who had remained quiet all of this time.

"I'm sorry, Pa," the young man apologized. "Cloud Dancin' has been spendin' all his time talkin' t' me when we came out here t' help you."

"There's nothin' more important t' me than makin' sure my family is healed," Sully noted.

"Did you finish the Bilberries?" the medicine man queried.

"Yea," Sully nodded.

Cloud Dancing put his hand on his friend's shoulder, "When a pine needle falls, the bear smells it, the eagle sees it and the rabbit hears it. You must be like the rabbit and listen. Let your ears become your eyes. Become like the bear. and use your nose, as you did when I taught you to hunt."

Sully swallowed hard, "I guess deep down, I know I'll never see again. But.... it's hard t' think about. I'll never see Hope, but at least I got memories of Michaela an' my other kids."

"You have seen Hope," Cloud Dancing asserted.

"What do ya mean?" Sully wondered.

"Describe your daughter to me," he requested.

Sully paused.

Then a smile crossed his face as he cradled his arms, "She fits right here real snug. Her hair is soft an' thick. She smells like.... the sweetness of dew. Her eyelashes are long, like her Ma's. An' her lips, they kinda curl up when she's gonna cry. An' when she's in my arms, I feel like my heart will overflow with the love I feel for her."

"I don't think any father could give a better description of his child," Cloud Dancing grinned.

"I know this is gonna sound strange, but talkin' about her.... I feel like I have seen her," Sully realized.

"And it makes your heart sing," his friend's grin widened.

Sully took a deep breath, then exhaled tensely, "How am I gonna provide for my family?"

Cloud Dancing replied, "Once I was a medicine man. I roamed freely and rode on the buffalo hunt. Now, I teach the young ones at the school and must get a pass to travel. Everything changes. You do not question when the sun rises and sets. You do not wonder when the flowers die and the snow covers the ground. We change, just as Mother Earth changes."

"But the only kind o' work I know requires usin' my eyes," Sully countered. "Surveyin', carpentry, buildin', minin'."

"What work is there for a man who speaks the truth and cares about Mother Earth?" Cloud Dancing challenged.

"I reckon I'll have t' talk t' Michaela about it," Sully suddenly felt in need of her counsel.

He nodded, "She knows your heart as well as you."

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

On the homestead porch, Michaela gazed at the brightest star in the sky, and closing her eyes, made a wish. Then she pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders. Slightly more two weeks ago, she had stood on this very porch, looking at the same sky and wishing Sully would return to her. Now, their baby had arrived, and he was gone again.

Sully and she had never dreamed it was possible again. A miracle baby. Yet, just when their life should be falling into place, happiness was snatched from them. Michaela suddenly felt guilty. The baby was healthy, and the harrowing delivery was more than worth it when she looked at her little girl. But.... would Sully ever behold his daughter?

In the distance, she caught sight of an animal approaching, "Wolf?"

The pet sped up and reached her, his tail wagging vigorously.

"Where are Sully and Brian?" she stroked his back.

Wolf barked and wagged his tail again as two riders approached.

"Hey, Ma," Brian pulled the horses up to the post in front of the homestead.

"I'm glad you're home," she felt the heaviness in her heart lift.

Brian guided Sully up the steps.

Michaela embraced them both, "Are you hungry?"

"I am," Brian gathered their travel pouches.

"The children are asleep, and Matthew and Emma are with Bridget in the kitchen," she gestured. "I know there are some leftovers from supper."

"You comin', Pa?" the young man paused.

"Be in shortly, Brian," Sully nodded as his son entered the house.

"I've missed you so," Michaela kissed her husband deeply.

Sully relished her enthusiasm, "I missed you, too. How are the kids?"

"Josef fell and loosened a tooth," she slid her arms around his waist. "Katie got an A on her spelling test. Annie is very good about using the privy, like a proper young lady, and Noah...."

"He still havin' some accidents?" Sully chuckled.

"I'm afraid so," she sighed.

"An' how about our little Hope?" he anticipated.

"She's wonderful," Michaela smiled. "Was your trip productive?"

"We did a lot of thinkin' an' talkin'," he ran his hands up and down her back.

"Did you come to any conclusions?" she asked.

"Just that we missed our family," he returned.

"You seem in good spirits," she noted.

Sully touched her lips, then drew closer to kiss her anew.

"You truly missed me, Mr. Sully?" she teased.

"Truly," he embraced her more fully.

"Come," she took him by the hand. "Let's go inside."

"I wanna look at the kids," he spoke softly.

"Look at them?" she was puzzled.

"With my heart," he touched his hand to his chest. "I need t' see them through new eyes."

Michaela's heart filled, "I love you so much."

"I love you, too," he clasped her hand as she guided him to the door.

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

Lexie heard a knock at her door. Instantly, she reached for her revolver. Who could it be at this late hour?

"Lexie?"Dorothy's voice called. "You okay in there?"

She sighed in relief, "I'm coming, Dorothy."

Opening the door, Lexie was relieved to see her.

Dorothy explained, "I know it's late, but I just come by t' see how you was doin'. I reckon Hank's still out lookin' for the man."

"Yes," she set down her gun on the kitchen table. "He's been gone several days. Would you like some coffee?"

"I'd love it," the redhead smiled.

After setting the steaming cup before her, Lexie sat at the table.

"Ya don't look like ya been gettin' much sleep," Dorothy touched her hand.

"I haven't," she confessed. "I'm either worried that monster is going to come back or scared that something will happen to Hank."

"You think there's a chance he'll catch him?" Dorothy wondered.

"Not really," Lexie sighed. "I.... I'd kill him myself if he did."

"You're right," her jaw tensed. "Men like that don't deserve t' live."

"Have you been to see Dr. Mike's new baby?" Lexie changed the subject.

"Only briefly," Dorothy smiled. "She's a darlin' little girl."

"Hank said that Sully's lost his sight," Lexie recalled. "It surely doesn't seem fair."

"It ain't fair what happened t' you either," she noted.

"I'm worried about Hank," Lexie confessed. "He's obsessed with this. I'm afraid I added to his burden by letting it slip that I thought it was him who came that night."

Dorothy's brow wrinkled, "Hank loves ya more than anythin', whether he admits it or not. He's been drinkin' 'cause it scares him."

"What does a woman do when a man is afraid to love her?" she tilted her head.

"You wait," Dorothy advised. "He'll talk some sense int' himself sooner or later."

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

"What's wrong, Preston?" Andrew noticed his sullen expression as they sat in the Chateau dining room.

"I haven't heard from Senator Teller," he sighed.

"What were you expecting to hear?" he questioned.

"I.... uh.... I expected to hear some banking news," he was vague.

"I see," Andrew nodded.

"How is Michaela?" Preston changed the subject.

He smiled, "She's well. Remarkably, she has had few ill effects from her ordeal. And that baby.... she's a beautiful little thing."

"Humph," he frowned. "If Sully doesn't stop forcing himself on her...."

Andrew interrupted, "Why do you hold such a negative opinion of Sully? The man saved your life."

He glared, "From the moment I met him, he has gotten in my way."

"Your way?" he was puzzled. "Did he try to open a bank or something?"

"It's not like you to be sarcastic, Andrew," the banker raised an eyebrow.

"Nonetheless, why do you hate Sully?" he posed the question.

"He is not worth my hatred," Preston spoke through clenched teeth.

"Then why do you have nothing good to say about him?" he persisted.

"I told you," the banker countered. "He repeatedly has gotten in my way."

"Your way?" Andrew stopped. "With Michaela? Is that it?"

"Don't be ridiculous," he waved his hand.

"That is it," Andrew pointed at him. "You're jealous."

"Michaela is deserving of much more than Sully," he affirmed. "A woman such as she needs the finer things in life. Not the life of a habitually pregnant frontier woman."

"And what if Michaela is truly happy with her life?" Andrew was curious.

Preston tilted his head, "You're being ridiculous again."

"No," Andrew shook his head. "You're the one who is being ridiculous. And I was foolish enough to listen to your advice on women when I thought it would help me woo back my own wife."

"Quite a number of sophisticated ladies of Boston were interested in Preston A. Lodge III," he boasted.

"This isn't Boston," Andrew countered. "And the ways of the big city don't work here."

"Will you be returning East now that Michaela's child has arrived?" he wondered.

"I haven't decided," he answered.

"Well, you've had a taste of life with a frontier girl," Preston sneered. "I don't suppose you would want another."

"I would take my wife back in a moment if she wanted me," he lamented.

"Poor Andrew," Preston shook his head. "Perhaps you and I should go to Denver. The selection of high society ladies is somewhat greater there."

"I'm not interested," he shook his head.

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

Michaela preceded Sully into the bedroom and lit the lamp by their bedside.

Sully thought for a moment.... No, it couldn't be.... for just an instant, a shade of gray flashed before him instead of the darkness he had been in for the past weeks.

"Michaela...." he paused. "I...."

"What is it?" she was curious.

"The light...." he reached out. "Just now, I thought I saw somethin'."

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

Michaela's heart leapt as she guided Sully to the bed, "Sit down."

She brought the lamp closer to check the reaction of his pupils.

"Do you see anything now?" she questioned.

He sighed, "No."

"Can you describe what you saw before?" she probed.

"I.... I don't know," he considered. "I think.... It was kinda gray, not any shapes.... just gray."

She tenderly ran her fingers through his hair, "This is good, Sully. Very good."

"You think maybe...." he could not permit himself to finish.

She sat beside him, "Very possibly."

She kissed him sweetly, then touched the tear that trailed down his cheek. Rising from the bed, she went to the cradle.

Soon she returned with their newborn daughter, "This little one missed her Papa."

Sully felt a lump in his throat as she placed the child in his arms.

"Hope," he whispered before resting his lips on the baby's soft hair.

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

Hank awoke when he heard the crackling of the fire he had started. Earlier, after consuming half of his bottle of whiskey, he had passed out face down in the dirt. But neither the alcohol, nor the distance from her could dull his pain over what had happened to Lexie.

Suddenly, he thought he heard a breaking twig. Reaching for his revolver, he drew it quickly only to spot a darting rabbit. He returned the gun to its holster.

He lifted his bottle of liquor. Wiping his mouth, he gulped the liquid, then closed his eyes again, hoping to succumb to the numbing darkness.

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

Sully sat by the fireplace in his bedroom. Brian had added logs and stoked it before going to bed hours earlier. With Michaela asleep, and the baby finally settled, he hoped that his proximity to the flames might prompt another flash of light. Something. Anything. But there was only darkness.

The baby began to fuss. Sully rose from his position and felt his way to the cradle. He reached in carefully to withdraw his daughter from her tiny bed. Then, enfolding her in his arms, he returned to the fireplace.

"Shhh," he uttered tenderly as he kissed her cheek. "We don't wanna wake your Ma, Hope."

His voice lulled the infant, and she went back to sleep.

Rather than return her to the cradle, Sully continued to talk to the child, "I gotta tell ya somethin'. I don't know if I'm ever gonna see again, but.... I do know one thing. You're a beautiful little girl. There's a lot o' things I won't be able t' do with ya, but I don't want ya thinkin' it means I don't love you, 'cause I do, Hope. I've loved ya ever since your Ma an' me found out you were gonna come t' us."

He paused to lightly run his finger tips along her cheek.

"They tell me ya have thick dark hair," he whispered. "I.... I saw a baby once who looked like that. But...."

He thought he heard Michaela stir. Then she was still.

Sully continued, "You're gonna be your own person, unique an' special. You'll have your hands full, too, with your brothers an' sisters tellin' ya what t' do. But ya know what? Your Ma was the youngest of five kids, an' look how good she turned out."

The infant began to fuss again.

"Shhh," he stroked her arm. "Let your Ma sleep a while longer. Ya had her up not two hours ago."

It quickly became apparent to him that her diaper needed to be changed, but he had not yet mastered that task in his condition. The infant continued to whine until her whimpers escalated into full-fledged crying.

"Is she hungry again?" Michaela sat up wearily.

"I think it's her diaper," Sully turned up his nose.

Michaela went to her husband and lifted the baby. Setting the child on the bed, she soon changed the soiled diaper. After her uttering tender words to the baby, Hope calmed down quickly. Michaela yawned again and carried the newborn to the rocking chair.

Sully discerned her movements and turned to face her, "Is it okay for you t' lift her?"

She settled the baby to her breast, "For brief amounts of time."

Sully listened as Michaela sweetly hummed a favorite lullaby of their children. He smiled, gaining a new appreciation for her voice.

Finding his way to the chair, he sat beside them, "You sure sing pretty."

"Thank you," she leaned toward him.

"Hope must like that tune," he remarked.

"She has a very agreeable temperament," Michaela assessed.

Sully enfolded them in his arms, "Me seein' that flash o' gray.... you really think it's a good sign?"

"I want to examine your eyes more thoroughly with an opthalmometer from the hospital," she explained. "While you were gone, I was reading an article in a medical journal about the first pathological examination of the optic nerve following head trauma last year."

"Pathological?" he was curious.

"Different from the normal state," she defined.

"If my vision is gonna return, what will I see?" he queried.

"Low amounts of light at first," she detailed. "Over time, the light would increase, and your vision would improve."

He extended his hand to caress the back of his daughter's head, "I don't wanna be too optimistic."

"What did Cloud Dancing tell you?" Michaela inquired.

"He said I should use my ears an' nose, let them become my eyes," he recalled. "An' he told me you know my heart as well as I do."

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "It beats with mine."

"I think this little girl's asleep," he determined. "Which means you can get back in bed."

"I'm so tired," she sighed. After returning the baby to her cradle, Michaela crawled into bed and turned to her husband, "Aren't you coming?"

"I ain't sleepy," he shrugged.

"Then sit beside me until I fall asleep?" she smiled.

Sully made his way to the bed and stretched out beside her. He drew her up to rest on his shoulder. Lightly caressing the hair at her temple, he felt his wife relax in his arms.

"I love you, Michaela," he whispered.

She stayed awake just long enough to say, "And I, you."

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

Lexie opened her eyes as a ray of sunlight filtered its way into her bedroom. She took a deep breath and sat up. Steeling herself for the day to come, she rose, ate and dressed. Today, she determined, she would go out and bring Hank home.

As she stepped toward the door, there was a knock.

She drew the curtain aside sufficiently to see who it was.

"Hank!" she opened the door and embraced him. "Where have you been?"

He stroked her back, "I been thinkin'."

"Thinking?" she was puzzled.

"About us," he nodded. "I think we oughta get married."

She backed away, "Married? But I thought...."

"Don't go by what I said when you asked me before," he wiped his upper lip. "I didn't mean it."

"Why this change of heart?" she put her hands on her hips.

"I told ya, I didn't mean it before," he insisted. "I'll marry ya."

"Come in and sit down," she gestured toward her table. "I'll make you some breakfast."

"Why are you changin' the subject?" he was curious. "I thought this is what you want."

"I want it only if you do," she paused. "But I'm not convinced you're saying this for the right reasons."

He slammed his hand on the table, "Damn it, woman, make up your mind what you want!"

"Don't yell," she glared.

Hank folded his arms tightly against his chest and did not look at her when he spoke, "It's like this. I.... I love you an' wanna marry ya. There. I said it."

"Why?" she posed the question.

"Why what?" he attempted to focus.

"Have you been drinking this morning?" she accused.

"I been drinkin' for years," he frowned. "You just now noticed?"

"I don't want to talk with you when you're like this," she shook her head and walked away.

He jumped to his feet and drew her into his arms, "Lexie. I told ya before, I ain't a marryin' man.... but.... what happened.... I know it's my fault, an' I wanna try t' make things right with ya. The doc said ya might even be...."

He stopped, realizing he had said too much.

"Said I might even be what?" her brow wrinkled.

"Nothin'," he released her.

"No, Hank," she insisted. "Tell me what you're thinking. I might be what?"

"Pregnant," he was barely audible.

She sighed, unable to speak for fear of that very possibility.

"I don't want ya raisin' a kid like that," he swallowed hard. "That's the way things was with Zak's Ma. A kid needs both parents."

"Hank," tears streamed down her cheeks.

"Come here," he enfolded her in his arms. "I won't let ya be alone, Lexie."

She looked up at him, "And if I'm not pregnant? What will you do then?"

"I still won't let ya be alone," he pledged. "Now, put on your best dress. I'm goin' int' town t' make arrangements. I'll be back at six."

"But, Hank,,,," she hesitated.

"Do it," he asserted as he departed.

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

Colleen set down her medical bag on the kitchen table, "Is Ma up yet?"

Bridget rolled out a batch of dough on the cutting board, "Aye, she was up with the children bright an' early."

"Is something wrong?" she feared.

"I don't know how she manages, Dr. Colleen," the nanny confided. "She insisted on gettin' Katie ready for school, helpin' Brian edit an article he wrote for The Gazette, talkin' Josef out from under the desk, an' them twins...."

"I'll see if I can help," Colleen removed her shawl. "Is Pa upstairs, too?"

"No, the poor lad's in the barn with Josef," she shook her head. "He can't be much help t' her, an' he looks so sad."

"They've made it through rough times before," the young woman assessed. "I know they'll weather this, too."

"I hope you're right, lass," Bridget watched her ascend the steps.

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

Michaela sat on the bed reading a story to the twins, while Hope slept nearby. Annie in particular had taken to the baby, while Noah kept his distance, uncertain of what to think of this stranger who had intruded on his status as youngest in the family.

Michaela set the book aside and touched Annie's blonde curls, "Can you say Hope?"

"Hoop," the little girl ventured.

Noah leaned closer to inspect the baby, "Lil."

"Yes, she's quite little," Michaela smiled. "Just as you were when you were born."

"I big boy," Noah held his hands apart.

"Now you are," Michaela tickled his belly. "Can you say I love Hope?"

"No," he turned up his nose.

They were interrupted by a light tap on the bedroom door.

Michaela slowly opened it, "Colleen, I wasn't expecting you until later."

"It's ten o'clock, Ma," she answered. "That's the time I told you I'd stop by."

Michaela stepped back to invite her into the bedroom. The twins reached up to kiss their big sister.

"Sit down, Ma," Colleen directed. "I want to check your incision."

"I looked at it earlier," Michaela informed her. "It's fine. I'd like you to do something for me."

"Sure," the young woman agreed.

"Would you go to the hospital and get my ophthalmometer?" Michaela requested.

"To examine Pa's eyes?" she assumed.

"Yes, he experienced a change in his vision last night," Michaela told her.

"He can see?" she anticipated.

"No," Michaela shook her head. "But there was a flash of gray."

Colleen stared at her mother, "You look exhausted. What if I take the twins downstairs while you try to get a nap?"

"No," she shook her head. "I'd feel better if I had the ophthalmometer as soon as possible."

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

"Why ya liftin' the saddle, Papa?" Josef watched his father.

"Just t' see if I can, Joe," he poised to swing the saddle across his horse. "Now, stand back."

"I wanna help ya," Josef stepped forward.

At that moment, the horse kicked back a hind leg. It struck Josef in the chest.

"Joe!" Sully sensed something had happened.

The child burst into tears.

"Josef!" Sully went toward the sound of his sobbing. "What happened?"

He continued to cry, unable to answer.

"Wolf," Sully commanded. "Go get Michaela."

The animal darted for the door as Sully stroked his son's head.

It seemed like an eternity until Michaela and Colleen rushed into the barn.

"What happened?" Michaela knelt beside her son.

"I think the horse kicked him," Sully determined.

"You think?" she was horrified. "Don't you know?"

He shouted back, "How could I know, Michaela? I didn't see it."

"Then you shouldn't have had my son out here!" she raised her voice.

Josef's tears began to ebb, "Mama, Papa, don' fight."

"Sweetheart," she turned her attention to the little boy. "Show me where the horse kicked you."

"Here," he pointed to his stomach.

Michaela unbuttoned his shirt and began to feel the area, "No sign of internal bleeding or broken ribs."

Sully spoke quietly, "I think it just knocked the wind outa him."

"Colleen, could you carry him into the house and up to my bedroom?" Michaela requested. "I'll be right in."

"Sure, Ma," she lifted her brother. "I think a certain little boy's going to have to stay in bed for a while."

Josef scowled, "I guess you don' mean Noah."

"Come on, honey," Colleen departed with him.

Michaela pivoted to look at Sully as he still knelt in the hay where their son had lain.

She went to him and lightly placed her hand on his shoulder, "I'm sorry."

"Me, too," he lowered his head.

"Sully...." she began.

"Go on an' look after Josef," he cut her off.

With that, she left him. Sully stood up, disoriented from the experience. Tentatively, he took a step toward what he thought was the door. He bumped into a post. He turned again, this time running into a wagon wheel. Sighing in frustration, he simply sat down.

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

Loren helped Bridget into his buggy and walked around to the other side to climb up beside her. With a light flick of the reins, they were off.

"You sure it's okay with Dr. Mike for ya t' come out this afternoon?" he wondered.

"Matthew an' Emma are there helpin' with the wee ones," she folded her hands and enjoyed the view.

"How's Sully doin'?" he queried.

"The poor lad's upset with himself," she shook her head. "He had Josef in the barn with him, an' the leprechaun got a good swift kick from one of the horses."

"He okay?" Loren was concerned.

"Aye," she replied. "More so than his Pa."

"Poor Sully," Loren considered. "I remember when the Reverend went blind. He had t' start new with everythin', learnin' how t' walk an' do things he used t' take for granted. He plays the piano now, though, just like he can see."

"I don't know what Sully's gonna do," she sighed.

"Well, I invited ya t' the Chateau for lunch t' get your mind off things," he grinned. "So we best change the subject."

"We haven't been out for a long time," she chuckled. "I thought maybe ya forgot about me."

"No," his expression turned serious. "I ain't forgot about ya."

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

Colleen entered the homestead and carefully placed the ophthalmometer on the kitchen table. Noah approached her and eyed the device.

"I play," he pointed to himself.

"No," she looked down on the toddler. "It's not a toy, Noah."

"You play?" he raised his eyebrows.

"Not a toy," she touched his nose.

He giggled and started to climb up on the chair.

"No," she lifted him. "Where's Mama?"

He pointed up, "Baby."

Sitting down with the little boy on her lap, she smiled, "Do you like the baby?"

"No," he shook his head.

"No?" she was surprised.

"We play," he tapped her hand.

"First, we're going to check Pa's eyes," she set him down.

"Hey, Colleen," Matthew entered the room with Annie under his arm. "I was just comin' t' look for him."

"Noah," Annie smiled at her twin brother.

He rushed to Matthew and requested, "Up."

Matthew scooped him up, as well, "Ma's upstairs feedin' the baby, Colleen."

Colleen rose from the table and began to climb the steps. When she reached the top floor, she heard Michaela softly humming to the baby.

"Ma?" she tapped lightly on the door.

Michaela kept her voice low, "Come on in. Did you bring it?"

"Yes," she whispered. Then she spotted Josef sleeping on his parents' bed, "Is he all right?"

"Bruised, but otherwise fine," Michaela shifted the baby to stroke her back.

Colleen sat beside her mother in the rocker, "She's so beautiful, Ma."

"Isn't she?" Michaela's face beamed. "I only wish...."

"Pa could see her?" she assumed.

"He's still in the barn," Michaela sighed. "I should never have raised my voice to him. Things are hard enough on him as it is."

"You were scared," Colleen allowed. "Pa understands."

"The baby's nearly asleep," Michaela rebuttoned her blouse. "Would you hold her and keep an eye on Josef while I go talk to Sully?"

"Sure," Colleen was pleased to be of help.

"How is everything at the hospital?" Michaela rose from the rocker.

"Andrew and Dr. Bernard have things well in hand," she assured. "And Dr. Cassidy is arriving tomorrow."

Michaela shook her head, "I hope he works out."

"I hope he remembers who's in charge," the daughter smiled.

"Thank you for all that you've done, Colleen," Michaela touched her shoulder. "I don't know what Sully and I would do without Matthew, Brian and you."

"Ma, we're happy to help," she looked at her mother with love. "Now, go talk to Pa."

Michaela caressed the baby's hair, then checked on Josef before departing. When she reached the living room, Matthew and Emma had the twins occupied. Relieved to have some free time, she waved to them and headed out the door.

Strolling through the barn door, Michaela found Sully sitting on the straw covered floor of the barn. She went to him and cleared her throat.

He tilted his head, "Is Josef okay?"

"Yes, sleeping," she folded her hands behind her back.

"Good," he was relieved.

"Sully.... about what I said when...." she was interrupted.

"It's okay," he cut her off. "You were scared. An' I shouldn't be alone with the kids."

"I didn't mean that," she tried to explain.

"I don't have any control over what's around me anymore, Michaela," he shook his head. "I don't know what's in front o' me or behind me...."

"I'm sorry," she expressed.

"An' I don't want pity," he became defensive.

"I told you before I'm not going to pity you," she affirmed. "But I am going to be here for you.... to listen when you want to talk.... and to love you no matter what happens."

He paused and looked up. Then he extended his hand to her.

"I'd like to examine your eyes now," she informed him.

He took a deep breath, "All right."

He stood up and followed her to the house.

"Papa!" Annie spotted her father when he entered.

"Who wants t' go swing?" Matthew diverted her attention.

"Me!" Noah pointed to himself.

"Me!" Annie echoed.

Emma nodded, "Let's go, then."

Soon, Michaela and Sully were alone in the kitchen. She lit several candles and set the device in place. Sitting opposite her husband at the table, she began her examination. After several minutes of testing his reaction to various degrees of light, she told him to sit back.

"Well?" he anticipated.

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

Jake tilted his hat back, "You what?"

Hank spoke plainly, "I want ya t' marry Lexie an' me."

"You?" Jake scoffed. "Get married?"

"That's right," he leaned closer. "So, ya gonna do it or not?"

Jake chuckled, "Sure. I'll marry ya."

"Lexie's at her ranch," Hank stood up again. "I came t' arrange everythin'. Can you be ready by six?"

"Six?" he was surprised. "That's kinda short notice."

"You got somethin' else t' do?" Hank posed the question.

"I guess not," he shrugged. "So, why ya want me t' do the ceremony an' not the Reverend?"

"I ain't a church-goin' man," Hank lit a cigar. "I'd be a hypocrite t' ask him."

"What about a best man?" he suggested.

"I was thinkin' of askin' Loren," Hank pondered. "An' I'll ask Dorothy t' be the matron of honor."

"I reckon you've thought of everythin'," Jake eyed him suspiciously.

"Don't look at me like that," Hank came back.

"You sure about this?" Jake wondered.

"I'm sure," he did not look him in the eye.

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

"Sully," Michaela set her hand atop her husband's. "I believe that your sight will return.

He tensed, "You believe or you hope?"

"Both," she returned.

He pointed out, "I ain't had any flashes of light since last night. It makes me wonder if I really saw somethin' or if it was just wishful thinkin'."

"From your description, you really saw something," she encouraged.

He sighed.

She commented, "I know you're frustrated."

He linked his fingers in hers, "I got responsibilities t' you an' the kids, Michaela. I can't help with the baby or the twins. It ain't right for Matthew an' Emma t' have t' spend all their time here."

"Sully, that's how it is with large families," she noted. "The older children often help with the younger."

His shoulders slumped. Then she sensed what was bothering him.

"You'll find some sort of work to support us," she encouraged.

He felt a lump in his throat, "I don't know how."

She knew better than to mention her inheritance.

"Perhaps the Reverend can help," she suggested.

At that moment, they heard the steps creak.

It was Josef, standing nearby, "I think I don' need t' be in bed no more, Mama. Colleen said I could ask ya."

"Come here then," Michaela smiled.

"Can ya hold me yet, Mama?" his eyes widened.

"Not yet," she responded. "But Papa can."

Josef climbed atop his father's lap and pointed to the ophthalmometer, "What's that?"

She explained, "It's to help me look at your father's eyes."

"How ya look at his eyes?" his brow creased. "Papa can't see."

Sully stroked his son's back, "How's your stomach, Joe?"

"I think it needs somethin' in it like a cookie," he gestured toward the jar where Bridget kept them.

"Just one," Michaela retrieved one and handed it to him.

"Where's the twins?" he was curious.

"On the porch," Sully kissed the top of his son's head.

"Katie be home soon?" he bit into the cookie.

"In a little while," Michaela watched him devour it.

"Could I go out with the twins?" his lower lip curled under.

"Only if you stay on the porch," she could not resist his look. "No running."

"'Kay," he agreed with a smile.

Josef opened the front door and joined his siblings.

"Alone again, Mr. Sully," she patted his hand.

Suddenly, they heard the baby crying.

"Ma!" Colleen called from the top floor.

"I'll be right there," Michaela exhaled in frustration.

With a slight squeeze of his hand, she left Sully. He listened to the sounds of his family. Josef and the twins giggled, while Matthew and Emma made up a story for them. The baby settled.

Listen, he told himself. Listen to the sounds of your life.

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

"Lunch was delicious, Loren," Bridget wiped her mouth with her napkin. "I gotta say it's a might fancier than what I cook up."

"You're a great cook," he complimented.

The intensity of his gaze made her uncomfortable.

Bridget spoke up, "You got somethin' on your mind?"

He took a deep breath, "I.... I'm real fond of ya, Bridget."

"I'm fond of you, too," she agreed.

"I was thinkin'," he paused. "You an' me ain't gettin' any younger."

"You know someone who is?" she retorted.

"I'm tryin' t' be serious here," he frowned.

"Sorry," she apologized. "Go ahead with what's botherin' ya."

"It ain't exactly botherin' me," he hedged. "It's just.... well, I was thinkin' about us doin' somethin'."

"Like what?" she was curious.

"Like.... makin' our friendship even more special," he came out with it.

Bridget began to suspect, "If you're talkin' about somethin' more.... permanent, Loren, that's not somethin' I'm ready for."

"I see," he studied her expression.

"I ain't sayin' things between us can't go that way some day," she added. "But Dr. Mike an' Sully need me around full time right now."

"Sure," he shrugged. "They keep ya busy."

"Not too busy for you," she touched his hand. "I'm truly grateful for your friendship. You're a dear man."

Loren smiled, "Think ya might be able t' go out t' lunch with me again real soon?"

"Aye," she spoke with a twinkle in her eye.

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

Dorothy reread the front page article she had written for The Gazette. Withdrawing a pencil from behind her ear, she scratched out a word. Then she heard a knock at the door frame.

She turned around, "Hank?"

"Hey," he removed his hat. "How's everythin' in the writin' business?"

"It's fine," she nodded. "Somethin' ya want me t' put in the paper?"

"Not exactly, though I reckon it'll be big news," he suggested.

"What is it?" she set down her pencil and paper.

"I was wonderin' if you'd like t' come t' a weddin'," he said.

"Who's gettin' married?" she was curious.

"Me an' Lexie," he revealed.

"You?" she raised her eyebrows.

"Why's that surprisin'?" he questioned.

"Hank," she rolled her eyes. "Marriage is a commitment t' fidelity. Can you keep yourself t' one woman?"

"Only one way t' find out," he stated. "So you ain't comin' t' the weddin'?"

"I wouldn't miss it," she smiled.

"Good," he grinned. "Ya wanna be the matron of honor?"

"Matron of honor?" she was surprised. "Well.... if Lexie wants me to, of course."

"Can ya be at her ranch by six?" he added.

"I'll be there," she nodded.

"See ya then," he returned his hat to his head and stepped outside in time to spot Loren arriving at the store.

"Where ya been, old man?" he crossed to speak with him.

"None o' your business," Loren snapped back.

"No need t' be like that," Hank raised his hands. "I come t' ask ya a question."

"Well, ask it," he grew impatient.

"I was wonderin' if you'd be my best man," Hank requested.

"Best man?" Loren was shocked. "You gettin' married?"

"No, I just want a best man for the hell of it," he was sarcastic. "'Course I'm gettin' married."

"T' Lexie?" Loren reacted.

"Yea, t' Lexie," Hank returned. "So will ya do it, or not?"

"I wouldn't miss it," Loren smirked.

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

Sully entered the bedroom, "The baby okay?"

"Yes," Michaela nodded.

He turned to face her, "You in the rockin' chair?"

"Yes," she extended her hand to guide him to join her.

"Colleen went back t' the hospital," he mentioned as he tenderly reached for the baby's head.

"Oh, Sully," she sighed as her emotions began to overtake her.

"I know," he slid his arm around her.

"Could you hold Hope for a moment?" she felt her tears flow.

"Sure," he awkwardly reached for the infant.

As he enfolded the baby in his arms, he could hear his wife's soft crying.

"Michaela," his heart ached.

"I'm sorry," she attempted to compose herself.

While balancing the baby, he slid his arm around Michaela's shoulders and drew her closer.

"This was supposed to be a joyful time for us," her tears continued. "But it's such an agonizing time for you."

"It's still joyful," he affirmed. "We got this little one t' love. You came through it okay. If I don't see again, I'll get used t' it."

She lightly placed her hand to his cheek, "I'm so terribly sorry this happened, Sully. And I'm ashamed for raising my voice at you in the barn."

"I know ya are," he swallowed hard. "An' I know this ain't easy for you either. But long as we got each other an' the kids, we'll get through."

He detected that his words were calming his wife. They heard the front door.

"Bridget must be home," he noted.

Michaela started to rise, "Katie will be home shortly, too."

"Wait," he drew her back.

"What?" she wondered.

"I was wonderin' if.... I could kiss ya," he requested.

"You don't have to ask me that, Mr. Sully," she touched his chin and guided their lips to meet.

He drew back and recited to her:

"And when my lips meet thine
Thy very soul is wedded unto mine."

"Was that Donne?" she guessed.

"Boyesen," he identified.

"Thank you, Sully," she smiled.

"No," he kissed her again. "Thank you."

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

When he reached Lexie's ranch, Hank reined in his horse and tied him to the post in front of her door.

He called out, "Lexie!"

There was no answer.

"Lexie!" he beckoned louder.

"Over here," she shouted from the barn.

He went to her and lifted her into his arms for a passionate kiss, "I did it."

"Did what?" she tilted her head.

"I made the arrangements," he clarified. "For our weddin'."

"Hank," her brow creased. "I didn't say I'd marry you."

"You're the one who asked me first," he countered.

"That was before all of this happened," Lexie felt tears welling in her eyes.

"I told ya I'd marry ya, an' that's what's gonna happen," he insisted.

"That's not how it works, Hank Lawson," she asserted. "Now, if you'll excuse me...."

"Excuse you?" he put his hands on his hips in disbelief. "I got folks comin' here t' see us get married."

"You what?" her eyes widened.

"That's right," he raised his voice. "So, go get ready."

"Hank, are you deaf?" she shouted. "I can't get married today, and I'm not even sure if I want to get married at all anymore."

His jaw tensed, "Fine. I'll go cancel it all."

"Fine," she glared at him.

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

Emma, Colleen and Bridget finished washing the dinner dishes. Michaela had fallen asleep by the living room fireplace after they ate. Brian and Matthew kept the children as quiet as they could.

Sully sat nearby, turning his face toward the warmth of the hearth. His head had ached since afternoon, but he did not mention it. Now, the throbbing was intensifying.

Then it happened again. A flash of something.

"Michaela!" he called out.

"Mmm?" she awoke with a start.

"I saw somethin'," he felt his pulse race.

She rose from the chair and went to him, "The grayness again?"

"Uh huh," he reached for her hand. "Longer this time."

"Was it...." before she could finish, he interrupted.

"Wait," his excitement increased. "Just now, I saw it again."

"Pa?" Colleen had heard from the kitchen.

"I saw somethin', Colleen," he grinned.

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

"Hey, Hank," Myra approached him as he drowned his sorrows at the bar of the Gold Nugget.

"What d' you want?" he tried to hold his head still when he looked up. "Come back t' work for me?"

"Dorothy told me what happened," she said.

"Told ya what happened?" he frowned.

"She said you an' Lexie was gonna get married, but now ya ain't," she detailed.

"So ya come t' gloat?" he assumed.

"No," she replied. "I come t' say I'm sorry."

"You? Sorry?" Hank chuckled. "Why?"

"'Cause I know ya love her," Myra explained. "An' I also know ya don't understand why she said she couldn't marry ya."

"Oh, you're real understandin'," he returned.

"Hank," she eyed him sternly. "Lexie needs t' heal. She's been violated in the worst way a woman can experience. She can't give herself t' you 'til she feels safe again."

He assessed the truth of her words, "How d' you know?"

"I know," she looked down.

"So, you think she'll be okay?" his tone softened.

"I hope so," Myra nodded.

"I reckon the only way that'll happen is when that bastard's got a bullet in his brain," he reached for his bottle.

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

Sully stayed awake all night, hoping to experience the recovery of his vision. By sunup, the shades of gray he had been seeing were replaced with swirls of blue. Michaela did her best to stay awake with him, but the fatigue she felt was too much. Sully promised to waken her if there was any further change.

He rose from the bedroom fireplace and made his way to the window. Drawing back the curtain, he could make out some yellow areas. He turned quickly to tell his wife, but before he could speak, the baby began to whine.

Sully went to the cradle and turned toward his daughter as she lay on the white bedding.


Suddenly, by the dawning light, he began to make out her image. Tenderly, he lifted her into his arms.

"Hope," he swallowed hard as her little features came into focus.

He rubbed his eyes, unsure if he was truly seeing his daughter or dreaming.

"Sully?" Michaela sat up.

"I.... I see her, Michaela," his voice filled with emotion. "I see her."

"Oh, Sully!" she bolted from the bed and went to him.

Embracing her husband, Michaela tenderly stroked the sides of his face.

"How do you feel?" she queried.

"Real good," he gazed at the baby.

Michaela hurried to open all of the bedroom curtains to maximize the light and look at his eyes more carefully.

Sully sat down, not turning his gaze from his daughter. Then he felt Michaela's hand on his shoulder. He looked up and smiled.

"What do you think of her?" she asked.

"Beautiful," his grin widened.

Michaela sat beside them, watching her husband relish the experience of seeing their child for the first time.

Then she noted the somber expression that began to appear on his face, "Are you all right?"

Tears streamed down his cheeks.

"What's wrong?" she touched the moisture.

"She looks like...." he did not finish.

"Like what?" Michaela caressed the baby's cheek.

"An angel," he spoke in a whisper.

"Shall we tell the rest of the family?" Michaela invited.

"Sure," his tone changed.

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

Sully drew her closer and kissed her sweetly, "I'm real good."

She turned up the corner of her mouth and rose from the chair. At that moment, Hope became more restless.

Sully suggested, "Maybe ya oughta feed her before we wake everyone."

Michaela rejoined them and with Sully's help, positioned the baby to nurse.

Again, his eyes welled with tears, as he caressed the baby's hair, "Such a beautiful sight."

Michaela mused, "It's nice to feed just one at a time."

Sully lightly touched her abdomen, "Does it still hurt?"

"Only a little," she replied. "What about your head?"

"It was botherin' me a lot last night," he revealed.

"Why didn't you say something?" Michaela looked up.

"I didn't wanna worry ya," he shrugged.

"Oh, Sully," she sighed and closed her eyes. "Now everything can be perfect."

He grinned, "You deserve it."

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

"You must be Dr. Cassidy," Sister Mary Martha looked up from her desk.

"I am," he adjusted his tie. "Is Dr. Quinn here?"

"Dr. Quinn is home with her baby," she informed him.

"Oh, I hadn't heard that she delivered it," he looked about the room. "I assume all went well."

Before she could answer, Cassidy changed the subject.

"Is my office ready?" he lifted his medical bag.

"Dr. Colleen Cook will be in shortly to discuss your duties," she frowned at him.

He rolled his eyes, "Another female physician."

"You might as well get used to that around here, Doctor," she said. "I'll show you to your office. You'll be sharing it with Dr. Andrew Cook."

"Finally, a qualified physician," he raised an eyebrow.

"He graduated first in his class at Harvard Medical School," Sister Mary Martha noted.

"I have known Andrew for several years and have every confidence in his abilities," Cassidy smiled.

"But then, so did Dr. Colleen Cook," she added.

"She graduated first in her class, too?" he was surprised.

"Yes, at Harvard," the nun noted. "This way, sir."

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

"Why'd Mama have us all get up so early?" Katie wondered. "Do ya think somethin's wrong with the baby?"

Brian patted her back, "Maybe she wants us t' help with the morning chores."

"Or maybe I did somethin' wrong," Josef pondered.

"She wouldn't wake us all up for that, lad," Bridget teased. "Otherwise, we'd never get a night's sleep."

At that moment, Michaela descended the steps.

Her face radiated the joy she felt, "Good morning, everyone."

"Mama, Mama!" Annie rushed to her.

Brian lifted the toddler to kiss her mother.

"What's happened, Mama?" Katie suspected.

"Something wonderful," she smiled.

"So, I didn' do somethin' wrong?" Josef questioned.

"No," Michaela touched his nose.

"Then, why are we up so early?" Katie tilted her head.

"I'll let your father tell you," she gestured toward the second floor.

With that, Sully came down the steps, holding Hope in his arms, "Mornin' everyone."

"Poppy?" Katie stood up. "Can you.... can you see?"

"I can, Kates," he grinned.

Everyone rushed to him as he reached the bottom step. Michaela stood back, cherishing the sight of her family's joyful reaction. In the midst of the good wishes, Sully cast a loving glance at her. Finally, all was right with their world.

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

"Hey, Lexie," Hank stood at her doorway waiting to be invited inside.

She had not dressed for the day, "What do you want?"

"I just came t' see how ya are," he fidgeted with the rim of his hat.

"I'm all right," she shrugged.

"Ya don't look all right," he assessed. "Maybe ya oughta have that Dr. Bernard take a look at ya."

"Look at me?" she snapped back. "To tell me what, Hank?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "Maybe there's some medicine you could take t' make ya feel better."

"There is no medicine," she shook her head ruefully.

His brow creased, "Is there anythin' I can do?"

"Yes," she paused.

"What?" he was hopeful.

"Go," she slammed the door.

"Lexie," he spoke loud enough for her to hear. "I'm goin' after that bastard, an' I ain't comin' back 'til I find him."

There was no response from her.

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

"Colleen," Dr. Cassidy smiled. "It's nice to see you. How is your mother?"

"She's well, thank you," the young woman returned. "She had a baby girl."

"Tell her I send my congratulations," he looked around the room. "I understand I am to share this office with your husband."

"Ex-husband," she clarified.

"Ex?" he was puzzled.

"Andrew and I recently divorced," she revealed.

"Oh," he frowned.

"It is an amicable situation," she explained. "We respect each other's work, just as I'm sure you do."

"Me?" he was uncertain.

"I'm not here simply to clean your medical instruments this time, Dr. Cassidy," she bluntly recalled their past association.

"No, I didn't think you were," he was clearly flustered.

"I'm going to be frank with you," she paused. "I have never liked the disrespect you have shown my mother regarding her talents as a physician, but I want something clearly understood by you."

"What's that?" he eyed her sternly.

"This is my mother's hospital," Colleen returned the gaze. "She is the chief of staff. She makes the decisions, and I expect that her judgment will not be questioned."

"Is that some sort of a threat?" Cassidy became uncomfortable.

"No," she continued her intense look. "It's a statement of fact."

"Well, of course, I respect your mother," his tone softened.

"I would like to know the truth about something," Colleen tilted her head. "Why did you offer your services here, when you had your own clinic in Denver?"

"As I told your mother...." he was interrupted.

"The truth," Colleen challenged.

He hedged, "I don't know what you mean."

"Yes you do," she folded her arms.

"The truth is...." his shoulders slumped. "I.... owe some money.... gambling debts, you see, and, well.... I lost my clinic."

"I assume your gambling days are over," Colleen stated.

"Of course," he assured.

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

Hank pulled up to the Sully homestead. Just as he was about to rap at the door, he heard many voices speaking at once.

"Must be Michaela talkin' t' herself," he mused.

Then he knocked. To his surprise, Sully opened the door.

"They lettin' you do this without a cane?" Hank was sarcastic.

"I don't need a cane," Sully stepped back. "I got my sight back."

"Ya did?" his eyes widened. "Well, ain't that good news."

Michaela approached and linked her arm in Sully's, "Did you come to see the baby, Hank?"

"Uh...." he wiped his upper lip. "Sure."

Michaela escorted him to the cradle where the child had been placed after falling asleep.

He leaned closer, "I see ya finally had a kid with as much hair as you. Practice makes perfect, I guess."

"Very funny," Michaela shook her head.

"Sully, could I talk t' you alone?" Hank felt surrounded by children.

"I'll talk t' ya if Papa won't, Mr. Lawson," Josef tapped his leg.

"That's okay, kid," he smiled uncomfortably.

"Let's step out on the porch," Sully gestured.

After a loving touch of his wife's hand, he escorted the Sheriff outside.

Hank grinned, "How can a man think with all that racket?"

"When hearin' your kids is the only thing ya got, it's a good sound," Sully replied. "Now, what did ya wanna talk about?"

"I know things was kinda hectic at the hospital, what with Michaela havin' the baby an' you goin' blind," he began. "But.... well, I wanna find the man who did this t' Lexie, an' I thought maybe you could help with more of a description or anythin' else I could go on."

Sully pondered, "My guess is he's operatin' around Manitou."

"What makes ya think that?" he rubbed his chin.

"I was goin' down an alley when he attacked me," Sully considered. "I figure he was familiar with the back ways in town."

"I didn't think about that," Hank nodded. "What else?"

"If you're goin' after him, I'll come with ya," he offered.

"But I thought ya didn't see him," Hank remarked.

"I didn't," he agreed. "But I heard his voice.... smelled him. Somethin' might trigger more in my memory. Besides, I got good reason t' see him locked up behind bars."

Hank posed the question, "Is it okay for you t' travel?"

"Nothin' could stop me," Sully's jaw tensed.

"Good," Hank nodded. "We leave first thing in the mornin'."

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

A young man approached Sister Mary Martha at the desk in the hospital entrance, "Excuse me, sister, I was told I could find Colleen Cooper here."

"You mean Dr. Colleen Cook?" she looked up. "Are you ill?"

"Oh, no," he returned. "I'm an old friend. I haven't been in Colorado Springs in.... a long time, and I wanted to look her up."

"I'll see if she's available," the nun rose from her desk. "If you'll have a seat, whom should I say is calling?"

"Lewis Bing," he replied.

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

"Leaving in the morning?" Michaela frowned. "Sully, your sight has just returned. I think it's quite premature for you to venture out. What if you were to fall or...."

"I gotta do this, Michaela," he interjected.

Bridget neared them, "I think it might be a good idea for you two t' take a walk."

"A walk?" Michaela was uncertain.

Bridget gestured toward the children, "Your arguin' might upset the wee ones."

"We're not arguing," Michaela protested.

"Come on," Sully took her by the arm.

They exited the house.

"I can't go far, Sully," Michaela protested.

"Then let's just sit here on the swing," he pointed.

As they sat down, she turned to her husband, "Medically speaking, this is very ill advised. The jostling of the horse ride could aggravate your injury, prompting the blindness to return."

Sully took her hand and raised it to his lips, "I don't mean t' worry ya. But there's somethin' you don't know."

"What?" she asked.

Sully prefaced, "I didn't tell ya this before because there was so much goin' on with the baby an' my blindness...."

"What is it, Sully?" she grew anxious.

"The man who robbed me, it's the same man who raped Lexie," he informed her.

"What?" she was shocked.

"The night he attacked her, Lexie was able t' grab somethin' from the man's pocket," Sully went on.

"What did she grab?" Michaela was curious.

"This," Sully reached withdrew his watch from his pocket.

"But I thought...." she stopped.

"Lexie gave the watch t' Hank, who read the inscription an' figured it was mine," Sully told her. "He gave it back t' me. So, ya see now why I gotta help Hank? This man could attack helpless folks anywhere, not just in Manitou."

"But Hank has been looking for him for weeks, Sully," she still objected. "What makes you think...."

"We'll find him," he asserted.

Michaela recognized from the tone of her husband's voice that there would be no changing his mind.

"I'll be back soon as I can," he leaned closer to kiss her.

"And you'll be careful?" she added.

"You know I will," he cupped his hand to her cheek.

************
Chapter 13
************

"Lewis!" Colleen's eyes widened as she beheld the handsome young man at her office door. "It's wonderful to see you."

"You, too," he smiled. "It looks like you've done quite well."

"Please, sit down," she gestured. "I had no idea you were in Colorado Springs."

"It was a last minute decision," he noted. "I didn't even tell Uncle Horace I was coming."

"You look well," she observed. "What have you been doing?"

"I'm a researcher in Menlo Park, New Jersey," he informed her.

"That sounds interesting," she observed. "What do you research?"

"Most recently, I was working with Mr. Edison on the incandescent light bulb," Lewis stated.

"You helped with that?" her eyes widened.

"Yes," he smiled. "Among other things. We work on many projects at once, mostly having to do with electricity."

"It's not dangerous, is it?" she grew concerned.

"I'm very careful," he added. "Tell me about you. Uncle Horace wrote me when you married and when you graduated from medical school. I'm very proud of you, Colleen. It's a remarkable achievement."

"Thank you," she blushed slightly. "But I'm afraid my marriage did not work out. However, I'm on good terms with Andrew. In fact, he works here at Ma's hospital."

"Oh, Uncle Horace said Dr. Mike just had a baby," he grinned.

"Yes, her fifth," Colleen informed him.

"Five children!" Lewis was incredulous. "Plus, being a doctor. That's a remarkable achievement, too."

She gazed at him more intensely. He still had the same baby face and sandy hair she recalled from their adolescence.... and the same kindness in his blue eyes.

"Is something wrong?" he realized she was staring at him.

"No," Colleen shifted some papers on her desk. "I was wondering.... could you join us for dinner at the homestead this evening? It would give us a chance to catch up on old times and for you to meet my little siblings."

His eyes brightened, "I'd love to."

At that moment, Brian arrived, "Lewis!"

"Hello, Brian," he shook his hand enthusiastically. "It's been a long time."

"I know," Brian returned. "It's real good t' see you."

"You, too," he donned his hat. "I must be going now, but I've accepted Colleen's invitation to join you for supper. I'll see you later."

"Good," Brian nodded.

As Lewis departed, Colleen turned to her brother, "It's not often I get a visit from you during the work day. Is something wrong?"

"Nope," he grinned. "I came t' tell ya Pa can see again."

"What!" her eyes widened. "That's wonderful news!"

"Yep," he concurred. "Ya should have seen him lookin' at the baby."

"Thank God," Colleen closed her eyes and uttered a silent prayer.

"I gotta go now," Brian embraced her. "I'm gonna go tell Matthew."

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

Hank returned to Lexie's with the lunch Grace had made for her. When he knocked at the door, there was no answer. He called for her. Again, there was no response.

Setting down the meal, he reached into his pocket for the key Lexie had given him many months earlier. When he unlocked the door and entered, he did not see her.

"Lexie?" he called.

Then he approached her bedroom. There she was, lying on the bed. The odor of stale alcohol permeated the place.

"Lexie," he shook her. "You okay?"

She roused from her stupor, "Go away Hank."

He frowned at her slurred speech, "You been drinkin'?"

"Very good," she retorted. "Now, go away."

"I ain't goin' 'til I get you sobered up," he raised her shoulders.

"I don't want to be sober," she frowned.

"It ain't ladylike for you t' be drunk," he asserted.

"I don't feel ladylike," she reached for the bottle of whiskey on her nightstand.

Hank prevented her from reaching it, "Grace sent lunch for ya. You're gonna eat."

"No," tears began to form in her eyes. "I don't want to eat.... I don't want to live."

"Lexie," Hank gently wiped the moisture on her cheeks. "This ain't you talkin'. You're a strong woman."

"Not anymore," she fell back onto the bed.

Suddenly, they heard someone call from the open front door, "Lexie?"

"It's Colleen Cooper," Hank recognized the voice.

"Tell her to go away, too," Lexie resumed her sobs.

"Hank?" Colleen appeared in the bedroom. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" he shot back. "What do ya think is wrong? She's still thinkin' about what that son of a bitch did t' her."

"Why don't you go into the other room?" Colleen suggested. "I'll take care of Lexie."

Reluctantly, he stepped back and left them alone.

"Lexie," Colleen touched her back. "You're going to be all right."

"No," she wiped the tears. "I'll never get that man's smell off of me."

Colleen embraced her.

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

Sully sat on the rug by the living room fireplace entertaining the children, while Bridget prepared dinner and Michaela took a nap.

The twins remained near their father while Katie read silently. Close by, sat Josef, playing with a wooden train Sully had carved many years ago. Sully sat up straighter to look into the cradle at his sleeping daughter.

"Bad baby," Noah turned up his nose.

Sully drew him closer, "Don't say that, Noah. That's your little sister. She loves you."

"Me?" he was surprised.

"Yep," Sully stroked his back. "An' you're her big brother. You gotta take care o' her."

"I love," Annie cuddled closer to her father.

"You love everyone, sweet Annie," Sully embraced her.

Noah stepped toward the cradle and lightly touched the baby, "Soff."

"She is soft," Sully smiled.

Josef set aside his train to join them, "I teach Noah t' like Hope, Papa."

"Good," Sully approved. "He looks up t' you."

"Ev'one looks up t' you," Josef informed his father. "You the tallest in the fam'ly."

Sully chuckled, "Ya look up t' people for more than how tall they are, Joe."

"Why else?" he was curious.

"For how good they act an' how they treat folks," Sully specified.

Noah returned to his father's lap, "Hold, Papa."

"First I wanna look at ya," Sully held him still. "I wanna look at all of ya."

"Why?" Josef tilted his head.

He affirmed, "'Cause I got the most beautiful children in the world."

"I'm not beau'ful," Josef frowned. "Mama say I'm han'some."

"Okay, handsome," Sully amended.

Bridget stepped into the room and wiped her hands on her apron, "Need some help with these wee ones?"

"No, thanks," he smiled. "Why don't ya sit down an' relax?"

"I still got more cookin' t' do," she hesitated.

"We can't eat 'til the rest of the kids get here," he mentioned.

"An' Mama's sleepin'," Josef added. "I think she's tired."

"Poor darlin'," Bridget sympathized. "She's tryin' t' do too much."

"That's Michaela," Sully nodded. "I want you kids t' help your Ma as much as ya can. I'll be leavin' in the mornin' t' go with Hank over t' Manitou."

"No, Poppy," Katie voiced her concern. "That's where you got hurt."

"I won't get hurt, Kates," he pledged.

"Why ya always gotta go 'way?" Josef's brow wrinkled.

"This is t' keep a bad man from hurtin' folks," he explained.

"I reckon that why people look up t' ya," Josef reasoned.

At that moment, Hope began to cry.

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

Michaela awoke, disoriented. Had she heard Hope crying? As she sat up, Sully entered the room with the baby. Michaela held out her arms to cradle the little one, and Sully gently placed the newborn into her mother's care.

"How long did I sleep?" she began to nurse the baby.

"Couple of hours," he smiled and kissed her.

"I meant to help Bridget with dinner," she mentioned.

"You need t' take it easy," he advised.

"So do you, Mr. Sully," her meaning was clear.

"Believe me, I won't be takin' any chances," he assured.

He sat beside her and watched with love as she fed the baby.

"Sully," Michaela paused. "There was something about the way you looked at Hope this morning...."

"What do ya mean?" he questioned.

"I'm not certain if I imagined it, but.... it seemed to affect you," she explained.

"Sure it affected me," he nodded. "I thought I might never see her."

"There's more to it," she sensed.

He tensed, "Let's just enjoy our little girl, Michaela."

She persisted, "What is it you're not telling me?"

"There's no use goin' on about this," he rose from the bed.

The baby whined.

"See?" he gestured. "You gettin' worked up is affectin' her."

Michaela inhaled deeply to calm herself. She raised the infant to kiss her on the forehead.

"Could you hold her?" Michaela requested.

"Love to," he smiled. "I gotta tell ya I was jealous when you were expectin' her."

"Jealous?" her eyes widened. "Of my bloated belly, strange cravings or aching back?"

"Jealous that you got t' be so close to her," he specified. "Now I get t' share her with ya."

"If she's anything like her sisters, Hope will much prefer her Papa's company to mine," she joked.

"I doubt that," he wrapped the baby's tiny fingers partially around his thumb. "Look at her, Michaela. She's so...."

His voice choked, and he could not continue. Rising from the bed, Michaela went to him.

She placed her hand on his shoulder, then whispered, "Tell me what it is that touches your heart so."

"It's nothin'," he wiped the moisture from his cheeks.

"Sully, I know you," Michaela held his chin to peer into his blue eyes. "And I know that there's something you're not telling me."

Silently, he sat down in the rocker with the baby. Michaela followed, positioning herself beside him.

"Are you afraid of something?" she queried.

"No," he was quick to respond.

"Afraid of how I might react to something?" she reworded her question.

"Like what?" he did not look at her.

She studied his expression, "I don't know.... the way you look at her?"

"I look at her with love," he stated.

"More than love," she expressed. "You look at her with such intensity."

"Michaela," his jaw tensed. "You gotta stop this. I look at her same as I look at all my kids."

Then the thought occurred to her, "Does she.... remind you of someone?"

The subtle change in his body next to hers indicated she had struck a chord.

He felt a lump in his throat, "Please don't make me say it."

"Oh my God," Michaela suddenly thought. "Hope.... looks like Hannah. Is that it, Sully?"

He did not answer, but his silence spoke volumes to her.

She stood up and walked to the window. Sully put the baby in her cradle and went to his wife. Pulling Michaela closer, he ran his hands up and down her sides.

"I'm sorry," her eyes reddened. "This must bring back such terrible memories."

"No," he sweetly kissed her. "It's the greatest comfort I've ever known in my life."

"Comfort?" she was puzzled.

"You've given me everythin', Michaela," he endeavored to explain. "You gave me a reason t' wanna live an' love again. Ya gave me a family an' home, an' now...."

"She's not Hannah, Sully," she pointed out. "She's our baby."

"I know that," he assured. "I see you in her, too."

"Is the resemblance to Hannah that strong?" she wondered.

Sully walked away from her and opened the top drawer of his chest of drawers. In the back, beneath some folded clothes, he withdrew a small box.

"That used to be in the barn of the old homestead, didn't it?" she recognized.

"Yea," he removed a photograph.

"That's your wedding picture to Abigail," she noted.

Then from the bottom of the box, he lifted a small faded photograph.

"I didn't know there was another picture in it," she tilted her head.

"I ain't looked at this in fifteen years," he swallowed hard.

His hand trembled slightly as he beheld the image on it.

Michaela stepped closer, "Who is it?"

"Hannah," he could scarcely speak. "Maude insisted on havin' a picture taken of her. She said it would help me grieve."

"Oh, Sully," her heart ached. "I know that people often do that when a baby is stillborn, but I had no idea you...."

She stopped when she gazed at the photograph. There was a stunning likeness to Hope. Sully returned the photo to the box and placed it in his drawer. Then he stepped over to the cradle.

Kneeling down beside his newborn daughter, he pulled back her blanket, "She's breathin' so nice an' steady."

Michaela felt as if her heart would break. The salty taste of tears touched her lips.

Turning, Sully looked up at her, "No, Michaela. Please don't."

He stood up to enfold her in his arms. They lingered for several minutes in the other's embrace. Each began to feel the other relax.

"I know she's our Hope, not Hannah," he spoke softly.

"I'll always wonder when you look at her, whom you're really seeing," she expressed her angst.

"I'll be seein' the best part of you an' me," he raised her chin for a kiss. "Don't worry."

She cupped his cheek with the palm of her hand, "I love you, Sully."

He turned her hand and kissed it, "I love you, too."

Holding her so close, Sully felt his body stir. The scent and nearness of his wife stirred powerful longings in him. It had been many weeks since they made love. Knowing it would be some time before that aspect of their marriage could resume, he attempted to calm his pulse and the reaction his body was having.

"I guess I oughta go downstairs," his voice sounded different.

Sensing his need, she caressed his temple, "You've been very patient, Mr. Sully. Can you wait a while longer?"

He grinned at her perception, "You're always worth the wait, Mrs. Sully."

************
Chapter 14
************

Stepping into Lexie's kitchen, Colleen spoke low to Hank, "She's sleeping now, but she shouldn't be alone."

His jaw tensed, "I'm gonna kill the man that done this t' her."

She ignored his statement, "I'll come back to check on her tomorrow. Will you be spending the night?"

"Yea," he drew his revolver from its holster.

"Hank...." she thought to dissuade him.

"What?" he gazed at her with piercing blue eyes.

"Never mind," she shook her head.

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

Brian finished telling the townsfolk at the Cafe, "An' Pa got his sight back this mornin'."

Dorothy's cheeks flushed, "That's wonderful news."

Reverend Johnson's face beamed, "It's a miracle. Praise the Lord."

"Sure is," Brian agreed. "Do you think you could tell Cloud Dancin', Miss Dorothy?"

"'Course I will," she assured.

Loren spoke up, "So Sully's seen your baby sister now, eh?"

"Yep," Brian's grin widened. "Fact is, he can't stop lookin' at her."

"I bet," Loren assessed. "You tell him we're real glad."

"I will," Brian departed.

Dorothy suspected, "Somethin' on your mind, Loren?"

"Nope," he wiped his nose. "Just glad for Sully an' Dr. Mike, is all."

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

"This was a delicious dinner," Lewis dabbed the sides of his mouth with his napkin. "Thank you for having me."

Michaela smiled, "Lewis, it's been wonderful seeing you again. Your Uncle Horace must be quite proud of your accomplishments."

"He is," the young man looked down modestly.

Katie requested, "Tell us the meat story again, Colleen."

Michaela disapproved, "It's not appropriate dinner conversation, Sweetheart."

"'Cause Mr. Lawson got sick?" Josef questioned.

Colleen gazed at Lewis with admiration, "It was Lewis who thought to examine under a microscope the meat Hank had been eating, and he discovered why Hank was so ill. From that moment on, I knew he'd be a scientist."

"And I knew you'd be a doctor," Lewis returned. "You always cared about people, just like Dr. Mike."

"I'm gonna be a doctor," Josef spoke up.

"That's today," Matthew teased. "Yesterday it was a mountain man, and tomorrow it'll be a train engineer."

"Or a newspaper reporter," Brian tickled the little boy's side.

Lewis turned his attention to Sully and the baby he was holding on his lap, "She's a beautiful little girl."

"Sure is," Sully concurred proudly.

"Colleen told me your sight just returned today," he remarked. "I imagine you can't stop looking at her ever since."

"I got a lot t' be grateful for," Sully smiled at Michaela.

"Well, I'd better be going," Lewis rose from the table. "Thanks again. Bridget, you can cook for me anytime."

"The lad has good taste," the nanny winked.

"I have to go, too," Colleen offered. "Pa, please be careful tomorrow."

"Don't worry," he accepted her kiss on his cheek.

As Lewis departed with his oldest sister, Josef innocently inquired, "Is Colleen gonna marry him now?"

Michaela was surprised, "Josef, they're just friends."

"That's how you an' Poppy started," Katie knew.

Matthew pointed out, "Lewis has always been smitten with her."

"I'm certain they'll remain just friends," Michaela felt uncomfortable. "It's much too soon for Colleen to be thinking of.... romance."

At that moment, a slice of cooked carrot came flying through the air and hit Sully's arm near the baby's head.

Michaela immediately targeted the culprit, "Noah Sully! What are you doing?"

"Baby," he pointed.

Sully stood up, his jaw set. The children quieted immediately. After handing the baby to Brian, Sully lifted Noah and carried him into the living room.

"Noah's in twouble," Josef sighed.

Michaela's brow wrinkled, "His behavior since we brought the baby home has been quite disturbing."

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

"Noah," Sully settled him on his lap.

"We play, Papa," the child bounced.

"No," his voice was stern. "We ain't playin'. What you did was wrong."

The little boy's lower lip curled under.

"You gotta understand somethin'," Sully eyed him. "You don't throw food."

"Bad?" he tilted his head.

"Real bad," Sully nodded.

Noah leaned his head toward Sully's shoulder and began to cry. The father tenderly stroked his back and kissed the top of his head.

"No-bo," he sighed. "What am I gonna do with you?"

"Play?" he lifted up.

"Ya know when you were a baby, you were so tiny, I could hold ya right here in my palm," Sully extended his hand. "All I wanted t' do was t' protect ya from anythin' bad."

"Uh-huh," Noah pretended to understand.

Sully studied his son's expression for a reaction, "I was thinkin' maybe you could help with the baby."

"Help?" he tilted his head.

"Ya know," Sully pondered. "You could hold up the rattle an' shake it for her. You could bring us diapers when we need t' change Hope. Ya could kiss her good night so she's not afraid."

He watched his father intently, "Kiss baby?"

"Yea," Sully knew he had reached his son. "I love you, Noah. An' I want you t' be a lovin' brother."

"I love," he insisted.

"I'm glad t' hear that," Sully's tone softened. "So, no more throwin' things."

"Uh huh," Noah agreed.

"Sully?" Michaela approached.

"Mama!" the toddler's eyes lit up. "Hold."

"I can't hold you yet, my darling," she caressed his cheek.

"I think he understands what he did was wrong," Sully set the child down.

Noah darted out of the room to find Annie.

Michaela exhaled, "What is it about our little boys?"

"Least we got our little girls t' balance 'em out," Sully joked.

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

"Lexie," Hank whispered as he stepped into her bedroom.

"No!" she screamed. "Get away from me!"

"It's me," Hank tried to comfort her. "I ain't gonna hurt ya."

"Hank?" she became focused. "What time is it?"

"Dawn," he informed her. "I just wanted t' tell ya I'm leavin' now."

"Leaving?" she was uncertain.

"I'm goin' t' Manitou with Sully," he stated.

"How can he travel?" she was puzzled.

"I didn't tell ya, he got his vision back yesterday," Hank revealed.

"Good," she leaned her head back against the pillow again.

"Colleen's gonna check on ya later," he assured. "I.... I'll see ya."

She did not respond. Hank secured the blanket around her, then quietly slipped from the room.

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

"Michaela," Sully whispered. "I'm leavin' now."

"Wha-?" she struggled to open her eyes. "It can't be morning already."

"'Fraid so," he drew back a lock of hair from her face. "I gotta be goin'."

"Did you eat anything?" she inquired.

"I'll get somethin' at Grace's before we head over t' Manitou," he assured.

"Oh, Sully, please be careful," she drew him closer and kissed him.

"I will," he pledged as he caressed her temple.

"Try to avoid bright sunlight," she was concerned about his eyes.

"I will," he nodded.

After another lingering kiss, he stepped to the cradle and lightly touched Hope's sleeping form. Then with a smile, he left them.

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

Grace grinned when she saw Sully arrive, "Praise the Lord, it's true."

He smiled, "Hey, Grace."

"How's Dr. Mike?" she queried.

"She's healin'," he replied. "She's not supposed t' do too much, but you know Michaela."

"And little Hope?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Real good," his face lit up.

She poured him a cup of coffee, "What can I get ya?"

"Eggs, bacon an' biscuit, please," he requested.

"I just made the biscuits," she informed him.

Hank neared them.

"Here comes trouble," she frowned.

"I'm meetin' him," Sully informed her.

"Then that's trouble for you, too," she retorted.

"'Mornin', Grace," Hank sat opposite Sully.

She filled a cup of coffee for him, "You hungry, too?"

"Pancakes," he nodded.

When Grace departed, Sully leaned forward, "I been thinkin' about the way t' catch this man."

"I'd rather kill him than catch him," Hank frowned.

"That ain't why I'm helpin' ya," Sully countered.

"What's your plan?" the sheriff waited.

"First we go see Sheriff Nash," Sully detailed. "We learn what we can about this man. He's probably committed more crimes. The more we know about him, the easier t' trick him."

"Trick him?" Hank was uncertain.

"Set up a situation where he can attack a victim, but we'll be watchin' an' waitin' for him," he explained.

"Who we gonna use for a victim?" Hank questioned.

"Me," Sully pointed to himself.

"Can't take that chance," he shook his head. "Michaela would have my head if you got hurt again. We'll use me."

"Suit yourself," Sully agreed.

At that moment, Matthew approached, "Mornin'."

"You're up kinda early," Hank looked at him. "Ain't the Mrs. satisfyin' ya?"

"Watch it, Hank," Matthew was not amused. "I'm up 'cause I'm goin' with ya."

"Goin' with us?" the sheriff tilted his head. "What makes ya think we're goin' someplace?"

"Ma told me last night," Matthew noted.

Hank turned to Sully, "Does she ever keep quiet?"

Grace arrived with their meals, "Here ya are. What can I get ya, Matthew?"

"I already ate," he tipped his hat. "Just coffee, thanks."

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

"Your incision is healing nicely, Ma," Colleen assessed.

"It still hurts a bit to walk, but that's normal," Michaela knew. "The twins are too young to understand that I can't lift them, and Noah, in particular, has been so difficult around the baby."

Colleen smiled, "I seem to recall Josef was that way when the twins were born."

"And Katie when Josef came along," Michaela sighed.

She noticed her daughter's happy demeanor.

"It's nice to see you in such good spirits," Michaela commented. "Might Lewis have something to do with that?"

"I was glad to see him again," she agreed. "We're having lunch at the Chateau."

Michaela studied her daughter's expression, "He didn't say how long he'd be staying in Colorado Springs."

"I know," Colleen nodded. "I think he needed to get away from the pressures of Mr. Edison's laboratory."

"I see," she responded.

"I forgot to tell you I spoke with Dr. Cassidy yesterday," Colleen commented. "I found out the real reason he wants to work at your hospital."

"Real reason?" Michaela wondered.

"He lost his clinic in Denver because of gambling debts," she revealed.

"More horse racing, no doubt," Michaela rolled her eyes.

"I don't trust him, Ma," Colleen advised.

"We have to give him a chance," she replied.

"Are you giving him this opportunity because of what he did when you were expecting Katie?" Colleen posed the question.

"He saved me from having a miscarriage," Michaela nodded. "I owe him for that."

"Still, I'm going to keep a close eye on him," the young woman stated. "Before I go, I wanted to discuss a patient with you."

"Oh?" Michaela anticipated. "Who?"

"Lexie," she answered. "She is experiencing nightmares.... anxiety.... and she's been drinking heavily."

"I wish I could speak with her," Michaela lamented.

"Maybe I could bring her over here," Colleen offered.

"Perhaps on the pretext of seeing the baby?" she suggested.

Colleen smiled, "That's no pretext. Everyone wants to see her."

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

"Mr. Sully," Sheriff Nash greeted. "I'm glad you can see again."

"Thanks," Sully shook his hand.

"Did your wife have the baby?" he queried.

"Yep," he grinned. "A little girl."

"Congratulations," Nash returned. "Good t' see you, too, Hank, Matthew."

They exchanged greetings, then sat down in the sheriff's office.

Hank began, "You got any leads on the man who robbed Sully?"

"No," he sighed. "But we've had two more robberies near the depot since then. I even put a deputy over there t' watch out for folks."

"We got reason t' believe he attacked a woman near Colorado Springs," Hank revealed.

"What makes ya think it's the same man?" Nash was curious.

"The woman grabbed a watch out o' his pocket," Hank explained. "Turned out t' be the one stolen from Sully. I got a description from her, too. He's about six feet tall an' wears a buckskin jacket with some fringe missin' off the left sleeve."

"A couple of women have been attacked around here, too, but I didn't think it was related to the robbery," Nash pondered.

"What are the dates of the attacks?" Matthew inquired.

"Dates?" Nash sifted through some papers on his desk. "Here's the reports I took on all the attacks since Sully's."

Matthew studied them, "Looks like he's been commttin' a crime about every two or three days, an' the last one was three days ago."

"So he might strike again t'night," Hank reasoned.

"The robbery victims have all been folks who started out at the Depot," Nash rubbed his chin.

"Looks t' me like he's been alternatin' between robbin' men an' attackin' women," Matthew considered. "If that holds true, he's due t' commit a robbery."

"Then t'night we set a trap," Sully stated.

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

Colleen approached her mother as she nursed the baby near the living room fireplace.

"Ma?" she spoke low. "I brought Lexie."

"Come in, please," Michaela saw her at the door. "It's a rare moment of quiet. The twins are napping, and Josef went with Brian to The Gazette."

Bridget came up behind her, "Can I take your wrap, Lexie?"

Lexie clung to her shawl, "Uh.... no, thanks."

Michaela offered, "Would you like a cup of tea?"

"No," Lexie shook her head. "I really didn't want to come here, Dr. Mike. But Colleen said it might be good for me."

Michaela buttoned her blouse and held the sleeping baby for her to see, "I'd like to introduce Hope Lauren Sully."

Tears welled in Lexie's eyes, "She's darling. Congratulations."

"Thank you," Michaela gestured. "Please sit down. I'd like to talk with you."

"I.... I don't know," Lexie hesitated.

"I'm meeting Lewis for lunch now," Colleen smiled at Lexie. "I'd be relieved if you'd keep Ma company for me."

Lexie took a deep breath, then sat beside Michaela. For several minutes, not a word was exchanged. The ticking of the mantel clock was the only sound.

Then Michaela took the initiative, "How are you feeling? I know this hasn't been easy for you."

She tensed, "You couldn't possibly know what this is like."

"Not exactly," Michaela spoke softly. "But I came very close."

"You did?" Lexie was interested.

Michaela remembered the terrifying day, "Josef was a baby. Sully and I had gone to warn the Cheyenne of a government ultimatum. On our way home, we were...."

She stopped, the memory becoming painful.

"What happened?" Lexie was curious.

************
Chapter 15
************

Michaela resumed slowly, "A man came to our camp. He tied Sully to a tree. Then he began to...."

Again she stopped.

"How long did it take before the smell of him went away?" Lexie empathized.

Michaela replied, "A long time. If Sully hadn't freed himself and stopped him.... Oh, Lexie, I'm so sorry this happened to you."

Lexie expressed her torment, "I feel so helpless, so violated. If only I wouldn't have opened the door. If only I would have fought harder...."

Michaela touched her hand, "This isn't your fault."

She frowned, "How many other women will this monster violate?"

Michaela noted, "Hank and Sully will find him."

"It was nice of Sully to go with him," she mentioned.

Michaela informed her, "He has a reason to want this man behind bars, too. It's the same man who attacked him in Manitou."

"How do you know?" Lexie was puzzled.

"The watch you took from your attacker belonged to Sully," she revealed.

"Oh, God," Lexie trembled. "If they catch him, I'll have to testify against him. I don't even want to look at that bastard again."

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

Andrew spotted Colleen as she entered the Chateau dining room, and he approached her.

"Hello," he smiled. "I thought you were on call at the hospital today."

"No, Dr. Cassidy is," she suddenly felt uncomfortable. "I thought you were going to Denver today."

"No," he shrugged. "I changed my mind."

"Oh," she felt awkward.

"Is something wrong?" Andrew noticed.

"Wrong?" she fidgeted with her purse. "Uh.... no."

"Colleen," his brow wrinkled. "What is it?"

She decided to be honest, "I'm meeting someone for lunch."

He accepted, "Well, that's nice. Who is it?"

"You don't know him," she replied.

"Him?" he folded his arms.

"Lewis Bing," she informed him. "He's Horace's nephew. We knew each other as children.... teenagers, really."

His tension eased, "Well, I'd love to meet him."

"I don't know if...." she stopped when she saw Lewis approaching.

"Hello, Colleen," Lewis grinned.

"Ah, Lewis...." she gestured. "I'd like for you to meet my husband.... er.... ex-husband, Andrew Cook."

Lewis extended his hand, "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"And you," Andrew shook his hand.

"Are you joining us for lunch?" Lewis innocently questioned.

Andrew glared at Colleen, "No.... I'm going to the hospital. Enjoy your lunch."

"Thank you," Colleen watched him depart.

"He seems in a hurry," Lewis observed. "I hope it's not an emergency."

"No, it's not," Colleen knew.

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

"This tea will help you sleep," Michaela handed Lexie a container with dried leaves. "And you're welcome to stay with us until you feel more comfortable. Perhaps if you're around people....."

"No, thank you, Dr. Mike," she shook her head. "The truth is, I don't want to be around anyone.... not even Hank.... especially Hank."

"He wants to help you," Michaela knew.

"He doesn't know how," she sighed. "And neither do I. How did you and Sully.... get through that time?"

Michaela recalled, "Sully was very patient and understanding. Eventually, I felt I could trust again."

"I don't know if I can," Lexie shook her head. "Hank even offered to marry me."

"Marry?" her eyes widened.

"He thought that would help me," Lexie revealed. "I don't know what I feel anymore, especially about Hank. He's not the marrying kind."

"Give yourself time to heal without making demands on your emotions," Michaela advised. "And please know that if you need anything, or simply want to talk, I'll be here."

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," Lexie found herself a little more at ease.

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

"It's late," Hank looked out the window. "Everyone know what t' do?"

"Just be careful, Hank," Sully cautioned.

"I will," he stepped from the sheriff's office and headed toward the depot.

When he reached it, he began to sway as if he were drunk.

In a loud voice, he slurred, "Who the hell knows where I can find some gamblin' around here?"

One of the attendants from the train pointed, "Over that way, sir. There's a saloon."

"Good," Hank patted his pocket. "I got a paycheck here I'm bettin' I can double."

Sully positioned himself nearby and rolled his eyes at the poor acting job Hank was doing. Stealthily, he followed Hank as he turned down the alleyway. Wolf began to growl. Sully puckered his lips and blew the call of an owl.

Hank became more alert as he staggered down the dark alley. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something.

A stranger approached, "Got a match?"

Hank ducked just in time to miss the initial swing of the man's fist. Swiftly, Hank pivoted and threw a punch to his midsection. In an instant, Sully, Nash and Matthew converged, but the attacker drew a knife and plunged it toward Hank. In the dark, Sully struggled to focus. He caught the gleam of the blade and raised his arm to block it. The knife cut into his arm.

"Sully!" Matthew went to his aid.

Wolf lunged for the assailant. The man kicked the animal back, then took off down the alleyway. Hank drew his gun and fired. He missed. The attacker was getting away. Hank focused all of his energy and concentrated. He fired again. The man fell to the ground.

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

The hour was late. Michaela was exhausted, but the baby was whimpering and in need of her attention. As she rocked the infant, she heard light footsteps in the hallway and wondered which of the children had risen.

"Mama," it was Noah.

"Come in, my darling," she invited.

He scampered to the rocking chair and hoisted himself up to sit beside his mother. At first, he frowned at the baby. Then Michaela noticed a change in her son.

"I kiss baby?" he asked.

"Kiss her?" Michaela was surprised. "Of course."

She tilted the infant lower for her brother. Sweetly, Noah placed his lips on Hope's forehead.

Michaela looked on with wonder as the newborn began to calm.

"Thank you, Noah," Michaela caressed his hair.

"I love," he smiled.

Michaela marveled at how much the little boy looked like his father, even down to Sully's dimpled grin.

"Hope loves you, too," she touched his nose.

"I good?" he pointed to himself.

"Very good," her heart filled.

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

"It's nothin'," Sully held his arm still for the doctor.

"A few stitches won't hurt," Dr. Ford continued.

"Ya saved my life," Hank commended.

"Mr. Sully," Dr. Ford remarked deadpan. "Do you think you could avoid getting hurt the next time you come to Manitou?"

Sully chuckled, "I'll try."

Sheriff Nash entered the room, "He just died."

"Good," Hank drew a flask from his pocket.

"He told me his name.... Zeb Oakley, an' I went through his things," Nash set them on the table. "Here's your money, Mr. Sully."

"My money?" he was surprised.

Nash nodded, "Still inside the government envelope. He hadn't even opened it."

Matthew looked through the papers, "There's some letters here from his wife. Looks like she left him for another man. Took their life's savin's, too."

"Keep your wound clean, Mr. Sully," Ford finished bandaging it.

He stood down from the examining table, "I got a doctor back home who'll make sure it stays clean."

Ford chuckled, "That's right. You do."

"You ready t' go home, Matthew?" Sully asked.

"Yep," he nodded. "What about you, Hank?"

He took another swig from his whiskey container, "I guess."

Sully paid the physician, and they said their goodbyes to the sheriff. When the sun rose, they began their journey homeward. Hank was silent as they rode along.

"Thinkin' about Lexie?" Sully assumed.

"No," he denied.

"Ya gotta be patient, Hank," Sully counseled.

"I thought it would feel better when that bastard was dead," he took a swig of liquor from his flask.

"You ain't gonna feel better 'til Lexie feels better," Sully affirmed.

"Why the hell do I even care?" Hank questioned.

"It's called love," Matthew contributed.

"Well, life's a lot better without it," he frowned.

"No, it ain't," Sully spoke up. "It's empty an' cold. Ya got no one who cares who ya are or where ya go."

"Just the way I like it," Hank nodded.

Matthew challenged, "So are ya gonna desert her then?"

Hank replied, "She says she don't need me or want me around."

"That's the hurt talkin'," Sully said. "Ya gotta give her time."

He questioned, "What if I don't wanna be bothered with her?"

Matthew responded, "You wouldn't have risked your life t' find her attacker if that was true."

"You two got all the answers, don't ya?" Hank shot back.

"Why you fightin' your feelin's so much?" Sully challenged. "Don't ya know what ya got?"

"I can have any woman I want," he pointed out.

"Then what?" Sully queried. "You're alone again. When a woman loves ya, you're never alone. Even when you're apart, that love's right here."

He gestured toward his heart.

"Just shut up," Hank touched his heels to his horse's flanks to speed up.

Matthew sighed, "I guess he'll never change."

"He's changed more than ya know," Sully assessed. "That's why he's scared."

"Hank's scared?" he was surprised.

"Yep," Sully nodded.

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

The shops and stores of Colorado Springs were opening as the trio arrived home. Hank went straight into the Gold Nugget. Matthew headed off to see Emma, but Sully walked toward the Mercantile.

Loren looked up when he entered, "Sully!"

"Hey, Loren," he shook his hand.

"Brian said ya got your sight back," he grinned. "I'm real happy for ya."

"Thanks," Sully rubbed his upper lip.

"So, ya can see the baby now," he broached the subject.

"I've seen her," he nodded.

Loren studied his expression.

Sully swallowed hard, "I noticed the resemblance, too."

"It's God's way, Sully," he felt a tear trickle down his cheek. "We got Hannah."

"No," Sully interjected. "It ain't right t' think of Hope like that."

"But ya can't deny she looks like Hannah," he insisted.

"I don't deny it," Sully agreed. "But I'm not gonna do this t' my little girl. I'm not gonna look at her as the child I lost."

"Does Dr. Mike know?" Loren queried.

"Yea," Sully admitted.

"What does she think?" he was curious.

"It bothers her," Sully confessed. "An' I'm not gonna do that t' her either."

"No, it wouldn't be right t' upset Dr. Mike," Loren sympathized.

"You think you could help me pick out a couple gifts?" Sully withdrew the envelope from his pocket.

"Gifts!" Loren's eyes lit up. "I got gifts galore!"

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

Matthew entered the old Clinic. He knew Emma would be busy at her sewing, and he was anxious to tell her what had happened in Manitou.

She heard him bound up the steps, "Matthew!"

Embracing her, he kissed her, "Glad to see me?"

"Of course, I am," she toyed with the hair at the base of his neck. "How did it go?"

"We set a trap for the man an' caught him," he summarized.

"Thank God," she closed her eyes.

"Hank killed him when he tried t' get away," Matthew informed her.

"I know it isn't right, but I'm glad," she confessed. "After what he did to Sully and to Lexie...."

"I'm kinda tired," he told her. "Think you might close up for a while an' come home with me?"

She noticed the gleam in his eyes, "We are still newlyweds."

"Just what I was thinkin'," he grinned.

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

Lewis sat beside Samantha at the Cafe, "So do you understand now?"

"No," Samantha shook her head. "But I like when you explain stuff."

He chuckled. Then he saw Colleen approach.

"Colleen!" Samantha's face brightened. "Come sit with us. Mama and Papa are working, and Lewis is spending the day with me. There's no school because Mrs. Slicker and Mrs. Johnson are in Denver."

"I see," she joined them.

"You're welcome to spend the day with us, too," Lewis invited.

"What are your plans?" Colleen smiled at the little girl.

"We're taking a picnic lunch up to Cryer's Hill," Samantha began. "Then we're going to look at all the different plant and animal varieties."

"Sounds like fun," Colleen agreed.

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

With some parcels under his arm, Sully crossed the street and headed for the Church. As he neared the structure, he paused to glance at the cemetery nearby. Hesitating at first, he pivoted and stepped toward the graves of his deceased wife and child.

He knelt down and touched the small cross above her grave, "Hannah.... I just wanna say.... how much I love ya."

He felt a slight breeze caress his cheek.

He touched his fist to his heart, "I'll always hold ya right here. You an' your Ma."

Then he turned to face Abigail's grave.

"There was a time when I didn't wanna go on without ya," he felt a lump in his throat. "But lovin' you.... knowin' how much ya sacrificed for me.... it makes me appreciate my life all the more now. I just want ya t' know.... I haven't forgotten. I'll never forget ya."

The Reverend's voice startled him, "Speaking to our departed loved ones can be a tremendous comfort, particularly in times of trouble."

"Hey, Reverend," Sully stood up. "I was comin' t' see ya."

"I heard your vision has returned," he smiled. "God has heard our prayers."

"I was thinkin' about when ya came t' visit me at the homestead," Sully mentioned. "Ya offered your prayers an' help, an' now I wanna help you."

"Help me?" he was puzzled. "How?"

"That school for the deaf an' blind children," Sully said. "I'm gonna build it for ya."

"Build it for me?" he was stunned.

"You just tell me what ya need," Sully put his hand on his shoulder.

"Sully, this is wonderful news," he grinned.

"Maybe you an' me could meet real soon t' discuss it?" Sully suggested.

"Yes," the minister consented. "Let's do that."

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

When Sully entered the homestead, he was instantly surrounded by his children.

"Poppy!" Katie spoke first. "We're helpin' Miss Bridget bake my birthday cake. I wasn't sure if you'd be home in time."

"Wouldn't miss your birthday, Kates," he kissed her.

Annie extended her arms, "Up, Papa."

Sully lifted her and kissed her cheek.

"What happened t' your arm?" Josef noted the bandage.

"Got a cut," he dismissed it. "How's Michaela?"

Bridget gestured, "She's upstairs with the babe. Poor darlin's been up most of the night."

Sully noticed one of the children missing, "Where's Noah?"

"He's with his Ma," she gestured. "All right, you leprechauns, this flour needs some more siftin'. Ya think we can get more in the bowl than on the floor this time?"

Sully smiled and went up the steps. He paused at the doorway, when he saw Michaela prone on the bed. Noah was beside her, his back tucked against his mother.

Quietly, he set one package on his chest of drawers and the other in his night stand drawer. Then he approached his wife.

************
Chapter 16
************

"Sully?" Michaela sensed his presence. "How did it go?"

He leaned down to kiss her, "We caught him."

"Your arm," she noticed.

"Needed a few stitches," he kissed her again. "I'm all right."

He went to the cradle to gaze down on the baby, "Bridget said you were up most of the night with her."

"Noah helped me," she caressed the little boy's hair. "Whatever you said to our son, Mr. Sully, has certainly changed him."

"He helped ya?" Sully grinned.

"He kissed her, shook the rattle for her, helped me with diapering her," Michaela recounted. "And he hasn't left my side since you went to Manitou."

Sully lifted the sleeping toddler, "I'll take him int' his room so you can get some rest."

Noah did not waken as his father settled him into bed. Then Sully returned to his own room and closed the door.

"What's that?" she spotted the package.

"Gift for Katie's birthday," he told her. "T' go with the doll you got her."

"I'm afraid I'm not up for a big party this year," she regretted.

"Katie understands," he lightly touched her belly. "How's it feel?"

"Still sore," she felt a tear.

"What's this?" he touched the moisture on her cheeks.

"I don't know," her voice trembled.

"I do," he slid his arm beneath her shoulders. "You're tired."

"All I do is feed the baby...." her emotions overcame her.

"Feedin' her's the most important thing right now," he assured. "Plus, you feelin' better. I'll help as much as I can, Michaela."

"Oh, Sully, how do you put up with me?" she tilted her head against his.

"Put up with ya?" he smiled. "After all you've given me?"

She caressed his cheek, "Would you like to tell me what happened to your arm now?"

"I got int' a little tussle, an' Doc Ford put some stitches in it," he returned. "I was hopin' you could check on it once in a while."

She started to sit up.

"Not now," he gently stopped her.

"The tussle.... was it with your attacker?" she noticed he was avoiding the topic.

"He's dead," he stated simply.

Michaela dared not ask if he was the one to kill the man. She did not want to know. But then she studied his expression, the tenderness and love in his eyes. At that moment, she knew her husband had not been the one to kill him.

She changed the subject, "When did you have time to pick up that gift, and how did you pay for it?"

"We recovered my stolen money," he answered. "An' I stopped by the Mercantile before comin' home. I went over t' see the Reverend, too. I'm gonna build him a school for deaf an' blind children."

"Sully!" she filled with pride. "What prompted that?'

"He mentioned wantin' t' do this when he came t' visit me after he found out I was blind," Sully explained.

"I know just where you can build it," she considered. "There is some acreage near the hospital. It would be perfect. I'll donate the land. It's the least I can do."

He leaned closer to kiss her, "That's real generous."

"I think I'm getting sleepy," she snuggled closer.

He stroked her temple and felt her body relax. Soon she was asleep.

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

"This was the best day I can remember in a long time," Samantha informed Lewis and Colleen.

"I think so, too," Colleen smiled. "I never knew there were so many varieties of plants up there."

"Would you like to join us for dinner?" Lewis eyed Colleen.

"I would, but I promised another little girl I'd be home for her birthday," she told him.

"Katie's birthday!" Samantha remembered. "Isn't she having a party?"

"Not this year," Colleen noted. "But we have much to celebrate."

"Maybe I'll see you tomorrow?" Lewis gazed at her.

"I'd like that," Colleen blushed. "Thanks again. I had a wonderful time."

As they watched her mount her horse, Samantha turned to her cousin, "Are you sweet on her?"

"I always have been," his eyes continued to follow Colleen out of sight.

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

"Lexie?" Hank knocked on the door of her ranch.

To his surprise, she opened it and stepped back to invite him in, "Hello, Hank."

He paused awkwardly.

"So, how was your trip?" she asked absently.

"We.... took care o' him," he was vague.

"Took care of him?" she tensed.

"He won't bother you or anyone else ever again," Hank stated.

His words began to sink in, "He's dead?"

Hank stepped toward her, sensing she was faltering, "Yea."

Lexie leaned her head against his shoulder, then began to weep. He stroked her back as she finally released the tears she had kept inside.... tears for the guilt and for loss she felt.

As he enfolded her in his arms, Hank thought about Sully's words on their trip home. When a woman loves ya, you're never alone.

"You ain't alone, Lexie," he whispered.

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

Katie blew out the nine candles on her cake, and everyone applauded. The little girl then helped Bridget cut the confection.

She handed the first piece to her mother, then Sully. With their piece, the twins soon had icing all over their faces. Laughter filled the home until finally, fatigue began to claim them. After tucking in their other children for the night, Michaela and Sully sat on Katie's bed.

"I love my doll," the little girl placed it beside her. "And I love the bracelet with the tree charm on it, Poppy."

She held up her wrist which donned the jewelry.

"You know why it has a tree?" he smiled.

"Because Mama had me under a tree?" she assumed.

"Right," he leaned closer to kiss her.

Katie read the inscription on the back of the charm, "Katherine Elizabeth Sully. May 18, 1871."

"It was a great day," Sully grinned.

"One we'll never forget," Michaela added. "For on that day we were blessed with a beautiful little girl."

"We got lots of little girls now," Katie pointed out.

"Nothin' can take away how special our first one is," Sully smiled.

"You always make me feel special," the little girl complimented.

Michaela kissed her, "I'm afraid I must go to bed now, Sweetheart. I love you. Happy birthday."

"Thanks, Mama," she clasped her hand. "I love you, too. Thanks for havin' me."

"It was my supreme pleasure," Michaela smiled down on her.

Katie watched her mother depart. "Is she okay, Poppy?"

"She'll be fine, Kates," he assured. "It's just Hope takes up so much of her time an' energy right now."

"Colleen said they had t' cut the baby out of her," the child's brow wrinkled.

"Hope couldn't be delivered like you kids were," he explained.

"So Mama's gonna have a scar like me?" Katie remembered.

"Kinda like where ya got your spleen removed," he nodded.

"That took a long time t' heal," she recalled. "Maybe you better go help Mama then."

"I will," he linked his fingers in hers. "You upset that we didn't have a party?"

"We had just enough people here," Katie told him.

"Good night, my sweet girl," he kissed her. "I love you."

"I love you, Poppy," she curled up closer to her doll.

Sully lowered the lamp, and for an instant in the darkness, he thought about his blindness. Then down the hallway he caught glimpse of the light reflecting from his own bedroom, like a beacon to guide him.

When he entered the room, Michaela was in bed feeding the baby. He closed the door and added two logs to the fire. Removing his shirt, he shaved and washed up. By the time he finished, Michaela had nodded off. He gently lifted the baby from her.

Holding his new daughter brought back memories of the first time he had held Katie, nine years ago to the day. He cherished the fact that he had brought her into the world. Then it occurred to him that Hope was the first of their children whom he had not delivered. He raised the little one to his lips and kissed her.

"'Night, Hope," he whispered. "I love you."

He settled her into her cradle, then drew back the covers to slide next to Michaela. She moved slightly to tuck her form to his. He kissed her shoulder, then joined her in slumber.

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

"Good night, Lexie," Hank drew her covers higher.

"Don't leave me," she clasped his hand. "Please stay with me."

"You sure?" he questioned.

"Yes," she implored. "I want to feel safe tonight."

Hank loosened his gun belt and set it aside. Then he removed his boots. Sitting on the edge of her bed, he drew Lexie close. Next he settled back against the pillows, still enfolding her in his arms.

"I love you," he whispered.

She had fallen asleep.

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

Two days later, Sully showed up at the church bright and early to meet with the Reverend. As they talked, Sully sketched the plans for a school to be comprised of several buildings made of wood. He would fence in the grounds to prevent the children from wandering off.

The Reverend pondered, "Now, all we have to do is figure out where to build it."

"How about near the hospital?" Sully suggested. "Michaela has offered t' donate the land."

"Donate?" the minister was delighted. "I was just thinking about how to raise the money to buy it."

"Nope," Sully patted his back. "Looks like it's settled then."

"I don't know how to thank you," Reverend Johnson grinned.

"There is a way," Sully stated.

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

"An' Sully wants us t' keep the kids t'night," Matthew informed Emma.

"Keep them here?" her eyes widened. "Matthew we only have one spare bed.

"They can all sleep in it," he shrugged. "I used t' share a bed with Brian an' Colleen when we were little. It'll be fun for them."

"I guess if you've already told him it's okay...." she did not sound pleased.

"It's their tenth weddin' anniversary," he grinned.

"I just hope the alterations on Dr. Mike's gown were enough," she put her hands on her hips.

"Come on, Sully wants us at the homestead by four o'clock," he took her hand.

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

Michaela awoke from her nap and wondered why Sully had not returned from town. After saying that he was going to be around to help her with the baby, he had certainly made himself scarce today.

"Mama," Katie entered her bedroom. "I was... uh... wonderin' somethin'."

"What?" she focused on her daughter. "Why are you wearing your nicest dress?"

Bridget arrived in the room, "That's my fault, Dr. Mike. She wanted t' get dressed up for dinner."

"You're dressed up, too," Michaela noticed. "What's going on here?"

"Do you think you can put on your wedding gown?" Katie requested.

"Put on my wedding gown?" Michaela was taken aback. "Certainly not with the figure I have now."

"Please try it?" Katie persisted.

"Why?" Michaela became suspicious.

"Poppy told me how beautiful you looked in it, an' I wanted to see for myself," the little girl stated.

Michaela took a deep breath and checked on Hope. With the baby asleep, she went to her armoire. Pulling aside the other dresses hanging in it, she reached for her gown.

Katie's eyes widened, "It's the prettiest dress I've ever seen."

"Colleen wore it for her wedding, too," Michaela reminded. "And I had it on when your father and I renewed our vows five years ago."

"I was too young to remember," Katie informed her.

"Very well," Michaela sighed. "I'll put it on if you'll help me with it."

Bridget and Katie assisted her with the lacings and buttons. To Michaela's amazement, the gown was a perfect fit on her.

"I don't understand," she was puzzled. "This shouldn't fit me."

"You must not be as big as ya thought," Bridget reasoned.

Katie smiled broadly, "Let's go show Poppy."

"When did your father get home?" Michaela was curious.

"A little while ago," the child answered.

Taking her mother by the hand, Katie led her down the steps. When she reached the first floor, she heard people yell, "Surprise!"

"What?" Michaela was stunned.

There stood the Reverend, Dorothy, Loren, Cloud Dancing, Robert E and Grace, Jake and Teresa, Horace and Myra, along with many other townsfolk.

"What's going on?" Michaela was clueless.

"It's your weddin' anniversary," Grace announced. "Or did ya forget?"

"But.... I...." Michaela looked around the room. "Where's Sully?"

"It's bad luck t' see the groom before the ceremony," Dorothy reminded.

"What ceremony?" Michaela was astonished.

"May I escort you down the aisle?" Loren approached and offered his arm.

Jake began to play the wedding march on his concertina. With the help of Matthew and Brian, Noah and Annie tossed flower petals onto the floor in a somewhat haphazard way. Colleen directed Josef and Katie to stand on either side of the Reverend to await the arrival of their parents at the fireplace.

Then Sully and Cloud Dancing stepped from Michaela's office. They donned the Cheyenne ceremonial shirts they had worn ten years earlier for the wedding. Dorothy preceded Michaela down the short, makeshift aisle. Then Loren guided Michaela forward. Sully winked at his wife before stepping toward the fireplace. The closer Michaela got to him, the more her eyes welled with tears.

When she reached him, Sully took her arm and whispered, "Surprise."

"Oh, Sully," she was overcome.

The song concluded, and Reverend Johnson began, "Dearly beloved...."

At that moment, a mighty wail erupted from upstairs.

"Hope!" Michaela's body reacted to the baby's voice.

"I'll get her, darlin'," Bridget rushed up the steps.

The Reverend continued, "We are gathered here today...."

Suddenly overcome by the need to feed her baby, Michaela whispered urgently to Sully, "I can't do this right now."

Sully's face paled as he announced, "Excuse us for a few minutes, folks."

He guided his wife into her office and closed the door.

"Sully," Michaela attempted to reach around to undo her dress. "Please help me. I can't turn."

At that moment, Bridget arrived with the crying infant. Josef stood at the door hoping to find out what was causing the delay.

Meanwhile, Sully fumbled to loosen Michaela's top.

"I feel like I'm going to burst," Michaela's voice trembled.

"Take it easy," Sully assured. "I'm doin' the best I can."

In spite of Bridget's attention, the baby's sobbing did not relent.

"This is most embarrassing," Michaela became more frantic.

************
Chapter 17
************

"Got it," Sully was able to remove Michaela's bodice.

Finally, she sat in her cushioned chair and held out her arms for Hope. Bridget placed the infant in her mother's lap, while Sully covered Michaela with the shawl from the back of her chair so that she could nurse the baby in privacy.

In the living room, the guests began to talk among themselves.

"What's goin' on in there?" Horace was perplexed.

Myra elbowed him, "She's gotta feed the baby, Horace."

A sitting Josef leaned on his elbows near the closed door to his mother's office, "That baby's nothin' but twouble."

"Shhh, Joey," Katie scolded. "Hope can't help it if she's hungry."

"We oughta feed her somethin' besides what Mama has," the little boy reasoned.

"She's too little," Colleen knelt beside them.

"Good thing Hank ain't here," Jake joked. "He'd have a word or two about it."

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

Hank finished pounding the last nail into the section of fence in need of repair. Lexie watched him from her window. She felt a surge of love for him. He had stayed with her since his return from Manitou. He had gently held her and wiped her tears when she was overcome by her emotions.

His chest glistened with perspiration. She poured some water for him and stepped outside to take the glass to him.

"I thought you could use this," she handed him the beverage.

"Thanks," he wiped his brow.

He swallowed the water in only a few gulps.

"I'll get you some more," she offered.

"No," he drew her back. "Thanks."

Lexie did not pull away.

"You feelin' okay?" he hoped.

"Not too bad," she qualified. "I think having you here has helped."

"Good," he grinned.

"Would you rather be at Dr. Mike's wedding renewal?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Nah," he shrugged. "I was around for the first one. That was entertainin' enough for me.... 'specially when Custer showed up."

"Custer came to their wedding?" she was incredulous.

"Michaela's mother invited him," Hank chuckled. "He didn't stay long. He had.... a splittin' headache."

"From the way you say it, it sounds like he was hit over the head," she interpreted.

"You're gettin' good at knowin' how I think," he smiled.

"I'm not sure that's a good thing," Lexie considered.

Their eyes met. He wanted to kiss her but held back.

Lexie felt her body react to the nearness of him. She wanted to kiss him but held back.

Hank cleared his throat, "Got anythin' else that needs mendin'?"

"Just my heart," she reached for his hand.

Hank linked his fingers in hers, "I ain't sure I can help ya there."

"Just you being here helps," she squeezed his hand. "Thank you, Hank."

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

Michaela sighed in relief, "She's finally full."

"I'll change her diaper while ya get dressed again, lass," Bridget offered.

Sully grinned, "It's never borin' marryin' you, Michaela Quinn."

Michaela was terse with him, "I wish you would have told me what you were planning."

Sully began to lace up her top, "You had enough on your mind."

Michaela raised her voice, "Not the least of which was where you were all day."

Sully's volume rose, as well, "I was arrangin' all o' this."

She put her hands on her hips, uncomfortable at his tugging on her gown, "That's too tight."

With tension in the air, Bridget felt a retreat was in order, "I'll take the babe back upstairs."

"There," Sully finally finished. "You're done up again."

Michaela sat down and placed her hand on her abdomen.

His anger melted, "You okay?"

"Yes," she sounded otherwise.

"Michaela," he knelt down before her. "If you ain't up t' this, I'll send everyone home. They'll understand."

She reached out and tenderly touched his cheek with her hand, "I'm sorry, Sully. Just give me a moment to compose myself. This has all been quite overwhelming."

He smiled, "While I'm down here, I might as well ask."

"Ask what?" she was unsure.

"Michaela, would you marry me?" he raised her hand to his lips.

"Again?" she ran her finger along the line of his jaw.

"Again an' again," he grinned.

"Yes," her voice choked. "I'll marry you."

"Good," he stood up. "For a minute there, I was kinda worried. Think you could give me your weddin' ring?"

"So you can put it on me again?" she assumed.

"Yep," he helped her up and into his arms.

With their close proximity, he found her irresistible. They kissed.

"It's bad luck for us to do this before the wedding," she reminded.

"Come on then," he guided her toward the door. "So we can do it after the weddin'."

When the door opened, all heads turned to look.

"You finished in there?" Josef questioned.

"I'm ready," Michaela took a deep breath.

The ceremony began again. When the Reverend had completed his words, Sully placed Michaela's ring on her finger.

Then he spoke, "Ten years ago, I had no idea what my future would hold. I only knew I loved this doctor, who cared about folks an' said she'd have me. Since then, I've been fallin' in love with her all over again every day. We've been through some rough times. But never, in all our years, did we lose sight of what's important, lovin' each other. We been blessed with some little ones, an' one got kinda impatient not too long ago, as ya know."

Their family and friends chuckled.

Sully peered into his wife's eyes, "Michaela, I once told you I'd love you all my days. The truth is, my days wouldn't exist without you. You've made every day I been with ya better than the one before. When I was broken, battered, beatin' an' even blind, the one thing that kept me goin' was your love. I hope you'll keep me around another ten years."

Michaela held his hands before she could speak.

"Come on, Dr. Mike," Jake spoke up. "It ain't like you t' be short on words."

Everyone laughed.

Then Michaela began, "Emerson once wrote, 'Give all to love.' As an admirer of his writings in my youth, I could only understand the words on a purely philosophical level. Then I met you, Byron Sully. You taught me to not ignore the stirrings of my heart. I put my trust and faith in you, and you have never let me down. You carry my heart and my soul, and sometimes, you know me better than I know myself."

"Are they married yet?" Josef whispered to his sister.

"They never stopped bein' married, Joey," she kept her voice low.

"Then why are we here?" he frowned.

"Shhh," Katie held her finger to her lips to quiet him.

Sully touched the tear which trickled down Michaela's cheek.

She continued, "There is something I've been meaning to tell you for a long time."

"What's that?" Sully anticipated.

"I will love you all of my days, too," she leaned closer to kiss him.

Reverend Johnson raised his hand, "Well, this time they kissed before I could say, 'I now pronounce you husband and wife. Amen.'"

"Amen," Josef repeated. "Let's eat."

Sully guided Michaela to rest in one of the wing back chairs, as their friends and family stepped forward to offer congratulations. They dined on a catered meal from Grace's, then people began to head home. The children were exhausted from running and dancing. After packing an overnight bag for them, Matthew and Emma loaded them into their wagon and departed for town.

"I'll be on my way, too," Bridget embraced Michaela. "I'm spendin' the night at the Chateau with Dr. Colleen."

"Thank you for everything, Bridget," she smiled.

"Don't you two get too frisky t'night," there was a twinkle in the nanny's eye.

Michaela blushed, "Bridget!'

She and Colleen departed.

"I'll see ya in the mornin'," Brian kissed his mother.

"Where are you going?" Michaela wondered.

He informed her, "T' the Indian school. I'm gonna talk with Cloud Dancin'."

"Brian," she grew concerned. "About the Merchant Marines...."

"I'm not gonna do anythin' rash, Ma," he assured. "I gotta get my path figured out."

"I love you," Michaela kissed his cheek.

"I love you, too," the young man smiled.

After embracing Sully, Brian exited.

Michaela sighed, "This was quite an anniversary, Mr. Sully."

"It ain't over yet," he raised an eyebrow.

"Sully," her cheeks reddened further. "We can't...."

He embraced her, "There's other ways we can enjoy the evenin'."

"You seem to have thought of everything," she smiled.

At that moment, they heard the baby crying.

"Almost everything," he shrugged.

Michaela followed her husband up the stairs. Again, she required his assistance in preparing to nurse their daughter. Soon, they worked together to nourish the little one.

Sully looked on with love, "I never dreamed ten years ago, we'd have all this."

"I was so shy and inexperienced, I never dreamed we'd have even one baby," she mused.

"You did real good," he grinned.

"Would you like to hold her now?" Michaela reached for her robe.

"Sure would," he cradled the baby. "She's lookin' at me."

Michaela stepped to the basin to wash up.

Then she hung up her wedding gown, "I must keep this in good condition for when our girls want to wear it one day."

Sully reacted, "I hope you'll still be practicin' medicine then, so ya can give me somethin' t' keep me calm."

Enfolding Hope in his arms, he sat in the rocking chair and was soon joined by his wife.

She linked her arm in his, "I'm sorry we can't be.... well, you know...."

"Intimate?" he touched her blushing cheeks. "Maybe I could tell ya a bedtime story instead."

"A bedtime story?" she pondered. "I'd like that."

After several minutes of rocking, Hope finally drifted off to sleep. Sully rose with the baby and gently kissed her forehead, Then he placed her in the cradle.

Michaela climbed into bed, "May I have my story now?"

"One thing I gotta do first," he went to her nightstand and retrieved the family Bible.

Opening to the page where he had listed the names and birth dates of their children, Sully added:

Hope Lauren Sully. Born April 25, 1880.

He returned the book to its shelf, then joined his wife.

Snuggling closer, he carefully wrapped his arms around her, "Once upon a time...."

"So this is a fantasy?" she interrupted.

"You'll see," he resumed. "Once upon a time, there was a mountain man who fell in love with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen."

"Was she a doctor?" Michaela questioned.

"Now I know where Josef gets it," he teased.

"Gets what?" she feigned ignorance.

"Interruptin' my stories," he pretended to be upset.

"Go on," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"This mountain man swept the woman off her feet," Sully continued. "He took her to his lean-to...."

"I assume they were married," she broke in again.

"'Course they were," his expression was serious. "He knew she was a prim an' proper Bostonian lady."

"And he didn't want to take advantage of her," she added.

"Right," Sully returned. "Anyway, he took her to his lean-to. He told her he wanted to show her his world. So, he spread out a blanket, an' they laid down it t' look up at the stars."

"Did he recite poetry to her?" Michaela relaxed.

Sully eyed her intently as he quoted:

"Thus let me hold thee to my heart,
And every care resign:
And we shall never, never part,
My life--my all that's mine!"

"I assume the woman tried to guess who the poet was," she tilted her head.

"Yep," he stroked her arm. "An' she guessed wrong."

"Was it Oliver Goldsmith?" she ventured.

"How'd you know?" his eyes widened.

"You left your book of poetry open last night," she smiled beguilingly.

"You cheated," he accused.

"What else did they do at the lean-to, beneath the stars?" she anticipated.

"They.... talked," he teased.

"Talked?" she pretended to be surprised.

His breath became raspy, "Their words were lovin' an' stirrin'."

"Stirrin'?" she imitated his pronunciation.

"Yep," he kissed the lobe of her ear.

Michaela tingled, "Sully...."

"I know," he stopped. "Can't blame me for wantin' ya."

"I'm flattered that after ten years of marriage and five children, you could possibly find me desirable," she stroked his hair.

"Well, I do," he confessed. "I reckon that's why we got five children."

"What happened next.... in your fantasy?" she changed the subject.

"Oh," he returned. "That's when the mountain man took her int' his arms and made love t' her all night long."

"Wait a minute," she suddenly thought. "You've told me this story before."

"You remember?" he smiled.

"Last year," her voice choked slightly. "After my miscarriage. You told me how we would spend our tenth anniversary."

He nodded, "An' you told me you'd give me a special gift."

"Sully," her expression grew serious. "I'm afraid I wasn't able to buy you anything...."

"Shhh," he lifted up slightly to glance at the cradle. "I don't want you wakin' up my special gift. I just got her t' sleep."

"You're incredible," she kissed him sweetly.

"Even a year ago, you had a glimmer of hope," he caressed her hair.

"We were so sad last year," she recalled.

He turned to open the drawer of his nightstand, "I got ya somethin'."

"Our renewal ceremony was more than enough, Sully," she protested.

He removed a small package and handed it to his wife, "Happy anniversary."

She unwrapped the paper and opened the box. Inside was a small silver silhouette charm in the shape of a girl. The name "Hope" was engraved on it.

"T' go with the others on your bracelet," he kissed her.

"I think we can squeeze one more onto it," she mused. "It's lovely. Thank you."

"Glad ya like it," he grinned.

She yawned and covered her mouth, "I'm sorry."

"I guess my story wasn't very excitin'," he retorted.

"Your story is the best I have ever heard," she assured. "And my heart wants to stay awake with you."

"But your body is tellin' ya t' get some rest," he kissed her. "Good night, Michaela. I love you."

"I love you, too," she closed her eyes. "Tell me the story again.... please."

He whispered, "I got a better idea. Let's just keep livin' it. Bein' real's a lot more fun than fantasy."


THE END



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